Gingerbread upside down cake with apples and bourbon cream

I don’t like letting go of summer. The light closes in too early, and I’m pre-mourning the cold, raw days ahead. Somebody please slap me.

There are way too many things we can do nothing about, and the longer I live, the longer the list. The weather is one of them. I’m a spring and summer girl—maybe because I was born in June, just as the promise of light and warm days ahead peaks. Or maybe it’s because I’m a morning person. I love the feeling of the day stretching out ahead, not yet squandered. That’s what early summer feels like to me. So I grumble a little more than I should when the air turns chilly, and I leave you fall and winter people to revel in the change of season.

Letting go is hard, and it’s a daily process that doesn’t quit. You’ve got to take out the trash every single day, and I’m not talking about the kitchen garbage. But there are consolations: taking what today brings and leaving yesterday behind has its rewards. And if you struggle to appreciate them, there are consolations to help you get over the hump. 

 

Like cake.

Any cake would do, but this one sweetens the deal with its dark, warm spices and sugary brown apples on top. It should be served warm, preferably with bourbon whipped cream, an idea I borrowed from Molly O’Neill. Molly made her cake with grated fresh ginger, apple butter, and warm apples on top. The recipe here is an old favorite of mine. I’ll be serving it with Molly’s bourbon cream, while I wait for her to share her recipe. And no, I am not going to sit around and wait for spring. That would be a particularly futile kind of torture. I’m vowing to inhale each day as it comes. Wish me luck.

You can turn the oven on now.

Upside-down gingerbread with apples

Make 1 9-inch square cake

APPLES

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the pan

4 tablespoons brown sugar

2 Granny Smith apples or other firm cooking apples, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch thick slices

1. Heat the oven to 350° degrees. Butter a 9-inch square pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter the paper and sprinkle 2 tablespoons brown sugar over the bottom.

2. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat,. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons brown sugar and stir until the mixture bubbles. Add the apples to the pan, and turn the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 minutes, or until the apples are lightly caramelized but still hold their shape. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool.

3. Arrange the apple slices in one layer in the bottom of the pan, with the darkest side down.

CAKE

1 1/4 cups flour

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup light or dark brown sugar

2 eggs

1/3 cup molasses

1/4 cup coffee, at room temperature

1. Whisk the flour, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a bowl until blended.

2. Beat the butter and brown sugar in an electric mixer on medium speed,  until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time.

3. With the mixer on low speed, beat in the molasses and coffee and mix to blend.

Add the flour mixture, and continue to beat on low speed, until the batter is smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl often with a rubber spatula.

4. Distribute large spoonfuls of batter over the apples. Use the back of the spoon to spread the batter evenly in the pan, taking care not to disturb the apples. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove the pan from the oven and let rest for 2 minutes.

5. Run a knife around the edge of the pan. Invert a plate on top of the cake. Use oven mitts to grasp both the plate and the pan with two hands. Flip the cake over and allow it to drop onto the plate. Peel off the parchment paper.

6. When cooled slightly, cut the cake into squares and serve with Bourbon whipped cream if you like.

BOURBON WHIPPED CREAM

Be careful not to overwhip the cream. The best way to do this is to beat it just until soft, floppy peaks form, then finish beating by hand with a wire whisk. The cream should be soft, not too thick or stiff.

1 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon sugar, or to taste

1 tablespoon Bourbon, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Beat the cream and sugar together until soft peaks form (do not whip all the way.) Add the bourbon and vanilla, and whisk briefly by hand with a wire whisk until blended.

Posted on October 6, 2012 and filed under Cakes, Fall recipes, Sweets, Winter food.

The last tomatoes of summer: fattoush, a Lebanese tomato and bread salad

I reluctantly say goodbye to tomatoes. But isn’t that what makes seasonal eating brilliant? No sooner do you leave tomatoes, or peaches, or blueberries behind than something arises to take its place? (Well, talk to me in January and I might not wax so poetic.) The squash can wait a week or two, because for now, I’m grabbing tomatoes by the boxful and making this salad, along with a few other things.

For the last few days I have been roasting tomatoes and laboriously passing them through a food mill. The payoff is enough tomato sauce in the freezer to last through those dark winter evenings when I need a bit of comfort and cheer. My inspiration came from Simona, a talented writer who shares her thoughts about food and recipes for many of her native Italian dishes on her blog

Briciole

. I took a page out of Simona’s book and bought a box of tomatoes from a local farm. Once they were transformed into sauce, I made her

uovo col pomodoro

for a solitary supper. I can tell you, I will be eating Simona’s favorite comfort dish often in the cool weather.

Before it turns cold and the tomatoes run out, I am making this Lebanese salad. Fattoush, much like the Italian panzanella, makes use of leftover bread, but in this case, pita bread. First you paint the bread with olive oil, toast it in the oven, and then break it into pieces so it will sop up all of the juices from the tomatoes and the sharp lemon dressing in the salad. Don’t balk at the amount of lemon in the dressing—it really is what makes this salad special.

Purslane

Traditionally, fattoush is made with a sprinkling of sumac—a very tart seasoning that you can find in Middle Eastern grocery stores or from

Formaggio Kitchen

by mail order. Another hallmark is the use of purslane as one of the greens. Purslane is a succulent, and we might call it a weed, but it is eaten regularly in the Mediterranean. You can make a very good salad without those two ingredients, so don’t delay while you hunt them down; make it now. Whether you use purslane or sumac, taste as you add them. They will make you suck in your cheeks, no doubt about it; you just need to find a balance. If you can locate small Armenian cucumbers (which do not need peeling or seeding) in the farmers’ market or in a Middle Eastern grocery store, by all means, use them.

Fattoush

Serves 6

DRESSING

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/2 small clove garlic, finely chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

1/3 cup olive oil

1. In a small bowl, stir together the lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper. Allow to sit for about 15 minutes to mellow the garlic. Gradually whisk in the oil.

SALAD

2 (7-inch) loaves of pita bread

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 cucumber, sliced (or 2 small Armenian cucumbers)

4 radishes, thinly sliced

2 scallions, thinly sliced

1 small bunch arugula, purslane or other green, torn into bite-sized pieces to make 4 cups

1 cup fresh parsley leaves, stems removed

1 cup torn fresh mint leaves, stems removed

Sumac, to taste, if you like

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Have on hand a rimmed baking sheet.

2. With scissors, cut along the outside of the pita rounds to separate them into 4 circles. Brush both sides with the olive oil, and set them on the baking sheet. Bake for 12 to15 minutes, or until crisp and golden. Cool, and break into bite-size pieces.

3. Combine the tomatoes, cucumber, and radishes in a salad bowl and sprinkle them lightly with salt and pepper. Add the scallions, arugula, parsley, and mint. Toss together.

4. Just before serving, add the pita bread to the bowl. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt and pepper if you like. Sally Pasley Vargas

p.s. 

The recipe for this salad was published in the Boston Globe today.

Posted on September 26, 2012 and filed under Salad.

Golden zucchini cakes recipe: nothing lasts forever

Now I am going to try to write about what seems at first glance to be the most boring vegetable to come to the summer table: zucchini. Why do we like it? Why do we plant it? Every year gardens yield too much of it, and every year we wonder what the hell to do with it. What’s up with that? You plant zucchini; you get zucchini, not carrots or Brussels sprouts. That’s not rocket science! So why do we do it?

Slender zucchini is not so difficult to love when you get right down to it. Provided it is picked before it reaches gargantuan proportions, a zucchini has a mild, creamy interior and a skin that does not require fussy peeling. You can cut long, paper-thin slices of it, drape them on a plate and eat them raw, doused with good olive oil and flaky sea salt, or steep chunks in lemon and garlic and grill them on skewers, or roast it, or stuff it or sauté it in butter infused with bay leaves or rosemary. Grated zucchini can go in a cake or a muffin, too. There’s seems to be no end to what you can do with it.

Maybe that’s the problem: there’s so much of it, and so many choices, we just plain take it for granted. Yeah, sure, there’s a glut of zucchini now, but nothing lasts forever.

In a few months you will look back and kick yourself for kvetching about its overabundance, because it will be gone. Over. Along with the tomatoes, peaches, basil, corn, and so many things that make life worth living. When crisp mornings replace the sticky heat of August, will you be looking back in regret? I am trying to learn how to be content with what is. And right now, for the next few weeks, it is zucchini. Now is the time to seize the day, to make some fresh tomato sauce and some cheesy, colorful zucchini cakes. I say, go for it.

This sauce recipe makes a bit more than you will need (extra sauce is easy to use in soup or tossed with pasta.) The zucchini cakes recipe yields just enough to provide four people with a light lunch with the sauce, but you could easily double the amount if you want to make a more substantial vegetarian supper. Shore up the sauce with more vegetables, like leftover cut corn, and serve with brown rice.

I tried skipping the step of salting and squeezing moisture from the zucchini. It worked, sort of. The mixture was gloppy and hard to manage, so I strongly suggest you take the extra 15 minutes to do it. Obviously you could make the cakes and serve them on their own without the sauce (less work) or make a quick marinara sauce with canned tomatoes: (Pour a large (28-ounce) can of San Marzano tomatoes into a bowl and break them up with your hands. Pour 2 tablespoons olive oil into a large deep skillet. Add a clove or two of thinly sliced garlic and set the pan over medium heat. Cook just until the garlic starts to sizzle, about 45 seconds. Add the tomatoes to the skillet. Season with salt and pepper and cook for about 10 minutes, then add the lima beans, and cook until tender.)

Golden zucchini cakes with fresh tomato sauce

Makes 8 3-inch cakes with sauce

FRESH TOMATO SAUCE

Makes about 5 cups

3 pounds plum tomatoes, cored, with a shallow “x” cut at the tip

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Salt to taste

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste

2 cups shelled baby lima beans, fresh or frozen

12 fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces.

1. Bring a kettle of water to a boil. Set a large heatproof bowl and a colander in the sink.

2. Place the tomatoes in the bowl. Cover with boiling water. Let stand for 30 to 45 seconds, or until the skins loosen. With a slotted spoon, transfer the tomatoes to the colander. Peel off and discard the tomato skins.

3. Set a strainer over a bowl. Halve the tomatoes crosswise. Hold the tomatoes over the strainer and squeeze to pop out the seeds. With a spoon, press on the seeds to extract the juice. Discard the seeds and reserve the juice. Coarsely chop the tomatoes.

4. Pour the olive oil into a large pot and set it over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper flakes. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes soften. With a potato masher, break up the tomatoes.

5. Add the lima beans, and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the beans are tender. (Total cooking time is 30 minutes.) Add reserved tomato juice as needed to thin the sauce. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and red pepper, if you like. Stir in the basil.

GOLDEN ZUCCHINI CAKES

Makes 8 3-inch cakes

1 large zucchini (1 pound)

1 yellow summer squash (8 ounces)

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 large carrot, coarsely grated

1/4 cup finely diced red onion

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Black pepper, to taste

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs

3/4 cup (about 2.5 ounces) freshly grated Parmesan

2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Heat the oven to 250 degrees. Have on a hand a baking sheet.

2. Coarsely grate the zucchini and yellow squash. You should have about 6 cups. In a large bowl, toss the zucchini, yellow squash, and salt together. Set a strainer over a bowl and transfer the squash to the strainer. Let stand to drain for about 10 minutes. Press out excess moisture with the back of a ladle. Spread on a dish towel and roll up the towel. Gather the ends and twist in opposite directions to squeeze out even more moisture.

3. Combine the squash, carrot, onions, parsley, pepper, egg, panko and Parmesan in a bowl. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt and pepper if you like.

4. Scoop about 1/4 cup of the mixture (use ice cream scoop if you have one) and form into 8 3-inch cakes.

5. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Cook the patties in the skillet in batches if necessary for 2 to 3 minutes on a side, or until they are golden. Transfer to the baking sheet and keep warm in the oven until ready to serve.

6. Ladle some tomato sauce on each plate. Set 2 patties on top of the sauce, and serve.

Posted on September 19, 2012 and filed under Summer food, Vegetarian.

End of summer salad with creamy basil dressing and a really neat corn trick

Keep those flip-flops by the back door, boys and girls. We still have ten days of summer left.

When you have a few odds and ends left in the fridge—you know—those green beans you didn’t use, a few odd cherry tomatoes, and some leftover corn, make this salad. It’s filling and frugal at the same time. I love the walnut-size potatoes that abound in markets right now, but you could also use larger ones; just cut them into bite-size pieces after you cook them. Toss everything together with a creamy basil dressing and you have a potato salad with a college education. Creamy, crunchy, sweet, and satisfying—you can have it all and feel smug about cleaning out the refrigerator in the bargain.  

This is really an anything goes (within reason) salad. I often cook more vegetables than I need, so I can put together something interesting with leftovers. The amounts here are merely guidelines.

Quick, before the frost, enjoy basil in as many dishes as possible. You will be happy with this creamy, herby dressing that pairs well with crunchy beans and softer potatoes. Cook the beans just until done—they can still be a little crunchy, but not squeaky. And though I usually start potatoes in cold water, I found that cooking them in the pot after the beans was both more convenient and without mishap.

End of summer salad with creamy basil dressing

Serves 4

1 pound mini potatoes (the size of walnuts, or even smaller)

Salt

1/2 pound green beans, wax beans, or your choice of beans, cut on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces

Kernels from 2 to 3 ears cooked corn

1/2 pint multi-colored cherry tomatoes, halved

Pepper

Creamy basil dressing (see recipe below)

1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the beans, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until barely tender. Remove from the pot with a slotted spoon and spread on a tray or baking sheet to cool. Add the potatoes to the boiling water, and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, or until tender. Drain and spread on the baking sheet to cool. (Now you could cook some corn in the water, too, if you don’t have any leftover.)

2. Combine the beans, potatoes, corn kernels in a bowl. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Add dressing to taste (you will have some left over.)

Creamy basil dressing

Makes 1 cup

1/4 cup packed fresh basil leaves

1/4 cup packed fresh parsley leaves

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup plain yogurt

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 teaspoon honey

1/2 cup olive oil

1. Combine basil, parsley mayonnaise, yogurt, salt, pepper, and honey in a blender jar. Purée until smooth. (If using Greek yogurt, add 1 to 2 tablespoons water.) Open the feed tube and gradually add the oil while the motor is running. Taste and add more salt and pepper if you like.

And now ladies and gentlemen, for the stupendous, astounding, revolutionary, mind-blowing really neat corn trick (thank you Jeannie Klainer!) you have been waiting for.

Does your corn fly from here to kingdom come when you try to remove it from the cob?

Do you sometimes wish you had a dog when you are cutting corn from the cob?

If you have a dog, does she turn up her nose at or just flatly ignore the tiny kernels in every corner of your kitchen?

If the answer is yes, then you are ready for the absolutely free and revolutionary (I know, I already said that, but it’s exciting) corn trick. Pull out the Bundt pan you have in the basement (or borrow one, as I did). Steady the base of the cob on top of the hole in the center, and slide your knife under the kernels from top to bottom. Voila! The corn neatly falls into the pan.

I have to go now. I am going to cut more corn and freeze it for the winter….

p.s. Today commemorates the day our world changed (was it only eleven years ago?) I needed some levity, but my thoughts are with all those who lost a loved one.

Posted on September 11, 2012 and filed under Salad Dressing, How To, Salad.

Maine and blueberry cornmeal pancakes: The way life's supposed to be

The gates to summer shut fast this year at the end of May. My favorite season just didn’t happen. Well, it happened, but I did not partake in it much. 

A blog is supposed to be a cheery place to visit, but lately my heart has not been in it. 

Luckily at the eleventh hour I had a chance to salvage the summer with a visit to Maine to celebrate a friend’s birthday with a lobster feast. That’s the beautiful thing about New England in summer. Nature just screams at you all day long if you can manage to put yourself in it. And it is very healing.

A celebratory lobster feast with wonderful friends was just the ticket. So I am rallying with this list—ideas for next year.

1. Eat more ice cream.

2. Have a lobster feast before the season ends.

3. Put my toes in the water.

4. Put my toes in the sand, and then swim in the water.

5. Have people over.

6. Use my camera often.

7. Be lazier.

8. Read for non-self-improvement purposes.

9. Worry less.

10. Eat more pancakes.

Which leads me to share this recipe. Blueberries are still around here and there for a few more weeks, especially up north (and of course, frozen berries would hardly be considered a cheat.) And even though I missed the deadline to share this recipe for the weekend, you can make them any time you please. They only involve one bowl and a bit more measuring than a mix, worth the effort on a weekend morning. So leave the box in the cupboard, and partake in a classic New England combo: cornmeal, blueberries, and pure maple syrup. Invite some friends over for breakfast. The pancakes won’t cure what ails you, but they sure will cheer you up for an hour or two.

Cornmeal blueberry pancakes

Makes 16 4-inch pancakes

1 cup cornmeal

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup boiling water

1 cup milk

2 eggs

3 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 tablespoons melted butter

1 cup flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 cups blueberries

Vegetable oil (for the pan)

1. Stir cornmeal, salt, and boiling water together in a mixing bowl. Let stand 10 minutes.

2. Beat milk, eggs, honey, vanilla, and melted butter together with a fork in a 2-cup measuring cup until combined. Pour over the cornmeal. Add the flour and baking powder to the bowl, and stir with a whisk just until ingredients are well combined.

3. Set a pancake griddle or large, seasoned skillet over medium heat. Spread about 1 teaspoon vegetable oil over the bottom of the pan, and wipe out the excess with a paper towel. When the pan is hot, drop batter by 1/4 cupfuls into the skillet. Sprinkle each pancake with 2 tablespoons blueberries. Cook until pancakes bubble on top and bottoms are browned. Turn over, and cook until golden brown. Serve immediately. Repeat with remaining batter and blueberries, adding more oil to the pan as necessary. If batter thickens as it sits, stir in a little more milk to bring it to the desired consistency.

Posted on September 2, 2012 and filed under Breakfast, Summer food.