26 October 2012

Cornmeal and Concord Grape Cake

This afternoon, I'm sitting here at our faux kitchen table nee vintage drafting table listening to Irma Thomas, and entertaining a mild weekend hankering to watch Mad Men again. I'm feeling a little glee that we gave into our realization that it would be nice to sit somewhere in the apartment other than the table or the bed, stopped waiting, and ordered a settee. You see, I usually hate couches. I think they are often large, take up space and in general I like to feel like I'm working. But once and awhile, I can be convinced to sit down on one. Especially since it's pretty.

I'm looking at a pile of DVDs from SAG and thinking about which to watch this weekend and which to save for this hurricane... And I'm eating this cake. It's a good cake, the kind of cake I saw a photo of in a magazine and said, "I'm gonna make that." A couple of things stood out: the colors, I'm a sucker for them, anything with cornmeal, and I just haven't been in the mood to roll out a tart dough yet. But I assure you, soon. I'll happily let you know I skimped on sugar and  oil a hair and this cake is still incredibly moist and sweet. I mean, it has got concord grapes strewn through it and a swirling kiss of honey at the end for gosh sakes.

Bless those people at that magazine. It is my opinion that, if you can get over the tiny seeds, and in this case, most definitely seed them before adding them to your cake, concord grapes have an unmistakable inimitable sweet grape flavor unlike other table grapes, that remind you of what the candy companies were trying to do when they invented grape flavored jolly ranchers.

Now, if you can get over the fact that I just said that and separate your taste buds for a moment from those artificial thoughts, I'll describe this cake adapted, barely from Bon Appetit: fluffy, cakey, cornmealy, with just the right amount of form and structure, smacked with dollops of these grapes. And grapes in cake? I just have never thought of it. Enjoy this cake as it is or make adjustments but I don't recommend straying much. It sort of has the feel of a buleberry cornmeal cake, with lemon zest and vanilla accents, but grape. If that wasn't clear already. Next time, I'd use a finer ground cornmeal, as here I only had a medium grind on hand but I think I'd like it even smoother next time.

Cornmeal and Concord Grape Cake  Recipe (adapted from Bon Appetit)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, cooled
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour; more for grapes 
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal 
1 teaspoon baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt ((MN Note: I used 1/4 teaspoon slightly heaping sea salt)
2 large eggs 
1/2 cup sugar  (MN Note: I used a heaping 1/4 c)
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest 
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1/4 cup vegetable oil  (MN Note: I used 3 Tablespoons)
6 tablespoons buttermilk ((MN Note: a mix of plain yogurt and milk stirred together))
2 tablespoons honey 
1/2 pound Concord  grapes, stemmed, seeds removed, divided

Preheat oven to 350°. Butter an 8x8x2-inch baking dish. You can use a 6 x 10 x 2 one as well. Whisk 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. Whisk eggs, sugar, lemon zest, and vanilla in a large bowl to combine. Add oil and 2 tablespoons melted butter; whisk to blend. Whisk in flour mixture, then buttermilk. Stir in honey, being careful not to fully incorporate. Pour batter into prepared dish. Toss half of grapes with a large pinch of flour in a medium bowl until well coated. Scatter over cake batter. Bake until cake turns light golden brown around the edges and starts to set, 15 minutes. Remove from oven and scatter remaining grapes over cake. Continue to bake until top is golden brown and cake springs back when pressed, 15-20 minutes longer. Let cool slightly in pan before slicing. Serve room temperature for best flavor. 

14 October 2012

Moved and Easy Arugula Salad

I know I've been a bit absent. But I am back and I've been contemplating how I was going to make an appearance. You see, major changes have taken place in the sense that my sense of place has shifted. We made a long-awaited move to a small one bedroom apartment that, after two weeks inhabited, has budged somewhat into being delightfully functional, despite (or because of?) the fact that we're still using Ed's family's vintage drafting table as our everything table and my family's 1980s oak chairs as our everything chairs. We have our eyes on a settee and some kind of reclaimed wood "real" table but we'll always remember this table as our first. I've taken some shots of the place so far, its biology and blankness feel both malleable and yet firm in it's boundaries, in that, there both is, and is not, a ton to do. I'm rather liking the blank bedroom walls save a hung drawing, and white brick is, well, white brick. There's still a lot of work to do...

And now, this salad. A few notes about it and then you should make it before it gets cold out. It's a peppery blend of arugula and green pepper with a creamy dose of winter squash and avocado, punctuated by salty, grainy little homemade croutons and biting feta. The greens are tossed with balsamic vinagrette and atop the whole thing goes a nice douse of a simple yogurt sauce that is quite like an aioli. It's best and quickest if you already have a roasted vegetable on hand, namely squash. I've been buying up the squashes at the farmer's markets around here every time I go. We go through about 4 a week. Cold, they make excellent salad toss-ins. Avocado adds substance, feta a creamy bite to the arugula and some green peppers enhance the already peppery-ness of the green base itself. But my favorite parts are the croutons and yogurt aioli, also two things that really come in handy to have on hand for use whenever need or inspiration strikes. xo MN

Easy Arugula Salad Recipe
1 large bunch arugula
1/2 an avocado
1/2 a green pepper, sliced into strips
1/2 c feta, crumbled
1/2 c cooked cubed winter squash (I used acorn)
1/2 c homemade croutons *
2- 4 T yogurt dressing *
1-2 T simple balsamic dressing *

If you have pre-cooked winter squash on hand and croutons, you're halfway there, but Otherwise, roast some cut squash on a roasting pan in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes in a little dose of olive oil, and let it cool. Toss stale or about to be stale, torn/chopped whole grain bread, with a dash of salt and a glug of olive oil and let cook on a baking sheet until crisp, about 10 minutes. Keep checking. Set aside.

*Make the dressings. In a small bowl combine a few spoonfuls Greek yogurt, a mashed, minced garlic clove, a generous pinch of salt, 1/2 a squeezed lemon, a small pinch cayenne, a teaspoon honey and a few teaspoons olive oil. Stir well, almost achieving an aioli-ish consistency. Taste for salt and add more if needed.

In another small bowl, combine a teaspoon honey, a tablespoon balsamic vinegar and a tablespoon or two of olive oil, add salt, and set aside.

To assemble salad, mix together the arugula, pepper strips, cubed squash and 1/2 of the feta with balsamic dressing. Top with the avocado and croutons, and sprinkle with the reserved feta. Top with the yogurt dressing and serve.