recipe

sunny winter day

   

Today felt like the beginning of spring, like a new year is really beginning now. The sun was so bright, light filling up the world here. Me with a baby in my belly. Everything brighter, happier, more hopeful and leaning forward. It made the city suddenly beautiful, and I was drawn out into the sun to explore. I'm definitely feeling the need to reset: to get the house back into a state of pleasant harmony and to make a habit of walks, yoga, writing, painting, just the right amount of baking, and planning dinners.

I've included a recipe from last winter that I never got around to posting. It comes in handy for using leftover egg whites and is pretty flexible.

Meringue Cookies, two flavours

5 egg whites 1 cup sugar

Whip egg whites until good and frothy. I like to start the mixer on slow and gradually bring up the speed to about medium for this part. Slowly add sugar while continue to whip, then turn up speed and beat until stiff peaks form. Divide roughly half into another bowl and gently fold in flavourings.

Bowl A: 1 tsp vanilla extract 1 smashed candy cane handful mini chocolate chips

Bowl B: 1/4 tsp almond extract handful cacao nibs handful mini chocolate chips

Pipe or spoon onto parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 200 for 1 3/4 - 2 hours, or until firm. Turn off oven and leave meringues in the oven overnight.

Note: I bake meringues until they're on the drier, crunchier side. If you like them softer and chewier, bake for less time or maybe don't leave them in the oven overnight to dry out. Larger meringues will tend to have softer centres than small meringues. I like to make small, bite-sized meringues, but you can certainly make larger ones, just keep in mind that they may need to bake longer. You can adjust the recipe to suit the number of egg whites you have on hand, just try to keep the egg white to sugar ratio about the same. Feel free to make them all the same flavour or have as many different flavourings as you like. Experiment with whatever flavourings inspire you. Spices and extracts are fun, as are chopped toasted nuts, and you can add food colouring if you wish. Keep in mind that anything too heavy or oily will collapse the meringue. 

the season so far

The season so far has been like every other coastal February- the brightest, best days since summer, bookended by days of soft, sleepy grey rain. I love it.

Most notable is the light lingering towards evening, and that I've left my sweater at home every morning this week and haven't missed it.

While dinners lately have tended towards dull, parsnips have been the shining stars of several meals, as have broccoli, cabbage and sambal olek. We found last year's  rhubarb in the freezer and had it sauced with pancakes. Then there was chocolate cheesecake for my dad's birthday...

Chocolate Marble Cheesecake Makes one 9" cake. My mother's recipe- I'm not sure where she got it from.

Crust 1/4 c butter, softened 2 tbsp sugar 1/2 tsp vanilla 1/2 c flour

Preheat oven to 400º F. In large mixing bowl, beat butter till soft. Gradually add sugar, beat until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and stir in flour. With floured fingertips, press dough evenly in bottom of ungreased 9" springform pan. Bake until golden, 10-12 minutes. Cool completely on wire rack.

Cheesecake 1 recipe cheesecake crust 3/4 c sugar 2 tbsp flour 1/8 tsp salt 3 packages (8 oz each) cream cheese, at room temperature 2 eggs, at room temp. 1 c heavy whipping cream (unwhipped) 3 oz bittersweet baking chocolate, melted

Make crust. Preheat oven to 375º F. In large mixing bowl, combine sugar, flour and salt; mix well. Add cream cheese. With mixer at medium speed, beat until smooth and well blended. Add eggs one at a time and vanilla;  beat just until well blended (scrape down bowl to incorporate and prevent any lumps). Set aside 2 c filling. Pour remaining filling on top of crust. Stir chocolate into reserved filling until well combined. Drop chocolate mixture by tablespoonfuls into cream cheese filling, forming 6 "puddles". Swirl filling with a knife 2 or 3 times for a marbled effect. Bake 55 minutes (centre will be slightly soft). Immediately run spatula around edge of cake to loosen from pan (this helps prevent cracking). Cool on wire rack 1 hr, then cover and chill at least 4-5 hrs before cutting.

 

wintering

I suppose I should get this out of the way: I hate January. Yes, yes, the light is returning, creeping back into the days a few minutes at a time and eventually it will be spring, but it's not happening soon enough for me. There are no snowflakes here to gloss over this whole winter thing with beauty and magic. Just endless, dreary grey. I have been lamenting that my thickest, wooliest socks won't fit in my wet-weather boots. However, this winter has also been lovely, comforting, unexpected, just right. Here are some of the best and most beautiful moments:

 

  • Acres of red blueberry stalks stretching out to blue mountains under bright blue sky.
  • Hundreds of bald eagles overhead, filling all the bare trees with black and white.
  • Hoarfrost encrusting everything in lavish crystals- quartz and selenite grown overnight- rough spikes in the morning sun. The pond frozen, goldfish circulating slowly under thick ice.
  • Nights when the stars came out and the moon glowed cold and bright, all icy pricks of light above dark trees.
  • Many rosy sunrises- more breathtaking mornings than I could keep count of- puffs and pillars of pink lighted clouds on the eastern horizon.
  • That long slow golden light of the afternoon on a clear day, honey frozen in the air.
  • When we happened to drop by an old friend's just for a moment, and ended up staying for the evening. We arrived as she was pulling a dish of ultimate comfort food from the oven, and just happened to have two pies in the car, left over from an earlier occasion.
  • Snow on Hurricane Ridge, driving through mist, salal-filled roadsides.
  • The usual warm and chaotic times of family Christmas, a turkey that refused to cook and late nights chatting in the kitchen.
  • How the streets of Seattle felt like home would if home were more exciting, and how thrilling it is to feel at home someplace exciting.
  • Reading a new cookbook on the couch in the evening with a mug of hot tea and sweet Seven the bunny snuggled in next to me on the wool blanket. Also, how we've spent several many evenings since in the same way.
  • A quiet ringing in of the new year, with good friends and glasses of frothy homemade eggnog. Also, a surprising and excellent snack of raw sliced fennel with cheese and crackers.
  • A new IKEA kitchen island, where I drink kombucha out of a brandy snifter and read food magazines, and feel grown-up. Jeremy likes it too, and has anointed the oak top with beeswax and mineral oil.
  • The flooded field behind our farmer's market grocery store, frost ringed and filled with trumpeter swans.

Hearty Hazelnut Shortbread with Apricot Jam This is not melt-in-the-mouth shortbread; rather it is dense, rich, nutty and sustaining. Good to tuck into a mittened hand when heading out the door for a winter walk. The shortbread recipe that this is based on (my mother's) sustained me through several long overnight bus trips from the coast to the mountains in my early twenties.

1 c butter 1/8 c coconut sugar 3/8 c cane sugar (1/4 + 1/8) 1 c AP flour (all purpose) 1 c WWP flour (whole wheat pastry) 1/4 c hazelnut flour apricot jam for thumbprint

Preheat oven to 300°F. In a medium-large bowl, roughly cream butter and sugars with a sturdy wooden spoon. Add flour one cup at a time, or in smaller increments if that feels easier. Gather dough into a ball, and roll out on a floured surface to about 1/4"-1/3" thick. Cut into fun shapes and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. The cookies won't spread so can be placed close together. Bake 20-25 minutes. About halfway through the bake, remove cookies to oven and make a depression in the center of each one, either with a spoon or with your fingers. Spoon enough jam to fill depressions and return cookies to the oven. The cookies are done when they are lightly browned underneath. Let cool on a rack, and store in tins for a week or more.

 

almost

I wish I could do this every day. I'm sitting in a sunlit, clean house with a mug of tea and a jar of water and a square of dark chocolate. The birch tree out front has almost completely turned yellow. I've already wandered the garden several times (two raspberries!), tidied up and made a nest for our elderly cat, and tossed yet more onions and tomatoes in the oven. I feel - almost - at peace. We've been enjoying a long weekend (yay!). Yesterday I spent all afternoon painting white rabbits and yellow aspen on scraps of wood while listening to a charming audiobook, fed on a pleasant diet of tea and fresh caraway raisin bread that Jeremy started the day before.

I went to a lovely friend's lovely wedding reception recently, with the best bunch of friends. The weather was stormy, but delightfully so. The whole day was one long happy moment.

It's funny how moments like these can coexist, or at least be contrasted by those reigned by the less fun feelings. I have been so exhausted lately that the lovely moments seem few and far between. Sunday I spent curled on the couch, again with tea, and read. I feel very lost and frustrated when I think of how I spend most of my time at a job I really don't enjoy. It is a perfectly decent job, I'm sure, but somehow manages to be both the most boring and most stressful job I've experienced. At the reception it was so nice hearing about how my friends are following their passions and have found or are creating meaningful work. Over here at whine central (but without the wine), I have yet to figure that out for myself.

Still, there is plenty of good to celebrate. I made this pear tarte Tatin several weeks ago, and have been meaning to post about it ever since. I'm a little late for Canadian Thanksgiving, but it's a tasty way to end most any meal.

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Pear Cardamom Tarte Tatin Recipe: Choosing and Using Spices. Pastry: Terroirs de France, un million de menus

1/4 cup (50 g) butter, softened 1/4 cup sugar seeds from 10 cardamoms 1 tsp + ground cardamom 225 g (8 oz) puff pastry or use pastry recipe below +/- 4 ripe pears (the number of pears will depend on the size of the pears and the size of your pan)

1. Preheat oven to 425°. Spread the butter over the base of an ~8" cast iron skillet (or ovenproof pan or stoveproof cake tin). Spread the sugar evenly over the butter, then sprinkle the cardamom and cardamom seeds over the sugar. On a floured surface, roll out pastry to a circle slightly larger than the pan. Prick pastry lightly and set it on a baking sheet and chill.

2. Peel the pears, cut them in half lengthwise and core them. Arrange the pears, rounded side down, on the butter and sugar. Set pan over medium heat until the sugar melts and begins to bubble with the butter and the juice from the pears. If any areas are browning more than others (you can carefully lift a pear to check), move the pan, but do not stir.

3. As soon as the sugar has caramelized, remove the pan from the heat. Place the pastry on top, carefully tucking the edges down the side of the pan. Transfer to the oven and bake for 25 minutes until the pastry is well risen (for puff) and golden.

4. Leave in the pan for 2-3 minutes until the juices have stopped bubbling. Invert the pan over a plate and shake to release the tart. (Put a large plate face-side down over the pan. Keep one hand flat on the center of the plate to hold it in place while the other hand lifts and flips the pan in one smooth motion. The hand on the plate needs to keep pressure on it and move with the pan.) It may be necessary to slide a spatula under the pears to loosen them. Serve warm.

Pastry (pâte brisée) - the high butter content of this recipe makes it a tasty substitute for puff dough 200 g flour 100 g chilled butter 50 + g ice cold water pinch salt Stir together flour and salt. Cut butter into small cubes, then cut into flour with a pastry cutter. Add enough water that you can form dough into a ball, then let it repose in the fridge for 30 minutes. This recipe makes slightly more than is needed for the tarte Tatin, so save the extra in the fridge for spontaneous weeknight baking, or something.

because: caramelized onions

I felt productive this weekend, mainly because I roasted more tomatoes and had the inspired plan to caramelize onions in the oven at the same time. It worked brilliantly, beautifully. I know this because I couldn't stop eating them this morning. They are velvety, jammy, savory and sweet. We planted onions this spring and ended up with a lot of them come harvest time. I'm pretty happy about this. However, there were a few that didn't cure well that had begun to go a bit mushy. I decided that since I had the oven on at 275° for the next five hours anyway, I may as well put some onions in. I sliced the good parts of five or so of such onions thickly and tossed them with a drizzle of olive oil in a pyrex dish. Nothing makes me tear up like these homegrown onions (not quite true, but they are certainly tear inducing). I think I stirred them twice over the course of the evening, and by the end of the cooking time they were very soft and lightly browned. I turned off the oven and left them to stew overnight. In the morning they were perfect. I added a touch of thyme-infused sea salt, and ended up snacking on a few spoonfuls before breakfast.

Because I wanted to eat more caramelized onions and because I was pretty hungry, I concocted a salad which made use of a few generous forkfuls.

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September Salad with beets, caramelized onions and pecans

I didn't measure anything because I wasn't planning on writing about it, but it turned out so good that you will have to accept my approximations until I make it again, and adjust it to taste. I thought about dressing the salad, but I'm glad that I didn't because the oil from the onions coated everything nicely.

⋅ ~ 4 leaves kale, washed, stemmed, kneaded til bright green and cut into ribbons ⋅ several handfuls diced cooked beets (I used cold beets but warm would probably be lovely as well) ⋅ several forkfuls caramelized onion (and I do mean full) ⋅ soft cheese, crumbled (I used fromage frais, but a creamy feta would also be nice, such as Doric Macedonian Feta - Elise I silently thank you every time I find myself in possession of a bucket of the stuff) ⋅ a smallish handful of pecans, hand crushed and toasted over medium heat = Assemble and eat.

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