Tag Archives: Ginger

Spiced nectarine and blueberry pie

It’s a good thing my pie crust mojo came back when it did. It is fruit season, and I am psyched. The produce section at my local supermarket smells like peaches. Sam and I have been eating cherries like candy. The strawberries actually taste like strawberries now. It’s fun enough to just eat all this fruit out of hand, but when we want to actually do something with it, there’s nothing quite like a pie.

Sam’s mom was the one who first introduced me to nectarine-blueberry pie. She’s an avid pie baker all year round–pecan and custard pies when it’s cool out, and fruit pies when it’s warm. Nectarine-blueberry is her signature fruit pie, and I fell in love with it almost immediately. The two fruits work so harmoniously together: the nectarine is heady and sweet, the blueberries lush and jammy. The texture is gorgeous, with chunks of stone fruit and wilted nubbins of berry.

Recently I decided to try my own spin on the recipe. I adore spices and fruit together, so I spiked the filling with a bit of ginger and cardamom for warmth. Other than that, this is a fairly classic recipe, a bit elaborate to put together but lovely and homey when it’s baked. Like other stone fruit pies, it’s pretty juicy; I’ve found that the filling starts bubbling over well before the pie itself is done baking. After one particularly nasty mess on the floor of a friend’s oven, I’ve learned to bake this pie on a foil-lined baking sheet. It’ll still make a glorious mess, but at least it’ll be easier to clean up.

In testing this recipe, I’ve learned a couple nifty pie tricks. First, for a better crust, add an egg in two stages: the white gets brushed on the bottom crust to prevent sogginess, and the yolk gets brushed on the top crust to help it go golden. Second, a drinking glass makes a great lazy person’s pie crust cutter. Placing rounds of pastry on top of the pie is just as pretty and functional as weaving a lattice, with about half the effort. I’ll be making a lot of pies this way this summer.

nectarine blueberry pie take 2

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Turmeric ginger tea

Last week I had a nasty little cold. It didn’t last especially long, but it knocked me flat for a good solid two days. Well, not quite flat–I worked from home, and found myself juggling conference calls for hours on end. It’s a bit hard to come across as professional when you’re muting your phone every couple minutes for a coughing fit.

When it comes to colds, I’m very much of the “tough it out” school. I’m leery of medicating myself, so I stick to hot fluids and zinc. But after about my third conference call in a row, with a scraping dry cough that just would not quit, and no chicken broth in the house, I decided it was time for a real restorative. So I hit up the Internet for ideas and went rattling through my kitchen cupboards and fridge, hoping to stumble on a concoction that would at least help me get through the rest of the day.

This tea was actually the second thing I tried (the first, which involved flaxseeds, turned out kind of snotlike and had to be thrown away). The base of the tea is a paste made of honey, turmeric, and ground ginger; it’s pungent stuff, a deep yellow-brown color, the kind of color I could imagine in a very chic trenchcoat. I whisked it all up in a cute little jar, and slipped it onto a pantry shelf with my other boxes and tins of tea. A bare spoonful stirred into some hot water, with a squeeze of lemon and a grinding of pepper, turned out to be just the wake-up call my body needed. Within half an hour, I noticed that my coughs were less frequent and more productive; after several hours, when I started feeling nasty again, I made another mug of tea and went to bed. In the morning I could already feel my chest clearing out.

There’s a lot going on here. Between the anti-inflammatory turmeric (which the black pepper helps the body absorb), the cough-suppressing honey, the stomach-soothing ginger, and the vitamin C-rich lemon, this stuff packs a punch. It definitely tastes like a tonic, but in a pleasant way: earthy and slightly bitter, sharp and spicy, sweet and tangy. A little of the concentrate goes a long way, so even the small amount I made is likely to last through the New Year. I’ll be using this all through the winter to ward off colds–or, at the very least, help soothe myself once they take hold.

turmeric ginger tea

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Apple pandowdy

Shoo-fly pie and apple pan dowdy

Makes your eyes light up and your tummy say howdy.

Shoo-fly pie and apple pan dowdy,

I can’t get enough of that wonderful stuff.

Of all the songs I learned in high school choir, “Shoo-Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy” was one of my favorites. It was upbeat, jazzy, a little silly, and mercifully easy to sing. I had never heard it outside the rehearsal room, and it wasn’t until years later that I learned it was a beloved old standard, recorded by the likes of Dinah Shore and Ella Fitzgerald. Years later, in moments of mind-wandering, I still catch myself singing it.

For a long time I assumed the words themselves were nonsense–made up to suit the bouncy rhythm of a song. But, as it happens, shoofly pie and apple pandowdy are both very real, and totally all-American. Oddly enough, they hail from a community not much known for its contributions to popular music: the Pennsylvania Dutch.

Of the two, shoofly pie seems to get more attention. It’s a rich molasses-based custard pie, said to be so sweet that it attracts flies that must be shooed away. I’ve never found it particularly compelling. Apple pandowdy, on the other hand, intrigued me quite a bit. What is a pandowdy, I wondered, and how does it differ from its other evocatively-named cousins–crisps, crumbles, cobblers, grunts, slumps, buckles, brown betties?

The answer, at least according to an hour or so of Internet research: apple pandowdy is reminiscent of cobbler, with a fluffy biscuit topping laid over a pan of sweetened, spiced fruit. But unlike cobbler, which has its topping laid down in “cobblestone” pieces, apple pandowdy gets a single rolled layer of dough laid on top. Then, partway through the baking process, the cook takes a wooden spoon and pushes bits of topping down into the fruit below. The result is a rough, “dowdy” surface, with a mix of textures and flavors underneath: some of the biscuit stays pillowy on top, while some gets gooey and soaked with juices. It’s quite lovely.

This version, which I found through good old-fashioned Google timewasting, has a dark, spicy apple filling, sweetened with molasses and candied ginger instead of sugar. It’s a gutsy, down-to-earth variation on the familiar chord of apple-cinnamon-butter-sugar. And it still passes the true test of any good American apple dessert: it pairs effortlessly with whipped cream and vanilla ice cream. Clearly this California girl should look to Pennsylvania Dutch country more often.

apple pandowdy

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Peanut-ginger udon noodles

My junior and senior years of college, I spent a lot of time at a place called the Book Mill. It’s a hidden gem of a used bookstore, tucked away in a serene corner of rural Massachusetts. Slogan: “Books You Don’t Need in a Place You Can’t Find.”

The bookstore itself is housed in a 19th-century gristmill. It’s a strange, slightly crazed little building, with odd-sized rooms, sharply angled rafters and staircases so narrow your shoulders bump the walls. The walls are lined with bookshelves, which are filled to creaking with books of every size and binding. There are vintage armchairs in every corner, for settling in and reading. The whole place smells musty, the way a good used bookstore should.

But the Book Mill is more than just a bookstore. It’s a creative and social hub, with several artists’ studios and a small cafe attached to the old mill building. When my friends and I needed to escape from the pointy-headed bubble of our college campus, we would drive out to the Book Mill and claim ourselves one of the big black wooden tables in the cafe. We would order lunch–crusty brie-and-apricot sandwiches, fruit and cheese boards with honeyed yogurt, peanut-ginger udon noodles, a glass of maple milk to wash it all down–and sink ourselves into an afternoon of classwork or thesis writing, while the river tumbled by under the windows.

I still miss those afternoons, deeply, achingly. The cafe, the bookstore, the food and the river: they were all of a place, that old pastoral New England place, that just can’t be imitated anywhere else. Recently, on a hot afternoon, I tried recreating those peanut udon noodles from the cafe. I’ve never seen peanut noodles done anywhere the way they were done at the Book Mill, with udon noodles and broccoli and just the right clinging layer of sauce. So I stuck close to memory and tried to feel my way based on the flavors I had tasted dozens of times.

The noodles came out perfect, supple and chewy, and the sauce was rich and velvety like I remembered. It wasn’t the same, of course, but if I closed my eyes, I could just barely make out the feeling of a heavy wooden table under my elbows as I held my fork.

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Soy-poached fish

I’ve used soy sauce about a thousand and one different ways, but until recently I’d never thought to try poaching things in it. As it turns out, soy sauce mixed with an equal amount of water and spiked with the usual-suspect ingredients–honey, ginger, garlic, chili and scallions–makes a terrific cooking medium for a good piece of fish. Or, in my case, a mushy hunk of frozen salmon that had reached the use-or-toss point.

This might have been one of the best-smelling dishes I’ve ever made.

I kept leaning my head over the pan to get whiffs of soy and spice and ginger and garlic. As the fish poached, the liquid took on some of its meatiness; as a sensory bonus, it also tinted the fish a a soft wood-toned brown. Once the fish was cooked, I was surprised at how subtle the flavors were; the flesh of the fish came through loud and clear, with the poaching liquid lingering quietly in the background. Sam and I ate the salmon on its own, with some of the liquid spooned over the top, but I wished the entire time for a fluffy pile of brown rice to drink up more of the spicy-salty-sweet sauce.

As I said, I used salmon here, but this would be a terrific cooking technique for almost any fish. Mark Bittman recommends a firm-fleshed white fish: you could use striped bass, snapper, halibut, mahi mahi, or tilapia. If you prefer a richer-flavored fish, try catfish, mackerel, swordfish, trout or sablefish (aka black cod).

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Scallops with ginger cucumber salad

So here’s a food thing I made a while back, when there was still a little warmth left in the weather.  On the face of it, it’s a fussy little thing, insubstantial and odd: spicy cucumber salad with seared scallops on top.  But for lunch on a sunny and not-scorching day, it’s pretty terrific.

I realize that now is not the traditional time for light, sprightly, small-portion salad meals.  But in a season of indulgence, this is the kind of dish that cuts right through the heft and the guilt–ginger and jalapeno and sesame and soy, plus a cushion of golden-crowned scallops on top.

Nothing like what you’ve probably been eating.

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The wait is over! The secret is revealed!

Full disclosure: I’m sitting in a hotel room right now, on day one of a whirlwind business trip, and I’ve had a very long day and I’m just a little loopy. This post may be slightly more, um, idiosyncratic than usual. You’ve been warned.

On to the good stuff. After two three weeks (whoops!) of waiting, I can finally tell you about the Thing that I made (wait for it…) three weeks ago. In the wake of the Great Salsa Verde Fiasco of March 2011, this has now restored my faith that I am, in fact, kind of a badass. Give me a head of cabbage, some chili paste and a whole lotta salt, and I will do science to it.

That’s right. I made kimchi. And it’s awesome.

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