Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Peach Cheesecake

Peaches are one of my favorite summer fruits. Although they originated in China, Europeans originally thought the peach tree was from Persia which explains the scientific name Prunus persica which later became ‘peach’. From China the peach was taken to India and Western Asia, then by Alexander the Great to Persia. After that, it travelled to the Americas, Northern Europe and finally to the North American colonies in the 17th century.

Interestingly, peaches and nectarines are different cultivars of the same species. Those with white flesh are sweeter and more prized in East Asia; the more acidic, yellow-flesh cultivars are popular in Europe and North America. Peaches are closely related to plums, cherries, apricots and almonds; and within the larger Rosaceae family to roses, apples, pears, strawberries and raspberries.

Although California produces 65% of the peaches in the United States, in my mind the fruit is most closely associated with Georgia, the ‘Peach State’. Over the summer, when we were invited to dinner at the home of a friend originally from Georgia, I used the opportunity to create this peach dessert.

Serves 6


1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup white sugar

12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 tablespoons peach or apricot jam/preserve
1-2 peaches, thinly sliced

1. Preheat oven to 300 F.
2. To make crust, in a large bowl mix graham cracker crumbs, melted butter and sugar.
3. Using your fingers or the back of a spoon, pack the crumb mixture so that it evenly covers the bottom and sides of a 9-inch metal pie tin.
4. To make filling, in another large bowl beat cream cheese, sugar and eggs until smooth. Pour into the pan and bake for 40 minutes or until the surface is very light brown. Let the cheesecake cool for 30-60 minutes at room temperature.
5. Once cooled, gently spread jam/preserve on top of the cheesecake. Arrange peach slices on top. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Tad's Fire Island Salad Nicoise

Last weekend we visited our friend Tad in Fire Island – a magical, summer resort located two hours from New York City. Fire Island is one of several outer barrier islands located on the south shore of Long Island. This sliver of land is 50 kilometers long and between 160-400 meters wide. There are several communities on the island, and a number of them have no roads or ban vehicular traffic during the summer months. The white, sandy beach is the primary attraction, though there is also an active nightlife. There are few hotels on the island, so the vast majority of people stay in private homes that are commonly rented out for the summer.

On Sunday, Tad made one of his signature dishes for lunch – a summery, fresh, salad nicoise. This is the second recipe on my blog inspired by the French Mediterranean classic. For details on its origins see my earlier post.

Serves 3-6

Salad dressing
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1-2 cloves garlic, finely minced
zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
1 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste

12-16 ounces tuna steak
10 ounces mixed greens
1-2 large tomatoes, sliced into sixths
1/8-1/4 lb pitted black olives
3 hard-boiled eggs, sliced into quarters (optional)
4-8 small potatoes, unpeeled, roasted and cooled, sliced into quarters
8-10 anchovy slices (optional)
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Make the salad dressing in a glass jar. Fill with ingredients and shake until well combined. Set aside.
2. Grill the tuna steaks for 2-3 minutes on each side (for rare) and 3-4 minutes on each side (for medium) until the outside is white in color. Remove from heat and cut into 1-inch cubes.
3. On an oblong or rectangular platter, arrange a bed of heaped greens. Spread tomatoes and olives over greens and top with tuna pieces. Arrange eggs, potatoes and anchovies around the perimeter of platter.
4. Dress with salt, pepper and salad dressing.