Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Jota Soup on a Winter's Day

Holy Schmoly it's cold out. Imagine living in a pioneer shack on the unsheltered prairie circa 1902. Staying up all night to keep the fire burning or you'd all be frozen by morning. And when you're not stoking the fire, huddling under the feather tick just to keep warm.

Well, if the old wood stove is working on overtime, you might as well have a pot of soup on. I'm sure a fair number of pioneers cooked a version of potato + sauerkraut soup because that's what you had on hand in wintertime. This version is called jota.

I first had jota in the high heat of summer at a mountain refuge in Slovenia, a beautiful little country on the south side of the Alps. I remember thinking, I gotta make this jota at home on a frigid winter day. So here it is...

There are probably as many versions of jota as there are grannies making it, but I like this recipe from the blog:
HomeMadeSlovenianFood with a couple of alterations. For example, the original recipe calls for bacon, which I didn't have in the fridge and it's too darn cold to go get some, so I added a bit of bratwurst instead.

2 tbsp butter or vegetable oil (or a bit of both)
1 big onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, chopped (the original says 5 cloves! you be the judge)
1 tsp smokey paprika
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 head of sauerkraut, chopped*
1 1/2 cups cooked beans
2 cups diced potato
Totally optional: diced bacon or a couple of cooked sausages, sliced

* I use Kissle sauerkraut, it's made in Saskatchewan and found in the produce section of your local grocery store.

1) Cook the potato in salted water. Roughly mash the cooked potato so it's mostly smashed up but a few whole chunks remain. This will thicken the soup.

2) In a soup pot, heat the butter and/or vegetable oil. Cook the onion until soft. If you are using bacon, add it now.

3) Add the garlic, paprika, caraway and pepper. Stir it up well and cook until fragrant.

4) Add sauerkraut, beans and smashed potato to the pot, cover with water and bring to a bubbling simmer.

5) If you are adding sausage do so now.

6) Taste for salt and add some if needed. Sauerkraut is salty so that might be enough for you.

7) Eat hot! Like all soups, this is better on the second day...

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Seared Carpaccio

This dish is such easy entertaining, whether it's a summer patio or a winter buffet. I often make it when I need a snazzy appetizer but don't have a lot of prep time on the day of dinner. It's mostly made ahead and sliced just at serving time.

Choose a good cut of beef (such as steak or tenderloin) that is uniformly 3/4 to 1 inch thick. I like to serve it as pictured with cherry tomatoes, scattered with arugula and shaves of parmesan cheese, along with a good sliced bread.

1 clove garlic
1 tsp rock salt
8 peppercorns
3 juniper berries (optional)*
1 handful of mixed fresh herbs such as oregano, thyme, sage, rosemary and parsley
1 tbsp vegetable oil + more for cooking
1 lb beef steak such as sirloin or flat iron

1. Smash together the garlic, salt, peppercorns and juniper berries until it's a crushed mush.

2. Finely chop the herbs and smash into the garlic mixture. Stir in 1 tbsp of oil to make a paste. Taste and add more salt, pepper or herbs as needed.

3. Rub the herb mixture onto all sides of the steak. Wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight to marinate.

4. Bring meat to room temperature before cooking.

5. Coat a cast iron frying pan with oil. Heat on high ~ I set the burner to level 8 out of 10. Or you can heat the grill.

6. Set the steak in the pan (or on the grill) and sear all sides, a few minutes per side, until the surface is well cooked but the inside is not. It will be spring-y when pressed with a finger.

5. Cool, wrap in foil or plastic and refrigerate.

6. With a sharp knife, shave the beef across the grain into thin slices. Arrange on a plate. Serve cold.

* I pick juniper berries when I go for a walk, say, at Cranberry Flats or along Saskatchewan Crescent. Pick them in the fall or winter when the berries are dark blue and crumbly.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Amazing No-Knead Clay Pot Bread

My friend Annie got this Schlemmertopf clay pot as a wedding gift. All these years later she wasn't using it anymore and offered it to me. Yaassss! 

I had been reading about bread made in a Dutch oven ~ a bread that needs no kneading. How magical is that?? So I combined the concept of Dutch oven bread + the technique for clay pot cooking + Saskatchewan-grown whole grain flour. It ♥IS♥ magic.

If you've got a clay pot give it a try. Note: start this bread 8-10 hours before you want to bake it. Overnight to morning works great, and you'll have warm bread for breakfast ☕️

1 cup whole wheat flour 

(I use red fife or einkorn, see sources below*)
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp yeast
1.5 tsp salt
1.5 cups warm water

1. In a bowl with a tight-fitting lid mix the flours, yeast and salt.
I use an ice cream pail.
2. Stir in the water and mix well, starting with a wooden spoon then switching to your hands. Work it to make sure all the flour is incorporated. It will be a rather shaggy ball of dough. Cover the bowl and leave it to sit for 8-10 hours.

3. At baking time, immerse the clay pot and its lid in water. Leave it to soak 10-15 minutes. When the time is up, remove from the water, set the lid on the pot and place it in a cold oven. Set the heat to 450F.

4. While the oven is heating, turn the dough onto a well-floured countertop. You'll see it has transformed from a shaggy ball to a sticky almost batter-like dough. Flour up your hands and form it into a loaf about the same shape as your clay pot. Make sure the bottom is well floured so it doesn't stick to the counter.

5. When the oven reaches 450F take the pot from the oven. Put the dough in the pot, place on the lid and return to the oven. Bake for 30 minutes.

6. After 30 minutes, remove the lid and bake another 15 minutes.

7. Remove from the oven. Lift your beautiful bread out of the pot and set on a rack to cool.

* I used red fife wheat grown by Marc Loiselle at Vonda SK and einkorn wheat from Prairie Genesis farm at Outlook SK.

The raw dough goes into the hot clay pot and comes out...

Annie also gave me this old-timey tablecloth. She knows me so well :)

Monday, November 11, 2019

Bigos ~ Polish Hunter Stew

Friday, September 28, 2018

Book Events This Fall

Mark your calendars and come out to one of these events. I'll be presenting my books and chatting about historic recipes and all things delicious in this beautiful province of Saskatchewan...
Saturday Oct. 13 1-5 pm Indigo Books Saskatoon
Monday Oct. 15 7 - 9 pm Tisdale

Tuesday Oct. 16 2-4 pm Choiceland
Tuesday Oct. 16 7-9 pm Nipawin
Wednesday Oct. 24 4-5 pm Bruno
Saturday Nov. 1-4 pm McNally Robinson Booksellers Saskatoon

For information updates check the events section of my website.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

A Crisp for an Autumn Day

My mom made a yummy apple crisp. Such an easy recipe that, well, I never saw her use an actual recipe. After all those years of "crisping" she pretty much had it memorized. Until she was struck by Alzheimer's disease. The first clue for me came when she could no longer make a crisp from memory. We were in the kitchen together. She just smiled and shrugged. The memory was gone.

Of course, there was a time she needed a recipe because she was a new cook just learning her way in the kitchen. As a young bride, my mom wrote out recipes (and clipped them from magazines) that she wanted to make again. 
I recently discovered this recipe for apple crisp in her handwriting dated 1961. She was 21 years old (and six weeks pregnant with me ~ I wonder if she knew?). This recipe was among a box of cookbooks belonging to my aunt and grandmother that recently came into my possession. Did my mom copy out this recipe for them?

Or, now for me? Although this recipe is for apple crisp, it's just as good with rhubarb, as shown here. Rhubarb is more tart than apples ~ I thought about adding extra sugar, but decided against it. It's plenty sweet when served warm with vanilla ice cream.
Rhubarb Crisp
4~5 cups chopped rhubarb (1/4 inch thick)
1/2 cup butter (room temperature)
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup flour
cinnamon for sprinkling

1. Spread rhubarb in baking dish

2. Mix butter, brown sugar and flour. Rub the mixture together with your fingers to ensure the butter is evenly distributed. Spread over the rhubarb

3. Lightly sprinkle the top with cinnamon

4. Bake at 370F for @ 30 minutes, until the rhubarb is soft and the topping is crisped.

Astute readers will notice that mom's hand-written recipe says to heat the oven to 350F. This is not hot enough for a crisp imho. Sugar caramelizes to a brown colour and rich flavour between 356~370F. Below that, sugar remains light and unflavourful; above that it becomes dark and bitter. Given my mom's delicious crisps as I remember them, I'm pretty sure she knew that :)

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

One Last Piece of Pie

Last week we had a wonderful family dinner in my sister's back yard. We had a wiener roast and I made a saskatoon berry pie ~ my dad's favourite ~ using every last berry in my possession to get the required four cups for a pie. I put a smiley face on it, just like my mom always did. The other pie is strawberry rhubarb. My dad had a piece of both. He died a few days later. I am so glad I was able to give him one last piece of his favourite pie...

Saskatoon Berry Pie
4 cups saskatoon berries
1/3 cup water
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp butter
3 tbsp cornstarch or flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp milk
1 tsp sugar
pastry for a double crust pie

1. In a saucepan, bring saskatoons and water to a low boil. Stir in lemon juice and butter to melt.

2. Mix together cornstarch, 1/2 cup sugar and baking powder. Stir into berries. Cook, stirring, until thickened. Cool.

3. Pour cooled berries into a pastry-line pie plate. Cover with top crust. Crimp the edges and cut vents in the pastry. Brush with milk and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tsp of sugar.

4. Bake at 425F for 10 minutes, then turn oven down to 375F and continue baking until the pastry is nicely brown and the berries are bubbling inside, 20-25 minutes.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Irish Soda Bread

I did some St. Patty's Day cooking with Jeff Rogstad on the local CTV noon show. Well, cooking is a bit of a misnomer ~ there's no oven on the set. Jeff and I mixed a batch of dough, then I whipped out another Irish soda bread I had cooked at home. Voila! Instantly done.

I left the cooked bread behind for Jeff to enjoy with the crew, then I took home and baked the dough we made on set. Everyone was happy.

This bread has good chemistry: the baking soda is activated by the acidic buttermilk, giving rise to a simple traditional bread. If you don't have buttermilk in the fridge do this: put 2 tbsp plain white vinegar into a 2-cup measure, then fill with milk to the 2-cup mark. Stir well and let sit 5 minutes to thicken.

It's important to cut the bread before baking ~ a deep sharp cut that allows the bread to "bloom" in the oven and rise up crusty and brown. I cut mine with a serrated bread knife. If you do not slash deep enough, the centre of the bread may be under cooked.

4 cups all purpose flour (or 3+1 cup whole wheat flour)
1 tbsp sugar (optional)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups buttermilk

1. Hold back 1/2 cup of flour. Blend the rest of the flour with the sugar, salt and baking soda.

2. Pour the buttermilk onto the flour. Mix quickly with a fork to make a sticky dough.
3. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead by hand, using the extra 1/2 cup of flour as needed to flour your hands and prevent sticking. Work quickly, kneading as little as necessary to get a soft smooth dough that is no longer sticky, about 2-3 minutes.

4. Place the ball of dough on a baking sheet and press to flatten the top. Slash the dough with a knife, cutting a fat inch (~3 cm) deep.

6. Bake at 425F for 35-40 minutes. When cooked, the bread will be quite brown and a good tap on the bottom will sound hollow. Allow to cool a few minutes before slicing. Eat with butter or jam or both!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Two Grandmas ~ one batch of Jam-Jams

We have two kinds of jam-jams in my family. These oatmeal jam-jams were a specialty of my Grandma Jo. The other is a soft brown sugar cookie jam jam. They were the jam jams of my Grandma Irene.

Grandma Jo often put date jam in her jam jams. Grandma Irene usually filled her jam jams with homemade apple jelly. This reflects their two different styles in the kitchen. Grandma Jo liked to make fancy things for which buying dates and making date jam was a perfectly enjoyable step in the process. Grandma Irene had no time for that. She had already put her time into making apple jelly, so that was the perfect filling for her jam jams.
Today in our family, my sister Maureen makes the soft cookie jam jams of my Grandma Irene. They are my dad's favourite cookie ~ Irene was his mom ~ and he still gets a tin of these jam jams for his birthday every year.

As for me, I mix the two: I make Grandma Jo's oatmeal jam jams and fill them with my homemade jam or jelly. Cause I loved my grandmas equally!

Oatmeal Jam-Jams
2 cups flour
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup soft butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup sour milk (mix 1 1/2 tsp vinegar with milk to make 1/2 cup, stir, sit 5 min.)

Grandma’s instructions simply say, "Roll these." To elaborate, mix everything together, form into two balls, wrap in plastic and place it in the fridge to chill for 20-30 minutes.

Using a floured counter and a rolling pin, roll each ball of dough to a thickness of 1/8 inch (1/3 cm). Cut out circles with a cookie cutter or a glass. Re-roll and cut more cookies.

Bake on a cookie sheet for 8-9 minutes at 350 degrees. Cookies should just start to brown.

Transfer hot cookies to a rack to cool. Spread a dollop of jam or preserves on one cookie and press another cookie on top. Store in airtight container. These cookies are crisp when they come out of the oven but the filling will soften them up.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Do Your Magic Gougères

When I was little, my mom made cream puffs as a special treat. I loved how she filled them with clouds of whipped cream that gushed out all over my face and fingers. I thought they were magic. Now that I'm a big kid, I can make that magic myself. And it's really quite easy! Only now, I'm more inclinded to make them savoury with cheese rather than