Category Archives: Vegetables

Turnip Puff Casserole

Turnip Puff Casserole
Turnip Puff Casserole

This turnip puff casserole is really a rutabaga puff casserole because, in fact, it is actually made with rutabaga, not turnip. However, all my life, I have known the root vegetable in the photo below as a “turnip”.  Besides, I think turnip puff casserole sounds better than rutabaga puff casserole!

Rutabaga
Rutabaga

Now, even though turnips and rutabagas are kissing cousins in the mustard plant family, there are some key differences between the two.

Turnips (Photo Courtesy Just a Little Farm, Bonshaw, PEI)
Turnips (Photo Courtesy Just a Little Farm, Bonshaw, PEI)

Turnips (shown in the photo above) are much smaller than rutabagas. They are usually anywhere from 2″ – 4″ in diameter compared to the much larger rutabagas that are typically 6″ or even  more in diameter.

Rutabagas are much sweeter and turnips more bitter. Rutabagas have yellow flesh whereas turnips have white flesh. Rutabagas will have thicker outer skins than turnips and their exterior color will have a purple top and yellowy-beige bottom whereas turnips will have a white or white/purple outer skin.  Rutabagas require much longer to grow and are more tolerant to cold than are turnips which is why you will often see turnips advertised as “summer” turnips. Because of their tolerance for the cold, rutabagas are often referred to as a “cold crop” and my grandparents always claimed the rutabagas (that they referred to as turnips) were no good until there had been a good frost before they were harvested. In fact, my grandmother always said the earlier they were harvested in the fall, the more bitter they were which is why, in the fall, she always added a small amount of sugar to the cooked rutabaga as she mashed it.

We often serve the golden-colored mashed rutabaga as a side vegetable to many meals but, sometimes (especially for special occasions), it’s nice to kick this side dish up a notch which is what I do when I make this turnip puff casserole. A rutabaga weighing approximately 1 lb, 7 oz will be required for this recipe.  To the cooked rutabaga that is mashed really well to the texture of purée, I add some applesauce and brown sugar for sweetener, some onion to make it just a little bit savory, along with some cheese to boost the flavor. A hint of nutmeg and garlic provide additional flavor. An egg  is added to bind the ingredients together and baking powder is added for leavening – hence the “puff” part of this side dish.

Turnip Puff Casserole
Turnip Puff Casserole

Now, I call this a “casserole” and, for photo demonstration purposes, have photographed a piece of it as a stand-alone on a plate. However, this is not a casserole I would make as a main meal entrée. Rather, it is a vegetable side dish so, instead of serving a scoop of mashed rutabaga with dinner, I cut out pieces of this casserole and serve it alongside other vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, and peas.

Turnip Puff Casserole
Turnip Puff Casserole

A casserole or baking pan with about a 1.5-quart capacity (or slightly less) is required for this casserole. I find the 6″x8″ baking pan that I have for my toaster oven works perfectly. I would not use a deep casserole dish for this recipe as it would not cut out well for serving purposes so use a shallow baking pan. This recipe will provide six standard-sized serving portions, the size shown in the photographs. If you are serving several other side vegetables for a dinner, or serving this buffet-style, smaller pieces may suffice…..but it’s tasty so don’t be surprised if there are requests for second helpings!

Turnip Puff Casserole
Turnip Puff Casserole

For the breadcrumb topping, I use crumbs that are not super fine as are found in commercial boxes or bags of crumbs. These are ones I crumb (in the food processor) from bread crusts and they are the consistency as shown in the photo below – not super-fine but not overly chunky.

Bread Crumbs
Bread Crumbs

Bake this casserole in the oven for 30-35 minutes, just until the breadcrumb topping is lightly browned. Let stand for about 10 minutes before cutting into squares and serving.

Turnip Puff Casserole
Turnip Puff Casserole

This recipe is easily adapted to be gluten-free — simply replace the breadcrumbs called for in the recipe with those that are gluten-free and use gluten-free all purpose flour.

Turnip Puff Casserole
Turnip Puff Casserole

While this dish may be served at any time of the year, it is especially good at Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas with roast poultry, beef, or pork. This casserole may be made several hours in advance and refrigerated until needed.

Turnip Puff Casserole
Turnip Puff Casserole

 

[Printable Recipe Follows at end of Posting]

Turnip Puff Casserole

Ingredients:
2 cups warm cooked, mashed rutabaga (pre-cooked rutabaga weight apx. 1 lb 7 oz)
1/3 cup applesauce
1 tbsp grated onion
2 tbsp butter, softened
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
2 tbsp brown sugar
¼ tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp garlic salt
¾ tsp baking powder
1 tbsp all-purpose flour (or gluten-free all-purpose flour)
2 tbsp finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp finely grated cheddar cheese
Salt and Pepper, to taste

½ cup fine bread crumbs
2 tsp finely grated Parmesan cheese
Pinch nutmeg
1½ tbsp melted butter

Method:
Preheat oven to 350°F.  Grease a 6”x8” baking pan.

In medium-sized saucepan, combine the mashed rutabaga, applesauce, grated onion, butter, and egg. Mix well.

In small bowl, combine the brown sugar, nutmeg, garlic salt, baking powder, flour, Parmesan and cheddar cheese, and salt and pepper, to taste. Stir well into the rutabaga mixture.  Transfer to prepared baking pan.

In small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, and nutmeg with the melted butter.  Sprinkle crumbs over rutabaga mixture.  Bake, uncovered, for approximately 30-35 minutes, until lightly browned.

Serve hot as a side dish to any hot meal in which turnip/rutabaga would typically be served.

Yield: Apx. 6 servings

Turnip Puff Casserole

Yield: Apx. 6 servings

A vegetable side dish made with rutabaga purée, applesauce, cheese, and light seasonings. Perfect accompaniment to roast turkey, beef, or pork.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups warm cooked, mashed rutabaga (pre-cooked rutabaga weight apx. 1 lb 7 oz)
  • 1/3 cup applesauce
  • 1 tbsp grated onion
  • 2 tbsp butter, softened
  • 1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp garlic salt
  • ¾ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp all-purpose flour (or gluten-free all purpose flour)
  • 2 tbsp finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp finely grated cheddar cheese
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste
  • ½ cup fine bread crumbs
  • 2 tsp finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 1½ tbsp melted butter

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 6”x8” baking pan.
  2. In medium-sized saucepan, combine the mashed rutabaga, applesauce, grated onion, butter, and egg. Mix well.
  3. In small bowl, combine the brown sugar, nutmeg, garlic salt, baking powder, flour, Parmesan and cheddar cheese, and salt and pepper, to taste. Stir well into the rutabaga mixture. Transfer to prepared baking pan.
  4. In small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, and nutmeg with the melted butter. Sprinkle crumbs over rutabaga mixture. Bake, uncovered, for approximately 30-35 minutes, until lightly browned. Serve hot as a side dish to any hot meal in which turnip/rutabaga would typically be served.
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Turnip Puff Casserole - perfect side dish to turkey, beef, or pork

Bistro Style Potato Patties

PEI Bistro-style Potato Patties
PEI Bistro-style Potato Patties

It’s inevitable, when you live in Prince Edward Island, that you’ll eat a lot of potatoes and find creative ways in which to serve them, including these PEI Potato Patties. That’s because we grow lots and lots of spuds on our little Island with the rich red soil on Canada’s east coast.

PEI Potato Harvesting
PEI Potato Harvesting

Potatoes, a staple in many households, are one of the most versatile vegetables. They can be prepared and served in a myriad of ways as a tasty side dish to many different kinds of meals (click on the links at the bottom of this posting for several great recipes featuring potatoes).  When you need to put some variety into serving potatoes, these flavorful potato patties will fit the bill nicely.  They go with just about any meal in which potatoes would typically be served – pork chops, roast beef (hot or cold), steak, chicken, meatloaf, and even as a side to bacon and eggs.

PEI Potato Patties
PEI Potato Patties

So, what are potato patties?  They are made from warm cooked mashed or riced potatoes with seasonings added then formed into round patties and baked in the oven until lightly tanned and crispy on the outside.  If you have a potato ricer, like the one in the photo below, it is the best tool to use for processing the potatoes for the patties.  A standard potato masher can be used so long as the potatoes are mashed really well and are lump free.  The ricer, however, will yield light fluffy potatoes with no lumps and provide a more consistent texture in the potato patties.

Ricing Potatoes
Potato Ricer

These patties are gently seasoned with liquid chicken bouillon, shallot, garlic, parsley, salt, pepper, and cheese along with butter and sour cream.  Adding bread crumbs to the mixture helps to give the patties structure and body and the addition of an egg binds the ingredients together. To make them gluten-free, use gluten-free bread crumbs both in the patties and to bread them. Whatever bread is used, the bread crumbs for the potato mixture should not be overly fine – they should have some coarseness to them.  The photo below shows a good medium grind for the bread crumbs for this recipe. The bread crumbs can be slightly finer for breading the patties.

Bread Crumbs
Bread Crumbs

Each patty is carefully tossed in bread crumbs that are seasoned with parsley and paprika and then baked in a hot 400F oven for about 15-20 minutes or so.

PEI Potato Patties
PEI Potato Patties

The 1/4-cup measure is about the right size for the patties which are formed into round shapes about 1/2 inch thick.  I make these patties and freeze them, unbaked, so I have them on hand for an easy and tasty side dish to many different meals. They freeze well stored in an airtight freezer container. To prepare them from frozen state, place patties on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for about 30-35 minutes, turning the patties once during baking.

If serving as a side dish to a meal, I figure on 2 patties per person. If serving at a buffet, it’s usually 1 patty per person.

[Printable recipe follows at end of posting]

PEI Bistro-Style Potato Patties

Ingredients:

2½ lb potatoes, cooked, drained, and mashed or riced
1/3 cup sour cream
1 tsp liquid chicken bouillon
1 shallot, minced (about 1½ tbsp)
¼ – ½ tsp garlic salt
¼ cup butter
1 medium-sized egg, lightly beaten
¾ cup medium ground bread crumbs, lightly toasted
2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
Fresh ground pepper
¼ tsp fine sea salt
2 tbsp finely grated cheddar cheese, or your favorite cheese blend
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese

Finely ground bread crumbs, lightly toasted
2 tbsp fresh parsley
½ tsp paprika

Method:

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Mash warm potatoes well, or press through potato ricer, to remove any lumps.

Place potatoes in large bowl and add next 12 ingredients.  Mix well to combine.

In separate shallow bowl or small pie plate, mix the finely ground bread crumbs, fresh parsley, and paprika.

Using ¼ cup measure, scoop potato mixture and form into round patties about ½” thick.  Toss each patty in the bread crumb mixture, pressing each patty gently to ensure breading mixture adheres.  Place patties on parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until browned and slightly crisp, turning each patty once. Serve hot.

Yield: Apx. 15 patties

NOTE:  To toast bread crumbs, spread on baking sheet and bake in 350°F oven for 10-12 minutes, or till lightly tanned.

These patties freeze well.  Place on parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet and place in freezer for about an hour to freeze patties.  Then, simply transfer the patties to an airtight freezer container with layer of wax paper between each stack of patties.  Bake from frozen state, in preheated 400°F, for 30-35 minutes, turning once.


Other Potato Recipes from My Island Bistro Kitchen:

For other great potato side dish recipes from My Island Bistro Kitchen, click on the links below:

Scalloped Potatoes
Twice-baked Potatoes
Potato Salad
Bread Stuffing/Dressing for Roast Turkey/Chicken

And these other great dishes that use PEI Potatoes:

Potato Leek Soup
Moussaka
Lobster Cakes
And, of course, Chocolate Potato Cake

To learn more about potato farming in Prince Edward Island, click on the links below:

Follow the PEI Potato Farmer! From Field to Table

From Field to Table: Potato Growing and Harvesting in Prince Edward Island

Bistro Style Potato Patties

Yield: Apx. 15 patties

Serving Size: 2 patties per serving

Perfect side dish to many meals. Mashed or riced potatoes are lightly seasoned, formed into patties, breaded, and baked in the oven until lightly browned and crisp on the outside.

Ingredients

  • 2½ lb potatoes, cooked, drained, and mashed or riced
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp liquid chicken bouillon
  • 1 shallot, minced (about 1½ tbsp)
  • ¼ - ½ tsp garlic salt
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 1 medium-sized egg, lightly beaten
  • ¾ cup medium ground bread crumbs, lightly toasted
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • ¼ tsp fine sea salt
  • 2 tbsp finely grated cheddar cheese, or your favorite cheese blend
  • 2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
  • Finely ground bread crumbs, lightly toasted
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley
  • ½ tsp paprika

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Mash warm potatoes well, or press through potato ricer, to remove any lumps.
  3. Place potatoes in large bowl and add next 12 ingredients. Mix well to combine.
  4. In separate shallow bowl or small pie plate, mix the finely ground bread crumbs, fresh parsley, and paprika.
  5. Using ¼ cup measure, scoop potato mixture and form into round patties about ½” thick. Toss each patty in the bread crumb mixture, pressing each patty gently to ensure breading mixture adheres. Place patties on parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet.
  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until browned and slightly crisp, turning each patty once. Serve hot.
  7. Yield: Apx. 15 patties
  8. NOTE: To toast bread crumbs, spread on baking sheet and bake in 350°F oven for 10-12 minutes, or till lightly tanned.
  9. These patties freeze well. Place on parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet and place in freezer for about an hour to freeze patties. Then, simply transfer the patties to an airtight freezer container with layer of wax paper between each stack of patties. Bake from frozen state, in preheated 400°F, for 30-35 minutes, turning once.
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Bistro-style Potato Patties
Bistro-style Potato Patties

 

PEI Potato Patties
PEI Potato Patties

 

Twice-baked Potatoes Recipe

Twice-baked Potato
Twice-baked Potato

When you live in Prince Edward Island, Canada, where potatoes are one of the main agricultural crops, you find lots of ways to serve potatoes. Twice-baked potatoes, or stuffed baked potatoes, are one of my all-time favorites.  I make up big batches of these and freeze them so they are always on hand, ready to be popped in the oven for dinner.

These potatoes are a little bit time-consuming to make because the potatoes have to first be baked then split in half and the pulp from each half scooped out and mashed, or riced, really well and combined with other flavorful ingredients.  That’s why I make them up in quantity as part of my repertoire of batch-cooking for the freezer.  These are a standard staple, year-round, in my freezer.

Now, for these twice-baked potatoes, you’ll want to use oval-shaped, elongated “baking” potatoes such as the high-starch Russet variety.  A good average size of potato to use would be about 8 oz like the ones marked in the photo below. All of the potatoes in the photo are the Russet variety but most of them are too small to use for this purpose.

Russet Potatoes for Twice-Baked Potatoes
Best Size of Russet Potatoes for Twice-Baked Potatoes

Russets have a light and fluffy texture when mashed and, certainly, when put through a potato ricer.  Russets, by nature, are a dry potato which means they are very absorbent when adding other ingredients such as butter, sour cream, or milk.  I have found that some Russets will be drier than others which may, in the case of twice-baked potatoes, require the addition of more sour cream or milk than the recipe calls for to make them creamy enough for the filling.  Russets have a mild, delicate flavor. This makes them a good choice for twice-baked potatoes because their white-fleshed pulp mixes well with other ingredients such as sour cream, cheese, and garlic and onion flavors.

Twice-baked Potatoes
Twice-baked Potatoes

It’s difficult to give a 100% accurate amount of wet ingredients (e.g., sour cream and milk or cream) to use for the filling in these potatoes because, as mentioned above, some Russets are drier than others. I recommend starting with the amount called for in the recipe and then adding any additional liquid by the tablespoon until the desired consistency is reached.  Filling for stuffed baked potatoes should not be “soupy”.  It should hold its shape when piped or spooned into the hollowed out potato shells. If you go by the gauge that the filling could be piped, using moderate pressure, through a pastry bag fitted with a large open star tip, that’s the consistency you’re aiming for.

Sometimes, I will spoon some filling in to the shells, then pipe a decorative design on the top but, most times, I just spoon the filling in, mounding it up to look full and bountiful.  In fact, I always bake two extra potatoes just for their pulp and don’t intend to stuff their shells.  Some pulp is lost from each potato because a narrow rim of potato needs to be left intact in each shell in order for it to hold its shape and allow it to be filled. This is why it’s a good idea to bake a couple of extra potatoes to ensure you have enough pulp to adequately (and abundantly) fill the shells.

Twice-baked Potato
Twice-baked Potato

The pulp can be mashed (really well) with a potato masher to ensure the lumps are removed. However, if you have a potato ricer, push the potato pulp through the ricer as this will yield  even fluffier potatoes.

Once the potatoes are mashed or riced, it’s simply a matter of adding all the other ingredients and blending them really well into the potatoes and adding the right amount of wet ingredients to get the mixture to a piping consistency. I do not recommend using an electric beater to mix the filling as it can result in over-beating thus turning the mixture into a soupy glue.

If freezing these potatoes, freeze the stuffed potatoes, unbaked, in airtight freezer containers.  Bake from frozen state in preheated 350F oven for 45-50 minutes, or till heated through.

[Printable recipe follows at end of post]

Stuffed Baked Potatoes

Ingredients:
9 medium-sized baking potatoes such as the Russet variety

3 – 4 tbsp butter
½ cup sour cream
¼ cup+ whole milk or cream
1½ tsp liquid chicken bouillon
¾ tsp puréed garlic
½ cup finely shredded cheddar cheese
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
½ tsp onion salt
Freshly ground pepper
¼ tsp. fine sea salt

Extra grated cheddar cheese, paprika, chopped chives or parsley, green onions for garnishing tops of each potato (optional)

Method:
Preheat oven to 400°F.

Scrub potatoes well. Do not peel. Prick each potato several times with a fork.  Place potatoes directly on oven rack positioned in center of oven.  Bake until fork easily inserts into center of potato, approximately 1 hour. Reduce oven heat to 350°F.

With a sharp knife, cut each potato in half, lengthwise.  Scoop out pulp of potatoes leaving a thin rim around the edges of the potato to allow them to hold their shape.

Mash potatoes well or press pulp through a potato ricer into a large bowl.  Add remaining ingredients and mix well to ensure all ingredients are incorporated.  Consistency should be such that mixture could be piped through a cake decorating bag  using moderate pressure and hold its shape when spooned or piped.  If necessary, add more milk or sour cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, to achieve desired consistency. Mixture should not be soupy.

Discard four of the shells (they were just baked for extra potato pulp the two potatoes provided). Lightly brush inside of each remaining potato shell with olive oil and place on parchment-line baking sheet. Spoon, or pipe, potato mixture into shells. Sprinkle with finely grated cheese and/or paprika.  Bake for 25-30 minutes. Garnish with green onions or chopped chives or parsley at time of serving, if desired.

To make ahead and freeze: Store unbaked stuffed potatoes in airtight freezer container.  Bake from frozen state, at 350°F for 45-50 minutes, until heated through and lighted browned on top.

Yield:  14 servings, 1 stuffed potato shell per serving

Twice-Baked Potato
Twice-baked Potato

Twice-baked Potatoes Recipe

Yield: 14 servings

Serving Size: 1 stuffed potato shell per serving

Classic twice-baked potato features a creamy and cheesy filling enhanced with onion and garlic flavors. The perfect side dish to any meal.

Ingredients

  • 9 medium-sized baking potatoes such as the Russet variety
  • 3 – 4 tbsp butter
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • ¼ cup+ whole milk or cream
  • 1½ tsp liquid chicken bouillon
  • ¾ tsp puréed garlic
  • ½ cup finely shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ tsp onion salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ tsp. fine sea salt
  • Extra grated cheddar cheese, paprika, chopped chives or parsley, green onions for garnishing tops of each potato (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Scrub potatoes well. Do not peel. Prick each potato several times with a fork. Place potatoes directly on oven rack positioned in center of oven. Bake until fork easily inserts into center of potato, approximately 1 hour. Reduce oven heat to 350°F.
  3. With a sharp knife, cut each potato in half, lengthwise. Scoop out pulp of potatoes leaving a thin rim around the edges of the potato to allow them to hold their shape.
  4. Mash potatoes well or press pulp through a potato ricer into a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix well to ensure all ingredients are incorporated. Consistency should be such that mixture could be piped through a cake decorating bag with moderate pressure and hold its shape when spooned or piped. If necessary, add more milk or sour cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, to achieve desired consistency. Mixture should not be soupy.
  5. Discard four of the shells (they were just baked for extra potato pulp the two potatoes provided). Lightly brush inside of each remaining potato shell with olive oil and place on parchment-line baking sheet. Spoon, or pipe, potato mixture into shells. Sprinkle with finely grated cheese and/or paprika. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Garnish with green onions or chopped chives or parsley at time of serving, if desired.
  6. To make ahead and freeze: Store unbaked stuffed potatoes in airtight freezer container. Bake from frozen state, at 350°F for 45-50 minutes, until heated through and lighted browned on top.
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For more about potato-growing in PEI, follow these links:

Follow the PEI Potato Farmer: From Field to Table
Potato Growing and Harvesting in Prince Edward Island

Pin The Twice-baked Potatoes Recipe To Pinterest!

Twice-baked Potatoes
Twice-baked Potatoes

Best Creamy Scalloped Potatoes Recipe

Creamy Scalloped Potatoes
Best Creamy Scalloped Potatoes

One of my very favorite ways to present potatoes is in the form of Scalloped Potatoes.  A mixture of potatoes, onions, and milk along with a bit of seasoning and grated cheese make this a great comfort food dish any time of the year.  My mother often made scalloped potatoes sometime on the weekend and made enough that we’d have leftovers for dinner a day or two later. To this day, I still believe that this is one dish that is better a day or two after it is made as the flavours really settle in.

My favorite potatoes to use in scalloped potatoes are red potatoes. They hold their shape yet they cook up well.  I recommend using whole milk or, if you want to be really decadent, use a mix of milk and cream.  While skim or partly skimmed milk can be used, it won’t make a sauce that is as rich and creamy as when at least whole milk is used. My grandmother used pure cream when she made her scalloped potatoes and, boy, were they good….but extremely rich!

Creamy Scalloped Potatoes
Best Creamy Scalloped Potatoes

This is not a difficult dish to make and really doesn’t take anything out of the ordinary in the way of ingredients.  A simple white sauce with a bit of seasoning is easily cooked in the microwave until slightly thickened then poured over the layers of potato and onion. I always add just a teaspoon of liquid chicken bouillon to the cream sauce for extra flavour boost.

Some purists will argue that a traditional dish of scalloped potatoes should not contain cheese and neither my mother or grandmother ever used cheese in theirs.  However, I find that adding about 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese steps this dish up a notch. The cheese adds both flavour and richness to the potatoes but, like the other ingredients I have added to my recipe in moderation, doesn’t take away from the traditional basic flavour of the scalloped potatoes.  All the chicken bouillon, Dijon mustard, cheddar cheese, nutmeg, and paprika do are delicately add a hint of extra flavour.

I recommend removing the casserole cover during the last few minutes of the baking process as it will give the scalloped potatoes a nice tasty crust on top.

Creamy Scalloped Potatoes
Best Creamy Scalloped Potatoes
Best Creamy Scalloped Potatoes

Ingredients:

1¾ lbs. red potatoes (about 3 medium-sized), peeled and sliced about 1/8” thick
1 medium onion, sliced in rings
1½ cups milk
1 tsp liquid chicken bouillon
½ tsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp flour or cornstarch
Pinch of nutmeg
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 tbsp melted butter
½ cup grated cheddar cheese
Paprika

Method:

Preheat oven to 350F.

Spray or grease a 1½-quart casserole.

Place a layer of sliced potatoes in casserole.

Add a layer of sliced onions.

Repeat potato and onion layers to fill casserole.

In microwaveable bowl, whisk together the milk, chicken bouillon, Dijon mustard, flour or cornstarch, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Microwave for about a minute, then stir and add the melted butter and 2½ – 3 tbsp. grated cheese. Microwave 1-2 minutes, just until mixture is heated and starts to thicken slightly, stirring once or twice. Pour over potatoes and onions in the casserole.

Sprinkle with remaining grated cheese and paprika.

Bake, covered, for about 1 hour. Remove cover and continue to bake until potatoes are fork tender, about 20 minutes or so. Remove from oven and let sit 10-15 minutes before serving.

Serving Suggestion: Serve with ham and your favourite side vegetable.

Yield: Apx. 4-6 servings

 

Best Creamy Scalloped Potatoes

Yield: Apx. 4-6 servings

Rich and creamy scalloped potatoes make this the perfect side dish.

Ingredients

  • 1¾ lbs. red potatoes (about 3 medium-sized), peeled and sliced about 1/8” thick
  • 1 medium onion, sliced in rings
  • 1½ cups milk
  • 1 tsp liquid chicken bouillon
  • ½ tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp flour or cornstarch
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3 tbsp melted butter
  • ½ cup grated cheddar cheese
  • Paprika

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Spray or grease a 1½-quart casserole.
  3. Place a layer of sliced potatoes in casserole.
  4. Add a layer of sliced onions.
  5. Repeat potato and onion layers to fill casserole.
  6. In microwaveable bowl, whisk together the milk, chicken bouillon, Dijon mustard, flour or cornstarch, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Microwave for about a minute, then stir and add the melted butter and 2½ - 3 tbsp. grated cheese. Microwave 1-2 minutes, just until mixture is heated and starts to thicken slightly, stirring once or twice. Pour over potatoes and onions in the casserole.
  7. Sprinkle with remaining grated cheese and paprika.
  8. Bake, covered, for about 1 hour. Remove cover and continue to bake until potatoes are fork tender, about 20 minutes or so. Remove from oven and let sit 10-15 minutes before serving.
  9. Serving Suggestion: Serve with ham and your favourite side vegetable.
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Best Creamy Scalloped Potatoes
Best Creamy Scalloped Potatoes

Stepping Outside the Breadbox: Meet Creative Chef Ilona Daniel

 

Chef Ilona Daniel
Chef Ilona Daniel

The chef profession is changing and evolving, probably faster than ever before in history.  No longer are chefs hidden away in their kitchens.  Today, many are taking the profession and their career to unheard-of heights.  TV cooking shows, culinary events like PEI’s Fall Flavors, the popularity of cookbooks written by accomplished chefs, and chefs who engage and interact with fans via social media have all contributed to giving many chefs celebrity status.  One of those is Chef Ilona Daniel.  If you are a foodie on Prince Edward Island, chances are that you are familiar with Chef Ilona.  This is a chef who has had a multi-faceted career to date and is not afraid to think (and step) outside the box – in fact, I’d go so far as to say Chef Ilona doesn’t even know there is a box!

Following her educational experience at McMaster University, Ilona thought she was heading to law school when suddenly her life took a turn in another direction.  If it hadn’t been for her taking the leap of faith to follow her passion and calling, chances are Ilona might not have become a chef.

Ilona grew up in Hamilton, Ontario, and learned the pleasure of fine cooking by standing at the kitchen counter by the stove as she watched her mom prepare meals.  Cooking was an integral part of her entire being in her formative years and she attributes her mom as having a big influence on her love of cooking.

A chef now for 12 years, Ilona’s first job as a teenager was working in a burger joint at the age of 16.  Even then, whether she knew it or not, her life’s path was already being charted in the food industry.  After making the decision that law school was not her destiny, Ilona studied at the Canadian Food and Wine Institute in Niagara, Ontario.  After completing her studies in Niagara, she was awarded a full scholarship for the Applied Degree in Culinary Operations at the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown, PEI, and was in the first graduating class from the two-year program.  Like many others who have found their way to PEI, Ilona fell in love with the Island and decided to make it her home.

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Chef Ilona Meticulous at Work

Since graduating from culinary school, Chef Ilona has had an incredibly varied career.  She has been the Head Chef at the Stanhope Beach Resort, Interim Chef at Sims and Off Broadway Restaurants, Founding Chef at the Brickhouse, Executive Chef to the Lieutenant-Governor of PEI at Fanningbank, Executive Chef of Holland College’s Culinary Boot Camps, Resident Food Scene Writer for G Magazine, and Culinary Instructor at the PC Cooking School at the local Superstore.  And, that’s not all.  This fall, she was the Culinary Expert for the PEI2014 Roadshow that travelled across Canada to promote the planned events in PEI in 2014 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference that led to the creation of Canada.  Perhaps you may have seen Chef Ilona on one of several morning TV shows.  Most recently, Chef Ilona has started her own Catering and Consulting Business — Tribe Fresh Cookery.  This is a gal who likes to be busy!

Shucking lobsters live on Global BC Morning Show
Shucking lobsters live on Global BC Morning Show

Out of this impressive resume, I asked Chef Ilona which job was the most interesting.  Her response was starting her own business because she is building it from the ground up.  Her most challenging job was working at the Stanhope Beach Resort because it was a seasonal operation so it meant every year was starting all over again with new staff to be trained quickly.  The job that surprised her the most was being Executive Chef to PEI’s Lieutenant-Governor.  In this role, she prepared food for many events and functions that included a number of award ceremonies to honour Islanders who were making a difference to their communities.  This allowed her to see what a generous and giving community PEI really is.  While in this role, Ilona became the first chef at Fanningbank to use social media to tell the story of what food was being prepared for their Honours and for events. Chef Ilona says her most fulfilling job has been her role as Executive Chef of the Culinary Boot Camps.  Chef Ilona particularly enjoys the Kids Camps where they are shown how to grow vegetables and make their own food.  It’s an opportunity to influence the next generation to eat well.

Teaching at the Kids Culinary Camp at the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown, PEI
Teaching at the Kids Culinary Camp at the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown, PEI

Chef Ilona’s philosophy in cooking is to “cook with love and don’t be afraid to be different”.  She says “there are Chefs whose food can be executed but not necessarily made with passion”.  She does not follow trends but rather follows her heart and takes the road less traveled.  Her belief is that food should be natural and real.  As she says, “good food inspires conversation and doesn’t have to be complicated; use the best local ingredients executed with flawless technique and care about what you are doing”.

I asked Chef Ilona what inspires the recipes and menus she creates.  First, she says she needs to know who her audience is. She makes a point of respecting any dietary concerns they may have and is excited to be creative to cook interesting and tasty foods that meet their dietary requirements.

Gluten-free Boston Cream Pies Prepared for a Function at Fanningbank, home of the Lieutenant-Governor of PEI
Gluten-free Boston Cream Pies Prepared for a Function at Fanningbank, home of the Lieutenant-Governor of PEI

Second, she likes to play on nostalgia, conjuring up memories like the tantalizing scent of apple pie, for example, that will lead to good conversation which goes hand-in-hand with dining.  Third, she respects the cultural roots of the region and is creative when cooking with the foods local to the region.

Telling the Truth About Male and Female Lobsters
Telling the Truth About Male and Female Lobsters

With so many prepared, frozen, and ready-to-go meals on the market today, I asked Chef Ilona why there seems to have been a resurgence in home cooking in the past few years.  She believes it is attributable to a number of health issues, including highly publicized food-born illnesses that were caused by contaminated food.  This has caused consumers to be more concerned about buying modified foods that are full of preservatives and, instead, they are becoming more health-conscious and so are turning to making their own meals.

What’s next for Chef Ilona?  She tells me she is working on a cookbook and exploring the possibility of filming some TV cooking shows.  In the short-term, she is busy getting her Catering and Consulting business up and running.  Ever thinking outside the box, Chef Ilona is offering what she calls “Kitchen Party Cooking Classes”.  This is where she will come to your home and teach you and a small group of friends how to interactively cook a particular dish – e.g., sushi, gourmet pizza, pies, etc.  This is way to engage foodies and get them participating in food preparation, all in the comfort of their own home.  What a great idea for a girls night out, a bachelorette party, or just a get-together for no other reason other than good conversation and food.  If you are interested in having Chef Ilona cater to your event or customize a Kitchen Party Cooking Class, contact her at 902-316-0993 or by email at chef.ilona.daniel@gmail.com

Chef Ilona Teaching
Chef Ilona Teaching

Before we ended our chat, I asked Chef Ilona to answer some short snapper questions:

1.  What is the one kitchen tool/gadget you can’t live without?

Can’t pick just one – have the “fast five” – Chef’s knife, small serrated paring knife, a Swiss peeler, a microplane, and a good quality cutting board.

2.  What is your all time favorite food?

Pizza – any kind!

3.  What is the one non-culinary factoid about Chef Ilona that people might not know about?

I’m a hippie at heart – I like nature and will actually, “stop and smell the roses.”

4.  What do you do when you are not cooking?

I like reading, nature hikes, listening to music, and going to concerts.

5.  What is your favorite recipe featuring an Island product?  Care to share it?

Swedish Potato Casserole. It uses PEI potatoes and PEI-produced Cows Creamery cheese.  (Recipe follows)

 

Swedish Potato Casserole

3 tbsp fresh thyme
2 tsp mace (or nutmeg)
6 eggs, beaten
3 cups Whipping Cream
½ cup flour
1 tbsp kosher salt
2 lb grated Yukon Gold Potatoes
2 cups Cows Aged Cheddar, grated

As you preheat your oven to 375 (use convection baking if you have that option), preheat your 4-6 quart baking dish with 4-6 tbsp butter in the oven.

Whisk thoroughly, the first 6 ingredients together(approximately 3 minutes).  Stir in the potatoes. Pour mixture into the hot casserole dish.  QUICKLY top with cheese, and place back into oven immediately.

Bake for 45 minutes.

 

Waiting for Lobsters to Cook in the Sandpit
Waiting for Lobsters to Cook in the Sandpit

Keep an eye on this rising celebrity chef as she progresses in her career.  Chef Ilona is very creative, brimming with ideas and personality, and she’s going places in her chosen career!

 

Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.

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

 

From Field to Table: Potato Growing and Harvesting in Prince Edward Island

The PEI potato harvesting season has drawn to a close for another year – the spuds are out of the ground and on their way to a multitude of uses.  Part of my objective with this food blog is to showcase food products produced on PEI and the producers and farmers behind them.  In this story, I will introduce you to Lori Robinson, a fifth generation PEI potato farmer.  Lori is Farm Manager at Eric C. Robinson Inc. in Albany, PEI.

PEI Potato Farmer, Lori Robinson
PEI Potato Farmer, Lori Robinson

I hope that this feature story will shed a little light on just where the bags of potatoes that you pick up at the supermarket come from or where the potatoes that go into making potato chips originate.

For the land mass size of our Province, PEI produces a lot of potatoes. According to the Prince Edward Island Potato Board, there were 89,000 acres of potatoes grown on PEI in 2013.   The Board tells me there were approximately 45 varieties grown in commercial quantities and more than double that amount when those that are being grown in test plots or market gardens or for limited specialty markets are included.  An economic impact study completed a little over a year ago determined that the potato industry is worth just over a billion dollars annually to the PEI economy directly and in spin-off effects.[1]

Individual potato farms on PEI range in size.  The Robinson farm grows around 500 acres of potatoes annually in rotation with soybeans, barley, and forages.   For the past five months, I have been following Lori from the time she planted the spuds in the ground back in May to their harvesting in October and ending with the washing and packaging process that is now, at the time of writing, underway at the farm.

Let’s begin by finding out what led Lori in her career choice to become a potato farmer.  I think it would be fair to say that Lori grew up with potato farming in her bloodline.  Her great, great grandfather began growing potatoes in Augustine Cove, PEI, in the early 1800s and successive generations have continued the tradition.  She says her decision “to become a potato farmer was part tradition, part general interest in all things science based, and part desire to work with other members of her family in a family-owned and operated business in PEI”.  By the time Lori was in her mid to late teens, she knew what her career path would be – she would study agriculture at university and become a farmer.

Lori holds a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from the University of Guelph where she majored in Agriculture Business.  While Lori will be the first to tell you her university degree did not specifically teach her much about growing potatoes (she learned that by doing), her education did teach her how to think critically, solve problems, and manage human and financial resources.  These are all skills useful to today’s commercial farmers.  Farming is much more than planting seed in the ground and waiting for the produce to grow.

In 2013, Lori grew 15 different varieties of potatoes.  This year, 35% of their crop will be used to make potato chips at Frito Lay, 20% will be used for seed, and 45% will be for table stock – the ones that will make it on to our dinner tables. The seed potatoes will be used to plant the farm’s crop next year and also to sell to other potato growers.  The potatoes in the large storage bin behind Lori in the photo below are next year’s Norland seed. 

Today’s commercial potato farming is very scientific and controlled.  Lori points out that “seed potatoes must be inspected in the field by Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) agents and then tested in an accredited laboratory to ensure that disease levels (viruses) are below a certain percentage before the seed receives certification to be replanted the following year”.  It is interesting to note that seed potatoes can be used as table stock but table stock potatoes cannot be used as seed.

The Island spuds will travel.  Lori’s farm sells both the seed potatoes and table stock in Canada and the United States while the “chipstock” (those used to make potato chips) will be sold in Canada and the United States as well as in Indonesia, Thailand, and Guatemala.  You just never know where you might be eating an Island potato!

All professions have their challenges as well as their sources of satisfaction.  Lori says her biggest challenge is finding an adequate number of staff to work on the farm and in their packing house. She currently employs 14 year-round, full time staff and 4-5 seasonal employees from late September to late June. In terms of job satisfaction as a potato farmer, Lori has this to say:  “Harvesting a good crop of high-quality potatoes that I eventually see in our local Superstores provides me with a great sense of satisfaction.  No two years in potato farming are ever alike.  Many new challenges come up every year, every growing season.  There is always something new to learn about farming.  The need to overcome these challenges to remain successful and the desire to learn new things are what motivate me and make me passionate about my job as a potato farmer.

Lori has been potato farming for 20 years, continuing on in a long line of successful potato farmers in her family.  I asked her what she attributes the success of her potato farm to.  She says her predecessors “recognized the importance of good land stewardship in order to achieve the balance between economic viability and environmental sustainability”.  Lori has carried on these traditions and philosophy while adding a few of her own ideas along the way to maintain the success of their potato farming operation and carry it into the future.

Lori is very much a hands-on farmer.  She actually gets on a tractor and works in the fields herself in the spring doing land preparation work that occurs prior to planting.  On May 29, 2013, when I arrived at a huge long field waiting to be planted in North Carleton, PEI, I found Lori and her crew planting Dakota Pearl potatoes. That’s Lori up on the planter on the right-hand side checking to make sure things are working as intended.

The farm operates with 7 John Deere tractors, 1 planter, 2 sprayers, 7 tandem trucks, 2 windrowers, 1 harvester, and 3 telescopic pilers.

Farm sizes and farming methods and machinery have changed over the years for sure.  I asked Lori what she sees as the biggest changes in potato farming over the years.  For her, one change really stands out – input costs for potato farming continually increase while the price farmers receive for the potatoes is relatively unchanged from the days when her grandfather sold potatoes.  She also says that a big change has been in the advancement of technology, mainly in the use of GPS for field operations.  Lori also notes that, while the Robinson farm has remained relatively the same size since she started farming 20 years ago, most well-established farms on PEI have grown larger at the expense of a number of smaller farms going out of business due to financial strain or lack of a succession plan.

So, let’s look at the timeline of the potato season at the Robinson farm on PEI.

May 29, 2013 – Planting

Potato Seed (aka potato sets)
Potato Seed

It all begins with the potato seed for this field of Dakota Pearl variety.

Loading the Planter with Seed

And, well-tilled fertile soil.

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And a planter full of potato seed along with some fertilizer.

A good John Deere tractor helps, too!

Planting potatoes
Planting potatoes

And, the seed is in the ground!

June 20, 2013 – Fertilizing and Hilling

Field work continues through the growing season to ensure a good crop of potatoes (yes, that’s the Confederation Bridge in the background and, yes, PEI soil really is that red!).

Fertilizing and Hilling the Potatoes
Fertilizing and Hilling the Potatoes

July 2, 2013 – Potato Plants Growing

By early July, there is evidence that the potato plants are growing well – look at that gorgeous emerald green color against the rich red soil of PEI!

July 20, 2013 – Potato Blossoms

A drive by the field in mid-July reveals that the Dakota Pearls are out in blossom!

Potato Blossoms
Potato Blossoms

The field is abloom with white blossoms that have tiny bright yellow centers.

This is a super long field!

September 30, 2013 – Harvesting

By September 30th, harvesting was underway on the Robinson farm.  On this day, I found the crew harvesting the Norland variety (deep red-skinned potatoes) in Albany, not far from the Confederation Bridge.

Two windrowers (one two-row and one four-row) were working the field in advance of the harvester, and moving the freshly-dug potatoes over into the drills where the harvester would pick them up while digging two more rows of potatoes itself at the same time. 

This means that the harvester is picking up a total of eight rows of potatoes as it moves down the field.

The harvest days are long and dependent upon good weather and, of course, no mechanical breakdowns.

Once the truck is full of spuds, it heads to the warehouse and an empty truck comes alongside the harvester to be filled as they move in tandem down the long drills of potatoes.

Heading to the Warehouse
Heading to the Warehouse

At the warehouse, the spuds are offloaded from the truck on to the conveyer belt that takes them into a small grading house just outside the warehouse where three employees remove any stones, plant particles, or damaged or spoiled potatoes.

From there, via conveyer belt to a bin piler, the potatoes make their way into a huge warehouse that is divided off into separate bins for the different varieties of potatoes.

In the photo below, the man is standing on top of 1/2 million pounds of potatoes in order to insert a temperature probe down into the pile of potatoes to monitor any significant rises in temperature in the middle of the pile which would signal attention needed.

The warehouse is temperature-controlled to maintain the freshness and quality of the potatoes.

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By the end of the first day of harvest, 3/4 million pounds of potatoes will have been dug and stored in the warehouse.

Three different sizes of the red potatoes dug on this day will be destined for different uses.  The smallest on the lower left of the photo below are mainly sold for restaurant trade where they would be roasted or baked.  The next size up are sold in 2 lb or 3 lb bags to grocery stores.  Consumers would typically purchase these potatoes to use for roasting or baking at home.  The largest of the three sizes are sold in 5 lb poly and 10 lb paper bags to grocery store chains in Canada and the United States for sale mostly as baking potatoes.

In the photo below you can see some of the freshly dug Norlands I brought home with me after my field visit.  You’ll find the recipe I used them in at the end of this posting.

Early November, 2013

Before the potatoes make their way to market, they are graded, washed, and packaged on the farm.

Grading Potatoes
Grading Potatoes

 

Bagger Machine
Bagger Machine

Once the potatoes are packaged, they are ready for shipping to markets.

Pallet of Potatoes Graded, Washed, and Packed Ready for Shipping
Pallet of Potatoes Graded, Washed, and Packed Ready for Shipping

 

Small Bags of Potatoes Ready for Grocery Stores
Small Bags of Potatoes Ready for Grocery Stores

Working with potatoes day in and day out, I was curious as to Lori’s favourite potato dishes.  She tells me her favourite way to serve potatoes is to simply toss some small red potatoes with olive oil and herbs and roast them in the oven.  She also likes the potato lasagne recipe found on the Prince Edward Island Potatoes Website.

There is nothing like fresh produce straight from the rich red soil of PEI.  The day I visited the Robinson farm during harvesting season in early October, I brought some of the Norlands home with me.  These beautiful red-skinned variety potato with white flesh are a multi-use potato (they are good boiled, roasted, baked, in salads, and scalloped).  I am presenting them here in my favourite old-fashioned scalloped potatoes recipe.

 


[1] Source:  Prince Edward Island Potato Board, 30 October 2013

My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Old-fashioned Scalloped Potatoes

 

1¾ lbs. potatoes (about 3 medium-sized), peeled and sliced about 1/8” thick

1 medium onion, sliced in rings

1½ cups milk

1 tsp liquid chicken bouillon

½ tsp Dijon mustard

2 tbsp flour or cornstarch

Pinch nutmeg

Salt and pepper, to taste

3 tbsp melted butter

½ cup grated cheddar cheese

Paprika

Method:

Preheat oven to 350F.

Assemble ingredients.

Spray or grease a 1½-quart casserole.

Place a layer of sliced potatoes in casserole.

Slicing the red-eyed potato
Slicing the red-eyed potato

Add a layer of sliced onions.

Repeat potato and onion layers to fill casserole.

In microwaveable bowl, whisk together the milk, chicken bouillon, Dijon mustard, flour or cornstarch, nutmeg, salt, and pepper.  Microwave for about a minute, then stir and add the melted butter and 2½ – 3 tbsp. grated cheese.  Microwave 1-2 minutes, just until mixture is heated and starts to thicken slightly, stirring once or twice.

Pour warm sauce over the potatoes and onions in the casserole.

Sprinkle with remaining grated cheese and paprika.

Bake, covered, for about 1 hour.  Remove cover and continue to bake until potatoes are fork tender, about 20 minutes, or so.  Remove from oven and let sit 10-15 minutes before serving.  Serves 4-6.

Serve with ham and your favorite side vegetable.

 

Scalloped Potatoes
Scalloped Potatoes

Tips:

Using whole milk or a blend of whole milk and cream will make creamier scalloped potatoes.

Removing the cover during the latter part of the baking process will give the scalloped potatoes a nice crust on top.

Scalloped potatoes have a tendency to boil out of the casserole.  To avoid a messy oven clean-up job, place a piece of tin foil on a large baking pan and set the casserole on it.  Lightly spraying the tin foil will also make it easier to remove the casserole from the baking pan should the contents bubble out.

 

My thanks to Lori Robinson for allowing me to follow her potato operation over the past season and for answering my multitude of questions.

This story will also be published  as part of the Canadian Food Experience project which began on June 7, 2013.  The November 2013 theme for this project is “The Canadian Harvest”.

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.

Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.

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

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

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

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

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

Kohlrabi
Kohlrabi

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

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

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

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

Vine-ripened Organic Tomatoes
Vine-ripened Organic Tomatoes

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

Pattypan Squash
Pattypan Squash

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

Round Cucumbers
Round Cucumbers

I wish my basil plants looked as healthy as these!

Organic Basil
Organic Basil

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

Freshly-harvested Garlic Drying
Freshly-harvested Garlic Drying

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

Large-sized CSA box
Large-sized Weekly CSA box

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is definitely personalized service and attention to CSA shareholders!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preheat oven to 425C.

Peel and chop the vegetables into chunks of similar size.

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

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

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

Roasted Vegetables
Roasted Vegetables

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

How are you celebrating National Organic Week this year?

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

Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.

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