Monday, October 29, 2007

Cavolo Nero!

The first thing you should know about cavolo nero is that, contrary to what its name might lead you to believe (cavolo = cabbage, nero = black), it's not actually black, it's just very, very green.

cavolo nero fig. a: cavolo nero waiting to be rinsed

The second thing you should know is that while it might appear to be just another odd, almost whimsical, late-harvest green, it's remarkably nuanced, remarkably supple, one of the finest greens that we've ever encountered (and we like our greens!), and one that we felt we had a deep connection with from the first time we tasted it. And I'm not talking about "love at first bite" here--I'm talking something more uncanny.

Anyway, the third thing you should know is that if you live in Montreal, cavolo nero, this most prized of Tuscan greens, is readily available at the moment, albeit for a limited time only. (It's very hearty, growing long into the winter in Italy, but it's not winter-in-Montreal hearty.)

Now, I must confess, we were totally unfamiliar with cavolo nero until about 10 days ago. At the time, my sister was visiting from out of town, and on one particularly nice afternoon, we made our way to Jean-Talon Market to pick up all the necessities for a ham feast we had planned. I was in the mood for kale or chard or some other kind of hearty green, and my sister agreed that sautéed greens might just do the trick, so we made our way to Birri to see what they had in stock. I noticed a type of kale that I'd never seen before--it was attractive and it looked like it had potential, so we bought a bunch and brought it home. It was only when I got home and started flipping through our November issue of Saveur (which had just arrived a day or so earlier) that I found out what I'd just bought, because right there, beginning on page 78, was an entire article on cavolo nero.

cavolo nero by saveur fig. b: cavolo nero by Saveur

Saveur's cavolo nero spread was definitely striking, catching my eye immediately, but when someone goes so far as to refer to an item you just happened upon at the market as "autumn's tastiest vegetable" you pay extra-close attention.

Since that fateful day we've been busy getting to know cavolo nero, and, as I suggested above, we've quickly developed a profound respect for this wonderful fall and winter green. Aside from braising them then gently sautéeing them with olive oil and garlic, we've made two recipes with cavolo nero in the last 10 days, both of which appear in the Saveur article, both of which were adapted by the folks at Saveur from recipes in Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers' landmark River Café Italian Kitchen cookbook, and both of which, tragically, had somehow been overlooked by Michelle and I each of the previous times we'd leafed through our personal copy of the River Cafe cookbook.

river cafe cookbook fig. c: slightly tattered AEB copy of River Cafe Italian Kitchen

The first of these recipes is a classic Tuscan bean soup that's 100% vegetarian and no less flavorful for it. It's based loosely on a recipe for Summer Ribollita that appeared in the River Cafe cookbook.


1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
6 celery ribs, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
1 red onion, chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes
2 lbs cavolo nero, trimmed and roughly chopped
3 14-oz cans borlotti beans [we used romano beans instead], drained
1 stale ciabatta loaf, crust removed
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil + a bit more for drizzling
freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano

Heat the 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the parsley, celery, garlic, carrots, onion, and the salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent and have in fact begun to brown ever so slightly, about 10-15 minutes.

Crush the contents of the can of tomatoes and add to the pot. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until the liquid has been reduced to next to nothing and the vegetables have taken on a rich flavor, about 20-30 minutes. Add the cavolo nero, 2 of the drained cans of borlotti [or romano] beans, and 1 gallon of water. Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer uncovered until the cavolo nero is tender, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the last can of drained borlotti [or romano] beans with 1/2 cup of water to a food processor or blender and purée them. When the cavolo nero is tender, add this mixture to the pot. Tear the ciabatta loaf into 1" pieces, and add them to the pot with 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring, until thick, about 30 minutes. Serve drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and topped with a bit of parmigiano-reggiano.

Makes enough to serve the whole Italian army.

[AEB variation: good quality ciabatta loaves being something of a rarity here in Montreal, we replaced the stale ciabatta loaf with half a stale baguette, which we toasted into croutons (by sautéeing them lightly in olive oil until golden) and used to garnish each bowl (along with the extra-virgin olive oil and the parmigiano-reggiano). Delicious.]

[adapted from a recipe in the November 2007 issue of Saveur]

The second recipe is a much simpler one, but it's also the more astounding of the two, showing off cavolo nero's remarkable versatility. Here, cavolo nero is used to make a pesto, and its herbal qualities fill in for the basil you'd find in a classic pesto Genovese, while its natural nut flavors fill in for the pinenuts. Hard to believe, I know, but it works, and it makes for one of the best pestos either of us has ever had or made.

Cavolo Nero Pesto

1 large bunch cavolo nero leaves, stems removed
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 garlic cloves peeled
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups grated parmigiano-reggiano

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the cavolo nero and 2 cloves of garlic. Cook until bright green, about 3-4 minutes. Drain and transfer both the cavolo nero and the garlic to a food processor. Pulse into a rough purée. Pour in 1/4 cup of the olive oil and pulse into a pesto. Crush the remaining two garlic cloves with 1 tsp sea salt in a mortar. Add to the food processor, along with the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil and the parmigiano-reggiano. Pulse again one or two more times. Adjust seasoning.

Use as you would use a pesto Genovese: with pasta, with tomatoes and mozzarella, etc.

[adapted from a recipe in Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers' River Cafe Italian Kitchen]


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Everything you ever wanted to know about AEB but were afraid to register with Blogger to ask

If you missed the Gazette's extravaganza on food blogging in Montreal in Saturday's paper, including a fairly lengthy interview with the two of us, you can check it out here, here, and here.

Originally we thought it might be good for a laugh if, regardless of whether the coverage was largely positive, largely negative, or somewhere in between (we're happy to say the coverage was rather glowing, and we thank the authors for their generosity), we responded by posting a tongue-in-cheek piece that began with the following epigraph

"...false media / We don't need it, do we?"
--P.E., "Don't Believe the Hype"

and then went on to feign outrage over how we'd (supposedly) been misrepresented.

We might have even tried to convince you out there that the couple posing as "Michelle" and "Anthony" in the photograph that accompanied the interview were a couple of "lifestyle models," that the kitchen that served as the setting for the photograph was not in fact the infamous AEB kitchen but a studio backdrop,

kitchen scene fig. a: what the AEB kitchen really looks like

and that when we sit down to generate material for AEB it looks more like this:

michelle blogging fig. b: Michelle drafts yet another AEB post on our tried and true AEB laptop

Then we had a cup of coffee and thought better of it.

In all honesty, we're somewhat embarassed by the praise heaped upon us (and by the fact that our photograph makes me look disgruntled and Michelle look stoned, when, in both cases, nothing could have been further from the truth), but otherwise we're really quite pleased with the way this profile turned out. Sure, the interview got me into trouble with my Mom (as you'll see below), but then anyone who's ever been interviewed knows that there are always a few things that get lost in translation. With this in mind, we offer you the following annotations:

1. Michelle is no Vancouverite. Like myself (Northern California-Ottawa-Northern California-Virginia-Montreal-London-Washington, DC-Vancouver-Montreal), she's a bit of a nomad (Toronto-Ottawa-Guelph-Nelson-Victoria-Vancouver-Halifax-Montreal). Her reaction to this blatant, er, smear: "I'm from Nelson, man!"

2. We've never "[trawled] the Main for the best Cambodian food." Well, actually, I guess subconsciously we're always trawling for Cambodian because we're so fond of it, but, we regret to say, we've yet to find any in Montreal,* on the Main or anywhere else. We haven't had good Cambodian since our trip to Vancouver in June and prior to that it had been years.

3. My Mom was appalled to see that I hadn't listed my maternal grandfather (who was a chef and hotelier), alongside my paternal grandmother as a major inspiration behind my lifelong obsession with food. In fact, I did. I also listed her, my Mom, as my primary influence. What moms sometimes fail to understand is that, when it comes to print journalism, 10-minute ruminations on food, family, and memory have a tendency to get edited down to 4 cursory sentences out of necessity (and that 3 hours of material might get whittled down to half a page).

No word yet on what Michelle's mom thought of her mention.

4. I never owned a cookbook "about the recipes of American history and the Revolution" that was "released during the bicentennial fever of 1976," but I definitely wish I had. My first cookbook was one of those standard spiral-bound "My First Cookbook"-type cookbooks. It went by the title of My Young Cooks, it was ultra-DIY, and it looked something like this:

my young cooks fig. c: my first cookbook

Sample recipe:

Hot Dog

1 Hot Dog
1 Hot Dog Bun

1. Roast the hot dog over red coals of a camp fire or heat in water just under the boiling point for five minutes.
2. Split the bun, butter it, and warm.
3. Place the hot dog in the bun and serve with mustard and pickle.

(Serves 1)

[printed verbatim from Adele Charlson's My Young Cooks, San Jose, CA: Mad House Press, 1976]

At the time of the interview I distinctly remembered that My Young Cooks contained a recipe for johnnycake. It doesn't. (Sorry.) I must have found that johnnycake recipe elsewhere. In any case, I'd read something about johnnycake in my history class--it being 1976, we had a lot of bicentennial-related American history that year. Swept up by the patriotic fever, that johnnycake recipe was the first recipe I ever tried on my own. Or, at least that's what I remember.

5. I'm pretty sure we never referred to David Chang's cuisine as having Chinese influences. Korean and Japanese by way of the East Village and the hills of Tennessee would probably be more accurate, but then we can hardly blame the author for not printing that because at the time we didn't say that either.

6. I don't remember either of us saying that not being "very vindictive" was some kind of weakness. I think we said something about how we tend to focus on positive aspects of food culture, and that people come to expect that kind of tone from us, so when we go against the grain and adopt a very different persona (for humorous effect, say), people just don't get it.

That said, we hope you enjoyed the piece. Back to our scheduled programming later this week.


p.s.--Thanks to all of you who sent us nice comments via email in the wake of Saturday's article.

p.s., pt. 2--And if you're joining us for the first time, alongside our regular assortment of recipes, reviews, travelogues, and arcana dating all the way back to November 2004, you'll find our Montreal Food Guide (with over 170 entries), our "quick guide to eating, shopping, and playing in Montreal" (a.k.a. "My Montreal is Better Than Yours"), travel pieces that span 2 continents, 3 countries, and over a dozen cities, our latest Top Ten, and an ever-growing list of our favorite cookbooks among our sidebar features.

* Tipsters, send us your tips!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Top Ten #21

1. Brussels sprouts

2. The Man Without Qualities, Pt. 1, Robert Musil

bert & co.

3. Bert Jansch, Birthday Blues

Black Mountain

4. Black Mountain, Le National

5. Up the Yangtze, dir. Chang

6. Patti Smith + A Silver Mt. Zion, Ukrainian Federation Hall

michelle's leaves

7. fall leaves

8. Roland Penrose, The Road is Wider Than Long

9. high-temperature turkey (TY, Mr. Steingarten!)

10. Hot Fuzz, dir. Wright


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Brussels Sprouts x 2

Brussels sprouts

Behold the lowly Brussels sprout. Spinach may very well have been the subject to more widespread abuse over the years (here in North America, at least), but no one to my knowledge ever created a comic strip about a follically-challenged, squinty-eyed, pipe-smoking, tattooed sailor with a taste for long-legged women who develops superhuman strength every time he eats a helping of Brusssels sprouts. For our part, neither of us have ever understood the widespread aversion to Brussels sprouts. We both had vegetables that filled us with dread when we were youngsters, but we can only remember one each (his: zucchini; hers: green bell peppers), and Brussels sprouts were not among these offenders. I've never heard people go off on tirades about the equally lowly cabbage--miniaturize it, however, and suddenly it's capable of striking fear into the hearts of young and old alike.

Around here, among all the other reasons to be excited about the fall harvest season, those massive bunches of Brussels sprouts on the stalk are near the top of our list. It's not just that they have an absurdly Dr. Seussian appearance to them; it's also because they tend to be fresher and better tasting, with plenty of that earthy, almost nutty flavor that distinguishes them when they're in their prime. Our standard preparation is braised with wine, garlic, olive oil, a bit of balsamic vinegar, and some toasted pine nuts, but recently we've tested out some new Brussels sprouts recipes, both of which have wide applications.

#1 is a pasta and Brussels sprouts combo that comes from Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Vegetables, one that Michelle found herself attracted to in large part because the recipe noted that orecchiette would make an ideal accompaniment due to its similarity in size and shape to the Brussels sprout's leaf. We'd learned to make orecchiette when we took our Pasta 1 course at Mezza-Luna earlier this year, and Michelle was eager to practice making them again, but she also liked the poetry of mimicking the shape of the leaf with the shape of the pasta.

Brussels sprouts with orecchiette

Brussels Sprouts with Orecchiette

1 lb Brussels sprouts, stems removed and separated into leaves
1 red onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 pinch hot red pepper flakes
1/2 lemon, pits removed
bread crumbs (optional)
1 lb orecchiette, fresh or dried

If using dried pasta, bring your water to a boil and begin cooking your pasta. If using fresh pasta, like we did, bring your water to a boil, but you can wait to cook the pasta at the very last minute, because it only takes about one minute to cook.

Heat a sauté pan, add a little olive oil, toss in the sprout leaves, add salt and freshly ground black pepper, and sauté for about one minute over high heat. Add the onions and the red pepper flakes, and continue to sauté until the sprouts are tender and a little browned, 2-5 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the garlic, and toss. If the garlic appears to be browning, add a splash of water to the pan. Squeeze a little lemon onto the sprouts, and when the pasta is done, add it, drained, to the sauté pan and toss everything together. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve drizzled with good extra-virgin olive oil. If you want, toss the pasta with some toasted bread crumbs, but if the sprouts are very sweet and tasty [they were], don't bother [we didn't].

Serves two as a main, four as a side.

Rustic yet delicate, and tremendously flavorful (that squeeze of lemon being the crowning touch), Waters' Orecchiettte with Brussels Sprouts went perfectly with our fresh tomato and mozzarella appetizer, a Caesar Salad, and a hearty red wine.

#2 is testament to our ongoing infatuation with the cuisine of David Chang. Not only does Mr. Chang share our affection for Montreal (we have it on good authority that he was up here "all summer long" enjoying Montreal's laid-back appeal), but he obviously shares our affection for Brussels sprouts because he's regularly made good use of them at both Momofuku and Momofuku Ssäm Bar over the last couple of years, and when featured in newspaper and magazine articles, as he often has been, he's tended to include a Brussels sprouts recipe. Thus, Gourmet's recent 2007 Restaurant Issue included Chang's Roasted Brussels Sprouts (tossed with Asian dressing and a devilish puffed rice/shichimi togarashi mix) in its well-deserved feature on him, but the recipe we turned to this week was one that showed up in the April 12, 2006 issue of The New York Times, one that perversely combines Brussels sprouts with cabbage (in the form of kimchi), and one that had been on the AEB hitlist ever since.

Brussels sprouts with kimchee

Brussels Sprouts with Kimchi

1 lb Brussels sprouts, cut in half from top to bottom
1/4 lb bacon, minced
1 cup cabbage kimchi, plus some of its juice, at room temperature
2 tbsp unsalted butter
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400º F. Put bacon in an ovenproof pan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until almost crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and add sprouts, cut-side down.

Cook sprouts until they begin to sizzle, then transfer to oven. Roast until brown on one side, then shake pan to redistribute. Remove when bright green but browned and fairly tender, about 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, purée the kimchi in a food processor or blender until fairly smooth.

Return pan to stove over medium heat [we found this was unnecessary, as the pan was plenty hot enough upon reemerging from the oven] and stir in butter, salt and pepper, and bacon. Put kimchi in bottom of a bowl and top with sprouts. Spoon a little kimchi juice over all and serve.

Serves 4.

That combination of bacon, Brussels sprouts, and kimchi was positively irresistible and Chang's method worked like a charm (here, it's the addition of butter that's the brilliantly unexpected touch). We completed the scene with a simple Asian-inspired rice & fish combo not unlike this and a couple of Pilsner-style lagers.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

AEB Classics #61: Pad Thai, rev. ed.

homemade pad thai fig. a: Pad Thai with chopsticks and lime wedge

Let's face it: Montreal's not without its quality Thai restaurants, but this ain't Frisco and it ain't Chicago neither. I still dream of this one no-nonsense Thai noodle joint in I had the pleasure of experiencing in Chicago some years back now. There were a few tables, but mostly there was just a lot of counter space, and behind the long, winding counter, an entire regiment of Thai stir-fry masters whipping up order after order of out-of-this-world stir-fried noodles and fried rice in just seconds flat. I've tried many a Pad Thai recipe over the years in an attempt (however vain) to recreate the magic of those stir-fry masters. This is the very best I've encountered. It's simple and to-the-point and it turns out beautifully. The toughest thing about it is rounding up the ingredients, but your finer Asian supermarkets and grocers will have the harder-to-find items. However, if you feel like you need an absolutely encyclopedic overview on Pad Thai and how to prepare it (and a remarkably similar recipe to the one you'll find below), by all means take a look a Chez Pim's authoritative "Pad Thai for Beginners" from earlier this year.

Pad Thai

1/2 package Thai rice noodles
1/4 cup canola or peanut oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb fresh shrimp, peeled
1/4 lb deep-fried tofu, diced
1/4 cup pickled radish
1 egg
4 scallions, finely chopped
1 cup bean sprouts
1/4 cup roasted peanuts, crushed

1/4 cup sugar

Golden Boy fig. b: high-quality fish sauce

1/4 cup high-quality fish sauce
1/4 cup tamarind pulp*
2 tbsp paprika
1 tsp crushed hot red peppers

bean sprouts
crushed peanuts
lime wedges

Soak the noodles in warm water for 30 minutes, then drain. Heat your oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and the shrimp and sauté for 3-5 seconds (yes, seconds--remember: you're a Thai stir-fry master now and you're totally in the zone). Add the noodles and sauté, stirring constantly, until the noodles soften (you'll reach a point where you become convinced that they'll remain stiff and inedible forever, and then, all of a sudden, they'll take on the characteristics of the Thai noodles you know and love), about 2-5 minutes (depending on the brand of rice noodles, as I've discovered). Add the sauce, mix well, and cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add the egg and cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add the scallions, bean sprouts, peanuts and radish, stir well, then remove from heat. Serve with garnishes and allow your guests to garnish their Pad Thai according to their wishes.

[recipe courtesy of Philippe de Vienne and La Dépense (Jean-Talon Market, 273-1118), which also happens to be a very good place to get those harder-to-find items listed above]


* For AEB's instructions on making your own tamarind pulp, look here.

Friday, October 12, 2007

"God bless Covey Hill, apple pie, and Calvados!"

It was still unusually warm out, but somehow September was now a thing of the past, October was here, and she was beckoning us to embrace the fall in spite of all the ominous signs that the summer of 2007 might actually prove to be endless (yellowjackets, terraces continuing to do booming business, people parading around in various states of undress, etc.). So Michelle put away her beach towel and her flip-flops, dusted off her fall attire, and got down to business, organizing a crack team of seasoned apple pickers to head down to Covey Hill and do some serious apple picking.*

"Covey Hill again?" Yes, Covey Hill again**. Go ahead and write us off as a bunch of tired, old cultural conservatives if you must (a veritable Covey Hill Preservation Society), but we here at " endless banquet" know a good thing when we see one.

brought to you by the Apple Board of Quebec fig. a: S. presents one of Mr. Safian's finest

We also know a prince when we see one. And, sure enough, as he does every year, Mr. Safian turned up not on a white steed, not on a unicorn, but on his trusty, rusty Harvester International.

Mr. Safian fig. b: Mr. Safian

Michelle was thrilled to get a chance to introduce Mr. Safian to the apple picking team, and everyone was already pretty good and fired up about fanning out into the orchard to carry out the task at hand, when, suddenly, Susie appeared out of the blue like a little angel and gave the team her blessing.

Susie! fig. c: "That's a good girl!"

Mr. Safian's hard work and Susie's blessing paid off: the trees were healthy and heavy with fruit and the apple picking team cleaned up--literally--amassing bushels and bushels of cortlands, empires, and russets, and a bushel of Flemish beauty pears to boot.

the haul, early October, 2007 fig. d: the haul

When you get back home from such an outing, the "problem" is always along these lines: how do you get through four bushels of apples when you're a two-person, two-cat household (especially when you're planning on going back and picking up at least another 3-4 bushels)? Well, developing an 8-apple-a-day per person apple-eating habit certainly helps, but without a proper cellar of any kind, even that kind of pace wasn't going to eliminate our stockpile. Good thing Michelle has plenty of professional expertise in how to work through bushels upon bushels of apples. Plus, she'd taken the time to hone her skills again right prior to leading the apple-picking expedition on things like apple-caramel preserve, so it's safe to say she was up to the challenge.

apple-caramel preserve fig. e: apple-caramel preserve

So this is what you do: you make lots of preserves (butters, jellies, chutneys, etc.), you make lots of pies and tarts (double-crust pies, open-faced galettes, Huguenot tortes, tartes tatins, etc.),

tarte tatin fig. f: tarte tatin

and when you've made as many preserves and pies as you, your family, and your friends can handle, and you can't possibly handle any more sweets, you turn to Alice Waters & co. and you make the following:

Poulet à la Normande

3 1/2 lbs chicken pieces, especially thighs and drumsticks
salt and pepper
2 onions, peeled and diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp pure olive oil
3 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup Calvados
1 cup hard dry cider
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup crème fraîche

30 pearl onions
4 tbsp unsalted butter
salt and pepper
2 or 3 medium apples, peeled and cored and sliced into 8 wedges

In a heavy-bottomed pan, melt the butter with the olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add the chicken pieces, skin side down, and brown well on all sides. Do this in batches, if necessary. When all the chicken pieces are golden brown, remove from the pan and set aside.

Pour off most of the fat left in the pan, add the diced carrots and onions and the thyme sprig and bay leaf, and cook until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Pour in the Calvados and warm before igniting carefully--it will flame up [no joke!], so stand back while doing this. When the Calvados has finished burning, add the cider, stirring and scraping up any brown bits still sticking to the pan. Bring to a boil and reduce by half. Pour in the chicken stock, return the chicken pieces to the pan, and turn down the heat. Simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. When the chicken pieces are done, remove them to a dish and keep covered in a warm place while you finish the sauce.

While the chicken is cooking, start to prepare the garnish. Soak the pearl onions in warm water for a few minutes before peeling them--this makes their skins easier to remove.

Melt 2 tbsp of the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan and add the peeled onions with a pinch of salt. Cook over low heat, tightly covered, until tender and translucent, about 20 minutes. Shake or stir them now and then and add a touch of water if they are threatening to burn.

Melt the rest of the butter in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the apples, season with salt and pepper, and cook for about 10 minutes, tossing them now and then, until they are golden and tender.

Strain the Calvados sauce, pressing on the vegetables to extract all the liquid, and pour it back in the pan. Skim well and bring to a boil. Pour in the juices that have collected in the dish holding the chicken pieces; stir in the crème fraîche. Reduce the heat and simmer until the sauce is reduced by a third or until it coats the spoon. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Return the chicken to the sauce to warm through.

Serve the chicken in its sauce, garnished with the apples and onions--reheated, if necessary, either together or separately.

Serves 4.

[adapted slightly from Chez Panisse Fruit by Alice Waters]

We'd been wanting to make this for some time now, but we decided to save it for apple season. With locally raised organic chicken, farm-fresh vegetables and herbs from the market, Michel Jodoin's brandy de pommes from Rougemont, and Mr. Safian's ultra-crisp apples, not only was this a particularly seasonal affair, it was an all-Quebec one too, and a delicious one at that.

For directions to Mr. Safian's stand in Covey Hill please look here and here.


* I'm sorry to say I was AWOL for this expedition. However, I was with the crack team of apple pickers in spirit, as they say, which explains the startling verisimilitude of what, in truth, is nothing more than a second-hand account.

** Please note: there are not one, not two, but three hypertext links here!

Thanks to T., J., and S. for making the trip a hit and for all the great photos.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Icelandic Invasion

There was a time when an Icelandic invasion of Canada would have come by sea, it might very well have involved Leif Ericson and his band of merry marauders, and it's not clear that they would have arrived bearing gifts. Times have changed, though. When Icelanders invade Canada nowadays, they tend to come by Icelandair, any bands of merry marauders may very well have been invited , and if they're coming to visit old friends who just happen to run a food blog, not only will they arrive with gifts, but most of them will be edible.

This means licorice, and lots of it: chocolate-covered Draumur bars, jet-black Apollo Lakkrís, Tópas sykurlaus, and, my favorite, Opal,

opal green, opal orange

which comes in varying strengths, ranging from orange to baby blue, and some awfully snappy packaging.

It might also mean Opal's lethal licorice-vodka liqueur,

opal vodkaskot

whose praises none other than Quentin Tarantino has been busy singing: "Now, I don’t really know what poison tastes like because if I did I’d be dead. But if I had to imagine what poison tastes like, it would be this stuff Opal."

But, strangely, given this stiff competition, what we were most excited about was a humble loaf of rugbraud. Might have had something to do with our recently developed interest in steamed breads, but we couldn't wait to get our hands on that rugbraud, which is essentially a pumpernickel with an Icelandic twist: not only is it steamed, but it's steamed over a volcanic vent. I kid you not. I first encountered rugbraud almost 10 years ago now, when I visited Iceland, and its utterly distinctive flavor left quite an impression. Icelanders generally serve rugbraud with salted butter (to counteract its sweetness) and Gouda, so that's exactly the way we've been enjoying it: with salted butter and a 2 1/2-year-old aged raw milk Gouda from Alberta that's sold under the name Le Grizzly at Hamel.

rugbraud w/ butter and aged gouda

All those who aren't planning on invading Iceland anytime soon, either with a return trip ticket or on one of Icelandair's famous Icelandic stopovers: stay tuned for the home rugbraud recipe, including a step-by-step guide to building your very own simulation volcanic vent that emits gasses so pungent, so wonderfully sulfuric, you'll swear the Great Geysir itself had been transported to your very kitchen.*


Want your own Icelandic candies, liqueurs, and breads? Iceland is only 5 hours away by aeroplane.

Thanks to B. & I. for the goodies.

* Your neighbors, on the other hand, will just swear.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Pop Rocks

Yes, it's that time of year again. Pop Montreal is in full effect and that can only mean about 478 things (seriously--every edition is a veritable cultural deluge), including Puces Pop. Sadly, we here at " endless banquet" won't be participating in this year's D.I.Y. extravaganza because we've just had too much on the go, but we will be attending, and we encourage all you out there in cyberland to check it out too.

Puces Pop
Canadian Grenadier Guards Armoury
4171 Ave. de l’Esplanade
October 6th & 7th


Monday, October 01, 2007

Relatively Quick Breads 2: Boston Brown Bread

A few days later, I was rereading John Thorne's wonderful chapter on baked beans from Serious Pig for the umpteenth time, when I suddenly realized that I'd never done anything other than gloss over his brief section on Boston Brown Bread that appears roughly midway through the chapter. I'd read the beginning of the chapter, of course, and the last several pages of the chapter--"A Note On Maine Bean Types," "First Find Your Bean Pot," and "Bean Hole Beans" (Thorne is nothing if not thorough)--but, inexplicably, I'd always just skipped over the section on Boston Brown Bread. Not this time, though. This time I read the Boston Brown Bread section closely and I could hardly believe what I was reading. The combination is an unlikely one, and Thorne draws attention to this: "At first, theirs seems a strange alliance. Brown bread, a chocolate-colored, raisin-studded soda bread made of whole wheat, rye, and "injun" [corn meal] is just as soft, dense, and carbohydrate-heavy as baked beans themselves--and yet, somehow, the two manage to paly off, even enhance, each other's goodness." But what really caught me by surprise was that Boston Brown Bread is traditionally a steamed bread--and one that's most commonly steamed in a coffee can.

coffee can fig. a: clean, empty coffee can

Like everyone and their brother, I knew about Boston Baked Beans. Like a lot of people, I'd heard of Boston Brown Bread. But somehow I never got the message that Boston Brown Bread gets steamed on the stovetop (in a can!) while your pot of Boston Baked Beans bakes in the oven. Talk about "Yankee ingenuity."

I'd already decided that I needed to make Boston Brown Bread that very night--after all, my Down East Baked Beans were baking in the oven and they still had a good 3-4 hours to go--but when Michelle got home I asked her what she knew about Boston Brown Bread. "What do I know about Boston Brown Bread?," she asked. "I've been wanting to make it since I was a kid, that's what." Turns out that at roughly the same age that I was obsessing over Johnny Cake down south of the border, Michelle was north of the border, dreaming of Boston Brown Bread. When I told her I was thinking of making it that very night, she got pretty excited. I had no problem convincing her to run off to the health food store for rye flour while I went to the supermarket in search of molasses, buttermilk, and a 1-pound coffee can.

15 minutes later we reconvened and Michelle started to assemble the dough while I got to work on the coleslaw (the third part of Thorne's baked beans trinity).

Boston Brown Bread

1/2 cup rye flour
1/2 cup cornmeal, preferably white flint
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp fancy molasses (not blackstrap)
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup raisins or dried currants
butter for greasing a 1-pound coffee can

About 2 1/2 hours before your baked beans will be ready, bring a large kettle of water to a boil. In a mixing bowl, stir together the rye flour, cornmeal, whole-wheat flour, baking soda, and salt until well mixed. Pour in the molasses and buttermilk, and work into a smooth batter. Fold in the raisins or dried currants [raisins are traditional, but Thorne prefers currants]. Carefully butter the inside of your empty, clean 1-pound coffee can (a 14-oz can will do). Pour in the batter and cover the can with a doubled piece of aluminum foil. Press this down so that it stretches tightly across the top and reaches partially down the sides, and secure it in place with a sturdy rubber band.

Put a small wire rack (if available) on the bottom of a deep pot. Set the filled coffee can on the rack or simply set it on the bottom of the pot. Pour the boiling water around the can

steaming Boston brown bread fig. b: adding the boiling water to the pot

until it reaches a little more than halfway up the sides. Bring the water back up to a murmuring simmer, cover the pot, and gently steam the bread for 2 hours, or until a straw inserted in the middle of the bread comes out clean. Remove, set on a cake rack, and let cool until the beans are ready to serve, then unmould the bread and serve warm. Brown bread is traditionally cut with a string, but dental floss works well too.

Boston brown bread, coffee can, dental floss fig. c: still life with Boston Brown Bread, a coffee can, and dental floss

Serve buttered, alongside--or, if you prefer, under--the baked beans.

Makes 1 loaf of delicious Boston Brown Bread.

Total time: about 2 1/2 hours.

John Thorne has never let us down. Fresh, hot Boston Brown Bread with butter + baked beans was a revelation. I'd always been partial to sourdough with my baked beans previously, but now it's going to be hard to go back. And Boston Brown Bread is much more than just a sidekick to your baked beans--it makes for an ideal loaf of morning bread too. Again, all you need to do is toast it and add butter, the bread does the rest.

With a cooking time of 2 hours, Boston Brown Bread can hardly be accused of being the quickest quick bread, but it's one of the easiest, most satisfying bread recipes you'll ever find, and it's hard for me to imagine a better recipe to get kids interested in cooking. Think about it: piping-hot homemade bread in only 2 1/2 hours. Plus, when was the last time you steamed a loaf of bread? In a coffee can, no less.