Thursday, August 22, 2013

When life gives you plums...

...make plum cakes!

Our half-a-duplex apartment has a plum tree in the back yard. It's a pretty small tree that looks like it's been badly abused (like someone took a hatchet to the trunk!). I was not expecting the quantity of golden delicious plums it would produce! I was taking a large bowl of plums with me to work every day to share with my coworkers. Then one of my coworkers, Jens, suggested that perhaps I should make something with the plums, like cake. For some reason that hadn't occurred to me, and I was uninspired by the idea of jam... but cake! Cake is always a good idea.

Since Jens is German and he suggested plum cake, it occurred to me that Germans and Americans might have a different perception of "plum cake", so I went to my German cookbook first. According to that book, German Plum Cake (Zwetschgenkuchen!) is essentially a plum tart - pie crust with plums layered inside, meh. I was on a cake mission, not a pie/tart mission! So I opened up Baking With Julia and found my first plum cake recipe.

---- CAKE #1 ----

Oven-Roasted Plum Cakes
1 stick Unsalted Butter
2/3cup Light Borwn Sugar
2 Large Eggs
1tsp Orange Zest (I used lemon)
1/2tsp Vanilla
1cup Flour
3/4tsp Baking Soda
1/4 Buttermilk (I used whole milk)
4-5 Large Ripe Plums

Instead of light brown sugar, I use evaporated cane juice plus a drizzle of molasses. Make sure the butter is near room temp (but not melted) and then cream together the butter and sugar. I failed to notice the recipe says to only cream 1/3cup of the sugar and the remaining 2/3cups is for sprinkling on top of the cakes...either way works.

Add the eggs one at a time...

...add vanilla...

...add lemon or orange zest...

Scrape the batter off the edges and bottom of the bowl with a spatula to make sure that everything is getting evenly incorporated. Butter some large ramekins, small bread pans, or whatever you want to make your cakes in...

...halve and pit plums...

Divide the batter among the buttered dishes and then gently press plums on top of the batter. If you want, you can sprinkle the plums with brown sugar. Then bake at 350degrees until a knife or toothpick comes out clean.

These cakes were intended to end up with a plum slice on top coated in melted brown sugar. However I put all the sugar into the cake batter and then pressed my plums into the batter too far so the batter enveloped them as it cooked. This is all aesthetic though, they were delicious. Also, I think it would be hard to over cook these because one came out under cooked even though it was dark brown and pulling away from the edges.

---- CAKE #2 ----

The second plum cake was inspired by another coworker, Jason, and his infamous campfire cast-iron upside-down cake. I'd never made upside-down cake before, but I was stoked to make cake in my cast iron skillet! I queried the internet for plum upside-down cake and decided to follow the advice of David Lebowitz (I've been ending up on his blog a lot lately...)

Upside-down cake is made from the bottom up and it all begins with caramel...

Cinnamon Caramel
3 Tbsp Unsalted Butter
3/4cup Sugar
liberal dash of cinnamon

Melt the butter and sugar together in a cast-iron skillet. I also added a sprinkle of cinnamon. Stir to make sure it cooks evenly.

Turn off the heat when it suddenly becomes smooth and looks like caramel. Continue to stir for a few seconds and then spread the caramel evenly across the bottom of the pan.

Set this out of the way and let the caramel and the cast-iron pan cool completely.

No matter how tempting it is to lick hot caramel off the spoon, or dab your finger into the pan, don't do it! Hot caramel is like liquid lava!! It's HOT, even as it starts to solidify, it can still burn you! Patience.

...and now for the cake part.

Butterscotch Cadamom Cake
8Tbsp (1 stick) Unsalted Butter
3/4cup Sugar
1tsp Vanilla
2 Large Eggs
1 1/2cups Flour
1 1/2tsp Baking Powder
~1Tbsp Butterschotch Powder
~1/2Tbsp Cardamom, ground
1/2cup Whole Milk
pinch salt

Cream together the butter and sugar...

Add the eggs and vanilla, scrape the side of the bowl with a spatula and mix again just to make sure it's all even. Then sift together the flour, baking powder, butterscotch, cardamom, and salt.

Gently fold half the dry stuff into the wet stuff, then add the milk, and then add the rest of the dry stuff. Only mix it just until everything is combined and don't over-mix!

Set the oven to 350degrees, and start building the cake!  ...slice up some plums (or nectarines, or apricots, or oranges, or pineapple, or whatever your heart desires.) This was the last of the plums from our tree, some of which only ripened on one side, so I had to remove the unripe, green bits.

Make a pretty design with your fruit slices on top of the caramel in the cast-iron pan.

...scoop the cake batter on top...

...gently spread the cake batter around trying not to disturb the plums underneath.

Bake for roughly one hour, until the sides pull free from the pan and the center feels set.

Let it cool for about 15 minutes, and then put a plate on top of the cast iron pan and carefully(quickly!) flip it over to turn the cake upside-down.

This cake is definitely a winner, and all things considered, pretty darn easy to make. But most importantly - this is a cake that can also be made in a campfire!!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Beer-Battered Lobster Mushroom Confessional

Lobster mushrooms are hands-down my favorite mushroom. Not only do they have a unique biology, but they're incredibly delicious! A lobster mushroom starts out as the mildly uninteresting, pure white Russula brevipes.

Shortly after Russula brevipes emerges on the forest floor, it becomes victim to a delicious pathogen; Hypomyces lactifluorum, which usually completely covers the mushroom in a firm red-orange crust, very reminiscent of a cooked lobster shell.

photo from here

Sometimes the gills from Russula brevipes are still intact inside the lobster mushroom!

It's lobster mushroom season right now in the Pacific Northwest, and Alex and I were in Seattle a few weeks ago for two reasons. First, we originally bought plane tickets to attend our good friend's wedding (at Tree House Point, OMG it was gorgeous!). And the second reason we were in Seattle was completely on the other end of the emotional spectrum. 

My good friend, previous neighbor/land-lady, bridesmaid in my wedding, and reader-of-this-blog passed away all too young after her arch nemesis, metastatic breast cancer, took a turn for the worse. For years Candice and her husband, Joe were outstanding hosts of our weekly potluck/game-night gathering of friends. Even when Candice wasn't feeling well or even when she was in the hospital, she insisted that the potluck will go on! Because that's exactly who she was. She did everything in her power to live a totally kick-ass life (and inspire others to do the same!), and she loathed the thought of anyone canceling their fun plans on account of her. And so, after she left us, it seemed necessary that the potluck should go on. Even though some of us had scattered out of state, we all made the trip back to This Old House for a bittersweet potluck/game-night reunion.

I've never lost someone so close to me before, and this roller-coaster of grief is really bizarre. Food is certainly an extension of my emotions and I've been swinging between complete lack of appetite and manic elation over seemingly random foods. For example, lobster mushrooms. The morning after our potluck/game-night reunion, a few of us went to the University District Farmers Market. When I saw that Foraged & Found Edibles was selling lobster mushrooms, I was ecstatic. I bought way too many because I was certain, in that moment, that lobster mushrooms were the key to happiness and I desperately wanted to share this happiness with all my friends.

When choosing lobster mushrooms, I look for the cleanest ones, with the fewest nooks and crannies for dirt to hide in. Even the cleanest lobster mushrooms will still be dirty though. Running water and sometimes a brush are the easiest ways to clean these mushrooms.

We decided it was best to beer-batter and fry these mushrooms. 

Beer Batter
 1 bottle of beer (we used Sierra Nevada Pale Ale)
1 cup flour
1 egg
Salt & Pepper

Mix together the batter. Slice up the mushrooms into roughly 1/2inch thick slices. And prepare a plate of flour seasoned with salt and pepper.

Coat each mushroom slice in flour, shake off the excess, and then coat them in batter. Meanwhile, have a pot of vegetable oil heating up on the stove.

When the oil is hot (test it by throwing a pinch of flour in, if it bubbles wildly, it's ready), throw in some battered mushroom slices and fry them till they're golden brown.

Remove the slices from the frying pan and place them on a plate lined with paper towels. These can be kept warm in an oven while you fry the rest.

It can help to divide the work - Alex fried while I battered.

Elwood helped too.

A feast of beer-battered lobster mushrooms!

Previous posts about Lobster Mushrooms:
Fish & Chips
Tempura Lobster Mushroom
Creamy Cheesy Mushroom Medley with Rice
Lobster Mushroom Etouffe
Lobster Mushroom Fried with Brioche Crumbs

A "recipe" from Candice:
Baked Eggs