Thursday, September 13, 2012

Pull Out a Plum!

Brown Sugar and Spice Plum Cake
I firmly believe a few things should happen on everyone's birthday. First: Cocktails. Second: New outfit. Third: Any kind of birthday cake you want. I really enjoy making special birthday cakes for friends and figuring out exactly how to concoct the requested dessert. It's one of those little touches that can make a special day even sweeter. For Arin's birthday, the plan included a nice dinner with cocktails and the wearing of cute dresses (so the first and second requirements were easily fulfilled). For her cake, she requested a Plum Raisin Spice Cake and specifically: "With pink frosting and white writing." I didn't want to disappoint the birthday girl, but found in researching what exactly would go into a traditional (and frosted) a plum and raisin cake probably wasn't what she had in mind. Most recipes for plum cakes used baby food plums (weird) and raisin cakes meant re-hydrating raisins to make a sweet syrup topping. With so many fresh plums in season right now, it seemed a cardinal baking sin not to use them . . . so I ventured out on my own and came up with this moist upside down cake instead. The birthday girl was, in the end, pleased. After all, who needs frosting when there are such juicy plums to be had? Happy birthday, Arin!

- 1 lb. fresh plums, pitted and sliced thin into 1/2 moons
- 2 1/3 c. cake flour, sifted and then measured
- 1/4 plus 1/3 c. granulated sugar
- 2/4 c. (1 1/2 sticks) room temperature butter (plus extra for buttering the pan)
- 1 c. brown sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 3 large eggs
- juice and zest from 1 lemon
- 1 Tbsp. vanilla
- 1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp. fresh ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 c. Greek yogurt (go with full fat on this one)
- powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Generously butter the bottom and sides of a 9" springform pan. Cut a circle of parchment paper that fits into the bottom of the pan, line it, and butter over the parchment paper. Arrange the plum slices in a concentric circle working from the outside of the pan inward. Sprinkle plums with half the lemon juice and then evenly sprinkle 1/4 c. granulated sugar over. Set aside.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together cake flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and baking powder. Set aside and prepare batter.

In the mixing bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter, remaining granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla. Allow the mixture to become light and fluffy. Add lemon juice and zest and mix again to combine. Alternate adding eggs (one at a time) and flour mixture in three portions at medium speed. Scrape down sides of bowl between additions. Add yogurt to mixture and fold in gently until ingredients are incorporated.

Pour batter into the springform pan over the plums, smoothing mixture over with a spatula. Bake for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, until the cake is cooked through and springy. Remove from oven and allow to cool on a wire rack in pan for 15-20 minutes before turning out.

Carefully run a knife around the sides of the springform pan to loosen cake. Unlatch the side and release, remove ring, and turn cake out onto a serving plate. Peel off parchment paper and allow cake to cool completely before serving.

Right before serving, dust plums with powdered sugar . . . if it's for a birthday add candles! Have fun!


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Put a Bird In It?

Bird's Nest Fritters with Soy Sesame Mayo (Inspired By Chee)
What in the world to do with so much zucchini? Let's be honest, even if you LOVE zucchini, it grows like a weed and by the end of the season, you're scrabbling to think of something new to do with it. Another side dish? Pasta? More zucchini bread? My answer? Honestly, anything fried in oil and topped with some sort of mayonnaise-based sauce is worth a try. This recipe comes from two inspirations. First, the two remaining zucchini that have been sitting on my counter for the past week were in desperate need of consumption (one way or another). Second, I remembered Chee. A student spending a year abroad at our university from Japan, Chee endeared herself to pretty much everyone she met. She spent Thanksgiving weekend at my place and won a place in my heart as a willing and appreciative eater of the many recipes I concocted (everything from steak breakfast burritos to pumpkin cheesecake). Over the weekend, we took in lunch at a conveyer-belt sushi place when we saw a plate whirl by with these little straw-like potato and veggie cakes. "Oooo," Chee exclaimed. "Bird's Nests! They are so good." She was right. Served with a little drizzle of gyoza sauce, they sure hit the spot! I put a spin on the potato recipe, by  making use of the zucchini, carrots, and some green onions from my garden. I made them up as a side to teriyaki salmon. It was a perfect (and quick) little dinner. The soy sesame mayo also made a great topping for the fish. Coincidentally enough, after deciding to make this for dinner, I came home and found a letter from Chee in my mail box. Life can be funny  . . . and food brings us all together.

- 2 medium zucchini, sliced in half lengthwise with the seeds scraped out and discarded, then grated on the large side of a box grater
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and grated
- l large green onion, finely chopped
- salt and pepper
- 1/4 c. flour
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 egg, beaten
- 2 Tbsp. vegetable or grape seed oil
-  2 tsp. hot sesame oil, divided
- 1 tsp. grated ginger
- 1 large clove garlic, grated
- 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
- 1/4 c. mayonnaise

Preheat oven to 350˚ F. In a medium bowl, combine grated carrots, zucchini, flour, baking powder, beaten egg, 1 tsp. sesame oil, and green onions. Sprinkle mixture with a little salt and pepper and stir to combine. Stir or use hands to thoroughly combine mixture.

Using hands, form balls, a little larger than the size of golf balls. Flatten slightly with palms and arrange in a single layer on a dish to be fried.

Heat oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high. Add zucchini fritters to oil and arrange in a single layer in pan. Fry in oil until each side has begun to turn a nice, crisp golden brown shade. It will take about 2-3 minutes per side. Watch to make sure they don't burn. Once they are nicely brown, remove from oil with a spatula and let drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Transfer to an oven-proof dish and bake in oven for an additional 10 minutes.

While the bird's nests are baking, combine mayo, garlic, remaining sesame oil, ginger, and soy sauce in a small dish. Whisk together with a fork to thoroughly incorporate ingredients.

Serve cooked bird's nests topped with soy ginger mayo. They make a delicious side dish for dinner or a lovely accompaniment with eggs for breakfast. Yum! Thanks Chee for the culinary inspiration!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Can't Thai Me Down

Thai-Style Red Curry Chicken Noodle Soup
This year September has been much more summery than July and August were. The warm weather, however, was not enough to stop my sweetie from catching a nasty little cold bug.  A big pot of brothy chicken noodle soup is one of my favorite sick-day meals, but I was in the mood for something a little more weather-appropriate. (I'm still wearing sandals for crying out loud, I'm not quite ready to make the transition to sweaters and comfort food.) This spicy take on traditional chicken noodle soup uses lots of fresh garden and framers market ingredients. I really like taking the time to slow cook the chicken breast meat so it's really tender. It's good for a warm summer evening and (fingers crossed) just might have enough punch to drive away a case of the sniffles.

- 1 qt. chicken broth
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, seasoned with salt and pepper
- juice from 3 limes
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
- 1 14.5 oz. can coconut milk
- 2 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 2 carrots, peeled and sliced crosswise into disks
- 2 Japanese eggplants, trimmed and sliced crosswise into disks
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
- 1 yellow onion, peeled, sliced in half, and then sliced into half-moons
- 2 fresh green onions, chopped
- 1 Tbsp. ground coriander
- 3 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped
- salt and pepper
- 2 Tbsp. fish sauce
- 2 Tbsp. red curry paste
- 1 package rice noodles (fresh rice noodles work great if you can find them)

Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a small sauce pan over medium. Add garlic and cook for about 1 minute until it begins to turn fragrant. Add about 2 cups of the chicken broth and the seasoned chicken breasts. You'll want enough liquid to just cover the meat. Add 1 Tbsp. of the lime juice and 1 Tbsp. of the cilantro. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until the chicken begins to turn very tender. This will probably take about an hour or so.

After the chicken has been cooking on the back burner for 45 minutes or so, start preparing the rest of the soup. Heat the remaining oil in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven. Add sliced onions and carrots and cook over medium heat until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add eggplant and red pepper slices, season with salt and pepper, and cook an additional 5 minutes. Add red curry paste and fish sauce and stir to combine over medium heat. Add remaining broth, lime juice, ground coriander, red pepper flakes, and coconut milk to the pot. Bring mixture to a boil, then lower to a simmer.

Carefully pour the chicken breast pieces and liquid into the pot with the vegetables. Using tongs you should be able to easy shred the meat into the hot broth. Cover, and simmer soup for an additional 30 minutes. Once the vegetables are soft and the flavors have melded nicely, remove lid and add rice noodles and fresh green onions. The rice noodles will cook quickly. Stir soup to thoroughly combine all ingredients. Once the noodles are cooked (2-3 minutes), remove from heat and sprinkle with remaining fresh cilantro. Ladle soup into bowls and serve with hot red pepper sauce such as Sriracha for an extra kick.