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Food & Travel Guide

Food & Travel Guide

Owshegettinonb'y? That's a little bit of Newfinese left over from our trip to St. John's, NL, last August, where the final judging of Saltscapes 2004 Recipe Contest took place. For three of us, it was the first trip to this beautiful province and we were not disappointed.

We took in the sights, including whales at Cape Spear, North America's most easterly point, and travelled the Irish Loop as far as Witless Bay, marvelling at the scenery along the way. We "stogged our gob with prog" at some of St. John's best eateries, although we ate more genteelly than the age-old expression might suggest. We savoured cod cheeks and tongues, sampled toutons (fried bread dough) and molasses, ordered fish 'n' chips, which came, surprisingly, with a bread stuffing. We did ourselves proud when we were screeched in, "aving drunk aye shot ou rum-staide straite." And we climbed Signal Hill at 5 a.m. to watch the sunrise.

But there was also work to be done, and we got to it. Brian Ramsay, executive chef at the Delta Hotel and Conference Centre in St. John's, and his team of chefs who prepared the 24 finalists for the blind judging were a wonderfully obliging crew.

The judges arrived and took their places at the testing tables. Well-known artist Mary Pratt and cookbook author/food columnist Joan Over joined chef Steve Watson, now with Central Dairies, for the awesome job of tasting, rating and choosing the winners.

There were three contests: Muffins and Seafood Casseroles in the Comfort Food category, and the Sobeys-sponsored Quick 'n' Delish category, featuring easily prepared family meals for busy folks.

Our congratulations to all of the winners.

2004 Comfort Food Recipe Contest Grand Prize

Prune Muffins

Betty Watts, of Cornwall, PEI, was plenty excited when she heard that her Prune Muffins, a recipe she got from her mother, were the overall grand prize winner in the Saltscapes 2004 Comfort Food Recipe Contest. Imagine a plain little muffin winning out over seafood casseroles! But that's the way the muffin crumbles-according to our judges, who liked the texture, taste, presentation and "comfort value" well enough for it to top all others by scoring the highest points.

"I've been making these muffins for 15 or 20 years, and my mother made them long before that," she says, adding that she often makes them for bake sales or when there's a death or sickness.   

Although she doesn't bake as much as she used to, she hasn't lost her knack. Recently, when a cousin dropped in for a visit, she gave him a piece of apple pie. He told her he had expected to get a couple of her prune muffins. "You'll get them next time," she told him. "I promise."

Betty, who has always lived in the house her grandfather bought in 1903, has been active for years in the Women's Institute, having served a two-year term as president, and also loves to garden.  

Married 45 years, she and her husband, George, have a small market garden where George grows Irish Cobbler potatoes that he sells at a roadside stand. He also likes to grow sunflowers-"for the birds."

1/2 cup (125 mL) pitted prunes, chopped
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) flour
1 1/2 teaspoons (7 mL) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) salt
1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) ground cinnamon
1/2 cup (125 mL) granulated sugar
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup (125 mL) sour cream
1/3 cup (75 mL) melted butter

For the top:
1/4 cup (50 mL) melted butter
1/2 cup (125 mL) sugar
1 teaspoon (5 mL) cinnamon

In a large bowl, combine prunes, flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and sugar. Add beaten egg, sour cream and melted butter; stir just enough to blend. Do not over-mix. Batter will be firm and will look lumpy when put in the pans. Fill 12 greased muffin cups about 3/4 full. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes in a 375°F (190°C) oven. Let sit in pans for a couple of minutes before turning out.

While hot, dip muffin tops into 1/4 cup (50 mL) melted butter, and then into a mixture of 1/2 cup (125 mL) sugar and 1 teaspoon (5 mL) cinnamon.

Betty says these muffins are best served the day after they are made.

Muffin Category

First Prize

Branberry Muffins

Helen Cook doesn't bake as much as she did when her two children were growing up, but she still enjoys it for the opportunity to give baked treats to people who appreciate something homemade. Almost always that means making the muffins that captured the hearts and taste buds of the judges in our 2004 Comfort Food Recipe Contest, awarding the recipe first prize in the Muffin Category.

The muffins are good tasting, nutritious and quick to make says the Haligonian, who teaches communications at Saint Mary's University.  

"I like to know what is in the food I eat, and have learned that preparing tasty and nutritious food is actually easier when made with fresh, wholesome ingredients rather than the overly processed ingredients so readily available today," she says.

With a small patch of high-bush blueberries available on a piece of property she and her husband own in Yarmouth County, NS, and a brother, Paul Hendrickson, who was once the blueberry specialist for the Newfoundland/Labrador Department of Agriculture, she may have reason to lean to blueberries when making her muffins. But when cranberries are in season, she uses them to give the muffins a tasty twist.

Either way, the muffins are a winning combination.

1 1/2 cups (375 mL) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) oat bran
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) lightly packed brown sugar
1 cup (250 mL) raisin bran (or cranberry bran) cereal
2 teaspoons (10 mL) baking soda
Grated rind of 1 orange (optional)
1 cup (250 mL) raisins
1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped walnuts
2 eggs
1/2 cup (125 mL) canola oil
1 1/3 cups (325 mL) sour milk (see Note below)
2 cups (500 mL) frozen blueberries, OR 2 cups (500 mL) frozen, coarsely chopped cranberries, OR 1 cup (250 mL) each blueberries and cranberries

In a large bowl, thoroughly combine flour, bran, brown sugar, cereal, baking soda, and orange rind, if using. Stir in raisins and walnuts; mix well.

In a separate bowl, beat eggs and oil together. Add sour milk and mix thoroughly. Add liquid mixture to dry ingredients, stirring until well combined. Fold in berries and mix well.
Fill paper-lined or greased muffin cups about 2/3 full and bake at 350°F (180°C) for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean. Let sit in pans for a few minutes before turning out. Makes 22 to 24 medium-size muffins.

Note: You can use buttermilk in place of sour milk, or you can turn sweet milk sour by adding 1 tablespoon (15 mL) vinegar to each cup (250 mL) of milk. Let stand a few minutes before using.

Second Prize

Strawberry Muffins

Cathy Bradley-Thibodeau, of Wellington, NS, got her winning Strawberry Muffin recipe from her sister Patti Rempel, who now lives in Qatar, in the Middle East.

"When she visits me she copies recipes from my handwritten cookbook, and I do the same with hers," Cathy says.

 As the oldest in a family of six children, Cathy learned to cook and bake early in her life. "I was a military child and grew up in a family where baking was routine," she says.  
Now she works at the Dalhousie Dental Clinic where she practices a different kind of "baking," in the sterilization of instruments. But at home, muffins are still a favourite treat that she and her husband, Leo, enjoy.

Cathy says she not only uses the recipe to make a dozen large muffins at a time, but it also comes in handy as a base when strawberry shortcake is on the menu.

1/2 cup (125 mL) butter, softened
1 cup (250 mL) granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) vanilla
1/4 cup (50 mL) milk
2 cups (500 mL) flour
3 teaspoons (15 mL) baking powder
1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) salt
2 cups (500 mL) fresh strawberries, washed and chopped
1/4 cup (50 mL) chopped walnuts
Sugar to sprinkle

Cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs, vanilla and milk. Mix well. Combine flour, baking powder and salt, and fold into creamed mixture. Fold in strawberries. Fill lightly greased muffin cups about 2/3 full. Sprinkle tops with walnuts and sugar. Bake at 375°F (190°C) for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack for a few minutes before turning out. Makes about 12 large or 18 medium-size muffins.

Third Prize

Ruth's Ginger Muffins

The winner of the third prize in the Comfort Food Muffin Category, Marilyn Smith of Lower Freetown, PEI, knows what comfort food means. It's all about the nostalgic aromas that welcomed her and her eight siblings home from school in their years growing up in Albany Village, PEI.  

Her stay-at-home mom always had something freshly baked and ready for them to eat with a glass of milk as soon as they came through the door. Among Marilyn's favourites were the ginger muffins she remembers so well.

"When I read about the contest, I started going back through my Mom's recipe box to find the comfort foods of 40 years ago," says the adult education teacher.

She chose her favourite muffin, called it by her mom's name and sent it in. The judges liked it and rated it accordingly.  

Marilyn remembers how she and her four sisters took turns being taught the basics of cooking every Saturday.

Now with four grown children of her own, Marilyn still bakes and shares the results with her family. And now with you.

3 cups (750 mL) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons (7 mL) baking soda
1 teaspoon (5 mL) salt
1 teaspoon (5 mL) ground ginger
1 teaspoon (5 mL) ground cloves
1/2 cup (125 mL) shortening, at room temperature
1/2 cup (125 mL) granulated sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 cup (250 mL) molasses
1 cup (250 mL) hot water

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger and cloves. Set aside.
In mixing bowl, cream together shortening and sugar. Add beaten egg and molasses; mix well. Add dry ingredients alternately with hot water in 4 additions of flour and 3 of hot water; begin and end with flour mixture. Stir to combine. Fill greased muffin cups about 3/4 full and bake at 350°F (180°C) for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean. Let cool for 10 to 15 minutes. Makes about 24 medium-size muffins.

Seafood Casserole Category

First Prize

Scallop Casserole

This winning recipe submitted by Joan Ivey, of Windsor, NS, was handed to her over the back fence by her neighbour Shirley Roberts, of Dartmouth, back in 1964. It's been shared many times since.

"I've been making it for 40 years and everyone says it's wonderful," the very excited retired nurse said when she heard the news that the recipe had won first prize in Saltscapes Comfort Food Seafood Casserole Category.

"It's such a simple recipe, and yet I've made it for company because it can be made a day ahead," she says, adding that it can also be frozen for future use.

Although she doesn't consider herself to be a good cook, she enjoys cooking and says she would much rather read a cookbook than a novel.

Nor is it the first time she's entered a winning recipe. Two years ago she submitted an orange pudding recipe to Good Times magazine and, because the blobs of meringue resembled ducks floating on an orange sea, she called the dessert "Ducks." Whether it was the name that intrigued the judges or the wonderful nostalgic flavour of this age-old pudding, it makes no difference. The result is that it won.

Now, her second submission has also won, and Joan just might take these recipe contests a little more seriously from now on.

I doubt that we'll ever hear her say again that she isn't a good cook. Her friends and others who have tasted her food would certainly object to her modesty.

1 pound (500 g) scallops (halve large scallops)
1 tablespoon (15 mL) butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped celery
1 (10-ounce/284 mL) can mushroom pieces and stems (or equal amount chopped fresh mushrooms)
1 (10-ounce/284 mL) can cream of mushroom soup
2/3 cup (150 mL) milk
3/4 cup (175 mL) soft breadcrumbs
1/2 cup (125 mL) grated cheese, optional
Cooked rice

Add scallops to a saucepan of boiling water. Reduce heat to low and let simmer gently for no more than 5 minutes. Drain, transfer scallops to a medium-size greased casserole dish; set aside.

In the same saucepan, melt butter; add chopped onion and celery, and sauté until translucent, but not browned. Add mushroom pieces and cook, stirring, until heated through. Combine soup and milk and add to vegetable mixture. Pour soup mixture over scallops in casserole dish; stir gently to combine.

Spread fresh breadcrumbs over top and sprinkle with grated cheese, if desired. Bake, uncovered, at 350°F (180°C) for 20 to 25 minutes, until bubbly and lightly browned on top. Serve over rice. Makes 3 to 4 servings.

Second Prize

Seafood Casserole

Count yourself lucky if you married into a fishing family that includes a crab fisherman, a lobster fisherman and the owner of a fish store. Add to that a neighbour who is a scallop fisherman, and chances are you can hit a pretty good deal when buying these and other kinds of seafood. That's why Flora McLean of Salmon Beach, NB, can keep a freezer full of her favourite seafood with which to experiment and create new recipes. One such recipe, using four types of shellfish, captured second prize in the Comfort Food Seafood Casserole Category.

She was in Halifax with her daughter, Patti Lavigne, when together they decided to create a casserole that suited their tastes.

"My daughter and I made this recipe to our liking after searching many cookbooks for the perfect seafood casserole. I don't like cheddar cheese, so I used shredded Parmesan and processed cheese," she says.

She cooks the celery so it won't be "so hard and crunchy," a twist she feels makes a big difference.

The lobster, crabmeat and shrimp are all cooked and cooled before storing in the freezer, and then thawed before using.

The scallops are added raw, to prevent overcooking.

"I never use minced crab; it's too salty," she says. "I only use the leg portions."

But if you think Flora's husband, John, is happy to dig into her prize-winning seafood casserole, you'll have to think again.

"He's open to any food except creamy casseroles," she says.

1 pound (500 g) cooked, thawed lobster meat, cut in bite-size pieces
1 pound (500 g) cooked, thawed medium shrimp
1/2 pound (250 g) cooked, thawed crab meat
1 pound (500 g) scallops, uncooked (cut in half)
3 cups (750 mL) diced celery
3 tablespoons (45 mL) butter
2 cups (500 mL) chopped onion
1/2 green pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, pressed
Cooked linguine or rice

5 cups (1.25 L) milk
1 cup (250 mL) flour
1/2 cup (125 mL) butter
Salt and pepper to taste
5 slices processed cheese
1 cup (250 mL) shredded Parmesan cheese

Prepare shellfish; set aside.

In a saucepan with enough boiling water to cover, cook celery over medium heat until just tender, about 12 to 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a large skillet or Dutch oven, melt 3 tablespoons (45 mL) butter. Add chopped onion and green pepper; cook until limp but not browned. Add garlic and cook another minute or two. Stir in celery. Add seafood, stir to combine. Turn into a large greased casserole dish.
Prepare sauce: In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat milk until lukewarm. Pour 1 cup (250 mL) into a 2 cup (500 mL) measure or small bowl. Gradually add the flour, stirring to keep mixture from forming lumps. Gradually add this paste to milk in saucepan, stirring constantly. Add 1/2 cup (125 mL) butter and cook until thickened, stirring all the while to prevent scorching.

Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add processed and Parmesan cheeses; stir until melted. Pour over seafood mixture in casserole; combine well. Bake at 350°F (180°C) for 40 to 45 minutes, or until hot and lightly browned on top. Serve over linguine or rice. Makes 10 to 12 servings.

Third Prize

Alaska Pollock Casserole

When you prefer fish and seafood to meat, you look for every possible way to enjoy it. Alva Keddy, of New Ross, NS, is one of those people. When haddock became too expensive to serve every day, she turned to the less pricey pollock, marketed locally under the name Boston bluefish.

But it is the frozen Alaska pollock that she uses in this casserole that impressed the contest judges enough to award it the third prize.

"My Dad, who did a lot of fishing years ago, would never eat pollock, but when I served this recipe, my Mom said it was excellent and even Dad said it was very good," Alva says.
She uses Alaska pollock a lot in chowders, or breaded and pan-fried.

One day, three or four years ago, when she had some scallops on hand, she decided to toss them in with the pollock and came up with this winning recipe.

"I like it with the scallops, but it's also good without them. It's so easy to do if you're pressed for time. It can be put together quickly and by the time the potatoes are baked in the microwave and a salad is tossed together, the casserole is cooked," she says.

With her two sons married, there's only her husband, Terrance, and herself to cook for regularly, and he likes fish as much as she does.

2 pounds (1 kg) frozen Alaska pollock (partially thawed)
1/2 pound (250 g) scallops, halved if large
1 small onion, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
1 teaspoon (5 mL) lemon pepper
1 teaspoon (5 mL) seafood seasoning
1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) salt
1 (10-ounce/284 mL) can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 cup (250 mL) grated old cheddar cheese

Grease a medium-size casserole dish with butter or margarine. Place fish and scallops in dish. Add chopped onion and celery. Sprinkle with lemon pepper, seafood seasoning and salt. Spoon undiluted soup evenly over all. Top with grated cheese. Bake, covered, in a 350°F (180°C) oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until bubbly and until fish flakes easily with a fork. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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