All posts by Barbara99

Floral Centerpieces with Michael Jackson of Prestige Floral Studio

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Of all the centerpieces found on dining room tables, the most common will likely involve flowers.  For the low-down on floral centerpieces, I sat down for a chat with Michael Jackson of Prestige Floral Studio.

 

Michael, let’s start by talking about the appropriate height of centerpieces.  What is considered to be the optimal height of a floral centerpiece?

Height of table arrangements should be approximately 10”-12”.  The flowers should not be positioned so that they are at the height of your guests’ heads as it obstructs their view of each other.  An arrangement 15” high would fall into this range.

If you are using a tall, slim pedestal container or a tall, slim glass vase and starting the floral arrangement above the 15” height point, that is okay because the tall slim container will not obstruct guests’ views of each other and the flowers will be up above their viewing range.

Does the shape of the table influence the shape/style of container and floral arrangement?

It is not set in stone but try to keep the shapes of the container and the table the same because it looks better.  If you have a round table, use a round container.  If your table is square, use a blocky, square container.  If you have a long oval table, consider using three round containers or one main centerpiece with smaller satellite arrangements along the length of the table.  If you have a long rectangular table, you may wish to consider using three to six smaller containers to extend the flowers outward from the center.

What ideas and suggestions can you give for containers a host or hostess might use for flowers?

You can invest in several different containers that can be used for different dinners.  You can also look through your cupboards and use something you already have.  For example, soup tureens make suitable containers.  Colored bottles of different sizes can be effective containers for single blooms which can then be collected into a grouping arrangement on the table to form a centerpiece.

What considerations should one address when selecting the kind of flowers to use in a tabletop arrangement?

The first is to use unscented or very lightly scented flowers.  Second, try to stay with flowers of the season.  For example, tulips make a lovely Spring arrangement but are less suitable on a Fall dining table.  Third, if you are using flowers from your own garden, make sure they are clean and bug-free and that any pollen has been removed.

Let’s talk about color of the arrangement.  What should be matched when selecting colors of flowers?  Do I match my dinnerware?  For example, my china is mainly white with a border of tiny pink and purple flowers and green leaves.

Yes, match the centerpiece color to your dinnerware.  In your example, your arrangement should mainly consist of white flowers with pink and/or purple accent flowers.

Other than a traditional floral centerpiece in the middle of the table, what other options are there for including flowers on the dining table?

Groupings (always use odd numbers) or multiple arrangements – for example, three separate arrangements on a long table.

Including small matching individual arrangements at each place setting is another way to disperse flowers around the table.  The host/hostess can then present each guest with one of the miniature arrangements to take home at the end of the dinner.

Terrariums and low glass planters are becoming a trend in table centerpieces.  They have an earthy look to them and can have thematic arrangements inside that include stones or shells, plants, driftwood, and mosses.

So, this would be suitable on a table set with earthenware dishes but perhaps not so appealing if it was set with my fine bone china with pink and purple flowers?

Correct.  Be sure to match the surroundings and dinnerware.

So, what are some other trends in table centerpieces?

In the Summer, consider citrus colors – orange, lime, and lemon.  You can add citrus fruits to the floral arrangement or place some on the table around the arrangement.

In the Fall, sunflowers, vases of chestnuts, acorns, grasses, and candles can be used singly or combined to make wonderful seasonal decorations for the dining table.

What suggestions or recommendations do you have for the host or hostess who wants to create his or her own centerpiece?

Go simple and use a single variety of flowers only – for example, use all roses instead of a mixed bouquet of flowers.  Don’t try to do stylized arrangements and worry about getting the flowers arranged just so but don’t just stick them in a vase either.  I suggest clustering the flowers together in your hand to form an appealing looking bouquet and then fitting them into an appropriate container.

Thank you, Michael, for these great tips on using flowers for dining table centerpieces.  And, thank you for the stunning Summer table setting you prepared for this interview!

 

Michael Jackson is the florist at Prestige Floral Studio located at 595 Read Drive, in Summerside, PEI.  Michael studied floral design at Humber College and worked on Toronto’s Bay Street for over 20 years designing high-end corporate and wedding floral arrangements.  The lure of family and the opportunity for a floral design business drew Michael back to his native Prince Edward Island in early 2011 when he opened Prestige Floral Studio.  You can check out some of Michael’s extraordinary floral designs by visiting his website at www.prestigefloral.ca.

 

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Let’s Set the Table!

In my view, there are three elements to a wonderful meal:  Great food, a properly well-set table, and good conversation.  In this post, my focus will be on the well-set table.  For pointers on how to properly set a table, I went to the experts at The Culinary Institute of Canada, part of Prince Edward Island’s Holland College, in Charlottetown.  There I was met by Tina Lesyk, Banquet and Catering Coordinator, in the Lucy Maud Dining Room, the Institute’s teaching restaurant.  What follows is the substance of our conversation as we covered the gamut of topics that need to be considered in setting the proper table suitable to any occasion the home host/hostess is likely to encounter.

 Types of Table Place Settings

Tina tells me there are three principal types of place settings:  Formal, Informal, and Buffet.  Let’s look at each one individually.

Continue reading Let’s Set the Table!

Mother’s Day Tea

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers.  I hope you were wonderfully spoiled today.

There are so many ways to celebrate Mom on Mother’s Day.   Some years we have been travelling, other years we have gone to brunches at a favorite hotel restaurant, and other years we have stayed home and had our first lobster “feed” of the season (which is part of what we did this year, too).  However, I decided to host a Mother’s Day Tea this year, also.

I love afternoon teas – they harken back to the genteel days where life moved at a slower pace and times seemed gentler.  Hosting a tea is a wonderful, relaxing way to savour a light meal.  Afternoon teas need not be extravagant (although they are wonderful when they are!).  They can be very simple but, for Mother’s Day, the special day to celebrate mothers, it is nice to dress up the event.  Do set a lovely table complete with pristine linens and your finest china (we all know that tea, for some reason, always tastes best when served in a china cup, right?)

Of course, Mother’s Day in Canada, falling on the second Sunday in May, always coincides closely with the opening of the Spring lobster fishing season in Prince Edward Island.   The first traps were set on May 1st this year with the first catches being landed on the following day.  Many families celebrate Mother’s Day along with their first official “feed” of lobster of the season.  Many a lobster are cracked open and savoured on Mother’s Day weekend in PEI!

For my tea, I opted to make lobster the star attraction.  I made lobster sandwiches and also tried a new recipe for lobster salad in puff pastry from the Spring 2012 issue of Victoria Classic “Teatime Bliss“.  I was not disappointed.  The delicate, flaky pastries filled with lobster salad were a tasty savory addition to my tea.  For those not liking lobster, I included the quintessential cucumber sandwiches as well.

On the beverage front, I served Yellow Tail “Bubbles Rosé” followed, of course, with tea.  My tea offering was “Traditional Afternoon” from Williamson Tea.

For the Mother’s Day cake, I chose a traditional teatime cake – the Battenburg cake.  This is a sponge cake of two colors, assembled in checkerboard fashion, then covered in marzipan and iced with fondant icing.  This made a colorful finale to a wonderful afternoon tea.

Sweets included an assortment of tiny cookies, French Macaroons, coconut macaroons, squares, Scotch cakes, and lemon Madeleines.

I highly encourage afternoon tea any time of the year as a relaxing way to spend some quality time and have some great conversation with those who mean the most to you.  What a grand afternoon!

 

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Maple Syrup Baked Beans

My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Maple Syrup Baked Beans

Growing up, Baked Beans was a traditional Saturday night supper in our household.  While I haven’t continued the Saturday night tradition, I do frequently have Baked Beans on the menu.

Baked Beans make a very economical dish and freeze well for reheating later in the microwave.  These are a staple packaged in meal-portion sized dishes in my freezer.  I will make up a large batch and then divide them into serving sized containers that will freeze well.  I serve Baked Beans with homemade bread and molasses and mustard pickles and sometimes tomato chow.  When prepared ahead, they make a quick and nutritious meal.

We know beans are a good source of fiber and protein so they are good for our diet.  Making your own homemade beans is not difficult although it is a somewhat lengthy process:  The beans have to be soaked in water overnight, pre-cooked for about an hour or so, then baked in the oven for about 3 hours.  The bonus of homemade beans, however, is that they taste so much better than canned beans off the store shelf.

I like to use yellow-eye beans as I find they cook well and are not hard as I find dark beans to be.  My grandmother always grew the dark beans solely for the purpose of drying them and using them to make baked beans.  I always found the beans to be very hard despite that she would have baked them in a bean crock in the wood stove oven for hours and hours.

Soaking the dried beans accomplishes three things:

1) It softens the beans and lessens the cooking and baking times (the beans also expand to double or triple their size in the soaking process);

2) It allows the beans to absorb the liquid (become rehydrated) thus they will cook more evenly and hold their shape when baked (i.e., they won’t split open or become mushy)

3) It removes the indigestible complex sugars, making the beans easier to digest.

The jury is still out on adding a small amount of baking soda to the cooking process of the beans.  Some say doing so will make the beans more tender, particularly if the water is hard.  Others claim the soda may also aid in digesting the beans while others subscribe to the theory that the baking soda does nothing for the beans.  My mother always added the baking soda to the beans and I continue the practice of adding 1/2 tsp of baking soda when cooking beans.  I figure 1/2 tsp will not harm the beans and, if it does do some good, so much the better.

Beans, on their own with no seasonings, can be very bland and tasteless.  I don’t think my grandmother added much to her baked beans other than some molasses, brown sugar, and water.  My mother always added some onion and ground mustard along with molasses, brown sugar, and water but very little else.  I like to gently spice the beans up a bit and, over the years, have perfected a recipe that suits my taste.

When an ingredient calls for a “dash”, I use an actual measuring spoon that has the “dash” as a measurement.  Spices, and the amount added, are very much a personal preference so each cook should adjust them to his or her own tastes.  My recommendation, of course, is to make the recipe the first time using the measurements called for and then decide what needs to be adjusted for the next time.  As well, if there is a particular spice that you absolutely do not like, simply omit it.  The recipe that I have developed does not use large amounts of any one spice.  I did this because I still wanted the original bean taste and didn’t want any particular spice to overpower the natural taste of a traditional baked beans dish.

Some like to add salt pork, regular bacon, or cut-up weiners to the baked beans.  I prefer just the beans but that is a personal preference and meats can certainly be added, if desired.

My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Maple Syrup Baked Beans

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound yellow-eye beans
  • 4 cups cold water
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp garlic purée
  • dash cayenne pepper
  • dash ground ginger
  • dash chili powder
  • salt, to taste
  • pepper, to taste
  • 1 tsp ground mustard
  • 1 tsp liquid chicken bouillon
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp barbeque sauce
  • 1 – 1 1/2 tbsp rum (optional)
  • 1/3 cup onion, chopped
  • 3 cups reserved liquid from cooked beans

 Method:

Place beans in large bowl.  Add enough cold water to completely cover the beans. Cover.   Soak overnight.

Soaking the Dried Beans
Soaking the Dried Beans

Drain soaked beans in colander.  Discard water.  Place beans in large pot and add 4 cups fresh cold water.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and add 1/2 tsp baking soda.  Cover and simmer for 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally and fork-testing beans for doneness.  Beans should still be firm but not hard when cooked.  Do not overcook or beans will become mushy and lose their shape.

Preheat oven to 300°F.

Drain the beans in large colander, reserving the liquid.  Set liquid aside. Rinse the beans with cold water.  Place beans in 2-quart casserole or small roaster pan.  Add remaining ingredients and 3 cups of the reserved liquid.  Stir gently until well combined.

Ingredients for Maple Syrup Baked Beans
Ingredients for Maple Syrup Baked Beans

Bake, covered, for about 3 hours or until beans are fork-tender.  Check beans 2-3 times during baking to stir and add more liquid if needed.

Baked Beans
Baked Beans

My Island Bistro Kitchen's Maple Syrup Baked Beans

Rich, gently-spiced homemade baked beans. A fine Maritime Canada traditional meal.
Course Main Course
Keyword baked beans, beans
My Island Bistro Kitchen Barbara99

Ingredients

  • 1 pound yellow-eye beans
  • 4 cups cold water
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp garlic purée
  • dash cayenne pepper
  • dash ground ginger
  • dash chili powder
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp ground mustard
  • 1 tsp liquid chicken bouillon
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • ½ cup molasses
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp barbeque sauce
  • 1 – 1½ tbsp rum (optional)
  • 1/3 cup onion chopped
  • 3 cups reserved liquid from cooked beans

Instructions

  1. Place beans in large bowl. Add enough cold water to completely cover the beans. Cover. Soak overnight.
  2. Drain soaked beans in colander. Discard water. Place beans in large pot and add 4 cups fresh cold water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and add 1/2 tsp baking soda. Cover and simmer for 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally and fork-testing beans for doneness. Beans should still be firm but not hard when cooked. Do not overcook or beans will become mushy and lose their shape.
  3. Preheat oven to 300°F.
  4. Drain the beans in large colander, reserving the liquid. Set liquid aside. Rinse the beans with cold water. Place beans in 2-quart casserole or small roaster pan. Add remaining ingredients and 3 cups of the reserved liquid. Stir gently until well combined.
  5. Bake, covered, for about 3 hours or until beans are fork-tender. Check beans 2-3 times during baking to stir and add more liquid if needed.

Recipe Notes

Yield: 6-8 servings

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Homemade Baked Beans
Baked Beans

Maple Syrup Production – A Rite of Spring on PEI

 

Woodland Maple Syrup, PEI

Growing up in rural PEI, one of my favourite Spring-time memories was the tapping of maple trees, going to collect the sap every evening after supper, and watching the sap being boiled down on the stove for hours to make just a tiny bit of maple syrup.  It was a rite of Spring and heralded the beginning of warmer days after a long, cold Winter!

While not big industry on PEI, there are a few maple syrup producers who tap trees and make and sell maple syrup each Spring.  I recently visited the producers of Woodland Maple Syrup in Woodville Mills about 9 km from Cardigan in the Eastern end of PEI.  There, I met Richard MacPhee and Max Newby who were busy with their maple syrup production.  Having been operating for 15 years, they proved to be good sources of information on maple syrup production.

Woodland Sugar Shack, Woodville Mills, near Cardigan, PEI

This Spring, MacPhee and Newby had 450 taps running.  This process depends heavily on cold, frosty nights (about -5ºC) and warmer days (+5 ºC).  The alternating freezing and thawing causes the pressure in the tree to change and forces the sap to start running when the temperature rises during the day.   On PEI, there is a short window of opportunity to produce maple syrup, typically a 5-6 week period in March/April.

Trees must be at least 10” in diameter to be tapped and trees of that size are usually 40-50 years old.  Holes are drilled into the maple trees and spouts are inserted.  Buckets with covers to keep out bark, dirt, and rain are then hung on the spouts and are used to collect the dripping sap.

Maple Tree Tapped
Bucket Hung on Spout to Catch Dripping Sap from Maple Tree

Drilling holes into the tree and removing sap is not harmful to the maple trees and the same trees can be tapped year after year, provided new holes are drilled each time.  It is not uncommon to have up to 3 taps in large trees.  In fact, Max showed me one large old maple tree just outside the sugar shack that had three taps running and we examined the tree’s maple syrup producing history as we found various marks from previous years’ tappings.

 

Three Taps in Large Maple Tree

The sap is clear, has no color, and has the consistency of water.  I found it had little taste although it is 2% – 4% sugar and I could detect a slightly mild sweet taste but certainly nothing like the taste of the sweet maple syrup that is eventually produced from the sap.

Sap from Maple Tree

While some operations collect the sap through a network of pipelines strung between trees, at Woodland they tap individual trees using the spout and bucket method.  Once every two days, the sap is collected from each tapped tree and placed in a large tank on the front of a tractor and transported to another large holding tank just outside the sugar shack.  The sap is then piped into the evaporator inside the sugar shack where the boiling process takes place.

Large Tank of Sap Produces Just One 5-gallon Bucket of Maple Syrup

The sap is boiled in a large pan on a wood-fired evaporator until most of the water in it is boiled off and it boils down to a thick syrup.

Stoking the Wood-fired Evaporator

 

Boiling the Sap to Make Maple Syrup

 

This can take hours, not to mention patience and a close eye to make sure the sap does not boil too robustly and overflow the pan.

Evaporating the Water from the Sap to Make Maple Syrup

 

Keeping a Watchful Eye on the Boiling Sap to Ensure it Does Not Boil Over

Sap is continually added to the pan as the water evaporates so it is a continuous process.  The boiling process causes a chemical reaction to occur in the sap and transforms it into a flavourful syrup.

Pan of Maple Syrup

It takes between 50-60 gallons of sap to make just 1 gallon of maple syrup.  The syrup is then filtered to remove any remaining impurities and, at Woodland, the last filtering is through felt which is a thick, dense fabric through which no impurities will pass.  The syrup is then ready for bottling.

There are different grades of maple syrup and grading is based on color.  The lighter the color, the higher the quality of syrup but the more subtle the taste.  The more amber, darker colored syrup has more flavour but, in grading terms, would be considered a lower grade syrup.  Light-colored syrup is traditionally used as a table syrup for pancakes, waffles, and French toast.  Darker colored syrup, on the other hand, is well suited for cooking and baking – e.g., ice creams and brulées as well as sauces and glazes for meats.

Woodland Maple Syrup, Woodville Mills, PEI

Woodland produces approximately 200 litres of maple syrup each year which they sell locally from their sugar shack and also sell to Island restaurants.  The syrup can also be purchased locally on PEI at Riverview Country Market on Riverside Drive in Charlottetown.

Maple syrup is a good source of manganese and riboflavin and contains antioxidants that boost immunity.

Maple syrup has multiple uses.  Perhaps the most commonly known is at the breakfast table on pancakes, waffles, and French toast.  However, it can also be widely used in many different cooking and baking recipes.  Over the next while, I will be posting some recipes using Island-produced maple syrup from Woodlands so be sure to come back and visit my website to see what is cooking and baking.

Waffles, Fresh Fruit, & PEI Maple Syrup – A Great Combo!

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My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Macaroni and Cheese

This is my favorite Macaroni and Cheese recipe.  It uses the fine cheddar cheeses produced right here on Prince Edward Island at the COWS Creamery.

My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Macaroni and Cheese

When I think of “comfort food”, one of the first that comes to mind is Macaroni and Cheese.  So simple to make and it does not take any wild or unusual ingredients.

My preference of cheese for this dish is that made by COWS Creamery right here in PEI, actually not far from where I reside.  Their cheeses have been award winners for years now, attesting to their fine quality made, of course, possible by the high quality herds of dairy cattle here on the Island.

While I have made and tested this recipe with other cheeses and have found the results to be very good, no question.  However, if you have ever had it made with COWS Creamery Extra Old Cheddar Cheese, and their Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar Cheese, I suspect you will agree with me that these two cheeses take Macaroni and Cheese to a higher level.

I serve Macaroni and Cheese (which freezes well, by the way) with a green salad and homemade biscuits, fresh from the oven and slathered with good PEI churned butter.  (This is not a sponsored post, by the way, and I don’t work for, or have shares in, COWS Creamery, nor have I been paid for this post.  I just simply really like their products.)

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Mac 'n Cheese
Macaroni and Cheese

My Island Bistro Kitchen's Macaroni and Cheese

By Barbara99 Published: March 28, 2012

  • Yield: 4-5 Servings
  • Prep: 25 mins
  • Cook: 30 mins
  • Ready In: 55 mins

A rich, flavorful macaroni and cheese dish using Cows Creamery Cheddar Cheese

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. In large pot, bring water to boil. Add salt, oil, liquid chicken bouillon, garlic, and macaroni. (I like to add some garlic and chicken bouillon to the water so it will flavor the pasta when it is cooking. This provides a subtle taste without overpowering or competing with the cheese which would be the case if the ingredients were added into the cheese sauce.)
  2. Cook macaroni, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent macaroni from sticking to pot. Drain in colander. Return macaroni to pot.
  3. Melt butter in saucepan. Add milk. Combine flour, salt, pepper, nutmeg, cayenne, and dry mustard. Whisk into milk and butter mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring until mixture is smooth and starts to thicken.
  4. Add cheeses and stir until melted and blended
  5. Pour cheese sauce over macaroni and stir until well combined. Turn into a greased 2-quart casserole or divide into greased ramekin dishes for individual servings.
  6. Bake, uncovered, in 350F oven for 20-30 minutes.
  7. Serve with a green salad and fresh homemade biscuits.

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Cows Creamery Field Trip

 

Cows Creamery in Prince Edward Island

I recently paid a visit to Cows Creamery at its factory location on the outskirts of Charlottetown, PEI, where I was met by my two tour guides, Yvonne and Andrea.  As I soon learned, Cows is a whole lot more than its renowned premium quality ice cream.

With humble beginnings back in 1983, Cows has evolved into a large diversified operation that produces, along with its iconic ice cream, three varieties of cheddar cheese as well as its newest dairy product, creamery butter.  You’ll also find this company producing several food items such as chocolate-covered potato chips plus a line of novelty items (including its whimsical cow-inspired clothing line).   For the purposes of this field trip, however, my focus was on the dairy side of Cows’ operations.

Cows Ice Cream

 

"Wowie Cowie" Ice Cream at Cows Creamery

Cows began producing and selling one variety of ice cream (vanilla) on the Cavendish Boardwalk in 1983.  It wasn’t long before customers soon started associating Cows with premium-quality ice cream.  A short while later, Cows opened their first ice cream shop in downtown Charlottetown and you can still find it there on the corner of Queen and Grafton Streets, just across from the Confederation Centre  of the Arts.

Cows Ice Cream Shop in Downtown Charlottetown, PEI

Over the years, Cows added and operated, on a seasonal basis, several more outlets – Peakes Wharf in Charlottetown, Gateway Village at the foot of the Confederation Bridge in Borden-Carleton, and on “The Confederation” ferry that runs, May-October, between PEI and NS.  Of course, their new creamery near Charlottetown also sells ice cream year-round in the retain outlet.  Cows has also added several off-Island locations that include Historic Properties in Halifax, NS; Whistler, BC; Banff, AB; and Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON.

Today, Cows produces some 32 flavours (yes, 32!) of high-end premium ice cream with catchy names like my favourite, “Wowie Cowie”.  All the ice cream is made in their PEI creamery using milk produced on PEI dairy farms and as many locally-produced ingredients (e.g., berries) as possible.

Cows Ice Cream Production Room

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ice cream is then shipped to their various retail outlets in PEI and across the country.

Cows Ice Cream - Prince Edward Island

 

On the day of my late afternoon March visit, the ice cream operation was not in production mode.  However, their retail outlet was selling the delectable ice cream!  Cows ice cream is served in their tasty signature waffle cones that are hand-made in each store.  One bite and you know this is no ordinary ice cream cone.  It is so good that it could almost be described as a specialized dessert crisp cookie in and of itself!  The silky smooth ice cream holds its shape in the cone and does not melt too quickly like other brands made with less premium quality ingredients.

Single scoop (waffle cone included) is competitively priced at $3.75 + tax (at time of writing in March 2012) with other high-end ice creams.

The best way I can describe Cows ice cream is that it’s an experience unto itself, right down to the tip of the cone!  For me, Cows ice cream is the benchmark against which all other ice creams get rated and I’ve found no other commercial brand to date that tops it.  Just a word of caution, though, their ice cream is downright addictive!

 

Cheddar Cheese

Cows Cheese

 

Cows Creamery expanded its production line in 2006 when it started making cheddar cheese.  Today, their cheese line includes three varieties:  Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar (the strongest and most robust of the three); Cows Creamery Extra Old Cheddar, and Cows Creamery Applewood Smoked  2 Year Old Cheddar.

 

Cows Creamery Extra Old Cheddar and Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar

Just as with their ice cream, Cows makes their cheese using milk that comes from small rural local dairy farms around PEI.  Not only does this mean they are using fresh, quality ingredients but they are also supporting local dairy producers.  The cheeses are made using the English method and, in fact, my tour guides told me their recipe has its roots in the Orkney Islands, north of Scotland.  The cheeses are all-natural products made from unpasteurized milk with no color added.  So, if your vision is of a bright orange cheese, you won’t find that at Cows.  What you will find, though, is a natural-colored cheese with full-bodied authentic cheese flavour.

I must admit I have never been a fan of old cheese, preferring instead the much more subtle flavours offered by mild and, on occasion, medium cheeses.  I was somewhat reluctant to try Cows cheese for the reason that other “old” cheese varieties I have tried in the past always tasted stale to me and had what I can only describe as a distasteful flavour.  However, lesson learned – never be afraid to try new things and discover how accepting your palette might be to new and different tastes.  Cows’ cheeses are indeed good.  So good, in fact, the cheeses have already won several prestigious awards in Canada and the US.  Manufactured at their Charlottetown Creamery, the 20-pound cheese wheels are shipped to distributors all over North America.  Look, or ask for, Cows cheeses in local specialty cheese shops, farm markets, or grocery deli counters in your area.  On PEI, Cows’ pre-packaged cheese can be found at local supermarkets, at the Farmers Market in Charlottetown and, of course, in the retail outlet of the Cows Creamery near Charlottetown, PEI.

I asked my tour guides what the primary intended uses of these cheeses would be since they only manufacture old cheese varieties – i.e., are they meant for snacking cheeses, cooking, etc.  They suggested that the cheeses can simply be eaten on their own or used in salads, soups, casseroles, on burgers, or in grilled cheese sandwiches so these are very versatile products.

As per my usual practice when I visit a local producer, I like to take their product and use it in a recipe.  I decided I’d put Cows cheeses to the real test and make “Mac ‘n Cheese” (recipe follows at end of this blog).  The reason I chose Mac ‘n Cheese is because the pasta (a rather tasteless food item on its own) would not compete in taste with the cheese.  This would allow the cheese to “star” without being masked by other strong flavours and I would find out if I liked Cows old cheddar.  What I did was use 1 cup each of Cows Creamery Extra Old Cheddar and Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar. Well!  Let’s just say, I can probably never be satisfied with Mac ‘n Cheese made with any other cheese in the future!  The result was a rich, full-bodied cheese-flavoured Mac ‘n Cheese experience.  As mentioned above, Cows cheeses are naturally colored which means they are a very pale neutral (yellowish) color so, if you are accustomed to seeing a rich orange-colored macaroni dish, this will not give you that.  However, I think you’ll find the robust, true cheese flavour will more than make up for any lack of deep color.

 

Creamery Butter

Cows Sea-Salted Creamery Butter

In the summer of 2011, Cows introduced their newest product — butter sold in ½-pound packages and available unsalted or sea-salted.  Just as with their ice cream and cheese products, their butter is of premium quality with 84% butter fat versus 80% found in regular butters.  I have tried the sea-salted and it is one fine butter…particularly spread on fresh buttermilk biscuits straight out of the oven!

Cows Creamery Butter can be purchased on PEI at the Cows Creamery in Charlottetown as well as at the Co-op on Walker Avenue.  Off-Island, it can be found at Pete’s Frootique in Halifax and Bedford, NS, as well as in various stores in Ontario and in the Vancouver, BC, area.

 

Novelty Items

 

Cows Whimsical T-Shirts

In 1985, Cows introduced a whimsical line of clothing for their staff to wear.  They soon discovered that customers wanted to buy the staff clothing!  As a result, Cows began selling T-shirts and sweatshirts that bore images based on puns related to cows or farming.  This line has expanded to include a whole line of souvenir items and clothing.

Cows’ logo and images are very unique and recognizable.  In fact, a few years ago, I was strolling down a very crowded street in Freeport, ME, when I came upon a couple sporting Cows T-shirts – you can identify these T-shirts in a crowd anywhere!

 

Cows Advertisement at the Charlottetown Airport

Visitors arriving on PEI by air can expect to find, as they step into the terminal at the Charlottetown Airport, a large statue of a black and white shiny cow advertising “Cows” products.  Particularly during peak tourism season, it is not uncommon to find people posing for photographs with the cow as the backdrop.  This is probably the most photographed cow on PEI (or anywhere, for that matter)!

Factory Tours

Cows opened their new creamery facility just outside Charlottetown in 2009.  They offer tours that start with a video in their theatre room, followed by a stop by the T-shirt printing shop where you can watch the Cows images being transferred on to clothing.  Your next stop on the tour will take you by the infamous ice cream making room where you can watch this delectable treat being made.  From there, you’ll see the large wheels of cheese undergoing the aging process.  The last stop on the tour would, no doubt, be a huge hit – the tasting room where you’ll sample the ice cream made on the premises.  Tour prices (as of March 2012) are:  Adults $6.00;  Children $4.00; and Children Under 2 years of age are admitted free.  The tours run May 15 – October 15 and are available off-season by appointment only.

 

PEI has no shortage of good quality locally-produced food products available.  The great thing about Cows Creamery products (apart from their obvious high quality) is that they are produced right here on Prince Edward Island.  As a home kitchen chef and food blogger, I have a lot of time and respect for companies, such as Cows, that use local products in their manufacturing and, in turn, support local producers.  As anyone who knows me well will attest, I like to use the freshest ingredients possible and premium-quality products in my cooking and baking.  It doesn’t get any fresher than buying from local producers and manufacturers.

My Island Bistro Kitchen's Macaroni and Cheese

By Barbara99 Published: March 21, 2012

  • Yield: 4-5 Servings
  • Prep: 25 mins
  • Cook: 30 mins
  • Ready In: 55 mins

A rich, flavorful macaroni and cheese dish using Cows Creamery Cheese

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. In large pot, bring water to boil. Add salt, oil, liquid bouillon, garlic, and macaroni. I like to add some garlic and chicken bouillon to the water so it will flavor the pasta when it is cooking. This provides a subtle taste without overpowering or competing with the cheese which would be the case if the ingredients were added into the cheese sauce. Cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent macaroni from sticking to pot. Drain in colander. Return macaroni to pot.
  2. Melt butter in saucepan. Add milk. Combine flour, salt, pepper, nutmeg, cayenne, and dry mustard. Whisk into milk and butter mixture. Cook over medium heat until mixture starts to thicken.
  3. Add cheeses and stir until melted and blended.
  4. Pour cheese sauce over macaroni and stir until well combined. Turn into a greased 2-quart casserole or divide into greased ramekin dishes for individual servings. Bake, uncovered, in 350F oven for 20-30 minutes.
  5. Serve with a fresh green salad and homemade biscuits.

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St. Patrick’s Day Dinner – 2012

Irish Coffee

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

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

PEI Blue Mussels Steamed in Guinness

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

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

2 Tbsp carrots, very finely chopped

2 Tbsp celery, very finely chopped

2 Tbsp. onion, finely chopped

½ tsp garlic purée

½ tsp. dried dillweed

1 – 1 ½ Tbsp butter

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

1 cup Guinness

Bring to a boil

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

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

PEI Blue Mussels Steamed in Guinness

 Irish Stew

Spirited Irish Stew

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

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

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

Irish Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread

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

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

Irish Soda Bread Dough

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

Irish Soda Bread Ready for the Oven

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

Irish Soda Bread

 Irish Cream Cheesecake

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

Irish Cream Cheesecake

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

Slice of Irish Cream Cheesecake Drizzled with Chocolate Sauce

My Island Bistro Kitchen's Spirited Irish Stew

By Barbara99 Published: March 18, 2012

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

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

Ingredients

Instructions

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

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“Pickled Cabbage” – A Plain Old-Fashioned PEI Winter Meal

Pickled Cabbage/Sauerkraut
Pickled Cabbage/Sauerkraut

Growing up, pickled cabbage was often on the menu in winter at our house.  Some might know this dish by its more sophisticated name of “sauerkraut.”

Making pickled cabbage was always a labour intensive (and messy) exercise.  The cabbages had to be chopped into chunks, cores removed, then placed, layer by layer, with coarse salt into a large earthenware crock.  Each layer would be tamped down with a stick that had a block on one end that was fitted with blades.  This did two things.  First, it chopped the cabbage up into bite-sized pieces and, second, it drew the water out of the cabbage which, when combined with the salt, made a pickling brine.  As soon as juice from the salt and cabbage appeared, in went more cabbage and salt.  This process continued until the crock was full.  Then, a large plate was placed on the top of the cabbage and pressed down with a heavy weight (like a large brick or two).  This squeezed the cabbage mixture and forced the water in the cabbage to be drawn out so the brine would form and then the fermentation process would start.  The crock would be placed behind the wood stove in my grandmother’s kitchen.  The heat would facilitate the fermentation process that would last several days.  The “brew” would be checked every day to see if small bubbles appeared around the top of the crock which would signify that the mixture was “working” (fermenting).

After the fermentation period was completed, the cabbage would be frozen.  To cook the cabbage, a piece of pork (with bone in) would be put in a large pot of water and a hefty amount of the pickled cabbage added.  My grandmother would simmer this on her wood stove for probably a couple of hours or more because cabbage takes a long time to cook.  The tantalizing smell of the pickled cabbage cooking would permeate throughout the house and whet the appetite on a cold, frosty winter day!

Over the years, I’ve tried a number of different commercial varieties of sauerkraut but none of them ever compared to the pure homemade variety of pickled cabbage I grew up with.  I took the notion this winter to make a batch of my own pickled cabbage but that met with little enthusiasm around me.  One day at my local supermarket, I happened to notice a brand of pickled cabbage (cum “sauerkraut”) that I had never seen before.  Since I didn’t get much (read “any”) encouragement to make my own, I decided to try a package of Lewis Mountain Sauerkraut that was made in New Brunswick.  I knew as soon as it started to cook that it smelled just like what I used to remember our homemade pickled cabbage smelling like!

Lewis Mountain Sauerkraut

It was tradition in my family to serve blue potatoes boiled in their jackets to accompany the pickled cabbage.  I don’t know why blue potatoes but that was what “went with pickled cabbage” at home.  I couldn’t find any “blues” so I served boiled red potatoes.  I was so pleased with the Lewis Mountain pickled cabbage (they call it “sauerkraut”).  It tasted just like what I grew up with.  It’s an all natural product – no additives, no preservatives and I believe that’s what gives it its true, authentic flavour.

Raw, uncooked Pickled Cabbage (Sauerkraut)

I know some serve sauerkraut with sausages and in a myriad of other ways.  However, in my books, it is never better than when simply boiled as a vegetable flavoured with pork and served with boiled potatoes dressed with butter and seasoned with pepper.  The cabbage does lose its color when pickled and then again when boiled so don’t look for it to have that ‘spring green’ color of fresh cabbage.  However, the wonderful naturally pickled taste makes up for the loss of color.  My guess is that, if you didn’t grow up with this as menu item, it is probably something that would require an acquired taste.

It’s hard to make an attractive plate with pickled cabbage served only with boiled potatoes.  However, my goal was not to create a designer repas with this dish but rather to enjoy a traditional, plain, wholesome Maritime winter meal.

Pickled Cabbage Served with Boiled Red Potatoes

I’m thrilled to have found a Maritime producer that makes pickled cabbage that tastes just as I remember it as it gave me my pickled cabbage “fix” that I was craving this winter without me having to do all the work to make it!

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I’ve never met anyone – child or adult – who doesn’t like chocolate chip cookies.  They are a perennial favourite and a staple in many cookie jars.  There are any number of recipes for these traditional cookies and I’ve tried a good many of them.  Some I’ve been satisfied with and some, well, not so much.  You see, I like a nice rich flavour in a soft chewy cookie, not the hard, crumby variety.

I am often asked if I have a recipe for a “soft” chocolate chip cookie.  Yes, I do….and so does every other baker out there – they just may not know they do.  Here’s the key:  It’s all in the baking time.  Slightly underbake the cookies and do not bake them any longer than the recipe directs.  Even if they don’t look completely done, take them out of the oven!  If the recipe says to bake the cookies 8-10 minutes (assuming your oven is accurate on temperature), look at them at the 8-minute point and, if they’re not too moist looking, remove them from the oven (it’s okay if they are somewhat moist looking on the top; if they are showing no moisture, then you are likely to end up with a hard, dry cookie).  At the very least, do not leave them a minute past the 10 minutes or whatever baking time the recipe directs.  Leave them on the baking sheet for just a couple of minutes after they come out of the oven – this will help them set.  Leaving them longer than that will cause them to continue to bake from the baking sheet’s heat and result in a hard, over-baked cookie.  Make sure you use a large enough thin, flat spatula to move the cookies from the baking sheet to a wire rack to allow them to cool completely.  This will ensure they don’t crack or break in the moving process from sheet to rack.  This is important because slightly underbaking the cookies means they are more fragile and susceptible to breakage.

I came across this recipe for these Chocolate Chip Cookies by happenstance through an internet search.  That search led me to this recipe that was published in the New York Times on July 9, 2008.   What I particularly liked about this recipe is that the measurements of ingredients are given both in cups as well as in ounces.  I actually prefer the ounce measurements because they are more accurate – when, for example, a recipe calls for a “packed” or “well-packed” cup of brown sugar, it’s difficult to know just exactly how much brown sugar to pack in that cup and what the fine-line difference is between “packed” and “well-packed”.  If the recipe indicates that 10 ounces of brown sugar is required, it’s a more exact measurement.  I also found the directions simple and easy to follow.

Measuring Flour

I also liked that the recipe specified which attachment to fit the mixer with (i.e., paddle versus wire whisk attachment).  The sign of a good recipe is one which gives full and adequate directions and I found this one did just that.

This was the first time I had ever made cookies using cake flour and bread flour and must admit that was an intriguing factor to trying this recipe – I wanted to see what texture of cookie these flours rendered.  I was not disappointed!

As with all recipes, the first time I use it, I try to follow the recipe exactly – both in ingredients and in directions.  Then, if I like it sufficiently well, I may (if I feel they are needed) make some modifications to the recipe the next time I make it.  However, I changed three things about this recipe the first time I made it:  1) the recipe called for a 3.5 oz mound of dough per cookie which made a 5-inch baked cookie.  This is way too large a cookie for my liking so I used 7/8 oz of dough which I found generated about a 2½-inch cookie (you wouldn’t think that only 7/8 oz of dough would yield a 2½-inch cookie based on the recipe calling for 3.5 oz for a 5-inch cookie but this is what mine turned out to be).  While I usually “eyeball” the amount of dough per cookie using a couple of teaspoons to drop the dough onto the cookie sheet, I did use my cookie scoop for this recipe because I wanted consistently-sized and similarly shaped cookies that would all bake at the same rate.  I weighed one of the scooped dough mounds and found that it weighed 7/8 oz.  I adjusted the baking time to account for the smaller cookie and baked the cookies for 11-12 minutes and let them cool on the baking sheet for just 2 minutes before moving them to a wire rack to finish cooling;  2) I didn’t have bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves and I don’t actually care for bittersweet chocolate so I used 1¼ pounds of milk chocolate chips and they were just fine for my liking, although I think I could have done with a slightly lesser amount than what the recipe called for; and 3) the recipe called for sea salt to be sprinkled lightly on top of each cookie.  I omitted this because I try to cut back on salt wherever possible.

Making the Cookie Dough

A few tips I would offer for any cookie recipe, not just this one, would be these:

1)  Make sure the butter is at room temperature.  Don’t soften the butter in the microwave as at least part of it will likely liquefy and that will affect the lightness of the butter/sugar beaten mixture.

Cookies Ready for the Oven

2) If the recipe calls for a certain kind of flour (e.g., bread or cake), don’t substitute with all-purpose flour because they have different textures and consistencies and they do not measure out exactly the same, cup-for-cup; therefore, the resulting texture and consistency of the cookies will not be as the recipe intended.

3) Always use cool cookie sheets and don’t place the next batch onto a cookie sheet that has just come out of the oven.  Doing this will cause the cookies to start baking before they are in the oven and will likely result in a harder cookie because the bottom has already started to bake before the cookie dough reaches the oven.

Chocolate Chip Cookies Fresh From the Oven

 

 

 

This recipe is not suitable for someone who has an instant craving for homemade chocolate chip cookies because the dough must rest in the refrigerator for a minimum of 24 hours (and up to 36).  I read several online reviews of this recipe and discovered that other bakers had tried the recipe both ways — by baking the cookies instantly as soon as the dough was mixed and by letting the dough rest for the full 24-hour chill period.  The consensus appeared to be that baking them without first chilling them meant the cookies simply were not as good.  A warning, though, the dough will be very hard and somewhat difficult to work with when it comes out of the fridge after its 24-hour rest period; therefore, you will need to use a bit of muscle to handle the dough and be sure to use a strong spoon or cookie scoop that will not bend or break (yes, this dough is very hard).  The purpose of letting the dough “rest” is to allow the liquid ingredients (in this case, eggs) to get fully incorporated and absorbed into the other ingredients and eggs tend to take longer to do this than, say, would water if that was the liquid in a recipe.  The “resting” period makes for a drier and firmer cookie dough and this controls its spread while baking so you don’t end up with a really flat cookie.

Cookies Cooling on the Racks

I thought I had found the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe a number of years ago but, I must say, this one gives it a run for the money and is now my new favourite!  The texture, taste, and appearance of these cookies make them a “10” in my books!  An informal testing this morning amongst my co-workers readily garnered the thumbs-up rating on these cookies.  You know they must be good when they were eaten at 8:00am since chocolate chip cookies are not a traditional breakfast food!

This is not a cheap recipe to make as it calls for unsalted butter, cake flour, bread flour, a substantial amount of both brown and granulated sugars, and 1¼ pounds of chocolate.  However, if you are looking for the consummate, decadent chocolate chip cookie, I think this one would fill that bill nicely!

Cookies and Tea

Oat Bran and Flaxseed Bread

It’s “Islander Day” on Prince Edward Island today.  What better way to celebrate on this cold winter day than with fresh homemade bread and the heavenly scent of baking bread wafting through the house.  Today’s offering is a healthy choice of Oat Bran and Flaxseed.  This iteration is an artisan or rustic style bread, characterized by using ingredients like oat and whole wheat flours and by “scoring” decorative cross-cuts on the top of the loaf.  This bread is good with hearty homemade soups and for bistro-style healthy sandwiches.

Oat Bran and Flaxseed Bread

By Barbara99 Published: February 20, 2012

  • Yield: 1 loaf
  • Prep: 2 hrs 45 mins
  • Cook: 20 mins
  • Ready In: 3 hrs 5 mins

An artisan-style wholesome bread that compliments homemade soups or makes a hearty sandwich.

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. In small bowl, combine 1/4 cup warm water and 1 tsp. sugar. Stir to dissolve sugar.
  2. Sprinkle dry yeast over water and let stand apx. 10 minutes until yeast has risen and is foamy.
  3. In large bowl, combine honey and 1 cup warm water. Stir together.
  4. Add yeast to honey and water mixture. Stir to combine.
  5. Add oat bran, oat flour, whole wheat flour, ground flaxseed, salt, and 1 cup of the all-purpose flour. Mix until flour is combined and dough sticks together. Gradually add remaining flour.
  6. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead 5-8 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic. Shape into a large ball.
  7. Place dough in greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap that has been sprayed with cooking oil. Place in warm, draft-free place and let rise for apx. 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  8. Punch down risen dough. Shape into a large ball. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for apx. 45 minutes.
  9. Preheat oven to 400F degrees. If desired, using a sharp knife, make a few decorative score lines on top of the loaf. Bake bread for 20-25 minutes or until bread sounds hollow when tapped.
  10. Remove to wire wrack and allow to cool completely before slicing.

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Champagne Scallops & Asparagus

Champagne Scallops & Asparagus

One of the best things about living on Canada’s East Coast is the abundance of fresh seafood we have available.  This winter, the sea scallops have been particularly good, so good in fact that a few weeks ago I bought a large supply and froze them in portion sizes.  Scallops freeze well and do not lose their freshness, taste, or texture when frozen.

Most often, my favorite way to cook scallops is to simply pan-sear them in a bit of butter.  I like the uninhibited natural taste of scallops.  Sometimes, however, I like to experiment a little and go outside my comfort zone with the cooking.  A lot of times, I take a scan of the refrigerator to see what’s there and then I go in search of a recipe to use up those ingredients.  Yesterday, I discovered some asparagus and baby carrots and I noticed some champagne left over from Valentine’s Day so I went on the hunt for a recipe that would combine these ingredients and use scallops.  I found a recipe that is called Champagne  Scallops & Asparagus.

This recipe is found on the website “My Recipes” and is attributed to “I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter” spread.  I found the recipe simple to prepare and not lengthy (scallops don’t take very long to cook).  The ingredients did not diminish the taste of the scallops which so often happens to a primary ingredient when so many other ingredients are added to the dish.  This is a recipe I would make again.

“Sweetheart and Roses” Valentine Tea

So, it’s Valentine’s Day – the day of all things sweet.  This year, I decided to host an afternoon tea to commemorate the special day.  As I soon discovered after just a wee bit of research, there is more than one kind of afternoon tea.  There are Cream Teas where tea, scones, jam, and cream are served.  There are Light Teas where you are likely to find sweets served along with tea and scones.  Then, there are Savory Teas where you might find such tasty temptations as tiny sandwiches (crusts removed, of course), small quiches, or appetizers on the menu….and you get the idea.  Teas can be relatively simplistic or they can be lavishly elaborate.

To my knowledge, on PEI in winter, we don’t have any hotels or restaurants that offer a traditional full-scale formal afternoon tea.  In the summer season, the Dalvay-By-The-Sea Hotel on PEI’s North Shore, Mrs. Profitt’s Tea Room in the Orient Hotel in Victoria-By-The-Sea on the Island’s South Shore, and the Blue Winds Tea Room in Clinton, near New London, offer tea service.  I’m not sure why this niche has largely escaped the Island but, from my afternoon tea experiences elsewhere while travelling – most notably at the Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia, at different hotels in London, England, and on several cruise ships, it’s a very charming and relaxing way to while away an afternoon.

For my “Sweetheart and Roses Valentine’s Tea”, I chose a pink theme (still a little tired of all the red from Christmas!) and I sort of crossed a Light Tea with a Savory Tea.  The appointed hour was 4:30pm.

Valentine’s Afternoon Tea

On the Menu:  Currant scones and tea biscuits with raspberry jam, small quiches followed by a selection of dainty sweets that included French macaroons, melting moments, shortbread, squares, decorated sugar cookies, and Linzer cookies.  For dessert, I served a vanilla layer cake covered in buttercream icing swirled in a rose design.  For my tea selection, I chose Stash English Breakfast.  While that may sound odd to have a “breakfast” tea in the afternoon, it is my favourite kind of tea so that’s what I went with.  I set the table with a white Irish linen tablecloth and my finest China (including lots of tiered and pedestal plates) and we were off to enjoy our Valentine’s Day Afternoon Tea.

“Sweetheart and Roses Valentine’s Tea”

Valentine’s Day is all about spending time with the people who mean the most to you.  It’s less important the big bouquets of red roses, the Valentine-themed boxes of chocolates, or teddy bears carrying hearts or any of a myriad of other commercial and material gifts than it is spending time together.  So, whatever your Valentine’s Day carries for you, I wish you the time well spent and enjoyed with your favourite people.  Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

Afternoon Tea on a Cold Winter Day

There is just something especially comforting about a warm cup of tea accompanied by fresh currant scones straight out of the oven.  And, of course, it’s made all the better when the tea is served in a china cup and saucer!  Is there anything more relaxing after a busy day than to sit down late in the afternoon and recharge the batteries while enjoying a cup of tea in front of the fireplace!

Afternoon Tea with Currant Scones

Last Drop Spatula/Scraper

I have discovered a real nifty little gadget to add to my collection.  It’s called the “Last Drop Spatula/Scraper”.

Last Drop Spatula/Scraper

 

This long, slender, tiny spatula has two sizes of small silicone heads that allow you to reach to the bottom of narrow-necked bottles and containers such as mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, barbeque sauce, etc.

Last Drop Spatula/Scraper

 

 

 

 

It used to be so frustrating trying to get to the bottom of these jars that I often ended up throwing out product.  I was so impressed with the gadget that I bought a second one today at The Kitchen Store in the Confederation Court Mall in Charlottetown, PEI, to use specifically for body lotion jars.  For only $3.50, this is a dandy little tool.

Last Drop Spatula/Scraper

Smelts – A Prince Edward Island Winter Meal

Growing up in PEI, it was customary in our home to always have at least one “feed” of smelts  sometime during the winter.

Smelts are a winter catch and, therefore, a winter meal in many households on PEI.  Sport fishers set up camp on the frozen waterways around the Island.  By setting up camp, I mean they haul little buildings, locally referred to as “smelt shacks” out onto the ice.  It is from the ‘comfort’ of these tiny rustic shelters that they fish for smelts, typically using spears or nets, to catch the tiny fish below the ice surface.  These fish are tiny, in general, measuring about 5 ”- 7” long. Continue reading Smelts – A Prince Edward Island Winter Meal