Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Old Timey Gingersnaps


Today I dipped into my own cookbook Out of Old Saskatchewan Kitchens for this old-timey gingerbread cookie recipe so I could make a batch (or two) to take to my sister's place for Christmas. I originally found the recipe in the Maidstone community cookbook Preserving Our Past for the Future. Thank you Maidstone for preserving this

Monday, November 07, 2016

Seared my Dear

My friend Joanne said she would not eat raw lamb, and that was fine with me. So while everyone else at the table made adventurous forays to try the lamb, she watched bemused. When they liked it, she looked puzzled. And when the bowl was almost empty, she finally picked up a piece of pita bread, spread it with lamb, topped it with mint and

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Kibbe Nayya

My girlfriend Paula is a fabulous cook. Let her loose in the kitchen with a lemon and a sprig of mint and she can make a Lebanese feast. In her family, Kibbe Nayya is made the same day the lamb is slaughtered. There's no cooking in this recipe. "Nayya" means raw. Eat at your own risk!

1 shoulder of lamb (about 1 kg/2 lb of meat)
4 green onions
Handful each fresh mint and basil
2 tsp each salt and pepper
1 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp each mace, cinnamon, and cumin
1 cup cracked wheat (called ‘burghul’ in Lebanon)
Olive oil for drizzling
Lots of thin green onions and extra mint leaves
Pita bread

Put the lamb (minus the bone), onions, mint, and basil through a meat grinder. Mix in the spices. Cover the cracked wheat with hot water and let stand ten minutes, until softened (or follow package instructions). Drain well. Mix the cracked wheat into the meat mixture and knead as you would bread dough, adding a drop of water from time to time, until the mixture is silky smooth.

Taste and add more spices to suite your palate. Paula says salt and pepper are the most important spices; the others should be evident but subdued.

Spread the lamb mixture into a flat serving bowl. Using a finger, run three furrows the length of the lamb. Drizzle a generous amount of olive oil into the furrows. Garnish the edges of the bowl with thin green onions and fresh mint leaves. To eat, scoop the Kibbe Nayya with a chunk of pita bread, top it with a green onion and a mint leaf, and pop it into your mouth.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Apples ♥ Cake

Apple pie is my favrouite, but I also love apple cake. This one reminds me of my Grandma Ehman, who made amazing desserts with the apples on our farm. I can't use those apples without thinking of her. So when my brother gave me a bag of farm apples, I made an old-fashioned apfel kuchen.

Apfel Kuchen
For the cake:
1 cup soft butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 3/4 cup flour
2 lbs apples, peeled and sliced

Cream butter and sugar well. Beat in eggs. Stir in vanilla, salt, baking powder and flour. Remove 2/3 cup and reserve for the topping. Spread remaining batter into a greased 9 x 12 inch pan. Cover with sliced apples.

For the topping:
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup cake batter
2/3 cup flour

Sprinkle apples evenly with the cinnamon and sugar. Mix reserved cake batter with flour until crumbly. Spread over apples. Bake at 350F for 40-45 minutes, until the top is lightly browned and the apples are soft.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Got berries? Make clafoutis!

It's a French brunch-y thing conveniently suited to the berries of a prairie summer. It's tradition in France to leave the pits in the cherries, so you decide...

2 tbsp butter
3 eggs
3 tbsp sugar
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup flour
1 tbsp flour
2 cup mixed berries such as cherries, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, low bush cranberries, saskatoons. You can also add some thinly sliced rhubarb.

Heat the oven to 350F. Put butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet or a pie plate. Place in oven until butter is melted but not brown.

Meanwhile, in a blender mix eggs, sugar, milk, vanilla and salt. With the blades running, add 1 cup flour and blend well.

Toss fruit with remaining 1 tbsp flour.

Remove the skillet or pie plate from the oven. Pour in the batter and scatter the fruit on top. Return to the oven. Bake about 20-25 minutes, until the centre of the custard is set.

Serve warm with a dusting of icing sugar or cool with a drizzle of syrup.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Fruit Kebabs Sweeten the Grill

My dad celebrated a significant birthday recently so of course we had a wiener roast. It's my dad's favourite meal. Few things are more "summer" than an open fire and food cooked on a stick. When we were little (my siblings and me) we followed dad into the "woods" around the dugout to hunt for wiener sticks. We'd each choose a straight young

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Don't cha wanna Eggplant Parmigiana?

My little backyard pot of basil rendered service to dinner tonight. Well, it needed thinning, don't you agree? (Check it out below.) Eggplant Parmigiana was on the menu. Luckily for me, I was able to buy locally-grown eggplant and tomatoes at the Saskatoon Farmers' Market to pair with my locally-grown basil. And that lovely chunk of bread was

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Memories of Mom - Cream Puffs

I lost my mom this spring. She had Alzheimer's Disease so, in a way, we had lost a great part of her already. It was incredibly sad. I was assigned the task of writing her obituary for the local newspapers. As I scanned the fondest memories of my mom, it seemed so many of them involved food. Gardening in spring. Berry (and weed) picking in

Monday, March 14, 2016

Give a dog a bone AFTER soup

Sometimes I eat out of the garbage. Case in point: One year as we cleaned up Easter dinner, I asked my sister-in-law what she did with the ham bone. It was a good ham, we enjoyed it immensely. As I was eating it, I thought of the good soup I could make with the bone. Then she pointed to the garbage bin. Sure enough, there was the ham bone

Monday, March 07, 2016

And the winner is... Baked Beans

It seems every old cowboy movie had a camp cook serving up a mess of baked beans. I can see John Wayne eating them now. . . from a tin plate with an old battered spoon and a chunk of sourdough bread. So, it's fitting that when I asked rancher Art Unsworth for a recipe from the annual Murraydale Stampede and Picnic, he sent a recipe for baked

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Swedish meatballs are right at home in Canada

On a recent trip to Sweden, of course I had to try meatballs. Here on the prairies, Swedish meatballs seem to represent the culinary tradition of an entire nation that sent so many sons and daughters to western Canada in pioneer times. And it's good to know that Swedish meatballs are still popular in their homeland.

At a restaurant in old Stockholm called Pelikan (est. 1733) the menu is unabashedly traditional. Along with pork knuckle, Baltic fish and mashed swedes, the menu offers the timeless Swedish meatball "as big as golf balls" served with cream gravy, lingonberries and a sliced pickle, a bowl of mashed potatoes on the side.

According to the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, about 40,000 Swedish immigrants came to the prairies between 1893 and 1914, most of them settling first in the United States (primarily Minnesota, Montana, Wisconsin and the Dakotas) before moving north to homestead in Canada.

Among them were Anna and Olaf Nilson who came from Sweden in 1905. After landing at the port of Montreal, they took the train to Melfort, Sask., crossing the country with their two daughters in a cattle car. Their first home had been abandoned by its previous owner. The roof leaked. The floor was earthen. Their first cow died in calving.

The nearest store was more than eight kilometres' walk, where they could exchange extra butter and eggs for a few staples such as flour and baking soda. Most of their food they grew, gathered and raised themselves. The Nilson (later changed to Nelson) family history notes, "Mother stated many times that, if money had been available, they would have returned to Sweden."

Well, it wasn't and they didn't. Despite the hardships – and obvious lack of Baltic fish – they did their best to make the traditional dishes that reminded them of home.

Recipes such thin crisp bread, St. Lucia buns (served at the festival of St. Lucia on December 13), pepparkakar (ginger cookies) and meatballs with cream gravy or lingonberry sauce. This recipe for Swedish meatballs was given to me by Joan Thompson (née Nelson) of Saskatoon, granddaughter of Anna and Olaf.

She got the recipe from her mother Myrtle (née Standberg) whose Swedish ancestors followed a different route to Canada. They first settled in Minnesota and, in 1903, their son Axel moved north to homestead in Canada, where he married his Swedish sweetheart Jenny. Life was hard for them, too. Myrtle, one of 10 children, got her first job at 14 cooking and cleaning for a couple of bachelor farmers. But they prospered.

By 2011, more than 152,000 people living in the prairie provinces claimed Swedish heritage, and no doubt, many of them are still fond of Swedish meatballs.
A word about lingonberry sauce: lingonberry is the Swedish word for low-bush cranberry, which grows abundantly in our parklands and Boreal forest. You can substitute currant jelly.

Swedish Meatballs
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
1 small potato, peeled and grated
1 small onion, grated
1/2 tst salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 tbsp cream
1 egg
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
2 tbsp butter or oil

Mix everything but the final ingredient. Work the mixture with your hands or an electric mixer until the meat is smooth and fluffy.

With damp hands, form into balls. Heat butter or oil in a skillet. Fry the meatballs, turning to brown all sides. Open one meatballs to ensure they are cooked through to the centre. Tip: Shaking the skillet as the meatballs cook helps to keep them round.

If you need to cook the meatballs in two batches, add additional butter/oil if needed. Serve warm tossed with cream gravy or lingonberry sauce or both!

Cream Gravy
2 tbsp drippings from meatballs or butter
2 tbsp flour
2 cups warm chicken or beef stock
2 tbsp sour cream

Heat drippings or butter in a saucepan. Whisk in flour to a smooth paste. Add warm stock, whisking thoroughly to prevent lumps. Simmer and thicken. Remove from heat. Whisk in sour cream.

Lingonberry Sauce
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup frozen low-bush cranberries
1 tbsp fresh-squeezed orange juice

Heat sugar and water in a saucepan to a bubbling simmer, stirring occasionally. When the sugar is dissolved, add the berries and orange juice. Simmer.

As the berries heat, they will pop and release their juices. You can help by pressing them with a fork. Boil lightly until it is jammy, but not too jammy, as it will thicken further as it cools.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A Berry Healthy Winter's Day

Long before there were Florida oranges and an apple-a-day, berries were keeping us happy and healthy through the long winter months. Fact is, berries are better for you than just about any other fruit.

Berries were vital to the well-being of the indigenous population, who made a kind of fruit leather by pounding berries and drying them in the sun. This was eaten raw or reconstituted in hot water or soup. They made pemmican by mixing berries with bison meat and suet, a power food that kept for months without refrigeration. They sold it by the sack-full to European explorers and fur traders, making it the first processed food industry on the Canadian plains.

The early settlers were wild for berries at a time when any other fresh fruit was hard to find. Back then, wild berries grew much more abundantly than they do today. Early memoirs relate tales of picking parties heading out for wild strawberries, raspberries, chokecherries, gooseberries, saskatoons and blueberries by the bucketful.

John Diefenbaker, Canada's thirteenth Prime Minister, remembers his parents picking like crazy in berry season, listing a typical haul at 30 quarts of strawberries, 50 quarts of saskatoons and 100 quarts of raspberries. A quart is the size of a large pickle jar.

By the time I came along, it was hard to find a wild raspberry or strawberry but, fortunately, domesticated varieties had been planted on the farm. We had a large berry patch and, from an early age, I loved to pick. I loved being outside on a hot summer day with the buzz of insects and the scent of dry grass. I loved the rhythm of picking, like a meditative exercise that occupies the body but frees the mind.

Best of all, I love eating those berries in the depths of winter. Toast with raspberry jelly. Cranberry scones with strawberry preserve. Blueberry smoothies. Chokecherry syrup on pancakes. And, of course, saskatoon berry pie.

Now there's a new berry on my pick list: the tart prairie cherry developed by fruit breeders at the University of Saskatchewan. It's perfect for cherry pie or a fruit compote on roast pork.

One year, my husband and I did an experiment in local eating, choosing not to buy imported fruit from the grocery store and relying on prairie fruit alone. We ate berries in one form or another almost every day. In the spring, he made a surprising observation: neither of us had suffered a cold all winter long. All things being equal, was our local berry diet responsible for our good health?

I like to think so. Berries are high in vitamin C, rich in antioxidants and full of flavonoids (the dark red, purple and blue colours) to boost the immune system and fight disease. Berries are as good as fruit gets.

This recipe is a great way to show them off. Clafoutis (cla-foo-tee) is a French dessert traditionally made with cherries (often unpitted, as the pits are said to add extra flavour) but I like to make a prairie version with a mix of berries I picked myself. It's perfect for brunch any time of year.
Prairie Berry Clafoutis
Use fresh or frozen berries (or a mix of both). In season, you can also add some sliced young rhubarb to the berry blend.

2 tbsp butter
3 eggs
3 tbsp sugar
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup flour
1 tbsp flour
2 cup mixed berries such as cherries, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, low bush cranberries, saskatoons

Heat the oven to 350F. Put butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet or a pie plate. Place in oven until butter is melted but not brown.

Meanwhile, in a blender mix eggs, sugar, milk, vanilla and salt. With the blades running, add 1 cup flour and blend well.

Toss fruit with remaining 1 tbsp flour.

Remove the skillet or pie plate from the oven. Pour in the batter and scatter the fruit on top. Return to the oven. Bake about 20-25 minutes, until the centre of the custard is set.

Serve warm with a dusting of icing sugar or cool with a drizzle of syrup.

(This article first appeared in Grainews.)

Monday, February 01, 2016

As Canadian as Oats for Breakfast

I started my day with a bowl of oatmeal porridge. Nothing could be more Canadian.

We grow more oats in Canada than anywhere else but Russia. Canada is the second largest producer – and the largest exporter – of oats in the world.

Mountains of our oats are turned into brand name breakfast cereals, oatmeal cookies and granola bars, as well as many raw oat products from rolled oats to steel-cut groats to instant porridge.

Saskatchewan grows about half the oats in Canada followed by Manitoba and Alberta at 18-20 percent each, with the remaining fraction grown by farmers in other provinces. The "oat belt" runs from the Red River Valley in southern Manitoba, up across Saskatchewan like a Miss Universe sash, and north to Alberta's Peace River Country.

According to historians, oats have been grown in Western Canada since the days of the fur trade; they were a major food group of European fur traders and their livestock. Oats were an important crop for the pioneers when, in the days before tractors, oats were the fuel for the horses and oxen who broke the land.

Many are the stories of struggling homesteaders reduced to eating porridge three times a day. Even the Scots could get sick of that!

Speaking of the Scots, oatmeal was the culinary touchstone of immigrants from Scotland, as we read in this except from They Cast a Long Shadow: The story of Moffat, Saskatchewan by Kay Parley:

"Oatmeal was the most popular food and there was porridge on every Scotch table for breakfast, always stirred, as it cooked, with a wooden spurtle. . . Oatmeal was used in scones, cookies, dumplings and puddings. It appeared in fish dishes and meat dishes. It was used to stuff the turkey. New potatoes were coated with it."

Leftover oatmeal was pressed into a wooden box and cooled, after which it could be sliced like bread. This would be fried up for supper or packed for a long journey by horse and buggy as a filling snack along the way, especially in wintertime.

Before we get cooking, here's a lesson in oat vocabulary:

* Oat groats or whole oats are the oat seed with the outer hull removed. They take the longest to cook and are often pre-soaked.
* Steel-cut oats (also called Irish oats or Scotch oats) are oat groats cut into smaller pieces by steel blades.
* Rolled or old-fashioned oats are whole groats flattened in a roller. They cook more quickly than groats.
* Quick oats are chopped groats flattened in a roller. Because they are small and flakey, they cook quite quickly.
* Instant oats are precooked so they can be prepared simply by adding hot water, and are often flavoured and sweetened.

Take note that oats have a high fat content and, once the hull has been removed, can go bad quite quickly. For this reason, most “raw” oat products are steamed and dried so they can be stored at room temperature. Some specialty mills sell un-steamed rolled oats, which have more flavour and nutrients, but should be stored in the freezer.

Here's a recipe for oatmeal made with groats. It's more time consuming than using rolled oats, but it's also more filling and flavourful. You might also like this recipe for chocolate oat clusters.
Apple Honey Oatmeal
1/2 cup steel-cut groats
2 cups water
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup dried apples, chopped
1 tbsp honey

The night before, mix steel-cut groats with water and bring to a boil. Simmer 5 min. Remove from heat, cover and leave overnight.

In the morning, add another 1/2 cup water and bring to a simmer. Add the salt, cinnamon and dried apple. Cook, stirring, until desired porridge consistency is achieved. Stir in the honey and eat!

(This article first appeared in Grainews.)

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Take Your Pulse and Make Greek Fava


Take your pulse. Not that pulse. I'm talking lentils, chickpeas, beans, peas. The United Nations has declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses.

That's something we can celebrate here on the Canadian prairies, where we grow more pulses than most places on earth.

But we don't eat them, not nearly enough. Almost all our pulse crops are shipped to other countries where lentils, chickpeas and split peas are everyday fare. Tonight in India, families will sit down to a meal of masoor dal. In Spain, they’ll enjoy spicy lentejas con chorizo. And in Chile, they’ll fill up with a bowl of lentils de la Abuela, like grandma used to make. All with lentils from Canada.

Not only do we grow a lot of lentils (a record harvest of 2.2 million tonnes in 2015) we grow more varieties of lentils than anywhere else. In India, they prefer small red lentils. In Chile, it's large green lentils. And in Spain, it's pardina lentils also known as Spanish brown. We grow them all here, and more, such as little black beluga lentils, so named for their resemblance to the black caviar of the beluga sturgeon. Chefs love them.
The United Nations has proffered several reasons for declaring 2016 the International Year of Pulses. In developing countries, pulses account for 75 percent of the daily diet. Yet, worldwide, pulse consumption is declining. The UN would like to reverse this trend.

Pulses are a good source of protein yet less stressful on the environment than raising livestock. Pulses provide 20-25 percent protein by weight, double that of wheat at 10 percent and about half that of meat at 30-40 percent.

However, growing pulses uses much less water than raising livestock. According to the UN, a kilogram of lentils requires 50 litres of water while a kilogram of chicken takes more than 4,000 litres and a kilogram of beef consumes a whopping 13,000 liters of water.

Pulses help reduce food waste, which the UN estimates at one-third of all food produced worldwide. Since pulses are a simple food and stored dry, there is little lost in processing and much less spoilage compared to vegetables, fruits and meat.

The UN also notes that pulse crops replace nitrogen in the soil, reducing the use of petro-chemical fertilizers. This is a prime reason why pulse crops are so popular in Western Canada – they make economic and environmental sense when included in rotation with other crops such as wheat, flax and canola.

Pulses fit with another UN initiative: eliminating world hunger by 2030 while, at the same time, tackling climate change and improving sustainable farming. If we all start eating more pulses in 2016, that goal will be easier to reach.

Of course, I don't need to recommend more hummus and lentil soup. We've got that covered. But, I will propose this recipe for yellow pea fava, a Greek mezze (appetizer) made with yellow split peas. If you like hummus, you'll like this. 
Yellow Pea Fava
2 cups yellow split peas
2 cups finely chopped red onion
1 fat clove garlic, finely chopped
4+ cups water
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
3 tbsp lemon juice
1 cup olive oil
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley

Put split peas, 1 1/2 cups red onion, garlic and 4 cups of water into a medium pot. The water should cover the peas. Bring to a gentle boil. Skim the foam that rises to the surface.

Reduce heat, cover pot and gently simmer for 1.5-2 hours, until the split peas are completely broken down. Check periodically, adding more water if needed to just cover the peas.

Once the peas are fall-apart soft, cook uncovered until the liquid has evaporated and the peas are thick and bubbly. Stir frequently to prevent sticking to the pot.

Remove from heat. Add salt, pepper, lemon juice and 3/4 cup olive oil. Stir vigorously until well mixed. Cover pot with a tea towel and leave to cool.

To serve, scoop pea purée into a serving dish. Top with remaining 1/2 cup red onion. Sprinkle with parsley. Drizzle with remaining 1/4 cup olive oil. Serve with bread, pita or crackers.

The UN website includes many more pulse recipes from around the world.

(This article first appeared in Grainews.)