Peach-Blueberry Galette + “Market Research”

Fresh produce connected the dots of my culinary journey through Europe. Punnets of strawberries packed for a picnic by the Seine and in palatial parks. Sprightly bell peppers cut into matchsticks and nibbled with Comté aboard the train. Plastic cups overflowing with nuggets of pineapple and melon hawked by Mercat de La Boqueria vendors to unwitting tourists for four times the price of the same amount of produce just a few feet farther (A-, N-, R-, and I ventured past, before opting for bargain juices four times cheaper than what we would find at farmer’s markets back home). Pan con tomate and tortilla española, perfumed from floral olive oils and paired with glasses of feathery, effervescent Cava.

This celebration of the seasonal has followed me back to America. My windowsill now hosts pots of chives and basil, ready to be folded into omelettes and layered in caprese salads. I have mixed mango into muesli, squeezed lemons into muffin top batter, and slathered strawberry sauce on panna cotta. Yet, still, I find myself dreaming in flavours that I once took for granted. A bag of cherries as precious as polished rubies, their worth weighed in the palm of my hand. Creamy avocados sliced over salads or scrambled with eggs the way my sister does, fluffier than cumulus clouds – my kryptonite. Peaches bursting out of their velvety skins and dribbling juice down your chin – my nectar and ambrosia.

I remember the first peach that I had in college. One night, a basket of peaches appeared in the dining hall. I pounced on them. They bore signs of jetlag, but I did not care. The peach bruised at my fingertips as I built up to that first bite, a moment of great anticipation; the seconds following, of bitter disappointment. It was an experience comparable to, I imagine, eating a hairball. I finished the peach on principle, before retreating to fantasies of peach jam and peach cobbler and peaches in their purest form, plucked straight from the tree on an Okanagan family vacation.

So when I was feeling the itch to make a galette à la Paris street food, laced with crisp edges and oozing with filling, and when I spotted just-ripe peaches at the grocery store, I knew it was meant to be. This galette recipe happens to be gluten-free and dairy-free, for those of you with associated food allergies or sensitivities. I happen to love the robust, earthy flavour of buckwheat, which is usually used for such a galette, but since my recent experiments with nut products (vanilla almond milk, cinnamon raisin cashew cream) left me with a surfeit of almond meal, almond milk, and cashew cream, I incorporated those instead. I could see other sweet and savoury combinations bringing out the almond flavor of the crepes – claret cherry compote, roasted pear and blue cheese medley, caramelized onions and Gruyère, brown butter and sage sweet potato stuffing – but for my peach craving, this galette hit the spot.
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Patriotic Pavlova

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As an Americanadian, I have the privilege of celebrating the birth of nations on both sides of the 49th parallel. I grew up among Canadians who, come July 1st, would fire up their grills in the day, watch fireworks displays at night, and, for the avid bakers, seize the opportunity to cater a dessert buffet coloured red and white.

In comparison, the 4th of July boasts a more boisterous brand of patriotism. From infancy, Americans learn to brandish their heritage, enrobing themselves in stars and stripes, a sartorial statement that they are red, white, and blue, through and through. Gaggles of college guys, buzzed from beer and sunshine, chant about freedom and “‘Murica,” met with mild disapproval or, equally as often, mild amusement. And whereas the Canadian anthem sings smoothly and slowly, the American anthem rides like a roller coaster that hurtles up to high notes when you least expect them, prone to producing off-key cadences either belted out with gusto or, for those with less vocal aptitude and lung capacity like yours truly, finished in a winded, wheezing flourish.

Yet, what threatens to become a day of star-spangled sensory overload somehow does not. Instead, it is a symphony of sounds, smells, and sights – watermelon split open with the thwack of a knife and perfuming the air, children and canine companions splashing in swimming pools and lakes, fireworks blasting and blooming across the sky – harmonizing into one loud and proud commemoration of independence and celebration of America’s birthday.

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This Patriotic Pavlova operates in much the same way. Sundry flavors, aromas, and textures coalesce into a confection that somehow works. The gentle heat of the oven coaxes the marshmallowy cloud into a meringue. A crisp crust forms and, promptly thereafter, cracks, folding and fissuring under its own weight. Yogurt whipped into cream, once dolloped onto the meringue, simultaneously creeps into the crevices and crests in soft, snowy peaks. A halo of blueberries and cherries soon joins the cream in crowning the confection. Tart fruit juices burst like sunbeams with every bite, counterbalancing the tang of yogurt and the delicate sweetness of the meringue. In the sticky summer heat, scoops of vanilla ice cream plopped onto plates pool around the slices of pavlova, ready to catch any crumb or shard that breaks off when spoon carves into crust. It is as airy-fairy as ballet performances by its eponym and sugar-spun fantasies of Bomb Pops and flag cakes realized on this special day.

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Gorgonzola and Greens Pasta + The (Sort of) Last Supper

IMG_4937We thought that it would be our last shared meal for a long time. In fact, that “long time” turned out to be six-and-a-half sleepy hours, before he joined me in eating corn flakes bathed in cold milk, mine slightly soggy and peppered with peanuts, his still crisp enough to create crunching noises in rhythm with the steady striking of rain. Bowls rinsed, bags gathered, bodies embraced and released all too soon, I set out beneath a canopy of steel-grey clouds that flapped like slashed curtains.

See you laters can be just as hard as goodbyes, especially when the point at which “later” will become “now” remains undefined. After finishing my final college exam on the final day of Finals Period, I went through Senior Week and Commencement Week much like many of my peers, seeing and saying see you later to the people whose presence had enriched and defined the last four years of my life, whose absence would at first feel alien. In a flurry of duct-taped boxes, UPS receipts, and flights, I was off romping through Europe with A-, N-, and R-, spending more time applying knowledge gained in my senior spring architecture course and expanding my stomach for gelato after every meal than I was dwelling on having to part ways with my travel companions eventually, for a long time, or at least for some time.

Despite what this post may suggest, super-sentimentality is far from my natural frame of mind. I could, and will now attempt to, keep this post crossing the line to nostalgia by noting all of the recent developments that have kept me engaged, excited, looking forward to the future while reveling in the present: moving into my first apartment (small but cozy, with fluffy carpet, at least twice as much counter space than my cramped dorm kitchens ever had, and a price that’s right for D.C.), assembling my small set of furniture (received piece by piece in the mail), getting reacquainted with the Metro (that is, paying steep fares, Kindle-ing it up, and being sandwiched between sweaty strangers), getting to know the locals (almost jarringly genuinely friendly, opening doors, holding elevators, and beaming smiles without fail), and starting my first full-time salaried job (I have already learned a lot from colleagues generous with their knowledge and their time). I have loved the past few weeks and cannot wait to see what the next, and yet more after, will bring.

But when the inevitable desire to reminisce about college, Europe, and the time spent in those places with people whom I love dearly arrives, I’ll gather some Gorgonzola, greens, and grains, and recreate my last supper with A-, itself inspired by one of our last meals in Venice. We made a few modifications, in part to use up pantry ingredients, in part on a whim. We threw in several handfuls of baby spinach, substituted pepitas for pistachios, and added a good glug of heavy cream nearing expiration. What we did make sure to include was Gorgonzola, rich and robust, our tried-and-true cheese that we had bought in blue-marbled blocks and smeared over crusty €1 baguettes wherever we picnicked in Europe and, most memorably, that we had devoured in that tagliatelle dish. One of my mottos for the trip (and in my life, really) was “the dairier, the merrier,” as a healthy appetite for adventure and cheese – nutty Comté, buttery Brie, and milky mozzarella still warm in its pillowy and pliant bundle – sustained us through scaling seemingly endless stairways, navigating labyrinths of alleyways, and crossing borders via overnight bus. Anointed with velvety and pleasantly pungent sauce, streaked with spinach, and freckled with pepitas and black pepper, this dish is the epitome of comfort food, reminding me of good times that were had and manifold good times to come, much sooner than later.

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Berry Basil Panna Cotta + Venetian Reflection

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The City of Water lived up to its name. As if to counterbalance the surfeit of sunshine that my travel companions and I had enjoyed in other European cities, Venice gave us days during which it rarely stopped raining. Water maintained a permanent presence, churning in the canals, running in rivulets between pavement stones, and flooding the Piazza San Marco, summoning street vendors peddling ponchos and umbrellas to drenched tourists. When tiptoeing around ever-expanding puddles proved futile, my comrades and I lugged our waterlogged selves, sodden shoes and all, through the city.

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Brief interludes of sunshine bookended storms and brightened our moods, permitting us to wander down winding roads and to take a gondola ride down the Grand Canal, during which our gondolier peppered us with Venetian trivia while we soaked in the sights, before seeking shelter from torrential downpour once more.IMG_4970

Restaurants were our favourite refuge. We filled up on flavourful Venetian fare, sometimes to to the point of feeling like overstuffed ravioli: heaping platefuls of pasta in myriad shapes, sizes, and sauces; pillowy pieces of still-warm mozzarella sandwiched between tomato slices and basil leaves; and piping-hot pizzas topped with molten ricotta, all washed down with glasses of wine as cheap as water.

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In the midst of gorging on great food and wringing water out of hair, I encountered one of the best desserts of the entire trip, which was high praise considering that I had already eaten my weight in gelato by the time we had reached Venice. A shot glass of panna cotta, studded with just with enough pieces of strawberry to stain my lips pink and to make me crave more, serves as the inspiration for this recipe.

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My version of panna cotta – or “pan”-na cotta, as I like to pun – embraces more unabashedly the flavour of fragola, a fruit as curvaceous and delicious as the softly rounded Italian word sounds. Sweet strawberries, hand-picked by me at a Michigan farm back here in America and macerated with fresh basil and mint, complement the tartness of the lemon juice and the yogurt incorporated into the panna cotta. Easy to make and even easier to enjoy, this panna cotta is the perfect summer dessert.

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Cashew Maple Condensed Milk Cake

 CASHEW MAPLE CONDENSED MILK CAKE

Ingredients

Cake:
1 can sweetened condensed milk
½ cup maple milk
4 eggs
1 cup flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup finely chopped cashews

Frosting + Toppings:
2 cups plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons maple syrup
½ roughly chopped cashews

C + M + CM + ♥ = CMCMC

This recipe is made for the rare occasion when you have leftover maple syrup in the fridge and a spare can of condensed milk in your pantry. Throw in a hodgepodge of other ingredients, mix with a lot of love, and, soon enough, you will have baked a no-brainer cake. The maple Greek yogurt frosting strikes the balance between tangy and sweet, jazzing up an otherwise basic condensed milk cake. Any nuts would work well in this cake. I went with cashews when devising this recipe, because 1) those were the nuts that I had on hand, and 2) who doesn’t love a palatable palindrome? Bake at 350º for about 30 minutes, and let cool before frosting the layers. Perfect as a mid-week pick-me-up or for weekend tea time.

Comet Cookies: Citrus-Scented Chocolate Açaí Berry Pistachio Cookies

COMET COOKIES

Ingredients

⅓ cup granulated sugar
⅔ cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla bean caviar
1 egg
1 tablespoon flax seed
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon coffee grinds
½ teaspoon baking soda
1¾ cup flour
1¼ cup chocolate-covered açaí berries
Salted pistachios
14 tablespoons butter, divided
Orange zest

It’s Not Rocket Science

Baking these out-of-this-world bonbons is no rocket science. All you need is a little gumption and less than half an hour of self-restraint (believe me, those tantalizingly tempting chocolate-covered açaí berries will taste light-years better in these cookies than by the fistful on their own) to concoct comet confections in your kitchen.

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Monkey Marshmallow Brownie Bites

MONKEY MARSHMALLOW BROWNIE BITES

Ingredients

Flour
Cocoa powder
Greek yogurt
Peanut butter
Mashed banana
Mini marshmallows
A drizzle of honey

Go Bananas

Does “two-bite® brownies” ring a bell? You know, those little monsters that should actually be named “pound-down-by-the-bag® brownies”? I venture that these brownie bites are even better. A bold claim, I know, but how could peanut butter and banana not make brownie bites better? The combination is incomparable. Married with mini marshmallows that impart a chewy texture, behold a match made in heaven.

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