Category Archives: Recipes

October 2013 Cookie of the Month: Plum Puff Cookies

Plum Puff Cookies

 

Plum Puff Cookies are my October 2013 Cookie of the Month.  These are hearty cookies because each one is actually two cookies sandwiched together with a tasty raisin filling.  These cookies can also be filled with your favorite jam, date , or even lemon, filling.

Cookie Ingredients:

¼ cup butter

½ tbsp lard

½ cup sugar

1 egg, beaten

2 tbsp milk

½ tsp vanilla

1¼ cups flour

1/8 tsp salt

¼ tsp soda

1/8 tsp cardamon

 

Method:

Assemble ingredients.

 

Preheat oven to 350F.

Beat butter and lard together.  Add sugar.  Beat until light and fluffy.  Add egg, milk, and vanilla.

Sift flour, salt, soda, and cardamom together.  Stir into wet ingredients and mix just until incorporated.

Knead dough into ball.  If dough is soft, place in refrigerator for 30-40 minutes.

On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to about 1/8” thickness.  Divide dough in half.  Using a 2 – 2½” linzer round crinkle cookie cutter, cut out one half of the dough into solid circles.  Cut remaining dough into the same size circles but fit the linzer cookie cutter with desired cut-out for cookie centers. (Note:  If you don’t have a linzer cookie cutter, simply use any cookie cutter shape you have and then use a smaller cookie cutter to cut out the centers of half of the cookies.)

Place cookies, about 1½” – 2” apart, on parchment-lined baking sheet.  Bake on center rack in oven for 10-12 minutes. Let cool on rack for 2-3 minutes then transfer to cooling rack.

When cookies have cooled completely, spread raisin filling (recipe follows) on flat side of each solid cookie, then top with the flat side of a cookie that has center cut out.

Yield:  2-dozen sandwich cookies

Filling Ingredients:

1 cup raisins

1 tbsp flour

½ cup sugar

½ cup water

½ tsp vanilla

Pinch of cinnamon

Smidgeon of salt

 

Combine all ingredients in saucepan.  Over medium-low heat, cook raisin mixture until thickened.

An old-fashioned wholesome cookie.

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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

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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”.

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.

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Butter Tarts – A Quintessential Canadian Dessert

Butter tarts that melt in your mouth, is there anything better?  There are as many recipes for butter tarts as there are bakers and pastry chefs making them.  Essentially, these are the basic, core ingredients that will normally be common to all butter tart recipes:  brown sugar, eggs, butter (absolutely no substitutes), and usually some kind of syrup (e.g., maple, corn, or both).  The ingredients may vary in different amounts from recipe to recipe and this will impact the flavor and texture of the filling.

What will often define a good butter tart is the pastry.  No matter how tasty the filling is, if the pastry is tough or hard, a good butter tart is ruined.  Just as in a pie, tart pastry shells should be light and flaky. When you bite into the tart, the pastry should be very tender and just literally flake apart and you should be able to see its different layers.

Some use very thick pastry for their tarts and they fold and pleat in quite a chunk of pastry to each muffin cup; however, I don’t care for a lot of pastry as I find it detracts from the filling.  I guess you could say that I don’t like a dessert that is more about the pastry and less about the filling (the yummy part!). I make my own pastry and roll it quite thin, just leaving it thick enough to hold the filling and just large enough that it only lines the muffin tins – no extra tucks or folds of pastry for me.  I think it also makes a more refined, neater, and pleasing tart presentation when the shell perfectly and smoothly fits the muffin tin.  I use a 3 7/8″ ruffled edge cookie cutter to cut out the pastry shells but it depends, of course, on the size of muffin tins you are using.  You may need to experiment to find just the right size of pastry circle to fit the tins you are using.     Because pastry will shrink when baking, I fit the pastry shells into the muffin tins and put them in the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes to chill.  This helps to reduce the shrinkage during the baking process and keeps the original size and shape of the pastry shells, or at least close to it.  Then, I immediately fill the shells and pop them right into the pre-heated oven.

The consistency of the filling varies from recipe to recipe.  Some fillings are very runny, so much so that the tarts have to be eaten on a plate and with a fork.  I prefer tart fillings that are not runny but yet have soft texture and are sufficiently thickened that the tarts can be picked up in the hand and eaten without the filling dripping down the chin.

Then there is always the perennial question about whether the tarts are better with, or without, raisins and/or nuts.  I don’t necessarily mind those additions but my preference is to leave them out in favour of a nice smooth, uninterrupted filling.  Some bakers have started being creative with butter tarts by adding ingredients such as chocolate chips, coconut, or dates, for example, to their tarts.  These, however, are not traditional additions to butter tarts on PEI.

One of the tricks I have learned when making tarts is not to beat too much air into the eggs as this causes the filling to rise while baking and, consequently, spill over the top of the pastry shell and stick to the muffin tins in which they are baked.  It then becomes difficult to remove the tarts from the pans without wrecking them.  For this reason, I don’t use my Kitchen Aid or hand mixer to mix the filling.  I beat the eggs very, very little and only with a whisk.

Some desserts are trendy for awhile and will come and go with time.  Not so with butter tarts.  They are a true Canadian classic that are always en vogue.  I grew up with butter tarts regularly being made by both my mother and grandmother.  My mother would often whip up a batch of butter tarts on a Saturday morning and think nothing of it.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say tarts were almost a staple in the household and we always kind of looked upon them as rather commonplace as opposed to a delicacy.   Put a tray of butter tarts on any dessert table and watch them disappear quickly!

The recipe that follows is my own, adapted from the one my mother used.  My mother, for example, never added maple syrup to tarts but I think it enhances the sweet taste of the tarts so I have incorporated it into my version.

Barbara’s Butter Tarts

Ingredients:

3/4 cup brown sugar, packed

2 eggs, lightly beaten (with whisk)

3 tbsp maple syrup

1/4 cup melted butter (no substitutions)

2 tbsp cream, blend, or whole milk

1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla

1 tsp vinegar

dash salt

Method:

Prepare your favorite pastry recipe and cut out round shapes of sufficient size to fit into muffin tins.

Place shells in refrigerator for 30-60 minutes to chill.

Preheat oven to 350C.

Assemble ingredients.

Add all ingredients to large mixing cup or bowl.  Whisk, or stir, just until ingredients are combined.

Pour or spoon filling into prepared shells, filling each about 2/3 full.

Bake for about 25 minutes or just until filling has set.  Let cool 20-25 minutes in muffin tins on rack then remove from pans to rack to finish cooling.

Yield:  Apx. 12-14 tarts

This blog entry is part of the Canadian Food Experience project which began on June 7, 2013.  The September theme is “My Cherished Canadian Recipe”.  Butter tarts are one of the most common desserts often associated with Canada, particularly when the tarts have maple syrup in them, so I have chosen to share my recipe.

As we (project participants) share our collective stories across the vastness of our Canadian landscape through our regional food experiences, we hope to bring global clarity to our Canadian culinary identity through the cadence of our concerted Canadian voice.  Please join us.

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Grilled Peach Salad with Peach Balsamic Vinaigrette

We have eaten a lot of salads from our garden produce this summer and I must admit I am starting to get a bit tired of the traditional green salad with tomatoes, cucumber, etc.  The peaches have been divine this late summer so, for a change, I decided to grill them and make a fruit salad on fresh garden greens.

This is a tasty salad with the grilled peaches, fresh blueberries, red onion rings, and feta cheese on a bed of mixed greens.  I topped it off with a peach balsamic vinaigrette made with peach balsamic vinegar and mandarin-infused olive oil from the Liquid Gold store here in Charlottetown.

To grill the peaches, I cut each in half, removed the stone, and brushed both sides of the peaches with the mandarin- infused olive oil.  Make sure the grill is greased as well.

On a pre-heated grill (medium-high), the peaches only take 2-3 minutes, each side (use tongs to turn the fruit). Don’t overcook the fruit as it will become too soft and mushy.   Grilling fresh fruit brings out the deep flavor of the fruit and intensifies the sweet taste.  Plus, the grill marks on the peaches, enhance the presentation.

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For salad for two:

mixed greens

2 grilled peaches

blueberries

red onion rings

feta cheese

To make the dressing: 

1/4 cup mandarin-infused olive oil

2 tbsp peach balsamic vinegar

4 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp minced garlic

1 green onion, finely sliced

2 tsp fresh lemon juice

2 tsp sugar

pepper, to taste

Kosher salt, to taste

Mix all ingredients together.  Shake well.  Drizzle over salad when ready to serve.

To assemble salad:

Make a bed of mixed greens on each plate.  Place sliced grilled peaches on greens.  Add red onion rings.  Sprinkle with blueberries and feta cheese.  Drizzle with Peach Balsamic Vinaigrette.

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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”.

Cheese and Basil Pesto Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes

We have a bumper crop of cherry tomatoes in our garden this year.  It’s always a challenge as to what to do with them because, let’s face it, there are only so many salads and cherry tomatoes one can eat.  I have taken some to work colleagues, given some to neighbours, and still the tomato plants keep multiplying these Tiny Tim tomatoes.  Here is one of my favorite ways to stuff cherry tomatoes for hors d’oeuvres or appetizers.

To be frank, I don’t really use a precise recipe for these tasty little morsels.  Mix up some soft cheese such as boursin garlic herb – probably a couple of tablespoonfuls for the four tomatoes you see below.  To that, add about 1/2 tsp of basil pesto and mix it together.  Cut top of each tomato and scoop out tomato pulp leaving just the tomato shell.  Using a small spoon or pastry bag with decorator tip, fill each tomato with cheese-basil mixture.  Garnish with fresh herbs such as thyme, parsley, dill, and/or chives.

I like to serve these on a bed of parsley in small tasting spoons.  It dresses them up.

They are as colorful in presentation as they are tasty.

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Labour Day Picnic by the PEI Seaside with Lobster Croissants on the Menu

I’ve had a great summer of picnics this year!  Haven’t gone on this many picnics in many years.  I had forgotten how much fun and relaxed al fresco dining can be.  This posting will feature my Labour Day Weekend Picnic but, first, a little trip down memory lane.

One of my favorite summertime memories involves a picnic.  I was visiting a neighbour playmate and we were probably about 8 or 9 years old.  We took a notion one hot summer day that we would have a picnic by the little stream across the road from my friend’s place.  The two of us stood by the friend’s mother at the kitchen counter as she whipped up some gourmet peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, placed them in an old tin school lunchbox, filled a thermos with Kool-aid (anybody remember Kool-aid?), and sent us off on our big adventure to the picnic by the stream.  Off we went across the little country road, down through the cow pasture to a little stream which, at its deepest point was probably all of 4″ or 5″ deep.  We situated ourselves, had our picnic, and probably returned to the house all in the span of about 15 minutes, no doubt ready for another activity!  Yet, we had been on a picnic adventure and made a memory.  That was back in the days when kids played outside all day and found numerous ways to amuse themselves and none of them involved cell phones or computers.

I will admit my picnic adventures have progressed and become a bit more sophisticated.  There are so many options for picnic foods, particularly when it comes to sandwiches – there are traditional sandwiches with any number of different kinds of breads as options, wraps, baguettes, different kinds of rolls, bagels, etc.  For my picnic by the sea today, I have chosen croissants.  They are tasty and have a nice, soft texture.  Because I live near the water and close to a small fishing village that has a fresh seafood market open daily in the summer, lobster was a logical choice for a croissant filling.  The late summer fishing season has opened in Victoria-by-the-Sea on the south shore of PEI so buying lobster at the seafood market means the lobster is really, really fresh.  Take a look at this 1 1/2+ pound lobster that I took home with me to make the filling for the croissants!

I don’t really have a defined recipe for lobster filling for sandwiches or croissants.  I chop the lobster meat into fairly large chunks as I like to see good-sized pieces of lobster in a lobster roll or croissant — no mashed-up or shredded pieces of lobster meat will do for me!

I add a bit of celery, some pepper, some fresh chopped chives, a splash of fresh lemon juice, and some homemade mayonnaise – just enough to hold the meat together and give it flavour.  That’s it, nothing more as I don’t like anything that detracts from that rich lobster flavour.

I buttered the croissants, added a bed of fresh lettuce from our garden and then heaped on the lobster filling.  Yes, it was very yummy!

A little closer look….

And, this is what I mean about wanting to see nice big pieces of lobster in the sandwich.  Isn’t it mouthwatering and colorful!

Add some potato chips and picnic fare doesn’t get much better than this, particularly when the picnic location is beside the water.  With something as special as lobster, the menu does not have to be extensive.  Let the lobster star all on its own!

Croissants are so easy to handle and eat…particularly when filled with lobster 🙂

My August Cookie of the Month was the chocolate drop cookie.  They were dessert.

I added some fresh fruit – this time, some green grapes – and the picnic basket was ready to go.

I always like to take along some props to dress up the picnic spread, regardless whether it is at a picnic table or on the ground as is the case here by the beach.  It doesn’t matter whether I am in my dining room setting a formal table or outside, I like to think of setting the stage for a feast for the eye as well as for the stomach.  A few props really can make an ordinary picnic a bit more special.

For my seaside picnic, all it took was a blue-checked cloth, a stylish matching wicker picnic basket, a lantern with a blue candle, and some seashells and starfish, to dress up the dining experience.

I love the patterns in the pink-red sandbars on PEI.  Our Island beaches are extraordinary – on the south side, they tend to be more the pink-red color you see in the photo below while, on the north side, the sand is more of a soft pink color.  This is definitely a dining room with a water view!

However, the sky began to look somewhat ominous so we thought we had better hurry up and eat in case a rain shower came along and spoiled the picnic.

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I hope you have enjoyed some of the scenes from our seaside picnic that featured PEI lobster.  Enjoy your Labour Day weekend.

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August 2013 Cookie of the Month: Chocolate Drop Cookies

I have always been a chocolate lover.  These chocolate cookies were ones my Mother often made when I was a child.  I like the rich chocolate flavour and somewhat chewy center they have.  These cookies don’t take any uncommon ingredients or ones most bakers wouldn’t have in their cupboards.  Of course, using the best cocoa you can find will make for a richer, more flavourful cookie.

They are very easy to make and, being drop cookies, there is no rolling the dough and cutting out shapes and no need for any icing.  Simply scoop up some dough with a teaspoon and use another to slide the dough off the spoon and on to the cookie sheet.  These cookies can be dressed up with 1/2 cup of either chopped nuts, dates, raisins, or even chocolate chips.  However, I don’t add any extras to them as I like the smooth texture and flavour they have on their own without any further additions.

Chocolate Drop Cookies

1/2 cup shortening, softened

1 cup white sugar

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup milk

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup cocoa

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

Method:

Preheat oven to 375F.

With electric mixer, beat shortening and sugar together until light and fluffy (1-2 minutes).  Beat in egg, vanilla, and milk.

Into separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt.  Add to wet ingredients and stir just until dry ingredients are incorporated.

Drop by teaspoonfuls onto parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake 10-11 minutes.  Do not overbake or cookies will be dry.

Yield:  Apx. 3 dozen

These cookies are good any time and make good lunch box treats as well as picnic basket fare.  They are especially good with a dish of vanilla ice cream!

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Grilled Chicken, Strawberry, and Feta Cheese Salad

With warm summer evenings, it’s nice to have a go-to recipe for an easy-to-prepare, light yet filling, entrée.  One of my favorite summertime evening meals is warm grilled chicken served over a strawberry, feta cheese, and green salad and drizzled with a good balsamic vinaigrette.

The option is yours to choose to marinade the boneless, skinless chicken breasts or not.  I usually do and I don’t follow a precise recipe for the marinade but these are the usual ingredients:  brown sugar, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, minced onion, soya sauce, salt, and pepper.  As for quantities of each ingredient, I don’t actually measure them out and add more or less, depending on how many chicken breasts I am marinating.  I make several horizontal cuts in the chicken breasts to allow the marinade to permeate through the meat.  Place the chicken breasts in a ziplok bag, mix together the marinade and pour it into the bag, making sure the entire chicken breasts are covered.  Zip up the bag and place it in the fridge for several hours (I usually aim for between 2 and 4 hours).  Heat up the grill and cook the chicken breasts until they are done.

One of the pleasures of summer is having our own garden.  We eat a lot of salads and there is nothing better than running to the garden right before meal time and gathering a medley of fresh lettuce as well as some herbs from our little herb garden.

Slice the warm grilled chicken breast horizontally into slices about ¼” thick.

Cover the plate with a medley of greens.  Transfer the cut-up chicken breast to centre of the plate on top of the lettuce bed.  Slice up and add some fresh strawberries and red onion rings. Sprinkle with feta cheese and a few nuts such as cashews or sunflower seeds (or both!).  Add a balsamic vinaigrette and voila, a tasty and light dinner.  Serve with baguette slices and a refreshing glass of your favorite white wine.  Here I have selected “flipflop”, a California Pinot Grigio which made a fine accompaniment to a summer salad.

My recipe for the vinaigrette follows.  Of course, you know the secret to a really good vinaigrette – the best quality of olive oil and balsamic vinegar you can find.  Because we have a “Liquid Gold Tasting Bar & All Things Olive” store in Charlottetown, I buy their olive oil and vinegar products because they are superior and fresh quality.

Peach and Mandarin Balsamic Vinaigrette

¼ cup Mandarin-infused olive oil

2 tbsp peach white balsamic vinegar

4 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp minced garlic

1 small green onion or 1 – 2 tsp finely chopped red onion

2 tsp freshly-squeezed lemon juice

1 ½ – 2 tsp sugar, to taste

Freshly ground pepper

Kosher salt, to taste

Mix and shake all ingredients together until well mixed. Drizzle over salad at time of serving.

 

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July 2013 Cookie of the Month: Brown Sugar Jam-Filled Cookies (It’s Christmas in July!)

Brown Sugar Jam-Filled Cookies
Brown Sugar Jam-Filled Cookies

Happy Christmas in July!  I know, I know, I know!  It’s only July but it’s never too early to think about Christmas cookies!  So, as I continue on with my Cookie of the Month series in 2013, I am sharing an old family favourite – Brown Sugar Jam-Filled Cookies – as the July cookie.

This recipe was shared with me by a neighbour lady 36 years ago.  It has long been a favourite cookie in our household.  It is not too sweet but is very tasty….bite into one of these cookies and you’ll find that one will not be enough!

You can also vary the flavour by using different jams and jellies in the center, although red jam is always the most showy.  I have used some of my fresh batch of strawberry jam as the filler in the cookies in these photos.

When my neighbour made the cookies, she never added cherries or nuts; however, I think these additions make the cookies a bit more special, particularly around holiday time.

I do a lot of special baking around the holidays but have discovered that not everyone wants gooey squares and rich decadent cookies, balls, and candy that always seem to adorn sweet trays during the holiday season.  For some, they are just too rich and sweet.  These cookies are the perfect alternative.  They are what I would class as a ‘substantial’ cookie yet the nuts and cherries still keep them within the Christmas ‘zone’.

But don’t reserve them just for the holidays!  They are good any time of the year and are especially good picnic fare and lunch box treats.  They also make a great tea-time snack (yes, I took my Christmas China to the beach for a mid-evening tea and had to watch out for the seagulls who were eying the cookies pretty well!).

The Brown Sugar Jam-Filled Cookies are easy to make and don’t take uncommon ingredients.  They also freeze well so are great to have on hand.

Brown Sugar Jam-Filled Cookies

Ingredients:

½ cup butter, softened

1 cup brown sugar

1 tbsp milk

1 egg

½ tsp vanilla

1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour

½ tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

¼ tsp cardamom

½ cup chopped macadamia nuts

¼ cup chopped maraschino cherries

Favorite jam or jelly

Method:

Preheat oven to 350C.

Assemble ingredients.

In medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, soda, salt, and cardamom.  Set aside.

Chop well-drained cherries. I drain them on, and dry them with, paper towel.  The cherries need to be very well-drained and dried as, otherwise, they will color the dough pink.  Chop macadamia nuts.  Set both the cherries and nuts aside.

In bowl of stand mixer, cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in egg, milk, and vanilla.

page 2 - Wet Ingredients

On slow “stir” speed, stir in dry ingredients just until combined.  Do not overmix.

page 3 - Adding Flour

Stir in cherries and nuts by hand.

On parchment-lined baking sheet, drop dough by teaspoonfuls.  With thumb, press indent into center of each cookie.  Fill with ¼ – ½ tsp of favorite jam or jelly.

Bake for 12-14 minutes.  Do not overbake.  Let cool on baking sheet for 2 minutes then transfer to wire rack to finish cooling.

Yield:  Apx. 30 cookies (depending on the size you choose to make)

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Glazed Strawberry Pie

Glazed Strawberry Pie
Glazed Strawberry Pie

There are so many things I like about summer on Prince Edward Island but one of my very favorite things is glazed strawberry pie made with fresh, local Island berries.  After I have had a couple of “feeds” of plain berries, sugar, and milk, I am ready for them in other recipes.  One of those recipes always has to be fresh strawberry pie.

Glazed Strawberry Pie
Glazed Strawberry Pie

The strawberry pie recipe below is the one my family has used for at least the past 25+ years.  I have no idea what prompted us to start making strawberry pie or where the recipe came from.  I just know it has been around for a good long time and I have yet to find any other that matches or beats it.

To make this pie, you will need the freshest strawberries possible and ones that are not overly ripe.  A slightly firm variety of berry is best.   The berries I used in my pie came from Sarah and Ryan Schofield’s berry farm near Crapaud.  They sell their berries at Harvey’s Store in Crapaud Village and their boxes are nicely rounded up, just like we Islanders like to see – a good measure in each box!

Normally, I like to make my own pie crust because I love to make pastry.  However, with temperatures soaring well above the 30C mark the past several days, I decided I didn’t have the energy to make a batch of pastry so I opted for a frozen pie shell.

Ingredients:

Apx. 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 qts fresh strawberries, hulled, washed, and dried

2 tbsp cornstarch

3/4 cup sugar

1/8 tsp salt

1 tbsp butter

1 tsp lemon juice

1 – 9″ baked pie shell

Directions:

Hull, wash, and dry strawberries (use a paper towel to gently blot the berries dry).  Set aside enough to cover the bottom of the pie crust.

Cut up berries to prepare them for crushing – it’s hard to say exactly how many because berries vary in size and water content.  Start with a few berries at a time.

Using a potato masher, crush enough strawberries to make 1 1/2 cups.

Assemble all ingredients.

In medium-sized saucepan, combine cornstarch, sugar, and salt.  Mix well.  Add crushed berries and stir to blend well.

Place mixture over medium heat and stir constantly until it becomes somewhat clear and it starts to thicken, about 5-7 minutes.  Watch that mixture does not scorch as this can easily and quickly happen.

Reduce heat to low, cover mixture, and continue to cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent mixture from sticking to pan.  Remove from heat.  Add butter and lemon juice.  Stir well.

page 2 - Finishing Sauce

Arrange whole strawberries in baked pie shell.  If necessary, fill in any gaps between berries with a few cut-up berries.

Spoon hot glaze mixture over the berries.

Completely cover berries with the glaze.

Place pie in refrigerator and let chill several hours (at least 3 hrs) before serving.  Add whipped cream at time of serving and decorate with additional berries as desired.

Yield:  Apx. 8 servings

Tips and Notes This pie is best served the day it is made as the pie crust tends to become somewhat soggy the next day.  Leaving the berries whole helps contain the amount of moisture that soaks into the pie crust as cutting the berries up releases their juices and lessens the lifespan of the pie crust.

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June 2013 Cookie of the Month: Spider Cookies

 

Oh, these bring back sweet childhood memories!  I grew up knowing these as “Spider Cookies”.  However, they are often simply called “Uncooked Chocolate Cookies”.  Regardless their name, they are simple to make and very tasty; in fact, I’d say they are a close neighbour to candy.

These are indeed a vintage cookie.  I don’t know their origins but do know they were popular in the 1960s and since.  They have often been found at picnics and, whenever there was an event at school, inevitably somebody’s mom showed up with these treats in tow.

The great thing about these cookies is that you don’t have to bake them, they don’t take uncommon or a long list of ingredients, and they are relatively quick and easy to make, even for novice bakers.

Here is what you will need to make these special treats:

Ingredients:

2 cups white sugar

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup margarine, butter, or shortening

pinch of salt

1 tsp. vanilla

2 1/2 cups quick cooking rolled oats (not instant)

1/2 cup coconut

6 tbsp cocoa

Method:

In medium-sized saucepan, combine sugar, milk, margarine, and salt.  Bring to a boil over medium heat.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat and add vanilla.  Stir.

In large bowl, combine rolled oats, coconut, and cocoa.  Stir well to combine.

Pour liquid ingredients over dry ingredients in bowl.  Stir to combine.  Mixture may seem soft but resist the urge to add more rolled oats which will make the cookies hard and chippy.  Let mixture stand, undisturbed, for 15-20 minutes and it will begin to firm up.

Drop by spoonfuls onto wax-paper lined baking sheet.  Place in refrigerator for apx. 1 hour to firm up cookies.

Yield:  apx. 36 cookies

Store in airtight container.  These cookies also freeze well.

Make sure you use a good quality cocoa to get the best, richest taste in these cookies.

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Spider Cookies
Spider Cookies

 

Rhubarb Cordial

Oh, those lazy, hazy hot days of summer!   They sure can work up a thirst.  One of the most refreshing summertime drinks in my repertoire is Rhubarb Cordial.  Not only is it refreshing, but it is tasty and a very showy drink with its bright orange/red color.

Rhubarb Cordial
Rhubarb Cordial

Making Rhubarb Cordial is also another great way to use up rhubarb from the garden but make sure you pick the brightest red stalks as that is what gives this drink its superb color.

Making the concentrate for the Cordial is a bit time-consuming but the end result is worth the time and effort.

Here is what you will need to make the Cordial:

6 cups red rhubarb, cut into 1/2″ pieces

3 cups water

(This will yield about 5 cups of rhubarb juice)

1 cup sugar

1 – 295ml can frozen pink lemonade, thawed

juice of 1/2 pink grapefruit

juice of 1/2 lemon

juice of 1/2 orange

(These three citrus juices together will yield apx. 1/2 cup liquid)

Lemon-lime soda (or 7-Up, Sprite, or Gingerale)

Yield:  Apx. 7 – 7 1/2 cups (depending on the water content of the rhubarb used as well as how much juice is extracted from the citrus fruits)

Method:

Cook rhubarb and water for apx. 15 minutes, until rhubarb is soft and mushy.

Strain rhubarb through a fine sieve into a large pot to extract the juice.  Discard the rhubarb pulp.  You should have about 5 cups of rhubarb juice from this process.  I like to strain the juice a second time to refine it further and remove any traces of rhubarb pulp.

Squeeze and strain the grapefruit, lemon, and orange juices.  Discard fruit pulp.  Add the citrus juices to the rhubarb juice.

Stir sugar into rhubarb and citrus  juice mixture.   Heat over medium-low heat to dissolve the sugar.  Do not boil.  Remove from heat.  Strain lemonade concentrate into the juice.  Chill.

Pour into large pitcher if serving immediately or pour into sterilized bottles, seal, and freeze for later use.

Mason jars also make good containers in which to store the Rhubarb Cordial.

To serve:

For individual servings, fill glass 1/3 full of chilled Rhubarb Cordial.  Fill remaining 2/3 glass with chilled lemon-lime soda.  Stir.  Add ice cubes and a sprig of mint.  Decorate glass with rhubarb curls if desired.

To make multiple servings, such as in a punch bowl, for example, follow the 1 part Rhubarb Cordial concentrate to 2 parts soda rule.

This is a great drink to sip on a warm, sunny day while sitting under the cover of the front verandah or on the back deck.  It also makes a great picnic beverage as well.

  DSC_0481

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Rhubarb Cordial
Rhubarb Cordial

 

Rustic Rhubarb Pie Recipe

Rustic Rhubarb Pie Served with French Vanilla Ice Cream
Rustic Rhubarb Pie Served with French Vanilla Ice Cream

The rhubarb is at its prime on PEI right now and, of course, I am busy making the usual repertoire of my favorite recipes while the rhubarb stalks are at their best.   Used too early before they have some maturity and the stalks won’t have much flavour; left too long and they go woody and lose their flavour.

It’s always a spring-time boost when I start to see the rhubarb shoots poking their way through the ground and, within a short period of time, they grow into very large plants.  We have two rhubarb crowns and, with leaves, they measure a little more than three feet tall with stalks that are about 20-22″ long.  It doesn’t take many to make a pie!  For the pie below, I used 2 1/2 stalks.

Rhubarb Plants

The photos below show how to harvest rhubarb which is done by giving the stalk a good tug and pulling it from the crown, not cutting it off.

Harvesting Rhubarb
Harvesting Rhubarb

Today, I made a fresh old-fashioned rhubarb pie.  Nothing fancy, just plain and simple – rhubarb, sugar,  flour, and a sprinkle of salt all encased inside a double-crusted pie.  Here is what you will need to make this pie:

Ingredients:

Pastry for a double-crusted 9″ pie

4 cups rhubarb (roughly 1 pound), cut in 1/2″ pieces

1 1/2 – 1 2/3 cups white sugar (depending on how tart or sweet you like the pie)

1/3 cup flour

dash salt

Method:

Wash and dry the rhubarb stalks.  Chop rhubarb into apx. 1/2″ pieces.  Place chopped rhubarb in a large bowl.   Set aside.

Whisk sugar, flour, and salt together in a medium-sized bowl.

Add dry ingredients to the rhubarb and stir and toss to coat.  Allow mixture to sit for approximately 20 minutes to allow the sugar to start to dissolve.

Meanwhile, roll pastry to desired thickness.  Line bottom and sides of a 9″ pie plate with the pastry.  Spread the rhubarb mixture into the pastry-lined pie plate.

Roll pastry for top crust.  Dampen top edges of lower pie pastry and transfer the top crust to the pie.  Using the tines of a fork, press top and bottom edges of crust together to seal.  Cut slits in top crust or prick with fork tines to allow steam to escape as pie bakes.

Bake at 400F for 50 minutes.  (Tips:  I line a pizza pan with tin foil and place the pie plate on the pan as fruit pies tend to bubble out and can make a sticky mess in the oven.  If the edges of the pie crust start to brown too quickly, loosely place a piece of tin foil over the pie as it finishes baking.)

Rustic Rhubarb Pie
Rustic Rhubarb Pie

This makes a wonderful spring-time treat, especially when served with a dollop of French Vanilla ice cream as I have here with my own homemade ice cream.

Be sure to also check out my recipe for Rhubarb Marmalade.

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May Cookie of the Month: Cherry Winks

Cherry Wink Cookie
Cherry Wink Cookie

For the May “Cookie of the Month”, I am sharing our family recipe for the vintage cookie, Cherry Winks.  My Mother often made these cookies when I was a small child so they have been a family favorite for many years.  They are not difficult to make and don’t take any hard-to-find or unusual ingredients.  These tasty cookies are very versatile – they can be served on a sweet tray at an afternoon tea or they can be lunchbox cookies.

Ingredients:

3/4 cup shortening or butter

1 cup white sugar

2 eggs, unbeaten

4 tbsp milk

1 tsp vanilla

2 1/4 cups flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup chopped dates

3/4 cup chopped pecans

apx. 2 1/2 – 3 cups cornflakes

apx. 15 maraschino cherries, blotted dry in paper towel, and cut into quarters

Method:

Preheat oven to 375F.

In bowl of stand mixer, cream shortening or butter.  Add sugar and cream until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, and beat well after each addition.  Beat in milk and vanilla.

page 1 -butter mixture

In separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, soda, and salt.  Whisk together to blend.  Mix in the dates and pecans. Add to creamed mixture and stir until well combined.

Crush cornflakes crumbs by placing in a sealed ziplock bag and crushing with a rolling pin.

Transfer crumbs to shallow bowl.  Shape dough into small balls. Roll each cookie ball in the crumbs to coat.  Place on parchment-lined baking sheets.  Top each cookie with piece of cherry.

Bake for 10-12 minutes.  Do not overbake.  Let cool on cookie sheet for 2 minutes then transfer to wire rack to finish cooling.

Makes approximately 4 dozen cookies.

These cookies go especially well with a glass of cold milk!

…and one is never enough!

A box of these cookies makes a wonderful, tasty gift!

What are your memories of cherry winks?

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Asparagus Bundles and a Visit to an Island Asparagus Farm

Asparagus Bundles

Yesterday, I paid a visit to Tim Dixon in North Tryon, PEI.  Amongst other crops grown on the family farm, Tim grows a small acreage of asparagus which he markets to Island restaurants and also sells at the farm gate.

Tim Dixon with freshly picked asparagus from his North Tryon, PEI Farm
Tim Dixon with freshly picked asparagus from his North Tryon, PEI, Farm

Below is a photo of an asparagus spear just about ready to be harvested.

Asparagus Spear

Tim has been growing asparagus since 2000 and presently has acreage that yields between 500-700 pounds of this spring vegetable annually. I asked Tim why he decided to grow asparagus and he tells me he was looking to diversify his crop planting and was also looking for a market niche.

There are several varieties of asparagus but the bulk of Tim’s crop is the Jersey Giant variety.  The asparagus is planted in springtime and is grown from crowns planted 1 foot deep in the rich red soil not far from the Tryon River.  It usually takes a couple of years for the asparagus from a crown to be fully ready to be harvested.

Despite its Mediterranean origins and liking heat, Tim says asparagus is a hardy plant that only requires a light discing in the spring, a coating of manure, and some weed control.  Tim says winter kill is not an issue for asparagus and a crown will generally produce spears for about 15 years.

Asparagus is one of the first vegetables of spring on PEI.  Harvesting usually begins around Victoria Day in mid-May and continues until the end of June/first of July.  When the spears are 6”-8” tall, Tim hand-picks them by snapping the spears off the stock, not cutting them.  He tells me that the rule of thumb for harvesting asparagus is to pick for one week in the first year after planting, then 2 weeks the next, 3 weeks in year 3, up to 6 weeks of harvesting for mature asparagus.

Tim says the local community is very supportive and neighbours are amongst his best customers.  On the farm, he sells both 1-pound and 2-pound bags of fresh asparagus.  I asked him if he knew how his neighbours were preparing the asparagus and he says, typically, many steam or sauté the spears.

Fresh Asparagus
Fresh Asparagus

A standard-sized portion serving is 5 spears.  Asparagus plates well because of its long, slender, vivid green spears and pointed flower heads that can range in color from dark green to tints of deep purple.  It adds presentation, texture, and flavour to a meal.  Asparagus has an earthy, unique taste and pairs well with poultry, seafood, and pasta.  There are endless ways to prepare asparagus.  One of my favourite ways to prepare asparagus is to mist it with a good quality olive oil, sprinkle it with freshly ground pepper, sea salt, and finely grated parmesan cheese and then barbeque it in a veggie basket over the open flame.

For maximum freshness, this vegetable is best used within 2-3 days of picking; however, asparagus will last up to near a week if stored in an open-ended plastic bag in the refrigerator.  Wrap the woody ends of the spears in a damp paper towel to prolong their freshness.  Be sure to trim off the woody ends before cooking.

Freshly picked Asparagus Spears Stored in Refrigerator to Maintain Freshness

My feature recipe today for asparagus is very simple.  I tossed the spears with a light drizzle of Liquid Gold’s Arbequina extra virgin olive oil.  Make sure you use a high quality olive oil for this dish.

For each serving I used a super-thin slice of prosciutto onto which I carefully spread a thin layer of spiced garlic and herb soft goat cheese.  Be very gentle and careful with this step as prosciutto is very delicate and breaks apart easily.

Bundle together five spears and place them on the prosciutto slice.  Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and sea salt.

Gently wrap the prosciutto around the asparagus spears.

Transfer each bundle to a lightly greased baking sheet.

Bake at 375F for about 15 minutes.

I served the asparagus bundles with an almond-crusted stuffed chicken breast and duchess potatoes.

The Dixon Farm is located at 140 North Tryon Cross Road in North Tryon, PEI.  To make arrangements to buy fresh Island asparagus, visit the farm or contact Tim Dixon by phone at 902-432-4771 or by email at dixonfarms1@live.com.  Be sure to visit Tim’s website to learn more about the Dixon Farm.

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Mother’s Day Breakfast in Bed

Happy Mother’s Day to all Moms!

What mom doesn’t like to be pampered on Mother’s Day and what says pampering more than breakfast in bed!  Dress up an ordinary bed tray with a lovely napkin or pretty placemat and prepare a scrumptious breakfast for Mom.

The Menu:  Start with a fresh fruit cup presented in the prettiest, daintiest pedestal dessert dish.  Choose a variety of fruits of different colors, shapes, and textures.

Fresh squeezed orange juice adds an element of sophistication to the breakfast tray.

For the main course, I chose to serve scrambled eggs on crostini with a roasted Parmesan tomato half.  The roasted tomato is so simple to make.  Simply cut a tomato in half.   A sprinkle of Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, and a shake of Parmesan cheese is all it takes to season the tomatoes. Drizzle each half tomato with a good quality olive oil – I used Liquid Gold’s Organic Tuscan Herb Infused Olive Oil.  Roast the tomato on a lightly greased baking sheet in a 450F oven for about 10 minutes, just until tomato is heated and the Parmesan starts to turn golden in color.

How yummy does this tomato look!

A few herbs and a topping of grated cheddar cheese take scrambled eggs to a whole new level, particularly when served on a tasty crostini.

Look for lots of color to add to the breakfast tray.  Color makes the tray look so much more vibrant, interesting, and appealing.

Select the prettiest cup and saucer to dress up the tray.

I like these petite individual-sized teapots.  They are very versatile and don’t take up much room on a bed tray.

Fresh flowers are a must for any special breakfast in bed tray.  Miniature carnations are very suitable for bed trays.  Everything should be to scale in order for it to fit on the tray.

Lastly, you’ll want to add the finishing touch of a lovely and carefully chosen Mother’s Day Card.

A beautiful card for a beautiful Mom!

It’s all about Mom on Mother’s Day.  It’s not always the big, fancy gifts that touch the heart.  Most often, it is something like the care and attention that goes into planning something special, like breakfast in bed and, most importantly spending time together, that means the most.

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Lobster Cakes

Barbara's Lobster Cakes
Barbara’s Lobster Cakes

The opening of the spring lobster season on Prince Edward Island is always an event.  Fishing boats, laden with lobster traps like those in the photos below, depart wharves around the Island in the very early morning to set their traps, often going several miles out to sea.  This is called “setting day” and it is not uncommon for people in the local fishing communities to head to their local wharves to see the fishing boats off.  Setting day 2013 was yesterday, April 29th.  I didn’t make it to a wharf yesterday or today but I am sharing some photographs I took during fishing season 2012.

Lobster Fishing Boat Loaded for Traps to be Set on “Setting Day”, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI, May 6, 2012

 

Lobster Fishing Boats Loaded for Traps to be Set on “Setting Day”, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI, May 6, 2012

 

Lobster Fishing Boat Loaded for Traps to be Set on “Setting Day”, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI, May 6, 2012

Several communities also have church services known as the “Blessing of the Fleet” services on the Sunday before setting day.  These are sometimes held inside nearby local churches but, most frequently, they are held on the wharves of the fishing ports.

Today was the first day of the season that fishers could check their set traps and bring in their catches.  The photos below were taken at North Lake Harbour, PEI on June 1, 2012; however, the same scene would be playing out today at many harbours across PEI.

Lobster Fishing Boats Filled With Their Day's Catch Returning to Port at North Lake, PEI [June 1, 2012]
Lobster Fishing Boats Filled With Their Day’s Catch Returning to Port at North Lake, PEI [June 1, 2012]

Lobster Fishing Boats, North Lake, PEI [June 1, 2012]
Lobster Fishing Boats, North Lake, PEI [June 1, 2012]
Unloading the Day's Catch at North Lake Harbour [June 1, 2012]
Unloading the Day’s Catch at North Lake Harbour, PEI [June 1, 2012]
And, here are the “goods”!

"The Prized Cargo" - Fresh PEI Lobster
“The Prized Cargo” – Fresh PEI Lobster!

Boats at rest after their day’s work fetching the catch.

North Lake Harbour, PEI [June 1, 2012]
North Lake Harbour, PEI [June 1, 2012]
And, once they are cooked, look at the fabulous rich color of these freshly caught PEI lobsters!

Cooked Lobsters
Cooked Lobsters

Many Islanders will be dining on fresh lobster for supper this evening.  For many, it is a tradition to have fresh lobster on the first day of the catch.  This is one of the benefits of living on an Island – we have plenty of fresh seafood.  Many (including myself) will argue that lobster from the spring fishery is better than lobster fished later in the summer from waters that have warmed up over the season (even though lobster from the later catch is very good, too).  I don’t know why it is but lobster from the cold Atlantic water always does seem to taste better and I think even has a better texture meat.

I remember the first time I was on a Caribbean cruise many years ago, ordering lobster from the dinner menu.  My taste buds were salivating for what I knew to be lobster taste.  Oh my!  It didn’t taste like lobster at all as I know it.  That’s when I discovered the difference in taste of lobster that comes out of cold water and that out of very warm waters!  I never ordered lobster from a cruise ship menu again.  I wait for the good PEI lobster at home!  The ironic part of this is that I never liked lobster when I was growing up.  In fact, when the family would be chowing down on lobster, my mother always roasted me a chicken!  However, they convinced me to try a bite of it when I was probably about 18 years old and I’ve never looked back and have more than made up for it since!  I love lobster by itself and in just about any other recipe imaginable!

So, tonight, I am dining on Lobster Cakes to celebrate the opening of the 2013 PEI lobster fishery season and am sharing my recipe with you.

Barbara's Lobster Cakes

Barbara’s Lobster Cakes

2 cups warm mashed potatoes (about 2-3 medium-sized potatoes)

1 egg, beaten

1 tbsp tartar sauce

2 oz. grated cheddar cheese

¼ tsp dried dillweed

½ tsp parsley

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

1 small scallion (apx. 1 ½ tbsp)

2 tbsp celery, finely chopped

2 tbsp red pepper, finely chopped

7 – 8 oz. cooked lobster (fresh or frozen), cut into bite-sized chunks

½ – 1 cup bread crumbs

 

Apx. ¾ cup finely ground seasoned bread crumbs for dredging lobster patties

1 – 2 tbsp oil

 

Method:

Place warm mashed potatoes in large bowl.  Add beaten egg and mix well.  Add tartar sauce.

Stir in grated cheddar cheese.

Add dillweed, parsley, and pepper.  Stir in scallions, celery, and red pepper.

Lastly, add the lobster and mix well.  Add just enough of the first amount of bread crumbs so the mixture will hold together and can be formed into patties.

 

Using ¼ cup measuring cup, scoop up mixture and form into round patties.  In shallow bowl, place the seasoned bread crumbs.  Dredge each patty in the bread crumbs until completely covered on all sides.  Place on wax-paper lined baking sheet and chill for 1 hour to allow flavours to blend and for patties to become firm so they won’t break apart when sautéed.

Preheat oven to 375F.

Heat oil in non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  When oil is hot, reduce heat to medium and sauté lobster cakes 2-3 minutes on each side, until golden brown.  Transfer browned cakes to greased baking sheet.  Bake in oven 6-7 minutes to finish the cooking process and allow cakes to become firm so they will hold together.

Serve lobster cakes, 2 per person, hot with citrus aioli or your favorite tartar sauce and a side of green salad.

Lobster Cakes with Citrus Aioli
Lobster Cakes with Citrus Aioli

 

These cakes freeze well, uncooked.  When ready to serve, simply remove cakes from freezer and thaw.  Sauté and bake as described above.

Yield:  Apx. 1 dozen cakes

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Seven-Layer Dinner (aka “Shipwreck Dinner”)

Seven Layer DInner
Seven-Layer Dinner (aka “Shipwreck Dinner”)

Okay, so my recipe is actually eight layers, but who is counting when the meal is as tasty as this one is!

Seven-layer dinner (sometimes called “Shipwreck”) is really little more than a full dinner in a casserole and baked in the oven.  I grew up (as I am sure many of you have) with this vintage meal served on a regular basis.  The seven main ingredients are:  1) onions, 2) meat, 3) potatoes, 4) celery, 5) carrot, 6) peas, and 7) rice.  Sometimes, it’s a six-layer dinner depending on what veggies I have on hand and sometimes it might be eight or nine layers thick.  I like to add parsnip because it adds a level of sweetness.  Sometimes, I will slice turnip very thinly and add it as well.  Frozen corn also works in addition to the frozen peas or instead of.  In that regard, it is almost a potluck dish!

It has probably been named “Shipwreck” because it can be made with pretty much any vegetables you happen to have on hand as well as different kinds of meats, such as ground beef or sausage and it is also an economical way to stretch the meat content.  In many households, it can be made with what is on hand without having to go shopping and it doesn’t take any kind of exotic or hard-to-find ingredients.  This is an old-fashioned hearty meal.  Have you noticed that many of these old “stand-by” meals are becoming popular again?

On a regular basis, I tend to cook with a fair bit of seasonings and spices.  However, this is one dish that I never add anything to it other than salt and pepper and the onion for flavour.

In my home, I grew up with this recipe being made with ground beef (we never used any other kind of meat in it) so, as April closes out as the month on PEI to promote local beef, I am sharing my recipe for this simple comfort food.  The beef I used for this casserole is 100% Island beef and was purchased at KJL Meats, a local butcher shop in Charlottetown, PEI.

This is a great meal to make when you have little time for meal preparation and clean-up because all the veggies, the rice, and the meat cook together in the one casserole so there are no pots and pans to wash (bonus!) other than the dish it bakes in.  And, your kitchen will smell divine when this is baking in the oven!  If there happens to be any leftover, this meal carries over well and, in fact, the flavours seem to become even richer the next day when it is reheated.

Seven-Layer Dinner

1 medium onion

2 medium-sized potatoes, thinly sliced (about 1/8 inch thick)

½ – ¾ pound extra lean ground beef

½ cup celery

1/3 cup parsnips, thinly sliced (about 1/16 inch thick)

1 cup carrots, thinly sliced

½ cup frozen peas

scant ½ cup Minute Rice

1 can tomato soup

1 soup can of water

 

Method:

Assemble ingredients.

Grease 2-quart casserole.  Peel and slice onions to make first layer of casserole.

Add the layer of sliced potatoes and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Add the layer of ground beef.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Add celery, parsnips, carrots, and frozen peas.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

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Sprinkle ingredients with rice.  Cover casserole ingredients with can of tomato soup.  Pour one soup can of water over top of ingredients (or, if you wish, you can mix the soup and water together and pour as one over the casserole ingredients).

Cover and bake at 350F for 1 ½ – 2 hours until vegetables are tender.

Serves 4-6

It is hard to plate this meal attractively but its taste more than makes up for its lack of presentation!

Suggested Serving:  Serve with homemade mustard pickles and whole grain artisan bread.

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Seven Layer Dinner (aka Shipwreck Dinner)
Seven Layer Dinner (aka Shipwreck Dinner)

Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.  

There are lots of ways to connect with “the Bistro” through social media:

Join My Island Bistro Kitchen on Facebook

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Find the Bistro on Pinterest at “Island Bistro Kitchen”

Follow along on Instagram at “peibistro”