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.
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.
Well, here it is Thanksgiving already and plans are underway for a family get-together, not at the cottage on Lac Sam, in the Gatineau hills, where we often go for one last look at the lake and splendid fall colours, but here in the city, at my sister’s house, where a huge swing set has just been erected in the back yard for all the young ones to play on. (How’s that for an opening sentence?)
My contribution to our pot-luck feast is a vegetable dish to be determined, and a dessert. I did buy two small pie pumpkins a week ago thinking I’d make pies, but this being a busy time of year, when boilers need replacing, windows need washing, and the garden needs tidying, I’m considering alternatives. I’ll make something with those pumpkins when things settle down.
Here on this side of the Atlantic, we know tahini best as an ingredient in hummus and baba ghanoush, or as a sauce for falafel and shawarma sandwiches. But in countries of the Middle East, the Mediterranean and beyond, this lovely stuff has been a staple for thousands of years, an indispensable ingredient in countless dishes savoury and sweet. They even put it on ice cream.
Just to refresh, tahini is pure sesame paste made from white sesame seeds that are soaked, then hulled, gently roasted, and ground to a silky smooth, creamy consistency. The paste, blended with garlic, lemon juice, salt and cumin, and thinned with a bit of water, becomes tahini sauce, also used in countless ways. The best sesame seeds come from the Humera region of Ethiopia, and the best tahini is emulsified in the jar, not separated with oil on the top and rock-hard sesame paste on the bottom.
My refrigerator is bursting at the seams. It’s summer, and after waiting so many months, locally-grown fruits and vegetables are finally ripening. I can’t help myself – it all tastes so much better than produce that’s been shipped in – so a trip to the farmers market requires a carry cart to lug it home in. Trouble is, I don’t know how we’re going to eat it all.
Let’s tally it up. Along with all the other stuff one keeps in one’s fridge, there’s a huge bundle of chard and another of basil, a bulging cauliflower, a bag of green beans, six pints of BC blueberries (on sale) and half a dozen ears of sweet corn. Meanwhile, taking up counter space, is a three-litre basket of ripe field tomatoes and another basket of ripe Niagara peaches.
This is turning out to be the summer of vanilla rice pudding. I’ve made this recipe – from food blogger Molly Wizenberg featured in bon appétit magazine – three times in the past two weeks, and as I write these words, another batch is burbling away on the stove. Eaten warm or icy cold from the refrigerator, it is rich and creamy and bursting with vanilla flavour, and we can’t get enough of it.
I’ve made the pudding twice with a vanilla bean and once with a generous tablespoon of Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon vanilla bean paste, which makes an excellent substitute if your store runs out of beans. I also threw in a fat cinnamon stick during the cooking of the last batch, making the flavours even more complex and mysterious.
I wanted to do a blog on rhubarb this week to signal the arrival of spring, but alas, there was no rhubarb to be found. Spring is dragging its heels in these parts; warm weather is that elusive thing that could arrive next week, or the week after. We are waiting for so many things: crab apple blossoms, fiddleheads, green grass. We’re right on the verge but not quite there.
Badly in need of something fresh and bright and new to eat, I found this recipe for cherry almond squares, ran up the street to our neighbourhood grocery to buy a bag of frozen cherries, and got to work. Now that’s coming to terms with reality.
There’s nothing wrong with frozen cherries, in fact they work perfectly in these rich, crumbly squares. Combined in a pot with some sugar and lemon, they cook down into a thick compote that is spread between an almond-shortbread crust and topping. Baked in the oven, it all turns golden and bubbly, the tart cherry filling soaking into its sweeter surroundings. All very pretty and spring-like and uplifting.
This recipe is straight from Rustic Fruit Desserts by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson. It will lift you out of winter and plop you straight down into spring.
Cherry Almond Bars
- 3 cups (18 ounces) cherries, pitted and halved if small or quartered if large
- ½ cup (3½ ounces) granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 2¼ cups (11¼ ounces) all-purpose flour
- ½ cup packed (3¾ ounces) brown sugar
- 1 cup (4 ounces) sliced almonds
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- ¾ cup (6 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan
- To make the fruit filling, combine the cherries, sugar, cornstarch, salt, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, and boil for 1 minute to thicken.
- To make the crust and topping, combine the flour, brown sugar, almonds, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Add the butter and process until crumbly. Add the egg and vanilla and pulse just until the mixture comes together.
- Press two-thirds of the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan, then pour in the cherry filling. Press clumps of the remaining crumb mixture over the cherry filling.
- Bake in the middle of the oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until light golden brown and bubbling around the edge. Cool for 1 hour before cutting into bars.
- Storage: Stored in an airtight container at room temperature, the bars will keep for up to 4 days. They can also be frozen.
My love affair with marmalade began only recently when my friend Amanda gave me a jar she had made from the winter crop of knobbly-skinned Seville oranges. Her recipe comes from Ian Tamblyn’s great aunt Alicia, Ian being Amanda’s partner as well as a prolific, award-winning folk singer, songwriter, adventurer and playwright. Making Aunt Alicia’s marmalade is a three-day process that involves squeezing and reserving the juice, steeping the seeds and pith in water overnight, boiling the rinds and letting them sit, boiling the rinds again with sugar, the juice, and the pit-soaking water, sterilizing jars and melting wax. Quite a lot of work, but in the end she has exquisite marmalade, not as stiff as commercial marmalade and not overly sweet, just luscious orange bittersweetness spread on our toast in the morning. We ate it up in no time.
Alas, there was none left when I spied this recipe for Orange Marmalade Cake on The New York Times Cooking website. It’s from Melissa Clark, who was inspired by Nigel Slater, British cookbook writer and columnist for The Guardian newspaper. (See how recipes get passed around?) Clark increased the amount of marmalade in the cake and added some to the glaze. She also added lime zest to the batter. She emphatically warns against making this cake with anything but traditional British, coarse-cut, bitter orange marmalade (in other words, avoid at all costs the cheaper, psychedelic orange stuff you will find in supermarkets), so I did just that and loved the results. I just added a couple of drops of water to the glaze to thin it out for easier spreading.
Ok, here’s the story. I was so seduced by the photo of steamed maple pudding in Donna Hay’s gorgeous book The New Classics that I had to make it, had to share the recipe with you. I LOVE maple syrup and I LOVE pudding, so the combination seemed winning.
What wasn’t winning, however, was the time I spent running around kitchen stores looking for the right ramekins, the way my puddings didn’t slip cleanly out of those ramekins like Donna’s but were raggedy around the edges, and the way the maple syrup sauce did not run down the sides of the puddings in an enticing way but sunk right into the cake batter. And finally, I whipped the cream a little too hard, so it sits atop each pudding like a hat rather than relaxing downwards, all creamy and luscious. Some days things don’t go the way you want them to, but no big deal, let’s just accept that my puddings and my photos are nowhere near as beautiful as Donna Hay’s. The puddings are delicious, though, and I will make them again.
You don’t need me to tell you that squash is a superfood, packed with carotenoids, particularly beta carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A. And you already know that squash is high in fibre, potassium, vitamin C and magnesium, that it is important for good vision, bone growth and healthy reproduction, and that it helps maintain healthy blood pressure, lowers cancer risk, and boosts immune function. Bottom line, you’ll agree: we should all be eating more of it.
So, in addition to turning squash into soups, adding it to stews and risottos, stuffing it into pasta, and just plain roasting it, squash can be a key ingredient in baked goods, such as this Pumpkin Bread with Toasted Walnut Cinnamon Swirl, tweaked ever so slightly from At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen, by Amy Chaplin.