Caribbean Chowder

It curious to me that chowder became associated with winter foods since all of the items traditionally in a chowder–corn, potatoes, onions, tomatoes (if you’re a heathen)–are all summer vegetables. And there’s no shame in loving a good soup year-round.

If you want to make the most of the last of the corn at the market while also enjoying the first day of fall, this is the chowder for you!

The Ingredients

I missed the corn at the market last week, so frozen will do.

If you’re making seafood-centric iteration of this dish, I recommend a seafood stock (here I have crab stock because I’m a bougie bitch who doesn’t throw anything away, but you can also use a chicken broth or bouillon), coconut milk, and whatever seafood you have laying around–shrimp, fish, a can of smoked oysters, doesn’t matter. If you want to make this vegan, which is super easy to do, just bulk up your veg with more corn and maybe some zucchini or summer squash, and trade out the seafood stock for vegetable stock..

You’ll also need the chowder basics–corn, potatoes, onions, garlic–and I like to bulk mine up a little with some other vegetables, here carrots, celery, and a fresh cayenne pepper. I love paprika and thyme in this dish as well, but you can play around with other options. If you’re out of garlic or don’t have a fresh pepper, dried is fine.

The Process

Make sure our veg is bite-sized if background items. If you’re going vegetarian, chunkier bits are fine.

Dice all of your vegetables along with your potato and then sauté in the oil of your choosing with a good pinch of salt on medium for 3-5 minutes until the onions begin to sweat. Add your dried spices (again, paprika and thyme are my go-to) and cook a minute longer. Then add the stock (and a bay leaf if that’s your jam) so that it covers your vegetables by about two inches.

Bring to a low boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Just bubbling along.

While the soup is simmering, chop your seafood into bite-sized pieces, if necessary. If you’re going vegetarian, you can skip this step.

Chopped shrimpies.

When the soup is done simmering, add in 1/4 of a can of coconut milk per serving. (This variation here was made for two people, so I used 1/2 of a can.) Bring back to a low boil. At this point, you’ll want to taste your soup to make any adjustments for salt, spice, and other seasoning. You can also add a splash of hot sauce if so desired.

Creamy and delicious.

Now add your seafood and simmer until just cooked through, about two minutes.

To serve, add to bowl and top with fresh herbs of your choosing. I personally recommend cilantro and green onion, but basil or fresh thyme would be equally lovely.

And now you’re living that sweet sweet island chowder life. Close your eyes. It’s like there’s an ocean somewhere, making ocean sounds.

Mmmmm. Chow-dah.

Seafood Chowder! Chowda!

The cold weather is starting to set in, and that means it’s time for even more comfort food. This week, Erin and I will be bringing you two iterations of chowder. I’m going to start off with a creamy seafood chowder with salmon and scallops. This recipe is simple, delicious, filling, and comforting, perfect for the early stretch of fall when the days are getting cooler.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED

  • a four quart pot
  • seafood broth or water
  • celery
  • carrots
  • onion
  • garlic
  • 2 bay leaves
  • a quart of whole milk or cream
  • half a stick of butter
  • 1/2 a cup of flour
  • a bag of frozen scallop pieces
  • 2 frozen salmon filets

To start, you’ll want to fill a four-quart pot with water or seafood broth. No worries if you can’t find seafood broth, we’re going to make this soup either way!

Next, you’ll finely dice your onion, carrot, and garlic. Put them in the pot of boiling water or broth, and let them cook for about 20 – 25 minutes, or until soft.

Next, you’re going to add your frozen salmon. You want to cook it until it flakes apart with a fork and imbues the broth with its flavor.

Okay, here’s the part that’s partially up to you: do you want a very heavy, rich broth, or are you going to go a little lighter? Either way, while you decide, you’ll melt your butter in a sauce pan and make a roux with the flour. You do this by mixing in the flour and stirring consistently until it thickens and browns slightly. After this, you’ll take your whole milk or cream and add it to the roux, stirring constantly until it becomes thicker.

Now that your thickened cream is ready, put the frozen scallop pieces in the pot of boiling broth. They’re a little more delicate than the salmon, and you’ll want to cook them less time, just until soft. I use the pieces for this recipe because they’re already broken apart, and less expensive, but you can use whole scallops, as well.

When your scallops are just about cooked and your salmon is flaking apart, you’ll add the thickened cream to the broth. Note here: if you use milk, you may have to thicken the brother to your liking — you can do so with flour and hot water made into a paste and stirred slowly into the broth, or by adding some sour cream. If you use the heavy cream, you should get a nice, thick consistency.

Pimento Cheese, Please

If you’re not from the South, pimento cheese may be a mystery to you. Is it a cheese that you buy in a block? Is it a cheese that comes in a jar? What the heck is a pimento anyway?

Pimento cheese is a cheese spread that you can put on crackers or Alex’s homemade baguettes, that is creamy and, for me, a bit spicy. And honestly, it’s so much better homemade that you’ll never buy one of those scary orange tubs again.

The Ingredients

Mayo, sharp cheddar, hot sauce, dried pepper, onion, fresh pepper, garlic.

The most important trick to making your own pimento cheese is that you MUST GRATE THE CHEESE. Do not skip this step by using pre-grated cheese, which has a floury coating on each strip to keep it from sticking to the other cheese pieces. If you use pre-grated cheese, your dip will have a grainy, unpleasant texture that you’re definitely not looking for.

You’ll also need mayo (which works as the binder), onion of some sort (I usually use 2 green onions, but whatever is handy), a fresh pepper (choose your spiciness), garlic, a hot sauce, and some dried hot pepper (cayenne is easiest).

The Process

Chopped veg.

Finely chop your onion and peppers and mince your garlic in a garlic press. I went with two fresh cayenne peppers for this version, but you can use jalapeños, poblanos, banana peppers, whatever you have around.

A traditional pimento cheese uses diced and cured pimiento peppers, which are a little sweet and not at all hot. Personally I think that the heat helps to balance the heaviness of the fat in the dish and helps to cut through it a bit. But all of this is entirely up to your taste buds and/or what’s around the house!

You MUST grate your own cheese for this dish.

Next grate your cheese (I recommend an extra sharp cheddar, but you can use whatever block of cheese you have around) on the widest setting on your box grater. This will make it appropriately chunky.

Mix your cheese together with your diced vegetables and then add about 1/2 tsp dried pepper, 1 tsp hot sauce, and a generous sprinkle of salt to start.

Then add your mayo one tablespoon at a time, stirring everything just until the mixture is holding together like a dip. If you don’t have mayo (or if you want to lighten it up), you can also use sour cream or a mixture of both.

Shoot for this consistency.

Keep tasting the dip and adding more hot sauce (if it needs more acid) or cayenne (if it needs more heat). Remember, this is up to your flavor preferences. If you hate spicy food, stop where you started.

And that’s it! You can eat it with a spoon right out of the bowl, spread it on crackers, or use it as the cheese in a nacho cheese sauce or macaroni and cheese base. Or, you can do as I did, make yourself a pimento grilled cheese on a delicious baguette.

Pimento Cheese Sandwich

Making some grilled pimento cheese.

The traditional pimento cheese sandwich is basically pimento cheese on white bread served cold; not really my style, alas. For this dish, I put the cheese between two pieces of baguette and made it grilled-cheese style on the stove top with a bit of butter. Grilled until toasty. Consumed. The cheese will get a little melty, but will will be a bit cold in the center, which is an excellent temperature combo with the crispy baguette!

About as easy as it gets! Also makes great finger food at parties, when we can have them again.

Finished product. Nom.

Easy Homemade Baguettes

Baguettes? you may be asking. What the heck, Alex? But let me assure you that I’m bringing you a simple recipe. No barm, no starter, just a packet of dry yeast, some flour, some water, and some salt. Simple, I promise! In just a few easy steps, you’ll have two or three baguettes for some lovely sandwiches.

Homemade bread can be a process, and this will take you hours, but most of that time is inactive. I recommend, if you want to have sandwiches for lunch or dinner, to start your dough first thing in the morning. You’ll need to let it rise three times, and that will take some time. But it will be worth it, and this recipe is far less complex than most and just as tasty as you can get.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED

  • one packet of dry yeast
  • 1 Tablespoon of honey
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 2 cups of bread flour (or AP, if that’s what you have)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 cup of lukewarm water

THE PROCESS
You won’t need anything but a baking tray and a mixing bowl for this recipe. You’ll start by blooming your yeast in warm water (about 100 degrees F) with the honey mixed in. The honey will activate your yeast faster, as sugar is what it feeds on (flour makes yeast rise because it breaks down to sugar, but at a slower rate). Give it about 10 – 15 minutes.

Next, put your flour and salt into a mixing bowl and stir them together. Too much salt right on top of your yeast will kill it, so be sure they’re well mixed. If you were using a mixer, you’d put the salt in last, but you’re using your hands. Stir the flour and yeast mixture together until loosely combined. Then, add your cup of lukewarm water. You may need a little more or a little less. You want a loose, but firm dough here. Practice is the only way to get the feel of it, so you will improve with this step in time. Eventually, it should look like this (don’t overmix!):

Cover your dough in a warm, damp cloth, and let it sit for at least an hour, if not two, until doubled in size. (Side note: If your kitchen is drafty, you might just want to put your bowl in a turned off oven, used as a proofing box!)

When the dough is doubled in size, put it on a floured surface, and pat it into a rectangle. Fold the short ends 1/2 way in each, so they meet in the middle. Now flip it, turn it 90 degrees, and do this again. Put it back in the bowl, cover it, and let it rise again, until doubled in size, about 30 minutes to a hour.

When the dough is doubled, put it on a floured surface again. You’ll cut it into two or three pieces. This is where it’s important to have it shaped into a rectangle, as you’ll want long, thin pieces to start shaping.

SHAPING THE DOUGH

This is the most important and most fun part of making baguettes! The first thing you’ll do with one of your rectangles is take the bottom left corner and fold it up. Like this:

Then, you’ll start at the top left hand corner and begin folding the top of the dough down halfway, and sealing it down with your fingers, like this:

You’ll do one more fold so that the dough looks like this:

Then, using the heel of your palm, seal the bottom, pinched part. This takes a little getting used to, but you’ll have it in time, I promise. After you do that, roll the dough lightly back and forth so that you seal it completely, and the seam is on the bottom.

Last, I’m going to assume you don’t have a lame (pronounced lahm) lying around for scoring, so you’ll take a sharp knife and cut diagonal lines down the length of the loaf.

Set your oven to 450 degrees, and let the loaves rise on top of it for the amount of time it takes to warm up. Put a pan with warm water in the bottom rack of the oven. This will give your baguettes a crunchy, crispy, baguette crust. You can also put the pan in the bottom and let it get very hot, then throw ice in just before you put your baguettes in for steam.

Bake for 25-35 minutes, until golden brown. The loaves should sound hollow and be browner on the bottom when you take them out.

This is a quick-and-easy baguette recipe. For true baguettes, you need a lot more equipment and a starter and stuff that will make your life harder, not easier! Apocalycious is about comfort, though, so this is the way to shortcut all that and get yourself some delicious sandwich bread. Additionally, you can cut these baguettes on a bias once baked, toss them with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and throw them back in the oven for a few minutes for lovely toast points for snacking (if you have leftovers, I recommend trying this!) Enjoy!

The Ramen Quintet

I will start this by saying there is nothing wrong with a bag of ramen. In fact, there is a lot right. All of the carbs, the salty broth, the dehydrated veggie packets that you tell yourself make it healthy. Maybe you’ve even upgraded from Top Ramen and are going international and trying some finds at your local Asian market or blowing out all of your taste buds on the Samyang Hot Chicken Ramen. Maybe you even are dressing it up here and there with some veggies or tofu or a few sheets of seaweed.

All of these things are great, but now it’s time to ascend to making your own ramen broth, instant packets be damned.

Good ramen has five things: a broth (usually a bone broth), a tare, noodles, a flavoring oil, and your toppings.

Your basics.

The Broth

We’ve talked about the broth before, so any bone broth that you make will do. Now if you’re making a specific type of ramen (say, tonkatsu), then there’s a very specific process and ingredients for this. Unless I’m making ramen to impress a crowd, I usually just make a pork bone broth as my base. It gives it a rich fatty texture that shimmers the soup and clings to the noodles.

Of course if you want to make a vegetarian iteration of this, you can use a vegetable or mushroom stock. (If possible, I prefer the latter.)

The Tare

This may be the thing that you’re less familiar with on the list. A tare is a flavoring agent that you add to the broth to flavor it. I eat a lot of ramen, so I make mine in bulk since it will keep in the refrigerator for at least a month. (Let’s be honest. Mine has been in there since July.)

There are three main types of tare–shoyu (which I’m going to teach you today), miso, and shio. Each of these gives your ramen its distinctive umami flavor. Please note that this tare recipe is a modified variation from Ramen Obsession by Naomi Imatome-Yun and Robin Donovan. (A must for ramen lovers.)

A shoyu tare is the easiest and most common tare that you’ll find. To make it, combine 1 cup soy sauce, 1/2 cup sake or Shaoxing Wine, 1/2 cup mirin, and 1 tablespoon each of crushed garlic and diced ginger.

Bring all of the ingredients to a boil, then bring down to a simmer. Cook for ten minutes, then strain the solids. Store in an air-tight container in the fridge until use.

Look at those sexy globs of hot sesame oil.

The Noodles

I love a good wavy, fried noodle in a square packet. There’s something nostalgic and endearing about it at the same time. (Maybe it just reminds me of all the hangovers.) But there are a lot of choices when it comes to noodles. If possible, I either make my own Chinese egg noodles (not the same, but a lot easier) or buy fresh-made at our local Asian market. (Check in the frozen section!)

However, you can also buy a whole range of quality dried noodles, some of which are even straight! (Unlike me. Haha!) Try out a variety. I find some things work better with different recipes. If I’m doing a Korean iteration with kimchi and American cheese, I want the fried wavy brick noodles. But for this, you want something that’s going to really pull through your oils and fats, so consider something a touch fancier?

The Flavoring Oil

A good ramen always has a little glisten to it. Sometimes that’s just the rendered fats in the bone broth. Sometimes it’s a chili oil, or a nice fragrant sesame or garlic oil.

Personally, I love hot sesame oil, which has a pretty solid kick to it without overtaking the whole of the flavor. A little drizzle to finish is a must!

Toppings

Six-and-a-half minute eggs.

What would a bowl of ramen be without all of the delicious things you can dress it up in!

I personally always believe that an egg is a must. I’m a fan of the six-and-a-half minute egg. To make, slowly add your eggs to boiling water. (It helps if you bring them to room temperature beforehand.) Boil for 6 minutes and 30 seconds. Remove from the water and put directly in an ice bath. You can store them in the fridge this way for up to 5 days, which means if you’re taking your ramen components to go, even better for easy transportation.

If you have the time, you can also marinate your eggs in soy sauce, which helps to season them even further.

But there are ENDLESS OPTIONS for the toppings on ramen. Truly. Here is a list of some things I’ve enjoyed in mine recently:

  • Dried seaweed
  • Fish balls
  • Fried tofu
  • Sauteed corn
  • Fish sausage
  • Green onions
  • Blood cake
  • Chashu
  • Bok choy (or any leafy greens)
  • Mushrooms
  • Rehydrated wood ear mushrooms
  • Kimchi

Putting It All Together

To put it all together, boil your noodles following the package instructions. In a separate pot bring 2 cups of bone broth and 2 tablespoons of tare per person to a boil.

Strain noodles and add to bowl. Add broth-tare mixture. Top with delicious things!

Ramen with poached duck egg, fish balls, green onion, seaweed, and chard.

Ramen a great way to clear the fridge out of the last little bit of things from leftovers or the veggie drawer.

Let us know how you’ve been making your ramen recently!

Ramen Week, Part One: Vivien Ryder’s “Stay Alive, Get a Ramen Club”

Vivien Ryder as the Patron Saint of Lost Trans Folks on the cover of my memoir, Psychopomps. Drawing by Jam Jacobs.

A few years back, when everyone I knew was trans, lost, and struggling, my dear friend Vivien J. Ryder began a project called “Stay Alive, Get a Ramen Club.” The conceit was that if transgender people signed up on her Google doc, and stayed alive despite all the trauma in their lives for one year past their sign-up date, Vivien would have them over for a baller bowl of Ramen. Vivien regularly had homeless trans folks, including me, sleeping on her couch, and provided safe space and care for a lot of people who wouldn’t otherwise have had it.

Now, a few years later, Vivien reflects on this time. In classic style, she underplays her impact, and offers you tips on how to make a 10 cent Ramen package into a whole meal.

Vivien J. Ryder talks about Ramen and building community:

No matter how good you promise it can be, Ramen won’t make anyone stay. No one can be tied in threads so weak, no matter how many. I was crazy. I was crazy to think so, but mostly I was just crazy and everyone around me was, too.

Try a boiled egg, try a raw egg.

Everyone loves avocado.

I didn’t ask for much, just for people to stick around: live a year. Live just one year, and I’ll make you a big Ramen loaded with whatever you like and we’ll sit down and eat it. A couple dozen or so people joined the club. It felt like community building. It wasn’t.

Mushrooms are good. Weird looking mushrooms impress everyone.

It was my own insecurity expressing itself. Maybe you stayed, maybe you left. I committed to waiting a year to find out…for a couple dozen folks who ended up not wanting to share that meal with me at the end of the year. But at least I wasn’t responsible for my own life anymore: I was responsible for everyone else’s.

Crab stick? Fish Balls? Surimi? Tofu, cooked, or cold.

I slept at night with an eye on my cell all night long, just in case it lit up with someone needing me. Occasionally, it did, but invariably, I lost sleep.

Boy choy looks good if you slice it and arrange it nicely. Or some sauteed shredded cabbage? Or a little kimchi if you have.

They all lived, at least the year, but ultimately moved on and away, which is good. People need to follow their own paths. You can’t hold on to anyone forever: maybe a year, if you’re lucky. But when that Ramen is due, or the lease is up, or whatever, you gotta be prepared to let people go.

A drizzle of sesame oil, sesame seeds, pepper flakes. Katsuobushi if you’ve got the right groceries.

They don’t owe you anything, so long as they never asked for what you freely gave.

The secret to making a ten cent Ramen look good is to bury it in all the trappings of a real meal. A big bowl helps.

Yogurt — It’s What’s for Dinner!

I’m not quite sure why Americans only think of yogurt as a breakfast item or a Jaime Lee Curtis-sponsored snack product, but the history of this dairy wonder is literally over 7,000 years old and thus has far more uses than granola dampener or fruit-on-the-bottom.

Today, we’re going to look at three different uses for yogurt at the dinner table–as a marinade, as a topping, and as a dressing.

Marinated Turkey Thigh

Yogurt marinades are common in many cultures, most notably Indian and Turkish cuisines. By marinating meat (usually chicken), the lactic acid from the yogurt helps to break down the meat (in the same way other acids like lemon juice or vinegar can) to soften it and keep it from drying out when cooked.

When making a marinade, make sure that you’re using non-flavored yogurt. (Trust me. You don’t want to use vanilla by accident. Again, ask me how I know?) Greek yogurt, which is just thickened regular yogurt, is usually called for, but really any is fine, especially since Greek yogurt can sometimes be 3x the cost.

Yogurt marinade with garlic, lemon, salt, and ground pepper.

You can just slather it on and call it a day, but I like to flavor the yogurt a bit with whatever I would usually add into a marinade–minced garlic and onion, a bit of lime zest or juice, dried spices, curry powder, salt and pepper, etc. This is a great way to mess around and try new things. You really can’t mess this one up. For this particular dish, I was marinated a turkey thigh in yogurt, dried garlic, lemon, salt, and black pepper.

From there, you put your marinade and meat into a plastic bag and let it sit in the fridge for a minimum of 3 hours, though longer (no more than 24 hours) is better.

Chicken-fried turkey thigh with wild mushroom gravy.

At this point, my meat was going into a batter to make chicken-fried turkey, so I scraped off most of the yogurt before dipping and frying. (A post for another time.) But at this point you can bread and fry something on the stove top, bake it in the oven, toss it on the grill, whatever!

Baked Sweet Potato With Cumin-Spiced Yogurt

You don’t have to be this bougey with your spices. Regular cumin and dried chives are totes fine.

There’s not much better than a baked potato piled high with cheese and sour cream, but yogurt can be an equally remarkable topping with a little bit of time.

While your potatoes are baking, mix one cup of yogurt with whatever spices you want to flavor it with. If you’re using whole spices, like I was for this particular dish, be sure to toast them first to heat up their natural oils which helps to increase their flavor.

Toasting spices.

Add the toasted spices and/or whatever else you’d like to flavor your yogurt with along with about half teaspoon of salt to your yogurt and mix thoroughly. Then cover and refrigerate while your potato bakes, approximately one hour.

Mixing the topping.

When the potato is done, salt the inside of the potato (I also add a bit of cayenne when working with sweet potatoes because sweet and heat is *chef’s kiss*) and top with a touch of butter (optional) and your yogurt mixture.

If you want to emulate the one shown, I used 1 tsp toasted cumin seed, 1 tsp dried ramps (chives are fine too), a pinch of garlic powder, and salt.

Seriously, you should make this.

A Note on Labneh: Labneh is to Greek yogurt as Greek yogurt is to regular yogurt. It’s been strained even further until it has the consistency of cream cheese. If you have the opportunity to use labneh instead of yogurt in any of these recipes, please do. Make a point to seek it out at your local Middle Eastern grocer because it works as a excellent dip, sandwich spread, etc.

Yogurt Dressing

Much like with the potato topping, yogurt can replace sour cream in many things. Should it? No. Sour cream was brought to us by the gods, and you should fucking eat it. HOWEVER, there are times when there’s one of them in the fridge and not the other while there are also times you want to lighten up a recipe or get some of those probiotics everyone is talking about.

If you like a creamy dressing–and truly, who doesn’t–yogurt can sub in for either sour cream or mayo in most iterations of ranch dressings. (You can also blend it with avocado and olive oil for a lovely green goddess riff.)

The trick to ranch dressing is three things–garlic power, onion powder, and dill. That’s pretty much it. Adding those to something creamy is going to make all things Hidden Valley pale in comparison. But in order for it to work like a dressing, you will need to thin that out a bit. You can use lemon juice or a white wine or apple cider vinegar here along with a little milk or water to cut it.

For one cup of yogurt, you’ll want 2 tablespoons of your acid (lemon juice or vinegar), 2-3 tablespoons of milk or water, and 1 tablespoon of each of your spices. plus a dash of salt and ground black pepper.

Note that for the onion power, you can use the normal iterations or dried chives (which I prefer). You can also use fresh garlic instead of dried if you want to be fancy.

Chef’s salad with kale and yogurt-ranch dressing.

Let the dressing sit in the fridge for an hour before use so all of the flavors can combine. Once you have this basic recipe down, you can change it up as you want. Use lime juice instead of lemon, add smoked paprika or cayenne for a kick, stir in some chopped fresh herbs. Remember, once you’ve learned the basics, play. Make it your own.

Lower-fat Greek Yogurt Cheesecake with Peach Compote (and full-fat buckwheat crumble)

This is a lighter version of a classic dessert, perfect for these hot end days of summer. It’s a bit specialized, so let me tell you the equipment you’ll need first.

EQUIPMENT

  • silicone cupcake molds of some fanciful variety (flowers, here)
  • a baking pan deep enough for 1/2 and inch to one inch of water, plus molds
  • a mixer or a food processor

INGREDIENTS

CHEESECAKE:

  • 1 block of Philadelphia Cream Cheese (yes, use this one at a bare minimum, if not better, the others are inferior)
  • 1 cup of low to no fat Greek yogurt
  • 1/3 a cup of refined sugar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • the zest of 1/2 a lemon

THE CRUMBLE

  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup of buckwheat flour
  • 1/4 cup of processed sugar
  • 1/2 cup of unsalted butter (cold)

THE COMPOTE

  • two peaches, cut into cubes
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • the juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup of water

THE PROCESS

You’re going to want to give yourself about four hours (though most of that time is inactive) for this whole process, because when you use silicone molds for cheesecake, you’ll have to bake them, freeze them, then pop them out of the molds when fully frozen and defrost them in your refrigerator. So is the pain of a beautiful dessert, I’m sorry, I don’t make the rules.

First, you’ll let your cream cheese come to room temperature. This will make it easier to blend and work with. If you don’t have time, feel free to put it in a food processor and blitz the heck out of it. That’ll teach it! Meanwhile, pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.

Then, add your Greek yogurt and blend or mix again. A note here is that this ingredient is what makes it lower fat, but if you’re not going for that, you can use full-fat sour cream, yogurt, or ricotta here. Some folks also stream in a bit of heavy cream for cheesecake. All up to you, chef!

Blend in your sugar, then your eggs. Vanilla and lemon juice get streamed in at the end. Finally, add your zest.

Fill your deep pan with water and put the cheesecake batter into your molds, which you’ll float in there. This will keep the cheesecake from cracking. Bake around 20 to 25 minutes, or until the custard is firm at the edges and jiggles just a little in the middle. This will let it cool without overcooking when you take it out.

When your cheesecakes are fully cool, throw them in the freezer until they are very firm. Then pop them out and put them on plate in the refrigerator to defrost.

Meanwhile, blitz together the cold butter and dry ingredients for your buckwheat crumble. Crumble in hands into chunks and lay across a baking sheet. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

For the compote, put all your ingredients together in a pot and cook on very low heat until the water and lemon juice are reduced and like a thick syrup. This will pack a huge flavor punch, as the sugars will cook out of your peaches, too.

Plate and serve! Enjoy your summertime dessert!

Macarons with Brynn Martin

By Guest Blogger Brynn Martin

Macarons! As finicky as they are beautiful (and tasty). I’ve been determined to tackle these fussy sandwich cookies (pastries? delicacies?) ever since I tasted my first one at a bakery in Omaha, Nebraska of all places. I’ve made batch after batch and have finally (almost) mastered them, so I’m here to share my knowledge. Buckle in, because it’s a very particular recipe, but would it even be true French pâtisserie without some technical skills required? 

Let’s start with what you’ll need: a hand or stand mixer with whisk attachment, 3 egg whites at room temperature, 2 medium-large bowls, almond flour, powdered sugar, salt, vanilla extract, granulated sugar, gel food coloring, a piping bag, and parchment paper. Optional but helpful things are: a food processor and a sieve. 

Next, I wanna chat about prep work and supplies. Now, mostly these things are unnecessary, but they do help make your macarons more fool-proof. Taking the time to do them will take your macarons from tasty-but-kinda-ugly to Instagram-worthy.

First, leave your egg whites out for at least 30 minutes, but ideally 24-48 hours. This might sound strange but “aging” your egg whites this way makes them whip up better for the meringue. 


Food process your powdered sugar and almond flour. Now, I had not done this step until recently, when I noticed that my sugar was a little clumpy; both it and my almond flour have lived in my pantry for a while, so I figured some extra zhuzhing couldn’t hurt. Blending both in the food processor helps to break down any clumps and ensures that your flour is as fine as possible. Even if you buy superfine almond flour, blending it helps a lot. The smoother your dry ingredients, the smoother your macaron shells.

Third, and this is a must if you skip the food processor step, sift your dry ingredients together. Again, you want your flour and powdered sugar as fine and smooth as possible, and sifting it through a strainer or sieve helps to catch any remaining lumps. 

Gel food coloring isn’t required, but it works *much* better than liquid coloring. Not only is it more vibrant, meaning you need less to have the same color impact, it also won’t mess with the consistency of your meringue as much as liquid food coloring will. It also holds its color better during baking.

Lots of recipes will call for using a silicone baking mat for macarons. However, I’ve found that the silicone doesn’t dry out the macaron as well as the parchment paper does, so I prefer it. It means your macarons don’t need to bake as long and will stick less often.  

Lastly, make sure you’ve got time to let the macarons sit before and after baking. These puppies demand your time as well as your patience. Set aside an afternoon or weekend day to really hone your macarons.


The Shell

Okay, now that I’ve scared you off even wanting to make these, let’s begin! First, combine the almond flour and powdered sugar in a food processor and pulse several times. Then, sift over a large bowl. Discard any large clumps. Set bowl aside.


Add your room temp. egg whites to a bowl with a pinch of salt and start mixing with the whisk attachment. Whisk until the egg whites get frothy and opaque.  

Once your egg whites are frothy, begin to gradually add the granulated sugar.

Continue to whisk until stiff peaks form. This usually takes a few minutes, so be patient. Do not under-whip your meringue! If you pull the whisk out of the mixture and a peak forms but falls at the tip, you need to whisk a bit more.

You want your meringue to be stiff enough that the peak holds its shape. It should be so firm that you could hold the bowl upside down over your head and nothing would fall out. 

Once you have stiff peaks, add your vanilla and food coloring. Mix until just combined. 

Next, gradually fold in your almond flour and powdered sugar mixture. I usually do about a third at a time, being sure to fully incorporate before adding more. 

When you’ve added all of the dry ingredients, fold until the mixture resembles brownie batter. The way to test if your mixture is ready is to try to make a figure 8 with the batter as it falls from your spatula. If you can make an 8 without the mixture breaking, it’s ready.

Then, carefully spoon the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a round tip. I fit the piping bag into a pint glass and fold it over the sides so that the glass acts as a holder for the bag, making it easier to fill. Before piping, line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper.


Working quickly but carefully, pipe your mixture into 1”-1.5” rounds. My mixture was a little bit slack this time around (not a huuuge deal but it did make my piping messier), so my sizing is a bit off. Aim to pipe uniformly, but don’t stress too much. It takes lots of practice to get it perfect!

Once you have your mixture piped out, tap your baking sheets against the counter several times to knock out any air bubbles. 

Then, and this is SUPER important, leave your macarons for 30 minutes to an hour. This down time is essential to macarons and their iconic shape: letting them rest allows the macaron shell to develop a slight crust. When baking, this crust causes them to hold their shape as they rise, which creates the characteristic “feet” (or pieds, if you ask the French). You’ll know the crust has formed when you can gently run your finger across the top without disturbing the macaron. How long this takes depends on the temperature, airflow, and humidity of your kitchen. It takes a full hour in my kitchen, but wouldn’t take as long in more arid areas. When the crust has formed, they’re ready to bake!

Bake your macarons at 300 degrees for 15-17 minutes. The macarons should not be brown and, if fully baked, should easily lift from the baking sheet. If they are brown, they could be overbaked or your oven might be too hot. If they don’t lift easily from the parchment paper, they’re underbaked and need another minute or two.

You’ll see that a couple of mine are cracked—that’s because my baking tray is a bit warped and bends in the oven. You can avoid this by having a not-crappy baking sheet 😀

This ripply part at the bottom of the macaron shell is the “foot” we talked about earlier. Remove your macarons to a cooling rack and allow them to cool completely before filling them.

The Filling

What you choose to fill your macaron is up to you! Traditionally, a flavored buttercream frosting is used, but you can use jam, chocolate ganache, cream cheese frosting, or even curd. Just be sure that whatever you use is firm enough to withstand being sandwiched between cookies and can be eaten without squeezing out the sides too much. 

For this recipe, we’re going to use the blackberry lemon curd you might remember from a previous post. But, since that curd is pretty loose, we’re going to bolster it with a buttercream frosting. 

To make buttercream frosting, cream ¼ cup of butter with 1 cup powdered sugar, ½ teaspoon of vanilla (or another flavor), and about a tablespoon of milk or heavy cream. This was plenty for my purposes in this recipe, but if you want to completely fill your macarons with buttercream, you should double these amounts. You can also add food coloring if you’d like to make the frosting festive. I added a bit of purple to mine to coordinate with the shells. Once combined, spoon the buttercream into a piping bag fitted with a round tip.

Before piping the buttercream, match similarly-sized shells with each other. This makes it easier to keep track of how many halves need to be piped and makes matching them up once they’re filled a lot easier. I like to flip one of the halves upside down to make for even easier piping.


Since we’re filling these guys with curd, which is too soft to retain its shape on its own, I’m piping the buttercream around the edge to create a kind of retaining wall. I was using a pretty small piping tip since it’s all I had clean, so I ended up going over my walls again to give them some more height.

Once you’ve piped your buttercream walls, gently spoon your curd into the middle, being careful not to overfill (like I did with a couple on the right). Then, match the top shells to their bottoms and gently press them together to create a little sandwich cookie.

Cute!! Now, and this might just be the most difficult part of macaron making, put them in containers and refrigerate them 24 hours before enjoying. Cruel, I know. But the flavors intensify overnight and the filling softens the cookie shells ever-so-slightly and they truly become perfect. Remember those cracked shells I mentioned? Those are the ones I eat first when I inevitably just can’t resist.

And there you have it, my friends. A beautiful, if challenging, blackberry lemon macaron.

 

Ingredients

  • 1 ¾ cups powdered sugar
  • 1 cup almond flour, finely ground
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 egg whites, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. In a food processor, combine the powdered sugar and almond flour and pulse until extra fine. Sift the mixture through a sieve into a large bowl.
  2. In another bowl, beat the egg whites and the salt with a hand mixer until frothy. Gradually add the granulated sugar. Continue to beat until stiff peaks form (the peaks will hold their shape and you should be able to turn the bowl upside down without anything falling out).
  3. Add the vanilla and food coloring and mix until just combined.
  4. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the meringue and use a spatula to gently fold until combined. After the last addition of almond flour, continue to fold slowly until the batter falls into ribbons and you can make a figure 8 while holding the spatula up.
  5. Transfer the macaron batter into a piping bag fitted with a round tip and line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper.
  6. Pipe the macarons onto the parchment paper in 1-1½-inch circles.
  7. Tap the baking sheet on a flat surface 5 times to release any air bubbles. 
  8. Let the macarons sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour, until crust forms and you can run your finger along the top.
  9. Bake the macarons for 15-17 minutes at 300 degrees, until the macarons don’t stick to the parchment paper.
  10. Transfer the macarons to a cooling rack and let cool completely
  11. Make the buttercream: In a large bowl, cream butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, and milk or cream until combined. Transfer the buttercream to a piping bag fitted with a round tip.
  12. Match up macaron shells with similar shapes and sizes. 
  13. Pipe a “retaining wall” around the outside edge of the bottom macaron shell. Fill the center with blackberry lemon curd. Top with top shell and gently press to create a sandwich. 
  14. Place in a container in the fridge for 24 hours to “bloom”.

Brynn Martin is a Kansas native living in Knoxville, where she received her MFA in poetry from the University of Tennessee. She is an Associate Editor for Sundress Publications and co-host of the podcast Shitty First Drafts. Her poetry has appeared in or is forthcoming from Contrary Magazine, Rogue Agent, FIVE:2:ONE, and Crab Orchard Review.

Cream of Anything Soup — Squash Edition

Growing up, Campbell’s Cream of [fill in the blank] Soup was my go-to comfort food. My grandmother always had cans in her cupboard to cook with, and they were what I would pop open for lunch any time I was staying over, which was a lot.

When I started cooking seriously, this was the thing I most wanted to replicate. What I found was that this basic recipe will work for pretty much any vegetable–cauliflower, broccoli, celery, mushroom, potato, summer squash, butternut squash, etc.

Since everyone and their mother has been giving me their excess zucchini over the past three weeks, I’ve been making a lot of Cream of Zucchini, which I’m going to walk through below. However, feel free to replace out one vegetable for another depending on what you have around!

The Ingredients

What you’ll need for this soup is also fairly flexible. You’ll want your chosen vegetable (see my zucchini above), a small onion, 2 cloves of garlic, 6 cups of stock, cream (in cheese or half and half form), paprika, salt, and pepper.

In this iteration, I used half of a leek and some shallot for the onion, but any onion combo will do! Similarly, if you don’t have fresh garlic, replace with a 1/2 tsp of dried. Cream-wise, I like a mix of cream cheese and a splash of half and half, but you could just use one or the other. The stock can be whatever is handy (veggie, chicken, beef), but you could also use bouillon with no problem.

The Process

Roughly chop your onions, zucchini, and garlic. (These will be blended later, so no need to be pretty with this.)

Heat your oil of choice in a soup pot on the stove. When it’s warm, add your chopped vegetables and a sprinkle of salt and pepper and sauté until starting to lightly brown, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 tsp of paprika and saute for another 30 seconds.

Add your stock enough to cover the vegetables and then about two more inches. Bring the mixture to a boil and then lower the heat to medium and boil gently for 15-20 minutes.

After that, add your cream cheese or half and half (approximately 1/4 cup). (Note that if using cheese, it doesn’t need to be smooth.) Then either blend with an immersion blender or turn the soup off to cool and then add in batches to a blender or food processor. (Don’t add super-hot soup to your food processor–it will explode everywhere. Ask me how I know!)

Once smooth, taste for salt and pepper. If you’d like it creamier, you can add a little more half and half.

At this point, it’s totally ready for eating, but you can always make it extra fancy too!

Optional Toppings

I love to do something a little extra when I’m serving cream soups. Sometimes that’s just a drizzle of truffle oil to finish a cauliflower or mushroom soup. Sometimes it is some chopped parsley or carrot tops to add a little herbal finish. With a potato soup, some melted cheese and crumbled bacon on top really brings it home. Chopped green onion tops or chives are delicious on everything.

With the zucchini soup, I figured I would stick with what else is in season and fry up a little fresh corn. If you want to do the same, chop the corn from the cob and then sauté the kernels in butter with salt and cayenne for 2 minutes.

Finally, top soup with corn kernels, green onions, and a drizzle of good olive oil. It will look beautiful and eat like a meal.

Remember, play with this recipe. It’s meant to be adaptable, which means add some different spices if you want! Top with different things! It’s yours to do with as you want now.