Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Plum Upside-Down cake

Yesterday, my one-year-old threw two meals on the floor and her shoe in the toilet. The highlight of my day was the company of friends and this Plum Upside-Down cake.

I copied the recipe from Alice Waters' lovely book The Art of Simple Food ages ago and finally got around to making it yesterday, at great expense to my sanity. As I beat the egg whites (my pet peeve), I told myself that this cake had better be worth it.

Well, it was. The cake was impossibly moist and tender, and while not exactly "easy", the cake is indeed "simple" as she says, and my favorite use so far for fresh plums. I used Santa Rosa plums from my parents' tree and Elephant Hearts from the Farmer's Market. I also used almond milk in place of whole milk as it was on hand, with great success.

Upside-Down Plum Cake
Adapted from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 c. brown sugar
3 Santa Rosa plums and 3 Elephant Heart Plums, pitted and cut into eighths, lengthwise
2 eggs, separated, at room temperature
1/2 c. whole milk, at room temperature
1 1/2 c. flour
2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1 c. granulated sugar
1 t. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350.

Melt the brown sugar and 1 stick butter in an 8-inch cast-iron skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the butter melts and starts to bubble. Let bubble for about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Arrange the plums, in a ring around the outer edge. Working inward, make concentric circles with the plums until you fill up the pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl or in a stand mixer, beat the remaining 1 sick of butter to lighten. Add granulated sugar and cream until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time. Stir in vanilla.

When well mixed, add the flour mixture alternately with the milk, starting and ending with one-third of the flour. Stir just until the flour is incorporated.

Beat the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Fold one third of the egg whites into the batter and then gently fold in the rest. Pour the batter over the plums and smooth the top with a spatula.

Bake for 35-45 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan. (Mine cooked for 45 and came out perfectly).  Remove from the oven and allow the cake to cool for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and invert the cake onto a serving plate. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Peter Rabbit First Birthday Party

Just wanted to share some shots from the First Birthday Party. Thank you, Pinterest, for a million great ideas!

I took a picture of my daughter each month and made a banner display charting her growth, with twine and seed packets to go with the Peter Rabbit/Garden theme. The pictures on the bottom are her newborn picture on the left and one of her "gardening" at almost a year on the right.
Peter's jacket on display. Herbs from my garden and potted plants from my house made great decorations.
"Mr. McGregor's Garden Veggies" and "carrot" silverware.

Three kinds of tea sandwiches- chicken salad/croissant, raisin bread/cheese/apple, and cucumber/cream cheese.
Dessert: Carrot cake cupcakes and "Dirt Pudding" (pudding topped with crushed Oreo cookies and a gummy worm) in terra cotta pots.
"The Berry Patch" and "Carrots" (strawberries dipped in white-chocolate that my mom dyed orange) 

After lunch, we had a surprise visit from Peter Rabbit himself (some friends brought their beautiful bunnies over for a visit). The kids loved petting the bunnies. I do have the picture of the kids and family on my camera, and it should only take me about another 6 months to download those to my computer. :-)

Huge thanks to those of my family and friends who helped with the decorations and food! It was a great theme and a fun day.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

2014 Garden So Far...

It has been a bit of a crazy year with the baby, and since she just took her first steps this week, I expect my life is about to get that much crazier! Besides working from home and caring for an almost-one-year-old, I have also been busy with turning an abandoned area of a local elementary school into a school garden. More on that later! But first, here's my own garden this week, looking a bit wild as tomatoes are wont to do in a Sacramento mid-summer!

The biggest breakthrough I had this year was learning to mulch my raised beds with hay instead of straw. See how much stronger and taller the plants on the right are than the others? That's the power of hay, folks! Just keep it thick so it doesn't sprout and you're golden!

Striata di Italia, an heirloom zucchini.

Red Marconi peppers are doing great in pots!

 Trying my hand at Charentais melon in the raised beds this year. So far, no fruit, but many blossoms! 

Same for the butternut squash!

I made zucchini pickles using this recipe from the Zuni Cafe. 

The tomato harvest begins, along with many wondrous tomato dishes...


Caprese salad, with basil from the garden too.

I'm grateful for this year's early planting when I read my garden journal from a few years ago and see that this week back then, I still didn't have any ripe tomatoes! I have already dehydrated two bags of sun-dried tomatoes and frozen several bags of diced tomatoes to be used in place of canned tomatoes all year. Bring it on, garden!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Indian-Spiced Vegetables and Chickpeas with Raisins

I'm not really sure what made me save this e-mail from the Splendid Table, except I liked that it sounded easy yet exotic, and that I'm always looking for new meatless dishes. I wasn't expecting the sum of the dish to be so much more than its parts, however. It's a simple idea - just roasted veggies tossed with chickpeas, raisins, garam masala, lemon and some parsley. But wow, was it full of flavor!

As an added bonus, this dish makes cauliflower actually taste good, a feat I never suspected was possible (being a staunch cauliflower hater as a matter of course). I liked this dish so much, I am making it again in a few days.

Indian-Spiced Vegetables and Chickpeas with Raisins (Serves 4)
From Meatless All Day by Dina Cheney

28 ounces baby red potatoes, quartered
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons coarse salt, divided
5 grinds black pepper
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 2- x 1/2-inch matchsticks
1 small head cauliflower, cut into 1-inch florets
1/2 cup raisins or currants
One 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed, strained lemon juice
1 teaspoon garam masala (without salt)
About 2 cups plain yogurt, for serving

1. Place two oven racks in the top two-thirds of the oven. Place a rimmed baking sheet on the top rack and heat the oven to 400°F. Once the oven is hot, carefully remove the hot pan. Using tongs, toss the potatoes well with half of the oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and all of the pepper. Roast until the potatoes are tender and golden brown and crispy in many parts, about 50 minutes, tossing halfway through.

2. On another rimmed baking sheet, toss the carrots, 2 tablespoons oil, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; spread on one side of the pan and roast for 15 minutes (put this pan on the lower oven rack); remove the baking sheet from the oven and use a spatula to flip over the carrots. Onto the empty half of the baking sheet, use tongs to toss the cauliflower florets, the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Keep the carrots and cauliflower separate as best as possible. Return the pan to the oven and roast the carrots and cauliflower until both are tender when poked with a fork and golden brown in a few spots, about another 20 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, place the raisins in a small bowl and cover with 1/2 cup of boiling or very hot water. Let sit until the raisins are tender, about 30 minutes, then drain.

4. Pour the potatoes, carrots, and cauliflower (with their oil) into a large bowl, then add the drained raisins, drained chickpeas, parsley, lemon juice, garam masala, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Toss well with tongs. Divide among the serving plates and add a dollop of yogurt alongside each portion

Monday, March 24, 2014

Milk Tart, or Snickerdoodle Pie

 My brother lived in South Africa for two years and came back raving about a South African dessert he ate there called Milk Tart. I kept meaning to make it for his birthday, but this year I finally made it happen. I served him up his birthday slice and waited for a verdict. He took a bite and declared it as good as the versions he ate over there (whew!).

My brother wasn't he only one who approved of the Milk Tart. My family quickly dubbed it Snickerdoodle Pie, due to the flavor's similarity to that glorious cinnamon-flavored cookie. They liked it so much, I have made it twice for family events in the past month. The first time, I forgot to take a picture and it quickly disappeared. The second time, I forgot again until there was only one [slightly flawed] piece left... but you get the idea. Snickerdoodle in pie form: a new family favorite. Enjoy!

Milk Tart, or Snickerdoodle Pie
From Allrecipes.com

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 pinch salt

4 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon butter
2 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

In a medium mixing bowl, cream together 1/2 cup butter or margarine and 1 cup sugar. Add 1 egg and beat until mixture is smooth. In a separate bowl, mix together 2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir flour mixture into sugar mixture just until ingredients are thoroughly combined. Press mixture into bottom and sides of two 9-inch pie pans. Bake in preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden brown.

 In a large saucepan, combine milk, vanilla extract, and 1 tablespoon butter or margarine. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then remove from burner. In a separate bowl, mix together 2 1/2 tablespoons flour, cornstarch, and 1/2 cup sugar. Add beaten eggs to sugar mixture and whisk until smooth. Slowly whisk mixture into milk. Return pan to heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 5 minutes. Pour half of mixture into each pastry shell. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Chill before serving.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake - Revisited

 I attended a family reunion for my dad's side this weekend. My assignment was to make this lovely Pineapple Upside-Down Cake in Cast Iron Skillet. The recipe originally came from my Grandma through my aunt, and I have blogged about it before, but it came out SO much better this time around (as you can see). I like to think my photography skills are ever so slightly improved, and I edited the recipe to make it more clear.

I HIGHLY recommend using the Trader Joe's Vanilla Cake mix mentioned in the note. I'm not normally a Trader Joe's person, but this mix was amazing. It actually has flecks of vanilla bean (!!!) and no chemical junk in the ingredients. It made me wonder why Duncan Hines can't do something as simple and tasty with their mixes. But I digress! This cake is classic and fantastic- try it!

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake (in Cast Iron Skillet)

Trader Joe’s has a good vanilla cake mix that works as a substitute for the dry ingredients. Just mix  1/4 cup pineapple juice in with 3/4 cup milk in place of the 1 cup of milk it calls for.

1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups white sugar
5 eggs 1 tsp. vanilla
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
One can pineapple slices in juice
Buttermilk (or sour milk made with lemon juice and milk works fine) plus juice from drained pineapple to make 1 1/4 cup liquid
Maraschino cherries, halved (optional)
Chopped nuts (optional)

½ cup butter
1 cup brown sugar

Cream white sugar and butter together. Add eggs and vanilla, beat until smooth. In a separate bowl, sift together dry ingredients. Alternate adding the buttermilk/pineapple juice mixture and the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture until mixed without lumps.

Put ½ cup butter and 1 cup brown sugar in a cast iron skillet. Heat on stove top over medium heat until bubbling. Then reduce heat while bubbling softly and thickening slightly, about 3 minutes total. Don’t burn the sugar/butter mixture. Turn off and lay drained pineapple slices decoratively on top. (Add cherries or nuts if desired.) Pour batter over slices. Bake at 350 for about 35-40 minutes until done. Let cake rest for 10 minutes and invert cake. Leave upside down for a minute or so. Lift pan.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

My Class at Jamie Oliver's Big Rig Kitchen

After watching the television program "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution" back in June of 2011, I wrote this evaluation of local school lunches. Then one day last month, I was reading the newspaper published by the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-Op and saw a blurb that made my heart jump. Jamie Oliver's Big Rig Kitchen, it said, was doing a tour of California cities and would be stopping in Sacramento in January and February. As a long-time fan of the chef and fan of the Food Revolution, I knew I had to sign up for a class.

The Big Rig Kitchen is a mobile kitchen that has been offering free classes as it has made its way through our great state, thanks to donations from the places listed below (on the side of the truck). I hopped onto the website and saw all sorts of free cooking classes being offered, with menus including fish, Mexican and Italian fare, and the one I ended up signing up for - "Fast Food Now", featuring barbecued chicken.   

I arrived for my class at 5:30pm on a Friday night, pulling into the parking lot of Sacramento High school, the same fortunate school that recently enjoyed a visit from Alice Waters to their edible school garden. After a few minutes of waiting outside the closed door of the Big Rig, the door opened and I was welcomed in to don a name tag and a white apron.

At the front of the mobile kitchen was a demonstration area where Everett, our demo chef, showed us the ropes. After the demo, we washed our hands and retreated to one of the three kitchen stations where we would try our best to replicate what we had just seen.

Our kitchen stations were well-stocked with the necessary ingredients, donated mostly by the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op just down the street. (Thanks, Co-op!) Everything was ready for us to attempt to make a homemade BBQ sauce, a French-style vinaigrette dressing, and oven-baked Potato Wedges.

In addition to the ingredients, our kitchen station also came with a local food expert to assist us as needed. Joe helped oversee our group of four as each of us tackled one of the elements of our final meal. He was quiet at first, but once it came out that he was a certified BBQ judge, he was brimming with stories of his travels and experiences. That weekend, he confided, he was headed down to Brentwood, CA for a rib competition. A lucky man, that Joe!
With a little help from Joe, our group completed the meal in a surprisingly short amount of time - the whole meal took us maybe 20 minutes to prepare from start to finish.(To speed up the baking time on the Potato Wedges, we sliced them super-thin instead of cutting them into chunky wedges.) 

The meal we enjoyed together at the end was both healthy and tasty, and just the kind of informal, kid-friendly meal that families should be sharing nightly. If you can't spot the purple potato slices on the plate, it might be because they are camouflaged against the mixed greens!

As I ate my meal, I imagined Jamie Oliver explaining that instead of chicken nuggets every night, parents might see what their kids say to this homemade barbecued chicken. Instead of French fries, see what the kids think of the Potato Wedges. And of course, the salad was made delicious by the homemade dressing, which contained no added sugar (unlike most commercial bottled dressings). It could truly be a revolutionary meal. Our community is so fortunate to have the chance to attend free classes like these!

My one disappointment (besides, of course, the absence of the celebrity chef himself) was a difference I noted between the cooking classes portrayed on the television show and the class I attended. On the show, all of the participants were required to make a pledge to share the knowledge they gained, by teaching at least one other person how to prepare the dishes they learned to make in the class. In this way, the Food Revolution could spread throughout the community. 

In the class I took, we were not required to make such a pledge. But I still want to do my part to help the Revolution spread, by sharing the recipes from the class I took. Viva la revolution!

French Dressing:
1/4 of a clove of garlic
1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons of white or red wine vinegar
1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil

Peel and finely chop the garlic. Put the garlic, mustard, vinegar and olive oil into a glass jar with a pinch of salt and pepper. Put the lid on the gar and shake well.

Potato Wedges (serves 4):
1/4 tsp. sea salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 medium (about 10 ounces) baking potatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat your oven to 400F. Scrub the potatoes clean and get rid of any gnarly bits. Cut the potatoes into chunk wedges (about 6 per potato). Transfer to a roasting tray and add a good lug of olive oil and salt and pepper. Toss together so all the wedges are coated in the oil, then spread out in one layer, skin-side down.

Cook in the hot oven for 25-30 minutes or until golden, crisp and cooked through. To tell if they're cooked, poke one or two with the tip of a paring knife- you should meet no resistance.

Barbecued Chicken (Serves 4):
1 orange 
1 dried chile
1 1/2 heaped teaspoons smoked paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon or English mustard
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons ketchup
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/16 teaspoon sea salt and
freshly ground pepper
4 x 5-ounce boneless skinless chicken breasts

If you're barbecuing, light the grill now so the flames have died down and it's ready when you're ready to cook.

Finely grate the orange zest into a shallow bowl. Crumble in the dried chile. Add the paprika, mustard, honey, ketchup, and a splash of olive oil. Season with a small pinch each of the salt and pepper and mix well. Spoon out a few tablespoons of the marinade and set it aside.

Add the chicken breasts to the bowl with the remaining marinade. Turn them over in the marinade so they're well coated, cover with plastic wrap and leave to sit for 5 to 10 minutes or until the grill is ready.

If using a grill pan, put it over high heat now to get it screaming hot.

Use tongs to transfer your chicken breasts onto the grill or grill pan. For chicken breasts about 1 inch thick, cook for about 5 minutes on each side, turning every minute and basting as you go, or until golden and cooked through. Spoon a little of the reserved sauce over each breast.