When chefs Lynn Crawford and Lora Kirk opened Ruby Watchco in Toronto a decade ago, it was one of the first restaurants in the city to list on its menu the farmers and producers who supplied the ingredients featured each night in their cuisine.
Their passion for championing locally grown, organic products soon caught on and helped to mobilize the farm-to-table movement in Canada – in much the same way Alice Waters and Jonathan Waxman did before them in the United States.
It seems only fitting, then, that when the couple decided to close Ruby Watchco a year ago to focus on raising their two young daughters, they would move to 100-acre farm in the tiny rural community of Otonabee-South Monaghan, a township in Ontario known for its award-winning agriculture.
“I’d done cities my whole life … and when we were looking to move on to the next chapter, to be moms and to be near family, it seemed like the perfect place to continue to write and create,” says Crawford, former executive chef of the Four Seasons Hotels in Toronto and New York. “We rent most of the property out to farmer John, who grows corn and soy. But we have a wonderful garden, which inspires us each and every day.”
Their new cookbook, Hearth & Home: Cook, Share and Celebrate Family-Style, is testament to their simpler way of life. “It’s really a snapshot in to our family’s kitchen and what we like to share with those we love,” Crawford says.
Hearth & Home has 140 recipes – mains, multiple sides and desserts – that are a unique combination of home-style cooking but with a flair that only two professional chefs can bring to a dish. The secret is in flavour boosters, which Crawford says every cook should have on hand to kick any dish up a notch.
Crawford says when they are at home, they opt for “uncomplicated cooking,” which doesn’t mean it lacks creativity or flavour but rather that it is simple, straightforward and delicious. The key to making truly memorable dishes, she adds, is to stock your fridge, freezer and pantry with flavour boosters such as lemon caper remoulade, mushroom powder, tamarind date paste, confit garlic, jerk marinade or a rosemary honey (recipes for these can be found in the book). “These are every chef’s little tricks and they all take no time to prepare,” she says.
Crawford says she and Kirk take inspiration from dining out, magazines, cookbooks, walks through farmers’ markets, their travels and food shops. But the most important influence on the foods they love to eat is their daughters, Gemma and Addie, who are encouraged to take part in the preparation of all their family meals.
There is, for instance, General Gemma’s Chicken, their chef-driven variation of a favourite takeout dish, General Tao’s chicken, and Addie’s Firecracker Noodle, their adaptation of a Thai dish called mee krob, with noodles that puff up like magic in hot oil.
“Lora and I have been cooking together for 15 years and this book is full of the recipes we love to cook at home with the girls,” Crawford says. “When children have the experience of cooking, they learn the value and pleasure of good food. We now get to see the wonder of food through their eyes.”
Portobello Mushroom Steaks with Creamed Spinach and Red Wine Shallot Sauce
4 to 6 large Portobello mushrooms, stems discarded
¼ cup Steak and Everything Marinade
2 tablespoons olive oil
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 shallots, finely diced
1 teaspoon minced garlic
½ cup heavy (35 per cent) cream
2 tablespoons soft goat cheese
6 cups packed baby spinach
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons Crispy Panko Breadcrumbs
1 cup red wine
Steak and Everything Marinade
½ cup soy sauce
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 large clove garlic, grated
Crispy Panko Breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a small bowl, stir together the ingredients. Pour into an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. When the butter is melted and frothy, stir in the panko. Continue stirring until the crumbs are evenly crisp and golden brown. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two weeks.
Make mushroom steaks with spinach
Preheat the oven to 400 F.
In a medium bowl, toss the mushroom caps with the Steak and Everything Marinade and let stand for 20 to 30 minutes.
Coat a 13-by 9-inch baking dish with the olive oil. Lay the mushrooms gill side up in a single layer in the baking dish. Spoon any remaining marinade into each mushroom cap. Bake, uncovered, until tender, about 15 minutes. Keep warm.
Melt 1 tablespoon unsalted butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the finely diced shallot and garlic and cook, stirring until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the cream and cook until reduced by half. Whisk in the goat cheese and spinach. Continue to cook until the spinach wilts and the sauce thickens, about 3 minutes. Stir in the Parmesan and season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and keep warm.
Make shallot sauce
In a small saucepan, bring 2 tablespoons of finely diced shallots and red wine to a boil and cook until the wine is reduced by half and slightly syrupy, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. Whisk in 6 tablespoons of butter, one piece at a time, to make a glossy sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
To serve, arrange the mushroom caps on a serving plate. Evenly divide the creamed spinach over the mushrooms. Sprinkle with the crispy panko breadcrumbs. Serve the stuffed mushrooms with the red wine shallot sauce on the side.
Excerpted from Hearth & Home by Lynn Crawford and Lora Kirk. Copyright © 2021 by Lynn Crawford and Lora Kirk. Photography ©2021 Maya Visnyei. Published by Penguin Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.