My Favorite PEI Seafood Chowder – 2012

Seafood Chowder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PEI Juice Works Ltd. Produces High Quality Wild Blueberry Juice

PEI Wild Blueberries

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

 

Juice Works Logo

 

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

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

Crate of Wild Blueberries, Fresh from the Field

 

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

PEI Juice Works Ltd. Production Facility and Test Kitchen

 

 

Two Flavours of PEI Juice Works Ltd. Wild Blueberry Juice

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

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

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

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

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

Wild Blueberry Harvesting Process

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

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

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

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

Steamed Mussels with Blueberry Vinaigrette

 

Steamed Mussels served with Blueberry Vinaigrette

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

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

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

My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Blueberry Sangria

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

My Island Bistro Kitchen's Blueberry Sangria

By Barbara99 Published: August 29, 2012

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

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

Ingredients

Instructions

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

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Summer Sunshine Afternoon Tea

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

Afternoon Tea on the Verandah

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

My Favorite Yellow Rose Teacup

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

Lemonade

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

Sandwiches for a Summer Afternoon Tea

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

Tea Sandwiches

 

Tea-time Delectables

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

The Tea-time Menu!

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

Tea Table

 

 

Tea with Lemon

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

Sailboat Tablescape

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

Sailboat Tablescape

 

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

Place Setting

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

Sailboat Centerpiece

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

Summer Sailing

 

Sailboat Napkin Fold

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

Top View of Sailboat Tablescape

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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 and Ice Cream Socials on PEI

A Sunday Strawberry Social

Summertime strawberry and ice cream socials (“socials”) are prolific on PEI in July and always herald Summer on the Island.  From churches to community groups to historical museums to Women’s Institute groups, socials are common Summer events on PEI.  Even local politicians gather around strawberries and ice cream and host Summer socials as a way of connecting with their constituents.  Who would have thought strawberries would gain and hold such notoriety as the star attraction at so many local Summer social gatherings!

Strawberry Shortcake

While I was unable to trace definite origins of these Summer socials on PEI, local historian and curator of History and Exhibits with PEI Museums and Heritage, Boyde Beck, tells me the earliest recording that he could find of such an event was in 1871 when the public was invited to a strawberry festival with refreshments on the grounds of the Wesleyan Academy, an event that also involved croquet and games for the young.  Then, in 1896, there is a recording of an ice cream and strawberry banquet held after a 13-mile bicycle race from Brackley Beach to Charlottetown under the auspices of the Charlottetown Wheel Association.  I think it would be safe to say that these early events would have involved homemade vanilla ice cream churned by hand in a wooden crank-style freezer and the strawberries most likely would have been wild as opposed to the cultivated variety.

Today, most socials still follow the traditional strawberry shortcake recipe — a tea biscuit split in two with a scoop (or two!) of vanilla ice cream on top and drizzled with  strawberries (usually crushed) and a dollop of whipped cream.  Most often, a beverage is included (tea, coffee, or lemonade) and many organizations also offer homemade squares and cookies as well, particularly if the event is held indoors and if table seating is provided.  You can expect to pay in the vicinity of $5-7 for the event.

Dishing Up the Goods!

When they originally began, the primary purpose of the events was purely social — to bring together people in a community or church, for example, so they could get to know their neighbours or renew old acquaintances – hence the use of the word “social” in connection with the event.  Apart from those organized by politicians for the purpose of meeting and greeting constituents, today’s socials are seen as a good way to raise money for organizations’ causes and some argue this is now more the key objective with hosting the events.

My earliest recollection of attending an ice cream social was in the early 1970s.  One July evening, my Mother suggested we go to a “Strawberry Social” being held on the grounds of Howatt’s Fruit and Vegetable Farm in Tryon, PEI, not far from the banks of the Tryon River.  I have to admit, as a youth, I found it bizarre to make a connection between strawberries and something social!  Nevertheless, off we went and I can recall it being a lovely, warm Summer evening and the beautiful manicured grounds with a canopy of several weeping willow trees on the lawns providing a lovely venue for the early evening event.  Today, most socials are held indoors so that weather is not a restricting factor.

On Sunday afternoon, July 22, 2012, I was in Bideford, near Tyne Valley, PEI, in the Western part of the Province where the Bideford Parsonage Museum was hosting its 13thannual Strawberry Social.

Strawberry Social at Bideford Parsonage Museum

This house, now museum, was the former Methodist Parsonage where famed authoress, Lucy Maud Montgomery, boarded with Rev. John F. and Mrs. Ada Estey from 1894-95 when she was in her first teaching position at Bideford No. 6 School.  Members of the local historical society were blessed with a beautiful sunny day as they hosted the Sunday afternoon event outdoors on the Museum grounds.  For the modest price of $5.00, visitors received a large bowl of strawberry shortcake, and tea, coffee, or lemonade.  Homemade sweet tea biscuits, fresh Island strawberries, and PEI-produced ADL ice cream proved a combo hard to beat on a hot day!

Sunday Afternoon Strawberry Social

Local musicians provided the afternoon’s entertainment as hosts, in period costume, mingled about the grounds.  While many churches, halls, and parks across the Island are the scene of socials throughout the Summer, the lovely designed and maintained Bideford Parsonage Museum with its immaculate grounds encased in a white picket fence sets a beautiful backdrop for a Summer social.

Bideford Parsonage Museum, Bideford, Prince Edward Island, Canada

You can certainly let your mind wander to a more tranquil and genteel era when this kind of social would have been held in the late 1800s and you can easily imagine how such a summer social would have been a hugely anticipated  event in rural PEI.  On a sunny 28ºC Sunday afternoon in July 2012, ice cream and seasonal berries proved to be a perfect refreshing treat just as I am sure they would have been more than a century ago!

Lots of Strawberry and Ice Cream Socials on PEI!

Whether you are a local Islander or a tourist visiting PEI in July, be sure to stop by one of the many strawberry and ice cream socials.  On an almost daily basis in July, local newspapers carry advertisements for these events held at various locations across PEI so, no doubt, there would likely be one not far from where you are on the Island!

Bideford is about a 35-minute drive from the City of Summerside, PEI.   Visit the museum’s website at http://www.bidefordparsonagemuseum.com/

 

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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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A Tour of Newman Estate Winery in Gladstone, PEI

Newman Estate Winery, Gladstone, PEI, Canada

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

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

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

Newman Estate Winery

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

 

Varieties of Grapes

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Vineyard in the Early Morning

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

Flowering Grape Vines

 

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

Rows of Grapevines

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

Grapevine

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winemaking at Newman Estate Winery

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

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

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

Red Wine

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

Wines Produced at Newman Estate Winery, Gladstone, PEI

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

Veranda at Newman Estate Winery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Visit to Liquid Gold Tasting Bar & All Things Olive

Liquid Gold Tasting Bar & All Things Olive

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

Liquid Gold, Charlottetown, PEI

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

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

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

A Tasting Bar

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

Rows of Empty Bottles Waiting to be Filled

 

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

Bottles are Filled at Time of Purchase

 

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

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

Health Benefits of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

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

What to Look for When Tasting and Purchasing Olive Oil

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

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

Storing Olive Oil

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

 

Balsamic Vinegars

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

Health Benefits of Balsamic Vinegars

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

What to Look for when Tasting and Purchasing Balsamic Vinegars

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

Storing Balsamic Vinegars

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

 

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

Product Prices

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

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

Cranberry-Pear Balsamic Vinaigrette

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

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

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

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

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

 

Liquid Gold, Charlottetown, PEI

 

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

Annie’s Table Culinary Studio

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

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

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

 

Fresh PEI Oysters

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Savory hors d’oeuvres

 

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

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

Culinary Challenge at the Harvest Table

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

Loft at Annie’s Table Culinary Studio

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

The Tower at Annie’s Table Culinary Studio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Teaching Kitchen at Annie’s Kitchen Culinary Studio

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Canada Day!

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

Canada Day Cupcakes

 

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

Canada Day Tea

 

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

 

The Maple Leaf – A Symbol of Canada

 

Keeping the red and white theme going!

 

Everything Red and White for Canada Day!

 

 

Canada Day Tea on the Verandah

 

 

Canadian Flags

 

 

Happy Canada Day!

 

 

Thanks for visiting my site today.  Enjoy your day!

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Ruby Red Rhubarb

Rhubarb Marmalade on Fresh Biscuits

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

Rhubarb Signifies Spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jamming and preserving season is officially underway!

Rhubarb Marmalade

 

Rhubarb Marmalade

Ingredients:

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

Method:

Chop rhubarb into thin slices. Set aside.

Wash the orange, grapefruit, and lemon well.

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

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

Rhubarb Marmalade Ingredients
Rhubarb Marmalade Ingredients

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

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

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

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

Boiling the Marmalade
Boiling the Marmalade

Yield:  Apx. 7 half-pint jars

1-DSC04775

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

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

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Savour the Flavour at PEI’s Food and Wine Show

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

Chefs at Savour Food & Wine Show

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

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

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

 

 

Prince Edward Distillery

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

Beverages

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Wine Offerings

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

Tempting Desserts

Who Serves the Best Seafood Chowder on Prince Edward Island?

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

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

The challenge is on!

Lady Lilac Afternoon Tea

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Floral Centerpieces with Michael Jackson of Prestige Floral Studio

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Correct.  Be sure to match the surroundings and dinnerware.

So, what are some other trends in table centerpieces?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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Let’s Set the Table!

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

 Types of Table Place Settings

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

Continue reading Let’s Set the Table!

Mother’s Day Tea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Maple Syrup Baked Beans

My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Maple Syrup Baked Beans

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

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

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

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

Soaking the dried beans accomplishes three things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Maple Syrup Baked Beans

Ingredients:

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

 Method:

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

Soaking the Dried Beans
Soaking the Dried Beans

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

Preheat oven to 300°F.

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

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

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

Baked Beans
Baked Beans

My Island Bistro Kitchen's Maple Syrup Baked Beans

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

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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

Recipe Notes

Yield: 6-8 servings

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Homemade Baked Beans
Baked Beans

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