I have a tendency to always be cold. At least chilly. I like sweaters. I like scarves. Gloves. Hats. I like cold weather. I live in South Carolina where cold weather is...well...not that cold. It comes and goes. Three days of cold, two days of warm. Christmas in shorts. Valentine's Day by the fireplace. I think I've finally gotten used to it. Almost...
We were pretty happy when the temperatures dropped a few degrees this past week. Even without the magnificent Fall colors of up North, there is a certain anticipation of a seasonal change around here. The dogs were waiting for that delicious moment when they'd be able to just lie on the back deck and enjoy a little reprieve. That wonderful crispy Fall weather. No humidity. No mosquitoes.
As soon as Fall rolls around, my mind turns to comfort foods. Well, foods that are comforting to me. We all have distinct food associations, flavors, scents that resonate "comfort". Mine are without a doubt apple cake, apricot and frangipane anything, soups of many kinds, roasted vegetables, winter gourds. Right now, I can't stop baking with Lady apples (so tiny!) and squash of all kinds.
Soups and cakes are a staple at our house. All year long. Undeniably influenced by seasonal produce but staples nonetheless. A local tomato soup in the summer is replaced by roasted squash one in the Fall. Winter welcomes piping hot bowls of French onion soup.
Along with cakes, Bill has a love affair with coconut soup. I must admit, I do too. After many Thai inspired versions that we have done over the years, I wanted to change it up a bit this time. Red kuri squash and local shrimp cooked until fork tender in a lemongrass, ginger and lime coconut base. We went back for seconds. We wished we had enough for thirds. Incredibly satisfying.
Cakes are quiet and discreet in our kitchen in the Spring and Summer. The above 100F temperatures are not conducive to a lot of baking but as soon as I can turn the oven on without feeling we're operating a furnace, I turn to one of our family favorite, apple cake. It's nothing fancy. It's actually pretty darn rustic if you ask me. One of the may reasons I love it. It also reminds me of my grandmother. A woman I miss everyday.
She wasn't always easy. Often stubborn. But when she loved, she loved 100%. She loved being surrounded with friends and family. My Sunday Supper tradition is a direct extension of her. Tea time was 4 o'clock around a plate of cookies and a slice of cake. Came one. Came six. It did not matter. The door was always open. Sunday lunches with a full table after church often lingered into impromptu dinners around an omelette, a bowl of soup and a piece of cake.
Grandma, Mamie Paulette even smelled of apples. And vanilla.
Everytime I make her apple compote with a touch of sugar, lemon and vanilla bean, I can feel her around me. I wish we had had a few more years together so she could have come here and see us. Happy. That's all she wanted. To have everyone happy. Making an apple cake puts me at peace. It's comforting to have that little bit of her whenever I want. I am grateful she was not shy of passing her recipe on to me so I can pass it on to you.
On this note, I might be scarce this coming week, both in emails and to answer comments as I am heading for L.A on Wednesday. I will be there to teach an awesome 3-day workshop. I am so excited! There are still a couple of spots available! So if you ever hesitated to learn from a photographer, food stylist, digital tech, art buyer, etc... we are all here to answer your question and work hands on to help.
Details? Here we go! The amount of info we'll pass on is pretty huge! We'll be at Light Space Studio for 2 days and at Hollywood Sierra Kitchen another day. Yes...you can pick an choose the kitchen you want to shoot in!
I can't wait to meet the people I will have the chance to guide and help for three full days and I am also giddy to meet up with friends I rarely see because of geography and life in general. I'll try to post snapshots...
One thing for sure... I am definitely packing a couple of slices of apple cake in my carry-on! Have a great week everyone!
Coconut Soup With Red Kuri Squash and Shrimp:
Makes enough for 4
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 small onion, diced
2 stalks of lemongrass
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups red kuri squash, peeled and diced (seeds removed)
4 cups seafood stock (or veggie or water)
1 can coconut milk (14 oz)
juice and zest of one lime
2 sprigs of thyme
1 pound medium shrimp (peeled and deveined)
cilantro to serve
In a large stock pot, heat the sesame oil over medium heat, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally until translucent, about 2-3 minutes. In the meantime, cut the stalks of lemongrass in half and pound them with the back of your knife a couple of times. The goal is to release the lemongrass essence to flavor the broth. Add those to the onion, along with the ginger and garlic and cook another 2 minutes or so. Add the Kuri squash and cook another 2 minutes. Add the stock, coconut milk, lime juice and zest, and the thyme. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer and cook covered for about 15 minutes. When the squash is fork tender but not mushy, turn the heat back up to medium high. Add the shrimp and cook until they are just cooked through (5 to 8 minutes depending on size) (over and they will feel like rubber). Remove from the heat, remove the thyme and lemongrass stalks and let cool about 5 minutes before plating. Serve with cilantro if desired.
Apple Cardamom Cake:
Makes one 9-inch cake
10 Lady apples (or 2 to 3 regular sized apples)
1 cup yogurt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
zest and juice of one lemon
2 cups Jeanne's gluten free all purpose flour mix (or regular flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 350F. Position a tray in the middle. Grease one 9-inch baking pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Place the pan on a baking sheet. Set aside.
Peel, core and slice the apples very thin (a mandoline works great) and place them in a large bowl filled with water and lemon juice to prevent oxidation.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the yogurt, sugar and eggs until pale (takes about 2 minutes). Add the oil and lemon juice and mix until well blended. Add the flour mix, baking powder, cardamom and cinnamon and whisk about 50 strokes until the batter is smooth.
Pour it into the prepared baking pan and position the apple slices (drained slightly) on top.
Bake for about 30-40 minutes until a knife inserted in the middle comes free of raw batter.