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Smoked Pumpkin Pie

Our garden was a disaster this year. A late start, some inattention during a critical early period, and very few hot days left us with not a lot of produce. The tomatoes were pathetic, and the zucchini only really started producing at the beginning of September. Therefore, we leaned on the farmers’ market more than usual.

However, one item that we always get from the market, regardless of how well (or how miserably) our garden did, is pie pumpkins.


I am a lucky woman, because my husband makes a wonderful pumpkin pie. And he doesn’t use the canned stuff; he starts with an actual pumpkin, roasted in the oven. And… he’s starting smoking the pumpkin before roasting it.

When he first suggested doing this, I admit to being skeptical. Smoky pie? I rolled my eyes. Ever since we got the smoker, he’s smoked a huge variety of things, and I’ve liked most of them. But smoky pie was just weird, I thought.

I was wrong.

Actual Pie

Obviously, you don’t want the pumpkin saturated with smoke, so it’s only lightly smoked. Pumpkin is like a sponge for smoke, so it’s a good idea to smoke it at the tail end of some other smoke job you have going. I’ve included instructions in the recipe below. But he had a few other suggestions that might help you find success:

  • Make sure you’re getting a pie pumpkin. You can make pies with regular pumpkins (like the ones you carve for Hallowe’en), but they won’t taste nearly as good. Proper pie pumpkins have dense flesh and a high sugar content.
  • Heft it a bit. You want one that’s heavy for its size.
  • Pick a pumpkin with at least an inch or two inches of stem left, and avoid pumpkins with soft spots.
  • Use a mild, sweet smoke like apple or maple.
  • Save any leftover pumpkin puree in a freezer bag, and use it in soups, muffins, or to pad out your next pie.

Finally, he noted that he screws with this recipe constantly; this is just its current iteration.

Smoked Pumpkin Pie
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
A pumpkin pie with a light smoky flavour, perfect for fall.
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Serves: 16
Smoked Pumpkin Puree
  • 2 pie pumpkins
Pumpkin Pie
  • 4 cups smoked pumpkin puree
  • 1 300ml can of sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup half-n-half
  • 2 TB brown sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp (rounded) nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp ground clove
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp cardamom
  • 2 prepared pie shells (using your favourite recipe or store-bought)
Smoked Pumpkin Puree
  1. Preheat smoker to 250°F and start apple or maple smoke.
  2. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  3. Split pumpkins vertically and remove seeds.
  4. Place pumpkins in smoker.
  5. Smoke for 20 minutes, then remove from smoker. (Pumpkin absorbs smoke like a sponge, so beware of leaving the pumpkins in for much longer.)
  6. Line two cookie sheets with foil and cover the bottom of the sheets with water.
  7. Place smoked pumpkins face-down on the foil and place in oven.
  8. Bake until soft. After 30 minutes, check the pumpkins with a fork. Continue to check every 15 minutes until they are done.
  9. Shut off oven and open the door slightly. Let stand until cool enough to handle.
  10. Remove skins and cut into chunks. Process pumpkin in a food processor until smooth. Note: Smoking can dry the pumpkin out. If your pumpkin puree is too dry, add a bit of water, orange juice or vodka until it has a smooth consistency.
Pumpkin Pie
  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the wet ingredients and stir. Add the spices and mix thoroughly.
  3. Pour the pie mix into the prepared pie shells. Cover the edges of the crust with foil or a pie crust shield and bake for 15 minutes.
  4. Reduce the heat to 350°F and continue baking for another 35-40 minutes. Pies are done when an inserted knife comes out clean.
Allow to cool completely before serving.


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The Strawberries are Here!

On our trip to the farmers’ market this weekend, we made a wonderful discovery…

Strawberries are in season!! Strawberry

There were several vendors there with strawberries, so we picked up a box (which is about four liters). Strawberries don’t last for very long after they’re picked, so we’ve been using them quickly. This batch became strawberry shakes, strawberries on sponge cake, fruit salad, and just plain old raw strawberries. Yum!

This also means that the U-Pick places are up and running. They’re a bit behind this year because of the rain, but the berries at the market looked awesome. I detailed one of our trips to Boonstra Farms for, but there are tons of other U-Pick places around Winnipeg and southern Manitoba.

The Manitoba government publishes a brochure for U-Pick places (pdf), and you can also check, a great place for all things U-Pick. That site also has great tips for picking and storing your fruits and veggies. *edit: Ruth in the comments also suggested the Prairie Fruit Growers Association website, which looks like a great resource as well. Thanks, Ruth!

We’d like to get out and do picking for something other than strawberries this year – I’m thinking raspberries would be a neat change of pace.

Have you gone picking yet this year? What did you get?


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Grilled Salad and Bruschetta

In our short summer, nothing beats pulling out the barbecue and getting your grill on.

Now, I’m not the grill-meister in our house. That title belongs to my husband. To be honest, I’m a little afraid of our grill. It’s a gas grill with a broken ignition switch, so there’s a bit of a trick to getting it lit. But, as Dave says, there’s something primal about a man playing with fire to cook his food. That, and he really enjoys doing it, so I leave it to him.

I’m not sure where I first saw this as a suggestion, but a few years ago I learned of a way to grill a salad on the barbecue. I was intrigued. When I realized that the recipe called for actually placing lettuce on the grill, I knew we had to try it. And after we tried it once, we knew that the maxim cited by grill-meisters everywhere was true: Everything can be grilled.

(I don’t have a picture of this recipe, since – well, it isn’t terribly photogenic for one thing. It also should be eaten warm, which precludes spending ten minutes arranging wilted lettuce leaves on a plate. If I do happen to get a photo of it, though, I’ll update this post with it!)

This recipe will serve two for a dinner salad, or four for a side dish. You will need:

* one head of very fresh romaine lettuce
* a pound (or so) of fresh asparagus
* one medium eggplant
* two large portabello mushroom caps
* 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
* about 3 TB balsamic vinegar
* olive oil
* freshly ground pepper

It would help if you have two people working on this: one person working the grill, and the other person prepping stuff and keeping things warm inside. After everything was cooked and chopped, it went into a big bowl covered with foil.

1. Wash the head of romaine lettuce, keeping it intact. Rinse down between the leaves. Wash the rest of your produce too, since the sink will be occupied in the next step.

2. With a large knife, slice the head in half lengthwise, from the top down through the root. Place both halves face down in the sink to drain.

3. Slice the eggplant into round slices, about 1/2 thick. Brush with olive oil. (I tried drizzling it, but the oil just seeped right in. Pour the oil into a separate dish and brush it on.) Grill the eggplant over medium heat, 3-4 minutes a side. Remove from heat and quarter. Keep warm.

4. Snap the hard ends off the base of each asparagus stalk. Drizzle the stalks with oil, and roll them around to get them well-covered. Grill the asparagus for about 3-4 minutes total, just until they are tender. Remove from heat and slice into 1″-2″ pieces. Keep warm.

5. Drizzle the cut sides of the lettuce with olive oil. Turn face down on a plate, and brush on more oil on “backs.” Place face-down on grill. Timing is critical here: you’re looking at 1-3 minutes per side for the lettuce, or just until the dark green bits are wilted. Grill on all sides, watching it carefully so the lettuce doesn’t turn into a soggy lump. Remove from heat, and slice into 1″ pieces. Keep warm.

6. Brush portabellos with olive oil and grill, about 4 minutes a side. Remove from heat and slice. Add to the salad.

7. Once everything is in a big bowl, toss with Parmesan, balsamic vinegar, pepper, and more oil if needed. Keep warm while you toast the bruschetta.

And that’s it! Grilling the romaine gives it this rich, almost cheeseburger-like taste. Also, the variations on this are endless, depending on what you have on hand and what’s seasonal. We have replaced the portabello with chicken breasts (marinated in lemon juice and garlic, grilled and sliced), and the eggplant and asparagus could be replaced with any grillable vegetable: zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli, peppers, bok choi, sweet onions, etc.

Anyway, back to the dinner! While I’ve made bruschetta before, that was more of the Western style: toasted bread topped with stuff. At it’s most basic, bruschetta is just toasted bread with garlic and olive oil. Served with the salad we just made above, this was sort of like making our own, gigantic croutons.

Bruschetta to Be

You will need:

* one large baguette (the kind you always see poking out of shopping bags in illustrations)
* a clove of raw garlic
* olive oil

1. Slice the baguette into slices that are about 1″ to 1.5″ thick. I cut on the bias (diagonally) to make it look pretty, but that’s not necessary.

2. After cleaning the grill, place the slices on the grill over medium heat.

3. Keep a close watch on your slices! You’ll want to grill them for about a minute to a minute and a half a side. If they start to blacken it’s time to flip!

4. Peel your garlic clove and slice in half (either way, whichever is easier.)

5. After they are toasted, rub each slice on both sides with the cut side of the garlic. Then drizzle the slices generously with olive oil.

You’ll have certainly gotten your daily requirement of olive oil from this dinner, but it’s so good. None of it makes for very good leftovers, though, so plan accordingly.


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Almost time for St. Norbert Farmers' Market!

Time’s been getting away from me here (I’ve been having some job-related drama), but I wanted to point out that the St. Norbert Farmers’ Market opens this Saturday! It will run from 8am-3pm, rain or shine. (Starting in July, it will also be open Wednesday afternoons from 1pm-7pm.)

Fresh zucchini

I also wanted to point out that the market’s website, which had been an unnavigable mess in past years, has been completely redesigned – and it looks great! Be sure to check out the harvest schedule, which lists which fruits and veggies are available in different months, and the revamped list of vendors at the market.

Opening day festivities start at 10am this Saturday, but some of the best deals (and best strawberries!) are best grabbed right when the market opens. See you there!

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Pistachio recall hits Winnipeg

There were some new recalls today of nut products tied to the pistachio recall in the US. Two of the recalls affected products sold here in Winnipeg.

The specific recalls are as follows:

  • Red pistachios sold at the Frontier Fruit & Nut kiosks at Polo Park and Kildonan Shopping Centre. They were sold in assorted sizes, some with no brand name. These nuts were sold between November 11, 2008 and December 30, 2008. (I believe this was the gift nut and snack stalls set up in the mall during Christmas.)
  • Red pistachios sold in 150g packages at The Almond Tree in the Forks Market. These were sold between November 12, 2008 and April 15, 2009.

These products may be contaminated with salmonella, which is never any fun to get, so please don’t eat them if you happen to have any in your possession. Either contact the store or dispose of the nuts.

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CFIA doesn't know how many inspectors it has!

This just blows my mind.

You’ve probably already read the articles on the reports issued this week on the listeriosis outbreak last summer as a result of tainted Maple Leaf meats. These reports, compiled by Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada, shows that there was a breakdown in communication between the involved organizations.

This isn’t terribly new news. The confusion surrounding the whole issue last summer made it apparent that no one knew what was going on. It wasn’t until Maple Leaf stepped up and said that they were at fault, they were fixing it, and everything else that they needed to say to repair their public relations, that the public finally understood what was going on. Where was Health Canada? Where was the Public Health Agency? What are we paying these people for?

Anyway, that’s old news. What floored me this morning was the revelation that the CFIA can’t say for sure how many meat inspectors it has.

The CFIA cited a supporting chart showing the number of inspectors now tops 3,000, up from about 1,900 a decade ago. But this includes employees who don’t do meat inspections.

If they have a chart, they must have numbers with which they made the chart, no? Otherwise they’re just making shit up.

The CFIA also blames their data capture for not being able to say for sure how many meat inspectors it has, since some inspectors serve multi-purpose roles. This confuses me. I’ve worked on data capture. Unless their system is completely borked it should be a simple process to pull out how many inspectors filed inspection reports at meat plants.

Wait, it gets better.

Bob Kingston represents CFIA inspectors as the president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada’s agriculture union. He said there are only about 200 “multi-purpose inspectors,” and each one submits monthly expense claims coded to show the amount of time they devote to each commodity program. He suggested the CFIA is “trying to hide” the real number by hiding behind this excuse [regarding data capture].

Kingston estimates that the total number of food inspectors is less than 1,200, excluding trainees and supervisors. Of these, he said about 200 are processed meat inspectors.

Only 200 meat inspectors! Awesome!

So the CFIA went on to clarify their statement because some senators apparently got upset when they said they didn’t know how many inspectors the agency has. (Wonder why?)

The CFIA also clarified that its 3,030 inspectors includes those working in all areas of inspection under the CFIA’s mandate. The number of inspectors working in federally registered meat facilities is approximately 1,400, the agency said. And between March 2006 and March 2008, overall CFIA staff has increased by 13.7 per cent.

Now they have a number? Why didn’t they have it before? And why don’t I trust it?

Ok, that’s the cynic in me. And yes, this article is from March 25. But here’s something else to chew on.

In one of my classes, we were assigned to look for a statement from a spokesperson, and we would be analyzing the statements in class. I decided to look for a statement from a CFIA spokesperson, so I started searching the CBC News site. Here’s what I found:

March 30: “No one from the CFIA was available for an interview.”
March 25: “…CFIA refused to make a spokesperson available to discuss its recall policy.”
March 25: But according to an internal memo obtained by the CBC and Toronto Star…

…etcetera. Pretty much every single “statement” made to the CBC by the CFIA was either in a news release, an emailed statement sent after the reporter called, or in a document obtained via the Freedom of Information Act. Then there’s this:

Canada’s food watchdog is withholding files documenting its handling of the recent nationwide listeria outbreak, citing the high volume of freedom-of-information requests and limited staff resources.

As part of a joint investigation, the CBC and Toronto Star first made requests for the files in August. The files detail meetings between the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, meat processor Maple Leaf Foods Inc. and public health officials. None of the files has been released and the CFIA is seeking extensions that could hold back the release of records for more than a year. Standard extensions typically range from one to two months.

A *year* to get records? Especially at a time when food safety in Canada is under such scrutiny? Unacceptable.

Food inspection and safety in Canada needs a complete overhaul in order to gain back the public’s trust.

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Ground beef recall

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has issued a warning to consumers not to use lean ground beef from certain Safeway stores in NE Ontario, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. From the press release:

Lean Ground Beef affected by this alert was sold in packages of approximately 0.450 kg, with the first part of UPC being 201670. Product label bears Canada establishment number 573 and the product was prepared for certain Canada Safeway stores in Northeastern Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

The affected packages bear a Best Before or a Freeze By date of March 19 and were sold from March 13 to March 19, inclusive and are no longer available for sale. Consumers who may have previously purchased this product and still have it in their freezers, are advised not to consume this product.

The release also said that the company, Vantage Foods in Winnipeg, is voluntarily recalling the meat, but as of 10:30am this morning the company’s website doesn’t mention the recall.

Check your freezers and cook your meat, people!

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Eating down the fridge – what's in yours?

Over the past week, I’ve been following Kim O’Donnel’s “Eating Down the Fridge” challenge with interest. We’ve been finding ourselves cutting back on our food budget lately due to tight finances, so it’s been interesting watching people making meals out of the food they already have.

Out of curiosity, I took a quick survey of the nooks and crannies of our own fridge and pantry. We have some ancient pierogies in the freezer (which I keep meaning to cook for lunches one of these days), a few different kinds of frozen veggies, a wealth of pastas, some canned veggies, and a handful of interesting soups. We tend to only buy as much meat and produce as we need for a specific week, so the only fresh veggies that are hanging around are a few potatoes, two onions, some browning lettuce leaves and a lone grapefruit. We did have some leftover bacon, but that’s made its way into the freezer.

I did find some interesting things, though.
* A bag of red lentils. This amuses me. We’ve been eating more beans lately, because they are cheap and nutritious, and I have been making heavy use of red lentils. To think, all this time we had a bag of red lentils hiding in the back of the cupboard!
* A bag of mixed-bean chili mix. This is vintage, to be sure. Dave got this at some point before we were married. Still – it’s just dried beans. The worst that could have happened to it was the spices lost their flavour and I’ll have to supplement.
* A box of Hamburger Helper. I actually found this a week ago when I was moving some boxes around in the pantry. It’s old, but we might as well use it. (Bleah. Those things always seem too salty to me.)
* Tons and tons and tons of wild rice. We have so much wild rice. I think I could feed an army with it. I have no idea where it all came from. Every time I thought I’d found all of the wild rice that could possible be in the cupboard, I found another bag hiding behind the corn starch.
* A soup mix (“just add peanut butter!!”) for some Thai soup. Another mystery mix that I don’t remember buying. I am amused that it calls for just peanut butter on the front of the package, but the first step in the instructions is “Cut up ox-tails.”

I don’t know how much of this we’ll be able to use this week, since I don’t like cooking “unknown” things on weeknights. Time is sometimes an issue in our evening schedules, and I don’t always have the luxury of spending three hours messing around with an unfamiliar recipe. Still, I’d like to at least make a dent in the wild rice. If I don’t show it who’s boss, it might try to take over.


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Winnipeg Decides Against Trans Fat Ban

The Winnipeg Free Press is reporting today that the city has decided against a ban on trans fats, saying that this type of action is better suited for the province to handle. It wasn’t the jurisdictional issue that decided it, though… It was because they didn’t have enough warm bodies to enforce the ban.

The article didn’t say who would be responsible for the enforcement, but I think it would probably fall under the purvey of Manitoba health inspectors. (Although, if it was a city-only ban, the city would probably have to front the cash/people to do the trans fat raids.) In 2006, the CBC ran an article about how overworked the health inspectors in the province are. I wasn’t able to find any new numbers, so I don’t know if this has improved or not.

A lot of people don’t understand that trans fats can be “natural.” (This is where people need to realize that “natural” doesn’t always mean “good for you.”) Animal fats contain natural trans fats. The problem is in artificial trans fats: adding hydrogen to unsaturated fats. It was the introduction of artificial trans fats that made them cheaper to use than natural trans fats for frying, and also helped extend the shelf life of some baked goods. After the advent of trans fats, rather than eating a small number of trans fats in beef or butter, people started eating trans fats in all kinds of things.

Anyway, trans fats aren’t good for you, and you should try to avoid them except when eating them in the tiny quantities you get in butter or beef. On the other hand, I’m not sure I want the government to spend money patrolling the restaurants to make sure that they are removing trans fats from their food products. (Almost every ban I’ve seen has specified that the trans fats being banned are the artificial ones. Otherwise, you’d never be able to have butter with your dinner roll at a restaurants!) A lot of restaurants are removing trans fats from their menu on their own, after pressure from consumers. I *do* support asking the larger restaurants to make their nutritional information available to customers, though.

In the end, the city decided to put out a fact sheet instead, explaining how to make healthy eating choices when eating out. That’s a bit of a cop-out in itself (how is a low-income, computer illiterate person supposed to get one of these fact sheets without having to make a special trip downtown to get one?) but at least it’s something. Now, if they could just take a look at the food desert problem


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CFIA updates recall list

In case you haven’t been keeping up with the news, here’s a quick rundown:

  • Georgia’s Peanut Corporation of America shipped salmonella-tainted peanut products to food manufacturers.
  • Peanut products were made into food for consumers.
  • Hundreds became sick, several died from salmonella linked to the peanut products.
  • All hell breaks loose as people realize that this one plant shipped peanuts EVERYWHERE and they’re in EVERYTHING nutty.
  • It’s being reported that back in April 2008, Canada rejected a peanut shipment from this plant for contamination. (Good on you, guys!) This shipment might have been added back into the food supply rather than being destroyed. Ick.
  • The FDA decides that every company who used this supplier should recall their stuff, just in case.

The FDA has a comprehensive, searchable list of products that are being recalled. The American Peanut Council, on the other hand, found that it was easier to list the products that were NOT on the recall list.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency finally updated their list of products that were manufactured in Canada that are being recalled. The list is quite a bit smaller than the US list, but you should check out both lists just to be on the safe side.

I’d like to reiterate my rant about how having just a few food processors supplying most of the food for a nation can have devastating consequences if there’s a problem, but I don’t think anyone’s in the mood for that.

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