nectarine upside-down chiffon cake

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summer is almost over. what a summer it has been.

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here in california, the edges of summer linger in lazy, sunny afternoons. autumn is trying to sneak in with its crisp, cool air. it is there in the cloud cover that hangs softly over the mornings, easing us into the day and the rhythm of life starting back up again. in the shortened evenings that make us start to think about cozy stews and apple crumbles.

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there are still heavy red tomatoes and green papery-husked ears of corn at the market, but they sit side by side with rosy apples and bright orange pumpkins. if you're lucky, there's still stone fruit as well.

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this cake nicely bridges the end of summer, with the bright, sweet acid of the nectarines and the warmth of cinnamon streusel.

if summer is already a bit of a memory, apples would substitute nicely, maybe mixed together with a handful of tart cranberries.

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whipped cream in the batter makes the cake light. a hint of lemon keeps it from excessive sweetness with the marbled layer of cinnamon streusel inside and sticky, carameled slices of nectarine on top.

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this is a knock-winner of a cake. beautiful, but not fussy. perfect with a scoop of real whipped cream.

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you can find the recipe over at tuesdays with dorie, and at the double trouble kitchen and the little french bakery.

 

twd: baking with julia: peach & blueberry galette

first, i would like to thank everyone who visited my blog last week and for all the comments! i appreciate you!

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on to this galette . . . such a fancy name for such a simple, rustic and homey tart.

this was light, thin crust and studded with crunchy cornmeal. just the right note with sliced peaches and the most blueberry-tasting of blueberries i've had all summer.

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i was a little less than excited about two weeks of pie . . . see last week's posting if you have any questions about my pie attitudes. while the closest this galette gets to my beloved streusel topping is the crunchy turbinado sugar on the crust edges, i would make this again.

it's the type of light summer dessert that perfectly highlights the natural sweetness of any fruit at the peak of it's season.

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and it's so light you can serve it with ice cream. lots and lots of ice cream. this is sweet corn ice cream with raspberry chambord sauce and lemon frozen yogurt with white chocolate. thank you, again, jeni's fabulous ice cream recipes.

the ice cream? it was for the birthday girl.

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birthday galette on a steam august evening, after a night of champagne cocktails, cut-throat board gaming and good friends.

not bad way to wind down the summer.

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to find more posts on this lovely galette and the recipe, visit tuesdays with dorie!

italian prune plum cake

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we are back to the farmer's market this week.  i was seduced by a plum.  it's hardly my fault. 

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there are lots of pretty plums in the world.  the typical red Satsuma plums.  the little yellow and green plums. 

but the plums that got me were these.  italian prune plums.  so dark purple they are almost blue with a lovely ashy skin.  according to the internets, they aren't so good for eating out of hand, but better for baking.  especially on a stormy summer afternoon.  sold!

manchego liked them too.  or maybe it was the squirrel stealing our cherry tomatoes outside the window.

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just kidding.  the porch plants are so weak this year, the squirrel has given up on us.  i've given up on us.  on the plus side, since i've stopped watering the squash and tomatoes, i have SO MUCH MORE TIME.  war and peace kind of time.  plum cake kind of time.

sincere apologies to the dear friend who helped keep them alive during our vacation this year.  i started the summer with such hope.  there's always next year.

anyway, here are our ingredients.  it's a simple cake.  

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there are a lot of plum recipes out there.  tarts.  rustic crostatas and galettescrepes.  treats involving almond flour, pastry cream, spring-form pans.  sorbets for those uninclined to turn on the oven.  if you are feeling ambitious, i encourage you to try any of those yummy looking recipes.

me, i've been on a lazy streak lately. 

i googled until i found something super easy.  yet, something classic.  something blessed by not just the new york times and the spendid table, but also by an anonymous chowhound commenter

let's get started.  halve those plums.

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so pretty, the pale green center with the dusty purple skin.

i'll be honest – the pits were a little bit of a b*!@& to pry out of the plums.  we had words. 

once you've liberated your plum halves, let them hang out with the lemon juice and cinnamon.  then nestle them in the batter.  the batter is thick and sticky.

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the plums cook down and get jammy.  they stay a little tart, which is a nice foil against the cake, which is sweet but not too sweet.  not as sweet as the amount of sugar would lead you to believe.  and the cake has a nice light crumb.

the edges of the cake are a lovely chewy crust – and with a slightly gooey center, it's kind of like a really good brownie.  without the chocolate.  win some, lose some.

i slightly undercooked the cake.  don't be like me.  gooey is good – but the middle of my cake was inedible.  don't tell the cake police.  just bake your cake until it's done!

but the edges. 

crusty, chewy, just the right amount of gooey.

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see?  it's even like the cake is smiling.

Italian Prune Plum Cake

Basically as seen in: The New York Times and the Spendid Table, but also by an Anonymous Chowhound Commenter

  • 1/4 pound unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 or 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup unbleached flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 lemon, zest & juice
  • 7 Italian (prune or purple) plums
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon or more, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Halve and pit the plums.  Toss with 2 tablespoons of sugar, cinnamon and juice of one lemon.  Let the plums soak up the goodness.

Cream butter and 3/4 cup sugar.  Let it get good and fluffy.  Add flour and baking power and mix until just combined.  Add eggs, salt and lemon zest, and mix again until just combined.  Light touch! 

Scoop into a greased baking dish.  I used a 12x9ish baking pan.  Nestle in your plums, skin side down.  Don't be shy with that cinnamon.

Bake for about an hour or until the middle isn't gooey.  Let it get good and golden brown.  Cool, slice and serve with a little powdered sugar!

life-changing zucchini soup

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perhaps you are asking yourself, why on god's green earth would anyone be making soup – and we are talking hot soup here, not chilled refreshing gazpacho – not only in the middle of summer, but in the middle of the worst heat wave this country has seen in a long, long time?

well, i didn't leave the house yesterday.  the somm and i cranked up the ac, lowered the blinds, settled our tushes into the couch and took shelter. 

i didn't even go to the gym.  its getting serious.

but back to the soup.  a friend sent me the recipe.  i thanked her.  i was close to moving on. i'm not a soup person.  my mom – she is all about the soup. soup just doesn't always get it done for me.

then my friend sent a one sentence email: the zucchini soup will change your life.

talk about getting serious.  i'm in!

we're going to start with some onions.

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diced onion is going to get up close and personal with more butter and olive oil than i usually use (sorry honey!) and some thyme and bay.  i took a picture, frankly it didn't look as appetizing as it smelled.  butter.  mmm.

add your chunked zucchini and chicken stock.  i used some homemade stock from the freezer.  the sommelier came that much closer to finding the ice cream sandwiches. 

once it's all cooked up together, you blend it up.  you know, in your blender.  or use one of those fancy immersion blender wands.  i don't have one, although some kind person did buy me one for my wedding.  i had registered for it and everything.  i thought it might inspire me to make soup.  i had visions of sharing soup recipes with my mother.  then it arrived and i looked at it and realized that, really, i'm not a soup person.  i returned it and put the money towards filling out my pots and pans set.  my sincere apologies.  but seriously, i'm using the hell out of those pots and pans.

soup therapy session over!  time for the croutons!  you're going to need lots of basil.

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i keep mine in a vase.  with my flowers.

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god, i love the woman who sells the flowers at my farmers market.  she puts basil IN THE ARRANGEMENTS sometimes.  purple basil – do you see it back there?  love. it.  so does manchego.  check him out surveying his domain.

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moments after this photo was taken, he started gnawing on the flower arrangements. 

anyway.  i saved the basil from the gatito.  and let me pass along this advice: do not skip the croutons.  they are buttery, basily cubes of goodness.

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let them get all brown and toasty.

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so good.  i am that much closer to being a soup person.

and mom – you should try this soup.  here's the recipe!

Zucchini Soup with Basil Croutons

from Food & Wine Magazine

SOUP

  • 3 tbs butter
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 3 celery ribs, peeled and diced (I didn't have celery.  I didn't miss it.)
  • 1 medium onion, minced (I may have subbed extra onion for the missing celery.  But I can never tell what a "medium" onion is supposed to be.)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp chopped thyme leaves
  • 1 1/2 lb zucchini (F&W said to use little guys, I used two big dudes. Eh.)
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • Salt & Pepper
  • More basil

In a large heavy saucepan, melt the butter in the olive oil. Add the celery, onion, bay leaf and thyme and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft, about 20 minutes. Increase the heat to moderate. Stir in the zucchini and stock, season with salt and pepper and simmer the soup until the zucchini is soft, about 10 minutes. Discard the bay leaf.

CROUTONS

  • 2 tbs butter
  • 1/3 cup basil leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 cups-ish country bread, cut into 1/2 ince dice
  • Salt & Pepper

In a large skillet, melt the butter over moderately high heat. Stir in the chopped basil, then add the bread cubes and toss to coat with the butter. Season the bread cubes with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes, or until the bread cubes are lightly toasted and crispy. Transfer to a plate.

ALL TOGETHER NOW

Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender until smooth. This is important – soup expand when it gets hot and blended.  Leave a little air hole at the top of your blender.  Enough for steam, not enough to splatter soup everywhere.  You'll be sad.

Return the soup to the saucepan and reheat gently. Season with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into bowls, top with the croutons and basil leaves and serve.

more. cherries.

i did manage to pit and freeze a good pound of sour cherries this week. remember these?

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some day, god willing, i'll live in a house with a separate freezer for crazy things like summer cherries, and chicken stock, and, well, everything i want in a freezer that otherwise drives the sommelier crazy.  because when there are frozen chicken breasts and cookie dough and leftover adorable little individual servings of browned onion kugel that i just couldn't eat or throw away and that are just AMAZING still if you just microwave them and then you don't have to cook for just yourself on an average wednesday, it can be awfully hard to find the cherry garcia frozen yogurt.  that is really all the sommelier wants out of his freezer.  can't say i blame him.

BUT, if he ever does make it back to the sweatbox known as dc, now that i have frozen the cherries, i'll be able to recreate this for him:

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cherry clafouti!  continuing on this week's theme of summer food that is fun to say.  clafouti!  rhymes with booty!  another yummy french dish. 

in addition to being a very yummy, custardy dessert, clafouti has an entertaining wikipedia entry

"The dish's name derives from Occitan clafotís (Occitan pronunciation: [klafuˈti]), from the verb clafir, meaning "to fill" (implied: "the batter with cherries"). Clafoutis apparently spread throughout France during the 19th century."

clafouti: to fill one's batter with cherries.

i also filled my batter with lemony goodness.

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i trew in some vanilla and almond extract too.  and left the cherry pits in.  apparently that is the "authentic" way to do so, and i'd already thumbed my nose at julia over the ratatouille this week, plus it's supposed to taste almondy-er.  it worked out ok for me.  just be sure to warn your dinner guests!

Cherry Clafouti

  • Largeish handful of cherries – tart or sweet, with or without pits. 
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup white sugar (maybe less for sweet cherries)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1 lemon's worth of zest
  • Turbinado sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Warm your milk in a saucepan – bring to a simmer but don't boil.  If you boil it start over.  No one likes burnt milk.  Unless it's for dulche de leche.  But that's not what we're doing here.

Whisk together the rest of the ingredients.  It'll be a little sticky.  SUPER DUPER slowly, whisk in the milk.  Don't scramble your eggs!

Cover the bottom of four ramekins with one layer of cherries (fill ramekin with cherries!). Pour custard batter over cherries (fill cherry-filled ramekin with custard!).

Pop in the oven for about 20 minutes.  Then sprinkle with turbinado sugar and keep baking for another 5-10 minutes until set and golden brown.

 

 

freestyle ratatouille

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there are two veggie dishes that just scream summer to me.  they are also two dishes that are super fun to say.  ratatouille!  succotash! 

today, we're talking ratatouille.

everyone in america now knows what ratatouille is thanks to this adorable mouse. 

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both ratatouille and succotash make excellent use of the veggies that are at their prime in summer.  for ratatouille, this means tomatoes.  eggplants.  squash.  sweet peppers.  basil and other herbs.

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you can't really see it, but there's a super pretty purple and white striped eggplant in that pile.  remember when that pile was bigger?

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there's that eggplant!  and a very uncharacteristically curious cat.

some people (ahem julia child) have lots of rules about ratatouille.  sauteing the various vegetable separately to maintain their vegetal integrity.  that just sounds like a lot of cleaning for this servantless chef.  and while thomas keller's perfectly composed little dish of ratatouille for said movie looked delectable, i just can't be bothered on a weeknight.  i like my ratatouille peasant style, stewy and infused with the taste of summer.

so, here goes some freestyle ratatouille.  i'm not even going to give you a real recipe.  first.  chop your veggies.  you know what you like.  i like more tomato than sweet pepper.  i like lots of garlic and a nice big onion.  i like a 1:1ish ratio of eggplant and zucchini. 

heat some oil.  sweat out your onions.  add your garlic.  add your tomatoes. let it hang out and get a little mushy.  then add your eggplant and zucchini.  hit it with some salt and pepper, and some chopped herbs – i like basil and thyme.  cover and let it melt together.  melt it at much as you like.  want your veggies to have a bit of bite?  add them in stages.  or be all julia child and sear them in a separate pan and then add to your tomato.  i won't judge.  too much. 

this is what last night's ratatouille looked like:

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don't judge these knife skills.  it's all going to come together. what will bring it together?  red wine vinegar. 

there are a couple of things that i've learned that have made me a better cook.  1) salt your food.  think you've added enough?  add another pinch.  do it. 2) acid.  acid does amazing things for food.  a squeeze of lemon, a squirt of vinegar, will brighten up most dishes.  professional chefs know how to use acid.  home cooks usually don't.  red wine vinegar will bring your ratatouille together.

but, a little goat cheese wouldn't hurt.  some more basil.  maybe some french bread?  red wine?

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 yum. 

and what's better than a plate of ratatouille?  ratatouille on pizza. 

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whole wheat crust, mozzarella, more of that goat cheese, maybe some chicken sausage. layer on some more summer veggies.

(please note that the farmer's market was not harmed in the addition of vegetables to this pizza, they were kindly donated by friends who then helped consume the results.  unlike my sad underacheivers, their deck garden is going gangbusters.  something about watering and fertilizing?  sigh.)

bake it up.

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mmm.  need to feel more virtuous?  add some kale salad.  dinner's on!

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Ratatouille

Saute onions and garlic.  Add chopped tomatoes.  Add chopped eggplant, zucchini, bell pepers, basil and thyme.  Simmer until it reaches the desired consistency.  Add a few splashes of red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper.  Maybe some red pepper flakes if you're feeling spicy.

Pizza Dough

  • 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp sugar (or honey!)
  • 1 tsp yeast.
  • 1 cup cold water

Mix flours, salt, sugar, and yeast.  Add cold water and stir/knead until it forms a ball and comes away from the sides of the bowl.  Oil a clean bowl.  Let the dough hang out in the oiled bowl, tightly covered.  At least 2-4 hours, but all day is good too if you're like me and can't wait to eat until 10 pm on a work night and thus must make dough in the morning as a part of a losing battle to being on time for work.  When you get home, knead it a couple of times with more flour, then let it rest under a clean dish towel.  This recipe makes a LOT of dough.  But whatever you don't use will keep in the fridge for a day or two.

Kale Salad

This one is just chopped kale with a TON of feta and a simple dressing of lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.  It was inspired by the marginally fancier Dinner: A Love Story recipe here.

cherry crumble bars

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we are hitting that point of summer where i start to get into real trouble at the farmers market.  everything looks so good!  i want it all! 

it’s a double whammy when the sommelier goes out of town on the weekend.  there is no one to check the madness.  no one to question whether we really need TWO QUARTS of sour cherries.

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i mean, isn’t the answer to that always YES at the end of cherry season? 

but it didn’t stop at the cherries.  while you check out my haul, try to guess the number of humans i’ll be feeding this week.

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the answer?  me.  just me. 

dear sommelier: please come home.  yes, i miss you.  but also i bought a bunch of kale larger than a small child.

lordy. 

didja see rio lurking amidst the produce?  let’s see a close up.

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can haz fahmarz mahket! (hat tip jaime)

this is the point where she runs back and hides under the bed.

back to the cherries.  i bought a cherry pitter! 

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file that under other things i purchase when the sommelier is gone: excessive amounts of produce, single-use kitchen implements, shoes . . . .

let me tell you though, that cherry pitter is unbelievable.  so much fun.  i had purple fingers for so many years for no good reason.

i have many plans for these cherries.  luckily i bought TWO QUARTS.  the first round went into these:

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yeah, cherry crumble bars.  top notch.

sour cherries + lemon + butter + brown sugar + oaty crumbly goodness = winning.

plus, this recipe – itself a bastardization of several other recipes – is a great basis for all kinds of fruity, crumbly goodness.  i really liked the tartness of the sour cherries, but any other type of summer fruit would be good.  reduce the brown sugar and oats for a blueberry crumb bar like smitten kitchen’s original.  or swap the lemon for some ginger for a peachy crumble bar.  or add almonds and apricots!

 

Cherry Crumble Bars

adapted primarily from Smitten Kitchen

  • 1/2 cup white sugar (3 1/2 oz)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (3 3/4 oz)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (12 3/4 oz)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • 1 cup cold unsalted butter (2 sticks or 8 ounces) cubed
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 to 1 cup oats
  • 4 cups fresh sour cherrys – pitted and halved or not as you like it
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 4 teaspoons cornstarch

Preheat oven to 375.

Stir the sugars, flour, baking powder, salt and zest together.  Add butter and work into flour with a fork, pastry cutter or your fingers until mostly incorporated, then add egg and finish incorporating.  It should look kind of like coarse meal, but a little shaggier. 

Press half of mixture into bottom of a 13 by 9 in pan. Add oats to the remaining half for topping.

Mix cherries with lemon juice, 1/2 cup sugar and corn starch.  Pour over bottom crust. 

Sprinkle reserved oats mixture on top.  Bake for 30 to 45 minutes until the topping is golden brown and the cherries are bubbling.  It shouldn’t be too wiggly in the middle – it’ll firm up a bit.  But mine stayed a bit gooey.  Which I love.  But not everyone does, so just watch it, ok?