A Plum Good Welcome
5 Sep 2007

As we started moving in to our new house, I realized I wasn't really sure how to "count" when I had officially broken in my new kitchen. Simply slicing up tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers and throwing in some feta for a quick and easy greek salad really didn't feel enough like "cooking." It seems that if you don't actually heat up the range, it is really just foreplay. My first time heating the stove, however, only produced a nice cup of tea. Still, my kitchen remained virginal. Even when we got around to finally cooking real food, it wasn't in the kitchen... it was back on the deck in the barbecue. My kitchen still had to wait. In part, the delay was just due to ridding the house of as many boxes as possible so we could actually move. At the end of each day last week, all we could do was collapse on the couch. Moving, even a short distance, is simply hard work. The cooking was not going to happen.

Of course, the other part... perhaps the bigger part... was that I had to decide exactly what to cook. This is a momentous decision. It's the first creation in the new home, the first thing I was going to shoot, the first thing I was going to post about. The possibilities were staggering. Luckily, the field narrowed quickly when not one but two of my new-old neighbors, came knocking on the door with bagfuls of Italian Prune plums (or at least something that looks a lot like them). I was going to be baking with plums, and doing it rather quickly and in large quantities.
Today kicked off my plum spree with a bang. After just a little searching, I found a recipe in Pure Flavor, Kurt Beecher Dammeier's new Northwestern style cuisine. If you live in Seattle, you are certainly familiar with the Beecher's name. They make some lovely cheeses, a take and heat Mac & Cheese that has been voted Seattle's best, and plenty of squeaky cheese curds to nibble on as you wander through the Pike Place Market, home of their retail store. Dammeier also owns one of the best prepared meal chains in Seattle, Pasta & Co. When I was at Microsoft, Pasta & Co was a weekly must for a good, quick and delicious meal at home. These days, I skip it, happier to make my pastas and sauces at home... but it's still a great little chain, and I any time I pass by, I get the urge to go in for a slice of their fruity bread pudding that is thick enough to eat while you are on the go. Anyway, back to the recipe. There are some great looking plum recipes in Pure Flavor, as well as plenty of recipes that suggested using plums as alternates. This recipe isn't one of them. But, as soon as I started reading through the recipe for Apricot bars, I knew that the plums, with a little jamming, would work beautifully. Really, any fruit preserves will work. Just open up your fridge and see what you have on hand.
To make the plum preserves, I just pitted the plums (but left the skins on) and brought them to a boil with a couple of splashes of lemon juice, a few tablespoons of sugar, a pinch of salt, and two vanilla beans. Once the plums came to a boil, I reduced to low and let them stew until they were a lovely thick mash. At this point, I removed the vanilla bean, and pushed the plums through a strainer. Now, here's the weird part. I kept what was left in the strainer for the bars, and blended it with a hand blender just to break down any remaining skins. I reserved the thinner, strained juices for later use, but the lovely thick meat.. the stuff that won't go through the sieve, is perfect for a filling for these bars. The bars themselves are really simple... just a quick shortbread that gets cooked off before the jam goes on, and then cooked again with a grated shortbread topping. The resulting cookies are rich like shortbread, but lighter and moister. And a lovely way to break in a new kitchen.
Plum Bars Adapted from Pure Flavor's Apricot Bars recipe, p178 Makes about 24 bars 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter 1 cup caster sugar 2 egg yolks 2 cups all purpose flour 1/2 t salt 1 1/4 cup plum preserves (or preserves of your choice) Preheat the oven to 350F. Beat together the butter and sugar until it is fluffy and pale (use the flat beater attachment if you have one). Add the egg yolks one at a time, and then push down the batter from the sides with a spatula. Mix in the flour and salt. The dough should get pretty thick at this point. Place about 2/3 of the dough in a 10 x 10 (or 9 x 13), 1 inch deep, tart pan. I used one with the bottom that pushes out, and it worked out beautifully. Use your finger tips to spread the dough evenly, getting into the corners of your pan. It should be less than a 1/2 inch thick. Wrap up the remaining dough, and place it in the freezer. Bake for 30 minutes, or until it turns a light golden brown. Remove from the oven, and spread with your preserves, avoiding the edges. I left a little more than a 1/4 inch gap in mine. Remove the remaining dough from the freezer, and using the large holes on a cheese grater, grate it, and sprinkle evenly over the preserves, all the way to the edge. Bake for another 25 to 30 minutes, or until the topping has become golden brown. Remove from the oven, and let cool for at least one hour before cutting. Slice into little rectangles or squares.

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