I don’t mean to undersell this, but this is just a frittata. It’s not going to help decimate your weekend’s apple haul, it’s not to going to solve the whole homemade-pizza-on-your-schedule crisis, it’s not a cake you’ve been missing out on since 1983, which was 30 years ago, ow. No, it doesn’t have higher powers or reinvent grilled cheese, it’s not even the life-changing soup stock I’ve been meaning to tell you about for two years now (next week?) and I was about to say that it didn’t make the unconquerable in the kitchen conquerable, except that might not be true. This, in fact, did exactly that last Monday night, when someone told me about the recipe that morning and we had it on the table by dinnertime, no small feat some Mondays.
October, 2013 Archive
In one of my favorite October traditions, we picked too many apples a few weekends ago. As in maybe perhaps 25 pounds more than we needed? It’s hard to gauge. I realize that if you’ve never been in an apple orchard in October, when you’ve escaped the city to find yourselves in a quiet grove as the leaves are just starting to turn and the sky is unimaginably blue and you’re wearing your first thick sweater of the season, it’s hard to imagine how one accidentally picks 25 pounds too many apples. But I bet if you’ve been there and felt that, how fun it is to pluck crisp, unblemished, unwaxed apples from trees and let the branches snap back and the leaves flutter droplets of last night’s rain over your face, you’ve probably gotten carried away too. I think picking too many apples in October is about as important of a tradition as burning food on a backyard grill over July 4th weekend and going through a whole jar of cinnamon every fall. It’s going to happen either way; it’s best to embrace it.
Raise your hand if you never get pizza right when you make it at home — that the dough doesn’t rise in the time the recipe says it should or it’s impossible to roll out; or that you get it rolled out but once baked, it tastes less like a good pizza crust and more like a tough cracker. Or maybe th opposite happens, that it’s so thick and bready, it reminds you more of a bagel, and sadly, not in a good way. Raise your hand if it never resembles the stuff from you favorite wood-wired pizzeria, all bubbled and crisp but stretchy within, with charred spots throughout and slices that don’t flop like overcooked spaghetti once lifted, sauce and cheese sliding away from you just when you need them in your mouth the most.
This may look like an ordinary piece of plum cake, but it is not. It is a famous plum cake, so renowned that I suspect half of you out there have already made it, and the rest of you will soon commit it to memory, because this cake is like that — it is worthwhile enough to become your late September/early October staple. First published in the New York Times by Marian Burros in 1983, the recipe had been given to her by Lois Levine, her co-author on the excellent Elegant but Easy), the recipe was published every year during plum season between then and 1995, when the editor of the food section told readers they were cutting them off, and it was time to cut it out, laminate it and put it on the refrigerator door because they were on their own if they lost it. As if anyone would dare.
Here are the things I jotted down on my cooking wish-list whilst (!) I was in the UK: baked cauliflower cheese, a “proper” English Sunday roast (with
mash fried potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, creamy horseradish sauce), the “full English” breakfast (authentic = every item must be fried, apparently!), cider vinegar + Maldon sea salt crisps with champagne, please, chunky olive oil and mushroom risotto, clotted cream and marmalade scones, Welsh cakes, chocolate-dipped digestives and fall apple-plum crisps thickly drizzled with fresh cream.
With all due respect, I think you’ve been putting cheese on the wrong side of your grilled cheese sandwiches. Or, at the least, neglecting the better ones, the exteriors. Wait, hear me out. It’s basic food math that while cold cheese is good, warm cheese is better. But if you take that a step further — and if you’re new here, let me tell you: we will always take it a step further — you will agree that melted cheese is better than warm cheese, and the melted cheese that rolls off a piece of sandwich bread and sizzles on a skillet, browning and crisping, is the top of the cheese tower… A place I’d very much like to live. Do you think a cheese tower might exist somewhere? Might it be France? Now I’m picturing an Eiffel Tower made out of cheese and what were we talking about? Oh right: melted and browned cheese wins, really for the same reason that browned butter trumps regular butter: the fats melt away from the dairy solids and toast them until they’re caramelized and achingly delicious and you forget why you’d ever eat it any other way. Don’t fight it.