Saturday, July 24, 2010

plum cobbler

We are officially overrun with plums. Not only are they packed (and ripening hastily) on the tree in our backyard, but the CSA delivery has included a bag of plums the past two weeks in a row. When I was assigned dessert-duty for the BBQ we attended this evening, I knew that I would need to make something plumy.

The cobbler was a hit. It came together quickly and incorporated a lot of ripe plums. I used a mix of damask plums from our tree and Santa Rosa plums from the weekly box. Here's what I did:

Plum Cobbler

20 plums, pitted and sliced 1/2" thick
1 c. sugar
2 1/2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. vanilla

2 c. flour
5 Tbsp. sugar, divided
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon, divided
1/2 c. butter, chilled and cut into 1/2" cubes
3/4 c. + 2 Tbsp. whipping cream
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss plums with sugar, cornstarch and vanilla in a large bowl. Bake 30 minutes in a 13x9x2 glass baking dish.

Meanwhile, mix flour, 3 Tbsp. sugar, baking powder, salt, and 1/4 tsp. cinnamon in a large bowl. Add butter and work into coarse meal with a fork or pastry cutter. Whisk 3/4 c. whipping cream and egg in a small bowl. Stir cream mix into flour mix until just blended. Gently knead dough in the bowl until it comes together.

Remove plums from oven and stir. Break off golf ball-sized pieces of dough and arrange over plums. Brush dough with cream. Mix remaining 2 Tbsp. sugar and 1/4 tsp. cinnamon. Sprinkle sugar mixture over dough. Bake about 30 minutes, until biscuits are browned.

We enjoyed our plum cobbler topped with vanilla ice cream.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

squash marinara with basil polenta

Squash marinara has been on my mind for awhile. It started when the mixture of yellow and green pattypan and crooknecked squash arrived in the CSA box last week. I made a version of squash marinara a couple of weeks ago when my mother was in town, but the last minute inclusion of ricotta rendered it a little mushy. Tonight's second try (sans ricotta) was a success.

In addition to squash, we also had quite a bit of basil on hand: Italian basil in the garden that is growing like crazy, and purple basil from the latest CSA delivery. So I decided to try a basily polenta to accompany the marinara. It's been awhile since I've cooked polenta. Like quinoa, it's a grain that I forget about for awhile and then remember it randomly in excitement. This was one of those times.

We enjoyed our squash & polenta with a simple salad of tomatoes and more fresh basil (dressed with olive oil and balsamic) and garlic bread. A lovely meal!

Squash Marinara with Basil Polenta
Serves 4

basil polenta:
2 c. water
1/2 c. polenta
a pinch of salt
2 Tbsp. fresh basil, finely chopped (I used purple basil)
1 Tbsp. olive oil

Bring salted water to a boil in a medium pot. Gradually add polenta. Reduce heat to medium-low. Stir constantly for 25 minutes. Remove from heat. Add basil and stir to distribute. Pour polenta into 8 unlined cups of a muffin pan (alternative: pour into a square 8x8 pan, then slice once cool). Allow to cool completely. Run a knife around the edges of the cooled polenta to extract the discs from the pan. Place on baking sheet and brush with olive oil. Place under broiler on high until the discs crisp and begin to brown.

squash marinara:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 c. onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
4-5 medium squash, sliced 1/4" thick*
3 c. marinara sauce
6 oz. mozzarella, shredded
1/4 c. parmesan, shredded
*As mentioned, we had a mix of squash on hand: several pattypan and a couple crooknecks; it's less important what type you use, but strive for slices of uniform thickness so it cooks evenly.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; cook for two minutes. Add squash. Cook, stirring occasionally, until squash is tender, about 8 minutes.

Spread 1/2 cup sauce in the bottom of a baking dish. Add squash mixture. Top with remaining sauce, mozzarella, and parmesan. Bake 20 minutes.

Serve the squash marinara over the basil polenta. Top with additional basil, if desired.

BLT salad with basil & white pepper vinaigrette

JR is out of town this weekend, on a boys' trip to Bend, Oregon for a century (100 mile) bike ride. He left something in the fridge that I've had my eye on. Something I rarely buy. But really enjoy.


I'm not sure whether I've mentioned this before, but I have a penchant for, let's say, "less than healthy" meat products. Bacon. Bratwurst. Balogne. As a child, I remember sneaking hot dogs from the fridge and eating them plain as a snack (a processed meat version of string cheese?). Since then, I've swung on the meat-eating pendulum from veganism to living in Texas. I had a decent stint as a vegetarian (10 years). Currently, I practice all things in moderation (not always an easy thing, but I try) and generally eat pretty healthfully.

Perhaps it's because I don't have it very often that I get quite excited about bacon.

I had been thinking about this salad - what to put in it, how to dress it - since I discovered the bacon in the fridge. It turned out just as fantastic as I had imagined. Here's what I did:

BLT (+ACE) Salad with Basil & White Pepper Vinaigrette
Serves 2

4 Tbsp. fresh basil, finely chopped
4 Tbsp. olive oil
4 tsp. red wine vinegar
a pinch white pepper

2 c. lettuce, chopped
1 cucumber, sliced then quartered
2 tomatoes, sliced into wedges
1 avocado, sliced
2 hard boiled eggs, shelled & sliced
4 pieces cooked bacon, crumbled

Whisk the vinaigrette ingredients together in a small bowl.

Toss lettuce and cucumbers with half of the dressing. Divide onto individual serving plates. Top with tomatoes, eggs, avocado, bacon and remaining dressing. Enjoy!

Friday, July 16, 2010


We have successfully identified the mystery tree in the backyard: it is a plum tree.

The first year at the new house is an adventure in plants. Things are blooming or appearing that weren't expected as we slowly learn what lives in the ground and soaks up the sun around our yard. My first surprise was when the vine trellised up the side of the garage, which I had assumed was an evergreen, suddenly turned bright pink (bougainvillea). Last week, JR discovered a small bush in the front yard that is bearing small citrus fruit. Neither of us remember ever seeing it before (I would swear that a neighbor came and planted it in the night, except that would make me crazy). JR's bet is on lemons, but I think (read: hope) the fruit will be limes (with the new kumquat tree and the Meyer lemon, we'd have a trifecta of citrus!). Not all of the surprises have been so great: the wisteria is messy (and more country-garden than tropical-jungle), the rose on the side of the house bloomed a dusty pink (which most definitely does not go with my tropical theme, either in type or color).

But one great surprise has been the plum tree.

When we first looked at the house in early spring, it was covered in puffy white blossoms. I had thought it might be an ornamental pear, like the one we had planted in front of our prior house. But then it started fruiting. It became quickly apparent that this fruit would be bigger than ornamental, possibly even... edible? Then came the puzzle of figuring out what kind of fruit it would be. It grew to the size where I could identify a pit - so had it nailed down as some sort of stone fruit. Which meant it could be a cherry, apricot, peach, nectarine, pluot, plum...

It was only relatively recently that the fruit turned purple, enabling positive plum identification. My internet queries suggest it is a damson or damask plum. What I know for certain is that they are very tasty and we are currently overrun with them.

Here's how I used a few this evening:

Roasted Plum Salad
Serves 2
6 plums, halved & pitted
1 Tbsp. champagne vinegar
1 tsp. honey
1 tsp. walnut oil (optional)
a pinch white pepper
1 small head butter lettuce, chopped
a handful of walnuts or pecans, toasted
feta or goat cheese

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place plums, cut side up, in a shallow baking dish. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until plums have begun to render their juice. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Pour 1 Tbsp. of plum juice into a small bowl. Whisk the plum juice together with champagne vinegar, honey, oil, and white pepper.

Place lettuce in a large bowl. Toss with vinaigrette. Divide into individual bowls. Top each with roasted plums, pecans, and sprinkle with cheese.

If you have any favorite plum recipes (or any plum recipes at all), please send them my way - I'm going to need them!

Monday, July 12, 2010

grilled artichokes

My mother has been in town the past few days, visiting from Washington state. We spent the majority of her visit relaxing and enjoying the sunshine, but squeezed in time for a couple of semi-touristy adventures as well: a visit to the Japanese Tea Garden at Golden Gate Park and a mini-road trip to Monterey.

In addition to beautiful beaches, the trip down the coast from the San Francisco peninsula to Monterey included acres and acres of farmland. I found myself wishing for roadside signs to help me identify the various fruits and veggies growing in the fields. One crop was impossible to misidentify: artichokes.

The artichoke plant is a perennial thistle, and the part we eat is the edible bud of the flower. As we neared Castroville, artichokes became the primary roadside crop. They are clearly a big thing in this town: along with the requisite vegetable stands selling artichokes (10 for $1!), there were signs for fried artichokes and the annual Artichoke Festival.

After lunching at a seafood restaurant on Cannery Row in Monterey, we stopped at one of the veggie stands in Castroville on our drive north. I came away with 10 baby artichokes, 6 avocados, and an orange-fleshed honeydew melon (all for only $5!).

At the time of purchase, I wasn't sure what exactly I would do with the baby artichokes. But when it came time to eat them yesterday, the hot day made it clear: grill them. We've been grilling a lot during the past week since the weather has been warm. The patio behind our home is getting so much use our first summer here that I'm starting to wonder how we ever lived without it. Last night, we enjoyed glasses of white wine in the sunshine while JR cooked the artichokes on the grill.

The little veggies turned out quite tasty. We did find them to be a bit of work for little yield, however. Though precious, the little chokes didn't have much meat on their leaves. The next time I make this, I will try it with regular-sized artichokes, where the big heart will make the effort seem more worthwhile.

We enjoyed our artichokes with Meyer Lemon Risotto. It was a great last-nigh-of-mom's-visit meal. Mom, I had a fantastic few days with you! See you in a few weeks on my next trip to Seattle. In the meantime, it's back to work for me.

Grilled Artichokes
Serves 4

4 large or 12 baby artichokes
3 lemons
1/2 c. orange juice
1/4 c. olive oil
1 tsp. fresh thyme
sea salt
white pepper

Fill a large bowl with cold water. Squeeze the juice of 1 lemon into the water. Working with one artichoke at a time, snap off a few of the rough outer leaves until you reach the pale green inner leaves. Cut off a small piece from the stem end. Trim the thorny leaf tops with a serrated knife. Cut the artichokes in half lengthwise. With a small spoon, scoop out the fuzzy choke. As each artichoke is trimmed, drop it into the water to prevent discoloration.

Bring a saucepan 3/4 fill of water to a boil. Add the artichokes and boil for about 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Whisk together orange juice, olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper to taste in a small bowl. Arrange artichokes in a single layer in a large glass baking dish. Pour orange juice mixture over the top. Allow to marinate at room temperature for about an hour, turning a couple of times.

Cut remaining two lemons in half. Heat grill to medium-high heat. Arrange the artichokes and lemons directly over the hottest part of the fire. Cook for about 10 minutes, turning once or twice.

Arrange artichokes on a serving platter. Squeeze the juice of the grilled lemons over the top.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

root beer baked beans

This will very likely be the only baked bean recipe I ever make again.

It was that good.

The sweetness of the root beer dancing with the salty, smokey bacon was perfection. It tasted as though the ingredients simmered together for many hours, yet the use of canned beans meant start to finish in 45 minutes flat. Everyone who celebrated our nation's Independence Day earlier this week with us went back for seconds. Those are all components of a winning dish in my book.

I miss Gourmet dearly, but with this dish have suddenly become a huge fan of the Bon Appetit magazine that has started arriving in its place. The July edition is the source of this recipe:

Root Beer Baked Beans
From: Bon Appetit
Serves 8

4 slices applewood-smoked bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
3 1/2 cups chopped onions (I used a mix of red and yellow)
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 15-oz cans cannellini (white kidney beans), rinsed and drained
1 1/2 c. root beer (opt for an artisanal brand sweetened with cane sugar, not corn syrup)
3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
3 Tbsp. mild flavored molasses
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 Tbsp. dijon mustard
1 1/s tsp. chili powder (I used a mix of pasilla and cayanne)
1 tsp. coarse kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cook bacon in large ovenproof pot over medium heat until crisp, stirring occasionally. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towel lined plate.

Add onions to drippings in pot. Cook until beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Add garlic; stir and cook 1 minute. Add beans, root beer, vinegar, molasses, tomato paste, mustard, chili powder, salt and pepper. Mix. Stir in bacon. Bring to a boil.

Transfer to oven. Bake uncovered until liquid thickens, about 30 minutes.


Sunday, July 4, 2010

quinoa salad with greek yogurt dressing

Happy 4th of July!

I am looking forward to participating in the requisite independence day activity: the BBQ. Having lived in Texas, we are well-equipped with a Texas-sized BBQ, which means the day's festivities (friends + food + drinks) will take place at our house. This is our first 4th of July in our new home and I'm excited to find out whether we'll be able to see any of the peninsula's fireworks shows tonight from our front porch that overlooks the bay.

The weather is whole-heartedly cooperating: I awoke to bright sunshine and 70 degrees at 8am this morning, and it's looking like we could hit 90 degrees this afternoon. Perfect BBQ weather.

Our menu for the day (some of which I'll post over the coming week) includes: watermelon, grapes and figs, chips and crudites with homemade salsa, guac, and bean dip, quinoa salad with greek yogurt dressing, rootbeer baked beans, teriyaki kabobs, burgers, and chocolate crackle cookies from Grandma Francis' cookbook. I'm making a pitcher of mohitos to supplement our beer and wine selection. My mouth is watering just thinking about it all!

Though most of it still needs to be prepared...

One dish that is already done is the quinoa salad, which I made last night. This was a case where no recipe came into play and it all started out with a single inspiring ingredient: eggplant (somewhat ironically, as the eggplant ended up playing a relatively minor role in the resulting dish). I had some leftover from a salad I'd made earlier in the week and was pondering what to do with it. I was initially thinking about something in the garbanzo bean/quinoa/curry direction, but the weather was far too warm yesterday to want to consume anything hot. So I went in the cold-salad-quinoa direction instead, with a Greek twist.

JR and I ate the quinoa salad for dinner last night, but this is definitely going to be one of those dishes that is better on the second day, giving the flavors an opportunity to meld. The mix of bright colors means varied vitamin content - a beautiful and healthy dish! Here's what I did:

Quinoa Salad with Greek Yogurt Dressing
Serves 6-8

1 c. quinoa
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 c. eggplant, cubed
1 15-oz. can garbanzo beans, rinsed & drained
2 cucumbers, chopped*
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 bell pepper, seeded & chopped
15 kalamata olives, quartered
2 c. baby spinach
1 Tbsp. mint, chopped
3 oz. feta, crumbled, plus more to top
*If the skin is bitter, peel the cucumber.

Greek yogurt dressing:
3 Tbsp. greek yogurt
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbsp. mint leaves, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
salt & white pepper to taste

Cook the quinoa according to directions. Set aside and let cool.

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add eggplant and cook until tender and beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Allow to cool.

Make yogurt dressing by whisking together ingredients in a small bowl.

In a large bowl, combine garbanzo beans, cucumber, tomatoes, pepper, olives, spinach, mint, feta, and cooled quinoa and eggplant. Add dressing and stir well to combine. Cover and chill in fridge at least one hour (ideally overnight). Serve in individual bowls, topped with additional feta.

In other exciting news, my tomato plant in the garden has it's first red tomato! I discovered it yesterday. This means we'll soon be overrun with fresh tomatoes, which I'm very much looking forward to.

Happy holiday! Stay tuned for postings on our other BBQ dishes in the coming week.

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