One last summer recipe

Sunday, September 30, 2012

I know it’s way past the end of summer.  It’s late September – practically October – and I should be posting fall recipes.  Every other blog I’m reading has recipes for pumpkin bread, apple pie, or hearty stews.  

Maybe I wasn't ready to say goodbye to summer, or maybe I just got behind on my postings.  Whatever it was, I couldn’t let the end of September go by without posting my favourite Berry Pavlova.  And then I promise I will turn the page to fall.

The biggest surprise is how long it’s taken me to post this recipe, regardless of the season.  As you might guess from the name of this blog, I love meringues, and I’ve been making this dessert for years.  I’ve been hesitant to post it because meringues are unpredictable and I didn’t know how the photos would turn out.

I made this pavlova in August, with fresh berries.  I generally make it in the summer, although I’ve also made it for Christmas using frozen berries, with great results.  I often make it with a mix of blueberries, raspberries and strawberries, but opted for just raspberries this time because I thought it would look pretty against the checked tablecloth.  Because that's the kind of thing you think about when you're making a summer recipe.

Three-Layer Berry and Brown Sugar Pavlova
(recipe from epicurious)

For meringue:
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp distilled white vinegar
3/4 cup egg whites (about 6 large eggs), at room temperature 30 minutes

For berries:
4 pints raspberries
2 Tbsp granulated sugar

For cream:
1 cup chilled heavy cream
1/3 cup chilled sour cream

To make meringues:

Preheat oven to 275 degrees with rack in middle.  Lightly butter 3 - 8” or 9” round cake pans, and line bottoms with a round of parchment paper.

Combine sugar, brown sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl and set aside.

In another small bowl, stir together vanilla and vinegar.

Beat egg whites with a pinch of salt using an electric mixer at medium speed until they hold soft peaks.  Increase speed to medium-high and add sugar mixture 1 Tbsp at a time.  After all sugar has been added, beat one minute more.  Add vinegar mixture, then beat at high speed until meringue is glossy and holds stiff peaks, about 5 minutes.  Spoon meringue into pans and smooth tops.

Bake about 1 hour.  Turn oven off and prop door open slightly with a wooden spoon.  Cool meringues in oven one hour.  Meringues may sink slightly and crack while cooking.

Run knife along sides of cake pans and carefully turn meringues out of pans.  Carefully peel off parchment, and turn right side up.

To macerate fruit:

Toss berries with sugar and let stand at room temperature until ready to use, up to one hour.

Assemble dessert:

Beat heavy cream using an electric mixer until it just holds soft peaks.  Add sour cream and mix until just combined.  Put one meringue on a serving plate and spread one third of whipped cream over it.  Spoon one third of fruit over top.  Repeat with remaining meringues, cream and fruit.

Best served immediately.

Thursday's Child: El Badi Palace, Marrakech

Thursday, September 27, 2012

You might wonder why I’m featuring El Badi Palace as the final post in my tribute to amazing architecture that we’ve seen on our travels.  There isn’t much left of this palace in Marrakech, but when it was intact, it was an architectural marvel. 

El Badi translates as “The Incomparable”, and when it was built it was breathtaking in its opulence.  Commissioned by Sa’did Sharif Ahmad al-Mansur in the sixteenth century, no expense was spared.  Only the finest materials were used, including Italian marble, ivory, exquisitely-carved woodwork, gold and onyx.  Paths were paved in terracotta tiles, as were roofs of the surrounding pavilions.  The main hall in one of the pavilions was flanked by fifty enormous columns.  In the courtyard, a cluster of swimming pools was framed by four sunken orange gardens.

This was a building that should have stood forever.

But that’s not what happened.  A mere century later El Badi was torn apart, plundered for its precious materials so another ruler could build his own palace.

This is what remains: a courtyard with foundations of the pavilions, and four gardens which still blossom with the scent of orange.  A few denuded walls still stand, where storks have built their nests in the gaps.

This poem wasn’t inspired by El Badi, but I couldn’t help but think of it as I witnessed the ruins of this once-majestic palace:


I met a traveller from an antique land 

Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone 

Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand, 

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, 

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, 

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read 

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, 

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed; 

And on the pedestal these words appear: 

“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: 

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” 

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay 

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare 

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

- Percy Bysshe Shelley


Sunday, September 23, 2012

I have a shelf full of cookbooks, but the reality is that I only use about 10% of them on a regular basis.

Now that I’m blogging, many of the new recipes I try are the ones I find on other people’s blogs.  And if I’m looking through my cookbook cupboard, most of the time I pull out one of my favourites (Barefoot Contessa, Bonnie Stern) to look for a recipe.

So why do I have so many other cookbooks that I can't bear to part with?  I couldn't get rid of the first cookbook I ever bought for myself.  I bought a copy of Mollie Katzen's The Enchanted Broccoli Forest after I'd been at a friend's house who cooked from it.  And The Penny Whistle Birthday Party Book will stay on my shelf as long as I'm cooking.  The girls and I used to leaf though it together in advance of every birthday party, looking for a theme and food to go with it.  It's probably the most loved of all my cookbooks, with a torn cover and dog-eared pages to prove it.

Despite my affection for the cookbooks I own, I still like it when I find a new cookbook that I fall in love with.  And that’s why it was great to come across The Fresh & Green Table.  I’ve tried three recipes so far and loved them all, and I have many more marked to try.  Last week’s frittata was from this book too.  All of her recipes are full of vegetables, and full of flavour.  Is there anything better than finding a recipe that’s delicious, and healthy too?

Pasta with Broccoli, Sun-dried tomatoes and Goat Cheese
(from The Fresh and Green Table, by Susie Middleton)


Kosher salt
1/2 lb (225 g) cavatappi, straccetti or rotini (I couldn’t find cavatappi, but any spiral or corkscrew pasta should do)
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (first amount)
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (second amount)
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 pound small broccoli florets (approximately 4 crowns), each cut into pieces about 1” long and 3/4” wide
1/2 cup thinly sliced oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained
2 oz (55 grams) goat cheese, crumbled while still cold
1/3 cup coarsely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Put a colander in the sink and place a glass liquid measure next to it.  Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente.  Take the pot off the heat and, before draining the pasta, pour about 2/3 cup of the pasta water into the glass measure.  Drain the pasta in the colander and let it sit, loosely covered with foil or a pot lid.

Have ready a small heatproof bowl near the stove.  In a large nonstick stir-fry pan, heat 3 Tbsp of the olive oil over medium-low heat.  When the oil is hot, add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until the garlic begins to simmer in the oil.  Cook for just about 30 seconds more to infuse the oil.  (Do not let the garlic brown.)  Pour and scrape the seasoned oil into the heatproof bowl and reserve.  Wipe the pan out with a paper towel.

Return the pan to the heat, add the remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil, and raise the heat to medium high.  When the oil is hot, add the broccoli and 1 tsp salt and stir well.  The pan will seem crowded and the broccoli may look dry, but the broccoli will shrink and give off moisture as it cooks.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the broccoli has shrunk (it will mostly fit in a single layer in the pan) and the florets have turned bright green, about 10 minutes.

Measure out 1/3 cup of the pasta water and pour it into the stir-fry pan.  Quickly add the sun-dried tomatoes.  Then cover the pan briefly and continue cooking until the water has simmered down to almost nothing (about 15 to 20 seconds).  Uncover and remove the pan from the heat.

Add the drained pasta to the pan, season it with 1/4 tsp salt, and drizzle it with all the reserved garlic-red pepper oil.  Stir briefly.  Add the goat cheese and most of the Parmigiano and stir until everything is well distributed.  Add another 1 to 2 Tbsp pasta water and stir again until the goat cheese loosens up a bit and gets creamier.  Add another 1 to 2 Tbsp pasta water, if necessary.

Serve right away, garnished with the remaining Parmigiano.

(By the way, this cookbook recommendation is a completely independent opinion.  I picked up the cookbook on my own and haven’t been reimbursed or gifted by the author or publisher, nor do I know them.  I just like telling people about things that I love.)

Thursday's Child: The Segovia Aqueduct

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Last week I posted about the Roman Colosseum.  Today I’m writing about another Roman structure, built at the westernmost side of their empire – the Segovia Aqueduct in Spain.

The actual date the aqueduct was built isn’t known, but it’s estimated to have been started in the late first century. Although it has been repaired several times through the centuries, it’s still a testament to the brilliance of the Romans.  After all, it has been in use nearly 2000 years, carrying water to Segovia from a river in the mountains over 15 kilometres away. 

When we travel, we often seek out sites that have been protected by UNESCO.  All of the properties on their World Heritage list have been deemed to be of cultural or natural significance.  The Segovia Aqueduct is one such site.  When we visited, I thought about everything that has changed around the aqueduct while it has remained constant.  It was built to deliver drinkable water to a city, and for many centuries, it did exactly that. 

I started thinking about all the ways that water has featured in our travels.  We’ve been to a rain forest, and to a place where it hasn't rained in one hundred years. We’ve seen a lake where a famous monster lives and we’ve seen what happens if you disregard parking lot warnings about high tides. We’ve used water for recreation, transportation, and inspiration.

But at the end of the day, everything comes down to having enough clean water to drink.  Those brilliant Romans examined how other cultures provided water to their cities, and took it up a notch or two.  The fact that their aqueduct in Segovia is still standing is an engineering marvel and a tribute to their inventiveness.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

I’m pretty comfortable in the kitchen.  I’ve been baking and cooking since I was about six, and most of the time I don’t think twice about trying a new recipe.  Generally, I like using new ingredients or new techniques – sometimes that’s half the fun of being an amateur cook.

This is one of those rare recipes that I really had to talk myself into.  Yes, the frittata looked amazing, with many of my favourite ingredients.  But to make it, I had to get past my fear of cooking by putting a skillet in the oven.

You see, I’m one of those people who have a bad news story about cooking with a skillet.  A few years ago, I pulled a skillet out of the oven with an oven mitt, which I set down while I turned the heat off.  Then, as you might guess, I instinctively tried to pick up the skillet with my bare hand to move it elsewhere.

I managed to avoid a really bad burn by immediately dunking my hand in ice water, and keeping it there off and on for the next hour.  But it was still painful and blistered for longer than I’d like to recall.  As a result, I’ve been very reluctant to use my skillet in the oven again.

I never did get around that fear, but this frittata sounded so amazing that I decided to put the mixture in a glass baking dish right before cooking it.  It tasted delicious – one of those rare meals that everyone in my family enjoyed – and I’ve made it several times since then.  So whether you have the courage to use the original instructions, or opt for the peace of mind you get from baking it in a separate dish, please don’t be afraid of this recipe.

Broccoli and Cheddar Frittata with Red Potatoes and Scallions
(adapted from Fresh & Green Table, by Susie Middleton)

1 medium unpeeled red potato, cut into small (1/2”) dice
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
1 Tbsp unsalted butter (first amount)
1 Tbsp unsalted butter (second amount)
1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter (third amount)
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions (white part, and as much green as needed to make 1/2 cup)
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (first amount)
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil (second amount)
1 broccoli crown, cut into small (1”) florets, about 3 cups
7 large eggs
1/3 cup skim milk
1/3 cup heavy (whipping) cream
1/8 tsp (about 6 shakes) Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 cups extra sharp aged cheddar, coarsely grated

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Put the potatoes and 1 tsp salt in a medium saucepan, add enough water to cover by 1”, and bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce the heat and simmer until tender, about 10 minutes.  Drain well and let cool for several minutes.  Transfer to a large bowl and season with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.

In a 10” ovenproof skillet, melt 1 Tbsp of the butter over medium heat.  Add the green onion slices and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and starting to brown, 4 to 5 minutes.  Transfer to the bowl of potatoes.  Return the pan to the heat and add 1 Tbsp of the butter and 1 Tbsp olive oil.  Raise the heat to medium high.  When the butter has melted, add the broccoli and 1/4 tsp salt.  Cover and cook for 2 minutes.  Uncover and cook, stirring, until the florets are mostly brown on all sides and have lost much of their stiffness, 3 to 4 more minutes.  Remove from the heat, let cool for a few minutes, and transfer the broccoli to the bowl of potatoes and scallions.  Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes.  Wipe out the skillet.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, cream, 1/2 tsp salt, Worcestershire sauce and several grinds of pepper.  Stir in the cheese.  Add the broccoli mixture and stir well.

Return the skillet to medium-high heat and add the remaining 1/2 Tbsp butter and 1 tsp olive oil.  When the butter has melted and begun to sizzle, pour and scrape all the vegetable custard mixture into the skillet.  Gently stir once or twice to move the contents of the pan around so everything is evenly distributed.  Let the pan sit on the heat until the custard is just beginning to set, 1 to 2 minutes.  Pour the custard mixture into a 10” round baking dish, and bake until the frittata is puffed, golden and set, about 25 minutes.  (Or take a chance and put the skillet directly in the oven.)

Let the frittata cool in the pan for 15 to 20 minutes.  The flavour gets better as it sits, so eat it warm or at room temperature, or even the next day.  Cut into wedges and serve.

Thursday's Child: The Colosseum, Rome

Thursday, September 13, 2012

This month I’m writing about impressive architecture we’ve seen on our travels, and one of the most iconic buildings we’ve visited was Rome’s Colosseum.  This amphitheatre was built 2000 years ago, with a capacity of 55,000 spectators.  It was home to an incredible number of spectacles, including several occasions when it was flooded to stage reenactments of naval battles.

I first saw it when I travelled with Contiki Tours in my mid-20s.  Of course I was impressed with the Colosseum: It’s so big!  I’m standing where the emperors used to stand!  Is there a gelato shop around here? 

(Readers who are around my age may be amused at my journal description of going dancing that night: “but I only stayed until midnight because I was pretty tired”.  Sightseeing all day and dancing til midnight.  Ah, the exuberance of youth.)

I visited again a couple of years ago, and I felt a little more conflicted.  I could still admire its architecture, but now thought about the cruelty that the Colosseum had been home to.  Gladiators fought to the death, wild animals were released and battled for the amusement of the audience.  Those emperors in whose spot I stood made life-or-death decisions about the entertainers in the arena before them.

History is complicated.  And as so often happens, there’s no ‘good’ or ‘bad’, just that gray area in between.  I wanted to love this stunning building unreservedly, for its prominence in such a powerful empire and its sheer beauty and longevity.  But its sad history made me reevaluate how I felt about it.  In the end, I tried to accept it as it was, a beautiful monument to an empire that’s known for its brilliant engineering, cruel games, and political domination.

Late summer

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The kids are back at school and summer is just about over.  The days are getting shorter, and we all have a little more briskness in our steps.  This morning, the weather in Toronto was cool enough that I wore a jacket to church.  But it’s supposed to be warmer tomorrow, and it feels like the tail end of summer rather than the beginning of fall.

With that in mind, I hope it isn’t too late to post a barbecue recipe.  This salmon is one of my favourites on the grill – the sweet mustard complements the tender salmon perfectly.  I could eat this salmon every weekend, no matter what season it was.

Grilled Salmon with Crunchy Sweet Mustard Vinaigrette
(from epicurious, originally from Bobby Flay’s Boy Gets Grill)

For the vinaigrette:

3 Tbsp white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp coarse or whole grain Dijon mustard
1 small shallot, finely chopped
2 Tbsp honey
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the salmon:

4 (6 to 8 oz) salmon fillets, 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick, with skin on
olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper


Whisk the vinegar, mustard and shallot together in a medium bowl.  Gradually whisk in the honey, then the oil, until the dressing is emulsified.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  (The vinaigrette can be made a few hours in advance, covered, and kept refrigerated.  Bring to room temperature and whisk or shake well before serving.)


Heat grill to high.  Brush the fish on both sides with oil and season with salt and pepper.  Grill the salmon skin side down until the skin is lightly charred and crisp, 4 to 5 minutes.  Turn the fillets over, reduce the heat to medium or move to a cooler part of the grill, and cook until just cooked through but not falling apart, 2 to 3 minutes more.

Remove the fish to serving plates or a platter and spoon a few tablespoons of vinaigrette over each fillet.  Serve immediately.

Thursday's Child: Catherine Palace, Russia

Thursday, September 6, 2012

This month I’ll be writing about four incredible works of architecture that we’ve seen, and I’ll start with Russia’s impressive Catherine Palace.

We visited the Catherine Palace, a short drive from St. Petersburg, in August 2011.  This palace had a modest beginning when it was first built by Catherine I.  Her daughter, Empress Elizabeth, thought it was much too simple.  In the mid-eighteenth century, she essentially had it torn down, then rebuilt by a series of four architects.  An enormous sum of both state money and her own resources were used in its creation.

The result was a staggering array of extravagance that stunned both her countrymen and the foreign politicians who visited.  The exterior was coated with over 100 kg of gold and the building is 325 meters (nearly 1000 feet) long; inside, every room was decorated in a manner that matched the exterior’s opulence.

The saddest part of the history of this glorious building occurred during the Second World War.  After the terrible siege of Leningrad, retreating Germans annihilated the interior of the palace.  Fortunately, prior to the war many of its contents had been noted and archived.  When restoration work began about thirty years ago, restorers relied on these archives to achieve as accurate a result as possible.  Currently, about half of the rooms have been redecorated to their former beauty.

The Catherine Palace is one of the most popular sights in St. Petersburg, for good reason.  The regal exterior with its golden domes is a good indication that the interior will be equally breathtaking.  Although we weren’t permitted to take photos in the one-of-a-kind Amber Room, we could in many of the other rooms.  

The Great Hall is almost 1000 square meters in size (nearly 10,000 square feet) and spans from one side of the building to the other.  That means a lovely view is possible from both sides of the room, and a maximum of light flows in.

The Cavalier’s dining room was used for small balls and gatherings.  Notice the mirrored walls: it was considered to be too small, so they used mirrors, windows and lighting to make the room seem bigger!

A New Beginning

Sunday, September 2, 2012

I remember the day my oldest daughter started grade one.  After two years of attending kindergarten for a few hours in the afternoon, she’d be at school most of the day.

I thought I was ready, but as I stood in the schoolyard I felt my eyes well up as she walked confidently into the school with the rest of her class.  She was growing up, and she was ready for it, but our lives would never be quite the same.

Today we are driving her to university, where she’ll be starting another stage of her life.  She is growing up, and she’s ready for it, but our lives will never be quite the same.

The hardest thing we do as parents is to prepare our children for a series of good-byes. Every time they move to a new stage of life, they become a little more independent and a little less reliant on us.  That’s the way it should be, but that doesn’t make it any easier as we wave good-bye.

On Mother’s Day of this year, my daughter gave me an envelope to be opened after she left for university.  After we wave goodbye to her this morning, I’ll open it and see what’s inside.  I’ll also pull out some old photo albums and revisit some of our special memories, including that first day of grade one where she set off into a new world with confidence.