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To dump or not to dump

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Whether it interests you or not, you can't help noticing an aggressive ad campaign promoting two cookbooks (they call them) that involve a culinary technique called "dump." Personally I don't like the term because it is associated in my mind with some unpleasant images, but that doesn't mean we can't consider the technique itself.

This type of cooking might also be called ultra-minimalist, in the sense that there is almost no preparation involved. We can't get angry at people who don't like to cook but do like to have something to eat that they like. Just because you don't want to go into a prep routine after a day at work does not mean that you are sentenced to fast food five nights a week.

So I armed myself with some knowledge of this mini-cooking philosophy, and sat down to think what I could do with it. Let's assume that there is an alternative to just dumping a mix into a baking dish and adding other ingredients. So I settled on the cake recipe that involves a cake mix, fruit and soda. That's right, a can of soda.

I went to Sprouts in Tucson and got an organic cake mix in vanilla flavor. Then I bought packages of frozen raspberries and peaches, to imitate what I saw in the commercial. I did not buy a can of soda, though, because I decided that I can manage to put the mix into a bowl and get it together with an electric hand mixer or a wire whip.

So I followed the directions on the box and put the batter over the thawed fruit before I baked it according to package directions. It came out fine! It was similar to a pineapple upside-down cake, but without the syrup you put in the baking pan with the pineapple.

However, you could easily adapt the dump-cake recipe to drained canned pineapple, and you could even--get this--use an organic yellow cake mix with canned pineapple and use the juice to make the syrup and presto! Almost a Pineapple Upside Down Cake!

Make it according to the package directions or, if you want to experience the glory of Pineapple Upside Down cake as it was conceived in the South, you might be willing to get out your cast-iron skillet and follow the iconic recipe from Chef Alton Brown, from his definitive series Good Eats.

So--you can dump if you like. Or you can look for healthful mixes and adapt. Or you can buy baked goods. The list is really as flexible as you are, and just for fun here is Chef Brown's recipe for the real Deep South pineapple cake.

ALTON BROWN'S PINEAPPLE UPSIDE DOWN CORN CAKE

Ingredients:

3/4 cup whole milk
1 cup coarse ground cornmeal
4 ounces unsalted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
6 slices canned pineapple in heavy syrup
6 maraschino cherries
1/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted
3 tablespoons juice from canned pineapple
3 large whole eggs at room temperature
1 level cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup canola oil

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In a microwave-proof dish, bring the milk to a simmer (you can see tiny bubbles around the rim of the dish). Remove the milk from the microwave and add the cornmeal. Stir and let soak at room temperature for 30 minutes. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the brown sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and carefully place 1 slice of pineapple in the center of the pan. Place the other 5 slices around the center slice in a circle. Place the cherries in the centers of the pineapple slices and sprinkle the nuts evenly over the fruit. Drizzle the pineapple juice over the mixture.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium mixing bowl and whisk to combine.

In a separate mixing bowl, beat the eggs. Add the sugar to the eggs and beat together. Beat in the canola oil. Add the cornmeal and milk mixture to the egg mixture and combine at the mixer's lowest setting. Add this to the flour and fold just until combined. Pour the batter over the fruit in the skillet and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 30 minutes in the skillet.

NOTE: Make sure that you have removed the skillet from heat BEFORE you start laying in the pineapple slices. You do not want any splattering, nor do you want to sear the pineapple.

This cake can be served warm or at room temperature. A classic topping for it is whipped cream.

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