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