Saturday, April 30, 2005

Week 3 - FOUR GRAIN SOUP

Saskatchewan Menu of the Week - April 30.

Breakfast - Two scrambled eggs and toast with honey.
Lunch - Yogurt, apple and cheddar cheese.
Dinner - Four Grain Soup with crusty buns.

Saskatchewan Four Grain Soup
This is a superb soup for a cool day. My recipe doesn't call for meat, but you can add cooked sausage or shredded beef to make a heartier soup. Conversely, if you want a vegetarian soup, replace the chicken stock with vegetable stock or water.

1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, diced
2 tbsp canola oil
1 spt dried thyme
1/3 cup wheat seeds
1/3 cup lentils
1/3 cup wild rice
1/3 cup pearl barley
1 can tomatoes (I used 12 roma tomatoes from my freezer, thawed)
6 cups chicken stock
Salt and pepper

Sauté the onions and carrots in canola oil until softened. Add the crumbled thyme. Stir in the wheat, lentils, wild rice and barley, coating the grains in oil. Turn up the heat to medium high and cook, stirring frequently, until the moisture is absorbed and the grains begin to stick to the pot.

Add the tomatoes and stir to incorporate. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the grains are soft, about 45 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Sources: Wheat from my family farm; wild rice from La Ronge; pearl barley from Daybreak Scheresky Mill; lentils from Cerredwin Farm; carrots from the Sakatoon Farmers' Market; my own garden thyme and tomatoes; homemade chicken stock.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Cooking Class - PITA BREAD

I'm a passionate and experimental bread maker, so when my community association put out a call for classes, I suggested we learn to make bread. So many of my friends have tried to make bread - and bombed - that they think bread making is difficult. Nothing could be further from the truth. Once you get the hang of it, bread is the simplest thing in the world.

After all, bread is the one food that has been consistently feeding a good part of the world for thousands of years. You can make it with the most basic ingredients - flour, water and yeast -and cook it on any surface including a hot rock. The difference between breads is not the ingredients, but how the dough is shaped and baked. You can use the same dough to make a French baguette, Italian pizza or Middle Eastern pita.

My friends’ problem is that they were overly ambitious. They decided that, if they’re going to make bread, it might as well be the healthiest, darkest, grainiest bread going. Imagine their disappointment when it turned out as hard as a rock. If they had been less virtuous and learned first to make a good white loaf, they might have stuck with bread making long enough to learn to handle a grainy dough.

My first bread class was tonight. I showed the group (12 adults and kids) how to make a basic white dough, then we cooked it as both baguettes and pitas. It was great to see everyone crouched in front of the oven door watching the pitas puff up and balloon to create the pocket. I’m sure that children have been watching that with fascination for the past 6,000 years.

Pita Bread
Here’s the technique for making pita bread from any plain white bread dough:

Place a baking sheet in the oven and heat it to 450F. Cut the dough into pieces just bigger than a golf ball. Roll each piece in your hands as if making buns, then let them sit on the counter for five minutes.

Roll each one into a flat circle with a rolling pin. Be careful not the crimp the dough because it won’t puff in that spot. Place a couple of pitas onto the hot baking sheet and pop it into the oven. Within minutes, the dough will balloon to create the pocket in the pita. Take them out of the oven as the bread starts to turn brown, about 5 minutes.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Newspaper - BAVARIAN POTATO SALAD

My first "Home for Dinner" column in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, April 25, 2005.

I have been watching for one – and only one – sign of spring. For me, spring officially begins the first day I see something green growing in my garden. This year, that day was March 31. The snow was barely melting off a sunny spot of earth when I spied the unmistakable thin line of tiny sprouts. I planted those seeds last October, just before the first snow, and there they were, insuppressible and bursting with life. I can’t remember what I planted. I think it was arugula, lettuce, spinach and radish, but that mystery is half the fun of watching them grow.

The next special day – a true harbinger of summer – is the first day I eat something green from my garden. This year, that day was April 16. I know we’re still in for one last blast of winter, but I don’t care, because my spirits have been elevated to summer by that first fresh bite. It was the chives. Chives come up year after year, so they get a head start on the seeds. I discovered the chives were sprouting as I raked the leaves off the garden. I immediately got some scissors and cut the sprouts for dinner.

This would be a revolutionary dinner for me. For several months of winter, I had been planning to embark on a culinary adventure of sorts, an adventure that would begin the first day I savoured something green from my garden. For one year, I pledge to eat almost exclusively the foods of Saskatchewan. I will grow my own, share with others, discover new sources of local foods, buy directly from the farmers who produce it and develop recipes that make the most of it.

I asked my husband, What should I call this culinary adventure? "Austerity," he offered. "Monotony. Privation."

Well, nothing could be further from the truth. Thanks to science, technology and ingenuity, Saskatchewan is producing a greater variety of foods than ever thought possible a century ago.
I call it "Home for Dinner" because it challenges me to put local food on my dinner table. Here are four good reasons to be "Home for Dinner":

Local produce is usually picked just before it’s sold so it’s fresher, tastes better and the nutrients are not depleted. Eating foods as they are available in season ensures you’re always eating the freshest food possible. Local food is less likely to have been picked unripe, stored, hauled, and treated with preservatives, pharmaceuticals and other agents. It’s better for the environment. Think of all the fuel used to truck lettuce from Mexico and bananas from Costa Rica. Farming is a tough business, especially if you’re small and trying to do something unique on your land. Support the farmers who are producing good healthy food and keep your food dollars in the local economy.

It just so happens that April 16 was a Saturday, the day of the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market, at which my husband picked up a package of fresh weisswurst. This is German for "white sausage", a fat pale mild sausage we ate in monastery beer gardens in Bavaria with warm potato salad. Next column, I’ll give my "Home for Dinner" rules – and when I can break them!

BAVARIAN POTATO SALAD

Boil 2lbs of medium-sized potatoes until they are soft enough to pierce with a sharp knife. Cool slightly, peel and thinly slice. While the potatoes are cooking, sauté a small finely chopped onion in a good dollop of butter. When the onions are soft, mix them with 1C of hot chicken stock, 2T of white wine vinegar, 4T of vegetable oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir the warm sliced potatoes into the dressing and toss well. Serve the salad warm sprinkled with fresh chives.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Week 2

Saturday, April 23, 2005
B’fast: Restaurant
Lunch: Restaurant
Dinner: Bread with buffalo salami and mustard

Sources: Bread from Christie’s bakery. Salami from the farmers’ market. Pat’s Kitchen mustard from Harris.

Sunday, April 24, 2005
Brunch: Bookclub
Dinner: Leftover lentil salad heated up with ground pork

Sources: Organic lentils from Cerridwen Farm at Medstead. Ground pork from the Dale farm at Meacham.

25-27 April 25, 2005
Away from home.

Thursday, 28 April, 2005
B’fast: Yogurt and apples
Lunch: Pasta with tomato sauce, raw carrots
Dinner: Bread with raspberry jam

Sources: Dairyland yogurt. Apples from the farm (frozen last fall). Store-bought pasta. My garden tomatoes (frozen last fall). Carrots from the farmers’ market. My homemade bread. Mom’s jam with raspberries from the farm.

Friday, 29 April. 2005
B’fast: Yogurt and apples
Lunch: Restaurant
Dinner: Bread with buffalo salami and mustard

Sources: Dairyland yogurt. Apples from the farm (frozen last fall). My homemade bread. Salami from the farmers’ market. Mustard from Pat’s Kitchen of Harris.

Monday, April 18, 2005

The Bennett farm

Eggs come in many sizes and shades – and I prefer them all. Especially when they’re all mixed together in one carton. Big, small, white, brown. When a carton of eggs looks like that, you know it’s straight from the farm. Just washed and boxed.

I get my eggs from the farm of Al Bennett of Meacham. His chickens are free-range, which means they’re running around eating bugs and weeds (at least in the warmer months). That makes the egg yolks a rich golden-yellow. Every three weeks or so, he shows up at my door with 20 dozen eggs. I use what I need and resell the rest to my friends.

I also buy beef from Al. He raises his cattle on grassy pastures, moving them daily so they are always eating fresh greens. He says, "That's the way the buffalo roamed. You didn't see the Indians carrying a slop pail out to the buffalo!" Indeed.

Because this beef is not fed grain, the meat is very lean. When a recipe says "brown the meat and pour off the fat" I find myself adding oil to keep it moist. Al sells his beef by the whole or half animal, or you can buy it by the piece (ground meat, roasts and t-bone steaks). His phone number of 306-944-4340.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Week 1 - RICOTTA CHEESE

Saskatchewan Menu of the Week - April 18.

Breakfast – Sprouted wheat bread with honey.
Lunch – Bread with buffalo salami and mustard, raw carrots.
Dinner – Homemade ravioli filled with ground pork, ricotta cheese and rosemary.

Ricotta Cheese
Ricotta cheese is very easy to make at home. (Okay, it's not real authentic ricotta, but it sure looks and tastes just like it). You will need a cooking thermometer and a double-thick piece of cheesecloth for draining the cheese. Acidity can be obtained from either fresh lemon juice or powdered citric acid, which can be purchased at a drug store.

16 cups whole milk
1 tsp citric acid stirred into 1/4 cup cool water, or the juice of six lemons
1 tsp salt

Put the milk in a thick-bottom stockpot. Stir in the citric acid (or the lemon juice) and the salt. With the burner on very low, heat the milk until it reaches 190F stirring occasionally so the milk doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot.

At 185F, you should start to see the formation of curds. When the temperature reaches 190F, take the pot off the heat and let it sit for ten minutes.

Pour the milk into a colander lined with the muslin, set over the sink. Tie the corners of the muslin together to encase the cheese, and suspend it to drain for an hour. (I hang it from a cupboard knob over the sink.) Refrigerate. You can use this cheese to make ricotta pie (see recipe at Week 9). Note: sometimes I save the leftover liquid and use it to make bread.

Sources: milk from a local farmer.

The First Bite - GERMAN POTATO SALAD

A Chinese proverb says a journey of 1000 miles begins with one step. My journey of 365 days begins with one bite. It was a mouthful of warm potato salad topped with fresh chives from my garden, served with weisswurst from the farmers' market and my mom's pickles. With the first bite, I began a culinary adventure I call "Home for Dinner" because I pledge to serve local foods almost exclusively on my dinner table.
Like all journeys, I began by poring over books (cookbooks, in this case) and plotting an itinerary. The journey would begin the first day of spring I ate something green from my garden (today!). It would take me to farms, farmers markets, roadside stalls, small-town groceries and large manufacturers in a search for the foods grown and raised in my home province, Saskatchewan.

And so, I set off on a journey that brings me closer to home with every bite.

Warm German Potato Salad
(adapted from Saveur, Oct. 2003)

4-5 potatoes
1 cup chicken stock, hot
2 tbsp butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp vinegar
4 tbsp canola oil
salt and pepper
fresh chopped chives

Cook the potatoes. Drain and cool slightly. Meanwhile, melt butter in a skillet. Saute onion until soft. Stir in the hot stock, vinegar and oil. Season with salt and pepper.

When potatoes are cool enough to handle, but still quite warm, slice thinly and add to the stock mixture. Serve sprinkled with chives.

Sources: my dad's potatoes; homemade chicken stock; my garden chives