It really did sound like a good idea. Peaches, mascarpone, zabaglione, caramels, tawny port, savoiardi … what could go wrong? A lot, apparently.

Peach Tiramisu

Peaches and Whiskers Blake Tawny Port

First lesson: do not freeze mascarpone cheese. If you find good, imported Italian mascarpone on sale for 75% off because it expires in a week, DO NOT fill half of your freezer with little blue and white tubs to use at a later date. DO buy all you can use in that week, however. Make a tiramisu a day. Make mascarpone/gorgonzola/walnut loaf and spread it on crusty bread for lunch. Hell, put it on your eggs in the morning if you have to, just use it all up before it expires. If you don’t, you’ll spend more time trying to save it when you defrost it than than a fresh tub of imported cheese is worth.

Second lesson: I’m guessing that Italians don’t make peach and caramel tiramisu for a reason. If they’re going to spend all that time making dessert, they’re going to make something edible, such as the real thing. Someone has surely come up with some good variables out there – which is what I was trying to do yesterday – my experiment just didn’t turn out that way.

I started out defrosting peaches I’d plucked last year from a nearby peach farm. Whenever I defrost a quart of sliced peaches, I’m always left with a good 1 to 1.5 cup of peachey liquid. For pies and sauces, I’ll use this “juice” instead of any water the recipe calls for. (Kitchen Tip: If it’s not needed for the recipe at hand, I’ll freeze it in an ice cube tray, perhaps plop a frozen blueberry or two into each cube, and save it for some yummy summery drink, or, preferably, to keep sparkling white wine cool on a too-hot day.) For my peach tiramisu experiment, I used a cup of the peach juice instead of coffee, melted a handful of caramels in it to add flavor and thicken it up a bit, and topped it off with 1/4 cup of Australian tawny port (in place of  the amaretto I use in true tiramisu – though the amaretto would have worked nicely with the peaches too). The concoction tasted good enough to drink — so far so good, I thought, as I poured it over the savoiardi cookies (aka Ladyfingers) — I mean, doesn’t it look like it should have worked?

Peach Tiramisu

Savoirdi (Ladyfinger) Cookies

Peach Tiramisu

Caramels in Peach Juice

Peach Tiramisu

So far so good with the caramel, peach, and port infused savoiardi, right?

Even the zabaglione egg cream thickened up to perfection:

Peach Tiramisu

And that’s where I ran into trouble. You see, frozen mascarpone turns grainy due to its high fat content, and defrosting doesn’t undo the damage. A sample tasted like sweetened sawdust. Once on my tongue, the little globules of hardened cream melted, but I didn’t think cautioning my Mother’s Day guests to retain each bite of dessert in their mouth while the custard turned creamy would work out so well, so I tried to “fix” the mascarpone. First, I beat it with the Kitchen Aid’s beater paddle. Nope. Then the whisk. Still grainy. Tried my hand-held beating wand and found myself teetering in three-strikes-you’re-out territory. Then I laid my eyes on my Vitamix. A-HA! If this beauty could pulverize kale and chard and dandelion greens into velvety green liquid for my breakfast each day, surely it could silken up a tub of grainy mascarpone, couldn’t it?

Apparently not. It tried, though, I’ll certainly give the Vitamix that, and it made sure the entire household knew how hard it was trying by the godawful noise it created while doing it. As I continued shoving the cheese into the blades with the Vitamix-provided tamper, the blender’s valiant effort paid off in still-grainy but potentially edible mascarpone.

Between the beating and the whisking and the Vitamixing, I lost, oh, about an hour trying to save the cheese – a good part of that trying to dislodge it from the blender’s blades. I finally combined the mascarpone with the zabaglione, egg whites and vanilla, spread it on top of my savoiardi cookies, and placed it in the refrigerator to set overnight. Meanwhile, the peach sauce (peaches, peach juice, sugar and corn starch) had cooked to perfection on the stove top.

So last night, after a feast of gourmet pizza (Mom’s request) and spinach salad, I brought out the dessert, placing a nice-sized square in each bowl and topping it with warm peach sauce. The peach sauce was truly fantastic, but the custard was still grainy, and the cookies had disintegrated to mush. One guest outright refused even a taste. Okay… he doesn’t eat dessert often, I can count him out. Another guest didn’t want more than a couple of bites – and he loves his desserts. Four of us ate full servings, but only one said she’d eat it again. (Thanks Mom – always a trooper!)

Maybe we were simply too full. Or maybe the dessert really did turn out that badly. Whichever the case, I will: A.not freeze mascarpone again, and: B. stick to regular tiramisu, at least when preparing for guests.

The good news? I have the rest of that bottle of port to help me get over this travesty!

The Potato Salad Fiasco

August 6, 2010

You probably think that anyone could make potato salad. I am proof that that this is not true. And since I promised to share both my triumphs and my travesties…

Last week, a member of my writing critique group, Writers of the Round Table, suggested we hold our meeting sailing around Fernridge Lake on her family’s boat. Lovely, lovely idea. As usual, we all brought food and ideas to share. I barbecued some bread and decided I’d do away with a must-use-soon bag of potatoes and make potato salad, a dish I’d never made. (First mistake?) It sounded easy and quick and summery… perfect sailboat picnic food. As one of our members won’t eat mayonnaise she can see, I decided that I’d make it mayo-less. (Second mistake?)

I started with the obvious: boiling chopped potatoes. Regular old store-bought russet potatoes. (Third mistake?) After 15 minutes, they still seemed hard, so I set the timer for a five more minutes. (Need I keep counting mistakes?) By the time I strained them, they looked more like mashed potatoes. I immediately ran gallons of cold water over the colander, which sent a good percentage of my salad down the drain. Perhaps I should be thankful for this.

For the garnishes, I consulted neither cookbook nor internet for instruction or inspiration. Why? Because it was potato salad, and shouldn’t I be able to make something I’ve eaten a thousand times? (I’m not calling this a mistake!)

First, I sprinkled on some salt and doused the potatoes in olive oil, added grilled red onions and minced parsley fresh from the garden.

Grilled Red Onions

Minced Parsley

Taste Test 1: Hmmm…. The onions (spritzed with olive oil and grilled) were great, but the potatoes tasted watery. And their texture was off–grainy, even. What did I do? Why, I added some fix-all (aka olive oil). Of course, I’d already planned on adding some olive oil, but I added some extra, just in case.

Taste Test 2: Still missing something… like flavor.  I sautéed a good number of sliced garlic cloves and fresh rosemary sprigs in more olive oil.

Sauteed Garlic and Rosemary


At this point I brought out the big guns: caramelized onions. I can now assure you that there is at least one savory dish in this world that can not be saved by a healthy dose of Vidalia onions sautéed it in butter and brown sugar.

I tried to get my husband’s opinion. He refused to touch it. I insisted, at which point he was kicking and screaming to GET OUT of the kitchen.


New problem: What was I going to do with a vat of insipid potato salad? I brought it to the sailboat-meeting anyway. As long as I kept a well-placed hand over the pool of oil at the bottom of the serving dish, it didn’t look so bad…

Potato Salad Anyone?

My friends were kind. One even said it was good, but he’s a really nice guy. Let’s just say I came home with a lot of leftovers. At least the lake was beautiful.

Sailing on Fernridge Lake

I ate potato/onion mush for days. I even tried pawning some off on my mother, burying its hideousness under the sheen of chicken chunks sautéed in olive oil and garlic. Perhaps too much garlic; definitely too much oil. Mom and I echoed each other’s burps all afternoon.

What would I do differently should I ever make potato salad again? Start with better-tasting potatoes, probably red and preferably homegrown. Add some salt to the boiling water. Get creative with the “sauce” by adding some mustard, a splash of white wine, and perhaps some balsamic vinegar. And I bet bacon would have helped.

There were still remnants in the refrigerator a week later. When Stefano, who scours the refrigerator hourly for something to eat, still refused to touch it, and I couldn’t bring myself to finish off the last bowlful, it landed in the compost pile. Maybe the worms will eat it.

P.S. Don’t tell my husband, but, in some sense, he’ll be eating my potato salad next year after I use that compost on my tomatoes!