I bet summer is the #1 favorite season for most people. After all it’s associated with enjoyable things like 3 month long school breaks, family vacations, and pool parties. For the food obsessed, summertime is when stone fruits, summer berries, and tomatoes are in season and at their peak of flavor. One of my favorite things about the Pacific Northwest, is the close proximity to produce farms and orchards. Which means…summer berry picking! So two weeks ago I went out to a U-pick strawberry farm and not to sound like a snob, but I don’t think I’ll be going back to the store bought ones.
So what makes a fresh picked strawberry so much better than its grocery store brethren? For starters, they don’t have that thick white-green ring around the leaf top, which is one indicator that it’ll be sour and unripe. (Note: It’s ok for a berry to have a bit of white directly underneath the leaves.) Fully mature and ripe berries will have a mostly solid, ruby red coloring all throughout. This translates into amazingly sweet and juicy fruit! But I get it, it’s not like we all live next to farmers markets or have backyard gardens. After all I grew up in Ohio, surrounded by corn and soybeans fields. It’s not exactly a cornucopia of produce like California is.
Another thing that I learned from my trip is how raspberries get their hollow centers. Obviously I could’ve Googled this, but it’s not something that normally comes to mind when I shop for groceries. So the same strawberry farm also grows raspberries for self-picking. There I learned the secret behind it. For starters, they look like your typical berry when still attached to the stem. However, when you pull on them, the outer fruit shell slides off, leaving behind the core and you with a hollow berry! Mind blown.
Now that summer is here, no one wants to be slaving away in a hot kitchen. When you can be out frolicking through berry fields or grilling with friends. It’s why I love summer recipes as they’re little to no fuss. But incredibly flavorful by taking advantage of seasonal fruit or veg like this grilled pizza does.
Quick intro, this pizza is basically a caprese salad on top of grilled pizza dough. It’s an easy recipe as you only need to make the dough. Heck, you can even skip that step and just buy pre-made dough! I used a variety of heirloom tomatoes to achieve that beautiful rainbow effect, but they also added an amazing depth of flavor and sweetness. So fire up that grill, grab a drink and a few friends to enjoy this pizza party with!
So a guilty pleasure of mine is buying cookbooks. Mainly because I like to drool over the pictures. Because let’s face it, you can easily find so and so’s recipe for a mind blowing hummus somewhere on the Internet. So I obviously don’t buy them for the recipes. But oh how I adore flipping through page after glossy page of artfully arranged pastries and desserts. It’s like walking through an art gallery to me. However, on the rare occasion that I actually attempt to bake a recipe from a cookbook, I like to use these “food porn” photos as a guide. You’d be surprised what clues you can gleam from them, aside from what the finished product looks like ideally.
So this week I tackled Dominque Ansel’s Paris-New York. It’s a take on the classic Paris-Brest pastry, a choux pastry ring filled with praline cream and topped with almonds. Ansel’s version uses peanut butter and dark chocolate fillings to mimic a Reeses Cup, but in a more grown up, sophisticated way.
As experienced as I am, I’m not a pastry master like Dominque Ansel. So I took a few liberties with the recipe and made my own modifications to preserve my sanity. His version is topped with caramel fondant and glazed peanuts. Isn’t it enough that I’m making the pate au choux and two mousse fillings from scratch?! So I substituted dulce de leche for the fondant, and store bought roasted, salted peanuts for the glazed ones. In the end the peanuts were an improvement on the original as it gave a nice salty contrast to the sweet fillings and provided texture as well.
So I need to make another confession. This recipe took a few tries to get right, more so than usual. Which is why this post is so delayed. One attempt I accidentally mixed up the cream and milk between the two mousses and that ruined the texture. The peanut butter mousse came out stiff and un-pipeable, while the chocolate one was too loose. Then in another attempt, I didn’t use piping bags and tips when it was time to pipe the fillings. As a result, they came out as sad, lumpy and uneven blobs, when what I wanted was uniform dollops of mousse. It made me question (aka scream and curse) why I was trying so hard to make something that looked like a fancy donut!
Once everything was said and done, I made a tasty pastry. I guess the moral of this story is, to don’t be too hard on yourself if you screw up or make a mistake. Sometimes it can be fixed, while other times you’ll have to start all over again. Whether you bake for fun or for others, whoever eats it is going to appreciate the effort despite how it looks or tastes. I like to think that if Yeti could eat sweets he’d enjoy the leftovers from my Pinterest fails, but like all other rabbits he’s a pure vegan lol.