Out and About

  • Dave’s Lobster – Charlottetown’s Newest Lobster Roll and Taco Eatery May 6, 2014

    Tonight, I have some mouth-watering photos for you featuring one of PEI’s most famous foods (and certainly one of my favorites) — lobster!

    It’s always exciting when a new eatery opens in town.  I was fortunate enough to have been invited to this evening’s pre-opening event for Charlottetown’s newest restaurant featuring lobster rolls and tacos.

    I thought you might be interested in seeing the photos of lobster rolls and tacos from Dave’s Lobster in Charlottetown, PEI (now stop drooling on the keyboard and read on!).

    Let’s take a look at the menu boards.  Main features are lobster rolls (both hot and cold) and lobster tacos.

    However, if you are not a lobster lover, they offer grilled cheese sandwiches using local COWS Creamery cheeses.

    One thing I always look for in a lobster roll is lots of big chunks of identifiable lobster (I loathe “mashed” or shredded lobster).  As you can see from the “Fancy Lobster Roll” below, there is no problem with identifying the lobster.  The roll was amply filled, too.  The other thing I look for is how much non-lobster filler has been added to the lobster roll.  This one was filled with 100% pure, fresh lobster and nothing else.  The chopped fresh chives really add a contrast color and make the orange color of the lobster pop.  I had the warm lobster in a roll that was lightly grilled and quite enjoyed it.  This is a bit of a switch for me since I always choose to eat my lobster cold.

    Staff were kept busy making the lobster rolls and tacos, all under the watchful eye of Chef Ilona Daniel who owner, Dave Hyndman, engaged as a culinary consultant on his new restaurant.

    If lobster rolls aren’t your thing, perhaps a lobster taco would fit the bill!

    Lobster Taco
    Lobster Taco

    So, if your tastebuds lead you to craving lobster, why not head on down to Dave’s Lobster located in Founder’s Hall, 6 Prince Street, just off of Water Street, in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.  This is in the same building that houses the PEI Visitor’s Centre and is just steps away from Peake’s Quay and the cruise ship port.

    While there is a small eat-in section at Dave’s, eating a lobster roll outside under the bright red umbrellas on a warm summer day would be ideal.

    DSC04116

    Do you have a new restaurant opening or a culinary event happening in Prince Edward Island?  If so, and provided it fits with the philosophy and theme of my blog, I invite you to get in touch with me as I may be able to feature it here on my Island food blog.

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  • Gardeners: It’s Time to Make Seed Selections – A Visit to Vesey’s Seed Company in York, PEI April 8, 2014

    My family has a long history of planting Vesey’s seeds.  I well remember my grandmother receiving, by mail, the white envelope bearing the Vesey’s seed catalogue.

    She would spend many an hour perusing the catalogue, marking an “x” beside the seeds she planned to order and turning down the relevant pages.

    Vesey's Seed Catalogues Throughout the Years
    Vesey’s Seed Catalogues Throughout the Years

    Now, this might not seem strange to you but what is ironic about it is that this woman never ordered a different variety of beans, peas, lettuce, or any other seed from one year to the next!  Nevertheless, she sure enjoyed those little catalogues (particularly when they started to have photographs in them) and, each spring, she would mail off her seed order (on an order form much like the one in the photo below) and, a few weeks later, the much anticipated small white box of seeds would arrive in the mail from Vesey’s in York, PEI.

    Vesey's Seed Catalogue Order Form
    Vesey’s Seed Catalogue Order Form

    Today, we either order the seeds online, by phone, mail or, for many of us Islanders, we simply drive to the Vesey’s store to pick up the seeds.  However, in my grandmother’s day, this would have been about an hour’s drive from her house and her way of doing much business was by regular postal service.

    Vesey's, York, PEI
    Vesey’s Seeds, York, PEI

    Planting a garden was of particular importance to my grandmother’s generation because the produce from the garden was what sustained a family through much of the year.  In-season, families would enjoy fresh produce from their gardens but they also ate from the gardens for the rest of the year, too.  Cucumbers were grown for pickles; beets would be canned; parsnips, onions, and carrots were stored in cold cellars for use over the winter.  Pumpkins and squash joined them and were used for jams and pies through the long, cold winter months.  You see, in my grandmother’s time, there were no big supermarkets with imported produce and, as far as farmers markets were concerned, they weren’t an item in rural PEI because most everyone had their own vegetable gardens in which they grew the produce they needed.

    Once the frost was out of the ground in June, out would come the Vesey’s box of seeds and the planting process would begin.  My grandmother’s garden was always large.  She and my grandfather would debate over the straightness of the drills because, if they weren’t in proper line, people driving by would think they didn’t know how to plant a garden!  And, she wanted to make sure the garden looked full and lush because no one wanted to be known for having a “poor” garden.  That’s why she relied on Vesey’s seeds that she trusted to produce a good garden. I think my grandmother got great pleasure out of tending her garden and harvesting and processing its products.  Today, we plant a smaller garden but still use Vesey’s seeds because we know we can trust them as they have been tested to ensure they will grow in PEI’s short growing season.

    This year marks the 75th Anniversary that Vesey’s has been in business.  I recently sat down with Heidi Carmichael, horticulturalist at Vesey’s, to talk about the seed company’s operation.  Heidi has been with the company for five years and supervises the seeds that are brought in for trials and monitors how well they do in the vegetable trials.  Every seed that appears in Vesey’s catalogue has been grown in a trial plot at Vesey’s to ensure it will grow in our Island climate.

    Vesey’s Seeds was started in 1939 by Arthur Vesey (now deceased).  The current owner, Bev Simpson, began working with Mr. Vesey when Bev was just 16 years of age.  Today, he is joined by a son and daughter who also work at Vesey’s, a company known for its excellent seed quality products, loyalty to customers, and good customer service.

    Vesey’s seeds come from all over the world.  However, before a seed variety will be offered for sale, it will be grown and tested in Vesey’s trial plots, usually over a couple of years so the seeds can be tested over different summers with different growing conditions.  It is important that imported seeds pass the germination test as well as a purity test for no diseases or weeds. The company has two acres of trial plots for regular vegetable seeds and one acre for hot field crops like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.  It’s not uncommon for 90-100 tomato varieties to be under trial at the same time.

    Both new and existing varieties of seeds in the annual Vesey’s seed catalogue get tested every year.  Today, Vesey’s markets over 700 varieties of seeds and some are not vegetables that you might think would grow in cool Maritime climates, like avocados and watercress, for example.

    Vesey’s sell both conventional as well as organic seeds to respond to the growing demand for organic products.  Heidi tells me that, each year, Vesey’s adds more organic seeds to their offerings.

    A long-time mail order company, I asked Heidi if the popularity of online shopping in recent years has impacted their operations.  She says internet sales have grown and, while the paper copies of the catalogues still remain popular, they are seeing more web orders for seeds.  In fact, they ship their seeds all over North America and shipping orders make up the majority of their sales.

    A Small Sample of the Seed Section at Vesey's Store in York, PEI
    A Small Sample of the Seed Selection at Vesey’s Store in York, PEI

    Seventy-five years is a significant milestone in any company’s business.  I asked Heidi to what Vesey’s attributes their ongoing success and longevity.  She believes, first and foremost, it is Vesey’s customer service.  Second, the availability of good quality land to test seeds to ensure that what they offer for sale will actually grow in our climate.  Third, the long-time experience of seed-testing and growing means gardeners can trust that Vesey’s seeds are credible.  Fourth, the company has carefully and intentionally grown and kept up with the times.  As Heidi says, Vesey’s is “not just seeds” – you can buy everything you need to garden at Vesey’s because they have different departments like rototillers and lawn tractors, landscaping needs, and flowers and bulbs, for example.

    Heidi says Vesey’s is continually searching out new vegetable and seed varieties and they remain current on what customers are looking for.  For example, as Canada becomes more culturally diverse, Vesey’s is looking at the foods immigrants to Canada are likely to be seeking.  This year, the company is currently testing vegetable seeds like Chinese greens because there are a number of Asian immigrants in the country.

    Something that Vesey’s has started doing is putting together convenient theme garden packages of seeds.  For example, they offer a salsa seed package that will contain the seeds you need to grow all the vegetables and herbs for making salsa.  This makes it easier for the customer who doesn’t have to go in search of individual seed packages and put together their own seed package combinations.  Vesey’s also offers a tomato-themed seed package that will contain a collection of several different kinds of tomatoes from early to late varieties, including beefsteak, plum, and cherry tomatoes.

    Before we ended our chat, I asked Heidi if she could offer some advice for the first-time gardener thinking about starting his or her own garden.  Here are her tips:

    1)                  Get a soil sample analysis.  Take a small sample (about 1½ cups) of your garden soil to a government-run lab that will do a soil analysis for you.  There is usually a nominal fee involved but the analysis will tell you what you need to add to your soil for nutrients.  For example, it may indicate you need to add lime and/or peat moss to make more acidic nitrogen to help your plants grow better.

    2)                  Start with a small plot so it won’t be overwhelming and be sure you are up for the challenge and have the time to weed, water, and maintain the garden.

    3)                  Plant the garden close to your kitchen for convenience and also for ease of regular watering purposes.  If your garden is planted too far from your kitchen, it will make it more of a challenge to tend to it and to harvest and use your produce.  Make sure the garden is planted in full sun.

    4)                  Grow what you like to eat and know that you will use.  Plant some seeds that will quickly yield produce, such as greens like spinach, so you’ll see some quick results.  Tomatoes and peppers are good suggestions, too, because they can be eaten on their own as well as used in many recipes.  Herbs are also good for first-time gardeners because they are easy to grow and are very versatile in their usage and can be dried for winter use.

    5)                  If space is limited, consider growing pole beans and trellised cucumbers and beans as this will leave more ground space to grow other vegetable varieties.

    Vesey’s trial plots are located behind their main building in York, PEI, and are open to the public.  Heidi tells me each plot is marked to indicate what is being grown so you will know what seeds Vesey’s is currently testing and that may make their way into a future catalogue.  In case you are wondering what happens to the produce from the trial plots, Vesey’s donates it to the local food bank.

    When you are visiting the trial gardens during peak growing season, be sure to also stop by “Arthur’s Memorial Garden”, a garden established in honor of the man who began the seed company 75 years ago.

    As the old saying goes, if you want to be really sure where your food comes from, grow your own produce.  It’s been a long, cold, brutal winter in the Atlantic Provinces this year and most — particularly gardeners — are yearning to see some plant growth.  It may still be a while before any of us can dig around in our gardens or see any locally-grown produce; however, it is not too soon to start planning our vegetable gardens and making our seed selections.  So, while blizzards may still be hitting Eastern Canada when the calendar tells us it is spring, why not head over to the Vesey’s website and browse through the colorful photographs of garden-fresh vegetables and dream of summer gardens and fresh produce.

    My thanks to Vesey’s Seeds and, especially to their horticulturalist, Heidi Carmichael, for taking time out of busy days to talk with me about gardening.

    Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.  If you enjoyed this post, why not subscribe to my feed by entering your email address in the subscribe box in the upper left-hand sidebar.  That way, you will receive an email notification whenever I add a new posting to this blog.

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

  • J.J. Stewart Foods and Soda Company – Fine Island Flavors March 26, 2014

     

    I am always thrilled when I discover products made on PEI.  I recently paid a visit to the small commercial kitchen of J.J. Stewart Foods and Soda Company in Stratford, PEI, where I met with owners and sole employees of the company, Heather and Thom MacMillan.

    Under the brand label of J.J. Stewart, the MacMillans are producers and purveyors of a number of fine food products that includes preserves, flavoured mustards, sauces, pickles, salsa, lemonade, sodas and, of course, their signature artisan root beer.

    While I was anxious to find out more about the products they make, I was first curious to learn about J.J. Stewart and his connection to the company.

    The MacMillans tell me that the J.J. Stewart branding came about because of the root beer they were making.  They have been producing their artisan root beer since 2009.  When they were searching for a brand name for it, they discovered that Heather’s grandfather, John James Stewart, made and sold root beer in the early 1900s in his general store in Wood Islands, PEI. So, with the lineage and history, it seemed only fitting that their root beer should bear his name.

    So, that explains the root beer but what prompted the production of the sauces, preserves, maple mustards, and pickles?  The MacMillans have been in the tourism business for many years.  They decided it was time to downsize and slow down so they sold their hotel business in Wood Islands and moved to Charlottetown.  However, their retirement was short-lived as their lifelong entrepreneurial spirit was still prompting them to do something else.  Both like to cook and when the Embers Company in Kinkora, PEI, became available for sale about three years ago, they bought it along with rights to the recipes for specialty food condiments that were already well-known and received on the market.  They have continued to produce those items as well as develop, test, and market new items, like Peanut Butter and Cranberry Champagne Jam with Ginger, under the J.J. Stewart label.

    The dividing line between mass-produced mustards, preserves, and sauces and those produced by the MacMillans lies in the care and attention to detail that can only come with hand-producing small batch quantities, using high quality ingredients, and adhering to a strict individual quality control process.

    Large Cooking Pot inside the JJ Stewart Kitchen
    Large Cooking Pot inside the J.J. Stewart Kitchen

    The difference can also be discerned in the taste and flavour when pure ingredients are used.  Wherever possible, the MacMillans use regionally-produced products.  Thom says he can actually pinpoint the berry field at Penny’s Farms in Belfast, PEI, where the strawberries are picked for the J.J. Stewart Strawberry Preserves!  The berries for their blueberry products come from Wyman’s near Morell and the cranberries and raspberries are locally sourced as well.  Cucumbers for their mustard pickles come from local roadside farm stands which offer the freshest of garden vegetables.  The maple syrup comes from Acadian Maple Products in nearby Nova Scotia.  J.J. Stewart products have become synonymous with quality so much so that the MacMillans tell me that people buy their preserves by the case in the summer and their freshly-made mustard pickles are a fall favourite which customers also buy by the case to have as their winter supply.

    Like any food product produced and marketed for sale on PEI, the MacMillans are subject to food regulation and provincial inspection processes to ensure their products are safe for the market.

    Bottles of Dill and Chardonnay Maple Mustard
    Bottles of Dill and Chardonnay Maple Mustard Waiting to be Labeled

    The artisan foods produced by the MacMillans are a perfect blend of modern and traditional fare.  Under the J.J. Stewart label that bears his picture, look for modern products like blueberry salsa and blueberry barbeque sauce and a number of flavoured mustards along with old favorites like mustard pickles and raspberry and strawberry preserves.

    With distinctive flavour pairings like Dill and Chardonnay Maple Mustard and Wild Blueberry Sauce with Grand Marnier, for example, the J.J. Stewart line of products brings together the best flavour combinations.  J.J. Stewart products are both delicious and very versatile.  Whether used independently on their own as they are or incorporated as an ingredient into a recipe, these quality products are palette pleasers.

    Over the next while, follow my blog postings as I use a number of their products in different recipes.

    I am sure J.J. Stewart would have been happy to sell these products in his general store and he would, no doubt, be both thrilled and proud to know that his descendents are carrying on the tradition of producing artisanal root beer and other tasty products.  The J.J. Stewart speciality item products are available in select locations in the Maritimes.  For example, they can be purchased at the PEI Co. Store in Charlottetown’s Confederation Court Mall, at Riverview Country Market in Charlottetown, and at several other locations across the Island as well as at Sugar Moon Farms in Truro, Nova Scotia.

    Thom MacMillan at the J.J. Stewart booth at the Charlottetown Farmers Market
    Thom MacMillan at the J.J. Stewart booth at the Charlottetown Farmers Market

    Each Saturday morning, you can also find Thom at his booth at the Charlottetown Farmers Market where sales are brisk and you’ll find regular customers returning week after week to pick up their favorite J.J. Stewart products.  Farmers markets are great venues for customers and producers to meet and interact.  In fact, Thom says he gets the greatest feedback and new product ideas from his regular Saturday morning customers.  Be sure to drop by the Farmers Market and taste the J.J. Stewart products at the tasting bar set up in their booth.

    Tasting Bar at the JJ Stewart booth at the Charlottetown Farmers Market
    Tasting Bar at the J.J. Stewart booth at the Charlottetown Farmers Market

    In the summer months, their products are also sold in their own J.J. Stewart Mercantile Store in Cavendish, PEI.  Additionally, products are also available online at www.jjstewartfoods.com and they ship across North America.

    My Island Bistro Kitchen's Old-fashioned Jam Squares
    My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Old-fashioned Jam Squares

    For my feature recipe today using a J.J. Stewart product, I have chosen to use their Raspberry Preserves in old-fashioned vintage jam squares.  For this recipe, you need to use a superior quality jam or preserves because that is what gives the square its flavour.  Red jams or preserves work best because, for plate presentation purposes, they are the most showy.  I found the J.J. Stewart Raspberry Preserves to be a nice, thick consistency which is necessary in order for it to stick to the dough and not be runny when the squares are cut.

    My Island Bistro Kitchen's Old-fashioned Jam Squares
    My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Old-fashioned Jam Squares made with J.J. Stewart’s Raspberry Preserves

    My Island Bistro Kitchen’s

    Old-fashioned Jam Squares

    These are an old-fashioned favourite that I grew up with.  They are easy to make and take common ingredients.  While any kind of jam may be used, they are most showy when red jam (preserves) is chosen.

    Ingredients:

    ⅓ cup butter

    1 egg

    1 tsp vanilla

    ½ tsp almond flavoring

    ½ cup white sugar

    1 cup + 2 tbsp all-purpose flour

    1 tsp baking powder

    ¼ tsp salt

    ¼ tsp cinnamon

    ⅛ tsp cardamom

    Finely grated rind of 1 lemon

    ½ cup J.J. Stewart Raspberry Preserves

    Method:

    Preheat oven to 350°.

    Assemble ingredients.

    Ingredients for Jam Squares
    Ingredients for Jam Squares

    Prepare 8”x8” pan by lining with parchment paper.

    With electric mixer, beat butter well.  Beat in egg, vanilla, and almond flavouring.  Mixture will appear lumpy.

    Sift and mix together sugar, flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and cardamom.

    Grate the rind of one lemon.  Stir in grated lemon rind.

    Add dry ingredients to butter-egg mixture and blend thoroughly.

    Gather up dough and shape dough into a small oblong shape.

    Cut off about ⅓ of the dough and place in freezer for 15 minutes.

    Meanwhile, press remaining ⅔ dough into prepared pan.  Place pan in freezer.

    When the reserved dough has been in the freezer for 15 minutes remove both reserved dough and the pan from the freezer.  Evenly spread the ½ cup raspberry preserves over dough in pan.

    Using a grater, grate the chilled and reserved 1/3 dough evenly over the jam.

    Bake for 30-35 minutes or until topping on square is lightly golden in color.

    Let square cool completely in pan before removing and cutting into 16 squares.

    Jam Squares
    Jam Squares

     

    Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.  If you enjoyed this post, why not subscribe to my feed by entering your email address in the subscribe box in the upper left-hand sidebar.  That way, you will receive an email notification whenever I add a new posting to this blog.

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

  • What’s Brewing at the Prince Edward Island Brewing Co. in Charlottetown, PEI? March 20, 2014
    Prince Edward Island Brewing Co., Charlottetown, PEI
    Prince Edward Island Brewing Co., Charlottetown, PEI

    Prince Edward Island is well known for its seafood and potatoes, both of which are major industries on the Island.  However, what many of you may not know is that there is an emerging industry on the Island that involves beverage making.  Blueberry juice, apple cider, cranberry juice, wine-making, spirit distilling, and beer-brewing are all happening on PEI.

    Today, I am taking you with me on a visit to the Prince Edward Island Brewing Co. in Charlottetown where the local artisan brewery, now set up in its spacious new state-of-the-art facility on Kensington Road, brews award-winning ales and lager.  After we tour the Brewery, we’ll head downtown to the Gahan House Restaurant to talk with the chef about beer pairing and find out how he uses beer in making a traditional Maritime dish – Fish Cakes – and, yes, he shares his recipe :)

    My guide at the Brewery today is Al Douglas, Director of Branding and Community Engagement.  We begin our chat in the modern and spacious lobby of the brewery.

    Lobby and Bar at the Prince Edward Island Brewing Co
    Lobby and Bar at the Prince Edward Island Brewing Co

    The brewery had its beginnings 13 years ago when owner, Kevin Murphy, operated it under the name of Murphy’s Brewing Co. in a restaurant (Lone Star Café) he owned in Charlottetown.  The brewery then moved its operations to the Gahan House Restaurant in Olde Charlottetown and, when it outgrew its space there, moved to a location on Walker Drive.  After two years in that location, it became apparent that the demand for the product was increasing as they were running out of beer mid-season.  So, in 2013, to increase their brewing capacity, the brewery moved to their current newly-refurbished building at 96 Kensington Road.

    DSC01446 (1)

    Prince Edward Island Brewing Co. brews both ales and lagers the old-fashioned way with no preservatives, additives,or pasteurization.  The brewery currently brews eight ales and one lager which is aptly named “Beach Chair Lager”.  The Beach Chair Lager has the distinction of being the first-ever canned craft beer produced in Atlantic Canada.  Al says their most popular products are the Beach Chair Lager and Sir John A’s Honey Wheat Ale.  They do brew some seasonal specialties like a pumpkin ale in the fall and Dunkel, a vanilla and bourbon oak-infused dark lager over the Christmas and winter period.

    DSC01476 (1)

    I asked Al what sets their beers apart from others on the market.  He tells me that it is a locally-brewed product that uses no preservatives or additives.  Additionally, the naturally clean and clear PEI water is easier to filter.  Consumers today are conscious of where the products they consume come from and there is support for products that are produced locally, like the brewery’s ales and lagers.

    The brewery’s beers have won awards attesting to the quality of their products.  In 2011, the Sir John A’s Honey Wheat Ale was awarded the Canadian Brewing Awards’ gold medal.  In 2012, the brewery won both gold and silver medals and, in 2013, was awarded the silver medal from the Canadian Brewing Awards.

    On Tap at the Prince Edward Island Brewing Company
    On Tap at the Prince Edward Island Brewing Co.

    The beer is available onsite at the brewery and is also sold in all liquor stores on PEI and in many restaurants, cafés, and bars around the Island.  If you are off-Island, look for the beers in select locations in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Alberta, and British Columbia and, come spring 2014, in Ontario.

    What makes the current location of the brewery unique is that it has a huge area where they can host large events like weddings and concerts.  Check out the chandelier and the contemporary white chairs in the photo below.

    page - chandelier

    Event capacity is up to 500 persons and Al tells me they have held a number of events already, have more planned, and bookings are brisk for wedding receptions for the upcoming wedding season.  Two full-scale kitchens onsite, including a large brick oven, allow for food preparation for large numbers.

    Serving Kitchen at the Prince Edward Island Brewery
    Serving Kitchen at the Prince Edward Island Brewery Co.

    The brewery employs 16 full time employees over the winter and, in the summer, that staff complement increases to 25-30 that includes both full and part-time employees.  The brewery has two certified brew masters on staff.

    Prince Edward Island Brewing Co. supports local producers, buying local ingredients where possible.  For example, the Sir John A. Honey Wheat Ale uses honey from Honey Dew Apiaries in Canoe Cove.  The blueberry beer uses a blueberry purée from PEI Berries Ltd. in East Montague.  This means the brewery has a year-round demand for these two ingredients since both beers are brewed all year.  This is good news for the support local movement.

    So, what goes into beer making?  There are four basic ingredients:  water, grains (malt), hops, and yeast.  Extra flavorings such as blueberries or honey may also be added.  Each of the main ingredients contributes important properties to the beer.  The water carries the flavour, the malt adds sweetness, color, and flavour, the hops add flavour, aroma, and some bitterness to counter or balance the sweetness from the malt, and the yeast converts sugar extracted from the malt into alcohol and carbon dioxide gas that adds flavour.  Yeast is what causes the beer to ferment.

    “Fresher is better.  Having a brewery in the community is where you’ll get the freshest beer.”

    — Chris Long, Master Brewer – Prince Edward Island Brewing Company

    What’s next for the PEI Brewing Company?  This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference where the Fathers of Confederation first met to begin laying the framework for what would later become Canada.  In honor of this event, the brewery has brewed a Fathers 2014 Commemoration Pack of beer.

    I asked Al if there was one product they brewed that surprised them in terms of its popularity.  He says the blueberry beer was initially developed to be a seasonal beer available in the spring/summer season but it became so popular that customers and restaurants were continuing to ask for it other times of the year that they now brew it year-round.

    In addition to the retail store, a bar, and a cold beer store on the premises, 45-minute tours of the brewery are available for $10/pp (+HST).  This includes a sample of the hand-crafted beer in the tasting room as well as a tour through the facility, starting with the ingredients room where you can see samples of the ingredients and smell the hops.

    The tour takes you past the large brewing tanks.

    Inside the Brewery
    Inside the Brewery

    A pristine brewing operation.

    The tour concludes in the bottling center area which was really busy today.

    Lots of beer being bottled at the Brewery this afternoon!

    Bottling Beer at the Prince Edward Island Brewing Company
    Bottling Beer at the Prince Edward Island Brewing Co.

    The brewery was certainly a hive of activity today!

    And, the end result – pallets of boxes filled with bottled artisan beer ready for shipping to customers.

    Pallet of Beer
    Pallet of Beer

    For more information on the Prince Edward Island Brewing Co., visit their website.

    ———————————

    Up until a few years ago, if you went into a restaurant and asked what the server recommended as a drink with a certain dish, you would most likely be provided with a wine suggestion.  Today, however, you might very well receive the suggestion of a beer pairing with your meal.  To find out what dish would go particularly well with the PEI Brewing Company’s beers, I went to the Gahan House in Olde Charlottetown where, incidentally, they still brew onsite all the beer served in their restaurant.

    Gahan House Restaurant, Charlottetown, PEI
    Gahan House Restaurant, Charlottetown, PEI

    Chef Dwayne MacLeod of the Gahan House suggests a good Maritime dish to demonstrate how beer can be used as an ingredient and/or paired with food – Fish Cakes made with salt cod and haddock.  Chef MacLeod says the beer brings out the saltiness in the food and several of the Prince Edward Island Brewing Co. beers pair very well with fish cakes.  He also suggests, if beer is used as an ingredient in the dish, the same beer would pair very well as a beverage with the meal.  So, if you cook the potatoes for the fish cakes in beer, as Chef MacLeod suggests can be done, then the same beer would pair well as a beverage with the fish cakes.

    Chef Dwayne MacLeod's Fishcakes
    Chef Dwayne MacLeod’s Fish Cakes

    Chef MacLeod has graciously shared his recipe for fish cakes.  He has two beer pairing suggestions to go with the fish cakes.  The first is the Gahan Iron Bridge Brown Ale (pictured in the photograph below).  He says this beer will introduce a nutty and caramel flavour to the meal.  His second suggestion is a wheat ale like the Gahan’s Sir John A’s Honey Wheat Ale.  It is a light beer and will not overpower the flavors of the fish but will add to the flavour of the salt cod.

    Gahan Iron Bridge Brown Ale
    Gahan Iron Bridge Brown Ale

     

    Chef Dwayne MacLeod’s Fish Cakes

    (from the Gahan House Restaurant in Charlottetown, PEI)

    Fish Cake Ingredients

    1.5 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes

    1 lb. haddock

    1 lb. salt cod

    1.4 oz green onion

    1 tsp. garlic

    2 oz oil or bacon fat

     

    Sauce Ingredients

    ½ quart (2 cups) mayonnaise

    1.7 oz. horseradish

    1 cucumber

     

    Method for Fish Cakes

    Soak salt cod in water for 12 hours.  Drain and rinse cod and chop up finely in a blitz machine.

    Cook haddock in water.

    Cook potatoes.  If desired, cook the potatoes in beer and water (ratio is 2 parts water to 1 part beer).  Cool potatoes.

    Finely chop green onion and garlic.

    Mix haddock, salt cod, green onion, and garlic together.  Portion out 2 oz for each fish cake and form into a patty.

    Heat oil or bacon fat in pan over medium to medium-high heat.

    Place fish cakes in hot oil and cook until the edges start to turn golden brown.  Once golden brown, flip the cakes and cook the other side the same.

    Serve with the cucumber sauce and enjoy.

     

    Method for Sauce

    Remove the seeds of the cucumber with a teaspoon and blitz the cucumber very well in a Blitzer.  Mix the cucumber with the mayonnaise and horseradish.  Season to taste.

    Yield:  4-6 servings of fish cakes

    Fishcakes Paired with Beer
    Fish Cakes Paired with Beer

    Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.  If you enjoyed this post, why not subscribe to my feed by entering your email address in the subscribe box in the upper left-hand sidebar.  That way, you will receive an email notification whenever I add a new posting to this blog.

    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 November 7, 2013

    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.

    1-DSC_0169

    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.

    1-1-DSC00722

    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

    3 tbsp melted butter

    1½ cups milk

    1 tsp liquid chicken bouillon

    ½ tsp Dijon mustard

    2 tbsp flour

    ½ cup grated cheddar cheese

    Pinch nutmeg

    Salt and pepper, to taste

    Paprika

     

    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, melted butter, chicken bouillon, Dijon mustard, flour, nutmeg, salt, and pepper.  Add 2½ – 3 tbsp. grated cheese.  Microwave 2½ – 3½ minutes, just until mixture is heated.

    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.  If you enjoyed this post, why not subscribe to my feed by entering your email address in the subscribe box in the upper left-hand sidebar.  That way, you will receive an email notification whenever I add a new posting to this blog.

    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”.

  • Afternoon Tea in London! October 28, 2013

    As those of you who regularly follow my blog will already know, I love a classic afternoon tea….the more formal, grand, and elegant, the better.

    On previous trips to London, England, I always seemed to miss out on classic afternoon teas for one reason or another.  I certainly had had cream teas (scones, clotted cream, strawberry jam, and a pot of tea) at some hotels but never was able to make it to a formal tea.  I always said that the next time I was heading to Europe, I was going to visit London for no other reason than to have proper afternoon tea.

    That opportunity arose earlier this month when we were heading out on a Greek Islands cruise from Venice, Italy.  I had my travel agent book us a stop-over in London for a couple of days so that we could experience the quintessential British tradition of formal afternoon tea.  I spent countless hours over the spring and summer researching which afternoon teas I wanted to experience.  As those of you from London and area (or who have visited there) will know, afternoon teas in the city can be pricey.  Many restaurants and hotels in London offer a classic afternoon tea of some sort and the higher-end venues range in price from around ₤40.00 pp. upwards (VAT inc.) + 12.5% service gratuity.  At the time of writing, the current rate of exchange is $1.68 against the Canadian dollar so that can edge a Canadian visitor around $100.00 or more per person for afternoon tea.  Many venues also offer champagne afternoon teas and adding a glass of bubbly to the afternoon tea experience can translate into an extravagant price – some as high as ₤85.00 pp plus service gratuity of 12.5% which converts to about $160.00 pp, CDN$.  So, due to the cost, deciding on which afternoon tea to experience is not a decision to be taken lightly.  This is not to say that all afternoon teas in London are this pricey – I was able to find afternoon teas less than ₤30.00 pp but even that translated into an expensive repast when converted into Canadian currency.

    We were staying in the Kensington area of London and I wanted to do more than one afternoon tea on this trip (and not break the bank!) but did not want to have to spend valuable and limited time traveling far so I opted for tea at “The Orangery” at Kensington Palace which was within walking distance to our hotel and the other in the Georgian Restaurant at Harrods department store where we spent a complete day.  We had planned to spend time again in the food halls at Harrods (a foodie’s mecca) anyway so, because our time was so limited in London and didn’t allow for much travel time around the city, we combined a visit to Harrods with afternoon tea in their Georgian Restaurant and it did not disappoint.

    Hotels and restaurants offering afternoon tea will usually have a number of sittings throughout the afternoon and some in to the early evening as well with most ending by 7:30pm, or earlier, local time.  Dress codes vary with smart casual being the norm and with some of the higher-end venues requiring more dressy attire.  Reservations are generally recommended, particularly for the more popular venues, and I recommend inquiring of the dress code when making reservations (note that some venues require reservations several weeks or even months in advance).  Many have their afternoon tea menus and dress codes posted online as well.   We were able to get a table when we arrived at “The Orangery”  mid-afternoon on our first day in London.  On the day we visited Harrods, we made reservations mid-morning for our afternoon tea in their Georgian Restaurant.  However, I expect that during the busy summer months as well as around Christmas and other holiday periods, reservations farther in advance of same day would be advisable (Claridge’s website at time of writing is indicating that they are not accepting any more afternoon tea reservations until January 2014 due to high demand).  Part of the experience of a formal afternoon tea is the decor and ambiance of the venue which often includes a pianist at the grand piano.  One of the things that fascinates me most about afternoon tea in London is its enduring popularity across all age groups.

    For the benefit of those who may not be familiar with what comprises a classic afternoon tea, there are four components:  1) the tea beverage blend; 2) savories; 3) scones; and 4) patisseries and cakes.  It is common to present the food on three-tier servers.

    Most venues (particularly the high-end ones) will have a tea sommelier on staff to help guests decide which blend of tea to enjoy with the repast.  The array of tea offerings can be daunting unless you are a tea connoisseur.  The savory course will consist of delicate sandwiches and sometimes petite tarts, and souffles.  Fillings for the sandwiches vary but you can generally expect to find cucumber, egg, smoked salmon, ham, roast beef, and/or chicken presented on various breads.  The sandwiches will always have the crusts removed and may be cut in either finger or triangular shapes.  These offerings will be found on the bottom plate of a three-tier server.  The middle plate of the server will contain the scones, clotted cream, and usually the preserves (although the latter may be presented on a separate flat plate on the table).  Often two kinds of scones will be presented – raisin or fruit and plain.  The top tier of the three-tier server is reserved for the patisseries and cakes.  The offerings for this course certainly vary between restaurants but you will often find, as a minimum, sponge cake, lemon tarts, and frequently French macarons and other sweet pastries.

    So, today, I thought I would share with you some photos from the two afternoon teas I enjoyed in London in early October, 2013.  Apologies in advance for the lighting in some of the photos – these are travel photos and the natural lighting wasn’t the best on some of the interior shots.

    “The Orangery” at Kensington Palace

     

    "The Orangery" at Kensington Palace
    “The Orangery” at Kensington Palace

    On the day we visited “The Orangery”, in early October, 2013, it was still warm enough to enjoy afternoon tea al fresco style outside.

    However, the interior of “The Orangery” is so striking that we opted to enjoy tea inside.

    I was fascinated by the table setting with the plates set to the left of each place setting.

    Afternoon Tea Place Setting at "The Orangery"
    Afternoon Tea Place Setting at “The Orangery”

    You can check out the menu for afternoon tea at “The Orangery” here.

    The tables were simplistically set with this decorative china on white linen.

    Are you anxious to see what was on the tiered server?

    Each guest has his/her own tea pot and individual tiered server of tea fare.  Traditionally presented, the bottom tier contains the sandwiches, the middle plate bears the scones, clotted cream, and jam, and the top tier the sweet offerings.  Our choice of tea was “Afternoon at the Palace”.

    Let’s look a little closer at the food.

    The sandwiches were so tasty!

    The buttery scones (one each – plain and with raisins) were served with clotted cream and strawberry jam!

    And, to finish off, a selection of sweet cakes and patisseries.

    One thing about afternoon tea is that it amounts to a full meal!

    And, it is a leisurely way to spend a couple of hours.

    Be sure to pace yourself so you can save some room for the sweets!

    Afternoon tea at “The Orangery” is (at time of writing) ₤22.65 pp + 12.5% service charge (or about $44.00 CDN$)

    The Georgian Restaurant at Harrods

    Harrods Department Store
    Harrods Department Store

    Harrods is arguably the world’s most famous department store. It’s a fun place to spend time browsing, particularly in the food halls which are elaborate, to say the least.  This visit marked the first time I had eaten at Harrods.

    Afternoon Tea at the Georgian Restaurant at Harrods
    Afternoon Tea at the Georgian Restaurant at Harrods

    The color theme of the Georgian Restaurant is in calming pinks and whites.  Each table has a pink undercloth topped with a white tablecloth.  The two photos below were taken early in the day when we made our reservations onsite.

    Music from the grand piano adds a lovely ambiance to the afternoon tea experience.

    These beautiful huge floral designs in ivory and soft green shades were found throughout the dining room.

    This was a delightful afternoon and experience.

    Tableware is white which really makes the colors of the food pop and stand out.

    Each table is set with a single short-stemmed pink tea rose.

    As soon as we were seated, this plate of preserves and clotted cream was delivered to our table.

    Then, our server poured our first cups of tea from a small elegant silver teapot.  Our tea selection was the “Georgian Blend”.

    The tea was, of course, served in Harrods signature cups and saucers.

    A three-tier server of delectable finger sandwiches, scones, and a selection of sweets was soon presented at our table.

    1-1-DSC00919

    How delightful and inviting does this look!  You can check out the Harrods afternoon tea menu here.

    Let’s have a closer look, beginning with the finger sandwiches and petite lobster rolls.

    This was followed by an offering of both plain and raisin scones.

    And, for the sweet tooth, there were lots of tempting options!

    There was more on this tray than the two of us could finish!

    Afternoon tea at Harrods at the time of writing is  ₤29.00 pp + 12.5% service charge (or about $55.00 CDN$).

    If you are heading to London and planning to include a classic afternoon tea as one of your activities, I recommend researching in advance of your trip and checking with your choice of venue as to whether or not they require reservations and how far in advance.  You may also wish to inquire of their dress code so you can pack accordingly and not be disappointed on arrival to find that the venue imposes a specific dress code.  No matter your budget, you will find wonderful options for afternoon tea in London that will give you that experience without breaking the bank.  Have you already experienced afternoon tea at a London location?  Did you enjoy it and would you recommend it?

    We thoroughly enjoyed our two afternoon teas in London (and, yes, I am already thinking about which tea venue I will choose on my next trip to London).  In the meantime, I will be sharing this posting on Rose Chintz Cottage’s blog in time for this week’s Tea Time Tuesday.

    Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.  If you enjoyed this post, why not subscribe to my feed by entering your email address in the subscribe box in the upper left-hand sidebar.  That way, you will receive an email notification whenever I add a new posting to this blog.

    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”.

  • Toes, Taps & Taters: A Barn Dance and Kitchen Party in O’Leary, PEI September 29, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Is your mouth watering yet?

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.  If you enjoyed this post, why not subscribe to my feed by entering your email address in the subscribe box in the upper left-hand sidebar.  That way, you will receive an email notification whenever I add a new posting to this blog.

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

  • Can You Say Cheese? You Could if You Were at The Great Island Grilled Cheese Challenge in PEI September 25, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Chef Massimo Autographing Cookbook
    Chef Massimo Autographing Cookbook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     Is your mouth watering yet?

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

    Look how the red and green dress this club sandwich!

    Pickled cucumbers garnish this rustic grilled cheese sandwich.

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

    So many different breads used to create these yummy sandwiches.

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

    Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.  If you enjoyed this post, why not subscribe to my feed by entering your email address in the subscribe box in the upper left-hand sidebar.  That way, you will receive an email notification whenever I add a new posting to this blog.

    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 September 21, 2013
    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.  If you enjoyed this post, why not subscribe to my feed by entering your email address in the subscribe box in the upper left-hand sidebar.  That way, you will receive an email notification whenever I add a new posting to this blog.

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

  • Applelicious — Dining in an Apple Orchard in Arlington, PEI September 15, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

    Chefs Anna and Michael Olson
    Chefs Anna and Michael Olson

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

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

    World-famous PEI Oysters
    World-famous PEI Oysters

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

    Apple Cider and Cheese
    Apple Cider and Cheese

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

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

     

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

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

    Here was the menu for the evening:

    Applelicious 2013 Menu
    Applelicious 2013 Menu

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

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

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

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

    Dinner's Cooking!
    Dinner’s Cooking!

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Dessert:  Gingerbread Cake with Jersey Mac Applies “Foster”

     And, the finale:  Classic Apple Pie

     

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

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

    Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.  If you enjoyed this post, why not subscribe to my feed by entering your email address in the subscribe box in the upper left-hand sidebar.  That way, you will receive an email notification whenever I add a new posting to this blog.

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

     

(Mostly) PEI and Maritime Food – Good Food for a Good Life!