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Entries in fruit (18)


Celebrating the start of something good

As I was discussing with a friend recently, fall has a very specific personality to it. While I love summer for all its brightness and enthusiasm, this time of year seems bring along a sense of hospitality. The market is still filled with colour, albeit from a kaleidoscope of rainbow hues to a wash of sunset shades. Now is the time to start braising meats and revisiting classic cold-weather comfort food. It is this idea of hearth and home, of generosity and bounty, that truly makes autumn my favourite season.

It was with this thought in mind that I started thinking about what to do with the apples I had from Schouwenaar Orchards and Vineyards. It was the weekend after the official start to fall, and I was looking for something that was homey and comforting. As I padded through the house in my slippers and robe, my gaze fell across the most recent edition of Everyday Food Magazine. Curled up to our breakfast counter, perched on a stool and with hands wrapped firmly around a warm mug, I flipped through the pages until I came upon an in-depth article on apples — with recipes both savoury and sweet, including one for an applesauce cake.

Remembering a favourite recipe for homemade applesauce using apple cider, I switched my mug for a peeler and started to work. Using a mix of Redcort, McIntosh and Galas, I happily worked away, and soon the kitchen was filled with the smells of mulled spices and the cooking fruit. What a perfect way to start a Saturday.

Once it had cooled I was left with a slightly tart, but sweetly balanced, sauce. With this success boosting my confidence, I turned to the cake recipe. As I’ve mentioned before, I'm not one to leave well enough alone — so I gave into my need to fiddle and started scribbling notes.

I had just received the thoughtful gift of miniature tube pans from my mother, so they had to be used, no doubt about it. The magazine called for light brown sugar only, but instead I included a bit of Demerara sugar, wanting the depth of almost burnt sweetness it brings. I also omitted the cardamom, as my cider applesauce was highly spiced. In one batch, I switched out the honey for maple syrup, for no other reason that I thought the spicy caramel taste would bring another note to compliment the apples.

Apple cider applesauce
Well-flavoured and slightly tangy, this is a great simple applesauce to use alone or in cooking. It has more character than store bought varieties, and comes together quite quickly. As an added bonus, your kitchen will smell heavenly as it cooks. You can use a mulled cider for this recipe, but may want to omit the cinnamon called for.

3 pounds apples, peeled, cored and cut into ½” slices (or thereabouts)
1 cinnamon stick or ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup apple cider
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Honey (optional)

In a large saucepan, combine apples, cinnamon and cider and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat, let simmer for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the sauce looks too dry at any time, add a few tablespoons of water.

When apples are tender, remove from heat and discard cinnamon stick (if using). Stir in lemon juice, and check for sweetness. If needed, add honey to taste, to balance flavours.

Makes approximately 4 cups.

• Sugar can be used instead of the honey, but should then be added before the apples are fully cooled so that it can dissolve. I find honey a much more mellow sweet, and enjoy the resiny depth it adds.

Applesauce Cake
Inspired by the recipe published in Everyday Food.

Non-stick cooking spray
3 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and levelled)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon (you may omit this if you used a heavily-mulled cider in the applesauce)
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ cups packed light brown sugar
½ cup Demerara sugar
¼ cup maple syrup or honey
2 large eggs
2 cups apple cider applesauce (or store-bought)

Icing/confectioner’s sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 175° C (350°F).

Generously coat twelve 1 cup capacity miniature tube pans (usually in available in sheets of six), or a 10 inch tube pan.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.

In the bowl of an electric mixer (or using a handheld), beat together butter, brown sugars and maple syrup/honey until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until well combined. The mixture should be pale and airy. With mixer on low, gradually add spoonfuls of the flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Beat in applesauce.

Spoon batter into prepared pans, smoothing the tops. Bake until a toothpick or cake tester comes out mostly clean (slightly wet) when inserted in the middle of the cake, 12-18 minutes with the miniature pans, or 50-60 using a traditional tube pan. Be sure not to over bake.

Cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Invert onto a cutting board or baking sheet, and then again onto rack, top side up. Allow to cool completely. Serve either top or bottom side up (I liked the bottoms), with a light dusting of icing sugar.

• Can be served alone, or with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream or a dollop of maple whipped cream.
• This cake keeps well, wrapped in the fridge. The flavours will mellow and blend.
• This batter is also good when baked in muffin tins - served with a bit of sweet butter, they make a lovely snack or breakfast.


The essence of home

I’ve been putting off writing this post. The topic seemed simple enough, but whenever I tried to come up with an answer to the question, I was overwhelmed.

“What does Canada taste like to you?”

Deciding on one taste that most embodies the Canadian experience is, in my opinion, nearly impossible. With a country of such physical size and cultural contrasts, to concentrate on one flavour would be to exclude the thousands of other culinary adventures there are to be had.

To me, Canada tastes like maple syrup on my father’s French toast. I think of a butter-drenched crab boil on one coast, and Asian-influenced seafood on the other. Summer evenings wandering the streets of Montréal, shopping for decadent Opéra cakes. The requisite hotdog from Toronto street vendors. Breakfast cooked over a campfire, with smoky bacon and biscuits baked in a cast iron pan.

Canada tastes as sweet as summer fruit, as hearty as pierogies and as complex as our world-renowned wines. Canadian food reflects our varied climates, our landscapes and our seasons – it is the expression of the way we have created communities in this immigrant nation, and suggests the direction of what is to come.

Despite my travels, I would wager to say 85% of all the meals I’ve ever eaten have been in Canada. Seeing that I’m now somewhat obsessed with food, my food adventures this country surely have been nothing short of inspiring. Though I am itching to continue to travel the world and try new things, Canada will always be home to me. There is enough to explore down the street, throughout the province and across the nation to sustain me for years to come.

Maybe it would be easier if I concentrated on what Canada Day tastes like to me?

That’s easy. Growing up in a city on the edge of Lake Ontario, Canada Day meant one thing, and one thing alone – the annual Lion’s Club carnival. Every long weekend for the summer, the Lion’s Club carnival would make its rounds through local fairs and festivals throughout our region. And Canada Day was when it would come to my city.

Along with the other kids in our neighbourhood, I would watch the workers set up the tilt-a-whirl, Ferris wheel, and midway down by the beach. Soon enough, you could smell the popcorn and the air would become heavy with the sweetness of cotton candy. Twinkling lights would greet nightfall, and we would wait for the inky blackness to blanket the lake completely – setting the stage for the evening’s fireworks display.

Inspired by those memories, I’ve created miniature sweet wonton cones filled with icewine-macerated strawberries. The strawberries come from a nearby farm, the wine from a winery down the highway, and the wontons are my nod to Canada’s distinct cultural heritage. It is seasonal, the ingredients are local, and there is a bit of kitschy humour – how very Canadian. And red and white on Canada Day - how can you go wrong?

For an explanation of icewine and its production, click here.

Icewine strawberries in sweet wonton cones
My own creation, with apologies to Thomas Keller

1 pint strawberries
1/4 cup icewine
1 cup clarified butter
16 x 3 1/2” square wonton wrappers (4 are in case of mishap – and anyway, that is what my package contained)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar or Demerara sugar

Sweetened whipped cream, to serve

Speciality utensils
12 conical shaped metal forms (the type used for kulfi will do) or conical paper cups for water dispensers

Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C).

Hull and slice the strawberries, taking into account the size of your cone forms. Add the berries to a bowl and add the icewine. Stir lightly to combine, and refrigerate for at least two hours.

On a baking sheet, set out the metal forms or the paper cups. Brush each wonton on both sides with clarified butter. Wrap wonton wrappers around the cups to form cones, making sure to press the seams together. Twist the bottom to secure the point, if necessary. Lightly dust the cones with the granulated sugar, and bake for 7 minutes or until golden brown and crispy. Allow to cones to cool and remove from forms.

To serve, mound some of the macerated strawberries into your sugared cones, and top with the whipped cream.

• I used an Inniskillin 2002 Riesling Icewine for this recipe, thinking the floral apricot notes and bright acidity would complement the strawberries. Any icewine you enjoy would be suitable, or even a late harvest Vidal would be a great substitution, offering a bit of spice and sweet peach flavours.
• For Ontario readers, the LCBO does offer icewine in small bottles (a bit larger than hotel room minis). This size would be perfect to splash on a few berries, and are reasonably priced.
• I chose not to add sugar to the berries, but you may want to check for sweetness and add sugar accordingly.
• For the photograph, I used a non-sugared cone. It was terribly humid that day, and sugar was melting into a sticky mess. However, I would not suggest skipping this step as the wonton seems too savoury without this bit of gilding.
• The next time I make these cones, if I'm feeling particularly industrious that is, I think I would experiment with a tuile cone instead - if anyone experiments, please let me know!


Mother's Day, in the shade of raspberry

I have a bit of a confession to make – I compulsively freeze things. I’ve become a freezer pack rat.

It began last winter. When faced with cold, dark nights after work, I wanted comfort and ease. So I began planning ahead, doubling recipes for hearty casseroles and stews, tucking away my bounty into neatly packed containers and promptly sending them into the deep freeze. I felt terribly domestic, organized and prepared. Whenever I opened the freezer, greeted by my handiwork, I felt accomplished.

But then, it started taking over. Somehow the ease of being able to tuck away food for a later day spawned a neurotic compulsion in me. Now I not only freeze pre-made meals, but I’ve begun freezing leftovers. Not exactly leftovers, but the odds and ends we sometimes find ourselves in possession of, through the course of a recipe. Think egg yolks (whisked with a bit of water), stock cubes, and compound butters.

No matter the mouthful or morsel, the tiniest tidbit, I cannot throw things out. Into the freezer they go, packed and labeled, waiting patiently for their culinary rebirth.

At present, a quick survey of my freezer produced:

• Bones from two chickens. From various recipes, for the day I finally make stock.
• 1/2 can of tomato paste, frozen in cubes. I couldn’t find it in the tube, and I hate those little cans.
• Pan drippings from a roast. I wasn’t making gravy that day, but I couldn’t part with the drippings.
• 1/2 cup of sweet garlic marinade. The chicken did not need the drenching I had believed.
• 1/2 batch of pumpkin purée. Excess from pumpkin cheesecake last Thanksgiving.
• Eight of the aforementioned egg yolks. Leftovers from a birthday pavlova.
• Three blacker than black bananas. I always seem to buy too many, these are destined for banana bread.
• 1 1/2 cups of raspberry purée. For a birthday cheesecake, I went a little blender happy. I used it for the cake, and for Bellinis, but still had excess.

The raspberry purée has been invading my thoughts. I’ve been planning a Mother’s Day brunch, and wanted to see if I could somehow incorporate it into my menu. Its colour was calling me — somewhere between rubies and fuchsia, the purée seemed perfect for the festive occasion.

Feeling excited over the prospect of conjuring something from the depths of my freezer, I surveyed the purée’s bunkmates. Spying those ripe bananas brought about my solution — muffins.

Absolutely a breeze to make, these muffins are the perfect start to a day or a midmorning snack. The intense, almost caramel sweetness of the banana base is cut by tart, jeweled jammy-ness of the berries.

Truth be told, my muffins were a bit overdone on the bottom. I wasn’t paying attention and I unnecessarily greased the pan, leading to the toasty brown colour seen above. Though I was tempted to hide my shame, I decided better of it – for today is a day we celebrate those who inspired us, encouraged us, and loved us always, even if we almost burnt the muffins.

Happy Mother's Day.

Raspberry swirl banana muffins
An adaptation of the blueberry muffin recipe from Modern Classics, Book 2 by Donna Hay

1/2 cup raspberry purée
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups plain (all purpose) flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup sour cream
2 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup mashed ripe bananas, about three whole bananas

In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring raspberry purée and sugar to a boil. Turn the temperature down and simmer the purée until it has reduced by half. Allow to cool.

Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F).

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt, stir in sugar.

In a separate bowl, whisk sour cream, eggs and oil, until smooth. Whisk in mashed bananas.

Stir the sour cream/banana mixture through the dry ingredients. Be careful not to overwork the batter – mix until just combined.

Spoon mixture into 12 x 1/2 cup capacity non-stick muffin tins until about two-thirds full. Spoon approximately one teaspoon of the reduced purée across the centre of each muffin. With the tip of a sharp knife or a skewer, draw the point through the raspberry, creating a marble effect.

Bake about 12 minutes, or until a skewer inserted through the centre comes out clean.

Makes 12.

• My raspberry purée was simply that – puréed raspberries. It was quite tart, so I added a bit of sugar in the reduction. You may skip this addition if you’d like.
• I like to under fill my muffin tins to make miniature versions. If you choose to do so, this recipe will make 18 of the size pictured.

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