Ontario Peach Pie

IMG_0015The year has been passing by at light speed, taken up with work, a few vacations, and all the little things that use up a day. I’ve gotten quite a few questions lately about my blog. Why haven’t I posted much this year? What am I drinking? The truth is probably two-fold- I’ve amassed quite a portfolio of favourite wines and recipes and don’t always have new food and drink to share, and having a computer-heavy day job can be a drain on the creative juices.

But if there’s anything that might get a cook’s energy back up, it is late summer and early fall in Ontario. Having grown up a prairie girl, I am amazed every year here when the bounty begins to roll in. Niagara peaches are one of my very favourite treats, but they tend to come in huge baskets and ripen all at once. Every August at this time I search for a random peach pie recipe, and then think, why haven’t I posted this so I’ll know what to make next year?

IMG_0017This year I found two good recipes: One for the #1 Best Pie Crust Ever and the other for Mama Thornton’s Peach Pie, both from the Food Network. The pie crust uses butter and shortening and has definitely replaced my old standard Crisco recipe. The butter makes the dough less crumbly and easier to work with, and browns up so beautifully I could hardly wait for the pie to cool before slicing through the crisp crust into the peaches below. The peach filling is fantastic- gooey but not runny and just the right amount of sweet. The only change I made was to double the lemon juice and add a splash of vanilla extract.

So, if you have peaches ripening en masse at this very moment- I hope a peach pie is in your future.

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Simple Summer Fun: Lemon-Limeade Concentrate

For the first time in my life, I have a Costco membership. I’ve always resisted, having no storage space and only 2 people to buy groceries for. But due to some tire problems on a roadtrip, and Costco saving the day, I found myself back at home for another long hot month of summer with a membership card burning a hole in my pocket.

Last night, on our inaugural grocery shop, I came across a mammoth bag of lemons and limes. They were just so pretty and happy, all jumbled up in their bag. Sunny yellow and tropical green, singing a siren song about homemade lemon-limeade. And I couldn’t resist, even though there were about 20 fruit in the bag (which is kind of an insane number when you have no firm citrus plans). But it was a good impulse buy, as I recently acquired an amazing citrus press from Crate & Barrel (an impulse buy on my roadtrip). So all this following-of-citrus-gut-instincts came to fruition (literally) in my kitchen this evening.

About 20 minutes of squeezing and squashing 5 lemons and 5 limes yielded 1.5 cups of lemon-lime juice. Mix this with 3.5 cups simple syrup (2 parts water, 1.5 parts white sugar, heated to boiling and then cooled), and you’ll have a mason jar full of concentrate, just ready for mixing with still or sparkling water any time you fancy a refreshing summer drink.

I mixed around 1 part of the concentrate with 2 parts water, threw in a handful of ice, and the drink had the perfect sweet-tart ratio you expect, with a hint of lime with the lemoniness. I declare this citrus indulgence a firm success.

Blueberry Raspberry Crumble

Berry Crumble

This has to be the easiest dessert I make. We always seem to have frozen fruit hanging around for smoothies, and everything else is waiting in my baking drawer. I don’t really have a recipe, I just like to eyeball things, and it always tastes great. The key is to put the crumble on the top and bottom, so the fruit is sandwiched between layers of sweet buttery oats.

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Soften 1 stick of butter in a bowl. Add 2 large spoonfuls of flour, 1/3 cup of brown sugar, 1 or 2 cups rolled oats and a generous sprinkle of cinnamon. Crumble all ingredients together, if it’s too buttery, add more oats.
  3. Press half the mixture into the bottom of an oven safe dish.
  4. Spread a few cups of frozen berries over this layer.
  5. Sprinkle the last of the oat mixture over the top.
  6. Bake at 350F for 30-40 minutes.

Simple, comforting, hearty, great for breakfast the next day. This is one dessert I am happy to make again and again.

Beery Crumble

Hot & Sweet Freezer Pickles

I heart pickles.  Pickles are a wonderful invention. They’re really a bit strange when you contemplate soaking tiny cucumbers in vinegar and salt, for months (or years), and then eating them as a snack.  But I won’t think too much about the process, and just focus on the sour, salty, crunchy delight that is a well made pickle. In the summer of 2009, Kevin, his parents and I made 50 jars of dill pickles.  These pickles are so good, friends beg for jars, and we no longer have store bought pickles in the house. However, I cannot share the recipe, it is a family secret, and you’ll just have to get invited to my house to try their magnificence. We didn’t make dill pickles this year, as there are still about 10 jars left, but I’m sure the summer of 2011 will see us repeating the pickle sweatshop at the family cottage.

I’ve always enjoyed bread and butter pickles, and have been thinking about the merits of these with cheese and crackers, as we have been eating nothing buts dills for a year now.  I saw freezer pickles on the Everybody Likes Sandwiches blog a few weeks ago, and have had some sweet and crunchy cukes in my sights ever since. This weekend on the grocery run, I grabbed an English cuke and a package of mini cucumbers, to make some sliced pickles and some pickle spears. We had some small hot peppers from Kevin’s father’s garden, and a ton of onions from our now finished CSA box. A rummage in the pantry turned up salt, vinegar and sugar, and without much fuss, I had my pickle ingredients.

Most freezer pickle recipes recommend using freezer containers, like ziplocks or leftover plastic tubs, but I just couldn’t face the esthetics of that approach. I put some of my empty glass pickle jars (from last year’s home made dills) through the dishwasher and decided to risk the glass in the freezer.

Every freezer pickle recipe starts the same way: Thin-slice your cukes and an onion, cover them in salt and let them mingle in a bowl for 2-3 hours. I guess this dehydrating process helps them stay crispy- get rid of some juice before you add the brine.  Many of the recipes called for celery seed, pickling spice, mustard seeds, or tumeric, but I had none of these in my cupboard. So….living dangerously….my hot peppers had to take the lead as flavouring agent.

I was a bit torn about the vinegar to sugar ratio….some had 2:1 sugar to vinegar, some had 1:1, others had some water in the mix. I decided to try the 1:1 ratio, with no water.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups sliced cucumber
  • 1 onion, thin sliced in rings
  • handful small hot peppers
  • 2 tbsp sea salt
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 2 cups white vinegar

Instructions

  1. Thin-slice your cukes and an onion, cover them in salt and let them mingle in a bowl for 2-3 hours. Drain liquid and do not rinse.
  2. Boil sugar and vinegar together.  Arrange cucumbers and onions in jars while the brine cooks.
  3. Pour hot brine into jars, leaving 1 inch room at top of jar. Seal jars.
  4. Freeze for up to 6 weeks. Thaw in fridge before serving.

Because I used canning jars with proper lids, and poured the brine over while still very hot, my jars actually sealed themselves. I feel like this defeats the “freezing” step, as that seems to be for preserving them when using plastic containers that don’t seal like a jar does. So, I put one jar straight into the fridge and left it over night. Because I have no self control, I then opened it the next day to go with a lunch of crackers and cheese. The results? Fantastic! So delicious: crunchy, sweet, a bit spicy, and totally already pickled. I think because the pickles are sliced and then salted, they are primed to suck the vinegar and sugar right up. We leave our traditional dills for 6-8 weeks before eating, which makes sense because the cucumbers are pickled whole. But this method appears to be instant gratification.

I did freeze my 2 remaining jars, and the glass did just fine because I left a lot of head room. I thawed out a jar after the fridge version rapidly disappeared. The taste is really no different, the pickles are just as crunchy, but the pickle itself is a bit more transparent. I think the unfrozen ones are prettier. My guess is that freezing is only necessary if you’re using a container that you can’t seal with a traditional canning method. But who knows! It’s difficult to unravel the mysteries of canning- an age old process with much oral tradition.

Peach Buckle

Peach Buckle

Fresh baked peach buckle.

This recipe is my first foray into the world of Smitten Kitchen. I’m sure that many food bloggers already know about this bible of a food blog, but for those who haven’t seen it, I highly recommend the site. It is one of the only food blogs I read on a regular basis; the photography is great and the recipes are always fresh, in season and creative.

A few weeks ago, a Nectarine Brown Butter Buckle was posted, and I decided to actually try one of Deb’s recipes, rather than just ogle them online. Luck would have it that I ended up with some extremely ripe Ontario peaches just as I was invited to a dinner party. This smelled so divine baking today that I’m surprised Kevin was able to leave it alone long enough to get it to the dinner party!

I decided to leave out the brown butter part and change the nectarines to peaches. The comments online were that the taste wasn’t much different, and  I am supremely lazy when it come to baking. And cooking, really. I hate it when any recipe has many steps…..make this…set aside to cool…etc, etc. Usually I just skip the whole thing entirely.

Also, all I had was an 8 inch round cake pan, and the recipe called for 10 inch. I attempted to cut the ingredients down by about 1/3. So, here is my version of a buckle (also known as a tasty cake with fruit in the middle and streusel on top).

If you have a 10″ pan or prefer brown butter, I would suggest using the original recipe.

Peach Buckle

Peach Buckle Layer

Peach pinwheel.

This version fits an 8″ cake pan.

Cake

1 stick butter (1/2 cup), melted
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp  salt
Pinch of cinnamon
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
4 medium peaches, sliced
1 tbsp lemon juice

Streusel

2 tbsp butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup all purpose flour
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of salt

Peach Buckle Streusel

On goes the streusel.

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Start with the cake batter: Melt the butter, mix in the rest of the wet ingredients. Add in dry ingredients and stir well. I used the same bowl for all of it. Less dishes, less steps = happy me.

2. Grease baking pan. Spread batter in the pan and top with sliced peaches. Make a pretty pattern in you like.

3. Mix together the streusel until it is crumbly, you can do it in the cake batter bowl to save dishes. Pour over the cake batter and peaches to cover. Some peaches and batter will still be visible.

4. Bake at 350F for 40 minutes. It will be done when the cake springs back when you poke it, and the cake isn’t jiggly when you shake it.

It was a hit at dinner, we served it with some vanilla ice cream and the tartness of the peaches, the mildness of the cake and the sweet of the ice cream were a great match.

I reduced the sugar a bit in my version, which was great when paired with ice cream. You might want a bit more sugar if you plan to serve alone. Also, I found the cake the tiniest bit dry, so perhaps a bit more milk in the recipe, or baking 35 minutes. However, I may just be being picky, because Kevin said the moistness of the peaches went well with the texture of the cake.

Barbequed Beets & Carrots

Roasted Beets and Carrots - Done!

Sweet roasted root veggie perfection.

A few weeks ago, our CSA veggie box contained some particularly fat & sassy beets, and the first carrots of the year. I love roasted beets, and the carrots were crying out to join their purple cousins in tinfoil on the barbeque.

Roasted Beets and Carrots - All Cleaned Up

Peeled and ready for chopping.

Roasted Beets and Carrots - Mixing

Seasoned with S&P and garden herbs.

Simply chop the beets and carrots roughly, toss them in olive oil and chopped garlic, sprinkle with salt, pepper, fresh rosemary, oregano and thyme, and pop this all into a tinfoil package. It can go on the BBQ for 45 minutes over indirect heat (one burner on high, the other off, package over the off burner) or in the oven for 1 hr at 375F.

And there you have it- simple, healthy, tasty and local.  And this cooks up just beautifully while steaks occupy the other side of the grill!

Lazy Sangria

Wild Berry Sangria - Glass

I’m going to confess right off the top: this is not my invention. I can take no credit for my friend Laurel’s genius creation, and only hope she takes no offense at the “lazy” moniker. I only mean that is easy to make (and to drink). Heck, even drunk people can do it.

For the version pictured above, we threw a bunch of wild raspberries and blueberries in a jar, and topped those off with some sliced strawberries. Next, a bottle of cheap red went in, home made will do. Add to that a bottle of prepared Sangria wine, I can’t remember which brand we used but I have to assume they all contain some wine, some booze and some fruit juice. When you’re ready to serve, mix that together with the secret ingredient- Orangina! Who knew this cute little bevvy, the one I ordered so politely on 8th grade French fieldtrips, would come in so handy later in life.

This combo produces the perfect blend of fruit, wine, booze and fizz.  It disappeared pretty quickly, and we started topping it off with more wine, some orange juice, and even a scoop or two of lemonade powder when the going got tough. As long as there is fruit at the bottom of the jug, you’re obligated to refill.

Once you’re suitably tipsy, play some sort of board game that makes people reveal what they really think. We recommend True Colours……it’s fun any time, but so much more so with a glass of Sangria by your side.

Feta, Cranberry & Pine Nut Quinoa Salad

Quinoa Salad - All Done!

The finished product- a different flavour in every bite.

This is a salad my mom likes to make for summer BBQs, and often gets asked for the recipe. We had a small dinner get together this week with friends who love different grains and interesting foods, so I thought Quinoa Salad would be a great addition to BBQ’d steak and roasted root veggies.

Quinoa has been getting a lot of good press lately. I tried it in the past in an attempt to go gluten-free (which only lasted about 2-3 weeks, I am weak) and didn’t enjoy the texture. But in this salad, you could almost mistake it for couscous, only way better for you, since it is touted as one of nature’s only complete plant proteins.

The salad starts with cooked and cooled quinoa, gets some feta, toasted pine nuts and dried cranberries added, followed by a drizzle of olive oil and lemon, a pinch of salt, and then a sprinkle of chopped fresh mint and flat leaf parsley.

Quinoa Salad - Cooking up the Quinoa

Boil 1 cup quinoa in 2 cups water, then cool completely.

Quinoa Salad - Pine Nuts

Toast 1/3 cup of pine nuts over medium heat for 5 minutes.

Quinoa Salad - Feta Cheese

1/2 cup feta, crumbled.

Quinoa Salad - Measing out the Crasisins

1/3 cup dried cranberries.

Quinoa Salad - Cutting up the Parsley

2 tbsp. each fresh parsley and mint.

Quinoa Salad - Quinoa from the Stove

The quinoa meets the bowl.

Quinoa Salad - Adding Craisins

In go the cranberries.

Quinoa Salad - Mixing it All Together

The feta joins the mix.

Quinoa Salad - Olive Oil

1/3 cup olive oil for dressing.

Quinoa Salad - Adding the Lemon

Adding the juice of 1 lemon.

This salad is summer in a bowl- and a different combo of flavour in each bite. The lemon and olive oil are light and fresh, the feta adds a bit of salt, the cranberries some sweet, the pine nuts some buttery crunch, and the mint and parsley round out the bunch with a refreshing finish.

As usual, this salad did not disappoint, got passed around for seconds, and the recipe requested. Take it to your next summer BBQ and let your friends marvel at this healthy bowl of freshness!

The Berry Bounty

Wild Manitoba Berries

Make-shift berry container full of the "fruits" of our labours.

Few things are more fun and tasty to me than growing something myself and devouring it. Case in point, my recent penchant for tomato and cheddar sandwiches, with tomatoes courtesy of my patio garden. Living in a city for most of my life, I’d almost forgotten that sometimes tasty things grow wild, waiting to be discovered by birds and bears.

Wild Berry Sangria - Jar

The berries soak up the Sangria.

Imagine my enormous pleasure at discovering mother nature’s gift to us on a recent cottage weekend in eastern Manitoba. I’ve never seen so many wild blueberries and raspberries. It was a reminder of what these fruits used to look like before we engineered them. The blueberries were so tiny, they were hard to spot, and the raspberries were perfect and so delicate you needed your softest touch to capture them.

Wild Berry Pancakes

Wildberry pancakes on the vintage cottage stove.

Braving hungry mosquitos and nasty black flies, we collected many cupfuls over the weekend. I think the cottage road was picked clean before our departure. These tiny treats made for several Sangria adventures and a stack of berry pancakes that rapidly evaporated from the breakfast table.

When was the last time a walk in the woods produced a bounty for your table? I very much enjoyed my reminder that there’s nothing more “local” than sneaking berries straight from the forest floor.

Perfect Penne

To go along with my recent Spring-friendly wine posts, I concocted an asparagus and roasted tomato pasta dish this weekend.  I love when asparagus starts to appear in the grocery store, it makes me feel like skirts and sandals are just around the corner.

I started by roasting 6 or 7 roma tomatoes. You just cut them in half, scoop out the seeds, toss them with olive oil and chopped garlic, and put them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Bake them at 350F for 30 minutes, then up the temp to 375F for about 15 minutes so they get roasty.

While those were finishing up in the oven and my penne was cooking on the stove, I fried a small amount of bacon with some chicken breast pieces (I cheated a bit by buying a rotisserie chicken and just tearing up the white meat for this dish). I think pancetta would have been tastier than bacon but I forgot to pick some up.  In another pan I sauteed chopped asparagus, diced onion and minced garlic in olive oil.

Then I just tossed it all together, added a bit more olive oil, and some salt and pepper. And there you have it! Fresh, delicious penne, with a different bit of flavour in each bite. We paired it with a bottle of white that was kicking around in the fridge. A very excellent, home made, restaurant worthy date night dinner.