It’s that wonderful time of year when there is an abundance of fresh fruit available so why not make the most of it?! Peaches are a favorite of mine, not only because of their great taste but they have such versatility in their uses. Just for something different today, I want to take the peach idea in a whole different direction. These beautiful, old fashioned pastries were very popular in the 1980’s. They are known for their unique look that resembles a fresh peach with a flavor that is delicately sweet and buttery. Traditionally served at Italian wedding showers, Pesche (or peach), are now served at any celebration and may be found throughout many countries in Europe.
Peach cookies are two cookie domes, carved on the inside and paired together to hold a dollop of custard. Once assembled, they are dipped in Alchermes, a crimson colored liqueur infused with a blend of anise flowers, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, jasmine, mace, nutmeg, orange peel, sugar and vanilla. These ingredients are stepped in alcohol, which is then flavored with rose water. Alchermes gives these pastries a vibrant pink hue and a unique, light alcohol flavor that combines custard and cookie beautifully. To further enhance the peach resemblance, they are rolled in a sanding sugar.
Alchermes is a very ancient liqueur of Arabic origin. It’s main feature is an unmistakable scarlet color, which was originally acquired by adding ‘kermes’, a scale insect that eat oak trees. Modern alchermes liqueurs no longer use the kermes insect. Alchermes was created in the Frati’ Convent at Santa Maria Novella in Florence, Italy.
These peach cookies are an impressive dessert, perfect for special summer occasions. You can use any filling you choose such as a pastry cream, lemon curd, limoncello or just plain nutella spread. Since it is almost impossible to find the alchermes liqueur in Canada, I’ve listed a few substitutes that can be used instead.
Peach Cookies or Pesche
In a small bowl, combine filling ingredients; stir in reserved crumbs. Spoon into center holes of cookies & press together to form a peach.
In a shallow bowl, combine lemon & peach gelatin powder. Place package of strawberry gelatin in another bowl. Place sugar in a third bowl.
Working with one cookie at a time, spritz cookie with a bit of water. Dip in lemon mixture, then in strawberry gelatin & then in sugar. Spritz with additional water & add more gelatin as needed to create desired 'peach blush' effect. Place on a wire rack to dry for an hour. Attach mint leaves to top of each cookie with additional preserves. Store in refrigerator.
- Alchermes can be substituted for a peach liqueur or Chambord raspberry liqueur. For my peach cookies, I kept it simple & used a combination of jello powders to replicate the traditional idea.
Saskatoon berries are very high on my list of nostalgic memories from my childhood. How these little berries can evoke such a flood of treasured thoughts is amazing. Our family farm was located in Southern Alberta, (Canada). If you were to stand on our farmhouse, west veranda, the sight of the ‘foothills’ came into view (foothills are an upland area that flank the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains).
How wonderful it was to be able to pack a picnic lunch on a Sunday afternoon and be able to drive there. It was like a whole different world. A landscape of long ridges and rolling hills covered in native lodgepole pine, aspens and spruce trees. The small streams wound their way through meadows of dwarf birch, willow and prairie grasses. You could easily come across some of the beautiful wildlife such as elk, moose or deer that lived there.
This is where our family would go to pick saskatoon berries. Very often we were accompanied by family friends or relatives. It was such a great time, everyone picking berries together, eating Mom’s fabulous fried chicken and potato salad (etc. etc.) for our picnic lunch. I was looking at some pictures from those times. We must have had some hot dogs on one occasion and I burnt my mouth it seems. What priceless memories!
With ‘saskatoon season’ in full swing, Brion and I thought it would be great to pick our own this year. It certainly can’t get any fresher than that. We chose the U-Pick farm called GROVE BERRY PATCH. This is a family owned and operated farm with 20 acres of saskatoon berries and 1 acre of raspberries, black currants, highbush cranberries and vegetables. They are located 1.5 km south off Highway 16A on Spruce Valley Road, Spruce Grove, Alberta, Canada.
It was such a nice little adventure. The morning was beautiful and the atmosphere of the berry farm and its family owners was very enjoyable. We picked a pail full of gorgeous saskatoons in a short space of time. I had originally started out with thinking I would post one recipe but of course, its turns out to be three. They consist of some Saskatoon Rhubarb Tarts, Saskatoon Butter Tarts and some Saskatoon Cream Cheese Tarts. Yum!
We are adding a few pics, not only of the tarts but some from the berry farm as well as a couple from my childhood days. Hope you enjoy the blog.
Saskatoon Berry Tarts
Filling for SASKATOON RHUBARB TARTS
Filling for SASKATOON BUTTER TARTS
Filling for CREAM CHEESE SASKATOON TARTS
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder & salt until completely combined. Cut in butter with a pastry cutter or fork.
Measure the vinegar into a liquid measuring cup, then add enough ice cold water to make 1/2 cup. Pour over flour mixture, gently stir with a fork ONLY until combined. Wrap dough in plastic wrap & place in refrigerator for a minimum of an hour so it can chill well. When ready to use, Roll out dough on a lightly floured work surface. Using a 3 1/2" cookie cutter, cut out tart shells & place them in tart pans.
Saskatoon Rhubarb Filling & Streusel
In a small saucepan, combine saskatoons, diced rhubarb, sugar & cardamom. Set aside. In a small bowl, combine water, lemon juice & cornstarch. Whisk together to make a slurry. Add to to saucepan & cook on medium heat, stirring until mixture becomes thickened. Remove from heat; add vanilla & allow to cool before using.
FOR STREUSAL: Place all streusal ingredients in a small dish & combine with finger tips until crumbly. Spoon berry filling into tart shells & top with streusal. Bake at 375 F. until pastry is golden.
Saskatoon Butter Tart Filling
FOR BERRY TOPPING: In a small saucepan, mix together berries & water; simmer for 10 minutes over low-medium heat. In a separate bowl, mix together sugar & cornstarch then add to the berries & combine. Stir in lemon juice; simmer until mixture slightly thickens. Set aside to cool.
FOR BUTTER TART LAYER: First beat together eggs. In a saucepan, melt the butter then add sugar, vanilla, cream, raisins & beaten eggs. Bring to a boil over medium heat & boil for 3 minutes. Set aside to cool.
TO ASSEMBLE: Place a heaping Tbsp of butter tart mixture into each shell, then fill remainder of the tart shell with the berry topping mixture. DO NOT MIX. Bake at 375 F. for 15-18 minutes or until pastry is golden. Cool before removing from tart pans.
Cream Cheese Saskatoon Tart Filling
FOR BERRY TOPPING: Crush 1 cup of saskatoon berries & place in a small saucepan with 1 cup of water. Simmer about 2 minutes. Strain & return berry juice only to saucepan. Combine sugar & cornstarch; add to sauce. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until mixture is thick & clear. Remove from heat & stir in remaining 2 cups of saskatoons to glaze & stir gently. Pre-bake tart shells.
FOR CREAM CHEESE LAYER: In a small bowl, blend together cream cheese, lemon zest, sugar & heavy cream. Divide cream cheese mixture between baked tart shells. Top with generous portions of berry topping & serve.
- The pastry recipe will yield about 48 mini tarts. I had doubled the pastry recipe because I wanted to make all 3 kinds. It's so nice to have some in the freezer for future use.
- If you make the pastry in 2 separate batches it seems to be nicer for some reason.
- If you happen to have any filling left over, it freezes well for another time.
CELEBRATING HERITAGE DAY!
In 1974, the first Monday of August was made an official provincial holiday to recognize and celebrate the varied cultural heritage of Albertans. Businesses can choose whether or not to recognize the day as a general holiday, which most do.
In our city of Edmonton, a three-day outdoor festival is held to sample food, see performances and celebrate Canada’s multiculturalism. It features 60 pavilions that represent more than 85 cultures from all over the world.
Even though many people will take in the days events and cultural food at the festival, some choose to pack a picnic lunch and take a drive somewhere to just relax.
I am posting some savory chicken scones that should work real well with that idea.
Savory Chicken Picnic Scones
Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a small bowl, combine yogurt & sage leaves; allow to stand for 10 minutes. In a saucepan, heat olive oil & saute onion for 5 minutes until soft, then set aside to cool.
In a bowl, sift together flour, baking powder & salt; rub in butter to form fine breadcrumbs. Stir in yogurt/sage mixture as well as sauteed onion. Turn out onto a floured surface & knead very lightly. Divide dough into 4 or 6 equal pieces. Form into balls & lay on prepared baking sheet. Flatten to 3/4" thickness; brush tops with beaten egg. Bake about 10 minutes or until risen & golden.
When scones are cool, slice in half & spread lightly with butter. Top each of 4 (or 6) halves with chicken & bacon slices. Drizzle with Ranch dressing & place some cut pickled asparagus spears on top. Cover with remaining 4 scone halves. Serve with tomato wedges on the side.
What to call it — an omelette, frittata or quiche? While this trinity of brunch egg dishes all contain eggs, the preparation methods vary. All are delicious but here’s what defines them.
The traditional French omelette contains eggs, a splash of water and a pinch of salt and pepper. The briskly whipped eggs are cooked in clarified butter then turned out of the pan when still a little custardy and unset. These (colorless) omelettes are rolled up like a business letter and served with only a few herbs. In North America, we seem to want to ‘clean out the fridge’ so to speak, adding just about anything and everything. This version is cooked until mostly dry on top and golden on the bottom. As a rule, they are folded over once, then served.
Frittatas are generally thicker than omelettes. The ingredients are mixed in, instead of sprinkled on. While started on the stove, sometimes they are finished under the broiler then served in slices like a pie.
Quiche, on the other hand, is a savory custard baked in a pastry crust or a potato crust. Quiche gets its richness from the addition of whole milk, half & half or even heavy cream. Just to add another twist to the mix — enter the ‘crustless quiche-omelette’.
This particular meal at our house, was one of those ‘clean out the fridge’ ideas that turned out absolutely wonderful. I had posted the salmon/dill scones on a blog a number of years ago. They made an ideal compliment for this meal.
Baked Avocado Bacon Omelette with Salmon/Dill Scones
Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a deep pie plate with cooking spray.
In a skillet, saute bacon until cooked but not real crisp; dry on paper towel & crumble. Add onions, mushrooms & garlic to skillet, sauteing in bacon drippings until tender crisp. Chop tomato & 1 avocado. Grate cheese. In a bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, salt & pepper. Add all prepared ingredients; gently stir.
Pour mixture into pie plate distributing evenly. Bake 35-40 minutes, rotating once half way through. Let omelette cool for 5 minutes. Top with remaining sliced avocado & serve.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line 8 muffin cups with paper liners. In a bowl, mix together flour & baking powder. Add grated cheese, smoked salmon & dill. In a separate bowl, whisk egg, buttermilk & oil.
Place half of the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients & stir well. Then add the rest of the wet ingredients & mix until completely combined. Spoon into paper liners until each is filled halfway, then place a heaping tsp of cream cheese in the middle of each scone. Divide the rest of the batter between the 8 cups.
Bake for 10 minutes, rotate pan & continue to bake for another 10 minutes or until scones are just browning on top & test done.
This is a Canadian berry pie, originating from the Maritime provinces that is made up of at least three kinds of berries. Since there is no such thing as a ‘bumble berry’, as the name suggests, its a mixture of berries that are in season (ones that you might bumble upon).
Berries commonly used in this pie may include blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and blackberries. Other choices often used are apples, rhubarb, cherries, plums or fresh cranberries.
Most often the pie is made with a top crust of pastry or designs cut out and laid over the fruit. Other ideas would be to use a nice streusal topping or as I have done on mine, grated pastry sprinkled with coarse sugar.
This is such a great summer dessert served, of course, with ice cream!
Bumble Berry Pie
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder & salt. With a pastry blender or finger tips, cut in white & yellow Crisco shortening. In a measuring cup, place the egg & vinegar then add enough COLD water to make 1 cup; whisk together. Make a well in center of flour & pour ALL liquid in. With hands combine quickly but do NOT over mix. This recipe will should give you enough for about 3 - double crust 10-inch pies. Whatever you don't use, freeze for later use. This is so handy when time is short & dessert is needed. At this time, roll out a 10-inch bottom pie shell, place in pie pan & refrigerate until ready to fill. Take the same amount of pastry, form it into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap & place it in the freezer. When you are ready for the top pastry on your bumble berry pie, remove the ball from the freezer & GRATE it over the top of the fruit.
In a large bowl, combine fruit. In another dish, whisk together sugar, flour, cornstarch & cinnamon. Gently toss into fruit mixture along with lemon juice.
Preheat oven to 400 F. Place filling into chilled pie shell, using the large holes on a box grater, grate the ball of pastry (from freezer) directly over the fruit, as you would a block of cheese. Using a fork, gently move the gratings here & there for an even covering. Sprinkle with coarse sugar.
Bake pie on center rack for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 F. rotating pie for even baking. Bake about 25-30 minutes more or until to is golden brown & juices are bubbly & thick around the edge. Remove from oven. Serve warm with ice cream.
- Never hesitate to vary the fruit you choose for this pie. Remember, its whatever you 'bumble' upon!
I have always enjoyed making (and eating) tea breads. They can come in all sizes and even though they are called bread, for most part, I’d say they are cake.
Tea breads are part of the quick bread genre. They are considered quick because they don’t require kneading or rising time. Instead of yeast, usually baking powder or baking soda or a combination of both are used as a leavening agent.
Afternoon tea, the quintessential English custom, was introduced in England by a Duchess in the year 1840. The evening meal in her household was served fashionably late at 8 PM, thus leaving a long period of time between lunch and dinner (supper). The Duchess asked that a tray of tea, bread/butter and cake be brought to her room during the late afternoon. This pause for tea became a fashionable social event. Upper class and society women would change into long gowns, gloves and hats for their afternoon tea which was usually served in the drawing room between four and five PM.
This tea loaf, pairs sweet, ripe strawberries with the bright, clean flavor of lemon zest and is topped off with a tangy kiwi glaze. A match made in food heaven.
Strawberry Tea Loaf with Fresh Kiwi Glaze
Strawberry Tea Loaf
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 9 X 5-inch loaf pan, line bottom with strip of parchment paper with 2-inch overhang on either end.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda & salt. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, buttermilk, applesauce, lemon zest & vanilla. Pour egg mixture into dry ingredients. Mix just until incorporated. Fold in prepared strawberries. Scrape batter into pan.
Bake 50-60 minutes, or until cake tested with a toothpick in the center comes out clean. Cool loaf in pan, set on wire rack, 20 minutes before using parchment overhang to lift out loaf. Cool completely on rack. Slice & serve with kiwi glaze.
In a small saucepan, sprinkle gelatin over the cold water & set aside to soften. Peel the kiwi and blend in a food processor or blender until pureed. Be careful not to over-process as the black seeds will break down & change the color of the puree.
Add the kiwi puree to gelatin mixture. Heat mixture to dissolve gelatin but do not over heat. Continue to stir until dissolved. Keep covered in refrigerator until needed.
I guess its my German heritage that gives that love for anything that resembles a dumpling. Whether sweet or savory doesn’t seem to matter, filling between two thin layers of pasta or dough is just plain good to me.
Around the world, Italian ravioli has many culinary ‘sisters’ in other cultures. Kreplach, in Jewish cuisine, is a pocket of meat filling covered with pasta. In India, the dish Gujiya, has a sweet filling, rather than savory. There are many similarities between Italian ravioli and certain Chinese dumplings as well.
Although ravioli can come in many shapes, including circular and semi-circular, the traditional form is a square. The word ‘ravioli’ comes from the Italian riavvolgere, which means ‘to wrap’.
Not being someone who enjoys to eat ‘out’, its a rare occasion (when we do), for me to be really happy with my meal. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I cooked a lot of ‘commercial’ meals in the food service industry years back. I guess I just got ‘burn out’ to that kind of cooking you might say.
Nevertheless, whenever we have chosen to go to the Olive Garden Restaurant, there is a meal I really do enjoy. It’s called ‘Ravioli di Portobello’. Today, I am re-creating those flavors in a casserole and adding some ground chicken to make it a little more interesting from Brion’s perspective.
Ravioli di Portobello Casserole
Portobello Mushroom Filling
Portobello Mushroom Filling
In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Saute onion until soft. Add mushrooms & saute for two minutes. Reduce heat & let simmer for 5 minutes or until liquid has evaporated & the mushrooms are fully cooked. Add seasonings. Set aside.
In a bowl, combine dry ingredients with eggs. Add water a little at a time, while stirring, until it forms a soft dough. Dough should be soft but not sticky. Roll out the dough, on a floured surface, into a rectangle that is 1/4-inch thickness. Place 1 teaspoon of filling about an inch apart in even columns & rows to cover half of your dough rectangle.
Before adding the top layer of pasta to the ravioli, moisten the dough around the filling dollops. Carefully fold the dough (without any filling on it) over the half with the filling dollops. Using the side of your hand, press the dough together between the dollops, accentuating the pockets of filling in each ravioli. This is very important step to ensure your ravioli will not leak while cooking.
Using a pastry cutter (or a pizza cutter), cut straight lines through the pressed down sections between the filling dollops. In a large kettle of boiling water, drop ravioli in a few at a time, being careful that they do do touch the kettle. When the raviolis float to the top, boil for one minute & then remove them with a slotted spoon. Keep warm in a covered dish, drizzling a tiny bit of butter or oil over them to prevent sticking until you are ready for them.
Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce
In a skillet, melt butter & saute garlic, seasonings, sun-dried tomatoes for a few minutes. Add chicken broth & half & half; bring to a boil & continue to stir until thickened & creamy about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat, set aside until ready to use in casserole.
In a skillet, brown ground chicken until no longer pink; drain & place in a bowl. Add salt, garlic powder & pepper. In the skillet, melt butter, add onion & zucchini; saute until tender crisp. Stir in sun-dried tomato sauce.
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a buttered 9 X 13-inch baking dish, spread 1/4 of sauce, layer 1/2 of the ravioli, another 1/4 of the sauce, half of the chicken & half of the cheese.
Repeat again except OMIT cheese. Cover & bake for 35 minutes. Uncover & sprinkle with remaining cheese. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. If you wish to garnish, chopped green onion & diced tomato are nice.
For those unfamiliar with Peach Melba, it is a classic dessert that was invented around the late 1800’s in honor of an Australian soprano opera singer named Nellie Melba. The flavors are always raspberry and peach and was traditionally served with vanilla ice cream. Melba is actually the nickname for Melbourne, her Australian hometown. Her real name was Helene ‘Nellie” Porter Mitchell but everyone called her Melba. She was internationally famous for her remarkable ‘crystal’ voice.
French chef, Georges Auguste Escoffier, not only created this special dessert but also developed what is known as the ‘kitchen brigade’ system or ‘Brigade de Cuisine’.
The next time you enjoy an elaborate meal in a hotel dining room (on a special occasion) that is perfectly executed, don’t presume this was just by accident. The brigade system revolutionized the way diners eat, allowing people to have meals, whatever their order, arrive at the table at the same time. This system was instituted to streamline and simplify work in hotel kitchens. It served to eliminate the chaos and duplication of effort that could result when kitchen staff did not have clear-cut responsibilities.
Today, most restaurants use some simplified variation of Escoffier’s original system. It is this foundation of kitchen organization that made way for the ‘a la carte menu’ we know so well today.
I have added a chart at the end of the blog showing the basic hierarchy of authority in this kind of system. I realize I got a bit removed from my peach melba dessert but — . Having spent so many years in the commercial world of cooking, I have a great appreciation for this gifted chef’s contribution to the food industry.
I decided to use the classic peach and raspberry ingredients in some mini upside down bundt cakes. The ginger spice adds a bit of unexpected ‘zing’ to its flavor.
Peach Melba Ginger Cakes
In a small saucepan, whisk together sugar & cornstarch. Add raspberries & water; cook over medium-high heat until thickened & clear. Remove from stove & press through a wire mesh to make a puree. Discard seeds. Add extract if using. Set aside.
Drain peach juice into a measuring cup. Set peaches aside. In a saucepan, combine 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp peach juice, sugar & cornstarch. Cook, stirring, until thick & bubbly. Add the peaches & vanilla. Stir to blend, set aside until ready to use.
Preheat over to 375 F. Butter 4-5 mini bundt pans. In a bowl, combine all cake ingredients & beat only until smooth. Divide between bundt pans. Place pans on a baking sheet & bake for 15 minutes or until cakes have risen & test done with a toothpick is inserted. Remove from oven, cool for a few minutes then turn over on serving plates. Top with warm peach sauce & raspberry coulis. Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream if you wish.
Grinding pepper over our savory meals is very much the ‘norm’, but when you add it to sweet desserts it preforms a strange chemistry, especially against a mellow backdrop of vanilla.
Adding flavor to cuisines of all nations, black pepper is the most widely produced and popular spice in the world. Pound for pound, it is also the least expensive spice.
Contrary to popular belief, pepper is not intended to be used like salt. Although, it holds a special spot right beside the salt on our dinner tables, it is not a flavor enhancer but rather a spice.
There is a distinct and undeniable earthiness to the flavor of black pepper, one that is biting, hot, piney, pungent, woody and sharp all at the same time.
Using pepper in baked goods or sprinkling it on fresh fruit is not exactly a new idea. Gingerbread and pfeffernuse have long been spiced with pepper. No matter how you use black pepper, its a spice of grand proportions.
These ‘pepper’ cookies are real handy since you can freeze them and ‘slice & bake’ when needed. The flavor combo is exceptional.
Lemon Pepper Shortbread Cookies
In a bowl, cream butter, sugar & vanilla until light & creamy.
In another bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, salt, lemon zest & spices.
Add the dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternately with the milk. Combine only until incorporated. Turn dough out onto a work surface & divide in half. Roll each portion into a log about 1 1/2-inch in diameter. Wrap each log tightly in plastic wrap & refrigerate until firm ... at least 2 hours or freeze until needed.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the plastic wrap & slice into 1/4-inch thick rounds. Place on baking sheet & bake for 6 minutes, rotate pan & continue baking for an additional 6 minutes. The edges of the cookies will be firm, but the tops will be soft. Cool on a wire rack.