Monthly Archives: September 2011

Wild Plum Buckle

Plums!  Here it is, plum season.  There can be something a little sad about plums; their appearance in the fall whispers a warning of wet mulchy leaves and frost. But I close my ears to that breath of winter and think only of sweet summer sunshine.

There were so many varieties at the farmer’s market last weekend that I hardly knew just where to turn.  Italian plums, Damson plums, a treasure trove of beauties of every color from deep purply black to pale yellow.  The sign said, “please sample,” and I was just one of a row of samplers savoring the tart-sweet plums.

There was a box of tiny, multicolored wild plums, no bigger than cherries.  They were every color of blush, delicate as a little girl’s cheek.  They looked like a jewel box spilling rubies, citrine, garnets and moonstones.

Years ago, I had a very enlightened boss who would often say to us, “I’ll give you the what, you decide the how.”

I had my what: tiny, perfect plums that I was scooping tenderly into a bag.  Then it was only a matter of deciding the how.  How best to use this gorgeous fruit?  I knew the perfect how would become evident, and after browsing through a few of my cookbooks, it did.

A buckle is a single layer cake that has a lot of fruit in it, giving it a bit of a wrinkled or buckled appearance.  This recipe originally called for huckleberries, but adapted perfectly to small, tart plums.  The cake is moist and dense, a bit tangy from the yogurt, and not overly sweet.  The plum halves hold their shape quite well, studding the cake with their beautiful color and bursts of flavor.

You could call this a coffee cake and serve it for breakfast or brunch without hearing any protests.

 

Wild Plum Buckle

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

Buckle

  • 1 ¾ cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ cup butter
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • ¾ cup plain whole yogurt
  • 3 cups wild plums, halved and pitted

Vanilla Drizzle

  • ¾ cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp whole milk
  • ½ tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Butter a 9-inch round baking pan.

Stir flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl.  Using a mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes.  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 yogurt in two additions, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally.  Gently fold in two cups of the plums.  Spread the mixture into the prepared pan.  Distribute the remaining cup of plums over the cake, cut sides down.

Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until lightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Cool for 20 minutes in the pan before removing to a wire rack and applying the vanilla drizzle.

To make the vanilla drizzle, combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until smooth.  Drizzle over the buckle while it is still warm.

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There have been picnics

There have been picnics, but not enough.

There was an afternoon at the beach with the setting sun unfurling a spangled ribbon across Puget Sound, and lazy Sundays watching the sailboats on Lake Union, and time spent lying on a blanket staring up into the fluttering leaves of summer trees.  We ate on restaurant patios every chance we got.

But I haven’t gotten full use out of the hammock for this year, and we haven’t grilled enough, and frankly, I am not ready for fall just yet.

I need just a few more weeks of sunshine.

At the farmer’s market this Saturday, it was obvious that we are teetering on a razor’s edge between summer and fall.  The sunshine warmed the top of my head.  There were still berries, but more apples and pears.  Boxes of gourds cozied up next to piles of sweet corn.

This is the time of year when tomatoes come into their own in Seattle.  After a long, cool summer, we finally have tomatoes of every color, heavy and fragrant, filled with warmth and sunlight.

These juicy heirloom tomatoes are fragile.

The utmost care is needed to get them home without splitting, and they will not tolerate long storage.  The simplest preparation is the best way to enjoy the range of heirloom tomato flavors—some tart, others sweet or mild.

These tartines are made with only a few ingredients, so don’t skimp on the quality of the bread and mozzarella.  And hurry before tomato season is over.

Late Summer Tartine

  • Close grained French bread, sliced
  • Sliced Heirloom Tomatoes
  • Fresh Mozzarella
  • Basil leaves
  • 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • salt
  • freshly ground pepper

Run bread under the broiler to toast lightly on the top side only.  Layer slices of tomatoes, thinly sliced mozzarella cheese, and basil leaves.  Stir oil and vinegar together, then drizzle lightly over tartines.  Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper.

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Mobile Food Rodeo

On Saturday afternoon Michael and I went to the Seattle Mobile Food Rodeo.  Over twenty food trucks, all in one place?  What could be better?

Well, as it turns out…the event was not perfect.  The line to get in was blocks and blocks long.  Once inside, the venue was a bleak fenced-off parking lot with about 12 bales of hay for a couple of thousand people to sit on, lines of up to an hour for the more popular trucks, and—I know the event organizers can’t help the fickle Seattle weather, but—the freezing cold wind did an excellent job of driving food truck smoke, dust, and hay shards into my eyeballs.  Oh, and the trucks started running out of their most popular items mid-afternoon.  Skillet just closed up and drove off a few hours into the event.

In spite of these drawbacks, it was actually a good time.  As noted, the lines were long, but it was a patient, good-humored crowd.  Once we finally got inside, we did a quick survey.  Lots of Seattle favorites were there, like El Camion and Molly Moon.

We took the divide and conquer approach, checking in via text from our respective lines.   Michael started with a pulled pork sandwich from Maximus Minimus, while I went for a slice of pizza.

I looked longingly at Where Ya At Matt, the Creole food truck with a line stretching into infinity, before getting distracted by someone carrying a plate from Bigfood.  We had their Sampler, a combo plate with four pieces of flatbread topped with chicken, pork, beef and paneer.  While I was in line for Bigfood, Michael arrived with four lumpia from Lumpia World.  Bigfood was my favorite truck of the day, and well worth standing in line for.

We made a final attempt to get through the formidable Where Ya At Matt line for some beignets, but a combination of full bellies, sunburn, and incipient hypothermia finally won out.

Perhaps the best part of the Mobile Food Rodeo was that now I have a few new food trucks on my list to seek out in their natural settings around Seattle.

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Endless Options

The other night we were at a Vietnamese restaurant having dinner.  A very animated group of women was seated next to us.  This group of girl friends chatted about husbands, kids, and work. Occasional bursts of laughter exploded like fireworks.  I wasn’t really listening to their conversation until one of them announced, “We were a pepperoni, olives, and mushrooms family.”  She said this with as much conviction and finality as if she had said, “We were raised Methodists,” or “We were democrats.”  The other women laughed and nodded, chiming in with, “We always had sausage and mushrooms,” or “Never, ever green peppers!”

Pizza has come a long way since the days of elementary school pizza parties with three choices and the frozen (pepperoni) Red Baron pizza my mother would pop in the oven as a special weekend treat.  We are lucky to have Serious Pie in Seattle, quite possibly the best pizza place ever.  And who could forget my friend Victoria’s superlative grilled pizza?  Topping options are virtually endless, limited only by your imagination.

I was recently given some premade crusts to try out.  They were surprisingly good—fresh, chewy, a little crispy—and since I didn’t have to deal with making a crust, which isn’t my strong point, I could concentrate on the toppings.

I made one pizza with olive oil, crushed garlic, roma tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and anchovies.  Simple and salty.

The second pizza was the locavore special: an olive oil and garlic base, topped with Swiss chard picked moments before, and a thinly sliced potato that I dug out of the ground on the way in the back door.  A sprinkle of parmesan finished it off.

Then finally, a slightly more traditional pizza: A thin smear of sauce made from mashed up San Marzano tomatoes, a few rounds of fresh mozzarella, a scatter of sautéed mushrooms, and hunks of sweet Italian sausage.

Thank goodness we don’t have to declare our pizza topping allegiance and stick to it as long as we both shall live…you can be in an open relationship with pizza; play the field; turn off your mind, relax and float downstream.  Pepperoni will still be there waiting for you at the end of the day, like a dog resting in front of the fireplace, ears pricked for the sound of your key in the door.

What are your current favorite pizza toppings?

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All About Blackberries

It’s been all about blackberries lately.  The blackberries came on late this year, but they are here at last.  And judging by this lovely blog post, and this one, I’m not the only one taking full advantage of blackberry season this summer.  As I ran last week, I could smell the rich, winey scent of overripe berries fermenting where they had dropped from the brambles alongside the trail.  I’ve been out at my special secret blackberry foraging spot the last few weekends, picking like crazy while they last.  And I’ve got an extensive array of scratches to show for it.  As always, I meant to stick to the easy to reach ones, but inevitably I step just a little further into the bramble because the best ones are always just another inch away, enticing me forward like the door to Narnia.

The thing about blackberry season is that it comes at the end of the summer.  So on a sunny weekend afternoon I’m momentarily torn between the desire to lie in the hammock and the urgency of getting out there and gathering those berries while I still can.  But once I’m out in the sunshine and fresh air, having a long, lazy conversation with my Sissy about everything in the world while our eyes scan for ripe berries and our hands fall into the metronomic rhythm of berry gathering, there is nowhere I would rather be.

I’ve made four batches of jam.  I like to give it away as gifts and we ended up rationing our final few jars from last year to make it through this summer.  Not this time!  We have also been throwing handfuls of fat, purple, juicy berries into the blender with ice cream to make milk shakes.  The blackberry peach shake was a surprise favorite.

I had enough berries left to freeze several cookie sheets worth to use this winter, when the golden sticky afternoons of gathering fresh berries are a distant memory.

And then there is this blackberry cake recipe I had been waiting to try.  I first saw the recipe in the July issue of Bon Appetit Magazine—much too early for fresh berries here.  Then I saw Cristina’s blueberry version.  It’s hard to wait for fresh blackberries sometimes—and especially this year–but I had a feeling this recipe would be worth it.

It was.

Blackberry Buttermilk Cake

(adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine)

  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, room temperature, plus more for pan and parchment
  • 2 1/3 cups cake flour plus more for pan
  • 2 1/2 cups (10 ounces) fresh blackberries
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 cup well-shaken buttermilk

Use a 9″-10″ springform pan

Position a rack in middle of oven and preheat to 350°. Butter pan; line bottom with a round of parchment paper. Butter parchment. Dust with flour; tap out excess. Arrange berries in a single layer in bottom of pan; sprinkle evenly with 1/4 cup sugar.

Combine 2 1/3 cups flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda into a medium bowl; set aside. Using an electric mixer, beat 3/4 cup butter and remaining 1 1/3 cups sugar in a large bowl at medium-high speed, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla and zest. Reduce speed to low; beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with buttermilk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with flour mixture and beating just until incorporated. Pour batter over berries in pan; smooth top.

Bake until cake is golden brown and cake bounces back when pressed gently with fingertip, about 1 hour 25 minutes for a 9″ pan and about 1 hour for a 10″ pan. Let cool in pan set on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then run a thin, sharp knife around the edge of the pan to loosen. Remove pan sides. Invert cake onto rack and remove pan bottom; peel off parchment. Let cool completely.

Serves 8-10

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