Local produce

Monday, June 27, 2011

I’m a day later than usual posting my recipe.  June is always busy, but this weekend was especially full.  Friday was my youngest daughter’s graduation from middle school, and I spent Saturday and Sunday at my mom’s place, helping her prepare for a family get-together with our relatives, the Woolners, Keirs and McNerns.

My Woolner relatives live on farms, and I spoke with two of my cousins about their enormous gardens.  Although the gardens are a lot of work, Carol and Ruth Anne are both justifiably proud of the wonderful produce they grow themselves.  As someone who grew up on a farm, I know there's nothing like eating food that you've grown yourself.  We always had the most delicious fresh fruit, with jam and canned and frozen fruit to get us through the winter.  And vegetables too.  Don't even get me dreaming about my mother's asparagus patch.

We didn't have a peach tree, but relied on local orchards for our peaches when I was growing up.  And now that I live in the city, I love visiting the farmers' market for great fruit. When peach season comes along, I'll definitely make these bars again.  I was seduced by the notion of combining browned butter shortbread with the sweetness of peaches, and it proved to be as delicious as I'd imagined.  I was a little short of peaches when I made it, so I covered the remainder of the base with peach jam, and that was terrific too.  I did find the shortbread a little crumbly and would probably use a bit less flour next time.  

Peach Shortbread

1 cup white sugar
1 tsp baking powder
2 3/4 cups plus 2 Tbsp flour (next time I make the recipe, I’ll use a little less)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup cold unsalted butter
1 large egg
2 – 3 peaches, pitted and thinly sliced (between 1/8 and 1/4 inches thick)

Brown your butter:  Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat.  It will melt, then foam, then turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty.  Stir frequently, and as soon as it starts to turn brown remove from heat.  Freeze until solid.  (For me, this took about an hour.)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Butter a 9 x 13 inch pan or line it with parchment paper.  In a medium bowl, stir together sugar, baking powder, flour, salt and cinnamon with a whisk.  Use a pastry blender, fork or your fingertips to blend the solidified brown butter and egg into the flour mixture.  Pat 3/4 of the crumbs into the bottom of the prepared pan, pressing firmly.  Arrange the peach slices in tiles over the crumb base in a single layer.  Scatter remaining crumbs evenly over peaches and bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, until top is slightly brown.  Cool completely in pan before cutting into squares.

Thursday's Child: The Alcazar, Segovia

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The final building in Spain I’ll write about this month is the stunning Alcazar in Segovia.  Rather than telling you the history of this astounding castle or trying to describe it in my own words, I’ll say that it reminded me throughout of the poem The Lady of Shalott.  Between our photos and Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s words, I’ll let you form your own impressions.

Four gray walls and four gray towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.

There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.

And moving thro’ a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
Winding down to Camelot.

And sometimes thro’ the mirror blue
The knights come riding two and two:
She hath no loyal Knight and true,
The Lady of Shalott.

A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley-sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro’ the leaves,
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
Of bold Sir Lancelot.

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces thro’ the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look’d down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack’d from side to side;
“The curse is come upon me,” cried
The Lady of Shalott

Excerpts from The Lady of Shalott, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

For Monet

Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Today's post is a dedication to my friend Monet.

One of the privileges of blogging for the past eleven months is the community of bloggers I've met.  I've made some wonderful friends, all of whom I've got to know through their posts.  Monet is one of those people who has a kind word for everyone.  She's a wonderful writer and baker, and I've truly enjoyed getting to know her through her posts.

However, it's been a difficult year for Monet.  A number of family tragedies have overwhelmed her and her loved ones.  So when two fellow bloggers, Lizzy and Kate, contacted a few of us and asked us each to dedicate a recipe to her, it was my honour to say yes.

I decided to dedicate my Brown Butter Toffee Blondies.  I've just discovered the recipe this year, but now it's one of my favourites.

Monet, I hope you know how much you are loved in the blogging world.  We are all rooting for you.

Healthy eating

Sunday, June 19, 2011

What you hear right now is the collective sound of my readers’ jaws hitting the floor.

Today’s recipe is not a dessert.

I’ve given you no reason to believe this, but I do eat healthy food.  Dessert is only one part of the food I enjoy. My perfect meal would be a simple, healthy entrée that lets me enjoy a dessert without guilt.

This is such an entrée.  Perfect for this time of year, it bursts with all kinds of fresh produce.  With the yellow of the corn and the red and green of the peppers, it’s radiant with the colours of summer.  Going forward, I hope to post the occasional quick and easy main course recipe, although I promise there will still be lots of baking.

The recipe was originally from Canadian Living magazine, and I’ve adapted it slightly to compensate for the person in our house who can’t eat raw tomatoes.  (Uh, that would be me.)  Feel free to use a chopped tomato instead of the red pepper.  But I think the recipe is pretty great exactly the way I made it.

Black Bean and Smoked Cheese Quesadillas

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed well
1/3 cup corn kernels, boiled 1 – 2 minutes
1 red pepper, diced
1/3 cup diced sweet green pepper
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 cup shredded smoked Cheddar cheese
4 large flour tortillas
2 tsp olive oil
½ cup salsa

In large bowl, combine beans, corn, red pepper, green pepper and green onions.  Divide among halves of each tortilla, sprinkling with cheese, and fold uncovered half over filling.

Brush large skillet with half of the oil and heat over medium heat.  Cook 2 quesadillas, turning once, until golden and crisp, about 6 minutes.  Repeat with remaining quesadillas.  Serve with salsa.

Thursday's Child: Casa Batllo, Barcelona

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Casa Batllo was another of Antoni Gaudi’s private commissions in Barcelona.  Like La Pedrera, it was built on Barcelona’s iconic street, Passeig de Gracia, and avoids any use of straight lines.  Irregular windows and balconies, and the extensive use of glass and the colour blue in the interior, lend it a beguiling appearance. 

Casa Batllo, both stately and enchanting, feels like it was lifted from a modernist fairy tale and set down in the middle of Barcelona.  As we explored the silent rooms we could have been stepping into the long-dormant castle of Sleeping Beauty.  The lovely princess, cursed to sleep for one hundred years, must have been as captivated by its artistry as the prince who came to rescue her.

Shielded for one hundred years, the enchanted castle looms.

A rooftop beacon to Prince Charming.

Flowers set in stone could only be the hallmark of a castle cursed by an evil fairy.

The inner courtyard, illuminated by sunlight.

Baking for kids

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Last week, I gushed over Raspberry Buttermilk cake, and promised all of you chocolate lovers there’d be a recipe for you this week.  Is there ever!  These bars feature semi-sweet chocolate, white chocolate and Rolos.  As if that weren’t enough, butterscotch chips and mini-marshmallows are added to the mix so these bars practically burst out of the pan.

My youngest daughter has a couple more weeks to go before she graduates from elementary school.  I’ve done a lot of baking for her and her friends over the years, and I made a batch of Rocky Ledge bars to go into the school last week.  These bars were a big hit with the eighth graders.  I think it’s all that chocolate.

And for anyone who doubts how much these kids like their cookies, I had a request the other day for my “Ethel Merman Cookies”.  Oh, the power of a blogger.

Rocky Ledge Bars

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 ¼ tsp baking powder
1 tsp coarse salt (I used kosher salt)
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ½ cups packed dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup miniature marshmallows
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips
36 mini Rolos

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 9 x 13” baking pan with parchment paper.

Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. 

In a separate bowl, mix butter and brown sugar and beat until fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add eggs and vanilla, mixing until well combined.  Mix in flour mixture with a spoon.  Fold in half of each of the marshmallows, chocolate, white chocolate, butterscotch chips and mini Rolos.

Spread batter in prepared pan.  Scatter remaining marshmallows, chocolate, white chocolate, butterscotch chips and mini Rolos on top.  Bake until a cake tester inserted into centre comes out clean, about 35 minutes.  Let cool on a wire rack, then lift out of the pan with the parchment paper.  Remove parchment and cut into bars.

Thursday's Child: La Pedrera, Barcelona

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Last week, I mentioned that this month I was writing about great architecture we’ve seen.  But after thinking about some of the amazing buildings we’ve been fortunate to visit, I realized I had enough in Spain to do a month’s worth. 
La Pedrera, photo courtesy of nextours.
Casa Mila was built in Barcelona in the early twentieth century by the incomparable architect, Antoni Gaudi.  Commissioned by the Mila family, it’s more commonly known as La Pedrera (The Quarry). Unsurprisingly, when it was built it was the object of criticism from those who felt its unorthodox exterior resembled a stone wall pitted with caves.  The building seems to undulate, thanks to the wave-like balconies with their delicate wrought-iron railings.

The interior of the house is astonishing.  Rooms are asymmetrical, and Gaudi completely avoided using straight lines within.  One tenant unhappily told him that not one of the irregularly shaped walls was a suitable place to put her piano.  Apparently, Gaudi suggested she take up the violin.

But it’s the roof that is really the star.  Most architects, faced with the task of installing chimneys and ventilators, would try to hide them, or at least minimize their appearance.  Not Gaudi, who turned them into fabulous sculptures. 

These tall, conical structures tower over their observers and look like alternate inukshuks.  Could they be landmarks left behind by space travelers from an ancient time?  It isn’t a stretch to believe they were left there one night by a tribe that vanished as quickly as they’d arrived.    
Next week I'll be writing about another of Gaudi's brilliant buildings!

The Ultimate Summer Dessert

Sunday, June 5, 2011
You might remember that last fall I christened Apple Pear Cherry Crisp as the Ultimate Fall Dessert.  I was the only judge of that contest, so you can take the results for what they’re worth.

With such robust qualifications, I’ve decided to let you know the winner of the Ultimate Summer Dessert title.  Actually, I can’t believe I haven’t posted this recipe already, because it’s everything I look for in a dessert.  It’s super-easy to make, it’s delicious, and it stars fruit.  (Sorry, chocolate lovers.  There’ll be a recipe for you next week.)

The photo above isn’t as good as I’d hoped.  Ideally, I would have taken a picture right before serving our guests.  However, I was running a bit late, and I didn’t think I should be playing Ansel Adams in the kitchen while everyone else hungrily awaited their slice of the Ultimate Summer Dessert. 

So after we ate, I put the rest of the cake away until the next day.  But by that time someone had helped themselves quite generously to the leftovers.  (See also Kentucky Derby Pie).  I’ve done the best I could to recreate our dessert.  But remember that, except for the dinner parties when we invite Lilliputians, I’d normally serve a slightly larger slice.

Try it, and see if it becomes your Ultimate Summer Dessert too!

Raspberry Buttermilk Cake

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 cup fresh raspberries
1 1/2 Tbsp sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees with rack in middle.  Butter and flour a 9 inch round cake pan.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In a separate bowl, beat butter and 2/3 cup sugar with an electric mixer at medium-high speed about two minutes, then beat in vanilla.  Add egg and beat well.

Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour. (I used a spoon to combine them, but if you use beaters, mix at low speed only until just combined.)

Spoon batter into cake pan, smoothing top.  Batter will be quite thick.  Scatter raspberries evenly over top and sprinkle with remaining 1 ½ Tbsp sugar.

Bake until cake is golden and a wooden pick inserted into centre comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes.  Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and cool to warm, 10 to 15 minutes more.  Invert onto a plate.

Thursday's Child: Guggenheim museum, Bilbao

Thursday, June 2, 2011

One of the exciting aspects of traveling is visiting great buildings that are unlike anything you’ve seen anywhere else.  This month, I’ll tell you about some of that amazing architecture, and I’ll start by writing about the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, Spain.

When the Basque region of Spain was revitalizing itself in the late twentieth century, it hired Frank Gehry to build a museum.  He responded with a titanium and glass masterpiece that was almost shockingly unlike any other.  When it opened in 1997, I saw photos of it everywhere.  I don’t know much about architecture, but I was captivated by this building that was so unusual, it was difficult even to describe.  Some people say it resembles a spaceship that landed by the water and never left; others describe it as an otherworldly boat.  Either way, it’s hard to take your eyes off it.

After admiring the Bilbao Guggenheim from afar for over ten years, it was a thrill to visit it in 2008.  My oldest daughter reminded me that as we walked around its perimeter, it seemed to change colour depending on the angle and the time of day.  Because of the swooping curves of the building, the reflecting pools of water, and the river that runs beside it, at times the building almost seemed to float, as if it wasn’t really bound to the earth. 

Inspired by water, transformed by light, the Bilbao Guggenheim is a triumph of architecture and a joy to visit.