Category Archives: fruit

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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Filed under dessert, fruit, musings, summer, supper time, vegetables

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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Mandarin love

mandarinsWHAT COULD BE MORE APPEALING in winter than the brightly glowing, highly fragrant little orange globes called mandarins? They come in various sizes, some with seeds and some without, some noted for their juiciness and others for their easy-to-peel “zipper” skins — and the best of them with a vivacious flavor and lively balance of tart and sweet.

If you are lucky enough to be in California during mandarin season, you can sample many different varieties — and buy them very fresh, from a farmers’ market or fruit stand. Otherwise, though you may have a smaller number of varieties to choose from, you can usually find good mandarins at the grocery to brighten your table and your winter diet.

Kishu mandarin

Kishu mandarins are tiny, seedless mandarins which peel easily, making it extraordinarily easy to eat half a dozen or so before you know it. These come from Churchill Orchard in Ojai.

So what’s the difference between mandarins and tangerines?

Citrus expert Tracy Kahn, curator of the Citrus Variety Collection at UC Riverside, had this to say about the subject:

“Mandarins refer to a group of cultivars and includes Clementine and Satsuma and many other mandarins. . . .  The word tangerine is often used interchangeably with the word mandarin but actually the term tangerine was coined for brightly colored sweet mandarins that were originally shipped out of the port of Tangiers, Morocco, to Florida in the late 1800s and the term stuck.  Another interesting thing about mandarins is that we now know that there were three basic citrus types (mandarin, citron and pummelo) and that others that we think of as basic types or species (sweet oranges, sour oranges, grapefruits) are actually ancient hybrids or backcrosses of these. Also, many of the cultivars that we think of as mandarins or tangerines may in fact not be true mandarins, but actually mandarin hybrids.”

Mandarin-gin cocktails

Page mandarin cocktails and Kishu mandarins in the bowl.      Photo by S. L. Sanger

Whatever you call them, they’re marvelous!

Steve and I had the good fortune to go to Anna Thomas’s home in Ojai for lunch the other day (last year I wrote about lunch at Anna’s here), and it turned into a mandarin appreciation day. Along with a great soup-and-salad lunch,  Anna made refreshing mandarin-gin cocktails, using Page mandarins–a vibrant juicy variety.  For dessert, she offered a big bowlful of the exceptional Kishu mandarins with dark chocolate. Then we all drove off to nearby Churchill Orchard to buy a big box of Kishu mandarins to share!

The cocktail recipe Anna used is from Henry of Ventura Spirits, and features the company’s Wilder gin, made with local botanicals including sage and mandarin peel. If you have trouble finding this gin or Page mandarins, make substitutions as necessary.

Henry’s Wilder Gin and Page Mandarin Cocktail:

For each drink, mix:

1 oz. fresh lime juice
2 oz. fresh Page mandarin juice
½ oz. agave nectar (Henry uses ½ maple syrup+ ½ water)
1 ½ oz. Wilder gin
pour over ice, add splash of seltzer or soda or mineral water, and enjoy.

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Another tip from the checkout counter

upside down pineapple

Pineapple upside down. No, do not add “cake” on the end of that phrase. I’m talking about the whole fruit.

That’s the tip I got at the Trader Joe’s checkout counter last week, when I was buying an extra-nice (heavy for its size and golden colored) and quite inexpensive pineapple.

The clerk said she’d lived in Hawaii, and the trick to a juicy pineapple was to cut part of the top so it is more-or-less level and leave it upside down on the counter for a few days.

Okay! I went home with our pineapple and followed instructions.

juicy sweet pineapple

And yes. It was sweet and juicy and very delicious.

But would it have been as sweet and juicy if I hadn’t turned it upside down? (Remember, I’m getting pretty skilled at judging good pineapples.) Steve was convinced that the upside-down treatment was effective. But really,  there was no way of knowing or testing this out.

Regardless, pineapple is so refreshing this time of year, a wonderful antidote to all the rich sweets of the holiday season — I highly recommend it!

For more on pineapples, see A Passion for Pineapples and A Passion for Pineapples, part 2

Pineapples in Istanbul

Cutting pineapples in Istanbul

p.s.  This wasn’t the first time I’d gotten a helpful food idea at the checkout counter. There was this tip, from my local grocery, for roasted brussels sprouts.

Have you received any good hints from the checkout counter, produce section, etc.? Let me know!

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December 18, 2014 · 5:02 am

Good morning, granola

bowl o granola

In case you haven’t heard yet, homemade granola is sooooo much better than most of what you’ll find in stores (that is, unless you want to pay a small fortune).

I’ve been making granola for years now, but until recently I just kept fiddling with the recipe and it never seemed quite right. The really delicious granola was too full of fat and sugar and calories to qualify as a breakfast food. When I tried to keep it somewhat healthful and modest in calories, it was little more than toasted oats and not too enticing.

Eventually, I adopted some guidelines for tasty and pretty-good-for-you granola:

  • Use applesauce and a little water for moisture and sweetness
  • Stay in control of the nuts — they’re delicious and healthy but highly caloric!
  • Don’t turn the granola for the first half hour if you want some clumps in the mixture
  • Skip the dried fruit (if you do use it, put it in after the granola is done baking); fresh fruit is lower in calories and delicious

Probably most important, if you don’t want  your breakfast granola to make you fat, use it as a topping rather than serving yourself a big bowl of it! I love having it atop yogurt and fresh fruit — just a few tablespoons adds crunch and interest.

goodmorn granola

Plus, using it only as a topping means your precious jar of granola will last longer.

granolaandfruit Usually I have fruit and yogurt and granola all summer long, and switch to steel cut oats when the weather turns cooler. But this fall, I just haven’t been able to give up my granola! The fruit is not as varied as above, but I defrost some of the berries I froze during the summer, and sometimes add some apple or pear.

So, here’s the recipe below — and I know some of you will want to add dried coconut so go ahead — if you must!! (I don’t like it).  Variations are limited only by one’s taste and imagination!

granola jar

Good Morning Granola

  • 3 cups rolled oats, regular or thick (not instant)
  • 1/3 cups nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pecans — whatever you like), coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon flax seeds (and sometimes I add another tablespoon of sesame seeds)
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon oil (olive, canola, sunflower, etc.)
  • 2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 -2 teaspoons spices or to taste (your choice: cinnamon and/or ginger are good; I sometimes like garam masala)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Warm up the applesauce, water, oil, honey, brown sugar, vanilla, spices and salt and stir the mixture together in a big bowl.
  3. Add the oats, nuts and seeds to the liquid mixture and stir until the oats are well coated.
  4. Spread the oat mixture out on a cookie sheet and bake on an upper rack for 30 minutes.
  5. Open the oven and gently (so as not to break up the clumps) turn the granola, moving the darker pieces along the edges to the middle.
  6. Bake another 8 to 10 minutes, then check to see if it is dark enough. It should be a dark golden color. If it needs to bake more, check it every few minutes so it doesn’t burn. The granola will get crisper as it cools.
  7. Take out the cookie sheet and put it on a baking rack to cool completely before you put it in a jar.

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Al fresco

zuccflowersIt’s well into August and the farmer’s market is bursting with pretty much everything. We finally got some rain here last week, which made the farmers really happy.

farmersmktEverything is fresh, beautiful and tasty!

newpotatoes

salmonsaladWith all these fresh selections, I’ve still been mostly in the salad mode, which has the great advantage of using little or no heat.

capresesaladI’ve  even had enough Sun Gold cherry tomatoes and basil from my own teeny garden to make a Caprese salad (with fresh mozzarella).

pizzaAnd occasionally I have turned on the stove or the oven, to make pasta with roasted or sauteed tomatoes and basil — or pizza with those same ingredients. (Mmmm, it had been such a long time since I had pizza.) And green salad alongside, of course.

springrollskin

Another great way to eat your salad is in a fresh spring roll — also called summer roll or salad roll.

springrollwrapI’d never made these before but it turns out to be pretty simple — just a lot of chopped salad ingredients (plus some thin Asian noodles — I used brown rice ones), some shrimp or chicken or tofu if you like, and the spring roll skins, which are briefly soaked in hot water, then rolled around the filling like a burrito. You can find instructions here and many other places on the Web, and adapt them as you see fit. And make or buy a nice sauce to dip them in.

alfruit dessertAlso,  all the marvelous fresh fruit this time of year makes it easier to eat a little lighter than usual. We’ve really been enjoying a simple dessert lately: a bowl of fruit with a nice dollop of maple-sweetened yogurt. Sitting outside on a warm evening with a slab of watermelon or a juicy fresh peach is appealing too.

bbbcakeBut I really couldn’t let August go by without baking at least one Blueberry Boy Bait! I made it when we had some company coming, and it was a fitting afternoon treat.

Freddie and Val sample the Blueberry Boy Bait

Freddie and Val sample the Blueberry Boy Bait

And what better way to enjoy it, as with so many of these meals and snacks,  than al fresco — the perfect summer way to dine!

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