Italian Cheesecake

At the risk of making enemies I am not a cheesecake fan. I find the traditional New York style far too rich for my liking. And the unbaked type, well, they don't even count in my books. But this Italian style is delicious. It is not overly rich and has delicate floral undertones with the golden raisins nicely complimented by the dark rum.

Carefully bake this in a bain marie or it may separate. If you are not familiar, a bain marie is a water bath. Use something like a roasting pan that is larger than the cake pan. Fill roasting pan with boiling water until it reaches the same level as the cheesecake mixture. When finished baking remove from oven and let cheesecake cool slowly in the water bath.

Italian Cheesecake        Adapted from Lidia’s Italy in America

2 tbsp. softened butter
1/2 c. ladyfinger crumbs
1/2 c. golden raisins
3 tbsp. dark rum
5 large eggs
1 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
4 c. drained fresh ricotta, at room temperature
1 c. mascarpone, at room temperature
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
finely grated zest of 1 orange
1/2 c. toasted pine nuts 

Preheat oven to 325 F . Brush a nine or ten inch springform pan with butter on the bottom and sides. Place a circle of parchment paper on the bottom. Butter the parchment paper. Coat bottom and sides with ladyfinger crumbs. Excess can stay on the bottom of the pan. Put raisins in a small bowl and pour rum over, let soak while making the filling.

In a mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat eggs, sugar and salt at high speed until foamy and the sugar is dissolved and no longer grainy, about 2 minutes. Puree ricotta, mascarpone and zests and add to mixer. Drain raisins, set aside and add leftover rum to the mixer, mix on medium until smooth and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Fold in raisins and pinenuts by hand.

Put springform pan in the bain marie, smoothing the top with a spatula. 

Place on the lowest rack in the oven and bake until edges are set and golden but the centre is still a bit jiggly, about 1 hour.  It will continue to cook as it cools. Cool completely before cutting and serving. Serves 10 – 12 persons.

Oven Baked French Toast

Brunch is one of my favourite meals but one I rarely partake in. I found a Christmas pannetone in my cold room, long past its prime freshness. A dry bread or sweet bread is best for this overnight French toast. The bread soaks up some of the eggy goodness and then it bakes up like a souffle. If you want a nice presentation quickly take it straight from the oven to the table. After even 15 minutes it has fallen.

I bought the reproduction Medalta Pottery casserole dish and was dying to try it. Next time I would use a more shallow baking dish. It will cook faster and you will have a higher ratio of crunchy topping. The pecan crunchy topping drizzled with maple syrup should not be omitted.

Baked French Toast

Butter, for greasing the pan
8 eggs
5 cups whole milk
1/2 c. sugar
2 tbsp. vanilla extract
Day old bread such as French bread, cinnamon buns, brioche
1/2 c. walnuts or pecans
1/4 c. maple syrup

Generously grease a 9”x13” pan with butter. Tear bread into chunks or cut into cubes and evenly distribute in the pan. Use enough bread to completely fill the pan. Whisk together eggs, milk, sugar and vanilla. If you are using an unsweetened bread you may want to increase the sugar.

Cover pan tightly and store in refrigerator, overnight preferably.

Top with coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans and a drizzle of maple syrup. Preheat oven to 350F and bake for 45 minutes. Serve hot out of the oven with more maple syrup and fresh berries.


Indian Summer and thinking about Tennessee

As Indian Summer has arrived the nights are chilly but the days very hot. It's the time to clean up the garden and beds and prepare for the winter ahead. I can't help but think of my time in Tennessee at this time of year especially. I miss it.

The diversity of plants in the Smoky Mountains is hardly surpassed throughout the country. Every season has a display and there is no better time to visit than autumn. As it is diverse in plant species it is diverse in elevation. I drove into the Smokies in November to witness this array of colours. The mountains are so high that at the top I was barely travelling at 15 mph. The fog was thick and the road switching higher all the time.
There are 1600 species of flowering plants alone, including 100 native trees and over 100 shrubs.  There are 450 varieties of bryophytes which are the mosses, liverworts and hornworts and 50 ferns.

I miss the Smokies and forever thankful I had the opportunity to spend a few months in the South.


French Onion Soup for the Soul

You can see a pattern here. I am gradually coming back to my blog. More importantly as the season of the market ends I can come back to your blogs. You and I cannot imagine the work it is to be a farmers' market vendor. I am definitely making changes for next summer. First of all I will purchase another freezer. Since I make my doughs in advance and freeze them the extra storage space will allow me to make in advance so I can take a week off from preparation from time to time and have a life. The other item I am purchasing is a commercial mixer. To date everything has been mixed by hand ... breads, scones, pies. Granted everything cannot be done in a mixer but if I can even do half it will be a huge boost to my ever so tired arms and hands.

I loved this soup. It was inspired by a recipe from Chef Micheal Smith. I love my little Le Creuset individual cast iron pots. They make dinner service a classy event.

It's cooling down out there and warm food is coming into favour.

French onion soup
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
4 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 c. brandy or fortified wine such as Madeira
4 c. chicken broth
2 sprigs fresh thyme leaves
sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 slices hearty bread or large croutons
2 c. shredded Swiss, Gruyere or Emmenthal cheese

Caramelize onions until they are a deep golden colour. Add brandy. Turn up the heat and cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly, until the additional liquid has evaporated.
Add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Add the thyme leaves, season with salt and pepper and continue cooking for 15 minutes or so.
To serve, preheat the broiler in your oven. Toast the bread slices to add flavour and help absorb the soup. Cut rounds out of the toast, large enough to fit your soup bowls.
Ladle the soup into four ovenproof serving bowls. Top each with a slice or two of toasted bread rounds, enough to cover the top of the soup. Cover the bread with an even mound of shredded cheese. Broil until the cheese has melted and browned. (Adapted from Chef Michael Smith)


Grilled Peaches & Serrano

I am looking back on summer. I had no time for blogging and even little time for experimenting with food. This is one of my favourites from August. I wish I had put it together earlier in the season. Nectarines would probably work as well. This clear white honey is acacia honey and has a decidedly neutral flavour that complements both the tartness and sweetness of the peach and the saltiness of the serrano. A few sprigs of fresh tarragon add a pleasing complexity. Even the burnt skewers add another layer of flavour.

I no longer peel my peaches in most uses. I like the added texture and appearance of the fuzzy skin. This is a nice addition to a charcuterie plate or a first course at a barbecue. Perhaps even brunch. I think I'll serve it at brunch. And yes, the peach has a tartness that comes with grilling.

Grilled Peaches & Serrano

fresh peaches, cut in thick wedges
serrano ham, thinly sliced
fresh tarragon
short wooden skewers

Wrap each peach wedge in serrano and secure with a wooden pick that has been pre-soaked in water for 30 minutes. Grill over medium hot charcoal on each side until grill marks appear. Plate and drizzle with your favourite honey. Garnish with fresh tarragon leaves.


Chanterelle and Corn Chowder

Wild chanterelles are the most coveted of mushrooms. They are delightfully aromatic, beautifully shaped and highly nutritious. They are picked from forests across the country between mid-July to mid-October but Saskatchewan chanterelles are special.
“They are premium because they grow in a semi-arid climate. Saskatchewan chanterelles are dry, perfect round shapes, small size, clean, velvet touch, and the aroma is unbeatable. You don't need to see them but you can smell them when you walk into the forest,” boasts Elisabeth Poscher, professional forager and owner of Prairie Infusions out of Love, SK.
Areas with more rainfall produce large, water logged, floppy chanterelles. Saskatchewan chanterelles are small and dry, because it rains briefly then it's dry, so they come in a hurry and then stay dormant in that shape until it rains again briefly, then they grow a bit more. The drier the climate the more concentrated the chemical compounds in the plant. That is why their scent and flavour are so intense.
Chanterelles are rich in carotenoids and Vitamin A, for eyesight and dry skin. Burbot liver and chanterelles have the most concentrated natural food sources of Vitamin D. Wild edible mushrooms have anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-reducing properties. They enhance the immune system and assist in reducing blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
Elisabeth ships them from northern Saskatchewan all over the country and I was so glad I placed my order. This chowder is the perfect autumn lunch.
Chanterelle and Corn Chowder
2 strips smoked bacon, finely chopped
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 c. yellow onion, finely diced
1 medium celery stalk, finely diced
1 large garlic clove, finely minced
3/4 lb. chanterelles, coarsely chopped
 1 c. fresh corn kernels
1 large potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 tbsp. all purpose flour
1 tsp. fresh thyme, leaves only
1 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 small bay leaf
1 qt. mushroom or chicken stock
1 c. heavy cream
1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice or more to taste 

Cook bacon in a large stockpot over medium heat until just starting to brown, 3-4 minutes, then add butter. When butter has melted, stir in onion, celery and garlic. Cook until tender and translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Add chanterelles and cook for 3 to 4 more minutes or until mushrooms are softened and tender. Stir in corn and potatoes and cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until they begin to soften.

Sprinkle flour over vegetables in pot and stir to coat them with the flour. Add thyme, salt, pepper and bay leaf. Add stock, stirring to prevent lumps from forming. Bring soup to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

Remove bay leaf. Stir in cream and lemon juice. Taste for seasoning, adding more lemon juice or salt as needed. Makes 6 cups.