Friday, December 31, 2004


Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

A croquembouche is a sticky pyramid of choux-paste puffs filled with cream and constructed with caramel. Served at weddings, christenings and other fetes in France, it is currently experiencing a revival here in North America. In my mind, this is the classiest type of wedding cake: dramatic, precarious, and golden-hued. It is a long way from the cloyingly sweet pastel buttercream and rolled fondant cakes usually seen at weddings. The traditional way of serving it is for the bride to take a sword and whack it and for the bridesmaids to catch the pieces in a tablecloth. Nowadays, a waiter is stationed by the croquembouche with a pair of tongs to pluck the puffs from the pyramid and serve them in a decorous manner.
I made my first one without the cream filling so that it could last us through the holiday season as a kitschy centerpiece. The decorations are made from marzipan and are unnecessary, in my opinion. If I were making this for a real wedding, I would use fresh flowers to decorate it and make even more spun sugar to drape around it.
Croquembouches are usually made with 100-500 puffs, although there is no reason why these things need to be made so large. Why not make a mini one for a child’s birthday? Children are drawn to towers of sweets, and if striking the tower with a sword were permitted, it would be a dream come true. Something akin to a pinata, but not something to be done in a carpeted room.


Thursday, December 30, 2004

Enfin! Notre coin Mexicain!

A few days ago we finally got an opportunity to follow up on a tip from Michelle’s friend Anna. For years we’d searched high and low for a good, honest, and inexpensive Mexican restaurant here in Montreal—always to no avail. Montreal has a rather sizeable Latin American population these days, and this has resulted in all kinds of great food opportunities, from Latin American grocery stores (such as Andes on St. Laurent), to Chilean eateries (such as Chilenita’s two branches on Marie-Anne and Napoleon), to Salvadorean restaurants (such as the greatly missed La Carreta, formerly on St. Zotique), to Latin American cultural festivals (such as the Colombian festival that takes place in Parc Laurier every summer, and which has become one of our favorite of Montreal’s many, many festivals because of its great selection of home-cooked Colombian fare). This wide variety of Latin American cuisines has helped to enrich the culinary landscape of the city over the past 20-25 years—they represent a rather significant shift in the demographics of Montreal, one that obviously parallels similar trends in many other urban regions across North America. One of the spots which makes our neighborhood (the border region between the Plateau Mont-Royal and Mile End) such a paradise for gourmets and gourmands alike is a tiny little Mexican place called TORTILLERIA MAYA (5274 St. Laurent Blvd.). Tortilleria Maya is the only place in town that we know of that produces authentic Mexican corn tortillas and corn tortilla chips. They produce tortillas by the hundreds all day long on a fairly small tortilla-making machine that takes up about a quarter of the storeroom—they seem to supply all the better Latin American grocery stores and restaurants around the city—and they’re always still warm when you buy them. Personally, I find it hard to make the trip back home after a purchase without eating one plain along the way, especially in the wintertime when a steaming tortilla provides you with a comforting sense of warmer climates. They also serve some rather excellent tacos—complete with lettuce, queso, and crema—and other Mexican specialties to take out. And everything Tortilleria Maya produces is available for a song. But Tortilleria Maya is a veritable island in the sea, here in Montreal. Most of the Mexican restaurants in town are of the kitschy variety that became so common around North America in the ‘70s and ‘80s, complete with gaudy and overly expensive “exotic” mixed drinks, cluttered and cacophonous interiors meant to capture the chaos that is Mexico, “canned” mariachi music, and super-sized plates of ersatz Mexican cuisine served searing-hot, fresh out of the oven (?!). A number of other Mexican restaurants have gone for a more tasteful, less insulting ambience, but our experience has been that the food at these places is good but not outstanding, and that the prices tend to be high.

Anna comes from Cancun, and when she heard Michelle go on about the lack of authentic Mexican in Montreal, she told her about her cousin’s favorite Mexican restaurant: LE COIN DU MEXIQUE / EL RINCON DE MEXICO (2489 Jean-Talon Est; Metro: d’Iberville). We’d been dying to go there ever since Michelle heard about it and then passed on the good news, but it took us until earlier this week to finally find our way there. Le Coin du Mexique was exactly the kind of place we’d been looking for: small and cozy, with a very welcoming atmosphere and a kitchen staffed by three older Mexican women right upfront, filling the dining room with tantalizing scents and adding to the restaurant’s homeyness. We kept our ordering under control, because we’d already spent much of the day eating all kinds of holiday fare, but everything we had was fresh and delicious. We ordered tamales (one of the specials of the day), an order of chicken tacos, an order of pork tacos, and a couple of cervezas. When the young Mexicanas who were sitting next to us saw our order of tamales come out of the kitchen they screamed (quite literally), and promptly added tamales to their order, and, I have to say, the tamales were scream-worthy. They came piping-hot in their corn husks, the white tamal core (made with masa) graced with shredded chicken and a mild red sauce. Tamales are a traditional part of the graveside meals that take place on All Saints’ Day. With the two of us reading Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano at the moment, not only were they tasty, they were also a propos. Our chicken tacos were served with the tortillas tightly wrapped and deep-fried—a style I’ve read about in cookbooks and magazines but had never actually tasted until the other night. The chicken was unadorned but flavorful and tender, and it played nicely off the hot, crispy texture of the tortilla, and the lettuce, queso, and crema that was served on top of the tacos. The pork tacos were of the soft taco variety. Four soft corn tortillas were filled with a sweet and spicy stewed pork mixture complete with pineapple, and accompanied by a bowl of pickled onion and cilantro to fill them with. We put a healthy pinch of onion and cilantro in each, added a dollop of Le Coin du Mexique’s homemade salsa verde, rolled them up and devoured them. They were truly excellent, and although we were tempted to order some of the platanos Le Coin du Mexique had on offer as a special dessert, after finishing the pork tacos we decided, “with entrées like this, who needs dessert?” Next time we’ll bring larger appetites and we’ll branch out and try a wider selection of Le Coin du Mexique’s offerings—including what looked like impressive Chicken Enchiladas with Mole Poblano. If you’ve been looking for a real Mexican restaurant with honest Mexican soul food at reasonable prices, Le Coin du Mexique is the place for you. If 2489 East Jean-Talon seems out of the way to you, think again: d’Iberville Metro station is right across the street.


P.S.—if you have your own Montreal Mexican restaurant tips (or any non-Montreal Mexican restaurant tips, for that matter), please send them our way—Eds.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

confiture d'oignons, pt. I

confiture d'oignons
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

Michelle and I had oignons confits for the very first time this summer in Paris. Our first experience was so good that we made a point of buying some before leaving Paris. We came home with a lovely jar of Conserverie St. Christophe’s oignons confits that we picked up at La Grande Épicerie de Paris. We tried to stretch it out as long as possible, but just recently we finally polished off the jar. It was time to make our own (something I’d been wanting to try for quite a while), so we turned to a recipe from Confitures, Compotes, Chutneys et Cie from the Marabout Chef series, written by Marie Chemorin. It worked like a charm. I was a little surprised that the onions were sautéed so little to begin with, and when I tasted the onions about 1/2 hour after they started to simmer the flavors were still quite separate and distinct (“there’s the wine, and there’s the grenadine syrup…”)—they hadn’t really gelled yet. But then something quite extraordinary started to happen about an hour into the process. At the end of the 2 hours, the liquid had almost completely evaporated and the onions had turned to candy (quite literally). You’ll see… Here’s the recipe:

Confiture d’oignons

700 g onions, minced
150 g sugar
75 g butter
3 tbsp grenadine syrup
3 tbsp red wine
3 tbsp red wine vinegar

In a medium saucepan (one with a lid), melt the butter gently on low heat. When it has melted fully and has begun to foam a bit, add the onions and cook for 10 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. When the 10 minutes are up, add the sugar, the grenadine syrup, the wine, and the vinegar. Bring to a boil while stirring constantly. Cover the saucepan, and simmer over low heat until the liquid has almost nearly evaporated (this took about 1 1/2 – 2 hours). Let the confiture cool and then place it in small jars. Give a couple to some of your very best friends and keep one for yourself. Serve on crackers with cheese as a hors d’oeuvres, in sandwiches (see “Highlights: Paris” for one sandwich suggestion), and/or as an accompaniment to a main course.


Saturday, December 25, 2004

A Very Special Fruitcake

Mexican Candied Fruits
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

I have been known to say disparaging things about that most controversial of holiday baked goods: fruitcake. The fact that it is impossible to find good fruits confits in Montreal may have something to do with it (that and the disgust that comes on when I see those obnoxiously bright red and green balls called “cherries” that are the most common form of candied fruit). I had missed the boat on making my own candied fruits in time for the holidays – a New Year’s resolution if I ever saw one—so I was just planning on making do with some of the quality dried fruits stocked by my local health food store. However, I must have been complaining at school about Montreal’s lack of fruits confits, because my friend Anna, when she returned from a brief trip to Mexico, came back bearing a bag full of amazing Mexican candied fruits: pineapple, figs, cactus pear, heart of cactus… I could barely believe my eyes: they were the most beautiful candied fruits I’ve ever had the opportunity to cook with, and some of the most beautiful candied fruits I’ve ever seen.
Of course, the most beautiful candied fruits I’ve seen are the artisanal jewels made by some of the master candy makers of Europe, like Christian Constant in Paris. Anthony brought some back for me from Paris last year and I still haven’t recovered. The whole miniature pears, in particular, had an incredible flavour and texture—it would have been a sin to dice them into pieces only to envelope them in a batter and then bake them for hours.
For my Mexican Fruitcake, I adapted a tried and true recipe from The Joy of Cooking: the Dark Fruitcake. Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and mace give the cake its distinctive spiciness. Brandy poured over top the cake rounds out its flavors nicely, while making the heart of the cake wonderfully moist but leaving the edges firm.
This cake can be made with any candied fruits, but the higher the quality, the better the cake. Try using unsulphured dried fruits if you want a version that’s less sweet. If money is no object, Fauchon in Paris does mail order. And if you have a friend who’s going to Mexico, make sure to place an order for their lovely candied fruit. You’ll thank them forever.

[Thank you to Anna for bringing these fruits for me. Don’t worry, a cake is waiting for you in my cupboard.]


Friday, December 24, 2004

Christmas Carp

Carp & co. by Ondrej Sekora
Originally uploaded by tom mix.

At this time last year, Michelle and I were in Prague. We had come to Prague from Berlin to spend the holidays with Michelle’s aunt and her cousins.
Christmas Eve was a day of “fasting,” where we ate some breakfast and lunch, but the dishes we ate were things like buckwheat and onions (kasha, essentially)—“ascetic” meals before the Christmas feasts. The centerpiece of the Christmas Eve feast was the traditional Czech Christmas dish: carp. I was particularly excited about having carp because I’d often heard stories about it and it sounded fantastic. I’d also seen pictures of traditional Czech Christmas meals and the carp always stood out in my mind. As we walked around the city that Christmas Eve we still saw a few of the streetcorner vendors who sell carp live on the streets of Prague. They set up some of those small plastic swimming pools (the kind small children [and frat boys] are oh-so-very fond of) and the carp swim around right there on the city streets. Customers then sidle up and pick out their favorite, and the vendor bags the fish live and sends his customer home with it. Over and over again we heard stories of Prague families keeping their Christmas carp alive in the bathtub in the days before the poor thing got served up on a platter—we even heard stories of small children taking baths with the carp (!). Michelle’s mother has bad memories of seeing those carp in those tiny little tanks and pools, but to my eye there was something almost poetic about having a city dotted with pools containing these big, odd-looking fish with those whiskers.
As it turns out, my visions of Christmas carp were based on some kind of fantasy based on old issues of Gourmet Magazine or something. I’d always imagined it baked whole, surrounded with herbs. In reality, the most common way of serving carp in the Czech Republic is more or less exactly the way its cousin, catfish, is served here in North America: batter-fried. And that was the way we had it last year.
That was the beginning of the deluge. For the next few days we were treated to an absurd amount of Czech delicacies—roasts, dumplings, and baked sweets—lots and lots of baked sweets, including Sigmundova’s legendary “wasps’ nests.” Every day we took long walks across the city—including one particularly memorable walk with Ondra and Katerina through Sarka park—it was all we could do to try and keep pace with all the sumptuous meals.

[dedicated to Stepan]


Thursday, December 23, 2004

A Trip to Niu Kee

Last night we celebrated our friend Benoit’s birthday by going out to his favorite restaurant: Niu Kee (1027 St. Laurent Blvd.). We got tipped off to this place by our friend Warren about a year ago. He and his friend Raf discovered it after they moved into an apartment just a couple of blocks away from Chinatown. Niu Kee has been a bit of an obsession ever since Michelle made her first visit. She’s been introducing all kinds of people to the mysteries of Niu Kee, and Benoit has definitely been the most ecstatic of her initiates. Michelle and Benoit went there very regularly while I was away in Germany. By the time I returned to Montreal Niu Kee was already legendary.
“Niu Kee makes you crazy,” as Michelle is fond of repeating. The atmosphere has something to do with it. The combination of the restaurant’s simple, no-frills décor, the Chinese melodramas that play on the large-screen television, and the presence of the maitresse d’hotel, a former Chinese opera singer, gives the restaurant a certain magic. But the true magic comes from their kitchen’s use of spice—you see, Niu Kee specializes in hot and spicy Beijing-style cuisine. Order their Hot and Sour Soup, their Kung Pao Chicken, their Pan-Fried Shrimp, their Spicy Eggplant, or anyone of a number of other favorites, and the peppers—especially Szechuan pepper, with its nearly narcotic properties—come fast and furious. Niu Kee is definitely not one of those restaurants that tones down its recipes to appease middle-of-the-road palates—the effects of this symphony of fire are powerful, to say the least—we’re left both cleansed and dazed every time.
Anyway, Niu Kee was where we started the evening and the four of us—Benoit, Michelle, “Mike,” and I—polished off an absurd assortment of Niu Kee’s delicacies. Something about Niu Kee gives you almost superhuman abilities to eat and eat. I started things off with a (not so) small Hot and Sour Soup, while the others split a large Beef Soup with Homemade Noodles. We then lucked out and had some of their Pork with Green Vegetables Dumplings—they’re Michelle’s favorite dumplings, but she’s only ever been able to have them one other time: they’re always sold out. Our mains and sides consisted of Kung Pao Chicken (the best any of us has ever had), Pan-Fried Shrimp, Spicy Eggplant, and Pea Shoots with Garlic. We thought we’d be bringing leftovers home with us, but, NO, somehow, once again, we managed to finish every last bit. It wasn’t even a struggle. “Niu Kee makes you crazy,” indeed.
We trudged back out into the snow in a state of bliss, got into Benoit’s car, and made our way back up north towards Benoit’s birthday party.


A (Brief) Trip to Heaven

Later last night, we celebrated Benoit’s birthday some more with une fête at his apartment. We drank, we talked, we listened to Nigeria 70 and DJ Rupture, and we worked up an appetite for dessert. And then something wonderful happened.
Hermine arrived with her friend Val and her mother. Hermine’s mother had just arrived from Paris, and not only had she braved the snow and cold in order to make her way over to Benoit’s place, she had brought a surprise: a box of chocolate macarons from Jean-Paul Hévin (!). We were stunned: macarons from heaven, quite literally. Michelle unveiled the little treasures inside Hévin’s beautiful box and Benoit promptly blurted out that they looked like “des p’tits hamburgers.” Somewhere, I’m sure Jean-Paul’s ears were burning. Anyway, the box made the rounds and we each tried one. Mine was made with grated coconut and had raspberry preserves in the center: absolutely fantastic. It was simultaneously simple (in terms of appearance) and intricate (in terms of flavors), it was the very definition of elegant.
Afterwards, the treats continued. Hermine cut Michelle’s Walnut Torte into thin wedges, so that everyone could have a taste, I administered the fresh whipped cream, and we made that poor torte disappear. It was so good Val was inspired to ask for Michelle’s hand in marriage. I’ve never seen her blush so badly.


Sunday, December 19, 2004

Our first annual " endless banquet" christmas party, pt. 1

Originally uploaded by ajkinik.


vegan, w/ homemade baba ganouj, pickled cucumber, pickled red pepper, cherry tomatoes, parsley
vegetarian, w/ potato salad, cheese, pickled cucumber, pickled red pepper, hard-boiled egg, parsley
and three more traditional types: garlicky beef sausage, smoked turkey, and mild salami, w/ potato salad, cheese, pickled cucumber, pickled red pepper, hard-boiled egg, parsley
(served on rye, baguette, and parisien loaves)

Hors d’oeuvres:
assorted crackers with havarti, emmental, or cream cheese, and oignons confits, plum preserve, or smoked salmon

Glazed ham, w/ challah rolls and Dijon mustard

Czech-style potato salad

“Sarajevo-style” eggplant dip w/ bread

Christmas pudding w/ brandy butter

Christmas cookies w/ chocolate & vanilla icing


Kir Royales

Homemade Egg Nog


Our first annual " endless banquet" christmas party, pt. 2

Originally uploaded by ajkinik.


For our first annual “…an endless banquet” Christmas party we decided to draw from our shared Czechoslovak roots (Michelle’s family is Czech through-and-through; my father’s family is Slovak) AND give a nod to our experiences earlier this fall at the Czech-Slovak Bazaar (see “The Czech-Slovak Bazaar”) with our main attraction: chlebicky. We both have all kinds of fond memories involving them. Most recently, though, when we were in Prague visiting Michelle’s family last December, we used to sneak out of the sustained feeding frenzy that was her aunt’s apartment to go Christmas shopping, only to duck into the nearest luncheonette for chlebicky (!). We couldn’t help ourselves—they were so beautiful, so fresh, so typically Czech, and so cheap. If we lived in Toronto we could make regular visits to the Prague Deli (638 Queen Street West) for their excellent and rather authentic chlebicky, but Montreal has nothing of the sort, so Prague’s luncheonettes were ever so exotic for us.

Traditional chlebicky are made with a thin layer of a pâté-like spread, but Michelle’s family started making them vegetarian with a thin layer of potato salad years ago and that’s the way we prefer them now. I made the potato salad with medium-small red potatoes, celery, shallots, garlic, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, canola oil, champagne vinegar, paprika, salt, and pepper. We only used a smear of potato salad on each of our open-faced sandwiches, so we served what remained of the potato salad alongside the ham. It wasn’t as heavy on the mayonnaise as most traditional Czech potato salads; Kazi (our Czech authenticity invigilator) reported that it had a bit more finesse to it. We also didn’t make nearly as much of it as a typical Czech household would. Last year, when we stayed with Michelle’s aunt in Prague, we got served potato salad for days on end for both lunch and dinner from the same never-ending supply (which was kept in the cold pantry). On the first day it was a treat; by day 4 we’d had our fill.

For the glazed ham we used a recipe from Saveur Cooks Authentic American (“Monte’s Ham”). The sidebar to that recipe tells the story of the author’s relocation to New York. Soon after he arrived a friend pulled him aside and gave him two pieces of advice: “if you wear an expensive watch, you can wear anything else you want,” and “when you have a lot of people over, buy a cheap ham.” The secret: “glaze the hell out of it.” We tested out this recipe on our local ham connoisseur, Colin, a few weeks ago. (Actually, the fact that he’s got a cat named Monte probably had something to do with why we chose him, too.) The very next day he went out and bought his own ham so he could try the same recipe at home. We took this to be a good sign. This time around we bought two halves of smoked ham, instead of just one, but otherwise we duplicated what we’d done before: we baked them for 2 hours, studded them with cloves, glazed them with a mixture of Dijon mustard, orange marmalade, and brown sugar, and then baked them for another 1 1/2 hours. Even a couple of people who said they'd never liked ham before found themselves digging in.

We keep the “Sarajevo-style” eggplant dip in quotation marks because our friend Aleksandra, who’s from Sarajevo, claims that no such thing exists over there. We call it “Sarajevo-style” because we based our recipe on a dip that Michelle found at a short-lived Montreal restaurant/caterer that was called “Sarajevo.” One day, when Michelle and I were still just getting to know each other, Michelle came and met me at the bookstore where I was working. We went outside for my lunch break and she surprised me with a selection of goodies from “Sarajevo,” the highlight of which was an eggplant dip that had walnuts in it. A few weeks later the restaurant had disappeared. A few months later, Michelle and I were an item. I’ve been making an eggplant dip inspired by the Sarajevo’s version ever since—it includes two baked eggplants, garlic, feta cheese, toasted walnuts, parsley, olive oil, and walnut vinegar (recipe to follow in the next couple of weeks). It’s always a hit at parties. Even Aleksandra likes it.

Neither of us have Anglo-Saxon roots, so neither of us grew up in Christmas pudding-making families. In fact, Michelle had never, ever tasted one until she made this one. For the one we served at our party, she followed a recipe for an Irish version that was featured in Saveur recently. She also made a couple of other recipes, including one from The Joy of Cooking, for later this week. The pudding we unveiled on Saturday night was such a huge hit (it vanished within minutes), I, for one, can’t wait to steam the other ones. By the way, we’re collecting family pudding recipes, so if you’d like to send one along, please do.

The hit among our drink offerings was definitely the egg nog. One guest was found licking the punchbowl clean after the last cup had been poured. We highly recommend making one heavy on the bourbon, like last Saturday's. It had a bomb-type base mixed with a meringue, all of which was then mixed with whipped cream. The result was downright paradoxical: so rich, but light as a cloud. Perfect with freshly grated nutmeg.


Friday, December 17, 2004

Of Czech Ducks and Viennese "Venison"

I’m not sure what we did to deserve Kazi. Last week, she made us some amazing Vanilkoví Rohlicky (the description of which in these very pages [see “St. Nicholas Day”] apparently inspired others to make these little gems with similarly delicious results). This week, she had us, and a few others, over for her legendary Czech Duck. The Czech Duck tradition in Kazi’s family stretches back years and years, but within our group of friends it started about 2 years ago, when Kazi’s mother came out for a visit from Western Canada and the two of them decided to make traditional Czech fare for a group of Kazi’s friends. This tradition consists of a wonderful whole roasted duck (one which manages the impossible: tender and juicy on the inside, with a lovely crispy skin on the outside), sautéed red cabbage, hearty dumplings, and a rich gravy. Kazi deprecatingly refers to this meal as “just Czech pub food” (and as Michelle and I found out last year, such meals ARE common in pubs and brauhauses across Central and Eastern Europe), but that description doesn’t quite do it justice. This is a fine meal.

The tradition includes a lovely dessert, as well. The first year, we all nearly swooned over the sweet fruit dumplings that Kazi and her mother whipped up. This year, inspired by Michelle’s copy of Rick Rodgers’ Kaffeehaus, which she got a chance to leaf through a few weeks ago, Kazi attempted to pay homage to her grandmother by making Chocolate “Saddle of Venison” Cake. We told her she was crazy, that she was taking on too much (after all, she was going to be cooking solo this year), but secretly we were hoping she’d actually try it, because neither of us had ever had the legendary “Saddle of Venison," and because we knew full well that Kazi would manage to pull it off if she tried it. Well, the cake wasn’t exactly what Kazi had expected, it wasn't quite as perfect as Rick Rodgers' (she’s always her harshest critic), but let’s just say that we’re confident she made her grandmother proud. Here’s the recipe she used.

Chocolate “Saddle of Venison” Cake
a.k.a. Rehrücken

3 oz high-quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2/3 cup (2 oz) cake crumbs (you can use unfrosted vanilla- or chocolate-flavored cupcakes for these crumbs in a pinch)
1/2 cup (2 oz) sliced blanched almonds
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Zest of 1 lemon
4 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar, divided
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup Red Currant Glaze (see below), warm
Small-Batch Chocolate Glaze (see below), hot
1/2 cup (2 oz) slivered blanched almonds, as needed, for garnish

Special equipment needed: a Rehrücken mold (these can be found at well-stocked kitchenware shops—Kazi found hers at Arthur Quentin on St. Denis Blvd., here in Montreal)

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 350º F. Using a cylinder-shaped pastry brush, butter a 12-inch Rehrücken mold. Dust with flour and tap out the excess.

Melt the chocolate in the top part of a double boiler over hot, not simmering, water, or in a microwave oven at medium power. Cool slightly.

In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, process the cake crumbs and almonds until the almonds are very finely ground and almost powdery. Add the cinnamon and lemon zest and pulse to combine.

Beat the yolks and 1/4 cup of the sugar in a medium bowl, using a handheld electric mixer at high speed, until thick and pale yellow, about 2 minutes. Mix in the melted chocolate and butter, then the almond-crumb mixture.

Using clean beaters, beat the egg whites on high speed until they form soft peaks. Gradually beat in the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, until the whites are shiny. Stir one fourth of the whites into the chocolate batter to lighten it, then fold in the remaining whites. Pour into the pan.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. (The cake will fall slightly—this is normal.) Invert onto the rack and cool completely (the cake will then even itself out).

Place the cake on the rack on a jelly-roll pan. Brush the cake with warm red currant glaze. Cool completely to set the glaze.

Pour the warm chocolate glaze over the cake, using a metal spatula to smooth it over the sides, coating the cake completely. Stud the cake with the almonds. Don’t overdo it or the cake will be too crunchy to eat easily—two parallel rows of almonds, running just above the long sides of the cake, spaced about 1/2 inch apart, should be enough. Refrigerate the cake to firm the glaze. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Note: this cake can be made up to 2 days ahead, covered with plastic wrap, and stored at room temperature.

Small Batch Chocolate Glaze

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
4 oz high-quality bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

In a small saucepan, bring the sugar, water, and chocolate to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Attach a candy thermometer to the pan. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, stirring, until the mixture reaches 234ºF, about 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and stir to cool and thicken slightly, about 1 minute. Use immediately. When pouring, do not scrape the pan.

Red Currant Glaze

1 1/4 cup red currant preserves
2 tbsp golden rum

Bring the preserves and rum to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring often. Cook, stirring often, until the last drops that cling to the spoon are very sticky and reluctant to leave the spoon, 2 to 3 minutes. Strain through wire sieve into a small bowl, pressing hard on the solids. Use warm.

(All of these recipes come from Rick Rodgers’ Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Cafés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague, New York: Clarkson Potter Publishers, 2002.)


Monday, December 13, 2004

Madeleines, Pt. 1

Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

When Anthony left to go to Germany for a year, we decided it would be nice to read the same book together, long distance. I had a number of suggestions, most of them long, dramatic Victorian novels, great to cry yourself to sleep with. He wanted Proust’s Swann’s Way. Since I had always meant to read Proust, but had never gotten around to it, I let him have his way. I began the book shortly after his departure. To me, it was as engaging as any of those tortured and doomed romantic novels, and I read it diligently.
No reading of Proust’s Swann’s Way can overlook the love letter he wrote to Madeleines and lime flower tea. I was swept away and my quest for the perfect Madeleine recipe began. I searched high and low, stuck with old favourites and ventured into the contemporary, and made some headway in categorizing the delicious cookie cakes. As I see things, there are basically three types of Madeleines: sponge-like, pound-like, and nouveau. Which you prefer is a matter of taste. They all have a time and place.
I ate many Madeleines that winter, and finished the book. Anthony never did get through it, but then he didn't have my madeleines at hand...
The recipe below is for the sponge-like variety; perfect with tea, as it is a little drier and lighter than the others. Don’t mistake these characteristics for flaws, though. Its flavour is still elegant and unmistakable.
The fact that you need a Madeleine pan in order to make these only adds to their charm, if you ask me.

3 eggs
150 g sugar
dash vanilla
1 tsp. lemon zest
1 tsp. lemon juice
220 g cake flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
100 g melted butter
50 ml milk

Preheat oven to 500ºF.
Warm the eggs by placing them in a bowl of hot tap water.
Sift flour and baking powder together.
Place sugar in a bowl and whisk the eggs in gradually until you reach the ribbon stage *.
Add flavouring and the flour, baking powder, and 3/4 of the milk. Stir in the butter and remaining milk. Let batter rest 15 min. in the fridge.
Butter and flour the molds. Fill them 3/4 full with batter, using a spoon or a piping bag.
Place on the bottom rack of the oven and reduce heat to 375ºF. **
Bake 10-15 min., until sides are golden. Cool on a rack and sprinkle with icing sugar to serve.

* Ribbon stage is when the eggs reach a thick enough volume that when you pour the batter, it keeps its shape rather than spreading out flat. The mixture will be thick and the color will be pale yellow.

** This is how Madeleines get their distinctive hump.


Sunday, December 12, 2004

Highlights: Paris

We were lucky enough to score an apartment in Paris this past August through an apartment swap (Thank you, Benoit! Thank you, Antoine!). We wound up with this wonderful apartment in the 17e not far from Place Clichy. Antoine, our co-swapper, got our rather large (especially by Parisian standards) Montreal apartment nestled in between the Plateau Mont Royal and Mile End, and two highly affectionate cats. We had about two weeks in Paris and we tried to make the most of it. The following are just some of the culinary highlights:

• Confiture aux mirabelles, bergamot candies, honey candies, tea candies, spice cake, and marzipan kitty-cats from à la Mère de Famille (9e): We didn’t actually know anything about à la Mère before chancing upon it during our tour of the passages couvertes. We found out later it was quite famous. We appreciated the fact that it looked as though it hadn’t changed in at least 100 years—both inside and out. We just knew it had to be good. The range of treats they carried—chocolates, fruits confits, candies, nice bottles of wine, spice cake, etc.—was impressive, and everything we tried was amazing, but it was the confiture aux mirabelles that really blew us away. It was as if we’d never tasted plum jam before. With a fresh baguette and some of that lovely French butter every morning for breakfast, we polished that jar off in a matter of days.

• Teas, gelées de thés, and tea sandwiches from Mariage Frères (4e). What can you say about the teas at Mariage Frères? There really aren’t too many other teas anywhere that even come close. Their balance—of flavors, of perfumes—is so perfect. “Eros,” appropriately enough, was our first Mariage Frères love, but we discovered quite a few other loves after visiting the flagship store: “le Voyageur,” “Afternoon Tea,” “Marco Polo,” “Alexandra David-Neel,” “à l’Opera,” “Jamaique,” etc. On our first visit together, I took Michelle for afternoon tea and we went all out. We had two pots of tea, some of their amazing sandwiches de thés (pain blanc et pain Matcha, avec crabe, saumon, foie gras, et terrine de poulet, et une salade composée), and a scone and madeleine duo with their impeccable gelées de thés (“Marco Polo” and “Bourbon”).

• 1/4 loaf of sourdough bread from Poilâne (6e). Even after a death in the family and a shift in business philosophy, a sourdough to be reckoned with, and one that is definitely an inspiration behind our own experiments with sourdough. I still remember learning about Poilâne’s sourdough from an article in Smithsonian magazine back in 1994-1995. This was a trip that was long overdue.

• Carrot pickle, “Cheewa” couscous, and duck tajine with fresh figs, apricots, honey and almonds at Le Souk (11e): this tip came from Hermine and we’re eternally grateful. Le Souk is a truly fantastic Moroccan restaurant. It’s rich in atmosphere and the cuisine is truly superlative. The couscous was plentiful and expertly prepared, with a very nice assortment of condiments, and the duck was to-die-for, but even the carrot pickle left us speechless.

• Sandwiche “le Chaland” at le Chaland (10e): one day I dragged Michelle on what appeared to be a(nother) crazy excursion, this one involving the Rotonde de la Villette. On our way back south we followed the length of the Canal St. Martin, and somewhere along the canal we ducked into a nice little café called le Chaland. We were famished and thirsty and le Chaland looked like a nice little local café. We ordered the house sandwich and a couple of Leffe beers. When we received our sandwich we were rather impressed. This wasn’t the kind of plain saucisson/butter/baguette sandwich so typical of Parisian cafés. Here, instead, was a beautiful sandwich made with duck terrine (with pistachios), cornichons, and oignons confits. We talked about that sandwich for days, and we made sure to buy a jar of oignons confits from la Grande Epicerie de Paris so we could try to make our own versions of “le Chaland” when we got back to Montreal.

• Ice cream from Berthillon (4e): “plombière” (vanilla with fruits confits and eau de vie), “praline de pignons,” “praline de citron et coriander,” “chocolat mendiant,” rhubarb, and strawberry. OK, OK: it was hot for days on end and ice cream was the only thing we craved for dessert and somehow, by some strange twist of fate, we kept winding up on Île Saint Louis.

• Boudin blanc avec pruneaux from le Roi du Boudin (5e). It was late one afternoon and we’d decided that we were going eat dinner at Antoine’s place that night. Our menu had already been chosen, but then we passed a place that not only claimed to be the best boudin makers in town, they also claimed to have won a couple of international competitions for their sausages. We couldn’t resist. We decided to buy just one (!) and share it (!!) when we got home (what were we thinking?). Michelle came out of le Roi du Boudin minutes later with a strange expression on her face. She’d just bought the most expensive link of sausage either of us had ever paid for. On the Metro ride home we talked about that awful feeling you get when you order something blindly then find out it was much more expensive than you ever would have guessed. When we got home we set the table and laid out our dinner, then I started to fry up the boudin. Michelle hadn’t told me she’d gotten a boudin with prunes in it, so I was left wondering why this sausage wasn’t pure white. A few minutes later I decided to check to see if it was cooked through, and when I split it open its aroma really filled the air. And what an aroma! I never would have imagined that boudin blanc avec pruneaux could be so tantalizing. In fact, I’m not sure I would have had the courage to pick that type myself. Then I tasted it—suddenly everything fell into place. What a beautiful marriage of flavors. Even so, when we served it I still couldn’t imagine having it with mustard. There was something about prunes and mustard that didn’t quite make sense to me. I had the first two bites au naturel, and promptly declared this sausage to be the best I’d ever tasted. Then I decided to have a bite with mustard. The flavors just exploded. When flavors come together in unexpected ways sometimes the results can be revelatory. This was one of those times.

• Dinner at à la Biche au Bois(12e). Michelle had read about this wonderful bistro on E-Gullet. Everything she’d read indicated that this place was a must. We passed by one afternoon in late August to check out the menu and we instantly knew that this was “the one.” Plus, they were just about to reopen after their August vacation. On the night of August 26 we had the terrine au porto, recette du chef (served with a green salad), and a salade Niçoise as our appetizers, the coq au vin and a filet poêlé, sauce poivre, avec frites as our main courses, and a sorbet pomme verte with Calvados and a feuilleté poire poché, sauce au chocolat, as our desserts. We washed everything down with a delicious Côte de Brouilly. Everything was absolutely fantastic (the service, the preparation, the execution, the presentation), and calling à la Biche au Bois generous would be to put it mildly. The portions were substantial, the prix fixe was under € 25, and when you take into account the wonderful cheese plate that preceded the dessert, you’re left with a phenomenal value. We’ve rarely been so satisfied after a meal. Afterwards, we drifted back towards la Bastille in a state of bliss and caught a late Metro “home.”


Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Oranges confits with Lady Grey, pt. 1

Oranges are a bit of a theme for this year's holiday season here at An Endless Banquet. You'll see...

In any case, last weekend (in between book club meetings, Polish bazaars, birthday and Christmas shopping, and making clam chowder) we managed to create a variation on a Christine Ferber recipe for an orange confiture.

Recipe to follow...


Oranges confits with Lady Grey, pt. 2: the recipe

Christine Ferber's original recipe calls for Earl Grey tea. We're particularly fond of "the Lady," though, so we thought we'd improvise a little. Lady Grey doesn't have Earl Grey's distinctive bergamot flavor. It's a sweeter and more delicate tea, with strong hints of citrus. It's only made by Twinings and it's quite a bit harder to find than their standards (Earl Grey, English Breakfast, etc.), but it's worth the search. We're lucky that our local gourmet specialty store stocks it.

1.1 kg oranges
900 g Granny-Smith apples
1 kg sugar
900 g water + 200 g
2 organic oranges
30 g Lady Grey tea, loose
1 lemon, juiced

Quarter the apples and cover them with 900 g water. Bring to a boil, then simmer over low heat until tender. Pass juice through a sieve, then a fine linen cloth to produce a clear liquid. Let this juice sit overnight in a cold place.

Weigh out 500 g of the apple juice, leaving behind the sediment that has formed at the bottom.

Juice the 1.1 kg of oranges, keeping the pulp, juice and seeds. Weigh out 500 g of juice and pulp. Place the seeds in a muslin bag and tie.

Wash the organic oranges and slice into thin rounds. Poach the slices in 200 g of sugar and 200 g of water. Stir gently and simmer until the rinds become translucent. Add the apple juice, the orange juice and pulp, the lemon juice, the sugar, and the orange seeds. Bring to a boil and simmer over low heat for 10 min., skimming foam carefully.

Steep the tea in 200 g of boiling water for 3 min. Strain tea, add to the pot, remove the seeds in the muslin cloth and bring to a boil. Check the consistency of the mixture, skimming foam as needed. Pour into sterilized jars and can according to manufacturer's instructions.

Makes 6-7 250 ml jars.


Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Manhattan Clam Chowder

I grew up a Manhattan clam chowder kid. Clam chowder was definitely a huge family favorite, and we ate a lot of the New England variety, too, but I remember being especially passionate about Manhattan-style clam chowder. We frequently made daytrips to Santa Cruz back then, and one version of this daytrip involved a stroll out over the Pacific on the main pier, where there was an informal seafood restaurant that served an awfully tasty, awfully peppery, Manhattan clam chowder. The pepper content didn't stop the die-hards from adding Tabasco sauce to it, though. On chilly days when the pier was shrouded in fog and/or a stiff breeze was whipping across the waters their Manhattan clam chowder was a godsend.

As much as I loved New England clam chowder, somehow it always seemed more familiar. I think it had to do with the affinities between the cuisine of New England and the cuisine of Quebec, New Brunswick, and the Maritimes, the first two of which I was well acquainted with. Manhattan clam chowder was more exotic. It was red, and spicy, and it came from New York, or so I thought. (I hadn’t been to New York yet, and the Yankees were my favorite team at the time, so you can just imagine the attraction.) Apparently, the origins of Manhattan clam chowder have very little to do with New York and a lot to do with the New England-based Portuguese community, but at the time I was none the wiser.

Sunday, Michelle made another successful sourdough loaf—this time she proofed it for 24 hours and she used a water bath to give the crust a nice finish—and we were busy trying to decide what we might make for dinner to accompany this brand-new loaf, when Mom suggested a Manhattan clam chowder. Now, the best thing to have with a fresh, hot sourdough loaf straight out of the oven is a cioppino, in my opinion, but cioppino was a bit complicated for us on that particular day (we had canning to do, after all), and Manhattan clam chowder comes in a close second, so that’s what we made. Plus, it was really cold out and there was a wind howling, so it just made sense.

We found a recipe in Gourmet magazine from March of this year, made some adjustments to it, and went out to Nouveau Falero—easily the best local fish store—to get the main ingredients. Later, that evening, I did the prep work on the chowder, and 45 minutes later we were having the best Manhattan clam chowder I’ve had in years—maybe since Santa Cruz.

One of the things that made clam chowder so appealing way back when was its affordability. I still remember when they used to give clams away. Clams, mussels, and oysters used to be a poor man’s food, a food used as a cost-effective substitute for meat [more on this in a later entry—ed]. Times have changed, though, and clams in the shell cost a pretty penny. If you can afford it, though—or if you can rationalize splurging the way we did—it’s definitely worth getting clams in the shell. The whole experience of making the chowder—the way it looks, the way it smells—is more satisfying, and the taste is far superior to one made with pre-shelled clam meat.

6 slices of bacon, cut into squares
1 medium onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
3 stalks of celery, diced
3 medium red potatoes, chopped into 1/2” cubes
3 8-oz bottles of clam juice
1 large (28 oz) can of diced tomatoes, including the juice
3 dozen smallneck clams, scrubbed well
1/8-1/4 tsp espelette pepper or cayenne pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
salt and (plenty) of black pepper, to taste

Cook the bacon in a large pot over moderate heat, stirring, until golden. Reduce heat to moderately low, then add onion, bell pepper, and celery and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in potato, bottled clam juice, and tomatoes (with juice) and simmer, covered, 10 minutes. Stir in clams and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until clams open wide, 8-10 minutes. Discard any clams that haven’t opened after 10 minutes. Remove pot from heat.

Remove clamshells with tongs, detach the clam meat and discard the shells, returning the clam meat to the chowder. Stir in the espelette/cayenne pepper, the parsley, and add salt and black pepper to taste. Simmer for another 5 minutes to allow flavors to mingle.

Serve with a crusty loaf of bread, preferably sourdough.


Sunday, December 05, 2004

St. Nicholas Day

Today, December 5th, is St. Nicholas Day. We’re leaving our plates out tonight in the hopes of collecting some goodies, but we’re not that optimistic. It’s not that we haven’t been well behaved. It’s just that, well, there’s no one here who’s going to be able to take up the mantle. The cats put out their plates and, the next they knew, treats had appeared. Just like that. They didn’t even bother to put their plates by the window, the way you’re supposed to. They still made out like bandits: two healthy portions of tuna fish.

Lucky for us, earlier in the day we got an invitation for tea and cookies at our friend Kazi’s. OK, it was actually an invitation to take part in a book club meeting at Kazi’s—and, boy, did we take part—but there were plenty of cookies and the tea was flowing. Kazi made one of our favorite types of cookies—a traditional Czech cookie called vanilkoví rohlicky. These “vanilla crescents” are very similar to Mexican Wedding Cakes and other nut cookies with a powdered sugar dusting, but they have that distinctive crescent shape to them, and with our shared Czechoslovak roots, we’re a little partial. Kazi tried out a new recipe that we brought back for her from the Czech-Slovak bazaar (see our earlier posting on the C-S bazaar for more details), and she immediately reported that it was an improvement on the recipe she’d been using up ‘til then. We had one bite and we were convinced, too. Then we had another, and another, and another (you get the picture).

On St. Nicholas day the custom is for children to draw up a list of all the gifts they’d like to get from Baby Jesus on Christmas Eve. They put this list out on a plate, or in a shoe or sock, placed on the ledge of an open window at the end of the day. Over night, some guy named St. Nicholas drops by, apparently, and if they’ve been good, they’ll wake up the next day to find mandarin oranges, chocolate, dried figs, hazelnuts, dates, candied fruit, almonds, et cetera, waiting for them. These tokens provide some kind of indication that they can expect more good things in a couple of weeks. If they haven’t ,they might find a piece of coal or a stick (indicating the beating they can expect later that day). Anyway, in a strange twist on this tradition, we arrived at Kazi’s on St. Nicholas day to find a plate full of goodies, and by the time we got up to leave, the plate was empty.

Vanilkoví Rohlicky

2 1/2 cups flour
1 cup butter
1 cup almonds or hazelnuts, finely ground
3 tbsp icing sugar
1 tsp lemon rind, grated
1 egg yolk
icing sugar with vanilla for rolling

Mix flour, almonds and sugar. Cut in butter and add egg yolk. With your hands, form a dough. Make long rolls one inch in diameter. Cover with plastic foil and chill for 10 minutes.

To form crescents: Cut pieces, 1/4 inch from the roll. With the palm of your hand roll out a small stick and bend it to form a crescent. Place on cookie sheet and bake at 350˚F about 10 minutes. They should be very light golden. When still warm, roll them in vanilla icing sugar. For best flavour, buy a stick of vanilla and hammer it to powder and mix with icing sugar or use package of vanilla sugar and mix with icing sugar.

Store in airtight container.

[From “Original Recipes Collected and Passed from Generation to Generation” (otherwise known as the Czech-Slovak Bazaar Cookbook), first edition, 1985—incidentally, the caption at the bottom of the final page of this cookbook reads: “Love is like a mushroom: You never know if it’s the real thing until it’s too late”—proceed with caution!]

An Endless Banquet’s St. Nicholas Day wish list:

• An end (properly settled, of course) to the Société d’Alcools du Québec strike (making alcohol runs across the border to Ontario just ain’t our trip)
• Kitchen Aid professional mixer
• Larousse Gastronomique des Patisseries, Pierre Hermé
• Larousse Gastronomique des Confitures, Christine Ferber
• Honey From a Weed, Patience Gray
• A good cookbook stand
• A large cast-iron pan

Dobrou Noc!


Friday, December 03, 2004

My first successful sourdough

Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

It came out of the oven last weekend.
I was like a proud mother... My bread was perfect (to me, at least).
Some (guess who?) said it needed salt, it could have been more sour, it could have been more uniformly shaped...
I listened and took these things into consideration, but this one... It was perfect.
My first.
More soon.


Thursday, December 02, 2004

Highlights: Nice

The pan bagnat at Lou Pilha Leva
Originally uploaded by ajkinik.

As mentioned in an earlier post (“Pizza in Marseille”), my sister and I spent a couple of glorious days in Nice in September. All right, it wasn’t all sunshine and soccas—the afternoon we arrived we were greeted with several hours of torrential rain. I’ve got a couple of friends who came to Nice in the fall a few years ago and endured about 9 days of continuous downpour, so I had a few moments of panic, but by 6:00 that evening the skies had cleared up, and an hour later we were on the beach for the first of several dips in the Mediterranean during the short time we were there. (After what was largely a cold, rainy, dreary non-summer in Köln/Bonn, swimming in the sea was much-needed therapy.) Anyway, Nice is no slouch when it comes to food, as is well known, and we tried to make the most of it.

One lunch was spent at Lou Pilha Leva (10 Rue du Collet) in the heart of le Vieux Nice. There, the seating is open-air and informal and the restaurant is actually spread across two sides of the street. One side is the food side, the other side specializes in drinks. You queue up on the food side to place your order and collect your dishes, but then waiters/busboys circulate to take your drink orders and clear the tables. We had our second pissaladière—the classic Niçoise tarte topped with caramelized onions, a few olives, a few anchovies, and some herbes de Provence—in two days, but Lou Pilha Leva’s was by far and away the superior one. The crust was crispier than the one we’d had the day before, the topping was tastier, with the onions expertly prepared. It was also warmer this time around, more satisfying. We accompanied our pissaladière with our very first socca—yet another staple in this region. Socca is a crêpe made with a chickpea flour and olive oil batter that’s then poured into these huge, round pans and baked in the oven. At Lou Pilha Leva the soccas come out of the oven fresh every couple of minutes and they’re swiftly scooped onto plates for the eager crowds. There’s not much to socca and it’s typically served unadorned, but it has a lovely flavor and it makes for great finger food. We completed our trio of Niçois classics by having a pan bagnat. We’d had a couple since we’d been on the Mediterranean, but, again, Lou Pilha Leva’s was the best of the lot. It came overstuffed with tomatoes, peppers, tuna, and olives, and literally bursting with an olive oil-heavy vinaigrette. Outstanding. The meal was capped by an impromptu performance by a roaming band of buff, tan, shirtless, drawstring-pants-wearing capoeira enthusiasts. I’m a bit of a sucker for that kick-the-cigarette-out-of-the-nervous-tourist’s-mouth trick.

Later that same day (remember, we had to work quickly), my sister and I took a tip from some friends and made our way to l’Escalinida (Rue Pairolière). The skies were misting slightly—even though we couldn’t see any clouds—but we chose to eat al fresco anyway. The dining room was nice and cozy, but the courtyard outside--again, in the heart of le Vieux Nice--was so much more picturesque (so we thought). We ordered wine and a salade Niçoise to begin with. The salad was the definitive Niçoise, made with an artisanal flair. Everything was top-notch, from the greens, to the olives, to the tuna, and the vinaigrette and herbs were perfectly balanced. We followed this up with two brilliant mains. I had the gnocchi with pistou on a tip from one of my friends, while my sister had the veal piccata. The gnocchi were made on premises and were touted as being a specialty of the house. They were, without question, the most tender gnocchi I’ve ever had, and the pistou that adorned them was outstanding. The veal piccata came served with homemade tagliatelle, and the entire combination was fantastic. The veal was beautifully prepared and it came with a delicate marsala sauce. The noodles were simply dreamy. Then the fireworks really started. Literally. Towards the end of our meal some invisible, rooftop punks started firing fireworks directly into l’Escalinida’s open-air seating area. Éclater la bourgeoisie! When the third missile ricocheted off our table and the wait staff still hadn’t done anything more than stare impotently towards the rooftops and scratch their heads, we left, deciding to take dessert at Fenocchio, the master gelato makers, instead of in the line of fire.

The next day, before our late-morning, train, I made the mandatory visit to Alziari (14 Rue St. François de Paule) to pick up one of the world’s finest olive oils. Our friends had brought us back a 1/2-liter can a few years earlier. We’d been dreaming about it ever since that can ran dry. You can get Alziari olive oil in Paris (hell, apparently you can get it at Williams-Sonoma), but it’s much cheaper if you get in Nice and the store is well worth a visit. I picked up a 1-liter can for our household and a few 1/2-liter cans for family and friends. I also picked up some tapenade and some herbes de Provence. I desperately wanted to get some of their cailletier olives, too, but I was already overloaded. I tried a couple though, and, God, they were good (even at 8:30 A.M.).