Sunday, August 28, 2011

Urban Harvesting

As much as I am a city girl, I do love being out in the "country". For me the real appeal lies in the necessity and ability to plan, plant, tend and harvest your own food. I have been accused of taking this concept a touch too far in my own personal life. In an upcoming post I'll go into more detail - but I made strawberry marshmallows. From scratch of course. And the strawberry flavouring? From the jam that I made from the strawberries that I painstakingly picked from the farm. A true full circle moment that Martha Stewart would be proud of - not that she would admit it. She would probably smile, put her hand on my shoulder and tell me that I should have strained the jam before stirring it in. Anyway, I didn't have an opportunity to pick blackberries this year. The trip out to the farm is pretty long and I couldn't justify going solo just to pick a couple pounds of fruit. I was lucky that the local grocery store had a special on and I managed to get my blackberry fix.

I finally got to make a recipe that has been sitting in my book for a couple of years now; waiting for that day when I would come home with a few buckets of freshly picked blackberries. So maybe not this year, but there is always next.

I made Martha's blackberry shortbread squares - and they were so good. The dough incorporates ground almonds and orange and as I pressed it into the pan, I inhaled the scent, an intoxicating melange of almond, butter and sugar. Even the ground almond meal gave off that very distinct smell that only seems to come out when the nut has been pulverized, allowing the oils to release. It's a pretty basic dough that you pat in the pan and then sprinkle 4 cups of blackberries on top (whole). A cup of dough is reserved to sprinkle on top. Even though it came out great, I think it could've used another 8 minutes in the oven just to really crisp up the middle. It came out a touch soft (no matter when served on a plate with ice cream) but I think a few hours in the fridge should solve this nicely for tomorrow's distribution.

As you can see, I had a terrific time taking pictures of these beauties. When the light is good and the product is fresh, it's effortless, the best models you can get.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Vibrant Summer Colours

Strawberry season on the West Coast is short.

But very sweet.

I made a vow a few years ago that I would not eat strawberries outside of June, and for the most part, I have stuck to that promise. Sounds drastic, right? But once you've tasted a local strawberry - you'll understand why the 10.5 month wait is worth it. Many of the strawberries available year round are enormous and lack the true panache of flavour a strawberry in June has. First of all - it's not even red on the inside! And the flavour is so watered down...I feel bloated after eating a handful and only barely tasting 'strawberry'. But a local strawberry is small and so, so, so red. On the outside and the inside. These little jewels are only available at their peak for about 6 weeks (max) and during those precious 42 days I eat as many as I can - usually burning out by the end from tasting too much fruit!

This year I did my annual pick in the local fields and came back with 10lbs. And a plan = jam, sorbet, bake, freeze and eat. All in that order too. I should note that I understand why strawberries can be expensive - they are extremely difficult to pick! Unlike blueberries which grow on very comfortable waist-to-shoulder high bushes, strawberries are grown on small shrubs really, I mean they're more like leafy hedges actually - but you have to squat to get them. Yes, squat. Low. In the sun. For hours. And then paw your way through the dirt, through the leaves and vines to get those precious berry gems. I've learned to carry a small paring knife to pick the berry by the stem and not crush the fruit off the stem with my fingers. My friends laughed at my when they saw my "set up" - a big plastic box lined with a tea towel for end-of-row storage and a smaller cardboard carry-along for my picking. Every 15 minutes or so I'd empty my cardboard box into the bigger one to be weighed at the end. The tea towel cushions the berries and provides a barrier from the hard and hot plastic. Once you get them home - you must "deal" with them right away. 5 lbs were gently rinsed and put in a large pot for jam. Another 2lbs were also rinsed and put in a smaller saucepan to make my sorbet reduction. The remaining fruit was distributed between baked good, the freezer and my tummy :)

(1 3/4 cups juice, 3/4 cup syrup)

I decided this year to reduce the strawberries over heat to really extract as much pure flavour as I could. Normally I would blitz them in a blender and then strain it - but I really wanted a more complex and bold strawberry flavour. It took a while, but it was worth it - let the berries cook and release their juice. Their ripeness was perfect and in no time I had a saucepan of red juice. I strained it and let it cool.

I mentioned before that you need a sugar syrup for the sorbet - so I used the leftover ginger-infused syrup and the combination was simply divine. Really very refreshing and bold - exactly what I needed to keep me motivated to wait those next 10.5 months.

June 2012 can't come soon enough!!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Cake & Ice Cream

It's a classic combination, isn't it?
I recently celebrated a friend's birthday and after a terrific dinner at a local izakaya joint, we went back to mine for cake & ice cream. The cake was a multilayered fruit&cream&ganache tower, finished off with a scoop of butter caramel ice cream swirled with dark chocolate. Although the cake was awesome, I was really excited to see my friends' faces when they sank their tongues into the ice cream.
I can't tell you how happy I was to see that they enjoyed it as much as I did. Butter Caramel Ice Cream (from David Lebovitz) - it's a winner!

I managed to take some blurry photos of the actual making of the ice cream, I'll share them later this week.