Labrador Tea, Morels and Bacon

Foraging is hot at the moment. I live in a semi-arid region and the pickings are slim. To compensate I have ordered a Community Supported Foraging box from northern Saskatchewan. It arrives monthly and is better than Christmas. I feel so spoiled.

This month the box contained an inordinate amount of burn morels. I splurged with this recipe for morel and bacon jam.

I am compelled to give a plug to my professional forager. I haven't met Elisabeth in person but I feel we are kindred souls. One day I will make the trek north and visit. You can find all her products on her website Prairie Infusions. She ships these delicacies all over North America. Give her a call.

However, if you are interested in foraging take the time to learn how to do it properly.

Learn the Latin name of plants rather than using common names. Common names vary from region to region. Learn habitat and companion plants. Where do you expect to find berries? What plants tend to grow in proximity to each other?
Plants can be picked throughout the year. Learn what is available in each season. Learn which parts of the plant are safe to eat and when to harvest. For example, stinging nettle should not be eaten after it has gone to seed.
Responsible foraging should be top of mind. Do not pick more than 10% even in a large patch. And definitely do not pick what you won’t use. Harvest only the part of the plant you intend to use. A guide is to only harvest 25% of the plant unless of course you are intending to use the root, such as cattails or wild onions.
Be aware of endangered plants, such as ramps. Ramps are illegal to pick in the wild due to diminishing numbers caused by over-harvesting.
Safety is another important concern. When harvesting water plants be aware of the source of the water. Any toxins in the water will be in the plant. Cattails in a slough may be contaminated with farm chemicals. Or plants in ditches may be contaminated with road maintenance products and automobile exhaust. 

Morel and Bacon Marmalade
Wild picked morels will have some grit if not washed before use. But be careful not to soak them. Wash quickly in two changes of water and use immediately.
8 oz. fresh morel mushrooms 250 g
4 slices bacon or pancetta
5 tbsp. butter, divided 75 mL
fresh thyme
1/2 c. beef, veal or mushroom stock 125 mL
1 c. carrots, diced 250 mL
1 c. shallots, diced 250 mL
1/2 c. Marsala or red port wine 125 mL
1/4 c. red wine vinegar 60 mL
1 tbsp. brown sugar 15 mL
1 tsp. black pepper 5 mL
kosher or sea salt to taste
Cook bacon until lightly crisp. Remove and add morels, two tablespoons (30 mL) butter and a pinch of salt to the pan. Cook mushrooms until soft, have released all their water and are nicely browned. Add stock and two sprigs of thyme. Simmer until almost all of the liquid has evaporated but the mushrooms are still moist. Remove mushrooms from pan and set aside. Discard thyme.
Add three tablespoons (45 mL) of butter. Saute shallots and carrots with a pinch of salt until softened, about eight minutes. Add sugar, vinegar, pepper and wine. Cook over medium heat until the liquid is reduced to a very small amount. Scrape up all the bits on the bottom of the pan
Chop mushrooms and bacon and add to sauce. Reduce further if necessary. You want it to be moist but not runny. Taste to adjust salt and pepper. It should taste peppery.
Serve warm with toasted thinly sliced baguette. Garnish with Labrador Tea.


Food Photography Motivates Me

Every now and again procrastination creeps in. I have an article due but just can't begin. This time my excuse was somewhat legit. I was waiting on my foraged food box from northern Saskatchewan. Then life gets in the way and it was down to the wire. I had one day to phtograph four or five recipes. Only daylight will suffice.
Cooking is the first step. Then comes plating and shot after shot until I am happy with an image.
Extra plates and bowls are helpful in carefully plating for the photo. A few extra slices of bread, just to be sure. Lots of dishes to do.

Playing with the right plate, the right background, the right light, the right props. All these dishes for a simple picture of bacon morel crostini.
All this just to get the right photo.


Lake Diefenbaker Steelhead Trout baked on a Plank

Last week I prepared a meal for 35 people. To say I was feeling a bit of pressure is to state the obvious. Guest of honour was dee Hobsbawn-Smith. I have followed dee since we both lived in Calgary. I clipped her columns from the Calgary Herald. And I enjoyed food at her restaurant Foodsmith back in the early 1990's.

Today she lives west of Saskatoon on the family farm and I live in Swift Current, SK. Pure coincidence that we both moved back around the same time. The only difference is that dee didn't know me from a hole in the ground. Meanwhile, I am stalking her and knowing she moved to the province I didn't exactly know where.

She is an artist, an artist with words and food, and it fitted that she may have chosen Eastend. I also checked out that ranching area.

Fast forward and serendipity has brought us together. Dee is the Saskatoon convivium leader for Slow Food. After inviting her to speak in my town about Slow Food I drove to Saskatoon and volunteered at their annual Slow Food fundraiser dining experience.

I would have thought I might have been nervous and shy but dee has a gentle and kind manner about her. She makes one feel comfortable and is genuinely interested in you.

So back to the dinner for 35. On the Wednesday before her Sunday reading here in town we had only four people signed up. I considered cancelling or at least moving it to my dining room table. Within two days 35 people signed up for a locavore Slow Food style meal.

This steelhead is one of the dishes I made for that dinner. Lucky me, my Community Supported Foraging box had just arrived from northern Saskatchewan and I had some splendid wild foraged ingredients.

Planked Steelhead Trout

spruce tips
camelina oil
baby rhubarb
sea salt
spruce tip syrup
cedar or alder plank
side of steelhead trout, skin on

Make a simple syrup by boiling one cup of water with one cup of sugar. Add 1/4 cup of spruce tips and continue to simmer until the syrup thickens. Cool and strain.

Finely chop a tablespoon of young spruce tips. Finely chop red baby rhubarb. Add both to the syrup.

Preheat plank in a 475 F oven until you can smell the wood. Rub with oil. Lay a side of trout on the hot board, skin side down. Rub the fish with oil and the syrup mixture. Place in the hot oven and bake for about ten minutes, or done.


A Drive in the Country - Grasslands National Park

On top of 70 Mile Butte. This is more than an historical landmark to anyone who makes the journey.

The evening primrose has a heavenly scent.

This is an authentic dinosaur bone that lays exposed and untouched. Why? That's what I love about Canada. Respect.


Quicksand is just as we have learned. No way I would step beyond that sign. No way.

The East Block is so very different from the West Block. No buffalo. No prairie dogs.


My Favourite Food Shot of Anything I Have Photographed

I think I want to be a photographer. Tonight was the Slow Food Saskatoon fundraiser dinner and I had the pleasure of taking the pictures. Here are some of my favourites of the evening. I see two themes. I love food and do my best work with food but I love the reaction of people to the food.

Not a stellar photograph but it captures the spirit of this volunteer.

Her Mom is a Local Food Hero but she stole the show.


A Recipe from Jennifer McLagan's new cookbook Bitter

After three immensely interesting and popular single subject cookbooks Bones: Recipe, History and LoreFat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient and Odd Bits: How to Cook the Rest of the Animal, Jennifer McLagan admits this fourth book is it for awhile. Unless it is a really good idea she is not interested and at the moment she doesn't have that flash of genius.

Genius is seen in her latest book Bitter: A Taste of the World's Most Dangerous Flavor, with Recipes. In an informed style she explores the nuances of bitter. "When was the last time you had a broiled half grapefruit in a restaurant?" She is correct in saying that the previously ubiquitous white grapefruit has all but disappeared from the North American palate. Sweetness is being bred into our fruits and vegetables resulting in less complexity in our dining flavours.

Bitterness is added with chocolate, coffee and a variety of fruits and vegetables such as turnip, chokecherry and radicchio. Many of us have recipes in our box with bitter flavours without understanding why we love them so.

This recipe for pork chops is perfect. There is somewhat of a smokiness in the flavour profile, some acidity and a hint of sweetness that compliments the fatty character of pork.

Thanks to my almost-twin cousin residing in New Zealand for the heads up on this delightful dish. He sent it to both myself and his daughter, Sarah, presumably named after moi. There you go. Three peas in a pod.

Speaking of pods, click here to find the podcast of an interview with the author. It is an enlightening glimpse into the world of bitter. You must listen.

  • 4 rib pork chops, about 1 1/2 inches
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons lard
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 large branch fresh thyme
  • 1 cup brewed coffee
  • 1 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 1 heaping tablespoon black currant preserves
Twenty minutes before cooking, remove the pork chops from the refrigerator. Pat dry and season with salt and pepper. In a frying pan large enough to hold the chops, heat the lard over medium-high heat. When the fat is hot, add the chops and brown for 2 minutes on each side.
Transfer the chops to a plate, lower the heat, and add the shallot and thyme to the pan. Stir, and cook until the shallot begins to color. Pour in the coffee and chicken stock and bring to a boil, deglazing the pan by scraping up the browned bits from the bottom. Boil to reduce the sauce by about half.
Return the chops to the pan and lower the heat so the liquid is simmering. Cook the chops for 5 minutes, basting with the sauce from time to time. Turn the chops and cook for another 5 minutes, or until cooked.
Place the chops on a platter and keep warm loosely covered with aluminum foil. Remove the thyme from the pan and add the black currant preserves. Stir and cook the sauce until syrupy and reduced to about 1/3 cup / 75 ml. Return the chops to the pan with any juices, and turn to coat with the sauce. Check the seasoning of the sauce—remember it should be pleasantly bitter—and serve the chops, spooning over the sauce.