Rhubarb Rediscovery

It still seems strange to me to pay for rhubarb. Don't get me wrong, I'll gladly do it. But I can't help remembering when we were kids and it grew wild and in our parents' gardens like a weed that couldn't be got rid of. We plucked it and ate it with nothing more than sugar, making our own home-make "Lik-A-Stix" (anyone out there remember those?), with ziplock bags of sugar which allowed us to roam free with this mobile dessert. The most exotic it got was a pie. But this most versatile ingredient really never got used to it's full potential in my world. And then one day on Instagram you see people making beautiful tarts with rhubarb arranged so perfectly and you say - I'm getting in on that. So you roast the rhubarb with some vanilla and orange juice and you almost forget about the rhubarb itself because the resulting syrup is so sweet and tart. So you make yourself a little cocktail and then you start arranging things over a rich vanilla custard in the shape of the flooring you will have one day when you live in Paris. 

Roasted Rhubarb
Rhubarb Tart Making
Checkered Rhubarb Tart
Rhubarb Marquetry Tart

And while you are proud of your work as a budding "rhubarchitect", what starts out as an obsession with geometry, changes quickly to an obsession with flavour and pairings. Would this roasted rhubarb be better with vanilla or ginger? Are pistachios a worthy addition to a tart? How can I mass produce this syrup to have it on demand for cocktails. Would it go better with gin or bourbon? And soon things are spiralling out of control and you are making rhubarb popsicles in the middle of day between photo editing sessions, (and photographing them of course because they are so darned pretty). 

But back to the cocktail because that's the real discovery on this rhubarb journey.

Rhubarb Whiskey Sour

Rhubarb Whiskey Sour

1.5 oz bourbon

1.5 oz lemon

1 oz rhubarb ginger syrup *

1/2 an egg white

Pour all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with generous portion of ice, shake together, strain and serve.

* For the rhubarb syrup, mix 4 cups rhubarb,  1 cup sugar , 1 cup water and some fresh sliced ginger sliced in a small saucepan.  Boil for 5 mins and strain reserving rhubarb for another use (like on top of yogurt or porridge).

Cheers to Rhubarb!

 


If you enjoyed that cocktail and want to be surrounded by rhubarb all year long you might be interested in having a look at my Limited Edition Photographic Prints featuring some of my other rhubarb creations.

Cherry Clafoutis

During the height of summer, with Vancouver under an Air Quality Warning due to surrounding Forest Fires, and experiencing temperatures upwards of 30 Degrees C for some reason, all I was thinking about was baking. 

It had to do with these beauties that I saw at the Farmer's Market early in the season. For some reason, raw cherries and I have never been friends. Even well washed organic ones make my lips and mouth itch. It's not like I haven't tried, but I know when to stop.  Cooked cherries are another story - bring them on. We get on like a house on fire.

 BC Cherries are perfect for Cherry Clafoutis. Photography by Helena McMurdo. Recipe on myendlesspicnic.com

A few weeks ago, a particularly clever friend of mine brought a delightful dessert to another friend's bridal shower: A Cherry Clafoutis. Delicious, of course. I have always wanted to make one and ever since then, the idea has been planted in my brain.

 Pour the custard over the cherries to make a Cherry Clafoutis.  Photography by Helena McMurdo. Recipe on myendlesspicnic.com
 Bake the cherry Clafoutis until it is golden. Photography by Helena McMurdo. Recipe on myendlesspicnic.com

Several attempts were made, some successful, others not. By my third try, I had enlisted the help of my three-year-old nephew and I think we cracked it. I thought give him the simple job of removing the stems of the cherries, but once he saw me with the cherry pitter in hand, there was no way that he was not having a part of that action. He performed admirably and remarkably, we and my mother's kitchen, emerged unscathed.

 Soaking the cherries releases the juices. Photography by Helena McMurdo. Recipe on myendlesspicnic.com

It's wonderfully simple to make. In fact, a three-year-old can do it. The pitting of the cherries is the most time consuming element, but other than that, you are simply mixing up a custard with a consistency similar to pancake batter in the blender and pouring it over the fruit. And if you bake regularly, you'll have most ingredients on hand.

The cherry season started early this year and is finishing up now. As we move into the late summer, you can easily substitute plums. Just slice them in quarters and arrange them beautfully in the baking dish and follow all other steps in the same manner.

 Allow the clafoutis to cool completely. Photography by Helena McMurdo. Recipe on myendlesspicnic.com

And of course, you must dust with powdered sugar. And then dust some more.

Cherry Clafoutis

I've based my recipe on this one from Simply Recipes with a few amendments. I found that soaking the cherries in brandy, (surprise, surprise) gave a great added flavour to the fruit. With this addition, I reduced the amount of almond extract slightly. I also increased the temperature to 375 which I felt worked better for the custard. My special tip is to dust the greased baking dish with sugar instead of flour which gives a lovely browned crust.  

about 2 cups of fresh sweet cherries, pitted
2 TBSP brandy
2 TBSP blanched slivered almonds
3 eggs
3/4 cup  sugar
1 TBSP brown sugar
1/2 cup of all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of milk (2% is fine)
1/2 teaspoon of almond extract
1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
Powdered sugar for dusting
extra granulated sugar for preparing the baking dish

1. Grease an 8-10 inch ceramic pie dish, dust it with granulated sugar and pop it in the freezer while you prepare the fruit and custard.

2. Pit the cherries using a cherry pitter. Don't be a hero and try to do it without. Invest in this fabulous piece of equipment (which you can also use for olives).

3. Optional step - place the cherries in a bowl and pour over the brandy. Let soak for 1/2 hour at least, preferably more.

4. Make the custard by placing the sugars, flour, salt, milk and extracts in a blender and mixing thoroughly.

5. Remove the pie dish from the freezer and arrange the slivered almonds to cover the bottom of the dish evenly. (I originally ommitted this ingredient but in subsequent trials,  found the almonds to be essential.)

6. Arrange the cherries and any juice in the dish on top of the almonds.

7. Pour the custard mixture over the cherries and place in preheated oven.

8. Bake for 30 minutes or until the centre is just ever so slightly wobbly and the top is golden.

9. Allow to cool completely and then prior to serving, dust with powdered sugar.

10. If you can't finish it for dessert, eat the rest for breakfast.

 

 

Happy Birthday South Granville Inhabiter

Last year around this time, I joined with two talented friends to start South Granville Inhabiter, a blog about living in our lovely Vancouver  neighbourhood of South Granville. This past week, we marked our one year anniversary, and you know me, I'm never one to pass up an excuse for cake.

  Blueberry Victoria Sponge Birthday Cake © 2014 Helena McMurdo

In the next few weeks I'll be sharing some of my favourite images made for South Granville Inhabiter here on Endless Picnic, but for now, I'll revert to my usual subject matter and share the portraits of our birthday cake.

  Blueberry Victoria Sponge Birthday Cake © 2014 Helena McMurdo

We chose a classic Victoria Sponge...well maybe not so classic. Rather than strawberry filling I used a mixture of blueberry jam and whole blueberries sandwiched with buttercream between two layers of sponge cake. I think the shot below is my favourite of the lot. It's so luscious and jammy.

  Blueberry Jam and fresh blueberry filling for Victoria Sponge Birthday Cake © 2014 Helena McMurdo
  Blueberry jam and  whole blueberry filling for Victoria Sponge Birthday Cake © 2014 Helena McMurdo

The finishing touch was provided by our logo dusted in sugar.  For that I had the able assistance of my South Granville Inhabiter colleague and talented illustrator Ženija Esmits who helped me by cutting out a fine template of the logo she had designed for the blog while I carefully went about the dusting.

  Blueberry Victoria Sponge Birthday Cake dusted with South Granville Inhabiter Logo © 2014 Helena McMurdo
 Blueberry Victoria Sponge Birthday Cake © 2014 Helena McMurdo

Almost too pretty to eat. Almost. 

Client Work: Cloud 9 Specialty Bakery

I was very fortunate to have an opportunity to work with B3 Communications recently and to style and shoot some work for Cloud 9 Specialty Bakery. They are such fun to work with and we had a great collaboration. Cloud 9 Specialty Bakery is a local bakery specializing in gluten-free products. They have developed a special gluten-free baking mix which takes the hassle of making gluten-free treats at home. Used just like flour, it can be substituted cup for cup in any of your favourite recipes with really great results.

We wanted to capture the beauty and simplicity of the ingredient, so we selected a very simple tone-on-tone colour palette that reflected the contemporary sophistication of the brand while acknowledging it's traditional roots.

Here are my favourite images from the shoot of Cloud 9 Baking Mix and Cloud 9 Gluten-Free Bread.

Cloud9 SpecialtyBakery_©2013 Helena McMurdo

If you are interested in gluten-free baking please check out Cloud 9 Specialty Bakery.

If you are interested in my food styling and photographic work and would like to know more about working with me, please don't hesitate to get in touch at helena@myendlesspicnic.com

Blueberry Apricot Custard Crumble Tarts

Blueberry&Apricot Tarts_1_©2013 Helena McMurdo

So I'm sitting here writing this and there is literally sweat pouring down my temples and I'm wondering who in their right mind would attempt to bake anything on a day such as this. I arose early and was actually glad to see a cloudy sky thinking...ahhh some coolness.  This combined with an unexpected and very welcome gift of local blueberries on Friday night and the presence of a couple of apricots on my counter which in the words of my mother 'needed eating' sparked the idea.  Add to this the fact that I knew that way back, in the depths of my freezer,  were two beautiful previously prepped tart shells and we now had the perfect storm of conditions for my baking madness. So the oven was already preheating by the time I realized this was not going to be the cool day I had imagined. Oh well suck it up. I love it when conditions and and ingredients spring up to magically provide a recipe so here's what I came up with. Blueberry and Apricot Custard Crumble Tarts. A mouthful, you say? Yes it is. And you will like it.

I recently made a lovely lemon tart using a pâte sablée from one of my favourite books Classic Artisan Baking by Julian Day. This has become my new very favourite pastry. It is rich and buttery and almondy and well, it's just perfect. And it freezes very well so when I had some leftovers I immediately pressed them into two tart shells for future use and popped them in the freezer...where I found them today.

The other gift that allowed this to happen today was a crumble mixture that I also keep on standby in the freezer. I inevitably have too much of it whenever I make it and the first time this happened I froze it. It happened by accident the first time but the results were so good that I admit that now I make it in advance and always have some on stand by. I mean who knows when you could be called upon to provide a crumble at a moment's notice.  Don't say I didn't warn you.

Finally, this dessert makes use of a custard filling which I think is one of the loveliest parts of this dessert. It gives it a kind of bread-puddingy-ness (Yes, of course it's a word).

Blueberry&Apricot Tarts_2_©2013 Helena McMurdo

Blueberry Apricot Custard Crumble Tarts

For 4 tarts you will need:

Pastry

4  (4 inch) tart shells lined with your favourite pastry. I used pâte sablée from Classic Artisan Baking.  Before discovering this pastry I had no qualms of buying store-bought pastry (shock-horror!)  from people who were far better at pastry making than I was.  I like a sablée pastry for the almond flour which gives it such a richness.

You will need to follow the directions for your pastry and blind bake it. Usually this involves covering the shells with parchment or foil  and filling with baking beans before baking for about 15-20 minutes. (Depending on your pastry). Remove the beans and parchment and bake for another 5 minutes or so to slightly brown the pastry.  Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

Custard Filling

1 egg

1/4 cup / 6o ml whipping cream

1 TBSP sugar

pinch of cinnamon

dash of vanilla or almond extract

Lightly beat the egg, add the cream and other ingredients, whisk and then set aside until needed.

Crumb Topping 

(makes more than enough to save for later)

1 cup / 227 grams sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 lb / 113 grams cold butter

1/4 cups / 156 grams all-purpose flour

Combine first three ingredients cutting in the butter until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Add the flour and rub together with your fingertips until the mixture has the texture of fine breadcrumbs.  Set aside until ready to use. Freeze what you don't use to for the crumbles of your future. (Just top your fruit with the mixture and you are good to go).

Fruit Filling

about 1  cup of blueberries

3 apricots, sliced

To assemble:

Once cool, fill the tart shells with a single layer of blueberries, then arrange the apricots on top to your liking. I used 5 apricot slices per tart but you could use more. Then fill in the holes/gaps with more blueberries.  Depending on how sweet your fruit is, you may want to sprinkle some sugar on the fruit at this stage. Taste it and make a call. Now pour the custard mixture over the tarts until the level of custard is just shy of the top of the pastry case. (Stir the custard before pouring as it may have settled). Finally sprinkle some of the crumble mixture on top. Really this part is up to you depending on how much crumble you prefer but I used about 2 TBSP per tart.

Bake at 350 until the crumb topping is golden brown and the custard and fruit juices are bubbling up through the top of the crumb.

Eat and enjoy while mopping the sweat from your brow and thinking how very clever you are!

Inspiration: Peas and Ham

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So all this revisiting of my recent trip has given me a craving for some simple Spanish cooking here at home in Vancouver. I was at Granville Island yesterday and spotted some lovely English Peas and thought - peas and ham. And by ham, I mean Serrano. Claro. I can always count on Oyama Sausage Company for some of the good stuff.

There is something so simple and  satisfying about this dish. Fresh peas are boiled and then tossed with bits of ham in a sauce of nothing more than olive oil, pimentón and garlic. A bit of bread to mop of the smoky, scented oil and a glass of wine and you've got something truly delicious.

You will need:

About 3 Cups fresh, shelled English peas

100 grams Jamón Serrano cut into little bits (like lardons) (I bought these pre-cut from Oyama Sausage Company which saved me lots of time).

3-4 TBSP Olive Oil or more

2 Garlic Cloves, flattened and blistered with the back of a knife

Approx 1 TBSP Hot Smoked Paprika (Pimentón Picante)

Ok. So now we have to talk about Pimentón. You may or may not know that there are three types of Smoked Paprika from Spain: Dulce (Sweet), Agridulce (Bittersweet) and Picante (Hot). Where I live in Vancouver, I find it is more often the Dulce or Agridulce varieties that are on shelves. Picante can be hard to find but it is my preference in this recipe. In our family, this item is something that tucked into a Christmas stocking, can make someone very happy. So grab it when you see it.

The method is simple.

Boil the shelled peas until they are tender. How long? I have no idea. Keep tasting them until they taste good to you.

In the meantime, heat the olive oil and fry the garlic and ham very gently, just browning the ham. When the ham is done, remove it and let it drain on some paper towel (or not). Keep frying the garlic, pressing on it with a back of a spoon to mush it up. The purpose here is simply to flavour the oil. You will actually remove the garlic when serving. I know it can seem like a lot of oil. It is. But most of it is going to settle to the bottom of the dish and you are going to mop it up with your bread. You'd eat as much when you dip your bread in oil at an Italian restaurant and you wouldn't even think about it.

Just before the peas are about to be ready, remove the pan with the oil from the heat, remove the garlic and add the pimentón. The pimentón will fry very vast in the hot oil so keep stirring constantly. Quite quickly the oil will cool. At this point, you can set the pan aside. Now the peas will be done. Drain them and combine with the pimentón oil mixture. Easy peasy. Did I just say that? Oh boy.

PeasandHam2 ©2013 Helena McMurdo

So there you have it. I hope you will try this with some fresh local peas. Let me know how it goes. I would love to know.

BC Spot Prawns with Garlic Cream Sauce

It's officially my favourite time of the year. Spot Prawn season. It's short usually lasting around 60 days but this year it will be even shorter. So it's a get-em while you can scenario. I don't usually do much with them. Fry em up on a hot pan and I'm done. They are naturally sweet and a feast in themselves. For a change I thought why not try them in an actual recipe so I prepared a pasta with the little beauties. It's pretty rich but sometimes that's a good thing right?

BC Spot Prawns © 2013 Helena McMurdo

BC Spot Prawns with Garlic Cream Sauce

Ingredients:

12 BC Spot Prawns

250 grams Linguine

20 grams butter

2 garlic cloves, pressed

60 ml white wine

125 ml cream

pinch of cayenne

salt & pepper

1 egg yolk

1. Prepare the prawns by dropping them in boiling water for 60 seconds. Take out immediately and plunge into an ice bath to stop the cooking process.

2. Peel the prawns, remove the heads and set aside the tail meat on ice or in the refrigerator.

3. Prepare the pasta according to package directions (mine was 11 minute cooking time). About halfway through cooking time begin your sauce.

4. Melt the butter in the pan and fry the garlic, add the wine and reduce to half the quantity.

5. Add the cream and thicken. Season with salt and pepper and the cayenne.

6.  Add a tiny bit of the cream mixture to the egg and beat so that it does not become scrambled.Pour the remaining cream mixture into the egg yolk beating vigorously.

7. Return cream mixture to the pan, add the spot prawns and warm through (a minute should do it).

8. Drain your pasta and add to the pan. Coat the pasta with the sauce and serve.

What's your favourite way to prepare  spot prawns?

St. Patrick's Day. Why not say it with cheese?

Well, here we are again. It's St. Patrick's Day. And while all of America is going mad, dying their beers and their rivers green, my thoughts are as usual...what to eat? And this year I have to admit, I have no grand plans. Sure I'll have a sneaky pint of Guinness later, but this year, I've been pretty lame and have no big Irish meal planned. In fact, what I'd really like is a bag of Taytos and a Galaxy Bar. But wait, then I thought, what's the fallback food of the picnic planner? Yes I could gladly live on cheese and crackers for the next millennium. Perhaps it's not the first thing you think of when you think of Ireland, but be assured Ireland has cheeses every bit as lovely as those in France, Spain or anywhere else.

Being very much a friend of cheese, where else could I turn but Vancouver's fabulous Les Amis du Fromage. I happily left the shop yesterday with two fine cheeses. Hailing from County Tipperary, Cashel Blue has all the tanginess of a blue cheese but I find it more creamy and rich. Buttery, even.  Coolea, from Cork is a new one to me. It's a semi-hard cheese, almost like a gouda, but to me it seems nuttier, almost like a Comté.

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Irish Farmhouse Cheese and Whisky_© 2013 Helena McMurdo-2

And this being St. Patrick's Day, it only seems right to top it off with a small glass of whisky.  Here's wishing that the luck of the Irish follows you all year long! And to all my friends back in Ireland, a very special good wish for you.

Brown Bread & Nostalgia

©2012HelenaMcMurdo_Irish_details

The Irish are always accused of being overly nostalgic and maybe this affects all who visit there. It's cold and wet now in Vancouver. This time of year always reminds me of my time in Ireland. Not that the sun never shone when I was there. It definitely did. But when I moved there in mid-September 1995, I soon found myself in the middle of a dark, wet and windy October. I'm shooting Irish Brown Bread at the moment, the perfect antidote to cold and windy weather. I can't help think of that time, and of  the landscape, the people and the magic that inhabits the place. Here's a few detail shots from my current shoot.

Ready for some baking?

I just completed a review of Julian Day's Classic Artisan Baking for cookthatbook.com. I really enjoyed working through the recipes in this book and making pictures of them. With lots of favourites, old and new, I really recommend this book for anyone who loves to bake.  Here's one of my favourite shots from the shoot. Luscious raspberry jam for a riff on a bakewell tart.  To see more, you can check out the full review here.

©2012_HelenaMcMurdo_jam_bakewellslice

Happy Baking!

Chic Pique-Nique: Le Dîner en Blanc

Dîner en Blanc Place Setting

Last night I attended an event that I've been looking forward to for weeks. To say that Dîner en Blanc was this picnic planner's dream come true would not be an understatement. Dreamy secret location. Check. Elegantly dressed people. Check. French Food and Wine. Picnic Baskets! Check.

Founded in Paris 22 years ago, Dîner en Blanc happens one night a year. Friends gather together to eat and drink an elegant picnic, all dressed in white in a secret location revealed just hours before the event itself.

The undertaking was not without commitment. In addition to their white outfits, and their picnic, participants bring their own white tables and chairs plus their own proper dishes and glassware. (Proper in this case means china and real glass.)

In Vancouver guests also had the option to buy a prepared dinner from non-other than Top Chef Chef Dale McKay. Now I'm not saying I'm a Top Chef but I was not about to refuse a challenge. The official Dîner en Blanc list of things to bring, read as follows : "A picnic basket comprised of quality menu items and a china dinner service including proper stemware and flatware." Oh yes. GAME ON!

Three weeks ago, we began to plan. Super G communed with his inner prop master and sprung into action. He found brilliant white chairs at Ikea. A very clever pop-up table at Canadian Tire. We raided my mother's cupboard for white plates and linen. I dug out a beautiful restaurant-style white tablecloth I have never had occasion to use. And of course we started to put together our outfits and the small details involved.

Dîner en Blanc Decor. Photography © 2012Helena McMurdo

I started thinking about the menu. It had to be French, it had to be practical for transport and plating. In the spirit of the event, and in keeping with my own picnicking philosophy - only elegant and practical containers.  A fabulous buttery Quiche Lorraine - what could be more quintessentially picnicky? For dessert I wanted to be a bit more daring. I came upon the idea of crème caramel - so French - and I decided to do them in small Weck Jars so that I could seal the containers after making them and transport them easily, doing the renversement on the plate at the dinner for the final pièce de résistance. (These are the things that make me happy!)

Dîner en Blanc Food Prep. Photography ©2012Helena McMurdo

Cooking was much more fun than shopping and after trying on what seemed to be every white piece of white clothing in the Lower Mainland, almost going snow blind from the experience, I finally settled on my outfit. Now back to the food.

Paté was a must and so a trip to Oyama Sausages was in order where decided on a  smooth and creamy Paté de Cognac and a more rustic Paté de Campagne. We also picked up an amazing Saucisson Sec. Trés bon.

Finally the finishing table touches, the flowers, glassware, and a few tiny chocolates for ápres dîner and of course the baguette were assembled. The task of packing began. It was important to be self-sufficient and compact in our kit as we would be arriving to the picnic (as per the rules) en masse and by public transit carrying everything with us.

Picnic Set for Dîner en Blanc

Super G slung the pop-up table over his shoulder and carried the two chairs and I rigged up a little trolley for my basket. I had a smaller bag for breakables which I carried with me and finally a small hand-held basket with the flowers. It was time to dress up and get out there!

We had been told to be at the Main Street Skytrain Station at 6pm. We arrived and promptly saw a few other people in white. Gradually a larger group assembled. We met our table leader and checked in. It was all very organized and efficient. We were given drinks tickets for our purchased wine so we could collect it quickly when we arrived at the dinner location.  There was a bit of waiting around but the sun was shining and none minded. It was a pleasure to simply soak up the scene.

Waiting for Dîner en Blanc
On the way to Vancouver Dîner en Blanc

With our leader heading the posse, we all hopped on the sky train to our mystery location. At this point we knew only that we'd be going to the Burrard Skytrain Station in the heart of downtown Vancouver but we still did now know our final destination. It was quite a laugh to see the looks on peoples faces as the hundred or so of us piled onto the train, all in white and with all our accessories.

From the Burrard Station we set off on foot and found our groups number growing as other groups from other areas converged on this point. It gradually became clear where we were headed, the home of the Olympic Torch, Jack Poole Plaza at the Vancouver Convention Centre. At the edge of downtown, on the water, it has a spectacular view of the North Shore mountains - a simply stunning, iconic location.

Without delay we found our designated spot, all organized and directed by our table leader Evelyn, and promptly set up our tables. Everywhere people were doing the same and it was wonderful to see the creativity in table settings and outfits alike.

Dîner en Blanc Vancouver 2012

To the sweet and beautiful music of Josh aka that-guy-who-sings-La-Vie-en-Rose-at-Granville-Island we dined, shared each other's food and watched the sun go down.

Dîner en Blanc Celebration. Photography ©2012Helena McMurdo

The entire menu went down a treat and to my great happiness the crème caramel turned out of its dish perfectly.

IMG_5991©2012_HelenaMcMurdoDEBVancouver

By this time it was dark, and time for sparklers! We were each handed a sparkler and at 9:35, 1200 people lit them together creating a beautiful glowing mass which signalled the kick off of the dancing. Les Noces Gitanes from Paris, played a sort of new type of Gypsy Kings thing with the odd riff on Ukranian dancing music. It was great! The party had just begun.

Vancouver Dîner En Blanc Night. ©2012Helena McMurdo