It’s Summertime…and life is just peachy.

Summer for me means long days in a hot bakery (well someone’s gotta do it), but it also means (thankfully) a bounty of gorgeous, sun-drenched, field-ripened stone fruit.  At the local farmer’s market, I’m like a kid in a candy store skipping from stand to stand tasting the best of summer produce.  While I love berries, it’s the dizzying array of peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, and cherries that really gets my creative juices flowing.   Because stone fruit has a longer shelf life (that is if you don’t devour everything in a couple of days), I can afford to buy a few of each variety and take my time experimenting–such as turning fresh slices of plum into a sweet focaccia.

Peaches were the inspiration for my next project–two cocktails that made me think of long hot summers, cool drinks…and Paul Newman.  Well, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward in that southern classic The Long Hot Summer (1958) to be exact.

The first cocktail, which I’m calling Quick’s Peach (after Newman’s character Ben Quick), is a smokey blend of bourbon and Earl Grey tea.  The second, Clara’s Temptation (after Woodward’s Clara Varner) is a lighter concoction of vodka and St. Germaine.   Both cocktails feature a homemade vanilla bean-infused peach puree, topped off with ginger beer.

Quick’s Peach

  • 1.5 oz. Bourbon
  • 1.5 oz. Earl Grey Tea, chilled
  • 2 oz. Peach Puree*
  • .5 oz. Lemon Juice
  • 3 oz. Ginger Beer, chilled
  • sliced peach and fresh mint to garnish

Combine the bourbon, tea, peach puree, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker with 3-4 ice cubes.  Shake to blend then strain into a chilled martini glass.  Top with ginger beer and garnish with slice peach and fresh mint sprig.

Quick's Peach
Quick’s Peach

Clara’s Temptation

  • 1 oz. Vodka
  • 1 oz. St. Germaine Liqueur
  • 2 oz. Peach Puree*
  • 3 dashes of Rhubarb Bitters
  • .5 oz. Lemon Juice
  • 3 oz. Ginger Beer, chilled
  • fresh cherry for garnish

Combine the vodka, St. Germaine, peach puree, rhubarb bitters, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker with 3-4 ice cubes.  Shake to blend, then strain into a chilled martini glass.  Top with ginger beer and garnish with a cherry.

*Peach Puree

Simmer 3 cups of sliced fresh peaches with about 1/2 cup water, 1/4 cup sugar and one vanilla bean (split and scraped) until soft.  Remove the vanilla pod, puree the peaches until smooth, then strain and pour into a mason jar.  Return the vanilla pod to steep.

Now if you’re looking for a summer dessert to really wow your friends, my Pistachio Pavlova served with whipped cream and stone fruit sautéed in browned butter and vanilla bean will do the trick.   The pastel green meringue is featherlight and crisp on the outside and delicately chewy on the inside–the perfect counterpart for all that luscious fruit and cream.

Pistachio Pavlova

  • 6 Egg Whites, room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cup Sugar
  • pinch of Sea or Kosher Salt
  • 2-3 drops Green Food Coloring (gel)
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • 1 1/2 tsp. White or Champagne Vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. Cornstarch
  • 1 cup Pistachio Nut, ground

In a mixer fitted with a whip attachment, beat the whites with a pinch of salt on medium high speed until very foamy.   Gradually beat in the sugar about a tablespoon at a time.  Beat on high until the whites are stiff and glossy.  Reduce the speed to medium and add in the green coloring.  Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the vanilla and vinegar by hand.  Sift in the cornstarch and sprinkle in about 2/3 cup of the ground nuts.  Gently fold into the meringue.  Using a 2 oz. scoop or a soup spoon, portion out 12 mounds of meringue onto two half sheet pans lined with parchment paper (dab a tiny bit of meringue on the corners to “glue” down the paper).  Create a little well in the center of each meringue then sprinkle on the remaining ground pistachio.  Bake meringues at 280°F for about 40-45 mins., until the meringues are dry enough to lift easily off the parchment, but are still slightly soft in the middle.   If the meringues seem a little too soft or moist in the center, leave the meringues to dry out  a bit more in the oven with the heat off for another 10 mins. or so.

Browned Butter Stone Fruit

  • 4 Tbsp. Butter
  • 2-3 Peaches, Nectarines and/or Plums, pitted and sliced
  • 1/2 cup Cherries, pitted and halved
  • 3 Tbsp. Raw (Turbinado) Sugar
  • pinch of Sea or Kosher Salt
  • 1/2 Vanilla Bean, split and scraped

In a large sauté pan on medium heat, cook the butter until it is a nutty brown, then add the rest of the ingredients.  Sauté until the fruit is just tender.

To assemble, place a small dollop of sweetened whipped cream on the plate to keep the meringue from sliding.  Top the meringue with a generous heaping spoonful of whipped cream, then spoon on the browned butter stone fruit, drizzling some of the sauce around the plate.

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Father’s Day

It doesn’t take Father’s Day to have me thinking of my late dad.  He’s with me on a daily basis.  I get my curiosity and appreciation of food from him, as well as my creativity and work ethic–all things essential to being a pastry chef.  He passed away long before I began my career in the culinary world, so he missed out on all the fun, all the highs and lows, all the fruits of my labor.  And he would’ve loved it all, would’ve gotten a kick out of my occasional television appearances, the extravagant gingerbread showpieces I conjured up for the holidays, the beautiful wedding cakes.  Even before I got to do the showy stuff, for sure Dad would’ve parked himself at the kitchen table to watch me practice butchering endless chickens, encouraging me to perfect my knife skills.

From beginning Dad was my biggest cheerleader, no matter what the endeavor.  All he wanted was for me to give it my best shot, even if I failed–and I did that quite often, especially with my early baking experiments, like my unfortunate “microwave” zucchini bread (the name alone says it all).  Poor Dad gamely took a bite out of that pathetically pale, rubbery, barely edible bakery disaster and tried to convince me it “wasn’t that bad,” then kindly suggested I should probably avoid “baking” anything in the microwave in the future.  He even came to my rescue when I ran short of frosting to finish my first coconut layer cake (for the record you really need two cans of frosting to properly fill and frost a 9 inch layer cake!), whipping out a tub of Cool Whip from the refrigerator to help fill in the gaps.  Dad was crafty that way.

So on this Father’s Day, in honor of the man who instilled in me a sense of adventure and taught me how to roll with the punches, I’m making my Browned Butter Miso Coconut Mochi Cake.  I first made this cake when I was in Maine, to celebrate my friend Brenda’s birthday.  But I think Dad would’ve really loved it too, particularly given his affinity for Japanese cuisine (Dad was born in Japan).  It has all of his favorite elements–umami from the miso and browned butter, the sweet coconut flavor and the tender, chewy texture of mochi.  And, I guarantee it’s a vast improvement from my canned frosting/Cool Whip creation!

Happy Father’s Day!

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Browned Butter Miso Coconut Mochi Cake

Yield:  One 13″x9″ pan

  • 4 oz. unsalted butter (1 stick)
  • 2 Tbsp. miso paste
  • 1 box Mochiko Sweet Rice Flour (1 lb)
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 cans (14 oz.) coconut milk
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp. dark rum
  • 1 cup sweet flaked coconut

On medium heat cook the butter until it is a nutty brown color.  Remove from the heat and stir in the miso paste until fully incorporated, then cool the mixture to room temperature.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the rice flour, sugar and baking powder, creating a well in the center.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, eggs, vanilla and rum, then pour it into the center of the well.  Whisk the dry and wet ingredients together until just mixed, then stir in the butter mixture and coconut.

Pour the batter into a greased 13″x 9″ pan and bake in a preheated 350°F oven for about 55-60 mins.  Cool completely before dusting with powdered sugar.

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Summer Travels…or Mainely Lobsters and Rhubarb

I fell in love with Maine on my first trip to Portland three summers ago.  A very good friend and former pastry assistant of mine, Renee, moved back home with her boyfriend Jesse (now husband) after a wild, eventful ride through the rough and tumble culinary world of San Francisco and had finally, after about seven years, lured me up to Maine for a visit.  It was one of the most enjoyable, relaxing, fun vacations I’d had in years–full of great company, sensational regional cuisine, gorgeous scenery and kayaking.

Needless to say, I was hooked.  And so began my yearly summer sojourn to Maine, where for a week my friends, the Lohreys and Landrys, indulge me with the best food and drink the state has to offer–which invariable involves copious amounts of craft beer, seafood, ice cream, and this year in particular, rhubarb picked fresh from the garden.

I admit, prior to visiting Maine, I never really cared much for lobster.  In culinary school I learned how to dispatch a live one by plunging the tip of a chef’s knife between its head and body and turn it into Lobster Americain.  Occasionally, I’d have it wok-fried in garlic and fermented black sauce at a Chinese banquet.  But it was never my crustacean of choice.   Of course, now I know why.  I’d never had a Maine lobster, which is arguably the finest lobster one can pluck from the ocean. The meat is sweet and favorable, the texture divine.

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I credit the Landrys for turning me into a lobster snob–I won’t even bother eating anything other than the Maine variety now.   But when you have something this perfect, it would be criminal to not just to let it shine.  The most traditional (and many would insist the best) way to have Maine lobster is steamed whole, served with drawn butter, which is how it’s done at the Landry home near Farmington.  It’s a roll-up-your-sleeves, messy shell-cracking endeavor (I’m still getting the hang of the technique), but well worth the effort.

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Now no Lobsterpalooza (it’s what I’ve called this latest trip) is complete, however, without a few lobster rolls.  I eat at least three on every visit, so after three trips to Maine, it’s safe to say I’ve become somewhat of a  connoisseur.  I’ve gone to the recommended places like Red’s Eats in Wiscasset and The Lobster Shack at Two Lights, but my favorites so far are the lobster rolls at Eventide and High Roller in Portland–both of which take creative spins on the classic.   At Eventide, the lobster rolls are bathed in browned butter and served on a pillowy soft Chinese-style steamed bun.

Lobster Roll at Eventide
Lobster Roll at Eventide

At the High Roller food cart,  I had mine fully-loaded with crisp smokey bacon, fresh avocado and a drizzle of lime mayo.  Renee had hers drizzled with jalapeño mayo.

High Roller
High Roller

The thing I’ve discovered about eating a lot of lobster in a short period of time is that you won’t get bored or “lobstered out” if you change it up a bit and have it in different forms–whole steamed one day, truffled lobster mac ‘n cheese the next– so you hopefully won’t end up feeling like Julia Roberts (Daisy) in Mystic Pizza (1988).

Summer is not only the best time to indulge in Maine lobster, but it’s also the perfect time (since the season is short) to savor fresh field-grown rhubarb in all its glory.  Rhubarb is featured on practically every menu this time of year, from fine dining establishments to truck stop diners.  On this trip, I’ve enjoyed an expertly crafted rhubarb cocktail at Back Bay Grill, a deliriously melt-in-your-mouth flaky, buttery rhubarb galette at The Standard Baking Company, a delightful rhubarb pie ice cream at Catbird Creamery, and an impossibly light and airy donut with tangy rhubarb compote at The Well at Jordan’s Farm.

And if this wasn’t enough, Renee had rhubarb growing in her backyard, just begging to be harvested and turned into something delicious.  After a couple minutes of brainstorming, and perusal of her refrigerator, we came up with Lemon Ginger Rhubarb Swirl Ice Cream–a rich vanilla bean custard base infused with fresh lemon zest and ginger root, swirled with a sweet, tangy rhubarb compote. While Renee cooked down the diced rhubarb with a little sugar and tapioca starch, I steeped lots of freshly grated ginger root and lemon zest in a mixture of hot milk and heavy cream, then used the infused liquid to make a custard ice cream base.  Everything was chilled overnight.  The next morning we spun the ice cream base and folded the rhubarb compote into the soft frozen custard.

Our Catbird Creamery-inspired creation provided the perfect sweet ending to yet another spectacular culinary adventure through Maine.

Lemon Ginger Rhubarb Ice Cream

Yield: about 2 1/2 qts.

  • 6-8 stalks of rhubarb, washed and diced
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp. tapioca starch
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger (peeled)
  • 2 Tbsp. lemon zest
  • 2 tsp. vanilla paste or 1/2 vanilla bean, split & scraped
  • 10 yolks
  • 1 cup + 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. sea or kosher salt

Combine the rhubarb, sugar and tapioca starch in a medium saucepan with a splash of water.  Cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally for about 8-10 mins., until the rhubarb is soft but still chunky.  Cool the mixture to room temperature then transfer it into an airtight container and chill in the refrigerator.

For the custard base, heat the milk and cream in a heavy bottom pot to scalding.  Stir in the ginger and lemon zest and let it steep in the hot mixture for about 10-15 mins. covered.  *If you’re using vanilla bean instead of vanilla paste add it to the pot now.  Meanwhile, whisk the yolks, sugar, vanilla paste, and salt together until pale yellow.  Temper some of the hot liquid into the yolks, then whisk all of the tempered egg mixture into the rest of the hot liquid.  Cook the custard base on medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until it is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon.  Immediately remove the custard from the heat and strain into a bowl set over ice, stirring occasionally to cool down the mixture.  Chill the custard for several hours or overnight.

Freeze the custard base according to your ice cream machine instructions.  Swirl and fold the chilled rhubarb compote into the soft frozen ice cream, then freeze to set.