Friday, December 29, 2006

My Christmas Goose

Well, I cooked my goose this Christmas! Yes, we had a Christmas goose. It was the first time I ever cooked a goose – and a wild one at that – and it turned out fabulously.

I found a recipe online attributed to Mario Batali. It called for goose breasts rolled with a stuffing of apples, potatoes and caraway seeds. The proportions of the recipe were all wrong – unless your goose is a giant – but I adapted it for my modest sized wild white goose. Very very good. (I won’t put the recipe here. If you google it, you’ll get a zillion hits.) Now that I’ve had one go at it, I plan to create my own goose recipe which I will post once I achieve success.

I served our Christmas gooses with Dolgo crabapple jelly (a gift from Boris and Anne) and a wild rice salad. (See recipe at November 20, 2006.) Thanks so much to my hunting friends Sue and Vance who provided the Saskatchewan goose. They also gave me some ducks and venison, so it will be a wild time in the ol’ kitchen this winter!

Monday, December 25, 2006

White Christmas - SNOW DRIFT


3/4 cups soft butter
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 cup flour
1/2 cup corn starch
1 tsp grated lemon rind
Homemade jam or jelly
3 eggs whites
1/3 cup icing sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract


Cream the butter and 1/2 cup icing sugar until light and fluffy. Sift together the flour and cornstarch. Blend into the butter mixture with the vanilla. Form the dough into a circle on a piece of wax paper, wrap tightly and refrigerate for one hour or more.

Flour the work surface. Place the dough on the flour, cover with the wax paper and roll with a rolling pin to a thickness of 1/4 inch (about 1/2 cm). Cut the dough with a 3-inch round cookie cutter (about 8 cm) and place each cookie on a baking sheet. Bake at 300F for 15 min., until the dough is just cooked but not browned. Remove from oven and cool slightly. Cover each cookie with a layer of homemade jam or jelly.

Whip the egg whites until frothy. And the vanilla. Whip until stiff peaks form. Scoop some meringue onto each cookie, swirling with a spoon to make peaks. Bake at 300F for about 10 minutes, until meringue starts to brown.

Monday, December 18, 2006

My belly likes your jelly

Boris and Anne gave me a big jar of their Dolgo Crabapple Jelly. The note attached says it’s for my Christmas goose, but it got first use with venison.

A couple days ago I took a paper-wrapped package marked WT out of the freezer. WT stands for White Tail Deer, shot by our hunting friend Rick. I thought it might be ground meat that I could use in a bean stew, but it turned out to be tenderloin. John is a master with this choice selection: Slice the tenderloin into centimetre-thick slices. Crosshatch the meat with the edge of a plate, one way and then the other, on both sides. In a bag, mix flour, salt and pepper, and shake each piece of meat in the bag. Heat some lard (or a mix of butter and olive oil) on high in a cast iron frying pan. Fry each venison steak, turning once, about 3-4 minutes on each side. Serve with Boris and Anne’s Dolgo Crabapple Jelly, or your own yummy version. MMMmmmmm.

For a really good side dish, try the Roasted Beet and Walnut Salad posted on this blog on 17 October 2005.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The cleanest kitchen on earth

If you think the College of Agriculture is all about farming, you’ve got to see the kitchen on the sixth floor. The king of this kitchen is Gerald Henriksen, a man of theatrical style and impeccable taste. Beneath his starched white chef’s apron he wears a pinstripe shirt with gold cufflinks, dress slacks and tasseled leather shoes. His stainless steel kitchen is so spotless you might mistake it for the showroom of an appliance store. He polishes every pot and pan himself after every use.

So, with that kind of attention to detail, you can imagine the goodies that come out of his kitchen. One of his goals is to get more Saskatchewan-grown products used in recognizable commercial foods. How about an Eat More bar that is 50 percent flax? Paté that tastes like meat but is made of beans? Chocolate pudding brimming with fibre from green peas? Vegetarian lasagna made with Saskatchewan lentils? We sampled his goodies from silver-rimmed China plates (on which he had placed a pink carnation) and washed it down with homemade Saskatchewan cherry wine. I have never before been wined and dined in a College of Agriculture, but now that I think of it, it makes perfect sense.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Newspaper - SMOKY GARBANZO DIP

This column appeared in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix on 11 December 2006.

Last week, I was at a Christmas appetizer and wine party to which I took a smoky chickpea dip, when one of the guests declared, "We don’t grow chickpeas in Saskatchewan, do we?" Oh, my dear city girl, Saskatchewan is one of the big chickpea producers of the world. People in India and Lebanon and Spain are eating Saskatchewan chickpeas.

However, chickpeas are a relatively new crop in Saskatchewan, having been introduced on a commercial scale a little more than a decade ago. I didn’t even know what a chickpea plant looked like until one day last summer, I stopped by a mystery field, picked a seed pod, cracked it open and discovered a chickpea inside.

This could give a chuckle to Habeeb Salloum, a Syrian-born Canadian, who might also be saying, "I told you so."

Habeeb grew up on a farm south of Swift Current after his father left the pretty Biqa Valley (now a part of Lebanon) and took a hardscrabble homestead half way around the world. Habeeb was just a baby when he came with his mother in 1925. But even in the depths of the Great Depression, Habeeb and his seven siblings ate well because they grew chickpeas and lentils in their big garden, just as their ancestors had done in Syria since the dawn of civilization.

While the other kids were eating lard sandwiches and salt cod, the Salloum children were dining on chickpeas and yogurt, cracked wheat and pita bread, wild herbs and lamb. "We grew chickpeas and lentils in Saskatchewan when nobody had ever heard of them," says Habeeb. "And now Saskatchewan sells more lentils than anywhere in the world. Imagine that in my lifetime!"

I met Habeeb recently at his home in Toronto, where he has lived most of his life. While farming wasn’t in his blood, and he made a career with Customs Canada, he has not forgotten the frugal and nutritious food of his childhood. He has written a delightful account with stories and recipes called Arab Cooking on a Saskatchewan Homestead, published by the Canadian Plains Research Centre at the University of Regina.

He writes about collecting wild herbs and greens with his mother, who used them instead of traditional Middle Eastern spices. He describes how the family preserved meat and dried yogurt cheese, two very old methods that had sustained Arabic families for millennium.

"Two or three years we had a crop, and my dad would go into town and buy bologna for sandwiches for the threshing crew. And I thought this bologna on white bread was the epitome of food," he recalls with a good laugh. "A few months after I left home, I remembered the food of my mother and the bologna didn’t last very long."

Habeed didn’t learn to cook at his mother’s side. It was later in life, after he had travelled to the Middle East and North Africa, that he started experimenting in the kitchen, trying to recreate the Arabic dishes of his youth. "I started cooking little by little and I got into it. I remembered what my mother used to cook so I replicated her dishes, and now I do them as good or better than she did."

Of course, today he can buy Arabic ingredients in the grocery store. And thanks to Saskatchewan farmers, he can buy chickpeas, lentils and spices grown right here at home.

SMOKEY GARBANZO DIP
1 tsp. Saskatchewan cumin seeds
1 can Saskatchewan garbanzos (also called chickpeas)
2-3 cloves of Saskatchewan garlic, smashed
3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. hot paprika
2 tbsp. olive or Saskatchewan canola oil
salt
fresh Saskatchewan parsley or cilantro

Place the cumin seeds in a hot dry skillet and cook a few minutes until toasted. When cool, grind to a powder in a coffee grinder. Drain the chickpeas, reserving the liquid. Place everything but the chickpea liquid into a blender or food processor. Pulse the ingredients, gradually adding chickpea liquid until the mixture forms a smooth paste. Add salt to taste. Place the dip in a flat bowl, drizzle the edges with a bit more oil and sprinkle with chopped herbs and perhaps a dash of paprika. Serve with toasted bread, pita wedges or crackers.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The end of gas guzzling food

There’s a lot of talk about the impending oil crisis and its affect on food and agriculture. Agriculture is a huge guzzler of fossil fuels. Diesel powers the machinery, fertilizers are made from natural gas, pesticides are made from oil, and fossil fuels are burned shipping and refrigerating food from the farm to your fork.

According to Richard Heinberg, author or The Party’s Over, the agricultural industry is the single largest user of petroleum products, even higher than mining and the military. He spoke a few days ago in Saskatoon at a conference of the National Farmers Union.

Heinberg’s thesis is that rising costs of fossil fuels will change our lives dramatically. Farmers will no longer be able to grow food on a large intensive scale. We’ll no longer be able to afford food shipped in from far away. People in the suburbs will be hungry and out of work. Our depopulated rural areas will become a wasteland.

But Heinberg is optimistic. He sees a population shift back to rural areas, where people will grow food in a traditional way (without fossil fuels) and start supplying the cities again. City people will keep gardens. We’ll rely on seasonal local food, not imports and delicacies from around the globe. He estimates the United States will need 50 million new farmers to feed the population. Extrapolated to Canada, that would be 5 million new farmers. Will your children be among them?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Beans, beans are good for the heart

Not many people would serve wieners and beans at a gala dinner, but it’s a 68-year-old tradition at the annual Bean Feed of the College of Agriculture in Saskatoon. There were many other yummy things on the menu: roast beef, lentil and chickpea salad, roasted potatoes and huckleberry ice cream – all of it grown or raised in Saskatchewan.

I was lucky to sit at a table with Linda Matthews, one of the researchers developing the huckleberry for our climate. A huckleberry is sort of like an elongated grape which grows on a short bush. She says they’re going to become a popular orchard fruit because they grow well and taste great. And they’re popular in Japan!

After dinner, Gerald Henriksen gave me a real treat. Gerald’s title is Product Development Specialist, which means he runs the test kitchens at the College of Agriculture. He has produced an amazing chocolate filled with Saskatchewan sour cherries and ... a secret ingredient you will never guess... Chickpeas! The chocolates will be introduced to the public in 2007 as the U of S celebrates its 100th birthday.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Who's afraid of the cantaloupe recall?

So there I was, eating cantaloupe, when I heard the news that some cantaloupe had been recalled because it was contaminated with salmonella.

Did I panic and spit? No way, because I was eating cantaloupe from the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market. Now, there is no guarantee that locally grown cantaloupe CAN’T become poisoned with salmonella, but it’s much less likely. Food poisoning is often a factor of mass-produced, factory-processed and impersonal food systems. And when food produced on that scale is contaminated, it affects a lot more people over a much wider area in one fell swoop. So the moral of this story is: local is best.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Newspaper Column - WILD RICE & DRIED CHERRY SALAD

Published in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, 20 November 2006.

As we enter the gift-giving season, I would like to extol the virtues of presenting gifts of food. I am not referring to boxed chocolates and imported Christmas cakes in cellophane. I am talking about gifts from our own larders.

I love getting gifts at the best of times, but a gift of food produced by your own hands is the most personal gift of all. No need to buy it, wrap it or return it. Just eat it! Not long ago, my neighbour Andrea popped her head over the fence to give me a container of her crabapple butter. I reciprocated with some wild blueberries I had picked up north. We gave chanterelle mushrooms to Ramesh and Karen and they gave us two bags of their fingerling potatoes. Eva gave us her lingonberry sauce made with wild cranberries. Berni’s dad gave us the most delectable little frozen strawberries in syrup. Gail and Mark gave us ‘biltong’, a South African venison jerky.
My sister-in-law Tallie came begging for a big zucchini to make her favourite chocolate cake. I was happy to oblige.

My list of food-getting and food-giving is long and delicious, and there is nothing I like better to give or receive. I think sharing the produce of our land, and the fruits of our kitchen labour, is the most generous and thoughtful gift we can give from the heart. The only thing that might make it even better is when accompanied by a favourite recipe that makes the most of the gift.

For instance, a reader of this column, Genevieve Salamon, gave me a couple bottles of her homemade vinegars and the technique for making them. One was flavoured with saskatoon berries and the other with herbs from her garden. I was tickled pink. In my quest to celebrate Saskatchewan foods, I have tried to source every staple product, whenever possible, from local sources. So, a couple bottles of flavoured vinegars were much appreciated.

Genevieve says they are easy to make: Purchase pickling vinegar from the grocery store. (She uses pickling vinegar because it has 7% acidity as opposed to 5% in regular vinegar.) Warm the vinegar on the stove or in the microwave. Pour one litre of warm vinegar over 1 cup of saskatoon berries (fresh or frozen), cover and leave at room temperature for 2-3 weeks. After it is well steeped, drain the berries from the vinegar and discard them. Using new berries, fill bottles at a ratio of four parts vinegar to one part berries. Seal and steep another week or two before using.
For herb vinegar, follow the same technique using mixed herbs such as sage, savory, dill, tarragon, coriander seeds, etc.

My mom makes a terrific berry salad with a raspberry vinaigrette. It is her new favourite recipe for family gatherings, and we all love it, too. So, I decided to try it with a vinaigrette made with Genevieve’s saskatoon flavoured vinegar instead. Mom’s salad calls for lettuce, but I substituted wild rice. Instead of dried blueberries and cranberries, I used Saskatchewan sour cherries I had picked and dried myself. And so, in the end, it really wasn’t my mom’s salad anymore, but that is how a new favourite recipe comes to life. I took it to a potluck dinner at our friends, Jo and Kevin’s place, which we had with grilled smoked salmon, pumpkin soup and a bumbleberry pie made by their kids.

I believe it is important and creative to adapt recipes for the foods we have on hand, rather than running out to the grocery store for every little thing. That way, our dinner table is always fresh, in season and if we’re lucky, a real gift of the land.

Not Quite My Mom's
Wild Rice & Dried Cherry Salad
3 green onions, finely chopped
2 cups small broccoli florets
2 cups small cauliflower florets
3 cups cooked wild rice
1 cup dried sour cherries
1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/4 cup thinly sliced almonds

Mix everything together in a serving bowl. Dress with a homemade fruity vinaigrette (I made it with raspberry syryp) or do as my mom does and use a store-bought raspberry vinaigrette.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Comfort me with orange - PUMPKIN MUFFINS

I like the way winter narrows my selection of vegetables. Sure, the cornucopia of summer is wonderful, but there's something equally wonderful about a baked potato or a roast with carrots and beets or a squash soup. Winter vegetables are pure comfort food.

I get all my winter vegetables at the Saskatoon Farmers' Market. Why buy something 'imported' from the grocery store, when there is a better, fresher, local equivalent? When I think of those bland and bitter carrots one finds in the grocery store, I head straight for the juicy sweet carrots at the market. There is absolutely no comparison. After Halloween, the pumpkins went on sale so I made these muffins:

PUMPKIN MUFFINS
1 cup of baked pumpkin, mashed
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp mixture of cinnamon, ginger and/or nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Mix the soda into the pumpkin. Cream the oil and sugar, add the eggs and cream well. Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and spices. Add the flour and pumpkin alternately to the egg mixture, stirring just enough to blend after each addition. (If you are using walnuts, blend them into the flour mixture before adding to the batter.) Scoop into muffin tins. Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

A light touch - PEAR SOUFFLE

I I cracked open a jar of my canned pears and they are yummy! The pears came from a tree on Temperance Street here in Saskatoon. It was a good hot summer and the pears were ripening on the tree and sooo juicy. My canned pears are wonderful eaten on their own, but I tried something new:

PEAR SOUFFLE
1 cup of canned pears
1 cup of pear syrup
1 cup water
1/4-1/2 cup sugar (if the pears were canned without sugar, use the larger amount)
pinch cinnamon
4 eggs separated at room temperature

Butter four to six oven-proof ramekins. (Since I don’t have ramekins, I used cappuccino mugs.) Dust each one lightly with sugar.

Combine the pear syrup, water and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the sugar. Turn heat down to a simmer. Chop the pears and add to the simmering liquid. When the pears are very tender, strain them from the liquid. Purée the pears with the cinnamon. Boil the liquid until it is reduced to 1/3 cup. Cool syrup completely.

Whisk the egg yolks with 2 tbsp. of pear syrup in a metal bowl. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and whisk the egg yolks until they thicken. Stir the egg yolks into the pear purée and blend well.

Beat the egg whites until firm. Add 2 tbsp. of pear syrup. Continue to beat the egg whites until stiff and glossy. Fold the egg whites into the pear purée, folding together just until blended. Don’t overdo it.

Spoon the mixture into the ramekins (or cappuccino mugs) and bake at 375 F. for about 20 minutes. Souflées will be golden and nicely risen. Remove from oven and serve at once. It think they would be even nicer drizzled with chocolate – next time!




Chop and simmer the pears in pear syrup and water until very soft. Strain pears from liquid.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Chicken day two - CHICKEN PIE

I just took possession of 6 gorgeous free-range chickens, none smaller than 5 pounds. They grow big out there in the country sunshine!

I roasted one of those chickens with carrots and potatoes, and the next day, I made a chicken pie. A chicken pie is so easy to make and men love it. (At least my man does.)

First of all, you have to deglaze the pot in which it cooked. Put a bit of water in the pot, heat it on the stove, and scrape up all the juicy bits. Pour it through a strainer to remove the solids. Put the liquid in a bowl and refrigerate it overnight. The next day, the fat will have separated on top of the jelly. Spoon off the fat and get rid of it.

Put the jelly in a frying pan and melt on medium-low heat. Add a finely chopped onion and cook until it is soft. You can also a finely chopped stalk of celery. If there is not enough liquid in the pan, add a knob of butter.

Dice some leftover potatoes, carrots and chicken and add to the soft onion. Mince 2-3 sage leaves (or equivalent dried sage) and sprinkle onto the vegetables. Season with salt and pepper.

Half fill a mug with hot water or chicken stock and stir in 2 tablespoons of flour or cornstarch. Mix it well. Pour it into the vegetables, stir, and let it bubble until the mixture thickens. If it gets too thick, you can stir in more liquid. Taste to determine if more salt or sage is needed. You can store this mixture for later or go onto the next step.

Spoon the mixture into a pastry shell. Top with a round of pastry, crimping the edges and cutting a few air vents on top. Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes, until the crust is nicely brown. I like to make my own pastry but a store-bought pastry shell will do just fine!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Saskatchewan pizza

It is entirely possible to make a pizza with Saskatchewan ingredients.

You'll have to make your own dough and pizza sauce. Both are fairly easy. Any bread dough recipe will do -- I like to add a squirt of olive oil when making the dough. A sauce is easy to make by sautéing garlic, onions, basil and chopped tomatoes (all grown here) into a thick sauce.

Choose Armstrong mozzarella cheese because there is a good chance it was made at the Saputo factory in Saskatoon. For meat, there are lots of choices in Saskatchewan, but I like the Italian-style salami from Emco Meats in Saskatoon. Sprinkle on some homegrown oregano and Voila! You have a Saskatchewan-only pizza.

Wash it down with a Saskatchewan-made beer (Great Western, Paddockwood or any brew pub fare) and it's a glorious local feast.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Crusty as salt - POTATO FISH CAKES

This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix on 23 Oct. 2006.

Saskatchewan may be a long way from the sea, but it’s just a little less than a mile away from sea salt. We could walk there if it weren’t straight down. But, since it’s buried 1.2 kilometres in the earth, we have to get our Saskatchewan sea salt from the grocery store.

Now, don’t go looking in the gourmet food section. This ancient sea salt is not pricey or rare. In fact, if you’ve purchased Sifto salt chances are you’re already using it. Sifto’s salt mine at Unity, in west central Saskatchewan, is tapping into a salt deposit more than 350 million years old. The salt was left behind after the evaporation of a huge inland sea, part of the same geological formation that produced potash. Put that in your salt shaker!

When I heard about the salt mine at Unity I called the manager, John Goschok, and asked for a tour. The first thing I noticed is that the place smells like salt. If I had been plunked down blindfolded, I might have guessed we were near the sea rather than the wide open plains. At the mine, hot water is forced down a pipe into the crusty salt below. The salt dissolves into a brine that is pumped up to the surface where it is heated in huge evaporators to remove the moisture. The result is pure white unadulterated salt.

"I chuckle to myself when I go to a health store and people are buying sea salt because it’s ‘natural’ and they’re paying a ton of money for it. Well, it all comes from the ocean at one point in time," says Goschok.

The mine produces about 50 different products from table salt to kosher and pickling salt, to road and water softener salt, to salt licks for livestock. Imagine the furor that would have caused in the Middle Ages, when so much salt was worth a king’s ransom. For most of human history, salt was an expensive commodity, often subject to state taxes. In fact, salt was so valuable throughout the ages that the Latin word ‘sal’ is the basis of our modern words salvation and salary.

Early one morning, shortly after my visit to the salt mine, I turned on the TV to a cooking show from France. I couldn’t understand much of the dialogue, but I could understand the pictures.
The chef took a whole fish, filled the cavity with herbs and sliced lemon, put it in a long narrow baking pan and covered it completely in rock salt. He baked it in a moderate oven (325 degrees C) for an hour or so.

I had a 2kg box of Sifto pickling salt and a northern pike from our friend, Ed. So, I decided to try it. Believe me, as I was pouring on that salt, I feared it was going to be a waste of both.
But when that fish came out of the oven 1.5 hours later, it was the most delicious and flavourful northern pike I had ever eaten. The salt had formed a crust like clay. The texture of the flesh had changed; it was moister and meatier, and it lifted right off those nasty bones. And it didn’t cost me an arm and a leg.

Here’s a good recipe for leftover fish.

Potato Fish Cakes
2 cups cooked potato
2 cups flaked cooked fish
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp. mixed herbs, chopped
(parsley, tarragon, thyme)
Fish stock or white wine
1 egg
Flour for dusting
Fresh breadcrumbs for coating
Canola oil for frying

Mix the potato, fish, onion and herbs. I used a blender until they were the consistency of breadcrumbs. However, you could use a potato masher or even your hands. Add enough fish stock to moisten the mixture so you can form it into patties. (If you don’t have fish stock or white wine, use chicken stock or water.) Make 8 patties.

Dust each patty with flour. Dip into the egg. Then press each side into the breadcrumbs. Place the patties on a plate and refrigerate at least 30 min. This is essential to prevent them breaking up in the oil.

Heat the oil on medium high heat. There should be enough oil to rise half way up the patty. Fry the patties on each side until golden brown and drain on paper towel. Serve with lemon mayonnaise or your favourite sauce.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Soup for a snowy day - ZUPPA del CONTADINA

The first snow always catches me off guard. The lawn chairs were still on the patio! So it’s a good day to make Zuppa del Contadina (Peasant Soup), a tomato soup we made frequently the winter we spent in Italy. Since we have a ton (only slight exaggeration) of tomatoes ripening in the basement, the ingredients are on hand. However, my herbs were under a crust of snow. No matter, sage and oregano can stand the cold. I got out the broom, brushed them off, and snipped a few sprigs for the soup.

My current Saskatchewan food goal is: Every day, eat something I picked with my own hand. So, on the first unoffical day of winter, I have succeeded to do just that.

ZUPPA del CONTADINA

4 tbsp olive oil
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped small
2 stalks celery, chopped small
About 12 ripe tomatoes, or a 500 g of canned tomatoes, chopped
a few sprigs of fresh herbs such as parsley, oregano and sage, chopped
salt and pepper
1 litre of soup stock (I used chicken stock)
day-old country bread, toasted

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot. Sauté the onion and garlic until soft. Add the carrots and celery. Cook until tender. Add the chopped tomatoes and herbs, and simmer until they start to cook together. Sprinkle on some salt and fresh pepper. Add the stock, bring to a boil, then simmer on low for an hour or so. Adjust the seasoning to your taste. To serve, place a piece of toasted bread in the bottom of the bowl before spooning on the soup. PS: I like to remove the seeds from the tomatoes before adding them to the soup. Cut the tomatoes in quarters and use a small spoon to scrape out the seeds. Then chop them into smaller pieces for the soup.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

On the Air Waves - MOOSE SOUP

This afternoon I was on CBC Radio for my food column Home on the Range. We talking about one of my favourite Saskatchewan foods - wild game. We had a good discussion and the phone lines were buzzing. I mentioned that I had a favourite way of preparing moose. So, here it is...

MOOSE SOPAS
Sopas is Portuguese for soup. I adapted it from Saveur magazine. Originally, this recipe was made with beef in large quantities for a church dinner. However, it is terrific with moose. You’ll need a piece of muslin or a tea ball.

1/2 tsp whole allspice berries
1/2 tsp whole coriander seeds
1/2 tsp whole cloves
3-4 pound moose roast
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 bay leaves
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 cup tomato sauce (I used 1/2 cup sauce and 1 cup tomatoes)
1 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine
1/4 cup ketchup
1 tsp cinnamon
Salt to taste
3 cups water
Day-old French or Italian bread, sliced
Chopped mint for garnish

Secure the allspice, coriander and cloves in a piece of cheesecloth or tea ball. Put this bag of spices in a large pot with the meat and everything else but the bread and mint. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5-6 hours, stirring occasionally, until the meat is very tender.

Lift out the meat to a large plate and shred it with two forks. Discard the spice bag. To serve, place a piece of bread in the centre of a bowl. Scatter on a handful of shredded meat. Pour on a ladle or two of broth. Sprinkle with mint and serve.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Hot bites - STUFFED JALAPENO PEPPERS

This was a great year for peppers.

I planted six jalapeno seedlings in my garden in mid June. I have to admit they were an afterthought I bought on sale. By August, the plants were falling over they were so heavy with peppers. When I harvested them, one plant had 42 peppers on it! The Hungarian banana peppers were also amazing – it’s the first year they turned red in the garden. This extra hot dry summer did wonders.

Then I got an idea: We were at our friends Susan and Rick’s place, and she served stuffed jalapeno peppers. I think she got them from the grocery store but I thought, "I can do that." Here’s what I did:

I made a stuffing with grated parmesan cheese, tiny chunks of mozzarella and a pinch of blue cheese (you could use just about any cheese). I added a tiny dice of European-style cured pork from Emco Meats in Saskatoon (ham or cooked bacon would do). Next, a bit of finely chopped thyme and parsley, and a dash of salt. I sliced the end off the peppers, scooped out all the seeds with a sharp knife and stuffed this mixture inside.

Make a batter with 1/2-cup flour, a pinch of baking powder, a dash of salt and one egg. Add liquid to thin this mixture to the consistency of pancake batter. I used soda water, but you can use regular water, beer or milk. Heat canola oil in a deep pan on medium high. Roll the stuffed peppers in the batter and quickly drop them into the hot oil. Turn once so they brown on both sides.

The jalapenos it will be very spicy to eat; banana peppers are much mellower. If you have batter left over, batter some herbs such as a sprig of parsley, a branch of sage or a stem of flowering borage and deep fry them, too.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

A fish tale - FISH BAKED IN SALT

I was watching a French cooking show early one morning when I saw something truly fascinating. I couldn’t understand much of the dialogue, but I could understand this simple technique:

Take a whole fish, head off. Stuff the cavity with lemon and herbs. Place it in a narrow baking pan, completely cover the fish with kosher salt and bake it. I had a fish and I had the salt so I was game to try it.

I started with a Saskatchewan northern pike caught by our friend Ed. A lot of people don’t like filleting northern pike because they have a lot of bones. This technique eliminates that problem. I stuffed the cavity with lemon slices and fresh thyme from my garden. I placed it in a long baking dish and covered it with Sifto Pickling Salt (from the salt mine at Unity, SK.). I used almost a whole 2 kg box; the fish was completely covered but for a bit of the tail. I baked it for 1.5 hours at 325 C. When it came out of the oven the salt was rock hard. I cracked it open with a knife, peeled off the skin of the fish and lifted out the flesh. It came neatly off the bones.

I have to admit, JB and I took our first bites with trepidation. Then we looked at each other and said Mmmmmmm. It was delicious! The flesh of the fish was transformed – it was meatier, tastier and less fishy than usual. Those French...

Friday, September 29, 2006

Dining out – WHOLE WHEAT PEROGIES

Sometimes, the best restaurants take a bit of effort to get to – but it’s worth it.

Today, I went for a drive with my friend Susan and her two youngsters, Allie and Jackson, to admire the fall leaves along the S. Saskatchewan River. Our destination was the New Ground Café in Birch Hills, an hour or so north of Saskatoon.

My friend Jenny Willems started this fabulous little café last December. Eventhough it’s small (only five tables) and the menu is small (two or three items to choose from) it’s got big tastes and an ambitious flare. The chalkboard menu changes daily depending on what Jenny has purchased from local farmers and gardeners.

Jackson ordered the chicken noodle soup. Jenny warned him, ever so mother-like, that it might taste a little different because it’s made with coconut milk and Thai seasoning. Jackson took one spoonful and said it was so good we all had to try it. Allie ordered the best, gooeyest, whole wheat cinnamon bun I have ever eaten. Susan had the Turkey Dinner pizza – cranberry sauce topped with turkey and cheese. After an intrepid bite, Allie declared it so good she wanted half of her mom’s pizza. I had a creamy soup of potatoes and spaghetti squash with chunks of blue potato. It was so filling I couldn’t eat it all (along with a big chunk of bannock), but since Susan had given away half her pizza she was happy to polish it off. Driving away, Susan said there was not one thing she tasted that wasn’t delicious, and that’s saying a lot for a little restaurant off the beaten path.

The first time I visited the New Ground Café, Jenny was making blue cheese perogies for dinner. She has offered to share her favourite perogie dough recipe:

2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. oil
2 Tbsp. sour cream
3 eggs
1 cup water

Jenny’s note: Let rest at least half an hour before using. Add more flour if too sticky. Can double as ravioli dough.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Killer Spinach

So, we have been told not to eat spinach from the grocery store. The spinach could be contaminated with E-coli which has killed one person and made countless sick. The U.S. FDA says it's not a case of food tampering. But I say it is! We are tampering with our natural food system by relying on distant cheap-labour mega-farms for our fresh food. Standards slip, things go wrong, one mistake affects millions of consumers.

I will not be throwing out my store-bought spinach because I don't buy spinach in the store. I buy spinach from the local farmers' market when it's in season. I also grow my own and freeze it for winter months. If we stay connected to the sources of our food we are much less likely to be the victims of killer produce.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Water off a duck’s back – DUCK WRAPPED IN BACON

I went duck hunting on Saturday for the first time. It was perfect weather – if you’re a duck. Rain, rain and rain. I went with Sue, who hunts for food, and Katherine, a new hunter, to a pond near Perdue, Saskatchewan. I was dressed in my husband’s waders, with boots so big I was tripping on the barb wire fences we crawled through. We sat beneath a stand of young willows in a patch of wild mint and waited for the ducks to fly by.

Well, the ducks weren’t flying. So we gabbed for an hour or more, never fired a shot, and walked back to the house to warm up. However, we were not without a duck. Sue’s large munsterlander (a hunting dog) caught a young mallard duck. Back at the house, Sue cut the breasts off the duck, smothered them in Cajun spice and BBQd them to a charred rare. It was so good.

But the best part was lunch. We met up with a group of hunters at the Saskatoon Gun Club for a lunch made from wild fowl – coot cassoulet, crane wraps and best of all, Sue’s BBQd duck in bacon.

SUE’S BBQD DUCK IN BACON
Marinate fresh duck breast overnight in Italian dressing. Cut the duck breasts into small, thin strips. Lay half a piece of bacon flat and put a slice duck on top.
Add a piece of hot pepper (jalapeno or pickled chili) at the end and roll all together. Fasten with a toothpick. Grill only as long as it takes for the bacon to cook, and serve!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Newsaper - PASTA NORMA

This article appeared in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix on 18 Sept. 2006.

Summer’s bounty lingers in the luscious eggplant
The other night at dinner my husband put down his fork and declared the words every home cook would treasure: "This is as good as candy." And we weren’t even eating dessert! It was Pasta Norma, a dish from Sicily which (so the story goes) was named for the opera Norma when it debuted in 1831. The opera tells the story of a tragic love affair between a Roman official and a Druid high priestess. This does not seem to have any direct relation to the main ingredient in Pasta Norma – eggplant – except perhaps to say that it’s wickedly good.

Eggplant is not that common in Saskatchewan gardens, but it’s one of those exotic Mediterranean vegetables that will grow here with proper pampering. A couple of years ago, I found some eggplant seedlings in a local greenhouse and put them in my garden. I got lots of cute little purple eggplants, which spurred me to find new ways to cook them.

Fresh off that success, I planted some more seedlings last year but they didn’t do so well. I got just two eggplants which, if divided by the price of the seedlings, cost me $5 each. It is much less expensive and more reliable to buy them at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market. Freshly picked eggplants are available there in late summer and early fall, making this the perfect time to try some classic eggplant recipes from around the world.

The dish that immediately comes mind is the French vegetable stew called ‘ratatouille’, a mix of eggplant, tomatoes, red peppers and fresh basil that’s easy to make and delicious either hot or cold. The next classic recipe I tried was Eggplant Parmigiana, an Italian dish of fried eggplant baked with a tomato-basil sauce and lots of Parmesan and mozzarella cheese. It is absolutely yummy. Middle Eastern cooks make a dip for flatbread and vegetables with eggplant and tahini called ‘baba ghanoush’ and it’s the main ingredient in the Greek baked dish ‘moussaka’.

Not only do I have eggplant in my kitchen, I also have it on my walls. One year for my birthday my husband gave me a still-life painting of an eggplant and a squash. Not long after, I invited my friend Tomasia for dinner. I suppose she hadn’t examined my walls until she was sitting at the table, when she looked up and demanded, "Why on earth do you have a picture of an eggplant on your wall?" In the 17th Century, still-life paintings of food were wildly popular in northern Europe, in part because they reminded people of their growing prosperity and the distances their ships would travel in search of exotic goods.

My eggplant painting reminds me of summer and my search for new and wonderful foods produced in Saskatchewan. I’m an enthusiastic supporter of local food, so it’s always exciting to discover a new gem to include in an all-Saskatchewan diet. Eggplant is often paired with tomatoes, as it is in Pasta Norma.

PASTA NORMA
olive oil
3 small eggplants
2 cloves garlic
8-10 plum tomatoes
a handful of fresh basil
salt and pepper
ricotta cheese
cooked pasta for four

Heat olive oil in a skillet until hot. Use enough oil to thickly coat the bottom of the pan. Slice the eggplant in rounds and then cut the rounds into quarters. Fry the eggplant in hot oil until soft and brown. It will soak up much of the oil so you may need to add more.

Meanwhile, sauté garlic in 1/4 cup olive oil. Stir in chopped tomatoes, chopped basil, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil then simmer for 15 minutes or more, pressing the tomatoes to create a sauce. Season with salt and pepper.

To serve, place pasta in individual bowls, scoop on some tomato sauce, top with eggplant and sprinkle with ricotta cheese. This dish is at its absolute best when the eggplant and tomatoes are young and fresh, so hike on down to the farmers’ market and do it right!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Gifts of food - STEELHEAD TROUT WITH CHERRY TOMATOES

One day not too long ago, I got a phone call out of the blue from a woman who reads my column in the newspaper about Saskatchewan food. Her name was Genevieve. She said she had a gift for me. It was two big bottles of her marinated vinegar – one with garden herbs and the other with saskatoon berries – and a jar of pesto. What a treat! She told me to wait awhile before opening the vinegar. So, my first taste was last night. Here’s what I did with it:

STEELHEAD TROUT ROASTED WITH CHERRY TOMATOES
Steelhead is a type of trout raised at the Wild West Steelhead fish farm on Lake Diefenbaker near Lucky Lake, Saskatchewan. I purchased some trout while on a visit to the farm. It had been caught, cleaned and packaged within the hour. And cooked just a few hours after that! Any other fish fillets would work just as well in this recipe.

Heat the oven to 425. Take two handfuls of cherry tomatoes and cut them in half. (Red and yellow tomatoes would make a pretty mix.) Toss them with some shredded basil, a pinch or two of kosher salt and a good dousing of herb vinegar. Marinate for an hour.

Rub the bottom of a roasting pan with olive oil. Place two fillets of trout in the oil, skin side down. Season with salt and white pepper. Arrange the cherry tomatoes on top of the fillets. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil. Roast in the oven uncovered for about 15 minutes, until the fish is flaky.
Top the fish with some grated white cheese – parmesan, mozzarella or gruyere for example. Turn the oven to broil and bake until the cheese is melted. I served the fish with boiled fingerling potatoes and just-picked corn on the cob.

Friday, September 08, 2006

On the Airwaves - TROUT BAKED IN SALT

If you listen to CBC radio during the day (in Saskatchewan) you can catch my new food column Home on the Range on the program "Blue Sky" with Jen Gibson. I'll be on the show monthly to talk about my adventures in Saskatchewan foodland. My first show is today between 1:30 and 2:00 pm. We're going to talk (among other things) about my visit to Canada's largest fresh water fish farm - Wild West Steelhead on Lake Diefenbaker. It should be fun!

Update: The first program was marvellous. Robin called in from Regina to rave about Saskatchewan wild rice. He has a ten-year tradition of buying a big bag of rice and sharing it with his coworkers, so they get a chance to sample a product that is not readily available in their city. Isn't that sweet?! Lois called from Moose Jaw with her favourite recipe for Saskatchewan's fall bounty - beet borscht. Jen tried to twist Lois's arm to send us her secret family recipe. I'm crossing my fingers for that!

WILD WEST STEELHEAD TROUT BAKED IN SALT
Stuff the cavity of a whole 5-lb fish with lemon slices and fresh thyme. Place it in a long baking dish and cover with course salt. Use a 2 kg. box of Sifto salt (mined in Saskatchewan). The fish should be completely covered. Bake for 1.5 hours at 325 C. When it comes out of the oven the salt will be rock hard. Crack it open with a knife, peel off the skin of the fish and lift out the flesh.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Saskatchewan Sea Salt

As readers of this blog will know, my husband and I ate almost exclusively the foods of Saskatchewan in our own home for a whole year. During that time, people would try to catch me cheating by naming a food that no one could do without. Like salt and pepper. Where did I get Saskatchewan salt and pepper?

Hah! That’s easy. First of all, I buy peppercorns from Carole Stratychuk at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market. She grows the pepper on her vacation farm in Costa Rica, where she spends the winter months. So, while it’s not grown in Saskatchewan, it is grown by Saskatchewan hands.

As for salt, that’s even easier. There is a Sifto salt mine at Unity where they make table salt, kosher salt, pickling salt, water softener salt and salt licks for livestock. I toured the salt mine yesterday and was really impressed with the operation. The salt is extracted from an ancient sea bed 4,000 feet below the surface of the earth. To get the salt, they shoot down enough water to create a brine, pump it to the surface, and evaporate off the liquid. Voila, billion-year-old sea salt from Saskatchewan!

In the store, look on the box for a little circle that contains some letters and the number 69. That number denotes products from the Unity salt mine.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Fruit + fruit = more fruit flies - PEAR TART

My kitchen is full of apples, pears, plums, cherries, blueberries and... fruit flies. Tonight, JB and I were peeling apples for apple butter and it seemed as if the fruit flies were multiplying right before our eyes. Fornicating and birthing right there in the compost bucket. When we were done, I swabbed the counter with ammonia and put every scrap of fruit in the fridge. For the curious, here is where I obtained this luscious Saskatchewan fruit:

Apples, cherries and plums from the Yoanna U-Pick orchard at Radisson. The last of the fruit will be picked this long weekend, so if you want some get there fast. By the way, this orchard does not advertise and has no road sign - word of mouth sells out its product every year.

Blueberries from three sources: 1) the Saskatoon Farmers' Market, 2) the Wild Blueberry Festival held last weekend in St. Walburg and 3) picked myself in the forest outside La Ronge.

Pears came from a big old tree in a back yard on Temperance Street (Dick and Verna's house). It is a very good year for pears - they are as large and as ripe (er, riper) than any you get in a grocery store. The moral of this story is: Saskatchewan has prolific fruit trees and prolific fruit flies.

PEAR TART
4-8 ripe pears, depending on the size
juice of one lemon
2 tbsp. brandy
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
purchased puff pastry, thawed

Peel and core the pears and cut into quarters or fat slices. Heat the oven to 350.

In a medium cast iron skillet (9 or 10 inches), melt the butter and stir in the brown sugar. It should be bubbling. Toss in the brandy; let it sizzle and evaporate. Remove from heat. Place the pear pieces, core side up, into the caramel. You can toss them in at random or arrange them in nice circles.

Place the skillet back on the heat until the caramel bubbles. Using a small spoon, scoop up the sauce and pour a little over each piece of pear. At this stage, you want the pears to be warm in the sauce but you don't want it to brown and burn.

Remove from heat. Roll a piece of puff pastry into a circle roughly the same size as the skillet and place it neatly over the pears. Tuck the edges into the caramel sauce. Don't worry if the pastry isn't exactly round, just fold over the edges to make it fit in the pan. Cut vents in the pastry. Bake for about 20 minutes.

Remove the skillet from the oven. Put it on a low-heat burner to loosen the pears from the bottom of the pan. Place a plate tightly over the crust and, using oven mits, flip the skillet so that the tart is on the plate. The pears are now on top. Serve with ice cream or creme fraiche.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Blueberries gone even wilder

People must be crazy for Saskatchewan wild blueberries. Take, for instance, the St. Walburg Wild Blueberry Festival. This spunkly little town of 400 attracts a crowd of more than 5,000 people for the Wild Blueberry Festival in late August. By 9 am, there's a long lineup at the blueberry sale table. When the Centennial Clock stikes 9 o'clock, the commerce begins.

In some years, when the berries are less prolific, they sell out in ten minutes. This was a good year for berries and some vendors didn't sell out until 11 am! Of course, I was near the front of the line -- I didn't drive three hours from Saskatoon to go home empty handed. My friend Laureen came with me. We sampled the blueberry pie, blueberry cheesecake and, because there was no blueberry beverage, a Labatt's Blue.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Blueberries gone wild

I went to La Ronge to pick mushrooms. To be exact, chanterelle mushrooms. I went to the same spot in the forest where I picked chanterelles last year and wouldn't you know it -- nothing. Not a single one. Picked clean. (There were lots of mushrooms but none I could be sure woundn't kill me, despite the excellent mushroom picture book I had with me.)

However, all was not lost because I found a forest full of blueberries. I sat down on the green moss and picked to my heart's content. When I got home to Saskatoon (after a four hour drive and a flat tire), JB did not share my mushroom disappointment because he loves blueberries way more.

I have no recipe for fresh wild blueberries because they are just terrific on their own. As my neighbour Andrea said: "They're so good I didn't want to spoil them with ice cream!"

Monday, August 21, 2006

Newspaper - RED SALAD

This cloumn first appeared in the Star-Phoenix on 21 April 2006.

My friend Murray and I have a friendly competition over tomatoes. Who grows the most, who gets the first red tomato, who has the biggest bragging rights. Murray usually wins. But that doesn’t stop me from trying again summer after summer. I have a competitive spirit when it comes to food. Perhaps it dates to my childhood growing up on the farm at Craik. On fair day, dad would get us up early and head for the garden in search of the most beautiful and uniform examples of each vegetable. They were carefully washed, arranged on silver pie plates and entered in the produce competition.

Sometimes we got a carrot that looked like Pinocchio or a potato in the shape of a duck, but there was a competition for them, too. As I recall, we won a lot of ribbons. Last summer, I entered the bread-making contest at the Wheat Festival in Weyburn. I won a prize for my baguette–second place in a field of two. And a couple of weeks ago, I entered the cherry pit spitting contest at the Cherry Festival in Bruno. So tell me, why are boys such better spitters than girls? My pit spits were–well–the pits.

Murray and I both start our tomatoes from seed. But these are not always the tomatoes that go into my garden. Last year I killed all my seedlings by putting them outside to ‘harden off’ on a windy day. This year, I planted my tomatoes in the garden just before it got so cold and rainy in June. They never grew for a month and they’re still a month behind. I have supplemented them with seedlings from a greenhouse.The first ripe tomatoes I ate this year (other than those from the farmers’ market) came from my neighbour Andrea’s garden. They were delicious in a BLT.

Most years, I grow enough Roma tomatoes that we eat them all winter. I cut a slice off the stem end and freeze them whole in ziplock bags. When thawed, the pulp slips easily out of the skins. They’re terrific in soup or a quick pasta sauce made with olive oil, basil and garlic. In fact, I would never consider buying an "imported" grocery store tomato in winter. They are so pale and tasteless, starved of their nutrients and flavour, I hate to spend my hard-earned pennies on them. After all, what’s eating all about if it isn’t for nourishment and good taste?

I am a big champion of local food, especially fruits and vegetables, that are picked ripe in season and stored for short periods of time. They taste better, and I suspect they have a lot more vitamins, too. And there is no better time of year than right now to buy locally from farmers’ markets or U-picks. For one year, my husband and I made an effort to serve almost nothing but Saskatchewan foods at our dinner table in Saskatoon. Last year at this time, I was busy canning and freezing cherries, pears, rhubarb, apples and tomatoes for those long winter months. We ate well, and felt healthier for it. (You can read about it at HomeForDinner.blogspot.com.)

This year, I am modifying my local food challenge: Everyday, I want to eat something picked or grown myself. So, I’m hoping my tomatoes pick up the pace. And Murray, if your tomatoes are disappearing after dark, it certainly wasn’t me.

RED SALAD
2 beets
2 tomatoes
1 red pepper
1/4 red onion
fresh herbs such as parsley, thyme and cilantro
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. lemon juice
salt and pepper

Boil the unpeeled beets in water until they can be pierced through with a sharp knife. Drain. When they are cool enough to handle peel the beets and cut them into a half-inch (1 cm.) dice. Cut the red pepper in half, remove the stem and seeds, and drop into boiling water until the flesh is just soft, about 3 minutes. Cut the pepper and tomatoes to the same size as the beets. Finely chop the onion. Mix the vegetables together in a bowl and, while they are still warm, add the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste and toss well. Cool. Before serving, add a tablespoon of chopped fresh herbs.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Have a heart? - CHICKEN LIVER MOUSSE

I buy free-range chickens from Karen and John Dale at Meacham, Sask. They are delivered to my house cleaned, frozen and bagged. I found it curious that my chickens had a heart and a gizzard, but no liver. So, I asked Karen why there was no liver in my chicken. Well, it turns out that she sells the livers separately, rather than leave them in the chicken for someone who would just toss them out. Smart, I thought, and I ordered two extra pounds of livers. Here’s what I did with them:

CHICKEN LIVER MOUSSE
3/4 cup butter
olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup brandy
1 pound chicken livers
small bunch of fresh thyme, leaves removed from stems

Melt the butter on the stove until it separates. Strain off the yellow clarified butter and throw the milky liquid away.

In a frying pan, warm up enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Toss in the onion and garlic, stir and cook until tender. Remove to a bowl. Wipe the frying pan clean with paper towel. Heat some more olive oil and add the chicken livers and thyme. Cook in a single layer, turning as needed, until they are dark on the outside but still pink in the middle. Pour in the brandy and let it sizzle off.

Slide the livers into a blender, add the onions and garlic, pour in the clarified butter, season with salt and pepper – and blend to a smooth purée. Scoop the purée into a fine sieve and press it through the holes. Some solids will be left in the sieve – this should not be put into the mousse, but it’s good to eat nonetheless.

Place the mousse into a bowl or terrine and cover it tightly with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic against the surface of the mousse. This will keep well for at least two weeks in the fridge and, in fact, the flavour improves in a couple of days.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Berries galore - BUMBLEBERRY PIE

Last week, I spent a couple days at a Benedictine Monastery at Muenster, Saskatchewan, where the monks fill their days by keeping marvellous gardens. Brother Basil, the chief farmer, showed me around the grounds on his golf cart. Later, I walked out past the cemetery to the raspberry patch and picked a pail of amber raspberries.

I had never tasted amber raspberries before. They are sweeter and more delicate than the common red raspberry, and so delicious. Now I’m eating them every day (or twice a day!) before they go soft. This Bumbleberry Pie is a good way to use a variety of berries and fruit when you don’t have enough for one pie on its own. In addition to the amber raspberries, I used raspberries (picked at Don's house), lush strawberries from the Strawberry Ranch, my own rhubarb, my mom’s saskatoon berries and crabapples we picked over our neighbours' fence.

BUMBLEBERRY PIE
5 cups of fruit, of which 1 cup is tart apple
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
dash of salt
a bit of butter
prepared pastry crust

Peel, core and chop the apple. Chop the other large fruit like rhubarb and big strawberries. Combine all the fruit in a bowl and toss with the flour to coat. Mix in the sugar and the salt.

Roll the pastry so it will have an overhand of at least one inch when placed in the pie plate. Place it into the plate and scoop in the fruit. Dot here and there with bit of butter. Fold the loose edges of pastry over the top of the filling so that it forms a rough circle around the edge of the pie; the centre remains uncovered. (This method uses less pastry crust and allows everyone to see how pretty the fruit looks after it’s cooked.) You can sprinkle the crust with sugar, if you like. Bake at 375 for about 30-40 minutes, until the crust is cooked.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Newspaper - STRAWBERRY MILLE FEUILLE

This column appeared in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix on 24 July 2006.

Sometimes, we can trace our talents directly to our parents. From my mom, I get my collecting-old-dishware gene. From my dad, I get my talent for berry picking. My dad is a terrific berry picker. He is in early, picks steadily, eats little and doesn’t quit until the pails are full. There is a legend in our family that he broke the all-time record for the most cherries picked in one day at a certain U-Pick in BC. That’s my dad.

When I was growing up on the farm, late July was time for the annual saskatoon berry expedition to Findlater Valley or Lake Manitou. I learned early to wear white (to stay cool), long sleeves (against the brambles) and a belt (to loop the handle of the bucket so both hands were free). We packed the bug spray, a picnic and lots of ice cream pails.

I have always loved picking berries. I love the rhythm of it, like a mantra, a single action repeated but not without challenge, since the berries must be examined as they are picked and discarded if wormy. I love the solitude in the bush, the heat and the buzzing insects. I love the feeling of accomplishment, pride in picking clean and thorough, the gratification of watching the pail fill slowly to the top.

Of course, I love to eat berries, too. Considering all this, it’s a good thing I was born in Saskatchewan where berry picking is a cultural pastime from way back. It’s getting even easier now to pick berries with U-Pick farms popping up all over the place. The website of the Saskatchewan Fruit Growers Association has a map showing more than 70 U-Picks around the province and lists 16 different fruits!

Last summer, I discovered the Yoanna Orchard U-Pick at Radisson. They have 50 different varieties of apples, but I was ga-ga for the cherries. These are small, tart cherries perfect for jams and pies, developed at the University of Saskatchewan for our dry summers and cold winters. In two visits, my husband and I picked nine buckets. This summer, I am already satisfying my itch to pick. A few weeks ago I went to the Strawberry Ranch with a couple of girlfriends and their kids. I spent the rest of the morning canning fruit and making jam. Then some other friends let me loose in their raspberry patch...

I am so passionate about Saskatchewan fruit because I am passionate about Saskatchewan food overall. For one full year, my husband and I ate almost nothing but Saskatchewan foods at our own dinner table. We made an effort to try new things and to really make the most of what this province has to offer. Now that year is up and we have a new challenge. Everyday, I want to eat something procured by our own hands. It might be herbs or fish or, you guessed it, lots of berries.

STRAWBERRIES MILLE FEUILLE
(or Strawberries Between the Sheets)

In France, mille feuille means a thousand sheets of paper or a thousand leaves. It is often created by layering fruit and cream between thin layers of cake or sweet crisps. This version is even easier, but it looks just as impressive. This recipe makes four desserts. For larger amounts you can double the pastry cream.

phyllo pastry
1/3 cup butter
1 cup fresh sliced strawberries
icing sugar for dusting

Pastry Cream
1/2 tbsp vanilla
1 cup milk
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
3 tbsp flour
1.5 tbsp soft butter
1/3 cup whipping cream

Cut the phyllo pastry into roughly four-inch squares. You’ll need seven squares per person, but do a few extra incase some break. Melt 1/3 cup butter until it foams. Remove from heat and skim off the foam with a spoon. Spread the pastry sheets in a single layer on a clean cooking sheet. (I covered the cookie sheet in parchment paper.) Brush the pastry lightly with melted butter and bake in a 300-degree oven. Watch carefully – it takes just a few minutes to crisp and turn brown. Store the pastry sheets in an airtight container.

Heat the milk and vanilla on medium heat until it boils. In another bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the flour and mix well. Add one-quarter of the hot milk and whisk until fully incorporated. Whisk in the remaining milk and pour through a strainer into a clean saucepan. Heat the mixture on medium, stirring constantly, until it boils. Remove from heat and whisk in the soft butter a bit at a time so it is completely smooth. Cool. This can be made ahead of time, pressed with plastic wrap and stored in the fridge.

Before serving, whip the cream and fold it into the cold pastry cream. Place three pastry sheets on each plate. Cover with a layer of pastry cream. Dot with strawberries. Add another three pastry sheets, more cream and more fruit. Top with one more sheet. For decoration, you might place a half strawberry on the top of each one. Dust with icing sugar and serve.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Ode to Rhubarb - RHUBARB MUFFIINS

I love any plant in my garden that can survive a Saskatchewan winter and spring back up in... well... spring. Rhubarb fits that bill. Even if you don’t eat it, it just looks great. Some friends were talking recently about green rhubarb. Apparently that was more common before this upstart red variety cornered the rhubarb market. Somehow, I just don’t think it would be as pleasing to eat.

My nieces were recently visiting from the metropolis of LA and I got them hooked on raw rhubarb dipped in sugar. Mmmmmm. One of my favourite ways to eat rhubarb is a Rhubarb Up-side-down Cake (see recipe at 30 May 2005), but these muffins come a close second.

RHUBARB MUFFINS
2.5 cups flour
1 t. baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups chopped rhubarb
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla

Topping:
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup rolled oats
1 tbsp melted butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Mix in the rhubarb and coat the pieces in flour. In another bowl, mix the sugar and oil. Whisk in the egg, buttermilk and vanilla. Blend this liquid mixture into the flour mixture, stirring just and until it is incorporated. Spoon the batter into a greased muffin tin. Sprinkle a bit of topping on each one. Bake at 350F. for 20-25 minutes. (It makes 18 muffins in my muffin tin.)

Monday, June 26, 2006

Thanks Saskatchewan!

I have just received a grant from the Saskatchewan Arts Board to begin work on a book about Saskatchewan food! It's going to be a fun book, full of people and places and good things to eat, recounting my adventures as I'm out and about discovering the great foods of this province. I don't have a publisher yet, but I hope to one day. Stay tuned, and I'll keep you posted. Many thanks to the Saskatchewan Arts Board for supporting my local food project.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Hooked on Breakfast - MY MORNING MARTINI

Last winter, I ate something that changed my life.

My husband and I took a little winter getaway to the mineral spa in Moose Jaw. We were sitting in our terry robes by the side of the pool, having a morning coffee in the Morningside Cafe, when a woman walked by with the most amazing breakfast parfait. Imagine a martini glass filled with layers of granola, yogurt and fresh fruit. When I got home to Saskatoon, I went out and bought martini glasses just so I could start every day this way.

I've been making it with thawed berries that I put away last fall, and I'm now waiting patiently for the strawberries and raspberries to ripen so I can make a Saskatchewan version of the Morningside breakfast parfait. I call it...

MY MORNING MARTINI
Take one martini glass (per person). Fill the very bottom with granola. Top it with fruit. Cover with yogurt. Repeat the layering. Top the whole thing off with the most gorgeous raspberry (or strawberry) you picked that morning. Eat with a spoon. (You can stir if you want, but shaking would be a mess!)

Monday, June 19, 2006

Newspaper - PASTA PRIMAVERA

This article appeared in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix on 19 June 2006.

The other day, my husband pointed out that neither of us had a cold last winter. This is quite unusual. He usually gets a doozie of a cold once a year and I might lose a couple days of productive work. As well, I usually suffer a real about of depression come March when it seems that winter will never end. But this year I didn’t feel one iota of blue.

Why not? We didn’t get flu shots. We didn’t take happy pills with our morning oatmeal. So, what changed? In think it was our Saskatchewan diet. For more than a year, we have been making a concerted effort to eat almost exclusively the foods of Saskatchewan at our own dinner table. Could these local foods be better for our health?

Let’s consider vitamin C. Vitamin C reaches maximum levels in fruits and vegetables that ripen on the vine. Over the past winter, we primarily ate Saskatchewan-ripened fruits and vegetables including apples, cherries, saskatoon berries, strawberries, pears, tomatoes and red peppers, maximizing our vitamin C. As well, vitamin and mineral content is highest in foods that are freshly picked, since nutrients diminish with time and processing. We ate Saskatchewan fruits and vegetables when they were in season or quickly froze them for winter freshness.

Studies show that many fresh vegetables from the grocery store have fewer nutrients than they did in the 1960s. This is because commercial varieties have been bred for their uniformity and storability at the expense of nutrients and taste. Local fruit and vegetable growers are more likely to choose plant varieties for their goodness rather than for their ability to look pretty after travelling 2,000 km in the back of a truck.

Many vitamins and minerals boost the immune system so it can fight off germs. These include: vitamin E, abundant in whole grains and canola oil; zinc in meat, eggs and beans; carotenoids in carrots and spinach; and selenium in mushrooms (just to give a few examples).

Omega 3 fatty acids are terrific for fighting depression and disease. They are found in flax, nuts and leafy green plants. Fish that eat seaweed and algae are a good source of omega 3 fatty acids. So are wild game, bison and cattle raised on diets of grass, not grain. At our house, we eat almost exclusively pasture-raised or wild meat from Saskatchewan including chickens, beef, bison, moose and fish. We buy eggs from a farmer who lets his chickens peck in the grass. These eggs have way more omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin A than eggs laid by hens kept inside a barn. That vitamin A also helps to fight a cold.

The B vitamins are good for mental health and are found abundantly in the whole grains Saskatchewan is so famous for. Also good for depression are the magnesium in cabbage and folate in lentils. Perhaps all that coleslaw and barley soup we ate this winter were good for my body and my spirit. All this talk about colds has left little room to mention the long-term anti-cancer benefits of saskatoon berries and sour cherries, the healing properties of honey and yogurt, and the cholesterol-lowering advantages of oatmeal. All in all, our Saskatchewan diet didn’t just taste good, it was good for us, too.

Take advantage of the freshest disease-fighting vegetables with this terrific and easy pasta dish. The word ‘primavera’ means ‘first green’ and we can never eat enough of that!

PASTA PRIMAVERA
Melt 2 tbsp. and 1/2 cup of olive oil in a pot. Sauté a chopped onion and some chopped garlic. Then toss in a whole bunch of vegetables in bite-sized pieces. For example, green beans, asparagus, zucchini, spinach, snap peas, carrots, sweet peppers and fiddleheads. Season with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, cook the pasta (I prefer bowties or rotini with this dish). When the vegetables are cooked but still crunchy, toss in the drained pasta along with several chopped tomatoes and a couple tbsp. of chopped fresh herbs like parsley, basil and cilantro. Add more oil if necessary so the pasta is nicely moist, adjust the salt and cook until the tomatoes are warm.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Greens coming out of my ears! - PERSIAN EGG PIE

This morning for breakfast I had yogurt with saskatoon berries. There -- I fulfilled my daily requirement to eat something picked by my own hand. I picked those saskatoons last summer at Last Mountain Lake. For supper, I tried a new recipe that I call a Persian Egg Pie. It's adapted from a recipe that I found in "Flatbreads and Flavours" by Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford. Eventhough this dish originates in Iran, it's made with ingredients found here in Saskatchewan.

I met Jeffrey and Naomi a few years ago when I interviewed them for a radio documentary about homemade bread for the CBC program Ideas. They're my heroes - travelling the world, collecting photos and recipes, and writing fabulous cookbooks. If I were stranded on a desert island with a well-stocked kitchen, this is the cookbook I would want to have with me. In that cookbook, this dish is called koukouye sabzi.

PERSIAN EGG PIE
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1.5 cup spinach leaves, shredded
1/2 cup finely chopped green onions
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
2 tbsp. finely chopped dill
8 eggs
1/2 cup pine nuts
2 tsp. all purpose flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
2 tbsp. plain yogurt
salt and pepper and vegetable oil

Mix together all the chopped greens. In another bowl, beat the eggs and pine nuts. In a cup, mix the flour and water to a paste. In another cup, mix the yogurt and baking powder.

Stir the flour paste into the eggs. Stir in the yogurt mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Pour this egg mixture over the vegetables and herbs and blend well.

Heat a cast iron skillet on low heat. Add the vegetable oil and swirl it around the bottom and sides of the pan. Pour in the egg mixture. Put the skillet in the oven (325 degrees F) and bake about 35 minutes, until the eggs are set in the middle. Serve warm or cold, as an appetizer or a light meal with bread.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Tammy's BBQ IN A BAG

I just met one of my fans – a young woman named Tammy who lives here in Saskatoon. She wrote to my blog and we met for coffee. Since she loves to cook Saskatchewan foods, I thought it would be fun to share some of her recipes with everyone. Here is the first installment. I haven’t tried it yet – but I will as soon as it stops raining!

Tammy writes:
In my humble opinion, BBQ’ing the tender white flesh of the chicken breast produces those nice grill stripes, but an otherwise bland (and often dry) piece of meat. The ‘tin-foil bag’ method is an easy, tasty alternative, with the bonus of virtually no cleanup.

Use a generous length of tinfoil – a good arm’s length is best. Fold the foil back on itself, shiny side in, pinching the bottom and left edges up and in on themselves, a few times to create a seal. This will leave the opening at the top, and room for two to four chicken breasts, depending on how many vegetables you want to include. If you are feeding more than 4, create more than one bag. Preheat the BBQ to a low to mid heat, about 500 F. Lay the chicken breasts flat inside the foil ‘envelope’. There’s no comparison to the taste of a free-range, organically raised Saskatchewan bird, but the main thing is that they are boneless and skinless, trimmed of visible fat. Add one of the following to the chicken:

Mushroom & Wine:
Handful of torn local mushrooms – I used fiddleheads last year, superb. Dried mushrooms create a more pronounced flavor, not as many are required.
Good glass of red or white wine
3 generous spoonfuls of butter
Handful of fresh thyme and/or sage (a teaspoon of each dried will suffice, for those less industrious)
Depending on one’s passion, one or two minced garlic cloves
Few twists of freshly ground black pepper.
Rations of chopped, raw bacon increases the fat but more than accounts for it in taste…

Asian Inspired Version:
Generous handful of fresh cilantro (rolling it in your hands helps release that fantastic aromatic flavor).
Minced hot pepper: amount will depend on one’s tolerance for heat – a sprinkling of dried chili flakes works as well;
Couple good lugs of soy sauce
Heaping spoonful of honey (I’m a fan of any creamed version from Northeast Saskatchewan)
Thumb sized piece of grated fresh ginger
The ever versatile minced garlic cloves.

Finally, add any roughly chopped root vegetables – enough to accompany the chicken as a gloriously marinated and roasted side dish. Carrots and parsnips are a divine combination, or some potato wedges. There’s no need to add any additional oil or moisture to the bags because the natural juices from the meat and vegetables creates an exquisite, healthy sauce. You’re ready for the BBQ, so seal the top edge in on itself, and ever-so-gently tilt and tip the bag to jumble up and mingle all the flavors – but be very careful not to pierce the foil. Place bag sealed side up, directly on the grill – I use the upper shelf of our BBQ because it’s a tad prone to flare-ups, but a more sophisticated griller can likely use the bottom grill. Close the lid and forget about it for half an hour. To serve – place the sealed bag in a deep roaster and carefully slice open the foil, using tongs to pull out the foil from underneath the steaming and fragrant meat and veggies. Serve straight from pan with a big spoon, with a mixed green salad, the perfect baguette and a your favorite bottle of white.

I love this dish in spring because the outdoor cooking provides a hint of the summer meals to come, but you’re using up the last of the previous year’s harvest.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Newspaper - MINT JULEP

This article appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix on 15 May 2006.
I didn’t watch the Kentucky Derby nine days ago, but I did drink a Mint Julep. The Mint Julep is the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, and last year we declared it the official drink of our backyard patio in Saskatoon. A Mint Julep is a slow sipping beverage made with Kentucky bourbon, crushed ice and lots of mint. The warmth of the sun, along with the stirring action of a long spoon, slowly melts the ice and produces a refreshing minty drink perfect for long lazy afternoons in the Deep South – or Saskatchewan.

I have a big patch of spearmint in the back alley. By early May, it is poking though the ground like a forest of tiny trees, each purple stem sprouting a topknot of little round leaves. Elsewhere in my garden the chives, thyme, tarragon and sage are also coming up. I love this time of year when those first green herbs herald the start of another growing season. The very first thing I do is grab a pair of scissors, snip off the fresh tender growth and eat it.

I might toss the leaves it into a salad, mix them into scrambled eggs or sprinkle them on a chicken before roasting it in the oven. The other night I baked a Lake Diefenbaker rainbow trout, its cavity stuffed with lemon slices and sprigs of fresh thyme, served with a tarragon-flavoured sauce.

Anyone who has read this column over the course of the past year will know that I am a big champion of Saskatchewan-grown foods. For one year, my husband and I tried to eat nothing but Saskatchewan foods at our own dinner table. It was a challenge, but not as difficult as you might think. There are so many great foods produced here that we ate a rich and varied diet without resorting to Florida peaches or New Zealand lamb.

I was recently asked what foods I got completely sick of during the course of that year. I had to think about that a moment and my answer was – none. If anything, I have some new favourites like pearl barley and sour cherries, chanterelle mushrooms and broccoli sprouts.
(You can read my past columns at HomeForDinner.blogspot.com.)

Now I have a new challenge: Every day, I am going eat something that I grew or picked with my own hand (or my husband’s). Some recent examples include a fruit crumble with wild saskatoon berries, applesauce muffins (apples picked over the back fence) and lentil soup with my homegrown paprika. Which brings us back to the mint. Mint is an ancient culinary herb, woven into Greek myths and extolled by Roman philosophers. In some cultures, it is so integral to the local cuisine that no meal goes by without it.

Habeeb Salloum has written a terrific cookbook about growing up in Saskatchewan in the 1930s called Arab Cooking on a Saskatchewan Homestead. The book has a whole section on mint. He writes: "This inherited tradition of including mint in our daily menu helped immensely in perking up our meals during the Depression years. With no money to buy other herbs and spices, mint was our top food enhancer."

In 1937, Kentucky General Simon Buckner wrote a marvellous letter to a friends describing the ritual of making a Mint Julep. Here’s how it ends: "Propose a worthy toast, raise the goblet to your lips, bury your nose in the mint, inhale a deep breath of its fragrance and sip the nectar of the gods."

MINT JULEP
Place a heaping teaspoon of sugar in a tall glass. Barely cover with cold water. Add a generous sprig of mint which has been crushed in the hand. Pour in bourbon to your taste. Fill the glass with ice crushed to the consistency of snow. (I use a blender to pulverize the ice.) Sprinkle in a bit of sugar as you spoon in the ice. Top with another sprig of mint. Serve with a spoon so you can stir your drink slowly in the sunshine. I’ve made this with clear soda pop instead of bourbon and it’s good, too.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Catch of the day - TROUT ON A BED OF CARROTS AND CELERY

My friend Jennifer was ordering fish from Lake Diefenbaker so I put in an order, too. I didn't know you could buy fish there -- and it was beautiful. It was steelhead rainbow trout weighing about 5 pounds with beautiful pink flesh. The fish arrived in a big styrofoam box -- whole, cleaned and so fresh they hadn't yet been frozen. I cooked one for dinner and out the rest in the freezer.

Every day, I am trying to eat something I picked with my own hand and I managed quite well today. The applesauce muffins we ate for breakfast were made with apples I picked and processed last fall. For lunch, it was a herb fritatta. And for supper, the a baked steelhead trout baked on a bed of carrots and celery, with wild rice and a tarragon sauce. Of course, I picked the tarragon in my garden.

(The recipe for the fritatta posted is at 4 May 2005).

TROUT BAKED ON A BED OF CARROTS AND CELERY
Start by chopping equal amounts of carrots, celery and onion in a small dice. You need enough to form a thick "mattress" in the base of your roasting pan. The vegetables cook down considerably, so put in twice as much as you think you’ll need for dinner. Dot with several tablespoons of butter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and fresh thyme.

Put the whole fish on the bed of the vegetables. Tuck the cavity full of lemon slices. Kiss with salt and pepper, and pull up the lid. Whisper "I Love You" as you slip the roaster into the warm oven (300 degrees). Set the alarm clock for about one hour (nap time may vary depending on the size of the fish).

In the meantime, melt 1 tbsp. of butter in a saucepan. Stir in 1tbsp. of flour. Flour should completely absorb the butter. If not, add more flour. When the butter and flour are completely incorporated, add 1 cup of milk. Stir vigorously to dissolve the flour and butter in the milk. Drop a sprig of fresh tarragon into the milk. Cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens to a consistency that appeals to you. If it gets too thick, add a bit more milk. Remove tarragon. Add salt and white pepper to your taste.

Rouse the fish. Place it whole on a large platter. Scoop the vegetables into a bowl. Serve with the tarragon sauce.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Newspaper - SWISS CHARD PASTA FILLING

This article appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix on 26 April 2006.

I am just coming off a very successful diet. I didn’t lose weight, but then, I didn’t set out to. But it’s been good for my health, good for the economy and good for the planet. Oh, and it tastes good, too. For the past year, my husband and I have been eating an all-Saskatchewan diet. From asparagus to zucchini, and the jelly in between, just about everything on our dinner table is a product of Saskatchewan.

Why, you ask? It seemed like a fitting project for Saskatchewan’s centennial year. But there were loftier motivations, too. I wanted to eat healthier, support the local food industry and reduce the environmental impact of my eating habits. Most of the foods we eat travel more than 1,000 kilometres from the field to the fork. To some, that may seem like a marvel of modern transportation, but to me it seems like an absurd waste of energy and fossil fuels.

If Saskatchewan prides itself on producing food for the world, why aren’t we eating more of it right here at home? I decided to put my money where my mouth is and eat locally. My Saskatchewan culinary adventure began last April, just as the tender chives were poking through the garden...

Spring fever
All winter, I planned this experiment in local food consumption. I decided to begin the first day I ate something fresh from my garden in Saskatoon. It was the chives. The date was April 16. I chopped the chives and sprinkled them on a hot German potato salad, served with sausages from the farmers’ market and my mom’s pickles. It was the first of hundreds of all-Saskatchewan meals to come.

I sat down and made a list of Saskatchewan foods in two columns, those I already purchased and those I would seek out. The first column included things like eggs, chicken, beef, tomatoes, apples and asparagus. The second list included things like cheese, lentils, cherries, rolled oats and mushrooms. Needless to say, it is hard to find "Made in Saskatchewan" in the local grocery store, so I had to find alternative sources.

One day in spring, the mailman left a parcel card in my mailbox. I went to pick it up at the postal kiosk at the neighbourhood drug store. "I hope you drove here," said the postal clerk, "because it’s heavy." She heaved the box from the back room onto the counter. "Books?" she asked. "No," I said. "Lentils."

It was, in fact, 15 kilograms of organic lentils and split peas from the Cerridwen Farm at Medstead. Over the past year, I have bought food in unusual places from flea markets to gas stations and even from the trunk of a car. Very quickly, I had to adapt my food habits. Instead of planning a meal and dashing out buy to the ingredients, I had to consider the available ingredients and plan a meal around it. I shopped at farmers’ markets, bought direct from farmers and read labels carefully in the grocery store. I went to the Saskatchewan Made Marketplace, which sells only local goods. I kept a garden and swapped produce with family and friends.
It’s a little more time consuming than a visit to the grocery store, but it’s a lot more fun!

For me, a sure sign of spring is the day in March when the Grandora Greenhouse lettuce and cucumbers arrive at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market. So, with lentil soup and fresh salads, we got our Saskatchewan diet off to a very good start...

Summer passions
Our Saskatchewan diet moved outdoors. Hamburgers, grilled vegetables, pizza on the BBQ, green salads dotted with edible flowers. The official summer drink on our patio was the Mint Julep, an icy sipping cocktail made with lots of fresh mint. In July, I issued a challenge to my bookclub. We usually have a potluck when we get together. Since we were reading a book set in the south of France, I decided the theme of the potluck would be Mediterranean foods made with Saskatchewan ingredients.

"Help! What on earth do you mean?" came a quick email reply from Susan. Well, think of the foods we associate with the Mediterranean. Pasta, pesto and pizza from Italy. Greek salad and spanikopita. Middle eastern pita bread, falafel and tabouleh salad. Fish and eggplant on the French Riviera. Lamb and honey in Morocco. The principle ingredients of all of these dishes are produced right here in Saskatchewan.

The potluck was wonderful, proving that an all-Saskatchewan meal doesn’t have to be meat and potatoes and rhubarb pie. Foods produced in Saskatchewan lend themselves to a range of world cuisines from Mexican tortillas to Chinese stir-fries.

I keep a small garden in Saskatoon which is usually designed with dinner in mind. It’s full of good things to eat within minutes of picking. But this year was different. I had to plan ahead.
So, I planted more beets and spinach and squash. I froze peas and corn. I grew lots of basil for pesto and dried the rest. I stewed rhubarb and made apple sauce. I even pickled asparagus from the farmers’ market.

In July, I picked saskatoon berries at Manitou Beach. In August, I picked mushrooms at La Ronge and cherries at the Yoanna Orchard near Radisson. In September, I picked pears from a tree on Temperance Street. Whatever we didn’t eat immediately was put away for winter months. As summer waned, my panic waxed. Could our Saskatchewan diet survive a long Saskatchewan winter? Or would we emerge pale and hungry with the spring thaw...

Fall comforts
To celebrate Saskatchewan’s centennial in September, I decided to recreate the dinner served to dignitaries the day the province was created. I obtained the menu from the Saskatchewan Archives Board in Regina. Although there were several courses, the menu was quite generic. Cream soup, spring chicken and tomato salad could be prepared any number of ways. So, I consulted a cookbook that was popular in 1905, the Fanny Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cook Book first published in 1896. Then I invited two great friends, Heather and Murray, for dinner. Here’s the menu:

Imperial Cream Soup, chicken with spring onions, lamb in parchment paper, tomato salad with horseradish sauce, steamed asparagus, Potato Bells, sponge cake with champagne sauce and fresh strawberries.

By now our friends were all aware of our Saskatchewan diet. Whether from pity or concern, they began offering us gifts of Saskatchewan food. One day, there was a knock at the door. It was our friend Jeff, an avid hunter, with a box of frozen moose, cut and wrapped. "How do you cook moose?" I asked. "Like beef," he advised.

So, I delved into a food magazine and found a recipe for Portuguese beef stew. Substitute moose and it was delicious. I began stocking food like a crazy chipmunk who puts away enough for three winters. Before long, my freezer was full. Another friend to the rescue–offering space in his freezer and a key for quick access. And so, as the snow began to fly, we were comforted with baked beans, hearty soups and slow-cooked stews...

Winter greens (and reds)
Winter brings with it several special meals, and I aimed to prove that Saskatchewan foods could rise to the occasion. For Christmas dinner, we had squash and pear soup, baked ham, baked beans, coleslaw and a cherry tart. For New Year’s, the menu was grilled pork chops, mushroom barley risotto, red pepper salad and for dessert, a saskatoon pie. For Valentine’s Day I prepared a "red" meal including BBQ steaks, beet salad and a pink cake with cherry sauce.

I must admit, by February I was craving some fresh greens. I love coleslaw, but enough is enough! If I wanted fresh Saskatchewan greens in the middle of winter I was going to have to grow my own! So, I placed an order with Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds of Parkside. Seeds don’t need much space (just a jar in a window) and you’ve got vitamin-rich greens in just a few days.

Traditionally in prairie culture, winter was not the lean season. It was early spring, when the winter stocks had run out but the new growing season had not yet begun. As winter gives way to spring, we are using up the frozen tomatoes and opening the last jar of canned pears. I’m already out of dried oregano and pinto beans. Tonight, we’re roasting the last of the free-range chickens.
We did not starve–not in quantity or quality–on our Saskatchewan diet. The year is up, but I suspect we won’t celebrate the end of this diet because it’s become a habit for life.

For Saskatchewan menus, recipes and food sources please go to homefordinner.blogspot.com.


SWISS CHARD PASTA FILLING
I make this stuffing in the summer when Swiss chard is abundant and freeze it for winter pasta making. We usually make a large batch of ravioli and freeze what we don’t eat right away. I make the dough and my husband rolls it. (We have a Pasta Queen pasta roller and a ravioli press, which make the task quite easy.) To make the dough, I blend 2 cups of flour with 3 beaten farm eggs and a spot of water. After mixing with a fork, I work it into a ball with my hands, wrap it in a plastic bag, and leave it in the fridge at least an hour before rolling it.

If you don’t have a pasta maker or a ravioli press, you can use this stuffing inside purchased cannelloni. It can also be made with spinach. So, if you don’t have any fresh or frozen Swiss chard, feel free to substitute fresh or frozen. For the tomato-basil sauce, see the recipe in the August 2005 archives. To make your own ricotta cheese, see the recipe in the April 2005 archives.

1 pound Swiss chard, parboiled and squeezed dry. (or thawed and squeezed)
1cup ricotta cheese
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
1 large egg
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp each fresh thyme and fresh rosemary (or half as much dried herbs)
salt and pepper to taste

Mix everything together well and stuff something!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

A riot of herbs - FISH CAKES

Yikes, the herbs are rioting. Well, they're growing like crazy. This is welcome news, because I have a new Saskatchewan food challenge -- every day I will eat something picked by my own hand. This time of year, that challenge is easily filled with the snip of the scissors! Tonight for dinner we had fish cakes with chives, thyme and sage from the garden with horseradish and a green salad. The ground fish and the salad greens were purchased at the Saskatoon Farmers' Market. The horseradish was grown and ground by our friend Bill down in Burns County.

HERBY FISH CAKES
about 1 lb. nicely ground raw Saskatchewan pickerel (or other fish)
2 tbsp. corn starch
4 tbsp. chopped fresh herbs of your choice
1 tsp. salt and a few grinds of pepper
one egg, beaten
fine fresh breadcrumbs
lottsa butter

Mix together the fish, corn starch, herbs, salt and pepper. Form into four big patties. These patties will feel much gooier than those made of ground beef. Dip each patty on both sides into the egg. Press into the breadcrumbs to coat. Melt butter in a frying pan until it is hot but not brown. Set the patties into the butter so they sizzle and brown. Flip to brown the other side. Cooking time will depend on the thickness of the patties -- mine took a few minutes on each side.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

A NEW Saskatchewan food challenge

For the past year, my husband and I have tried to eat nothing but Saskatchewan foods in our own home. The year is up -- but we haven't given up on Saskatchewan foods. It's a good habit that's hard to break!

However, I feel the need for a new challenge, and I have just the thing: Every day for the next year, I will try to eat something picked by my own hand (or my husband's). Already this spring we are eating chives and thyme from the garden. So, I'm sinking my teeth into a new challenge and it tastes good already...

Monday, April 17, 2006

Newspaper - CLAFOUTIS

This column first appeared in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix on 17 April 2006

Every now and then, my husband and I go on the egg diet, during which we try our best to eat eggs three times a day. For instance, we may have pancakes for breakfast, egg salad sandwiches for lunch and an omelet for supper. Or, scrambled eggs for breakfast, a spinach salad for lunch and Spaghetti Carbonara (an Italian dish made with eggs and bacon) at the end of the day.

When you think of it, it’s amazing how many different ways there are to eat eggs. Few foods can make the transition from breakfast to dessert as easily as eggs. When we talk about incompetent cooks, we say they can’t even boil an egg. When we talk about gifted cooks, we may think of the perfect, un-deflated soufflé.

My husband and I buy free-range eggs from a farmer, which means the eggs are laid by hens that eat grass and bugs and get their daily exercise. These eggs range in shades from pure white to fawn beige, and range in size from regular to double-yolk big. Every three or four weeks, the farmer arrives at my door in Saskatoon with 20 dozen eggs. I use what I need and resell the rest to my city friends who appreciate this little taste of country. Sometimes my friends don’t need eggs and so we have a couple dozen left in the fridge when the farmer is due to arrive again. Thus, the egg diet. We need to use up what we have before the new batch arrives.

It’s kind of funny that I should turn out to be an Egg Lady because my mother was an Egg Lady when I was growing up on the farm at Craik. We kept a pen of laying hens and mom sold the extra eggs to her friends for 25 cents a dozen. As children, we had to gather the eggs. Twice a day, we would slip into the chicken coop, shoo the chickens off their roosts and scoop up the warm eggs. I didn’t particularly like doing this and would often trade with my brothers – I’d do their dishes if they did my eggs. We all thought we got the best of that deal.

Many people will be eating hardboiled eggs this week, leftovers from the Easter celebration. However, eggs have been associated with spring festivals since long before Easter was inspired 2,000 years ago. The ancient Persians gave out coloured eggs to celebrate spring. The goddess of fertility was known, over time, as Ishtar, Ostara and finally Eastre in old Europe to denote her association with the sun rising in the east on the morning of the spring equinox. Her symbol was an egg.

One of my favourite ways to eat eggs is Clafoutis (kla-foo-tee), a sweet flan from France often served warm for breakfast or brunch. Unlike some French delicacies, it is wonderfully simple and easy to prepare. It is traditionally made with cherries, but I give it a Saskatchewan flavour by using a mix of prairie berries.

PRAIRIE BERRY CLAFOUTIS
2 tbsp. butter
3 eggs
3 tbsp. sugar
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup flour
2 cups mixed berries (sour cherries, raspberries, strawberries, saskatoons)
1 tbsp. flour

Heat the oven to 350 degrees C. In the oven, melt the butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet (or a similar sized baking pan), making sure the butter doesn’t brown. In a blender mix the eggs, sugar, milk, vanilla and salt. With the blades running, gradually add the flour and mix well. Pour the batter into the buttered skillet. Toss the berries with a tablespoon of flour then scatter the fruit over the top of the batter. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the centre of the custard is set (test by inserting a knife). Serve warm, perhaps with a sprinkling of icing sugar or a drizzle of maple syrup.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Week 52 - APPLE ROSEMARY JELLY

This week marks ONE YEAR since we started the all-Saskatchewan diet. Almost all the foods in our house over the past year have been grown or raised in Saskatchewan. As you can see from the weekly menus, there is no shortage of variety or interesting ways to prepare it. While our one-year experiment is over, we will continue to include Saskatchewan ingredients as much as possible in all our meals because local foods are healthier, tastier and better for the planet!

Saskatchewan Menu of the Week – 9 April 2006

Breakfast – Fried potatoes and eggs
Lunch – Yogurt with apples, a piece of cheese
Dinner – Lamb chops, apple rosemary jelly, herb orzotto

APPLE ROSEMARY JELLY
This week, a local farmer delivered a half a lamb to our door. I marinated some lamb chops in oil and rosemary, and grilled them on the BBQ. I served them with herb orzotto (risotto made with pearl barley) for which I used the very first little chives from my garden. (The rest of the herbs were from the farmers’ market.)

I made the apple jelly last fall with apples from out neighbour’s tree, which overhangs our yard, and my own garden rosemary. If you aren’t in the mood to make your own apple jelly, you can buy a jar from the store or local market. Do not use dried rosemary – it must be fresh!

Melt a jar of apple jelly in a saucepan on low heat. When it has liquefied, stir in a sprig of rosemary about a long as your finger. Pour the jelly and the rosemary into a clean jar and seal. Keep refrigerated. If you plan to put the jelly into several smaller jars, include a sprig of rosemary for each jar. (These should be slightly smaller springs, or one large sprig cut into pieces.)

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Week 51 - MEXICAN TORTILLAS

Saskatchewan Menu of the Week - 2 April 2006

Breakfast - Toast and strawberry-rhubarb jam
Lunch – Cold chicken and leftover potato salad.
Dinner – Quesadillas.

MEXICAN TORTILLAS
A friend gave us a jar of her homemade salsa, so I decided to make quesadillas. This is a Mexican dish in which cheese and other ingredients are melted between two tortillas. We used flakes of cold chicken, cheddar cheese and salsa. Here’s how to make your own wheat flout tortillas:

3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1.5 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 cup lard or vegetable shortening, cold
3/4 cups water, very warm

Mix the flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl. Cut in the cold lard using a pastry blender or a knife. Work it quickly with your fingers so that it is well incorporated with the flour. Add the water all at once and mix into a sticky dough, using floured hands to press into a ball. Wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Cut the dough into 8 pieces. Using a rolling pin and a well-floured surface, roll each ball of dough into a thin circle about the size of a small plate. Stack between pieces of wax paper. Heat a griddle or cast iron pan until hot. Cook the tortillas one at a time, flipping them as the top blisters and the bottom browns a bit. Once cooked and cooled, they can be kept in a plastic bag.

To make quesadillas, spread grated cheese, salsa and filling ingredients on one tortilla. Cover with another tortilla. Heat in the oven until the filling is warm and the cheese is melted. Fillings can include: chicken, sliced beef, tuna, various cheeses, grilled vegetables, roasted red peppers, sliced red onions, sautéed mushrooms and much much more. However, it’s best not to overload any one quesadilla or it becomes messy to eat!