Monday, July 23, 2012

A few scattered notes

I just finished devouring Blood, Bones & Butter –a book, not the actual stuff—by the chef and owner of a New York restaurant called Prune.  Gabrielle Hamilton starts her memoir with a scene from her childhood in rural Pennsylvania; an outdoor party her father threw every year, with several lambs on a spit, turning over hot coals all day.

The first scenes remind me of my father’s own michoui.

That’s where any similarities end.  A few pages later, she’s seventeen, in New York City, and has just been charged with Grand Larceny and Possession of Stolen Property after a year of slipping profits into her waitress’ apron at a busy Manhattan bar.

Before I knew anything about Grabrielle Hamilton, or her beautiful book, we went to her restaurant. I wrote about it back then.

(If I recall, that photo you see there are of the remnants of a beautiful poached pear and chocolate dessert)

On an unrelated note, here’s a link to my friend Sal Ciolfi’s piece on life after Crohn’s, and on "seeing the rainbow" of a grocery store now that he can eat whatever he pleases.  Click here for Sal. 

And one last not-so-nimble segue:

I can’t believe the colours at the market these days. I love this time of year. Rainbow, indeed. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Lemonade to Keep in Your Fridge at All Times

Mint, rosemary and VANILLA lemonade. Vanilla! I made it for our friends Jon and Kelli the other night, and from now on and until the fall, I’m going to keep a batch in the fridge, always.

The recipe is from A New Turn in the South, and like the lemonade, Hugh Acheson’s book will have a heavy presence in my summer rotation (I wrote about his peach pie in my latest post).

The lemonade is great on its own. Kelli tried it with her beer, and was surprised to find it worked—even with the vanilla note. And I am absolutely sure it would be good with vodka, bourbon or even tequila.

The very last glass poured from the pitcher is the most vanilla-ish; the seeds, which make it through the straining, sink to the bottom rather prettily.

Damn, this is good stuff.

Mint, Rosemary and Vanilla Lemonade
Adapted from Hugh Acheson’s recipe in A New Turn in the South

8 cups water, just boiled
8 lemons, halved and juiced (you’ll use both the juice and what remains of the lemons)
1 cup white sugar
10 sprigs of fresh mint, plus a handful of leaves to garnish the pitcher / glasses
1 or 2 sprigs rosemary
1/2 vanilla bean

In a large non-reactive pot or bowl, put the lemon juice and the juiced halves, the sugar, the mint sprigs, the rosemary and the vanilla (split the pod, scrape the seeds into the pot or bowl, and throw the empty pod in, too). Pour the boiling water over, give it a gentle stir, and let it stand for 30 minutes, leaving the flavours to infuse.

Strain the liquid into a large pitcher, discard the solids, and refrigerate. Serve very cold, over ice, with some fresh mint leaves. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Peach Pie

In this heat, all I want to do is cook from A New Turn in the South. Hugh Acheson is from Ottawa, but he cooks in Athens, Georgia, and in Atlanta.

And his kind of cooking—definitely southern, with refreshing twists that will cool you right down—sits well with me on these hot, humid Toronto days.

When I bought a basket of peaches at the market, I went straight for Acheson’s cookbook.

Admittedly, peach pie that needs to be baked for forty-five minutes is not his best recipe for the hottest days.  You have a choice: Either wait for a cool day, or promise yourself you won’t lose it and kill someone in your excruciatingly hot kitchen.

Peach Pie
Adapted from Hugh Acheson’s recipe in A New Turn in the South

Pie crust (your favourite butter-based recipe), enough for two layers of a 9-inch pie plate
½ cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for sprinkling
3 tablespoons arrowroot OR 2 tablespoons cornstarch plus 1 tablespoon white flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
Pinch of salt
Peaches (Acheson recommends 8 large ones, I used a dozen smallish ones), peeled, pitted and sliced)
1 ½ cold butter, cubed
1 egg, beaten

First, prepare your dough. Roll out the bottom on a floured surface, and place into a 9-inch pie plate, trimming the excess. Roll out the top dough, and punch out a few decorative (and practical—the steam will escape) shapes with a small cookie cutter. You can reserve the punched out pieces to decorate the top of your pie, too.

In a large bowl, combine the sugars (except for the 1 tablespoon, which you’ll reserve for the top of the pie), arrowroot, cinnamon and salt. Mix in the peach slices until coated evenly. Immediately (and before the whole thing becomes a goopy mess), pour into the prepared pie dish. Scatter the cubed butter over the fruit, and place the second layer on top, pinching, crimping and trimming to make it tidy. With a brush, spread a thin layer of egg (if you are decorating your pie with the cutouts, coat the under side of the cutouts to make them stick). Sprinkle the sugar on top.

Place the pie in the freezer for 15 minutes or so, while you heat your oven to 415F. Place a large cookie sheet in the oven to heat it up. That is something I’ve just learned from Acheson. I believe it helps distribute the heat evenly across the pie crust.

To bake the pie, place the plate on the pre-heated cookie sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven to 370F and bake for a further 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden, and the peach filling is bubbling enthusiastically.  Serve with much vanilla ice cream and preferably outside, under the shade. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Toronto's Tigers and Elephants

We both had time off at the end of June, so Andrew took me to the zoo.  While he took some excellent photos with his Nikon, I played with the TiltShift Generator App on my iPhone.

Zoos have always tickled me. Every fall my parents would take my brother and me to the zoo in Winnipeg.  October or November were the perfect time—cold enough that the tigers were slinking out of the coolness of their dens to have a prowl around, paw at the glass, and give us a growl, for good measure.

And this latest trip to the Toronto Zoo was on an oddly cool day in June, so the cats were on the prowl, and everything else was either squawking, honking or enthusiastically burrowing noses into sand, on the hunt for some juicy grub.