‘Preserving’ and ‘In Season’: My CSA Food Basket Companions for Season Three

I am about to go into my third season as a member of Roots and Shoots Farm‘s CSA (community supported agriculture) food basket program.

Being is a CSA member is both exhilarating and challenging. The two challenges that loom large are: what surprises will be in my weekly basket and how will I use this produce respectfully.

I have chosen to recruit support this season to help me to be better informed about my foods and to also provide me with more recipe ideas beyond my current repertoire. I am also looking to extend my bounty beyond the end of the growing season.

I consider Pat Crocker‘s latest book, Preserving, a must have reference resource in my food library. Even if you don’t want to go the third mile and do canning or freezing, Preserving is loaded with information for using your fresh produce. In Season, put out by Fine Cooking, is also a similar compendium. They are well matched companion pieces.

The books are both laid out by the harvest seasons. Between the two of them they give much information. Background on the fruits, vegetables and herbs. Descriptions of varieties and history. Details about care, storage, preparation, cooking, and matching. And if you are feeling ambitious, how you can preserve it – canning, pickling, jamming, drying, freezing…

Of the two books, I find Preserving to be more comprehensive. Size alone would be your first clue. It is over 500 pages of carefully crafted pictures and text.

Pat Crocker’s book appeals to my sense of responsibility to food safety. In fact, she is emphatic. In a time where preserving has been romanticized, it is critical to understand the dos and don’ts of proper preserving. It is not difficult to perform these tasks but it is critical they are fully understood. Botulism and food spoilage is serious business.

Although Preserving is encyclopedic, it is well written and an easy read. How many times do we turn to mom and ask, “Help me. I want to make …. How do I do it.”? When I am reading Preserving, I find its voice so similar to that of my late mother. (High praise, indeed!) The pictures help too. Pat Crocker supplied her own stunning photos for her book.

It was a pleasure to meet Pat Crocker at Nick and Nat’s Uptown 21 in Waterloo where Nick and Nat put on a special dinner to showcase Pat’s creations from the book. Chef Nick Benninger is already a dedicated preserver. So it was no surprise that the food was delicious and inspiring. The take away message resonated loud and clear – this is easier than you think.

I am feeling more ready than ever for this growing season. With Preserving and In Season by my side, new and exciting magic will be taking place in my kitchen this spring, summer and fall. Oh yes, and winter too.

blumenstudio – Can Anybody Make A Better Café Crema?

.i go to blumenstudio at 465 Parkdale Avenue for the café crema
.double shot
.served in the
#4 size Könitz Coffee Bar cup
.one part espresso
.one part microfoam cream
.made by Katrin Kosk herself

.i could have a cortado
.or a John Wayne
.or a café con panna
.or the usual cast of characters – latte, americano, cappuccino
.but I don’t

.it’s always the café crema

.thursday I brought the darling husband to my secret place
.well, not so secret because I do tell him all the time just how great the café crema is at blumenstudio

.again, café crema
.I went for my ‘girl’ cup
.the #4 size Könitz Coffee Bar cup
.he took the more masculine tumbler presentation
.the very special Classic Gourmet Coffee bean from Vaughan, Ontario means they were both delicious

.Kat fills her display case with a rotation of local treats
.Art-is-in Boulangerie
.The Flour Shoppe
.Simply Biscotti
.Auntie Loo’s Treats

.new to the top shelf is chocolates from ChocoMotive from Montebello, Ontario

.chocolate together with coffee is brilliant
.though not a divine revelation that I can lay claim to, it bares repeating

.our ‘product research’ included:
.Manon: marzipan, butter cream, fondant, toasted pecan, coated in white chocolate
.Caramel & fleur de sel: flowing caramel, Maldon salt, coated in dark chocolate
.Sucre d’orange: Fondant, candied orange, coated in dark chocolate *
.Lingot: nougatine, coated in dark chocolate and dusted with gold powder *

.* favourites

.Kat also is the corner store for milk, butter, eggs and refreshing drinks
.Local friends in that mix
.Cochrane’s Dairy in Russell
.Stirling Creamery in Stirling, home of Kraft Hockeyville 2012!

.Kat does big things with ‘blumen’
.her many large coolers display a selection of sophisticated blooms that play to her unique European sense of style

.a recent post on Apartment613 reminded me that it was time to pay blumenstudio a visit again
.to say happy 1st anniversary
.although we missed it by a day, we helped to ring in the beginning of year two
.year two of many more

.need a quiet place for a great coffee?
.be careful where you sit though
.she is always re-arranging

.restful .inspiring .heavenly café crema

465 Parkdale Avenue
website: www.blumenstudio.ca
Facebook: Blumenstudio
Twitter: @blumenstudio

Tues to Thurs: 8 am – 6 pm
Fri: 8 am – 8 pm
Sat: 9 am – 7 pm
Sun 10 am – 4 pm

Chilly Chiles in Navan Is Closing

Sadly, today we took what is likely our final trip out to Chilly Chiles in Navan. The 19 year old store is closing permanently on Sunday, April 15. Perhaps you too saw the news late last week in the Ottawa Citizen article by Adam Feibel titled “Fiery food specialists say its time to chill“.

We came to know about Chilly Chiles back in the late 90’s when they had a retail storefront on Sussex Drive in the Byward Market area. Their business was then already 6 years old and they well understood everything hot and spicy.

Like many, I fell in love with home cooked chili con carne in my university days. It was a typical dinner in our busy house full of students. The chili contests were simplified. Whoever could make the hottest, and still preserve a decent taste, reigned supreme. No surprise that my darling husband had a similar legacy with chili. Including the contests.

Over the years our tastes and talents evolved. Our refinement mainly focused on establishing a dish with greater ‘authenticity’ as we learned more about the dish’s origins.

The discovery of Chilly Chiles right here in our own hometown was like striking gold. We had at our finger tips every possible pepper and spice to make the perfect (most authentic) chili. It was a dream come true for anyone loving all things hot.

In the spring of 2002, we were extended an invitation to compete in the 8th Annual Chili Contest held in a private home south of Ottawa. What a gathering. Not everyone brings an entry. Some are just there for the tastings. The darling husband laboured over the technique and ingredients, feeling a burden of responsibility to make a respectable submission. No one was more surprised than he when he won. Products from Chilly Chiles played a key role in that first competitive creation.

We have attended this contest almost every year since and now have 4 wins to the family name. (I too won the first year I entered a submission.) The champion is taken out of play the year following the win and given the prestigious role as one of the 3 esteemed judges involved in the blind tasting. That job ended up being easier than I thought. You just ‘know’ when you have tasted a winning chili. Condiments such as cheese, sour cream, diced avocados are forbidden but we show great flexibility when it comes to incorporating beans. For this, some would hang their head in shame. Flavour trumps all.

Chilly Chilies returned to Navan in 2006. The travel distance of 38 kms was no deterrent to stocking up on the best that heat has to offer. We made the drive and continued to use them as our ingredient source for preparing our, hopefully, winning chili. Although, their mail order business may have been more practical.

Here is today’s indulgence to add to our pantry stockpile. We showed great restraint.

The 18th Annual Chili Contest is Saturday evening. A few of the purchases will hit the pot tomorrow as this year’s winning chili will get underway. I like the brew to settle for a day, allowing the flavours to find their balance.

Each year the recipe is different. My first (and winning chili) was recently published in the cookbook, PocoPazzo and Friends. (As an FYI, this cookbook has raised over $30,000 in support of the QuickStart Program here in Ottawa for children with autism.)

Our Chilly Chiles stash on hand will keep us for a bit. And although I have a sense of sadness that Rob and Alison’s store is closing, I am quite delighted at their plans to retire, build a new home in the area, and rest up a bit.

April 15th will come quickly. Consider making visit to pick up a few special items for your pantry and to share your best wishes.

Chilly Chiles
1220 Colonial Road
Navan, Ontario
Webpage: www.chillychiles.com

Mon – Tues: Closed
Wed – Thurs: 10 am to 6 pm
Fri: 10 am to 8 pm
Sat: 9 am to 6 pm
Sun: 11 am to 5 pm

LCBO Food & Drink Magazine – Spring Issue 2012

Spring has sprung
The grass is riz;

I wonder where the birdies is.

Although many think that Ogden Nash penned this little ditty (or a variation of it), in fact its true authorship is unknown. Whoever created the cheerful rhyme may have done so on a day like today, where we have been liberated from a deep freeze and skyrocketed to a blistering 12ºC. Sunny and almost too bright, I might add.

What a perfect day to pick up the newly released Spring issue of the LCBO Food & Drink magazine.

I have my copy marked up already with my wishlist of dishes to try in the weeks and months ahead as produce comes into season:

  • Rhubarb Punch and Lemonade Punch (From Bowled Over by Michelle P.E. Hunt & Laura Panter)
  • Golden Beet & Fennel Soup with Fennel Horseradish Cream (From Signs of Spring by Christopher St. Onge)
  • Fresh Rhubarb Chutney (From Hamming It Up! by Monda Rosenberg)
  • Risotto with Braised Short Ribs and Porcini Mushrooms (From Risotto Rapture by Michael Fagan)
  • Maple Pecan Squares and Salmon with Hoisin & Maple (From Sweet on Maple by Heather Trim)
  • Warm Spring Slaw (From Cuts Above by Monda Rosenberg)
  • Pot Stickers with Mango Sauce (From Mango by Marilyn Bentz-Crowley)

Trend Spotting by Nancy Won highlights the hottest foods and drinks for the coming year. My take on her list?

  • I AGREE ABSOLUTELY: Bitters; Offal 2.0; Root to Leaf; Snack Food
  • I’M A DOUBTING THOMAS: Bottle Aged Cocktails; Greek Wines
  • MISSING: Artisan Doughnuts (the new cupcake); Slaw (any thing, any time, any way); Arancini Rice Balls; Artisan Meatballs; Preserving

It is a fun read. Of course I felt wooed by some of the delicious accompanying recipes (even if I have to wait until late June for those garlic scapes) –Sweetbread “Double Down”; Garlic Scape and Spinach Salsa with Chicken; Bacon Smoked Cheddar and Tomato Crostini with Asparagus; Fire Roasted Shrimp with Guacamole and Chili Honey.

Are there any trends you see coming that should be added to Nancy’s list?

Lastly, I have to give a shout out to Sandra Van Aert, organic & free-run egg farmer from Watford, Ontario. (Approximately 60 kms west of London). She is a second generation farmer at that! Sandra is featured in Cynthia David’s Spotlight segment called The Shell Game. I just can’t imagine housing 24,000 hens. Back in my day, all our hens had names. Unfortunately you will not see ‘Van Aert’ on an egg carton. Something that I hope will change as more and more consumers are wanting to know their food source and who is being entrusted to deliver a superior product. Hey Sandra, I prefer my eggs soft-boiled too!

Plan ahead: The Early Summer issue hits the stores 8 weeks from today on Wednesday, May 2nd.

The 100th Wedding Anniversary Cake – Danish Layer Cake (Lagkage)

This past Friday marked the 100th wedding anniversary of my maternal grandparents. Their love story is shrouded in drama and intrigue. Although they were both Danish, they actually married in the United States.

Young Laura, only 20 years old and full of adventure to see the world, had traveled to Wisconsin over a year earlier to visit family. Her older groom toiled in his love for her and finally decided to tie the knot. (She had told him specifically that if he wanted to marry her, he had to come and get her!) The small ship from Denmark to England ran aground and he was two days late arriving in Liverpool. His cross Atlantic journey was quite rough, as the SS Empress of Britain had already departed and instead, he traveled on a freighter ship. It was a very stormy trip. At one point three of the life boats were torn away, disappearing into the sea. The 1500 mile train trip from New York City to Wisconsin was not without mishap either. Along the way, his travel trunk went up in flames at a train station that caught on fire. He lost his wedding suit, plus all the presents and congratulatory greetings that came with him.

February in Wisconsin still meant a winter wedding. Following the ceremony, performed by Banker Larsen, the newlyweds ventured throughout Wisconsin and the State of Washington for a few months. They then headed to the east coast to sail home to Europe later in April. Unfortunately their ship, the Titanic, never made port in New York City and their actual return was on an ocean liner lesser known.

It seemed to me that my grandfather went to great lengths to win his bride. Their 100th wedding anniversary deserved a special meal. As I began planning, I considered what food my mother would prepare when recognizing major milestones such as this one.

A traditional celebration cake in Denmark is the Danish Layer Cake (Lagkage or Lagekage). As children, we remember our mother making it for special company and also for our birthdays. Eventually we protested, wanting a sweeter cake, as the richness of lagkage isn’t enjoyed as much by a younger palate. Though my father never acquiesced.

I have yet to source my mother’s recipe. My hope is that it was shared around and eventually I will find someone who is still making it. I remember that it had many eggs, beaten to light yellow ribbons. I remember that she used potato flour instead of all-purpose flour. And I remember the sharpness with which each layer was cut. Though when I was assigned to cutting the layers, things got pretty wobbly. Whatever the cake recipe for lagkage, it is typically a génoise or a sponge cake.

The recipe I used this weekend makes each layer individually. I was attracted to this idea in order to avoid those wobbly layers, but also because a crusted top is easier to cover without crumbly bits getting into the filling or icing.

The cake turned out to be a very close approximation to the one my mother made. I was a bit stunned actually at how absolutely delicious it was. It made me realize just how much I missed her celebration cakes.

4 layers of cake
Raspberry jam
1/2 litre of whipping cream, whipped and sweetened to taste

(Adapted from one posted by Karen Hansen on Food.com.)

This cake recipe bakes two layers of the cake. You need to make the recipe twice to have the four layers you need.

2 egg yolks
1 1/2 tablespoon cold water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup flour
1 3/4 teaspoons cornstarch
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 egg whites

Preheat oven to 450ºF.

Measure out the flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt. Mix well.

Separate the eggs. Whip the egg whites until stiff.

In a separate bowl beat the egg yolks until lemon yellow. Add the water and sugar and beat for 2 minutes on high. Beat in the vanilla extract.

Add the flour mixture gradually and beat well.

Fold in the egg whites.

Bake in two ungreased 9-inch cake pans (I used my springform pans) for 10 minutes.


2 eggs
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup whole milk

Whip eggs, sugars and cornstarch together. Bring milk to the boiling point. Pour slowly into the egg mixture stirring constantly. Once combined pour back into the pot and bring to a boil. Stir constantly. When the first large bubbles start remove from the heat. Quickly run the custard through a sieve. Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard. Place in the fridge to cool down completely.

Place one layer on a cake plate. Cover with one third of the cooled custard. Drop small spoonfuls of jam all over the custard.

Repeat with the next two layers. Top the cake with the remaining layer.

Whip the cream and sweeten to taste with extra fine granulated sugar. About a tablespoon.

Skim coat the cake with the whipped cream. Then add a layer of cream to cover it completely without any cake showing through. Using a piping bag, decorate your cake with your own design flair!

Cool & Simple’s pain au chocolat at Grace In The Kitchen

A viennoiserie to start your day? Many of us save the treat for a weekend experience. And sometimes you don’t want to escape the cozy of home to dart out for an early morning trip to the bakery for a pastry pickup.

Grace In The Kitchen, at 442 Hazeldean Road in Kanata, carries frozen croissants and pain au chocolat from France. They are sold under the name Cool & Simple, a company in Montreal. Grace In The Kitchen also sells the baked finished product at their in-house coffee bar.

I tried a pain au chocolat as an accompaniment to my pour over Intelligentsia decaf coffee. Very pleased. It struck me that it would be the perfect morning treat when PJs reign and there would be no trip out to Art-is-in Bakery or Macarons Et Madeleines.

There are 5 to a package and go for $7.99. ($1.60 each). Macarons Et Madeleines charges $2.00 for a pain au chocolat. Art-is-in Bakery charges $2.50.

The instructions did not serve me well at all with my first two tries at Cool & Simple pain au chocolat. Although the outside looked great, inside the centre was still doughy and no where near done. Knowing that Grace In The Kitchen is also making this product for their coffee bar, I checked in with the baker on my next visit. He told me how he solved the problem.

Here are our modified baking instructions:

Place the pain au chocolat on a sheet of parchment paper on a baking sheet. Let stand at room temperature for 60 to 90 minutes. (I actually found that 120 minutes works perfectly.) Bake in a 375ºF oven for 18 to 22 minutes until golden. (I had great success baking them for 18 minutes.)

And voilà! They make a nice cheat when you aren’t up for leaving the house.

Spicy Jamaican Meat Pies: Memories of Spicy Luke’s Restaurant

Does anyone remember Spicy Luke’s restaurant in Ottawa?

I know very little about Luke Campbell but a few decades ago I faithfully sought out his legendary Jamaican meat patties. I remember his location off of Prince of Wales near Meadowlands and also when he was located at Bank and Alta Vista. He offered pies of different heat intensities and I often went for a dozen ‘hot’. He was always so friendly with his customers so it’s no surprise that I came out with more product than I had planned. The patties did freeze well and if I was going to make the drive that far across town, I might as well get a supply.

In the early 90’s I found a recipe that looked like it could rival Luke’s patties. It was found in Canadian Living’s County Living by Elizabeth Baird and The Food Writers of Canadian Living. It wasn’t where I expected I would find authentic Jamaican fare. We hit the jackpot. The recipe was very close to Chef Luke’s creations.

I recommend making the dough and the filling one day and doing the assembly the next. Otherwise, it becomes a long project. The extra day allows the flavours in the filling to mellow together. And the dough will be well chilled. The recipe makes 36 patties. The recipe can be easily halved.

Luke Campbell, if you are still cooking it up in Ottawa, know that your famous patties are sadly missed.

Adapted from Canadian Living’s Country Cooking by Elizabeth Baird and The Food Writers of Canadian Living

4 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons medium or hot curry powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 1/3 cup Crisco shortening, slightly chilled
1/2 cup butter, slightly chilled
1 cup cold water

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large onions, very finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds medium ground beef
3 tablespoons hot curry powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground thyme
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 cups water
1 cup bread crumbs, fine

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, curry and turmeric. Stir well.

Cut in chilled shortening and butter, using a pastry cutter until mixture resembles small crumbly pieces. Add water slowly and stir with a fork until you have a soft dough.

Wrap the dough in saran wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour. The dough can be kept for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 3 weeks. I usually chill the dough and do the patty assembly the second day.

In a large skillet heat oil over medium heat. Cook onions and garlic until soft. Remove onion mixture and set aside.

Brown the lightly salted beef until it is no longer pink. Make sure there are no large chunks. Drain off the fat. Stir in the onion mixture, curry, thyme, cayenne, salt and pepper. Cook for about 3 minutes to bring out the flavour of the spices.

Pour in the water, bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook for about 5 minutes. Stir in the bread crumbs. Mixture can not be runny but it is important that it is moist. Cool well. I cover it and store in the fridge to use the next day. It can be frozen for up to 2 months.

Roll out a 1/4 of the dough between two pieces of wax paper. You will need to dust the wax paper with flour and also lightly dust the dough. Cut into 4″ circles. I use a yoghurt container. I can usually get 6 circles with each portion. Collect up the odd bits of dough to be re-rolled.

After all the 6 circles are cut, take one at a time, and spoon on filling. I use my soup spoon and form an egg size ball. Wet the edge of the dough, fold dough over to create a half-moon, pinch the seam and seal the edges by crimping with a fork. Prick the dough twice.

Place on ungreased baking sheet and bake in preheated 370ºF oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.

The patties freeze well. To reheat, place in a preheated 375ºF oven and bake for 20 minutes. (I place the patties on stoneware to reheat. Use a baking sheet if you do not have one.)

This recipe yields 36 meat pies.

Can Langdon Hall’s Grand Chef Jonathan Gushue Win Gold Medal Plates With Food Like This?

“…You are the promised kiss of springtime, that makes the lonely winter seem long…”
[lyrics from Ella Fitzgerald’s “All The Things You Are” playing at my Langdon Hall lunch]

When I dropped into Langdon Hall recently, Executive Chef Jonathan Gushue was exactly two weeks away from one of the most prestigious culinary competitions in the country.

The 2012 Gold Medal Plates Canadian Culinary Championships is taking place in Kelowna, BC this weekend. The event spans 2 days with a Mystery Wine Pairing (Fri, Feb 10), Black Box Competition (Sat, Feb 11) and the Grand Finale (Sat, Feb 11). The nine chefs participating were chosen at regional competitions held throughout October and November of 2011.

I am particularly curious about this year’s match-up because of such nationally recognized competitors as Chef Gushue and also Chef Rob Feenie from Vancouver. I also feel that our representative from the November 14th event in Ottawa will be a force. Chef Marc Lepine opened his restaurant, Atelier, only 3 years ago and was quick to receive accolades for his creativity with tastes and techniques, being named 4th best new restaurant in Canada by Air Canada’s enRoute magazine.

But instead of packing my bags for the west coast, I decided to hedge my bets with the potential 2012 champion and dine quietly in the sanctuary of Chef Gushue’s dining room, away from the pressures that await him in the kitchens of Kelowna.

When you enter the over 100-acre estate of Langdon Hall in the outskirts of Cambridge, Ontario’s downtown core, you easily feel transported to a place far from your day to day life.

Langdon Hall was built in 1898 and still maintains the stature and the architecture of that time. There have been some additions to the main home, as well as outbuildings constructed when the property was established as a hotel and spa in 1989.

The main dining room has two major wings, essentially identical. I strategically chose a Friday lunch in the hopes that it was a ‘swing day’ with week long corporate guests leaving and the weekend leisure crowd yet to show up. With luck, the dining room would be more quiet and my moment of respite heightened, allowing me to linger over every bite. They spoiled me. As the other guests shared the one wing of the dining room near the conservatory, I had the other large one all to myself.

Jessica Pearce, Marketing & Public Relations Coordinator, is quite a sleuth. She was quick to knit together hints of scattered information to establish that I was in the house, although I made no grand announcement of my arrival for lunch that Friday. One of the excellent staff serving me made reference to my blog post on Chef Gushue at Savour Stratford. Specifically my supposition that his brilliance was due in part to being of the left-handed set. Oh, oh. I had been outed and I sensed I was about to be spoiled. I can only assume that what would unfold before me was an acknowledgement of my known appreciation for his fabulous work, shown by my willingness to travel some 500 kms just to lap up the experience.

Top-notch service and the finest of food preparations are not something that can be ponied out for a special guest. You either have it or you don’t. This is a place of very fine dining. There were no missteps. I just hoped my own manners could keep up to protocol.

The lunch menu was extensive. For my appetizer, I was torn between the tortellini and the scallops. Knowing seafood would be my main, I went for the pasta.

The first surprise treat was a pinot noir based sparkler from Hinterland Wine Company in Prince Edward County. I unfortunately was sporting a bit of a headache. This was going to cure me or push me to the edge. It was refreshing and light and proved to be a decent match as I very slowly sipped away at it throughout my meal.

The amuse-bouche was a banana pear marinated in shallot vinaigrette with sturgeon caviar, a quenelle of crème fraiche, and garnished with a sunflower seed crunch. It was as delicious as it was visually stunning.

The butter is made in-house.

As is their sourdough bread. A beautiful crunchy crust with a soft, fresh, chewy centre.

My appetizer was the Jerusalem artichoke tortellini with smoked mushrooms, pecorino-rye crumble and pine mushroom broth. The scent of the smoke wafted up from the mushrooms, only to be enhanced when the broth was poured in at table-side. The sweetness of the rye crunch brought life to the mellow flavours in the tortellini. This dish was a hit. I appreciated the spoon nearby but struggled with the wide bowl to capture every drop. Good manners kept me from stealthily lifting it to my lips.

Another surprise treat followed. Snow crab in goat’s milk yogurt, topped with a slaw punching with the brightness of apple and the bite of red onion. I pushed each morsel through the smear of the leek ash vinaigrette.

Then on to the main.

I hesitated on first bite. Was the fish overdone? It turned out to be just a crispy corner. The handsome portion was cooked to perfection. The mild flavour and dense meat has a way of camouflaging the high fat content. It balanced well with the earthy brussels sprout leaves, roasted parsnip medallions and slices of orchard apple, all brought together with the kitchen’s signature cold pressed canola and cider mousseline.

A consistent theme with Chef Gushue’s dishes is the harmony of layered flavours and textures, but also the mellow taste on the palate. You are at the symphony, not a rock concert.

I struggled with the dessert menu. Classic dishes for sure. Lots of ‘sweet’, ‘chocolate’, ‘rich’. But I was craving ‘refreshing’, ‘light’, ‘tart’, ‘tangy’. I had my sights set on something similar to the work of pastry chefs Patrice Demers of Les 400 Coups in Old Montreal or Michelle Marek, formerly of Laloux and now co-chef of the Foodlab at SAT in Montreal. (Les 400 Coups was named 4th best new restaurant in Canada by Air Canada’s enRoute magazine 2011. Patrice’s work was noted, rightfully so.) I still think of Chef Demers’ ‘Vert’ with green apple, pistachios, olive oil, cilantro. yogurt. Chef Marek’s cardamom panna cotta with carrot sorbet had me returning to Montreal for a second visit. Is this just the dichotomy of ‘cosmopolitan’ and ‘country estate’ settings? I digress.

The Langdon Hall orchards and kitchen gardens were calling me. I narrowed my choices to the carrot cake and the apple crisp, then committed to the latter.

But the surprises continued. A pre-dessert! The zest of orange and the citrus yogurt dressing lightened the sweetness of the pine scented marshmallow and cake pieces which was topped with crumbles of sponge toffee.

And now my dessert-dessert. I had no idea what to do with it all and my most supportive server informed me that a popular plan of attack is to trench the wild ginger and honey apple crisp, then pour in the icewine anglaise. I obliged him. My cider granita melted away as I worked the sweet, cinnamony, apply crisp (too sweet for me – well, not so sweet that I didn’t finish it). I drank my granita as a chaser.

At this point, I settled into my cup of Starbucks coffee as I threw in the napkin on one fantastic lunch.

But wait. There is more!

By now I am starting to blur with all the goodness. I hear words like petit fours, in-house marshmallow, hazelnut, Picard’s peanuts. They may have even said brownie crumble. I tasted the delightful surprises against my better judgement of fullness. Victory was theirs.

Mission completed. I had my quiet getaway lunch, retreated in the idyllic woods of Langdon Hall, in the best of care of their capable kitchen and the first class team at my service.

Chef Gushue came to visit table-side for a hello and to check on my gastronomical adventure. (Calling it lunch just seems pedestrian.)

I like that Gushue sources so much of his raw ingredients from the property. Of course, there is an extensive kitchen garden. But they also tap the trees to make syrup. There is now an apiary for their own honey. I hear there is one grand smoker new in the chef’s toolkit. I think my mushrooms had a visit there. They forage the wooded property for all things tasty and wild. What’s next? A few vines for their own wines? Or in-house roasting their own beans for coffee? There doesn’t seem to be anything that Chef Gushue won’t try. Partly the challenge to keep the learning fresh and partly a strong desire to be as self sustaining as possible.

Chef Gushue’s steely determination, his depth of food science knowledge, his calm and steady focus, his artful play of taste, texture and colour will be definite assets for the Canadian Culinary Championships. With just hours to go before the new winner is crowned, I wonder what he is thinking now in the cacophony of madness they might be calling ‘kitchen stadium’. No doubt he is being a fierce contender. After all, he IS left-handed.

Langdon Hall Country House Hotel and Spa
1 Langdon Drive
Cambridge, Ontario

Langdon Hall on Urbanspoon

Winter Bites Dining at the Lindenhof European Restaurant

The Winter Bites menu for the Lindenhof European Restaurant was all the temptation I needed to check out their new location at 268 Preston Street near Gladstone. Well, new to me. They have been there for almost 2.5 years now but my last visit to the Lindenhof was back in the day when they were located near Richmond and Carling.

European fare is ‘stick to the ribs’ comfort food. A good match for a lousy January winter night in Ottawa. Not a calorie was spared. Because of the storm warning in effect, the place was empty save for our table and another that cabbed in shortly after we arrived. (Cabbing would have been a good idea.)

We received great service and thoughtful attention to the pace of our meal. I appreciated that.

We were served beautiful multi-grain buns with butter (Lactantia!) but took a pass, knowing many calories lay ahead.

Beer is the right beverage for this menu. I picked their 17 oz Lindenhof draught ($6). Not heavy at all.

Our first course was the Zweibelkuchen, a baked caramelized onion tart. It came accompanied by a dill sour cream. This dish is normally $7.

We both picked the Jaeger Schnitzel, pork fried schnitzel with assorted roasted mushrooms in a red wine reduction with spaetzle and braised red cabbage. This dish is normally $18.

The dessert was Hall’s Apple Strudel with Bourbon Whipped Cream. This dish is normally $6.

The Jaeger Schnitzel stole the show. There was a distinct smoky flavour throughout the dish that complemented the spaetzle and the pork. I love braised red cabbage and wished there was more but there was no plate real estate left to allow for that.

The onion tart was tasty enough and the dill sour cream was a refreshing partner. I can only guess how rich it was and may take a pass next time.

A strudel is a predictable dessert in a German restaurant. Not a problem though. I dug out the cinnamony apple and then went for the strudel. The top was flaky but the bottom too dense.

Our Winter Bites menu of choice was priced at $30, which works out to a dollar off on the 3-course prix fixe combination. A bit of math I figured out later. I don’t often order an appetizer and dessert with dinner and in hindsight, I think I would have just ordered the Schnitzel, as it was very filling. I pushed hard but still didn’t finish. In fact, next time I would just order off the menu.

If you are coming to the Lindenhof before January 28th to try their Winter Bites menus, go with a big appetite. You will enjoy the food experience but you are going home full. More than full.

Lindenhof European Restaurant
268 Preston Street
Ottawa, Ontario
website: www.thelindenhof.com
Facebook: Lindenhof
Twitter: TheLindenhof

Lindenhof on Urbanspoon

Check the Winter Bites website for details on the 29 participating restaurants.

Winter Bites Lunching at The Pelican Fishery & Grill

Since the Winter Bites menus started pouring into the “WinterBites by Ottawa Magazine” Facebook page, I have been spinning through the wall photos like some kind of roledex. Constantly reading and re-reading.

[Image Source: Ottawa Magazine]

I love eating seafood when I go out, since I find most places do a better job than I can do in my own kitchen. I appreciate the fresh, well chosen selection. And I appreciate the fuss that goes into making a special dish.

It should be no surprise then that I fixated on the Pelican Fishery & Grill’s lobster bisque, which was being offered on both their lunch and dinner Winter Bites menus.

I admit this sudden cold snap has kept me cocooned the past few days but when I had to head out for my bi-annual visit to the dentist, I stole the opportunity to stop in at the Pelican being nearby.

The Pelican Fishery & Grill is located in the Blue Heron Mall, a strip mall anchored by Farm Boy on Bank Street just north of Heron Road. The outside is the usual unassuming look you can expect from a restaurant located in a strip mall. But once inside you see the wide display cases loaded down with the latest catch laid out on crushed ice. Sharing the space is the restaurant, which seats about 40 on copper topped tables.

I arrived at lunch just as they were opening at 11:30 am. Some food critiques will say never eat fish on a Monday, questioning its freshness. Imagine my surprise to see 9 reserved signs dotting almost half the tables. I appeared to be a lucky walk-in. As the first to arrive, I was still able to get a seat reasonably close to the windows.

I took note that the steady flow of clientele following me were greeted by name and ushered to their ‘regular’ seats. A strong following of repeats! For sure a good sign of things to come. For a moment I actually felt a little awkward. Was I sitting in someone else’s ‘pew’? I might have expected such a crowd on Fridays with those faithful to their strong Catholic traditions, but on a Monday? Impressive.

Warm multi-grain buns arrived promptly. No whipped butter! Thank you. Lactantia happens to be my favourite of the big butters.

An advantage of being first for lunch, I had all the attention of the wait staff for some moments before the busyness set in. I lapped it all up. Right down to the unsolicited coaster slipped under the northwest leg of my table to take away the ‘teeter’. I wouldn’t have asked, not wanting to be a bother. Thanks for noticing the small things.

I knew I was there for the lobster bisque and dessert was already established to be maple crème brûlée. Now to pick between Coconut Shrimp or Wild Pacific Halibut. I went for the fish, though quite concerned about portions. Thankfully I took a pass on breakfast.

The bisque came in a small cup. A perfect starter size. The texture was velvety smooth. The flavour, deep with the heat of cayenne and a swish of brandy to embolden the seafood broth. Parceled secretly at the bottom of the bowl were 3 or 4 bite-size morsels of lobster meat. A pleasing treasure to uncover. The small helping of bisque was deceivingly fillling.

Then onto the main.

The lunch size portion of halibut vanished but I came up shy on the fries. A shame too since they were great fries. A creamy, buttery potato flesh with a crisp outer layer. Not too crisp though. I liked the dressing on the slaw as well. I tend to use more onion and Dijon but I think the more mellow flavour was a better complement to the mildness of the battered halibut. The same could be said for the tartar sauce. I was left wanting for a more relishy zip. This fish was very nicely done. I like my batter a bit more crispy, more of a tempura. I think that is a matter of preference. Overall, I really enjoyed my main.

The problem with a 3-course prix fixe menu is that your appetite can run ashore before you get to the pièce de résistance. In this case, the maple crème brûlée. I have had many crème brûlée in this town and this one rates in my top 5. Besides the silky custard, I was happy for the deeper, more narrow dish. With less surface area to ‘brûlée’, there is a better custard to sugar ratio to my way of thinking. The brûlée was still reasonably thick and very evenly fired. The maple flavour shone through but was not overpowering. The garnish of the raspberry and blueberries freshened each bite. I was satisfied with my decision to forgo a good portion of my fries.

The Winter Bites ‘deal’ at the Pelican means the dessert is essentially free. I was delighted to be tempted back to this gem of a place as it has been years since we have been there, not being in our neighbourhood.

If you are considering the Pelican Grill for your Winter Bites adventure, you will be pleased you made the trip. All round it was a top notch experience.

Winter Bites runs until January 28th. Check the Winter Bites website for details on the 29 participating restaurants.

Pelican Fishery & Grill
1500 Bank Street
Ottawa, Ontario
website: www.pelicanfisheryandgrill.com
Facebook: Pelican Fishery & Grill

Pelican Fishery & Grill on UrbanspoonLink