Thursday, September 29, 2011

Zucchini Fritters with Fresh Tomato and Feta Salsa

The end is in sight my friends, the end is in sight.  No, I haven't been on some massive mountainous trek (though that sounds like fun!).  My news is more ground level:  I'm down to my final 2 zucchini.  Woo hoo!  For the last couple of months I've been somewhat overwhelmed by the plethora of yellow squash creeping along my vegetable garden floor.  This is the first year the zucchini seeds have actually done anything, and I blame it all on that manure I lovingly spread across the garden way back in May.  The garden rocked this year, plain and simple.  Never before have I grown vegetables with such success - goes to show that the health of your garden really does depend on the health of your soil.  Plus the weather in Saskatoon was absolutely perfect - lovely, hot, sunny days, with not a lot of rain.  Dragging the hose around the yard was no fun, but I like to think I burned a million calories while doing so.

If you've been reading me regularly, and are aware of my squash "issues", you know I've stuffed it and grilled it; eaten it roasted and raw.  There was a week in early September where I was eating zucchini every day...and tempted to put them into neighbour's mailboxes.  Yes, there was a squash-palooza at my place this Summer, and I'm happy to report it's finally winding down.

My friend Chelsey texted me a couple of weeks ago, just to say hey, and to let me know she made the most amazing zucchini fritters.  Hello!  Chelse and I have been friends since the days of big hair and bigger glasses; since the dawn of cassette singles and stirrup pants; since the days of "Twin Peaks" and gorging on Ritz crackers with barbecue sauce.  Chelse was clearly reading my mind when she sent that text.  Further follow up resulted in her giving me the recipe, which she acquired from a lovely British food mag called 'Olive'. 

Looking at it online, I'm thinking I may just have to get a subscription...

So about the fritters.  They were freaking amazing.  The batter is quite simple - coarsely grated zucchini, with some eggs, flour, diced onion and hot pepper.  I added a little lemon zest just to brighten the flavour, and a good shake of coarse salt.  Next time - and yes, there will be a next time -  I would add some fresh herbs to the mix - like cilantro, parsley or basil.  The fritters were like how fritters should be:  crispy good on the outside and tender on the inside.  The fresh salsa (Yay!  I get to use up some tomatoes sitting on my counter too!) was the perfect accompaniment - and really, there's never a bad time for feta cheese, is there?  I only had yellow zucchini, so I had to purchase some green from the market, just to add more pop of colour in my photos.  You can imagine how ridiculous I felt buying zucchini!  Oh well.  Just two more to go, and I think I'll just grate them up too, for something deep, dark and decadent.  Stay tuned for that.

Zucchini Fritters with Fresh Tomato and Feta Salsa

1 hot pepper, finely diced (use any variety you like, just remember to seed it if you don't want it too spicy, and wear rubber gloves while handling!)
1/2 red onion, finely diced
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 eggs
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp coarse salt (more for sprinkling after)
1 tsp baking powder
3 medium zucchini, coarsely grated, juice squeezed out (about 2 cups, packed)
canola oil for frying

In a large bowl, combine the pepper, onion, lemon zest, spices, eggs.  Stir well.  Add the flour, stirring to moisten, then add the grated zucchini, stirring until all combined.   Heat oil, about 1/2 inch deep in a large skillet, dropping the batter by heaping spoonfuls.  Spread out a little to make round.  Fry on each side, about 3 minutes over medium high heat, until golden.  Sprinkle with salt, heap with your fresh salsa.  Makes about 8 fritters.

Combine in a bowl:
Fresh tomatoes, diced
red onion, diced
fresh herbs like mint, cilantro or basil
squeeze of honey
squeeze of a lime
drizzle of olive oil
salt, pepper, dash of hot sauce
diced feta cheese

Season it as you like!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Orange Scented Quinoa Cereal with Maple Syrup & Pecans

I learned something new the other day:  quinoa is not just for salads, or pilafs, or side dishes of any kind.  I know what you're thinking though: quinoa for breakfast sounds kind of weird.  That's what I thought too when I first saw this recipe slide into my inbox.  But upon further perusing, I thought, well, why the hell not?  Especially when the quinoa is laden with maple syrup and cinnamon, oh and yeah, all of those glorious pecans.

Oatmeal is fabulous and fibre-rific.  We all know that.  But sometimes, it can be a little too, um, hearty?  Quinoa is light and yet so satisfying, and being the protein powerhouse that is, it's a nice way to shake up the ol' breakfast routine.  It doesn't have a lot of flavour of it's own, but will magically take on all of the loveliness you put with it.  Plus it's really fun to eat.  And breakfast should have a little fun factor to it. 

I've made breakfast quinoa a couple of times now, and I'm kind of hooked.  There's not a lot of stirring, which I appreciate, because I stir for a living, and sometimes a girl just has to give it a rest.  I love the whole simmer, cover and forget about it breakfast.  Just be sure to set your timer for 12 minutes - otherwise you'll have burnt quinoa, and I've done it.  Not pretty. 

I kind of love that you flavour the quinoa with vanilla and cinnamon and orange zest then nestle it into bowls. I'm having a torrid love affair with anything peach so of course slices of those beauties go on top.  If you don't have peaches or hate them, then substitute whatever has your fancy - apples or pears would be lovely right now or heck go wild and crazy and slice a banana on top.  Or go crazier and do it up with mangoes!  Give it a drizzle of maple syrup or a little honey, even brown sugar would do. Sprinkle with toasted pecans and add a splash of almond milk. A hot and healthy breakfast in under 20 minutes.  And you don't even have to stir that much.

See, not so weird after all.

Orange Scented Quinoa Cereal with Maple Syrup and Pecans

1 cup quinoa, rinsed thoroughly
1/2 tsp vanilla
zest of one orange
1 tsp cinnamon
2 peaches, sliced (or other fruit of your choosing)
4 tbsp maple syrup or honey or brown sugar
1/2 cup toasted pecan pieces (or other nuts)
almond milk, soy milk, or cow's milk.  whatever your preference

In a medium saucepan, bring water to boil.  Stir in the rinsed quinoa.  Bring back to a boil, cover, reduce heat and cook for 12 minutes, until tender.  Drain into a fine mesh strainer and put back into the pot. cover and let stand for 5 minutes.  Transfer into a large bowl and stir in the vanilla, orange zest and cinnamon.  Divide into bowls and garnish with fruit, maple syrup and nuts. Add a splash of milk.  The cooked quinoa will keep in the fridge, covered for a few days, so go ahead a make a large batch.  It's that good.  Serves 3-4.  Adapted from 20 minute Supper Club

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ginger & Vanilla Peach Upside Down Cake

Oh September.  You bittersweet month.  For someone who loves Summer as much as I do, I'm always a little verklempt when the ninth month rolls around.  I was never one of those kids to jump up and down, excited for school to start.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  I know of a few occasions where I'd fake sick so I could stay home from school (Shhhhhh!  Don't tell my Mom!) trying to sneak in one last day of Summer holidays.  And not much has changed.  While I don't call in sick, I try to hang on,  just a little longer, to the best of Summer.  I know its  days are numbered, by the frosty mornings and changing light; the birds flying away and the impending fall TV schedule.

September is a month of transition.  A leaving-behind month.  A saying good-bye month to the best that Summer had to offer.  September is kind of like reading the best book you've read in a long time and knowing that it has to end, though you don't want it to. You savour every detail, knowing in the end you're going to have to let it go.  That's how September is for me.  My letting-go month.  The transition is made easier by starting a fun new class, and planning fall pot-luck parties.  I find the purchase of some tall suede boots (on order as we speak!) also makes for a smooth transition into the next season.

I was pulling a tomato plant out of the garden a few days ago, and caught one last whiff of that tomato leaf smell.  You know the one.  It smells of Summer.  Same with the sweet peas climbing the fence in my front yard.  I try to smell them every day - the last of the late bloomers.  I'm soaking up the last smells of Summer all around me.  And one of my favourites is of peaches - so impeccable when perfectly ripe, you can smell them from clear across the room. This tart touched on just how much I love peaches, and I think after you taste this cake, you'll fall for them just as badly as I have.

This cake is perfect seasonal transition food (but really, there is never a bad time to eat cake.)  The best of Summer's peaches are combined with aromatics of ginger and vanilla.  I've eaten baked a lot of cake in my little lifetime, but I don't think any have smelled quite like this one.  If you like ginger, you'll be happy to learn there are thinly sliced coins of it simmered with the peaches; both powdered and grated fresh ginger in the cake batter.  And the vanilla bean!  Sliced in half and scooped of it's goodness, well, it makes this cake, with the little bits of bean almost popping on your tongue. There's brown butter, brown sugar and the wee bit of whiskey (!!) to round things out.  So let's go over that again:  notes of ginger and vanilla, brown sugar and  brown butter, whiskey and cinnamon. And peaches.  Let us not forget the peaches.  You will love the smell of this in your kitchen.

There are a couple of steps to this cake, but definitely worth the effort.  Once you invert it on to a pretty platter, and see the warm golden glow of the peaches, (this cake even looks like fall!), you'll be happy you did. I left the vanilla bean halves in with the peaches, just to add some drama when inverted, but don't eat them.  The sliced coins of ginger add a lovely bite, but you can pick them out if you so desire, or if you aren't a ginger freak like me.  I ate the cake warm (with ice cream!) and cold (for breakfast!) and was in love with every bite.  I may be a little sad to see Summer go, but with a cake like this, new episodes of America's Next Top Model and my tall suede boots, I think me and Autumn will get along just fine.

Ginger and Vanilla Peach Upside Down Cake

2 tbsp butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 inch fresh, peeled ginger, sliced into thin coins
pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean, sliced in half lengthwise, seeds scraped out (if not using vanilla bean, use 1 tsp pure vanilla extract)
3 tbsp whiskey (I used the last bit at the bottom of my rye bottle)
1 pound of fresh, ripe peaches, sliced (I left the peel on and it was fine!)

8 tbsp butter
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger

In a skillet, over low heat, cook together the butter, brown sugar, ginger, salt, vanilla, whiskey and peaches, until the juices thicken like maple syrup.  If the peaches are quite soft and start to break up, remove them and thicken the juices on their own.  Takes about 12 minutes or so.  Pour into a 8 inch square baking dish.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

To make the cake, melt the 8 tbsp butter over low heat, until it turns a caramel colour.  Strain this into the bowl of a mixer.  Discard solids. Let the brown butter cool for a bit.  Combine the dry ingredients in another bowl and set aside.  Beat together the brown butter, brown sugar and vanilla with the paddle attachment.   Add one egg at a time, scraping bowl between additions.  Alternate adding the dry ingredients with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.  Add the grated fresh ginger and pour this on top of the peach mixture, smoothing with a spatula.  Bake for about 30 minutes.  While still warm, invert cake onto platter.  Serves 6.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Grilled Italian Bread Salad with Basil and Feta

I'll let you in on a secret, only if you promise not to laugh:  I haven't been using my barbecue throughout most of the summer.  Not since propane ran out while I was cooking this salmon, in fact.  Silly, I know, but I have a fear of changing propane tanks.  Sillier still, I work with natural gas on a daily basis and have lit my fair share of pilot lights.  Heck, I even know what a thermal coupler is! 

Nope, that tank was empty all summer.  You maybe even wondered why I wasn't featuring more grilled dishes, but were too polite to ask.  Given that there's no man action around the place to take care of such jobs, I had to suck up my crazy phobia and figure it out, eventually. 

Not sure why I thought changing a propane tank was so darn complicated, or why I had visions of myself being blown to smithereens, but in the end all I had to do was unscrew the tank (thanks to Tara's bf for giving such an excellent demo!).  That was the easy part!  Trucking it to Canadian Tire, while it rolled around in the trunk, freaked me out big time.  Driving with a full tank of propane in the passenger seat, also super freaky!  Home re-attached to the barbecue, not so freaky.   Whew!  That was intense.  And all so I could make this salad.

When I was first learning to cook for myself, way way back then, I ate this salad, or a version of it, loads.  Who knew toasted stale bread with heaps of fresh tomatoes and basil could be so delicious?  Plus I was a student and perpetually broke, so this cheap and cheerful salad kind of made my summer.  Years later, it still does.


Grilled vegetables and feta add a more sophisticated turn to the salad.  Everywhere I look I see zucchini (still!) so I grilled that up, and some red onion too. (I'm super happy my barbecue is back in business!)  But peppers, eggplant would also be fabulous.  Tossed with heaps of glorious tomatoes and scattered with my favourite herb, this salad is a lovely way to showcase the best of the best vegetables.  Switch things up and add goat cheese and other herbs too.  Just be sure not to use junky white bread.  Get thee to a good bakery and buy a nice crusty loaf of Italian, or baguette, or even sourdough.  The bread I used had whole cloves of roasted garlic in it - amazing stuff.  Rustic and fresh, with all kinds of flavours running around,  this salad was totally worth the freaky drive with the propane tank in the passenger seat.

Grilled Italian Bread Salad with Basil and Feta

2 small zucchini sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
1 small red onion, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
1 red or yellow pepper, quartered
1/4 cup olive oil
4 slices Italian bread, preferable day old, 1 inch thick
4 tomatoes, quartered
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup shredded fresh basil

Preheat your barbecue to  medium.  Brush the vegetables with 1 tbsp of oil.  Lightly oil the grill and barbecue the vegetables, turning often until tender, 3 minutes or so.  Remove each piece as it is done.  Grill the bread until it is toasted, about 2 minutes per side.  Chop the bread and vegetables, combine with tomatoes in large bowl.  Whisk remaining oil with garlic and balsamic vinegar, seasoning it with salt and pepper.  Drizzle over bread mixture, tossing to coat.  Transfer to platter and scatter the feta and basil.  Serve immediately.  Serves 4.  Adapted from Chatelaine. 

And lastly, aren't my Lemon Boy tomatoes just lovely?  They taste super sweet, and were perfect in this salad.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Saskatoon Berry Crème Fraîche Tart & An Anniversary

Sometimes all it takes is a few words to change the course of your life.   A little over three years ago my brother said to me "Ren, you should buy my house."  And poof!  Just like that everything changed.

I'd been living in a different city, sort of stuck in a rut, I guess you could say.  Same old apartment, (though it was quite lovely), I was renting, and rent was escalating beyond what was reasonable and affordable.  My job was quite good, but I'd been doing it for so long, things were a bit, well, repetitive.  (Great people, great place, but it had come to a point where I needed to cook different food.)  The relationship I was in felt scratchy like an ill-fitting sweater, with no room for expansion either. All that was keeping me in Edmonton was a heaping handful of really good friends, and while they were sad to see me go, they understood why.  So when my brother put those few words to me, I thought about it for a little while, at first hesitating because change always scares the crap out of me.  But then through the haze of fear and uncertainty, I saw that a lifeline was being extended.  I grasped at it and haven't looked back since.

Three years ago this past week I moved into my little house in Saskatoon.  Good friends borrowed a trailer and helped me move my belongings the six hours East.  Halfway through our journey we stopped for Chinese food, and my fortune cookie read:  Life is a series of choices.  Today yours are good ones. Goosebumps allover.  While I was certain I was doing the right thing, I had no job lined up and I knew I'd have to make new friends in my new city.  Question marks always freak me out a little (or a lot!). Luckily I had my family nearby to see me through the transition.  My Mom lives just a few blocks away, and my brother is across the city.  Being here also means I get to see my sister way more frequently than before; especially important because she totes along her gorgeous little girls who have Aunty wrapped their tiny fingers. It took some trial and error but I found a pretty great job doing what I love and I've made some really great friends too - some of the best people I've ever known, in fact.  And the house!  I love owning my own house. I love my massive back yard; planting and harvesting the vegetable garden. I love sitting on my patio admiring the flower beds full of bees.  I love that I can paint whatever colour I want on my walls - my bathroom is pink!  I love that I can play music at all hours if I like, which I don't that often, but it's nice to have options.  I love that I have a garage.  I really do.  With a garage door opener and everything.  I love my little green kitchen, with the gas stove, and the fridge in the laundry room because, well, my kitchen is little.  It's quirky, and it's mine.

And my city.  I love Saskatoon.  It's a beautiful and vibrant, with tremendous growth happening right now, and I love being a part of it.  And I love that it's named after one of my favourite berries in the whole world.  Saskatoon berries are native to North America, but especially abundant in Western Canada.  They grow wild along riverbanks and coulees and my summers when I was a kid were spent picking them.  They look kind of like blueberries, but with their purple-black skin and sweet almond like taste, there is no comparison. If you don't feel like being a hard-core bush whacker, there are U-Picks a-plenty where you can get some that are cultivated.  Still quite good, but not the same as stumbling across them in the wild.

In honour of my 3 year anniversary in the city, I decided to bake a  Saskatoon berry tart, just because I'm a total cheese ball.  And the recipe said I could make my own crème fraîche - something I always wanted to try.  You basically combine some whipping cream and sour cream together and let it stand overnight on the counter.  12 hours later you have something like thickened whipping cream.  At least that's how my turned out.  Later on it's folded into the custard for the tart and it turned out beautifully.  The cornmeal in the crust yields a nice crunch to the creamy, berry bursting filling, and I love the cracks that formed on the surface of the tart. This being the first time I've tried the recipe, not sure if that was supposed to happen, but hey, they are only cracks!  If you don't have Saskatoons, you can use any other berry you like, or a combination.  Blackberries and raspberries would be insanely good.  Peaches and plums, heck even pears would be delicious.

You'll never do a whole lot unless you're brave enough to try.  Dolly Parton

And she's right.  I've always been a bit of leaper into the unknown kind of girl.  Be it moving across the country to study art, or moving back across the country to hone my culinary skills, or moving to the wilds of the Yukon to take my first cooking job.  I guess I have an adventurous spirit (at least that's what my resumé says).  Don't get me wrong. I've been terrified while undertaking such ventures.  But sometimes you have to let faith trump fear.  Bravery trump boredom.  If someone extends a lifeline - grab it.

Saskatoon Berry Crème Fraîche Tart

To make your own Crème Fraîche:
Combine 1 cup whipping cream and 1/4 cup sour cream in a container.  Stir well and cover.  Let stand for 12 hours at room temperature.  When the mixture is nicely thickened you can store it in the fridge for up to two weeks.

For the pastry:
1 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup cornmeal
pinch of salt
1/2 cup cold butter
1 egg
grated rind of one lemon

3 cups of Saskatoon berries, or your favourite berries (fresh or frozen)
3/4 cup crème fraîche
3 eggs
1/4 cup ground almonds
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla or almond extract

For pastry:  pulse ingredients together in a food processor just until dough forms a ball.  Alternatively combine the dry ingredients, cut in the butter with a pastry blender and stir in the egg until it forms a ball.  Press dough into bottom and up sides of a 10 inch tart pan with removable bottom. Prick the sides and bottom with a fork.  Chill for one hour or overnight.   Bake in a preheated 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 15 minutes. Arrange the berries in tart shell.  Whisk together filling ingredients.  Pour over fruit and bake at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes, until firm, golden and puffed.  Dust with icing sugar before serving.  Excellent both warm and cold.  I did have it for breakfast and it was delicious!  Serves 6.  Adapted from "High Plains" by Cinda Chavich.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Stuff It! Zucchini with Beef, Asiago and Fennel

Zucchini Palooza!!!  That all I've got to say.  Or can say about what is currently happening in the garden patch.  The yellow gourds have gone seriously out of control.  I knew I'd have a problem when I left for holidays and there was a multitude then.  But I did not prepare myself for the sight of them upon my return.  Yellow.  Zucchini.  Everywhere.

Now I like zucchini.  I really do.  But like everything else in the garden this year, somehow the harvest is for a family of twelve, not for um, one. Good thing my Mom brought me up well, because I've been sharing.  And sharing.  Even with strangers.  I've fantasized about sneaking around the neighbourhood in the wee hours and stuffing the crazy yellow things into people's mailboxes.  Yossy planted the idea and it may have to come to that!

I've had zucchini for dinner, every night, for the past week.  No, I'm not joking.  I've pan-fried the smaller ones with butter, lemon and fresh basil.  Delicious.  Next night I added goat cheese.  More delicious.  I've roasted it with olive oil and herbs and a little balsamic drizzle. Super delicious.  But they are getting away on me.  Growing bigger.  Everyday!!!  And the big ones aren't that great for grilling or roasting because their shell gets tougher and they get seedier.  But, never fear!  A solution is at hand.

Take the biggest zucchini, slice it in half lengthwise and hollow out all of the seeds so you get two cute little boats.  My Mom, ever the wise and resourceful one, has been stuffing zucchini forever.  Recently she stuffed one with well seasoned ground turkey and Parmesan, and it kind of knocked my socks off.  Any ground meat and cheese combo would be delicious, really.  I had some local organic beef on hand so that's what I went with.  I've fallen in love with fennel seeds and they were a brilliant addition to the meat mixture.  Lovely stuff, fennel seeds.  But you can season the meat however you like and add whatever cheese you have on hand.  I had shredded Asiago, but I've tried it with Emmental and it's well.  Awesome.  I love chopped tomatoes with melted cheese, so those went on top too.  The melted cheese forms this gooey crust over the tomatoes and meat and anytime zucchini is a vessel for melted cheese, it's never a bad thing.

I love that I can still pad out to the garden, yes, still in bare feet, and rustle up something for dinner.  These are early days of September, and while the sun still shines warm and bright, the nights are darker, longer.  Which is a good thing when you have run around the neighbourhood stuffing zucchini into unsuspecting mailboxes.

Zucchini Stuffed with Beef, Asiago and Fennel

1 large yellow or green zucchini
1 pound lean ground beef (or chicken, turkey or pork)
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp each fennel seeds, basil, oregano, thyme
2 tsp honey
1/2 tsp chili flakes
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1 tomato, diced
shredded Asiago cheese (or your favourite cheese)

Slice the zucchini lengthwise.  Take a spoon and hollow out all of the seeds, forming two boats.  Set aside.
In a frying pan, cook the meat with the diced onion and garlic and seasonings.  When completely cooked, let it cool for 5 minutes before adding the egg and bread crumbs.  Take a spoon and fill the zucchini.  Top with diced tomatoes and cheese of your choice.  Bake in a preheated 350 degree Fahrenheit for about 45 minutes, until cheese is golden. One half of a large zucchini is lots for one person. If the zucchini skin isn't too tough, I eat it too. Depending on the size of your zucchini, feeds about 4.  

Friday, September 2, 2011

Summer Vacation: Sour Cherry Cobbler Edition

If you read my last post, you may have thought to yourself  "that girl has a great looking garden, but she sounds tiiiirrrreeeedddd."  You wouldn't be too far off the mark.  I was tired last week, and a fair bit cranky too, but I'll spare you the gory details.  My holidays could not have come at a better time.  I hopped into my car last Saturday, cranked up the music (I always play Lucinda Williams when I go on a road trip!), drove a little too fast (I love driving fast!) and saw some of my favourite people in the whole wide world.

The first stop was visiting one of my oldest and funniest friends, Mel.  We had a high school reunion to go to, and while that turned out to be kinda Lame, with a capital L, Mel and I had a blast looking through our year books.  My God.  Could glasses get any bigger in 1991?  And that hair.  So high!  I loved re-reading all of the messages my friends wrote back then, and I love that I still see and talk to most them today. (And I love that I use a lot less hair spray now!)  Laughing with someone I've known for over 20 years, was just what I needed.

Next stop was visiting some of my favourite Aunties - including the lovely Auntie Kay who gave me this cast iron skillet a few months back and I've been using it non stop ever since. We chatted over tea and sweets and swapped recipes and stories. I was given packages of their awesome, awesome fruitcake, and jars of pickled beets.  Too bad the sauerkraut wasn't ready yet, otherwise some of that would have (hopefully!) come along with me too!  They shred the cabbage by hand and use an old, old crock to make incredible kraut.  From there my car wheels hit gravel roads and I popped in on awesome cousin Angela, eating delicious offerings from her massive garden.  The absolutely gorgeous simplicity of a toasted tomato sandwich is never lost on me - especially when the tomato was picked that morning.  Chocolate zucchini cake on a warm summer afternoon was the perfect accompaniment for us to dish the details on whatever it is we've been up too - babies and blogs and boys!

Still on gravel roads, still in love with the blue blue sky and soft golden glow of the prairie, I venture towards another cousin's farm.  You may remember I went here in June and we cooked and ate all weekend.  This time was no exception!  14 of us packed the dining room and we ate chicken cordon bleu and garlic mashed potatoes and fresh tomato salad with basil.  For dessert, the coolest little cousins made delicious double chocolate cupcakes and painstakingly stuffed preserved sour cherries into each one.  Finally!  I get to the part about the cherries!

It's not every day you seen an orchard in Saskatchewan, but yes you can grow wonderful fruit here, and only 15 minutes from Brian and Leanne's farm in the Luseland, Sask area, Kim McKenzie is doing just that.  She owns Symmetree Orchard, a family-run U-pick, offering Saskatoon berries, the Romance Series of University of Saskatchewan developed Dwarf Sour Cherries and over 20 variety of Prairie Apples. I had never picked sour cherries before; heck I didn't even know they grew around here!  Such easy picking - they were hanging like grapes, and barely any stems or leaves came with them.  We picked 3 gallon pails full in under an hour (well Leanne picked 2, I picked 1, being the slower, city girl picker!) and the grand total was only $24 for all 3.  Deal of the day!  The 'Romeo' variety we picked was still tart, but had a lovely sweetness too.  It made for a perfect snack as I wound my way along the back roads home.

Back in the city, but still on holidays (hooooray!) there was no doubt in my mind I had to make something with the sour cherries immediately.  Even after giving my mom 1 gallon pail, that still leaves me with plenty of Romeo!  It's cobbler season now, being officially into September, and a quick Epicurious search turned up what I was looking for.  And I could even make it in my cast iron skillet!  Pitting 4 cups of cherries was crazy messy with juice flying everywhere, but that's what bleach is for.  The sour cherries are cooked on the stove top with a little lemon and almond extract and sugar.  The biscuit topping is super easy to make, though I like a little more of a biscuit to fruit ratio myself, so next time I would amp up the buttery topping.  No biggie though.  Once you get a spoonful of sour cherries and buttery cobbler topping, it is pure joy.  The cherries are almost jam-like, cooked down in a sweet syrup, yet still pleasingly tart.  In my haste to gobble, I never whipped any cream to accompany it (and really, I don't need whipped cream every day of my life), but that would be really, really good.

Like summer, my holidays are sadly coming to an end, and while I still have 400 million Romeo cherries to pit, their presence in my freezer in the deep dark depths of winter will be a reminder of gravel roads and blue blue sky and the soft golden glow of the Prairie that I love so much.  And how just taking a drive, away for awhile, can somehow make everything better.

Sour Cherry Cobbler

4 cups sour cherries, washed, picked over and pitted
2 tbsp cornstarch
2/3 cup granulated sugar
zest of 1 lemon
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp pure almond extract

1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
6 tbsp cold butter, cut into pieces

Combine cherries, cornstarch, 2/3 cup sugar, lemon juice and zest, and almond extract in a bowl.  Stir well and set aside.  In another bowl, combine the dry ingredients, cutting in the butter until crumbly.  Stir in 1/4 cup boiling water and stir until a soft dough forms.  In a cast iron skillet, or other oven proof pan, heat the cherry mixture until it boils. Turn off heat. Drop the biscuit mixture by heaping tablespoonfuls onto the cherries. Sprinkle with coarse sugar, if you like.  Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes until golden.  Serves 4.  Adapted from Epicurious.

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