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


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:

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:

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.