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Recipes Revealed: Culina Highlands

By Tina Faiz

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Simple decor and fresh, local ingredients make this restaurant a neighbourhood gem. (Photos: Tina Faiz)

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At Culina Highlands (now known as Highlands Kitchen), the younger sibling of Culina Millcreek, chef and owner Cindy Lararenko is breathing fresh air into heavy, starchy Ukrainian cuisine.

It's a family affair for Cindy. Her brother, Brad Lazarenko, owns the Millcreek restaurant and has recently opened two new Culina locations: a café in the Muttart Conservatory and a canteen at the Edmonton Police headquarters.

Culina Highlands is tucked in a charming stretch of independent shops on 112 Avenue. When we meet, Cindy is dressed in black and has a relaxed, easy-to-talk-to demeanor. I soon discover our husbands went to graduate school together. We sit at an old harvest table in the middle of her restaurant to chat, as her seven-year-old daughter cautiously watches us with interest from a nearby table.

Cindy, 43, is completely self-taught. "I've never had training under a chef," she declares.

Cindy's foray into the food world began with front of the house positions at some of Edmonton's best restaurants, including stints at Hardware Grill, Il Portico and Pacrat Louie.

"When I liked something on the menu, I always wondered 'how do you make that'," she says. "I would volunteer for shifts in the kitchen so I could find out how they made it. I'd ask questions, then go home and have a dinner party."

These were epic dinner parties.

"Brad and I were roommates," Cindy recalls, "and we would often have 9-course dinner parties. We were always cooking, all the time."

Though she loved food, she was wary of working in a restaurant kitchen. "I was always intimidated of the whole kitchen scene, it seemed too intense to me." So she began catering, instead. Her catering business started with a single job--an anniversary dinner party for a couple who wanted a French menu to celebrate their engagement in France.

"They wanted lobster bisque, roasted shells, lamb, and crème brulee," Cindy remembers. All things she didn't know how to make. "You have to have no fear. You can't be afraid to make a mistake or screw up," she says.

And so it began.

"I would keep making the dishes at home and sample," she says, until it was just right. It was expensive experimenting. "I don't spend a lot of money on clothes or knick knacks, but spend a lot on food," she admits with a smile. 

"At some point I figured out how to make a living from what I loved."

Culina Highlands (now Highlands Kitchen)
6509 112 Avenue, Edmonton
(780) 477-2422

Open for lunch & dinner 5 days / week:
Thursday, Sunday, Monday 12 pm - 8 pm
Friday, Saturday 12 pm - 9 pm
Closed Tuesday & Wednesday

Reservations recommended
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Culina Highlands recipe: Roasted free-range chicken with garlic mustard sauce, spinach,  buttermilk biscuits and cranberry chutney

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This dish is beautiful, delicious and takes 15 minutes to make. Try it for dinner tonight! (Photo: Tina Faiz)

This is the one dish I order here without having to look at the menu. The sauce is packed with flavour, the chicken is juicy and the chutney garnish perfectly balances the savoury with sweet.

Ingredients:
4                   Free-range chicken breasts
3 tablespoon  Flour
1 teaspoon    Paprika
1 tablespoon  Oil
1 tablespoon  Butter
1 tablespoon  Crushed garlic
¼ cup            White wine
¼ cup            Vegetable stock
1 tablespoon  Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon  Sour cream
Fresh spinach
Salt and pepper

Instructions:
  1. In a shallow dish, mix together the flour, paprika, salt and pepper.
  2. Dredge chicken breasts in flour mixture.
  3. Heat oil in the pan until very hot.
  4. Pan fry chicken on one side until golden brown.
  5. Flip chicken over, add butter, garlic and white wine.
  6. Reduce until wine has evaporated.
  7. Add vegetable stock and mustard, reduce slightly.
  8. Add sour cream to thicken, and add a handful or two of fresh spinach; let spinach wilt slightly.
  9. Cut one buttermilk biscuit (recipe below) in half and place on plate. Place two chicken breasts above biscuit halves and spoon sauce and wilted spinach over it. Finish with a dollop of cranberry sauce.

Sweet Buttermilk Biscuits

Ingredients:
5 cups              All-purpose flour
4 tablespoons   Sugar
4 Tablespoons   Baking Powder
2 teaspoon       Salt
3 cups             Buttermilk*
1.5 cups (3 sticks) Cold butter, diced

Instructions:
  1. Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
  2. Add the cold butter and mix until the butter is the size of peas.
  3. Mix in the buttermilk and form dough.
  4. Roll out dough on floured board, and cut out 14 circles.
  5. Transfer to a sheet pan and bake at 350F degrees for 15-18 minutes.
* If you don't have buttermilk, substitute cream.

If there is a restaurant recipe you've been dying to make at home, e-mail me at edmontonam@cbc.ca. Tell me why you like the dish so much? Do you have a special memory of it? I will do my best to get it for you!

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