Cranberry and persimmon empanadas

It’s Thanksgiving tomorrow in Canada, which is as good a time as any for us to talk about cranberries. Though maybe it’s better to talk about empanadas, which are eternal and not bound to a single holiday or feast. Maybe the perfect Thanksgiving is a tropical one, because although today my body is here, in grey old Vancouver, covered in layers of Lycra-cotton blends and fuzzy fleece, my mind is somewhere else: under a palm tree, caftan-clad, and a little rum-drunk beside a plate of freshly fried sweet and savoury pastries.

When you can’t reconcile where you are with where you want to be, the kitchen (and just the right amount of rum) can transport you.

In Aruba, there was a bakery and if you got there early enough, you could buy still-warm pastechis filled with savoury bits of chicken or beef or pork. Pastechis are a Caribbean pastry filled with meats and cheeses, and we saw all types of them throughout our visit to the island; small, crisp pastechis filled with Gouda cheese with thin, crackly pastry like fried wontons, or bigger, chewier pastries reminiscent of empanadas, sweet and sort of like Pizza Pockets but not gross. The bakery was a bit inland, and we asked a lot of Google Maps in navigating us there (what we saved in buying pastries instead of restaurant meals we more than made up for in data and roaming charges), but it was worth it for those pastries which were so unlike anything we’d had before.

I have since done a bit of research, and the difference between pastechis and Caribbean empanadas seems to be corn: pastechi dough is flour-based, and empanada dough uses cornmeal. Both are fried, which is wonderful. Even if I am wrong, either way you can’t lose.

What follows is a recipe for empanadas, even though it’s inspired by the pastechis we ate in Aruba. I like the addition of cornmeal in these as it creates a chewier, sweeter exterior that works will with a tart, jammy filling. Using cranberries brings these home to cold climates and rainy weather and will certainly help take you where you need to go, even if only in your mind.

Cranberry and persimmon empanadas

(Makes 8.)

  • 1 lb. fuyu persimmons, trimmed and diced
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1/2 cup plus 3 tbsp. granulated sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 4 to 6 cups vegetable or canola oil

In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, cook cranberries and persimmons with 1/2-cup of sugar until cranberries have burst and the mixture has become jammy, 10 to 12 minutes, stirring frequently. Set aside and let cool.

Meanwhile, bring a pot with one cup of water and the milk plus three tablespoons of sugar to a boil over medium-high heat. Whisk cornmeal in and cook until thickened, one or two minutes. Add salt and nutmeg, then remove from heat.

Gently fold one cup of flour into the cornmeal mixture until a dough forms. Cover and let rest ten minutes, or until cool enough to handle. Use the remaining flour (about a tablespoon at a time, as needed) to knead your dough for about three minutes, or until it’s no longer sticky.

Divide your dough into eight equal pieces. Roll these into circles about five or six inches in diameter, or to about 1/4-inch thick. Place two to three tablespoons of filling in each, folding the dough over. Press the dough together gently, then seal by pressing the dough down around the fold with the tines of a fork.

Heat oil in a Dutch oven or other sturdy pot to about 350°F. Working in batches, deep-fry empanadas, flipping once to cook both sides, until crisp and golden, about two minutes per side. Drain on a plate lined with paper towel, then serve hot.

Strawberry lemon pancakes.


If last year’s strawberries – mouth-puckering and tannic – were the bitter embodiment of everything wrong with last summer’s weather, then this year’s fat, sweet berries have more than made amends. I can’t tell if I’m sunburned or turning into a red Violet Beauregard, I’ve eaten so many strawberries – handfuls and handfuls every time I’ve passed the fridge this past week. Berries dipped in sugar, berries sprinkled with cracked black pepper, berries melted into caramel and crushed into smoothies and boiled into jam.

I’m not tired of them, and raspberry season is already here. But we have to finish these before I can move on to a new berry – I am aware that this is the best problem a person can have.

So this morning we had pancakes.

There’s a breakfast place in New Westminster I liked to go to called The Jiffy Wiffy Waffle House. It’s changed, cleaned up, and isn’t the delightfully dodgy waffle purveyor it once was, but in its (my?) waffly prime, I would go there and order the waffle with peaches or berries baked right in. This was a novel idea, at the time – maybe it still is, because the last time I tried to do that here I burned frozen raspberries between the grooves of the waffle press and it took forever to scrub the thing clean. Don’t press fruit in your waffle iron unless you know what you’re doing, I guess.

Anyway. I like fruit baked into carby things. Who wouldn’t? And these pancakes, thin and crisp and lemony, topped with sliced fresh berries, whipped cream, and this strawberry caramel? It’s like breakfast strawberry shortcake, which is the embodiment of everything right with this summer in Vancouver at this very moment.

Strawberry lemon pancakes

(Makes eight pancakes.)

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3 tbsp. melted butter
  • 1 lb. fresh strawberries, hulled and diced

In one bowl, stir together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, whisk together eggs, lemon zest and juice, milk, and one tablespoon of butter. Stir in diced strawberries.

In a large skillet heated over medium heat, pour half of the remaining butter into the pan and turn to coat. When it begins to sizzle, pour in four equal portions of batter, turning once the edges of each pancake have started to look crisp and bubbles have formed on the surface of each cake. Turn, cook another one to two minutes, until golden on the bottom. Repeat until you’re out of batter.

Serve with fresh berries, whipped cream if you’re feeling indulgent, and this strawberry caramel I keep talking about if you feel like you’ve sweated away enough calories already this week and therefore deserve it.

If you end up with more pancakes than you can eat, simply cool them completely on a wire rack, and then stack them between sheets of wax paper, stick them in a bag, and freeze them. You can pop them in the toaster as you need them. They are way better than Eggos.

Peach and raspberry streusel cake

The reality of how little time we have left is starting to hit us now that Month 7 is upon us.

I have not been making much food at home because suddenly there is urgency to experiencing every patio and new restaurant, or to savouring the experience of doing absolutely nothing which mostly involves take-out or huge containers of fresh berries and ice cream and marathon sessions of 30 Rock. The laundry piles up and the bathtub stays grubby. But that seems to be the case regardless of the distraction.

There have been bursts of productivity in spite of us both, and everything seems to be coming up Emily. We were despairing the lack of reasonably priced but not disgusting two-bedroom apartments in the city while the walls in our current apartment began to close in on us when a spacious, many-windowed two-bedroom opened up in our own building, just across the hall. We move in October 1, so for the first time we don’t have to rush to pack, and we even have time to paint the new place to our liking.

At long last, we’re having ourselves a summer, but not a painfully hot one – outside the temperature has seldom exceeded 27 degrees (Celsius). Which has meant long afternoons in the sun, eating cherries and watching the barges in Burrard Inlet or feeding the birds tasty bites of fresh doughnut on the boardwalk at Granville Island, or cool evenings picnicking on Jericho Beach or walking to Cambie Street for the good tacos (and some lecherous staring at the beautiful blue-eyed taco man).

The sun is bright but the breeze is comfortable, and this does not feel like the same city I dream about running away from in the winter after 40 consecutive days of rain.

And, most importantly, still no stretch marks. I am so slick with lotion and cocoa butter that I’d be lethal on a Slip ‘n Slide. You keep your fingers crossed good and tight for me.

All this going and doing and lotion application has kept me out of the kitchen most of the time, and I can’t say that I mind. We eat a lot of 10-minutes-or-less dinners, a lot of berries in cream, and a refreshing number of salads. I like to think that summer’s slacking is an excuse to go out and make the stories we tell all winter, that somewhere in the season’s casual outdoor feasts there is something important, or, at the very least, something to dream on.

Like pink wine and sunshine in Grace’s wine glasses: important.

The aroma of a trout Paul that caught as it cooks with lemon and dill on the barbecue: important.

The chewy texture of oatmeal sourdough made by Grace from a starter with natural yeast: important.

A simple meal shared on a blanket on the beach: important.

People you are fond of in good moods and summer clothes: important.

Eating dessert outside at sunset: important.

Cake and peaches and raspberries and brown sugar topping: important.

You can make this now, and eat it on the beach as the sweet finale to a picnic, or you can use whatever fruit you’ve frozen and make in the winter when you’re cold and missing the smell of the ocean and that flattering summer evening light. I made this with peaches and raspberries, but it’s based on a recipe that calls for blueberries. It would be beautiful with blackberries.

Peach and raspberry streusel cake

(Adapted from the Fannie Farmer Baking Book)

Cake

  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice (this is wonderful with Meyer lemon if you can get one)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 cup diced peaches
  • 1 cup raspberries

Topping:

  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup butter, cold
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 1 1/2-quart baking dish.

Beat butter and sugar until thoroughly combined, then add egg, vanilla, lemon zest and juice. Mix.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir.

Add flour mixture to butter mixture with milk, and beat until smooth. Spread evenly in baking dish.

Top batter with fruit.

In another bowl (so many dishes! Fun!), mix sugar and flour. Add butter and vanilla, and squish between your fingers until a dry, crumbly crumb has formed. Sprinkle over fruit.

Bake for 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Serve warm.

 

Strawberries.

In France when Grace and I were there, it was strawberry season. At the market in Lyon, I could barely choose from three or four different kinds, and eventually settled on a container of tiny fraise du bois, which smell like those sparkly red strawberry marshmallows from the penny candy bin and taste like the concentrated musk of spring, like dew and flower petals and the nectar sucked off clover tips, and like deep, dirty red – if a colour can have a taste, those thumbnail-sized ruddy berries were vermillion.

Before we left, Grace plotted out the best places for us to eat, and I nodded happily along as she prattled off the names of places we would go to in the France that belongs to David Lebovitz, Dorie Greenspan, and Clotilde Dusoulier. We followed them all over Paris and Lyon to markets and bistros and crêperies, devouring as much as we could.

In many of those places, there were strawberries, and wherever there were strawberries a meal felt French, like a postcard picture of how France has always been in some memory you may or may not have but know just the same. I wish my story could begin with some treacly revelation about how “I found myself in Paris,” but myself and I have been familiar far longer than is noteworthy; you might not be impressed, but I’ve been this way all along. It’s truer and far more romantic to say that “I found strawberries in Paris.”

The best place for strawberries was a restaurant called Spring. It’s an expensive little restaurant, and Grace made a reservation online before we left and then never heard back from them, and she worried that we would not have a table for lunch. She attempted to confirm the reservation, in French, which proved inconclusive. We decided to meet there at the scheduled hour after wandering separately in the morning as we had disparate destinations (mine involved the purchase of seeds to one day grow fraise du bois of my own), and though my inability to read a map pulled me the opposite direction a long way down Rue de Rivoli, we were both able to make it in time.

At Spring we had a perfect meal – cool tuna belly with chilled asparagus, sorrel, and tonnato sauce; cold white wine; crisp fried anchovies; masterfully seared filet of acorn-fed, bushy-banged black pork with grilled wild fennel; five cheeses, tiny bites but more than enough to know everything important about – or at least to imagine in detail – five different terroirs; chocolate sorbet with cocoa nibs and white pepper; pistachio cream stuffed between two homemade chocolate wafers. And strawberries, orangey red and topped with a dome of sweetened crème fraîche and dusted with ground pistachios and sugar. They could have served it in a bucket and I still wouldn’t have had enough, and I’ve been dreaming of those berries ever since.

When we returned to Vancouver, almost nothing was in season yet. I’d have to wait a month, at least, for the first berries of summer. More than six weeks have passed since we’ve been back, and finally this past weekend I got my fix. Tracy and I made a date and drove to Westham Island, to Bissett Farms, and picked as many strawberries we could in one afternoon.

It’s been chilly for an unseasonably long time on the coast, so the berries are more tart than I was expecting. This year you may want to sweeten your crème fraîche more than you might otherwise. To recreate my dish, select as many small strawberries as you can fit into four handfuls. Wash and hull the berries, and put them into four ramekins or parfait cups. Stack them jauntily. This is important.

Sweeten one cup of crème fraîche with one to two tablespoons of honey and a drop of orange flower water, if you’ve got it. Grind freshly roasted pistachios, about 1/3 cup, with a heaping tablespoon of sugar in a food processor. Spoon crème fraîche over strawberries, then sprinkle each serving with as much pistachio sugar as you feel like. Imagine Paris.

 

 

Rhubarb-raspberry stew with dumplings.

I have a lot of opinions lately, though Nick is quick to point out that they are not opinions as much as they are hormonal outbursts. I have evaluated the pros and cons of keeping him and at this point it seems like his potential future usefulness trumps his “helpful” suggestions so for now, he lives.

Though many of my opinions have been unsavoury and not appropriate to share under “if you don’t have anything nice to say” guidelines, at least one has been food-related and that opinion has been that rhubarb is fantastic and it ought to be mixed with vanilla bean at my earliest opportunity.

Today, just such an opportunity presented itself.

What follows is a recipe for rhubarb stew with dumplings; I used the last of my frozen raspberries to stretch the rhubarb (I thought I had more than I did), and it turned out to be the correct move. I’ve suggested one half cup of honey because I like my rhubarb tart, but taste as you go; you might like yours sweeter.

It’s not a beautiful dish – it’s the kind of thing you might serve after a weeknight family dinner, or for breakfast when you have more time in the morning. But it’s tasty. Dumplings are always tasty.

Rhubarb-raspberry stew with dumplings

(Serves four to six.)

Fruit:

  • 1 1/2 lbs. rhubarb
  • 1 lb. frozen raspberries
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 vanilla bean, scraped
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

Dumplings:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted

In a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat, combine rhubarb, raspberries, honey, vanilla bean seeds, and salt. Allow raspberries to melt, then bump heat up a notch or two and bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring frequently for about ten minutes. Rhubarb should soften and begin to break down. Return heat to medium.

Meanwhile, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Stir to combine. Add milk and butter to form a soft dough.

Drop spoonfuls of dough into the hot fruit mixture; you should end up with about eight dumplings. Place a lid firmly over the pot, and cook for 15 minutes.

Serve hot, with ice cream.

Blueberry crisp and a lot of procrastination.

This post is a little overdue – I bought many pounds of blueberries a few weeks ago at the UBC Blueberry Festival, but I put them all in the freezer  in order to procrastinate … because I don’t like blueberries. Or so I often think.

Blueberries, picked at their seasonal peak under the warm July sun are really very nice. They’re sweet-tart, not mealy little perfume balls, which is how they taste to me whenever I have them at any point during the rest of the year. I get cranky when I find them in muffins where they usually turn out to be flavourless little wet spots in what would otherwise be a perfectly edible baked good. And their unusually floral musk turns up in smoothies and juice – there was awhile there, before manufacturers started whoring out pomegranate or açai, when blueberries were deemed the healthiest thing ever and they were in everything. I had a tantrum one morning when I went to put my lunch together and found that Nick had eaten all the other flavours of yogurt, leaving only blueberry behind.

But they’re not all bad, and I forget that, and then July comes and I eat one and it’s a surprise every time. Oh! These aren’t yucky at all! I think, and then I enjoy blueberries for two weeks until there are none left and then disregard them again until the following year. That’s what happened here – I was afraid of them, then I ate some, and then blueberry crisp.

The recipe that follows has lived in my head for as many years as I can remember – for a long time, “crisps” were the only dessert I knew how to make. It’s a crisp like my parents would make, and there are no oats in it. No nuts, because my Dad is allergic, though if you’re not feeding him you can go right ahead and toss a handful into the crumble and he won’t mind. Just butter and sugar, and some flour to keep it all together, and that’s really all you need. You can make this with apples, peaches – any fruit you like. When I was a kid it often contained rhubarb from the plant out back, and that was very good. You can make anything tasty, even a blueberry, by simply topping it with butter and brown sugar.

Blueberry crisp

  • 4 to 5 cups blueberries
  • 1 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp. salt, divided
  • 2 tbsp. maple syrup (if your blueberries are very sweet, you might like a squish of lemon and a sprinkle of white sugar instead)
  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour (all-purpose is totally fine if that’s all you’ve got, but I like the deeper flavour that whole wheat gives)
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup room temperature butter
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Lightly grease a 1.5-quart baking dish. Preheat oven to 375°F.

Create a slurry out of the cornstarch, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and the maple syrup, then pour over blueberries and toss to coat. Put blueberries in baking dish.

Combine flour, sugar, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, butter, and cinnamon, and crumble with your fingers to create a lumpy, streusel-looking mixture. Dump on top of blueberries, pressing down gently do ensure your crumble stays put.

Put the whole lovely mess into the oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the top is crisp and golden and blueberry goo is bubbling up on the sides. Serve warm, with ice cream. Though if, like me, you are bad at planning ahead and don’t have ice cream, it’s just as delicious without.

Meringue held up my fruit and yogurt this morning, and thus Tuesday was vastly improved.

After a rather indulgent weekend I felt more than a little hard done by, repentantly enduring my hot whole grain cereal with almond milk on Monday morning. Usually that’s a breakfast I enjoy, but after the delights and feasting of Saturday and Sunday, it felt a little bit like punishment, or like the shakiest part of withdrawal. Sure, it was good for me. But there was no zing, no glorious gluttony high.

So last night, with the dry air suggesting the perfect time to whip egg whites into a glossy frenzy (not a drop of precipitation in all of July so far!), I made six brown sugar meringue shells, and this morning filled them with pink, local yogurt and juicy Okanagan cherries, and felt enough zing to last the week, and all of the high with none of the actual gluttony. One meringue shell is significantly fewer calories than a slice of toast, with none of the kneading and hardly any real effort to prepare.

If you care about that sort of thing.

Calories, I mean.

Which I do not.

The recipe is adapted from a recipe I posted in the fall, from Saveur (such a messily dressed pavlova), with the only difference being that I halved the recipe and used brown sugar instead of white. The recipe assumes you have a stand mixer; if you don’t, the time it takes to whip the whites will be a bit longer. I’ll let you know how you’ll know when the mixture’s done.

Brown sugar meringues

(Makes six)

  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 4 1/2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 tsp. distilled white vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Whip egg whites and sugar until stiff peaks form, about 14 minutes using a stand mixer.

Meanwhile, make a slurry of the cornstarch, vinegar, and vanilla. When egg whites stand up on their own and do not fall when shaken, whisk in the slurry and beat for another five minutes, until peaks are smooth and shiny.

Using the top of a one-cup-size ramekin, trace six circles onto a sheet of parchment paper that is just a bit smaller than a baking sheet, leaving an inch between each circle. Turn the parchment over, and divide the meringue evenly between the six circles. It’s okay if there’s overlap. Gently press a dip into the centre of each one, building up the sides a bit so as to form a shallow bowl.

Place in the oven, and immediately reduce the temperature to 215ºF, and set the timer for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Do not open the door at any time. When the timer goes off, leave the meringues in the oven to cool overnight, or at least three hours. Remove the meringues to a sealed container and store in a warm, dry place. Do not refrigerate.Serve meringues with yogurt and fresh seasonal berries. If you’re using cherries, pit them the night before and stick them in the fridge, covered with plastic wrap. Feel good about breakfast.

I should mention that if you’re used to something heartier, this is not terribly filling – if you’re a bacon/eggs/toast enthusiast, use this one at brunch with lots of other things. But if you’re a fruit and yogurt fan, like I am, this will be plenty sufficient to get you through the morning.

Also, I told you I’d tell you about blueberry crisp. I haven’t forgotten. I just get distracted so easily.