Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Leona Valley yellow cherry jam

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Hobart's Cherries, a family-owned orchard on a hillside in southern California's Leona Valley, has one tree that bears pure yellow cherries. We found it by accident last year when a friend and I took our kids up for the morning to pick cherries. We'd climbed through the whole orchard of Bings and Brooks, filling our buckets, and we'd crowed when we spotted a few trees loaded with blushing Rainiers.

And then we saw one gnarled tree covered with small, pale yellow, perfect cherries. We mistook them for Rainiers at first, but there wasn't a tinge of pink anywhere. They tasted different, too: less sweet, but not quite sour. We picked some but didn't think to ask about them when we weighed in and paid. They got lost in the shuffle, mixed in with the crowd.

This year we made the trek to Leona Valley again, and after picking 20 pounds (yes, really) at another orchard, Emery insisted we stop at Hobart's. Not that we needed more cherries - but he had to have the elusive yellow ones. The orchard manager walked us to the back of the orchard. "Stone Hardy Gold," he said. "It's the only one in the valley. I should take some cuttings, I guess, plant a few more."

Not too many people go looking for the Stone Hardy Golds, apparently, and that's a shame, because they've got that ethereal heirloom flavor: complex, each cherry a little different, bred neither for size nor for sugar content. Pitting them took a long time, but the simple jam I made with them is phenomenal and worth the effort.

 

This method works with any cherries. If you happen to find Stone Hardy Golds, so much the better.

Yellow cherry jam
  • 1 lb Stone Hardy Gold yellow cherries (or any variety)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
Pit the cherries (my favorite gadget for this task is the Oxo Good Grips Cherry Pitter). Put them in a pot with the sugar and lemon juice and mix to combine. Let the cherries macerate in the sugar at room temperature for at least an hour and up to two hours; the sugar will draw the juices out of the fruit, and the cherries will end up bathed in a sweet juicy syrup.

Bring the cherry mixture to a boil, then turn down the heat somewhat so the jam doesn't boil over and make a huge mess on your stove. (And yes, I speak from experience here.) Skim the foam from the top of the jam as it rises. Boil the mixture about 40 minutes, or until the juices have thickened a bit.

Ladle the jam into hot, clean jars. You can either process them in a hot-water bath like the canning goddesses do, or you can take the lazy cook's way and put the jars into the refrigerator after they cool. Either way, the jam is not likely to last long once you taste it, for obvious reasons. Especially if you use it to top a slice of Brie on toast, as shown above.


Cherry

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Meyer lemon spaghetti with goat cheese

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Dinner for one: Spaghetti with Meyer lemon and goat cheese

When I was young, single and living in New York City, I often ended the day with a simple bowl of pasta. I was working long hours in the publishing business, and while I did have a social life, there were plenty of 14-hour workdays when I'd arrive home at 11pm starving, exhausted and fed up. On nights like that, a bowl of hot pasta with olive oil and garlic was a good friend indeed.

My husband Michael is a protein kind of guy, so my bowl of pure carbohydrate comfort doesn't appeal to him. But today one kid was away on a playdate, and Michael and the other son had gigantic burritos for lunch. When dinnertime rolled around, I was the only one who needed a meal. And I needed a warm bowl of pasta.

This is one of the simplest, yet most delicious, pasta dishes I know. It requires only a few ingredients: spaghetti or angel hair, a lemon, some cheese, a splash of olive oil. If you're feeling fancy and have fresh basil (I didn't), slice it into thin strips and toss it in. Be sure to inhale deeply before you take the first bite - it adds significantly to the pleasure.

[Scroll down for the recipe]



Meyer lemon spaghetti with goat cheese
  • 1/2 lb spaghetti or angel hair pasta
  • 1 Meyer lemon (you can substitute regular lemon, but don't use as much of the juice or it will be too sour)
  • 1/2 cup grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 2 ounces fresh, soft goat cheese
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water, then add the pasta. Cook until the pasta is al dente, and not a moment longer.

While the pasta is cooking, grate the zest of the Meyer lemon into a large bowl. Juice the lemon into the same bowl, then add the cheeses, olive oil, a pinch of salt, and a healthy grind of black pepper. Ladle a bit of the hot pasta cooking water from the pot into the bowl. Whisk everything together until it's smooth.

When the pasta is cooked al dente, drain it and add it to the bowl with the lemon mixture. Toss, grind on a bit more pepper, and eat. Makes dinner for two, or dinner for one plus tomorrow's lunch.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Pulled pork with pineapple salsa

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I was going to write a few paragraphs about the wonderful company for which I work, and the fact that every month they host a fabulous happy hour, and tell you all the details of yesterday's tiki-themed happy hour for which my colleague Hilary and I provided the food. Then I realized that if I didn't get the words "pulled pork" into the first paragraph I'd be committing SEO suicide.

Those of you who got here from Google because of the title - you don't care how good the mai tais were or who won the hula hoop contest, right? I didn't think so. You want the recipe for the fantastic pulled pork with pineapple salsa that we served in little tortilla chip cups. The pulled pork that disappeared in short order and had my officemates licking their fingers. And who can blame you?

Here's what I love about slow-roasted pork: It's all about the right cut of pig (butt), the right temperature (low), and the right time (a lot). I'm sure people get all crazy with the rubs and the marinades, but I keep it simple: garlic salt, mostly, with a few variations. Stick it in a pan, salt it up, cover it, and put it in to roast overnight. You won't need an alarm clock - your nose will drag you out of bed.

The pineapple salsa was a complete improv, meant to match the tiki theme of the party. It was a good guess. Any fruit-based salsa will work with the salty, smoky pork. Do you have to serve it in little tortilla chip cups? Of course not. By the end of the happy hour, apparently, hungry semi-drunk engineers were scooping the pork into plastic cups and eating it plain - the salsa was long gone. But I do like those bowl-shaped tortilla chip cups for cocktail parties, as they make it easy to serve this as a one-bite finger food.



Slow-roasted pulled pork with pineapple salsa
  • One 4-pound pork butt roast
  • 2 Tbsp garlic salt
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 oranges or 6 tangerines, washed, cut in half crosswise
  • 2 large cans crushed pineapple in juice, drained (or 1 fresh pineapple, peeled, cored and diced small)
  • 1 bunch scallions, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 1/2 tsp dried chipotle powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
Place the pork butt in a medium-sized roasting pan - not too small, because the pork will give off liquid as it cooks, and you don't want the juices to overflow the pan and burn in the oven. Sprinkle the garlic salt and smoked paprika all over the meat. Squeeze the oranges or tangerines over the top of the roast, then put the squeezed-out rinds in the bottom of the pan, around the meat. Cover the pan with aluminum foil.

Put the pan in the oven and turn the temperature to 275 degrees - no need to preheat. Roast the pork for 10 hours. It's easiest to put it in before you go to bed and let it roast overnight.

Once the pork is in the oven, make the salsa by combining the pineapple, scallions, cilantro, lime juice, chipotle powder, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well and store in the refrigerator overnight - this will help the flavors come together and will tame the heat of the chipotle a bit.

In the morning, take the roasting pan out of the oven and let the pork cool on the counter for half an hour. Then, uncover it, carefully transfer the meat to a cutting board, and shred it with two forks. It will fall apart at the first touch. Combine the shredded meat with some (not all) of the juice from the roasting pan, just enough to keep the meat moist.

Serve the meat immediately with the salsa. You can also keep the cooked meat in the refrigerator for up to five days, or frozen indefinitely. (Note that my tolerance for frozen foods may be higher than yours - I served a fig cake from August 2008 recently and thought it was fine. You might want to interpret "indefinitely" as "for a few months." It's your call.)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Rainier cherry pie on Good Food blog

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It's my week of cherry pie. Last weekend I conquered my fear of pie crust with my Father's Day cherry pie recipe. And today my single-crust Rainier cherry pie is featured on the Good Food blog, written by Evan Kleiman and the staff of my favorite NPR radio program, as part of their Pie-A-Day series. Please stop by, read it, and leave a comment. If I get lots of comments maybe they'll ask me to guest blog again (I hope)!

Read it: Rainier cherry pie from In Erika's Kitchen on the Good Food blog


Cherry

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Spring salad with cherries and goat cheese

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I think a good salad is like a wedding. What, did you think I was about to talk about the marriage of flavors? Not exactly. I'm talking about poetry. But instead of the traditional wedding rhyme...

Something old
Something new
Something borrowed
Something blue

...my ideal salad is more like...

Something green (lettuce or other greens)
Something sweet (fruit, fresh or dried)
Something cream (cheese)
Something treat! (nuts, seeds, croutons, bacon bits - something salty and crunchy)

My salads are all about juxtapositions. Bitter greens with sweet fruit. Creamy cheese with tart vinaigrette. Soft fruit with crunchy nuts. And so on.

This spring salad with cherries, goat cheese and pumpkin seeds hits all the right notes. The greens came from a friend's garden, and they were perfect. The cherries - we're drowning in them after our cherry-picking excursion this weekend, so they had to have a place in the salad. I thought feta cheese would have been better, but we had none, and in the end the goat cheese was perfect. Toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) added just the right amount of nutty crunch. Lightly dressed with a mustard-lemon vinaigrette, this was the first course for our Father's Day celebration. Perfect for celebrating, perfect for spring.

Spring salad with cherries and goat cheese
  • 6 cups mixed baby greens, washed
  • 1 cup sweet cherries, pitted and halved
  • 2 ounces fresh goat cheese
  • 1/4 cup pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds), toasted
  • 1/4 cup French vinaigrette
 In a large salad bowl, toss together all ingredients. Add more dressing if you like. Serve immediately.


Cherry

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Cherry pie recipe for Father's Day (or, How I conquered my fear of pie crust)

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This cherry pie (okay, maybe it's more of a cherry galette, but whatever) has gotten me over a significant hump in my culinary life.

Until today I have had a deep insecurity about pie crust. In fact, it was bigger than pie crust: It was about the rolling pin. Every time I would apply a rolling pin to dough, it seemed, bad things happened. Pizza that looked like the state of Michigan made of Swiss cheese. Bits of sticky cookie dough glued to the counter. Nothing ever thin enough, nothing ever turning out anywhere near the way it looked in the pictures. Tough tarts. Floury cookies. Bad things.

But today we took the kids to Leona Valley to pick cherries - and we came home with more than 30 pounds. Pie was inevitable. I'll share a secret: I went to a local gourmet market this afternoon, hoping to find ready-made pie crust in the store's freezer that I might have been able to pass off as my own. They had none. I toyed with the idea of cherry cobbler - that was last year's cop-out when pie crust seemed insurmountable - but ultimately decided it was time to face the music.

Here's what I learned: With sheer determination and two sticks of butter, anything is possible. Meet our new Father's Day tradition.


Note: I made this galette-style so that I could actually make two, to use up more of the 30 pounds of cherries now sitting on my kitchen counter. The recipe below makes one double-crust pie or two single-crust pies or galettes. I used raw cane sugar because I love the way its dusky undertones work with the cherries, but regular granulated sugar would work fine too.

Cherry pie (or cherry galette) for Father's Day
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup plus 4 Tbsp raw cane sugar
  • 2 sticks (1/2 pound) butter, frozen, cut into small cubes
  • ice water
  • 8 cups sweet cherries, pitted (my favorite tool for this: Oxo Good Grips Cherry Pitter)
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp milk
First, take a deep breath and make the crust: Place the flour, salt, and 2 Tbsp sugar in the food processor and give it a spin to combine. Open the processor and sprinkle the bits of frozen butter over the flour mixture. Pulse five or six times, or until the whole thing inside looks like wet sand.

Now dribble over about 1/4 cup of ice water and pulse again; check the consistency. Does it hold together when you pinch some between your fingers? If not, add small amounts of ice water, pulse, and repeat. When it's ready, it will not look wet at all - you'll only know it's done by the fact that it holds together when you pinch it. Turn the dough out onto the counter, press it into two disks, wrap the disks in plastic wrap, and refrigerate them for at least an hour.

Put the pitted cherries in a mixing bowl with 1/2 cup of the raw sugar and the cornstarch, and mix thoroughly. Let the cherries sit in the sugar-cornstarch mixture at room temperature while the dough is chilling. This will help the cherry juice flow once you get the pie in the oven. Go do something else for the balance of the hour.

When it's time, heat the oven to 450 degrees. Sprinkle the counter with flour and roll out one of the dough disks to a rough circle. It's okay if it's not perfect - mine certainly weren't. Transfer the circle of dough to a baking pan lined with parchment paper. Heap half the cherry mixture into the center of the dough, then fold the edges of the circle up and part of the way onto the filling, leaving some of the cherries showing in the middle. Repeat with the other disk of dough and the rest of the cherries.

Combine the egg and the milk and brush the edges of the pies with this mixture, using a pastry brush. Sprinkle the remaining 2 Tbsp sugar over the edges of the pies. Bake about 40 minutes or until the pies are golden brown on the edges and the cherries in the middle are shriveled and juicy. Let cool at least 1/2 hour before slicing.


Cherry

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cooking for the family

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Two of the kids in the picture above are mine. Two belong to my brother. The cousins live a continent apart, so when they do see each other - once or twice a year - it's a special occasion. Sometimes I feel guilty for having moved across the country and denied the cousins the opportunity to grow up more entangled in each other's lives. But it's done, and it's life, and we make the best of it.

Next week the cousins - we'll call them the Slugger and the Princess - are coming west to visit, the first time in many years. All the kids will spend the days at the wonderful beach camp my boys have attended for five-plus years. They'll paddle out past the break on surfboards and hang out with the dolphins. They'll play volleyball and Dynamite on the sand, do gymnastics and crafts, watch the counselors put on hilarious skits every morning as they review the rules and safety procedures. They'll come home tired, salty, sandy, happy. And no doubt very, very hungry.

All the kids are excited about camp, but the Slugger and the Princess are particularly excited about the week at Aunt Erika's house because they know Aunt Erika will be cooking for them. They get lots of good food at home, but somehow my cooking has taken on a kind of legend in their young minds. I'm flattered, of course. In fact, I love it. You know my motto: I feed people. Especially the people I love. And most especially the people I love who love to have me cook for them.

The Princess has a reputation as a picky eater, so to be on the safe side we negotiated the dinner menu for the week in advance. I'll be at work during the day, so nothing too fancy, and a few things easily made in advance, I thought. I wrote it up and emailed it off to New York:
  • Sunday: Steak, sweet potato fries, Caesar salad
  • Monday: Oven-fried crispy fish, green beans, cole slaw
  • Tuesday: Spaghetti with homemade meat sauce, salad
  • Wednesday: Grilled chicken cutlets, cut-up veggies with dip, roasted potatoes
  • Thursday: Lemon-garlic shrimp over rice, snap peas
  • Friday: Lamb chops, lemon Parmesan orzo pasta, creamed spinach
  • Saturday 6/26: Go out!
The Slugger and the Princess conferred. The Princess requested asparagus and strawberries, and she agreed to taste everything (with the promise of cereal or a quesadilla if she really doesn't like it, though I think chances of that are slim). The Slugger wanted to know about dessert. We don't have sweets every day, I told him, but there's always fruit, and I'll probably bake a few times while they're here: maybe brownies and banana chocolate chip muffins. He used a lot of exclamation points in the email that came back after that. I think he was satisfied.

Now it's all about the shopping. My heroic husband will do a Costco run just before they arrive. We'll fill in at our local family-run market, where the stone fruit this season is beautiful. My mom, who's bringing the Slugger and the Princess out west, will prep and set the table while the kids are at camp. It's under control. The Princess and the Slugger may be looking forward to the food, but me, I'm just looking forward to a week of having everyone around the same table.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Fresh grape juice recipe

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I'm still obsessing about California grapes, after my lucky evening with Tyler Florence courtesy of the California Table Grape Commission. The lovely grape people sent me home with a huge box of red, green and black grapes. No big parties scheduled this weekend - what to do? I was thinking about grape granita, but my freezer, as usual, is completely full, and I couldn't figure out how to make room for the metal pan.

So I made fresh grape juice. We don't drink much juice in general, but the husband really likes it. I hesitate to call this a recipe - it's so easy. I can imagine that some people would want to add sugar, but I didn't. Use any combination of grape colors, but (duh) the more red and black grapes you use, the more vibrantly purple the juice will be. I had seedless grapes, but you could probably use seeded ones too, since you'll be straining.





print recipe

Fresh grape juice
Think grape juice only comes in a bottle? Try this fresh version and you'll never go back.
Ingredients
  • 1 pound seedless California grapes, any combination of red, green and black
  • about 1/2 cup water
Instructions
Fill the jar of your blender 3/4 of the way with grapes and add a splash of water. Blend on high at least 1 minute. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve over a large bowl, pressing down on the solids in the strainer with a large spoon to extract every last bit of juice. Serve chilled.
Details
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: about 2 cups
Grape on Foodista

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Tyler Florence and his California grape relish recipe

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Food Network star chef Tyler Florence with me (Erika) at Dodger Stadium

Ten facts about celebrity chef and Food Network star Tyler Florence, whom I was lucky enough to meet last night at Dodger Stadium courtesy of the California Table Grape Commission:
  1. Yes, he is as handsome charming engaging nice friendly downright adorable as he seems on TV. Also, as you can see above, he is exceptionally photogenic.
  2. He talks fast.
  3. Or maybe that was just because he knew his time with us was limited, as he had to catch a plane home to northern California.
  4. He claims his house is free of junk food, because if it isn't there, his kids can't eat it.
  5. He's really excited about the upcoming opening of his new San Francisco restaurant, Wayfare Tavern. They're testing recipes now and will open sometime this summer.
  6. All those tweets you see @tylerflorence? It's really him.
  7. Tyler's retail store in Mill Valley, just north of San Francisco - cleverly called The Tyler Florence Shop - sells a combination of Tyler's branded products, cookware and books from other Food Network chefs, locally sourced gourmet ingredients, and vintage kitchenware from flea markets and garage sales. I told Tyler that when his vintage buyer quits, I'll be happy to step into that role; as you may know, I have a fondness for vintage tableware like this. (If you can't get to Mill Valley, you can also buy some of Tyler's products in his online store.)
  8. Chuck Williams, the now-elderly founder of Williams Sonoma, has been into The Tyler Florence Shop three times. Tyler says Chuck told him the store feels like his own first retail outlet - a huge compliment indeed.
  9. Tyler likes fancy wristwatches. At one point someone took a photo of the wrists of Tyler, three food bloggers and two husbands. Will someone send me that photo please?
  10. His preschool-aged son gets a bunch of California grapes in his lunchbox every single day.
I got all this out of Tyler while we were chatting at the beginning of the Dodger game. I was really eager to talk with Tyler and now realize I might have hogged the conversation a little, so sorry, fellow food bloggers. Created by Diane was chatting with us, and SippitySup told me today that he was eavesdropping the whole time. There were lots of other food personalities there, too:


Active Foodie and her man

La Fuji Mama and Mr. Fuji Mama


Ladles and Jellyspoons with her excited little Dodger fan

Tyler Florence with the California Table Grape Commission mascots

Tyler and the California Table Grape Commission are doing a series of promotions this summer at ballparks around the country, working to get healthier food  choices for baseball fans. Which is why we were served Dodger dogs with this tangy grape relish:


A grape relish might sound weird to you, but it was quite delicious. I'm going to make it for our annual 4th of July barbeque and serve it with burgers. The grape group was kind enough to share the recipe.

Tangy grape relish
  • 1/2 cup each diced red and green California grapes
  • 1/4 cup diced red onion
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seed
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
Combine all ingredients and let sit a few minutes to let the flavors combine. Serve with hot dogs or burgers.

Grape on Foodista

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Black grape granita recipe with California black grapes

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I'm in the mood for grapes - California grapes, to be exact. I've been buried in Green Black Red: Recipes for Cooking and Enjoying California Grapes, an absolutely gorgeous cookbook I got last month at Camp Blogaway as a gift from the California Table Grape Commission.

Here's the thing: I want to make every single recipe in this book. Every one. Without exception. They're beautiful, they're fresh and healthy (or else luscious and decadent), and I love grapes in all forms. Green grape gazpacho! Grapes stuffed with goat cheese and pistachios! Grape and Brie fritters (be still, my heart)! Seared duck breast with black grapes and port! Slow-cooked pork chops with spiced honey and grapes!

Now do you see what I mean?

This season's California grapes are just showing up in our local markets, a little later than usual, no doubt because of the cold winter we had this year. The red grapes I bought at Bob's Market in Santa Monica this week were perfectly crisp, perfectly round, and just divine.

Green Black Red has a recipe for black grape sorbet, but I never have room in my freezer for the canister of my ice cream maker, so I'm more likely to make granita. It's a tiny bit fussy if you go to the trouble of straining out the skins, but it's the only way to get that pure icy texture. And the color, the color....

Black grape granita
  • 3 cups black seedless grapes
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • Juice of 1 lemon
Clear a shelf in your freezer. (If your freezer looks like mine, this will be the most challenging part of the recipe.)

Put the grapes, sugar and lemon juice into the blender. Blitz on high speed for 2 minutes. Pour the pureed grape mixture into a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl, and work the puree through with a wooden spoon or spatula so the bits of skin stay in the strainer. This may take a few minutes of stirring and pushing, but be patient.

Pour the strained grape puree into a shallow metal baking pan, pie plate or bowl. Place in the freezer and set a timer for half an hour. When it goes off, take the bowl out of the freezer, scrape all the frozen bits off the edges of the bowl or pan, and stir. Put the pan back in the freezer for another half hour, and repeat. As you do this, the mixture will turn from liquid, to frozen around the edges, to slushy, to snow. It will probably take two and a half or three hours of stirring every half-hour or so, but the more you do it, the better the texture of your granita in the end.

When the granita has achieved a true snow-like texture, move it into a sealed plastic container large enough to hold it without having to pack it down, and freeze. Eat within a few days. If the granita freezes solid (and it shouldn't, if you've done it right), let it thaw until you can mash the ice crystals with a fork, and start the freezing process anew.

Grape on Foodista

Mushroom beef gravy recipe on The Mushroom Channel blog

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Remember my triumphant photo of cat food - I mean, mushroom beef gravy over biscuits - I posted last month? Well, my recipe's up today on the Mushroom Channel, where I'm one of many food blogging contributors this year. Stop by and leave a comment!

Click here: Mushroom beef gravy recipe from In Erika's Kitchen on the Mushroom Channel

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Fresh fig cake with almonds

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Before I moved to California, I had never tasted a fresh fig. Figs don't generally grow on trees in the backyard in New York, or at least not in the backyards I knew. I never saw a fruit tree in Jericho, the Long Island suburb in which I grew up, though apples, pears and plums would certainly have done well in that climate. It's possible that a few houses owned by people with Italian ancestors in nearby Carle Place and Westbury had fig trees and even grapevines in their yards - I heard rumors - but in any case, fresh figs never crossed my path.

Our house in southern California had a few fruit trees in the yard when we bought it: a big avocado tree, an ill-pruned but still productive Eureka lemon, and a dainty dwarf fig tree. "Dainty," by the way, is code for "does not produce a ton of fruit." It makes delicious big brown figs - still haven't confirmed the variety, although I think Brown Turkey is the likely frontrunner - but never more than a few per day. So we wait patiently for them all year, then eat a few a day in the raw during August and early September. There were never enough available at any given time to turn them into something else.

And then I started doing Pilates and met the two old fig trees in the studio's backyard. The building used to be a private home, and some thoughtful person planted these trees at least half a decade ago. There's one Mission tree; the fruit is big, dark purple skin, bright pink on the inside, meaty and substantial, with a floral scent. The other tree is a puzzle. The figs are small, greenish-brown, plentiful, and so sticky-sweet they almost taste like dates.

I love Pilates, and I really love my instructor Erin (hi Erin!), but I really REALLY love going into the yard after my sessions in July and August and picking 10 pounds of figs to take home. For two years now our downstairs refrigerator has been full of fig jam and fig chutney, and our freezer has always contained a few fig cakes. Michael puts the fig jam in his oatmeal. I serve the fig chutney with grilled chicken or sausages. And the fig cake - well, you can probably guess what we do with that.

Figs are expensive at retail, but I think this recipe is worth it. If you have access to a fig tree, you're set. If you live in a place where people do plant fruit trees in their yards, take a walk around your neighborhood this summer, and if you see a fig tree laden with fruit, ring the doorbell. You never know - the owner might be willing to share.

Note: The photos here show muffins, but you can bake this cake in a loaf pan, bundt pan or 9-inch round cake pan instead - just increase the baking time. (Scroll down for the recipe.)



Fresh fig cake with almonds
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups ripe fresh figs, chopped
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup almond meal or finely ground almonds
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk, yogurt or kefir

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Beat the eggs and sugar together in a stand mixer until the mixture is light. Add the figs and oil and beat until well incorporated.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon, then stir in the almond meal. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients alternately with the buttermilk; beat until well combined.

For muffins: Spray a muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray - no need for paper liners. Fill the muffin cups three-quarters of the way to the top. Bake about 30 minutes, or until the tops are brown and a tester comes out clean. Let cool in the pan 2 minutes, then remove the muffins to a rack to cool.

To bake in a loaf, bundt or cake pan, increase the baking time to 50-60 minutes.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Shop with me!

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If you like shopping as much as I do, you'll be glad to hear that I finally got my act together and created an Amazon store for your purchasing pleasure. I've stocked it with some of my favorite gourmet items, kitchen gadgets and cookbooks. Use the "shop" link in the header above and take a look around!

A few of the items you'll find inside:

I've visited the Camargue, the huge salt marsh in the south of France, and seen the mountains of sparkly white salt sitting by the edge of the swamp. This is my favorite finishing salt. Well, one of my favorites. I have a soft spot for salt.










My friend Franco from Sabatino Tartufi brought me a sample of this, and it's just outstanding. Toss it with hot pasta and butter, or spread it on thinly sliced toasted baguette and top with fresh ricotta.










Michael puts these little chocolate balls on frozen yogurt. They're crunchy, like tiny little KitKats (only a lot better).











I'm not a huge coffee drinker, but when I do make coffee, I prefer the simplicity of a stovetop percolator like this.











This is what I'm reading right now. I actually have a bound galley from 1989 - I was working at a magazine that reviewed some travel and food books, and the publisher sent it to us before the book was published. I've kept the galley despite the fact that it has no pictures and looks like a bad photocopy. Because the recipes are terrific, and it offers an historical perspective on African-American and Caribbean cooking I've never found anywhere else. I recommend this cookbook highly, and I'm looking forward to reading some of her others.






And there's lots more stuff in the store, too - hand-selected and curated by yours truly. I'll add to it over time, too. Happy shopping!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Baked ziti with sausage for a crowd in the wilderness

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Every year over Memorial Day weekend, our friends Rachel and Eric gather seven or eight families for a camping trip on their property near Santa Barbara. They call it "glamping" - tents and sleeping bags are involved, but so are executive port-a-potties, a dishwashing sink, an outdoor shower, a gas barbeque, and a whole lot of good food and wine. Glamorous indeed, or at least as glamorous as it can be when you're sleeping on air mattresses on the grass.

However, I don't camp. Categorically. It's my line in the sand and I'm sticking to it. I'm from Long Island. Call me a princess and I'll own up. Too old to go outside in the middle of the night to pee. Too fussy to go three days without a proper shower. I. Don't. Camp.

Fortunately, I am married to a man who thinks my refusal to camp is one of my best qualities. Unfortunately, our kids would love to go camping. I keep telling them that they need to make friends with kids whose parents do like to camp. They are welcome to go camping with anyone else's parents. But we're not going.

Fortunately again, Rachel and Eric's group is willing to let us come up for a day during the weekend and pretend we're part of the camping posse. They didn't even make fun of us this year (to our faces, at least). Because I've discovered that the more delicious food I bring with us, the happier they are to see us arrive, and the less they care that when bedtime rolls around we're getting into our car and driving back down the coast to our comfy beds in L.A.

Families take turns supplying the meals for the weekend. This year we drew lunch duty. Lunch for 40 people - luckily, that doesn't scare me. The baked ziti I made drew compliments and held everyone over until dinner. At which point, three roasted turkeys emerged from La Caja China, and mashed potatoes and gravy appeared on the barbeque. These people really know how to camp.

The recipe below feeds 8-10 people. Multiply accordingly.

Baked ziti with sausage
  • 2 lbs ziti or other short tubular pasta
  • 1 lb mild Italian sausage (I'm partial to the house-made chicken Italian sausage from Bob's Market in Santa Monica, but any Italian-style sausage will do)
  • 1 box frozen chopped spinach, defrosted
  • 1/2 cup pesto sauce (prepared or homemade)
  • 2 cups tomato sauce (prepared or homemade)
  • 1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan, romano or grana padano cheese
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the ziti and cook until al dente. It's important to keep the pasta on the undercooked side, because you're going to cook it again in the oven, and you don't want it to turn to mush. Drain the pasta and turn it into a large mixing bowl.

Put the sausages on a foil-lined sheet pan and slide the pan into the oven. Cook until the sausages are cooked through; the time will vary depending on how thick your sausages are, but somewhere between 20 minutes and half an hour should do. Cut one sausage open to make sure it's cooked inside. Let the sausages cool at least 10 minutes. Slice the sausages into chunks and add them to the pasta. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees.

Squeeze as much water out of the defrosted spinach as you can. Add the spinach to the bowl with the pasta and sausage.

In another mixing bowl, whisk together the pesto, tomato sauce, ricotta, salt and pepper until smooth. Add this mixture and 1 cup of the shredded mozzarella to the bowl with the pasta. Toss everything to coat the pasta well.

Turn the pasta mixture into a casserole dish that's been coated with cooking spray. Top with the remaining mozzarella and the grated parmesan. Bake the ziti uncovered 30 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the whole thing is hot and gooey.

Here's the great thing about baked ziti: You can assemble it ahead of time and let it sit in the refrigerator for up to three days before baking. You can even assemble it and put it in the freezer. Or you can bake it and then put it in the freezer. Also, everyone loves it.