All posts by Barbara99

Marshmallow Squares

Today, I am sharing a sweet treat with you.  In fact, it’s so sweet, it’s almost more like candy than it is a square. This is one of the easiest squares to make and it requires few ingredients and no cooking or baking.

Marshmallow Squares
Marshmallow Squares

This square is perfect for picnics and is a colorful and tasty addition to any sweet tray.  It’s the perfect anytime treat.

While it is not necessary to line the pan with tin foil, I like to do so for a couple of reasons.  First, it protects my pan and, second, it makes it easier to cut the squares.  I find, if I don’t line my baking pans, when I go to cut the squares, the knife scratches the pan surface and ruins it.  By lining the pan with tin foil, it is easy to lift the square out of the pan, peel back the tin foil and easily cut straight squares.  With this square, I very lightly butter the sides of the foil-lined pan which helps the tin foil to peel off easier.

Any kind of shredded coconut can be used in this square; however, the shredded rainbow coconut adds additional color.  Very finely ground graham wafer crumbs can be lightly sprinkled on top of square if desired along with a sprinkling of extra coconut.

Marshmallow Squares

Ingredients:

12 graham wafers

½ cup butter
2 cups icing (confectioner’s) sugar

¼ cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup shredded coconut
2½ cups colored miniature marshmallows

½ tbsp finely ground graham wafer crumbs (optional)

Method:

Lightly butter sides of 9”x9” pan and line pan with 12 graham wafers, cutting wafers to fit as necessary.

Cream butter and icing sugar together. Blend in milk and vanilla until smooth.

Carefully fold in coconut and marshmallows.

Spread mixture evenly over graham wafers. Lightly sprinkle finely ground graham wafer crumbs and some extra coconut over top of square, if desired.

Refrigerate for at least a couple of hours to allow the square to set. Cut into squares.  Keep refrigerated until serving.

Yield: Apx. 16 servings

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Pasta Salad in Shades of the PEI Tartan

National Tartan Day is celebrated each year on April 6th which coincides with the signing of the Scottish Declaration of Independence — the Declaration of Arbroath — in 1320. It is a day of observance to recognize and celebrate the Scottish heritage and the contributions of the Scots and their descendents to Canada’s history, development, and culture.  Last year, I published a posting about Tartan Day and you can read about its origins here.

I wondered what the focus of my posting would be for this year’s Tartan Day.  Lo and behold, didn’t I find bow tie pasta in shades of the Prince Edward Island tartan – red, green, and ivory!  Mind you, the colors are not an exact or perfect match but I think they are close enough to work in a colorful pasta salad with herb dressing.

The tartan on the far left in the above photograph is the PEI dress tartan and the one on the right is the traditional Island tartan.  The colors each signify a feature of PEI and you can learn about this by clicking here.

Any kind of bow tie pasta can be used for this recipe.  I’ve chosen to use colored Durum wheat semolina from Italy because I love the tri-colored pasta which makes a colorful salad!

Use the freshest ingredients you can find for pasta salad – I’m using fresh greenhouse-grown tomatoes and cucumbers from the Schurman Family Farm in Spring Valley, PEI.  Also, for any salad, use quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  I have used products from the Liquid Gold and All Things Olive store here in Charlottetown, PEI.

You can use any olive oil and balsamic vinegar – either flavored or plain – that you wish; however, it will obviously change the flavour of the dressing.  Using different olive oils and balsamic vinegars is an easy way to use the same basic ingredients but change the flavour of the salad.  For this recipe, I chose to use the Wild Mushroom and Sage Olive Oil which I paired with a Honey Ginger Balsamic Vinegar.

Pasta Salad

Ingredients:

8.8 oz (250g) bow tie pasta
salt
1½ tsp cooking oil
2 tbsp onion soup mix
boiling water

2 cups coarsely chopped English cucumber
1 cup diced tomatoes or halved cherry/grape tomatoes
½ cup chopped red onion
2 tbsp sliced black olives (optional)
3½ oz cubed feta cheese
1½ – 2 tbsp shredded Parmesan, Romano, and Asiago cheese mix
Fresh parsley (optional)

Method:

Cook pasta, for length of time and in amount of boiling water and salt indicated on package, adding the oil and onion soup mix to the cooking process. Drain pasta, rinse in cold water, and allow to cool completely.

Cut ends off small cucumber and slice in half, horizontally. Cut cucumber into ¼ inch pieces.

Coarsely chop the tomatoes and red onion.

Place pasta into large bowl and add the cucumber, tomatoes, and onion. Toss to mix, being careful not to tear pasta. Drizzle with just enough dressing to coat all ingredients. Cover and refrigerate for 1-2 hours to allow flavours to mix.

At time of serving, mix in olives and add more dressing if needed/desired. Transfer to serving bowl. Sprinkle with cheeses and fresh parsley.

Herb Dressing

Ingredients:

6 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1½ tsp Dijon mustard
1½ tbsp sugar
½ tsp Italian seasoning
½ tsp celery seed
Pinch dried dillweed
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste

Method:

Mix all ingredients in glass jar. Cover jar tightly with lid and shake jar vigorously to fully mix and incorporate all ingredients. Refrigerate until use. Remove from refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature for 5-7 minutes.  Shake jar to mix ingredients, then drizzle over salad.

A colorful and tasty pasta salad sure to complement any meal.

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Tip Toe Through The Tulips Easter Tablesetting

My color scheme for my Easter dinner table is purple and white.  Of course, I am featuring the lovely spring tulips from the greenhouses of Vanco Farms in Mount Albion, PEI.

Lately, I have been using trays and baskets to “corral” the elements of my table centerpieces.  I find this is an easy way to display a number of items in a centerpiece and it keeps them clustered as, otherwise,  they sometimes spread aimlessly across the table without focus.

Today, I have used several pieces from my milk glass collection and added a small wire cage into which I have placed a bunny.  Faux Easter eggs are a great filler to add interest to the tray.  We often think that a bouquet of flowers in its entirety needs to be all in one container.  However, a much more interesting collection, or vignette as I have done here, can be created if the flowers are distributed between several vessels and at different heights.

One of my favorite pieces of milk glass is the little bowl shown in the photograph below.  It’s the perfect size to hold a small bird’s nest.

I have also chosen to carry the milk glass and tulip theme over to the tea cart where I have created another spring vignette in the corner of the dining room.

The napkin fold I have chosen is the Easter basket fold.  This is a simple fold to do and I have used it to hold the cutlery and, what would an Easter basket be without a little chocolate tucked inside!  Because the centerpiece vignette has several elements to it, I wanted to keep each placesetting as simple and uncluttered as possible.  This allows the focus to be maintained on the vignette centerpiece.

I have used purple charger plates to frame each dinner plate and these coordinate perfectly with the purple tulips. I can easily change up the look of my Royal Albert “Lavender Rose” china by the use of different colored charger plates.

Purple is my favorite color so it’s an easy choice for me to work with this color scheme!

An added advantage of a “corralled” centerpiece is that it can easily be lifted off the table and replaced with a meat platter, for example, if you choose to carve the turkey or ham at the table.  This way, your guests always see a centerpiece of some sort on the table throughout the entire meal, whether it be whatever was on the tray or the meat platter. The photograph below shows the table centerpiece when the guests arrive which is then removed and replaced with the turkey platter for the main course.  The vignette tray is then easily returned to the table for the dessert course.

So, on the menu at my house for Easter Dinner is the traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings, one of my all-time favorite meals.

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Peter Cottontail Tablesetting for Easter

Today, I am sharing a slightly different tablesetting for the Easter season.  The theme is pink and black and Peter Cottontail tip toes through the tulips!

Let’s start with the dinnerware. The pink background of each plate with a black and white bunny and border make this a dramatic set of Easter holiday dinnerware.

I started with my traditional white linen tablecloth as a blank canvas. I have opted to frame each place setting with a black charger plate which really makes the plate design pop, particularly against the white background.  Matching black napkins complement each place setting.  The pewter napkin rings feature a springtime daffodil design.

A little Easter bunny egg cup is set at each place setting along with an Easter-themed chocolate.

And, when all the elements come together, this is what each place setting looks like.

Here is an overhead view of the placesetting which I would class as contemporary-casual.

The beautiful pink and white tulips on today’s table came from Vanco Farms in Mount Albion, PEI.  Click here to read my story on this Island farm that grows, sells, and ships tulips from their large greenhouses.

I feel very fortunate to be able to go direct to the Vanco greenhouse to buy their tulips and I am rarely without these beautiful flowers in my house throughout the winter and spring.

The tulips from Vanco Farms come in a vast array of colors and I can match up any color scheme of tablesetting with them.  The pink ones I have chosen for today’s tablesetting are very delicate and procelain-like and they pop against their neighbouring white tulips.

A dressy yet simplistic and uncluttered tablesetting.

 

I hope you have a wonderful Easter!

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Growing Organic Vegetables in Winter on PEI – A Visit to the Schurman Family Farm

Rows of Beefsteak Tomatoes at the Schurman Family Farm, Spring Valley, PEI
Rows of Beefsteak Tomatoes at the Schurman Family Farm, Spring Valley, PEI

Winter 2015 has been a true old-fashioned winter for PEI. Blizzard after blizzard has left the Island buried under mountains of snow. In fact, more than 500cm has fallen – that’s over 16 feet of snow this winter!

Along a rural country road in PEI, April 2015
Along a rural country road in PEI, April 2015

As I write this posting in early April, most of the snow, unfortunately, is still around (and more keeps accumulating) so it’s going to be a long time before PEI sees any plants growing outside in the rich red soil for which our Island is known. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t vegetables growing on PEI – even in the dead of winter.

Between tunnels of snow banks (some of which were more than twice the height of my car) and sometimes through side roads barely one lane wide in places, I made my way to Spring Valley to visit the Schurmans who operate a large greenhouse where they grow organic vegetables for sale year-round. In fact, if you live in Atlantic Canada and shop at Sobeys and/or the Atlantic Superstore, you have access to their Atlantic Grown Organics brand organically-grown tomatoes and cucumbers because both stores carry produce from the Schurman greenhouse.

So, this year, while I’m not going south, I did spend an afternoon with Krista and Marc Schurman in their greenhouse which almost seemed tropical!

Krista and Marc Schurman of Schurman Family Farm, Spring Valley, PEI
Krista and Marc Schurman of Schurman Family Farm, Spring Valley, PEI

Spring Valley is a rural community that is located just outside the town of Kensington on the Island’s north side. The Schurmans, former livestock producers, built the greenhouse in 2001 when they made the decision to diversify their farming operation from livestock to vegetable growing. The Schurman greenhouse is home to close to one (1) acre of produce grown year round. Marc, a third generation farmer, has a degree in plant science from the Nova Scotia Agricultural College (NSAC) in Truro, Nova Scotia. From the time he was a wee lad, he has had a keen interest in growing vegetables so his career choice was a logical one. His wife, Krista, has a degree in animal science, also from NSAC. Farming is clearly in the blood of the Schurman couple and it is evident from chatting with them that farming is their passion and they are committed to producing quality food for market.

In 2006, the Schurmans, who market their produce under the label “Atlantic Grown Organics”, became a 100% organic greenhouse operation.

Farming organically is not without its challenges since it operates differently than conventional farming. One of the biggest challenges is to create a mini-ecosystem versus using chemicals to control for insect pests and plant disease. Insect packets (like those in the photograph below) are hung on the vines of the plants throughout the greenhouse. These packets release beneficial insects that, essentially, eat the bad insects that can destroy plant leaves and vegetables.

To simulate a natural environment, every six weeks, new hives of bumblebees are introduced into the greenhouse.

The bees buzz around, doing their job to pollinate the tomatoes. New hives are brought into the greenhouse every six weeks so that, as the hives age, there will always be young productive bees available to carry the load of pollinating thousands of flowers every week. Earthworms are used in the plant pots to keep the soil loose – essentially, they work and till the soil.

The Natural Kind of Garden Tillers
The Natural Kind of Garden Tillers

While greenhouse farming means more control can, in some respects, be exerted over growing conditions, there is a challenge to constantly balance the humidity and ventilation in the greenhouse as too much humidity can breed plant disease. The greenhouse relies on a computer system to indicate when there is too much humidity, at which time it tells the greenhouse roof to open slightly to let in some ventilation. When the humidity is once again balanced, the computer tells the roof to close.

Large pipes filled with hot water circulate throughout the entire greenhouse keeping the plants toasty warm and providing optimal temperature for plant growth.

A wood waste burner heats the water and a back-up generator provides assurance of a heat source should there be a loss of electricity. It wouldn’t take many hours without electricity in a PEI winter storm, for example, for the farm’s entire crop of producing plants and tiny seed plantings to be destroyed.

Plant seedlings started to ensure a continuous supply of fresh greenhouse produce
Plant seedlings started to ensure a continuous supply of fresh greenhouse produce

The series of hot water pipes also function as a sort of railway track for a cart and workers to move between the rows of plant pots so the plants can be pruned and harvested. The farm functions with a staff of three full-time employees and the couple’s three children help with picking the tomatoes from the vines.

Each plant pot is individually hooked up to the water sprinkling system that is triggered by readings from a weather station on the greenhouse roof as watering is measured by the amount of natural sunlight.

Watering probes inserted into each plant pot ensure the accurate amount of moisture is regularly provided to the plants
Watering probes inserted into each plant pot ensure the accurate amount of moisture is regularly provided to the plants

These water tanks are not your ordinary watering cans!

The main business of the greenhouse operation is to produce organic tomatoes and cucumbers for wholesale to Sobeys and the Atlantic Superstore in Atlantic Canada.

However, the Schurmans also direct market their produce at both the Charlottetown and Summerside Farmers Markets. Here (in addition to the tomatoes and cucumbers), you may also find special treats like fresh greenhouse-grown strawberries in winter along with lettuce, kale, herbs, peppers, beets, green onions, and even eggplant, grown especially for their Farmers Market clientele.

The Schurman Family Booth at the Charlottetown Farmers Market
The Schurman Family Farm Booth at the Charlottetown Farmers Market

From early spring to late fall, the Schurmans also have a vegetable stand at the farm gate on Route 104 in Spring Valley.

Strawberries growing in the Schurman Family Greenhouse
Strawberries growing in the Schurman Family Greenhouse

The Schurmans find great satisfaction from their greenhouse operation. They say that producing big boxes of fresh, organically-grown, red tomatoes in the dead of winter on PEI, when there is little if any vegetation growing elsewhere, is deeply satisfying.

They also find it gratifying to connect with regular customers each Saturday at the local Farmers Markets as this opportunity provides them with feedback on their produce and appreciation from customers seeking good quality organic produce that is locally produced year round.

I believe it is always good when consumers can meet and connect with those who work hard to locally produce our food. So, if you are lucky enough to live in PEI, you can meet the Schurmans, face-to-face, on Saturdays at the Farmers Markets. Otherwise, be sure to look for the purple label “Atlantic Grown Organics” on the organic tomatoes and cucumbers when shopping at Sobeys and/or the Atlantic Superstores in Atlantic Canada. Buying these Island products not only supports local farmers and helps them to be sustainable operations but you’ll know you are buying quality, safe, fresh organic produce.

I think, if I had been working inside this greenhouse this year, I would hardly have noticed it was even winter (well, maybe not until I stepped outdoors)!

For more information on the Schurman Family Farm, visit their website.

My Island Bistro Kitchen's Pasta Salad
My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Pasta Salad

The recipe in which I have chosen to feature tomatoes and cucumbers from the Schurman Family Farm is a colorful pasta salad with herb dressing.  While it is always important to use quality fresh ingredients in any recipe, it is doubly important when making salads because this is where the raw veggies star and you really taste their flavour.

I couldn’t have gotten vegetables any more fresh than these that were just picked off the vines in the greenhouse.

The quality and flavour of olive oil and balsamic vinegar is also important in the salad dressing. For this reason, I have used products from the Liquid Gold and All Things Olive store here in Charlottetown, PEI.  You can use any olive oil and balsamic vinegar – either flavored or plain – that you wish; however, it will obviously change the flavour of the dressing.  For this recipe, I chose to use the Wild Mushroom and Sage Olive Oil which I paired with a Honey Ginger Balsamic Vinegar.

You can use any kind of bow tie pasta for this recipe.

I’ve chosen to use colored Durum wheat semolina from Italy because I love the tri-colored pasta which makes a colorful salad!

Pasta Salad

Ingredients:

8.8 oz (250g) bowtie pasta
salt
1½ tsp cooking oil
2 tbsp onion soup mix
boiling water

2 cups coarsely chopped English cucumber
1 cup diced tomatoes or halved cherry/grape tomatoes
½ cup chopped red onion
2 tbsp sliced black olives (optional)
3½ oz cubed feta cheese
1½ – 2 tbsp shredded Parmesan, Romano, and Asiago cheese mix
Fresh parsley (optional)

Method:

Cook pasta, for length of time and in amount of boiling water and salt indicated on package, adding the oil and onion soup mix to the cooking process. Drain pasta, rinse in cold water, and allow to cool completely.

Cut ends off small cucumber and slice in half, horizontally. Cut cucumber into ¼ inch pieces.

Coarsely chop the tomatoes and red onion.

Place pasta into large bowl and add the cucumber, tomatoes, and onion. Toss to mix, being careful not to tear pasta. Drizzle with just enough dressing to coat all ingredients. Cover and refrigerate for 1-2 hours to allow flavours to mix.

At time of serving, mix in olives and add more dressing if needed/desired. Transfer to serving bowl. Sprinkle with cheeses and fresh parsley.

Dressing

Ingredients:

6 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1½ tsp Dijon mustard
1½ tbsp sugar
½ tsp Italian seasoning
½ tsp celery seed
Pinch dried dillweed
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste

Method:

Mix all ingredients in glass jar. Cover jar tightly with lid and shake jar vigorously to fully mix and incorporate all ingredients. Refrigerate until use. Remove from refrigerator to allow dressing to come to room temperature (5-7 minutes). Shake jar to mix dressing, then drizzle over salad.

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A Casual Tablescape for Easter Brunch

Easter offers so many options for tablescapes and tablesettings.  Today, I am sharing a more casual, yet fun, tablescape.

My focus with this tablesetting is the “corralled” tablescape.  I have used a wire tray as the base into which I have clustered the elements of the table centerpiece. Corralling keeps the elements tidy and together instead of having them spread out over the table.

This is an ideal option if you plan to bring, during the meal, a platter of roast turkey or ham, for example, to be carved at the table. It is easy to lift off the basket or tray with the centerpiece on it and replace it with the meat platter.  The centerpiece can then easily be returned to the table for the dessert course so the table is never without a focal centerpiece during the meal.

I have simply used some faux grass in the bottom of the tray and added a substantial-sized bunny to give the centerpiece prominence and height.  Then, I filled in the rest of the basket with a small bright pink geranium, a tiny bird’s nest, some Easter eggs, and some egg shells filled with tiny flowers and faux grass. A piece of egg carton provides a nesting spot for the egg shells.

It is not necessary to have fine china to set an attractive table.  This table is set for Easter brunch so I have used everyday stoneware and, instead of formal napkins, have opted to use pastel-colored tea towels that match the color scheme of the centerpiece. Tucked underneath the charger plates, the tea towels take up no room on the table and do not compete with the tablescape or place settings.

I have dressed up each place setting with an egg cup filled with tiny flowers that connect each place setting to the centerpiece.

A few tiny Easter eggs and a small chocolate bar complete the place setting.

Happy Easter!

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Pan Rolls

Pan Rolls
Pan Rolls

There is something so homey and cozy about homemade bread and rolls!  And, of course, the scent throughout the house of them baking makes the taste buds jump in anticipation of a hot roll, or slice of bread, fresh from the oven and slathered in melting butter.

Today, I am sharing a recipe for traditional pan rolls, so named because they are all bunched together in a baking pan as opposed to shaped individually and baked in muffin tins.  These rolls are easy to make and take a minimum amount of ingredients, all of which are commonplace.  While pan rolls don’t have the picture-perfect appearance of a roll baked in a muffin tin, they more than make up for it with their superb taste and texture.

These are also a good choice for anyone who is not so fond of crust since most of the rolls in the pan will have soft sides; only those on the outside edges of the pan will have crusts.

Pan Rolls
Pan Rolls

I do have some general tips for making successful pan rolls.

1.  Water temperature for the yeast is very important.  I find 100°F is a good general temperature to use.  If the water is too cool, the yeast won’t rise and, if it is too hot, it will kill the yeast.  A food thermometer is a handy tool to use when gauging the temperature of liquid for bread and rolls.

2.  Let the yeast rise for about 7-10 minutes, until it is nice and foamy and be sure to stir it down before adding it to the batter.

3.  The dough for this recipe is a soft dough.  Resist the urge to add too much flour as it will make dry rolls.  Only add enough flour that the dough pulls away from the sides of the mixing bowl.

4. There is no need to hand-knead this dough. Fit a stand mixer with a dough hook and let the machine do all the kneading.

5. Placing the bowl with the bread dough on a heating pad set on the low setting will provide a warm base for the dough to rise.  Make sure the dough is covered with greased plastic wrap. This makes it much easier to remove than, say, a tea towel which may stick to the dough. Snuggle a lightweight wrap in around the bowl to create a draft-free incubator for the bread to rise.

6.  Greasing your hands will facilitate the shaping of each roll.

7. Baking times are approximate.  Rolls should be a nice golden brown color on top and have a hollow sound when lightly tapped with fingers. Rotating the pan once during the baking process helps to ensure that all rolls are equally browned.

Pan Rolls

Ingredients:

¾ tbsp active dry yeast
¾ tsp sugar
½ cup warm water (100°F)

2 eggs, beaten
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup vegetable oil
1¼ cup warm water (100°F)
½ tsp salt
Apx. 4½ cups all-purpose flour

Method:

In one-cup measuring cup, stir ¾ tsp sugar into ½ cup warm water until dissolved. Sprinkle yeast over the water and quickly, but gently, stir in the yeast.

Let stand 7-10 minutes until yeast is foamy and has risen to top of cup.

Meanwhile, with whisk attachment, beat the eggs in bowl of stand mixer. Beat in the sugar, oil, warm water, and salt.

Stir down the yeast and add to liquid mixture in bowl. Stir just to mix.

Replace whisk attachment with dough hook. Add the flour gradually, a cup at a time, and beat 3-5 minutes on medium speed (I use the “6” setting on my KitchenAid mixer.), scraping the bowl often to ensure all ingredients are incorporated.

When enough flour has been added, the dough should pull away from the sides of the bowl. This is a meant to be a soft dough so be careful about adding too much additional flour. If necessary, add about 1 – 2 tablespoons at a time and only enough that the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. (Note the dough in the photos below is not yellow; the coloring is due to incandescent overhead lighting above the work station.)

Transfer dough to large greased bowl and cover with greased plastic wrap and a tea towel.

Loosely wrap a light-weight blanket around bowl. Place in warm, draft-free place to rise. A heating pad on low setting makes a warm base for the dough to rise.

DSC08597

Let dough rise until double in bulk – about 1 to 1¼ hours.

Punch down dough.

Turn dough on to lightly floured work surface. Cut off chunks of dough into 24 equal-sized pieces and form into the size and shape of an egg.

Place in greased 9”x13” pan.

Cover with greased plastic wrap and a tea towel and return to warm place to rise again until double in size, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

 

Bake in preheated 375°F oven for about 15 minutes, rotating pan once during the baking, until rolls are golden brown on the top and hollow sounding when tapped with fingers.

Transfer rolls from pan to wire rack to cool. Brush hot rolls with butter.

Yield: 24 rolls

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