The Fruit Detective

July 31, 2009

“Most food writing is about cooking– it’s less about the ingredients than about the rendering of those ingredients, and the consuming of them in communal settings. [David] Karp is interested in the primal act of tasting– eating fruit right from the tree, vine or bush. (“I’m not a foodie,” he says. “I’m a fruitie.”) His goal is sensual pleasure, but he has a rarefied idea of what fruit should taste like. The particular kind of taste he’s after is one that the nineteenth-century writers on fruit described as “high flavor”– a fecund, almost gamy taste that, according to Karp, has been all but lost as fruits have been bred for mass production and long-distance shipping. “High flavor is the flavor of a pheasant, hung until high, “he said. “You bite into the fruit, you taste the sugar, the texture, the acidity, and there’s an almost overpowering aroma. That’s what fruit should taste like. But Americans don’t know that, because most of the fruit we eat is trash fruit.” A real peach, allowed to ripen on the tree, is too fragile to withstand the rigors of a cross country journey by truck or train, and so breeders have created low-acid, high-sugar peaches, which can be picked when they’re still very had but still taste sort of sweet.”
Excerpt from “The Fruit Detective” by John Seabrook, The New Yorker, August 19, 2002

Peach and Mango Cobbler

July 26, 2009

I made a yummy favourite this week (can’t believe its taken me so long to write about it!). I have made this peach cobbler for a variety of occasions– one involved a house-warming-baby-welcoming supper I made for friends a couple years ago  where this dessert finished off a meal of chicken stewed with prunes and capers. We ate the cobbler piping hot and bubbling out of the oven topped with melting vanilla ice cream. Another fond memory of this dish was when I made it for a group of friends in China. I couldn’t find the regular yellow western style peaches in the super market  so we used a crunchy white peach and it turned out equally delicious, with a nice clean bite.

In those instances I followed the original peach cobbler recipe and used sugar. Last Monday I made it to celebrate the birthday of  a dear friend who cannot eat refined sugar.

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To jazz things up a bit, I added in fresh sliced mango and substituted honey for the sugar in both the topping and the filling. A sprinkle of cardamom before it went into the oven helped round out the flavours.

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The original recipe is from Epicurious.com (Gourmet 1999) but here is my adapted version:

Mango Peach Cobbler

6 medium peaches cut into thin slices

1 large ripe mango (remove seed and cut into thin slices)

1/4 cup honey

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon corn starch

For biscuit topping

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup honey

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1/8 – 1/4  cup boiling water

1/2 tsp ground cardamom for sprinkling

Cook peaches:
Preheat oven to 425°F.

Toss peaches, mangos, lemon juice, and cornstarch in a bowl. Add the honey and toss gently to coat fruit. Butter a 2-qt. nonreactive baking dish and pour the fruit into the dish. Bake in middle of oven 10 minutes.

Make topping while peaches bake:
Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt. Blend in butter with your fingertips  until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in honey (batter will look like a sticky mess.) Stir in enough hot water until  combined but go gently so that it doesn’t get to liquidy.

Remove peaches from oven and drop spoonfuls of topping over them.  Sprinkle the 1/2 tsp ground cardamom over the topping. Bake in middle of oven until topping is golden, about 25 minutes. (Topping will spread as it bakes.)

Serve warm or room temperature with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Serves about 6-8 people unless you are inhaling large plate fulls of it.

Elizabeth, Amrita and baby Lucien came over for brunch on Friday. It was a perfect opportunity for me to try out a new recipe I tore out of this month’s Gourmet magazine: fresh corn pancakes. One of the things I positively adore about summer time is the appearance of fresh, sweet corn in the markets. I’ll buy a few ears at the farmer’s market or at my local Korean grocery round the corner, but it is rare that the corn ever actually makes it into a cooking pot because I munch the kernels raw off the cob or slice them off into salads. This recipe for pancakes is quite simple, except for the extra step of blending a half cup of corn kernels with milk before adding other ingredients to make a batter. Unless I am making a soup or puree, my heart tends to sink when I see “blender” in a recipe—this means the machine will need to be hauled out of the cupboard, assembled, used, and then washed and put away.

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I might have to play with the recipe in the future and see how it turns out without the blending. As it was, it was delicious—a piping hot cake of light, doughy goodness filled with generous mouthfuls of tender, just-barely cooked corn kernels that still had a bit of crunch to them. All this slathered with sour cream and a crisp, not too spicy tomato salsa. When next I make these cakes, I think I will try adding a handful of chopped cilantro for some more colour.

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One of my other favourite summer dishes is a salad with fresh strawberries. Since I won’t buy a fresh tomato until they hit the farmers market or come up in my garden, strawberries in season are a welcome addition of colour, flavor and juiciness to a standard salad. My quickest concoction involves a mix of lettuce and whatever tasty salad greens are in the garden (arugula, baby spinach, mache), about a cup of sliced strawberries, a sliced cucumber, the raw kernels off an ear of corn, and a handful of toasted pecans. If I’m making a meal of it I’ll add some sliced roast chicken to give it some protein. Dress with a generous drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and some salt and pepper. For brunch with A, E and baby L I used toasted pinenuts instead of pecans, skipped the corn, added a bit of goat cheese, chopped in some fresh mint and made a proper vinaigrette.

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And of course I was trying out a new cupcake recipe: a luscious banana cake with a cream cheese frosting topped with walnuts. The secret to these lovely cakes is sour cream, butter and lemon peel. Am definitely offering these for order on the website.

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Fresh Corn Pancakes (adapted from Gourmet Magazine, July 2009. )

1 cup all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
3 ears of corn
3/4 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Whisk together flour, baking powder, sugar, and 1 tsp salt in a medium bowl. Cut enough kernels from cobs to measure 2 cups. Using back of a knife, scrape pulp from cobs and transfer to a blender with milk and 1/2 cup corn. Purée until smooth, then strain through a sieve into another medium bowl, pressing on and then discarding solids. Whisk in eggs, oil, and butter. Add to flour mixture with remaining 1 1/2 cups corn and whisk until just combined.

Heat a griddle or heavy skillet over medium heat until hot, then lightly brush with oil or butter. Working in batches, pour 1/3 cup batter per pancake onto griddle and cook until bubbles appear on surface and undersides are golden-brown, about 2 minutes. Flip with a spatula and cook until undersides are golden-brown, about 1 minute more
Serve warm with salsa and sour cream, or for a sweet, with warmed maple syrup.

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“Except the vine, there is no plant which bears a fruit of as great importance as the olive.”
—Pliny (AD 23-79)

“The whole Mediterranean, the sculpture, the palm, the gold beads, the bearded heroes, the wine, the ideas, the ships, the moonlight, the winged gorgons, the bronze men, the philosophers -all of it seems to rise in the sour, pungent taste of these black olives between the teeth. A taste older than meat, older than wine. A taste as old as cold water.”
—Lawrence Durrell, Prospero’s Cell (1945)

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Friends have been telling me to do this for about a year now so here I finally am setting it up. I am still amazed that anyone even spends any time going through blogs but I hear that they are quite addictive so lets see what happens. I’m doing this because I’ve also started a cupcake baking business (yummy cupcakes made to order) which promises to be super fun. But I do like the idea of talking generally about food since heaven knows, there is more to life than baking cupcakes. So, this first post is dedicated to my two muses: Elizabeth and LG . (I hope I’m allowed to post names on blogs…hmm). Elizabeth, because the two of us can talk about food until the cows come home (literally in the form of steak frites in our frying pans) and LG because he takes the most beautiful pictures of my food and my parties that I have ever seen.

I hope we can have some fun with this.