Peaches and Cream, Streusel and Cherries

When I think of Texas fruits, two immediately come to mind, ruby red grapefruit and peaches. That’s fairly narrow thinking, since Texas is so huge and offers a large variety of climates and vegetation. It’s those two fruits that always pop to mind though. Recently on a road trip outside of Houston, I noticed a stand (one of several on the sides of the Hill Country area roads) advertising fresh Texas peaches. The couple at the stand had some amazingly fragrant peaches. The fruit was not much to look at, they are not the large plump and blemish free specimens you see at the supermarket. They were smaller. Some were almond-shaped, others were rounder and others somewhere in between, but they smelled amazing and were sweet and juicy. So, I bought a few pounds and intended to eat half out of hand and make some peaches and cream combo with the rest.

First up was the ice cream. I broiled a few peaches, cut side up until fairly dark and burnished. I pureed those into a classic custard ice cream base along with a few tablespoons of Maker’s Mark bourbon. This made some fantastic burnt peach-bourbon ice cream. I blanched a couple more peaches for a few seconds just to loosen the skin and then peeled them and sliced them into large segments. These were tossed with a little Turbinado sugar so they could macerate for a while before serving.

For a crunchy sweet component I made streusel shards or cookies. This is basically classic streusel made with butter, flour and almonds. Instead of sprinkling it on top of some fruit and baking it like that I spread it in an even layer on a Silpat-lined baking sheet. I topped that with another baking sheet and baked the mixture. As soon as it’s out of the oven and before it turns too hard, I cut it into rough circles with a cookie cutter.

We are in the middle of cherry season and the fruit is delicious, goes great with peaches and is very reasonably priced. So I macerated cherries in red wine, very much like the ones from the calf heart confit dish. I used a portion of their sweet syrup to make a delicate whipped topping. That’s done by mixing the syrup with a little gelatin, pouring it into an iSi canister and charging it with two NO2 cartridges. The NO2 gives the syrup the “foaming action” but without some structure we won’t end up with nice blobs of tasty cherry flavored whipped topping. We’ll more likely end up with something closer to a soda foam. That’s why the gelatin is there. It sets the mixture slightly and gives it the proper texture. In addition to the cherries and whipped cherry topping I also made some plain, lightly sweetened whipped cream. Afterall, this is peaches and cream.

Moose Spanish Meatballs and Vegetable Paella

 

A good friend of mine (same one who was generous with the pheasants), was nice enough to also give me a 2 lb. piece of moose meat. I was not even sure what cut of the huge animal it was, but seemed like a round roast. It felt tough and possibly not suitable for a quick cooking method. Not exactly sure what to do with it, I emailed Hank from honest-food and asked him what he would do. He immediately pointed me to the Swedish moose meatballs recipe he had. Meatballs. That sounded good, but another meatball recipe came to mind. It’s a delicious Spanish recipe from Penelope Casas’ book “Tapas”. Last time I made this recipe was for the World Cup final between Spain and Netherlands and it was a big hit.

Since we had friends coming over for dinner, I decided to make a meal out of the meatballs and accompany them with another Spanish dish (more on that in a minute). The meatballs are fairly standard. Mix the meat with garlic, bread crumbs, eggs, parsley and form them into balls. These then get browned in olive oil and the sauce gets made in the same pan. That’s what takes this dish to the next level, that sauce. It’s made from a base of onions, carrots, green onions and a handful of whole garlic cloves. To that I add a mixture beef broth, white wine and almonds all blended to a semi-smooth liquid. The meatballs and some frozen peas simmer in that lovely sauce for a good while until the sauce gets thick and creamy.

Another Penelope Casas recipe that I love, this one from “La Cocina de Mama“, is the vegetable paella. Is it still a paella if it does not have saffrom? Casas does use saffron in this dish, but I think it works better without it. I love the saffron in meat or seafood paellas, but in this one it just takes over the mild vegetable flavors. So, I usually omit it and up the smoked paprika amount plus adding a small pinch of turmeric  for color. It’s a delicious dish on it’s own or as a fodder for those fantastic meatballs.

For dessert, we had a version of Thomas Keller’s shortcakes from “The French Laundry Cookbook” with my version of a mixed berry ice cream, vanilla creme fraiche sauce and chopped strawberries.

Lebanese Baklawa

 

 All of the Baklawa (or Baklava) versions are made with filo, a nut filling and a sweet syrup. However, what makes Lebanese Baklawa different than Greek or Turkish ones and – in my biased opinion 🙂 – better, are a few details. There should be no spice in the nut filling. No cinnamon, no cloves, no mace or nutmeg. The filling is just nuts, a little sugar and a pinch of salt. That’s all. Spices just distract from the flavor of the roasted nuts.

Lebanese Baklawa also does not have honey. No honey at all. Honey syrup makes it heavy and a bit cloying and again imparts its own flavor. This Baklawa is soaked in a syrup made from water, sugar and a couple of aromatic extracts namely rose water and orange blossom water. The first one is distilled from a specific kind of rose that is usually pink, not much to look at but so fragrant. The second one is distilled from the blossoms (flowers) of orange, preferably bitter (Seville) oranges.

Last but not least, there are only two layers of filo in a Baklawa. This is not a club sandwich. The construction should look like this: filo+nuts+filo. I’ve seen many versions that are more like filo+nuts+filo+nuts+filo. Not so good.

So, here it is. My favorite simple Baklawa recipe. This one is based on the recipe from Sonia Uvezian’s book Recipes and Remembrances from an Eastern Mediterranean Kitchen

 

Baklawa

  • 2 Cups chopped toasted walnuts
  • 0.5 to 1 Cup chopped toasted almonds
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 lb filo pastry
  • 1 Cup clarified butter

Syrup

  • 2 Cups sugar
  • 1 Cup water
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp rose water
  • 1 tsp orange blossom water 

Mix the nuts with the sugar and salt set aside. 

Generously brush a 9 by 13 inch baking dish with some of the butter. Lay half the filo sheets in the pan brushing each one with clarified butter as you put it in the pan. Spread the nuts mixture on the filo sheets and lay the rest of the filo on top, again brushing each one with the butter.

Preheat the oven to 350F. With a sharp knife cut the baklawa while in the pan into squares of about 2 inches. Place the pan in the oven and reduce the temperature to 300F. Bake it for about an hour, or until a nice golden color and puffed a little bit.

While the baklawa bakes make the syrup by boiling the water, sugar and lemon juice together for about 4 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the rosewater and orange blossom water. Let it cool slightly (this can be done a few days ahead and kept well covered at room temperature).

When the baklawa is out of the oven, pour on the syrup and allow it to soak through. Let it cool to room temperature and enjoy.