Gam’s Cocoa Apple Cake

Gam’s Cocoa Apple CakeSeason’s Greetings
For most of the country, the Labor Day weekend signals the beginning of cooler temperatures and spiced flavors of fall (regardless of what the calendar says is the actual start of the season). Those of us here in California know that, despite the recent cooler weather, it is not yet time to guzzle pumpkin spice or bring the sweaters out of storage. Because, dear friends, the hottest days of the year are actually ahead of us. For Californians, fall doesn’t really start until around Halloween.

For the record, I had a chai latte this morning. Why should you care? Because chai spices are basically the gateway to pumpkin spice. I’m not quite ready to go there yet! But, I found myself in a bit of a fall mood brought on by the cooler temps this morning as well as the apple picking we did over the weekend. So, I compromised.

The apple picking happened because my brother in law’s apple tree runneth over at the moment and it is just WAY too much for one man no matter how many neighborhood squirrels there are. I think we picked at least 40 pounds of apples…maybe more which means now I have to figure out what to do with all of them. Upon arrival at home, I immediately threw some in my pressure cooker and made applesauce. That was a no-brainer. My daughter made a couple of Dutch Apple pies which the kids have been enjoying for breakfast. Of course, we have been eating the apples straight as snacks. And, the kids have been putting them in their lunches with a little peanut butter. But, I have to figure out what to do with the rest. Thus, I have been going through my cookbooks and re-examining some of my favorite recipes.

One recipe that jumped out at me was my grandmother’s Cocoa Apple Cake. It is one of two that I always loved growing up. The second one was an applesauce cake that she made with her homemade applesauce. (I’m still trying to find it.) The chocolate in this bundt cake recipe makes it popular with the young as well as the old while the apples keep it nice and moist. It’s a delicious addition to a lunch box or as a snack for the PTA meeting.

Gam’s Cocoa Apple Cake
Yields 10 to 12 Servings Read more…

Plum Upside-Down Cake

Plum Upside-Down CakeDun Gone Plum Crazy
In case you haven’t noticed, it’s plum season. Beautiful black plums, red plums, French plums and all sorts of pluots are available for your eating pleasure pretty much anywhere fruit is sold. I love plums. In my opinion, they are best when they are still slightly firm so that the skin is still a bit tart but the flesh is super sweet. Yum!

In my yard, I have essentially two plum trees. One is a hybrid that combines a couple of varieties so its hard to say what type it is. The other is actually a pluot. Both are about 5 years old and neither one has produced any fruit…until this year.

Because we had a crazy amount of rain last year, my trees were loaded with fruit by May/June. I can’t tell you how excited I was. I went out there every day to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. Each day they got bigger and bigger and when they finally started to change color and ripen I was vibrating with excitement and then one day, they were gone.

I don’t know if it was squirrels, rats or raccoons but my bumper crop vanished overnight with no evidence left behind. I was baffled and distraught and more than a little bit angry.

Since then I have been having to sooth my plum craving via the different varieties we have here at the store and also with what is available at the farmer’s market in my neighborhood. And, don’t get me wrong, the plums are great. But, it’s not the same as eating your own homegrown version right off of the tree.

Over the weekend I went plum crazy and bought more than we will be able to consume fresh so I plan on making this upside-down cake with what’s left over. There is never a bad time for cake and I will especially enjoy it with a cup of coffee looking out my window watching the squirrels eat the majority of this year’s pomegranate crop…sigh.

Plum Upside-Down Cake
Adapted from Food & Wine Magazine
Yields one 9-inch cake Read more…

Tomato Chile Melon Salad

Tomato Chile Melon SaladTomato Treasure
This is the time of year when tomatoes are at their best. And, if you are growing your own, chances are you have more than you can handle. For me, that was always the best part of gardening. There is nothing better than a homegrown tomato. Giving a portion of your bumper crop to someone who understands and appreciates that a homegrown tomato is worth its weight in gold is just as satisfying as eating one. In fact, I tended to over-plant just so I could give some away. Mainly to my mother who lived for a summer tomato sandwich.

Time constraints and squirrel invaders have prevented me from planting a tomato garden in recent years. So, I have become hopefully dependent upon the generosity of my tomato-growing friends and I am beyond grateful when they share.

Summer tomatoes make the best meals because they don’t require you to do anything with them. They are basically the perfect snack. The flavors are so good that to hide them under or in a heavy sauce or as an ingredient in a complex recipe is in my mind criminal. If you ask my husband, the best way to eat a summer tomato is to slice it up, sprinkle it with a bit of sea salt and eat it with a fork. That was how my grandmother liked to eat hers, too. But, she would also serve them sliced alongside some avocado wedges and sprinkled with a little bit of Italian dressing (and the occasional dollop of mayo). I think that is one of my favorite “salads” that I serve with grilled steaks. Having a variety of heirloom tomatoes sliced on a platter can be a very pretty yet simple side dish addition to any meal.

I think if I had to pick my favorite way to eat peak of season tomatoes, though, it would be sliced and set atop some creamy fresh burrata cheese that has been spread on a slice toasted baguette. Heaven! (Add a little prosciutto and you have the perfect picnic!) Which is probably why this Tomato Chile Melon Salad recipe appeals to me so much. It’s basically an appetizer platter in a bowl.

Tomato Chile Melon Salad
Yields 4 Servings Read more…

Fresh Elote Salad

Fresh Elote SaladCorn Off the Cob
Typically at this time every year, I am going crazy for all of the sweet, local corn that is available. And by crazy I mean eating it 2 to 3 time a week. This year, though, we have been relatively corn-free.
My feelings on fresh, sweet corn haven’t changed. I still love it. My family loves it. When it comes down to it, our lack of corn consumption can be traced to two things: economics and braces. Two of my three kids have braces on their teeth. Those of you who have ever had braces or know anyone who has will agree having braces on your teeth makes biting into an ear of corn a challenge.
The other deterrent to our annual corn-a-palooza would be the cost of having to re-attach a bracket that had been ripped off while biting into an ear of corn. The monthly payments times two are bad enough on their own, thanks. Of course, you can cut the kernels off the cobb to make it easier but then there is the fun of cleaning corn out your braces after. So long story short, we’re not eating a lot of corn this summer.
I am going to have to make an exception for this recipe. It takes one of my favorite street foods and reworks it into a much easier-to-eat form and with enough cheese and other goodness to make the challenge of cleaning out your braces worth it. And, note that doubling the recipe would make it a hit at any large gathering or backyard BBQ.
Fresh Elote Salad 
Adapted from Food 52
Yields 4 to 6 servings
This delicious side can also be served as a dip with tortilla chips.

Read more…

Pork Rillettes

Pork RillettesBeach Bites
Hitting the beach in the summer is awesome…the sun…the surf. There is nothing better than kicking back at the beach and relaxing. And, you’ll need it because as great as a day at the beach can be, the schlepping of all of the stuff you need is not.

I admire those people who can throw everything they need for a day at the beach into a cinch-sac and head out the door. I am not one of those people. I would like to be—but I am not. I require a chair and an umbrella at a minimum. And, of course, a cooler full of tasty food and refreshing drinks.

Of all the things you need for a day at the beach, I think the food it the hardest because it actually takes some preplanning. Because we head to the beach every summer when we go to Tahoe, my sister and I are now a well-oiled machine when it comes to packing lunch for 10 of us. But, you better be okay with a sandwich and some chips for lunch. That is just our routine at Tahoe.

Before we got married and even for some time after, my husband and I used to spend our weekends sailing the bay either on our own or with friends. Our favorite place to stop for lunch was on Angel Island and I always tried to pack something good to eat. Sometimes we hiked around to the south side and ate on the beach there. (We did that once for Fleet Week. The Blue Angels flew right over our heads. It was fantastic.) More often than not though we would find an empty picnic table or sometimes just eat on the boat. It goes without saying that whatever we brought had to be compact. The sailboat wasn’t that big. And, if you had to haul your lunch around an island, you didn’t want to bring a big heavy cooler. So I got good at making what I call snacky lunches.

Snacky lunches are basically picnics made up of a bunch different things that when you choose a little of this and a little of that make up a rather lovely lunch. They usually consisted of a fresh baguette, a variety of cheeses, assorted charcuterie, cut veggies, some dips or spreads, fruit, and something bite-size and decadent for dessert. Sometimes, if we had a bigger group I would add on an orzo or tomato salad.

Occasionally I would make Rillettes because it is the perfect picnic food. You can spread it on a fresh baguette or crackers and you store it in a mason jar for easy transport. If you are planning on hitting the beach in the near future, give this a try…

Pork Rillettes
Yields about 5 cups Read more…