Pear Cornmeal Upside-Down Cake (gluten free)

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We just celebrated my mother’s birthday. In the last few years, I have begun to host a celebratory dinner for the occasion. This inspires no small amount of stress since my mother sets a rather high bar when it comes to cooking and an even higher one when it comes to baking. Her birthday cakes are not only delicious, but also fantastically beautiful. For my sister and I, there were ball gown shaped cakes encircling barbies; a perfect 7 of hearts playing card for, naturally, my seventh birthday; a delicately piped star fish for an ocean themed party; I even remember on birthday cake for my marina owning grandfather with a meringue sail boat floating on a sea of blueberries.

So, the annual preparation for her birthday has come to involve–I admit–draft cakes. This year, I even solicited feedback from friends and Noah’s classmates. (Admittedly, that may have just been a desperate attempt not to eat three whole cakes in three weeks.) While all this may sound insane, it does mean that this recipe comes to you far more tested than most I post here. While, it is not in the shape of any fantastical creatures, it has been endorsed by my excellent friends and now my mother.

I have had this sprouted kitchen recipe for honey roasted pears bookmarked for ages, so, when I was trying to decide what kind of cake to make, I started dreaming about a honey roasted pear cake. In order to make it gluten-free, I then turned that vision into an upside down cake with a cornmeal base.

Can we pause here to talk about gluten-free upside down cakes? I think this may actually be the key to gluten-free baking. Gluten free cakes are often so dry, but upside down cakes are naturally juicy and whatever is on top infuses the whole cake with the taste of caramelized sugar.

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Anyway, it turns out pears and cornmeal go together fantastically. Pears get soft and gentle tasting when baked and cornmeal provides a sturdy backing for them without overwhelming their flavor. The honey and thyme in here make the cake feel like an indulgent desert that would also be at home on a breakfast table, especially, say, the morning after Thanksgiving.

Best of all, this cake is shockingly easy to make. It comes together quickly, especially if you can draft a helper into slicing your pears for you (thanks John!).

Pear Cornmeal Upside-Down Cake (Pears inspired by Sprouted Kitchen, cake adapted from Feed Me Phoebe)

– 2- 3 Bosc Pears

– 2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

– 1/2 cup honey

– 1 teaspoon vanilla

– 2 tablespoons coconut sugar (brown sugar would work too)

– 1/4 teaspoon thyme

– 2 cups cornmeal (I used 1 1/2 cups finely ground cornmeal and a 1/2 cup polenta to give it a little more crunch)

– 1 1/2 cups almond meal

– 1 teaspoon baking powder

– 4 eggs

– 1 cup sugar

– 2/3s cup olive oil

– 2/3s cup greek yogurt

* Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

* Butter a 9-inch springform cake pan.

* Cut pears in half lengthwise, remove seeds, and then cut into thin slices length wise.

* In a large bowl, mix together cornmeal, almond meal, and baking powder.

* In another bowl, mix together sugar, yogurt, eggs, and olive oil.

* In a small sauce pan, melt butter, add honey, sugar, vanilla, and thyme. Bring to a boil, let boil for one minute and then remove from heat.

* Pour butter-honey mixture into prepared cake pan and spread it to cover the bottom of the pan. Carefully arrange pear slices in a circle that fans out from the middle on top of the honey mixture. (Don’t burn your fingers!)

* Fold yogurt-sugar-egg mixture into cornmeal-almond meal mixture.

* Pour batter on top of pears.

* Place cake pan on baking sheet (this will catch any honey that leaks as it bakes). Bake for about 40 minutes until tester comes out firm and cake is golden brown.

* Let cool for 10 minutes, loosen sides with knife, invert onto serving dish and let cool the rest of the way (at least an hour).

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Delicata Squash with Spicy Za’atar Dressing

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Noah hates squash. While I generally try to keep Noah’s like and dislikes in mind when I’m cooking, I’m not so nice that I don’t sometimes view his dislikes as challenges rather than prohibitions. I am determined to convert him. Then we will move on to cauliflower.

This recipe did not make Noah an avowed squash lover, but he did ask for seconds. It’s inspired by what I believe is one of the great squash recipes of all time: Smitten Kitchen’s Acorn Squash with Chile-Lime Vinaigrette. If you haven’t made it, you should.

Here, I used delicata squash because it is easier to cook and eat. (I’m actually not convinced we should ever eat any other squash.) I took the dressing in a middle eastern direction, filling it with Parsley, Za’atar, Sumac, Smoked Paprika and a smattering of Cayenne Pepper. The resulting recipe: it’s easy to make, easy to scale up for a dinner party, and makes great leftovers the next day. I have made it twice in the last week and would happily make it two more times next week, I think it is so good. Enjoy!

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Rosemary “Frites” with Yogurt Parsley Dip

I have been busy. There have been lots of train rides back and forth to New York and lots of weekends away, tramping up mountains through crunchy leaves and squishing through mud looking for mollusks. There have been too many applications to fill out, and more than a few pages have been written. Meetings to go to and tours to give. There has not been a lot of inspired cooking.

But, if you are looking for a dead simple meal that is satisfying and delicious, this what I recommend. Make Amanda Hesser’s baked eggs. Roast some Brussels sprouts. Cut some potatoes up so that they look like french fries and roast those too, maybe with rosemary and olive oil. Squeeze some lemon juice on the sprouts. Make a yogurt sauce for your potatoes.

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Let’s talk more about the potatoes. As many of you know, for many years, New Haven had a fantastic dive bar, Rudy’s, that specialized in Belgian style frites with a long list of sauces. It is, somewhat unfortunately, not an exaggeration to say that I spent at least one night a week eating those frites during my last two years of college. Rudy’s has since upscaled and my metabolism has downscaled. I haven’t actually had any frites since moving back to New Haven. But, when I saw this recipe on Sprouted Kitchen, I decided that I had permission to make a slightly healthier version of Rudy’s frites for dinner.

A yogurt sauce is not the same as samurai sauce, these potatoes are not double fried, but, they are a tasty dinner nonetheless.

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Rosemary “Frites” with Yogurt Parsley Dip (inspired by this Sprouted Kitchen recipe

– 2 fairly large russet potatoes

– 1 teaspoon Rosemary

– 1/2 cup yogurt

– 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

– 3 cloves of garlic, smashed

– Olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste

* Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

* Slice potatoes into long and thin strips, french fry sized.

* Drizzle potatoes lightly with olive oil, pinch of salt, and 1 teaspoon Rosemary. Toss to coat. You don’t want the potatoes dripping in oil, just lightly coated.

* Arrange on a baking sheet so that widest, flattest part of each potato slice is against the pan.

* Bake for 30-45 minutes, tossing after about 15 minutes so that all the sides get browned. Remove when potatoes are crispy and brown, but not burnt. (This may take more or less time depending on how thin your potatoes are. Just keep an eye on them.)

* Meanwhile, combine yogurt, parsley, garlic, salt and a teaspoon of olive oil into a dipping sauce for the potatoes.

Enjoy!