Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Norma Ridley Members Lounge at the AGO

I was recently invited to the Norma Ridley Members’ Lounge at the Art Gallery of Ontario, for a light lunch and to see the AGO's current exhibition entitled Black Ice, a retrospective of David Blackwood, a Newfoundland native and one of Canada's leading printmakers. Drawing on childhood memories, dreams, legends and oral histories from the Wesleyville community on Bonavista Bay where he was born and raised, Blackwood explores the struggle for survival between humans and nature in one of the most exposed and hostile environments on earth – Newfoundland. 

Blackwood's images depict Newfoundland as a place of struggle, danger and tragedy, and the hardships of the cod fishery and the seal hunt in the land of his ancestors. They tell stories of a barren land, a hostile climate and a threatening sea. Life is fragile, and death by drowning or exposure ever-present. The works are predominantly mono-chromatic, large in scale, stark and visually powerful, playing on Blackwood's eloquent powers of story telling.

The centrepiece of the exhibit is Blackwood's 'Fire Down on the Labrador'

After exploring the Blackwood exhibit, we popped into The Norma Ridley Lounge, available to Art Gallery of Ontario members, and offering a relaxing haven to have a warm sandwich, homemade soup or glass of wine. Open for lunch Tuesday to Sunday, the lounge offers a small but tasty menu. We ordered their Caramelized Onion, Goat Cheese and Tomato Mini Quiche, a light savoury pastry filled with fresh cherry tomatoes, caramelized onion and goat’s cheese, made with fresh cream and eggs, and baked until golden brown. The pastry was thin and delicate, and the flavourful goat cheese custard with sweet caramelized onions melted in every bite. We followed with their homemade Carrot Ginger Soup, a smooth and velvety puree of carrots and minced ginger with a subtle hint of curry and light cream, which was lovely, light and delicious. The Norma Ridley Lounge offers patrons a quiet oasis to relax and recharge, before venturing back into the Gallery to explore some more of the many collections and new works on exhibit year-round at the AGO.

The Norma Ridley Carrot Ginger Soup

Caramelized Onion, Tomato and Goat Cheese Mini Quiche
Makes 8 mini quiche

1 recipe shortcrust pastry, store-bought or homemade 
2 tbsp olive oil
2 large red onions (about 1-pound)
16 cherry tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 large eggs
Pinch nutmeg
6 ounces soft goat cheese

Preheat oven to 350°.

Line 8 mini tart tins with pastry that has been chilled for half an hour. Line the base of the pastry with parchment and top with rice or dried beans, at least two thirds of the way full. Bake the tart crusts for 10 minutes at 350°F, then remove the beans and parchment and return to the oven for another five minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin.

Remove the parchment and discard the beans or rice. Using a fork, poke a few holes in the bottom of each of the tart crusts to release air. Transfer to a wire rack to cool while making filling.

Slice the onion thinly. Heat the olive oil in a small pan and gently fry the sliced onions for 5–10 minutes, until soft and beginning to caramelize. Stir occasionally, and cover with a lid in between. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half.

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and cream, and season with a little salt and pepper. Spread the onions evenly in the bottom of the pre-baked pastry cases. Dot with goat’s cheese and arrange the cherry tomato halves, cut-side up, over the base also. Then pour in the egg mixture.

Bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes until the custard is just set and lightly golden. Break off any excess pastry if you want to, to neaten the top, and remove the tart rings. Serve warm or cold with a mixed salad.

Carrot Ginger Soup
Serves 6

1 medium onion, diced
2 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp of minced fresh ginger
1 tsp curry powder
2-3 cloves finely minced garlic
1½ cups chopped carrots
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
¼ cup orange juice
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup light cream or whole milk (optional)

Heat olive oil over medium heat in the bottom of stockpot. Add onions and cook until soft, but do not brown. Add ginger, garlic and curry powder, and cook until soft and fragrant, about 2-3 minutes.

Add carrots, broth, and orange juice. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until carrots are exceedingly tender, about 20-30 minutes. In batches, puree soup in blender, or if you have an immersion blender, you can blend it in the pot.

Thin with additional broth as needed. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with some cream and chopped chives if you wish.