Bacon-Wapped Peaches on the Electric Smoker


If this isn’t the easiest summertime recipe ever, I don’t know what is. Summer, of course, is stonefruit season, and peaches go together with smoke and bacon just as magnificently as Peaches goes together with Herb. Simply cut as many peaches as you care to, wrap them each in a slice of bacon, stick them with a toothpick, and splash them with a little balsamic vinegar… or not. Half an hour later, they’re done! [I used a pellet mix of hickory, maple, and cherry; lighter woods (say, other than mesquite) are recommended.]

I served them with a little conserva de pulpo (Galician tinned octopus in olive oil), which I put, in the can, on the smoker for the last 15 minutes of cooking.

UPDATE 24 August 2019: Just got a shipment of fresh peaches from Frog Hollow Farm, and it was a complete game changer. I’m talking the difference between a Toyota RAV4 hybrid and a Lexus RX 450h. Or, if you’re not a car buff, the difference between Mumm DVX and Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes d’Or. In other words, you’ll be starting off at an okay place with the basic recipe, but the upgrade is more than an order of magnitude better.


2-3 firm yellow or white peaches, halved
4-6 strips thick cut bacon (1 per each)
1 tbsp. / 15 ml balsamic vinegar (optional)


Preheat smoker to 325°F / 163°C
Cut peaches in half
Wrap 1 bacon slice per peach half around fruit, secure with toothpick
Drizzle balsamic over peaches and bacon
Place peach halves directly on grill, close lid
Turn peach halves over half way through (15 minutes)
Remove at 30 minutes and let cool slightly

Pear and Bourbon Croustade


That plate will mean something to readers of a certain age…

Working with phyllo dough is like working with horses, musicians, or people of whichever gender(s) you find sexually attractive; it’s kind of a pain in the ass, but if you are patient and let them (mostly) have their way, you can achieve magnificent results.

Full disclosure: This recipe is derived from “Apple and Calvados Croustade” by Leslie Brenner, originally published in the Los Angeles Times on 12 December 2007. Fuller disclosure: it, in turn, was inspired by a recipe for Apple and Armagnac Croustade in the Cafe Boulud Cookbook by Daniel Boulud and Dorie Greenspan. “Okay, enough with the disclosures already” even fuller disclosure: I have interviewed Boulud and Greenspan on multiple occasions, and their recipes and aesthetic are beyond reproach. So why didn’t I just make their croustade? I’m glad I asked me that. Basically, I wasn’t feeling like apples the night I decided to make it, and pears were in season (and cheaper). It seems that the basic croustade shell could be a happy edifice for all sorts of fruit compotes (peaches, mangoes, and papayas would all likely perform well, so long as they weren’t overripe). I might even have a go at carambolastar fruit — some day, so feel free to play.

Feelin’ hot hot hot.

A note on alcohol, fire safety, and children. When I was a kid, helping out one or another of my grandmothers in the kitchen, I would have just adored being part of a flambé. Well, perhaps not the flambé itself, but part of the process. You are the best judge as to whether your children should be permitted in the kitchen — or the county — when you do this. So long as they stand back at least three feet, everything should be hunky dory, and perhaps even better if you say “Don’t tell [other parent or siblings] I let you help me, okay?” That’s the kind of secret kids love to keep, although they may not be successful in so doing. When it comes to fire safety, I had a sheet pan sitting out that I could employ to cover the flambé pan post-haste, breaking the “oxygen” side of the “oxygen-heat-fuel” fire triangle. Lastly, if alcohol is an issue for you, feel free to leave it out. After all, we’re basically putting a fruit compote into a phyllo dough crust, and there are no fewer than 17,583 ways to do that.

Save some for the baker.

Making your own phyllo dough: Don’t. Life is too short.

The apple version of this croustade seems to have originated in the southwest of France (the name derives from the Occitan crostada, literally “crusted”), and this style of dessert is mainly found in Midi-Pyrénées, now part of Occitanie. It may be known also by pastis (which it is called in the Quercy and the Perigord) or tourtière (in the Tarn and the Landes). In the Gers, the croustade is called Pastis Gascon (not to be confused with the aperitif!).

A bowl of Bartletts.


Small fine mesh strainer or sifter for applying powdered sugar
Pastry brush
Silicone mat or parchment paper
Baking sheet
9″ / 225mm tart ring (size may vary some; see below)
Canola oil spray for lubricating tart ring and parchment paper (optional)
Thin, lint-free towel (approx. 18″ x 24″ / 455mm x 600mm)

Mise en place after pears are cooked.


1 stick plus 2 tablespoons (113g + 30g) butter, divided
6-8 Bartlett (or other, except Asian) pears, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/3″ / 8.5mm slices
1 moist, plump vanilla bean
1/4 cup / 50g light brown sugar (you can substitute white sugar; i preferred the brown for an extra “bass note”)
1/3 cup / 75ml vanilla-infused bourbon or pear brandy or pear eau de vie or rum (should be 70 proof / 35% alcohol or higher)
1/2 package of frozen phyllo dough (.5 lb. / 225g, containing about 20 sheets or so), thawed
[NOTE: The phyllo take 2 hours to thaw at room temp or overnight in the fridge]
1/2 cup / 60g powdered sugar (or more, as needed)
1/3 cup / 35g sliced almonds, divided


Peel and cut pears into 1/3″ / 8.5mm slices. Set in bowl and set aside. [Normally, I would have the bowl filled with acidulated water to prevent the pears from going brown, but since you’re going to caramelize them, that’s not an issue.] Cut the vanilla bean lengthwise in half and, using the tip of a small knife, scrape the seeds over the pears and drop the pod on top. Add the 1/4 cup / 50g brown sugar to the pears in the bowl and stir gently.

Melt 4 tablespoons / 55g / one-half stick of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When the butter is foamy, add the pears with the vanilla and the sugar and cook, stirring occasionally and gently, until the pears are lightly caramelized and soft, about 20 to 25 minutes. Add your alcohol of choice and, standing well back while using a long match or grill-style lighter, set it aflame. When the flames subside, turn the pears over in the sauce; when the the alcohol has reduced to a glaze, transfer the pears to a bowl and allow them to cool to room temperature. Remove vanilla bean. [If you started late at night and want to finish up the next morning, as I did, or need to take a break, you can do so here. Just cover the lot with cling film, pop it all in the fridge, and come back when you’re ready to pick up again.]

Center a rack in the oven and heat it to 350°F / 175°C. Grease a 9″ / 225mm tart ring (I used the side of a springform pan) and place it on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment. Melt the remaining butter and set it aside. Unfold the phyllo dough on your work surface and cover it with a damp towel.

Working quickly, remove the top sheet of phyllo (re-covering the remaining sheets), brush it lightly with butter, and dust it with powdered sugar. Gently and loosely crumple the dough into a circle and lay it into the pastry ring. Sprinkle it with a few of the almonds. Repeat this procedure five more times, until you have six buttered, sugared, and almond-sprinkled sheets of phyllo layered in the ring. Do not press them together — let them keep some height.

Spoon the pears into the center of the croustade, leaving a 1-inch / 25mm border bare. Working as you did before, butter, sugar, and crumple two sheets of phyllo, fitting them loosely over the pears. Sprinkle this layer with the remaining almonds, and cover this with another pair of crumpled, buttered, and sugared sheets of phyllo. Drape the phyllo artfully, so it looks good. Don’t feel bad if a phyllo sheet tears; just pick up the remaining part and arrange it adjacent to its sibling. And if it goes completely sideways, as, say, cling film sometimes will, you can make a command decision to ditch the dough or just tuck its shards someplace toward the middle for “texture.”

Slide the croustade into the oven and bake for about 10 to 12 minutes, watching the top of the tart carefully to make certain it doesn’t brown too much (depending on your oven, you may want to rotate it at the halfway mark). When the top is just lightly browned, remove the croustade from the oven.

Increase the oven temperature to 400°F / 200°C. Butter and sugar another pair of phyllo sheets, loosely crumple them and place them side by side on the previous layer to make a light, airy crown. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes, or until lightly browned, then remove it from the oven again.

Butter the last sheets of phyllo and, once again, crumple them to make a crown. Place them on top of the croustade and dust it heavily with some of the remaining powdered sugar. Return it to the oven and bake until the top layer caramelizes evenly, about 5 to 10 minutes. Check the progress of the sugar frequently, because — like toast — it can go from brown to burned in a flash. Pull the croustade from the oven as soon as the top is a golden caramel color and allow it to cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Dust it one last time with a little powdered sugar.

To serve, lift off the tart ring and, using two wide spatulas, transfer the croustade to a serving plate. Serve warm or at room temperature the day it is made, with crème fraîche, very lightly sweetened whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream.

[CODA: I used a silicone basting brush for the butter, and while it was okay, it wasn’t brilliant. A paintbrush-style brush would have worked better. It is apparently customary in France to cut these with a pair of long, sharp scissors. However you decide to do it, the croustade is going to shed some of its golden phyllo. If you’re cutting it up in the kitchen, you can gather the crumbs and arrange them as artfully as possible, or just hide them under the whipped cream. Finally, this is plenty sweet without any help, so feel free to serve it plain.]

It Can Drive You Plum Loco

A Rough Guide to Apricot/Plum Hybrids.

A Rough Guide to Apricot/Plum Hybrids.

Oh, if it were only that simple.

Stonefruit season is upon us (well, for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere), and that generally means a dazzling — if short-lived — array of tasty choices in stores and at farmers’ markets. One of the most puzzling aspects of this seasonal bounty, for many people, is the variety of options found along the apricot-plum continuum. Pluots, plumcots, apriums, apriplums… aren’t they all just different names for the same thing, a cross between an apricot and a plum? Well, yes and no. Yes, they are all the genetically-crossed offspring of the two main fruits, but no, they are NOT all the same.

Ladies and gentlemen, the plumcot.

Ladies and gentlemen, the plumcot.

To find out where all this confusion started, let’s jump into the Wayback Machine, and set the date for, oh, somewhere around the turn of the 20th century. Horticulturist Luther Burbank pulled off a trick that most folks thought was impossible: he managed to cross an apricot with a plum. As noted in the 1909 publication The Scientific Aspects of Luther Burbank’s Work, “[t]he plum-cot, however, has not yet become a fixed variety and may never be, as it tends to revert to the plum and the apricot about equally, although with a tendency to remain fixed, which tendency may be made permanent.” Unfortunately, this slipperiness between reversion and fixation, along with a bad rep among farmers for difficulty in harvesting and shipping, relegated Burbank’s science experiment to the fringes of the commercial spectrum.

The Pluot® (pronounced PLEW-ott, not ploo-OH).

The Pluot® (pronounced PLEW-ott, not ploo-OH).

Fast-forward to the 1970’s, and another gifted horticulturalist, Floyd Zaiger, built upon the foundation of Burbank’s original work to begin to develop the next-generation plumcot. [Actually, it was multiple generations, but that’s a little beside the point.] By varying the mix from Burbank’s 50-50 to approximately 75% plum and 25% apricot, he developed a hardier and tastier fruit. Subsequently, he and his family fine-tuned their efforts, so that the modern version is closer to a 65-35 mix… more or less. To distinguish his cross from Burbank’s less successful effort, his company, Zaiger’s Inc. Genetics, registered the name Pluot® (pronounced PLEW-ott, not ploo-OH) in 1990. [Technically, the name needs to be capitalized and appear with the marca registrada after it.]

The Pluot®'s mirror image, the Aprium®.

The Pluot®’s mirror image, the Aprium®.

Subsequently, Zaiger’s firm flipped the Pluot® formula on its head and produced the Aprium®. While other horticulturists have done work in the same field, their fruits are not legally permitted to be called Aprium® or Pluot®, hence the somewhat inelegant moniker apriplum (more apricot than plum by varying degrees) and the commercial rebirth of the plumcot (more plum than apricot). Zaiger is still alive, incidentally, and is credited with having developed more than 47 varieties of stonefruit that are under cultivation in Calfornia alone. Not content to rest on their laurels, the Zaigers are breeding even more new kinds of hybrids such as NectaPlum® (nectarine/plum), Peacotum® (peach/apricot/plum), Pluerry™ (plum/cherry), white apricots, flat peaches and nectarines, albino selections, and fuzzy plums.

I’m not sure who exactly ever registered the complaint that plums just weren’t fuzzy enough, but if they’re out there, they haven’t long until their dreams come to, er, fruition.

Oh, and just to add to the confusion, certain plums these days are being marketed as “fresh prunes,” a far cry from the recent past, when prunes were thought of as being used primarily for constipation relief — hence the appearance of “dried plums” in the marketplace. It can drive a person plum loco. Or crazy. Or insane. Which are not all exactly the same thing, but — like our stonefruit analogue — they all come from the same basic idea.

Une fleur pour le dîner

Male and Female Squash Blossoms -- photo courtesy

Male and Female Squash Blossoms — photo courtesy

Yesterday, while The Bride was having an excess piece of bone excised from her foot, I whiled away the time by visiting the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Lured by the siren song of fresh aubergines and oh-so-ripe peaches, I stumbled upon a couple of stalls that featured squash blossoms, a short-season summer treat. Normally, I stuff them with goat cheese, batter them, and pan fry them; I was keen to try the Cup4Cup gluten-free flour on my longtime fave. As it turned out, The Bride offered up an equally enticing competitive idea. Guided by Mae West’s belief that “between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before,” I opted for the new recipe (not that either recipe is evil).

Ricotta-Stuffed Squash Blossoms with Tomato Vinaigrette
Recipe adapted from Chi Spacca, Los Angeles, Calif. and reblogged from

Makes 10 squash blossoms (plus about 3/4 cup vinaigrette)
Start to Finish: 25 minutes


Tomato Vinaigrette

Tomato vinaigrette.

Tomato vinaigrette.

¼ cup cherry tomatoes, halved
¼ cup red wine vinegar (I used white Champagne vinegar, which worked fine)
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt

Ricotta-Stuffed Squash Blossoms

Piping bag and squash blossoms.

Piping bag and squash blossoms.

½ cup ricotta
1 tablespoon finely grated Parmesan cheese (I went with about 3 tbsp., which is more to my taste)
2 tablespoons heavy cream (I substituted sour cream and a splash of water; maybe a teaspoon)
Kosher salt
10 large squash blossoms, stems trimmed and stamens removed
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Freshly ground black pepper
Basil leaves, for garnish


1. Make the vinaigrette: In the bowl of a food processor, combine the tomatoes with the vinegar and pulse to combine. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until combined. Season to taste with salt and set aside. [TOTT note: I just put it all in together and pulsed until I got it where I wanted it to be; because I was using a stick blender and bowl attachment, the “drizzling in” bit wasn’t really an option. Worked superbly, and it meant I didn’t have to assemble and clean the big honking Cuisinart.]

2. Make the squash blossoms: Preheat the oven to 350˚. In a medium bowl, mix the ricotta with the Parmesan and cream until just combined. Season the mixture to taste with salt. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag or large Ziplock bag with a small piece of the corner cut off.

Stuffed blossom, not yet tied.

Stuffed blossom, not yet tied.

Stuffed blossom, tied.

Stuffed blossom, tied.

3. Working with one squash blossom at a time, fill the interior cavity of the blossoms with the ricotta mixture until three-quarters full. Twist the petals gently to seal. (Depending on the size of your blossoms, you may have leftover filling.) Arrange the filled blossoms on a small baking sheet, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake the squash blossoms for 2 minutes [TOTT Note: Because I was using the female blossoms, I left them in for about 5-6 minutes.] or until just warmed through.

Ready for the oven.

Ready for the oven.

4. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan set over medium heat, simmer the reserved vinaigrette until warmed through, about 3 minutes, and remove from the heat. [TOTT Note: I thought this was too much of a pain in the ass, so I just transferred the vinaigrette to a microwave-safe bowl and zapped it for 30 seconds on high.]

5. Cover the bottom of a large platter [or your serving plate] with a thin layer of the vinaigrette. (Reserve the remaining vinaigrette for another use.) Arrange the squash blossoms on top of the vinaigrette and garnish with the basil leaves. Serve immediately.

Dinner is served.

Dinner is served.