Summer Fruit Crostata

Summer Fruit Crostata  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Summer Fruit Crostata | Image: Laura Messersmith

Each week I follow along with Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) and attempt to recreate one of her dishes in my tiny New York City kitchen. The catch? This is my version of cooking school and I’m making these recipes for the first time. I’ll share both my successes and um, challenges, along the way and we’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!

Episode: “Good Catch”

The Set-up: Ina and T.R. are having seafood dinner at his new fishing shack.

The Menu: Parker’s Fish and Chips, Tartar Sauce, Chopped Pickles, Summer Fruit Crostata

0:53 – According to Ina, T.R. is in charge of catching the fish for their dinner but we all know that’s fairly unlikely.

1:07 – Ina is cooking most everything in advance, including the Summer Fruit Crostata.

2:30 – Pro Tip#1: Use unsalted butter so that you can control the amount of salt in a recipe.

3:11 – I can’t be the only one who has a hard time moderating the water in pie crust - it always seems to be too wet or too dry! Naturally, Ina’s is perfect.

4:26 – And now ladies and gents: T.R. looking impossibly dapper in a navy Lacoste polo and admitting that he maaaay have fudged the truth when it came to his fishing experience.

5:14 – We’re back with Ina to mix up the homemade Tartar Sauce and even though she’s using dill pickles she still manages to say “cornichon.” Love it.

6:29 – Next, the Chopped Pickles, essentially the same jarred pickles that went into the tartar sauce jazzed up in pretty slices with fresh minced dill fronds.

10:42 – The crust for the Summer Fruit Crostata has rested and chilled in the fridge and now Ina is rolling it out into a perfect circle. One day that will be me!

11:53 – Now the fruit – peaches, dark plums, and blueberries. Pro Tip #2: You can remove the skin from the peaches by blanching in hot water and shocking them in an ice water bath.

12:35 – Ina has somehow, with no swearing or effort, managed to slice the peaches and the plums right off the inner pit. For my own self-esteem I’m going to chalk that up to expert fruit selection and a little TV magic.

13:19 – Hahahaha. We’re treated to intermittent shots of T.R. faithfully, but fruitlessly casting and reeling from the dock. Poor guy.

14:50 – Thank goodness! We saw the fruit piled in the middle of the crostata dough, but for a second I thought we weren’t going to get a demo of the folding technique. How could I have though Ina would hold out on us?

19:18 – Onward to make the batter for the Parker’s Fish and Chips and Ina promises us that it will be crispy and light, not soggy. Preach girl!

20:36 – Ina compares this process to making pancakes in the morning and suggests that it can all be done in advance.

21:27 – It’s official: T.R. has not caught a fish (perhaps the lack of bait on that hook?) and makes an emergency trip to the seafood market. A much more sensible approach, if you ask me.

22:12 – One last prep task before heading over to T.R.’s: cutting big Idaho baking potatoes in wedges and sprinkling them with salt, rosemary and garlic. Yum!

25:05 – Ina arrives at the fishing shack with an adorable “Yoohoo! T.R.?” and immediately calls him out on ‘catching’ the fish at the Seafood Shop.

26:33 – He’s put to work portioning the fish while Ina puts the chips in the oven to roast.

27:24 – Since the potatoes take 30+ minutes to bake they have time for a glass of wine on the dock as the sun sets. Gorgeous.

28:41 – The fish goes from plate, to seasoned batter, to hot oil and back to a paper towel-lined plate in about 6 minutes. No dredging in flour though, which is surprising.

29:10 – Ina’s kicking this one old-school, roadside stand style with newspaper cones and little containers of pickles and tartar sauce. Crostata is consumed straight from the baking sheet.

Final Thoughts:
Fish and chips seem so much more approachable after watching Ina prep them so simply.

I sincerely would love to do a little dock-sitting if it could be arranged this summer.

T.R. is the consummate rascal and Ina is so classy that even jarred dill pickles aren’t beyond her reach.

Summer Fruit Crostata  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Summer Fruit Crostata | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:
In my continued efforts to master pies and pie crust baking Summer Fruit Crostata was another opportunity to test my skills and learn from my mistakes. It was also a chance to emulate one of the more alluring Bon Appetit covers I’ve seen. No one should be surprised that even with the concerted effort I’ve been making I still have room for improvement in this department.

Stone Fruit: Am I the only one who is incredibly intimidated by the process of slicing and removing the pits from peaches, plums & nectarines? The last time I tried the fruit was nearly unrecognizable from the divots and bruises I inflicted just trying to get a few slices free. So. Frustrating.

Before I made the crostata I carefully studied these tips & videos from Mario Batali, Southern Living, The Kitchn, and Food52 and have a few of my own.

·      Serrated/utility knife – Stone fruits are like tomatoes, the skin is tougher than you think and the flesh is really delicate. A serrated knife makes a cleaner cut with minimal pressure that might damage the fruit. Slice as close to the pit as you can to make the slices easier to remove.

·      The SEAM!!! – All the articles mentioned this, but making that first cut along the seam is more essential to successfully twisting the two halves apart than I realized. We’ve all laughed about how peaches look like little bums, well the seam is the uh, crack of the bum and demarcates the two half sections of the fruit and corresponds to the ridge around the pit. Doing this alone will help you immensely.

·      Ripe Fruit – high risk, high reward. The riper the fruit the more easily the fruit is to de-pit, but also bruises more. I’d recommend a firm and persistent, but gentle approach, especially when twisting the two halves apart. Resist pressing your finger tips in too hard and grip more with the palm.

Sweet Dough: Most of the crusts I’ve made so far have involved very little or no sugar at all just flour, butter, water, and salt. This one called for a moderate amount of white sugar; a great compliment to the juicy fruit resulting in a dessert that hovered between sweet and fresh. Fantastic.

Patience: Alas, even though I know that keeping the dough cold is an essential part of the process stubbornness and a short window for baking had me rushing. Couple a lack of time with a hot afternoon and you have a recipe for sticky dough and a frustrating rolling experience. I managed to patch the crostata together, but ideally I’d take note of the sky high temperatures outside and remember to leave myself an extra 30 minutes for chilling time.

Summer Fruit Crostata  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Summer Fruit Crostata | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes indeed, but clear the counter so you have a place to roll the crust. For the pastry, I used a large bowl, pastry cutter, measuring cups & spoons (all reused later for the topping), a liquid measuring cup, and a rolling pin. For the fruit, I needed a separate medium bowl, serrated utility knife, and small cutting board.  (I skipped the orange zest and washed the peaches carefully so I didn’t have to take off the skin.) A baking sheet, plastic wrap and parchment paper round out the “kit.”

The Verdict:
I made Summer Fruit Crostata for friends as a post-dinner treat and based on the silence after the wedges were served, and the speed at which it was consumed this was a hit. This is a dessert that lets the fruit shine without a lot of extra business and when beautiful peaches, plums, and blueberries are in season you really don’t need to gussy them up with a ton of sugar and spices. A simple scoop of vanilla ice cream and you’re off to the races with a perfect slice of summer. Do make this crostata immediately.

Summer Fruit Crostata  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Summer Fruit Crostata | Image: Laura Messersmith

Bourbon & Brown Sugar Marinated Steak

Bourbon & Brown Sugar Marinated Steak  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Bourbon & Brown Sugar Marinated Steak | Image: Laura Messersmith

Every once in a while I’ll be paging through a cooking magazine and a recipe will reach out; grabbing me by the lapels, just begging to be made (proverbially of course.) That was the case with this Bourbon and Brown Sugar Marinated Steak. I found it in a compilation issue of Fine Cooking’s best summer recipes and the name alone summoned mental images of spicy sweet steak consumed on a summer evening somewhere in Kentucky blue grass country.

Wheels were set in motion and a few days later we were channeling a back porch pace up here on the twelfth floor complete thanks to a little urban grilling and some fragrant, ripe peaches. Because what goes better with bourbon than stone fruit?

The humidity has loosened its grip on New York giving way to blessedly fresh mornings and warm afternoons when laying on your back in a lawn of clover while the bumblebees buzz seems like the best possible way to spend an hour or two. This recipe perfectly captures that vibe – gingery warmth, minimal effort.

Bourbon & Brown Sugar Marinated Steak   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Bourbon & Brown Sugar Marinated Steak | Image: Laura Messersmith

Bourbon and Brown Sugar Marinated Steak (serves 4) 

1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/3 cup bourbon or other whiskey
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar, preferably dark
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger root
1 1/2 to 2 pounds flank steak, or 1 1/2-inch-thick New York strip steaks 

Use a paring knife to peel the ginger and then a microplane to finely grate into a medium liquid measuring cup. Add the soy sauce, bourbon, brown sugar, and Dijon mustard to the cup. Whisk together to combine the ingredients and dissolve the sugar.

Place the steak in a large zip top bag and pour the marinade over the meat. Seal the bag and massage to cover the steaks with marinade, and set aside for 15 to 20 minutes at room temperature, or up to 2 hours in the refrigerator. Flip the bag occasionally and if refrigerating bring the steaks back to room temperature before grilling.

Heat a grill pan over medium-high flame for 3-4 minutes. When the pan is hot, remove the steak from the marinade and shake off any excess, but don’t pat it dry. Reserve the marinade.

Grill the steak until good sear marks appear, 3 to 4 minutes. With tongs, rotate the steak 90 degrees (to get a crosshatch of grill marks) and continue grilling until grill marks form and the edges are a little crisp, another 3 to 4 minutes.

Flip the steak and grill the other side in the same way until the exterior is nicely seared and the steak is cooked to your liking, 10 to 12 minutes total cooking time for medium rare. Let the steaks rest for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour the reserved marinade into a small saucepan and boil over medium-high heat until syrupy, about 5 minutes. Stir occasionally and watch carefully to prevent burning.

When the sauce is thickened and the meat has rested, slice the flank steak thinly across the grain. For strip steaks, slice thickly or serve in chunks. Serve with a drizzle of the sauce

Re-written and slightly adapted from Molly Steven’s Bourbon and Brown Sugar Marinated Steak in Fine Cooking magazine.

Bourbon & Brown Sugar Marinated Steak   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Bourbon & Brown Sugar Marinated Steak | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes, indeed! I used a two-burner cast iron grill pan, tongs, microplane grater, paring knife, and medium cutting board. I also needed a large liquid measuring cup, dry measuring cups/spoons, and a dinner fork, a large zip top bag (1 gallon size) and aluminum foil.

The Verdict:
We loved the Bourbon and Brown Sugar Marinated Steak preparation – savory soy sauce, the alcoholic sharpness of the bourbon, all balanced against smoky sticky caramelized sugar. I served the flank steak along with a fresh salad of baby spinach topped with blueberries and a few slivered almonds – special shout out from Mike for the accompanying grilled peaches as a way to bridge the gap. This recipe is incredibly easy and the results are excellent.

Bourbon & Brown Sugar Marinated Steak   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Bourbon & Brown Sugar Marinated Steak | Image: Laura Messersmith

Peach Strawberry Shortcakes

Each week I follow along with Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) and attempt to recreate one of her dishes in my tiny New York City kitchen. The catch? This is my version of cooking school and I’m making these recipes for the first time. I’ll share both my successes and um, challenges, along the way and we’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!

Peach Strawberry Shortcakes  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Peach Strawberry Shortcakes | Image: Laura Messersmith

Episode: “What Are Friends For?”

The Set-up: Ina is helping a friend by preparing a house-warming dinner for her friend Greg.

The Menu: Peach Raspberry Shortcakes, Mac and Cheese, Radishes with Butter & Salt

0:41 – Ina agrees with what we’re all thinking: moving is the worst. But I’d consider it if it meant a meal prepared by the Barefoot Contessa.

1:16 – I’m going to pretend that she didn’t just hate on the “blue box.” Circle of Trust time. We can admit to each other that we’re occasionally tempted by it’s electric orange hue right…?

2:44 – We begin with the Mac and Cheese, which naturally means melted butter and a cream sauce.

3:32 – Forget what I said about the blue box; this Mac and Cheese is going to be off the hook. I think there’s about 4 pounds of Gruyere and cheddar involved.

4:50 – Pro Tip #1: Add the grated cheese to the cream sauce off the heat. I have messed this up so many times and had no idea that less heat was the key!

5:25 – Ina is using cavatappi instead of macaroni because it’s more festive for a party. The idea of certain pastas being more fun than others makes me laugh, but it’s so true!

6:17 – This mac and cheese is getting a topping of sliced tomatoes and toasted fresh breadcrumbs. To be honest, I’ve never understood the whole breadcrumb thing. Why do people love it so much?

10:33 – Shortcake time! These are Peach Raspberry Shortcakes and if I’ve learned anything from Ina it’s that you can revamp a recipe just by changing one ingredient.

11:38 – Pro Tip #2: Make sure that the butter is still visible in the dough to guarantee a light, flaky shortcake.

12:46 – Am I the only one who finds shortcake dough totally impossible to work with? It’s so sticky and unmanageable!

13:29 – Apparently not, Ina says she usually gets it all over the kitchen and herself. So, now I feel better.

14:15 – In case you were wondering; Ina does collect the scraps after the first round of cut-outs and makes a second pass. Looks like she’s using the second largest of these round fluted biscuit cutters.

15:40 – Shortcakes are in the oven and we catch up with Ina’s friend Alison who’s picking up the fruit and some salad makings for the party.

16:22 – Back to finish up prep on the Radishes with Butter & Salt. Ina says this is a classic sandwich given to French children, which sounds like an urban myth, but the Internet says it’s true.

17:11 – Pro Tip #3: The baguette slices will toast better if they’re placed on a rack.

20:04 – Ina plans to serve the radishes with a compound butter of scallions, dill, parsley, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Now we’re talking!

21:18 – Back over to Alison, who agreed to take on the arduous task of making the whipped cream for the shortcakes.

22:36 – Even though it’s incredibly simple, there’s something so satisfying about making whipped cream.

23:47 – A platter of radishes, a small heap of sea salt, and the buttered tartines is arranged and now it’s time to relocate over to Greg’s.

27:03 – The party is in full swing as Ina and Alison duck into the kitchen for the final prep. Either Alison has never assembled a shortcake before or for the purposes of the show a demo is required. I’m hoping for her sake it’s the latter...

28:39 – Ina mixes a simple vinaigrette, while Alison works on the shortcakes. I guess the demo worked because she managed to finish them off without incident.

29:53 – Dinner is served and Ina angles for an invitation to the next housewarming party. Somehow I think her presence will be required…

Final Thoughts:
Please don’t let me forget Pro Tip #1. Weirdly grainy cheese sauce has to stop right now!

Please also help me remember that a whole recipe overhaul isn’t required to add variety – just a simple tweak will do!

I’ve noticed that every time a friend of Ina’s (F.O.I.) moves into a new house they get a dinner party. Anyone think that people are moving just for the food?

Peach Strawberry Shortcakes   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Peach Strawberry Shortcakes | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:
I know, I know. I’m supposed to be making pie, but in my defense the strategies for great shortcakes are closely aligned with making great pie crust. As I’ll demonstrate below, Peach Raspberry Shortcakes are a perfectly cromulent way of practicing…

Temperature – Cold ingredients, cold bowl, cold baking sheet, HOT oven. You may already know that the “fluffiness” of shortcakes depend on pockets of cold butter hitting a very hot oven and releasing steam. Occasionally Maddie’s walks interrupt work on a recipe leading to unintended, but successful experimentation. In this case, I was just about to add the cream/egg mixture when we had to head outside, so everything went into the fridge for 30 minutes including the baking sheet. I’d recommend this step anytime you have to pause or clear the decks  before the next step, especially in hot weather like we’ve been experiencing lately.

Mixing Dough – I went super low-tech with this dough – no mixer, no food processor. I diced the butter on the smaller side (~1/8”) and tossed it in the dry ingredients to coat it before using the pastry cutter. I beat the heavy cream and eggs together in a liquid measuring cup and then used a fork to “fluff” them into the flour until just moistened. It kept the texture light and helped prevent over mixing.

Whipped Cream – I’d echo the “keep things cold” advice for this stage too. Pop the empty bowl and beater attachments in the freezer 20 minutes before you want to make the whipped cream, it will help the heavy cream retain the air and whip up more quickly into a lighter, softer cream.

Peach Strawberry Shortcakes   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Peach Strawberry Shortcakes | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Surprisingly, yes! For the shortcakes I used a large mixing bowl, pastry cutter, biscuit cutter, liquid measuring cup, dry measuring cups and spoons, a butter knife, and a dinner fork. For the fruit and whipped cream I also needed a small cutting board, paring knife, medium mixing bowl, and electric hand-mixer.

The Verdict:
When has a shortcake, especially a miniature one as fluffy and butter filled as these, ever been a bad choice? Would a generous layer of subtly sweet whipped cream and juicy summer fruit change your mind? If these facts don’t sway your decision then I’m not sure what will because these Peach Raspberry Shortcakes are just lightly sweet and so easy to make ahead of time. They're perfect to bring for a dinner party or a picnic in the park. Shortcakes with berries celebrate summer like nothing else, but there’s no reason not to eat them year-round paired with any fruit you can get your hands on. I’m already plotting a fall-ish version…

Peach Strawberry Shortcakes   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Peach Strawberry Shortcakes | Image: Laura Messersmith

Apricot Peach Oatmeal

Apricot Peach Oatmeal

It’s practically May and while the afternoons have been beautifully warm and sunny perfect for people watching in the park it’s still pretty chilly on my morning walks with Maddie-pup. Not that I really need an excuse to continue my morning oatmeal ritual well into spring, especially now that I’ve begun to mix it up with some alternate summery fruits.

It’s still early for any stone fruits to be in season, but I’ve found that jarred peaches in 100% fruit juice work well in a pinch and let me pretend that it’s July without any of that pesky peeling to do.

Side Note: elementary-aged me thought that since raisins = dried grapes and prunes = dried plums, that logically apricots must be dried peaches. It took me years to discover that they were a related, but totally different fruit. I can’t be the only one, right? More info on stone fruit here compliments of Food52.

In any case, I like the contrast in textures of the dried apricots and crunchy almonds against the warm oatmeal and sweet peaches. I’ll be back to apples and cranberries in the fall, but for now this bowl of golden colors is my go-to breakfast and it could be yours too!

Apricot Peach Oatmeal

Apricot Peach Steel-cut Oatmeal (yield: 4 servings)

2 cups 100% apple juice
1 cup water
1 cup McCann's Quick & Easy Steel Cut Irish oats
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground all spice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/3 cup diced dried apricots
1 cup (1 medium) diced fresh or jarred peaches

Heat the apple juice and water in a medium sauce pan over high heat and bring to a simmer. Add the ground cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and kosher salt to the hot apple juice mixture.

Next, sprinkle the Irish steel cut oats into the spiced apple juice and swirl the pan to gently stir. Reduce the heat to low.

Meanwhile, drain the extra juice from the peach slices and dice into 1/4 inch pieces. Chop the dried apricots and after the oats have cooked for 1 minute, add them to the pan.

Simmer the oats and apricots for another 3-4 minutes until the oats are al dente, stirring occasionally with a rubber spatula to prevent the oatmeal from sticking to the bottom of the pan. In the last minute of cooking add the diced peaches and stir into the cooked oats.

Serve immediately and top with the slivered almonds and an additional sprinkle of cloves.

Apricot Peach Oatmeal 1 smaller.jpg

Small Kitchen Friendly?
This is super simple and definitely small kitchen friendly. I used a small sauce pan, a small cutting board, chef’s knife, dry and liquid measuring cups and measuring spoons. A rubber spatula will also be your best friend when it’s time to stir and serve!

The Verdict:
Mike isn’t fond of oatmeal, so this is something I cook purely for myself and to my own taste every morning. I personally like the depth of spice that comes from layering cinnamon, allspice and cloves - and what’s a little spice without the accompanying sweet (but not too sweet) fruit and apple juice? Thanks to my own handiwork over the stove I’m now one of those people who looks forward to eating my oatmeal. You’ve been warned: there’s rarely a day when I’m not wishing for “seconds.”

Apricot Peach Oatmeal