Sunday, September 20, 2009

#9 Peach Cranberry Jam

A long time ago, I used to work at Thyme and Again. I was the girl who made your coffee, packed your sweet treats and asked you to pay. It was a fun job, I did it to fill some time "in between" work. Mostly, all the people I worked with were wonderful. The thing I loved the most was the pride they all took in the foods they produced. The bakery bakes from scratch daily (the cheese biscuits are still wonderful). The cuisine kitchen is tiny and crowded, but the quality and quantity of food that emerges, continues to amaze. It's been quite a few years since I saw it from behind the scenes, and I can only imagine how much the production has increased, but the passion remians the same.

I am not a jam lover. I admit it. It's an extremely rare occasion that I will sit down and put jam on something. Occasionally a flaky, all-butter croissant with cross my lips with a smearing of handmade raspberry jam, and that's really about it.

Until now.

I was skeptical of a jar of jam making the "101 things to try before you die" list, but really, I think this will now become a staple in my pantry.

This jam from Thyme and Again on Wellington is really, really delicious. It's red (well, cranberry) in colour, but with such an aroma and taste of peach. The cranberries are whole, the peach slices are big, and it's sweet. It's lightly set, unlike a commercial jam which leaves a scoop impression each time you literally dig into it.

Jam, in my mind, goes with croissants, but really, I didn't have the time to make croissants from scratch, so scones were my next best bet. These scones are great, and even better the next day when heated up in the oven.

Cranberry Lemon Scones
adapted slightly from a recipe from King Arthur Flour
Makes 8 large scones

2 & 3/4 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup cold butter, cubed
1 & 1/2 cups dried cranberries
zest from one lemon
2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk (you might need a touch more depending on weather)

Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Rub in butter with fingertips until the mixture is crumbly. I would normally use a food processor to "rub" in butter, but I thought I would do it the traditional way this time. However, if I were to use the food processor, I would put my cold butter cubes on the bottom, and then add the dry ingredients on top - it just mixes better that way.

Stir through the cranberries and lemon zest (you could use whatever combination you like - chocolate chips, dried blueberries, currants, nuts, baking spices etc etc).

In a smaller bowl, combine the eggs and the milk, and blend together.

Make a well in the flour mixture and gently mix through the liquids. If I were using the food processor, I would turn the dry mix into a bowl, and then mix in the fruit and wet ingredients by hand. You want the dough to come just together. It will be a little sticky, but whatever you do, don't mix too much.

You can shape your scones any way you want. I pulled off chunks of dough for a rustic looking scone. You could use a round cutter for a more refined look, you could roll your dough into a long rectangle and cut into triangles, or, you could roll your dough into a circle and then cut into wedges. Whatever you do, you obviously want the sizes to be similar so that they all bake at the same time.

Place scones onto a parchment lined baking sheet and refrigerate for 30 minutes. King Arthur says to do this for the best texture and the highest rise.

Pre-heat oven to 425F and bake for 20-25 minutes. The scone will be cooked when it is nicely golden all over, is not shiny, and it you can stand the heat, pick one up and make sure the bottom is golden too. Remove from oven and leave to cool. Serve warm - YUM!

One final thought, why is it, that whenever I visit a food shop to purchase ONE thing, I end up walking out with bags of goodies? My husband, I am sure, would also love to know the answer to that one.

Monday, September 14, 2009

For the love of corn!

The weather is beautiful and clear during the day and so cool and crisp, and wonderful for sleeping at night, that it feels like fresh local corn may not be around for much longer. This, combined with the fact that I knew my husband would love this for Sunday brunch, was the motivator for what started out as an idea for the humble fritter.

To be honest, I have been making these fritters for years. We used to do them for breakfast at a restaurant I used to own, and from time to time you might see them on a menu here in Ottawa. But, today, because of the nature of the establishment I work in, they are generally just plain old fritters, with none of the other goodness that I put in this morning.

As I had invited guests over at the last minute, I bought the corn, the to-die-for double smoked bacon, Campari tomatoes, Hewitt's sour cream and the organic baby arugula from my local Farm Boy. No time for a trip to the Ottawa Farmers Market.

The corn, right now, is delicious. Nice and sweet, and the cobs are full of kernels. I only checked a couple by peeling back the top layer of silk and I wasn't disappointed with any of the dozen I purchased. A side note, I hate the way people decide to "peel" their corn in the store. First of all, it makes a huge mess, it takes them forever to peel twelve cobs and don't they understand that the corn will last longer and taste better if they leave that silk and husk on until it's ready to eat. Oh, and I hate when stores have those big bins of corn, and you are forced to rummage through everyone else's mess. Ugh!

And to balance the natural sweetness of the corn, I felt the urge for some of Farm Boy's double smoked bacon. Hello, it is so good! I can normally only eat about 2 slices of regular bacon before feeling all greased up inside, but this double smoked piggy, I could eat half a pound. It has a natural smoky flavour (duh), and it is lovely and salty, and cooks up so crisply - even the fat goes crispy. Yum, yum, YUM! It comes from the deli area, they slice it freshly for you.

The Campari tomatoes, I know, come from the US, but seriously, they were the tastiest looking tomatoes I could find. Plus, I liked the fact that they still had the little stems attached. I just rolled them in some olive oil and salt, pepper and herbs and roasted them at 400F until the went soft.

As well, the baby arugula hailed from the States, but it was delicious. And not a leaf was wilted.

And, everyone loved brunch! Who couldn't? And then, my husband added ketchup.....:(

Sweetcorn Fritters
Makes 8 large-ish fritters

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons white sugar
3 eggs
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika (you could sub in cayenne for a spicy bite)
kernels from 2 cobs of corn (use them raw in the batter)
1 red pepper, diced
3 green onions, sliced
1/4 cup chopped coriander
1/4 cup vegetable oil

Mix all the ingredients, up to the paprika, in a large bowl, to make a smooth, stiff batter. Add remaining ingredients and mix well.

Heat oil in non-stick pan and cook fritters slowly over gentle heat. The batter is really thick, so it does take a while for the fritter to cook through. Flip like a pancake, when golden, and finish cooking on the other side.

I only have a little non-stick pan, so I put the fritters on a wire rack over a baking sheet and put them in the oven at 300F while I finish the rest.

I serve mine with sour cream, crisp bacon, roasted tomatoes and a little salad of some kind. But you could drizzle with maple syrup if you prefer.

And now, I think I will go eat another one with a fresh cup of coffee!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Oh My Nectarines!

I love the local summer fruit and the way it comes ready to go in those little paper baskets - so market-ish with that freshly picked feel. It's just too bad that you have to let them sit on the counter for a few days until you can eat them, and then I find myself swatting fruit flies for a couple of days before I give up and they get put in the fridge.

Where, inevitably, I forget about them becuase they get pushed to the back, and then in my crusading way to give all food a second chance before it gets thrown away, I am struck with the idea that they would (fingers crossed) make a delectable upside-down cake. Adios pineapple and hello nectarine!

The poor, slightly shrivelled, nectarines come out into the sunlight and are smothered with caramel and a rum infused batter, and it's as if they get a new lease on life.

Upside-down Nectarine Cake
adapted from Gourmet Magazine, February 2000

This is a wonderfully easy recipe, and it so moist. It keeps well on the counter, but you could refrigerate it for a couple of days longer (if it lasts that long), just bring it to room temperature before eating.

7 fresh nectarines
85g unsalted butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar

85g unsalted butter
1 cup white sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon dark rum
1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup orange juice

Oven to 350F.

To make the topping: Prepare the nectarine wedges*. Melt the butter with the brown sugar in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring, for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and pour into a 9" cake pan (no need to grease the pan), spreading quickly before it cools, to the edges. Arrange nectarine wedges in circles. I started from the outside ring, placing the nectarines so they looked pretty facing up, and then realised that I had to flip the wedges over so it would look pretty on the outside when I turned the cake out.

To make the batter: In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla and rum.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, and add half to the butter mixture, beating until just blended. Add the orange juice and mix well. Add the remaining flour mixture and beat slowly until just combined. Here I found that the batter looked slightly split.

Spread batter evenly over the nectarines and caramel. Bake in the middle of the oven until golden and a tester comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Leave the cake in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert carefully onto a large plate. Be careful, the caramel may still be hot. Luckily, all my nectarines turned out, but if any happen to be stuck to the bottom of the pan, remove and replace on the cake.

*To cut the wedges, I cut out one wedge from the nectarine and then continue slicing wedges around the pit. There may be a way, but I couldn't figure out how to get the pit out cleanly.


#2 Pascale's All Natural Ice Cream

OK, so finally we are in full swing of our very dismal summer here in Ottawa. And, here I am sitting at my computer with two (now kind of empty) pints of hand-crafted delight. What could be a better way to cool down after a long day of work?
I visited Pascale at The Piggy Market in Westboro last week to sample some of what is described as "decadent" and "made with heart and a whole lot of cream, eggs, and sugar", by the Ottawa Magazine crew. I couldn't agree more.
Pascale is just lovely. She is so down to earth and completely loves what she does. I had known that she is the former Pastry Chef at the Wellington Gastropub, but had forgotten. Oops.
I bought a couple of flavours, but what I am really holding out for, and one of my reasons for visiting again, is the Peanut Butter with Salted Caramel. Luckily, for me, it was in production at the time I visited and Pascale gave me a scoop right out of the churner. OMG - I need a pint of that goodness right now! Pregnant women beware - this is all you will crave for nine months. Husbands - go and find the store now, so you know where to go when she calls.
I bought the Raspberry Cassis because I absolutely adore raspberries. It was delightfully fresh with a luxurious creamy finish. I can definitely taste the raspberries and I am fairly sure I can taste the cassis portion too. It's good, really good, and as proof, over the last few days, I have managed to polish off the whole pint. My mouth and my hips are in total agreement.
The Fifth Town 70% Choc Chevre was an adventure for me as I'm a pretty "vanilla" person (note the pink and brown ice cream I bought). I can't say I would have picked out the goat cheese in a blind tasting, but there is something about it that you know it's not just plain-jane chocolate. I was wary of buying it, but I love that it's not too sweet with a touch of bitter cocoa and the tartness of the goat cheese all seem to meld together perfectly.
Pascale also makes designer scoops which got me thinking about what I would like in an ice cream. How about Lemon Meringue Pie (creamy but tart lemon ice cream with whisps of meringue swirled through), or, Pina Colada (coconut, lime and rum), or, deep dark chocolate oce cream with cocnut macaroons? I could dream all day. I might need to plan a party and have some of these flavours made up for a special event...ooh, what about fresh peach ice cream with raspberries?
The Piggy Market itself, could do with a touch of retail therapy, the store is pretty empty and walking up to it I couldn't even tell if it was open. And, I had a hell of a time trying to find it. Feels like I drove around in circles for a very long time. Even though the address clearly states Winston Avenue, my not-so-trusty iPhone decided to try and tell me the address was Wellington. Not funny. But nowhere, and I mean nowhere, does anyone or anything tell you that Winston does not run into Wellington, it rather becomes a dead-end onto Wellington.
I was cursing while driving around the block to find the front door. There was no way I could park on Wellington and walk down the street. I am the kind of girl who likes to park right out the front of the place I am going. I am usually wearing some ridiculous not-meant-for-walking-long-distance shoes (more for show than anything else). You can imagine the very loud cursing when I discovered that you can't park outside the Piggy Market and I had to find a space two blocks away. I was very tempted to park in the driveway to the right of the entry time I just might.
Enjoy your ice cream.
PS - My last post was on Aug 27, it's almost two weeks later, that means if I continue at this rate, it's going to take me more than two years to complete "the list". I had better get eating!