Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Newspaper - SWISS CHARD PASTA FILLING

This article appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix on 26 April 2006.

I am just coming off a very successful diet. I didn’t lose weight, but then, I didn’t set out to. But it’s been good for my health, good for the economy and good for the planet. Oh, and it tastes good, too. For the past year, my husband and I have been eating an all-Saskatchewan diet. From asparagus to zucchini, and the jelly in between, just about everything on our dinner table is a product of Saskatchewan.

Why, you ask? It seemed like a fitting project for Saskatchewan’s centennial year. But there were loftier motivations, too. I wanted to eat healthier, support the local food industry and reduce the environmental impact of my eating habits. Most of the foods we eat travel more than 1,000 kilometres from the field to the fork. To some, that may seem like a marvel of modern transportation, but to me it seems like an absurd waste of energy and fossil fuels.

If Saskatchewan prides itself on producing food for the world, why aren’t we eating more of it right here at home? I decided to put my money where my mouth is and eat locally. My Saskatchewan culinary adventure began last April, just as the tender chives were poking through the garden...

Spring fever
All winter, I planned this experiment in local food consumption. I decided to begin the first day I ate something fresh from my garden in Saskatoon. It was the chives. The date was April 16. I chopped the chives and sprinkled them on a hot German potato salad, served with sausages from the farmers’ market and my mom’s pickles. It was the first of hundreds of all-Saskatchewan meals to come.

I sat down and made a list of Saskatchewan foods in two columns, those I already purchased and those I would seek out. The first column included things like eggs, chicken, beef, tomatoes, apples and asparagus. The second list included things like cheese, lentils, cherries, rolled oats and mushrooms. Needless to say, it is hard to find "Made in Saskatchewan" in the local grocery store, so I had to find alternative sources.

One day in spring, the mailman left a parcel card in my mailbox. I went to pick it up at the postal kiosk at the neighbourhood drug store. "I hope you drove here," said the postal clerk, "because it’s heavy." She heaved the box from the back room onto the counter. "Books?" she asked. "No," I said. "Lentils."

It was, in fact, 15 kilograms of organic lentils and split peas from the Cerridwen Farm at Medstead. Over the past year, I have bought food in unusual places from flea markets to gas stations and even from the trunk of a car. Very quickly, I had to adapt my food habits. Instead of planning a meal and dashing out buy to the ingredients, I had to consider the available ingredients and plan a meal around it. I shopped at farmers’ markets, bought direct from farmers and read labels carefully in the grocery store. I went to the Saskatchewan Made Marketplace, which sells only local goods. I kept a garden and swapped produce with family and friends.
It’s a little more time consuming than a visit to the grocery store, but it’s a lot more fun!

For me, a sure sign of spring is the day in March when the Grandora Greenhouse lettuce and cucumbers arrive at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market. So, with lentil soup and fresh salads, we got our Saskatchewan diet off to a very good start...

Summer passions
Our Saskatchewan diet moved outdoors. Hamburgers, grilled vegetables, pizza on the BBQ, green salads dotted with edible flowers. The official summer drink on our patio was the Mint Julep, an icy sipping cocktail made with lots of fresh mint. In July, I issued a challenge to my bookclub. We usually have a potluck when we get together. Since we were reading a book set in the south of France, I decided the theme of the potluck would be Mediterranean foods made with Saskatchewan ingredients.

"Help! What on earth do you mean?" came a quick email reply from Susan. Well, think of the foods we associate with the Mediterranean. Pasta, pesto and pizza from Italy. Greek salad and spanikopita. Middle eastern pita bread, falafel and tabouleh salad. Fish and eggplant on the French Riviera. Lamb and honey in Morocco. The principle ingredients of all of these dishes are produced right here in Saskatchewan.

The potluck was wonderful, proving that an all-Saskatchewan meal doesn’t have to be meat and potatoes and rhubarb pie. Foods produced in Saskatchewan lend themselves to a range of world cuisines from Mexican tortillas to Chinese stir-fries.

I keep a small garden in Saskatoon which is usually designed with dinner in mind. It’s full of good things to eat within minutes of picking. But this year was different. I had to plan ahead.
So, I planted more beets and spinach and squash. I froze peas and corn. I grew lots of basil for pesto and dried the rest. I stewed rhubarb and made apple sauce. I even pickled asparagus from the farmers’ market.

In July, I picked saskatoon berries at Manitou Beach. In August, I picked mushrooms at La Ronge and cherries at the Yoanna Orchard near Radisson. In September, I picked pears from a tree on Temperance Street. Whatever we didn’t eat immediately was put away for winter months. As summer waned, my panic waxed. Could our Saskatchewan diet survive a long Saskatchewan winter? Or would we emerge pale and hungry with the spring thaw...

Fall comforts
To celebrate Saskatchewan’s centennial in September, I decided to recreate the dinner served to dignitaries the day the province was created. I obtained the menu from the Saskatchewan Archives Board in Regina. Although there were several courses, the menu was quite generic. Cream soup, spring chicken and tomato salad could be prepared any number of ways. So, I consulted a cookbook that was popular in 1905, the Fanny Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cook Book first published in 1896. Then I invited two great friends, Heather and Murray, for dinner. Here’s the menu:

Imperial Cream Soup, chicken with spring onions, lamb in parchment paper, tomato salad with horseradish sauce, steamed asparagus, Potato Bells, sponge cake with champagne sauce and fresh strawberries.

By now our friends were all aware of our Saskatchewan diet. Whether from pity or concern, they began offering us gifts of Saskatchewan food. One day, there was a knock at the door. It was our friend Jeff, an avid hunter, with a box of frozen moose, cut and wrapped. "How do you cook moose?" I asked. "Like beef," he advised.

So, I delved into a food magazine and found a recipe for Portuguese beef stew. Substitute moose and it was delicious. I began stocking food like a crazy chipmunk who puts away enough for three winters. Before long, my freezer was full. Another friend to the rescue–offering space in his freezer and a key for quick access. And so, as the snow began to fly, we were comforted with baked beans, hearty soups and slow-cooked stews...

Winter greens (and reds)
Winter brings with it several special meals, and I aimed to prove that Saskatchewan foods could rise to the occasion. For Christmas dinner, we had squash and pear soup, baked ham, baked beans, coleslaw and a cherry tart. For New Year’s, the menu was grilled pork chops, mushroom barley risotto, red pepper salad and for dessert, a saskatoon pie. For Valentine’s Day I prepared a "red" meal including BBQ steaks, beet salad and a pink cake with cherry sauce.

I must admit, by February I was craving some fresh greens. I love coleslaw, but enough is enough! If I wanted fresh Saskatchewan greens in the middle of winter I was going to have to grow my own! So, I placed an order with Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds of Parkside. Seeds don’t need much space (just a jar in a window) and you’ve got vitamin-rich greens in just a few days.

Traditionally in prairie culture, winter was not the lean season. It was early spring, when the winter stocks had run out but the new growing season had not yet begun. As winter gives way to spring, we are using up the frozen tomatoes and opening the last jar of canned pears. I’m already out of dried oregano and pinto beans. Tonight, we’re roasting the last of the free-range chickens.
We did not starve–not in quantity or quality–on our Saskatchewan diet. The year is up, but I suspect we won’t celebrate the end of this diet because it’s become a habit for life.

For Saskatchewan menus, recipes and food sources please go to homefordinner.blogspot.com.


SWISS CHARD PASTA FILLING
I make this stuffing in the summer when Swiss chard is abundant and freeze it for winter pasta making. We usually make a large batch of ravioli and freeze what we don’t eat right away. I make the dough and my husband rolls it. (We have a Pasta Queen pasta roller and a ravioli press, which make the task quite easy.) To make the dough, I blend 2 cups of flour with 3 beaten farm eggs and a spot of water. After mixing with a fork, I work it into a ball with my hands, wrap it in a plastic bag, and leave it in the fridge at least an hour before rolling it.

If you don’t have a pasta maker or a ravioli press, you can use this stuffing inside purchased cannelloni. It can also be made with spinach. So, if you don’t have any fresh or frozen Swiss chard, feel free to substitute fresh or frozen. For the tomato-basil sauce, see the recipe in the August 2005 archives. To make your own ricotta cheese, see the recipe in the April 2005 archives.

1 pound Swiss chard, parboiled and squeezed dry. (or thawed and squeezed)
1cup ricotta cheese
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
1 large egg
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp each fresh thyme and fresh rosemary (or half as much dried herbs)
salt and pepper to taste

Mix everything together well and stuff something!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

A riot of herbs - FISH CAKES

Yikes, the herbs are rioting. Well, they're growing like crazy. This is welcome news, because I have a new Saskatchewan food challenge -- every day I will eat something picked by my own hand. This time of year, that challenge is easily filled with the snip of the scissors! Tonight for dinner we had fish cakes with chives, thyme and sage from the garden with horseradish and a green salad. The ground fish and the salad greens were purchased at the Saskatoon Farmers' Market. The horseradish was grown and ground by our friend Bill down in Burns County.

HERBY FISH CAKES
about 1 lb. nicely ground raw Saskatchewan pickerel (or other fish)
2 tbsp. corn starch
4 tbsp. chopped fresh herbs of your choice
1 tsp. salt and a few grinds of pepper
one egg, beaten
fine fresh breadcrumbs
lottsa butter

Mix together the fish, corn starch, herbs, salt and pepper. Form into four big patties. These patties will feel much gooier than those made of ground beef. Dip each patty on both sides into the egg. Press into the breadcrumbs to coat. Melt butter in a frying pan until it is hot but not brown. Set the patties into the butter so they sizzle and brown. Flip to brown the other side. Cooking time will depend on the thickness of the patties -- mine took a few minutes on each side.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

A NEW Saskatchewan food challenge

For the past year, my husband and I have tried to eat nothing but Saskatchewan foods in our own home. The year is up -- but we haven't given up on Saskatchewan foods. It's a good habit that's hard to break!

However, I feel the need for a new challenge, and I have just the thing: Every day for the next year, I will try to eat something picked by my own hand (or my husband's). Already this spring we are eating chives and thyme from the garden. So, I'm sinking my teeth into a new challenge and it tastes good already...

Monday, April 17, 2006

Newspaper - CLAFOUTIS

This column first appeared in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix on 17 April 2006

Every now and then, my husband and I go on the egg diet, during which we try our best to eat eggs three times a day. For instance, we may have pancakes for breakfast, egg salad sandwiches for lunch and an omelet for supper. Or, scrambled eggs for breakfast, a spinach salad for lunch and Spaghetti Carbonara (an Italian dish made with eggs and bacon) at the end of the day.

When you think of it, it’s amazing how many different ways there are to eat eggs. Few foods can make the transition from breakfast to dessert as easily as eggs. When we talk about incompetent cooks, we say they can’t even boil an egg. When we talk about gifted cooks, we may think of the perfect, un-deflated soufflé.

My husband and I buy free-range eggs from a farmer, which means the eggs are laid by hens that eat grass and bugs and get their daily exercise. These eggs range in shades from pure white to fawn beige, and range in size from regular to double-yolk big. Every three or four weeks, the farmer arrives at my door in Saskatoon with 20 dozen eggs. I use what I need and resell the rest to my city friends who appreciate this little taste of country. Sometimes my friends don’t need eggs and so we have a couple dozen left in the fridge when the farmer is due to arrive again. Thus, the egg diet. We need to use up what we have before the new batch arrives.

It’s kind of funny that I should turn out to be an Egg Lady because my mother was an Egg Lady when I was growing up on the farm at Craik. We kept a pen of laying hens and mom sold the extra eggs to her friends for 25 cents a dozen. As children, we had to gather the eggs. Twice a day, we would slip into the chicken coop, shoo the chickens off their roosts and scoop up the warm eggs. I didn’t particularly like doing this and would often trade with my brothers – I’d do their dishes if they did my eggs. We all thought we got the best of that deal.

Many people will be eating hardboiled eggs this week, leftovers from the Easter celebration. However, eggs have been associated with spring festivals since long before Easter was inspired 2,000 years ago. The ancient Persians gave out coloured eggs to celebrate spring. The goddess of fertility was known, over time, as Ishtar, Ostara and finally Eastre in old Europe to denote her association with the sun rising in the east on the morning of the spring equinox. Her symbol was an egg.

One of my favourite ways to eat eggs is Clafoutis (kla-foo-tee), a sweet flan from France often served warm for breakfast or brunch. Unlike some French delicacies, it is wonderfully simple and easy to prepare. It is traditionally made with cherries, but I give it a Saskatchewan flavour by using a mix of prairie berries.

PRAIRIE BERRY CLAFOUTIS
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 berries (sour cherries, raspberries, strawberries, saskatoons)
1 tbsp. flour

Heat the oven to 350 degrees C. In the oven, melt the butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet (or a similar sized baking pan), making sure the butter doesn’t brown. In a blender mix the eggs, sugar, milk, vanilla and salt. With the blades running, gradually add the flour and mix well. Pour the batter into the buttered skillet. Toss the berries with a tablespoon of flour then scatter the fruit over the top of the batter. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the centre of the custard is set (test by inserting a knife). Serve warm, perhaps with a sprinkling of icing sugar or a drizzle of maple syrup.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Week 52 - APPLE ROSEMARY JELLY

This week marks ONE YEAR since we started the all-Saskatchewan diet. Almost all the foods in our house over the past year have been grown or raised in Saskatchewan. As you can see from the weekly menus, there is no shortage of variety or interesting ways to prepare it. While our one-year experiment is over, we will continue to include Saskatchewan ingredients as much as possible in all our meals because local foods are healthier, tastier and better for the planet!

Saskatchewan Menu of the Week – 9 April 2006

Breakfast – Fried potatoes and eggs
Lunch – Yogurt with apples, a piece of cheese
Dinner – Lamb chops, apple rosemary jelly, herb orzotto

APPLE ROSEMARY JELLY
This week, a local farmer delivered a half a lamb to our door. I marinated some lamb chops in oil and rosemary, and grilled them on the BBQ. I served them with herb orzotto (risotto made with pearl barley) for which I used the very first little chives from my garden. (The rest of the herbs were from the farmers’ market.)

I made the apple jelly last fall with apples from out neighbour’s tree, which overhangs our yard, and my own garden rosemary. If you aren’t in the mood to make your own apple jelly, you can buy a jar from the store or local market. Do not use dried rosemary – it must be fresh!

Melt a jar of apple jelly in a saucepan on low heat. When it has liquefied, stir in a sprig of rosemary about a long as your finger. Pour the jelly and the rosemary into a clean jar and seal. Keep refrigerated. If you plan to put the jelly into several smaller jars, include a sprig of rosemary for each jar. (These should be slightly smaller springs, or one large sprig cut into pieces.)

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Week 51 - MEXICAN TORTILLAS

Saskatchewan Menu of the Week - 2 April 2006

Breakfast - Toast and strawberry-rhubarb jam
Lunch – Cold chicken and leftover potato salad.
Dinner – Quesadillas.

MEXICAN TORTILLAS
A friend gave us a jar of her homemade salsa, so I decided to make quesadillas. This is a Mexican dish in which cheese and other ingredients are melted between two tortillas. We used flakes of cold chicken, cheddar cheese and salsa. Here’s how to make your own wheat flout tortillas:

3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1.5 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 cup lard or vegetable shortening, cold
3/4 cups water, very warm

Mix the flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl. Cut in the cold lard using a pastry blender or a knife. Work it quickly with your fingers so that it is well incorporated with the flour. Add the water all at once and mix into a sticky dough, using floured hands to press into a ball. Wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Cut the dough into 8 pieces. Using a rolling pin and a well-floured surface, roll each ball of dough into a thin circle about the size of a small plate. Stack between pieces of wax paper. Heat a griddle or cast iron pan until hot. Cook the tortillas one at a time, flipping them as the top blisters and the bottom browns a bit. Once cooked and cooled, they can be kept in a plastic bag.

To make quesadillas, spread grated cheese, salsa and filling ingredients on one tortilla. Cover with another tortilla. Heat in the oven until the filling is warm and the cheese is melted. Fillings can include: chicken, sliced beef, tuna, various cheeses, grilled vegetables, roasted red peppers, sliced red onions, sautéed mushrooms and much much more. However, it’s best not to overload any one quesadilla or it becomes messy to eat!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Saskatchewan Food Sources

These are the Saskatchewan food producers I rely on most. There are many many more producers around the province that I have not yet tried - but hope to soon! The three best places to shop for Saskatchewan foods in Saskatoon are 1) the farmers’ market 2) the Saskatchewan Made Marketplace on 8th Street and 3) Co-op grocery stores.

Meat
Al Bennett – Meacham. Al was a conventional dairy farmer who decided to go au natural. Today, he raises grain-fed pastured cattle. He sells by the half or quarter, and he also has meat already cut, wrapped and frozen for quick sale. 944-4340. The meat is very lean and tasty.

Natureworks Farm – near Saskatoon. An organic grass-fed meat/egg farm run by Lori Bilanski and her family. They have lamb, pork, chickens, turkeys, beef and eggs. They sell at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market, or call 283-4638. We bought a half a pig and are quite pleased with Lori’s cured hams and bacon.

Sage Hill Buffalo Ranch – Cudworth. Joe Saxinger raises and sells organic bison, fresh or frozen cuts. We buy his buffalo salami at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market. He also sells buffalo soup bones with lots of meat on them. 306- 256-3232.

Emco Meats – Saskatoon. The German butcher processes meat in the European fashion: bratwurst, weisswurst, prosciutto, Hungarian paprika sausage, etc. The owner’s son, Boyan, sells some of the cured products at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market. 306-652-7474. We’ve become addicted to their cured pork – it can be used as a bacon substitute without all the fat.

Karen and John Dale – Meacham. We buy free-range chickens from the Dales. They clean the chickens and deliver them frozen. If you like chicken livers, be sure to ask for them because they are sold separately from the chicken. 306-944-4241.

Co-op – The Co-op grocery stores make sausages in-house. Also look for these brands: Drake, Harvest, Mitchell’s.

Pine View Farms – Osler. Melanie and Kevin Boldt sell natural chicken, beef, pork, lamb and sausages. They have a store on the farm and a weekly farmers’ market in the summer. You can also find their chickens in Co-op grocery stores in Saskatoon. www.pineviewfarms.com. 306-239-4763.

Greens
Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds – Parkside. The Mumm family sells locally-grown sprouting seeds as well as seeds from around the world. They are the largest supplier of organic sprouting seeds in North America, a business they operate out of an old one-sheet curling rink. 747-2943. www.sprouting.com.

Grandora Gardens – Grandora. Pat and Fred Gittings grow greenhouse lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, herbs and bell peppers. By late February, they are usually selling the first greens at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market. Cucumbers available at Co-op grocery stores in Saskatoon.

M & M Garlic – White Fox. Dave and Krista McBain pickle all sorts of vegetables including garlic. 306-276-2518.

Saskatoon Farmers' Market - I buy most of my vegetables here (other than what I grow myself).

Flour and grains
Daybreak Farms – Estevan. Ray and Marianne Aspinall have a mill on their farm to produce superior flours and milled grains like pearl barley and rolled oats. 306-927-2695. www.daybreakschereskymill.com.

Cerridwen Farms – Medstead. Organic lentils, split peas, flax, bran and flours through the mail. 306-342-4516.

Robin Hood Flour – A big mill in Saskatoon.

Pasta
Primo Pasta – I buy this brand because the label indicates it is made of Canadian durum wheat, 80% of which is grown in Saskatchewan.

Dairy
Saputo – Saskatoon. There is one dairy facility in Saskatchewan. It processes cheese, yogurt, sour cream, milk and other products under the Dairyland label. Look for the number 4015 on the package. (Every dairy plant in Canada has an identity code.) However, the cheese made in Saskatoon is packaged elsewhere and therefore has different code numbers. Cheddar and mozzarella made in Saskatoon carry the label Armstrong and Co-op. You can also find a Dairyland saskatoon berry yogurt at the Co-op.

Fruit
Saskatchewan Fruit Growers Assoc. publishes a list/map of U-pick fruit farms in Saskatchewan. www.saskfruit.com.

Yoanna Orchard – Radisson. The largest apple orchard on the prairies, run by Craig and Yvette Hamilton. They also have Saskatchewan cherries and plums. U-Pick only. 306-827-2269.