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    Copyright 2008-2015Slow Food Fast. All writing and images on this blog unless otherwise attributed or set in quotes are the sole property of Slow Food Fast. Please contact DebbieN via the comments form for permissions before reprinting or reproducing any of the material on this blog.

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Fast fix for ripening peaches

peaches ripening on counter

People are STILL hitting up two of my early posts on possibilities for improving spongy, underperforming peaches that don’t ripen properly even after being left out on a countertop in a paper bag for a day or so (the best-known strategy).

My recommendation back then was first of all to try to buy local or US produce because under-ripened imported fruits are heat-treated at Customs, which disrupts their potential for ripening naturally off the tree or for keeping well.

If your only options for fresh peaches and nectarines are supermarket fruit shipped long-distance, and the produce you get doesn’t ripen on its own within a day or so at room temperature, even though the color’s right, my next suggestion was to cut up the fruit, leaving the skin on, and microwaving them with a little sugar and lemon juice. What you’d get wouldn’t be full-on raw, fresh peaches magically fulfilled to the height of the season–they’d be cooked, suitable maybe for peach jam, and they’d be tolerable, not exquisite, but it was better than having to throw them out in disappointment.

Neither the paper bag scheme nor the microwave scheme produce particularly stellar results with spongy peaches. Also, even though it may work, a 24-hour wait isn’t terrible but it isn’t particularly fast either.

Back then I thought the old Victorian-era trick of cutting up fresh strawberries and sprinkling a spoonful of sugar on them, then letting them sit out a bit to macerate–ten minutes? half an hour? who knows–wasn’t working on the spongy peaches. And maybe it wasn’t, or maybe I just wasn’t waiting long enough (ten minutes might not have been enough). But with domestic underripe peaches that aren’t rock-hard, it does seem to improve them quickly without cooking them.

The sugar draws out some of the juices to the surface but it also seems to enhance the color and perhaps creates a bit of conversion to riper flavor within the fruit itself.

Caveat: the peaches I bought yesterday were US peaches, and they had a tinge of aroma to them. They’re not rock-hard after sitting out on an admittedly warm counter near a window overnight, and they’re not hideously spongy and flavorless like the ones I bought when I was really upset about it in the original post. But they’re not really going sublime on their own either, or at least not as fast as I thought they should. Given their high color when I bought them (which used to be the other main signal for ripening and flavor potential), I wasn’t happy to find that they weren’t ready yet this morning.

I took the most yielding one, washed it, sliced it up in a bowl and took a bite–underripe, tart without the sweet (at least there was some tartness, though) and that hard yellow that isn’t really peachy yet. Potential, perhaps, but I’m impatient, as everyone knows.

So I dusted on a little sugar, turned the slices in it to get some contact, and waited about 10 minutes. Which may not be enough to see anything obvious, but it did make the slices noticeably juicier and they also seemed a little sweeter than the amount of sugar would account for. Not perfect, but not bad.

Half a guess based on the success of my faux-sour cherries experiment and last year’s nectarine sorbet (which I did again just last week):

If your peaches are really not tart either, just dull, you might try either a squeeze of lemon, or preferably, if you have it, a light dusting of citric acid powder along with the sugar. Citric acid will give them tartness that goes with their own flavors, so you don’t end up with something that tastes specifically like you added lemon. Let them sit a while and see what happens–take a sample taste and if it’s good, eat them, and if not, you can always go ahead and microwave them.

Nectarine Sorbet, Light on the Sugar

Nectarine sorbet, ready to freeze

Last summer when I had too many nectarines all at once, and they were starting to go soft in the fridge, I sliced them up and froze them as-is to dig out and gnaw on whenever the temperature got over 100 or so–which it did, often. I did admit it wasn’t a recipe, as such, and that if you really wanted, it might be worth blending them up for a granita or sorbet. But it was too hot to bother, and I didn’t care how silly it looked to stand around with the freezer door open just to grab a wedge and chill myself a bit.

This summer, luckily, I have the same problem–not the nectarines from the big Ralph’s/Kroger supermarket, those are still hard as rocks and have almost no scent most of the time. But the Armenian greengrocers get all the overgrown, just-about-overripe, bee-bitten and split-pit nectarines and peaches, the ones that aren’t perfect, hard and shiny, and that have an insane-making aroma when you pass by.

I always have to grab as many as I can, which is about eight or ten at a time, and hope I can hide them in the fridge just long enough to snag one for myself before my teenager decides they all belong to her and what are we looking at her like that for? Grrr…

Well–I hid them from myself as well this time, buried them under a couple of bags of fresh herbs for a couple of days, and when I relocated them, about seven of them were getting just to the point where I had to do something or else. So I cut them in wedges and froze them, of course. It was a lot–about a quart of cut-up fruit. And after testing out a couple of wedges, I thought, well, what if I try the sorbet thing with the rest of them after all?

frozen nectarine wedges

The only problem with sorbet is that it usually contains a lot more sugar syrup than I think it needs if the fruit is properly ripe. Three-quarters of a cup of sugar (150 grams) for a quart–sometimes just a pint–of sorbet is like drinking whole cups of Concord grape juice. Very spiky for a diabetic kid–or prediabetic adult. With the carb content of whatever fruit you use, it can add up to 35-45 grams of carb per serving. A whole large nectarine by itself has about 25 grams of carb, and at least it’s got fiber.

And the toothaching standard of American commercial dessert sweetness blankets the taste of fresh fruit until it’s not really fresh anymore. It might as well be canned. This is acceptable–just–for blackberries and raspberries, which are pretty sour if you don’t add sugar, and which keep a lot of their flavor cooked, but absolutely horrible for nectarines and peaches.

If you can get nectarines or peaches that actually taste like they came off a tree and not out of a warehouse, you do not want to cook all the wildness and tart freshness out of them (apricots–go for it; they actually improve sometimes with baking). Continue reading

Hot Air

The last two or three months of school seems to be getting more and more fraught every year–for parents, certainly. I’ve just woken up to the fact that I’ve been offline for something like three months now–March! yeesh! Not because I had nothing new to say about food, exactly, but because I had three or four competing ideas and no time to figure out pictures for the posts. And as everybody knows, if you didn’t take a picture of it, it practically didn’t happen. Just like all those tourists who used go to the Grand Canyon and (back in the day of actual film) had to wait for their pictures to be developed to see what it looked like…

And now that school’s out, it’s hot. 107 degrees twice this week in Pasadena, smoke in the air from the San Gabriel fire not too far away, and no desire to cook, walk during the day, or listen to anything resembling hot air.

Because the recent spate of presidential campaigning has become poised to take away almost any American’s appetite for a while.  Just read a newspaper online and look at the prominent photos and bombastic quotations and examples of rank cowardice.

I mean, yeah, I voted in the California primary two weeks ago, and I even researched all the local judges and assemblypeople for my district this time, hoping to make something count or at least not to commit any hideous mistakes.

Contrary to what you might think, reading the candidates’ own statements will actually give you a feel for what kind of people they are, whether they give a flying leap about their prospective constituents and whether they know how to tie their own shoes. Reading through about fifteen last-minute write-in candidate statements for various assembly-and-county-supervisor-type posts was pretty entertaining, actually–most of the hopefuls (you could guess which parties) stated their qualifications as “I believe in God.” Seriously. Sum total.

Nationalistic and bigoted fervor seem to be going around, though. To wit, “Brexit”, which actually won the vote today. Not that I don’t understand Britain’s–and everyone else’s–frustration with the EU administration, but the vote results and the resulting–utterly predictable–mess announced this morning are really disheartening.

Some are calling it a shot in the dark; to me it looks like a solid a shoot-yourself-in-the-foot-why-don’t-you move. It’ll take at least two years to execute, cost an immediate fortune in lost business and one-downmanship, and probably cost a lot more time, money and headache than previously suspected to resolve with the EU countries. Let’s face it; if Trump (king of the gold-tone hot air vent) thinks that it’s a great idea, you know you’ve gone wrong somewhere. Scotland, where his fabled floundering golf courses are located, went solidly for “remain,” by the way…

So is it any wonder I feel like taking a major break from my computer, my kitchen, and possibly your kitchen as well? If only to soothe your eyeballs and your rapidly developing ulcer, for which I apologize profoundly. Oy.

Now that that’s over, I guess I have no more excuses. What was I going to post all this time, anyway?

Harking back to early April, it looks like I made a couple of tries at something about microwaveable side dishes for Passover seders. Yes, it’s now too late to care where I hid the afikoman, but I maintain that the ability to microwave greens like asparagus or broccoli to perfection in a couple of minutes at the drop of a hat can save a meal–Passover or not–and some heat in the kitchen. If you’re vegetarian or leaning toward it, some of the not-chicken microwaveable soups can also be kind of handy and quick to nuke and store in those big snaplock containers in the fridge and free up your stove.

I didn’t go so far as to try any microwave matzah balls. No idea whether that would be a great idea or a terrible one, I was too not-chicken to try it. What can I say–be relieved. Be very relieved.

However, a crustless Israeli-style spinach and feta casserole, basically a quiche but more rustic in texture, was a hit both conventionally baked and browned for a Saturday congregation lunch during Passover and later for us at home via the quickie microwave method (minus the crust, so you don’t need the oven at all). It’s less glamorous-looking, more get-it-on-the-table-and-don’t-heat-up-the-house.

Israeli-style spinach, feta and egg casserole

Unfortunately for the spinach and feta thing, it turns out there are a gazillion of these posts all over the web, especially on low-carber fitness sites. Which takes away some of the charm of posting about it. But it’s still a good and very simple dish.

Israeli Spinach and Feta Crustless Quiche

Per casserole dish:

  • 6 eggs
  • 1 c. milk (skim is fine)
  • 1 lb. thawed and squeezed-out frozen spinach
  • 1 lg clove garlic, minced/mashed/grated
  • 2-3 chopped scallions
  • handful of chopped dill or 1-2 T dried
  • 6-8 oz. crumbled feta

Toss the spinach, herbs and feta lightly in the casserole dish so there are visible clumps of cheese (i.e., don’t blend it too fine), mix the eggs and milk together and pour them over. Optional–grate or sprinkle a pinch of nutmeg on top. Either bake about 35-45 minutes at 350F, which makes it all pretty, puffed and browned on top, or (as I see it, the better option for Pasadena weather), just nuke it covered in a microwaveable stoneware casserole for about 7-8 minutes until puffed and cooked through to keep your kitchen from sweltering.

…Are we sensing a theme here? I hope so–because yes, it’s actually been 107 degrees this week in Pasadena. I’m not that good at keeping my cool or not cooking at all (don’t ask about the sourdough I “rescued” by baking around midnight with all the doors and windows open when the temperature dropped below 90…) But I’m trying hard not to cook.

When it’s this hot, dinner becomes a pastiche of sort-of-niçoise salads with beans or canned tuna added, maybe some cold hard-boiled or medium-boiled eggs. I’m also not above making a dinner of wedges of leftover cauliflower omelet reheated (or not) in the microwave, and either tomato-cucumber salad or some sliced tomatoes with vinegar, olive oil, maybe basil flowers from the struggling plant outside.

box of winter salad

The big box of grab-and-go salad vegetables is still looking like a good strategy too–veg that doesn’t wilt in an instant is as valuable in summer as in winter. As is shredded Greek cabbage salad. Cold raw or microwave-blanched green beans, romano beans, cauliflower or broccoli with mustard dressing, Italian-type vinaigrette, or a yogurt-based dip is also a relief.

Here are a few other hot weather ideas dragged from the depths of my blank-book cookbooks, which I now realize I’ve been keeping more than half my life.

Cold marinated tofu

Tofu is actually pretty handy to have in hot weather–either nuked with vegetables instead of stir-frying if you can stand to eat it hot, or else sliced cold and marinated for ~ half an hour with jao tze dipping sauce ingredients poured over it. Continue reading

Frozen sliced nectarines

frozen nectarine slices

This, forgive me, was the least bad of a selection of really lame post title attempts to figure out what the heck to call this–starting with “peach pops,” which is not just awful but misleading. And kitschy. “Peach pops” implies that you’ve blended some artificially flavored peach iced tea mix with some horrid oversweetened commercial sludge parading as yogurt and frozen it in a pool partyesque popsicle mold–each pop with its own color wand– and posed the result on a slab of watermelon or something. Kind of a Woman’s Day, Family Circle, Real Simple, etc., cover shot.

Anyone who knows me or has ever looked at the photos on this blog realizes I’m not naturally good at cute food, to say nothing of garnishes. Occasionally I try, but I’m definitely not neat. Worse, when it’s hot I’m [even more] cranky and self-righteous about looks not being everything. And even when it’s not broiling out I really detest all the condescending pinkness and tealness attendant on women’s homemaker magazine covers.

So this is not about peach pops. It’s about frozen sliced nectarines–real ones, even. And nothing but.

I’m all too aware that many readers are still suffering blah, spongy peaches this summer, and I still don’t have any good answers for you, other than the ones I came up with when I wrote the original post about it: pick only peaches that have a good smell and are not rock-hard when you buy them, try ripening them in a window for a couple of days, maybe in a paper bag, and if that doesn’t work, cut up the parts that are semi-okay and microwave them with some sugar and lemon juice and be willing to eat them cooked.

Here in Southern California, for a wonder, our US-grown peaches and nectarines are finally pretty decent. And decadent when fully ripe. Improbable as it would have seemed to me a few years ago, when I couldn’t get decent peaches or nectarines for love or money, I now have the opposite problem–too many all at once. It’s a problem I can happily deal with.

Freezing slices of nectarine, as the very uninspiring but at least unkitschy title implies, is probably too simple an idea to even consider a recipe. (See the photo above if you doubt me–this is not a glamorous-looking or stylish item as shown.) Granted, frozen bananas are pretty simple and they count as a recipe, especially if you stick a popsicle stick in them and cover them in chocolate. And then roll them in crushed roasted peanuts. Or coconut. Or pretzel dust. Or crushed peppermints. Or whatever.

But nectarines 1. don’t go with chocolate (per Alice Medrich in Bittersweet, and I agree) and 2. don’t have the classic shape for a popsicle-ish dessert the way bananas do. The best you can do if you’re eating nectarines frozen is probably to turn them into some kind of sorbet or granita, which might look prettier but  defeats the purpose of not fussing because it’s too hot outside.

So they won’t win James Beard awards, they won’t make the cover of your favorite foodie magazine. There’s no garnish unless you’re the garnish type, they don’t require a fancy blender or freezing mold (although you could…) and you don’t have to stick a popsicle stick or toothpick or anything into the slices–unless you want to. They just taste good. Is that enough justification for a food blog post? Not sure anymore. But I hope so.

It started in June, right before we were about to go east for a week and I had way too much produce in the fridge. I ended up throwing a lot of stuff in the freezer in microwave containers or ziplock bags and hoping for the best–bunches of herbs, a pound or so of blueberries, some lemons. And several nectarines, which I washed and sliced up first.

I’d never frozen fruit by itself before, and unfortunately at some point in my ambitious youth I had read how to do it properly, Continue reading

Happy 4th!

rawblueberrypie-2pounder-med

The raw blueberry pie right before we cut into it.

If you have to do a pie in the middle of summer, say, if you’re bringing something to a Fourth of July outing, this might be the kind you want. It only takes a few minutes to put together (other than picking over the blueberries to make sure you’re not leaving any stems in). And Trader Joe’s is selling two-pound containers of blueberries for a moderate price, about $6, at least in southern California. That’s enough for a pretty big pie. So I got two boxes for my daughter’s birthday party last week and discovered that just one box was about a third more than my old newspaper recipe called for. Well…we can always use a few blueberries around the house! And the pie ingredients are so simple it’s not hard to scale up a bit and still have it work out nicely. Very nicely, in fact.

The syrup you start the filling with can be boiled up in a minute or so in the microwave, so you don’t have to heat up your house or stand over a stove. Then you just stir in the starch slurry and some lime juice to thicken it, and start folding in the raw berries. When they’re all in, you pour it into the crust and let it cool until set.

And I’m not sure you actually have to run an oven for a graham cracker crust, although I did for about 10 minutes–I think it makes the sugars melt a bit with the butter, so the resulting caramel, if you can call it that, binds the crumbs together and then hardens slightly when it cools and the crust stays crisp a little longer. But maybe that’s just fantasy. If you want to keep the oven off, you’ve got my vote. If you want to buy a frozen graham cracker crust-lined pie tin (or two; with this amount of filling you could probably do 2 standard smaller pies), that’s your call too.

I don’t usually buy graham crackers at all, but for this I think it’s worth doing the crust at home–it takes maybe 2-3 minutes to grind up enough for a crust and press it into a pan, and it’s a little more versatile than the commercial versions. I can put in a bit less sugar and butter than the standard crust recipes do, skip the salt, throw in a little almond meal if I feel like it, and add a couple of pinches of cinnamon and ginger to spice things up. Leftover crackers are handy for making impromptu ice cream sandwiches, if you can keep your kids away from them until you’re ready to do that.

Here’s my scaled-up version for a two-pound box (909 g. approximately) of fresh blueberries. That’s about 300 grams more blueberries than the old 4-cup recipe I copied from my mother-in-law, so it needs somewhat more in the way of crust and sugar, but not actually that much more–go by taste and be conservative. This version is sweet but fresh, which is the joy of keeping most of the blueberries raw. It won’t make you feel like you’ve just eaten half a jar of jam. Continue reading

This always happens right before vacation…

Finally, finally, we are going to the East Coast. We’ve had to put off seeing my mom and my sister (and assorted boys) twice since December due to incessant snow, none of which hit Los Angeles in the slightest. So as soon as school lets out, we’re packing for an ungodly wake-up call the next morning and getting out of SoCal for a bit more than a week. The cat gets a hotel/spa vacation without all the schlepping around between Bahston and New Yawk. We get the do-we-have-enough-clean-undies-to-make-it version.

So good, already. But as in many of my tangled big-event preparation schemes, I have a slight problem with the fridge:

Stuffed fridge right before traveling

The problem, part I…Note the tomatoes: 10+, excessively ripe, and the invisible 6 or so red peppers behind them. Not to mention the huge bag with 7-8 bunches of fresh herbs…

fridgedoor

Part II, the door…Note the huge bag of nectarines, lower left, the chiles just behind the mushrooms and two bags of apricots at right, just because…

AAAgh…just a little insane. Suffice it to say, it’s been an enthusiastic week or so vegetable-shopping-wise because the Fresno tomatoes are back in my local greengrocer’s, along with a lot of other produce, and I’ve gone overboard on a number of items, not least of which are lemon basil, mint, dill and tarragon (which I haven’t even decided if I like). The market beckons, the low prices for herbs and vegetables even more so, and the sun’s finally come out again after a month of gray days. And I’m a purple thumb as a gardener, so the greengrocer’s wares beckon even more strongly. How could I not want it all? But a little thought for the calendar might not have gone amiss.

So I’m in trouble again. We leave in 4 days. There are a maximum of three humans in the house (depends how we’re behaving at any given moment). Nobody but me really gets into gazpacho the way they should–though they will go with salads (the coarse-cut version of gazpacho). And it’s a sorry day when you have to threaten people with apricots and nectarines three meals a day. We should be reveling in the produce section, not roiling in it. If we were staying here, this would be an ideal scenario for the next week and a half, Continue reading

Fennel Mania

way too much fennel for one salad bowl

This much whole fennel kind of overwhelms my largest mixing bowl.
What was I thinking?

I hear a lot of complaints, among those of my friends and relatives who subscribe to CSAs, about weekly baskets arriving at the doorstep with surprise odd vegetables in unusually large amounts, and what the heck do you do with it all? I’ve never experienced that myself–I’m my own worst (or best) CSA challenge. So I can’t really blame this dilemma on anyone else, because I do my own shopping at my local greengrocer’s. And because the prices are low and the vegetables generally better than what I can get at the supermarket, I sometimes go a little overboard. Fresno tomatoes, when they’re in, are so good I end up with a 7 or 8 lb sack of them every week while I can. If I had more room in the fridge (oh, sacrilege! but they’re already so ripe it doesn’t hurt them), I’d buy even more. An overload of good tomatoes is no problem. However…

too much fennel from the greengrocer's

This week’s hot purchase: fresh fennel at a fabulous–too-fabulous?–price. Fifty cents apiece for large, clean-looking fennel bulbs with about two feet of stalk attached. They’re never less than two dollars apiece in the supermarket, and usually more like three.

So of course I couldn’t resist. I bought FOUR. Yeah. Two dollars total. For what turned out to be more than five pounds of useable produce, because if the fennel’s fresh, it’s all good eating. After washing and cutting it up into useable sections (only a 10-minute operation, surprisingly; fennel’s pretty cooperative for a big frondy vegetable), I actually weighed everything on our food scale.

Three pounds of bulbs for salads or grilling or whatever, two pounds of cleaned stalks chopped into celery-stick-length batons, and about six ounces of the cleaned chopped fronds to use as anise-to-dill-like herbs in tomato vegetable soup, fish, etc.

i1035 FW1.1

But how to use it all in a small household? We have only three people, and I’m the one who likes the anise-y taste of fennel most. Can I freeze some of it for later use (other than the fronds, which I did)? Are we going to be stuck eating it every day for weeks? How long before it starts going bad? What the heck was I thinking?

But it’s enough, and cheap enough, that I get to play around with it. Maybe I can find something good and even original to do with it that doesn’t require long roasting steps (Italian), stewing, or cheese-and-cream-filled gratin-type disguises (French) for the anise flavor, because really, for that you could have just bought celery.

The most obvious thing to do with fennel is slice it up and nosh on it raw. The first time I ever ate it was at the home of a large Moroccan Jewish family up in the  north of Israel. The mother, who invited me over for Shabbat lunch, started the meal with hraime, fish steaks (served cold, thank g-d) in a garlicky broth with enough evil birds’ eye chiles floating in it that the younger children (all the ones under 20, anyhow) started whimpering. “Only one pepper!” their mother replied, but none of them were fooled. I, the self-conscious guest just out of college, took the first bite and nearly fell off my chair as all the brothers and sisters laughed. Luckily the rest of the lunch was pretty unspiced–brisket, long-cooked eggs, farro with chickpeas, a lot of little cooked and raw vegetable salad dishes. I was still recovering from the “appetizer” though; I reached repeatedly for both water and the sliced fennel. Actually, I miss Esther’s hraime still, these many years later…

But mostly you don’t want to just gnaw on raw fennel for relief from the evil chiles. Fennel is pretty. Continue reading

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