Monday, March 27, 2006

Week 50 - SPICY LENTIL AND WILD RICE SOUP

Saskatchewan Menu of the Week – 27 March 2006

Breakfast – Yogurt with cherries
Lunch – Leftover homemade pizza
Dinner – Spicy Lentil Soup

SPICY LENTIL SOUP
Nothing chases away the end of winter like a cracking fire and a pot of soup! I used lentils from the Cerridwen Farm at Medstead, wild rice from La Ronge, and tomatoes from my own garden (frozen last fall). I also used my own paprika (which I made by grinding several hot Hungarian peppers) and coriander seeds. The lemon peel isn’t from Saskatchewan, of course, but I pickled it myself.

2 cups crimson lentils
1 cup wild rice
1/4 cup canola oil
1 stalk celery, cut into a small dice
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 large carrots, peeled, cut into a small dice
10 roma tomatoes (thawed and peeled)
3 tbsp. tomato paste
several cloves of garlic, minced
2 tsp. paprika
1 tbsp. cumin
1 tbsp. crushed coriander seeds
salt, pepper, cayenne pepper to taste
10 cups vegetable stock (or water)
1 piece pickled lemon peel (or fresh peel) - optional
plain yogurt
fresh chopped cilantro

Rinse the lentils and wild rice. Soak covered in water for one hour. Drain.

Heat the oil in a soup pot on medium heat. Sauté the onions, celery and carrots. When they are soft, add the garlic, tomatoes and tomato paste. Cook lightly, stirring, about 5 minutes. Stir in the spices: paprika, cumin, coriander, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper.

Add the drained lentils and wild rice. Cook, stirring, as the grains soak up the liquid and absorb the flavour of the spices. When the grains are hot and starting to stick to the pot, add the liquid. Bring to a boil for 5 minutes. Lower the heat, cover the pot and simmer until the grains are cooked, about 45 minutes.

Before serving, remove the lemon peel and add more spices as necessary to create the level heat that you like. Ladle soup into bowls, top with a dollop of plain yogurt and sprinkle with chopped cilantro.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Newspaper - OATMEAL JAM JAMS

This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix newspaper on 20 March 2006.

Have you ever tried a new cookie recipe and loved it so much you made it over and over again for several weeks running? It’s quick and easy. Your family loves it. And best of all, it’s made with your favourite vegetable. I recently found just such a recipe on my doorstep in Saskatoon. Well, in the mailbox, to be exact. Somebody (and you know who you are) placed a little green cookbook in my mailbox called "Zucchini: You can never have enough."

Readers of this column may know that zucchini is my favourite summer vegetable. Strange choice, you say? Consider the versatility of the zucchini. You can eat the vegetables when they are very small or very big, and in many different ways from grilled to stir-fried. You can even eat the flowers. In the garden, it grows fast and furious whether or not you have a green thumb. Have you ever heard of a zucchini crop failure? And the flowers are so big and beautiful, I feel sunny just looking at them.

Up until now, I have tended to eat my zucchini as a vegetable and not as an ingredient in desserts. I’ve never made a chocolate zucchini cake, primarily because grating zucchini seemed such a tedious task. All that changed with this little cookbook. It arrived in February at a crucial moment – I had just discovered one large green zucchini still in storage in the basement.
This zucchini was picked last fall and had obviously escaped detection in the garden for a long time because it was really, really big. Perhaps it was the sheer size that helped preserve it all these months.

The flesh was a bit soft and had passed its prime as a vegetable, but I hated to throw it out (ie: compost it). As it turns out, it was perfect for grating. The recipe I choose was Zucchini-Oatmeal Cookies, which were so good I made several batches before that zucchini expired. With ingredients like oats, honey and zucchini, it was perfect for my Saskatchewan-only diet. For the past year, my husband and I have been trying to eat nothing but Saskatchewan-made foods in our own home.

Our Saskatchewan desserts have included cherry pie, carrot cake, oatmeal jam jams, bread pudding, berry cobbler and rhubarb upside-down skillet cake (the recipe for which was included in this column last May. You can look it up at homefordinner.blogspot.com). Although we are eating a Saskatchewan diet, we do permit ourselves some "foreign" ingredients like sugar, raisins and cinnamon for a mostly-Saskatchewan recipe.

Our friends and family often help us along with gifts of Saskatchewan foods that have included venison, moose, fish, apples, wild rice, fruit preserves, potatoes and honey. Usually I know our benefactors, but this little cookbook remains a mystery. I would like to share the recipe for Zucchini-Oatmeal Cookies but it would be inappropriate to print it here without permission from the author, John Butler. I’m sure his book is in the stores.

Instead, here is the recipe for my Grandma Jo’s Oatmeal Jam Jams. I used organic rolled oats from the Daybreak-Scheresky Mill at Estevan and filled them with a thick preserve of lingonberries (better known here as wild cranberries) made by a friend.

Oatmeal Jam-Jams
2 cups flour
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup sour milk

Grandma’s instructions simply say, "Roll these." To elaborate, mix everything together, form it into two balls, wrap it in plastic and place it in the fridge to cool down. Using a floured counter and a rolling pin, roll each ball of dough to a thickness of 1/8 inch (3-4 cm). Cut out circles with a cookie cutter or a glass. Bake on a cookie sheet for 8-9 minutes at 350 degrees. Transfer the hot cookies to a rack to cool. Spread a dollop of jam or preserves on one cookie and press another cookie on top. These cookies are crisp when they come out of the oven but the filling will soften them up.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Week 49 - STUFFED ONIONS

Saskatchewan Menu of the Week - 18 March 2006

Breakfast - Yogurt with cherries.
Lunch - Baguette and ham sausage.
Dinner - Green salad. Stuffed onions.

STUFFED ONIONS
I found this recipe in a French cookbook from the library. My husband loves it and it has been a regular on our dinner table ever since. I usually use ground pork or a mix of ground pork and beef.

4 large white onions
1 cup cooked ground meat
2 tbsp. chopped chives
2 tbsp. chopped herbs (parsley, thyme, rosemary – whatever you have on hand. If using dried, cut the amount in half.)
1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese (or other robust hard cheese)
1 hard boiled egg

Cut a slice off the top of each onion about 1/2 inch thick. Peel the onions and boil them whole in water about 30 minutes, until cooked through. Drain the onions and set aside to cool enough to handle. Using your fingers, gently remove the inner layers of onion, leaving a stable exterior wall about 1/2 inch thick.

Mix the meat, herbs and half the cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. Separate the whites and yolk of the hard-boiled egg. Mash both separately. Add the whites to the meat mixture. Spoon the meat mixture into the four hollow onions. Top each one with egg yolk and the remaining cheese, dividing evenly among each onion. Bake in a greased pan at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Week 48 - PRAIRIE BERRY CLAFOUTIS

Saskatchewan Menu of the Week – 15 March 2006

Breakfast – Yogurt and cherry sauce.
Lunch – Lentil soup. Clafoutis.
Dinner – Spaghetti Carbonera. Green salad.


PRAIRIE BERRY CLAFOUTIS
Clafouis (kla-foo-tea’) is a sweet "pancake" from France, often served hot for breakfast or brunch. Unlike some French delicacies, it is wonderfully simple and easy to prepare. It is traditionally made with cherries, but I like to use a mix of Saskatchewan berries such as strawberries, cherries, raspberries and saskatoons.

In the summer when the berries are fresh, I freeze them individually on a cookie sheet, then pack them into airtight containers. This prevents the juicy berries from freezing into one solid block, making it much easier to remove just a handful at a time.

2 T butter
3 eggs
3T sugar
1c milk
1/2t vanilla
1/4t salt
1c flour
2c mixed sour cherries, raspberries, strawberries and saskatoons (you can also include some fresh rhubarb in the mix.)
1T flour

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. 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 15-20 minutes, until the centre of the custard is set. Serve warm, perhaps with a sprinkling of icing sugar or a drizzle of syrup.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Harrowsmith Country Life

This article was published in the April 2006 issue of Harrowsmith Country Life. Unfortunately, the cutline under the photo does not correctly identify the Saskatoon Farmer's Market, without which I would be completly lost!

It has been said that every journey begins with one step, but my culinary journey began with one bite – a bite of chives to be exact. It was the first tiny chives of spring growing in my garden in Saskatoon, sprinkled on a warm potato salad and served with weisswurst from the farmers’ market. From that moment, I pledged to serve nothing but local foods at my own dinner table for one year. No asparagus in fall, no zucchini in spring. No imported soup to foreign nuts.

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

He could be forgiven for thinking so. We are so accustomed to buying what we want, when we want it, that it seems almost naive to think we could wean ourselves off the "power grid" of global food distribution. Yet I find it ironic, living in the "Bread Basket of Canada" populated in large part by the descendents of pioneer farmers, that it’s almost impossible to find the label "Made in Saskatchewan" in a local grocery store.

No doubt, those pioneers would be amazed at the variety of foods produced today in our northern climate. Thanks to ingenuity and science, we are growing foods never thought possible one hundred year ago. They would not be amazed, though, at the concept of eating locally – to them it was survival; to me it is revival. It’s turning the clock back and forward at the same time, following ancient custom in order to create a healthier world.

There are good reasons to eat locally. Local produce is usually picked just before it’s sold so it’s fresher, tastes better and the nutrients are not depleted. It is less likely to have been treated with pharmaceuticals, preservatives and other agents to maintain the appearance of freshness. It’s good for the environment. Imagine how much fuel is burned trucking food across continents, covering thousand of kilometres from the farm to our fork.

It builds a sense of community as we meet farmers and gardeners face-to-face and circulate our food dollars in the local economy. And it wrests a fraction of control – albeit a small fraction – from the handful of powerful corporations that determine what is in our grocery stores, what it looks like, where it’s from and how it’s produced around the world.

My skeptical husband has been pleasantly surprised, and so have I. We have discovered that every food group (except chocolate!) is grown or raised locally. We are eating better and feeling better about it. Whether it’s one meal – or a lifetime of meals – choosing to eat locally is a philosophy that transcends place and brings you closer to home with every bite.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Week 47 - TARTIFLETTE

Saskatchewan Menu of the Week -- 6 March 2006

Breakfast -- Yogurt and cherries.
Lunch -- Venison salami and mustard on bread.
Dinner -- Tartiflette.

We had dinner the other night at the home of our friends, Tom and Eva. They had just come home from France with their suitcases full of food (as they often do), including a reblochon cheese. I consulted the World Encyclopedia of Cheese, which describes reblochon as having "a supple and creamy texture that flows over and caresses the palate." Who can resist a cheese as sensuous as that? For dinner, Eva prepared tartiflette, a traditional French alpine specialty that calls for reblochon cheese. It was fabulous. The dish is somewhat like scalloped potatoes with the addition of the rich and fragrant cheese. I loved it so much I had to have it again. I didn’t have any reblochon at home, but I did have some raclette, the French cheese traditionally melted over boiled potatoes.

Of course, French cheese is not from Saskatchewan. But there is no equivalent cheese made here - and I don't think this dish was meant for cheddar! But the potatoes are local. The bacon is local. Even the cream was the very heavy variety, straight from the cow. The kind you can't buy in a store (unless you're in France).

I think tartiflette is best made in flat individual serving dishes, as Eva did, but it can also be made in a single large casserole. The trick, I think, is to have a wide pan so the layers are skinny and there’s much top exposure for browning the cheese. I searched the internet for various versions of tartiflette, and this is what I came up with:

TARTIFLETTE
for four

2 lbs of potatoes
2 T butter
2 slices bacon, small diced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
one reblochon cheese or 250g of other pungent melting cheese, sliced
2 cups cream
salt and pepper

Peel the potatoes and cut into slices 1/8 inch thick.
Melt the butter in a saucepan. Sauté the bacon and onion until softly cooked.
Layer half the potatoes in the bottom of the baking dish(s). Spread on half the onion and bacon. Layer on half the cheese. Salt and pepper. Repeat. Pour on the cream. It should just cover the potatoes. (If it’s not enough, top it up with milk.)
Bake at 350 degrees F for about 1 - 1.5 hours. The top should be nicely browned.