30 September, 2009

Another Condiment Obsession

I’ve had a mild obsession with tomatoe marmalade since out weekend in the Okanagan.  After our trip to the market the clouds broke and we ventured to the aptly named community of Summerland.  There we drove up the mountain to the colourful Valentine Farm.  Our hosts, Kim Stansfield and John Gordon, met us in the yard of their compact property, next to their fantastic home and guest house
After introductions we gathered our lunch from the generous garden of Kim and John, under the watchful eye of an odd looking llama, a couple of horses, and a friendly guard dog names Asta.  We picked a half dozen types of greens, beets, radish pods, corn, flowers, and lots of tomatoes (minus the ones Hubby scarfed while picking).  
Kim and John are more than mere gardeners.  They are grape growers too.  But unlike every other wine maker or grape grower in the region who fears their wine spoiling), Kim and John intentionally infect their wine with acetic acid to turn it into a pungent and flavourful vinegar John showed us their small production facility (a very nice looking and obsessively clean garage) then set to finishing our lunch in the outdoor, wood-fired oven.

Our gathered items made their way into the most diverse salad I've ever had, dressed, of course, with Vinegar Works organic vinegar. We were also served a large platter of sliced heirloom tomatoes reminiscent of a sunrise.  Smaller tomatoes made their way on to the wood fired pizzas.

Oh, the pizzas.  The most tender yet crispy and somehow bulbous crust (yes, all at the same time) covered with tomatoes, sometimes chard, feta, and my newfound obsession: tomatoe marmalade. Can I just say I will never made a pizza without tomatoe marmalade ever again?  I would love to say that I will only ever eat pizza from a wood-fired backyard oven, but I don't live in Summerland or here to make that happen. But so long as I can hit 450 degrees F on m home oven I will be using this as my sauce.

So when my mother-in-law showed up with 20 pounds of Romas last week I set to work. The girls helped as much as it held their interest.  For Smilosaurus this meant transferring tomatoes from the box to the sink for washing, sampling along the way. She also had a special job of stealing the cloth for cleaning the jars. For The Monster helping meant transferring blanched tomatoes to the ice water, stirring the marmalade as it cooked, and helping label the finished jars. See, you can can with kids underfoot. Okay, it helps if your mother-in-law is around for bike rides and swing pushes when it gets a little boring for the little ones.

This marmalade sweet and just a little bit spicy.  It sets about as much as a runny jam.  I'm saving mine for pizza, but The Monster has already claimed some for dipping fresh bread.  It isn't Kim Stansfield's recipe, but I think it is nearly as good.  Then again, I'm not sure I could ever recreate that lunch and the taste of sunshine in every bite of our meal.

Tomatoe Marmalade
(makes 7-9 250 mL jars)

12 cups peeled, chopped tomatoes (drained of liquid)
9 cups sugar
1 orange, thinly sliced
1 lemon, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon whole cloves
6 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
2 green cardamon pods

1. Mix the tomatoes and sugar together in a large pot. Place the remaining ingredients in a bag made from cheesecloth.  Put the cheesecloth bag and tomatoes together in a large pot and set on the stove.
2.  Bring to a strong simmer and cook for 45-60 minutes, until mixture thickens and the juices are syrupy.  Test for gel by placing a plate in the freezer.  When the plate is cold place a spoonful of the marmalade on the the plate and replace the plate in the freezer.  After a few minutes, run your fingernail through the marmalade.  If it doesn't immediately fill the space left by your finger it is ready.  If the liquid runs back on itself cook the marmalade for another few minutes.  Test again.
3.  Meanwhile, wash and sterilize your jars, lids, and screw tops in boiling water. Keep the jars hot until ready to use.
4.  When the marmalade is ready fill the jars to 1/2 inch from the top.  Wipe the rims clean with a hot, clean cloth.  Top with the lids and screw tops.
5.  Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes (start timing once the water has returned to the boil after adding the filled jars). Freeze or immediately use any jars that don't seal.

23 September, 2009

Pears, Pears, and More Pears

While I'm not sure if any food makes me as happy as a warm strawberry plucked right off the plant I must admit that this pear comes deliriously close. It isn't quite right off the tree, but you don't want that anyway. Rather, a pear does better with a few days on the kitchen counter to mellow into its juicy, sexy sweetness. In the case of this pear it excelled with a couple of days in the Mission Hill Family Estate kitchen, a 7 hour drive in the backseat, and a few more sultry days on our kitchen counter.  Then it turned into a TV star.

Before we ventured to the Okanagan last week I booked my first TV appearance on Breakfast Television. The timing was perfect and I spent some of our time at the Penticton Farmers' Market searching for the perfect pears to bring home. The pears at the market were perfect, if I wanted to eat them that day.  Our guide, Matt Batey, heard my lament and offered up some Mission Hill pears.  They'd been picked the day before and would I like to stop by the Estate and pick them up when we were on our way home?

What a no brainer.  Of course, it meant that we didn't get home in time for the girls' bedtime. Ah, they'd hardly noticed we were gone anyway.

After days of touring around the Naramata Bench and visiting people in their homes, garages, and vineyards it was quite a shock to our senses to arrive at the Mission Hill Family Estates sprawling grounds.  From the second you pass through the gates at the end of a residential drive the entire experience is choreographed. You pass through the keystone (above) and enter the grounds.  Your view is filled with the sky, lake, and mountains behind, all framed by the Terrace restaurant, Bell Tower, Visitor Center, and the overwhelming feeling of luxury.

Then Matt greeted us in his chef whites and brought us back to reality with a tour of the gardens, kitchen, and food experience of Mission Hill.  The place may be all about the wine, with gardens and menus built to frame that wine, but the passion in the food and in Matt was evident.  I am dying to go back and try a winemaker dinner or culinary workshop. Another trip...

Here is Matt in the garden.  One of the fascinating things about the gardens here was that they are planted by grape varietal. It was like food and wine pairing for idiot cooks.  Well, probably a bit fancier than that. But in case you didn't know, Chardonnay works with cilantro, lily, corn, beans, squash, mint, and yes, pears.

Then there were the pears.  After pulling out a few crates Matt and I packed out one full crate of Bartletts, Bosc, and Asian pears to take home. Thank-you Matt, you're just lucky that they survived the drive home. He and Hubby seem to share a certain propensity for big, bad cars and heavy feet.

Yes, that is the seatbelt getting good use on the Old Okanagan Highway. No carseats on this trip, but safety always comes first!

So my precious beauties arrived home safely.  They were the perfect inspiration for the some lovely dishes. Hubby watched the girls last night and I baked, kneaded, and chopped to prep for this morning's BT appearance. I made Pear, Gorgonzola, and Carmelized Onion Pizza, Asian Pear Slaw, Upside Down Pear Gingerbread Cake, and Cardamon Hand Pies. The Monster helped me with the ultimate recipe, the Honey Pear Cheesecake.  It was a good thing she helped me last night because apparently she had a fit this morning watching me on TV.  "I want to bake a cake with Mama on TV!"  Maybe next time, Sweetie.

Honey Pear Vanilla Cheesecake
(Serves 10-12)

2 cups graham cracker crumbs (or crushed Nilla wafers, gingersnaps, or plain biscotti)

¼ cup butter, melted

2 tbsp sugar

3 (8 ounce) blocks of cream cheese, room temperature

½ cup honey

3 large eggs

1 vanilla bean

¾ cup pear puree or ½ cup pear nectar

½ cup flour

1 pear, peeled and finely diced

1 cup sour cream (optional)

¼ cup honey (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Boil a full kettle of water.

2. Mix together the cookie/cracker crumbs, sugar, and melted butter until the consistency of wet sand. Press into a 9 inch springform pan, across the bottom and coming up the sides slightly.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Cool slightly and wrap the bottom of pan in two overlapping layers of aluminum foil.

3. Combine cream cheese and honey and beat until smooth.  Add the eggs, one at a time, incorporating after each addition. Slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and using the back of a small paring knife scrape the seeds from the bean.  Add the seeds to the cream cheese mixture along with the pear puree or nectar and the flour.  Mix until smooth. Finally, stir in the diced pear.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared crust and place in the springform pan in a larger pan. Transfer to the oven.  Before closing the oven door pour water from the boiled kettle into the larger pan until it comes about halfway up the sides of the springform pan.

5. Bake for 45-55 minutes, until the cheesecake seems firm but still slightly wiggles in the center.  Turn off the oven and close the oven door.  Keep in the oven for another 60 minutes. Remove and cool completely in the fridge.

6. Optional topping: Before serving mix together the sour cream and ¼ cup honey.  Pour over the cheesecake. (A nice touch or a way to disguise surface cracks.)

(Doesn't Dave Kelly look so enraptured by something?  Probably not me or my pears  - although I did manage to call them sexy on morning TV - but the segment went well.)

21 September, 2009

Backseat Adventure - Penticton Farmers' Market

The Backseat Gourmet really took the show on the road last weekend. Well, Hubby and I did. Our little eaters stayed home while we went to the Okanagan Food and Wine Writers Workshop. We lived up to the Eater title, and then some.  Throw in a lot of drinking, laughing, touring, sabering, and foraging and you've got a lovely four day Mommy and Daddy vacation.

The highlights from the trip are many.  Sublime meals, foraging our own lunch, actually learning how to taste and describe wines, and learning from other fascinating writers and editors.  Today I'm going to bring you our rainy morning excursion to the Penticton Farmers' Market.
I was eagerly awaiting our trip to the market after a particularly splendid and gloriously special meal on our first night of the workshop. Catered by Joy Road Catering the meal featured some spectacular food - lamb, a ridiculously good Santa Rose plum tart, and the most phenomenal green beans ever to have grown.  I couldn't stop talking about the beans for days. Simply steamed and tossed with pickled cipollini onions they were the pure definition of fresh and tasted like the colour green. When I found out that I could buy them from a vendor at the market I repeatedly told my fellow participants that any and all beans were mine, and only mine.  I'm sure it did little to ingratiate me to them, but I needed those beans.

When we arrived for breakfast the rain was looming.  And by the time we finished there was quite the downpour drenching the streets.  A few brave souls that actually thought to bring umbrellas started the walk while the rest of us remained behind, waiting for our short bus. By the time we reached the market and got underway the anxiety was creeping in. Coffees in hand and introductions made we ventured down Main Street to visit the stalls.  

Vans and trucks parked behind white awnings.  Some vendors without tents with drops of water glistening on the squash and apples.  Water dripping off the hats of grizzled men committed to their product. Two simple blocks of vendors selling their own veggies, garlic, herbs, sausage, coffee, and baking. Nothing fancy, little in the way of crafts, and more organic produce in one section that the largest Planet Organic in the country.

With the Similkameen Valley as part of the catchment for the market the number of organic producers was a significant portion of the vendors.  The Similkameen Valley has a disproportionately large number of organic producers.  I made the observation that there were more organic vendors than conventional in the market. It was a refreshing change.

It was also refreshing to know that of the vendors we stopped at we were actually meeting the producers.  They could tell us everything about each particular tomatoe or apple.   Their hands were dirty from picking that morning, their trucks low on gas from the trip into town. This one tomatoe guy from Naramata knew the name of each and everyone one of his probably 20 different kinds of heirloom tomatoes. He told us about the complex pen pal relationships he and other growers have to exchange and save seeds.  He entertained a curious four year old with trick tomatoes and dancing gourds. And when I went to pay I finally noticed his classic scale. How cool is this?

But what about those green beans? At every stall I thought, "this is it!"  We met lovely farmers and oohed and aahed over persian cucumbers, tiny tomatoes, and juicy pears.  Finally, finally we got to Gabi's stall. I pored over her pretty baskets of cute little veggies, desperate for those beans.  Someone grabbed the last bunch of cipollini onions while my eyes wandered over every basket and bag in the intense desire for those tender strings of green.  It may have been the rain, but I think I cried a little when told that the beans were sold out.

Sigh.  My heart was marginally mended when Julie shared with me one quarter of the last plum tart from Joy Road Catering's stall.  The tart they saved just for her. We joked about our tears of joy having calories that weekend, but mine at that moment was just a little bit sad.

I would be remiss if I did not thank Jennifer Cockrall-King for organizing such a fabulous workshop.  Wow, this Food Girl rocks! She organized a tremendous slate of events, with meals that can hardly be described by my words.  She brought together a fantastic and diverse group of people that were teasing each other and sharing glasses by the end of the weekend.

I also have to thank our host that morning, Mathew Batey, the executive chef at Mission Hill Winery.  More on him to come.

PS  What are you doing on Wednesday morning? I'll be on Breakfast Television here in Calgary, cooking with some lovely pears that I brought back from our trip. I hope you'll join me.

16 September, 2009

Well then

As a parent I often question the sanity and relevance of what I'm doing.  Daily.  Should I force her to clear her plate, where are her manners, do time-outs really work?  Then, once in a blue moon, they say or do something that makes you stand up and applaud yourself.  Yay, something I'm doing in sinking in! Case in point, this morning.

The Monster: What are you doing Mama?
Me: Making peach crisp.
The Monster: Oh, can I have some? (picking at the topping)
Me: Just one piece, the rest has to go on top of the peaches.
The Monster: But Mama, I'm just an Eater.

I won't be changing the name of the blog anytime soon, but she quite handily settled the debate between Foodie and Gourmet.

12 September, 2009

Eden in the Dust

So we finally get our grass in, our fence up, and have even hosted dinner once or twice. Then the City and Volker Stevin show up. They tore up part of our new front lawn, ripped apart the alley around our entire blocks, and now use our yard as the traffic line between alley and front street. Oh, and did I mention that my yard is surrounded by giant 20 foot deep holes? The noise and dust are constant. Thank goodness the girls can sleep through it. I only wish I could.

For two little kids the continual movement of machinery and big men is rather fascinating. We can watch at the window for hours and whenever we are heading out to the park or the men are taking a break we investigate the most recent digging. Apparently it is quite an ordeal to move a fire hydrant across the street. I can be amused by some new-to-me truck, but that's where my enthusiasm ends.

Then the pastry arrived.

Yesterday we shared some fresh cookies (baked to take the autumn chill off the house in the morning) with the builder men. The Monster was quite disappointed that not all of them were taken. Try explaining Ramadan to a 3 year old. Any and all sadness disappeared when one of the guys let her go in the giant hole today. And all my annoyance with the noise quickly shot out the backdoor when one guy arrived this afternoon bearing a tray of phyllo pastry. He insisted that we take half of it, and then more because some pieces were small.

At first we thought it was a variation on baclava. Phyllo spinkled with pistachios and honey. It seemed like a safe guess. Then we bit into it. The phyllo triangles are actually filled with some sort of mildly sweet, thick custard. It is not the same as the filling in a cannoli, being quite smooth and not tasting of cheese. But it also isn't like a typical pastry cream, being thicker and quite white in colour.

Unfortunately, our delivery guy couldn't tell us what was in it. Any clue out there?

08 September, 2009

Don't Judge Me

I refuse to give up yet.  Despite the fact that we nearly had frost the last two nights here in the city, despite the fact that it is already dark when the girls go the bed and the sun was almost eerily autumn-like at the park today, and despite the fact that yes, the leaves are starting to fall off the tree I refuse to accept than summer is over.  At least when it comes to my food.  So I'm still eating peaches and watermelon. I will grill burgers until my fingers freeze.  And I will still serve my kids ice cream for dinner.

We picked up this watermelon on the weekend.  With rind so dark that it looked like it was buried in the forest when it grew. And when we cut it open it was sweet and seedy.  I actually had to look it up, but did you know that a watermelon is in the same family as squashes and gourds?  The cut fruit reminded me of a squash, with ropy strands of flesh combining in a pulpy mass of seeds in the center of the fruit.  We scooped out the seeds rather than cut around them and were left with an inch of the most watermelon tasting watermelon I've ever had. I'm kicking myself that I didn't take note of the variety.

Aside from cutting slices and eating the watermelon straight - which the girls love - I prepared this watermelon the easiest way I know.  I made a milkshake.  Yeah, I said it, a watermelon milkshake.

In my house growing up we had the choice of two summer desserts - a raspberry milkshake and a watermelon milkshake. (Maybe a banana one if there happened to be a banana left behind in a house of three competitive swimmers.) Watermelon milkshakes were my personal favourite. Yet, whenever I mentioned it to friends they all got grossed out.  Like seriously grossed out.  I never understood that. What's wrong with creamy watermelon?  And really, that's what a watermelon milkshake tastes like. And there is nothing, absolutely nothing wrong with that.

It turns out the palest of pink.  A mix of equal parts watermelon puree and vanilla ice cream. That's it. Resist the urge to add more ice cream to make a thick milkshake, you will lose the balance of sweetness and fresh taste from the watermelon.

Oh yeah, and I fed it to my kids for dinner tonight.  Sadly, they only had a few sips and moved on to bread and baked beans.

01 September, 2009

Things I Have Learned as a CSA Virgin

We are about halfway through our first CSA experience.  What have we learned so far?

1. The entire family really enjoys going out to the pick-up spot to picking up our weekly delivery, including the dogs.  Of course, when it is in the parking lot of an off-leash park that certainly makes it easier for our family.  In truth, we really enjoy chatting with the other members and in talking to our farmers, Jon, Andrea, and Manou. And to be honest, as exhausting as it is for them I think they get a bit of energy in talking to us members.  They hear about what we made the previous week, they see the girls eager to grab something out of the basket to try, and connect with the people who really appreciate all their hard work.

2. I've paid attention to the weather more this summer.  Generally I get annoyed with people who complain about it being too hot, too rainy, too cold, too, too, too.  Get over it people, you live in Canada. But I really noticed this year that June was dry and we're getting our good heat late.

3. You can grow some really cool, and really unique things in this climate.  All sorts of Asian greens like tatsoi, edible herbs like Mallow (which even the former Gardening Editor of Martha Stewart Living, Margaret Roach, didn't even know about!), and ten million different kinds of lettuce.

4.  Therefore, you must like salads.  You will eat them everyday, for lunch and supper. I've come up with some fantastic salad combos this summer.  My recent favourite has been baby greens with nectarines, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and balsamic vinaigrette.

5. It is hard to not be tempted by the other goodies you find at the farmers' market. We really do get enough from our CSA share for veggies for the week with two adults and two little ones in the family, especially of late.  But the peas, beans, corn, and cauliflower all look so good! But if I buy them then something may go to waste.

6.  Therefore, you share.  In order not to get overrun with salads I've shared my greens with neighbours and family.  Or at least invited people over to get through it all.  This is really just an extension of the notion of community that a CSA membership inherently promotes. And that is a fabulous thing.

7. Finally, you must really, really like Swiss Chard.  I mean really like it.  We've had it every week for the past five.  And one week Jon doubled up my share when her heard we liked it. Good thing we really like it. Aside from freezing the extra bits for winter soups, we've made roasted chickpeas with garlic and chard (which the girls love), simple sauteed chard, swiss chard frittata, swiss chard with raisins and feta, spaghetti carbonara with swiss chard, and my all time favourite, swiss chard fricos. 

The frico is traditionally a pile of melted cheese, usually parmesan, that crisps up like a cracker as it cools.  This version is a rip-off of a recipe I saw on Lydia's Italy.  The things you learn from PBS when tied to a chair nursing a newborn!  I saw this last summer and they are a staple in this house now.  I find it highly appropriate that Smilosaurus loves them as much as I do.

This version sandwiches the crispy melted cheese around cooked chard and onions.  So you get green sweetness in the middle of crispy saltiness. Pretty much a perfect taste. 

Lydia made hers when she was focused on the Fruilia region of Italy, therefore using a fantastic Montasio cheese. Montasio is nutty and buttery, on the hard side of the cheese scale. I've found both Italian and Canadian Montasio at the Italian markets.  There is a significant price difference, and yes, a taste difference.  Not a bad one, but a noticeable one.  If your budget allows definitely go for the Italian. I've also made this with Parmesan and Asiago.  Either works quite well.

Swiss Chard Fricos
(makes 8-10)

1 bunch Swiss Chard
1/2 small onion, red or white
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup water
olive oil
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup coarsely grated parmesan or asiago cheese

1. Grate the cheese use the large holes on a box grater.  Set aside.

2. Remove ribs from swiss chard and reserve for another use.  Coarsely chop leaves of swiss chard.

3. Slice onion half in half again lengthwise and slice across, creating roughly 1 inch slivers of onion.  Finely chop garlic clove.

4. Place swiss chard and water in a non-stick or cast iron frying pan, salt generously, cover and steam 5 minutes.  Remove from pan and drain well. Wipe pan dry.

5. Place onions in dry pan and drizzle with olive oil and a pinch of salt.  Cook over medium heat until soft but translucent. Add in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds until you can just smell the garlic. Remove from heat and place in a bowl to cool.  Wipe pan clean.

6. When onions and chard have cooled slightly mix together with the egg and flour.  Season with a bit of pepper. It will be wet and sticky.

7. With pan on medium heat, put your cheese on a plate beside the stove. Working one at a time create patties with the swiss chard mixture.  Place the patty on the cheese plate.  Using your fingers push down gently and then cover the patty with more cheese. Carefully lift the patty and place it in the hot pan.  The cheese will start to melt.  Resist the urge to lift up the patty for at least 1-2 minutes.  The cheese will melt, brown, and form a crust.  When it does flip it over with a flat spatula and cook on the other side.  Repeat with the remaining mixture. Serve hot as an appetizer or side dish.