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Things you don’t want to hear on the day of  your move:

It’s snowing.

Our truck was hit by a car.

The move ahead of you has the elevator and is running late. And you both must be out by 5 pm. 

new view

Luckily, everything went well and no one was injured in that snow-and-ice-induced fender bender.

I’ve mostly unpacked and am figuring out where everything goes in the kitchen. Also, how the oven – my first convection oven – works. I don’t yet have a place to store my pots and pans, and most of them are piled on my desk which is actually in the kitchen. Which means I’m typing on the sofa. Cooking has been pretty simple. The first non-delivery dinner I “made” was defrosting some lentil soup I had made last month in my own place.

new kitchen

Soon, I hope to be cooking and baking for real. Until then, I give you kale apple salad. On my kitchen counter.

Kale apple salad with cheddar and pecans

Kale apple salad with cheddar and pecans 

Not really a recipe, but one of many variations on the kale/fruit/cheese/nut winning salad combo.

Serves 1

Tear several handfuls of kale (I used curly kale) into bite-sized pieces, discarding the thick ribs (or put them aside to sauté). Use your hands to toss the kale with olive oil and let sit for about an hour until the kale softens and wilts a bit. Lacinato kale will wilt faster. If you don’t have time to wait, microwave the oil-slicked kale for 30 – 60 seconds until bright green.  Slice half an apple into thick julienne slices. Cut aged cheddar into cubes. Toast a handful of chopped pecans. Mix the apple and cheddar with the kale. Add lemon juice (about half the amount of olive oil) and salt. You may need to add a bit more oil. Sprinkle with torn parsley leaves and pecans.

 

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Well, people, it’s the night before Thanksgiving.

I’m eating applesauce.

In all the fuss about getting my pressure cooker up and running, I forgot to tell you why I made applesauce in the first place.

It’s for my father. Well, and anyone else who can get to it before he does. But mostly, it’s for my father. Normally I whip together something chocolate and throw it in his general direction and he’s happy. This is the guy who used to pour Hershey’s syrup in his Cheerios.

But when he was a kid, my Bubbie used to make him applesauce. I’ll be missing his birthday this year* and wanted to bring something special for him to the Thanksgiving table. So I asked him how he liked his applesauce.

A little chunky, he said, not like baby food. And I used to put ketchup on it. And I’d mix it with my mashed potatoes. 

??!!!????

Potatoes I can sort of understand. You’ve got the salty and the sweet, like a mashed up version of latkes with applesauce. But ketchup? Ketchup**? No matter what he said, he could give no satisfactory explanation.

When I asked if he’d be open to cranberry applesauce, he said it sounded perfect and it would look like it had already been mixed in with the ketchup.

Perfect. But I’ll be hiding the bottle of Heinz 57 this year.

* I’ll be in Peru for a wedding on his birthday. Stay tuned for more on that trip in January!

** Have you heard about the non-stick ketchup bottle that was developed in an MIT lab?

Pressure cooker applesauce

As Molly said yesterday, applesauce takes three minutes in a pressure cooker. 

Most recipes for pressure cookers seem to be written assuming that you know how to use one. And the cooker (my manual says I should call it the Cooker) is very straight forward once you’ve gotten used to it. But for the uninitiated, here are a few things I learned between yesterday and today about my stove-top pot-bellied Fagor and pressure cooking in general.

Bring to pressure. It sounds so simple. A recipe might begin, “Mix fruit and spices in the pressure cooker, bring to pressure, and cook for three minutes.” (And actually, it might end there as well.) Bring to pressure, like it’s a pittance of a step. Here’s what they don’t tell you, people. It can take a really long time to pressurize. As a way to check whether my cooker (I mean, Cooker) was working, I decided to boil some water. I filled the Cooker with a few inches of water, did all the stuff you’re supposed to do (the lid, the lock, the valve), and waited. I watched the pot. I emailed Molly. Steam started coming out, but the indicator stayed put. 

The indicatorThink pop-up turkey timer (the old-school ones, not these newfangled ones). You’ve got to sit around and watch for it. With such short cooking times, you need to know when you’re pressurized so you can begin timing. Perhaps it’s different on more advance or electric models, but what’s the fun in that? So I watched the little yellow dot next to the lock. Nothing. And then. A tremble. A titter. A wiggle. And slowly the dot became a nub.  But there was no pop, no noise, no way I would possibly know it had come to pressure had I not been standing and watching and watching and watching.  NOTE, my manual says that the steam should start to come out after the indicator pops, but this was not my experience.

Heat. Once at pressure (twenty minutes later, people, twenty minutes), you lower the heat to medium. They don’t tell you that in recipes. I found it on page 10 of the manual. You want to keep a gentle, steady stream of steam, so you might need to then adjust your heat up or down as appropriate. 

The cooking. This is the best part. The cooking itself goes quickly, and the Cooker cooks well. Each apples piece was the same amount of tender as the next, and we cannot attribute that to my uneven cutting skills. A quick whisk broke up all the pieces into perfect sauce. 

I’m not sure if it’s normal for it to take so long for a cooker to come to pressure, or if there’s something wrong with mine. I haven’t given up, Molly, but if anyone out there has any pressure cooker tips, please, please do share. 

Since I’m taking my applesauce on a plane tomorrow, I canned it. This was my first canning experience and I followed my friend Jess’s very clear instructions. I don’t have any special equipment other than the jars themselves; I used a silicone pot holder at the bottom of the pot to protect the jars from heat, plain metal tongs to lift things out of the boiling water, and a narrow wooden spoon to scootch the applesauce into jars.

And, finally, the recipe, based on yesterday’s applesauce made-in-a-regular-pot applesauce. Again it’s good cold, but great warmed up a bit. 

Makes 3-4 cups

- 4 lbs apples (approximately 8 medium) – today I used a mix of Fuji, Gala, and Mutsu (Crispin)

- 2 T sugar

- 1/2 lemon for juice (2 T)

- 1 C water

Chop. Peel and chop the apples into approximately 1-inch pieces.

Cook. Add all the ingredients to the pressure cooker. Close the lid, lock the pot, and turn the valve. Turn up the heat to medium-high. Eventually the indicator will pop and the pot will steam. Lower the heat to medium, adjusting the temperature as needed to maintaining a gentle, steady steam. Set your timer for three minutes.

Whisk. When your timer goes off, release the pressure (I used the “automatic” method by turning the valve). Use a whisk to break up the apples.

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she got to me

My friend Molly knows a thing or two about cooking. Point to a pile of green-tinged rough-hewn grains with a tilt of the head and furrow of the brow? It’s freekeh, she’ll say, and then recommend a great book about it. Need to borrow a cookbook? She probably has an extra copy of the one you want. And she’ll deliver it to your door when she’s passing through your neighborhood. Curious about the origin of that cake you’ve been making for years that seems to have come out of thin air? She’ll know.

So when she suggests you buy a six-quart pot even though you already have twenty-three pots and pans for the stove top alone (eleven pots, twelve pans; I counted), your ears perk up.

It all began when I made wheat berries last Monday. I asked for advice on how to cook the grains so that they wouldn’t split. Within minutes of my hitting publish, Molly responded:

Two words: Pressure cooker. Sure, you’ll still have to soak them for a good long while, but cooking them will take a total of 20 minutes. And, they’ll look like wheat berries when all is said and done. Twenty. Minutes. Same goes for farro and barley.

The next morning’s email, from Molly, when I mentioned a pressure cooker:

Pressure cooker is clutch…I have a Fagor one…It is, hands down, my favorite kitchen tool. What I can say is that you should get a  stove top one, and not one that plugs in.

There was also a lot more chit-chat in between the pressure cooker dialogue, but I’m sparing you that.

A few days later, we met up for a Boston Globe food and wine event. During the Q&A portion of the afternoon, I asked the Globe’s food editor, Sheryl Julian, how I could cook wheat berries (and farro and barley) without splitting. The first words out of her mouth?

Pressure cooker. I have four.

Molly and the Globe food editor? A few hours later, I was in a store. I bought a pot-bellied Fagor.

And then I made soup. In a regular pot. Moments later, another comment from Molly:

This soup in a pressure cooker? Six minutes.

My response:

I bought the pressure cooker! I may be indebted to you for life.

Then, I announced on Facebook (where all important life announcements should be made):

“Molly – I’m ready to change my life…I break out the pressure cooker tomorrow!

To which, Molly’s friend Sara responded:

“Oh no. She GOT TO YOU!”

Yes, Molly got to me. It seems she also got to Sara. (Addendum 11/21/2012: It turns out Sara does not have a pressure cooker. Molly, your work is not done yet.)

Today was the big day. I opened my pressure cooker. I marveled at the fact that it’s called a cooker, sounding much more powerful than a mere pot. I read the instruction manual (which I still haven’t done for my camera). I familiarized myself with the parts.

My goal was apple sauce. Had Molly ever made it in the cooker?

Yup.  It takes about three minutes once the pot begins to pressurize. Place all ingredients in the pot — your apples and spices — add enough water and pressurize. Like I said, it should take about three minutes.

A quick check of the manual:

Apples, sliced or in pieces: 2-3 minutes

I was ready. I peeled and I chopped apples. I filled the cooker. I twisted the lid and flipped the lock and turned the valve. I set the whole thing on a burner, turned up the heat, and watched. There was steam and gurgling and more steam, but the yellow indicator never popped up. The cooker never pressurized. Ten minutes. Twenty minutes. No pop. I released the steam and unlocked the top, peering into a pile of mushy apples. I starting from scratch. Re-twist and re-lock top, re-twist indicator, heat back on. Ten more minutes. No pop.

I again released and unlocked and peered. Thirty minutes in, the apples were nearly sauce. I pretended my cooker was a mere pot and finished off the apples.

During this entire time, I was emailing Molly as if she were the Butterball Thanksgiving hotline. As the story unfolded and the sauce was finished, she wrote:

If only I was there to see what was actually happening in your kitchen with the pressure cooker. Don’t give up!

Don’t worry, Molly I won’t.

Tomorrow I’m trying again. But for now, here’s how to make applesauce on your stove top in a mere pot.

Applesauce

I first tried homemade applesauce at Jess‘s and Eli’s annual Hanukkah party. I’ve provided the ingredients for classic applesauce and cranberry applesauce, using Jess’s cranberry applesauce recipe as a guide, but significantly reduced the sugar, added a little lemon juice, and added some water because I don’t like my applesauce too thick. I made both of these versions today. The classic in the cooker took half an hour over medium-high heat; the cranberry in a Dutch oven took 45 minutes over medium-low heat. I was clearly doing something wrong with the pressure cooker!

Applesauce is good cold, but great warmed up a bit. 

For classic applesauce:

Makes about 3 1/2 cups

- 4 lbs apples (approximately 8 medium) – I used a mix of Fuji, Gala, Braeburn, and Granny Smith

- 2 T sugar

- 1/2 lemon for juice (2 T)

- 1 C water

For cranberry applesauce:

Makes about 4 1/2 cups

- 4 lbs apples (approximately 8 medium) – I used a mix of Fuji, Gala, Braeburn, and Granny Smith

- 2 C fresh or frozen cranberries

- 1/4 C sugar

- 1/2 lemon for juice (2 T)

- 1 C water

Chop. Peel and chop the apples into approximately 1-inch pieces.

Simmer. Add all the ingredients to a large heavy pot (I used a Dutch oven). Cover and turn the heat to medium-low. Simmer for approximately 35-45 minutes, stirring every once in a while, until the fruit is very tender and starts to break down into sauce.

Mash. With a slotted spoon or potato masher, break down the larger pieces of apple into small chunks. You can also puree or press through a sieve for a smoother sauce.

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Soup is back, and with a vengeance, people. If you include the batch that I took out of my freezer earlier in the month, I’ve eaten four different soups (well, one is officially a stew) in fewer than four weeks. And it’s not even Thanksgiving yet.

Also, butternut squash is back, at least in my kitchen, and probably in yours.

So, it might seem that a butternut squash soup would be on the agenda. And, that would seem to be correct.

Normally around this time of year, I turn to my tried-and-true spicy butternut squash soup. I’ve been making it since grad school and this is the one I pull out of my back pocket any time someone asks for an simple soup recommendation, the one that I know by heart. My sister asks for it, my mother makes it, my new friends learn it, my old friends get tired of it. When Meira asked me for a soup recommendation a few weeks back, she audibly yawned when I suggested my old standby: I know that soup. I make it all the time. I need something new. I offered her last year’s Thanksgiving soup instead.

I guess after ten years of old standby, it was time to come up with a new simple squash soup. Different enough from the first, but just as easy. Throw together in minutes, slurp in less than an hour. And spicy, it had to be spicy; I don’t do sweet squash. When a friend and her husband mumbled something about a soup made with squash and apples and curry and stuff, I went home and got to work. I peeled and chopped and stirred and sniffed. The basic formula is one squash, one onion, two apples, loads of spice. Pour an inch of stock over the vegetables, simmer for 20 minutes, whiz with a blender and you’re done.

I recommend making this soup on the thinner side so you can pour it in a mug, wrap your hands around the warm vessel, inhale the steam, and let the soup coat your mouth with no interfering spoon. The spice will catch you by surprise. It will start in the back of your throat and slowly inch forward. By the time you’re tipping the mug to get the last drops, your lips will be tingling.

Spicy butternut squash and apple soup with cumin and curry

This is a make-it-up-as-you-go kind of recipe that I based off of these three recipesUse whatever spices you like, and if you don’t have time to experiment, just use curry powder- I’d start with 2 tablespoons and then adjust as needed. If you accidentally over-spice the soup, add 1-2  halved potatoes and then remove them before blending/serving — they’ll absorb some of the excess spice.  After a day or two in the fridge, the soup will thicken slightly and the spice will intensify. If you’d like, swirl in a spoonful of Greek yogurt.

Makes about 4 quarts (16 cups)

Heat 3-4 T olive oil in a large pot (I used a 7 1/4 dutch oven) until shimmering (medium heat). Rough chop 2 onions and sauté for 8-10 minutes until the onions soften and become transparent, stirring every once in a while. Mince 4 garlic cloves into the pot and keep stirring for another 2 minutes. At this point, add whatever spices you’d like and mix with the onions and garlic. Here’s what I used: 1 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon coriander, 2 tablespoons cumin, 1 tablespoon curry powder, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. The mix should quickly turn a mustard-y yellow (from the turmeric in the curry). Add 1 cup water and scrape the bottom to free up all the spices.

Peel and seed 2 large or 3 medium butternut squash (about 4 pounds) or 3 pounds pre-peeled/seeded squash. Rough chop the squash and add it to the pot, stirring  to distribute the spices. While the squash is starting to cook, peel and rough chop 4 medium apples, add to the pot and stir. Then add about 8 cups of vegetable (or chicken) stock. You want the liquid to reach about 1 inch above the level of the squash. Add more stock (or water) if you need it. Allow the soup to simmer for about 20 minutes until the squash and apples are soft. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup. You can also do this in a regular blender in several batches. Taste for seasoning, and make sure to add enough salt. If the soup seems too thick, add a bit of water; too thin, simmer for a few more minutes.

Serve in mugs with a sprinkle of cinnamon or other spice.

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how recipes go

I was digging around for a container of soup last night, and out plopped a bag of blueberries. I had frozen the berries at the peak of their season, having bought a pint (or two) too many.

You can’t get a better surprise than this during the first snow after the first hurricane of the season. And on the first night that you turn on your heat, the though of blueberry anything feels like a vacation in the sun.

I was envisioning a blueberry coffee cake, but that didn’t seem right. Then a friend reminded me of a rhubarb crumb bar that was adapted from another rhubarb crumb bar that was adapted from a blueberry crumb bar that was adapted from another blueberry crumb bar that I might want to check out.

Did you get all that?

But, isn’t that just how recipes go? We find something that looks good, we do a little research, we check out the “original” recipe — if you can ever really call a recipe an original — and then we tweak  until we can call it our own.

And not that anyone ever owns a recipe, but there are some that are just classically you. I’ve got a few of them — the aforementioned soup, a pear tarte tatin, almond chocolate chip cookies, and lemon bars — and friends request them regularly. So, when I heard bars, I though of my turn-to  lemon version. Blueberries instead of lemon? Do I need to ask?

And then, of course, crumb topping. Yes, definitely with crumb topping. A brown butter crumb topping. With all these recipes scattered across my screen, I set to work. While I mixed and browned and baked, I scrawled a few notes, taking an ingredient from here, a technique from there. A little cornmeal in the crust. A lot of lemon in the blueberries. And that nutty brown butter in the crumb.

And voilà. Introducing blueberry cornmeal brown butter crumb bars. Pull up a chair.

Blueberry cornmeal brown butter crumb bars

This recipe is based on my lemon bars with their cornmeal crunch. I then added a brown butter crumb topping, inspired by une gamine dans la cuisine. If you haven’t browned butter before, what are you waiting for? Brownies? Blondies? Squash? Yes, yes, and yes. 

Makes 9-16 squares

For the crust:

- 1 C sifted flour

- 1/2 C fine yellow cornmeal

-  pinch salt

- 1/8 t baking soda

- 3 T unsalted butter (room temperature)

- 1/3 C white sugar

- 1 egg

- 1 T yogurt

- 1/4 t vanilla extract

For the filling:

- 3 C blueberries (fresh or frozen)

- 3 T white sugar

- 3 t cornstarch

- 1 lemon for zest and juice

For the crumb topping:

- 6 T unsalted butter

- 1/3 C brown sugar

- 1/2 C flour

- 1/4 C fine cornmeal

- a pinch or two of salt

Prepare. Preheat oven to 350ºF and put a rack in the upper 1/3 of the oven. Grease an 8X8 square pan with vegetable oil or line it with parchment.

Make crust. Stir together the flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking soda. Beat butter in another bowl until creamy (I use my mixer). Add the 1/3 C sugar and beat for about a minute until smooth. Beat in the egg, yogurt, and vanilla. Add in the dry ingredients and beat on low until just combined. The dough will be sticky, so this is going to get a little bit messy. Scoop the dough into the pan, spread it around evenly (I just did this with wet fingers), and prick all over with a fork. Bake for 20 minutes or until the top gets just starts to brown.

Make the filling. While the crust is baking, mix together the blueberries, sugar, cornstarch, and lemon zest and juice.

Make the topping. To brown the butter, cook it in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter starts to foam. After about 5 minutes, the butter will start to brown as the milk solids cook. Once you see little brown specks (the solids), take the butter off the heat. It should smell nutty. In a bowl, mix together the brown sugar, flour, cornmeal, and salt. Then pour the browned butter over it and mix everything together.

Put it all together and bake.  When the crust comes out of the oven, pour the filling over the top (it should be a magenta color by now!) and then crumble the topping over the blueberries. Bake for another 20-30 minutes until the topping sets — it won’t change color much, so you’ll have to test the firmness with your fingers.

Serve. It’s best to let bars to cool completely before cutting if you want everything to be neat. If you can’t wait, try to hold off for at least 5 minutes before digging in.

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It all started with apples.

Poor apples. They’ve had a rough go at it this year, and I missed apple picking. Unless you were on the ball, you probably missed apple picking around here too. Luckily, two of the farms at my Monday market still proudly display a full range of red and green and yellow beauties. I buy them in twos and threes and they hold me over until the next week.

My favorite varieties are Jonagold and Honeycrisp. In the afternoon, I pull out a paring knife and balance the dull side of its blade against my thumb, pushing through the rough, unwaxed skin and covering a plate with apple slivers. I pair the slices with a spoonful of sweet creamy peanut butter. Sometimes two spoonfuls.

Last week, I barely saw home, and the apples piled up. I had enough for a tarte tatin. But a tarte tatin can’t be eaten alone, so I invited a group over for dinner.

The group grew to ten, the tarte grew to two, and the apples, well, I no longer had enough of them. A quick run to the store for a few more apples, and dinner was on the way.

The guests arrived and we crowded around the table for eight set for ten.

It was a simple dinner. We started with soup. Next up, a kale salad with roasted beets and orange. Another salad brought by a friend. And a tortilla española* that was a last-minute addition when I realized soup and salad might not be enough.

Shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip, we drank wine and prosecco out of tumblers.

Ten soup bowls were swiped with bread, ten plates were scraped with knives. When I rose for seconds, I found on the buffet (also known as a microwave cart hastily cleared moments before everyone arrived) a few kale leaves swimming in a large bowl, a cube of avocado embracing a spoon, and a Molly scratching the last few dark bits of egg and potato stuck to a 14-inch (!) pan.

“Did I not make enough?” I whispered. Molly solemnly nodded.

I looked around. My guests were sprawled on the sofa, chairs, and floor.

Retreating to the kitchen, I pulled out the tarte tatins, apples still tucked under crusts whose edges were tinged with sticky scarlet pomegranate caramel. I covered each pan – first the blue skillet, then the orange – with a plate and flipped. I expected an apple or two to latch on to the skillets. I didn’t expect some of the apples to have turned into circles of mush. I guess a few of my mismatched apples** were better for sauce than pie.

I hid in the kitchen for a few moments, thinking. I spooned the clinging apples and mush from the skillets and arranged them as artfully as I could.

A smile on my face and a Times article in my head, I emerged with a tarte in each hand. “Pomegranate applesauce tarte tatin for dessert!”

* The tortilla española. A tortilla española is a Spanish potato omelette, similar to an Italian frittata. I followed Mark Bittman’s recipe from How to Cook Everything (the yellow cover).  For the recipe from the updated version of Bittman’s book of the same name (the red cover) , check out Molly’s story of her trip to Spain. Let me know if you’re interested in the version I made – I’ll gladly whip another tortilla and report back to you.

** The apples. I used a mix of market- and store-bought apples that included Mutsu, Jonagold, Honeycrisp, Gala, and Granny Smith. I did a  bit of research and I think the Honeycrisps were the sauce culprits.

Pomegranate apple(sauce) tarte tatin

Tarte tatin is a traditional French upside-down caramelized apple tart. Still obsessed with pomegranate, I found a recipe that combines this tart fruit with this sweet tarte (hehe!). I cut the sugar down to 1/2 cup and the tarte was still plenty sweet. I know that the recipe might seem daunting – make caramel? flip over a burning hot skillet?  – but if I can do it, so can you. I’ve made tarte tatins with pears and tomatoes, and there are a bunch of things I’ve picked up along the way.

First, the caramel. It’s pretty easy to burn the caramel, so you need to watch it closely. If you’re afraid the caramel is starting to burn, take the skillet off the heat immediately and assess the situation: let things cool down a bit, dip a fork in the caramelizing syrup, and carefully taste it. Carefully because you don’t want to burn your tongue. A slight burnt flavor – think crême brulée – is fine, but if you taste smoke, start over.

Then, the flip. The tarte will be prettier if you flip it just out of the oven. Get out your oven mitts and extra kitchen towels. Place a plate on top of the pan and cover the plate with a towel. Grasp the pan-plate-towel pile with oven mitted-hands, hold your breath for a moment, and turn the whole thing over. Some caramel might spill out onto the towel, but you’ll be fine because your hands will be protected. If you want to wait until the tarte cools, it will turn out almost as pretty, but a few apples will probably stick to the skillet. Just scoop them off and put them back on the tarte. 

1 pie crust or puff pastry (I make this sweet pâte sucrée or pâte brisée, or just buy puff pastry)

- 1 1/2 C pomegranate juice or 1/2 C pomegranate molasses/pomegranate syrup (thickened pure pomegranate juice; don’t bother with the ones that add sugar)

- 4-8 of  your favorite baking apples, depending on size (you want enough to fit tightly into your skillet); for me, the most reliable are Granny Smith

- 1/4 C (1/2 stick) butter (or margarine for a non-dairy tarte)

- 1/2 C sugar

- large pinch kosher salt

Prep. Preheat oven to 400ºF and let pie crust/puff pastry come to room temperature.

Reduce. Bring the pomegranate juice to a boil until it reduces by a third (down to 1/2 cup ) into a thick syrup. If you use purchased pomegranate molasses/syrup, you don’t need to boil anything.

Slice. Peel and core the apples, then slice into halves or quarters. I like halves, but you can fit more apples in if you use quarters.

Caramelize. Melt butter in a heavy oven proof 9- or 10-inch skillet and then sprinkle evenly with sugar. Cook over medium heat without stirring until the mixture begins to bubble all over and turns lightly golden. This should take about 3 minutes. Remove from  heat.

Cook. Tightly fill the skillet with apples, cut side up,  and sprinkle with salt. Keep in mind, the apples will shrink as they cook and you might be able to slip  in a few more slices midway. Return the skillet to medium heat and cook the apples without stirring  until a thick, deep amber syrup bubbles up between the fruit. (OK, even though you’re supposed to leave the caramel alone to do its thing, I usually flip the apples once or twice to make sure they soak up the caramel evenly. Just make sure to leave the cut ends up because when you flip the tart, you’ll want the rounded sides facing the top.) This will take about 20 minutes. Pour the pomegranate syrup over the apples – the mixture will bubble up. Cook until the juices further thicken. The apples will be a deep burgundy color. Remove from heat. With a spatula, make sure that the apples are tightly packed.

Tuck. Roll out the crust between two sheets of wax paper into a circle one inch larger than the skillet (i.e., leave an extra inch all around). Slide the crust over the skillet and tuck it in around the apples and at the edges of the skillet. The crust doesn’t have to be perfect because you’re going to flip it over anyway. Cut a few slits in the crust to let air escape.

Bake. Bake the tarte until the crust browns and the juices at the edge are thick and scarlet in color. This takes 25-30 minutes. Remove the skillet from the oven and let cool for five minutes minute. (If you let the tarte cool for too long, the caramel will thicken and the apples are more likely to stick to the pan. But if you’re nervous, just flip it later.)

Flip. Place a large plate over the skillet. Using oven mitts and kitchen towels, hold the skillet and plate together and carefully flip over the tarte. Lift the skillet — if any apples are stuck to the skillet, just put them back into place on the crust. Let the tarte cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

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“It’s almost zwetschgendatschi time,” Melanie informed me over lunch the other week.

Punctuated by my attempts to pronounce the name in the Swedish accent that I seem to adopt every time I try to speak German (find the real pronunciation here), Mel brought me up to speed.  Her family in Munich has a zwetschgen tree in the backyard. It bears small, deep purple plums that ripen over the span of a short week or two in late August/early September.  During that time, there’s a mad rush to use up all zwetschgen before they drop off the trees. Enter the zwetschgendatschi. It’s a cake made in a sheet pan nearly the size of the oven and uses up about half a trees worth of plums.

A week later, I found the first zwetschgen in the grocery store and bought about a dozen. I called Mel, we made plans for a Sunday of baking, and I set to work researching recipes. Following Mel’s guidelines very closely. The dough shouldn’t be too sweet. The zwetschgen should be sour. Streusel is optional, but not necessary. Whipped cream is not optional.

Over the next few days, I found two base recipes and studied technique. I practiced cutting and folding the plums into quarters while leaving the skin intact. This sounds like a lot of trouble, but when you’re arranging the plums in overlapping rows like roof shingles, jammed against each other all the way to the edge of the pan, you’ll be thankful for the efficiency. Because when you’re trying to use up a tree’s worth of fruit in one large cake, you want the zwetschgen packed as tightly as possible.

When Mel arrived at my place 10:30 am on Sunday morning, I was ready. But a quick glance at the mere pound of plums sent us straight to the grocery store for more. With three more pounds of plums in hand, we rolled up our sleeves and set to work.

We made a yeast dough, watching as my mixer kneaded it into a perfect ball. While it was rising, we carefully quartered our plums. There’s nothing like working side by side over a cutting board.

The dough doubled, I rolled it out and then we stretched and pushed it into the edges of the pan. We arranged the plums, gently pressing each one into the dough, tips upright in a tight phalanx formation. Datschi most likely comes from the Middle High German word detschen or datschen which means to press.

We sprinkled the plums with sugar, Mel reminding me not to make the cake to sweet, and then popped the tray into the oven.

While we waited, I made lunch. As we sat down to the table, we could smell the zwetschgen concentrating in the oven as they sank deeper into the sweet rising dough.

Plates cleared, Mel called her mother, then her brother, the sound of lively German in the background when I pulled the glistening cake out of the oven.

As the cake cooled and the juices pooled, I whipped up some cream sprinkled with confectioners sugar.

I carried the tray around my apartment, trying to find the perfect light for capturing its beauty. This shot was taken on a blanket on my balcony. (And then the blanket, splotched with a few sticky spots of juice, went straight into the washer.)

We finally cut into the cake into large rectangles, the knife slipping between zwetschgen and hitting the soft bread-like cake beneath and reaching the pan with a thud.

The scoop of whipped cream! Don’t leave it off. It slowly melted, the cold mingling with the warm, the sweet cutting the tart.

I invited a few other friends over that evening to help get through the pan and had just a few rectangles for the next day’s breakfast (and lunch) by which time the plum flesh had deepened from a golden green color to a rich ruby red, the syrup dyeing the dough nearly all the way through.

Happy weekend, all!

Zwetschgendatschi (Bavarian plum cake)

Zwetschgendatschi is a plum cake made in Germany (and nearby countries) with the small, oval zwetschgen plums (also called Italian prune plums or damson plums or quetsche in French) that ripen in early fall. The cake has a yeast dough and is jammed edge to edge with plums.  Pick out  plums that are just slightly tender. If they’re too ripe, they’ll fall apart when you cut into them. Plus, the whole point of the cake is to use up the plums before they pass their prime.

This cake is classically made in a sheet pan – I used a 13X18 cookie sheet with a raised edge.

Serves 12-15

- 1 C whole milk

- 1 T dry yeast (approximately one packet)

- 1 t + 1/2 C + 2 T sugar (you add sugar three different times)

- 1 t + 4 C flour

- 1/2 C butter (one stick), plus more for greasing

- pinch of salt

- 1 egg

- 1 lemon for zest

- 4 lbs zwetschgen (Italian plums)

- 1 pint heavy cream

- 2 T confectioners sugar

Proof. Warm milk  in a small pot until  lukewarm (don’t let it bubble). Remove from heat and sprinkle in the yeast, 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of flour. Cover with a cloth towel and set in a warm place for about 20 minutes until the top is frothy (i.e., proof that the yeast is alive and working).

Melt. Melt the butter and let it cool while the yeast is proofing.

Knead. In the bowl of your stand mixer (or just a regular bowl if you want to knead by hand), stir together sugar (1/2 cup), flour (4 cups), and salt. Add the milk mixture, melted butter (make sure it has cooled – you don’t want it to cook the egg), egg, and lemon zest. Knead until the dough comes together into a solid ball. Knead by hand for a few minutes. You shouldn’t need any extra flour while kneading.

Rise. Return the dough to your bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, poke a hole in the plastic, and place the bowl in a warm  place. Let the dough rise until doubled, about an hour.

Slice. You’re going to want to slice each plum into quarters. You can do it the old fashioned way – cut all the way around the pit and then cut each half in half, but this will make arranging the plums a bit more difficult. The other way sounds a bit more complicated, but works really well with these plums. Slice the plum on only one side and pluck out the pit (these plums are “freestone” ones, so the pits pop right out). Gently open the plum halves without cutting the skin. Make two more cuts to flatten the plum into quarters, still keeping the skin intact.

Preheat. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Press. Generously grease a large cookie sheet. When the dough has risen enough, knead it a few more times by hand and then roll it out into a rectangle around the size of the pan (don’t worry if it’s not exact). Transfer the dough to the greased pan and press and stretch it until it reaches the edges. It will initially spring back, but evenutally it will stay in place. Try to get the dough the same thickness all around.

Arrange. Place the plums quarters on the dough in layered rows, flesh side facing forward and with the stem tips facing up. If you’ve flattened the plums, lean each one up against the next, overlapping like shingles on a roof. Now you see why it’s worth the early effort of cutting the plums carefully.

Bake. Sprinkle the plums with sugar and  bake for about 30 minutes until the dough gets golden brown. Let cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes before eating.

Whip. Whip together cream and confectioners sugar. Watch carefully so you don’t overwhip to make butter (trust me, I’ve done it).

Slice. Cut the cake into 3X4 or 3X5 rectantgular pieces.

Eat. Top each slice with a good spoonful of whipped cream. Have at it!

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I’m starting to sound like a broken record: I went to the farmers market, I bought too much, I  baked, I cooked, I baked.

But how anyone doesn’t fall into this pattern eludes me, especially as August draws to a close. I wrote my most recent Jerusalem Post column about the lush rainbow of tomatoes and berries and stone fruits here in the northeast and finding ways to savor them during the last days of summer. I wrote about the rush to relax, the urgent joie de vivre that these fruits instill. (For more on this topic, check out what my friend Leah recently wrote about peaches in Saveur.)

In the JPost article, I shared two recipes that do more than just use the best of summer. They do more than just highlight the best of summer. They intensify the best of summer.

First, what do you get when you toss a handful of baby tomatoes with thick pomegranate molasses and slip them under a puff pastry crust? You might remember this recipe – it’s a tomato tarte tatin the produces the most concentrated tomato taste that I’ve ever tasted. The pomegranate molasses sweetens and tartens the tomatoes as they melt into a jam-like pulp.

Second, what do you get when you slip a handful of plums into a cake batter tinged with lime and rose? Well, you’ve already seen that cake with its tart plum juice dripping into the sweet floral cake. On a plum kick these days these days, I recreated the flavors in a much simpler cake with a batter that uses only one bowl and five minutes of your time. Because, as we all know, the less time in the kitchen, the more time to bask in the sunshine and drink rosé in the evenings.

But I’m going to let you in on a little secret. These recipes are also dig-your-heels-in, don’t-let-summer-go kinds of recipes that recreate that summer feeling when the farmers markets are in the rear view mirror. The small tomatoes, with their high flesh-to-seed ratio, used in the tarte tatin are also the best kind to buy year-round when other tomatoes are wan and mealy. In fact, I first made this tarte tatin towards the end of spring.  As for the cake, use it as a base for any summer fruit that freezes well. I freeze fresh blueberries (I have a whole bag of wild ones in my freezer) and my mother likes peaches. Any change in texture of the fruit due to freezing doesn’t impact the cake since the fruit cooks and mushes and melts into the batter.

But, enough about looking ahead. For right now, let’s just look around.

***

P.S. Click here to catch up on any JPost articles that you might have missed.

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Plum cake with lime and rose

This recipe was adapted from Rivka’s Easiest Cake Ever on Not Derby Pie. It lives up to its name as the simplest cake I’ve ever made. All you need is one bowl, one spoon, a cutting board and knife, and a pan. The batter is thick, but is still pourable. A few swipes of a spatula gets it right into the pan. The fruit juices ooze all over and dribble beautiful color throughout the cake. The plums I used were on the tart side, which played nicely against the sweet cake. I added lime zest and rose water (available in any Middle Eastern store, rose water is a nice complement to any red fruit including berries), but they can be replaced by equal amounts of lemon zest and vanilla.

Any type of juicy fruit works. Come fall, I make this cake with apples that I briefly cook them down with a bit of sugar to help them release their juices.

Serves 8-10

-  6-8 small plums or 4-6 large plums

-  1 C flour

-  3/4 C sugar

-  2 eggs

-  1/2 C canola oil

-  1 t baking powder

-  1 t rose water (or vanilla)

-  1 lime for zest

- Optional: 2-3 T demerara sugar, also called sugar in the raw or turbinado sugar

Prep. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease and flour a 9-inch cake pan, springform or square pan. (If you want to plate this, use a springform; otherwise, just serve it out of the pan.) Cut the plums into wedges (6 wedges per small plum, 8 wedges per large).

Mix. Mix together the remaining ingredients (except for the demerara sugar). You can mix this all by hand in less time than it takes to drag your stand mixer out of the cabinet.

Arrange. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. The batter is thick, so you’ll need a spatula to scoop it all out and then spread it evenly in the pan. Arrange the plum slices however you want and sprinkle with demerara sugar.

Bake. Bake the cake for 50-60 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.

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My great-uncle Ludwig lived in Paris where he and his wife Marta owned a fur shop in the center of the city. The first time I visited Paris with my family, Ludwig and Marta invited us to Furriers Tuileries for coffee. We walked along a small street nestled between the shops of Rue Saint Honoré and Rue de Rivoli to find Ludwig standing in the doorway of the cozy store, his bright blue eyes smiling when he saw us approaching.

Surrounded by coats and hats, we sat on straight-backed cafe chairs around a small round table laid with cheese and crackers and fruit – tiny plums and peaches. The fruit was sliced. The conversation was somewhat formal as the grown-ups caught up on the years since my parents’ last visit.

I balanced a small plate on my knees and covered it with crackers and fruit. When I was ready for seconds, I tentatively reached for another cracker, this time spreading it with soft creamy cheese, leaving behind the chalky white exterior. It was my first taste of room temperature cheese. It was not my last.

Ludwig and Marta eventually sold the store and Marta passed away. Whenever I visited Paris, Ludwig and I would meet in his apartment and sit on his brocade sofa and share a platter of cheese and crackers and slices of ripe fruit. Gradually our conversations became less formal. We shifted from English to French and had more to talk about than how I was doing in school.

When Ludwig visited New York, the whole family would go out to eat. When it was my turn to choose a place for lunch, I’d suggest a brasserie for steak frites. When it was his turn, he’d suggest a diner in Queens. He liked fried eggs and hash browns.

He once brought my mother an Hermès scarf that had belonged to Marta. As we sat in the diner, waiting for our food to arrive, I fingered the scarf’s hand-rolled edge and slightly rounded corners that indicated it was a vintage piece.

The last time I saw Ludwig, he sliced fruit in his tiny Parisian kitchen while I browsed the living room walls, the paintings, the books concealed behind the paned glass doors of the cabinet. There were a lot of history books.

After we chatted, he insisted on accompanying me in a taxi to my rented apartment. We chatted easily in the back seat as we rode from one end of the city to the other, crossing the Seine into the Left Bank. He got out of the taxi and walked around to open my door, asking the driver to wait until I disappeared through the courtyard and into my temporary home.

As I tell this story, I realize that it seems to have written itself and meandered to where I didn’t expect it to.

I meant to start off with a phrase that my mother told me was Ludwig’s life philosophy: n’achetez pas des bananes vertes - don’t buy green bananas. Though I never heard him say it, I often repeat this phrase to myself when I’m in an outdoor market at the peak of the season. Even though I didn’t know Ludwig well, his life always something of a mystery to me, my memories of our rare visits are strong. This French side of my family that introduced me to petite Parisian apartments, stores of another time, and fruit that you slice rather than chomp.

The recipe that reminded me of Ludwig is a blueberry peach tart. The peaches, whose scent welcomed me to last week’s farmers market, are sliced and arranged atop an almond frangipane layer. The blueberries nearly bursting with juice scatter in the center. The tart was baked for a celebration – my friend Shoshana had just defended her dissertation. Our friends gathered at my place for tart and many glasses of champagne.

The moral of this story may be obvious, but I’m not a moral-of-the-story kinda gal. Nonetheless, the tart makes me think of Ludwig and Ludwig makes me think of beautifully fresh fruit, careful preparation and making family feel like beloved guests and guests feel like family.

Blueberry peach frangipane tart

This recipe is very similar to the pear frangipane tart I made several months ago, but I changed the citrus flavor from orange to lime. This recipe may make a bit more frangipane than you need. You only want to fill the crust about halfway to the top.

Makes a large (9.5-10 inch) tart.

- 1 batch pâte sucrée or pie dough: the recipe that I use is here and here – make sure not to work the dough too much – you just need a few pulses. Also, before rolling the dough out, remember the fraissage step: gather the dough together into a pile, and then with the palm of your hand, push it away from you against the counter a few times. This will help make the dough flakey.

- 3 T unsalted butter (or margarine if making non-dairy)

- 1 1/2 C almond flour – sometimes called almond meal, this is very finely ground almonds. You can find in made with raw almonds (the flour will be light brown) or blanched almonds (the flour will be a very light beige). You could also make your own by grinding up 1 1/2 C blanched almonds – but be sure to add half the sugar to avoid making almond butter in  your food processor.

- 2/3 C sugar

- 1/4 t salt

- 1 t vanilla

- 1 lime for zest

- 2 eggs

- about 3C fruit: 3 C blueberries or 3 peaches and 1.5 C blueberries; other stone fruits will work as well

Prep. Preheat oven to 375°. Lightly grease the bottom of a 9.5 – 10 inch tart pan with a removable bottom.

Roll. Roll the pastry dough out between two sheets of wax or parchment paper (to make it easier to transfer to the pan) into a circle about 2 inches larger than your pan. Remove the top sheet of paper. Gently lay the dough on the pan and slowly remove the second piece of paper. Press the dough into the bottom of the pan and up the sides. Roll your pin across the top of the pan to trim off any excess dough. Use this excess to patch any cracks.

Chill. Refrigerate the tart shell for 30 minutes until firm.

Bake. Prick the dough all over with a fork. Place a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment paper (not wax paper which will smoke) on the raw dough and fill with pie weights or raw rice. You want to weigh down the crust so it doesn’t form bubbles. Bake the dough for 10-15 minutes until it just starts to turn golden. Place on a cooling rack. Keep the oven on.

Mix. Melt the butter (I use my microwave). In a medium bowl, mix together almonds flour/meal, sugar, salt, vanilla, and lime zest. Lightly beat the eggs and then mix them in. Pour in the cooled butter and mix. The frangipane will be a bit gritty looking.

Slice. Slice peaches (or other stone fruits) into even slices. I got about 16 per peach because I like the slices thin.

Fill. Spread the frangipane in a thin layer on the tart shell, about half of the way up the edges. Don’t feel compelled to use all of the frangipane because you don’t want it to overflow after you add the fruit. Arrange the fruit as artistically as you’d like, but keep it in a single layer.

Bake. Bake for 35-45 minutes. Check the tart after 30 minutes and then every few minutes until the frangipane turns golden and is no longer jiggly. Let cool before serving.

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If this blog were any indication, seasonality would seem to have passed me by.

There’s been no I-need-to-come-up-with-something-new-to-make-with-my-endless-supply-of-CSA-zucchini-and-kale dilemma.

No there-are-so-many-amazing-fruits-and-vegetables-in-the-farmers-market-that-I-bought-several-flats-worth-that-will-go-bad-if-I-don’t-make-this-crumble-tart-jam-cake-right-now panic.

Instead, I visit my local farmers market like clockwork every Monday. I fill my bag. And then I eat everything out of hand or simply prepared.

Cherries? If they make it home from the market, I can barely wash them before a dozen pits are piled in a bowl.

Blueberries? Straight into my morning yogurt.

Peaches? Eaten dripping down my chin and trickling to my elbow over a sink that, more often than not, has a few dishes to catch any remaining juice.

Heirloom tomatoes? They’ve only just started appearing around here but the first few I’ve snagged have been sliced  and topped with fresh mozzarella, a sprig of basil, and a drizzle of olive oil.

Sure, a fleeting garlic scape or two made an appearance in June, but most of my baking and cooking over the Summer months has revolved around my pantry. It started innocently enough. There was the pomegranate syrup that jumped from tomato tarte tatin to carrots. Then the pistachios that flitted across a salad and landed in biscotti. Now I’ve grabbed the rose water from the biscotti and am adding it to my first truly summer dessert of the season.

Enough chatting and let’s get on with it. I give you plum cake!

Let’s start with the plums. They’re the little ones sold by the pint. You can fit three comfortably in your hand, maybe four. (These are not the nearly apple-sized monsters you’ll find in the grocery stores!) The ones I’ve been using reveal bright red flesh under their dark purple, nearly black, skin.

Now, the batter. It uses brown sugar instead of white, deepening the cake’s sweetness. I add a little bit of my current pantry obsession – rose water – and lime zest, the batter speckled with tiny green flakes. Overlook the fact that the original recipe calls for nearly 10 minutes in a stand mixer – I suspect that a few minutes with a whisk and a strong arm will bake up just fine.

Plum cake with lime and rose, ready for the oven

Scoop the batter into the pan, arrange the plums on top, and pop it into the oven where the batter puffs and the plums sink. No wonder Dorie Greenspan calls it Dimply Plum Cake. Seriously, how can you not love a cake that sounds like a smile?

As you’d expect, Dorie doesn’t disappoint.

Cut a slice, and you can see how the juices that have pooled into the impressions left by the plum pits continue to seep into the cake below. Take a bite and your teeth cut smoothly through the plum skin that has melted into the golden dense cake. The slightly tart plums and specks of lime mingle with the sweet brown sugar cake and hint of rose, lingering in your mouth after nothing but crumbs remain on your plate.

If you can, save a square or two for breakfast the next day.

****

One more note before we get to the recipe. Since it’s the first Wednesday of August (August!), drop by the Jerusalem Post to read my next Come to the Table column. This time we’re talking about Panama and the ceviche recipe that a chef gave me on my trip there a few years back.

****

Dimply plum cake with lime and rose

This recipe is an adaptation of Dorie Greenspan‘s Dimply Plum Cake that I discovered  via Deb at Smitten Kitchen.  I changed up the flavoring a bit, using lime zest and rose water. Feel free to substitute your favorite stone fruit (maybe even berries) and citrus zest. The cake is dense an a bit crumbly – Deb is spot on when she likens its texture to a coffee cake. You can keep the cake on the counter for 2 days, tightly wrapped, but it’s amazing a few minutes out of the oven when the plum juices are still pooling. If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can use a whisk and some muscle and everything should turn out great. Don’t try to replace the butter with margarine as the cake doesn’t turn out as nicely.

Makes 16 small servings.

- 5 T unsalted butter – make sure to bring to room temperature

- 3/4 C brown sugar

- 2 large eggs

- 1/3 C flavorless oil (I used canola)

- 1 lime for zest

- 1 1/2 t rose water (I use Cortas brand)

- 1 1/2 C flour

- 2 t baking powder

- 1/4 t salt

- 8 very small plums (3 or 4 should fit comfortably in your hand; if you want to be exact, they should just shy of 2 inches in diameter)

Prep. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour an 8×8 square pan.

Mix. Using a stand mixer, beat the room temperature butter until soft and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the sugar and  beat for another 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition for another minute. So, that’s 8 minutes total so far. Add the oil, lime zest, and rose water and beat until smooth and creamy – “satiny” as Deb describes.

Add. You’re supposed to first whisk together the dry ingredients, but I cheat. Here’s how: Add flour, baking powder, and salt to the bowl. Don’t mix it into the wet ingredients yet. Use a spoon to gently mix together just the dry ingredients so that there are no big lumps of baking powder in one spot and a pile of salt in another. Then turn the mixer back on until the dry ingredients are just incorporated with the wet.

Cut. Slice the plums in half – I used Deb’s tip of slicing on either side of the pit so you don’t have to twist the halves to get the pit out. And, as a special bonus, you get a leftover slivers of plum to snack on while baking.

Arrange. Use a spatula to help pour the batter into the pan. Using an offset spatula, or, if you don’t have one, a spoon and a steady hand, spread and even out the batter. Arrange the plums, flesh side up in a 4X4 matrix. Gently push them down into the batter.

Bake. Bake the cake for 30-40 minutes until the cake puffs up and turns golden. When you stick a toothpick in, it’s OK for a few crumbs to cling, as long as the batter is not still liquidy.

Cool. Let cool for at least 15 minutes and then run a knife around the edges to help remove the cake from the pan.

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