Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Joe Beef

Joe Beef

"Joe Beef? Joe Beef?!?" Yes, Joe Beef is back.

Joe Beef was originally the nickname of one Charles McKiernan. McKiernan came to Montreal in 1864, a British officer who was stationed in the city's garrison on Ile Ste-Helene. He had served in the Crimean War and had picked up his sobriquet because of his uncanny ability to find food for himself and those around him in even the most adverse conditions. He ran the canteen on Ile Ste-Helene from 1864 until he was discharged 1868, at which point he started up the establishment that would make him in/famous across much of North America: Joe Beef's Canteen (201-207 rue de la Commune). McKiernan was an iconoclast, a figure whose force of character was monumental, a rogue to some, and a hero to many others. His policy of never refusing a poor man a meal, "no matter who he is, whether English, French, Irish, Negro, Indian, or what religion he belongs to," made him an idol to the working class and underclass, but the "impropriety" of such an environment simultaneously made him perhaps Montreal's most detested individual, a public enemy to Montreal's social set. What made him even more of a threat to the elite classes were his anticlericalism ("He cares not for Pope, Priest, Parson or King William of the Boyne; all Joe wants is the Coin. He trusts in God in the summertime to keep him from all harm; when he sees the first frost and snow poor old Joe trusts to the Almighty Dollar and good old maple wood to keep his belly warm, for Churches, Chapels, Ranters, Preachers and such stuff Montréal has already got enough.") and his radical pro-labor views (culminating in his support of the 10-day Lachine Canal laborers' strike over Christmas 1877). Adding to the sense of mystery that surrounded McKiernan was his basement menagerie, which included "four black bears, ten monkeys, three wild cats, a porcupine and an alligator," according to one source, and apparently one of the bears was brought up into the tavern from time to time "to restore order." When his wife died, McKiernan chose an assortment of the strangest, most exotic critters from his collection and had them pull the hearse through the city streets. The "incorrigible Joe" did things on his own terms and he managed to make them work because of his sharp business sense and his impressive self-sufficiency (which included a farm where he raised his own livestock). When he died in 1889, while his detractors continued to demonize him ("For 25 years he has enjoyed in his own way the reputation of being for Montréal the wickedest man. His saloon was the resort of the most degraded men. It was the bottom of the pit, a sort of cul-de-sac where thieves could be corralled".), Joe Beef received one of the largest funerals of the century. His establishment (some semblance of it, in any case) remained in operation for almost another 100 years, until it finally closed 1982.

Joe Beef's Tavern may be nothing but a distant memory at this point in time, but as of a few months now, there's a new Joe Beef on the scene. This time around Joe Beef is not exactly a teeming Old Port tavern--it's a small bistro and bar located on a gentrified stretch of Notre Dame, directly across the street from the Corona Theatre--but the memory of Charles McKiernan has hardly been invoked in vain. The atmosphere is warm, laid-back and convivial, the decor is retro and eclectic without being precious, and the portions and cuisine are generous. With much to recommend about Joe Beef, two things stood out: the oyster bar and the sirloin steak. On the night we visited, Joe Beef had 4 oysters on offer, including Caraquets, "Jumbos," and an Irish variety. At $3 a pop they weren't cheap, but they looked amazing, we were in the mood, and we'd never had Irish oysters, so we gave them a try. When the resident oyster shucker behind the bar struck up a conversation with us regarding that night's offerings, we were glad we had. Turns out Mr. Oyster Shucker is a real, honest-to-goodness oysterman, that he imports all their oysters himself, and that he has personal contact with all the oyster harvesters the restaurant deals with. You could taste it in the oysters. They were absolutely phenomenal. We'd been having Caraquets for a couple of months, but we'd yet to have Caraquets as fresh and flavorful as the ones we had that night. The real revelation, however, was those Irish oysters, which were the most full-bodied oysters I'd ever come across. Fantastic. The oyster selection changes from week to week, and on any given week might include oysters from B.C., the Maritimes, the U.S., or Europe. Don't miss 'em. As for the sirloin, it was simply magnificent. It came with a lovely assortment of vegetable sides, including sautéed spinach, smashed potato homefries, and fried artichoke hearts, but it's a good thing these came on the side, because the plate could barely hold the slab of steak that rested on it. The steak was big and thick, and it came topped with freshly cracked spices and adorned with the most heavenly red wine reduction you could imagine. We're talking a major-league steak, and, just between the two of us, the beautiful little portion that remained when all was said and done that night made for some major-league steak and eggs the next morning. Other highlights included an asparagus appetizer that came with a delicate vinaigrette and plenty of freshly microplaned Parmesan, and a pasta with crab dish that included two different types of crabs (spider and Chesapeake), and was very satisfying, but would have benefited from the addition of a well-chosen vegetable (peas, for instance).

The new Joe Beef is not about to become a haunt for the city's disenfranchised, and it's not going to be ruffling too many high society feathers. It's rather pricey (figure $25-$55 per person, before wine and tip), but the ambiance is disarming, even downright charming, and the food is well worth a visit. It reminded us of some of the fine, fresh, no-nonsense neighborhood bistros we've been to in New York--a style which has a somewhat distant parallel in a place like Au Pied de Cochon, but otherwise has been slow to take hold in Montreal for reasons we've never really understood. In other words, Montreal was long overdue, so it's not exactly surprising that this latest Joe Beef has once again taken the city by storm.

Restaurant Joe Beef, 2491 Rue Notre Dame West, (514) 935-6504


Ronald T. Harvie, "Montreal's Saloon Santa Claus"
Quebec Heritage Web, "Griffintown and Point St. Charles Heritage Trail"

Monday, December 26, 2005

Coq au vin

coq et vin

Good God, this was a good meal!

I'd been wanting to make an authentic Coq au vin for over a year. It was all part of a sudden desire to revisit some of the classic dishes from my childhood that swept over me in the fall of 2004. I can't actually remember any specific occasions when I had Coq au vin as a young lad, but, along with Coquilles St. Jacques, Lobster Thermidor, and Beef Wellington, it was nevertheless one of the dishes that attained quasi-mythical status in my mind during those years. There was something about their names and the way people around me (parents, grandparents, etc.) talked about them.

A few weeks ago, my parents and I were once again reminiscing about Julia Child, mourning her loss, and discussing her impact. Soon afterwards I thought again about making Coq au vin and Child's recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, vol. 1 seemed like the only appropriate place to turn. When we finally got around to serving this meal about 2 weeks ago now, we toasted Julia and her legacy, and I've since thought of the meal as our Julia Child Memorial Meal.

Child's recipe worked like a charm. Every step made perfect sense and achieved the desired result, and I especially enjoyed the effect flambéing with cognac had on the chicken, but the way the beurre manié transformed the sauce was truly a thing of beauty. An already impressive wine-based sauce developed a depth of character that was almost hard to believe, and like so many other classics of French cuisine, the ingredients were rather simple, it was the way they were combined that elevated them.

We used a young, 3-lb + chicken, but I talked to the counterwoman at Vito about the meal I was going to be making as she was ringing me through and she recommended that the next time I order a slightly more mature bird, or, even better, a capon (appropriately enough). She insisted that the meat on such birds would hold up to the stewing better and that the meat would be even more flavorful. After all, like most other stews, a recipe like Coq au vin was first conceived as a way of tenderizing meat that may have needed it. Next time--and, I guarantee you, that won't be long--I'll try her advice.

I didn't make any significant changes to Child's recipe--why would I?--although the method I used for the bacon (see below) was slightly different than the method she recommended. Otherwise, I followed her recipe very closely. I used a nice, full-bodied French Burgundy as my cooking wine. The rest of the ingredients were very reasonable, so I splurged a little on the wine. You can use "cooking wine" for a recipe like this, but there's no question that the flavors are going to be richer if you use a decent wine (one you can actually drink, one that actually tastes good).

This recipe made enough to feed 4 people generously on two occasions. The first time I served it, I served it with mashed potatoes, bread, salad, and an even nicer bottle of French Burgundy than the bottle I used to make the Coq au vin. On Day 2 I served it with a gratin Dauphinois, braised carrots, a salad, and a Brouilly, and the flavors of the stew, as well as the combination it was served with, might have very well surpassed Day 1.

If you don't own Mastering the Art of French Cooking you really should think about it (and if you sniff around like we did, you can find very nice hardbound editions at a very reasonable price at some of your better secondhand bookstores, like we did), but until then, here's Julia Child's Coq au vin recipe:

Coq au vin

3-4 oz chunk of lean bacon, or pre-cut lardons
2 tbsp butter
2 1/2 - 3 lb frying chicken, cut into sections
1/2 tsp salt + more salt to taste
1/8 tsp pepper + more pepper to taste
1/4 cup cognac
3 cups young, full-bodied red wine
1 - 2 cups brown chicken stock
1/2 tbsp tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, mashed
1/4 tsp thyme
1 bay leaf
*12 - 24 brown-braised onions (recipe follows)
**1/2 lb sauteed mushrooms (recipe follows)
3 tbsp flour
2 tbsp softened butter
several sprigs fresh parsley

Remove the rind and cut the bacon into lardons (1/4" x 1" long rectangles). Sauté the bacon slowly in hot butter until it is very lightly browned. Remove to a side dish.

Dry the chicken thoroughly. Brown it in the hot fat in a stove-proof casserole.

Season the chicken. Return the bacon to the casserole or pot with the chicken. Cover and cook slowly for 10 minutes, turning the chicken once.

Uncover, and pour in the cognac. Averting your face, ignite the cognac with a lighted match. Shake the casserole back and forth for several seconds until the flames subside.

Pour the wine into the casserole. Add just enough stock or bouillon to cover the chicken. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic, and herbs. Bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer slowly for 25 - 30 minutes, or until the chicken is tender and cooked through. Remove the chicken to a side dish.

While the chicken is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms (instructions follow).

Also, pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Simmer the chicken cooking liquied in the casserole for a minute or two, skimming off fat. Then raise the heat and boil rapidly, reducing the liquid to about 2 1/4 cups. Adjust the seasoning. Remove the reduced cooking liquid from the heat, then discard the bay leaf.

Blend the butter and flour together into a smooth paste. What Child calls beurre manié. Beat the paste into the hot liquid with a wire whisk. Bring to a simmer, stirring all the while, and simmer for 1-2 minutes. The sauce will thicken up nicely and it "should be thick enough to coat a spoon lightly" when it's done.

Arrange the chicken in the casserole, place the mushrooms and onion around it, and baste with the sauce.

Place the casserole in the oven and bake for 20-30 minutes.

Serve warm from the casserole with a vegetable side or two, crusty bread, butter, a salad, and a nice bottle of red wine.

*Brown-Braised Onions

18-24 peeled white onions, about 1" in diameter
1 1/2 tbsp butter
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup of red wine
salt and pepper to taste
1 medium herb bouquet (4 parsley sprigs, 1/2 bay leaf, and 1/4 tsp thyme)

Heat the butter and oil in a 9- to 10-inch enameled skillet. When they begin to bubble, add the onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling the onions around so that they brown evenly as possible and being careful not to break their skins.

Pour in the wine, season to taste, and add the herb bouquet. Cover and simmer slowly for 40-50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove the herb bouquet.

**Sautéed Mushrooms

2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp oil
1/2 lb small fresh mushrooms, washed, dried, and left whole

Place a 10-inch enameled skillet over high heat with the butter and oil. When the butter foam has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add the mushrooms. Toss and shake the pan for 4 to 5 minutes. During their sauté the mushrooms will at first absorb the fat. In 2 to 3 minutes the fat will reappear on their surface, and the mushrooms will begin to brown. As soon as they have browned lightly, remove from heat.

Bon appétit!

Mastering the Art of French Cooking, vol. 1 is now available in a 40th anniversary edition. It is published by Knopf.

Special thanks to Convivium for providing the source material for the illustration above.


Saturday, December 24, 2005

Joyeux Noel!

this year's model

Today we're keeping things short and sweet, but expect a whole flurry of posts, including a trip to Joe Beef, our end-of-the-year "best of" picks, and our (planned) Central European Christmas dinner, over the next several days.

Until then, MERRY CHRISTMAS from your friends here at " endless banquet."


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

White Plate Special

If the hijinx at Holt Renfrew weren't enough, yesterday we had the pleasure of luncheoning at Les Chèvres. "Lunch? At Les Chèvres? But I thought..." No, you read correctly, friends. Every year, during the holiday season, Les Chèvres offers a special lunchtime menu for 2 1/2 weeks before Christmas. For those of you who've been thinking of going to Les Chèvres, but haven't yet, this is a good opportunity: the two chefs there, Stelio Perombelon and Patrice Demers, have put together an excellent menu, and at 4 courses for $32 (3 savory, 1 sweet), it's a very good deal, considering the calibre of the cuisine, the atmosphere, the service. You'll have to hurry, though, the menu only lasts until December 23rd.

The rundown: together with our friend Ana, we had

Butternut Squash Soup with Cortland apple gelée and an apple-radish-herring roe garnish

Wild Mushroom Flan with stewed portobella and trompette des morts mushrooms and mousse de lait à la truffe

Pan-seared Salmon with braised fennel and a mussels-saffron bouillon

Cod and potato cake with a red wine and Cornish game hen ragout and an asparagus salad with chive oil

and our two favorites

The Roasted magret de canard, which came with a white turnip ziggurat, a few delicately sautéed Brussels sprouts, and a bitter orange purée that worked magic with the duck

Magret de Canard


The Longe de porc rôtie, which came topped with sautéed shiitake mushrooms and smoked onions, and was flanked with a lovely gravy boat (in this case, jus boat) made of celery rabe purée

Longe de Porc

We'd already gotten spoiled a bit by the management by the time we'd finished our main courses (extra-special service, some extras, etc.), but then came the desserts, and with Michelle and her friend Ana (another pastry chef) in attendance, all the stops got pulled.

We were served a fantastic pre-dessert consisting of fresh pineapple and mango, a coconut gelée, passion fruit foam, pineapple sorbet, and, the crowning touch, micro-cilantro


and then one of each of the three dessert specials

the legendary Pot-de-Crème au chocolat Manjari with caramel and Maldon salt [front, center]

a clementine and hazelnut bagatelle with fromage blanc [back right]

and my favorite of the day

the cranberry and pecan frozen nougat with cranberry purée and a caramelized pear [back left]

trio of desserts

Finally, if that wasn't enough, we were treated to a plate of Patrice's beautiful mignardises to go along with our coffees.


Granted, it was all a little bit decadent, especially at noon on a Monday, but any guilt feelings we might have had sure didn't last long.

Les Chèvres, 1201 Van Horne, (514) 270-1119. Their annual lunch menu lasts through Friday the 23rd.


Monday, December 19, 2005

The Great Whatsit

So, a little over a week ago, Patrice, the Chef pâtissier at Les Chèvres/Le Chou, pulled Michelle aside and told her that not only did he have a surprise for her, but that this surprise "would change her life." The only other thing he said about this surprise was that he would take her to it on Saturday at noon, which meant she had almost a week to stew over what exactly this surprise might be. Now, Michelle being Michelle, the first thing that came to mind was that Patrice was going to take her to "a field filled with baby goats" (?!?!). I guess it could have been worse, though: she could have thought that Patrice was going to take her to "a field filled with baby cabbages." Anyway, she spent days trying to figure out what in god's name this surprise could be, and the more she thought about it, the more excited she got. Then she started to grill Patrice and Camilla about it. "Is it a standing mixer?" "Is it an industrial canning machine?" But all she got was a resounding, "Nope." Finally, with just a question or two left before she hit 20 questions, she braced Camilla and asked her, "Is it really going to change my life?" To which Camilla answered, "Well, not exactly." From that point on, Michelle resigned herself to just counting down the hours until 12:00 on Saturday: she'd just have to be patient.

Patrice, M. Beausoleil, and Camilla picked Michelle up and whisked her down to... Holt Renfrew. Yeah, I know: "Ooh, la, la!" The occasion? Well, it turns out that Holt Renfrew is now stocking an old friend of ours:

Guess who?

That's right: the legendary Poilâne sourdough is now available here in Montreal! Not only that, but the café at Holt's now offers an entire range of sandwiches composed on a healthy slice of Poilâne. These include: rare beef with chèvre, thyme, and a cherry reduction; poached eggs, smoked salmon, and confited tomatoes; grilled chicken breast, baby arugula, cheese, and truffle honey; and shrimp, with carrot purée, matchstick potatoes, and chives [pictured below]. They're not cheap (we are talking Holt Renfrew, after all), but Michelle swears they're fantastic, among the very best she's ever had.

shrimp sandwich on Poilâne bread

A quarter loaf of Poilâne will set you back $10. Again, not cheap, but the quarter loaf portion is a pretty good slab of bread, and it did get flown in from Paris, and it is among the best sourdoughs in the world.

Somehow, when the dust had settled, we quite miraculously wound up with our very own quarter loaf. You should be so lucky.

Holt Renfrew Café, 1300 Sherbrooke St. W., (514) 842-5111


French Lait Cru Butter

artisanal butter from France

If you've been reading the pages of " endless banquet" regularly you know how we feel about Quebec butter. It's not like it's bad, it's just that there's so much room for improvement, and in a province that's currently producing an impressive assortment of top-notch artisanal cheeses there really is no excuse for the lack of top-notch artisanal butter. Quality butter is one of those things that distinguishes life in Europe from life in North America. As Michelle is fond of saying, "I miss the butter, I miss the eggs, I miss the beer [German and Belgian beer, specifically], and I miss the price of wine." Our experience was that even the run-of-the-mill supermarket butter in France was better than the butter we were getting back home--and then there were all the fresh-churned, artisanally produced lait cru butters. Here, artisanal butter is an extravagance; there it was perfectly reasonable and it made those morning toasts with our soft-boiled eggs and our espressos that much more enthralling.

Well, just the other day, lo and behold, we got our hands on some very fine AOC lait cru butter from Deux-Sèvres in the Poitou-Charentes region of France. I can't say how we came to acquire this butter, but I will say that if you're going to France anytime soon, or if you know someone else who is, it's worth trying to make arrangements to bring some Échiré (or any other artisanal butter, for that matter) back on ice. Poitou-Charentes is an excellent agricultural region and the fact that this is a lait cru means that you can really taste it in the butter. It's only demi-salé because that's all you need for a full-bodied butter when you begin with milk of this quality, and there's nuance to the flavor (grasses, etc.) that you're not going to find just anywhere.

I've been told that there's some kind of a ban on importing butter into Quebec that doesn't apply to importing cheese, but it's not clear to me how you can stop one and not the other. Big Butter has managed to successfully stave off Big Margarine in this province, though, making Quebec the only region of North America where it is illegal to give margarine a butter-like coloring, so I guess anything's possible. But, ideally, we wouldn't need to import artisanal butter. We'd just start producing our own, whether or not Big Butter is watching.

We haven't been having any problems enjoying our breakfasts since we got back from Europe, but, you know what, they just got better.

artisanal butter and marmelade on toast


Sunday, December 18, 2005

Brunch-->Bagel Etc.

brunch>Bagel Etc.

We managed to get the number of entries in our " endless banquet" Montreal Food Guide up above 100 over the course of the last 6 months or so, when we first started it, but somehow every time I take a look at it our list it seems like I notice one glaring omission or another. This morning, we picked up on another one. We were on our way to meet T. and R., have some breakfast, and deliver them some Moravian gingerbread geese for Christmas

christmas geese

when we realized that Bagel Etc.--our designated brunch destination--wasn't on our list for some strange reason [actually, none of our classic neighborhood breakfast spots--Beauty's, Dusty's, or Bagel Etc.--are on the list as I write this--but, fret not, dear readers, we here at " endless banquet" will do everything we can to bring you the best possible service as soon as humanly possible--ed.]. OK, it doesn't have the best name (then again, its name isn't exactly a groaner like, say, Eggspectations), but it's known to be frequented by Mr. Leonard Cohen when he's in town (he keeps an apartment just across the park and around the corner), it's got one of the most stylish interiors of any Montreal restaurant of any stripe, and, let's face it, they serve an excellent brunch (and they know it). You can't go wrong with either Bagel Etc.'s standards or their benedicts (in large part because their homefries are among the city's best), but things get particularly interesting in the "around the world" section of their brunch menu, where you'll find a number of options that you'd be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in town, including a Sephardic-style egg dish served with a delicious stewed tomato concoction and, my latest favorite, the "Eastern European" breakfast with eggs, potatoes, your choice of fried pepperette or knockwurst, braised sauerkraut, and a toasted bagel (natch).

In all the years I've been going to Bagel Etc. I've yet to bump into "Laughing Lenny" (as the boys used to call him back at McGill apparently), but, hey, you never know. In the meantime, I'll just keep going back from time to time to admire the decor and savor their outstanding brunches.

Bagel Etc., 4320 St. Laurent Blvd., (514) 845-9462


Thursday, December 15, 2005

Uyghur, or More Adventures in Chinatown


The scene above--a massive, banquet hall-style restaurant (formerly a dim sum palace) completely devoid of people save for the double image of a man soloing wildly on a 2-stringed fretless lute provided by twin TV screens--was what we found when we went to Uyghur, a newish Chinatown restaurant, a few weeks ago. I noticed Uyghur's appearance on the east side of St. Laurent between Viger and de la Gauchetière a couple of months ago--there was something about the camel, the mosque, and the Islamic calligraphic script on their sign that made the restaurant stand out, catching my eye. I made a point of giving their menu a glance and it looked very intriguing indeed--definitely unlike anything else I'd come across in Montreal--and they claimed to make their own noodles. That might not sound like much if you're lucky enough to live in Toronto, or New York, or Vancouver, or San Francisco, but, around these parts, if someone says they make homemade Asian noodles, you listen. Anyway, we tried going twice that weekend. Our first attempt was made on a Saturday, but they were hosting a wedding reception (good sign, right?) and were otherwise closed to the public. We went back the very next night and found the place dead still. I'm generally a bit wary of empty restaurants--this is something I picked up from my dad--but I was also jonesing for those noodles.

The cuisine at Uyghur, in case you missed the reference, is that of China's Xianjian Uyghur Autonomous Region, a massive province that makes up one-sixth of China's total landmass, but is otherwise remote from the mainstream of Chinese society both culturally and politically because of its geography, its ethnic make-up, and its dominant religion: Islam. Hundreds of years ago the region was crossed by a significant portion of the Silk Road, and its culture remains that of an important crossroads. This is reflected quite clearly by the cuisine of the province, which shares similarities with Chinese, Mongolian, Russian, Pakistani, Afghani, and even Turkish cuisine.

We were a little bit worried about how fresh our meal would be, given the fact that we were the only customers, but our fears were dispelled as soon as the food began to arrive to the table. The waiter did balk for a second when we asked for an eggplant dish, but then he looked at his watch and changed his mind. A few minutes later we noticed that another waiter suddenly put on his coat and headed out the front door. Five minutes after that, waiter #2 returned with some Japanese eggplants in tow.

We definitely wanted to sample their noodles. That image of their resident noodle master stretching his fresh-made noodles that's posted near the front door really sticks with you. We ordered the Laghman, a plate of homemade noodles that comes with an accompanying plate of delicious lamb stir-fry with vegetables, as well as the Won Ton Soup, which is more herbal than your standard Chinese version, and comes with homemade lamb-filled noodles that bear a striking similarity to tortellini. "So, how were the noodles?" Homestyle, but fresh and worth a visit. Our eggplant dish came with ground lamb instead of the pork that tends to come with most Chinese eggplant dishes (Uyghur's cuisine being Central Asian and Islamic, lamb or mutton are the principal meats on offer)--it was very tasty and refreshingly unsweet. Uyghur's meat pies and their kebabs were where the Afghani, Pakistani, and Turkish similarities were most obvious, but both held up to the comparison and were remarkably non-derivative. We found the lamb used for the kebab maybe just a bit too fatty (who knows, maybe the wedding party had cleaned them out of "the good stuff" the day before), but the spicing was quite unique and we were very happy to have given them a try. Finally, we loved their "winter salad," a kimchi-like mixed vegetable cabbage and root vegetable concoction that had been marinating since September.

It might have been lonely at Uyghur that Sunday night, but those crazy Turkestani videos were playing, and we ordered a hell of a spread, and the food was very good, so the four of us just ate and ate, took in the scene, and enjoyed ourselves.

Uyghur, 1017 St-Laurent Blvd., (514) 393-8808


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Cookie Swap 2005

the spread
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

The spread clockwise, starting from bottom; brown-butter thumbprints, bourbon-currant cookies, orange-hazelnut shortbread, chocolate sparkles, oatmeal raisin, rose petal tea sablées, ginger snaps, chocolate-fleur de sel cookies, more ginger snaps and more oatmeal, and from center; Moravian ginger stars, pfeffernusse, black pepper and chocolate macarons, and Mexican wedding cakes.

Some of you might remember last year's cookie swap... Okay, since there were only two of us, one person might remember last year's cookie swap. Let's just say that this year was a smash hit by comparison. Camillla hosted it at her house and 10 people participated, each bringing at least 4 dozen cookies. We set up the table and set up a round robin around it, each taking a few cookies from the stacks until they were gone. Mulled wine was served and Christmas music was on the stereo. Everyone went home with an assortment of cookies to share with their friends, families, co-workers, or bandmates.

Cookie favourites were established pretty quickly. Both the chocolate ones were hits, the sparkles coming from a recipe by Thomas Haas and the fleur de sel from a recipe by Pierre Hermé. I found the orange-hazelnut shortbread delicious, with both principal flavours shining through brightly. I made the Moravian ginger stars, following Nancy Silverton's instructions. The result: a perfect cut-out cookie. That being said, I highly recommend any of the following recipes for your holiday baking repertoire.

Korova Cookies by Pierre Hermé from Dorie Greenspan's Paris Sweets

1 1/4 cups flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 stick + 3 tbsp unsalted butter, room temp.
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp fleur de sel or 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp vanilla
5 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small bits

-Preheat oven to 325°F.
-Sift flour, cocoa and soda together.
-Cream butter. Add both sugars, salt and vanilla and beat for a minute on medium. Add dry ingerdients on low. Don't over mix. Add chocolate.
-Divide into 2 logs 1-1/2” in diameter. Wrap and chill for 1 hr. Can be refrigerated for 3 days or frozen for up to one month.
-Slice logs in rounds 1/4” thick. Place on baking sheet with 1” space between. Bake one sheet at a time for 12 min. They will not look done, but that's ok.

makes 3 dozen

Orange-hazelnut Shortbread from Martha Stewart's Holiday Cookie Issue

1 1/2 cups hazelnuts, toasted and skins removed
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp sugar
10 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 1/2 tsp grated orange zest
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp sanding sugar, for dusting

-Preheat oven to 350°F.
-Grind nuts in a processor until finely chopped but not a paste. Transfer to a bowl and add flour, sugar, butter, zest, and salt. Mix until dough forms a ball.
-Halve the dough and form into two disks. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and shape into 7" rounds. Score 12 wedges into each disk. Sprinkle with sanding sugar.
-Bake until golden, 15-20 min. While still warm, cut through the scored lines to separate pieces. Let cool. Can be stored airtight for one week.

makes 2 dozen

Moravian Ginger Cookies from Nancy Silverton's Pastries From La Brea Bakery

4 oz. butter, at room temp.
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3 Tbsp ground ginger
2 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
3/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp light brown sugar
2 Tbsp molasses
1 large egg white
1 cup + 4 Tbsp flour

-Preheat oven to 350°F.
-Cream butter with spices and baking soda. Add sugars and mix. Add molasses, mix. Add egg white, mix. Add flour in 3 batches, mixing after each addition. Form into a disk and chill 4-6 hours, or overnight.
-Roll out 1/8" thick, cut, chill, then bake 5-8 min., until edges are golden.

makes 3 dozen

Happy swapping (cookie swapping, that is).


the loot
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Mexican Lentil Soup

Mexican Lentil Soup

This soup is one of our absolute favorites. We discovered it in Annie Somerville's Fields of Greens: New Vegetarian Recipes from the Celebrated Greens Restaurant a few years ago. Actually, now that I think of it, I think it's my sister that tipped me off about this one. She owned Fields of Greens, too, and she called me once raving about the warmth of the roasted garlic and the smokiness of the chipotle. The whole recipe is perfectly thought out, from the use of herbs to infuse the lentils with flavor, to the toasting of the cumin and the oregano, which really brings both of these ingredients to life. Mexican Lentil Soup goes down nicely at any time of year, but it's especially good when there's a chill in the air like right now.

Variations: you can make this soup with either green, brown, or red lentils. This time around I made it with red lentils, which gives the soup a nice color and a texture closer to a purée. If you want lentils that will hold their shape, but still get nice and tender, try using dupuy lentils. If you like your soups on the spicy side, add extra ancho chili purée and/or chipotle purée. Finally, a dollop of sour cream, crème fraîche, or crema makes for the perfect finishing touch.

Mexican Lentil soup with Roasted Garlic and Chilies

1 cup lentils
6 cups cold water
1 bay leaf
2 fresh sage leaves
1 fresh oregano sprig
1 head garlic
2 tbs. light olive oil
12 oz. canned tomatoes with juice
1 red onion, diced
1 tsp. cumin seed, toasted and ground
1/2 tsp. dried oregano, toasted
1 small carrot, diced
1 small red bell pepper, diced
2 tbs. ancho chili purée (instructions below)
1/2 tsp. chipotle purée (instructions below)
1 tbs. chopped cilantro
1 tbs. chopped fresh oregano

Place lentils in a soup pot with the water, the bay leaf, sage, and oregano. Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat, and cook, uncovered, at a gentle boil for 15 to 20 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Remove the herbs.

While the lentils are cooking, preheat the oven to 350˚F. Rub the head of garlic with a little oil, place it on a baking sheet, and roast for about 30 minutes, until soft. When the garlic has cooled, slice of the top of the head and squeeze the garlic out of its skin. Purée with the tomatoes in a blender or a food processor and set aside.

Heat the remaining oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion, 1/2 teaspoon salt, the cumin, and the dried oregano; sauté over medium heat until the onion is soft, about 7 to 8 minutes. Add the carrot and peppers and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the chili purées, the puréed tomatoes, and 1 teaspoon salt; simmer for 10 minutes.

Combine the beans and their broth with the vegetables, cover, and cook over low heat for 30 minutes. Add salt to taste. For more spice, add ancho or chipotle purée to taste. Sprinkle in the fresh cilantro and oregano just before serving.

Makes 8 to 9 cups.

Note: to make chipotle purée blend the ingredients from a can of chipotle peppers (in adobo sauce) in a blender or food processor. This purée will keep indefinitely when placed in a jar and kept in the refrigerator. To make ancho chili purée place a couple de-stemmed and de-seeded dried ancho chilies in a bowl and cover them with hot water, allowing them to soak for 15-20 minutes. Place the peppers in a blender or food processor and purée them. Both canned chipotle peppers and dried ancho chilies can be found in Mexican and Latin American specialty stores.


Saturday, December 10, 2005

Real Vermont Cheddar

Grafton Village's Four Star Mature Vermont Cheddar

The most unexpected find on last week's cheese and pizza trip to Vermont was without a doubt Jasper Hill's Bayley Hazen Blue, but we'd set out in search of real Vermont cheddar and we'd vowed not to return to Montreal before we'd found some. It's not that you can't find decent cheddar in Quebec--it is, after all, one of the province's traditional cheeses--but the small cheesemakers who have refashioned the cheese industry here over the last 20 years have looked elsewhere for inspiration, but mostly to France. As a result, we've yet to find a truly fantastic Quebec artisanal cheddar. (I have to admit, I'm a little picky when it comes to cheddar. During the two years I lived in London, I spent a great deal of time at Neal's Yard Dairy boning up on my British cheeses.) Head south of the border, though, and cheddar is king and, not surprisingly, artisanal cheesemakers there have sought to develop superior alternatives to the mass-market cheddars that dominate the U.S. market.

In Cabot, VT, we visited Cabot Creamery, a fairly large-scale cheesemaker, but one that functions as a cooperative, representing hundreds of the state's dairy farmers. (If you read Saveur you're probably familiar with their folksy ads featuring a veteran dairy farmer asking readers to, "Please buy [his] cheese.") We sampled a large selection of Cabot's line of cheddars, muensters, jacks, and other cheeses, including a very good select 2-year-old, but, in the words of Jeff Daniels' character in The Squid and the Whale, they weren't "serious." However, we were pleased to see that they had Grafton Village's Four Star Mature Vermont Cheddar. Grafton Village had made Saveur's list of the 50 best cheeses in America (they were #17), and they've been making fine cheeses since 1892, so we were eager to give them a try.

Grafton Village's Four Star Cheddar is exactly the kind of cheddar we've been looking for: extra, extra sharp, crumbly yet creamy, with a candy-like finish. We're well-stocked with cheese accompaniments at the moment, including an excellent Apple-Quince chutney that Michelle made last week, so we've been having that Four Star with crackers and preserves, but mostly we've been savoring it straight-up. It's so good you really just want to have it unadulterated. "Serious."

Note: We're presently in the process of lobbying Yannick to start stocking some of your finer Vermont cheeses. If our bid is successful we'll be sure to let you know.


Thursday, December 08, 2005

Glorious Return: American Flatbread

American Flatbread's amazing wood-burning oven

By last weekend we really were in need of a little getaway, so we got in touch with Kazi and decided to do a daytrip down to Vermont in search of fresh air, New England scenery, artisanal cheese, and a pizza or two. Our route was plotted out based largely around a number of Northern Vermont creameries—Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro, Cabot Creamery in Cabot, and the Vermont Butter and Cheese Co. in Websterville—but the real goal of our little escapade was to get ourselves in close proximity to Waitsfield by around 4:30 in the afternoon so that we could sign ourselves up for a table at American Flatbread. We didn’t quite make it to Websterville—we ran out of time—but we made our two other stops on our creamery tour easily (more on this here), and we had no problem doing what it took to make our rendezvous in Waitsfield. All three of us had been to American Flatbread before and it’s safe to say that we’d all had memorable experiences there. We had plenty of incentive to guide us.

Michelle and I had been to American Flatbread about two and a half years earlier. It was July of the summer of 2003 and we’d set out on a much more "adventurous" daytrip than last weekend's, one that began in Saratoga Springs, NY with a trip to the Saratoga Race Course to play the ponies. Several hours later, after a near-miss on a 44 to 1 longshot (!), lunching at the cantina that catered to the Mexican migrant workers that tend to the thoroughbreds, and a lovely drive up Hwy 4 along the Hudson and then into Vermont, we found our way to American Flatbread on the grounds of the Lareau Farm in the Mad River Valley. It was probably about 6:30 by the time we got to American Flatbread that evening, and we were familiar with the lore that surrounded their pizzas--which is why we'd been trying to make it there "early"--but we definitely weren’t prepared for the carnival we found when we got there. We’d taken Hwy 4 all the way to Hwy 100, and the drive got more and more sleepy and more and more photogenic the further we headed north along the 100. But when we made that sharp turn into the dirt driveway that leads down from the 100 to the Lareau Farm we suddenly found more cars than we’d seen since we passed Rutland an hour or two earlier. The parking lot was packed and there was quite the crowd gathered on the porch of the big old refashioned farmhouse, hanging out around a big wood fire in the firepit, traipsing across the meadow behind the farmhouse, and dining in the outdoor seating area. Michelle made her way into the restaurant to add our name to the list and when she came back she announced that there was a three to three and a half hour wait for a table. I said, “Excuse me?” Neither of us had ever heard of such a wait, so we balked for about 30 seconds or so, but then we decided, hey, we came all this way, and it really is a beautiful evening out (because it was, it was the perfect summer evening, warm and humid, with clear skies above and a gorgeous sunset in the works), and we don’t have any other place to go to, and, after all, American Flatbread is located in a town called Waitsfield, so what the hell. We ordered a couple of beers from the bar inside, brought them out to the porch, fetched a couple of books and the New York Times crossword from the car, and settled in to our surroundings. Before we knew it, a couple of hours had passed by, and by that time the sun was setting, the stars started to appear, and the fireflies were joining them over by the meadow. We were absolutely, perfectly relaxed by the time our name got called (a little earlier than expected, as it turned out), and we moved to our outdoor table and had one of the most memorable meals of the last few years. The food was great, no question about it, but this was one of those meals that was more about the all-around experience than just the food. It had to do with the weather, and the scenery, and the farmhouse, and the kids running across the meadow, and the conversation around the firepit, and the stars, and the fireflies, and the locally and organically grown ingredients used by the kitchen, and the sense of community that filled the air.

This year we talked and talked about going back, especially on another warm summer night, but, sadly, our glorious return to American Flatbread never really materialized. They’re only open for dining two nights out of the week—Friday and Saturday—and, between the two of us, we were working both of those days all summer long. Suffice to say, we were overdue for a visit by the time last weekend rolled along.

This time around there was definitely no warm, humid weather, there sure weren't any fireflies, and things at Lareau Farm were quite a bit more subdued than they had been in 2003. We showed up right at 4:30, right at the time that the staff at American Flatbread starts taking names for the evening’s dining, and we had no problem getting ourselves put near the top of that list. We hadn't really eaten since we filled up at Cosmos early in the morning, so we opted to be seated at the first available seating time, 5:30. With an hour to relax, we decided to do a little tramping across the meadow and through the snow. Night was coming on quickly and things were getting pretty dark, but one of the hosts was kind enough to lend us a headlamp (he even went out to his truck to grab it for us!), so off we went.

tramping in Vermont

45 minutes later we ambled up to the firepit, where once again a fire was burning, and we spent 10 minutes or so warming up. Then we went into the farmhouse and ordered three beers at the bar and waited for our name to get called. We got seated right in front of American Flatbread's massive and beautiful wood-burning oven--the perfect position to watch the action as well as to warm up some more after our walk in the woods. The oven occupies the central position in the dining room at American Flatbread--the high vaulted ceiling has the effect of making it look like a kind of altar, fittingly enough. Like everything else at American Flatbread, the oven was made from local ingredients like Vermont fieldstone and soapstone (which is particularly well-suited for evenly distributing heat), but, interestingly, the oven was modeled after the clay-domed ovens that were traditional in rural Quebec in the 18th and 19th centuries. I've come across pictures of these ovens like this one that was featured in The Art of Eating No. 69

clay oven, Murray Bay, QC, 1898

and places like Au Pied de Cochon here in Montreal incorporate their own modern take on these ovens as part of their charm, but in my travels across Quebec I've yet to come across one as authentic as the one at American Flatbread. On their web site the folks at American Flatbread claim, "These clay domes are considered by many master bakers to make the very best bread." This indicates that there's an entire tradition of bread baking unique to Quebec that was completely extinguished during the push towards modernization. American Flatbread uses only the finest local and organic ingredients in everything that they make, but that oven alone is enough to distinguish their work from that of so many other pizza makers across North America. At the very least you need a well-seasoned oven; American Flatbread's oven is not only well-seasoned, it's also a work of art, a labor of love, and a focus for the sense of community, the commonweal, they've developed over the last couple of decades.

When it came to ordering, we were definitely happy to have Kazi along because it meant that we could order a second pizza and try out another combination or two. On our first visit to American Flatbread we'd tried a half and half New Vermont Sausage and Punctuated Equilibrium pizza and we absolutely loved it. The New Vermont Sausage pizza was especially deluxe--it featured "Hadley Gaylord's naturally raised Waitsfield pork in a nitrate-free maple-fennel sausage," mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes (dried and prepared on premises), caramelized onions, and a blend of cheeses, and that bright fennel-maple flavor was truly something else. The Punctuated Equilibrium, on the other hand, consisted of Vermont chèvre, red onions, roasted red peppers, black olives, herbs, mozzarella, and garlic--as the name suggests, perfect balance shot through with the pungency of that goat's milk cheese and the brine of the olives. We were so impressed by these two combos and we'd been craving them for so long that we decided that ordering them again was the only possible option. This time around we ordered a full New Vermont Sausage pizza along with a half and half Punctuated Equilibrium and Pepperoni and Peppers pizza. We were intrigued by the thought of having a quality pepperoni pizza (for once), one made with an "all natural nitrate-free pepperoni," and we were pretty sure that each half's Mediterranean vibe would complement the other. How right we were! Our Mediterranean Special was a great match--maybe even too good of a match--and ordering a full New Vermont Sausage was one of the best decisions I've ever been a part of. Halfway through our pizzas we found ourselves gazing over at the woman to the left of the oven with fascination and covetousness in our hearts (Who was she? A reviewer? An heiress?). She was sitting at her table solo with a bottle of red wine and not one, but two pizzas on her table. She had about 4 or 5 pieces of her pizzas, drank most of her bottle of wine, and then waltzed out of the restaurant with the loveliest assortment of leftovers you ever saw. Hmm...

Even the desserts were impressive last Saturday night. Kazi and I split the homemade apple pie with homemade vanilla ice cream and Michelle ordered a double order of mignardises, which wound up consisting of two chocolate-covered toffee candies and two chocolate-covered caramel candies. We'd had their excellent apple pie before, but we'd never had their candies and, like everything else, they were both thoughtful and delicious. We accompanied our desserts with two cups of coffee, and it was time to head off into that starry Vermont night and face up to our drive back to Montreal.

Heading down to Waitsfield, VT for pizza might seem like an awfully long way to go for pizza, but when you take into account the quality of American Flatbread's pies, the sad state of pizza affairs in Montreal, and the fact that even New Yorkers regularly make the trek up to the Mad River Valley solely for one of American Flatbread's justly famous pizzas (!), well, to our minds, it seems perfectly reasonable.

American Flatbread is located just south of Waitsfield, VT along Hwy 100. They're open for dinner on Friday and Saturday nights. Unless you show up at 4:30 and make a booking for yourself at 5:30, you should be prepared for a healthy (and potentially relaxing) wait. They're only open twice a week and their pizzas are very, very good. You do the math. Waitsfield is about a 3-hour drive from Montreal.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Bayley Hazen Blue

Vermont blue and figs
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

A few years ago, I came across a cheese map of Quebec which detailed where the fromageries were and what they had to offer. We used this map a lot to find amazing local cheeses, and it became one of our main excuses for our weekend trips across the province. Quebec, like some other parts of North America, has been experiencing a renaissance in artisanal cheesemaking so you can find dozens and dozens of small cheesemakers scattered across the countryside. Thank God! There are so many incredible local cheeses right now in Quebec, such as Riopelle, Athonyte, Le Pizy, Valbert, Victor et Bertholde, and hundreds more, and so many of them are made with raw milk, too. Clearly there's a lot to be excited about, but there's still room for improvement. For reasons that might seem obvious, the cheeses that have emerged as part of this renaissance have tended to be French in style, rather than English, or Italian, or anything else. This is both a blessing and a curse. It means we have some very impressive high cream content cow's and goat's milk cheeses, but it also means that we're short on artisanal versions of the English-style cheeses that were staples here earlier. Another one of our weaknesses is in the area of artisanal butter production. To be rolling in French-style cheeses but to be lacking in French-style, fresh-churned butter is simply absurd.

Meanwhile, just south of the border, a parallel dairy renaissance has been underway. It's not that Vermont produces any more cheeses than Quebec, but step into nearly any general store in Vermont (and nearly every small town has one) and you'll find lovely local cheese, butter, milk and cream readily available. So, for instance, the blue cheese pictured above is something we bought at a little general store in Greensboro. We stopped in there looking for directions to Jasper Hill Farm, which is also in Greensboro and which we'd heard rave reviews of, but we were told that the farm didn't have a retail outlet. And, in any case, the woman at the store wasn't exactly sure where Jasper Hill Farm was located anyway. Lucky for us, they happened to stock Jasper Hill Farm's cheeses, so we picked one up. It's called Bayley Hazen Blue, and it is simply amazing, a perfect cheese. It might well be the best blue I have ever had in my life. We ate it with an apple-quince chutney and were blown away by its flavour.

Jasper Hill Farm makes only five different cheeses, and they are much sought-after by restaurants and boutiques in America. They have the aforementioned blue, Bayley Hazen, Aspenhurst, a Leicester-style cheese which is aged for one year--this year's vintage is sold out already, Constant Bliss, a soft-ripened cheese, washed-rind Winnemere, and another blue called Bartlett.

Our Jasper Hill experience was so good that plans are definitely in the works to make a trip to Vermont to pick up whatever else we can find of theirs, since their cheeses are unavailable in Montreal. * If anyone is interested in going in on a whole wheel of cheese, let me know. I can think of no better Christmas present...

If you want to plan your own Vermont cheese tour check out the Vermont Cheese Council's site. You'll find everything you need to know about Vermont goat's milk, sheep's milk, and cow's milk cheeses, recipes, and your very own spiffy Vermont cheese map.


* For those of our lucky readers in NYC or SF, Murray's ** and The Cheese Board regularly carry Jasper Hill Farm's cheeses.

** Did you know that the Murray's crew have a blog?

Monday, December 05, 2005

Top Ten #3

1. Paula Wolfert, The Cooking of South-West France (Harper and Row)

2. the new Niukee

3. Tom Colicchio, Think Like a Chef (Clarkson Potter Publishers)

4. The Faces, First Step (Columbia)

5. pickled prunes

6. Edward Behr, The Artful Eater (Atlantic Monthly Press)

7. sausage pizza, American Flatbread

8. Tony Richardson, The Charge of the Light Brigade

9. my new fine chinois

10. The Kinks, Something Else, but especially "Afternoon Tea" (ESM)


Friday, December 02, 2005

The Panforte Trials

Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

When our friend Kazi went to Florence a few years ago, she brought back three different panfortes for us to try (along with all kinds of other goodies). All three panfortes were amazing, and all three came in those beautiful wrappers that are synonymous with real Italian panforte, but I remember an especially dark and spicy one which was particularly sumptuous. It was all you needed to warm you up on a cold winter night. Okay, that and an espresso or a nightcap--or both. And having three kinds meant you could pick the one that best suited your mood. One was fruitier, the other nuttier, and one was extra spicy. Last year, we bought one from La Forchetta, a local Italian caterer. It was delicious. Its ingredients included confited pineapple, alongside the requisite nuts and candied citrus peel. We ate it all holiday season long and shared it with guests. I missed having a selection, though, and vowed that the next year I would make at least two different ones to provide us with panforte options.

It's amazing how different panfortes can be from one another. I haven't even looked into making a "white" panforte because I prefer the bitterness the cocoa brings to this otherwise very sweet confection. Panforte is related to nougat, in that a candy base is made and mixed with fruit and nuts, but that's where the similarities end. Nougat is light and airy, thanks to the meringue, and is closer to a candy. Panforte, with its spices and dense texture, is reminiscent of Christmas pudding and fruitcake, and is best served in small portions--a little goes a long way--and is particularly good with a dessert wine like a Vin Santo.

Today's first test comes from David Lebovitz's book Room For Dessert. By just reading the ingredients, I knew it would be delicious. It has both cocoa and melted chocolate, hazelnuts and almonds, and candied citrus peel. Simple but divine. A classic.

Panforte #1

5 Tbsp. cocoa, plus more for dusting
3 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted
1 c. hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 1/2 c. almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
3/4 c. flour
3/4 c. candied citrus peel, citron is ideal, but oranges and lemons work, chopped
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp. black pepper
pinch nutmeg
pinch chili pepper
1 c. sugar
3/4 c. honey
icing sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Butter a 9" springform pan and dust it with cocoa. Tap out excess.

Mix nuts, flour, cocoa, spices, and candied peel. Stir in melted chocolate.

Boil honey and sugar to 240 degrees F and pour over nut mixture. Stir well to combine and place in pan.

Bake 50 min., and let cool 30 min. before unmolding. Dust with icing sugar and store up to one year, well wrapped (although you may find this difficult--we've already eaten a quarter of ours in 2 days). You can see how well this one turned out--it's the one featured in the photo above.

Next up a recipe from a magazine, but I forget which one! I copied it at work one day. It's from a recent issue of one of the food magazines. I was a bit skeptical when I saw the pecans--I don't know, something about their being native to North America... but I was intrigued by the figs and sour cherries. I love figs and sour cherries! Also, there were more spices and fruits in this one, so I tried it.

Panforte #2

1 c. hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 c. pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
3/4 c. dates
1/2 c. candied orange peel
1/2 c. dried sour cherries
1/2 c. flour
1/4 c. dried figs, chopped
2 Tbsp. cocoa
1 tsp. finely grated orange peel
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. coriander
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cardamom
pinch white pepper
3/4 c. honey
3/4 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. butter

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Butter a 9" springform pan and dust with cocoa.
Mix fruit, nuts, flour, spices and cocoa.

Boil honey, sugar and butter to 242 degrees F. Pour over nuts and mix. Place in pan and bake 50 min. Let cool and unmold. Dust with icing sugar and store well-wrapped for up to a year.

Using butter instead of melted chocolate gives the panforte a caramel-like texture, rather than a dense, chocolatey one. This panforte is a fruitier one than the one above, and less spicy. It is good, but, I have to say, I prefer the first one. Other people, though, might prefer this one for its greater variety of fruit and its subtle hints of spice.

Panforte makes a great sweet after dinner, or a perfect gift for a host. Make one, two, or three, and enjoy.