Sunday, March 29, 2009

Montreal Spring

Thursday night we decided to go out on a date. We wanted to go to a movie, but we were saving that for dessert. We wanted something with a little more substance for dinner.

So, we packed a couple of our AEB Bánh Mì and we went to the Canadian Centre for Architecture to check out "Actions: What You Can Do With the City," an exhibition that features 99 actions intended to "instigate positive change in contemporary cities around the world."

This was our kind of exhibition: a topic we feel strongly about, and a massive--somewhat playful, somewhat haphazard--assortment of displays and artifacts.

We found inspiration at every turn, and we were happy to see that quite a number of the 99 actions turned on food-centric and food-related issues like urban gleaning and urban greening. There were things that we'd heard about, like New York City's Freegans (#12) and "Wildman" Steve Brill's foraging tours of Central Park (#23). But there were plenty of things that were new to us too.

Like the Fallen Fruit collective in Los Angeles (#9) who've mapped the city's vast number of publicly accessible fruit trees (orange, lemon, lime, kumquat, peach, plum, apple, and so on),

actions 1 fig. a: fruit-hunting instruments, fruit maps of Los Angeles, etc.

and who host nocturnal fruit gathering excursions

actions 2 fig. b: fruit-hunting foray

and jam-making parties (!).

And the Continuous Picnic project in London (#82),

megapicnic, London fig. c: London lemon

which supports "low-intensity urban farming" and hosts a market and an endless picnic (!!), both of which serve to showcase the city's impressive biodiversity while encouraging its growth.

Hell, there were even some recipes on display, like Helen "Ladybird" Nodding's brilliant recipe (#56) for creating organic graffiti (suitable for what Nodding calls, "a quiet revolution" (!!!) out of moss (!!!!):

skull graffiti fig. d: life & death in London

1 can of beer
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Several clumps garden moss

You will also need a plastic container (with lid),
a blender and a paintbrush

To begin the recipe, first of all gather together several clumps of moss (moss can usually be found in moist, shady places) and crumble them into a blender. Then add the beer and sugar and blend just long enough to create a smooth, creamy consistency. Now pour the mixture into a plastic container.

Find a suitable damp and shady wall on to which you can apply your moss milkshake. Paint your chosen design onto the wall (either free-hand or using a stencil). If possible try to return to the area over the following weeks to ensure that the mixture is kept moist. Soon the bits of blended moss should begin to re-couperate into a whole rooted plant – maintaining your chosen design before eventually colonising the whole area.

[We haven't a chance to test Nodding's moss shake recipe yet, but we'll let you know when (and where) we do.]

heaven & earth fig. e: heaven & earth in Montreal

Anyway, the city looks different to us now, even more full of promise than it usually does.

"Actions: What You Can Do With the City," Canadian Centre for Architecture (1920 Rue Baile), through April 19, 2009


Saturday, March 28, 2009

AEB classics #65: Bánh Mì

March madness--all-Asian, all-month--continues...

Inspired by Andrea Nguyen's Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, and disappointed by the last several bánh mì (Vietnamese baguettes) we've paid money for here in Montreal, we've started making our own.

aeb banh mi

AEB Bánh Mì

one small baguette, one 7-inch section from a baguette, or one small torpedo-shaped roll*
mayonnaise, preferably homemade or Japanese
Maggi seasoning sauce and/or light soy sauce
2 Thai green chilies
boldly flavored meat, such as Char Siu pork (recipe follows), thinly sliced
4 thin, seeded cucumber strips, preferably Kirby, English, or Lebanese
2 or 3 sprigs cilantro, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup Vietnamese daikon and carrot pickle (recipe follows)

Slice the bread lengthwise, leaving it attached on the back side. Hollow out the inside of the bread, making a trough in each half. If the bread is soft, crisp it briefly in a 325º F oven, then let it cool before proceeding.

Muddle the green chilies in the Maggi seasoning and/or the light soy sauce.**

Spread a generous amount of mayonnaise on both halves of bread. Layer the pork, the cucumber, the pickle, the cilantro, and the chilies on the bottom half. Drizzle the Maggi seasoning and/or light soy sauce over top. Close the sandwich and enjoy thoroughly.

Vegetarians: replace the pork with some kind of boldly seasoned baked tofu.

Vegans: replace the pork with tofu (see above) and replace the mayonnaise with your favorite soy-based mock mayonnaise.

Char Siu Pork

2 1/3 pounds boneless pork shoulder, well trimmed (you should be left with about 2 pounds afterwards)

2 cloves garlic
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
3 tbsp hoisin sauce
2 tbsp honey
1 1/2 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
2 tbsp light (regular) soy sauce
1 tbsp dark (black) soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil

Quarter the pork lengthwise into strips about 6 inches long and 1 1/2 inches thick. If there are odd-size pieces, make sure they're of the same thickness.

To make the marinade, whisk together the garlic, sugar, five-spice powder, hoisin sauce, honey, wine, light and dark soy sauces, and sesame oil. Add the pork and use a spatula or tongs to coat evenly. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 6 to 8 hours, turning the pork 2 or 3 times.

Remove the pork from the refrigerator 45 minutes before cooking. Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 475º F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place a flat roasting rack on the pan. Put the pork on the rack, spacing the pieces 1 inch apart. Reserve the marinade.

Roast the pork for 30-35 minutes, basting with the marinade every 10 minutes or so. To baste, use tongs to pick up each piece and roll it in the marinade before returning it to the rack, turning the pork over after each go. The pork is done when it looks glazed, is slightly charred, and most important, registers about 145º F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from the oven.

Let the meat rest for 10 minutes to finish cooking and seal in the juices. Thinly slice the pork across the grain and serve warm or at room temperature. Or, let it cool completely, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, and freeze it for up to 3 months. Andrea Nguyen claims that this pork reheats well in a microwave oven, but we wouldn't know.

Daikon and Carrot Pickle

1 large carrot, peeled and cut into thick matchsticks
1 pound daikons, each no larger than 2 inches in diameter, peeled and cut into matching thick matchsticks
1 tsp salt
2 tsp plus 1/2 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups distilled white vinegar
1 cup lukewarm water

Place the carrot and daikons in a bowl and sprinkle with the salt and 2 teaspoons of the sugar. Use your hands to knead the vegetables for about 3 minutes, expelling as much water from them as possible. They will soften and liquid will pool at the bottom of the bowl. Stop kneading when you can bend a piece of daikon so that the ends touch but the daikon does not break. The vegetables should have lost about 1/4 of their volume. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold running water, then press gently to expel extra water. Return the vegetables to the bowl if you plan to eat them soon, or transfer them to a 1-quart jar for longer storage.

To make the brine, in a bowl, combine the 1/2 cup sugar, the vinegar, and the water and stir to dissolve the sugar. Pour over the vegetables. The brine should cover the vegetables. Let the vegetables marinate in the brine for at least 1 hour before eating. They will keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 weeks.

Note: sometimes the daikon develops a strong odor as it sits in the jar, one that could be safely described as "funky." This doesn't mean that the pickle has spoiled. Before serving it, open the jar and let it breathe for about 15 minutes to allow the odor to dissipate.

Perfect for almost any occasion: lunch, dinner, picnics, late-afternoon snacks--you name it. The char siu pork and the daikon and carrot pickle are phenomenal in the bánh mì, but they're also extremely versatile, and ideal as part of a simple rice bowl meal.


* If you live here in Montreal, we recommend a Portuguese torpedo-shaped roll, and we recommend toasting it as per the directions above.

** We've made them with Maggi, with soy sauce, and with a combination of the two.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Hawaï 5-0

Hawaï fig. a: I'm all lost in the supermarket

If you're going to go on a full-blown Asian kick, you need your sources. Local supermarkets may be carrying more and more Asian specialty items all the time (our local, the Greek-owned Supermarché P.A., being a perfect example of this trend), but you can't find things like Chinkiang vinegar, Thai crab paste, Chinese cooking wine, kecap manis, dried cloud ear mushrooms, and, our favorite, "seasoned lavers" (dried, super-tasty seaweed sheets that we like to call "the quicker picker-uppers") just anywhere. So it pays to know your Asian specialty stores. In our post on soto ayam back in January we mentioned a few places that come in handy when you're looking for things like kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, and rice noodles, but we thought it might be useful if we made the list a little more official and expanded it somewhat.

The biggest, most impressive Asian market we've found thus far, and today's featured "Asian Market of the Day," is the place you see above: Hawaï. Not only does it have a great name, and beautiful décor,

hawaï! fig. b: Hawaïan Tropic

but it's the biggest Asian market I've seen since the last time I was on the West Coast. How big? Take the picture up-top and multiply it by 10. No joke. And as you can tell from the bright yellow signs in the photograph, Hawaï prides itself on offering a complete range of Asian specialty products, from Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, to Thai, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Singaporean, Indonesian, Malaysian, Filipino, and so on.

Of course, Hawaï's also the most out-of-the-way place on our list, assuming you're based somewhere in Montreal's central core like we are, but it's absolutely worth the pilgrimage to Ville Saint-Laurent just for the beautiful packaging alone.

MeriLin Pickled Cabbage fig. c: MeriLin pickled cabbage

The management thought I was kinda funny because I was snapping pictures left and right, but I know a good thing when I see one.

Ville St-Laurent:

Marché Hawaï, 1999 Marcel-Laurin, 856-0226

kien xuong and friend fig. d: Kien Xuong vs. the Green Men


Kien Vinh, 1062-1066 St-Laurent, 393-9030--Asian grocery

Heng Heng Chanchaya, 1075 St-Laurent, 861-4550--Asian grocery

Kien Xuong, 1076 St-Laurent, 866-0941--Asian grocery--quite possibly Kien Vinh's sister store

Marché Pap Pap, 1025 St-Laurent, 878-8080--Asian candy store


Eden, 3575 Avenue du Parc, suite 4115, 843-4443--Asian grocery store (and a good place to pick up a chocolate bar before you go to the Cinéma du Parc)

Sakaris, 4393 St-Laurent, 844-5143--Portuguese grocery that still carries all your Portuguese staples, but which has gone seriously Asian over the last couple of years


La Dépense, 7070 Henri-Julien (at Jean-Talon Market), 273-1118--world specialty food shop with a particularly strong selection of Asian items

Olives et Épices, 7070 Henri Julien (at Jean-Talon Market), 271-0001--Montreal's (North America's?) best spice shop is a fantastic source for harder-to-find Asian spices and higher-quality versions of Asian spice staples (like their killer Imperial Sichuan pepper)

Marché Oriental St-Denis, 7101 St-Denis, 271-7878--Asian grocery store

Thai Hour, 7130 St-Denis, 271-4469--Asian grocery store

This is by no means a definitive list. These are just some of the places we've frequented over the years.

Got your own favorites? Drop us a line and tell us about 'em.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

more soul for the chicken soup

As you may remember, January saw us heroically trying to stave off the common cold with a particularly tasty preemptive strike: soto ayam. What we didn't tell you, and what I now realize was largely unapparent from January's posts, was that at the time we were in the midst of a full-blown Asian kick prompted by a handful of recent acquisitions:

a) a copy of Andrea Nguyen's Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors
b) a copy of Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid's Mangoes and Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels Through the Great Subcontinent
c) a copy of Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid's Seductions of Rice
d) a rice cooker*

This full-blown Asian kick only lasted a few weeks before we started to drift back into more familiar terrain--like Italian, Hungarian, French, and Mexican--but it did result in a number of outstanding meals. So earlier this month, when we suddenly realized how far we'd strayed, we took a pledge: all Asian, all month. You can expect to hear about all the highlights of our own culinary travels in the very near future, but in the meantime, here's a recipe that's a great follow-up to the soto ayam, one that doesn't pack the same spicy punch, but is also an ideal late-winter cure-all.

It's a rice soup with chicken, seafood, and mushrooms, and it's based closely on a recipe (Cháo Bôi) in Andrea Nguyen's truly inspiring Into the Vietnamese Kitchen. Nguyen's original calls for dried wood ear mushrooms, but we didn't have any of those, so we replaced them with fresh shiitakes, which have become readily available here in Montreal in recent years, so much so that we can get them at our local supermarket for the same price as your standard white mushrooms. The recipe also calls for crab. We recommend using fresh Quebec snow crab, whose short but sweet season has just begun. Half a snow crab will provide you with more than enough crab for the soup--any extra you can use to treat your cats.

Michelle still loves the soto ayam the best because of its sensory overload, but, if you ask me, this delicate little gem is easily its equal.

look out! soul is back!! fig. a: before

Rice Soup with Chicken, Seafood, and Mushrooms

1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, about 1/4 lb
1 cup long-grain white rice
3 quarts homemade chicken stock**
8-10 fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
2 tbsp canola oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup Chinese cooking wine or dry sherry
1/2 pound medium shrimp, peeled and halved horizontally
1/3 cup freshly picked crabmeat
1/4 cup small tapioca pearls
1/3 cup chopped scallion, both white and green parts
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

Fill a 5-quart saucepan half full with water. Bring the water to a rolling boil over high heat and add the chicken breast. Remove the pot from the heat and cover tightly, letting the pot stand for 20 minutes in order to gently poach the chicken. After 20 minutes, the chicken should be firm to the touch yet still yield a bit. Remove the chicken from the pan, leaving the water in. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred it by hand and set aside.

Return the water to a boil and add the rice. Parboil the rice for 8 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water. Set aside.

In the same pan, bring the stock to a boil over high heat. Add the rice and chicken, lower the heat to a gentle simmer, and cook for 10 minutes, or until the rice expands.

Meanwhile, in a skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook gently, stirring from time to time, for about 4 minutes, or until fragrant and soft. Add the shiitake mushrooms and sauté for another 2 minutes. Add the Chinese cooking wine or sherry and cook until it evaporates. Add the shrimp and sauté for about 3-4 minutes, until they curl into corkscrews. Add the crabmeat and stir to distribute. Remove from the heat and set aside.

To prevent the tapioca pearls from clumping on contact with the hot soup, put them in a sieve and rinse briefly under cold water. When the rice has expanded in the soup, add the tapioca pearls and cook for another 10 minutes. The tapioca pearls will expand and become translucent. At that point, add the seafood and mushroom mixture, heat through, and adjust with salt, if necessary.

Ladle into individual bowls and top with scallions and cilantro. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6 as a highly nutritious one-bowl meal.

fin fig. b: after

Good to the last drop!


* We realize that getting a rice cooker and a copy of Seductions of Rice back-to-back is a bit odd, given Alford and Duguid's insistence on time-honored ways. We still love making rice the traditional way for ourselves, but we also like our rice cooker, especially for dinner parties.

** We made ours with a couple of leftover chicken carcasses, two onions, four cloves of garlic, a couple of hunks of ginger, half a daikon, five stalks of celery, four carrots, the shiitake mushroom stems (see above), salt, pepper, and a teaspoon of five spice. It only took about 45 minutes to make and it made a huge difference.