December 31, 2019

Top 20 Recipes for 2020

I love doing these sorts of annual recaps, but I feel like I've been doing the same style for the past few years and the top recipes of all time don't change much. This year, I decided to switch it up for a new year and a new decade. I'm going with the 20 recipes I'm most excited to cook in 2020, from apps to entrees to plenty of desserts. I've made some of them plenty of times and others not enough, but they're all delicious and will make 2020 even better. So without further ado, here are 20 of my favorite recipes (in alphabetical order) that will hopefully start your year off right.

1. Apple Pie

2. Australian Meat Pie

3. Black & White Cookies

4. Blackberry Almond Coffee Cake

4. Buttermilk Roasted Chicken

5. Carrot Bacon Soup

6. Chocolate Fudge Pecan Pie

7. Chocolate Peanut Butter Swirl Cookies

8. Croque Poulet

9. Deep Dish Pizza

10. Everything Bagel Dip

11. Flank Steak w/ Tomato Caper Relish

12. Grilled Ribeye

13. Louisiana Chicken Stew

14. Matzo Ball Soup

15. Pasta Amatriciana

16. Sesame Chicken Thighs

17. Shrimp & Grits

18. Snickersnaps

19. Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

20. Thai Steak Salad

November 20, 2019

Pumpkin Caramel Tart

Pumpkin pie is a Thanksgiving staple, but there are so many ways to dress it up it doesn't make sense to have a plain pumpkin pie on the table anymore. Whether it's a swirl of cheesecake or baking it in blondie form, pumpkin pie deserves a little love and a lot more creativity. I'm more of a crust girl than a filling fan myself, so any way to up that ratio automatically gains a few points in my book. Add a caramel base for some more complex sweet notes and you've got quite the showstopper, especially with a big scoop of ice cream and a drizzle of the leftover caramel. This tart will have you abandoning your basic-as-pumpkin-spice pumpkin pie recipe this season, if it even is pumpkin at all.

You can usually get away with buying the pie crust at Thanksgiving since there are so many other things that must be homemade and it's so easy to flake out on it. Too bad store-bought crust isn't actually flaky (sorry for the terrible puns... I'm on a post-Halloween candy sugar high). Fortunately, it's super easy to make your own pie dough, and you can even make it a few days in advance so you can focus on all your other Thanksgiving recipes. I've written plenty of recipes with advice on pie crusts, so I'll keep it brief: keep everything (especially the butter) as cold as possible and work the dough as little as possible. Since this is a tart, you'll probably have to roll the dough a bit thinner than you would a pie so it covers the whole pan, but you can just cut the ends flush with the edges: no fancy crimping required. You'll also need to blind bake the crust since the thinner layer of pumpkin filling requires less time in the oven. Don't worry; this just entails covering the dough with foil, weighing it down with dry beans or pie weights, and par-baking it so it starts the cooking process without puffing up in the middle.

Normally, pumpkin pie filling is just a combination of pumpkin puree, sweetened condensed milk, eggs, and spices. This recipe is kinda similar but also kinda not, since a homemade caramel sauce takes the place of the sweetened condensed milk, plus I throw in a spoonful of flour to help it set during baking. Since it's pretty much just whisking a bunch of liquidy ingredients together, you don't even need a stand mixer. While you're on a mixing kick, go ahead and make your own pumpkin spice blend. There's no need to buy an overpriced bottle of the stuff if you already have classic fall spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. If you don't have those ingredients already, you should go ahead and buy them instead of pumpkin spice.

The caramel sauce is probably the hardest part of this recipe, but it's as easy as caramel gets. It starts by heating sugar, corn syrup, cream of tartar, and a splash of water together. The corn syrup and cream of tartar prevent the caramel from crystallizing and turning gritty later on, so don't be scared off by the stereotypes. Those ingredients all cook together until the caramel gets as dark as you like. I aim for a dark amber, but it can go over in a snap so make sure to keep an eye on it. The trick is to watch and don't touch, since stirring promotes crystallization and will give you a grainy caramel. Once the caramel reaches the proper color, whisk in some cream to turn it into a smooth, creamy sauce instead of a hard candy.

To make it all come together, blend the cooled caramel with the pumpkin, an extra spoonful of brown sugar, a bit of flour, eggs, vanilla, and your homemade pumpkin spice blend. The crust is already partially cooked, so you really just have to bake it until the filling is just set and barely wobbly. Once it's cool enough to dig in, serve it a la mode with a bit of extra caramel sauce for your family's new favorite part of Thanksgiving.

1 Recipe Pie Crust (See Below)
1 Cup Sugar
2 T Brown Sugar
2 T Corn Syrup
Pinch Cream of Tartar
1 Cup Cream
1 Cup Pumpkin
1 T Flour
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
1/4 tsp Ginger
1/2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Vanilla
3 Eggs

Roll the pie dough out to fit a 10" tart pan. Cover with foil and fill with pie weights or dry beans. Blind bake the crust for 20 minutes at 375F. Set aside to cool and leave oven at 350F.

Combine the sugar, corn syrup, cream of tartar, and 2T water in a medium pot, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook until deep amber, swirling occasionally but not stirring, about 8-10 minutes. Immediately remove from heat and slowly whisk in the cream. Set aside to cool.

Combine the pumpkin, brown sugar, flour, spices, salt, vanilla, and the caramel sauce. Whisk in the eggs one at a time.

Pour the filling into the par-baked crust and bake until just set, about 30 minutes.

For the crust:
Pulse 1 1/4 C flour, 1/4 C sugar, and 1/4 tsp salt in a food processor until combined. Add 1 stick chilled and cubed butter and pulse until small pieces remain. Combine the an yolk with a tablespoon of cold water and add in. Pulse until it begins to form a ball, adding more water as necessary. Chill.

Makes 1 Tart
Recipe Adapted from Bon Appetit

October 30, 2019

Halloween Thumbprint Cookies

I know Halloween is the one time a year when most people are drowning in candy. Working at a candy company is like that year-round, which is why I'm so excited to finally share a recipe to help use it all up. There's only so much you can eat straight from the wrapper (or sneak from your kids' baskets), so recipes that upcycle candy and can be shared with even more people are so useful, especially this time of year. Pretty much everyone has had a Hershey Kiss cookie, but why not extend that to all chocolatey treats? I'm not just saying that because I work for Mars... there's just something magical about buttery cookies topped with oozy melting caramel and salty peanuts from a Snickers bar or gooey nougat in a Milky Way. Whatever your favorite candy is, I'm sure it will be even better on top of a warm, delicious cookie. That is assuming your favorite candy is something puckeringly sour or gum or something, in which case I'm not sure we can be friends since chocolate is clearly superior.

I clearly love thumbprint cookies since they translate so well to any occasion, even for passover. There's a little more leeway with recipes when you can actually eat gluten, but I still go for a basic buttery sugar cookie dough here to let the candies stand out. It's a pretty stiff dough with not as much sugar as you'd expect, which allows the thumbprints to maintain their shape and not be sickeningly sweet when topped with lots of candy. I do use a mix of regular white sugar and light brown sugar for just a hint of molasses-y flavor that makes chocolate chip cookies so good. The trick is to roll the balls and make the indents before chilling the dough, so they're easy to pop in the oven and don't spread too much. You may still need to re-indent the cookies after baking, but these should keep their shape better than most other doughs.

The hardest part of this recipe is deciding when to add the candy on top. In many thumbprint cookie recipes, you can add the filling before baking, since jams tend to hold up pretty well. However, candy would melt past the point of recognition and ooze everywhere. It's a delicate balance between waiting until the cookies are cool enough to avoid melting the candy too much but are still warm enough to let the chocolate melt a bit and stick to the cookie. I find that letting the cookies cool for 2-3 minutes on the baking sheet and another 2-3 minutes on a wire rack leaves them just warm enough for the candy toppings.

Now for the candy itself. The original purpose of this recipe is to use up whatever Halloween candy you have lying around, so really any chocolate candy will do. I'd avoid very sour things as well as very chewy things (you wouldn't swallow gum plain, so why would you swallow it with a cookie?), but if you really like fruity flavors with your sugar cookies it could be worth a shot. I'll also advise against using M&Ms since the candy coating prevents the chocolate from melting and adhering to the cookie. Some of my favorites to use were all sorts of Snickers bars, Milky Way, Twix (gotta have that double cookie action), and, of course, Dove Promises, especially the filled ones. Hershey Kisses and Reeses would also be great, but I'm not looking to be a traitor if I bring these to my office. I always have candy filling up my entire apartment since it's basically part of my job description, but use whatever you have or whatever you can snatch up in the Great Annual November 1 Candy Sale, one of my favorite days of the year.

2 Sticks Butter, Softened
⅓ Cup Sugar
⅓ Cup Light Brown Sugar
1 Egg Yolk
1 tsp Vanilla
2 Cups + 2 T Flour
1 T Cornstarch
½ tsp Salt

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter, sugar, and brown sugar together on medium speed for 2 minutes or until fluffy. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and beat until combined. Whisk the flour, cornstarch, and salt, then stir into the dough.

Scoop the dough into 1T balls. Roll firmly, then press an indent into the center of each cookie. Chill for at least 1 hour or overnight.

Meanwhile, heat oven to 375F and line a cookie sheet with parchment.

Transfer the dough to the prepared sheet. Bake for 10 minutes or until just golden around the edges. Press the centers down as necessary. When cooled slightly but still warm, press the candy into the center of each cookie. Set aside to cool completely.

Makes 24
Recipe Adapted from Sugar Spun Run

October 11, 2019

Sweet Potato Lentil Chili

I'm about to turn on the heat in my apartment, and I'm thinking of doing my big seasonal clothing swap in my closet this weekend. It may not be as bad as Denver's 60 degree drop in 24 hours, but October finally hit and it's definitely chilly outside. That means I'm ready for cozy soups and hearty chilis, and I will eat them bundled up in my cute sweaters and fuzzy blankets with my cat as sunset creeps earlier and earlier.

Matzo Ball Soup is my go to and Southwest Chicken Chili is a family favorite, but I'm always looking for more recipes to add to my files. This chili is plenty filling and warms you right up, plus it's accidentally vegan, not that anyone would know unless they asked. Yes, this is one of those unicorn recipes that tastes delicious, suits all sorts of dietary restrictions, and is ready in under an hour. I'll wait while you grab your grocery list.

A lot of times I have multiple steps in my soup recipes to sear of the meat and saute the veggies just so to build the proper layers of flavor. This recipe is basically an exception, since you only saute off one batch of veggies (specifically the onions) then add everything else right in. You don't even have to cook the onions first if you're pressed for time. If you do want to do the onions separately and maybe add a little more flavor with another step, you can cook off some bacon or ham at the very beginning, plus it makes a great snack if you can't wait for the chili to finish.

The onions, garlic, and jalapeno are cooked first until fragrant. Another way to jazz it up (besides the bacon or ham, of course) is to add some bell peppers here too. After that, you add in the tomato paste and all the spices. There's nothing crazy, just some chili powder, paprika, cumin, cayenne, garlic powder, and onion powder. You should already have them all in your pantry, and if not I highly recommend buying them since you'll use them in plenty of other recipes too.

As with pretty much all my recipes, you can adjust the jalapeno and spice levels to suit your taste or even sub in a spicier pepper if you're feeling bold. I let those spices toast for just a minute until they become fragrant to boost the flavors even more. After that, you just stir in the tomatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, lentils, and veggie broth and let it all simmer together until tender. The keys here are to use petite diced tomatoes with green chiles for bite sized tomato pieces with some extra kick and dice the sweet potatoes fairly small so that they're also bite sized and cook quickly and evenly. If you can't find any petite diced tomatoes with green chiles, just use two cans of petite diced tomatoes and a small can of diced green chiles. You can also swap in your favorite bean (or add in a few kinds) and add in any other miscellaneous cans you have rolling around in your pantry that could go well. This recipe is extremely fast and flexible, so go forth and retreat into hibernation this fall.

1 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Jalapeno, Minced
2T Tomato Paste
1 T Chili Powder
1 tsp Paprika
1 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Cayenne
2 tsp Garlic Powder
2 tsp Onion Powder
2 10oz Cans Diced Tomatoes with Green Chiles
1 14.5oz Can Kidney Beans, Drained
2 lbs Sweet Potatoes, Peeled & Diced
1 1/2 Cups Lentils
4 Cups Vegetable Stock

Heat some oil in a large pot. Add the onions and cook for 4 minutes or until tender and fragrant. Add the garlic, jalapeƱo, and salt and pepper and cook for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and spices and cook for 1 minute more. Add the tomatoes, beans, sweet potatoes, lentils, and vegetable stock. Season with salt and pepper, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes or until the sweet potatoes are fork tender and the lentils are al dente.

Serves 6-8
Recipe Adapted from Brewing Happiness

September 15, 2019

Maple Brown Sugar Cookies

We're only halfway through September, and everyone is already obsessed with pumpkin everything, Halloween costumes, and the 3 crunchy leaves on the sidewalk. I do love fall, but I don't think I'm quite ready to fully immerse myself in the pumpkin-spiced, dark-at-4pm cold. It's still 80 degrees outside! I need to ease myself into fall, which is why these maple brown sugar cookies are perfect. Maple is great all year round, but it reminds me of fall in particular. It pairs really well with all sorts of other fall flavors (apples, pumpkin, pears, and spices, just to name a few). Here, I'm keeping it simple with just maple and caramel-y brown sugar so the maple flavor really shines through. It's a great first hint of fall flavor without fully committing, and it's the perfect treat for kids, coworkers, or just yourself for surviving the awkward summer-to-fall transition.

Cookies are generally pretty easy to make, and this recipe is no exception. You don't even have to soften butter since you have to melt it all anyway, which gives you the perfect excuse to brown the butter for that extra caramelized, nutty flavor. The melted butter gets mixed with the brown sugar, then you add the maple syrup, egg, and vanilla followed by the dry ingredients.

Since one of the main flavors is brown sugar, I only use brown sugar here, no white sugar since the maple syrup also adds some sweetness. The brown sugar helps keep the cookies soft and chewy, too. What gets tricky is that the maple syrup is some extra liquid that you usually don't have to account for in cookies. I compensate by adding some extra flour, chilling the dough, and also knowing the limits of just how much maple syrup you can cram into the cookie itself. About a third of a cup is good to balance flavor and texture.

However, you can still get more maple into these maple cookies. One option is to use maple sugar, but that's expensive and would take away from the chewy brown sugar. My preference is to make a maple glaze, which is only two ingredients and can be slathered on to your maple-obsessed heart's content. It makes transport a bit difficult, so I'd either frost them just before serving or far enough in advance that they have time to set and dry in the open air a bit before storing. These cookies are soft and chewy but also cakey, so you could also sandwich them with some of that frosting for the extra maple flavor but easier packing.

1 Stick Butter, Melted & Browned (Browning Optional)
1 1/4 Cups Brown Sugar
1/3 Cup Maple Syrup
1 Egg
1 tsp Vanilla
3 Cups Flour
2 T Cornstarch
1 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Salt

1/4 Cup Maple Syrup
1 - 1 1/2 Cups Powdered Sugar

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and brown sugar together. Add the maple syrup, egg, and vanilla. Combine the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, then add to the dough.

Scoop the dough into balls and chill for at least 1 hour or until firm.

Heat oven to 375F and line cookie trays with parchment. Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes or until just set.

For the glaze, whisk the maple syrup and powdered sugar together. Drizzle on the cooled cookies.

Makes 32
Recipe Adapted from Sugar Spun Run

August 25, 2019

Mushroom-Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

Judging by the crazy spike in traffic in the past week and the Halloween decorations looming in Target, it's back to school season. I know everyone's schedules got a lot more hectic, and it's already easy enough for me to cave and just get food delivered, meaning that the need for easy but tasty dinners is much higher. Meals like this roasted pork dish only take an hour, make me feel super fancy, and make enough to feed the whole family and/or make leftovers for the next couple of days. They're perfect for weeknight cooking when you want something delicious, reasonably healthy, and in your stomach before Bachelor in Paradise is on.

Regular pork tenderloin is already a great starting point, but this filling really kicks it up a notch. It starts by sauteeing some onions, then adding mushrooms, garlic, and spices. This step is critical because mushrooms contain so much liquid. It's better to cook it all off now than have it all seep out from the pork during roasting. Fresh herbs will enhance the flavors, but dried ones will still taste great.

The one problem with the stuffing is that you need something to stuff it in, in this case the pork tenderloin. It's already so perfectly round and ready for roasting, and it can be a bit intimidating to cut it up and tie it back together. There are plenty of videos to make butterflying a bit more approachable, but essentially you're going to make one cut down the length of the loin, open it up, and make two more lengthwise cuts, one on each flap. It's helpful to take a meat mallet to the butterflied pork loin to make sure it's all even (especially at the seams), plus it makes it even more tender.

Once your pork is butterflied and your filling has cooled, you're going to spread the filling along most of the pork and roll it up, just like you would with cinnamon buns. Unfortunately, pork won't adhere back to itself like dough will, so it's best to use butcher twine or toothpicks to hold it together. Searing it prior to roasting will get some great color on it and help keep its shape. You'll still need to finish cooking the pork in the oven so it cooks through, but that frees up your searing skillet to make an irresistible pan sauce. Add a bit more garlic to the pork fat, deglaze with white wine, and stir in some chicken broth and herbs. Again, fresh herbs will brighten things up but dry herbs will work in a pinch. Once it simmers and reduces while the pork finishes cooking, stir in a splash of cream for some velvety richness and a little bit of luxury on a crazy weeknight. Serve it up with simple sides like some veggies and a mound of mashed potatoes and you've got quite the impressive dinner (the pan sauce makes a fantastic gravy).

1 Yellow Onion, Diced
8 oz Mushrooms, Sliced
5 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 1/2 tsp Oregano
1 1/2 tsp Thyme
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp Onion Powder
1 1/2 lbs Pork Tenderloin
1 Cup White Wine
1 Cup Chicken Broth
1 Cup Cream

Heat some oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and saute for 3 minutes or until translucent. Add the mushrooms and 3 cloves garlic. Season with 1/2 tsp oregano, 1/2 tsp thyme, garlic powder, onion powder, and salt and pepper. Saute for 6-8 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Seat aside to cool.

Butterfly the pork and pound until thin. Spread the mushroom mixture evenly on the pork, leaving a 1-2" barrier along one of the long ends. Roll tightly and use butcher twine or toothpicks to close.

Heat oven to 400F.

Season the pork with salt and pepper. Wipe out the skillet, then add some oil over medium-high heat. Add the pork and sear until browned, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to an oven-safe dish and roast for 30 minutes or until cooked through.

Meanwhile, pour most of the fat out of the skillet. Add the remaining 2 cloves garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes or until golden. Deglaze with the wine and simmer for 3 minutes or until reduced. Add the chicken broth and remaining 1 tsp oregano, 1 tsp thyme, and salt and pepper. Simmer for 8-10 minutes. Stir in the cream and heat until warm.

Serves 4-6

August 15, 2019

Thai Steak Salad

My main qualm with salads is that so many of them have no substance. They're just piles of sad wilted vegetables that don't actually fill you up, so you end up bingeing on exactly what you were trying to avoid later in the day. The key to making a salad you enjoy eating is to add stuff to it that you enjoy eating and slather it in a good salad dressing. This salad has both juicy marinated steak and a bright homemade dressing that pairs perfectly with it. You can dress it up with whatever extra veggies (or fruits) you want for a hearty salad to keep you going throughout the day.

The steak is the component that takes the longest, but that time doesn't really count since most of it is just leaving the steak to marinate. The marinade consists of coconut milk, sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, brown sugar, and sweet Thai chili sauce. It's sweet, spicy, salty, and savory, so it should hit all the notes you're looking for in a meal.

Since it needs at least two hours to soak up all the flavors, you can prep it with your dinner and grill it before bed to take to work for lunch the next day, or you can prep it in the morning and grill it when you get home for a basically ready-to-eat dinner. Flank steak cooks up very quickly, just a few minutes on each side, and it stays incredibly tender with enough time in the marinade. Other steaks could work too if you have other preferences or another cut is on sale, just make sure it's a grilling steak and not a braising one like brisket.

The salad dressing highlights the flavors of the steak marinade without tasting too similar. It includes mangos, limes, sriracha, and spices for another sweet, spicy, salty, savory (and sour) blend of flavors. What makes the dressing so special is that the mangos are roasted, enhancing the natural sweetness and adding a hint of char to match the crust on the steak. A blender or food processor is key here, since the mangos need to be pureed until smooth and the olive oil needs to be fully emulsified for a creamy, cohesive dressing. The trick to emulsifying the dressing properly is adding the oil very slowly, basically just a trickle as you keep the motor running. If you're short on time, you can go with your favorite store-bought dressing, but as with the steak most of the time involved is pretty hands-off, and a blender or food processor makes the actual mixing a cinch.

The salad itself is very simple, just some greens, leftover mango, thinly sliced onions, and whatever else you feel like adding, maybe some shaved cucumbers or carrots. Anything you don't really want to eat can be easily hidden under the steak and the dressing. I caught my dad eating the dressing with a spoon, so you can throw your oldest, saddest veggies that have been buried in the back of your fridge all week and this will breathe some new life into them.

1 1/2 lbs Flank Steak
3/4 Cup Light Coconut Milk
1 T Sesame Oil
2 T Soy Sauce
4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 tsp Grated Ginger
2 T Brown Sugar
1/3 Cup Sweet Chili Sauce

1 Mango, Diced
Chili Powder, To Taste
1/2 Cup + 1 tsp Olive Oil
Juice of 2 Limes
Sriracha, To Taste

6 Cups Mixed Greens or Arugula
1 Mango, Diced
1/2 Onion, Thinly Sliced
Cucumbers, Carrots, etc.

For the steak marinade, combine the coconut milk, sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, brown sugar, and chili sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Add the steak, toss to coat, and let sit 2+ hours or overnight.

Heat oven to 400F.

For the dressing, spread the mango onto a greased, foil-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with the chili powder (start with 1/4 tsp) and toss with 1 tsp olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast for 20 minutes until caramelized. In a food processor, blender, or using an immersion blender, pulse the mango, lime juice, sriracha, and salt and pepper until smooth. Slowly drizzle in the remaining 1/2 cup olive oil and blend until smooth and emulsified.

Cook the steak on a hot grill or grill pan until cooked to the desired temperature, about 4 minutes per side. Let rest for 5 minutes before slicing against the grain. Meanwhile, toss the greens, diced mango, onion, and other veggies together. Serve with the sliced steak and the mango dressing.

Serves 4-6
Recipe Adapted from How Sweet Eats

July 30, 2019

Peach Salsa

I spent the last week in Atlanta, and literally the only thing I wanted to do when it's that hot and humid was to cozy up as close as possible to the air conditioning. Of course, I had to occupy my time somehow, which usually means cooking. However, as I've found out with my woefully inadequate wall AC unit in Chicago, avoiding using the oven or stove is the key to success with summer cooking/overall survival. Now that I'm back in Chicago, I'm trying to make snacks for the 4 hours of Bachelorette this week and keep my apartment under 80 degrees, so heat-free recipes are definitely the way to go. And with all the ripe Georgia peaches I scavenged last week (well, purchased legally from Costco), peach salsa seemed like the best course of action.

When you incorporate a sweet fruit into a salsa, there's a lot of directions you can go in. My first instinct was to do a dessert salsa with all sorts of fruit and maybe some sweet cinnamon sugar dusted chips. Unfortunately, my family may have overdone our Costco trip and we were drowning in tomatoes and onions. Fortunately, those still pair well with peaches if you know what you're doing.

It's all about the balance between sweet, savory, and spicy, so you need ingredients from all the categories in both the chunky part and the dressing part. You can adjust the proportions depending on your personal preference, how ripe your produce is, and, of course, the natural sizes of the ingredients because it's basically impossible to get exact weights of anything. I aim for about a pound of tomatoes, a pound and a half of peaches, and bell pepper, onion, and jalapeno to taste. Remember that knife cuts do matter here because what you see when you're cutting is what you get when you're eating. Nobody wants a giant chunk of raw jalapeno (at least anyone I know of) or a piece of tomato you can barely fit in your mouth. Yes, some bits may get squished and produce can be naturally uneven, but try your best for even cuts.

The dressing is a combination of lime juice, olive oil, honey, and salt and pepper. You can also add some chili powder or other seasonings if you're feeling a little spicy. As with the fruit and veggies, you can adjust the proportions to taste, especially given how much the sweetness of peaches can vary, even when they're in season. The flavors will keep improving if the salsa sits overnight, so don't worry about browning because the acid from the lime juice will keep everything bright and fresh.

The last piece of advice I have for making this salsa involves the peaches themselves. Peaches seem to have a very short window when they're in season, and even then it can be tough to find perfectly ripe ones. Luckily, you can harness the power of science to ripen the peaches yourselves, and it's all because of a helpful gas called ethylene. No, you don't have to go buy any big tanks or fancy equipment, just a paper bag. Fruits like peaches release ethylene naturally to self-ripen, so closing them off in a paper bag out of direct sunlight traps the gas and ripens them faster. To really speed things up, throw in a banana too. I don't think the banana would be a particularly good addition to the salsa, but if it gets you good peaches it's worth the investment.

1 1/2 lbs Peaches, Diced
1 lb Tomatoes, Diced
1 Small Bell Pepper, Diced
1/2 Red Onion, Minced
1 Jalapeno, Minced
Cilantro, Optional
2 T Lime Juice
2 T Olive Oil
1 T Honey
Tortilla Chips

Combine the peaches, tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, and jalapeno. Add cilantro, if using. Whisk the lime juice, olive oil, and honey together, then season with salt and pepper. Drizzle onto the salsa and toss to combine. Chill overnight if possible, tossing occasionally. Serve with tortilla chips.

July 2, 2019

Apple Pie

If you already have an apple pie recipe you plan on making for July 4th (or any other event this summer/this year/the near or distant future), throw it out. Keep the apples and all the other ingredients, but throw away the recipe. If you don't have any apples or pie-making ingredients, go out and buy them right now. I 10000% guarantee this is better than any other recipe out there, and all my friends and family agree. There's two components for a perfect pie, the filling and the crust, and this recipe has perfected both. The crust has to be crisp and flaky, not susceptible to becoming soggy from the filling, which has to be moist and tender without being too liquidy. A scoop of ice cream really takes it over the top, so trust me when I say this is exactly what your summer barbecues are missing.

There are a lot of methods out there for making apple pie filling. There are so many types of apples, a million ways to cut them, the decision to pre-cook or not, and all sorts of other ingredients you can throw in. For my perfect pie, I peel, core, and slice the apples fairly thinly. No big halves or small dices, just eighths or sixteenths depending on the size of the apples. I go with Granny Smiths for that tart-sweet balance and ideal texture after baking (no mealiness allowed!).

Even the best cut apples can yield a dry or liquidy pie if not treated properly. I messed up countless pies but my family kept requesting them each year for Thanksgiving, and it's a good thing they did because I figured out that macerating the apples is the key to success. Macerating sounds pretty intimidating, but it just means tossing the apples in sugar and letting them sit for a bit to draw out the moisture. The water wants to dilute the sugar, so it is pulled out of the apples in only 15 or 20 minutes. Enough moisture stays in the apples for a pleasantly saucy, juicy filling without making the crust soggy or spilling all over your plate. The macerated apples are drained then combined with a bit more sugar, flour, yummy spices, a pinch of salt, and a squeeze of lemon juice. At this point, the sugar is just to taste depending on how tart your apples are. The flour soaks up the extra juice to form a velvety sauce. Of course you need spices and salt to round out the flavors, too. The lemon enhances the tartness, helps break down the other ingredients, and just balances all the flavors.

The pie crust is my basic recipe, as always. It's a flaky all-butter crust that can stand up to the apples and still form a lattice, if that's what you're going for. The main tricks are to keep the butter (and really all the ingredients plus the finished dough) as cold as possible and handle it minimally to avoid overworking it. I make a double batch so I can do a bottom crust and a top crust, though if you're going for a lattice and don't have much practice you may want to make a triple batch so you have plenty to work with. Regardless of how you choose to decorate the pie, there's no need for blind baking since it will be the oven for a while just to cook the apples.

I start the pie in an extra hot oven to almost shock the dough with heat, locking in the shape and keeping it extra flaky. Of course, if you kept it that high the dough would burn and the apples would be raw, so I lower the temperature to let the pie finish cooking evenly. You may still have to cover the edges of the pie to keep them from burning, since tender apples and a perfectly golden crust are definitely worth the trouble. As hard as it is, I do force my family to wait a few minutes for the pie to cool before digging in so it's slightly less messy. Honestly, it's easiest to cut after sitting in the fridge overnight. While nothing beats a hot slice of pie with a big scoop of ice cream, this pie is great at any temperature and you should give it a try at least once, even if you think your grandma does it better.

1 Double Recipe Sweet Pie Crust Dough (See Below)
3 lbs Granny Smith Apples (8)
1/2 + 1/3 Cup Sugar
1/4 Cup Flour
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
Pinch Cloves
1/4 tsp Salt
1 T Lemon Juice

Split the pie dough in half and roll each to about 10" in diameter. Press one round into a greased 9" pie plate. Cut the other into strips to form a lattice. Chill until firm.

Peel, core, and slice the apples. Toss in 1/3 cup sugar. Set aside for 20 minutes, then drain off the liquid.

Heat oven to 425F.

Whisk the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, flour, spices, and salt together. Add to the apples with the lemon juice. Transfer to the pie crust, top with the lattice, and crimp the edges.

Bake the pie for 15 minutes at 425F, then lower to 375F and bake for an additional 30 minutes or until the apples are tender, covering the edges as necessary.

For the crust:
Pulse 2 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1/2 tsp salt in a food processor until combined. Add 2 sticks chilled and cubed butter and pulse until small pieces remain. Combine two egg yolks with two tablespoons of cold water and add in. Pulse until it begins to form a ball, adding more water as necessary. Chill.

Makes 1 9" Pie
Recipe Adapted from Pillsbury