Toes, Taps & Taters: A Barn Dance and Kitchen Party in O’Leary, PEI

Ever been to a huge PEI barn dance/kitchen party?  That was the theme for the Toes, Taps & Taters Fall Flavours culinary event in O’Leary, PEI, on September 27, 2013.

This was the first year for this signature Fall Flavours event.  The location was a logical and fitting one at the Canadian Potato Museum in O’Leary, in the center of one of the largest potato-growing regions on PEI.  Attached to this museum is a large new machine shed which made an ideal venue for a spud party.  And, what a perfect location it turned out to be for an event that was all about showcasing the versatility of Island spuds.  It was a toe-tapping good time with lots of music, dancing and, of course, great food featuring – you guessed it — PEI potatoes.

While the Museum proved to be an ideal location, it also meant a huge amount of work for organizers as they had to move all the big, heavy historical potato equipment to make room for tables, stage, bar, and transform it into a party atmosphere.

Out of all of the Fall Flavours events, this one sold out of its 250 tickets very early.  I asked Kendra Mills, Marketing Director of the PEI Potato Board that was behind the event why she thought this first-time event had been so popular to sell out a month before it was being held.  She believes several factors were at play.  The price point ($49.99/pp – CDN$) made it affordable, the location inside a potato museum also incited interest and, of course, the celebrity guest chef, Lynn Crawford, was also a huge draw.

Because this was a signature class Fall Flavours event, that meant a celebrity chef was host for the evening.  Distinguished international chef, cookbook author, and Food Network (FN) star, Chef Lynn Crawford proved to be an excellent choice as the event’s celebrity host.  You may know Lynn from the FN series, “Pitchin’ In” or you may have seen her on the popular series “Iron Chef America.  Indigo bookstore was also on hand during the evening selling Chef Lynn’s books and she was very obliging to autograph copies.

The evening started out with time for photo opps with Chef Lynn who greeted guests  just outside the door to the Museum.  This was followed by a meet and greet cocktail party with delicious hors d’oeuvres, wine from PEI’s Newman Estate Winery, and local entertainment.

Each guest was presented with one of these aprons as a souvenir of the event (and, no, the potato harvester wasn’t posing for the photograph – the farmer just happened along to dig the field of potatoes beside us as I was preparing to photograph the apron the morning after the event).

Here was the mouth-watering menu attendees enjoyed throughout the evening:

Historical Favourites:
Lobster salad potato roll
Potato fishcakes with chow chow and scrunchions
Crisp potato gaufrette with mussel and tomato salad
PEI Potato pasty
Chef Lynn’s Crispy PEI potato flatbread, Avonlea cheddar and herb pesto

Out with the old and in with the new:
Braised PEI certified short rib and Cows cheddar perogies
PEI Potato blinis with smoked salmon and green onion crème fraiche
PEI Potato chowder complimented by the finest local seafood
21st century
French Rapure

Roast:
Pig roast on a spit with fall apple chutney, aligot and mixed seasonal vegetables

Late night:
French fries with tomato/fennel ketchup, truffle aioli, cheese curds and gravy.

Chocolate PEI potato bar that included: chocolate covered PEI potato chips, chocolate cake and mousse, PEI potato after eight mints, and PEI potato truffles

Is your mouth watering yet?

 

Chef John Pritchard from the Terre Rouge Bistro in Charlottetown, was in charge of the meal preparation and was assisted by staff from his Bistro as well as restaurant and wait staff from the nearby Rodd’s Mill River Resort.

The tables were effectively set with burlap runners on white linen, mason jar glasses, and centerpieces of miniature colored potatoes and seasonal sunflowers in mason jars wrapped with, yes, more burlap.

The MC for the event was Rob Barry from Morell, PEI, who kept the evening alive with his humour and potato trivia.  Music was supplied by the Ellis Family Band from Summerside, PEI, and Dance Virtuoso was on hand to teach folks how to do the two-step.

What would a party featuring potatoes be without a potato peeling contest!  This proved to be a fun event as two teams of four competed in a relay race – Chef Lynn’s team and Chef Rob’s team (or as he referred to them as “Team Awesome”) —  to see who would be the fastest potato peelers on the Island.  MC Rob declared his “Team Awesome” the winner (even after Chef Lynn kept trying to distract his team)!

When asked what having this event as part of the Fall Flavours Festival means to the PEI potato industry, Kendra Mills had this to say:  “If agriculture is the fabric of the Island, then potatoes are the threads.”  She also said the PEI Potato Board was looking forward to having the opportunity to have guests learn more about the potato industry and the farmers who grow the spuds that eventually make it to consumers’ tables.

During the evening, everyone repeated a Potato Farmer’s Oath and was sworn in as honorary potato farmers.

Of course, this swearing-in ceremony included libation in the form of potato vodka distilled in Hermanville, PEI, by Prince Edward Distillery (see my previous story on the Distillery here).  A rousing chorus of “Bud the Spud” was sung with great gusto to complete the ceremony.  Each attendee was presented with a certificate certifying them as an Honourary PEI Potato Farmer.

As a finale to the evening, out came the French fries along with the PEI potato chocolate bar.

This event was well done and offered attendees a glimpse into what a downhome PEI barn or kitchen party entails….and there were many people from off Island in attendance; in fact, I think they might just have outnumbered the Islanders present.  It also provided the opportunity to try potato in ways people might never have had them before.  This included Chef Lynn’s Crispy PEI potato flatbread with Avonlea clothbound cheddar and herb pesto.

And then, of course, came the pièce de résistance of the evening — huge bowls of “Cow Chips”, milk chocolate-covered potato chips produced right here on the Island by Anne of Green Gables Chocolates.

As the evening wound to a close, each attendee was presented with a 5 lb. bag of “Bud the Spud” potatoes as well as a sample of potato fudge.

This was my fourth and last Fall Flavours event for 2013 and it certainly was a big party as the month’s culinary events on the Island draw to a close this weekend.  If you are an Islander, I highly encourage you to consider taking in Fall Flavours events in 2014.  If you live off-Island and are wondering what the best time of the year would be to visit PEI, I recommend you consider September if you are a foodie because the month is jam-packed with many food and culinary events and visiting celebrity chefs.  Some events are repeated year-to-year because of their popularity and organizers will often add some new variety events as well.  Be sure to check out the Fall Flavours website throughout the year for news on upcoming Fall Flavours events.

Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.

Be sure to visit my new Facebook page at My Island Bistro Kitchen You may also wish to follow me on twitter @PEIBistro and on Pinterest at “Island Bistro Kitchen”.

Can You Say Cheese? You Could if You Were at The Great Island Grilled Cheese Challenge in PEI

On a beautiful, warm and sunny Sunday afternoon in September, I went to the 2nd Annual Great Island Grilled Cheese Challenge event on the grounds of the COWS CREAMERY in North River, PEI.  This was a signature event of the annual Fall Flavours Festival that has been happening across PEI this entire month.

A large white tent was erected and this gigantic Holstein kept guard outside the sold-out event (350 tickets available) which was held to celebrate great Canadian cheeses.

Chefs from some of the Island’s restaurants competed to see who would take home the top prize of $2000 and bragging rights for having created the best grilled cheese sandwich on PEI.  The three judges for the event were:  Phil Belanger from Dairy Farmers of Canada, Celebrity Chef Massimo Capra, and Myles MacKinnon from Hot105.5.

Once the judging was completed, ticket holders entered the tent and the sampling began.

Each of the competitors had to prepare 400-500 samples of his/her grilled cheese sandwich for ticket holders to sample.  Trust me, these were not your average ‘cheese slice between two slices of bread’ kind of grilled cheese sandwiches!  These were gourmet fare.  Some included lobster, others had smoked oysters while others had pears in the sandwich.

Preparing Chef Massimo's Grilled Cheese and Oyster Sandwich
Preparing Chef Massimo’s Grilled Cheese and Oyster Sandwich

Many kinds of different breads were used including potato bread, rosemary focaccia, and raisin bread.

And the cheeses!  Well, of course, that’s what makes a great grilled cheese sandwich!

The Maritime Provinces have some mighty fine cheese makers and several were on hand with samples as well – COWS CREAMERY, ADL, Cheeselady’s Gouda, and Jolly Farmers.

There were many different methods used to grill the sandwiches as each chef brought his or her own unique style to the challenge.

Different Ways to Grill a Cheese Sandwich
Different Ways to Grill a Cheese Sandwich

Our three PEI wineries — Rossignol, Matos, and Newman  —   had booths set up with samples of their fine wines and the PEI Brewing Co. provided beer samples.

This being a signature event of Fall Flavours, a celebrity chef was part of the event.  Chef Massimo Capra joined the Sunday afternoon festivities.  Chef Massimo is currently one of the chef-hosts on Food Network Canada’s “Restaurant Takeover”.  The “3 chefs – The Kitchen Men” cookbook he authored with Michael Bonacini and Jason Parsons was also for sale at the Indigo booth inside the event tent and Chef Massimo autographed numerous copies of the popular book throughout the afternoon.

Chef Massimo Autographing Cookbook
Chef Massimo Autographing Cookbook

Chef Massimo then demonstrated how he makes his grilled cheese sandwich using smoked oysters, shredded COWS CREAMERY extra old cheddar, green tomato relish, potato chips, all between sour-dough bread slices and topped with grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Throughout the afternoon, the Dairy Farmers of Canada presented 30-minute “All You Need is Cheese” seminars showcasing award-winning cheeses from the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix.  Ticket holders could also take a free tour of the COWS CREAMERY where their delectable ice cream and cheeses are made.  Ticket holders received 50% off COWS ice cream and 50% off admission to “That Fun Place” for the afternoon.  The kids enjoyed this because it included a bouncy house and crafts, lots to keep them entertained after they sampled yummy grilled cheese sandwiches.

Lively, toe-tapping musical entertainment for the afternoon was provided by the Avonlea Showband (Mike Pendergast on accordion and vocals; Leon Gallant on guitar, fiddle, and vocals; Remi Arsenault, stand-up bass, acoustic guitar, and background vocals; and Brendon Peters on percussion and spoons).

This was a wonderful afternoon event.  It was great fun watching the chefs prepare the grilled cheese sandwiches onsite.  Jennifer Caseley, event manager, says “The event is owned by the PEI Association of Chefs and Cooks and was created to promote regional/Canadian cheese makers, Island Dairy Products, to educate about the dairy industry, highlight the Canadian cheese processors through the Grilled Cheese Challenge, increase public awareness of regional cheeses, and support cheese makers in their search for excellence and in the development of new products.”

Tickets for the event were $18. + tax (CDN$) for adults and $5. for children.

So, whose grilled cheese sandwich took top prize this year?  That went to Chef Dwayne MacLeod from the Gahan House.

Winning Entry from Chef Dwayne MacLeod, Gahan House
Winning Entry from Chef Dwayne MacLeod, Gahan House

Chef Andrew Smith from Red Shores placed second (yes, this was the entry that had Island lobster in the sandwich).

Second Place Entry from Andrew Smith from Red Shores
Second Place Entry from Chef Andrew Smith from Red Shores

And, Chef Jane Crawford from the Redwater Rustic Grill was the third place winner as well as the People’s Choice winner.

Third Place Entry from Chef Jane Crawford of Redwater Rustic Grille
Third Place Entry from Chef Jane Crawford of Redwater Rustic Grille

Now, here is a close-up look at this year’s entries:

 Is your mouth watering yet?

Each entry was unique in its own way as chefs brought their creativity to the sandwich filling and bread used.

Look how the red and green dress this club sandwich!

Pickled cucumbers garnish this rustic grilled cheese sandwich.

I love the PEI red rock used for presentation of this entry!

So many different breads used to create these yummy sandwiches.

An artist’s palate is what this visually-attractive entry reminds me of!

Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.

Be sure to visit my new Facebook page at My Island Bistro Kitchen You may also wish to follow me on twitter @PEIBistro and on Pinterest at “Island Bistro Kitchen”.

September 2013 Cookie of the Month: Peanut Butter Cookies

Peanut Butter Cookies
Peanut Butter Cookies

My September Cookie of the Month is an old favourite – peanut butter cookies.  These cookies take very few ingredients and nothing out of the ordinary that would not be in most cupboards.  They have been found in many lunchboxes for decades.  Either smooth or crunchy peanut butter may be used – whichever is your preference – in the cookies.  In order to keep the cookies a bit soft, watch the baking time, checking them at the 10-minute point.

Peanut Butter Cookies

Ingredients:

¼ cup shortening

¼ cup butter

½ cup brown sugar

½ cup white sugar

½ cup peanut butter

1 egg, well-beaten

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup flour

1 tsp soda

1/8 tsp salt

Method:

Assemble ingredients.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Cream shortening, and butter together.  Beat in brown and white sugars until fluffy.

Mix in peanut butter.

Add egg and vanilla.

Sift flour, soda, and salt together.  Add to wet ingredients and mix just until dry ingredients are incorporated.

If dough is very soft, refrigerate for 30-40 minutes.  Shape dough into small balls about 1” in diameter.  Place on parchment-lined baking sheet about 2 ½” – 3” apart as these cookies spread.

With fork dipped in sugar, press down cookies in a traditional criss-cross pattern with the tines of the fork.

Bake on center rack in oven for 10-12 minutes.  Cool on baking sheet for 2-3 minutes then transfer to cooling rack.

Yield:  3½ – 4 dozen

Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.

Be sure to visit my new Facebook page at My Island Bistro Kitchen.  You may also wish to follow me on twitter @PEIBistro and on Pinterest at “Island Bistro Kitchen”.

Through the Drills at Jen and Derek Campbell’s Organic Farm in Wilmot Valley, PEI

CSA Box of Vegetables from Jen and Derek's Organic Farm
CSA Box of Vegetables from Jen and Derek’s Organic Farm

In August, I visited the farm of Jen and Derek Campbell in Wilmot Valley, just outside Summerside, Prince Edward Island.  I delayed posting this story until now because I wanted to publish it during National Organic Week in Canada which runs from September 21-28, 2013.

The Campbells are organic farmers and grow the most amazing variety of vegetables I have ever seen….some I have never heard tell of, like this alien-looking vegetable called kohlirabi, for example.

Kohlrabi
Kohlrabi

If you want to meet someone totally passionate about her work, then Jen is the gal to talk with.  Jen manages the day-to-day operations of the farm while husband, Derek, works in nearby Summerside, returning home to work on the farm evenings and weekends.  With twin four-year old boys, this is a busy household.

Jen grew up on a potato farm so is no stranger to farming.  She attended a natural resource school, Sir Sandford Fleming College, in Ontario graduating with a diploma as an Eco-system Management Technician.  After graduation, Jen lived and apprenticed on an organic farm for nine months.  A woman ran the farm so Jen was inspired that she, too, could be a farmer.  But, she didn’t start farming right away after graduation.  Jen returned home to PEI and began working at the Agricultural Research Station in Charlottetown, then at ADL Dairy for four years.  But the yearn for the land was great and the couple settled in Brookvale, PEI, where they began their organic farming.  They stayed in Brookvale for five years where they were certified organic farmers then, in 2011, moved to Wilmot Valley to be closer to family.  This marks the second year they have been farming in this location and they have one more year before they qualify as certified organic farmers in their Wilmot Valley location.  This is because certification requires the land to be three years free from the last prohibited substance in order to be considered fully organic.  They are, however, certified to grow organic transplants while the rest of the farm is in transition for one more year.  Being in transition means that, while they manage their farm organically and keep all the proper records, they have to wait until early summer 2014 to say their produce is “certified organic”.

New Transplants Mid-Summer at Campbell's Organic Farm
New Transplants Mid-Summer at Campbell’s Organic Farm

Today, the Campbells have approximately 3 – 3½ acres of land in cultivation and have between 2½ – 3 acres which are actually farmed with over 40 different vegetables.  They are under the control of Atlantic Certified Organic (ACO), Atlantic Canada’s accredited certification body, and must maintain comprehensive records of their farming operation, buffer zones between their farm and others which are not organic, and ingredient content of compost and fertilizer used. In addition, they must test their water regularly and submit to monitoring by ACO as well as a third party inspection to ensure they are following the organic standards.

Vine-ripened Organic Tomatoes
Vine-ripened Organic Tomatoes

The Campbells grow the usual types of vegetables like tomatoes, beans, lettuce, onions, broccoli, and so forth but they also grow some vegetables that people might not associate with being grown on PEI.  For example, they grow tasty kohlrabi, collard greens, round lemon cucumbers that look like yellow transparent apples, Pattypan squash, and a multitude of herbs.

Pattypan Squash
Pattypan Squash

This is the first time I have seen these apple-shaped cucumbers.  In appearance, they resemble a yellow transparent apple but, in flavour, there is no mistaking they are cukes!

Round Cucumbers
Round Cucumbers

I wish my basil plants looked as healthy as these!

Organic Basil
Organic Basil

The day before I arrived for my early August visit, the Campbells had just harvested their garlic crop.

Freshly-harvested Garlic Drying
Freshly-harvested Garlic Drying

Jen says her produce is available at the Village Store in Lower Bedeque.  But, her biggest market comes from the Community Shared Agriculture Boxes (CSA Boxes). This process involves individuals (known as CSA members and sometimes referred to as shareholders) buying shares in her farm – i.e., at the beginning of the season, they sign a contract with the Campbells.  In return, the Campbells contract with their CSA members to do the best job they can to provide them with high-quality vegetables.  The CSA members either buy their shares upfront for the anticipated harvest or they contract to pay in installments over the season.  As a benefit and return on their investment, once harvest season begins, CSA members get a regular share of the vegetables from the farm as they are available. The risk, of course, that the CSA members accept is that weather and/or pests can play havoc with crops so, sometimes, yields might be lower or some crops might not be available at all that season if a crop failure happens.

Large-sized CSA box
Large-sized Weekly CSA box

Jen has two sizes of boxes available for her shareholders – those who buy large shares get a box of 12 different vegetables worth between $28-$30.  The smaller boxes have fewer vegetables and their shares are valued at $18.  The most popular size is the large share box because it is the better deal for people who eat lots of vegetables and CSA members with large share boxes also have unlimited swaps and grabs from the grab boxes.

Extra Veggies in the Grab/Swap Boxes
Extra Veggies in the Grab/Swap Boxes

While the boxes will come with vegetables pre-selected by Jen and will obviously vary according to what is in season, CSA members can swap out some vegetables, that they either don’t like or need, for something else from, what Jen refers to as, the grab boxes of other vegetables and herbs available.

Green Beans in the Grab/Swap Boxes
Green Beans in the Grab/Swap Boxes

Currently, there are 88 families and restaurants on the Island who have bought in to Jen’s CSA boxes which are available from June until October.  Of those, 84 are weekly recipients while 4 have opted to receive boxes every two weeks.  When she first began CSA boxes in 2008, Jen had 15 CSA members.  Today, with her 88 CSA members, she has a waiting list of others wanting to join.  Jen tells me she has very loyal CSA members with a 98% return of the same folks year-over-year.

Knowing that weeds, pests, and plant diseases are common to farmers, I asked Jen how, as an organic farmer, she combats them.  They obviously don’t use herbicides and Jen tells me control is through cultivation and weeding.  Last year, the couple purchased a vintage 1951 Alice Chalmers tractor which they converted to be electric.  They use this cultivating tractor to weed many of their vegetables such as carrots, beans, spinach, lettuce, etc., and they also use an ECO weeder for cultivating their broccoli and cabbage crops.  However, much weed control is still done the traditional, old-fashioned, painstaking way of hand weeding and by some flame weeding.

I asked Jen what the greatest source of her satisfaction is as an organic farmer and what keeps her farming organically.  She tells me she loves to work outside on the land but her greatest satisfaction comes from the feedback she receives from her CSA members who are very supportive and appreciative of her products.  She enjoys educating her CSA members on different vegetables, and how to prepare them, and encouraging people to step outside their comfort zones and try new veggies.   I can attest to this as I stopped by one of her Charlottetown drop-off locations and it was like a cross between Christmas and Old Home Week when her CSA members would come to pick up their CSA boxes of produce.

Jen's Truck Arriving at Distribution Location with Weekly CSA Boxes
Jen’s Truck Arriving at Distribution Location with Weekly CSA Boxes

Greeted enthusiastically by Jen, there was lots of “oohing and ahhing” as the CSA boxes were opened by Jen for each person. 

This is definitely personalized service and attention to CSA shareholders!

Jen tells me she sees her CSA members more as friends than customers or shareholders.  She sees most of them every week and, from the chit-chat, they were like long-time friends who were having great discussions over how they were going to prepare and serve this week’s offerings from their CSA boxes!

This summer, the Campbells have been busy building their new washing and packing barn which Jen, jokingly refers to as her “Veggie Palace”.   In addition to improvements in her washing and packing processes, when complete, the new facility will have a large walk-in cooler in which to store the veggies.

Jen employs two part-time seasonal employees, one from May till mid-November and the other from the end of June to the first of September.  Harvesting is done four days a week, Monday to Thursday, and Jen has two output distribution days –  i.e., she has two drop-off areas in Charlottetown each Tuesday and one in Summerside on Thursdays.  CSA members show up at one of these drop-off/pick-up locations with their recyclable grocery bags, baskets, or coolers to claim their share of fresh, organic vegetables from the Campbell farm.  PEI produce at its best!

Line-up to Pick up Weekly CSA Boxes
Line-up to Pick up Weekly CSA Boxes

Jen regularly blogs about what produce is available by the week on the farm and you can read her blog here:   http://farmfreshveggies.blogspot.ca/

There is nothing better than farm-fresh produce just picked from the field.  I arrived home from my visit to the Campbell farm with a supply of two kinds of beets, tri-colored carrots, kohlrabi, Pattypan squash, and collard greens.

One of my favorite ways to serve vegetables is to roast them.  I used kohlrabi, pattypan squash, beets, carrots, and red onion in a roasted veggie medley for which the recipe follows.

Preheat oven to 425C.

Peel and chop the vegetables into chunks of similar size.

Place veggies in large bowl and drizzle with a good quality olive oil, just enough to coat the vegetables. Add salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste.

Transfer the vegetables, single-layer, to a parchment or tin-foil lined rimmed baking sheet.

Roast for about 40 minutes or so, just until the veggies are fork-tender.  Serve hot.

Roasted Vegetables
Roasted Vegetables

My thanks to Jen Campbell for taking time out of her busy farming season to show me around her organic farm and explain its operation to me.

How are you celebrating National Organic Week this year?

To raise awareness and show appreciation and support for local organic farmers who grow great food for us, please share this story on your social media sites.

Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.

Be sure to visit my new Facebook page at My Island Bistro Kitchen.  You may also wish to follow me on twitter @PEIBistro and on Pinterest at “Island Bistro Kitchen”.

Applelicious — Dining in an Apple Orchard in Arlington, PEI

On Saturday, September 14th, I headed to Arlington, west of the City of Summerside, for another PEI Fall Flavors signature event – “Applelicious – Meal in the Field”.  This is my second Fall Flavors event this year.

What better place to erect a huge white tent as the venue for a sumptuous dinner than in the middle of fragrant Arlington Orchard with trees laden with bright red apples.

Fall Flavors is a month-long food extravaganza on PEI, with culinary events occurring at various venues across the Island.  Each signature event features a local Island food product on the menu.

This is the fourth year that Applelicious has been held and always in the Arlington Orchard location.  Mitchell Rennie of the North Cape Coastal Drive Region says a number of factors were considered in selecting the facility for the event:  “We needed a facility that was open to the idea of having large-scale events in their orchard and we wanted an area where we could get into the middle of an orchard for the atmosphere.  These factors led us to Barry Balsom’s facility“.

As its name suggests, this event focused heavily on PEI apples.  This being a signature event for the Fall Flavors Festival, it was hosted by a celebrity chef – in this case, Anna Olson.  If you are a fan of Food Network Canada, you will likely have seen some or all of Anna’s shows that include “Sugar”, “Kitchen Equipped”, “Fresh with Anna Olson”, and “Bake with Anna Olson”.  Author and co-author of several cookbooks, Anna is also a freelance writer for several publications as well.  For this event, Anna also brought her husband, Michael, to the Applelicious event and the pair made fine hosts for the evening.

Chefs Anna and Michael Olson
Chefs Anna and Michael Olson

I have often picked apples at Arlington Orchards … yes bushels of them!  However, I had never eaten a meal in the middle of an apple orchard so this event intrigued me.  How could they produce a four-course meal in an orchard with no buildings, electricity, or running water!  No worries as it is amazing what our Island culinary teams can do when put to the test.

The evening started off with an oyster, apple cider, and cheese reception along with a meet and greet with Anna and Michael Olson.  Of course, as many of you will know, our Island oysters are world renowned and are always popular.  In keeping with the theme of local foods, the oysters came from the bays around Arlington.  Anytime you see an oyster shucker in action, foodies are generally not far away, ready to sample these sea-fresh tasty morsels. To enhance the oysters, Anna created five different apple-themed toppings especially for the reception.

World-famous PEI Oysters
World-famous PEI Oysters

There were several kinds of apple cider to sample along with a selection of PEI Amalgamated Dairies Limited (ADL) cheeses.

Apple Cider and Cheese
Apple Cider and Cheese

Anna was very obliging to pose for endless photos throughout the evening and to sign the menu cards that were at each place setting as well as her cookbooks that were for sale during the evening.

I never cease to be amazed at the elegance that can be created inside a tent.

 

At one time, a meal in a tent meant paper plates, plastic cutlery and glasses, and picnic tables.  However, take a look at the white linens and fabulous tablesettings that greeted guests to Applelicious!

Look at the simplistic baskets of apples that were each table’s centerpiece.  These were so appropriate for an event that featured apples.  Nothing more was needed to adorn the table and, of course, the contents of the centerpieces were all edible, too.

Here was the menu for the evening:

Applelicious 2013 Menu
Applelicious 2013 Menu

Part of culinary tourism, and a feature part of the signature events of Fall Flavors, is the educational component.  Not only are culinary tourists seeking out great food and dining experiences, but they want to learn something about that food, where it came from, and how it can be prepared.  For this event, Anna and Michael started their first demonstration of the evening with how to prepare potato crepes (using fine PEI potatoes, of course) and pickled melba apple slaw (with apples from Arlington Orchard) which was very delicious.

For the second demonstration, Anna showed how to make pastry and gave tips on how to make the perfect apple pie – did you know that the best apple pies are made with a combination of different varieties of apples?  That sprinkling some rolled oats over the bottom pie crust before adding the apple filling will help to keep the lower crust from becoming soggy with the juices from the apples as the pie bakes?

Part of Anna’s role in the evening was to plan the menu and provide the recipes.  As you can imagine, dinner for 185 guests (many of them tourists) – particularly in the middle of an apple orchard – takes a team effort.  For this, the culinary team of Shaws Hotel and Restaurant in Brackley Beach, PEI, provided the culinary/catering services for the evening, taking Anna’s recipes and preparing them for guests all, of course, under the guidance of Anna.  Anna indicated during the evening that PEI grows varieties of apples that weren’t familiar to her so she had consulted, in advance, with orchard owner, Barry Balsom, and researched the Island varieties when preparing the recipes so that Island apples would be featured in the menu items.  During the evening, both Anna and Michael circulated amongst the tables, stopping to chat with guests and sign menu cards.

While much of the prep work for the meal with done off-site, one mobile kitchen was brought onsite and all plating and final cooking occurred in the catering section of the tent or just outside.  Generators, of course, were needed to supply the electricity.

Dinner's Cooking!
Dinner’s Cooking!

Two musical groups provided the entertainment during the evening – the Gallant Family Band (seen in the photo below) and the quartet “Milk and Honey”.

So, now, let’s look at the menu items and dinner presentation a little more closely:

Beverages:  Bottles of Maritime-produced Sparkling Apple Juice were placed on each table.

First Course:  Smoked Salmon on PEI Potato Crepes with Apple Crème Fraiche and Pickled Melba Apple Slaw

Second Course:  Chowder Crab Cake on Autumn Greens with Dolgo Crabapple Vinaigrette

Main:  Pork Loin with Bacon Oyster Stuffing with Caramelized Onion & Paula Red Apple Glaze, Potato & ADL Old Cheddar Gratin, and Harvest Vegetables

Dessert:  Gingerbread Cake with Jersey Mac Applies “Foster”

 And, the finale:  Classic Apple Pie

 

Tickets for this event were $69.95 + tax (CDN$).

I am often asked what is the best month to visit PEI.  Admittedly, I am biased since, being a native Islander, I think anytime is good to visit our fine province.  However, if you are a foodie then, hands-down, my recommendation would be to visit us in September when the whole month is filled with fabulous culinary events across the province.  Whether you are an Islander, or planning a trip to PEI in September, I highly recommend you check the Fall Flavors website for event and ticket information to any of a number of great culinary events.  Be sure to book your tickets early as the signature events usually sell out.

Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.

Be sure to visit my new Facebook page at My Island Bistro KitchenYou may also wish to follow me on twitter @PEIBistro and on Pinterest at “Island Bistro Kitchen”.

 

Lobster-stuffed Cherry Tomatoes

Lobster-stuffed Cherry Tomato
Lobster-stuffed Cherry Tomato

Our garden produced hundreds of tiny cherry tomatoes this summer.  It’s always a challenge as to what to do with them and it seems everyone I know also has an abundance of them, too.  Cherry tomatoes make great bases for appetizers or hors d’oeurves.  They are particularly tasty when filled with lobster salad!  This weekend, there is a huge shellfish festival in Charlottetown, PEI, so I thought this was an appropriate time to post a recipe using one of my favorite shellfish, lobster.

I used the same lobster salad recipe as I used for the filling in the lobster croissants that were featured for my labour day picnic.  The only thing I did differently was to chop the lobster into smaller pieces so the salad would fit into the cherry tomatoes.

To assemble, slice off the stem end of the tomato.  With a small coffee spoon, carefully hollow out and discard the seeds and juicy pulp of the tomatoes.  Fill with lobster salad.  Garnish with fresh herbs such as chives, thyme, and/or dill.

Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.  

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A PEI Lobster Party on the Beach at West Point!

What do you get when you put together a PEI beach, a large tent on that beach, lots of lobster, chowder, salads, and delectable lobster savouries, 200 people, a team of talented chefs, and great PEI musicians?  Why, you get a PEI Lobster Party on the Beach, of course!

This past Sunday (September 8, 2013), I attended this signature Fall Flavors event in West Point, PEI, where it was hosted by Celebrity Chef Corbin Tomaszeski of Food Network (FN) fame.

Chef Corbin serving up the best lobster chowder ever!
Chef Corbin serving up the best lobster chowder ever!

You may recognize Chef Corbin as the co-host of FN’s Dinner Party Wars and as one of the chef-hosts on FN’s Restaurant Takeover.  This was the second time that Chef Corbin was the celebrity chef at the PEI Lobster Party on the Beach.  In addition to assisting with event logistics, Chef Corbin was very involved with the menu planning and in leading the lobster team relay event which turned out to be a fun activity….at least for the spectators!

September has become known as “Fall Flavors” month on the Island and PEI is becoming known as a culinary tourism destination, particularly with all the fabulous Fall Flavors events.

Lobster season is still open in parts of the province and the produce from our land has matured and is ready for harvesting.  What better time and way to celebrate the great foods of the Island than to have a series of culinary events and food festivals.

Now in its third year, the Lobster on the Beach Party is held right on the beach at West Point, near O’Leary, in the Western part of the province.  Fall Flavors organizers aim to locate the signature events in communities across the Island so that there is equitable distribution to the extent possible. The lobster fishing season is currently in full swing in the West Point area of PEI and the event was held just up the beach from an active wharf. When asked where the idea for a lobster party on the beach came from, Ian MacPherson, Executive Director of the PEI Fishermen’s Association Ltd., says Tourism PEI has indicated that “a lobster dinner on the beach is one of the most requested activities that tourists request when coming to PEI”.

On Sunday, around mid-day, the skies opened and literally drenched the Island with rain.  Winds were blowing at a good clip – 50-60kpm.  As I was leaving on my 1½ hour drive to West Point, the weather conditions were less than ideal (an understatement) for a beach party.  However, the event was going ahead rain or shine so off I went donned in my rain suit and duckies.  I arrived in West Point around 4:00pm just as the event was getting underway.  By this time, the rain had eased off to a steady, more gentle rain.

A short jaunt through a “muddy” walking path brought me to the beach where I could see the top of a huge white tent, a mobile kitchen, and another trailer and truck.

Down on to the beach, I could see chefs, barefoot, working around some portable cookers and a couple of tarp-covered cooking pits in the sand.  The first person I met was Chef Corbin who was busy steaming mussels in white wine.  Oh, yes, our Island mussels are some good!

So, to set the stage – the large tent actually was right on the beach, anchored in the sand, just a very few meters from the water.

 

There was no nearby building, no running water right on site, and no electricity.  Can you imagine having 200 people over for dinner under those conditions?  The logistics of producing a sold-out event for 200 people in such a location are many (and these were all in addition to contending with strong winds and heavy, pelting rain all day).  Here are some of them:

–                      the tent was no ordinary tent – it was a special hexagon-shaped tent that is specifically designed for use and anchoring in the sand

–                      the event was held in an environmentally-sensitive area so many permits were required

–                      one mobile kitchen was brought on to the site right beside the beach

–                      water for the mobile kitchen had to be sourced and transported from the nearby Cedar Dunes Provincial Park

–                      several generators were in place to operate the mobile kitchen and the sound system

–                      over 200 lobsters were cooked in the sandpit

–                      an additional 50 pounds of lobster meat was used in a multitude of side dishes including lobster chowder, lobster bacon fritters, lobster potato salad, etc.

–                      the Culinary Institute of Canada was the primary culinary provider for the event providing 12 chefs and 13 serving staff

–                      several directors (all fishers) from the PEI Fishermen’s Association were on hand to show (if required) people how to crack and eat their lobster and to answer any questions

–                 a nurse was onsite for any potential medical emergencies

Carrying out an event like this means attention to detail and careful meticulous planning has to happen – it’s not like an event in a large banquet hall or hotel where the chefs and service staff have everything they need at their fingertips.  For this, everything (food, water, equipment, generators, etc.) has to be transported to the beach.

One of the most fascinating activities proved to be the cooking of the lobster and corn in a sandpit on the beach.  From the number of times I heard him explain it, I am sure Chef Andrew Nicholson from the Culinary Institute of Canada could recite, in his sleep, the process he used for cooking the lobster as well as the corn in the husks!

Preparing the Cooking Pit in the Sand for the Lobster and Corn
Preparing the Cooking Pit in the Sand for the Lobster and Corn

Two pits, each about 5-6” deep, were dug in the sand and lined with river rock.  Firewood was added and a fire in the pit burned for 4-5 hours until it burned itself out.  This heated the rocks which were then used as the heat source to cook the lobster and corn.  A layer of seaweed was added to the top of the rocks and charred wood remains.  A layer of lobsters was laid out in the pit followed by a layer of corn.  Several eggs were placed on top of the corn.  Yes, the eggs were used to determine when the lobster was cooked!  This gives a whole new meaning to the concept of “egg timer”.  As Chef Andrew says, “the eggs never lie”!  Using this method, the chef can periodically remove an egg from just under the tarp without disturbing the lobster cooking below. Once an egg tests hard-cooked, the lobster is done.

Testing the Egg to Determine if the Lobster is Cooked -- Not Quite Yet But Getting There!
Testing the Egg to Determine if the Lobster is Cooked — Not Quite Yet But Getting There!

The entire pit was covered with a tarp and sand piled over the tarp edges to seal in all the heat and make it quite sauna-like inside for the lobster and corn to slowly cook in the steam.

It takes about 45-60 minutes for the lobster to cook under ideal conditions.

Dinner's ready!
Dinner’s ready!

Says Chef Andrew, the products cooked this way have some “wicked good flavour” happening.  This was, arguably, the best tasting lobster I have ever had!

Chef Andrew Nicholson removes the cooked lobster and corn from the cooking pit
Chef Andrew Nicholson removes the cooked lobster and corn from the cooking pit

Chef Andrew is right – there are subtle hints of the smoked firewood and the taste of the sea from the seaweed bed but not so strong that it detracts from the pure lobster flavour.

No PEI party would be complete without local music.  Harpist Jill Harris provided dinner music.

And, Island fiddler and fisherman JJ Chiasson closed out the last hour of the event.

Anyone wanting to experience Island hospitality, fabulous PEI lobster prepared in many different ways, and a lobster party on the beach with great music, then this was the event to attend.  The rain stopped in time for the party and, despite the soggy sand and muddy trek through the woods to the beach, no one seemed to mind the damp, dreary day.  Many (including the chefs) who weren’t sporting “high fashion” duckies or rubber boots, simply got into the party mood by abandoning their footwear and going barefoot.  After all, this was a party right on the beach!

Chef Corbin and Chef Andrew even ventured into the water to set the lobster trap for the lobster relay.  This must fall under the category of “other related duties”, chefs!

Chef Corbin and Chef Andrew preparing for the lobster relay
Chef Corbin and Chef Andrew preparing for the lobster relay

When asked what this event means to the lobster industry on PEI, Ian MacPherson says, “ It is a great opportunity for people to connect with the fishers and understand the hard work and skill it takes to catch lobster.  Financial returns have been very low to the harvesters over the past few years so it is a good way for people to understand how the supply chain works as consumer costs still tend to be high.  We get a lot of questions on sustainability and conservation so, again, this is a great way to respond to these questions.  As you know , most people like to know where their food comes from and who supplies it.  Being directly involved with promotion is new for the harvesters but most agree it is an area we need to be more involved in.”

Tickets for this event were $75. per person.  Those traveling from the direction of Charlottetown and Summerside could board a bus for a nominal fee in lieu of driving themselves to West Point.  Individuals needing a drive between the parking area and the beach could hop onboard one of the golf carts.  Organizers thought of everything!

Whether you are an Islander, or planning a trip to PEI in September, I highly recommend you check the Fall Flavors website for event and ticket information to any of a number of great culinary events.  Be sure to book your tickets early as the signature events, such as the popular Lobster on the Beach Party, sell out – that’s a testament to their popularity and quality.

Photo Gallery of the Sights of Lobster Party on the Beach at West Point, PEI:

Hors d’oeuvres, lobster chowder, lobster in the shell and fresh PEI peaches and cream corn steamed in the husk.

Is your mouth watering yet?

Even lobster potato salad was on the menu!

PEI Oysters are always a hit with foodies!

These lobster vol-en-vent were tasty little savouries!

Desserts, anyone?

Dinner with a water view:

Chef Corbin at work.