Sunday, July 13, 2008

Country Cuisine: TASTE! of Summer

Country Cuisine is one of the most underrated celebrations of local food in the GEA (Greater Edmonton Area). I spent the afternoon today at the gorgeous St. Albert Grain Elevator Park surrounding by other local producers, restaurants, and hungry people. 300 people came through--and calmly. Everyone was happy--buoyed by summer sunday afternoon and the prospects of delicious food. The site set-up was great; it never felt crowded, there were lots of places to wander, to visit with local producers or artisans. There was a FANTASTIC bluegrass band (whose name I never caught--I'll find out!) set up on a wagon. The visual effect--three guys playing against a blue sky with an old grain elevator in the background--was breathtaking, actually. And the weather! Country Cuisine is in its the fourth year--fifth if you count the media picnic we did down by the creek at McLeod Creek farm in 2004--and WE'VE NEVER HAD BAD WEATHER! It was breezy today, but super sunny. It's that mid-summer dream-time--with all the fresh produce that is coming in--like STRAWBERRIES! Prairie Gardens booth had line-ups most of the afternoon--baskets of strawberries, strawberry shortcake, mmmmmm.

The fields are pulsating with strawberries at Prairie Gardens. I'll head there this week with Rory to pick a few pails, some to eat fresh, some to freeze, some to jam, and some to FUSE WITH HONEY. I started mixing fruit with honey in about 2002 or 2003. I did it just for fun. Despite our harsh prairie climate, there's a lot of interesting and tasty local fruit around here. I only really started doing honey-fruit fusions consistently in the last year or two (before that it always felt experimental, I'd do them whenever I felt like it and I'd have different types available sporadically at the market which I'm sure drove my customers crazy) . Of all the value-added things that I do with honey, they are the most popular. I've always felt a bit frustrated at the lack of diverse bee forage in the area where I live (large flat fields of clover, alfalfa, canola); I've never really been able to quite launch my dream of producing unique varietal honeys like you can in other parts of the world. Mixing fruit and honey as well as steeping herbs in honey are ways, I find, that I can make working with and selling honey a little more interesting, unique, and unusual.

I pulled off a new fruit/honey-culinary experiment today without a hitch: three refreshing drinks featuring local fruits or herbs with HONEY. The Honey-Mint Crush was the winner hands-down--which I never would have expected this morning while I was tasting it and pouring in the honey to cut the bitterness of the mint. Honey-Rhubarb Nectar was a go; I've made it before just for friends and it received rave reviews. Raspberry Sweetini probably tied with the rhubarb refreshment in popularity. At the final hour, I thought putting basil in it might have been a mistake, but people loved it. All the feedback was good. It'll be exciting moving onward, figuring out where to go with some really cool totally natural honey-based drinks...

Friday, June 27, 2008

My dad's cousin Shirley's yummy marinated asparagus

Asparagus season is about to end. How sad! It's back to normal-smelling p--whoops, sorry TMI!
I treat asparagus like BC cherries--they are with us for such a short and intense season, I eat as much as I can, as often as I can! And I do it guilt-free because they are so dang good for you.

I'm a big fan of Edgar's Asparagus, an Alberta family farm growing 17 acres of the tasty green spears. They're the only ones in Alberta doing it! Their asparagus is so sweet and crispy 1) you'll NEVER need to trim it and 2) you'll probably only get a small portion of it into the pot--it's so lovely to eat raw.

So here's a recipe that my mom uses from Shirley. I like it because it's cold and, heck, it has oil and garlic in it. How can it not be DELICIOUS?

Steam and drain 1 lb asparagus (usually a bundle) then chill.

For the marinade, mix together the following:
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp honey
2 cloves garlic minced
1 1/2 tsp basil (I like using fresh)
1/2 tsp salt
pepper to taste
1/2 cup oil

Marinate/chill the asparagus in the sauce--an hour is fine.
Mmmmm mmmm.

Maitecita's Sweet Seventeen Salad Dressing

Today is Maite's seventeenth birthday, so in her honour I'm posting a delicious recipe she invented for a salad dressing that uses honey. I used it when Judy Schultz came to lunch a couple of weeks ago for her Edmonton Journal series "Dinner on the Farm".

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 clove garlic
2-3 tbsp honey
3-4 tbsp apple juice
dry basil to taste
salt to taste

In a small bowl add the vinegar to the olive oil and whisk together. Slowly whisk the honey into the vinegar and olive oil. Press 1 clove of garlic into the dressing, add the salt and dry basil to your liking. Pour over any salad; this dressing goes well with salads that include spinach, arrugula, cherry or grape tomatoes, jicama, or carrots.

Lola's Friend Phil's Phenomenola Granola

Phil and his wife Gail sell Lola Canola Honey at the St. Albert Outdoor Farmers' Market for me every summer. Phil is a big honey fan--using it over the years mainly to make homemade granola (which until very recently HE ATE EVERY MORNING!)

He first made granola a couple or three decades ago--using the recipe from Frances Moore Lappe's book Diet for a Small Planet. Over the years he's adapted ("simplified" is what he claims!) his granola-making techniques to create his own unique combo.

So here we go, in Phil's words:
I make a big batch at a time, so you might want to cut this in half or even more.

Step 1) I put about sixteen cups of rolled oats into a big roasting pan and put them in the oven at 400 degrees.

Step 2) After about half an hour, I take the pan out, stir it up well, turn the pan around (ovens don't seem to heat up evenly somehow), and put it back in for another fifteen minutes or so.

Step 3) Then, I take it out and stir in several handfulls of raisins and several more of dried cranberries.

Step 4) When they're all stirred in, I add about half a cup of Lola Canola honey (it HAS to be Lola Canola or it just doesn't taste right!) which I've liquified in advance.

Step 5) After I've stirred the honey in thoroughly, I add about a quarter to a third of a cup of canola oil and stir that in well too.

Step 6) When that's all done, I put it back in the oven, still at 400 degrees, for another ten minutes, at which time I take it out and stir thoroughly again.

Step 7) After it's cooled for about half an hour or so, I add about two cups of ground sesame seeds (which I grind in the coffee grinder), and several handfuls of sunflower seeds, walnut bits, and almond flakes--and stir it some more. (The original recipe had me adding the sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, and almonds before adding the fruit, honey, and oil and putting it all back in the oven for a while, but I've read so much stuff since then about the value of eating nuts and seeds raw that I just add them after it's all cooked.)

You likely figured out that stirring is very important for the granola at every stage; you can't stir it too much.

The final touch: I keep ground flaxseed in the fridge, and I sprinkle it on my granola (and stir it in) before I add milk--for the omega-3 stuff. I don't add it directly to the granola when I make it because apparently flax goes rancid quickly once it's been ground (and you have to grind it or it tends to go through you undigested).

And that's it!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Chicken Rubbed 'til It Buzzes!

I'm fortunate to have many fantastic and creative friends who give me lots of input on the exciting things they do with honey. Queen of this group of friends is the amazing Paz Walton. Here are the details of her experiment last night--well-received by her children (ages 16, 15, and 8) and okayed by her gracious husband Yuri.

1 chicken (any pieces) in this case, Paz used thighs

3 tbsp coffee beans, ground fine
1.5-2 tbsp buckwheat honey
3-4 tbsps water to make a paste
dash of olive oil
dash of chile powder
dash of salt

Mix thoroughly so it's a nice paste. Rub all over the chicken and let rest in the fridge for an hour or so. Turn it over after half an hour.

Fry it at medium heat with a bit of olive oil. After the chicken is nicely browned, add a bit of water, then cover in order to cook thoroughly (within about 20 minutes).

Notes: Served last night with sweet potato fries. The flavour is full-bodied with that blackened tinge to it. The strong smell of the buckwheat (which bugs Paz) become secondary to the smell of the coffee but the smooth, earthy taste (which she loves) comes through powerfully and deliciously. The only complaint was the texture of the coffee grounds--Paz suggests grinding them really fine. Husband Yuri maintained that he doesn't need a buzz from his chicken--he gets enough from his morning coffee. The kids said "Right on, mom!" Actually, Paz was surprised that it was harder to sell the sweet potato fries to them than the chicken.

Paz's ideas: use the leftover bits of chicken to make a nice creamy gravy and serve it with rice. She also strongly suspects that it would be a delicious rub for pork.