Kitchen Wit & Wisdom: Warming up Winter Carnival

Cathi Litzenberger offers a few tasty dishes that could be considered for the title of "unique to the Okanagan"

It’s the last day of Vernon Winter Carnival and I want to offer congratulations and thanks to all the folks involved in organizing and taking part in the festivities.

Whether or not you’re heading up Silver Star today to snowshoe, ski, skate or ride the mountain on a board, there’s still lots of winter left to enjoy, even down here. We’ve been spoiled these last two weeks with Carnival in our own backyard and the Olympics on television; both have been  a nice diversion from the snow and cold weather. Canada’s largest Winter Carnival will soon be taking place in Quebec and if you enjoy winter and carnivals, it’s one to put on your bucket list.

So many foods are specialties during Quebec’s Carnaval, (maple syrup, pea soup for instance)  and I feel it’s a shame that Vernon hasn’t found a special recipe, food or drink, truly Okanagan style, to showcase during our Carnival. Being in the cold of winter I am featuring recipes today that might fit the bill; if not, they’re still very good for tummy and soul. Enjoy.

Potato, Leek & Mushroom Soup

4 medium potatoes, diced

2 cups leeks, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped

1 large carrot, chopped

8 oz. button mushrooms, sliced

4 tbsp. butter

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

2 cups milk

1 tsp. thyme (optional)

Ground black pepper, to taste

Sprinkle of green onion or bacon bits for garnish

Place potatoes, leeks, celery, carrots, mushrooms, butter and salt in a pot, and cook over medium heat, stirring until butter is melted and vegetables are coated.

Add vegetable stock, bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are tender (20-30 minutes).

When the potatoes are tender, remove the pan from the heat and purée its contents with the milk, using an immersion blender, or food processor. Make sure the mixture is absolutely smooth.

Return to pot, add thyme, if using, and pepper. Check if you need more salt. Heat soup gently, until just hot, garnish and serve.

Bacon & Baked Potato Soup

1 Tbsp. butter or margarine

1/4 cup chopped yellow onions

1/4 cup chopped celery

1 can (14-1/2 oz.) fat-free reduced-sodium chicken broth

1-1/4 cups  milk

3/4 lb. baking potatoes (about 2), baked, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/8 tsp. pepper

1  green onion, sliced, divided

8 slices cooked centre-cut bacon, crumbled, divided

3/4 cup  Kraft Classic Melts Cheddar & American, divided

1/4 cup sour cream

Melt butter in large saucepan or Dutch oven on medium heat. Add yellow onions and celery; cook and stir 5 min. or until crisp-tender.

Add next 4 ingredients; bring just to boil, stirring constantly. Slightly crush potatoes with back of spoon. Simmer on medium-low heat 5 min., stirring frequently.

Reserve 1 Tbsp. green onions and 2 Tbsp. each bacon and cheese. Add remaining green onions, bacon and cheese to soup; cook 5 min. or until cheese is melted, stirring constantly.

Serve topped with reserved green onions, bacon, cheese and sour cream.

Great served with a tossed salad.

Caramel-Pecan Cheesecake Bars

1 cup pecan pieces, divided

1-1/2 cups crushed Nilla Vanilla Wafers (about 50 wafers)

1/4 cup butter, melted

4 pkg. (250 g each) brick cream cheese, softened

1 cup sugar

1 cup sour cream

3 Tbsp. flour

1 Tbsp. vanilla

4 eggs

24 caramels

1 Tbsp. water

3 oz. semi-sweet baking chocolate, melted

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Remove 1/2 cup of the pecans; set aside. Chop remaining pecans.

Line 13×9-inch baking pan with foil, with ends of foil extending over sides of pan. Mix wafer crumbs, chopped pecans and butter. Press firmly onto bottom of prepared pan. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Beat cream cheese and sugar in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until well-blended. Add sour cream, flour and vanilla; mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing on low speed after each addition just until blended. Pour over crust.

Bake 45 min. or until centre is almost set. Cool completely.

Place caramels in microwaveable bowl. Add water. Microwave on HIGH 1 min. or until caramels are completely melted when stirred. Pour over cheesecake; top with the reserved pecans. Drizzle chocolate over cheesecake.

Refrigerate at least 4 hours. Use foil handles to remove cheesecake from pan before cutting into pieces to serve. Store in tightly covered container in refrigerator.

Old-Fashioned Apple Crisp

5 pounds McIntosh apples

Grated zest of 1 orange

Grated zest of 1 lemon

2 tbsp. freshly squeezed orange juice

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

For the topping:

1-1/2 cups flour

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup oatmeal

1/2 pound cold unsalted butter, diced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9 by 14 by 2-inch oval baking dish.

Peel, core, and cut apples into large wedges. Combine apples with the zests, juices, sugar and spices. Pour into the dish.

To make topping, combine flour, sugars, salt, oatmeal and cold butter in bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until mixture is crumbly and butter is the size of peas. Scatter evenly over the apples.

Place the crisp on a sheet pan and bake for 1 hour until top is brown and apples are bubbly. Serve warm.

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist, appearing every Wednesday and one Sunday per month.

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