Monday, July 25, 2011

The flavours of Summer

For the next while I suspect many of my posts will have a "flavours of summer" theme.  My cucumbers are going gangbusters, the tomatoes are colouring up, the soy beans are staring down the rest of the garden for dominance, the carrots still look good....  And then there's the produce at the farm stands and farmer's markets!  We've been gorging on blueberries and cherries, and peaches have begun too.  Let's not forget the corn as well.  We've had that 3 times in just over a week.

Yesterday afternoon I was looking at the zucchini and summer squash Little Miss (3) had chosen from the farmer's market on Saturday.  We don't eat a lot of either, but I had something ratatouille-esque in mind when she asked for them.  As I began looking at recipes, I realized that I had no eggplant.  Okay, time for plan B.  I had tomatoes, sweet onions and farm fresh garlic.  I chose the yellow squash and thought about what to make.  How about a "marmalade" of sorts (and for lack of a much better term)?  Something sweet and sour that would go well on a burger, or topping some crusty bread slices.  Okay fine, now to make it happen.

I began by lightly caramelizing the thinly sliced onions.  Then I added the garlic, the quartered squash slices and a few diced tomatoes.  Played with brown sugar and red wine vinegar.  I resisted the urge to add oregano, which in my mind always goes with anything having to do with cooked tomatoes (I blame my Italian fore-bearers) and opted instead for thyme.  Ah, a French-inspired creation.  Sounds good to me.  I let it cook until it was relatively thick.  In the end I got about 3 cups of... whatever it became.  LOL  And while I liked it well enough still warm on crusty bread, I'm sure it will be even better at room temperature.

Sweet and Sour Onion, Tomato & Summer Squash Spread

1/4 cup grapeseed oil (or a good, fruity olive oil if you have it)
2 sweet onions, quartered and thinly sliced
5 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 large summer squash or zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced
5-6 tomatoes (peeled if you're so inclined - I didn't, but should have)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 tsp thyme (more if using fresh)
salt and pepper to taste

In a large enamel sauce pot heat the oil over medium and add the onions and a little salt and pepper. Cook until they begin to caramelize, then add the garlic.  When it's fragrant, add the squash and tomatoes and give it a good stir.  Add the thyme, vinegar and sugar, and keep them out to adjust the flavour as you go along.  Let it all bubble over medium-low heat until it starts to thicken and much of the liquid has evaporated away (this took over an hour in my pot).  Check for seasoning and adjust to taste, making sure to cook out any raw vinegar flavour.

Pack into clean canning jars and keep in the fridge (I froze some).  Use as a topping for crusty bread, burgers, chicken, fish... even meatloaf.

I bet this would be nice with a couple of dried chilies tucked into it while it simmers.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Got me a haul

I cannot say enough how much I love living here in Southern Ontario.  I am in the heart of the "fruit belt," which (quite happily) is also the heart of wine country.  Right now we have fruit coming out the wazoo.  There are a few lingering strawberries, and we're in the thick of raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and cherries.  I don't do anything with currants or gooseberries, but they've been available too.  And the early peaches, apricots and plums are showing up on farm stand stalls.  And while it's not a fruit, I'll mention my delight last weekend at finding the first sweet corn of the season too.

But today I am going to focus on the 11lb pail of pitted, unsweetened, fresh tart cherries I picked up yesterday.  Plus the 1kg tub of dried tart cherries.  I got six 3-cup containers of the fresh cherries into the freezer, set aside a cup or so for just snacking and used the remaining 2 cups to make a recipe inspired by one I came across earlier this month at Autumn Makes and Does and have been anticipating enjoying ever since.

The original recipe for Hot Cherry Preserves calls for 3 dried chile de ├írbo, which I don't have.  It says to use cayenne if need be.  So I did.  I also added some of the dried cherries.

Spicy Cherry Sauce

2 cups pitted tart cherries
2/3 cup sugar
1/4-1tsp cayenne pepper (depending on your tolerance)
1 split vanilla bean (optional)

1/4 cup dried tart cherries
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Stir all ingredients except the dried cherries and lemon juice in a bowl or measuring cup.  Taste for heat and add more cayenne if necessary.  There should be more of a pleasant tingle than full on burn.  Cover and store in the fridge overnight.

Place the contents of the bowl in a small saucepan with the dried cherries and boil over medium-high  for about 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently. The cherries will begin to break down a little and the liquid will become a bit thicker.

Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice.

Let cool to room temperature and store in a clean half-pint (250ml)  jar in the fridge.

Personally I think this is going to be awesome over some dark chocolate ice cream. I wonder if it would pair well with cheese?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Too hot

What is the weather here today?  It's noon and it's already 31C, feels like 39C (that's 88 and 102 degrees American).  It's been this way pretty much since late last week.  And tomorrow it's supposed to be 36C before the humidex kicks in.  *insert melting emoticon here*

I gave the veggies an hour of water this morning. The raspberry canes have drooped and will need to be supported for the rest of the season, I fear.  Some may have snapped already, but I think overall most of the canes are just fine.  We've certainly gotten a lot of berries in the last week.  And this is only the first flush.  The big push comes next month when this years new canes start bearing along with the old ones.

In this heat it's too hot to even boil water. And grilling leaves the family with a meal and me seeking shelter in the nearest freezer, uninterested in eating.  So tonight I'm turning to my other favourite summer meal helper.  My crock pot.  It was a wedding gift from some thoughtful person nearly 14 years ago, and it has been well used ever since.  It, and it's smaller cousin, have been the source of stews, braises, soups, roasts, hams and even hot chocolate and lattes.  Today it is home to a couple of hot Italian sausages, some chicken drumsticks, onions, garlic, bay leaf and a bottle of beer.

I first created this meal many years ago while clearing out the fridge, and it became a favourite.  I love the sausage when it comes out and the chicken shreds into a beautiful, tasty pile.  But it's the broth that I look forward to the most.  The meat juices, aromatics and beer mingle together to create a liquid that is absolutely wonderful served with crusty bread and old cheddar.  Often I skip the meat altogether and just add a green salad or some pickles.  It's a, nourishing meal that doesn't heat the house (or the cook) and isn't salad, again.

Tomorrow we may just order in pizza, though.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Summer Eating

Wow, it took a while, but summer is definitely here.   My garden is slowly catching up after a cool, wet spring, and today I impatiently picked a few not-quite-ripe raspberries and some extra large snow peas that were hiding in the copious foliage of the 6 foot tall vines. 

The shift in weather brings with it a necessary shift in eating, too.  Although we have air conditioning and I close the curtains and blinds as the sun bursts through the kitchen windows around mid-day, the back of the house still gets hot quickly.  Obviously I limit the use of the oven as much as I can, baking only at night and roasting in the toaster oven if I can get away with it. Even just simmering a pot of soup or boiling water for pasta (or canning) on the stove can make the kitchen air thick and sticky.  I've found over the years that I use my crockpot more in the summer than in the cooler months.  It doesn't really heat up the kitchen, and there is minimal effort involved.  I also barbecue.  A lot.  And we eat lighter things like salads, or grilled pizzas.  Actually, I've made a lot of naan bread this summer, and that's just a topping or two away from do it yourself pizza.

I'm always on the look out for summer friendly meals that we'll all eat*.  Today I came across a post on Chow about playing with stuffed potato skins, changing up the fillings to make a variety of tasty treats.  I love potato skins!  The post (here) was put up in March, but I can see these being an easy go-to for a hot day.  A side of fresh salads and a cold drink would definitely round the meal out.  And even Little Mister, my 6 year old who eats a lot of things, but not ground meat and never cheese (except on pizza), said that he'd like to try them... with his own filling - black beans, corn and salsa.  Sure!  Sounds great!

* For more ideas, check out these two fabulous posts (and don't forget to follow their blogs for a wealth of inspiration throughout the year)  -
 - great summer meals for the whole week - part of a week long series of posts about frozen treats (because dessert is part of dinner too!)