Peach and blueberry crisp

Despite the sudden heat wave that’s hit my city, late summer is my favorite time of the year food-wise because my two favorite fruits, peaches and blueberries, are cheap, plentiful, and in season. A few days ago I got it in my head that I needed to clear out the peaches that I’d frozen last summer to make way for a new batch. And then I got the idea in my head to bake them into a crisp, and to add some blueberries from the two-pound crate I’d picked up at the grocery store, and, well, the rest was history.

The result was a ridiculously simple dessert, one that, had I been inclined to mix the fruit in the baking dish, could have taken only one bowl and about five minutes of prep time. I used Mark Bittman’s recipe for apple crisp, substituted fruits, and scaled the recipe down to accommodate the fact that my roommate was out of town this week and I’d be eating the entire thing myself. Which I did, happily. My only regret was that I didn’t have any whipped cream to put on top. But I do have one more batch of last summer’s peaches in the freezer, so luckily I have a chance to rectify that.

Peach and blueberry crisp

Adapted from How to Cook Everything

  • 1 1/2 pounds of peaches, peeled, pitted, and sliced (thawed if frozen)
  • 1 1/2 cups blueberries
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbs. all-purpose flour or cornstarch
  • 1 Tbs. sugar, if needed
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon, divided
  • 2/3 cup rolled oats
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tbs. cold butter
  • Dash salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the fruit with the vanilla extract, tablespoon of flour or cornstarch, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, and 1 Tbs. sugar if the fruit is tart. Spread it in an 8-inch square baking dish. Combine the oatmeal, remaining flour and brown sugar, remaining 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, and dash of salt in a bowl. Using two forks or a pastry cutter, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Spread the topping over the fruit and bake until the topping is browned, the fruit is tender, and the fruit juices are thickened, about 30 minutes. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

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Spinach, pesto, and mushroom quiche

As part of the requirements for my graduate program I took a game theory class my first year. One of the more memorable problems was titled “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche.” It had something to do with a jock and a nerd signaling their level of manliness to each other by eating quiche and drinking beer,  and while I never managed to solve the problem, it became a joke among my classmates for weeks afterward. All this is a roundabout way of saying that if these supposed “real men” ate quiche like this more often, they might reconsider their ideas of what foods are manly and what foods aren’t.

This quiche is in my rotation of recipes for lunches that I take to campus, since it holds up well even after a couple of days in the refrigerator and still tastes as good as the day you made it. It can also work as a breakfast, though I’d perhaps leave out the pesto. Despite the long list of ingredients it all comes together fairly quickly, even with cooking the mushrooms and spinach (though you can certainly use a box of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained). The basic recipe of cream cheese, eggs, half and half, salt and pepper, and a couple of handfuls of whatever grated cheese you have on hand also makes a good basic quiche recipe that you can customize to your heart’s content. Next time I’m going to swap the spinach with braised leeks and see what happens. I can only expect that it will be delicious.

Spinach, pesto, and mushroom quiche

Adapted from the Smitten Kitchen

  • Half recipe of your favorite pie crust, rolled out and pressed into a pie plate or tart pan
  • 6 oz. fresh mushrooms, cut into approximately 1/4-inch dice
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • Pinch of salt
  • 10 oz. fresh spinach
  • 4 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup half and half
  • 3 eggs
  • 1-2 Tbs. pesto, depending on your preference
  • 1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 4-6 green onions, sliced
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt. Cook mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are tender and their liquid has evaporated, about 6 minutes. Place mushrooms in a colander in the sink to drain. In the same pan, add the spinach and toss until it is just wilted, cooking in batches if necessary. Remove the spinach to a cutting board and chop it roughly. Add the spinach to the mushrooms in the colander and allow the ingredients to drain and cool to room temperature while you work on the rest of the recipe.

In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese with a mixer until it is smooth. Gradually beat in the half and half, eggs, and pesto. Mix in mushrooms, spinach, cheeses, green onions, and salt and pepper. Pour the egg mixture into the prepared crust. Bake at 425 until the filling is set, about 25 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Raspberry freezer jam

For the past few months I’ve been having the urge to make jam, and now that summer fruits are in season I can scratch that itch. My first attempt was a batch of strawberry jam that didn’t set up right (but was nonetheless delicious stirred into Greek yogurt), but this time around, to use up a load of raspberries I got on sale, I used a different pectin and technique and think I got it down.

I’ve been making freezer jam for now because it requires very little cooking, letting the flavor of the fruit come through more, and requires less sugar, resulting in a jam that is infinitely tastier than what’s available at the grocery store (and more cost-effective, too). I’d like to eventually work my way up to water bath canning once I have the right equipment, but for now making freezer jam allows me to preserve the jam so I can enjoy it in the winter months, when produce isn’t nearly as tasty. Now that I have all this jam to eat, I’d better learn to make bread to go with it.

Raspberry freezer jam

Tweaked from the back of the package of pectin I used

  • 24 ounces fresh raspberries
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1.75-ounce package instant pectin*

Mash the raspberries with a potato masher (you want a little bit of texture to the jam, so it’s best not to puree them). Stir in the sugar and let it sit for 10 minutes; the sugar should be mostly dissolved by this point. Stir in the instant pectin. Pour the jam into a pot and heat over medium heat, stirring frequently. Cook the jam until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon–with the pectin, this should happen within a few minutes. Turn off the heat and ladle the jam into clean pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace to allow for expansion in the freezer. Seal the jars with lids and let them sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. At this point, store the jam in the refrigerator or the freezer. It will keep in the fridge for three weeks, and in the freezer for up to a year.

Yield: about 3 pint jars.

* Note that jam-making is a pretty exact science: if you don’t use the correct ratio of fruit to sugar to pectin, it’s not going to set up right. I used instant pectin for this batch because it called for less sugar than regular pectin. But whichever kind you use, make sure to follow the recipe on the box pretty exactly.

Zucchini with peas and pasta

It’s a good thing I’m not planning a beach or pool trip anytime soon, because I’ve been eating a lot of pasta for dinner lately. I’ve built up a repertoire of a few sauces that can be pulled together in about as much time as it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta, so it’s a good fallback on nights when I’m on campus later than usual or when I don’t feel like cooking whatever I had planned. Recipes like this one, which are easy to make, infinitely customizable, and use ingredients I already have on hand, are especially welcome.

I saw this recipe around 12 noon, when I was doing my habitual routine of surfing the internet instead of doing academic work, and by 6:30 it was on my dinner table with no extra trips to the grocery store. I had to sub fettucini for the spaghetti called for in the ingredients list, and cilantro and parsley instead of basil and mint, but the outcome was still delicious. The key is to give the zucchini, peas, and garlic only a brief saute before adding in the cooked pasta. And the feta cheese made a nice change from my usual Parmesan-topped pasta dishes. Dinner does not get much more summery than this.

Zucchini with peas and pasta

Adapted from Everybody Likes Sandwiches

  • 2 ounces dried spaghetti, linguine, or fettucini
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 small zucchini, sliced thinly
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup peas, fresh or frozen
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbsp. each minced parsley and cilantro, or other combination of fresh herbs
  • 1 oz. crumbled feta cheese

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a skillet and add red pepper flakes. Cook gently for about 30 seconds. Add the zucchini slices and cook, stirring occasionally, about 2-3 minutes. Add the peas and garlic and continue to cook gently. When the pasta is done cooking, drain it and add it to the skillet. Add the lemon juice and herbs and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir together until ingredients are combined and heated through. Crumble feta cheese over top and serve.

Yield: one generous serving.

Oatmeal pancakes

Even though this is the second pancake recipe in a row that I’ve posted, most mornings I put very little thought into what I eat for breakfast. It’s usually just granola or, if I don’t have any classes or meetings very early in the morning, a bowl of oatmeal cooked with some berries. My breakfast choices are usually very boring. But with the recent holiday weekend, I decided to celebrate by making my favorite oatmeal pancakes.

I grew up on pancakes that my parents made from a Krusteaz mix, but these oatmeal pancakes take only a few minutes longer to make and are infinitely better in terms of taste and texture, and the addition of whole grains makes them healthier. Next time I might throw some lemon zest in with the wet ingredients. With the entire batch, I’m pretty much set for breakfast this week.

Oatmeal Pancakes

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

  • 3/4 cup oat flour (I made this by pulsing a scant 1 cup of rolled oats in my food processor until they were finely ground)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. Kosher or coarse salt
  • 3 Tbsp. butter, melted and cooled slightly (plus extra for the pan)
  • 1 1/4 cups half-and-half
  • 1 cup cooked oatmeal (cook 1/2 cup rolled oats and a pinch of salt in 1 cup water until the water is absorbed; cool slightly)
  • 1 Tbsp. honey
  • 2 large eggs
  • Syrup, berries, and powdered sugar, if desired, for serving

Whisk the dry ingredients (oat flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, baking powder and salt) together in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients (butter, half-and-half, cooked oatmeal, honey and eggs) until thoroughly combined. Gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, using a very light hand. The batter will be slightly thick.

Heat a 10-inch pan over medium heat until water sizzles when splashed onto the pan, then lower heat to medium-low. Brush the pan generously with butter. Dollop 1/4-cup mounds of batter onto the pan, 2 or 3 at a time. Once bubbles have begun to form and break towards the center of each pancake, flip it over and cook until the bottom is dark golden-brown, another 2 minutes. Continue with the rest of the batter until it is used up. Serve the pancakes hot.

Yield: Smitten Kitchen says 18 pancakes, but I got 15 because I used heaping 1/4 cups of batter.

Homemade ricotta cheese, and a few ways to use it

A few weeks ago after a brunch I hosted for friends I found myself with a gallon of 2% milk left over and a few cups of spare buttermilk. That gave me the opportunity to make my own ricotta cheese, which, though it may seem intimidating, really is easier than it sounds. Armed with a recipe from the Smitten Kitchen and some makeshift cheesecloth, I made a double batch of ricotta cheese that was far tastier than anything I’ve bought at the store.

Of course, this left me with a whole lot of ricotta to use up. The recipes I’ve included below made good use of it. You can also use the ricotta in a classic Italian lasagna or in baked goods like muffins.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from Michael Chiarello

  • 2 quarts whole milk (though I subbed 2% milk without any problems)
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon

Line a wide sieve or colander with cheesecloth, folded so that it is at least four layers thick (I didn’t have cheesecloth, so I used two layers cut from an old, clean T-shirt; worked like a charm). Place colander in sink.

Pour milk and buttermilk into a wide, heavy-bottomed pot. Add salt and lemon juice. Cook over high heat, stirring frequently; scrape bottom of pot occasionally to prevent scorching. As milk heats, curds will begin to rise and clump on the surface. Once steam starts to rise off the mixture, stop stirring.

When mixture reaches 175 to 180 degrees, curds and whey will separate (whey will look like cloudy water underneath a mass of thick white curds). Immediately turn off the heat and gently ladle curds into the cloth-lined colander. When all curds are in the colander and dripping has slowed (about 5 minutes), gently gather edges of cloth and twist to bring curds together; do not squeeze. Let drain 15 minutes more. Discard the whey.

Untwist the cloth and pack ricotta into airtight containers. Refrigerate and use within one week.

Yield: about two cups. Can be doubled easily.

Roasted Ricotta Roma Tomatoes

Adapted from The Pioneer Woman

  • 8 roma tomatoes
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, minced
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, minced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2-3/4 cup panko
  • Olive oil for drizzling

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Halve tomatoes lengthwise. Scoop the insides out of each tomato half and discard. Sprinkle the inside of each tomato half with a bit of kosher salt to help draw out excess moisture and set over a paper towel to drain for 10-15 minutes. Pat dry with a paper towel.

Mix ricotta cheese, herbs, and garlic and season to taste with salt and pepper. Fill each tomato half with a spoonful of the ricotta mixture. Put each tomato half face down in the panko crumbs to coat the cheese and then place face up on a baking sheet. Drizzle each tomato half with a bit of olive oil. Roast in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, until the panko is golden-brown on top.

Yield: about 8 appetizer servings.

No-Bake Blueberry Cheesecake Bars

Adapted from the New York Times

  • 8 whole graham crackers, crushed into crumbs
  • 3-4 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 1/2 cups blueberries

Combine crushed graham crackers with enough melted butter so that the mixture easily presses together between your fingers. Press evenly into bottom of a glass 8- or 9-inch square pan to form a crust about 1/4-inch thick. Refrigerate while you make the cheesecake layer.

Using a standing or hand mixer, or a whisk, combine cream cheese, ricotta, honey, lemon zest and salt, and blend until smooth.  Spread cheese mixture carefully and evenly over crust, smoothing top with a spatula. Cover with fresh blueberries and press them lightly into the cheesecake layer. Chill for at least an hour, or until set. Cut into squares or bars and serve.

Yield: 8 to 12 servings

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

Adapted from Bobby Flay

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • Butter, for griddle
  • Syrup and fresh berries, for serving

Preheat a non-stick griddle. Combine dry ingredients in a small bowl. Whisk together the cheese, eggs, milk, and lemon zest and juice in a large bowl. Fold the flour mixture into the wet ingredients until just combined, being careful not to overmix. Brush the hot griddle with butter. For each pancake, pour approximately 1/4 cup of the batter on the griddle and cook on both sides until light golden brown. Repeat until no batter remains. Serve with syrup and fresh fruit, such as strawberries, raspberries, or blueberries.

Yield: about 4-6 pancakes