Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Banff, Lake Louise, and Kelowna
It's been a long time since I visited Banff and an even longer time since I've eaten fondue. But last week I did both and had a lot of fun in the process. It would be a spa weekend, as my sister-in-law described it when she invited me. It turned out to be three days of shopping, eating, drinking, and reconnecting. There was lots of conversation, philosophizing, and enjoying the autumn beauty of the landscape. We stayed at the beautiful Rimrock Resort on Mountain Avenue in the town of Banff. My photo (above) doesn't do it justice. The hotel is set into the side of a mountain and the views from the rooms are spectacular. The afternoon we arrived, we settled in and enjoyed a cheese plate and drinks in the lounge.
The next day we spent five hours wandering in and out of what felt like every shop in Banff. Several of us got some Christmas shopping done. Fortunately we had a early dinner reservation at The Grizzly House restaurant. This is Banff's famous fondue restaurant. In business since 1967, the Grizzly started as a dance and social club. Originally the food was passed through a hole in the wall from an adjoining Chinese restaurant. But when the Chinese restaurant went out of business, Grizzly's owners brought in their fondue pots, and a concept that has endured all these years was launched. The menu has every kind of fondue you could imagine. We chose a combination of seafood, game, beef, chicken, and duck. You could also have ostrich and rattlesnake, if you were so inclined. The cooking is done with traditional fondue pots and flat hot stones. It is a lively place with a retro sound track playing at high volume and energetic, friendly staff. One caveat worth mentioning: if you go to Grizzly House wear clothing that is easily washable. I had to take the clothes I wore that evening to the dry cleaner when I got to Kelowna. And what I thought was blurry vision due to fatigue and one too many cocktails was actually a thin coating of cooking oil on my glasses. What fun! The next day we drove to Lake Louise to have lunch at the Chateau Lake Louise. There had been snow the previous night but the day was clear and sunny. The lake, surrounded by the mountains, sparkled a brilliant blue. It was just the way I remembered it.
At lunch, in a lovely room overlooking Lake Louise, we chose traditional afternoon tea. The highlight of the tea service was the scones. Served warm with thickened cream and strawberry jam, they were light and flaky. The crumb was fine and tender and the tops just browned and crisp enough to provide the right textural contrast. I have been instructed by my travel companions to try and recreate these scones. It will be a tall order and perhaps I'll call the pastry chef at the Chateau for some helpful hints. They were the best I've ever eaten.
Back in Calgary on Monday we enjoyed one more lunch together and a quick shopping trip at Holt Renfrew. Then it was off to the airport for a forty minute flight "over the hill", as the pilot described it, to Kelowna. Once a sleepy town known for apple orchards and retirement communities, Kelowna has grown to a city of over a hundred thousand. It's a beautiful spot, located by a deep glacial lake and surrounded by mountains. The orchards are still there but vineyards line the landscape in many areas. The wine industry is producing some very good products. My sister had decided we would go to dinner at Raudz's Regional Table, a restaurant known for it's dedication to locally sourced foodstuffs and seasonal cooking.
Raudz's was great. Carol and I had their signature seasonal fruit martinis; hers was grape, mine plum. Our entrees included wild boar scallopini and a lamb special. We started with Raudz's famous poutine, which consists of their infrared cooked french fries, squeaky cheesecurds, chicken confit and chicken gravy. Very good indeed.
The photos above show the open kitchen and the chalk board with various food-related witticisms. Another feature of the decor at Raudz is the artwork depicting the food suppliers and their products. The people are photographed in black and white and juxtaposed with their products which are shown in color. Very clever, I think.
For the remainder of my visit, my sister and I cooked together in her kitchen. We made some terrific shortribs braised with Asian flavors and glazed with hoisin, orange, and ginger. What a pleasure it was to sit at the dining room table, enjoying dinner, good wine, and hours of conversation together. My last day in Kelowna we drove through the orchard areas and I took some photos of the autumn foliage.
When I arrived home, I found myself with no appetite. A week of over-indulgence of food and wine will do that. I was craving something light and fresh, something restorative. And I kept going back to the flavor memory of those shortribs Carol and I had made. As I sat at my kitchen table, sorting through the accumulated mail, I found the new issue of Fine Cooking. An article jumped out at me as I paged through the magazine: "Soul-Warming Chicken Soup". So I made chicken soup using the Asian flavors we had incorporated in the shortrib braise. It is warming and spicy, but light and fresh tasting. Here is what I did:
Chicken Soup with Baby Bok Choy, Mushrooms, and Soba Noodles (adapted from Fine Cooking, Vol.114)
If you choose to make your own chicken broth these are the proportions of ingredients and the general method. (If you are not able to make the broth, substitute three quarts of the best quality chicken broth/stock you can find in your supermarket. For the cooked chicken, purchase that ultimate supermarket convenience food: rotisserie chicken. Remove the skin from a three pound chicken and shred the meat. Set this aside to add later).
In a large Dutch oven or stock pot place a 3 pound chicken from which you have removed the skin ( this ensures a cleaner, less fatty broth). Cover with cold water, approximately 5 quarts, and bring to the boil. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer and cook until foam no longer accumulates on the surface of the liquid. Skim the foam often during this time, the broth will be much clearer if you are diligent with this step. This will take about 20 to 30 minutes of simmering and skimming. At this point add 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 2 inch chunks, 2 medium celery stalks, cut into 2 inch pieces, and 1 medium onion, cut into 1/2 inch wedges. Add about 1 tablespoon of kosher salt and 1 teaspoon white pepper and simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes or until the chicken is just cooked through. Remove the chicken to a rimmed baking sheet and cool for 10 minutes. Continue simmering the broth with the lid ajar. Pull the meat from the chicken and shred it into bite size pieces, discarding any fat and gristle as you work. Set this aside, covered, to add to the finished soup. Return the chicken carcass to the pot and continue cooking at a gentle simmer, partially covered, until the vegetables are soft and the flavor has intensified, about 30 minutes. Avoid boiling the stock as this contributes to a cloudy finished product. Remove the carcass from the pot and discard, then strain the broth through a fine sieve into a large container. You should have about 3 quarts of broth. You can now refrigerate the broth for up to 3 days. Remove any solidified fat from the surface before proceeding.
To Make the Soup
In a large stock pot or Dutch oven, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Add 2-3 cups of 1/4 inch diced carrots and 1 cup 1/4 inch diced onion. Sprinkle in 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt and saute until lightly browned. Add 1 small jalapeno chile, thinly sliced and a 2 inch knob of peeled ginger root, thinly sliced. (Be careful with these strong aromatics. If you want only a moderately spicy broth, use half the amounts suggested. But don't be too shy, the flavors will moderate once you add the noodles and vegetables.) Stir the mixture for a few minutes longer until it is fragrant. Add 3 quarts of chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the vegetables are tender and the aromatics have flavored the broth to your liking. Keep tasting and checking the level of spiciness; I removed the pieces of chile after 10 minutes and left the ginger in an additional ten minutes. When the broth is flavored, remove the pieces of ginger and chile and discard. Stir in the reserved shredded chicken, 8 ounces of sliced mushrooms, and 8 ounces of thinly sliced baby bok choy. Add about 4 cups of cooked soba noodles ( you will need 8-10 ounces of dried noodles to yield this amount. Cook them only until just barely tender, then drain and rinse before adding to the soup). Simmer the soup for about 10 minutes to meld the flavors.
Finish the soup by adding the following salty, sweet, and sour seasonings.
2-3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons sesame oil
Keep tasting and adjusting the flavor of the soup to your liking. If you like even more spice add a few drops of hot sauce such as sriracha to each individual bowl. Serve the chicken noodle soup garnished with thinly sliced scallions. You can refrigerate the finished soup for up to 3 days. This recipe yields about 6-8 servings.