You know you’re in for a remarkable meal when giving your waiter your order reminds you of when you had to memorize a poem in school.
This month I sat down in the Grey Owl in Brandon for such a dinner. Never heard of it? Nor had I, until invited to join with other writers, and farmers and chefs to a very special dinner hosted by the Manitoba Canola Growers Association (MCGA).
The Grey Owl is Assiniboine Community College’s upscale (and seasonal) restaurant run by students in their culinary arts and restaurant/hotel management program. Apparently, you get into a long queue to dine here. Open just part of the month of each February, this is where the Manitoba Institute of Culinary Arts (MICA) first- and second-year students dream up and team up, cooking and serving a lavish menu to multiple dinner parties.
My invitation was to join with canola growers for this fine dinner and hear more about not only canola oil itself, but the partnership they’ve forged with the institute.
We visited MICA’s media and educational culinary theatre whose title sponsor is the Manitoba Canola Growers where we watched a video featuring Manitoba pastry chef Mary-Jane Feeke, then tasted a variety of flavoured canola oils, while sipping a little wine and hearing some of the story of canola’s emergence as a key Canadian crop.
We nibbled on the nutty-flavoured leaves of a canola plant too, as Newdale-area canola grower Bruce Dalgarno spoke of visiting Japan a few years back, where he saw small packages of canola seed sold in garden centres too.
The Japanese love canola oil, but they also grow canola in their backyards for its flowers, and for leaves for salads.
Here I also heard more about the Canola Learning Centre at Kelburn Farm south of Winnipeg where students visit and learn about agriculture, and the $1,000 scholarship the MCGA awards the winner in an annual cooking competition at MICA.
Four first-year students, using surprise ingredients put before them, compete for the prize. This year’s winner was Pesila Aropio, born in Fiji, now calling Neepawa home, where her family farms. Her winning entry was an arugula salad including grilled chicken and peaches, with a honey dijon balsamic vinaigrette dressing, plus a main dish of pork tenderloin with mushroom sauce.
That’s a hint about the kind of meal canola growers’ guests sat down to February 7. My choices were a foie gras appetizer, a delicate salad, “ebony and ivory” soup (as in melted chocolate and heavy cream), then an entree of rack of lamb with potato croquettes and a slice of luscious Turtle Mountain cheesecake.
Did I mention the meal lasted three hours?
It was a lovely evening spent among farmers, chefs and other writers in a beautiful setting; it’s been five years since ACC moved its hotel and restaurant management and culinary arts programs into the grand, turn-of-the-century building formerly housing the Brandon Mental Health Centre nurses’ residence.
Red Beet Tarragon Oil
This recipe is for one of the simple, delicious flavoured oils we tasted at the MICA culinary theatre last week. Flavoured oils are used as salad dressings, or dips or in salsas or as bastes for meats. Use of flavoured oils is a chef’s secret for making good food great.
- 1 c. canola oil 3 small roasted red beets 2 tbsp. fresh tarragon, finely chopped1 tsp. pink grapefruit zest1/2 tsp. lemon zest
In a blender, place roasted red beets, tarragon, grapefruit and lemon zest; blend until smooth. Slowly add the canola oil until well emulsified. Season to taste. Refrigerate for up to three days.
Source: Manitoba Canola Growers Association (canolarecipes.ca)
Who can resist brownies? Baked in mini-muffin tins these are as cute as they are delicious.
- 1/3 c. cocoa powder1/2 c. whole wheat flour1/2 c. all-purpose flour1/4 c. chopped walnuts1 tsp. baking powder3 tbsp. canola oil1 tsp. vanilla3/4 c. brown sugar1/2 c. white sugar2 egg whites1/2 c. unsweetened applesauce
Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly spray canola oil cooking spray on non-stick mini-muffin pans. In a medium bowl, whisk together cocoa powder, flours, walnuts and baking powder. In a second bowl, beat together canola oil, vanilla, sugars, egg whites and applesauce. Add flour mixture and walnuts into the wet ingredients and stir just to combine ingredients. Add batter to prepared mini-muffin pans. Bake for 15 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from pans and let cool on a wire rack.
Source: Manitoba Canola Growers Association (www.canolarecipes.ca)
Tangy-Sweet Balsamic Sirloin Steak
The flavours that you will experience in this tangy-sweet balsamic sirloin steak recipe are fantastic.
- 1 lb. lean sirloin steak, trimmed of fat, about 3/4 inch thick 2 tbsp. light soy sauce 1 tbsp. canola oil 2 tbsp. granulated sugar 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar 1/2 tsp. dried pepper flakes1/8 tsp. salt and pepper or to taste
Place steak, soy sauce, canola oil, granulated sugar, vinegar, pepper flakes and salt and pepper in a quart-size resealable plastic bag. Seal tightly and shake back and forth to allow ingredients to blend evenly. Refrigerate 24 to 48 hours, turning occasionally. Preheat grill or broiler. Coat a cold grill rack or broiler rack with canola oil cooking spray, place over grill or broiler pan. Remove beef from marinade, reserving marinade. Place beef on top of rack and cook for five minutes. Remove from rack and place on cutting board five minutes before thinly slicing diagonally against the grain.
Meanwhile, place the reserved marinade in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat and continue boiling two minutes or until reduces to 1/4 cup. Watch carefully not to reduce more than 1/4 cup. Remove from heat. Place sliced beef on serving platter and pour sauce evenly over all.
Moroccan Chickpeaand Pasta Salad
- Dressing:1/2 c. mayonnaise1/4 c. plain yogurt1 tbsp. canola oil1 tbsp. lemon juice1 tsp. ground cumin1 tsp. turmeric1/2 tsp. curry powder1 garlic clove, minced
- Salad:1 lb. penne pasta2 c. quartered fresh white mushrooms1-1/2 c. grape or cherry tomatoes, halved1 (19-oz./540 ml) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained1/2 c. kalamata olives1 c. sliced celery1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped1/2 c. sliced green onions2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced1/4 c. chopped cilantro or parsley
In a small bowl, whisk together all dressing ingredients; set aside. In large pot of boiling water, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Drain pasta again and transfer to a large bowl; add remaining salad ingredients, toss with dressing and serve. Serves 10 to 12.