Saturday, April 28, 2007

Shrimp, Shrimp Boil, Shrimp Burgers

boiled shrimp fig. a: freshly boiled shrimp

We might seem like a couple of Johnny-Come-Latelys with this post because those of you who keep abreast of the world of food magazines know full-well that shrimp have been nothing if not a hot topic over the last couple of months. They were the lead story in the March issue of Saveur, gracing the cover and providing the focus for a sweeping 15-page spread; they made the cover of the May issue of Food & Wine in the tantalizing form of "bacon-wrapped shrimp with passion fruit," the lead-in to a story on Jean-Georges Vongerichten's very own Polynesian Fantasy Island; and they played a prominent part in the bouillabaisse gracing the cover of the May issue of Gourmet. Hell, if that wasn't enough, we got a loaner copy of the January issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller because there was a feature on summer cocktails that one of Michelle's friends thought might be of interest, and, sure enough, there were "poached prawns" and "scampi with chilli and shallot salt," artfully placed next to a cool summer drink, right there on the cover. Everywhere we looked: shrimp, shrimp, and more shrimp.

Now, we're both big fans of shrimp--we don't know many people who aren't--so it wouldn't have taken much persuading to get us to try out some new shrimp recipes, especially because it's crevettes de Matane season around these-here parts--the one time of the year when shrimp are not only plentiful, they're tasty, regional, and relatively cheap. But what really got us all revved up and raring to go was the truly fantastic The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook: Stories and Recipes for Southerners and Would-Be Southerners, which entered our lives recently when a certain someone picked it up for Yours Truly on the occasion of his birthday. The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook is smart, charming, well-researched, and chock-full of all kinds tempting recipes for everything from cocktails, to snacks, to grits and rice recipes, to a stunning array of vegetable recipes ("Where did the South get its reputation for being hostile to vegetarians?," they ask). It's also got many of the poultry, pork, beef, and game you'd want from a book on Southern cuisine, from Baked Country Ham, to both Tuesday and Sunday Fried Chicken, to a "suite of pork picnic shoulder recipes" (Yes!). But for some reason we found ourselves particularly attracted to the seafood recipes right off the bat. In fact, when it came to giving our copy of The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook a test drive we started with the very last recipe in the whole cotton-picking book, pg. 553's Lee Bros. Shrimp Boil. For those of you unfamiliar with Southern coastal cuisine and the range of spice mixes expressly intended for boiling seafood that are known as "boils" (of which McCormick's Old Bay is the most famous variant), the phrase "shrimp boil" might very well fill you with dread. It need not. As Matt and Ted Lee explaing, "A shrimp boil is a spice blend that combines with water to make an instantly spicy and aromatic broth, a perfect medium for boiling all sorts of fish and shellfish." We were curious to see what a homemade shrimp boil would be like, and we'd already determined that Lee Bros. Shrimp Boil was going to be crucial to upcoming Lee Bros. recipe testing, so we got to work. The fact that we had everything necessary onhand made things that much easier.

lee bros. shrimp boil fig. b: freshly prepared Lee Bros. Shrimp Boil

Lee Bros. Shrimp Boil

1 tbsp peppercorns
1 tbsp celery seeds
6 bay leaves, shredded with scissors
1/2 cup kosher salt
3 tbsp ground cayenne pepper

Pound the peppercorns, celery seeds, and bay leaf with the salt in a mortar, in batches if necessary. Place in a small bowl and stir in the cayenne. This mixture will keep for up to 2 months in an airtight container.

Makes 1 ridiculously fragrant scant cup.

With that out of the way we were all set for our first test. We were enticed by everything from the crab cakes, to the Bobo-Style Oyster Pie, to the Legareville Oyster Roast and the Rural Mission Crab Crack and Fish Fry, but what we settled on, what Michelle decided would make a particularly delicious lunch, was the recipe for Shrimp Burgers. I'd had my share of shrimp po'boys in East Texas and Louisiana, but I'd never been to any of the shrimping towns like Thunderbolt, GA, McClellanville, SC, or Morehead City, NC that the Lee Bros. single out as being prime stomping grounds for shrimp burgers. The Lee Bros. recipe was admittedly a bit new-fangled, utilizing the sweetness of corn to draw out the full flavor of the shrimp and ginger "to give it complexity," but we liked its apparent lightness of touch and its admonition to "use a gentle hand when flipping the burgers in the skillet," which was reminiscent of just the kind of crab cakes we prefer.

Shrimp Burgers

2 quarts water
2 tbsp Lee Bros. Shrimp Boil
1 pound headless large shrimp (26-30 per pound), shells on
2 tbsp chopped scallions
1/4 cup fresh corn kernels, cut from the cob (about 1/2 ear)
2 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 1/2 tsp lemon zest (from 1 lemon)
3 tbsp high-quality store-bought mayonnaise, such as Hellmann's
1 cup bread crumbs, preferably fresh
kosher salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
pepper vinegar to taste (optional)
1 egg, beaten
1 1/2 tbsp canola oil

Bring the water and shrimp boil to a boil over high heat in a 3-quart saucepan. Turn off the heat. Add the shrimp and let stand until they are just pink, about 2-4 minutes, depending on just how big your shrimp are. Drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking. Peel the shrimp and chop coarsely [You can devein them first, if you like, but the Lee Bros. aren't fussy about such things unless the shrimp are being showcased in such a way that their aesthetics are critical, which isn't the case here.] You should have 1 3/4 cups chopped shrimp.

In a large bowl, mix the shrimp with the scallions, corn, parsley, ginger, and lemon zest. Stir in the mayonnaise and bread crumbs and season with salt, black pepper, and pepper vinegar. Add the egg and gently fold with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until evenly distributed.

Form the shrimp mixture into four patties, each about 3 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the patties in plastic wrap and let stand in the refrigerator for 30 minutes [as in the case of crab cakes, this is an important step, so don't skip it].

Remove the burgers from the refrigerator and unwrap them. Place the oil in a 12-inch skillet and heat over medium-high to high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the burgers and sauté until both sides are gently browned, about 3 minutes per side. Drain on a dinner plate lined with a paper towel.

Serve on a toasted hamburger bun (or a fresh Portuguese bun) with lettuce, tomato, and Tartar Sauce (such as Lee Bros. or A.J.'s E-Z Spicy).

Serves 4.

Pepper Vinegar

1 cup white wine vinegar
2 Thai, serrano, or bird's eye chiles, fresh or dried

With a funnel, pour the vinegar into a cruet. Add the chiles and use a chopstick or the handle of a wooden spoon to submerge them, if necessary. Cap the cruet and place it in the refrigerator. The vinegar will be well infused in 24 hours and will keep for months in the refrigerator.

A.J.'s E-Z Spicy Tartar Sauce

4 tbsp high-quality store-bought mayonnaise, like Hellmann's
8 salt-packed capers, rinsed and minced
1 tsp chipotle puree

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. Makes enough for four shrimp burgers.

shrimp burgers fig. c: freshly made shrimp burger

How'd they turn out? Just great--look at that baby. Really one of the best lunches we've had in recent memory and an auspicious debut for The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook.


Saturday, April 21, 2007

Mexicali Madness I

corona & lime

By the time of my birthday, in the first week of April, all signs of spring had vanished and the temperature had plummeted to a high of 1º C. We decided to soldier on regardless, turning South of the Border for strength (actually, south of a couple of borders), to Mexico. Our menu and our approach to Mexican this time around was going to have some California flavor to it, though, so when we came up with the name for our night, we called it "Mexicali Madness." We got so inspired it really didn't take long to draw up our menu/shopping list

mexicali menu

and then we designed our invitations, with a little help from J.G. Posada.

mexicali madness I

I knew I wanted a roast pork dish that'd be falling off the bone and just begging to get scooped up in a fresh, hot tortilla as the centerpiece. I also knew I wanted fish tacos. More than anything, though, I wanted the table to be a tribute to those extraordinary condiments trays you find in Baja when you go to a fish taco joint and place your order, the ones with a dizzying array of toppings, from freshly prepared guacamole and salsa, to pickled onions, carrots, and jalapeños, to crema and those ubiquitous bottles of Tapatío, each of these assortments unique to that particular establishment. The idea here was to have a celebration of bounty, one not unlike this vision of cornucopia, but spicier, hotter, more savory (if you can believe that).

mexico, land of plenty

The menu that we settled on included queso fundido, asado de puerco a la Veracruzana, tacos de pescado a la A.J., guacamole, salsa ranchero a la A.J., frijoles negros, and a whole whack of fixin's, and mostly we turned to our friends Diana Kennedy, Philippe de Vienne and John Thorne for assistance.

Queso fundido

Mexican queso, Monterey Jack, or medium cheddar

Preheat your oven to 325º F. Grate the cheese and place it in an ovenproof dish. Add sliced mushrooms, chorizo sausage slices, or strips of grilled peppers, if you like. Bake in the oven for 5 minutes, or until the cheese has fully melted. Serve hot accompanied with hot corn tortillas.

[from Philippe de Vienne]

Simple, elemental, gooey, delicious.

Asado de Puerco a la Veracruzana

5 lb pork roast on the bone, preferably pork butt
6 garlic cloves
1 tbsp salt
5 tbsp fresh lime juice
6 ancho chiles, seeds and veins removed
4 morita chiles, or 1 chipotle or mora
1/2 cup water, approximately
4 whole allspice, crushed
frozen banana leaves sufficient to wrap the roast in a double layer, thawed and wiped clean

Pierce the meat all over with the point of a sharp knife. Mash the garlic with the salt and moisten with the lime juice. Rub this mixture thoroughly into the roast and set aside to season while you prepare the chile mixture.

Lightly toast the ancho chiles on a hot griddle. Cover them with hot water, add the whole, untoasted morita chiles, and simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the chiles soak another 5 minutes.

Transfer the chiles to a blender with the water. Add the allspice and blend until smooth. Add a little more water only if the paste remains too thick and doesn't blend properly.

Coat the pork liberally with the chile paste. Hold the banana leaf over a hot heat until it softens and wrap it around the meat. Let the meat season overnight in the refrigerator.

The next day, preheat the oven to 325º F.

Place the banana-leaf-wrapped meat in a Dutch oven or casserole with a tightly fitting lid (or seal it tightly in a large roasting pan with aluminum foil, like we did) and bake for 2 hours, by the end of which time there should be plenty of juices at the bottom of the casserole. Remove the lid, discard the banana leaves, and continue cooking the meat uncovered, basting it from time to time, for about 2 hours longer, or until the meat is soft and falls away from the bone with ease.

Serve hot, with fresh corn tortillas.

[from The Essential Cuisines of Mexico by Diana Kennedy]

As soon as I saw this recipe I knew it was The One for this occasion. As soon as I saw that marinade, that chile paste, and those banana leaves I could visualize the end result. I'd love to do a slow-cooked version of this sometime, but this time around we followed Kennedy's specifications to a tee, and, believe me, it didn't disappoint. Kennedy mentions that this dish is much better the day of than it is the day after, but we threw all caution into the wind and did a double recipe anyway, because we knew we were going to have a hungry crowd. We were pretty pleased when it turned out we had some leftover pork at the end of the evening, and we managed to revive those leftovers just fine the next day when we recreated our pork taco feast all over again.

Tacos de pescado a la A.J.

In Baja, the chunks of fish that you get with our fish tacos are always batter-fried--they're batter-fried with finesse, but they're still batter-fried. Sometimes I prefer to just sauté my fish for my home version. I get a couple generous hunks of a fish that's got some body to it, but that won't break the bank, something like Opah (or Moonfish). Then I cut them up into 1-1 1/2 inch cubes and I marinate them in a combination of lime juice and tequila in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes. When they're ready to go, I heat a few tablespoons of flavorless oil (like Canola or grapeseed) in a skillet or wok until it's smoking. I take the fish out of the marinade with a slotted spoon, place them in the hot pan, and stir-fry them until they're just done, no more than 3 minutes or so. Serve with hot corn tortillas.


1 serrano pepper, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 onion, minced
1 medium-size ripe tomato, diced
2 avocados, just ripe
minced cilantro to taste
juice of 1/2 lime (optional)

Whether you add lime juice or not is going to have a lot to do with how good and ripe your avocados are. I'm kind of partial to lime juice, but that's mainly because I can't get the kind of avocados up here that I became accustomed to in Orange County, CA one summer. Frankly, I feel the same way about the tomato. If you can't find a really nice, ripe one, it might pay to just leave it out. Nothing ruins a guacamole faster than a mealy, previously frozen supermarket tomato.

[This recipe's mostly Kennedy's classic version with a little de Vienne thrown in for good measure.]

Fast Frijoles Negros

1 onion, chopped
1 head of garlic, broken into cloves, peeled, and minced
1/4 cup olive oil
4 19-oz cans black beans, drained
1 tablespoon chipotle purée
juice of 1 lime
salt and pepper to taste
minced cilantro (optional)

In a medium-size pot, heat the oil and sauté the onion and garlic until the onion is soft. Add the beans, stir, fill up one of the empty cans of beans with water and add that, too. Bring to a boil, then simmer on low for 20-30 minutes, making sure to stir from time to time to make sure the beans aren't getting scorched, and adding additional water if necessary. Add the chipotle purée, the lime juice, and adjust the seasonings. Garnish with cilantro if you like.

[Adapted from a Cuban black beans recipe in John Thorne's Serious Pig]

What's getting left out in all of this is Michelle's fantastic dessert. She asked me what I wanted and I was honest: cookies and ice cream. Not some big cake (as much as I love big cakes), something simple and somewhat lighter, something befitting a Mexican fiesta. So she made Mexican vanilla ice cream with dark caramel brittle and Mexican chocolate cookies to go with it.

Documenting the evening's festivities with his impressionistic photographic eye was none other than Mr. S., but somehow he managed to miss the piñata, the Mexican hat dance, and the all-human, cruelty-free bullfight that we organized as entertainment. He did manage to capture the following photographs, though. L-R: Michelle, LPs, Julie, Alina, Seth, A.J., Nick, Mexican chocolate cookies, Susan.

mexicali montage

Thanks to T., A., A., C., V., H., M., S., J., N., J., C., S. and M.

By popular demand (top L-R: Seth, Camilla, Susan, Nick; middle L-R: Seth, Juliet, A.J., Tim; bottom L-R: Hermine, Python, Adam, Nick):

mexicali squares


Friday, April 20, 2007

Philz in the house

Jacob's Wunderbar

"Good things come to those who wait," right? Politically, I've always found that dictum a little suspect, but in other spheres of life it's not without its merits, I guess. For one thing, fasting and feasting traditionally served as the natural rhythm of most societies. Then there's that clinical study Michelle and I heard about on CBC 1 a couple of weeks ago: the one where children were basically told, "You could either have this one cookie here in front of you now, or if you wait an hour I'll give you five cookies. Which option would you prefer?" The two groups of children--the impulsive ones who need to be gratified instantly, and the ones who were willing to wait to get gratified five times as much--were then periodically studied over the course of a lifetime, in a manner not unlike Michael Apted's Seven Up! series. Guess which group turned out to be a "more productive" part of society?

Well, we here at " endless banquet," always keen to prove that we belong to The Elect, have patiently done without Philz coffee truly extraordinary coffee for months and months, and for our tremendous patience we were rewarded with not one but two bags of Philz coffee--one bag of Philz Philharmonic and one bag of Jacob's Wunderbar--a few weeks ago when Michelle's sister, N., returned from a trip out west. From the moment we opened that bag of Philz Philharmonic, the first blend that flipped our lids back in 2005, it was love all over again. And from the moment we brewed our first two cups of Philz Philharmonic, it was true love. The only thing left was to "make love" to our coffee, as Phil would say (remember, we'd been "saving ourselves" for this moment for months and months), but we were out of the whole green cardamom necessary to give Philz Philharmonic that Philz touch. So we headed off to Jean-Talon Market to pay Olives et Épices a visit.

sri lankan cardamom

The timing couldn't have been more perfect, because when we arrived, Ethné de Vienne, just back from a 3-week trip to India and Sri Lanka, told us that they'd returned with the most phenomenal cardamom ever. Not the Guatemalan variety that we usually get here in North America, but real Sri Lankan cardamom. We checked it out and took a sniff and, sure enough, it was the most perfumed cardamom we'd ever encountered. We snatched a canister (not without stopping at the till first, mind you) and raced back home, and within about 15 minutes of arrival we were savoring a proper cup of cardamom-laced Philz Philharmonic. Bliss. The only thing we forgot was the mint leaf. Sorry, Phil.

Anyway, if you're going to San Francisco, pay Philz a visit. If you know someone who's going to Frisco, get them to pay a visit on your behalf and show some love (i.e., bring some back). If neither of these scenarios apply, you could always mail order some of Philz magical blends. Call in your order and you might even get to talk to Phil himself. Imagine.


Thursday, April 19, 2007


the sun

The above photograph may not look like much to you, depending on where on Earth you happen to be as you read this, but for us around here it's of the utmost significance. That, friends, is the Sun, its rays pouring through our storm windows and our screen and filling the living room, and if you look real closely you can see blue sky and wispy clouds too. We haven't seen the Sun in what seems like an eternity, and in the meantime we've been dumped on and lashed by every possible storm imaginable, including a double-action Nor'easter, we've temporarily succumbed to malady, we've watched aghast as news of the world's scandals and atrocities got beamed into our living room, and we've just generally had to batten down the hatches for weeks on end. Then, yesterday, all of a sudden, things started to shift just slightly, and today we found ourselves dressed in our spring jackets, driving around with the windows down, and talking about things like summer drinks and planting our garden. Finally! What a difference a day or two can make.

It's 15º C as we write, the windows are now wide open, and we here at " endless banquet" promise to emerge from our doldrums with a battery of posts in the upcoming days. (No more Weather Channel fodder. The real deal.) We've got to ease back in to things, though, so today we've just started with an updated Top Ten list: Top Ten #18. More to come...

--the management

R.I.D. to our brothers and sisters all along the Eastern Seaboard (NYC, MA, NB, NS, etc.) who took the full brunt of that Nor'easter.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Top Ten #18

1. The Wire, season 3

get down!

2. Golden Afrique, vol. 1

3. Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook

4. shrimp burgers

5. Benne wafers

vintage simcha's bag

6. Simcha's relics

7. Momofuku clams

8. Éthiopiques 21: Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou

9. Mexicali Madness I

quistgaard pepper mill

10. Jens Quistgaard pepper mills


Sunday, April 08, 2007

24 clams (and then some)

Momofuking Clams

I'm not sure what got into us. Partly it was the memory of our trip to David Chang's Momofuku #1 last June, and my lingering regret over balking on his Long Island Razor Clams* with Kurowycky Sausage. Partly it was because of a desire to go back to La Mer to take a closer look at their astounding oyster selection. Whatever the case, the other day we up and hopped into Putney, our trusty, rusty '89 Jetta, and made our way back down to La Mer. When we emerged, a half an hour later, we had 24 Littleneck clams*, a small assortment of oysters from P.E.I., N.Y., and B.C., and, by some strange twist of fate, a single Dungeness crab from Alaska. Don't ask. I swear we never go this crazy (okay, almost never), but Michelle just couldn't take her eyes off those crab tanks and before I knew it I'd locked eyes too.

Anyway, we headed back home, opened up a bottle of wine (I mean, at this point, what the hell, right?), and got to work. We brought a pot of salted water to boil and threw our crab in. Then we prepared our clams according to the following recipe, one that's just a slight variation on a recipe that appeared in the New York Times almost exactly a year ago:

Momofuku-style Clams with Kielbasa

4 tbsp grapeseed oil or other neutral oil like corn or canola
1/4 onion, chopped finely
salt and pepper
24 clams, Razor, Littleneck, or Manila, scrubbed
1/4 lb smoked kielbasa
1/2 cup sake
2 tbsp finely chopped scallions
1 tbsp minced ginger
1/4 cup light soy sauce
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
chopped fresh jalapeños for garnish

Put the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the onions, salt, and pepper when the oil is hot; cook for a minute or two, stirring from time to time, until the onions soften and begin to brown a bit.

Add the clams and raise the heat to high, stirring for another minute. Add the kielbasa and stir again for a minute.

Add the sake, cover, and cook until the clams are tender or open (if you're using Littlenecks or Manilas), about 5 minutes. If applicable, discard any clams that don't open.

Meanwhile, combine the remaining oil with scallions, ginger, soy sauce and vinegar in a bowl.

Put the clams, onions, sausage and their juices in a bowl and spoon sauce over them. Garnish with jalapeños and serve.

Makes 4 servings; more if served as a side.

When we'd finished preparing the clams, the crab was fully cooked, so Michelle, in a bold show of just how pastry-kitchen-hardened she's become, plunged her hand into the boiling water and pulled him out. Somehow, miraculously, her hand reemerged unscathed, and I was there to document this phenomenon photographically:

freshly cooked dungeness crab

The only thing left to do was shuck those Raspberry Point (P.E.I.), Flower (N.Y.), and, best of all, Virginika (B.C.) oysters, place 'em on a platter and seat ourselves à table.

We never have these kind of all-seafood extravaganzas. It wasn't the most cost-efficient meal of all time, but it was absolutely worth every last penny. We melted butter for the Dungeness crab and quartered a lemon for the oysters, but both were so good, so sweet, so naturally briny that we ended up eating them unadorned. The clams had that special David Chang genius: a kind of intuitive type of fusion that's unfussy and surprisingly, refreshingly unselfconscious (in this case, an Asian/East Village riff on that classic Iberian combination of clams and pork).

The cats were happy (they got their very first taste of Dungeness crab). We were happy. Win-win.


* So named because of their startling resemblance to a sheathed straight blade.

** They had razor clams, too, but they didn't look nearly as fresh as they do in NYC, while the Littlenecks, on the other hand, looked great.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

AEB Classics, #39: Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Grilled Cheese à la AEB

Grilled Cheese à la AEB

Sourdough bread
Aged cheddar
Devil Chutney or Pickapeppa Sauce

Start with two slices of good-quality sourdough bread (such as Olive and Gourmando, Fromentier, or Première Moisson, if you live in Montreal). Spread mayonnaise on one slice of bread and place two layers of extra-thin slices of aged cheddar on top. Spread Švestka-brand Devil Chutney (preferably) or Pickapeppa Co. Ltd.-brand Pickapeppa Sauce on the other slice of bread. Close up your sandwich. Generously butter one of the outer sides of your sandwich.

Melt another tablespoon of butter in your skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter begins to foam place your sandwich in the skillet, buttered side up. Cover with a lid. When the bottom of the sandwich is golden-brown, flip it carefully and cover it again until it's golden brown on both sides and the cheese has melted thoroughly inside.

Serve with a dill pickle and any other pickles you might have on hand (like a pickled cipollini [pictured] or a pickled ramp).

Repeat as needed.


R.I.D.: C.W.