Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"this is unlike the story it was written to be"

the food: Peach Streusel Muffins
the song: "Peach Plum Pear" Joanna Newsom*

Before August slips away, I have one more seasonal recipe for you. I have eaten more peaches this summer than ever before. You may not know this, but the husband and my hometown claims to be the peach capital of Texas. There's an annual Peach Festival we've been steadily avoiding since we were punk rock (the husband), angst-ridden (me) high school kids. 

I came home from the farmer's market at the very beginning of summer with a big bag of peaches. They were just too good to pass up. They smelled amazing, the old man farmer was a cutie pie, and I got caught up in the moment. The husband turned his nose up a little as I bit into one. "I think the Peach Festival scarred me. I don't really like peaches," he told me.

Maybe part of the reason I've cooked with peaches this summer is to help the husband overcome childhood traumas. Peaches are kind of amazing, especially to a cook. That smell, the fuzzy skin, the little squeeze, the color, the juice. And lest I forget the pit. A nice ripe peach is pretty irresistible. I think I've won him over this summer. He'll probably never take a bite of a peach on its own, but I'm ok with that. Neither of us are big fruit eaters.

The one exception to our limited fruit eating is baked goods. I love love LOVE baking with fruit. Cobblers, muffins, breads, pie, crisps...you name it, and I'm there. Give me a little butter and sugar, and watch out fruit!

If you remember, I got a bucket of peaches from my grandmother's tree the last time I visited. When I got them home after the 4 hour car ride, a few of them were a bit mealy. This peach muffin recipe was the perfect way to use up the peaches that were slightly past their prime. They include a secret...dare I say... *naughty* splash of rum that makes you feel just a little rebellious with coffee at 8 a.m.**

I'm not going to tangent too much here (I hope), but I want to say a quick something about healthy eating. I claim to be interested in healthy(ish) recipes, and here I am posting a muffin recipe with butter and sour cream. My argument here...and bear with me...is that these muffins still fall under the scope of healthy(ish). I am a firm believer in eating real food, which means I cook with butter and full fat sour cream (both organic). I still maintain we're better off eating one of these muffins for breakfast...one being the key word...than a highly processed energy bar or a yogurt parfait with HFCS. At least with this I know exactly what I'm getting. 

Sure, I would be a better example of health if I just ate the peach for breakfast. But come on.

I froze about 1/2 of this batch and the husband and I agree that they taste even better the second time around. Freezing pulls together all the flavors and makes them a more solid muffin. Also, it gives you a break from eating peach muffins every day for a week.  

Check out other peach disguises here and here.

Peach Streusel Muffins
adapted from Ezra Poundcake

for the streusel:
1 cup coursely chopped walnuts (pecans would also be good)
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

for the muffins:
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon all spice
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 tablespoon dark rum (you can also use vanilla extract, but rum is more fun)
1 1/2 cups peeled, pitted, chopped peaches

To make the topping, combine the walnuts, flour, brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Cut in the butter, and mix until well blended (I use my hands for this, but you could also use a fork). Set aside

To make the muffins, sift together all dry ingredients- from flour to salt- and set aside. 

In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, butter, sour cream and rum or vanilla. Fold in the peaches.

Add the egg mixture to the dry mixture. Stir until just moist and blended. Do not overmix. 

Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin pan with a large ice cream scoop (1/3-cup scoop). The batter should come to the top of the paper liner or pan. Sprinkle with the streusel topping, and lightly press the topping into the muffin batter.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes at 375. Remove from the oven, and cool for 5 minutes before removing from muffin pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes about 18 muffins.


*Dear Cats I Live With- I'm sorry that I listened to Joanna Newsom while writing this post. I know she confuses you and her voice makes you wonder if there is a dying cat in the house a little nervous. There are some things only your human masters can appreciate, and I'm afraid Ms. Newsom is one of those things. Love, Your Mom

**Ok, fine, not really. Obviously 1 tablespoon of rum, spread between 18 muffins and cooked for a half hour isn't going to make you loopy.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

"write it down and i will read it"

the song: "A Thousand Seasons Past" The Rentals

When August began, I set the goal to write about seasonal recipes. I talked about eggplant and zucchini and tomatoes. I told you about the heat wearing me (and my garden) down. When I started my August posts about seasonal eating, I knew exactly how to wrap up this month. I want to give credit to the hippest, most sustainable, green, domestic diva I know.

At the beginning of August, I went to visit my grandparents in Woodson, Texas (population 296). My grandparents are such interesting people and I feel incredibly blessed to have them both in my adult life. Both deserve essays to be written about them, if not books. There's only so much you can cover in one sitting, though, so this post is about my grandmother.

My Maw Maw is the beautiful woman pictured above. You might notice she is a bit blurry in the photo. That's because she never stops moving. This summer, while caring for my ailing grandfather, my Maw Maw's peach tree started overflowing. She told us a story about reaching up to move a dead limb and a whole branch of the tree falling off because it was so overloaded with peaches. As her peaches began to ripen, she set out to preserve them. All of them.

I have to point out- those are peanut butter jars that she's been cleaning and collecting for this exact purpose. She has been recycling since before it was a household word. She washes plastic cups...and straws. She reuses bread bags. She washes styrofoam meat trays to send home plates of cookies and brownies.

She's been doing this forever--making jellies, pickling, and preserving. She is so associated with this trait that other people from the community bring my 87 year old grandmother their garden items to preserve. She had two huge cucumbers sitting on her counter that she was going to turn into pickles later in the week. As I was taking the peach picture, she also asked me to photograph her plum juice. She was so excited about this, because she got the wild plums from a neighbor right as she was running out of juice to make cobblers. Now she's stocked up again.

Again, take note of the recycled juice bottles.

It takes so much energy and devotion to food to do all the things my grandmother does. I am almost 60 years younger than her, and it made me tired to think of all the work she put into preserving. Tired and awestruck.

I also couldn't help but notice her okra, waiting for the next Sunday family meal.

You see what's behind it, don't you? More peaches! She proudly told me she has peaches to last for 2 years. 

The domestic arts are so popular these days. People (myself included) start to think they are novel for making jelly or keeping chickens (2 things I have yet to do, by the way!). We are right to be proud. In today's world we are encouraged to buy our lettuce in bags and our meat in patties to remove any indication it was once alive. Any effort we make to take our food back into our own hands is impressive. The more people that garden and cook and keep chickens and homebrew and sew and bake, the happier our community and earth will be.

When I see my grandmother though, I have to remember the generations of women that we hipster homemakers have to thank. People have forgotten the work it takes to live in a responsible way. Sure, my grandmother could have easily let the peaches go this year. No one would have blamed her. But she couldn't because that's not how she was raised. She lives sustainably because it's part of her essence, not because it's fashionable or something Michael Pollan told her to do. To her, a tree full of ripe peaches isn't a choice, it's life itself.

I was sent home with a big bucket of peaches. My next post will be about how I used those peaches. But I first had to recognize this incredible lady that has shaped my life in more ways that she'll ever know. Thank you for feeding us all.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"i'm dressed up for free drinks and family greetings"

the food: Zucchini Enchilada Tart 
the song: "Company Calls Epilogue" Death Cab for Cutie

At the beginning of 2010, I made a big decision. I decided to quit my job as a daycare director so I could pursue something new. I told you all about it as it was unfolding, and I realized I hadn't updated you on my post-job life. I have some work prospects on the horizon that I will hopefully be able to tell you about soon. It's been on my mind a lot this week, because had I not quit, Monday would have been my first day of school.

I wondered how I would feel this week. Would I be sad or regret leaving my job? In the past, two months of summer has been more than enough to rejuvenate me and get me ready for the year. Would I make it a point to do something deliberately not responsible? It would not be the first time this summer I've chosen an afternoon margarita and swimming over cleaning house.

The week (so far, anyway) has been pretty normal. I waited around for a repair guy. I grocery shopped. I did dishes. I worked in the garden. I made vegetable broth. I went to a doctor's appointment. I washed and folded. I did yoga. I've taken more than a few moments to be grateful. 

I also made a delicious new recipe that I am going to share with you.
Are you familiar with (never home) maker? The site is written by a vegetarian couple in New York who also happen to be great photographers, homebrewers, and marathon runners (wha' wha'?). They posted a recipe for a deep dish veggie tart last week and I bookmarked it for future use. I do this a lot...pretty much anytime I see a picture that makes my stomach perk up. But this recipe kept popping up in my head, demanding to be cooked. So, just a few days later, I tried it.

What can I tell you about this dish? As the original post says, it's different. It is based on a lasagna tart recipe. (Never home) maker describes it like a deep dish pizza. I upped the spice with some garden jalapenos and added cilantro, so I'm going to add "enchilada" to the list of descriptions. Call it whatever you want, really. Delicious comes to mind...

This would be a great dish for a meal with friends, because there is plenty of time to clean up the kitchen between steps. Even though the directions are a bit lengthy, there is a lot of downtime. Another reason this is great for a dinner party? Once you pop it in the oven, you have 40 minutes of bake time to get yourself ready before people arrive. You'll look great and have an impressive meal to share in your clean house with people you love.  

Zucchini Enchilada Tart
adapted from (never home) maker

For the crust:
2 cups flour 
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon herbs (whatever you have on hand, fresh or dried... I used oregano)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup cool water

For the filling:
3 small zucchini, cut into thin coins
1 cup cooked black beans, drained and rinsed (canned is fine)
2-3 ounces goat cheese (if you don't care for goat cheese, Monterrey jack would be tasty)
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 jalapenos, de-seeded
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 can no-salt-added diced tomatoes

  • Whisk together the flour, salt, and herbs. Add in the oil and water. Mix with a fork . . . and then give in and use your hands. The dough will be slightly sticky. You may add more water, if necessary.

  • On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough so it'll fit your tart pan. We make ours about an inch in diameter larger. Quick rolls are best, you don't want to handle the dough too much.

  • Very carefully transfer the tart dough to the pan. Fold over the excess dough to make the crust thicker. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in your refrigerator for half an hour to an hour.

  • pinch kosher salt

    First, make your crust. Whisk together the flour, salt, and herbs. Add in the oil and water. Mix with your hands. Dough will be slightly sticky. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to a thin sheet and carefully fit it into your tart pan. Use your hands to shape the crust. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in your refrigerator for 30 minutes to one hour.

    In the meantime, toss your zucchini coins with salt in a colander to release some of the moisture. Let sit while your dough rests.

    Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove crust from refrigerator, take off plastic wrap, and prick the bottom of the crust a few times with a fork. Bake on the middle rack for 15-20 minutes, until golden.

    Meanwhile, make your sauce. In your blender or food processor, add canned tomatoes and juices, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 3 garlic cloves, 2 jalapenos, and a pinch of salt. Pulse until roughly combined. 

    Remove crust from oven and set aside. Lower oven temperature to 350. Rinse salt from zucchini and press between 2 clean dish towels. Arrange cheese, zucchini, beans, sauce, and cilantro for easy access. Let the layering begin!

    Spread 1/2 of the cheese on the bottom. Spread 1/2 sauce on top of that and sprinkle with cilantro. Then pile 1/2 your zucchini coins in a circular pattern on the tart. Add all the black beans. Then another layer of cheese (about 2/3 of what is left) and cilantro. Then another layer of zucchini. Top with the rest of your cheese, then the rest of your sauce.

    Place tart pan on a rimmed baking sheet and cook at 350 for 40 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes before serving. 


    Sunday, August 22, 2010


    the song: Untitled #1 ("Vaka") Sigur Ros 

    I'm currently tearing through Comfort Me With Apples, and I think Ruth Reichl may be one of my new heroes. The more I learn about her, the more I want to know. Even her tweets read like poetry:
    "Chilly morning; summer ebbing away. Last night's peach pie, fragile and fragrant on this bright morning. Each bite a tiny farewell."
    Reading a book by an author so dedicated to food and writing, it reminds me the importance of inspiration when you are trying to make something of your own, whether that's a good meal or artwork or a silly food blog. It is easy to get into a rut, especially during lazy hot summer days. 

    Saturday morning I got up early and worked on untangling my tomato plants. They are huge and lanky these days. Not the prettiest things, kind of out of control. For the last few weeks I haven't really known what to do with them. Every time I think about pulling them up, they burst forth with tiny red juicy cherry tomatoes, saving themselves for another few days. It felt good to give them a little attention, clearing out dead vines and propping up their overwhelmed, bent cages with stakes. The end result is a better looking garden, dirt on my hands, and a good feeling inside.

    I feel the same about writing. Every post I set out to write lately has been a false start. So rather than try to create something new today, I'm going to take a moment to remember what inspires me. It takes time to create, and sometimes things start looking a little neglected. Seeking out new things helps me clear out the browning vines.

    If you're in need of inspiration, this is where I keep track of things I want to make and articles I run across that make me think. 


    P.S. The song is the opening track from Sigur Ros' album ( ). It is completely beautiful, unquotable, and my go-to song for a thoughtful quiet morning.

    Friday, August 13, 2010

    "my pants ain't getting no bigger"

    the food: Ratatouille
    the song: "Sissyneck" Beck*

    Nerdy rant in 3...2...1:

    I am giddy after seeing Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World last night. It's so good, people. I should offer the disclaimer that I've read the graphic novels and have been anticipating this movie for more than a year. My hope is that it translates as well for people that haven't read the books. If you're going in blind, just keep in mind that you're walking into a emo hipster video game. And it's awesome and perfectly done. Touche, Edgar Wright.

    In honor of my favorite movie of the summer, I will share with you one of my favorite summertime dinners. Right after I show you my Scott Pilgrim avatar. Yes!

    I heart her.

    Ok...food. My garden is on it's way out, as I knew it would be by this time of year. One thing that is still thriving, though, is my eggplant. I have about 6 plants, some purple globes, some long and white. They have produced like crazy with very little tending, and look pretty good after weeks of 100+ degree days.

    Now for a secret...I don't even like eggplant that much. It's bitter and it takes a lot of work. Kind of like an evil ex (sorry, that was the last reference, I promise). But I keep planting it every summer so I have no excuse not to make ratatouille. Last summer I was able to make a pot of all homegrown ratatouille, except for the canned tomatoes. Of course, store bought vegetables work great, too. 

    You can use your judgment about pre-salting the eggplant. Roasting the eggplant is usually enough to remove the bitterness. But I made it once when it should have been salted, and it was so bitter I couldn't eat it. Ever since, my eggplant gets salted. Live and learn.

    There are definitely prettier versions of this dish, but I like this one. If you've seen the movie by the same name, you know that ratatouille is peasant food. I like the hands-on quality of this meal. It isn't proper, it's earthy. Everytime I make this recipe, I have a moment right before it comes off the stove where I think "Meh, what's the big deal? This is just a bunch of vegetables." Then I take a bite and remember. When you sop it up with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and a good crusty bread, magic happens.

    adapted from The Kitchn

    2 medium eggplants, cut into 1" cubes
    3 medium zucchini or other summer squash, cut into 1" cubes
    olive oil
    2 onions, diced
    2 sweet bell peppers, roughly chopped
    4 - 6 cloves of garlic, minced
    1 can no salt added diced tomatoes
    1 Tablespoon fresh thyme
    1 bay leaf
    2 Tablespoons fresh basil
    salt and pepper

    Salt the eggplant cubes and set them in a colander to release their liquid for at least 30 minutes. Rinse off the salt and press the cubes against the counter top between two clean kitchen towels to get out as much moisture as possible. 

    Combine the eggplant with the zucchini and toss with enough olive oil to lightly coat the pieces. Arrange the cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet (use two sheets if necessary), and roast at 450 for a total of 30 - 40 minutes, stirring the cubes every 10 minutes. When the eggplant has completely softened, remove trays and set aside.

    Meanwhile, heat one tablespoon of oil in a deep sauce pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions and a pinch of salt, and saute until the onion is completely translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the bell peppers and saute until no longer crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

    Add the thyme, bay leaf, and the tomatoes with juice into the pot and stir to combine. Simmer for about 5 minutes until the tomatoes have started to break down.

    Add the roasted eggplant and zucchini to the pot and simmer until the tomatoes and eggplant have almost completely broken down into a pulpy sauce. Salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and stir in basil. Serve with bread and olive oil with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.


    *Beck wrote the songs for Scott Pilgrim's band. One more reason to love this movie.

    Tuesday, August 10, 2010

    "i'm telling you i caught the sun"

    the food: Roasted Tomato Soup
    the song: "Waiting for the Moon to Rise" Belle & Sebastian

    A little while ago, I set off to post this delicious tomato soup recipe and got very distracted with a story about grilled cheese. I made this soup again last weekend and remembered just how good it is. Since we're talking seasonal food this month, tomato soup is a perfect way to use up a tomato surplus from your garden. Not necessary for me, unfortunately. My tomato plants hardly made a thing this year. They are huge and bushy, but have only given me a large handful of tiny cherry tomatoes. Oh well. At least they are cheap at the store.

    I like this soup because it takes some time, but is so very simple and delicious. Yes, you the tomatoes have to cook quite a while, but once you get them in the oven, you can go sit down with a book, or clean up your kitchen, or catch up on all the Internet. Plus, roasting the tomatoes and garlic adds so much flavor and depth to tomato soup. This tastes nothing like the stuff that comes from a can. But I'm sure I didn't have to tell you that.

    This recipe makes a lot of soup. It freezes like a dream and, like most soups, tastes even better after a day or two. Also, my directions about herbs might be a little confusing. Like a lot of home cooks with gardens, I never depend on exact measurements with herbs, because it always depends on what I have access to. Freshness is key, so use whatever you've got that you think would taste good. Basil is the go-to if you're buying herbs, but I also like the combination.

    I got an immersion blender for my birthday (thanks, Dad & Linda!) and this was it's first test run. Kitchen gadgets aren't normally my thing, but after one use I'm already loving my immersion blender. If you don't have one, a regular blender works fine. Just be careful. I've made the mistake (more than once, sadly) of trapping all the steam in the blender, then splashing hot soup on myself when I flip the switch. I do a lot of things well, but I never claimed to have an abundance of common sense.

    This should go without saying, but please make yourself a grilled cheese to go with the soup. The grilled cheese + tomato soup combo might be the most perfect marriage in the universe. If you want to make your grilled cheese fancy, go for it. There are tons of ideas out there. My favorite is a little pesto, mozzarella or gruyere, tomato, and parmesan cheese cooked onto the outside of the bread. Saturday we had sandwiches made with jalapeno bread and oaxaca cheese with leftover soup. It's hard to go wrong really. If you don't want the sandwich, you are a stronger person than I am. If the soup must fly solo, I recommend stirring in a little cheese on top to mellow the tartness of the tomatoes. Parmesan is good, goat is great.

    Roasted Tomato Soup
    adapted from Ina Garten

    3 pounds ripe tomatoes (I used roma), sliced in half lengthwise
    olive oil
    salt & pepper
    2 cups chopped onion
    6-10 garlic cloves, peeled
    2 tablespoons unsalted butter
    1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
    1 (28-ounce) canned plum tomatoes, with their juice
    4 cups vegetable broth (make your own, if you have time...it makes a big difference!)
    large handful of your favorite herbs (basil if you're buying herbs. I used oregano, thyme, rosemary, and basil.)

    Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss together the tomatoes, peeled garlic, 1/4 cup olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread the tomatoes in 1 layer on a baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes, flipping half way through.

    In a large heavy bottomed pot over medium heat, saute the onions and garlic with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the butter, and red pepper flakes until the onions start to brown. Add the canned tomatoes, herbs, and stock. Add the oven-roasted tomatoes, including the liquid on the baking sheet. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for 40 minutes. Use your immersion blender or blend soup in batches to desired consistency. Taste for seasonings. Serve topped with cheese if you like.


    Tuesday, August 3, 2010

    "august, I'm on your side"

    the song: "August" Rilo Kiley

    Happy happy August!  This month, I’m going to try something different here at GNP. I’ve been lacking inspiration just a bit lately. It is hot and I’ve found myself skipping dinner or going out more often than cooking a big meal. I need to focus.

    Fall is on the horizon, albeit not for another 3 months in Austin. My goal is to hang on to summer while we’ve got it. So this month, let’s focus on seasonal recipes. But I must first offer a disclaimer. I am no shining beacon of seasonal eating. I try my best to make it to the farmer's market, but quite honestly I am a little crazy about enjoy meal planning and organization. Any given week, chances are you'll find me doing our weekly shopping at HEB where I have a grocery list in hand organized by where items are located in the store (sheesh). 

    Having said that, I do pay attention to the seasons. You won’t find me making peach salsa or corn and tomato pie in December. I try my best to eat in season, but it’s mostly because I’m cheap. $.64 for a pound of Texas grown peaches? $.86 for a pound of ripe juicy tomatoes? Free peppers and eggplant from my garden? Seasonal vegetables are one of the rare times when spending less means better tasting food. For me it's as simple as that.

    I remember this time last year feeling a tinge of sadness in my heart at the thought of giving up squash and plump peppers. How will I ever adjust? I remember thinking. I love the food I’m making now so much. 

    Summer harvest, June 2009

    Similar thoughts ran through my mind in April as the weather started turning warmer and my leafy greens started to go to seed. How can I possibly cook without 4 types of greens at my disposal? I fretted. Dinner just won't be the same! 

     Snow covered greens, February 2010

    And it's true. As I look back over my food journal (you can see the last month here), my dinners were very different last June than they were last November. My gardening set on Flickr shows the cycle of food. Squash to peppers to broccoli to lettuce and back again. But isn't that part of the beauty of paying attention to what you eat? Taking time to notice what is actually ripe rather than just grabbing the same vegetables week after week makes for more creative menus and daring recipes. Paying attention keeps me out of a cooking rut. 

    This August, I'll be writing about summer food. A little homegrown, a little farmer's market, a little grocery store special. Things are gonna get fresh around here. Stay tuned.


    P.S. If you're interested in seasonal eating, I highly recommend Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle about her family's year of eating locally. She writes so very eloquently about her food choices, going far beyond "it's cheaper and tastes better."