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.