Preserves 2014: Strawberry jam and Garlic scape pesto

preserves2014-strawbjamI dream of one day having one of those walls of preserves that you see at some farm-to-table restaurants — jars upon jars of picked vegetables for salads and cocktail-accessorizing, tomatoes for sauce, and of course jams and pestos in every flavour imaginable.

Every year I say, ‘This is going to be the year I pickle and/or jar everything that comes into season at the market!’ But inevitably, summer socializing wins out (because who wants to stay indoors over a hot stove when you can be out on a patio with friends and beer?) and I fail miserably at my goal. So, this year, I’m starting small, and we’ll just see how many jars get filled by this time in October.

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Chocolate chunk bar cookies

choccookiebarsLately I’ve been craving simple comforts. A great burger. A spicy Thai curry. And chocolate chip cookies. Chocolate chip cookies have always been my favourites but for some reason I never make them. Possibly because no one can make them as good as my mom can. Well, there was a request at home the other night for cookies, and I couldn’t ignore the call.

Surprisingly, I don’t have a go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe in my repertoire, so I called on Ina Garten for assistance. Her latest book, Foolproof, has a decadent-looking chocolate chunk blondie (essentially a chocolate chunk bar cookie) that looked as though it would do in a pinch.

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Plum and sour cherry crumble

crisp-600x400I moved to a new neighbourhood this summer — and one of my favourite things about it is its fantastic Sunday farmers’ market.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I have a bit of a problem when it comes to farmers’ markets.

I can’t seem to leave one until my wallet’s significantly lighter, and my bags significantly heavier — loaded down with all the fresh produce I can carry. The fact that I don’t have nearly enough time to cook/bake/preserve it all is beside the point. I see a basket of peaches, I buy it. I see perfect bunches of kale, into the bag they go. Cherries, blueberries, plums, tomatoes, cucumbers … ditto.

I have visions of spending my Sundays jarring jams and pickles, before whipping up a dinner loaded with market-fresh veggies, and then getting to work on a fruit-laden pie before heading to bed exhausted but satisfied. In reality, I work at a snail’s pace, and one recipe is often all I can muster before tossing pots and spoons into the sink and calling it a day.

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Roasted beet salad

When I was in California back in June I had the pleasure to eat at Chef Tyler Florence’s San Francisco restaurant Wayfare Tavern. It was a fantastic meal — the starters, avocado salad and bacon-wrapped dates, were particularly memorable as were the popovers — and one that has inspired me to try a few new things in the kitchen since getting back.

Up until a few years ago I was a beet hater. Probably because of the fuschia-tinted pickled variety I was used to growing up, a mainstay at family dinners (I think my grandpa was the only one who liked them). But I recall having a roasted beet salad at a downtown restaurant and realizing just how delicious a beet could be — earthy and sweet, slightly warm, and dressed with a simple citrus vinaigrette. I think there must have been some goat cheese in there as well, because beets and goat cheese are genius together.

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Deep dark chocolate brownies

I knew I was in trouble when Annie Rigg used the word “squidgy” to describe her brownies.

Squidgy. YES.

I also belong to the “brownies should be fudgy, not cakey” camp, so I couldn’t wait to give Ms. Rigg’s recipe for Deep Dark Chocolate Brownies a try. My absolute favourite dessert, for those who don’t know, is a warm-from-the-oven brownie, fudgy and almost pudding-y, with some softly melting vanilla ice cream over top. So rich and squishy and chocolatey it borders on the pornographic — my friend O and I bonded over one very much like this at Garde Manger in Montreal, read all about it here.

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Jeni’s salty caramel ice cream

I’m trying to remember when my love affair with salted caramel started — I think it was at Splendido in the spring of 2010. I ordered their chocolate caramel tart for dessert, and it was sprinkled with what appeared to be Maldon salt. I was already full from a very decadent dinner but once I tasted that tart and its divine mingling of dark chocolate, rich buttery caramel, shortbread crust, and crunchy salt flakes, I was done for. Days later, I was still thinking about it. With all due respect to David Chang, THIS was crack pie.

And while I’ve had a ton of salted caramel goodies since then (my friend B’s Salted Caramel Brownies with Bacon stand out), I’d never actually made anything myself. Well when I saw the recipe for Salty Caramel Ice Cream in Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams At Home by Jeni Britton Bauer of the famed Ohio artisan ice cream chain, I knew I had to try it. I mean, it’s a no-brainer, right? I was also curious to try making caramel without added water. I don’t have the best pots in the world, and the idea of cooking dry sugar until it melted and caramelized seemed a dubious proposition, but why the hell not? Besides, if I burned the pot I’d just have to buy a new…..set.

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Bucatini with ramps and asparagus

Ramps, or wild leeks, are available for a very short time in early spring, so when I saw them at the farmer’s market this weekend I had to pick some up. They have an earthy taste not unlike green onions, and are perfect when paired with other fresh spring flavours like lemon and asparagus.

But because they’re not around for very long, or maybe because they’re not commonly used, finding recipes that employ them is a bit tricky. I think the last time I cooked with them, I chopped them up and tossed them in with some scrambled eggs. Easy, but very fresh-tasting and delicious.

I think that’s the key with ramps — don’t pile too many flavours on top. If you do, you miss the point. Keep it simple, and let them shine through in the finished product.

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