Monday, July 25, 2011

Summer Kuchen

Once again, an abundance of summer fruits called to me and inspired to me to just do something already with them. This time, I had plums, peaches and still more blueberries. Since I have not mastered savory fruit dishes, my mind turned to baking... even with the record-setting 100+ degree heat we’d been suffering.

The cake itself is somewhat closer to a Tortenboden – a tart crust – than an American yellow or pound cake. It’s a bit dry and crusty, relying on the sweet juiciness of the fruit to make it all work. However, calling it cake seems so much more accessible and summery than a torte. You can bake this in a regular cake pan and plunk the fruit right on top of the batter without any need for fancy tart pans and glazes or neatly arranged fruit pieces.

The original version of the recipe called for peaches, but any combination of your favorite summer fruit will do. I tweaked it a bit to soften and sweeten my fruit ahead of baking and to up the nuttiness of the cake. My cake may have been a bit drier than the original recipe, but it worked well. And leftovers became even more moist as the cake absorbed the fruit juices. At the same time, the almond flavor was more pronounced a day later, tasting a little like marzipan. If you don’t have almonds in the pantry, it is fine to use 1 cup of all purpose flour.

Served with a lightly sweetened, loose whipped cream, this is absolutely perfect and harkens back to all kinds of childhood memories of summertime and the endless wait for the grown-ups to decide it was time for Kaffee und Kuchen.

Summer Kuchen
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking’s “Fresh Fruit Kuchen”

You will need:
• A 9” round cake pan and butter to grease it.
• ¾ cup AP flour + ¼ cup ground almonds
• 1 ½ tsp baking powder
• 1/8 tsp salt (1/4 tsp if using kosher salt)
• 1 tsp + a dash of cinnamon
• 8 tbsp (1 stick) of unsalted butter, room temperature
• ¾ cup + 1 tbsp sugar
• 2 eggs, room temperature
• 1 tsp vanilla
• 1/8 tsp almond extract
• 2 to 2 ½ cups fruit (peeled and sliced if necessary)

Move one oven rack to lower third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

Liberally grease a 9 inch round cake pan.

Combine fruits in a bowl with 1 tbsp sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon. Let macerate while oven heats and butter softens.

Whisk together in one bowl the flour mixture, baking powder, dash of cinnamon, and salt.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until pale yellow and fluffy. Beat in one egg at a time and then add vanilla and almond extract.

Stir flour mixture into butter/egg mixture until just combined. This will yield a very thick batter. Spread evenly into bottom of prepared cake pan. Top with an even layer of the fruit. Some cake may remain uncovered, which is fine.

Bake about 40 to 45 minutes until top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the cake only comes out clean. Cool before serving.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Suburban Commando

Every now and again, I go a little crazy and get into what I've termed "suburban commando mode."

Being a Suburban Commando requires one to complete series of tactical maneuvers and some serious supply chain management in order to meet all the items/errands on a checklist within a limited kid-free window while simultaneously planning and cooking meals, doing laundry, and handling other household matters, maintaining the role of primary caregiver for said child, and sustaining minimal contact with work.

It can make you tired.

While this has been going on every since I gave birth oh-so-long-ago, it's gotten more frenetic since I returned to work. The Suburban Commando is doing all the housewifery in half the time!

Today was pretty easy: water garden before family woke and needed shower, start working, start laundry, get kid to camp (with sunscreen applied, lunch, snack & water bottle in tow), tank up car and go to ATM, drive home, move laundry to dryer, "finish" work, shower, start more laundry, drive to post office, craft and grocery stores, come home to continue laundry, plan dinner menu for week, and eat lunch. Still on tap: pick up kid, go to dentist, finish laundry, maybe go swimming, dinner, bath time, and then get everyone to sleep.

Yeah, today is my "day off" when I don't go into the office.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Berry Good Times Today

Ah, it's still blueberry season! The grocer is practically giving them away, and that has led to blueberry crisps, pies, muffins, cereal toppings, and plain ol' handfuls while passing through the kitchen. Good times.

I never did make that Father's Day berry pie (although the butter was yummy), but I think taking the time to think it through makes up for the lack.

My pie-making is much improved from last summer, and we had a truly lovely blueberry pie last weekend.


This morning, it was some quickly made muffins eaten al fresco. Did you know it takes less than an hour to go from opening a cookbook to eating fresh blueberry muffins? Alas, the butter on hand was store-bought. Can't ever seem to make all the cooking projects happen all at once!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Summer Dinner Party: S'more Pie

An abundance of marshmallows, left over from winter's hot chocolate, made me search for a way to use them. I came across this on the Epicurious website.

Adapted from… Chocolate S'more Pie

Gourmet, November 2006
Yield: Makes 6-8 servings

For crust
1 graham cracker crumb crust, baked and cooled completely or purchased, pre-made

For chocolate cream filling
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate (not more than 70% cacao; not unsweetened), finely chopped OR 7 oz of bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup heavy cream
1 large egg, at room temperature for 30 minutes and the broken into a small container and slightly beaten

For marshmallow topping
3-4 handfuls of mini marshmallows

1) Make chocolate cream filling:
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.
Put chocolate in a large bowl.
Bring cream just to a boil in a 1- to 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan. (It will bubble a bit on the sides, but not in the middle.) Then pour hot cream over chocolate.
Let stand 1 minute, then gently whisk until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.
Gently whisk in egg and a pinch of salt until combined and pour into graham cracker crumb crust.

2) Bake until filling is softly set and trembles slightly in center when gently shaken, about 20 to 25 minutes.

3) Remove from oven and top with marshmallows.

4) Cool pie to room temperature on a rack (filling will firm as it cools), about 1 hour, and then refrigerate.

5) Brown topping before serving:
Preheat broiler.
Transfer pie to a baking sheet. Broil 3 to 4 inches from heat, rotating pie as necessary, until marshmallow topping is golden brown, about 3 minutes.
Cool pie on a rack 10 minutes.

Summer Dinner Party: Flank Steak Recipe

This is our go-to summer grilled recipe. It's Emeril's Grilled Marinated Flank Steaks and it's fabulous. The meat is marinaded earlier in the day, the steak cooks up quickly, and dinner is ready for guests with little active cooking time. And it's so much nicer than burgers and dogs. We serve with homemade coleslaw or a medley of grilled vegetables.

Tips from my husband, the grill master in our home:

Rob makes his own version of Emeril’s Essence. Essence is available in most stores OR you can buy any kind of Creole seasoning mix. We also prefer Sherry to red wine, but have used both successfully. We marinate for at least 4 hours, flipping the meat every couple hours, and then remove from the fridge an hour or so before cooking. Grill about 8 minutes on each side for medium-rare and do NOT cut into it for another 5 minutes after it comes off the grill. Oh, and we’ve never bothered to reserve the sauce and boil it, etc. like it says below.

Grilled Marinated Flank Steaks
Recipe courtesy Emeril Lagasse, 2000

1 (2 to 3 pound) flank steak
1/2 cup dry Sherry or red wine
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons Creole seasoning, recipe available via the link above
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place the flank steak in a large, plastic resealable bag. In a 2-cup measuring cup combine the remaining ingredients. Pour the marinade mixture into the bag with the steak, seal and marinate in the refrigerator at least 4 hours and up to 12 hours in advance.

Preheat a gas or charcoal grill. Remove the steak from the marinade. Pour the marinade into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer the marinade for 10 minutes. Remove saucepan from the heat and keep warm. Place the steak on the grill and cook to desired doneness, about 6 minutes per side for rare. Transfer the steak to plate and let stand for 5 minutes before carving. Cut the steak across the grain into thin diagonal slices, and serve with the marinade sauce.

A lazy summer dinner party

Entertaining is not my thing. Cooking and cleaning, yes, but providing a warm and welcoming home to people not actually living in said home? Not so much. Slightly obsessive people with control issues (however self-aware) really have no business trying to play host.

Once every blue moon, my husband and I either choose to invite friends over for a meal or are sort of talked into throwing a party. Last week, we did the former and it was wonderful. Here's what I learned about throwing a successful summer dinner party:

1) Invite people you like and who don't need to be impressed.
2) Make most of the meal ahead of time.
3) Have the kids eat outside while the adults are inside.
4) Go barefoot.
5) Have another glass of wine, sit down to enjoy your meal, and talk to your friends.
6) Check on the kids now and again, but let them figure out what to do. Ours invented elaborate outdoor games and then chased fire flies.