Monday, November 17, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Creamed Chicken & Mamaliga

What's your comfort food? Ask one hundred people and you might get one hundred different answers. For Lisa Lambert, it's Creamed Chicken, a Romanian recipe brought to Saskatchewan with her grandmother one hundred years ago.

"It's steeped in nostalgia," she says. "We crave the foods that hold good memories for us and I have very good memories of Granny cooking good food for us."

Granny Mary Wilchuck was a little girl (nee Gnesner) when she immigrated to Canada with her family in 1914 and settled in Southey. They came from an area called Bukovina which was, at that time, under the authority of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. However, the area was historically Romanian. So, while Granny Wilchuck considered herself Austrian and spoke German, their immigration papers listed Romania as the country of origin.

This bit of history illustrates how blurred ethnic origins can become through the centuries of shifting borders, and how this is often reflected in favourite family recipes. At 17, she wed a farmer almost twice her age, an arranged marriage. It was not a blissful union, according to Lambert, but Granny Wilchuck was always smiling when she cooked for her family.

In time, she taught this recipe to her British daughter-in-law, Marilyn Wilchuck. Lambert has included the recipe in her cookbook, Recipes I Stole from My Mum, noting that, as a child, she always requested it for her birthday dinner. Mamaliga is the Romanian word for polenta, a corn meal porridge still popular on Romanian dinner tables today.

Creamed Chicken
5–6 lbs chicken parts
Water to cover
2 chicken bouillon cubes or 2 tbsp instant chicken bouillon
2 tbsp salt
4 bay leaves
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 cup flour
1 cup water

Cover the chicken in water in a large dutch oven. Add chicken bouillon, salt and bay leaves. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 1 hour.

Remove a small amount of broth and cool. Gradually stir sour cream into cooled broth. Return to the simmering sauce, stirring constantly.

Mix flour and remaining 1 cup water until smooth. Stir into sauce to thicken. Discard bay leaves. Serve over corn meal.

Corn Meal (Mamaliga)
6 cups water
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter or margarine
2 cups yellow corn meal

Bring water to boil in a large pot. Add salt and butter. Add corn meal gradually and stir constantly until thick. Simmer about 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until corn meal starts to pull away from the sides of the pot. Serve hot.

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

Monday, November 10, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Bigos

Polish newcomers to Saskatchewan, whether 100 years ago or one year ago, have a soft spot in their hearts for bigos, a traditional winter stew.

Eva Sylwestrowicz, who grew up in northern Poland, remembers wonderful winter picnics when friends and family went into the woods by horse-drawn sleigh and ate bowls of bigos warmed over a bonfire. "Someone went ahead to prepare the bonfire," she says. "There was bigos and bread, vodka and wine. And hot chocolate for the children. It was a special time."

Eva came to Saskatoon in 1982, escaping communist Poland with her husband Thomas and their young children, Magda and Wojtek. Their journey is intriguing. Thomas, a physician, had gone to London, England, for a research fellowship but his family was not allowed to go with him.

On the pretext of entertaining his colleagues – and making a good impression – he asked Eva to send him his mother's silverware and the good linens. Thus they spirited some family treasures out of the country.

On a cold winter day, Eva and the children left for a vacation in Tunisia, an approved holiday destination, with nothing but a suitcase of summer clothes. They had to go to East Germany to catch their flight, but as soon as they got there, they changed directions for London and from there to Canada.

Bigos (bee-gōs) is considered better with each reheating. Leftovers are added to the pot creating a "perpetual stew" that lasts a week, ready to reheat for unexpected company or a winter picnic.

1/2 cup dried mushrooms
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tsp paprika or 2 juniper berries, finely crushed
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp pepper
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 lb bacon, chopped
1 lb smoked sausage, sliced
1 cup leftover roast meat
6–8 canned tomatoes, chopped
1/2 medium cabbage head, shaved
1/2 lb sauerkraut
2 tbsp plum jam or honey

Soak mushrooms in boiling water to soften. Heat oil in a stew pot. Cook onion until soft. Stir in paprika or juniper berries, salt and pepper.

Add garlic and bacon. When bacon and onions are cooked, add the rest of the meat, tomatoes, cabbage, sauerkraut, mushrooms and mushroom water.

Add enough cold water to almost cover the contents. Cover the pot and simmer for several hours, until the cabbage is meltingly soft. Stir in plum jam or honey.

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

Monday, November 03, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Molasses Cake

In 1897, Anna Pölsson packed her belongings and made the ocean voyage from Sweden to Canada to join her fiancé who had taken a homestead near Kamsack. They had not seen each other for 11 years.

Anna's family tried to dissuade her from making the trip. So much time had passed. It was so far away. Did she even know him anymore? But she was determined to keep the promise she had made to Nils.

"He wanted to work off his boat fare, and make her boat fare, and establish a homestead before she came. It took him 11 years, which I don't think was uncommon in those days," says Karen Priestley of Choiceland, Anna's great-granddaughter.

In Sweden, Anna had trained with a doctor and those skills served her well around Kamsack, where she delivered babies, set bones and tended the sick – even for animals. "People called on her because she was willing to take trade instead of money, while most doctors insisted on cash," says Karen. "I really admire her."

Anna raised seven children, survived two husbands, and passed on her recipe for molasses cake. According to Karen, it was an everyday cake, rarely iced except for company. Now-a-days, however, she always frosts it because that's how her children (Anna's great great grandkids) love to eat it. And she uses the microwave – proving that cherished old recipes still have a place in the modern kitchen.

Molasses Cake
1/2 cup butter, room temp
3/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup molasses
2 eggs
2 cups flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp allspice
1 1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2/3 cup buttermilk

Cream butter well. Gradually add sugar, beating after each addition. Blend in molasses and eggs.

Sift together flour, baking soda and spices. Add to batter in three portions, alternating with buttermilk until well blended.

Pour into a greased 9 x 13 inch cake pan and bake at 350F for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool cake and ice.

Caramel Coffee Icing
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup cream
1 tbsp strong coffee (or 1/2 tsp instant coffee)
1 2/3 cup icing sugar

Put brown sugar, butter and cream into large glass measuring cup. Microwave for 40 seconds. Stir and microwave another minute or so until smooth. Add coffee. Blend well and cool. Beat in icing sugar to a creamy and spreadable consistency.

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

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.)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Apfelkuchen

A few days ago I was baking apfelkuchen while listening to a radio program on events in Ukraine. Both are inextricably tied to my German heritage.

In the 1770s, Russia went to war with the Ottoman Empire and captured vast territories along the Black Sea, what is today Crimea and southern Ukraine. Russia put out a call across Europe for farmers to come work the land. My ancestors answered that call, settling in a German village on the Dnieper River which is today called Zmiivka.

Almost a century later, Canada began advertising across Europe for farmers and my German family packed up and moved again in 1890-93. Even though they had lived in Russia (now Ukraine) for several generations, they maintained their German culture and cuisine based on potatoes, apples, dumplings, noodles, sausages and pork.

At first, it might have been difficult and expensive to get apples in Saskatchewan. In 1914, a barrel of apples was $4.25 while a 100-lb sack of flour was just $3.40. Early varieties of apple trees could not survive our harsh winters, but in the 1920s the University of Saskatchewan began working on new varieties for our climate. Before long, apple trees were a common sight in rural farmyards.

My Grandma Ehman made the most of the apple orchard on our farm – crab apples for jelly and larger yellow apples for applesauce, apple pastries and apfelkuchen. I'm hoping to visit Zmiivka next year, but in the meantime, I'm travelling back in time with a big slice of grandma's apfelkuchen.

Apfelkuchen (Apple Cake)
1 cup soft butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 3/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
5 apples, peeled and sliced

1 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
2/3 cup cake dough
2/3 cup flour

For the cake: Cream butter and sugar well. Beat in eggs until fluffy. Add vanilla. Sift and add flour, baking powder and salt. Remove 2/3 cup of batter and reserve for the topping.

Press remaining batter into a greased 9 x 12 inch or 9 x 9 inch pan. Cover with sliced apples. Sprinkle evenly with sugar and cinnamon.

Mix reserved batter with the remaining flour until crumbly. Spread over apples. Bake at 350F for 40-45 minutes, until the top is light brown.

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

Monday, September 22, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Shishliki

The Doukhobors who settled in Saskatchewan were vegetarians. Wink wink.

They became pacifists and vegetarians in Russia based on the principles of their spiritual leader Peter Verigin and his idol, the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy. However, not all eschewed meat, and for that we can be grateful because it gave us one of the most unique regional foods in our province: shishliki.

Shishliki is an old Russian recipe of marinated and grilled lamb. It's a specialty around Yorkton, Kamsack and Canora, where it's popular at weddings, summer barbeques, community events and family reunions.

Traditionally, there are just three ingredients – lamb, onion and salt. Lemon may be added as a tenderizer if the meat is tough, but it is unlikely the first prairie Doukhobors ever saw a lemon or could afford one if they did.

Among the 7,500 Doukhobors who came to Canada in 1899 was the Zbeetnoff family, whose descendant Michelle (Zbeetnoff) Hughes of Norquay is publisher of Prairies North magazine. Even though she was raised in the bosom of her mother's Ukrainian family, she still makes the shishliki and piroshky (fruit pies) of her Russian Doukhobor grandmother.

"I want my children to be familiar with the old recipes because it's part of their heritage," she says. "Back then, it was subsistence living. Everything they had was by the hard work of their own hands."

And in this recipe, the hands are still at work. No spoon allowed! Pork or chicken may be substituted for the lamb.

2 lbs lamb (1 kg)
Pepper (optional)
1 big onion, sliced

Cut meat in 2-inch cubes. In a bowl, sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, if using. With your hands, rub the seasoning into the meat. Mix in onion. Cover and refrigerate 3–7 days, turning the meat once a day. Thread meat onto skewers and grill.

Note: If you're feeding a crowd, use 50 lbs of meat, 20 lbs of onions, 1/2 cup salt and 1/4 cup pepper.

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

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Out of Old Saskatchewan Kitchens

My new cookbook is out!! Travel back in time and revisit Saskatchewan's history through the lens of food - what we ate, how we prepared it and how it shaped the province we are today.  More than 50 archival photos and 80 old-time recipes.

"This is a beautiful book on Saskatchewan cuisine." John Gormley, News Talk 650.

"Amy Jo is to be applauded for putting the province's food history into perspective in an engaging and entertaining style." Bill Waiser, author of Saskatchewan: A New History.

Available soon at all Saskatchewan bookstores.