Chili Vinegar Hot Sauce + Lime-Cured Tilapia Tostadas

I had all these grand plans for the food projects I was going to tackle this summer: limoncello, raspberry jam (round 2 bigger-and-better after my initial trial last summer), canned tomatoes, pickled stuff (dill pickles + pickled hot peppers), brioche, sourdough bread -- but, I did successfully make Sriracha (i.e. what we're calling Chili Vinegar Hot Sauce here because that's what the recipe said), so there's that. This batch was not as spicy as I would've liked, but it was a tasty experiment -- the only hard part was finding the chilies (I ended up using serranos because Fresnos were nowhere to be found). It was also delicious on the tostadas I made for lunch yesterday. I wish I had discovered this lime-curing business earlier in the summer when I would come home starving from work every day, because the whole meal takes like 15 minutes tops. The original recipe was for summer rolls with lime-cured shrimp and peaches (the link is below), but tilapia is like half the price of shrimp around here, and I didn't feel like going all the way across Hyde Park to find rice paper wrappers. Necessity is the mother of invention, friends.

ALSO this will be the last post before I leave for Chile (!!!!!). I might send a picture-filled update sans recipe while I'm there, but you never know how lazy I'm going to be... But you also never know what kinds of awesome food we'll be cooking up that I'll want to share with you (with bacon probably not gonna lie). It's crazy, I feel like I just posted the espinacas con garbanzos recipe with 129 days to go. Well actually it feels like forever ago but also like it just happened, you know? No? I might be losing it, but I'm happy and have a full belly, so it's not so bad.


Chili Vinegar Hot Sauce

1 dried Anaheim chile
1 fresh red Fresno chile, sliced ¼-inch thick
1/2 red bell pepper, sliced ¼-inch thick
2 tablespoons roughly chopped garlic
1/4 cup finely diced shallot
1 cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Roast the Anaheim chile on a sheet tray until lightly toasted, about a minute.

Combine all of the ingredients in a non-reactive mixing bowl (I used plastic) and marinate for an hour.

Transfer the chile mixture to a blender and purée on high speed until smooth. Place the purée in a nonreactive bowl and cover tightly with one layer of cheesecloth. Allow the sauce to sit at room temperature for 3 to 5 days until the sauce takes on a natural fermented aroma. Once finished, transfer the sauce to an airtight container. Keep chilled in the refrigerator. The vinegar will last for a few months.

Lime-Cured Tilapia Tostadas
inspired by Tasting Table

1 tilapia filet
4-ish limes
1 small shallot
1/3 small daikon radish
1/2 big peach
1 baby cucumber
Splash rice wine vinegar
Kosher salt
Handful cilantro
2 tostadas (I may or may not have had more than 2...)

Cut the fish into small, bite-sized cubes and throw them into a bowl. Mince the shallot finely, and add them to the fish. Squeeze the juice of the limes over the fish and shallots, and let everything hang out for 10 minutes. Bring 1/2 c of water to a boil, pour it over the fish and lime mixture, then stash that in the fridge until the fish has cooked, only 5 minutes or so.

In the meantime, julienne the radish, peach, and cucumber (I didn't exactly julienne mine because I was so flippin hungry). Let the radish soak in a bowl of cold water for a few minutes until crisp. After the radish is crisp, toss all your veg together with a pinch of salt, a splash of vinegar, and some chopped cilantro.

Drain the cooked tilapia, then pile your tostadas high with fish + slaw + chili sauce. Devour. 

Strawberry Gelato Sandwiches

I am babysitting the most precious little girl this evening, but she doesn't speak English. She asked me (in Russian) to read her a story that's written in English, and wasn't very happy when I didn't translate it into Russian as I read it aloud. I don't know the vocabulary for the story, but thankfully her mom was still there to translate for us. I remember enough to sort of follow what her mom says to her (I say sort of because I usually double-check to make sure I'm understanding properly), but all I can really say to her is what's this, do you want me to read this, what do you want/like to do, I like to cook/read/play, things like that. Later I tried to read a book to her that was already written in Russian, but it takes me too long to process the Cyrillic characters now, which makes my reading very stilted (and let's not talk about my pronunciation), so she didn't like that very much (although she still wanted to play with me after so she doesn't think I'm totally stupid anyway).

It makes my heart ache a little, because I want to understand, I want to be better at interacting and speaking with her, but I'm not. Even if I knew the word for something at one point, when I took Russian a year and a half ago, I can only think of the Spanish word when I try to recall it. There is so much I need to learn and do, and it's so frustrating that I can't do it all at once. I don't even know Spanish that well. These things take years, years that I'm too impatient for. I'm so tired of waiting. At least when I'm cooking, even with fairly involved and time-intensive projects like this one, I'm rewarded for my work on the order of hours instead of months and years. Anyway, by the time I post this on Wednesday, I'll have been satiated with a gelato sandwich (read: two or three sandwiches), so that's something.

This is not at all my prettiest work slash best presentation, but it tastes pretty good, I dare say.

Strawberry Gelato Sandwiches


Strawberry Gelato
from the Ciao Bella Book of Gelato & Sorbetto, as always

1 pound strawberries, hulled and sliced thinly
3/4 c sugar, divided
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Pinch or two smoked Maldon salt (totally optional, but yummy)
2 c whole milk
1 c cream
4 egg yolks
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan heat cream and milk to 170 degrees F, stirring frequently.  Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, beat the yolks and 1/2 c sugar until the mixture has thickened and turned pale yellow.  Carefully stream in a 1/2 c or so of the hot cream-milk mixture, whisking constantly, to temper them.  Pour the yolk mixture back into the pot, then heat slowly to 185 degrees F, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon.  

Strain the custard through a fine mesh strainer into a medium bowl, to remove any tiny bits of cooked yolk.  Cool completely in the refrigerator for ~4 hours.  Once cooled, stir in the vanilla extract.

Meanwhile, toss the strawberries with 1/4 c sugar and the lemon juice. Let them macerate for 15 minutes before cooking them over medium-low heat until the syrup has begun to reduce and the strawberries are beginning to fall apart, 10 minutes or so. Let them cool to room temperature, sprinkle over the salt, then stow in the fridge until completely chilled.

Once both the custard and the strawberries are cold, take 3/4 of the strawberries and purée them. Add all the strawberries into the custard, stirring completely.  Churn the custard in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions (~20 minutes), then freeze completely for a few hours.

Brownie Cookies

3 c (375 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (225 grams) butter, softened
1 1/2 (300 grams) cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa

Preheat oven at 350 degrees. Whisk dry flour, salt and baking powder in bowl and set aside. Mix butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla and cocoa in mixer.  Gradually add flour mixture, and mix until smooth. Roll the dough into a log, wrap in plastic, and chill for at least one hour.

Roll the log of dough on the counter to smooth out any bumps, then remove the plastic wrap and slice into medallions.  Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 8 to 11 minutes (the former for 1/8-inch thick cookies, the latter for 1/4-inch cookies) until the edges are firm and the centers are slightly soft and puffed.  Cool the cookies completely before proceeding to making the sandwiches.

Assembly:

Let the gelato get soft enough to scoop, but not so soft that it's melty -- trust me, I had to fight mine and it wasn't pretty.  Put a scoop on each of the bottom cookies, freeze completely, then top with the lid cookies and freeze again.

Protip: I should've done this. You can freeze the gelato in a rectangular pan, and then use a cookie cutter to cut out medallions of gelato that will fit perfectly (and non-messily) into the sandwich.

Baked Beans

Hola, amigos. Solamente diez y cinco días hasta voy a Chile. He estado practicando castellano con mi amiga y compañera de piso Julia (ella es de Colombia). No se me permite hablar en inglés en mi apartamento cuando ella está a la casa (la mayor parte del tiempo), que me ha ayudado mucho, pero puede estar muy difícil con mi vocabulario restringido. También yo olvido muchas palabras que Julia ha diciendo a mi durante la conversación, entonces frecuentemente necesito que pedirla para escribirlo en mi cuaderno. Pues estoy aprendiendo, y se hace más fácil cada día. Ahora también estoy tratando recordar como hablar en ruso, porque voy a cuidar la hija de mi compañero esta semana, y ella solamente habla ruso y bosnio. Ella sabe cinco o seis palabras en inglés (ella tiene dos años y medio solamente), pero estará más fácil y probablemente más cómodo para ella si puedo hablar en su lengua materna. Lo siento por todos los errores de gramática que probablemente he habido aquí, pero pensé que sería divertido escribir este en castellano. ¡Que disfruten!

Hello, friends. Only fifteen days until I go to Chile. I've been practicing Spanish with my friend and roommate Julia (she's from Colombia). I'm not allowed to speak English in my apartment when she's home (most of the time), which has helped me a lot, but it can be very difficult with my limited vocabulary. Also I forget a lot of the words that Julia tells me when we're conversing, so I often need her to write them in my notebook. But I'm learning, and it gets easier every day. Now I'm also trying to remember how to speak Russian, because I'm going to babysit my coworker's daughter this week, and she only speaks Russian and Bosnian. She knows five or six words in English (she's only two and a half years old), but it will be easier and probably more comfortable for her if I'm able to speak in her native language. Apologies for all the grammar mistakes that I probably made here, but I thought it would be fun to do this post in Spanish. Enjoy!


Baked Beans
adapted from Emeril Lagasse

1 pound dry navy beans, rinsed
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, divided
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 c chopped onion
1 c chopped celery
4-5 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Dash ground clove
1 1/2 c ketchup*
1/3 c brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Soak the rinsed beans overnight in plenty of water.

Drain and rinse the beans after soaking. In a large pot, boil the beans with 1/4 teaspoon pepper flakes, 1/2 teaspoon paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, bay leaves, and 8 c of water for 45 minutes to an hour, until soft. Reserve 1 1/2 c cooking liquid before draining the beans.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Heat the oil in a large pot (I just used the same one I cooked the beans in, less cleanup) over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and garlic, sautéing for 5 minutes or so until they've begun to soften. Add in 1/2 teaspoon paprika, 1/4 teaspoon pepper flakes, cumin, clove, salt, and pepper, and cook for 2-3 minutes until toasty and fragrant. Add in the reserved cooking liquid, ketchup, brown sugar, and mustard, simmering for 4 minutes. Adjust seasoning. Gently stir in the cooked beans and simmer everything together for 5 minutes.

Bake the beans in the oven, uncovered, for 2 hours. Since I'm not really doing the meat thing right now I ate mine with a grilled cheese, but a hot dog would've been tasty.

*A note on the ketchup: Look. You're using a cup and a half of the stuff -- like most of the sauce is ketchup. I super recommend a) making your own ketchup that won't have weird preservatives and flavorings and whatever or b) buying some that doesn't have all that not-tasty stuff in it (just read the label -- I look for NO corn syrup, nothing that says flavored -- if you're flavoring it with garlic and onion I want those things to be ingredients not flavorings --, and tomatoes as the first ingredient listed).

Banana Cake with Meringue Cream Cheese Frosting

I thought it would be fun today to share some of the cooking tips and kitchen pet peeves I've picked up over the years, so that you can benefit from all the times I've screwed things up, or just laugh at me. Whatever you want.

1a. For the love of all that is good and beautiful in this world, DO NOT PUT YOUR KNIVES IN THE DISHWASHER. Like ever. Like don't do it. Not only does it dull your knives much faster than the usual wear-and-tear, but also ruins the handles of your knives. It basically forces water into places water shouldn't be, and will force the handle to crack. So yea. Bad.

1b. Same goes for nice pots and pans. You'll break the handles and it's bad for their surface.

2. Don't buy imitation vanilla. It's gross.

3. Also don't buy bleached flour. You don't need to buy super fancy organic whatever whatever, but avoid bleached flour. I can taste it, and also it sometimes reacts strangely with the chemistry of whatever you're making.

4. Stupid single-purpose gadgets are a waste of your money. That cute little thing that cuts an egg all at once? Yea that's called a knife. Also an egg separator? You can just use your hands (let the white go through your fingers and you'll be left holding the yolk) or do the shell trick.

There are some gadgets that will save your life -- my citrus juicer (not this one but same idea) is super helpful for getting every last bit out of limes and lemons, and having a cherry pitter with a feeder is a blessing for making pie -- don't get me wrong. But really, you just need a good set of knives and your hands, and you can do most tasks in the kitchen.

5. You can tell an avocado is ripe by pulling away that little knobby-thing at the top (where the stem used to attach) and seeing when the spot turns brown.

6. Most produce doesn't need to be stored in the fridge, and a lot of it is actually harmed by refrigeration. Tomatoes are the biggest no-no for me, but also things like potatoes, onions, garlic, stone fruits (peaches, plums, etc), and apples shouldn't go in the fridge. The potatoes, onions, and garlic should be stored in a dark, cool, dry place, but the others can just go on the counter.

7. If a pastry recipe tells you the ingredients need to be room temperature, they actually need to be. Part of the chemistry is temperature-based. When you're creaming butter with sugar, you're essentially creating tiny air pockets in the butter by scraping the sugar crystals against it -- if it's too warm and melty, it can't sustain the air pockets, and your pastry won't be the right texture. When you're making pancake or crepe batter, if you add cold milk into a mixture with melted butter, it'll seize up, and you'll get lumps. And egg whites whip up much more easily when they're not super cold, but cream likes to be wicked cold for whipping.

The same thing goes for recipes that need the ingredients cold -- I'm looking at you, pie dough. It's all part of the chemistry. SCIENCE!!

8. Another note on butter -- if you're in a pinch to soften butter for a recipe, don't microwave it. Get a bowl with hot water (not like boiling hot, but hot from the tap hot), put the sticks of butter in a baggie, and submerge them with a plate or something.

If I think of more as I check back on the page, I'll add them.


Banana Cake with Meringue Cream Cheese Frosting

Banana Cake
from Smitten Kitchen

3 1/2 c (14 3/8 ounces or 406 grams) cake flour
2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons (8 grams) baking soda
3/4 teaspoon (5 grams) salt
3/4 teaspoon (2 grams) cinnamon
1 c (2 sticks, 8 ounces or 227 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c (7 ounces or 200 grams) sugar
1 c (7 5/8 ounces or 218 grams) packed golden brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 c mashed or pureed very ripe bananas (5 to 6 large)
6 tablespoons (3 1/4 ounces or 91 grams) sour cream or (weight will vary) plain yogurt
2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Line the bottoms of 2 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper and coat the paper and sides of pans with butter and flour.

Whisk cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl and set aside. Using electric mixer, beat butter and both sugars in large bowl until blended. Beat in eggs one at a time, then bananas, sour cream, and vanilla. Beat in dry ingredients in two additions just until combined. Divide batter evenly between the two pans.

Bake cake until firm and cooked all the way through, about 40 to 45 minutes. Cool each layer in its pan for 15 minutes before flipping out onto a rack to cool completely.

Meringue Cream Cheese Frosting
from Food52

12 ounces cream cheese, slightly chilled
7 ounces unsalted butter at cool room temperature
1 c confectioners' sugar, sifted after measuring
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 c granulated sugar
1/4 c water
3 large egg whites

Beat the cream cheese with a mixer on medium speed until fluffy. Add the butter, 1 or 2 tablespoons at a time, mixing until smooth. Add the confectioners' sugar and vanilla and mix until fluffy, then set aside in a cool place.

Combine the granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Do not stir, or else the sugar will crystallize!! Just swirl the pan if you need to stir, and wash any crystals from the side of the pot with a wet pastry brush. As the mixture comes to a boil, place a candy thermometer in the pot and cook to 238 degrees F.

While the sugar is cooking, place the egg whites into a mixing bowl set up with the whip. As the sugar syrup approaches the correct temperature, turn the mixer on to medium-low and begin whipping the whites. When whites are foamy and the sugar reaches temperature, slowly pour in the sugar, avoiding contact with the whip or it will splash. Once all of the syrup is added, turn the speed to medium-high and whip until the meringue has cooled to room temperature and has formed stiff peaks. Make sure everything is cool before moving forward.

Turn the speed to low, and slowly add the cream cheese mixture a spoonful at a time. When it is all added to the meringue, turn the speed to medium and whip until smooth and fluffy.

Assembly:

A couple tablespoons of cocoa powder
Cup of hot water
Offset spatula(s)
Plate/cake stand
Parchment paper

You need your cakes to be flat. Trim off the tops so they're flat (and so you have a snack). Get the plate/stand/whatever you're putting your cake on, and put a dollop of frosting in the center -- this will anchor your cake. Now rip a few pieces of parchment paper and put them at the edges of the plate with some hanging off the edges -- this will keep your plate clean while you're frosting, and then you can pull them away after from under the cake. 

Put cake number one down on the plate, right side up (i.e. the side you trimmed facing the ceiling). Put some frosting in the middle (as much as you want the middle layer of your cake to be) and spread it out until you're an inch away from the edge. Now take the second cake and place it upside down on top (i.e. the side you trimmed facing the frosting). 

Ok so you're going to have two layers of frosting on your cake: the crumb coat and the finished layer. The crumb coat is a really thin layer of frosting that makes sure all the crumbs are held in place and don't mess up your final frosting layer. Transfer about a third of your frosting into a smaller bowl for the crumb coat (so you don't get crumbs in the main frosting supply). Working from the top of the cake, spread frosting down and around the sides, creating a smooth, thin layer. Chill the cake and frosting completely before moving forward.

Once the crumb coat is cold and set, add the final layer of frosting. Work from the top of the cake, finishing the sides and then the top. Use the cup of hot water to wash off and warm up your spatula while you're frosting. Refrigerate until completely set, then dust with cocoa powder and remove the parchment paper.

Sweet Potato + Black Bean Empanadas

Things are pretty chill around here. I finally got up to Green City Market on the North Side last weekend with my daddio, and was a little produce-happy. It's cherry season, so I made sure to get a bunch of sour cherries to make pie (I tried a different recipe from the one I made last summer, and decided that I preferred last summer's filling but this summer's crust, so I'm going back to the market for round 3 this weekend), plus French radishes, pattypan squash, heirloom tomatoes, a crazy amount of basil that I made into pesto, and an awesome mesclun mix. I also got some whole wheat sourdough bread (which was divine with fresh ricotta cheese, sliced tomatoes, and a slurp of pepper olive oil), fresh cheese, and obviously a huge bunch of flowers, because when do I not take the opportunity to buy myself flowers? Especially lilies? Never. So yes, it was quite a successful trip.


One great meal that came out of that trip, that I didn't even take the time to photograph, was the radishes and pattypan squash that I sautéed simply with butter and a little salt, and served over homemade pasta with some fresh ricotta, lemon, and basil. Ugh. Yes. That is what summer food should be.

And of course it was also the Copa Mundial final match this weekend! I was rooting for Argentina, but Götze's goal was pretty beautiful, I must say. I was disappointed that Argentina lost of course, but like, I ain't even mad. That goal was so graceful. Anyway, I went to watch the game at a friend's apartment, and made empanadas for munchies. Most of them I stuffed with queso Chihuahua and prosciutto, and the others were filled with a potato and broccolini mixture. The potato one inspired this sweet potato-black bean rendition, since I had a bunch of black beans I still needed to use up. Que disfruten!


Sweet Potato + Black Bean Empanadas

Dough:
from Laylita's Recipes

3 c all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1.5 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 egg
1/3+ c cold water

Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter into the flour using your fingers, pastry cutter, food processor, etc, until the mixture becomes a coarse meal. Chill in the fridge or freezer for ~10 minutes so the butter doesn't get too warm. Make a well in the center of the mixture for the egg, then beginning with 1/3 c water, combine the wet and dry ingredients to form a soft (but not wet) dough. Add water as necessary. Cut the dough into two halves, wrap with plastic wrap, and chill for an hour or more while making the filling.

Filling:
inspired by My Columbian Recipes

2 c peeled and diced sweet potato (2 small potatoes)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
1/2 serrano chili, chopped very finely
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped very finely
1 tomato, diced
15 ounces cooked black beans, drained (you can use canned if you'd like, just be sure to rinse them as well)
Handful cilantro, chopped
Kosher salt and pepper, to taste

In a small pot of water, bring the sweet potatoes to a boil and cook until mashable. Heat the olive oil over medium heat, then sauté the onion, chili, and garlic until soft and fragrant, then add the tomato as well. Season with salt and pepper, and cook until the tomatoes slump and the onions are translucent.

In a large bowl, mash the sweet potatoes (they don't need to be completely smooth, just enough to make a cohesive filling). Add in the sautéed veggies, black beans, and cilantro, then season and stash in the fridge to cool completely.

Assembly:

Extra flour
1 egg, beaten

Roll out one half of the dough at a time, being sure it's dusted liberally with flour. Cut out rounds of dough, depending on how large you want your empanadas (I used a martini glass (lulz) but you could use a cookie cutter like a normal person). Recombine the scraps and stow them back in the fridge. Brush the half the edge of each round with egg, then put a heaping tablespoon or so of the filling in the center (you want it to be full but able to be sealed properly). Fold the un-egg-brushed half over, then press the edges with your fingertips to seal. At this point you could either use a fork to seal the edges completely (which is what I did because I was in a rush), or you could do a spiral folding number on them (Google how to seal empanadas if you're interested in being an overachiever).

Place your filled and sealed empanadas on parchment paper or a Silpat on a sheet pan, then cool in the fridge for ~30 minutes. Keep rolling out the dough/cutting into rounds/re-rolling scraps until you've used up all the dough. You'll probably run out of dough before you run out of filling.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Brush the cooled empanadas with egg, then bake for 18-25 minutes depending on their size, until they're golden brown and delicious. Resist the temptation to eat them immediately unless you're cool with burning the skin off the roof of your mouth. These are really good served with some pico de gallo, but they're also yummy on their own.

Peach-Plum Crumble

Summer fruit is such a blessing.


My California friends dislike that there has to be a season for fruits in Chicago. I mean, I don't particularly like it either -- I'm pretty much over citrus by the end of January, and pears aren't really my jam -- but I do appreciate stone fruits and berries so much more once they are finally in season during the summer months. Crumbles are the least fussy way to turn summer's plunder into dessert (well, slurping up some strawberries and cream isn't half bad either), and one of my favorites.


Peach-Plum Crumble
adapted from Anne Burrell

Topping

1 1/4 c flour
1/2 c rolled oats
1/2 c brown sugar
1 1/4 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1-2 tablespoons cold water
Dash of Kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, combine the sugar, flour, and salt. Cut the butter into the flour mixture until the texture is like sand and the pieces of butter are the size of peas. You could also do this in the food processor, but it's easier to clean your hands. Add in the oats, vanilla, and enough water that the mixture clumps together when you squeeze it in your hand.

Fruit
2 large peaches, sliced
2 large plums, sliced (or 3 on the smaller side)
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 c brown sugar
Dash of Kosher salt

Feel free to peel your peaches and plums before you use them -- I think the skins are super tasty so I leave them on. Also, I got about 12 slices per fruit, but use your best judgment on slicing based on the size of your fruits. Toss with the flour, vanilla, sugar, and salt.

Distribute the fruit mixture among 6 ramekins, then pack on the crumble topping to each (I like a high topping-to-fruit ratio, so feel free to tweak the amount of fruit if that's not your speed -- crumble recipes are pretty forgiving). Place the ramekins on a tin-foiled baking sheet (in case there's spillage) and bake for 20-25 minutes until the topping is golden and the fruit juice is bubbling up at the sides. Some whipped cream wouldn't hurt either.


Peach and Brie Grilled Cheese

Oh hey, I turned 21 this weekend, fancy that.

We like to celebrate birthdays in my family -- I think mostly because it's an excuse to get the family all together and eat excessively -- but we usually don't do birthday surprises. So I was totally shocked (and incredibly happy) that two of my aunties came to Chicago to visit and celebrate with me! I got to have birthday eve lunch with them, and birthday dinner at A10. Birthday fun also included lumpy pancakes for the Lumpy Space Princess (they weren't that lumpy, but Tor likes to be self-deprecating about her cooking abilities) and Batman decorations a la Tor, as well as a cute and awesome (but enormous) BMO cake. BMO, or Beemo, is a character from Adventure Time (so is Lumpy Space Princess -- Tor and I watch the show together at home), and he's one of my favorites. LSP (Lumpy Space Princess) is too -- if you watch the show you can probably imagine why I identify with her.


In addition to my thing for mason jars, I have a thing for mis-matched plates. For most of the gift-giving holidays since I started college, my mom has given me a new plate to add to my collection. She gave me an especially nice plate for my birthday this year that's more on the order of fine china than usual. The pattern is beautiful and delicate, and I love it -- I don't know if I can bring myself to put food on it. She was searching for one with a pattern that was especially significant, and found this one called Santiago. She's a very thoughtful mommy, that one.


And so, in honor of my birthday, I present to you one of my favorite sandwiches.

Peach and Brie Grilled Cheese

2 pats of softened butter
1 small barely ripe peach
Enough brie to make you happy
Salt and pepper to taste
Drizzle of honey
(Arugula or radicchio if you've got some)
2 slices nutty wheat bread


Two protips for awesome grilled cheese: heat management and sufficient pressure. As Emeril Lagasse would say: you see this knob right here (as he takes the knob off his stove and shows it to the audience) -- it's there for a reason, use your knob! Burnt grilled cheeses are sad. For weighing down the sandwich to achieve optimal bread crispiness and cheese meltiness, I fill up my tea kettle with water and put it on top of the sandwich (after cleaning off the bottom of course).

Heat a nonstick pan over medium. Slice the peach and brie thinly. Brush the first slice of bread with butter, and place it butter-side down in the hot pan. Arrange the brie over the bread, followed by the peach slices (keep in mind that you're going to have to flip this over when you're arranging), honey, seasoning, and greens if you're using them. Place the second piece of bread over the top, then weigh down with the kettle.

Check the bottom to make sure you've achieved perfect golden brown deliciousness, then spread the top piece of bread with the remaining butter. Turn over, then weight down again with the kettle. Usually I put a piece of tin foil in between the bread and kettle at this point (both to insulate for cheese melting purposes and to prevent buttering the bottom of my kettle), but if you're feeling especially lazy then it's not a big deal.

It's advised that you eat standing up at the kitchen counter with peach juice dribbling down to your elbow, because it's finally summer.