The Essence

Living and growing a family in the North awards you with a real and tangible connection to the land. As a mother of 5 and as a home baker and wannabe chef, it is this connection that seeps into everything - motherhood, food, harvesting, and experiencing the very heartbeat of the bit of earth that sustains us.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Mennonite Apple Bars

It's funny that most of my posts thus far have been about cooking and dinners - as mostly I consider myself a baker. I cook dinner out of an obligation to feed my family good homemade food, but I bake because I love to measure ingredients into a bowl, I love to cream sugar into butter and knead soft dough into billowy rolls. I love to ice cakes, I love the look of a grid of cookies on their sheet, I love to crimp the edge of my pie into wavy corners. One of my favourite pastimes is to sit quietly with a coffee, flipping the pages of one of my cookbooks.
There is great pleasure in curling up with a good book, being immersed in its pages, but once it's done there is sometimes a feeling of sadness, a sense of being a bit cheated because the story is over. I rarely read a book twice, even a good book.
Except when it comes to cookbooks. You can go back to cookbooks again and again, and it's like your reading them for the first time. You discover a recipe you swear wasn't there before, or you learn a method you must have skipped over during the first read. For me, there is almost nothing I look forward to more than a mail day after I've received the notification from Canada Post in my inbox. I have a lot of cookbooks. And I've read them all cover to cover - at least twice.
I'm always on the lookout for an interesting new cookbook, and if I'm invited into your kitchen you might see my eyes searching your shelves, seeking out the spot where your cookbooks might be stored. My sweet friend Kirsten always has some new finds when I visit her kitchen and the following recipe for Apple Bars comes from a cookbook I perused while sitting on a bar stool at her countertop. I went right home and ordered it off Amazon.
Kirsten lives in Chilliwack and gets to be friends with the rather large Mennonite community there. Sometimes I think I might make a good Mennonite. Anyway, she met a couple neat ladies who were part of a group who made a cookbook that became a national best seller. Never pass up a cookbook written by Mennonites, especially one that is a national best seller. Kirsten bought it, of course, and so now I have it.
This recipe for Apple Bars is slightly adapted from Lovella Schellenbergs recipe in "Mennonite Girls can Cook".

Into the bowl of your KitchenAid, combine 21/2 cups of flour and 1 tsp of salt.

Cut up 1 cup of cold butter into cubes, and add it to the flour one at a time, until it has the consistency of oatmeal.

Separate 2 eggs, and add the yolks to enough milk to make 2/3 cup. Save the whites in a separate dish.

Mix the egg yolk and milk mixture into the flour and butter until it holds together, then turn it out onto your counter and knead it a few times. Wrap it in Saran Wrap and refrigerate until chilled.

Peel and slice about 6 cups of apple. I used Granny Smith, because they aren't too sweet and they hold together well. Plus my Nana only used Granny Smith for Apple Pie, so they must be the best. Toss the apples with 1/2 cup of sugar.

Cut your chilled dough in half. Flour a piece of wax paper, place half your dough onto it and press it into a little rectangle shape. Sprinkle it with flour and place another piece of wax paper on top. Roll that sucker out until it will fit over the sides of your cookie sheet. Carefully peel the top sheet of wax paper off your dough, then flip it over into your sheet. Peel the rest of the wax paper off.

Crush a cup of cornflakes and sprinkle them over your dough. Then dump your sugared apples in, spreading them evenly around. Now take a little pastry brush and brush some egg white onto the edges of your dough. This will help to "glue" the top on.

Prepare the second piece of dough the same way as the first, placing it over the apples. Trim the edges, patch any holes, and pinch the dough together against the side of the pan to seal it. Brush the top of the dough with your egg white, then sprinkle a bit of sugar over it. Poke it all over with a fork to let the steam escape.

Bake in a preheated 375C oven for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown.

Combine 1 cup of icing sugar, 2-3 Tbsp of cream or milk, and 1-2 tsp of maple syrup to make a thin drizzle icing.

These turned out really good, I will be making them a lot more! I think they would be good with cherry or rhubarb, or peaches. Thanks Mennonite Girls!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Turkey Alfredo

Now for the third meal from the Superstore turkey. I threw the turkey carcass into the freezer as it is Spring Break and we have been busy enjoying lots of outdoor family time and dealing with a turkey carcass seemed too ambitious. The other day I pulled it out to thaw while we were soaking up the rays and trying to hook into a Kokanee on Fish Eye Lake. No such luck.
 When we returned, I stuck the carcass into a big pot and boiled it for a couple hours in salted water. Then I turned it onto a cutting board and plucked all the meat off it. Soup is the thing to make with a turkey carcass, and although it would have satisfied us after spending the day out on the ice, I wanted to try something different.

Chop up some onion and garlic. A lot of my cooking starts with this step! Haha. Fry that up in a couple wads of butter. 

Put some fettuccine on to boil.

To the onion and garlic and butter, add a 500ml carton of whip cream. Yum.

When the cream is warm, add a bag of Parmesan and some cracked pepper and salt. Double yum.

Let that warm until the Parmesan melts, then dump in your turkey meat. If you want, add some peas or some spinach to make up for the carton of whip cream. 

Stir that up and let it warm on low heat until the peas are cooked through or your spinach is wilted. Then you can drain your pasta and add it in.

I will get 4 meals out of the next Superstore turkey. That's 4 meals times 7 people (even though one of those people eats next to nothing at supper time) equals 28 servings outta one bird! How awesome is that? 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Caribou Stroganoff

I love this time of year. The sky is blue, you can finally feel some of the suns warmth again, and most of all, the light comes back. The length of the day will continue to increase until the summer solstice in June, when we will have virtually 24 hour a day light. I love it.

As the light returns, it is easy to push routines and schedules aside. The kids are happy outside roaming the neighbourhood, I hate to mess with happiness to call them in for dinner. And so it begins - the late evenings climbing snow hills, playing road hockey, walking dogs, sitting around a backyard fire with friends drinking wine. The lazy mornings when we all just want to sleep in and I don't even care that the kids are late to school everyday. The build up to summer.

Who wants to think about making dinner when you are sitting on your deck, feeling the heat in the suns rays, sipping on a Twisted Tea? Dinner creeps up on me during this time of year, when we are stuck between being tied to routines dictated by the school day, and the urgent calling of schedule-less (is that a word?) summers, of camping beside my favourite lakes and throwing the kids a hot dog while I eat homemade salsa with tortilla chips for dinner. I can't wait. School in the North really should be wrapped up by the 1st of May.

And so it happened that the kids finally made their way home at 8pm after leaving the house at 10am. As they called up the stairwell, "What's for dinner mom?!" I thought, "Crap". One of my go to meals for times like this is Stroganoff. I can have it on the table in less than half an hour, even when the burger is still frozen. My mother made this a lot for us when we were kids - maybe it was her go to meal for the "Holy crap it's 8 o clock, we haven't had dinner and I have to get the kids to bed ASAP so they don't cut into the Me Time" too.

I pulled the last bag of ground Caribou out of the freezer than was left from a little bull TJ and Emily harvested in the mountains off horseback last summer. I see more August Caribou hunting this year!

Start with some ground red meat, beef or moose or caribou or elk or deer or bear or.....So many options!

Brown that up in a fry pan while you chop up some onion and garlic. I love the garlic in a big jar.

Mix that all together, add some salt and pepper. Then add the first secret ingredient, a can of cream of chicken soup. Add a can of milk or water too, to make it a creamy consistency.

Next comes the second secret ingredient, a tub of sour cream. This is not a time to be worried about fat content. Remember, your trying to get a quick dinner on the table!

Mix that up and add some chicken bouillon. I love the liquid kind, because I don't have to dissolve it in water and because it is concentrated, for maximum flavour. This is not a time to be worried about salt content either.

Mix that up and let it bubble away on low heat. In the meantime, get out the chop chop salad that you have in the fridge. Chop chop salad is our new favourite thing. Especially the Italian kind. It is a salad kit with chopped up cabbage and kale and broccoli and other good stuff, with sundried tomatoes and herbs and Parmesan and dressing. Yummy.

Put some broccoli or some other vegetable on to steam, and boil up some pasta. For stroganoff, I usually use fettuccini or egg noodles, but I didn't have either of those so I used rotini. Kids like a meal based on the noodle shape, anyways, and you can't go wrong with rotini right?
And 30 minutes or so later, viola! Even though I didn't start until 8pm, kids can still eat and be in bed by 9, and I can still have a couple of hours of Me Time. Perfect. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Superstore Turkey Schnitzel

Living in the middle of nowhere causes you to have to do "big shops" in the city. Whitehorse is the closest to us, about a 4 hour drive, and there sits the Superstore. When you spend $250 there, you get a freebie. Sometimes it's Tupperware or a Lysol Cleaning kit, sometimes it's 25,000 PC Plus points (if you don't have a PC Plus card, go get one, they are awesome) and this past week it was Turkeys. Of course I get the cashier to stop the till at each $250, so I can maximize my freebies. But that also meant that I brought home 3 turkey's. TJ complains about Turkey freebies because of the room they take up in the freezer.

TJ has a new favourite show on Sunday nights. It is called "Meat Eater". Haha. Anyway, the host Steve Rinella hunts everything under the sun and then he eats it (or part of it, often the most discusting part) in the field outdoors. Sometimes it's deer, or wild pig or aoudad or coyote. He hunts all over the world, not for the trophy - but for the meat. This past Sunday, he hunted wild Turkeys. He cut the breasts off the bird and made it into Turkey Schnitzel. TJs mouth watered, and for once he was thankful for the Turkey freebies. 
For our family, turkey is the new chicken. One chicken, even if it's a nice fat farm raised chicken, barely feeds our family of 7. A turkey will feed us 3 or 4 meals. I'm embracing the turkey. Next year when I'm a farmer, I'll be raising me some turkeys! Night one was this turkey schnitzel, and night two  we roasted the dark meat. I'm still working on tomorrow night, I have to do something with the carcass. Hopefully not boring old soup.

First you need to take your thawed turkey and chop that bugger up. Remove the legs and the wings at the joints, then start at the breast bone and take off each breast. I tried to get ok pictures while TJ butchered. Toss some potatoes in some olive oil, salt and pepper and set them to roast at 400 while you make your Schnitzel.

Trim and cut the turkey breasts into cutlets.

Take the skin from the breasts and cut it into chunks to use as icefishing bait.

Now you have to pound your turkey breast cutlets flat. Stick a piece of wax paper over the meat and pound it with a meat mallet, or a rock, or a frying pan. Get creative! 

Season your cutlets, now called scallopini, with salt and pepper. Now you have to make all your dips. Start with a dish of flour, about a cup, seasoned with pepper. Then crack about 4 eggs into another dish, and whisk in about 4 tbsp of milk. Into the last dish, put about 2 cups of Panko, 1/2 cup of Parmesan (real or processed) and a tbsp of Thyme. 

Now get a big sturdy fry pan and add about 3/4 cup of Crisco shortening. Shortening won't splatter as much as oil when you are frying. Set that to medium high heat. There's a trick to knowing when your oil is ready. Stick an unlit match into your warming oil. When it lights, it's ready!

Working with one piece at a time, dredge your cutlet in the flour, coat it with the egg, allowing the excess to drip off, then coat it in the Panko. Then carefully place it into your hot oil, and cook until golden brown on each side, about 4-5 mins each side and firm to the poke with your tongs. 

Drizzle with lemon juice, and voila! Turkey Schnitzel. 

The next day, drizzle the legs, thighs and wings with a bit of olive oil, sprinkle with lots of salt and pepper and roast at 400 for a couple hours until crispy. Yum.