Sunday, August 31, 2014

Minnesota nice!, pt. 1

We had a feeling Minnesota was going to be nice, but we weren't quite prepared for just how lovely it all was:  from the people, to the attractions, to the scenery.

MN sublime fig. a:  sublime

We touched down in Minneapolis and soon got ourselves acquainted with the "City of Lakes."  It really wasn't all that difficult to get our bearings, what with the River and the Grid there to help us.

minneapolis by faribault fig. b:  Mississippi by Faribault

Minneapolis is definitely a breakfast town, all four of our party of Montrealers are breakfast people, and we were only going to be in town for a very brief period of time, so we came roaring out of the gate and immediately hit one of the legends of the local scene:  Al's Breakfast.

Al's is situated in a structure that represents American diner vernacular at its finest.  The counter seats about 15 people, and the queue forms right behind them--until it spills out onto the street, of course. The structure is literally a converted alleyway:  a make-shift roof was assembled over an alley next to a hardware store to transform it into a shed to house additional goods; this space was then rented out and renovated; by the time Al Bergstrom took possession in 1950, it had been operating as a hamburger stand.  The rest is history, but one thing's for sure:  it's a setting befitting the Dinkytown address.

Al's Breakfastfig. c:  Al's Breakfast*

Al's serves an impressive number of breakfast combos, alongside some remarkably tasty diner coffee (served in "bottomless" cups, of course), but one of the things they're most famous for is a dish that's a local obsession:  hash browns.  I say a "dish" because although hash browns in Minneapolis are often served the standard way--as an accompaniment to eggs, or a side order--they're also served in a variety of other ways:  topped or mixed in all kinds of inventive ways.

Al's was friendly, and had character to spare--they also had a very unique way of getting parties of three or more to be seated together (by orchestrating an elaborate form of musical stools), and an unusual way to placing orders (they didn't call them out; the short-order cook would walk the line to eyeball the orders and commit them to memory).  But it wouldn't have meant quite as much if their breakfasts hadn't been outstanding--which they were.

I had my hash browns "straight up"--as an accompaniment to their summer scramble with tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella--but they were fantastic:  crispy, cooked through, and actually fully flavoured.  Definitely not the bland, undercooked dreck that passes for hash browns in so many breakfast joints across North America.

After breakfast, we took a stroll through the campus of the University of Minnesota to visit the University Archives with a friend of mine who's a curator there.  (She's also a long-time Al's aficionado, and was kind enough to curate our visit there, too.)  We visited their vaults deep underground, which contain the world's largest collection of Sherlockiana, among many other wondrous things.

sherlockiana fig. d:  Sherlockiana

And, afterwards, we made our way over to the University's Weisman Art Museum to inspect the mysteries of their permanent collection and generally take in the scene.

outside the pedicord apts.
living room fig. e:  lounging

While we were at the Weisman, we also caught a fantastic exhibit of O. Winston Link's photographs of trains, train stations, and train communities along the Norfolk & Western Railway, the last of the steam-engine lines in America.

trains, planes, and automobiles
General Store fig. e:  training days

That night, after a cycle tour of Minneapolis' impressive array of lakes (it is the "City of Lakes," after all), some shopping, some noshing (Midtown Global Market!), and some downtime at our B & B, we headed back across the mighty Mississippi and settled in at Nye's Polonaise Room for dinner and drinks.

1950 appears to have been a particularly momentous year in the history of Minneapolis:  not only was it the birth year of Al's Breakfast, it was also the year Nye's came into being.  But whereas Al's is the humblest of restaurants, more or less squatting a Dinkytown alleyway, Nye's occupies an entire city block, and it does so proudly.

nye's polonaise fig. f:  Nye's Polonaise

Once named The Best Bar in America by no less an authority than Esquire, Nye's actually consists of three connected establishments:  Nye's Bar (which features raucous musical acts nightly, including The World's Most Dangerous Polka Band), Nye's Chopin Dining Room (a banquet hall), and Nye's Polonaise, the heart and soul of the operation.

In spite of its name, the Polish fare at Nye's Polonaise isn't going to win any prizes for continental cuisine, but it is a throwback to a time when a night on the town might very well include a trip to an Eastern European "fine dining" establishment/Cocktail Lounge/Piano Bar, and when restaurants didn't have any qualms about encouraging each and every patron to "eat, drink, and loosen your belt!"

And the experience is priceless--from the old-school service and the Truman-era martinis (vodka, of course), to the gargantuan platters and the classic wedge salads, to the drunken sing-alongs at the piano bar and the portrait of Chopin (their patron saint) that proudly adorns the wall behind it, announcing to all who enter, "This place has class!"

None of us had the necessary credentials to weigh in on whether it's still the Best Bar in America (or ever was), but we loved Nye's Polonaise all the same.

When we looked back on it later that night, we were downright flattered that the songstress at the piano correctly identified us as out-of-towners within seconds of our stepping onto the premises, and promptly started heckling us. We were a little disappointed that she had us pegged for Americans--from Long Island, no less--but she was serenading five or six people at the bar at the time, so maybe we didn't have her full attention.

Then again, maybe she sensed something:  the plates on our rental car did read "New Jersey."

Minnesota addresses (part one):

Al's Breakfast, 413 14th Avenue SE, Minneapolis, MN, (612) 331-9991

Weisman Art Museum, 333 East River Road, Minneapolis, MN, (612) 625-9494

Midtown Global Market, 920 East Lake Street, Minneapolis, MN

Nye's Polonaise, 112 East Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN, (612) 379-2021

aj

* photograph courtesy of Mark Slutsky Photography.

Monday, August 18, 2014

French Connection

While we're still on the topic of Provence and its cuisine...

So, as expected, this summer food magazines were filled with all kinds of tempting recipes for the 2014 barbecue season.  The July issue of Bon Appétit alone contained a full spread on DIY Korean barbecue; an Austin, TX spread featuring an outrageous-looking citrus-brined pork loin and a grilled rib eye recipe; a Middle Eastern/North African spread featuring mint and cumin-spiced lamb chops and Moroccan chicken brochettes; an article on cold smoking; and a guide to making and grilling your own sausages.  Just that single issue was enough to keep someone busy over their barbecue for months--and, trust me, it did.

But the recipe that turned out to be the single biggest revelation of the summer here at AEB--at least when it comes to the thrill of the grill--was a lonely little number accompanying a book review in the June/July 2014 edition of "Fare," the front section of Saveur.

Untitled fig. a:  in print

The book in question was a compendium of more than a century's worth of writing on grilling and grilled foods culled from the pages of The New York Times by Peter Kaminsky.  The Times has been on fire* with their food journalism of late, with a bolder, multimedia-savvy approach that's smart, informative, au courant, and well-designed, and this tome sounds like another play to further establish position within the lucrative food & wine media market.  It's called The Essential New York Times Grilling Cookbook, and it's as much of a legacy-builder as it is a collection of hits from the Times' recent generation of superstar food writers--it's clearly meant to prove that the Times has been writing about food with insight and passion all along, decades before the advent of modern-day foodie-ism.

Anyway, Betsy Andrews' review only features one recipe, but it was one that definitely caught my attention.  The recipe was for poulet grillé au gingembre--grilled chicken with ginger--it was co-authored by those old masters of the Times' '60s, '70s, and '80s heyday, Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey, and it first appeared in the May 25, 1980 edition.

Andrews was effusive in her praise, but what really caught my eye was that French connection to ginger.  Though it's had a presence in European cuisine since at least the days of the Roman Empire, ginger is a rarity in French cuisine.  Waverley Root, in spite of his name,** is utterly silent on the subject in his magisterial The Food of France.  Ginger is entirely absent from Richard Olney's Simple French Food and his The French Menu Cookbook.  And the rhizome appears only once in Julia Child's two-volume Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and then only in a beef recipe that already contains gingerbread as an ingredient.

The only place I'd actually ever noticed ginger in a French cookbook before was in yet another Richard Olney book:  A Provençal Table:  The Exuberant Food and Wine from the Domaine Tempier Vineyard, a.k.a, Lulu's Provençal Table.  There, Olney doesn't make a fuss about it at all, but the recipe in question always intrigued me because it just seemed so unlikely:  "Poulet Rôti au Gingembre, Coudes au Jus" (Roast Chicken with Ginger, Macaroni with Roasting Juices).  "Macaroni & chicken?"  I'd never ever tried it, but it has been near the top of my "to make" list for a long time.  When I spied Claiborne and Franey's recipe my decision was made:  there was no doubt about it, I was finally going to test this Provençal chicken & ginger combo.  I still wasn't sure about its origins (North African?  North African by way of Italy?  Was Lulu's preparation some kind of clue?), but its apparition in Andrews' book review was clearly a sign.

Plus, the recipe is dead simple.  Mysteriously so.  As Andrews puts it, "It worried me at first:  It called simply for grilling 'until the chicken is cooked,' with no specifics as to method or signs of doneness.  And it yielded so little marinade I felt it might starve the bird of flavor."  But, according to her, the results were a classic example of one of those recipes that defies logic, one of those recipes whose process is almost alchemical:  "[When] the chicken was indeed done (a condition I ascertained with the use of a modern-day digital thermometer), how exquisite it was.  Dried thyme and bay leaf and garlic added aromatic flourish.  An abundance of lemon mingled with bristling ginger to stroke the flesh with sweetness and tenderize it to a mouthwatering moistness, abetted by a final drizzle of butter" (!).

And you know what?  I couldn't have agreed more.  I, too, had the feeling that the recipe couldn't possibly work as I prepared it.  And I, too, experienced something magical instead when I cooked the chicken.  The final product looked great, but it tasted a hundred times better--it had a perfect skin, and was literally bursting with flavour.  The ginger was subtle, but present.  And that final blast of butter...  I couldn't believe what I was tasting, and neither could Michelle.

Untitled fig. b:  in real life

Without any further ado...
Poulet grillé au gingembre 
1 2.5-3-lb organic chicken, halved, backbone removed
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp dried thyme, or 1 sprig fresh thyme (with fresh thyme in our garden right now, this has been my preference)
1 bay leaf, crumbled
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted 
Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper.  Stir lemon juice, oil, thyme, bay leaf, garlic, and ginger in a bowl.  Add chicken and toss to coat.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 2-4 hours. 
Heat a charcoal grill, making sure that your charcoals are evenly spread and of an even height.  Ideally, you want a fire that's medium-hot.  Be patient.  Grill a bunch of vegetables first, if you have to. 
Grill chicken, turning as needed, until slightly charred and cooked through, about 35 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a thigh reads 165º F.  Transfer to a serving platter and drizzle with melted butter.  Tent the chicken with aluminum foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes.  This will complete the cooking process and allow the chicken to release its delicious juices into your platter.  Serve and devour. 
Serves 2 to 4 people, depending on appetite and number of side dishes. 
[based very closely on a recipe that co-authored by Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey for The New York Times and then adapted slightly by Betsy Andrews for Saveur]
I still haven't tried Lulu's chicken, ginger, and elbow macaroni recipe yet, but I will.  Believe me, I will.  And I haven't fully figured out that French connection to ginger yet, but I like it--I really, really like it. In fact, there have been times recently when I've declared it the very best grilled chicken I've ever tasted.

aj

* Sorry.

**Apologies, once again.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Ail, Ail, Ma'am!

aioli monstre fig. a:  petit aïoli monstre

Tomorrow, Thursday, August 14, 2014, le grand aïoli is back, and this time it's even grander than before.  In fact, it's going to be so huge, so extraordinary, that this time around they're billing it as un aïoli monstre (!).

Once again, this grand aïoli pools together the prodigious talents of the Foodlab, Oenopole, and the Birri Bros.

And once again, this aïoli monstre is inspired by and dedicated to our patron saints of Provençal cuisine:  Lulu Peyraud and Richard Olney.

If you're not exactly clear on the concept, the good folks at Oenopole have summarized it this way:  mange tes légumes et bois du rosé ("eat your vegetables and drink some rosé!").  In other words, all of Birri's most beautiful August vegetables, lovingly prepared by Michelle and Seth and served with generous amounts of Lulu's legendary aïoli, plus all of Oenopole's most delicious rosés.  But I have it on good authority that there will also be Provençal-style shrimp and Atlantic lobster on offer to sweeten the deal even further.

Aïoli Monstre
SAT Foodlab / Labo Culinaire
1201 boulevard St-Laurent
Montreal, QC
Thursday, August 14, 2014
5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
rain or shine! (but it's always sunny when a grand aïoli is being served)

Michelle's so excited about this grand aïoli that I heard her say, "You'd be a fool to miss it."  I'm not sure if she meant me personally, or whether she meant "you" more generally.  Either way, I'm not taking any chances.  I know where I'm going to be tomorrow night.

aj


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Return of the Raspberry Social!

Yes, the Raspberry Social is coming back!

raspberry social.001 fig. a:  raspberries!

Bigger and badder than ever before, and with a new sense of purpose.

As was the case with last year's blockbuster St-Jean Strawberry Social at Espace Pop, this will be a combination Fruit Social & BBQ Social, featuring the following line-up:

AJ's famous smoky Carolina-style chopped pork sandwich (with all the fixings)
Savouré's wonderful raspberry soda 
AND
Michelle's irresistible trio of raspberries, spongecake, & whipped cream*
BBQ social fig. b:  BBQ !

This time, our Fruit Social & BBQ will be taking place at the Marché des Possibles, beginning at noon on Saturday, July 26, until supplies last.

And this time around all proceeds will go to a cause that's particularly close to our hearts:  the Ange-Aimée Woods Memorial Bursary.

Earlier this month, Montreal lost a phenomenal journalist, an ultra-enthusiastic supporter of the arts (and of Montreal's culture more generally), a true gastronome, and as dynamic personality as you are ever likely to encounter.  Many of us lost a great friend, too.

Both Michelle and I had known Ange-Aimée for years,** and she had always been a fan of "...an endless banquet" and a beloved regular of the Foodlab.  Plus, Ange-Aimée was a devoted member of our Montreal Fruit Socialists community--in fact, just last summer, she brought her CBC mobile equipment to our St-Jean Strawberry & BBQ Social and interviewed Michelle right in front of our location at Espace Pop.  Wouldn't you know it?  Within about 15 minutes, we started getting CBC listeners dropping in to partake in the festivities.  Yet another example of the Power of Radio, and a perfect example of the Ange-Aimée Effect.

Anyway, we miss Ange-Aimée dearly and we're big believers in Ange-Aimée Woods Memorial Bursary.  If the bursary reaches $15,000 in donations, it will continue to exist in perpetuity, and it seems fitting that the Ange-Aimée Effect should be allowed to touch the lives of Concordia students (Ange-Aimée's alma mater) for many years to come.

For more information on the Ange-Aimée Woods Memorial Bursary click on this link.

who:  "...an endless banquet" + Mile End/St-Louis BBQ #1
what:  an afternoon of tasty treats and positive action at a market where anything is possible
where:  Marché des Possibles, 5635 rue St-Dominique (corner of Bernard)
when:  Saturday, July 26, 2014, 12:00 noon till supplies last
why:  because you love barbecue and/or raspberries, and this here's a great cause
how:  just drop on by (with an appetite)

aj

* Last year, someone set a new Fruit Social record by eating four servings in quick succession (all for a great cause!).  Will you be the new Fruit Social Champion?

** In my case, I met Ange-Aimée when she took a crazy course of mine on apocalyptic visions in cinema that I taught at the University of British Columbia in the late '90s, on the eve of Y2K.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Cape Cod Almighty!

Well, Arthur threatened to spoil our glorious return to Cape Cod, but, when the storm had finally passed and the winds had settled, the skies cleared up beautifully and things got back to normal.

cap'n ahab's fig. a:  summer off the Cape

Our 2013 trip to Cape Cod had been such a hit that we were eager to get back and do it all over again.  And because we were there for the same stretch of time, and we'd loved the way our last trip had played out, we were happy to basically replicate our 2013 itinerary.

This meant that there were a few major priorities to our trip:

1.  bookstores, book sales, thrift shops & flea markets

parnassus book service, Cape Cod fig. b:  books al fresco

We probably should commission a custom bumper sticker for our car that reads "I brake for bookstores, book sales, thrift shops, flea markets, particularly promising-looking garage sales, farm stands, pie shops, jam stores, sustainable seafood markets, well-curated wine shops, and discount beverage stores," because we do--we make frequent stops at all these kinds of enterprises, especially when we're on Cape Cod.

We started making such stops almost immediately after we crossed the Sagamore Bridge and began following the 6A (a.k.a., the Old King's Highway) east across the northern edge of the Cape.  These stops included the Parnassus Book Service in Yarmouth Port, which specializes in many things (Americana, Cape Codiana, etc.), but is especially notable for its extensive collection of the work of local legend Edward Gorey.

The most important stop on our Cape Cod Collectibles tour was without a doubt a return visit to the Wellfleet Flea Market,

Wellfleet flea market 2 fig. c:  magic carpets

which takes place on the grounds of the Wellfleet Cinemas drive-in theater, on the very southern edge of town, just north of North Eastham, and a few miles from the center of town.

Wellfleet flea market fig. d:  virtual windows

You've got to head up closer to the screen to get to "the good stuff" (the stuff that's actually old and/or holds real value, as well as the true Cape Cod characters who are selling it).  This is one of our favourite flea markets anywhere, and both times we've visited we've scored plenty of great finds, but our absolute favourite stand is the "Local Folk Art" stand (formerly known as the Cape Recycled Art Project, or C.R.A.P.)

folk art, Wellfleet, MA fig. e:  C.R.A.P.

where we bought the beach plums and the wild apricots last year.  We had a longer conversation with Mike (a.k.a., the Man From C.R.A.P.) this time around, and we thanked for him for his foraged fruit and told him about the preserves we made with them.  Turns out his fruit foraging prowess has earned him the nickname "Beach Plum Mike."  Of course, he didn't have any plums or apricots when we saw him, because it wasn't quite the season, but he did have a lot of whales, mermaids, narwhals, fish, and birds, and his style ranges from American Primitive to Folk Whimsy.  Either way, he's one of the best folk artists I've come across over the years, and we made a point of making some new acquisitions.

wooden whale fig. f:  whale

And you'll be happy to know that our Cape Cod bird instantly befriended our Kamouraska eel.

bird & eel fig. g:  bird & eel

2.  Wellfleet Center

we grow 'em bigger! fig. h:  we grow 'em bigger!

Speaking of whimsy:  there's a fair bit of it in Wellfleet Center, both in the heart of town, and out by the town pier.

wellfleet book sale fig. i:  book nerds

They also know how to put on a great book sale (see #1) in Wellfleet,

Wellfleet book sale find fig. j:  French psychedelia

and you never know what you might find, like this bizarre collection of 52 semi-psychedelic "jumbo-size recipe playing cards" featuring the cuisine of France (?).

Sample recipe card:  the 10 of spades is "Poulet aux Amandes (Chicken in White Wine with Almonds)."

Not clear on the concept?  Here, let me explain:  "Winning luncheons and dinners are in the cards!  Deal from this complete deck of delicious hors d'oeuvres, light luncheon dishes, entrees, vegetables, salads and desserts.  French Recipe Cards are a pack of fun!  Use them for games... as hostess gifts... for party favors."

Wellfleet Market fig. k:  window shopping

The Wellfleet Market is an anchor of the community, and their meat department has provided me with all the quality spare ribs I've required over the last couple of years.  They also know how to decorate their windows.

But our very favourite place in Wellfleet Center is Hatch's, a small operation just off the Town Hall that consists of two halves:  Hatch's Produce, a green grocer, which carries a lot of locally grown fruits and vegetables (in season),

Hatch's produce market fig. l:  Hatch's Produce

and Hatch's Fish Market, which may very well be our favourite place for seafood.

Hatch's fish market, Wellfleet fig. m:  Hatch's Fish Market

We were just blown away by the selection, the freshness, and the affordability of Hatch's seafood last year, and this year we were just as impressed.  Once again, we didn't hold back, and, once again, we treated our hosts to a seafood feast on Sunday night, featuring local littleneck clams, wild shrimp, local scallops, and local flounder.

If you don't have access to a kitchen, you can always just pay a trip to Mac's on the pier.  There you'll find lobster rolls and other types of seafood sandwiches, oysters on the half-shell, and steamed littleneck clams that are worth waiting on.

waiting on the clams fig. n:  waiting for my clams

And when you visit Wellfleet, be sure to pay a trip to one of the stunning local beaches, preferably oceanside (see below).

3.  Ice Cream

The motto of Sundae School, our favourite Cape Cod ice cream shop and soda fountain, is "Don't skip Sundae School," and, believe me, we wouldn't dream of it.  Sundae School in Harwich Port is one of our favourite ice cream shops of all-time, and, for us, Bass River Mud is their showstopper.  Rich coffee ice cream, roasted almonds, chocolate chunks, and fudge swirl--it's a flavor that lives up to its evocative name,

Bass River fig. o:  Bass River estuary

and it's hard for us to imagine a better combination, or a more successful version of this combination.  I meant to take a photograph of it immediately after receiving my cone, but I literally couldn't wait long enough to fire off a shot.  This is what a regular serving of Bass River Mud looks like after it's half eaten.

bass river mud fig. p:  Bass River Mud

4.  Barbecue

Monday in Harwich Port has become our barbecue day.  I pick up a mess of ribs at the Wellfleet Market on Sunday.  I rub them with my special blend

AEB competition rib rub fig. q:  special blend

and let the flavours infuse in the refrigerator overnight.  And on Monday afternoon, between swims, I put the 3-2-1 method to work.  Monday night we have ourselves a good old-fashioned rib-pickin', with all the trimmings, and we wash it all down with bourbon and rye.

5.  Swimming

We go swimming as often as we can.  That's the rule:  get it while you can.

The waters you find off the "tricep" of Cape Cod, facing Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, get pretty nice and warm and the waves tend to be smaller and choppier.

The waters you find off the "forearm" of Cape Cod, facing the ocean, are bracing, but they're also a remarkably beautiful blue-green, the waves tend to be bigger and better-formed, and the dunes that line the coast are often monumental.

this way to paradise fig. r:  this way to paradise

This year, it was Marconi Beach, near Wellfleet, that took our breath away.  But, believe me, every single swim, on both coasts of Cape Cod, was a great swim.

6.  Souvenirs

It's important to commemorate a summer beach vacation with souvenirs.

souvenirs of Cape Cod fig. s:  s is for souvenirs

T-shirts, jam, used books, collectibles, bourbon--whatever it takes.  A trip like this can be such a dream come true, such a wonderful blur, that when you get back home you might find yourself needing tangible evidence that you were actually there.

Our favourite souvenirs are edible ones, and the thing we knew we'd miss the most when we left Cape Cod was the seafood, so we made a point of scooting up to Wellfleet and popping into Hatch's again before we headed back to Montreal.  Once again, we picked up a bunch of local specialties, like shrimp, scallops, and cod (natch), but the treat we were most excited about were our two dozen littleneck clams.  Those Wellfleet littlenecks had been one of the highlights of our trip, and we were determined to extend the good tidings all the way back home.  We weren't exactly sure what we were going to do with them, but on the drive back I had a flash of inspiration:  clam pizza!

So the day after, that's exactly what I did:  I made a couple of clam pies using the Roberta's method.

Once you've got your two pizza doughs ready to be baked...

Clam Pizza 
24 littleneck clams
2 x 125g buffalo mozzarella or fior di latte
parsley, minced
chives, minced
red pepper flakes
reserved clam juice
extra-virgin olive oil
lemon wedges 
Place a pizza stone in your oven, and preheat it as high as your oven will go.  I recommend doing so at least an hour before you plan on baking. 
Wash and scrub your littleneck clams, rinsing them several times.

Untitled fig. t:  raw
Place them in a medium pot with 1/2" of salted water and cover the pot.  Bring the pot to a boil, turn the heat down to medium-high, and steam the clams until all the shells have opened.  Generally 6-10 minutes is how long it's going to take, but these super-fresh Wellfleet littlenecks only took about 4 minutes.  The common wisdom is to discard those clams that don't open.  
Scoop the clams into a bowl, 

littleneck clams (cooked) fig. u:  cooked
making sure to reserve the clam broth in the pot. 
When your clams have cooled enough to handle, remove the clam meat from the shells and mince them on a cutting board.  Divide the minced clam meat into two equal portions.   
Slice both portions of mozzarella as thinly as possible and gather together your other ingredients. 
Add about a tablespoon of your clam broth to about two tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil and stir well.  This will be your drizzling oil.  (Save the rest of the clam broth for another use, like making spaghetti with clam sauce, but make sure to use it while it's still fresh.)
When your oven is ready to go, stretch and form your pizza dough into a 12" round with a properly shaped lip to it.  Spread half your mozzarella slices over your dough, placing the larger pieces closer toward the rim and the smaller pieces closer toward the center.  (Buffalo mozzarella gives off a considerable amount of liquid.  When you're baking a thin-crust, "white" pie like this, you want to try to avoid having liquid pooling in the center as much as possible.) 
Scatter half your clam meat evenly over the pie.  Sprinkle minced parsley, minced chives, and red pepper flakes over top.  Grind some black pepper overtop and sprinkle a pinch of sea salt.  Drizzle the pie with your olive oil/clam broth concoction.  Place it in the oven and bake following the Roberta's method
Remove your pie from the oven when it's baked to perfection and allow it to cool for about a minute.  This will allow the molten cheese to set and make it easier for the pizza to be sliced.  It will also make it easier for the pizza to be eaten, and help you to avoid law suits.
clam pizza 1 fig. v:  clam pie 1
Serve with lemon wedges and encourage your guests to squeeze a little lemon juice over their slices.
clam pizza 2 fig. w:  clam pie 2
Repeat instructions with dough #2.
The AEB Clam Pizza was a tribute to the clam pie we had at Motorino back in April, but it was also a pretty tasty tribute to Wellfleet and Cape Cod.  Those clams were so tender, so briny, so vibrant, it was almost like we'd never left.

Of course, in order to make it possible to bring back edible souvenirs such as these on a road trip such as this, a cooler is essential.  Make sure to buy enough ice to keep everything fresh on the long drive back.

Postscript:  Yes, we miss the towns, the beaches, and the seafood of Cape Cod, but it wouldn't mean quite as much without good friends.  What we really miss most of all is experiencing Cape Cod with our close friends R & MA and the rest of the Harwich Port Crew (you know who you are!)--the beers, wine, and cocktails; the al fresco dining; the beach time; the laughs; the feats of sporting prowess; the dance moves; the trips down Memory Lane; the word play...  OMC!  You guys are awesome!

aj

Monday, July 14, 2014

Triple Threat

gros bbq 1 fig. a:  meat + wine + grill:  any questions?

Oenopole

      +

Foodlab

     +

Boucherie Lawrence

     =

one helluva wine-soaked barbecue

In fact, they're billing this Thursday's event as:

gros bbq 2 fig. b:  gros bbq

In addition to a white from Sébastien Brunet and a red from Le Coste, you can expect grilled pork chops, grilled sausages, and some baller steaks (grilled, of course), along with a whole slew of beautiful vegetable sides, like Michelle's famous minty sweet peas.

Having a hard time picturing it?  It will look kind of like this,

gros bbq fig. c:  très gros bbq

except that there will be greater variation in the meat offerings, a wider selection of vegetables, tastier wines, and a better view.

It all goes down:

Thursday, July 17
Foodlab/Labo Culinaire
1201 boulevard St-Laurent
Montréal, QC
5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
rain or shine (but, as of this moment, it looks like SHINE!)

aj

Friday, July 11, 2014

Toronto the Good

Tonto in Toronto 1
Tonto in Toronto 1 fig. a:  Tonto prays for poor Toronto

Poor Toronto.  It's spent decades trying to shake its reputation as "Toronto the Good," a city whose identity was primarily perceived as being strait-laced, upright, and, frankly, uptight--the capital of those dreaded "têtes carrées."  For ages, it's also endured the resentment of the rest of Canada over its wealth, power, and success, and has been ridiculed mercilessly for having the nerve to consider itself the economic and/or cultural capital of the nation.  It's home to an Original Six hockey team that's made its fans suffer since the end of the Original Six era (in spite of the city's wealth and power).  And then there's all that ongoing nonsense with the Mayor's Office.

But, you know what?  I've always thought Toronto is a pretty funky town, with some truly impressive architecture.

toronto canada fig. b:  Toronto the Great

And, regardless of all the haters with their darts and arrows, Toronto just keeps steaming along.  In fact, in many areas (but certainly not all) things have never been better.

Take the city's food culture, for instance.  In this department, from restaurants to bars, to microbreweries, markets, and purveyors of all sorts, the city seems more and more like "Toronto the Great" to me every time I visit.

Tastemakers like David Chang lament the fact that Toronto has "yet to produce any truly world-class restaurants," but I couldn't care less about any of that San Pellegrino business, and what I see is a city that has become remarkably assertive when it comes to food and drink in a very short period of time, a city that's become a true contender.

A recent trip turned up these observations:

Kensington Market

Kensington Market fig. c:  Kensington Market

Seven Lives serves excellent San Diego-style tacos and refreshing agua frescas out of a tiny storefront on Kensington Avenue.  Their signature taco is their Gobernador, and it boldly goes places no taco I've ever had before has gone, combining shrimp, smoked marlin, and cheese into an experience that's both mind-bending and mouth-watering.  It's something about the sweet juiciness of the shrimp, the almost meaty smokiness of the marlin, and the loving caress of the cheese.  If it sounds strange to you, get over it.  The Gobernador is the only taco that Seven Lives has immortalized in paint on their front window, and you can understand why--they know it's a hit.

(Note:  Seven Lives' tacos are overstuffed and an excellent value for the money.  Just one makes for a pretty decent (small) meal.)

Sanagan's Meat Locker, on Baldwin Street, is the best butcher shop/charcuterie I've encountered in Hogtown Canada.  The SML experience is comparable to Fleisher's, and that's high praise in my book.  Their meat is carefully sourced, clearly labeled, and very fairly priced, and their staff is knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and friendly.  Their selection of charcuterie is impressive.  And their kitchen is turning out fantastic sandwiches, salads, and other meals-to-go.  They also stock a great selection of locally manufactured fine food products (breads, condiments, etc.).  I picked up a honking, beautifully marbled 12-lb skin-on, bone-in Mennonite pork shoulder for just over $40 on my last day in town and turned it into some divine barbecue the next day, back in Montreal.

Fika is a tastefully appointed Swedish café on Kensington Avenue.  They make a delicious iced coffee with cardamom and mint leaves.

Queen Street West

grand electric 1
grand electric 2 fig. d:  Grand Electric

Grand Electric is another new-school Toronto taco joint that's more of a restaurant (a lot more) and less of a stand than Seven Lives, and that also features a full bar with a stunning selection of bourbons and some pretty great beers (like Negra Modelo).  All my tacos (crispy cauliflower, spicy chicken) were great (they're smaller here than at Seven Lives, so I ordered three), but my absolute favourite was the Baja fish, which was both generous (featuring a large piece of flaky, beautifully deep-fried fish) and ridiculously delicious.

The same folks also run a BBQ joint called Electric Mud, right around the corner on Brock Avenue, but I ran out of time and never made it there.  Next time!

Oyster Boy has been a Toronto institution for over 20 years--first as a supplier/caterer and then as a bricks-and-mortar restaurant (since 2001).  The oysters are plentiful, they come from some of the top oyster producers in Canada and the States, and they're expertly shucked and served with all the condiments one might want.  The rest of the menu is exactly what you're looking for in an oyster shack, and all you could dream of in a seafood restaurant that's so far from the ocean.  Our party split a selection of oysters on the half shell, and I had a salad and an oyster po' boy and I was thrilled.

Chantecler is another Parkdale restaurant (just a couple doors down from Grand Electric) that specializes in Asian lettuce wraps.  I really liked my Pork Special Wrap, with dried oysters, toasty seaweed, and puffed rice, but I absolutely loved my Fancy Wings, which came with fried garlic and shallots, and my Kale Salad, which featured the unlikely combination of oyster mushrooms, apples, and seaweed, but was truly fantastic--the best kale salad I've ever tasted.

I've heard rumours that Chantecler runs a tasting menu operation somewhere behind the scenes of their restaurant--Roberta's-style--but I didn't find out about it until I'd gotten back to Montreal.  Definitely sounds intriguing...

Ossington Avenue

Bar Isabel on College Street, just a block and a half from Ossington, is a highly rated Spanish restaurant that specializes in tapas, wine, and cocktails.  We placed our focus on tapas and bar snacks, and everything we had was exceptional, including the sardines, the boquerones, the patatas bravas, and the grilled asparagus.  I highly recommend eating at the bar, if you're dining solo or if you're a party of two--the staff there were friendly and highly attentive, and it's fun to watch them mix their expertly crafted cocktails.

(Note:  It can be very hard to get a reservation at Bar Isabel because of its reputation and its popularity, but if you show up just before they open, at 6:00 p.m., and there are just one or two of you, you can usually get a seat at the bar.)

If the idea of opening a "Paris, 1900"-style butcher shop* on a gentrified stretch of Ossington in 21st-century Toronto sounds absurd to you, you might scoff at Côte de Boeuf, but it would be a shame if you did, because you'd miss out on some of the city's best meat, cheese, eggs, milk, and other fine foods.  They also make some pretty impressive sandwiches.

Libretto wasn't new to me, and perhaps because of that, I found utterly impossible to miss out on one of their Neapolitan pizza pies.  In fact, I'd just eaten about an hour before and I wasn't even hungry, but it was after 9:00 p.m., and I could see that things had died down inside the restaurant, so I popped in and ordered a pizza-to-go "for later."  Who was I kidding?  I ducked down a side street seconds after picking up my order, and ate half the pizza right there, standing up, pizza box resting on someone's fence.  The other half I saved for later.  One quarter ended up being a midnight snack.  The last quarter was eaten for breakfast.

I guess I just had to make sure their pizzas were as good as I remembered them being.  Don't miss out on their homemade spicy chile oil.

411:

Seven Lives, 69 Kensington Avenue (Kensington Market), (416) 666-6666

Sanagan's Meat Locker, 176 Baldwin Avenue (Kensington Market), (416) 593-9747

Fika, 28 Kensington Avenue (Kensington Market)

Grand Electric, 1330 Queen Street West (Parkdale), (416) 627-3459

Oyster Boy, 872 Queen Street West (Trinity-Bellwoods), (416) 534-3432

Chantecler, 1320 Queen Street West (Parkdale), (416) 628-3586

Bar Isabel, 797 College Street (Little Italy/Ossington), (416) 532-2222

Côte de Boeuf, 130 Ossington Avenue (Little Portugal/Ossington), (416) 532-BEEF

Libretto, 221 Ossington Avenue (Little Portugal/Ossington), (416) 532-8000

aj

*  Actually, I take it back.  Their tagline on their website reads:  "A butcher shop right out of Paris in the 90s.  The 1890s."  I was off by a few years.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Pizza Picnic

Once you've got the hang of that Roberta's Pizza Dough recipe, it can free you up to do all kinds of things.  In fact, your confidence might be such that you find yourself visiting your local restaurant supply store to pick up pizza boxes.  I mean, don't those beautiful almost-pro pies of yours deserve it?

tony's pizza:  zuke! fig. a:  Tony's Pizza:  We deliver!

The Roberta's Pizza Dough recipe is intended to make classic, round Neapolitan pies that are cooked fast in a blistering-hot oven.  But it can just as easily be used to make the kind of pan pizzas that places like Jim Lahey's Sullivan Street Bakery specialize in.  In fact, combining the Roberta's method with aspects of Lahey's method results in some truly outstanding pan pizzas.  And there are a number of advantages to this approach for the novice:

1.  you don't need a pizza stone
2.  you don't need a pizza peel
3.  these pizzas can be easier to form
4.  these pizzas tend to have better staying power

"Staying power"?  Yeah, your classic Neapolitan pizza is best eaten fresh out of the oven.  That doesn't mean it won't be tasty later, either at room temperature, or cold out of the refrigerator, but it's at its absolute peak piping-hot, just moments after having been pulled out of that blistering-hot oven.

Your pan pizza, on the other hand, is often just as good when it's at room temperature--especially if you make the kinds of simple, but smart and delicious pizzas Sullivan Street Bakery became famous for.

This, in turn, opens up further possibilities--like pizza picnics!  Get your hands on those pizza boxes and you suddenly have a dish that's (fairly) easily transportable, that's ready to eat and keeps nicely, and that's a real crowd-pleaser.

In fact, all you need is a bottle of rosé, some olives, and a nice salad, and you've got yourself a complete picnic spread.


P1040291

P1040292 figs. b & c:  Tony's zuke pie

Then all you have to do is round up some of your pizza-loving friends.  You might even want to dust off your old croquet set as an added lure.  If you've got a backyard with a suitable lawn, and you're a real Eighties Revivalist, you can go for that Heathers look.

croquet fig. d:  girls gone wild

Then again, if you're more into that Downton Abbey vibe, choose the lushest, most perfectly manicured park you can find.  Preferably one that lies in front of an actual castle.

And if you want to really challenge your guests, select a park that's got some lush and shady sections, for dining and spectating, surrounding a chewed-up ole dogpatch, like we did.  That's when you discover who the true "magicians of the mallet" are.  Already, by our second match, a number of members of our crew were running off brilliant runs of shots, in spite of the difficult terrain.

P1040294 fig. e:  diamonds in the rough

Anyway, I was so excited by the prospect of a pizza picnic that I baked three different kinds the morning of our Pall Mall Pizza Picnic.  The pizza you see above is our latest coup de coeur:  an unorthodox, but fantastically tasty zucchini and Gruyère pie (the Italian original would be made with Fontina instead).  The photos you see below are a couple of before & after shots of the pan pizza that's been a go-to dish for us for the last few months:  pizza patate or potato pie.

P1040287

potato pizza figs. f & g:  potato pizza, before & after

Okay, so what exactly is the Lahey Pan Pizza Method?  Well, it looks like this.

Lahey pizza method fig. h:  Jim Lahey demonstrates

It starts with your pizza dough.  You can use Lahey's own recipe from My Bread, or you can use that Roberta's Pizza Dough Recipe--just make sure to use the full "24-hour" version, featuring 18 to 24 hours of slow fermentation time, if you opt for Roberta's Pizza Dough.

Then you need a 13" x 18" sheet pan and some olive oil.

And, finally, you need to carefully stretch the dough across the sheet pan, forming a rectangular shape.  Check out Lahey's technique in the image above.

With just these elements, you're ready to make a minimalist flatbread.  Just drizzle a little olive oil on top, sprinkle it with sea salt, and bake in a pre-heated 500º F oven.

But these element also form the basics for Lahey's topped pies.

Potato Pizza 
1 qt lukewarm water
4 tsp kosher salt
6 to 8 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
1 cup yellow onion, diced
freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Pizza Dough (use 1/2 of Lahey's Basic Pizza Dough recipe from My Bread, or 1/2 of Roberta's Pizza Dough recipe)
fresh rosemary
and/or
fresh chives, chopped 
special equipment:  a mandoline, to make the extra-thin potato slices you need for such a pie 
In a medium bowl, combine the water and the salt, stirring until the salt is dissolved.  Use a mandoline to slice the potatoes very thin (1/16th of an inch thick), and put the slices directly into the salted water.  Let soak in the brine for 1 1/2 hours (or refrigerate and soak for up to 12 hours), until the slices are wilted and no longer crisp.  Doing so will prevent against your potatoes oxidizing, but, more importantly, it will both salt your potatoes and help leach out the water in the potato slices themselves.  This is an essential step, so don't try to cheat on it. 
When your potato slices are ready, reheat your oven to 500º F, with a rack placed in the center. 
Drain the potatoes in a colander and use your hands to press out as much excess water as possible, then pat dry, using a clean dishtowel or some paper towel.  In a medium bowl, toss together the potato slices, onion, pepper, and olive oil. 
Stretch your pizza dough over an oiled 13" x 18" baking sheet as shown in the demo above. 
Spread the potato mixture evenly over the dough, going all the way to the edges of the pan.  Make sure to put a bit more of the topping around the edges of the pie, as the outside tends to cook more quickly.  Sprinkle evenly with the rosemary and/or the chives. 
Bake for 20-25 minutes and check on your pizza.  The topping should be golden brown and the crust should be pulling away from the sides of the baking sheet.  Serve the pizza hot or at room temperature. 
Lahey recommends cutting the pizza into 8 generous slices.  For a picnic, you may want to cut the pizza up into smaller slices. 
Zucchini Pizza 
3 large zucchini, or 6 to 8 medium zucchinis (about 2.5 pounds)
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 cups grated Gruyère
Pizza Dough (use 1/2 of Lahey's Basic Pizza Dough recipe from My Bread, or 1/2 of Roberta's Pizza Dough recipe)
2 to 2 1/2 tbsp homemade bread crumbs 
Use a box grater to grate the zucchini.  In a medium-sized bowl, toss together the zucchini and salt.  Let stand for 15-20 minutes, until the zucchini has wilted and released its water.
Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 500º F, with a rack in the center position. 
Drain the zucchini in a colander, use your hands to squeeze out as much water as possible, then pat dry, using a clean dishtowel or some paper towel.  Salting the zucchini, letting it release its water, draining it, and patting it dry is absolutely essential to the success of this pizza.  Skipping any of these steps will result in a disastrously soggy pizza, so, please, no cheating. 
In a medium bowl, toss together the zucchini and cheese, breaking up any clumps of zucchini, until well mixed. 
Stretch your pizza dough over an oiled 13" x 18" baking sheet as shown in the demo above. 
Spread the zucchini mixture over the dough.  Make sure to put a bit more of the topping around the edges of the pie, as the outside tends to cook more quickly.  Sprinkle the top evenly with bread crumbs.  These give the pizza both color and texture. 
Bake for 20-25 minutes and check on your pizza.  The topping should be golden brown and the crust should be pulling away from the sides of the baking sheet.  Serve the pizza hot or at room temperature. 
Again, Lahey recommends cutting the pizza into 8 generous slices.  For a picnic, you may want to cut the pizza up into smaller slices.
[both recipes are closely based on recipes that appear in Jim Lahey's My Bread]

The third pizza I made was a mushroom pie, with a combination of standard white mushrooms and some sautéed shiitakes, but I didn't take any photographs, so you're going to have figure that one out for yourself.

The bottom line is that this pan pizza method is easy to master and it turns out some great pies.  It also results in a type of pizza that makes possible the pizza picnic, or a low-stress version of the pizza party. 

Why not just use Jim Lahey's own pizza dough recipe if you're going to use his pan pizza method and recipes?  There's no reason you couldn't--but, if you've already fallen in love with one pizza dough recipe, and it works with this method, why not keep things simple?  In terms of the end result, Lahey's pizza dough recipe involves more flour, more yeast, and less fermentation time, and it turns out a pizza that's delicious but somewhat breadier.  Using Roberta's pizza dough recipe turns out the pizzas you see in the photos above.  It's really up to you.

Either way:  long live the pizza picnic!

aj