Burt Wolf's Menu: Show-Banff - #105

The town of Banff in western Canada is within one of the world's great national parks.  This is the place to get a good look at the Canadian Rockies and the wonders that have made this area famous.  Unspoiled nature that's easy to get to and easy to be in. It has all the summer and winter sports you can think of ... plus some great local cooking.  So join me in Banff for BURT WOLF’S MENU.

In 1883 Banff was designated as Canada's first national park, and with good reason.  It has one of the most beautiful landscapes in the entire world.  The views are almost shocking... jagged mountains that shoot thousands of feet into powder blue skies... ancient glaciers feeding lakes with mirrored surfaces that reflect the pine forests... alpine meadows... waterfalls... This is what happens when nature works with an unlimited budget and no deadline.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   There’s archeological evidence that native tribes have been hunting around here for over 11,000 years.  The first people of European ancestry to come into the area were two trappers who came up from the United States in 1875.  But the real development of Banff didn’t get started until the Canadian Pacific Railroad decided to use the area for part of their transcontinental track.  On November 8th, 1883 three of those railroad workers were climbing around this mountain in the hope of discovering some mineral deposits.  At one point they came upon a hole, and when they looked down, they realized there was a hot sulphur spring below.  How you doin’?

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Doing fine!  And for a while, so were the railroad workers.  They immediately realized that they had discovered something of considerable value.  Hot water was hard to come by in a frontier environment, and they knew that people pay big bucks for a hot bath.  They also may have realized hot springs were considered to be a cure for many illnesses, and that people would pay to sit in them.  But the railroad workers were not the only people interested in the hot springs.

William Cornelius Van Horn ran the railroad and clearly understood that this site was worth a fortune.  He convinced the Federal Government to designate the area as Canada's first national park and to give the railroad the rights to develop the area.  A bathhouse was built and the bathers showed up for "the cure".  The railroad also started the construction of a series of magnificent resorts as part of their program to attract tourists.  The Banff Springs Chateau was the first of these structures.  When the hotel opened, it was the largest hotel in the world... with room rates starting at an astronomical three and a half dollars per day.  The building was, and still is a work of art. 

Martin Luthi is the Executive Chef at the Springs, and today he's cooking at the hotel's outdoor grill. Martin's first recipe is for Trout With Spring Vegetables.  He starts by heating his sauté pan and then adding in two tablespoons of oil.  As soon as the oil is hot, in goes a half cup of chopped onion... then a half cup of sliced fennel, or you can substitute celery for the fennel.  Then a half cup of sliced leeks... a little more cooking... and a cup of chicken stock, followed by a half cup of white wine. 

MARTIN LUTHI:  If somebody doesn’t use any wine, we just add some more stock.

Next, a cup of zucchini slices are added... plus a cup of carrots... a cup of tomatoes... and four strips of spring onion.  Some stirring, a little salt and pepper.  And now we’re up to the trout.  A little salt and pepper go onto two trout fillets.  Then the trout goes onto the vegetables.  Cover goes on... and the fish cooks for three or four minutes.  Then the top comes off... the fish goes into a big soup dish... the vegetables follow... and some of the stock that the fish was cooked in.  Finally a sprinkling of chopped chives.

For his next recipe, Martin is cooking a dish which is based on an old standard for all Swiss chefs. Traditionally it’s made with veal, cream and mushrooms, but today Martin is using boneless, skinless breast of chicken and yogurt with his mushrooms.  He starts by putting two tablespoons of oil into a hot pan.  While that’s heating up, a little salt and pepper go onto four boneless, skinless chicken breasts that have been cut into small strips.  The chicken goes into the oil to cook.  It's sautéed for five minutes, or until the chicken is browned on all sides. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  We’re losing a little heat to the wind, so for the next few minutes I’ll be lying this way to protect the flame.

MARTIN LUTHI:  No napping!  (Laughs)

When the chicken is cooked, it comes out of the pan.  A little more oil goes in... and as soon as it is hot a few chopped shallots are added or two tablespoons of chopped onion.  A cup of sliced button mushrooms... a half cup of morel mushrooms... a few more minutes of cooking.  A pinch of salt and a twist of fresh pepper.  A cup of chicken stock... a half cup of white wine... and lots of heat for about five minutes to reduce the liquid.  Then a tablespoon of butter that has been pressed into a tablespoon of flour is whisked in.  The French call that a Beurre Manie and it has the effect of thickening the sauce.  When we were testing this recipe, Martin discovered that the Beurre Manee mixture altered the chemistry of the sauce so we could finish it off with yogurt instead of cream, and the yogurt would not separate because of the heat.  It's a great little tip.  The half cup of non-fat yogurt is blended in and the chicken returns.  Everything is heated up... and goes into a copper presentation pan to be served.  Finally a garnish of chopped parsley.

Martin serves his chicken and mushroom dish with potatoes that are prepared according to an old Swiss recipe... the result is called Rosti, and it's very simple.

Four potatoes that have been boiled in their skins are peeled and grated.  Three tablespoons of oil go into a hot pan, followed by a half cup of thinly sliced onions.  The onions cook for a moment and then the grated potatoes are added.  A little salt... and some fresh pepper go in.  The potatoes are shaped into a disk and cooked until a crust forms on the bottom... that should take about five minutes.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Now, the only difficult part about this recipe is trying to flip all of the potatoes at one time to turn it over and brown the other side; to the best of my knowledge, no one has ever attempted this before outside.  We are somewhat concerned about the weather; there is a high wind blowing... could go either way.

[Drum roll]

I hope we’re gonna be okay...

MARTIN LUTHI:  Let’s give it a shot.

[Cymbal crash and applause]

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Ladies and gentlemen, that was the first successful flip of a rosti in a ten-knot wind.  We’re all very impressed with what happened here today.

Chicken with mushrooms and a grated potato pancake!

But good cooking wasn't always available in Banff. That's a photograph of Banff Avenue... the town's main street... taken in 1887.  This is a post card of Banff Avenue from 1914... and here's what it looks like today.  The natural beauty of the place is still here... the shopping has improved considerably... but street parking has become a bit more difficult.  Cameron Spence is a local guide with the tourist office and he's going to give us a look at the nearby attractions. The first thing to do is take a gondola ride up Sulphur Mountain. It only takes 8 minutes to get to the top which is about 2,300 feet above sea level. As you go up you begin to get an extraordinary view of the area.

CAMERON SPENCE:   Well, I think one of the special aspects of this ride is that it gets you up about a mile and a half above sea level, and an opportunity to see all the sights that we’re going to be experiencing throughout the day. 

BURT WOLF:   Ah, you can see the town of Banff there; we’re just coming up over the rise. 

CAMERON SPENCE:   Mm-hmm, and on a special day like today, we should be able to see up to nineteen miles. 

BURT WOLF:   What’s it like to go up on foot?

CAMERON SPENCE:   Up on foot is an interesting -- it’s a moderately difficult hike; probably take you a couple of hours to get to the top.

BURT WOLF:   What are those little cabins down there?

CAMERON SPENCE:   That’s somewhat of a rest cabin; on the hike on the way up here you can rest there for a few minutes, catch your breath.

BURT WOLF:   I’d have to rest a few weeks on this climb.  (Laughter)  I guess that’s one way to work off your lunch.

CAMERON SPENCE:   I would say that you would expend a few calories on the way up here.

The Vermilion Lakes are just outside of town and were created when a ancient glacier deposited a giant pile of rocks in the Bow River.  The water backed up, forming the lakes which have become home to a range of wildlife including eagles, osprey, beaver and muskrat.  One of the lakes is fed from a hot spring which keeps the area ice-free during the winter.  As a result, some birds spend the cold months at the lake instead of migrating south.  The Vermilion Lakes offer great spots for bird watchers. ... Bow Falls is an easy walk from town and a great place to relax.  The Bow River got its name because the trees near certain parts of the river were just the right wood for the making of hunting bows. ... Fenland Trail runs through a nature preserve at the edge of Banff. As you walk out of town, you can pick up a booklet that will send you through the trail on a self-guided tour of the area.  You can make arrangements to go horseback riding... You can also go river rafting.  There are plenty of challenges in the whitewater rapids... but there's also what they call the Couch Potato version for the less adventurous.

The Banff Springs Hotel is famous for its golf course and its pro, Doug Wood.  Doug says that playing a course in the Rockies requires a slightly different viewpoint.

DOUG WOOD:  One of the things that we find when we’re playing the mountains is that the visualization can sometimes really confuse us.  Sometimes when the green is set tight to the mountains, it looks a lot closer than it really is.  On a shot like this, where the green’s set in front of the mountains, the green looks much, much farther away.  So one of the things, when you’re playing mountain golf, is to believe the yardages.  Take aim at your target and just try to hit the ball with a good, smooth swing.

Doug’s approach to playing golf is a good metaphor for everything that goes on in and around Banff.

DOUG WOOD:  Believe in what you see.

There have been at least seven ice ages during the earth's history.  And during each of these periods the temperature dropped, snowfall increased, and ice covered large parts of the planet.  During the last major ice age, which peaked about 40,000 years ago, most of Canada and the northern part of the United States lay under gigantic sheets of snow and ice.  And some of the weather patterns that caused this ice to form are still operating.  Winds that are filled with moisture from their long passage across the Pacific Ocean come ashore along the coast of British Columbia.  As they rise up to cross the Canadian Rockies the air cools, clouds are formed and snow starts to fall. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   At one point, the snow clouds pass over some of the tallest mountains in the Canadian Rockies and across a high plateau.  And this is the spot where they dump most of their snow.  As a matter of fact, more snow falls here than ever melts, and so an enormous mass of snow is built up. That mass is so heavy that it presses out the oxygen from the snow and forms a giant pack of ice.  It's not unlike what happens when you walk along a city street after a fresh snowfall and press that snow into ice.  Only difference is here the ice is hundreds and hundreds of feet thick and it's called an icefield.  When a big sheet of ice in that icefield starts to move out, it’s called a glacier.

You can get an excellent idea of what an ice age looked like by visiting the Athabasca Glacier.  The glacier is part of the Columbia Icefield that straddles the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta.  Jim and Bill Brewster were local guides who helped visitors through the Rocky Mountain wilderness during the 1890's. They became famous for their ability to take people to the most interesting parts of the Rockies.  Today the company that still bears their name will take you on a SnoCoach tour of the glacier.

MARIE PLAMONDON:  And now, we’re about to go down the steepest unpaved passenger-carrying road in North America.

BURT WOLF:   Uh-huh.  It’s the only road I’ve ever been on where I think I could use a parachute.

MARIE PLAMONDON:  It has a thirty-two percent grade.  It may not look like it now, but we’re already on the glacier.  The rock you see beneath here and on the sides is just a very thin layer.  What happens is, water freezing overnight in the cracks of the rocks of the surrounding mountains will expand and break the rock.  Then all the rocks will tumble down, landing on the edges of the glacier.  We also have, in wintertime, avalanches will carry loose rocks down.  So the rocks landing on the sides of the glacier will insulate the ice.  This is all ice.  If you go there, you wouldn’t have to dig very far down to see ice.

BURT WOLF:   The water running along the side is the snow melting.

MARIE PLAMONDON:  That’s the ice melting, yeah.  And the water we see now is nothing compared to what we’ll see maybe at three o’clock this afternoon.  Probably tripled.  So what the icefield’s like, it’s like a big, giant bowl of ice with mountains surrounding it.  And over the years, as the ice is building up, then it comes to the top and it needs to overflow, so the ice will start moving down the valleys.  And what’s moving down the valley is a glacier.  Of course, not fast enough that you can feel it, but the steeper it is on the glacier, well, the faster that particular part will move.  The headwall, for instance, it’s quite steep.  If you’d stick a flag in the headwall, well, a year later that flag would be four hundred feet down.

BURT WOLF:   So it moves about four hundred feet a year. 

MARIE PLAMONDON:  Because it’s so steep there.  Then where it’s flat, like where we’ll stop, for instance, it’s about eighty feet per year.  It’s like a parking area.

BURT WOLF:   How deep is the ice that we’re driving over now?

MARIE PLAMONDON:  Where we’ll stop there, there’ll be a thousand feet of ice.

BURT WOLF:   A thousand feet of ice underneath us.

MARIE PLAMONDON:  There’ll be a thousand feet of ice where we get out.


BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   About seventy-five percent of the world's supply of fresh water is stored in glaciers, so I figured this was the appropriate spot to give you a few tips about ice in your kitchen.     

Any ice cubes that have been in your freezer for more than a week will have absorbed odors from the air in your freezer.  And that can easily have a negative effect on the taste of the drink you put them into.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   So if you’re really interested in flavor, it’s a good idea to run a little cold water over your ice cubes before you use them.  That’ll take off the outside layer of ice and give you a clean, clear taste.  To make sure you freeze your foods food properly and safely, it's essential to keep your freezer is zero degrees or lower. The only way to do that is with a freezer thermometer.  If you reach your hand in your freezer and the food feels solid, all that means is that the temperature is 32 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, because 32 degrees Fahrenheit is where water turns to ice.  And that may not be low enough to hold your food properly.

And finally, a note on freezing food and salt.  Salt lowers the freezing point of water so any food that has been salted will not freeze as well as food that is unsalted.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  So if you’re making a large batch of soup and you plan to freeze some of it, put aside the batch you’re going to freeze before you salt it.

The environment in Banff is a constant reminder of peaks.  In terms of recipes, it reminds me to introduce you to pastry chef Andreas Schwarzer at the Banff Springs who is at the peak of his pastry making skills.  He's going to make two of his most popular desserts. His first recipe is for Carrot Cake.  One cup of brown sugar is mixed into 5 cups of grated carrots.

ANDREAS SCHWARZER:  We put sugar in the carrots so it takes all the juice out of the carrots and we get a lot of flavor.  So the sugar draws out all the juice.  And to do that, we have to let it sit for maybe half and hour to an hour.  The juice is coming out; you actually can see that.

BURT WOLF:   Mmm.  And carrots are kinda sweet to begin with, aren’t they?

ANDREAS SCHWARZER:  Yeah, and it gives it a really nice fresh taste to it.

After the half hour has passed, a considerable amount of juice has come out of the carrots.  At this point Andreas adds a cup of vegetable oil and three eggs... one at a time.  The eggs go in one at a time because that makes it easier to completely incorporate them in the mixture.  Then 1 teaspoon of vanilla. 

ANDREAS SCHWARZER:  When everything is mixed well, we’re gonna add all our dry ingredients.

The bowl of dry ingredients is made up of a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon, two and a half cups of flour, a quarter teaspoon of baking soda and a half teaspoon of baking powder.  Stir that together and add the dry ingredients to the moist ingredients... slowly. 

ANDREAS SCHWARZER:  If you just dump it in, you’re gonna end up having a lot of big lumps in the mix, and we certainly want to avoid that, eh?

BURT WOLF:   I’ve certainly had enough lumps in my life.

ANDREAS SCHWARZER:  (Chuckles)  You see the nice color?  You get from the brown sugar and the carrot juice?  So our end product’s gonna be a nice dark cake.

When the batter is fully mixed Andreas pours it into a 9-inch ring mold that is set on a piece of parchment paper over a sheet pan... but you can also use a spring-form pan that has been lightly oiled.  Then into a pre-heated 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for forty-five minutes.  While the cake is baking the icing is prepared.

ANDREAS SCHWARZER:  Philadelphia cream cheese.

BURT WOLF:   Why Philadelphia?

ANDREAS SCHWARZER:  Okay.  I try a lot of different cream cheeses.  And I find a lot of them have too much salt in it.  And that’s the last thing you want to taste; you have a nice carrot cake, you have an icing, and you taste the salt.  And I don’t wanna ruin the cake. 

The eight ounces of cream cheese are followed by 1 3/4 cups of confectioners’ sugar.   Half the sugar goes in and is blended into 8 tablespoons of butter... then the second half of the confectioners’ sugar.  The reason half goes in at a time is to prevent the sugar from blowing around when the beater first hits.

ANDREAS SCHWARZER:  The butter has to have the same consistency than the cream cheese.  If it doesn’t, you have a lot of butter lumps in here. 

Then a tablespoon of vanilla goes in... a little more beating and the icing is ready.  The baked cake comes out of the oven, cools to room temperature and returns to the work table.  The cake is taken out of the ring and sliced in half into two discs.  About a third of the icing goes onto the top of the bottom disc.  The top disc goes on top.  Then the rest of the icing goes onto the top of the top disc and the sides of both.  A wave pattern is drawn into the icing on top.  Toasted sliced almonds are pressed into the sides.  Slice marks are pressed into the top.  And marzipan carrots are placed on each slice.  The icing on the cake.

Andreas’ second recipe is for a white chocolate Grand Marnier Cheese Cake.  He starts by pouring two ounces of melted unsalted butter into 1 cup of graham cracker crumbs and mixing those two ingredients together.  Then that’s pressed into the bottom of an eight inch round form to make a crust.  The batter is started by mixing 14 ounces of cream cheese together with a quarter cup of confectioners sugar.  In a second bowl two eggs are added to 4 tablespoons of orange juice... followed by 2 tablespoons of Grand Marnier liqueur... and the zest of an orange.  All that is mixed together and quickly added to 5 ounces of melted white chocolate.  When that’s all fully blended it is mixed into the cream cheese... and you have the basic batter.  At that point a third of a cup of sugar is whipped into 2 egg whites until the whites are just starting to stand in peaks.

ANDREAS SCHWARZER:  Okay, let’s see it again; should be right... see, it’s soft.  It just stands up; that’s what we want.  We don’t want it over-whipped.  Otherwise, when we bake it, they crack very easy, these cakes.

The whipped egg whites get folded into the cream cheese batter and the final mixture gets poured over the graham cracker crust.  Then into a preheated 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 35 minutes.  When the cake comes out of the oven, it cools and comes out of the ring form and then onto a cardboard disc to make it easier to handle.  The cake is  cut into eight slices, and between each slice Andreas dips the knife into warm water to keep the side of the blade from sticking to the cake.  A little freshly whipped cream goes onto each slice plus a Mandarin orange section.  And finally... a few shavings of white chocolate.

The Canadian Rockies are part of an enormous mountain system that runs along the western edge of both North and South America.  Scientists who study the geology of the earth tell us that we are all going about our lives on a group of huge plates that sit on top of the molten center of our planet.  About 150 million years ago, the plate on which North America sits began to move to the west. As it did so, it eventually banged up against a pile of rocks that were sitting in its path.  As it pushed against these rocks, it folded them into the Rocky Mountains.  On a somewhat smaller scale, it’s what would happen if you took a newspaper, placed it flat on a desk and slowly pushed it against the wall... lots of folds and layering. And that is one of the processes that formed what we are looking at down there.  Eventually the pressure caused the rocks to break along the weakest edges.  The broken fault blocks began to push up to form the peaks we see below.  Add to those forces the effects of millions of years of rain and wind and snow and ice, and you have some idea of the importance of erosion.  Erosion is what gives the Rockies their rugged look.  In terms of the geological clock, the Canadian Rockies are very young.  And their beauty seems to have a rejuvenating effect on visitors.

Banff is quite beautiful during the warm months... but there are many people who think it looks even more spectacular in the winter.  Take a look at this.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): Well...that's a peek at Banff, Alberta in the Canadian Rockies.  I hope you enjoyed it and I hope you'll join us next time as we travel around the world, looking for good things to eat and the reasons why people eat them.  I'm Burt Wolf.