Happy Independence Day everyone! For as long as I can remember, I’ve taken the United States for granted. We have civil liberties available to us that many of us forget to be thankful for. We have freedom of speech, religion, and assembly, and a free press. We have the right to bear arms, due process and civil trials by jury, no cruel and unusual punishment – these are all things that United States citizens are afforded, and we have become entitled.

We assume that we’re able to say what we want, when we want, as long as we are not causing immediate harm to another human being. But remember the parents of Amanda Knox who went to Italy for their daughter’s trial? They were frustrated with the way the  trial was going and repeated Amanda’s claims of police ill-treatment to the press. The whole family was charged with libel and slander.

Living outside of the US certainly calls into harsh relief the fact that not all people are afforded the same rights. When the Uighurs who had been held at Guantanamo Bay were up for release, the US government needed to find a place for them to go. Why? Because had they been returned to China, their original homes, they would have been executed. It would have been kept out of international media, but those individuals probably would never have been heard from again after reentering China.

Here, even freedom of assembly is not a reasonable assumption. For example, when members of the Falun Gong, a practice similar to tai chi with theraputic and spiritual aspects, joined together in Beijing, the Chinese government noticed the practice’s large following.  Falun Gong was then immediately banned. They weren’t a political group. These were grannies and business men and young moms who got together to look after their mental health and physical well-being.

An aside: I just tried to Google “Falun Gong” so I could give you more information, and the results page has been blocked by the Chinese government. For the next several searches, even if I search “zebras,” the results page still won’t be available.

So let’s take a minute to celebrate who we are and what we are allowed to be as Americans. More than Thanksgiving, today I am thankful and proud to be from the United States. I’m proud that our press can report truthfully and doesn’t receive what amount to bribes for what are essentially product placements for big brands. I’m proud that I can be agnostic, or Buddhist, or Zoroastrian and no one has the right to infringe upon my beliefs. I love that our Constitution protects us from cruel and unusual punishment and that we condemn torture practices. Even if your personal politics don’t align with today’s leadership, you have to love that you can vote to influence that leadership. If you feel your rights are being infringed upon, you can speak out, join protests, vote and make a difference. You may be thinking, “But of course!” But here and for so many others, things are not always so obvious.

In celebration of being Americans, we made some pimiento cheese. It’s very typical of the South, but it’s also something that reminds me of all of the States. For me, pimiento cheese is better than the sum of its parts – I’m not big on cheddar cheese alone or mayonnaise alone, and especially not red peppers, but together these ingredients are fantastic. On a slice of toast, on veggies, on top of your hamburger at your barbecues today. Americans too are better than the sum of their parts. We are better for being such a diverse nation, and today, I am thankful for that.

Pimiento Cheese
Adapted from What We Eat When We Eat Alone by Deborah Madison

Ingredients

16 ounces aged Cheddar cheese, yellow, or white and yellow mixed – I used extra sharp cheddar and an aged white cheddar
1 (4-ounce) jar of pimientos
2 cloves of garlic, diced finely
4 tablespoons mayonnaise, more or less
1/2  teaspoon dried mustard
1/4 teaspoon hot smoked paprika
Freshly ground pepper
1 sliced scallion (optional)

Preparation

1. Grate the cheese using the larger holes of a box grater or if you have a food processor, I hear that works equally well.

2. Stir in the peppers, garlic, mayonnaise, mustard, and paprika, tasting and adjusting as you go. Finally season with plenty of freshly ground black pepper and add the scallion if desired.

Critic’s Comments

“Tastes like freedom.  Freedom from prepackaged congealed pimiento cheese sandwiches with hard boiled eggs and warm mayonnaise. No wait, change that to gnarly Chinese white bread club sandwiches with spam and mayonnaise. I don’t even know what they have on those things. But those club sandwiches have too many pickles.”

Trips home can be tough, even if you only take into consideration the jet lag. First, you hop on a plane, and travel back in time, so that in one day, you manage to squeeze in 36 hours. That first night, sleeping is easy, especially if you crossed the ocean in coach, crammed between two people, one of whom is drooling (*ahem* Walker).

But the movies definitely help. When we’re in China, we see a lot of movies, but what we see is very dependent on what our little shop of pirated dvds stocks. It’s got a really odd selection most of the time – imagine My Fair Lady next to Boondock Saints. So we almost never know what’s playing or has just opened.

After seven movies, you’re pretty sure you never want to watch a movie again. That and your butt has atrophied. And you’re incredibly hungry because you’re boycotting airplane food.

And just when you think you’ll never get to stand up again, you arrive and you start overcoming the jet lag and doing all the things you said you’d missed. Spending time with friends and family, enjoying all the green space, hitting up Bojangles for sweet tea and biscuits, and even watching American commercials. Seriously, even though you’ve probably all got TiVo, you might want to appreciate the cleverness of some of those ads. What we have in China are the weirdest Philippino ads that don’t quite make sense or RJ, the self proclaimed entertainment and music magnate. Appreciate the little things, people, or if you’re having a bad day, send me a note with your address so I can send you a dvd of RJ’s best commercials (“Do you want to be in a band? Learn Rock, Learn Guitar, Learn Stage Presence, Learn Rock and Roll!”) and you can watch it on repeat, then turn it off, and your day will start feeling better immediately.

Even though there were countless things we’d missed, we also found ourselves missing things about China. No, not the public spitting or the crowds, but we did miss the food.

Chinese food in the States is usually just food from Hong Kong that’s been Americanized – adding sugar and salt with fewer vegetables. And granted, even in the poorest regions of China, where meat is an extreme luxury, vegetarian Chinese food is incredibly rare. If you ask for a vegetarian dish here, it will come out with bits of ground pork sprinkled over the veggies or stir fried in oyster sauce, assuming it didn’t come out with a giant steamed fish on top of it. Adding meat is thought of as generous, but there are some days that I want the flavors of Chinese food but I just don’t feel like eating meat.

If this July 4th weekend you have a big barbeque planned, but you’re hoping to skip the hot dog for something a little less heavy, give these a shot. They’ve got all the flavor of some of my favorite Shanghai dishes, but there’s one thing missing – the meat. Plus it’s wrapped up in lettuce instead of a giant bun. The lack of buns might make you feel better about eating three of them.

Mushroom Lettuce Wraps
Inspiration from here
Yields 4 servings

Ingredients

For the Sauce:

2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch

For the filling:

12 medium to large Chinese mushrooms, chopped into 1 cm cubes
1/2 pound pressed tofu, chopped, or ground pork (here I’ve used pork, but I’ve done tofu before as well with great success)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped
3-5 cloves of garlic, to your taste
Pickled ginger, minced, about one tablespoon*
Small bunch Chinese celery**, sliced
Big bunch of cilantro, minced
Chives, sliced
1 carrot, shredded with a zester, or julienned
1 small daikon radish, shredded with a zester
2-3 tablespoons lightly toasted pine nuts
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
8-10 whole lettuce leaves – Bibb, Boston, or Iceberg
Preparation

1. In a small bowl, mix together the soy sauce, vinegar, and hoisin sauce. In another small bowl, stir together the cornstarch with 1 tablespoon water so that there are no lumps. Set bowls aside.

2. Heat a wok over a medium high flame. Add the vegetable oil, and when it starts to shimmer, the onion and garlic. Saute until the onion is beginning to turn translucent. Add either pork or tofu, and let it brown up.

3. Add the pickled ginger, celery, scallions, cilantro and mushrooms. Stir-fry until the mushrooms have softened and the mixture is fragrant.  Add soy sauce mixture and stir for 20 seconds. Add cornstarch mixture and stir until thickened, about 30 seconds.

4. Add sesame oil and pine nuts and toss.

5. To serve, peel off a few leaves of lettuce and place them on a plate, so that they are shaped like little bowls. Fill with about 3 tablespoons of the mushroom filling, and top with the shredded carrot and daikon. Roll up leaf and eat with your fingers.

*You could buy this or save it from left over sushi I guess, but it’s just as easy to make it and keep in your fridge. It’s a great way to use up some left over ginger that’s going bad in the back of your fridge too. Just make a solution of six parts rice wine vinegar, six parts sugar, to one part salt, bring to a boil, and add in thin rounds of sliced ginger. Store in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to use. If you are using young ginger, it will turn itself pink in about a week. Older ginger will be a translucent white, though the taste is largely the same (most commercial pickled gingers have dyes added to artificially color the product – check labels if that bothers you).

**Chinese celery is different. It just is. If you’ve never seen it, its much thinner than normal celery, and infinitely more fragrant. There are also fewer stringy bits. If you can’t find it or happen to have normal celery instead, never fear. Take that normal celery, and peel most of the strings off with a peeler. Slice the celery long ways first, then across for a finer dice. You’ll want to up the cilantro in the recipe too to compensate.

Critic’s Comments

Walker – It was fresh, it was clean, it was… like perfect size for optimum snacking. It was like mini-pitas but cleaner.

These were a great summer meal. They didn’t feel heavy like a sandwich would but was packed with flavor. This dish is a recurring one at our house because though we love Chinese food, a lot of the local restaurants add so much oil or msg that we leave feeling slightly gross. This is a much healthier take on the same tastes we love, and you can eat it with your hands. That makes everything tastes better.

It’s 2 in the morning as I sit here writing this. I know I won’t publish it until a decent hour, and I might still take a nap before work, but for the record, even the dog is asleep right now. When I woke up she looked up at me, annoyed, rolled back over and went to sleep.

For the last week, Walker and I have been on an incredibly fast paced trip back to the States, and it was made worse by the fact that our flight was delayed a day and then I needed to take a last minute day trip to Memphis. An incredibly tight schedule, and an incredibly jet-lagged Kate, so please excuse a post which I am anticipating will make sense only at two in the morning.

I had almost forgotten about making this – we made it for my mom when she was last here in May. I’m really slacking. But while I was in the States I bought a Bon Appetit – the one for July – and all that talk about barbecue got me thinking about things we’d grilled lately. Oh yeah… that lamb was pretty fantastic… And pretty out of the ordinary.  Grilling season is definitely here, both in Raleigh and in Shanghai, and so Walker and I will be whipping out our tiny charcoal grill that had been relegated to the corner of the porch, getting dusty, since we moved.

And in full disclosure, food-wise, here’s what I brought back from the States: two jars of pimentos, a jar of grape leaves, wild rice (rice to China? What? Yeah, there’s only white rice here), a bag of farro, two bags of Red Mill almond meal, a box full of cupcake wrappers from Bake it Pretty, and a box of spices from Penzeys. My mom always gives me a hard time about that last thing – didn’t the explorers all aim for China so that they could bring back spices to the West? – but it’s not like I’m bringing over cinnamon and anise seed. In the box is: chervil, dried guadajillo peppers, powdered cayenne pepper, crystalized ginger, garam masala, sassafras (gumbo file), kala jeera, mahlab, blue poppy seeds, sumac, za’atar, annato seeds, and ground coriander. The indian spices could probably be found here if I knew how to translate them into Chinese, but for some odd reason my dictionaries don’t include indian spices.

Every time I go to the States I bring back small things like that. If you have a friend living here, and you’re coming to visit, bring maple syrup. Yes we can get it here, and it is also exorbitant. Wrap it up in a tshirt and put it in a plastic bag, then pack it on the very inside of your suitcase. They’ll thank you for it.

A note to those from Raleigh reading – thanks for letting me know you’re out there! Most days I feel like I’m talking to myself but it’s really nice to know that you exist!

Dukkah Encrusted Lamb with a Quinoa and Aubergine Salad
from the British Larder, adapted only slightly in ingredients

This is a multi-step recipe, so if you want to recreate it, read all the steps first. I’d recommend making the spice blend the day before, so you’re not rushed on the day of. Once that’s out of the way, the whole dish comes together rather quickly. Grill the eggplant first, and while it is marinading, you can be grilling the lamb. Timing here is key. Cold lamb just won’t hold the same appeal.

Dukkah Spice and Nut Blend

Ingredients

1/2 tsp whole cloves
1tsp whole fennel seeds
1tsp coriander seeds
1tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp paprika
1/2tsp salt
Pinch ground turmeric
Pinch crushed dried chillies
Freshly cracked black pepper
handful chopped roasted hazelnuts (basically to taste – handful here is just to give you an idea of proportions)
one and a half handfuls chopped pistachio nuts
handful roasted white sesame seeds

Preparation

1. In a pestle and mortar crush the cloves, fennel, coriander, cumin, paprika, salt, pepper, turmeric and dried chillies to a powder.

2. Add the hazelnuts, pistachio nuts and sesame seeds, crush lightly and voila, you have dukkah. It can be stored in an airight container until you need it. Be aware that nuts contain oils which will spoil after a while, so do try to use it in the time frame which you would use unrefrigerated nuts. The spice can also be bought ready made, without nuts, in specialty stores.

Dukkah Crusted Lamb Cutlets

Ingredients

4 lamb cutlets
50g Dukkah Spice and Nut Blend, see above
1tbs roasted sesame oil
1tbs honey
Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Preparation

1 In a small mixing bowl mix the dukkah spice and nut blend with the oil, honey, lemon juice and zest.

2. Season the lamb cutlets with salt and freshly cracked black pepper, dip each cutlet into the dukkah mixture, rub the mix in, coating both sides. Let the cutlets sit with the rub for 10 minutes.

3. Heat a grill pan and cook the cutlets 3 minutes on each side, leave to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Quinoa and Grilled Aubergine Salad

Ingredients

120g white quinoa
1tsp turmeric
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1tbs honey
1tbs olive oil
25ml pomegranate vinegar
1 aubergine (I used one purple and one green for variety, and kept the left overs)
100g sweet peas
1tbs chopped fresh continental parsley

Preparation

1. Use a medium size saucepan. put in the quinoa, turmeric, salt and pepper  and cover with twice as much cold water. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook until the quinoa is  tender to the bite. Once cooked, drain the quinoa using a sieve or a collander lined with a double layer of cheese cloth. Refresh under cold running water and drain.

2. In a small bowl, measure the honey, olive oil and pomegranate vinegar and whisk to combine, season to taste.

3. Grill the eggplant: Heat a grill pan. Wash and cut the eggplant in thin rounds. Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper on both sides. Grill the aubergines on the hot grill pan, without any oil and without moving around excessively. You want dark grill marks, and moving them around will change the direction of the lines. Cook for approximately 2 minutes on both sides. Place the hot aubergines in a tray and pour half of vinaigrette over, leave to soak and absorb the vinaigrette for 20 minutes, flipping them half way through.

4. Dress the quinoa salad: Mix the drained quiona, cooked and sliced green beans, and chopped herbs together, season to taste and then drizzle the vinaigrette.

I suppose I should introduce myself. Hi, this isn’t Kgaines.  This is Evelyn, the person who’s been masquerading as her ever since China decided that butterscotch sticky buns were a threat to national security. I’m her California counterpart, and her partner-in-crime (more like a middle man) in keeping this blog alive. When I’m not busy undermining China’s obsession with censorship, I like long walks on the beach. Oh, and cooking.

I found this recipe for lemonade cookies in a cookbook called Perfect Light Desserts by Nick Malgieri and David Joachim. So it turns out a dessert isn’t “light” when you bake a batch of cookies and eat all of them by yourself. Every. Last. Cookie. Well, you live and you learn and the next time you make them you bring them to work!

I was a little paranoid that no one else would like them, so I brought along a batch of tried-and-true snickerdoodles just in case. And I insisted that everyone that took a cookie took one of each, and tried both because sometimes I am just a mean little person like that. Then I made each person tell me which was his or her favorite. I’ll save the verdict for after the recipe.

Lemonade Cookies

from  Perfect Light Desserts by Nick Malgieri and David Joachim

yields 36 cookies (I recommend doubling this recipe, because for me it made less than 2 dozen)

Ingredients

1 1/4 c all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
3/4 c sugar
1 large egg white
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 cookie sheets lined with parchment or foil

Preparation

1. Set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, preheat to 350 degrees.

2. Stir flour, baking powder, and salt together.

3. Beat sugar and butter together on medium speed for about a minute. Beat in egg white and lemon zest.

4. On low speed beat in half the flour mixture, then lemon juice, and then remaining flour mixture.

5. Use a large spatula to give the batter a final mixing.

6. Drop batter with a teaspoon about an inch apart on prepared pans.

7. Bake cookies for 8 to 10 mintes, until light golden on bottom but still very pale on top. Change position of pans, from top to bottom and back to front, about halfway thorugh baking.

8. Slide paper from pans to racks to cool the cookies

The end result looks deceptively like a plain sugar cookie, which made me worry they would be discriminated against. I take food discrimination very seriously, especially when it comes to cookies. But just one bite, and every single person claimed to like them better than the snickerdoodles. The cookies are irresistibly soft and chewy, with a bright lemon flavor that shines through.  They are intensely flavorful, but in a light and refreshing way. Just like a tall glass of lemonade, beaded with drops of water on a hot summer day.

Even if you aren’t in sunny California, you can bake up this little batch of summer to bite into. Just make sure to try your first bite with someone else in the room, because these cookies are dangerously good.

Consider the tomato. Is it a fruit or a vegetable? Okay, yes I realize that it’s a fruit, but would you put it in a fruit salad? You know, with melon and berries and… tomato? I’m much happier to see a thick slice of tomato on a sandwich or stewed tomatoes in a pasta sauce.

But living in China has opened my eyes to a whole separate culinary tradition wherein people don’t consider the tomato a vegetable. To them, it’s sweet, and it goes with sweet things. In that fruit salad for example.

When in the Beijing summers I would sit around our courtyard with our dear neighbors playing a slightly more sophisticated, Chinese version of connect 4 (It’s essentially just “connect 5” – wu zi qi), Ayi would bring out chrysanthemum tea and a plate of tomatoes that she had sprinkled with sugar.

The first time I saw it, I assumed it would be like a caprese – salty or even with vinegar, and as I took a bite expecting savory flavors, I was instead met with an overwhelming sweetness that shocked me. Even though it wasn’t the flavor combination I had been expecting, it was hardly the oh-no-I’ve-mixed-up-the-salt-and-sugar disaster I would have imagined (I mean really, I put salt on my watermelon. Who am I to judge?). There was still a respect for the texture and the flavor tomato itself, but she just chose to play up the sweet flavors instead of the savory ones.

On the other hand, when I think of pies, my mind goes straight to apple or cherry or some other wonderfully sweet fruit wherein the texture and the simple flavors of the ingredients combine to be more than the sum of their parts. Well, in the spirit of celebrating the beautiful tomatoes I found at the market, and acknowledging that they are in fact a fruit, I turned them into a pie – albeit a savory one, that’s closer to a caprese than sugar sprinkled slices of tomato. Though the tart is simple, it really does play up the natural beauty of the tomatoes.

Rustic Tomato Tart
from David Lebowitz

Ingredients

One unbaked tart dough (see recipe, below)
Dijon or whole-grain mustard
2-3 large ripe tomatoes, or an assortment of your choice
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
two generous tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
8 ounces (250 g) fresh or slightly aged goat cheese, sliced

for the crust
1 1/2 cups (210 g) flour
4 1/2 ounces (125 g) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
2-3 tablespoons cold water

Preparation

1. Make the dough by mixing the flour and salt in a bowl. Add the butter and use your (cold) hands, or a pastry blender, to cut the into the flour mixture until you’re left with a has a crumbly texture.

2. Mix the egg with 2 tablespoons of the water and stir into the dry ingredients until the dough holds together. If it’s not coming together easily, add the additional tablespoon of cold water.

3. Gather the dough into a ball and roll the dough on a lightly floured surface, adding additional flour only as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to the counter.

4. Once the dough is large enough so that it will cover the bottom of the pan and go up the sides, fold the dough into quarters, first up, and then over. Lay the folded dough across one quarter of the tart pan, and unfold gently so that the dough folds down softly over the edges. Press the dough slightly into the corners and crevasses, and then, applying slight pressure roll a rolling pin across the top of the tart pan. This will remove the excess dough in a nice clean sweep without having to fuss over the edges.

5. Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190º C).

6. Spread an even layer of mustard over the bottom of the tart dough and let it sit a few minutes to dry out.

7. Slice the tomatoes and arrange them over the mustard in a single, even layer (I followed this to the letter when I made mine, but in the future, I’ll pay no heed. I’d have preferred more tomatoes, though don’t stack up more than two layers or you’ll have tomatoes slip sliding about when you’re trying to slice your tart).

8. Sprinkle with some fresh thyme, then arrange the slices of goat cheese on top. Add a sprinkle of sea salt, drizzle with olive oil, and top with a little more thyme.

9. Bake the tart for 30 to 45 minutes, until the dough is cooked, the tomatoes are tender, and the cheese on top is nicely browned. If the crust looks like it’s about to turn from perfect and flakey to crispy and burnt but your cheese still hasn’t reached the beautiful brown stage, pass it under the broiler, keeping a close eye. It will brown quickly.

10. Serve warm or at room temperature for best results.


Critic’s Comments

As Walker saw me preparing this his immediate reaction was “Oh it’s a quiche! Are you going to add eggs?” Well no… “So it’s a pizza. Should we add other toppings?” Um sweet for trying to help but… no. And in the end, even he admitted that eggs or pizza toppings would have ruined this delicate and tasty tart.

“It was amazing that such simple ingredients came together as a really complete dish. It wasn’t a pizza, and I never thought I’d say this, but I’m glad it wasn’t. I still might add more cheese though.”

Always with the more cheese. It’s not like I’m light handed on the cheese here either. I think if I left a block of cheese in the fridge and he knew it were there, he’d make himself a stack of grilled cheeses or just slice and eat the whole block in under 15 minutes… I have a feeling if I’d covered the whole tart in cheese that would still be my feedback so take it with a grain of salt. Or a slice of cheese. Your call.

The last week has been beautiful in Shanghai – the grey haze has finally lifted. Bright blue skies and just the right temperature. So I haven’t really had the self discipline to write much.

But right now I’m inside, and sitting on hold with an airline. Right this moment, their background music is driving me batty, and I have every intention of holding that against them for the amount of time they keep me on hold. When I’m on hold through Skype, listening to this crappy music that I can’t mute, lest I miss the real human being on the other end of the line, I can actually watch the seconds tick away.

You’ve always known instinctively that when the machine answers and a recording says “your call will be answered in 5-10 minutes!” that they’re lying to you. But now I have proof. Ticking proof. [The call just dropped after 19 minutes. Seriously?]. So I figured I’d take advantage of this time that I’m inside and in front of a computer to tell you about these absolutely perfect little brown bettys that we made.

This dessert is completely the lazy man’s version of a fruit pie. Crust? Not so much. Sandwich bread? Yeah, just a little. It’s unfussy and quick, and at the end you have something that tastes like it would have taken much longer.

Traditionally, these are made with apples, but peach season just started here and it’s really hard to turn away from a beautiful fresh peach, so I improvised. You should do the same with what ever you like best, and whatever’s in season – just add another flavor that complements your fruit well. Apples and cinnamon, peaches and cardamom, strawberries and brown butter, rhubarb (actually a vegetable disguised as a fruit) and almonds – really, whatever strikes your fancy.


Peach and Cardamom Little Brown Bettys
Adapted from Gourmet, April 2009

Ingredients

3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
6 slices brioche, or any good white sandwich bread, crusts removed
3 peaches
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cardamom, freshly ground if possible

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Lightly butter muffin cups with some of melted butter, then sprinkle with granulated sugar.

2. Roll bread slices with a rolling pin to flatten, or just smoosh it out with the heel of your hand. Brush both sides with some of remaining melted butter, then gently fit into muffin cups. I found the best way to do this was to hold the bread like a diamond instead of a square, and then push two of the corners into the middle. Once in the muffin pan, you can smooth the two corners against the side of the muffin tin, for a perfect fit without risking tearing the bread.

3. Rub the skin off of the peaches and cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Stir together with brown sugar and cardamom. Coat with remaining melted butter. Heap peach mixture into cups, pressing gently. The fruit will bake down a lot, so do make sure you add enough in each cup.

4. Cover pan with foil and bake 30 minutes. Uncover and bake until apples are tender, about 20 minutes more. Let stand 5 minutes before removing from pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Critic’s Comments

“I think what was really interesting is that it was just a piece of sandwich bread, and after the baking it came out like a cohesive tart. It was a great summer snack, but it made me want more pie.”

Walker’s sister lives in a very cool town called Benton Harbor, Michigan. In fact, she owns and runs an even cooler cafe up there – if you happen to be in the area, go check it out – it’s called The Phoenix. She also makes a fantastic croissant.

Walker and I went up to visit, right before the cafe got off the ground, in part to see a Sigur Ros concert up in Chicago. On a CD they sound a little bit like whale calls to me, but live, is a different story. They’re a rock band live, and the way they play with sound is really out of this world.

The morning after the concert, when our ears were still ringing, Liz drove us to a little diner on the outskirts of Benton Harbor. I couldn’t find it again if I tried, but I remember distinctly how good the food was. I ordered an Apple Dutch Baby, because I’d never heard of such a thing, and my food-curiosity got the better of me. Well it came, and it could have swallowed the whole city of Chicago by itself.  It was so big that I offered to share before taking a bite.

After I did indulge in that first bite, I instantly regretted my offer. I spent the rest of breakfast fending off Walker’s hovering fork. The clashing silverware sounded like an old Zorro movie. It was a wonder someone didn’t get stabbed.

I largely forgot about my Dutch Baby experience until the other day, when Walker yet again asked for pancakes for breakfast. Already having been fooled once with the zucchini pancakes, he was more specific this time. He didn’t want vegetable pancakes, he specified. But he didn’t say a thing about fruit, and he didn’t demand maple syrup. A novice at this type of food negotiations – he should never underestimate my boredom with pancakes.

Side note: got an offbeat pancake recipe? Please share in comments. I predict I will be artfully dodging requests for pancakes for the rest of time.

Apple Dutch Baby
Inspiration from Orangette

Ingredients

2 big sweet apples (your favorite) peeled and sliced thinly – I used Gala
2 tbsp white granulated sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
a few grates of fresh nutmeg, to taste
4 tbsp unsalted butter
4 large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cream
1/4 cup milk

Preparation

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Melt the butter into one large oven safe skillet (If your skillet’s handle isn’t oven safe, as mine is not, don’t worry, I’ll share a trick with you down the way). Saute the apples along with sugar, cinnimon, and nutmeg, until apples are softened and sticky with sugar.

2. In a blender, whir together the eggs, flour, milk, and cream.

3. Pour the batter into the skillet over the melted butter. If your skillet’s handle is not oven safe, wrap the handle with two or three layers of aluminum foil, and proceed. Slide the skillet into the oven, and bake for 25 minutes. The pancake will start to rise quickly. Begin to watch it (without opening oven door) at 20 minutes,  and when it is the appropriate shade of brown for your taste, remove from oven.

4. Transfer puffed pancake to a plate or shallow bowl, and pour caramel sauce, and add a dollop of whipped cream. Serve immediately.

Caramel Sauce
from Simply Recipes
makes about 1 cup of sauce

Ingredients

1 cup of sugar
6 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Preparation

1. Assemble everything you’ll need for this recipe and set it within reach of your pan. This process goes quickly, and you don’t want to be fumbling for a whisk as your caramel hardens to an unusable block.

2. Heat sugar on moderately high heat in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart or 3-quart saucepan. If you’re using a thinner bottomed pan, don’t despair. Just add half a cup of water. This will add time to the process as the water must evaporate, but you get largely the same result. As the sugar begins to melt, stir vigorously with a whisk or wooden spoon. As soon as the sugar comes to a boil, stop stirring. You can swirl the pan, but stirring will break the crystals that the melted sugar is forming.

3. As soon as the sugar becomes liquid and dark amber in color, immediately add the butter to the pan. The mixture will bubble up, fiercely, but keep whisking. Whisk until the butter has melted.

4. Once the butter has melted, take the pan off the heat. Count to three, then slowly add the cream to the pan and continue to whisk to incorporate. More big bubbles. This is why you need to be using a 2-3 quart pot, even though the mixture will eventually be only one cup. Molten sugar + skin = a lot of pain. Learned that lesson the hard way.

5. Whisk until sauce is smooth. Let cool in the pan for a couple minutes, then pour into a glass mason jar and let sit to cool to room temperature. The jar will become hot as well, so if you move it, use a thick kitchen towel. After it comes to room temperature, it can be stored in the fridge for up to two weeks. If you can resist eating it all with a spoon.