As a long time cook and ex-chef, I love exploring new culinary adventures, new foodstuffs, and flavors with my willing friends and family. Even the simplest ingredient can get me excited!
My latest trip to the gulf Islands seemed to herald the end of summer. Seeing the falling orange and yellow leaves on the ground and the plump cherries, plums, green pears and fat apples falling by the truckloads from my mother’s country garden, brings back memories of my grandmother and mother in the kitchen with heaping bowls of ripe fruits ready to become jam or some kind of canned winter treat.
Before we left, my friend and I picked bowls full of a variety of plums and pears, and grapes. The yellow plums never made it through the hour, they were so juicy and tasty we couldn’t help but sit there and crush them on our tongues. The red and purple varieties made it home with us to Vancouver, along with some tasty looking Bosch and Comte pears, and I couldn’t wait to start baking!
I have always loved anything with almonds or marzipan, but until I tried frangipane I had no idea the variety of uses ground nuts of all kinds could have in desserts. Frangipane is a type of pastry cream usually made with finely ground nuts, butter, sugar and eggs and is topped with fruits and or chocolate and baked into tarts or cakes. It is very easy and simple to make, and I often use hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios, and even peach kernels to accentuate whichever fruit I have on hand or is in season. Baked in a pie/tart shell, topped with sliced fresh fruit, it puffs up in the oven and is moist, crumbly, and buttery, and so good with tea/coffee after a meal, or a lazy sunday breakfast while reading the paper.
I found some ground almonds in my pantry and decided to go for it and see if it paired nicely with the bounty of fresh plums I had. The results were fantastic! I think you’ll agree.
Fall Frangipane Plum tarts
Unshrinkable Tart Shell Dough
*wont shrink down!
*makes 2 pie shells
- 3 cups AP Flour
-1 cup Icing Sugar
-1/2 tsp salt
-2 sticks of butter+2 tbsp, *cut into small pieces and frozen
1. In a food processor, pulse flour, sugar, and salt. Then scatter butter pieces over dry ingredients and pulse until oatmeal sized pieces of flour mix appear. Stir egg yolks and add a little at a time, pulsing until it looks like crumbly curds. Dump out on floured cutting board, and knead only a few times to get it into a ball shape. Cut in two and shape into discs. Wrap and refrigerate 20-30 mins.
2. To bake, pull from fridge and wait 5 minutes before rolling out with rolling pin, and press into your tart shell, prick with a fork. Place tart shell and dough back in freezer for 20 mins, then use baking weights or a buttered piece of foil pressed into the tart shell and bake @375 F for 20-25mins, then remove weights or foil and bake 5 min more. To fully bake the shell bake 10 minutes more.
*can use any type of nut, just grind it fine
-1 ¼ cups sugar
-2 slivered almonds
- 17 tbsp (2 sticks plus 1 tbsp) unsalted butter, softened
- 2 large eggs
-1 large egg yolk
1 tbsp of All Purpose Flour
1. Place ¼ cup of the sugar and the almonds in the bowl of a food processor and process until finely ground . About 1 min.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, or by hand with a spatula, beat the butter and remaining cup of sugar until well combined and very creamy. Add the ground almond mixture and mix until well combined, add the eggs and egg yolk one at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat another 3 mins until light and fluffy. Mix in the flour until just combined.
3. To use in a tart, spoon into prebaked tart shell, and top with sliced fruit. Bake at 350 F until lightly golden brown on top, and fruit has sunk down, around 12-22 mins. Let cool. Serve at room temperature.
Voila! so good with a little cream, or ice cream, and try with hazelnuts and pears!
Kristin Meyers & Joby Martin
Every year as late spring unfolds, my daydreams start to become more centered around images of the sea. From longings to travel the gulf islands drinking in the sun and pounding surf with a glass of local wine, sitting cross-legged in the sun on the deck of the ferry, in between the islands watching the ocean current swirl up against the engine, to watching the boats hauling in their overflowing wriggling catch of the day in Granville Island and waiting patiently in the heat with other locals to get the freshest coastal seafood available. My thoughts while asleep turn more sinister too, as I imagine fighting large crab and shrimp-like dinosaurs, with sharp claws and almost prehistoric plating and spikes; my fingers bleeding and stinging as I attempt to grapple their tails. After waking up drenched in sweat, I know that soon summer will begin, and so will my obsession for all things “ocean”.
For me, summer has truly begun in Vancouver, when more and more sun peeks through the clouds and the spot prawn season arrives. Foodies and chefs seem to flock in droves to get their hands on the large translucent beasts of the first culling, and I have often had to use the fisherman’s tongs as weapons of war to keep others from pinching at my bag of picked over perfection. What follows, is a couple months of madness as spot prawns appear on menus all around the city, in every decadent type of preparation possible. Whether served raw and sweet at a sushi bar with a little drizzle of yuzu dressing, alongside crunchy tempura battered heads or steamed or sautéed simply with white wine, garlic, parsley and lemon, these prawns are drool worthy. I don’t really think of them as prawns at all, but instead refer to them lovingly as “lobster babies”; their sweet tender rosy pink tails are much more reminiscent of lobster than the rubbery firmness of regular prawns. In my kitchen, I treat them with same delicate respect I would a fresh lobster, and try to serve them rosé or just slightly undercooked so there is no chance of ruining their delicate texture.
In fact, unlike other types of prawns, the “peak of freshness” is an imperative with spot prawns, as they have an enzyme that begins to permeate through their tails and turns the meat mushy almost immediately upon their capture. This means you must immediately cook them, or remove their heads and rinse the tails to keep the flesh firm, and keep them packed in ice up to a maximum of three days. If you ask most fishermen, they will tell you that when buying fresh, look for lively almost translucent prawns. The tail should be straight in line with the head, and the head itself should be firm to touch, with no black or green colouration . If the prawn is pink in colour, with the tail curled under the head, it is not freshly harvested and should be avoided as they will most likely be mushy. One great tip for frozen prawns that I learned from my friend’s Spanish mother (a fabulous cook!) was to defrost them in iced heavily ++ salted water, slightly rubbing them and the salt between your fingers in the water…what she called “refreshing” them…it seems to truly revive the ocean flavour of any prawn, and is a technique I never forget to utilize.
I’m just starting my summer obsession with prawn, as new batches are released to the market, so I like to keep the first few feasting sessions pure and enjoy the flavour of the prawn unencumbered by “spicy” additions…Either steamed simply or quickly sautéed, maybe with a light salad with avocados and grapefruits sections, with a glass of cold icy Riesling. Then as the weeks go on, I will start adding them to up the flavor of more complex dishes such as risotto, ceviche, or flambéed with spicy chorizo, white wine, chilies, and chopped cilantro. Then when the season starts to wrap up in July, and I have saved every piece of spot prawn shell and head and packed them in the freezer, I will make a huge pot of spot prawn bisque alongside baguettes slathered with roasted shad roe, as the last hurrah and farewell event to the season (that recipe to come…).
If you are trying to avoid oil and butter, forget it. These dishes are supposed to be rich and full of flavor. Instead, try and savour your prawn time while it lasts…
Garlic Sauteed Spot Prawns with Chorizo, leeks and White Wine
* serves 4 as a main
- 10-15 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
-1/3 cup grape seed oil, or extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup white wine
- 4 fresh chorizo, casing removed and chopped
- 2-6 Thai bird chilies or dried Spanish chilies, sliced in 4 *depending on your heat level
- 2 large leeks, white part only, chopped
- 4 green onions thinly sliced
- 4 tbsp of unsalted butter
- 1 whole lemon, squeezed
-2 bay leaves
- 28-33 large spot prawns, heads removed, inner membrane removed, with only tails ends kept on.
- 3 tbsp each finely chopped flat leaf parsley and cilantro
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 french baguette, cut on the bias to be served alongside
1. Make garlic flavoured oil: poach 10 of the 15 cloves of garlic in the oil over low-medium heat until they are golden brown. Remove the garlic and let oil cool.
2. when oil is cool, add back to a sauté pan, and add butter. Over med high heat, add the leeks, green onions, and chilies and sauté until transluscent, add the chorizo and sautee until golden.
3. Turn up the heat to high, and add the wine and lemon, let sizzle for one minute, then add the prawns, tossing carefully only cook for up to 3 minutes, until just barely cooked. Add the salt , pepper, cilantro and parsley and serve right away in bowls with bread to sop up the extra yummy juices.
A more Cajun/Spanish style dish……
SPANISH-CAJUN STYLE bouillabaisse with spotprawns, chicken, and chorizo
*sort of like jambalaya, and a spanish influenced bouillabaisse minus the rice. Perfect for those avoiding lots of oil and carbs.
-2 chicken breasts, sliced
-3-4 dry wine chorizo sausage, sliced on the diagonal, casing removed.
-28 spot prawns..7 per person
-5 ribs of celery, small dice
-2 red peppers, diced
-1 green pepper diced
-1 large white onion, small dice
-1 250-380ml can of fire roasted tomatoes (or canned romas any style)
-4 fresh roma tomatoes, seeded and diced small
- 1 cup white wine
-3 finely chopped cloves of garlic
- 1 lemon
- 1-2 Bay leaves
- large handful of fresh cilantro and fresh parsley, finely chopped
- pinch of chili flake
-pinch of oregano and cayenne, and cumin
-salt and pepper to taste
- tbsp of chipotle adobo sauce *scooped from the can
1. in a hot frying pan with 3 tbsp grape or olive oil, saute peppers, onions, celery, and bayleaves, add chili, oregano, cumin and cayenne, and pepper and saute on high until transluscent.
2. Add in the chorizo, chicken and garlic and saute for 2 mins, then add fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes and cook on high for a few minutes and liquid is starting to boil away… add white wine, lemon, and a knob of butter and stir well.
3. Once chicken is thoroughly cooked add in your spot prawns and cilantro and parsley. cook 2 minutes and season to taste. serve immediately in bowls..very hearty.
Prickly little babys. I kept stabbing my fingers!
Lobster Babies….. <3 <3
The very first time I tasted gnocchi, I was hooked. I was 11, and spending another magical summer with my grandparents and cousins on Saltspring Island, lazing away the days exploring the beaches, forests, and the quaint little seaside hippy town. One hot breezy day, we went to a little Italian restaurant operating out of the back of a house. It was nothing more than a couple of linen covered picnic tables under a large weeping willow in a picket fenced yard. There under the warm sun, I had my first taste of pan fried gnocchi in a dreamy gorgonzola cream sauce topped with grated parmesan and fresh parsley. I was in heaven, and I filled my belly full of the hot little pillows……..can you tell I’m a little obsessed with food?
Well, I couldn’t wait to try my hand at making them myself. I went through all of my mother’s cookbooks and saw that there were so many varieties and styles of gnocchi, and potato was only the beginning. I decided to try a basic potato gnocchi recipe, with just cooked potato, flour, eggs, and grated cheese. I almost cried when it resulted in a huge gluey wet ball of hot potato mixed with flour. What I didn’t realize back then was that I had tried to make it when the potato was too hot and wet, and I tried to counteract the moistness by adding more and more flour. My dough ball just kept getting bigger, but was not getting any more like a usable pasta dough. Once it grew into a mountain, I punched it hard in the middle, and gave it a burial in the compost bucket. I couldn’t understand what had happened, and I was so disappointed!
In culinary school, I thought I would finally triumph over gnocchi, and when I saw that one of our lessons included a sweet potato variety, I felt sure I would finally learn the secrets of success. I carefully watched our chef prepare them, and took furious detailed notes…I was surprised that it seemed so simple. Alas, when I tried it on my own, I failed again miserably when my gnocchi turned into flaccid little clumps of goo. It was only when I met another chef, who had worked in a number of authentic Italian restaurants, that I finally found out where I had gone wrong and that gnocchi held many mystical secrets.
He grabbed my hands, and told me the problem started there. “You have heart hands” He said. “They run too warm to play with delicate doughs”. *Sigh* …little did I know this would be infuriating later on when I became a pastry chef, as my warm hands killed pie crust after pie crust. He told me I would always need to ice my hands before I mix ingredients sensitive to temperature. Also, I must cook the potatoes whole, skin on in salt water or bake them, so that not too much moisture is absorbed, and I must peel them while they are hot, and cut them open to let the steam run out and help them dry out even further. Then when they are still warm, I must rice or food mill them into a bowl and wait until they are just slightly still warm to add the rest of my ingredients. Even then, I must only barely combine the ingredients together, before I start to roll out a little rope shape. “Ice your heart’s, and never over mix and you will always do well!” He exclaimed. He was right, and many successful variations on gnocchi followed.
What follows is a basic recipe for potato gnocchi, which we (and my Italian chef) later combined with a number of other exotic ingredients into a decadent entrée for a dinner party. Of course, I had him demonstrate the hardest techniques!
Basic Potato Gnocchi (Makes 4 servings)
*can add a couple of tablespoons of grated parmesan or herbs
-1 kg (2lb, 4oz) of floury potatoes (I like Yukon gold or yellow flesh Peruvian)
-2 large egg yolks
-cpl pinches of sea salt
-125-185g (4.5-6.5oz) plain All Purpose Flour.
Boiling the potatoes, skin on in salt water. After boiling, they were peeled hot, and cut in quarters to lets steam out. Then they were put through a potato ricer.
The riced potato, flour, egg yolks and sea salt. Let the hot potato mix cool for 8 mins or until just warm. Then add in the flour, salt, and yolks to the riced potatoes.
Mix together with cold hands only barely…do not thoroughly mix. This is perfect, it is just starting to hold its shape.
Roll out into very thin logs. Remember they get fatter when they are cooked!
Cut with a knife, at this point you could also roll each lightly against the tines of a fork to get that cute old school traditional look.
Place on a parchment lined, and flour or semolina dusted pan. At this point, you could also wrap the tray in plastic and freeze the gnocchi for later use.
After cooking them like you would any pasta..in salted boiling water, until they float to the surface (about 2-3 mins), they were drained, left for a minute to dry, and placed in a hot, oiled pan to start browning. In this case, it was 2 tsp of duck fat.
Our finished dish: Pan fried gnocchi with duck confit, foie gras, caramelized yam and a demi glace cream sauce. Holy *&@$ing decadent, Batman!