Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Miss Kentucky

    My friend, Deb loves winter.  She spends most of it at her escape home in New Hampshire where she gets her fill of downhill and cross country skiing, fireside dinners and snuggling under heavy blankets to keep warm.  But summer on Cape Cod is really where it's at for this Irish-American girl with roots in Kentucky. 
  Without fail, every year, on July 4th, at the annual Quissett village parade complete with decorated antique cars and kids on bikes tossing candy to spectators, she laments, "Summer is almost over!" as she waves a flag and cheers on the bagpipes and folks dressed in Revolution era costumes.
  Ah, no.  It's really just beginning as the kids have only been out of school for a week.  But Deb likes to make the most of everything.  To squeeze out every moment and enjoy it all to its fullest.
  So, here I am writing during the last week of July, reminding her (and me) that we are actually only half way through at this point on the calendar.  There is so much more fun to be had, sunsets on the beach, midday dips in the ocean , cucumbers and tomatoes fresh from the garden and ice cream heaped on cones dripping down our arms.
  We should all have a friend like Deb.  I can stop by anytime, still wearing my bathing suit at 6pm, dirty, sandy beach feet that I have not yet had time to rinse off and a messed up head of hair from my large brimmed beach hat.  It is summer, after all.  So, when she says, "Tap on over for a drink."  while Ava is at dance (tap) class down the street from her home, I don't hesitate.  I know she means it.
  I love that Deb puts together sliced salami, sharp cheddar cheese, pepperoncini and Ritz crackers.  I bring my new creation, "Fancy Cocktail Popcorn" to test out on her because I know she is game to try just about anything I make. She drags a wooden bench next to two Adirondack chairs on the terrace by her front door where marigolds, lavender and parsley are mingled together in over sized terracotta pots, white lights strung on the pergola overhead and a fan, plugged in and placed by our feet to compensate for the sticky summer heat and lack of a breeze on this late July evening.
  In honor of Deb's Kentucky heritage on her mom's side, I created a cocktail with bourbon and gently sweetened peach iced tea.  Mint and frozen raspberries and peach slices round it out and dress it up.  Although, it's really Craig, her husband and high school sweetheart, who is the whiskey drinker, Deb embraces the concept of a Kentucky bourbon or even and Irish whiskey cocktail to honor her ancestors on both sides of her family.  She praises how pretty the drink looks as I snap a few photos.  She takes a few tiny sips but I know, that she is ready to switch over to her signature beverage: Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay poured over a large wineglass filled with ice. 
 We savor the moment on this summer night, have a quick catch-up, then it's time for me to get going to pick up Ava from class.  I think about the perfect ending to this hot, humid July day.  It is just about over and I'm ready to get out of my bathing suit and into my pajamas.  As the sun begins to set behind the tall pines in Deb's yard, I back the car out of her driveway, take a deep breath and think to myself, "I'm so glad this summer is far from over."

  This is a refreshing way to drink bourbon on a hot summer night.  Named in honor of my dear friend who's mother hails from Kentucky.  
Miss Kentucky
(makes one cocktail)

 1 1/2 oz. bourbon
4 oz. sweetened peach iced tea (see recipe that follows)
1/2 oz. lemon juice
4-6 mint leaves, plus a few for garnish
frozen peach slices 
frozen raspberries

  Fill a shaker full of ice.  Add bourbon, iced tea and lemon juice.  Crush mint leaves in your hands and add to shaker.  Shake vigorously for 30 seconds until your hands stick to the shaker.  Strain into an ice filled rocks glass.  Garnish with extra mint leaves, peach slices and raspberries.

Sweet Peach Iced Tea
(makes 18 oz.)

4 Celestial Seasonings Country Peach Passion tea bags
18 oz. boiling water
1 tablespoon honey

  Steep the tea bags in a large heat proof container of boiled water for a few hours until cooled to room temperature.  Remove tea bags and discard.  Mix in honey until dissolved.  Store tea in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to one week.


Friday, July 12, 2019

Peach Melba Hand Pies


  Val used to make mini turnovers filled with homemade jam out of the leftover pie crust while she was assembling one of her pies.   These turnovers weren't fancy.  They were often odd shapes as they were made from the trimmings of the pie crust.  It didn't matter to her.  The pie was really the star of the show.  The leftover crust dough would have been tossed out in the compost, but she had three kids who inevitably began creeping around the kitchen whenever she set foot in its direction.  So, she took the discarded pieces, plopped a small amount of jam on each one and folded them over, finishing each one off using the tines of a fork to crimp the edges.  She put these in the oven along with the pie and pulled them out before the pie was finished.  Once they came out and cooled for as long as we kids could stand to wait, she let us snack on the delectable morsels with their now molten filling burning our little impatient tongues.  This kept us from asking for a slice of her beautiful pie before she was ready to serve it.
  At this time of year (summer) the pie flavor was strawberry rhubarb, peach or even blueberry.  The effort required to turn out a perfect pie crust on a hot, humid summer day and have it come out flaky and light then baking it in a high temperature oven, thus heating up the entire house to unbearable was quite a feat.  But Val was always up to the challenge, knowing that even just one bite of one of her award winning pies would make it all worth it.  So, it was usually for a special occasion or gathering when Val got out her mixing bowl and pastry cutter on a sticky late July day.
  Of course, Val's pie always stole the show on the dessert table at any event.  She would wait to slice that gorgeous creation with the perfectly latticed top, lightly browned to perfection until dessert was served.  Well after all the hungry husbands oohed and awed over it, practically drooling just thinking about the crispy, flaky crust and soft, sweet, layered fruit inside.  Their wives pulling them away by the arm while the ladies peppered Val with questions like, "How do you have the time to bake?" and "Is that crust homemade?"  As if it could or would ever be store bought.
  The crust is the elusive magic, any pie baker will tell you.  It can behave badly in humid weather and requires a light hand.  For heaven's sake, don't overwork it!  The crust is the part that I crave the most-with just enough fruit filling maybe that's why I think about those scrappy little turnovers so much?  A good crust to filling ratio is essential to my ideal pie and some crispy sugar on top seals the deal.
  I'm not sure of the exact year that Val won one of her many blue ribbons at the Barnstable County fair for Peach Melba Pie but you can bet it had a lot of admirers clamoring for the recipe.  Sweet, firm peaches and bright, red raspberries nestled under that golden crust that gently cracked when sliced.  We were excited that Val won but saddened by the fact that we wouldn't get a slice of the pie since the judges probably devoured all of it.  But I am sure that we got to eat the turnovers, probably gobbled them all up before the blue ribbon winner came out of the oven.

  The idea for these little hand pies came from those yummy jam turnovers.  Just the right size to savor while standing in the kitchen. no fork or plate needed.  Of course, I can't  resist using up all the pie dough scraps.  My version of keeping everyone at bay while baking the main event is topping them with cinnamon and sugar and baking them like pie crust cookies.

Peach Melba Hand Pies
(Makes 12)

2 cups AP flour plus extra for rolling out
2/3 cups vegetable shortening (Crisco)
4 tablespoons cold butter
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup cold water

  Place 2 cups flour, shortening, butter and salt in a large bowl.  Using a pastry cutter, work the ingredients together until small, pea size pieces form.  Make a mound with the mixture and make a hole in the middle.  Pour 1/4 cup water over mound and blend with a fork.  Add more water and continue blending until mixture pulls away from the sides of the bowl.  Do not overwork!
  Form two rounds.  Place on a heavily floured board and roll out with a floured rolling pin.  Cut round pieces out of the pie dough using a 4 1/2" cutter ( I use a can from a large pineapple juice that is about 4 1/4" in diameter.)  Place cut rounds onto a parchment lined baking sheet.  Collect scraps and place to the side.  Continue by rolling out second round of pie dough and cutting into about six more smaller rounds.  Lay a sheet of parchment over the first six and stack the second six on top.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 minutes or up to 24 hours.  Trim scraps into square-ish shapes and layer onto another parchment lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for 15 minutes to 24 hours.

Filling and finishing touches:
3 cups fresh or frozen sliced peaches
1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
2/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup turbinado sugar

1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1-2 tablespoons milk or cream

  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  Remove pie crust rounds from refrigerator.  Grease a 12 cup standard size muffin tin.  Lay each one of the cut rounds into the muffin tin, pushing down and gently folding the dough so that it fits and will hold the filling.  Mix peaches, raspberries, sugar, cornstarch and salt gently in a medium size mixing bowl.  Fill each of the pie crust in the muffin tin with the mixture.  Bake for 20 minutes until the edges of the pie crusts are golden and the fruit filling is bubbling.  
  Meanwhile, combine 1 tablespoon sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon in a small bowl.  Remove square-ish scraps from refrigerator and brush each one with a small amount of milk or cream.  Immediately sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon mixture.  Place in oven and bake for 10-15 minutes until edges are golden.  Remove from oven and snack on these until pies are ready.
 When the peach pies are beginning to turn golden around the edges, after about 20 minutes of baking, remove from oven and sprinkle each pie with some turbinado sugar on the filling.  Place back in oven and bake for an additional 5 minutes until edges of pie crusts are gently browned.  Remove from oven and allow to cool in muffin tin for about 20 minutes.  Gently remove each hand pie and serve.