Saturday, February 9, 2013

Snow, cast iron and pears

Snow in Maine - duh, right?  Not this year.  We've been snow-deprived for weeks.

And then came Nemo.

This meant a snow day on Friday and over two feet of fluffy, gorgeous flakes piled outside our home in layered mountains, carved by the wind.

This also meant extra time in the kitchen to bake, cook and poke through recipes, which makes an all-around awesome weekend.  From Heidi's Lemony Olive Oil Banana Bread to turkey veggie soup with homemade stock and roasted red peppers stuffed with scrambled eggs, topped with pepper jack and broiled to golden deliciousness - it's all good.  But I'm most excited about the recipe mash-up I did to create my winter upside down cake.

I am reading Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life (read it now!) and immediately tagged the recipe for fresh ginger cake with caramelized pears. I know - big surprise for those of you who know me well as ginger is one of my food obsessions.  I've also been hankering for an upside down cake made with pears in one of my cast iron skillets.  Mom's memories of her mother making pineapple upside down cake in the same cast iron skillet each time have been lingering in the waiting room of my brain for weeks.  Now that I have a few of the cast iron pieces that my Oma and Opa cooked with for decades, I have no excuse to make that upside down cake wait any longer. So I took Molly's recipe and found a few others for upside down cakes and did a real mash up.  What came out of the oven was exactly what I was looking for and it tasted heavenly!  If you love gingerbread and melted brown sugar goodness (seriously - you just said,"bring it on!" - right?), then bake this immediately and enjoy a warm slice with ice cream melting down the sides.

Even if you don't have piles of snow outside your window.

Pear Ginger Upside Down Cake with Walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a *9 inch cast iron skillet, melt:

4 T unsalted butter on low
1/2 cup dark brown sugar

Stir to combine for about 4 minutes.  Then add:

2 sliced pears, firm ripe
1 cup walnuts (or a nut of your choice - pecans would be good, too)

Saute to coat and dissolve sugar - about another 5 minutes.  Watch the temperature, though so it doesn't caramelize and harden into taffy like clumps (I'm speaking from experience!).  Then turn off the heat, even out the mixture in the bottom of the pan with a spoon and turn to your cake batter.

In a small bowl, whisk:

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup flax meal (you could use nut meal here as well)
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1/2 t ground cardamom

In a medium bowl, whisk:

1/2 cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
1/3 cup unsulphured molasses
4 T melted, unsalted butter (slightly cooled)
1/4 c maple syrup
1 egg
2 T grated fresh ginger
1 t vanilla
zest of 1 orange

Add the flour mixture into the wet ingredients and stir to combine.  Pour the batter over the pear mixture in your skillet. Bake for about 35-40 until the cake springs back.  Cool in pan on rack for 3 minutes, then loosen edges, cover pan with plate and turn out cake.  Replace any pears or nuts that have stuck to the skillet.  Sprinkle the cake with 2 T dark rum.  Cool 10 more minutes and slice to serve warm with fresh whipped cream or ice cream of your choice.

*If you don't have a 9 inch cast iron skillet from Oma and Opa (or anyone else), then use a regular skillet to make the pear mixture as directed above, then scrape that into a 9 x 3 inch cake pan, pour batter on top and bake as directed.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Winter and fruit make friends

That's right - summer does not have a monopoly on fruit.

Winter is stepping up to the plate with pickled peaches, strawberry jam, flash frozen blueberries, preserved lemons, apple rhubarb chutney and my new favorite: dried fruit compote.

Picture this: plump figs, pears, cherries, dates and apricots swimming in sweet syrup turned dark from warm spices like cloves, star anise and cardamom. No extra sugar and it's a cinch to make.  Seriously - do you SEE the gorgeous figs strutting their stuff through the side of the mason jar?!

Ladle it over warm oatmeal for breakfast, thick Greek yogurt at lunch, or top with whipped cream and toasted nuts for dessert.  In fact, I would not blame you if you did all three in the same day.  

Go ahead. 
It's OK.  
It's fruit.  
It's good for you.

Dried Fruit Compote
adapted from Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Cafe 

3 cups mixed dried fruit (natural, not coated with sugar)
*whole spices 
A few strips of citrus peel, just the outer layer (I used orange and grapefruit)
Boiling water, enough to cover the fruit - about 3 cups
juice of 1 orange

Mix the fruit in a large bowl, pottery or glass work well.  Put in the whole spices and strips of citrus peel.  Pour boiling water over everything until submerged.  Put a plate on top of the bowl so the fruit can steep and stew.  After an hour or two, check to see if your fruit is plump and tender.  If so, then take out the whole herbs and citrus strips and stir in the orange juice.

Mollie suggests you serve it room temperature or chilled, but I envision it delicious warmed on ginger ice cream.  We enjoyed ours this morning on baked oatmeal with thick Greek yogurt and toasted nuts.  I intend on having more this week on various hot cereals from bulgur wheat to quinoa to steel cut oats.  With the yogurt and nuts of course.

Store your compote in jars in the refrigerator for a week or two (as long as their is enough liquid to cover the top of the fruit).  I'm going to try freezing a small jar as well.

*I used a few star anise and a tea ball filled with cloves & cardamom pods. A cheese cloth bag would've worked fine, too.  Use the spices you love.  I would've thrown in a cinnamon stick if I'd had one on hand.  Slices of fresh ginger would be nice, too.