Category Archives: fruit

359: Mapled, Baked Lady Apples

lady apples

The center of a tiny, tart lady apple comes out with two quick scoops of a melon baller. For a full dessert, you’ll want two or three apples per person. Serve them with good cinnamon ice cream or creamy maple-flavored yogurt, with any leftover maple butter drizzled over the top.

Baked, mapled lady apples

Mapled, Baked Lady Apples
Recipe 359 of 365

Scoop the insides out, being careful not to poke through the apples’ bases. Fill each apple with a lump of butter, sprinkle with cinnamon, and fill the apples with good maple syrup. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes at 350 degrees, or until soft.

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334: Save this for a Sunday

Cider-Braised Pork 1

Cider-Braised Pork with Apple-Onion-Dijon Sauce (PDF)
Recipe 334 of 365

Serve tender slices of braised pork as is, or over a bed of mashed potatoes or couscous, which will sop up the sweet, rich braising liquid.

TIME: 45 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 servings

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 (2-pound) pork shoulder roast, netting intact
1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil, plus more, if needed
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 small leeks, halved lengthwise and cut into half moons
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 pound small yellow pearl onions, peeled*
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups hard apple cider
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and cubed
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Heat a large, heavy, ovenproof soup pot or Dutch oven (with a tight-fitting lid) over medium-high heat. Place the flour on a small plate. Season the flour liberally with salt and pepper. Pat the pork dry, then coat it on all sides with the flour mixture.

When the pot is hot, add the peanut oil, and sear the pork (leaving the string on) until nicely browned on all sides, about 3 to 4 minutes per side, wiping the pot out and adding more oil if needed. Transfer the pork to a plate, and carefully wipe the pot clean with paper towels. Reduce the heat to medium.

Add the olive oil to the pot, then the leeks, and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add the garlic, peeled onions, and thyme, and season with salt and pepper.

Veg for cider-braised pork

Cook and stir for 2 minutes, then nestle the pork in between the vegetables. Add apple cider until it comes about halfway up the side of the pork, cover the pot, and transfer it to the oven. Braise for 1 hour, then turn the pork over, add the apples, and braise for an additional 45 minutes.

Transfer the pork to a cutting board, cover with foil, and let rest. Meanwhile, return the braising liquid to the stovetop, and simmer for 10 minutes, until considerably thickened. Stir in the mustard, then season to taste with salt and pepper.

Remove the strings from the pork, slice it, and serve immediately, topped with apples, vegetables, and braising liquid.

*To peel onions, trim off the root strings with a small knife, and score the bottom of the onion with a small “x.” Cook in boiling water for 1 minute, then refresh under cold water, and peel.

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Figs and Verjus

Sweet Cress and Fruit Salad with Grapefruit-Verjus Vinaigrette close

Last weekend, at a wine tasting party, I met a woman named Barb over the cheese plate. We chatted about the merlot as we cleaved moist slabs of Red Darla and crumbling Black Creek Buttery off the serving platter with small knives. I picked up a small, ripe fig and absentmindedly opened it, stuffed it with soft, fresh goat cheese, and popped it into my mouth.

Barb – I think it was her – looked at me in confusion. “What was that?” she asked. She’d never seen a fig before, and admitted that she’d assumed they were some sort of teardrop-shaped grape.

I picked up another one, rolling it around between my thumb and forefinger to show her its natural softness. I picked the stem off, held the fruit between the fingertips of both hands, and broke it open with my two thumbnails, revealing the nest of pink flesh and white seeds inside. She looked closer. “You can eat that?” You can, and you should, I said. I taught her how to stuff them with cheese, and drifted along to another conversation.

Ten minutes later, I heard someone squeal with delight from across the room. There was Barb, still standing at the cheese table, showing a gaggle of forty-something women how to do the same. I smiled, happy to see the experience propagate, listening to them coo over the figs like they were babies.

This morning, I found ripe, sweet, healthy figs at the market, and brought them home for lunch. I nestled them into a salad, and topped them with a vinaigrette made with the tangy, slighly sour verjus I brought home from the wine tasting.

Verjus is the unfermented juice of unripe grapes. You use it like you would a vinegar, for dressings or marinades, or even for poaching fish or chicken. But though I’ve tasted it at restaurants, it’s as new to me in the kitchen as the figs were to Barb; I think I bought it because I wanted to remind myself how many discoveries still await every cook, no matter how experienced.

As I ate, enjoying how the small fig seeds made tiny, weak pops between my teeth compared to the assertive crunch of the granola I sprinkled on top at the last minute, I thought of Barb, and hoped she’d find more figs.

Sweet Cress and Fruit Salad with Grapefruit-Verjus Vinaigrette top

Sweet Cress and Fruit Salad with Grapefruit-Verjus Vinaigrette (PDF)
Recipe 303 of 365

Here’s a vinaigrette recipe that has lots of sass – for kick, it relies on verjus, plus some of the grapefruit vinegar I found recently at Trader Joe’s. Use it to dress a salad with soft, sweet leaves, figs, and the first small oranges of the season, so there’s a contrast to the sharpness of the vinaigrette.

TIME: 10 minutes
MAKES: 4 servings

1 bunch watercress or Bibb lettuce
8 small, ripe Mission figs (the purple kind), sliced
2 Satsuma tangerines, sliced or sectioned
2 teaspoons grapefruit vinegar
2 tablespoons verjus
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Granola, croutons, nuts, and/or crumbled bleu or goat cheese, for garnish

Arrange the watercress, figs, and tangerines on salad plates.

In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar, verjus, and mustard to blend, season with salt and pepper, and whisk the oil in until emulsified. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the salad, and top with granola and bleu cheese, or whatever you have on hand.

Sweet Cress and Fruit Salad with Grapefruit-Verjus Vinaigrette 2

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A Cranberry BFO

WA cranberries

Why yes, these cranberries are from Washington. I got them at the farmers’ market on Saturday. How cool is that? At least, I thought so, until I heard a marketer smarter than me ask what sorts of pesticides the farm used. “Round-Up,” came the reply. “But only where we need it.”

I took one strap of my L.L. Bean bag off my shoulder, and confirmed: Yes, I’d already purchased them. Then I had what my friend Megan calls a BFO – a Blinding Flash of the Obvious. Every fall, I eat cranberries. That means every year, I must eat some residual form of Round-Up.

It’s The Choice, all up in my grill again. Do I buy local cranberries, even if they’ve been sprayed with nasty, or do I ask someone from Cape Cod to get me the name of that organic cranberry company out there with the cute packaging, so I can pay them to load my berries up onto a truck and schlep them, fossil fuels dripping, all the way to Seattle? Or do I (gasp!) skip them entirely?

Today, I don’t know. I guess I’ll just eat them. I mean, I already bought them.

But – sigh – that’s the attitude that gets us into trouble, isn’t it.

I only wish I’d chopped the rosemary less finely, so you could actually see how nicely its piney, herby flavor mingles with the tartness of fresh, snappy cranberries. But then you’d have to chew the needles, which would be no good.

WW Cranberry-Rosemary Bread

Whole Wheat Cranberry-Rosemary Bread (PDF)
Recipe 295 of 365

Made with whole wheat flour, plain nonfat yogurt, ground flaxseed meal, antioxidant-rich cranberries, and two sticks of butter, these yummy, fragrant loaves are a pretty fair estimation of my approach to healthy eating: Search out the good, but don’t be afraid of the bad. (I’m sure whole milk yogurt – or sour cream, or buttermilk – would make the bread even more delicious.)

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: Two 8 1/2” x 4 1/2” loaves

Baking spray, or butter and flour for the pans
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons ground flaxseed meal
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 pint (2 heaping cups) fresh cranberries, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray two 8 1/2” x 4 1/2” loaf pans with baking spray, or prepare with butter and flour. Set aside.

Melt the butter with the rosemary in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally. When melted, transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl. Let cool for a few minutes, stir in the yogurt, and set aside. Meanwhile, combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and flaxseed meal in another big bowl, whisk to blend, and set aside.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the eggs and sugar on medium speed until quite light, about 2 minutes. Alternate adding the dry and wet ingredients to the sugar/egg mixture, mixing on low speed between each addition until the ingredients are incorporated. Remove the bowl from the machine and stir in the cranberries by hand.

Divide the batter evenly between the two loaf pans, and bake on the middle rack for one hour, or until the tops just begin to crack and a skewer inserted into the center of one loaf comes out clean. Let the bread cool for 10 minutes in pans, then transfer to racks to cool completely. Enjoy warm, or let cool to room temperature and wrap in plastic to keep moist.

WW Cranberry-Rosemary crumbled

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A little story about pork roast, with morals

The last time we had a dinner party, things didn’t go so well. It was a week or so ago, and the stars just didn’t align: I roasted slabs of pink salmon with a lemon and grainy mustard breadcrumb crust (yes, I am so into whole grain mustard thing right now), but the salmon was thinner than I’d realized, so we ended up eating too much topping for the amount of fish in each bite, and the topping never really browned. Certainly edible, but sad. I roasted halved tomatoes and melted good stinky cheese on top (I think it was Blue Moon from Port Madison Farm), but they were done before the fish, and wound up cold and slimy on the serving plate. (Or am I the only one that gags at the thought of cooled cooked tomatoes?) I picked at my food, and lost my appetite. I went to bed happy about meeting new friends and seeing old ones, but feeling totally dejected about my cooking talent.

We all have bad nights in the kitchen.

Our friends Dave and Kelly are getting married this weekend on Orcas Island, and last weekend they skipped through town en route from Massachusetts. (Yes, it’s been a weddingful fall for us.) We’d planned to have a whole gang of people over for dinner on Sunday, but I was struck with a sort of cook’s block: I didn’t feel good about any of the things I’d thought of making, so I procrastinated as long as possible, lest we wind up with another blah dinner.

On Saturday morning, I got myself together and started planning a proper dinner party. And when I say “proper,” I don’t mean “real,” because surely there’s nothing better than an impromptu party with dishes cobbled together with whatever’s spilling out of the fridge. Perhaps “textbook” is a better term – I ransacked the neighborhood for chairs all the same height (because there’s something so civilized about everyone sitting at the same level), made the table look pretty, and spent the better part of Saturday procuring food and cooking and napping, so that we could energetically enjoy Sunday with everyone and invite them into a home that didn’t look (as it did on Saturday night) like it had been hit by a mild hurricane.

We left the house on Saturday morning with my half-written menu:

Cheese & bread
Albacore ceviche
Beef t-loin with rosemary?
Kale gratin
Hedgehog potatoes with hot WG mustard vin?
Salad from garden
Chocolate cakes

After gathering cheese and produce at the University District farmers’ market, Tito and I hit Whole Foods, with beef in mind. It took about 3.2 seconds to make the switch from $25/pound tenderloin to $7.50/pound pork loin. With what I thought was a sweet but knowledgeable tone, I asked one of the butchers to spiral cut two of them for me, so that I could lay each loin flat, spread it with stuffing, and roll it back up. (Think of those one-season roll-up sleeping bags, the kind that are square at the bottom.)

He wanted to know what I’d be stuffing it with, and “Asian pears and rosemary” leaped out of mouth before I could even taste it.

We left to find the pears, and when we returned, the butcher explained that he’d actually cut the pork differently. He’d “forgotten” to inform me that each pork loin, as sold in the case, is tied not for looks, but because for some reason they actually cut them in half horizontally before selling them. So what I had in the package was not two gorgeous spiraled pork loins, but four pork loin pieces, each spiraled into miniature rolls, which meant four little loaves of meat instead of two, and left me with a shorter window in which I could take the pork out of the oven with moist, tender results. He sort of apologized, handed them over, and dismissed me. I was furious and convinced I’d end up with little pork-pear rocks, and I had no intention of wasting $50.

Tito sensed my tension. “Be with what is,” he whispered into my ear. “This pork is.” Damn him.

But I was, with the pork that was, and two hours later, I unwrapped the pork at home, ready to face mangled meat.

The roasts were gorgeous – the butcher had transformed each loin half into a perfect 3/4″ thick strip of pork. I thought briefly of making a pork napoleon, but wussed out. Once I’d unrolled and rerolled the pork with what ended up being an apple-rosemary stuffing (cutting into the Asian pears had revealed nothing but rotten mush, and the apples were just there, on the counter . . .), the roasts ended up just the right size. Cutting the pork the way I’d wanted to would have yeilded gigantic pork spirals that took too long to cook for the outer layers of pork to remain moist.

Morals, which I should have learned long ago:

1) Make friends with a butcher (which, admittedly, I have not really done here yet).

2) Don’t be afraid to ask him/her to do stuff for you; they’re much better at it, and it’s part of their job.

3) Trust them. They probably know what they’re talking about.

Plus, the pork took about an hour to roast, which happens to be the perfect amount of time between the second your guests walk in the door and the moment when everyone’s lubed, happy, and ready for dinner.

Table settings

Of course, there’s always room for error. As I loaded the dinner onto the counter so people could start serving themselves, one guest glanced from the pork to the bacon-studded kale and meekly informed me that she doesn’t eat pork. Thank goodness I hadn’t done anything with the tuna yet – I came up with something speedy, and she sat down with dinner when the rest of us did.

We talked and laughed, and Tito did all the dishes. It was wonderful.

Glasses to wash

In case you’re panicking about your own fall dinner party this weekend, here’s a menu idea for 12, complete with an extra recipe for emergencies:

Excellent breads and cheeses
Roasted Stuffed Pork Loin with Apples and Rosemary
Seared Albacore with Rosemary-Mustard Sauce for One (Thursday)
Bacon & Kale Gratin
Hedgehog Potatoes with Hot Grainy Mustard Vinaigrette (tomorrow!)
Green Salad with Walnut Oil Vinaigrette
Cinnamon-Orange Dark Chocolate Popover Cakes

And by the way, I’m feeling much better (obviously). I think my body’s finally adjusting to the lower steroid dose.

Roasted Pork loin with Apples and Rosemary

Roasted Stuffed Pork Loin with Apples and Rosemary (PDF)
Recipe 282 of 365

At the butcher, ask for two (2.5-pound) pork tenderloins. Have them cut first in half horizontally, so there’s a top and a bottom, and then have the butcher spiral cut each piece into a long, even (roughly 3/4” thick) strip (think of cutting each piece into a roll-up sleeping bag). You’ll spread the stuffing on each long piece, wrap them up and tie them, and roast them, fat-side up, until the apples inside turn into a chunky, rosemary-infused applesauce and the pork is golden and fragrant.

For a dinner party, it’s easiest to make the stuffing and marinate the pork the night before (that part takes about 40 minutes), and refrigerate both. A few hours before dinner, assemble the roasts and refrigerate. Let the roasts come up to room temperature for about 20 minutes before guests arrive. As they walk in the door, slip the roast in the oven, and you’ll have a crowd-pleaser in about an hour. For spiffy presentation, serve the pork sliced on a bed of fresh rosemary.

TIME: 1 hour active time
MAKES: 12 servings

For the stuffing:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 pounds Gala apples, peeled and diced
1 cup white wine
1/2 cup Panko or regular breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

For the marinade:
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh rosemary
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 (2.5-pound) pork loins, each cut in half horizontally to make 4 pieces total, each piece then spiral cut
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Note: You’ll need 12 roughly 15”-long pieces of kitchen string, for tying the pork, and an instant-read digital thermometer for this recipe.

First, make the stuffing: Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the oil, then the onion, season with salt and pepper and the rosemary, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, or until the onion is soft and just beginning to brown. Add the apples and wine, simmer for three minutes, and remove from heat. Stir in the breadcrumbs and mustard, and taste for seasoning. Set aside to cool, then refrigerate overnight.

While the onions cook, make the marinade: mix the oil, rosemary, and garlic in a small bowl. Unroll the pork loins onto a big cutting board, and season them on both sides with salt and pepper. Smear all sides with the rosemary mixture, roll them back up, and marinate them overnight in a covered container.

A few hours before dinner, assemble the roasts: Working with one at a time, unroll a piece of pork onto a working surface. Spread with a quarter of the apple mixture,

Pork loin, spiraled, layed flat, and spread with stuffing

then roll the pork back up. Place three pieces of kitchen string on another clean surface, strings about 1” apart, and place the stuffed pork roll fat side down on the strings.

Tying stuffed pork

Tie the strings snugly around the pork with a square knot,

Pork tied, still upside-down

trim off excess string, and invert the pork onto a roasting pan fitted with a rack, fat side up. Repeat with the remaining pork and stuffing.

Ready to bake, fat side-up

Refrigerate, covered.

About an hour and a half before you’d like to serve the pork, take it out of the fridge, and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. After 20 minutes at room temperature, season the tops of the roasts with additional salt and pepper, and roast for about 1 hour, or until the centers reach 145 degrees. Let the pork rest for about 10 minutes, then slice and serve immediately.

Stuffed pork loin

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Huckleberry Sin

Huckleberry Cake

I’ve never quite understood why some people insist on keeping family recipes secret. Isn’t bringing people together the point of a family recipe? And doesn’t sharing recipes tend to bring people together? Why do you read hogwash?

Now, if a bakery considers a recipe proprietary information (The Boise Co-Op’s lemon cookie comes to mind first), I’m inclined to respect the decision immediately. After all, the bakery business is tough, and one perfect recipe butters less bread if it’s sold from competing dessert cases.

Family recipes seem different. If a grandmother’s best pie makes a person smile, shouldn’t that person have the right to feel those sensations – the flavor of the filling, the snap of the crust, the warmth of a friend’s smile – even if she isn’t directly related to the grandmother? And, as is the case with the bakery recipe, shouldn’t the family know that the pie will never taste the same – really the same – if someone else (besides the grandmother or her direct descendants) is making it?

But. BUT. As much as I disagree, I try not to step on recipe-hoarders’ toes. I do try. If they want to skim joy off the top of other peoples’ lives and deprive them of sustenance, that’s their prerogative.

Take, for example, the blueberry cake I eat at least once a year with the Trafton clan. It’s as simple as cake gets, a white butter batter stirred together with a spoon, studded with blueberries, and plopped into whatever pan is handy. At every summer celebration, it fills a kitchen in a house on the Maine coast with a hot blueberry breeze, and when it’s served, slathered with cream cheese frosting, everything else stops.

Now, I adore Mom Trafton. But from the first time I met her (and tasted the cake), I knew that I’d only get her blueberry cake if it was baked in a Trafton kitchen. When we saw her last summer, seven years or so since we met, she gave me a squeeze and told me I was special. I think she actually said “You guys are honorary Traftons.” In that clan, there’s hardly a higher compliment. I smiled instantly.

Never one to let an opportune moment slide by, I squeezed her back and said something bright, like “So does that mean I get the blueberry cake recipe?” It was the wrong thing to say, but I got over it, and resolved to wait for another slice next summer.

Keep in mind, though, that for me, not having a recipe doesn’t necessarily mean not being able to duplicate something, at least roughly. Technically, I could reinvent the blueberry cake. It’s not a temptation I deal with on a regular basis, because, quite frankly, the idea of the family recipe has all but faded in my generation, and of those that are left, few are really secret.

But last weekend, we went hiking. The trail we took up to Skyline Lake wasn’t so much dotted with huckleberries; it plowed a path through a virtual huckleberry forest. We slept on huckleberries. (Here’s Frank’s slideshow, by the way; you can see how the leaves on the blackberry bushes are turning different shades of orange.) On the way down we picked them, watching the shiny, dark fruits roll over each other like ball bearings as we tipped them into the big zip-top bag I’d brought just in case. We showed each other our huckleberry hands and giggled.

In the mountains, I’d wanted to make muffins, with buttermilk and lemon zest. But by the time the huckleberries were clean and dry, huddling together in a paper towel-lined bowl in my refrigerator, I’d realized I could sin without sinning. My goal shifted: I’d make huckleberry cake.

And so I started. To assuage the guilt that began building the moment I set the butter and cream cheese out to soften, I strayed from the parts I knew to be true: I mixed by machine instead of by hand, added not so much sugar, and used huckleberries instead of blueberries (and many more of them).

When the cake came out of the oven, hot and puffed and only barely browned at the edges, the way Mom Trafton’s always is, I almost called her to tell her what I’d done. Instead, I decided to skip the frosting. I put the cream cheese back in the refrigerator and ferried cake to my neighbors and to my fellow pickers, an unnoticed atonement and silent celebration for doing something I know I shouldn’t have done.

If the Traftons ask, fresh, wild Maine blueberries (especially the ones Emily picks each year) are not an acceptable substitute for huckleberries. And this would be terrible with a soft, spreadable cream cheese frosting.

Huckleberry Cake with Ice Cream

Huckleberry Cake (PDF)
Recipe 268 of 365

Based on my imagined recipe for the infamous Trafton Family Blueberry Cake (although truth be told, it may belong to Mom Trafton’s family, so it might carry her maiden name), this isn’t one of those fussy, ethereally light cakes, meant to be dressed up and presented with pomp and circumstance. It’s homey and hearty, and takes about fifteen minutes to whip together. Serve it hot, just out of the pan, with vanilla ice cream or soft cream cheese frosting.

TIME: 15 minutes active time
MAKES: 8 servings

Butter and flour, for the pan
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup milk
2 cups huckleberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour an 8” square cake pan, and set aside.

Whisk the flour, salt, and baking powder together in a mixing bowl. Transfer a heaping tablespoon of the dry mixture to a small bowl, and set the small bowl aside – you’ll use this for the huckleberries.

In the work bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together on medium speed until light, about three minutes. Add the eggs and vanilla, and mix to blend. Scrape the sides of the bowl down with a plastic spatula to incorporate the butter, and blend again on medium speed for 1 minute. Add half of the dry ingredients, then the milk, then the remaining half of the dry ingredients, mixing on low speed between each addition until just blended. Stir the huckleberries into the reserved flour mixture (coating them with flour prevents them from sinking in the batter and streaking it blue), then add them to the cake batter and mix in by hand. (The batter will be quite thick.)

Dump the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth into an even layer (don’t forget the corners!) with a flat spatula. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the center of the cake springs back when touched. (The cake will not brown much.) Let cool for 10 minutes, then serve straight from the pan, warm, with vanilla ice cream.

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Filed under Cakes, commentary, dessert, fruit, recipe

Falling

Chai-Scented Applesauce 2

In French, there’s a term for making a noun out of another word, nominalization. (Nom means both name and noun in French.) We do it in English, too, but since I learned it in French, I think of it as a French linguistic term.

I tend to do the opposite, stuffing nouns into action verbs as I see fit. There must be a word for this.

Right now, for example, it’s falling outside. As in, fading and darkening and preparing to hibernate, forcing the last drops of summer out in fits of burstiful color to make room for what’s to come. I think a person could be falling, too, and not just like I did yesterday, stumbling to my knees on the hike down from our campsite. Yesterday, I was also falling when I started making applesauce: it’s a physical representation of reserving energy and gathering strength for a real or metaphorical winter.

Fall has tended to be my worst time, in terms of lupus symptoms. Four years ago, this time of year, I felt the first aching pains of joint involvement, and started to notice how Raynaud’s Syndrome turned my fingertips first an eery shade of white, then filled them with blood, the ruddy purple tone reminding me just how much my skin hides underneath. The last three years, I’ve had time to rest in early fall. I’ve had mini hibernations, two weeks or so of a transition between a summer of personal cheffing and three seasons of writing and recipe testing.

Now, fall is coming, and maybe I’m not falling enough, not getting ready. Not stopping. The warm, secure blanket of sunshine I’ve been cozied under since July 1st is suddenly gone, and I’m Wile E. Coyote, ten feet off a cliff but still running running, barely aware that the chasm below me could develop into a minor problem.

Yesterday, when we got home from hiking, I plunged right back in while my husband spread our gear all over the backyard to dry. Writing calling reading cooking writing. Then the friends we’d been hiking with stopped by on their way out to grab a movie, admitting a three-hour nap had overtaken them the moment they’d walked in their door, and I saw it: I saw the ground below me, and my legs pumping, and wow, I should learn a thing or two from these people.

But exactly how does one begin to slow down? My brakes don’t work very well.

Last fall, I was fine. But last fall, at this time, I was sitting in an empty living room, waiting for a moving truck to arrive. Last fall, I was also on 15mg of prednisone, too high a dose for comfort, and today I hit 7mg, my lowest since the spring of 2006. I hope my body says yes. Rather, I hope I can do the things I need to do so it doesn’t say no.

If only it would give me a list. That would be easier.

I suppose I’ll have to make my own. Obviously, it’ll be a list of Not To Dos. It’ll start with Do Not Make Laps. That means slowing down, standing over a pot of fragrant, crisp apples, stirring them patiently into softness instead of bouncing back and forth from my computer at the same time.

Chai-Scented Applesauce 4

Chai-Scented Applesauce (PDF)
Recipe 267 of 365

As always, freshly ground or grated spices give the most flavor, but even the tinned kind give this applesauce a kiss of spice that’s just a bit different from your typical cinnamon-loaded applesauce. Eat it for breakfast, or for dinner over pork chops or curried chicken.

TIME: 25 minutes prep
MAKES: About 5 cups

5 pounds tart apples (a mix of varieties is best), peeled and chopped
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Place the apples in a large soup pot. Mix the sugar with the spices in a small bowl, pour over the apples, and stir to combine. Cook over low heat, covered, stirring occasionally, until the applesauce reaches desired consistency (about 1 to 1 1/2 hours). Leave the sauce a little chunky, or puree in a food processor or blender until smooth, and store in glass jars in the refrigerator, up to three weeks.

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A Vermontish Apple Crisp

After their failed blind date the other day, I had to keep trying to get apples and cheese together, first because I still have all these apples, and second because I’m stubborn like that. If seeing the word “cheddar” in a dessert recipe freaks you out, please have faith. This is not cheese pie, it’s honest-to-goodness apple crisp, with a deep, earthy flavor in the crust. Just do it.

If you’re back east and have access to McIntosh apples, use those. (And for God’s sake, if you didn’t realize where Apple Computer got its nickname, don’t tell anyone, especially if you’re a computer programmer by day.) I had good success with a combination of Honeycrisp, Granny Smith, and Gala apples. But damn, I miss Macs, especially the way they shine up so nicely and get all Christmassy red and green when you pick them yourself and rub them on your jeans.

Vermontish Apple Crisp 2

Vermontish Apple Crisp (PDF)
Recipe 264 of 365

Sweetened with maple syrup, the crisp topping is a bit unusual: it comes together like cookie dough before baking, and gets sprinkled onto the apples over a layer of shredded cheddar cheese, of all things, in deference to the Vermont tradition of topping hot apple pie with a slice of sharp white cheddar. It forms a wonderfully crunchy, breakable crust. Underneath, the apples are tart and tender, with enough juice to make them slide over each other in your mouth. In my book, this is everything apple crisp should be. Vanilla ice cream seals the deal.

TIME: 20 minutes active time, plus baking
MAKES: 6 to 8 servings

For the filling:
Vegetable oil spray
7 large tart apples (about 2 3/4 pounds), chopped (peeled or unpeeled)
1/4 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

For the topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup good maple syrup
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
2 loosely packed cups grated sharp cheddar cheese (about 1/4 pound)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray an 8” square baking pan lightly with the vegetable oil spray, and set aside.

Stir the remaining filling ingredients together in a large mixing bowl until the fruit is coated with the flour. Transfer to the baking dish and bake on the middle rack for 20 minutes.

While the fruit bakes, make the crisp topping (you can use the same big bowl): Mix the flour, oats, and cinnamon together in the bowl. Pour the syrup and melted butter over the dry ingredients, and mix until all the dry ingredients are moistened. (It should feel a little like cookie dough.)

When the fruit is done, sprinkle the cheddar cheese in an even layer over the apples. Break the topping into small pieces and scatter it in an even layer over the cheese. Bake the crisp an additional 35 to 40 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned and the filling is bubbling. Serve warm.

 Vermontish Apple Crisp whole

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Less guns, more butter

I have a new favorite song, called Guns and Butter, by Hot Buttered Rum, the kickin’ bluegrass band that played at Josh and Dani’s wedding. (I’ll tell you more about that soon.)

Less guns, more butter. It’s an old argument, but yes, I quite agree.

This one will have you scooting miniature portions out, brownie-style, as long as you’re within [how do you say “earshot” for your nose? range of smell?] . . .noseshot of them.

Walnut-Apple Crisp Bars

Walnut-Apple Crisp Bars (PDF)
Recipe 261 of 365

Made with white whole wheat and a smidge less sugar than I would have liked to use, these are bars for those who like to pick the top crust off a good apple crisp. Be sure to use fresh, tart apples.

All-purpose flour can be used in lieu of white whole wheat.

TIME: 40 minutes active time
MAKES: 16 bars

For the crust:
Vegetable oil spray
1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar (straight from the package)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the filling:
3 pounds Honey Crisp apples (about 6 large), peeled and chopped into 1/2” pieces
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the topping:
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
3/4 cup whole oats
3/4 cup (packed) brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9” x 13” (preferably square-sided) pan with the vegetable oil or with butter, and set aside.

Make the crust: In the work bowl of a food processor, whirl the flour, confectioners’ sugar, walnuts, and cinnamon until the nuts are finely chopped. Cut the butter into cubes, add to the dry mixture, and pulse 20 times. Dump the dough into the baking pan, spread into an even layer, and use the palms of your hands to press the crust into the bottom of the pan. Bake for 20 minutes on the middle rack, or until firm and just barely beginning to brown.

Meanwhile, make the filling: In a mixing bowl, stir all the filling ingredients together until the apples are evenly coated, and set aside.

Then make the topping: Mix everything but the butter together in another mixing bowl. Add the melted butter, and use your hands to work it into the dry ingredients until everything is moistened. Set aside.

When the crust has baked, remove it from the oven, spread the apples over it in an even layer, and bake 20 minutes.

Apples for crisp bars

Next, sprinkle the topping over the apples, and bake 45 to 60 minutes more, or until the apples are soft the topping is deep brown.

Let cool 30 minutes before cutting into bars. Serve with ice cream.

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260: Nectarine Skewers

Peach fuzz makes me squirm.

I love the soft, bright flavor of a good late summer peach, as long as there is no skin involved. Yes, I know, a peach’s identity depends largely on the fuzziness of its skin, and I love that fuzz, as long as it’s nowhere near my mouth.

But the moment said fuzz touches my tongue – nay, the moment before – I go through a physical (and perhaps psychological) transformation. Goosebumps shoot out of my skin, my tongue curls back on itself, my whole face tightens, and I can feel all the little pores in my scalp announce their presence.

It’s always been that way; I just can’t connect anything dry with my tongue. Which is why without fail, many of my friends lick a napkin the second we sit down to dinner.

With my family, it goes something like this: I walk into a room, and everyone is already sitting down. My brother and sister and husband look at each other. Someone smirks. I sit, and the three of them bring their napkins up to their tongues in unison and there is uproarious laughter. They think this is funny.

Why is this funny? You torture me. Would you like it if I carried a blackboard around with me in my purse, for the sole purpose of scraping my nails down it every time we sit down to dinner? Or perhaps you’d like splinters in your cuticles? I’d try to start a movement to ban napkins from all eating establishments, but I doubt that would go over so well.

But I ask, of all those who have made me suffer so: Try a chokecherry the next time you find one at a farmers’ market (I’ve seen them around Seattle recently). Roll that bitter dryness around in your mouth a little, and know that that’s exactly what my body goes through when I even think of daring to eat a peach with the skin on. It’s quite uncomfortable.

But. BUT. Peel a ripe peach (as you may have noticed I’ve been doing a lot recently) and I’m all over it.

Or, skip the work and hand me a nectarine. There’s nothing I don’t like about nectarines.

I started to play a little game called What Jess Likes Best, On Toast. But when the scent of bacon started eddying through the house, flowing from room to room and collecting in almost-visible swirls in any available corner, it occurred to me that it would be blasphemy to dilute a combination like nectarines, goat cheese, and bacon with so much as the smallest slice of carbohydrate.

I had a personal chef client for years on Cape Cod who insisted hors d’oeuvres for her parties be absolutely no bigger than a quarter. Nickel-sized was ideal.

This is the opposite kind of appetizer. You can either eat it one giant, embarrassing bite, and hope the bright, citric juice of the nectarine doesn’t make you drool so much that you spit down the front of your shirt or onto someone else, or you can eat it with two hands, over a sink, if handy. You’ll probably have to put your drink down.

But yes, it’s worth it.

Nectarine Skewers 3

Recipe 260 of 365: Nectarine Skewers

Cut a ripe nectarine into eight equal slices. Break eight little sprigs off a bunch of parsley, and cut a generous 2 ounces of goat cheese (half a little log) into 8 equal pieces. Brown eight pieces of great thick-cut bacon (better make it 10, or even 12, in case some break, or in case you get hungry) in two batches over medium heat until well cooked but not so cooked as to be crispy. Drain the bacon briefly on paper towels. Then, while the bacon is still warm and pliable (this is why it’s best to do two batches), place a piece of bacon on a clean work surface. Place a nectarine slice perpendicular to the bacon, add some goat cheese and a sprig of parsley, and wrap the bacon around the bundle, securing it with a short wooden skewer. Eat warm or at room temperature.

(I haven’t tried it, but microwaving the bacon might be the best way to achieve even doneness while maintaining the meat’s flexibility.)

Nectarine Skewers 2

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241: Two-Pluot Pie (or: A Recipe for a Good Life)

Half a pie

Seattle is in full bloom. I don’t just mean the flowers – I mean Seattle, all its people, all its markets, all its best sides are showing. The days are warm and dry, the nights crisp and clear, and it’s hard to imagine finding a better place to live life.

Or maybe it’s just that I’m feeling rather bloomy myself. I’ve always thought that not thinking of how things are is a sign of things being good. . . there’s less analyzing, adjusting, contemplating. And maybe that’s why I’ve been a little quiet lately. Besides my produce issues, life is so good. Perhaps, like all those poor trees, I went through painful pruning this spring just to feel healthier now.

Or maybe I’m just feeling the emotional aftershocks of a great new haircut. (It’s now chin-length in the front and short and sticky-outy in the back, and I dyed it all back to my natural dark blonde. Oooooh.)

A few days ago my neighbor Vicki called. “Teach me to make a pie crust,” she said. She’d once learned from her mother, but after several disastrous pies in a row, she reverted back to frozen crusts. Last week, she hit upon a sudden urge to start from scratch, so to speak. Her mother’s still alive, but she didn’t want her to know she’s forgotten. I paused, wondering if we’d use a fruit that might taste better plain, out of hand, and pushed the thought aside.

So we made a date. And yesterday at 2 p.m., she walked in with her great-grandmother’s rolling pin, and we went to work.

What she’d really asked was how I made pie crusts, and I admitted that since I developed lupus, I’ve been making them in the food processor, anything to avoid using my hands too much. But I didn’t like the idea of telling her how the slips of cold butter should hide between layers of flour without letting her touch it, without showing her how the dough feels as it picks up moisture a little bit at a time.

First we each made a crust using the traditional French technique: sabler, papillon, fraisage. We dumped the contents of my freezer onto the counter for a few minutes, to make the working surface good and cold so the butter wouldn’t melt, then shoved it all back in. I forced myself to go back to the ratios we learned for pate brisee in culinary school: flour to fat to liquid, 3 to 2 to 1. We each piled a cup and a half of flour on my counter and mixed it with a little salt. We dumped a stick of butter, cut into chunks, and a tablespoon of shortening into the flour, and worked it into pea-size bits with our hands, feeling the slippery, cold fat glide under our fingernails and the flour beginning to adhere to the pads of our thumbs. I could feel the space at the base of my thumbs tense up as I squashed the butter between them and my fingertips, but I ignored it: pie crust is worth a bit of pain, I think. We each pushed our dough into a long pile, bulldozed a channel down the center of the pile with our fingertips, and added a tablespoon of vinegar-spiked ice water to the center of the valley, fluffing the flour and butter over the water and then mixing it all together with the help of a pastry scraper. We bulldozed and watered and fluffed a few more times, almost 5 tablespoons of water in all, until the dough begin to cling together in big lumps. We used the heels of our hands to smear the dough into the counter, pushing away in the same plane as the counter to help develop the gluten that keeps a pie crust together, and Vicki giggled and wiped the flour off her shirt. I wondered how Bromley had gotten so much flour on her head.

We each made a second batch in the food processor, to know exactly how much easier and how much less fulfilling that modern method is, and secreted four heavy lumps of dough into the corner of the fridge in little foil packages. They rested, and waited. Pie crust is much more patient than a person.

After dinner, we consulted Rose Levy Beranbaum, pie and pastry queen extraordinaire, on what to do with the pounds and pounds of pluots we’d gathered at the farmers’ market over the weekend for the project. Of course, good ol’ Rose stuck to more traditional fruits, so we improvised the filling, each mixing 1/2 cup sugar, 2 1/2 tablespoons flour, and 2 teaspoons of cinnamon together in a mixing bowl, then adding 5 sliced yellow pluots and 5 sliced red pluots to each of our bowls.

Vicki got out her rolling pin, and I took down the striped one Tito made me on his father’s lathe, and together we rolled our our dough and laughed and drank wine and oh, it was all just easy as pie. That must be where the saying comes from, then. Life felt so easy, despite the deadlines, the to-do lists. I showed Vicki how how to make a double-crusted pie with her dough, and we put a cute hole in the top and decorated it with little cut-outs of leftover dough, arranged in the shape of a flower. I made my pie with a cheater lattice (no actual criss-crossing, just stripes in one direction, then stripes in the other direction), and we brushed them both with an egg glaze made with an egg and a tablespoon of half and half. We showered them with a thin layer of sugar, since we’d made the dough without. We froze them for a few minutes, just to make sure they were good and cold going into the oven, then baked them for an hour at 425.

In the time it took to make the pies, we decided that yes, pie is worth making from scratch. That no, we did not mind the mess. That no, we didn’t really think it mattered that much how good the pie was, because we had so much fun doing it (but for the record, it was delicious). And that yes, everyone should have a kitchen big enough to accommodate two cooking bodies, because that, the summer kitchen, with the wind blowing through the back door and a big floury handprint on the ass of your jeans, is part of the recipe for a good life.

I feel a little sorry that I got caught up in the moment and was lazy about my notes. I know my ingredient measurements were right, but that I can’t tell you how thin I rolled my dough, or how long I let the rolled-out pie dough rest again in the fridge before assembling the pie.

But only a little sorry – I’ve just had pie for lunch. And a plate of sliced tomatoes, with olive oil and sea salt. It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, and I feel reconciled with summer.

Two-Pluot Pie from above

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School year breakfast

After a bike ride last Saturday I had a most enjoyable form of oatmeal, at Rembrandts. It was spiked with wheat berries and steel-cut oats, spiced with cloves and nutmeg, and topped with sliced bananas and a truly obscene amount of whipped cream. This morning, thinking of my sister, who just started her last year of high school, and of the cool, crisp, fall air blowing in through our front door, I craved oatmeal.

Spiced Quinoa Oatmeal with Figs and Cream 2

Spiced Quinoa Oatmeal with Figs and Cream (PDF)
Recipe 240 of 365

Although both quinoa and oatmeal can be a little boring by themselves, combining them with fall spices, figs, and a touch of sugar makes for a breakfast with good texture, crunch, and flavor. Use regular or red quinoa, and feel free to substitute peaches, nectarines, berries, or bananas for the figs.

TIME: 15 minutes
MAKES: 2 servings

2 cups water
2 tablespoons uncooked quinoa
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup uncooked whole oats
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 packed tablespoon brown sugar (or to taste)
4 small figs, sliced
1/2 cup whipped cream (sweetened or unsweetened)

Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the quinoa and salt, and boil for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the oats, cover, and simmer for 5 more minutes, or until all the water is absorbed. Remove from heat, and stir in the spices and sugar. Serve the oatmeal in bowls, topped with the fig slices and cream.

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Liar Liar

Okay, I know I said once a year in yesterday’s post, but what am I supposed to do, let the remaining sheet of puff pastry wilt in my freezer for 12 months?

No, and I suspect you were wondering the same thing: How could she say we should eat it once a year and then only use half the package?

Well, ignore me. You can eat it as much as you want. Especially if, like me, you’re feeling so lazy these days, inspired to eat but not excited about spending time in the kitchen. These tarts are just the thing.

Make sure you leave a good 3/4″ border around the edge of the pastry when you’re poking holes in it; otherwise, the plums’ juices will flood over the pastry and onto the pan, where they don’t do nearly as much good.

Plum Tart 1

Cardamom-Plum Tartlets (PDF)
Recipe 237 of 365

There are times when making puff pastry by hand seems the most logical and enjoyable use of my time, and times – like when it’s already sitting in the fridge, pre-made by Pillsbury – when making my own seems downright silly. This is a good example of the latter. Make the tartlets with any small free-stone fruits, such as regular or Italian plums, or even apricots.

TIME: 25 minutes active time
MAKES: 6 tartlets

1 pound small plums, halved and pitted (12 to 16 small plums)
3 tablespoons sugar, plus some for sprinkling on pastry
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, from a roughly 1-pound package, thawed according to package
1 large egg yolk, mixed with 2 teaspoons water

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Place the plum halves in a mixing bowl, and in another small bowl, mix the 3 tablespoons sugar with the flour and the cardamom. Set both aside.

Cut the puff pastry into six rectangles with a pizza cutter, slicing twice along the folding lines, then once perpendicular to those lines, so you have 6 pieces roughly the size of index cards.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and arrange the six pieces of pastry on the paper. Using a fork, poke rows of holes (all the way through) about 1/8” apart over all but 3/4” all the way around the edge of each piece. ( Think of it as a picture frame; you want tons of hole where the picture would be. This way, the pastry will puff where there are no holes, around the edge, and won’t puff as much in the center, where the plums will be, and the juice will stay in with the plums. If you want to be exact about it, using a fork with four tines, you’ll get an inside square filled with holes that’s about 12 holes on the short side and 20 holes on the long side.)

Dust a heaping 1/2 teaspoon of the dry mixture evenly over the holey part of each pastry. Add the remaining dry mixture to the plum halves, and toss to coat. Brush the outside edges of the pastry pieces with the egg wash, and sprinkle the edges lightly with sugar. Arrange the plums, four to six halves per piece, onto the pastry, skin sides up, and brush the skins with some of the egg wash, too. Discard any extra flour.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the pastry is browned and the juices are bubbling. Let cool 10 minutes on the baking sheet, and serve warm.

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Easy, for a fancy cake

A nice slice

Recipe for Cointreau Cake with Berries and Cream
Recipe 211 of 365

Remember that olive oil-vanilla cake? It’s so flexible. This one’s all gussied up with a hint of orange and a good hairdo: it’s made yogurt and sour cream, then soaked with a Cointreau-spiked simple syrup for ultimate moisture, then layered and topped with berries and cream.

TIME: 35 minutes active time
MAKES: 8 to 10 servings

For the cake itself:
Vegetable or olive oil spray
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup plain fat-free yogurt
1/4 cup sour cream
1/8 teaspoon orange oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon Cointreau or Grand Marnier
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

For the soaking syrup:
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon Cointreau or Grand Marnier

For building the cake:
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons Cointreau or Grand Marnier
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 pint blackberries
1/2 pint blueberries
1/2 pint raspberries

First, make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and position a rack in the middle of the oven. Grease an 8” cake pan with the oil spray, and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together to blend. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar until well blended. Add the yogurt, sour cream, orange oil, vanilla, and Cointreau, and whisk to blend. Fold in the flour mixture with a rubber spatula until just incorporated. Add the olive oil, and mix until just blended (it’s okay if a few streaks of oil remain).

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cake is puffed and golden and just beginning to brown at the edges. Let cool 10 minutes, then transfer the cake to a rack, domed side up, to cool.

While the cake cools, make the soaking syrup: combine 1/4 water with 1/4 cup sugar in a small saucepan, and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Stir until all the sugar has dissolved. Add 1 tablespoon Cointreau, simmer 1 minute, and remove from the heat.

When the cake has cooled completely, use a long serrated knife to cut it in half horizontally. Transfer the bottom half to a serving platter, and brush both cut sides of the cake with the soaking syrup.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or an electric mixer, whip the heavy cream with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and 2 teaspoons Cointreau until stiff peaks form.

Spread half the whipped cream on the bottom half of the cake, getting all the way to the edges, and scatter not quite half of the berries over the cream. Carefully flip the remaining cake half on top of the berries, cut side-down. Spread the remaining whipped cream over the top, and pile the remaining berries on the cream.

The cake can be made and soaked up to 24 hours in advance; the assembled cake can be made and refrigerated up to 3 hours ahead – but beware that berries will bleed into the whipped cream if wet.

Quick cake for company 4

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Plum Delicious

On Sunday my yoga teacher showed up with half a tree’s worth of tiny ripe plums, literally bursting at their seams with juice. We ate them whole like cherries, spitting the pits out after chewing, and cursed the juice as it dribbled down our chins.

Summer requires striking a careful balance: you buy all the fruit you can, but sometimes you can’t help watching some of it get squishy and overripe on the counter. Here’s a good use for overripe berries and stone fruit – feel free to substitute nectarines or peeled peaches for the plums, or raspberries or blackberries for the blueberries.

Gingered Blueberry-Plum Ice Cream Topping

Recipe for Gingered Blueberry-Plum Ice Cream Topping
Recipe 205 of 365

Spoon this over ice cream or yogurt.

TIME: 10 minutes prep
MAKES: 4 servings

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup blueberries
1 pound very ripe plums, pitted and sliced

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Mix the flour, sugar, and ginger together in the bottom of a mixing bowl. Add the berries and plums, and mix to blend. Pour the fruit into a deep baking dish or pie plate. Bake for 30 minutes, stir, and bake another 30 minutes, or until the juice is thick and bubbly. Let the compote rest for about 15 minutes before spooning over ice cream.

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199: Smoked Salmon-Wrapped Melon

The other day I bought a melon, a huge lemon-shaped one with green-tinged bumpy wrinkles running the length of its yellow body. Inside, it was the color of honeydew:

yellow melon

Its flavor was similar, but with a strong taste of cucumber. Cucumber melon, I thought. What goes with melon? Proscuitto popped into my mind first. How cliche. Salmon and cucumber are so often paired together, why not switch it up?

Smoked Salmon-wrapped Melon 1

Simple. Delicious. Healthy. Fast.

Does anyone know my melon’s name?

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The chairs are done

Adirondack chairs

Tito’s latest project is finished, and just in time for summer. They’re wonderful; every time I sit down in one, it swallows me whole. Anyone know where I can get good red cushions for them that are at least a little waterproof? And preferably for $10?

Before the glue had finished drying on the arms, we celebrated with a strawberry crostata. Bromley got to lick the whipped cream bowl.

If you have a strong inclination toward rhubarbification, as my friend Beth does, by all means substitute a pound of chopped rhubarb for half the berries, and increase the sugar to 3 tablespoons.

Strawberry Crostata with Cornmeal Crust

Recipe for Strawberry Crostata with Cornmeal Crust
Recipe 183 of 365

A crostata is a country-style Italian fruit tart, usually high on the flavor-to-effort ratio. Don’t be a perfectionist about the crust; the whole point is for it to look rugged. Just squish it up around the fruit however you have the urge to do it the first time.

Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream, yogurt, or ice cream.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: 6 servings

For the crust:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons full fat sour cream
1/4 cup cold water
Raw or turbinado sugar, for decoration (optional)

For the filling:
2 pounds small strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pulse the flour, cornmeal, salt, and sugar together in the food processor until blended. Add the butter, and pulse 20 times, or until the butter is the size of small peas. Add the sour cream, and pulse a few times to incorporate. Turn the machine on, and add most of the water in a slow, steady stream, stopping when the dough begins to come together – you may not need all the water if the atmosphere is humid. The dough is moist enough when a handful of the dough stays together when you press it into a clump in your hand.

Dump the dough onto a large piece of wax paper, gather into a ball, press into a disc shape, wrap, and chill until firm, at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and line a baking sheets with a silicon baking mat or parchment paper.

For the filling, place the berries in a large mixing bowl. Then mix the flour, sugar, and cinnamon together in a small bowl and set aside.

Roll the dough out on a floured surface with a floured rolling pin to about 12” in diameter. Transfer the dough to the baking sheet. Sprinkle two tablespoons of the dry flour/sugar mixture over the center 8” of the dough, and mix the rest of the dry ingredients in with the berries. Pile the berries in the center of the dough, leaving a 2” border all the way around.

Preparing strawberry crostata

Using your hands, fold the edges of the dough up and over the berries a little at a time, overlapping the dough over the previous fold each time. (If the dough doesn’t readily stick together, dribble a little water on your fingers and brush it between the layers of dough to encourage it to stick.) If using the turbinado sugar, brush the crust with water or milk, and sprinkle it generously with the sugar, patting it into the crust a bit to make it stick.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until the crust has browned and the filling is thick and bubbling. Let cool on the baking sheet for about 15 minutes, or until the juice solidify, then transfer to a platter and serve.

(Hint: To keep the tart intact, it may be easier to slide the tart directly from the baking sheet onto a large cutting board and serve it on that.)

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Tomato-thyme in the peacock cups

A couple weeks ago I got an odd email from a relative. She said she had sent me a set of my husband’s great-grandmother’s glass cups and saucers, which she described in not the most flattering terms.

“To be perfectly honest, I think they’re a little ugly,” she wrote, but explained that given my penchant for photographing food, she thought I might be able to use them more in the next twenty years than she had in the previous twenty, which was never.

I adore dishware, but I don’t come from a family with a Hutch or a Dish Cabinet. (I find these words are often spoken carefully, as if the dishes inside might hear if their owners think of using them, then decide against it.) China is a place, not something you put on a table. So I appreciated her gesture, and resigned myself to storing something heinous that I’d probably never use. (Actually, she did give me explicit permission to sell them on eBay, which, prior to seeing them, was an option I hadn’t ruled out.)

But oh, that box! Sheathed in layers of tissue and bubble wrap, the cups (were they meant for tea?) had been carefully packed, shielded like glass vials of uranium against any and all possible physical threats. Both the cups and the squarish saucers–every trend cycles–are rimmed with fading gold, etched white with flowers, and tattooed with dime-sized green dots that can best be described as an afterthought. They will always look out of place on my table or in my house; they will never match anything I own. But I love them.

Peacock Cups

She’d mentioned that perhaps they’d been used for sorbet, but I couldn’t really imagine a proper matriarch from the turn of the (last) century churning sorbet by hand at home. All those stories are about ice cream, right? You never hear, “When I was small, I used to sit on my great-grandmother Adelaide’s lap and help her churn lemon sorbet.” But sorbet was mentioned, so sorbet I made.

I chilled the base overnight (sorbet is typically made with a combination of fruit and some sort of sugar syrup) and gave my husband a taste at seven in the morning, directing him to open up just after he’d swallowed the last of his coffee. He obeyed, but his eyes crossed when the cool sorbet melted summer into his mouth.

HIM: What is this?

ME: Tomato sorbet.

HIM: Ohhh. Tomato-thyme?

Before I could congratulate him on his herb identification, he was hopping all around the kitchen, thrilled about his pun. “Get it?” he said. “It’s tomato time! Summer! Tomato-thyme.” More hopping and giggling.

He gave the sorbet a bit of an ego problem, too; it commanded a spot the new teacups.

This sorbet is preening, that’s what it’s doing, positively preening in this cup, green spots aflare, like the peacock I saw at the zoo a few weeks ago.

Yes, much like that peacock. I’ll call these the peacock cups.

Welcome, summer.

Tomato-Thyme Sorbet Close

Recipe for Tomato-Thyme Sorbet
Recipe 172 of 365

Oh, I know what you’re saying: I don’t habitually serve intermezzos, and I’ve never made sorbet. Those are horrible excuses. Well, not good excuses, anyway. With the help of a blender and an ice cream maker, sorbet is about as difficult as making a smoothie, and even though you probably don’t serve dinner in courses—I certainly don’t—planning for a palate cleanser between two items can turn having friends over for a chill dinner into a fancy dinner party. I hate fancy dinner parties, you say. Well, in that case, I can’t help you.

For best flavor, use the very best tomatoes you can find, preferably a variety with lots of meat and few seeds. (If you’re shopping at a regular grocery store, look for Ugli heirlooms.) The number of tomatoes you need will depend on the type of tomato you use – I used 3 big heirloom tomatoes, two Black Krims and a Mortgage Lifter.

Note that you’ll need to start this recipe the day before you plan to serve the sorbet.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: about 4 cups sorbet

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup (packed) roughly chopped fresh thyme
3 large, ripe heirloom tomatoes
Pinch salt

Combine the sugar, water, and thyme in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Simmer for 2 minutes, remove from the heat, and let cool to room temperature. When cool, strain with a fine-mesh strainer.

Meanwhile, blanch and peel the tomatoes: put a kettle of water on to boil. Use a small, sharp knife to score the bottom of each tomato with an “x.” Place the tomatoes in a large heatproof bowl, and pour the boiling water over the tomatoes. Let sit for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until the skin begins to peel back on the tomatoes. Drain the tomatoes, peel away all skin, remove the core and all seeds, and chop. Save 2 1/4 cups of the chopped tomatoes for the sorbet; use any remaining tomatoes for something else.

Combine 1 cup of the cooled thyme syrup with the 2 1/4 cups chopped tomato meat and the salt in a blender or food processor, and process until completely smooth. Refrigerate until cold (overnight is easiest, I think, but to rush the process, you can chill it in the freezer, stirring frequently).

The next day, freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Allow the sorbet to harden in the freezer for a few hours before serving.

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Filed under appetizers, dessert, fruit, recipe

Another cheer for cherries

by Jess and Laura
photo by Laura

We were looking to find the difference between a crumble and a crisp: we thought that crisps used oats and/or nuts, while crumbles were just a basic flour and sugar pastry. I looked on the web and couldn’t find an agreed-upon difference. Some websites said that crumble is the United Kingdom’s word for crisp, while others said that the two are identical. Anyway, call this delicious treat whatever you choose and get back to us if you know the real difference.

While we were walking around in Trader Joe’s shopping for ingredients, we noticed a frozen bag of mixed berries that included frozen cherries. This bag sparked our inspiration for this recipe. We knew we could find fresh cherries at the farmers market, so we decided to just get the mixed berries without the cherries.

Gingered Cherry-Berry Crumble 2

Gingered Cherry-Berry Crumble
Recipe 170 of 365

Mixing berries with fresh ginger and adding ground gingersnaps to the topping give this crumble a less traditional flavor. Serve with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or yogurt (for breakfast).

TIME: 30 minutes preparation, plus 35 to 40 minutes baking time
MAKES: 6 to 8 servings

For the topping:
1 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup crushed gingersnaps
1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:
1 pound cherries, halved and pitted
1 (16-ounce bag) frozen mixed berries, thawed overnight in the fridge, drained
1/2 cup white or whole wheat flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

First, make the topping: mix the flour, gingersnaps, brown sugar and salt in a small bowl until well combined. Drizzle the melted butter over the dry ingredients and stir until all ingredients are moistened. Set aside.

Make the filling: heap the cherries and berries into a bowl and add the flour, sugar and fresh ginger. Mix until the fruit is evenly coated. Pile into an 11” X 7” (or similar) baking dish and spread evenly. Use your hands to transfer the topping from the bowl to the fruit, packing the topping slightly between your hands and dropping it onto the filling in thick clumps. Sprinkle any remaining smaller crumbs over any holes so you can’t see the fruit.

Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 35-40 minutes, or until the topping is nicely browned and the fruit is bubbling. Serve warm, or at room temperature.

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Filed under Breakfast, dessert, farmer's market, fruit, recipe, recipes

No goats were harmed in the making of this cake

When Laura and I were at Trader Joe’s marveling over the sheer size of an 11-ounce log of goat cheese on Friday, we decided the traditional cherry-covered cheesecake had to be morphed into a goat cheese cheesecake (which, by the way, you can’t really nickname a goat cheesecake, because that would imply there were actual goats in it, wouldn’t it?), and topped with cherries from our new neighborhood farmers’ market.

We’d spent part of the afternoon tasting a new balsamic vinegar, which was interesting for me from a teaching standpoint. (Laura is here doing an “internship” of sorts.) The producer had told me to look for flavors reminiscent of the wooden barrels her vinegar had been aged in, and I tasted the oak and the juniper, but when I tried to explain those flavors to Laura, I sort of hit a wall. She’s fifteen, so she’s not so familiar with, say, the flavor of an oaked chardonnay. How do you explain juniper to someone who’s never tasted gin? In the end, we compared the flavors to how wood smells, and to rosemary and pine, and I think it worked.

With vinegar on the brain, we decided to make a thick, sweet balsamic syrup to macerate the cherries in, and piled that on top of the cheesecake when it came out of the oven, kissed with brown on the edges and again in this strange quarter-sized spot near the edge:

Strange spot on cheesecake

Can anyone tell us why that browning pattern would occur? The only think I can think of is that perhaps there was a significantly larger sugar concentration in that spot. But then why is it so precisely round? And did it have anything to do with the crack that appeared as the cake cooled?

This is a cheesecake that tests your cheesecake-eating ability. If you consider yourself a strong eater, one-twelfth of the wheel will probably secure you a safe spot on the couch for a few hours afterward; it could easily serve sixteen people more heart-friendly portions.

Luckily, these days our house holds three pretty good cheesecake eaters, plus a neighboring family of four that can hold its own, plus a few friends from down the street who were willing to take some home to help us avoid heart attacks.

Oh, and there was also the golf ball-sized moth. The cat brought him inside, maybe thinking he was contributing in some way, and the moth got stuck in the very center of the cheesecake when he went in for a bite in an effort to escape his former prison inside the cat’s mouth. When Laura and I squealed, Tito had to pull the moth out, squirming and beating his sticky cheesecake-covered moth wings in panic, and put him back outside. Now there’s a bird somewhere with skyrocketing cholesterol. And a hole in the center of the cheesecake where Laura scooped out the part the moth touched.

Goat Cheese Cheesecake with Balsamic-Glazed Cherries

Recipe for Goat Cheese Cheesecake with Balsamic-Glazed Cherries
Recipe 168 of 365

Kathy Gunst’s recipe for Eve’s Lemon Cheesecake (in Relax, Company’s Coming!) is always my jumping off point for a cheesecake recipe. I used her basic crust and batter ratios here, altering the ingredients and sweetness a bit to accommodate the goat cheese’s tangy bite. The quick cherry topping has a sharp vinegar flavor, a nice contrast to the cake’s richness. Out of cherry season, the cake is delicious on its own, or topped with any fruit compote.

Make the gingersnap crumbs by whirling gingersnaps in a food processor until finely chopped, or place the cookies in a zip-top bag and roll with a rolling pin until well crushed.

TIME: 45 minutes active time, plus 1 hour baking
MAKES: 12 to 16 servings

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
1 1/2 cups gingersnap crumbs
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 pound cream cheese, room temperature (not light)
12 ounces plain goat cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup honey
1 pound Bing cherries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the stick of butter in a small saucepan over low heat.

Meanwhile, butter a 10-inch springform pan liberally, making sure to get butter into the edges of the pan. Place the pan on a large square of aluminum foil, and fold the corners of the foil up around the outsides of the pan. (This just makes clean-up easier if any butter oozes out the bottom of the pan during baking.) Place the foil-bottomed springform pan on a baking sheet, and set aside.

When the butter has melted, add the gingersnap crumbs and the confectioners’ sugar to the butter, and stir to blend. Dump the crust mixture into the springform pan, and use the palms of your hands to press the crust into an even layer on the bottom of the pan. Transfer the pan to the freezer to chill while you make the batter.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or using an electric mixer), whip the cheeses together for 3 minutes on medium speed, until smooth and light. Use a rubber scraper to loosen any unwhipped cheese from the paddle and bottom of the bowl. Whip again on medium speed for another minute or two, adding the granulated sugar in a slow, steady stream. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions, then add the vanilla. Mix the batter on medium-high speed for 2 minutes more, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl, and the paddle, halfway through.

Return the springform pan to the baking sheet and pour the batter into the pan. Bake for 60 to 65 minutes, or until the cake moves as a whole when you tap the sides of the pan and appears set in the center. (It may crack; that’s okay.) Cool at least 30 minutes.

While the cake bakes, combine the vinegar and the honey in a small saucepan and bring to a strong simmer. Simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the mixture begins to look syrupy. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until cool. (The mixture should thicken considerably in the refrigerator.)

Note: You can make the cake up to this point up to 2 days before serving. Cover the cake loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Just before serving, halve and pit the cherries, and fold them into the balsamic mixture. Serve the cake topped with the cherries.

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Filed under Cakes, dessert, farmer's market, fruit, recipe