Greatfruits

Life is like a box of CSA produce: You never know what you’re gonna get.

We all know what to do when life gives you lemons, but what about grapefruits? Sure, you could give them the same treatment and turn them into grapefruit-ade, but it doesn’t have the same kind of ring. Simply topped with a sprinkle of sugar and brûléed for breakfast is a nice treat, but it feels like so much work to painstakingly dig out each little segment first thing in the morning. When all I want to do is just go back to bed, that level of effort is really asking a lot.

Best suited for advanced preparation, they’re a perfect match with chia pudding, soaked overnight and ready to enjoy no matter when the alarm clock rings. As both an ingredient and topper, the excess grapefruits infuse the whole elegant assembly with bright, citrus flavor. Perfumed with floral notes from orange blossom water and the distinctly spicy taste of cardamom, the pudding itself contains volumes of rich, complex flavor that far exceed the average bowl of oats.

Simple grapefruit supremes would be a fine topper for a simpler finish, but they take on greater substance when gently gelled with agar, straddling the line between jelly and compote. Full of zest to spark your enthusiasm for a fresh new day, grapefruit will suddenly become the shining star amongst the predictable array of seasonal produce picks.

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Totopos por Todos

In the same spirit of equally amorphous concepts like salads and curries, basically anything you throw on top of tortilla chips can be considered nachos. In fact, many further blur the lines with alternative bases like pita chips or potato chips, deftly dancing across cultural boundaries with ease.

Unlike the aforementioned culinary abstractions, nachos can trace their lineage directly to one single innovator. Mr. Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, maître d’ of Club Victoria in Piedras Negras, Mexico was not even a chef, but a tirelessly hospitable host. When, in 1943, a group arrived at the restaurant and the cook was no where to be found, he leapt into action. Piling up what scant ingredients he could find, the towering plate of tortilla chips topped with sliced jalapeños and melted cheese was an instant hit. Named for the man of the moment, the Nachos Especiales, would forever change the way that Mexicans, Americans, and the world at large, ate their chips.

There’s no one “right” or “best” way to make nachos; they’re the ultimate blank slate, infinitely adaptable to your personal tastes. Though it defies the conventionally accepted definition, even the chips are variable, if you’d rather a base of fries or tots. Personally, I must insist that some form of cheese or queso is mandatory, but from there, just a few ideas for toppings include…

  • guacamole or diced avocado
  • pico de gallo
  • shredded lettuce or cabbage
  • fresh spinach
  • fresh or grilled corn
  • roasted red peppers
  • halved cherry or grape tomatoes
  • whole pinto or black beans
  • re-fried beans
  • sliced black olives
  • fresh or pickled jalapeño
  • fresh or pickled red onions
  • meatless grounds
  • pulled jackfruit
  • crumbled tofu
  • sour cream or cashew crema
  • hot sauce
  • pepitas
  • scallions
  • cilantro
  • fresh lime juice

That’s not even the half of it. Think about the possibilities for a breakfast variant, and even sweet options for dessert nachos! Given the endless choices, what are your go-to’s?

Broadly Speaking

What’s in a name? Broad beans are a confounding classification that encompasses a whole swath of the legume population. Some use the term interchangeably, referring to butter beans and lima beans as if they were the same thing. Defying all rational definition, in a sense, they are! Why is it that lima beans tend to get the short end of the stick, the bane of many picky childrens’ existence, while butter beans come with an air of whole luxury? Words do matter, more than one might want to admit.

Different varieties for each title exist, but the whole naming convention is further complicated by location and appearance. In the south, you’re more likely to see butter beans on the menu, but if they’re younger and thus greener, they’re the spitting image of what one might otherwise refer to as lima beans. It’s the same, but different.

If we could forget about names for a minute, I truly believe that the smaller, greener subspecies would have a fighting chance at mainstream acceptance. Tender, but with the same toothsome bite as edamame, they’re textually unparalleled in the bean kingdom. That’s especially true if you treat them properly; canned or over-boiled beans are likely the root of cause of such historical disregard, but fresh or frozen, you’re talking about a whole different hill of beans.

Pan-fried with a generous glug of fresh pressed olive oil, they finally live up to the promise of buttery taste, too. Blistered over scorching hot temperatures, a literal flash in the pan, their skins become crisp, adding a whole new dimension of texture to the plate. Simply prepared, with a touch of garlic, salt, and pepper, you could easily eat them straight, as an entree over mashed potatoes, sprinkled over salads, or served up with bar nuts as a hot new beer snack.

This same treatment works for just about any bean, including but not limited to chickpeas, fava beans, and even lentils. Now, don’t even get me started about the additional complication of the terms “pole beans” and “butter peas.”

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The Duchess and the Pea

What could be more proper than a decorous English tea sandwich? Filled daintily but not overstuffed, crusts carefully removed, each mouthful is an architectural feat, rendered in an edible medium. History has spared no detail on this stately creation, giving full attribution to Anna Maria Stanhope, seventh Duchess of Bedford, who felt the sharp jab of hunger midday, while dinner was still many hours off. A well-mannered lady could not simply pilfer scraps from the kitchen- Heavens, no! Fashioning these elegant little two-bite affairs to serve with tea, no one needed suffer the embarrassment of an uncontrolled appetite in civilized company.

Why, then, has it taken so long for contemporary cooks to realize the potential of another British staple, the English pea, when crafting a perfectly proper filling? Tender, sweet green pearls that sing of spring’s bounty, they’re an even more esteemed asset than the common cucumber.

While we’re on the subject of names and origins, I must wonder why there isn’t more tea involved in a rightful tea sandwich? Of course, like coffee cake, the moniker intones what should be served with the food at hand, but I find myself unsatisfied with that explanation. In my remodeled bread building, stunning butterfly pea tea powder grants lightly tangy cream cheese an arresting blue hue.

In less formal settings, the pea spread could become a dip for any variety of fresh vegetable crudites, crackers, or chips. In fact, it could be swirled through strands of al dente spaghetti for a savory seasonal treat, too. However, something about the full combination of elements, complete with effortlessly yielding soft sandwich bread, really makes it shine. Do give it a go; it’s only proper to try.

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Watch the World Burn

It’s the contrarian in me, but I must admit, I love a recipe that’s meant to go wrong. Flawed by design, it tells you right in the title that it won’t turn out according to standard procedure. Burnt Basque Cheesecake has been high on my list for just that reason. Baking to golden brown perfection is not the goal here: You want to push it further, right over the edge of the cliff into dark, smoldering, ashes.

Okay, the results aren’t that dire, but the top is definitely edging into “blackened” territory, which I usually take as a euphemism for being exceedingly overcooked. It’s a good thing, in this case, to stand back and watch the world burn- Or at least, the contents of your springform pan. That darkly lacquered surface contains volumes of flavor, intense and arresting, like the slightly bitter edge to properly caramelized sugar. It takes the bite out of strong sweetness, creating harmonious balance throughout the dessert.

Inside lies soft, tender custard, gently tangy like any proper cheesecake filling. If anything, the extreme external heat keeps the center even more pillow-like, cooking it to the bare minimum necessary to set and slice. It’s not a classic beauty, but quite possibly the best kind of cheesecake, for those who care more about flavor than shallow aesthetics.

Don’t be afraid to turn up the heat and immolate your hard work in that fiery oven. This particular baptism by fire isn’t a painful lesson to learn.

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The Naked Truth

Whether you’re trying to woo over a new crush or romancing your soul mate, the best valentines are given naked.

No, wait, don’t take that statement literally. DON’T strip down to your birthday suit without a clear invitation, and ideally, in private, please! What I meant to say is that you should give your lover your bare, unvarnished feelings, fully exposed and vulnerable. The greatest gift is the simple truth, which also happens to be what you’ll find within the powdered peanut butter from Naked Nutrition.

Naked PB has only one ingredient: Powdered peanut butter made from slow-roasted, non-GMO, US-grown peanuts. It’s touted primarily as a lower calorie, higher protein alternative to the traditional spread, but that emphasis on quality makes it a superlative inclusion in truly decadent treats.

Pure and to the point, you could reconstitute it with a touch of water for tremendous sandwich schmear. Unlike other, lesser peanut butter powders, Naked PB mixes smoothly without clumps. Slap it on bread with some jam for an upgrade on the common sandwich. Loosen it with more liquid to use it as a dip with apples, strawberries, or even celery, if you’re feeling so bold.

Proving that there’s no need to sacrifice flavor for health, these triple chocolate peanut truffles layer on bold, nutty flavor without refined sugar or artificial additives. In fact, the nutritional stats could rival that of the better energy bars on the market, minus the overblown wholesome hype. These are dark, decadent, full-bodied chocolate treats, that just happen to be better for you.

Starting with a foundation of soft, chewy nougat, you can leave the candy thermometers behind and get straight to the good stuff. Naked PB joins forces with crunchy peanut butter and maple syrup for a toothsome, irresistible texture. Thick, sticky date-based caramel stacks the deck in your favor, towering over any store-bought sweets that might otherwise beckon. Seal the deal with some skinny dipping in dark chocolate, because even when it’s enrobed, it’s still boldly unvarnished.

Even if it’s not for Valentine’s Day, or not for anyone but yourself, get naked this year. It just feels better to be au naturel.

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