Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A humbling experience

It's rather humbling when a chef decides to cook your recipe and it turns out way better in the chef's hands!

Chef Moe Mathieu and his sous chef Lindsay featured the lentil salad from my book Prairie Feast  at an event at the Saskatoon Farmers' Market yesterday. But he jazzed it up with extra lemon juice, a piece of Saskatchewan perch en papillote (in parchment paper), a drizzle of cucumber juice and by cooking the lentils in duck stock. (Like we all have duck stock idling in the frigo.)

The event was sponsored by the Saskatchewan Environmental Society as an opportunity to promote its upcoming Sustainable Gourmet dinner on October 2. I read from Prairie Feast, Moe and Lindsay cooked (well mostly Lindsay, as Moe is on crutches these days...) and we all ate very well.

Here's shot of Lindsay chopping cilantro. Did you know (according to Moe) that half the population likes cilantro and the other half hates it? I'm definitely in the like category!

Photos courtesy Judy Montgonery of the SES.

Lentil and Cucumber Salad

2 cups cooked lentils
1/4 cup green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro or parsley, chopped
1 cup cucumber, diced
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled

1/2 tsp each cumin, coriander, mustard seeds and peppercorns
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp salt

To make the dressing, toast the whole seeds in a hot dry frying pan. Grind them to a powder in a spice grinder. Whisk the spices with the other dressing ingredients and stir into the lentils. Make this ahead of time so the flavours have plenty of time to mix and mingle. Just before serving, mix the lentils with the other salad ingredients.

PS: Lentils should be cooked until they are just soft to the bite. A nice middle ground between crunch and mush. Depending on the type of lentil, this will proabably take 20-30 minutes. The liquid can be water or stock (meat or vegetable), with a bay leaf or a sage leaf for flavouring.

Make the dressing while the lentils are cooking. After draining the water, mix the dressing into the warm lentils for maximum absorption of the flavours. Cool the lentils before adding the rest of the ingredients. At the end, Moe added a good dose of lemon juice for extra zing.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Newspaper column - MUSHROOM GOUGERE

This column appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix on 21 June 2010.

I’m a big fan of eggs. What other food is just as welcome at breakfast, lunch or dinner, as an appetizer, main course or dessert? In my quest to eat all things local, I buy eggs at the farmers’ market. But it’s nice to know that between markets, locally-laid eggs are as close as the grocery store. Many of the major brands in eggs—from the Co-op to Costso—are provided by Star Egg of Saskatoon, a family business that has grown into an egg empire.

Star Egg processes a million eggs a day, give or take, collected from more than 50 farms around the province, supplying 85 percent of Saskatchewan’s egg market according to Dana Haynes, whose grandfather started the company almost 80 years ago.

Yet only 35 percent of those million eggs stay in the province; the rest supply grocery stores from Manitoba to British Columbia to the North West Territories. “Of course, the Saskatchewan market isn’t as big as some other markets, but we’re proud of where we come from,” says Haynes.

Her grandfather Walter Harman started the Harman egg company in the 1930s on his farm near Prince Albert after he was laid off from his job in a local factory. In the 1960s, his son Bert Harman joined the company and expanded by purchasing Star Egg in Saskatoon and, two years ago, moving into a new facility on Quebec Ave.

Haynes has fond memories of gathering eggs with her grandfather on the farm: “Grandpa was very jovial, but he worked hard, too. If we dropped an egg, he’d say, ‘That’s 10 cents off your wage.’ We learned that an egg is a valuable asset and you don’t want to be breaking them.”

Star Egg is almost fully automated, but even the machines are gentle. The eggs flow in a steady stream through the cleaning and inspection booth, roll over the weigh scales, glide down the conveyor belts to a row of soft round brushes that place the eggs within reach of the automated “clam shells” which gently pick them up and set them into their awaiting cartons.

Egg consumption in Canada has dropped from about 23 dozen per person per year in the 1960s to about 14.5 dozen today (including processed eggs), and is rising slowly thanks in part to a range of new custom egg products. These include liquid, powdered and separated eggs—you can even buy pre-packaged hard boiled eggs—and eggs with special qualities such as free-run, organic, vegetarian and omega-3. Star Egg markets its specialty eggs under the label GoldEgg.

“I think it’s important to listen to the public and try to provide different options, because everyone’s purchasing choices are based on how they feel or what they believe. We always want to be cognizant of that,” says Haynes. “At the end of the day, an egg is an egg. It’s an affordable, quality source of protein.” And each egg is one in a million!

Mushroom and Chive Puffs (otherwise known in French as gougere)

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp coarse salt
1 cup flour
3 eggs, room temperature
1 cup aged cheddar cheese
1/4 cup powdered dried mushrooms
1 tbsp chopped fresh chives

Note: I used dried chanterelle mushrooms picked last fall in Saskatchewan and powdered in a spice grinder.

Heat oven to 400F. Heat the milk, water and butter in a saucepan on medium low until it starts to boil. Add the flour all at once and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the flour forms a ball that is no longer sticky and a dry film forms on the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat.

Using a handheld mixer (or place the dough in a mixing bowl) beat lightly for two minutes to release some heat. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing each one fully into the dough before adding the next. The dough will be smooth and waxy, thick enough to scoop with a spoon.

Incorporate the cheese, mushroom powder and chives. Using a teaspoon, scoop the dough into balls and place them on a baking sheet lined with a silicone pad or parchment paper. Bake at 400F for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat, open the door and leave puffs in the oven for 10 minutes. Makes about 24 puffs.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Soup Week 24 - Split Pea on a rainy day

Melt a spoonful of ham fat in a big soup pot on medium low. (Note: ham fat is the dripping from a baked ham, saved in a container in the fridge. Substitute bacon fat or olive oil.)

Chop a big onion, three stalks of celery and several carrots and saute in the hot fat. Add fresh chopped herbs such as sage and thyme. Cook, stirring now and then, until it smells fabulous and the vegetables are softening. Season with salt and pepper. If the fat is absorbed, add some olive oil to keep things from sticking to the pot.

Add a few cups of split green peas. (I think I used about 3 cups, but I didn't measure exactly.) Stir well so the peas are coated with fat/oil. Cook until the peas start to stick to the bottom of the pot. Pour on water to cover completely, and a bit more.

Add a ham hock and two bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then cover and turn down the heat, simmering for several hours until the peas turn almost to mush. You'll need to add more water along the way, so keep your eye on it.

Remove the ham hock and bay leaves. When cool, remove the meat from the bone. Chop the meat and return it to the pot. 

Taste the soup and add more salt and pepper as needed. Ladle into bowls, top with grated cheese and eat!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Soup Week 23 - Fiddlehead and tortellini

My New Year's Resolution -- to make a pot of soup per week -- is just slightly falling behind.

When I made the resolution, I hadn't factored in the whirl of launching a book and a trip to Niagara Falls, which has taken me out of the kitchen. But no fear, I will catch up! Here's a great soup we ate last week - fresh fiddlehead and tortellini. Yummy. No recipe -- I made it up as I went along.