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Stone fruit season comin to a close

As summer draws to a close (where did it go?), so does the peak season for stone fruit.

Stone fruits are a classification of fruits also know as drupes: They have a thin skin and a "stone" in the center, which contains the seed. They're in season starting in early spring and continue though early fall.

Peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums and cherries are all in vogue and ready for plucking and eating. Named for their pits that are hard as stone, the fruits have a fleshy, edible outer layer covered with a fuzzy or smooth skin.

Stone fruits are perfect for baking as they tend to hold their shape and not turn to mush during the process.

This recipe is more of a coffee cake than a cake cake, says food writer Daniel Neman. "The batter has sour cream in it - I could just eat the batter all day - along with all the other ingredients that make cake so delectable: butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla and flour. Then it is topped off by a combination of cinnamon, sugar and pecans."

But it is the peaches that raise the cake from ordinary to extraordinary. In the middle, adding their sweet moistness, lies a layer of thin-sliced peaches topped with more of the cinnamon and sugar. And on the top is the same.

"Try it with a cup of coffee, Neman suggests. "Try it with a glass of milk. But try not to eat the whole thing at once by yourself."

Fresh Peach Cake

1 stick (1/4 pound) unsalted butter, room temperature

1-1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided

2 extra-large eggs, room temperature

1 cup sour cream, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 large, ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch square baking pan. If you use a smaller pan the batter will overflow it while it cooks, so place it on top of a baking sheet with a rim or a larger pan.

Using an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and 1 cup of the sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time. Add the sour cream and vanilla, and mix until the batter is smooth.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the batter and mix until just combined. In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and cinnamon.

Spread half of the batter evenly in the pan. Top with half of the peaches, then sprinkle with 2/3 of the sugar mixture. Spread the remaining batter on top, arrange the remaining peaches on top, and sprinkle with the remaining sugar mixture and the pecans.

Bake the cake for 45 to 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 12 servings.

Nutritional information per serving: 335 calories; 15 g fat; 7 g saturated fat; 63 mg cholesterol; 5 g protein; 47 g carbohydrate; 30 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 253 mg sodium; 59 mg calcium.

Recipe from: Ina Garten, via Food Network

In this salad recipe from cookbook author Linda Gassenheimer, peaches provide a contrasting sweet flavor to a tangy dressing. Cooked chicken, red bell pepper and almonds complete this late summer supper.

How to pick a ripe one:

- Peaches should give slightly to palm pressure.

- Avoid ones with any very soft spots.

- Unripe peaches can be placed in a paper bag and left at room temperature to help speed ripening. Store them at room temperature until ripe.

- Once ripe, place them in a plastic bag and refrigerate. They will keep this way up to five days.

Chicken and Peach Pasta Salad

4 ounces fusilli (corkscrew) pasta (about 1-1/2 cups) (see notes)

4 tablespoons reduced-fat mayonnaise

3 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons prepared horseradish

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

10 ounces cooked boneless, skinless, chicken breast

4 cups washed, ready-to-eat salad greens

1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 1 cup)

1 large, ripe peach cut into 1-inch pieces about 1 rounded cup) (see notes)

4 tablespoons chopped chives

Place a large pot of water on to boil over high heat. Add pasta and cook 10 minutes, or according to package instructions.

Mix mayonnaise, water, horseradish and mustard together in a large bowl. Drain pasta, rinse in cold water and drain thoroughly. Add to the bowl. Add the chicken and toss well.

Line two dinner plates with the salad greens. Spoon pasta and chicken over the top. Place bell pepper and peaches on top. Sprinkle with the chives.

Makes 2 servings.

Notes: Any type of short-cut pasta such as macaroni or penne can be used. Ripe plums or nectarines can be substituted for peaches.

Recipe from: Linda Gassenheimer

Cherry Salad

1/2 cup sweet cherries

1 cup cantaloupe, cubed

1 cup green grapes, cut in half

1 medium banana, peeled and sliced

1/4 cup orange juice (juice from 1/2 orange)

1/4 cup flaked coconut (optional)

Wash all fruit before cutting. Pit cherries by slicing them in half and removing the pit.

Mix the cut fruit together in a bowl. Pour orange juice over fruit and stir in coconut if desired.

Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours.

Makes 4 servings.

Recipe from: Oregon State Extension

Cherry, Almond and Pistachio Biscotti

1 cup whole-wheat flour

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup light brown sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/3 cup milk

3-1/2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons honey

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup dried cherries

1/3 cup shelled pistachios

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine the flours, brown sugar, baking powder and salt with electric mixer. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, oil, honey and almond extract. Add the wet mixture to the dry all at once and beat just enough to bring the dough together. With a spatula, fold in the dried fruit and nuts.

Scrape the dough onto a long piece of plastic wrap. Bring one side of the plastic wrap over the dough, and roll it into a log 12 inches long and 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Chill the dough until firm enough to slice, at least four hours and up to two days.

Carefully unwrap the dough and transfer the log to a parchment-lined baking sheeting. Bake until golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Turn off the oven and slide the log onto a wire rack to cool to room temperature.

When the log has cooled, heat the oven to 325 degrees. Using a serrated knife, slice the long on a slight diagonal into slices 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Arrange the slices close together on the parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven, and using a small offset spatula, flip the slices over. Return the baking sheet to the oven and bake until the slices are golden brown on each side, about another 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Makes about 15 cookies.

Recipe from: "The Perfect Finish" by Bill Yosses and Melissa Clark

Apricot Bars

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour, divided

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 eggs

1 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2/3 cup apricots (ripe but firm), diced

1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Additional powdered sugar

1/2 cup, semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted (optional)

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, cream butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Gradually add 1 cup flour and salt until well blended.

Press into a greased 8-inch square baking pan. Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

Meanwhile in a small bowl, combine remaining flour and baking powder.

In a medium bowl, beat eggs and brown sugar until blended. Beat in vanilla extract. Gradually add flour to egg mixture.

Stir in apricots and nuts. Pour over crust.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until set.

Cool on wire rack. Dust with powdered sugar. Drizzle with melted chocolate, if desired.

Apricot Smoothie

3 medium-size apricots, pitted

3/4 cup plain or vanilla low-fat yogurt

1/8 to 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

1 teaspoon honey

1/4 cup dry oats

1 or 2 ice cubes

Place all of the ingredients in a blender and blend at high speed until smooth. For thinner consistency, serve right away. Put in fridge for a few hours or overnight for thicker texture.

Makes 1 serving.

Recipe adapted from: The New York Times

Supermarket plums can be disappointing to eat out of hand, says food writer Gretchen McKay.

"This sweet-spicy chutney, perfumed with ginger, cloves and pepper, is anything but," she says. "It's good enough to eat by the spoonful right out of the jar. Terrific on roasted chicken or a pan-seared pork chop, and a great way to start your day on top of waffles."

Spiced Plum Chutney

1 whole star anise

1 whole clove

1 (2-inch) piece cinnamon stick

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 cup sugar

1 2-inch piece peeled fresh ginger, cut into ½-inch-thick rounds

1 tablespoon whole mustard seeds

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 pounds red, black, green, or blue plums (tart or sweet; about 5 large), quartered, pitted

Finely grind star anise, clove, and cinnamon stick in spice mill or coffee grinder.

Combine spice mixture, vinegar, sugar, ginger, mustard seeds, and pepper in heavy large saucepan. Stir over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves and bring to boil. Add plums; reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until chutney thickens and chunky sauce forms, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Cool. Season to taste with salt.

Makes about 4 cups.

Recipe from: Epicurious

Terri Hahn of Osceola has worked in food media for more than 30 years and has won numerous state and national awards for her writing.


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