Pumpkin Jam

Pumpkin Jam

This year seemed to be a particularly good year for growing pumpkins on the Island.  Everywhere I looked I saw fields, bins, and wagons full of the bright orange pumpkins which are members of the gourd family.

Trailer Loads of Pumpkins at Kool Breeze Farm in Wilmot Valley, near Summerside, PEI

 

Bins of Pumpkins at Kool Breeze Farm

Funny how we can’t wait to display them on our doorsteps and in fall displays but, once the end of November arrives, we don’t want to see pumpkins hanging around as thoughts turn to Christmas decorating.

Pumpkins at Compton’s Vegetable Stand, St. Eleanors, near Summerside, PEI

 

Field of Pumpkins, Marshfield, PEI

So, wondering what to do with those pumpkins instead of throwing them into the compost bin?  Why not make a batch of old-fashioned pumpkin jam.  This isn’t an altogether common jam you are likely to find on many supermarket shelves.  Yet, it is a very tasty, economical, and versatile jam that only takes four ingredients — pumpkin, sugar, crushed pineapple, and jello.  This is a jam that my grandmother used to make every fall for her brother yet I don’t recall it ever being on her own pantry shelves and I’m not sure why.

The jam has a wonderful bright orange-yellow color.  In fact, I think it is more like a marmalade than a jam.  Regardless, it is very tasty on toast, biscuits, as a filling for cookies, and as a dollop on warm vanilla custard.

Pumpkin Jam on Biscuits

 

Pumpkin Jam as a Filling for Thumbprint Cookies

To make the jam, select a pumpkin that is more oblong than round in shape.  I visited my local vegetable stand and they told me these are “jamming” pumpkins.

Pumpkin for Jam

Cut the pumpkin open and remove and discard the seeds and pulp.

Split Pumpkin Ready to be Seeded

Cut the pumpkin flesh into finely diced pieces and place in pot.

Diced Pumpkin

Add the sugar to the diced pumpkin and let the mixture sit overnight.  The sugar will draw the juice out of the pumpkin.

Adding Sugar to the Diced Pumpkin

In the morning, drain and reserve the juice from the pumpkin.

Draining the Juice from the Pumpkin

Boil the juice for 20 minutes over medium heat to form a syrup.

Syrup for Pumpkin Jam

Add the drained pumpkin to the hot syrup.

Adding Pumpkin to Hot Syrup

Over medium heat, cook the pumpkin until it starts to become transparent, approximately 20-30 minutes.

Cooking the Jam

Add the can of crushed pineapple and its juice to the jam.

Adding the Crushed Pineapple to the Pumpkin Jam

Add the jello to the jam.

Adding the Jello to the Pumpkin Jam

Bring jam to a boil over medium heat.

Cooked Pumpkin Jam

 Meanwhile, sterilize the jars.

Sterilizing the Jars

Fill the sterilized jars.

Bottling Pumpkin Jam

 Place warmed lids on the hot jam bottles to seal and fingertip-tighten the rims to the bottles.

Placing Lids on Jam Jars

Store this jam in the refrigerator for approximately 1 month and enjoy it fresh as a treat when pumpkins are in season.

Pumpkin Jam

 

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Pumpkin Jam

By Barbara99 Published: December 1, 2012

  • Yield: Apx. 6 1/2 cups

A colorful, moderately sweet, versatile jam.

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Cut, peel, remove and discard seeds and pulp of pumpkin. Cut pumpkin into small diced pieces.
  2. Place diced pumpkin in large pot. Add sugar. Soak overnight.
  3. Drain pumpkin in colander, reserving juice.
  4. Return reserved juice to pot and boil for 20 minutes over medium heat.
  5. Add the drained pumpkin to the hot syrup. Cook over medium heat until pumpkin pieces start to become translucent, about 20-30 minutes.
  6. Add the crushed pineapple and its juice to the mixture. Stir.
  7. Sprinkle the jello over the mixture. Stir and bring mixture to a boil over medium heat.
  8. Sterilize the jars either by using the sanitizer setting on the dishwasher or by placing the jars in boiling hot water.
  9. Fill sterilized jars, leaving approximately 1/4" head room at jar top. Heat lids and place on jars. Fingertip tighten rims to jars. Store this jam in the refrigerator for apx. 1 month and enjoy it fresh as a treat when pumpkins are in season.

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“In a Pickle” – Mustard Pickle-Making, My Island Bistro Kitchen Style

Sweet Mustard Pickles

One of the most common fall flavours in many Island households surrounds pickle, chow, and relish-making.  I love the smell of fresh mustard pickles in the house – not so much the mess, the tedious job of peeling and cutting up the cucumbers, and the “distressing” task of peeling strong pickling onions – an activity sure to bring a tear to the eye!  In many Island households, a meal of any kind is not complete unless there are mustard pickles on the table.  So, for most of us true cooks, we endure the process knowing the end result is worth the effort.

There are as many recipes for mustard pickles as there are cooks on the Island.  There are any number of sites on the Internet that will give detailed and scientific instructions on how to make pickles.  As for me, I follow the tradition of my mother and grandmother.

Here are my hints and tips for ensuring a good batch of sweet mustard pickles.  At the end of the post, you will find the recipe I have used for mustard pickles for many years.

Assemble the Necessary Ingredients

Ingredients for Mustard Pickles

Pickling Cucumbers

Just like anything, fresh is always best.  Some say only cucumbers that have been picked no longer than 24 hours should be used.  Cucumbers that have been picked for days start to get soft and “punky” and are not good for pickling because they have already started to deteriorate and lose their freshness.   So, look for firm pickling cucumbers, sometimes referred to as “field cucumbers”.  Ask for them at your local farm stand and inquire when they were picked.

Onions

Look for firm, fresh onions.  Strong, fresh onions are needed for flavouring in the pickles.  Sometimes, but not always, there are bags of “pickling onions” available on the market.  These are smaller onions and are so named because they are a stronger tasting onion – you’ll quickly know their strength when you start to peel them!

I have no secret for avoiding the “tears” when peeling the onions.  Some claim if you hold the onions underwater while peeling them, that works.  Others say to peel them outside.  No matter what method I have tried, it’s a teary job!

Onions Cut For Mustard Pickles

Cutting the Cucumbers and Onions

I always peel the cucumbers.  Some cooks like to leave a few of the cucumbers with the peeling on them but I find this makes the pickles tough and I don’t particularly care for the appearance of them in the pickles.  Once the cucumbers are peeled, slice them in half, lengthwise, then halve them again.  Remove and discard all the seeds from each cut section.

 

Cutting Up the Cucumbers

 

I am not too fussy when I cut up the cukes and onions – I don’t worry about getting the pieces all perfectly uniform sizes.  I tend to like the cukes and onions cut in about ½”-3/4” pieces – any smaller and the pickles are starting to resemble relish.  This, of course, is a personal preference.  There is no right or wrong size of pickles.

Cauliflower and Red Pepper

While certainly not necessary, cut-up cauliflower flowerets and sweet red pepper can be added to the pickles and I always do add them.  The red pepper adds color and dresses the pickles up, both in the bottle and on the table.  The cauliflower adds texture and variety to the pickles.

Pickling Salt

For both taste and preserving the pickles over the winter as well as for color of the pickles, it is very important that proper pickling salt be used in the water/salt brine that is used to soak the cut-up cucumbers and onions.  This is a coarse salt specifically made for pickling and it will be marked on the label.  Never use fine iodized table salt in pickles as this will produce a cloudy sauce that is a poor and unappetizing color (e.g., sort of a mossy-green-yellow color).  It will also make the pickles taste too salty because the vegetables absorb too much of the salt.  I can always tell when I see a bottle of discoloured pickles that someone has made them using regular table salt.  The pickling salt is a slower dissolving salt.  For this reason, make sure you stir it into the water for the soaking brine really well and that it is fully dissolved before pouring the brine over the cukes and onions.  You don’t want any salt granules sitting on the cucumber mixture for hours.

Pickling Salt – An Essential Ingredient in Mustard Pickle-Making

Soaking the Vegetables

Unless you are using a recipe that specifically gives directions to the contrary, plan on soaking the cukes, cauliflower, and onions in the salt and water brine overnight or at least for 8-10 hours during the day if you are making the pickles in the evening.    Cucumbers have a lot of water in them so, in order to have crisp pickles, the excess water needs to be removed from them.  Soaking them in a slow-dissolving salt/water brine draws the natural water out of the cucumbers, opens their cells, and allows the mustard pickling sauce to penetrate them.  This gives the pickles greater flavour, good color, and a longer shelf life.

Add the red pepper (if using) after the veggies have been rinsed and drained (the peppers do not need to soak in the salt water brine).

Cucumbers Soaking in Salt/Water Brine

Draining the Vegetables

After the soaking period has ended, drain the vegetables thoroughly in a colander and rinse with cold water to remove any excess salt.  Then, let them drain for about an hour or so to get as much water drained off of them as possible.  If too much water is left on them, it will dilute the mustard sauce and make the pickles too runny.

Cucumbers Draining in Colander

Pickling Spice

Of course, the right mixture of pickling spice is necessary for flavourful pickles – the wrong combination of spices or too much or too little will leave you with pickles you won’t be satisfied with.  Pickling spice, as a product, is not always available on the store shelf and sometimes I have had to create my own mixture using some or all of the following:  mustard seed, whole allspice and cloves, coriander seed, red pepper flakes, bay leaves, cinnamon stick pieces, peppercorns, and whole or coarse pieces of dried ginger.  Whole spices (as opposed to dried) are said to be better because they will not cause the pickles to darken in color.  The look you are going for is that nice, bright mustard yellow color.

Making the Pickling Spice Sachet

You don’t want whole spices and junks of cinnamon stick or bay leaves making their way into the pickle jars and on to the plate so it is necessary to contain them in a sachet.  To make a pickling spice sachet, you will need a small piece of cheesecloth (available at fabric stores).  This will have a very loose weave so I usually double or even fold it over 3-4 times and then place 1-1 1/2 tablespoons of the pickling spice mixture in the centre.  Gather up the cheesecloth around the spice and tie it with a thread.  This sachet then gets dropped into the boiling vinegar and sugar mixture and left in during the entire pickle-cooking process.  It then gets removed just before bottling the pickles.  This sachet allows the vinegar and pickles to be infused and flavoured with the spices without having the spices directly in the pickle mixture when they are bottled.

Pickling Vinegar

Be sure to use vinegar that is specially labelled for pickling – it will usually have 7% acidity, making it stronger than table vinegar and will help to preserve the pickles longer.

Boiling Vinegar and Sugar

It is important to boil the majority of the vinegar the recipe calls for along with the sugar.  This helps the sugar to dissolve before the vegetables are added.  The heat from the boiling mixture will also help the flavours from the spices in the sachet to infuse the vinegar.

Boiling the Vinegar and Sugar

Making the Mustard Sauce

Mix part of the sugar the recipe calls for with the flour, dry mustard powder and any other spices.  Then add the remaining vinegar from the recipe ingredient list to make the paste for the pickle sauce.  To this paste, add about ¾ cup of the boiling vinegar that will have already been heated.  This “tempers” the paste it so it doesn’t go lumpy when added to the boiling vinegar already in the pot.

Making the Mustard Sauce

Cook the sauce slowly to thicken it and stir often to prevent scorching.  Be patient – this process can take several minutes.  The mixture should coat a spoon and drip very slowly off the spoon when the sauce is thick enough to add the vegetables.

Sauce Should Coat a Spoon When it is Thick Enough to Add the Vegetables

It is important that the sauce gets thickened to the right consistency before adding the drained vegetables as they will still have a lot of moisture in them and the sauce will not thicken any further after they have been added.

Heating the Vegetables

Heat the vegetables in the sauce slowly, stirring periodically – you want the veggies to stay crisp and crunchy, not be cooked to mush.

Heating the Vegetables in the Mustard Sauce

Bottling the Pickles

Bottling, of course, is very important – make sure the bottles are sterilized and hot when you bottle the hot pickles.  I have a large old pot that I fill with hot water and put on the stove to sterilize the bottles.  Make sure there are no nicks in the tops of the glass Mason jars and that you use new lids each time and that the rims are not dented or rusted.

Bottling the Pickles

 

Sweet mustard pickles are a fine addition to many entrées from “meat and potato” meals to casseroles to baked beans and fishcakes.  Pickles do take some time and know-how to make but nothing beats homemade mustard pickles that no store-bought version can match.

Mustard Pickles – The Finished Product

Do you make mustard pickles or have recollections of your mother or grandmother making mustard pickles?

 Mustard Pickles – My Island Bistro Kitchen Style

Ingredients:

• 8 cups pickling cucumbers, chopped
• 4 cups onions, chopped
• 2 cups cauliflower flowerets (apx. 1 small cauliflower head)
• 4 cups white pickling vinegar
• 3 1/2 cups sugar
• 1/2 – 2/3 cup all-purpose flour, depending on how juicy or thick you like pickles
• 1 1/2 tbsp tumeric
• 1 1/2 tbsp celery seed
• 1 tbsp mixed pickling spice, tied in a cheesecloth sachet
• 1/2 cup dry mustard
• 1/4 tsp ginger powder
• Pinch cayenne
• 1 small red pepper, chopped
• Coarse pickling salt

Method:

1. Peel the cucumbers. Slice in half, lengthwise. Slice in half again. Remove and discard the seeds. Cut cucumbers to desired size, apx. 1/2″ – 3/4″ pieces.
2. Peel the onions and cut into pieces similar in size to cucumbers.
3. Separate the cauliflower into individual flowerets.
4. Place cucumbers, onions, and cauliflower flowerets into a large bowl.
5. Make a brine of pickling salt and water using 1/2 cup coarse pickling salt to 4 cups of water. Pour over the vegetables, ensuring they are completely covered. (I use apx. 6 cups water and 3/4 cup pickling salt.) Let stand overnight or 8-10 hours.
6. Drain vegetables in a colander and rinse with cold water to remove any excess salt. Let vegetables drain for apx. 45-60 minutes. Add cup-up red pepper.
7. In a large stock pot, bring to a boil 3 cups of the vinegar and 3 cups of the sugar along with the pickling sachet made of pickling spice tied in cheesecloth. Boil 2-3 minutes.
8. Mix remaining 1/2 cup of sugar with the flour, tumeric, celery seed, dry mustard, ginger, and cayenne.
9. Add the remaining 1 cup of vinegar to the dry ingredients and whisk till smooth. Add apx. 3/4 cup of the hot vinegar-sugar mixture to this sauce. This will “temper” it and keep it from going lumpy when added to the hot liquid mixture in the pot. Stir and pour into the vinegar-sugar mixture in pot. Cook sauce over medium heat until thickened, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. When sauce coats a spoon and drips off slowly, it is thick enough to add the vegetables. (This could take 25-30 minutes.)
10. Add the drained vegetables to the thickened mustard sauce and cook over medium-low heat just until vegetables are heated through, apx. 12-15 minutes.

11. Bottle pickles while hot into hot sterilized bottles. Heat bottle lids and apply to bottle tops. Place rims on bottles, finger-tip tightening only. Listen for the “pop” sounds as the bottles seal over the next few hours. Store in cool area.

Yield: Apx. 7½  pint bottles

For other great pickle and relish recipes from My Island Bistro Kitchen, click on the links below:

Green Tomato Chow
Dill Pickles
Bread and Butter Pickles
Rhubarb Relish
Mustard Beans 
Pickled Beets

Pin Me To Pinterest!

Homemade Pickles

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PEI Juice Works Ltd. Produces High Quality Wild Blueberry Juice

PEI Wild Blueberries

It’s late August and wild blueberry season on PEI.  These wonderful little indigo-colored berries grow wild in certain parts of the Island – in particular, in the Tignish area in the Western part of the Province and in the Morell-St. Peter’s area in the Eastern end of PEI.  While it may be wild blueberry season for most people, for the folks at PEI Juice Works Ltd. which produce wild blueberry juice, it’s wild blueberry season year-round.  Today, I’m in Bloomfield, near Alberton, PEI, in the Western part of the Island, visiting the PEI Juice Works Ltd. production plant.  My tour guide for the day is Ryan Bradley, Vice-President of Sales and Marketing.

 

Juice Works Logo

 

Fresh PEI Wild Blueberries Arrive on PEI Juice Works Ltd.’s Loading Dock…ready to be processed into Wild Blueberry Juice

As I arrive mid-morning, a local farmer from Tignish, about a half hour away, has just arrived with a truckload of fresh wild blueberries for processing and is backed up to the loading dock unloading large containers of berries.  One taste of these sweet little wild blueberries and there is no comparison to the larger cultivated ones that, while they have great presentation, I find so often lack flavour.  No doubt about it, wild blueberries are tastier and sweeter than the cultivated high bush variety and, as an added bonus, they also have a much higher antioxidant profile.

Crate of Wild Blueberries, Fresh from the Field

 

PEI Juice Works Ltd. began producing juice from wild blueberries just two years ago when four shareholders from the agricultural sector decided to do something with the wild blueberries growing in their area to add value to them other than shipping them as raw food to be used or processed into a product elsewhere.  The production facility is located in the Bloomfield Industrial Park just outside Alberton and presently employs seven staff year-round.  The company has worked closely with Bio Food Tech in Charlottetown to develop the proprietary process PEI Juice Works Ltd. uses and Ryan tells me that Bio Food Tech set up a small scale plant in their lab to test and help PEI Juice Works Ltd. get the best wild blueberry juice product possible.   The food production industry is heavily regulated and food safety standards are strictly adhered to by PEI Juice Works Ltd.  In fact, on my visit, I could only view their production facility from a window as only authorized personnel are allowed in the room where the juice is being produced.

PEI Juice Works Ltd. Production Facility and Test Kitchen

 

 

Two Flavours of PEI Juice Works Ltd. Wild Blueberry Juice

Currently, the company produces two flavour blends of their signature wild blueberry juice – Wild Blueberry and Tart Cherry and Wild Blueberry and Rhubarb.  Ryan tells me that their most popular flavour is Wild Blueberry and Tart Cherry (and it’s my favourite, too!).  He tells me there is over one pound of wild blueberries in every 375ml bottle they produce and the product contains no preservatives – so it is the goodness of an all-natural product!  When you think of how small the low bush wild blueberries are, that’s a lot of blueberries!  Their product comes in one-size, a 375ml bottle, that has a two-year shelf life, unopened.  After opening, the product will maintain its quality for about three weeks, refrigerated.  Ryan tells me the juice can be drunk cold or at room temperature but he says the flavour will be more intense if it is consumed cold.  PEI Juice Works Ltd. recommends a daily serving size of 2 oz/60ml of the wild blueberry juice which is about ¼ cup.  Following this recommended serving, one 375 ml bottle will last you just about a week.

Wild Blueberry Juice
Recommended 2oz/60ml Serving Size of Wild Blueberry Juice Per Day
PEI Juice Works Ltd. Warehouse

To the extent possible, PEI Juice Works Ltd. uses local product.  In this way, it provides a ready market for local Island wild blueberry growers.  In the off-season, PEI Juice Works Ltd. buys its supply of wild blueberries from a sorting facility to which local growers have sold their crops and where the berries have been quick frozen.  So, how is wild blueberry juice made?  Ryan tells me PEI Juice Works Ltd. uses an ancient European process that was originally developed by Mennonites in Eastern Europe over 100 years ago.  This involves a heat process to break down the skin membrane of the wild blueberries that will release the dark, rich pigments that give the juice both its color and flavour.  The solids are then separated and filtered out and the blending of other fruits – either the cherries or rhubarb – then occurs.  For consumer safety, the product is pasteurized and bottled, hot, which gives it its two-year shelf life.

Currently, the juices are sold in all four Atlantic Provinces (check the “Where to Buy” section of the PEI Juice Works Ltd. website for locations in those areas) and the 375ml bottles retail for around $10. each.  However, no worries if you are not in the Atlantic Provinces because, through FoodiePages, you can now order PEI Juice Works Ltd. products online.  The company is currently exploring markets around the world and have participated in trade shows and trade missions at home and farther afield.  In February, 2012, they attended a food show in Japan and, in March, were at the Canadian Health Products Show in Vancouver, BC.  In September, they are travelling to China as part of the PEI Premier’s trade mission.

The farmer delivering the wild blueberry shipment to PEI Juice Works Ltd. on this day graciously agreed to allow me to follow him to his blueberry field to see how they harvest the crop because I think it is important to see where our foods come from and how they are harvested. 

Wild Blueberry Harvesting Process

I learned a fact I did not know before and that is that a wild low bush blueberry field will only yield a maximum harvest every second year so the field they are harvesting today will not be harvested again until the year after next.  Wild blueberries, of course, cannot be planted so are completely dependent on Mother Nature as to where the wild blueberry barrens are and the fruit they yield.  I asked if, this year being a very dry year on the Island with very little rain, provided good growing conditions for wild blueberries.  The farmer told me that it is not and he showed me some berries that, in fact, just dried up and did not yield useable fruit because of the dry conditions.  Using the machine in the photograph above, the farmer can harvest over one acre of fruit per day.  It is from this field that today’s production of PEI Juice Works Ltd. wild blueberry juice is being made.  It doesn’t get any fresher than that!

In recent years, there have been a number of studies conducted around the world with regards to the health benefits of wild blueberries, often dubbed a superfruit, which have steadily been gaining a reputation for their health benefits.  Wild blueberries are low in fat and sodium and provide a good source of fibre and both Vitamins C and K.  While research and testing on the health benefits of wild blueberries continue on an ongoing basis, the berries and their products, such as wild blueberry juice, are reported to have positive health benefits.  High in antioxidants, wild blueberry juice is reported to have properties that may improve cognitive function, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, reduce inflammation, inhibit urinary tract infections, and combat diseases like cancer, heart disease, stroke, and memory loss.  There is even some research that suggests wild blueberry juice may slow the aging process!  So, with the chances of improved memory and learning functions, slowing down the aging process, and combating a number of other diseases, what’s not to like about wild blueberry juice!

Visit the Juice Works website to find out more about their blueberry juice products.

While the wild blueberry juice is wonderful to drink on its own I decided to try some recipes using the juice as an ingredient.  The first recipe is for Steamed Mussels with Blueberry Vinaigrette.  You can find the recipe for this appetizer on the Saltscapes magazine website. Traditionally, on PEI, we serve steamed mussels with melted butter; however, this recipe sees the mussels drizzled with a blueberry vinaigrette which can also be used as a dressing on a green garden salad or on a watermelon, goat cheese, and basil salad.  For the vinaigrette, I chose PEI Juice Works’ Wild Blueberry and Rhubarb Juice and I also used PEI-produced maple syrup.  Adding the syrup gave the dressing a touch of sweetness and it paired well with the mussels in the appetizer and the watermelon in the salad.

Steamed Mussels with Blueberry Vinaigrette

 

Steamed Mussels served with Blueberry Vinaigrette

To make the watermelon, goat cheese, and basil salad, I simply cubed watermelon, added some crumbled goat cheese, red onion, and a sprinkle of fresh basil and parsley.  Since we had a bumper crop of cherry tomatoes in our garden this year, I included some of those as well.  Drizzled with a wild blueberry vinaigrette, this is a refreshing and colorful summer salad.

Watermelon, Goat Cheese, and Basil Salad Drizzled with a Wild Blueberry Vinaigrette

My third recipe is one I developed —  a Blueberry Juice Sangria (recipe follows).

My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Blueberry Sangria

I hope you will try PEI Juice Works Ltd. wild blueberry juices.  They are a tasty product, good for you, and made right here in Prince Edward Island.  It’s a true flavour of the Island!

My Island Bistro Kitchen's Blueberry Sangria

By Barbara99 Published: August 29, 2012

  • Yield: (3-4 Servings)
  • Prep: 1 hr 30 mins

A refreshing drink made with PEI Juice Works' Wild Blueberry Juice

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Assemble all ingredients.
  2. Chop lime, lemon, and orange into quarters. Into medium-sized glass pitcher, hand-squeeze fruit. Drop in the fruit. Add blueberries, if using.
  3. Add sugar and a small sprinkle of fine sea salt. Let sit, at room temperature, for about 30 minutes to release juices from the fruit.
  4. Add blueberry and orange juices, wine, and brandy. Stir. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour to chill.
  5. Add soda at time of serving.
  6. Serve chilled, over ice, in tall glasses and garnish with a slice of orange or lemon. Enjoy!

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Sangria on the Verandah on a Saturday Afternoon in July

“Island Sangria”

It has been some years since I have had sangria.  The last time would have been in London, England.  I have never made sangria before but the gift of a couple of bottles of a friend’s homemade Pinot Noir prompted me to make it and it has now become my 2012 signature summer drink.

Sangria is really nothing more than a wine punch.  It is typically associated with Spain, Portugal, and Mexico but is also popular now in other areas of the world as well, particularly as a summer time drink.  While it can be made with white or rosé wines, classic sangria is made with red wine.  A small amount of brandy is also a common ingredient.  Chopped fruit — often citrus —  is also a usual ingredient and what you add to it basically consists of what you have available.  Lemonade or orange juice can also be added and the addition of a sweetener, such as sugar or honey, is included in the list of ingredients, too.  These ingredients get mixed together and left for an hour or two to allow the flavours to blend.  Sangria can be drunk without the addition of a carbonated soda but adding lemon-lime soda, Sprite, 7-Up, or gingerale, certainly adds fizz and spark to the drink and I think makes it more refreshing.

Sangria – A Refreshing Summer Drink

Mix the sangria in a lovely glass pitcher so that you can enjoy the deep burgundy-red color of the drink as well as the mixture of fruits floating in the punch.  I like to serve the sangria over ice in tall pedestal flutes.

Glass of Island Sangria

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Island Sangria

By Barbara99 Published: July 14, 2012

  • Yield: 4 Servings
  • Prep: 1 hr 30 mins

A deep, rich burgundy-red wine punch

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Chop fruit. Set aside.
  2. Pour wine, orange juice, and brandy in to a glass pitcher. Add sugar and salt. Stir.
  3. Add chopped fruit. Let stand for at least an hour at room temperature to let flavours blend. Then, refrigerate for 30-60 minutes to cool. Add the carbonated soda at time of serving. Serve over ice in pedestal flutes. Enjoy!

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Ruby Red Rhubarb

Rhubarb Marmalade on Fresh Biscuits

Over the years, many Island homes, particularly those in the country (including mine) have had (and many still do) a rhubarb patch. The tiny shoots of the perennial rhubarb plants poking through the earth are always considered a harbinger of Spring and a welcome one at that. After many long Winter months in Northeastern Canada, it’s always good to see this sign of life in the corner of the garden. In fact, some local groups on PEI host fund-raising “Rhubarb Socials” each June at which they serve desserts made with rhubarb so it appears the lowly rhubarb has gained some social status!

Rhubarb Signifies Spring

A number of years ago, I suggested planting a rhubarb crown (rhizomes) in the corner of our cottage garden. The idea was not met with grand enthusiasm but, nonetheless, I went to the garden center and landed home with two rhubarb crowns which did get planted (I knew they would once they were onsite!). Well, now that rhubarb is just the greatest thing ever planted! It grew alright – in fact, we now have more of a rhubarb “bush” than a patch! Some stalks are about 18” tall. Local supermarkets are currently selling rhubarb for $3.99/lb (Cdn $). In fact, I saw some at a local farm stand last Saturday where they were selling for $4.95 and they were not overly fresh either. Sometimes, we take for granted the value of what we have in our backyard gardens. In fact, in Spring 2011, I planted two rhubarb crowns in the backyard of my suburban home. I’m pleased to say they are doing very well – long, strong stalks (ribs) with huge triangular-shaped leaves. I can’t remove any stalks from these plants this year but, next year, I can harvest one-third of the produce and, the following year, as much as is available since the rhubarb will be well established by then.

In PEI, we harvest rhubarb from early-mid May until mid-June. Harvest when stalks are long and still slender as thicker stalks tend to be older and, therefore, tougher and more stringy. To harvest, grasp the rhubarb stalk down close to its root base and give it a good tug to pull it out of the ground. Immediately cut off and discard the bottom whitish part of each stalk. The early Spring stalks are the most tender and yield greater juiciness.

If you are buying rhubarb at a farm market or grocery store, look for stalks that look dry, have crispness to them and are not limp, soft, wilted, or showing signs of turning brown at the ends.

Rhubarb is available in many varieties and shades of color that range from green to stalks that are red-green speckled or graduated in color from red to green, to deep crimson red. When purchasing a rhubarb crown for your garden or when buying rhubarb stalks, I recommend looking for varieties that have a deep red color. They will have the most flavour and give the richest pink color to recipes. Stalks that are primarily green are less flavourful and do not add appealing color to culinary dishes. As a rough, general guideline, 1 pound of raw rhubarb will yield approximately 4 cups chopped.

There has long been a debate over whether rhubarb is a fruit or a vegetable. It is often referred to as the “pie plant” because one of the most common and recognizable uses of it is in rhubarb pie and we tend to think of dessert pies as being made with fruit, not vegetables. Rhubarb is generally considered to be a vegetable notwithstanding that, in 1947, a New York court decided that, since it was primarily used as fruit in the US, rhubarb would be considered a fruit for the purposes of regulations and duties. So, while rhubarb is often treated as a fruit in many culinary dishes, botanically and by general consensus, it appears to be more accepted as a vegetable.

Regardless whether it is a fruit or a vegetable (we’ll leave that to botanists and other scientists to make the definitive call on that), it is a very versatile ingredient in many recipes. From jams, marmalades, sauces, chutneys, and drinks to pies, tortes, puddings, muffins, and ice cream, there are an endless number of recipes in which to use rhubarb. While I don’t fancy it raw, it is not uncommon to find our young glasscutter hopping off the mower to head over to our rhubarb patch to grab a rhubarb stalk to snack on! Guess he must like the sour, tart taste better than I do!

Rhubarb freezes very well and we freeze a number of bags each Spring. Chopped and frozen in recipe-specific portions and labelled accordingly, rhubarb is then available to us year-round to use in our favourite recipes.

From a nutritional standpoint, rhubarb is a source of Vitamin C, calcium, potassium, and dietary fibre. Because rhubarb largely consists of water (one source claims it is 95% water), it has no cholesterol, fat, or sodium. However, because rhubarb is so tart, it needs sweetening so, adding other ingredients such as sugar, or combining it with fruits such as strawberries, apples, etc., will obviously alter the cholesterol, fat, and/or sodium content of the dish you make using rhubarb.

I have a multitude of favourite rhubarb recipes but one of my all-time favourites is this Rhubarb Marmalade (recipe follows). Combined with three citrus fruits, it has a tart, fresh taste and, best of all, it is the first of my jamming and preserving processes of the season. I use this rich-colored and flavourful marmalade on toast, biscuits, scones, and I particularly like a dollop of it on a warm cream custard.

Time to bring out the jam pots and bottles and capture some of this Springtime goodness before the rhubarb gets too old and tough to use. If you do try this recipe, please be sure to leave me a comment about your impressions of it.

Jamming and preserving season is officially underway!

Rhubarb Marmalade

 

Rhubarb Marmalade

Ingredients:

8 cups rhubarb, thinly sliced
4¼ cups sugar
1 large orange (or 1½ small oranges)
½ pink grapefruit
½ small lemon

Method:

Chop rhubarb into thin slices. Set aside.

Peel orange. Chop the pulp and place in bowl. Scrape the pith from the orange peeling and discard. Chop the peel into small pieces. Set aside.

Peel the 1/2 grapefruit or use a grapefruit knife to section the grapefruit pulp. Add pulp to the orange. Scrape the pith from the grapefruit peeling and discard. Chop the peel into small pieces. Set aside.

Peel the 1/2 lemon. Chop the pulp and add to orange and grapefruit pulp. Scrap the pitch from the lemon peeling and discard. Chop the peel into small pieces. Set aside.

In a large pot, place the rhubarb and sugar. Add the citrus pulp and peel. Stir over medium heat.

Rhubarb Marmalade Ingredients
Rhubarb Marmalade Ingredients

Place two small saucers in the freezer to chill. You will use these to test the marmalade to see if it gels.

Cook the fruit mixture, stirring occasionally, for approximately 1/2 hour. Test by placing a small amount of the marmalade on a chilled saucer. Gently shake the saucer back and forth to see if the marmalade has thickened and gels. If it does, it is done; if not, continuing cooking and testing at 5-minute intervals until mixture gels.

Boiling the Marmalade
Boiling the Marmalade

Sterilize the jars either by using the sanitizer setting on the dishwasher or by placing the jars in boiling hot water.

Fill sterilized jars, leaving approximately 1/4″ head room at jar top. Place lids and rims on jars.

Yield:  Apx. 5½ – 6 cups

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St. Patrick’s Day Dinner – 2012

Irish Coffee

So, St. Patrick’s Day 2012 has come and gone.  A belated Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you all.   We are all a wee bit Irish on March 17th, aren’t we – either Irish by heritage or Irish at heart!

My St. Patrick’s Day Menu this year consisted of Prince Edward Island Blue Mussels steamed in Guinness, herbs, and vegetables and served with Cows Creamery Sea-Salted butter, melted; Spirited Irish Stew served with Irish Soda Bread; Irish Cream Cheesecake; and Irish Coffee as an after-dinner drink in front of a cozy fireplace.

PEI Blue Mussels Steamed in Guinness

PEI cultivates great mussels.  Local supermarkets sell them bulk by the pound which is good because I am the only one in the household that likes them.  The key to steaming mussels is to use very little liquid and steam them just until their shells open.  If you use too much liquid, it will dilute the flavour of the mussels and they will have a very bland taste.  I have steamed these shellfish in water, beer, and in wine in the past.  However, the Guinness I used yesterday, along with the vegetables and herbs, made the mussels a very rich and delightful treat.  The mussels were infused with the Guinness and herbs but not so much that the seafood taste of these tasty morsels was lost.

So, for one serving, this is what I used:

2 Tbsp carrots, very finely chopped

2 Tbsp celery, very finely chopped

2 Tbsp. onion, finely chopped

½ tsp garlic purée

½ tsp. dried dillweed

1 – 1 ½ Tbsp butter

Melt butter in saucepan and sauté ingredients 2-3 minutes, then add:

1 cup Guinness

Bring to a boil

Add 9-10 oz. PEI mussels (about 15).

Cover pot.  Reduce heat to medium.  Steam approximately 3-5 minutes or until shells are open.  Using slotted spoon, remove mussels from liquid and transfer to plate, discarding any unopened shells.  Serve with melted butter.

PEI Blue Mussels Steamed in Guinness

 Irish Stew

Spirited Irish Stew

According to legend, traditional Irish Stew was made with cheap cuts of mutton or lamb and basic root vegetables like carrots, potatoes, onions, and turnips. Years ago, these would have been ingredients that were, no doubt, simply what would have been available in Ireland where sheep were raised for their wool and for food and, before the potato famine, potatoes were a primary Irish crop.

Over the years, Irish Stew recipes have changed according to the locale and what was available in the cook’s local area.  For example, beef is often used in North America today instead of lamb in Irish Stew and other ingredients are added to make a more flavourful, hearty stew as opposed to a broth-like dish.  Purists might argue that these changes result in a new stew recipe altogether and is something entirely different than the original Irish Stew.  Regardless what it is called, I like my version of a Spirited Irish Stew.  It has a nice rich, robust flavour and a splendid reddish-brown color that comes from the addition of tomato paste.  Using Guinness and red wine helps to tenderize the meat and also adds to the flavour of the stew.  I don’t add huge amounts of either as the intent is not to “drown” the natural flavours of the beef and veggies but rather to blend and enhance flavours.  The nice thing about Irish Stew (once you have all the veggies cut up) is that it is an all-encompassing meal with all the vegetables in one dish (no worries about getting different pots of vegetables all cooked at the same time and a real bonus of only having one pot to wash).  It really needs nothing more than a slice of warm Irish Soda Bread, fresh from the oven and slathered with butter and perhaps some homemade mustard pickles on the side.

I like to slow-cook this stew in the oven at 325ºF for a couple of hours as opposed to cooking it on the cooktop.  I find oven-cooking allows the flavours to slowly blend and the stew to become nice and thick.  Recipe follows at end of this blog posting.

Irish Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread is a quick bread in which baking soda, and often baking powder, are used as the leavening agents as opposed to yeast.  My research revealed that ingredients for a basic Irish Soda Bread would include flour (often both all-purpose and whole wheat), baking soda, baking powder, salt, buttermilk, and molasses.  More elaborate breads might include raisins, currants, or nuts.  I also learned that it was not uncommon for the soda bread to be cooked on a griddle although I am not sure how the bread would have gotten baked all the way through without first getting burned on the bottom!

Soda bread dough is not kneaded like yeast breads and, in fact, it is recommended that the dough not be handled any more than is necessary for the dough to stick together.  In this respect, it is somewhat like tea biscuit dough except that it is a heavier, denser texture.

Irish Soda Bread Dough

Some recipes suggest that Irish Soda Bread should be baked in a pan or casserole dish for a softer crust or, for a more crispy hide, baked on a parchment-lined baking sheet which is how I baked mine.

Irish Soda Bread Ready for the Oven

The Irish Soda Bread recipe I used comes from Tea Time Magazine.  I found the bread was a good accompaniment for the Irish Stew but it is a dense, heavy bread and one that is probably best eaten fresh, warm from the oven, and on the day it is made.

Irish Soda Bread

 Irish Cream Cheesecake

I figured if I was going Irish on this St. Patrick’s Day, I might as well go all out and make a cheesecake that had Irish Cream Liquor in it.  I have often relied on recipes from Company’s Coming Cookbooks because I find them quite reliable, not containing ingredients I either wouldn’t have in my pantry or be able to readily source locally, and the directions are presented in a clear, easy-to-understand format.  That’s why I turned to Company’s Coming for the recipe for the Irish Cream Cheesecake.  I didn’t want a large cheesecake so I halved the recipe and used a 7” springform pan.

Irish Cream Cheesecake

I could not have been more pleased with the result.  The cheesecake had a lovely smooth texture, not over-powered by the Irish Cream Liquor but yet with a pleasing taste.  I served it simply with a dob of whipped cream, a drizzle of rich chocolate syrup, and a chocolate.  A superb and fitting finish to my St. Patrick’s Day meal!

Slice of Irish Cream Cheesecake Drizzled with Chocolate Sauce

My Island Bistro Kitchen's Spirited Irish Stew

By Barbara99 Published: March 18, 2012

  • Yield: (5-7 Servings)
  • Prep: 30 mins
  • Cook: 2 hrs 0 min
  • Ready In: 2 hrs 30 mins

A rich hearty stew with beef, a variety of vegetables, and flavoured with Guinness and red wine

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Assemble ingredients.
  2. Chop stew meat and vegetables into bite-size pieces
  3. Brown meat in 1 - 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil.
  4. Place vegetables and meat in roaster.
  5. In large bowl, combine sugar, herbs, garlic, tomato paste, beef consommé, Worcestershire Sauce, red wine, Guinness, and water. Whisk in flour until smooth. Pour over vegetables in roaster. With large spoon, stir mixture to combine. Add bayleaf.
  6. Cover roaster and place in pre-heated 325F oven. Cook for approximately 2 hours or until vegetables are fork-tender when tested.
  7. Serve with Irish Soda Bread, rolls, or French Bread.

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