Apple and Pear Old Fashioned

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I grew up in Santa Rosa, ground zero for California’s 2017 historic fire season that wiped out so much of the city, county, and region last year. The neighborhood I grew up in was one of the worst hit. Months later, neighbors are coming back and there is no sound sweeter than that of rebuilding. Shout out to a resilient community.

By chance, I’d visited Santa Rosa the day before the fires, and my parents had sent me home with a huge haul of produce from their garden, as they always do. Apples, blood oranges, Asian pears, pomegranates, figs, Meyer lemons, persimmons, muscat grapes, Persian mulberries, Persian cucumbers, San Marzano tomatoes, sun gold tomatoes, Santa Rosa plums — I could go on and on. I’ve been very lucky to be eating farm to table well before the phrase ever entered the popular vernacular.

With the fire went the beautiful garden that my parents had lovingly built over the decades, and in the haze of the days that followed, I found myself with a bag of fruit that I didn’t want to eat. If I ate the fruit, the last vestiges of the garden I grew up in would vanish forever. But if I didn’t eat the fruit, it would, of course, go bad.

So I infused the fruit in bourbon. A year later, I realize that sounds strange, but in the moment, it felt like the right thing do to. And you know what? That infused bourbon made the best old fashioned I’ve ever had. It was bittersweet, but in a sense, it allowed the fruit to be frozen in time.

The apple and lemon and pear trees may be gone forever, but they can be replanted. They’ll grow and thrive again. And until they do, I have this recipe to remind me that there is joy to be found in all places, no matter the circumstance.

Apple and Pear Old Fashioned

Ingredients for the infused bourbon:

Peel from 1 whole grapefruit
Peels from 2 Meyer lemons
2 pear cores
2 apple cores
One 750-ml bottle bourbon

Ingredients for 1 old fashioned:

1/2 teaspoon sugar
5 dashes of Angostura bitters
Ice
2 ounces infused bourbon
1/2 ounce water
Orange twist, for garnish

1. Make the infused bourbon: Combine all of the ingredients in a jar; cover. Let stand at room temperature for 10 to 12 hours. Strain the bourbon through 
a cheesecloth-lined fine sieve.

2. Make the old fashioned: In a rocks glass, muddle the sugar with the bitters. Fill the glass with ice and stir in the infused bourbon and water. Garnish the drink with an orange twist.

Ramen with Miso Pesto

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I hate cilanto. It tastes awful to me. (Yeah, I’m one of those.) But cilantro is good for you and lately I’ve been trying to sneak it into recipes where I might not notice, like in salsas or chutneys, or this miso pesto tossed with springy noodles.

And you know what? I don’t taste the cilantro. Adapted from Bon Appetit, this pesto is packed with bright, herbaceous flavor, thanks to the addition of spinach, lemon juice, and a healthy dollop of sweet and salty white miso.

These noodles make a perfect warm-weather dinner and they’re a terrific way to get in bunches of greens without even trying.

Ramen with miso pesto

Ingredients:

4 cups baby spinach
2 cups cilantro leaves with tender stems
1 tablespoon white miso
1 small garlic clove
1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt
2 5-ounce packages fresh ramen noodles
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Toasted sesame seeds, for serving

1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil.

2. Meanwhile, puree spinach, cilantro, miso, garlic, olive oil, sesame oil, and lemon juice in a blender until mixture is smooth. Season with salt and pour pesto into a bowl.

3. Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and add to bowl with pesto. Add butter and toss until butter is melted and noodles are coated in sauce.

4. Divide noodles between bowls and top with sesame seeds.

Singaporean-Style Chicken Congee

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Congee, jook, bubur, porridge — whatever you call it, it’s the ultimate comfort food in a bowl, and an endlessly adaptable one at that. Topped with fried shallots, drizzled with sweet and salty soy sauce, served alongside Chinese doughnuts or a soft-boiled egg — the possibilities are endless.

Whenever I travel to Asia, I eat a lot of congee, especially for breakfast. One of my favorite ways to prepare congee is Singaporean-style. This version uses sticky rice as well as short-grain rice for a creamier version, but you can use simply regular short-grain rice for equally delicious results.

Singapore-style chicken congee

Ingredients:

1/2 cup short-grain rice
1/2 cup glutinous white rice
4 cups water
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 pound boneless chicken, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoons Chinese rice wine
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons shredded ginger
2 teaspoons crisp-fried shallots
1 green onion, thinly sliced
Pepper

1. Wash both types of rice, drain, and place in a large saucepan. Add the water and chicken stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer with the saucepan partially covered for about 1 hour, until the rice is very thick and soft, stirring from time to time to keep the rice from sticking. (If the congee is looking too thick, add some water or stock to thin it out.)

2. When the rice has been cooking for 30 minutes, put the chicken in a bowl, sprinkle with cornstarch and toss to coat. Add the soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, sugar, and ginger. Mix and set aside.

3. When the rice is porridge-like, add the chicken and its marinade. Stir well and simmer until the chicken is cooked, 7-10 minutes.

4. Transfer the porridge to serving bowls and top with the crisp-fried shallots, green onion, and pepper to taste. Serve accompanied with more soy sauce for adding to taste.

Apple and Peanut Butter Puff Pastry Tart

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It’s apple season in California and one can only eat (or juice) so many apples plain. What to do? Make dessert out of them, obvs. Here we have peanut butter, puff pastry, and of course, apples. How can you go wrong?

The whole thing comes together in just a few minutes, making this recipe easy enough even for a baking novice like me. It’s all the glory of the west coast’s seasonal produce wrapped up in a buttery, flaky, sweet-and-salty crust. (Sorry, juicer.)

Apple and peanut butter puff pastry tart

1 sheet frozen puff pasty, thawed
Flour, for dusting
6 to 8 tablespoons peanut butter
1 pound apples (about 2 large), peeled, cored, sliced into ½-inch wedges (use any kind but a tart variety, like Granny Smith)
1/4 cup chopped salted, roasted peanuts
2 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
Sugar, for sprinkling
1 egg

1. Preheat oven to 425F. Roll out puff pastry on a floured surface into a long rectangle. Cut in half crosswise (halves should be almost square). Transfer to a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet; prick puff pastry with a fork in several places. Using a small spatula, spread 3 to 4 tablespoons peanut butter in the center of each half to make a 5-inch round. Pile up apples in the center of each puff pastry and top with peanuts. Dot fruit with butter and sprinkle with sugar.

2. Beat egg and 1 teaspoon water in a small bowl, then brush pastry with egg wash and fold up edges around apples, leaving the center open. Press along the folded edges to lightly seal. Brush outside of pastry with egg wash and sprinkle with more sugar. Let chill in freezer 10 minutes.

3. Bake tarts until pastry is golden, 15–20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350° and continue to bake until pastry is golden brown and apples are softened, 20–25 minutes.

Smashed Cucumber Salad with Hot Vinegar

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Cue the global warming think pieces because I can’t remember a summer this consistently hot in my lifetime. It’s only August and I’m sweltering. I’ve been countering the heat with lots of seasonal like watermelon, tomatoes, and of course, cucumbers.

This Southeast Asian-inspired salad is one of my new favorite cucumber salads. Adapted from a Bon Appetit recipe, it takes only minutes to prepare. The crunchy peanuts and tangy vinaigrette add a flavorful punch to this cooling side dish.

Smashed cucumber salad with hot vinegar

Ingredients:

5 Persian cucumbers
Salt
1 serrano chile, sliced
1 garlic clove, smashed
1/2 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup roasted peanuts, for garnish

1. Gently smash cucumbers with a rolling pin just to break open. Tear into irregular 2-inch pieces and place in a medium bowl; season lightly with salt. Let sit at least 20 minutes and up to 1 hour.

2. Meanwhile, whisk chile, garlic, vinegar, fish sauce, and sugar in another bowl.

3. Drain cucumbers, discarding any liquid they have released. Add to bowl with dressing and toss several times to coat. Top with peanuts and serve.