Top Ten #63

 
welcome cape cod.jpg

1.  Cape Cod, MA, July 2016

2.  Steve Gunn + Promised Land Sound + Nathan Bowles, La Vitrola, Montreal, QC, June 26, 2016

3.  Promised Land Sound, For Use and Delight (Paradise of Bachelors)

sample track:  "She Takes Me There"

4.  Deborah Madison, Vegetable Literacy (Ten Speed Press)

sample recipe:  Comforting Tomatoes in Cream

5.  Doc Ponds, Stowe, VT

6.  Greil Marcus, Invisible Republic:  Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes (Henry Holt) and Mystery Train:  Images of America in Rock 'n' Roll Music (E.P. Dutton) revisited + Bob Dylan and The Band, The Bootleg Series, Vol. 11:  The Basement Tapes Raw (Sony/Columbia)

7.  the bounty of summer

8.  Barnstock, Maple Corner, Calais, VT, August 27, 2016

9.  T.H. White, Letters to a Friend (Putnam)

10.  Sandy Denny, Who Knows Where the Time Goes? (Hannibal/Carthage)

aj

The Time is Now 3: Cabbage

 
fig. a:  before

fig. a:  before

Once again, the concept here is pretty simple.

Find yourself the freshest, tastiest locally grown cabbages you can find (preferably organic, please), and throw them on the grill.  That's right:  take your cabbages and grill them.

fig. b:  after

fig. b:  after

The first time we had our minds blown by such a dish was in Charleston, SC, in late 2013.  We'd driven down to Charleston for Christmas on a whim.  And, oh, what a whim it was!  We had an absolutely phenomenal time, and the food we ate was completely off the charts, but there's no question that the meal of the trip (and our Meal of the Year) was the feast we had at McCrady's.

We had a number of phenomenal dishes that night, including Calico scallops with roasted butternut squash, chervil, and green peanuts; pan-fried trout with Meyer lemon and thyme; and a  fall greens salad with charred pecans, country ham, apples and turnips.  But in many ways, the most memorable dish, and the one that proved to be the most inspirational dish of the night, was a smoky grilled cabbage dish that made up just one-third of a medley of brassicas that came with the trout.  That smoky grilled cabbage dish is usually the first dish we mention when we describe our experience of McCrady’s; it’s also the only dish that we had that night that we’ve tried to replicate repeatedly in the years since our trip to Charleston.

Unfortunately, I don’t have McCrady’s original recipe.  But I can tell you that it was grilled outside the restaurant on one of a battery of barbecues and hibachis the McCrady’s crew had set up around the premises.  Like so many other top chefs, Executive Chef Sean Brock and Chef de Cuisine Jeremiah Langhorne* had become obsessed with cooking over wood fires, but the historic landmark status of McCrady’s Unity Alley location kept them from outfitting the restaurant with an indoor wood-fired grill (apparently, they're in the process of moving locations, so we'll see if that's changed when they start up again).  They’d made up for it by taking full advantage of the restaurant’s surroundings, as well as its roof (!).  Anyway, the dish in question was a relatively simple preparation, but that was the first time we’d ever tasted grilled cabbage, and the experience was a revelation.  This cabbage was unusually sweet and wonderfully smoky, and it had absolutely perfect mouthfeel:  tender and supple, with just the perfect amount of crunch still present.

The next time our waiter dropped by our table and inquired as to how our meal was progressing, we told him that everything was going swimmingly, but that the grilled cabbage dish had been the standout, and we were going to have to insist upon seconds.  He gave a nervous laugh, and said something to the effect of, “Yeah, right…  You guys!”  But we weren’t kidding, and when he took a closer look at our dead earnest expressions, he hustled back to the kitchen with our request.  The kitchen was thrilled, of course.  That grilled cabbage dish was exactly the kind of backroom experiment that kitchen staff get super excited about, but that the general public typically doesn’t even notice.  When they heard that their homely little cabbage dish had some serious fans out on the floor, they sent us back a heaping portion—which we promptly devoured, once again.

A few months later, when the snows and the ice had subsided in Montreal and grilling season had started up again, grilled cabbage was a top priority for me.  I had a good sense of how the team at McCrady’s had made their version, but when I came across a recipe for roasted cabbage in the book Brassicas:  Cooking the World's Healthiest Vegetables by Laura B. Russell, I recognized it as one that could be easily adapted to similar effect.  So that’s exactly what I did.  The recipe that resulted has been my go-to grilled cabbage recipe ever since.  It’s a dish that never fails to receive raves from our dinner guests.  People respond to it pretty much the same way Michelle and I did that fateful December in Charleston.

If the cabbage is just right and I’m feeling suitably ambitious, I’ll cut the cabbage in wedges, leaving part of the stem attached, and keep the wedges intact as I grill them—grilling just the top and bottom of each wedge if the cabbage is particularly young and tender, and all four sides, if the cabbage needs a bit more time over the fire.  If the cabbage doesn’t feel like keeping its wedge form and it would rather just let itself go and spread its leaves all over the grill, I just go with it, turning the mass of leaves carefully with my tongs to try to avoid losing any of them into the coals below.  There are times when I prefer the look of a perfectly intact grilled cabbage wedge on a platter or on an individual plate, but I like the taste of the warm cabbage salad version just as much.

In any case, if you’ve grilled a cabbage, now is the time to try it.  The cabbages are at their very best these days, and there’s still plenty of time left in our grilling season.  Avoid frisée cabbages like the Savoy cabbage when making this.  Opt instead for a good-old fashioned green cabbage, preferably a local organic one, or, even better, one of those beautiful conical cabbages that are becoming more common these days (again, preferably a local and organic one)..

Without any further ado…

Grilled Cabbage

1 green cabbage, cut into 8 wedges

vegetable oil

4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, minced

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

 

Light your grill, using all-natural charcoal or charcoal briquets.

When you cut your cabbage into wedges, try to keep some of the stem attached so that the wedges remain intact when you grill them.  

Drizzle the wedges with vegetable oil and place them on a baking sheet or in a platter until your fire is ready.

When your fire is medium-hot, go ahead and start grilling, making sure to blacken each wedge gently on at least the top and bottom, and possibly on all four sides.

Remove the wedges from the grill and let them cool slightly.

Prepare your dressing.  Whisk the olive oil with the lemon juice, salt, and pepper, making sure to season to taste.

Pour the dressing over the grilled cabbage wedges, or grilled cabbage leaves, and toss them gently for even distribution.

Serve immediately.

[based very closely on a recipe for roasted cabbage** that appeared in Laura B. Russell's Brassicas:  Cooking the World's Healthiest Vegetables (Ten Speed Press, 2014)]

Not only is this dish unbelievably delicious, but it's versatile.  We've served this dish as part of all kinds of different menus.  Just this summer we served it with as an accompaniment to an Italian antipasti spread to great effect, but it was particularly great with grilled pork skewers and fennel-and-chile-rubbed grilled chicken.

I've said everything I have to say about this recipe.  The time is now.  Start grilling!

aj

* Langhorne is now the chef and owner of The Dabney in Washington, D.C.

**  If grilling isn't your bag, and you'd prefer to roast your cabbage, by all means, be my guest.  As noted above, Russell's original recipe is for roasted cabbage.  Place your cabbage wedges on a baking sheet, and after drizzling a little vegetable oil on them, slide them into a 425º F oven.  Total cooking time will be a little longer with this version (30-45 minutes), making sure to flip your wedges once midway through.

 

The Time is Now 2: Fruit Cobbler

 

Here's the plan.

It's early September.  Find yourself the freshest, ripest fruit you can get your hands on.

Could be peaches.  Could be blackberries.  Could even be some early apples.

If you're lucky, it could be the last of your very own plums.  Plums that you picked off your own tree, and cradled just as carefully as you possibly could.

fig. a:  fresh plums

fig. a:  fresh plums

Now make a cobbler with them.  A drop-biscuit cobbler.  Using the recipe that follows.

The recipe comes courtesy of Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer.  But, this being the Social Media Age, I received it from Michelle via Facebook.  When I did, it looked like this:

cobbler pt 1.jpg
fig. b:  all mod coms

fig. b:  all mod coms

Pretty cute, huh?

The cobbler that results is a thing of beauty.  It's everything you want in a cobbler.  Crusty and sweet on top, bursting with fruit flavour down below.

fig. c:  let 'em be

fig. c:  let 'em be

This is a recipe that embodies the simple elegance of late-summer cooking--when you're working with the best ingredients, and mostly you just want to let them be.

Remember:  the time is now.

Our plums are finished, but there's no question that we enjoyed them while they lasted.  

Hello, peaches!

aj

 

The Time is Now 1: Tomatoes

 

It’s rare that I get stopped in my tracks by a recipe these days, but this was one of those times.

fig. a:  veg lit

fig. a:  veg lit

I was browsing at our local bookstore in Montreal when I came across a book I hadn’t seen before:  Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy.  I thought, “Oh, cool.  Deborah Madison’s got a new cookbook out.”  But when I flipped the book over the price sticker indicated that it had been published in 2013.  “That’s strange,” I said to myself.  “I never noticed anything about this book when it came out.”  As it turned out, Michelle had never heard of it either.

Michelle and I read a number of food magazines.  We keep a pretty close eye on the latest cookbook releases, but here was a book that had totally slipped us by.  And this was not just any cookbook.  Here was a book that a) was written by one of the prominent cookbook authors of our time; b) was published by one of the top houses for cookbooks and food literature:  Ten Speed Press; c) features photographs by the dynamic duo of Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton, who are two of our absolute favourites, and among the very best in the business; and d) is book devoted to understanding, growing, and cooking vegetables (and features over “300 deliciously simple recipes”) that was released at a time when vegetable-centric and vegetable-forward cuisine was just beginning to sweep the food world.  Who knows?  Maybe we’d just missed all the hoopla.

Then I started to leaf through it, and I was immediately impressed by its encyclopedic take on the vegetable kingdom, it’s beautiful photographs and layout, its fresh, often imaginative, and highly tantalizing recipes, and its enormous value to both gardeners and cooks, and especially those of us who garden to cook.  The book breaks things down according to twelves families of vegetables:

The Carrot Family:  Some Basic Kitchen Vegetables and a Passel of Herbs

The Mint Family:  Square Stems and Fragrant Leaves

The Sunflower Family:  Some Rough Stuff from Out of Doors

The Knotweed Family:  Three Strong Personalities [sorrel, rhubarb, buckwheat]

The Cabbage Family:  The Sometimes Difficult Crucifers

The Nightshade Family:  The Sun Lovers

The Goosefoot and Amaranth Families:  Edible Weeds, Leaves, and Seeds

The (Former) Lily Family:  Onions and Asparagus

The Cucurbit Family:  The Sensual Squashes, Melons, and Gourds

The Grass Family:  Grains and Cereals

The Legume Family:  Peas and Beans

and The Morning Glory Family:  The Sweet Potato

Each chapter is as captivating and fascinating as the last, and, not surprisingly, Madison excels when it comes to establishing linkages across families, providing inspiration for how to successfully combine edible plants from different families, as well as from the realm of fruit.  [Note:  This cookbook is entirely vegetarian, and all the better for it.  For a book like this, which is so focused on gardening, meat-based recipes would just be a distraction.  Plus, there are plenty of other cookbooks that do that and do that well.]

And then I came across that recipe.  Actually, I noticed the photograph first. 

fig. b:  tomatoes & cream

fig. b:  tomatoes & cream

It was a perfectly composed overhead shot that was highly colourful and just a bit mysterious.  I wasn’t entirely sure what I was gazing upon, or what the recipe entailed, but it involved a beautiful array of heirloom tomatoes, and it looked good.  I scanned the opposite page.  “Comforting Tomatoes in Cream with Bread Crumbs and Smoked Salt.”  That’s what the recipe was called.  As I began to make my way through it, I was a bit stumped by what I was reading, and I was happy to see I wasn’t alone.  Madison begins her recipe by explaining its origins, and she, too, was stumped by it the first time she encountered it:

A friend once told me that her comfort food, and her only one at that, was a dish of canned tomatoes cooked in cream which she poured over toast.  I struck me as odd at the time, but I’m now in the same camp.  It’s a perfect indulgent lunch for a day when tomatoes are irresistible.

Of course, this being a book that’s all about growing your own—or at least acquainting yourself with your nearest farmer’s market, so you have access to a wide variety of vegetables at their peak of ripeness—Madison’s take on her friend’s comfort dish doesn’t involve canned tomatoes.  This is a dish to be made “when tomatoes are irresistible,” when field tomatoes are ripe, juicy, and plentiful.

Well, at the time I was reading this local field tomatoes were still nowhere to be found—it was late June, after all, and we live in a Northern zone—but I knew they’d be here soon, and, in case you haven’t noticed, that time is now.  

fig. c:  heirloom time

fig. c:  heirloom time

This recipe also calls for garlic and basil.  Again, the time is now.  Local hard-neck garlic is available again, and fresh, local basil is easy to find, if you’re not growing your own.

How did Madison update and improve her friend’s favourite comfort food?  How did she transform it into an ode to late-summer seasonality?  Let’s see…

Comforting Tomatoes in Cream with Bread Crumbs and Smoked Salt

Serves 1

4 tbsp heavy cream, preferably Vermont cream

1 clove garlic

1 fresh basil leaf

8 oz ripe tomatoes, preferably a mix of the ripest, tastiest heirloom varieties you can find

fresh bread crumbs toasted in olive oil until trip

smoked salt* and freshly ground pepper

Warm the cream with the garlic and basil in a small skillet over gentle heat.  When it comes to a boil, turn off the heat and steep while you prepare the tomatoes.

Bring a pot of water to a boil.  Score the tomatoes on the blossom end (the “bottom”), then drop them into boiling water for about 10 seconds.  Transfer them to a bowl of cold water to cool, then peel.  Cut the tomatoes into quarters if large, into halves if smaller.

Add the tomatoes to the pan, along with a generous pinch of smoked salt and some freshly ground black pepper.  Turn the heat back on and allow the cream to bubble over the tomatoes and mingle with their juices for 2 to 3 minutes.

Ladle into a bowl.  Adjust the seasoning, if need be.  Scatter the bread crumbs generously over the tomatoes.  Devour, making sure to have some delicious bread close at hand to sop up all the juices with afterwards.

[this recipe based very, very closely on a recipe by the same name that appears in Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy]

It’s hard to explain just how good this dish is.  There’s a simplicity, and purity, and genius to it that’s breathtaking.  If you’re a true lover of fresh tomatoes at the height of season, this is the dish for you.  If you’re a true lover of fresh cream, all the better. 

If you’re still a little mystified by the combination, think of the pleasures of a fine rosé sauce, but one where both the tomatoes and the cream have more of an assertive presence.  Even better, think of the pleasures of eating a fine, ripe burrata—one that’s been allowed to come to temperature—with the ripest, freshest, most delicious tomatoes you can find, some torn basil leaves, and some freshly baked bread.  You know how you’re left with that delicious cream mingling with the tomato juices?  You know how good it tastes when you run a piece of crusty bread through there?  Is it all starting to make sense?

The first time we tasted Madison’s “Comforting Tomatoes” we were completely beside ourselves.  Maybe the two of us are just the ideal audience for this dish.  Maybe it was specifically the combination of our local, organic Vermont tomatoes with local, organic Vermont cream that made the difference (we had intentionally waited to make this recipe in Vermont, so that we had access to a pint of Kimball Brook heavy cream).  But this was the single best thing either of us had tasted in quite some time.  Madison describes it as a “perfect indulgent dish,” but I’m not sure I entirely agree.  It was, quite simply, a perfect dish.  It was one of those exceptional dishes that was entirely satisfying.  And, in fact, it was a dish that lingered with us for hours afterward, even after we’d had our main dish (which was definitely no slouch, either).  Even after we’d had dessert.

You’ve been warned.

aj

*  Don’t skip out on the smoked salt.  If you don’t smoke your own, look for Maldon smoked salt, which is a very fine product, indeed.

The Cod Days of Summer

 

...You're my piece of the rock / And I love you, C.C...--George Clinton*

fig. a:  lightning over Vermont

fig. a:  lightning over Vermont

Things were a little ominous in North Central Vermont, the night before our planned return to Cape Cod.  Our farmhouse was buffeted by torrential rain, the skies were lit up by one electrical storm after another, and the thunder claps were literally earth-shaking.  

But the sun was out and the clouds were dispersing early the next morning when we started to head down east from the Green Mountains, and by the time we got across the Massachusetts state line, the skies were blue, the sun was bright, and the temperatures were blazing.  And a few hours later, when we reached the heart of Cape Cod, things looked exactly the way we've come to expect them:  Seaside Sublime.  

fig. b:  return to paradise

fig. b:  return to paradise

Cape Cod is a tradition-minded place.  It's a place that's big on its rituals.  And these are among the reasons we love the Cape so much.  We quickly established our own set of Cape Cod rituals a few years ago, when we first started paying summer visits.  (If you've been following us for years, you might even remember these trips in 2013 and 2014.)  And even though we'd had to skip our visit last year (darn it!), we found ourselves falling right back into our "old" routine with ease.  

fig. c:  outside Parnassus

fig. c:  outside Parnassus

fig. d:  inside Parnassus

fig. d:  inside Parnassus

These rituals included visiting all our favourite secondhand bookstores--places like Parnassus Book Service in Yarmouth Port, MA (right in the heart of Edward Gorey Country) and Herridge Books in Wellfleet, MA.

fig. e:  Wellfleet Flea Market

fig. e:  Wellfleet Flea Market

They also included hitting as many thrift stores, rummage sales, and flea markets as we could fit into our schedule, with a Sunday morning visit to the Wellfleet Flea Market being an absolutely mandatory stop.  

Naturally, we made a bee-line to find Beach Plum Mike and visit his amazing Cape Recycled Art Project (a.k.a. C.R.A.P.).  Unfortunately, he didn't have any beach plums this time around (we were much too early), and he'd gotten rid of the large C.R.A.P. signs that had once been prominently on display.  He'd also scrapped the "Local Folk Art" sign that had been there back in 2014.  But we were happy to see that Mike had replaced it with a sizeable "Loco Folk Art" sign.  

To celebrate the persistence of Loco Folk Art on the Cape, we bought another one of Mike's birds and took the Great Speckled Bird home with us.

fig. f:  Great Speckled Bird

fig. f:  Great Speckled Bird

Another one of our rules is to take the time to admire the gardens and the architecture.  A resident of Wellfleet saw me taking a photograph of the American Gothic church you see below and she stopped me and said, "I never thought of taking a picture of this one, but, you're right, it is quite nice."

fig. g:  better homes & gardens

fig. g:  better homes & gardens

fig. h:  American Gothic

fig. h:  American Gothic

But our #1 Cape Cod ritual has to do with hitting as many seafood markets as we can possibly squeeze in--places like the Chatham Pier Fish Market (Chatham), Chatham Fish & Lobster Co. (Chatham), Hatch's Fish Market (Wellfleet), Mac's Seafood (Wellfleet), and George's Fish Market (Harwich Port).  The really good ones have the absolute freshest local catch and their prices are always amazing.  

figs. i & j:  Chatham Fish Pier Market

figs. i & j:  Chatham Fish Pier Market

fig. k:  Chatham Fish & Lobster Co.

fig. k:  Chatham Fish & Lobster Co.

fig. l:  Hatch's 1

fig. l:  Hatch's 1

These Cape Cod fish markets also tend to have a lot of personality and a wicked sense of humour.  Take the lobster display at Hatch's, for instance:

fig. m:  Hatch's 2

fig. m:  Hatch's 2

fig. n:  Hatch's 3

fig. n:  Hatch's 3

And if all that wasn't enough, Cape Cod's fish markets also frequently have kitchens serving up the very best fried clams, fried oysters, and fried shrimp you can find, plus steamers, boiled lobsters, and, of course, lobster rolls--sometimes prize-winning ones.

When we're on the Cape, we go out for seafood just about every day for lunch.  Steamers, oyster po' boys, lobster rolls, shrimp rolls--you name it.  But that's partially because every day around lunchtime we're at one fish market or another buying seafood for later that night.

fig. o:  seafood spread at Mac's

fig. o:  seafood spread at Mac's

Sunday is always the night of our Cape Cod Seafood Extravaganza, which usually includes oysters on the half shell; steamers and/or grilled clams; grilled shrimp; sautéed diver scallops; and pan-fried white fish (like flounder or sole) with beurre noisette; plus a whole lot of vegetable sides and a salad.  The revelation of the Extravaganza, and of the whole trip, really, were the grilled clams.  In the past, we've jazzed them up and made things like Clams Casino, and they were phenomenal.  But this time around, I just threw them on the grill, took them off as soon as they opened, and tried to do as little as possible to them--mainly, I just tried to get them onto a platter without losing any of their precious nectar.  Those Cape Cod littlenecks were as fresh as they come--lightly grilled, they were plump, juicy, and bursting with brine.  Truly fantastic.

Traditions are meant to be cherished and maintained, but it's also good to introduce new ones, and to expand upon existing ones.  This time around we upped our oyster game by going right to the source and buying fresh oysters (harvested that very morning), in quantities, directly from the crew.  More specifically, we visited Chatham Shellfish Co. right on the banks of the Oyster Pond River in Chatham, MA, met up with Steve, and picked up 100 oysters for our return trip back to Vermont.

fig. p:  Chatham Shellfish Co.

fig. p:  Chatham Shellfish Co.

fig. q:  the boat they came in on

fig. q:  the boat they came in on

figs. r, s, t:  special delivery

figs. r, s, t:  special delivery

fig. u:  Cape Cod, VT

fig. u:  Cape Cod, VT

Talk about the best souvenir ever!  Those Chatham oysters were unbelievably briny, meaty, and sweet.  We knew it was time to leave the Cape and go home, but we just weren't ready to let go of our little piece of the rock entirely.  

Sadly the memories only lasted about two nights.  We polished off over 60 of our oysters not long after getting back to Vermont.  The next night we had no problem finishing off the remaining three dozen.

We miss you, Cape Cod!  But that's okay, because we also know where to find you.

aj

p.s.  Deepest thanks to R & MA and the rest of the crew for letting us crash their paradise.

Thanks also to RJ for the amazing contacts.

And respect and love to P & P for taking care of Boris and the Milk House for us.

* Of course, George wasn't talking about Cape Cod, but that's okay.

Out of the Archives 7: Tastes of Summer 1: AEB Superdawg Redux rev. ed.

 

The original version of this post first appeared in July 2013.  It appears here as part of an ongoing series that explores the back catalogue at "...an endless banquet" in search of timely classics.  Summertime is peak hot dog season at AEB.  We always have packs of our favourite hot dogs on-hand in case we need to prepare a simple lunch or dinner for a group--something that happens with some frequency at the Milk House in Vermont.  And since establishing a foothold in the Green Mountain State, our hot dog game has undergone a transformation.  Read all about it below...

That was then:

We'll take AEB Superdawgs pretty much any way we can get 'em.  But, let's face it, they're particularly good on a real hot dog bun, and if you happen to be passing through the Mid-Atlantic region sometime soon, you might want to keep your eyes open Martin's hot dog-style potato rolls.  They're easy to spot--they come in those distinctive neo-Fraktur Pennsylvania Dutch-style bags.

fig. a:  De Stijl

fig. a:  De Stijl

We swear by their classic potato rolls for hamburgers and chopped pork sandwiches, but their hot dog rolls are pretty choice, too.  I mean, just look at those dawgs!

fig. b:  double-dawgged

fig. b:  double-dawgged

Pictured:

Hebrew National kosher all-beef franks
finely chopped yellow onion (buried)
chopped cherry tomatoes
finely chopped half-sour pickles
pickled corn
Keen's hot mustard
Hellmann's mayonnaise
celery salt

Total prep time:  about 10-15 minutes.

And this is now:

Since we first ran this post a few years ago, lots has changed:  namely, we've been spending a lot more time in Vermont, and, consequently, our AEB Superdawgs have gotten Green Mountain-ized.  

Don't get me wrong, I still like good, old-fashioned hot dogs from Hebrew National, Vienna Beef, and other time-honoured producers in the East and Midwest, but I love some of the decidedly non-Kosher, humanely sourced, and artisanally produced hot dogs I can find in Vermont.  And the fact that potato rolls are abundant in Vermont is an added bonus.  Martin's potato rolls don't seem to travel east of Lake Champlain, but potato rolls from Vermont Bread Co. and others are a mainstay at local supermarkets, co-ops, and grocery stores.

Our two absolute favourite hot dogs these days are both bacon hot dogs:  Vermont Smoke & Cure's uncured bacon hot dogs and North Country Smokehouse's delicatessen franks.  North Country Smokehouse's home is in New Hampshire, but they're located just across the Connecticut River in Claremont, NH, and they're amazing line of bacons, hams, and sausages can be found widely in Vermont.  Vermont Smoke & Cure was founded in South Barre, VT in the early '60s, but moved to a larger, more modern production facility in Hinesburg, VT just a few years ago.  Both companies produce supremely good hot dogs.  Hot dogs that are juicy, snappy, and absolutely bursting with flavour (thank you, bacon!).  Hot dogs that'll bring a tear to a true hot dog lover's eye, as long as she or he can stand the thought of a bacon dog.

fig. c:  double bacon-dawgged

fig. c:  double bacon-dawgged

Pictured:

Vermont Smoke & Cure uncured bacon hot dogs
finely chopped vidalia onion (buried)
sauerkraut
relish
spicy mustard
Hellmann's mayonnaise

When it comes to preparing my AEB superdawgs, I go about doing so two different ways, depending on my mood and/or weather conditions.  I either fire up the Weber barbecue and grill them gently (both Vermont Smoke & Cure's bacon hot dogs and North Country's delicatessen franks are fully cooked, they just need to be heated before serving) over charcoal, or I put a pat of butter in a cast-iron skillet and sauté/roast them carefully.  

I also make sure to toast my potato rolls.  And I usually do so with a bit of butter in a skillet.

Either way, total prep time is short:  about 10-15 minutes, plus the time it takes to get your barbecue going, if you're using charcoal.

If you're passing through Vermont and you're looking to pick up some quality bacon hot dogs for yourself, good sources include Healthy Living (South Burlington), Onion River Co-op (Burlington), Hunger Mountain Co-op (Montpelier), Sterling Market (Johnson), and Hannaford Supermarkets (various locations).  While North Country's line of bacons, hams, and sausages are often in stock at these locations, their delicatessen franks are much harder to find--so you might have to pay them a visit in Claremont, or drop them a line.

Summer is definitely here, people (just feel that sun!).  Make the most of it.  Keep things simple, but, for the love of Dawg, keep 'em tasty.

aj

Pizza, Bibles, and Blossoms

 

If Ken Forkish's The Elements of Pizza:  Unlocking the Secrets to World-Class Pies at Home (10 Speed Press, 2016) hasn't officially been anointed as the New Pizza Bible, that distinction seems imminent.  

I was already a fan of Forkish's earlier book Flour Water Salt Yeast (10 Speed Press, 2012), which is an excellent, and meticulously detailed general text on bread baking.  It also tells a great story:  how Forkish left a corporate career of almost 20 years in Silicon Valley to embark upon a new career as a bread baker; how he was inspired to do so by reading a profile of the legendary French baker Lionel Poilâne in the pages of Smithsonian that a friend had lent him (a profile that also left an impression on me way back in 1995); and how this eventually led to the founding of Ken's Artisan Bakery in 2001, a bakery that quickly became a mainstay of Portland's food scene, and one that has since built a national reputation.  

fig. b:  FWSY's pizza margherita

fig. b:  FWSY's pizza margherita

One of the the things I loved about Flour Water Salt Yeast was its devotion to pizza:  roughly 60 pages out of a 260-page text.  The book's full title is Flour Water Salt Yeast:  The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza, after all.  And this section of the book was no mere afterthought--Forkish, like others before him, had gone from being a bread fanatic to being a pizza fanatic.  In fact, he followed up on the success of Ken's Artisan Bakery by opening Ken's Artisan Pizza in 2006.  His thoughts on pizza were based on 5+ years as a full-scale pizza professional, as well as years as a pizza lover before that. 

fig. c:  detail, back cover of Flour Water Salt Yeast

fig. c:  detail, back cover of Flour Water Salt Yeast

Forkish's pizza section featured the same passion and attention to detail that characterized the rest of his book, and along with the teachings of people like Jim Lahey and Anthony Falco, it proved to be an important step in my pizza education.  But you've gotta hand it to the guy.  He could have gone back to the well and just expanded upon the lessons he'd already laid down in Flour Water Salt Yeast.  Add a little more detail.  Develop some funky new recipes.  That's it, that's all.  Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom.  Instead, he embarked upon a series of pizza pilgrimages.  He went back to the sources.  He interviewed the masters.  He observed closely.  He asked questions.  And doing so forced him to scrap much of the pizza wisdom he'd developed over the years.  It forced him to part ways with a number of the pizza truths that he'd believed to be self-evident, including one that had been a cardinal belief of his:  that the fundamentals of artisan bread baking and artisan pizza making were identical.  Hell, that was much of the premise of Flour Water Salt Yeast.  

What he learned was that from the perspective of an Italian master pizzaiolo this was categorically untrue:  bread was bread, and pizza was pizza.  There might be some overlap between the two, they might share a similar skill set, but bread and pizza were fundamentally different.  Pizza dough needed to be made differently, fermented differently, and handled differently.  And, of course, the baking of pizza was also altogether different.

fig. d:  hands of a master pizzaiolo:  Enzo Coccia

fig. d:  hands of a master pizzaiolo:  Enzo Coccia

The book that resulted, The Elements of Pizza, represents a major leap forward for Forkish and for the ever-growing body of pizza lit.  It is written with passion and conviction, and with a great deal of personality.  It is sufficiently comprehensive, beginning with the great traditions of Italy, Naples and Rome, where Forkish locates "the soul of pizza," but also encompassing a number of the most important American traditions:  New York, Trenton, NJ, New Haven, Detroit, and a whole host of new-school pizza enthusiasts (like Roberta's, Motorino, Emily, and, indeed, Ken's).  And it is meticulously detailed and filled with all the inspiration an aspiring pizzzaiolo could ever ask for.  Beginning with chapters on Ken's pizza pilgrimages and his breakdown of pizza styles, it follows this up with a number of very helpful chapters, such as:  8 keys to unlocking the secrets of top-notch pizza crusts; sourcing ingredients and acquiring necessary pieces of equipment; methods; and pizza dough recipes; before offering another 120 pages worth of actual pizza recipes.

But the emphasis is placed quite squarely on achieving Perfect Crust Forever, as it should be.  Top-shelf ingredients and creativity aren't worth a hoot if the pizza crust isn't sublime.  That utterly transcendent crust is what Forkish experienced on numerous occasions over the course of his pizza pilgrimages, and it's that utterly transcendent crust that is the ultimate goal of The Elements of Pizza.  One can get a sense of what Forkish is after, and just how elusive this goal might be, in his opening chapter, "The Soul of Pizza."  Here, Forkish describes a trip he paid to Pepe in Grani in Caiazzo, Italy, roughly 30 miles outside of Naples.  There, Franco Pepe, a third-generation pizzaiolo, has established a new pizzeria (Pepe in Grani just opened in 2012) that has quickly developed a reputation for being one of the world's very best, because of its utter respect for tradition (the dough is naturally leavened, it is hand-mixed, and Pepe uses no refrigeration in its preparation), on the one hand, combined with its willingness to push the envelope when it comes to toppings (fig jam with grated Conciato cheese, anyone?), on the other.  But it's Pepe's pizza crust that is the true star of the show, and to which Forkish directs most of his attention:  

These were flawless pizzas.  [Pepe's] reputation is well deserved.  The crust had a very thin layer of crisp on the outside and the bottom, and a feathery light crumb inside the rim.  It was almost weightless.  The inner base of the crust was very thin and perfectly leopard-spotted on its bottom...
...Franco's crust tasted of lactic fermentation--a flavor that's sometimes described as milky and fruity, and similar to what you get with a ripe liquid levain...  His is a very well-fermented dough, with a beautiful balance of flavors, and as they might say in Italy, it is highly digestible ("digestibility" is loosely defined, but widely regarded as beings a benefit of long-fermented, naturally leavened pizza and bread).  We put that to the supreme test by eating five more pizzas... [my emphasis]

"Flawless."  "Feathery."  "Weightless."  "Highly digestible."  These are not words used to describe your typical pizza pie.  Forkish is pursuing transcendence, and what makes his book so captivating is his conviction that one can reach similar heights at home, using a conventional oven.

One of the recipes that caught my fancy right off the bat was Forkish's Zucchini Blossom Pizza recipe.  I'd been kind of obsessed with the idea of zucchini blossom pizza ever since I received Saveur's 2010 issue devoted to Los Angeles, which featured a glorious photograph of Pizzeria Mozza's Squash Blossoms & Ricotta pizza on its front cover:

fig. e:  Pizzeria Mozza's zucchini blossom & ricotta pie

fig. e:  Pizzeria Mozza's zucchini blossom & ricotta pie

I made it out to L.A. not long after that issue came out, but I never made it to Pizzeria Mozza and I've never been lucky enough to find a squash blossom pizza anywhere else. With zucchini blossoms plentiful here in Montreal's farmers' markets right now, though, I knew I had to give Forkish's recipe a try.  But first I had to think about my pizza dough.

When it comes to using Forkish's book to unlock the secrets of pizza, there's no better place to start than with his simplest dough:  his "I Slept In But I Want Pizza Tonight" Dough.  It's a simple recipe (as long-fermentation pizza doughs go), and it's designed to be easily achievable within a day--within half a day, actually.  This is the recipe that most people are going to turn to first, for obvious reasons, so it's gotta be good.  I went ahead and gave it a spin.

"I Slept In But I Want Pizza Tonight" Dough

350 grams water

10 grams fine sea salt

0.5 grams (roughly 1/8 tsp) instant dried yeast

500 grams white flour, preferably Caputo 00 flour

olive oil

special equipment:

digital scale

dough tubs

instant-read thermometer

baking stone or baking steel

Use a digital scale to weigh 350 grams of 100º F (38º C) water into a 6-quart dough tub.  Measure 10 grams of fine sea salt, add it to the water, and swirl it around until dissolved.  Measure instant dried yeast and add it to the water, allowing it to rest there for a minute to hydrate, before swirling it around to fully dissolve it.  Add the flour to the water-salt-yeast mixture.

Mix the dough by hand, stirring it thoroughly to fully integrate the ingredients and create a single mass of dough.  Then use the pincer method [consult Forkish's books for details] to cut the dough up into sections, before folding it back together into a unified mass.  Continue for just 30 to 60 seconds.  The target dough temperature at the end is 82º F (28º C).

Let the dough rest for 20 minutes, then knead it on a work surface that's been lightly dusted with flour.  Knead for 30 to 60 seconds, until the skin of the dough is very smooth.  Place the dough ball seam side down in a lightly oiled (olive oil) dough tub.  Cover with a tight-fitting lid.  Let the dough rise at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours.  This is the first fermentation.

Divide and shape the dough into 3 dough balls [consult Forkish's book for details].  Moderately flour a work surface about 2 feet wide.  With floured hands, gently ease the dough onto the work surface.  Dust the entire top of the dough with flour, then cut it into 3 pieces (or 5, depending on the style of pizza you're aiming for).  Shape each piece of dough into a medium-tight ball [following Forkish's instructions], working gently and being careful not to tear the dough.

Place the dough balls on a lightly floured baking sheet or dinner plate, leaving space between them to allow for expansion.  Lightly flour the tops, cover with airtight plastic wrap, and let rest at room temperature for 4 to 6 hours.  This is the second fermentation.

After the second fermentation, you're ready to make pizza.  Refrigerate the dough balls if you need to delay making your pizza for a bit.  Just let them come to room temperature before making pizza.

[based very, very closely on Ken Forkish's recipe of the same name in The Elements of Pizza]

The verdict:  this was a fantastic recipe.  Everything worked like a charm, and the resultant pizza crust was everything one could hope for:  light and crispy, with a perfect amount of chew, a lovely cornicione, and loads of flavour for a relatively "quick" pizza.  This was not Franco Pepe's "flawless" naturally leavened pizza, but it was supremely good for a "I Slept In But I Want Pizza Tonight" dough.

Important caveat:  Forkish is adamant about letting his pizza doughs rise at room temperature, just like Fraco Pepe, both during the first fermentation and the second fermentation.  This is something that is common in the greatest pizzerias in Italy, but highly uncommon in North America.  I agree that letting the dough rise at room temperature during the first fermentation is a great idea.  However, after trying Forkish's room temperature method for the second fermentation on a couple of occasions and meeting with difficulties, I've gone back to refrigerating my doughs during this part of the process.  The primary reason is that my kitchen is rarely "room temperature."  We don't heat our kitchen a great deal in the winter, and we never use air conditioning in the warm-weather months.  Our windows are often open, and our kitchen is usually either warmer than room temperature or cooler than it, and our humidity is often fairly high in the spring and summer.  In other words, the conditions in our kitchen are much too volatile to allow for a 4- to 6-hour second fermentation without monitoring the process obsessively and risking failure every time.  What's been working for me is giving the dough balls a 5-6-hour (or more) second fermentation in the refrigerator, then allowing them to come to warm up at room temperature for about 60-90 minutes before forming, stretching, and baking them.  My dough balls haven't been over-proofed, and 60-90 minutes at room temperature has allowed them to relax to the point that they become very easy to handle.

fig. f:  zucchini blossom pizza 1

fig. f:  zucchini blossom pizza 1

Now, here are the instructions for making Forkish's ricotta-stuffed zucchini blossom pie, a version of which you see pictured above:

Zucchini Blossom Pizza

[Makes one 12-inch thin-crust pizza]

1 dough ball

1/2 cup fresh ricotta cheese

1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

1 egg yolk

zest of 1/4 lemon

sea salt

10 mint leaves, snipped or chopped

6 zucchini blossoms

fragrant extra-virgin olive oil

1/3 cup tomato sauce

In a medium-size bowl, mix the ricotta, Pecorino Romano, egg yolk, lemon zest, a pinch of salt, and half of the mint leaves with a fork until completely blended.  Cut off the zucchini blossom stems, gently open the blossom, remove the pistil, and stuff each blossom with some of the cheese mixture (roughly 1 tbsp per blossom).  Close the blossom back up and seal the petals with a twist.  Set aside on a plate, and gently rub with a thin film of olive oil to keep the petals from scorching in the oven.

When your pizza dough has been properly stretched and formed, apply the tomato sauce.  Place the blossoms on the tomato sauce with their tops pointing in, making sure to space them in such a way as to make a lovely radial pattern.  Drop any extra ricotta into the spaces between the blossoms.  Scatter the remaining mint leaves over top.  Bake your pizza following Forkish's instructions for roughly 5-7 minutes total.

[based on the essentials of Ken Forkish's recipe in The Elements of Pizza]

fig. g:  zucchini blossom pizza 2

fig. g:  zucchini blossom pizza 2

Not bad, huh?  And, again, this was made with the very same "I Slept In But I Want Pizza Tonight" Dough recipe featured above.  I hadn't actually slept in, but I definitely hadn't started any other long-fermentation dough recipes one or two days before, and I woke up with a hankering for pizza.  My dough balls were in the fridge by 9:00am.  By 6:00pm I was back at home, firing up my oven, and beginning to pull my dough balls from the refrigerator.  By 7:15pm or so, the pizzas coming out of the oven were divine.

But it was that zucchini blossom pizza that stole the show.  It was just so beautiful and the flavours were magical:  the blossoms, the ricotta, the mint, the crust.  Highly recommended!

An important note about baking in a conventional oven:  Place a baking stone or baking steel in your oven, and crank it as high as it will go.  I've been using a baking stone with good results for years.  Recently I switched to using a baking steel instead, and the results have been exceptional (and I'm not the only one who's experienced this).  If you can afford it, you might want to consider the combination baking steel/griddle--it's a truly ingenious contraption, it works remarkably well in both capacities, and it comes very highly rated.  Ten minutes before you're ready to bake your pizza, use your broiler on full blast.  When you throw in your pizza, switch it back to conventional baking mode for 2-3 minutes.  For the final 1-2 minutes of your bake, turn your broiler back on to achieve some lovely blistering on the top side.

That's it for now.  You'll find more on Forkish's The Elements of Pizza here in the pages of "...an endless banquet" as I work my way through its various styles.

Behold the New Pizza Bible!  My love of pizza blossoms anew.

aj

Le Goût du grain / A Taste For Grain

 
fig. a:  a feel for grain

fig. a:  a feel for grain

If bread, baking, grains, and milling are your thing, either on a professional level, or even just a personal one; if the kinds of things that I discussed in my last post ("Grain Therapy") are of interest to you; if you have a genuine taste for grain; have I got the event for you.

Le Goût du grain / A Taste for Grain is a symposium and dinner that will be taking place on Monday, June 13 at the Société des arts technologiques' Foodlab / Labo Culinaire.  It will bring together bakers, chefs, grain producers, brewers, millers, and other interested parties to discuss the future of grains and grain-based production in a Northern climate such as ours.  The invitation-only symposium will take place in the afternoon and will feature such distinguished participants as Amy Halloran (The New Bread Basket), Ed Behr (The Art of Eating), Andrew Heyn (Elmore Mountain Bread), Randy George (Red Hen Baking Company), Charles Letang (Seigneurie des Aulnaies / Du pain c'est toût), Rowan Jacobsen (American Terroir:  Savoring the Flavors of Our Woods), James MacGuire (The Taste of Bread), Naomi Duguid (Home Baking:  The Artful Mix of Flour and Traditions From Around the World), Simon Blackwell (Blackbird Baking Co.), representatives from Moulin des Cèdres and the Maine Grain Alliance, and many others.  The dinner is open to the public and will feature grain-themed contributions from a who's who of talented chefs:  Stephanie Labelle (Pâtisserie Rhubarbe, Mtl), Julien Jore (Cirkus, Mtl), Pamela Yung (Semilla, NYC), Dyan Solomon and Vanessa Laberge (Olive + Gourmando, Foxy, Mtl), and your hosts, Marc-André Cyr (Baker On the Go, Mtl) and Michelle Marek (SAT Foodlab, Mtl).

For more information you can find a Facebook event page here.  Or you can contact Marc-André directly.

If you're interested in the dinner and you'd like to book a reservation for it, please call (514) 844-2033 ext. 225.

In Grain We Trust.

aj

 

Grain Therapy

 

After months and months where stress levels were running high and I was without an adequate oven, I needed to get back to my bread baking habit.  I needed the aroma of fresh-baked sourdough wafting through the premises.  I needed to taste the wonderful flavours of slowly fermented and deeply baked organic grains again.  I needed some grain therapy.

The first two loaves that came out of the oven were a couple of 25% whole wheat loaves.  They were just what the doctor ordered, and they looked something like this.

fig. a:  whole wheat loaf

fig. a:  whole wheat loaf

You see, there are few things as gratifying as baking fresh bread.  Like so many of the types of food and the types of cooking experiences that I love the most, you begin with the most basic, most humble of ingredients, and you wind up with something that, ideally, is completely transcendent.  With a little bit of practice, and a few simple tricks, you can produce bread that surpasses the quality of the vast majority of the bread that you can find in North America.  And you can see the entire process through within a relatively short period.  

There’s also something that can be calming—even meditative—about baking one’s own bread.  Given the right space, it slows things down.  It teaches one to observe, to feel, to smell.  It teaches one to be patient.  It encourages mastery, but it can also be a rather forgiving process (thank god!).

And, finally, there’s nothing quite like the satisfaction that comes from the lovely aroma of bread baking in the oven, from the feel of the heat radiating from a freshly baked loaf, and from the deep sound that comes when one drums the bottom of a loaf straight from the oven.  Most of all though, there’s the sheer pleasure that comes from the taste of that first slice of bread when you can no longer take the temptation, and even though you know the loaf will keep longer if you hold off, you also know that that loaf smells much too good to last too long anyway, so you take your bread knife to it and savour the moment.

Trust me, I’m not the only one who gets this thrill.  If you don’t believe me, just check out Michael Pollan in the recent Netflix series Cooked, based on his best-seller of the same name. 

fig. b:  Air Pollan

fig. b:  Air Pollan

Check out the episode called “Air,” in particular, which is devoted to wheat, to bread, and to baking.  And check out how Pollan waxes poetic and philosophic about baking naturally leavened bread at home.  

What quickly becomes apparent is that although Pollan’s interest in food cultures and in cuisine is vast, there is nothing he is more fascinated by and no process that he finds more rewarding than baking bread.  The steps that took humanity beyond the cultivation of grains and their preparation as porridge, to baking bread, and eventually baking leavened bread, were pivotal.  Not only were grains transformed into tastier preparations, they were literally made more nutritious in the process.  The result was the staff of life.

As Pollan explains, “air” was of the essence.  Early cooks noticed the beneficial effects of fermentation on grains, they figured out that yeasts traveled through the air to make this process possible, and they learned how to control this process to naturally leaven their loaves.  When they did, something magical occurred to their bread:  it became lighter, airier, easier to digest, more nutritious, and more flavourful.

After decades and decades where the emphasis was placed on modernization, on speed, and on efficiency, and heavily industrial processes reigned, there’s been a much-needed return to tradition, and quite specifically to hand-worked, slowly fermented, naturally leavened (“sourdough”) bread baking, both at the professional level, as well as at home.  And although these concepts might seem commonplace in parts of North America, where artisanal, wood-fired bakeries and their ilk have flourished in recent years, it’s important to recognize just how far things had gone in the opposite direction, and how much work still needs to be done to right the course.  It’s important to recognize that even countries with proud baking traditions, like Germany, almost completely lost their traditions in recent years, and that an artisanal countertrend there has only just begun.  It’s important to recognize that the vast majority of people in the developed world have never actually tasted naturally leavened bread produced by hand.  

More recently leading bakers have become increasingly concerned with the flours and grains they use.  As with so many aspects of our food culture, they’ve become much more adamant when it comes to sourcing their ingredients, they’ve begun to experiment with a greater variety of grains and helped to foster an interest in reviving heirloom strains, and they’ve put more attention on not only the quality of their ingredients, but also the freshness of these ingredients.  The new frontier of baking encompasses not only the farming of grain, it’s also very much about the milling of these grains.

fig. c:  Elmore Mountain's oven*

fig. c:  Elmore Mountain's oven*

Just a few weeks ago we had the pleasure of visiting the good people at Elmore Mountain Bread in Elmore, VT, just across the valley from the majestic Elmore Mountain.  One of the leading naturally leavened, wood-fired bakeries in Vermont for well over a decade now, Blair Marvin and Andrew Heyn, the husband-and-wife team behind Elmore Mountain, have in recent years pushed their operation deep into the new frontier. 

Frustrated by the variations in the quality and the freshness of the milled grain they were working with, they decided to take things into their own hands and begin milling their own flour themselves.  In order to do so, they had to learn how to make their own mill, starting with their very own milling stone.  In order to do that, they had to dig up 19th-century texts on milling.  If this seems like an absurd amount of work, it was.  But the payoff has been enormous.  Not only has it given them complete control over the fineness of their flour, but it’s also allowed them to craft bread with the absolute freshest flour possible. 

These days, Elmore Mountain Bakery sources only the finest grains, they mill them to their exact specifications, and every single loaf they bake is made with flour that’s less than 24 hours old (!).  Having this level of control over one’s baking operation is completely unheard of, and it’s resulted in truly extraordinary loaves of bread, with a range of flavours just from their flour alone that neither of us have ever encountered.  The very best bakers in North America are all working very closely with their producers and their millers to gain optimum results.  Elmore Mountain Bread is the only bakery that I’ve encountered that handles two-thirds of this production chain in-house.

fig. d:  freshly milled Elmore Mountain Bread flour

fig. d:  freshly milled Elmore Mountain Bread flour

We left Elmore Mountain that day with a freshly milled bag of Magog flour from Maine Seed Company in Mapleton, ME, one of a handful of producers Blair and Andrew work with closely.  Two days later, after I’d made sure that my leaven was properly fed, I baked a couple of country sourdough loaves using my Elmore Mountain flour.  This means less than 72 hours had elapsed between the time the grain was milled and the time I pulled my loaves from the oven.  This may not sound all that special, but most home bakers are working with flour that’s been sitting on a shelf for at least months, and often years. 

fig. e:  Magog country loaf proofing

fig. e:  Magog country loaf proofing

fig. f:  Magog country loaf finished

fig. f:  Magog country loaf finished

Not only did my loaves turn out beautifully, but they were extraordinarily flavourful—quite likely the tastiest country loaves I’d ever made.  Thank you, Elmore Mountain Bread!

fig. g:  Magog country loaf with butter

fig. g:  Magog country loaf with butter

And that's saying something, because that Tartine country loaf recipe is perfect and I always try to source the best flour I can find.  

In case you need a quick refresher, here's the breakdown for Tartine's Basic Country Loaf:

Tartine Basic Country Sourdough

700 g water (70%)

200 g leaven (20%)

900 g white flour (90%)

100 g whole wheat flour (10%)

+

20 g salt

50 g water

total hydration:  75%

While baking country sourdoughs remains unbelievably satisfying (especially when I have a brand-new type of flour to work with), it can be especially rewarding to improvise something new.  Not long ago I picked up some phenomenal rolled oats from Rogers Farmstead in Berlin, VT.  

fig. h:  raw oats

fig. h:  raw oats

Those oats made the best porridge ever, but as soon as I tasted them I was eager to bake with them, too.  I didn't know it at the time that I bought my oats, but it turns out that Rogers Farmstead is one of the producers Elmore Mountain Bread works with the closest.  They've been using their wheat and other grains for years.

Anyway, this is the recipe I devised to take advantage of the deep flavour of those oats:

AEB Honey-Oat Sourdough

600 g water (60%)

200 g leaven (20%)

100 g honey (10%)

750 g white flour (75%)

250 g whole wheat flour (25%)

1 cup rolled oats, par-cooked (roughly 250 g)

+

22 g salt

50 g water

total hydration:  65%

It took about 10-15 minutes to par-cook the oats.

fig. i:  cooked oats

fig. i:  cooked oats

When I first formed my loaves after the bulk fermentation, they looked like this:

fig. j:  first shaping

fig. j:  first shaping

Then they got tucked in for 30 minutes.

fig. k:  two peas in a pod

fig. k:  two peas in a pod

And a few hours later, when those loaves emerged from the oven, they looked like this:

fig. l:  honey-oat loaf

fig. l:  honey-oat loaf

About an hour later, I couldn't take the torture any longer, so I cut off a slice and slathered it with butter.  

fig. m:  honey-oat loaf with butter

fig. m:  honey-oat loaf with butter

Are you picking up on a pattern?

Long live real bread!  Long live grain therapy!

aj

* photo courtesy Blair Marvin

Top Ten #62

 
sourdough cover.jpeg

1.  Ruth Allman, Alaska Sourdough:  The Real Stuff By a Real Alaskan 

HeronOblivion_9001.jpg

2.  Heron Oblivion, s/t (Sub Pop)

sample track:  "Beneath Fields"

3.  Meg Baird, Don’t Weigh Down the Light

sample track:  "Back To You"

4.  45 Years (2015), dir. Haigh

5.  Ben McGrath, "The Wayfarer:  A Solitary Canoeist Meets His Fate," The New Yorker, December 14, 2015

6.  Bob Dylan, John Birch Society Blues

sample track:  "I'll Keep It With Mine"

7.  Mustang (2015), dir. Ergüven

8.  The FeeliesTime For a Witness (Bar None)

sample track:  "Doin' It Again" (don't be a fool--watch this video!)

10.  DIIVIs The Is Are (Captured Tracks)

sample track:  "Mire (Grant's Song)"

p.s.  R.I.P.  Jim Harrison*

aj

* My favourite part of the New York Times obituary:  "All these ingredients [eating, drinking, drugging, and hobnobbing] were titanically encapsulated in a dinner Mr. Harrison once shared with Orson Welles, which involved, he wrote, 'a half-pound of beluga with a bottle of Stolichnaya, a salmon in sorrel sauce, sweetbreads en croûte, a miniature leg of lamb (the whole thing) with five wines, desserts, cheeses, ports' and a chaser of cocaine."

Out of the Archives 6: DIY Cabane à sucre

This post first appeared in March 2008, during a much more typical transition from winter to spring.  You can see that we were already fantasizing about establishing some kind of homestead in the northern woods.  Little did we know...  This is one of my favourite posts from this period--one based on a particularly successful dinner party that we threw for Michelle's birthday.

fig. a:  maple sugaring in the northern woods

fig. a:  maple sugaring in the northern woods

Those of you who've been reading AEB over the last few years will know that we've long had an affection for scenes such as the one above: old prints of homesteaders practicing the alchemy of turning maple sap into maple syrup and maple sugar. You'll also know that we're big fans of the cuisine--yes,cuisine--of the traditional Québécois cabane à sucre: the beans, the ham, thecretons, and all the other assorted pork dishes, the ketchup aux fruits, the tire d'érable, and so on. You might also have noticed that Michelle's birthday is around this time of year, right in the thick of sugaring-off season. What you might not know, however--especially if you don't live in this region--is that if you wanted to take a sugar shack fanatic out to celebrate her birthday with a group of people at a traditional cabane à sucre, you'd have literally dozens upon dozens of establishments to choose from within a 100-150 km radius, but you'd be hard-pressed to find one of exceptional quality (top-notch ingredients + top-notch technique). Believe me, we've tried, and though we've found some good cabanes à sucre, ones worthy of a casual, slightly kitschy weekend outing, we've yet to find one that's worthy of a birthday party. Which means that as much as the idea of taking a group of people out to a traditional, rustic, intimate, backwoods sugar shack for Michelle's birthday appeals to us, it's never really been in the cards.

Now, rewind, if you will, for just a moment or two, to about three weeks ago. We were strolling down Ste-Catherine W. on our way to a movie when we looked in the window at Westcott Books and saw this handsome book:

fig. b:  the title says it all

fig. b:  the title says it all

The store was closed at the time, but the cover left such an impression on us that the very next day we made a special trip back to that part of town to take a closer look. And when we did, we liked what we saw, so we took that first edition of Helen & Scott Nearing's The Maple Sugar Book (1950) up to the front counter, chatted up the owner about his numerous bookstore cats, paid for the book, and took it home with us. 

The Nearings' book is divided into three parts--roughly, the history of maple sugaring, the practice of maple sugaring, and the philosophy of life that goes along with maple sugaring--plus an appendix on maple recipes of all sorts (from candied sweet potatoes to maple divinity fudge), and it starts off with the kind of bang you might expect from the people who more or less pioneered the 20th century back-to-the-land movement:
 

FOREWORD

We had three things in mind when we set ourselves to write this book. The first was to describe in detail the process of maple sugaring. The second was to present some interesting aspects of maple history. The third was to relate our experiments in homesteading and making a living from maple to the larger problem faced by so many people nowadays: how should one live?

[...]

What we have been developing here in the Green Mountains is a source of livelihood that leaves us time and room to live life simply and surely and worthily. Henry Thoreau wrote in his journal on February 18, 1850: "There is little or nothing to be remembered written on the subject of getting an honest living. Neither the New Testament nor Poor Richard speaks to our condition. I cannot think of a single page which entertains, much less answers, the questions which I put to myself on this subject. How to make the getting our living poetic! for if it is not poetic, it is not life but death that we get." Sugaring can bring one an honest living. And anyone who has ever sugared remembers the poesy of it to the end of his days...


We haven't exactly packed up our city-living ways, found ourselves a tract of hardscrabble land, and started homesteading (yet),* but the Nearings' The Maple Sugar Book is definitely a great read for a book that devotes so much type to discussions of buckets, pipes, and evaporators, and we've been talking about it off and on for weeks.

In fact, it became such an important of our lives that when we started thinking about our annual sugar shack pilgrimage this year, perversely, the book actually inspired us to stay in the city and stage a full-blown cabane à sucreextravaganza ourselves. We'd be missing out on the fresh air and the woods, of course, but we'd be saving on car rental fees and gas, there'd be little risk of kitsch, we'd be able to guarantee that our food would be both tasty and of a high quality, we'd be able to control the stereo (i.e. we'd be able to play our La Bolduc records if we so desired, but we could just as easily play a Brigitte Fontaine & Areski record) and therefore the ambiance, and, who knows, maybe we'd be able to create some small-scale poesy right at home. We got so excited about the idea, that we decided to throw this sugar shack party for Michelle's birthday.

Now, before you get all hot and bothered because we left out the pea soup, the oreilles de crisse, and the pets de soeur, you should know that our menu was our own personal Dream Team: a few classics, like baked beans and ketchup aux fruits, alongside some dishes that you'd probably never find at a cabane à sucre but you'd be happier if you did (or, rather, we'd be happier if we did). The spread went as follows: two tourtières, two maple-braised pork shanks, two batches of baked beans (one with yellow eye beans, the other with soldier beans), a massive batch of cole slaw, ketchup aux fruitscornichons, cheddar cheese with crackers and jerusalem artichoke relish, and a can of maple syrup for all those willing to add a little magic to the mix, plus apple crumble with maple frappé for dessert. The tablecloth was of the red & white checked variety, and Michelle had decorated the table with hay to give things a countrified feel (okay, so we threw in a little kitsch). The view from our specially designed AEB Tablecam looked like this:

fig. c:  tourtière, ketchup aux fruits, and maple syrup by Tablecam

fig. c:  tourtière, ketchup aux fruits, and maple syrup by Tablecam

Tourtière, of course, is the classic French-Canadian meat pie. It might even be the classic French-Canadian dish. Its roots stretch back to the days before the settlement of New France, but this is a dish which, in all of its varieties, became as French-Canadian as they come. The version we've been making since the fall of 2006 is a variation on the one found in Martin Picard & Co.'s Au Pied de Cochon: The Album, and it's the best tourtière recipe I've ever encountered. If you've ever had your typical modern, disappointing, bone-dry tourtière, this is not one of them. The PDC recipe is unorthodox but ingenious, using mushrooms, white wine, and a grated potato to keep the filling moist and flavourful. The PDC original calls for braised pork shank meat and 1 braised pig's knuckle because when they make them at the restaurant they've got a lot of braised pork shanks and braised pigs' knuckles on-hand and available. We've replaced the 200 g / 7 oz of braised pork shank meat with the same amount of ground veal for simplicity's sake, and it turns out famously every time. However, you could use some of the braised pork shank meat from the maple pigs' feet / maple pork shanks recipe you see below, if you so desired, and I'm sure your tourtière would turn out even more hallucinant. Note: when it comes to the ground pork, don't get it too lean--no need to go overboard, but you want a bit of extra fat content for tourtière. If that kind of thing concerns you, just go for a long walk or chop a little wood beforehand, but don't sell your tourtière short. Note #2: the added nutmeg is my touch. Again, this is very unorthodox, so go ahead and leave it out if you like, but I think it really makes a difference. Just remember to go easy on the spices. They should definitely be present, but you don't want to overpower the filling with either clove or cinnamon (or nutmeg, for that matter).

tourtière de ville

1 pie dough recipe
500 g / 1 lb ground pork
250 g / 1/2 lb ground veal
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
100 g / 4 oz mushrooms, chopped
100 ml / 1/2 cup white wine
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp butter
1 small potato, grated
1 small pinch ground cloves
1 small pinch ground cinnamon
1 small pinch ground nutmeg
salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large pot, sweat the onions and the garlic in the butter over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and continue cooking until the liquid released by the vegetables has evaporated. Add the white wine and continue cooking until the wine has evaporated as well. Add the ground pork, the ground veal, and the spices to the pot. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring to break up the chunks of meat. Add the grated potato and cook for another 10 minutes. Correct the seasoning, remove from the heat, and allow the mixture to cool.

Preheat your oven to 230º C / 450º F.

Roll out the pie dough and line a pie plate with half of it. Fill this with the ground meat mixture. Cover with the top half of the pie crust, brush it with the egg yolk, and poke or cut some holes in the top crust to allow the steam to escape during cooking.

Bake the pie in the oven for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 175º C / 350º F and bake for another 20-25 minutes.

Serve with ketchup aux fruits.

Two pork shanks from our friends at Porc Meilleur came in at under $5 and they looked and tasted great. This recipe is straight out of the PDC cookbook and it's typical of PDC's genius: take one of the lowliest cuts off one of the lowliest meats and redeem it with a cup of maple syrup and a lot of love.

 

maple pigs' feet / pork shanks

2 pigs' trotters or pork shanks
2 carrots, peeled
1 head of garlic, whole
1 sprig thyme
6 boiler onions
2 l / 8 cups pork stock
250 ml / 1 cup maple syrup
100 ml / 7 tbsp vinaigrette
15 g / 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper

brine: 2 cups of salt dissolved in 4.5 l / 1.2 gallons of water

Soak the pigs' feet or pork shanks in the brine for 4-6 hours.

Put the meat, the onions, the carrots, the garlic and the thyme in an ovenproof casserole. Pour the stock and the maple syrup over the meat (ideally, the liquid should come about halfway up the sides of the feet/shanks). Bake uncovered in the oven at 160º C / 325º F, basting the meat with the broth every 30 minutes until they are well-glazed and have developed a nice crust. Bake for a total of four hours; the meat should be extremely tender and come easilly off the bone. Remove the meat, the carrots, and the onions from the broth and set aside.

Strain the stock and drippings into a saucepan; you should have approximately 2 cups total. Dice the carrots finely and add them and the onions to the pan. Bring to a boil over high heat and reduce by half. Remove from the heat and whisk in the vinaigrette. Add the parsley and correct the seasoning as needed.

Serve the meat with a generous amount of the sauce poured overtop.

Vinaigrette:

1 cup vegetable oil
50 ml Dijon mustard
50 ml red wine vinegar

Whisk together the mustard, the vinegar, and a pinch of salt in a mixing bowl. Gradually whisk in the oil, stirring constantly to create a proper emulsion.


If you're all out of last summer's homemade canned ketchup aux fruits, here's a quick and easy off-season version.

 

ketchup aux fruits (winter version)

1 28-oz / 786 ml can of whole tomatoes & their liquid
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 apples, peeled, cored, and diced
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1 pinch of ground cloves
1 small pinch cayenne pepper
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a saucepan, bring the whole tomatoes, the onion, the garlic, and the celery to a boil and then simmer them gently for about 15-20 minutes, and gently break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Remove the saucepan from the heat and using an immersion blender or a conventional blender, blend half the mixture, then return it to the saucepan. Add the apples, the maple syrup, the vinegar and the spices and simmer for another 30-45 minutes. Makes plenty enough for a DIY sugar shack bash, and you'll be happy to have the leftovers.


This last recipe is of the WWMD variety: "what would Maurice do." We considered a whole host of maple syrup-laden desserts--backwoods-style crêpes, pouding chômeur, etc.--before settling on something we'd never ever had before because a) we have a lot of faith in Maurice and b) how can you argue with a recipe that gets this kind of write-up?

 

Once in a while Hettie [the Brockways' Irish "hired girl"] would make what she called Maple Frappe. I was delighted to help chop the ice which Tommy, the handyman, would get out of the big icehouse located out beyond the vegetable garden under a huge maple tree. Every winter, when the river was frozen, Grandfather hired a local man and his son to cut the large blocks of ice and haul them on a sleigh up the long hill to the icehouse. They were packed in sawdust from the lumber mill, and there they lasted all through the long hot summer. Each morning a large piece was dug out of the sawdust--which served as perfect insulation--washed with the hose, then put into the icebox in the summer kitchen. We were extremely advanced as we had a drain from the ice chest instead of the large pan everyone else seemed to use to catch the drippings.

I was delighted also to turn the freezer crank for the privilege of "licking" the ladle. Try this, and soon: 6 eggs beaten until creamy, 1 cup of pure maple syrup, 1 can of condensed milk, 1 can of evaporated milk, 1 pint of heavy cream whipped, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Mix together and freeze in an old-fashioned ice-cream freezer--not in the refrigerator ice trays. This makes 3 pints of frappe which, by itself is pure nectar, but atop warm apple pie is a delicacy that must be tasted to be believed.


We made an apple crumble instead of the apple pie recommended by Maurice, but it still ranked as "a delicacy that must be tasted to be believed." I don't know if I'm ready to wax poetic about maple frappé the way Maurice does--of course, we don't have an icehouse or a "hired girl" name Hettie, so maybe we didn't get the full experience--but it's got a really lovely, mellow maple flavor to it and I definitely have never had anything like it.

All in all: A+

aj

 

* Oh, how things have changed!  If the Nearings only knew how much influence they'd had on us.

Goodbye to all that. (Hello, 2016.)

Print

T.H. White, The Goshawk (New York Review of Books Classics)

Malcolm Gladwell, "Threshholds of Violence," The New Yorker, October 19, 2015

Elena Ferrante, The Neapolitan Novels (Europa Editions)

Luc Sante, The Other Paris (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux)

William Finnegan, “Off Diamond Head," The New Yorker, June 1, 2015

Clark Strand, “Bring on the Dark:  Why We Need the Winter Solstice,” The New York Times, December 19, 2014

Michael Psilakis, How to Roast a Lamb (Little, Brown and Company)

Peter Guralnick, Sam Phillips:  The Man Who Invented Rock ’n’ Roll (Little, Brown and Company)

Nan Fairbrother, The House in the Country (Knopf)

Beverley Nichols, Green Grows the City (Timber Press)

Reginald Arkell, Old Herbaceous (Modern Library)

Stephanie Labelle + Ohara Hale, Marianne Ferrer, Cyril Doisneau, Les Carnets de Rhubarbe (La Pastèque)

Kathryn Schulz, “The Really Big One," The New Yorker, July 20, 2015

Roy Scranton, “We’re Doomed.  Now What?,” The New York Times, December 21, 2015

Song

Bob Dylan, The Best of the Cutting Edge:  1965-1966, The Bootleg Series vol. 12 (Columbia)

sample track:  “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat (Take 8)”

Destroyer, Poison Season (Merge) + Destroyer, The Danforth Music Hall, Toronto, ON, September 30, 2015

Kurt Vile, b’lieve I’m goin down… (Matador)

Beach House, Depression Cherry (Sub Pop)

Crazy Horse, Crazy Horse (Reprise)

200 Years, s/t (Drag City)

Joanna Newsom, Divers (Drag City)

Angel Olsen, Burn Your Fire For No Witness (Jagjaguwar)

Nick Drake, Bryter Layter (Island)

Ryley Walker, Primrose Green (Dead Oceans) + Ryley Walker & Myriam Gendron, La Vitrola, Montreal, June 18, 2015

Bill Mackay & Ryley Walker, Land of Plenty (Whistler Records)

J. Mascis, Tied to a Star (Sub Pop) +  "Fade Into You" single + J. Mascis, La Salla Rosa, Montreal, June 5, 2015

Waxahatchee, Ivy Tripp (Merge)

Sleater-Kinney, No Cities To Love (Sub Pop)

Dillinger, CB 200 (Island)

Nancy Pants, Total Nancy Pants

Jessica Moss + Big Brave, Casa del Popolo, Montreal, QC

Roxy Music, For Your Pleasure (Virgin)

John Cale, Slow Dazzle (Island)

Tame Impala, Currents (Interscope)

Jamie XX, In Colour (Young Turks)

Linton Kwesi Johnson, Dread Beat an’ Blood (Virgin/Heartbeat)

Mbongwana Star, From Kinshasa (World Circuit)

Tame Impala, Innerspeaker (Modular)

Alvvays, s/t (Polyvinyl/Transgressive)

DIIV, “Bent (Roi’s Song)”

Loscil, Sea Island (Kranky)

200 Years, s/t (Drag City)

Bent Wind, Sussex (Ugly Pop)

Night Shades, “SofterScience (Dave Retouch)”

Michael Hurley + Myriam Gendron, La Vitrola, Montreal, April 24, 2015

Pharoah Sanders + Endless Boogie & guests, Baby’s On Fire, Brooklyn, NY, May 6, 2015

Moving Images

Spotlight (2015), dir. McCarthy

Güeros (2014), dir. Palacios

The Wolfpack (2015), dir. Moselle

Cocksucker Blues (1972), dir. Frank

Far From the Madding Crowd (2015), dir. Vinterberg

Iris (2014), dir. Maysles

Carol (2015), dir. Haynes

Norman McLaren:  Experiments in 3-D, Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference, Concordia University, Montreal, QC, March 28, 2015

Deux Jours, Une Nuit (2014), dir. Dardenne Bros.

The Look of Silence (2014), dir. Oppenheimer

Food & Drink

return to DiFara, Brooklyn, NY + DiFara's Classic Pie

tasting menu at Rocky Slims, New York, NY

Bar Raval, Toronto, ON

Honest Weight, Toronto, ON

asparagus + morels

Gramercy Tavern / Foragers Kitchen Night @ Foodlab with Paul Wetzel and Natasha Pickowicz (NY, NY), January 16, 2015

hoppin' john, pts. 1 (the story) & 2 (the recipes)

Gullah Nation Night @ Foodlab with chef B.J. Dennis (Charleston, S.C.), May 16, 2015

grilled chicken with fennel-chile rub

sesame noodles summer

Orne Meadows cheddar, Cabot Creamery, VT

Victory, Pils (PA)

Von Trapp, Pilsener (VT)

Hill Farmstead, Mary (VT)

Vadouvan-spiced "tandoori" carrots

California Sandwiches, Toronto, ON

Charlie the Butcher's Kitchen, Buffalo, NY

wine + pizza @Norman Hardie Vineyards, Prince Edward County, ON

A Canadian Thanksgiving in Upper New England, Washington County, VT

homemade ice cream

Miscellaneous

4th of July Parade, Cabot, VT, July 4, 2015

Barnstock, Maple Corner, VT, August 22, 2015

Christmas Eve Service, The Old West Church, Calais, VT, December 24, 2015

bootleg Bernie t-shirts

the rapture 2.jpg

skywatching, Washington County, VT

 

Happy New Year from your friends at "...an endless banquet"!

aj + m

Out of the Archives 5: Corn Bread Nation

This post first appeared in May 2013, but it's the kind of post that could come in very handy for Thanksgiving.  In fact, instead of being puzzled by the Restoring America's Food Traditions map of North America, it would pay to embrace it.  Imagine a Thanksgiving meal that drew from the Corn Bread, Wild Rice, Maple Syrup, Clambake, Crabcake, and Chestnut Nations.  I'm getting hungry just thinking about it.

fig. a:  Chestnuts?  Wild rice?

fig. a:  Chestnuts?  Wild rice?

I've thought a lot about this map since the first time we posted it way back when.

I've thought about its telling aspects, like the Great Plains and (the absence of) bison.  But I've also thought about some of its more mysterious elements--like the fact that "Corn Bread & BBQ" somehow excludes the entire state of North Carolina, and that most of Tar Heel State is said to be defined by "Chestnut" instead.

Of course both corn bread and barbecue are hotly divisive issues across much of America, but regardless how you feel about North Carolina corn bread and/or North Carolina barbecue, North Carolina's certainly got a pretty strong claim on both.  After all, this is a state that people regularly claim has the strongest connection to the American barbecue tradition.*  This is a state that when people talk about "the family tree of barbecue," and how it has spread all over the country--and, believe me, plenty of people do--many of them claim that "its deepest tap root" is right there, in North Carolina.**

This is also a state that's serious about its cornmeal and its corn bread.  In fact, the North Carolina tradition is to serve barbecue with two principal accompaniments:  cole slaw and some variation on corn bread, be it actual corn bread, cornpone, cornsticks, or, most commonly, hush puppies.

These people eat a lot of pork, much of it in the form of barbecue.  They also consume great quantities of cornmeal, often with barbecue.  If North Carolina isn't a part of Corn Bread & BBQ Nation, something's truly gone amiss.

Anyway, the point is that when I started to plan a short BBQ Odyssey a couple of weeks ago (more on this later), I got so excited I did two things.  I fired up the smoker and made my first batch of 2013 season barbecue.  And I broke out the cornmeal and made some real skillet corn bread.

I spent a good chunk of my life south of the Mason-Dixon line, but only justsouth of it, and our family was essentially a family of Northern Virginia carpetbaggers.  I didn't grow up in a true Southern household.  I don't have particularly deep ancestral ties to corn bread.  (I've got maple syrup in my veins, not cornmeal.)  But I do have deep personal ties to corn bread.  Corn bread was just about the first thing that I started cooking when I was a kid.  It was certainly the thing I was most excited to make for years.

The kind of corn bread I made for a long time was typical carpetbagger fare.  It was the kind of corn bread that came all gussied up with too many eggs and too much sugar.  The kind of corn bread I make these days is much more minimal.  It's not sweet at all, and it's really all about the cornmeal.  Which can be a difficult thing to find here in Maple Syrup Nation.  I mean, it's not particularly difficult to find cornmeal, but it's exceedingly difficult to find the kind of cornmeal you need to make a true Southern-style corn bread.  You need to keep your eyes open for real old-school, stone-ground cornmeal, especially when you're in the States, like the Old Wye Mill "Golden Run Yellow Cornmeal" you see below, or some brand of white "Old Virginia Style" cornmeal, depending on which side of the fence you're on.  Or the next time you're going to visit some friends in the U.S., ship some Anson Mills corn meal to their address in advance.  Trust me--it's worth it!

fig. b:  true corn meal

fig. b:  true corn meal

It pays to be picky, because, again, with a true Southern corn bread, it's the cornmeal that's the star attraction, and a mediocre cornmeal results in an insipid corn bread.

I also used to bake my corn bread in a 9" x 9" baking dish, but I've long since preferred to bake it in a cast-iron skillet.  There's something about the ritual of it.  But for that you need a nicely seasoned skillet.

Otherwise, making a true Southern-style corn bread couldn't be easier.  And once you've assembled necessary ingredients, the process is very fast, and very satisfying.

fig. c:  true skillet corn bread

fig. c:  true skillet corn bread

Skillet Corn Bread

4 oz. stone-ground cornmeal (this works out to about 1 cup, but I highly recommend weighing your cornmeal)
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 large egg
3/4 cup buttermilk (preferably whole buttermilk)
1 tbsp peanut oil, bacon fat, or lard 

special equipment:  an 8-inch well-seasoned skillet 

Preheat your oven to 425º.  Measure the dry ingredients into a bowl and whisk them thoroughly to break up any lumps.  Break the egg into a separate bowl and whisk it lightly.  Add the buttermilk to the egg and whisk to blend. 

Five minutes before you are read to bake your corn bread, add the fat to skillet and place it in the hot oven. 

When four minutes have elapsed, add the egg and buttermilk blend to the dry ingredients, whisking just to blend (in other words, do not blend too much!).  One minute later--at the 5-minute mark--take the skillet from the oven (remember, it will be HOT) and carefully swirl the fat around the bottom of the skillet and along the sides so that the skillet is evenly coated.  Immediately pour the batter into the skillet, using a circular motion for even distribution.  You'll notice that the batter sizzles and climbs up the sides of the skillet slightly.  That's a good sign.  

Return the skillet to the oven and bake the corn bread for about 20-25 minutes, until it is nicely set and golden brown on top.  Remove from the oven and quickly, but confidently flip it out onto a cutting board.  Cut into wedges and serve. 

Makes one 8-inch corn bread. 

[recipe from John "I know a thing or two about Corn Bread Nation" Thorne's Serious Pig [I've tried a lot of different recipes, but this is the one I go back to the most)]

Highly acceptable variation:  w/ real smoked bacon bits (preferably from the strip/s you used to produce the necessary bacon fat).

Now, this is an ideal corn bread to serve with all kinds of Southern fare, including barbecue, and I also like to serve it Southwestern fare, such as chili, but one of my favourite treats involves taking this thoroughly unsweet skillet corn bread straight out of the oven and piping hot and giving it a friendly shove in the sweet direction:

Cut a wedge.  Slice the wedge in half to form a wedge-shaped sandwich.  Pour some sorghum molasses inside.  Close the sandwich.  Pour a bit more sorghum molasses on top.  Devour.***

It's kind of like a Southern-style treacle tart.

fig. d:  corn bread hearts sorghum molasses

fig. d:  corn bread hearts sorghum molasses

It would be great with vanilla ice cream, too. 

Hmm, might be time to bake another batch of corn bread...

aj

* Jane and Michael Stern, for instance.

** Jim Auchmutey, of The Ultimate Barbecue Sauce Cookbook fame, has claimed this very thing.

*** If you don't have any sorghum molasses on hand, or don't care for the stuff, a quality honey makes for another delicious option.

Out of the Archives 4: Eat Your Greens, pt. 2

Here's another must-read/must-see/must-try from the archives.  It first appeared 5 years ago to the day, on November 13, 2010.  As was the case in 2010, now's the time--there are plenty of green tomatoes around, and you can often get them for a song.

fig. a:  time to fry

fig. a:  time to fry

There are still some real green tomatoes kicking around. In fact, depending on where you live, there might still be loads of them. And, along with making your own chowchow, frying them is a pretty great way to make use of the last of the tomato harvest. But even if you find that the green tomatoes in your area have already disappeared, all is not lost. As the Lee Bros. point out, your standard supermarket tomato is effectively a green tomato--it certainly was picked green (generally, very green). So you may need to add a bit of lemon juice and some salt to your sliced supermarket tomatoes to coax out a little flavor and approximate the wonderful, citrusy tartness of a true green tomato, but fried green tomatoes are a classic Southern side that you can make pretty much all year long. If you want to make the real deal, however, and I strongly advise giving them a try, local green tomatoes were still available here in Montreal this week. And their bright, tangy flavor this late in the year made it feel like we were cheating the approach of winter somehow. If only for a moment.

Note: you also need some decent cornmeal to make these fried green tomatoes, and good cornmeal can be hard to find in the Montreal region. The best brand we've been able to locate around here is Indian Head Stone Ground Yellow from Maryland, available at Aubut

fig. b:  B Bros.

fig. b:  B Bros.

Even better is Beattie Bros., which is owned by the same parent company, but produced in North Carolina. Though, as far as we know, you can only get Beattie Bros. in the States.

Fried Green Tomatoes

3 lbs green tomatoes
3 large eggs, beaten
3/4 cup whole milk
3-4 cups peanut oil
3 batches fry dredge (recipe follows)
kosher salt, if needed
lemon juice, if needed

Core the stem ends of the tomatoes and slice them in 1/4-inch slices. Set aside. Whisk the eggs and milk together in a broad, shallow bowl.

Pour the oil in a 12-inch or 14-inch skillet (3 cups of oil will suffice for the 12-inch skillet; 4 cups should do for the 14-inch skillet, and the 14-inch skillet will make the task of frying 3 lbs of tomatoes much, much faster--ultimately, whatever size skillet you use, you need an oil depth of about 1/3 of an inch). Heat the oil over medium-high heat until the temperature on a candy thermometer reaches 350º-365º.

Heat the oven to 225 degrees. Set a baker's rack on a cookie sheet on the top rack.

Divide the dredge between two small bowls or shallow baking pans. Taste the tomatoes. "They should have a bright tartness like citrus fruit." If they don't, sprinkle the slices with salt and lemon juice (if you're using supermarket tomatoes, this additional lemon and salt will be necessary). Press 1 tomato slice into the first bowl of dredge on each side, shaking any excess loose. Dunk in the egg mixture, then place in the second bowl of dredge, coating both sides, and shaking any excess loose, before placing the slice on a clean plate. Repeat with more slices until you've dredged enough for a batch (roughly 8-10, if you're using the 14-inch skillet). With a spatula, gently transfer the first batch of slices into the hot oil, taking care not to create splatter, and making sure your temperature continues to hover between 350º-365º.

As the first batch cooks, dredge the second batch according to the directions above, while keeping a watchful eye on the first. Once the slices have fried to a rich golden brown on one side, roughly 2 minutes, flip them carefully and fry for another 2 minutes or so, or until golden brown. Transfer the fried tomatoes to a plate lined with a double thickness of paper towels and leave them to drain for 1 minute.

Transfer the slices to the baker's rack in the oven, arranging them in a single layer, so they remain warm and crisp. Repeat with the remaining slices until all the green tomatoes have been fried. Serve hot with Buttermilk-Lime Dressing (recipe follows).

All-Purpose Dredge

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 tbsp stone-ground cornmeal
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

In a medium bowl, sift the flour, cornmeal, salt, and pepper together twice. Stir. Use as directed.

This is a great all-around frying dredge. The Lee Bros. use this very recipe for everything from chicken, to fish, to fried green tomatoes.

Buttermilk-Lime Dressing

3/4 cups whole or lowfat buttermilk (preferably the former)
5 tbsp freshly squeeze lime juice
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp honey
1/2 cup finely minced basil
1/4 cup finely minced green onions
1/4 cup finely minced parsley
1/2 tsp salt, plus more to taste

In a small bowl, whisk the ingredients together until thoroughly combined. Cover tightly and store in the refrigerator not more than 2 days.

[these recipes are based very, very closely on ones that appeared in The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook]


These fried tomatoes make for a fantastic side with any number of dishes, Southern or otherwise. We love 'em with seafood, but then we've been known to have them with barbecue too, and I could easily imagine having them as part of a Thanksgiving dinner. Leftover fried green tomatoes taste pretty outrageous on top of a leftover pulled pork sandwich, too. Especially if you drizzle a little of that Buttermilk-Lime Dressing on top. Just take a look:

fig. c:  deluxe pulled pork sandwich

fig. c:  deluxe pulled pork sandwich

Oh, and speaking of Thanksgiving and the Lee Bros.: if you haven't had the pleasure of reading Matt and Ted's New York Times exposé on Marilyn Monroe's stuffing recipe from 1955-6 (as it appears in Fragments, a just-published collection of previously unreleased Monroe ephemera), you really should. Not only is it a great read, but Marilyn's recipe is both mysterious (ground beef? Parmesan? City Title Insurance Co.?) and tantalizing. Just look at that picture. Just look at that recipe

aj

p.s. Looking for "eat your greens 1"? You can find it here.

Apple Season, pt. 2: "apple pie"

 
fig. a:  papa's got a brand-new bag

fig. a:  papa's got a brand-new bag

If Vermont has an apple obsession--and it most certainly does--it's also a state that's seriously crazy about pizza, so it's perhaps no surprise that "apple pie" takes many forms here.  Sure, Vermonters love their traditional apple pies--with a top-crust and open-faced, with a slice of cheddar or without, deep-dish or otherwise--but they're also not averse to adding apples to their pizza.  In fact, one of Vermont's great pizzas, Parker Pie Company's Green Mountain Special, features apples prominently.

Inspired by the local scene, and in thrall to a pizza obsession of our very own--a home-baked one--we started making our own "apple pies" last year.  

I'd start by whipping up a batch of Jim Lahey's basic pizza dough from My Bread (2009) a day in advance.  

Jim Lahey's Basic Pizza Dough

500 grams bread flour

10 grams instant yeast

10 grams table salt

3/4 tsp + a pinch (roughly 3 grams) sugar

300 grams water

6 grams olive oil

In a large mixing bowl, combine flours and salt.

In a small mixing bowl, stir together 200 grams (about 1 cup) lukewarm tap water, the yeast and the olive oil, then pour it into flour mixture. Knead with your hands until well combined, approximately 3 minutes, then let the mixture rest for 15 minutes.

Knead rested dough for 3 minutes. Cut into 2 equal pieces and shape each into a ball. Place on a heavily floured surface, cover with dampened cloth, and let rest and rise for 3 to 4 hours at room temperature or for 8 to 24 hours in the refrigerator. (If you refrigerate the dough, remove it 30 to 45 minutes before you begin to shape it for pizza.)

To make pizza, place each dough ball on a heavily floured surface and use your fingers to stretch it, then your hands to shape it into squares. Top and bake.

YIELD:  2 rectangular pizzas

If you need pointers, you can watch this video of Jim Lahey working his no-knead pizza magic in the Serious Eats test kitchen.

When the dough had been allowed for a full 18 hours or so, I'd shape it on an oiled 13" x 9" baking sheet.  And then I'd apply my toppings.

apple slices (thin!), preferably using something that bakes well like a Crispin

sautéed North Country Smokehouse bacon

sautéed onions

Cabot Creamery Alpine Cheddar

chopped flat-leaf parsley

freshly ground black pepper

Bake in the hottest oven conditions you can create, making sure to heat the oven a good 60-90 minutes in advance so that it's truly piping hot.  

And voilà!

fig. b:  apple pie

fig. b:  apple pie

If you can't find Cabot Creamery's Alpine Cheddar, I pity you, but any quality cheddar or Gruyère will do, although personally I don't think I'd go too sharp with the cheddar.  If you can't find North Country Smokehouse bacon, again, I feel sorry for you, but try to use the tastiest bacon you can get your hands on.

This pizza is a dream come true--a Green Mountain dream.  And it's even dreamier when you make it with the freshest apples you can find, right in the midst of the apple harvest.  In other words, right about now.

aj

Apple Season, pt. 1: apples & chorizo

 
fig. a:  autumn still life, Vermont

fig. a:  autumn still life, Vermont

It may be better known for its dairy and its maple syrup, but if you're an apple lover--and I most definitely am*--Vermont stands out as a true Apple Paradise even in a region that's famed for its prodigious apple harvests (think Quebec, think New York, think Ontario).  

For a relatively small state, with a very small population, Vermont produces a lot of apples.  But even more impressive is the sheer variety of apples that are on offer at your local orchards, at your local farmers markets, and at your local co-ops.  Check out the Onion River Co-op (a.k.a., City Market) in Burlington, or the Hunger Mountain Co-op in Montpelier if you really want to see an astounding selection of apples.  Look for apples from Champlain Orchards or, better yet, Scott Farm, whose orchards are managed by a legendary orchardist named Zeke Goodband who hosts an annual Heirloom Apple Day every October over Columbus Day Weekend, drawing generously from the 110+ varieties (!) they produce.**

 Hunger Mountain Co-op alone carries upwards of 20 different varieties of Scott Farm heirlooms at this time of year, in addition to a wide selection of non-heirlooms, like McIntoshes, Macouns, and Paulareds.  Some of our favourites include Cox's Orange Pippin, Esopus Spitzenburg, Fameuse (the "famous" heirloom varietal of Quebec, and one that happens to be notoriously difficult to actually find in Quebec), Ashmead's Kernel, Northern Spy, and Belle de Boskoop, which may just be the ultimate apple for strudel and apple pie (Michelle certainly seems to think so these days).

fig. b:  apples of uncommon character

fig. b:  apples of uncommon character

And if you'd like some help making sense of this cornucopia (we certainly did), there's no better guide than Rowan Jacobsen's Apples of Uncommon Character:  123 Heirlooms, Modern Classics, and Little-Known Wonders (Bloomsbury, 2014).  As it turns out, Jacobsen lives in Washington County, Vermont, not far from our place, but we fell in love with his book before we knew that, and months before we actually got to know him and his family.  

On some level, Jacobsen is a product of Vermont's apple obsession, as is his book.  Jacobsen is an authority on the subject, and an amateur orchardist himself.  But he also had access to a wide range of local and regional expert (including Goodband) when he was researching this book, and he didn't have to venture far to find most of the 123 varieties that Apples of Uncommon Character features.  

In any case, Jacobsens's book is both fascinating and incredibly informative, and its categorizations (which varieties appear early?  which are the best for baking?  which make the tastiest cider?  which keep the best in your cellar? etc.) are terribly useful for people like us who use apples in a wide variety of preparations (pies and desserts, soups and savoury dishes, preserves and pickles, salads, etc.).  It's also beautifully written for a book that's essentially a field guide, not to mention lushly illustrated.  And if all that wasn't enough, it ends with 20 sweet and savoury recipes, many of which are of an uncommon character themselves.

fig. c:  the spy that came in from the cold

fig. c:  the spy that came in from the cold

One of our absolute favourites from this book is a recipe that works particularly well with a somewhat tart apple, like a Northern Spy.  It's Jacobsen's take on a classic dish from Asturia--Spain's famed cider-producing region--and one that is testament to the ages-old, but still passionate love affair between apples and pork:  Chorizo with Apples.  It only takes minutes to make, and it's insanely delicious.  The addition of apple cider, makes the end result "more apple than apple."  The combination of the warmth of the paprika, the sweetness of the apples and onions, the olive oil, and the pork fat makes for an utterly seductive sauce that you'll want to sop up every last drop of.

fig. d:  apple hearts sausage

fig. d:  apple hearts sausage

Chorizo with Apples

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 lb chorizo (preferably a high-quality Spanish version), cut into half-inch slices

1/2 onion, sliced

1 cup dry hard cider

1 apple (preferably something a little on the tart side, like a Northern Spy), cored and sliced

parsley for garnish

Heat oil in a skillet, add chorizo and sauté until brown. Turn and brown the other side.

Add onion and cider, cook 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add apple and cook another 6 minutes, stirring, until sauce is thick.

Garnish with parsley and serve with a crusty loaf of bread, the better to sop up all that beautiful sauce with.  

This dish is a perfect fall appetizer, especially served with a crisp hard apple cider or a crisp white wine on a crisp autumn evening.  Lay it out with some sliced sourdough bread, a plate of mixed olives, and a small cheese plate, and your meal will be off to a fantastic start.

¡Salud!

aj

* At this time of year, when the apples are particularly fresh and crispy, it's not uncommon for me to eat 4 or 5 in a row after dinner, in addition to the 2 or 3 apples I might have at other times over the course of the day.  

** We were so blown away by the Scott Farm apples we tried last fall, that this spring we took a pruning and grafting workshop with Mr. Goodband in the very early spring, when southeastern Vermont was still blanketed in snow.  This being Vermont, not only was our workshop leader named Ezekiel "Zeke" Goodband, not only did he sport a beard worthy of the Old Testament, but his pruning and grafting lessons were delivered in the form of anti-capitalist parables.

fig. e:  Grafting by Goodband

fig. e:  Grafting by Goodband

Lo and behold, a few months later, our apple trees blossomed in a way they hadn't in years.

fig. f:  spring blossoms

fig. f:  spring blossoms

Why is this man smiling?

 
fig. a:  Charlie the Butcher

fig. a:  Charlie the Butcher

Why is this man smiling?  Well, he’s earned the right—that’s why.  He makes some of the best Beef on Weck in Western New York.

fig. b:  Yeah.  What the heck is weck?

fig. b:  Yeah.  What the heck is weck?

What the heck is weck?  "Weck" is short for kimmelweck or kümmelweck, a salt and caraway seed-encrusted roll that was brought to Western New York by German immigrants sometime in the late nineteenth century.  "Beef" is short for roast beef.  And Beef on Weck is a wonderfully primal sandwich consisting of a pile of rosy roast beef, stacked inside a split kimmelweck roll, slathered with fiery horseradish, and served au jus.  

If you’ve been following “…an endless banquet” over the years, you know how I feel about that irresistible salt and caraway combo.  You also know how I love slow-cooked roast beef.  And you might even be familiar with my fondness for French Dip and other variations on the au jus sandwich.  So you can imagine just how strongly I feel about the Beef on Weck.

Along with wings, the Beef on Weck is the iconic dish of Buffalo and environs.  Obviously, Buffalo wings exploded into a national—even international—obsession in a way that Beef on Weck hasn’t quite (yet), but in Western New York passions run high when it comes to the Way of the Weck, and you can understand why.  It's a truly great sandwich, and one that shouldn't be messed with (or, at least it should only be messed with carefully and with respect).

fig. c:  double fantasy

fig. c:  double fantasy

I haven’t completed my scientific survey of the Beef on Weck sandwiches of the greater Buffalo region, but I can tell you that Charlie the Butcher makes a great one.  The kimmelweck roll was more pillowy than I imagined it, but it was fresh and delicious, and it was generously encrusted with salt and caraway.  The roast beef was hot, it was expertly sliced to order, and it was rosy and juicy.  The horseradish was serve-yourself, so I didn’t hold back. 

fig. d:  inside Charlie the Butcher's kitchen

fig. d:  inside Charlie the Butcher's kitchen

Charlie had other condiments on offer, too, including a variety of mustards, relish, Worcestershire sauce, A-I steak sauce, and even some Frank’s Red Hot,  but I kept things classic (straight horseradish) and I was happy I did.  The only adornment came in the form of the dill pickle spear that graced the sandwich tray.  

fig. e:  Charlie's Beef on Weck

fig. e:  Charlie's Beef on Weck

I took pause before I bit into that sandwich, so that I could fully appreciate the moment--I was hungry and I knew full-well it wouldn’t last long.  I was right:  that Charlie’s Beef on Weck was supremely tasty, supremely satisfying.  The sandwich didn’t have a chance.  It lasted all of about 30 seconds.

I seriously thought about going back for seconds, but that seemed a bit excessive.  That first sandwich + cole slaw was definitely a full meal.  So, instead, I bought a dozen kimmelweck rolls and hit the road.  And the next day, back in Montreal, I whipped up a batch of off-oven roast beef, with that salt and caraway crust that I love so much.  (Are you starting to get the picture?). 

The rolls weren’t quite as fresh as they had been the day before, but I reheated them a bit, and they began to return to their former glory.  Then I sliced that roast beef thin, in copious amounts, and I piled it into that warm kimmelweck roll.  I applied the horseradish generously, and dipped the top half of my roll in a little of that roast beef nectar.  And the next thing I knew I was reliving the magic of the day before in the comfort of my Montreal home.  

A few hours later, I met Michelle after her shift and we went down to our local for a drink.  I brought leftover roast beef, horseradish, mustard, and kimmelweck rolls along for the excursion, and I laid out a Beef on Weck service station right there on the bar.  Talk about an amazing late-night snack!  Perfect with beer, too.  Most of the folks at the bar had never heard of a Beef on Weck, but that didn't stop them from going to town on those sandwiches.

If you're lucky enough to live somewhere that has a large population hailing from Southwestern Germany, find yourself a reputable bakery and pick yourself up some kimmelweck rolls.  Then you can either use Charlie's recipe or my own to throw your own Beef on Weck-Fest.  If you don't have access to kimmelweck rolls, find yourself the best kaiser rolls you can get your hands on, use my roast beef recipe (with that salt and caraway crust), and make do (or follow Charlie's directions for hacking them and turning them into kimmelweck rolls).  You'll be smiling, too.

And if you find yourself in Buffalo, by all means, check out Charlie the Butcher’s Kitchen, which is conveniently located just one mile from the Buffalo Airport.

Charlie the Butcher's Kitchen, 1065 Wehrle Drive, Buffalo, NY 14221, (716) 633-8330

aj

Top Ten #61

 

1.  DestroyerPoison Season (Merge) + Destroyer, The Danforth Music Hall, Toronto, ON, September 30, 2015

sample track:  "Forces From Above"

2.  apple season, 2015

4.  Joanna NewsomDivers (Drag City)

sample track:  "Leaving the City"

5.  Bar Raval, Toronto, ON

6.  taco madness:  Jeff Gordinier, "In Search of the Perfect Taco," The New York Times, September 10, 2014

kurt v.jpg

8.  fall in Vermont

9.  Malcolm Gladwell, "Thresholds of Violence:  How School Shootings Catch On," The New Yorker, October 19, 2015

tandoori carrots.jpg

Top Carrot

 
fig. a:  carrots

fig. a:  carrots

This recipe--Vadouvan-spiced "Tandoori" Carrots--appeared on our radar months and months ago, courtesy of Bon Appétit, but I only got around to making it this summer.  It showed up in a winter issue as a recipe you could make with wintertime root vegetables, but it's a carrot recipe that benefits from using the freshest, prettiest carrots available--like those in the photograph above--so, really, it's ideal for the current harvest season.  It's also an incredibly versatile recipe.  You could certainly serve it as part of a South Asian menu, but I'd have no qualms serving it in a wide range of contexts, including even an upcoming Thanksgiving meal.  Most importantly, it's a remarkably flavourful and attractive recipe, one that takes roasted carrots to a higher plane.

If you've never heard of Vadouvan, it's a spice blend that's said to be a product of French colonial rule in India--one that typically is built with a base of shallots.  If you can't locate Vadouvan where you live--I wasn't able to track it down in Montreal--it's fairly easy to make, and the flavours are intoxicating, especially if you're able to score fresh curry leaves.*  You might very well find yourself making spiced potatoes, roasted cauliflower, dal, and other dishes with it, in addition to these carrots.  That's what I ended up doing, and every variation was a hit.

fig. b:  spices

fig. b:  spices

Vadouvan Spice Mix

 2 pounds onions, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 pound shallots, halved

12 garlic cloves, peeled

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh curry leaves (optional, but highly recommended)

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds

3/4 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon hot red-pepper flakes

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Special equipment:  this recipe calls for using parchment paper, but I highly recommend using a Silpat silicone baking mat, if you have one.

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

Pulse onions in 3 batches in a food processor until very coarsely chopped (there may be a few large pieces remaining), transferring to a bowl. Repeat with shallots, then garlic.

Heat oil in a deep 12-inch heavy nonstick skillet over high heat until it shimmers, then sauté onions, shallots, and garlic (stir often) until golden and browned in spots, 25 to 30 minutes

Grind fenugreek seeds in grinder or with mortar and pestle. Add to onion mixture along with remaining ingredients, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper and stir until combined.

Transfer to a parchment-paper-lined (or Silpat-lined) large 4-sided sheet pan and spread as thinly and evenly as possible. Bake, stirring occasionally with a skewer or spatula to separate onions, until well browned and barely moist, 1 to 1 1/4 hours.

Note:  This recipe makes a lot of Vadouvan spice mix, but it's delicious, it's versatile, and it keeps well in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

fig. c:  spicy carrots

fig. c:  spicy carrots

Now that you have your spice blend, you can actually make the "Tandoori" carrots.  Don't worry, you don't need a tandoor.  You just need a hot oven.  The "Tandoori" part comes from the fact that the technique replicates the manner in which other Tandoori dishes are made, like Tandoori chicken.

Vadouvan-spiced "Tandoori" Carrots

2 tablespoons Vadouvan

2 garlic cloves finely grated, divided

½ cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt, divided

5 tablespoons olive oil, divided

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 pound small carrots, tops trimmed, scrubbed or peeled

¼ teaspoon ground turmeric

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Very coarsely chopped cilantro leaves with tender stems and lemon wedges (for serving)

Preheat oven to 425°. Mix Vadouvan, half of garlic, ¼ cup yogurt, and 3 Tbsp. oil in a large bowl until smooth; season with salt and pepper. Add carrots and toss to coat. Roast on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer, turning occasionally, until tender and lightly charred in spots, 25–30 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat turmeric and remain­ing 2 Tbsp. oil in a small skillet over medium-low, swirling skillet, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

Whisk lemon juice, remaining garlic, and remaining ¼ cup yogurt in a small bowl; season with salt and pepper.

Place carrots (along with the crunchy bits on the baking sheet) on a platter. Drizzle with yogurt mixture and turmeric oil and top with cilantro. Serve with lemon wedges.

The finished product is a work of beauty:  sweet, spicy, tart, and savoury, with wonderful textures and vivid colours to boot.  You might serve these carrots as a side dish, but, if you do, don't be surprised if they steal the show.  They're really that good.

aj

p.s.  If you can't find Vadouvan near you, and making your own batch seems like too much trouble, just come up with your own curried shallot blend by frying some up in a pan, and try the rest of the recipe.  Everything else about this recipe is dead easy, and the method is sound.

* I got mine at Marché Oriental, on boulevard St-Denis, and they were fresher than fresh.

All You Need is Rub

 
fig. a:  grilled fennel-chile chicken

fig. a:  grilled fennel-chile chicken

It was that image of the steak that first got us.  When our copy of Saveur's summer grilling issue arrived, it carried the tantalizing image of a beautifully crusted, honking T-bone steak right on the cover.  As soon as we saw, we had to make it.  And we did.  And it was great.  

But when the article that accompanied the recipe mentioned that Andrea Reusing, the chef at Chapel Hill's acclaimed Lantern restaurant, and the one who brought it to Saveur's attention, uses the very same fennel-chile rub on just about anything, including chicken, we suddenly had a vision.  

A couple of days later, I mixed up another batch of the fennel-chile rub and we went out and got ourselves a nice, juicy chicken.  I spatchcocked it, dry-brined it, and let it rest in the refrigerator overnight.  The next day I took the chicken out of the refrigerator about 3 hours before I wanted to grill it, and I rubbed it all over with the fennel-chile mixture.  About an hour before I wanted to grill, I started working on my fire.  When the coals were at their hottest, I went ahead and carefully grilled the vegetables I was planning to serve with the chicken:  summer squashes, scallions, etc.  When the vegetables were grilled and the fire had died down a bit (hot, not scorching hot), I placed my spatchcocked chicken on the grill, skin-side down, put the lid on the grill, and let it cook for 25 minutes without touching it, or moving it, or even lifting up the lid.  When the 25 minutes were up, and the aroma of the fennel, the chile, the black pepper, and the grilled chicken flesh were beginning to drive me nuts, I lifted the lid, flipped the bird (so to speak), and put the lid back on.  This time I grilled it for 20 minutes because it was a plump, good-sized bird.  When the time was up, I placed the chicken on a platter and let it rest, uncovered.

If you want to serve it hot, wait 15 minutes and carve it.  If the temperature is still nice and warm where you are and you're in no rush, I've served it as much as 2 hours later and it was beautiful:  juicy and still just a bit warm, bursting with flavour, perfect for a relaxed summer meal.  Doing so can free you up to squeeze in a late-season game of croquet.

fig. b:  Washington County Croquet Club

fig. b:  Washington County Croquet Club

Or just admire the sunset before dinner.

fig. c:  big sky country

fig. c:  big sky country

Tempted?  Here's the recipe for the rub:

Fennel-Chile Rub

1/4 cup whole fennel seeds

1/4 cup black pepper

1/2 cup crushed red chile flakes

Toast the fennel seeds and peppercorns in a medium skillet over medium-high heat until the seeds begin to pop, roughly 1-2 minutes.  Let cool slightly.  Working in batches, transfer to a spice grinder and pulse until coarsely ground.  Mix with chile flakes in a bowl and then transfer to an airtight container.  Use within a week or two, otherwise store the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

That's it, that's all.

Notes:  

It should go without stating, but use high-quality fennel seeds, black pepper, and red chile flakes whenever possible.  We've been using Lucknow fennel seeds, Malabar black pepper, and Pepperoncini di Abruzzi, all from Montreal's Épices de Cru, our preferred spice merchants.

When it comes to actually making the chicken, once again, use a high-quality chicken, preferably organic and/or naturally raised.  We made this recipe with 3-4 pound chickens from Misty Knoll Farms, our favourite producer, and there's no question that this made a huge difference.

If you've never dry-brined a chicken before, all you need to do is generously rub it all over with kosher salt, and sprinkle a little extra in the cavity, as well.  Then all you have to do is give the chicken time to let the brine work its magic.  I recommend 18-24 hours.

You love grilled chicken, but you've never spatchcocked a chicken before?  Watch this helpful instructional video, courtesy of the good people at the BBC's GoodFood.  It contains all the advice you need, and once you get the hang of it, it's easy, and it will open up all kinds of possibilities for you.

You're worried about a rub that contains 1/2 cup of chile flakes and 1/4 cup of black pepper ?  Take a walk on the wild side.  You'll be happy you did, because although this grilled chicken has flavour to spare, remarkably, it's not particularly spicy.  There's a bit of heat, for sure, but it's mostly a mellow, unbelievably delicious heat.  You don't have to be a chilehead to savour this recipe.

Okay, I think that's everything you need.  There's still a week and a half left to Summer 2015, and at least two months of prime Grilling Season left after that.  Make the most of it!

aj