Friday, August 26, 2011

Scenery, Changing

The past couple of weeks have kinda kicked my ass physically (working way too much!), and emotionally (roller coaster boy drama!), so my upcoming vacation (like, starting tonight!) could not have come at a better time.  A change of scenery does a girl good, now and then.  I'm not going very far, for very long; just visiting old friends and favourite cousins.  Heck, I may even go for a ride in a tractor.  (You just never know what I'll get up to, but my camera is never far from hand so there could be documentation of said tractor ride.)  There are no recipes in this post (if you've ever worked in an extremely hot, busy kitchen, you know why), just some of my favourite photographs of the garden this summer.  I'm leaving it behind for a little while, knowing full well it's going to be an absolute jungle when I get back.  There is currently a yellow zucchini explosion, that frankly scares me a bit.  You know you'll be bombarded with zucchini recipes in the future - just a heads up.   Time to pack, and arrange for someone to water the tomatoes while I'm gone.  See you soon!

Peas, in a pod

Rainbow chard

Blue, blue delphinium 

Squash blossom #1

Squash blossom #2



Beans and Toes!

Calendula, everywhere

First haul of Yukon gold

At its peak

Sunflowers, everywhere

First tomato.  It fell off its stem prematurely!

 Purple Coneflower (my absolute favourite!)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Before It's Too Late: Wine-Soaked Strawberry Sauce

You know it's coming, right?  That whole change of season thing, where the days get shorter and shorter, trees are painted yellow and orange, and I have to trade in my favourite summer dresses for tights and boots.  It's coming, but it's not here yet.  Which is a good thing.  Because I'm going to hold onto summer for as long as I can. I give soft glares to those who say "Summer is over".  No it's not.  No. It's. Not!

This past Sunday saw me go for a little drive in my little car to the U-Pick Strawberry Ranch, where you may recall I got the strawberries for the oh so lovely strawberry shortcake back in July.  Not so lazy this time, I got out of my car, walked through fields of tall, tall corn, and picked my own berries.  They were luscious in their scent, and still warm from the sun, I popped a few in my mouth when no one was looking.  Maybe it's stealing, but I rather think of it as quality control.

My Mom whipped up this strawberry sauce last month.  Afterwards we sat on her patio and tucked into big bowls of vanilla ice cream with this gorgeous deep, deep red sauce lapped over it.  One spoonful and I knew I had to tell y'all about it.  Fruit and booze.  Who doesn't love that?  The strawberries are simmered in decent red wine (don't use the stuff that's been sitting on your counter for a week.  And really, when does that ever happen?!).  Crack some black pepper in the sauce, too - it deepens the flavour and you can tell all of your friends that you put pepper in your strawberry sauce.

I don't know about you, but these are days I'm clinging too; for I know that in too short a time the days of feeling the heat on my skin and the sweat dripping off my brow will be over, and frankly it makes me a little maudlin.  So go pick yourself some strawberries while you still can; be sure to taste a few when no one is looking.  

And don't let the summer stars fade without making a single wish.

Wine-Soaked Strawberry Sauce

 1 cup cabernet sauvignon, or other decent red wine
1/4 cup granulated sugar
 fresh cracked pepper
1 1/2 cups local strawberries, or organic if you can't pick your own

Stir wine with sugar and berries in a medium saucepan.  Crack in some black pepper.  Bring to a boil over medium high heat.  Reduce to med-low and simmer uncovered until sauce reduces to a light syrup and fruit is very soft, about 25 minutes.  Serve at room temp over vanilla ice cream.  Somehow it tasted even better in my vintage tea cups.  Makes about 1 1/4 cups.  Adapted from Chatelaine. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Squash Blossom Frittata with Bacon and Goat Cheese

The garden is at its peak right now...beets are bursting out of the earth, like crazy underworld creatures (I MUST tend to them this weekend!).  There is a mighty plethora of chard and potatoes and beans.  Always beans.  I've blanched bag fulls and given some away.  But still they keep growing!  The yellow zucchini plants have taken up occupation in the central portion of the garden, with their massive leaves creating a green barricade for further garden entry.  Good thing I have long legs for leapin'!

Peek through the leaves though, and you see my little lovely squash blossoms, fewer and fewer now, as most have bright yellow zucchini at the other end.  Not wanting to see them wither and die, I decided to fry 'em up, again.

I have an affinity for squash blossoms, that's no secret.  Remember when I stuffed them with bocconcini and lemon?  That was pretty cool.  This time I combined them with two of my other faves bacon (!!) and goat cheese (!!) into a lovely frittata.

You may think it's odd to put squash blossoms in a frittata, (What? Me do anything odd?) but don't be was quite delicious.  The texture of the blossoms is kind of fun, and combined with the smoky saltiness of bacon, the creamy goodness of goat cheese, and the sweet burst of warm tomato on the tongue, it was quite a lovely way to eat some eggs.

Squash Blossom Frittata with Bacon and Goat Cheese

8 eggs, lightly beaten
8-10 pieces of bacon
1 small onion, chopped
6 squash blossoms, lightly rinsed and dried
small handful of goat cheese (or a large handful, if you desire!)
3-4 small cocktail tomatoes, halved
salt and pepper to taste

In an oven proof skillet (cast iron works beautifully), cook the bacon over medium heat.  When done to your liking, remove and set aside.  In the bacon fat, fry up the onion. When onion is translucent remove to the same plate as bacon. Chop the bacon into smallish pieces.  Set the squash blossoms in the bottom of the pan (you may have to add a little canola oil if pan is dry).  Cook for 30 seconds or so on each side.  Scatter the cooked bacon and onions around the blossoms, pour in the beaten egg.  Scatter the goat cheese, and  place the tomato halves on top.  Cook for a couple of minutes, until the egg starts to set up at the edges. Finish cooking in a preheated 350 oven, for about 10 minutes.  I finished the frittata under the broiler for about 30 seconds and got some nice caramelization action. Cut into wedges.  Serves 2-3.     

Can I just say how much I love the look of the squash blossoms in the black bottom of the pan?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Smell This: Peach Tart With Dulce de Leche

The people at the fruit stand are starting to know me by name.  Seems like I'm there a couple of times a week, getting my fair share of cherries, plums, and by far my favourite - peaches.  There's only a short window to get really really good peaches here in Sask.  They're trucked in from BC, but better that than some warehouse in California, arriving under ripe, sprayed with God knows what and tasting like cardboard.  No, this is the only time of year I eat fresh peaches, and I'm savouring every last drop of juice running down my chin.

Biting into a perfectly ripe peach is one of my favourite summertime activities.  First I pick it up and hold it to my nose, for longer than is probably normal.  Just inhaling.  And inhaling again. Sometimes I'll eat one peach right after the other just because I can and no one is looking.  The cats don't judge me, that's for sure.  Well at least not on my copious peach consumption.

Have I ever told you about my Mom's peach pie?  She makes all kinds of delicious pies, but whenever a slice of her peach pie was placed before me, it was truly an experience:  buttery crust, warm and sweet peachy filling with hits of cinnamon.  Lord knows I harass her every summer to make some, but she hasn't obliged in awhile (what's up with that, Mother dear?). So. It's time I take my peach pie cravings into my own hands.

These hands could have made a perfectly fine double crust peach pie, with fluted edges and the whole bit, but I wanted my peach pie without all of the drama, so I opted for more of a free form tart. (Truth:  it was a Sunday and I was lazy and it was hot and I just wanted to curl up in my hammock with Rob Lowe's memoir.)  Luckily I had some frozen pie dough from when I made that glorious rhubarb pie a short time ago (that was really smart of me!), so most of the work was already done.  Sliced up some ripe and oh so fragrant peaches, tossed them with a little bit of sugar, bundled them up in the pastry and poured over a little dulce de leche, just because I had some in the fridge, and seriously, what could go wrong with that combo? Besides, Emily put some in her peach tart and it looks magnificent. 

I purposefully stayed in my kitchen cleaning up the dishes while the tart was baking, just so I could bask in the beautiful smell seeping out of my oven.  Took me back to being a kid and asking my Mom when the pie was going to be ready.  Just 35 minutes is all it took.  I ate a substantial slice warm, without ice cream, just because I couldn't wait (patience is not one of my virtues), but do indulge with vanilla ice cream.  A short while later, for the sake of "recipe research" I had a smaller slice this time, but with a good size scoop of ice cream, and yes, it does taste as delicious as it sounds. Be sure to get your peaches before they're gone.  Tell them Renee sent you.

Peach Tart with Dulce de Leche

Pastry for the tart can be found here.  Roll out as you would for the bottom of a pie.  Place the pastry on a parchment lined cookie sheet. 

The filling is very simple.  4 peaches, peeled and sliced, tossed with 1 tbsp flour, 2 tbsp sugar, and 1 tsp cinnamon.  Place this filling in the middle of your rolled out pastry.  Gently fold in the sides.  That's the great bit about it being "rustic".  Anything goes.  Meanwhile melt 2 heaping tbsp of Dulce de Leche, with 1 tsp of butter and pour this over the top of the peaches.  Place in a preheated 350 degree oven, and bake for about 35 minutes until golden.  Serve warm as is or with ice cream.  Serves 4-6.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Chicken Stuffed With Cherries and Caramelized Shallots

You've probably seen the show:  a chef is given a bunch of "mystery" ingredients and then has to make a meal out of them, or something along those lines. Such a challenge was proposed to me from my friend Dwayne and it was crazy fun.  So here is what he brought to my house Sunday morning:  a box of Chex cereal; 2 chicken breasts; a bunch of shallots; a small bag of sesame seeds; and a bunch of radishes.  Really.

I was allowed to use anything else in my fridge and cupboards, so that sort of lessened the challenge. The chicken, cereal and shallots were easy; the radishes and sesame seeds were a bit of stumper, but after some furious googling I found a pretty delicious salad recipe on Chatelaine which combined both of those ingredients.  Yay!  They were out of the way!

Luckily I had some cream cheese in the fridge, alongside some cherries almost past the point of ripeness.  With the aid of the caramelized shallots and sprigs of fresh thyme from the garden, I figured why not stuff the chicken breast with cherries and cream cheese?  It may sound weird to combine chicken and cherries, but don't be scared!  It was really delicious!  The chicken was crispy on the outside (thanks to the Chex cereal), tender and flavourful on the inside.  The cast iron pan browns the meat beautifully and seals in all of the juices, then I finished the dish in the oven for the remainder of the cooking time.  Do you have a cast iron pan yet?  It really is my favourite thing in the kitchen right now.  I fried up some fresh garden potatoes to accompany the meal and it was a lovely way to spend an August afternoon. 

Dwayne was impressed with my challenge success, but I KNOW he's racking his brain on ways to stump me further.  Bring it on Dwayne.  Bring.  It.  On.

Chicken Stuffed with Cherries and Caramelized Shallots

In my haste to use all of the ingredients Dwayne brought me, I really didn't measure, so everything is approximate.  Please forgive?

2 fresh chicken breasts, skinless, boneless
1/4 cup cream cheese, softened
8 cherries, pitted and halved
4 shallots, sliced and caramelized in a bit of butter until soft and golden
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
salt and pepper to taste

1 cup Chex cereal, crushed to make crumbs.  You can always substitute bread crumbs if you like.
a few tablespoons of flour
salt and pepper
canola oil

To cut a little pocket into the chicken breast, take a sharp paring knife and make a small cut horizontally in the fattest part of the chicken breast.  Run your knife to the edges, being careful not to cut through the sides and bottom of the meat.  Slowly make the pocket bigger, trying to keep the initial cut small so most of your filling stays inside.  Set the prepared chicken aside.  In small bowl, combine the softened cream cheese, cherries, caramelized shallots and seasonings. Using your hands (I wore disposable gloves!) take some of the filling and stuff the chicken.  In a Ziploc bag, combine your coating ingredients and give a little shake.  Carefully set the chicken breast in and gingerly coat it.  Don't shake it like mad or anything.  Heat a little oil in your cast iron pan, or other heavy bottomed pan that can go in the oven, and cook the chicken over medium high heat for about 4 minutes per side until golden.  Place the chicken in a preheated 350 degree oven and cook for another 20 minutes.  Let sit for another 5 minutes before digging in.  Serves 2. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Raspberry and Dark Chocolate Ganache Tart

There's a pretty decent sized raspberry patch nestled back by the garden, where I go once in the morning to pick berries for my cereal or yogurt parfait made with this amazing granola.  I'll venture there again at dusk, just to see if any more berries ripened while I was gone.  I'm kind of in love with raspberries, see?  Especially when you pop them in your mouth while they are still warm from the sun.  The.  Best.

Do check for little bugs before you do this, otherwise you might get a little more protein than you were banking on...Not to speak from personal experience or anything.

When I was scrolling through the archives,  it dawned on me that I hadn't baked anything with chocolate since the Double Chocolate and Skor Trifle I made for my sister's birthday.  Seriously!  I'm not holding out on you either; believe me - if I'm baking with chocolate you'll find out about it. Truth is I haven't really eaten that much chocolate over the Summer.  I know!  Someone check the calender to make sure it's not 2012 yet and the End of Days is upon us.

Renee + Chocolate is a universal understanding, but with all of the glorious fruit abounding this season, I've been baking with whatever I've picked up at the market. Some may say I've been a little heavy handed with the rhubarb, but that's okay.  You can't please everyone.  Until now.  Now I bring you chocolate.

Raspberry and Dark Chocolate.  There's nothing like it.  Especially when the chocolate is creamy and truffle like, and the raspberries freshly picked from your (or someone else's) backyard.  Add to that a buttery, flaky crust, and really, it's amazing.  What else can I say?

My Mom was my taste tester that night,  and we both agreed that the tart needed a little whipped cream to balance out the strong flavours of chocolate and raspberry.  I had also eschewed the raspberry glaze first night, because, well, I didn't have any raspberry jam in the house like I thought.  Got some the next day, and you can probably see a difference in the photos.  Better with the glaze, no? The tart was even more delicious on the second night, especially with the whipped cream.  And I may have eaten it for breakfast on the third day.  With strong coffee.  Glorious!

The raspberries are waning now.  But I can't really complain.  They've been good to me for over a month, and I'm grateful for it.  There may even be just enough for tomorrow's breakfast.  One last taste of the ruby red gems.

Raspberry and Dark Chocolate Ganache Tart

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 3 tbsp butter, cold, cut into 1/2" cubes
3 tbsp icing sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp plus 1 1/2 tsp cold water

1 cup heavy whipping cream
12 ounces (360g)  70% dark chocolate (I used Lindt this time), chopped
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp Kahlua or strong coffee

4 cups fresh raspberries, lightly rinsed, and laid to dry on a tea towel
3 tbsp seedless raspberry jam

sweetened whipped cream for garnish

To make the crust, combine the flour, butter, and icing sugar in a food processor and pulse until crumbly.  In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks with the lemon juice and water.  Add to the flour mixture, with the motor running.  Dough should be soft.  Gather into a disc, wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.  Roll out and fit into a 9 inch tart pan, trimming edges.  With a fork, poke a few holes in the crust.    Freeze 20 minutes.   
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Bake crust for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.  Let cool completely.
Meanwhile, heat cream in a heavy saucepan, until it comes to a boil.  Remove from heat and stir in chocolate.  Stir until completely smooth.  Add the vanilla and coffee flavouring.  Let cool 15 minutes.  Pour into cool crust.  Refrigerate until firm, about 40 minutes, then top with berries.  Melt down the raspberry jam with a bit of water and brush over the tart.  Chill for a 20 minutes before cutting.  Serve with sweetened whipped cream. Serves 6-8.  

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Savouring Summer: Zucchini Flowers Stuffed with Bocconcini and Lemon

One of the best things about Summer is being able to walk around in the yard barefoot.  I love the feeling of cool grass underfoot as I pad my way to the back of the garden, checking on the latest growth spurt.  Along the way I'll stop to smell the bee balm and admire the ferocious beauty of the purple coneflower.  But the flowers I'm most wanting are those that belong to my yellow zucchini.

I don't even stop to put shoes on as I enter the dirt path.  There's something almost rebellious about a grown woman going barefoot in her own garden, but if this is my rebellion I don't think any of us have anything to worry about - though I have been known to raise my stereo volume to unhealthy levels and dance around to the Foo Fighters like a crazy woman.

And then I see them....the yellow beauties, some bursting out into star shapes, others softly enclosed.  I stop and admire them, for squash flowers really are a thing of beauty.  Every now and again I think back to how all of this garden gorgeousness started with just a few seeds.  And water, and sun, and careful attention.  And now it's bursting with goodness.  I pick the blossoms that don't have a zucchini at the other end, and there are plenty of them.  Plenty of zucchini too, some small, some ready for picking.  What should I make with those?

As I make my way back to the house, feeling the warm dirt, then the cool grass on my feet, I think how lucky am I to have this little urban oasis?  The garden is work, lots of it, but there's no better place to get food than your own backyard.

Inside my little green kitchen, I gingerly open the zucchini flowers.  I fill them with a mixture of fresh bocconcini, lemon zest and herbs, then dip them in a light tempura batter, and deep fry until they are golden and gorgeous.  Sprinkled with salt and a drizzled with lemon, these are utterly delicious.  Salty crispy cheesy - all of my favourite things - with a mild hint of squashness.  If  you have access to zucchini flowers, it would be so wrong if you didn't make these.  Trust me.  Best. Thing. Ever.

I eat the warm zucchini flowers on my patio, watching the sky darken in the West, waiting for the distant rumble of thunder.  These are the best (Summer) days.

Zucchini Flowers Stuffed with Bocconcini and Lemon

3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup seltzer of sparkling water (I used Perrier)
coarse salt
6 ounces (170g) bocconcini, coarsely grated
zest of 1 lemon
juice of half a lemon
some chopped fresh herbs, like dill or parsley or  basil
grind of fresh pepper and sea salt
20 zucchini flowers
canola oil for frying
1 lemon, halved, for serving.

Whisk together the flour and olive oil in a large bowl - it will be pebbly.  Whisk the fizzy water into the mixture until the batter is smooth.  Season with a large pinch of coarse salt.  Cover with plastic and let sit for at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, mix together the cheese and herbs and lemon zest, salt and pepper.  Carefully open each flower and stuff a heaping teaspoon of filling inside.  Some will tear, but do your best.  Gently twist the tops to keep everything inside.  At this point you could let the batter and flowers sit for a couple of hours while you do other important summer stuff, like take a nap or read Rob Lowe's memoir (I like!)

When ready to eat, heat up an inch of canola oil in a large cast iron skillet, or other heavy pan over medium heat.  When a small cube of bread sizzles, you know you are ready to fry.  Carefully dip each flower into the batter and slip it into the hot oil.  Fill the pan with as many flowers to create a single layer, being careful not to overcrowd.  Brown for about one minute per side, until golden.  Drain well on paper towels.  Serve hot, with a sprinkle of salt and a squeeze of lemon. Serves 4.  Perfectamundo!!!

And now let's look at more zucchini flowers...

Gorgeous, no?