Sunday, February 27, 2005

Portrait of Boris and Audrey as Egg Warmers

Cat Egg Warmer pattern:

Materials: fingering yarn, any colours, size 12 needles, embroidery thread, broom bristles.

Tension: 8 sts. and 11 rows to 1 in. over st. st.

Pattern: CO 20.
K1, P1 rib for 5 rows.
St. st. for 26 rows.
Inc. 1 each end of next and every alternate row 3 times. (26 sts.)
Work to end of 36th row.
Dec. 1 each end of next and every alternate row 3 times.
Work to end of 61st row.
K1, P1 rib for 5 rows.
CO and weave in ends.

Finishing: Embroider eyes, nose and mouth. Fold cat in half and sew up seams with yarn. Thread broom bristles through nose for whiskers. If a tabby effect is desired, use a variegated yarn or different colours worked in intarsia. Done.


Saturday, February 26, 2005

Two Montreal Classics in Two Days, Pt. 2: Wilensky's

Wilensky's Light Lunch
Originally uploaded by ajkinik.

Gone are the days featured in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, the book and the film, and there are few examples that make this as crystal-clear as Wilensky’s (34 Fairmount W.). In the film version made by Ted Kotcheff, one of the early scenes takes place in the Wilensky’s of the early 1970s standing in for the Wilensky’s of a generation earlier. The space is done up in the syle of the cigar store and light lunch counter it was some 50 years ago now. Tables occupy the shop floor, and taxi drivers (like Kravitz’s father) and others (all men) use the place as a hang-out that’s a throwback to the Old World, not unlike the way places like Café Portugalia still operate today. Wilensky’s is represented as being a lively, smoky center for the local Mile End Jewish population, a crossroads for the community. The atmosphere is boisterous and kinetic, even if the regulars come across as being rooted to their seats. Wilensky’s Light Lunch is still in operation, still serving its legendary Wilensky Specials—a hot sandwich consisting of several slices of Bologna-style beef salami squeezed between a crusty, toasted bun that’s not unlike an English muffin, and some mustard—but the tables that appear in the movie haven’t been around for ages, and much of the community that supported a place like Wilensky’s for decades (the operation has been around since the Great Depression) hasn’t existed in the neighborhood for years now. Wilensky’s still has its die-hard regulars, but the restaurant definitely isn’t the teeming crossroads that it used to be, and, not surprisingly, the Wilensky Special’s price has shot up to $3.00 after having hovered around $1.50-$2.00 for a dog’s age. With traffic somewhat lighter these days, the staff of four that sits behind Wilensky's counter is still more than ready to take your order. In fact, the other day, when I took Michelle for her very first Special, we were served our lunches—two Specials, a half-sour, and a hand-pulled cherry cola—before the seat of my pants had even hit my stool. If anyone even flinches towards the door outside, the Specials are ready and waiting for them. My friend Ira refers to this aspect of Wilensky’s as an obsession with “risk management.” The staff at Wilensky’s is also—how shall I put it?—attentive, when it comes to clearing up. I still laugh when I think about how Ira used to bring his heavy critical theory tomes to Wilensky’s, order a Special with cheese and a soda, and then actually try to settle in to read for an hour or two. Wilensky’s still has an entire library of pulp fiction stacked on its walls, harking back to the days when people actually used to linger there, but these days, cracking open Foucault’s The Order of Things and making yourself comfortable is a sure-fire way to get run out of there on a rail. Oh, well… Our Light Lunch the other day was still classic—the bun was just as unique as it ever was, the bologna and salami were delicious, the half-sour tasted homemade, and the fresh cola was still a treat—even if we were in and out of there in under seven minutes. We hardly knew what hit us, but it sure tasted great.


Two Montreal Classics in Two Days, Pt. 1: Cosmo, rev. ed.

Interior Design, Cosmo's-style fig. a:  interior design

Neither of us had been to Cosmo in quite some time, and we'd gotten enlisted to take Michelle's sister to the airport so that she could head down to Tampa and 25 C weather (while the temperature here in Montreal had dropped back down to -15 C), so we decided we'd drown our sorrows in a breakfast at Cosmo on our way back downtown.

Cosmo (5843 Sherbrooke West) remains one of those quintessetial Montreal breakfast joints: roughly 8 stools gathered round a small counter, a tiny kitchen, two counterhands, some homespun decor [see the photo above], and some killer, king-size breakfasts, including the legendary Mish-Mash (which combines eggs, potatoes, onions, and a selection of breakfast meats into an unholy mess of goodness). The first time I went was back in the late '80s when I was an undergrad at McGill. I lived downtown at the time, and like most other undergrads my knowledge of the city was limited, to say the least. Making it east past Park Lafontaine was a big deal; so was making it as far north as Van Horne. I remember going out to the old Café Campus near the University of Montreal a couple of times and thinking that was an achievement. Notre-Dame-de-Grace seemed like another universe; I don't think I'd made it further west than Atwater Market up until my roommate and I got invited out to Cosmo by a friend of his. I distinctly remember being fascinated by the time and effort that "Cosmo" put into preparing his fried potatoes. Boiled potatoes and onions would get slapped onto the greased griddle in huge quantities, and then "Cosmo" would spend the next 15-20 minutes slowly turning the potatoes over and over again until they'd reached perfection. Then everyone who'd ordered a breakfast over the last quarter of an hour or so would get served their breakfasts in a flurry of activity, and the whole process would start over again. The other thing I remember was the banter. This was a big-city place, with repartee worthy of a screwball comedy. "Cosmo" (a.k.a. Tony) may have retired a few years ago now [if you look closely at the photo above, you can see him among the other distinguished figures that grace the walls of his restaurant], but he still stops by his old stomping grounds now and again to check up on things, and not only does Cosmo still dish out the classic breakfasts, it's still dishing out the banter. We got an earful with our delicious eggs, potatoes, and bacon combos.


Thursday, February 24, 2005

By special request...

pink petit four
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

This post is for my knitting group, who had such an enthusiastic reaction to these little pink cakes that I am posting a picture of one of them. These kirsch-flavoured minis were part of my final exam on petits fours.

Special dedication to Zoe, who is still very much a part of our knitting group, even if she is in Australia these days. Thinking of you...


Monday, February 21, 2005

Spinach and Roasted Pepper Frittata

Years ago, my friend Emilie gave me a copy of Annie Somerville's Fields of Greens: New Vegetarian Recipes from the Celebrated Greens Restaurant for my birthday. At first, I was a little intimidated by the book, and it took me a couple of years to warm up to it, but when I finally did, I really did. It's been a favorite cookbook ever since. The recipes are lively and delicious, with an emphasis on the use of seasonal vegetables, fresh herbs, and just the perfect amount of spice, and it's one of a number of cookbooks that I can think of that make a lie of that tired old line about vegetarian cuisine being boring and unsophisticated. I consider it a bit of a classic of California-style cuisine.

One of Somerville's recipes that we've gotten the most enjoyment out of is the following frittata recipe. It's been the centerpiece for a number of successful brunches we've held.

1 1/2 tbs light olive oil
2 bunches of spinach, stems removed and leaves washed, about 16 cups packed
Salt and pepper
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 yellow or red bell pepper, roasted, peeeled and diced
2 scallions, both white and green parts, sliced on a diagonal
1 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated, about 1/3 cup
3 oz. feta cheese, crumbled, about 3/4 cup
1 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
8 eggs, beaten
3 tbs Reduced Balsamic Vinegar

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Heat 1/2 tbs of the olive oil in a large skillet. Wilt the spinach over high heat with 1/4 tsp salt, a few pinches of pepper, and the garlic. Drain and cool the spinach. Squeeze out the excess moisture a handful at a time and coarsely chop. Place the spinach in a bowl with the peppers, scallions, Parmesan, feta, rosemary, and lemon juice. Stir the eggs into the mixture and add 1/4 tsp salt and a few pinches of pepper.

In a 9-inch pan with an ovenproof handle (or one that you've temporarily ovenproofed with aluminum foil), heat the remaining tablespoon of oil to just below the smoking point. Swirl the oil around the sides of the pan to coat it, turn the heat down to low, then immediately pour the frittata mixture into the pan. The pan should be hot enough so that the eggs sizzle when they touch the oil. Cook the frittata over low heat for 1 to 2 minutes, until the sides begin to set; transfer to the oven and bake, uncovered, for 20 to 25 minutes, until the frittata is golden and firm.

Loosen the frittata gently with a rubber spatula; the bottom will tend to stick to the pan. Place a plate over the pan, flip it over, and turn the frittata out. Brush with the vinegar if you like. Serve warm or cool to room temperature. Cut into wedges and serve.

The frittata can also be cooked entirely in the oven. Pour into a lightly oiled baking dish and bake for about 25 minutes, until the eggs are golden and set.

Serves eight to ten.

To make Reduced Balsamic Vinegar:
In a small saucepan over high heat, reduce the vinegar to half its original volume. (For a more intensely flavored reduction, bring the volume down to one-third.) Be careful that all of the vinegar doesn't boil away as you reduce it. Cool and store in a sealed jar along with your other vinegars or refrigerate.

[both recipes from Annie Somerville's Fields of Greens]


Sunday, February 20, 2005

Mexican Chocolate Cookies, take 2

This was our experiment with the corrected version of the Mexican Chocolate Icebox Cookies we posted about earlier. These cookies were much more solid and easier to work with. They could have used a touch more spice, because the added flour took out some of the punch the last batch had. The next time I will do the 3/4 tsp. cayenne rather than the 1/2 tsp. Otherwise they were perfect: crisp on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside. Much like a brownie. Highly recommended.

We served them with our brunch this afternoon. We had a spinach and roasted red pepper frittata, roasted potatoes, toasted baguette with an assortment of preserves (including blood orange marmalade), coffee, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and fresh pineapple. The cookies made a fine addition.


Thursday, February 17, 2005

Late St. Valentine's Day Special

Due to technical problems, we were unable to post this on V Day, as planned. This is a cupcake I made for Anthony, along with one of me. They were chocolate with vanilla buttercream, and a few drops of colour for the face... I thought they were adorable.


Sunday, February 13, 2005


the front window at Los Planes
Originally uploaded by ajkinik.

We'd been in search of a good pupuseria ever since our previous favorite (La Carreta on St. Zotique) burned down, tragically, back in 2003. Last Saturday, I spotted Los Planes while making my way west along Bélanger from the St. Hubert shopping district. The bright sign with the long list of "jugos" (juices) caught my eye, and a quick look through the window convinced me that this was a pupuseria (a restaurant specializing in the stuffed patty-like tortillas that are the national specialty of El Salvador) worth revisiting. The next day I took Michelle there and we sat down to sample the goods. We were just looking for an afternoon snack so we ordered a platter that came with two pupusas, a tamale, and a coffee or juice. We ordered one cheese pupusa, one black bean pupusa, and a coffee, and Michelle also asked for a glass of horchata. When we'd placed our order we took a look at the massive jar of "curtido," the pickled cabbage salad typical of Salvadoran cuisine, and decided to give it a try. We both decided it was the best we'd ever had--nicely herbed and spiced, with just the right vinegariness to it. A few minutes later one of our waitresses returned with a couple of hermetically sealed serving utensils for the curtido and the jar of tangy red sauce that sat beside it. A moment or two later she returned with our two pupusas. As soon as they arrived we could tell they were going to be good--they looked lovingly handmade and they had that lightness to them that sets the best pupusas apart. Our hunches were confirmed as soon as we bit in. The cheese pupusas, which were also filled with scallions, were delicate and delicious, while the bean pupusas featured black beans that were absolutely outstanding. The tamale was of a sweeter variety that I'm used to, with a filling made with a mixture resembling creamed corn, but it, too, was fantastic, and the crema it was served with gave it just the sourness it needed to offset its sweetness.

Sunday afternoons are a good time to visit Los Planes. Sunday is traditionally the day that Salvadoran families go out to their favorite pupuseria together on an outing. They pick up a dozen or so, gather outside, and eat their pupusas with beers, juices, or sodas, while socializing with family and friends. When we showed up at Los Planes there were only a few tables taken, but a half an hour later, by 2:30 or so, the restaurant was packed with Salvadoran families and children clamoring for pupusas.

We'd found our new pupuseria. Both of us can't wait to go back and give the rest of the menu a try.

[Los Planes is located at 531 Bélanger E., between St. Denis and St. Hubert. It is very inexpensive.]


Saturday, February 12, 2005

Double Happiness

Last week, I was invited to a Valentine's-themed dinner party where guests were asked to bring something in a shade of red and to wear something to match. There was borscht as the main, plenty of cheese, bread and chutney, and a little too much red wine for a school night. I brought dessert, of course. I knew Reema had been invited and I correctly assumed she would bring a cake. In this case, it turned out to be a deluxe "Red Velvet" cake, with a hint of chocolate and a very creamy buttercream icing, and it was delicious. This left me with the sides (yes, there are sides when it comes to dessert). I made raspberry rose ice cream and also brought some "cigarettes" I had made at school. Okay, I didn't make them: mine turned out less than presentable, so I asked one of my classmates for theirs. In any case, the combination went perfectly with the cake. Anthony was not able to make it to the dinner, so I saved him some ice cream and cake for later.

I have been making macarons for over a week now, and I think I have it down pat. One of the surprising secrets to a good macaron is to make a bad French meringue. You want it to turn out like royal icing--dense and pasty, almost--rather than fluffy and light like a good meringue. The filling is an intensely nutty pistachio cream. Last night, Anthony was looking for a way to photograph the pistachio macarons I'd made. He tried a number of different shots and then decided to match one with some of my leftover raspberry rose ice cream. Not only did the colors play off each other nicely, but the subtle nuttiness of the macarons balanced perfectly with the flowery ice cream. We shared a bowl and went to bed.


Tuesday, February 08, 2005

clementines are greater than gold

December clementine
Originally uploaded by ajkinik.

We had a feeling citrus would be playing a big part in our near future back in December. We were trying to settle on a design for our annual Christmas card and we ended up going with a photograph featuring a clementine orange. Clementines come like a godsend here in Montreal in December, when suddenly our local grocery stores are flooded with crates of the Moroccan variety—they’re one of the things that help us make it through Quebec’s winters—but we were also inspired by the fact that oranges used to be among the most cherished of Christmas gifts in Eastern Europe not so long ago.


Monday, February 07, 2005

Seville Orange Marmalade/Blood Orange Marmalade

Last Sunday Michelle made a trip to Jean-Talon market in search of citrus, and she came back with blood oranges, Seville oranges, and Key limes. The first week of February 2005 rapidly turned into Citrus Week 2005 as a result. I'll let her tell you all about it later.



Sadly, Alan Davidson (who wrote The Penguin Companion to Food, Mediterranean Seafood, and a host of other classics of food literature) passed away a little over a year ago. One of my Christmas gifts from Anthony was a book of his called A Kipper With My Tea which features a charming and rather hilarious article on making marmalade; as a result, I thought cooking up a batch of Alan's marmalade might make a fitting, and particularly seasonal, tribute. Our local grocery was carrying Seville oranges last week for much cheaper than Chez Louis at the Jean Talon market. I had about 12 to work with, plus, as he recommended, a grapefruit and a lemon. His method? Simple.

Take 2 pounds of Seville oranges, 1 grapefruit, and 1 lemon and quarter them. Place them in a pot with enough water to cover. Simmer, covered, about an hour. Cut the quartered fruit pell mell with some scissors or a knife. Add more than 2 pounds of sugar, and I would add much more, like almost 3 or more... Stir and let simmer until it reaches the jelly stage. Let it sit for 5 min. off the heat and pour into clean jars. No muslin bags, no juicing, zesting or straining. Just boil and jar.

I found the taste to be excellent, if you appreciate a marmalade with real character. If not, you may want to increase the sugar to 3 or 4 lbs. Anthony said this was right on the line for him: not too much of that bitterness characteristic of marmalade, but almost. I told him about Alan Davidson's closing advice with regards to marmalade. He suggests making the flavour so sharp most people will decline seconds. Those who love it, however, will love it so much that "they will be doubly grateful if given half the amount...", leaving plenty for the cook to enjoy.


Sunday, February 06, 2005

On Oranges & Marmalade

Oranges originated in China and they only spread beyond China in the first centuries A.D.: to neighboring parts of the Far East, to South Asia, to the Middle East, and finally to the classical world. The name aurantium, derived from the Persian naranj and the Sanskrit narunga—and the root of the Italian arancia, the Spanish naranja, and the French and English ‘orange’—was a Late Latin term coined when the Romans became interested in the fruit, sometime around the 1st century A.D. With the exception of Spain, where the Moorish presence helped ensure its continued cultivation, the Fall of the Roman Empire brought an end to the cultivation of the orange on the European continent until around the 11th century. When they began to reappear, sour oranges were the first oranges to be cultivated again in Europe, with sweet oranges arriving a few hundred years later. It is reported that sour oranges were being grown in Sicily at the beginning of the 11th century. The sweet orange appeared in the Mediterranean region by the late 15th century. The Portuguese introduced a particularly sweet variety at the very end of the 15th century after Vasco de Gama returned from India, a variety that came to be known as a “China” orange. The sweet “China” oranges that became a delicacy in England in the late 16th century were actually from Portugal.

The word “marmalade” also comes from Portugal. It is derived from the Portuguese marmelada, which was the name given to a thick quince paste that was being sold in England by the 15th century. Oranges and lemons were being imported into England at the time, and a similarly thick preserve made their pulp became known as “marmalade.” Marmalades remained a solid dish, meant to be eaten with one’s fingers, until around the 18th century. It was only then that the modern spreadable version was developed and took root. For some reason marmalade making in the British home has traditionally been the domain of men, according to Alan Davidson. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that bitter oranges began to make their way back into European pantries as the Crusaders returned from their exploits in the Holy Land.

Oranges were relatively quick to make it to the New World. Columbus brought orange seeds to Haiti, along with lemon and lime seeds, on his second trip to the Caribbean. The first oranges were planted in Florida in the 16th century; California oranges only date back to 1739, when missionaries began to cultivate them in Baja California.


[sources: Fruit: A Connoisseur’s Guide and Cookbook and The Penguin Companion to Food, both by Alan Davidson]

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Rounding out Citrus Week 2005...

Key Lime Pie
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

Michelle's two batches of marmalade might have been the highlights of Citrus Week 2005, but the festivities actually got going earlier in the week. First came a delightful Tangerine Pound Cake, and two days later Michelle made her first Key Lime Pie. Actually, Michelle had never even tasted Key Lime Pie until she tried a bite of her own. I, on the other hand, having spent a great deal of time in South Florida over the years, have had my fair share, but Key Lime Pie is among my favorite desserts. It had been a long time since I'd had one with a meringue gracing it, like this one. All in all, the whole thing was a winner. Not only was the meringue on this particular pie beautiful, it was also terribly delicious, and the filling had a great deal more zest than is typical. It had a burst of lime to it that was more than welcome on a cold February night with a cup of tea.

I'll let Michelle give you the details on both of these...


I think we have a sugar problem. The tangerine pound cake was born late one night as we settled in to watch a movie (Vivre Sa Vie, I think it was). We looked at one another and both asked, "Do we really have no dessert tonight?" I didn't need any more encouragement than that and ran into the kitchen to whip up a simple pound cake with tangerine zest. Halfway through the film the timer went off, and fifteen minutes later we were enjoying the first bites. Pound cake keeps so well that our appetites were satiated for a few days, until we ran out and I made...

Key Lime Meringue Pie

2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. shortening
1/4 lb. butter, cut into 1/2 " cubes
7 Tbsp. ice water

3/4 c. sugar
1/3 c. cornstarch
1/8 tsp. salt
1 1 /2 c. water
1 Tbsp. grated Key lime zest
2/3 c. Key lime juice (from about 10 limes)
4 egg yolks
2 Tbsp. butter

4 egg whites
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 c. sugar
1 pinch salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla

For the crust: Mix flour and salt in a large bowl. Work in the shortening until it has been cut into 1/3 " pieces. Add the butter and work it in until it is in pea-size pieces. Sprinkle the water over the mixture and work just to combine. Divide in two and wrap in plastic and chill at least 30 min. (You will only need one of these for this recipe. You can freeze the other one for later use.) Roll one piece of dough out gently and place in a pie plate. Let rest another 30 min. in the fridge. Prick surface of crust with a fork, or weigh down with pie weights. Bake at 350*F until golden. Remove from oven and let cool.

For the custard: In a saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Whisk in the lime juice, water and zest. Whisk in the yolks and butter. Cook over low heat stirring constantly. Once it begins to thicken, cook another minute more, then strain into the cooled pie shell. Spread evenly.

For the meringue: Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until they form soft peaks. Whisk in the sugar and beat until glossy and firm. Stir in the salt and vanilla. Gently spread over the custard, making sure that the edge between the pastry and custard is sealed completely. Bake for 25 min. at 325*F, until meringue is golden brown. Let cool 30 min. before serving.


[This recipe comes from Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Fruit cookbook.]

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Mexican mystery solved?

Michelle emailed me not long after I posted "The Joy of Mexican Chocolate" to tell me the following: "Sometimes the internet does work...
I typed Saveur Mexican icebox cookies into google and found someone's blog that has the original recipe and who noticed that Saveur put 1/2 c. flour instead of 1 1/2 c. flour by mistake."

According to the said blog the original recipe comes from Maida Heatter's Great Book of Chocolate Desserts. This typo explains why the cookies we made are nearly flourless and why they turned out crisp-style and not like the cookies featured in Saveur's accompanying photo.

The recipe should read as follows:

Mexican Chocolate Icebox Cookies

1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup quality “Dutch-process” unsweetened cocoa
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
12 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Whisk the flour, cocoa, cinnamon, cayenne, salt, and pepper together in a medium bowl and set aside. Put sugar, vanilla, and egg into a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer on high speed until thick and pale, about 3 minutes. Add butter and continue to beat on high speed until smooth, about 3 minutes more. Using your fingers, work flour mixture into butter mixture until dough is just combined (in other words, do not overwork the dough).

Divide dough in half and roll each half into a 9” log. Wrap each log in parchment paper, twisting ends tightly to make a uniform cylinder. Freeze dough logs for at least 8 hours and as long as overnight.

Preheat oven to 350˚ F. Unwrap dough and slice each log into rounds and 1/3” thick. Place rounds 1” apart on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets. Bake cookies until slightly puffed and tiny cracks appear on surface, about 8 minutes. Transfer cookies to a rack to let cool.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

How are they? Sensational.