Tag Archives: dessert

A is for autumn, A is for apple

25 Sep
(and X is for waXing philosophical)

The hordes are back at school, the suits are out in full force downtown, and the air is crisp – summer, alas, is waning.

Autumn is my favourite season. Can you smell it? It smells like a fresh start, a clear head, a sweater, a pile of leaves, a freshly-stoked fireplace. It tastes like turkey, fresh cranberries, gourds of various shapes and sizes, and apples.

Always, apples.

One of the (many) strange (and in this case, lovely) things about being the child of an Anglican minister (well, of two Anglican ministers, but let’s just let that go for now, ok? Ok…) is that you get to discover new communities every time your parental unit is moved to a new parish. Thus we moved from the wilds of Laval (it was the wilds back then, sort of) to walks along the riverfront in Verdun, to fireworks in St Lambert, to the rolling hills of the Montérégie.

We lived in Otterburn Park, nestled at the foot of Mont St. Hilaire (a mountain I climbed several times during our three years there). Were you to jump in a car and drive along Chemin de la Montagne, hugging Mont St. Hilaire’s south peak (as we did every Sunday), you would reach Rougemont, one of three points in my mother’s parish, and the heart of Quebec’s apple industry.

No place ever spoke to me like Rougemont did. Granted, the small town had all the right Alex ingredients: a deserted, romantic graveyard, a picturesque, tiny church, a host of eccentric characters, and (let’s be honest here) horses. It also, of course, had orchards: orchards as far as the eye could see, leading up in pin-straight rows or haphazard zigzags to the Rougemont mountain itself. I learned a great deal about farming in those years: I saw early mornings and late nights, biting frost and blighting sun. I, less so than my mother but still enough to make an impression, was invited into the old farmhouses of Anglophone rural Quebec: butter churners and rocking chairs, wooden stools and hiking boots. I ate fresh corn on the cob, I bore witness to the most magnificent Thanksgiving altar displays; singing the hymn “Come Ye Thankful People Come” never had such humble significance. I also got my first shock from an electric fence, but never mind that now.

I picked apples: up ladders and down. I ate apples: fresh apples, cooked apples, apple crisp, apple pie. I grew to love and respect the trees and their fruit; I could identify dozens of types of apples by smell and taste.

I am lucky enough to still have a Rougemont farmer in my life; one of the lesser blessings is the bags of apples he brings me every autumn. I’ve moved from Otterburn, to Bedford, then Pointe Claire, and Montreal (2 apartments; 1 condo), and now Ottawa; the bags follow. There are few more happy phrases uttered than, “Alexandra, I’ve got some Cortlands for you!” Cortlands remain my favourites: their tart, crisp, clear white insides, and the way their red skins bleed a little when you cut them, are a constant marvel (wait, that sounds weird, doesn’t it? Have I been watching too many criminal dramas?). My mother favours Paula Reds; my husband likes Spy apples (which I turn my nose up as an Ontario apple). I hate nothing more than the wax they put on apples to give them a shine in the grocery store: those things look to me like the fruit equivalent of someone with a fake tan: why take a good thing to extremes? I am also a local cider fiend: the best, in my book, is Covey Hill’s own Mystique. An excellent article about the cider route in Quebec is here, featuring Rougemont’s most well-known cider-making resident, Michel Jodoin.

In a life somewhat geographically schizophrenic, nothing takes me back to lazy teenage days in the country quite like a fresh bag of apples, tied tight and stowed in the car, promises to future autumn afternoons.

Some apple factoids to crunch on:

  • Apple saplings came over to the New World with Champlain
  • That cad, Sir George Simpson, turned up on the shores of the most westerly HBC fort with apple seeds tucked into his vest pocket
  • McIntosh apples are as Canadian as, well, I’ll let you fill that blank in…: Every McIntosh can trace itself back to one discovered in 1811 by John McIntosh in Dundas County, Ontario.
  • Did you know that Canadian researchers analysed eight popular types of apples and found Red Delicious, Northern Spy and Ida Red had the most antioxidants? Guess I should play nice, then.
  • Apples should be stored in a cool, dark, slightly moist place: I put mine in the crisper drawer of the fridge, with a dark, wet tea towel completely covering them (yes, I chortle when I tuck them back in).

My favourite apple crisp recipe (adapted from Nigella Lawson’s How to Be A Domestic Goddess  Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking and The Yoga Cookbook: Vegetarian Food for Body and Mind, by the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres):

Filling ingredients:

  • 4 large apples, sliced into eighths, skin on
  • 25 g raisins
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

Topping ingredients:

  • 60 g chopped walnuts
  • 2 1/2 cups granola (I swear by this stuff)
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 2/3 cups honey and/or maple syrup (I like to mix both)

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Mix the filling ingredients together and transfer into an 8-inch square baking dish. Combine flour with butter, then honey and/or syrup and mix well. Stir the liquid mixture into the granola. Spoon the topping over the filling. Bake for 45 minutes.

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Breakfast for dinner with ice cream for dessert

13 Sep

In my experience, grad school introduces heightened drama into the least suspecting of adult lives. For those of you pursuing an MLIS or other graduate degree, I offer the following antidote: breakfast for dinner with ice cream for dessert. Here is how it’s done.

First, assemble friends. In my time of need this summer, I was lucky to have two fabulous fellow librarians-in-training at the ready to lend a hand (and share the spoils) in this important mission.

Next, set the table. Despite being students on a tight budget, we had some lovely placemats at our disposal, plus a stand-out bowl from Anthropologie, which we used to hold our grapes. Note how these contribute to the final spread:

Crepes, fruit, ice cream

On to the breakfast, crêpes or pancakes being my preferred choice. If you’re without a favourite recipe, I recommend my grand-maman’s crêpes or Williams-Sonoma’s Blueberry-Buttermilk Pancakes. Whip them up and keep them warm while you tackle the ice cream, or prepare both in tandem with your pals.

Crepes cooking
In order to create a homemade version of the treat you thought you simply loved but are about to discover you can’t live without, I suggest that you beg for, borrow, or buy an ice cream maker. You’ll need to freeze it for a full 24 hours before pouring the combined ingredients into it. Sound high-maintenance? Trust me, it’s worth it. Beyond the unparalleled taste of homemade ice cream, there’s the thrilling process of watching liquid ingredients slowly transform into this beloved standby of comfort foods before your very eyes thanks to the freezing and mixing mechanisms of the maker.

Here’s a breakdown, with visuals:

1) Prepare the fruit and other ingredients (we relied on a simple recipe for Strawberry Peach Ice Cream that came with the mixer, using both puréed and chopped fruit for added flavour and texture)

Preparation of ice cream ingredients

2) Pour the combined ingredients into the frozen ice cream maker

Pouring the ice cream mix into the mixer

3) Mix the ice cream, slowly and gradually (oh, the suspense!)

4) Monitor the texture, which will indicate when the ice cream is ready to be served

Ice cream frozen to perfection

Then comes the best part…

Eat.

Crepes

Observe how goodness wipes badness away.

Eat some more.

Ice cream

Count your blessings.

Repeat.

♥ ♥ ♥

With special thanks to Aliya Dalfen and Judith Logan

Life is just a bowl of cherries…complete with pits

4 Aug

by Jessica Roy

cherry clafoutis

cherry clafoutis

Cherry clafoutis, for those of you who’ve never had the joy of eating some, is a French,
 not too sweet, puddingish dessert that is summer’s answer to winter’s fruit cobblers.
Usually I follow a super easy recipe that calls for sour cream and ricotta resulting in
 something that is more like a cheesecake. While this is quite yummy it is not very 
traditional.

This time around, I used a more standard recipe from The Essential Mediterranean
 Cookbook, which is one of my favorite cookbooks. It has never let me down and the
 photos are designed to drive your appetite absolutely wild. On this occasion, however,
 it evilly had me pitting 1 lb of fresh cherries by hand. It turns out that there is really no 
need for this. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. I’m pleased to report what various internet
 sources confirm; that the fine folk of Limousin (who happily invented this dessert) bake
 their cherries pits-in. They claim that this laissez-faire method actually adds a subtle
 almond like flavour. This appeals to me on so many levels. First, it’s authentic. Secondly,
it’s simple. Pitting cherries is a stain making, painstaking task I’d rather avoid. You
 can buy a weird little cherry pitting device but honestly, who needs another piece of
 equipment cluttering up their kitchen drawers waiting for the one day a year you might
 actually use it to pit some cherries? Not me. When it comes to clafoutis, I’m pits-in all
 the way.

Pits weren’t my only problem though. As this was a late night emergency dessert 
situation, I found myself low on staples and having to make a few questionable
 substitutions, such as whole wheat for regular flour* and soy milk for cow’s. Plus,
there was no thick cream and no suitable thick cream substitute on hand. I know, not
 very French. It wasn’t a total clafoutis fail though. In fact, it was really so very good.
 It was a little denser and heavier than usual (think bread pudding) but, still good.
 Also, the bing cherries were dark, plump and sweet, which helped. As for the much-
anticipated almond flavour, well, it was incredibly subtle but totally worth spitting pits 
for.

Also, if you’re like me, you’ll be singing this song the whole time you’re making cherry 
clafoutis. Fair warning.

*Epicurious suggests you blend almonds into your flour! Just thought everyone should
 know about that.

Check out Jessica’s bio on the Contributors page.