Archive for March, 2011

17
Mar
11

Cuisinart Resort’s hydroponic farm

I’m starting to (finally) wrap up the Anguilla posts. I’ve finally reached the CuisinArt hydroponic farm post I’ve been referring to. This is completely unique in that CuisinArt’s restaurant is the only one in the world to have its own hydroponic farm. A similar effort was made on an island off the coast of Puerto Rico, but didn’t succeed for one reason or another.

The advantages to a restaurant having its own hydroponic farm are easy to see. Since Anguilla is a remote place to reach, boatloads of supplies can’t easily make their way to the island. Having your own farm ensures that you have the freshest produce available, and no doubt cuts down on internal costs, since there’s no middleman. Being able to attend to the crops on the premises ensures that you can control the quality of your ingredients, and you can know exactly the amount of resources available to you.

The CuisinArt farm grows tomatoes, lettuces, herbs, peppers, eggplant, and cucumbers, and is consistently trying new crops. The vegetables need to be able to support themselves on the vine, since everything grows vertically.

 

Seeing all that lush, green, edible vegetation in the middle of winter certainly encouraged me when I got home. I went out and stocked up on seeds for tomatoes and leafy greens, and currently my living room is filled with seedlings that are harbingers of summer’s harvest. The first year I planted tomatoes, I didn’t know what I was doing. I let them grow, and grow, and grow, without pruning. This year, I’m approaching my tomato crop with a slightly more experienced eye (only slightly). At the CuisinArt farm, they cut away the leaves closest to the fruit to allow more sunlight to reach it and ripen it – something I’m looking forward to trying on my own plants. In the case of the cherry tomatoes, this resulted in some of the sweetest, most delectable tomatoes I’ve ever tasted. We were allowed to pick and taste them right off of the vine – heaven. I only hope that my plants, nurtured as they are in this Canadian climate, reach even a tenth of that flavour.

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10
Mar
11

Cooking Class at CuisinArt Resort in #Anguilla

On Friday, February 18th, the 4th day of our trip to Anguilla, we took a cooking class at the beautiful CuisinArt Resort (associated with the ubiquitous kitchen gadget brand name). The offer several kinds of cooking classes, and the one we took was with Chef Guillaume, working under executive chef Daniel Le Guénan. We didn’t know a lot of the details surrounding the class, as our awesome travel agent Sheila Gallant-Halloran and Sherrill Hughes of Paradise Cove.

I’m so glad we took the class. It was an informal, and informative, class. I haven’t worked a lot with fish before, and 2 of the courses were fish. We attended the class with one other couple, who had signed up for the class based on the “secret ingredient” aspect of it – the same ingredient was to make an appearance in all of the dishes. As it turned out, the secret ingredient was a simple vegetable stock, very tasty, which I’m very pleased to have in my repertoire. The recipes I’m listing here are based on the notes I took, adding up all of our contributions to the pan or the pot – we’d forgotten to ask for printed versions of each recipe.

We began with demonstrations for chopping, then moved to individual workstations stocked with vegetables, cutting boards and knives. Sadly, the knives were a little dull, but they were serviceable. I was using a serrated knife at my workstation, which made the brunoise a we did a little difficult. The chopping wasn’t a considerable portion of the cooking class, however.

Vegetable Stock:

3 – 4 red onions

3 stalks celery

3 carrots

3 leeks, light green and white parts only

a generous amount of thyme

water, to cover

Bring to a boil. Let simmer for 20 minutes to half an hour. Keep hot if using for soup.

After making the stock, we got to the starter course:

Green Pea Soup with Roasted Scallop

Serves 4

olive oil

1 red or white onion, coarsely chopped

a generous amount of frozen peas (about a kilogram, maybe a bit less)

vegetable stock, to cover

herbs, such as basil, tarragon, or mint (optional) (at the class, we didn’t add any)

butter

additional olive oil

4 scallops

Heat olive oil in the bottom of a medium saucepan. Add the coarsely chopped onion and sauté. Add the peas and stir to heat through and combine. Add vegetable stock to cover the peas. Add any herbs, if using. Bring the soup just to a boil, and immediately purée in a vented blender (this will help maintain the bright green colour of the peas).

To roast the scallop, melt equal parts of butter and olive oil in a skillet. Add the scallops and cook on one side for about 2 minutes, taking care not to let the butter burn. Turn the scallops and place skillet in the oven to finish roasting, about 3 minutes (I think the oven was at 350º F).

Serve the dish by plating the soup, then setting a single scallop in the middle of each bowl. Serve with rolls and butter on the side.

The soup and scallop were delicious. I think when I make this at home, I’ll likely replace the onion with shallot and add tarragon (my current favourite herb). I’m looking forward to pea season!

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Lunch’s second course was a toasted couscous tabbouleh with spice-dredged John Dory. I don’t know why it’s never occurred to me to toast couscous for a dish, as it adds a lot of interest to the flavour profile. The tomatoes, red peppers, basil and cucumbers used here were all from the resort’s hydroponic farm – so delicious.

Toasted Couscous Tabbouleh

serves 4, with leftovers

1 pkg couscous

vegetable stock, to cover

olive oil

salt

4 tomatoes

4 red peppers

2 English cucumbers

2 onions

4 cloves of garlic

a generous handful of basil

basil leaves, for garnish

Heat a skillet. Add the couscous to the dry skillet and toast until the couscous takes on a considerable amount of colour, and the general colour of the couscous is a deep golden brown. Remove to a bowl and add vegetable stock to cover. Drizzle with olive oil and salt. Let the mixture sit for 10 to 15 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed. Meanwhile, cut the outer layers off of the cucumber, red pepper, and tomato. Cut these outer layers in a thin julienne, then cut crosswise to create a brunoise. Finely mince the onion and garlic, and cut the basil into a chiffonade. Once the liquid in the couscous has been absorbed, combine all of these chopped ingredients with the couscous. To plate, use a ring mold. Pack the couscous evenly into the ring mold. Top with a leaf of basil.

Spice-Dredged John Dory

serves 4

For this recipe, we learned to filet the fish – it was a lot more difficult than it looked, and certainly bears more practice on my part. We were told that snapper is a decent substitute, if you can’t find John Dory.

Garam Masala (buy it packaged, or you can toast and grind your own)

8 small filets John Dory

olive oil

basil-infused olive oil

Pour a thick layer of garam masala onto a plate. Dredge the filets in the spices until thoroughly coated.

Heat olive oil in a skillet. Add the filets and cook 2 minutes per side. The filets can be cooked up to an hour ahead, chilled, and reheated for 2 minutes in the oven.

Lay on the plate alongside the tabbouleh. Drizzle the plate with basil-infused olive oil, if available.

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Dessert was a dish of banana bread, crème anglaise, and vanilla bean ice cream, garnished with berries and a vanilla bean. (I felt bad for one of our classmates – she mistakenly thought the vanilla bean was a chocolate garnish, and bit right into it.) The only thing we made in the class was the banana bread, which I was a bit disappointed by since I’ve made it a lot and was hoping to learn something more advanced, but I was the only one who bakes on a regular basis. Next time I go, I may try the pastry class.

Banana Bread

makes 12 mini-loaves

1/2 cup butter

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

about 7 or 8 very ripe, small bananas

1 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon Mount Gay rum (delicious!)

The amounts of butter, flour, and sugar are based on the amount I remember eyeballing.

Cream together the butter and sugar until very smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mash in the bananas until the mixture looks somewhat uniform, with a few large chunks of banana. Add the flour and baking powder and stir until just combined. Add the rum and stir to combine (I’m not sure why we added it at the end; I’d usually add it with the eggs). Scrape batter into a piping bag fitted with a large tip and pipe into loaf molds. Bake at 170º C (350º F) for about 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

To plate, cut each mini-loaf into about 4 slices and drizzle with crème anglaise. Serve with a scoop of good-quality (or homemade!) vanilla ice cream on the side.

So that was the class, and a delicious lunch. Additionally, we got a tour of the hydroponic farm, which was wonderful, but will be covered in my next post. If you love to cook and are heading to Anguilla, I highly recommend signing up for one of CuisinArt’s cooking classes. It was a lot of fun, and since I’ve come home I’ve begun to practice brunoising (if that’s a word) constantly. They offer classes in local cuisine and pastry as well, and I’m sure that at least one of those will be featured on my next trip.

09
Mar
11

My New Happy Place

February in Ottawa is tough. Annually, it is when I feel I’ve hit a wall, and I begin counting the days til springtime. The winter rut was broken up this year by a week in paradise, and I’m not sure if it’s better or worse that way (because other places with better climates begin to pull at me). I spent a week in the Caribbean in the middle of February with the illustrious @ryananderson. Anguilla, a small island in the British West Indies, is now (and probably forever) unequivocally my happy place. Particularly, bobbing in the waves on Meads Bay in Anguilla. For context, this is Meads Bay:

Pictured is the view from the restaurant on Meads Bay, Straw Hat, which is attached to the beautiful Frangipani resort, as well as a view from the beach. The reason no waves are visible is that the powdery sand slopes considerably to meet the ocean. The waves are large, and crest with force, but once you swim past where they crest you can just move with the flow of the ocean. It is beyond relaxing, and as we’re still getting snowstorms on occasion, I find myself mentally traveling there at least once a day.

There were other memorable aspects to the trip beyond the beautiful beach at Meads Bay. Several other beaches figure into the beauty of the island. There are a total of 33 beaches on Anguilla, which is only 16 miles by 3 miles at its widest point. I think we saw about 11 or 12 of them, mainly because of repeat trips to Meads Bay and Shoal Bay. Exploring the island, we found that just about everywhere we went we had a memorably delicious meal. I’ve got a few different posts planned just about the food, primarily about the Cuisinart resort, which has its own hydroponic farm (with some of the most candy-like cherry tomatoes I’ve ever tasted). It’s quite an easy thing to eat local (and eat well!) when the fish you eat can arrive fresh to the restaurant within 20 minutes.

I’ve just decided to get the ball rolling with this post, as there are so many things I want to write about.

The beginning of the trip was very…eventful. We caught an early flight from Ottawa to Newark, with only an hour to make our flight to the French and Dutch Island of St. Maarten to stay for 2 nights. Unfotunately, someone on our Ottawa flight suffered a medical emergency, and our plane was delayed by 2 and a half hours, so we missed our flight to St. Maarten. We made the best of it, as we were comped a night in a Ramada near the airport, and it was easy to get to New York using the Aiport Shuttle and Train. (Flights from St. Maarten leave only once a day, and we were unable to be re-routed through another city.) We had a delicious Italian meal at Il Corso near Times Square, and sought out the Greenwich Village bar DaddyO’s. We’d seen it on The Best Thing I Ever Ate for their Herbaceous Mojito – a delicious concoction of cilantro, jalapeño peppers, limes, and pineapple. It was well worth not making it to St. Maarten just to try that delicious drink – so perfectly balanced! We’re now trying to replicate it at home, since trips to New York are few and far between (though now, I’m sure we’ll visit DaddyO’s on every trip).

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We made it safely and easily to St. Maarten the following day. We stayed at the Radisson resort, which greeted us with a delicious rum punch upon our arrival. It was a remote resort and it would have been difficult to explore the island with the limited time we had, so it was just as well that our trip got broken up. It is so easy to completely relax in the Caribbean climate, and the Radisson made it so easy. The following day we relaxed, swam a bit and made our way to the ferry terminal, in order to boat across to Anguilla. 

One of the beautiful things about Anguilla is that it has no cruise ship port or international airport, so it must be arrived at either by ferry (about 30 minutes from St. Martin’s French side) or by chartered plane. We loaded our luggage onto the ferry and took our trip across. Rocking in the waves, we couldn’t see much of Anguilla until we were pretty much there. We got out, went through customs, grabbed a taxi and went to the aptly named Paradise Cove, pictured below. (Note for Canadians: our debit cards do not work in Anguillian ATMs or banks, so it’s a good idea to have cash. US dollars are accepted pretty much everywhere). We were warmly welcomed by the owner, Mrs. Sherrill Hughes, who made our stay an absolute delight. She and her wonderful staff arranged everything we could want – car rentals, restaurant reservations, boat trips, a cooking class – we were in such good hands, our trip was exactly what we wanted it to be.

Once there, our week was filled with amazing food, boat trips, exploring the island, and relaxing on beaches. It’s a trip I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone. Anguilla has a well-deserved reputation as one of the friendliest places in the Caribbean, and no one will hesitate to make you feel welcome. It’s so inviting that we met one man who visited the island 14 years ago and immediately bought a house. Other tourists we ran into were returning for their 4th or 5th time. It’s a place that gets into your soul, and I can’t wait for my next visit. In the meantime, I’m happy to look through my copious photos from the trip and relive those memories.