Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Learning to Cook Like Grandma: Blanching and Peeling Peaches

Can someone please do me a favor?

The next time I poopoo some "old-fashioned," "time-consuming" technique that our grandmas and their grandmas have done for centuries...


Like, seriously. Geez Louise.

Backstory: my stepson is coming to visit. I want to make him his favorite dessert of all time: fresh peach pie. This entails peeling and cutting up eight big, fat peaches.

In the past, I've "known better" because "the-newfangled-way-has-to-be-better," so I've peeled the peaches with one of these (called a "vegetable peeler"):

(No, I don't know why it is on a chain, either.)

Peeling peaches "my way" resulted in:
  • mangled peaches
  • peaches being shot across the counter or into the sink after slipping from my grip
  • a dramatic loss of perfectly good peach flesh that did not end up in the pie (or anywhere else delicious and purposeful)
Clearly, my way is better than Grandma's, right???

Sigh. I'm such an arrogant ass.

Thank God for waves of "you-know, maybe-I-WILL-try-that-blanching-thing-that-all-the-old-recipes-tell-you-to-do..."

Folks, this is what you get when you blanch and ice peaches before peeling them:

An unpeeled, blanched peach beside peaches that have been blanched and peeled

I KNOW, RIGHT???? The skin peeled off in sheets like paper! No loss of deliciousness! And it would have taken me the SAME amount of time to mangle the peaches with a vegetable peeler than it did to blanch and peel them.

What did I do? Well, by gum, I'll tell you, even though I'm no grandma!
  1. Boil a small pot full of water that is deep enough to cover the largest peach.
  2. While you are waiting for the water to boil, take a paring knife (in the picture above) and carefully score a big 'X' in the bottom of each peach (opposite the stem side).
  3. Now get a big bowl of ice water.
  4. When the water is boiling, gently drop in a peach. Slowly count to 30 as you gently move it around to evenly boil all sides. Remove the peach and drop it in the ice water.
  5. Drop another peach in the boiling water. Count to 30. Remove the peach and drop it in the ice water. Remove the previously iced peach and put it on a plate/cutting board.
  6. Repeat until all the peaches are blanched.
  7. Pick up the first peach you blanched. Take the tip of your knife blade and slide it under the peach skin where it comes to one of the points on the 'X.' Place your thumb on top of the skin (so the skin is sandwiched between the knife blade and your thumb) and gently pull downward. Ta-daaaaa!!!! Repeat all the way around the peach.
  8. Repeat with all the peaches.
Oh my word, my world was changed. My arrogance was duly spanked, yes. And it did smart a bit...

But now there will be PIE.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Open-Faced Tomato Sandwich on Griddled Sourdough Bread

The high point of my summer is finally here: my tomatoes are starting to come in in earnest. And you know how I CAN'T STOP eating them???

How to eat all those tomatoes: open-faced tomato sandwich on griddled sourdough bread recipe

Alright, everybody, follow me:
  • Get yourself a slice of good, hearty bread. I like using Pigs Can Fly Sourdough.
  • Place 2 Tblsp. of good butter in a small skillet and melt over medium heat until it just starts to bubble and sizzle.
  • Place the slice of bread in the pool of melted butter, kind-of mopping up the butter as you do so. Move the bread to the center of the skillet and just let it sit for about 3-4 minutes.
  • Flip the bread over, mopping up any browned butter still in the skillet, and let it sit for another 2-3 minutes.
  • Remove your griddled bread from the pan and place it on a plate. 
  • Slice a thick slice (or two) of beefsteak tomato and lay it on the toast.
  • Sprinkle the tomato with a bit of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  • EAT. 
Right???? OMG.

And you are welcome.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The True Definition of a Foodie (According to the Reynolds' Dictionary)

I was in the middle of a very random, non-food-related activity the other day when all of a sudden—like, out of totally nowhere—the thought passed through my mind:
I really miss sitting down to a meal with the Reynolds.
There was a momentary pause in the random task I was completing. The timing of the thought startled me, but upon further reflection, the thought itself did not. It did, however, give me cause to ponder. Ponder for days, in fact.

The Reynolds have been wonderful friends of mine from the moment we first met, but they became a total lifeline to me during my separation and divorce—answering phone calls made out of loneliness and confusion, driving to pick me up so I could join their dinner party, calmly pouring me a glass of wine while willingly listening to my tears and ramblings (totally allowing me to ruin their previously fun evening) and providing me with sage advice.

And when the madness was all said and done, they followed my journey onward: drank countless martinis and bottles of wine with me as I experienced my newfound self and true independence for the first time in my life; met my new boyfriend (Chef Reiton) with open arms; kept the communication lines and last-minute dinner invites open after I moved from Chicago to Wisconsin; and celebrated every single joyous minute of Chef Reiton's and my backyard wedding celebration (like, literally; the Reynolds were the last ones to leave).

The Reynolds have been the truest of friends to me; that is a fact. But it was my week-long pondering that made me realize it was the stage on which the development of our relationship was set that made that exact thought pass through my consciousness. Truly, almost every single interaction that Cyndy, Perry and I have ever had has been set around sitting down to a meal together and just being. For hours at a time we carry on real talk about our real lives while we enjoy real food (and drink. Lots and lots of drink.).

Food for the Reynolds, I now realize, is a gift. It is a gift magnanimously given over the course of an evening during which, somehow, you feel that you are the main event. No matter how many times I have sat down with the Reynolds to a meal—and many of those times started at Cucina Paradiso, a fabulous little Italian restaurant that was a few blocks from our homes, and ended on the Reynolds' balcony in the wee hours of the morning—I have been made to feel enjoyed, cared for, listened to, respected, loved. Loved through the food and loved through the attention given to me and what I had going on in my life at the moment.

And it wasn't just evenings spent at Cucina where I felt this way. Many of our evenings spent were small get-togethers at their home. Traipsing up the stairs to their flat, I would be greeted by Perry who would lift me off the floor in a hug before leading me to the kitchen to find Cyndy. There she would be, masterfully finishing the touches on the food prepared by her own loving hands and artistic eye (I say "artistic" because it is not uncommon to hear Cyndy use adjectives like "gorgeous," "lovely" or "beautiful" as she is describing food). There I would be greeted with her own hugs and smiles. Then would come the barrage of questions about my life...the further questioning as the wine was poured...the laying out of a simple but beautiful appetizer board...

And that was the start of the evening.

I wish you could experience it. Cyndy and Perry don't just "have a way" of making you feel like the world's greatest guest. For that evening, you really are.

And there is more to it. You know how I said that Cyndy has this artistic way with food? It's something that I noticed about her the first time I went to their house for dinner. Food, for Cyndy, isn't just made to taste good. It's prepared to look good, too. And in eating my first lovely meal at their home, I noticed something about myself as a gorgeously arranged platter of food was set in front of me: I felt honored. Cyndy's meal was so simple yet so obviously created with love and care for the visual and culinary experience of her guests.

It's the combination of both those things—the warmth and sincere curiosity that they have about you AND the beautiful presentation of a delicious meal so lovingly prepared—that made me realize that is what makes me miss my meals with them. I miss the activity of their friendship and I miss feeling loved with their laughter, wine and beautiful food. Because that—all of it—is their love language.

Upon that realization, a secondary thought hit me:
I want to be like that with my heart and my food. 
I want people to know that I love them because of the straight-up, honest-to-goodness food I prepare for them. I want to set that stage and then take the time in an evening to demonstrate true, sincere care in getting to know my guests. Because I'm realizing that is the true definition of a foodie.

It's not about taking great food pictures or being able to go out to this restaurant or that restaurant and enjoying someone else's amazing food, or even about writing a food blog.

Being a foodie is about learning how to make your own delicious food, no matter how simple, and sharing it with people you love while providing them an evening to relax, talk about themselves, and be heard, honored and cared for.

Cyndy and Perry, my true foodie friends—you are missed.

And thank you.

The True Definition of a Foodie (According to the Reynolds' Dictionary)

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

How to Hand Your Heart over the Fence (or, Love in Arancini)

I'm working in my garden with Chef Reiton the other morning, pruning the insanity that is my tomato patch (in a good way), when I hear my name said in the most perfect Sicilian accent you could possibly imagine. I look up to find Paola, my next-door neighbor, standing on her upstairs balcony, waving.

"I have something for you," she says. "Wait five minutes. I come down."

If you've read my blog long enough (soon entering its 9th year!), you will remember when I moved to Boston two years ago and wrote about Paola and her proffered peaches in my post, Brandied Peaches and Cream at Midnight (which I just reread and realized that not only did I spell Paola's name incorrectly, I also haven't made that dessert again and I want to! A cool, creamy, low-sugar dessert that uses summer fruit and liquor! YUM).

Well, since that post, we have had Paola over many times. We have gotten to know her very well, and let me tell you: everything my gut told me about her back when we first met was true. I'll finish my story, and you will understand.

Back to me in my garden: I wait five minutes. Soon I hear the downstairs screen door open, and here comes Paola, carefully navigating the porch stairs with a foil-covered plate in hand. We both walk toward the low cedar fence that divides our yards. I don't know what's under that foil, but already I'm smiling.

"This is for you," she says as she hands the plate over the fence, she smiling, too.

I accept the plate with a "Thank you!" and hold it to my chest.

"Well, don't you want to see what it is?" she says. "Open it!"

I laugh because I don't know how to explain my love of suspense as being the reason why I hadn't unwrapped the plate—but then I cautiously lift the foil.

Set squarely in the center of the plate are three golden brown, piping hot, perfect arancini.

For readers like me, who—oh, about two years ago—had no idea what arancini was, I will educate you: in its basic form, arancini are rice balls that have been stuffed with some type of filling and then coated in breadcrumbs and fried.  Like practically every food, there are different interpretations of what its filling "should" be, but mine—the ones sitting on the plate in my hand—were made by a Sicilian home cook who uses her experience and what she has on hand to guide her. "Meat, egg, scamorza cheese. There are usually peas, but I didn't have any," she says, "so I used some basil instead." With her years of practice in a Sicilian kitchen, they were shaped into cones that would make any art teacher proud.

Paola goes on to tell me that she had made them and fresh "gravy" (a simple tomato sauce that Italians use with pasta and meats) for her grandson to take to work for lunch, and she decided that she wanted me to have them for lunch, too.

And so we do.

Homemade Sicilian arancino with gravy (tomato sauce)

As Chef Reiton and I sit and eat, moaning over the delicious simplicity of this food we were experiencing for the first time, I almost yell out, "Paola, I love you!"

Homemade Sicilian arancino filled with meat, egg, scamorza cheese and basil, served with gravy (tomato sauce)

And as I sit and sip my wine and savor the lethargic effects of all great Italian cooking, I realize why I wanted to yell such words.

It was because those words were what she was telling me when she handed the plate of arancini over the fence.

This aracino, this little creation I had just consumed, had been made with thoughts of me. And it wasn't just any old food that had been shared: it was a food that was a part of Paola. A part of her story. A part of her repertoire of ways she expresses her love for others.

When that plate came over the fence, it wasn't just arancini on the plate. It was also Paola's heart.

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