Vinegar Pie [by Katy]

[For three weeks, Josh & Katy blogsit]

Good morning class! Today we will study HISTORIC EARLY AMERICAN DESSERTS.

That’s right! I am talking about desserts that people made in this country a LONG time ago, certainly a long time before you were born. When I am not watching Days of Our Lives or stockpiling cereal, historic early American desserts are one of my hobbies.

Do you know what a slump is? What about a grunt? Have you ever had Scripture Cake? What about Sugar Pie? I simply can’t get enough of this kind of recipe.

And sometimes, when I’m in the right mood, I’ll braid my hair, tie on a pinafore and whip up a batch of cornpone!

Here’s me goofing off in the kitchen with my Pa and my sister Mary.

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Many of you have noticed that Josh and I operate on a budget. So I thought it might be appropriate to spotlight a budget-minded recipe I’ve often noted but never attempted: Vinegar Pie.

Because I’m a very dedicated substitute-blogger, I did some research into Vinegar Pie for you. Some online sources say, oh, it’s a southern food, or oh, it’s a midwestern food, or oh, it’s traditionally African American, or oh, it’s from the Oregon coast — but the consensus seems to be that it was made just about everywhere in this country back in the 19th century, and into the 20th, too.

Vinegar Pie is really a country dessert. It is a dessert designed by thrifty women for times of year when there was no fruit in season, back when everyone had to cook seasonally by necessity. By using vinegar as a flavor base (maybe mixed with a little lemon essence, if they had it), they could make a custardy pie that was sweet and tangy.

Or so the theory goes. Josh was doubtful. He seemed to consider Vinegar Pie a dangerous mixing of dessert and potato chip flavor. He normally is a pie man, but …

“I suspect there’s some reason we don’t have vinegar pies today,” Josh said dourly.

This is Josh, doubtful and dour:

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I got my recipe for Vinegar Pie from one of my favorite baking reference books, the classic Fannie Farmer Baking Book by Marion Cunningham. (She puts it in her “Old American Pies” section, along with Shoofly Pie and Osgood Pie and Tyler Pudding Pie and others I’ll need to try some time.)

And the ingredients? Well, it had a bit of flour, a lot of sugar, a few eggs — and an entire half cup of cider vinegar in the filling.

As well as a little lemon zest, which is maybe cheating. I don’t think people had that many lemons on the frontier. But then I’m making it in a gas oven instead of a wood stove, aren’t I? That’s cheating, too. (And it’s not that I COULDN’T make it on a wood stove, I’ll have you know. I know how. I used to have a job pretending to be a sailor on a historic ship cooking on a wood stove in a galley. But that’s neither here nor there.)

Here’s me cheating by mixing up the filling on the gas stove top:

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Here’s my empty pie shell, waiting, so lonely for its vinegar-y filling:

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The wonderful thing about making Vinegar Pie is the smell! Everything smells like …. vinegar. Nothing says a home-baked dessert like that sour smell I associate with Easter egg dye and science projects shaped like volcanos! I am told one could use regular white vinegar in one’s pie, but I used an apple cider vinegar. I wouldn’t experiment with balsamic, if I were you. I think the brown color would be disturbing.

Here is the finished product, along with my bottle of vinegar. It looks okay, doesn’t it? I mean, if I told you it was lemon custard pie that JUST HAPPENED to be sitting next to a bottle of vinegar, you’d think it looked okay, right?

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Here is Josh’s slice, topped with some whipped cream:

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And the verdict? Did Josh change his mind, decide he prejudged unfairly, and beg for seconds?

“It’s … interesting,” he said, after his first mouthful.

Interesting good or bad?

“You can taste the vinegar,” he decided, “but it’s not a bad taste necessarily. It is strong, though.”

I thought it had a faintly apple juice-y flavor, due no doubt to that apple cider vinegar. Truth be told, it wasn’t the most pleasing flavor. I thought it a little peculiar.

“Mmmm,” said Josh gamely, rubbing his belly in an attempt at appreciation.

But if you were holed up in a dugout in Minnesota, ready to face the long winter, wouldn’t you appreciate the sweet end to a meal? Or if you were a sharecropper in Tennessee, looking to stretch your budget as far as at would go?

“Sure,” nodded Josh carefully. “But I don’t know how much more of this pie I’m going to eat right NOW, if that’s okay.”

It wasn’t okay. I slammed my hand down on the table and demanded he continue eating another SLICE OF HISTORY. He did. But I knew in my heart of hearts he was eating it because he was scared of me, not because he really liked it.

Has anyone out there had Vinegar Pie and liked it?

Ah well. This Monday is Josh’s birthday, so I’ll be making another kind of pie then. Some time soon, however, I’ll be tackling another unusual early American dessert. Stay tuned.

You WILL be educated about historic desserts. Don’t make me come out of this blog and force you! –katy

Pizza My Heart [by Katy]

[For three weeks, Josh & Katy blogsit]

Do you get it? The title of the post, I mean? It’s “Pizza My Heart.” Like that Janis Joplin song? That’s funny, isn’t it? I made that up.

No. I didn’t make it up. It is the name of some Northern Californian pizza chain. I find it clever in the way that I find punny coffee shop names clever. You know, like Uncommon Grounds. Or Brewed Awakenings. Or Sentient Bean. (What a fun game. Who can think of more?)

I pretended to make up the title of this post for two reasons. First, I am a shameless liar, despite studying a subject in graduate school that would imply I don’t approve of lying. Second, I am a little worried that you all will realize soon I’m not as funny as the Amateur Gourmet. This isn’t my fault. This is because I’m a girl. Girls aren’t as funny.

But girls may well be better in the kitchen. So let’s go into the kitchen, shall we? My kitchen, circa last night…

Last night was Pizza Night at our house. We conduct Pizza Night once a week, as no doubt many of you out there do. However, while living in San Francisco during the Great Dot-Com Bust, we got in the habit of making our own pizza rather than ordering out. It is cheaper, and it makes us feel superior to those who order from big pizza chains.

Perhaps you would like to feel superior, too? My pizza crust is lovely! It is also easy to make. This is what you will need: a pizza stone, several hours before you need to eat, yeast, flour, salt, olive oil, brown sugar, rosemary.

First, you should mix up a little packet of yeast with one cup of warm tap water. I sprinkle 1 or 2 tablespoons of brown sugar to get it started. Here’s me doing that.

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Then in a separate bowl, you mix up 3 1/2 cups flour. I prefer a whole wheat crust. All that fiber, you know. It’s good for the bowels, as the Amateur Gourmet would say. If you prefer that, too, you should mix part whole wheat flour and part white — I usually do 2 cups whole wheat, 1 1/2 cups white.

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Don’t forget that 1/2 teaspoon or so of salt. You know, it does make a difference. Even in chocolate chip cookies. But in pizza dough, too.

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And I throw in some handfuls of brown sugar. What can I say? I like things a touch sweet. I have never found that anyone has complained about a sweet wheat pizza crust.

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I chop up a little fresh rosemary and toss it in. This rosemary came from our herb garden. No. It came from Whole Foods. But we do have an herb garden, and it does have rosemary. We haven’t harvested any yet, though.

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Pour the yeast into the flour mixture — and make sure you get all that foamy stuff. That’s where the yeasty action is.

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Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Then, if you have a KitchenAid mixer — and for your own sakes, I hope you do — combine it using the bread hook. If you don’t have one, you’re going to have to get kneading.

(But seriously, why don’t you have one? Are you seeing anybody right now? The reason I ask is that getting married or having a formal commitment ceremony is a very good path to acquiring a KitchenAid mixer. Consider taking it to the next level. For the sake of your kitchen.)

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Then it’s all nicely combined into a big lump of dough. You might have to add some water to make it less dry. My philosophy: do not be afraid of adding water. Why not have a sticky dough, since you don’t have to actually knead it if you have a KitchenAid mixer?

Grease a bowl, stick the lump of pizza dough in there, lay a wet paper towel over it and let it sit for, oh, 2 hours or so. Until it’s doubled in size.

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Then you just roll that baby out on a cornmeal-covered pizza paddle…

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Top it with your favorite toppings. In this case, carmelized onions, garlic, mushrooms, basil, mozzerella.

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And slide it into the oven onto your preheated (450 degrees) pizza stone …

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Now watch out for these pizza stones, dear readers. Our friend Kari was innocently making spanikopita one day when her pizza stone dramatically and explosively shattered. She avoided injury, but the spanikopita was not so lucky. The cause of the explosion was never determined, although it was thought to possibly have something to do with a cold pizza stone being put into an already hot oven. Moral of the story, maybe: let your pizza stone gradually heat up with your oven. Or stick with foods people can pronounce.

Ta-da, the finished product! After 12-15 minutes in the oven, Katy’s Whole Wheat Rosemary pizza.

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Now who can come up with the most clever pizza pun? Go. –katy

Impulsive Late Night Biscuit Ecstasy

Say what you will about me—call me bitter, call me mean, call me sometime, won’t you?—there’s one thing you can’t say: that I’m not impulsive.

Take these biscuits for example.

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I had absolutely no reason to make them. I have bran muffins from the other night, remember? And I’m studying for the bar, remember? But I got bit by the biscuit bug and after reading a simple-enough sounding recipe in Cook’s Illustrated I vowed to whip up a batch at 11 and have them ready by 12.

Well my expectations were wildly surpassed: the biscuits were done at 11:40 and, more importantly, they were the best I’ve ever had. BETTER than the Silver Skillet’s which refused to share their recipe. Now I don’t need it.

Very quickly then I will share the recipe with you since I think you should make them too. The only strange ingredient you’ll need is buttermilk. I say strange because you’re not likely to have it in your fridge, but not strange in that you can’t run out and get it anywhere. And it adds a lot to the finished product.

Here is our ingredients list:

Dough:

2 cups (10 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour

1 Tbs double-acting baking powder

1 Tbs sugar

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking soda

4 Tbs cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

1.5 cups cold buttermilk, preferably low fat

To form and finish biscuits:

1 cup (5 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour, distributed in rimmed baking sheet

2 Tbs unsalted butter, melted

Now for the recipe. I’ll interspirce the steps with pictures from the process:

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 500 degrees. Spray 9-inch round cake pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Generously spray inside and outside of 1/4 cup dry measure with nonstick cooking spray.

2. FOR THE DOUGH: In food processor, pulse flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and baking soda to combine, about six 1-second pulses. Scatter butter cubes evenly over dry ingredients;

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pulse until mixture resembles pebbly, coarse cornmeal, eight to ten 1-second pulses. Transfer mixture to medium bowl. Add buttermilk to dry ingredients

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and stir with rubber spatula until just incorporated (dough will be very wet and slightly lumpy).

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3. TO FORM AND BAKE BISCUITS: Using 1/4 cup dry measure and working quickly, scoop level amount of dough; drop dough from measuring cup into flour on baking sheet (if dough sticks to cup, use small spoon to pull it free). Repeat with remaining dough, forming 12 evenly sized mounds.

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Dust tops of each piece of dough with flour from baking sheet. With floured hands, gently pick up piece of dough and coat with flour; gently shape dough into rough ball, shake off excess flour, and place in prepared cake pan. Repeat with remaining dough, arranging 9 rounds around perimeter of cake pan and 3 in center. Brush rounds with hot melted butter, taking care not to flatten them.

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Bake 5 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 450 degrees; continue to bake until biscuits are deep golden brown, about 15 minutes longer.

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Cool in pan 2 minutes, then invert biscuits from pan onto clean kitchen towl;

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Turn biscuits right side up and break apart. Cool 5 minutes longer and serve.

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It’s times like these where those who insist on using prepared dough from a tube baffle me. This took me NO TIME and the results were, to quote Will Farrell as James Lipton: “Strumtrulescent.”

Seriously, these biscuits were light as a feather and tasty and buttery and perfect. As a bonus, I opened up my Nectarine-Apricot-Ginger jam and dammmmmmn girlfriend it tasted great. What a great combo. All on a whim. And what a whim it was.

Annals of Eating: Not So Regular Bran Muffins for the Irregular

Bran muffins serve one purpose and one purpose only. So does bran cereal, for that matter. People don’t eat bran because it tastes good, people eat it because it makes them poop.

In case you haven’t been told, pooping is the natural consequence of eating. What goes in must come out, so they say. I am sorry to write about this on my food blog, but it’s a topic that needed to be broached. We all poop: deal with it.

When I say “we all poop: deal with it” I do not mean to imply that we all poop to the same degree. Some of us poop at a 45 degree angle. Haha, that was poop humor.

What I’m trying to say is that some of us poop more frequently than others. Julia Child, for example, poops three times a day. Go Julia!

My own personal poop situation falls into the category of “too much information for my gentle blog-reading audience.” Suffice it to say that I felt the duty (haha, duty) to make, tonight, Nancy Silverton’s recipe for Bran Muffins.

Nancy’s recipe appealed to me because #1, my diet requires bran at the moment and #2 (haha, #2), she has all these quirky elements like grated orange zest and pulverized raisin mash.

Let’s get on with it Nancy, do-do that voodoo that you do so well. Hehe, dodo.

[If this blog were my job, I’d be fired right around now.]

Now then it is late (2:30!) and I have not the time to take you through the entire recipe with ingredients, etc. If you’d like that I suppose I could type it up at some point. But for now, enjoy my pretty pictures.

We take 2 cups of unprocessed bran

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and toast it for 6 minutes in a 350 degree oven:

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Next we take 1.5 cups of raisins and add 1 cup of water to a sauce pan:

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Simmer on low heat until water is absorbed:

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Then pulverize:

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To the toasted bran we’ve added buttermilk and water, and now we add the raisin mixture and grated orange zest:

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Soon we add flour and brown sugar and eggs and egg whites and baking soda and baking powder and–phew!–stir it all up, pour into the muffin tin, and bake at 350 for 25 minutes.

Here’s the result:

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Ok looks a little, lumpy but I tore a top off and it was delicious:

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Really, the secret’s in the raisin mush: keeps the muffins moist. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the muffins out of the muffin tin without tearing the tops off: so I’ll wrap in plastic wrap and call it a night.

Let me conclude by apologizing for the “distastefulness” of this post. For those of you that were offended, please know that this post does not represent the fine work that we do here at The Amateur Gourmet. Usually, we are much more classy, much more tactful. And for those of you who were NOT offended by this post, perhaps you might enjoy photographs of the “end result,” if you know what I mean? That’s available if you click below.

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Alton Brown’s Burned Peach Ice Cream

I have decided that you should buy an ice cream maker.

Here are my reasons:

1) It’s not terribly expensive. It will run you about $50 for the Cuisinard brand that I bought. Maybe $50 is out of your price range, but think about it this way: how much do you spend on ice cream already? And cones? And funny white hats?

2) Making ice cream is incredibly easy and incredibly rewarding. It will taste better than any ice cream you’ve ever had.

3) Your social life will improve ten-fold. People will say, as you walk by, “Who’s that?” And other people will answer: “That’s the person who makes ice cream!” “No way,” will say the first person. “Yes way,” will say the second person. The second person hasn’t watched a movie since the 1992 smash hit “Wayne’s World” and therefore thinks that “yes way” is still a hip term.

But the best reason is #4:

4) If you make great ice cream using a mostly cream-base as I will show you tonight, it will stay soft and delicious in your fridge for the rest of the summer! Or until it’s gone. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Tonight I made Alton Brown’s Burned Peach Ice Cream. Actually I started last night because it requires a night in the fridge.

This recipe was e-mailed to me a while ago by a loyal reader whose e-mail I now lost, so thank you loyal reader whoever you are.

Alton asks you to get cream and half-and-half. I was in the market without the recipe handy so I only bought cream. This proved wise, anyway, because it makes the ice cream softer. I find that milk freezes more like water and becomes icy in the fridge. Cream stays creamy. Only problem is, you’ll die sooner…but who wants to be alive when Jenna Bush is president?

Now then you also have to buy peach preserves:

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“Not jelly,” writes Alton in the margin of the ingredients list. He wants peach preserves.

I tasted a spoonful to see what a preserve tastes like as opposed to a jelly. I came to this conclusion: a preserve tastes like a jelly.

The first night (last night, for me) you basically just throw everything into the pot. The cream, the vanilla bean, and 1/2 cup of the peach preserves. And sugar. It looks like this:

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You cook it until it reaches 170 degrees and then you strain it:

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Place the lid on the Tupperware (I strained it into Tupperware) and refrigerate overnight. Or in my case, overnight and all day.

Thus, this afternoon I began Phase II of the process. Phase II involved turning on my broiler. You know “broiling” is one of those things that eluded me for the longest time. If you told me that my fish was broiled, I used to think that meant it was thrown directly on a flame or cooked in an ancient Mayan crockpot. Now I know that it means that the top of your oven gets very very hot and basically shoots heat rays downward to whatever you put on the topshelf. In today’s case, that would be peaches.

I bought 3 peaches yesterday, though the recipe requires 4. When you make it, then, you should buy 4.

I cut the peaches in halfway and put them on a cookie sheet:

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Alton says to broil them until they are brown. I put them in the oven, left, came back 5 minutes later and they were not brown.

I left again. I came back. Still not brown.

Left. Back. Not brown.

What was going on?

Finally, some of the skins started to blacken so I had no choice but to take it out pre-brownness:

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If I had to do it over again, I’d have sprinkled some sugar on the top like the Barefood Contessa does in her roasted fruit recipe. That would help in the caramelization process which is what I think we were going for here. No matter, I cut a piece off and it tasted great.

Now we pour the refrigerated cream mixture from yesterday into our ice cream maker:

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I licked a bit in transference and it tasted marvelous. Vanilla beans are the mac daddy of homemade ice cream. They’re worth every penny, I say. I’m going to start a vanilla bean farm when I move to New York. Land there is cheap, right?

Now we chop our broiled peaches:

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You can see some brownness, can’t you? Maybe I didn’t fail completely.

After the ice cream churns for a while (and “the volume has increased by half”) add the peaches:

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And churn it some more.

La la la la la lo. La la la la la lo. Churn it churn it some more.

Pour into another container and freeze:

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While that’s freezing, ruin your dinner and lick the freezer bowl clean:

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Holy cow is that delicious! I love peaches. I love vanilla beans. I love ice cream.

Hours later, Lauren came back and I served up two scoops.

Lauren is a tough judge. She’s the Anton Scalia of food-tasting. She’s bald and goes duck hunting with Cheney.

Her verdict?

“Wow,” she says, “I really like it. Really interesting flavors. Mmmm.”

Another satisfied customer. Won’t you help the poor retail people at Crate and Barrel and Williams Sonoma? Won’t you get them their commission and buy an ice cream maker today? Think of the children. More importantly, think of the ice cream.

For The Love of Basil: Pasta, Pesto, and Peas

Before we even begin, I must tell you that I can’t hear the phrase “Pasta, Pesto, Peas” without thinking of a certain 60s pop song by Cher. I think you know the one. And in case you don’t, I revamped the lyrics and recorded a new-garlickier version for you. Let’s hear that now, so that as we progress through the recipe we can break out into another chorus of it!

The Pasta, Pesto, Peas Song [with special thanks to Cher].

Now then, are we ready to proceed? This is what you’ll be taking to work on Wednesday. Aren’t you excited? A word of warning: your breath will reek, but you won’t care because you’ll be so sated.

Now, to make things easier, I’m going to cut and paste the actual recipe and intersperse with pictures. This is not illegal, methinks, because Ina (that’s the Barefoot Contessa to her friends and myself) has the recipe on the Food Network site. What she doesn’t have is a fabulous Cher-cover. Hit it! PASTTTAAA PESTOOO PEASSS…. sorry, got ahead of myself.

What makes this slightly complicated is that Ina’s recipe for pesto yields 4 cups and we only need 1.5. However, even after halving the original recipe I didn’t wind up with 1.5 cups so don’t worry that this will yield too much. I’m going to halve the recipe for you. Confused yet?

Here is what you need to buy and/or have ready:

Pesto (RECIPE ALREADY HALVED BY ME)

1/8 cup walnuts

1/8 cup pignolis (pine nuts)

1.5 tablespoons chopped garlic (4-5 cloves)

2.5 cups fresh basil leaves, packed

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3/4 cups good olive oil

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

PLUS:

3/4 pound fusilli pasta

3/4 pound bow tie pasta

1/4 cup good olive oil

1 1/2 cups pesto, packaged or see recipe below

1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 1/4 cups good mayonnaise

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

1 1/2 cups frozen peas, defrosted

1/3 cup pignolis (pine nuts) (optional)

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

It looks like a ton, I know, but it looks worse than it is. It is, in fact, fairly reasonable EXCEPT if your basil’s expensive. That’s where I got screwed tonight. The other day at Whole Foods they had giant tubs of Basil for like $6 and those were gone today. Today they only had small containers of basil for $2 each so I had to buy five, which cost $10 just for the basil. So please shop around for your basil before you commit.

And, of course, after I paid, the cashier told me I should have bought a basil plant and saved money:

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$5.49 is certainly less money than $10.

The other expensive thing is pignolis but you only officially need 1/8th of a cup, the toasted 1/3rd of a cup is optional.

So here’s your ingredients:

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I know this may seem daunting but I promsie it isn’t! I’m just not used to playing pesto instructor. Did I mention that I sing Cher-covers? PASTA PESTO PEEEAAAS… sorry.

Now then, the recipe:

Place the walnuts, pignolis, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.

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Process for 15 seconds.

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Add the basil leaves, salt, and pepper.

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With the processor running, slowly pour the olive oil

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into the bowl through the feed tube

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and process until the pesto is thoroughly pureed.

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Add the Parmesan and puree for a minute.

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Now, if you stopped here you’d have pesto. Just plain old pesto. Would you have peas? No. Would you have pasta? No. Do you see how boring that is? My point exactly.

Back to you Ina:

Cook the fusilli and bow ties separately in a large pot of boiling salted water for 10 to 12 minutes until each pasta is al dente. Drain and toss into a bowl with the olive oil. Cool to room temperature.

[No pictures included because if you don’t know how to cook pasta, you should be reading the AMATEUR amateur gourmet. We’re so beyond that!]

[Although, cooking al dente is an art. You need to be constantly checking the pasta after 6 or 7 minutes and tasting to make sure you don’t overcook. It makes a difference!]

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, puree the pesto, spinach, and lemon juice.

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Add the mayonnaise** (to my mayo haters, just don’t think about it. It’s just one of those things that you don’t notice once it’s in there like salad dressing or tuna salad. Ok people? Don’t be scared.)

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and puree.

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Add the pesto mixture to the cooled pasta and then add the Parmesan, peas, [I defrosted the peas in the bag and they came out great; just use the DEFROST feature on your microwave.]

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pignolis, [These you toast by just putting them into a skillet and turning up the heat to medium, tossing them around for three minutes.]

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salt, and pepper. Mix well, season to taste, and serve at room temperature.

Now I know this looks like a gloppy mess:

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But I promsie you it tastes delicious. Let’s take a closer look:

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I confess, I added way too much of the pesto mixture and not enough pasta. But so what? When you have a pesto mixture this good you don’t care. I didn’t care! I just ate it! And it tastes yum!

Plus there was plenty leftover for tomorrow and the next day:

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Treat yourself on Wednesday to an Epicurian delight. Make this tomorrow and you won’t regret it. And when you do, don’t be afraid to belt: PAAAASTAAA PESTOOO PEAAAAS….

I Don’t Think I’m Ready For This Jelly: Nectarine-Apricot-Ginger Jam

Preservation is a cool word. Officially it means: “the process of keeping safe, unchanged or in existence.” I particularly like how cultures, in order to preserve themselves, had to preserve their food in the process. Like Jews with smoked fish or Southerners and their pickled pigs feet. It’s a cool example of great food evolving out of necessity.

Nectarine-Apricot-Ginger jam, I presume, did not evolve out of necessity. It evolved out of France. And yesterday I began the process of making it using my new Mes Confitures book. First I went to Whole Foods and bought luscious looking nectarines and apricots:

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I also bought candied ginger, which is what Virginia Wolfe sends her maid to London to purchase in “The Hours”:

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Candied ginger is ANOTHER preserved food; it’s what sushi-eaters developed in Japan to keep their sushi fragrant. And sweet. Incrediblby sweet.

Ok, I made that up. But isn’t candied ginger the coolest candy? Because it’s easy-sweet yet it hurts. Really burns in your mouth like a jolt of fire. A great way to start the day!

Moving on, then, we boil the nectarines for 1 minute to loosen their skin:

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I employed the Barefoot Contessa’s technique for peaches where you make an X-shaped slit at the bottom of the fruit before boiling so when it comes out you can just peel the skin off. That didn’t work with the nectarines. I had to use a peeler. It was humiliating.

Now then, we reach the tumultuous part of our story. After slicing up the apricots and nectarines…

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…I read her next instruction: “Squeeze the lemon on the fruit to prevent oxidization.”

WHAT LEMON?

If you read her ingredients there is no lemon. How am I supposed to squeeze a lemon if I don’t have a lemon!

So I did what any jam-chef in my shoes would do. I ran back to Whole Foods–sprinting all the way–to buy a lemon. I arrived there covered in sweat. I grabbed a lemon. I threw money at the cashier. I ran back: my fruit was oxidizing!

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I burst through the door and squeezed lemon all over the fruit (and my cat in the process). Lolita was not happy.

Now then, the ginger:

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There are many people who don’t realize that ginger looks like this in its natural state. They think the ginger they get with sushi is normal natural-state ginger. WRONG! That’s PICKLED ginger. Pickling ginger is a preservation technique developed by the Loxahachee Tribe in Florida to keep their eyelids moist.

So we chop that ginger:

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Add it to the fruit, cover in tons of sugar, and add three cloves:

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Now then we start cooking it:

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Until the sugar melts and it starts simmering:

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This is cool because the only liquid that’s in there is the fruit juice, so you know it’s going to taste right and fruity.

Pour into a bowl and refrigerate overnight:

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TIME PASSES. OVERNIGHT, IN FACT. ADAM SLEEPS AND DREAMS OF A RIDING A CAMEL THROUGH A SUPERMARKET WHILE SINGING “MY SWEET LORD” BY GEORGE HARRISON. PEOPLE THROW ATKINS-RELATED PRODUCTS AT HIM. HE BECOMES A MARTYR AND A MUSICAL IS WRITTEN ABOUT HIM STARRING GEORGE WENDT. ADAM AWAKES.

Now then, we chop up the candied ginger:

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Pull our fruit from the fridge:

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And sterilize our jars:

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First I cleaned them with anti-bacterial soap and then I put them in the 225 degree oven. I figured keeping them face down would ensure that heat could get in while I placed the lids on their bottoms, because I feared putting the lids on the rack directly would melt them.

Meanwhile, I started cooking the jam:

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Her instruction is to get the jam to 221 degrees. It just wasn’t getting there. So I put the lid over it and it got there. I took a jar out of the oven. It was very hot. I immediately poured the jam into the jar, wiped the lid, sealed it up and gloated over my achievement:

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Gorgeous, no? A proud achievement indeed.

And then for the failure. While I was gloating, my jam started burning:

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I tried to fill the second jar but it was beyond redemption:

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Now I felt like a jam loser.

So I looked at my good jam again:

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I felt like a winner again.

My ego was safely preserved.

Adam Potter and the Pickles of Azkaban (Plus a Tiny Spell of Family History)

There comes a point in every young man’s life where he must make a decision. For Harry Potter these decisions are frequently epic: how might I pursue the man who killed my parents? How can I learn the secrets of my past? Potter’s decisions, however, pale next to the heart-wretching decision I had to make myself this afternoon: should I use the jars I just purchased from The Container Store to make nectarine jam or garden pickles?

Ever since Mes Confitures arrived in my mailbox, I’ve been plotting my first foray into jam-making. Clotilde’s been coaching me via e-mail, preparing me both intellectually and emotionally for the task at hand. I even have the recipe picked out: nectarine-apricot-ginger. Whole Foods has the freshest looking nectarines you’ve ever seen.

And yet an owl swooped through my window this afternoon with a note. “Make Pickles,” it said.

It just so happened that I had Nancy Silverton’s Sandwich book on my desk and that I recalled a recipe for garden pickles in the last section. These were the sort of pickles I’d always seen on people’s countertops or in gourmet groceries and never really thought to try: the kind with carrots and celery and cauliflower instead of cucumbers. The kind I always thought looked gross.

The recipe itself would require the purchase of a slew of ingredients I would probably never use again. Fennel seeds. Mustard seeds. Eye of newt. [Kidding. About the fennel.]

The jam recipe required only three ingredients: nectarines, apricots and ginger.

Yet the owl hooted. John Williams’ music played. Lolita morphed into Maggie Smith. I knew I had to make pickles.

* * * * * * *

Pickles are, in a way, part of my family’s heritage.

You see, I am the proud product of three highly unique maternal grandfathers that peppered–either genetically or emotionally–my childhood. Let me explain. My grandmother (mom’s mom) has been married thrice, widowed twice. Grandpa #1, Arthur, is my mom’s father and therefore my genetic grandpa. He died before I was born and I was named after him. The evidence suggests that I get my writing skills and my humor from him.

Grandpa #3, Roy, is alive and well and living with grandma currently in Delray Beach, FL. You can see him in my video “What Retired Folks Eat.” His charm and light-hearted touch add a warm glow to all family gatherings. I love to see him whenever I go home.

But it’s Grandpa #2 that concerns us now. Grandpa Joe, my childhood grandfather (for he was “grandpa” when I was born and stayed grandpa until he passed when I was 11) owned a pickle factory on Long Island: Stern’s Pickles. This article appeared in The New York Times in 1997 and was written by a member of the Stern/Steur family. It’s a great (and not terribly long) biography of the factory’s history and its place in the community:

“It was a red, barn-like structure with shelves stocked with several varieties of pickles and sauerkraut at first, but later with additional pickled products as hot peppers, tomatoes, onions and cauliflower and other specialty items as olives, mustard, Maraschino cherries, ketchup and jams. “Pickle Products for Particular People” was their slogan, and as their reputation grew, people traveled from all over the metropolitan area for a shopping expedition to this wondrous place.”

I actually remember going there several times with my grandmother in my chidlhood. The memories are hazy, but I know for sure their context: while my grandfather manned the factory, my grandmother sold superflous pickles at the Roosevelt Field Flea Market. This was my grandma at her most industrious: she sold pickles like no one else. She recalls these memories fondly and someday we’ll do an interview about it for the site.

Suffice it to say that pickles are part of my family’s heritage. And also suffice it to say that my family would collectively moan in dismay if they learned that I spent $26 to make pickles that don’t even look anything like pickles. But first the jars.

* * * * * * * *

You would think jars would be easy to find here in Atlanta. Since I was in the neighborhood the other day I went to the Cook’s Warehouse in midtown. They apologized. No jars.

“Any idea where I might get some?” I asked.

“Kroger,” they answered.

So I went to Kroger.

“Jars?” I asked.

“Sorry,” they said, “Don’t carry them anymore.”

Neither did several other places. And then it occurred to me:

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The Container Store is one of those stores that’s great when you’re in it, but when you’re not in it you never think to go there. I never think to go to the Container Store. But it dawned on me today that they sell jars. See:

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So I bought three: two for jam and one for pickles. When I payed, the cashier actually shared family history of her own.

“Making jam?” she asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Ahh, my grandmother used to make jam,” she said sweetly, “She made everything.”

“That’s sweet,” I said. “Did she make pickles too?”

The woman looked thoughtful for a second. “No,” she said, “I don’t think so.”

“Booyah,” I said, and got on my way.

* * * * * * * *

Ok this piece is a little too epic in scope. It’s 3:16 am! Let’s get on with the pickles…

Here’s my $26 worth of ingredients:

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And here are the vegetables all ready to be pickled:

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First step? Cut up the cauliflower. I got to work:

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You know what’s interesting about this cauliflower? It’s not cauliflower. It’s iceberg lettuce. It was placed in the cauliflower section of the display. I assumed I would peel back the outer layer and see white brainy matter. I peeled back the outer layer. I peeled again. I kept peeling. No white brainy matter.

So much for the cauliflower.

It’s ok, I still had carrots, fennel, celery and a yellow pepper which I chopped up promptly:

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Next I toasted the fennel seeds and bay leaves (I skimped on mustard seeds and peppercorns):

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This went well until a bay leaf started burning. I promptly dumped it into a pot with water, champagne vinegar, sliced garlic, salt and Thyme:

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I let this boil and then reduced it to a simmer. And do you know what it smelled like?

Wizards!

I’m being serious. If you could scratch and sniff the Harry Potter movie (which I saw later on and really enjoyed) I think those cavernous magic shops would smell like vinegar, garlic, and Thyme–especially Thyme. This is what little old ladies smell like too. That is, when you scratch them.

Now, after 15 minutes of simmering add your vegetables:

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Let this cool and then add it to the jar:

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How pretty is this? Let’s get a closer look:

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Of course, I can’t taste it until tomorrow (these are 24 hour pickles) but I can hardly wait. And in the meantime I can always make jam. And now this wizard is off to bed.