Friday, October 2, 2015

Brandied Peaches and Cream at Midnight: Learning the Magic of Maceration (with Liquor)

I have a new Italian grandma.

Her name is Paula, and she lives next door.  I had the absolute pleasure of hanging out with her and her daughter, Annette, and their family this past weekend.  Derrick and I were taking out the trash (with wine glasses in hand—I know...), when they called over the fence and said to bring our wine glasses and come on over to sit by the fire!

Am I ever glad we said 'yes.'  First off, I could have only dreamed that we would have next door neighbors as nice as they.  I mean, they are the kind of people that are just genuine, you know? Nobody will ever be able to replace our Trevinos, but Paula and Annette and Justin and James look like they are certainly going to give them a run for their money.

Secondly,—well, let's just get back to Paula.  She absolutely warmed my heart.  I think I could sit and talk to her for hours.  In the 15 minutes that we were alone together conversing, I felt like I got a glimpse into an extraordinary life lived by a woman with a strength that most of us could only hope to have.  I can't wait to get to know her better.  And to cook with her...  I hear her arancini are to die for.

There are many more reasons I'm glad we said 'yes' to the fire invitation, but the one that relates the most to why I'm writing you all is because that night Paula handed me a bag of peaches picked from a very special tree in their backyard.  Yes, HOMEGROWN peaches.  Holy tamole! She told me that they were a little hard, yet, and to give them a few days...

Well, I did, and yesterday I decided that they were ready to be eaten.  TODAY.  Chef Reiton had a Chicago trip that would have him leaving just before dinner and not coming home until close to midnight, so we decided to do like we did when were dating and have a midnight dinner.  We made a big batch of chili to simmer for hours on the stove while he would be working, and while he was gone, I hatched a secret peachy dessert plan and took Paula's peaches and made this:

chopped peaces in brandy with whipped ricotta cheese and Greek yogurt

There they are, waiting in the fridge.  I'm calling my little dessert creation brandied peaches and cream, but there's not a drop of cream in there.  The "cream" is really whole milk ricotta cheese and Greek yogurt whisked together until the mixture is silky smooth (no sugar added).  The peaches I cut up really small then macerated them for a couple hours with a drizzle of organic honey, a sprinkle of nutmeg, a teensy pinch of salt, and a splash of brandy.  Then I just layered everything in little juice glasses and topped each of them with a sprig o' mint.

brandied peaches and cream

Chef Reiton and I really liked the results.  The "cream" mixture was nice and smooth and creamy.  The peaches were just peachy! But there are a few things we decided would make it even better:
  1. Use a little more Greek yogurt and a little less ricotta to get a bit more tang.  So maybe instead of doing equal parts of 1:1, maybe do 2:1.  And I could have added a couple drops of vanilla for some flavor.
  2. I plated these after only a couple hours of maceration.  Allowing the fruit to macerate for a much longer time and plating them closer to serving time would make the fruit taste that much better and keep the yummy brandied juices more evenly distributed throughout the dish as you are eating it, instead of having them settle to the bottom and only getting the best at the last...
  3. This dessert would work with lots of fruits.  I've got some raspberries in the fridge right now.  Those would be awesome.  Strawberries? Heck, yeah.  Blueberries.  Blackberries.  Plums.  Oh, man... Change the spice sprinkle to suit the fruit, and you are good to go!
  4. Another cheese to try? Mascarpone.  That's got the silk and tang going for it already.  Blend the mascarpone and yogurt in equal parts? Hmm...
Give it a try! And if you don't have brandy or honey to macerate the fruit in, try using some brown sugar to get a bit of that caramel-y flavor involved.  Yummy!

And now I am off to continue getting this little house set-up.  I want Paula to come over...

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