August 8, 2018

Dear friends,
It’s peach season, that time of year when I used to feel like Forest Gump with a box of chocolates. With peaches, I never knew what I was getting. They could be candy-sweet and dripping with juice or as dry and tasteless as cotton.

Then I wised up. Here’s how to buy a juicy, sweet peach rather than a dry, flavorless one: Check its provenance. The closer to home the peach was grown, the better the chance it’s a good one. That’s because peaches soften but do not ripen after they are picked. Fruit that has far to travel usually is picked while still firm and unripe, to cut down on bruising on the journey.

There are exceptions. Some California growers are shipping a relatively new hybrid developed there that arrives as sweet and juicy as peaches grown down the street. Many growers aren’t, though, so if my only option is a California peach, I usually buy one to test before committing.

If the peaches in the store are firm but from Georgia, North Carolina or even closer states, I will buy some and soften them on my kitchen counter. I am usually rewarded with juicy, sweet peaches. Of course, the best peaches are the ones from a nearby orchard, but the season is brief here in Ohio and we must make do.

This summer I have eaten my share of South Carolina and Georgia peaches while waiting for Ohio’s crop to ripen, which it is doing right now. I rarely make peach pies because of my promise to stay away from sugar, but this summer I yearned for one so badly that I caved — in a tiny sort of way. Instead of an entire, glorious pie I made muffin-sized peach-caramel upside-down pies.

I melted some sugar in a 4-inch skillet, stirred in cold butter and transferred two teaspoons to each of six muffin-tin cups. I arranged three peach slices over the caramel and topped them with rounds of puff pastry dough cut slightly larger than the holes of the muffin tins.

The pastry puffed and browned in the oven, while the peaches slumped into the caramel. When done, I inverted the baked tarts onto a tray, pounding on the muffin tin to loosen the pastry and caramel.

By the end of the day I had eaten three of them — not a whole pie, but still. Luckily, Tony ate the rest.

CARAMEL-PEACH UPSIDE-DOWN TARTS

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
2 peaches
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp. cold butter, in pieces

Butter a muffin tin with six cups. Roll pastry on a lightly floured surface to smooth out creases and enlarge the pastry slightly. With a biscuit cutter or drinking glass slightly larger than the muffin cups, cut out six rounds. Set aside.

Over medium-low heat, melt sugar in a small (preferably 4-inch) skillet or saucepan., stirring often. Do not allow sugar to burn. When the melted sugar is a rich amber color, stir in the cold butter bit by bit. Remove from heat. With a measuring spoon, place 2 teaspoons of the caramel in the bottom of each muffin tin cup.

Peel the peaches and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices Arrange 3 slices over the caramel in each cup. Place a pastry round over each cup, tucking in edges.

Bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown. Cool 2 or 4 minutes, then invert the muffin tin onto a tray or cookie sheet, pounding the muffin cups to release the tarts. Transfer to dessert plates with a spatula. If desired, reheat remaining caramel and spoon more over the tarts. Makes 6 servings.

TIDBITS
Question of the month:
Does anyone know where lamb can be bought at a reasonable price? Lamb is my favorite meat, but supermarket prices have soared. I would even consider buying a half or whole lamb from a farm (butchered and wrapped) if the price isn’t too ridiculous (often the case at boutique farms). Thanks for any advice.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Skinny eggplants roasted with sweet soy sauce; pan-grilled strip steak with blue cheese crumbles, French potato salad with garlic and mint; cantaloupe with prosciutto, cherry tomato clafoutis; lettuce-wrap chicken tacos with avocado and cucumber; beef stir fry with zucchini and yellow peppers; caramel peach upside-down tarts.

What I ate in/from restaurants last week:
Curry noodles with chicken and vegetables at House of Hunan; chili dogs with mustard and onion from the Sassy Dog cart at Copley Circle; a beef turnover (fatayer), kibbee with homemade yogurt and mujadara (lentils and caramelized onions) at the Lebanese Festival at Our Lady of the Cedars Maronite Catholic Church in Fairlawn; an appetizer sampler of beef samosa, vegetable pakoras, sliced sausage and chicken skewers, and potato-stuffed naan bread at Jaipur Junction in Hudson (excellent).

THE MAILBAG
From Trudy J.:
My grandmother used to make bean soup. She added summer savory to the pot and a big dollop of sour cream at the end. Delicious!

Dear Trudy:
A friend of Hungarian heritage also adds sour cream to her bean soup. It is indeed delicious.

From Janet B.:
I am looking forward to trying your recipe for green bean and potato soup because we have a lot of beans from our garden. But how many pounds (approximately) is 2 quarts of beans? Thanks very much.

Dear Janet:
One quart of green beans equals about one pound. While looking up the answer in my well-thumbed copy of “The Victory Garden Cookbook” by Marian Morash, I saw that she has a recipe for shell bean and green bean soup with pistou. So I guess I didn’t invent THAT idea, either.

From Pat S.:
I’ve been following your laments about an over-abundance of garden green beans. I have the same dilemma in summer. Here’s a very tasty and healthy recipe originally from Food Network Kitchen. I’ve adapted it by adding ginger and scallions.

SPICY TURKEY AND GREEN BEAN STIR FRY
1 1/2 cups basmati rice
1 1/2 lbs. green beans, trimmed
4 scallions, cut in 2-inch pieces
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 lb. lean ground turkey
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 small half-sour pickle, finely chopped
2 tsp. Asian chili paste such as sambal oelek
2 tsp,. grated fresh ginger
1 cup low-sodium, fat-free chicken broth
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. dry sherry or rice vinegar
2 tsp. cornstarch

Cook rice according to package directions. Keep warm.

Meanwhile, preheat broiler. Toss beans with 1 1/2 tbsp. of the oil and the sugar on a rimmed baking sheet. Broil 4 minutes. Stir, adding in scallions. Continue to broil for 4 to 5 minutes, until beans are tender and charred.

Heat remaining 1 1/2 tbsp. oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add turkey and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until browned, about 3 minutes Add garlic, pickle, chili paste and ginger and cook about 3 minutes more.

Whisk chicken broth with soy sauce, sherry and cornstarch in a small bowl. Add the beans and scallions to the skillet with the turkey, stirring 1 minute. Add the soy sauce mixture and cook, stirring until the sauce thickens, about 2 minutes. Serve with the rice. Makes 4 servings.

Dear Pat:
Thanks. This should use up Tony’s remaining crop of green beans.

From Michele B.:
I will definitely try the ham and bean soup with pesto. It looks delicious. My grandmother made a ham and bean soup with “dumplings” — basically dough boiled in the broth. We called it “pot pie.” Someone once told me it was a Pennsylvania Dutch recipe. I’ve only tried it twice. Her recipe gave no amounts and no recipe for the dumplings. I came close the second time. I don’t understand when people won’t share their recipes.

Dear Michele:
I can help with that recipe. My grandmother was Pennsylvania Dutch and made “pot pie” often. I once printed directions in Recipe Roundup in the Beacon Journal. Readers said the soup part was made with chicken or ham hocks, potatoes and onions, but there’s no reason the noodles wouldn’t work in green bean soup.

“POT PIE” NOODLES
4 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tbsp. butter
1 egg
1 1/2 to 2 cups milk

Combine flour, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. Cut in butter. Make a well (depression) in the flour and break the egg into the well. With a fork, stir flour into the egg a little at a time while gradually adding enough milk to make a soft dough.

Dust dough with flour and roll out as thin as possible. With a sharp knife, cut into 1 1/2-inch squares. Drop the dough squares into soup one by one and stir to prevent them from sticking together. Simmer 12 to 15 minutes or until noodles are tender.

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