Wednesday, February 22, 2012
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.
DANISH LAYER CAKE (Lagkage)
4 layers of cake
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 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!
Sunday, February 19, 2012
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.
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.
JAMAICAN MEAT PATTIES
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.
Saturday, February 11, 2012
"...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