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One of our neighbors has a decades-old grape vine that is both enthusiastic and agile, and it has branched out to surround our shared yards, three fences, and at least two trees. It is also a prolific producer of grapes. Wildlife like them, but sometimes too much. Last year we were a hit with wasps, which I could have done without.

This year, hot off the pick-your-own fruit farm, I decided to try a bit of juicing.

Grapes + Instant Pot == juice, and it’s dark purple and dang tasty.

I should have used a higher grape-to-water ratio, but didn’t want to waste the fruit if the recipe was a dud. The juice is just about sweet enough to drink straight and tastes of minerals and a fall afternoon. I suspect these grapes would make fantastic wine.

Have I discovered one of the long-lost vines behind the prized vintages of the Elven Court in Exile?

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Photo by Roberta Sorge on Unsplash

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Fruit Torte

Yesterday: a pretty fall day + road trip + Les Fruits du Poirier pick-your-own fruit farm = fun 🙂

This particular farm has the usual apples, pears, raspberries, etc. but they also specialize in the less usual. Not everything was in season, but they also grow fruits like haskap, sea buckthorn, gooseberries, and northern kiwi. Yes, that kiwi! The northern variety is smaller than the imported variety you find in stores, but it is sweeter, with thinner skin and no fuzz, which means it doesn’t have to be peeled. 

Photo by William Felker on Unsplash

We had to look up half of what we saw, either because we didn’t recognize the plant or because we’d never heard of it before (jostaberry?). We used a click to ID app called Picture This (free to use but you have to navigate a maze of “sign up now!” screens, but I’m sure there are others.

The day was beautiful and it was great to get outside and into the country. Recommended.

Photo by Esther Wechsler on Unsplash

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Today: baking.

I had some plums waiting for a recipe, and I ran across this one for plum torte. The original was a wildly popular New York Times recipe that ran for years. This version is slightly modified and includes comments to help triangulate your own changes.

Best Plum Torte Recipe – How to Make Marian Burros’ Purple Plum Cake

It’s easy and delicious. Of course I added a few minor adjustments.

I made a plum version a few days ago, and today I made a plum with cinnamon, a peach with cinnamon and cardamom, and two mixed berry* tortes with cinnamon and just a splash of Grand Marnier. Apparently, they freeze well.

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Fruit Torte

(by way of Food52’s adaptation of Marian Burros’ Purple Plum Cake)

— makes one 8″ or 9” layer

Ingredients

  • 120g / 1 C. all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 5g / 1 t. baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 150g / 3/4 C. sugar
  • 115g / 1/2 C. butter, room temperature
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 t. vanilla (or somewhat more Grand Marnier)
  • 9 small plums, pitted and quartered lengthwise, or other fruit (if boring, season with a little lemon juice, sugar and cinnamon)
  • 2 t. sugar and ground cinnamon for sprinkling

Directions

  • Heat the oven to 350° F. 
  • Prep an 8 or 9-inch cake pan. I used a round of parchment paper and buttered the interior, then dusted bottom and sides with a mix of sugar and cinnamon to avoid sticking.
  • Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl and set aside.
  • Cream the sugar and butter until very light and fluffy, about 5–7 minutes with my mixer. I recommend mechanical means unless you want to be there all day.
  • Add the dry ingredients, eggs and vanilla all at once, and beat until combined, scraping down the sides a couple of times.
  • Spread the batter into the prepared pan. Arrange the fruit on top of the batter. Sprinkle the top with sugar and cinnamon.
  • Bake 40 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake in its pan for 10 minutes, and then remove. Invert onto a cooling rack, then flip back onto another rack to finish cooling.

Notes

— The recipe called for a springform pan but they aren’t my favorite. (It would make cooling easier.) I used a 9” cake pan.

— One batch of batter weighs ~475g, in case you’re doubling the recipe.

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* In addition to pints of red raspberries, yellow raspberries, pears, apples, and kiwi, we picked up a haskap pie (no judgement, they were baking and it smelled amazing), and a frozen bag of haskap, red and white currants, raspberries, gooseberries, and Saskatoon berries.

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I’m looking for a good German plum cake recipe. There are (of course) many versions available online, but the problem with that is you never quite know what you’re getting, and I only have the one batch of plums.

There’s also an added complication. I am looking for a plum cake recipe because I made one as a teenager, and it was astoundingly good. Flavorful pastry base, creamy plum filling, and delightful streusel crumble on top. Now, that remembered experience is the standard to which I hold all future plum cakes. 

Was it actually as good as it is in my mind? Maybe not, but I think so:) My mother also remembers the cake. It was her favorite type of German dessert, from when she lived in that country once upon a time. She brought home a classic German cookbook, source of the original plum cake recipe. 

I hold out hope that she still has the cookbook, and can find that recipe, but until then, I am on the hunt for the kuchen of my dreams.

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Photo by Alexandra Kikot on Unsplash

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I thought today might be a workshop or writing day, but instead it turned into a computing and sewing day. That’s fine, I’m happy I made progress with what I had.

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On that same note, last night’s dinner was a medley of things we had in the fridge. They are also the sorts of flavors I associate with summer: fresh herbs, tomatoes from the garden, and sweet corn. 

I was reminded of a dish I had in Boston years ago, a delicate, almost ethereal ravioli stuffed with shrimp and corn in cream sauce. The corn’s sweetness is complex enough not to seem one-note, and elevates the flavor of the shrimp. It’s a good memory, and while I don’t remember the year or the restaurant or the other eleven items on the tasting menu, that dish made a lasting impression.

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We also decided to try our hand at homemade pasta. The same friends who lent us the KitchenAid ice cream attachment also lent us their pasta rollers. Taste and texture were good, and the process was fairly straightforward, considering I’ve made pasta only once? before. 

I used this dough recipe: Fresh Pasta Recipe

Notes to Future Me: use the eggs we get from our local source, the ones from Costco were a little too small and threw off the ratio; knead more enthusiastically; and use more flour than you think you should for dusting the sheets before rolling and cutting.

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My father asked how I made the sauce. I have a fairly casual relationship with most recipes, but here it is, more or less. If you don’t have all of the ingredients, substitute red peppers for tomatoes, dried basil for fresh, or whatever’s in the pantry. That’s what I did:)

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Creamy Summer Shrimp Fettuccini

Ingredients

  • 2 slices bacon, chopped into bits
  • 1 shallot, sliced fine-ish
  • 1/2 C. corn kernels, cut from cooked cob, frozen, or canned
  • 1 C. cream
  • 1 T. lemon juice, or to taste
  • white wine, whatever you’re drinking, a splash or three
  • shrimp, big handful
  • cherry tomatoes, handful, halved
  • basil, six giant leaves from the garden, sliced 
  • reserved pasta water to taste, plus backup cornstarch if you add too much
  • salt, pepper, Parmesan
  • fettuccini

Instructions

  1. While the pasta water heats, sauté the bacon and shallots until translucent.
  2. Add corn, cream, lemon juice, white wine and cook down for a couple of minutes, until slightly thickened. 
  3. Add shrimp, cook until opaque.
  4. Add the tomatoes and basil and heat through.
  5. Adjust the sauce for flavor and thickness with salt, pepper, more wine, cream and/or and pasta water. If it’s too thin, mix up a slurry of 1 T. cornstarch and a cup of cold water, add until you have enough liquid and cook until thickened.
  6. Serve over pasta, topped with grated Parmesan.

* Note: I would say that have moderately-sized hands. 

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Photo by Tim Cooper on Unsplash

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I have found a source of caffeine that I can actually drink and I am suuuuperhappyaboutthat!

Ahem.

I gave up coffee voluntarily in grad school (because school was stressful enough and also when you need a giant pot to get through the day that’s your body telling you something) and then had to give up tea a few years later for digestive reasons. So I’ve been living a mostly caffeine free life for too long.

Recently, through a confluence of conversational touch points, I found myself telling my mother about yaupon, the only (known) caffeinated plant native to North America. 

LuteusCC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Yaupon (pronounced yō-pon) is a branch of the holly family. The scientific name is terrible (Ilex vomitoria, um, no thanks?) but the plant and tea have nothing to do with regurgitation (ok, that’s fine then!). 

Native to the southeastern US, it was used by natives for thousands of years, and traded across North America and the Atlantic.

Yaupon: The rebirth of America’s forgotten tea – BBC Travel

When picked, roasted and boiled, the leaves yield a yellow to dark-orange elixir with a fruity and earthy aroma and a smooth flavour with malty tones. As if orchestrated specifically for the mind and body, yaupon leaves’ perfect ratio of stimulating xanthines such as caffeine, theobromine and theophylline release slowly into the body, providing a jitter-free mental clarity and an ease to the stomach.

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Why am I going on about this tea? Because it’s native, sustainable, and it deserves to be thought of as more than a “pesky weed.” It’s tannin free, so unlike traditional tea from Camellia sinensis, you can steep it multiple times without that unfun bitter, astringent aftertaste.

Also, because I happen to have a bag from one of the more prominent yaupon companies, CatSpring in Texas, and I’m drinking a delicious cup with maple syrup right now. 

This caffeine stuff works, y’all;)

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Speaking of, let’s just take a brief moment to appreciate the role of caffeine, “the most widely used psychoactive drug on Earth,” in human history.

Beer built the pyramids, but caffeine powered the Enlightenment. 

Whatever your beverage of choice, may your eyes remain bright and your synapses active!

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Photo by Godisable Jacob on Pexels.com

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Mr Man requested lemon meringue pie the other day. Do I have a recipe for it? I do, that’s not the problem. The problem is that I have too many recipes, taking many paths to the same destination.

And so I set out to make the pie, but also to reduce the stack of notes, hand-written adaptations, and other modifications into the One.

Here’s a snapshot of just some of the recipe pile:*

Does not include all of the many, many online references I used to triangulate the final recipe, but you get the idea.

* * *

So here we have it, the One Pie To Rule Them All (if you lIke lemon, that is).

The recipe looks a bit complicated but it’s really just a quick crumb crust, a batch of lemon curd, and whipped egg whites.

This works for me, and uses ingredients I can easily access. (I also do things like ignore milliliters and weigh everything in grams.) If you aren’t as into tangy citrus or can’t find Biscoff, modify at will!

The One.

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Lemon Meringue Pie

Ingredients


Crust

  • 250g Biscoff or graham cracker crumbs 
  • 57g butter, melted

* If using graham crackers, you can boost the flavor by adding a bit of cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and a pinch of salt.

Filling

  • zest of one lemon, chopped v. fine (optional)
  • juice of ~6 lemons, 200g
  • 50g water
  • 25g cornstarch
  • 175g superfine or caster sugar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 25g butter

Meringue

  • 4 egg whites
  • 112g superfine or caster sugar
  • 1/4 t. cream of tartar

Directions


Crust

  1. preheat oven to 350F
  2. crush Biscoff into fine crumbs with food processor or rolling pin
  3. mix in melted butter
  4. press into 9” pie plate (the bottom of a cup measure works well)
  5. bake for ~18 minutes, remove and lower oven to 325F

Filling

  1. mix lemon zest, juice, water and cornstarch until smooth
  2. stir sugar and egg yolks together in a non-reactive pan, place over medium-low heat and add cornstarch mixture and butter
  3. stir frequently until it just simmers and thickens like custard, about 5 minutes for me (taste and add another teaspoon+ of sugar if you fear the tang)
  4. pour into crust and top with meringue

Meringue

  1. combine sugar and cream of tartar in a small bowl
  2. in a larger bowl, whip egg whites to soft peaks
  3. add sugar mixture one tablespoon or so at a time, whipping between, until stiff and shiny
  4. spoon or pipe over filling, touching meringue to crust edges to prevent shrinkage
  5. bake 15 minutes until golden

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Bonus: Lemon Syrup

Because I had organic lemons, I was also able to use the peels for this lemon syrup:

Stop Throwing Lemon Rinds Away! Make This No-Cook Syrup Instead

“True” lemon syrup, to distinguish it from the bottle of spiced white wine and lemon syrup I also have in the fridge right now.

I let it steep for about four hours. I don’t have a great citrus press so I strained the peels, then put them in a plastic bag and used a rolling pin to extract the rest of the juice. The result is sweet with a touch of bitterness to ground the flavor, and perfect with seltzer and fresh mint on a hot afternoon.

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* I have attributions for some of these recipes but not all. That can happen when I’m away from home and trying to put together a recipe for the in-laws on the fly, with a kitchen and equipment not my own. Thanks for ideas for what to do (and not do) go out to Stella Parks, Mark Bittman, Alton Brown, and many bakers and commenters online.

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The Verdict Is In

Lemon cinnamon cardamom ice cream is amazing.

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Photos by Cristina Anne Costello
Tetiana Bykovets & Jaspreet Kalsi on Unsplash

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Today is sourdough Friday, tonight is pizza night, and at some point this weekend I’ll make and freeze chocolate chip cookie dough.

I’m also prepping lemon cinnamon cardamom ice cream. I wanted to try a custard-free version, so yesterday I started with this Bittman recipe:

Homemade Ice Cream, Many Ways

Notes:

— I had a little over a cup of cream so the rest was milk. 

— For flavor, I used a touch of vanilla, about a dozen green cardamom pods, with a stick of cinnamon and some ground when the stick wasn’t steeping fast enough.

— I started with a handful of the most beautiful lemon balm from the garden, but the flavor wasn’t strong enough for this so I strained it out and opted for lemon curd, which I’ll add to the base mix as it whips and freezes.

* * *

Today is lemon curd day. 

Here’s my recipe. I don’t remember where I found it, but it’s been very reliable for me, plus no tedious double-boiler. And the pre-mixing means that I’ve never had to strain it to remove clumps. 

Lemon Curd

— makes ~500g / 2C

Ingredients:

  • 85g / 6T butter, softened
  • 200g / 1C sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 163g / 2/3C lemon juice
  • 1t. lemon zest (optional, I find it’s too chewy/waxy and skip it)

Instructions:

  • beat the butter and sugar together
  • add eggs and yolks, mix
  • add juice, mix
  • cook over low to medium heat, stirring frequently until smooth and thick, coating the back of a spoon without dripping (~10-15 minutes or 170*F). Do not boil.

Notes: I toasted the sugar briefly in the pan and then accidentally melted the butter, but it worked out fine. I also ran out of regular lemon juice and had to use Meyer lemons, but adding a little citric acid boosted the tang to “Pucker Factor: Ideal.” Which is not a thing. But should be.

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Tomorrow, we’re testing out a borrowed KitchenAid ice cream attachment. The owners of said attachment made some delicious vanilla ice cream with it, so any failures will be on us. 

I’m ok with that.

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Half Day

Today is a holiday in Canada so while I had to work this morning, I’m taking the afternoon off to sit outside, read, and drink a tasty beverage. I’m thinking Sangria-ish, a new drink I’m perfecting with whatever I happen to have in the fridge, like half a bottle of Alsatian red, frozen lime cubes, haskap juice, lemonade, cherries, and sparkling water:)

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Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

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We’ll See!

Today, my plan is to make bread, prep and roast a batch of mushrooms (oyster, shiitake, cafe), make black currant jam, and a batch of smoothies. I might also test out the KitchenAid ice cream attachment we borrowed from friends yesterday, free my tomatoes from the dastardly clutches of the cucamelon vine, and make strawberry Pop Tarts hand pies.

Or I’ll get distracted by a good book, a cozy Sunday, and the Olympics.

We’ll see!

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