Emerald Beaut Plum Crumble

So, besides the salad already mentioned, here is where many of those green-skinned Emerald Beaut plums ended up. Surprise! They’re yellow inside! Don’t they look nearly like peaches, as yellow as they are? It’s only the lack of any red coloring around the pit cavity that gives them away as plums.

Chimp and I made a double batch – two 8×8 pans – of plum crumble at the start of the week; I took one of the pans down to the office on the day of a meeting and we kept the other one to enjoy ourselves.

This recipe became a major favorite of mine last summer, when we made at least four double recipes of it with large quantities of fruit left over from photo shoots. It’s adapted from the July/August 2006 Cook’s Illustrated, where it was originally a recipe for peach crumble (having tested multiple varieties of all three fruits in this recipe, sometimes in combination, I can vouch that plums work equally well, as do nectarines).

What I love about this recipe is that it makes a massive amount of topping – none of this little-bit-of-crispy-stuff-on-top-of-a-whole-lot-of-fruit problem. There is at least as much volume of crunchy, crumbly topping as fruit, and it’s like a miracle – you just pulse it up in the food processor, spread it out on a sheet to bake, and when it comes out, it’s made itself into all these little cookielike nuggets with bits of almonds in them. I have seriously considered just making the topping, rolling it out into shortbread cookies and forgoing the fruit altogether.

So there is a two-step baking process here – bake the topping, then place it on the fruit and bake the fruit – but it is entirely worth it. I use white whole wheat flour and I think the extra nuttiness makes for an even better end result than when I first made it with unbleached. After all, crumbles often have whole oats in them, so why not a whole-wheat flour?

We went ahead and peeled the plums on this occasion, but if you’re not fussy and the fruit isn’t fuzzy, I don’t think that’s even absolutely necessary.

Oh, and a tip – if you are baking and you find yourself with stone fruit that is clingstone, as we did on this occasion, don’t wrestle with trying to cut wedges off the pit. Instead, set the fruit on its stem end (on its head, basically) and cut down both sides of the pit to cut the cheeks off. Then cut off the other two sides that are left, then the little bit at the tip. You’ll lose a little bit that sticks to the pit, but that’s always the case with clingstone fruit, and cutting it that way is safer than trying to knife and extricate all those little wedges away from the pit while holding the slippery piece of fruit in one way or another.

Continue reading “Emerald Beaut Plum Crumble”

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What’s In the Box

This week we have:

Red La Soda Potatoes
Vine-Ripe Table Tomatoes
Todd’s Bartlett Pears (from Dan & Alice Todd of Todd’s Organic Orchards in Potter Valley – it’s near Ukiah – I had to look it up.)
Halperin’s Green Cabbage (from Michael Halperin in Hollister)
Sweet Spanish Peppers
Classic Globe Eggplant
Devine’s Cantaloupe (from Don Devine and Dave Wood in Coalinga)
Mendrin’s Yellow Onions (newly organic-certified neighbors of TD Willey in Madera)
Mediterranean Cucumbers

This will sure keep me busy. I have an accumulation of cucumbers again…I think something that takes raita and another batch of tabouli will be in order.

NYT Article “Trying to Connect the Dinner Plate to Climate Change”

Just wanted to take a moment to point out this article in the New York Times, which discusses animal rights groups making the most of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s report from last November that found that raising animals for meat contributes more to global warming than does transportation.  The report, "Livestock’s Long Shadow – Environmental Issues and Options," can be found via that link, along with a story summarizing it. 

The ecology of a plant-based diet has long been my major reason for eating herbivorously.  I think the report speaks for itself so I don’t have a lot of editorializing to do here – I’ll just say this: the great thing is that all our choices – whether they are absolutes, like being a vegetarian, being part of a compact or a non-car owner – or matters of degree, like the decision to choose meatless meals more frequently, buy less stuff, or ride a bike more often – make an impact. 

A Simple Little Summer Dinner


Part of what I love about cooking is attempting to answer the question, "What can I do with these ingredients?" in continually new and different ways.

When you eat strongly seasonally, you are almost forced to get better at painting with the colors you have, as there’s not as much cross-pollination to be done.  While asparagus might be nice with a glaze of fresh tomatoes, when there’s asparagus, there are no local tomatoes, and when there are tomatoes, there is no local asparagus.  So asparagus gets tossed with green garlic, and tomatoes, like these, get a partner of roasted onions.

It’s more challenging to come up with new answers to what’s for dinner with a smaller palette, but there’s a certain comfort to it too.  Once you’ve learned the rhythm of a place’s harvests, you come into the same progression every year, and the same items make their regular appearance and then disappearance at the same pace.

I find it tends to raise a little nostalgia – each food’s arrival makes me think of arrivals past: what I was doing last radish season, last cherry season, last tomato season, last pomegranate season – and how I and my life have changed in relation to each of those times.  It’s a bit like having two dozen New Years Days a year.

So what can be done with the same old tomatoes and onions, now that late summer is here?

This week, I had a pint of cherry tomatoes in the CSA box.  Their tart-sweetness is great for salads, but I especially love them rolled around in a hot pan with a little oil and then smashed a bit to release their juices.  They’re stronger-flavored than big tomatoes, and that plus their high skin-to-flesh ratio gives an unexpected flavor and texture to a cooked dish.

My inspiration for this dinner was a panir kebab I ate years ago at an Indian restaurant in Chicago.  While obviously there are no kebabs in sight here, I wanted to capture the flavor I remembered of flame-roasted onion and crispy-outside chewy-inside cheese seasoned at the table with fresh lemon.  I was also in the mood for curry spices, but not in the mood for something long-simmered – I wanted something very fresh-tasting.

So I broiled then roasted the onions, gently fried the panir (don’t try to speed it up by frying over a high heat – it’ll both stick and get tough – low and slow is the key to cooking cheese successfully), slumped the tomatoes in a little of the panir-frying oil along with some garlic, ginger, cumin and coriander, and finished it all with a generous squeeze of lemon juice and a hit of cilantro.

And not only was it good, it was a snap – it took me longer write this up than it did to cook it.    

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Red Leaf and Basil Salad with Emerald Beaut and Moyer Plums and a Fig-Balsamic Vinaigrette

As I have all these Emerald Beaut plums to enjoy, I thought I’d better get on to finding other ways to enjoy them besides out of hand as a snack.

So, as a result, here is a green salad with them, some Moyer plums, which are a purple-skinned and dark amber-fleshed prune-type (the elongated kind) and some ingredients from my little herb garden around the patio.

My basil went in late this year – early June, I think – but no matter, it’s August now and it’s lush and beautiful. I planted seven kinds, which is more than I can possibly use in the kitchen, but the joy is not just in eating it, but also in sweeping my hands across it and raising a delicious cloud of scent, or bringing a bouquet to a friend to enjoy, or just looking out the kitchen window at it.

This summer I planted Genovese, ruffled, purple, cinnamon, lemon, lime, and mini-basil. Though I’d grown some of these before, the lemon, lime and cinnamon were all first-timers for me this year. I’ll pass on the lemon next spring – it smells, in an unfortunate way, like lemon furniture polish – but the lime and cinnamon are definite keepers. I didn’t plant any Thai basil this year – I couldn’t find any seed as late as I got started – and I’ll definitely trade out the purple one I grew this year for that. The Thai had a far better flavor.

Anyhow, my thinking on this dish was that the sweet plums would like the herbacious anise notes of the multiple basils’ flavor, especially the cinnamon one, and would work well when married with a sweet dressing. I took cuttings from my Genovese, ruffled, purple and cinnamon basils for this salad.

My original inspiration, actually, was this Plum Caprese salad (and I have enough plums that I still might make that) but decided to take it in a green salad direction to use the lettuce I had at hand from our CSA box.

For the dressing, I threw caution (or at least the Proposition 65 warnings) to the wind and made a vinaigrette with some 10-year-old balsamic vinegar, sweetened with Black Mission figs (from Marchini Sisters at the farmers’ market) and with a touch of cinnamon and anise to match up with the basil. If I had had a shallot or two in the house, I might have added a sauteed shallot or two, but not having any, I made an allium-less dressing for once. I did garnish the salad with some garlic chive blossoms from the garden, though. They’re tiny and cute, but they’re like that little cartoon character that knocks the big guy flat – they pack a garlicky punch.

While I was working on this, I used one of my favorite dressing-making tips I learned more than a decade ago from my friend Ana, a CIA grad who is a dressing master (mistress?): when you’re tasting dressing as you’re making it, don’t taste it on a spoon – because you won’t be eating it from a spoon, will you? Dip a lettuce leaf (or whatever green or other item you’ll be using it on) and taste it that way. That’ll tell you what your end result will actually be like, and you won’t have one of those "but it tasted great in the kitchen" moments at the table.

And when all was said and done and it was plated, Chimp gave it all an enthusiastic review. On the Chimp Scale for Dressings, he said the fig balsamic ranks even with his longtime favorite Whole Foods Red Pepper Ranch. I thought that was high praise. I usually choose the dressing flavor, as I’m the one making it, and my favorites are garlic-herb-oil mixtures, but I should probably, to be fair, set aside my love for those once in a while and indulge his preference for a sweeter dressing more often.

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What You Missed at the Market

More late summer bounty today. There are still lots of tomatoes and peppers on offer. Michele of K.M.K. brought some green ones this week after I asked after them last week. I’m looking forward to some fried green tomatoes.

I picked up some of these gold ones from Il Giardino Organico for a change of pace.

Eggplant too, aplenty. It’s one of the prettiest vegetables; I should really try harder to like it.

These were on K.M.K. Farms’ table. Michele also has an all-white one that she often gets asked about while I’m standing there picking out my whatever. She describes it as having a mushroom-like flavor. Every time I hear that I think, “Ah, a vegetable I don’t like very well with the flavor of another vegetable I’m not particularly fond of.” But I should just buy some and try it – be open-minded about it. Maybe it’ll be the eggplant epiphany I didn’t know I’d been waiting for.

Moa’s Farm had bitter melon – it’s the bumpy looking vegetable in the middle. That’s another thing I should undertake one of these days – I have tons of recipes for it in my copious selection of Indian cookbooks – I should buy a couple and try out a recipe for it that sounds good.