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Archive for May, 2010

It was the middle of the winter when I got a copy of Rustic Fruit Desserts, the new(ish) baking book by local chef/bakers Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson.  I pass Julie’s wonderful bakery (Baker and Spice) on my way to and from work every day and Wildwood, the Portland restaurant Cory Schreiber founded, is one of the first places we tried when we moved here.  I knew that whatever these two collaborated on would have to be good.

The recipes in the book are arranged by season, so there’s no good reason I haven’t used the book before now, but lately, with summer fruits starting to appear, I am discovering that this book will be one of the ones I use often.

Where did I start?  Well, oddly, it was the apricots that got me going.

For some reason I haven’t ever been a big fan of fresh apricots.  After this spring, though, that is changing.  The produce manager at New Seasons encouraged us to buy some the other week, and I have been keeping a bowlful in the kitchen ever since.  I’ve been eating them right from the bowl, but also experimenting with them in baked desserts. And that’s when I found myself turning to Rustic Fruit Desserts.

The recipe I chose is called stone fruit upside-down cornmeal cake.  And it’s a good one.  The cake is just sweet enough, and even a little crunchy with bits of cornmeal.  The topping — well it’s really just apricots, butter and brown sugar — and that’s just about perfect.

The recipe is very simple — melt butter and brown sugar in a cast-iron skillet, arrange the fruit (cut sides down) in the skillet and top it with the cornmeal batter.  Bake, and then turn the finished cake out onto a plate. It’s easy, delicious, and beautiful.  What more could you ask?

Here’s the recipe.

Stone fruit upside-down cornmeal cake

(adapted from Rustic Fruit Desserts by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson)

Fruit Topping
5 apricots
¼ cup unsalted butter
½ cup packed brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Score the skin of the apricots with a few strokes of a knife, then slice them in half and remove the pits.

Melt the butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Add the brown sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves and blends with the butter to form a caramel.  Remove from the heat and arrange to fruit cut side down on top of the caramel.

Cake
1 ¼ cups all purpose flour
¾ cups fine cornmeal
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
½ cup unsalted butter at room temperature
2/3 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¾ cup buttermilk

Whisk the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a bowl.

Using stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together on medium high speed for 3-5 minutes until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition, then stir in the vanilla.

Stir in the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk in two additions, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and scraping down the bowl as needed.

Pour the batter over the fruit in the skillet and gently spread it evenly.  Bake in the middle of the oven for about 45 minutes, or until the center of the cake springs back lightly when touched.

Allow the cake to cool for 20 minutes before flipping it over onto a plate.

This cake is best the day it is made but will keep for a few days covered with plastic wrap.

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Despite the chilly weather and continuous drizzle (interrupted by occasional bursts of hail) it must be spring.  How do I know?  There is locally grown asparagus at the farmer’s market.

I am a big fan of this vegetable, especially when I know it’s been grown locally and when the spears are crisp and sweet almost all the way to the base of the stalk.   I have prepared asparagus lots of ways; grilled, roasted and poached and sauced with everything from a simple drizzle of olive oil and a splash of lemon juice to a more complex mustardy, balsamic vinaigrette.

My affection for asparagus is probably why Mark Bittman’s column about Asparagus Pesto caught my eye.  I clearly had to make this.

I followed MB’s recipe, substituting hazelnuts (I live in Oregon, after all) for the pine nuts and quadrupling the amount of garlic in the original recipe.  The resulting puree was lovely — bright springy green in color

and bursting with flavor.

I quickly boiled up some fresh rigatoni (also from the Portland Farmer’s Market) tossed the noodles with the pesto, topped it all with some lightly steamed fresh peas in the pod, and sat down to a plate of spring perfection.

Why not give it a try at your house?

Asparagus Pesto

Kosher salt
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch segments
4 cloves garlic
1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts
1/4 cup olive oil, or more as desired
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1/2 lemon, or to taste.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the asparagus and cook until tender but not mushy, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain well and shock with ice water to stop the cooking.  Reserve some of the cooking liquid.

Transfer the cooled asparagus pieces to a food processor and add the garlic, hazelnuts, 2 tablespoons of the oil, Parmesan, a pinch of salt and a couple of tablespoons of the cooking liquid.

Process the mixture, stopping to scrape down the sides of the container if necessary, and gradually add the remaining oil and a bit more of the reserved cooking liquid to moisten if necessary. Add the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste, pulse one last time to finish mixing.

Serve over pasta, fish or chicken.  Top with chopped hazelnuts and additional Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups of pesto.  Keeps, covered and refrigerated for a day or two.

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The minute I saw this post on David Lebovitz’s wonderful blog, I knew I had to make Chocolate Bread.  I mean, how could I resist?  Chocolate bread?  What a great idea.  Not a new one, even to me, but this recipe was both relatively straight-forward and annotated with lots of notes about each ingredient choice.  I was hooked.

Of course, I had some questions to answer first.  DL recommends using a Dutch process cocoa powder and I wanted to use my current favorite,  Green and Black’s Organic Cocoa.  Was it “Dutched” (aka alkalized)?”  Yes.

DL also calls for bread flour (though he says all-purpose will do in a pinch) so I replenished my supply of King Arthur bread flour (it turned out I had some sitting around, but since I wasn’t sure how old it was, getting fresh flour was a good idea).

DL’s recipe cites toasted nuts as an optional ingredient.  Being a resident of Portland, where I can get freshly roasted hazelnuts at the Farmer’s Market most of the year, I chose to add those incredibly tasty nuts to this batch.

Finally I bought and chopped some Scharffen Berger 70% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate.

Ingredients assembled, I waded in.  The dough came together easily in my mixer, looking (as DL mentions) almost like brownie batter when fully mixed — very soft and not at all like most bread dough.

After a couple of rises (2 hours in the bowl, just over an hour in a loaf pan) I slid the bread into the oven.

And, oh! the smell.  Better than bread alone, better even than brownies baking, my whole kitchen was filled with the warm scent of chocolate and the yeasty smell of bread — a combination almost impossible to describe.  The scent alone makes baking this bread worth it.

Of course it tastes pretty darn good, too!

So far, we’ve eaten it plain (yes, I admit, warm from the oven), smeared with this incredible cultured butter from the Monteillet Fromagerie,

and most, recently, toasted and topped with vanilla ice cream and fresh strawberries.

My conclusion?  This bread was definitely worth the effort. I recommend you give it a try, too.

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Some time ago, my sister-in-law, K, posted a recipe for Almond Milk on her blog.  The first few times I made it myself I flipped back to her recipe, but after a few batches I found that I was able to remember the simple and delicious recipe without peeking.  Now I keep homemade almond milk in my refrigerator almost all the time.

What makes this recipe so wonderful is the simple list of ingredients and the ease with which they can be combined to make a flavorful and healthy drink.  Almonds, water, a bit of sweetener (I use agave nectar or maple syrup) and vanilla, and a pinch of salt, whirled in the blender and strained through cheesecloth,

and there you are — creamy, smooth, slightly sweet and nutty — the perfect glass of almond milk.

For me, nothing tastes better on homemade (or any other kind) granola.

Here are the details:

Almond Milk

1 cup whole almonds (I use organic)
4 cups water
2 tablespoons agave nectar or maple syrup (you can add more or less sweetener to taste)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pinch kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in a blender.  Blend at the highest speed for about 2 minutes, until all of the almonds are pulverized.

Pour through a strainer lined with cheesecloth.  Gather the cheesecloth and squeeze until all of the liquid is extracted.

Pour into a jar and refrigerate.  Almond milk keeps, refrigerated, for about 3 days.

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Denver

This past weekend S and I were in Denver

for the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA).  This is one of the largest conferences I attend; AERA has something like 10,000 members, many of whom make presentations and attend sessions where they can talk about current issues in educational research and policy (among other things).

This year the meeting was particularly interesting (for people in the field of education, that is) because of upcoming changes in federal legislation related to education and because of the considerable national attention focused on the preparation and evaluation of teacher performance and student learning.  These are topics that I spend a lot of my professional life thinking about and the meeting provided me with a chance to hear from educational leaders who are hoping to influence those policies.

The trip also gave me a chance to reconnect with old friends and colleagues, visit the newly renovated Denver Art Museum

and eat out (too often and too much I am afraid!).  All of the food we had was great, especially the meals prepared by the friends we stayed with, of course.  Of the meals we had out, three stand out — both for the company and for the food.  First, we had a lovely dinner with our friends P, J, M and N at Duo, a neighborhood bistro in the rapidly developing and chic Highland neighborhood.  The Sweet Pea Fritters and the Halibut Carpaccio were particularly tasty.

We also had a great lunch at Bistro Vendrome on Larimer with P, K and T.  I loved my chicken salad sandwich (I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it was very good) and the wine, a 2007  Champalou Vouvray imported by Kermit Lynch, was exceptional.  Finally, we met our friends J & M for brunch at Rioja, another place on Larimer that really lived up to it’s reputation as one of the best restaurants in Denver.

All in all, it was a good trip.  As usual, though, I am glad to be home.

*Note:  none of the photos in this entry are my own.

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