I have two kinds of cookbook in my collection. The first is the kind I look to when I’m tired of old standby recipes or I want a new twist on burgers.
The second kind is for when I want to be inspired by something different. I might never make any of the recipes but they move me to imagine new ways of looking at food. These are the cookbooks I read while curled up on the couch with a glass of wine. The Boreal Feast by Michele Genest definitely falls into this category.
The boreal forest is a biome that stretches across the northern regions of several countries, including our own. Genest lives in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. It’s not the first place that comes to my mind when thinking about good food but she’s working very hard to change that idea. Boreal Feast is her second cookbook to feature the ingredients, cooking techniques and traditions of the north. In 2012 she and her husband took a trip through Sweden, Norway and Finland to see how these cultures used the ingredients native to the boreal forest.
Boreal Feast is part cookbook and part travel guide, and both parts are equally well done. Laurel Parry’s illustrations accompany Cathie Archbould’s spectacular photographs. I usually prefer more pictures of the finished recipes but, in this book, it was easy to overlook. What it has is page after page of gorgeous photos of the boreal regions by which the dishes are inspired. And inspiration really is what this book is all about. Its purpose seems to be to show the reader the diversity and complexity of these northern regions through the foods and traditions of the people who live there.
The area offers ingredients such as cloudberries, fireweed, and spruce tips to accompany sheep steaks, bison marrow and moose ribs. Genest does offer substitutes for some of the more obscure ingredients. I have a feeling that the Chocolate Cranberry Brownies are going to change my outlook on dessert forever, even if I use cultivated cranberries instead of wild lingonberries. They have a rich brownie base seeded with tart berries and covered with a smooth ganache. Sounds like a game-changer to me.
A few of the recipes seem easy to adapt to more familiar foods. Smoked, Braised, Barbequed Moose Ribs could easily be made with beef ribs. Well, maybe not so easily; Genest does warn us that this recipe takes two days to make.
Another item that caught my eye was Dandelion and Chèvre Bruschetta. I love goat cheese and baguettes so it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to add the greens. It also seems like a wonderful revenge for the thousands of dandelions I’ve had to dig out of the lawn over the years.
I wanted to try more of these recipes but they were out of spruce tip oil and bison marrow at my local grocery store. I’m sure that a little research will turn them up. After all, there’s not much that you can’t find online these days. This seems to run counter to the spirit of the book, however. Many of these ingredients are foraged, fished or hunted from the region. Maybe the best approach is to embrace the spirit of the Boreal Feast with our own locally available ingredients. We do have dandelions and berries here, after all. I’m pretty sure I’ll find farmed bison or deer if I look hard enough and I know a guy who knows a guy who hunts moose. I think for now though, I’ll settle for paging through the Boreal Feast and daydreaming about a trip to our own Great White North.
Tracy Turlin is a freelance writer and dog groomer in London. Reach her at email@example.com
Recipes courtesy of Harbour Publishing
Dandelion and Chèvre Bruschetta
1 lb (455 gr) dandelion leaves
1/3 cup (80 mL) pine nuts
4 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
1 baguette, sliced into 24 thin slices
1 Tbsp (15 mL) Spruce Tip Oil (or substitute olive oil)
4½ oz (125 gr) chèvre
1 Tbsp (15 mL) fireweed honey (or substitute other wildflower honey)
Clean the root end of each plant with a knife, removing all the black or brown until the base shows white. Cut the leaves off about 1 inch (2.5 cm) above the crown, leaving the crown intact. Put crowns to soak in cold water and reserve to make Grilled Dandelion Crowns.
1 Wash leaves several times, lifting them out into a strainer and emptying the water from the bowl each time; continue until there’s no residue of dirt left in the bottom of the bowl. Shake leaves dry, chop coarsely and reserve. (If you’ve bought dandelion leaves from the market, they’re usually detached from the crown and fairly clean, needing just a rinse and a shake dry.)
2. Toast pine nuts in a dry cast iron pan over medium-low heat until golden. Peel garlic and slice thinly lengthwise. Heat olive oil in the same pan over low to medium-low heat; sauté garlic slices until they are crisp and just beginning to brown, from 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from heat and drain on paper towel.
3 In the same oil, sauté dandelion greens until wilted, about 5 minutes.
4 Toast baguette slices in the oven under the broiler, about 1 minute per side. Brush one side with Spruce Tip Oil.
5 Spread with chèvre. Pile dandelion greens over chèvre. Arrange 3 to 4 garlic slices on top. Sprinkle with pine nuts and drizzle with honey. Serve at once.
Makes 24 bruschetta.
Smoked, Braised, Barbecued Moose Ribs
Makes four to six servings.
1 Tbsp (15 mL) kosher salt
1 Tbsp (15 mL) brown sugar
1 Tbsp (15 mL) toasted cumin seeds
1 Tbsp (15 mL) coriander seeds
1 Tbsp (15 mL) onion powder
1 Tbsp (15 mL) garlic powder
1 Tbsp (15 mL) dried spruce tips
1 tsp (5 mL) smoked mild paprika
1 tsp (5 mL) dried orange peel
1 tsp (5 mL) each white and black pepper
3 lbs (1.4 kg) moose short ribs
1 Combine dry ingredients.
2 Rinse the ribs briefly under cold running water and thoroughly pat dry.
3 Coat the ribs on all sides with the rub, pressing the mixture into the meat, then wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate, from 1 hour to overnight.
4. Hot-smoke for 3 to 4 hours at 140F (60C). While the ribs smoke, prepare the braising liquid.
THE BRAISING LIQUID
1 Tbsp (15 mL) each oil and butter
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 inch (2.5 cm) fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 tsp (5 mL) juniper berries, crushed
2 Tbsp (30 mL) tomato paste
3 cups (710 mL) strong bison or moose stock
2 cups (475 mL) red wine
½ cup (125 mL) birch syrup
1 Tbsp (15 mL) soy sauce
1. Preheat the oven to 325F (160C).
2 Heat oil and butter in a 6-quart (6-L) ovenproof dish; add vegetables and sauté until soft over medium-low heat.
3 Add garlic, ginger and juniper berries and sauté another few minutes.
4 Stir in the tomato paste; cook for two minutes, then add remaining ingredients.
5 Bring to the boil over medium-low heat, and add smoked moose ribs.
6 Place in oven and cook for 3 to 4 hours.
7. Remove ribs from the pot and let sit at room temperature while you finish the sauce.
1. Strain the braising liquid and remove the fat that’s floating on top. (If you haven’t yet invested in a fat strainer, think about it. It will save you much time and headache.)
2 Return the sauce to the heat in a wide saucepan and simmer until reduced to a thick, spreadable consistency.
3. Coat the ribs with the sauce and grill on a preheated barbecue for about 10 minutes, or until ribs are slightly charred and aromatic.
Chocolate Cranberry Brownies
This recipe assumes you’ve still got some lowbush cranberries in the freezer in early August; if not, substitute dried cranberries or fresh wild raspberries or even blueberries, if they’re ready. The important thing is the tang of the berries to offset the rich, deep chocolate flavour.
4 oz (110 g)unsweetened chocolate
½ cup (125 mL) butter
4 eggs at room temperature
1½ cups (350 mL) sugar
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
1 cup (250 mL) flour
¼ cup (60 mL) cocoa
1 cup (250 mL) wild lowbush cranberries (lingonberries) or substitute cultivated cranberries
1 Preheat the oven to 350F (180C) and grease a 9- × 13-inch (22.5- × 32-cm) baking dish.
2. Melt chocolate and butter together in a double boiler over boiling water. Stir to combine and cool to room temperature.
3. Beat eggs until light and foamy. Still beating, add sugar gradually until mixture is thick and creamy. Beat in vanilla.
4 In a separate bowl, whisk together flour and cocoa.
5 With a spoon, mix the cooled chocolate into the eggs and sugar, just until combined, then fold in flour with a few strokes—it’s important not to over-mix.
6 Pour into baking dish and smooth into place with the back of a spoon or a spatula. Sprinkle berries evenly over top, pressing lightly into the batter.
7 Bake for about 25 minutes, until a tester inserted in the centre comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Cool to room temperature before icing with ganache.
Makes about 42 brownies (each 1 × 1½ inches/ 2.5 × 3.8 cm).
5 oz (140 g) dark chocolate, at least 70 percent cocoa
1 cup (250 mL) 35 percent cream
3 Tbsp (45 mL) butter
1 Break chocolate in small pieces into a bowl.
2 Bring cream and butter to a boil over medium-high heat and pour over chocolate.
3 Place a plate over the bowl and wait for 5 minutes for the chocolate to melt.
4 Beat thoroughly until smooth and creamy. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate to a spreadable consistency.
Makes about 2 cups (475 mL), enough to generously ice one pan of brownies with some left over.