Thursday, July 26, 2012

"Apple" Zucchini Crisp

Ah, the eternal summer battle: Man vs. Zucchini. A friend let us come harvest their community garden with them this week, and we left with bags of produce, including lots of zucchini. And then I started wondering if it was really possible (as I had heard) to use a little kitchen alchemy to transform zucchini into filling for an  apple pie or apple crisp. It just didn't seem possible, but I still wanted to take a stab at it. Pie seems fussy at the moment, so I went the way of the apple crisp.

I wanted my zucchini to look as much like apples as possible, so I peeled mine and cut the seeds out of the middle. Later, I would realize the importance of this step (which wasn't mentioned in the recipe).

Add lemon juice and simmer the mixture to soften up the zucchini. Next, you add spices like you would with apple pie filling.

Cover the filling with your crisp topping ...

and bake until browned on top, bubbly underneath.

Well, it looks pretty darn convincing, don't you think? But don't eat it when it's hot - the flavors haven't fully melded and it is still easily recognizable as zucchini at this point. Neither my husband nor I cared for it hot.

My advice is to wait until it's cool and top it with vanilla ice cream. It isn't exactly a dead ringer for apples,'s still pretty good, considering the fact that it's a vegetable. And at this time of year, you could do worse with your leftover zucchini.

Personal Notes: I used whole wheat flour and halved the recipe, baking it in an 8x8 square pan.

"Apple" Zucchini Crisp

8 cups cubed peeled zucchini
3/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1-1/3 cups packed brown sugar
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup cold butter, cubed

In a bowl, combine the zucchini, lemon juice, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg; mix well. Pour into a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking dish.

For topping, combine brown sugar, oats and flour in a bowl; cut in butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over the zucchini mixture. Bake at 375 for 45-50 minutes or until bubbly and the zucchini is tender. Yield: 12-15 servings.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Santa Rosa Plum Coffecake

I am wading through plums, and I am starting to feel more and more like a fool.  Like many novice fruit pickers, I struggle with the eternal question: Is this fruit ripe yet? Last year I made several blunders, picking apples, plums, and Asian pears too early, then wondering why the texture was off, or the taste was sooooo sour.

Sour was the word to describe our Santa Rosa plums, which I had been picking too early every year in the past. Naturally tart, this type of plum should have a yellow flesh and dark purple skin when fully ready to eat. I learned this year to be patient and not mind losing a few plums to the birds, rather than picking them too early.  We got a lovely haul of ripe plums as a result, enough to share with a friend, and enough to get me scratching my head as to what to make with all of this fruit!

I picked my first batch of plums at night to avoid the terrible heat of the day, so when I got home, the first thing that came to mind was breakfast. So I dusted off my old red-and-white checkered Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook that I've used for years, and turned to my trusty old recipe for fruit coffeecake.

This recipe will work with many kinds of fruit and (I believe) any kind of flour. I prefer to use a mixture of whole grain flours, like whole wheat pastry, oat and spelt flours. No matter what fruit or flour I choose, this basic recipes has always worked well for me over the years. The original recipe calls for a streusel topping, but.... I tend to believe that breakfast should have nutritional value and go easy on the sugar. I just sprinkle the top with a little coarse/turbinado sugar for texture. Leftovers freeze well. Dig in!

Fruit Coffeecake

1.5 c. chopped plums (or any stone fruit, berries, apples, etc.)
1/4 c. water
1/4 c. sugar
2 T. cornstarch
1.5 c. flour of your choice
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 c. canola oil (or other neutral oil)
1 beaten egg
1/2 c. buttermilk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
Coarse sugar

In a medium saucepan combine fruit and water. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 5 minutes or until fruit is tender. Combine the 1/4 c. sugar and cornstarch; stir into fruit. Cook and stir over medium heat till mixture is thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir 2 minutes more; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, remaining sugar, baking powder and baking soda. Set aside.

In another bowl, combine oil, egg, buttermilk, and vanilla. Add egg mixture all at once to dry mixture. stir just until moistened (batter should be lumpy). Spread half of the batter into an ungreased 8x8 baking pan. Spread fruit mixture over batter. Drop remaining batter in small mounds stop filling. Sprinkle with coarse sugar. Bake in a 350 oven for 40-45 minutes or until golden. Serve warm. Makes 9 servings.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Savory Apricot Dressing

Last year in a little bookshop in Ashland, Oregon, I bought this calendar for 2012:

Obviously, this calendar and I were perfect for each other. Every month spotlights a different food, how to grow it, and offers several recipes using that food. This month, July, focuses on the first stone fruit to ripen each summer: apricots.

The author shared several great sounding ideas for using apricots, including one for a Savory Apricot Dressing. Usually I stick with my trusty and reliable vinaigrette dressing, but lately I've been a little burnt out on that standby. I even bought some store-bought dressing in a fit of boredom one day. Expanding my salad dressing repertoire struck me as an excellent idea.

And what a dressing it was! A golden color with specks of basil from my garden, the surprisingly creamy dressing had a great balance of sweet/tangy/savory and I happily used it on salads for several days in a row. It is the kind of condiment so tasty that you use it as an excuse to eat more vegetables- always a good thing as far as I'm concerned.

Savory Apricot Dressing

1/2 c. fruity olive oil
1/4 c. rice or cider vinegar
1/2 c. chopped ripe apricots
1/4 c. shredded basil
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 tsp. maple syrup or honey
1 tsp nutritional yeast (optional)
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika

In a blender or food processor, combine all ingredients and puree until fairly smooth. Makes about 1 1/4 cups. Refrigerate leftovers in a tightly sealed jar for up to 3 days.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Marionberry Pie: From Farm to Plate

This is a story about a pie. It began last month, with a trip to a local berry patch.

I discovered that the berry farm grew a wonderful seedless blackberry called a Marionberry.

And they just happened to be ripe and ready to be picked that week:

And so it was that I drove home with several baskets of Marionberries (and some late raspberries, for good measure).

Yesterday being the Fourth of July, I retrieved my berries from the freezer and got started on a festive holiday pie.

First, I tossed the berries with 1 c. sugar, 1 tsp. lemon zest, 1 tsp. lemon juice, and 1/4 c. tapioca. I simmered the mixture in a pot for about 5 minutes until slightly thickened. This will make a nice filling that won't get the bottom pie crust soggy. After removing from the heat, I spiked the filling with 1 tsp. vanilla (really good stuff I got in a modest, out of the way kitchen shop in New Orleans). Then I let it cool completely.

After pre-heating the oven to 375F, I put my bottom crust in the pie pan and filled it with my berry filling, then laid the top crust over that. I brushed the top crust with egg white and sprinkled it with coarse sugar.

Next, I baked it for 50 minutes, until the top was golden brown and the filling was bubbling.

I let it cool completely (important, to avoid a runny filling, and it takes about 6 hours to do so) before serving it that night....

With a scoop of vanilla ice cream! It was the best summer pie I've made yet.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Chez Panisse: At Last

This weekend we traveled to the Bay Area in an attempt to enjoy at least one real day of summer. We started our trip at Berkeley Bowl, the most amazing grocery store I have ever seen in my life. By the end of our exploration, we were joking about driving 1.5 hours every week just to do our grocery shopping at this place! I mean, look how many kinds of cucumbers alone the produce section carries:

Need squash or eggplant? Talk about having a variety to choose from:

When it came to yogurt, I haven't seen this kind of a selection since I was in France. I discovered the most amazing small-batch, French-style yogurt called St. Benoit. Produced in Sonoma, it tastes like a cross between yogurt, custard, and manna. I even found out that they carry this product at the Sacramento Natural Food Co-Op, so I can find it locally. Hooray!

For lunch, we fulfilled a lifelong dream of mine by eating at Chez Panisse Cafe. As I walked under the wooden sign into the wonderfully atmostpheric restaurant, I blissfully sighed, "I'm here, Alice!" (Waters, that is.)

The menu changes every day here, according to what is in season and at its best.

Our meal began with a crusty, hearty wedge of artisan bread and yellow, creamy butter.

Here is what my husband ordered Devil's Gulch Fried Rabbit, served over amaranth greens, sweet corn, and green tomatillos. He said that if everyone could make rabbit this delicious, it would be eaten much more commonly in America.

And here was my selection: Romanesco de Peix, a bowl of squid, mussels, clams, and shrimp cooked in a tomato-leek broth. It was simply perfection.
Finally, I couldn't resist dessert, especially since I desperately wanted to compare the apricot galette with the version I make using the Chez Panisse recipe - just to see how close I come in replicating the taste. Result? Because their galette is cooked in a wood-fired oven, the top gets a bit blacker and the bottom a bit browner and crisper, but other than that, it's definitely the same recipe - and a wonderful one.

Finally, we ended our trip with a stop at Stinson Beach. The smell of eucalyptus and fog and sea air always stirs something deep and moving inside of me. When the clouds quickly blew away, the sun was surprisingly hot and we moved on to exploring a little bookshop in town. It was a wonderful memory for this quickly fleeting summer of ours.