Monday, September 1, 2014

Pasta with Corn Pesto...Two Ways

Saturday morning at the market I learned that local sweet corn would only be available for another two weeks.  In reality it has been a long season...but it has seemed so very fast.  I hate to see it draw to a close.  I love sweet corn.  We enjoy it in salads, pastas and as a vegetable side dish all summer long...I never get tired of it.  This year we have been enjoying it in (among other things) corn pesto. 

My recipe for corn pesto is adapted from one that ran a few years back in Bon Appetit.  I'm not sure I would have thought to make a pesto from corn.  It includes all the usual pesto suspects—pine nuts, Parmesan, olive oil and garlic—and it is deliciously sweet from the corn.  I have not used it for anything other than as a sauce for pasta, but I think you could probably come up with lots of great ways to use long as you remember to balance its inherently sweet flavor with some salty and/or bitter ingredients.  Both the pastas that I made incorporate these elements—salty bacon with bitter kale in one and salty prosciutto and slightly bitter and hot arugula in the other.

I didn't alter the original recipe too much.  I changed the ratios of the ingredients a bit, but that is a personal taste thing and is really not that significant.  The biggest change I made was the manner in which I prepared the corn.  The original recipe uses corn that has been sautéed in bacon fat (since the pasta recipe that accompanied it included bacon and corn that was sautéed in the fat).  I roasted the corn instead—mostly because roasting is my favorite way to prepare corn...but also because it makes the pesto into a recipe that stands on its own.  Furthermore, since the recipe calls for 1 1/4 cups of roasted corn—and ears of corn don't produce uniform quantities of kernels—there will almost certainly be kernels of corn left over.  And plain roasted corn kernels are a handy thing to have on hand in the summer—for salads, stuffing for other vegetables, grain pilafs, salsas, vegetable medleys...and of course, pasta.  If your corn leftovers have been sautéed in bacon fat, they will be delicious, but their use will be limited.

One final note about a difference between my recipe and the original.  I prefer my pastas lightly sauced.  The original recipe from Bon Appetit calls for almost twice as much corn pesto as I use.  If you like your pasta to be heavily sauced, simply make a larger batch of pesto and use as much as you need to obtain the ratio of sauce to pasta that pleases you.   

Summer seems to have raced by me this year.  I can't believe that today is really the first day of September.  I have not yet had my fill of sweet corn   ....or tomatoes  ....or eggplant  ....or peppers  ....  Happily, the market will continue to offer most of these items for another two or three weeks at least.  I don't know how many posts I will have the time to squeeze in during the coming month, but I feel safe in predicting that  those that I do write will certainly feature these late summer foods that I love....extending my enjoyment of the season as long as I possibly can.     

Corn Pesto

1 1/4 c. (200 grams) roasted corn (see note)
1/4 c. (30 grams) pine nuts, lightly toasted
pinch of cayenne
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 to 1/2 t. kosher salt
3 T. olive oil
1/3 c. (30 grams) finely grated Parmesan

Place the corn in the bowl of the food processor (fitted with the metal blade) along with the pine nuts, garlic, cayenne, pepper and a quarter teaspoon of salt.  Process until the corn and pine nuts are very finely chopped and have formed a paste, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl a couple of times.

With the machine running, pour in the olive oil, processing until incorporated.  Add the Parmesan and pulse in.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Makes about 1 1/4 cup pesto.

Note: To roast corn, place the corn (in the husk) in a preheated 375­° oven.  Roast for 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven and remove the husks as soon as you are able to handle the corn.  Cool and cut the kernels away from the cob.  A large ear of corn will produce about 1 cup of kernels.  If you are using the pesto to sauce one of the two pasta recipes that follow, remember to roast extra ears of corn. 

Bucatini with Corn Pesto, Kale & Bacon

1 bunch kale (see notes), center ribs removed (you will have about 5 oz. trimmed kale) and leaves rinsed in several changes of water
2 to 3 strips of bacon (about 2 oz.), cut cross-wise in 1/4-inch strips
1 small (or half of a medium) red onion (about 4 oz.), cut in a 1/4-inch dice
olive oil
a pinch of hot pepper flakes, to taste
1/2 c. roasted corn
1/2 lb. Bucatini (or linguine)
1/2 recipe corn pesto
freshly grated Parmesan

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.  Add the kale and boil until tender—about 5 to 10 minutes.   Drain the kale and spread on a baking sheet to cool.  Squeeze out the excess water with your hands and chop coarsely.  Set aside.

Meanwhile, in a medium sauté pan, set over medium low heat, render the bacon, stirring occasionally until crisp.  Transfer the bacon to paper towels.  Increase the heat to medium, add the onions to the pan along with a pinch of salt and cook until the onions are tender and beginning to caramelize—about 8 to 10 minutes.  Add a tablespoon (more or less, depending on the fattiness of the bacon) of olive oil to the pan followed by a pinch of hot pepper flakes and the kale, stirring and tossing to break up the kale and coat it in the fat.  Cook over moderately low to low heat until the kale has darkened and is sizzling in the fat a bit—another 15 to 20 minutes.  

Add the corn and heat through.  Reduce the heat to the very lowest setting while you cook the pasta.

Drop the pasta into a large pot of rapidly boiling water seasoned with about a teaspoon of salt per quart.  Stir and cook until the pasta is al dente.   When the pasta is almost done, scoop out a half cup of the pasta water and set aside.

While the  pasta finishes cooking, place the corn pesto in a large bowl with a quarter cup of the pasta cooking liquid.  Stir until smooth and incorporated.  Drain the pasta and add along with a drizzle (maybe a half tablespoon?) of olive oil.  Toss to coat the pasta, adding more of the pasta water as necessary to obtain a fluid sauce.  Add the warm kale and corn mixture and toss well.  Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper.  Correct the consistency with pasta water and/or olive oil.  Serve topped with the reserved bacon and freshly grated Parmesan.  Serves 2 to 3.

  • I use Red Russian Kale, but Siberian or Tuscan would work well too.
  • The recipe may be easily doubled.  Choose a very large sauté pan for cooking the onions and kale.
  • If you have corn pesto on hand, but don't have extra roasted corn, you may prepare this pasta by adding raw corn kernels to the sauté pan after the onions have caramelized.  When the corn begins to sizzle in the bacon fat, add the oil and kale and proceed with the recipe.

Fettuccine with Corn Pesto, Prosciutto & Arugula

1/2 lb. Fettuccine
1/2 recipe Corn Pesto
3/4 c. roasted corn
1 1/2 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into 1/4-inch ribbons
a handful of arugula leaves (1/2 oz.) stemmed and cut in 1/4-inch ribbons
Freshly grated Parmesan

Bring a large pot of water to the boil.  Season with 1 teaspoon of salt per quart of water.  Drop the pasta, stir and cook until the pasta is al dente.   When the pasta is almost done, scoop out a half cup of the pasta water and set aside.

While the pasta finishes cooking, place the pesto in a large bowl with a quarter cup of the pasta cooking water and stir until smooth. Stir in the corn.  Scatter the prosciutto evenly over the surface of the pesto and corn, but don't stir in.  

By waiting to stir in the prosciutto until the hot pasta has been added,
you will be less likely to end up with clumps of prosciutto and more
likely to obtain thin ribbons that are well distributed throughout the dish

Drain the pasta and add it to the bowl.  Top with the arugula and a drizzle of olive oil (1/2 Tablespoon, or so).  Toss until all the ingredients are evenly distributed and the pastas is coated with the pesto.  

Add more pasta water and/or olive oil to obtain a sauce that is fluid, yet not pooling in the bottom of the bowl. 

Serve the pasta topped with freshly grated Parmesan. Serves 2 to 3.  Recipe is easily doubled to serve 5 to 6.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Vacation Inspiration: Roasted Red Pepper and Summer Shell Bean Salad served with Eggplant and Pesto

During my summer vacation this year I had the unexpected...and totally unplanned...pleasure of a quick twenty-four hour visit in to New York City.   Even though the visit was short, it really was's amazing how much food you can pack into 24 hours.  We started with a snack at the Rockefeller Center outpost of Bouchon...

sat down for a late dinner at the charming small-plate French bistro Buvette in  the West Village and the next day enjoyed a farewell lunch at La Verdure in Mario's Eataly (stopping at the gelato counter on the way out to fortify myself for the train trip home).  I was so inspired by the things I got to taste.  Hopefully I will have the time in the months to come to share some of that inspiration here.  For now though, I thought I would share the delicious salad I made for our dinner the other night...inspired by the roast lamb entrée I enjoyed at Buvette.

The dish as prepared at Buvette  featured thin slices of rosy roast leg of lamb.  The lamb was served chilled and fanned on Buvette's signature small plates.  It came topped with a simple salad of roasted red peppers and white beans.  The plate was finished with basil pesto—dolloped and drizzled judiciously over all.  It was exactly the kind of food I love...simple, prepared with care and attention to detail, and bursting with flavor...  Delicious.

At home—because I don't keep chunks of roast leg of lamb on hand—I re-imagined the dish as an all vegetable plate, replacing the rounds of sliced lamb with rounds of broiled eggplant.  Like lamb and peppers, eggplant and  peppers have a natural affinity for one another, so this substitution wasn't really a huge leap.  Instead of white beans—which I only have access to in their dried form—I used some of the fresh pink-eyed purple hull Crowder peas which flood Midwestern and Southern farmers' markets every summer. 
If you have never tried  these kinds of shell beans (often called Southern peas)—and you live in a state where they grow—you should most definitely give them a try.  This salad would be a perfect place to start.  When you buy them, look for pods that have turned all purple.  If the pods are still greenish—with just a smudge of purple here and there—they were harvested a bit early and it is a tedious task to get the peas out of the pod.  The mature, purple pods open and release the peas with much less effort.

As far as all the components of my salad are concerned, I have written posts in the past that include detailed descriptions and pictures of all of the basic procedures used, so I won't belabor them here.  Instead, I'll just provide the links.  If you have never broiled eggplant slices, you can find out how to do it at this post for my favorite summer pizza.  If you would prefer to roast (rather than broil) the eggplant, simply follow the instructions included in the recipe for Late Summer Ragout of Eggplant and Summer Squash.  If you have never roasted and peeled a bell pepper, you can find instructions in a "basics" post I wrote a few years ago.  And finally, you can find my recipe for basil pesto in a post for one of my favorite summer pastas....Linguine with Potatoes, Green Beans and Pesto.  If you don't want to make pesto, you can leave it off entirely...or substitute some other flavorful herb-based sauce...salsa verde, for example. 

Like its inspiration, my salad was delicious.  We liked it so much I made it again before the week was out.  The first time we enjoyed it accompanied by semolina toasts topped with soft goat cheese.  When it made its second appearance, I served it with room temperature green beans tossed with olives and toasted walnuts.  If you like to have meat with your evening meal, the shell bean and roasted pepper salad (with or without the eggplant) would make a pretty fine late summer side dish....perfect alongside fish...chicken...beef.. and (of course) lamb. 

Roasted Red Pepper & Fresh Shell Bean Salad 
with Eggplant and Basil Pesto

1 1/3 c. shelled pink-eyed purple hull Crowder peas (see note)
1 fat clove garlic, peeled
a sprig or two of winter savory or thyme
a splash of olive oil

1 1/2 lbs. globe eggplant, sliced 1/3-inch thick
Oil for brushing

1 T. Sherry vinegar
1 T. red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
salt & pepper to taste
6 T. extra virgin olive oil

1 1/4 lbs. red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, cooled and cut into 3/4- inch wide strips
3 to 4 T. very finely diced red onion, rinsed under cold running water (let drain thoroughly...I spread the rinsed onions on a paper towel to allow them to dry even more)
2 T. finely sliced Italian flat leaf parsley

3 or 4 T. basil pesto, thinned with water, bean cooking liquid and/or olive oil

Place the peas, garlic, herb sprigs and a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a sauce pan and cover the peas with water by 1 1/2 inches.  

Bring to a simmer and cook until the peas are tender—about 30 to 45 minutes.  Add salt to taste about half way through the cooking time.  Cool and store in their cooking liquid.  Drain just before using, reserving some of the cooking liquid for thinning the pesto, if you like.

Spread the eggplant on a baking sheet (you may need to work in batches) and brush on both sides with olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Broil until tender and golden, turning once. If you have a grill, you can grill the vegetables instead of broiling them. If the eggplant is not yet fork tender when it is golden brown, stack it four or five slices deep as you remove it from the baking sheets—this will allow it to continue cooking.  Set aside and let cool.

While the peas and eggplant cook, prepare the vinaigrette:  Place the vinegars in a bowl with the garlic, along with a good pinch of salt and let sit for 10 minutes or so.  Add the oil in a thin stream, whisking constantly.  Taste and correct the seasoning and balance.  Drizzle some of the vinaigrette (about a tablespoon) over the roasted peppers (seasoning with salt and pepper to taste) and set the rest aside until ready to make the salad.

To make the salad, place the beans, marinated peppers, red onion and parsley in a bowl and toss to combine.  Drizzle with enough of the vinaigrette to coat all of the components generously.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  The salad may be served immediately as is, or it may be chilled.

To plate, arrange the eggplant on a platter (or individual plates) and spoon some of the vinaigrette over.  Drizzle/dollop some of the pesto sparingly over the dressed eggplant.  Mound the pepper and bean salad attractively over the eggplant, allowing the eggplant to show around the edges of the platter/plates.  Spoon a little more pesto over the bean salad and serve.

Salad may be served at room temperature or chilled.  Serves four as a light vegetarian entrée...more as a side dish.

Note:  You may use any fresh shell bean or Southern pea that you prefer for this dish.  If you don't have access to fresh shell beans, you may cook dried beans instead...or use canned.  You will need 1 1/3 to 1 1/2 cooked beans for this recipe.  If you cook beans from dry or use canned, rinse before adding them to the salad. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Toasted Pine Nut Couscous with Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

A couple of years ago I wrote a post detailing how to make slow-roasted tomatoes.  At the end of the post I commented that there would probably be future posts describing various ways to use them.  Recently I noticed that I have only written one such post...a summer sauté of corn and green onions that is finished with the aforementioned tomatoes.  Today I thought I would make up for this oversight by sharing another. 

One of my favorite "go to" side dishes is a recipe for Toasted Pine Nut Couscous.  It goes with just about anything, but I'm especially fond of it with fish (if you look at a post featuring a two-olive sauce for fish from earlier this year, you will see a version of this couscous—with currants—accompanying the halibut and broccoli in the last picture).  From Maria Helms Sinskey's The Vineyard Kitchen (one of my favorite cookbooks), it is simple and flavorful...and rich from an abundance of toasted pine nuts.  It is delicious as is, but also takes well to simple additions...dried fruit…olives…and slow-roasted tomatoes.  And it was particularly delicious served with Sockeye Salmon and a warm green bean salad with olives and balsamic.

Toasted Pine Nut Couscous with Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

1/2 cup pine nuts
1 red onion (6 to 8 oz.), diced
2 1/2 T. olive oil, divided
1 cup couscous
2 T. flat-leaf parsley, minced
3 to 3 1/2 oz. slow-roasted tomatoes (6 to 8 pieces), cut in a rough 1/2-inch dice

Toast the pine nuts in a 350° until light golden brown….about 5 minutes.  Set aside.

Meanwhile, warm a tablespoon and a half of oil in a medium sauté pan set over medium heat.  Add the onion and sauté until tender and lightly caramelized…about 5 to 10 minutes. 

Place the couscous in a medium-sized bowl.  Add a tablespoon of olive oil, the parsley, a scant teaspoon of kosher salt, and the cooled onions.  Toss to combine.  Bring 1 1/3 cup water to a boil.  Pour over the couscous and stir to make sure all the couscous is moistened.  Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let sit for 10 minutes.

Uncover, add the pine nuts and the tomatoes and fluff in with a fork.  Serves 5 or 6.

Note:  To make plain Toasted Pine Nut Couscous, simply omit the slow-roasted tomatoes

(Recipe adapted from The Vineyard Kitchen by Maria Helm Sinskey)

Printable Version

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Green Goddess Dressing...or Dip...

At some point during the middle of last summer I noticed that my blog posts all seemed to be revolving around one particular topic: salad.   I didn't seem to be able to get enough of salads filled with an abundance of seasonal vegetables and fruits.  This year I have noticed another trend:  mayonnaise based dressings.  And they all happen to be green.  In June it was the mint aioli to go with roast rack of lamb.  In July, it was a roasted garlic and basil mayonnaise to accompany a roasted garlic and basil smeared roast chicken.  And today, it is that classic herb-laden dressing known as Green Goddess Dressing.

As a kid (and probably for a few years after that) I thought that Green Goddess Dressing included avocado purée.  I don't know if this is because of the color of the jars/bottles of the dressing I saw on the shelves at the grocery store or if I had some vague notion that the original Green Goddess salad included avocadoes.  I sort of doubt it was the latter since up until I was well into my adult years my knowledge of food was pretty rudimentary.  Since during my childhood I would only have eaten an avocado under duress (I didn't have a very friendly relationship with vegetables...or fruit, for that matter), and then when I learned that they were delicious I was afraid they would make me fat (they won't, by the way), Green Goddess dressing wasn't something that I had ever looked into too deeply.

Then, a few years ago, I had reason to make some Green Goddess dip.  I discovered that it is simply a friendly, creamy dressing/dip made with loads of parsley.  (It also has anchovies...something else my younger self would have avoided...but by the time I learned this, I was already in love with the subtle savory saltiness that anchovies impart when used properly.)  I believe the original version of the dressing includes all of the fines herbes—parsley, chives, chervil and tarragon—and you may add any or all of these if you like—but parsley is the most important addition and the chives, tarragon and chervil should all be added with a lighter hand.  My recipe includes scallions.  I'm not sure where I came by this addition, but I like the sharpness that it adds.

Green Goddess dressing is very easy to make.  Simply make it in the food processor, building a whole egg mayonnaise on top of a fine mince of the herbs, scallions, garlic and anchovy.  Season to taste with salt, vinegar and lemon juice.  The dressing should be lively and acidic.  It will take more salt and lemon than you season fearlessly, tasting as you go.  You'll know you've gotten it right when you start looking around for more things with which to sample it...a spear of romaine...a cherry tomato...a carrot stick...  a spoon...

Many variations of Green Goddess are made by folding the minced herb/anchovy/garlic mixture into a mixture of half prepared mayonnaise (you may make your own, or use a good quality commercial brand) and half sour cream.  This version is slightly thicker and it is the version I make when I need a dip for a crudité platter.  If you make it this way, you will need to reduce your vinegar and lemon by quite a bit since mayonnaise is already acidic and sour cream has its own pleasant tang. 

This week I made a batch of dressing for a salad I found in Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers at Lucques.  I had had in mind a salad for a summer salad class that was to be a study in greens...avocado, cucumber, Romaine and Green Goddess Dressing...when I saw that Goin had already done the work for me and published a recipe that included all of these elements—called, of course, Green Goddess Salad.  I have added thinly sliced radishes to the mix—copying my friend Nancy's addition to Caesar salad.  The radish adds a pleasing splash of color, zip and even more crunch. 

Since the recipe makes more than we could possibly consume in two small dinner salads, I have been coming up with ways to use my Green Goddess dressing all week long. 

Thinned with a little water, I drizzled it over a lunchtime platter of vine ripes and avocado...

I also used it to dress a salad of Romaine featuring roasted corn, avocado and wedges of tomato...

And today I used it as a smear on a sandwich of thinly sliced steak, yellow tomatoes, arugula and shaved sheep's milk cheese...

All were delicious.  In addition to vegetables, I'm certain it would be wonderful with fish, chicken or lamb.  Frankly, it would be hard to come up with something that wouldn't be improved by a little parsley and onion...some salt and acidity...and of course, some fat.  I still have a small amount left and am sure I will enjoy it no matter how I choose to use it.   Even after a week of eating it almost every day....I'm still not the least bit tired of it.

Green Goddess Dressing

1 c. flat-leaf parsley leaves (about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 oz.)
2 to 3 scallions, white and some of green, roughly cut into 1/2-inch pieces   (you should have about 1/2 cup)
2 to 3 anchovy filets—preferably salt-packed—deboned and rinsed
1 clove of garlic, smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
1 egg
1 cup vegetable oil
1 T. plus 1 t. champagne vinegar
1 1/2 T. lemon juice—plus more as necessary to balance
Salt & Pepper, to taste

Place the parsley, anchovies and scallions in the food processor and pulse until finely minced.  Add the garlic and egg and process until homogenous.  With the machine running, add the oil in a slow stream through the feed tube.  A thick emulsion will form. Add the vinegar and lemon juice and process in.  Taste and adjust the lemon, salt and pepper...the dressing should be vibrant, tangy and salty.  If it is too thick, adjust the consistency with warm water.  Makes a generous 1 1/2 cups of dressing.  Cover and chill until ready to use.

Note: For a more traditional—and thicker version appropriate for a dip—omit the oil and egg.  Add a half cup of mayonnaise (homemade or your favorite commercial brand) and a half cup of sour cream along with the garlic to the minced parsley, scallion and anchovy.  Add vinegar and lemon juice to will need less since a commercial mayonnaise already has vinegar and lemon in it.  Start with a tablespoon of lemon juice and increase to taste. 

Green Goddess Salad

2 large Romaine hearts, trimmed (about a pound, trimmed weight)
1 large (or 2 or 3 small) cucumber (about 1 lb.)
2 large avocados
5 to 6 radishes, trimmed and scrubbed
Salt & Pepper, to taste
1 c. Green Goddess Dressing.....using more or less, to taste

Wash and spin dry the lettuce.  Tear any larger leaves into two or three pieces, leaving the small inner leaves whole.  Cover with a barely damp towel, cover tightly with plastic wrap (or store in a container with a sealable lid) and chill.

Taste the cucumber and peel if the skin is at all tough.  Halve lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a spoon.  Cut cross-wise on a slight diagonal into 1/4-inch thick slices.  Halve, pit and peel the avocados.  Cut into lengthwise wedges.  Thinly slice the radishes (use a mandoline slicer).

To finish the salad, place the greens in a large bowl.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add 1 cup of the dressing and toss until all the romaine is well coated.  Season the cucumber and avocado with salt and pepper and add to the bowl along with the radishes.  Gently toss to combine.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Arrange on a large platter or individual plates and serve.  Serves 6.

(Recipe adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin)

Variation: For a "chopped"-style salad, cut the romaine leaves cross-wise in 3/4-inch ribbons.  Cube the avocado and quarter the cucumber lengthwise before slicing crosswise.  Dress and serve as above.  

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Individual Plum Upside Down Cakes

I mentioned in my last post that I had a small amount of honey ice cream left over after a recent class.  In the class the honey ice cream had been prepared to accompany a Plum Galette.  I over-purchased a bit on the plums, so in addition to the ice cream I brought home a few extra plums.  If this had been almost any other fruit, I would have just eaten it...I love fresh fruit.  But I'm not crazy about fresh plums.  I wrote about this at some length when I posted a recipe for Plum Sorbet a few years ago, so I won't belabor it here.  As I pointed out then, while I may not enjoy plums raw, I love them when they have been cooked in some way...baked, roasted, poached, etc.  Since I hate to waste food and I didn't have enough to make a pie...or a crisp....I began looking for a way to cook these few remaining plums before they were past their prime.      

Two of the plums made their way into a variation of the Sweet Cherry and Almond Scones I posted earlier this month.  Since these scones were also delicious when made with apricots (paired with pistachios), I mentioned on my Facebook page that I had probably misnamed them.  I should have called them Summer Stone Fruit Scones.  If you want to give the plum version a try, just substitute a couple of plums (about 6 oz.)—halved, pitted and cut into 1/2-inch pieces—for the cherries, a teaspoon of vanilla for the almond extract and hazelnuts (very lightly toasted, skinned and chopped—you'll need about 3 oz. to get 2/3 cup) for the almonds.

After making the scones, I still had a couple of plums left.  As I was thinking about what to do with them I remembered a summer dessert I prepared for a client several years ago—individual plum upside down cakes.  They were delicious—I'm not quite sure why I have waited so long to make them again.  Since each little cake only uses half a plum, you can make a small batch of them even if you only have two or three plums.

Except for a few details, these little cakes are made just like a large upside down cake.  Instead of using a large pan, you will need five or six 6 ounce ramekins.  And, instead of melting the butter and brown sugar for the topping together and dividing the resulting "goop" among the ramekins (a bit of a messy proposition), just smear the bottom of the ramekin with a generous amount of butter (making sure to slick a thin film on the sides as you do) 

and top with a thick, even layer of brown sugar.  

The butter and sugar combine with the plum juices as the cakes bake, forming that traditional, gooey and delicious upside down cake topping. 

To make these plum upside down cakes look their best, it's important to remember as you arrange the fruit that you are looking at the back/wrong side of the topping.  When you invert the cake you will want to see the ribbon-like arcs of the skin—not the interior of the plum that was next to the pit—uniformly fanned on top of the cakes.  The best way to teach yourself how to arrange the plums so you will get this result is to simply fan a thinly sliced plum half (you may not need all of one half for each cake) on your work surface in such a way that it looks the way you want it to when it is on top of the cake.  Then, take a wide spatula, carefully slide it underneath the fanned plum and turn it over.  What you see at that point is what you should recreate in the bottom of each ramekin.

I really like these cakes.  As I noted in my Pineapple Upside Down Cake post earlier this year, a good candidate for an upside down cake needs to be slightly dense...with a tender, yet firm order to stand up to the substance of the fruit on top.  This cake fills the bill perfectly.  The cake also has a mild tang from the presence of brown sugar and yogurt that is delicious with the plums.  All in all, these little cakes turned out to be just the thing for using up those last few plums.  But...they are so good that it would certainly be worth making a run to the store to purchase a few more plums. 

Individual Plum Upside Down Cakes

3 T. softened unsalted butter (41 g.)
6 T. packed golden brown sugar (75 g.)
3 plums

1 c. less 2 T. all-purpose flour (100 g.)
1/4 t. salt
1 t. baking powder
5 T. plus 1 t. (75 g.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 c. packed golden brown sugar (100 g.)
2 T. sugar (25 g.)
1 egg, at room temperature
1/2 t. vanilla
1/3 c. plain yogurt (80 g.)

To prepare the ramekins: Butter five or six 6-oz ramekins (see note).  Use a half tablespoon (7 grams) of butter per ramekin and concentrate on getting most of the butter onto the bottom of each dish...the sides only need a thin film.  Add a tablespoon of brown sugar (12 grams) to each and spread out into an even layer.  Halve and pit the plums and slice thinly.  Shingle the plums in on top of the brown sugar, arranging them so that the attractive side will be on top when the cakes are turned out.  You will need about half a plum for each pan (maybe a little less), depending on the size of the plums. Set aside.

Combine the flour, salt and baking powder in a small bowl and set aside.  Cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg.  Beat in the vanilla.  Fold in half of the flour mixture, followed by the yogurt, followed by the remaining dry ingredients.    

Using an ice cream scoop, divide the batter among the prepared ramekins.  Spread the batter evenly. 

Place the ramekins on a baking sheet and transfer to a 350°.  Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean—25 to 30 minutes.  Serve warm.  Serves 5 or 6.

  • You may make five or six cakes. If you like a higher portion of cake to fruit, make five cakes. You will only need 2 1/2 T. of butter and 5 T. of brown sugar for the topping. I prefer to make 6 cakes. 
  • The recipe is easily doubled to make 10 to 12 cakes. 
Printable Recipe

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Peanut Butter & Honey Ice Cream Sandwiches

I had no intention of writing this particular post.  When I made honey ice cream for a recent class, I had just written my peanut butter cookie post and I was hoping there would be just enough ice cream left after class to bring home and make myself a peanut butter and honey ice cream sandwich...or two.  And there was.  And I did.  And they were so good I wanted to share the honey ice cream recipe here so that everyone else could enjoy them too. 

I do have to add that even if you don't make this ice cream, you should definitely try the peanut butter cookies in an ice cream sandwich.  Use plain vanilla...chocolate....chocolate marbled...   Basically choose any flavor you think tastes good with peanut butter.  I suspected that these cookies would make fine ice cream sandwiches because I already knew that the cookies themselves were tender and entirely edible when frozen solid.  (I occasionally freeze cookies as a means of curbing my consumption...needless to say, it doesn't work very well for these cookies.)  But I really had no idea how good they would be.  If you make a batch of the cookies, you should definitely set some aside to make a few ice cream sandwiches.  Tucked away in the freezer, they make a perfect little summer snack.

 Honey Ice Cream

1 1/2 c. cold heavy cream
1 1/2 c. milk
6 egg yolks
1/4 c. sugar
pinch of salt
1/3 c. (4 oz.) Honey warmed slightly if not pourable
1 t. vanilla

Place the cream in a large bowl and chill.

Place the milk in a medium-sized, non-reactive saucepan and bring to a simmer.  While the milk is heating, briefly whisk the egg yolks with the sugar and salt until the yolks have lightened in color.  When the milk simmers, temper the egg yolks by gradually whisking in about ½ to 1 c. of the hot milk.  Stir the tempered egg mixture back into the saucepan and place the pan over medium heat.  Cook, stirring constantly, until the custard begins to thicken and a path forms when you draw your finger across the custard-coated back side of the spoon. Immediately strain the custard into the chilled bowl of heavy cream.  Add the honey and the vanilla.  Place the custard in the refrigerator and chill until cold.

Freeze the ice cream in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  Transfer to a freezer container and freeze for at least an hour or two before serving.  Makes about a quart of ice cream.

To make ice cream sandwiches, let the ice cream soften slightly.  Pair up the cookies so that the halves of each sandwich will be the same size. Working quickly, place a small scoop (about 2 to 3 Tablespoons) of the softened ice cream in the center of the bottom side of half of the cookies.  Place the "matching" cookie on top of the ice cream and gently press, forcing the ice cream to flatten out and barely peek out from between the two cookies.  Place on parchment lined sheets in the freezer as you make them.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap until firm.  Transfer to an airtight container and store in the freezer.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Best Ever Peanut Butter Cookies....(really)....

Peanut Butter Cookies are not something I normally think to make in the middle of summer.  For some reason they seem more appropriate for fall or winter.  But I thought of them this month.  It had nothing to do with the weather...or the current season...but rather my line of vision.  I noticed that a friend had shared a link on her Facebook timeline to a "Best Ever" peanut butter cookie.  Well, since I am already in possession of the best ever recipe for peanut butter cookies, I had to click through and take a look.

I didn't see anything about this 'best ever' recipe that tempted me to switch my allegiance, so I messaged my friend to tell her she really needed to try the recipe that I use.  The next day she did try it...and she loved it. 

This particular peanut butter cookie truly is exceptional.  It is also a recipe for which I can take no credit.  From Rose's Christmas Cookies by Rose Beranbaum (an all around exceptional cookie book, by the way), these cookies were created for the 100th anniversary of Peanut Butter.  Most appropriately for such an occasion, the recipe contains a lot more peanut butter than most recipes (twice as much, in fact).  Not surprisingly, the resulting cookie is intensely peanut-y.  Other versions pale in comparison.  There is also much less flour than is the norm for peanut butter cookies.  It must be this—in combination with the higher percentage of peanut butter—that gives these cookies their unusual texture:  incredibly tender and sandy, with a moist, slightly chewy finish.  They are delicious...  and addictive.....

It has been a while since I made these cookies, but seeing the pictures my friend posted of hers on her timeline made me hungry for them.  So I made a batch....and I thought it would be nice to pass along to others what I think really is the best ever peanut butter cookie recipe.  But I hesitated since they seem a bit "out of season".  Then I heard that July has been dubbed National Ice Cream month (by whoever it is that decides these things).  

And since these cookies are fantastic with Ice Cream (preferably a flavor that includes a little chocolate), I decided it would be a good idea to post them after all.  Clearly peanut butter cookies are something I need to think about making during the summer.  Or at least during the month of July.

Peanut Butter Cookies

1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour (5 oz.; 142 g.)
1 t. baking soda
1/8 t. salt
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 c. smooth peanut butter (9.25 oz.; 266 g.)
1/2 c. light brown sugar (3.75 oz.; 108 g.)
1/4 c. granulated sugar (1.75 oz.; 50 g.)
1 egg
1/2 t. vanilla
Sugar for dipping

Combine the dry ingredients and set aside.  Beat the butter and peanut butter together.  Cream the sugars into the butter/peanut butter mixture.  Beat in the egg and vanilla to the creamed mixture until incorporated.  Stir in the dry ingredients.  Cover and chill at least one hour (or overnight if you have time).

Shape the dough into 1-inch balls.  (I use a level 1/2-ounce cookie scoop to scoop all of the dough, then I go back and roll the cookie scoops between my hands to give the cookies a nice round shape.)  

Place the balls of dough on parchment-lined baking sheets 1 1/2 inches apart.  Using a fork dipped in granulated sugar, flatten the balls using the traditional criss-cross motion. 

Bake in a 350° oven until set and lightly browned around the edges—about 10 to 12 minutes.  Cool the cookies on the sheets for a minute or two (they will fall apart if you try to lift them off immediately).  

Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.  Makes 4 1/2 dozen.

(Recipe adapted from Rose's Christmas Cookies by Rose Beranbaum)

Note:  These cookies are so tender that they can be eaten from frozen...which makes them an especially good choice for making miniature ice cream sandwiches....