Friday, August 7, 2009

Peach and Blackberry Cobbler for Dessert Corps

I finally found some time to bake for Dessert Corps again this week. I really do love doing it, even if it's very hard not to take a taste of the finished product. I'm also considering this post as my contribution for Fight Back Fridays, because allowing the soup kitchen to serve homemade desserts rather than the food "product" alternatives is food justice in action. Sometimes I think about doing a quality control, but in the end self-control kicks in and I choose not to hand over a dish with a piece missing, but boy oh boy it was hard this week.
The local CSAs donate some of their extra fruit during the summer months to the soup kitchen, so I didn't pick my fruit, it picked me. I kind of like the surprise element to it all. This week they had some extra doughnut peaches (also known as Saturn peaches or pan tao peaches) and blackberries. Doughnut peaches are a very sweet heirloom variety of a peach that are delicious. They are also less acidic than the larger more common variety of peaches. I set out to think about what to do with these star ingredients. I love the combo of blackberries and cornmeal but wanted to make a one-dish dessert that would be easy to serve, so that ruled out making a blackberry sauce. I also wanted to utilize all the fruit so it didn't go to waste. I was leaning towards a cobbler but I wasn't super excited about it. Then I found a recipe for a cobbler that incorporated cornmeal into the biscuit topping. Indecision ended there. Blackberries and cornmeal baked goods (think pancakes) are a natural pairing. That matched with the sweetness of the peaches would be excellent.

Cobblers are a pretty simple dessert to make and don't require any stand mixers or fancy equipment. I have always loved old-fashioned American style desserts despite their humble techniques and plain Jane appearances. There is something so comforting to me about being able to whip up a dessert with not more than a bowl and a wooden spoon (dream bubble pops above my head to my creepy 1950's sitcom fantasy of me and one of those frilly half-aprons setting out a pie to cool in my window). Back to reality and East Williamsburg. Regardless, a cobbler dough is a cinch to put together all in one bowl. It is a type of biscuit dough and as soon as you mix the wet ingredients into the dry ones you can smell that doughy goodness. Set that aside while you prep the fruit.

Peel and dice your fruit, peaches in this case, and mix in a pot with a thickening agent, in this case cornstarch and some sort of sugar, a bit of lemon juice, cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Mix together and let cook for a mere five minutes. You're fruit mixture will be transformed what looks like and smells like the inside of a slice of warm pie. Yum. I think I might consider using less sugar next time, because I was concerned that the amount used in this recipe might mask the natural flavor of the peaches. But, being that this recipe was Southern in origin, I just went with it.

After the peaches are cooked all that is left is to assemble the cobbler. Mix the berries into the peach mixture, very carefully. Then pour into a greased baking dish (note the one in the photo is obviously too large, but I couldn't find a smaller disposable size to bring to the soup kitchen) and drop tablespoons of the biscuit dough all over the top of the fruit mixture. Maybe it's just because I didn't actually get to have a dish for myself but I can still smell how delicious it was, a mix of aromas of warm peach pie and freshly baked biscuits. Incredible, really. I just hope that it the diners thought it tasted as good as I thought it smelled.

Peach and Blackberry Cobbler
Adapted from Epicurious and Down Home with the Neelys. If you do decide to make this cobbler write me and let me how it turned out.

For the Biscuit Dough:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1 cup whole milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten

For the Filling:
2 pounds fresh peaches, peeled, pitted, and sliced
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 pints fresh blackberries

To make the biscuit dough - whisk together the flour, cornmeal, 1/4 cup sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs (using your hands works well). Using a fork, stir in the milk and egg just to combine.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously butter a 7 × 11-inch baking dish.

To make the filling - take your prepped peaches and place in a saucepan with the brown sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch, cinnamon, and pinch of salt over medium-high heat. Bring the peaches to a boil, stirring frequently (this is an important step otherwise you'll have caramel). Reduce the heat to medium- low and simmer, stirring, until the sauce thickens and the peaches have softened, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, and stir in the vanilla and blackberries. Transfer the filling to the baking dish.

To assemble - use 2 tablespoons, one to scoop up batter and the other spoon to push it off the spoon onto the fruit mixture. Drop spoon fulls of batter to cover the fruit evenly. Sprinkle the tops of the biscuits with some granulated sugar, and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the biscuits are golden brown and the filling is bubbly and thick around the edges.

Cool for 10 minutes. Would be great served warm with ice cream.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Zucchini linguine martini bikini Fritters

I made zucchini fritters the other night. A fine thing to make to use up some of the mid-summer abundance of squash. While I was standing there with my box grater, grating up zucchini I kept hearing Vince, this hysterically energetic infomercial guy who sells some chopping kitchen gadget. At one point in this particular commercial while he's demonstrating all the things you can grate, he says things like, "fettuccine, linguine, martini, bikini". Hey, what about zucchini, that rhymes too! (This guy has a ton of ridiculous lines one of my favorites being, "stop having a boring tuna, stop having a boring life" that I can't seem to get out of my head, probably cause his commercial is on once a morning while I'm trying to watch for the weather.) Anyways, if you haven't seen Vince in action, it's kind of funny in that infomercial way. Watch it here (localappetite does not endorse the use of this product, only the use of this kind of enthusiasm for cooking).
In case you hadn't guessed by now, I've been on a one-dish kick this summer. It's insanely hot in my kitchen and basically when I have the time to cook, I'm not making entire meals. Something fresh and tasty that utilizes my CSA produce is basically the only thing that has been motivating me this summer. I've just been rounding out the meals with more cheeses, eggs, dips and fruit. It has been a good way to handle eating at home without being in the kitchen for too too long. I was a little hesitant to fry for these fritters. But, Nigel Slater's entry on the same in The Kitchen Diaries had been in the back of my mind for some time. The only essential step to this process is the time to allow the zucchini to sufficiently drain (see photo above) otherwise you'll end up with soggy fritters that will fall apart when you try to cook them.

The one surprising thing about this recipe was that it added an extra step, which although I followed, I think I would recommend you omit it. Instead of simply mixing the grated drained zucchini in a bowl with your binders, egg and flour, and then frying, he writes that you should saute it all in a pan first and then add the flour and egg and then make little balls and fry in a second pan. I thought he might be onto something (maybe it added extra flavor or helped to further dry out the squash?), but after cooking the recipe through, I think it was an unnecessary step, leaving you with an extra pan to clean. I wouldn't want to do that to you. Either way you do it, you'll end up with light and moist zucchini fritters, if you don't flatten them too much into more of a pancake shape. As you know zucchini works well with almost anything, but either feta or Parmesan would be interesting. I used dill for the seasoning, but definitely just go with what you like or have on hand. And just like zucchini itself, this dish is versatile and will go with whatever else was on the menu for that night. Or, if you're like me, it's ok to just eat this and save room for dessert. It's too hot to eat a big meal anyways, right?

Zucchini Fritters
Adapted from The Kitchen Diaries, by Nigel Slater

3-4 zucchini, grated
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove of
garlic, minced
1/2 cup grated cheese, your choice
1 handful of fresh
dill, chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten
2-3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Olive oil

Coarsely grate zucchini and place in a colander. Salt liberally and allow
to drain for about 30 minutes. When ready to use take handfuls of it and squeeze
out any additional water before placing it in a bowl.

Mix drained zucchini with the rest of the ingredients. It will be a slightly stiff mixture. Heat a heavy pan with enough olive oil for frying. Drop mounded tablespoons into the pan and allow to brown. Keep your eye on them as
the oil gets hotter (they will cook very quick at the end) and take care when
flipping the fritters as they fall apart easily (a spatula and a fork together worked best for me).