Monday, October 27, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Savoury Spareribs

Ovens of the future will have a computerized touch screen that will display recipes, automatically heat to the right temperature and cook the required amount of time.
How far we've come in one-hundred years. Back then, the Home Comfort range boasted "modern" features such as ample capacity fire box, fire-proof asbestos lining, air-cooled housing and enamelled legs of "graceful, pleasing design." It even had a heat indicator based on a scale of one to nine.

However, none of the recipes in the Home Comfort cookbook indicate where on that scale the heat should be. That was "governed entirely by conditions, which can be ascertained after a few trials," while the optimal cooking time was based on the "good judgement and management of the cook." Imagine if today's cookbooks were based on trial and error!

The Home Comfort cookbook contains a few other gems of advice: empty the ashes once a day and, in extreme cold weather, drain the water reservoir at night or "look out for an explosion." As for baking, it advised the cook invest in a set of measuring cups (since using a teacup to measure sugar or flour was not scientifically accurate) and to become proficient in a basic cake before undertaking more complicated recipes.

After that, cooking was a snap: "A century ago, no cook was considered proficient under thirty years of age; today, thousands of girls have become fine cooks at eighteen or twenty."

Here's the recipe for spareribs, with a few modern updates.

Savoury Spareribs
1 – 2 lbs spareribs
Salt and pepper
4-8 small potatoes
4-6 apples

Heat oven to 375F. Bake spareribs one hour. Peel and quarter potatoes and apples. Season spareribs with salt and pepper; top with apples and potatoes. Bake one hour, or until meat and potatoes are cooked. If desired, broil spareribs for a few minutes to brown.

(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Italian Turkey Soup

Sometimes, the oldest and best recipes have no measurements and few instructions. That's because they are so classic and so iconic the cook can make them by heart. Take, for instance, the recipe for Gilda DiSanto's turkey soup which she learned at her mother's side growing up in Italy.

Gilda, her husband Luigi and two-year-old Carmelina came to Canada in 1964, joining his brother who was already in Saskatoon. Before leaving their village, Fresagrandinaria, Gilda dehydrated her homemade pasta sauce and packed it along so they would not be without in their new home.

She recalls the train ride across Canada, eating the spaghetti and white bread they were served onboard. "It was so bad. I cried, Oh my God!" she laughs.

After fifty years in Saskatoon, she still makes her own pizza and spaghetti sauce, putting up 100 jars of home-grown tomatoes every fall. Those tomatoes are a special ingredients in her turkey soup.

She begins with a whole turkey, turning it into several meals. However, the hand-written recipe (as passed on to her daughter Carm Michalenko) substitutes turkey wings for the whole bird. I've taken the liberty of adding ingredient amounts to the basic recipe, so feel free to take the "bones" and make this delicious peasant soup your own.

Gilda's Turkey Soup
2 lbs turkey wings
2-3 celery stalks
3-4 carrots
2-3 potatoes
2 cups canned tomatoes
1 tsp salt
1 onion, quartered

2 lbs ground turkey or beef
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups finely grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp minced dried basil
1 tbsp minced fresh parsley
1 tsp salt and plenty of pepper
Orzo-shaped pasta, cooked
Leftover wing meat

For the broth, put turkey wings in a pot, cover generously with water and boil, skimming off the foam that rises to the surface. Peel vegetables, cut in half and add to the pot with tomatoes and salt. Cook until the meat falls from the bone. Strain and reserve broth. Separate bones and meat.

At this point, you can make a meal of the meat and vegetables removed from the broth.

Put the bones in fresh water with the onion and boil again until the broth is golden. Strain and mix the two broths together.

To make meatballs, combine ground meat, egg, parmesan cheese and herbs, seasoning salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly, until the meat is smooth and silky. Roll into meatballs about the size of a marble. Drop into boiling water and scoop out when cooked, about two minutes.

Reheat the turkey broth, tasting and adding more salt if needed. Add meatballs, cooked pasta and any leftover wing meat. Buon appetito!

(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Flapper Pie

What on earth is Flapper Pie? My guess is you either a) have no idea, or b) have warm and fuzzy memories of eating your mom's or your grandma's Flapper Pie.

The Canadian Food Enclyclopedia describes it as "graham-crusted, custard-filled pie and long-time Prairie favourite." However, it did not originate here.

Graham crackers were invented in 1829 by Sylvester Graham, an evangelical minster in New Jersey who preached a vegetarian, low-fat, low-sugar diet rich in whole grains. By 1900, his cracker was being sold commercially by the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) which promoted it as good food to take on long journeys, such as that of pioneers moving west. A recipe for Graham Cracker Pie was included on the package.

Indeed, it was a good pie for farming pioneers because the key ingredients – eggs, cream, butter, flour – were readily available on the farm. However, the name remains a mystery to me: when did it become Flapper Pie? One might surmise it happened during the flapper era of the 1920s, but why and by whom?

Before long, Flapper Pie had made its way into the hearts and cookbooks of families across the prairies, a staple at fowl suppers and baby's first pie. There are different versions of the basic recipe, some with less sugar, some with cream of tartar (to firm the meringue) and some with cinnamon in the crumb crust.

Flapper Pie
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup sugar

1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 1/2 cups milk
3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla

Meringue topping:
3 egg white, room temp.
2 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
Pinch cinnamon

Mix crust ingredients. Scoop out 2 tbsp and set aside. Press crumbs into the bottom and sides of a pie plate. Bake at 375F for 8 minutes and cool.

For the filling, blend sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan. Slowly whisk in milk. Cook over medium heat until it bubbles and thickens, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir a spoonful into the egg yolks, mix quickly and pour back into the saucepan. Boil for two minutes, stirring, until quite thick. Stir in vanilla. Pour filling into graham cracker crust.

For the topping, whip egg whites and cream of tartar to soft peaks. Gradually pour in sugar while whipping to stiff peaks. Spread meringue on filling, ensuring it touches the crust all around. Mix the reserved 2 tbsp graham crumbs with cinnamon and sprinkle over top.

Bake at 375F for 6-8 minutes, until meringue is toasty brown. Cool pie and refrigerate a few hours before cutting.

(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)

Monday, October 06, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Ghormeh Sabzi

A century ago, immigrants came to Saskatchewan to escape state and religious persecution, to give their children a better life and to start anew. That hasn't changed with time.

Iran Yousefi came to Canada from Iran seventeen years ago to raise her daughter in a peaceful secular society where women can succeed on their own terms. Back in Iran, she was a veterinarian and microbiologist. In Toronto, her first "survival" job was in a pizza joint. "I had always wanted to learn how to make pizza, so it was exciting for me," she says.

Seven years ago, she moved to Saskatoon so her husband, Dr. Farzin Kasmaiefar, could re-certify as a family physician. In Saskatoon, it was difficult to find some ingredients needed for popular dishes from Iran such as khoresht ghormeh sabzi (herb stew) and fesenjan (chicken and walnut stew).

"That was quite a change for me, as someone who loves to cook my traditional recipes," she says. For instance, the stew below is traditionally made with a herb called tareh, but here she uses the green part of a leek (the part most other recipes discard).

Fresh fenugreek is also not readily available (although she has found it recently at Superstore). As for other exotic ingredients such as dried lemons, they can be purchased in the new Pars Market on 8th Street E.

Who knows, perhaps a century from now, gormeh sabzi or fesenjan will be just as at home in Saskatchewan as Hungarian goulash or Russian shishliki.

Khoresht Ghormeh Sabzi (Persian Herb Stew)
1 bunch spinach
1 bunch parsley
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch fenugreek or 1 tbsp dried
1 leek, green part only
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 lb beef (450 g) in 1 inch cubes
4 dried lemons or 1/4 cup lemon juice
2 cups water
1 can kidney beans, drained

Chop greens quite fine. For the leek, use the tender green part (not the hard outer leaves). Wash greens in a colander and squeeze out excess water. Heat a large skillet on high. Add greens and cook, stirring constantly, until the water has evaporated. Add half the vegetable oil and cook until greens are turning brown. The volume of greens will reduce considerably.

Heat the remaining vegetable oil in a stew pot. Add onion and cook until soft. Stir in turmeric. Add meat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Turn up heat and cook until browned.

If using dried lemons, poke each lemon with a fork and add to pot with the water. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Stir in cooked greens. Cover and cook for about one hour.

Half way through cooking add kidney beans and, if using, dried fenugreek and lemon juice. Season with salt to taste. The stew is done when the meat is tender. Serve on rice.

Add a Persian tomato salad and Persian barbari bread.

(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)