Friends, I'm writing a book.

I wanted to keep this business under wraps until I was sure it was really, truly, real. And now, it is. 

In the spring of 2015, around the ten-year anniversary of this site, my first cookbook will be published by Ten Speed Press and Appetite by Random House in Canada. 

(There's a lot in that paragraph right there that seems surreal.) 

Plums by Tara O'Brady

The book will be a collection of previously unpublished recipes, with only a few especially-loved ones revisited. When I was working up the proposal for the book, Sean noticed that the recipes on my prospective list were ones I already make; to him, they weren't new. And to me, that was the whole point. It is meant to be all the best from my kitchen, given to you. It is the meals I make in my day-to-day and for our celebrations, and the family secrets I've long wanted to get down on paper. It's a book we've lived and are still living, one tested and tried at our table.

The book is an extension of Seven Spoons. The funny thing about writing a blog is that while some may have started reading at the beginning in real-time, as years wear on, it's more and more likely that folks joined in along the way. So, there's never set course by which the story will be told. Parts can be read out of order, skipped even. A book gives the opportunity to set up a complete, contained work — it will be a sustained conversation, and one I'm excited to have.

Black + German Plums by Tara O'Brady

That said, the idea of a book still feels wobbly and whoa-boy-crazy sometimes. There's been moments when I've turned completely jello inside. But sharing the news with you pals, knowing one day I'll be sharing a book with you, well, that makes it great. Grand, stand-stand-up straight, arms wide, big grins, hurrah and yelping, super, happy great.  

In other words, your company makes it better. Makes this less intimidating, makes me less fearful. Everything more fun.

Actually, your company makes me better. Your company is what's at the heart and start of all of this. You've been here, sticking around, even when I was quiet, picking up right where we left off. You have been immeasurably kind. I am grateful and so very happy to know you.

plum rippled ginger crunch ice cream

It was the day before yesterday that I found out that the book had been officially announced. I read the email twice, squinting at my phone. Sean was home for lunch and right beside me. I was sure I was reading it wrong. It didn't sink in until later, until I was driving a few towns over, when laughter bubbled up. 

The last of the afternoon's errands had brought me out to a farm stand, one further than my usual. The weather had been showing off. I've got two coats ready for autumn but it was a wilting day of turned-up summer. The owner's daughter was behind the tables. Punnets were to her left, bigger baskets in the middle, then heaping bushels to her right.  Fruit and harvest got us talking, started us on that game of matching up favourites, of swapping tricks and tips and traditions. There was a discussion of peaches, the best for canning and eating, and talk of apricot jam. She offered me slices of fruit across the blade of her knife.

She told me some news, news that prompted me to share the photographs her mother let me take summer before last. She noticed her father's thermos of coffee, and I told her their plums were the stuff of legend. She walked me to the car, sending me away with more than I paid for, having pressed into my hand a bag weighted with Coronation grapes in tight, shadowy clusters, dusky purple-black, hugged up against a few, palm-sized, fat-bottomed pears with long stems. There were peaches already on the backseat, and plums in their baskets, ripe and full like water balloons, feeling as though their thin skins could only barely contain the sweetness within.

(If you're in Niagara, the stand is over on Victoria Avenue in Vineland, south of Claus Road. Drop me a line and I'll point you there.)

plum rippled ginger crunch ice cream

As I told her, I had in mind an ice cream stuffed with biscuits and plums, knobby in places with crunch, others smooth. In practice, it meant taking a prime extravagance and turning it into September's ice cream. Sharp and lush, this recipe is in honour of a family and the fruits of their farm, an ice cream that reminds me of the first time I drove out their way and found the sense to stop.  An ice cream as fancy as we needed to celebrate a book, as well as the years that brought us here, and the good fortune that brought me you.

Thank you for the bubbling laughter. 

(That was pretty smooshily said. Meant it just the same.)

 

 

 

PLUM RIPPLED GINGER CRUNCH ICE CREAM

Very much a plum crisp, frozen. I keep tripping over my words and calling it Plum Rumple Ice cream, which is how I sort of think of it. The fruit and crumbs and cream don't wholly blend, so the flavours are separate, yet in harmony.

FOR THE ICE CREAM BASE

  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 (14-ounce) can evaporated milk
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • A pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

FOR THE PLUM RIPPLE

  • 8 ounces plums, pitted, halved if small, quartered if large
  • 2-4 tablespoons brown sugar, depending on fruit
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated ginger

 

FOR THE GINGER CRUNCH

  • 4 ounces gingersnap cookies, homemade or store bought
  • 1 1/2 ounces pecans, toasted

METHOD 

To make the ice cream base, stir the condensed milk and evaporated milk together in a medium saucepan. Spilt the vanilla bean down its length, scraping out the seeds. Add both the seeds and the bean to the saucepan, along with a pinch of salt. Heat over medium-low heat until just under a simmer, stirring often.

Pour the mixture, including the vanilla pod, into a clean bowl or pitcher. Stir in 1 cup of the heavy cream and taste. It should be very sweet, but not uncomfortably so. If needed, add up to 1/2 cup more cream. Cover and chill the mixture in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, and up to overnight.

While the base is chilling, make the plum ripple. Tumble the plums into small, heavy-bottomed saucepan along with 2 tablespoons of sugar and the grated ginger. Bring to a boil, stirring regularly, over medium heat, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Let the fruit blip away until the flesh is quite soft and the juices deeply coloured, around 3 to 5 minutes. Push the fruit through a fine-meshed sieve over a bowl, then pour the liquid back into the pan and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes more, stirring often. The sauce should look shiny and thick, with a fresh, true plum flavour, tangy but fairly sweet. Keeping in mind that the flavour will dull when frozen, , stir in additional sugar as needed. Set the plum sauce aside to cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

For the ginger crunch, simply crush the cookies in a mortar and pestle or in a resealable food bag with a rolling pin. The crumbs should be irregular, with some dust and some chunky bits. Pour the cookies into a bowl, then bash the toasted pecans the same way. Stir the nuts into the cookie rubble, and that's done.

To assemble, strain and freeze the ice cream base in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions. When it reaches the consistency of soft serve, spoon the ice cream out into a large mixing bowl. Fold most of the ginger crunch through the ice cream with a few purposeful strokes. Do not over mix.  

Spoon one third of the ice cream into a lidded, freezer-safe storage container. Sprinkle some more of the crunch over the layer, then drizzle on a few long stripes of the plum sauce. With the tip of a thin-bladed knife, gently ripple the plum sauce into the cream. Top with half the remaining ice cream, and repeat the layers, ending with crumbs and plums. Cover and freeze for at least 3 hours.

Makes a generous quart of ice cream.

 

Note:  

  • The plums can be roasted instead of cooked on the stove. Arrange them snugly in a dish, toss them with the sugar and ginger, then pop it all into a moderately hot oven, say 400-425 degrees, until the fruit is soft. 
  • The crumble on my serving is pulverized candied pecans. They added some extra gilding to an already-fine day.

 

*Note: The book was tentatively-titled Well Fed, but that has since been changed. Some of the kind comments below reflect the earlier title. Thanks! 

 

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Authortara
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icewine gelée with yogurt mousse and pan-roasted plums

Today has a funny feeling to it. The feeling of askew and unsettled.

There was the storm that knocked out our power and heat for 20 hours, which was a nothing in comparison to what so many of you are still dealing with. And then there's that I'm here, talking about a story I started working on three months ago, one that published one month ago, with food for September. Yet here we are, almost at November.

Do you think that Halloween, a day of ghosts and goblins, of tricks and treats and dashes of magic, is a good day for time travel?

I’m hoping so, as that’s my plan. Fingers crossed you’re up for the ride.

Over the summer, Nikole asked if I'd like to collaborate again, this time for a piece for The Globe and Mail. Michael had already agreed; it hardly took me a second to jump up and join them.

The idea was that we'd make a meal together, one that felt right for the end of summer and fall's beginning, one that suited big platters passed around, with a menu inspired by ingredients we found at the farmstands and orchards and markets we like. Nikole and I would sort the food together; then on the day, I'd cook, she'd get everything set in that way she does so well, and Michael would be tasked with capturing it all. 

Here's how it went. 

the meal, all together

We filled the table. (And I may have filled the studio with smoke at one point.)

There was a salad of Santa Claus melon and spiky, sharp arugula, dressed with Champagne vinegar. We stripped the gold and cream kernels off the cobs of a pile of corn, and sautéed them with sweet onion, ground fennel and coriander. There was a plate of brined pork chops, edged with crunchy fat and succulent through and through, finished with a cider pan sauce and decorated with fried capers. Capers are so nice that way, they split and crisp, opening up like blossoms with the tiniest of petals, frilled and crunchy. We leafed the Brussels sprouts to keep their shape, the ideal vessel for toasted hazelnuts and a dressing of olive oil. 

The afternoon before, we'd filled cups with layers of icewine gelée and a honey-kissed yogurt mousse and then stashed them away in the fridge. To finish them on the day of, there wasn't much to do but for spooning over some pan-roasted plums. That was dessert.

When all was settled and dishes empty, and the room quiet, we stayed around the table. We sipped on drinks and talked past dark.  

:::::::

Thinking back to then from now, I think we achieved the meal we'd hoped for. It was a September dinner in Ontario's farmland, even though it was August in the middle of the city. I'm grateful for those who shared in the making of it all.

And I'm so very happy to now share a part of it with you.

******* 

If you'd like a way to help with relief efforts for those effected by Sandy, the Red Cross may be a place to start.

And, I've not forgotten — for the copies of UPPERCASE issue 15, Mike and Lauren have been selected. Guys, I'll be in touch! 

For this post, all photographs by Michael Graydon, styling by Nikole Herriott and food by me. xo, pals.

(Be sure to check out Nikole's site for the corn recipe, it was a favourite! For those who asked, the glass cups for the dessert are egg coddlers; they are available at her shop.)

ICEWINE GELÉE WITH YOGURT MOUSSE AND PLUMS

While the recipe reads long, it isn’t especially complicated; the steps are spread out over the chilling time, with only short periods of activity. 

The icewine gelée is intensely flavoured, balanced by the subtlety of the yogurt mousse. Sautéed plums are simple, yet luxuriously lush, gorgeous with their claret juice. The unexpected addition of fresh thyme, and grassy, extra-virgin olive oil, bring a fragrant richness, evocative of fall.

Grilled figs would be a lovely substitution for the plums. Or maybe fresh cranberries, cooked with sugar and orange zest, until they just burst and go juicy.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Ready time: 3 1/2 hours (includes chilling time)

Serves: 6

For the icewine gelée

  • 1 sheet leaf gelatine, gold extra strength
  • 100 ml icewine

For the yogurt mousse

  • 2 sheets leaf gelatine, gold extra strength
  • 1 cup greek yogurt (2% butterfat)
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • Seeds scraped from 1/2 vanilla bean
  • 1 cup heavy (whipping, 35%) cream, divided

For the plums

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, not extra virgin
  • 8 small, firm plums, each cut into eight wedges
  • 2 tablespoons Turbinado sugar, or thereabouts, depending on sweetness of fruit
  • Pinch of Kosher salt
  • 1 small sprig thyme, left whole, plus more for garnish

To serve

  • Extra-virgin olive oil and store bought amaretti or other crisp biscuits

For the gelée, soak the gelatine in a shallow dish of cold water for 5 minutes to soften. Meanwhile, gently warm the wine in a saucepan over medium-low heat until under a simmer; do not boil. Remove from the heat, squeeze the excess water out of the gelatin and whisk into the warm wine until dissolved. Divide the wine mixture between six 1-cup-capacity cups and refrigerate gelées for 1 hour.

To make the mousse, soak gelatine in a shallow dish of cold water for 5 minutes.

While gelatine is softening, stir yogurt, honey and vanilla seeds together in a small bowl. Pour 2 tablespoons heavy cream into a small saucepan and set aside. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, whip remaining cream to firm peaks.

Squeeze the water out of the gelatine and melt in the small saucepan with the reserved cream over low heat, stirring to combine. Whisk this into the yogurt mixture and then fold in the whipped cream. Spoon yogurt mousse into the dessert cups, on top of the icewine layer, filling to a generous two-thirds full. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

To prepare the plums, warm olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add plums, sugar and salt. Cook, shaking the pan gently and turning the fruit with care, until plums begin to soften, around 3 minutes.

Remove pan from heat, add the thyme sprig and stir. Let cool for 5 minutes.

To serve, remove thyme from plums and spoon fruit on top of prepared mousses. Garnish with fresh thyme leaves and a few drops of extra-virgin olive oil, passing the amaretti cookies and any remaining fruit at the table.

Note: We used the Cabernet Franc icewine from Henry of Pelham in the gelée for its beautiful colour and acidity. Peller Estate’s Private Reserve Icewine Vidal makes for a rich, golden gelée, and affords a more modestly-priced option.

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