Monday, October 20, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Italian Turkey Soup

Sometimes, the oldest and best recipes have no measurements and few instructions. That's because they are so classic and so iconic the cook can make them by heart. Take, for instance, the recipe for Gilda DiSanto's turkey soup which she learned at her mother's side growing up in Italy.

Gilda, her husband Luigi and two-year-old Carmelina came to Canada in 1964, joining his brother who was already in Saskatoon. Before leaving their village, Fresagrandinaria, Gilda dehydrated her homemade pasta sauce and packed it along so they would not be without in their new home.

She recalls the train ride across Canada, eating the spaghetti and white bread they were served onboard. "It was so bad. I cried, Oh my God!" she laughs.

After fifty years in Saskatoon, she still makes her own pizza and spaghetti sauce, putting up 100 jars of home-grown tomatoes every fall. Those tomatoes are a special ingredients in her turkey soup.

She begins with a whole turkey, turning it into several meals. However, the hand-written recipe (as passed on to her daughter Carm Michalenko) substitutes turkey wings for the whole bird. I've taken the liberty of adding ingredient amounts to the basic recipe, so feel free to take the "bones" and make this delicious peasant soup your own.

Gilda's Turkey Soup
2 lbs turkey wings
2-3 celery stalks
3-4 carrots
2-3 potatoes
2 cups canned tomatoes
1 tsp salt
1 onion, quartered

2 lbs ground turkey or beef
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups finely grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp minced dried basil
1 tbsp minced fresh parsley
1 tsp salt and plenty of pepper
Orzo-shaped pasta, cooked
Leftover wing meat

For the broth, put turkey wings in a pot, cover generously with water and boil, skimming off the foam that rises to the surface. Peel vegetables, cut in half and add to the pot with tomatoes and salt. Cook until the meat falls from the bone. Strain and reserve broth. Separate bones and meat.

At this point, you can make a meal of the meat and vegetables removed from the broth.

Put the bones in fresh water with the onion and boil again until the broth is golden. Strain and mix the two broths together.

To make meatballs, combine ground meat, egg, parmesan cheese and herbs, seasoning salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly, until the meat is smooth and silky. Roll into meatballs about the size of a marble. Drop into boiling water and scoop out when cooked, about two minutes.

Reheat the turkey broth, tasting and adding more salt if needed. Add meatballs, cooked pasta and any leftover wing meat. Buon appetito!

(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Flapper Pie

What on earth is Flapper Pie? My guess is you either a) have no idea, or b) have warm and fuzzy memories of eating your mom's or your grandma's Flapper Pie.

The Canadian Food Enclyclopedia describes it as "graham-crusted, custard-filled pie and long-time Prairie favourite." However, it did not originate here.

Graham crackers were invented in 1829 by Sylvester Graham, an evangelical minster in New Jersey who preached a vegetarian, low-fat, low-sugar diet rich in whole grains. By 1900, his cracker was being sold commercially by the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) which promoted it as good food to take on long journeys, such as that of pioneers moving west. A recipe for Graham Cracker Pie was included on the package.

Indeed, it was a good pie for farming pioneers because the key ingredients – eggs, cream, butter, flour – were readily available on the farm. However, the name remains a mystery to me: when did it become Flapper Pie? One might surmise it happened during the flapper era of the 1920s, but why and by whom?

Before long, Flapper Pie had made its way into the hearts and cookbooks of families across the prairies, a staple at fowl suppers and baby's first pie. There are different versions of the basic recipe, some with less sugar, some with cream of tartar (to firm the meringue) and some with cinnamon in the crumb crust.

Flapper Pie
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup sugar

1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 1/2 cups milk
3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla

Meringue topping:
3 egg white, room temp.
2 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
Pinch cinnamon

Mix crust ingredients. Scoop out 2 tbsp and set aside. Press crumbs into the bottom and sides of a pie plate. Bake at 375F for 8 minutes and cool.

For the filling, blend sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan. Slowly whisk in milk. Cook over medium heat until it bubbles and thickens, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir a spoonful into the egg yolks, mix quickly and pour back into the saucepan. Boil for two minutes, stirring, until quite thick. Stir in vanilla. Pour filling into graham cracker crust.

For the topping, whip egg whites and cream of tartar to soft peaks. Gradually pour in sugar while whipping to stiff peaks. Spread meringue on filling, ensuring it touches the crust all around. Mix the reserved 2 tbsp graham crumbs with cinnamon and sprinkle over top.

Bake at 375F for 6-8 minutes, until meringue is toasty brown. Cool pie and refrigerate a few hours before cutting.

(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)

Monday, October 06, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Ghormeh Sabzi

A century ago, immigrants came to Saskatchewan to escape state and religious persecution, to give their children a better life and to start anew. That hasn't changed with time.

Iran Yousefi came to Canada from Iran seventeen years ago to raise her daughter in a peaceful secular society where women can succeed on their own terms. Back in Iran, she was a veterinarian and microbiologist. In Toronto, her first "survival" job was in a pizza joint. "I had always wanted to learn how to make pizza, so it was exciting for me," she says.

Seven years ago, she moved to Saskatoon so her husband, Dr. Farzin Kasmaiefar, could re-certify as a family physician. In Saskatoon, it was difficult to find some ingredients needed for popular dishes from Iran such as khoresht ghormeh sabzi (herb stew) and fesenjan (chicken and walnut stew).

"That was quite a change for me, as someone who loves to cook my traditional recipes," she says. For instance, the stew below is traditionally made with a herb called tareh, but here she uses the green part of a leek (the part most other recipes discard).

Fresh fenugreek is also not readily available (although she has found it recently at Superstore). As for other exotic ingredients such as dried lemons, they can be purchased in the new Pars Market on 8th Street E.

Who knows, perhaps a century from now, gormeh sabzi or fesenjan will be just as at home in Saskatchewan as Hungarian goulash or Russian shishliki.

Khoresht Ghormeh Sabzi (Persian Herb Stew)
1 bunch spinach
1 bunch parsley
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch fenugreek or 1 tbsp dried
1 leek, green part only
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 lb beef (450 g) in 1 inch cubes
4 dried lemons or 1/4 cup lemon juice
2 cups water
1 can kidney beans, drained

Chop greens quite fine. For the leek, use the tender green part (not the hard outer leaves). Wash greens in a colander and squeeze out excess water. Heat a large skillet on high. Add greens and cook, stirring constantly, until the water has evaporated. Add half the vegetable oil and cook until greens are turning brown. The volume of greens will reduce considerably.

Heat the remaining vegetable oil in a stew pot. Add onion and cook until soft. Stir in turmeric. Add meat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Turn up heat and cook until browned.

If using dried lemons, poke each lemon with a fork and add to pot with the water. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Stir in cooked greens. Cover and cook for about one hour.

Half way through cooking add kidney beans and, if using, dried fenugreek and lemon juice. Season with salt to taste. The stew is done when the meat is tender. Serve on rice.

Add a Persian tomato salad and Persian barbari bread.

(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Apfelkuchen

A few days ago I was baking apfelkuchen while listening to a radio program on events in Ukraine. Both are inextricably tied to my German heritage.

In the 1770s, Russia went to war with the Ottoman Empire and captured vast territories along the Black Sea, what is today Crimea and southern Ukraine. Russia put out a call across Europe for farmers to come work the land. My ancestors answered that call, settling in a German village on the Dnieper River which is today called Zmiivka.

Almost a century later, Canada began advertising across Europe for farmers and my German family packed up and moved again in 1890-93. Even though they had lived in Russia (now Ukraine) for several generations, they maintained their German culture and cuisine based on potatoes, apples, dumplings, noodles, sausages and pork.

At first, it might have been difficult and expensive to get apples in Saskatchewan. In 1914, a barrel of apples was $4.25 while a 100-lb sack of flour was just $3.40. Early varieties of apple trees could not survive our harsh winters, but in the 1920s the University of Saskatchewan began working on new varieties for our climate. Before long, apple trees were a common sight in rural farmyards.

My Grandma Ehman made the most of the apple orchard on our farm – crab apples for jelly and larger yellow apples for applesauce, apple pastries and apfelkuchen. I'm hoping to visit Zmiivka next year, but in the meantime, I'm travelling back in time with a big slice of grandma's apfelkuchen.

Apfelkuchen (Apple Cake)
1 cup soft butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 3/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
5 apples, peeled and sliced

1 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
2/3 cup cake dough
2/3 cup flour

For the cake: Cream butter and sugar well. Beat in eggs until fluffy. Add vanilla. Sift and add flour, baking powder and salt. Remove 2/3 cup of batter and reserve for the topping.

Press remaining batter into a greased 9 x 12 inch or 9 x 9 inch pan. Cover with sliced apples. Sprinkle evenly with sugar and cinnamon.

Mix reserved batter with the remaining flour until crumbly. Spread over apples. Bake at 350F for 40-45 minutes, until the top is light brown.

(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Shishliki

The Doukhobors who settled in Saskatchewan were vegetarians. Wink wink.

They became pacifists and vegetarians in Russia based on the principles of their spiritual leader Peter Verigin and his idol, the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy. However, not all eschewed meat, and for that we can be grateful because it gave us one of the most unique regional foods in our province: shishliki.

Shishliki is an old Russian recipe of marinated and grilled lamb. It's a specialty around Yorkton, Kamsack and Canora, where it's popular at weddings, summer barbeques, community events and family reunions.

Traditionally, there are just three ingredients – lamb, onion and salt. Lemon may be added as a tenderizer if the meat is tough, but it is unlikely the first prairie Doukhobors ever saw a lemon or could afford one if they did.

Among the 7,500 Doukhobors who came to Canada in 1899 was the Zbeetnoff family, whose descendant Michelle (Zbeetnoff) Hughes of Norquay is publisher of Prairies North magazine. Even though she was raised in the bosom of her mother's Ukrainian family, she still makes the shishliki and piroshky (fruit pies) of her Russian Doukhobor grandmother.

"I want my children to be familiar with the old recipes because it's part of their heritage," she says. "Back then, it was subsistence living. Everything they had was by the hard work of their own hands."

And in this recipe, the hands are still at work. No spoon allowed! Pork or chicken may be substituted for the lamb.

2 lbs lamb (1 kg)
Pepper (optional)
1 big onion, sliced

Cut meat in 2-inch cubes. In a bowl, sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, if using. With your hands, rub the seasoning into the meat. Mix in onion. Cover and refrigerate 3–7 days, turning the meat once a day. Thread meat onto skewers and grill.

Note: If you're feeding a crowd, use 50 lbs of meat, 20 lbs of onions, 1/2 cup salt and 1/4 cup pepper.

(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Out of Old Saskatchewan Kitchens

My new cookbook is out!! Travel back in time and revisit Saskatchewan's history through the lens of food - what we ate, how we prepared it and how it shaped the province we are today.  More than 50 archival photos and 80 old-time recipes.

"This is a beautiful book on Saskatchewan cuisine." John Gormley, News Talk 650.

"Amy Jo is to be applauded for putting the province's food history into perspective in an engaging and entertaining style." Bill Waiser, author of Saskatchewan: A New History.

Available soon at all Saskatchewan bookstores.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Prairie Kitchen - Pulla (Coffee Bread)

In 1888, Jeremiah Kautonen took one look at the Qu'Appelle Valley and thought of home. The water and the woods reminded him of Finland. He built a log house and wrote a letter encouraging his friends to join him. Before long, the area was known as New Finland, the first Finnish settlement on the prairies.

Typical of the time, they relied on wild foods such as fish, deer, rabbits, prairie chickens and berries, especially high bush cranberries. They crushed wheat for porridge and grew root vegetables for winter meals.

One settler, Johan Lauttamus, built a mill from two heavy stones and ground whole wheat flour for the community. They were skilled cattlemen and the women made excellent butter, which they traded in town for basic groceries. Unique was their love of Finnish yogurt, which they called viili.

According to Hazel Lauttamus Birt, who wrote a history of New Finland, the starter culture was mailed from the Old Country: "A piece of clean cotton was soaked in the Viili and dried for mailing. When added to fresh milk and set aside overnight it re-activated."

She also writes about Finnish bread, which was flavoured with crushed cardamom and fortified with eggs and butter. The basic dough was used for buns, coffee bread, cinnamon rolls, fruit "pies" and Sauna Buns, which were eaten after the weekly sauna on Saturday night.

Pulla (Coffee Bread)
2 tsp yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 c scalded milk, cooled
1/2 c sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cardamom
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup melted butter, cooled
4–5 c flour

1 egg, beaten
1/4 c coarse sugar
1/4 c sliced almonds

Dissolve yeast in warm water until frothy. Stir in milk, sugar, salt, cardamom, eggs and 1 c flour. Beat smooth with electric mixer. Beat in another 1 1/2 c flour. Add butter and beat until glossy.

Add more flour, using only as much needed to make a supple dough that does not stick to the fingers. Let dough rest 15 minutes.

Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, 8–10 minutes, or knead with an electric dough hook for 8 minutes.

Put dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise until double in size, about 1 hour. Press dough with your fist to deflate. Cut in half and cut each half into 3 equal pieces.

Roll each piece under your palms into a "rope" of about 16 inches (40 cm). Braid three ropes together, forming two loaves. Place on a baking sheet, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise until double in size.

Brush the loaves with egg and sprinkle with sugar and almonds. Bake at 400F for 25–30 minutes.

You'll find more Finnish recipes transplanted to Saskatchewan on the website of Life in the New Finland Woods Vol. 1.

(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)

Monday, September 08, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Baked String Beans and Bacon

John Diefenbaker's mother was a pretty good cook. She could turn a prairie chicken and a few string beans into a delicious meal, and did so often.

The family had moved west from Ontario in 1903 when young Diefenbaker was seven. Their home near Fort Carlton (where Dief's father was a school teacher) served as a community centre and stopping point for locals, travellers and new homesteaders.

In his memoir One Canada (Vol. 1) Diefenbaker recalls North West Mounted Police officers stopping by: "No doubt it was coincidence but they usually arrived at mealtime." Indian folks dropped in for tea and Metis leader Gabriel Dumont visited "now and then" with a gift of game for the stew pot.

Their daily diet was typical for Saskatchewan at that time. Day to day, they ate rabbits, wildfowl and chickens. Vegetables were dropped off at their door (until they had their own garden) and the local Mennonites provided sausages and hams. They picked wild mushrooms and berries by the pail full. His mother, Mary, made excellent butter (with milk from their one cow) which she traded at the store for "occasional groceries" such as flour and prunes.

Several of her cookbooks – including Good Housekeeping's Favourite Recipes and Menus – is held at the University of Saskatchewan Archives. It's well used, frayed at the edges and splattered with the memories of cake batter and tomato sauce. It includes this recipe for baked string beans, which I halved, since I'm not expecting any police officers or Metis hunters to drop in for dinner.

Baked String Beans and Bacon
2 lbs string beans
6 slices bacon
1 1/2 cups light cream or thin white sauce
1 1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
3 tbsp melted butter
1/2 cup fine bread crumbs

Thin White Sauce: On the stove, melt 2 tbsp butter in a small pot. Add 2 tbsp flour and blend well. Pour in 2 cups cold milk. Season with salt and pepper. Heat, stirring, until bubbling and thickened. Cover and cook on low heat for 20 minutes.

Cut string beans into one-inch pieces and cook in salted water until tender. Meanwhile, dice bacon and fry until crisp. Drain beans and add bacon, white sauce, salt, pepper and 2 tbsp melted butter. Place in a greased baking dish. Mix bread crumbs with remaining 1 tbsp melted butter and sprinkle over beans. Bake at 425F for 20 minutes, until golden brown.

Check out more recipes from Mrs. D's favourite cookbook.

(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix.)

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Mrs. Diefenbaker's Cookbook

From the frayed edges and food spatters, I'd guess this was Mary Diefenbaker's favourite cookbook. Her son, John Diefenbaker, kept it after she died and donated it with his papers to the University of Saskatchewan Archives with the note "This is Mother's Cookbook."

These Italian recipes must have been popular in the Diefenbaker home because they have the appearance of being well used.

Mrs. D must have had a fondness for chocolate cake (or perhaps it was her son's fondness) because she clipped these recipes from the newspaper and pasted them into the back of the cookbook.
Here are a few more dessert recipes clipped from the Star Phoenix. Hey, I remember my grandma making those Butterscotch Ice Box Cookies!!
Here's another recipe from this cookbook, delicious green beans!

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Prairie Kitchen - Granny's Cookies

Sometimes, the simplest recipes evoke a long and loving story. In 1914, Minnie Parry was a young single gal with a sense of adventure when she left England to work on her aunt and uncle's farm in Saskatchewan. Her Aunt Adeline had married a farmer near Silton (north of Lumsden) and was in need of help with domestic chores and childcare.

No doubt, the arrival of an eligible young woman attracted some attention as bachelors outnumbered potential brides on the prairie by two-to-one or more. Three years later, Minnie married Billy Wilson, a farmer just down the road originally of Ireland, and their son Leslie was born the following year.

Leslie married Blanche Ball, whose family ran a store in Silton. They settled on the Wilson farm, where at 90, Blanche still lives today, still baking Granny's Cookies on the old wood stove for her great-granddaughters, Domini and Ebony, aged 14 and 11.

"They are learning about the prairie, raising cattle, driving the half-ton truck in the pasture, finding crocuses in the spring, and cooking on the wood-burning cook stove in the farmhouse."

This story and recipe for Granny's Cookie was sent to me by Minnie's granddaughter, Dianne Wilson of Saskatoon, who learned to bake them on that same wood stove when she was a child. Like many simple old-fashioned recipes, it came with few instructions but much love, still a family treasure after five generations in Saskatchewan.

Granny’s Cookies
2/3 cup soft butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 – 2 cups flour

Cream butter and brown sugar well. Beat in egg. Stir in baking soda and vanilla. Add enough flour to make a dough that is stiff enough to roll into a ball. Roll balls the size of a walnut. Place on baking sheet and press with a fork (dipped in flour) in a crisscross pattern. Bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes.

(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)