12 September 2015

A September Cake with Fresh Prune Plums

This past week I made the annual discovery that never ceases to excite me: the first of the prune plums are in! Always available only briefly sometime around late August or September, these plums are a hallmark of the season. I love the pleasant tart flavor, how easily the fruit separates from the stone, and the gorgeous red color they yield upon baking. And beyond baking, I think they're also my favorite plums to eat in hand, as they aren't very watery and thus can be eaten relatively daintily and respectably--no worry of juices running all over the place!

 At first glance, I thought these were Italian prune plums, but then their enormous size had me questioning. Turns out they are actually a variety called "President Plums," but other than their size, they are essentially like my beloved Zwetschgen.

Traditionally, I go straight to my family's German recipe for Zwetschgenkuchen, but this year I decided to change it up a bit with a simpler cake. This one is not too sweet and is great on its own, or you can add a dollop of yogurt for breakfast, or dress it up with whipped cream for dessert.

September Plum Cake
Makes 15-18 servings

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 scant cup granulated sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups of sifted, all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/4 milk, room temperature
6 cups Italian prune plums in 1/2-inch slices

Cream together the butter and sugar, then beat in the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla extract. Beat until light and fluffy.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and cardamom. Add half of the flour mixture and all of the milk to the creamed mixture and gently incorporate. Then add the remaining flour mixture and gently mix until just combined.

Spread dough in a lightly-greased 9x13-inch pan and arrange the plum slices over the top. Bake at 350 for about 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool slightly before cutting.

07 September 2015

Quinoa with Kale Pesto and Broccoli

With temperatures hitting 95 F today, it feels like we're still in the throngs of summer! All this heat brings me back to a year ago, when I was in Korea, fighting off the heat- and humidity-induced languor that lingers on even through early September. My were those sultry days; no matter that I lived on the coast within a stone's throw of the Korean Strait! I looked forward to the whispers of cool air that would stir late at night, beckoning me (and all my neighbors) to head out for a midnight stroll. Thankfully, now that I'm back in Santa Barbara, I no longer have to contend with the oppressive humidity, and I've got a lot of my favorite ingredients--like homegrown basil!--within reach again, to help tempt the appetite even in this warm weather.

Looking around the pantry and the garden, I felt something cool and green would be perfectly refreshing for dinner this evening, and here is the result: Quinoa with Kale Pesto and Broccoli. There's something about getting lots of good greens, like kale and broccoli, that makes me feel light and happy--just what I want on a hot summer night. Then there's pesto--fragrant with basil, garlic, and pine nuts--that has always been a delicious homemade staple in my family. And quinoa, with its fantastic nutritional profile, is quickly becoming a favorite of mine.

This immensely flavorful and healthy side dish is a playful combination of colors, flavors, and ingredients. Even the pesto--although brimming with the usual flavors--is actually riffing on the classic recipe with a generous dose of kale.

We sure enjoyed this quinoa dish out on the patio tonight, dining al fresco and waiting for the cooling temperatures. And I have to say, I am so thankful that this year it is a "we enjoyed" and not an "I enjoyed." Being together again with family makes a world of difference.

Quinoa with Kale Pesto and Broccoli
Makes 2-3 side servings

1 bunch kale, stems removed
1/2 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves
1 large clove garlic, chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
1 tsp. freshly-squeezed lemon juice
salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste

1 head broccoli
1/2 cup uncooked red quinoa
1/4 tsp. salt
More fresh basil leaves for garnish (optional)

To make the pesto, blanch the kale leaves in a large pot of boiling water for 45 seconds, then plunge kale into ice water to stop cooking. (Reserve boiling water for blanching the broccoli.) Once kale has cooled, drain and squeeze well to remove all water.

Place blanched kale, basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan, olive oil, lemon zest, and juice in the large bowl of a food processor. Pulse mixture until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

(Pesto can be made ahead, although the color will darken as oxidation occurs. Store refrigerated up to 1 week.)

Peel the broccoli stem; separate into small florets and cut stem into bite-sized pieces. Blanch for 45 seconds in boiling water, then remove and plunge into ice water to stop cooking. Drain well and set aside.

Place the uncooked quinoa in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse in 3 changes of water, scrubbing briskly by hand. (This is to remove the bitter-flavored saponins coating the quinoa seeds.) Drain well, then transfer to a small saucepan. Add 1 cup water and 1/4 tsp. salt to the saucepan, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat to low and simmer 15 minutes. At end of cooking time, drain remaining water from the cooked quinoa using the fine-mesh sieve. Return quinoa to hot saucepan and let sit uncovered over the warm burner, fluffing occasionally, to evaporate the remaining moisture. Transfer quinoa to a large mixing bowl and let cool, then mix in half of the kale pesto, or more, to taste. (Reserve remaining pesto for another use.)

Add the broccoli stems and stir to combine with the quinoa. Check seasoning and add more salt and pepper, as needed, then transfer to a serving dish and garnish with fresh basil. Serve at room temperature.