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.