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Roast Beef for Grandpa with Mushroom Shallot Gravy

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I grew up living beside my paternal grandparents for most of my life at home, so many of my childhood memories include them. Grandparents can have a huge impact on children and I hope to be as positively impactful to my own grandchildren as my own were to me.

My grandpa was a strong, independent, deep-thinking Old Order Mennonite man; rather intimidating to children, but highly respected by adults. As I became an adult and listened to people talk about him, I realized that his advice was sought by many, including the community at large. He was a great horseman, taking in young horses or ones from “the tracks” and retraining them for buggy use. I loved to watch him handle them, crooning to them while currying their coats to a sleek, glossy shine. Every now and then he would let us sit on one while holding its head. Sometimes on rainy or snowy days he would drive us to school in his dachvegli (a covered buggy) OR… oh, joy of joys, his sleigh, with the bells ringing merrily. As I write this, I realize that this makes me sound really ancient, which I’m not, honestly! I just grew up in a pretty special setting and time. Later on, he had a mild stroke which forced him to retire from breaking in horses and eventually he had to sell off his own horse. That was a heartbreaking day for him.

One particular food that grandpa was fond of was beef. I can still picture him coming over to our house, beaming widely and declaring, “Vell! Mir hen da beshtischta beef rosht das mir noch einmal kotta hen.” (Well! We had the best roast beef that we’ve ever had!) We kids would snicker later, saying that if this continues, the roasts will be off the charts in goodness! I think of him whenever I cook a particularly savoury roast, and that comment is still heard rolling off our tongues many years later.

It seemed like a good time to post about my favourite new method of preparing the “best beef roast ever”, because any time now we hope to kill the fatted calf, figuratively speaking, in celebration of our third grandchild; our first granddaughter! I’m so excited.

This roasting method uses a high heat and an open pan to kick off the roast, which creates a nice brown crust and deep flavour. I drizzle it with a good olive oil (to sear and seal the crust), red wine or red wine vinegar (to tenderize it), and season it with salt, coarsely ground pepper and beef seasoning mix before the first roast. Then I add the mushrooms and shallots, cover the pan and roast it low and slow for several hours. Take it out, make the gravy, carve it and serve The Best Roast Beef We’ve Ever Had. Hats off to you, Grandpa, for encouraging me in my search for the elusive best!

BREAKING NEWS! While I was typing up this blog the new little miss decided to make her entry into our family. She is obviously a young lady of impeccable timing.

All the ingredients are ready to prep the roast. Need a good olive oil source? Olive My Favourites from Stratford is my go-to store. Great service and many wonderful choices.

 

 

Roast Beef for Grandpa (5)
The Best Beef Roast Ever. Remember this term is subjective. It might always be better next time!

 

Roast Beef for Grandpa (9)I like to serve the roast with mashed potatoes, carrots, and Brussels sprouts. With browned butter, of course. They’re all available at Martin’s Family Fruit Farm who kindly sponsors my posts.

 

I used cremini mushrooms for the gravy; one of my favourites. They are actually a baby portobello mushroom, so the flavour is similar, but not as intense. They have a firm texture and nutty flavour that pairs well with beef. Their look is similar to a white button mushroom.

Shallots are a staple at my house. Their flavour and appearance is somewhere between a red onion and a garlic bulb. I love the subtle garlic/onion infusion it adds to a roast.

Roast Beef for Grandpa with Mushroom Shallot Gravy

Ingredients

  • 4 – 5 pound beef blade roastRoast beef for Grandpa (10)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons red wine or red wine vinegar
  • salt (generous sprinkle)
  • pepper (generous sprinkle)
  • beef steak seasoning of your choice (generous sprinkle)
  • 2 – 3 bulbs French shallots, chopped
  • 2 – 3 cups coarsely chopped cremini mushrooms

GRAVY:

  • beef broth plus water to make 3 cups
  • approximately 1/4 cup of flour or cornstarch to thicken
  • additional water
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat oven at 400°F (204°C) on regular bake or convection roast setting. I like convection roast for this stage because it browns the roast so nicely. Place roast into a large casserole dish or medium roaster. Drizzle with olive oil and red wine (vinegar) and sprinkle with the seasonings. Roast, uncovered, for approximately an hour until it looks brown all over. Turn the heat down to 250°F (121°C) regular bake. Remove from oven and add the chopped shallots and mushrooms. Add about a cup of HOT water and stir the vegetables lightly. Now you cover it and put it back into the oven. Bake it for about three hours. If it’s browning too much, turn the heat back further. At this point you want it low and slow. Remove roast when it’s soft and succulent when pierced. Cover lightly with foil and let it rest while you prepare the gravy.

GRAVY: Strain the broth and vegetables through a sieve into a large measuring pitcher. Add hot water to the broth to make at least 3 cups. Pour into a medium saucepan and heat until steaming. Whisk flour or cornstarch into an additional 1/2 cup of cold water. Slowly pour into steaming hot broth, stirring constantly, until the gravy is as thick as you would like it. Let it bubble until thick, then taste for seasoning and add more if needed. Add the strained mushrooms and shallots to the gravy.

Slice the meat and pour some of the gravy over the top to serve. Serve remaining gravy on the side. Cheerio, Grandpa!

Note: The finished beef and gravy can be layered in a slow cooker if you want to prepare it ahead. Heat on low for 3 – 4 hours before serving.

 

 

 

Pumpkin Buttermilk Waffles with Honeycrisp Apple Topping

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Pumpkin Buttermilk Waffles with Honeycrisp Apple Topping

It’s October now. It’s also the week of Thanksgiving and you know what that means. We have to do something with pumpkins and apples! This week used to follow the giant Harvest Celebration we used to put on at our farm and the last thing we felt like doing was baking MORE things after burning the midnight oil trying to make sure the tables in the refreshment tent were well-filled. We Martin ladies made pumpkin cheesecakes, apple cheesecakes, pumpkin cookies, apple cookies, squash soup, squash dip, apple oatmeal, apple squares, applesauce muffins, and more things than I can remember for thousands of people over the course of two days. We stopped hosting it when the event outgrew us. It was fun while it lasted, but all good things must come to an end sometime, right? It was, however, a great way to try new fall dishes on our willing and unsuspecting guinea pigs guests, and we could quickly tell which recipes were going to be keepers!

Anyway, trying to figure out what recipe to use for a pumpkin/apple combo blog reminded me of those weeks before the Harvest Celebration. I didn’t want to feature pie because I figure everyone’s already got their favourite pumpkin and apple pie recipes. If you don’t actually have one, I do have a few good ones that I could probably be persuaded to share. Instead, I figured maybe you’d all be glad for a Thanksgiving brunch idea so … here we are!

Pumpkin Buttermilk Waffles with Honeycrisp Apple Topping (2)

I came across this recipe by katiescucina.com awhile ago and I had a brand-new Belgian waffle maker that was waiting to be tried out, and pie pumpkins waiting to be roasted. I roasted the pumpkins, pureed them, and posted how to do that for you here. I’m just nice that way. Then I added an apple topping made with the ever-popular and extremely versatile Honeycrisp, and we ate it with sausage and swilled it all down with coffee. I love breakfast and will happily eat it any time of day; this time it was for supper. My husband declared it a winner. Mind you, he declares anything with apples in it a winner. Happy Thanksgiving to you all and be thankful for good things like pumpkins, apples and fall!

Pumpkin Buttermilk Waffles with Honeycrisp Apple Topping (3)

 

Pumpkin Buttermilk Waffles with Honeycrisp Apple Topping (4)

Martins Family Fruit Farm is stocked up on both pumpkins and apples, as well as any fall decor you might need! Although this post is sponsored by them, the views and stories are my own. 

Honeycrisp Apples

The Honeycrisp apple took the American world by storm several years ago. There has been no other apple in our long history of growing apples that has taken off so quickly and its fan base is still growing. And no wonder! It works for pretty well everything, doesn’t brown easily, holds its crunch for ages, and is sweetly tart with a honeyed juiciness. Many people who declare that they don’t like apples are surprised to find that they like the Honeycrisp. 

Pumpkin Buttermilk Waffles with Honeycrisp Apple Topping

Ingredients

WAFFLES: Pumpkin Buttermilk Waffles with Honeycrisp Apple Topping (3)

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (or 1 tsp. cinnamon, and 1/3 tsp. each of nutmeg, ginger, and cloves)

APPLE TOPPING:

  •  3 cups sliced peeled or unpeeled Honeycrisp apples
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • maple syrup

Directions

WAFFLES: With a mixer, beat the eggs, buttermilk, melted butter, pumpkin, and vanilla on low for about 30 seconds. In a separate bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, soda, salt, and spices. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ones, and mix on low again for a few seconds to combine, then turn the speed up slightly for another 10 seconds. Scrape down the sides and beat again just until combined. Let the mixture rest for about half an hour to allow the leavens to work. 

Preheat your waffle iron according to your manufacturer’s instructions. Spray with cooking spray or oil, then add 3/4 cup of batter to the pan, pouring it in a circle starting at the outside. Lower the lid and cook until the steam nearly stops and the light goes off. Remove with tongs and keep warm in a single layer on a cookie sheet while doing the rest. 

APPLE TOPPING: Meanwhile, you can prepare the apples by peeling them if desired, then slicing them in 1/2 inch thick slices (I used my apple slicer). Melt the butter in the pan, then add the apples, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Stir and fry on medium-high heat until the sauce becomes gooey and apples soften, but aren’t mushy. Serve on top of the waffles. Add maple syrup if you wish. This makes 5 or 6 waffles.

 

Roasted Pumpkin Puree

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Roasted Pumpkin Puree (2)

I am one of those people who likes to make my own way in life. This includes preserving, freezing, grinding my own coffee beans that have been roasted by my young friend from church, and making my own chocolate cake and sauces. This is not to say that I never use stuff from the grocery freezers and shelves, but in general, I prefer to make my own. It makes me feel self-sufficient, as though my army of canned and frozen goods, and locally roasted, freshly ground coffee can help me conquer the world. Lead on, O Kitchen of Homemade Goodies…Charge!

One of those things I faithfully do myself is canned or frozen pumpkin, made from real pie pumpkins. Not those soft-skinned pale-fleshed orange monsters waiting to be carved into some ghastly grinning caricature, but the deeply hued, sweet-fleshed little pumpkins that are actually developed for baking. I love the deep orange tones of the finished product and the flavour is superb. It’s a perfect rainy day project while you’re writing blogs or something, or you can easily do it in an evening if you’re planning to freeze it.

Roasted Pumpkin Puree (5)
Look at that smooth golden goodness just waiting to be used in something  delectable!

There are different methods of cooking the pumpkin; my mom used to halve them, peel them and cut them into large chunks into a large kettle, and for a number of years I did it that way too. But it’s hard and awkward to peel pumpkin, and when I discovered the roasting method later, I was quickly sold on it. It’s a matter of washing the pumpkins, breaking off the stems, cutting them in half and scraping out the seeds. Then you tip them upside down on a large baking sheet lined with foil, pour about an inch of hot water around them and bake them at 350°F for 60 to 90 minutes, until they’re soft when you poke them. I let them rest about 10 minutes, then turn them over and scoop out the pulp. Put the pulp into a blender or a large pot if you’re using an immersion blender. Blend it until there are no lumps left. Either scoop it into boxes for the freezer or into pint jars if you’re canning it. Now here’s the kicker; it takes three hours to can, unless you have a pressurized canner. Because of the low acidic nature of pumpkin and no preserving agents like sugar, salt, or vinegar, it takes that long to seal and stay sealed. Believe me, I know this from personal experience. It’s always a toss-up for me; the ease of freezing, then trusting my faulty memory to take it out of the freezer a day or two before I want to use it, or can it for three hours and have it at my fingertips at a moment’s notice. Sometimes I do both. This time I took the easy route and froze it. Now I’m going to use it in these delicious Pumpkin Buttermilk Waffles with Apple Topping!

Roasted Pumpkin Puree (4)
I divided the pumpkin into 1 1/2 cups measures to freeze because that’s about right for a lot of things!

This post is sponsored by  Martin’s Family Fruit Farm, and these pie pumpkins can be found there, as well as many other seasonal goodies. Come and check them out!

Pie pumpkins (also known as sugar pumpkins) are much sweeter than than the larger carving pumpkins. Their flesh is also less watery and stringy,  firmer, and more orange than the jack-o-lantern pumpkins. They are frequently sold with squash at farm markets. They are the best for pies and other baked goodies!

Roasted Pumpkin Puree

Ingredients

Roasted Pumpkin Puree (5)

  • 3 pie (sugar) pumpkins
  • boxes for freezing or pints for canning
  • lids

Directions

Preheat oven to 350° F. Wash the pumpkins, then break off stems and cut them in half. Scoop out the seeds with a large sturdy spoon or ice cream scoop. If you like to eat roasted pumpkin seeds, here is your chance to make as many as you wish! Line a large baking tray with foil and tip the pumpkins cut side down on the tray. Pour 1 inch of very hot water around the pumpkins and carefully slide tray into the oven. Bake for an hour or more, until the pumpkins are soft when poked or pricked. Baking time will vary depending on the size of the pumpkins. Cool for 10 minutes until they are easier to handle. 

Turn them over, scoop out the pulp and run it through a blender in batches or put it in a large pot if you’re using an immersion blender. My mom used a manual potato masher. Blend until no lumps remain. Scoop into 2 cup boxes to freeze and cover, leaving a 1/2 inch headspace for expansion or into sterilized pint jars, if canning. Boil the snaplids for 5 minutes, leaving on simmer while filling the jars. Wipe the rim of the jars thoroughly, centre the lids on top, then lightly screw on the rings. Place the jars in a canning kettle and pour hot water in up to the bottom of the necks. Cover. Heat the kettle on high until the water boils, then turn down heat to a low boil and set timer for 3 hours. You may need to add more boiling water at some point. When the timer goes off, turn off the heat and allow jars to sit for 10 minutes before removing onto a towel-covered surface. Let sit for 24 hours before washing up and moving to a cool dark place. I got 8 cups of puree from my three pumpkins that I divided into 6 boxes with 1 1/2 cups in each.

Fresh Peach Pie with Gluten-Free Pastry

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Fresh Peach Pie (9)

If I were asked to point to one fruit that epitomizes those warm, hazy last days of summer, I would, without any hesitation at all, choose the peach. The fuzzy, warm skin with its encroaching pink shadows that lengthen as the peach ripens, the dewy golden flesh dripping with sweetness all portray summer teetering on the cusp of fall. And if I were asked about my favourite dessert incorporating peaches, I would shout “Fresh Peach Pie!”.

Fresh Peach Pie (4)

I have a memory of making fresh peach pies for one of my sisters’ wedding. It was a hot September week, similar to the weather we’ve had this summer. The entire wedding was held at my parents home, and we had cleaned, cooked, mowed, weeded, planted, painted, and I don’t know what else most of the summer in preparation. The pies were cut and served on plates down in the basement for the meal, as it was the coolest part of the house. To save time and refrigerator space, we had decided to use those cans of whip cream spray, which we had seen in stores, but never used. Well, to make a long story short, it was a disaster. The cream turned to foamy liquid 30 seconds after it landed on the pie slices and the poor servers were trying to get them to the guests without having the cream running off the plates and down over their frilly aprons. But the peach pie tasted good, and my sister and her husband are still loving and enjoying each other 26 years later. Moral of the story: a failed peach pie doth not a marriage break.

EDIT: Apparently I had the wrong sister in mind. This can happen when one has six sisters. I have edited it to say September instead of August and it’s only been 26 years, not 34. My apologies!

I have tried this wheat-free pastry three times now and it was a success each time. Those of you who do any gluten-free baking know how delightful that feels! I have only used butter so far and it gives the pie crust a lovely shortbread texture and flavour. I find it works best to roll the chilled dough only partially, then fit it into the base of the pan and press the rest into shape. For wheat-based pastries, I use the recipe on the back of the Tenderflake lard box. It makes a large batch and is nice and flaky.  I divide the dough into 5 or 6 pieces, flatten them into discs, stick ’em in a freezer bag and pop them into the freezer for such a time as this.

 

Ontario Peaches

Find these delicious peaches at Martin’s Family Fruit Farm!  Also, check here on their site for more recipes. The recipes, views and stories on this blog are my own. 

This may surprise some of my readers but there are a fair number of peaches grown in the Niagara region of southern Ontario. They are available from early August to mid-September. The season begins with clingstone (fruit does not release easily from the pit, or stone), and progresses to freestone (fruit easily removes from the stone). The hazy fuzz on peaches is called “bloom” and is a protection for the peach. The bloom is removed through washing the fruit. Generally speaking, the later peach varieties are better for canning and freezing, since they are sweeter and the flesh holds up better in preserving.

Fresh Peach Pie with Gluten-free Pastry

Ingredients

GLUTEN-FREE PASTRY:Fresh Peach Pie (9)

  • 2/3 cup white rice flour
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons potato starch
  • 2 tablespoon tapioca flour (or starch; they are the same)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup cold butter
  • 1 large egg, beaten

PEACH PIE FILLING:

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch or clear jel
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons peach-flavoured gelatin powder (I like Shirriff’s)
  • 4 cups peeled and sliced peaches (4 – 6 peaches)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped, lightly sweetened if desired

Directions

PIE PASTRY: Before starting, make sure all your ingredients and utensils, including your rolling pin, are free of any wheat. This is very important! I cover the pastry with waxed paper or parchment before rolling to avoid any gluten touching the dough. Combine all the dry ingredients. Cut the cold butter into 1/2 inch cubes and add to the dry mixture, tossing to coat. Use your pastry cutter or hands to break the butter into smaller clumps, flattening them into discs. Add the beaten egg and lightly knead just until combined and the dough is starting to smooth out. Shape into a disc, wrap in cellophane and place in the freezer for 10- 15 minutes until it firms up. Sprinkle your counter liberally with more gluten-free flour mixture and roll out as well as you can. I usually roll it big enough to fit the bottom of the pan, then press it up the sides and flatten with my hands into the pan. This recipe fits a 9 inch pan perfectly. Prick the crust all over and chill again while heating the oven. Bake at 400° F for 20 minutes until golden brown. Cool completely before filling. 

PEACH PIE FILLING: Mix white sugar and cornstarch or clear jel in a medium saucepan, then add water. Heat on medium heat, whisking frequently until mixture begins to thicken and clear. This will take about 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in the peach gelatin. Let it sit while you peel and slice peaches. Pour warm gelatin mixture over the peaches and fold together lightly until every slice is covered. Mound into cooled pie pastry shell. If there is more filling than what will fit into the pie, someone may have to eat it. Oh, dear. Chill for at least 4 hours. Whip cream and top the pie to serve.

 

 

Creamy Oats with Honeyed Apricots

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Creamy Oats with Honeyed Apricots (2)

Let it be known that I love to travel. Travelling is good for the soul and it keeps you humble.  How, you ask, does travelling keep one humble? You see, when it’s YOU that’s the odd one out; YOU driving on the wrong side of the road, YOU asking for a translation of a menu item, YOU wondering what that sign said, then finding out that it meant to Keep Out, it helps you realize what those “furriners” experience when they visit our fair country and commit those unpardonable cultural gaffes. It also creates a sense of empathy for them within me. If you’re thinking that this all sounds like an excuse to keep travelling, you might also be right.

I also love breakfasts. But you know how when you’re travelling, you fluctuate between all those gourmet breakfasts and mediocre hotel breakfasts and eventually just long for a simple homey cereal or muffin breakfast? Yeah, well, for me that often means longing for a steaming bowl of oatmeal. I LOVE oatmeal, so when I spied Porridge Oats with Honey Blueberry Compote on the menu close to the end of our trip to Ireland, I ordered it posthaste. It was everything I wanted it to be; both homey and delightful. Steel cut creamy oats topped with a lightly sweetened blueberry compote and drizzled with honey. For years I’ve been cooking my oats in a half milk/ half water solution, then adding apples and raisins, so this seemed like a great dish to recreate at home. I did it, and it was great, but this time of year when fresh Ontario fruits abound it seems a shame to cook the fruit. Apricots are in season now, and due to the dry heat we have experienced this year, they are extra sweet.  I love anything with apricots, so I thought why not try apricots with honey? I cooked my favourite steel cut oats in our own local milk, sprinkled a wee bit of cinnamon on the oats, topped them with chopped apricots, and drizzled it all with honey. I sure did enjoy it, and as I was eating it, I thought, “This sure would be good with peaches too. Or peaches and blueberries.” Next time…

Steel-cut Oats, Apricots, Guernsey Milk, and local Honey!
It makes me happy when I can use all local products in my cooking!

 

Creamy Oats with Blueberries
My daughter opted to top hers with fresh blueberries and brown sugar, and ate it with gusto.
Creamy Oats with Honeyed Apricots
Delicious apricot chunks swimming in honey on an island of oats

 

This post is sponsored by Martin’s Family Fruit Farm, where most of this stuff is available. As always, the views and stories are my own. 

Apricots are said to be one of the healthiest fruits in the world, with tons of Vitamins A and C, and potassium packed into its little furry body. We saw acres and acres of apricot orchards as we were climbing the mountainsides in Spain and Portugal a few years ago. It was a beautiful sight; those orange ovals hanging in the trees. 

Creamy Oats with Honeyed Apricots

Ingredients

Creamy Oats with Honeyed Apricots (4)

  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • dash of salt
  • 1 cup steel cut oats
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh apricots (or your favourite seasonal fruit)
  • honey (or maple syrup or brown sugar)

Directions

Pour the milk and the water into a medium-sized saucepan. Heat, stirring now and then until it begins to steam and smell “milky”. Stir in salt and oats. Reduce heat and slowly boil for 10 to 20 minutes, until it is just a little thinner than you like to eat it it. Cover and remove from heat. Let it sit for 3 to 5 minutes to let it thicken. Scoop into your prettiest bowl, top with chopped apricots or desired fruit and drizzle with honey.

 

Mixed Berry Eclair

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Mixed Berry Eclair (5)

You know how some recipes are born out of desperation and necessity? I’m talking about those times when you need a dish and start browsing your cupboard and fridge to see if inspiration will strike. Today’s recipe is one of those deals.

Coming home from market one hot Saturday afternoon in July many moons ago, I was trying to decide what dessert to make for a potluck dinner at our church the next day. I knew it would contain strawberries because they were in full swing at that time. I looked through my pantry to gain inspiration and found a cooked vanilla pudding mix. I knew I had eggs in the fridge. At that time a chocolate eclair was making the rounds big time. It had a cream puff base with pudding, whipped cream, and chocolate glaze layered on top. As a family we love fruit, so I thought, “Why not make a fruit-topped eclair?” So I started boiling, mixing, baking, and refrigerating; improvising as I went along. It’s what I do.

To make a long story short, the result was a success, I entered it in our church cookbook a year later, and have had several people tell me they make it every year in berry season. It’s light, fluffy, and the critical criteria of good looks has been met. I learned to make food look good from my dad; he always said, “Food has to pass by my eyes before it reaches my stomach.”

For this one, I added blueberries and raspberries with the strawberries because it’s the time for those big sweet thimble-sized berries that we look forward to every year, and my philosophy is that raspberries make everything better. It would be a great Fourth of July dish for you Americans with its pops of red, white and blue. Also, this time I changed the chocolate drizzle to a ganache drizzle. Uh huh. Chocolate ganache with fruit? Bring it on! I’m toying with the idea of substituting Greek yogurt for the whipped cream layer sometime. I bet that would be good.

Ontario Berries
Look at the size of those raspberries!

Hover or click on the pictures for step by step instructions. The cream puff base is easy to make and you can cook the pudding while it’s baking. The puff can also be frozen for a future time. The  dough will look flat in the pan, but will rise while baking, especially the sides.

Mixed Berry Eclair (8)

Mixed Berry Eclair (6)
Look at those luscious layers!

This post is sponsored by Martin’s Family Fruit Farm and my blog is featured on their new website. The views and stories presented here are my own. 

Ontario grows many raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries. Strawberries begin to ripen by the middle of June, with raspberries and blueberries joining them about a month later. It goes without saying that this time frame is affected by the weather in any given year. Berries are loaded with antioxidants, fiber, potassium, and vitamin C. So berry up! 

Mixed Berry Eclair

Ingredients

CREAM PUFF BASE:

Mixed Berry Eclair (6)
Look at those luscious layers!
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs

FILLING: 

  • 135 g box cook and serve vanilla pudding mix
  • 2 cups milk 
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

or  2 cups of your preferred custard recipe

  • 1 cup of whipping cream, whipped 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract 
  • 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar

TOPPING:

  • 1 quart (4 cups) of mixed fresh berries, your choice
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 2/3 cups white or semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions

CREAM PUFF BASE: Grease a 9″ by 13″ pan. Bring water and butter to a boil in a medium saucepan. Turn off heat and add flour and salt all at once, mixing it in quickly with a wooden spoon until the dough gathers into a ball. Remove pot from heat and let it stand 5 minutes before adding eggs one at a time, beating or whisking vigorously after each egg. Beat until smooth. Spread into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake at 375° F or 191° C for 40 to 45 minutes or until golden. Cool on rack, cutting 5 or 6 small, shallow slits in the puff for steam to escape. Puff will have high sides and a sunken centre. Remove puff to serving tray when cool. 

FILLING: Meanwhile, cook your pudding or custard mix using 2 cups of milk according to directions until it’s thick. Add flavouring and allow to cool. Press plastic wrap directly on the surface of pudding after about 5 minutes to keep skin from forming. Chill until ready to assemble. To assemble, spread pudding or custard on the puff base. Whip cream, flavourings, and confectioner’s sugar until stiff; spread on top of pudding.

TOPPING: Top with your choice of whole and sliced berries. Heat cream in a small saucepan just until it begins to boil. Pour over the chocolate chips in a small bowl and allow to sit undisturbed for about 7 minutes. Stir the chips into the cream until it thickens and gets shiny and is fully incorporated. This is your ganache. Allow to sit until it is easy to drizzle (not long), then drizzle from a large spoon over the surface of the berries in a pretty pattern. Chill. This can be done several hours in advance. Shake additional confectioner’s sugar over top before serving, just for purtiness’ sake.

Summer Strawberry Salad with Candied Walnuts

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Summer Strawberry Salad with Candied Walnuts (2)

My history with both strawberries and walnuts goes back a long, long way. Growing up as the oldest of a large family, we always had long rows of strawberries where we fought with varied feathered and furred creatures to be the first to get to as they ripened. Later I married into the Martin family and they had a pick-your-own patch in those early years. I remember picking with Asian pickers and being simply agog at their flying fingers while chatting at equal breakneck speed with each other. After the stork began using our home as a drop-off location, I sold strawberry plants in the spring from our house as a little sideline income as a stay-at-home mom. It turned out to be a great way to meet the neighbourhood, as well as neighbouring communities. I also got to know the berry types and which ones grew best in certain soils. Those were good years.

We children considered walnuts the bane of our existence. Our property had formerly been a black walnut grove and my parents had opted to keep about a dozen trees on our lawn. Starting in September, we had to pick up those big green globes before we could mow. At the end of the season we saved a few bushels of them and spread them out on the lower garage floor, then drove over them with the garden tractor to remove the thick pulpy, leathery skin. When the skin was squashed and cracked, we peeled them off, wearing rubber gloves. You know what walnut stain colour on wood looks like, right? Well, dear ones, that’s the colour our gloves were after that job was done and the stain dried. We let the nuts dry in their hard wooden shells for weeks down there, then gathered them in bushel baskets and stored them in the furnace room. Then…and this is the good part…on a cold, rainy night those old enough to help would gather in a circle and pound those wooden little nuts with a hammer until the shell split and pry out the nutmeat inside. We would beg dad to tell stories of his boyhood and he obliged with delight. When we were done, we trooped upstairs and Dad (or Mom, if the little ones had been put to bed already) would fry up those little hard-earned beauties in butter until they were sizzling and fragrant, shake some salt over them, and we devoured them with gusto. To this day, I cannot brown a nut without having memories of those late autumn delights flood my being. It’s funny how memories are attuned to smells like that.

Summer Strawberry Salad (2)

This salad uses an assortment of fresh seasonal goodies that are available now. I had to use English walnuts because I have no black walnuts on hand, but it was still delicious. The dressing is from the yummy Festive Tossed Salad in our cookbook. I cut back the sugar and butter amounts from the original recipe, as I often do.

Summer Strawberry Salad with Candied Walnuts
This post is sponsored by Martin’s Family Fruit Farm and my blog is featured on their new website. The views and stories presented here are my own.
Strawberries come in many varieties and types. It is best to grow them in raised rows so that the berries don’t sit in water and rot during wet weather. The plants need to be covered in winter with straw to prevent winterkill (hence the name). With the advancement of the day neutral or ever-bearing berry, we are able to have strawberries much earlier in the spring and later in the fall than we used to. Ontarians are now making fresh strawberry pies in October for Thanksgiving, alongside the iconic pumpkin pie! They are easy to freeze for smoothies or shakes.

Summer Strawberry Salad with Candied Walnuts

Ingredients

NUTS:

Summer Strawberry Salad with Candied Walnuts (2)

  • 1 cup walnuts, or pecans if you prefer them
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

DRESSING:

  • 1/2 olive oil
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar or honey
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (2 teaspoons dried)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or basil (1 teaspoon dried)
  • 1 garlic clove, cut in quarters
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

SALAD:

  • 10 – 12 cups torn romaine, or a mix of lettuces
  • 2 cups fresh strawberries, washed, hulled, and sliced
  • 1/2 cups sliced green or red onions
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese, or your favourite kind

Directions

NUTS: Melt butter in a medium skillet. Add nuts and cook until sizzling and fragrant over medium heat (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and sprinkle with sugar, salt and pepper; stir it in. Set aside until serving time. These can be done ahead.

DRESSING: Blend dressing ingredients together in food processor or blender lightly.

SALAD: In a large salad bowl, layer half the lettuce, strawberries, onions and cheese. Repeat layers. The salad can be covered and refrigerated at this point for several hours. When ready to serve, top with the candied nuts and drizzle with enough dressing to suit your tastebuds. Eat and remember those who gathered the walnuts.