All posts by Barbara99

Basic Sangria Recipe

“Island Sangria”

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

Sangria – A Refreshing Summer Drink

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

Glass of Island Sangria

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Island Sangria

By Barbara99 Published: July 14, 2012

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

A deep, rich burgundy-red wine punch

Ingredients

Instructions

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

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A Tour of Newman Estate Winery in Gladstone, PEI

Newman Estate Winery, Gladstone, PEI, Canada

Today, I’m visiting a new PEI winery in Gladstone, PEI.  Located near Murray River in the eastern part of PEI, Gladstone is approximately a one-hour drive from the Island’s capital of Charlottetown.

Route from Charlottetown to Gladstone, PEI (via scenic Montague)

As I head through the quiet little village of Murray River and turn on to the Gladstone Road, I pass along a rural country road lined with many wild rose bushes in full bloom in various hues of pink.  The paved road ends and I am on a narrow red dirt road crossing a small bridge over a tranquil water inlet.  Then, suddenly I come upon a sign for Newman Estate Winery.

Newman Estate Winery

As I turn in, I see a long red dirt lane leading past rows of grapevines to a tall, modern-shaped simplistic building which I’ll soon discover is the winery including a tasting room.  The rows of grapevines are neatly marked with the various grape varieties – like Marechal Foch, Lucie Kuhlmann.

 

Varieties of Grapes

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I arrive at the winery and open the car door, I sense a peaceful tranquil setting.  Birds are twittering and dew is still on the grass and I think what a wonderful living and working environment.  I am met by owner and winemaker, Mike Newman, and my tour begins in the vineyards.

 

Vineyard in the Early Morning

On this early July day, the vines are in their flowering stage so it will be a few more weeks before clusters of grapes will be seen hanging from the vines.  Harvesting is expected in early September when the sugar concentration is optimum.

Flowering Grape Vines

 

The vineyard is nestled in between large groves of tall trees that border the winery’s property and shelter the grapevines.

Rows of Grapevines

Because PEI, located in northeastern Canada, is prone to somewhat harsh winters, one of the first questions I ask Mike is what effect the weather has on grape production.  To my surprise, he tells me his hybrid vines can tolerate temperatures as low as -27C.  Our winters rarely get colder than that.  Growing grapes is labour-intensive and time-consuming work with a lot of staking and pruning of the vines.  Mike tells me his property has good sandy soil which is suitable for grape growing.

Grapevine

 

We move into the winery where there are six large stainless steel tanks for the wine fermentation process and Mike explains the laborious wine-making process from the crushing of the grapes through to fermentation, filtering, bottling, corking, and labelling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winemaking at Newman Estate Winery

Upstairs, on the veranda outside the wine-tasting room, you get a beautiful panoramic view of the vineyards.

View of Vineyard from Veranda of Wine-tasting Room at Newman Estate Winery
Newman Estate Winery Wines

Inside, you’ll find a mix of rustic and modern décor in the wine-tasting room that can accommodate up to 24 people.  Mike takes the time to explain the difference and importance of color to wines and how, for example, the colors of red wines differ substantially based on how long the grape skins have remained in contact with the grape juice during the fermentation process – the longer the contact, the darker the wine.

Red Wine

Mike planted his first grapevines in 2008 and produced the first wine for market in 2011 with a production of approximately 13,000 litres.

Wines Produced at Newman Estate Winery, Gladstone, PEI

Today, the winery has 7500 vines covering 10 acres and is completely organic.  Mike tells me his four-year old vines will generate six to seven clusters of grapes per plant and will be considered a full harvest.  Fruit from year three vines will be considered an early crop.  So, apart from being labour-intensive, wine-making also takes patience.

Veranda at Newman Estate Winery

The winery is small.  Currently, it operates with Mike as the winemaker and seven part-time staff.  Mike is a young entrepreneur, well-educated with an engineering degree, an MBA, and is currently working on his Winemaker’s Certificate. He is very committed to his winery and, when you speak with Mike, his passion for his vocation is very evident.  What started out as a hobby has turned into a career for Mike.  His goals are to enjoy doing what he does, generate local jobs, make a good quality wine at a reasonable price, and get Islanders to buy locally-produced wine.  Supporting local producers is always a good thing in my books.

Currently, Newman Estate Winery is producing both a red and a white wine with plans of expanding production.  The wines are very competitively priced at $12.50/litre (CDN$) and you can find them in PEI Liquor Retail Stores and at the winery.

I personally like Newman’s wines.  After my visit to the winery, I chose a menu for our evening meal that would feature one of Newman’s wines.  I chose the Chardonnay Seyval Blanc and paired it with pan-fried haddock, fingerlings, and maple-glazed carrots.  I found the wine was light-tasting, refreshing, and was a nice compliment to the seafood meal.

Seafood Dinner Served with Newman Estate Winery’s Chardonnay Seyval Blanc

On August 20, 2012, I visited the winery again and found these delightful clusters of grapes clinging to the vines.

Grapes on the Vine at Newman’s Vineyard in Gladstone, PEI, 20 August 2012

Newman Estate Winery is located at 2404 Gladstone Road, Murray River, PEI.  The winery is open for tours Monday – Saturday, 11:00am – 5:00pm.  If you are in the Murray River area, I recommend you take the short drive out to Gladstone to visit Newman Estate Winery and have a tour of their operation.  You can check out their website at http://www.newmanestatewinery.com/  or call the winery at 902-962-4223.

Newman’s Wine Goes Great With Grapes, Cheese, and Baguette

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A Visit to Liquid Gold Tasting Bar & All Things Olive

Liquid Gold Tasting Bar & All Things Olive

In a red brick building on the corner of Queen and Dorchester Streets in Olde Charlottetown, PEI, you will find a very unique shop called “Liquid Gold Tasting Bar & All Things Olive”.  Opened now on the Island for a year (they opened one year ago today on July 4, 2011), this is one of three Liquid Gold shops in the Maritimes (the other two are in Halifax, NS, and in Saint John, NB).

Liquid Gold, Charlottetown, PEI

I recently sat down with the Charlottetown store manager, Amy Ingram, to find out just what Liquid Gold Olive Oils is all about.  That is when I found out it’s a foodie’s paradise that sells fresh, pure extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegars.  Patrons can taste any of the oils and vinegars onsite that they want.  This tasting bar experience allows shoppers to explore flavours before making a purchase choice.

I asked Amy what prompted the idea for a store that sells exclusive olive oils and vinegars.  Amy tells me her Mom, Myrna, lived in Arizona for awhile where they had an olive oil tasting bar.  When she returned to Nova Scotia, she found a supplier that imported quality extra-virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars from around the world and she opened her first store.

So, what will you find when you walk into a Liquid Gold store?  You will find rows of pristine stainless steel fustis filled with a large, extensive variety of extra virgin olive oils and both dark and light balsamic vinegars.  Fustis are small kegs with spigots that provide tight, dark conditions in which to store the oils and vinegars.

A Tasting Bar

Beneath the rows of fusti, you’ll find dark-tinted bottles in two sizes and these get filled to your request by any of the staff of four.  Dark bottles are essential because the darkness helps to protect the oil from oxidation that will occur if the oil is exposed to light.  The store also carries gourmet oils like truffle and sesame along with mustards, salsas, and pastas, and olive-oil based body products.

Rows of Empty Bottles Waiting to be Filled

 

I asked Amy who their typical customers are.  She tells me they range from everyday at-home cooks to chefs-in-training from the Culinary Institute of Canada a few blocks away to professional chefs – all looking for high quality products with health benefits.  On the day I visited, the store was a beehive of activity.  Two chefs-in-training were getting a supply of oils (yes, by a box full of bottles!), a passenger from the ms Maasdam in port for the day was picking up bottles filled with product and having them gift-wrapped as take-home souvenirs of her visit to Charlottetown, a local at-home budding cook was making a return visit and deliberating on his next choices of oils and vinegars, and a number of other visitors were obviously fascinated by the tasting bar experience.

Bottles are Filled at Time of Purchase

 

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Olive oil is made from crushing and pressing olives.  The oils in Liquid Gold stores are imported from small estate farms and olive groves in many different countries that include Italy, France, Greece, and Argentina, to mention just a few.  I remember having dinner in Tivoli, Italy, some years ago, high on a hill overlooking groves of gnarled olive trees for as far as the eye could see.  I suspect these would be the kind of olive grove estate farms that would, no doubt, produce and export quality olive oils, such as those found at Liquid Gold.

Health Benefits of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Amy says the health benefits of extra virgin olive oil are many – they are rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties, vitamins K and E, and aid in digestion.  Some research also suggests olive oil may reduce cancer risk, have properties to reduce risk of heart disease, and improve cognitive function.  Of all olive oils, extra-virgin olive oil is said to have the most health benefits along with the most delicate and true flavour.

What to Look for When Tasting and Purchasing Olive Oil

Amy advises, when choosing a quality olive oil, to consider what use you are purchasing the oil for and look for a nice, rich flavour that “makes all your taste buds happy”.  Look for subtle flavours of grass, fruit, or pepper that give a degree of spiciness to the taste buds.  By contrast, old or poor quality oils will have a flat, musty, waxy crayon taste and a rancid smell.

According to my own research, I learned there are, generally speaking, three categories of olive oil – delicate, medium, and robust.  Delicate oils are considered suitable for foods like seafood.  Medium oils go well with salads and poultry.  Robust oils blend well with red meats and dishes with a tomato base.

Storing Olive Oil

Store oils in cool, dark spaces, away from any direct or indirect heat sources as this can cause rancidity.

 

Balsamic Vinegars

Balsamic vinegars are made from crushed grapes that are boiled down to reduce most of the water in the grapes, producing a concentrate or “must”.  This is then fermented in barrels made of various woods where the vinegar undergoes a slow aging process that can take many years.  The wooden barrels contribute to the flavour of the balsamic vinegar.  Some vinegars are aged 3-5 years, others 6-12 years, and still others much longer.  Younger-aged vinegars are lighter in taste and are typically used on salads.  Middle-aged vinegars are good in sauces and pasta dishes.  Older-aged vinegars compliment meat and poultry dishes well and are especially good drizzled on fresh fruit and ice creams – who knew a good balsamic vinegar would taste great on fruit and ice cream…..but it does!

Health Benefits of Balsamic Vinegars

The health benefits of balsamic vinegars are significant.  From my research, I found they are reported to be a source of iron, calcium, manganese, and potassium, are low in salt and saturated fat and are cholesterol-free.  The vinegar’s antioxidant properties are said to help prevent heart disease and cancer.  Balsamic vinegar may also aid in digestion and be good for the circulatory system.  Additionally, its properties may aid in healing cuts and open wounds.

What to Look for when Tasting and Purchasing Balsamic Vinegars

Good quality balsamic vinegars, according to Amy, should exhibit a sweet and tart blend along with a thick and rich taste.  The vinegars should have sweetness to them and a wood flavour (from the barrels in which they were aged) should be evident.  If you only get a bitter taste, then it is poor quality balsamic vinegar. A good quality balsamic vinegar should have a somewhat syrupy texture to it.

Storing Balsamic Vinegars

Store bottles of balsamic vinegar in a cool dark place.  There is no need to refrigerate them.

 

I questioned Amy on why customers should buy their olive oils and vinegars at Liquid Gold as opposed to at the local supermarket.  She cited four reasons:  First, Liquid Gold’s  oils are fresh, real extra-virgin olive oils that carry all the health benefits.  Second, because the oils and vinegars are produced on smaller estate farms and groves around the world as opposed to mass manufactured by large corporations, buyers are helping to support small local farmers around the world.  Third, the customers can come into the store and consult with knowledgeable staff who will educate them on oils and vinegars and their health benefits and help them select a product specifically for a purpose – for example, I was looking for a balsamic vinegar I could drizzle over ice cream and Liquid Gold sales staff were able to guide me to an appropriate selection and explain to me how I could heat and reduce the vinegar to make an even more tasty ice cream drizzle.  Fourth, a particular emphasis is placed on providing assistance to customers to find oils and vinegars that compliment the many flavours of local PEI foods.

Product Prices

We’ve all seen supermarket sales on huge bottles of olive oils but are we really getting “a deal” and is the quality there?  Amy tells me I really can’t compare Liquid Gold’s prices with supermarket prices because it is quality of product that is the true comparison factor, not price point.  Bearing in mind it takes 5 pounds of olives to produce 375ml of olive oil, don’t look for quality oils to be cheap. The labour-intensive and lengthy aging periods for good quality balsamic vinegars also means their prices will not be cheap either.  Liquid Gold (at time of writing in July 2012) sell their oils and vinegars for $18.00 for a 375ml bottle and $11.00 for a 200ml bottle.  As a foodie and at-home chef, I can honestly say there is a definite difference between good quality olive oils and balsamic vinegars and that difference is evident in the final food product you create with the oils and vinegars.

I decided I would put their olive oil and balsamic vinegar to the test to see if I could detect a genuine difference between their products and what I would normally purchase at a supermarket.  For me, a true test of an oil and balsamic vinegar is best determined by using it uncooked so I made a simple balsamic vinaigrette dressing for a green garden salad.  I don’t like heavy salad dressings because I find they smother the salad ingredients and mask their flavour.  So, I purchased a bottle of Liquid Gold’s cranberry-pear white balsamic vinegar and a bottle of Arbosana extra-virgin olive oil.  I added a bit of garlic, Dijon mustard, shallots, a few herbs from the garden and a dash of salt and sprinkle of pepper.  I have never had such an extraordinary salad – the vinaigrette was so flavourful and pure and did not detract from the salad’s ingredients – in fact, I’d go so far as to say it brought out the flavours of the lettuce, tomato, and cucumber more true, pure, and intense.

Cranberry-Pear Balsamic Vinaigrette

This store is a real treasure trove for foodies.  It offers a fantastic selection of quality fresh extra-virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars, knowledgeable staff, and a good location in Charlottetown.  But, no worries if you don’t live near a Liquid Gold Store – they offer online shopping through their website and ship in Canada and the United States.

Whether you are an Islander or a visitor to our fair city of Charlottetown, be sure to  include a stop at Liquid Gold if for no other reason than to marvel at the varieties of olive oils and balsamic vinegars available on the market and to learn more about the products and their health benefits.  Taste them, though, and if you are a foodie like me who likes high quality food products, I am guessing you may very well find it hard to come away without purchasing some of the products.

Now that I have discovered Liquid Gold, I might have to build extra cupboards to store the varieties I’ll no doubt be investing in!  Indeed, I have already made a repeat visit to purchase a chocolate balsamic vinegar which I reduced and drizzled over my homemade strawberry ice cream and fresh berries – divine perfection!

Liquid Gold Tasting Bar & All Things Olive is located at 72 Queen Street in Charlottetown, PEI, and may be reached at (902)370-8809.

Happy 1st Anniversary, Liquid Gold, of operating your store in Charlottetown, PEI!

 

Liquid Gold, Charlottetown, PEI

 

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Annie’s Table Culinary Studio – A Unique Culinary Experience on PEI

Annie’s Table Culinary Studio

Tucked away in the tidy little rural community of New London, PEI, on the Island’s north side, a new culinary adventure awaits you.  Housed in the former, and now decommissioned,  New London United Church which has been repurposed and transformed, Annie’s Table Culinary Studio offers unique, hands-on cooking classes for all culinary skill levels.

On Saturday, June 30, 2012, I was privileged to be invited to attend the official opening of Annie’s Table Culinary Studio.  Guests were treated to a wonderful afternoon hosted by owner, Annie Leroux.  Guests sipped Island-produced wines from Matos Winery of St. Catherine’s, Rossignol Estate Winery, Little Sands, and from Newman Estate Winery, of Murray Harbour, PEI, as well as the Island’s newest produced beer, Beach Chair Lager or, for the teetotalers, a refreshing Ginger Cordial.

PEI-Produced Wine and Beer Served at Official Opening of Annie’s Table Culinary Studio

 

Fresh PEI Oysters

Located right beside the beverage bar was a huge tub of fresh PEI Oysters that were being shucked, ready for guests to savour.  Throughout the afternoon, we sampled delightful offerings from Chef Norman and his staff that included such savories as mushroom-stuffed and seafood spring rolls, tasty bite-sized meat pies, and divine mussel-stuffed mushroom caps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Savory hors d’oeuvres

 

Owner Annie Leroux and Chef Norman Zeldon at the Official Opening of Annie’s Table Culinary Studio

Following the brief speeches, Annie arranged for a culinary challenge – men against women – seated at the 12’ culinary table.  The names of six men and six women were randomly drawn and yours truly ended up in the challenge!  We started off with some short snappers of culinary trivia and then down to the business at hand.  As each competitor completed his/her food challenge, s/he had to dash to the head of the table to ring the bell.  My challenge was to chow down three huge, bacon-wrapped scallops which I did not do so well on!  Others had such challenges as declawing and eating two lobster claws, peeling a turnip, drinking Beach Chair lager or wine through a straw, making a kebob, making a salsa, and you get the idea!  While we women might hate to admit it, the men did win the challenge as first over the finish line!

Culinary Challenge at the Harvest Table

Many small rural Island churches have been demolished over recent years and it is so nice to see one that has been preserved and repurposed.  Annie has done a great job at maintaining the façade of the church, built in 1953, and incorporating several elements of the church’s interior into the architectural design for her studio.  For example, the pulpit makes a wonderful focal piece for the loft seating area that overlooks the huge harvest table in the center of the building.

Loft at Annie’s Table Culinary Studio

A tasteful selection of carefully gathered and preserved antiques lend themselves well to the ambiance of the studio.  The small tower of the church has been preserved and is reachable via a circular staircase.

The Tower at Annie’s Table Culinary Studio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the main level, you will find a 12’ table that has been crafted from old attic boards from the house which Annie recently restored in New London also.  At the rear of the church, is the kitchen where students attending the classes can learn various cooking techniques.

 

 

 

 

 

Teaching Kitchen at Annie’s Kitchen Culinary Studio

I asked Annie where the idea came from for Annie’s Table Culinary Studio.  She tells me it is a combination of her passions – she likes to interact and socialize with people, she has a love of the Island and local foods, and has a passion for collecting antiques.  Annie says “I wanted to create a beautiful venue for people to come and experience Island foods –  not to just sit in a restaurant and enjoy lobster, etc., but learn all about them (huge educational component here)  and then learn different methods of preparing them in a fun, social atmosphere and then be able to sit and enjoy what they have been taught.”   Annie’s hope is that people will leave the table and  say “I had a ball and I met some new friends and I learned lots about the Island and, wow, would I love to live here….”  “That to me would say that I’ve offered them hospitality, knowledge, and a desire for more of the same”, says Annie.  As to why she chose the New London location, Annie says it has access to so many locally-produced or available foods nearby – oysters, mussels, lobster, and the list goes on, it’s the perfect location for her business.

While Annie’s is not a restaurant, students who register and attend one of her cooking classes do get to sit together at the big harvest table at the end of the class to enjoy their cooking creations.  Classes are available on a number of subject areas and are by reservation only.  Classes are small and intimate, generally restricted to 15 students although some events, such as the Oyster Extravaganza, can accommodate up to 40 people who want to learn how to shuck oysters.  While I am going to direct you to Annie’s website for a full listing of her 2012 classes, you can expect to find classes that focus heavily on traditional Island foods such as clams, oysters, mussels, lobster, artisan bread, and apple pie.  With a professional sommelier on her team, look for class offerings on wine tasting.  From time to time, classes will be offered on specialized cooking such as Thai and Latino culinary delights.  Annie is supported by Chef Norman, a talented Red Seal Chef who brims with personality and culinary knowledge.  From time to time, look for special guests leading culinary workshops at Annie’s.

Of particular interest to “Anne of Green Gables” fans  is the “Food Trip Down Memory Lane” class that recreates a meal similar to what would have likely been found on Lucy Maud Montgomery’s table in the late 1800s or early 1900s.  Included in this class is a tour of the nearby home where the famed author of the Anne of Green Gables series of books was born.  Also included is a private viewing of Annie’s own home across the street from the Birthplace of L. M. Montgomery which was the home of the mid-wife who delivered Lucy Maud.  So, if you are a Lucy Maud Montgomery fan, this day-long (10am – 3pm) class is for you.  Price for the day is $139./person.

Classes in the Culinary Studio or other food events offered by the Studio range from 1.5 – 5 hours in length and are priced between $20. and $139.  Some are offered during the day while other classes are scheduled for evenings.  Annie’s Table Culinary Studio operates seasonally from June to October so, whether you are a local Islander or a tourist, this is a unique culinary experience.  Gather together a family group, co-workers, or friends who like to cook and head out to beautiful New London, PEI, for a fun and learning vacation experience.

You can find Annie’s Table Culinary Studio in picturesque New London, PEI, at 4295 Graham’s Road on Route 8 (902-886-2070) – just look for the little white church!

Happy Canada Day!

Happy Canada Day!  This is the day we celebrate the birth of our great nation.  There are so many ways to celebrate Canada Day from picnics to barbeques to afternoon teas.

Canada Day Cupcakes

 

Here are some photographs from our red and white Canada Day Tea on the front verandah on this beautiful, sunny 26C day in Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province and the birthplace of the Canadian Confederation.

Canada Day Tea

 

On the menu were tomato and cucumber tea sandwiches, watermelon cut in the shape of the maple leaf, Canada Day cupcakes, rhubarb-almond tart, and tea, of course!

 

The Maple Leaf – A Symbol of Canada

 

Keeping the red and white theme going!

 

Everything Red and White for Canada Day!

 

 

Canada Day Tea on the Verandah

 

 

Canadian Flags

 

 

Happy Canada Day!

 

 

Thanks for visiting my site today.  Enjoy your day!

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Ruby Red Rhubarb

Rhubarb Marmalade on Fresh Biscuits

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

Rhubarb Signifies Spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jamming and preserving season is officially underway!

Rhubarb Marmalade

 

Rhubarb Marmalade

Ingredients:

8 cups rhubarb, thinly sliced into pieces between 1/8″ and 1/4″ thick)
4¼ cups sugar
1 large orange (or 1½ small oranges)
½ pink grapefruit
½ small lemon

Method:

Chop rhubarb into thin slices. Set aside.

Wash the orange, grapefruit, and lemon well.

Peel orange, grapefruit, and lemon.  Chop the pulp, remove and discard any seeds, and place pulp in bowl.  Scrape the pith from the fruit peelings and discard.  Chop the peel into small pieces.  Set aside.

In a large pot, place the rhubarb and sugar.  Add the citrus pulp and peel. Bring to a boil over medium high temperature, stirring to prevent scorching.  Immediately lower the temperature and cook, uncovered, at a slow gentle boil until mixture thickens and reaches a sustained temperature of 217°F on a candy thermometer (see Note 1 below for alternative testing method).  Stir mixture regularly to prevent scorching. Be patient, this can take an hour or so.

Rhubarb Marmalade Ingredients
Rhubarb Marmalade Ingredients

While the marmalade is cooking, fill a large pot of water, about ¾ full.  Place 7 half-pint jars, upright, into the water.  Ensure the jars are fully submerged, each jar filled with water, and that the water is at least an inch over the tops of the jars.  Cover, bring to a boil, and boil for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and leave the jars in the hot water while the marmalade finishes cooking.

Meanwhile, fill the canner about one-third to one-half full of water. Cover and bring to a boil to have it ready for the filled jars.

When the marmalade is cooked, use a jar lifter to remove the hot jars from the water.  Using a canning funnel, pour marmalade into sterilized jars, leaving about ¼” headroom in each jar.  Wipe the jar rims with a clean cloth. Seal jars with heated lids and fingertip-tightened ring bands.

Place jars in hot water bath wire basket, ensuring jars do not touch each other or fall over. Carefully lower basket into canner of hot water. Ensure the water level is at least 1” above the tops of jars, adding more boiling water as necessary. Cover with canner lid. Increase the heat to return the water to a rolling boil then decrease the heat to just keep the water at a rolling boil but not boiling over. Process half-pint jars in the hot water bath for 10 minutes, adjusting time for altitude. Start timing the processing from the point where a full rolling boil is reached after basket of jars has been added to the canner. At the end of the processing time, turn off heat and remove canner lid. Wait 4-5 minutes, until the water stops boiling then, using a jar lifter, carefully remove the jars, one at a time, and transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. Listen for the “pop” or “ping” sound as the bottles seal over the next few minutes or hours. The lids of properly sealed jars will curve downward. Let jars rest, undisturbed, on wire rack for 12 hours. Store in cool, dark place. Refrigerate marmalade once opened.

Boiling the Marmalade
Boiling the Marmalade

Yield:  Apx. 7 half-pint jars

1-DSC04775

NOTE 1: If you don’t have a candy thermometer, place 2-3 freezer-safe saucers in freezer. To test for doneness of the marmalade, place a small amount of marmalade on chilled saucer and swirl saucer around. Let marmalade sit, untouched, for about a minute, then gently push your finger through the marmalade.  If the marmalade holds its shape (i.e., does not immediately run back together after the finger has been removed from the marmalade), it is set and ready to bottle.  If not, continue to cook mixture, repeating the “chill” test about every 3 minutes or so (always removing the pot from the heat while conducting the chill test) until the marmalade passes the “chill” test.  Do not overcook as it will result in a very thick marmalade, dark in color.

Note 2: After jars have completely cooled, if there are any on which the lids have not curved downward, refrigerate them and use within one month.

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Savour the Flavour at PEI’s Food and Wine Show

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For the past four years, the PEI Restaurant Association has presented a Springtime event that brings together the best chefs from the Island’s finest restaurants and pairs them with producers and distributors of fine wines, beers, and spirits to bring Islanders the ultimate gourmet tasting experience.

Chefs at Savour Food & Wine Show

On Thursday, May 24, 2012, I attended the 4th Annual “Savour Food & Wine” Show held at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown. To be frank, this was the first time I had attended and I was not sure what to expect.  I was quite impressed with the calibre of the show.  This was a high-end smorgasbord event that definitely had a party atmosphere!  In the words of exhibitor Julie Shore of Prince Edward Distillery who has participated as an exhibitor in the Show for four years, this event could very aptly be described as “a big cocktail party – and the host hired the best caterers!” 

Lot 30's Creativity
Samples at Savour Food & Wine SHow

The show is an occasion for local restaurants, wineries, distilleries, and other beverage producers across the Island to promote their products directly to foodies, restaurant patrons, and beverage enthusiasts.  Carl Nicholson, President of the PEI Restaurant Association, says the Show “is also an opportunity to showcase what members of the Association do with Island products.  Members want to promote the fact that they support local [producers] and feel the quality of Island products is superior”.  Guests attending the event get to meet and chat directly, one-on-one, with the chefs and beverage vendors, something they would not otherwise get to do in a typical restaurant setting.  Shore says “It is a great opportunity for us to enjoy all the wonderful feedback.  We love seeing people’s reaction to our spirits!  They enjoy the delicious cocktails and we enjoy the reactions!” 

 

 

Prince Edward Distillery

The show also provides the occasion to introduce new products on the market and offers guests an opportunity to sample products that they may not have had before, or even knew were produced on PEI, like Wild Blueberry & Tart Cherry Juice or Wild Blueberry & Rhubarb Juice produced by PEI Juice Works Ltd. of Alberton, PEI.    Says first-time exhibitor, Ryan Bradley, VP of Sales and Marketing for PEI Juice Works, “We were asked to participate at the PEI Flavours booth this year to help showcase unique new Island products.  This show allows us to provide samples to people with a keen interest in quality foods. It also allows us to interact one-on-one with people and get valuable feedback. Because we are so new, any activity that helps us create more awareness [in our products] is very important.” 

Beverages

 

 

 

 

 

Upon presentation of their $75.00 ticket at the door, each of the 500 guests is handed a wine glass and a program and show floor plan.  From there, guests follow the tantalizing scent of food and tour through the 45 booths each preparing their product for tasting.  Each food booth has a supply of small plates and guests are welcome to taste samples of whatever each booth is offering.  Their wine glasses get filled with their favourite libation which can be found at the many beverage booths that serve anything from local and imported wines and beers to locally distilled gin or blueberry juices.

All within the span of two hours and under one roof, visitors to the show have the opportunity to experience foods and beverages they might not otherwise try or even have access to, be educated on food and beverage products available locally, or simply enjoy the abundance and array of foods and beverages available at the show.  The event offers not only treats for the tummy but also for the eyes too as chefs outdo themselves with the creativity and presentation of food as well as their tastefully decorated booth displays.

Wine Offerings

This Island has long been associated with good food and talented chefs.  Complimenting that repertoire, PEI is now gaining a solid reputation for award-winning locally produced wines and spirits.  Both the Island and the exhibitors (all members of the PEI Restaurant Association) pulled out all the stops for this year’s Savour Food & Wine show.  It was a fine gala event that signaled the kick-off to summer dining when, as Islanders, we eagerly await our favourite seasonal restaurants to open their doors to patrons.  If what I saw at the Show was any indicator, visitors and Islanders alike are in for a real treat when dining around PEI this summer.  As Carl Nicholson says, “we tend to go to restaurants we know.  The Show allows guests to try samples from different restaurants which hopefully will encourage them to then go and try out the restaurants for a meal.”  I have already started my Summer 2012 list of restaurants to try – some, of course, are old favourites but some are new based on what I saw and sampled at the Savour Food & Wine Show.  Could be a hard summer on the waistline!

Tempting Desserts

Who Serves the Best Seafood Chowder on Prince Edward Island?

Each summer I set a food challenge for myself.  Last summer, I went on the hunt for the best fish and chips on Prince Edward Island; there was no shortage of good ones…really good ones, in fact –  but I did pick my favorite.  I checked out some restaurants that I liked anyway but I also asked friends, colleagues, and acquaintances to recommend their favorites to me.  I took my Mom, always a fish and chips fan, on my taste-testing mission as I covered the Island from tip-to-tip in search of the hands-down, no-question-about-it, best version of the perennial seafood favorite.  By the end of the season, neither of us seriously wanted to see fish and chips again for a good long while!

This summer, my challenge is to find the best seafood chowder on PEI and it starts now as all the multitude of seasonal restaurants open on the Island for the summer tourist season.  At the end of the summer, I will post a blog about my personal favorite from amongst those I sampled.  So, if you have a favorite eating spot that you think serves the absolute best seafood chowder on the Island, let me know so I can try it out.  I will be criss-crossing this great Island of ours over the next several months so feel free to suggest establishments from North to South, East to West, and all points in between!  Let’s hope these establishments serve “cups” of chowder and not large bowls as my waistline may suffer the consequences!  To recommend a favorite to me, either send me a direct email using the contact form on this website or leave a comment to this blog posting, naming your suggestion and the restaurant’s location!

The challenge is on!

Lady Lilac Afternoon Tea

Tea table set in front of a blooming lilac tree
Lady Lilac Afternoon Tea

 

We have always had this old lilac tree in the front yard of the home in which I grew up.  Some years, only one side of the tree will have blooms but this year, it is pretty well covered in beautiful mauve lilacs.  It was always a sign of Summer when the fragrant lilacs began to bloom and a big yellow monarch butterfly paid a visit.  I love lilacs.  In fact, they are one of my favorite flowers – I love their color (purple and mauve are my favorite colors) , their shape and flow, the delicate small petals, and yes, even the strong scent of them.  They are not, however, generally well accepted as an indoor flower by anyone who is superstitious, probably because of the flower’s association with death or broken engagements.

Tea Table set in front of a lilac tree
Afternoon Tea by the Lilac Tree

But there is certainly nothing wrong with enjoying lilacs in the great outdoors.  And, there is no better way than to sit amidst the color and fragrance enjoying a tranquil and relaxing afternoon tea beside the lilacs.  No monarch butterfly visited on this sunny afternoon but several birds, including a hummingbird, hovered around and some of them twittered and tweeted.  They probably wondered why the humans were invading their private habitat that they were not accustomed to sharing!

Cup of tea in front of the lilac tree
Tea Time by the Lilac Tree

Today, I visited a local garden center and purchased two French lilac trees.  They are very small but, hopefully, in time, they will grow and provide wonderful blooms and fragrance in the backyard of my own home.  It will be a long time before they reach the size of our big old family lilac tree but maybe at some point in the future they, too, could form a backdrop for a lovely early summer afternoon tea.

Tea cake for afternoon tea in front of the lilac tree
Tea Time Treats by the Lilac Tree

Floral Centerpieces with Michael Jackson of Prestige Floral Studio

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Correct.  Be sure to match the surroundings and dinnerware.

So, what are some other trends in table centerpieces?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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Let’s Set the Table!

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

 Types of Table Place Settings

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

Continue reading Let’s Set the Table!

Mother’s Day Tea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Maple Syrup Baked Beans

My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Maple Syrup Baked Beans

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

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

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

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

Soaking the dried beans accomplishes three things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Maple Syrup Baked Beans

Ingredients:

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

 Method:

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

Soaking the Dried Beans
Soaking the Dried Beans

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

Preheat oven to 300°F.

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

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

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

Baked Beans
Baked Beans

My Island Bistro Kitchen's Maple Syrup Baked Beans

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

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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

Recipe Notes

Yield: 6-8 servings

You may also enjoy this recipe for Baked Beans in Tomato Sauce.

Pin Me To Pinterest!

Homemade Baked Beans
Baked Beans

Maple Syrup Production – A Rite of Spring on PEI

 

Woodland Maple Syrup, PEI

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

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

Woodland Sugar Shack, Woodville Mills, near Cardigan, PEI

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

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

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

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

 

Three Taps in Large Maple Tree

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

Sap from Maple Tree

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

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

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

Stoking the Wood-fired Evaporator

 

Boiling the Sap to Make Maple Syrup

 

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

Evaporating the Water from the Sap to Make Maple Syrup

 

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

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

Pan of Maple Syrup

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

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

Woodland Maple Syrup, Woodville Mills, PEI

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

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

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

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

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My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Macaroni and Cheese

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

My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Macaroni and Cheese

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

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

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

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

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Mac 'n Cheese
Macaroni and Cheese

My Island Bistro Kitchen's Macaroni and Cheese

By Barbara99 Published: March 28, 2012

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

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

Ingredients

Instructions

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

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Cows Creamery Field Trip

 

Cows Creamery in Prince Edward Island

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

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

Cows Ice Cream

 

"Wowie Cowie" Ice Cream at Cows Creamery

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

Cows Ice Cream Shop in Downtown Charlottetown, PEI

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

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

Cows Ice Cream Production Room

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Cows Ice Cream - Prince Edward Island

 

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

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

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

 

Cheddar Cheese

Cows Cheese

 

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

 

Cows Creamery Extra Old Cheddar and Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar

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

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

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

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

 

Creamery Butter

Cows Sea-Salted Creamery Butter

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

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

 

Novelty Items

 

Cows Whimsical T-Shirts

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

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

 

Cows Advertisement at the Charlottetown Airport

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

Factory Tours

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

 

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

My Island Bistro Kitchen's Macaroni and Cheese

By Barbara99 Published: March 21, 2012

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

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

Ingredients

Instructions

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

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

Pickled Cabbage/Sauerkraut
Pickled Cabbage/Sauerkraut

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

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

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

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

Lewis Mountain Sauerkraut

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

Raw, uncooked Pickled Cabbage (Sauerkraut)

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

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

Pickled Cabbage Served with Boiled Red Potatoes

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

“Sweetheart and Roses” Valentine Tea

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

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

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

Valentine’s Afternoon Tea

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

“Sweetheart and Roses Valentine’s Tea”

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

Afternoon Tea on a Cold Winter Day

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

Afternoon Tea with Currant Scones

Smelts – A Prince Edward Island Winter Meal

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

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