Italian Prune Plums Take Two

img_2167This cake just oozes plums. Unlike the polenta pound cake where the plums are a delicious accent, here the plums are the star. I took Deb Perelman’s mom’s apple cake recipe and adapted it slightly to make this luscious, moist, plummy cake. You can’t go wrong with either plum cake. Next year – plum frangiapane tart!

Italian Prune Plum Cake adapted from Deb Perelman’s Mon’s Apple Cake

Yield: 1 large cake that serves 12 to 16

Ingredients

3 pounds of Italian prune plums

1 rounded Tablespoon ground cinnamon

2 cups plus 5 Tablespoons of granulated sugar

2.75 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1 Tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

1 cup Canola oil

1/4 cup vanilla soy milk (or other milk)

2.5 teaspoons vanilla bean paste

4 large eggs

1 generous cup chopped walnuts

1 generous Tablespoon Cognac or other brandy

Zest of one lemon

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Using a non-stick spray with flour, generously spray a 10 inch tube pan with straight sides.
  2. Halve, pit and chop the plums into about 12 pieces. Toss them with the cinnamon and 5 Tablespoons of the sugar and set them aside.
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, soy milk, remaining 2 cups of sugar, vanilla bean paste and the eggs.
  4. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ones,scraping down the bowl. Stir in the walnuts.
  5. Pour and spread about half of the batter into the prepared tub pan. Spread half of the plums on top of the batter. Pour and spread the remaining batter over the plums and then the remaining plums over the batter, gently pressing down on the plums.
  6. Bake for about 1 hour and 50 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Ovens vary so start checking the cake after 1.5 hours.When ready, remove the pan to a rack to cool completely. Then flip the cake out onto the rack and using a plate, flip the cake again so the plums are now on top. When ready to serve, you can dust with confectioner’s sugar if you like. It’s pretty, but not necessary. The plums will have a wonderful tart/sweet plummy taste and the cake towards the top will almost have a slight custardy texture. The cake will keep well for several days if wrapped properly or if kept under a cake dome. Treat yourself! They are so pretty and actually useful.

Apple Cake – Take 2

apple cake

Frances and I always tell each other what we are making and recipes that we discovered. We send each other photos and our respective husbands drool. So when I heard that Frances was making an apple cake for the holidays, I decided that it sounded like a good idea. Mine is adapted from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman. Frances turned me on to her website about a year ago and she is often a fun read for me when work is less than exciting. I have to admit that I prefer reading her blog than making her recipes, but I already knew that Frances had made this cake with great success. Since I am almost incapable of NOT changing a recipe, I made several tweaks – and one BIG mistake, which turned out to be actually quite a good discovery. Here is my version.

Apple Cake – adapted from Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Yield: 12 – 16 servings

Ingredients

6 baking apples like MacIntosh, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2 to 3/4 inch cubes ( I happened to be at the Farmer’s Market, so was able to purchase some heirloom baking variety apple to use)

1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon

2 cups plus 5 Tablespoons granulated sugar (See NOTE below. You can use less sugar if you want. I would think that 1.5 cups is perfect plus the 5 Tablespoons)

2.5 cups all purpose unbleached flour

1/4 cup toasted wheat germ (I like Kretschmer’s)

1 Tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

1 cup Canola oil

1/4 cup orange juice

2.5 teaspoons vanilla bean paste

2 Tablespoons brandy or cognac

Zest of one orange

4 large eggs

1 cup walnuts, chopped

Confectioner’s sugar for sifting over the top

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and generously butter or coat with nonstick spray a 10 inch tube pan with straight sides (think Angel Food cake pan).
  2. Peel, core and chop the apples and toss them with the cinnamon and 5 Tablespoons of the granulated sugar. Add the orange zest.
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Then add the wheat germ, which won’t go through the sifter. In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, orange juice, remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, vanilla bean paste, brandy and eggs.
  4. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ones, scraping down the bowl to make sure that everything is thoroughly combined. Stir in the walnuts.
  5. Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan. Spread half of the apple chunks over it. Pour the remaining batter over the apples and arrange the remaining apples on top. Bake for about 1.5 hours or until the tester comes out clean. You can learn to smell when baked goods are ready. Set your timer, but try seeing if you can smell when the cake is done. It’s a good skill to learn because every oven is different and timing can be off.
  6. When the cake is finished, transfer it to a rack to cool completely. When it is completely cool you can flip it out of the pan and then over onto a serving platter with the apples facing down. Dust with confectioner’s sugar. This cake will get moister as it ages. It will last for about 3 days if covered.

NOTE: I have a confession to make. I got distracted when I was making the cake and only realized AFTER I had put everything nicely into the pan that I had forgotten to add the 2 cups of sugar to the batter. I didn’t panic and I didn’t want to lose the good ingredients or time I had already put into it. I suppose I could have taken everything out of the pan and mixed the apples through the cake along with the sugar, but I didn’t. I took 1/4 cup of sugar and evenly poured it over the top layer of apples. I then hoped for the best. The result was delicious apple bread. There was extra sweetness from the confectioners sugar on top. Cake would need to be somewhat sweeter in my opinion, but the texture and look was wonderful. My husband had the great idea of using Frances’ baked French toast recipe using the apple cake in place of the challah and adding 1/2 cup of raisins (no blueberries) to the mix. The point is, stuff happens – even with people who cook and bake a LOT. Don’t panic – think it through. Sometimes the experiment is great – sometimes not.

slice of apple cake

Whole Wheat Apple Cake

There’s something about adding whole wheat to cakes and cookies that always make them seem “healthier.”  If nothing else, it tends to add a subtle textural difference to the average cake.

_MG_5955

I came across this recipe from the same book that the Siniyeh came from as I wanted to make something with apples for the holidays.  This was before we went apple picking, but we were able to find some beautiful apples at the farmer’s market that I lugged on the subway home, just to make sure this turned out right!

_MG_5951

I wish I could bake cakes and cookies more, but as there are only two of us to consume them, we’ve been trying to pace our sweets.  I’ve always loved cooking and baking with apples, and it’s fun to have an excuse to look for new, inventive ways to use apples in a sweet dish.  I did substitute the EVOO for the canola oil, and it turned out delicious all the same!

This was great because I didn’t need to make a separate crust or peel the apples, and I was able to throw it together in a jiffy.  We drizzled some honey on the slices, and it was perfection.

Ingredients

  • 4 medium Golden Delicious (or any good baking apple) apples
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup EVOO
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  • Honey, for drizzling (optional)

Directions

  1. Grease a 12 cup Bundt pan or tube pan well.  Coarsley chop the apples into 1/2″ pieces.  (Not necessary to peel the apples).  Preheat the oven for 350 degrees.
  2. Put the eggs, sugar, brown sugar, and oil into a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light.  Beat in the vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg.  Mix in the all-purpose and whole wheat flours and baking soda until just combined.  Batter will be very thick.
  3. Stir in the fruits and nuts by hand.
  4. Turn out the batter into the prepared pan, and bake at 350 degrees for about 80-90 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. Cool on a pan on a rack for 15 minutes, then turn the cake out of the pan to cool completely on a wire rack.
  6. Serve with drizzled honey or sprinkling of confectioner’s sugar.

Adapted from The New Jewish Holiday Cookbook by Gloria Kaufer Greene

Greek Red Lentil Soup

finished red lentil soupThe days are so changeable now. One day its 90 and humid and the next it’s in the 60s. Soup is the perfect meal for days like that and this simple, and very flavorful Greek red lentil soup is vegan and totally satisfying. However, if you wish to add some sausage to it or a dollop of Greek yogurt when serving it, I certainly won’t complain. All this needs is good bread and a simple green salad. This soup is so quick and delicious, I have even made it before leaving the house for work! What’s not to love? Afterall, Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of these delicious lentils.

Greek Red Lentil Soup adapted from soup served at George’s Restaurant in Astoria, NY

Yield: 6 -8 first course servings or 4 dinner servings

Ingredients:

2 Tablespoons EVOO

1 large onion, chopped (1 cup)

2-3 cloves of garlic, minced

Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste

2 carrots diced or cut into rounds about 1/8 inch thick (about 1 cup)

2 stalks celery, sliced thinly or diced (about 1 cup)

4 cups vegetable stock or chicken stock

1 cup water

2 bay leaves

1.5 cups dried red lentils, picked through and rinsed (try to buy the really small red lentils, although either large or small will work) dried red lentils

1 28 ounce can or 1 large box of Pomi chopped tomatoes, with the liquid

1 teaspoon dried basil, crushed

1 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed

Fresh basil leaves or fresh thyme for serving (optional)

Directions:

  1. In a 5-6 quart pot with a lid, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until translucent – about 3 minutes
  2. Add the garlic, salt and pepper and saute for another 3 minutes, stirring occasionally (How much salt you use will depend on several factors: tomatoes and celery are high in natural sodium and I use unsalted stock. I don’t like things heavily salted becasue I want to taste the food not the salt. However, your tastes may be different and you may use stock that is already salted. You can always add salt later.)
  3. Add the celery and carrot and saute for another 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. lentil soup stage 1
  4. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover the pot partially and simmer for 35 minutes, or until the lentils and vegetables are tender. Remove the bay leaves before serving.

NOTE: The soup is ready to go at this point, but if you are serving it as a first course to company and you want it to be a bit more elegant, take an immersion blender (thank you Matthew and Frances for that wonderful GIFT!) and puree the soup to the desired consistency. You can do this in a blender but make certain that the soup is cool and you do this in batches. I learned the hard way about the mess that blending hot soup can make. Garnish with fresh basil leaves or fresh thyme if you have it.

Lentil Salad with Raisins, Tomatoes and Tarragon

Lentil Raisin salad with tarragon

I absolutely love lentils – any lentils. The red ones or the tiny lentils de puy or even the lowly but versatile green lentil. I love them in salads and soups and mixed in pilaf. They are a wonderful source of protein, especially when eaten with whole grains.           Lentils uncooked

In Israel, every meal, including breakfast starts with salads – multiple salads. While this lentil salad doesn’t come directly from any particular cuisine, it is certainly inspired by Mediterranean cooking. If you can find fresh tarragon, I encourage you to use it. If not, this salad will still be delicious using only a good French dried Tarragon. it will lose a bit of its lustre if kept for a couple of days, but none of its taste or texture. It’s a great way to get children to eat this magical legume because of the raisins. Try it.                            raisins

Lentil Raisin Salad

Yileds: 6-8 generous servings

Ingredients:

1.25 cups dried green lentils

1 teaspoon dried tarragon

1 teaspoon salt

2 Tablespoons Fig Vinegar or white wine vinegar

1/4 cup EVOO

1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, quartered

1/2 of a small onion thinly sliced or chopped

1/2 cup raisins (dark, light or mixed)

1 Tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped or 1 additional teaspoon dried

Freshly cracked black pepper

Directions:

  1. After picking through the lentils to make sure that there are no tiny stones or grains, place them in a medium pot and cover with water by about 2 inches. Add the dried tarragon. I like to layer my seasonings so not only do I put tarragon into the mixed salad but I cook the lentils with tarragon. You can also add a little salt if you want but I don’t. Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat to a strong simmer and cookuncovered for about 18 minutes. Drain well and run cold water over the lentils to stop the cooking.
  2. While the lentils are cooking, prepare the other ingredients in a bowl and toss well. Add the lentils once they have cooled. Enjoy!Lentil raisin sald stage 1

Ratatouille Nicoise

RatatouilleIt always REALLY annoys me when a recipe calls for a little of this and a little of that. What am I supposed to do with the rest of the “this and that?” If you read my recipe for savory galette you would quickly realize that you have left-over zucchini and eggplant. Well who wants to waste great ingredients?

eggplants

This ratatouille recipe is the perfect answer. It’s so versatile and delicious that I make it even when I don’t have left-overs – just because! Ratatouille is a savory stew of vegetables and I have used it as a side to grilled meats, fish or an omelette. It makes a wonderful pasta sauce and if you dice the vegetables fairly small, it can make a wow appetizer by filling baked puff pastry cups with it (you might drain a bit of the liquid off when using it this way). It’s equally delicious hot or at room temperature so is a wonderful side to bring to picnics. It stores well in the fridge and actually intensifies in flavor after the first day. The following recipe is one I have been making for decades and I have no recollection of where it originated. I have tweaked it over the years as I do just about everything, but my apologies for not giving credit to whoever first came up with this. And while I do make this in the oven according to the recipe, in the summer when it is hot, I do it entirely on the stove so I don’t heat up the apartment. Truthfully, it’s just as good either way.

Ratatouille Nicoise                                             ratatouille2

Yields: About 10 cups

Ingredients:

1/2 cup EVOO

2 cups coarsely chopped onion

2 Tablespoons finely chopped garlic

about 1 pound eggplant, trimmed and cubed

2 sweet peppers, any color

6 slim zucchini, any color

1-2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon dried thyme

26.46 oz. Pomi tomatoes or 28 ounce can San Marzano tomatoes crushed or chopped, with liquid

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

1/8 teaspoon (or more if you like things very spicy) hot red pepper flakes (Optional)

About 24 imported black olives (pitted makes life easier, but you can put them in with pits – just warn your eaters!) (SEE NOTE)

About 24 imported green olives

2-3 Tablespoons capers

Salt and pepper to taste

One bunch finely chopped parsley

NOTE: Please buy the best olives you can and these days there is no excuse for using those tasteless olives in a can from California. I like the black oil-cured or Kalamatos olives and a variety of the green. If y ou don’t happen to live near a good source of olives, you can now purchase them online in vacuum-sealed bags, imported from Greece from Nuts.com – one of my favorite (and now Frances’) sources for nuts, dried fruits, spices and so much more.

Directions:

  1. Heat the EVOO in a large Dutch oven or heavy oven-proof pot. Add the onions and garlic and cook until they turn translucent.
  2. Add the eggplant and cook, stirring gently about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the sweet peppers and stir, cooking about 1 minute. Then add the zucchini and salt and pepper to taste. Go easy on the salt since you will be adding olives and capers which are both salty. Add the bay leaves and thyme and cook about 5 minutes more.
  4. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil and add the olives and parsley. Cover tightly and cook about 10 minutes.
  5. Bake uncovered in a preheated 350 degree F oven for about 30 minutes.

Get your Freekeh on – with this lemony, herbed salad

I love Mediterranean food and while I am an omnivore, I don’t actually eat a lot of meat and frequently make vegan meals or side dishes that serve as a great left-over lunch the next day. I have never met a legume or grain that I didn’t like and I’m always on the lookout for new recipes, especially those that use a lot of herbs.

I don’t remember how I first heard about the grain freekeh, but the name Market grains Israelintrigued me enough to learn a bit more about it and to find out where I could buy it. I already loved faro and wheat berries, so why not freekeh? As it turns out, freekeh is roasted green wheat. It has a wonderful nutty flavor and stands up well to salads or soups. It cooks up in about 35 minutes. I purchase mine through Nuts.com, a wonderful source for dried fruits, grains, spices and of course – nuts.

 

The following salad is adapted from one I found from Martha Rose Shulman. I have been making her vegetarian recipes for over 25 years and they have never failed me. While the beautiful fresh herbs may lose a little color by the second or third day, the flavor is just as wonderful. That assumes that you will actually have any left-overs. It’s that good!

Freekeh, Chickpea and Herb Salad

Yield: 6 servings as a side

Ingredients

  • 1 cup freekeh
  • ½ teaspoon salt, more to taste
  • ½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh mint
  • 1 cup thinly sliced celery, plus 3 tablespoons chopped leaves
  • 1 bunch scallions, finely chopped
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • juice of 3 lemons – more to taste
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin, more to taste
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 tablespoons EVOO

Preparation

  1. Heat a medium-size heavy saucepan over medium-high heat and add freekeh. Toast in the dry pan, shaking pan or stirring, until freekeh becomes fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Add 2 cups water and salt and bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 30 to 35 minutes or until water has been absorbed. Turn off heat and uncover. Place a clean dish towel over the pot and return lid. Let sit at least 10 minutes. Uncover and allow freekeh to cool another 10 minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, combine freekeh, chopped herbs, celery, scallions and chickpeas and toss together. In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, cumin, garlic, salt and olive oil; toss with salad. Taste and add more lemon juice if desired. Serve right away or let sit for up to 1 hour before serving.
  • Advance preparation: The salad is best served within a few hours of tossing with the dressing, when the herbs are their brightest, but it will keep for a few days in the refrigerator. The cooked freekeh will keep for 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator.