Sunday, September 20, 2009

La Cucina Zuccotto Recipe Redux

Zuccotto is an Italian dessert with origins in Florence. Our popular version of Zuccotto is a dome-shaped, semi-fredda, made with liqueur-soaked vanilla sponge cake and a trio of flavoured whipped creams.Zuccotto can be kept frozen, then thawed before serving.The shape is said to have been inspired by it's resemblance to Florence's Duomo. Others allude to its shape as closely resembling a cardinal's skullcap. This delicious Tuscan-inspired bombe was a signature dessert at my former restaurant, La Cucina, on King Street in London Ontario in the early 1990's.

Another variation of Zuccotto is made with layers of homemade ice cream and is known as a Bombe glacée or simply a Bombe in English. Escoffier gives over sixty recipes for bombes prepared in spherical moulds in Le Guide culinaire. Variations of the bombe have appeared on restaurant menus since 1882.


Vanilla Sponge Cake (recipe below) and bake in a 13"X9"X2" pan. Cool. Cut into strips 13" X 1-1/4". Line 2-1/2-3Qt. mixing bowl with plastic film. This helps the frozen Zuccotto release from the bowl when frozen.

Vanilla Sponge Cake


3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cornstarch
6 large eggs, separated
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup plus 6 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
flour and unsalted butter for pans

Method for Cake

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter the bottom and sides of one 11-by-17 rimmed baking sheet,line with parchment paper and butter again. Flour the pan and set aside. In a small bowl, sift flour and cornstarch together; set aside. In a bowl, beat egg yolks, vanilla, and sugar on high until thick and pale, about 3 minutes. Wash and dry mixer attachments. In another bowl, combine egg whites and salt; beat on medium speed until soft peaks form, about 1 1/2 minutes. With mixer running, slowly add the remaining 6 tbsp of sugar. Continue beating until stiff and glossy, about 1 minute. Fold egg-white mixture into egg-yolk mixture. In three additions, add the reserved flour mixture to the egg mixture. Transfer two-thirds of the batter to the baking sheet, and the remaining one-third to the round pan. Smooth the top of the batter with a spatula. Bake until light golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean, approximately 20 minutes.
Transfer the cake pan to a wire rack to cool; turn out the cakes, remove the parchment paper, and wrap in plastic until ready to use. The cake can be made ahead, cooled, and frozen for up to two weeks.

Sugar Syrup

1/2 cup (60 grams)granulated sugar
1/2 cup (118 mls)water
1 cup (237 mls)sherry

Mix the above together until sugar is dissolved. Line bowl with strips of cake then spoon syrup mixture over the cake. Reserve enough syrup for final cake layer.


4 cups (946 mL)35% whipping cream
3/4 cup (85 grams)icing sugar - sifted
1/2 cup (118 mL)orange liqueur
10 oz. pkg frozen raspberries -thawed & drained
3 tbsp(15 mL)brandy
3 tbsp (20 grams)unsweetened cocoa
3 tbsp (15 mL) hazelnuts - chopped
3 tbsp (15 mL) candied orange peel,finely chopped


Combine 1/3 whipping cream and 1/3 powdered sugar and 1/2 orange liqueur. Beat until soft peaks form. Fold in drained raspberries. Spread evenly over cake in bowl.

Combine 1/3 whipping cream, 1/3 powdered sugar and brandy. Beat until soft peaks form. Fold in cocoa and chopped hazelnuts.
Spread evenly over raspberry layer.

Combine remaining whipping cream, powdered sugar and orange liqueur. Beat until soft peaks form. Fold in candied orange peel.
Spread evenly over chocolate layer.

Dip remaining cake strips into syrup, cover entire top of Zuccotto with cake, trimming as necessary to fit.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chestnut Crust

A great seasonal cheesecake with warm fall spices and a hint of chestnut.


Chestnut Crust

1/2 cup (125 mL) melted unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) finely ground gingersnap or graham cracker crumbs
2 tbsp (25 mL) light or dark brown sugar
1/3 cup (75 mL) roasted chestnuts, finely chopped


2 tbsp (25 mL) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup (175 mL) packed light or dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) puréed cooked pumpkin, fresh or canned
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 cup (250 mL) sour cream
3 tbsp (45 mL) all-purpose flour
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
2 tsp (10 mL) ground cinnamon
2 tsp (10 mL) ground nutmeg
2 tsp (10 mL) ground ginger
1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon zest
2 tbsp (25 mL) freshly squeezed lemon juice

Whipped Cream Topping

1/2 cup (125 mL) 35% whipping cream
1 tsp (5 mL) sugar
Candied chestnuts


1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
2. Line sides of a 9-inch (2.5-L) springform pan with parchment paper and then brush sides of parchment with 2 tbsp (25 mL) melted butter.
3. Stir together ginger snap crumbs, sugar, chestnuts and remaining melted butter. Mix together and pat into bottom and sides of prepared pan. Chill crust in refrigerator while preparing filling.
4. Make sure your eggs are cold and have all the other ingredients at room temperature.
5. In a large bowl or a food processor, cream butter and cream cheese together. Scrape down sides, add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Scrape sides again and beat in pumpkin.
6. Add eggs and egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in sour cream, flour, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, lemon zest, and juice.
7. Pour filling into chilled base. Bake cake in centre of oven for 1 hour. Leave oven door ajar, turn off heat, and let cake sit in oven for an additional hour to cool. (Cooling in the oven will prevent the cake from cracking.) Let cake cool slowly and completely before unmoulding. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours, but ideally you should let a cheesecake settle for 24 hours in the pan before unmoulding.
7. Whip cream until soft peaks form then beat in sugar. Pipe or dollop 10 rosettes of whipped cream around the top edge of the cheesecake. Top each rosette with a candied chestnut.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Our Regard for Food has Flourished into an Interesting Film Genre

Too many cooks Do Not always spoil the broth.

Our regard for food has flourished into an interesting film genre. Julie and Julia, Tampopo, Babette's Feast and Big Night are examples that fill me with appreciation for films where food and the culinary arts are the true stars. Small wonder the film, Julie and Julia, which depicts the life of chef Julia Child in the early years of her culinary career gives the audience the opportunity to savour the remarkable nature of Julia Child's achievement. The film contrasts Child's life to food blogger, Julie Powell, who aspires to recreate all 524 recipes from Child's collaborative cookbook, Mastering The Art of French Cooking. It is a film that has been warmly embraced. Julie and Julia will no doubt achieve cult status among food enthusiasts in years to come.
Big Night is the film that comes closest in approximating many of my own experiences in the restaurant business. It is the story of two brothers operating an Italian restaurant serving authentic fare in the 1950's, when "Americanized" spaghetti and meatballs defined Italian cuisine.
The plot revolves around the planning and preparation of an elaborate, eight-course feast. But the story also deals with balancing culinary arts with paying the bills. At the heart of the movie lurks the unquestionable truth that genuine gastronomic pursuits are always labours of love.
I have been inspired enough to recreate this meal on three separate occassions. Most noteably as a fundraiser for our local Slow Food convivumn a couple of years ago. The meal was the collective effort of several collaborative chefs. Our vision was not only to recreate the movie feast, but to promote a sense of community among local chefs and restaurants.
The evening commenced when guests arrived wearing vintage 1950's evening dress, setting the stage for a evening of camaraderie, great food and exceptional wine. A long table laden with antipasti was presented and pre-dinner aperitifs were served. The chefs mingled with the patrons and showed little indication the pressure was on.
Guest were seated. The kitchen was immediately transformed into a hub of activity and convivality. In a flash, we dispelled the assumption that too many chefs spoil the broth. Steaming hot vessels of delicate consomme enhanced with freshly dug carrots, Italian parsley and homemade pasta was served.
Following a spectacular juggling act of pans that paid homage to prop-based circus skills we produced in unison a trio of delicate, creamy risotti. One was flavoured with fresh spinach and basil, another with roma tomatoes and fresh shellfish. and the third with goat, two fresh sheep's milk cheeses and Parmigiano-Reggiano. These were ladled onto large platters to simulate the three equal vertical bands of the Italian flag. Like the film we poured our souls into each course, lavishing care and attention on the cooking.
The next course was timpano, the film's penultimate dish. Meticulously assembled in advance, it required additional baking. Timing was paramount, given the constraints of two ovens. When carefully unmoulded intact, the Timpano was visually stunning. Kindred to the lasagna, but far more dramatic in scale, Timpano is a signature special-occasion dish from Calabria. In our version, the Timpano's sturdy, drum-shaped crust is filled with multiple layers of regional specialities that include: spicy penne, homemade sausage, provolone, meatballs, marinated artichokes, olives, roasted red peppers, pesto and grated hard-boiled eggs.
In the film you only catch a glimpse of the next course, so improvisation and the constant refocusing of one's attention was required. Two baked and stuffed whole Atlantic salmons infused with fennel, skewered with black tiger shrimp and sauced with lemon aioli were presented.This was followed by oven-roasted capons stuffed with apple, pear and quince and glazed with a pommegranate butter sauce.
After a brief interlude, twin, boned, whole roasted, crispy pigs emerged from the ovens and once dressed they were paraded around the diningroom to great fanfare. The evening's decadence was topped off by platters of baked fresh fig and raspberry crostada, cantucci (a type of biscotti), seasonal fruit, nuts and traditional amaretti cookies. It was well past midnight before the reverent guests settled into cups of espresso and glasses of grappa and lemoncello.
Our interpretations of the Big Night meal were such epicurean triumphs I have often discussed creating the entire meal from Babette's Feast. However, it occured to me that to achieve such gastronomic accuracy to food's role in that film, one would indeed have to win the lottery and be as self-sacrificing as the protaganist in that film.

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Pine Nut and Fresh Sage Butter Sauce

This is the classic butternut squash dish, also often made with hubbard squash or fresh pumpkin.. You can also substitute canned pumpkin if you’d prefer, but we love the flavour and the texture of fresh butternut squash.

How to make Fresh Pasta

Fresh pasta is made with 1 lb. 2 oz. of flour and 5 whole eggs. In many regions of Italy only 4 eggs and a little water are used; in others, 2 eggs and more water. In some regions only the egg yolks and a little oil are employed. Regardless of these regional variations, the dough must be well kneaded – that is, until little bubbles are visible in the dough – before being stretched with the rolling pin.


1 lb. 2 oz. flour
• 5 whole fresh eggs
• semolina for sprinkling on pasta (optional)

Pour the flour on a pastry board in a cone-shaped mound. Break the eggs into the center of the cone and blend the yolks with the whites, using a fork or fingers, then begin gradually mixing the egg with the flour.
When the dough has a thick texture, so that it is no longer possible to use a fork, the egg will no longer be liquid and about half of the flour will be incorporated. Continue to work with your hands, pushing the dough up from all sides, taking in as much flour as possible. Keep kneading the dough for about 15 minutes.

The dough must be thick and rather stiff, or it will be difficult to roll out. Wrap the dough with a dry cloth and keep it under a weight for half an hour. This allows the dough (particularly the gluten in the dough) to relax. It will be less elastic and much easier to roll out after a short rest.
When the dough is ready, cut into thirds or quarters. Work with one piece at a time but remember to keep the remaining pieces covered.
Roll out on lightly floured surface pasta dough, beginning from the center, to a thickness of 0.3 cm (1/8 in).

Butternut Squash Stuffing

5 tbsp (75 mL) unsalted butter
¼ tsp (1 mL) crushed red pepper flakes
1½ cups (375 mL) cooked and mashed butternut squash
½ tsp (2 mL) freshly grated nutmeg
Salt to taste
2 egg yolks
½ cup (125 mL) grated Parmigiano-Reggianno Cheese
½ cup (125 mL) fresh good quality bread crumbs


1. Melt butter in a pot with red pepper flakes. Add butternut squash, season with salt and mix well. Purée mixture and let cool. Add egg yolks, Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated nutmeg and bread crumbs and stir to combine.
2. Divide your pasta dough into 4 parts. Roll the dough, one part at a time, into a rectangle about 12 X 10 inches Drop the butternut squash mixture by 2 level teaspoons onto half of the rectangle, about 3 inches apart in 1 row of 6 mounds. Moisten the edges of the dough and the dough between the rows of pumpkin mixture with water. Fold the other half of the dough up over the butternut squash mixture, pressing the dough down around the squash. Trim the edges with a pastry wheel or knife. Cut between the rows of filling to make raviolacci; press the edges together with a fork or cut with a pastry wheel, sealing the edges well. Repeat with the remaining dough and butternut squash filling. When finished, Raviolacci can be frozen on a tray and transferred to a covered plastic container.

Pine Nut Sage and Butter Sauce


½ cup (125 mL) unsalted butter
12 sage leaves, torn
2 tbsp (25 mL) freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbsp (25 mL) pine nuts
Salt and freshly ground pepper
½ cup (125 mL) grated Parmigiano - Reggianno
Additional sage leaves for garnish.


1. In a hot pan, melt the unsalted butter. Add the sage and pine nuts. Heat the sauce until hot; reserve, keeping it warm while the pasta cooks.To make sauce, melt butter in a hot pan over medium heat. Add sage leaves and pine nuts and sauteer for 2 minutes or until butter is a light brown colour. Add lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss pasta and sauce together, plate and garnish with sage leaves. Sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese just before serving.

2. Cook ravioli in 4 quarts of boiling salted water (2 tsp of salt) until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes; drain carefully. Transfer the ravioli to the pan with the warm butter, sage and pine nut sauce. Turn the ravioli over gently with a slotted spoon to coat both sides in the sauce. Carefully remove the ravioli from the pan and place it on the serving plate. Spoon over remaining sauce and serve immediately

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Whatever Lola Wants…

Tania Auger’s Lola’s Lounge in Sarnia

By Cecilia Buy and Bryan Lavery

Drive down Christina Street in Sarnia, and you can’t miss it: a narrow building, with the front of its second floor covered by the outsize signage, “Lola’s Lounge” in flowing neon script, voluptuously crimson. Red is Tania Auger’s signature colour, and the owner of Lola’s has put her unmistakable stamp on every facet of her restaurant, from furnishings to food, from the window treatment to the wine list.

The bones of the old building show through. Operating continuously since the thirties, the shade of the former diner lingers. The swivel stools at the counter have been replaced with metal-framed barstools, but the curved bulkhead above the liquor shelves remains, now backlit with red neon that casts a speakeasy glow over the bottles and Tania’s collection of vintage Canadian and Italian art glass.

Down one side of the room are the original booths, seats now reupholstered, each booth with its own coat and hat rack. On the other side of the terrazzo floor (laid in diagonal stripes of light and dark), the booths have been replaced with tables and chairs. While the room seats seventy, it feels more intimate, that sense enhanced by the large coloured-glass lamps suspended over each table and a jungle of shiny sequined decorations that dangle from the ceiling, with swinging lamps over the bar. Tables are set with bread plates, cutlery and glassware, and a rainbow of cloth napkins. The upbeat music is played to be noticed and enjoyed as part of a high-energy dining experience. Even with the bright sunshine pouring through the large plate-glass window, the ambience is less of lunchtime than “afternoon at the seraglio” / fifties cocktail lounge.

Tania Auger was born a bon vivant and knew from an early age that she and the hospitality business were made for each other. She arrived in London in her late teens, charisma already flowing, to fill a vacancy at the Lamplighter Inn, working as a bartender. This was followed by stints at Howard Johnson’s and much longer stretches at John and Ingrid Blanke’s Gabrielle’s Next Door. Not long after, she became the barkeeper/doyenne at Singapore. Located downstairs from the ultra chic Asian-inspired Sorrenti’s restaurant, Singapore was an instant hit under Auger's direction. The intimate bar was an oasis of smoky cosmopolitan seduction and sophistication with an adjoining secluded back room complete with two Moorish-inspired tented booths. The bar boasted a menu of classic cocktails: stingers, manhattans, rusty nails, Rob Roys and martinis, as well as original concoctions that cemented Auger’s reputation as bartender extraordinaire. At the time, Auger was also making her name designing and handcrafting her own collection of avant-garde jewellery.

In 1988, Auger’s entrepreneurial streak continued to surface, and she leased the Ritz Hotel in Bayfield where she opened the Shark Inn. After a very successful season, the building was purchased by Joan Ivey, who bought out the lease and paved the way for Auger to return to London and transform a longtime lunch counter into the legendary 99 King. Auger’s high-energy approach, design sensibility and idiosyncratic style went a long way into helping to turn a derelict part of King Street into the restaurant mecca it has become. The restaurant and lounge eventually expanded into three buildings in the premises now occupied by the Cello Supper Club. In the second year of operation, Auger upped the ante and hired uber-chef Jacqueline “Jackie” Shantz for the long-run period.

All good things come to an end, and after a lengthy and successful run, in 1997, much to the dismay of a large and diverse clientele, the doors of 99 King were closed. Tania returned to her hometown, Sarnia, and after a brief hiatus opened a new enterprise, the tony Smoked Oyster, and a second restaurant/nightclub, Red Tango. Following the events of September 11, 2001, Sarnia, like other Canadian border cities, felt the effects on trade. The locals, sophisticated American customers, Point Edward Charity Casino’s high rollers, and the tourists along Sarnia’s stunning riverfront district stayed away in droves. Undeterred, and never one to look backwards, Auger “bit the hair of the dog” and opened Lola’s Lounge in the summer of 2002.

“When I first opened, I was trying to do funky comfort food ‘cause I still had the Red Tango. I was trying to keep the Tango as the dressy place and this as the more comfort… I finally said, ‘Okay, forget it!’ and painted the place red (gotta have red), raised the bar, and put the mirrors in,” recalls Auger. “People were mad at me for closing the Smoked Oyster. It was not easy. People wouldn’t even come. It took at least a year to get things going again.”

Seven years later, Lola’s has seen some changes and permutations in style, staff, and cuisine, but seems settled in for the long run. Giselle Dennis, Lola’s manager, has been by Auger’s side every step of the way, doing the books at 99 King, four years at The Smoked Oyster and the last seven at Lola’s.

Despite a current trend to simplicity and seasonality, Auger, who appreciates the “local” philosophy, does not follow trends, she sets them. Her menus have a distinct personality consistent with the Tania Auger brand, the imprimatur, retro-chic with a continental riff on the traditional. Hers is an anthology of rehabilitated classics like escargot forestière, crispy frogs’ legs, oysters Rockefeller, clam chowder and iceberg lettuce (but this incarnation served with beef tenderloin, blue cheese, boiled egg and avocado). It is food that is brash, sensual and sexy, food that borders on the hedonistic with big flavours. Menus denote exotic locales, diverse flavours and ingredients. The irony of items such as Mama Mia Meatballs with major mozza & baguette and Fashion Forward Cold Seafood Extravaganza reference what is both camp and kitsch.

Lola’s rack of lamb is a culinary legend with its spicy maple bourbon sauce, whose ingredients came to Auger fully formed in a dream, and Chef Shantz perfected during the 99 King years.

Auger has always paid homage to the American bar and grill sensibility and its culinary traditions, especially martinis, big 10- and 12-oz. steaks, and the freshest fish and seafood. Lola’s fresh fish is sourced locally from Purdy’s Fish Market, which is one of Southwestern Ontario’s hidden gems, operating since 1900 in Point Edward. There is also a location in Grand Bend, and Purdy’s sells its offerings at the Sarnia Farmer’s Market at the corner of Ontario and Proctor Streets on Saturdays from 7 a.m. to noon.

Turns out, you can go home again. Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets. And little man, little Lola wants you. Make up your mind to have no regrets. Recline yourself, resign yourself, you’re through....

Lola’s Lounge
110 Christina St. S.
Sarnia, ON
519 336-8088

Monday to Saturday: 11 a.m. to close.
Sunday: 5 p.m. to close