Friday, April 25, 2008

CBC Radio - Tomatoes

I had a great time chatting about tomatoes with Garth Materie on CBC radio today. Here are some of my favourite things to do with fresh ripe tomatoes. (And a picture of my tomato seedlings.)

Jumping Mustard Tomato Chutney

BLT in a Bowl

Nice Salad

Ratatouille

Tabouleh Salad

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Newspaper Column - Grocery Gap

Published in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, 21 April 2008.

Recently I opened a can of bamboo shoots from Thailand and I began to wonder about the vessel — the can. Canning was invented around 1810 after Napoleon launched a contest to find a cheap portable method of getting food to French soldiers, who were dying on the march for lack of good food. The inventor won a handsome prize. As for the soldiers, they eagerly opened the cans with their bayonets.

I prefer to buy local food whenever I can but, as bamboo shoots don’t grow in Saskatchewan, it was a good excuse to visit the Chung Wah Chinese Grocery on 20th Street in Riversdale. I can think of nothing more exotic to do on a weekday afternoon in Saskatoon than to wander the aisles of a Chinese grocery with its unfamiliar ingredients and wonderful smells. Afterward, I swung by Giant Tiger on 22nd Street for a big bunch of bananas and a tub of yogurt (for my morning Saskatchewan berry smoothie). And this leads me to Station 20 West…

Well, not literally, because Station 20 West is still a plan on paper (and an empty lot on 20th Street) that is rapidly evolving since the provincial government withdrew a commitment to give the project $8 million. It seems that one of the downfalls of the project was that, along with doctors, dentists and service agencies, the plan included a grocery store. Not a Chinese grocery with interesting and exotic ingredients, and not a general discount store like Giant Tiger with its section of bulk, canned, packaged and frozen foods. The grocery store at Station 20 West was to be a full-service co-operative grocery that would a) be in walking distance of city’s poorest neighbourhoods, b) offer a full range of fresh (and local) foods, and c) connect the dots between healthy food and good health.

A quick internet search will show that Saskatoon was not inventing the wheel with this concept. Many cities in North America are grappling with the issue of “grocery gaps” in their poorest neighbourhoods. In Louisville, Kentucky, the city formed a Food Security Task Force to address its “food deserts.” Pennsylvania created the Fresh Food Financing Initiative with $10 million from the state government. Troy, N.Y., started a mobile fresh food market with $500,000 from the health department. Toronto created the Food Policy Council back in 1991 to address the social and health costs that come with the absence of grocery stores.

In Chicago, researchers went block by block and measured the distance to the nearest grocery store. They found that the areas with the worst health statistics were the furthest from a full-service grocery store; the problem was even more pronounced when fast food outlets were closer than the groceries. The same patterns held true for rates of obesity. Now, couple that with a report by Saskatoon’s Chief Medical Health Officer comparing residents in Saskatoon’s poorest neighbourhoods with residents of the most affluent areas. People in poor neighbourhoods are 13 times more likely to have diabetes, almost twice as likely to suffer heart disease or stroke, have 1.5 higher rates of lung disease, are plus-three times more likely to die in infancy and 2.5 times more likely to die of any cause.

The author of the Chicago study writes: “… a food desert is the antithesis of progress, and the costs associated with living within one will be borne directly by those residents through their quality and length of life, and indirectly by the health care industry, by government agencies, and by others who take on the financial burden of pre-death treatments.” The report ends on an optimistic note—now that we see the connection, something can be done about it.

In late 2006, I was invited to join the board of CHEP Good Food Inc., which was one of the key partners in Station 20 West. I was asked because of my journalistic interest in healthy Saskatchewan-produced food. Since then, I’ve learned that CHEP has been a catalyst for many programs that bring healthy food to children, seniors and low-income families in Saskatoon. It’s a local success story. As a member of CHEP, I could rant against the government for axing the money to Station 20 West. As a journalist and a voter, I recognize the government’s right to follow its political agenda. However, the health of our community—and the costs born by the health system—are not a political issue. We are experiencing affluence at an unprecedented level and our poorest neighbourhoods deserve to benefit, too, not with handouts but with thoughtful community solutions that last a lifetime.

We must keep our eye on that prize despite the challenges. Remember this: it took 14 years to perfect the canning process in 1810, and another 48 years to invent the can opener.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Flavours of the Orient - HOT & SOUR SOUP

Hot & Sour Soup
Despite its Asian flavours, most of the ingredients in this soup can be found locally in and around Saskatoon. Here is a list of the ingredients in my soup, but feel free to substitute what is available to you. Measurements are not precise—use as much or as little as you like:

Mushrooms – sun-dried Saskatchewan chanterelles (rehydrated in hot water)
Chicken broth – homemade from a farm chicken (see technique)
Tofu – locally-made; purchased at Chung Wah Chinese Grocery in Riversdale.
Bean sprouts – sprouted from the Asian blend sold by Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds.
Chives – from my garden
Green onions – from the grocery (local when available)
Hot sauce – made by Droolin’ Devil (a Saskatoon company)
Bamboo shoots, sesame oil, white wine vinegar, soy sauce, rice noodles – imported brands.

Bring 4-5 cups of chicken broth to the boil. Add the mushrooms and their soaking liquid. Add sliced bamboo shoots (perhaps 1/2 cup). Add firm tofu cut into bite-sized cubes. Add one bunch of rice noodles (thick or thin). Reduce heat and simmer a few minutes, until the noodles are soft. Add a few chopped green onions and a big handful of bean sprouts. Stir in:

1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp cornstarch mixed in 1/4 cup water

Stir soup until thickened by cornstarch. Remove from heat. Beat one egg. Pour egg in a stream into hot soup, stirring all the while. Season with salt to taste. Spice up with hot sauce to your liking. Serve in bowls sprinkled with chives.

(In the past, I have varied the ingredients to include: chopped leftover chicken, snow peas and/or broccoli.)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A folly of ravioli

My husband is the king of homemade ravioli. I make the pasta dough and the filling, and he unites them in perfect pockets of flavour. Tonight, I made two fillings: roasted pumpkin and parmesan cheese (with a bit of nutmeg) and pork with Swiss chard (flavoured with dried sage and thyme). We ate them with an easy sauce of butter, olive oil and dried chanterelle mushrooms (rehydrated, of course). Since everything but the oil, cheese and nutmeg is from Saskatchewan, it was Little Italy on the prairies tonight!


(In case you're interested, my recipe for pasta dough is three eggs to two cups of flour, plus a little extra flour to create supple but not sticky dough.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Speaking in Prince Albert

If you're in the Prince Albert area, come say hello on Monday night (April 21) -- I'm giving a public talk about local Saskatchewan food. It's at 8 pm at the Senator Allan Bird Centre, 851 23rd St. West, part of the Food Secure Saskatchewan conference. Click here for more info. For information about my next engagement, the Earth Day Film Festival at Craik, please click here.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

There's life in them thar bones - CHICKEN STOCK

So there I was, listing off the ingredients in a pot of stew, one of which was homemade chicken stock, and my friend Vance interrupted: "How do you make chicken stock?" Vance, my dear, it's the easiest thing in the world. No chicken bones (or ham or bison or fish) pass through my kitchen without doing second duty as stock. So here's how to make chicken stock:

Buy chicken and cut the meat off the bones, or roast a chicken and use the leftover bones. Put the bones in a pot and cover with water. Add one big onion quartered, one or two carrots quartered, one or two celery stalks quartered, some sprigs of fresh parsley (or dried), a bay leaf, a pinch of peppercorns and, if you have it, a teaspoon of coriander seeds. (You may have noticed that, other than the peppercorns, this is made entirely with Saskatchewan ingredients.) Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer covered for an hour. Cool the pot. Put the pot in the fridge (or outside when the weather is cold) until the fat solidifies on the surface -- lift off the fat and discard. Drain the stock to remove the bones and vegetables. The stock is now ready for cooking. Use it in: Barley Risotto, Four Grain Soup, Zuppa del Contadina, Hot & Sour Soup or Beef Bourguignon.

TIP I keep a zipper bag of scrap vegetables in the freezer for making stock: things like carrot peels, onion and celery trimmings, stems of parsley and other herbs, garlic skins, tomato ends -- anything that would add flavour to stock. When I start a batch of stock, I dump this bag of scraps into the water with the bones. Nothing goes to waste!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

French wine, Saskatchewan food - BEEF BOURGIUGNON

This is a traditional beef stew from Burgundy, France.

Beef Bourguignon
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive or canola oil
6 slices bacon, diced
2 chopped onions
3 pound chuck beef roast
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup flour
2 cups Burgundy wine (pinot noir)
4 cups beef or chicken stock
2 sliced carrots (halved if large)
1 tbsp tomato paste
Pinch of sugar
2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
One sprig each parley, rosemary, thyme and bay leaf, tied together

Cook this stew in an oven-proof pot with a lid. On top of the stove, heat the butter and oil. Add the bacon and onion and sauté until soft. While that’s cooking, cut the beef into 1-inch cubes. Remove the bacon and onion with a slotted spoon. Place the cubes of beef into the hot pot and brown on all sides (in two batches). As the beef is done, remove the meat to a plate and season with salt and pepper.

Quickly stir the flour into the hot fat until the liquid is absorbed and the flour is turning brown. Remove from heat and whisk in the wine. (Whisk well to break down any clumps of flour). Return to the stove and boil, scraping up any brown bits that are stuck to the pot. Add the stock and return to boil. Add the bacon, onions, beef and all remaining ingredients. Cover and bake in the oven at 350 degrees for two hours. Meanwhile:

24 button mushrooms
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp brandy, port or madeira
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt

Sauté the mushrooms in the butter. Sprinkle on the booze and cook off. Sprinkle on the lemon juice and salt. Sauté until the mushrooms are browned. When the stew comes out of the oven, mix in the mushrooms and any butter sauce left in the pan. (Remove the bunch of herbs from the stew.) Serve with potatoes, mashed parsnips or noodles, sprinkled with fresh parsley.

TIP: This stew can be made days ahead and kept in the fridge. In fact, it improves with time. Reheat on the stove.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Craik Eat Local Challenge Video

A month ago, the town of Craik launched an "Eat Local Challenge" at the Eco-Centre. I was privileged to be there as a guest speaker. You can watch a video of the event, including vendors at a local food showcase, at this link.