flour

Steven’s co-worker owns a rental property in the Central Valley. The small apartment building sits on a big chunk of land which her husband planted with fruit trees. A few months ago she gave us bags and bags of citrus. Now that we’re nearly in summer, we’ve entered the stone fruit season. Thus far, she’s given us some cherries, plums, apricots. I don’t even know if cherries qualify as stone fruit. Are they berries? Anyway over the past week we got two bags of sour plums from her garden. The first batch I devoured in no time after dinner. Yum! The second one Steven wanted me to bake into something. So, ta-da: sour plum upside-down cake.

sour plum upside-down cake

sour plum upside-down cake

Sour plums tend to be a little sweet in the middle but sour near the skin and close to the pit. I love taking a bite of a plum and tasting all these flavors. Well with this cake, despite the sugar caramel coating the bottom of the pan, the sour flavor came out in FULL! We loved it: perfect with some tea or a cuppa coffee. We ate this entire cake in a couple of days for breakfast.

sour plum upside-down cake

~2 lbs sour plums, skin on, pitted
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp sea salt
2 eggs
1 cup soy or almond milk
½ cup canola oil
2 tbsp butter
Cast iron pan (12 inches diameter, 2 inches deep)

Pre-heat oven to 350F.

Add one cup of sugar along with one tablespoon of water to cast iron pan over medium heat on your stovetop. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until sugar melts and acquires a nice caramel color. If some sugar sticks to the wooden spoon scrape it off and let it melt until all lumps are gone. Spread the caramel all over the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat to cool down if caramel starts to burn. You just want a caramel color, not a smoking ruin. Cooking to long will make the flavor bitter. Remove pan from heat and set aside.

In a bowl, put remainder of the sugar, then eggs, salt and vanilla. Whisk it to combine. Add oil, soy milk, flour and whisk it again to combine. Lastly incorporate baking powder into the batter.

At this point, although still warm your caramel may be hardened and stuck to the bottom of the cast iron pan. Worry not! Spread the butter until all melted over caramel and sides of the pan. Add sour plum, along with juices if any and spread the fruit evenly over the bottom of the pan. Gently top with the batter. Bake about 35 minutes. Check for doneness via inserting a tooth pick in the center. If it comes out clean then baking is done, if not then you know what you have to do.

{ 1 comment }

This is my first time ever cooking rhubarb. I have eaten it before of course. Steven made a beautiful rhubarb streusel cake last year. His recipe used rhubarb with very red stalks. At the time I didn’t think much of it. The stalks are always red, no?

rhubarb and buttermilk quick bread

rhubarb and buttermilk quick bread

We inherited a rhubarb plant in our new garden plot. The leaves are enormous and so are the stalks. We waited and waited for them to turn red but they never did. They only sort of reddened at the base of the stalk. I thought that they looked ready but what’s up with that color?

Last week I decided to harvest some of the stalks still ‘green’ just to give them a try. Since everyone knows that rhubarb can be poisonous, I read up on it. Turns out that there are several types and that the green ones with red at the base of the stalks is a traditional variety and are fully mature and ready for harvest. Hooray!

my picked over rhubarb plant

my picked over rhubarb plant

rhubarb from my community garden plot

rhubarb from my community garden plot

Sadly, that same informative site recommends refraining from harvesting after the end of Spring to give the plant time to recover. So this is it for this year. Those jams and chutneys will have to wait till 2013.

This recipe comes from rhubarb-info. It is a very informative site. Some more interesting facts about Rhubarb can be read here. I’ve changed the flour types, oil, nuts and the amount of rhubarb.

I love the combo sweet and sour rhubarb flavor. It goes perfectly with a good cup of coffee.

rhubarb and buttermilk quick bread

~ 2-3 cups ripe rhubarb stalks, cut into chunks
1½ cups brown sugar
2/3 cup almond oil (or other neutral oil such as canola)
1 large egg
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
1½ cups flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ cup of mixed broken almonds and walnuts
1½ tbsp butter at room temperature
¼ cup coarse sugar

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour a 13”x9” Pyrex glass dish.

Whisk together brown sugar, egg and oil. Add salt, buttermilk, baking soda, vanilla and flours. Continue mixing to incorporate. Fold rhubarb and nuts into batter. Transfer batter to baking dish and spread evenly.

Mix sugar and semi-soft butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over batter.

Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until bread passes the toothpick test.

Cool and serve.

{ 5 comments }

Who says pies have to be round?

squaring the circle  with vegan pumpkin pie

squaring the circle with vegan pumpkin pie

I was trying to make a pumpkin pie for a dinner party at Stevie’ and Hegui’s and discovered that I don’t actually own a round pie dish. So I used of a square pan instead! I knew it might look kind of odd but a pie is made in a pan so I reasoned it would be okay. And since this one is vegan, it seems perfectly natural to present it in a distinctive way. Suddenly necessity becomes meaningful and “just right,” which is so often the case with cooking, don’t you think?

Now you’re probably thinking, why in the world are you making pumpkin pie in May? Well, I bought some extra cans of pumpkin during the holiday season so I could enjoy pie out of “pie season.” Stores stop selling canned pumpkin this time of year, which can totally crimp your style.

The pie is unbelievably festive too with the addition of this vegan Cool Whip type stuff from Trader Joes. So, cheers to a non conventional themed square shaped pie not in pumpkin pie season!

My vegan crust is based on this recipe.

square pumpkin pie all around

1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons cold water
¼ cup vegetable oil
3 tbsp vegan butter
¼ tbsp salt
3 tbsp agave nectar or honey
1 can pure pumpkin
½ cup coconut or soy milk
1 tsp Trader Joes pumpkin pie seasoning or similar
More agave nectar for pumpkin mix

Pre heat oven to 450F.

Mix flour, cold water, vegan butter, salt and honey together until smooth and it forms a ball. Oil a square pan with veggie butter (oh, okay, round is fine too). Press out the dough to cover the bottom and sides of your pan. Bake crust for ten minutes until crispy on edges. Take it out and let it sit for a few minutes.

Mix pumpkin, coconut milk and the pumpkin pie seasoning together. Add agave nectar to sweeten to taste. Pour pumpkin mix onto pie crust and put back in oven for 35 minutes. Let cool for about a half hour or so.

When ready to serve whip out the Trader Joes vegan dessert whip and voila pumpkin pie right before summer!

{ 3 comments }

fava bean tempura

by Heguiberto on May 14, 2012

Since we were in rush to move to the new garden plot we weren’t able to wait for the fava beans that we planted back in November (in the old plot) to be completely ready. It takes a while for the pods to appear and then grow to a useful size. So we harvested what we could, mainly the pods growing at the bottom of plants. We were able to get a fair amount. Steven gave away some to his co-worker Ernestina. She’s my Facebook friend, so I know she sautéed them in butter, salt and garlic. Because the favas were super young you don’t need to remove the inner membrane that covers the flesh of the bean. I made some of ours exactly the same way except that I used olive oil instead of butter, added a bit of chili flakes and some cherry tomatoes for additional color. It made a great side dish.

fava bean tempura

fava bean tempura

I used the rest for this incredible fava bean tempura. I got the idea from this restaurant in town that, unfortunately, has closed now. I left the beans in the pods but since they’re very young you can treat them just like green beans. And just like them, when cooked, they’re very tender. The texture is a bit different. Fava bean pods have a white velvety layer inside that acts as a cushion for the actual bean: nature’s way of protecting the development of life? That spongy layer makes eating this tempura especially fun as when you bite into it, it almost feels like it will pop in your mouth.

Enjoy this as a side dish or snack. It matches very well with a cold beer or a crisp un-oaked white wine.

fava bean tempura

about 20 fava bean pods
1 cup plain four
2 tbsp rice flour
Kosher salt
Black pepper
1 tbsp mirin
Water
Canola oil for frying

Remove the tips and the stringy part of the pods.

Whisk together flours, salt, black pepper, mirin and enough water for the consistency of a runny pancake batter.

Add canola oil to the pan and heat to medium high. Dip individual bean pods in batter and drop them carefully in hot oil. Fry for a couple of minutes on each side. Transfer to a platter lined with paper towels. Repeat with remainder. Sprinkle some extra salt over pods as they come out of the pan. Fried food is naughty good, don’t you think? Eat responsibly :)

{ 5 comments }

artichoke leek lasagna

by Stevie on April 2, 2012

Is lasagna elegant enough to serve at a dinner party? That is the question that I have been pondering for the past couple weeks. I had invited about six friends over for a Saturday meal, including two, Jocelyn and Devin that we hadn’t seen in months. So I wanted to impress but also not be stuck in the kitchen all evening in order to have time to catch up. Naturally, in these situations, I always think: casserole!

artichoke leek lasagna

artichoke leek lasagna

My favorite “casserole” from childhood has to be lasagna. I like it even more than macaroni and cheese if you can believe it. (Maybe I’m exaggerating. What do you think, Mom?) But if you’ve read this far, you’re probably already wondering, “He’s talking comfort food here. Where’s the wow-factor?”

I made an absurdly fancy multi-step lasagna from Fields of Greens, a cookbook “from the Celebrated Greens Restaurant” in San Francisco. So there! The dish requires a tomato sauce, a ricotta “custard,” an herb béchamel, fresh artichokes, provolone and of course the lasagna noodles. With all the separate steps, to get the tray ready for the oven took me almost two hours. It smelled and tasted deliciously. But somehow, sadly, the pictures look just like any old lasagna.

I served it family style at the table, so everyone could help themselves and I wouldn’t have to be running around constantly. People loved it and ate almost everything.

The following afternoon, Hegui and I went to see Jocelyn and Devin at their place downtown. We talked about the meal. She said something along the lines of “I’d never thought to serve lasagna at a dinner party. It was really good.”

Hmmm…

So I ask you once again: is lasagna elegant enough to serve at a dinner party?

artichoke leek lasagna

for the veggie filling:

2 leeks, whites only, sliced thin and thoroughly rinsed
4 artichokes, cleaned with hearts and stems sliced (for cleaning instructions, click here)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
Juice from half a lemon
¼ cup dry white wine
3 tbsp chopped fresh herbs: I used lemon thyme, parsley and oregano

for the ricotta custard:

3 to 4 cups ricotta (I doubled the recipe here—naughty)
2 eggs, beaten
½ cup grated parmesan
A few pinches fresh nutmeg
½ tsp salt
Pinch black pepper

for the herb béchamel:

2½ cups whole milk
2 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
¼ tsp salt
Pinch black pepper
Sprigs of fresh herbs: I used parsley, lemon thyme, sage and oregano

for the tomato sauce:

1 tbsp olive oil
½ onion, chopped fine
¼ tsp dried thyme
6 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup red wine
2 large cans chopped tomatoes with juice
1 bay leaf
Salt and black pepper to taste

for the lasagna:

1 box lasagna noodles (not the no-boil kind—they get too squishy)
1 cup parmesan, grated
1½ cups provolone, grated
…and items prepared above

Start by making the tomato sauce. This is fairly straightforward. Sauté onions in olive oil until they become translucent, then add garlic, herbs, salt and pepper. Sauté a bit longer. Add red wine and cook until liquid evaporates. Add tomatoes, bay leaf, bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook at least 20 to 30 minutes. Adjust flavors with salt and pepper as desired.

Prepare the veggies by sautéing leeks in olive oil with salt until they become tender and translucent. Add dried herbs and pepper. Add artichoke slices and garlic. Continue cooking, covered, until artichokes are tender. Add lemon juice then white wine. Fold in fresh herbs. Adjust salt and pepper. Set aside.
Quickly make ricotta custard be mixing all ingredients together.

Prepare béchamel much like any roux. Add butter to a saucepan on high. As it begins to melt, sprinkle with flour and mix together. Once fully absorbed, slowly add milk while stirring constantly. Add sprigs of fresh herbs (tie them together to make fishing them out later easier.) Once it thickens, add salt and black pepper to taste.

the veggie layer for artichoke leek lasagna

the veggie layer for artichoke leek lasagna

Preheat oven to 350F.

Prepare lasagna noodles following package directions. In a large baking dish, scoop some tomato sauce on the bottom then a layer of three noodles side-by-side. Pour some more tomato sauce over the pasta. Then add sautéed veggies. Sprinkle half the cheeses. Add another layer of pasta. Spread ricotta custard over that then more pasta. Add another layer of tomato sauce, the remaining cheese and another layer of pasta. Spread béchamel over that final layer (after removing the herbs). Cover and bake about 20 minutes. Remove cover and bake another 10 to 15 minutes.

That’s it! Simple…

{ 9 comments }

Until just this week when the rain finally hit with a vengeance, I’ve been feeling that light joyful mood that I always have in spring-like weather, you know: energetic, hopeful and hungry for something new. That, of course, has inspired me to continue my adventures in the kitchen. So here we are. I made a sun-dried tomato and red bell pepper tapenade as a party dip but had leftovers. The flavor was quite intense, so I thought it would work perfectly as a filling for ravioli.

ravioli filled with sun-dried tomato and red bell pepper tapenade and mozzarella

ravioli filled with sun-dried tomato and red bell pepper tapenade and mozzarella

I know that people shy away from making their own pasta, and I used to be like that, too. Now I love it. Sure it is a bit of a job—mainly the kneading is a pain. But I prefer to think of it as a necessary work-out to get my desired marvelous result. Running the dough through the pasta machine is a snap now that I’ve gotten a replacement clamp to hold the device to my countertop. Plus that part is really quite soothing.

my hand-cranked pasta machine

my hand-cranked pasta machine

I made the dough using the same recipe and technique from my last ravioli post, which I’ll copy-and-paste here to make things easier. This time I took pics of the pasta with each run through the machine so you can see how long it gets. This does take some space in the kitchen as the sheets of dough grow ever longer. I moved a lot of stuff out of the way and covered most of my counters with clean dishtowels before I started with the machine.

The filling was just the tapenade, some mozzarella and a bit of parmesan cheese. After I boiled my ravioli for about 5 minutes; I lightly sautéed it in olive oil, garlic and fresh spinach. Mmmm!

ravioli filled with sun-dried tomato and red bell pepper tapenade and mozzarella

for the dough:

2 cups flour (I used all purpose)
3 eggs

for the filling:

2 red bell peppers, stems, seeds and ribs removed, cut into large chunks
3 cloves garlic
½ cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil
2 tbsp olive oil
12 kalamata olives, pits removed
Pinch dried oregano
Salt and black pepper to taste
1/3 pound part-skim mozzarella
2 tbsp parmesan

for the sauté:

3 tbsp olive oil
1 bunch whole spinach leaves, large stems discarded
5 cloves garlic, sliced
Salt and black pepper to taste

to prepare dough for ravioli:

Usually you’re supposed to pour the flour on a work-surface then mix in the egg. Counter space is at a premium in my tiny kitchen so I beat the eggs for a couple minutes in a small bowl, then mixed them with the flour in another. Then I dumped everything onto a floured surface and kneaded it for eight (8) minutes. (I set my kitchen timer.) The kneading is the key step and really it is sort of magical as about seven minutes on, suddenly the flour-egg dough starts to do something amazing! It turns into pasta! You can feel it in your hands literally changing. Sure, that is what you’re making so should not come as a surprise to anyone. Nevertheless, whenever I make pasta, I am always stunned that it actually works!

my lump of dough after eight minutes kneading

my lump of dough after eight minutes kneading

Roll dough into a ball then cut it into six equal pieces. With your pasta machine on the widest setting, roll each piece through once. Then fold the edges of each piece together towards the middle and pass it through the machine again, still at the widest setting. Repeat with each piece so that they’ve all been rolled and folded about three times. When not working with a piece, lay it on a clean kitchen towel and be sure not to let it touch any of the other dough.

After that, reduce the width of your pasta maker by one notch and pass each piece through. They will slowly start to get longer. Repeat at next lower notch and so on until you get to the penultimate. By now, your dough should be quite thin and very long. Once you’ve finished set aside.

dough pieces after first setting on machine

dough pieces after first setting on machine

dough pieces after second setting of machine

dough pieces after second setting of machine

dough pieces after third setting on machine

dough pieces after third setting on machine

dough pieces after fourth setting of machine

dough pieces after fourth setting of machine

dough pieces after fifth setting of machine

dough pieces after fifth setting of machine

they're getting big now on the sixth setting

they're getting big now after the sixth setting

the seventh setting is getting blurry--I must have been more tired than I thought

the seventh setting is getting blurry--I must have been more tired than I thought

the dough after the eighth setting--we're ready to go

the dough after the eighth setting--we're ready to go

to prepare filling:

First make tapenade by sautéing red bell peppers and garlic in olive oil until tender. Add to food processor with sun-dried tomatoes, olives, oregano, salt and black pepper. If too thick, add a bit more olive oil. I used about one and a half cups.

Shred mozzarella. Mix cheeses with tapenade.

to assemble ravioli:

placing the filling on the pasta

placing the filling on the pasta

finished glider-shaped raviolis

finished glider-shaped raviolis

Place about a teaspoon full of filling along prepared dough strips, roughly three inches apart from one another. To seal, dab your finger in some water, rub water along edges of dough and between mounds of filling. Carefully fold dough over filling, press down to remove air pockets. Cut between mounds of filling to create individual ravioli. I folded mine into triangular shapes, thinking of our recent adventure with hang-gliders. Set aside but be sure not to let them touch one another. Makes about three dozen.

to make final dish:

Boil ravioli in salted water about 5 minutes. Meanwhile sauté garlic in olive oil for about a minute. Add spinach, salt and black pepper. Drain ravioli and toss into wilted spinach. Fold together and serve.

{ 5 comments }

Anna’s almost secret family recipe:  chocolate cake with cooked frosting

Anna’s almost secret family recipe: chocolate cake with cooked frosting

I’ve been a fan of Anna’s blog, Keep It Luce, since shortly after she started publishing. Her Great Aunt Sue’s recipe for chocolate cake with cooked frosting really resonated with me. I’d neither had the cake before nor heard of “cooked frosting,” both of which made this intriguing. But it was the story of her grandfather on his 92nd birthday, weakened by chronic illness, and the intimate portrait of her family life that was so beautiful and memorable. It stuck with me, perhaps because in certain ways it reminded me of my own grandfather. And one day, finally, it was time to make the cake myself.

I served this at the end of a veggie dinner party for eight. I wasn’t sure what to expect as this is my first-ever chocolate cake from scratch. I knew that the cooked frosting was the bomb, as I’d tasted it while icing this ultra moist cake. It was a giant success. One guest asked for some to take home. I gave him a big slice in a doggie bag. I brought the rest to an afternoon barbecue party the following day, much to the delight of the hostess. (I couldn’t let it stay at my house as I’d have gobbled the whole thing up myself in a day or two, then felt guilty about it.)

Basically I followed Anna’s recipe exactly though I did add some rum to the frosting. Also my cake required a bit longer to set than is suggested in the Keep It Luce recipe: about an hour to 70 minutes.

Anna’s almost secret family recipe: chocolate cake with cooked frosting

for the cake:

2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
¾ cups unsweetened cocoa
2 cups sugar
1 cup canola oil
1 cup hot coffee (I made the cake right after breakfast)
1 cup whole milk
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

for the frosting:

1 cup whole milk
5 tbsp flour
½ cup butter (1 stick) at room temp
½ cup veggie shortening
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp rum

to make the cake:

Pre-heat oven to 325F. Grease and flour a 9”x13” baking dish.

Sift the dry ingredients together.

Mix coffee, oil and milk. Gradually mix dry ingredients into the liquid. Once incorporated, beat for about 2 minutes. Add eggs and 1 tsp vanilla. Beat another 2 minutes.

Pour into prepared dish and bake until a toothpick in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool for about 10 minutes. Carefully invert from dish onto a cooling rack. Cool completely.

to make frosting:

In a small saucepan, heat 1 cup milk. Beat in flour and whisk vigorously. Mine reminded me of a roux.
Cover and let cool completely.

Combine flour/milk mix with remaining ingredients and beat until combined. Mmm!

Once the cake has cooled, place on serving dish and frost. Dust with more cocoa powder (optional).

This cake is unbelievably good. Thank you for the delish family recipe, Anna!

{ 4 comments }

Medjool date bars with almonds

by Stevie on December 12, 2011

These date bars are my mother’s recipe. She got it from a cookbook on bars and cakes, though I’ve no idea its name. They have to be my all-time favorite dessert that she makes: I like these even more than her celebrated homemade cream puffs or Italian Christmas cookies. Last year, she mailed me a care package for the holidays that included a small container of date bars. Yum! They got a bit mashed up in the post but it hardly mattered.

Medjool date bars with almonds

Medjool date bars with almonds

me and the folks on vacation to wine country this fall

me and the folks on vacation to wine country this fall

Whenever she makes them, I feel young. Though the funny thing is that we never ate these when I was a child. I don’t think that she discovered this amazing recipe herself until I had already left home for good. Yet, I feel that they’re part of my entire culinary life back to my earliest memories. Strange how the mind works. I know it isn’t true yet I cannot help believing we’ve always enjoyed these date bars in my family. Could this be what initially attracted my father to my mother? Hmmm…

Maybe not, but if the quantum physics people are right, perhaps that’s exactly what happened in some alternate universe.

It’s nice to dream.

Medjool date bars with almonds

1½ lbs Medjool dates, pitted and chopped
1 cup fresh orange juice
¼ cup sugar
¼ plus ¼ tsp salt
½ cup sliced almonds
1½ cups flour
1½ cups rolled oats
½ cup brown sugar
12 tbsp butter

Add dates, sugar, ¼ tsp salt and orange juice to a saucepan. Bring to a boil then reduce to simmer for five minutes, covered, until the fruit softens and forms a thick paste. Set aside.

Grease and flour a medium baking dish—mine was an oval one about 9 by 14 inches. The original recipe calls for 9” by 9”. Pre-heat oven to 375F.

Mix flour, oats, remaining salt, and brown sugar together. I used my food processor with the dough blade. Roughly chop butter and process into dry ingredients until coarse crumbs form. Press half of oat mix into base of baking dish. Cover with cooked dates. Top with remaining oat mix. Bake 30 to 40 minutes until the crust slightly browns. Remove from oven and let cool completely. Cut into bars.

{ 9 comments }

cranberry sour cream upside-down cake

November 14, 2011

I found this wonderful recipe for cranberry upside-down cake on Moveable Feasts, a great foodie blog that we’ve been following and enjoying for a while. Right now, Barbara, with a group of other blogger friends, is in the middle of this really engaging series called “Gourmet’s 50 Women Game Changers in Food,” where she’ll post […]

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scallion and shrimp pancakes

October 31, 2011

I was in a pancake mood the other day. For breakfast we dined on delicious buttermilk pancakes with syrup and the works. And come dinner-time, it was all about savory pancakes for a Korean inspired meal. Steven and I were chatting about the remarkable two-kinds-of-pancakes-in-one-day while I flipped these scallion and shrimp beauties for the […]

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