Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Olive Oil Gingerbread Cake with Salted Caramel Frosting

This past weekend I went to the Eat Real Festival in Oakland. It was a showcase of all things food. There was a place to check your canvas bags in case you wanted to check out music and not be holding your recently purchased jars of local cinnamon plum jam or sauerkraut. There were hundreds of vendors and food trucks selling everything from local sustainably harvested oysters to gluten free cupcakes. Beer sold in mason jars, grass fed and pickled everything. Top Chef alums doing demonstrations of DIY sausage, sourdough demos, and of course the brightest and best small batch coffee and popsicle vendors. Apricot curry popsicle anyone? Thousands and thousands of people patiently waited in long, long lines to get the city's most local food offerings. No plate of food was over $5 either. The affordability keep a great momentum going to sample lots of different foods. I kept thinking that food is what might bring this country together in our diversity of politics, social policy and religion. We all have to eat, right? It was quite a sight. I felt completely at home.

So, I came home from my food filled weekend to cooler temperatures and crisp air. Gingerbread kept coming to mind. Salted caramel kept coming to mind as well. That was a leftover thought of the weekend, because at the festival, the only thing missing for me was Bi-Rite Creamery and their salted caramel ice cream. I would climb a mountain for that ice cream. So, salted caramel it was. On gingerbread. I changed a basic gingerbread recipe around and added olive oil instead of butter. Molasses is dense and strong. I wondered if the grassy flavor of extra virgin olive oil and the addition of cardamom would make it more mysterious. I opted for buttermilk to keep the cake lively, springy and moist. Really, the cake only took about 10 minutes to put together. The caramel took a little over ten minutes and the butter cream another 10. Then, I stood in my kitchen and started forking out pieces of cake, slathering on the caramel buttercream, because I absolutely could not wait until everything was room temperature or say, on a plate. I managed to eat three pieces standing in my kitchen and I realized this cake was not safe in my house. Or really, I was not safe in my house with this cake in it! I proceeded to gift out the rest of the pieces to friends doorsteps to celebrate the arrival of fall.
This cake is as easy as making cornbread. Heavy on molasses, rich on flavor, but light and moist. Powdered cardamom might not be in your spice pantry, but is easy to find. It makes the gingerbread cake a bit more exotic. It is also lovely for making your own chai at home this winter. Or putting in shortbread cookies or in rice pudding. I purposely made a small cake here because gingerbread burnout happens quick. A little goes a long way. Plus, I wanted to make sure there was enough frosting to cover the whole cake.

Olive Oil Gingerbread Cake

1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. powdered cardamon
1/2 tsp. powdered ginger
1 egg
1/2 cup molasses
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup buttermilk

In a bowl, add flour, spices, salt and baking powder. Stir with fork.
In another bowl, whisk egg with fork and add sugar. Add olive oil and molasses and lightly whisk with fork.  Add to dry ingredients.
In a cup, mix buttermilk and baking soda. Add to rest of the ingredients. Pour into a buttered dish. This will make 6 cupcakes or a 9x9 pan. I used a slightly larger pan than 9x9 (an oval casserole dish) so that the cake would be thinner for more frosting.!
Bake at 350 degrees for about 30-40 minutes depending on thickness. Use a toothpick coming out clean to test for doneness.

Salted Caramel Buttercream Frosting
(makes about 2 cups)

1 1/2 sticks butter room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbls. water
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. salt

in saucepan, add sugar. Pour water on top of sugar. In a separate bowl mix vanilla extract and cream. Heat on med-high heat without stirring until mixture starts to turn a dark amber color. Remove from heat. Remove from heat and slowly add cream mixture with wooden spoon into hot sugar. Stir constantly until fully incorporated. Set aside to completely cool (about 25 min)

With an electric beater or stand mixer with paddle attachment, whip room temperature butter and salt until light and fluffy (2-3 min). Add powdered sugar and beat a minute more. Add room temperature caramel and beat another 2 minutes. Let cool in fridge for about 20 min. before using.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Saffron Polenta with Fresh Tomatoes

I took a bath this morning and loved the light streaming in so much, that I got out of the tub, dried off and grabbed my camera. I am having a out-of-sorts day. Yesterday I took my homeopathic constitutional remedy. I am now enduring the lovely healing crisis that sometimes accompanies a remedy. A good sign mostly. When things are off kilter for me, I get into the bathtub.

Polenta is heavy. Sturdy and coarse, it is not meek. I like the earthy smell polenta has of corn stalks and the slight milky odor that reminds me of my grandparents dairy farm as a child. It is hearty the way oatmeal or buckwheat groats are. Not light and airy like jasmine rice or quinoa. My polenta is from my grain share. It has a flavor that is buttery and lively. It definitely is different than polenta that has been sitting in a bulk bin. But, mornings and evenings are becoming more defined with fall's flutters and polenta fits the energy of going more inward. Saffron's muskiness is a great addition to the herbal qualities of polenta and the sweet notes of tomatoes. I do add butter to my polenta. I would rather eat half a portion and have it filled to the brim with everything that is full of flavor and lusciousness than eat a big bowl of something that is not. I encourage you to do the same.

This dish will be on your table in 35 minutes. Slice some tomatoes out of your garden, get the micro-zester out of the drawer and put a hunk of pecorino on a plate. This is hearty. Only eat a little if you find yourself getting nervous....or you could just make this day like the one you have always wanted to live. In this moment, it is all here.

Saffron Polenta with Fresh Tomatoes
makes two large or three small portions

small pinch saffron threads
2 1/4 cups stock
2 tbls. pecorino romano cheese finely grated
1/2 cup polenta (don't bother with the fast cooking kind)
2 small tomatoes
1 tbls. olive oil
2 tbls. butter

In a heavy bottomed sauce pan, add stock and polenta. Bring to a boil, turn heat down to med-low and add saffron and olive oil. Stir every couple of minutes and turn heat down lower if it starts to splatter while bubbling. Cook and stir for 30 minutes. Add butter and pecorino romano. Stir and taste for salt.
Cook for another 5 minutes or until the polenta tastes tender.
Spoon a small amount into a bowl and top with sliced fresh tomatoes and a little sprinkle of salt on the top of the tomatoes.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Plum Cobbler with Rosemary Cornbread Topping

walking to the party


Jess on the left...



Oh you potent heart. Big love. Deep sorrow. Angst. Anger. Frustration. Euphoria. Passion.

Sometimes I feel like these things will topple me over. My hand trembled while giving them their invitations. Then getting ripped open to let the light in.

I go out into the world and find others may shield themselves from life’s potency. Buttoned-up lives like seatbelts. Buckled down for life’s big turns, no wind on their face.

You don’t have to distract yourself I say in a whisper. But, I know they are on their perfect road. Come closer discomfort so I can love you more.

All of the blindness in our hearts pushes us into corners, making for our half way experiences.  I can’t go back now. I took off the blinders.

So I was there last night in the wine bar with all of that.
Where are my people who would rather not?
Do that.
But do this.

                                                                                                                                                                    I wanted to dive right into the fall season that is quickly descending upon us, and thought a baked fruit dessert was a proper choice. The light is changing, and the air is starting to bring what is coming next. I find myself continually taken by surprise and filled with some uneasiness when seasons change. The change pushes me out of my illusion that there is steadiness in life.  Beginnings and endings of nature's cycles show us in a macro way, how we too have these starts and finishes. Some easy, some joyful, some painful. But always there. So alas, a recipe for my appreciation of the flux in life. All of it delicate like only life can be.                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                                                    I brought this cobbler to a going away dinner for my friend Jess. I not so secretly hope she will move from Ohio to our little town. She spent a good part of her summer here with her sister Sarah who is a dear friend. Jess was behind the purchase of a certain pair of silver high heels M bought while with her at a costume store, and they have become legendary in my house. M pulls them out almost daily wishing she were 16 (the age I told her she has to be to wear them out of the house). She parades around clanking on the wood floors hoping I will change my mind and let her wear them out sooner.
                                                                                                                                                             Jess's going away party was themed "comfort food". Roasted chicken, nachos, ribs, potato salad and cobbler. I thought this recipe up one night thinking about the french plums that were in my first grain share of the season. A big bowl of purplish plump jewels on my counter; special fruit I wanted to make something a bit different with. Once I had decided rosemary and cornbread would be a nice departure from biscuit toppings on traditional cobbler, I got to work. I decided to let the rosemary steep in the hot melted butter for 15 minutes to ensure the cornbread would be full of rosemary flavor. I also opted not to use any thickeners in the fruit filling so that the cornbread would soak up any extra juice. I love the caramel flavor that lots of butter mixed with sugar in the fruit imparts. I am loving the savory flavor in sweet things trend, so tried this recipe with that in mind. The first try with this recipe I used french plums, but the cornbread topping was too thick. Next try, I doubled the fruit (and substituted pluots for plums).  I halved the cornbread recipe topping and it turned out great. Buttery, full of rosemary flavor and very easy. I cooked the pluots on the stove first to start the caramelizing. Poured the hot buttery mixture into a dish and gently spooned the cornbread topping on top.
                                                                                                                                                             Plum Cobbler with Rosemary Cornbread Topping
                                                                                                                                                                    5 cups roughly diced plums (I used Pluots)
2/3 cup sugar plus 1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 sticks butter
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 egg
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup flour
2 tsp. fresh chopped rosemary
 In a skillet, saute plums with one stick of butter and 2/3 cup sugar. On med-low heat occasionally stir, cook for 20 min.
Melt one half stick of butter in sauce pan over low heat with two teaspoons of rosemary. Add 1/4 cup sugar and stir. Set aside for 15 minutes.  Whisk egg in a bowl. 
In another bowl, mix salt, flour and cornmeal. Add melted butter rosemary mixture. Add egg to wet mixture. In a cup mix buttermilk and baking soda. Mix with a fork. Add to the flour mixture.
In an 9x12 pan (or a round casserole dish close in size) pour plums. Spoon the cornbread mixture on top. 
Bake for 30 min at 375.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Harissa Beet Soup with Quick Pickled Cucumbers

Harissa Beet Soup with Quick Pickled Cucumbers
Our river...
Looking down on a favorite swimming hole
First Day of Waldorf First Grade...lost her two front teeth this summer!

I have taken a wee summer break this past month. Sorry I have been a bit absent. There were rivers to swim in, friends to cook with and a new found freedom in my heart to celebrate. I have come a long way these last 10 months, and forgiveness has been the biggest gift of freedom I have given myself so far these 39 years of mine. Quite a bit of hard work to get there though. I had to give my life a through examination. I feel endless amounts of gratitude to my support system. They lovingly supported my process while never trying to rescue me from the grief or pain. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it made every step I have taken my own.
So, today is a recipe that I think makes up for my absence. It is so phenomenal and simple that it could turn anyone who even questioned beets as a palatable food into a believer.  Beets have started coming in my farm share these last weeks. I only do a few things with beets. Grate them raw for salads, roast them or make beet chips. I really like beets, but there are many other vegetables I choose over beets. I mostly cook beets because they are so highly nutritious and are in the vegetable share box.  They tend to be a bit earthy, strong and unmoldable. Beets easily over power a dish. And while most people tolerate them, I have found most don't crave them.
This soup could change all of that.
There was not a hint of earthiness in this soup. It was smooth,  luscious and not too heavy. The pickled cucumbers cut the creaminess and added wonderful acid. The Harissa spice perked up the whole thing and added nice note of  smokiness to it. The Harissa I used had caraway in it, and wow did that bode well. I used a Harissa blend my sister brought this weekend for me to try. It is from a company called See Smell Taste. They gave her a sample to try. She of course is so busy, she has very little time to cook. But, she thought to bring it to me and it is hands down the best Harissa I have ever tried. Danielle is working very hard to launch a soon to be internet superstar called Most likely you have not heard this company, but you will, because I think it has potential to change gift giving as we have known it. You can order this Harissa from The Gourmet Online store if you would like it right away.
Harissa is a standard in North African cuisine, and it is generally a mixture of chili peppers and spices like coriander, caraway and sometimes mint. It is very popular in tangines, couscous dishes and chickpea dishes. Heidi from 101 Cookbooks has a recipes section dedicated to her Harissa recipes. It has gotten a lot of attention these last couple of years in western food dishes. If you are wanting to make your own, Heidi has a recipe and so does AllRecipes. 

If you have little people in your house, this might push spice boundaries. You can half the harissa and see if it is palatable for them. I found the spice to be a wonderful match to the bold beet taste. A note about serving this soup. It is late, hot summer here. 90 degree days. I have no taste for hot soup. So, after I roasted the beets and carrots, I let them cool for 15 minutes before adding to blender, The result was an almost room temperature soup with cold pickled cucumbers on top. Perfect for a hot evening. This is my new gazpacho. That is how much I love this soup!

Harissa Beet Soup with Quick Pickled Cucumbers
makes 4 small bowls (I will be doubling this tonight when I make it again!)

2 cups roasted beets
1 cup roasted carrots
glug of olive oil
salt for taste
1 cup lemon cucumber seeded and diced (a skinned green cucumber is fine too)
2 tsp. champagne vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon dried Harissa powder
zest of lemon
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock

Wash carrots and beets. No need to remove skins. Roughly trim off tops and bottoms. Cut beets into fourths. Add carrots and beets to an oven proof baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil (about a tablespoon) to coat and a sprinkle of salt. Mix with your hands. Cover with tin foil and bake at 350 degree for about an hour, or until the beets are knife tender. Remove from stove, keep tinfoil on pan and let sit out for 15 minutes.
In a blender, add 2 cups stock, lemon zest, pinch salt, lemon juice and harissa. Add the beets and carrots to blender. Make sure you get the olive oil in the pan too. Don't bother with removing the beet skins. Blend for a good 5-8 minutes in your blender. Stop and taste for salt.
In a separate bowl, add chopped cucumber, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 teaspoons champagne vinegar and pinch salt. Let sit for 5 minutes, or up to overnight to pickle.
Dish about a cup of soup into a bowl right from the blender. Add a heaping tablespoon of cucumbers making sure to get a good amount of the olive oil and vinegar along with the cucumbers. Soup should be about room temperature or a little over room temperature. Keeps in fridge for a couple of days too.


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