Monday, November 28, 2005

3 - 0

Mmm!! by Ivan
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

Since we've been asked...

Many of you already know this, but our little sale at Expozine on Saturday went very well indeed. We can't be accused of having totally sold out this time around, but we came close. We showed up with just a shade over 100 jars of fine Švestka preserves, and when all was said and done we returned back home with one jar. So thank you to all of you who came out, said 'hello,' sampled our wares, and purchased a jar or two (or three, or four...). We had a wonderful time, and it was a thrill to be a part of this latest incarnation of Expozine. It's phenomenal how much they've grown in such a short period of time, and it was thrilling to be side-by-side with so much top-notch independent publishing and print work. We didn't have the time to bring along some of our own print projects--we were too busy whipping up batches of jam this time around, but if we get asked to take part in next year's show, LOOK OUT!--but we were lucky enough to have to our advertising genius, Ivan "I blow minds for a living" Marek-Cabral, along for the ride. Not only did Ivan unleash his formidable powers of persuasion on the assembled masses, but he also managed to sell and sign literally dozens of his original drawings simultaneously. It was nothing less than a command performance.

There's a pretty good chance we'll be doing another show (or two) in the upcoming weeks if you missed us on Saturday or need a refill. As always, we'll keep you up to date of any and all plans right here in these very, er, pages.


Sunday, November 27, 2005

Oranges and Lemons

"Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St Clement's!"
To his astonishment she capped the line:
'You owe me three farthings, say the bells of St Martin's,
When will you pay me? say the bells of Old Bailey -- '
--George Orwell, 1984

How is it that someone with quite a few pints of Czech blood but not an ounce of British blood in her winds up obsessing over an Anglo- Christmas? It's not that I've stopped coveting my mom's Czech cookies, it's not that I've turned my back on St. Nicholas Day or Ježíšek or anything, but the things I've gotten attached to over the last few Christmas seasons tend to be on the British side of things. I'd never had Christmas pudding until I made my own, in fact I used to scoff at the mere suggestion of Christmas pudding, but then it all started to make sense to me (fruits confits, alcohol, hard sauce--what's not to like?). I honestly can't imagine Christmas without it at this point, but more importantly I can't wait to make it.

This being the case, I have officially begun preparations for the coming holiday season. Having candied my orange and lemon peels, I've begun to create of list of how exactly they'll be deployed in the coming weeks:

mincemeat (a first)
panforte (another first)
Christmas pudding
pannetone (yet another first)

Along with preserves, cookies, and other confections, my schedule will be full until 2006. Let's hope things go off without a hitch. You can be sure that I'll be keeping you abreast of all the details.

Happy preparations.


Thursday, November 24, 2005

Wild Turkey!

With all the cooking we did today, there wasn't much time to sit and write, so we've dug into our archives...

Read closely though, friends, there's an important lesson to be learned from this one.

A Turkey Story, pt. 1

A Turkey Story, pt. 2

All the tension and suspense of a good Ambrose Bierce short story, but that nifty little surprise happy ending gets me every time.

Poor President Carter may have gone without, be we sure didn't. We just finished celebrating our annual Mile End American Expats Thanksgiving Day Extravaganza. Now it's time to roll into bed and dream of the hot turkey sandwiches we'll be having in the days to come.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of our friends south of the border, all you fellow expats who are here north of the border, and anyone else who cared to give thanks today.


Monday, November 21, 2005

Buy my preserves! pt. 2

quince-hazelnut preserve
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

Come one, come all! This Saturday only (November 26), stock up on a selection of our Švestka-brand preserves for the holidays.

On offer: cranberry-apple-spice butter, apple-walnut-calvados preserve, pear-vanilla-bourbon butter, apple-caramel preserve, quince-hazelnut preserve, about 10 other flavours, as well as a variety of sweet and savory preserves from our brand-new Janošik line, including Devil chutney and oignons confits. Get 'em while they're hot!

Our sale will be taking place at Expozine, 5035 St. Dominique, in a church basement between Laurier and St. Joseph, and we'll be there from 11-6.


Sunday, November 20, 2005

They're back!

The new Niukee
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.
Yes, friends, Restaurant Niukee is back in action. They now occupy a cute little location on Clark (1163, to be precise) just above René-Lévesque and they've added a few dishes to their bag of tricks, but, rest assured, the Kung Pao is just as tasty (and explosive) as ever.

Extra special thanks to "Scoop" Stastna for spotting the new Niu Kee exactly one day after they re-opened. Nice work!


Saturday, November 19, 2005

Louisiana Cajun Special No.1: Gumbo

Cajun Country
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

Jambalay’, crawfish pie, filé gumbo… Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou—Hank Williams

My Dad and I have a tradition of making seafood stews (cioppino, chowders, etc.) together that dates back a couple of decades now. From the time he pulled into town this time around we were dead-set on making gumbo. I wasn’t entirely sure why at the time, but once we drew up some plans I started to read up on gumbo (The Joy of Cooking, The Gourmet Cookbook, Saveur Cooks Authentic American, etc., etc.), and the more I read, the more I got fired-up. The point of no return, though, came when I finally got to the sections on Louisiana in John Thorne’s Serious Pig. Thorne devotes a rambling, nearly 100-page section of his book to Louisiana’s cuisine and the diasporic cultures that gave birth to it. In fact, he feels so strongly about this section that he titles it “THERE,” completing the grouping of “HERE,” his opening section on his home state of Maine, and “EVERYWHERE,” his closing section on food miscellany, that he uses to organize Serious Pig. A pull-quote on the back cover of the book has Leo Lerman of Gourmet commenting that, “John Thorne is simply the best writer about food in the country,” and Thorne’s chapters that make up “THERE” are an ideal introduction to just what a fine writer he truly is. Rarely have I come across someone who writes with such passion, honesty, insight, and understanding about a cuisine and its significance to the larger culture that encompasses it, and all this from a man who, at the time that he was writing (1996), claimed that he’d only spent a grand total of 30-odd days in Louisiana, and hadn’t actually set foot in Bayou Country in about a decade (!). My own very modest "Bayou Odyssey" began back when I was 13. That summer we drove across Louisiana as part of a Houston-Ft. Lauderdale road trip and it was the first time I had any exposure to Cajun culture of any sort. The landscape, the nondescript bayou diners that unexpectedly served amazing Cajun boudin, and especially the city of New Orleans--its architecture, its food (jambalaya, po' boy and muffuletta sandwiches, and a wonderfully spicy gumbo), and its incredible mélange of cultures--left quite an impression. Years later I returned to Louisiana and New Orleans on another road trip--this time rolling solo and making my approach from the north, from Memphis and northern Mississippi along Hwy. 61. I couldn't believe how beautiful the scenery was--exotic vines and flowers and birds everywhere you looked--as I crossed into Louisiana and headed towards Baton Rouge, and hours later when I finally arrived in New Orleans it felt like a homecoming of sorts...

As far as I’m concerned, the real attraction of gumbo has nothing to do with the showcase ingredients—the chicken, or seafood, or sausage, or okra, or what have you—it’s all about the roux. I’m attracted by cuisines that make the most of the simplest ingredients, and few cuisines have transformed such a practice into an underlying philosophy with such zest as the Cajuns. As Thorne explains:

Gumbo is the queen of Cajun cuisine, and the heart of gumbo is roux. This is a very touching and revealing thing. It means that the dearest thing to a Cajun cook—more than any other thing, more than crawfish or blue crab or oysters or shrimp or even rice—is a simple amalgam of flour and fat. The two are gently cooked until the raw taste of the flour is gone and the starch is broken down enough to absorb liquid without lumping. It is the first—and easiest—lesson in French sauce making.

Of course, there are some differences. The French make their roux most often with butter and sometimes with the flavorful fat skimmed out of a marmite. The Cajuns prefer lard for flavor or—more recently—vegetable oil for economy. They also claim the French don’t cook roux the way they do, to a burnished mahogany… but, of course, long, careful cooking has always been the way to make a good brown sauce.

What the French don’t do, however, is care as much about their roux as Cajuns do. So few French cooks possess any of the sense that Cajuns have of what a roux can be made to do, or of its fine gradations of texture, odor, and color, running from creamy pale to the smoky-flavored near-coal black (but not burned) roux that Paul Prudhomme claims is essential to perfect gumbo.

Even so—a whole cuisine based on brown sauce! A cuisine in miniature maybe, but still a cuisine…

Maybe my attraction to roux has something to do with the French-Canadian blood in me, because as Thorne explains, Gumbo is the product Acadian influences (roux, lard), African influences (its name, okra), West Indian influences (hot peppers), and Native American influences (gumbo filé, made from sassafras leaves). I love how slow-cooking things over a low heat can bring about transformations that border on the sublime. That’s why I love making things like French Onion Soup; and that’s why I love making a dark Cajun-style roux, letting that whole range of complex flavors (smoky and nutty, among other things) come to full fruition.

Early on, we’d decided that this gumbo of ours was going to be a seafood gumbo, one with shrimp, crab, and either oysters or clams. The problem with this is that Cajun seafood gumbo—like cioppino, clam chowder, bouillabaisse, and any one of a number of other seafood stews—was based on the premise that this seafood was cheap and plentiful (as apparently it still is in Cajun Country), as well as fresh. Following your standard seafood gumbo recipe in a city like Montreal can be cost-prohibitive, to say the least, which is why it’s important to remember that no self-respecting Cajun cook would actually follow a recipe in the first place and that gumbo is a dish that’s meant to be different every time, a dish that’s supposed to highlight the cook’s inventiveness, his or her ability to capitalize on what’s fresh and readily at hand. As Thorne describes things, this is a quality acquired from the very environment in which the Cajuns live, where the landscape, at once lush and forbidding, “has taught them to take nothing for granted, and they are always seeing familiar things freshly anew. A gumbo made one way today will not be made that way tomorrow, because a neighbor has come by with a basket of crabs, or because there is some chaurice to use or a chicken to kill, or simply because the cook is practicing an entirely different spell.” With this lesson in mind, we adapted our seafood gumbo recipe to keep it from getting astronomical in cost, and on day 2 we added some spicy homemade sausages that had been given to us by a friend to the gumbo to give it a different twist, as well as to stretch it out a bit further.

Another consideration had to do with whether or not to add okra to our gumbo. Personally, I really like okra, but the problem with okra is that it’s exceedingly hard to get good okra and I steadfastly refuse to cook with frozen okra. Most everyone who knows anything about gumbo knows that the name is derived from an African (Bantu, actually) word for okra. What many people don’t realize, though, is that the dish gumbo was apparently named after the consistency this dish gets from the addition of either okra or some other green vegetable with similar thickening properties. Many Acadians made a stop in the colony of Saint-Domingue—in many cases, in order to help construct the fortifications that would prove insufficient to stave off the slave revolt that turned Saint-Domingue into Haiti—and there they developed a taste for okra, and other greens of African origin, and hot peppers. When they finally got to la Belle Louisiane they found that okra was harder to come by in the Bayou, but that gumbo filé, a compound made of dried sassafras leaves gleaned from the local Choctaw Indians, gave the stew a very similar finish. Since that time Cajun gumbo has tended to contain okra, gumbo filé, or a combination of the two. That being the case, we opted for the gumbo filé-based version.

The last two considerations had to do with accompaniments. Like French Canada (until recently, in any case), French Louisiana is a beer-drinking culture. Not only is beer a near-essential part of enjoying eating a good gumbo, it’s also a nice way to enjoy preparing a gumbo. In fact, some die-hards make it a part of the very recipe, insisting that the length of time needed to make a proper Cajun roux has more to do with the length of time it takes one to drink 2 beers than it does with any set number of minutes. And secondly, good Cajun food deserves a good soundtrack. I’m not one of those types who’s Draconian about listening to the correct, culture-specific music with my dinners (“El Condor Pasa” with a Peruvian-style ceviche, for instance), but I do think it’s important to accompany your gumbo meal with music that swings, music you can dance to. Cajun culture is not a culture of “dinner music” after all. Myself, I’m pretty fond of old-time Cajun, so I like to listen to things like “Hee Haw Breakdown” by Nolan Cormier & The L.A. Aces, or “Hippy-Ti-Yo” by Joe Bonsall & The Orange Playboys.

Finally, it goes without saying that the effects of Katrina (and the gross mishandling of the emergency response to Katrina) were very much present as we prepared for this meal. And as I read the following passage in Serious Pig, the following words took on a whole new poignancy:

The only string attached to [the bounty that defines the bayou] is that none of it is guaranteed. For this is both a vulnerable and an injured land. It is most palpably vulnerable to weather, especially the hurricanes that sweep across it with terrifying violence and destruction, reshaping the very terrain. Cajuns tend to date their history in terms of hurricanes, rather than in terms of presidents or world events. Hurricanes have far more effect on their lives.

This meal was dedicated to the victims of the Katrina disaster.

Without any further ado...

Seafood Gumbo

3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup flour
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 green bell pepper
2 ribs celery
6 cups hot fish stock
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (or 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper + 1 fresh chili pepper, minced)
1 lb medium shrimp
12 pasta clams
1 lb lump crabmeat
1 scallion
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 tbsp gumbo filé powder

white rice, freshly cooked

Make a mahogany-brown roux over low heat. Thorne offers the following advice in order to get it just so:

Heat the [oil or lard] in a heavy cooking pot or a large cast-iron skillet. When the fat is hot, add the flour all at once, stirring or whisking quickly to combine it with the fat, smoothing out any persistent lumps with the back of a wooden spoon. Lower the flame and cook, stirring or whisking constantly. The roux will bubble and cast off a fine white foam and, after about 15 minutes, begin to caramelize. It takes about 45 minutes to reach a rich butterscotch color and almost an hour to turn deep mahogany—and become true Cajun roux.

It’s important not to hurry the process and to be careful that the stirring or whisking turns over the entire mixture. If any small black flecks appear, the roux is ruined. That batch must be discarded and the process repeated with new ingredients. (If not, the roux, even if the burned bits are removed, will retain a bitter, scorched taste.)

When the roux has just the right color, texture, and flavor, increase the heat to medium and add the onions, bell peppers, and celery to the roux. Cook until the vegetables become soft, about 15 minutes.

Add the stock to the roux and vegetable mixture in a thin, steady stream, making sure to stir constantly. Be sure not to add the stock too quickly or at too low of a temperature or the roux might separate on you. Add the salt and the cayenne and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1 hour.

Add the clams and cook until the clams have opened, about 2-3 minutes. Add the shrimp and crab and cook for another 3-5 minutes. Add the gumbo filé, stir, and let sit for 5 minutes. Stir in the scallions and the parsley and serve with cooked rice, bread, salad, and an assortment of hot sauces.

Feel free to improvise in whatever way you see fit, keeping in mind that the essentials here are the Cajun roux, the “holy trinity” of onion/celery/bell pepper, and the gumbo filé.

Serves 6-8 very generously.

[adapted from a recipe in Saveur Cooks Authentic American]

Seafood Gumbo
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

Laissez bon temps roulez!


Note: Given the New French roots of Cajun cuisine it’s a little surprising that there isn’t more of a Cajun connection here in Montreal. For the most part, Montreal seemed to have missed out on the Cajun fever that swept across other parts of North America in the ‘80s and ‘90s (although I do remember a cute little place on Duluth East called Le Bijou that had a pretty decent repertoire of Cajun, Mexican, and Brazilian dishes back in the day). Gumbo filé and other Cajun spice blends aren’t the easiest thing to find in Montreal, but you can find them in some supermarkets and at some of your better épiceries. We found ours at Gourmet Laurier on Laurier West.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Top Ten #2

1. The Traveler's Lunchbox (Edinburgh)

2. gumbo

3. John Thorne with Matt Lewis Thorne, "Bayou Odyssey," "First You Make a Roux," and "Out of the Gumbo Pot" in Serious Pig: An American Cook in Search of His Roots (North Point Press)

4. Fais Do-Do: Cajun Dance Party (Columbia) and Louisiana Cajun, Special No. 1 (Swallow Records)

5. Bill Fay, Bill Fay, but especially "The Room" (Eclectic)

Bill Fay

6. La Société des Plantes (Kamouraska)

7. Mont d'Or lait cru Vacherin, Fruitière des Jarrons, AOC

8. Serge Gainsbourg, "Qui est in qui est out" video & "Bonnie and Clyde" video, Serge Gainsbourg: D'autres nouvelles des étoiles DVD set

9. Samuel Richardson, Clarissa or, The History of a Young Lady: Comprehending The Most Important Concerns of Private Life And Particularly Showing The Distresses That May Attend The Misconduct Both of Parents and Children, In Relation To Marriage (Penguin)

10. Malpeque oysters


Sunday, November 13, 2005

Come whither riding? *

Tarte Tatin
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

With the glut of apples at our house, it's no wonder that there's been a veritable parade of apple-based desserts around here over the last week. Though I love classic covered apple pies, crumbles, baked apples, and pretty much every type of apple dessert, my favourite is the open-faced tart. A simple "rustic" tart allows the apple flavour to come through clearly. Once you have this basic form down, you can dress it up as much as you like. How complicated you want to make it is entirely your decision.

The easiest variation is a galette: a pastry disk topped with apples, the edges of the pastry either left flat or folded partway over the apples to create a free-form crust. The pastry is usually a flaky pastry, or pâte brisée. You don't need a pie plate or tart mold for this, making it easy to do in any kitchen, no matter how unequipped.

I love making galettes, but I have way too many tart molds here at home, so I tend to use them when I can in the hopes of justifying them to my guilty soul. I love a Normandy-style apple tart with cream and calvados, anything with frangipane, and tarts with perfectly arranged slices of apples make my heart go aflutter. This type of tart usually calls for a shortcrust pastry or pâte sucrée. I made the ones in the photo below by sautéing the apples in butter and sugar until they took on a bit of colour. I then put the apples in tartlet molds lined with shortcrust and baked them for 30 min. Once they were done baking, I placed a baking sheet on top of the apples to compress them into the tart, giving them a squared-off look. They were a hit.

Around these parts, though, the reigning, and undisputed, queen of apple pastries is the Tarte Tatin (see photo above). Tarte Tatin is one of Anthony's absolute favorites and he's been asking me to make one for an embarrassing number of months (embarrassing for me, not him). It wasn't until this week that I finally got around to making the one pictured above for a dinner party we'd been invited to. I "cheated" and used the leftover shortcrust pastry from the tartlets rather than the puff pastry that is used for a traditional Tarte Tatin. I'm unapologetic about this decision, though, because the tart turned out perfectly, and it also made it an easier tart to whip up at a moment's notice.

How did I make my Tarte Tatin? Well, I peeled, halved, and cored the apples. I then made a caramel from sugar, corn syrup, and a bit of water, letting it get quite dark but not burnt. I then added butter to it to make a sauce, instead of a hard candy. If you've never made caramel before and you're reluctant to, you should consult Sherry Yard's extensive section on caramel in The Secrets of Baking. Among other things, she offers the following pointers:

To caramelize sugar, you combine sugar, water, and corn syrup in a saucepan, cover it, and set it over high heat. As the mixture heats, it releases steam, which the lid traps. Condensation forms and runs down the inside of the pot, washing away any stray sugar crystals. After 4 minutes, you can remove the lid. The sugar will be boiling and noticeably thicker. Set a thermometer in the pot to monitor the temperature, which at this point should read between 230° and 240°.

As the water heats up, it evaporates. The sugar begins to thicken, and the bubbles get bigger. As the temperature increases, the color deepens and the flavor intensifies. These changes occur more quickly as the temperature rises. At 310°F, the sugar begins to turn a pale golden color and the caramel should be watched closely. At 310° to 325°F, the color is golden brown. Above 375°, the caramel becomes quite bitter. Because the caramelization process is irreversible, this stage should be avoided. In a heavy pot on high heat, the entire process should take about 10 minutes. I like my caramel dark, and I often cook it just to the point of being bitter. However, there’s a fine line between bitter and burned, so I advise you to take it off the heat at 325°F for golden caramel and 350°F for dark caramel.

[For her "Master Caramel" recipe, Yard recommends 1/4 C of water, 1 C of sugar, and 2 tbsp of light corn syrup. This recipe produces abnout 3/4 cup of caramel.]

Anyway, getting back to my Tatin, I tossed the sauce--like Yard, I prefer mine darker--with the apples and arranged them in the bottom of a pie pan. "A pie pan?" Yes, that's right, we're swimming in molds of all sorts, but as of yet we have no Tatin molds. Sad but true. I placed the crust on top of the apples, tucking the sides in, and baked it for 25 min. When the crust was golden, I removed it from the oven and inverted it onto a cooling rack. You can re-arrange the apples if they've gotten jostled around. And you should serve your tarte warm or at room temperature.

I served mine to a party of 8, quite a few of whom had never had a Tarte Tatin. It vanished into thin air.


apple tartlets
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

* This line is from a round I learned when I was little: "Young rider, apple-cheeked one, come whither riding?, on your steed so proud and prancing, come whither riding?, no matter where I ride, Slavic mountains at my side, to Shemora, to Shemora."

I still don't know where or what Shemora is...

Thursday, November 10, 2005

It's that time of year again: The Czech-Slovak Bazaar

This Saturday, the annual Czech-Slovak Bazaar takes place. You may remember our first post about it.
From 11:00 a.m. onwards at St. Ignatius Church (4455 Broadway W.) in Notre-Dame-de-Grace (NDG).


Wednesday, November 09, 2005


quince pate de fruit
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

Pretty much everyone has their weakness when it comes to fruits and vegetables. You can spot these weaknesses at the grocery store. Just keep your eyes open for someone filling their shopping cart with unseemly amounts of, say, mandarin oranges, or burying the check-out counter under absurd amounts of mirabelle plums. I happen to have several of these weaknesses: peas, pomegranates, sour cherries, blood oranges, and quinces. Luckily their seasons are spread out, so I almost always have something to obsess over. At the moment, I've been stalking the greengrocers in search of perfectly ripe quinces, preferably cheap ones.

For something that is both inedible in its raw form and extremely hardy, quinces are generally hugely overpriced. Perhaps it is because of their relative semi-obscurity that grocers are able to sell them as something exotic. $3.00 a piece is far too much for a fruit that would, and should, grow in any Quebec garden. I am willing to pay for fragile fruits shipped for miles and miles from the tropics, but not quinces. Quinces are a magical fruit, and their scent alone is worth any price, but I was pretty happy last Saturday when I found a place selling them for $1.00 each. I bought 20.

At Christmastime, I place a few quinces around the house and wait for their amazing scent to reach every corner, one that is nicely offset with the scent that comes from oranges studded with cloves. But you shouldn't leave it at that. You have to cook quinces to discover their full potential. Recently, I've been busy putting away several jars of quince-hazelnut preserve and spiced quince butter. I can think of no better holiday condiment. Ooh, the butter spread on pannetone. A must.

Last year I made the quince paste from Chez Panisse's fruit cookbook. It was a big hit with guests. We served it as a sweet after dinner, but it is equally excellent with cheese, or champagne--or both. I made another batch this year, with even better results. Don't be afraid of overcooking the fruit, that's essentially what you want. This will keep for a year in an airtight container.

Quince Paste

3 lbs. quinces, peeled, cored, and diced *
3 cups water
2 cups sugar, plus more for dusting
juice of one lemon

Bring quinces to a boil in the water until they are very soft. Pass through a mill or sieve.

Add sugar to puree and simmer on medium heat, stirring constantly. I recommend using a bigger pot than you need to prevent getting a thousand tiny burns on your hands. The mixture will thicken and bubble a lot. Be careful. Cook until it can be mounded up in a pile, about 45 min. Add lemon juice and pour onto an oiled piece of parchment paper in a tray. Smooth out to 1/4" thick. Let cool. Reverse it onto a new piece of parchment paper and let dry overnight. Cut into squares and toss in sugar. Store in an airtight container.

Note: My paste was still a little sticky after one night. I cut it into squares, tossed it in sugar and let it dry overnight again. Now they are perfect.

* If you are super industrious, you will save the peels and cores and make quince jelly. I have yet to be so industrious.


Monday, November 07, 2005

First Birthday

It's hard to believe, but " endless banquet" has already been "on the air" for a year now. We weren't sure how long it would last or just how frequently we'd be posting when we started out. We were just looking for someplace to channel some of our food-related energy. We took a while to find the right name, then took our first hesitant steps. Within a few days we'd both gotten the bug pretty bad. That bug hasn't subsided yet.

We were planning on throwing a big shindig to celebrate. We had something like this in mind:

proposed anniversary party
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

But plans didn't exactly come together the way we thought they might, so instead we celebrated our first anniversary by taking a little jaunt back down to Franklin to visit our friend M. Safian. We weren't sure if his stand would still be in operation, but we needed some more apples, and the day had turned into a lovely one, so we threw all caution into the wind and set out. When we got to his stand things looked pretty grim. His premises were fenced off and although there were some large crates full of apples still in view, there were no signs of life. I made a slow pass-by, then made a u-turn, and parked the car right in front. I tried to convince Michelle to go up and ring the doorbell, but she said the last thing she wanted to do was disturb a man on what might be his day off. We were trying to decide what to do next when, out of the blue, I caught a glimpse of M. Safian crossing the road in the rear-view mirror. What luck! We got out of the car, said 'hello,' and got ourselves let in.

chez Safian
Originally uploaded by ajkinik.

M. Safian, didn't have too too much left, he mostly had apples he'd set aside for making apple cider, but he had plenty enough for us. We picked out a few big baskets of empires, spys, and russetts, spent some quality time with his 9-year old doberman, "Susie,"

Originally uploaded by ajkinik.

talked about the merits of blending apple varieties when it comes to baking, cooking, and juicing, and tried to determine M. Safian's schedule over the next couple of weeks in case we need to come back for a third helping. Then we set out in search of artisanal apple cider vinegar.

We didn't find any apple cider vinegar, but we did come across Cidrerie du Minot in Hemmingford, one of the first artisanal cider makers to have been established in Quebec. There we had a dégustation of their superior line of ciders, including low-alcohol, sparkling, and ice cider. We were so impressed that we bought two bottles.

Tonight we celebrated our anniversary with some sparkling cider, some cheese, some wine, some steaks from Maison du Roti, and a selection of vegetables we bought from Patrice on Saturday.

Hello, Year 2.

And many thanks to all of you out there for reading.

Cidrerie du Minot, 376 Covey Hill Road, Hemmingford, (450) 247-3111


Top Ten #1

1. The Traveler's Lunchbox (Edinburgh)

2. quinces


3. John Thorne with Matt Lewis Thorne, Serious Pig: An American Cook in Search of His Roots (North Point Press)

4. Bob Dylan, "Ballad of a Thin Man," Live at the ABC Theatre, Edinburgh, Scotland, May 20, 1966 (Columbia) & Martin Scorsese, No Direction Home

5. Beverley Nichols, Down the Garden Path (Jonathan Cape)

6. La Société des Plantes (Kamouraska)

7. the scent of white truffle

8. The Gossip, "Standing in the Way of Control" (Kill Rock Stars)

9. Orangette (Seattle)

10. George Clooney, Good Night, and Good Luck

Sunday, November 06, 2005

lumberjack special

lumberjack special
Originally uploaded by ajkinik.

"If you want a sure formula, open a can."--John Thorne

Remember that talk of baked beans, eggs, and ketchup aux fruits from a couple of weeks back? Well, this morning our lumberjack special finally came together. Almost a year to the day since the last time I wrote about baked beans, here I go again.

We'd decided that Saturday was going to be the day to make baked beans. I was a little worried about the weather towards the end of the week, because the forecast was for partly cloudy/partly sunny weather and 14 degrees C and I wanted it to be a little chillier for baking beans, but I soaked my beans anyway on Friday night, and when I woke up on Saturday morning it was foggy and downright raw, perfect for baking beans. So I got out of bed, let Michelle sleep a little longer, and stole her copy of John Thorne's Serious Pig so I could bone up on baked beans, Maine-style. You might recall that we used John Thorne's recipe for Down-East Baked Beans last year for our entry on baked beans. We got that recipe from Saveur Cooks American and it was in the pages of Saveur that we first heard of John Thorne and his food writing. I made a mental note to track down a copy of Serious Pig, and when I was in New York in August I finally found a copy at the Strand. When I got back to Montreal I gave it to Michelle with the disclaimer that the title was in no way meant to be a bit of editorializing on her or her eating habits. She laughed, accepted my gift, and has been regaling me with tales of potato stands and orchards in Maine and Dirty Rice in Louisiana ever since. Anyway, I'd been meaning to sneak a peek at Thorne's lengthy chapter on Maine baked beans ("Knowing Beans") for some time. I figured I owed it to myself and to my beans to do so before making this next batch. Pick up a copy of Serious Pig, read the chapter on baked beans, and you'll learn everything from the particularities of Mainers when it comes to firewood and front doors, to the great variety of native beans used in the making of Maine baked beans and the seismic difference between Down-East Baked Beans and Up-North Baked Beans, to how to choose a proper bean pot and the lumberjack camp origins of the Maine tradition of baking beans. Thorne is a truly excellent food writer, and his food writing covers a great deal of ground. Armed with a deeper understanding of Maine baked beans, I whipped up another batch of Down-East Baked Beans, the addition of 1/4 pound of lardons fumés being the only alteration I made to Thorne's superb recipe. Once again I was struck by the perfect balance of flavors that result from following Thorne's method. Once again I was struck by the genius of adding 2 tablespoons of rum in place of some of the additional molasses or brown sugar you find in other recipes.

Later that night, after the beans had baked in a slow oven for some 6-7 hours, we had a very satisfying baked bean dinner with our fresh batch of Down-Easters, a hearty loaf of sourdough, some ketchup aux fruits (as per the Quebec tradition), and a delicious beet salad (with heirloom beets from Patrice's street sale). What I was really excited about, though, was the lumberjack special we had planned for this morning. The spread:

eggs over-easy
fried ham à l'ancienne
baked beans
ketchup aux fruits
maple syrup (Quebec medium)
hot sauce

The only thing that was missing was a fresh batch of cretons maison. Next time. Otherwise, it was a perfect breakfast, one that fulfilled all our expectations.

My grandfather started his career as a cook in a lumberjack camp in the woods of Quebec. I'm not sure if he ever baked beans in a massive cast-iron pot buried in a "bean hole" the way Thorne describes, but he made his fair share of beans in his time. This meal was dedicated to him.


Saturday, November 05, 2005

ONE DAY ONLY! Patrice Fortier in Montreal, Saturday, November 5

trio of squashes II
Originally uploaded by ajkinik.

We sincerely apologize for the last-minute announcement, but...

That's right, our friend Patrice Fortier (of La Société des Plantes fame) is in town today and he's holding one of his famous impromptu street sales at Villeneuve Bicycle at the corner of (you guessed it!) Villeneuve and St. Urbain from 11 a.m. till about 4 p.m. (or whenever he sells out). He's got squashes (Hubbard and decorative), shallots, baby yellow onions, celeriac, turnips, rare French beets, fingerling potatoes, parsley, chard, Jerusalem artichokes, espelette peppers, and a few other goodies. You won't find produce like this anywhere else in town and his prices are very reasonable. Pay Patrice a visit. You won't regret it.


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

yet more things we like about fall

squash trio
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

I got into making squash soups years and years ago now when my mom, my sister, and I made a butternut squash soup adorned with cheddar-chutney toasts for Thanksgiving one time. I got the hook bad. Squash soup is now one of the many reasons I love Thanksgiving, it's also one of the reasons I'm always mystified when I encounter people who dislike Thanksgiving Day food. "It's a celebration of the harvest," I always think. "What's not to like?" I'm sure we've mentioned this before, but Michelle and I are so fond of Thanksgiving we make a point of celebrating it twice every year: once for Canadian Thanksgiving and once for our expat Americans' Thanksgiving. I make a whole variety of winter squash-based dishes these days, including pasta dishes, couscous dishes, and curries, but the biggest showstopper of them all is still the winter squash soup--they're so versatile that you can really be creative with them--and I regularly turn back to that original winter squash soup as a model. Tonight I used a squash I'd never tried before--a beautiful ambercup squash that we got at Jean Talon Market a couple of weeks ago (you can see it in the lower left of the picture above) --and even though it had something in common with the butternut squash, it had a depth I'd never encountered before. I guess the moral of the story is: there's still all kinds of lovely local yet exotic winter squashes out there, so branch out and get beyond the butternut and the acorn squashes.

Squash & Apple Soup

1 medium-large ambercup squash
1 tbsp canola oil
2 onions, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
4 apples, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp herbes salées (optional)
1 tbsp crème fraîche + enough crème fraîche to use as garnish
coarse sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
croutons (optional)

special equipment: immersion blender

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Cut your squash in half and place on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until flesh is tender. Meanwhile, heat your oil in a pot over medium heat, add your onions, turn down the heat, and sauté your onions over medium-low heat until they begin to caramelize, about 30 minutes. Add the garlic and apples and sauté for another 5-10 minutes. Scoop out the flesh of the squash, add it to the pot, and sauté for another 5 minutes. Add just enough water to cover the ingredients, bring to a boil, then simmer for about 20-30 minutes. Take the soup off the heat and use your immersion blender to create a smooth purée. Return the soup to low heat, add the herbes salées, the salt, and the pepper, seasoning to taste. Add the tablespoon of crème fraîche and whisk it into the soup. Serve in bowls, drizzling each bowl of soup with more crème fraîche before serving. You can also add 3-4 croutons to each bowl, if you like.

Serves 4-6, depending on whether you serve it as a starter or as a main course

Note: I've been known to do versions of this soup with sherry, brandy, cognac, bourbon, and calvados. Like I said, your winter squash is very versatile.

Tonight's finished product:

ambercup squash soup
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

Just a salad, some bread, and some wine was all that was needed to complete the meal.