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

Not-quite-takeout-style Sesame Noodles

 
fig. a:  sesame noodles in the making

fig. a:  sesame noodles in the making

If you read the New York Times's food section, especially its Cooking blog, you're probably already familiar with this one.  Hell, if you pay attention to food tips and trends online with any degree of dedication, you're probably already familiar with this one.  There's a reason it's a New York Times designated Classic--it's been making the rounds for years now.  And that's a good thing, because it's a recipe that deserves to circulate widely.  It's a great recipe and it comes with a great story.

The recipe in question is Takeout-Style Sesame Noodles, of course, and it first appeared in 2007 as part of a story on the advent of Sesame Noodles in New York City titled "New York Noodletown."  The story came courtesy of Sam Sifton, it was populated by legendary figures like Shorty Tang, and it featured lovely passages like this one, on the post-revolutionary wave of Chinese immigration that brought an entirely new style of Chinese cuisine to New York:

Here’s the flickering-newsreel version: The Communists took over China in 1949. Tang and other great chefs began to slip and slide toward the United States soon after, riding to Taiwan with banquet crews loyal to Chiang Kai-shek — and from there to Hong Kong, India, Brazil, East Broadway and the Upper West Side.
They arrived in New York in the years following the 1965 changes in American immigration law and set up restaurants that over time began to offer a new kind of Chinese food, one remodeled first to fit and then to mold American tastes. “Szechuan food,” they called this new style of cooking, and it became as much a part of 1970s Manhattan as cocaine and disco. (The spelling would later shift to “Sichuan.”)
And as New York went, so went the nation: a cold and fiery dish meant to combat the lazy, brutal humidity of a Chinese summer became a staple of takeout menus across the United States.

Sifton's recipe, based on a historical reconstruction by Eddie Schoenfeld, "the affable yarn-spinner and restaurateur who opened Red Farm in the West Village and on the Upper West Side of Manhattan," is an attempt to rediscover the seductive origins of a now-ubiquitous recipe.  And it reappeared in the New York Times this summer, during the Dog Days, for a reason.  As Sifton put it in the quote above, this was "a cold and fiery dish meant to combat the lazy, brutal humidity of a Chinese summer."  Not only is it a tantalizing recipe, but it's an incredibly simple one, one that's conceivable to make even during a heatwave, one that's almost impossible to resist devouring upon completion of the preparation, regardless of the heat, and one that's positively soothing on a hot, steamy day if it's been allowed to chill sufficiently.

Now I didn't grow up in New York City, so I don't share Sifton's nostalgia, or that of "the jokers and memory thieves who while away their days eating and talking about Chinese food in New York City."  I didn't even grow up in a sesame noodle-eating family.  We were devotees of Chinese food, but, for some reason, sesame noodles didn't make it into our stock set of Chinese restaurant staples.  I'd had sesame noodles before, but never like this.  At the same time, god rest Shorty Tang's soul, I didn't have any real commitment to faithfully recreating the original, so I've take the license to improvise just a bit.  My version stays true to the fundamentals of Sifton's version--especially its unparalleled mouthfeel--but it takes a few liberties:  adding scallions and cilantro, bumping up the spice, and switching out cucumber matchsticks in favour of smashed cucumbers.

If you want to start with Sifton's original, by all means, go ahead.  You can find it here.

If, however, you'd like to try out my version, here it is, annotated to indicate the variations I've introduced:

Not-quite-takeout-style Sesame Noodles

1 pound fresh Chinese egg noodles*, 1/8-inch thick

2 tbsp Chinese sesame oil, plus a splash**

3 1/2 tbsp light soy sauce

2 tbsp Chinkiang vinegar***

2 tbsp Chinese sesame paste****

1 tbsp smooth peanut butter

1 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp finely grated ginger

1 tbsp finely minced garlic

2 scallions, white parts only, finely chopped

1-2 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped

3 tsp chili-garlic paste

1/4 cup roasted peanuts, chopped*****

1 recipe Chinese Smashed Cucumber Salad (see below)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add noodles and cook until barely tender.  (Sifton claims this will take about 5 minutes.  In my experience, using the noodles available in Montreal, it takes about 1 minute.)  Drain, rinse with cold water, drain again and toss with a splash of sesame oil.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons sesame oil, the soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame paste, peanut butter, sugar, ginger, garlic and chili-garlic paste.

Pour the sauce over the noodles and toss with the scallions and cilantro. Transfer to a serving bowl, and garnish with cucumber salad (see recipe below) and peanuts.

[If it's particularly hot where you are, you might want to try making this early in the day, when it's cool, then placing it in the refrigerator all day.  Personally, I think the recipe benefits from a couple of hours (or more) in the fridge.]

Other than the addition of scallions and cilantro, one of the major differences between my version and Sifton's version is that instead of adding cucumber matchsticks as a garnish, I've taken to adding a Chinese-style smashed cucumber salad--a recipe that I also found on the New York Times Cooking site, this time courtesy of Julia Moskin.  If you haven't jumped on the smashed cucumber craze, here's your chance.  The technique is brilliant.  The results can be exhilarating.  

Chinese Smashed Cucumber Salad

About 2 pounds thin-skinned cucumbers like English or Persian (8 to 10 mini cucumbers, 4 medium-size or 2 large greenhouse)

1 tsp kosher salt, plus more for cucumbers

2 tsp granulated sugar, plus more for cucumbers

1 ½ tbsp rice vinegar

2 tsp Chinese sesame oil

2 tsp light soy sauce

1 tbsp grapeseed or extra-virgin olive oil

2 large garlic cloves, minced or put through a press

Red pepper flakes, to taste

Small handful whole cilantro leaves, for garnish

2 tsp toasted white sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)

Rinse cucumbers and pat dry. Cut crosswise into pieces about 4 inches long. Cut each piece in half lengthwise.

On a work surface, place a piece of cucumber (or several) cut side down. Lay the blade of a large knife flat on top the cucumber and smash down lightly with your other hand. The skin will begin to crack, the flesh will break down and the seeds will separate. Repeat until the whole piece is smashed. Break or slice diagonally into bite-size pieces, leaving the seeds behind.

Place the cucumber pieces in a strainer and toss with a big pinch of salt and a big pinch of sugar. Place a plastic bag filled with ice on top of the cucumbers to serve as a weight and place the strainer over a bowl. Let drain 15 to 30 minutes on the counter, or in the refrigerator until ready to serve, up to 4 hours.

Make the dressing: In a small bowl, combine salt, sugar and rice vinegar. Stir until salt and sugar are dissolved. Stir in sesame oil and soy sauce.

When ready to serve, shake cucumbers well to drain off any remaining liquid and transfer to a serving bowl. Drizzle with grapeseed or olive oil and toss. Add half the dressing, half the garlic and the red pepper flakes to taste, and toss. Keep adding dressing until cucumbers are well coated but not drowned. Taste and add more pepper flakes and garlic if needed. Serve immediately, garnished with cilantro and sesame seeds.

Moskin's recipe is yet another keeper.  It, too, is great for hot summer days, and it pairs well with anyone of a number of Chinese dishes.  But it's also a great accompaniment for these Not-quite-takeout-style Sesame Noodles.  In fact, a drizzle of the dressing over the noodles adds yet another dimension.

The bottom line:  I literally can't get enough of these Takeout-style Sesame Noodles.  I've been making them repeatedly for weeks.  And everyone I've made them for has flipped out, too.  Picnics.  Potlucks.  Dinner parties.  They don't look like much, but as soon as people taste them, they get stopped in their tracks.  I made a double batch for a small dinner party (4 people) once, because Michelle was going to be showing up late, I knew she'd be wanting some, and I was positive that if I only made a normal-size batch there'd be none left.  I was right.  That first batch got destroyed in under 5 minutes.  The remaining part of the second batch got destroyed within minutes of Michelle's arrival.

All that, and it's totally vegan, too.

Eat well.  Stay cool.

aj

* Please insist on using fresh Chinese noodles.  You can find these in Asian supermarkets and specialty stores, as well as many non-Asian supermarkets [Montrealers:  the PA supermarché stocks them].

** Other sesame oils won't necessarily have the toasted depth of Chinese sesame oil.

*** I'm pretty sure Sifton is calling for clear rice vinegar in his recipe, but I've found I prefer the more complex qualities of Chinkiang vinegar.

**** Ask for this at your local Asian supermarket.  You could use tahini in a pinch (see Sifton's instructions), but it just wouldn't be the same because Chinese sesame paste is like the Lucky Strikes of sesame pastes:  "It's Toasted!"

***** Use the best roasted peanuts you can get your hands on and you'll be happy you did.

 

Top Ten #60

 

2.  Vermont living (summer edition)

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

4.  Fourth of July, Cabot-style

5. summer grilling

6.  Kurt Vile, "Pretty Pimpin" (Matador)

7.  Elena Ferrante, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (Europa Editions, 2014)

8.  Jamie XX, In Colour (Young Turks)

sample track:  "Girl"

9.  summer swimming

wonders of Bernie.jpg

10.  Feel the Bern, 2015

aj

Out of the Archives 3: Don't Let It Slip You By, pt. 2

Summer, that is.

Here's another classic from the archives--August 8, 2012, to be exact--which is perfect for August 2015, with its plentiful sweet corn and its great variety of hot & sweet peppers.  In this case, Padrón peppers were one of the stars.

Without any further ado...

fig. a:  lake girl 1

fig. a:  lake girl 1

If you have the means to get out of town:  get thee to a lake.  If you can spend a night or two there, all the better.  Just make sure to bring plenty of food and drink.  And lots of reading material.

fig. b:  lake girl 2

fig. b:  lake girl 2

fig. c:  lake girl 3

fig. c:  lake girl 3

Keep the wine flowing.

fig. d:  rosé 1

fig. d:  rosé 1

fig. e:  rosé 2

fig. e:  rosé 2

Eat with regularity. 

In both cases, focus on quality over quantity, although the idea is to celebrate summer, so there's no point in being stingy.

As much as possible, keep things simple.  You'll find that the dishes that are the most elemental will also often be the most memorable ones.

It doesn't get any more elemental than Padrón peppers, which have been a sensation from Spain to California for years, and which are finally making their presence known in Quebec, thanks in no small measure to the Birri Brothers at Jean-Talon market.

fig. f:  Padróns!

fig. f:  Padróns!

Pan-fried Padróns 

Padrón peppers
bacon fat or olive oil
kosher salt
limes


Heat the bacon fat or olive oil over medium to medium-high heat in a large pan or skillet.  When the fat begins to smoke, add as many peppers as will fit comfortably.  Sear them until they are just nicely charred.  Toss liberally with kosher salt.  Place on a serving platter and add a squeeze of lime juice.  Serve immediately.  Devour while hot.   

Padrón peppers generally aren't hot, they're pretty mild, but they do have some heat to them, and occasionally you might encounter one that might make your lips tingle.  Maybe even one that makes you sweat.   We call this game Spanish Roulette.  

Serve as a side or as a snack.

Bring a charcoal barbecue, too, if you can.  There's nothing more elemental than fuel (wood, all-natural charcoal, all-natural briquets) and fire.  And if you can find choice oysters in sufficient quantities before you head out to the country, you're really in luck.

fig. g:  grilled oysters + rosé

fig. g:  grilled oysters + rosé

Grilled Oysters 

fresh choice oysters
parsley
chives
garlic chives
scallions
hickory-smoked bacon
sharp cheddar cheese 

Shuck the oysters, severing the muscle and making sure to spill as little liquor as possible.   

Fry up the bacon until crisp.  Keep about one rounded tablespoon full of the bacon fat in your skillet, pouring the rest in a jar for a later use.  Mince the fried bacon into bits.  [3 strips of bacon made enough bits for 36 oysters.] 

Chop the scallions and the herbs and sauté them in the bacon fat until wilted.  Toss with the bacon bits. [4 scallions, 1/3 bunch of parsley, 1/2 bunch of chives and garlic chives made plenty enough for 36 oysters.] 

Spoon a little of the herb mixture into each oyster. 

Top with grated cheddar cheese. 

Grill over a hot charcoal fire until the cheese has melted. 

Serve immediately.  Savour.


I usually make my Mexican-style corn pretty tricked out:  lime mayonnaise with premium chili powder (freshly toasted and ground); fresh cheese; aged cheese; cilantro; and grated radishes.  But even this stripped-down version is sensational if you start with great corn and you grill your cobs just so.

fig. h:  grilled corn

fig. h:  grilled corn

Grilled Corn 

fresh sweet corn, preferably Grade A Quebec or Vermont
mayonnaise
limes
Tabasco sauce
salt 

Shuck the corn completely.   

Mix your lime mayonnaise.  Add enough lime juice to make it just a bit looser than a regular mayonnaise.  Add salt and Tabasco sauce to taste. 

Place the corn cobs directly over a medium-hot charcoal fire.  No need to keep the husk on.  No need to soak the corn in anything.  No need to brush it with any substances.  Being careful not to scorch your corn, roast the cobs over the fire.  Rotate them from time to time.  Don't worry about cooking them completely evenly.  It's okay if some portions are slightly more charred than others.  This will only add to the taste sensation. 

When the cobs have been cooked on all sides, remove from the grill and slather with the lime mayonnaise.   

Allow to cool for about a minute, then serve while still hot. 

Repeat as needed.

[If you don't believe this method works, check out this video.  I used to fuss around with my corn cobs before I grilled them, and they often turned out great, but Mark "The Minimalist" Bittman made a convert out of me.]

As Michelle put things recently, "18 wines, 4 people, 2 days, 1 lake = perfect weekend." 

80 Padrón peppers, 36 oysters, 20 eggs, 18 ears of corn, 2 briskets, 2 racks of ribs, and 1 pound of bacon didn't hurt either.

With this much fun built into your weekend, you won't even care if there's a little rain.

fig. i:  summer rain

fig. i:  summer rain

Go swimming anyway.*  You might stay in long enough to see a truly celestial display of light.

We did.

aj

* As long as there's no threat of a lightning strike, of course.

Out of the Archives 2: Eat Your Greens (July 2008)

 

Editor's note:  This is the latest post in a continuing series called Out of the Archives.  The idea is to regularly dig deep into our vaults, sift through over 10 years' worth of "...an endless banquet" posts (!), and dust off some old favourites.  

Without any further ado, here's a post that first appeared almost 7 years ago on Thursday, July 31, 2008, and is perfect for all those of you who have copious amounts of greens growing in your gardens (like we do!), or those who make a point of picking up copious amounts of summertime greens when you visit your local farmers' market (we do that, too).

fig. a:  AEB Portuguese kale

fig. a:  AEB Portuguese kale

It's never been all that difficult to get us to eat our greens, but ever since about March, we've been completely ga-ga for the green stuff. Part of it had to do with the long, snowy winter we had. Our poor bodies were crying out for additional nutrients and the Swiss chard and Belgian endives at our local supermarché started looking better and better (even if they were getting trucked in from California). But mostly it was because that's when we started making gombo zhèbes, that mysterious dish known in some circles as "the queen of gumbos."  

Why "mysterious"? Well, gombo zhèbes (a.k.a. gombo aux herbesgombo z'hairbes, and green gombo) may be "the queen of gumbos," but she's not your typical gumbo. In fact, she breaks with the two most hallowed tenets of gumbo- or gombo-making: she contains no okra and/or okra-like consistency (courtesy of gumbo filé) and she contains no roux.  

If you had to boil it down (and some recipes require you to), Gombo zhèbes is a Creole version of that Southern staple "greens and pot likker," the principal difference being the addition of significant amount of herbs to the already heaping quantities of fresh greens, and a degree of complexity. In the Creole kitchen, gombo zhèbes was a dish associated with early spring--it was essentially a restorative dish, one that took advantage of the arrival of the newest greens, and it also was easily adapted to the Lenten diet (although sometimes it sure was hard to tell, because many traditional recipes included such extravagances as veal brisket in addition to the traditional ham).

Anyway, from the time we tasted gombo zhèbes' combination of greens, herbs, ham, garlic, green onions, and hot red pepper we were hooked and we immediately started planning our garden with gombo zhèbes in mind. That was the only problem with our earliest versions--we were living in Quebec and not Louisiana, we were still under a blanket of snow. But we knew that would soon change, and when it did we wanted to be ready. So we made plans and mapped things out, and in early May we broke with tradition (mostly tomatoes and peppers) and planted mostly herbs and leafy greens--savory, basil, thyme, and parsley on the one hand, oak leaf lettuce, mustard greens, cavolo nero, and Portuguese kale on the other. And now, we're happy to report, we're swimming in greens, and though this isn't the only way we've been enjoying our bounty, we've been eating a lot (a lot) of gombo zhèbes and gombo zhèbes-like creations.

fig. b:  AEB cavolo nero

fig. b:  AEB cavolo nero

Gombo Zhèbes

Greens: choose a sizable bunch per person from the following list: mustard greens, cavolo nero, Portuguese kale, spinach, endives, watercress, arugula, chicory, kale, collard greens, rapini, etc. The more elaborate the mix, the better. Just remember to make (at least) the equivalent to one bunch per person.

Herbs: a bay leaf, a healthy handful of parsley, and then whatever you like from the following list: basil, savory, thyme, oregano, marjoram, sage, tarragon, etc. Again, the more the merrier.

Aromatics: 2-3 cloves garlic, 1 medium sweet bell pepper (preferably red, yellow, or orange), 4-6 green onions (and/or chives, shallots, onions), 1 small hot red pepper (fresh or dried), Tabasco sauce, etc.

fig. c:  "le vrai bacon"

fig. c:  "le vrai bacon"

Finishing touches: 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1-2 teaspoons wine vinegar, 1/4-lb smoked ham (or bacon), and 1 cup uncooked white rice.

Equipment: one large skillet, one large pot.

Method: Cook the rice. When it's done, keep it in a warm spot on the stove. Clean, stem, and mince the herbs, leaving the bay leaf whole. Mince the garlic. Dice the sweet pepper (having already seeded and cored it, of course). Trim and finely chop the scallions. If using ham, cut it into slivers. If using bacon, cook the bacon in a large skillet until it has rendered its fat and become crispy. Remove the bacon and set it aside, and proceed using the bacon fat instead of olive oil. If not using bacon, heat the olive oil in a large skillet. When hot, add the ham, scallions, and sweet pepper. Cook these for a few minutes and then add the minced herbs, the bay leaf, and the crumbled hot pepper. Stirring regularly, cook over medium-low heat for another few minutes, until the herbs have all wilted. Now mix in the garlic and remove from the heat.

Pick over the greens, discarding the stems and any damaged portions. Tear the larger leaves into pieces. Wash carefully, using several changes of water if necessary. Put a cup of unsaltedwater in a large pot and bring to a boil. Add the greens, cover, and, when the water begins to simmer again, lower the heat to low. Cook until wilted and tender, about six to ten minutes, forking them over from time to time. Do not let the pot boil dry, of course, but at low heat there should be no risk of that.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the greens into the skillet, spooning some of the pot likker overtop as desired. (The resultant mixture should be "wet" but not "swimming.") Cook everything together briefly until everything is hot and well blended. Taste for seasoning, adding the wine vinegar or lemon juice, along with salt and freshly ground pepper. Discard the bay leaf. Serve in bowls over the rice.

[recipe adapted from John Thorne and Matt Lewis Thorne's Serious Pig, with a little help from The Picayune's Creole Cook Book]

This makes a fine, healthy, and light meal on its own, but it's also a great accompaniment for a whole range of dishes, especially seafood (New Orleans "BBQ" Shrimp comes to mind). Obviously, this recipe can also be easily adapted into a 100% vegetarian version--the method is a keeper. We've found that as our greens have gotten better and fresher we've been adding fewer and fewer extras, so if you're making gombo zhèbes for the first time, and you're using top-notch greens straight from the farmers' market or, better yet, straight out of your garden, you might want to tone down the amount of vinegar/lemon juice and ham/bacon so that you can get the full greens experience. Then again, if you're making gombo zhèbes for the first time, you might very well want to stay close to the script--it's hard to argue with that combination of flavors.

aj

Ice Cream By & For Adults*

 

Why on earth would you ever make your own ice cream?

fig. a:  the wonderful world of ice cream

fig. a:  the wonderful world of ice cream

I mean, let’s face it, there’s absolutely no shortage of ice cream in this world.  Ice cream and all manner of other frozen desserts are available at every turn today, and if you’re not happy with the selection at your local grocery store or convenience store, ice cream shops and parlours abound.  In a city like Montreal, there are literally dozens and dozens of ice cream and gelato shops around town—many of them claiming to be “artisanal”—and they’re more than happy to serve you up a cone or a bowl of your preferred flavour/s.   There’s literally no reason that you have to make your own ice cream.

But there may very well be a few reasons why you should make your own ice cream.

Cost may be one of them.  It would be hard to make ice cream for cheaper than those tubs you get at the supermarket, but, as with most things in life, you get what you pay for.  If, on the other hand, you’re the kind of person who regularly pays $5 or more for a single-scoop cone at your local artisanal ice cream shop, well, not only can you make truly exquisite ice cream at home, but you can make about a litre of ice cream for less than what you’d pay for two of those cones.

Quality is another factor.  When you make your own ice cream, you know exactly what’s in the mix.  And that means two things:  1) ice cream that’s entirely free of weirdo industrial agents of all kinds; and 2) ice cream that’s as pure and natural as you want it to be.  Looking for organic ice cream?  Well, finding it can be difficult, no matter how many artisanal ice cream shops and natural foods stores you might be blessed with in your area.  However, making 100% organic ice cream at home is relatively easy these days.  And just how artisanal is your local artisanal ice cream shop anyway?

But the most important factor might be the last one:  variety.  Yes, the possibilities are endless when you make your own ice cream, and, yes, you could make all kinds of kooky flavours if you wanted to.  God knows, people do.  But what I’m talking about is making ice cream that you just can’t find at any of the purveyors of fine flavours that surround you, either because you’re making a version that’s better than what’s available, or you’re making a flavour that others shy away from for reasons that are hard to fathom (as opposed to all those other reasons that are not so difficult to fathom).

fig. b:  freshly toasted pecans

fig. b:  freshly toasted pecans

Personally, I favour ice cream made with bright, fresh flavours—like high-quality, freshly roasted nuts, or height-of-season fruit—and I’m particularly fond of what we might call Adult Flavours:  flavours that feature booze, flavours that are decidedly 18-and-over (or 19-and-over, or 21-and-over, or whatever, depending on your jurisdiction).  Strangely, North America has a pretty strong Puritan streak when it comes to ice cream.  Travel across Europe and you’ll find that boozy ice cream flavours and boozy ice cream-based desserts are commonplace.  In fact, in France, it’s not uncommon to find frozen desserts served arrosé, or generously sprinkled with one liqueur or another.  Actually, sometimes they even leave the bottle on the table next to you, in case you want to sprinkle your dessert with a good, old-fashioned free pour.  Here, by contrast, the only boozy flavour that you find with any frequency is rum-raisin, and 95% (99%?) of the time there’s no actual rum in that ice cream—just rum flavouring.

In many ways, the inspiration for my experiments with Adult Flavours had to do with some particularly adult batches of rum-raisin that I had the pleasure of experiencing when I was still just a kid.  We had a family friend named Ian who hailed from Jamaica.  I don’t remember Ian being much of a cook, but he had a tradition of making a big batch of hand-churned rum-raisin every year for Jamaican Independence Day and inviting people over to partake in the festivities.  Being a tried & true Jamaican, he took his rum seriously and his rum-raisin was quite literally soaked in Appleton Estate.  In fact, there was so much rum in Ian’s rum-raisin—so much anti-freeze, essentially—that it barely held together.  Ice cream cones weren’t an option.  It was bowls of rapidly melting rum-raisin or nothing.  Some of the other kids found Ian’s ice cream maybe a tad bit intense, but I was way into pirate lore back then and I found it very much to my liking.  

Ian’s Rum-Raisin remains my benchmark to this day.  In fact, it's pretty much my benchmark for ice cream of any kind.  And it brings up yet another good reason to be making your own ice cream:  good will. 

fig. c:  Kone-aanisqatsi

fig. c:  Kone-aanisqatsi

Invite some friends over for an ice cream party or bring a pint to a social gathering of some kind and see what kind of response you get.   We’re talking some serious Dale Carnegie action—you’ll be making friends and influencing people, and having a good time while you do it.

With all of this in mind, I’ve been testing ice cream recipes for a number of years now, trying to find the perfect one—or, at least, the one that’s perfect for me.  But it took me until last summer to find the ice cream recipe of my dreams.

It came courtesy of Melissa Clark of the New York Times.  I’d tested enough recipes to be a little skeptical when I read the title—“The Only Ice Cream Recipe You’ll Ever Need”—but I was also intrigued, and I knew enough about Clark and her taste to have faith.  So is it “The Only Ice Cream Recipe You’ll Ever Need”?  Well, that’s up to you to decide.  All I know is that it’s definitely The Only Ice Cream Recipe I’ll Ever Need.  It’s classic (built on the foundation of a silky crème anglaise), it’s relatively simple, and it’s got just the right balance for my tastes.  Plus, as Clark’s article and video emphasize, it’s unbelievably versatile.  Once you’ve got a base to work with, the possibilities are endless.  In Clark’s case, this versatility led to a flavour chart that includes a wide selection of aromatics (vanilla, mint, cinnamon, etc.), fruit (strawberry, peach, cherry, etc.), chocolates and caramels, and nuts (almonds, pistachios, peanut butter, etc.).  In my case, as you’ll see, it led to a whole bunch of Adult Flavour tests. 

But, first, without any further ado…

Ice Cream Base

Time: 20-30 minutes, plus several hours to allow for proper cooling, chilling, churning, and freezing

        2 cups/500 ml organic heavy cream (+/- $4.00)

        1 cup/250 ml organic whole milk (roughly 60¢)

        ⅔ cup sugar (pennies)

        ⅛ teaspoon fine sea salt (pennies)

        6 large free-range egg yolks (+/- $2.75)

        Your choice of flavouring (price varies)

additional equipment:

an ice cream maker--Ian hand-churned his ice cream, but these days it's actually pretty difficult to find a quality hand-cranked ice cream maker and it's very easy to find an inexpensive electric one--if you go electric, we recommend using a system that involves a removable core that you keep frozen in the freezer until it's time to churn

if you don't have one already, get yourself 1 high-heat scraper/spatula (like a Rubbermaid) that's dedicated to pastry/desserts only, because ice cream is a delicate matter--you don't want to be adding strong savoury flavours to your base unintentionally

1.  In a small pot, heat cream, milk, sugar and salt over medium-low heat and whisk until sugar completely dissolves, about 3-5 minutes. Remove pot from heat. In a separate bowl, whisk the yolks. Whisking constantly, slowly whisk about a third of the warm cream into the yolks, then whisk the yolk mixture back into the pot with the cream. Return pot to medium-low heat and gently cook, stirring carefully with a heat-resistant spatula all the while, until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (about 170 degrees on an instant-read thermometer) and it has achieved a rich, velvety texture.  Make sure to keep your heat low enough that the custard doesn’t cook too quickly, and to avoid curdling.  If you’re thorough with your heat and your spatula, you should be able to produce a luscious custard while totally avoiding any signs of scalding or curdling.  I tend to cook my crème anglaise over low to medium-low heat, and it generally takes me about 15 minutes to reach my desired texture.  [If you watch Clark's useful video, you'll notice that she claims that your crème anglaise should take about 5 minutes.  She calls this period of stirring and watching "meditative."  I guess I like to meditate longer than she does.  I've also become a proponent of cooking the crème anglaise as gently as possible to avoid any scalding and/or curdling at all.]

2. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl.  [If you do have any slight curdling, the sieve will catch those bits and keep them from tainting your ice cream.] Cool the mixture to room temperature. You may want to speed up the process somewhat by placing the bowl in an ice bath.  Once the crème anglaise has cooled, cover and chill at least 4 hours, or, preferably, overnight.

3. Churn in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions. Serve directly from the machine for soft serve, or place in freezer and freeze for a minimum of 4 to 6 hours to produce the proper texture for scooping.

Yield: About 2 pints [yield depends on the ingredients you add and the amount of churning you do, but I've been consistently producing 1 litre of ice cream, or just over 2 pints]

[based very, very closely on Melissa Clark's Master Ice Cream Recipe]

Again, if you need help visualizing this process, check out Melissa Clark's helpful, informative video.

 

That's it.  Sound simple?  It is.  The only real trick has to do with the combination of the heat management and the stirring.

If you want just a pure, unadulterated Ice Cream, you don’t need to go any further.  This Ice Cream Base is delicious on its own.  Just make sure to use top-notch ingredients when you do.  

fig. d:  fresh eggs

fig. d:  fresh eggs

My best batches have been made with milk, cream, and eggs from Vermont.  I know each and every farm they've come from, they're no more expensive than corporate organic and free-range brands, and, even more importantly, all three ingredients are of a superior quality.  

fig. e:  best eggs ever!

fig. e:  best eggs ever!

If you want a beautiful vanilla ice cream, just add a vanilla bean when you’re making your crème anglaise.  If you like vanilla flecks in your vanilla ice cream, just slice your vanilla bean open before you add it.

If you want to mess around with Melissa Clark's flavour chart, go ahead, be my guest.

And if you want to play around with Adult Flavours, this recipe is a perfect place to start.  Just go ahead and add some booze when you begin the churning process.  I’ve been adding a minimum of 1/2 cup of liquor for my tests, and I haven't been skimping on the liquor.  I've been using high-quality ingredients for every other part of this recipe, why would I cut corners when it comes to the alcohol?

Greatest hits so far have included:

fig. f:  Southern comfort:  Bourbon & pecan

fig. f:  Southern comfort:  Bourbon & pecan

Bourbon-Pecan (a.k.a. Yes, Pecan!):  1 cup of roasted pecans and 1/2 cup Maker’s Mark

Peanut, Chocolate, and Jack Daniel’s (a.k.a. Three Great Tastes That Taste Great Together):  1 cup salted & roasted Virginia peanuts, 100 grams of 70% chocolate shards, and—you guessed it!— 1/2 cup Jack Daniel’s

Jamaican Coffee (a.k.a. Jamaican Me Crazy):  strong coffee & 1/2 cup dark rum

and, of course,

fig. g:  it doesn't get any better than this:  rum-raisin

fig. g:  it doesn't get any better than this:  rum-raisin

Rum-Raisin (a.k.a. Rum Raisin):  1 cup high-quality raisins & roughly 1 cup (!) of good, dark rum

For my most recent batch of Rum-Raisin I began with plump, beautiful Iranian green raisins

fig. h:  Iranian green raisins

fig. h:  Iranian green raisins

and I soaked them in 1/2 cup of dark rum for about 2 days.  After I’d made my Ice Cream Base, I added another 1/2 cup of rum and the rum-soaked raisins.  The end result was like a femme fatale (crème fatale?):  gorgeous, potent, and delicious.

So, go ahead:  Make Your Own.  And don’t be afraid to Make It Adult when you do.

aj

* And those lucky enough to know them.

Top Ten #59

 
Ryley Walker.jpeg

1.  a)  Ryley Walker + Myriam Gendron, La Vitrola, Montreal, June 18, 2015

b)  Ryley Walker, Primrose Green (Dead Oceans)

sample tracks:  "Sweet Satisfaction"

"Hide in the Roses" (solo)

2.  Di Fara Pizza, Brooklyn, NY & Di Fara's Classic Pie

3.  Stephanie Labelle, Les Carnets de Rhubarbe (La Pastèque), with Cyril Doisneau, Marianne Ferrer, and Ohara Hale

4.  J. Mascis, La Sala Rossa, Montreal, June 5, 2015 + J. Mascis, Tied to a Star (Sub Pop)

sample track:  "Heal the Star"

5.  Güeros (2014), dir. Ruiz Palacios

Mike Hurley.jpeg

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

sample track:  "Werewolf"

7.  springtime colours & springtime flavours

8.  Deux jours, une nuit (2014), dir. Dardenne Bros.

9.  Pharoah Sanders + Endless Boogie + guests, Baby's All Right, New York, May 6, 2015

10.  summer in Vermont

aj

 

Hot off the Presses: Les Carnets de Rhubarbe

 
fig. a:  pâtisserie + pineapple + pastèque

fig. a:  pâtisserie + pineapple + pastèque

Our favourite Montreal pâtisserie has just come out with our favourite new food publication of 2015, and it's perfectly geared for the summer.  

The concept is brilliant.  Start with Stephanie Labelle and her exceptional Pâtisserie Rhubarbe.  Assemble some stories, some clever ideas, and a few dozen enticing recipes:  some of them sweet, some of them savoury; some of them simple, some of them more involved.  Pair this material with the work of three talented local artists to bring it all to life.  And, finally, get Montreal publishing & design phenoms La Pastèque to design, package, and, yes, publish the project.  The result is Les Carnets de Rhubarbe and it was launched yesterday evening.

If you're wondering what the launch looked like, well, it kind of looked like this,

fig. b:  the urban uncanny

fig. b:  the urban uncanny

if you added about 100 enthusiastic people, an alleyway cocktail bar, some snacks, and some beautiful decorations.  It's hard to tell from this image, but the books were being sold and signed inside the store.

The collection itself consists of 3 themed carnets--little notebooks--that are each 16 pages long, that fold up nicely accordion-like, and that fit perfectly into a stylish cardboard case.  

The first one tells the story of Pâtisserie Rhubarbe and features Stephanie's favourite rhubarb recipes, including everything from compote de rhubarbe to galette rhubarbe et framboises.

The second--Fête de Ruelle--provides instructions for how to throw a successful neighbourhood alley party--one that features homemade popsicles and ice cream sandwiches.  

And the last one, Fête de Jardin,

fig. c:  garden party 1

fig. c:  garden party 1

provides  helpful pointers and recipes to help you throw a great garden party:  cocktails, juices, sandwich bread, sandwiches, cake--it's all in there.  And it's really cute.  I mean, get a load of these illustrations by the multi-talented Ohara Hale.

fig. d:  garden party 2

fig. d:  garden party 2

I have to say, I love everything about this project:

the stories

the recipes

the style

the illustrations by Marianne Ferrer and Cyril Doisneau, in addition to Ohara Hale

the sense of whimsy

Les Carnets de Rhubarbe captures so many of the things "...an endless banquet" believes in:  food, drink, art, sociability.  In fact, in many ways it's a microcosm of all the best that Montreal has to offer, of Montreal at its spirited best.

You can find Les Carnets de Rhubarbe at Pâtisserie Rhubarbe (5091 de Lanaudière, Montreal, QC), and anywhere that's wise enough to stock La Pastèque's fine editions.  

OUT NOW.  In a French edition only.

aj

Out of the Archives 1: Keep It Simple (June 2008)

Editor's note:  Thus begins a new series called Out of the Archives.  The idea is to regularly dig deep into our vaults, sift through over 10 years' worth of "...an endless banquet" posts (!), and dust off some old favourites.  

Without any further ado, here's a post that first appeared on Sunday, June 15, 2008, and is perfect for the summertime grilling season.

'Cause I'm easy, yeah, I'm easy...--Keith Carradine, "I'm Easy," Nashville (1975), dir. Altman

I guess if you always have access to the best quality meat, well, then you can be as adventurous as you want with it. Kind of like cooking with wine--I'm sure everything tastes even better if you happen to be in a position to cook with high-quality wines, but most of us have had limited experience (if any) with doing so. As a result, when we, here at "...an endless banquet," get our hands on really good meat, our tendency is to, yes, keep it simple (just as when we get our hands on a really good bottle of wine our tendency is to, well, drink it--we're kind of old-fashioned like that). The point is, in both cases, we want to really taste the difference.

So when we were lucky enough to get a gorgeous pork rib roast that had been sourced, slaughtered, and dressed by a friend of ours (!),* we turned to our friends from London's River Café to give us a little guidance on pork and minimalism.

fig. a:  CA COOK BOO

fig. a:  CA COOK BOO

If you're not familiar with Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers' River Cafe Cook Book Easy and Italian Two Easy: Simple Recipes from the London River Cafe, you love Italian and Italian-inspired cuisine, and you're a believer in keeping it simple, well, you really ought to be. As the titles suggest, most of their recipes require a minimum of ingredients, a minimum of time, or a minimum of effort, and some fall under all three categories. Some of our favorites contain literally three ingredients and take just minutes to prepare. Seriously. And don't let the vaguely glam cover of River Cafe Cook Book Easy throw you: the minimalism of the content is mirrored by the minimalism of the books' design. Virtually every photograph is taken from directly overhead, and many feature a stark white background. Seriously, minimally perfect.

fig. b:  yellow on black

fig. b:  yellow on black

The one we chose on this particular occasion requires two ingredients, just a few more if you make a salsa verde to go along with it (and we highly recommend that you do).

Pork chops with lemon

4 pork chops
1 lemon

Preheat a large cast-iron pan over medium-high heat. Preheat the oven to 400º F (200º C/Gas 6).

Season each chop generously with salt and pepper (okay, you need two more ingredients), put the chops in the pan and sear them on each side quickly, no more than 30 seconds per side. Take the pan off the heat.

Cut the lemon in half. Squeeze the lemon juice over the chops, and place the squeezed lemon halves in the pan along with chops. Roast in the oven for 10 minutes. Press the lemon halves on to the chops and baste with the juice. Roast for another 10 minutes or until firm to the touch.

note: if you don't have a cast-iron pan that's large enough to fit four chops, sear them in batches in a cast-iron pan, and then transfer them to a preheated oven tray and continue with the recipe above.

[recipe from River Cafe Cook Book Easy]

Now, the oven recipe works like a charm, but it being BBQ season, a few weeks ago we decided to adapt the above recipe for the grill.

We rubbed a little bit of olive oil into the chops before generously seasoning them. We took a small cast-iron pan, added a tablespoon of olive oil to it, and brought it out to the barbecue with us, and we cooked the lemon halves in the pan on the grill while we grilled the meat over a hot flame. Before flipping the chops we used tongs to pick up a lemon half and rub it all over the chops. Total cooking time was almost the same as above and we tried to flip the chops as little as possible. The lemons got nice and caramelized and we served them alongside the chops and drizzled a little of the delicious sauce they'd created overtop.

When we started our chops looked like this:

fig. c:  the raw...

fig. c:  the raw...

When we finished cooking them they looked like this:

fig. d:  ...and the cooked

fig. d:  ...and the cooked

And minutes later they'd been picked clean.

This recipe really doesn't need anything additional--the flavors are honest and clean and pretty much perfect as is. All you really need to finish the ensemble is a vegetable side, a salad, and a glass of wine. But, if you wanted to dress them up just a little, you can't go wrong with this salsa verde:

Salsa Verde

2 tbsp parsley leaves
1 tbsp mint leaves
1 tbsp basil leaves
extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove
1 tbsp capers
3 anchovy filets (1 or 2 will do, if you're using salt-packed)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
black pepper to taste

Finely chop the herbs, put into a bowl and cover with olive oil. Chop the garlic with the capers and the anchovies. Add to the herbs and mix together. Stir in the mustard and vinegar, season with black pepper and add more olive oil to loosen the sauce.

Serve a spoonful over your chops. Also excellent with steaks--grilled or roasted.

[recipe from River Cafe Cook Book Easy]

aj

* Merci, Sam Pinard.

Springtime Companions

 
fig. a:  signs of spring

fig. a:  signs of spring

 

It went down like this:

“That’s the taste of spring.”

She took another bite and thought about it some more.

“Yeah, that’s the taste of spring.”

It was hard to argue with her.  I’d just served Michelle a new quesadilla recipe I was trying out for the first time, and that combination of young Quebec asparagus and freshly foraged Quebec morels tasted like the very essence of spring to me, too.  Which is exactly why I’d made them.

A couple of days earlier I’d had a conversation with my Mom about lobster and what pairs well with it.  Because we were having this conversation in May, the first things that came to were things like ramps, and asparagus, and fiddleheads, and new potatoes.  And that had me thinking about how things that emerge from the same geographic region at around the same time often taste pretty good together.  Obviously, there are limits to this strategy, and as the bounty of summer and fall arrives, the sheer abundance of possibilities complicates things to a certain extent—there are almost too many options—but we certainly don’t have that problem when it comes to springtime in Quebec.  There just aren’t that many things growing regionally yet, and the arrival of each new product can seem like a momentous occasion.

This was the frame of mind last week as I was leafing through a cookbook my sister had sent me a couple of years back from a nuevo Mexican restaurant in Oakland called Doña Tomas that's in her neck of the woods.  The book in question is  Doña Tomás:  Discovering Authentic Mexican Cooking, by Thomas Schnetz and Dona Savitsky (with Mike Wille), and when  I came across that recipe for the quesadillas with morels and asparagus, it suddenly all made sense. 

fig. b:  Doña Tomas's quesadillas con hongos y asparagos

fig. b:  Doña Tomas's quesadillas con hongos y asparagos

There were definitely elements to the recipe that seemed a little exotic from our perspective, here, north of the 45th parallel, but in other ways it seemed like a perfect match for the local terroir.  Morels and especially asparagus are both ingredients that signify spring in Quebec, and the queso in question was chèvre, another local specialty.  

As Mark Bittman points out in The New York Times this week, morels can seem like an exorbitantly priced luxury, but they don’t have to be.  If you know the right people, they can teach you to forage them locally, or hook you up with morels they themselves have foraged.  If you are the right people, you already know how to forage them, and you've already got your spots.  Hell, you might even have some freshly foraged morels on hand.  In other words, it's quite possible to access a nice supply for free.  If you don’t have these skills, or these connections, you can find freshly foraged local morels at farmers’ markets like Jean-Talon in Montreal* or the Capital City Farmers Market in Montpelier.  The ones you find at the market will be expensive, but morels are intensely flavourful and fragrant, so a little goes a long way.  In the case of this particular recipe, the original calls for half a pound of morels, but I made it with less than a quarter of a pound (100 grams), and the filling was still unbelievably rich and savoury. 

fig. c:  fresh Quebec morels

fig. c:  fresh Quebec morels

Bittman's recipe is for a classic pasta dish with morels and peas, a combination he refers to as "pasta's springtime companions."  Around here, though, we're a lot more famous for our asparagus, and asparagus arrives in quantities much earlier than "real peas" (i.e., freshly picked spring peas).  Locate a source for your morels, pick up some tender, young asparagus from your local farmers' market, find yourself a tangy chèvre--preferably locally produced--and you're just about ready to go.

The other key ingredient--the one that lends the recipe a touch of the exotic--is poblano chiles.  These days poblano peppers are readily available across much of North America--even Quebec--but our regional cuisine isn't exactly known for its use of chiles.  The rest of the preparation for this recipe is actually very French--there's lots of butter, some chèvre, some milk, and even some whipping cream--but the Poblano Cream that it calls for is a stroke of genius, one that creates a holy communion out of the various ingredients, and one whose smokiness, warmth, and lovely bitter-green flavour is the recipe's most Mexican (or perhaps Cal-Mex) element.

The one major adjustment I made to the recipe was to roast the asparagus in the oven (at 400º for about 15 minutes) before tossing it with the morel mixture (which I sautéed for a little bit more time--3 to 4 minutes--to ensure that they were tender, aromatic, and flavourful).  But here I'll offer the recipe almost exactly as it appears in Doña Tomas.

Without further ado...

Quesadillas with Morels & Asparagus

For the Poblano Cream:

1 large poblano chile (or two medium-small ones), toasted, peeled, stemmed, and seeded

1 cup milk

2 tbsp canola oil

1 1/2 tbsp flour

1/2 tbsp kosher salt

1/2 cup crema or sour cream

1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

For the filling:

1 tbsp canola oil

1 shallot, peeled and minced

2 to 3 tbsp unsalted butter (Note:  please adjust this amount if you use far fewer morels than the 1/2 pound called for, like I did)

1/2 lb morels*, coarsely chopped

kosher salt to taste

1/2 bunch asparagus, diagonally sliced 1/8" thick

For the final assembly:

12 fresh corn tortillas (5" in diameter, please)

5 oz chèvre**

1/4 bunch cilantro, stemmed and chopped, for garnish

To prepare the poblano cream, place the roasted and peeled chile and milk in a blender and purée until smooth.  

In a separate small skillet, combine the oil and flour over low heat to make a roux.  Stir constantly for about 10 minutes, until your roux is golden brown and has a pleasant nutty aroma.

Transfer the chile & milk mixture to a saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil.  Whisk the roux into the boiling milk mixture and decrease the heat to achieve a gentle simmer; the sauce should begin to thicken immediately.  Simmer for about 20 minutes to fully cook out the flour taste, seasoning with salt as necessary.  Remove from the heat and whisk in the crema or sour cream, as well as the whipping cream.  Adjust the seasoning with salt as necessary and keep warm, but be very careful not to scorch the poblano cream.

To prepare the filling, place a large sauté pan over medium to medium-high heat and add the oil.  Add the shallot and sauté until translucent, 3 to 4 minutes.  Add the butter and morels and cook over medium heat for 1-2 minutes, adding a bit of salt as you go, until the mushrooms are heated through.  Add the asparagus and a little more butter if necessary and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, until the asparagus is tender [using thin, young asparagus will make this goal more easily attainable, and the final product tastier].  Adjust the seasoning with salt as necessary.

Heat and lightly grease a griddle.  Working in batches as necessary, place the tortillas on the griddle to warm.  Place a scoop of the filling on one half of each tortilla, sprinkle with chèvre, and fold in half with a spatula.  Brown the quesadillas for about 3 minutes on each side, until the cheese is melted and the outside is crisp.  The quesadillas can be held warm in a 200ºF oven as you finish the cooking process, but don't leave them in the oven for too long, lest they become tough.  It's much better to serve them fresh, made to order.

To serve, arrange the quesadillas on plates or a platter, drizzle the centers with that wonderful poblano cream, and garnish with cilantro.  Serve warm and devour.

[recipe based almost exactly on one that appears in Doña Tomás:  Discovering Authentic Mexican Cooking, by Thomas Schnetz and Dona Savitsky, with Mike Wille]

These were definitely the most decadent quesadillas I've ever made or encountered.  They were also the very best quesadillas I've ever tasted, and a true taste of spring.  If you know where to find morels in the wild, the only question is:  What are you waiting for? If you don't, this recipe will definitely be a bit of a splurge, but it also makes for a wonderful celebration of springtime in Quebec.  By way of Mexico.  By way of Oakland, CA.

aj

* If you're in Montreal, and you don't know where to forage fresh morels, I highly recommend paying a visit to Les Jardins Sauvages at Jean-Talon Market.

** If you're going to Jean-Talon Market anyway to pick up your morels, I suggest picking up a fresh, young chèvre from Chèvrerie de Buckland.

 

Epiphany, pt. 2: the recipes

 
fig. a:  Anson Mills Sea Island Red Peas

fig. a:  Anson Mills Sea Island Red Peas

You've read some background on Hoppin' John, now here are the recipes:

1.  John Thorne's master recipe for Hoppin' John in Serious Pig reflects the passion and erudition that went into his chapter on Rice & Beans.

John Thorne's Hoppin' John

1 cup black-eyed peas or cowpeas, soaked and prepared for cooking

1 small chunk of lean slab bacon, sliced thick OR a cracked ham or beef bone OR a chunk of salt pork, sliced and simmered in enough water for 15 minutes to reduce its saltiness

1 onion, chopped

1 cup raw rice

1 hot red pepper, fresh or dried, seeded and diced OR Tabasco sauce to taste

and all, some, or one of the following, according to your taste

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 bay leaf

minced fresh parsley

a little thyme

salt and pepper

Bring 5 cups of water to a boil.  Add the beans, with the bay leaf (if using), and let them simmer for about 45 minutes.  (If you are using a cracked pork or beef bone, you should add it now, too, and ignore all the bacon/salt pork instructions, frying up the onion in a bit of melted fat or oil and adding it when you add the rice.)  While the beans are cooking, prepare the bacon/salt pork by frying it until the pieces are crisp.  Either reserve these until the end of cooking (to lend a touch of crispness) or put them into the beans when the rice is added.  Fry the onion in the fat once the pork has been removed until it is translucent but not brown.  Either way, reserve the fat.

At the end of 45 minutes, taste the beans for doneness; your tongue should be able to mash them against the roof of the mouth.  If they are soft, but not mushy, they are done just right.  Eyeball the remaining liquid in the pot--there should be at least 2 1/2 cups.  If not, add more water.  Pour in the rice and mix in all the other seasonings, the bacon/salt pork bits (unless you're holding them for the end), and all--or as much as you want of--the cooking fat.  Stir the mixture well and bring the liquid to a simmer.  Let cook for another 20 minutes.  Then turn off the heat and let the Hoppin' John rest for 10 minutes.  Taste.  The beans should be just a little more tender, the rice perfectly cooked.  Crumble over the reserved bacon or sprinkle over the crisp salt-pork bits, if any, and serve.  

Serves 4 "very well indeed."

2.  Matt and Ted Lee's The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook features another thoughtful and reliable take on Hoppin' John, which makes great use of their tasty Rich Pork Broth (see below).

Lee Bros. Hoppin' John

1 cup dried black-eyed peas or field peas

2 tbsp olive oil

1 smoked hog jowl (or 1/4 pound slab bacon or 4 slices thick-cut bacon)

1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped

6 cups Rich Pork Broth (see below)

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1 tsp salt

14-oz can crushed Italian tomatoes

1 1/2 cups long-grain rice

Wash the peas in a strainer, place them in a medium bowl, and soak for 4 hours in water to cover.

Heat the olive oil in a 4-quart pot over medium-high heat and brown the hog jowl on both sides, about 5 minutes.  (If using bacon, omit the olive oil and simply render the fat in the pot for 5 minutes.)  Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the broth, black pepper, red pepper, and salt and bring to a boil.

Let the broth boil vigorously for 10 minutes, then add the drained peas.  Boil gently over medium-high heat, uncovered, until the peas are tender but still have some bite, about 25 minutes for black-eyed peas, 30 minutes for field peas.  Add the tomatoes and rice to the pot, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer vigorously for 20 minutes, until most of the broth has been absorbed but the rice and peas are still very moist.

Remove the pot from the heat and allow the Hoppin' John to steam, covered, until all the liquid has been absorbed, about 5 minutes.  Remove the hog jowl and pull off any meat.

Fluff the Hoppin' John with a fork.  Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle the shredded hog jowl over top, and serve.

Serves 6 hungry people.

And here's that recipe for their pork broth:

Lee Bros. Rich Pork Broth

shoulder bones from a bone-in pork shoulder or 1 pound pork shank bones and trimmings

1 large onion, chopped

2 large celery stalks, chopped

4 bay leaves

6 cups cold water

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place the bones, onion, celery, and bay leaves in a medium stockpot and cover with cold water.  Bring to a vigorous simmer over medium-high heat, then turn the heat to low and simmer gently for 1 hour.

Strain the broth into a bowl through a fine-mesh strainer.  Discard the solids.  Measure the amount of broth that's left.  Taste the broth.  If you don't plan to reduce it further, season it gently with salt and pepper.  

Pour the broth into a container with a tight-fitting lid.  If you're going to use it within 48 hours, keep it in the refrigerator.  Otherwise, place it in the freezer, where it will keep for at least 1 month.

3.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the simplest Hoppin' John recipe can be found in Ernest Matthew Mickler's White Trash Cooking.  

Cook enough black-eyed peas with hog jowls until they are tender.  Cook a cup of rice for every 2 or 3 hungry people.  Stir the rice and peas together and serve.

However, Mickler correctly notes that black-eyed peas aren't the only option.  In the words of his friend Kaye Kay, "You can make it out of crowder, field or cow peas."  

4.  Also unsurprisingly, the most intricate Hoppin' John recipe can be found in Sean Brock's Heritage:  Recipes and Stories.  As prodigiously talented as Brock is, he's got a knack for taking Southern classics and busying them up and even getting finicky with them.  This recipe for Lowcountry Hoppin' John being a case in point:   it features three distinct stages (including an usual drying-of-the-rice step) and almost 20 ingredients (!).  A luscious Red Pea Gravy is an element that forms naturally when you cook up a good batch of Hoppin' John, but Brock insists that it stands out even further, and he uses a blender (!) to achieve this end.  In my mind, the genius of this recipe has to do with its attention to ingredients, especially its insistence that Anson Mills Sea Island Red Peas and Carolina Gold Rice--both of them heirloom varieties, both of them of an exceptional quality--be used.

Sean Brock's Hoppin' John (Hoppin' Sean?)

Peas

2 quarts Pork Stock or Chicken Stock

1 cup Anson Mills Sea Island Red Peas, soaked in a pot of water in the refrigerator overnight

1 1/2 cups medium dice onions

1 cup medium dice peeled carrots

1 1/2 cups medium dice celery

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced 

1 fresh bay leaf

10 thyme sprigs

1/2 jalapeño, chopped

Kosher salt

Rice

4 cups water

1 teaspoon kosher salt 

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper 

1 cup Anson Mills Carolina Gold Rice 

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed

Red Pea Gravy

Reserved 1 cup cooked red peas

Reserved 2 cups cooking liquid from the peas

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Cider vinegar 

Sliced chives or scallions for garnish 

For the peas:

Bring the stock to a simmer in a small pot. Drain the peas and add to the stock, along with all of the remaining ingredients except the salt. Cook the peas, partially covered, over low heat until they are soft, about 1 hour. Season to taste with salt. (The peas can be cooked ahead and refrigerated in their liquid for up to 3 days; reheat, covered, over low heat before proceeding.)

Drain the peas, reserving their cooking liquid, and measure out 1 cup peas and 2 cups liquid for the gravy; return the rest of the peas and liquid to the pot and keep warm.

Meanwhile, for the rice:

About 45 minutes before the peas are cooked, preheat the oven to 300°F.

Bring the water, salt, and cayenne pepper to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, add the rice, stir once, and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the rice is al dente, about 15 minutes.

Drain the rice in a sieve and rinse under cold water. Spread the rice out on a rimmed baking sheet. Dry the rice in the oven, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Scatter the butter evenly over the rice and continue to dry it, stirring every few minutes, for about 5 minutes longer. All excess moisture should have evaporated and the grains should be dry and separate.

For the gravy:

Put the 1 cup peas, 2 cups cooking liquid, and the butter in a blender and blend on high until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add cider vinegar to taste.

(The gravy can be made up to 3 days ahead and kept in a covered container in the refrigerator; reheat, covered, over the lowest possible heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.)

To complete:

Use a slotted spoon to transfer the peas to a large serving bowl. Add the rice and carefully toss the rice and peas together. Pour the gravy over them, sprinkle with chives or scallions, and serve.

Serves 6 to 8 hungry souls.

[excerpted from Sean Brock's Heritage:  Recipes and Stories]

Hoppin' John is a complete meal, so you don't really need to serve it with too much else if you're serving it as a main.  A brightly flavoured fresh salad makes a lot of sense.  So does a batch of skillet corn bread.

fig. b:  butter & corn bread

fig. b:  butter & corn bread

What will Benjamin "B.J." Dennis's recipe for Hoppin' John at tonight's Lowcountry/Gullah Nation feast entail?  There's only one way to find out.  I can tell you that he's enormously proud of his Hoppin' John and the traditions that it embodies, and that he'll be using Anson Mills Sea Island Red Peas and Carolina Gold Rice to create this definitive Lowcountry delicacy.

Lowcountry on the Lower Main

Montreal - Charleston Connection

B.J. Dennis + Foodlab

Saturday, May 16

5:00 pm - 10:00 pm

Société des arts technologiques

1201, blvd. St-Laurent

Montreal, QC

 

See you tonight!

aj

Epiphany, pt. 1: the story

 
fig. a:  the remains of the peas

fig. a:  the remains of the peas

Hoppin' John is not only the quintessential Southern New Year's dish, and a dish of huge symbolic value in the days leading up to Epiphany.  It's also a dish of mythic importance to Southern culture, and especially African-American culture.

The etymology of the name is uncertain.  Some claim that "hoppin' John" is a bastardized version of pois à pigeon, especially if one removes the à as one often would when speaking pidgin French (leaving one with "pwaah-peejon").  Pigeon peas were a type of legume brought from Africa to the Americas, and one that was widely used in the Caribbean, where the roots of "hoppin' John" can be traced.  Others have come up with all kinds of other dubious explanations, many of which are quite whimsical.*   What is certain is that the dish is part of a subset of rice & bean dishes that one finds all across the Caribbean, the American South, and those regions of Latin America that had a slave culture--hence, Brazil's renowned feijoada.  What's also certain is that Hoppin' John is quite specifically a product of the Lowcountry regions of North Carolina, Georgia, and especially South Carolina, as well as parts of Louisiana, places where the cultivation of rice was a crucial part of the antebellum economy.  You can find variations on Hoppin' John all across the South (and beyond) these days, and the dish has long been a staple of the poor Southern-white tradition Ernest Matthew Mickler called White Trash Cooking, but the dish is of absolutely central importance to the Lowcountry's proud Gullah culture.

John Thorne makes a crucial point about African-American foodways in his masterful chapter on Rice & Beans in Serious Pig.  In trying to come to terms with the spiritual significance of Hoppin' John, as well as the level of devotion to it, Thorne writes the following:

To understand the great and poignant imaginative power that has held this dish true to its origins through the centuries, we must first face the fact that when one talks of the foods that slaves "brought with them from Africa," we are allowing ourselves to elide a painful reality.  The only thing that Africans brought with them was their memories.  If they were fortunate enough to have been taken along with other members of their own community and to stay with them (which rarely happened)--there was also the possibility of reestablishing out of these memories some truncated resemblance of former rituals and customs.  But of physical possessions, they had none.  [Thorne's emphasis]

Thorne goes on to describe in harrowing detail the passage from Africa to the Americas and the slavers' eventual realization that serving meals that were at least tolerable was essential if they were to successfully deliver their human cargo alive.  Gradually, variations on native African dishes were introduced to the meals the slaves were served, including beans, rice, and yams.  These gestures were meant to ameliorate the conditions for the slaves just enough that they might make it across the Atlantic without being entirely physically and mentally broken, but they were just that-- gestures.  Thorne continues:

[The] hollowness of such self-serving "humanitarianism" can be seen in the slavers' obtuseness regarding the essential component of this diet:  the beans.  

Instead of the Africans' beloved cowpeas or black-eyed peas, both of which are small, delicate, and sweet, the slavers served them horse-beans, a large, coarsely textured type of fava bean that was used primarily as feed in England.  This substitution "exacerbated rather than alleviated the nightmare."  When the slaves were eventually reunited with their own peas--not because they were allowed to bring them along on the voyage, but because the slave traders finally started stocking them as provisions--the event was of monumental importance, and held "a sweetness that still reverberates down the centuries."

fig. b:  peas & "peacans"

fig. b:  peas & "peacans"

Those reverberation can be felt throughout the city of Charleston and the Lowcountry more generally.  You can find variations on Hoppin' John on menus all across the region, and it's a dish whose relative success can make or break a restaurant's reputation.  You can also find the dish's essential elements--either black-eyed peas, field peas, or red peas, and Carolina gold rice--everywhere.  In December 2013 we came back from the Carolinas with all kinds of mementos, but perhaps the best souvenirs we brought back from Charleston were the black-eyed peas and the field peas we got at Ruke's farm stand.  They were certainly the ones that held the most evocative potential--potential that was fully capitalized when we made Hoppin' John ourselves at home.

Because of its particular legacy, Hoppin' John is by definition a humble dish.  In its most elemental form, cowpeas or black-eyed peas are cooked with a  fatty cut of pork in a simple broth.  Raw rice is added at just the right time and allowed to cook fully.  Seasonings are minimal, usually consisting of salt and black pepper, salt and red pepper, or all three.  Sometimes herbs might be added.  Other recipes include an onion and/or some garlic.  The peas are not served on rice, the way red beans & rice is served in New Orleans--they're fully integrated.  And while it might sound simple, the secret to a truly transcendent Hoppin' John--one that does full justice to its history and traditions--has to do with technique, as well as with ingredients.

It's because of this combination of spirituality and elementalism that Charleston chef extraordinaire Sean Brock places Hoppin' John at the very center of his introduction to Heritage:  Recipes and Stories.  Hoppin' John is his foundational story.  It's his foundational recipe.  It's the dish that he claims formed him the most as a chef.  It's the dish that holds the key to understanding his Southern cuisine.

And it's because of this combination of spirituality and elementalism that rice & peas will be at the very center of Benjamin "B.J." Dennis' Gullah Nation Feast at the Foodlab this coming Saturday, May 16.  Dennis is another highly touted chef from Charleston, and he's been in Toronto this week for the Terroir Symposium.  Michelle was wise enough to get in contact with B.J. a few months ago when she heard he was going to be in Canada, and we're lucky that he'll be teaming up with the Foodlab to bring some authentic Lowcountry cuisine to the Lower Main.

Believe me, this guy is not messing around.  We picked up his shipment of rice & peas on the weekend and it looked something like this:

fig. c:  rice & peas

fig. c:  rice & peas

That's right:  25 pounds.  Each.

So, yeah, you can expect some serious Hoppin' John on the menu.  You can also expect such Lowcountry classics as oysters & grits, and shrimp with Gullah peanut sauce.  

Dennis has established his reputation on his deeply soulful Southern cuisine, and his savvy when it comes to tracing the roots of Gullah cuisine back to the West Indies and West Africa.  In fact, in 2014 he prepared a feast he called "From the Land to the Sea" that was designed as just such a culinary voyage.  Saturday, he'll be focusing on taking us from Montreal to Charleston.  But if you get in the groove, his cuisine might very well take you further.

aj

P.S.  Stay tuned for some tried & true Hoppin' John recipes...

*  These include:  

--an alleged Charleston ritual that involves hopping around a table before a big feast

--the nickname of a Charleston waiter who was famous for his hyperkinetic behaviour

--a guy named John who would get excited and come "a-hoppin'" whenever his wife served rice & peas

--an obscure South Carolina custom that involved the use of the phrase, "hop in, John," whenever a (presumably male) guest was invited over to eat

--Edna Lewis wasn't from the Rice Belt, she was from Virginia, so she didn't claim any special affinity for Hoppin' John.  She grew up with black-eyed peas, but only discovered a whole host of other beans and peas when she moved to Charleston for a spell.  It was then that she first encountered Hoppin' John, too.  She provides yet another version of how the dish received its name in her book In Pursuit of Flavor, one that's particularly blunt:  "There is a dish that originated in Charleston called Hoppin' John, which we had never heard of in Virginia.  Supposedly, Hoppin' John was a cripple who peddled beans in the streets of Charleston and so a local dish made from red beans and rice was named for him."

and so on...

Top Ten #58

1.  Aaron Franklin & Jordan Mackay, Franklin Barbecue:  A Meat-Smoking Manifesto (Ten Speed Press), 2015

2.  Fairport Convention, Full House (A & M), 1970

(sample track:  "Sloth")

3.  Waxahatchee, Ivy Tripp (Merge), 2015

(sample track:  "Air")

4.  Elena Ferrante, The Neapolitan Novels, including The Story of a New Name (Europa Editions), 2012/2013

5.  Castles of the North:  Canada's Grand Hotels (Lynx Images), 2001

6.  crêpes. both sweet & savoury

7.  CABAC:  New Moving Image From Scotland, Dazibao, Montreal, April 10, 2015, including Stina Wirfelt's Before Words (2013) [pictured]

8.  Sweetgrass (2009), dir. Castaing-Taylor

9.  late winter in Vermont

10.  Roxy Music, For Your Pleasure (Virgin), 1973

(sample track:  "In Every Dream Home a Heartache" [live on the The Old Grey Whistle Test, BBC, April 3, 1973])

aj

Southern Belles, Northern Climes

 
fig. a:  Nancy Hall & Co.

fig. a:  Nancy Hall & Co.

Of all the culinary finds that we’ve made over the last several months since we established a piedmont pied-à-terre in Northern Vermont—and they have been numerous—the one that’s had the most profound impact on me was the most unexpected one.  It also happened to be the humblest.  This fall, in Vermont, of all places, I rediscovered the sweet potato, and the circumstances were surprising to me.

First of all, after years of living in a relatively sweet potato-deprived area—namely, Quebec, just miles to the north, and just a border away—I found myself among people who were actually, genuinely passionate about sweet potatoes.  The kind of people who flock to the market stands that specialize in sweet potatoes and have strong opinions about how to select the right specimen.  The kind of people who trade sweet potato recipes with one another at the stand as they make their selections.*  

Secondly, I found myself confronted with the widest variety of sweet potatoes I’d ever encountered, which is somewhat remarkable given that I spent years and years south of the Mason-Dixon Line.  Sweet potatoes are appreciated all over North America, of course—especially around Thanksgiving—but New England isn’t exactly renown for its contributions to sweet potato culinaria.**  These Montpelier area farmers, however, were cultivating sweet potatoes in all different shapes and sizes, in colours ranging from bright yellow to dark purple to royal blue, and with varying flavour and textural qualities.  The varieties I encountered included everything from the Carolina Ruby, to the Japanese Yellow, the Japanese Purple, and the Hawaiian Blue, but the one that stole my heart was that seductress Nancy Hall, a comely tan-coloured sweet potato with lovely orange-yellow flesh--a true Southern belle.

fig. b:  Nancy Hall sweets

fig. b:  Nancy Hall sweets

In the end, I didn’t actually try that many types of sweet potatoes—once I found four or five that I loved (!), I stayed true to them (especially Nancy)—but Michelle can testify to the sheer number of sweet potatoes I consumed, as well as to the frequency with which I ate them.  She can also attest to the singularity of my sweet potato fever.  I like sweet potatoes in a number of soups and stews, but nine times out of ten I prepare them in the simplest manner possible:  baked.

fig. c:  baked garnet sweet potato 1:  before

fig. c:  baked garnet sweet potato 1:  before

Baked Sweet Potatoes

Preheat oven to 400º F.  Wash and dry your sweet potatoes.  Prick the sweet potatoes with a fork in a few places on one side, and one side only.  Place them on a heavy-duty sheet of aluminum foil (or a regular sheet of aluminum foil that’s been doubled).  Put the sweet potatoes (with the aluminum foil underneath) in the oven, and bake for 60-75 minutes.  The sweet potatoes should be emitting droplets of syrup from the perforations in their skin and they should be extremely tender.

Place on a plate, split with a knife, and slather with butter and a pinch of salt.  If you’re feeling lucky, add a dollop of sour cream, too.  Devour the sweet potato in two stages:  first, scrape out its flesh, savouring each and every bite; then, use your fork and knife to cut the skin into bite-sized pieces, and relish its deeply caramelized pleasures.

fig. d:  baked garnet sweet potato 2:  after

fig. d:  baked garnet sweet potato 2:  after

Of course, Vermont’s sweet potato season has been over for a while, but you can still find cellared organic sweet potatoes kicking and around from time to time, not to mention conventional garnet varieties imported from Down South, some of which are still quite excellent.

There’s truly nothing like the taste of a Grade A sweet potato—especially a locally grown,  organic one—when it’s been properly baked, bursting with syrup and luscious on the inside.  Every time I taste a really good one I’m reminded of a pivotal scene from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952), a passage that, in my opinion, stands as one of the single greatest treatments of food in the history of literature.  The Nancy Hall is a sweet potato famed for its Proustian powers of suggestion, for its ability to conjure memories of fabled meals from one’s Southern childhood.  You can feel those powers in Ellison’s vivid prose.  And part of what makes the experience so profound for the narrator—the titular “invisible man”—is that he encounters these “yams”*** in the winter cold, on the snowy streets of Harlem—a quintessential rural Southern flavour relocated to the urban Northern context courtesy of the Great Migration.  When he does, they function as a balm at a particularly low point in his life, but they’re also a poignant reminder of the “invisible man’s” status in New York, and in America more generally.  The novel’s stirring and evocative treatment of race and class is captured here in full effect.  And if there’s an account of the essence of true street food that’s more beautifully written than this one, I haven’t encountered it.

I… walked along, becoming aware that I was muttering to myself again.  Then far down at the corner I saw an old man warming his hands against the sides of an odd-looking wagon, from which a stovepipe reeled off a thin spiral of smoke that drifted the odor of baking yams slowly to me, bring a stab of swift nostalgia.  I stopped as thought struck by a shot, deeply inhaling, remembering, my mind surging back, back.  At home we’d bake them in the hot coals of the fireplace, had carried them cold to school for lunch, munched them secretly, squeezing the sweet pulp from the soft peel as we hid from the teacher behind the largest book, the World’s Geography.  Yes, and we’d loved them candied, or baked in a cobbler, deep-fat fried in a pocket of dough, or roasted with pork and glazed with well-browned fat; had chewed them raw—yams and years ago.  More yams than years ago though the time seemed endlessly expanded, stretched thin as the spiralling smoke beyond all recall.

I moved again.  “Get yo’ hot, baked Carolina yam,” he called.  At the corner the old man, wrapped in an army overcoat, his feet covered with gunny sacks, his head in a knitted cap, was puttering with a stack of paper bags.  I saw a crude sign on the side of the wagon proclaiming YAMS, as I walked flush into the warmth thrown by the coals that glowed in a grate underneath.

“How much are your yams?” I said, suddenly hungry.

“They ten cents and they sweet,” he said, his voice quivering with age.  “These ain’t none of them binding ones neither.  These here is real, sweet yaller yams.  How many?”

“One,” I said.  “If they’re that good, one should be enough."

He gave me a searching glance.  There was a tear in the corner of his eye.  He chuckled and opened the door of the improvised oven, reaching gingerly with his gloved hand.  The yams, some bubbling with syrup, lay on a wire rack above the glowing coals that leaped to low blue flame when struck by the draft of air.  The flash of warmth set my face aglow as he removed one of the yams and shut the door.

“Here you are, suh,” he said, starting to put the yam into a bag.

“Never mind the bag.  I’m going to eat it.  Here…”

“Thanks.”  He took the dime.  “If that ain’t a sweet one, I’ll give you another one free of charge.”

I knew it was sweet before I broke it; bubbles of brown syrup had burst the skin.

“Go ahead and break it,” the old man said.  “Break it and I’ll give you some butter since you gon’ eat it right here.  Lots of folks take ‘em home.  They got their own butter at home.”

I broke it, seeing the sugary pulp steaming in the cold.

“Hold it over here,” he said.  He took a crock from a rack on the side of the wagon.  “Right here.”

I held it, watching him pour a spoonful of melted butter over the yam and the butter seeping in.

“Thanks.”

“You welcome.  And I’ll tell you something.”

“What’s that?” I said.

“If that ain’t the best eating you had in a long time, I give you your money back.”

“You don’t need to convince me,” I said.  “I can look at it and see it’s good.”  

“You right, but everything that looks good ain’t necessarily good,” he said.  “But these is.”

I took a bite, finding it as sweet and hot as any I’d ever had, and was overcome with such a surge of homesickness that I turned away to keep my control.  I walked along, munching the yam, just as suddenly overcome by an intense feeling of freedom—simply because I was eating while walking along the street.  It was exhilarating.  I no long had to worry about who saw me or about what was proper.  To hell with all that, and as sweet as the yam actually was, it became like nectar with the thought[…]

[…To] hell with being ashamed of what you liked.  No more of that for me.  I am what I am!  I wolfed down the yam and ran back to the old man and handed him twenty cents.  “Give me two more,” I said.

“Sho, all you want, long as I got ‘em.  I can see you a serious yam eater, young fellow.  You eating them right away?”

“As soon as you give them to me,” I said.

“You want ‘em buttered?”

“Please.”

“Sho, that way you can get the most out of ‘em.  Yessuh,” he said, handing over the yams, “I can see you one of these old-fashioned yam eaters.”

“They’re my birthmark,” I said.  “I yam what I am!”

[Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952), Chapter 13]

The wagon, the smoke, the coals, the skin, the syrup, the pulp, the butter, the steam, the street, the expertise, and the homesickness--it's all there.

Now, I’m positive I couldn’t make the same claim with any sense of validity--they're not my birthmark; neither of my grandmothers prepared them; my earliest recollections of sweet potatoes were part of the fairly typical Thanksgiving meals I experienced in childhood--but few foods provide me with as elemental a sense of pleasure as a baked sweet potato.  It’s like the old man said:  “If that ain’t the best eating you had in a long time, I give you your money back.”  I'm fortunate enough that I’ve been able to do quite a bit of good eating recently, but no dish was as simple, and none better.

aj

 

* This is not to disparage Montreal's vibrant food market culture.  There's no shortage of variety and no shortage of accompanying aficionados, it's just that sweet potatoes and sweet potato-philia are in short supply.

** For instance, they don’t appear a single time in Jonathan Norton Leonard’s American Cooking:  New England (1970), and they’re only featured in a few recipes in Evan and Judith Jones’s The L.L. Bean Book of New New England Cookery (1988) and are never given the spotlight the way other typical New England ingredients like apple cider (in all its forms), maple syrup, and corn are.  

*** Though sweet potatoes are often referred to as “yams” in North America, this is a case of mistaken identity.  As Alan Davidson explains, the terms are used to distinguish lighter-coloured, “firm” varieties of sweet potatoes from darker, “soft” ones:  “The flesh of the soft ones is apt to be orange, and that of the firm ones white or yellow.  In the USA the soft kind is sometimes called “yam;” a misnomer, as the true YAM is a different plant.”

Top Ten #57

1.  Michael Pollan, "The Trip Treatment," The New Yorker, February 9, 2015 + "Magic Mushrooms and the Healing Trip" (video)

Cabot kids.jpeg

2.  Jonathan Norton Leonard and the Editors of Time-Life Books, American Cooking:  New England (Time-Life Books)

s-k nctl.jpeg

3.  Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love (Sub Pop)

(sample track:  "Fade")

4.  Beverley Nichols, Green Grows the City (Timber Press)

5.  Citizenfour (2014), dir. Poitras

(watch the trailer here)

6.  Jøtul stoves

7.  Paul Wetzel (Gramercy Tavern, NYC) + Natasha Pickowicz (Foragers City Table, NYC) + Foodlab, MTL, January 26, 2015

8.  W.G. Sebald, The Emigrants (New Directions)--once again

9.  Hoppin' John (with Sea Island red peas from Anson Mills

10.  Glerups felt slippers

R.I.P.  David Carr

aj

The Country and the City

 
fig. a:  sunlight on Vermont 1

fig. a:  sunlight on Vermont 1

To celebrate AEB's 10th anniversary, we acquired and began to renovate a small homestead in Vermont.  

Actually, this acquisition had little to do with the blog, and we're not quite sure how any of this happened.  We didn't even know we were looking for a property.  

We definitely knew we loved Vermont, however--the sheer number of posts about the Green Mountain State here in the pages of "...an endless banquet" certainly attest to this, as have our occasional Vermont themed parties.

And when we took our first walk-through, we had the sense that we'd found something special--and lasting.

The next thing we knew, we were deep into a series of demolitions, installations, and improvements, and we were frantically trying to score a cord of seasoned wood in the middle of autumn to help us get through the winter.

fig. b:  mission accomplished

fig. b:  mission accomplished

But we were also getting to know our local flock of wild turkeys, going for hikes and late-summer swims, and harvesting crabapples from our very own crabapple tree.

Our lives have changed entirely (which is one of the reasons the output here at AEB has slowed to a trickle), but they've also improved enormously.  

fig. c:  sunlight on Vermont 2

fig. c:  sunlight on Vermont 2

The benefits have included space, light, air, forest, mountains, lakes, wildlife, water, stars, fields, and peace, as well as an enlarged sense of community.  With closer access to Vermont's local farmers' markets and co-ops, and direct access to farm-fresh eggs, dairy, produce, and meat, we actually feel as though we've been eating better than ever.

fig. d:  AEB raisin rye

fig. d:  AEB raisin rye

Eventually, when we get "...an endless banquet" back on track, you'll probably notice a very different sensibility at work--one that's still got a foot firmly planted in the City, but one which is increasingly oriented toward the Country.

fig. e:  snow birds

fig. e:  snow birds

Stay tuned...

aj

Fare Thee Well, 2014

 

song

George Harrison, All Things Must Pass (Apple)

The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream (Secretly Canadian)

Wye Oak, Shriek (Merge)

John Fahey, Your Past Comes Back to Haunt You:  The Fonotone Years, 1958-1965 (Dust-to-Digital / Revenant)

Sensations' Fix, Music is Painting in the Air (1974-1977) (RVNG Intl’)

Fugazi, First Demo (Dischord)

David Crosby, If I Could Only Remember My Name… (Atlantic)

Myriam Gendron, Not so Deep as a Well (Feeding Tube)

Sharon Van Etten, Are We There (Jagjaguwar)

Kurt Vile, So Outta Reach EP (Matador)

Steve Gunn, Way Out Weather (Paradise of Bachelors)

Kurt Vile + Steve Gunn, Higher Ground, Burlington, VT, June 3, 2014

Sleater-Kinney, "Bury Our Friends"  (Sub Pop)

Thee Silver Mt. Zion + Big Brave, The Rialto, Montreal, February 6, 2014

Lightning DustFantasy (JagJaguwar)

Iggy Pop, Lust for Life (Virgin/4 Men With Beards)

V/A, Country Funk 1969-1975 (Light in the Attic)

Country, Failure (Bandcamp)

Operators + Country, Il Motore, Montreal, May 11, 2014

Destroyer, Il Motore, Montreal, February 7, 2014

Tim Hecker, Virgins (Kranky)

V/A, Native North America:  Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country, 1966-1985 (Light in the Attic)

V/A, …i listen to the wind that obliterates my traces:  music in vernacular photographs, 1880-1955 [accompanying 2-disc CD set] (Dust-to-Digital)

Gene Clark, With the Gosdin Brothers (Sundazed)


moving images

Polar Life (1967), dir. Ferguson—full digital restoration, Cinémathèque québécoise, October 10 - November 2, 2014

Jodorowsky's Dune (2013), dir. Pavich

20,000 Days on Earth (2014), dir. Forsyth & Pollard

Boyhood (2014), dir. Linklater

Cutie and the Boxer (2013), dir. Heinzerling

Le Semeur (2013), dir. Perron

Finding Vivian Maier (2013), dir. Maloof

The Unknown Known (2013), dir. Morris

The Great Ecstasy of the Woodcarver Steiner (1974), La Soufrière (1977), and The Dark Glow of the Mountains (1984), all directed by Werner Herzog

The Clock (2010), dir. Marclay, Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal

Enemy (2013), dir. Villeneuve

Stories We Tell (2012), dir. Polley

“Beyond Ruttmann & Vertov” Symposium, Ghent, BE, December 5-6, 2014—featuring Visions de Lourdes (1932), dir. Dekeukeleire; Rotterdam:  de stad die nooit rust (1928), dir. von Barsy and von Maydell; Moscow (1926), dir. Kaufman and Kopalin; Stramilano (1929), dir. d’Errico; Skyscraper Symphony (1929), dir. Florey; A Bronx Morning (1931), dir. Leyda; Rhapsody in Two Languages (1934), dir. Sparling; Weltstadt in Flegeljahren:  ein Bericht über Chicago (1931), dir. Hauser; and others

 

food & drink

M. Wells Steakhouse, Long Island City, NY

Al’s Breakfast, Minneapolis, MN

Matt’s Bar, Minneapolis, MN—Home of the Original “Jucy Lucy”

poulet grillé au gingembre

grilled cabbage (inspired by McCrady’s)

Ma Poule Mouillée, Montreal, QC—Home of <<Bon, les Portuguais font de la Poutine!>> (a.k.a., the Original Portuguese Poutine)

Café Den, Montreal, QC (WINNER!  AEB Montreal Restaurant of the Year)

Motorino, New York NY

Eataly, New York, NY

Roberta’s pizza dough & the homemade pizza revolution

Hatch’s Fish Market, Wellfleet, MA

Sundae School, Harwich Port, MA—Home of "Bass River Mud"

Sanagan’s Meat Locker, Toronto, ON

Seven Lives, Toronto, ON—Home of the “Gobernador

Montpelier Farmers’ Market, Montpelier, VT

Bohemian Bakery, East Calais, VT

Hunger Mountain Co-op, Montpelier, VT 

Scott Farm (apples, heirloom & otherwise), Dummerston, VT

Buffalo Mountain Co-op, Hardwick, VT

 

print

The Editors of Storey Books, Country Wisdom & Know-How:  Everything You Need to Know to Live Off the Land (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers)

Rowan Jacobsen, Apples of Uncommon Character:  123 Heirlooms, Modern Classics, and Little-Known Wonders (Bloomsbury)

Lauren Collins, "The Spy Who Loved Me," The New Yorker, August 25, 2014

Lawrence Wright, Going Clear:  Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (Vintage)

John Jeremiah Sullivan, "The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie," The New York Times, April 13, 2014

Herzog on Herzog, ed. Paul Cronin (Faber)

Gabrielle Hamilton, Prune (Random House)

Brooks Headley with Chris Cechin-de la Rosa, Brooks Headley’s Fancy Desserts (W.W. Norton)

Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby:  A Field Guide to Getting Lost (Viking)

Steve Roden, …i listen to the wind that obliterates my traces:  music in vernacular photographs, 1880-1955  (Dust-to-Digital)

W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz (Modern Library)—yet again!

Joseph Mitchell, “Days in the Branch,” The New Yorker

Sir Chris Bonington, Annapurna South Face (Da Capo)

Thor Heyerdahl, Kon-Tiki (Rand McNally & Co.)

Jack Kerouac, On The Road (Penguin)

Monika Kin Gagnon and Janine Marchessault, eds., Reimagining Cinema:  Film at Expo 67 (McGill-Queen’s University Press)

Snapshots From An Album, episode 1:  "My Pet" (Huis van Alijn)

Snapshots From An Album, episode 2:  "Tomorrow We're Expecting the School Photographer" (Huis van Alijn)

Snapshots From An Album, episode 3:  "Hurray for the Holidays!" (Huis van Alijn)

Snapshots From An Album, episode 4:  "Proud of My Car" (Huis van Alijn)

 

miscellaneous

Serial, Season One

This American Life #534, "A Not So Simple Majority"

vintage Griswold cast iron ware

Cape Cod

Minneapolis, MN

Ashby, MN & Battle Lake, MN

Washington County, VT

 

in memoriam

Ange-Aimée Woods

 

Welcome, 2015!

aj

Holiday hosting made easy

Planning on hosting over the holidays?  Still searching for tantalizing holiday menus?  Look no further.

fig. a:  Team Foodlab

fig. a:  Team Foodlab

As you can see, Seth and Michelle are featured in the December 2014 holiday edition of Châtelaine, and they've put together a wonderful (and wonderfully simple), sure-fire holiday menu featuring AEB's off-oven roast beef (pictured below); creamed horseradish; a purée of potatoes, celeriac, parsnips, and white turnips; braised endives with mornay sauce; radishes & crème fraîche; a green salad with apples, pecans, and cranberries; Foodlab's elegant variation on cheese & crackers (homemade oat crackers, fresh fromage blanc, honey, herbs, and flowers); and, last but not least, Bourbon-soaked pear crêpes.

fig. b:  rosy roast beef

fig. b:  rosy roast beef

Frankly, the most involved recipe is probably the cheese course (pictured below), because it calls for you to gather a bunch of herbs and flowers and make your own oat crackers, but you could easily find a store-bought alternative, like Walkers Highland Oatcakes, if baking your own crackers seems like too much trouble (trust me:  it isn't).

fig. c:  Foodlab's crackers & cheese

fig. c:  Foodlab's crackers & cheese

None of the other recipes require any specialized techniques, many of them could be prepared well in advance, and all of them are guaranteed crowd-pleasers.  As the accompanying article puts it, these dishes are beautiful, delicious, creative, and perfectly designed for a holiday dinner party that's full of good cheer.

fig. d:  bourbon-soaked pear crêpes

fig. d:  bourbon-soaked pear crêpes

You can find the entire menu HERE.  The recipes are in French only, but you'll be able to figure them out easily enough with just a basic grasp of French, and the entire spread comes with both metric and imperial measurements.

But if you'd like Seth & Michelle to prepare this menu for you themselves, all you have to do is visit them at the Foodlab sometime between now and December 19--they've got this exact menu on tap until then, and they'd be happy to host you.

And, yes, Michelle's authentic Bohus sweater did take two years for her to knit, and she does wear it proudly at every occasion she can, including holiday parties.

Tout le monde à table!  BYOB!*

aj

* Bring your own Bohus!

Top Ten #56

 

1.  Fall harvest, 2014

The Capital City Farmers Market, Montpelier, VT (featuring Pete's Greens, Lepage Farm, Lazy Lady Farm, Woodbelly Pizza, Hooker Mountain Farm, Moonlight Llamas, Gaylord Farm, etc.)

2.  Jodorowsky's Dune (2013), dir. Pavich

3.  Serial, Season One

4.  Bohemian Bakery, East Calais, VT

5.  Sleater-Kinney, "Bury Our Friends"

6.  Lightning DustFantasy (JagJaguwar)

sample track:  "Loaded Gun"

8.  Country Wisdom & Know-How

+

woodland wreaths by Michelle

9.  Country, Failure

sample track:  "Life-Like"

10.  Monika Kin Gagnon and Janine Marchessault, eds., Reimagining Cinema:  Film at Expo 67  (featuring essays by Seth Feldman, Monika Gagnon, Anthony Kinik, Janine Marchessault, Aimee Mitchell, Johanne Sloan, and others)

+

Polar Life (1967), dir. Graeme Ferguson (pictured above), full digital restoration, Cinémathèque québécoise, October 10 - November 2, 2014

aj

Oysters & Gumbo? Ya! Ya! (rev. ed.)

 
fig. a:  the oyster-stand

fig. a:  the oyster-stand

You heard right:  Oysters & gumbo.  

At the Foodlab.  This Friday, October 3rd, from 7:00 p.m. on.

And it's all for a great cause.

fig. b:  smoked cajun sausage

fig. b:  smoked cajun sausage

You see, Michelle & Seth will be shucking $2 oysters (12 for $20!) all night and I'll be serving smoked turkey & sausage gumbo (while quantities last!), and all the proceeds will go towards the Ange-Aimée Woods Memorial Bursary at Concordia University.  

We've said it before, but we'll say it again:  Ange-Aimée was a fantastic journalist and a devoted friend.  She loved great food and good parties.  She was also a big fan of the Foodlab.  We can't think of a better way to honour Ange-Aimée's memory and to benefit a bursary that will continue to share her incredible warmth & generosity with others for years to come.

Eat, drink, & be merry!  Give Generously!  And laissez bon temps rouler!

Oh, yeah.  One last thing:  There's going to be a raffle, too!

Among the many prizes:

--dinner for two + wine at Foodlab

--a Prospector Films Prize Pack (featuring DVDs of Rhymes for Young Ghouls and Last Woman Standing and posters for Last Woman Standing and Sorry, Rabbi)

--a haircut at Salon Sweet William

--a signed copy of Sean Michaels' Us, Conductors

&

--a Beaver Shepherd Prize Pack (featuring two limited-edition and out-of-print Beaver Shepherd LPs, 1 limited-edition Beaver Shepherd t-shirt, 1 limited-edition Beaver Shepherd print, AND 1 $40 gift certificate for dinner and drinks at Bethlehem XXX!)

Feelin' lucky?


Oyster & Gumbo Feast

Friday, October 3, 2014

7:00 - 9:00 p.m.

Foodlab

1201 St-Laurent Blvd.


aj