Tuesday, September 30, 2008

More Crisps and Cobblers

It's almost October! Which is awesome and sad. Halloween and tiny children in costumes and candy = super fun. Cooler weather = pretty nice change, if/when it happens. No more summer fruit = very, very sad.

And so I'm trying to make the best of it by whipping up some desserts that taste like rays of summer sunshine. A week ago I found a bunch of just-on-the-edge-of-overripe plums lingering in the kitchen and decided to turn them into a plum crisp. I got the recipe (to follow) out of one of my go to cookbooks - The Santa Monica Farmers' Market Cookbook. It was incredibly easy to assemble, required minimal ingredients and tasted delish. The leftovers were even better when I had them for breakfast the next day.

The crisp topping incorporated some candied ginger, an ingredient I've often turned to when using stone fruit in desserts this summer. It was good, although I think I should've gone with my initial instinct and used some of the almond paste I have in my cupboard instead. I am a slut for anything almond paste/marzipan related.

Check out the finished product:

And then this weekend it was Abby's birthday and I wanted to make her something yummy. She's not a fan of cake-centric desserts so I decided to go with another summer sunshine fruit treat. But I was a little crisp/crumbled out.

Which left cobbler or shortcake as my main options. I didn't have any cream on hand and cream is what makes a good shortcake, IMHO. Hello, cobbler!

For the recipe, I turned to yet another trusty cookbook companion, Alice Waters' "The Art of Simple Food". I got this one a few months back from KCRW's Cookbook Club. I LOVE IT. LOVE LOVE LOVE IT.

The recipes are so easy and taste soooooo good. I find her Chez Panisse and even the Chez Panisse Cafe cookbook recipes a little too time consuming, but this book has brilliantly done away with all that fuss (don't get me wrong, fuss is damn tasty, just something I don't have time for most days).

The cobbler ended up being a melange of peaches and nectarines, since I didn't have enough of either alone. I don't think you could really tell, in baked form they taste pretty similar.

The cobbler was consumed during the viewing of an OU football game (don't ask me how we managed to befriend so many Okies, I have no clue). I think the birthday girl (not an OU fan) was pleased. If she wasn't she did a fine job of faking it.

Plum Crisp with Cornmeal Topping
adapted from "The Santa Monica Farmers' Market Cookbook" by Amelia Saltsman

3 1/2 pounds plums, one kind or a mixture, halved, pitted and large plums quartered (I sliced them into eighths)
1 to 2 tablespoons honey, warmed
2 tablespoons dessert wine, such as muscat

1 c. flour
2/3 c. cornmeal
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. packed light brown sugar
2 tbsp. chopped, crystallized ginger
grated zest of 1 lemon (I was out of lemons and substituted some dense lemon marmalade that I had)
3/4 c. (12 tbsp.) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (I only used 6 tbsp. and thought it was gobs)
Heavy cream, creme fraiche or vanilla ice cream for serving

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Arrange the plum pieces, cut side up, in a shallow 3 qt. baking dish. They should be somewhat vertical and overlapping slightly. (I had smaller pieces and just kinda jumbled it all together). Drizzle honey over the fruit, sprinkle with wine. Bake the fruit for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the topping. In a bowl, stir together the flour, cornmeal, salt, granulated and brown sugars, ginger, and lemon zest. Add the butter and work it in with your fingertips, a pastry blender or a fork, until the mixture resembles coarse sand with some larger lumps and bumps. Remove the plums from the oven and sprinkle the topping evenly over the fruit. Continue to bake until the fruit is syrupy and the topping and the edges of the fruit are browned, about 40 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature, accompanied with cream.

My note: I think you could substitute the granulated sugar and some of the butter with 3-4 tbsp. almond paste and make a killer alt. crisp topping.

Peach Cobbler
adapted from "The Art of Simple Food" by Alice Waters

4 lbs. ripe peaches

Dip the peaches in boiling water for 10 to 15 seconds, then slip off the skins. Cut the peaches in half, remove the pits and cut into 1/3 inch thick slices. There should be about 7 cups of fruit.

Taste and toss with:
1 tbsp. sugar (if needed)
1 1/2 tbsp. flour

I added:
2 tbsp. good balsamic vinegar

Pile the fruit into a 2-qt. baking dish and top with 8 unbaked Cream Biscuits (recipe follows). Bake in a 375 degree oven for 40 to 55 minutes (rotate once or twice while cooking for even browning) or until the cream biscuits are a golden brown and the fruit is bubbling in the dish.

Variations (per Alice):

Use three pounds peaches and toss the slices with 1 or 2 cups raspberries, blackberries or blueberries.
Use white peaches and yellow peaches mixed together, or nectarines.
Serve with whipped cream, a pitcher of cold cream, or with ice cream.

Cream Biscuits
from "The Art of Simple Food" by Alice Waters

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.
Stir together in a large bowl:
1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
4 tsp. sugar (optional)
2 tsp. baking powder

6 tbsp. (3/4 stick) cold butter, cut into small pieces

Cut the butter into the flour with your fingers or a pastry blender until they are the size of small peas. Measure:
3/4 c. heavy cream (I used non-fat milk and it was just fine)

Remove 1 tbsp. and set aside. Lightly stir in the remainder of the cream with a fork until the mixture just comes together (you may need to add more flour, I did). Without overworking it, lightly knead the dough a couple of times in the bowl, turn it out onto a lightly floured board and roll out about 3/4 inch thick. Cut into eight 1 1/2 inch circles or squares. Reroll the scraps if necessary. Place the circles or squares on top of the peaches and bake following the above instructions. (Note: Once the mixture was formed, I just spooned out nine individual dollops onto the top of the peaches, rather than rolling and cutting it.)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Les Poissons

I've been meaning to post about these dinners for over a week. What can I say, I'm lazy sometimes.

Both dinners started at the weekly Farmers Market, where I love to buy fish - if the line isn't too long. Which really only happens if I manage to get out of bed by 8 and head up to the market stat. Have I mentioned the market is on Sunday?

The first dish was dinner two Sundays ago. The fish is opah, which is really one of my favorites right now. I believe it's also called moonfish, in case you're looking for it in your local market. We've made it before using a great marinade of pineapple juice, limes, chiles, oil and salt. But this time we went very basic - oil, salt, pepper.

To play off of it, I roasted up some small eggplants and tomatoes in oil, salt and garlic (1-2 hours at 250 degrees farenheit) and plated the fish on top of it. The two went together brilliantly, if I do say so myself. The eggplants and tomatoes were almost like a chunky, hot marmalade with a nice, sweet flavor.

I'd also gotten some scallops that day and did them as an appetizer. Again we just went salt, pepper, oil and seared them quickly in a pan. We served them with a lemon butter sauce that didn't go well with the scallops - too bitter for my taste. Noah liked it more.

Now here's the nice thing about our fishmonger - she always throws in something tasty for free. This week it was a nice chunk of ahi tuni. She's kind of awesome, right?

I've never loved seared ahi the way some people do, but this made a great light protein with a big salad for dinner that Monday night.

In case you're wondering, the weird blue light on the fish is probably reflection from the TV as we watched Gossip Girl. Oh, Chuck Bass, you delightful schemer you.

Fingers crossed for an early trip to the market tomorrow and some more fun with fish.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Transitioning the Garden

Lots of stuff going on in the garden right now. First off I walked out a few days ago and found the above guy growing. My first sunflower! I've been planting sunflower seeds for years to no avail. And just when I'm about to give up/run out of seeds I finally get one. Woop woop!

And there's also this melon:

He(?) (Do melons have genders?) just showed up out of nowhere when we first did our summer plantings back at the end of March. We had no idea what he was going to be, since melons look kind of like cucumbers and we eat/compost lots of them. Squash was an option, too. But apparently it's a melon. Anybody have a clue as to type? Guess we'll find out when we finally cut him open.

It's also time for the last of the summer tomatoes. Like this honkin' Marmande:

We had zero Marmandes for months, then we got three. But somebody (our back neighbor, we suspect) stole both of them just as they were hitting their peak of ripeness! You have not met two more bitter gardeners when Noah and I discovered that tragedy. This one is finally ready (the pic is about a week old, I picked an almost fully red tomato this evening, before it got stolen).

And the Riesentraubes! Oh, the Riesentraubes... how I love thee. You just keep giving and giving and I know you'll do so up through October and into November. Check these pretties out:

They're great for roasting whole with some eggplant (as I did with the eggplants from the Farmers Market on Sunday night) in olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic.

But this weekend it was time to start buying and planting the fall/winter garden. It'll be our first non-summer garden and I'm kinda psyched. I picked out two kinds of Brussel sprouts, purple asparagus (which Jimmy the Plant Dude assured me are so awesome you can eat raw) and some scallions.

I still want to plant some spinach (gotta wait 'til it's a little more consistently cool during the days), lettuces, maybe a butternut squash. I put in some dumpling squashes about a month ago. Maybe I'll get kale and chard, if there's room. I've got a Black Krim tomato going that I planted about a month ago, he'll be our winter tomato. One of the awesome things about living in LA, you can get tomatoes nearly year round if you're strategic in your planting.

Any other suggestions?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sunday Shopping

Sundays in our little corner of Hollywood are pretty much the best. It's the only day I'll willingly wake up early, and that's so that I can head over to the Hollywood Farmers Market before all the good stuff is gone. Usually Noah joins me, unless it's football season (like it is now). Lately my friend Sherry has been coming along.

The past few mornings here have been cool and overcast. Fall is in the air, at least the mini-fall that we get before the 4-6 weeks of blazing hot Indian summer/Santa Ana winds kicks in. Maybe it was the cool weather or just the lure of new stuff, but for the first time in weeks my bags (yes, they're the re-usable cloth kind) were filled with more veggies than fruits after the market today.

(Non Sequitor: Watching the Broncos game on the Ticket and they just scored an awesome last minute winning touchdown which does GREAT things for my fantasy team, since Cutler is my QB. Woooo! And the Niners won in OT, double woooo!)

I picked up some butternut squash, Brussel sprouts, Listada de Gandia eggplants, a Hass avocado and heirloom tomatoes (Black Krim, Paul Robeson and Sara Schwartz). Check out the Brussels and eggplant:

In keeping with the fall theme I also got two kinds of apples, Honey Crisps and Gravensteins. Mom always uses Gravensteins to make her amazing apple pies and that's what I'm planning on doing with these guys. The Honey Crisps are my current favorite eating apple, at least until the Cameos come in.

Rounding things off were a stop at the Bread Man for almond croissants and a loaf of whole wheat and a visit to the fish lady for tonight's dinner - Opah, scallops and some ahi she threw in for free, yay!

Oh yes, and I picked up a few starters for my fall plantings from the guys at Hayground - two kinds of Brussel sprouts, purple asparagus and scallions. But more about the fall/winter garden in the next post.

Now that the afternoon games are over, it's looking like it's apple coring and peeling time. Kind of a pain, but worth it when the pie comes out of the oven. Though I'm thinking of doing what my mom does and freezing the uncooked pie for use at a later date. I've still got left over birthday cake to eat!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Not Fair Day

Monday afternoon, the Ladies and I all decided to take Tuesday off (easy for those of us who work at home) and have a Fair Day. It's LA County Fair time and I'd never been. The Ladies all raved about the ridiculous array of fried food (s'mores! artichoke hearts! twinkies! oreos!) and the adorable petting zoo bunnies last year, so I was totally psyched.

Tuesday morning dawns beautifully (okay there was a butt load of smog, but it's LA) and after a quick hike in Runyon it was time to hop in Abby's ride and head for Pomona.

We get there and things seem... slow. Dead, actually, might be a more accurate term. But it was a Tuesday and most people have jobs in actual offices, kids are in school, etc... Really only slackers like us have time for the Fair. Still, no warning lights were going off, even when we pulled into the VIP lot and nobody stopped us from parking. For free. Okay, hmmm, but maybe we were just the luckiest Ladies on Earth?

We walk over to the ticket counter at Side Entrance 5, only to find it closed. Now that's weird. Maybe we need to go in the main entrance on weekdays? But, hey guys, doesn't it seem a little quiet in the fairgrounds. And that's when, finally, we see the giant sign posted that says FAIR CLOSED MONDAYS & TUESDAYS.

What?! But didn't you... oh didn't you... okay nobody checked to make sure the fair would be open. Yes, we had all separately been to the fair website THAT MORNING and yet none of us bothered to see if it would actually be open today. Instead we watched informational videos on raising barnyard animals and making your own soda. And in our defense, there is a giant sign on the sight that says LA County Fair - Sept. 5-28th. So you kinda figure it's open that whole time.

And we weren't the only ones. No less than four groups of people showed up within minutes of our arrival, also surprised to find the fair closed, misled by the website's dates. I mostly felt bad for the adorable aging British couple. They were bummed.

As we head out, we're all pretty distraught. What about the fried foods? And the bunnies? And the fried foods????

So we did the second best thing to eating fried foods at the Fair. We went to the closest rhymes with Phili's chain restaurant and ordered up all the fried food four lovely ladies could want. Including but not limited to the above platter of nacho bacon chile french fry thingies. And they were delicious.

But I'm still pissed I didn't get to try a deep fried s'more.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Here's to Volunteers

Photo: Debra Pearlman

Last summer I put one cherry tomato plant in the ground next to my house. Last fall I put a deck on my house and added planter boxes where the tomato had been. This summer, the cherry tomato volunteered in my garden, and as you can see, it has overtaken my porch, flower bed, and is over the roof of my house. So here's to volunteers!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Ok I get it Now...

So I posted my first entry without reviewing the previous posts... sorry there were no pictures. But now I see that the postings should have something to do with fabulous recipes created by the poster... well this week Baltimore will be invaded by a host of Cal fans and we plan on showing them a great time. We begin on Wednesday with dinner at Kali's Mezzi in Fells Point, a mediterranean small plate menu with a Greek flair. Then on Thursday we are hosting a true Baltimore crab feast on our deck, poolside and I do promise pictures of the before and after mess. Those Californians will have to learn something about real crabs and not those Dungeoness type they eat out there... there will be lots of beer to wash down the spicey crustaceans. Then on Friday night its off to Antrim 1844, an old Civil War Inn; very appropriate after spending the day at Gettysburg! Then of course its the tail gate extraveganza on Saturday and by Sunday we'll be doing feta burgers on the grill... recipe to follow. So you see we will be eating our way through the Cal visit and of course picking great wines to go along. A great time guaranteed for all!

Greek Style Burgers with Feta Aioli (8 ww points)
from Cooking Light
serves 5

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (2 oz)
2 TB light mayo
2 TB plain fat free yogurt
1/4 tsp coarsely ground black pepper

5 slices red onions, cut 1/2 inch thick
cooking spray
1 lb. lean ground beef
3/4 cup fresh breadcrumb
1/3 cup chopped bottled roasted red pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp coarsely ground pepper
1 10 oz. package frozen spinach, thawed, drained, squeezed dry
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 cloves garlic, crushed
5 sourdough rolls (1 1/2 oz)

1. to prepare aioli, combine first 4 ingredients in a food processor, pulse 1 minute or until smooth, cover and chill; prepare grill or broiler to prepare burgers and place onion slices on a grill rack or broiler pan coated with cooking spray and cook for about 2 minutes each side

2. set aside
3. combine beef and next 9 ingredients (beef through crushed garlic) in a large bowl
divid the beef mix into 5 equal portions, shaping each into a 1/2 " thick patty
place patties on grill rack coated with cooking spray and cook for about 6 minutes each side
4. spread a bit of the aioli on the bun, add 1 slice of the cooked red onion, top with a burger and Wow... enjoy a great treat!!

Hottest reservation in town!

I have been trying to get the one reservation a day for our family at Talula's Table in Kennett Square, PA.  You have to call at exactly 7:00 a.m. and the first one through gets the reservation for one year from the day you call.  They only take one group a day of up to 12 people and the dinner is prepared especially for you.  The market there looks awesome and I plan on using my agile skills to make a pilgrimage up there for an early breakfast at 6:45 a.m. and to be the first one in line... they take reservations either by phone or in person.  So Church/Kucserka/Ventura/Gallico/Pearlman family you have been forewarned...  I'll get the reservation and then you'll have to make the trip east for the feast!!

Birthday Dinner Party

Last night Noah put together a fabulous dinner party for my birthday. Twenty friends all made their way to our backyard for the celebration.

Now, being the first Sunday of the NFL season, Noah was in no way spending the day cooking up a storm. And neither was I, even though I knew the Niners game would likely end in heartbreak (it did). So Noah came up with a genius solution - catering!

Joan's on Third has a pretty solid food repertoire and wasn't bananas expensive, so they were our pick. We got a nice line-up of appetizers, entrees and dessert and didn't have to do a lick of cooking. Well, maybe I made a massive platter of the summer caprese from the previous post, this time with peaches and mozzarella as per the original.

The dish was gorgeous and I was going to grab a picture, except that in the time between putting it down, running in to grab the camera and returning to the food it was attacked by hungry guests. I mean, there were two tomato slices and one peach slice left, that's it. And I am not underestimating the dish size when I say it was ginormous. At least I knew people liked it.

Which means that today's picture is of the Rosemary Chicken Skewers with Whole Grain Mustard Dipping Sauce instead.

All in all the meal was delicious and the company was even better. Yay, birthdays!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Tomatoes & Nectarines - Who Knew?

So a couple of weekends ago, Noah and I had a late and lovely dinner with our friends Craig & Sharra at Cube on La Brea. As per usual we ordered waaaaay too much, especially in the starters category.

One of the tasty appetizers we got was a peach, tomato and buffalo mozzarella salad, drizzled in balsamic and topped with freshly chopped basil. It was such a nice twist on the fairly played out caprese you find on every Cal/Ital/Med menu in town.

It was so good, and so easy that I knew I'd be recreating it at home. And I totally planned on making it this Sunday to eat while I watched the Federer match (yay, Rog!). But, um, Noah and I were out late on Saturday and we pretty much slept through the Farmers Market this week. So no peaches or freshly made mozzarella for us. Thankfully, inspiration struck and saved me from a snack of... nothing.

We always have a few tomatoes on the counter in the summer months, fresh from the garden, and this Sunday was no different. So I grabbed a nice Paul Robeson and then checked out the fruit situation. There was a juicy looking nectarine. Score. I've always liked nectarines better than peaches (I have texture issues with the fuzziness) so it seemed win-win por moi. Sadly the only cheese we had was some cave aged Gouda which really did not fit the bill. Tomatoes and nectarines it was!

I sliced the tomatoes and then the nectarines into rounds and arranged them on a platter and drizzled them both with some balsamic. I admit, it's the $4.99 kind from TJ's. I totally need to up my foodie street cred and get some good stuff, but... well I'm kinda lazy. I finished it off by chiffonading up some Genovese basil from the garden and sprinkled it over the rows.

Then it was time to chow down! And it was awesome. Give it a try and I think you'll like it just as much as I did.

Especially if you actually have the fresh mozzarella to complete the dish.