All posts by Barbara99

Cupcake Tablescape

Cupcakes, anyone?

Cupcake Tablescape

For this, my second tablescape of the Christmas season, I have opted to go with a more casual look, using everyday plain white dinnerware because it is not always necessary to have fine china in order to set a festive table.  This setting would be quite suitable for weekday family dinners over the holidays or for casual dinner parties where you don’t want the look to be too fussy and overstated.

Cupcakes with Cherries on Top!

The centerpiece consists of three separate arrangements of carnations to look like iced cupcakes with a red cherry carnation on top.  I have left the three arrangements together because my dining table is not large.  They can, however, be separated and dispersed down the length of the table.  To complete the look, I simply added some of my favorite Christmas balls and a couple of decorative votives and, voila, a simple yet attractive centerpiece.

I like these little votives for tealights.  They are very versatile.

These are some of the Christmas decorations that hang on my living room tree and, of course, I always buy extras to place here and there throughout the house to tie the look together.  I often use them in my holiday tablesettings.

 Below is a top view of the cupcake tablescape.

 
For this setting, I decided to just use a runner down the center of the table instead of a full tablecloth.  Keeping the wood of the table exposed lends itself to a casual setting.  For each place setting, I used Christmas poinsettia placemats that work well with the poincettia-themed napkins.  These hard placemats are great because they can easily be wiped off and they protect the table from hot plates.  This is particularly important to consider when opting not to use a full tablecloth with a protective table pad underneath.  If you are going to be serving a hot meal, I recommend these ‘board’ placemats.

 

 
Typically, I tend to use plain-colored napkins.  However, because I was setting this table with plain white dinnerware, I chose napkins with a seasonal pattern of burgundy and green because there was nothing on the table that they would clash with and I thought they would add a splash of color to each white place setting.  If I had used plain white napkins on a white plate that sat on a mostly off-white placemat, the placesetting would have gotten lost.  The napkin fold I used is called the “wave”.  It is a simple fold in keeping with the simplistic setting.  It also works well with the entire tablescape which is low.  I then placed the cutlery on top of the napkin, giving the setting a more informal and relaxed look.

The “Wave” Napkin Fold

 

 
This is a great setting to use when the event calls for understated, more casual dining.
 

Evergreens and Reindeer Christmas Tablescape

It’s no secret that I love setting beautiful tables!  I genuinely believe it enhances a wonderful meal by providing the ambiance and it shows your guests that you put some thought and care into the dinner party.

Evergreens and Reindeer Tablescape

Christmas is a wonderful time to be creative (and a bit over the top) in extravagant table settings.  It is not uncommon for me to change my tablescapes three to four times during the holiday season.

I don’t own Christmas china.  It’s not because I haven’t been looking but I haven’t found anything I like at a price I’m willing to pay for tableware that will be used only for a very short time of the year.  Some of the Christmas patterns are just way too busy and I would truly use them only for display because food would certainly not show up on them.  Plain white dinnerware is best for food presentation.  Other Christmas dishes on the market just look too chintzy or cheap to me and so I leave them on the store shelves.  Besides, I have my Royal Albert “Lavender Rose” china and Christmas provides a prime opportunity to use it.

Having specific Christmas china is not necessary to set a beautiful holiday table.  What I do is work with the colors in my existing year-round china when designing my tablescapes.  For example, the background in my china is white and the primary color in the floral pattern is pink and the secondary colors are lavender and green.  The edge of each piece bears gold-colored trim.  Therefore, I work with those colors, no matter the season, and stay away from reds, yellows, blues, and so forth.  If I was doing it again, I would choose a plain white china pattern with either a gold or silver trimmed edge for two reasons.  First, food looks great on white and, second, it lends itself to the use of any color scheme you want to use.  The other thing I do is make sure the wall color and soft furnishings, like draperies, chairs, etc., in my dining room are of a color that they work with my china.  In my case, my dining room wall color is sage green with white trim and chair railing.  My chairs carry that green and also have gold color in them so that ties them to the gold on the china.

So my approach this year.  I decorated my dining room fireplace mantle in winter white.  That allows me to add color to the tablescape without conflicting with another color on the mantle and it leaves several options open.  For my first tablescape of the season, I have picked the green color in the china and made green my primary color with gold as the accent color that picks up the gold trim in the china and the gold-colored chargers.

Royal Albert “Lavender Rose” china

These Christmas tree candles have proven versatile.

Versatile Christmas Tree Candles

In this tablescape, I have elevated the tree candles on to candlesticks of various heights.  I then casually draped a short gold berry garland around them – this, again, picks up on the gold-rimmed china and ties the centerpiece to the gold charger plates.  I like to mix and move my Christmas decorations around the house so the three reindeer moved into the dining room as they nestle beneath the green trees.

Glittery Reindeer

I am famous for using Christmas tree balls everywhere throughout the house during the holidays so I have strewn a few amidst the tablescape to fill in some gaps.  To keep the theme going, I used my petite ornament placecard holders and selected placecards that had a tree theme.  I don’t always use placecards but they do add a finishing touch of class to the tablesetting.

Christmas Ornament Placecard Holder

 

Christmas Tree Ornaments Incorporated into Tablescape

To add a glow of light at the base of the tablescape, I added some tiny gold-trimmed votives.  Their glow adds to the ambiance.

Tiny Gold-Trimmed Votives

I like white tablecloths because they are clean and pristine and provide a wonderful blank canvas for the table setting.  The white makes any tablescape stand out, no matter its color (with the exception, perhaps, being a white tablescape).  This is an antique Irish linen tablecloth I am using in this table setting.  Because my oval dining room table is not large, I opted for a napkin fold design that would fit inside the soup bowl because available table space is at a premium and, placing the napkins on the table, would interfere with the tablescape focal point.  The napkin fold I chose is called “Pure Elegance” and it is a relatively easy fold to do.

“Pure Elegance” Napkin Fold

Be sure to use good quality large cloth napkins in a formal table setting, never paper napkins.  Again, white is always a good choice for napkins because it goes with anything.  As well, plain napkins lend themselves well to any napkin folds.  If, however, you have patterned cloth napkins that blend in with the tablescape you are designing and they don’t detract from it, by all means, use them. Just keep in mind that some napkin folds don’t lend themselves well to patterned napkins.  As is always my recommendation, after you have finished setting the table, take photographs of it from several angles and view them – this will tell you if something is amiss, too much, too little, and so forth.  This allows you to make the necessary adjustments before your guests arrive.

Overhead View of Table

 

Overhead View of Individual Place Setting

 

View of Tablescape

Setting a beautiful holiday table does not have to cost a fortune.  Look around your existing Christmas decorations and see what you may already have that could form a tablescape for your holiday dining table.  I bought nothing new for this tablescape.  It has been constructed completely from my existing Christmas ornament and candle collection. 

Sometimes, we think the centerpiece has to involve flowers and, lovely as they are, that is not always necessary.  Early in the season, I tend not to go with real flowers but, as we get closer to Christmas, at least one of my tablescapes will involve fresh flowers.  How elaborate you choose to make your tablesetting is up to you.  I have two suggestions.  First, consider the event you are hosting.  For example, a brunch or lunch will merit a much less elaborate tablescape than will, for example, a formal evening dinner.  Second, consider the dinnerware you are using and work with it.  Earthenware is more casual than formal china so make sure your tablescape bears that in mind as the dinnerware will be the cue from which you take your design for the table centerpiece.  In order to achieve a harmonious and coordinated look for your table, the elements must all work and blend together.

Happy tablesetting!

To view other Christmas and New Year’s Tablesettings, click on the links below:

Glitz ‘n Glamour New Year’s Eve Tablesetting
Twas the Night Before Christmas
The Warmth of the Christmas Light Tablesetting
A Tartan Holiday Tablesetting
Pretty Poinsettia Tablesetting
Poinsettia Trio Tablesetting
The Holiday Table
The Pink and Green Holiday Table
Christmas at My Island Bistro Kitchen
Purple Tablesetting for the Holidays
Christmas Eve Tablesetting and Dinner
Cupcake Tablescape

Pumpkin Jam

Pumpkin Jam

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

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

 

Bins of Pumpkins at Kool Breeze Farm

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

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

 

Field of Pumpkins, Marshfield, PEI

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

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

Pumpkin Jam on Biscuits

 

Pumpkin Jam as a Filling for Thumbprint Cookies

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

Pumpkin for Jam

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

Split Pumpkin Ready to be Seeded

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

Diced Pumpkin

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

Adding Sugar to the Diced Pumpkin

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

Draining the Juice from the Pumpkin

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

Syrup for Pumpkin Jam

Add the drained pumpkin to the hot syrup.

Adding Pumpkin to Hot Syrup

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

Cooking the Jam

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

Adding the Crushed Pineapple to the Pumpkin Jam

Add the jello to the jam.

Adding the Jello to the Pumpkin Jam

Bring jam to a boil over medium heat.

Cooked Pumpkin Jam

 Meanwhile, sterilize the jars.

Fill the sterilized jars.

Bottling Pumpkin Jam

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

Placing Lids on Jam Jars

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

Pumpkin Jam

 

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Pumpkin Jam

By Barbara99 Published: December 1, 2012

  • Yield: Apx. 6 1/2 cups

A colorful, moderately sweet, versatile jam.

Ingredients

Instructions

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

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Harvest Afternoon Tea

As we draw near to the end of harvest season, and before we embark on the busy Christmas season, I thought I would share some photographs from my Harvest Afternoon Tea.  Happy Thanksgiving to our neighbors to the South who are celebrating the American Thanksgiving today (November 22, 2012).

The Tea Table

 

I like the rich colors and tones of autumn – the deep shades of greens, oranges, golds, reds, and rusts.

 

I love these little matching individual-sized white teapots (photo below)!  I don’t have a large collection of china teacups and saucers but do have some seasonal ones like these fall-themed ones.

My harvest tea table has a distinctive fall theme to it, mostly centered around pumpkin!

The cooler autumn days often sees us drawn closer to the warmth of the fireplace.

Harvest Afternoon Tea Setting

 

As much as I love the colors of fall, I love the flavours of the season equally well.  One of the least common jams is pumpkin jam and I don’t think I have ever seen it on a store shelf yet it is so tasty and simple to make.  I will soon be publishing a separate posting with the recipe for this jam on my blog so don’t throw out those pumpkins just yet as I will have a use to which you can put them!

For my tea table, I chose a fall-themed menu of homemade biscuits served with the pumpkin jam, petite pumpkin muffins perfectly sized for tea-time, shortbread (which you may know by the name “Scotch cookies”), pumpkin tarts, and thumbprint cookies filled with the pumpkin jam.

These are some of my foods of autumn.

I like the tiered stands and use them frequently on tea tables.  They are convenient, take up less space on the table, and look impressive.

I was able to find these great peach and yellow-colored tea roses which I think really enhanced the tea table.

My living room mantle dressed for autumn makes a great backdrop for the tea table.

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One Hot Potato – Prince Edward Distillery’s Potato Vodka

Potato Vodka Made by Prince Edward Distillery, Hermanville, PEI

PEI has long been known for growing world-class potatoes – they are, after all, our primary cash crop, injecting more than one billion dollars annually into the Island economy, directly and through spin-offs[i].  We all know potatoes as a vegetable on dinner tables and are familiar with them boiled, mashed, baked, as French fries and potato chips, and as the key ingredient in scalloped potatoes.  But, would you think of potatoes as a main ingredient in a beverage?   Well, there are a couple of industrious and innovative women who have figured out a new use for PEI spuds.  Julie Shore and Arla Johnson own and operate Prince Edward Distillery where potato vodka is their flagship product.

Road Map from Charlottetown to Hermanville, location of Prince Edward Distillery

Drive east from the Island’s capital city of Charlottetown along the northeastern shore of the Island and you will find Hermanville, a small rural district not far from the town of Souris in the eastern end of PEI.  Late this past summer, I travelled to Hermanville to visit Prince Edward Distillery to find out about this potato vodka. In addition to learning how potato vodka is made, I learned the Distillery is diversifying its operation.  They are now producing gin, rye whiskey, rum, and a bourbon-style corn whiskey that sells under the label of IC Shore and that’s in addition to the potato vodka and wild blueberry vodka.  Also new this year (2012) are their decadent rum cakes made locally with the Distillery’s Merchantman 1897 rum.

Products Made at Prince Edward Distillery, Hermanville, PEI

The story of Julie and Arla’s arrival on PEI is similar to several others who have come to the Island and made it their home.  They came to PEI on holiday in 1997, fell in love with the Island, and decided to move here.  Leaving their jobs behind – Julie as a dental hygiene sales representative and Arla as a psychologist – they built an Inn (Johnson Shore Inn) in Hermanville in 1999, down a long, secluded, and narrow, unpaved lane that leads to a spectacular unobstructed view of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  However, they soon discovered the tourist, and by extension the innkeeper’s, season is short in rural PEI (usually late May to the end of September). That extra time on her hands got Julie thinking about the business her ancestors had been in, pre-prohibition, in North Carolina – distilling apple brandy and bourbon.  Living in the land of potatoes, Julie had the idea to set up a distillery to produce potato vodka.  Thus, in 2007, Prince Edward Distillery was born with the first batch of potato vodka running from the still’s spigot in 2008. 

Rum, Whiskey, and Rye Produced at Prince Edward Distillery

Julie is the master distiller.  In 2011, the Distillery produced 10,000 bottles of the six different liquors the Distillery produces. Apart from her ancestral history of distilling (she’ll tell you distilling is in her blood!), I asked Julie if she had to have special training to be a distiller.  She tells me she has taken a distilling course at Cornell University and yeast-making courses in Montreal and France.  She and Arla travel the world over visiting distilleries and learning more about the art of fine distilling.  Visit their onsite retail outlet and look at the large map on the wall that points out the impressive world travels Julie and Arla have journeyed. 

Julie says the best variety of potatoes for potato vodka is Russet Burbank.  These spuds are the highest starch potato grown on the Island and the starch content is important for the yeast to work in the fermentation process.  The Distillery buys approximately 50,000 pounds of locally-grown potatoes, on an annual basis, to use as the base for potato vodka. Julie explains that it takes about 18 pounds of potatoes to produce one 750 ml bottle of the potato vodka so, as you can imagine, it takes a lot of spuds to yield any amount of vodka.  While potato vodka is not unheard of, it is more rare since 99% of vodkas on the market are grain-based.  That’s probably because, as Julie says, potato vodka is difficult to distill due to the fact that potatoes are approximately 80% water, have to be cooked, and it takes such a volume of the raw ingredient (potatoes) to produce the final product. 

Prince Edward Distillery’s Potato Vodka
Tour of Prince Edward Distillery

Making potato vodka is very labour intensive.  The potatoes are ground and cooked to break down their starch into fermentable sugars so that fermentation will occur with the addition of yeast (wait till you hear what is done with the leftover mash from the potatoes and who the benefactors are!).  The mixture is fermented for four days in 1000-gallon tanks to form alcohol. 

German-made Holstein Copper Vertical Still at Prince Edward Distillery

Using a 680-litre German-made Holstein copper vertical still that Julie had imported from Germany and capably assembled herself (since it came in parts and didn’t come with an instruction book), this fermentation mixture is distilled three times to remove impurities, achieve a neutrality of the alcohol, and to get the perfect alcohol content for the vodka.  Julie tells me it takes 10-14 days to produce a batch of vodka from start to finish, raw product (potatoes) to bottling.  

The Distillery has enjoyed sweet success and very early in its operation.  Their products rank among the best.  Just a year after producing their first vodka for market, the potato vodka won gold in the 2009 San Francisco World Spirits Competition and, in the same year, the wild blueberry vodka won silver in the UK International Spirits Challenge in London, England.  Yes, our locally-produced Island wines and spirits can match any on the market!

Prince Edward Distillery supports local producers, buying and using locally-produced potatoes, grains, and blueberries in their liquor production.  The Distillery employs between 4-6 full time employees and 1 part-time employee on a seasonal basis.  Currently, their products are sold in PEI and Nova Scotia markets.  However, they are exploring markets farther afield. 

Prince Edward Distillery’s Spirit Outlet at Peakes Quay in Charlottetown, PEI

This past summer, the Distillery decided to open a spirits outlet shop at Peakes Quay on the Charlottetown waterfront, a popular tourist attraction of small shops and not far from the seaport where dozens of cruise ships dock each year.  In addition to the Peakes Quay location (open seasonally), the Distillery’s products are available at the onsite retail shop in Hermanville and in PEI and Nova Scotia liquor stores.

So, about that mash I mentioned earlier – the left-over potato product after the liquid has been extracted for the vodka.  Well, behind the distillery may well be what many have dubbed as the most cheerful hogs on the Island!  Yes, that’s right, hogs or, more specifically, Heritage Berkshire pigs which Julie raises on the mash.  She says there are lots of nutrients left in the potato mash so why throw it out when she can raise pigs on it!

Heritage Berkshire Pigs Raised on Mash at Prince Edward Distillery

The Distillery is open daily, May – October, for tours and taste-testing; from October – May, it is open by appointment or by chance.  A tour of the Distillery and taste-testing of two spirits costs $10. (or, if you simply want to taste any spirit, it is $3./taste).  For more information on the Prince Edward Distillery, visit their website, call them at 902-687-2586, or, better still (pun intended!), take the scenic northeastern shoreline route to Hermanville and visit the Distillery at 9985, Route 16.

Prince Edward Distillery, Hermanville, PEI

 

Whimsical T-Shirts at Prince Edward Distillery

True to tradition, when I visit a local producer, I bring home their product and create a recipe with it.  I decided to create a Vodka Tomato Sauce for pasta using Prince Edward Distillery’s potato vodka.  I find the vodka actually goes well with tomatoes and draws out the tomato flavour and makes it pop without adding a competing flavour to the dish.  The key, of course, is not to over-do it – less is often more and the idea is that the vodka enhance and contribute to the taste of the sauce, not overpower it.  My recipe creation follows.

Farfalle Pasta in Tomato Vodka Sauce

 

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[i] Source of Statistics:  Prince Edward Island Potato Board, 23 October 2012

Tomato Vodka Pasta Sauce

By Barbara99 Published: November 15, 2012

  • Yield:
  • Prep: 10 mins
  • Cook: 50 mins
  • Ready In: 60 mins

A rich, flavourful tomato sauce suitable for various types of pasta

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Heat oil and butter in large pot. Add onion, celery, green pepper, mushrooms, and garlic. Sauté 2-3 minutes over medium heat.
  2. Add diced tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Simmer over low heat 5-7 minutes.
  3. Whisk the corn starch with the cooled chicken stock until smooth.
  4. Stir tomato sauce, vodka, and chicken stock/cornstarch into mixture. Simmer 18-20 minutes, until slightly thickened.
  5. Stir in whipping cream, oregano, basil, chives, cayenne, red pepper flakes, and parsley. Simmer 7-10 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions and drain. Add drained pasta to tomato sauce and toss to coat.
  7. Spoon pasta into serving dishes. Garnish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, fresh basil, a spring of parsley, and halved cherry tomatoes.

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War Cake – A Part of Wartime Culinary History

Remembrance Day Service at the cenotaph in front of Province House, Charlottetown, PEI, Canada [11 November 2012]
Every year on November 11th we pause to remember the sacrifices and achievements of those who valiantly and selflessly served our country in times of war and conflict, and in peacekeeping missions around the world.  We remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice – their lives for their country so future generations could have a better, more secure life.  We think about their achievements and the role they played in forming Canada’s nationhood.  We thank them for the peace, freedom, and human rights we enjoy in Canada today.

Those of us who have been fortunate enough never to have known or experienced war have opportunities to demonstrate our respect and gratitude for, and remembrance of, these acts of bravery and sacrifice.  For example, we wear a poppy on the left breast, close to the heart to signify remembrance of the lives lost.  

Poppy

Thousands of people across the country will attend Remembrance Day ceremonies in their local communities where they will respectfully observe a moment’s silence at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month to mark the time the Armistice was signed to end WWI.  Wreaths will be laid in commemoration.

Remembrance Day Wreath

One of the most well-known poems about war was written in May, 1915, by Lt. Col. John McCrae, a Canadian Medical Officer in WWI.  While stationed near Ypres, Belgium, where some of the most horrific and bloodiest fighting of WWI occurred, he was motivated to write about the death he saw around him and of the prolific red poppies growing amidst the devastation of war in the Flanders area of western Belgium.  His poem, “In Flanders Fields” has become synonymous with Remembrance Day in Canada and Lt. Col. McCrae is often credited with being the catalyst that led to the poppy being identified as the symbol of remembrance of the blood shed by soldiers who were casualties of battle.

 

“In Flanders Fields”

On this Remembrance Day, I am going to focus my food blog feature story on war cake, a wartime dessert that is still made and served in several Island households today.

War Cake

As a small child I well remember my grandmother making war cake and this was long after WWII had ended.  I loved her war cake!  It is such a simple raisin-spice cake that is characterized by the absence of eggs and milk — ingredients that would have been scarce during wartime.  This cake is sometimes referred to as “boiled raisin cake” because raisins form the main content and the majority of the ingredients are boiled, then cooled, before they are mixed with flour and baking soda and then baked in the oven.  Because of food shortages during war time, many foods were rationed. 

Ration Books, Cards, and Stickers

Born of necessity, homemakers during wartime became resourceful, frugal, adaptable, and creative in order to feed their families.  Cooking tended to be very basic.  Women were known to have saved their ration stickers so they could buy the raisins and sugar that the war cake recipe called for – thus war cake would have been a very prized commodity. 

War cake was made for consumption on the home front but many also made the cakes in tin cans and packed them in socks, mittens, and underwear they were shipping overseas for their loved ones serving in the war.  Imagine the excitement when a soldier would have received this package from home and discovered a mother’s or sister’s war cake inside!  Amazingly, with the slow mail and ship service during WWI and WWII, there is evidence these cakes were received as the soldiers would refer to them in their letters home, letters that would have looked much like the July 7, 1914, letter in the photograph below.

Letter from a soldier written from “Somewhere in France” on July 7, 1914.  In the letter, the soldier encloses two pansies as “souvenirs from France”, one flower each for the young lady he was writing to and her mother.  All these years later, the pressed pansies have still retained their color and are intact.
Old War Cake Recipes

In my research for this story, I examined many recipes for war cake and found similarities amongst them all.  Some were very sketchy in terms of amount of ingredients to be put in the batter and many were almost totally devoid of any directions. While the amounts of the ingredients may vary slightly, all of the recipes I reviewed were essentially the same in ingredient content. All called for big, sticky raisins (you may know these as “Lexia” raisins), a variety of spices of the cook’s choice, either brown or white sugar or a combination of both, shortening or lard, boiling water, flour, and soda.  One thing I noted was the significant amount of sugar that the recipes called for – i.e., two cups per cake.  Sugar was one item that was commonly rationed during wartime and a cake taking two cups of sugar would certainly have been considered a luxurious dessert, I am sure.  Flavour may vary from cake to cake based on spices used in the batter.  The choice of spices varies but typically consisted of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, as a minimum, with ginger frequently appearing in recipes.  I added mace and cardamom to my cake  to give it a bit more flavour (recipe follows at end).

Ingredients for War Cake

I am told these cakes were often made with lard (as opposed to butter) for a couple of reasons.  First, lard has a longer shelf life than butter would have had and, for cakes being sent overseas to the soldiers, it would have been a long journey for the cakes to reach Europe so shelf life of the cakes was an important factor.  Second, butter was often scarce during wartime because there were no big herds of cattle on local farms so butter would have been used sparingly, even for those living on farms and churning their own.  Lard, on the other hand, would have been much more readily available, particularly on farms.  I found a couple of recipes that indicated either butter or shortening could be used in the recipe; however, butter was called for in a much lesser quantity than the shortening, if the latter was used instead.  For example, I found one recipe that called for 2 tablespoons of butter or 1 cup of shortening which demonstrates how judiciously butter would have been used, if at all.

While its ingredients are simple, war cake takes some time to make.  All of the ingredients, except the flour and soda, are boiled on the stove for 5 minutes.   Then it is important to let the boiled raisin mixture cool to room temperature as the mixture will thicken naturally on its own as it cools.   This will normally take 4-5 hours.  If the flour and soda are added into a mixture that is too hot, the result is likely to be a gummy cake.  When the raisin mixture is cooled, the flour and soda are stirred in and the mixture turned into the baking pan.  My grandmother made her war cake in a loaf pan; however, traditionally, war cake seems to have been made in some kind of a round pan – usually a tube pan or, in the case of overseas shipping during war time, in tin cans.  War cake is a very dense cake which makes it sometimes difficult to get the center of the cake baked without drying out the outside edges.  It is also a heavier type cake which makes it somewhat prone to falling in the center.  A tube (or Bundt pan, if you have one) removes the baking uncertainty and helps the cake to bake more evenly.  

War Cake Baked in a Bundt Pan

 

War cakes take, on average, about an hour to bake.  The old recipes I reviewed didn’t even mention baking the cake let alone at what temperature (in fact, one recipe simply said “to thicken” but didn’t elaborate on what thickening agent was to be used!).  These recipes predate our modern electronic ovens!  While some suggest baking the cake at 350F, I thought that might be a bit high so I baked my war cake at 335F for one hour.  Because there are no eggs or milk in the cake for moistness, it is very easy to overbake the cake and end up with a dry product.  Hence, it is important to time the baking carefully and to use a cake tester starting at about the 45-minute point.  If the cake starts to darken on the top or edges too quickly, simply place a piece of tin foil loosely over the top.  Adding a small pan of water to the lower shelf in the oven while baking the cake will also help to keep the cake moist. 

Including a Small Pan of Hot Water on the Bottom Shelf of the Oven Helps to Keep the Cake Moist During Baking

Because of the texture of the cake, it may seem soft on the top and not baked; however, if a cake tester comes out of the cake clean, it’s time to remove it from the oven before it dries out.

War cake is a “stick to the ribs” substantial, hearty kind of cake.  It goes particularly well with a nice cup of tea. 

War Cake and Tea

In keeping with the traditional way war cake was served, I have photographed the cake plain, just as it would have been eaten during wartime. 

Sliced War Cake

War cake was not traditionally iced.  However, it would be lovely served with a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla or maple ice cream.  It could also be dressed with a brown sugar sauce or, to make a plain cake really decadent, why not serve all three – ice cream, brown sugar sauce, and whipped cream! 

War Cake on a Tea Table

 

War Cake

Regardless where you are in the world, if you have any wartime memories (either your own or those passed down to you from your ancestors) of war cake made for consumption on the home front or to send to the soldiers fighting the war, I would love to hear about them.   War cake is a part of wartime culinary history.

Here are some photographs of the Remembrance Day Ceremony at the cenotaph in downtown Charlottetown, PEI, this morning.

Remembrance Day in Charlottetown, PEI [11 November 2012]
Lest We Forget

 

Hon. Robert W.J. Ghiz, Premier of the Province of Prince Edward Island lays a wreath on behalf of the people of the Island at the Remembrance Day Service in Charlottetown, PEI [11 November 2012]
Small Child Watches as a Veteran lays a Wreath at the Remembrance Day Service in Charlottetown, PEI ]11 November 2012]

 

Remembrance Day 2012

 

Veterans Laying Wreaths at Remembrance Day Service in Charlottetown, PEI [11 November 2012]
At the Charlottetown Cenotaph – Remembrance Day 2012

 

Flag Flies at Half-Mast on Remembrance Day, Charlottetown, PEI [11 November 2012]

 

 

War Cake

By Barbara99 Published: November 11, 2012

  • Yield: 1 cake (12-14 Servings)
  • Prep: 5 hrs 0 min
  • Cook: 60 mins
  • Ready In: 6 hrs 0 min

An old-fashioned cake made with large sticky raisins and a mixture of spices. Common cake during war time.

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Assemble ingredients.
  2. Into a large saucepan, place the shortening, brown sugar, raisins, salt, spices, and boiling water. Over medium-high heat, bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and boil mixture for five minutes. Remove from heat and set saucepan on cooling rack. Let mixture cool to room temperature (4-5 hours), stirring occasionally.
  3. In bowl, whisk the flour and baking soda together. Set aside.
  4. When raisin mixture has cooled completely, add the flour and baking soda. Stir until dry ingredients have been completely mixed into the raisin mixture.
  5. Spoon mixture into greased pan. Add a small pan of hot water to lower shelf in oven for moisture while cake is baking. Bake cake on middle rack in 335F preheated oven. If cake starts to brown on the top too quickly, loosely place a piece of tin foil on top of cake. Bake apx. 1 hour but begin to test cake for doneness, using a cake tester, at the 45-minute point as cake can dry out very quickly.
  6. Remove cake from oven and place pan on cooling rack for 10 minutes then remove from pan. Allow cake to cool completely before cutting.

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Follow the PEI Potato Farmer! From Field to Table

One crop we grow really well on this Island is potatoes.  Our PEI spuds are world-class quality and often win awards on the national stage.   According to statistics obtained through the Prince Edward Island Potato Board, 86,500 acres of potatoes were grown on the Island in 2012.  An economic impact study was completed in 2012 showing that the potato industry contributes over one billion dollars annually to the PEI economy, either directly or through spin-off effects.  Now, that’s no small potatoes!!!

Last spring, I was looking for a potato operation and a potato field that I could follow from planting through to harvesting specifically for this blog post entry.  It’s one thing to go into the supermarket and purchase a bag of potatoes but it is quite another to know where the potatoes come from and to watch them grow and I thought my readers would be interested to see some photographs of potato growing and harvesting on PEI.  One evening in mid-May, I was heading from Summerside to Charlottetown “through the 225” as the locals refer to one of the shortcut routes between the two cities, when I came across this rather large and odd-looking black machine pulling into a huge field. 

Filler Machine Loads Seed Potatoes Into Potato Planter in Warren Grove, PEI [19 May 2012]
Of course, curiosity got the best of me and I did a u-turn fairly quickly and drove into the field where I discovered four tractors and machines were working at preparing the soil, fertilizing, and planting the field with potatoes.  Lots of John Deere equipment moving in that field on a Saturday evening in May!

Preparing to Plant Russet Burbank Potatoes in Warren Grove, PEI [19 May 2012]
Well, I thought this was just very fortuitous timing!  I had found my field to follow!!!  It turns out the field in Warren Grove, near North River on the outskirts of Charlottetown, PEI, was being planted by Smith Farms of Newton, near Kinkora, in the central part of the Island.

Robert, the man driving the big John Deere tractor that was hauling the rather ominous looking black machine, was very willing to explain what the machine was.  I learned it is called the “filler machine” – it brings the cut potato seed from the warehouse to the field where it is then loaded into the planter.  I asked if it would be okay if I took some photographs of the machine as it filled the planter.  Robert explained that I’d have to be quick if I wanted to get a picture of it as it speedily fills the planter that backs in under it.  Quick isn’t the word for it – it’s more like ‘in a blink of an eye’ and then the planter pulls away from the filler machine and off it goes down the field to plant the spuds. 

Planting Potatoes in Warren Grove, PEI [19 May 2012]
According to the Prince Edward Island Potato Board, there are over 100 varieties of potatoes grown in PEI but the majority of the acreage is made up of the top 30 varieties.  The most common variety, Russet Burbank (which is what this field in Warren Grove was planted with), accounts for about 50% of the potato acreage grown on PEI.  The Russet is a multipurpose variety used at local processing plants to make frozen French fries as well as for food service and retail bags of table potatoes (because of its slender shape, the Russet makes a great choice for baked potatoes, in particular).  The Potato Board tells me that other common varieties grown on the Island include Superior (an early round white table variety), Goldrush (a long russet skin table variety), Yukon Gold (a yellow flesh table variety), Norland (a red skin, white flesh table variety), and Atlantic (a round white variety use to make potato chips.)

The Potato Board says, over the past three years, PEI seed and table potatoes have been shipped to over 30 countries besides Canada and the United States.  No matter where you are, chances are you may have sampled PEI potatoes!  The next time you are in your local supermarket, be sure to check the bags of potatoes to see if they may have come from the rich and fertile red soil of PEI, Canada. 

 

Bags of PEI Potatoes in Retail Store

On June 25th, I found the field was lined with neat rows of bright green leafy plants.  The potatoes were growing well!

Potatoes Starting to Grow – 25 June 2012

Over the next several weeks I would periodically drive by the field to see if the delicate white potato blossoms would appear.  Sure enough, on August 8th, I found they were out in blossom.

Potatoes Blossoms [8 August 2012]

Russet Burbanks in Blossom [8 August 2012]
In mid-October, it was time to harvest the potatoes.   I followed the windrowers and potato harvester in the field and spoke with Andrew Smith who told me these potatoes are destined for Cavendish Farms, a processing plant in New Annan, PEI, which makes frozen French Fries.  As you can see by the long slender length of these Russets, they are well-suited for French Fries!

Harvesting the Russet Burbank Potatoes in Warren Grove, PEI [17 October 2012]
There were literally dozens and dozens of seagulls following the harvester, looking for “left-over” potatoes in the field!

How many workplaces have a gorgeous backdrop of fall foliage like this one does!  And, I was lucky enough to spend part of an afternoon in this workplace, following the harvesting equipment.  There is nothing like the smell of fresh PEI soil turning up spuds on a crisp, sunny October afternoon!

Potato Harvesting in Warren Grove [17 October 2012]
Potato Harvesting in Full Swing in PEI [17 October 2012]
 

Potato Harvesting in PEI [17 October 2012]
The windrowers dig several rows of potatoes at once and move the potatoes over into one row.  This field had two windrowers working in it.  The harvester then comes along, also digging several rows at the same time, and picks up all the potatoes left by the windrowers.  This process speeds up the harvesting.  Andrew told me that when he moves the harvester down the length of the field after the two windrowers have first gone through, he is picking up potatoes from 11 drills, transferring them to the truck that drives alongside the harvester!  The truck then transports the potatoes to the warehouse.

Windrowing and Digging in the Evening [17 October 2012]
PEI weather is often unpredictable in fall (sometimes quite rainy) so potato farmers have to work with the weather which often means they dig potatoes late into the evening to ensure the crop gets out of the ground.

Potato Harvesting at Night [17 October 2012]
 I debated what I would make to showcase the Russet Burbank potatoes that came out of the Warren Grove field.  I settled on a potato puff.  The Russets are a lovely white flesh potato with a somewhat dry texture that makes them a good choice for this dish.  This is a suitable side dish that pairs particularly well with chicken, beef, or pork.

Duchess Potatoes Made with PEI Russet Burbank Potatoes

My thanks to Smith Farms of Newton, PEI, for allowing me to follow their potato planting and harvest cycle this year.

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Roasted Marinara Sauce on Halloween Pasta

Roasted Marinara Sauce with Sun-dried Tomato Pork Sausage on Halloween Pasta

I was looking for a meal to serve that would have a Halloween theme when I came across these wonderful orange and black Italian-made farfalle pasta.  I bought them not knowing how I would prepare and serve them.  They just looked so fun and season-appropriate that I couldn’t pass them by!  Served with locally-made sun-dried tomato and pork sausage tossed in a rich and flavourful homemade marinara sauce, and topped with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, this pasta dish was a real hit.  Add a freshly toasted garlic and cheese roll and a glass of red wine, and this meal is easily dressed up.

Italian-made Durum Wheat Semolina Farfalle Pasta

I am very lucky as we have a great little meat shop in Charlottetown, located at the Riverview Country Market on Riverside Drive.  Using locally-produced pork from Home Town Pork in Morell, PEI, they make several varieties of wonderful sausages onsite.  The variety I chose for this dish was sun-dried tomato and I was not disappointed – it was really good!  They tell me their sausages are all natural with no additives or preservatives.  I also dropped by our local “Liquid Gold” store and picked up two new products (will soon need extra cupboards to store all these oils and balsamic vinegars in!) — a bottle of oregano white balsamic vinegar and one of organic Tuscan herb infused olive oil were added to my growing collection!  Both were used in the marinara sauce and I also cooked the sausage in a small amount of the Tuscan olive oil.  Freshness matters and I find their products are super-fresh.

My recipe for the marinara sauce is my own creation.  Don’t be put off by the number of ingredients — it takes them all to make the flavour.  I like to roast the vegetables for the sauce because it gives them a distinct and rich flavour that I would classify as “full-bodied” in any dish.  After they are roasted, I break them up loosely with a potato masher.  There is no need to worry about getting them crushed completely at this point since that will occur later during the purée stage.  All that needs to happen at this point is that they are crushed enough to allow their juices and flavours to permeate the sauce while it cooks.  I like to use the immersion blender to purée the sauce in the stock pot.  I tend to like the sauce a bit on the chunky side so I don’t purée it completely smooth but that is a matter of personal taste.  If you don’t have an immersion blender, a food processor can, of course, be used – just make sure you let the mixture cool before placing it in the processor.  The sauce takes a bit of time to make but it is good (and the house smells divine in the process!).  This recipe makes about 3 1/2 cups but it is easily doubled.  The sauce also freezes really well which makes meal preparation quick and easy on a busy evening.  I cooked the sun-dried tomato pork sausage, then sliced it into thin slices (about 1/8th inch thick) before tossing it in the sauce and serving it over the pasta.

This was a fun dish to create and even more fun to eat, particularly with the orange and black Halloween pasta!

Halloween Pasta Served with Roasted Marinara Sauce

 

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Roasted Marinara Sauce

By Barbara99 Published: October 30, 2012

  • Yield: 3 1/2 cups

A rich, thick, flavourful tomato sauce that is a great accompaniment to pasta or pizza

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cut vegetables into 1/2" - 1" pieces. Slice the parsnip slightly thinner. Place in a bowl and drizzle with olive oil, tossing to coat vegetables. Place on tin foil lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast for about 40 minutes until vegetables are slightly fork tender and edges of vegetables start to char slightly. Peel garlic. Transfer vegetables and garlic to stock pot and, with a potato masher, loosely break up the vegetable chunks.
  2. Add remainder of ingredients. Over medium-high heat, bring mixture to boil. Reduce heat and simmer over low heat for 45-50 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Remove from heat and discard bay leaf. Using an immersion blender, purée sauce to desired consistency. (Alternatively, let mixture cool and transfer to food processor to purée.)
  4. Toss with pasta (and meat, if using) or use as pizza sauce. Freezes well.

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A Visit to Matos Winery & Distillery in St. Catherines, Prince Edward Island

Matos Winery & Distillery, St. Catherines, Prince Edward Island

The farmers on PEI are busy with their various harvests these days and taking full advantage of the great weather we have been having.  I stopped by Matos Winery in St. Catherines, PEI, last Wednesday as they were picking the grapes.  I had visited the winery in early September and toured the vineyards but delayed posting the story until harvest time because I wanted to visit the winery when the grapes were being picked and processed.

When I first met Jim and Heather Matos on an early September Saturday afternoon, Jim had just finished the painstaking work of netting all the grapevines in an effort to keep the birds at bay.  Despite Jim’s best efforts and the addition of noise maker squawkers, the birds did pose a problem this fall as they figured out a way to still get at the grapes despite the netting.  This meant a loss of some of the grape crop.

Netting the Grapes To Protect Against the Birds

Matos is a new winery in its second year having opened for business on June 24, 2011.  The Matos’ bought the St. Catherines property near Cornwall and prepared the soil in 2006.  They then did their first vine planting in 2007 followed by three years of labour-intensive work that culminated in their first grape harvest in October, 2010.

I asked Heather what brought them to PEI to open their winery as the Island is not known as a wine-making region (we currently have only three wineries operating on the Island). She tells me they came to PEI on a holiday in 2004 and fell in love with the Island.  When they decided to open a winery, they looked at locations as far away as Europe and the United States but were still drawn back to PEI.  In fact, after hearing about the harsh, cold winters (often with a lot of snow) on the Island, Jim came to PEI for a visit in the dead of winter to see if the conditions would be conducive to grape-growing.  Finding them suitable, the couple settled on a property in St. Catherines that had a certain slope, angle, and close proximity to a waterway – all conditions Jim was looking for in a location for a vineyard.  Jim says grapes require good sandy soil and they do well in hot, dry summer conditions like we had in 2012.

Matos Vineyard, St. Catherines, PEI

The vineyard itself covers 11 acres and is home to 16,000 grapevines imported from France.  The species of grapevines are vitis vinifera which means they are not as hardy as hybrid vines.  Vinifera vines are more susceptible to disease and require more care but Jim maintains they produce a better quality of wine than hybrids.

Two varieties of grapes are grown in the vineyard – Chardonnay and Gamay.

Grapes in the Matos Winery Vineyard

From these grapes, Matos produces five kinds of wine – Chardonnay, Gamay-Noir, Rosé, Wildberry Gamay, and Strawberry Chardonnay.  The Matos tell me they produced approximately 18,000 bottles of wine last year.

Jim is no stranger to winemaking.  He comes from a long history of vintners.  His family had a vineyard and made wine in the Acores, Portugal.  After coming to Canada, the Matos ran a U-brew business importing wine-making supplies in Ontario for 20 years before deciding to start their own winery.

Walk with Jim through the precise, neat, and meticulously cared for rows of grapevines in the vineyard and it is easy to see and hear his passion for winemaking and dedication to high quality.  A perfectionist, he is more concerned about producing quality products versus quantity.  The Matos also have a keen eye for different products so much so that they are also distilling a couple of unique spirits, too.  Using the skins of the grapes left over from winemaking, Matos is producing Bagaço which is a Portuguese version of Italian Grappa, sometimes referred to as moonshine.  They are also producing Anisette, a licorice-flavoured liqueur that is a popular drink in France.

Bagaço and Anisette Distilled at Matos Winery and Distillery

On a beautiful warm October 17th, a small crew was assembled in the vineyard and busy hand-picking the clusters of grapes.

Harvesting the Grapes at Matos Winery, St. Catherines, PEI

Large blue bins of the grapes were seen throughout the vineyard before being gathered up by the tractor and trailer moving carefully amongst the rows of carefully-tended vines.

Grape Harvest at Matos Winery, St. Catherines, PEI

 

Harvesting the Grapes

 

Arriving at the Winery with a Load of Grapes for Processing

After transport to the winery, the grapes were put through the grape crusher destemmer, a machine that uses an auger to remove and discard the stems from the grapes then drops the fruit into the crusher where the grapes are crushed.

Destemming and Crushing the Grapes

Using a peristaltic pump, the crushed fruit is then pumped through a hose into a membrane bladder press which extracts the juice but doesn’t harm the seeds or break the skins of the grapes.

Membrane Bladder Press – Pressing out the Juice from the Grapes

The juice is then transported via hose into the large unoaked stainless steel fermentation tanks and the fermentation process starts with Jim controlling the temperature in the tanks and monitoring the sugar content and status and progress of the fermentation.

Stainless Steel Fermentation Tanks

Jim tells me the white wine will ferment for 14 days and the red for 7 days but the entire processing and filtering of his white wines take 4-5 months before they are ready for bottling and the red wines take about 6-8 months.

Processing the Grapes

Wine-making is a lengthy process that takes a lot of time, patience, labour, and attention to detail and that’s only after all the painstaking pampering and pruning that has gone into the growing and care of the grapevines and grapes.

Processing Grapes to Extract the Grape Juice

 

Bottles of Wine Ready for Shipping

Matos wines are fine quality products.  After only one year in production, Matos’ Gamay-Noir won the prestigious silver medal at the 2011 Canadian Wine Awards, chosen second from among 1117 entries.  Most recently, in October 2012, the Gamay-Noir won bronze at the 2012 Canadian Wine Awards, ranking third out of 1260 entries.  Matos Winery was competing with wineries from all across Canada, including the well-known Canadian wine-producing regions of Niagara, ON, and several in BC.  That’s not only impressive but a validation of the high quality product the winery is producing in its young days.

Matos’ Gamay-Noir Wine Wins Silver Medal at 2011 Canadian Wine Awards

The Matos wines were also recently featured at the “Savour Victoria” event which was part of the PEI Fall Flavours Culinary Festival (see my blog entry of October 4, 2012, on this event).

Matos’ Chardonnay is a very versatile wine that pairs well with chicken, seafood like PEI lobster, pastas with cream sauces, or vegetarian dishes.  The Gamay-Noir goes well with steak and tomato-based dishes, including pizza.  The Rosé is a lovely compliment to either turkey or chicken and the Wildberry pairs particularly well with dark chocolate.

Matos Chardonnay with Dinner

The Matos wines are competitively priced between $14.95 – $16.95 and are sold onsite in the winery’s gift shop, in Island liquor stores, and are served in many PEI restaurants.

Matos Winery Gift Shop and Taste-Testing Bar

Tours and wine-tasting are available at the winery which is located at 3156 West River Road, St. Catherines PE, C0A 1H0.  Cost is $5.00 per person.  In the summer months, the winery gift shop is open seven days a week.  During the fall months, the gift shop is open on Saturdays from 10am-5pm and Sundays 1pm-5pm (Oct – Dec).

For more information on Matos Wines, visit their website at http://matoswinery.com/ or call the winery at 1-902-675-WINE (9463).

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How To Make Mustard Pickles

Pickles
Mustard Pickles

Homemade Pickles

Mustard Pickles

Homemade Pickles
Mustard Pickles

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

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!  I hope everyone enjoyed this Canadian holiday today.

PEI Colored Leaves

Thanksgiving in Canada is the second Monday in October and is a time set aside in the calendar year to celebrate and gives thanks for the season’s harvest bounty.  Historical records indicate that the first Thanksgiving in Canada was in 1872 to celebrate the recovery of The Prince of Wales from a serious illness.  Thanksgiving became an official Canadian holiday on January 31, 1957, when the Parliament of Canada proclaimed:  “A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed – to be observed on the second Monday in October”.

While thanksgiving is officially on Monday, many Islanders have their Thanksgiving Dinner the day before, on Sunday.  The traditional Island Thanksgiving Dinner in our home focuses on roast turkey, dressing, and gravy accompanied by mashed potatoes, carrots, turnip, peas and, of course, cranberry sauce.  Pumpkin pie is also the most favoured of seasonal desserts.  While some chefs may vary the menu and composition of a turkey dinner somewhat, there is nothing, in my view, any better than the plain traditional dinner with all the “fixings” as we call them.  Pure comfort food!

There are so many things I am grateful for – family, health, employment, freedom and peace, and good food from the rich red soil on the beautiful Island on which I am fortunate enough to live.

 

My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Thanksgiving Day Menu

 

Soup 

Butternut Squash

with

Homemade Biscuits

 

Salad 

Fall Harvest Salad

with

Cranberry-Pear Balsamic Vinaigrette

 

Traditional Turkey Dinner

~ Roast turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed PEI potatoes, carrots, turnip, sweet peas, cranberry sauce ~

 

Dessert

  Pumpkin Pie

I hope you enjoy the following photographs of my traditional Prince Edward Island Thanksgiving Dinner.

Seasonal butternut squash soup, served with hot biscuits from the oven, is a wonderful start to any autumn meal!

Butternut Squash Soup

 

We have still been able to get some “greens” from the garden though this is the end of them for this season.  This simple salad was made with one-half pear, red onion rings, green grapes, dried cranberries, and pecans, then drizzled with a cranberry-pear balsamic vinaigrette.

Fall Harvest Salad with Cranberry-Pear Vinaigrette

Roast turkey dinner is one of my all-time favorite meals!

Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner

 

Traditional PEI Thanksgiving Dinner

A fine finale to a great meal – pumpkin pie!  I make my own pie crusts because I love making pastry.  The recipe I used for this pie filling was the one from E.D. Smith.  Just be sure to use pure pumpkin purée, not pumpkin pie filling, for this recipe.

Pumpkin Pie – A Traditional Favorite Thanksgiving Dinner Dessert

 

Our Island farmers are busy on the land these days, harvesting potatoes, our primary agricultural crop.  The photograph of potato digging was taken in Westmoreland, the one of the cows in Freetown, and the turkeys (found wandering along the roadside) in Shamrock, all on October 6th.  (Yes, the soil really is that red in PEI!)

Farming on PEI

 

Pumpkins Abound at Thanksgiving Time on PEI

 

Sunflowers

 

Fall Pumpkins, Gourds, and Corn

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“Savour Victoria” – A Fitting Signature Event for PEI’s Fall Flavours Culinary Festival 2012

While the heavens opened and poured rain on Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI, on Saturday, September 29th, it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm that was evident at “Savour Victoria” or the great local food that diners enjoyed throughout the evening.  As Richard LaGrange of the Orient Hotel says, “Victoria hospitality really can make up for a little rain” (well, okay, it really was a LOT of rain!).

The Victoria Wharf on a Rainy and Windy September 29, 2012

This was the last signature event of “Fall Flavours”, PEI’s annual Culinary Festival.  The small seaside village of Victoria on the Island’s south shore proved to be an ideal venue for the event.  Pam Beck, Tourism Development Manager for Central Coastal Tourism Partnership, says Victoria was chosen because of its special qualities and quaintness.  In the summer, Victoria swells with tourists who leisurely stroll around the tiny village of less than 200 year-round inhabitants, visiting local shops and restaurants and watching the lobster fishing boats unloading their day’s catch.  Pam says organizers wanted to make the event “a celebration of Victoria, our Island, and all its beauty and bounty”.  I’d say mission accomplished on that front!

The village is small and neatly laid out in a square shape.  Everything is within easy walking distance and that is a good thing given the inclement weather and the fact that there were five venues for diners to visit during the evening – four for appetizers and drinks and one for dinner.  Victoria does not have any really large restaurants and the ones it does have only operate seasonally.  Some of the Fall Flavours events elsewhere on the Island have used big tents on location but organizers of “Savour Victoria” devised a plan that would use and promote establishments that already exist so that, when people come back to Victoria in the future, the venues will still be there for them to return to.

“Savour Victoria” was produced by Central Coastal Tourism Partnership, a new (2011) organization dedicated to promoting tourism development in the central part of the Island.  Because “Savour Victoria” was classed as a signature event, it meant a celebrity chef was part of the activities.  Bob Blumer, cookbook author (several times over) and creator and host of his own TV shows on the Food Network “Glutton for Punishment”, “Surreal Gourmet”, and “World’s Weirdest Restaurants”, spent the weekend in Victoria overseeing and participating in the Savour Victoria event.  Bob was actively engaged in the preparations for the dinner which featured as much locally produced food as possible and was presented in unique and creative ways that Bob is known for.

Here is how the evening worked.  Everyone first checked in at the Victoria Playhouse where they picked up a gift bag that contained an engraved “Savour Victoria” souvenir wine glass and a map of the Village.  From there, people headed out, donned in raincoats and carrying umbrellas, to the different venues that were serving appetizers and pre-dinner drinks.

“Savour Victoria” in Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI – 29 September 2012

Four venues opened for the “Wandering Appetizers with Wine & Beer Tastings” portion of the evening which began at 6:00pm.  These included Coach House Antiques, By-The-Sea Kayaking, Red Sand Jewelry, and Island Chocolates. 

Coach House Antiques, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI – Appetizers: Smoked Ham from Island Taylored Meats & COWS Creamery Cheese

 

By-The-Sea Kayaking, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI. Appetizers – Raspberry Point Oysters served with Matos Winery’s “Bagaço”, Portuguese Moonshine.

 

Red Sand Jewelry, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI. Appetizer – Cajun-seared Atlantic Scallops, Carmelized Onions and Cream Cheese on Baguette

 

Island Chocolates, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI. Appetizer – Roasted Sweet Peppers on Chocolate Crostini with Goat Cheese and a Dusting of Cocoa

Four local eating establishments then opened to serve a sit-down dinner at 7:30pm.  These were the Victoria Village Inn, Landmark Café, Lobster Barn Pub & Eatery, and the Orient Hotel.  When diners purchased their ticket, they selected which of the four venues they wished to go to for the sit-down dinner.

Victoria Village Inn, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI

 

Landmark Cafe, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI

 

Lobster Barn Pub and Eatery, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI

 

Orient Hotel, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI

Each of the restaurants served exactly the same meal.  Local chefs from the restaurants prepared the meal and were assisted by chef support from the Culinary Institute of Canada, Charlottetown, PEI.  The featured wines of the evening were all local and came from nearby Matos Winery in St. Catherine’s, PEI.   Just take a look at this great menu that was collaboratively chosen by the local chefs and Bob Blumer:

Wandering Appetizers with Wine & Beer Tastings

Coach House Antiques:
Smoked Ham from Island Taylored Meats & COWS Creamery Cheese.
PEI Brewing Company Beer Tastings.

By-the-sea Kayaking:
Raspberry Point Oysters.
Matos Vineyards Wine Tastings.

Red Sand Jewelry:
Cajun-seared Atlantic Scallops, Carmelized Onions & Cream Cheese on Baguette
Matos Vineyards Wine Tastings.

Island Chocolates:
Roasted sweet peppers on chocolate crostini with goat cheese and a dusting of cocoa .
Matos Vineyards Wine Tastings.

Seated Dining Menu

Course 1:  Kim Dormaar’s Medallion Smoked Salmon
Course 2 – Bob Blumer’s Fire-roasted Corn Chowder with sweet corn and garlic from nearby fields, local cream, and Island Taylored Meats double-smoked bacon.  Fresh-baked bread.

Matos Vineyards wine pairing.

Course 3 – Bob Blumer’s Lobster-Filled Cupcake topped with creamy, buttery superior organic potatoes, seasoned with fresh local herbs and served with a medley of greens from Just a Little Farm on the Appin Rd, and dressed with balsamic and black truffle oil vinaigrette.
Matos Vineyard wine pairing.

Course 4 – Panna cotta made with white and dark chocolate from Island Chocolates, served with an almond lace cookie.
Matos Vineyard wine pairing.

After sampling the appetizers, it was off to the venue of choice for the sit-down dinner.  I dined at the Orient Hotel.  The Hotel does not operate a restaurant but does open a tea room in the summer months.  In fact, the Orient Hotel had closed its tearoom doors for the season and re-opened especially for this event.  Just look how elegantly this cozy dining room was dressed!  

Orient Hotel Dining Room, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI

 

“Savour Victoria” Course 1: Kim Dormaar’s Medallion Smoked Salmon

 

“Savour Victoria” Course 2: Bob Blumer’s Fire-roasted Corn Chowder

 

“Savour Victoria” Course 3: Bob Blumer’s Savory Lobster-Filled Cupcake topped with creamy, buttery Superior Organic Potatoes

 

“Savour Victoria” Course 4: Panna cotta made with white and dark chocolate from Island Chocolates, served with an Almond Lace Cookie

Throughout the evening, Bob circulated amongst the venues, chatting with patrons, and signing copies of his cookbook.  He says he hasn’t been on the Island since a memorable bike trip in his teens so he jumped at the opportunity to come back.  Says Bob, “During my too-short stay, I fell in love with Victoria-by-the-Sea, and with all of the incredible/eccentric/gregarious people who live there.  Dinner was a real community effort (with some imported talent from Charlottetown) – and the community really rocked it.”  Asked what the most memorable thing is that he will take away from his Island experience, Bob tells me, “the camaraderie, the lobster and, of course, the incredible beauty of the land.”  Great endorsement, Bob!

Celebrity Chef Bob Blumer at “Savour Victoria”, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI (Love the inscription he wrote on the cookbook!)

Pam Beck says organizers aimed for a reasonably-priced event ($85/pp) for sampling four appetizers, drinks, a four-course sit-down dinner, and wine.  The event was sold out – all 150 tickets — and Pam says it was about 50/50 split between Islanders and tourists. 

This was a very enjoyable evening and it really makes me appreciate the wonderful foods we produce right here on PEI.  I asked Richard LaGrange what, from the perspective of a host restaurant, he thought made the event so successful – it was, after all, a huge undertaking to carry out this kind of event using eight small venues, none of which have large kitchens.  Richard says, in his view, the event’s success was due to the team effort that went into it, the entire community coming together, and the attitude and professionalism shown by members of the Culinary Institute of Canada.  Richard says the most memorable aspect of the “Savour Victoria” experience for him was watching the chefs and the other food staff working together so seamlessly and guiding the rest toward a common goal.

I think this event may be a catalyst for Victoria to consider hosting similar events in the future.  They proved they can do it!  Richard LaGrange sums it up best when he says:  I would hope that the Islanders who attended and who hadn’t been to our village for a while will have been reminded of all the reasons people flock to Victoria, and that those who were visiting us for the first time had their appetites whetted and will be back for seconds.”  Hmmmm, “seconds” are good – yes, I’ll have another one of those yummy, savory lobster cupcakes, please!

 

Farm Day in the City 2012

Sunday, September 30, 2012, dawned dull and rainy and the rain only got worse as the day wore on.  However, that didn’t stop hardy Islanders from making their way to downtown Charlottetown to visit the annual “Farm Day in the City”.
Local farmers brought their bountiful produce into the City and joined crafters, artists, and musicians from across the province in PEI’s largest outdoor market.   For the Foodie, this was a mecca because it provided the opportunity to buy produce and flowers fresh picked from Island farms.

Here are some photographs from this year’s Farm Day in the City, part of the Fall Flavours Culinary Festival.

Farm Day in the City 2012, Charlottetown, PEI

 

Farm Day in the City 2012, Charlottetown, PEI

 

Farm Day in the City 2012, Charlottetown, PEI

 

Farm Day in the City 2012, Charlottetown, PEI

 

 

Farm Day in the City 2012, Charlottetown, PEI

 

Farm Day in the City 2012, Charlottetown, PEI

September 30th was also the “Run for the Cure” event in the City so this vendor dressed his scarecrow in the signature pink.

Farm Day in the City 2012, Charlottetown, PEI

 

Farm Day in the City 2012, Charlottetown, PEI

Love the color of these plum tomatoes and the way the rain glistened on them.  They are now in the form of homemade tomato soup!

Fresh Plum Tomatoes at Farm Day in the City 2012, Charlottetown, PEI

 

Farm Day in the City 2012, Charlottetown, PEI

 

Fresh PEI Cranberries at Farm Day in the City 2012, Charlottetown, PEI

There were even some llamas, goats, and miniature ponies on hand to delight crowds, too!

The llamas came to town for Farm Day in the City 2012, Charlottetown, PEI

Local musicians entertained shoppers throughout the day.

Local musicians entertained shoppers throughout the day at Farm Day in the City 2012, Charlottetown, PEI

 

Wine Tasting from Rossignol Winery at Farm Day in the City 2012, Charlottetown, PEI

Love these creative and colorful scarecrows that, no doubt, kept the notorious crows of Charlottetown away from the market!

Relaxing scarecrow taking a break from shopping at Farm Day in the City 2012, Charlottetown, PEI

 

Scarecrow at Farm Day in the City 2012, Charlottetown, PEI

 

Scarecrow at Farm Day in the City 2012, Charlottetown, PEI

Local artisans also displayed and sold their crafts at the market, as well.

Glass craft at Farm Day in the City 2012, Charlottetown, PEI

 

Flower arrangements made onsite at Farm Day in the City 2012, Charlottetown, PEI

 

Floral arrangements of local PEI flowers for sale at Farm Day in the City 2012, Charlottetown, PEI

 

Seasonal floral arrangements at Farm Day in the City 2012, Charlottetown, PEI

Prince Edward Island International Shellfish Festival 2012

I love how PEI is embracing its foods from its land and the sea that surrounds it!  The Island has long been known for its great seafood and what better way to celebrate it than by hosting a large Shellfish Festival!  The best way I can describe this annual PEI event is that it is one gigantic Island kitchen party with lots of local musical entertainment and great seafood – always a winning combo!

Prince Edward Island International Shellfish Festival

Now in its 16th year, the Prince Edward Island International Shellfish Festival has grown substantially from its beginnings drawing, according to organizers, a crowd of over 8000 this year at its new venue at the Charlottetown Events Grounds near the City’s waterfront.  From September 13-16, attendees were treated to everything seafood in this signature event of the Island’s “Fall Flavours” Culinary Festival.  Visitors to the Festival came from afar.  In fact, organizers say over 50% of attendees were tourists to the Island coming mostly from the Maritimes, Ontario and the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.  This attests to the popularity this event enjoys.

Jennifer Caseley, Marketing and Sponsorship Manager for the Prince Edward Island International Shellfish Festival, tells me the event began in 1996 by Liam Dolan, a Charlottetown restaurateur, as a means to extend the PEI tourism season.  Up until that point, tourism all but stopped after Labour Day and tourist operators basically closed shop.

Asked what the main objectives of the PEI Shellfish Festival are, Jennifer says there are five:  1) To promote PEI’s high quality shellfish; 2) to generate off-Island visitors; 3) to increase the profile of PEI shellfish worldwide; 4) to create new export opportunities; and 5) to increase consumer trial and consumption. 

This year’s schedule of events was jam-packed.  The weekend started with a “Feast and Frolic” gala dinner hosted by Chefs Michael Smith and Mark McEwan.  Over the next three days, there were lots of cooking demonstrations featuring PEI shellfish and agricultural products and hosted by headliner celebrity chefs.  These included two of the Island’s finest:  Chef Michael Smith, author of six cookbooks and TV chef personality with his own show “Chef Michael’s Kitchen” on the Food Network, and Gordon Bailey, owner of the trendy and upscale Lot 30 restaurant in downtown Charlottetown and judge on the TV show “Cake Walk Wedding Cake Edition”. 

Cooking Demonstration with Chef Michael Smith, Prince Edward Island International Shellfish Festival, September 2012

Inside the super large white tent, there were lots of food vendors set up selling local fare and, of course, primarily featuring seafood.  Oyster shuckers were kept busy keeping up with demand and, yes, they even had an oyster shucking championship as one of the many events of the Festival!  One of the busiest booths had to be where Chef Michael Smith was signing his new cookbook, a real hot item over the 4-day festival!

Oyster Shucking at the Prince Edward Island International Shellfish Festival

Outside the tent, the Tie One On Competition provided entertainment for onlookers as teams of two competed in typing buoys and hanging mussel socks over the side of an actual mussel farming boat brought onsite to simulate mussel farming.

Tie One On Competition at the Prince Edward Island International Shellfish Festival

Offsite, at the Red Shores Racetrack & Casino, a private function featured a meet-and-greet event on Saturday afternoon with Chef Michael Smith.  I was fortunate enough to be invited to this event where approximately 30 lucky people got to personally meet and speak with Chef Michael who, to the delight of those attending, took his time and unhurriedly talked with people, answered questions, posed for photographs, and signed yet more copies of his new cookbook. 

Meet and Greet Chef Michael Smith at the Prince Edward Island International Shellfish Festival

It was at this event that I met two ladies vacationing from British Columbia.  They did not come to the Island specifically for the Festival but they were certainly enjoying both the Shellfish Festival and several of the other Fall Flavours events!

One of the perennial favourite highlights of the Shellfish Festival was the chef competition for the best seafood chowder championships.  In fact, there were two championships:  1) PEI Potato Seafood Chowder Championship, and 2) International Seafood Chowder Championship.  Below are some photos from Heat 2 of the PEI Potato Seafood Chowder competition. 

PEI Potato Seafood Chowder Championship – Heat 2

 

Pots of PEI Potato Seafood Chowder Ready for Competition

 

Chef Norm and Annie from Annie’s Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI, competing in the PEI Potato Seafood Chowder Championship

How fabulous and appetizing do these chowders look!

Bowls of Chowder from Heat 2 of the PEI Potato Seafood Chowder Championship

 

Bowls of Seafood Chowder from Heat 2 of the PEI Potato Seafood Chowder Championship

An event of this magnitude takes a phenomenal amount of planning and requires a large team of volunteers to keep the event moving smoothly.   Jennifer tells me that, over the weekend, 80 volunteers were on board.

From humble beginnings in 1996, this event has definitely evolved into a signature culinary event that highlights both local and visiting chefs and compliments the food with great local entertainment.  This means visitors not only get to sample our great Island seafood but they also get to experience our PEI culture at the same time.  What a great blend!   The Shellfish Festival is the anchor event of Fall Flavours and certainly the biggest draw for tourism in the fall.   As Jennifer says, “The event just keeps getting better.  This year was the biggest and best yet with a 40% increase in visitation over 2011.  As PEI’s largest culinary event, it creates value and awareness for our superior quality shellfish as we continue to put PEI shellfish on the worldwide map”.

If you are a foodie considering a visit to PEI, there is no better time than September to visit our Island.  There are many culinary events that comprise the Fall Flavours Culinary Festival and planning a visit to coincide with the Prince Edward Island Shellfish Festival in the middle of September would make PEI a great holiday destination.  For more information on this event, visit the Festival’s website at http://peishellfish.com/ where you will see they are already counting down the days until the 2013 Shellfish Festival begins!

Charlottetown, PEI – Home of the Prince Edward Island International Shellfish Festival

Hup, One, Two, Three, Four — It’s Off to Culinary Boot Camp at the Culinary Institute of Canada

On my last day of summer vacation, I went to boot camp – culinary boot camp, that is —  at the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown, PEI.  Sixteen people formed the group for the full day “Island Flavours” boot camp.  We were a mixed group that came from PEI, Halifax, NS, Montreal, QC, and Waterloo, ON.  It was a packed day of activity (and work!) but it was fun!

Now in their 4th year of operation, the boot camps (which started as a pilot project), are offered from May to October.  Some are one-half day events while others are full day camps.  A variety of bootcamps are offered that include half-day events such as Healthy Eating 101 and Chocolate and Wine.  Full day boot camps include Lobster 101, Local Flavours, Seafood 101, Thrills on the Grill, and Seasonal Desserts.  Half day camps start at $129 + GST/per person and full days range from $199 to $269 + GST/per person.

Asked why the Culinary Institute, a teaching school for training professional chefs, started the seasonal culinary boot camps, Chef Instructor Jeff McCourt who teaches most of the camps, says the initiative began with “the onset of culinary tourism and, being a school already, they [the Culinary Institute) are fulfilling a short-term education component.”  Culinary tourism is one of the latest vacation trends.  Whether it is simply choosing interesting, unique, and memorable regional dining options where you are vacationing, attending foodie events (like the PEI Shellfish Festival happening in Charlottetown this weekend, for example) or food conferences, or participating in culinary boot camps at acclaimed cooking schools like the Culinary Institute of Canada, including food-related activities on holidays is a great way to sample local cuisine, try new food products, meet people who share culinary interests, and/or learn new cooking methods and techniques.

Lindsay Arsenault, Boot Camp Coordinator, says one of their most popular culinary boot camps is the Kids Camp, a 4-day summer camp where youth from ages 7-17 are taught basic life skills about food – where food comes from and how to prepare basic meals and they even move on to more advanced food preparation.  In this camp, the youth also get to spend a day on a farm, plant a row of potatoes, pick seasonal berries, and then return to the kitchen to learn how to make jam. The camp concludes with the youth preparing a buffet for their parents.  Since its inception, the Kids Camp has become so popular that it is not uncommon for the Institute to have waiting lists for these camps.  Says 10-year old Michael MacEwen, of Tea Hill, PEI, who is a “seasoned three-year veteran” of the Kids Camp, “I go to the camp every year because it’s fun, you learn how to cook “really good food” from “real” chefs, you get a chef’s outfit, and they are happy to adjust the recipes for me to be gluten-free. I go back every year because there is always something new to learn.”

Lindsay tells me the boot camps are gaining a positive reputation as shore excursions for cruise passengers visiting the port of Charlottetown.   Currently, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas cruise lines have started offering the Boot Camps as shore excursions for passengers.  The Culinary Institute has customized their boot camps to accommodate cruise ship visits and time lines.  This is a wonderful opportunity for those passengers to taste authentic Island food, experience the Culinary Institute and cooking in a professional atmosphere, and go home with great Island recipes as a souvenir of their PEI port visit.  As someone who is a frequent cruiser and a foodie, I know this is one shore excursion that would match my tastes!  I also learned, from Lindsay, that some organizations have taken their employees to the Culinary Institute and used the boot camps as team building events.  Now, that’s an innovative (and fun) way to bring work teams together!

Attending culinary boot camp is also an opportunity to explore future career options.  At the boot camp I attended, a dad from Montreal brought his Grade 11 daughter to the Island specifically to attend a couple of boot camps as she is planning a career as a chef.  This opportunity allowed her to experience a large industrial-sized teaching kitchen, work alongside a professional chef, and to decide if this is the cooking school she might attend full time when she finishes high school.  The day before this boot camp, Alison and her dad, Stephen, spent a day with the chef.  This is essentially a customized day of personalized attention where the participant(s) work with the chef on a particular subject of their choosing – in Alison and Stephen’s case, they chose to focus on preparing seafood.  Alison’s comments after her culinary experience were very positive and there was no question that she thoroughly enjoyed it.

The boot camps can accommodate a maximum of 16 participants and Lindsay tells me that, on average, their boot camps are comprised of 50/50 Islanders and tourists.  On the day I attended, we had a number of family groups participating – Alison and her Dad, Stephen, from Montreal, the six-member Simmons/Tummon family from Waterloo, ON, who were back for their second boot camp in as many years, and a mom (Debbie) and her son (Anthony) from Charlottetown.  Debbie told me this boot camp was her Christmas gift to her son and she decided to join him for the day in what was her sixth boot camp in three years.  Asked why she had enrolled in six boot camps, Debbie said, “it allows me to try different things.  I probably wouldn’t have made the food we made in the camp if I found them in a recipe book but, after participating in the culinary boot camps, I am more inclined to be more venturesome in cooking.”  The Simmons/Tummon family – mom, dad, two sons and two daughters aged 15-22, told me their attendance was a Christmas gift from an Island relative (neat idea).  Dad, Shawn, told me they enjoy the camps – “the girls like to cook and the boys like doing different things”.  I thought it was fabulous to see these families spending quality time together, enjoying themselves, and learning different cooking techniques.  Two other women drove from Halifax, NS, specifically to take this boot camp as an extended weekend get-away.

So, now I’m going to share with you my impressions after attending the full day offering of “Local Flavours”, a new boot camp for 2012.  For those of you regularly following my blog, you’ll figure my choice of “Local Flavours” was an obvious one given my blog focuses primarily on Island food products.

The focus of the “Island Flavors” boot camp is on cooking with ingredients that come from the land as well as the waters around PEI.  After dividing the 16 participants into four groups and assigning each group their recipes, the day started out with participants boarding a small tour bus, along with Chef Instructor Jeff McCourt, to go on a shopping expedition for ingredients for the recipes to be made later in the day.

The Culinary Institute of Canada, Charlottetown, PEI

Chef McCourt handed each group $15 to buy fresh produce to enhance the recipes (note the main ingredients – fish, meat, cream, butter, etc., were all provided by the Culinary Institute and included in the boot camp fee).   Heading along historic Water Street and passing over the Hillsborough Bridge to Stratford, our first stop took us to Balderston’s Farm Market.

Balderston’s Farm Market, Stratford, PEI

Participants deliberated over what fresh produce to buy and, once selections were made, everyone was back on the bus and on the way back across the Bridge to the Riverview Country Market which sells both fresh produce and meats.  More purchases were made.

Riverview Country Market, Charlottetown, PEI

The last stop was at the Liquid Gold Tasting Bar and All Things Olive shop on lower Queen Street where everyone enjoyed tasting the many different kinds of imported quality olive oils and balsamic vinegars.  Yes, more purchases!

Liquid Gold Tasting Bar and All Things Olive, Charlottetown, PEI

Back at the Culinary Institute, participants were outfitted in their official Culinary Boot Camp chef jackets and hats and then it was downstairs to the large kitchen facility.  Each group assembled and started making their assigned recipes.

Getting Outfitted with Chef Jackets

Participating in this kind of culinary activity gives participants the opportunity to see and work inside a huge, industrial-sized kitchen.  And, I think some of my Paderno stock pots and pans are huge – un-huh – the Culinary Institute has pots so large that they are on floor stands – they make my pots look like little measuring cups!  There was one frying pan that I declare was at least three times the size of my largest one!  I wondered if I’d need a hydraulic lift to move it!

The Teaching Kitchen at the Culinary Institute of Canada, Charlottetown, PEI

The day was long but passed by very quickly because it was so busy.  Each group was intent on their work.  This is very much a hands-on culinary event.  Don’t expect to sit back, relax, and be entertained by watching someone demonstrate how something is done.  Ah, no.  You work in these boot camps!  It’s learning by doing.  That said, there were times throughout the day that Chef McCourt did gather all participants around for specific demonstrations – for example, he showed how to butcher a 30-pound halibut and how filleting is done and steaks cut.  Both Chef McCourt and his assistant, Colleen Neilly, were very accommodating and answered any questions participants had and were very willing to show participants how to do things.

Chef Jeff McCourt Demonstrates How to Butcher a Halibut and Cut it into Steaks and Fillets

The basic recipes were provided but participants had the creative flexibility as to how they wanted to “dress them up”.  For example, our group opted to prepare the halibut with a Cajun blackened spice rub and plate it over grilled yellow tomatoes and red peppers (bought at Balderston’s earlier in the morning), served alongside herb-roasted beets and chopped Chorizo sausage (purchased at Riverview Country Market).  The recipes our group made were Potato and Lobster Cakes, Broiled Oysters (yes, I had my first oyster – but not raw!), Pan-fried Halibut, and Vienna Truffle Tortes (that we dressed with blueberries from Balderston’s).

Potato and Lobster Cakes – One of the Recipes Made During “Local Flavours” Culinary Boot Camp

I found it particularly interesting to visit the other groups around the kitchen and to watch how they chose to prepare their assigned dishes.  At the end of the day, we had to plate and present our dishes and spread them out altogether in buffet style.  It was simply astonishing and amazing to see the superb quality of the finished products that looked (and tasted) so professionally prepared.

Vienna Truffle Tortes with Fresh PEI Wild Blueberries
Broiled Oysters with Mignonette – One of the Recipes Participants Make During the “Local Flavours” Boot Camp at The Culinary Institute of Canada

Then, it was time to sample the fruits of our labour.  After filling our plates, it was upstairs to the Lucy Maud Dining Room to enjoy our meal in style.  The Lucy Maud Dining Room is the Culinary Institute’s teaching restaurant and it has one of the most commanding water views as it is situated just at the entrance to the Charlottetown Harbour.

This was simply a fabulous day and experience.  For the foodie and at-home chef, this is a rare opportunity to work alongside a professional chef in a large, fully-equipped kitchen (yes, their walk-in refrigerators are as large as my walk-in clothes closet!) and learn food preparation techniques from the professionals.  At the end of the boot camp, participants walk away with a monogrammed boot camp chef’s jacket to keep, a booklet of recipes that were prepared during the day, great memories of a busy yet fun day, and inspiration and motivation to try new ways of preparing ordinary local foods.

A Sampling of Dishes Made During “Local Flavours” Culinary Boot Camp

So, whether it’s a treat for yourself, a gift for those hard-to-buy-for folks who happen to be foodies (I’m thinking what a great wedding present one of these camps would be for newlyweds), an innovative team-building activity for your work group, or an activity to do with a group of friends or family members, a one-half or full day at the Culinary Institute’s boot camps is a great food activity and a sure way to have a memorable time.  Oh, and the extraordinary buffet meal as the finale is pretty darn good, too!

Wonderful Dishes Made with Fresh PEI Products During “Local Flavours” Culinary Boot Camp

Still can’t get over the fact that we accomplished all this in one day!

The Finale Buffet at the end of the day at the “Local Flavours” Culinary Boot Camp

What a feast!

 

“Local Flavours” Finale Buffet – Culinary Boot Camp

 

And, it all tasted so incredibly good!

“The Fruits of the Labour” – Buffet at the conclusion of the “Local Flavours” Boot Camp at the Culinary Institute of Canada

For more information about the Culinary Institute of Canada’s boot camps, visit their website at https://www.hollandcollege.com/bootcamps/bootcamps/culinary/full-day-camps.

To whet your appetite, below is a sample of the kind of recipes participants experience cooking in one of these boot camps – this one from the “Local Flavours” boot camp.  Shared here, with the kind permission of the Culinary Institute of Canada’s Boot Camps, is the recipe for Chef Jeff’s Seafood Chowder.  This is a dandy chowder that has won awards at the PEI Shellfish Festival (and Lindsay tells me, more than once it has won!).  This makes a very large pot of chowder but the recipe is easily halved or quartered as I did when I made it at home.  The wonderful thing about seafood chowder is that it can be served as an appetizer in a smaller portion or, with a larger serving, as a main meal because most chowders are quite filling – and this one certainly is!  The other great thing about seafood chowder is that, so long as you make up your quantity, you can use any selection of seafood you like and leave out any you do not care for.  When I made the recipe at home, I didn’t have any Vermouth so I substituted Chardonnay which worked out fine.  The other thing I would caution is to start “gently” with the Tabasco Sauce using only a few drops of it, then taste it and add more (if necessary) to your liking as, using too much of this hot sauce can quickly spoil a chowder beyond repair.

Jeff’s PEI Seafood Chowder

Jeff's PEI Seafood Chowder

By Barbara99 Published: September 16, 2012

  • Yield: 12 Servings
  • Prep: 30-45 mins
  • Cook: 30-45 mins
  • Ready In: 60 mins

A smooth, creamy,and tasty seafood chowder filled with a variety of seafood.

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. In a hot pot, add the butter and onions. Sweat mixture until translucent. Add garlic and continue to saute until golden brown.
  2. Add the potato, Vermouth, milk, and cream. Cook over medium heat, careful not to scorch the bottom, for approximately 20 minutes until the potato is cooked.
  3. Puree the chowder base in a blender and season with salt and pepper. Return mixture to pot.
  4. Use desired seafood and retain all juice from its cooking process. Add to the chowder base.
  5. Add the diced, cooked potato for texture and season again. Serve and garnish with chopped chives.

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My Favorite PEI Seafood Chowder – 2012

Seafood Chowder

So, I’m ready for the big reveal of my favourite seafood chowder on PEI.  Last Summer (2011), I went on the hunt for the best fish and chips on PEI and there was no shortage of good choices.  This summer, I was hunting down a great seafood chowder that would become my 2012 favourite and, once again, there were lots to choose from.  Thank goodness most restaurants had the option of ordering a “cup” of chowder as opposed to a “bowl” as my waistline would have severely shown the results of my summer 2012 food challenge!

At the outset, I want to put forth some caveats and disclosures.  First, I am not a professionally trained chef or food judge.  My comments, impressions, and opinions are strictly my own; others may differ with the criteria I used to determine my favourite chowder and with my subsequent conclusions, or they may have different expectations that mine, and that’s perfectly fine.  Second, I am not affiliated with, nor have any ownership in, any of the eating establishments where I sampled chowder; therefore, I have no bias for or against any particular restaurant’s chowder.  Third, I did not try the chowder at every single restaurant on PEI – there are dozens and dozens of restaurants on the Island and, while I like seafood chowder, seriously, there is a limit to how many I could reasonably sample!  Fourth, I suspect most restaurants did not even know I was on a mission to find the best seafood chowder – I was simply a paying customer to them so there was no special treatment or effort made for my benefit – their chowders were as they were on the day I chose to sample them.  At the end of the day, the chowder I chose was the one I personally liked the best and felt all-round met my criteria and expectations of a great seafood chowder.  Everyone’s tastes are different and what suits one person’s taste buds may not appeal to someone else.  Also, if tried on another day with a different chef in the kitchen, there is no guarantee the chowder would be the same as on the day I conducted my sampling.

So, how did I choose the restaurants whose chowders I sampled?  Well, some restaurants I already knew from personal experience were venues that served good food in general so I suspected their seafood chowder would likely be good, as well.  I also invited, through Twitter, Facebook, my blog, and through word of mouth, people to put forth recommendations of restaurants they felt served good chowder.  I also tried to make sure I sampled chowders from different locations all across the province.

What was I looking for in a good chowder?  Let’s start with the chowder base.  First, it had to be cream-based, not brothy. Second, the consistency of the base was important.  This is purely a personal preference to individual palette but, if it is too thick, I find it is like eating a casserole; if it is too thin, then it’s a broth, not a chowder as the word “chowder” signifies some degree of a thickened consistency.  Finding just the right consistency is a challenge, no doubt about it.  Third, I was looking for a chowder that did not taste “pasty” or “starchy” – signs of too much potato or flour content.  Some chowders sampled simply had too much “heat” – i.e., way too much Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce and too many spices of one sort or another.  To suit my taste, nothing should be added to the chowder that masks, downplays, or overrides the “star of the show” – the seafood itself.  In my view, the chowder needs to be lightly and gently seasoned and flavoured to “enhance” the taste; however, there is a definite line between flavourful and spicy.  A hallmark of a good chowder, in my opinion, is that it should have a smooth, gentle taste that does not “burn the whole way down” or leave a “bite” or distasteful aftertaste on the tongue.

The second criterion was ingredient content – I wanted to see evidence of a variety of seafood.  It sounds obvious but you’d be surprised how much “filler” some chowders can have.  By that, I mean too much potato or too many other vegetables like celery or carrots and not much evidence of seafood or, alternatively, the only seafood you could detect would be some kind of white fish and no lobster, scallops, mussels, etc.  The other thing I looked at was the size of each ingredient in the chowder.  If an ingredient does not fit on a soup spoon then, in my opinion it does not belong in the chowder.  One chowder I sampled had 3-inch junks of uncooked celery and ½-inch semi-raw carrot slices while another had potatoes, skins on, cut in [large] quarters.  Another chowder, while otherwise tasty, had an ingredient I could not identify but it was a very large chunk (apx. 2” – 21/2”) of something that was very tough.  In that instance, I asked the waitress to return it to the kitchen to have it identified.  She returned saying the kitchen crew didn’t know but thought maybe it was a bar clam or quahog.  Whatever it was, it did not belong in the chowder because of the size and because of the fact it could not be chewed.  The fact that the kitchen staff couldn’t identify it raises a whole series of other questions!  Just like the vegetables, the seafood ingredients need to be of a size that they fit on a soup spoon, too.  That said, they do need to be sized so that they are not minced up and disguised yet not so large that you would really need to cut them with a knife to be able to eat them properly.  In other words, I want to see a whole scallop or a piece of lobster large enough to know it’s lobster meat.  Finally, the color of the ingredients – discoloured chunks of celery, carrot and other veggies are simply not appetizing and detract from the chowder – all ingredients need to be super-fresh.

Regardless what we might say, our eyes do some of the ‘tasting’ too – in my view, a good chowder should be a white or slightly off-white, rich creamy color.  If it is pink, orange, or some other color, that’s a sign it has been overdone with spice – while it may have seafood in it and be some kind of “stew”, in my books, it is not a traditional Canadian East Coast seafood chowder.

I also considered the temperature at which the chowder was served.  It should be ready-to-eat when it reaches the table – not blistering hot (suggestive it has been boiled) but neither luke-warm, bordering on cool.  I did sample one that while I could tell it was tasty, it was barely luke-warm.

While of less importance than the foregoing criteria, I did take note of the effort the restaurants put into presentation and what they served with the chowder.  For example, those that garnished the chowder with a sprinkle of fresh parsley or paprika showed they cared enough about the product they were setting in front of the customer to dress it up a bit.  Most served a biscuit or roll with the chowder and some presented the cup or bowl on a plate with a paper doily between the two – again, good effort on the extra attention to presentation.

Price is always a ‘touchy’ and subjective issue.  When I started out on this challenge, I placed no specific limitation on how much I would pay for a cup or bowl of chowder.  However, my common sense soon came into play.  I live in a province where there is an abundance of fresh seafood so there are no transportation or import costs and seafood is in season on PEI in the Summer.  There were a couple of restaurants whose menus I looked at but their seafood chowder listed at $16. and above so I didn’t even try them because, well, as one friend says, the restaurant’s menu didn’t list any endangered species in the chowder that would rationale those prices!  I found those prices a bit rich for my wallet so passed them by because, quite frankly, there were tons of other seafood chowders more reasonably priced to sample!  The chowders I sampled ranged from $3.95/cup to $9.00/cup. The large bowl-sized servings were generally $2 – $5 more.  I learned a more expensive chowder is no guarantee it is any better tasting than a more moderately priced one.  In fact, I often found that the lower priced chowders I tried were far more tasty than the higher priced ones (and, yes, they included all sorts of seafood like lobster, scallops, mussels, shrimp, salmon, and so forth, too).

Finally, I made a real effort to try chowders in different parts of the Island.  I sampled chowders from Souris in the Eastern part of the Island to North Cape, the most westerly tip of PEI.  I tasted chowders from the North Shore to the South side of PEI because there are as many chowder recipes on the Island as there are cooks and chefs cooking them.  In total, I tried nine (9) different chowders over the summer.  There were five (5) that, really, they were neck and neck vying to be my favourite.  While each did have a slightly different flavour (due mostly to the seasoning and flavouring added to the chowder base), any of the five (5) was just great, in my opinion.  But, at the outset, I did say I’d pick my favourite – just one — so I am selecting the one from The Sheltered Harbour Restaurant in Souris, PEI.  It happened to be the first one I sampled and it set the bar high from the get-go.  The chowder at The Sheltered Harbour, priced at $5.99/cup, overall encapsulated what I was looking for in a great seafood chowder.  The cream base was flavourful – very tasty and not spicy nor hot.  They got the consistency of the cream base just right – it was neither pasty thick nor brothy thin.  It had a rich creamy color. The chowder had good ingredient content – there was evidence of what I expect to see in a seafood chowder – a variety of seafood including scallops, salmon, shrimp, and white fish and it was not overdone with potatoes as a filler.  All ingredients were identifiable and in proper bite-sized pieces.

The Sheltered Harbour Restaurant, Souris, Prince Edward Island — Home of my favorite seafood chowder in 2012

Close co-favourites were found at:   Water and Prince Street Shop in Charlottetown ($6.95/cup), Brehaut’s in Murray Harbour ($3.95/cup), Maplethorpe Café in Lower Bedeque ($6.50/one size – this one had the best seafood ingredient content) , and Wind and Reef in North Cape ($8.50/one size – this one had, bar none, the best homemade rolls – incredibly light, airy, and flavourful!).  Any one of these establishments, in my opinion, serves fine seafood chowder at reasonable and competitive prices. And, now, here is my ultimate test as to how good a chowder is:  Would I return and order the chowder again?  My answer to these five favourites is a hasty “yes, in a heartbeat and without reservation”.

Seafood Chowder at the Water and Prince Street Shop, Charlottetown, PEI
Seafood Chowder at Brehaut’s Restaurant in Murray Harbour, PEI
Seafood Chowder at Cafe Maplethorpe, Lower Bedeque, PEI
Seafood Chowder at the Wind & Reef Restaurant, North Cape, PEI

The one thing I did learn from this exercise is to ask questions about the chowders before ordering and not rely on how the menu describes them.  For example, ask questions like:  Is the chowder cream-based or brothy?  Is the chowder base homemade or a mix?  What kinds of fish are in the chowder?  Is it spicy?  If so, what are the spices/flavourings used?

There are certainly more restaurants on the Island that I am sure serve great seafood chowders too but, as I mentioned earlier, I just couldn’t sample them all (hmmm, well, there is always next year!).  So, my choice of my favourites for 2012 is based solely on my own taste test and expectations, one visit per restaurant.  What I can say is that, on the particular days I tasted the chowders at these five restaurants, they were mighty darn tasty chowders!

PEI Juice Works Ltd. Produces High Quality Wild Blueberry Juice

PEI Wild Blueberries

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

 

Juice Works Logo

 

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

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

Crate of Wild Blueberries, Fresh from the Field

 

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

PEI Juice Works Ltd. Production Facility and Test Kitchen

 

 

Two Flavours of PEI Juice Works Ltd. Wild Blueberry Juice

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

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

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

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

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

Wild Blueberry Harvesting Process

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

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

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

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

Steamed Mussels with Blueberry Vinaigrette

 

Steamed Mussels served with Blueberry Vinaigrette

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

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

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

My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Blueberry Sangria

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

My Island Bistro Kitchen's Blueberry Sangria

By Barbara99 Published: August 29, 2012

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

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

Ingredients

Instructions

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

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Summer Sunshine Afternoon Tea

The days are starting to get a bit shorter and, here on the Island, we have a saying that when Old Home Week (the Provincial Exhibition) is over the middle of August, so is Summer!  That’s when the daytime temperatures and humidity have historically dropped.  Well, Old Home Week ended last weekend and we have kept our warmer temperatures (25-27C) all week with the exception of today when the high was 21-22C and there was a noticeable drop in humidity levels.  However, I have been reluctant to let go of Summer so took advantage of this week’s warm sunshine to have afternoon tea on the verandah.

Afternoon Tea on the Verandah

As you can see, I chose a yellow theme for my afternoon tea, opting to use some of the new cups and saucers I have added to my collection over the Summer.

My Favorite Yellow Rose Teacup

Yellow always makes me think of summer and lemonade!  I love the bright yellow glads from the garden and I think they made a fine addition to my tea table!!!

Lemonade

Afternoon tea in the soft summer breeze is a great way to have a light meal, particularly in the heat of the summer.

Sandwiches for a Summer Afternoon Tea

And, of course, for Summer sandwiches, there is nothing more refreshing than cool cucumber tea sandwiches along with some garden-fresh tomato sandwiches to accompany them.  And, what would an afternoon tea be without the quintessential egg salad sandwiches!  Here I chose to put a dollop of egg salad atop a toasted bread cube and garnish it with fresh parsley from the cottage herb garden.  I love to step outside the door and be able to pick fresh herbs for anything I am cooking…fresh, as we all know, is always best!  I like to add different shapes and textures to my sandwich tray!

Tea Sandwiches

 

Tea-time Delectables

Some tasty sweets are always a necessity on any tea table!

The Tea-time Menu!

A pot of freshly brewed tea, some savory sandwiches, tasty sweet treats, comfy wicker chairs, and warm sunshine make a combination that is hard to beat for a Summer afternoon tea on the verandah.

Tea Table

 

 

Tea with Lemon

Thanks for visiting my blog today and be sure to drop back soon as I have been working on some upcoming feature stories that will be posted over the next short while.  Enjoy your day!

Sailboat Tablescape

When you live on an Island and find yourself completely surrounded by water, it is hard not to draw inspiration from the sea for menus and table settings.  In the Summer, we watch all kinds of water sports from the front verandah of the cottage and that, of course, includes colorful sailboats.  It is from those sailboats that I drew inspiration for this summertime “Sailboat Tablescape”.

Sailboat Tablescape

 

This tablesetting works particularly well in a cottage/beachside setting.  Adding some interesting shells and starfish contribute to the sea theme.

Place Setting

I generally prefer solid-colored tablecloths but the fabric for this blue and white checked tablecloth just spoke to me as it matched the cottage color scheme and it just seemed so “summery”!

Sailboat Centerpiece

I found this wonderful little sailboat at the Wicker Emporium.  Not all centerpieces have to involve flowers and this little boat with some matching blue starfish and seashells made a great conversation piece, particularly as we looked out the window during dinner and saw one just about the same color as this one sailing down the Northumberland Strait.

Summer Sailing

 

Sailboat Napkin Fold

I like fancy napkin folds and try to match them to the theme of the tablescape.  In this case, the sailboat napkin fold fits in perfectly with my sailboat theme!  This fold always reminds of Canada Place in Vancouver, BC!

Top View of Sailboat Tablescape

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