The apple (and pear) cake to end all apple cakes

Man, I really have to get better at this blogging more than once a week thing.  I blame fall, with it's cooler weather not making the world feel like march through the desert and therefore making me want to, you know, do stuff.

But then also fall brings pretty good blog fodder, like the best ever apple cake you will ever have (that is also a GREAT way to use up the ton of apples you seem to have acquired through various methods, hopefully legal, but whatever, I don't know your life).

Every year, we are inundated with apples in the CSA, apples and pears, actually.  This is not really a problem for me, as I love apples and apple pie and apple crisp and all things apple.  However, we have already discussed the fact that my darling husband is not a fan of cooked fruit (because he's wrong, that's why), and so rather than bake an apple pie and then be the only one to eat it, I set out to find out what cooked fruit he WILL eat.

Results? Applesauce (boring),  and this apple cake.  

The cake is essentially a traditional Jewish apple cake, and, this one is a variation of the Smitten Kitchen recipe (SHOCKER). I do a few things differently.  First, I load that thing up with as much fruit as it will hold.  None of this 2 or 3 apples bullshit--we are talking 4 pears and 5 apples.  I like my fruit desserts to have FRUIT.   Second, I've tweaked sugar levels and a bit of methodology to adjust to the massive amounts of fruit I pack in this sucker. 

pears 'n' apples in bowls.  Look how still-life-y it is! I think I may have left one or two apples out, but jammed those pears in the cake. 

I made this nearly every week last year, and am already on track to do the same this fall.  One forewarning--the recipe makes a massive cake.  It calls for a tube pan, which is huge, for a reason.  I've done it in a bundt pan (and had near overflow twice), and I've split it into two loaf pans as well, but it's not quite the same.  If you can, go for the tube pan. 

Also, I have yet to meet anyone who does not like this cake (or my friends are all very kind people and don't want to tell me to my face that it's awful, which is also just fine by me.  I enjoy living my delusions), and routinely give enormous slices away to folks.  I have it on good authority that if you are say, having renovations done on your house, it makes a fine bribe/encouragement/thank you to the folks doing the hard work. And having lived through renos, you really really want those dudes on your side.

Empty bowl, full bowl.  Peeled pears and apples.  Not quite as pretty as the first picture. 

First step, peel your apples and pears.  I can't be the only one who changed her apple-peeling method after seeing Sleepless in Seattle and hearing about how Tom Hanks' wife used to peel the apples in one long curly unbroken string of peel, can I?  That up there, under the pile of pear peels? Are six long, curly, unbroken strings of apple peel. 20 years of practicing right there. 

cinnamonny fruit and vanilla sugar. as you do.

Smitten Kitchen chunks her fruit up, but I'm not a fan of chunks.  I like myself a hearty slice of apple, not too thin, not too thick.  If my apple peeler whizmo worked better on butcher block countertops, this would be the perfect application for that thing--peel, core and slice all in one then just cut the spirally apple into quarters and voila.  Instead, I slice these babies by hand, but I've gotten pretty fast at it by now.

Then you toss the fruit with 1 tablespoon of cinnamon and 5 tablespoons of sugar.  When using pears, I usually grate in a bit of nutmeg, because nutmeg. And of course, I use the vanilla sugar here, because der.  Toss that stuff all together and set aside for later so it gets all nice and juicy.

all the ingredients ready to go.  note please the 4 cup measuring cup used as bowl, because why wash more than you need to?  That sucker has the oil, oj, sugar, eggs and vanilla in there. 

I prefer my cakes to be of the one-bowl variety, because I am lazy.  But barring that, I try to minimize the dishes I can when I can.  And so the flour is weighed, then the baking powder and salt are on top of that.  And I use the 4-cup measuring cup as a bowl, and measure first the oil, then the oj, then add in the sugar (which almost always goes with the wet ingredients), and last the 4 eggs and vanilla.  Beat the crap out of that with a fork and then dump into the drys and stir.

I've cut down the sugar a bit here from 2 cups in the original recipe to 1 1/2, mostly because I use a shit ton of fruit in this cake. If the apples or pears are a bit tart, you can go up a bit.  I've also swapped out half the sugar for brown sugar or maple sugar for a bit of variety.

One last thing about the OJ--it's a great flavor and traditional in this kind of cake, but still somewhat unexpected for something so apple-y.  But if you don't have oj, try cider, apple juice, lemon juice, or anything else relatively flavorful. Booze might be a bit much, but why not try it?


See? One bowl, one measuring cup (and we'll just pretend the apples and pears aren't in another bowl).

The prepped pan.  I like the coconut oil spray from trader joes. 

Spray or butter the tube pan, otherwise it'll be a bitch to get out. Ask me how I know!

first layer of batter + sugared fruit.

In the original method, you pour in about half the batter, layer on half the fruit, then top with the rest of the batter, and then the rest of the fruit.  But I like my fruit scattered throughout, so there are a few ways to do that.  

The first way, and the one I wind up doing the most, is to add more layers.  Spread a little batter, scatter some fruit (including the sugary juices!).  Do it again, spreading the batter a bit with a spatula before adding the fruit.  Keep doing it, adding layers until you run out, but be sure to finish up with the last of the fruit. 

Alternately, pour a bit of batter in the bottom, then dump most of the fruit into the remaining batter, reserving a few handfuls,  and give a stir.  Pour that mixture into the pan, and top with the remaining fruit.  I don't love how the sugary cinnamony juices incorporate into the batter, leaving it somewhat homogeneous and not streaking the final cake with delicious streaks of sugar and cinnamon, so I don't usually go this route.

three more layers later... ready for the oven. 

This pan right here? Weighs about a ton.  

an hour and a 40 minutes later (seriously, it's a big cake).

And then the sucker bakes in a 350 degree oven for--no joke--an hour and a half.  And frankly, longer.  The more fruit you add, the longer it will take to fully set, so don't be shy with a cake tester (or toothpick, or skewer, or sharp knife) and poke that cake to see when the tester comes out dry. Because of the amount of fruit you've packed in there, it's very hard to overbake this cake and have it come out dry. 

mmm cake. 

The cake keeps exceptionally well for several days, also because of the amount of fruit you've packed in there. It only gets better and more moist.  Which is good because it is MASSIVE.

Here's the recipe!

Jewish Apple (and Pear) Cake

  •  6 to 8 (to 10) apples and/or pears, peeled and sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar, plus 5 tbsp, divided
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup oil (sunflower, canola, melted coconut oil, melted butter etc)
  • 1/4 cup oj
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 3/4 cups flour (345 grams)
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp table salt (or 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt, give or take)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and spray a large tube pan (or bundt pan, or two loaf pans) with non-stick spray. Set aside.

Toss the peeled and sliced apples and pears with 5 tbsp of sugar and 1 tbsp of cinnamon. Set aside.

Mix the oil, oj, vanilla, remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar, and eggs until well combined. 

Stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Dump in the wet ingredients and mix until well combined.

Assemble the cake: spread a bit of batter into the bottom of the pan, add a layer of apples and their juices.  Spread a bit more batter on top, layer on more apples.  Repeat until all batter and apples have been used up, ending with a layer of apples.  Alternately, pour a bit of batter into the bottom of the pan, stir most of the apples into the remaining batter, reserving some for topping, and spread into pan. Top with remaining apples.

Bake at 350 degrees for 1 and 1/2 hours to 1 hr 45 min, or until a cake tester inserted into the cake comes out clean. 

Let cool, then remove from pan.  Keeps very well in an airtight container, and is better second and third days. 


tomato risotto

We're nearing the end of the CSA tomato season, which is a bummer.  I mean, hi, New Jersey tomatoes are the best tomatoes, no if ands or buts.  But it can still be a struggle to keep up, and at the end of the season, not get beat down by the abundance.

oh hi, cracked paint on my windowsill.  Lovely to see you. 

Last week, the day before CSA pick up, I decided to make Smitten Kitchen's stuffed tomatoes with rice,  because I realized that I still had a few tomatoes left from the week prior, and I also had arborio rice on hand.  As I was making the filling, which is essentially rice cooked in the tomato innards whizzed up with a stick blender, I realized I'd made too much rice to stuff in all the tomatoes (that's what happens when you eyeball amounts when cutting down a recipe).  As the stuffed tomatoes finished in the oven, I finished the leftover rice stuffing on the stove, and dumped a bunch of cheese in it.

The stuffed tomatoes were excellent, as nearly all Smitten Kitchen recipes are, but I realized that I far preferred the leftover rice that was finished on the stove to the stuffed tomatoes.  I always like the idea of stuffed veg--tomatoes, peppers, squash--but I never actually am all that pleased with the end result.  There's something about the veg holder-of-stuffing that bugs me, and I am always happier just picking the sausage stuffing out of the mushrooms in the end.

But that's when I realized that for this recipe, the stuffing alone was already a dish in itself--risotto. Why bother with sticking the good stuff into the tomato when I could just eat the good stuff as is, but you know with cheese and butter thrown in?

So this week, when the tomato bounty came due, I made tomato risotto, and immediately wondered why the hell I hadn't done this before. 

Because I wasn't going to stuff anything, I didn't bother keeping the tomatoes intact, but instead buzzed them all with a stick blender in a glass jar.  (BTW, love these tall wide mouth glass ball jars for everything from impromptu blending to snack storage to water glass. ) I did peel the tomatoes though, but since they were ripe-to-overripe the peels just pulled right off and I didn't bother with ye old "score the bottom with a knife and drop into boiling water for a second" tomato peeling trick.  Also, I didn't care if they looked pretty or not because hi, blending. 

mmm, salt. 

I added a shit-ton of salt and pepper to the buzzed tomatoes.  I got a head start on the recipe and did this around lunchtime, and so I popped a lid on the jar and stuck it in the fridge to wait for dinnertime. Since it was going to be a while, I threw in a smashed garlic clove, because hey, garlic.  All told, I had about 2 cups of seasoned tomato goop.

Finally, dinnertime rolled around and for the life of me I could not remember "proper" risotto proportions, so I did what anyone would do: googled it.  (It's 1 cup rice, to about 4 cups liquid, by the by. )

I still winged it though, because hi, I'm lazy and while precision is necessary for baked goods, just say fuck it when it comes to the savory side of things.  It'll be fine, just err on the side of slightly less cause you can always add more liquid if need be. 

I've made risotto before, the truly traditional way, where the liquid is stock that's simmering on the stove beside the risotto pan--which is always tall--and you stir stir stir stir after each addition until it's absorbed and yadda yadda yadda.  I get it.  It works that way, but it also doesn't need to be so damn involved.

supermarket arborio rice. cause we fancy.

America's Test Kitchen has tested it, and so has Kenji Lopez-Alt, of the damn fine The Food Lab at Serious Eats (he also has a cookbook, just out, The Food Lab--affiliate link--which I just got for JBB for his birthday and it is AWESOME).  If you're into it, check out Kenji's post on risotto methodology which is a quick and interesting read. 

So along their lines, but nowhere near as methodical, I did my own lazy girl's risotto method.  First, I used my beloved saucier.  The best pot in the kitchen, for sure--wide sloping sides that curve into a flat bottom, perfect for things to be stirred.  

butter and olive oil.  That's probably more than 2 tbsp of butter come to think of it...

I melted a chunk of butter and a solid glug of olive oil in the saucier, while I chopped a small onion.  I sauteed the onion with a big pinch of salt, then a few smashed cloves of garlic, and then dumped in a cup of arborio rice and gave it a good stir to coat with the oil and aromatics, and turned the heat to low to let it toast a bit.

toasted rice in butter and oil. Oh and I threw some thyme in there as well.  Did I not mention that?

While the rice was toasting, I threw the glass jar of tomato goop into the microwave for a few seconds to take the chill off it.  Don't judge, it's FINE. Room temp liquid worked just as well, and one less pot to wash.

first addition of liquid--tomato goo!

Once the rice had the pale edge taken off it, and it smelled a bit toasty but didn't have much if any color, I poured in about a cup or so of wine--whatever was open in the fridge, in my case some rose.  Give a stir, let that simmer a bit on very low until the rice absorbed most of the liquid.  Then I added about 3/4 of the tomato goop, gave a stir, let it simmer.  I topped off my jar of goop with some water, and threw in two decent bouillon cubes since I didn't have any stock on hand.   If you want a truly vegetarian main, use veg bouillon.  I used chicken, cause that's what I had.  

This is about the level of soupy-ness I like. Nearly there...

Once the rice has sucked up the liquid in the pot, but isn't totally dry, give a good scrape on the bottom, and dump in some more liquid and stir again.  I did the rest at this point, cause why not.  I came back and stirred every once in a while, just to keep the rice from sticking on the bottom, but also to test the texture of the risotto. I like a fairly stiff risotto, not too soupy, but I don't play with any kind of crunchiness of the rice at all.  

there's butter hidden under that cheese.

see? Butter. 

When all was said and done, the risotto was done at about 20-25 minutes on the stove.  The real key to good risotto isn't the cooking method, per se, but all in how you finish it.  Me? I took it off heat, threw in a good sized lump of cold butter and grated a shit ton of parmesan on top with a microplane.  Top that with a ton of black pepper, and a good stir, and you have successfully "mounted" your risotto, and it's ready to serve. 

I ate my bowl of it too fast to bother with the toasted breadcrumbs I'd thought about but not actually made.  Ah well, next time. 

All this, plus a thumbs up from the peanut gallery, even the non-tomato fan.  (I am not stupid.  I did not tell him it had any tomatoes in it.)

If I had gotten my act together and remembered, this would also be topped with crunchy buttered breadcrumbs.  But I didn't. And it was still delicious.

Tomato Risotto

inspired by Smitten Kitchen's rice stuffed tomatoes

  • 4-6 medium tomatoes, peeled

  • 1 tsp salt, plus more to taste
  • 4 cloves garlic, divided.  1 smashed, 3 chopped (or garlic pressed, I won't tell)
  • 4 tbsp butter, divided (2 tbsp for finishing)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped (or a big shallot if you have one)
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 1 cup wine
  • 1-2 cups water or stock (or water plus bouillon cube)
  • 1-2 oz grated parmesan (for finishing)
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs, plus 1 tbsp butter (optional)

Blend the tomatoes into a puree with a stick blender or a regular blender. Add 1 tsp salt, and one smashed garlic clove. Set aside.

In a saucier, wide saucepan, or deep skillet, melt 2 tbsp butter with 2 tbsp olive oil on medium heat.  Saute the chopped onion or shallot until translucent; add the garlic and saute just until fragrant. Add rice, and stir to coat.  Cook gently on low heat, stirring occasionally until rice is fragrant and just toasted.

Add in wine, stir, and cook on a bare simmer until wine is mostly absorbed. Add in tomato liquid, stir, and cook until mostly absorbed.  Add in half the water or stock, stir and cook until mostly absorbed.  Test rice for doneness by tasting it. If it's not done, add the rest of the water or stock, stir and cook until mostly absorbed. Check texture of risotto, if too loose for your taste, cook a bit longer.  If too stiff, add a bit more liquid. 

When risotto is your desired texture, remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the remaining 2 tbsp of butter and the grated parm.  Taste for seasoning and salt and pepper to taste.  

If desired, melt a tbsp of butter in a skillet, and toast the breadcrumbs, stirring often, until golden brown.  Top risotto with breadcrumbs.

fancy pants pastry!

Yeah, this is right before I ate it without a fork.  Who needs forks?

Actually, I should be more accurate: this looks fancy pants but isn't really.  And it's no secret that the way to get "fancy" food things that are really dead easy is to just go to Trader Joes.  I mean, that's what their frozen aisle is for, right?

In this case, I'm falling back on a favorite trick of mine for summer cooking: their frozen puff pastry (all butter, yo!).  It's the quickest, easiest way to make a fancy veg tart, or fruit tart, or food-item-on-top-of-flaky-butter-pastry-for-me-to-eat. Just defrost, unroll, top with something, and bake.

They just come off the mandoline like this! please to note, the safety dohickeys that keep you from slicing off fingers.

Because we were on the dredges of the zucchini and yellow squash from the last few weeks of CSA boxes, and I only had one sad little overripe tomato left, I decided against making my summer standby with puff pastry, a tomato tart.  Instead I went fancier! and busted out the mandoline to slice the zucchini and squash into thin little rounds.

A note on mandolines: I freaking love them. Mine is awesome, though a pain in the ass to store (affiliate link to a very similar one as mine from the same brand. Mine is a decade old, and this new one looks easier to store, actually).  But I prefer it to the smaller hand-held ones, because I am less likely to slice off my hand since it has not just a stand, but also a slider guard thing and a holder guard thing.  Plus it makes satisfying little piles of veg. 

I cut the tomato by hand because it was seriously overripe and so so soft.  I used the handy dandy serrated paring knife--which for real is the best $10 I've spent in ages (affiliate link. Mine's yellow).  Serrated knives are great for slicing things that are firmer on the outside than they are on the inside--like, say, tomatoes and bread.  And this knife is a major workhorse in my kitchen because hi, tomatoes and bread.  

the unrolled sheet of pastry.  mmm . . . pastry.

I defrosted the frozen puff pastry by leaving it out on the counter for a few hours, though if you plan ahead better than I do, you can also just leave it in the fridge overnight.  I really like the Trader Joes brand because not only is it all butter and therefore tastes way better, but the rolls of pastry are individually wrapped.  This way, you can open the box (which generally contains two rolls), and not have your unused roll dry out on you when you forget about it in the freezer for two weeks. Ahem. Not that that's happened ever.

Cause I like crust, I cut the pastry into a few smaller pieces to make smaller tarts (using scissors, but a sharp knife works well too), and popped them onto a baking sheet. I've also just unrolled the whole thing onto a baking sheet and used that for a larger tart (works well with tomatoes).  Using the back of a paring knife, I gently scored a line about 3/4 inch inside the edge--this not only gives you a visual guide of where to put the toppings, but also helps the edges of the tart puff up a bit more evenly.


cream cheese, doctored up.

For an all tomato tart, I generally just lay on the tomatoes, with no base layer.  But I wasn't sure how well the zucchini and squash would do with that, so I added a thin layer of cheese.  We were all out of goat cheese, so I grabbed some cream cheese (maybe a tablespoon or two?), doctored it up with salt, pepper, a glug of olive oil and grated a clove of garlic into the mix.  Had I thought about it for more than a second, I probably could have added some chives and parmesan, too.  Alas, next time.


I spread a thin layer of the cream cheese mix onto the dough with the back of a spoon, and then layered the slices all pretty-like.  I started in the lower left, and going clockwise, you can see how the pretty-like devolved as I went along. The cheese helps keep the slices in place.  Give each tart a giant sprinkle of kosher salt, a ton of ground black pepper, and a little drizzle of olive oil, and you're nearly ready to go.



see the salt and pepper? Don't forget that.

Half the time I do anything with puff pastry, I forget to do the egg wash, which makes the pastry all shiny and pretty.  Sometimes if I remember, I do a halfhearted wash with some milk or half and half, which isn't a bad second option.  But this time, THIS TIME, I remembered!  I beat the shit out of an egg with a splash of water, and used a wee little silicone pastry brush (from sur la table, love this thing), to brush it on the pastry before baking.



The tarts cooked at 400 degrees for about 30-35 minutes, until dark golden brown.  Don't skimp on the cooking time.  Light brown is bullshit.  Go for the dark golden brown like a boss.

mmm pastry.

Eat warm, or room temp. Both are good. But do it quick: the only caveat for these savory zucchini/tomato/squash tarts is that they don't keep well.  They're a eat right now and don't wait until tomorrow kind of thing.  The pastry gets soggy and chewy after a stay in the fridge.  But that's ok, because honestly, if you can not eat all of them in one sitting, you are a far better person than me.  (And also crazy, just saying.)


SQUARSH! (which is what my dad always says, and I totally just realized now that it's him doing a bad Philly accent while saying it. Der.)

We have a lot of it right now, mostly because while the CSA keeps on a coming with summer squash and zucchini we are slacking hard at keeping up.  Mostly because no one in my house loves squarsh the way some people love squarsh.  I mean, it's fine, but it's certainly not my go to summer veg for anything.  Which means that the lovely squashes and zucchinis lie waiting in the crisper drawer until they turn gross and go to live with Jesus in the compost pile. 

Though because of this, I've got three solid options for ways to use up a ton of zucchini or summer squash!  Two are tried and true by yours truly, and one is a Julia Child recipe and never doubt the Julia, my friends. NEVER.


Zucchini Spread

AKA CRACK.  This is the shit, yo.  It's so so good, and so so simple.  Essentially, slow poach zucchini and/or squash in butter and oil with garlic.  Then eat it all on crusty bread or crackers. Or on toasted multigrain bread with tomato and salt and pepper with a plop of fresh ricotta.  Crap, now I'm hungry.

  • 3-5 zucchini or squash, or a mix thereof, washed and cubed
  • 4-6 smashed garlic cloves
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • pepper

Place a medium heavy saucepan on medium heat, and melt the olive oil and butter together.  Before it starts to sizzle, throw in the garlic and zucchini/squash cubes.  Give a stir, cover and cook on medium low for about 15 minutes or until the zucchini has started to soften.

Reduce the heat to very very low, and continue to cook, stirring pretty often.  You want to melt the zucchini into a spread by cooking out most of the liquid without creating mush.  If it starts to brown, add a bit of water (or white wine).  It should take about an hour to essentially make the zucchini butter.

Can eat it warm, room temp or cold. It'll keep for about a week in the fridge, but also freezes really well.  Can also use it as a tart filling, by spreading on defrosted puff pastry, and folding over the edges, then baking.  

Next up? 

Corn and Zucchini Saute

I grabbed this from a Fine Cooking article years ago, and never looked back.  They had some other options for sautes in there, but this was by far the tastiest. I've tweaked it a bit as I've gone along to better suit my tastes.  While the recipe calls for raw corn cut off the cob, I've also used leftover grilled or steamed corn (cut off the cob), and in a pinch frozen corn. It scales up easily as well, so I've often doubled the amount of zucchini with no problems.

  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1-1/2 cups small-diced sweet onion, (or half a large onion). Regular onion is also fine
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt; more to taste
  • 1-1/4 cups small-diced zucchini (or more--anywhere from 1 medium on up)
  • 2 slightly heaping cups fresh corn kernels (from 4 medium ears), or from leftover cooked on the cob
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • Scant 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • Scant 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 2 to 3 Tbs. chopped fresh mint (optional, I never have it)
  • One-quarter lemon, or splash of lemon juice
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Melt 1 tbsp butter with the olive oil in a large straight sided saute pan or dutch oven over medium low. Add the onions and 1/2 tsp of the salt and cook, stirring occasionally until the onions are soft and translucent--abt 5 minutes. Crank the heat a bit and cook a little longer until the onions are light gold and shrunken.

Add the other 1 tbsp butter and the zucchini.  Cook over medium, stirring occasionally until the zucchini is also slightly shrunken and nearly tender (abt 3 minutes).  Add the corn, the garlic and the rest of the salt.  Cook, stirring frequently, and scraping up the bottom of the pan until corn is tender.  Add in the cumin and coriander and cook for another 30 seconds or so. 

Off heat, add mint, if using, pepper, and a solid squeeze of lemon juice.  Give it another stir and let sit for a few minutes for the moisture of the veg to soften the brown stuff on the bottom of the pan.  Scrape it up and stir again, taste for salt/pepper/lemon.  

And third, via Food52 is

Julia Child's Zucchini Tian.

  • 2 to 2 1/2 pounds zucchini
  • 1/2 cup plain, raw, untreated white rice
  • cup minced onions
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • large cloves garlic, mashed or finely minced
  • tablespoons flour
  • About 2 1/2 cups warm liquid: zucchini juices plus milk, heated gently in a pan so as not to curdle
  • About 2/3 cups grated Parmesan cheese (save 2 tablespoons for later)
  • Salt and pepper
  • A heavily buttered 6- to 8-cup, flameproof baking and serving dish about 1 1/2 inches deep
  • tablespoons olive oil

coarsely grate the zucchini or squash, and place in a colander set over a bowl. For each pound/2 cups of grated squash, toss with 1 tsp of salt.  Let the squash drain for 3-4 minutes--do not throw out the veg water!

Just before cooking squeeze a handful dry over the bowl and taste. If it's too salty, give it a quick rinse and taste again.  Squeeze gently by handfuls, letting the juice run back into the bowl. Dry on paper towels.

Drop the rice into boiling salted water, and boil exactly 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a large frying pan, cook the onions in oil about 8-10 minutes until tender and translucent. Raise the heat slightly and stir until lightly browned.  Stir in the grated and dried zucchini and garlic. Toss until almost tender.  Sprinkle in the flour and stir over moderate heat about 2 minutes.  Take off heat.

Gradually stir in 2 1/2 c. warm liquid (zucchini juice plus milk).  Make sure the flour is well blended and smooth.

Return to med high heat and bring to the simmer, stirring.  Remove from the heat and stir in the blanched rice and all but 2 tbsp of the cheese.  Taste for seasoning and turn into a buttered baking dish. Scatter the rest of the cheese on top, and drizzle the olive oil over the cheese.  

Bake at 425 degrees until it bubbles and the top is nicely browned.  The rice should absorb all the liquid.

fruit cake

Not like, the gross, heavy, holiday fruit cake of December-times.  But a delicious, light, buttery tea cake dotted with fruit (plums, usually).

mmm cake.

Once again, this comes from attempting to use up the CSA's bounty--in this case the fruit share of the CSA.  The problem here, really, is that the man I married doesn't like warm or cooked fruit.  Because . . . um . . .  Ugh, forget it. I HAVE NO IDEA HOW ANYONE COULD NOT LIKE FRUIT DESSERTS. Specific kinds of fruit? Sure, not a problem. Hate on cherries all you want or whatever.  But ALL FRUIT desserts?  Ugh.  


And of course, the biggest little is ALSO not a fan of the fruit desserts.  I am holding out hope for the little one, still.


We had a ton of plums coming our way from the CSA, as per usual.  The biggest little won't eat them straight, and the littlest little only wanted whole plums (which, since these were the tiny sugar plums are like large cherries, with stones.  All kinds of choking hazards), and then would only take one bite.  Sigh. 

I ate a bunch, I gave a ton to our sitter, and then I did what I always do when faced with a cooking dilemma: searched Smitten Kitchen for "plums".  Let me tell you, Deb knows her cooked fruit desserts (BECAUSE SHE IS A SANE MEMBER OF SOCIETY, AHEM, FAMILY MEMBERS WHO SHALL REMAIN NAMELESS.  Also one day I will post about the apple cake recipe from smitten kitchen, which SHOCKINGLY, JBB will eat). Because what I wound up making was this, purple plum torte.  

Originally published in the New York Times by Marion Burros, and then republished by popular demand in the fantastic and highly recommended New York Times Essential Cookbook (affiliate link), edited by the talented Amanda Hesser of Food52 amazingness, it's essentially a very simple butter tea cake (lighter than a pound cake), with halved plums popped on top and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.  The plums sink, the cake rises, and you wind up with a delicious fruit-studded cake that is addictive, moist, and keeps REALLY well.  

Plus, to better to suit my needs? The amount of fruit is adaptable and the recipe is easily memorized. I am nothing if not lazy.  Too lazy to even look up a recipe more than once.

Don't they look so pretty? This isn't all of them.

And then. AND THEN.  Apricots showed up.  A lot of them. And I was flummoxed.  Because while I love dried apricots, they are not my most favorite fruit to eat out of hand.  The littlest little out and out rejected it with a big fat "NO," and a stomping off. I'm not a big jam maker, and while we did have a lot of apricots, we didn't quite have enough to warrant that sort of project.  And so they sat for a few days, slowing growing riper and riper, edging toward overripe. And if no one would eat them, they'd be wasted.


And so, with little left to lose, I figured I'd mess with perfection, and tweak the plum cake recipe.  Cause really, cake plus stone fruit, right?  I mean, I could imagine the cake with berries or peaches super easily.  Why not apricots?

But it called for a few more tweaks.  First, I was almost out of sugar, having made the cake a few times.  I did, however, have some leftover maple sugar that just wasn't getting used up.  Maple sugar to me often feels a bit sweeter than the equivalent amount of granulated sugar, so I eased off of the amount slightly.  

Lazy.  And handy!

Second, my previous plum cake was still cooling, and occupying my springform pan, so another pan needed to be found.  9" cake pan, lined with foil. Did I mention the cake freezes beautifully after baking, when wrapped in tin foil and popped into a ziploc? I was going to wrap the sucker up in the foil ANYWAY, so why not line the pan with it first, to make it easier to yank that sucker out of a regular cake pan and have the wrapping all ready to go right there?

(Yes, I did make two of these cakes one right after the other.  I had to finish up the rest of the plums, the mixer was out,  and the butter was already softened and room temp and I'm not about let THAT go to waste you monsters.  Plus the littlest little yelled at me because there was no cake and damnit, he wanted CAKE.  And trains.  And shiny things. And OOOH! A car! A car!  I digress...)

The process for the cake is quite simple, and though I used a kitchenaid, you don't need to use a mixer for it if you don't have one.  Just be sure your butter is room temp, to make things easier on your mixin' arm while creaming the sugar and butter.

First, the butter and sugar(s) are creamed together until light and fluffy.  Because the maple sugar is a bit grainer and slower to dissolve than regular granulated sugar, I followed a tip I picked up from the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook, and let the mixer go for a bit longer than normal to really allow the sugar to fully incorporate and dissolve into the butter.

action shot!

While the mixer is creaming things, measure out your dry ingredients--flour, baking powder and a giant pinch of salt.  I always like to measure my flour with a kitchen scale because a) it's more accurate, b) it's a ton easier to just scoop into a container that's easy to pour from until you hit a number on the scale, c) if you are measuring more than one thing, all you need to do is tare/zero out the scale, and continue measuring ALL IN THE SAME BOWL.  Once again, it all comes down to laziness. I weighed my dry ingredients into a glass measuring cup (which DO NOT measure dry ingredients with a measuring cup for liquids, you will be WAY off the amounts.  Unless you're using a scale), gave it a stir with a fork instead of sifting or whisking.

Add your eggs to the butter and sugar, mix until incorporated, dump in the dry ingredients and stir just til mixed. Dump batter into the pan, and arrange the fruit on top.  Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar--I used vanilla sugar cause why not?-- and a bit of lemon juice and into the oven it goes for 45 minutes or so.  Less than 15 minutes prep from the start of cutting the fruit. My kind of cake.

so pretty! pre-sprinkling with cinnamon sugar.

The actual recipe with amounts and the like is here:

Maple Apricot Tea Cake

a variation on the famous plum cake. Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, The New York Times Essential Cookbook, and others.

  • 1 cup (125 g.) all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 BIG pinch salt
  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons, or 1 stick) butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus 1-2 teaspoons for sprinkling
  • 1/4 cup maple sugar (brown sugar would also be great here--if using brown or white sugar, increase amount to 1/2 cup)
  • 2 eggs
  • 8-12 small apricots, halved and pitted. Or a little less than 1 pound fruit, halved.
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Fetch a 9" springform pan, or if desired line a 9" pan (springform, per recipe, or regular cake pan) with foil. If using a regular cake pan, LINE THE PAN or you won't be able to get the cake out nicely. I sprayed with baking spray, just in case, but it's not necessary.

In a small bowl (or large measuring cup--see above) stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.  In a mixer, cream the softened butter and granulated and maple sugars until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Lower the speed, and add in the eggs, mixing to incorporate.  

Stir in the dry ingredients, just until incorporated.  Give the batter a stir by hand, and scrape into prepared pan, smoothing the top.  Set the halved fruit, skin side up, on top of the batter.  Sprinkle the fruit with the cinnamon, then the reserved 1-2 tsp of sugar (if your fruit is tart or not fully ripe, use the larger amount), and then sprinkle the lemon juice on top.

Bake for 40-50 minutes, until golden and a toothpick or skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.  Aim for batter, not fruit when testing. Let cool completely in the pan, then remove.  

Better the second day, keeps well covered at room temp.  To freeze, wrap with foil and place in a gallon ziploc bag. 

Adventures in the CSA! Cauliflower

I know I am not the first, nor will I be the last, to write about the magic of roasted cauliflower.  Why? Because it is the SHIT, man.  I could eat a whole head of roasted cauliflower and make myself ill (knowledge born from experience, my friends)--it's crunchy and savory and so so much better than any other form of cooking the veg.

My CSA delivered a great looking cauliflower head, with tinges of purple.  Not too big, thankfully saving myself from myself.

I snapped the leaves off the head, then sliced the florets off the stalk.  Then I sliced the florets themselves into thin-ish slices/crumbly pieces, dumped all of that onto a sheet pan, and doused with a hearty douse of olive oil.  Normally, I would have peeled a few cloves of garlic, left them whole and dropped them in there too. Several BIG sprinkles of kosher salt later and a good toss later, voila:

purply cauliflower about to be delicious purply cauliflower

You want the veg in a single layer, for the most part. Technically, the picture above is a bit crowded, but the cauliflower shrinks substantially as it roasts so I wasn't too worried.  If you get the pan too crowded, or the veg not in a single layer, everything will steam and not brown the way you want it too.  Which is a bummer to say the least.  

Pop it into a 450 degree oven for 30-40 minutes or so, stirring things up every 10 to 15 minutes, or until you get this:

mmm, roasty. (also, see what I mean about shrinkage?)

See that brown? The color on the cauliflower? That's the minimum of what you want.  Honestly, I could leave that pan in the oven for another 5 minutes or so and still be just fine.  (DO AS I SAY NOT AS I DO--need I remind you of the clafoutis?)

If after 30-35 minutes your cauliflower is only slightly golden brown, give it another stir, and LEAVE IT IN THE OVEN.  Roasted vegetables aren't just "cooked through" to be edible, they're browned and nutty and delicious when they're dark brown (but not burnt!). Also, don't forget the salt.  It's not just flavor, it helps draw the moisture out of the veg, which evaporates in the hot oven and speeds up the caramelization and browning.  Plus it's salt.

It is SO GOOD, you guys. SO GOOD.  I ate about half of it before I finished up the rest of the dish (caramelized onions--in the background there--sauteed zucchini noodles, goat cheese, roasted cauliflower, and butter).

Also, this is a default cooking method for veg for me, and has been for years.  Carrots are CRACK cooked like this. CRACK. 

Strawberry season

Yesterday, we got two boxes of strawberries in our csa share. You guys they are so good. There's nothing like truly ripe strawberries that are red all the way through.

bowl 'o berries

I love strawberry season. But it doesn't last long, and neither do the berries once they're in my house. While the biggest little isn't the fruit fanatic that the littlest little is, both kids will eat strawberries until they turn into one. 

The problem is that berries, especially the ripe ones, are so fragile and spoil quickly. and because I am a hoarder, and want to eat all the berries when they're around, keeping them from getting gross before I can snarf them down can be tricky. 

There are a ton of articles about how to keep your strawberries for longer, and BELIEVE ME I've read them all.  Here's what works for me. HOT water (or vinegar water), and perfectly dry berries before stashing in the fridge.

Wash the berries in the hottest water you can get from the tap. Or, wash the berries in vinegar water. OR, wash the berries in HOT vinegar water.  Ditch any berries that have any mushy spots (or, realistically, carve out the mushy spots and eat those berries RIGHT NOW), and any signs of mold (don't eat these). Then make sure they're all 100% dry before putting them in the fridge. 

To wash in hot water, you can either fill the sink with the hottest water you can stand, then let the berries sit for a few minutes in the hot water.  Or, depending on the cleanliness of your sink, put them in a colander or strainer in a SINGLE LAYER, then rinse with the hottest water you can stand. It's a bit of a pain in the ass to place each berry in a single layer, but you need to sort through them anyway to ditch the gross ones, right? Then pat them dry on the dish towel or if you could fit your whole batch in the colander in a single layer, just let them dry there.  

To use vinegar water, fill the sink with water, and throw in a solid splash of white vinegar.  Let the berries soak for a few minutes.  Fish them out and let them dry or pat them dry.  And same thing for hot vinegar water--hot water in the sink with vinegar.

The hot water and vinegar will help kill the stuff on the berries that'll make 'em go bad.  Keeping the berries dry keeps them from rotting in the fridge.  I also don't stack them too high, because then the ones on the bottom get smooshed.

Next up? HOW TO EAT THEM.  Other than, you know, cramming them in your face hole. Which also works. 

It's not easy being green--keeping up with the CSA

(Could I resist that headline? No, no I could not.)

We are members of our local CSA--that's Community Supported Agriculture, aka when you pay a farmer in the winter/spring and get shares of the veg/fruit/etc. that he or she grows over the course of the season.  Our local CSA is awesome, and has a fantastic farmer at the helm of the food.  There's also a separate fruit share--POUNDS AND POUNDS OF PEACHES PEOPLE!--eggs, chicken, the whole nine yards.

Anyway, one of the blessings and the curses of belonging to a CSA is figuring out how to cook and eat truly seasonally.  And because we are in New Jersey, and not like Portland or the Bay area where temperate climate means year round growing seasons, almost, our season runs from June through November.

And it also means a shit-ton of greens at the beginning and end of the seasons.  (Did I mention the BUCKETS of Jersey tomatoes in August? Oh wait, I did not, because it's not nice to make people jealous on purpose.)

I love me a good salad, but I am also lazy and fickle when it comes to planning my dinner. And, dude, keeping up with things like a CSA is not my strong suit, I am the first to admit. So JBB and I have figured out a few ways to manage our CSA share, especially when the CSA share consists of like 6 bunches of different kinds of lettuce. The first principle is one that food writer Tamar Adler helped popularize recently with her book, An Everlasting Meal (not only is that an affiliate link, but I went to college with her. Different years though.), and that is to prep and process food when you get it. That way when you go to make a meal, everything is ready for you.  25 minutes one day gets you set for the rest of the week, and takes making a salad from a pain in the ass production to a quick solution for a meal.

Once a week, when we get the CSA pick up, we "process" the greens and wash them all at once, and store them, ready to go, in the fridge. 

Here we take a page from Alton Brown's book (show, really), and put Science to Work! We always try to wash the fragile greens like lettuce and arugula and the like right away, since they're leaves, they wilt, and when they get gross they stink.

Fill a sink with cold water, tear the leaves off the core of the head of lettuce (don't cut! Cut edges brown), and throw them in the cold water. Completely submerge them and swish them around a bit.  If they're at all wilted, let them sit in the cold water for a while. The water's not going to hurt the greens at all, so be lazy and let 'em soak.

big sink o greens

big sink o greens

Do you have a salad spinner? WHY NOT? They're awesome for this thing, though a pain in the ass to store, but they do double as a nifty Wheel of Death for Hot Wheels cars, as well as a lesson in centrifugal force, so there's that.


Ours is Oxo (affiliate link), but there are a ton out there that are good.  I prefer the pump kind with a brake to the pull-string kind.  Though growing up, we totally had the pull string one, which was super entertaining when you're eight. Which might be why I now prefer the pump kind, since now I'm the grown up and have to clean up after the designated spinner.

Salad spinners are great, though, for real.  I highly reccomend them.  In a pinch you can suck it up with a clean non-terry dishtowel or pillowcase, but the spinner is the easiest. Swish the leaves again in the water, and DON'T DRAIN. Just gently lift out a handful or two of just leaves.  Shake off some of the water, and toss them into the salad spinner.  

handful o greens

Don't try to pack in all your lettuce at once.  The leaves need some room for centrifugal force to work its magic, fling the water off the leaves, and get 'em dry. (If you are using a dish towel, lay the wet leaves on the towel and gently pat dry.  If you are using a pillowcase, stick the leaves inside the pillowcase, hold the open end tighly closed and swing that sucker around in a circle, without knocking your shit off the walls. THAT'S why I have a salad spinner.)

Keep going, drying off all your leaves. When you're done, and left with a sink full of water, check out the bottom and look at all that crud! Satisfying, no?

big sink o dirt

Using all your lettuce right away? Good on ya, you are ready to go. More likely than not, you'll be hitting a week where you have more lettuce than you can eat that day. This is the trick to keeping things fresh and crisp for days.  Grab a stretch of paper towels, or a clean, dry, non-fuzzy dish towel and lay it out flat in front of you.  Spread your leaves out in a single layer (mostly single layer, I fudge it a lot).

big paper towel o greens.  note the salad spinner in the background.

Roll up the towel loosely, like a jelly roll, and pop the roll into a big ziploc bag. Press out some of the air, and boom into the fridge.

The towels absorb any extra moisture from the greens, and then will release it back to them so they don't wilt.  Don't press all the air out of the bag, because the greens will still be respirating--exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide--as they age. Also, to keep waste to a minimum, we get the 2 gallon size of ziplocs so we fit more than one head/roll of lettuce in there. We also reuse the bags (and sometimes the paper towels, dried) for the next week's greens.   

big jelly roll o greens

 I don't bother doing the full jelly roll with hardier greens like kale or swiss chard.  Those are sturdy enough to last just fine once washed and dried.  But the lettuces? This jelly roll trick is effing MAGIC.  Greens, even fragile ones, will last a full week, or longer. 

Next installment? We'll talk big salad for the week.