Category Archives: Recipes

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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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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Lavender – The Trendy New Culinary Herb

Okay, so I must admit the thought of baking and cooking with something I have always considered a perfume can be a bit daunting but with lavender being the trendy new culinary herb, I thought why not be a bit venturesome.  But can I use just any lavender for culinary purposes?  To find out, I paid a visit to The Five Sisters of Lavender Lane – aptly named because there are five sisters involved with the growing, harvesting, and production of the lavender products.

The Five Sisters of Lavender Lane, Kelly’s Cross, PEI, Canada
Lavender Farm in Kelly’s Cross, PEI

Through the scenic rolling hills of Kelly’s Cross in rural PEI, on the Island’s South side, I find PEI’s only lavender farm.  In 1999, Carol Cook bought the farm and, in 2001, planted her first 100 lavender plants to see how they would ‘weather the winter’ on the Island.  They did well and, today, there are over an estimated 3000 plants of two varieties (Hidcote and Munstead) grown on the farm.

Rows of Heavenly-scented Lavender at the lavender farm of The Five Sisters of Lavender Lane, Kelly’s Cross, PE

Carol tells me that starting lavender from seed is not necessarily a guarantee of success.  Instead, her preference is to start new plants by propagating from cuttings.  This is where a long stem of lavender attached to the mother plant is buried under some soil and left to grow its own roots.  The following year it can be cut from the mother plant and, voila, a new lavender plant is started.  Another option is to take a cutting from a plant, cut it on an angle, dip it in a root boost starter product, and place it in a sandy soil mixture to take root.

Most of us know lavender as a perfume and potpourri product.  However, lavender is actually an herb of the mint family and certain varieties of it are known as culinary herbs.  These are primarily the Hidcote and Munstead varieties.  Lavender is often considered to be similar to thyme, rosemary, and sage and it can, in fact, be substituted for rosemary in many recipes.  If you have ever cooked with Herbes de Provence, chances are you have already tasted lavender since it is a common ingredient in this herb mix along with the typical mixture of thyme, rosemary, and savory.

Lavender is one of the more aromatic herbs and some say it bears citrus notes or even a hint of pine.  The lavender buds (the stage just before the plants blossom into full open flower) possess a higher oil content and have the most intense taste.  They tend to have a stronger, minty flavour and, when used in cooking or baking will be more pungent and have “more bite” to them.  When crushed or ground, the lavender buds have a sweeter, milder flavour.  While the leaves, stems, buds, and flowers can all be used for culinary purposes, the flower buds are said to give the most flavour.

Lavender Buds on the left; Lavender Flowers on the right

In PEI, harvesting of lavender occurs in mid-July.  When at their bud stage, the beautiful purple/mauve buds are removed from their tall spikes, washed, and spread on screens to dry.  They are then ready to be used in various products.  It is possible to get a second, smaller harvest from the same plants late in August or early September.  The photographs below were taken at the lavender farm on July 10, 2012, the day before they began harvesting.  I can only imagine the wonderful scent there must have been during the harvesting process!

The Day Before the Harvesting of the Lavender at The Five Sisters of Lavender Lane

The Five Sisters of Lavender Lane only sell their culinary lavender in the small gift shop at their farm in Kelly’s Cross and it is not uncommon for local chefs to stop by to pick up their supply for their restaurants.  If you are cooking with lavender, just make sure that it is the culinary variety you are using and that it has been grown organically, pesticide-free.  Besides the culinary lavender, the farm also produces and sells a number of other lavender products onsite including perfumed products.  This year, they are currently experimenting with the production of lavender extract which can be used in culinary products in the same way that vanilla, almond, or lemon extract is used.

Lavender is a strong herb so my advice is less is more and to exercise caution in the amount you use in a recipe.  If you use too much, it will not be a pleasant taste because it may seem like you are eating soap or that you used perfume in the dish.  I find a lot of recipes call for 1-2 tablespoons of lavender and that is way too excessive in any recipe for my taste.  When trying a recipe with lavender, I start with a very modest amount and, if I find it is not enough, I will slightly increase the amount the next time I make the recipe until I get it to the point that it pleases my palette.  Like any herb, you want it to accent the dish, not predominate and overpower it.   Rule of thumb is that, if you are using dried lavender, use one-half what you would use fresh.  Because it is not very pleasant to bite into a whole lavender bud, the herb is often ground in a spice grinder or coffee grinder.  It is very important to carefully read a recipe that calls for lavender to determine when the amount of the herb the recipe calls for gets measured – i.e., is it before or after the lavender is ground or crushed. If the recipe calls, for example, for 1 tsp. lavender buds finely ground, first measure the whole buds as the teaspoon measure and then grind them as, otherwise, the flavour will be too strong if you were to use 1 tsp finely ground lavender in the recipe.

Lavender is now the trendy herb not only in baked goods like cookies, scones, and sweet breads but in ice cream, in vinaigrettes, in rice, on chicken and lamb, in jams, jellies, and honey, and in drinks such as herbal teas and lemonade.  I have done a lot of experimenting with cooking and baking with lavender this summer and I am lucky because I live not far from the lavender farm where I can get my supply of quality culinary lavender.  Not long ago, I prepared an evening tea featuring lavender – a Lavender Blueberry Banana Bread, lavender scones with homemade lemon curd, and Swedish Teacakes filled with the curd.

An Evening Lavender Tea
Roasted Beet Salad

On Sunday evening I made an entire meal with lavender as the focus.  For the salad course, I started with a roasted beet and goat cheese salad on garden greens.  To roast the beets, I coated them with olive oil then sprinkled some fresh thyme, lemon verbena, basil, dried lavender buds, and a bit of minced garlic on them.  I wrapped the beets in tin foil and roasted them at 400C for about 1 hour, till they were fork tender.  I then sliced the beets and laid them on a bed of lettuce freshly picked from our garden, added some orange sections, and tossed some goat cheese and pecans on the top.  I made a simple citrus-based vinaigrette to drizzle over the salad.  The beets had a nice roasted flavour to them, not strong in any herb flavour, which is the taste I was aiming for.

Lavender Chicken Breasts in Champagne Sauce served with fresh green and yellow string beans and blue, red, and white fingerlings

For the main course, I chose a recipe from Sharon Shipley’s “The Lavender Cookbook” for Lavender Chicken Breasts in Champagne Sauce.  This was delicious.  The chicken breasts were marinated in lemon juice, thyme, and ground lavender buds then cooked in a skillet with a wonderful mushroom and champagne sauce.

 

 

 

For dessert, I wrapped my homemade Lavender-Honey-Vanilla Ice Cream in a dessert crepe and drizzled it with raspberry coulis made with fresh PEI raspberries picked near Hunter River.  The ice cream, my feature recipe for this posting, is also good with a hot fudge sauce or drizzled with a good quality chocolate or raspberry balsamic vinegar that has been reduced to syrup stage.

Lavender-Honey-Vanilla Ice Cream in Crepe, drizzled in Raspberry Coulis

 

The lavender farm at the Five Sisters of Lavender Lane is located at 1433 Route 246 in Kelly’s Cross, PEI.  Check out their website at http://www.fivesistersoflavenderlane.com/ or call them at 902-658-2203.

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Lavender-Honey-Vanilla Ice Cream

By Barbara99 Published: August 9, 2012

  • Yield: Apx. 1 quart

Lavender-infused homemade ice cream

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. In double boiler, over medium heat, heat the whipping cream, half-and-half, milk, honey, sugar, lavender, and vanilla beans and pod. Stir occasionally and heat mixture until small bubbles start to appear around edge of mixture, about 10-12 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 30 minutes to allow the lavender flavour to infuse the warm milk mixture.
  3. Strain mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a clean bowl. Discard remains in sieve and return strained mixture to a clean double boiler and heat to the scalding point, stirring to prevent the mixture from curdling or sticking to the bottom of the pot.
  4. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk egg yolks and salt together. Whisk in vanilla. Add ¾ cup of the hot milk mixture to the eggs and whisk to blend. Pour this mixture into the custard in the double boiler. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture thickens to consistency that it will coat the back of a wooden spoon. Do not boil. Be patient as this takes time.
  5. Strain mixture through sieve into a clean bowl. Cool completely then chill, covered, in refrigerator for at least 3 hours or more (can be chilled up to 24 hours). Freeze custard in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions. Transfer ice cream to an airtight container and place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the ice cream. Cover and place in freezer for at least 4-6 hours to harden completely.

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Strawberry Time on PEI

Fresh PEI Strawberry Jam on Tea Biscuits

There is nothing quite like the scent of newly picked strawberries straight from the field!  It’s a hallmark of Summer, particularly in climates with short growing seasons such as that on PEI.  Some years, we are lucky to get a couple of weeks out of the “strawberry season” but, this year, weather conditions have permitted it to be extended to about a month.

Fresh From the Field PEI Strawberries

I remember when I was growing up, the early morning take-offs to the nearby U-pick berry field so we would be in the line-up for its 6:00am opening for fear of not being in time to get the best “pickings” of berries.  Out would come the big, huge plastic bowls, hats, and bug spray and off to the field we’d go to get berries for eating, for jamming and, of course, “to put away” which meant crushing and freezing them for uses throughout the year.  There was no such thing as imported strawberries in the Winter from other countries as there is today….although I’ll argue those don’t have the flavour our local ones do!  Indeed, there would always be the “reviews” as to the quality of the berries – “they were so large, they had no flavour”, “they were so small, they were “poor” this year and not worth picking”, or “they had too hard a core in the center” – and, of course, the weather was never quite right for their growing no matter the conditions!  It seemed there was no “perfect” berry!  Yet, people picked pounds and pounds and buckets of them every year.  Going to the berry field was somewhat of a social event because that’s where everybody in nearby communities congregated in early July to get those berries!

I don’t freeze a lot of berries and take up freezer space with them but I do purée some for specific recipes I know I am likely to make throughout the year.  I freeze them in recipe-specific proportions and label them with the recipe name.  I like to make strawberry jam – sometimes I think more for the wonderful scent in the kitchen when it is cooking than for the need to have several bottles of jam available – although that’s a nice side benefit!  When I make my jams, I use smaller bottles – i.e., the 1-cup and ½-cup sizes.  These are ideal sizes for sharing and gift-giving and, let’s face it, who minds getting a treat of homemade jam.  Even if you make your own, isn’t it always nice to taste another cook’s jam?

I like strawberry jam on toast, scones, as a dollop on warm custard and, yes, even in my dark fruitcake that I make in the Fall.  But, one of the most marvelous ways to enjoy strawberry jam is on fresh homemade biscuits still warm from the oven.  For some reason, the flavour of strawberry jam always seems more true when the jam is served on a plain tea biscuit along with a nice cup of freshly brewed tea.  Perhaps this is why, of all the varieties of jams available, strawberry is typically the quintessential variety found on traditional afternoon tea tables.

 

Strawberry Jam Ingredients

The recipe I used to make strawberry jam this year comes from Anna Olson of the food network. This recipe does not make a large batch of jam – it yields approximately 6 cups.  It is a fairly sweet jam and I think the amount of sugar could be reduced by ½ cup to 3½ cups (instead of 4 cups the recipe calls for).  However, degree of jam sweetness is one of personal preference and much depends on the variety of strawberries being used and how much natural sugar the berries already contain.  This is not a super-thick jam and it does not use pectin.  I found I had to boil it longer than the recipe directions said.  In fact, I boiled it near an hour to get it thick enough for my liking.  The flavour is really good and authentic.  One thing I do is use a potato masher to crush up some, but not all, of the berries because I like some chunks of berries in my jam but not so many that it makes it difficult to spread.

Preparing Ingredients for Strawberry Jam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making Strawberry Jam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bottles of PEI Strawberry Jam

One of my favourite pastimes is to relax and enjoy an afternoon tea.  No better way than with a cuppa, fresh tea biscuits, and newly made strawberry jam.  It’s a great way to enjoy the fruits of jam-making labour!

Fresh Strawberry Jam on Tea Biscuits

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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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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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Maple Syrup Baked Beans

My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Maple Syrup Baked Beans

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

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

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

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

Soaking the dried beans accomplishes three things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Maple Syrup Baked Beans

Ingredients:

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

 Method:

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

Soaking the Dried Beans
Soaking the Dried Beans

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

Preheat oven to 300°F.

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

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

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

Baked Beans
Baked Beans

My Island Bistro Kitchen's Maple Syrup Baked Beans

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

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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

Recipe Notes

Yield: 6-8 servings

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Homemade Baked Beans
Baked Beans

My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Macaroni and Cheese

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

My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Macaroni and Cheese

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

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

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

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

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Mac 'n Cheese
Macaroni and Cheese

My Island Bistro Kitchen's Macaroni and Cheese

By Barbara99 Published: March 28, 2012

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

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

Ingredients

Instructions

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

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Cows Creamery Field Trip

 

Cows Creamery in Prince Edward Island

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

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

Cows Ice Cream

 

"Wowie Cowie" Ice Cream at Cows Creamery

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

Cows Ice Cream Shop in Downtown Charlottetown, PEI

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

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

Cows Ice Cream Production Room

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Cows Ice Cream - Prince Edward Island

 

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

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

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

 

Cheddar Cheese

Cows Cheese

 

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

 

Cows Creamery Extra Old Cheddar and Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar

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

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

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

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

 

Creamery Butter

Cows Sea-Salted Creamery Butter

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

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

 

Novelty Items

 

Cows Whimsical T-Shirts

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

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

 

Cows Advertisement at the Charlottetown Airport

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

Factory Tours

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

 

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

My Island Bistro Kitchen's Macaroni and Cheese

By Barbara99 Published: March 21, 2012

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

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

Ingredients

Instructions

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

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St. Patrick’s Day Dinner – 2012

Irish Coffee

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

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

PEI Blue Mussels Steamed in Guinness

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

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

2 Tbsp carrots, very finely chopped

2 Tbsp celery, very finely chopped

2 Tbsp. onion, finely chopped

½ tsp garlic purée

½ tsp. dried dillweed

1 – 1 ½ Tbsp butter

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

1 cup Guinness

Bring to a boil

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

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

PEI Blue Mussels Steamed in Guinness

 Irish Stew

Spirited Irish Stew

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

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

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

Irish Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread

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

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

Irish Soda Bread Dough

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

Irish Soda Bread Ready for the Oven

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

Irish Soda Bread

 Irish Cream Cheesecake

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

Irish Cream Cheesecake

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

Slice of Irish Cream Cheesecake Drizzled with Chocolate Sauce

My Island Bistro Kitchen's Spirited Irish Stew

By Barbara99 Published: March 18, 2012

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

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

Ingredients

Instructions

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

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Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate Chip Cookies

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

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

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

Measuring Flour

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

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

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

Making the Cookie Dough

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

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

Cookies Ready for the Oven

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

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

Chocolate Chip Cookies Fresh From the Oven

 

 

 

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

Cookies Cooling on the Racks

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

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

Cookies and Tea

Oat Bran and Flaxseed Bread

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

Oat Bran and Flaxseed Bread

By Barbara99 Published: February 20, 2012

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

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

Ingredients

Instructions

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

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Champagne Scallops & Asparagus

Champagne Scallops & Asparagus

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

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

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

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