Monday, December 31, 2007

Goodbye, 2007!


Fit for a King: the Merle Armitage Book of Food

Grant Arnold and Michael Turner, Fred Herzog: Vancouver Photographs

Dirk Bogarde, A Postillion Struck By Lightning

Bill Buford, "Extreme Chocolate," The New Yorker, October 29, 2007 and "The Taming of the Chef", The New Yorker, April 2, 2007

Rose Carrarini, Breakfast Lunch Tea

Bruce Chatwin, Songlines + Anatomy of restlessness : selected writings, 1969-1989

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet

Ethné et Philippe de Vienne, La Cuisine et le Goût des Épices

Stefano Faita, Entre Cuisine et Quincaillerie

Theodor Fontane, Effi Briest

E.M. Forster, A Passage to India

Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers, Italian Two Easy

Graham Greene, Ways of Escape

Jim Harrison, The Raw and the Cooked

Werner Herzog, Of Walking in Ice: Munich-Paris, 23 November-14 December 1974

Judith Herman and Marguerite Shalett Herman, The Cornucopia, Being a Kitchen Entertainment and Cookbook Containing Good Reading and Good Cookery From More Than 500 Years of Recipes, Food Lore &c. as Conceived and Expounded by the Great Chefs & Gourmets of the Old and New Worlds Between the Years 1390 and 1899 Now Compiled and Presented to the Public in a Single Handsome and Convenient Volume

lee bros. fig. a: the Lee Bros.

Matt Lee and Ted Lee, The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook

mcphee's oranges fig. b: McPhee's Oranges

John McPhee, Oranges

Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities, vol. 1

The Picayune’s Creole Cook Book, Sesquicentennial Edition

Michael Pollan, "Unhappy Meals," The New York Times, January 28, 2007

Booth Tarkington, The Magnificent Ambersons

Nick Tosches, "If You Knew Sushi," Vanity Fair, June 2007

Calvin Trillin, "Three Chopsticks," The New Yorker, September 3, 2007

Mary Webb, Precious Bane


Black Mountain & friends @ Le National

Blonde Redhead, 23

Sandy Bull, Inventions

dylan's rolling thunder revue fig. c: Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue

Bob Dylan, Live 1975: The Rolling Thunder Revue

Electrelane, No Shouts, No Calls

Grinderman, s/t

Tsegué Maryam Guèbrou, Éthiopiques 21

P.J. Harvey, White Chalk

Bert Jansch, Birthday Blues

The Kinks, Arthur, Or The Decline and Fall of the British Empire

Metal Mountain + Yo La Tengo @ Williamsburg Hall

Pentangle, Reflection

Patti Smith + a silver mt. Zion @ the Ukrainian Federation Hall

Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabaté, In the Heart of the Moon

V/A, Golden Afrique, vol. 1

V/A, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore

life is a problem fig. d: Mississippi Record's Life is a Problem...

V/A, Life is a Problem… But Where There is Life, There is Hope

V/A, Lipa Kodi Ya City Council

Moving Images

Black Narcissus, dir. Powell

Children of Men, dir. Cuaron

Little Dieter Needs to Fly, dir. Herzog

The Lives of Others, dir. von Donnersmarck

No Country for Old Men, dir. Coen

marker's Sans Soleil fig. e: Marker's Sans Soleil

Sans Soleil, dir. Marker

The Sopranos, seasons 1-4 (again)

Up the Yangtze, dir. Chang

The Wind that Shakes the Barley, dir. Loach

The Wire, seasons 2 and 3

Zodiac, dir. Fincher


Abu Elias, Montreal

Barney Greengrass: the Sturgeon King, NYC

Clare & Carl's, Plattsburgh, NY

Di Fara, NYC

Egg, NYC

Franny’s, NYC

The Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant, NYC

Green Lettuce, Vancouver

Japadog! fig. f: Vancouver's Japa Dog

Japa Dog, Vancouver

Kintaro, Vancouver

Mister Spicee, Montreal

Johnny Mac fig. g: NYC's Momofuku Ssäm Bar

Momofuku Ssäm Bar, NYC

Paul Patates, Montreal

Saigon Bakery, NYC

Toshi, Vancouver

Una Pizza Napoletana, NYC


Black Maple Hill Special Edition Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Van Winkle Special Reserve 12-Year-Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Jeffrey Steingarten's high-temperature turkey

Shrimp & oyster gumbo

"Semina Culture: Wallace Berman and His Circle," Grey Art Gallery, N.Y.U.

strike it rich in oil! fig. h: the CCA's "Sorry, Out of Gas": "Strike it rich in oil!"

"Sorry, Out of Gas," Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal

Smoked mozzarella, Joe's Dairy, NYC

Smoked ricotta, La Grotta del Formaggio, Vancouver

Jens Quistgaard pepper mills

Peter Hvidt tables

Ormstown Strawberry Social, Ormstown, QC

Upper Saranac Lake, NY fig. i: NY's Upper Saranac Lake

Upper Saranac Lake, NY

Happy New Year!--a.j. & m.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Raw and the Baked

still life with oysters fig. a: before

I'd always assumed that the origins Oysters Rockefeller had some kind of direct association with ole John D. himself--something to the effect of Mr. Rockefeller having requested a special oyster dish from a favorite chef, or some chef having created a special oyster dish in Rockefeller's honor for some high society dinner. Apparently I was wrong. As James Beard and others have pointed out, there are numerous, if not countless, variations on Oysters Rockefeller, but most trace the dish's origins back to New Orleans at the turn of the 20th century and Mr. Jules Alciatore. Mr. Alciatore was the owner of the legendary Antoine's restaurant and the son of its founder, and around 1899 he began to serve his patrons a baked oyster dish with a tantalizingly buttery herb topping. The dish was a sensation and it was quickly added to Antoine's Pantheon, alongside such classics as Tomato Frappée Julius Caesar, Terrapin St. Anthony, and Toast Rothschild. It too needed a dignified name, something that would fully capture its majesty--who better to name one's rich new oyster hors d'oeuvre after than America's reigning oil magnate? Duly named, Alciatore's dish was reintroduced to Antoine's menu: "Huîtres en Coquille Rockefellow." [I guess it could have been worse--he could have named it "Huîtres en Coquille Roc-A-Fella."]

Its name corrected, Oysters Rockefeller soon traveled far beyond New Orleans, becoming a nationwide hit, but with the original recipe a closely guarded "sacred family secret," it didn't take long for the dish to morph into countless variations. For the most part Alciatore kept mum about the impostors, wisely believing that keeping silent on the matter would actually amplify his dish's already considerable aura. Occasionally, however, Alciatore found himself so appalled by what his competitor's were passing off as Oysters Rockefeller that he'd sound off, and it was the inclusion of spinach that seems to have infuriated him the most.

Now, those of you with a sharp eye might have noticed that the photograph above has some spinach leaves--horror of horrors!--lurking in the background. That's because when we were hunting down a recipe for Oysters Rockefeller, we settled on one from The Picayune's Creole Cook Book: Sesquicentennial Edition, one of our favorite cookbooks of the year and an immensely lively and informative reference for all things pertaining to Louisiana Creole cuisine. The recipe comes accompanied with a note that reads, "Not in the first edition [1901], this recipe was added to later editions because of its widespread appeal," and spinach figures prominently. It was only after having chosen The Picayune's recipe and made it a couple of times that I rediscovered John Thorne's "A Note on Oysters Rockefeller" in his chapter "Oysters & Herbs: A Creole Medley" from Serious Pig, the source for much of the lore you see above. Purely coincidentally, Thorne too mentions The Picayune's Creole Cook Book, but he must be referring to the first edition because he does so only to make a point about Oysters Rockefeller's progeny:

Did Jules Alciatore actually create [Oysters Rockefeller]? Some claim that his stroke of genius was in transferring a garnish from snails that no one wanted to the oysters that everyone did. Theories such as this spring from writers who are not familiar with Creole cooking. It takes only a look at The Picayune's Creole Cook Book to see that Oysters Rockefeller is an elaborated (i.e., restaurant) version of "Oysters Broiled in Their Shells." There's no need to drag beurre à la bourgignonne into it.

God knows what Thorne would have to say about the Sesquicentennial Edition, which no longer features "Oysters Broiled in Their Shells" but does feature "Oysters Rockefeller"--complete with spinach. Thorne's own version of Oysters Rockefeller is a "fleshed out" version of a recipe that one Louis P. De Gouy claimed to have gotten from Jules Alciatore himself--it contains no spinach, no bacon, no garlic, and no Parmesan, but it does contain Herbsaint. This ain't it. Our recipe makes no claims with regards to an Antoine's pedigree--hell, it might even have poor Mr. Alciatore rolling in his grave--but it's got some legitimate Creole flair and it's a true showstopper. If you're not comfortable with "Oysters Rockefeller," just call it "Oysters Broiled in Their Shells."

oysters rockefeller fig. b: after

Oysters Rockefeller

2 dozen plump, briny oysters, shucked (bottom half-shells cleaned and reserved)
6 slices of bacon
1 cup homemade breadcrumbs
1/2 lb unsalted butter
4 green onion tops, minced
6 sprigs parsley, minced
1/2 bunch spinach, chopped
1/4 bunch chervil, minced
4 green celery leaves, minced
salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste
1-2 tbsp lemon juice
1 oz Pernod
rock salt

Fill a large baking sheet with rock salt and place it in a 375º oven for 10 minutes. Fry the bacon in pan over medium-high heat until crispy. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and chop it finely. Add the butter to the bacon drippings and melt over medium heat. When the butter has melted add the green onion tops, the parsley, the chervil, the celery leaves, and the spinach. When the greens have wilted add the Pernod and cook for another minute. Remove from heat, add the lemon juice, stir and adjust the seasonings, keeping in mind that if your oysters are particularly briny you might want to take it easy on the salt. Then again, you might not. Transfer the greens to a bowl and then quickly toast the breadcrumbs in the same pan over medium heat, making use of the fat that remains--this should only take about one minute. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and arrange the half shells on the salt. Place one oyster in each half-shell. Top each oyster with one generous dollop of the greens mixture and then sprinkle some breadcrumbs on top. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, allow to cool for 2-5 minutes, and then serve.

[If you have any of the greens mixture left over after you've topped all your oysters, fear not--it won't go to waste. It doubles as a deluxe accompaniment to tomorrow's poached egg breakfast.]

I don't care how much of a raw oyster purist you are--these are absolutely irresistible. How irresistible? Take a look:

après rockefeller fig. b: afterer

Perfect for any and all New Year's celebrations.

John and Matt Thorne, Serious Pig: An American Cook In Search Of His Roots
The Picayune's Creole Cook Book: Sesquicentennial Edition
James Beard's New Fish Cookery


Friday, December 28, 2007

New York Odds & Ends 2

peter pan fig. a: what a dozen Peter Pan doughnuts look like

Peter Pan Bakery

Tucked inside a former soda fountain in Brooklyn's Greenpoint neighborhood, Peter Pan is something of a conundrum. It has a perfectly preserved arborite counter and a lovely turquoise interior, giving it an old-time Americana feel, but, like many of the businesses in Greenpoint, it’s Polish-owned and operated. That being the case, you might expect Peter Pan to a) have a name that's a little less Anglo-American and b) specialize in Polish-style plum, apricot, and cream-filled paczki, but instead their doughnut style is classically, unmistakably American, with at least two dozen flavors to choose from. None of this would matter in the least if Peter Pan’s doughnuts weren’t at the very least respectable. As it turns out, they’re much more than just respectable. They’re true works of art. Deep-fried works of art, but works of art nonetheless.

lomzynianka's take-out menu fig. b: what the take-out menu from Lomzynianka looks like


Not sure what that stag you see in the picture above has to do with anything, seeing as Lomzynianka translates as "girl from Lomza," but we took the fact that we actually know someone who has that exact same image tattooed on his arm as some kind of good omen--and it was. We're both big fans of Polish cuisine—yes, cuisine—and together we've sampled the goods at Polish restaurants and diners from the Plateau Mont-Royal to the East Village, from Chicago to Krakow, and Lomzynianka ranks at the very top of our ongoing survey of the world's Polish restaurants. So good, in fact, that Michelle devoted two trips to Lomzynianka, in spite of the fact that we were only in New York for slightly more than 48 hours and her lists of "New York musts" is nothing if not extensive. Fantastically good perogies. Amazingly festive interior, too.

Peter Pan Bakery, 727 Manhattan Ave., Greenpoint, Brooklyn, (718) 389-3676

Lomzynianka, 646 Manhattan Ave., Greenpoint, Brooklyn, (718) 389-9439


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Masala for Hope 3: the final tally

mélange du monde fig. a: some lucky winner will soon be receiving...

Jeez! This year's Menu for Hope managed to clear $90,000!! Congratulations to Pim and the entire Menu for Hope team, and thank you to everyone who participated--we can't wait to see who walked away with our Masala for Hope prize package...


Saturday, December 22, 2007

last-minute last-minute shopping guide

cassis monna & filles fig. a: Monna & Filles Cassis "Le Capiteux"
Monna & Filles has been wowing the crowds at this year's Salon des métiers d'art with their smooth, supple Le Capiteux cassis port from Île d'Orléans. The Salon ends today. You can also find Monna & Filles' l'Isle Ensorceleuse, their crème de cassis, at the Atwater Market SAQ.

cocktail tools fig. b: just 2 parts of a set of cocktail tools from Couleurs
Why bother getting retro knock-offs for your kitchen, dining room, or bar when you can get the real things at places like Couleurs?

guimauve maison fig. c: Guimauve Maison from les Chocolats de Chloé
Les Chocolats de Chloé is known for their exotic filled chocolates, but their chocolate bars and chocolate-covered homemade marshmallows are a little less precious, a little more down-to-earth, and just as fantastic.

moleskine berlin fig. d: Moleskine Berlin City Notebook
Moleskine does it again. 2007 saw the release of their new series of City Notebooks, complete with maps, pouches, appendixes on "Measures and Conversions" and "International Sizes," and sections for "Notes and Thoughts," "Places, Legends, and Recipes," itineraries, restaurant tips, and other urban ephemera. You could get the brand-new Montreal City Notebook, but with dozens of European and North American cities to choose from, let yourself wander. Why not Berlin? What better place to keep that closely guarded list of currywurst stands you've been compiling? Available at Nota Bene on Parc Ave.

Salon des métiers d'art, Place Bonaventure, through December 22.

Couleurs, 3901 St-Denis, 282-4141

Les Chocolats de Chloé, 375 Roy E., 849-5550

Nota Bene, 3416 ave. du Parc, 485-6587

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

More Masala for Hope

mélange du monde fig. a: l - r: Mélange du Monde: Caris et Masala, ext.; Mélange du Monde: Caris et Masala, int.; La Cuisine et le Goût des Épices, int.

Yes, friends, Menu for Hope IV has entered the final stretch, so if you've been tempted by one or more of this year's tantalizing gifts but you've yet to place a bid, remember, you only have until December 21st to participate.

Our "Spice Lovers of the World, Unite!" prize package has been steadily racking up the bids, but some of you more discerning bidders have been wanting to know the exact contents of the two Philippe de Vienne épices de cru spice kits before committing. So without any further ado...

Mélange du Monde Curries and Masalas:
1. Vindaloo masala
2. Grilling masala
3. Sri Lankan red curry
4. South Indian curry for duck
5. Tandoori masala
6. South Indian curry for chicken
7. South Indian masala for fish
8. Panch Phoran
9. Madras curry
10. South Indian green curry
11. Chaat masala
12. Sri Lankan black curry

Spice Islands Curries and Masalas:
1. Trinidadian curry
2. Jamaican curry
3. Mauritian masala
4. Martinican colombo
5. Singaporean curry
6. Sri Lankan black curry

Just think of the possibilities... 17 different spice blends (plus a second dose of that extraordinarily deep Sri Lankan black curry), the De Viennes' wonderfully comprehensive La Cuisine et le Goût des Épices, and a sultry limited edition musical compilation to set the mood...

Some of you have also written to us wanting to know more about DJ TV DiSKO's "Eat to the Bollywood Beat: Music to Eat Curry By"--come now, we can't reveal all our secrets.

Don't know how to participate? You'll find all the instructions below.

Happy bidding!


Monday, December 17, 2007

No, this is hardcore*

Faced with the term "hardcore," I'd venture to bet that very few of you out there in cyberland would conjure up the phrase "cookie swap" in turn, but then that's probably because most of you have never braved a -12º C blizzard complete with gusting winds (50-80 km/h), a wind chill of -24º C, and a stray lightning bolt (I kid you not) in order to deliver 6-dozen freshly baked praline cookies on foot and swap them for more freshly baked booty, before trudging back home through even more snow (and then, truth be told, continuing on to work [!]).

this is hardcore fig. a: special delivery

Okay, maybe "hardcore" is a bit of a stretch, but those conditions definitely made this year's holiday cookie swap more hardcore than any other cookie swap Michelle had ever attended. Good thing she's got a goose down parka and a trusty pair of Wookiee boots and she knows how to use them.

The praline cookies are a new fave recipe, perfect for those who like sugar cookies, nut cookies, pralines, or, better yet, all three. We found the recipe in Annie Somerville's Fields of Greens (a long-time fave), and it was only after Michelle had given the recipe the final OK that she noticed that Somerville had adapted it from Paula Peck's The Art of Fine Baking, a book we'd discovered just a few days earlier when our friend C. (who quite coincidentally was hosting today's cookie swap) brought her well-worn copy (a hand-me-down from her grandmother) over to help teach Michelle how to make real apple strudel.

apple strudel by Paula Peck fig. b: apple strudel by Paula Peck

Anyway, the recipe's a keeper, it has two parts, and it goes something like this...


2 cups sugar
3/4 cup water
1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
2 cups pecans**

Butter a baking sheet.

Stir the sugar, water, and lemon juice together in a medium-size saucepan, off the heat, until well blended. Cook the mixture over medium-low heat until the sugar has dissolved. When the liquid is clear, turn the heat up to medium-high. As the liquid bubbles, wash down the sides of the pan with a brush dipped in water. (This, along with the lemon juice, will help prevent the sugar from crystallizing.) Do not stir the mixture. After about 15 to 20 minutes it will begin to turn golden. At this point the liquid will darken quickly--in about 3 to 5 minutes--so watch it very carefully.

When it is golden brown, remove from the heat and stir in the nuts with a wooden spoon. Return to the heat and cook just until the caramel liquifies again, then pour onto the baking sheet and spread to a thin layer. When cool, chop by hand.

Makes 4 cups.

freshly chopped praline fig. c: freshly chopped freshly made praline

Praline Cookies

1/2 pound unsalted butter, softened
7 tbsp light brown sugar, packed
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups unbleached white flour
3/4 cup chopped praline (see recipe above)

Preheat the oven to 325º F. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and salt and mix again until they're fully incorporated. Add the flour and praline and mix until just combined.

Chill the dough until it is easy to work with, about 30 minutes. Roll the dough out to 1/4" thickness and cut it into shapes, or shape the dough into cylinders about 2 inches in diameter and slice into 1/4"-thick rounds.

Place the slices about 1 inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet (or a Silpat) and bake for 8-10 minutes, until lightly browned. The cookies keep well stored in a sealed container.

Makes 4 to 6 dozen cookies.

And the cookie swap? All eight of the other hardened cookie swappers also braved the elements, they all brought seriously choice cookies, and the event was a smash hit. The haul: rum balls, lemon-almond balls, chestnut thumbprints, chocolate macarons, chocolate chip, spoon cookies, oatcakes, macadamia nut, and peanut butter.

cookie swap haul fig. d: the remains of the haul

* Apologies to Adam Kuban and Slice.

** You can substitute almonds or walnuts, if you prefer.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

New York Odds & Ends 1

egg fig. a: Egg


Ever since I was taken to a restaurant in Reykjavik that operated as several different restaurants during the course of the week (there was a rotation at work, so it'd be a hippy vegetarian restaurant every Friday, a Pakistani restaurant every Saturday, and so on), I've liked the idea of restaurants sharing a space as a way of minimizing overhead costs. Of course, the fact that both visits to that Reykjavik resto were successful certainly helped. In theory, rock bands sharing a rehearsal space can be a pretty cool thing too, but in practice the results aren't always all that, well, noteworthy. Anyway, when we heard about the breakfasts at Egg, which started off by sharing its space on N. 15th St. in Williamsburg with a nouveau hot dog and hamburger joint named Sparky's--Egg by morning, Sparky's by afternoon and evening--we were intrigued. When we heard the folks at Egg were serving Col. Bill Newsom's legendary Kentucky country ham, we were more than intrigued: we got downright excited. We'd been dreaming of Newsom's hams for some time, and we even looked into getting a Newsom's country ham shipped to AEB headquarters in Montreal at one point, but we're sorry to say free trade ain't what it's cracked up to be.

It was a little too blustery to dine seated at the outdoor table for two you see pictured above, so we stepped inside and joined the short queue waiting inside the door of this slender, minimal restaurant with the short, minimal name. Ten minutes later we had our table and our menus and it took about 2 seconds to make up our minds about our order: country ham biscuit with fig jam and aged Grafton Village cheddar for her, eggs over easy, cheese grits, and artisanal bacon for him. The grits, from South Carolina's Anson Mills, were quite possibly the best I'd ever had. They weren't really cheese grits, they were more along the lines of "grits with cheese," but I couldn't have cared less because the grits themselves were truly awesome. The bacon was ridiculously good too, and cooked to tender perfection--such a rarity. But that country ham biscuit was simply out of control. What it lacked in volume--it's fairly compact and is easily dwarfed by its plate--it more than made up for in complexity of flavor. That ham, that cheese, that jam--we're talking a veritable symphony. I can't say I'm a connoisseur when it comes to Southern hams (sadly, I might add), but it's hard for me to imagine a better-tasting ham. Dark and smoky, with an almost crumbly texture that reminded me of a fine Parmigiano Reggiano, this was a ham with character to spare. Michelle enjoyed every last morsel. And when she'd made it disappear we ordered a generous side order of Newsom's ham for the road. Pretty much the best $4 we've ever spent.

From there we crossed the bridge

williamsburg bridge view fig. b: Brooklyn as seen from the Williamsburg Bridge

and made our way into the Lower East Side.

Essex Street Market

We paid a visit to the Essex Street Market for the first time since its make-over and while we were at Saxelby Cheesemongers sampling some cheeses and having a friendly chat with one of the cheesemongers (eventually we bought some artisanal butter), we both couldn't help but notice an odd-looking café just to the right of the cheese counter. A few tables, a short-order cook behind the counter composing his short orders, an informal, open setting--nothing too strange about that, right? Aside from the fact that there was a waitress, the format was pretty much the same as any other North American food court operation. Except that we found ourselves looking at the plates that were getting served, trying to figure out what kind of food they served, and, try as we might, we just couldn't pin it down. Some plates looked vaguely Mexican, others vague Southeast Asian, but none of the plates looked entirely like one thing or the other. Then we noticed their hot sauces. This place had a massive selection, and, again, they spanned the globe (Mexican, Caribbean, Southeast Asian, American, etc.). And then there was the grizzled beatnik manning the kitchen. After puzzling over things for a minute or so, we both came to the same tentative conclusion: "Shopsin's? Here?" And so it was.

We'd been having elaborate Shopsin's fantasies ever since we read Calvin Trillin's "Don't Mention It," his in-depth account of the Shopsin's mystique, in The New Yorker a few years back. We knew Kenny Shopsin had reopened his namesake restaurant in Greenwich Village sometime after his original "general store" was forced into retirement--we had no idea that he'd picked up and moved the operation yet again. Unfortunately, as brisk as our walk across the Williamsburg Bridge had been, it wasn't quite brisk enough to work off the country ham and grits we'd just finished wolfing down, so all we did was admire Shopsin's from the periphery. Correction: all we did was admire Shopsin's from the periphery and grab one of Shopsin's thoroughly unhinged menus,

shopsin's menu, det. fig. c: detail of Side 1 of Shopsin's menu

the better to prepare for our next trip to New York.

#1 dumpling fig. d: one of #1 Dumpling House's #1 dumplings

#1 Dumpling House

Minutes later we had just enough room to run a little QC on #1 Dumpling House, and we're happy to report that their pork and chive dumplings and their sesame pancake with beef are both just as dazzling as ever.

saigon bakery fig. e: Saigon Bakery

Saigon Bakery

Post-#1 Dumpling, we were back to having no room, but that didn't stop us from following up on another lead and checking out Saigon Bakery in search of mind-blowing banh-mi, and as soon as we did it was clear to both of us that this was an opportunity that we couldn't possibly pass up on. Saigon Bakery is tucked away in the back of a jewelry store, but, make no mistake, this is a serious banh-mi joint. We ordered one of their massive--and I mean massive--meatball subs and promptly got our minds blown. These were luscious pork meatballs, they were hefty, they were packed into a big sub that was slathered with pork pâté and mayo and absolutely overstuffed with Saigon Bakery's fresh, flavorful (and spicy) fixins, and they forever changed our notion of what banh-mi means. You could have fed a family of four with that thing. You could have fed a family of four and made them very happy indeed. Definitely the best $3.75 we've ever spent.

Joanne Hendricks

A couple of hours later we were on the western extremity of Greenwich Village. We'd gone there in search of out of print, antiquarian, and unusual cookbooks and behind this handsome door

joanne hendricks fig. f: Joanne Hendricks

that's exactly what we found. We knew from experience that New York's cookbook specialists could be very impressive, and Joanne Hendricks was just such a bookstore. We'd already had our minds blown by Saigon Bakery's meatball sub--now we found our minds getting majorly expanded by the curiosities at Joanne Hendricks. Like a good museum, or a sprawling flea market, a store like this exposes you to so many things you never even knew existed. We spent about an hour just browsing, each of us lost in our own little culinary world. Then we started talking to Joanne Hendricks herself--she was almost as excited about our impending pizza tour as we were--and the next thing we knew another hour had elapsed. In the end, I only picked up one book, but she's a beaut: Judith and Marguerite Herman's Cornucopia, a book I'd once pored over at my friend J.'s place some years ago (and had been coveting ever since). Here's a seasonally appropriate scan (complete with Mrs. Acton's Christmas Plum-Pudding receipt [courtesy of Tabitha Tickletooth]) to give you a small taste of Cornucopia's considerable charms and its striking two-tone printing:

cornucopia fig. g: Cornucopia on plum pudding, holly, and mistletoe

The Strand

Our mandatory visit to The Strand only turned up one real gem and Michelle found it in their Rare Books department: The Merle Armitage Book of Food. I mean, what can you say about a book that combines some pithy food writing, a collection of recipes that includes everything from Lapin au vin blanc to 'Possum and Sweet 'Taters, celebrity recipes from the likes of Lewis Mumford, Edgar Varèse, and James M. Cain, and "Four Vegetables," a four-page portfolio by Edward Weston? Beautiful layout, too, including, some more fine two-tone printing:

Fit for a King fig. h: Merle Armitage on food as art

Egg, 135 N. 5th St., Brooklyn, (718) 302-5151

Essex Street Market, 120 Essex St. (at Delancey), Manhattan

#1 Dumpling House, 118 Eldridge St., Manhattan, (212) 625-8008

Saigon Bakery, 138 Mott St., Manhattan, (212) 941-1541

Joanne Hendricks, 488 Greenwich St., Manhattan, (212) 226- 5731

Strand Bookstore, 828 Broadway (at 12th St.), Manhattan, (212) 473-1452


Monday, December 10, 2007

Masala for Hope, or Menu for Hope IV

mélange du monde fig. a: l - r: Mélange du Monde: Caris et Masala, ext.; Mélange du Monde: Caris et Masala, int.; La Cuisine et le Goût des Épices, int. (featured recipe: Kakuluwo Curry, a.k.a. Red Crab Curry)

In a year that saw the release of quite a few impressive cookbooks (more on this later), I don't think there's any question that the cookbook whose release we were most excited about was Ethné and Philippe de Vienne's La Cuisine et le Goût des Épices. As many of you well know, we've been big fans of the de Viennes and their extraordinary line of épices de cru for close to three years now--so much so that they've inspired not one but two AEB interviews, which you can find here and here.

So when we heard there was a spice book project in the works late last year we got seriously excited--we knew from firsthand experience that their recipes were rock-solid, but we also had a feeling that this would be much more than a simple cookbook. And we were right. Part treatise on taste, part travelogue, part reference book, part memoir, and part cookbook, La Cuisine et le Goût des Épices is not only adventurous, it's a full-blown adventure, and the spice route that it traces stretches across the globe, from Indonesia to Andalusia, Sri Lanka to Oaxaca, Sichuan to la Louisiane.

We got our personal copy of La Cuisine et le Goût des Épices a few weeks ago, and since then we've been steadily making our way through its wide array of recipes, with special attention to all those recipes that hail from the Indian subcontinent, partially because we'd heard the de Viennes had made some great discoveries there earlier in the year and partially because we've just been craving South Asian cuisine recently. Hits have included everything from the Masala Mo Poro, an Indian-style omelette, and the Red Crab Curry you see pictured above, to the truly outlandish Kali Mas Curry, a Sri Lankan black beef curry, but one of the very best dishes was a humble lentil dish that the book lists as a recette d'inspiration, a recipe that was inspired by South Asian cuisine but that's not necessarily traditional. Just how good are we talking about? So good they chose to feature the dish on the cover of their book, so good that the two of us promptly declared it the best dal either of us had ever made.

de vienne cookbook fig. b: lentils with spinach, as featured on the cover of La Cuisine et le Goût des Épices

Lentilles aux épinards, a.k.a. Lentils with spinach

1 cup red lentils
1 package fresh spinach, rinsed
4 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

spices A
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 bay leaf

seasoning B
2 tbsp butter or ghee
1 tsp fenugreek
1 onion, diced
1/4 tsp asafoetida
1/2 " piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 hot pepper (a jalapeño pepper will do in a pinch), diced

finishing spices C
4 tbsp ghee or olive oil
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
2 dry cayenne peppers, roughly chopped into bits
1/2 tsp whole cumin
5 curry leaves (optional)
6 cloves garlic, finely minced
6 tbsp cilantro, chopped

Rinse the lentils well under cold running water. Drain the lentils and then place them in a medium-sized pot with 4 cups water. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to simmer the lentils genly, skimming the foam off the top. Add spices A, stir, cover and simmer until the lentils are tender and they begin to fall apart, about 20-30 minutes.

Prepare seasoning B. Heat the ghee or butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Sizzle the fenugreek in the butter or ghee gently, until they change color slightly, roughly 30 seconds. Add the onion and and cook until it becomes golden, about 5 minutes. Add the asafoetida, the ginger, and the hot pepper and cook for another minutes. Add to the lentils.

Add just enough water to the lentils to give them the desired consistency--they should be creamy but not runny. Salt and pepper to taste and simmer them for another 10 minutes.

Add the spinach and simmer for another 2-3 minutes. Add the lemon juice and pour the lentils into a large serving dish.

Prepare the finishing spices C. Heat the ghee or olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat, add the mustard seeds and the peppers and sizzle them briefly, roughly 30 seconds. Add the rest of the ingredients. Sizzle for a few seconds and then pour the finishing spices over the lentils. Serve immediately.

[recipe adapted ever so slightly from La Cuisine et le goût des épices by Ethné and Philippe de Vienne]

How's that for a teaser?

Now what does any of this have to do with Menu for Hope IV? Well, for those of you who might still be unfamiliar with the event, Menu for Hope is an annual food blogging extravaganza that strives to raise awareness and funds to help fight hunger and poverty. It was started by Pim Techamuanvivit of Chez Pim in response to the tsunami that devastated South and Southeast Asia in December 2004. Already by year 2, Menu for Hope succeeded in raising an impressive $17,000 towards UNICEF’s relief efforts in India and Pakistan’s Kashmir region following the earthquake of 2005. Last year Menu for Hope III raised an astronomical $60,925.12 for the United Nations’ World Food Programme efforts across the globe. And this year Menu for Hope is aiming to raise $100,000 for the World Food Programme.

We've been so inspired by La Cuisine et le Goût des Épices that we decided to make it the focus of this year's AEB Menu for Hope IV prize:

Spice lovers of the world, unite! [CA05]
The contents:
1 x copy of La Cuisine et le goût des épices* by Ethné and Philippe de Vienne [retail value: $39.95]
1 x Philippe de Vienne Mélange du Monde Curries and Masalas spice kit, featuring 12 premium spice blends [retail value: $28]
1 x Philippe de Vienne "Spice Islands" Curries and Masalas spice kit, featuring 6 premium spices [retail value: $18]
1 x limited edition DJ TV DiSKO "Eat to the Bollywood Beat: Music to Eat Curry By" special mix CD [retail value: priceless]

* Please note: this book is in French only. French reading comprehension is recommended for all those bidding on this prize, although the spice kits and the CD alone make this a rather substantial prize.

How does it work? Well, Menu for Hope is essentially an online raffle where participating food bloggers donate some kind of food-related gift, readers purchase online raffle tickets (this year a mere $10 (US) gets you in) towards one or more of the available gift packages, an impressive 86.65% goes directly to the World Food Programme, and, as if that wasn't good enough, a few weeks later winners are selected at random (regardless of the size of their contribution) for each of the aforementioned gift packages. This year's charitable raffle begins today and runs through to December 21st.

What do you have to do to participate? Well...

1. Go to the donation page at to make a contribution.

2. Each US$10 donation will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. Please specify which prize or prizes you'd like by entering the prize code in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your contribution. E.G: A US$50 donation may be two tickets for UW99 and three tickets for CA20.*

3. Some companies will match personal charitable donations made by staff. If your company has such a program, please remember to mark the appropriate box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.

4. Please also check the box to allow us to see your email address. We need this so we can contact you in case you win a prize. If you do not do this, we will be unable to contact you. Please be assured that we will not share your email address with anyone.

5. Raffle results will be announced on 9 January on Chez Pim. Draws will be conducted electronically, thanks to Derrick at Obsession with Food for creating the computer application used to magically select names.

* N.B: Canadian tax laws prohibit charitable donation receipts to be issued by registered Canadian charities for raffle or lottery tickets. The UNWFP is a U.S.-based charity; should any donation receipts issued, you will need to seek professional advice regarding applying them to your Canadian income tax return.

Sound simple? It is.

Now, while we whole-heartedly encourage you to buy a raffle ticket for our " endless banquet" prize package [again, CA05], and once again we guarantee 110% satisfaction, you should know that there are a whole lot of other great prizes to be had as part of Menu for Hope III (including another NY pizza tour [UE19])!. Check out the various regional hosts' pages here.

Consult Jennifer at Domestic Goddess or Pim at Chez Pim for any and all additional details.

Thanks for participating and good luck.


ps--Thanks also to Ethné and Philippe de Vienne for their generosity.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Top Ten #22

1. No Country For Old Men, dir. Coen


2. Una Pizza Napoletana, NYC

3. Di Fara, Brooklyn

4. Franny's, Brooklyn

5. Joanne Hendricks, NYC

6. Peter Pan Doughnuts, Brooklyn

7. Saigon Bakery, NYC

8. Egg, Brooklyn + Col. Newsom's country ham, Kentucky

fit for a king


9. Fit For a King: The Merle Armitage Book of Food, Ramiel McGehee, ed. + The Cornucopia, being a kitchen entertainment and cookbook containing good reading and good cookery from more than 500 years of recipes, food lore &c. as conceived and expounded by the great chefs & gourmets of the old and new worlds between the years 1390 and 1899 now compiled and presented to the public in a single handsome and convenient volume, Judith Herman and Marguerite Shalett Herman

10. Lomzynianka, Brooklyn

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Real Italian Pizza, pt. 3

video food blogging in action fig. a: videoblogging in action

Isabella's Oven

We paused outside of Isabella's to squeeze in a little video food-blogging, but after our disappointing experience at Adrienne's we were eager to get our mojo back, so we marched in the door to find Isabella's empty, its entire staff taking a break. It was mid-afternoon at that point, so although it did make for a stark juxtaposition with Adrienne's, that fact alone wasn't exactly cause for panic. What was cause for panic, however, was that Ed and Adam instantly noticed that "their pieman"--Luigi, the fantastically talented, Naples-trained pizzaiolo who'd made each of the exceptional pies they'd enjoyed at Isabella's since Ed first got tipped off to Isabella's last summer--wasn't in the house. Ed and Adam had heard from other pizza enthusiasts that they'd had less than exemplary pizza experiences at Isabella's, that, in fact, the pizza at Isabella's wasn't "all that," but every time the Serious Eats boys had visited Luigi had been there to greet them with an expert Neapolitan pie. This time, however, they found real cause for concern. Maybe there was some kind of Jekyll and Hyde thing going on at Isabella's, depending on whether Luigi was around. Ed tried to get the skinny on Luigi's whereabouts and was informed that he'd had to return to Italy on personal business and that he'd be back there for an indefinite amount of time. In his absence the daytime pieman had become Isabella's principal pieman. It was clear that this was bad news.

We ordered a Margherita D.O.C. pizza (with D.O.C. bufala mozzarella) and tried to keep things upbeat, but Ed and Adam were clearly worried that they might have to relegate Isabella's to a lower division. And that's exactly what happened. The 16" pie that arrived was perfectly fine, respectable even, but far from transcendent, far from being the pie that had Ed had deemed potential national-top-ten material back in July. I mean, you can tell by just looking at it. See that crust?

isabelle's pie fig. b: Margherita D.O.C. from Isabella's Oven

Now compare that with the crusts we got at Di Fara and Franny's. And compare it with the crusts you're going to see below.

Remember that "myth of the pizzaiolo" jazz I went on about in "Real Italian Pizza, pt. 2"? Well, here was an abject lesson in how a single, solitary pizzaiolo can make all the difference in the high-stakes pizza game that is New York City pizza.

So after starting off with a bang, we were on a bit of a losing streak. First, an undercooked grandma pie at Nick Angelis's Adrienne's Pizzabar, and now this? We needed a little help, and that's exactly what we got.

Verdict: pinch-hit single.

una pizza napoletana fig. c: Una Pizza Napoletana

Una Pizza Napoletana

Minutes later, we'd relocated from the Lower East Side to the East Village, and we were standing in front of a place we'd heard a lot about over the course of the day and a place that Ed devotes a considerable amount of ink to in the pages of Pizza: A Slice of Heaven: Una Pizza Napoletana. Just three years old, the aura that surrounds Una Pizza Napoletana is already enormous.

The story goes something like this: a few years ago, Ed was contacted by a friend of his in New Jersey who proceeded to tell him she'd just recently eaten the single best thing she'd ever eaten in New Jersey (which, considering she was the long-time food critic at the Asbury Park Press, was saying something)--and that thing wasn't some high-falutin' dish from some high-falutin' restaurant, it was pizza from a little strip mall pizzeria in Point Pleasant, on the North Jersey Shore. Ed hustled his way down to Point Pleasant and there he encountered the talent of Anthony Mangieri for the first time. Mangieri had started off as a bread baker and he'd taken that very seriously too--opening his first bakery before he was 21. A few years later he switched over to pizza exclusively. He'd grown up in a family with strong ties to Naples, so he'd visited often, eaten a lot of pizza, taken a lot of mental notes. Pizza became Mangieri's thing, his raison d'être. Ed could see he had that gleam in his eye--the one that distinguishes the merely professional from the certifiably obsessed. Better yet, he could taste it in Mangieri's pies.

Not long after Ed's momentous visit, Mangieri moved the operation to the East Village, barely changing a thing. He's only open four days a week, and on those days he's only open until the dough lasts. He still offers only four pizze--Marinara, Margherita, Bianca, Filetti--and these are essentially the only items on the menu. No salads, no appetizers, and no desserts, with the exception of the Italian chocolates that come with the bill. He uses only the purest of ingredients, including mozzarella di bufala (the only cheese Mangieri uses), Sicilian salt, Italian extra-virgin olive oil, and D.O.P. San Marzano tomatoes, and his dough is a homemade sourdough that takes a minimum of 36 hours to produce. Mangieri started off with a locally made wood-fired brick oven, but this summer he upgraded to a handsome white Neapolitan model, and, it's safe to say, he knows how to use it. Neither Michelle or I had ever seen anyone tend an oven like Mangieri does. It was mesmerizing.

We showed up at Una Pizza Napoletana just before opening time that Saturday. We were a little early and we were just about to take a walk around the block to kill some time and check out the latest restaurant in the Momofuku family when we ran into Mangieri outside. Perfect timing. We got a chance to talk to him about pizza, about Italian food more generally, about Montreal (and about the shortcomings of Montreal pizza), and we got a chance to see that gleam too. A few minutes later he invited us in to grab a seat. The oven was ready, therefore he was ready.

While Mangieri was preparing our pizzas, Ed asked him a hypothetical question. Let's say you go into a reputable pizza place, you order your pizza, and then they bring it out to you. It looks great from the outside--nicely colored, apparently well cooked--but then you bite in and it's all gummy and undercooked. What gives? Is that a dough problem? Is it an oven problem? Mangieri walked us through the possible scenarios, but the probable cause was an overly hot oven. Then he explained the trials and tribulations of a wood-burning pizza oven: its intense heat, its temperamentality, and the fact that your optimum cooking time might only last an hour or so, which means that the rest of the evening you might be dealing with an oven that's just too damn hot, quickly scorching the dough on the outside, while leaving the interior insufficiently cooked. This means that every night the pizzaiolo working a wood-burning oven struggles to make the adjustments necessary to guarantee the best possible pizza given the conditions of the moment, that the best pizzaiolo is the one who's most capable when it comes to making these countless adjustments. This gave a further wrinkle to the "myth of the pizzaiolo."

The first of our pizzas to arrive from Mangieri's oven was our Marinara--"San Marzano tomatoes, extra-virgin olive oil, oregano, fresh garlic, fresh basil, sea salt," according to Una Pizza Napoletana's menu--a pizza that Ed described as being "a minimalist masterpiece" after his first encounter. I wanted to know how Mangieri worked a cheeseless pie, so I'd lobbied for a Marinara, and I was glad I had. I mean, just look at that thing.

una pizza napoletana's marinara fig. d: Una Pizza Napoletana's marinara

Simple perfection incarnate. Mangieri's sourdough crust was enough to make you cry. So much flavor, so masterfully handled.

It's hard to believe, I know, but the next pie, the Filetti, was even better. Topped with cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, fresh garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh basil, and that Sicilian sea salt, this pizza was deluxe. We'd been having buffalo mozzarella all day--at Di Fara, at Franny's, at Isabella's, and now at Una Pizza Napoletana--but this was by far and away the tastiest, most satisfying buffalo mozzarella we'd encountered. And its marriage with the garlic, the cherry tomatoes, the salt, the basil, and that sourdough crust was astounding. Looked great too:

una pizza napoletana's filetti fig. e: Una Pizza Napoletana's filetti

On some level, eating at Una Pizza Napoletana is an austere experience. As mentioned above, there are no salads or other kinds of appetizers. There are only four pizzas on the menu to choose from and subsitutions or any other special requests are not allowed. There are no desserts, aside from those chocolates mentioned above, although they do offer Neapolitan-style espressos--very good ones, in fact. The restaurant is small and simply appointed. The menu reads part history lesson, part manifesto, part throwdown. The overall aesthetic is nothing if not spartan. That said, Mangieri is capable of taking the most basic and ingredients and transforming them into a pizza so extraordinary that one bite makes you feel like you're sitting on top of the world. His pizzas don't come cheap--"We have no quarrel with the man who sells cheaper pizza", the menu exclaims, "he knows how much his is worth!"--but, at the same time, pizza's inherently democratic appeal is still very much intact. "Nothing... purer or [more] honestly wholesome can be bought at any price," Mangieri's menu reads, and he means it.

Pizza fanatics talk about the five-minute rule or the third-slice rule: the first slice or two, fresh out of the oven, can be a little misleading. The third slice, when the pizza has had some time to cool down a bit, is the true test of a pizza. The problem with Mangieri's pizzas was that they were so good, they didn't last that long, The four of us had been at it for 6-7 hours already, but we tore into those pies as though they were our first.

Verdict: grand slam.

How do you continue after you've been to the mountain? Not wanting to risk another difficult comedown, we decided to call it a Pizza Tour after Una Pizza Napoletana. That would mean leaving Joe's and Bleecker Street Pizza for another occasion. But there was something almost operatic about it. A 5-act, seven-and-a-half-hour opera, with some true highs and lows, some tears, some triumphs, a couple of Italian heroes, and a few important lessons. We thanked our hosts profusely

pizza tour guides fig. f: the Serious Eats boys

and headed back to Brooklyn to try to make sense of it all. Days later, back in Montreal, we were still reeling.

Didn't catch Parts One and Two?  Well, here they are.


Di Fara, 1424 Avenue J, Brooklyn, NY, (718) 258-1367

Franny's, 295 Flatbush Ave., Brooklyn, NY, (718) 230-0221,

Adrienne's Pizzabar, 54 Stone St., New York, NY, (212) 248-3838,

Isabella's Oven, 365 Grand St., New York, NY, (212) 529-5206,

Una Pizza Napoletana, 349 E. 12th St., New York, NY, (212) 477-9950,

Don't ask us to provide you with directions so that you can replicate this pizza tour exactly. Adam made sure to throw in plenty of dekes and diversions so that this pizza tour would remain absolutely one-of-a-kind. You will find plenty of handy-dandy interactive pizza maps at slice, though. You'll also find Adam's own personal play-by-play account of NY Pizza Tour 2007.


Ed Levine, Pizza: A Slice of Heaven

John Thorne, "Existential Pizza," Pot on the Fire: Further Exploits of a Renegade Cook

Alan Davidson, The Penguin Companion to Food

Ed Behr, "Pizza in Naples," The Art of Eating (spring 1992)


ps--apologies to any and all members of our New York posse (you know who you are) that we weren't able to see during our whirlwind visit.