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.

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Vegan Zucchini, Tomato & Onion Gratin

“Do you like zucchini?” my co-worker asked, peeking into my office.

“Of course!” I said.

She put the two globe zucchini she was carrying down on my desk.

“Are these from your mom’s garden?”


“Oh, they’re still warm!”

“She just picked them.”

“Thank you!”

I had to keep working, of course, but looking at the two of them sitting there, I couldn’t help but think about what to do with them. Later in the afternoon I popped out to her desk.

“How about a zucchini and tomato gratin? How does that sound? It’s pretty standard, but I think it’d still be good.”

“That sounds great. Do you need more?”

“Oh, no. I’ll just make a small one to start. I have a red onion – maybe with some onion too?”

She nodded in agreement. I nodded back.

Since today was Wednesday, I stopped by the farmer’s market to get tomatoes. I grabbed four of an heirloom type called Black Russian and headed home to do the assembly.

Well, the two zucchini and the four tomatoes was enough to make a 9×13 pan worth, and I think I could have spread the vegetables out on a jelly roll pan and done just as well. This may not be a true gratin – no breadcrumbs, no cheese – but the idea is there. If I did this again, I might add a couple cloves of finely minced garlic to the cornmeal mixture.

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Poblano Peppers with a Black Chickpea Filling

Looking at the picture, you might think that looks like a lot of work.

You would be correct. Stuffed peppers are a lot of work to do well.

They can be done poorly very easily: slap cooked rice and some other stuff, mostly tomato sauce, into a raw bell pepper with the top cut off; bake until listless and flabby. Remove from oven. Eat; regret eating.

A good stuffed pepper, on the other hand, needs to start out with a thin-skinned variety, needs roasting or frying to make its flesh savory and flavorful, careful work to open the peppers up, and a filling with some character to give the whole thing a reason to live.

Black chickpeas have that character. They’re truly nutty and have slightly tough skins that keep them from cooking to wan split starchiness, as regular chickpeas will if unattended. For that reason, they grind up well in bits once cooked, rather than easily becoming hummus. Their toothsome nature occurred to me as a good texture for this spot where ground meat is usually found.

When it gets hot in Fresno, and boy, is it getting hot in Fresno this week, I tend to turn to Mediterranean foods. I flipped through a few of my Greek cookbooks to get ideas for this recipe, and not having looked at them for a while, I remembered why they seem like such a good idea in the summer – all those cool flavors and vegetable salads.

So the filling is Mediterranean-influenced. Onions, both raw and cooked, make an appearance, as well as copious garlic, salty feta and olives, bright lemon juice and green notes from parsley and mint.

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Vegan Carrot Spice Cake

This started out as a riff on the famous Vegan Chocolate Cake, which I have helped to further the cause of but for which I can certainly not claim credit; it seems to have been circulating at least since WWII, long before there was a word “vegan.”

When my in-laws were here. I made a vegan spice cake by an old recipe I had that was taped inside a vintage cookbook I bought some years ago, and it didn’t come out as well as I remembered.

Having time to try again, I thought I’d apply the spicing from that failed cake to the method from the Vegan Chocolate Cake, replacing the white sugar with brown, the cocoa with spices, and adding raisins. I poured over orange juice instead of water as the liquid. It worked quite well, and was a hit with my mother-in-law, and even with Chimp the Raisin Hater.

It was a good riff, so I thought I’d see how far I could take it. I hardly ever make sweet stuff – don’t really think it’s helpful to have a big tempting pile of white flour and sugar product around, as it just tends to get eaten if it’s there, as in any house – but I wanted to see what would happen if I added some carrots. And almonds. And different spices with a slight Indian slant.

So this ended up as a vegan spice cake with carrots, raisins and almonds. It’s not actually a carrot-cake-tasting cake – one cup of carrots isn’t enough to make it truly carroty. The carrots are a background flavor instead of a predominant flavor. I might try it without carrots next time in order to get a more straightforwardly-flavored, less complex “plain” spice cake.

I have reduced the liquid in the recipe I give below slightly from what I did; I used one cup orange juice in the cake pictured, and it’s just a touch too moist in the middle. I’ve reduced the liquid in this recipe to three-quarters of a cup before, with good results, so I feel confident recommending that.

This would look nice in a shaped pan like a Bundt, but as this was my first attempt (and I was out of spray oil) I stuck with the easily-greaseable cake pan.

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Cheese Snacks

Yeah, not such a great picture, okay. I challenge you to take a good picture of crackers. Lining them up on their edges might be visually interesting, sure, but I don’t have that much time on my hands.

I’ve previously mentioned my particular tastes as a child – no butter is one, no bland cheese another. I only liked very sharp cheeses. I was particular when it came to cheese snacks, too – I would eat regular Chee-tos, but not cheese curls or cheese puffs. They tasted different.

I still like sharp cheeses best.

Now, it’s not unusual for kids to be hypersensitive to tastes and textures like this – I had one cousin who, growing up, would eat only one kind – and I mean only one flavor of only one brand – of salad dressing. My aunt brought it with them when they traveled on at least a couple occasions.

Chee-tos were a particular favorite of mine, and I often look longingly at the 365 Cheese Curls (Seven servings? Ha!) when I walk by them, though I very seldom purchase them. It’s been a couple years. They taste like I remember Chee-tos tasting when I was small, something I can’t say for Cheez-Its, which I last had while working for Big Midwestern Cereal Company a few years ago. They tasted bland and uninteresting compared to how I remembered them as a kid. Maybe the formula had changed; maybe I had. I don’t know how I’d like regular Chee-tos now; the ingredients list seems to have expanded significantly from my memory, and I don’t really want to get involved with MSG and artificial color.

There’s no need to, though, if you’re feeling cheesy (sorry). About ten years ago, I found out about Che-Cri, rich, delicate puff pastry crackers from Holland that are made mostly of Gouda cheese and butter, with just enough flour to hold them together. I don’t currently have a source for them, which is probably for the better.

However, I do have a recipe for cheese pennies, which are the next best thing to Che-Cri, as you can make them at home. Though they’re not puff pastry, the ratio of cheese and butter to flour seems about the same as Che-Cri.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

1 stick butter
1/2 lb. sharp cheese
1 1/2 c. flour
1/4 t. salt
1/2 t. cayenne pepper
sesame seeds (optional)

Place all ingredients except sesame seeds in the bowl of a food processor. Process, pulsing, until the mixture comes together. Remove from bowl and form into logs of 1 in. diameter. Roll in sesame seeds. Place in freezer for 30 minutes. Cut 1/4 in. pennies and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Little space is needed if the logs are properly chilled – they will not spread far. Bake until lightly browned, about 12-15 minutes, watching carefully.

Roasted Tofu and Mushrooms

Oh yeah, doesn’t that sound awesome?

Really, if you’ve never liked tofu, this is a good place to start. The time in the oven does away with the squishy cloudlike blandness, reducing the tofu to crispy-edged little hunks of protein and the mushrooms to an intensely flavored chewy adjunct. It really is good.

As a bonus, once the initial chopping is done, this dish requires very little tending – it goes in the oven and requires only an occasional stir.

This is a fine thing to toss with just about any stir-fry. The reason for doing it in the oven is that browning tofu in a pan takes a lot of time, attention, and oil, and adds enormously to the time it takes to get a stir-fry together. If you can do the tofu part in the oven, where it can tend itself, everything else goes much easier. At the end, serve yourself your rice, stir-fry, and then some tofu and mushrooms on top.

There is garlic powder in this recipe, which I hardly ever use – I have it on hand for garlic bread. Sure, I love bruschetta with fresh garlic rubbed across its surface, but I also like the more pedestrian butter and garlic salt broiled until bubbling. The reason it’s here is because fresh garlic would scorch, and the idea of the dish is really more in line with that broiled garlic bread. You could make this without the garlic powder and then toss in a couple cloves of fresh garlic at or near the end, which I’m sure would be wonderful as well, but the idea was for this to be easy.

Now you know I’m a garlic powder apologist. (That phrase does not currently appear on Google…am I the first?)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

1 lb. extra-firm tofu, drained and thoroughly patted dry (I’ve used Nasoya and White Wave in this recipe with equal success), then cut into 1/2” squares.
1-6 oz. package cremini mushrooms (look for “baby bellas” if they’re not labeled as cremini), stems removed, cleaned, and finely chopped

1 T. fresh ginger, minced
1/2 t. ginger powder
1/2 t. garlic powder
1 t. paprika
2 T. tamari
2 t. sesame oil
a squeeze of lemon juice
salt to taste

Place the tofu and mushrooms in a 13×9 glass baking dish. Combine the seasoning ingredients and pour over the tofu. Toss all ingredients to combine. Place in the oven on the middle rack, and roast, stirring every ten minutes or so, until the tofu is well-colored, the mushrooms have reduced in volume, and the whole mixture is more dry. This will take 30-40 minutes. The tofu will continue to firm up and shrink after it is removed from the oven, so it does not need to be completely dry when removed from the heat.

This method is also quite nice when the mushrooms are replaced with red peppers.

Spicy Lithuanian “Mushroom” Cookies

First, let it be said that there are no mushrooms in these cookies.  These cookies are mushroom-shaped.  This recipe comes from the same book the granola recipe does.


These have a wonderfully heady smell, and when you bite into them, the powdered sugar icing crackles and the poppy seeds crunch against the spicy cookie.  They’re pretty intense.  These cookies were my introduction to cardamom, and may have something to do with my total willingness to eat the cardamom pods one comes across in rice pilaf and certain curries.  I can remember biting into a pod at Gulshan when I was 18, a restaurant just off Indian Restaurant Row in NYC that I went to as an NYU student, and being surprised by the sudden piney, resinous flavor – but I liked it, and there was something familiar about it.  I figured it out not long afterwards.

These cookies continue to be a holiday tradition at my mom’s house.  I make them as well, and they’re a great thing to contribute to a cookie swap, because they are unique and impressive.  (The other thing I usually bring to a cookie swap is chocolate peanut butter bars, because seriously, after you make these, you should give yourself a break.)

The original recipe says to let the flavors mellow for three or four days before serving.  I’ve yet to be able to manage that.  I’ve never found it to be a problem to enjoy these right away.

1/2 c. honey
1/4 c. sugar
2 T. firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 T. butter
1 egg
1 1/2 t. ground cardamom
1 1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 t. ground ginger
1 1/2 t. ground cloves
1 1/2 t. ground nutmeg
1 1/2 t. fresh grated lemon rind
1 t. fresh grated orange rind
2 3/4 c. sifted all-purpose flour
3/4 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
2 T. cream or milk

For decorating:

2 c. powdered sugar
3 T. water
poppy seeds

Preheat oven to 350.  Heat the honey in the microwave using a glass measuring cup, then stir in the sugars, butter, egg, spices, and grated rinds.

Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium-size mixing bowl.  Add the honey mixture alternately with the cream or milk, stirring with a wooden spoon until blended.  Turn the dough out onto a floured board or pastry cloth.  Knead the dough, adding flour to the board as often as necessary to prevent sticking, for 5 or 6 minutes, until the dough is easy to handle and not at all sticky.  It should be firm enough to hold the impression of your finger.  Let the dough rest at room temperature for 20 minutes.

Divide the dough into four equal parts.  Make mushroom “stems” from one-quarter of the dough by shaping into four rolls, each about 12 inches long and about 3/8 inch in diameter.  Cut into 1-inch lengths.  Shape one end of each piece into a point with your fingers.  Place the stems on their sides 1 1/2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet.  Bake at 350 for about 7 minutes until firm.  Cool on wire racks.

Make “caps” by shaping remaining dough into 3/4-inch balls.  Hold a ball in the palm of your hand and make an indentation about 1/2 inch deep in each with the handle of a wooden spoon, twisting it in and out.  This is where the stem will later be inserted.  Place the caps, indented side down, on an ungreased baking sheet, spacing them about 1 1/2 inches apart.  Bake for about 12 minutes until the cookies are lightly browned on the bottom.  Cool on wire racks.

Press the powdered sugar through a coarse kitchen strainer to remove any lumps.  Blend it with 1 T. of the water until smooth.  Add the remaining 2 T. water, 1 t. at a time, beating well after each addition.

Enlarge indentations in caps if necessary with a small pointed knife.  Dip one end of each stem in frosting and insert in caps.  Dry the cookies, cap side down.  Dip the top of each cap in frosting, allowing any excess to drip back into the bowl.  While still wet, sprinkle the frosted caps with poppy seeds.

Place the cookies, stems down, into a cooling rack where they may dry undisturbed for several hours or overnight.  Pack in airtight containers and allow the flavor to mellow for three or four days before serving.

Makes about four dozen cookies.