Monthly Archives: September 2006

“This is Just to Say:” aka a post on almond-plum buckle

almond-plum buckle, originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

Now is the time for plums, sweet and juicy and oh so tempting. Plums are so inviting that they are the subject of William Carlos Wlliam’s famous poem, This is Just to Say, which contains the famous lines, “I have eaten/ the plums/ that were in/ the icebox/ and which/ you were probably/ saving/ for breakfast/ Forgive me/ they were delicious/ so sweet/ and so cold”

Everytime I think about plums, I think about those lines (I’m a writer AND a foodie, what can I say?). I also think about the plum tree in my childhood backyard, frilly with the lace of blossoms in spring, and then laden with the shiny purple fruit in summer, hanging like so many extravagant earrings off the branches. We fought the birds for the juiciest fruit. “A bird nibbled on that one. It’s probably the tastiest one of all.” We were so greedy for the fruit that we cut out the bird bites and ate the rest of the fruit. Yes, the birds knew how to pick the best plums. Eventually, the branches, bent heavy with the fruit, straightened out until the tree became utterly normal looking by winter. Plums and their trees can only be magical for so long, I guess.

Alas, I developed an allergy to plums and all stone fruit a few years ago, and now I can only indulge in them when they are cooked. So I keep my eyes peeled for a good plum recipe.

almond-plum buckle

Here is a good recipe. It is called an almond-plum buckle (and I think you can make it with other fruit to great success). I have made it a few times now, to great acclaim. It is a fairly easy cake to make, with a very fun name, “buckle.” (A buckle is a dessert cake that has fruit placed on top of cake batter…durring baking the cake rises and the fruit “buckles” in, hence the name “buckle.”) One time, I didn’t have almond extract, so I did what I love to do: I adapted the recipe. I put a splash of kirschwasser in place of almond extract, and it was just delicious, the hint of cherry flavor from the brandy gave the almond and plums an extra punch. But it’s also quite excellent according to the original recipe (found on epicurious).

RECIPE FOR ALMOND-PLUM BUCKLE (from epicurious).

INGREDIENTS:
Nonstick vegetable oil spray

1/2 cup whole almonds (about 2 1/2 ounces)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup plus 4 teaspoons sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (one time I put in a splash of cherry brandy in place of almond extract and it worked quite well)

1 1/4 pounds plums (about 8 medium), halved, pitted, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices (you will actually need a LOT fewer plums than this! I have never used more than 4 medium plums for this recipe, where did they get EIGHT?)
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Spray 9-inch-diameter cake pan with 2-inch-high sides with nonstick spray. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper round.

Finely grind almonds in processor. Transfer to medium bowl; whisk in flour, baking powder, and salt. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Add 1 cup sugar; beat until well blended. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla and almond extract, then flour mixture just until incorporated.

Transfer batter to prepared pan; spread evenly and smooth top with spatula. Gently press plum slices, flesh side down, into batter in spoke pattern around outer rim and center of cake, placing close together. Mix cinnamon and 4 teaspoons sugar in small bowl. Sprinkle over plums.

Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Cool cake in pan on rack 20 minutes. Run small knife between cake and pan sides to loosen. Invert cake onto platter; remove parchment paper. Place another platter atop cake. Using both hands, hold both platters firmly together and invert cake, plum side up. Cool cake completely. Cut into wedges.

almond-plum buckle

p.s. Someone who ate this cake said it reminded her of Marion Burros’ famous plum torte. What–I wondered, was this recipe to end all recipes? I googled “marion burros plum tarte recipe” and found this fantastic write up on The Wednesday Chef. I am so utterly intrigued and must try this out. Oh, and still make time to make the clafouti I’ve been dying to try! And post all the food write ups I’ve got queued up! Oh, and write my novel!

/food

Want to write for Slashfood? Thought I’d pass the word.

Foodie Gossip!

There is a very juicy article about Chez Panisse in this month’s Vanity Fair.  Just so you don’t have to flip to the Baby Suri photo spread, I’m posting a link to it here.

If cantaloupe is never cold enough: Cantaloupe Sorbet

homemade cantaloupe sorbet, originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

I’m going to talk about two things that don’t seem to go together: personal trainers and desserts. This is because I challenged myself to make my personal trainer a dessert dish. Something healthy but delicious–what could I make?

My personal trainer, predictably, chides me for eating butter and ice cream. He is just so very opposed to dairy products, but I think it has to do with his own lactose intolerance. However, he is a fan of sorbet. I would make–sorbet!

But what flavor of sorbet? I wanted to make something that Haagen Dazs wouldn’t produce, so that nixed strawberry, mango, peach, and raspberry. I thought about cherimoya, but couldn’t find any. So I began to think about fruit that was very in season–landing on cantaloupe. Doug, my trainer, LOVES cantaloupe–he’s weaned me OFF watermelon by suggesting I eat more cantalouope in its place (“it’s the WORST of the fruits, do you know how much sugar is in watermelon?” he exclaims, much to my watermelon-loving dismay. “Try cantaloupe,” he proposed).

This makes a fantastic sorbet. Unlike many sorbet recipes, this does NOT require an ice cream maker, just a blender or a food processor. In many ways, it resembles granita.   Recipe follows…

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Canning

homemade strawberry jam, originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

This summer, I read my share of posts on jam: Tea and Cookies posted throughout her summer about various jams (ah, the travels she took to wonderful berry kingdoms!)…and here on Muffin Top, Eric posted about jamming as comfort activity and Connie posted a wonderful write up of sour cherry jam.

How could a girl resist falling in love with the idea of jamming? At first, I read with awe about jamming, something I saw as akin to alchemy. Sterilize jars, lids, make jam, boil jars in canner, seal…so many steps, so many having nothing to do with cooking! It was…MAGIC. And if it were to go wrong, it would be TRAGIC (as bad magic tricks go). I was intimidated.

But in the end, my desire for homemade jam overcame any intimidation I felt.

I wrote emails to Tea and Eric. Tips, got any tips?
1. Don’t cut down on the sugar–and Tea’s post on her sad strawberry saga was particularly insightful. Don’t double the recipes either. Pectin can be picky.
2. To pectin or not to pectin? As I conducted my research, I found that there is an “anti-pectin” camp, and another camp that sees nothing wrong with using pectin (the thing that makes your jam jell). Martha Stewart is in the no-pectin camp, because I found none of her ercipes included pectin. If you’re making jam with a low-pectin fruit, you want to go with pectin. If you’re making jam for the first time, you want to go with pectin. You may want to go with a low-sugar pectin (I did, and it turned out GREAT). You may also go with Pomona’s Universal no-sugar pectin, too, if you are adverse to sugar. I tried it. I prefer the low-sugar pectin brand.

Um, those are basically the tips.

I used the recipes for blueberry and strawberry jams on pick your own. I am in LOVE with canning!

And now I’m eyeing a bag of locally grown tomatoes, and want to can tomaotes, too. What can be better than to pop open a can of tomatoes in the middle of winter, when all the tomatoes are gone?

Canning–a combination of alchemy, crafts (yes, it’s like doing crafts) and pragmatism (after all, it is a way to preserve fresh produce for much later). The thing is, I keep eating the jam–what will I have by the time winter comes?

Lune with Butter and Sage

Because I’m a glutton for punishment (or perhaps just a glutton), I made the another recipe suggestion, lune with butter and sage, for this month’s ReadCookEat book club theme. The lune is basically homemade squash ravioli. The recipe initially calls for a pumpkin filling, but says that butternut or acorn squash are also acceptable. I chose to use butternut squash – the sugar pie pumpkins are not in season yet. When I looked at the recipe, I noticed that there was something missing – a recipe for the pasta itself. After some searching, I found it in the archives under the recipe for the asparagus ricotta ravioli. But I decided go with Buford’s suggestions in Heat instead.

I used three eggs and five yolks for one pound of flour (Buford says to use eight yolks, but I only had five) plus a little olive oil, instead of the four whole eggs suggested in the online recipe. It’s been a while, but I’ve made pasta at home before, and there are a few things that I’ve learned. I don’t have the ability yet to mix to eggs into the mound of flour on the countertop without compromising the integrity of the well. I can’t abide the idea of leaving a raw egg crust for any amount of time on my marble board, so I make the well in the flour while it’s in a bowl before turning it out to knead. It works out just fine.

When you knead, like kneading bread, put your back into it. It’ll save your arms. I know of friends who have rolled out their pasta by hand. I’m not that good – I just use a pasta roller. I mean, what can you expect? If it’s good enough for Mario, it’s good enough for me.

Rolling out the dough takes a bit of space. My kitchen is tiny, so I do it at the table. Also, the first time I made pasta by hand, I somehow thought that you were supposed to roll it though each of the 9 thickness settings (okay, maybe I was um, a little inebrieted). You don’t have to. Now I just roll it through the odd numbered settings. Also, make sure you guide the dough into the roller, and “catch” it as it comes out so that it won’t stretch out.

If you’re using some kind of cutout to punch out shapes, punch the dough out against a wooden board. Because the dough develops plenty of gluten from all the kneading and is rolled out quite thin, it gets pretty elastic-ky, so it can be tricky to punch out. I find that the sponginess of a wooden board is easier to work with than marble. Cutting the pasta into neat squares with a pizza wheel and a ruler instead just might save you some grief.

Per the recipe’s direction, I roasted the squash for the filling at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. It didn’t seem soft enough, so I let it roast for another 15 minutes. At this point, it seemed okay, but still not as soft as squash I’ve roasted in the past. I think that next time, I’ll roast it longer at a higher heat. I mashed it with a potato masher, and briefly considered putting it through the food processor, but decided to just let it be. I mixed with the cheese, nutmeg and balsamic, then piped it onto the cutouts. I’m not sure if I didn’t use enough filling per pasta, but I piped approximately 60 lune… the recipe says it makes 40. Previous experience has taught me that when sealing the pasta, you need to push out the air. Bubbles caught within the filling will expand when heated, which make your pasta fall apart. I was also worried that the seal wouldn’t “take”; instead of using water to seal the edges together (like when I make wontons or pot stickers), I was just pressing the pasta together. Also, because the filling was so wet, I kept having to dust the pasta with flour and turn them in order to prevent sticking. Amazingly, when I slid the pasta into the boiling water, none of them split! I’m not sure how that happened, but I was pretty happy with the results. The sauce doesn’t get any simpler – I ‘ll just add that you should be careful when adding the pasta water to the butter, itt’ll sizzle and splash something fierce! Also, be careful when grating the amaretti cookie over the pasta – it’s a lot more brittle than cheese and the whole thing will implode within your fingers if you treat it as such.

When I make pasta, I usually don’t make ravioli. Making the cutouts leaves a lot of scraps, and after all that kneading and rolling, I can’t bear to waste them (agnolotti wastes less), so I froze them all. I came home late tonight with a sack of my officemate’s homegrown heirloom tomatoes, so instead of picking up takeout, I threw it all together with some basil, parsley and parmagiano reggiano in what I have called a deconstructed pasta dish. Not pretty, but you can’t beat the ingredients.

Bucatini All’Amatriciana

In addition to the bouef bourgignon (in keeping with September’s book club themes), I also made Bucatini All’Amatriciana this week. I was already buying beef shoulder for the bourgignon from Cafe Rouge anyways, and their guanciale always intrigued me, so I bought some. I’d never thought of any use for it before, but here was the perfect excuse, for the recipe incorporated it. You can always just use pancetta (or even bacon or salt pork, I suppose), but the first time I attempt a new recipe, I like to follow it to a tee. and experiment with it whenver I try again. If you’ve never seen guanciale before, it’s a flat white hunk of fat dusted with herbs. When sliced, it’s about the width of a slice of bacon and two-thirds the length, with a pink streak of flesh running down slightly off-center. I had assumed it was the same sort of thing as lardo or prosciutto bianco, but as I learned from Heat, there are many different cuts of pork and cured pork products. Guanciale actually comes from the jowl. My butcher sliced it into whisper thin slices, while I went next door to pick up some dry bucatini from the Pasta Shop. When I got home, I tasted a slice and felt intimidated. It was very, very salty – enough so that I would hesitate before serving it on a charcuterie platter to guests. In addition, it just seemed like the recipe called for a lot of it. But since I had already purchased, I figured I might as well continue with the recipe.

I made the tomato sauce ahead of time last weekend, measuring out what I would need and saving the rest. It’s a pretty simple recipe – the only point I would add is that it still seemed pretty loose by the end of its suggested cooking time, so I let it simmer uncovered for another 15 minutes. On Wednesday, I browned the guanciale in two batches, draining the fat in between. It smelled wonderful cooking, and very different from pancetta or bacon. It was more, well, porky smelling – like chiccharones or cracklins. I did not use “half of the fat” from the cooked guanciale to saute the vegetables – there was already an awful lot of cured pork fat in this dish, I have to draw the line somewhere. Also, I was worried that the dish was going to be too salty. I wound up using whatever remained in pan after I poured off the fat. Bucatini, by the way, looks like regular spaghetti in the photo, but really, it’s about twice the diamater of spaghetti and has a small pinhole running down the center. I never boil (add enough salt to the pasta water so it tastes like seawater) my pasta until it’s done – I “finish” cooking it in whatever sauce i’m using. When I added the tomato sauce to the vegetables and guanciale, it seemed pretty dry, so when I tossed the pasta (al dente) into the sauce, I added a ladleful of pasta water.

The verdict? It came out pretty well. Zack loves spicy food and bacon, so he loved this dish. The acid from the tomato sauce really worked to balance out the salt. When you’re adding the pepper flakes to this dish, it smells and tastes like it’ll be very spicy, but as they cook, the pepper flakes mellow, and also balance out the salt. I think I’ll be making this dish again – maybe I’ll try it with pancetta next time.

Next up: The lune!