A few days ago, early last Saturday morning to be precise, Sean and I had a complete breakdown in communication.

We were at the Farmer's Market, me with one perched on my hip and another clasping my hand, and Sean across the way. It was a busy morning, so while our boys snacked on their standard sample from the nearby bakery, Sean waded into the current of people to gather our purchases.

Usually, our over-and-through-the-crowd brand of semaphore works a treat. This time, not so much. With all the hustle and bustle, our signals got crossed and the quantities of our request was lost in translation. Long story short, we ended up with a surfeit of corn. Double the intended amount, to be exact.

Not a terrible mistake, by any means, as the corn in question was fresh, local stuff, with neat rows of bicoloured kernels nestled snugly under tender green husks. Not terrible in the least.

A first impulse would be to tear back that blanket of green and roast the Dickens out of those ears atop a charcoal grill. Blistered black and concentrated sweet, I would gleefully dig in to the barbecued beauties. Or steamed tender-crisp, with a smear of sweet butter and scattering of crunchy flakes of salt - there were days of possibilities for our plenty.

The trouble was, more than a few of those possibilities included the application of heat. And did I mention to you that Summer huffed and puffed our way last week? With sweaty palms and hot breath, the season (finally) truly settled in on the 15th of August. And, no doubt about it, Summer is making up for lost time.

As I write this, it is 40°C with the humidex (104°F). While I am not all that bothered by the temperatures, by far preferring hot over cold, my boys are wilting more than a little bit. The heat has kept their mops eternally mussed, their ruddy cheeks shine with a thin sheen of perspiration and their kisses have turned salty.

You can understand then, that I am not in the least inclined to crank up the oven and overheat our happy home or add any fire to our already-sultry backyard.

As luck would have it, a little while prior to our misunderstanding at the market*, I had enjoyed this salad from Anna Olson. Served at her shop, it was subtle and sweet, but my version alters hers ever so slightly; here, there is oomph to be had.

Stripped from the cob, plump gold and ivory nuggets glisten with a slick of olive oil in a pan for nothing but the shortest of sojourns, then it's a tumble with an edible confetti of shallots, chili, green onion and herbs. The blueberries are next, an addition that brings musky depth and even more mouth-quenching moisture. Squeeze on some lime, crumble over brackish nuggets of fresh cheese, and off it all goes to chill.

In the intervening minutes between mix and serve is when everything happens. The corn turns sweeter, it's flavour amplified by the citrus and complimented by berries that shimmer onyx-bright. Fresh onion contrasts mellowed, cooked tones, the chilies release gentle heat into it all.

May all misunderstandings result in such dividends.

* It might just be the temperature finally getting to me, but doesn't The Misunderstanding at the Market sound like the title to an Agatha Christie mystery? Or at least a Harlequin romance novel?

BLUEBERRY CORN SALAD

Adapted from a recipe by Anna Olson. Queso fresco is a fresh Mexican cheese that has a mild, creamy taste.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus additional for drizzling (optional)
  • 3 cups fresh corn kernels (about 4 ears)
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onion
  • 2 red chilies, finely minced, seeded if desired
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta or queso fresco
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

METHOD

In a large sauté pan over medium high heat, add the olive oil, then the corn. Sauté for about 2 minutes, until the corn begins to brighten in colour. Add the shallot and cook for 1 minute more, stirring often. Remove pan from the heat, stir in the green onion and red chilies. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Allow the vegetables to cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, combine the corn mixture with the blueberries and cilantro tossing gently to combine. Pour over the lime juice, along with an extra glug of olive oil if desired. Stir again, then gently fold in the feta or queso fresco. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, checking for seasoning before serving.

Serves 4.

My goodness, it has been five times already. Five times Pim has rallied the food blogging community together, the first time in aid of those effected by the catastrophic tsunami that hit Southeast Asia on Boxing Day 2004. In each of those five times her campaign, Menu for Hope, has grown exponentially - last year we managed to raise over $90,000 for the United Nations World Food Programme. An astounding number of dollars offered in help, to be sure, as well as an astounding testament to the generosity of our online community and the impact we are able to make when we work together.

This year, I am once again proud to be involved through a prize donation. What's this about prizes you might ask? Well, this is how Menu for Hope works - food bloggers, food producers, publishing companies and many more organizations donate prizes to be put up for raffle. Raffle tickets are then sold, at the low, low price of $10 each, for each of those prizes. These virtual tickets are then compiled, and at the end of the campaign a winner is chosen at random, with the results announced at Chez Pim. Easy peasy, no?

Further details on Menu for Hope, and answers to frequently asked questions are available on Pim's site.

I know that this past year has been a difficult one for many, and our global economic crisis has many of us feeling unsure about the future. If you are unable to participate in this year's campaign, it is wholly understandable and I only ask that you might pass the word onto anyone and everyone you believe might be interested. For those of you that feel that they can spare the money to donate, I thank you.

Now, I said something about prizes - must get back to that. In partnership with the fine folks at Whitecap Books, I am happy to be donating two bundles of cookbooks, all from Canadian authors (see below for summaries and cover images).

The first, prize code CA06, is a wonderful set of two cookbooks in celebration of all that Canada has to offer. Taste of Canada by Rose Murray is an epicurean love letter to the country, with thoughtfully-chosen recipes that reflect the scope of our cuisine. It is a beautiful book, with elegant and evocative images and an obvious affection for its subject matter. The second book is great guide to treasures from your local wine shop, The 500 Best-Value Wines in the LCBO 2009 by Rod Phillips.

CA07 is a collection of books from authors who have all participated in the "Seven Questions With..." series from this site, and have all reached some level of celebrity in the Canadian culinary scene. Anna Olson of Canada's Food Network has brought together a fantastic collection of recipes for the home cook, full of family favourites with a modern twist; truth be told, it is a book I have kept in my kitchen since I got it. Dominique and Cindy Duby, true masters of pastry and sugar, let us in on their recipe for the perfect crème brûlée (along with 50 sweet and savoury variations) in their book of the same name. In Marty's World Famous Cookbook, Marty Curtis reveals the secrets of his famous buttertarts, and many of the favourites from his popular cottage country café.

A full list of prizes being donated by Canadian food bloggers is available at our regional host site Hooked on Heat. My thanks to the wonderful Meena for all her hard work.

So, now that I've tempted you with all this fabulous stuff, here is how to contribute:

Donation Instructions

1. Choose a prize or prizes of your choice from our Menu for Hope at Chez Pim.
2. Go to the donation site at First Giving and make a donation.
3. Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. Please specify which prize you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your donation. You must write-in how many tickets per prize, and please use the prize code.
For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for EU01 and 3 tickets for EU02. Please write 2xEU01, 3xEU02.
4. If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.
5. Please allow us to see your email address so that we could contact you in case you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.

CA06: The flavours of Canada

CA07: Great recipes from famed authors

  • Courtesy of Whitecap Books and seven spoons, a three (3) cookbook prize bundle with the latest books from famous Canadian authors; In the Kitchen with Anna ($29.95 CAD) by Food Network Canada's Anna Olson , Marty's World Famous Cookbook ($29.95 CAD) by Marty Curtis of the popular Bracebridge, Ontario café that bears his name, and Crème Brûlée ($19.95 CAD) by Dominique and Cindy Duby, acclaimed pâtisiers and chocolatiers.
Permission to print cover images also courtesy of Whitecap Books.

These Chocolate Almond Toffee Bars look innocent enough, but are two bites of true, gooey indulgence. Photos courtesy of Irene Powell.

Even though one may not mean to become caught up in things, sometimes it is unavoidable. Such was my case recently, as a (thankfully-mild) strain of the chicken pox made its way through our little ones, forcing our household into a state of quarantine and oatmeal baths for two weeks. This was followed closely by an infection that had Mummy curled up on the couch, slippers on and blanket pulled up tight, for another few days. Suddenly almost a month has gone by, and it seems all in a blur.

Now we are about ankle-deep in holiday preparations; events with family and friends are already scheduled, decorations are already being considered, and menu ideas are already floating around in my head. Where did this autumn go? It feels like Halloween was just yesterday.

Lucky for us, I had the book In the Kitchen with Anna: New ways with the Classics standing by at the ready. In it, chef Anna Olson offers up meals and menus that have a nostalgic appeal; a bit retro, a bit kitch sometimes, but always tasty. This is feel-good eating at its best, and just the sort of food one craves when life gets a bit hectic.

While the book does include entertaining-worthy recipes like unctuous Mushroom Potato Brie Tarts and an impressive Garlic Roasted Turkey Crown with Chardonnay Pan Sauce, it is the modern classics like the Contemporary Cobb Salad, Ultimate Cheese Fondue and Baja Fish Tacos, that are, in my mind, the real draw.

Through the craziness over the last few weeks, I found myself turning to this book numerous times for inspiration. And rarely did it disappoint.

I have pledged my allegiance to steel-cut oats, but I tried Olson's version using the rolled variety when I found my cupboard was bare of the former. Surprisingly light due to the addition of oat bran, the oatmeal was delicious. So good in fact, that when mornings dawned cold and grey, I reached for this breakfast again and again.

The Rockwell Bake, a savoury bread pudding that combines all the flavours of Thanksgiving dinner, was hearty and soul-satisfying. Anna's Pot Roast was fairly-standard comfort fare, brightened through a second addition of vegetables towards the end of cooking. While good, however, what stole the show that night was the recommended accompaniment of Fluffy Dumplings. True to their title, these dumplings were pillowy-light, and an ideal way to sop up the roast's beer-soused gravy.

For those visiting the Niagara Region, Olson's two specialty food shops sell dishes from In the Kitchen with Anna as some of their prepared foods. It is a wonderful opportunity to taste some of the food before purchasing the book and also a testament to Olson's confidence in standing behind these recipes - a true mark of quality.

It was at her St. David's, Ontario, location that we were able to try the Beef, Caramelized Onion and Smoked Cheddar on Foccacia sandwich. Hot off of the panini press, the exterior was shatteringly crisp, giving way to melt-in-your-mouth slices of beef, accented by sweet onions, a slathering of grainy mustard and subtly-smoked cheese.

Since Olson is famous for her desserts, far be it from me to ignore that chapter. The Lemon Cheesecake Mousse tarts had an beautifully light texture with the perfect sharp citrus note. They managed to be delicate but luscious, all at once. Dangerously-easy to make are the Chocolate Almond Toffee Bars (photographed above, please see recipe below); to call these rich would be a gross understatement. A sturdy crust of oats and graham is scattered with both toffee and chocolate, then almonds, and finally a blanketing of sweet condensed milk. This modest effort results in a bar cookie that is tender in its belly, but slightly burnished and crisp above. Ridiculously addicting stuff.

Only one recipe fell short of expectation; the Artichoke Asiago Squares. The appetizer, somewhat akin to crustless quiche, is billed to taste like the popular dip of the same name and readers are urged "if there is no other recipe you make from this book, please make it this one." With such an introduction, these were a definite must-try. But while the squares are good, none of my tasters thought them great. The consensus was that they were best served warm, but even then the texture was not a favourite and some found the asiago could have been more pronounced. I would not call this a failure, but I would say that there are stronger dishes in the book.

The book itself is bright and colourful. The food looks fresh, shot simply, but beautifully, by Ryan Szulc. Minimally styled by Olson, the images are homey and inviting, with little fuss marring our look at the the food.

I particularly enjoyed how the recipes were laid out. Accompanying each was not only general notes included in the header, but also a three-part footnote outlining the taste, technique and tale of that particular dish. This additional information included more in-depth information about the ingredients or preparation, and also were a peek into the personality of Olson herself; the chatty, convivial tone was charming to read.

From the every day to almost every celebration, for lazy weekends and when the weekdays are flying by, In the Kitchen with Anna: New Way with the Classics includes recipes that are excellent additions to any cook's repertoire. Showing us easy, accessible cooking with touches that make each dish feel special, Olson makes a lovely kitchen companion.

CHOCOLATE ALMOND TOFFEE BARS

This recipe is one of my most requested, so I'm happy to include it in this book. — Anna Olson

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 cups (375 ml) rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 tsp (1 ml) fine salt
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup (250 ml) Skor toffee bits
  • 1 cup (250 ml) chocolate chips
  • 1 cup (250 ml) sliced almonds
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease and line an 8-inch (2 L) square pan with parchment paper so that the paper hangs over the sides of the pan.

Stir the oats, graham crumbs and salt in a bowl to combine, then stir in the melted butter. Press the crumbly oat mixture into the prepared pan. Sprinkle Skor bits evenly on top, followed by chocolate chips and sliced almonds. Pour condensed milk evenly over pan (it will sink in as it bakes) and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the edges are bubbling. Cool to room temperature in the pan, then chill for at least 4 hours before slicing into bars.

Store toffee bars in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Makes one 8"x8" pan.

Taste

This is decadence in a pan. The sinful combination of chocolate, toffee and almonds enveloped in condensed milk that caramelizes as it bakes is irresistible. At least these have oats in them to redeem themselves, just a little bit.

Technique

This is a simple recipe to execute—you gather the ingredients and layer them, basically. The challenge is in waiting for them after they've finished baking!

Tale

My head pastry chef at Olson Foods + Bakery, Andrea, brought this recipe to my attention. She is an excellent baker, and we go way back. She started with me as a high school co-op student, while I was just picking up professional baking myself on the job, so we learned together. That was about 15 years ago, and after her stint at cooking school and gaining other work experience, I'm thrilled that we are working together again after all these years.

Additional recipes from

In the Kitchen with Anna: New ways with the Classics

Huevos Rancheros

Pot Roast with Dumplings

Luncheon Sandwich Torte

Permission to print recipe and cover image courtesy Whitecap Books.

In the foreground, Artichoke Asiago Squares. All photos courtesy of Irene Powell.

On a cold October evening, nothing could have been more welcoming than the sight of Anna Olson's new shop, Olson Foods at Ravine; tucked amongst the vineyards of St. David's, Ontario, the windows of the farmhouse-styled store shone warmly as we drove up the winding gravel driveway.

Though a celebration of Anna Olson's new book,In the Kitchen with Anna, (Whitecap Books, 2008) the evening was also felt to be the formal debut of the three-month-old shop, the second owned by the Food Network star and her husband (in this case also in partnership with Ravine Winery). It specializes in baked goods, fine foods and condiments, artisinal Canadian cheeses, select cookware items and boasts a small café-styled menu to be enjoyed on site, or for takeaway.

The store is expansive without feeling cavernous. The vaulted ceiling with glossy exposed beams embody the rustic elegance that seems the hallmark of Olson Foods at Ravine. A generous harvest table greeted us on arrival, tastefully adorned with seasonal flowers and an array of savoury nibbles from the book, including wedges of Provençal Tarts and slices of Brandied Pork Terrine, studded with cranberries and pistachios.

To one side of the room the bakery and deli beckons; servers are standing at the ready, offering up steaming bowls of Celery Soup with Blue Cheese. The on-site wood fired oven produced the gloriously-burnished roasted chicken on display, and is to thank for the house-made breads piled generously on the counter. To the other side of the room, backed by displays of oils, vinegars and jams, delicate cake stands present a trio of Mocha Hazelnut Cheesecakes. At their feet are platters of Lemon Cheesecake Mousse Tarts and perfectly-cut rows of Chocolate Almond Toffee Bars.

Taking it all in, we wandered the shop; handcrafted cutting boards from Stratford, Ontario were of particular interest, as were the array of salts and aromatic teas. Rainbow-hued enamelled cookware gleamed brightly from the shelves.

A wonderful compliment to the lakeside location of the original Olson's location in Port Dalhousie, St. Catharines, Ontario, Olson Foods at Ravine feels earthy and lush; well-placed in Niagara's wine region, it is a wonderful addition to the area, and is surely to become a favourite for locals and visitors alike.

Almost too lovely to eat, Mocha Hazelnut Cheesecakes.

With two bustling stores, the second season of her highly-successful new show Fresh recently wrapped up, and a new book on shelves, Anna Olson has a lot going on. I was able to grab a moment of her time to chat about food, inspiration and seasonal tastes.

seven spoons: Your new show has taken you out of a white studio space into the vibrant colours of your own home; with that, you have shifted your focus from desserts alone to foods for all occasions. How have you taken to the change?

Anna Olson: I'd have to say that I'm going back to my roots; that is, I started my culinary career not as a pastry chef, but as a savoury cook. Developing my pastry skills happened about six years after [I started] cooking. I have been a chef for almost 15 years - oops! Dating myself.

I feel this latest book shows a bit more of my complete self, not just the baker in me.

7S: Your book, In the Kitchen with Anna, follows this move to homey, accessible takes on the classics. How did you approach writing it?

AO: Fortunately the approach to writing this latest book was not a stretch of the imagination. I did not have to reach far for motivation; in fact, I took a step back to see what dishes and flavour combinations I was reaching for instinctively. I find, to get through my hectic days, I was cooking not just comfort food, but dishes that spoke to classic flavour combinations - yet with a little kick or something different to keep me interested, both in cooking and in eating.

7S: What would you consider your major influences in the kitchen? Any culinary heroes?

AO: I have the greatest admiration for chef Michael Olson, my husband. Before I knew him personally, I came to the Niagara Region to work with him professionally; I [had] admired, and still do, his commitment to using local, seasonal ingredients.

7S: With your two stores, Olson Foods at Port and the new Olson Foods at Ravine, what trends are you seeing with customers tastes?

AO: I find that customers aren't necessarily seeking exotic high-end ingredients. They want products that have a story or personal connection, and without fail it has to be a quality product. With food safety becoming a more publicized issue, knowing where your food comes from is important.

7S: Are there any particular ingredients or products that are particularly inspiring to you right now?

AO: Being seasonally motivated, I am happy as can be to cook with pumpkin, squash, onions, sage and rosemary. I do a roast every weekend in the autumn and I also eat a lot more cheese than I do any other time of year.

7S: Often you will hear chefs and cooks separate what they cook professionally, and what they cook in their own kitchen. Is that the case with you, and what is your go-to recipe at home?

AO: Since the two stores feature a great deal of familiar flavours and dishes, I'm not seeking to separate myself from them. In the day when I worked fine dining, after a service of cooking lobster, foie gras and making elaborate sauces, I would need to break away. I think that, like many chefs, the roasted chicken Sunday supper is the epitome of the perfect meal.

7S: And finally, three questions in one. It would be remiss not to ask you about sweets, as you have become so famous for your decadent creations. What is your favourite celebratory dessert? Your favourite comfort dessert? Your favourite guilty pleasure?

AO: Ah, I can never give a straight answer to that "favourite" question. Yes, I am seasonally motivated, so that shapes my favourites; I wouldn't dream of making a strawberry tart in October. But, I am very much craving-motivated when it comes to sweets ... when I want chocolate, I can think of nothing else until I get my chocolate!! And sometimes that's how the best recipes happen - by pure craving!

My thanks to Anna Olson for taking the time to speak with me; please look out for my thoughts on In the Kitchen with Anna: New Ways with the Classics early next week.

From top; freshly-baked Museli Bread, delicate bites of Lemon Cheesecake Mousse, and (with Brandied Pork Terrine in the background) chef Anna Olson's new book.