Monday, September 30, 2013

Prairie Kitchens - Hakkebof

In 1910, Ditlev Feilberg took a homestead near Nokomis and, the following year, was joined by his wife Julie and five of their children. That year, they didn't have a crop of their own so they worked for neighbouring farmers. Their meagre earnings were spent on basic foodstuffs and on coal to cook and heat their little prairie shack.

Julie wrote charming letters to her family back in Denmark describing the hardships of pioneer life. She detailed their basic diet: flour, sugar, oatmeal, eggs, milk, butter, lard, potatoes and dried fruit. She kept a large vegetable garden and made bread with potato-based sourdough. They had chickens and cattle but, depending on the time of year, they went for weeks and even months without meat or milk.

Her letters were published in Denmark in 1912 and 1917 by Ditlev's father and later translated into English by her son Nikolai as Letters from Nokomis: Life on a Homestead in Saskatchewan, available at the Saskatoon public library.

In October, Julie cooked for a neighbour's harvest crew of 16 or 17 men who expected three solid meals a day. She might serve a hearty stew or roast chickens (killing and plucking them first) with potatoes, garden vegetables, bread, biscuits, butter, raisin pudding or cake. One day she made a recipe from home, Danish hamburger steak with onion gravy (called hakkebof) which she says "went over very well."

Hakkebof - Danish Hamburger Steak
2 large onions
2 tbsp butter
Sprinkle of sugar
2 tbsp flour
1 cup beef stock
1 1/2 lbs lean ground beef
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tbsp butter or lard

Peel onions and cut into fat slices. Melt 2 tbsp butter in a wide frying pan on medium low. Separate the onion rings. Toss in the pan with the melted butter and sprinkle with sugar. Cook slowly, covered, stirring now and then, until the onions are soft and turning brown, about 45 min. Lift the onions out of the pan and keep warm.

Sprinkle flour into the butter remaining in the pan, stirring well. The flour will soak up the butter and begin to brown. Pour in beef stock and whisk vigorously to prevent lumps. Bring to a light bubble, stirring, until slightly thickened. Season with salt and pepper. Keep warm on low heat.

Form the ground beef into four patties. Season with salt and pepper. Using the dull side of a knife, crosshatch the patties on both sides. In another pan, melt 1 tbsp butter or lard on medium high heat. Cook the patties, turning once, until both sides are browned and the meat is cooked through.

To serve, stack onions on each steak. Pour on gravy. Serve with boiled new potatoes sprinkled with chopped parsley and pickled beets.

Do you have a prairie recipe with a story? Send me a comment. Follow at
This column first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Home for Dinner - Prairie Cookbooks

I've been reading old cookbooks, which say a lot about the cooks. The older cookbooks have short recipes – six or eight to a page – and no pictures. Instructions are brief:
            "Make a white sauce."
            "Mix as for biscuits."
            "Bake in a slow oven."
A recipe for haggis (an old Scottish dish made in a sheep's stomach) says simply, "Cook in the usual way."
In many cases, the cook would have been using a coal-fired stove – most of rural Saskatchewan didn't get electricity (and thus electric appliances) until the 1950s. The cook had to know instinctively when the oven was the right temperature and how long the dish should bake. Eggs and cream were whipped by hand. Food was chilled in an ice house or down the well.
Read more about prairie cookbooks in my column Home For Dinner in the Star Phoenix.
Here's a recipe for my grandmother's applesauce cookies, connecting her German heritage with the apples she picked on our prairie farm.
Applesauce Cookies
1/2 cup soft butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup raisins
1 cup applesauce

Cream butter and sugar. Mix in egg until batter is light and airy. Sift and add flour, baking soda and cinnamon. Mix well. Stir in raisins and applesauce. Drop by small spoonfuls onto cookie sheets. Bake at 400F for 10-12 min. Makes about 50 cookies.

Do you have a prairie recipe with a story? Send me a comment. Follow at


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Word on the Street Author Swag

Swag - er, gifts - from today's Word on the Street book festival in Saskatoon. Garlic Guru Hummus and Tu-Bees tube honey. I was pleased to take the stage with my friend Dee Hobsbawn-Smith to talk about writing about food. Granted, I'd rather write about it than talk about writing it... but eating it is clearly the best! :)

Friday, September 20, 2013

Heritage foods - Swedish flatbreads

Getting the skinny on Swedish flatbread! Even in Saskatchewan, people of Swedish heritage prefer the flatbreads of "home." What foods are in your heritage? I'm looking for ideas for my new food column in the Star Phoenix starting Sept 30.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Street Food in Calgary

Twenty years ago, City Palate magazine began publishing in Calgary. Last night, they celebrated with a really really long dinner party for 240 guests with "street food" prepared by restaurants on the street.
An elegant dinner table (well, 30 tables) down Calgary's Stephen Avenue pedestrian street.

Oysters from Catch & the Oyster Bar. A bit of surf on our turf!

Elk, foie gras and dried cherry wellingtons topped with gorgeous purple beet sprouts from Trib Steakhouse.

Veal sweetbreads wrapped in bacon with plenty of wild mushrooms from The Belvedere. 

Mayor Naheed Nenshi takes a moment out of a city council meeting to greet the crowd.

Beautiful seared tuna with grilled polenta from Blink.

Wandering band the Pollyjesters jesting for the camera.

Finally, that famous Alberta beef! Slow roasted beef and roasted veg with the cutest little potato puffs from Divino.

Dessert from Teatro - just the right bite to end a wonderful meal.
Thank you to Tourism Calgary for sponsoring my place at the table, to City Palate magazine on its 20th year and to the restaurants who provided the best street food any street could offer! 

Monday, September 16, 2013

River Cafe - Calgary

River Café sits on a pretty island in the Bow River, but during the Calgary flood, it was an island. The water rose almost to the front door. The basement was flooded, destroying all the food in store along with 2,500 bottles of wine. When the waters receded, it was a mess. "The mud, the silt, the dust. It was devastating," says the owner, Sal Howell.

Last night, I dined at River Café with a group of food writers from across Canada. The setting is so lovely, no sign of the floodwaters. But everywhere, signs of our Canadian love for the great outdoors... fly fishing, canoeing, ice skating... with rustic-looking solid log furniture. It was lovely in the warm evening sunshine.

Dinner was prepared by four Alberta chefs who had participated in season three of the TV cook-off Top Chef Canada. So, as you can imagine, each course was a showcase of their passion, creativity and love for local seasonal ingredients. (below: goat's cheese and heirloom tomato tart - chef xavier lacaze)
My personal favourite was the lamb loin with a delicate hint of mint, a ragout of corn and bacon, pillowy ricotta gnudi, chanterelle mushrooms and the last baby sorrel leaves of the season. (below: chef andrew winfield
This morning, I'm wishing Saskatoon was a little bit closer to Calgary so I could take my husband for dinner on the patio in these last glorious days of a Canadian summer.
Having survived the great Calgary flood of 2013, I'm sure the River Café will be serving impressive meals in this impressive spot for another 22 years, at least...

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

My First Apple Harvest

With Grandma Ehman on the farm at Craik, SK.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Easy as Pie - Apple Galette

Galette is a French word for a rustic free-form dessert usually made with flakey pastry. "Rustic" and "free-form" are good indicators that a galette is the opposite of finicky and fussy to make. Bien sûr! An apple galette is a perfect showcase for Saskatchewan fall apples. Serve it with crème fraîche or vanilla ice cream.

Top left: Lovely green baking apples right off the tree.
Top right: Peel, core and slice the apples. You'll want 4-5 cups, depending on the size of your pie plate. Add sugar and a sprinkle of cinnamon. How much? Since apples vary in sweetness, start with 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 tsp of cinnamon then taste to see if it's enough. I used 1 cup sugar with 5 cups of apples.
Bottom left: Roll the pastry so it overhangs the pie plate by about 3 inches, give or take. Do not bother to trim the edges. Add the fruit filling and dot with butter here and there. Fold pastry over the filling. Brush the pastry with milk and sprinkle with sugar.
Bottom right: Bake at 375F until the pastry is nicely brown and the apples in the centre are cooked, about 45 minutes, give or take.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Vegetables for Breakfast

I will not eat cake for breakfast.
I will not eat cake for breakfast.
I will not... oh what the heck... it's zucchini!


Chocolate Zucchini Cake
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter, room temp.
1/2 cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
3 cups grated zucchini
Handful of chocolate chips

Heat oven to 325°F. Butter and flour a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan. Sometimes I use two smaller pans and freeze one of them.

Sift the flours, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt into bowl. In another bowl, beat sugar, butter, oil and vanilla until light and creamy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each one. Add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk. Stir in the grated zucchini. Pour batter into pan and sprinkle with chocolate chips.

Bake 40-50 minutes, until a knife inserted in centre of cake comes out clean.