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”

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.

Continue reading “Vegan Carrot Spice Cake”

Not Orange-Almond Asparagus

I stayed up about an hour too late on Sunday night, worrying about the next few weeks of work, which are going to be very busy, and I’m still paying for it in fatigue. It probably didn’t help that I dug up an eight-foot by two-foot planting bed that day as well, trying, very late, to get some annual herbs in. It doesn’t matter too much if my basil goes in now; it’ll grow until November here.

I got started on the Eat Local Challenge this weekend; unfortunately, I managed to frustrate myself right off the bat even though I had asparagus from the Sacramento Delta, about 150 miles from here, and I was just trying to come up with some local seasoning to put on top of it.

You will notice that the picture above is not of asparagus.

The idea of the Eat Local Challenge is not for it to feel like a trial or a hardship, but my diet is already limited by dint of being a vegetarian, and right off I was starting to feel resentful. I want to eat local, but I also want to cook something worth eating, something that looks beautiful and is worth saying something about. I want to be creative, and the smaller the palette gets, the harder it can be.

I thought of almonds, which are one of Fresno County’s major crops, but almonds all by themselves on top of asparagus sounded pretty everyday – not very exciting, certainly not worth blogging about. But I had bought some phenomenal oranges at the farmer’s market on Saturday.

“How about a citrus-soy dressing?” Chimp suggested.

“That would be good, but my soy sauce isn’t local. We do have some cream, though – I could try a citrus cream sauce.”

I mixed up a little bit in a ramekin.

“How is it?” Chimp asked.

“Not going to work. It tastes like dessert. Here.” I reached into the cabinet for the bottle of vanilla and splashed a little into the cream and orange mixture.

“Yep,” Chimp said, tasting it. “Creamsicle.”

“Yes. Very good, but not on asparagus.”

“Did we just solve Belnap’s Incompatible Food Triad?” he asked.

“Let’s see – asparagus and cream work, it seems like asparagus and orange should work, orange and cream work. Asparagus, cream and orange? That could be a solution. It doesn’t work at first glance, but there might be a way to make it go.”

What about the flavors of almonds and oranges together? I thought. A little reduced orange juice, a little orange zest, maybe some finely chopped almonds – maybe it would all add up to a crumbly, delicious topping. And with orange zest and the buff-colored almonds, it would have to photograph well.

It was an utter failure.

While I chopped the almonds in the food processor, I put the orange juice on to reduce. When I tossed the orange juice in with the almonds and began to stir to combine the mixture, I realized that I had chopped the almonds too finely for it to work. The whole thing turned into orange-almond paste in a matter of moments; not crumbly, not able to be tossed over asparagus, not going to work, I thought. Paste. There are very few foods that you want to eat that come in the form of paste.

What do I do with this? I thought. Well, it’s effectively a very rough marzipan – why not throw in some powdered sugar and see where we end up? And it wasn’t half bad. So I added a little vanilla and orange zest, then made small balls, rolled those in more zest and chopped almonds, and tucked in an almond apiece. Okay, they’re sweetmeats, I thought. Fine. But what about this damn asparagus?

Chimp liked the new direction. “Can I eat these?”

“Let me take a picture first.”

He’s in favor of these experiments. He has generously expressed his willingness to eat failed chocolate yogurt popsicles until I come up with a working chocolate yogurt popsicle recipe. He’s selfless, that husband of mine.

The almond sweetmeats had a wholesome mild sweetness like that of oat-nut haystack cookies. I described the failure and small outgrowth of unintended success to my mother-in-law, and she said, “What you ended up with sounds almost medieval.” I had to agree. It isn’t baked as a marzipan would be, but the almonds and orange flavor, which would have been orange flower water or rosewater at the time, certainly lined up.

In the future I would use blanched almonds if I were to do something like this again. The skins are good for you, but they are bitter and distract from the texture too.

And the asparagus – I gave up. We just roasted it, as usual.

Continue reading “Not Orange-Almond Asparagus”

Vegan Chocolate Frosting

Hurrah, this works! And it tastes awesome – I asked my beloved if it tasted too “soy-y” and he said, “With all that chocolate and sugar, how could you possibly taste it?”

Please note that the piece of cake in this picture is for artistic purposes only, as it is of a totally unreasonable size.

This seems quite liquid when first prepared – do not be afraid. Just pop it in the fridge for a little bit.  If you apply it when it is still a little bit warm, you will get a shiny, soft finished texture. Wait a little longer and it will become stiffer and hold swirled peaks. If it is too hard to spread, warm it slightly and try again.

I used this to frost and fill a two-layer cake with both layers split horizontally, and still have some left over.

Adapted – very loosely – from the 1997 Joy of Cooking.  This recipe originally contained cream or evaporated milk and butter.

Break or cut into 2 pieces:

6 oz. unsweetened chocolate (I used Scharffenberger 99%)

Bring to boil in a small saucepan:

1 c. Silk brand plain soy creamer

Remove from the heat and add the chocolate pieces without stirring. Cover and set aside for exactly 10 minutes.  Scrape into a food processor and add:

1 1/2 c. sugar

2 T. cocoa

2 T. oil

1 t. vanilla

Process until the mixture is perfectly smooth, 1 minute or more. Set aside until slightly thickened.  Makes about 3 cups, plenty for a two-layer cake with some left over.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars

The picture of simplicity, these.  They remind me of the concept of Can Can Casserole, in that there’s no measuring – the packages are the exact size you need.  There’s something so modern about that.  (It really is just a concept – go to Google and look up “Can Can Casserole” and tell me if you can find the same recipe twice.)

These are delicious, marginally nutritious (you could argue for the peanut butter and graham crackers, or against the confectioner’s sugar and butter) and cute-as-the-dickens with sprinkles on them.

1 pack plain graham crackers (from a 16 oz. box, please), pulverized (in the food processor or blender or smashed to bits with a wooden mallet or other reasonably heavy swingable object)
1 box confectioners’ sugar
1-18 oz. jar peanut butter
2 sticks butter

1-12 oz. packaged chocolate chips, melted (a glass bowl and the microwave at low power with frequent stirrings are the best way to achieve this.)


In medium microwave-safe bowl, combine graham crackers and sugar and mix until combined.  Add butter and peanut butter, then microwave to soften to stirring consistency.  Mix until combined.  Press mixture into a 13 x 9 in. pan.

Pour the melted chocolate over the bars, and spread out evenly with a spatula.  Sprinkle with…sprinkles.  Place in refrigerator and allow to set for two hours.  To cut, remove from refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature to avoid breaking chocolate.  For best results, cut with a sharp knife dipped in hot water and wiped dry.  Cut 1 1/2 in. by 1 1/2 in. bars – these are intensely sweet.

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.

Sesame Crisps

We were having a conversation about what you can do with tahini this morning in the office, and I mentioned the sesame cookies my mom made when I was little, which don’t actually have tahini in them but are strongly sesame-flavored nonetheless. That may sound a little odd, but they’re really much like the idea of peanut butter cookies, and sesame cookies have a long history in the South, where they’re called benne cookies (benne being an adapted African name for sesame).  The coconut in these may be a little non-traditional, but I sure do have fond memories of these cookies from childhood. I believe this recipe came from Joy of Cooking.

¾ c. sesame seeds

½ c. grated coconut (mom says she has used both sweetened and unsweetened with good results)

2 c. sifted flour

1 t. baking powder

½ t. baking soda

½ t. salt

1 c. brown sugar, firmly packed

1 egg

1 t. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spread seeds on a rimmed cookie sheet and toast in oven for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to promote even browning. Add coconut and return sheet to oven for additional 5 minutes, until seeds and coconut are golden brown.

Sift the flour together with the powder, soda, and salt.  Cream the butter in a large mixing bowl. Gradually add brown sugar and cream until light and fluffy.  Add egg, vanilla, sesame seeds and coconut.  Beat well.  Blend in sifted dry ingredients gradually and mix thoroughly. 

Shape balls of dough, using a rounded teaspoonful for each. Place three inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten to 1/8 in. thickness using your hand or the bottom of a glass. Bake for 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees, until golden.

Makes 48 cookies.