Sunday, October 31, 2010

New Kid on the Block

panna cotta & melon fig. a: panna cotta with melon

Just like that, Montreal's latest little pâtisserie has joined the ranks of its best.

Owned and operated by chef Stéphanie Labelle, whose resumé includes stints with Les Chocolats de Chloé, Decca 77, Club 357, Pierre Hermé, and, most recently, a pastry chef position at La Salle à Manger, Pâtisserie Rhubarbe is a fine addition to Montreal's sweetsscape.

AEB faves already include the silky tonka bean-laced panna cotta with confited melon and pound cake that you see above, and the truly wonderful pumpkin dômes you see below.

pumpkin dômes fig. b: jack-o-lantern dômes

Just another Hallowe'en-themed meringue cookie? Not at all. Here, the tender meringue dôme (that's right, tender) is filled with a seductive caramel, pear, hazelnut concoction. The combo is totally irresistible. (Seriously. Michelle was hardly able to get a taste before I devoured it.) It also shows off a little of that Hermé touch (without showing off).

Now, we've been good friends with Ms. Labelle for years, so it's true that we're pulling for her, but that doesn't mean our critical capacities are clouded. Everything we've tried so far is simply a cut above. And it's such a cute shop, too.

Félicitations, Pâtisserie Rhubarbe! And welcome to the neighborhood!!

rhubarbe 1 fig. c: rhubarbe hits the spot

Pâtisserie Rhubarbe, 5091 de Lanaudière, 903-3395 (Plateau)
Hours: Wednesday-Sunday, 11 am - 7 pm


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Rocktober 30th

witch fingers fig. a: genuine witch fingers*

Attention all vinyl junkies, trick-or-treaters, and witchhunters!


Our good friends at Backroom Records & Pastries are back and they've got plenty of treats (and just a few ghoulish tricks) on offer all afternoon, including:

genuine witch fingers (pictured above)
pumpkin pie-spiced marshmallows
skittlez vodka shotz
candy apples
pumpkin pie-spiced pepita brittle
The Kinks - Great Lost Kinks
The Pogues - Rum Sodomy & Lash
Nico - Desert Shore
Etta James - Rocks the House!
The Kinks - Golden Hour 2x LP
Charley Patton - Origin Jazz Library
Lightnin' Hopkins - Blues in my Bottle
The Smiths - S/T
The Cure - Japanese Whispers
Howlin' Wolf - Riding in the Moonlight
and many, many more

Check it out!

Backroom Records & Pastries
5912 St-Urbain (“Back alley entrance only!”)
(Mile End)


* no witches were actually harmed in the making of these genuine (shortbread) witch fingers.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Top Ten #37

1. Chad Robertson, Tartine Bread

2. hickory-smoked pulled pork bbq + bbq chicken w/ all the fixings

3. The White Ribbon, dir. Haneke

4. Charlie Christian, Solo Flight: The Genius of Charlie Christian

5. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night

6. eating your way across Northern California

7. Kurt Vile, Childish Prodigy


8. apple season

9. Bandol/Alsace Wine Night w/ friends

10. The Trouble With Harry, dir. Hitchcock

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Spys Like Us (and we love them)

Of course, for those of us who live in Quebec, another aspect of the trouble with Vermont, during the apple harvest or at any other time of year, is that you can go down and sample their apple crop, but you're not supposed to haul quantities of apples across the border. It doesn't matter if they're heirloom varieties that are hard/impossible to find in Quebec. It just ain't allowed. NAFTA or no NAFTA.

fig. a: into the orchard

Luckily for us, Quebec still has plenty of small- to mid-size orchards that cultivate some of your lesser-known and harder-to-find varieties of apple. Luckily for us, there are still orchardists like M. Safian producing top-notch Northern Spys, Ida Reds, Russets, Empires, Spartans, and Cortlands, in addition to his excellent McIntoshs.

fig. b: banana box

Visit M. Safian, and past the beaten-up old banana crates (?)

fig. c: this old barn

and the decrepit old barn

fig. d: Ida Reds, ripe for the picking

you'll find that his trees are still chock-full of perfectly formed, unusually sweet apples (it's been a good year).

fig. e: Ida Reds, up-close and in-person

You might need to borrow a ladder to get at some of the prize specimens, but the trees are so overloaded, so ripe for the picking, that you can easily fill 4 or 5 buckets in a matter of about 15-20 minutes. If you have plans to do a lot of seasonal baking or cooking with apples, or you enjoy eating about 4 or 5 apples a day (the way I usually do this time a year), there really is no better way to get the very best apples at the very best price. Throw in some fresh country air and possibly some sunshine, and you can't ask for a more pleasant, more satisfying outing.

We got ourselves a nice mix of apples, but we picked a whole bunch of Ida Reds (like the ones you see above), which have a lovely blush when cooked,

fig. f: Northern Spys

and we positively loaded up on Spys, which have a tartness that we absolutely love and that makes them ideal for apple desserts.

m. safian vous offre... fig. g: M. Safian vous offre...

For directions to the Hemmingford/Covey Hill/Franklin apple-growing region (including directions to M. Safian's), look here and here.

For a recipe for Poulet à la Normande (with apples and Calvados), look here.

For a recipe for Tarte Tatin (with lots of apples), look here.

For a recipe for Huguenot Torte (with a couple of apples), look here.

For a recipe for Squash & Apple Soup, look here.

For a couple of recipes for Ketchup aux fruits (with apples), look here and here.

And if you need a recipe for the Brady Bunch Special, pork chops & apple sauce, look no further:

Pork Chops & Apple Sauce

4 meaty pork chops
extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup Calvados, Cognac, or Bourbon

2 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp sugar
2 lemons, sliced in half
4 cups water

apple sauce:
4 apples, cored, peeled, and roughly chopped
1 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/4 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/4 cup Calvados, Cognac, or Bourbon
1/4-1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water

In a bowl, squeeze the lemons, throwing the four halves in when you're done, then add 2 tablespoons of salt and 1 tablespoon of sugar, and 4 cups of water, and stir until the sugar and salt are fully dissolved, making a basic brine. Add the pork chops, cover, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Meanwhile, make your apple sauce. Add the apples, the lemon juice, the vanilla bean, the sugar (the amount will depend on how sweet your tooth is and how tart your apples are), the Calvados/Cognac/Bourbon, and the water to a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer gently for 45 minutes.

30 minutes before you intend to cook your pork chops, remove them from the refrigerator, pat them dry, rub them lightly with just a bit of olive oil, and salt and pepper them. Set them out on a plate to come to room temperature.

Preheat your oven to 300º F. When the 30 minutes is up, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat till the pan begins to smoke. Put the pork chops in the pan and sear for 2 minutes on each side, using tongs or a spatula to flip them (not a fork). When you've seared the chops on both sides, place the entire skillet in the oven and roast the chops for another 4-6 minutes, depending on their thickness.

Place the chops on plates. Meanwhile, deglaze the skillet with some more Calvados/Cognac/Bourbon. Pour a little of the resultant pan juices over each of the chops. Place a dollop of the apple sauce on top of the pan juices and serve. We recommend accompanying the pork chops & apple sauce with your favorite mashed potatoes and some braised cabbage (green, red, Savoy), but if you've got other ideas/plans, go for it.

You'll most likely have some leftover apple sauce. Don't worry, it'll be delicious. It won't go to waste.

Serves 4.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Trouble With Vermont

It had been weeks, possibly even months, since we'd spent any real time in Vermont, so we were overdue for a visit. It was also just about fall, so when it came time to pick a movie one night, I chose Alfred Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry,

fig. a: poor Harry

his bizarre and underappreciated dark comedy from 1955, which happens to be set in a small Vermont town at the height of autumn.

fig. b: Hitchcock's Vermont 1

fig. c: Hitchcock's Vermont 2

I could tell you all about the peculiar charms of Hitchcock's film, but others have done it much better already. Suffice to say that although the narrative has quite a bit in common with your average episode of Murder, She Wrote, Hitch's take on murder and mystery in a small New England town is a much cheekier affair. Plus, Shirley Maclaine (in her first appearance on the silver screen) positively shines, Jerry "the Beaver" Mathers steals virtually every scene he's in. Vermontophiles are in for a special treat, however, because The Trouble With Harry's portrait of The Green Mountain state at its quaint and quirky best has held up remarkably well (even if its mid-1950s setting means that there's a distinct absence of fleece apparel and bumper stickers).

You see, the trouble with Vermont isn't that there's anything terribly wrong with it, the trouble with Vermont is that we love it so. The landscape, the mountains, the towns, the food, the beer. Apparently we're so addicted that when we can't actually be there, we watch films that are set there just to tide us over until our next visit. Sad, perhaps, but true.

Anyway, if you go there right now, you'll find that the Green Mountains are actually pretty multicolored. You'll also find that the colors are quite bright. Not Technicolor + Vistavision bright,

fall colors 1 fig. d: AEB's Vermont 1

but bright nonetheless.

fall colors 2 fig. e: AEB's Vermont 2

And with those colors the way they are, and temperatures at their autumnal best, now's also the great time for a Vermont hike. We're particularly fond of the Camel's Hump, but one that's a little easier and offers up some similarly impressive views is the Stowe Pinnacle hike.

You get the great views you see above, plus about 2 hours (round-trip) of lush forest

touch wood fig. f: touch wood

along a trail that ranges from easy to moderately difficult,

graffiti fig. g: VT graffiti

allowing you plenty of opportunities to look around and take in the details.

VT heirlooms fig. h: VT heirlooms

A few hours later, after a number of pilgrimages to pick up essentials (coffee, bread, beer) from some of our favorite Waterbury-area haunts, we found ourselves at the City Market/Onion River Co-op in Burlington, admiring the apples. Michelle couldn't believe the selection of heirloom apples, most of which came from Scott Farm. And she was especially happy to see that Scott Farm was growing the infamous Fameuse apple, the original heirloom apple of New France, and an apple that was the most important Quebec variety before the arrival of the McIntosh, but one that has since faded into near obscurity and is now terribly hard to find in la belle province. Which brings me back to the trouble with Vermont--they're awfully good at showing us up.

Michelle recommends using a mix of apples for most of your classic fall apple desserts (pies, crumbles, tarts, galettes). If you can locate a mix of heirloom apples (like the one you see above), all the better. If your mix includes some Fameuses, better still. Trust me.

For directions to the Stowe Pinnacle trail and other hikes in the Waterbury/Stowe region, look here. If you're not the hiking kind, but you'd still like to take in some prime scenery, try the 108 between Jeffersonville and Stowe (via Smugglers Notch), or pretty much the entire length of the 100.

City Market/Onion River Co-op, 82 South Winooski Ave., Burlington, VT, (802) 861-9700


p.s. Thanks to 1,000 Frames of Hitchcock for the screen captures from The Trouble With Harry, and thanks to Tiny Banquet Committee for turning us on to 1,000 Frames of Hitchcock in the first place.