Monthly Archives: July 2011

Beetroot and Chickpea Salad

I am very fortunate that I get to spend my summers at our cottage by the lake. We entertain guests all summer long and really enjoy being hosts. However, there is something so nice about being a guest every once in a while. Last weekend we got to play the role of guests as we headed off to visit friends at their cottage in The Muskokas.

For the purpose of this post, I will call our friends, “Mr. and  Mrs. Monkey.” Of course, that is not their real names, but I am reluctant to reveal their identity for fear that once everyone learns what generous hosts they are,  they will soon be over run with guests and will no longer have space for us.

I have nicknamed them “Mr. and Mrs. Monkey” as they share a certain personality trait with that animal.

“Tests in Capuchin monkeys showed the animals consistently chose to share food with another monkey if given the option, suggesting they are capable of empathy, the team at the Yerkes Research Center at Emory University in Atlanta found.

“They seem to care for the welfare of those they know,” Frans de Waal, director of the Living Links Center at Yerkes, said in a statement.

His team tested eight female brown Capuchin monkeys in pairs. They could choose a token that gave only themselves a treat or an option that rewarded both of them, called a pro-social option.

“The fact the Capuchins predominantly selected the pro-social option must mean seeing another monkey receive food is satisfying or rewarding for them,” said de Waal.

Our friends are indeed generous and gracious hosts, just like those Capuchin Monkeys. When we arrived, hot and tired, after a 5 hour drive, Mrs. Monkey had the Prosecco chilled and ready to open. She immediately ushered us to the dock for cocktails.

While we were in the kitchen, getting the Angus Bear Paw Burgers ready for dinner, I noticed that the fridge had a chalkboard panel where Mr. Monkee had written “Dad’s 10 Statements”. One of his rules to live by is further evidence that my friends are caring about the welfare of others.

“In life there are givers and takers, always be a giver!”

The next morning, my husband and The Monkees decided to go for a 60 km bike ride. I opted out and offered to have lunch ready when they returned. When I mentioned that I was going to go out for a power walk, Mrs. Monkee loaned me  a hat, some sunblock, headphones for my i-pod (I had forgotten mine), some Bounce dryer sheets (excellent to clip onto your hat as the scent keeps the deer flies away) and a bear whistle.

WHAT??? A bear whistle? She explained that there had been a bear citing a few weeks ago so runners were advised to blow a whistle every so often to keep bears away. Like I said, she is so giving and generous. Off they went on their bike ride and I went for my walk, blowing that whistle every 30 seconds. While I did not have a bear sighting, I did attract every dog within a 30 mile radius!

After I got back from my walk and cooled off in the lake, I got to work on lunch. Mrs. Monkee had thoughtfully left the recipe out for me. I looked at the open page of the beautiful cookbook she left out for me. “Beetroot and Chickpea Salad.”

Okay, here was my dilemma. I hate beets. I want so badly to like them, because they are so beautiful, but every time I try to eat one, I gag. They have a certain earthiness that I just can’t deal with. I have tried them roasted,steamed and grilled. I have tried, golden beets, candy cane (striped)beets, and baby beets.  I just can’t stand them.  So, what to do? Do I accidentally throw the beets out, and say I couldn’t find them or do I just suck it up like a gracious guest and make the beet salad.

Of course I did the right thing and made the salad, beets and all. (Mom, you raised me right!) Mrs. Monkee had already gone to the trouble of roasting and peeling the beets, so all I had to do was slice them up and prepare the dressing and other salad ingredients.

The dressing was the most unusual combination of ingredients I had ever seen. Chickpeas, beets, lemon juice, garlic, mint, sugar and olive oil, all blended to make a smooth dressing. It was just so strange that I had to taste it. Say… I do like beets, well beet salad dressing,… after all. The other ingredients mellowed the beet taste and just a hint of beet was all I could taste in the dressing.

I added some water and a bit more oil than the recipe called for, to thin out the dressing. I also pureed the heck out of it so it was quite smooth. I washed some spinach, diced some celery and cucumbers and soaked some red onions to add to the salad.

The salad is topped with additional chick peas, beets and some feta. Mrs. Monkee arrived home just in time to toss.

At lunch, I politely ate around the beets, leaving a little hill of them at the side of my plate. Mrs. Monkey, politely ate the beets off my plate. After 38 years of friendship, no words were necessary.

Click here to print the recipe for Beetroot and Chickpea Salad.

Cherry Cake with Pistachio Crumble Topping

If you happened to be at Your Independent Grocer (or “THE YIG“, as my sister likes to call it) in Smiths Falls, Ontario, last Wednesday, at around 2:30 p.m, and you heard a crazy woman let out a gleeful scream, well, that would be me. You see, as I turned the corner, just past the pluots and nectarines, I spied a bin filled with Ranier cherries.

The Rainier cherry is the sweetest, prettiest and most pampered of cherries. Developed in 1953, it is a cross between the Bing and Van varieties. Golden to orange to pale red in colour on the outside, one bite reveals a creamy yellow flesh. They are more delicate and sweeter than Bing cherries. The season for Ranier cherries is extremely short, a few weeks in mid July, and then it’s over.

During cherry season, I eat cherries like it’s my job. During Ranier cherry season, I work overtime! I filled my cart with several bags of Ranier cherries and probably ate at least a pound of them on the drive back to the cottage. I continued to gorge on Ranier cherries for the next several days and pretty soon I was sweating cherry juice. (In my defense, it was quite humid.) It became apparent that I would have to do something with the cherries before the rest spoiled.

Tartelette’s blog  came to my rescue! If you haven’t discovered this blog yet, I urge you to go on over for a visit. It is charming and filled with wonderful recipes and gorgeous drool inducing photography. She made little cherry cakes topped with a pistachio crumble. Brimming with fresh cherries and slightly flavoured with lemon zest. this cake is a wonderful way to celebrate cherry season. I made it with my surplus of Ranier cherries, but in hindsight, the flavour of Ranier cherries is so delicate, and the colour so pale, they were lost in the cake. Next time I make it, I will use Bing cherries.

Pitting the cherries is the most time-consuming task in making this cake. if you don’t have a cherry pitter, do it this way:

The crumble and cake come together very quickly. I made a 9 inch square cake, although if you have mini cake pans, it would make an adorable presentation!

Click here to print recipe for Cherry Cakes With Pistachio Crumble Topping .

Multi-Grain Corn Cakes

Sometimes when I finish a book,I have a very hard time starting a new one. With certain books, the characters stay with you for a long time and you are reluctant to begin a new book, because you aren’t quite ready to say goodbye to the old one. This happened to me after finishing “The Faith Club”, a true story written shortly after the horror of 9/11.

“Welcome to the Faith Club. We’re three mothers from three faiths—Islam, Christianity, and Judaism—who got together to write a picture book for our children that would highlight the connections between our religions. But no sooner had we started talking about our beliefs and how to explain them to our children than our differences led to misunderstandings. Our project nearly fell apart.”

At this point, you may be wondering if you missed something here. When did Salt and Serenity stop writing about food, and start reviewing books, and what about those multi-grain corn cakes? I actually came to make these corn cakes because I couldn’t pick up another novel quite yet. You see, I took “Good to the Grain” (Kim Boyce’s new book about baking with whole grains) to bed with me to read last week.

I have made several things from the book, and enjoyed them very much, but then I somehow got sidetracked and forgot about it. I stayed up very late reading, and in the morning I was raring to go to bake with whole grains.

In the multigrain chapter of the book, Kim gives a recipe for a multigrain flour mix  consisting of whole wheat flour, oat flour, barley flour,millet flour and rye flour. I headed out to my local bulk food store and stocked up. She says to mix up a batch of these flours and keep it in the jar on the counter to use in all sorts of recipes.

I decided to adapt my regular corn cakes recipe and substitute the all-purpose flour in the recipe with this mixture.

They looked good, but the taste was bitter and the texture was leaden. Had to toss that batch. I decided to take a step back and add whole grains a bit more slowly. I played around a bit more and threw out a few more corn cakes until I finally hit upon this combination of grains:

As I was cutting the corn off the cob, I pondered the milk decision, buttermilk or whole milk?

I decided to mix up a batch of each, The buttermilk mixture (on the left) looked so much more promising, thicker and all bubbly. I had high hopes for it!

By this time, it was getting close to lunch, so I threw in a diced jalapeno pepper.

The buttermilk batch did indeed cook up higher and a bit fluffier, but I found the taste of the whole milk one have a purer corn flavour. The buttermilk seemed to subdue the corn flavour and overpower it.

At last, I found the perfect combination. This final batch, had the goodness of whole grains, the crunch from corn meal and fresh corn, the heat of jalapenos and the fresh dairy taste from whole milk. Fried in a little bit of butter, these corn cakes were crispy around the edges and soft on the inside. They disappeared very quickly.

All that was left was the mess!

To print this recipe click Multi-Grain Corn Cakes

Summer Crostini

There are times when you feel like being culinarily creative and making beautiful lunches like these for weekend cottage guests.

And there are times when you don’t feel like moving from here:

and want to suggest to those guests that they just help themselves to a peanut butter and sour cherry jam sandwich!

Happily there are several options in between these two. Option #1, and my personal favourite, is when weekend guests are invited and invariably ask what they can bring, suggest “lunch for Saturday.” When my mother heard that I do this on a regular basis, she was horrified. Had she not raised me to be a gracious host?

Actually, I think that people feel happy to contribute when being invited for the weekend (or longer, and those to whom I am referring, know exactly who you are!) And truthfully, it’s not the cooking that I mind. It’s the planning and figuring out what to make that takes up so much mental energy. So it’s nice to let someone else figure it all out and just show up at the table and be surprised. However, there is a caveat here. Make sure that your friends are comfortable in the kitchen and possess a basic skill set for preparing  meals.

I have one friend who used to use up every dish, pot and utensil when she prepared her meals. We would eat brunch at 2 in the afternoon. They were exquisite brunches but way too much for a cottage. Happily, she has gotten into the swing of things and now prepares perfect meals without destroying the kitchen. This friend is in fact, so comfortable in my kitchen and knows exactly where everything goes, that she and my husband joke that in the event of my demise, she will just slip seamlessly into place and become the woman of the house. Truthfully, all my friends are wonderful cooks and I love having them take over my kitchen.

Another friend makes sure we always have enough wine and her salads and salad dressings are so creative and inspiring. Did you ever notice how much better salad tastes when someone else makes it?

One friend takes her responsibility so seriously that she begins researching the meal she will prepare as soon as we settle on a weekend. She is an extremely accomplished cook and last year we feasted on Peruvian Grilled Chicken, Chile Roasted Sweet Potatoes and a 7 Layer Coconut Cake for our Saturday night dinner. Her husband is a skilled mixologist and she just told me he has perfected the Negroni, so I am looking forward to sampling that when they come to visit in August.

Option # 2, if you just aren’t comfortable turning over your kitchen, or have control issues or whatever, is to cook on auto-pilot. Perfect one special lunch and just make it every weekend, for the rotation of guests that turn up. If you have different guests every weekend they won’t know that you do this and you will look perfectly at ease turning out a wonderful lunch.

Here is my auto-pilot lunch that got its test spin last weekend, to rave reviews, I may add. These crostinis  will be appearing on the menu every Saturday for the next 8 weeks!

These crostini were featured in an article in the June 2011 issue of Bon Appetit. I have adapted them slightly. The first one features ripe peaches, ricotta and honey. I made Homemade Ricotta Cheese, but feel free to use store-bought. Just don’t try making this with less than perfectly ripe peaches. Although the peaches I bought were not yet local, they were the “tree ripened” variety, and after a few days on the kitchen counter, they smelled like peaches.

The finished crostini get a drizzle of honey just before serving.

The second crostini has a base of feta, sour cream and pickled jalapenos. It is topped with grilled corn, cilantro and a squeeze of lime. For these I used a multi-grain baguette and rubbed the  grilled bread slices with a garlic clove.

I set out all the prepared ingredients on trays and let everyone assemble their own. Much easier and way more fun. There are so many excellent quality Artisan breads available in supermarkets now. Have fun with your choices but be sure you slice the bread thinly (less than 1/2 an inch thick). You want the toppings to be the star, not the bread.

Click here to print the recipe for Peach and Ricotta Crostini.

Click here to print the recipe for Grilled Corn Crostini