ON THE OREGON TRAIL

No recipe today, but hopefully you won’t mind too much, since I wanted to share some pictures from our recent trip to Oregon.  As you know, Jill has been ardently pursuing photography of late, and this was her first time to travel with her new camera (a Nikon D3100, for those of you who are interested in these kinds of things).  Biased as I am, I think she’s getting pretty good at this:

Neither of us had ever been to Oregon before, and it’s as beautiful as everyone says.  We spent a cool, drizzly day in Portland doing very Portlandesque things: drinking Stumptown coffee, browsing at Powell’s Books (I spent the whole time drooling over cookbooks, of course), window shopping, and feasting at Pok Pok.


In Eugene, where our friends John and Courtney (and their awesome dog Matilda) live, we toured the University of Oregon campus, where there is a cemetery for Ye Olde Pioneers, visited the vibrant Saturday market, ate fantastic pizza at the Pizza Research Institute, and drank outside on the patio at the Ninkasi Brewing Company.

Most spectacular of all, though, was the day we spent exploring the landscape outside the city.  The leaves in the forest had just begun to turn; verdant greens were interrupted by patches of yellow, orange, and some hints of red.  We had the trail mostly to ourselves, with just the sound of the waterfalls and the easy talk of close friends.

Heading out to the coast, we chose a hike out of the guidebook that dropped us of at the top of a giant sand dune.  A sand dune in the middle of a pine forest, I mean!  We were dazzled.  After an exuberant run down the sand, we trekked to the forest to get to the spare, windy, and completely deserted coast.  It was an afternoon I will never, ever forget.

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GUEST POST: POLISH PLUM CAKE

from Nishta: my friend Jessie, who guest-posted for me in the past (with recipes for ciabatta and challah), generously agreed to toss a few things from her pastry chef repertoire our way.  This plum cake is the first of two desserts inspired by her husband’s family.

I’ve been married to my husband, Ken, for two years now, but we’ve been together and a part of each other’s families for over ten years.  I knew early on in our relationship that he comes from a rather large, close-knit half Italian, half Polish family.  I just didn’t realize how large of a family until I attended my first Fila Family Reunion back in August.  The Filas represent the Polish half of Ken’s heritage, and there must have been at least 40 people there! Being the newcomer to such a large family, and coming from a small family myself, needless to say, I was quite nervous.

I’d met a lot of Ken’s family before and knew that they are all warm, welcoming, friendly people, but it didn’t ease my anxiety in the least.  The reunion was a potluck so I thought I would volunteer to bring dessert—it seemed to be the most logical thing to do.  Ken thought we should take it a step further and bring a traditional Polish dessert since some of his great aunts and uncles are actually from Poland.  I agreed that it was a great idea and thought it would be fun to learn a little about Polish desserts, of which I knew nothing about.  It was an adventure in research and execution, I must say.  But the outcome was delicious and both desserts (yes, I brought two, because I’m an over-achiever, and I wanted to impress my new family members) were a big hit.

The recipes I found online are adaptations of the traditional Polish ones.  Some of the ingredients are difficult to find in the U.S., so the recipes have been tweaked to make it easier on the home cook, which I, for one, appreciated.  I then took the recipes and tweaked them myself to enhance the flavors and presentations.

The plum cake I kept simple, adding orange zest and allspice for flavor.  You could change the presentation and make individual cakes just as easily as making one big cake:  butter 10-6 ounce ramekins, follow the cake recipe below and fill each ramekin halfway up with batter.  Press one half of a plum in each ramekin, top with the clove topping, and bake for 20-30 minutes or until the cake is golden brown.

POLISH-STYLE PLUM CAKE

Editor’s note: The second of Jessie’s recipes from the Fila family reunion, for individual, Polish-style cheesecakes, will be published as we get closer to the holidays—I think they will be perfect for Christmas!

This plum cake, however, I wanted to blog about while the fruit’s season was still going strong.  I messed with Jessie’s instructions a bit, slicing the plums instead of simply halving them, because the ones I was working with had some bruised spots.  

Fair warning: this cake will make your house smell FANTASTIC.  Who needs a scented candle when you can have cake?  Thanks Jessie!

ingredients:

2 1/3 cups all purpose flour
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon allspice
1 cup sugar, divided use
1 stick butter, softened, plus 3 Tablespoons cold butter, cut into small cubes
¾ cup whole milk
Zest of 1 orange
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6-8 fresh black plums*, pitted and halved, but not peeled
¼ teaspoon cloves

Preheat the oven to 350° and lightly coat a 13” x 9” pan with non-stick spray.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, sift the flour, baking powder, salt, allspice, and ¾ cup of sugar.  Add the 1 stick of softened butter and about half of the milk and beat on medium-low speed until the mixture is crumbly.

Meanwhile, combine the remaining milk with the orange zest, eggs, and vanilla.  Add to the mixture in the bowl in three stages, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan and place the plums on top, cut side up.  Push the fruit into the batter slightly.

Combine the remaining ¼ cup of sugar with the cloves.  Using your fingers, rub the 3 Tablespoons of cold, cubed butter into the sugar mixture.  Sprinkle over the plums.

Bake for 50-60 minutes until the cake is golden brown on top.  Allow the cake to cool in the pan completely before cutting and serving.

*The plums can be substituted with any stone fruit, such as peaches, nectarines, apricots, or even cherries.

 Jessie Fila fell in love with baking the summer after high school graduation when boredom led to a discovery that she is very good at pastry!  After attending college in Florida, she traveled to New York to complete her Associates Degree in Baking and Pastry Arts from The Culinary Institute of America.  She loves dessert because it’s often the most memorable part of any meal, and can easily make or break a diner’s experience.  She currently works at The Schoolhouse at Cannondale in Wilton, Connecticut.  At home on days off, she cooks to relax and to feed her lucky husband Ken.

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GINGER MACADAMIA NUT COOKIES

I know.  I post about cookies a lot.  You don’t mind, do you?

(I didn’t think so).

Most everyone likes cookies; at least, most everyone has at least ONE kind of cookie that they like.  I’ve been working hard these last few years to post as many different kinds of cookie recipes as I can, in the hopes that each of you will find something that you like.  As you can see, I take my job very seriously:

LEMON LIME-BASIL SHORTBREAD COOKIES

SALTED PEANUT COOKIES WITH WHITE CHOCOLATE

BISCOTTI

GINGERBREAD COOKIES

MEYER LEMON THUMBPRINTS

CARDAMOM SHORTBREAD COOKIES

PEANUT BUTTER/ALMOND BUTTER COOKIES

ALFAJORES

MOLASSES COOKIES

CHEWY AMARETTI COOKIES

There is one man in my life who likes every kind of cookie that I bake; actually, if I put sugar in it, he will eat it.  His name is John, and he is wonderful.  He is married to my dear friend Courtney, and the two of them are incredibly special to me and Jill.

John and Courtney moved to Oregon this summer, making Jill and I incredibly SAD FACE.  They moved for a good reason (Courtney’s in a fantastic Ph.D. program and will, over the next ten years, most certainly make a difference in the world of education), which neutralizes some of the heartache of friends moving far away, but it doesn’t take it away altogether.  We miss them.  A lot.

Tomorrow we get on a plane to go see them.  There will probably be cookies.  And much rejoicing!

GINGER-MACADAMIA NUT COOKIES
Adapted from Bon Appetit

These are made with vegetable shortening instead of butter, which keeps them soft and chewy.  For this reason, they also mail well; in fact, I sent some to John for his birthday.

As you can guess from the ingredients, these cookies are quite gingery.  I think this makes them perfect for fall, but if you are a little worried about the ginger, you could take out the raw component and/or cut the ground ginger down to 1 tsp.

ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 ½ tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground cloves
½ tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
¾ cup vegetable shortening
¼ cup molasses
1 egg
2 tsp. fresh ginger, peeled & minced
¼ cup crystallized ginger, chopped
¾ cup macadamia nuts, chopped
raw sugar (otherwise known as turbinado or demerara) for rolling the cookies in

oven: 350°
pan: baking sheets lined with parchment

Combine the dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the sugar with the shortening until fluffy.  Add the molasses, egg, and fresh ginger and mix until combined.

Stir in the dry ingredients, followed by the crystallized ginger and macadamia nuts.  Now it’s time to make the cookies!

Fill a small, shallow bowl with raw sugar.  Dampen your hands in order to shape the dough into 1-tablespoon sized balls.  Roll each ball of dough in the raw sugar before placing them several inches apart on the baking sheets.  Before placing in the oven, use the palm of your hand to press down on the tops of the cookies to flatten slightly.

Bake cookies until golden brown and cracked on the top, about 15 minutes.  I recommend checking the bottoms of the cookies at about minute 10, to prevent over-browning.

Cool on racks before eating or storing in an airtight container.  These cookies should keep at room temperature for about one week.

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RISOTTO-STYLE QUINOA

Finally, finally, there is a nip in the air around here.

Never thought I’d see the day that I’d cheer 86 degrees as “cool weather,” but I’m not complaining. After months of brutally hot temperatures, we are opening our living room windows, throwing the ball for the dog in the backyard once again, and wearing our cowboy boots instead of flip-flops.

And, of course, there’s a whole crop of autumn foods that I can’t wait to make and eat as the temperature (hopefully) continues to drop: apple things, cinnamon things, bread-y things, braised and roasted things.

In the meantime, here’s a “bridge” meal of sorts—fall-esque without stealing the thunder from true cold-weather dishes. Bonus? It’s the kind of vegetarian dish that my carnivorous spouse will happily eat, without missing the meat too much.


RISOTTO-STYLE QUINOA

adapted from Bon Appétit, January 2010

We’ve gotten really into quinoa lately—which is a really crunchy-granola-Birkenstock-Prius-thing for me to say—unless I add that we are lately cooking our organic quinoa (giant bag at Costco for cheap!) to go alongside the fresh doves that Jill is bringing home from the field on weekend nights.

In any case, we have been substituting quinoa for all kinds of other things: rice, noodles, and couscous, with great results.  So when I saw this quinoa recipe in an old magazine, I knew I wanted to try it.

The original recipe calls for the use of fresh thyme, but I didn’t have any on hand, so I subbed in scallions. The use of thyme would, of course, be consistent with the more traditional risotto method/flavors.

ingredients:

1 cup quinoa
2 cups chicken stock, vegetable broth, or water
1 cup chopped onion OR ½ cup chopped shallot
1 cup dry white wine
1-2 cloves garlic
2 cups sliced assorted mushrooms (shiitake, crimini, and/or white button)
chopped fresh scallion, for garnish (optional)
grated Parmesan cheese
olive oil, butter

Bring the stock, broth, or water to warm in a medium saucepan. In a separate saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Add the quinoa and toast the grains, stirring frequently until aromatic. Pour in the warm stock and bring the quinoa + liquid mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover the pot, and cook until the quinoa has sprouted and the water has been absorbed, ~12 minutes.

While the quinoa is cooking, heat 1 T each oil & butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion or shallot and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and stir briefly before adding the mushrooms and thyme. Toss in some more butter if you feel like it—this is supposed to imitate a risotto, after all—and cook until the mushrooms are tender, ~5 minutes. Add the wine and increase the heat to medium-high; stir the mixture until the wine has reduced and what’s left in the skillet looks syrupy, ~2 minutes.

Add the quinoa to the mushroom mixture, tossing in the scallions, if using. Season with salt and pepper (but keep the Parmesan in mind when salting). Serve with plenty of Parmesan on the side.

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