Friday, December 19, 2008

Where's the beef? Not Europe

I buy beef from two local sources: from Al Bennett at Meacham and Benlock Farms (which has a booth at the Saskatoon Farmers' Market). I like their meat because it's raised with organic principles and tastes great.

So here's the issue: The European Union has banned beef from Canada and the U.S. because most of the cattle are fed growth hormones (i.e. steroids). The ban is based on fears the hormones are bad for our health. More specifically, that the hormones can affect the male reproductive system and contribute to the rates of colon, prostate and breast cancer.

The World Trade Organization ruled the ban is illegal because there is insufficient scientific evidence to back up the claim that growth hormones in cattle are harmful to people who eat the meat. The WTO ruled that Canada and the U.S. can retaliate against the E.U. by slapping tarrifs on imported foods such as Dijon mustard and Roquefort cheese. (Read more about it here.)

This ban affects Saskatchewan farmers, who produce about 30% of Canada's beef cattle. The U.S. and Canada argue the ban is not really about health, but about protecting the European cattle industry from competition. The Food and Drug Administration has set "accpetable daily intakes" for these hormones at which level it considers them safe for human consumption.

In a newspaper column, Kevin Hursh, a farmer who writes about agricultural issues, sides with Canadian farmers in this dispute but asks: "why can't we produce beef without hormones specifically for the European market?"

Personally, I'd rather not eat meat treated with growth hormones, even at "acceptable" levels. What about you?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pulse facts - with recipes

In case you were wondering...

Here are some facts about the recent travels of Canadian pulse crops, most of which were grown in Saskatchewan:

  • Pulse crops include peas, dry beans, lentils and chickpeas. (Pictured: product from Diefenbaker Seeds)

  • About 25% are used here at home. Brand names for processed beans, lentils and chickpeas include Primo, Unico, Clic and Heinz.

  • The remaining 75% of pulse crops travel to more than 170 countires.

  • 90% of split peas go to India. Top countires for the remaining 10% are China, Cuba, Bangladesh, United Arab Emirates, U.S., South Africa, Pakistan, Columbia and Belgium.

  • 50% of dry beans go to the U.S. and U.K. The remaining top ten customers are Angola, Italy, Dominican Republic, Japan, Portugal, Greece, Chile and Mexico.

  • 50% of chickpeas go to the U.S., U.K., Italy, Pakistan and Spain. The next top five are Jordan, India, Columbia, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Chickpeas go to about 60 countires.

  • 45% of lentils go to Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Egypt and Columbia. The rest go to 92 other countires.

  • In 2007, this export was valued at more than $1.3 billion.

These stats come from the January 2009 edition of Pulse Point, magazine of the Saskatchewan pulse industry. Read the full article here.

I also have an article in this edition of Pulse Point on the fabulous cherry chickpea chocolate. Read it here. There's also a page of recipes -- I'll definately be trying the mixed slaw with apples and lentils.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Newspaper editorial on food security

Sometimes you don't know what you've got til it's gone...

An editorial in yesterday's Star Phoenix is warning that we here in Saskatchewan don't appreciate the value of our farmland and that we should think twice before paving it over for cities and golf courses. It points out that countries without farmland - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar - are buying up productive farmland around the world to ensure food security within their own borders.

The editorial suggests that we should maximize our farmland for food production without harming the environment, and appreciate what we have before someone else buys it up.

In August, the provincial government announced a review of land ownership rules in Saskatchewan. Currently, foreigners can own no more than 10 acres of Saskatchewan farmland. An article in the Regina Leader Post notes that some farmers would like to be able to sell their farmland to outside interests because the competition would up the price. The minister of agriculture says he wants to strike a balance to prevent "corporations from all over the world owning big blocks of land here."

Monday, December 15, 2008

Newspaper Column - SUGAR SPARKLERS

Published in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, 15 Dec. 2008

I have way too many cookbooks but that doesn’t mean I don’t want a cookbook for Christmas. Cookbooks make great gifts for anyone who loves to cook. And if, like me, you love to cook with Saskatchewan flavours, there are a few special cookbooks that would be right at home in your kitchen.

One of my favourites is Arab Cooking on a Saskatchewan Homestead by Habeeb Salloum, who emigrated with his parents from Syria to a homestead near Swift Current in the 1920s. It’s brimming with Middle Eastern recipes that can be made with Saskatchewan ingredients such as lentils, chickpeas, yogurt, lamb and mint, along with stories about his childhood on the prairies.

I can also recommend Fonos Fish Favourites by Jonathon Fonos, a fisherman from Dore Lake who sells his catch at the Saskatoon Farmer’s Market, with recipes for pickerel, northern pike, burbot and whitefish. If you’re trying to get more fish in your diet, as Canada’s Food Guide recommends, his fish and his cookbook will help out.

A couple of cute little cookbooks make good use of two abundant prairie ingredients— Zucchini: You Can Never Get Enough and Rhubarb: More than Just Pies. They’re published by Lois Hole and the University of Alberta Press.

I also like the cookbooks of Sam Hofer, who grew up on a Hutterite colony. They’re full of recipes for hardy German cooking adapted to the Saskatchewan experience. Lately, I’ve been dipping into his A Passion for Sauerkraut.

I also find inspiration in Vancouver chef John Bishop’s cookbook Fresh: Seasonal Recipes made with Local Foods. Even though he’s on the West Coast, many of his recipes are right at home in Saskatchewan, such as Dry Rub Pork Ribs with coriander and mustard seeds and Sweet Onion Soup with herbed biscuits.

My Saskatchewan cookbook collection also contains a few vintage examples. The Seasonal Gourmet was written by Barbara Logsdail, the food columnist in the Star Phoenix in the 1980s and early 1990s. She made the best of seasonal vegetables, wild game, honey and berries, but some foods produced in Saskatchewan today weren’t grown here yet, such as lentils and sour cherries. “Canola was just becoming popular at the time and I helped develop some recipes,” says Barbara, who retired to Kingston, Ont., with her husband Doug. “It was a very interesting province to be in as far as we were concerned coming from the east. It was all new—the foods, the tastes and the recipes—and the influence of the different ethnic backgrounds, Ukrainian, German and Italian. I thought it was more interesting than Ontario.”

Another of my favourites is The Prairie Cook’s Book published 25 years ago by Betty Ternier Daniels, then a young mother on the farm at Cochin. Apart from some flavourings and baking ingredients, the recipes are exclusively Saskatchewan. Betty was ahead of her time in the local food movement when she wrote this introduction:
“Self-sufficiency in food production would not mean deprivation. Rather, it would mean reduced fuel consumption (since food would no longer be hauled in from distant places). It would mean more local employment in agriculture and small food industries. It would mean freedom from the vagaries of the international food market. And it would mean that the food-rich prairies would no longer import food from third world countries whose inhabitants haven’t enough food for themselves.”

Here’s wishing you a delicious holiday season with a recipe from Betty’s cookbook.

Sugar Sparklers
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Cream butter and sugar. Separate one egg. Add yolk and second egg to the creamed mixture. Stir in vanilla. Add the flour, baking powder and salt, blending thoroughly. Chill 1 hour. Roll out dough and cut into shapes. Place on baking sheet. Using a fork, whisk the remaining egg white. Brush cookies with egg white and sprinkle with sugar. (To make coloured sugar, shake in a container with one drop of food colouring.) Bake 10 min. at 350F.

Friday, December 12, 2008

CBC Radio calling - SCALLOPED CORN

Food is a wonderful part of the holidays, such as this cherished tree ornament, hand-made in the shape of a slice of olive loaf. (Okay, there's a long story behind it...)

As for special dinners, here are a few recipes I seem to serve over and over:

Scalloped Corn
1 egg, beaten
1 cup milk
2 cups creamed corn
1/4 cup onion, grated
1/4 cup red pepper, finely diced
1 cup fine bread crumbs
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp butter, melted

Heat oven to 350F. Mix everything in a bowl with 2/3rds of the bread crumbs. Season with salt and pepper. Pour into a casserole dish. Toss remaining bread crumbs with melted butter and sprinkle evenly over top. Bake 1 hour. To brown and crisp the top, turn on broiler for a few minutes.

Wild Rice and 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 berries (such as cherry, blueberry or cranberry)
1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/4 cup thinly sliced almonds (opt.)

Mix everything together in a serving bowl. Dress with a homemade fruity vinaigrette or use a purchased raspberry vinaigrette.
Beet and Walnut Salad
2 beets, cooked
1 tbsp water
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
1/2 tbsp fruit syrup
3 tbsp olive oil (or canola)
salad greens for four
2 tbsp crumbled goat cheese
(or more if you like!)

Cut cooked beets into a bite-sized dice. Heat 1 tbsp of water in a non-stick skillet. Add the brown sugar and stir until dissolved. Add the walnuts, cooking and stirring until the water has evaporated and the sugar has caramelized on the nuts. Remove from heat.

Make the dressing by whisking together the vinegar, fruit syrup, oil and salt to taste. Toss half the dressing with the salad greens and the other half with the beets. To serve, divide the salad greens onto four plates. Scoop the beets into the middle of the greens, scatter each with walnuts and cheese
Mushroom Orzotto
1 cup sliced mushrooms, sautéed in butter
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive or canola oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 sprig each rosemary, sage and parsley, chopped
4-5 tomatoes, choppedsalt and pepper
6-7 cups water or vegetable stock, boiling
2 cups pearl barley
1/2 cup red wine
1 cup Parmesan cheese
Melt the butter and oil in a stockpot. Sauté the garlic, onion and herbs until soft. Add the tomatoes and cook for 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the barley, stirring until the grains are shiny and little liquid remains in the pan. Add the wine and cook until evaporated.
Add a cup of boiling water (or stock), stirring until it is absorbed. Continue to add water, one cup at a time, stirring until each one is absorbed before adding the next. As you get closer to done, the barley will need more stirring to ensure it does not stick to the bottom of the pan.
When the barley is almost done (that is, when you can bite into it), add the mushrooms. The orzotto is ready when the barley is just tender to the bite. Stir in the parmesan cheese. To serve, sprinkle with a little chopped parsley and perhaps a bit more parmesan cheese.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Pass the honey, honey

Honey is good for the brain. That was the message of Dr. Ron Fessenden at a conference of bee keepers in Saskatoon this week. It sounds like a complicated metabolic process, but the bottom line is that Dr. Fessenden recommends we eat 3 tablespoons of honey every day to help prevent diabetes, cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

This is good news for Saskatchewan. From some reason* honeybees in Saskatchewan produce more honey than bees anywhere else in North America, so we should have no trouble getting our 3 tablespoons a day.

*The reasons include the long hours of summer sunlight, cold winters that kill bee diseases and all those vast fields of flowering canola and alfalfa. It's a bee heaven.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Hug a venison hunter - VENISON STEW

What is it about hunters that makes them so generous? Not only did Darlene and Leon invite us to share their fabulous dinner of venison osso buco, morel omelets, roast root vegetables and apple crisp (all local, I might add), but Leon gave us three hind quarters from a recently nabbed deer. My culinary prowess is a little more plebian than Leon's - I lean more toward peasant stews. So I share with you a great stew adapted from a recipe for pork from Saveur magazine (Dec. 2005).

Venison Stew with Apricots and Prunes
3 lbs venison cut in 1” pieces
Salt and pepper
6 tbsp canola oil
6 carrots, peeled and sliced crosswise
4 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup dried apricots
1 cup pitted prunes
1 lb (about 5) onions
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Flour for thickening (optional)

For the best results, start the stew on the morning or even the day before you plan to eat it.

Heat 3 tbsp of the canola oil in a heavy pot on medium-high heat. Season the venison with salt and pepper. Brown the meat on all sides, about 5 minutes. Stir in the carrots and cook until slightly tender. Add the tomato paste, apricots and 5 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 2-3 hours. Add the prunes.

Test the meat for tenderness. If the venison is not yet tender, simmer longer. At this point, you can turn off the heat and let the stew rest until mealtime.

Before serving, peel and cut the onions into wedges. Heat the remaining 3 tbsp of canola oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until they soften. Sprinkle on the balsamic vinegar. Continue cooking until the onions are caramelized and browned. Stir the onions into the hot stew.

If you like a thicker stew, scoop some of the hot liquid into a cup. Briskly stir in 2 tbsp flour until there are no lumps. Stir into the stew and simmer until thickened.

Serve with boiled potatoes or hardy bread.