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The Secret Is Just Keeping It Cold.
If you've been following my pie-making over the years (I've shared many a disaster on the blog) you may be happy to know that I've finally learned to stop worrying and love the pie. Behold my latest creation.
This one, inspired by the peach pie on Smitten Kitchen, is probably the best pie I've ever made (note: any time I make a pie and it's not a disaster, I call it "the best pie I've ever made"). But really, this one was all about confidence and keeping it cold.
Maybe it's all the Great British Baking Show that I've been watching, but I really feel like I understand the concepts now... with pie dough, you just don't want the butter to heat up while you're working with it or the dough will become gummy and gross. I was always afraid of overworking the dough but that's so much less of a concern. If you put your rolling pin and board in the freezer before using them, add the butter to the food processor straight from the fridge, and work really fast to bring everything together into a solid dough (and don't be afraid to knead it a little, just don't warm it up!), it'll be smooth sailing when you roll it as long as you sprinkle everything with flour and work fast.
Now I just need to work on my crimping. OK, on to newsletter stuff!
What I've Been Cooking:
1. Peach Pie.
Well you didn't think I was going to just show you the pie pre-oven and not show you the end results? That one's the sexy close-up picture. Here it is a little further away:
The Smitten Kitchen recipe has you boil, shock, and peel the peaches before using them, but I totally don't think that's necessary (sorry, Deb!). Not only do the peels basically disintegrate into the filling, they actually tint the pie a beautiful red, making it even prettier than if you'd gone through the trouble of getting the skins off. I served this with vanilla ice cream and everyone smiled happy end-of-summer smiles. Make this before it's too late (not because you're dying, but because peaches won't be around much longer).
2. Rice-Stuffed Tomatoes.
Earlier this summer, I watched a Lidia Bastianich episode on PBS where she stuffed tomatoes with cooked Arborio rice, mozzarella cheese, lots of Parmesan, and baked them until they were absolutely beautiful and then I did the same thing in my own kitchen and loved the results (here's her recipe).
Then I started reading more recipes (including Deb's recipe; this is turning into a Smitten Kitchen fanletter!) and gleaned the brilliant idea of pulsing the tomato innards in a food processor and then cooking the rice in that resulting tomato liquid before stuffing it back into the tomatoes.
The only difference is that I combined the two recipes: I added a huge handful of Parmesan cheese to the cooked tomato rice and topped with even more Parmesan before baking. This is such a great make-ahead side dish, especially now that tomatoes are at their peak.
3. Stuffed Tomato Rice Balls (Arancini)
These newsletters are fun because unlike individual blog posts that are only about one thing, here you can see how one recipe bleeds into the next recipe. Case in point: the leftover tomato risotto filling that I had after making those stuffed tomatoes.
I put about two cups of it into a bowl and the next day, when I had more friends coming over, I pulled it out and decided to make Arancini. This is the greatest thing a human can do with leftover risotto; in fact, after making these, I'm going to consider it immoral to not make extra risotto when making risotto because these are just too good.
How do you make them? It's like any breaded/fried dish: you dip in flour, you dip in egg, you dip in breadcrumbs, you fry. Except here, you start with cold risotto which you shape into a ball and then you stuff it with a little cheese first. I used goat cheese, because that's what I had, but a cube of mozzarella would be even better.
Again: you roll the risotto ball in the flour, roll around in beaten egg (season each thing with a little salt, btw), then roll around in panko.
In a large skillet, heat an inch of vegetable oil until it reaches 350 degrees, then carefully lower in your arancini and fry until beautifully golden brown all over.
Remove to a plate with paper towels, sprinkle with lots of salt and Parmesan cheese. Serve right away with cold white wine (preferably Italian).
4. Tomato Salads
I've really been going crazy for tomatoes lately, probably because they're so pretty right now and I'll really miss them when they're gone (well: the good summer ones).
Last Tuesday, I made a dinner that had Craig raving and it was the simplest thing in the world. Sort of a deconstructed Greek salad: tomatoes, cucumber, big chunks of Feta, a big glug of olive oil, red wine vinegar, and then a sprinkling of za'atar. I served it with the sardines that we brought back from France, really good bread, and really good butter. Oh: and really good rosÃ©.
Then, the next day, I took those same ingredients and made a more casual, more chopped version of a Greek salad.
Also sprinkled with za'atar. But I'm not done!
On Sunday, I went to the farmer's market and saw all this...
So that night, I served up a panzanella that was really just big sourdough croutons, big chunks of tomato, red onion, olive oil, vinegar, and lots and lots of shredded basil.
Here are the lucky dinner guests, Matt and Jerome (I also fed them chicken with salsa verde and tzaziki that I had leftover from another meal, don't tell them).
Where I've Been Eating:
My new favorite video game involves loading up my two favorite restaurant apps, OpenTable and Resy, on a Friday afternoon and seeing if I can score a last-minute table at a hard-to-get-into restaurant. Last Friday, I scored big, with an 8:15 PM table at Hippo, a new casual pasta joint behind Nancy Silverton's pizza spot (Triple Beam) in Highland Park.
The place had a terrific vibe; it's just my kind of restaurant: casual, fun, delicious.
Craig and I shared a hamachi appetizer that had this wonderful lemon oregano sauce on it that I kept lapping up with bread.
We also relished this green bean salad that was the opposite of those sad, frozen green beans you'd get at your middle school cafeteria. These were alive with flavor.
I was absolutely thrilled with my entree, a corn tortellini (there was another word for it, but I'm too lazy to look it up (ok, fine, cappellacci)), that absolutely exploded with summery corn flavor.
Craig was less thrilled with his ocean trout, not because it didn't taste good, but because the portion was so small.
We supplemented, though, with a big wedge of cauliflower that was pretty tasty (though I think it would've been tastier if they'd cut it up into florets and gotten each one caramelized; this big wedge of cauliflower thing is really just for the dramatic Instagram picture).
We definitely saved room for dessert, though, and this stone fruit sundae didn't disappoint. It's maybe my favorite dessert I've had this summer, not counting my perfect peach pie. But it came pretty close.
2. Little Sister Downtown
Jonathan Gold was such an important presence in L.A., such an arbiter of what made the city great, that his absence is really hard to take. Which is why, every so often, I scan his last 101 Best Restaurants list to see which parts of the city I've been neglecting, which restaurants I still need to try.
Enter Little Sister Downtown. It's a restaurant I've heard lots about, but I'd never been. So on Wednesday last week, I went there with my friend Alex. Here he is:
The place was totally bustling, loud, and exciting. I was really into it and the food was fantastic.
Highlights: these autumn spring rolls with sweet potato and Chinese sausage.
The fried okra with tomato and lime (Alex went rogue and ordered this, but I'm glad he did).
But my absolute favorite was the lemongrass chicken, which had all the charm of General Tso's (crispy and sweet and spicy) but much more subtle and not as much of a gut bomb.
Links & Things:
* Following Sexual Harassment Suit, DC Chef Mike Isabella Files for Bankruptcy, Eater
* Matzo Balls and Chiles? Itâ€™s Rosh Hashana with the Flavors of Mexico, New York Times
* War and no pieces of cake: dining from the Tolstoy family cookbook, The Guardian
* The Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookies Our Staff is Obsessed With, Food52
* Homemade Klondike Bars, Serious Eats
* Five Minutes That Will Make You Love Classical Music, New York Times
Finished reading David Sedaris's Calypso on the plane to Vancouver (hi from Vancouver!), and the last few essays were really poignant (especially the one about Amy going to a psychic). Craig put all of our DVDs into a big book so we could get rid of the cases, and we decided to re-watch Boogie Nights which was so great to see again and definitely one of my favorite movies (RIP Burt Reynolds); PT Anderson has such exuberance as a filmmaker and such love for his characters.
OK, if you enjoyed reading this, why not forward to a friend who loves cooking? Or Tweet about it? Or share on Facebook? I'm just saying!
Until next time....
Adam (The Amateur Gourmet)