The Canadian Food Experience Project (January, 2014)
The Canadian Food Experience Project began June 7, 2013. As we, the participants, share our collective stories across the vastness of our Canadian landscape through our regional food experiences, we hope to bring global clarity to our Canadian culinary identity through the cadence of our concerted Canadian voice. Please join us.
This month's topic is: A Canadian Resolution
Wild Rice and Mushrooms - 'A Very Old and Precious Gift from Mother Earth'
-Andrew George Jr., Canadian Aboriginal chef
Opening up the new calendar for the year always sends a thrill of excitement through me. What will the new year bring? What adventures and life lessons does it hold for me? What will I be thinking when I put this calendar away at the end of the year? What will I have notated on these pages?
I love writing in those first appointments and notes on the January page, then hanging the calendar up on my fridge in its important place as hub-central of our busy schedules. It's also a tangible record of the year to come. I keep my calendars from each year, as they are my chronicle of our family's life. Every little notation goes on there, and if I need to check a fact, I can always thumb through past years' calendars. They're great for settling disputes about dates, or just reminding my sometimes scatterbrained mind of the big family events and the little family happenings .
We got back last night from our Christmas holiday/family visiting trip, and I cracked open the new calendar. It's already filled with a handful of appointments and commitments for January. The new year is off to its busy start.
I've given up making official New Years Resolutions because in the past I've been rotten about keeping them. Too much pressure.
I like being able to set myself small life goals whenever I need them, and the thought that I have to pick big important goals to accomplish, on the first day every new year, is so restrictive. Every new day is a chance to start anew.
However, I did make a couple small, loose goals for the new year - one goal I revisit periodically when I go downstairs and look at my food storage shelves, extra fridge and two freezers, and one goal that's kind of new and related to this month's topic for The Canadian Food Experience Project.
My first goal is to really pare down and use up all the stored food I have on my basement pantry shelves and in my freezers.
It. Is. Time. (Oh, is it ever time.)
I have stuff down there from years ago - jars of interesting sauces, cans of exotic vegetables, packets of spices, cases of goods that were selling at prices too low to resist, frozen packages and foods that were so important at the time but now I'm not sure what's in them, and home-canned goodies that I've forgotten I've made until I see the jars hidden behind rows of others. I am like a food hoarder - I can never pass up a bargain or a cool new ingredient, but then I have way too much to use up. I call my basement 'the deep dark hole' and yes, I say it in italics and with disgust in my voice. Do any of you have that problem?
This year it's gotta go! The sad thing is, some of those wonderful ingredients that got me so excited to think of new things to cook with them, get outdated before I get to them. So, culling the old stuff is the first job on my list, then comes reorganizing ingredients so they are easy to see and use. And actually using up things and resisting buying new products until all the old ones are used up is after that. I am going to make this my challenge, and I think it will be a fun project (with the reward of a less cluttered pantry within a few months!)
My second goal has to do with cooking more recipes from my large selection of cookbooks. (You can see there that I've addressed goal number one before - sad, I know.) What started this off was a great new cookbook I received for Christmas, from my sister Rosalinda and her husband Steven, entitled 'Modern Native Feasts'.
The author, Andrew George Jr. grew up in Telkwa, just outside of Smithers, British Columbia, and his brother works with Steven. Andrew George Jr. is a Canadian Aboriginal chef with many culinary honours to his name, one of which was being part of the first Aboriginal team ever (from anywhere in the world) to compete in the World Culinary Olympics in Frankfurt Germany in 1992, bringing home numerous medals, and another was being highly involved in the preparation of menus and meals for events during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, BC. He uses native Canadian ingredients in his recipes and honours traditional Aboriginal methods of food preparation. I love reading his cookbook and am excited to try many more recipes from it in the coming year. That cuisine is really our only truly Canadian culinary heritage.
The recipe for Wild Rice and Mushrooms is adapted from his first cookbook, coauthored with Robert Gairns, entitled A Feast for all Seasons, Traditional Native Peoples' Cuisine. If you've never cooked wild rice before, you are in for a treat. It is indigenous to Canada (sometimes called Canada Rice or Indian Rice), and even though it can be quite pricey, it is definitely worthy of a special occasion. This gluten-free grain is low in fat and high in protein, antioxidants, minerals, B vitamins, lysine, and dietary fiber. Wild rice is nutty and flavourful and slightly chewy and goes wonderfully with the earthy flavour of mushrooms. Serve it with a lovely piece of salmon, or any other robust meat.
On Boxing Day we left Alberta to spend the rest of the Christmas holiday with my mother and three of my sisters and their families, who live in Prince George, Smithers and Terrace, in northern British Columbia.
The drive took two days each way, and the roads were icy, rainy, slippery and treacherous. It was cold, and there was a lot of snow everywhere, but the time spent with my family was warm, wonderful and so worth it all. We spent several nights with each family and had so much laughter, amazing meals, good walks, great talks, and lovely lazy times.
In Smithers we were visited by two moose on the front lawn. By the time we managed to grab a camera and Raymond ran after them, they had sauntered down to the end of the back alley, stopping to munch on tender twigs of ornamental trees.
It was a wonderful Christmas, and now I am looking forward to a great year ahead. I wish you all the same, sending best wishes from our house to yours.
* * * * *
Kitchen Frau Notes: Wild rice can take a long time to cook. Andrew George Jr. says the rice should be cooked in about 35 minutes, and I find it usually does cook in about 45 minutes when I use plain water. For me, it always takes much longer when I cook the rice in broth. I think the salt in the broth is what makes it take so long. I have found that some batches I've cooked have taken up to 1 hour and 45 minutes to fully absorb the liquid and have all the grains fluffy and burst open, but the broth makes it so much more flavourful than using just water. The best thing to do is cook the wild rice ahead of time, earlier in the day or even the day before, so that you are not stuck waiting the meal on your rice, or worse - serving watery half-cooked rice. Then you can just saute the vegetables, stir them into the rice and reheat it all gently.
Wild Rice and Mushrooms
slightly adapted from 'A Feast for all Seasons, Traditional Native Peoples' Cuisine' by Andrew George Jr. and Robert Gairns
- 1½ cups (375ml) wild rice
- 3 cups (750ml) chicken or beef stock
- 1 bay leaf
- ¼ cup (60ml) butter
- ½ cup (125ml) chopped onion
- ½ cup (125 ml) finely chopped celery
- ½ teaspoon dried sage
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme (or use 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning instead of the sage & thyme)
- 3 cups (8 oz/225 grams) sliced wild or button mushrooms
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
In a heavy saucepan, place the rice with the chicken or beef stock and the bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then stir and cover with a lid. Reduce the heat to a low simmer until the rice is tender, the grains have split open and all the liquid is evaporated out. This can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 hour and 45 minutes, depending on the size and age of your rice grains and the saltiness of the stock. Check periodically to see if the rice is done. When you scrape a wooden spoon to the bottom of the saucepan, all the water should be cooked out and the rice grains should be fluffy and almost dry, with many of them split open to reveal their soft, creamy insides. Start your rice 2 hours before you want to serve it and just keep it warm until meal time, or reheat.
While the rice is cooking, melt the butter in a heavy bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion and celery and sauté until the onion is soft. Stir in the sage, thyme and sliced mushrooms. Sauté for 5 to 10 minutes more, until the mushrooms are soft and any liquid they have released has been cooked off.
When the wild rice is cooked, remove the bay leaf and add the mushroom mixture, scraping in all the bits of goodness from the pan with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and toss it all together until evenly combined.
Makes 6 to 7 cups, serving 4 to 6.
You might also like:
* * * * *
View past Canadian Food Experience Project entries here:
June, 2013: My First Authentic Canadian Food Memory: Buttery Sauteed Mushrooms with Spruce Tips and Chives
July, 2103: A Regional Canadian Food: Saskatoon Roll or Saskatoon Cobbler and How to Freeze Saskatoon Berries
August, 2013: A Canadian Food Hero in Northern Alberta, and Pickled Beets and Creamed Vegetables
September, 2013: My Cherished Canadian Recipe: Evans Sour Cherries in Brandy
October, 2013: Preserving, Our Canadian Food Tradition - Sweet and Spicy Apple Butter
December, 2013: A Canadian Christmas: Gumdrop Fruitcake