Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Summer Veg Crustless Skillet Quiche

I quite dislike the term 'last gasp,' especially as it is bandied about this time of year. Suddenly, every event and weather condition takes on a sort of melancholy freneticism: a trip to the beach, a streak of fog-free days, a camping trip, a perfectly ripe peach.

A skillet quiche brimming with the summery flavors of sweet corn, tomatoes and basil.

Here in San Francisco, our Indian summer is just kicking into gear. Though pomegranates and pesky pomes are popping up in the markets, there shouldn't be any 'gasping' around these parts for at least another month.

So there.

For now, the markets and our boxes are still full of the flavors of summer - ears of sweet corn, baskets brimming with cherry tomatoes, bunches of verdant basil - and baking them into a simple crustless quiche makes me happy. This is no fritatta - eggs are whisked with a generous amount of half and half, so that the final result resembles more closely the creaminess of a quiche filling than the drier, sometimes rubbery quality that a fritatta can take on. But it is baked right in a skillet, so you can enjoy the brilliant days of early fall outdoors, rather than slaving over a cold pie crust inside.

Mop the juices from this brunch-worthy creation with a hunk of crusty bread, and serve with some crisp mixed greens on the side. You may recognize this as a reincarnation of the Asparagus and Chevre Crustless Skillet Quiche from last spring. I am keen on the versatility of this recipe, as it can be adapted to the seasons. Just don't go putting any tubers, roots or crucifers in it. Not just yet.

This crustless skillet quiche may make you gasp with pleasure. Hopefully, it will not be your last.

One year ago:
Huckle-Pear Galette with Mugolio Ice cream
Brunchy Bites:
Allium and Cheese Souffles
Zucchini Tomato Tart

Crustless Skillet Quiche with Sweet Corn, Summer Squash and Cherry Tomatoes

Serves 2 - 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
2 small zucchini, halved and sliced thinly
1/4 teaspoon salt
kernals from 1 cob of corn
2 - 3 ounces mozzarella, sliced or grated
1 - 2 ounces goat cheese
2 tablespoons chopped basil, plus more for garnish
a handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
2 eggs
1 cup half and half (or a combination of milk and cream)
1/2 teaspoon salt

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375º.

In a 6" cast iron (or other ovenproof) skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until golden and tender, about 10 minutes. Add the zucchini and saute until tender and beginning to brown, 8-10 minutes. Add the 1/4 teaspoon salt and the corn kernals and saute one more minute, then remove from the heat.

Layer the mozzarella, goat cheese, basil and cherry tomatoes over the top.

In a large measuring cup, whisk together the eggs, half and half and 1/2 teaspoon of salt until smooth. Pour into the skillet.

Bake the quiche until puffed, golden and set, about 20 minutes. Let cool a few minutes before serving.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Huckleberry-Chevre Cheesecake Squares

Last Thursday marked the 1st birthday of The Bojon Gourmet!

One year ago, I decided I really wanted to share a recipe I'd developed for sourdough crackers, since I had thus far been unable to find a good one on these here interwebs. I didn't know what I wanted out of a recipe blog, and worried that I would tire of writing one, that I didn't know how to photograph food, that I wouldn't have anything interesting to say. I was nervous that my recipes wouldn't work for other people, or that no one would even try them to begin with.

As of today, I have posted 90 recipes, most of them my own. I've had visits from 97 different countries, including Tanzania, Latvia, Paraguay and Malaysia. (Thanks, Google Analytics!) I've gotten very kind feedback not only from friends and family, but from people I've never even met. A huge 'Thank You' to everyone who reads this blog, tries out recipes, comments, and gives their two cents! And a super huge thanks to Jay, who reads every post, has tasted every recipe, sifts through Blogger's atrociously bug-infested HTML when I need tech support, and who introduced me to Bojon in the first place.

To celebrate, I baked my blog these huckleberry-chevre cheesecake squares. (It couldn't seem to blow out the candle, though, so I had to help it out.)

Yes, I am a giant dork.

There is nothing dorky, however, about these cheesecake squares. A buttery-crisp crust full of ground, nutty pistachios gives way to a dense and creamy filling comprised of goat and cream cheeses, flecked with vanilla bean and lemon zest and punctuated by woodsy bursts of huckleberries. The bars are quick to put together, and can (but don't have to) be made entirely in a food processor.

The chevre adds a bit of tang, but despite the exotic ingredients, the bars retain the classic flavor of a traditional, blue-ribbon cheesecake that may or may not bring back fond childhood memories. I used awesomely pure, local Sierra Nevada brand cream cheese and chevre in this recipe, which I picked up at Rainbow. If you can find cheeses similarly devoid of gums and stabilizers, your cheesecake will be that much tastier.

Huckles are coming into season here in California, and other places, too, I'd wager; hunt for them under redwoods, or look for them at the grocery store or farmer's markets. But don't despair if you can't find any; these bars work equally well with blue, black or raspberries, or you could try frozen wild blueberries.

Say 'Cheese':
Pumpkin Ginger Cheesecake Squares

Huckleberry Friends:
Berry-Fig Financiers
Huckle-Almond Milk Smoothies
Apple-Huckle Pie
Huckle-Fig Crumble Tart
Huckle-Pear Galette

Huckleberry-Chevre Cheesecake Squares, with Pistachio Shortbread Crust
Adapted from Williams Sonoma Baking

Makes 16 really rather filling bars, 32 satisfying triangles, or 64 bite-sized, cocktail-party-appropriate cubes

A heads up on timing: these bars take about 1 1/2 hours total to assemble and bake, plus an additional 4 hours to cool and chill. They are excellent the day of and after baking, when the crust is still crisp, but keep well for up to 4 or 5 days in the fridge.

To quickly warm your cheeses and eggs to room temperature (essential to achieving non-lumpy cheesecake), place a towel on top of your preheating oven. Scoop the cheeses into a metal bowl, and the eggs (cracked or not) in another bowl. Place the bowls on the towel while you make your crust. Rotate occasionally, and remove when they reach room temperature to the touch.

The bars are easily made in a food processor. Lacking one, you can chop the nuts finely by hand, and mix both the crust and filling in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or by hand in a large bowl. For a more pronounced goat cheesy flavor, substitute another 2 - 4 ounces of chevre for an equal amount of cream cheese. For thinner bars, you could bake the cake in a 9 x 12" rimmed (quarter) sheet pan, baking time adjusted

For the Crust:
3/4 cup raw, shelled pistachios
1 1/4 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cold, cut into 3/4" chunks

For the Filling:
4 ounces fresh goat cheese, room temperature
12 ounces cream cheese (preferably Sierra Nevada), room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
seeds from 1 vanilla bean, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of 1/2 a lemon
pinch salt
2 tablespoons flour
3 eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 cups fresh huckleberries (or black/blue/raspberries)

Position a rack in the bottom-center of your oven and preheat to 350º. Line a 9 x 9" square pan with 2 pieces of parchment paper or aluminum foil cut to fit width-wise, leaving an overhang on each side. (This will help you lift the cake out of the pan after baking, making cutting easier.)

Spread the pistachios on a small baking sheet and toast lightly, about 8 minutes, until light golden and fragrant. Let cool completely. Combine the cooled nuts in a food processor with the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture begins to form large, coarse crumbs, and holds together when squeezed, about 30 pulses. Dump the mixture into the lined pan, and press firmly and evenly with your fingers.

Bake the crust until golden and firm, about 30 minutes. Let cool slightly, at least 10 minutes.

Wipe out the food processor. Combine the cheeses, sugar, vanilla bean seeds, lemon zest and salt and blend until smooth, about 5-10 seconds. Add the flour and process until smooth, another few seconds. Add the eggs, process until smooth, then scrape down the bowl. Add the cream and process until smooth. Scrape once more, and blend again if at all lumpy.

Scatter the berries evenly over the cooled crust. Pour the filling over. Bake the cheesecake until the center is set, 30 - 40 minutes. It should wobble like jell-o when you shake it gently, but not be watery or liquid. Remove to a cooling rack and let cool 1 hour, then cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 3 hours, or overnight, until firm and cold.

To slice the bars, loosen the sides and bottom with a small, offset spatula. Carefully lift out of the pan (it may crack a little bit, but this is not the end of the world.) Place on a large cutting board. Fill a pitcher with hot tap water and have some paper towels handy, or an old (but clean!) dish towel that you don't mind getting stained. Dip a large chef's knife in the hot water and wipe completely dry between cuts. I cut mine 4 by 4 for sixteen 2" squares; you can then cut these on the diagonal for 32 triangles. Or cut the bars 8 by 8 for 64 bite-sized cubes.

Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to four or five days.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Pink Pearl Apple Custard Tart

I find it very inconsiderate of apples,  pears, and quinces to suddenly burst into season in late August and early September, just when bakers like me are scrambling to make good on all the summer fruit recipes we spent the last 11 months ogling. Finally, all the berries, stone fruit, figs and melons are in season, clamoring, pleading to be baked, poached, pureed, jammed, and spun.

And now, in the midst of the frenzy, here come the pomes to ruin all the fun.

The Gravensteins let me know that they won't be around for long. The Boscs and Bartletts demand to be sliced and eaten, with cheese, pronto. The quince tree at Jay's mom's house begs for picking, poaching, and membrillo-ing, whispering of minced pies, sweaters, fires in the fireplace. Suddenly, though we still have another two months of warm, sunny days, though the box arrives weekly full of strawberries and plums, I'm browsing the 'winter' section of cookbooks and blogs, wondering what do with all those darn pomes. I look at the spice rack, at the cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves, and shake my head firmly. 'Sorry, guys. I can't go there just yet.' (Though I've heard that you oughtn't anthropomorphize spices - they hate that.)

In the midst of researching peach cobblers, raspberry cream tarts, fig focaccia and rustic plum cake, a friend delivers pounds upon pounds of coy pink pearls from her tree. Plain looking on the outside, their insides reveal shockingly pink flesh the color of cotton candy, daring me not to use them.

So after a bit (well, a lot) of protesting, of shoving the apples in the fridge and defiantly making peach buckle instead, I settled on this apple tart. Layers and layers of thinly sliced apples are laid in an unbaked (yay!) pate brisee shell, a simple custard of eggs, sugar and dairy is poured over them, and the tart is baked. No spices to warm things up, just the smooth custard holding things together, the tender tang of the blushing apples, the delicate chew of a nubby crust.

Though the crust is put into the oven unbaked, a few things ensure that it browns and doesn't sog up: baking the tart in the bottom of the oven, placing it on a baking stone or heated baking pan, and starting the oven at a higher temperature.

Serve this tart slightly warm, at room temperature, or chilled, with a dollop of creme fraiche or whipped cream. A bit of Calvados would make an ideal accompaniment. Leftovers (of the tart, not the Calvados, you lush) make a lovely breakfast.

Light in texture and flavor, this tart doesn't even feel like a wholly inappropriate thing to eat, cold from the fridge, on a warm, late summer afternoon.

Then again, summer in San Francisco feels like winter most of the time anyway, so who am I kidding...?

How do you like them apples?:
Apple Rhubarb Ginger Crisp
Apple Huckleberry Pie
Apple Oat Pancakes with Cheddar and Bacon

Pink Pearl Apple and Custard Tart

Adapted from Once Upon a Tart

10 servings

The original recipe called for a 9" tart pan and only 4 apples. I used a 10" pan... and 8 apples! So I'm not sure exactly how many apples you'll need, but somewhere between 6 and 8 large ones should be just fine. Some apples oxidize when cut; mine didn't, as they were quite acidic, but if yours begin to brown, toss them with a bit of lemon juice as you work to prevent them from browning. The easiest way I've found to prepare the apples is like so: use a T-shaped vegetable peeler to peel a ring from the top and bottom of the apples. Peel the rest of the apple downwards. Cut the apple off of the core. Then, with the cut-side down, slice the apples very thinly, keeping the slices together. This will make it easy to fan the slices into concentric circles.

All-Butter Pate Brisee: (adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook) (or use a half recipe of sourdough pate brisee)
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry or whole spelt flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold, cut into 3/4" dice
1/4 -1/3 cup ice water

Apple-Custard Filling:
6 - 8 large apples (pink pearls, or any tart baking apple), peeled, cut off the core, and thinly sliced
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoons for sprinkling
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup half and half, or a combination of milk and cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup apricot or plum jam

For the crust:
In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar and salt. Scatter the butter pieces over the top and rub with your fingertips until the mixture is the texture of cornmeal with some larger, pea-sized butter chunks remaining. Sprinkle the ice water over 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing with your fingers or a rubber spatula, until the dough begins to clump together and no loose, floury bits remain. Gather the dough into a ball, flatten into a disc and wrap tightly in plastic wrap or a plastic bag. Chill at least 30 minutes, or until firm.

Remove the dough from the fridge and roll out on a lightly floured surface into a 12 - 14" round (depending on the size of your pan). Fit the dough into a 9 or 10" tart pan. Trim the overhang to 1 inch, then fold it over to make a lip, pressing the sides gently. Freeze the tart crust while you prepare the apples and custard.

For filling and baking the tart:
Position a rack in the bottom third of your oven and preheat to 425º. If you have a baking stone, put it on the rack. Place a rimmed baking sheet on the stone or right on the rack.

Remove the unbaked crust from the freezer, and begin layering the apples in concentric circles, beginning on the outside and working your way in, until the layers sit just above the top of the tart crust, 3 - 4 layers in total.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar and salt until well combined. Whisk in the dairy and the vanilla. Slowly pour the custard into the center of the tart. Sprinkle the apples with 1 tablespoon of sugar.

Place the tart on the heated baking sheet. Reduce the oven temperature to 375º. Bake the tart for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the apples on top are golden and even slightly burnt at the tips and the custard is set, not jiggly. Remove and let cool at least an hour.

Heat the jam slightly in a small saucepan with a few drops of water until warm and loose. Strain. Brush the glaze all over the apples and edges of the crust. Slice and serve.

The tart is best the day it is baked, but can be stored for up to several days in the fridge.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Roasted Eggplant Parmesan

Sometimes, I wish I were British. It isn't the 'stiff upper lip' attitude I covet, nor the dental hygiene (or lack thereof), but rather, the language. I want to sound posh when I speak. I want to write words with extra Us (like 'flavour' and 'colour') and ending in 're' ('centre,' 'theatre'). I want to use slang like 'snog', 'naff', 'total git' and not have my spellcheck object with a cheeky red underline.

But most of all, I want to call eggplants 'aubergines'.

I can't think of a less appealing name for a type of produce than 'eggplant.' And 'aubergine' seems a much more fitting name for the vegetable-fruit that most commonly comes in a shade of deep purple. Though the name finally clicked when I received my first pristine ivory eggplant in the box a few years ago, the vast majority of the ones we see look nothing at all like the things that come out of chickens.

As for people who claim to dislike eggplant (as with most produce people claim to dislike) my theory is that they once had a bad experience with said produce and decided that it is all bad. (I kinda have this with the under-ripe kiwi and melon so often found in diner fruit salads - bleh.) Eggplant can be bitter tasting, with a cottony texture akin to 'teddy bear stuffing,' as a friend of mine puts it, when procured out of season, shipped from far away places, and not properly prepared.

But when fresh, and cooked long and slow, eggplant takes on a soft, creamy texture verging on erotic. Any bitterness will be taken care of by a sauce made with meltingly tender onions and sweet, flavorful tomatoes. Some gooey, mild mozzarella and musky parmesan make this dish irresistible.

If you think of eggplant parmesan as heartburn-inducingly heavy due to the standard practice of battering and deep-frying the eggplant slices, try this version. The eggplant gets brushed with olive oil and roasted in the oven until golden and soft. A second baking with layers of sauce and cheese ensures that teddy-bear fluff is the last thing the finished dish will resemble.

For a smoother sauce, you can take the extra step of peeling and seeding the tomatoes, but I am much too lazy for this, and am not bothered by a bit of seed and skin. As long as the tomatoes are diced, the pieces of skin are so small as to be unnoticeable.

A simple dish like this is all about the ingredients, so use shiny fresh eggplants, the ripest, most dense, fleshy tomatoes you can find, a good olive oil, and fresh parmesan. Serve with a green salad and some crusty bread for mopping up the juices.

Don't be tempted by tiny aubergines, as I was, though; the large globes are what you really want for their meaty texture and high flesh-to-skin-and-seed ratio.

Ecstatic for Eggplant:
Roasted Summer Vegetable Caponata
Smoky Baba Ganouj

One year ago: 
Spelty Sourdough Crackers

Roasted Eggplant Parmesan

Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

8 entree-sized servings

3 1/2 - 4 pounds large globe eggplant (3 - 4 eggplants), sliced into 1/3" rounds
about 1/2 cup olive oil
2 large onions, finely diced (3 cups)
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds (8 - 10) ripe tomatoes, preferably dry-harvested, San Marzanos or Romas, diced (4 cups)
a large handful basil leaves (1/4 cup, lightly packed), chopped
1 pound mozzarella, sliced thinly
2 ounces freshly grated parmesan (1 cup, gently packed)

Preheat the oven to 425º.

Sprinkle the eggplant slices with about 1 tablespoon of salt and set aside to sweat for 30 minutes. Blot dry.

Brush the slices on both sides with olive oil and place on sheet pans (you will need 3 or 4). Roast in batches in the oven until both sides are golden and the slices are soft, about 20 minutes. Let cool. Taste and season with salt if necessary. Reduce the oven temperature to 350º.

Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large dutch oven or skillet. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until translucent, slightly golden, and very tender, 15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a few more minutes, then add the tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened to a thick, jammy texture, 15 - 20 minutes. (This may take longer if your tomatoes are more watery.) Remove from the heat and stir in the basil. Taste for salt.

Oil a 9 x 13 x 2" lasagna pan or glass baking dish. Layer the ingredients like so:

-Spread 1/3 of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the dish
-Make an overlapping layer with 1/2 of the eggplant
-Spread with another 1/3 of the sauce
-Top with 1/2 of the mozzarella
-Sprinkle over all of the parmesan
-Top with the remaining eggplant
-Spread with the remaining sauce
(reserve the rest of the mozzarella)

Bake the eggplant parmesan at 350º until bubbling and heated through, 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and preheat the broiler. Lay the remaining mozzarella slices over the top and place under the broiler for 2 - 3 minutes to melt and brown the cheese (watch closely so it doesn't burn.) Remove and let cool for a few minutes before serving.

The eggplant parmesan keeps well in the fridge for up to several days. Reheat before serving.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Vanilla Brown Butter Peach Buckle

Many of us Potrero-Hillians were dismayed when, several years ago, a Whole Foods and yuppie-type housing complex moved in to occupy an entire block which had previously been a barren lot. I worked on the Hill at the time, as a barista at Farley's, and delighted in grumbling, along with the locals, about the horrific gentrification which was occurring right beneath our bohemian noses.

It went something like this:

Grumble, grumble, small businesses!
Gentrification, bah!
Corporate industrial complex, harumph.
Er, one latte, please.

However, I was secretly delighted to soon be able to roll my lazy boo-tay down the hill for last-minute organic produce needs, rather than take a hilly 10 or 20 minute hike to the other options.

But no Whole Foods can ever hold a candle to Rainbow, our local and completely awesome grocery co-op which has been a staple of SF since the '70s.

I picked up a few things at 'Whole Paycheck' the other day, and, placing my purchases in my canvas Rainbow grocery bag, was delighted when the cashier (who was much friendlier than the surly Rainbow employees - excuse me, workers) piped up that she loved Rainbow and did most of her shopping there. 'Their bulk section is what every bulk section wants to be,' she said dreamily.

Indeed, Rainbow is the bomb-diggity.

Yet every place has its ups and downs, and some things are hard to come by there.

First of all, they stock no meat... except for pet food! This is a source of heated debate among owners, (or so one cashier told me), some of whom say, Why not stock meat and do it right?, while others (probably vegans who resent the luxurious cheese selection) argue that you can buy meat anywhere. Anywhere except for Rainbow, that is.

Secondly, their avocados are unfailingly rock-hard. You have to plan a week in advance if you want a ripe avocado from Rainbow, and more often than not, after all that anticipation, you'll cut it open to find it has rotted from the inside out, just to spite you. As we consider avocados not an occasional luxury but a daily necessity, we are sometimes forced to buy these at you-know-where. (In fact, that's probably what I was getting that day.)

I really wanted this post to be about my very original peach crumble pie with green cardamom ice cream. But was I foiled by Rainbow. I bought three pounds of Blossom Bluff peaches (not cheap!), schlepped them home, made, chilled, rolled out, and blind baked pie dough, blanched and peeled the peaches, made a crumble topping, and baked the pie. It was really good, mind, but the crumble part melted into more of a sugary crust than the loose streusel I was hoping for, and I only want to give you folks recipes which I consider to be pretty perfect. So I went back to Rainbow, ready to shell out the dinero for another 3 pounds of Blossom Bluff peaches, only to find the produce section devoid of stone fruit. I panicked, then asked an worker if it could possibly be the end of the season already. Thankfully I was informed that there was merely a gap in shipments.

So I went to the farmer's market, found the darn peaches (which were gigantic), and hauled them home (ok, Jay hauled them home). But a few of them got squished on the way and had to be promptly consumed. (It was awful.)

I debated going on a third peach hunt, but finally decided to just go ahead and bake Deb of Smitten Kitchen's brown butter buckle with the 1 1/2 pounds of peaches that were left. Vanilla bean-infused brown butter baked into a buckle laden with juicy peach chunks and streusel proved a much quicker way to get a peach dessert fix than messing around with pie crusts, peach peeling, and surly employee/workers, anyway.

I'd been curious to make buckle since Cook's ran a blueberry buckle article and recipe several years ago. The name stems from the fact that the fruit-laden batter 'buckles' up as it bakes. The texture of this one is like a sturdy and highly fruited coffeecake; the sort you eat on a plate with a fork with a dollop of creme fraiche for breakfast, or warmed with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for dessert. This buckle would be equally at home made with sliced plums, or poached pears, apples, or quinces.

I will get that darn pie right at some point, though. Just maybe not this season...

To further indulge your brown butter obsession:
Berry-Fig (or anything) Financiers
Chocolate-Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake (Gluten free!)
Pumpkin Chocolate-Chip Coffee Cake with Brown Butter Glaze

Vanilla Brown Butter Peach Buckle

Makes 10ish servings

Adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen

I used a combination of yogurt and half and half for the dairy in this recipe, since that's what I usually have around, but feel free to use whole milk or buttermilk instead, as per the original recipe. I baked mine in a 9" springform pan, but any 9 or 10" cake pan or skillet with 2" high sides will work.

Buckle batter:
6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus a little extra for greasing the pan
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
3/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat or spelt flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup plain, whole milk yogurt
1/3 cup half and half
4 large, ripe but firm peaches (about 1 1/2 pounds), halved, pitted and sliced into 1/2" thick wedges (4-5 cups)
powdered sugar for dusting (optional)
creme fraiche, whipped cream or ice cream for serving (optional)

1/4 cup reserved brown butter from above
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350º. Grease a 9" springform pan with butter and set the pan on a rimmed baking sheet.

Place the butter and the vanilla bean pod and scrapings in a medium saucepan and melt over medium heat. Cook over medium heat, swirling occasionally, until the butter browns and smells nutty, 5 - 10 minutes. The butter will foam up, and the milk solids on the bottom of the pan should be a rich brown color, not black. The rest of the butter will remain golden-amber. Watch it carefully, as it can go from brown to burnt in little time. Remove from the heat and let cool sightly. Remove the vanilla pod and discard. Give the butter a stir to distribute the browned bits and vanilla seeds, and measure out 1/2 cup for the cake. Reserve the remaining 1/4 cup for the streusel.

Meanwhile, whisk or sift together the flours, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and eggs. Slowly whisk in the 1/2 cup of brown butter. Whisk together the yogurt and half and half, then whisk into the egg mixture. Add the flour and stir to combine. Spread the batter into the pan. Arrange the peach wedges in concentric circles on top.

For the streusel, whisk together the sugars, flour, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl (like the one that held your dries for the cake, for instance.) Drizzle in the remaining 1/4 cup of brown butter and toss with your fingers until large clumps form. Sprinkle this evenly over the peaches.

Bake the buckle until golden and pulling away from the sides of the pan, 50-60 minutes. It can be a bit tricky to tell when the buckle is done baking, as the fruit lets off a lot of juices, which you want, but makes it hard to tell if what you're getting on your tester is underbaked batter, which you don't want. (If you happen to have a springform pan with a glass bottom, this will ensure that you don't overbake it.) Take your best guess, then let the buckle cool completely.

Dust with powdered sugar if you like. Slice and serve. The buckle keeps well in the fridge for up to several days.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Smoky Baba Ganouj

When I was young(er), my dad would brine a turkey every Thanksgiving and fire up the smoker in our Topanga Canyon yard. I wish I could convey more details of the doubtlessly laborious endeavor of smoking a whole turkey, or describe to you the intoxicating smell of the meat or the taste of the succulent flesh, but the only thing I truly remember of my childhood Thanksgivings are the pumpkin pie and cinnamon ice cream that we'd have for dessert.

(Sorry, Dad, that's just the kind of Bojon Gourmet I am.)

Now that I'm (ahem - slightly) older, and live in an apartment with about 2 square feet of outdoor space (fire escape), I can more fully appreciate things like smokers, laborious endeavors, and even dads.

Speaking of things I never fully appreciated, my dad's mom, who we called Bubba, was an amazing and dedicated cook. I wish I had learned to make her blintzes before she passed away 15 years ago. Like most kids, I didn't care much for eggplant, but if I had, I would have also hit her up for her baba ganouj recipe. (Instead I was forced to consult my two veg cooking gurus, Deborah Madison and Molly Katzen.)

Traditionally, an eggplant is roasted over an open flame or grilled in hot coals until collapsing and charred all over, which imparts a rich smokiness to the sultry puree of eggplant, tahini, lemon, and garlic. Bubba lived in an apartment, too, so I'm not sure how she cooked her eggplant, but her baba ganouj was still delish.

For apartment dwellers everywhere cursed with merely an oven and gas (or worse - electric) range, a cheater way to add smoky flavor to your baba ganouj is by adding pimenton de la vera, or smoked paprika.

I adore this spice in bacon and smoked cheddar scones, maple-bacon butter cookies and corn and poblano chowder, and it is no letdown here either. The beautiful brick-red powder adds a touch of umami and also imparts a warm hue to the often dingy, grey spread.

Baba ganouj is a tasty way to take advantage of eggplant, with which the markets and boxes are practically bursting these days. It makes a nice change from the standard hummus for an appetizer or snack. By all means, if you have a grill, go ahead and use it to roast the eggplant. Make a mediterranean meze platter with dolmas, kalamata olives, and some sliced tomatoes and cucumbers drizzled with olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt. Serve the baba ganouj with pita wedges, sourdough crackers or focaccia, or slices of sourdough or olive bread brushed with olive oil and toasted.

Or grilled, should you be so lucky.

Eggplant Endeavors:
Roasted Eggplant Parmesan
Roasted Summer Vegetable Caponata

Smoky Baba Ganouj

Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison, and the New Moosewood Cookbook, by Molly Katzen

Molly Katzen says you can vary this dip by adding 1/2 cup greek yogurt and 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin. Yum!

1 large (1 1/4 pounds) globe eggplant, halved lengthwise
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
3 tablespoons tahini
1 tablespoon good olive oil, plus extra for serving
3/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon salt
juice of 1 - 1 1/2 lemons
small handful parsley leaves for garnish

Preheat the oven to 425º. Place the eggplant halves cut side down on a baking sheet and roast until very soft to the point of collapsing, about 30 minutes. Let cool until handleable, then scoop out the flesh, placing in a food processor. Add the garlic and tahini, and puree smooth. Add the olive oil, paprika, and the smaller amounts of salt and lemon. Puree, adding more salt or lemon to taste, if necessary. (Alternatively, you can mash the garlic and salt together to a paste in a mortar and pestle or with a fork on a cutting board. Mash everything together in a bowl, leaving it slightly chunky.)

Chill for an hour or so if you have the time, to let the flavors meld. The garlic in particular will become more pronounced as it sits.

To serve, mound the baba ganouj in a bowl, make a well with the back of a spoon, and drizzle with olive oil. Top with plenty of parsley and a few pinches of smoked paprika.

The baba ganouj will keep, refrigerated, for at least several days.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Hibiscus-Tequila Spritzers

I secretly call this drink 'Jamaica Me Crazy.' In Mexico, where hibiscus water (agua de jamaica) originates, they actually pronounce it 'huh-MY-cuh,' making this pun slightly less clever. But some folks complain that tequila causes them to act nutso, so I find the name apropos.

Others claim that tequila is the 'cleanest-burning' of the boozes and the easiest on the body. (But then, they also said that about agave, and now everyone's freaking out about it not being the answer to all their problems.)

In my opinion, booze is booze and sugar is sugar. And everything is ok in moderation. Even (especially) moderation itself.

If there's one thing I know for sure it is that these bevvies are insanely good. So mix yourself up a tangy and refreshing Jamaica-Tequila Spritzer and enjoy a bit of moderation today.


Drink up:
Sparkling Whiskey Gingerade
DIY Tonic Water
Bojon Masala Chai

Jamaica-Tequila Spritzers

Feel free to omit the tequila for refreshing virgin drink. Props to Heidi Swanson for introducing this delicious drink to hippy bakers like myself in her book Super Natural Cooking.

1/2 cup jamaica petals
2 cups water
ice cubes
1/2 cup agave nectar
1 cup tequila
juice of 2 limes, plus 6 lime slices or wedges for garnish
about 1 quart sparkling water

In a stainless steel saucepan, bring the jamaica and water to a boil. Turn off the heat, cover and let steep for 10 or 20 minutes. Carefully (it's very stainy!) strain through a fine mesh sieve and into a quart-sized jar or measuring cup, pressing on the flowers to extract all the liquid. Add the agave and stir to combine. Add ice cubes to the mixture to increase it to three cups, and let the ice melt, stirring, until the mixture is cold.

For 6 drinks: Add 1 cup of tequila and the juice of two limes to the mixture. Fill six glasses halfway with ice cubes, divide the jamaica mixture among them, and top with sparkling water. Garnish with lime slices and serve.

For single drinks: pour 1/2 cup of the Jamaica mixture into a cup filled halfway with ice. Add 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces/1 jigger) of tequila, add a squeeze of lime juice, and top with sparkling water. The jamaica mixture will keep in the fridge for at least a week.