Friday, September 18, 2009

Peaches by the Pound—Cake

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Every time I look at a peach, I think about pound cake. Some people think about ice cream, and I agree that fresh peach ice cream is terrifically good. Others think about pickling them, and still others insist that the only way to eat a peach is dripping out of hand. But for me, the best way to eat ripe, flavorful peaches is gently cooked in butter and brown sugar with a few spices until they glisten with a garnet sauce, and then pour them over a slice of good, rich, homemade poundcake. This is of course a lovely way to end dinner. But it makes for a very nice breakfast. And a fine afternoon pick-me-up. You needn’t choose: pound cakes are large enough and keep admirably enough to suit your fancy all week.

When I buy peaches, I put them on a paper towel on a big plate, well-separated and covered with a cotton towel, and leave them on the counter to soften. Don’t be fooled by the photo, where they are stacked on top of tomatoes. It’s just a pose. Never stack peaches or otherwise allow them to touch. Once they are as you like them, put them in the refrigerator if you are not ready to use them.


4-5 small peaches
2 T unsalted butter
2 T firmly packed light brown sugar
¼ tea cardamom
1-2 drops pure almond extract
pinch of ground white pepper
½ tea good whiskey

Peel peaches: dip briefly into simmering water to loosen skins; if skins have begun to wrinkle, they can be relatively easy to peel without the scalding. Cut in half and pull apart from the stone; slice into a 9” frying pan into which you have put the butter. Heat medium high to melt the butter and sauté for a minute or two. Reduce the heat to medium low, add the brown sugar and spices and sauté another minute, then add the extract and whiskey and simmer another minute more. Set aside. (If you refrigerate before using, give it about 20 seconds in the microwave).

Perfect Pound Cake

This represents the final adjustment to three separate recipes for pound cake, all of which start in a cold oven. Its flavor and texture is, in my opinion, perfect.

2 sticks ( ½ lb) COLD unsalted butter
½ cup shortening
2 ¾ cup sugar
6 large fresh eggs
2 tea pure vanilla extract
1/8 tea freshly ground nutmeg
¼ tea cardamom
pinch salt
1 tea baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup fresh whole milk

Sift the flour with the baking powder and set aside. Butter well a 10” light-metal tube pan.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In a standing mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening for about 3 minutes at medium speed, until well combined and smooth. With the motor running, gradually add the sugar at medium-low speed, then turn the mixer to medium-high and beat about 5 minutes, til fluffy. Scrape down the  sides.

Reduce the heat to low and add the eggs one at a time; when combined, add the vanilla, nutmeg, cardamom, and salt. Sift the flour with the baking powder. Add the dry ingredients alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the dry. Scrape down any remaining flour, turn the mixer up to about medium and give it a final quick blend to bring it all together.

Spoon the batter into the pan, rotating it on the counter surface to smooth the top. Place in the lower middle of the cold oven. Turn the oven on to 350 F and bake 1 hour 10 minutes; it will be nicely golden. Reduce the heat to 325 F and continue baking another 15 minutes, or until the sides just begin to pull away from the pan and a fine skewer comes out clean from the highest point. Do not over-bake. Remove to a rack to cool for about 10 minutes. If needed, loosen around the edges and center with a knife, and turn out onto the rack to cool completely.

Serve with the peaches. I like to serve it in wedges, but the texture is so fine you can cut it in paper-thin slices if you like. Divide it and freeze half, wrapped tightly in plastic and foil, if, like me, you live alone. Or give some to a neighbor. Otherwise, you will polish it off yourself in no time.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Little Bitty Pretty Ones: Yellow Crooknecks


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         I have a good excuse for my silence last week: I had the dreaded flu. Rumors of its “mildness” are misleading. If you are a young adult, the majority of expected cases, it is true. But based on what we are seeing with faculty, physicians, and others being exposed to those mild cases and for whom the adjective “young” must be dropped, it can be brutal. Delirious for nearly three days, unable to sit up, eat, or stay awake more than an hour at a time, I lost 5 pounds in 5 days, and am left with a secondary bronchial infection. And I was being treated.

So when my appetite slowly started to return, there was little that appealed to me. A bit of fruit, some plain yogurt. Solid food? No way. Back at work, I passed by the Krispy Kreme doughnuts in the office, unheard of for me, who usually takes two. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever want to eat anything solid again, and went to the farmers’ market to look around and see if anything called, “eat me!” Surprisingly, it was these little squash. I don’t like squash. I mean, I can eat it, but almost never buy it except for a few specific purposes. But they were so cute! And sunny! They looked like I wished I felt; grateful for the hopefulness they embodied, I bought them.

Of course, the fact that these squash are a good source of iron, vitamin C, and numerous other vitamins and minerals may have been an intuitive attraction. But really, their smooth yellow skins and perky stem ends are what won me over. They looked appetizing, and I knew they would be a good, plain, easy thing to eat. Feeling confident that my appetite was returning, I also bought some nice pastured chicken. Simply grilled, they both went down just fine.

Grilled Yellow Crookneck Squash

Buy the smallest ones you can find. With summer late this year, these fast-growing squash have offered a second chance for farmers. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

yellow crooknecks, as many as you need
olive oil
snipped basil
lemon juice
salt and pepper

Leave the little squash whole; if you can only find larger ones, split them in half lengthwise. Brush the squash with olive oil and put them on a medium-hot grill (put split ones split-side down), turning them from time to time with a pair of tongs. Cook little ones for about 5 minutes, until they are slightly blackened here and there and a sharp knife enters and releases easily from the bulbous end; do not overcook. Remove to a bowl and toss with salt, pepper, basil, and a little fresh-squeezed lemon juice.