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...