in the spoon

What would you consider the value of a bowl of frozen yogurt?

To be clear, I don't mean its sentimental value, nothing as romantic as all of that, I'm talking about nitty-gritty, slap-a-pricetag-on-that-puppy value.

Hold on, let me give you the details before you all start yelling out answers all The Price is Right-style on me.

This is not just any frozen confection. It is removed from the insipidly-sweet ranks of those frozen yogurts parading as ice cream. It has the unmistakable twang of yogurt, softened only slightly by sweetness. This is one that puts Greek yogurt front and centre; yogurt so thick that when spooned it falls lazily back upon itself in luscious folds. This is one where the yogurt plays equal partner to handful upon handful of mixed berries that have been squished and squashed into a violet-hued pulp.

It's darn good stuff.

Still can't decide? I'll be more specific. Would you think that the aforementioned frozen yogurt was worth, hmm ... I don't know ... say, a bouquet of peonies?

I'm totally serious. You can keep your dollars and cents, thank you very much, I will happily hand over pints in exchange for armfuls of blooms.

Why, you ask? The peony is one of my two absolute favourite flowers. They are, without a doubt, the most feminine of beauties; debutante-dreamy with their frilled crinoline petals. And I am surrounded by them, everywhere but in our yard. While our neighborhood is filled plentiful bushes, heavy with showy blossoms, ours is a peony-free zone. Our yard is too shady for their liking.

In lieu of turning to a life of floral theft, I am seriously considering a trade with our neighbors. Or, better yet, a frozen yogurt stand at the end of our driveway. One bloom for one scoop of equally girly-girl pink yogurt sounds fair, doesn't it?

Epilogue:

My father has glorious peonies growing at home; if our neighborhood's contingent are debs, his are divas. His bushes boast bountiful blooms, bodacious in their size. He kindly gifted me with some recently, on Father's Day no less. (If you look carefully in the photograph above, you'll catch a glimpse of his flowers in the reflection on the spoons.)

The next day, I made Dad a batch of mango frozen yogurt.

So all's well that ends well, dear reader. The only thing wanting is that I do wish I offer you some frozen yogurt. We could sit around my kitchen table, leaning into our bowls, and have a good chat. I could excitedly share with you the news that I am a contributor to the summer issue of UPPERCASE magazine.

I came to know about UPPERCASE gallery through the art of Jennifer Judd-McGee. When she unveiled the piece she had completed for an upcoming show, I was curious to learn more about the (Canadian!) gallery hosting the exhibit. And when I did, I became an immediate fan of Janine Vangool and her many creative endeavours. The magazine is her latest, and I am happy to be included in its pages.

The issue will out on July 2nd. Here's a sneak preview of what I made, and a peek between the covers. In other news, I have also been working on a revised About section, with a little more about me and answers to often asked questions. See the link at the left.

MIXED BERRY FROZEN YOGURT

Greek yogurt is rich to say the least, and heavy on the tongue. It provides a rounded base to all the high-note acidity of the fruit juices.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups fresh mixed berries, I used strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar, see note
  • 1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 cups Greek yogurt, or well-drained whole milk yogurt

METHOD

Take your lovely berries and, in a large bowl with 1/3 cup of the sugar, crush the life out of them with a potato masher or the back of a spoon. Add the lemon juice, stir briefly, and cover. Allow the berries to macerate at room temperature for about an hour.

Using a coarse sieve set over another large bowl, press the berries through the mesh with the back of a spoon. Underneath the juices should be thick and slightly pulpy, but all seeds and larger fibers should remain above. Once all the berries have been sieved, you should have a generous 1 cup of purée.

Stir in the yogurt. Sweeten, a little at a time, with the remaining sugar. As so much will depend on the sweetness of your berries, add the sugar judiciously, tasting often. You want to take the mixture to where it tastes balanced to your palate, then sweeten it a little bit further. Sweetness is dulled by freezing, so this extra oomph will compensate.

When satisfied with the level of sweetness and all the sugar has dissolved, cover and chill the mix for two hours. Freeze according to your ice cream maker's manufacturer's instructions.

Makes about 1 quart. Soften at room temperature for a few minutes before scooping.

Notes:

• I have used as little as a 1/2 cup of sugar, and as much as almost a full cup for this recipe.

• As Elise points out, frozen yogurt will turn icy once frozen for more than 6-8 hours. So really, the universe is telling you to eat this yogurt the day its made. If you really must store it for longer than that, follow her advice and "add a tablespoon of vodka or kirsch to the mixture right before churning."

I wish I could say that every dish I made had a fabulous backstory. Something compelling, or educational or even enticingly tempting. Heck, I would even settle for vaguely amusing sometimes. But sadly, that is not the case.

In truth, most of the dishes that reach our table do so out of a straightforward need to stop the grumbling of our bellies. And more often than not, there is an emotional whim attached.

Such was the case with the menus we have enjoyed this week. A bitterly cold spell and some particularly heavy workloads took their toll by Tuesday, by which time we found ourselves in need of sustenance of both the body and spirit. That afternoon I called my dear Mum, not only for a bit of cheer but also for her minestrone recipe - a dish I have not had for years.

Preparing it for Sean and Benjamin brought instant comfort. All it asked of me was some idle chopping, followed by lazy stirring now and again. Just the sort of demand I could handle. The pot gently simmered on the stove, filling the kitchen with a heady steam. A mere half-hour later we were rewarded with a hearty meal, all slurped up with a spoon. I had meant to take a photo but we were far too impatient to allow for such an interruption.

On Wednesday the mood continued, though we were buoyed by the meal the night before. In anticipation of another late evening for Sean I set about making one of his all-time, desert island desserts - a crumble. Without enough produce to make the preferred apple version, I nosed my way through our pantry to assemble this apple and mixed berry hybrid. The frozen berries, a direct violation of my commitment to eating seasonally, add a bit of brightness to a dreary month with their luxuriously velvet juices coating the apples beautifully.

My finished product was what I had hoped; a buttery crust that gave way to a filling more subtle in its sweetness than other versions, with just enough spice to add some resonant warmth. An offering that was everyday but just a bit special, and altogether satisfying.

I wish I could say that this dessert was ground-breakingly interesting, but it is not. It is simply familiar, uncomplicated and good. Sometimes, that is more than enough.

Apple and mixed berry crumble
My own recipe. As laziness is an integral part of comfort cooking, the version pictured used frozen berries and their juices; resulting in a luscious sort of fruit slump on the plate. If you prefer a less juicy version, defrost and drain the berries before adding to the filling.

Ingredients
1/2 pound cold butter (2 sticks), diced, plus more at room temperature for pan
2/3 cup blanched, sliced almonds
1/3 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 pounds tart baking apples, preferably Granny Smith, peeled, cored and cut into medium dice
1 1/2 pounds frozen berry mix, see note above
Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

Preheat oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Lightly butter a 9"x13" baking dish and place this on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, combine almonds, coconut, brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, oats and flours. Using a pastry cutter, or the mixer on its lowest speed, cut in 1 3/4 sticks (14 tablespoons) butter into the dry ingredients. When finished the mixture should resemble a coarse, uneven meal. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine apples, frozen berries, lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar, cornstarch, spices and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Toss gently to combine well. Pour fruit mixture into prepared baking dish and dot with the reserved butter.

Sprinkle topping evenly over dish, leaving a bit of the fruit peaking out at edges. Bake for 55-60 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and the top is golden brown. Allow to stand 5-10 minutes before serving.

Recipe Notes:
• You may want to adjust the sugar depending on your taste and the sweetness of the fruit.
• The coconut is an addition I always enjoy for textural contrast, but is not essential.
• The spice measurements are an approximation of "one good pinch" of each. Again, adjust as you see fit.

Sidenote:
• I our house this is a crumble, but I do see that some would call it a crisp. What would call it?

When Jennifer proposed the theme of this month's Sugar High my thoughts, as one who knows me at all would surely assume, turned to yearnings for chocolate.

But, though happy in those thoughts, I began to consider that which I most longed for as of late. Not a food or flavour specifically, but more of a mood or moment - I'd been pining for the arrival of summertime.

Sure, the mercury has been on the rise and the trees are well dressed in their abundant leaves, but somehow it still has not felt summer enough. It was not those broad shouldered, blue-eyed lazy days of August, where the sun smiles so brightly that the world seems lit from within.

So how could I evoke this feeling through food?

In southern Ontario, the warming months bring bustle back to farmers markets. Roadside fruit stands seem to multiply exponentially overnight. Punnets, pints and bushels make their way back into our weekend lexicon as the harvests roll in.

And the harvest inextricably tied to the season? Berries. Luscious and bursting with a sweetness born of sunshine, the ripening of Ontario strawberries coincides perfectly with the official start of summer.

Classic in every way, this strawberry swirl ice cream embodies nostalgic thoughts of childhood holidays. This is the taste of evenings on the swingset at my favourite ice cream stand; white stripes of cream coating our arms to our elbows as we sat, sucking the icy bits of strawberry until they turned supple and soft again.

Here, I wanted a taste that was purely luxurious berries and cream, and so chose to go with a dense, velvety rich vanilla custard base punctuated with tart strawberries. The psychedelic tie dye effect of broad ribbons of reddest red against the creamy whiteness was the look I had wanted, but feel free to blend the strawberries further for a more feminine hue.

Strawberry swirl ice cream
My interpretation of a variety of sources, with thanks.

Ingredients
2 cups half and half (10%) cream
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
A pinch of salt
5 egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream (35%, whipping)
2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
2 cups fresh strawberries
1/8 -1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Prepare an ice bath using a large bowl full of ice and water. Have another bowl, one that will fit inside the first without becoming fully submerged, set aside.

In a heavy-based saucepan pour in the half and half. Using the back of a knife, scrape the seeds out of the bean and into the saucepan, add the pod as well. Season with salt. Over medium heat, bring this mixture to a simmer. Turn off the heat and allow the vanilla to infuse into the liquid for 30 minutes.

Turn the burner back on and bring the mixture back to a gentle simmer over medium-low.

In a bowl that can withstand heat, whisk together the egg yolks and 2/3 cup of sugar until it becomes pale yellow and fluffy. Whisking constantly, pour a thin, steady stream of the half and half into the yolk mixture. Once combined, pour the mixture back into the same saucepan and return to the heat. Using a wooden spoon, stir the custard constantly until thickened and coats the back of the spoon, anywhere from 6 to 10 minutes.

Using a medium-fine mesh sieve, strain the custard into the clean bowl set aside earlier. Immediately place this bowl into the ice bath. Stir occasionally until the custard comes to room temperature. The vanilla bean can be taken at this point, rinsed and set aside to dry on a kitchen towel. Once dry, it can be used to make vanilla sugar.

Once the custard has cooled, stir in the the heavy cream. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled (I like a good couple of hours).

Meanwhile, mash the strawberries with the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar and lemon juice. Set aside at room temperature to macerate.

When the custard is chilled, follow the manufacturer's instructions to churn the ice cream. Once the ice cream is ready, remove the machine's dasher and gently fold in the strawberries and their juices. Do not overmix. Transfer to a food storage container then tightly seal and freeze for at least 2 hours.

Makes 1 quart.

Notes:

• Decadent as this version is, richer versions feature as many as 6 egg yolks for the same amount of liquid and a higher ratio of heavy cream to half and half (or milk). Choose the one that best suits your taste.
• If there seems to be too much accumulated strawberry juice, hold some back to maintain the texture of the ice cream - you do not want it to become waterlogged (well, juicelogged).
• For a pink version, rather than the marbled result here, strain the accumulated juices from the strawberries into the cooled custard before pouring into the machine. Add the strawberries through the feed tube during the last 5 minutes of churning.