You probably already know that one of the best things about summer is home-made fruit pie. Peach pie, to be specific, although pies made with peaches and blueberries, or peaches and raspberries, are special too. Juicy, sun-ripened peaches only come around once a year, so when I spied a quart from the Niagara region at the local farmers market the other day, I bought it straightaway and headed for the kitchen.
Helping me with this little project was the wonderful Art of the Pie, by Kate McDermott. With detailed instructions on every possible aspect of pie-making, and gorgeous photography by Andrew Scrivani, whose work appears frequently in the New York Times, this is the only book you will ever need on the subject. It covers all the bases, from pie plates and rolling pins to woven lattice tops and glazes that give your pastry a nice shine and golden colour. And then there are the recipes, like this one.
At the rate things are going, there may not be many warm, dry days of summer this year, which means we have to make the most of every moment. And in the food department, that means eating well without spending hours in the kitchen. As the beloved English food writer Nigel Slater puts it, “sometimes we cook purely for the pleasure of it, understanding the provenance of our ingredients, choosing them with great care, thoughtfully taking them on the journey from shop to plate.” Other times, he says, “we just want to eat.”
Well, here’s the perfect recipe for those times when we just want to eat, and fast. This marmalade chicken, from Mr. Slater’s 2013 cookbook Eat: The Little Book of Fast Food, will have you fed and happy in no time. He slathers drumsticks – I added some bone-in, skin-on thighs – with a mixture of marmalade and grainy mustard and pops them into a hot oven for about half an hour. What comes out are lovely, burnished chicken pieces, glazed, juicy and succulent, with just the right balance of bitter-sweet marmalade and tangy mustard. Yum.
Yes, it has stopped raining and, yes, the tulips are out, but how do we know that spring has truly arrived? Rhubarb is here, of course, and it’s time to make crumble.
Legend has it that, as a child, I would eat rhubarb straight out of the ground, not minding its tart taste. Kids do crazy things. These days I like it gently cooked and sweetened, in upside-down cakes, pies, crisps, cobblers and crumbles. I especially like these comforting, homey desserts warmed and topped with plain yogurt or a scoop of good vanilla ice cream.
We like to cook here at Kitchen on Fourth, but like everyone else I know, we aren’t inclined to spend every day slaving over a hot stove. There are (so many) times when a quick and nutritious meal is a godsend. So when my friends in Nova Scotia shared this simple recipe for trout, which they discovered on the Epicurious website, I headed straight for the fish store and in short time was serving up a delicious dinner.
The glaze for this trout is a perfect balance of salty, sweet and tart, and it comes together in minutes. Most, if not all, of the ingredients are probably already in your pantry. It can be poured over the fish on foil, which folds into a handy packet, or it can be poured over the fish in a snugly-fitting baking pan, which is how I prepared it. The recipe makes enough glaze for a little over 2 pounds of fish and is easily halved or doubled, leaving you free to customize by choosing trout or salmon in whatever form you wish. You will just use as much glaze as you need.
Mindful of the need to eat more fruits and vegetables each day, I get excited when recipes like this one come along. It checks a lot of boxes. It’s super healthy, loaded with broccoli, quinoa, pumpkin seeds, avocado and sieved hard-boiled eggs as a garnish. It’s quick and easy to put together, even for lunch on a busy day if your quinoa is already cooked. And it’s delicious, aromatic of garlic and cilantro, tangy with lime, and mellowed with olive oil and creamy, salty feta. There is also heat in the form of chilies, should you desire.
Yes, we need to eat more vegetables. A review published in the International Journal of Epidemiology in February found that eating 10 servings of fruit and vegetables a day – one serving would be half a cup of cooked or raw vegetables, or one cup of salad greens – could significantly lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and early death. Health Canada recommends most adults eat seven servings or more a day, but according to Statistics Canada and other studies, Canadians are not getting nearly that amount.
What to do when your town has been walloped by a ferocious late-winter storm and it doesn’t make sense to leave the house? When all the cold and blowing snow threaten to bring your spirits down? You make Welsh cakes, of course. They fill the house with a lovely smell, you get to practise your photography, and finally you get to eat them, preferably with a pot of tea.
Most people I know have never heard of Welsh cakes, but I remember a time when they were sold in packages of six or so at the supermarket. You can’t find them anywhere these days, but they’re easy to make. Traditional to Wales, they’re a cross between a thin biscuit and a crumpet, sweet, studded with currants, and aromatic of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice (known as “mixed spice” in the UK). Once rolled and cut out, they’re cooked on a griddle, dry or lightly oiled, until they turn golden brown, crisp on the outside, tender and crumbly on the inside.
This is a tricky time of year. Some days are so balmy you don’t need a coat, the snow evaporates before your very eyes, and you feel giddy at the thought of spring. Other days it’s back to the deep freeze, the long johns, and those heavy, awful boots. Yup, last week I was re-potting house plants on my back deck while the cat basked, belly-up, in the sun. This week, with daytime highs averaging -10 degrees C, I’ve lost interest in doing much of anything, especially outdoors. Such is life at the end of a long winter in Canada.
But even as the mood swings from euphoric to resigned, I have managed to cook, since mucking around in the kitchen usually results in something good to eat, and we need to eat no matter what the season. And this Parmesan Roast Chicken with Cauliflower & Thyme, from Simple, the latest cookbook by British food writer Diana Henry, is just the thing to pull us up from the doldrums while we wait for the skating rink on the driveway to melt.
There’s a movement gaining steam to make baking more nutritious by using less white flour and refined sugar and more whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruit, good fats, and natural sweeteners. No doubt there have always been bakers who leaned in this direction, but Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours, published in 2010, may have been that groundbreaking book that brought healthy baking into the mainstream. Alice Medrich’s 2014 Flavor Flours built on that trend, and today there’s a profusion of specialty cookbooks focusing on everything from coconut flour to agave nectar.
In my little world, Genevieve Ko’s 2016 Better Baking: Wholesome Ingredients, Delicious Desserts, picks up where Boyce and Medrich left off. It’s a beautiful and inspiring book. She doesn’t give up butter and sugar altogether, but where possible substitutes more healthful ingredients. In the process, she makes magic out of matcha green tea powder (Green Tea Almond-Raspberry Rainbow Bars), tahini (Orange Marmalade Tahini Thumbprints), pistachio meal (Rhubarb-Lemon Bars with Pistachio Crust), beets (Beet Red Velvet Roulade with Strawberry Cream Cheese), coconut milk (Coconut Layer Cake), olive oil (Brown Sugar Pumpkin Bundt Cake), buckwheat flour (Buckwheat Blueberry Buckle) and pumpkin (Pumpkin Cinnamon Spirals). And that’s just a sampling of what’s in this book.
If you’re a person who aspires to making the world a better place, doing good, not harm, then you’ll be having a hard time stomaching what’s going on south of the border right now. It sinks you soooooo low, makes you feel angry, astounded, outraged, depressed, and, as a Canadian, powerless to do anything about it apart from wearing a pink pussy hat and marching on the street. Which, in Ottawa, was fantastic, by the way.
So for mental health purposes, what do you do? You take a Donald Trump-free day, hop in the car, pick up Mom and sister Doritt, and head for the country, Mom with her sketch pad because she painted watercolours all her life and, at almost 91, isn’t about to stop, and you with your camera, because taking pictures is your favourite thing these days and there’s a beautiful dusting of snow on the trees. Doritt, she provides excellent company and a loving vibe. And you head up the Ottawa Valley past Pakenham and drive down country roads you never noticed before, getting lost and not caring, and it’s hilly and gorgeous and you feel a little better by the time you get back to the TV and CNN coverage of the latest poison heaped upon the people of the United States and beyond.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll be glad that all that holiday business is behind us and we can get on with ordinary life. Downtime is good, bingeing on movies is fun, but there comes a time when you need activity and structure to your day. It lifts your spirits.
And if you roared in to January with a new resolve to be healthier and more physically fit, then this smoothie is for you. It’s from Angela Liddon’s second book, Oh She Glows Everyday. (Her first, The Oh She Glows Cookbook, was wildly successful.) A spritely emerald green, this drink is packed with kale and spinach, but sweetened naturally with pear, banana and pineapple, so as good as it is for you, it doesn’t taste like medicine.