Monday, July 23, 2012

eton mess

On Friday night, I looked at the weather forecast for Saturday and was delighted by what I saw: rain.

My little kitchen faces west and has great big windows (painted shut), which let in lots of light – and heat. There is no playing around in the kitchen in July and August; it's more a matter of getting in and out before you get heat stroke.

So back to Saturday. Scott had to work and I didn't mind at all, because it meant I could play and create as many dishes as I wanted without him interrupting and asking why I always like to make so many dishes.

The day dawned cloudy and I felt luxurious. I knew I could make all kinds of things in my cool kitchen. I fished a piece of paper out of the recycling and wrote down my plan.

Here's what I made, in order: meringues for Eton mess, gluten-free pizza dough, coffee ice cream with cacao nibs, pesto, and, finally, whipped cream for Eton mess. Oh yes, and I tarted up some loganberries and raspberries with kirsch and sugar for the Eton mess.

I did three loads of dishes at my own pace and listened to a lot of good radio.

Then I looked out the window. It still wasn't raining. The clouds seemed to be parting and I caught a glimpse of – gasp! – sunshine.

I was not impressed.

However, as an eternal optimist, I knew this would at least be good light for photographing the Eton mess, so I got down to work.


My good friend Andrea introduced me to Eton mess a couple of years ago on a hot summer day when we visited them in Kelowna. It is one of those perfect summertime desserts – cool, creamy and mostly made ahead of time. Think layers of crispy meringue, whipped cream and berries.

You only have to turn your oven on to bake the meringues, but you could do that in the morning or the late evening when your kitchen couldn't already be mistaken for a sauna. Then the whipped cream and boozy berries are a snap. Also, it's pretty fun to break up the meringues and you'll kindly remember that "fun" is a prerequisite for recipes to appear on this site.

As you see above, assembling is fun, too, and if you have guests, they'd probably enjoy being involved at this point. Pop a few meringue pieces into the bowl, add a dollop of cream, pour on some boozy berries, repeat if desired. (That last bit sounds like a shampoo bottle. Do not panic. This does not taste like shampoo.)

And there you go. My Saturday morning in the kitchen: satisfying times baking and cooking, lots of dishes, and unfortunately good weather.

After photographing in our sunny back room, I left the fourth load of dishes for Scott to enjoy later and went for a swim.

Too hot to stay inside any longer.

P.S. Do you have ripe cherries in your neck of the woods? If you pit them and freeze a few cups now, I'll give you a recipe for cherry peach jam in August.

one year ago: German zucchini soup
two years ago: ministrone with summer herbs and chocolate raspberry horse turds

eton mess
serves about 4 adults with extra meringues to use as you please

meringue shells
from my mom
bakes 12

3 egg whites, at room temperature
1/8 – 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
2/3 c. granulated sugar
1/8 tsp. almond extract or 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two pans with parchment paper.

Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar, one tablespoon at a time, until stiff peaks form. Add the almond or vanilla extract.

Spoon the meringue into 12 nests on the prepared pans. Bake for about 2 hours, or until they are crisp but not too brown. (If you check a meringue and it sticks to the paper as you lift it up, it needs to keep baking.) Cool on a rack. Once they are cool, break into smaller pieces.

whipped cream

2 c. whipping cream
2 tbsp. granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Beat the whip cream until it starts to thicken. Add the sugar and continue to beat until it's whipped. Beat in the vanilla.

boozy berries
from The Essential New York Times Cookbook 

2 c. berries (raspberries, loganberries, blackberries or strawberries) fresh or defrosted
1/4 c. sugar
1 tbsp. kirsch or framboise liquer

Put the berries, sugar and kirsch together in a bowl. Stir until the sugar dissolves.

assembling your eton mess

In little bowls or fancy parfait cups, make layers of meringue, whipped cream and berries. Repeat if desired. Eat!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

balancing tofino and the plane

On Tuesday, we made an epic trek to find the wreck of a lost plane.

First of all, I should tell you it was actually a gloriously sunny holiday. Six days of sun, sun and more sun.

Except – except!– on the very west coast of Vancouver Island in a little surfing town called Tofino. We had just finished lunch at Shelter (pinot gris and local shrimp sandwich, very nice) where we had to move from a sunny table to a shady table because we were too hot. Ten minutes down the road, we parked at Long Beach and found this . . .

But it was warm(ish) and children were building sand castles and people were surfing and it was a lovely walk along Long Beach before we got back in the car for the tortuous drive home.

Now, let me tell you what we were doing around Tofino.

It has always been family legend that my husband's grandfather Jack Campbell was lucky to make it through the Second World War – even though he never left Canada.

You see, he was one of seven crew members who were on a plane loaded with bombs, flying out of Tofino in 1945. Almost as soon as they lifted off, an engine gave out. The pilot quickly dropped the bombs over a bog and soon crashed into the side of a hill.

 But – and this is the good part – everyone survived.

That was all we knew.

Then, a couple of years ago, we were out hiking with a new friend when he starting telling us about this great hike he'd gone on in Tofino, to this old plane from World War II that had crashed into the side of a hill. The hike was unauthorized, but there was a trail through a swamp and a bog and up to the old wreck.

The light bulb went off pretty quick and Scott looked it up as soon as we got home. Sure enough, it was his grandfather's plane. It soon became our mission to take his parents to it.

This was a serious hike. Scott printed out instructions from various websites. I borrowed a GPS. His mother bought rubber boots.

We found the trail head along the road and headed in. The first part was an easy path through the bush. Then we got to this sign:

Yay! We were definitely going the right way.

We went through a creepy abandoned factory and out the other side. That's when the trail started getting iffy, as we scrambled down the side of a hill and learned how handy it is to hold on to trees.

In fact, that was nothing. The real fun was getting through the swamp. The mud would suddenly be up to our knees, so we followed a rope and skirted tree roots to stay above it (somewhat successfully).

Someone fell three times and another person fell once. I'm not naming names.

Once we were finally out of the swamp – which did bring back memories of the fire swamp in the Princess Bride (only without the fire) – we came out on a flatland of bog that looked like a veritable bonsai forest.

Just another kilometre or so across the bog . . . and we were there.

Sure enough, the plane was pushed into the hillside and we could hardly believe that everyone had survived.

It took our breath away.

Sixty-seven years later, the aluminum frame had hardly rusted, although there were tatters of some lighter metal fluttering off the wings.

I am not telling you how many times we fell on the trail heading home, but I will say I'm glad I borrowed these gaiters (not to mention they make me look like a very serious hiker in this glamour shot).

And getting back to the theme of this website – that would be food – we definitely worked up a good appetite for dinner here, which included a Dungeness crab and lemon risotto that I definitely earned.

You see, a girl can wear gaiters, be spattered in mud and still enjoy fine dining. It's all about balance.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

salmon with warm tomato basil oil

Last week, I mentioned my love affair with Ricardo videos. (Luckily, Scott also loves the videos, so it's all above board.)

This week, I'd like to tell you about the other chef I let pop into my world on a regular basis: Laura Calder.

There are many reasons I love Laura. Let me count them for you.

1. She always wears dresses.
2. When she says "just a little bit of butter," she puts a huge bit of butter into the pan.
3. She has a somewhat similar background to me: languages, journalism, public relations, appreciation of bacon . . .

Laura has also worked on food in France, as a cookbook writer and helping to run a cooking school. She is a genius with meat and has taught me how to sear and brown and braise.

(My mother is also very good at cooking meat, but I completely threw away my chance to learn from her, since I was a vegetarian during my teenage years at home. Alas. She teaches me things now when I visit.)

Anyway, I bet you're wondering about this fish and these tomatoes and that basil?

Turns out, tomatoes and basil aren't just for pasta! Or bread!

Nope, they're also for salmon. Just take a bit of olive oil, warm it gently, throw in the tomatoes and basil and you have a lovely treat for your salmon, which has been baking in the oven for a few minutes.

We also tried this with a very light salmon that was almost a trout and it was a very happy fish indeed with its slick of tomatoes and basil. (Trout: so close to salmon and yet so different. How does that work? Are they related?)

What to serve it with? I'd suggest new potatoes and a simple green salad with loganberry vinaigrette. Your plate may look like it came from the cafeteria at IKEA, but it will taste a lot fresher. (Don't new boiled potatoes rolling around your plate and bumping into a piece of salmon make you think of IKEA?)

One year ago: Kristina's nuss kuchen (cherry hazelnut cake)
Two years ago: honey orange cream

salmon with warm tomato basil oil
slightly adapted from Laura Calder
serves 4 6

a filet of salmon or trout to serve 4 – 6 people (about 600 – 800 g.)
salt and pepper
1/3 – 1/2 c. virgin olive oil
2 tomatoes, seeded* and finely diced
1 handful basil leaves, cut in fine strips

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (160 degrees Celcius).

Rub a good amount of salt and pepper into the salmon. Bake until it's just cooked through. It should take about 15 minutes; start checking on it after 12.

In the meantime, set a small pot with a heavy bottom over medium-low heat. Pour in the olive oil and warm it. This will happen quickly, possibly in 1 – 2 minutes. Whatever you do, err on the side of not overheating the oil. Remove it from the heat.

Check that you haven't heated the oil too hot. Standing as far away as you can, drop a piece of tomato into it and step back. If it fizzes and suddenly deep-fries, the oil is too hot. Give it a few minutes to cool down. If the tomato just sits happily in the oil, you may carry on.

Stir the tomato and basil into the oil. Taste and season with salt and pepper, keeping in mind that you've already put salt and pepper on the salmon.

Once the fish is done and out of the oven, move it to a serving platter. Spoon the warm tomato and basil oil over. Serve.

*Here's an easy way to seed a tomato. Cut it into wedges. Use a sharp paring knife to scrape out the seeds. Done.