You’re a Peach, My Dear

Few things can match the sensation of biting into a ripe, fresh peach at the height of summer, so juicy that it must be eaten over a sink. Soft fuzz easily gives way to tender flesh brilliantly sweet, floral, and aromatic. It’s a perfect dessert, all by itself, no garnishes need apply.

Sadly but surely, the seasons are marching onward, away from this most wonderful time of year. Don’t miss your chance to indulge in the last of this year’s harvest.

These delightfully chewy cookie bars present another way to enjoy these incomparable fruits, even if the selection isn’t quite as robust. Toasted pecans and fresh peaches, the star of the show, lend these treats a gentle Southern accent. Each sweet square is lightly caramelized through the baking process, ending with a rich, toffee-like flavor.

Southern Peach Streusel Bars

Peach Filling:

5 Ripe Peaches, Divided
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
3 Tablespoon Cornstarch
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger

Cookie Base and Streusel:

1/2 Cup Vegan Butter
1 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 1/2 Cups All Purpose or White Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 Cup Finely Ground Pecan or Almond Meal
2 Tablespoons Cornstarch
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 – 2 Tablespoons Plain Non-Dairy Milk
3/4 Cup Toasted and Chopped Pecans

First, prepare the filling so that it has time to cool. Begin by removing the pits from four of your peaches, and roughly chopping the flesh before tossing it into your food processor along with the sugar and cornstarch. Blend thoroughly until smooth, and then transfer the puree into a medium sauce pan. Set on the stove over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture has thickened significantly and bubbles are breaking regularly on the surface. Turn off the heat, and incorporate the vanilla and ginger. Set aside and let cool.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, lightly grease 9 x 13-inch baking pan; Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or food processor, beat the butter briefly to soften. Add in the brown sugar and thoroughly cream together with the margarine, until fluffy and homogeneous. Sift in the flour, pecan or almond meal, cornstarch, cinnamon, and salt, and mix on low speed to combine. The resulting mixture will be rather dry, so with the mixer running. slowly drizzle in the non-dairy milk, a teaspoon at a time, using just enough to bring everything together into a cohesive dough when pressed.

Take 2/3 of that dough and crumble it across the bottom of your prepared pan. Use your fingers to press it out into one even layer that will form the base. If you don’t have enough to cover the bottom, you can use a bit more of the dough, but bear in mind that the base shouldn’t be too thick. Bake in your preheated oven for 12 – 15 minutes, until golden brown.

Meanwhile, take your chopped pecans, and knead them into the remaining dough to create the streusel topping.

Once the base is ready, remove it from the oven, and evenly spread the cooled peach filling on top. Pit and roughly chop the one remaining peach, and scatter it across the peach jam filling. Finally, use your fingers to break apart clumps of streusel, and sprinkle them over the peaches. Slide the pan bake into the oven, and bake for another 20 – 25 minutes, until aromatic and the streusel is golden brown all over. Let cool completely before slicing.

Makes 24 – 30 Bars

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Pineapple Express

Reaching for the heavy brass door knocker standing guard at the entry of my childhood home, I never once questioned why it was fashioned after a pineapple. Design flourishes were not the first priority for the architects who constructed this traditional, simple New England colonial; it could have been any other shape, but of all the possible symbols to display to guests, the first thing that they grasp upon arrival, was this tropical fruit.

Representing both status and hospitality in one fell swoop, the prestige of the pineapple is often credited to Christopher Columbus, who brought them back from his voyages as an offering to the Spanish King Ferdi­nand II. Since it was the only edible offering that survived the trip intact, it was the clear winner amongst the bundle of rotting tomatoes, tobacco, and pumpkins. That initial exoticism, impressive appearance, and incomparable sweetness vaulted it to the highest ranks. To have such wealth that you could offer these esteemed specimens freely to visitors instantly spoke of your prosperity, and lightly veiled bragging in the form of faux-generosity.

The symbolism stuck. Scarcity is a thing of the past, but their popularity continues to soar. Now one of the most popular produce picks on the market, retailers predict a pineapple boom is still to come, while the current culture has found all new meaning in the spiky fruits. The full weight of that multilayered meaning may not hit every time we slice into the yellow flesh, peel away the harsh, spiky exterior, and sink our teeth into the tangy fibers. Though the pineapple still enjoys a place of honor in, and outside, many homes, the place where it’s most welcome is the kitchen.

Roasting and caramelizing cubes of pineapple brings out a whole new depth of flavor, while still maintaining its characteristic brightness, and simultaneously concentrating its inherent sweetness. Though it would be no sacrifice to simply eat the results plain, perhaps with a dollop of whipped cream to fancy things up, I was craving a bite of comfort in the form of pound cake. Simple, homey, and undemanding, it really is the ideal house guest, and ideal for serving visitors in turn. The dense, tender, moist crumb sparkles with tropical undertones, enriched by coconut milk and spiked by just a hint of ginger.

Christopher Columbus committed countless terrible, unthinkable crimes in his grand adventures, but at least this one small contribution to history is one we can look back on with pride. The pineapple has earned its place of honor, and continues to flourish in ways the explorer could have never imagined.

Roasted Pineapple Pound Cake

1 3/4 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1 1/2 Cups Roasted Pineapple Puree*
1/2 Cup Avocado Oil or Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1 1/2 Teaspoons Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

*To roast the pineapple, peel, core, and dice the fruit before spreading the piece evenly inside a casserole or baking dish. A good amount of juice will be expressed so you need a vessel with fairly high sides. Bake at 400 degrees, stirring every 15 minutes or so, for 60 – 70 minutes until caramelized. Cool completely before tossing into a blender to puree.

**If you have leftover puree, you can whip up a quick glaze by stirring in brown sugar and a pinch of cinnamon to taste and cooking it over the stove until the granules dissolve. Drizzle or slather on top of the cooled loaf as desired.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, white sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and ginger. Add the pineapple puree, oil, coconut milk, vinegar, and vanilla, mixing thoroughly until the batter is fairly smooth. It’s perfectly fine to leave a few lumps, rather than risk over-mixing and creating a tough crumb.

Bake for 60 – 75 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. You may want to tent the loaf with foil half-way through the baking process if you fear it will turn out too dark. Remove foil as soon as it comes out of the oven and let cool in the pan for at least 30 minutes. Turn out onto a cooling rack to finish cooling, and serve either warm or at room temperature.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

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Out of the Blue

Sharp. Salty. Smelly. Moldy.
What, were you raised in a cave?

If you happened to be a wheel of blue cheese, the answer is most likely “Yes!”

These complex blue-veined curds have traditionally been aged in caves, and still are to acquire the distinctive ambrosial funk specific to the local bacterial population. Some speculate the the earliest batches of the stinky wheels were actually mistakes, unintentionally inoculated with the natural mold in these subterranean shelters. Praise of the highest order is due to the brave soul who first thought such a terrible case of spoilage might still be edible, let alone delicious.

Though caves are no longer required for production, such a unique flavor and aroma can only be reproduced with Penicillium roqueforti cultures to accurately bear the label. Such rigorous regulations put this funky delicacy firmly out of reach for the average food crafter, no matter how obsessive, especially if dairy is off the menu.

Authenticity be damned, irrepressible cravings for a bite of the blue stuff needn’t be denied for lack of access to this illusive ingredient. Lending its own singular sort of funk, fermented Chinese tofu is what gives my plant-based facsimile its unmistakable, irrepressible twang. Taking this shortcut to building instant bold flavors allows my particular cheesy delight to achieve depth without delay. No need to wait for any spores to work their magic; it’s instantly delicious, as soon as it’s set.

Swirls of blue-green algae lend it a convincing appearance, but this is purely for aesthetics. Feel free to skip straight to the finish line without detracting from the overall eating experience one bit.

Such a pungent fixing goes a long way in small doses, which makes it ideal for sprinkling on salads or mixing into dips, rather than serving it up solo. Finally achieving my platonic ideal of a wedge salad, this deceptively simple composition of crunchy lettuce, smoky bacon bits, and fresh cherry tomatoes is really just a vehicle for that deeply savory dressing. Go ahead and really slather it on thick; we all know you’re not eating a head of iceberg lettuce for any other reason.

Vegan Blue Cheese

5 Ounces Fermented Chinese Tofu
1/4 Cup Cooked White Beans
1/2 Ounce (About 1 1/2 – 2 Tablespoons) Chopped Scallions, White Parts Only
2 Tablespoons Barley Miso Paste
1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Lemon Juice
1 Teaspoon Nutritional Yeast
1/2 Teaspoon Onion Powder
1/3 Cup Refined Coconut Oil, Melted
1/4 Teaspoon Spirulina (Optional, for Color)

Before getting started, have a 1 1/2 – 2 cup glass, ceramic, or BPA-free plastic container at the ready. I like to use glass containers that come with lids, so they can function both as the mold for initial shaping and as a more long-term storage solution. Lightly grease and set aside.

Very thoroughly drain the fermented tofu before tossing it into your blender or food processor along with the beans and scallions. Puree until completely smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed to incorporate all of the ingredients. Add in the miso, both vinegars, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, and onion powder next, blending to combine.

With the motor running, slowly stream in the liquefied coconut oil, creating a creamy emulsion much like a salad dressing. Make sure the whole mixture is perfectly silken, without any remaining lumps, before proceeding.

Remove about 2 tablespoons of the base and place it in a small bowl. Stir in the spirulina and briefly set aside. Pour the rest of the concoction into your prepared storage vessel, tapping it on the counter to remove any air bubbles. Add the blue-tinted portion in small spoonfuls, swirling it throughout with a thin spatula or knife.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or until fully solidified. The finished cheese will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Makes About 1/2 Pound Blue Cheese

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Classic Wedge Salad

Blue Cheese Dressing:

1/2 Small Shallot, Finely Minced
2/3 Cup Vegan Mayonnaise
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1 Tablespoon Fresh Parsley, Minced
1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
1/2 Cup Crumbled Dairy-Free Blue Cheese (See Recipe Above)

Wedge Salad Fixings:

1 Head Iceberg Lettuce
4 Ounces Vegan Bacon
2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1 Cup Cherry Tomatoes, Halved

Prepare the blue cheese dressing by simply combining the shallot, mayo, non-dairy milk, parsley, and vinegar in a medium bowl, stirring until smooth. Add the blue cheese chunks and mix in gently.

Assembly is just as easy. Quarter and core the lettuce, placing one wedge on each plate. Drizzle liberally with the blue cheese dressing and top with meatless bacon bits, scallions, and cherry tomatoes. Serve right away.

Makes 4 Servings

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Dip into Summer

The original significance of Memorial Day has become lost to most modern revelers, happy enough to celebrate a day off of work for any reason. According to the tireless research of WalletHub, 60% of Americans are eating at barbecues, beer sales will be higher than any day except the Fourth of July, 41.5 million people are traveling, and about 41 percent of us are shopping Memorial Day sales.

Over the years, it’s become a joyful day demarcating the unofficial beginning of summer, as we cast off heavy knit sweaters and relegate plush quilts to the back of our closets at long last. Even for those still dutifully clocking in today, there’s a sense of optimism in the air, looking ahead to the long hours of sunshine. Most importantly, though, is the promise of fresh produce both sweet and savory; an abundance of seasonal fruits and vegetables, and all the culinary possibilities they bring. Hard-hitting journalism by the New York Times uncovers and ranks the tastes of summer, and while I might dispute many of those findings, it’s a good indication of what might be on grocery lists and dinner tables in the coming months. To that questionable index, I’d like to suggest another category to consider: The essential dips of summer.

Here’s what you’ll find on my table as the days heat up:

Hummus-Tzaziki, otherwise known as Hummiki, blends the best of both worlds with a refreshing crunch of cucumber woven in. Zesty lemon and dill brighten the flavor profile further, imparting a bold and sunny flavor throughout.

Composed of rich, creamy chunks of avocado, contrasted by crunchy cubes of jicama, this Chimchurri Avocado Salsa is a clear departure from the more typical tomato-based dip. Peppery, lemony, herbaceous, and vinegary all at once, it’s perfectly suitable to serve with with chips, crowning soups and salads, or an hors d’oeuvre in and of itself.

Take advantage of the tender baby spinach shooting up from gardens across the nation and use it in this creamy Saag Paneer Dip! Impressively cheesy, the cashew base carries delicately nuanced spices that put bland old sour cream spinach dips of yore to shame.

Back in the dark ages when eggplant was my foe, I invented this zucchini-based work around to babaganoush, dubbed Zukanoush. Even though my intolerance seems to have died down and I can enjoy the purple nightshade again, I’m still hooked on this version, packed full of everyone’s favorite green squash. You’ll never feel overwhelmed by a glut of zucchini with this formula on hand.

Caramelized Onion Dip is really a staple food all year long, but it’s such a crowd-pleaser, it should have an automatic, honorary invite to every party. If you can get past the terrible photos from over a decade (!) ago, you’re in for a real umami treat.

Given all the delicious options, how are you celebrating the start of summer? Do you have the day off, or are you quietly plotting your next adventure for the coming months?

Chow Down

Does anyone else get bummed out by Trader Joe’s cat cookies? It’s not that they’re disappointing in flavor- Far from it- But that they’re blatantly speciesist. Printed on every generous tub are the words “For People!” with no mention of our feline friends. They’re inspired by, shaped like, and named for cats, and yet these highly esteemed creatures are clearly excluded from indulging alongside us. It’s a slap in the face (or perhaps, paw to the snout) of the little lions among us. My modus operandi has always been to provide food for everyone to enjoy, regardless of tastes, dietary restrictions, or breeds, so it strikes me as terribly shortsighted of Trader Joe’s to classify such promising morsels in such an exclusive fashion.

The same can be said of “puppy chow.” Typically, this is a crowd-pleasing yet tooth-achingly sweet mix of melted chocolate, powdered sugar, and cereal squares, tossed together to approximate the appearance of dog food. Chocolate is at the top of the list of canine dangers when it comes to feeding, so I have to wonder who was the first person to dream up this combination. What a sadly misleading title!

Carob could make for an easy conversion, but not one that most humans would be particularly enthusiastic about. Besides, the added sugar really isn’t the best fuel for our furry friends. Savory flavors are what this reinvented blend is all about! Peanut butter with an umami kick of liquid aminos and nutritional yeast meet crunchy corn or rice cubes for a highly snack-able blend, no matter your breed. Feel free to spice things up for your own tastes with a generous dose of sriracha, smoked paprika, or chili powder, but keep it on the side for more sensitive puppy palates.

Although the temptation to immediately chow down straight from the bowl will be high, please mind your manners. There’s no reason to eat like an animal.

Savory Puppy Chow (For People AND Puppies)

1/4 Cup Natural Creamy Peanut Butter
1/4 Cup Coconut Oil
1 Tablespoon Braggs Liquid Aminos
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
4 Cups Corn or Rice Cereal Squares
1/3 Cup Toasted Coconut Shreds or Flakes
1/2 Cup Oat Flour
1/4 Cup Tapioca Starch
2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast

Place the peanut butter, coconut oil, liquid aminos, and vinegar in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir until smooth and slightly thickened. Toss with the cereal, coconut, and oat flour in a large bowl until the squares are evenly coated. Sprinkle in the tapioca starch and nutritional yeast last, stirring gently to cover the pieces without crushing them. Serve warm.

Makes About 4 1/2 Cups

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