Thursday, June 27, 2013

Madly Truly Spinach

The spinach and cilantro in my garden are growing like mad so I'm madly looking for sympathetic recipes. Add to that my recent visit to Buffalo, NY, where I purchased a jar of Maharajah curry powder at the Penzeys store. Throw in an eggplant from the farmers' market and some Saskatchewan-grown chickpeas and this is what you get...

Madly Truly Chickpea Spinach Curry
2 tbsp olive oil, plus more if needed
1 eggplant
1/2 red onion
3 cups cooked chickpeas
2-3 tsp curry powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup water
2 cups finely chopped spinach
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro

Cut the eggplant into a small dice, roughly 1 cm square. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil on medium high in a big skillet. Cook the eggplant, turning frequently, until it's nicely brown on two sides. The eggplant may absorb the oil so add more as needed.

Cut the onion into thin wedges. Toss into the eggplant. Continue cooking and stirring occasionally until the eggplant is nicely browned and the onion is soft.

Add the chickpeas, curry powder, salt and water. Stir well. Mix in the spinach. Turn the heat down, cover and cook until the spinach is done. Check once or twice if it's sticking to the pan and add a bit more water if needed. Stir in the cilantro and serve.

The oil and eggplant create a creamy combination that takes this dish from supper to succulent!

Sources: spinach and cilantro from my garden; eggplant from the farmers' market; Penzeys curry powder; locally-grown chickpeas from Diefenbaker Seed Processors.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Scientific minds meet green thumbs!

Saskatoon biotech company, Prairie Plant Systems, is using lab technologies and plant cloning to produce thousands of haskap, sour cherry and Saskatoon berry bushes -- varieties developed at the University of Saskatchewan fruit breeding program. Each plant starts as a tiny cutting set into an agar substrate -- no soil required!

"This medium contains all the nutrients that the plants need to grow without having a root system." -- CEO Brent Zettl

The little seedlings are then planted in soil and placed in the warm mist tent, where they grow roots and a thicker skin.

Finally they're moved into the greenhouse. In 3-4 months, the seedlings will be ready for planting outdoors. You can buy them at local nurseries in and around Saskatoon.
Read more about Prairie Plant Systems and haskap berries in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Quick, eat those Haskap!

Haskap berries are quickly ripening, so don't let them go to the birds. (Yes, the birds love them.) Also known as blue honeysuckle, haskap is the Japanese name for an old and healthy berry that grows in northern climates. In Saskatchewan, varieties such as Borealis and Tundra were developed by plant scientists at the U of S in Saskatoon.

Haskap are juicy with a sweet berry flavour and can be used in just about any recipe that calls for blueberries or saskatoon berries. They're available at U-Pick orchards, but as yet, there is no directory to make that easy for home cooks and consumers. :(

You can read more about Saskatchewan haskap in my food column in today's Star Phoenix.

Haskap Cheesecake Pie
2 cups chocolate wafer crumbs
1/2 cup melted butter
1 package cream cheese (250 g)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3 eggs, separated
2 cups haskap berries (fresh or thawed)

Crush the chocolate wafers to a powder. Mix with melted butter. Press into bottom of pie plate. Whip together the cream cheese and sugar. Add vanilla, 3 egg yolks and 1 cup of haskap berries. Blend well. In another bowl, whip the egg whites until fluffy but not stiff. Fold egg whites into the cream cheese mixture. Pour mixture over cookie crumb base. Sprinkle on the remaining 1 cup of berries. Bake at 350F for 35-40 minutes. The centre of the pie will not be completely set, but will jiggle slightly. It will set as it cools. When cool, cover and refrigerate several hours. I like to serve it with a dollop of sour cream flavoured with a pinch of lime zest.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Restaurant Review - Wanuskewin

A surprising number of foods were first cultivated by indigenous people in North and South America. Potatoes, tomatoes, corn, beans, chilies, squash. You'll find many of these ingredients on the menu at Wanuskewin Heritage Park, which celebrates 6,000 years of habitation by local plains people. Read my review of the Wanuskewin restaurant in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.

Three Sisters Bison Chili refers to the combination of corn, beans and squash, which was a staple of many indigenous cultures across North and South America.

Fluffy bannock and strawberry jam.
The restaurant at Wanuskewin is cafeteria style -  a great place for lunch and a walk in the prairie.
6 Penner Road (a short drive north of Saskatoon)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Pesto Pizza

Presto! Or is that, Pesto! My mission to clean out the freezer has procured two containers of pesto made last year with basil from my garden in Saskatoon. I always grow enough for fresh eating and a batch of pesto.

One of my favourite uses for my homemade pesto is pizza, replacing the more traditional tomato sauce. Toppings that go well with pesto include feta cheese, black olives, thinly sliced onion and crumbled bacon.

Tip: pesto is strong in flavour so I recommend spreading it more thinly than you would tomato sauce.

Basil grows very well from seed in prairie gardens. It's not too late to plant it now. If you're the impatient sort, buy a few seedlings and get them into your garden or a pot pdq!

Friday, June 07, 2013

Canadian Food Project - First Memory

Every year, without fail, my mom baked a saskatoon berry pie for Thanksgiving dinner. And Christmas and Easter and my dad’s birthday. She also made apple, lemon meringue and strawberry-rhubarb in season. But for special occasions, a saskatoon berry pie was nonpareil.

Saskatoon berry season is short – mid to end July. That has been extended with the arrival of u-pick saskatoon berry orchards, but my mom never baked with anything but wild. That meant, come mid-July, we headed out with berry buckets, mosquito spray and sandwiches to pick a year’s worth of saskatoons. Or more.

When my future husband came to visit for the first time, I wanted him to experience all things quintessentially Saskatchewan. So, I took him to the family farm for a harvest dinner and, of course, my mom made saskatoon pie. “What did you think of the pie?” I asked him.

“Your mom’s lemon meringue pie is mighty larapin,” he said. Larapin is the word his Illinois grandpa used to describe his grandma’s pies. “But,” I pressed, “how did you like the saskatoon berry pie?” “It was okay,” he said not quite convincing enough. Okay? Just okay?? Can you even live in Saskatoon if you don’t like saskatoon berry pie? Well, he said, maybe you had to grow up with it. Maybe there’s more to it than fits in a pie.

That got me thinking about my lifelong relationship with the saskatoon berry. That I might even have a relationship with a berry is, I suppose, proof that what he said might be true. The saskatoon berry is part of my earliest memories, part of the fabric of my family, perhaps even part of my DNA. Come mid-July, I love nothing more than to loop the handle of a bucket into my belt, slather on the mosquito spray and honour my ancestors by picking a year’s worth of saskatoons. Or more. 

Prairie Berry Clafoutis
My husband still isn’t crazy about saskatoon berry pie, but he loves saskatoons in this French classic.

2 tbsp butter
3 eggs
3 tbsp sugar
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup flour
2 cups mixed Saskatchewan berries: saskatoons, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, cherries (fresh and/or frozen)
1 tbsp flour

Heat oven to 350F. Put the butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet or pie plate. Place in the oven to melt the butter, ensuring it doesn’t brown. Meanwhile, in a blender mix the eggs, sugar, milk, vanilla and salt. With the blades running, gradually add one cup of flour and blend well. In a bowl, toss the berries with the remaining tbsp of flour. Remove skillet from the oven. Pour in the batter. Scatter berries over top. Bake about 20 minutes, until the centre is set. Serve warm or room temperature with a sprinkling of icing sugar.

Picking saskatoon berries with my husband at a very secret spot known only to family members. :)
This is my first post in the Canadian Food Experience Project in which participants across the country share stories of our unique Canadian food experiences. Join us!