Flirting with Flavour


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The Perfect Summer Cake for Everyone

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My niece graduated from high school last weekend. Wow, that sentence makes me feel old. Perhaps I should qualify that I am only 6 years older than my niece. Phew, now that feels better; less like I should have a coherent life plan.

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My sister is a phenomenal cook. A love of cooking and baking definitely runs in the family. As she and I were discussing the all-friendly menu for last Sunday’s graduation celebration, I offered to help out in any way I could. When we realised we had overlooked the sweet part of the meal, my duty became clear. The only thing is, my niece, while she loves to have dessert, is obsessed with being healthy. This makes sense for a girl recruited to play Div 1 lacrosse at Mercer. So I wanted to make something that she would actually enjoy and not end up feeling like she’d cheated on her dietary routine. Plus, it had to be me-friendly. I wasn’t about to make a dessert I couldn’t partake in!

A quick read through my inbox revealed this Honey Almond cake with Raspberries, Orange, and Pistachio from Cookie + Kate. It looked perfect. Naturally gluten free, refined sugar free, and it utilised delicious summer fruits. As much as I love chocolate, there are occasions when it’s just too heavy… At the bottom of the recipe Kate suggests that the cake might also be good with lemon and blueberries. I took this suggestion and ran with it.

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As a disciple of Amanda Hesser’s, I of course must use Meyer lemons if they are available, so rushed off to the farmers market hoping to find some. Meyer lemons and blueberries in hand, I remembered a truly outrageous lemon polenta cake I had made a few years back from one of the River Cottage cookbooks and thought – why not sub in some cornmeal? The recipe below is what was born out of this inspiration. A little bit later in the summer, when blueberry season is in full swing, it will probably be even tastier. That said, it is delicious as is and everyone has seconds! Some even thirds … 🙂

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Honey Almond Polenta Cake with Meyer Lemon & Blueberries

Ingredients

1 cup firmly packed almond meal
1 cup cornmeal, fine grain polenta, or corn flour (not to be confused with corn starch, which is called corn flour in the UK)
1 tsp baking powder, heaping
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp fine-grain sea salt

3 eggs, beaten
2 Meyer lemons, juiced & zested
2/3 cup honey + 1 tsp (separated)
1/4 cup olive oil
8oz blueberries, preferably organic (plus a few for garnish)

Powdered sugar to garnish

Method

1. Preheat oven to 325F. Grease 10″ springform pan & sprinkle with almond meal, line bottom with parchment paper
2. Whisk together dry ingredients (almond meal, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom, nutmeg, & salt) in large bowl
3. In another bowl combine eggs, olive oil, lemon zest, and 2/3 cup of honey. Mix well.
4. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir until just a few clumps remaining. Gently fold in blueberries.
5. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and springs back to your touch. If you insert a toothpick, it should come out clean.
6. While you allow the cake to cool slightly on a rack, combine the lemon juice with the 1 tsp of honey in a small saucepan on the stove. Stir over medium heat until honey & juice are just blended.
7. Use a pastry brush to brush the honey-lemon juice over the cake while warm (though not to worry, it will still soak in if you let it cool all the way first). It will soak right in!

Enjoy! It also makes a phenomenal breakfast cake 🙂


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Seven-Fruit Fruit Salad

My mom, Gil, and I are all gathered in the living of our doublewide trailer, home away from home, in Virginia.  I’m standing at the bar separating the kitchen from the dining room (if it can be called that – it’s really just a table and some chairs with a few feet separating it from the couch in the so-called living room), on the kitchen side, slicing banana into three bowls, already nearly overflowing with fruits.  It has probably taken me upwards of twenty minutes just to cut the fruit.   What can I say?  I have a meticulous eye for equal portions.  Plus, it’s just plain relaxing.  The rhythm of knife and thumb working in harmony pushes any stressful thoughts into the farthest reaches of my mind.  And when you finally put that first spoonful into your mouth and the sour of the kiwi mixes with the cool-fresh-picked taste of blueberries and the sugary sweet strawberries… throw in some peaches and banana, maybe some mango, what the hell, throw in any and every fruit you can dream up.  It’s heaven; in it’s simplest sense.  It tastes of sun and fresh starts.  It tastes of summer breezes and auspiciousness.

Sorry, was I saying something?  Oh right!  I was just putting the finishing touches on our fruit salads for consumption on a particularly summery March morning.  ‘How many fruits are there in it?’ asked Gil.  ‘Four.‘  ‘Then it’s not a fruit salad.  Gotta have five fruits to be a fruit salad.’  I protest that we can only use what we have and we only have blueberries, bananas, strawberries, and clementines.  So, sorry if that’s not five fruits.  I know it is a fruitless (sorry!) road to go down, as I’ve been hearing the same story since I was seven years old.  Suddenly I have a thought – well, do you not want yours then, Gil?  I’ll gladly take one for the team…

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As you might have guessed, he sucked it up and ate his [gasp!] four-fruit-salad.  I mean, who’s going to turn down a fruit salad?  Unless it’s one of those desperate fruit cups sadly resigned to a life in the refrigerator section of the local market or the airport café.  I will admit to having succumbed to these specimen in moments of weakness – aka waiting for a flight and not wanting to partake in any of the baked goods that would inevitably mean death by wheat for me.  And you know what?  They’re not that bad.  Still, I’ll take the fresh, real version any day.

Guess what, Gil!  Today, not only did I have five fruits for my fruit salad, I had seven.  That’s right, seven!!  Thank goodness for the coming of summer!  Oh, and, perhaps, globalisation for bringing me kiwis from Italy and nectarines from South Africa…

What follows is a recipe for one BIG bowl of fruit – aka a fruit salad.  You could share, but trust me you won’t want to.  If there are multiple yous that want to partake, just make twice as much and employ that meticulous eye to make sure none of your portion accidentally ends up in someone else’s bowl…

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7-Fruit Fruit Salad

Ingredients:
1 kiwi
1 nectarine
1 banana
A handful of blueberries
4 or 5 small strawberries
1/3 of a mango
1 small pear
¼ cup nonfat Greek yoghurt
Your favourite granola

Method:
Slice all fruit into a bowl (It’s okay to day dream a bit, but don’t cut yourself!).  Top with yoghurt (I usually use Greek or sheep) and some of your favourite granola.  Mine is Kazzie’s, but it’s not available outside of the Shenandoah Valley yet, so some great alternatives are Lizi’s Original and (if you’re in the mood for a particularly sweet treat) Belgian Chocolate granola.