Monday, August 28, 2017

Plum Squares with Marzipan Crumble

Well, it’s that time of year…late August, which begets fall, which begets winter, my least favorite season (oh, who am I kidding? I hate winter). The only good part of August (IMHO) is the arrival of Italian prune plums. These purple beauties make me smile the first time I spot them in the store every year. 
Most years I make my late mother-in-law’s famous plum cake. Friends and family constantly request “the Freda plum cake,” and it is a definite winner. I have also tried other versions because I firmly believe one can never have too many plum cake recipes.
This year, the first plum cake I’ve made is from Smitten Kitchen. Deb Perelman’s Plum Squares with Marzipan Crumble is an absolute delight. I loved the texture of this cake. With sliced almonds AND marzipan (almond paste) in the crumble, which is used on top of the crust and sprinkled over the juicy plum mixture, you get all these luscious flavors and crunchies converging in every bite.

The recipe also has pan size options - only have a 9x13 pan? You can use it. How about an 8” square? That works, too! Just follow Deb’s directions for baking in different size pans. 

The finished product keeps very well, wrapped in the refrigerator for a week. I’m sure you can freeze them, too, but I didn’t have any leftover to freeze! 

Don’t wait too long - go buy your prune plums today (before they’re gone) and make this cake!

Print here and if you've made this recipe, tag us at our FB page to let us know how it came out.

Happy baking!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Great Catskill Mountain BBQ Fest!

Franklin BBQ, Austin
I am so excited to announce that I will be a judge at the Great Catskill Mountain BBQ Fest this Saturday, August 26 in Fleischmanns, NY. This is a Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS) sanctioned professional competition and is shaping up to be a terrific event.

There are three separate competitions:
  1. Professional Competition: teams come from all over the country to compete against each other for money and trophies. This contest will showcase the standard four KCBS meats: chicken, ribs, pork, and brisket. 
  2. Fire Company Throw-down: local fire companies go head-to-head (and hose-to-hose) to compete for prize money and a trophy with one meat category: chicken.
  3. “You Be the Judge” - People’s Choice Charity Rib-Off: this is open to all participating (pro and fire company) and all food concession vendors.
Of course, the fest is not just about BBQ. There will be a craft beer tent, plenty of kid’s activities, craft vendors, live music, and other entertainment. Admission is free and all net proceeds benefit the Fleischmanns Park Lighting Project.
Micklethwait BBQ, Austin

As I am a big time BBQ fan, I am really looking forward to my first gig as a judge (and will be studiously reviewing the KCBS rules before the event). If you are a BBQ lover, or just want to take a ride to beautiful upstate New York (the weather forecast is looking good!), put this on your calendar and stop by to say hello (I’ll be the one happily up to my elbows in BBQ!).

Saturday, August 26
11am - 7pm
Fleischmanns Park
242 Wagner Avenue
Fleischmanns, NY

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Fresh Bread at Bivio in Montclair

For almost five years, pizza aficionados in the north Jersey area flocked to Bivio Pizzeria Napoletana in Little Falls like hummingbirds to sugar . Once you had a taste of Tomasso Colao’s authentic pizza made with his own natural yeast cultured dough, you were hooked. I count myself among the faithful. 

I wrote about Bivio Pizzeria when it first opened in 2011 and was a dedicated patron for Bivio’s entirely all-too-short run. Besides the delicate, innovative pizzas on offer, Tom was a master bread baker, and one of the joys of ordering a salad or appetizer was the incredible crusty bread that came with it. For awhile, you could also buy a loaf of Tom’s rustic breads to take home.

When Bivio closed in 2015, I was devastated (as were many of their other loyal followers). Of course, I missed the pizza and the bread, but also the vibe. Bivio had a special warmth that I haven’t found anywhere else in the area. A restaurant’s ambience starts with the management and Tomasso and his wife, Jackie, imbued Bivio with a genuine cordiality that made Bivio somewhere you wanted to be. From the soft lighting to the cool jazz, to the friendly yet professional service, Bivio had it all.

I’m still searching for that very special pizza but at least now I can once again get Tom’s bread. That’s right, Bivio groupies, Tomasso Colao’s handmade Italian bread is now available at the brand new Bivio Panificio in Montclair. Tom is firing up his wood-burning oven to turn out the breads we so loved at the original Bivio. 
I was there opening day to visit Tom and, of course, to get my hands of that bread! Tom’s new location is a small storefront in a quiet residential neighborhood, and when I arrived he was hard at work turning out those gorgeous rustic loaves. In the oven was the last batch for the day, “pagnotta,” a traditional peasant loaf with a deep, dark crust. He had already made baskets full of bastones and pane Bivio, and the aroma in the store made my heart sing. 

After visiting for awhile, I went home with two loaves (because, how could I not?), a bastone and the pagnotta almost too warm to even hold. I had planned to use the bastone with dinner that evening, but the minute I got in the car, I tore the heel from the loaf and ooh’d and aah’d the whole way home. Welcome back, Tomasso, Jackie, and the “baby” (their natural yeast culture), you were sorely missed.

107 Pine Street
Montclair, NJ

Wednesday-Saturday (call for specific hours)

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Soft Shell Crabs with Orzo Summer Salad

One of our favorite summer meals is soft shell crabs. Last week, we were able to buy “whales” at Gus and Company Fish Market in Montclair (whales are the largest size of soft shells). They weren’t cheap but they were incredibly meaty and brimming with freshness.

After a light dusting of seasoned flour, the crabs are sautéed in a delicate mix of just butter, olive oil, and cream sherry. They come up golden brown, crisp, and delectable. I can’t provide a formal recipe for you because it was a “verbal” recital from a friend’s long ago stint at a New Jersey seaside restaurant. These are the best soft shells we've ever had. Here’s the gist:

Mix some all-purpose flour with salt, freshly ground pepper, and a bit of paprika in a bowl. Transfer seasoned flour to a plate or container big enough to use for dredging. 

Dry the crabs with a paper towel. Dredge crabs in seasoned flour and set aside.

Melt 1-2 TB of butter and 1-2 TB olive oil (it should be a 50/50 proportion) in a heavy duty pan (we use cast iron). When the pan is hot, add the crabs, shell side down and cook until golden. Flip and cook about 3-5 minutes, depending on size of crabs. Remove crabs from the pan, add about 1/4 cup of cream sherry and cook until alcohol evaporates and approximately 2 TB of sauce remains. Pour pan sauce over crabs and serve.
We made a delightful orzo salad to accompany the crabs. From the good cooks over at Food52, this salad is the perfect summer side, packed with sweet cherry tomatoes, scallions, fresh spinach, and salty feta. It’s colorful and delicious, and as a bonus, you can make it ahead of time. If you like, a bright Sauvignon Blanc is very nice with this meal.

Happy Summer Eating!