Just a self-trained home cook in an 8' x 12' kitchen honing his craft…

Archive for July, 2011

‘F’ is for fuzzy

When my new best friend, Laura recently bestowed me a most bountiful gift, 1/2 bushel of fresh South Carolina peaches which she had driven to the state line that very day to pick up, I began to wonder, why are peaches fuzzy?

The bountiful basket of fuzzy deliciousness. Ah, the aroma!

ralston suggested that it was to repel insects and he was correct. The fuzz also protects the tender skin from disease and prevents dehydration and sunburn- much the same way our ‘peach-fuzz’ protects us.

Now for some history…

The peach originated in China and is a member of the rose family. It’s botanical name, Prunus persica, references it’s journey along the silk road into Persia. While we may think we have the market cornered since we live in the peach state and every other street in Atlanta bears the fruit’s name, China is still the largest producer of the orbs that are the pits. (Next in total production is Italy).

Now, to address the task at hand. How best to use and preserve these beauties? I make muffins- a lot of muffins. We usually start our day with a muffin of some variety and I couldn’t resist trying some diced peaches in a muffin, especially while they were firm enough to hold up to the gluten assault from the batter beating. Here’s the result.

Walnut, peach and banana muffins for breakfast.

My next effort was simply peaches and cream. This combination just made me crave cake to go with them.

The following day I baked a white velvet butter cake.

Dessert is served!

What a fantastic ending to the meal. The ending was so good, I don’t remember what the meal was!

Now, where did I put that spoon?

Even though the photo shows a cake knife & fork, we usually resort to spoons to slurp up every drop of syrup(yes, in the Japanese tradition, at my table, slurping is a compliment to the cook).

By now, the supply is diminished, but the surfeit continued to ripen by the minute and my freezer was full.

As luck would have it, I took out my copy of The Art of the Slow Cooker and in the first few pages, Andrew gives simple instructions for a whole list of foods. Peaches were in the list. Well, that afternoon, I peeled and pitted and peeled and pitted until the sink was full of refuse. I sliced some, added a scant 1/4 cup of sugar and a vanilla bean and cranked the slow cooker to low for 4 hours.

Is this a crock or what?

The exuded juice was luscious while maintaining the body and structure of the fruit. What resulted was entirely different from the syrup produced without cooking.

There were a few left, so I sliced them and macerated them with a little sugar, lemon juice and vanilla bean.

Macerating with a vanilla bean.

Now, as I said before, the freezer was full, but I did have some canning jars in my food container drawer. My Mother canned a good bit every summer(this was most likely the most science my Mother, the first grade teacher ever did). We children were not allowed to help except for stringing the mountains of green beans or shucking truck loads of corn. There was always a threat of exploding pressure cookers and dropping boiling vats of water on yourself. These threats were enough to scare me from ever trying this method- until now. The glass jars needed meticulous sterilization and handling with tongs. The process used equipment that was only used for canning which only added to its mystery- never mind the threat of explosions and botulism.

Last Saturday I grabbed my 1977 edition of The Joy of Cooking and read the section on canning. It’s actually a pretty simple procedure involving clean jars, canning lids and a cauldron of boiling water with a rack in the bottom. 30 minutes later, “Viola!”

My first attempt at old-fashioned canning.

After their 12 hour cooling, they were ready for storage until winter- or until I crave a peach cobbler. I wonder which will come first?

Toujours, bon appétit!
© Kyle A. Nelson

‘V’ is for vegetarian

I will admit I have ‘borrowed’ the title of this and another recent post from M.F.K. Fisher’s 1949 classic An Alphabet For Gourmets. If you haven’t read it, add it to your library and do so. It’s quite good and thoroughly entertaining.

About 6 weeks ago, I saw Kathy Freston interviewed by Charlie Rose. Here’s a link to the interview if you’d like to watch it- Kathy Freston on Charlie Rose. I ordered her book, Veganist and began reading it. One of the things that stuck in my mind from the interview was her comment that if each person would eat vegan just one day a week, it would be equal to taking 8 million vehicles off the road in the lessening of greenhouse gases.

Shortly after beginning the book, we decided to try eating meat-less, but would continue to consume dairy, eggs and seafood, as long as they were responsibly and sustainably farmed without the aid of hormones and antibiotics and the seafood caught from the wild. Well, I am happy to say we have been vegetarian for about 5 weeks with no regrets and no one is weak or anemic as a result.

One big change is the way I read and browse my cookbooks. One of the most recent purchases before deciding to try vegetarianism was America’s Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Revolution. Not wanting to waste a perfectly good new book, I went to it last weekend in search of something, anything that would fit into the new eating regiment. How delighted I was to find several recipes that not only contained only plant-derived ingredients, but they sounded delicious and the pictures appetizing.

The first one I tried was the Black Bean Vegetarian Chili. I know summertime may seem an odd time for chili, but conventionality(if I may, as the late Dr. Karl Haas would say) has never been my way, so off to the market to ‘fill in the blanks’ of the ingredient list. I was always a loyal listener of Dr. Haas, whose radio program inspired the name of this blog.

The assembled ingredients.

Now, down to the business of preparation. Let’s just say your knife skills will improve after this.

Mince, mince and mince some more!

Make sure you wash your hands after handling spicy peppers! If you don’t and touch your eyes, you’ll be SORRY!

The vegetables and spices get sautéed before the cooker.

The vegetables get sautéed until soft and lightly colored.

Everything into the crock-pot ready for the overnight sojourn.

A close-up of the ingredients in the crock-pot.

Cover the pot, set on low and bonne nuit!

The next morning, the most intoxicating aroma filled the house. Remove 1 cup of the mixture and mash it, then return it to the slow-cooker with the chopped tomatoes.

Mashing 1 cup of the chili after it cooks.

After all the mincing, maybe the most difficult part of this recipe is not devouring it right away, but I wanted it to meld overnight in the refrigerator, besides, I completed it on July 4th and I thought it would have been unpatriotic NOT to have burgers for the holiday. Yes, we did, but they were veggie burgers and we enjoyed them every bit as much as we would have hamburgers.

The next day, I reheated it, added the herbage and VIOLA! Lunch is ready!

The flavors were deep, dark and delicious.

I served a simple green salad and Vermont common crackers from the Vermont Country Store and some shredded white cheddar cheese. I suppose anytime of the year is a good time for comfort food and this was wonderfully comforting not only for the palate but for the soul.

I served a bibb lettuce salad and common crackers with the chili.

Toujours, bon appétit!
© Kyle A Nelson