Archive for the ‘PEI’Category

PEI potatoes make rich cake for dessert

root beer chocolate cakeMy gastronomic adventures on Prince Edward Island were not limited to shellfish. PEI is famous for its potatoes — the tiny island grows more than a quarter of the entire Canadian crop.

PotatoesChef Ilona Daniel of the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown consults for the potato board, which was handing out all kinds of recipes at the PEI Internaional Shellfish Festival. Most of them were predictable — potato gnocchi, potato pancakes, potato pizza, etc. But Daniel came up with this delicious cake that uses mashed potatoes and Greek yogurt to create a dense, moist texture that keeps for days. She was giving away samples, and once I tasted it, I knew I had to get the recipe. I cut the recipe to one-quarter of the one given here, and cooked it in a 6-inch springform pan (see photo above). The results were identical.

CHEF ILONA’S ROOTBEER CHOCOLATE PEI POTATO CAKE

Ingredients

1 cup mashed and hot PEI Yukon Gold potatoes
1/2 cup water, warm
1 cup full-fat (9%) Greek yogurt
2/3 cup butter, softened
2 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 tablespoon root beer extract
4 large eggs
1 cup cocoa
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch salt
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or chocolate chunks

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9x13x2-inch baking pan using butter or non-stick oil spray, and dust with cocoa powder. Remove excess cocoa powder and set aside.

2. Whisk mashed potatoes, water, and yogurt until a smooth mixture is formed.

3. Beat butter, brown sugar and root beer extract for 4-5 minutes with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.

4. Add 2 eggs and mix until blended, scrape down sides of bowl; add remaining eggs and continue mixing until well blended.

5. Sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt; stir to combine.

6. At low speed, alternate adding the sifted dry ingredients with the potato mixture into the egg mixture until just incorporated. ****DO NOT OVERMIX. Fold in chocolate chips.

7. Place batter into the prepared pan; smooth out top. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until cake springs back when pressed lightly and begins to move away from the sides of the pan.

8. Cool in the pan on a cooling rack. Sift confectioners’ sugar over the cake or drizzle with an icing of your choice.

9. Store at room temperature for up to 3 days in an airtight container. Cake also freezes well

04

10 2013

Winning shellfish dish in PEI chef cookoff

Finalists cookJudging the final round of the Garland International Chef Challenge turned out to be a big deal. Instead of hiding in a back room while we tasted, Dominic Serio and I sat on the main stage while the two finalists cooked on the main floor of the hall in front of the stage. Chef Alain Bossé paced back and forth for an hour offering commentary and gently kidding both contestants.

With $10,000 on the line, the two finalists gave us their hand-printed menus. Marc Lepine was preparing lobster poached in orange beurre blanc with crab meatballs, miso mayo, fennel sponge, wild rice crispies, and lobster jus. Ryan Morrison proposed “packed” lobster tail, oyster and crab hushpuppies, cauliflower purée, chanterelle and spearmint “salad,” and dill-pickled mustard seeds. They had to complete the ambitious dishes from prep to plate in one hour.

00 - Marc's dishBoth competitors stayed calm and controlled as the clock ticked away. My view from the stage let me look down on their dishes (and the backs of their heads). Both chefs were methodical, executing their complex garnishes first — Lepine’s fennel sponge (made with agar-agar) and wild rice crispies (uncooked wild rice puffed in hot oil), and Morrison’s dill-pickled mustard seeds. Then they marshaled each segment of the dish in an order so that everything hot would be done last for presentation.

Even the way they chose to plate showed the different mindsets of two tremendously talented chefs. Lepine saw his plate as a series of featured items linked by sauces, and that’s how he plated them. Morrison saw his plate as a gestalt of flavors, and he literally piled one element on top of another. The final judging was close but unanimous. Both plates were gorgeous (and delicious). They were very different, but in the end, tiny details made the difference. Morrison’s pickled mustard seeds really thrust the shellfish flavors front and center, while Lepine’s bland fennel sponge detracted from the seafood. Ryan Morrison, whose dish is pictured below, went back to Vancouver $10,000 richer than when he had come.
00-ryan's dish

01

10 2013

Enjoying a great meal in Charlottetown at Lot 30

Halibut You would not have thought I’d still be hungry, but between rounds of judging I found time to have dinner at Lot 30 (151 Kent St., Charlottetown, PEI, 902-629-3030, lot30restaurant.ca). Charlottetown is not a big place (fewer than 35,000 people), but Lot 30 and chef Gordon Bailey could hold their own in Montreal, Boston, or Toronto. The restaurant is a spacious room with hardwood floors, wooden tables and chairs, and several pieces of Op Art on the walls. Since I was dining alone, co-owner Traci Bailey (Gordon’s wife) placed me at the bar in front of a video screen showing the kitchen’s plating station. Watching disembodied hands assembling each plate before it came out was as hypnotic as staring into an aquarium.

Lot30 dining roomThe décor is low key because chef Gordon Bailey’s cuisine is the star, and those plates coming out of the kitchen are full of drama. I opted for the five-course tasting menu ($65) and let Bailey call the shots. My meal included pan-seared scallops in carrot butter with a browned bearnaise with toasted pistachio nuts; seared halibut with roasted beets, butternut squash purée, and an olive-orange “vinaigrette”; lobster fricasee with field greens and foraged lobster mushrooms; a meat pairing of grilled ribeye with champagne grapes and maple-glazed pork belly with potato pierogi on crème fraiche; and a dessert plate with a sliver of nut-crusted flourless chocolate cake, burnt almond ice cream, and blackcurrant cassis sorbet.

GordonBailey wasn’t doing anything special for the visiting judge. Each of these dishes was on the menu that night. Lot 30 also has a remarkably good wine list, especially given all the tax and import challenges of the maritime provinces. It so happened that several of the chefs I was judging also went to Lot 30 the same night I did, and Bailey made a dining room appearance to greet them. He looked very much as shown here with an oyster knife (he was about to compete in an oyster-shucking contest). I think he maybe scared a few of them….

LOT 30 HALIBUT WITH ROASTED BEETS, BUTTERNUT
SQUASH PUREE, AND ORANGE-OLIVE VINAIGRETTE

Every dish on my tasting menu was a hit, but this one had some simple tricks of technique that will actually change how I cook from now on. Roasting the beets whole in foil makes them especially sweet, and the skins just slip off. Moreover, Bailey’s technique with the fish produces a moister fillet than cooking on both sides, then removing to a plate and holding it in a warm oven. I intend to sear all my fish this way from now on.

Serves 2

Ingredients

4 baby beets
canola oil
2 4-ounce halibut fillets, about 1 inch thick
juice from 4 Valencia oranges
2 teaspoons sugar
puréed butternut squash (warm)
12 kalamata black olives pitted and chopped
scallion greens sliced on diagonal for garnish

Technique

1. Wrap beets in aluminum foil and roast in 425F oven for 20 minutes. Let cool in foil. Unwrap and peel.

2. Grease heavy skillet or griddle with canola oil. Heat over high flame. Meantime, salt both sides of halibut fillets. Place on hot pan and sear until top is beginning to lose translucency. Remove pan from heat and set aside while finishing dish.

3. Combine orange juice and sugar and stir to dissolve. Place over high heat and reduce to one-quarter volume.

4. Paint hot plate with broad swash of butternut squash. Place a fillet on each plate, flipping it over so seared side is up. Place a beet at each end of fillet. Sprinkle chopped olives on top and pour reduced orange juice over the fish and beets. Garnish with scallion greens and serve.

29

09 2013

Trying to judge the best shellfish chefs in Canada

judge101I was honored to be asked to judge the Garland Canada International Chef Challenge, one of the highlights of the PEI International Shellfish Festival. Ten world-class chefs compete for a grand prize of $10,000, sponsored by Canada’s lead producer of professional kitchen equipment. I joined chefs Alain Bossé from Nova Scotia (aka the Kilted Chef) and Dominic Serio, the vice president of the Atlantic division of the Canadian Culinary Federation. The challenge for the chefs was to cook a plate incorporating at least three of the following PEI shellfish: lobster, jonah crab meat, mussels, and soft-shell clams. The challenge for the judges was to choose the best dishes from a field of highly talented competitors.

I don’t know what what goes on back stage on Top Chef and the other televised culinary competitions, but the three of us used a version of the international culinary competition form that spelled out the criteria for judging. We gave each contestant up to 15 points for presentation and general appeal; up to 30 points for taste, texture, and technique; and up to 5 points for menu description (including spelling).

judge102The competition was fierce, and included last year’s winner, Marc Lepine of Atelier in Ottawa, who was also 2012 Canadian Culinary Champion. Some Americans crept in — Jamie Parsons of Legal Sea Foods in Burlington, Mass., and Michael Reidt, recently of Area 31 and now about to open open his own restaurant in Miami. Danny Smiles, who just took over at Le Bremner in Montreal, was first runner-up in last year’s Top Chef Canada. Others included Shawn Jackson of the Mill Street Brew Pub in Ottawa, Kyle Panton of Sims Corner Steakhouse & Oyster Bar in PEI, and Michael Blackie of Nextfood in Ottawa. Some of my personal favorites (after the judging was done, of course) were Ryan Campbell, who will be opening his own farm and restaurant near Niagara Falls in the spring, Ryan Morrison of the Glowbalgroup in Vancouver (including Granville Island’s Fish Shack), and the one woman in this group, the kickass talented Charlotte Langley of Catch in Toronto. (That’s her at the stove in the photo at the top of this post.)

Chefs competed in two heats of five chefs each, and they had one hour to prepare and plate their dishes while the judges paced back and forth, checking on their progress. In previous years, the chefs had cooked behind closed doors at the culinary school far from the festival. This year they commandeered one of the side tents and allowing the general public to watch was one of the biggest draws of the festival.

judge103Both heats were so close that none of us knew who had won until an official from the Culinary School of Canada tallied our results and announced the two highest scores of the first day of competition. The dishes are here. The smaller one at left is by Ryan Morrison, and was a play on “green eggs and ham.” Each plate had an egg yolk half-cured in salt that made a creamy sauce when the diner stirred the dish. The larger one below was Marc Lepine’s beautiful masterpiece that included a lobster-crab timbale, where shaved lobster tail makes a wrap for crabmeat. The two of them represented extremes in contemporary cooking: Morrison’s gutsy and assertive dish, and Lepine’s model of finesse and technique. When their names were announced an hour later, we couldn’t wait to see what they would do for the finals the next day.
judge104

24

09 2013

Making PEI mussels like the mussel master

Mussels to steamAs a native Belgian and as the man who launched mussel aquaculture on Prince Edward
Island (see post), Joel Van Den Bremt has eaten his share of mussels over the years. When I asked him how he preferred to cook them, he thought a bit and told me, “steamed, but with the vegetables soft enough to eat. I like the vegetables, too.” I agree with him. Some diners will pass the mussels to someone else at the table and just concentrate on the mussel-flavored broth. I prefer the three-bowl plan: one for the mussels, one of the spent shells, and a third for broth and vegetables. Although you can steam mussels in a dry pan, relying on their own juices, many people add raw vegetables to the pot. But by the time the mussels are cooked, the vegetables are neither cooked nor raw. If you keep cooking to finish the vegetables, the mussels will come out vulcanized. Joel’s solution is to sauté the veggies first.

MUSSELS A LA JOEL

Serves 4 as an appetizer

Ingredients
1/4 lb butter, cut into pieces
6 shallots, minced
2 stalks celery, cut in 1/2-inch dice
1 large carrot (2-3 salad carrots), cut in 1/2-inch dice
2 cups white wine
5 lb. (about 3 quarts) live blue mussels

Directions
In large stockpot over medium heat, melt butter, and add shallots, celery, and carrots. Stir steadily and cook until vegetables begin to soften.

Add wine and mussels. Bring to a boil and cover pot. Steam for about 5 minutes, or until all the mussels have opened their shells.

Remove mussels to four bowls using slotted spoon. Ladle broth and vegetables into four smaller bowls.

PEI folks give new meaning to foodies

Scott LinkletterI can’t say I’ve ever see an island where so many people make or gather or process wonderful food. Between judging duties at the International Shellfish Festival I had the chance yesterday to drive around the island a bit, heading up to the north shore to see a mussel processing operation (more on that later on), pay a visit to a potato farm, catch a picnic in the fields, and visit Raspberry Point oysters. That’s Scott Linkletter at the top of this post, hauling a cage of oysters to show how they’re grown using an Australian system of posts driven into the soft bottom of shallow waters. The cages are suspended on lines that hang on the posts. Every few days he and his staff haul cages out so the sun can dry out any incipient seaweed or mussel growth that would impede the flow of water to the oysters. It’s an ingenious system.

Picnic with the Pendergasts


CampbellsI also got a chance to join a picnic being catered by the Pendergast brothers, chef David and baker Richard, at Mull Na Beinne Farm, where Vernon and Bertha Campbell have grown gorgeous PEI potatoes since 1980. Here are the Campbells in front of their giant potato harvester, which is manufacturer in Prince Edward Island. (Yes, there are a LOT of potatoes here.)

Mussel rollsRichard and David put on a great spread that included mussel rolls (mussels and mayo on sourdough finger rolls), a fine chowder, and baked beans with oyster sauce. Then David picked up a guitar (Richard had a fiddle) and played some tunes. Check out this verse of his original, “Campbelltown.”

Fishermen feed the world (especially on PEI)

mussels1
I met one of my heroes yesterday at the PEI International Shellfish Festival. I say “hero” even though I had never known his name until I met him, but Jozef Van Den Bremt changed the way a lot of us eat. A Belgian immigrant who wanted to find a way to contribute to his adopted country and his new home province of Prince Edward Island, he set out in the 1970s to figure out how to grow blue mussels. It’s not that mussels were uncommon.

Joel They cling to every rock and pier in the North Atlantic–and every one of those wild mussels is full of grit in its flesh. To get sweet, juicy and grit-free mussels, you need to cultivate them on a substrate where the sand doesn’t wash into them. Van Den Bremt went to Holland and to Spain to see how they did it, and quickly figured that the winter ice around PEI would crush the raft environments that Europe used. Through trial and error, he developed a rope strategy, producing his first cultured mussels in 1978 for PEI Mussel King, Inc. They sold for 40 cents a pound. Mussels today bring in $26.7 million a year to the province–and give us all a lot of good eating. What Van Den Bremt likes best is that the mussel industry is spread all around the island among individuals. “The money,” he says, “doesn’t go into corporate coffers. It goes to the fishermen-farmers.”

So I count it an honor to have shaken the hand of the Belgian immigrant who showed us North Americans just how good a mussel can be. Joe’s proud, too, that it was his gift back to Canada. He estimates that mussel aquaculture has brought $1 billion to Prince Edward Island in the last 36 years.

Tasty start to PEI International Shellfish Festival

lobster chowder2Mussels, oysters, or lobster? It’s hard to choose among them on Prince Edward Island, the small Canadian province with the massive shellfish harvest. This year I’m getting my fill of all of them as a judge of Garland Canada International Chef Challenge. But before the competitions got started on Friday the 13th, I joined 500 other diners for the Feast and Frolic kickoff dinner at the Charlottetown Festival Grounds. Food Network Canada star (and Islander) chef Michael Smith played emcee, and the students of the Culinary Institute of Canada did the cooking. It was an auspicious beginning.

The moderately deconstructed lobster chowder (above) consisted of a celeriac broth with foraged sea asparagus and green swoops of pureed lovage. A butter-poached claw and half-tail of PEI lobster was perched on a slab of perfect PEI potato (a fingerling cut lengthwise in thirds).

0 - salad servingAs Smith gleefully pointed out, locavore dining has always been the rule on PEI, and to drive it home, the salad course consisted of a big bowl of mixed greens and flowers (nasturtium, violas) and lettuce that each table harvested with scissors from planter centerpieces. Ilona Daniel of the Culinary Institute was at my table, so she mixed the dressing and tossed the salad.

Beef and crabBut the capper of the evening was an unusual surf and turf: braised PEI grassfed beef shortrib with some possibly local (I couldn’t find out) snow crab legs and a side bucket of PEI blue mussels. It was a reminder that even a small island like PEI has a resident beef industry, and that while most of us think of snow crab as a northern Pacific species, Islanders do indeed fish for them in the waters north of the island.