Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Cookbook Review of Romney Steele's Plum Gorgeous (It Is!) and More Cherry Joy: Cherry Clafoutis & a Cherry Salsa

Never has a cookbook had a more apt title than Romney Steele's Plum Gorgeous: Recipes and Memories of the Orchard. The photos, the recipes, the descriptive prose are all completely and utterly gorgeous. The cover alone looks juicy enough to make me want to pick up the book and take a bite out of it. I had the pleasure of reviewing Steele's My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family and Big Sur a while back and I loved it, so I was more than excited to open Plum Gorgeous and be transported straight to the orchard.

There are 60 seasonal recipes in the book, focusing on fruit in both sweet and savory creations. The book is comprised of four chapters: Oranges of Memory (all about oranges lemon and other citrus), Still Life with Berries (all of the lovely berries of spring), Plum Gorgeous (stone fruit in all its succulent glory), and Beauty and Windfall (an eclectic mix of fall fruits).

Steele encourages the reader to cook with local fruit, in season in their area and there are plenty of recipes to choose from, even in Hawaii. Meyer Lemon Curd, Honey Lavender Lemonade, Strawberry, Nasturtium, and Cucumber Salad, Honey-Baked Figs with Lavender and Wine, Fig Relish and Ham Sandwiches, Sara's Persimmon Chocolate Chip Cookies and White Chocolate Passion Fruit Truffles are all recipes that I can make with local fruit in season.

To "road test" this book, I went to cherries. No, they are not local fruit here, but I had several bags of lush, ripe, dark sweet organic cherries that Whole Foods put on sale last week and I just couldn't resist. I owed it to these beauties to enjoy them and to make some special dishes from part of my bounty. The simple, rustic Cherry Clafoutis won my heart right away.

Romney Steele says, "Sweet black cherries baked in custard is a specialty of the Limousin region of France; it’s a popular no-fuss dessert served warm or cold, dusted with a little sugar. Traditionally the cherries are left whole so the pits imbue a little of their almond flavor. This is how I’ve always done it too, though you can surely pit them (and my daughter thinks I should); in fact most people do. Try making the clafoutis with other stone fruit like plums and peaches or, in the fall, fresh figs or dried prunes soaked first in brandy for a twist."

Cherry Clafoutis
From Plum Gorgeous by Romney Steele
(Serves 6-8)

4 cups sweet cherries
½ cup turbinado or Demerara sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons kirsch
6 eggs
1 cup whole milk
2/3 cup crème fraîche
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
6 tablespoons flour
Pinch salt
1/3 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
Confectioners’ sugar (optional)

Wash and stem the cherries and pit if you prefer; pat dry. In a bowl, toss the cherries with 2 tablespoons of the sugar and the kirsch, more or less as you like to taste. Set aside at room temperature for at least 20 minutes, allowing the flavors to meld.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Generously butter a 9-inch cast-iron skillet or earthenware dish. Scatter the cherries in the bottom of the dish.

Combine the remaining 6 tablespoons sugar, the eggs, milk, crème fraîche, vanilla, flour, and salt in a blender. Blend to combine thoroughly; strain if necessary to remove any lumps of flour, then whisk back in by hand.

Pretty red cherries topped with the cream-filled batter before baking

Pour the custard over the cherries. Bake the clafoutis for 35 to 40 minutes, until puffy and golden and just set in the middle. Sprinkle with the toasted almonds and dust with confectioners’ sugar, if you like, before serving.

Notes/Results: The clafoutis is so creamy and dense and studded with the plump sweet cherries--it is a simple yet very decadent-in-its-own-way dessert. You have to love the ease of making it too--marinate the cherries in the sugar and kirsch, then just plop everything else in the blender, mix it up, pour over the cherries and bake. So easy it almost makes itself. ;-) Really delicious and a make again treat.

Having plenty of cherries, I also tried the Cherry Salsa recipe--with cherries, shallots, toasted almonds, jalapeno, lime juice, cilantro and mint. In the book, Steele serves it with Honey Glazed Duck Breasts but she also gave the suggestion to "stir it through couscous and add a drizzle of olive oil for an effortless grain and fruit salad, so that's just what I did.

This was a brilliant idea,
the salsa was a nice mix of sweet and tangy with the little kick of spice and it really livened up the whole wheat Israeli couscous I added it to. It was an excellent salad and side dish, and it tasted great both warm and cold.

Plum Gorgeous is the kind of cookbook I love--not just full of wonderful recipes, but a book to savor and get lost in. Put this one on your must-have list first, then buy a copy for your favorite fruit-loving foodie friend. You'll thank me--and Romney Steele of course! ;-)

Obligatory Disclosure Statement: A copy of this cookbook was provided to me by the publishers for review however I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.


  1. The clafouti looks perfect! I haven't made one in ages - must do something about that!

  2. This sounds like a fabulous book! I love all things fruit! And I especially love all things cherry. Both the clafouti and the salsa sound delicious!

  3. Oh yes, I am SO in love with this gorgeous book. I keep paging through it trying to figure out just which tempting recipe to make. I'm in a total cherry mood, too...both of these sound just perfect =)

  4. both of these look and sound delicious! I am curious of that fig relish too!

  5. If I hadn't greedily eaten the several pounds of cherries I picked up this week, I'd try the clafouti recipe. I've always pitted my cherries, but will try Steele's way next time. If the inside of the book is half as gorgeous as the cover, I can understand why you love this book.

  6. I am absolutely in love with this book too. Wish I had read the first one.
    Everything looks so gorgeous, I love your cherry themed post. Making the clafoutis this weekend!

  7. What a great idea with the couscous! I love fruity grain salads. Cherries are starting to pop up at stores around here and I can't wait to start indulging.

  8. Foodycat--They are so easy to make too. Really there is no excuse not to make them. ;-)

    Joanne--It is a beautiful book. ;-)

    girlichef--I can't wait to see what you make from it. ;-)

    Kat--I am going to make the fig relish this weekend. ;-)

    Arlene--The inside is gorgeous too. I did pit my cherries--I had visions of biting into one and needing dental work. ;-)

    Natashya--I hope you like it as much as I did. The flavor with the kirsch is so good. ;-)

    Lori--thanks! I loved the cherries in the grain salad so it was a great tip. ;-)

  9. Nuts, no recipe... the salad looks so tempting just at a time when my fridge is bursting with cherries!

  10. Janet--for the book review I just posted the one recipe from the publisher. The salad recipe is just the cherry salsa mixed into couscous with olive oil.

    girlichef also reviewed the book and has the salsa recipe here: http://www.girlichef.com/2011/07/cookbook-review-plum-gorgeous-by-romney.html if you want the recipe.

  11. I made this a week ago, and enjoyed it thoroughly! The texture was so interesting and different from what I had expected. I added a bit of almond extract, which gave a wonderful flavor to compliment the sweetness of the rest of the ingredients.

  12. This is so delicious! I’ve made it twice in the last 48 hours- once for a baby shower, and once for a family dinner. Yum!! Thanks!

  13. Hi Deb, Thank you for writing so warmly about my book. I wanted to post here because I'm having 2 events in Hawaii, one this Thursday, August 4th at Muumuu Heaven in Kailua (Oahu)-3-5 pm; the other at Barnes and Noble, in Kahala, on August 13th...at 1pm.
    I would love to meet fellow cooks and lovers of beautiful food in Hawaii. Here's my website if you have any questions on time, or want to email me back.

    Aloha, Romney (aka Nani)

  14. Hey Romney (Nani) ;-) I am glad you liked the review--I loved the books. I had no idea you would be doing events here. I will definitely be at at least one of them, book in hand.

  15. Bianca and Suzanne--I am glad you liked the recipe. ;-)


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