Monday, November 29, 2004


Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

The Paris-Brest-Paris (or “PBP”) cycling race is one of the oldest cycling races in the world. It got its start in the summer of 1891, some 12 years before the inaugural running of the Tour de France, and it is still being run to this day.

Earlier that year, in the spring of 1891, the first Paris-Bordeaux cycling race had been run and at 572 km in length, it was one of the most (if not THE most) grueling sporting events of its time. The event became an instant sensation and the general populace followed the race closely. They were painfully aware of the fact that the top finishing Frenchman had placed an embarrassing 5th. A few months later, the PBP was devised. Only Frenchmen were allowed to compete, and at 1200 km in length it completely eclipsed the Paris-Bordeaux race. The PBP, too, became a huge hit--like the Paris-Bordeaux before it, it was said to have single-handedly boosted newspaper sales by a considerable margin. Part of the PBP's enormous appeal had to do with the fact that it was run continuously without a single break. It was seen as being the ultimate test of one’s stamina as well as one’s mechanical preparedness. The inaugural race was won by a finishing time of under 72 hours. A crowd of 10,000 was said to have been in attendance.

The Paris-Brest-Paris was such a big success, in fact, that it inspired the creation of a dessert. So the story goes, a clever baker who had a shop somewhere along the original race route—the Great West Road to Brest, which later became known as “la Route Nationale 12”—decided to make a dessert in honor of the race. He took pâte a choux dough, formed a ring out of it to make it look like a bicycle wheel, studded it with almonds, filled it with a mousseline, and voila! His creation—the “Paris-Brest”—became a classic of French patisserie and a symbol of le cyclisme Français.

One of the oldest sporting clubs in Montreal is the Montreal Athletic Association. It was formed ten years before the inaugural Paris-Brest-Paris. Although the MAA was formed out of a partnership between several preexisting sporting clubs, including snowshoeing, hockey, lacrosse, and curling clubs, cycling was particularly de rigeur at the time, and the local cycling club—the Montreal Bicycling Club, also know as “the wheelmen”—was one of the most powerful clubs involved in this merger. Consequently, the symbol of the MBC—the winged bicycle wheel—was adopted by the MAA. It is still their symbol to this day.

Ever since I tasted Michelle's Paris-Brest (my first!) last Tuesday, I’ve been trying to encourage Michelle to devise a winged version of the Paris-Brest for the MAA’s next gala function. We’ll keep you posted…


(Thanks to Randonneurs USA and Sandy "The Kitchen Technician" D'Amato

Michelle's Paris-Brest

Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

OK, this recipe is a bit involved, but it's actually easier than it looks. If you've got a bike race victory to celebrate, or if you're just feeling daring... Allez! Allez! Allez!

A mixer isn't absolutely necessary, but not having one might make this a 2-day process.

First, make the pâte a choux...

125 ml water
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
50 g unsalted butter
75 g all purpose flour
2-3 eggs
handful toasted almond slices

Grease and paper the bottom of a 9" cake pan.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Boil the water with the salt, sugar and butter.
Remove from heat and add the flour in one shot. Mix with a wooden spoon as hard as you can, leaving no flour lumps.
Place back over the heat and stir until a clean ball forms which doesn't stick to the pot or spoon.
Take off the heat and begin adding the eggs, a little at a time. After each addition, mix thoroughly until it is well combined. You know you don't need any more egg when: the mixture is not elastic, has a bit of a shine to it, and a line drawn deep in the batter closes slowly at the top. It is now ready to pipe.
Fill a piping bag fitted with a large star tip with the batter. You should pipe while it is still warm.
Pipe a large circle, following the circumference of the cake pan. Make another circle on the inside of the first, widening it. Next, pipe the final circle on top of the other two, giving it height. Brush it with egg wash and sprinkle with almonds.
Place in the oven and bake until slightly golden. Turn down the heat to 350 degrees F, and bake until uniformly tan in colour. Remove from heat and cool on a rack.
It can be frozen at this point, or used immediately.

Now for the mousseline...

375 ml milk
55 g praline *
170 g sugar
2 eggs
60 g cornstarch
375 g unslated butter

* Note: praline refers to roasted and caramelized nuts which have been ground into a paste, not the hard candy.

Heat the milk until it is hot.
Mix the sugar, eggs and cornstarch well. Add a bit of hot milk to the egg mixture, then pour the eggs into the milk and place back on the heat.
Stir or whisk constantly, until the mixture thickens and bubbles a few times.
If you don't have a mixer, add the praline and butter at this point, allowing both to melt. Mix well, cover with plastic and chill overnight.
(However, if you have a mixer, remove cream from heat, place in a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap, which should touch the surface of the cream. Chill.
Soften the praline in the mixer, once smooth, add the butter. Place softened butter in a bowl. Empty cream into the mixing bowl and mix with a paddle until it is smooth. Add the softened butter gradually, allowing the mixture to get fluffy. Place in a bowl and chill half and hour.)
Remove mousseline from the fridge and mix with a spatula or whisk to soften it. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip.
Cut the choux paste wheel in half horizontally. Pipe mousseline onto the bottom, not excessively, but to cover and lift up the top a bit. Replace the top, press gently to adhere, and sprinkle icing sugar over the brest. You are done.
Serve immediately or chill several hours.
Can also be made smaller as an individual pastry.

+ With the leftover choux paste, you can pipe mini eclairs.

I am thinking about doing a Saturday workshop about mini eclairs for the holidays. Anyone interested?


Sunday, November 28, 2004

Roasted Cod and Shrimps Provençal

We found the following recipe in the Globe and Mail. This is an excellent dish for a small dinner party. The ingredients are somewhat unlikely, but it's quick and fairly easy and it's a real charmer--the flavors come together to create something quite extraordinary.

2 tbs grainy Dijon mustard
2 tsp herbes de Provence
1 tsp minced garlic
3 tbs extra virgin olive oil
4 6-oz cod filets
12 medium-sized shrimp, shelled
1 1/2 cups seeded and diced fresh tomatoes
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup whipping cream.

Combine mustard, 1 teaspoon of the herbes de Provence, the garlic and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Brush this mixture onto the fish and shrimp. Let marinate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450 F. Cover the base of an ovenproof baking dish with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Place the fish in the center. Scatter the tomatoes around the fish and season with the remaining 1 tablespoon of herbes de Provence. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Bake the fish and tomatoes in the oven for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven briefly, add the shrimp, and bake for another 5-8 minutes or until the juices begin to rise. Remove the fish and shrimp and keep them warm.

Pour the juices and the tomatoes into a small saucepan. Add the cream. Bring this mixture to a boil and simmer for 2 minutes until slightly thickened. If you prefer a smooth sauce, whisk with an immersion blender. Serve cod topped with the shrimps and sauce.

Serves 4.


Saturday, November 27, 2004

A Sunday Dinner with Lamb

This is the dinner that went along with the horseradish mashed potatoes featured below (see "Streetside Finds"). This is also the dinner whose centerpiece ousted Sunday's usual main attraction, chicken (see "The Sunday Chicken Club"), in favour of something even more overtly Christian. I blame the cute butcher-in-training at my school. I saw him carrying a massive leg on his way to the school store and I had to stop him. “Put it aside for me, would you?” I had never cooked a lamb in my life, but that wasn't going to stop me. I drew up the guest list, made some calls, and started my preparations…

Leg of Lamb Roasted with a Family of Onions

Serves 8

1 5-6 pound leg of lamb with the bone
coarse salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 c. olive oil
2 heads garlic, cut crosswise to expose cloves
4 leeks, trimmed, split in half lengthwise, and washed
4 onions, skins left on, cut in half through the roots
8 whole shallots, skins left on
2 handfuls baby onions, skins left on
2 c. stock or water

Heat oven to 450 degrees F.
Season lamb with salt and pepper.
Put 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a roasting pan. Lay the lamb in the pan and place in the oven. Let the lamb brown for 8-10 min., then turn and brown the other side another 8-10 min.
Lower the heat to 350 degrees F.
Roast lamb for 1 hour, for rare, and 1 1/4 hours for well done. Lamb should always be rare. Baste every 15 min.
In a large bowl, mix all of the onions together and toss with salt, pepper and rest of oil.
After the lamb has been roasting for 20 min. at 350 degrees F, add the roots to the roasting pan, placing leeks and onions cut side up. Baste every 15 min., along with the lamb.
When lamb is done, let it rest for 10 min. before cutting it.
Pour of all but 1 Tbsp. of jus, add stock to pan and deglaze. Reduce to 1 cup, adding salt, if necessary. Strain into a gravy boat or bowl.
Carve the lamb, and serve with onions and jus, horseradish mashed potatoes, and celery root gratin, or anything that strikes your fancy.

This celery root gratin was appreciated by all of our guests. In fact, it was a huge hit. I could have easily doubled the recipe.

Celery Root Gratin

Serves 8, or 4 celery root lovers

2 medium celery roots, trimmed and peeled
juice of 1 lemon
stock or water, to cover
sea salt
2 bay leaves
freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp. butter
3/4 c. grated parmesan cheese
1/2 c. crème fraiche

Cut the celery root in half lengthwise, lay cut side down and slice into 1/4 thick slices. Transfer to a bowl and sprinkle with lemon juice.
Place celery root in a pot, cover with stock or water, and boil until slightly tender, about 10 min. Drain and reserve 1/2 c. cooking liquid.
Heat the over to 400 degrees F.
Butter a gratin dish or casserole. Layer a third of the celery root on the bottom of the pan, dot with 1 Tbsp. butter and one third of the cheese. Repeat twice more, ending with cheese. Mix the crème fraiche with reserved cooking liquid and pour into the pan.
Bake until bubbling and golden-brown, about 25 minutes. Serve.

Both of these recipes are from Amanda Hesser’s The Cook and the Gardener.


Friday, November 26, 2004

Streetside Finds

Earlier this fall, not long after I got back from a year-long stint in Germany, M. found out about an unusual street sale. Our friend Benoit knew of a guy who was going to be selling organic vegetables in front of someone’s walk-up on Casgrain. Montreal has its fair share of organic deliveries that take place on its side streets during the summer and fall (like the one we go to on Jeanne-Mance run by Fred), but those are co-operative ventures that you have to be a member of. In this case, the farmer was going to be selling to anyone who came by and he was said to specialize in heirloom vegetables. We didn’t know much else.

Later that evening (I remember it was warm and sunny—a far cry from the way things are now) we met up with Benoit, Hermine, and Gabe and we walked over to Casgrain. We found Benoit’s friend Patrice selling an assortment of yellow and orange carrots, large zucchinis, Jerusalem artichokes, and shallots, some lovely small, purple plums, and one plant we’d never seen before: he called it “ice plant,” and it was a strange succulent from South Africa that had a mild sweetness to it and a crisp texture. Patrice’s farm is an organic farm located in the Kamouraska region of Quebec, and, as we’d been told, he deals exclusively in heirloom fruits and vegetables and other exotic varieties. He calls his farm La Société des Plantes, and when he we isn’t selling his produce to the likes of us on the streets of Montreal, he’s supplying some of Montreal’s finest restaurants, packaging and selling his seeds, and putting together his beautiful catalogue [Note: Don’t worry, we’ll have a full feature article on Patrice and La Société des Plantes some time next year, after we’ve had a chance to make it out to Kamouraska to check out the scene]. We bought a big bag of carrots and a little of everything else. We started eating the carrots right there on the street and they were among the sweetest I’ve ever had.

We split up not long afterwards in order to pick up everything we needed for dinner: trout filets, bread, cheese, wine. When we reconvened Hermine made roasted trout filets with miso-maple glaze, Benoit shredded the carrots and zucchini into long, thin strands, and then I sautéed them in olive oil with garlic and herbes de Provence, and we set the table. We busted out some tapenade I’d brought back from Nice, and we were all set. Everything was excellent—Hermine’s trout was particularly delicious, delicate and sweet—but the real stars that evening were the carrots and zucchinis. It wasn’t the preparation, it was just the flavor of the vegetables themselves. They were so good I had to make two batches to satisfy us.

A few weeks later M. found out that Patrice was back. On a wet and blustery Saturday evening we raced out to Gilford east of Papineau to find him before he closed up for the night. This time around he had white carrots and white beets, tomatillos, chervil, homemade plum preserve, homemade herbes salées, and fresh horseradish. We raced back home afterwards I decided to make an impromptu borscht with garlic and onions, the carrots and beets, the chervil, a teaspoon of the herbes salées, and some dill I had in the refrigerator. This white borscht didn’t have the look of a classic borscht, for obvious reasons, but the flavor was out of this world, with a broth that was rich and sweet. I’d never tasted beets that were so sweet and delicious. I wish I’d had beets like that when I was a kid—I would have learned to love them about eighteen years earlier than I did. The next day Michelle took the fresh horseradish and prepared it. It’s definitely the most potent horseradish either of us has come across. We’ve been making the most of it, putting it on sandwiches, serving it with all kinds of meals, making hors d’oeuvres with it. Two weeks later we found yet another use for it…

Of the side dishes that we made to accompany last Sunday’s leg of lamb [Note: story and recipe to follow], the highlight was definitely the following:

Horseradish Mashed Potatoes

1 1/2 pounds potatoes, washed
1/3 c. freshly grated horseradish
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 c. heavy cream
3 Tbsp. butter
black pepper

Boil the potatoes in water and salt until tender. Drain.
Grate horseradish, keeping eyes as far away from the grater as possible, and add lemon juice right away.
Crush potatoes with a masher, add horseradish, cream, 2 Tbsp. butter, salt and pepper to taste. Mash until desired consistency is reached.
Heat remaining Tbsp. of butter in a medium pot, add potatoes, cover, place over medium heat, and stir until they are served.

Serves 6 as a side dish.

Note: we used table cream instead of heavy cream and it turned out perfectly fine.

(This recipe comes from The Cook and the Gardener by Amanda Hesser)


Monday, November 22, 2004


Odge's on Damen
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

I hadn’t been to Chicago in years (10 of ‘em, actually). Both of the times I’d been there I was very much a vegetarian. I’d eaten really well, but my diet had consisted of Swedish breakfasts and Ethiopian, Mexican, and Polish dinners. I’d never had two of the most famous contributions the city of Chicago has made to the world of food: the Italian beef sandwich and the Chicago-style hot dog. I still haven’t had an Italian beef sandwich (not enough time), but I finally had my first Chicago dogs.

To be honest, I didn’t even really know anything about Chicago-style dogs the first times I was there—I was unaware of the myth. I only began to get a sense of Chicago’s hot dog culture a little later when my dear friend Cathy came back from visiting her friend Cherry. Cherry was a born-and-bred Chicagoan, and she knew the city inside-out. When Cathy came to check out the town Cherry insisted on a trip out to Superdawg®, in spite of Cathy’s vegetarianism. Cathy was so impressed she got me a Superdawg® box and sent it to me in Virginia when she got back. The box was covered with all kinds of crazy images of an anthropomorphized Superdawg™, including one of “Maurie” (yes, he’s got a name) lounging on a chaise longue. The text waxed poetic on the Superdawg™ and its attributes, and it encouraged its reader to check out Superdawg’s® legendary Whoopskidawg®, too. I was starting to get the picture.

Now Superdawg® claims that its namesake sandwich isn’t a wiener, a frankfurter, or a red hot—in other words, it isn’t your average Chicago-style dog—but its wide assortment of “trimmings” are common to the variety . Superdawg’s® sandwiches come with “golden mustard, tangy piccalilli, kosher dill pickle, chopped Spanish onions, and a memorable hot pepper.” I haven’t come across a Chicago-style dog with piccalilli yet—most come with a cucumber relish, and in many cases it’s Day-Glo, for some reason—but then I wasn’t lucky enough to make it to Superdawg®. The other features of a Superdawg™ that are typical across Chicagoland are the steamed poppy seed bun and the beef dog—Superdawg® claims theirs is a pure beef dog (“no pork, no veal, no cereal, no filler”).

Superdawg® might very well set the standard when it comes to Chicago-style dogs, but probably the most famous version comes from Wrigley Field. The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council places Wrigley Field as the #3 “hot dog eating stadium” in the nation (sales approaching 1.5 million per annum), in spite of Wrigley Field’s small size (capacity: 39,558). The distinctiveness of the Windy City-style dog is given much of the credit for these astronomical numbers. The Food Network™ provides the recipe below for their awkwardly named Wrigley Field Chicago-Style Grill Cart Hot Dog, but their inclusion of catsup, mild banana peppers (as opposed to hot peppers), and grilled onions calls their recipe into question:

Hot dogs and Buns:
All beef hot dogs, as needed
Poppy seed buns, as needed

Wrigley-Style Toppings:
Grilled sliced onions, as needed
Diced tomatoes, as needed
Mild banana peppers, needed
Sweet relish, as needed
Catsup, as needed
Mustard, as needed
Celery salt, as needed

Grill the hot dogs, transfer them to buns, and top according to your tastes.

Wrigley opened in 1914 and they most certainly started serving Chicago-style dogs from day 1. The Chicago dog with “the works” had become both a local and a national sensation some 20 years earlier when it was first introduced at the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893—by 1914 the Chicago-style dog was synonymous with the Windy City. According to Vienna® Beef—the most ubiquitous of Chicago beef hot dogs—the Chicago-style came into being, “when two young immigrants brought their frankfurter recipe from Austria-Hungary to [the] Chicago's World Fair.” These two strangely anonymous characters started serving their “pure beef frankfurters in a steamed bun with yellow mustard, bright green relish, chopped onion, tomato wedges, a kosher pickle spear, sport peppers and a dash of celery salt”—this was the first time most attendees had had a sausage served to them on a long bun. The classic formula for the Chicago-style had been established, and their invention—the hot dog—became an American obsession. Too bad the Chicago-style stopped being the national norm a long time ago. Here in Montreal, you can find “un hot dog steamé” at nearly every greasy spoon in town, but you’ve got to go to a place like La Charcuterie Hongroise to get a decent sausage on a decent bun with some decent toppings.

I had a few Chicago-styles this past week. My favorite were the “charred” “Red Hots,” and, with the exception of tomato slices (much too anemic this time of year), I liked them “run through the garden”: mustard, diced onion, relish, hot peppers, a pickle spear, and some celery salt. A cacophony of flavors, to be sure, but one appropriate for a big town with broad shoulders like Chicago.


Thursday, November 18, 2004

Couscous Casablancaise

My parents flew into town in October and I had this couscous ready and waiting for them. They loved it. This recipe is "very simple, very easy" (as our friend Chef Tell used to say)--too easy to be a real couscous--but it's got lots and lots of flavor and is very satisfying. On cold and grey days like today, where the apartment never gets that afternoon sun we depend on in the late fall and winter, it really has a way of warming up the house (not to mention your weary bones).

6 cups water
8 saffron threads, crushed
1 tsp ground ginger
15 sprigs italian parsley
20 sprigs cilantro
2 tomatoes cut into 1 inch cubes
4 celery stalks, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small turnip, peeled and chopped
1 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 2 inch chunks
4 carrots, peeled and cut into 3 inch sticks
2 cups canned chick peas
salt and pepper
2 tbs butter
2 cups instant couscous
1/2 cup raisins

In a large soup pot over medium heat combine water, saffron, ginger, garlic, parsley, cilantro, tomatoes, celery, squash, carrots, and turnip. Cover and cook until the vegetables are crisp-tender, 15-20 minutes. Reduce to simmer. Add chick peas. Season with salt and pepper.

In a large saucepan, combine 2 cups of broth from the soup pot and the butter. Bring to a low boil. Remove from heat and add the couscous. Stir to blend. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Transfer couscous to a large bowl. Fluff it with a fork to break up any lumps. Make a bed of couscous on a large serving platter. With a slotted spoon remove the vegetables from the broth arranging them on top of and around the couscous. Sprinkle with 1 cup of the hot broth and garnish with raisins. Serve immediately with extra hot broth and harissa (or some other kind of hot sauce) on the side.

Fried merguez sausage makes a fine addition to this couscous, if you're lucky enough to live somewhere where good merguez sausage is available. Montreal is definitely one of those places.

(adapted from a recipe in North Africa: the Vegetarian Table by Kitty Morse)


Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Pizza in Marseilles

My sister called me the other day from San Francisco. She’d been rereading Saveur’s “Saveur 100” issue from earlier this year (Jan./Feb. 2004) when she came across #37, entitled “SECOND BEST PIZZA IN THE WORLD.” There, the editors claim that the second best pizza in the world is produced in a restaurant in Nice called Le Safari (apparently they’d already written that the world’s best pizza is made in Naples in their July/August 1995 issue). The only reason this is of significance to us is because in September my sister and I spent two days in Nice as part of a little French vacation we had. Days before we made it down to Mediterranean coast, we were in Paris having dinner with my long lost friend Pari. Pari had just spent several weeks in Nice taking a French language course and when she heard we were thinking of going to Nice she gave us all her best recommendations, all her hottest tips (what walks to take, where to find the best ice cream, what Mediterranean day cruise to take, etc.). One of her strongest recommendations involved a restaurant called (you guessed it) Le Safari. She made us promise that we’d go there. She told us it was THE BEST.

Well, a few days later we found ourselves in Nice. We were only there for two days and we had no shortage of excellent food experiences while we were there, so we didn’t exactly feel like we missed out on anything [note: our hot tips for Nice and Marseilles will be appearing soon--ed], but, to be honest, we only made a half-hearted attempt to find Le Safari (I’m sorry, Pari). You see, two things came up: 1) we were never so crazy about a restaurant named Le Safari; 2) we found the street (we thought) that Le Safari was located on and it struck us as being tourist hell. We did look, but we never actually found it, and when we didn’t, we didn’t sweat it.

Fast-forward two months later, and my sister’s leafing through a back issue of Saveur, when—what does she discover? Not only is Le Safari recommended but it serves THE SECOND BEST PIZZA IN THE WORLD.

Oh well…

Like I said, I’d feel a lot worse if we hadn’t had such great meals while we were in Nice… and if we hadn’t discovered THE FIRST BEST PIZZA IN THE WORLD a few days earlier—in Marseilles.

We had traveled to Nice via Marseilles, and actually my sister and I liked Marseilles so much that we ended up spending an extra day there (and thus one less day in Nice). We were impressed by the town’s sense of mystery, its wonderful architecture, and its energy, but one of the reasons we were so taken by Marseilles certainly had to do with the dinner we had there on our first night. We’d arrived in Marseilles in the early afternoon, and after check-in at our hotel, we made our way down to the Vieux Port for lunch, then spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening drifting through Le Panier, just to the north of the port. We wandered the crooked streets and alleyways, took photographs, visited La Charité and other landmarks, and then found ourselves in a lovely café on Place Daviel. We had tea and wrote postcards and then decided to walk back downtown to do some shopping and find some dinner. Not far along our way (maybe only 500m), between Place Daviel and Place Mazeau, a couple of blocks north of the Quai du Port, we came across a vending truck that had attracted a rather animated crowd. We both know from experience that some of the best eats in North America are to be had out of similar trucks, so we decided to check it out. We weren’t sure what kind of specialty we’d find there, but we certainly weren’t expecting pizza. That’s right, pizza. The truck had a staff of two: a young woman who was taking the orders, boxing pizzas, dealing with the exchange of money, and handing over the pizzas to the truck’s eager patrons, and a man who was busily making pizzas as fast as he could. The dough was being kneaded and rolled out fresh, every pizza was being made to order, and each and every one was being baked in the truck’s relatively small wood-burning oven. We could tell this place was the real deal, and we promptly placed an order for a slice (it was still a little early for dinner). Five minutes later we were enjoying a piping-hot piece of the best pizza I’ve ever tasted—no cheese, just an amazing tomato sauce made with the freshest tomatoes and seasoned with herbes de Provence, a single slice of anchovy, and a truly incredible thin crust. That was it. One slice simply wouldn’t do. We promptly decided to race into town, find ourselves a bottle of water and a bottle of red wine, and hustle back for an entire pizza pie. An hour later we were back at the pizza truck, and 30 minutes after that we were sitting on a bench by the water of the old port drinking our bottle of wine and having our perfect Marseillaise-style pizza (“moitié-moitié”: half with cheese, half without). Ten minutes later we were done, and it was so good we almost went right back for a second one. We knew we’d be hard-pressed to ever find such a good pizza again. Then we talked about the logistics of running our own wood-fired pizza truck back in North America…


Monday, November 15, 2004

Edible Gold

The Week of Wonders Continues: Saffron Chicken

Last month’s Saveur magazine (October, 2004) had an article entitled Fragrant Feasts of Lucknow with incredible pictures of delicious looking Indian food. I was especially dazzled by the gold and silver leaf used to decorate the food, and swore I needed some in my pantry. I am still without this luxury item, but you don’t need it for this Saffron Chicken, which is naturally golden. It will give off a wonderful glow on your dinner table and is definitely worth the many steps it takes to make. Count on at least 3 1/2 hours between starting the preparation and setting it on the table. Don’t worry, about 2 hours of this is cooking time.


I have to admit, I still feel a bit strange about Indian meat dishes. This might seem like a strange statement given the highly omnivorous character of An Endless Banquet so far, but I was a vegetarian for 10 years and Indian was one of my favorite cuisines during that period for good reason. I still don’t even really think about eating meat when I go out to my favorite Indian restaurants—the vegetarian options can be so fantastic. The specialty of the house at our favorite Indian restaurant, Malhi Sweets [note: more on Malhi Sweets at a later date], is lamb, so we tried it one time and it was really good, but, personally, I still preferred the Malai Kofta and the Vegetable Korma. In any case, when last month’s issue of Saveur came out, I, too, was blown away by the article on the cuisine of Lucknow and its rich history, and I admired all the incredible recipes, including all the chicken and lamb dishes, but I gravitated towards the smoked eggplant dish. That was the dish that I actually thought about making. It was M. who really drew my attention to the Saffron Chicken. I thank her for pointing me in the right direction. This was a brilliant recipe—the chicken came out of the oven absolutely succulent and the sauce was to die for. After dinner and dessert our party moved on to a local watering hole. I came back in at about 2 A.M. just a little tipsy with a replenished appetite and I devoured what remained of the sauce with what remained of the garlic pitas. Heaven.


Murgh Zafrani
(saffron chicken)
Serves 4-6

1 1/4 cup ghee
1 medium red onion, peeled and sliced into 1/4” pieces
8 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3” piece ginger, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup raw unsalted cashews
1/4 cup charoli nuts
1 cup whole yogurt
2 Tbsp. clotted cream
2 Tbsp. heavy cream
2 tsp. cardamom, ground and sifted
1 1/4 tsp. kashmiri chile powder
1/2 tsp. ground mace
1 4-5 lb. chicken, skinned, rinsed, and cut into 10 pieces
1 1/2 tsp. saffron, crushed
1 Tbsp. kewra (screw pine water)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

Heat 1 cup of the ghee in a small heavy pot. Fry onions in 2 or 3 batches, stirring often, until onion is dark brown, but not burnt. Place on paper towels to drain. Chop and place in a blender. With blender running, add 6 tbsp. water and form a paste. Place in a large casserole and set aside.

Put garlic and ginger in the blender, and with motor running, add 6 tbsp. water until a paste forms. Place in casserole. Put nuts in blender and with motor running, add 1/3 cup water. Add to casserole.

Add yogurt, clotted cream, heavy cream, 2 tsp. salt, cardamom, chile powder, mace and the remaining ghee. Stir until combined. Add chicken and mix together until well coated. Mix saffron and pine or plain water and let sit 10 min. Add to casserole.

Cover pot with tin foil, set lid on top, and crumple foil around lid to form a tight seal. Place in oven and bake 1 3/4 -2 hours, until chicken is tender. Transfer chicken to a serving plate and strain sauce through a sieve, discarding solids. Season to taste with salt and spoon over chicken.

We served our Murgh Zafrani with Eggplant Masala, basmati rice, and garlic pitas (the next best thing to naan).

Note: We made three changes to the recipe out of necessity. We were unable to find the charoli nuts, kashmiri chile powder, and the kewra. We replaced the charoli nuts with the same amount of pistachios, the kashmiri chile with a bit less of cayenne, and the kewra with an equal amount of plain water. In spite of these changes the recipe turned out famously, although were we to do it over again (and we most certainly will—hopefully soon!) we might omit the pistachios and just double the cashews.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

The Czech-Slovak Bazaar, pt. 1

The booty: a selection of pastries from the Czech-Slovak Bazaar
Originally uploaded by ajkinik.

The Czech-Slovak Bazaar

Bazaar culture is a huge part of living in Montreal. Montreal is a city that is literally littered with churches (remember, this was the town about which Samuel Clemens once quipped, “This is the first time I was ever in a city where you couldn't throw a brick without breaking a church window”), and nearly every single one of them—Catholic, Protestant, and otherwise—holds a bazaar at some point in time during the course of the year, with most occurring in the fall. Most everyone has a favorite one, and we’ve got a few of our own, but one of our absolute favorites is the Czech-Slovak Bazaar (formerly the Czechoslovak Bazaar) that takes place every November at St. Ignatius Church (4455 Broadway W.) in Notre-Dame-de-Grace (NDG).

Montreal still has a rather large population of Eastern European extraction, although many of the Poles, Hungarians, Yugoslavs, and others who came here beginning in the late 19th century relocated to points west (especially Toronto and other parts of Ontario) over the decades. It’s safe to say that these days Montreal doesn’t have much of a Czech community or a Slovak community, but that doesn’t stop those that do live here from holding a bazaar once a year, and when you visit this bazaar you suddenly find yourself immersed in a loose-knit, largely elderly Czech scene (the Czech presence far outweighs any Slovak presence) you never knew existed. Show up at 10:55, minutes before the doors open, and you’ll get the false impression that this scene is bigger than it actually is, as you’ll find dozens and dozens of Czechs (primarily) milling about out front, jostling one another, swearing underneath their breaths (in Czech, of course, as they’ve all gotten used to no one ever being able to understand them when they do so in the outside world), trying to establish pole position so they can get first dibs on the pastry table. You’d think you’d need a larger community for there to be this kind of adrenaline rush, but, no, this is the Montreal Czech community in its entirety. They’re all like this, and that’s just part of the charm.

Time stands still inside the doors of St. Ignatius. For one thing, many of the attendees sport fashions that would not have been out of place on the streets of Prague circa 1982. The look can only be described as an Eastern Bloc parody of Western high style, with absolutely no ‘80s-retro-chic irony at play. For another, every year the stands look exactly the same, the vendors look exactly the same, and the attendees look exactly the same—in fact, you recognize a number of people you haven’t seen since last year’s festivities. One of our favorites is the late-40s-ish tall, blonde Adonis figure who sells the brand-name-knock-off auto care products (windshield wiper fluid, motor oil, etc.) at cut-rate prices. Another is the barrel-chested 50s-ish gentleman who helps clear the tables. This year he showed up wearing a pair of Nike Air Flight Elites™ and a knit belt that read “El Charro.”

There are always decent books and baubles to be had, even if the selection is slim, but the biggest reason to visit is the food. One corner of the room features savory Czech treats: steamed Czech sausages with mustard, potato salad, schnitzel, potato pancakes, and best of all, chlebicky. If you’ve been to the Czech Republic and missed out on chlebicky—as many people have—you’ve really missed something. Every family has their own method for making them, and they’re brought out for any kind of special occasion, but you can also find them at the many beer, sausage, and prepared meal eateries that dot a city like Prague. What exactly are chlebicky? Well, they’re just open-faced sandwiches, really, but open-faced sandwiches made with an attention to detail oftentimes lacking outside of the Czech Republic.

Our favorite chlebicky at the Czech-Slovak Bazaar is constructed as follows:
1 slice of bread (preferably a light rye)
1 thin layer of country-style pate
1 slice of ham, folded in half
1 slice of salami, shaped into a horn
1 slice of radish
1 sliver of pickled cucumber
1 sliver of red bell pepper
1 sliver of green bell pepper
1 slice of hardboiled egg

As good as the chlebicky are, the real focus of attention at this bazaar is the mammoth sweets table. There you’ll find a vast array of kolaches, including kremrole, babovky, and oriskovy dorty, stretching across a huge, long group of tables in front of the stage, where contributors are always busily trying to put the finishing touches on more pastries so that they can replenish the supply. You choose a box (S, M, or L) and ask the staff to fill it up with whatever your heart desires (This year I was transfixed by the sight of one of the staff members wearing one of those ethnic pride t-shirts in the “Kiss me, I’m Irish” vein. The woman is a fixture at these gatherings that we recognized from years past, of course, but this year she wore one of those big, bold t-shirts with the huge lettering that provides a “humorous” definition of a particular term. The term in question was “Czech,” and the “definition” read that a Czech was someone of [Czechoslovakian tricolored flag graphic] descent, who was known for generosity, “fun,” kolaches, dumplings, and so on. So far pretty banal, but in addition, for some reason the sleeve read “Las Vegas.” It made it harder to focus on the desserts, harder to order). One of my favorites this year was a chocolate icing-covered carrot cake—it was extremely moist and had raspberry jam spread between its two layers. Delicious. We grabbed our usual assortment of Czech treats and made our way out of the madness that is the Czech-Slovak Bazaar, only to hit some more (“much more civilized”) bazaars in Westmount, before going home for tea and kolaches.


Pictured: Babovka (center), Morovske kolache (front, center), tvarohove pirosky (with dark plum tops), odpalovane "puffs" (cream puffs) -- for some reason my parents can't remember what they're called (!).


The Czech-Slovak Bazaar, pt. 2, or The Box the Kolaches Arrived In

The box they arrived in
Originally uploaded by ajkinik.

Most everything's a throwback at the Czech-Slovak Bazaar. Check out the boxes they pack their sweets in.


Saturday, November 13, 2004

La Brunoise, the whole story

One of the drawbacks of quitting your full-time office job in order to enroll in a full-time pastry school program is the sudden lack of disposable income. Frivolous purchases go out the window. One of the only indulgences left is food. OK, food and kitchen stuff. Both fall under the category of “research.” Trips to restaurants make for great research, but unfortunately they’re one of the first things to go. When you do go out, you’ve gotta make it count, right? That’s exactly what we did last Thursday. With dearly missed guests in town from Vancouver and a red-hot restaurant sitting at the top of my list of research restaurants, the decision was easy (well, easier). We were going to La Brunoise. (How “red hot” are we talking about? Well, we called early this week to make a reservation and got told La Brunoise was booked solid for the next few months. We’d come up with a “plan B” for Thursday night, when suddenly, on Thursday afternoon, we got a call from the management telling us they had room for us “if we were still interested.”) That night, Anthony and I set out into in the wintery weather to meet up with our party at Kazi’s, then we walked the remaining three blocks down to the restaurant.
As we walked in I had one of those “are we in the right place?” moments. The clientele was older, much older, than I had expected, and they were clearly moneyed. La Brunoise has attracted nearly as much attention for its young, hip owners/chefs as its food, I assumed the crowd would follow suit. Our rag-tag party (artist/curator, rock star, linguist/record collector, journalist, pastry student, radio host/musician, PhD candidate, and a federal employee/electronic musician) definitely stood out, but we got a warm, accommodating reception (we’d showed up with an extra guest), so we sat down and made ourselves at home.
The menu at Brunoise is prix fixe, with entrée and dessert included. We picked a red wine from the Pays d’Oc region and an Italian white from the impressive wine list, and a few bottles of sparkling water to quench our thirst.
The amuse bouche was a cup of roasted red onion puree with an ile flotante a la basilique. The puree was delicious, but the ile flotante was the show-stopper—light and airy, with the toasted basil giving it a bit of crunch.
My entrée, and Sydney’s, was asparagus with mushrooms, chevre, brioche and vinaigrette. I know ‘tis not the season for asparagus—and considering La Brunoise announces itself as a “market bistro,” its inclusion on the menu seemed rather strange—but I got tempted nonetheless and I was not disappointed. It was perfectly done, and the chevre and brioche made for excellent accompaniments. Tim, Dan and Patti got the mussels bourride: a beautiful seafood stew with cream and saffron that came in a lovely bowl. Kazi and Anthony had the shallot tartlet with roasted red peppers and romesco sauce. It was fine, but perhaps too fine for an entrée—it might have been better suited as an amuse bouche. Susana got the air-cured duck with beets and vinaigrette. In my opinion, it might have been the standout. I can’t for the life of me remember what Dan got as his entree.
No one can forget that he got the sweetbreads as his main, though. I heard they were fabulous. They never made it to my end of the table. Served with Brunoise bacon and other things I couldn’t see through the throng of people crowding his plate. Dan had never had sweetbreads, but Tim convinced him that he couldn’t go wrong. He finished his plate a convert. Sydney and I got the magret de canard, with candied orange, potatoes and caramelized fennel. In short, unbelievable. Every bite was a pleasure. Kazi and Anthony got the pan-seared scallops with eggplant and roasted garlic-stuffed tortellini and chanterelles. Susana, Tim and Patti got the roasted salmon with lobster glaze, gnocchi and crab foam. An excellent choice. The salmon was artfully prepared and perfectly flaky. The gnocchi were wonderfully delicate.
And for dessert? Four of us chose the panna cotta with basil syrup and passion fruit seeds. We were told it was the restaurant’s signature dessert. For a restaurant that prides itself on its avant-garde presentations, the panna cotta was perhaps boldest statement of the evening. Served in a Mexican earthenware cup, it brought together the restaurant at its most abstract (the panna cotta with its bright green basil syrup and its multi-colored gelatinous passion fruit seeds) and its most rustic (the cup). The texture of the panna cotta was beyond perfect. The basil was refreshing and cleansing, while the seeds gave some texture to the otherwise billowy soft cream. Kazi and Sydney didn’t like it (!) for some reason. Most others pronounced it the best dessert of the lot. Not that the others weren’t comparable. Dan and Susana got the chocolate tart (the darkest I’ve ever had) with white chocolate ice cream and milk chocolate pot de crème. A crowd-pleaser. Sydney got the cardamom cheesecake with sesame tuile. She was disappointed with it, though others enjoyed it. Anthony got the caramelized tarte au citron with raspberry sorbet and candied lemon. Awesome. The sorbet was perfect, as was the tart.
Three and a half hours later we headed back out into the chilly late-night air. The host had been a bit worried at the beginning of the meal when he seated us because he’d had to squeeze four of us on one side of the table (Remember? We’d showed up with an extra guest.). He needn’t have. Our party thrived off the coziness and it also made our flagrant taste-swapping that much easier. The conversation sparkled and we enjoyed our meal at La Brunoise thoroughly.
Go, if you can. Bring dear friends. Enjoy yourself.


Thursday, November 11, 2004

Ooh La! La! La Brunoise!

It's late. More on La Brunoise tomorrow...


Wednesday, November 10, 2004

David and Bens™, pt. 1

Originally uploaded by ajkinik.

A year and a half ago, David Thomson came into town for a couple of rare public appearances. His new edition of the Biographical Dictionary of Film had just been released to yet another generation of rave reviews. The Montreal International Film Festival had decided to celebrate its release by presenting Mr. Thomson with an honorary award.

During his sojourn in town Librairie Paragraphe hosted one of Mr. Thomson’s engagements—a lecture/question & answer session/book signing. The MIFF was typically tight-lipped about Mr. Thomson’s presence in town. I was working the festival and the only reason I found out Mr. Thomson was around was because my friend Paul, the events guru at Paragraphe, called me to tip me off. To my knowledge, the local press completely missed him. Anyway, I promptly got on the horn with our friends at Automatic Vaudeville™ and, together with M, we made a date of it.

Mr. Thomson was brilliant. It was easily one of the best book signings I’ve ever attended, and as a veteran of a half a dozen bookstores, I’ve seen my share. His talk was loose, lucid, and witty. He covered an enormous amount of territory without notes but somehow managed to reel it in. There was a fair bit of cinephilia-is-dead melancholy to Mr. Thomson’s comments, a fair bit of nostalgia, but between our party and the aging-hippy-revival-house-cinema-owning couple who’d come up from Vermont to hear him speak, it’s safe to say he had a receptive audience for this angle. Mr. Thomson has hardly totally given up on the cinema, though (his work on the New Biographical Dictionary of Film is testament to this on some level), and any sense of loss was tempered by his clear enthusiasm for the cinematic experience, even if this cinematic experience has been greatly eroded over the decades. The fact that Mr. Thomson lives in the Bay Area and has access to the Pacific Film Archive, the Castro, et al. probably makes it a bit easier to weather the storm.

We left our encounter with Mr. Thomson charmed and energized, with our signed copies of the Biographical Dictionary, Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles, and Suspects in tow, and we made our way outside—but we found ourselves incapable of leaving the premises entirely. Instead we milled around outside and peeped through Paragraphe’s bay windows jealously as Paul had a one-on-one with Mr. Thomson. Then we watched Mr. Thomson grab his things and just walk out the door. Just like that. We’d been joking/talking about how great it would be to take him out for lunch, but we figured he’d get an invite from the Paragraphe brass, or that he’d get picked up by some film festival honcho, or something… But he just walked out solo. We deliberated for a minute—just long enough for Mr. Thomson to get a block and a half away—and then we ran after him like a gaggle of schoolkids. “Uh, Mr. Thomson?… Hi. Remember us? From the bookstore? We were just wondering…if you had any lunch plans?” It was already nearly 3:00pm by this time, but he accepted anyway.

Now, the problem was, where to go? Montreal is a great food town for a city of its size, but one of the tragedies of living in Montreal is that downtown Montreal (the part that stands above famed The Underground City, the only part, aside from le Vieux Montréal, that most tourists ever see, unless, of course, they’re really funky and they happen to make it to le Plateau Mont-Royal) is a wasteland when it comes to good food. (Which finally gets me to the point of this story.) With limited options at hand, we opted for an “old classic”—an “old classic” that also had the advantage of being a mere 500 ft. away: Bens™.

Bens (that’s right, no apostrophe), at 96 years old, is one of Montreal’s oldest, most venerable restaurants. It’s even older than the Montreal Pool Room (1912), for Christ’s sake [note: more on the MPR later]. The problem is, it’s venerated primarily for its architecture (late deco), its interior design (50s-era diner), and the memories it provokes in those old enough to remember its heyday (my Dad always likes to tell the story of the night he came across Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald sharing a late-night meal at Bens after a gig, sometime in the early 60s). It’s safe to say that Bens has seen better days. Its “wall of fame” is still impressive, if a bit faded, but every other aspect of Bens has gone downhill (a fact attested to by the signage currently to be seen out front). The food (including their “famous” smoked meat [note: more on real Montreal smoked meat later]) is run-of-the-mill and overpriced. The service is spotty. The ambience? Morose. But it still has that great décor, and it was close, so we went.


David and Bens™, pt. 2

Originally uploaded by ajkinik.

Suffice to say, Mr. Thomson got a laughable impression of Bens. The décor scored points, as we were sure it would, but then it came time to order. Between the 6 of us, we chose 3-4 different items from the lengthy menu. Our waiter (the only one working the floor at the time, where, once, a veritable fleet of black and white clad waiters had operated) listened to me ask for a grilled cheese sandwich before informing us that the kitchen was closed (!), as the cook was taking his lunch break (!!). "So, what does that mean," we asked. And we were told that it meant the only thing available was the “famous” smoked meat sandwich. Mr. Thomson, savvily, asked, “Why? Where do the smoked meat sandwiches come from?” Smoked meat sandwiches, the waiter replied, come out of counter-side steaming units and not the kitchen, and therefore are the domain of the wait staff and not the kitchen. We promptly ordered 6 “famous” smoked meat sandwiches (what else were we going to do?) with a few dill pickles, and 6 soft drinks and got back to our conversation.

An hour later, we’d had plenty more quality time with Mr. Thomson and we found him perfectly happy to discuss nearly any aspect of the film biz. Strangely, there we were sitting with one of the world’s leading authorities on the studio system, but D., M., and S. froze in his presence and failed to tell him about their own “hi-class” film studio [Dear Mr. Thomson (and anyone else, for that matter), for more information about Automatic Vaudeville we'd like to direct you to the following "hi-class" website: Automatic Vaudeville Studios--ed]. Instead, S., poor guy, confronted Mr. Thomson with a film he'd been wrestling with all summer: “What did you think of The Hulk?"

Mr. Thomson trumped us on the bill—the idea had been to take him out, to thank him. He told us he was flattered we’d asked him out (in spite of the poor food, I guess) and that it was his pleasure. We said our goodbyes, and he walked away—again.

I went home and started leafing through my newly signed copy of The New Biographical Dictionary of Film.


Monday, November 08, 2004

The Sunday Chicken Club, vol. 1

Originally uploaded by ajkinik.

A great success, hosted by our friends Hermine, Gabe and Val.
The Sunday Chicken Club is a mutation of the failed Weekday Dinner Club which didn't even make it to its first dinner. I think there are a lot of clubs around right now, due, in part, to the coming winter... And the fact that certain people were away, and others are now away, and time has a way of passing better when the days are full of things.
Hermine made a lovely Poulet aux 40 gousses d'ail, with mashed potatoes, roasted carrots, and salad. The chicken was perfect: tender and juicy. Everything was delicious. Val's mousse au chocolat was excellent, even if she claimed "she (the mousse) needed to rest a bit longer in the cold." There was not a smidge left.
I think this is a fine christening to the Sunday Chicken Club. I'm sure the cats can't wait until we host.


The Sunday Chicken Club, vol. 1, cont'

Originally uploaded by ajkinik.

I didn't think the SCC had anything to do with any other pre-existing clubs, failed or otherwise. The idea was a simple one: a Sunday chicken makes for a nice ritual. Michelle seemed to agree with me on this one, and so did Hermine. Jokes about an SCC came later.

In attendance: me, Michelle, Lisa, Annie, Gabe, Hermine, Val, and Lucy. Jesse and Sarah came later for dessert.

On the stereo: Vashti Bunyan and Joanna Newsom (both of which generated animated discussions), Michael Hurley.


Fèves au Lard

Saturday we warmed up the house with a batch of baked beans. Mom was in attendance, so we could have used the family recipe, but we opted to try a new recipe. Our family recipe always has some tomato in it and it also usually includes maple syrup. Mom has also taken to replacing the salt pork with ham hocks, or even going vegetarian. This time we went traditional. Serving ketchup aux fruits (usually just called "ketchup" or "ketchup maison") with fèves au lard is a must in Quebec. No self-respecting cabane a sucre meal would be complete without it. We highly recommend it.

2 lbs. dried navy beans
1/2 lb. salt pork
2 tsp. dried mustard
1 cup fancy molasses
4 tbs. bourbon
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Soak beans overnight in a large pot. Drain. Put soaked beans in a large pot with enough water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a simmer, then turn down to medium and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Drain beans, reserving the cooking liquid, and transfer them to a large bean pot or casserole.

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Place salt pork in a small pot, add water to cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Drain the pork and add to the beans. In a small bowl, dissolve mustard in 2 tsp. warm water. Add dissolved mustard, molasses, and bourbon to beans. Season with pepper and mix gently but thoroughly.

Pour enough of the warm reserved cooking liquid (about 3 cups) into the bean pot so that the beans are moist but not floating. Reserve remaining cooking liquid. Cover pot and bake, checking occasionally to ensure that beans are not drying out, adding reserved cooking liquid as needed. Cook until beans are soft and the bean liquor has turned rich and hearty. This will take 5 hours, or so, although we recommend baking them for 7-8 hours if at all possible. The beans will be that much tastier; your house will be that much more aromatic.

Remove cover, gently stir beans, and return to oven. Bake uncovered until cooking liquid thickens into a sauce. Season to taste with salt (you'll need very little salt as the salt pork will have provided the beans with plenty of salty flavor). Serve with a crusty loaf of bread, ketchup aux fruits, and a salad. My family has always sworn by coleslaw.

(adapted from John Thorne's "Down-East Baked Beans" as found in Serious Pig (1996) and Saveur Cooks Authentic American (1998))


Pho Bac 97

Originally uploaded by ajkinik.

Pho Bac 97 is Michelle's favorite for "soupe tonkinoise." We were only a few short hours from having dinner at Hermine and Gabe's, but we hadn't eaten since morning, and, besides, we had a good excuse...


Pho #7

Originally uploaded by ajkinik.

To get out of the rain...

Sunday, November 07, 2004

endless banquet vol. 1, no. 1

We'd finally done it. The endless banquet was underway.

Now, off to Chinatown.

A sieve before sunset.