Tuesday, July 17, 2007

almond cornmeal cake with fresh fruit compote

Here's how I used some of the peaches I talked about in my last post -- in a very easy dessert with many textures and layers of flavor. This may be my favorite cake; if I change allegiances, it will bump out a life-long favorite of German Chocolate Cake. Real German Chocolate Cake, not the dark-chocolate-cake-with-coconut-pecan-icing they try to pass of as German Chocolate in various misinformed stores, restaurants, and bakeries. But that's for another post. Today, the feature is:


Original recipe from Gourmet, August, 2000, here.

I made the cake recipe with one small change: I used almond, instead of vanilla, extract. It's also very helpful to line the bottom (only) of the loaf pan with parchment paper. The loaf will fall right out.


3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup whole blanched almonds
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 sticks (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
3 large eggs
3/4 teaspoon vanilla

Accompaniment: peach and berry compote*


Preheat oven to 325°F; grease an 8 1/2- by 4 1/2- by 3-inch loaf pan. Put a piece of parchment paper to cover only the bottom of the pan.

Whisk together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt.

Finely grind almonds with 1/4 cup sugar in a food processor and stir into cornmeal mixture.

Beat butter and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until combined well. Beat in eggs 1 at a time until just blended, then beat in vanilla. (Mixture will look curdled.) Add cornmeal mixture and stir and fold until just combined.

Transfer batter to loaf pan, smoothing top, and bake in middle of oven until a tester comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool cake in pan on a rack 5 minutes. Loosen edges with a knife, then turn pan over carefully with hand supporting the top of the cake. Cake should fall easily into hand. Place on rack to cool.

Serve with fruit compote or mango sorbet.
Gourmet, August 2000

*Compote: There are many recipes for compote. I didn't have one in front of me and was running short on time so I just threw things in a pot; it turned out well, full of fruit flavor and not too sweet. I used a total of about 1 1/2 c. blueberries, raspberries, and peaches (other fruits can be used depending on what you have and the season); a tablespoon or two of sugar, the same of white wine, and a dash of vanilla. Bring liquid ingredients to simmer; add fruit and cook a few minutes. (The raspberries fell apart but added a nice depth to the other fruits). Remove from heat and cool. Serve over cake.

Cook, eat, dance, love!

Monday, July 16, 2007

peaches and summer

I’m not sure there’s one fruit that says “summer” more than another for me, but if I had to pick one, it would probably be peaches. If you've ever scrolled to the bottom of this page, you've seen a photo with lots of jars of peach preserves. Plain peach preserves, blackberry-peach preserves, raspberry-peach preserves, and whatever other recipes I cooked up to use a bushel of peaches; I can't even remember all the variations I tried. I do know that, when I opened a jar, the fruity taste evoked fireflies, warm summer nights, gardens, and time in the kitchen. And a bit more.

When I was growing up in the Midwest we often went back to mom's home state, South Carolina, and spent many summer vacations on Edisto Island. As they got older, Edisto became an annual pilgrimage for my parents. Certain rituals were part of the trip back to Indiana: Find Duke's Mayonnaise and bring back a case. Bring home a cooler full of island shrimp.

And before getting far from the island, stop at a roadside stand and get freshly picked, tree-ripened peaches and bring back several half-bushel baskets. They were very ripe and had to be eaten soon after arriving back in Indiana; neighbors and friends looked forward to getting a few each year. Because I lived nearby, for several years I was the happy recipient of many of those peaches. I ate them, froze them, baked with them, cooked with them -- and yes, preserved with them.

The last few years there haven't been any peaches -- now that dad is gone (still miss you, dad!) the annual trip has been off. It's hard to find peaches as good as tree-ripened ones. They have them in the Northwest but last year I left there before the peach season started, and I arrived in Texas after the season in that part of the country was over. I didn't get a single peach all summer.

This year, I did't want to let that happen again, so I've been looking and waiting. Some peaches from who-knows-where appeared at the grocery about a month ago but they were hard and had no aroma. Forget them. Georgia peaches came in, and they looked good, but they also were hard and had no scent. No sale.

Then last week I stopped in a local produce market to get berries. My eye landed on quarts and pecks of gold and rosy peaches. They looked good, but I know how deceiving looks are. Even when I saw the sign I was skeptical: "S. Carolina Peaches." I picked one up; firm but not rock-hard. Good start.

And then I caught a whiff, and brought the peach closer to my face and inhaled. The aroma was there: not powerful, but sweet and fruity and full.

I'm now the proud owner of a peck of South Carolina peaches. They may not be tree-ripened, but they weren’t picked green, and the sweet, juicy fruits are packed with peach flavor. Just a bite brings back memories of past summers, long trips in the car, warm breezes on bare shoulders, the fragrance of peaches simmering on the stove while I wash jars. Not sure what will happen to all of this peck but some will go in a pie or cobbler. Some will go into a compote to have on almond cornmeal cake.

And I'll slice some and have them with vanilla ice cream for you, dad.

Cook, eat, dance, love!

Friday, July 13, 2007


Growing up in the Midwest I'd never had a fresh fig so I didn't miss them. Then I lived in the Pacific Northwest for two years, where figs were common and plentiful and easy to grow -- and now that I'm back in the Midwest, I'm missing those plump, soft, tender little fruits. The good news is they're starting to appear at stores. I took the plunge and spent a little money to bring home a pint container with about 12 Black Mission figs. Worth every penny! I've had them in a broiled raspberry-fig dessert and as appetizers. Tonight is the last night -- I have 4 left -- and I'll be savoring every morsel.

Here's what I had last night:


  • good crusty bread
  • spreadable goat cheese
  • figs
  • fresh mint leaves

Slice bread into appetizer-size pieces. Mine were about 1" x 2". Spread with goat cheese; top with fig wedge (my figs were small so I quartered them). Tuck mint leaf in. Enjoy!

I think these would make a nice light dessert dish with a few toasted chopped almonds sprinkled on the goat cheese and just a touch of honey drizzled over the fig and cheese.

As always... cook, eat, dance, love!

Friday, July 6, 2007

sweet potato-black bean burritos

I needed some light food after indulging big time over July 4th. Here's a good summer burrito -- light with a slightly sweet-savory blend of flavors that go well with hot weather, but would be great in winter, too. There are recipes all over the internet for this dish so mine is nothing terribly unique, just my version after reading several others. I deemed it a hit! And look how pretty the ingredients are -- almost too good to eat!

Sweet Potato-Black Bean Burritos

  • 1 1/2 c. cooked black beans, or one can, drained
  • 1 large or two small sweet potatoes, cooked, peeled, cut into 1/2" cubes, and lightly mashed
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, peeled and diced or put through garlic press
  • 1-2 t. cumin
  • 1/2 c. corn (optional)
  • juice from 1/2 lime, about 2 T.
  • 1/3 c. chopped cilantro
  • goat or other cheese, crumbled or grated (optional)
  • 10+ tortillas

Cook onion and garlic in a teaspoon or two of oil, just until onion is soft. Put all ingredients except cheese into bowl and mix lightly but well.

Spoon 3-4 T. of filling down center of each burrito, add a little cheese, roll up, and place into pan. Cover pan with foil and bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes.

Serve with chopped tomato, lettuce, and sour cream or plain yogurt.

Variations & Comments

The corn is optional, as is the cheese -- the burritos would be perfectly good without either one but I had some things I needed to use up so they got included for this experiment. The cheese added a nice creaminess but the mix of good flavors stand well on their own without needing cheese. A chopped up jalapeno would be a nice addition, too (or other pepper of your choice). The cilantro is also optional but gives it a really nice fresh flavor that Ienjoy . I thought the dish might be dry without a sauce but they were moist and tender from the sweet potatoes and beans. Also, instead of baking, the filling and tortillas could be heated up separately and served like tacos. It made a full package of burritos with leftovers.

Cook, eat, dance, love!