A Taste of Summer

Over the weekend two of my friends celebrated their birthdays together — the same two friends that I baked birthday pies for around this time last year. I asked them if they would like pies as gifts again this year, and they seemed to think that this was a marvelous idea! One of my friends even requested the same type of lemon meringue pie as last year, since it went over so well.

I don’t think the meringue was as fluffy this time, but I was much happier with the level of browning on the top — which I think can be accounted for by the oven, which we replaced in the meantime. I find that while it does have its own challenges (it runs pretty consistently 50 degrees F hot), it provides a much more even heat overall.


Photo by Karen Turnbull.

Sadly, the meringue topping got a little bit mangled in transit, but I’m assured that it still tasted fine! Once again, I used half of a crust recipe from page 73 of The All-New Purity Cook Book (Elizabeth Driver, 2001), the lemon meringue filling from page 687 of the Joy of Cooking (Rombauer & Becker, 2006 edition), and Soft Meringue Topping #1 on page 798 of the Joy of Cooking.

My other friend requested a change-up from last year with a fruit crumble instead of a pie. He really wanted rhubarb, and he was lucky that I still had some left over in the freezer from last summer’s harvest, because it’s well out of season around here. I mixed the rhubarb with some strawberries and green apples for added flavour and texture, and I did add a cup of sugar to the fruit because rhubarb is so very tart. To make this dish I used the Apple or Fruit Crisp recipe on page 392 of the Joy of Cooking. The final product kind of looked a mess, but I find that most crumbles do! I got to taste a bit of this one and I was quite happy with how it turned out as well. It was like a little bit of summer stuck smack dab in the cold and snow of February.

Faster Than Takeout

This weekend we found Candy Cane sleighing down the side of the staircase:

And petting the reindeer in the Little People Christmas train:

This morning we found her taking pictures of the family as they walked down the stairs:

Yesterday was a very busy day filled with Christmas visits, Christmas shopping with a good friend, and knitting (I’m finally on Stocking #3). All that didn’t leave me with much time to cook, but I didn’t want to eat out, so I compromised with some quick fixes from the grocery store.

That’s pork schnitzel from the butcher section; I’ve had schnitzel before, even had it in Germany, but I’ve never had the pre-made pork version from the grocery store. I didn’t have high hopes, but it wasn’t half bad! In an effort to keep in quick and simple, I served it with eggs over easy and a prepackaged spinach salad with clementine wedges, strawberries, cucumber, goat cheese crumbles, and sliced almonds. Overall, it was quicker than ordering takeout, and also both cheaper and healthier!

Grilled Duck Breasts & Strawberry Shortcake

Yesterday I decided to cook something I’d never cooked before: duck. I’d eaten it before, generally in Asian fusion food, but I’d never cooked it. It’s different than most of the poultry I’m used to working with (i.e. chicken and turkey) in that it’s a red meat. It’s honestly more like ostrich. Somehow I’d managed to cook up ostrich long before I’d ever worked with duck, which is a little odd seeing as duck is domestic and ostrich is most definitely not. But I digress.

I found the duck breasts in the frozen section of T&T Supermarket a while back, and I bought them because they looked interesting and they were on special (my favourite combination). I’m not sure if this is usually the case, as I have no baseline, but that day they were significantly cheaper than beef. The breasts weren’t whole; they were already cut up into what I think of as tiny little steaks.

I used the marinade from a Grilled Wild Duck Breast Recipe that I’d Googled, knowing full well that since I liked all of the ingredients separately I’d probably like them together. I only did a quick marinade of about half an hour, since I wanted to taste the meat and not just the sauce. Then I threw the steaks on a preheated gas grill. The real challenge here was not to overcook them. I didn’t want them to be rare in the center, but they were so small that I really worried that I’d accidentally turn them into shoe leather. I settled on about five minutes per side, and that ended up being perfect. There was just a bit of char on the outside, but the middle was tender and soft.

I served the duck breasts on a bed of basmati rice, alongside some green zucchini that I’d sliced and grilled at the same time as the duck breast. Timing is always an issue with this kind of meal, so I cooked the rice first, then put the duck on, and then the zucchini, since it was sliced fairly thinly. It all came to the table piping hot and delicious.

For dessert we piled into the car and drove over to my parents’ house for strawberry shortcake. This time my mother made it, but she basically followed my Nan’s recipe. It was an assemble-it-yourself kind of affair (which the kids love), so if mine ended up being sloppy and leaning, that’s nobody’s fault but my own. Part of the problem with structural integrity is that I had to use a non-dairy whipped topping, which never beats as stiff as true whipping cream. Also, we upped the sweets game by drizzling dark maple syrup over the top, further compromising the tower’s support but definitely enhancing the taste.

Dessert finished and hands (and tables, and place mats) cleaned of sticky syrup residue, we headed back home to put the children to bed and to spend some quiet time digesting.

A Piece of Pie

Recently, my husband and I were playing Borderlands 2 online with another couple who are good friends of ours. At one point I had to take a brief AFK break to take a pie out of the oven, causing our friends to jokingly lament that they didn’t have pie too. At that time, their birthdays were swiftly approaching, so I promised them that I’d make them pies for their birthday. Well, their joint birthday celebration (their birthdays are only a couple of days apart) was this past Friday, so on Thursday night I had to make their pies.

I decided to make two totally different kinds of pies, and I started with a lemon meringue. I used the crust recipe from page 73 of The All-New Purity Cook Book (Elizabeth Driver, 2001), the filling from page 687 of the Joy of Cooking (Rombauer & Becker, 2006 edition), and Soft Meringue Topping #1 on page 798 of the Joy of Cooking. I’ll confess right now that I had never made lemon meringue pie before, even though I quite like it. I’d only tried a meringue once before and that failed spectacularly. I don’t know what I did, but no matter how hard I whipped it, the meringue never formed peaks at all, it just stayed runny. I was really worried that it wouldn’t turn out right.


Photo by Karen Turnbull.

In the end, I’m quite proud of my first lemon meringue pie, even though I singed the topping a bit. I have got to remember that my oven heats unevenly and that I need to check on my baked goods more often. I mean, I set a timer for the minimum time recommended and then checked it with five minutes to go, and it was still a rather dark brown (I was aiming for a toasted gold). If I’d left it in five minutes longer, it would have been burnt. Luckily, the colour was only on the surface, and my friends said it tasted just fine. They served it up to their gaming group when playing D&D on Sunday night, and everyone liked it, even one person who generally doesn’t like lemon meringue. I’m wondering if that’s because I used fresh lemons and lemon zest when I made the filling from scratch, instead of using canned filling.

For the second pie I went with a fruit-filled pie, which something I’ve done successfully a million times before, just in case. I mean, given the disaster with the bitter pumpkin pie at Christmas, experience doesn’t always mean mistake-free. But I’m fairly confident that it will taste fine (especially since you can honestly completely omit sugar in most fruit pies and it’ll still be palatable). For kicks, I rolled the top crust using a laser-engraved rolling pin that I received as a gift a while back. It features the hazard symbols for poison, ionizing radiation, high voltage, and biological hazards. Something tickles me about using this on food.

What with a fruit pie crust never baking flat, it’s hard to see the design, but it is there. I also vented the crust using a 8-Piece Pie Divider for the first time, which was a gift from another friend. It is honestly the weirdest-looking gadget in my kitchen, but it works quite well. The recipe for apple-strawberry pie that I used can actually be found on the back of its packaging box — although I did use the same Purity Pastry crust for both pies, since it’s just easier to whip up one big batch instead of multiple small ones. I used leftovers of that crust, along with some extra fruit from the fridge, to make the fruit tarts that night as well.

Honestly, I’m kind of hoping that this baking-as-a-birthday-gift idea becomes a regular thing. As my friends and I get older, I find it harder to shop for presents, since I know the things that they really want is way out of my budget, and we all have more clutter than we really need. But food is a necessity of life. And just maybe on our birthdays we deserve to be able to elevate a basic need to something a little more special.

Sick Day Part 2

I’m at the tail end (hopefully) of recovering from my cold, and unfortunately my kids have caught it too. Well, they might have been the ones to bring it home in the first place, elementary school being the wretched hive of scum and villainy that it is. At any rate, I kept the kids home from school yesterday in an attempt to speed up their recovery.

I gave the kids the option of homemade chicken noodle soup for dinner, since it’s a traditional kind of food to eat when you’re not feeling well. They vetoed this idea, and I was willing to be vetoed, as I hadn’t actually started cooking anything yet. At first they voted for instant mac-and-cheese, which I said no to. I can’t tell you how much it frustrates me that it doesn’t matter how many original and tasty meals I prepare, they’d live off of 99¢ dried pasta with powdered cheese sauce, given half the chance. Next they argued between themselves between bacon and eggs and trout with teriyaki sauce over rice. A quick trip to the grocery store brought the decision firmly down to bacon and eggs, since trout was not on special.

So our family dinner last night was eggs over easy, reduced-salt bacon, freshly baked Light Wholemeal Bread (Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter, 2002), page 69), and a side of sliced strawberries with a sprinkle of sugar. The girls were even up to hulling and slicing the strawberries. All in all, not a bad dinner for a house full of sickies!

Summer Supper

Yesterday’s supper was very simple and was also completely based on what I found on sale at the grocery store over the weekend. A decent steak was on sale for less than the going rate for ground beef, so we had steak. Corn on the cob was only $0.15 per ear, so we had corn. Peaches and strawberries are in season and I had a few too many in my fridge, so I made pie for dessert.

Since I was busy making the pies indoors, my husband cooked the steaks (with a sprinkle of Montreal steak spice) and the corn (still in its husk) on the barbecue. The steak was melt-in-your-mouth tender, and the corn, while not the sweetest, was still tasty. In retrospect, the steaks were a little large. Okay, they were huge. I cut off about a third of mine to give to Thing 1, and my husband shared his with Thing 2, and we still were stuffed before we got to the corn. That’s okay, we had the corn as a night snack, along with some pie.

If you’re wondering what the brown lumps are at the end of my corn cobs, they are corn holders shaped like beavers eating corn. I thought that they were cute in the store, but they aren’t dishwasher safe so I wasn’t going to buy them. Surprisingly, it was my husband who fell in love with them and insisted that we bring them home (on my condition that he can hand-wash them if he likes them so much).

The pie was peach and strawberry with streusel topping, which was still warm and gooey from the oven when we cut into it. As usual, I used the Purity Pastry crust from page 73 of the Purity Cookbook (2001 edition), which remains my favourite. For the filling, I used the fresh fruit pie formula on page 228 of The Canadian Living Cookbook by Carol Ferguson (1987), and the streusel topping recipe on page 226. I cut the sugar back by a third, since I like the flavour of my pies to have a stronger emphasis on the the fruit flavour instead of the sweetness. To be honest, what I’d really wanted to make was plain peach streusel pie, as it is recommended in the meal planning section of the book as part of a typical Ontario country-style feast. However, I didn’t quite have enough peaches, and I did have some strawberries that needed eating, so I improvised.

Nan’s Strawberry Shortcake Recipe

It’s less than a week until Canada Day (July 1st), and this year it’s a big deal because it’s the country’s sesquicentennial, 150 years since Confederation. It’s a pretty big deal around here. There are all kinds of events planned surrounding the holiday, much more extensive than the usual celebrations. I’m not sure yet what we’re going to take part in, but it’s worth noting that most of the museums are free on Canada Day (especially useful if it’s raining but you still want to do something), and the fireworks are always spectacular.

Until the big day, though I thought I’d cook some typically-Canadian or Canada-themed dishes to start the celebrations. Canadian cuisine is really hard to pin down, as it’s very regional and is strongly influenced by the immigrants that settled in the area. Since I am predominantly of British descent, my idea of Canadian food is British-Canadian, but since I live in an area with a strong French-Canadian presence, that affects my idea of typical Canadian food as well. If you live in a different part of Canada, or come from a different heritage, your idea of typical Canadian food may be totally different — and that’s totally okay. As former PM Joe Clark put it, “Canada has a cuisine of cuisines. Not a stew pot, but a smorgasbord.”


Nan’s strawberry shortcake made with non-dairy whipped topping

The first dish I made to celebrate Canada Day was nice red-and-white strawberry shortcake, according to my Nan’s (my dad’s mom’s) recipe. It’s a fairly simple recipe that can be whipped up quickly. If you’d prefer a no-bake red-and-white dessert recipe, I would suggest The Cat’s Hat Parfaits.

Nan’s Strawberry Shortcake
Yields 10-12 personal-sized shortcakes

Make up a batch of
Dad’s Biscuits
However, replace the 2 tsp of sugar in the recipe for
3 Tbsp sugar
This will make a sweeter biscuit that is more suitable for dessert.
When shaping the biscuits, instead of using the drop-off-a-spoon method used in the photos, roll out the dough onto a floured surface to between 3/4″ and 1″ thick. Use a round cookie cutter or a floured drinking glass with straight sides to cut the biscuits to a uniform size. Follow the rest of the instructions as per the recipe.

While the biscuits are baking, cut up about:
1/2 cup of strawberries per shortcake
Only cut up as much as you’ll need to serve right away, as strawberries tend to go bad more quickly once they’re cut.
In a separate bowl, whip together until fluffy:
one 237mL package whipped cream
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Alternately, you may use spray whipped cream in a can, or non-dairy whipped topping.

When the biscuits are done and cool enough to handle, assemble the shortcakes on small serving plates or in bowls. Start with the bottom half of a biscuit, then a layer of strawberries, then whipped cream, then the top half of the biscuit, more strawberries, and top with whipped cream. Serve.

Alternately, make the biscuits in advance and assemble the shortcakes immediately before serving. Do not assemble them in advance, or they will get soggy.