Friday, September 23, 2011

Plum Kuchen

Photos courtesy of the Girl

A few weeks ago, the girl and I were at Whole Foods and she spotted some prune plums. She immediately asked if they were organic because she had a plum kuchen (German for cake) recipe she wanted to try. Unfortunately they were not, so we left the store without the plums.
The next week at the Copley Square farmer's market, I was looking a the fantastic fruit at the stands and what did I find? Organic prune plums! I left the market with a quart of plums and knew a plum kuchen would be baked in the near future.
The prune plums are Italian and are smaller than the standard plums you see at the store. They have a very nice dark color and their firmness stands up well in the kuchen. The recipe original recipe was changed slightly by the girl (changes included below) to have cardamom instead of cinnamon. She also added vanilla extract for a bit more depth of flavor.

Plum Kuchen
Adapted from The New Elegant But Easy Cookbook
1/4 pound unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup plus 1 or 2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup unbleached flour

1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cardamom or more, to taste
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
24 halves pitted Italian (prune or purple) plums

cinnamon to taste  (can omit this)

1. Arrange a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Cream the butter and the 3/4 cup of sugar until pale in color (5 minutes or more is ideal). Sift the flour, baking powder, cardamom, and salt together and add to the butter and sugar mixture. Make a well, add the eggs and vanilla, and beat just to combine. Be careful not to overwork the dough - folding is great for this. Spoon the batter into an ungreased 9- or 10-inch springform pan (or an 8 x 8 square pan). Cover the top with the plums, skin sides down. Mix the cinnamon with the remaining 1 or 2 tablespoons of sugar and sprinkle this over the top.

3. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool; refrigerate or freeze if desired.

4. To serve, let the cake return to room temperature and reheat at 300 degrees until warm, if desired. Serve plain or with vanilla ice cream.

Friday, August 26, 2011

North End Feasts - Fisherman's Feast

One of the wonderful summer traditions in Boston comes out of the North End. Every year there are a series of 'Feasts' starting in early June and continuing through August. The Feasts are celebrations of saints and are organized and benefit North End Religious Societies connected to the saints. They typically close a couple streets and have food, religious ceremonies, games, concerts, and parades.

This past weekend the girl and I went to the Fisherman's Feast . The Fisherman's Feast is "based on a tradition goes back to the 16th century in Sciacca Sicily. The Feast is based on the devotion of the fishermen from Sciacca to the Madonna del Soccorso (Our Lady of Help). When the fishermen immigrated to America in the early 1900's, they brought their traditions with them."

It was the first time either of us had been to a Feast so we didn't really know what to expect. We made our way over to the North End and wandered around (following the noise and smell of food) until we found it. There were lots and lots of food stalls serving all kinds of Italian food. There were huge arancini (rice balls), sausage with peppers and onions, pasta of all kinds, fresh filled to order cannoli and Italian cookies and other treats. There were even ice cream cannoli! We wandered through the streets enjoying the smells of the food, looking at the souvenir stalls (lots of t-shirts and other gifts), and listening to the music. We ended up buying some really good almond cantuccini, basically another name for biscotti.

After wandering through the Feast, we headed for some gelato (the hazelnut was amazing!) from the little shop next to the Citizen's Bank on the corner of Hanover and Cross Street. We took it over to the Greenway and did some people watching while the sun was setting, I was amazed at how busy the area was, it's really nice to see!

This weekend, August 26-29, is the St. Anthony's Feast. It is the last of the big Feasts and is usually one of the biggest. Hopefully the hurricane doesn't completely wash it out! If you have a chance to get down there, I would definitely suggest it, it's a nice way to spend a little time outside.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Beer of the Week: Notch Brewing Saison

Notch Brewing Saison
Beer of the Week 7/23/11 to 7/29/11

One of my favorite beer companies right now is Notch Brewing. They are part of the session beer movement in the US, focusing on beers brewed with an ABV of 4.5% or less (this ABV cutoff could be a very long post on it's own, but I will spare you that!). These session beers are styled after English beers where the point is lower alcohol so that you can have multiple over a long session without getting completely drunk or feeling awful the next day.

Notch is brewed by Chris Lohring, formerly of Tremont Brewery. Notch currently has two standard offerings, their session ale, and a session pils. They have also brewed small batch specialty beers for The Haven restaurant (70 Schilling and a heather ale) as well as a special Dark Mild cask for the American Craft Beer Festival.

Notch's current limited release is the Notch Saison. Saisons were originally brewed for farm workers as something to quench their thirst on the fields. As you can imagine, they were brewed at a low alcohol level since drunk field workers aren't very productive!

I first tried Notch's version on cask at the Drink Craft Beer 5th Anniversary party at Stoddard's. I immediately fell in love with it. The saison pours an orange color with a frothy head. The head goes away pretty quickly leaving some lacing on the glass. The smell to me is fruity, some citrus, and yeast. The flavor also has the citrus flavor but there is a wonderful bitterness to it. I really like how it is sour and bitter but I'm not put off by it. The bitterness makes me want to go back for more!

Right now this is only a limited release in 22oz bottles and on draft in select places. I really hope that it becomes a regular beer because it is one of my favorites. I'm going to stock up on some 22 ounce bottles just to be sure!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

German Potato Salad

Potato salad. A New England cookout staple. Chunks of potato, mixed with mayo, maybe some onion or cherry tomatoes, it's a classic summertime side dish. Unfortunately, mayo doesn't keep very well outside in hot temperatures. It has never been my favorite, unless I get the first scoop from the fridge or cooler when I know it hasn't been baking in the sun.

The solution? German potato salad. The vinegar and mustard based dressing on this style of salad keeps it fresh and delicious all cookout long (although it probably won't last very long!).

The recipe we used is from How Stuff Works (the girl also put it in a cookbook of our favorite recipes for our anniversary). This salad goes well with chicken, burgers or Italian sausage. We used some early new potatoes from my CSA and I'm sure we will make it again with our homegrown fingerlings! Give it a try the next time you are tasked with bringing a side dish to a cookout. I'm sure everyone will be happy with the change of pace from classic pasta salad!

Lemon Romano Vinaigrette

In the summer, the girl and I love a simple grilled chicken salad for dinner. Our go-to dressing is usually a basic balsamic and olive oil drizzle. We were flipping through a recent Everyday Food magazine and came across a section full of simple salad dressings. Wanting something different, we decided to try out a lemon Parmesan recipe. We tweaked it slightly (more lemon, Pecorino Romano instead of Parmesan) and lightly dressed our salad with it.

Lemon Pecorino Vinaigrette
Adapted from Everyday Food

1/3 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Pinch of sugar
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano

In a small bowl, whisk together 1/3 cup lemon juice, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and a pinch of sugar.

Slowly add 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, whisking until emulsified. Or shake the ingredients in a jar, or whirl them in a blender. (We put all ingredients in a small jar and shook...worked like a charm!)

*Another easy salad idea that goes well with this dressing: Thinly slice a large fennel bulb (I had one from my CSA) and half a Granny Smith apple. Toss together with lemon dressing (as much as you'd like, but I'd recommend a small amount so as not to over power the fennel and apple flavors). This is a great hot weather side dish. Crisp, bright, and delicious!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Beer of the Week: Clown Shoes Clementine

Clown Shoes Clementine
Beer of the Week 7/16/11 to 7/22/11

This past week in New England was an absolute scorcher. Temps in the upper 90s and even over 100 degrees. What's better on a hot day than a nice cold beer?! I stopped by the liquor store on the way home and decided to try out Clown Shoes Clementine white ale. This is brewed with coriander, orange peel, and clementine which gives it a refreshing taste. When I first tried it, it really tasted a lot like Sam Adams Summer Ale. The smell was much stronger in orange/clementine than the Sam Summer though.

I really enjoyed the first three quarters or so of the pint, but as the beer started to warm up, I started liking it less and less (same thing happens with Sam Summer). It's hard to explain what happens to the flavors when it warms up, but to me they just become muddled and the coriander takes center stage. Overall the beer was good (best when it is really cold, in my opinion) but not something I would race out to buy again. I would reconsider if I could find it in a 12oz bottle rather than the 22oz bottles that are available now.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Beer of the Week: Harpoon Oak Aged Dunkel (100 Barrel Series #34)

Harpoon Oak Aged Dunkel
Beer of the Week 7/9/11 to 7/15/11

It's time for another beer of the week. I must admit, spring and summer have really kept me busy. I've been spending time in both of the gardens a lot and just enjoying the summer. The beer of the week posts have slipped a bit but I'll be honest, I didn't want this blog to turn into a full on beer blog and lose sight of the bigger picture. Since the last beer of the week post, I have had plenty of beers, but rather than bombarding you all with strictly beer posts, I'm just going to pick up from here and try my best from here on out to give you a beer of the week for the rest of the year!
A few months back I picked up a bottle of Harpoon 100 Barrel Series Oak Aged Dunkel. This is number 34 of the series. The 100 Barrel Series is a pretty cool concept. Every few months brewers at Harpoon make a small batch of a special brew (100 barrels...hence the name). I have had a couple of these in the past (Island Creek Oyster Stout was one of my favorites) and I try to pick them up if I can.

The Oak Aged Dunkel is a German style of beer and Harpoon used German ingredients for it. The oak comes from the secondary aging where they use "oak infusion spirals" to give it that woody oak flavor.

When I poured this beer, there was a substantial very foamy head (maybe due to the high carbonation...or just my pour!) but it dissipated really quickly and left just a small bit of lacing on the side of the glass. It was a very dark beer but not heavy. The carbonation, as I mentioned before, is very high. I liked this beer more as it warmed up. I felt like I got more of the malt and oak flavor. The oak definitely hit me a bit more in the nose than on my tongue.

Overall, a very good beer. Not something I would drink regularly but for a special occassion, I would drink it again (although I don't think I can get it anymore!). If you are in the mood for a new different kind of beer, I really recommend looking out for the 100 Barrel Series beers, it's fun to see what interesting things the brewers come up with!
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