Category Archives: fruit

Almost-summer pleasures

farmersmktLunchSOMETIMES it is refreshing not to cook, but rather to assemble a few choice items together on your plate. Such was this light lunch after a bicycle trip to the local farmers’ market, where we got the fresh snow peas, radishes, cucumber and a loaf of delicious hearty Mountain Rye from Raven Breads. We already had some butter and cheese to complete the late spring/early summer plate. The fresh colors of the peas, cucumber and radishes looked especially attractive, I thought. And it all tasted as fresh and lovely as it looked.

Just in case that lunch seems a little too minimalist, let me assure you that last week I also embraced the late-spring/ almost-summer season more decadently with my usual passion for rhubarb pie. It was  delicious — and all too quickly devoured, before I even thought about getting ice cream to go with it (unnecessary, it turned out).

RhubarbpieTopcrust

FOR THIS PIE, I used the top crust only, cutting the scalloped shapes with my biscuit cutter and roughly twisting strips of dough around the rim. Steve said he didn’t even realize there was no bottom crust! (True, you have to scoop it rather than slice it — but trust me, if you are serving any rhubarb-lovers, they won’t mind.)

The filling: 4 cups of chopped rhubarb, scant 1 cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons of flour and some fresh orange zest. Dot with one or two tablespoons of butter before putting on the crust.

As to the crust, I used about 1 1/4 cups flour, 1 teaspoon of sugar and a little salt, into which I cut 7 tablespoons of cold butter, then just enough ice water with a little bit of apple cider vinegar to hold the dough together. Refrigerate for half an hour, then roll out on lightly floured parchment paper or pastry cloth and cut into shapes or strips.

rosyrhubarb

MY RHUBARB-LOVE was not quite satiated, but I did find more rhubarb at the farmers’ market, and made a simple rhubarb sauce (again with orange zest). A dollop of that sauce with my yogurt is a more modest, but still satisfying, late-spring pleasure!

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Fruit salad, any day

fruit saladEvery year on Mother’s Day, my daughter used to make fruit salad for me. What a treat — the colors and flavors combining in a joyous medley.

This year, she’s far away, but I’ll still be eating fruit salad tomorrow morning. Why not? Who says you have to wait for a holiday or for someone else to make it for you? Fruit salad is great any time — healthful and delicious.

And there are countless variations to suit your taste. I like it with the simplest of dressings — a little lemon juice, some zest and a bit of sugar — or none at all. You can add other flavorings, spices, or vanilla; you can serve with yogurt or sour cream or crème fraiche; you can put nuts or dried fruit in your fruit salad, or whatever you like. 

As spring turns to summer, the choices for fresh ripe fruit increase, of course, but at this time of year I still rely on one of my all-time beloved fruits, the pineapple.  As one of my friends pointed out, if you consider the cost per pound of a pineapple, it is one of the best fruit bargains. (I have written two pineapple posts on this blog — here‘s one of them.)

Happy Fruit Salad Day to you!

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Old friends and new

blue jam

Blackberry-blueberry jam, an attempt to get the blackberry flavor with fewer seeds.

I MARKED THE 8TH ANNIVERSARY OF THIS BLOG, by picking a tub of wild blackberries and making a blackberry cobbler. The first post that I wrote here, in 2009, was about the culmination of eight blackberry cobblers (!) that I made that summer. Well, I only made one this summer, but I can report that the recipe still holds up well and is suitable for any kind of berry. Cobbler and Blueberry Boy Bait are old friends during berry season, recipes I can count on–so familiar I can almost make them by instinct.

blueberryboybait

Speaking of instinct, my dear friend Martha and I read a post touching on this subject in one of our favorite food blogs, Juls’ Kitchen, written by Giulia, a cook and writer in Tuscany (We read it in the Italian version first, as we’re studying the language and she writes so well.) She wrote about making a cake by instinct — and it made me think about the dishes that I make instinctively, or almost so.

basil,tomatoes

Since it’s summer, and I’m enjoying my small crop of cherry tomatoes and basil, grown in pots, one of the simplest and best pasta dishes came to mind — an easy one to make by instinct. I cut the tomatoes in half, add some garlic and a dash of salt, and cook them down a bit to release their juices. Then I add a little of the cooking water from the pasta, toss in a good dose of chopped basil, stir the cooked, drained pasta into the skillet, and sprinkle with grated Parmeggiano or Pecorino Romano. Done. The best old friend of the late summer menu: I can never have too much of it.

summersalad

Leftover wild salmon, leftover rice, chopped cucumber and cherry tomatoes, corn kernels, chopped green onion, cilantro and a dressing of lime juice with a little oil and salt.

Summer, with its bounty of vegetables, is also such a great time to compose salads. I don’t know if there is an art to this, but I think there is something of an instinct, developed over time, of putting foods together so they marry well. Contrasts of color, flavor and texture work well in a composed salad. Leftovers and seasonal specials are equally welcome. It’s not that my instinct is always so great–some salads I’ve made did not marry well — in fact, probably needed to divorce! But usually, my instincts are not too bad and the ingredients get along pretty well — even complementing each other.

Especially in the lazy days of summer, I tend to forget what I can put together for a simple meal, and I need inspiration from something I’ve seen or read, which I can then adapt to what I have.  The salad above that was like that — I was just reading about a lime-juice salad dressing, and then put this together from leftovers and farmers’ market produce.

Then, as I was sorting through photos for this post, I looked at the photo of this salad and realized I could make it again for today’s lunch, even though I was missing the rice and had more cucumber. Avocado would be nice in this salad too, or black beans, or red pepper.  You could make it vegan without the salmon. You could use parsley instead of cilantro if you are one of the 4-to-14 percent of the population that thinks cilantro tastes like soap. You could add some sesame seeds or nuts on top .  . .

There are as many salad variations as there are mathematical combinations of vegetables with grains, beans, protein, what have you. Here’s a post with some of my late-summer favorites from seasons past: https://tobykitchen.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/salads-salads-salads/.

Have fun, eat well and stay cool,
Toby

blackberry foccacia slice

Hmmmm, shall I make a blackberry focaccia as I did this time last year? https://tobykitchen.wordpress.com/2016/07/19/blackberry-supper/

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Pie plant season

Just in case you’re lucky enough to have some rhubarb around!

prettyhalfpierrhubarb

After reading my own post below, well, I just had to make my annual rhubarb pie! It’s really a half-pie, or anyway a top-crust only pie, with a little border too.

toby's kitchen notes

rosyrhubarb Thank you, Maggie, for the rhubarb!

It’s the season to celebrate rhubarb once again — and what better way than pie? After all, its nickname is pie plant, and every spring I seem to write about rhubarb pie — so why break the tradition? This time I decided to just take some photos along the way and show you how I spent my Sunday afternoon, along with some simple instructions if you’d like to make a delicious late-spring pie.

chopped rhubarb Chop the rhubarb — you’ll need 4 cups or a little more for a small 8-inch pie — and make enough pie dough for a double crust, pat into two circles and refrigerate for an hour.  Then go for a walk while the dough is chilling.

Sunday afternoon was the perfect time for pie making.

rpie2 To the chopped rhubarb, add a cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, some orange or lemon…

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Rolling with the seasons

rollingpin

YES, IT’S OFFICIALLY AUTUMN, and the change of the seasons and cooler days call me back to baking once again (not that I’ve ever left it entirely).

In the late summer/ early fall, I made some Zwetchgenkuchen with the beautiful Italian plums, but now that the plums are all gone from the trees, and I’ve said farewell to summer, my fruit dreams turn to apples and pears.

zwetch2016

Next week, when I visit my daughter in Arkansas, we plan to make an apple pie together, so I was recalling a post I wrote here back in 2007 that spoke of my “one-per-season pie calendar” and featured the marvelous Pie Queen Reeb Willms with her recipe for apple pie. You can read it here.

apple-pie-blog

Another must-bake for me in the autumn is the round challah with raisins. Along with apples and honey, it signifies the sweet and spirit-nourishing tradition of Rosh Hashonah, the Jewish New Year.

roundchallahblogMy round challahs are never quite symmetrical, but then, it really doesn’t matter!

It seems timely to put a link to yet another blog post from years ago, titled “A circle, a braid, a meditation on challah”

In fact, circles seem to be a theme here — appropriately, as in the autumn, we are so aware of the circle of seasons.

bowlofapplesblog

So, even if you don’t do any baking this season, do enjoy a wonderful crisp, juicy, sweet (or sweet-tart) apple — and roll with the season!

p.s. Need a good challah recipe? A reader writes in: “I know everyone has her/his favorite challah recipe, but my late wife Ruth׳s was truly spectacular.  See her web site ruths-kitchen.com”

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Blackberry supper

BLACKBERRY SEASON is making me a little nostalgic. Blog-nostalgic, that is (though I still think blog is a particularly ugly word), as I wrote my first post on Toby’s Kitchen Notes nearly seven years ago, toward the end of berry season, with my recipe for Blackberry Cobbler No. 8.

It seems hard to believe I’d made eight versions of blackberry cobbler in 2009, but I did, along with some other must-have fruit desserts. This year, as I write, it’s just the beginning of blackberry season, and the other day I had a couple freshly picked pints on hand. I really wanted to bake something with them — but not a dessert. Aha — it remembered Nigel Slater’s marvelous recipe: Blackberry focaccia.

blackberry foccacia slice

Blackberry focaccia has only a hint of sweetness, from sugar sprinkled atop the dough.

Half the recipe would be plenty, I figured, as there were only two of us eating it, and it doesn’t keep well for leftovers. (I wrote of this before, so the recipe is here.)

blackberryfoccin progress

The yeast dough is easy, but does need gentle handling, especially when you fold in half the berries after the first rising. The rest of the berries are strewn on top; then, it rises again and you drizzle olive oil and sprinkle demerara or sparkling sugar on top.

blackberry foccacia

Once out of the oven and cooled just a bit, you can sprinkle with confectioners sugar if you like.

We had a choice: ruin our appetites by devouring the focaccia immediately or wait a few minutes, make a green salad, and call it supper.

saladandslice BF

We chose the latter — and it wasn’t a sacrifice. Calling it supper gave it a certain sense of legitimacy, if not outright virtue.  (More nutritious than pancakes with syrup for supper, anyway.) And yes, it was delicious. I plan to repeat this combo!

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A pie for imperfectionists

Piemaking

Despite that recipe you’ve found for “the perfect pie,” it will probably be imperfect — and that’s just the way it should be!

“PIE SHOULDN’T BE PERFECT,” declared an article on making fruit pie that I’d saved from a Bon Appetit magazine.

Aviva and I could  not have agreed more. While we learned a few things from the article (the butter in the crust should be in unevenly sized pieces) wondered over some pieces of advice (a pie should bake for an hour and a half at 350 degrees?) and  rejected others (really, the crust does not need that much butter!), the philosophy expressed in that simple line is what really struck home.

Aviva making pie

Aviva visits the Toby Kitchen for a pie-making session!

 

WE ARE NOT perfectionists, we realized  — and glad of it.

Being an imperfectionist (my new word) means you are content with “good enough,” and not devastated by minor failures in the kitchen or other areas of life.

The Bon Appetit article detailed a finished pie’s characteristics: “The filling will spill out, bits of crust will collapse, and it’s only natural for the fruit to shrink as it bakes, leaving a little gap beneath the top crust.”

And these “imperfections” not only don’t matter, but actually add to the pleasure of  making and eating pie.

“That’s the trouble with cake,” Aviva noted (she has a strong preference for pie over cake). “It’s too perfect.”

RhubarbbirthdayPie

The still-warm pie was too juicy to serve it on the fancy plates I’d set out, so we served it in mismatched bowls, with ice cream melting on top. My twisted-lattice crust had become rather skewed and messy, but that didn’t bother us.

 

Just as the article had predicted, my pie had not yet set properly when we served it to friends a couple hours after taking it from the oven (the article advised waiting at least four hours, and added that pie was even better the day after it was baked. But warm-from-the-oven pie is sooooo good!)

We carved out some fairly sloppy slices and ladled them into mismatched bowls with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. We used spoons instead of forks.

No one complained. It was a perfectly delicious imperfect pie and we were all happy.

————————————

Here’s the updated recipe. And for you fellow rhubarb-lovers, here’s some history and more on the wonderful pie plant.

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Marvelous mandarins

mandarins, MM

Mandarins at Monterey Market, Berkeley, California

I KNOW, I’VE SAID IT BEFORE, but it’s worth saying again: The mandarin is a wonderful winter treat, the season’s ultimate snack fruit.

If you can find mandarins in the store with leaves intact — and the leaves look nice and fresh — that’s the best indication that the fruit is fresh, picked only shortly before being shipped to market.

Mandarins, tangerines, clementines — what’s it all about? What are Pages and Sumos, Murcotts and Tangos? And what about Cuties and Halos (commercial brand names for mandarins) — and why are they better later in the season, from January to April?

Find out the answers to all of these questions and more in the excellent recent New York Times’ article, Mandarin Oranges: Rising Stars of the Fruit Bowl, by fruit expert David Karp.

For my other post about mandarins, including a mandarin cocktail, click here.

Bowlofmandarins

Mandarins and oranges — both in their winter prime.

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August fixin’s

pasta and vegAUGUST REMINDS ME of my childhood: the sticky hot humid days in Chicago, barely relieved by the big swamp cooler in the basement. We had no air conditioning and my two sisters and I slept in an upstairs attic-type room, catching what little breeze we could from the open window and a fan. A thunderstorm was an evening’s entertainment:  From our screened-in back porch, we’d listen to the thunder, watch the streaks of lightning and smell the oncoming rain.

But best of all, August meant we would pack up the car (I always had a case full of books) and leave the city for a rented cabin in Ephraim, Wisconsin, or South Haven, Michigan, where we’d swim in Lake Michigan (Yes, we did that at home too, but here it was even better) and eat fresh peaches and blueberries, corn and tomatoes, trout and smoked whitefish, and bakery white rolls. And cherry pie.

Wherever you are, fresh produce is abundant this month, and dinner doesn’t have to be salad. On these lazy days, I love to center an August meal around corn on the cob. Or potato and green beans in a vinaigrette. Or cherry tomatoes, as in the photo above, roasted (or sauteed) with some garlic and oil and sprinkled with basil, to dress a pasta. With a side of green beans with lemon zest, and a simple salad with beets (dressed in another vinaigrette) and hazelnuts, it was a light but satisfying meal that didn’t take long at the stove.

blackberry cobbThis kitchen blog began in 2009 with Blackberry Cobbler No. 8, a recipe for the eighth version I had made of blackberry cobbler.

This week my daughter and I picked  blackberries (it’s been unusually hot here so it’s almost end-of-the-season) for a cobbler and decided that the No. 8  version is still hard to beat, with very tender biscuits with a touch of cornmeal. There’s not too much sugar in it, and a dollop of ice cream on the warm cobbler will suit it just fine.

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A plum welcome to summer

plumsontowel

I HAVE WRITTEN BEFORE about the marvelous Santa Rosa plums of early summer, and my gratitude to Luther Burbank for developing them. But again I feel the need to praise these plums. If I were to have just one fruit tree, it might have to be a Santa Rosa plum, not only for their deliciousness at the start of summer, but also because they are so hard to find in the market.

I had enough, briefly, to eat plenty of plums au naturel and to make British cookbook writer Nigel Slater’s brilliant plum tabbouleh. (I did substitute a pinch of crushed red pepper for the small red chile he calls for). I even made some plum crumble with a topping of butter, brown sugar, flour and hazelnuts.

plumtabbouleh

The plum tabbouleh drew me back to one of my favorite books, Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard, and to Nigel Slater’s lovely homage to plums.

“When I find the perfect plum, jelly-fleshed and incandescently ripe, its golden skin flashed with crimson freckles, I make a great fuss of it,” he writes. “I have even been known to get out a small plate and a napkin. I eat slowly, imagining time stopped. More usually, I come across such a fruit without warning, having little alternative but to eat it from the hand, spitting the pit into the long grass below.”

And why are these plums so hard to find? Although Slater is speaking of Britain and not of Santa Rosa plums, I think his sentiments could apply to the U.S. as well.

“It breaks my heart to think of the plum orchards we have lost in the last two decades,” he writes, “but what else can a farmer do when the crop is no longer profitable, consumers have more interest in peaches and nectarines, and the stores continue to sell imports even during our own brief season? I salute the British plum grower.”

Well, I salute all plum growers, and in particular my friends John and Cathy who gave me the pleasure of a few days full of plums from their Santa Rosa plum tree. What a happy welcome to summer!

plateofplums

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