Apple Sauce

Yes, I know I’ve been woefully absent. But my friends went apple picking, possibly my favorite thing about the North East,  and now I have heaps of apples. HEAPS. Which clearly means that I must make apple sauce (and apple butter, and apple pie and oh dear god so much apple).

Mom’s Apple Sauce

  • 3 lbs apples (want an assortment of crisp, flavorful ones, mushier ones (like red delicious) and a few tart ones)
  • 1/2-3/4 C cider (amount depends on how much juice is in the apples)
  • 1-1-1/2 T lemon juice (depending on tartness of apples)
  • 1 large cinnamon stick (or a few small ones)
  • Scant 1/2 C sugar
  • 1/2 t nutmeg

Peel and core apples. Cut into 1/2″ thick slices. Combine apples, cider, lemon juice and cinnamon stick(s) in a large pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cover. Simmer 20 minutes, or until the are almost mushy. Add the sugar and nutmeg, fully incorporate.  Mash with a potato masher until the consistency you want. Freeze, can, or eat all of it in one sitting and REGRET NOTHING.

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Really, this entry is something you already know. We are on hiatus for an undetermined about of time. There’s a lot on my plate on the moment and it’s not that I’m not cooking (ok, so not enough these days) or that I love food any less (hah.), it’s just that there are many things conspiring to take up my time and I’m trying to Take Care of Business. Hopefully, with the onset of spring and more sun during the day, I’ll get back on track, but for right now, I must ask you to wish me luck in my current endeavors and I hope to see you back here soon.

À bientôt, my friends.

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A New Year!

Thank you for tuning in this year for the madness that has been my kitchen.

My resolutions for next year? To update this in a regular-type fashion. This means guest sous-chef appearances and an increased number of posts once the sun is out longer. Also, to learn how to take photos of food.

Here’s to a New Year full of food, love and adventure!

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Charcutepalooza: The Meat Party and Roundup

I can’t believe it’s been an entire year.

Many thanks to Mrs. Wheelbarrow  and Kim Foster, The Yummy Mummy, for organizing this whole beautiful madness and Food 52 for hosting it. And to Jason over at The Messy Epicure for dragging me into this. I’ve made some great new friends: Dave over at Dave Being Dave and Mardi at Eat Live Travel Write along with a number of the other crazies who did this challenge with us.

I don’t want to get into a long philosophical essay about what this year of charcuterie has taught me, but I will say this has been a life changer. As in, I’ve sent out feelers for opportunities to be an apprentice butcher  at a few places in New York. This might become my life. Not charcuterie alone per se, but the food industry. Specifically, local, sustainable food and finding a way to make it accessible for lower income families. I’d love to lead workshops to help low income families learn how to cook healthfully on a tight budget. Or teach at a place like The Ballymaloe School (after studying there of course…) What started off as a hobby and a love of feeding others has kind of grown into an opportunity for a different future than I’d envisioned for myself. Potentially abandoning my Master’s degree is scary, especially since I’ve spent 10 years working to be an Archaeologist, but there’s something about what I’ve discovered about my life and what I love to do this year that can’t be ignored.

I knew I’d talk too much if I got started. Anyhow, our final challenge was to prepare at least 3 or 4 items from the list and share them with friends at our own personal Meat Party.

I was so excited to pull out a few favorites to show off. Clearly this would require bacon.  Clearly. But the trick was feeding lots of people with what would likely not be tons of food considering budget restraints. I decided to do an afternoon snack deal and some of my lovely friends contributed wine, conversation and epic tunes.

Yes, that is the Spiderman Rockomic you see.

For the comestibles:

  • Saucsisson Sec with assorted cheese
  • Lardo
  • Chicken Liver and Shallot Terrine
  • Duck Liver and Bourbon Terrine
  • Bacon Wrapped, Blue Cheese Stuffed Dates
  • Duck Confit on Petit Pain Grille with Stone Ground Dijon

We ate well. Dinner almost didn’t happen that evening and we still have pate left! It’s been fun feeding my friends this past year. My roommates have reaped the bulk of the benefits, but I’ve fed others as well. My cats are miffed (I’m sure) that they didn’t get to eat any of what I made (except for the piece of smoked salmon they managed to snag). While I’m not eligible for the grand prize of this whole thing as I didn’t find out about this process until February, I’m proud of what I’ve done.

In order they were:

January:  Duck Proscuitto (posted in February)

February: Salt Cure Bacon (Done in April)

March: Brining Corned Beef and Bread and Butter Pickles

April: Smoking Bacon, Canadian Bacon, Hot Smoked Salmon

May: Grinding Breakfast Sausage and Chorizo

June: Stuffing Italian Sausage- never posted for unknown reason

July: Blending Hot Dogs- never posted due to epic failure of project. The blend broke halfway through the stuffing. The ones that turned out were delicious, however!

August: Binding Chicken Liver and Shallot Terrine

September: Packing English Pork Pie

October: Stretching Duck Confit

November: Dry Curing Saucisson Sec and Lardo

December: This mad party

My favorites being the way the Duck Confit, Corned Beef and Terrine challenges turned out.

This isn’t the end of the road for this project or this blog. There is just too much good food to make and eat. Feeding people and making them feel at home is kind of what I do- it’s an important aspect to who I am and how my family and friends interact. We’re just as likely to all be packed into the kitchen, up to our elbows in the meal, cooking together as we are to be outside by the fire pit with beer. My family (blood and chosen) is loud, passionate, nosy, opinionated and humorous- everything I could ever want. We eat, we drink, we fight, we love. Yep.

And my roommates and I are picking up a quarter of a pig this weekend from a Meat Share. So very, very excited.

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Charcutepalooza: Dry Curing

To say this challenge made me anxious would be an understatement. I almost didn’t do this one due to finances and the lack of a controlled environment. While other Charcutepaloozers detailed the old refrigerators and wine coolers they’d repurposed for meat curing or fussed for placement in their neighbor’s cellar, I looked around my apartment in despair. While we might live in the unicorn of NYC apartments we certainly don’t have the room or funds for any of the above. I don’t know if I even know anyone with a cellar. I don’t think I’ve ever lived anywhere where I knew anyone with a celler. Certainly not LA (earthquakes) or New Orleans (floods)  And certainly not in NYC (all the apartments!). At least, none where I’d trust any food. Euch.

So, the music closet got commandeered once more. As with when I made duck prosciutto, I got to utter the phrase “There is meat hanging in the music closet” which amuses me to no end.  My mental visual of guitars and amps and sausage hanging out together is really way more amusing than the reality, but who cares. Hilarious. And it seems to work! We rarely open that closet and it’s really the only place in the apartment that isn’t constantly being accessed. It shall now be dubbed the Meat/Music Closet. Which sounds like a weird band and I’m OK with that.

At the very last minute I decided to suck it up and try this challenge anyhow. While I might not be eligible for the grand prize, due to starting a month late, I want to see this out til the end. And I needed to vindicate myself after the hot dog disaster in July. The Kitchen Aid stuffer attachment is still The Worst and I kicked myself at 1am, after 3 hours of stuffing, for not renting a machine from the Brooklyn Kitchen. Because they do nifty things like that. Also, their classes are freaking excellent. The knife skills classes I took there revolutionized my cooking.  But anyhow. This stuffing process went SO much better than the previous times. So much. I might be getting the hang of this thing.

I decided to do both lardo and saucisson sec for a few reasons. Primarily, because I was cutting the deadline so tight, I wanted to make sure I had something to show for this. Also because I really wanted to be able to eat something from this challenge and trying 2 different methods of dry cure would ensure that at least one thing would turn out, right? And my pig guys happened to have some really nice fat back for me when I went to get the shoulder for the saucisson. And, if it hasn’t become apparent through this process, I want to eat all the things. ALL THE THINGS.

The saucisson sec was the usual slog with grinding and stuffing through the Kitchen Aid. But they got stuffed! And hung! And left to do their thing.

Weight Roundup

round- day hung: 11.8oz (12); end weight: 10.4 oz

2pc with skinny bit- day hung:13.2 oz (14); end weight: 10.1 oz

2pc decent- day hung:15.70z (16); end weight: 13.8 oz

Which means I needed to take them down when they were  about 9oz, 10oz and 11oz,  respectively. Even today, a little over 3 weeks after they were hung, they’re still pretty wet and squishy. So, I don’t have any “ta-da!” pictures for you, but you can at least see where it’s at for now. I might cut into the closest-to-finished one at the end of today and I’ll keep you updated. But for now, there’s no green or white mold  and that’s a win in my book.

The lardo, however, was slightly trickier, First of all the only weights I had were hand weights for working out , so they weren’t exactly the most even of pressure. As I had a small piece of fat, it didn’t seem to matter so much. It mostly just looked silly.  I left the piece in salt maybe a bit too long for its size, but I wanted to be sure it would be OK. Lardo is particularly sensitive to light and I wanted to make sure I didn’t screw it up too badly from the outset. I bought fancy cheesecloth and used herbs from our CSA and, as mentioned above, fat back from Flying Pigs Farm.

But it worked! Hung for 24 days and it is slightly squishy and fatty and salty and everything you want lardo to be. I’m throwing it back in the closet for a few days in preparation for the Feast to come. Yes, I’m cutting everything close, but it’s me. What did you expect?

What did I learn these past few weeks? You can cure meat pretty much anywhere as long as it’s dark and not bothered by people. Is our closet the ideal space? No, but it still worked. As with each and every challenge, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the success and ease of the process. This whole charcuterie thing isn’t that complicated at it’s core. But while I can make these meats, I am far from being an expert. Real producers of authentic charcuterie have elevated this to an art. Someday, maybe, I’ll grow up and be like them.

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Chocolate and Raspberry Layer Cake with White Chocolate Buttercream: A Birthdayween Celebration

A baking update! The first one, I believe and for good reason. My roommate’s birthday is on the 29th and our friend’s is on the 30th. This means that every year they have a joint Birthdayween party because what is better than food and booze and dressing up. Victoria, one of the birthday ladies, is an epic baker and cake decorator and usually bakes for our shindigs. I told her she wasn’t allowed to make her own birthday cake, especially since she made me such a pretty one for my birthday. So I voluntold myself to fill the pastry gap.

Now, I was terrified of screwing this up. In high school I worked at a ColdStone Creamery and by the end of my two year tenure had graduated from mild-mannered, singing* ice cream slinger to not-quite-mild-mannered, ice cream singer/cake decorator. We made ice cream cakes using our hand-mixed ice cream creations and store-bought sheet cake.  I learned to coax ganache and swear at decorating icing. But it was fun. Good skills to have, right? Especially when such a day as this pops up something like 7 years later.

*No, I don’t remember any of our tip songs. OK, maybe a few.

The cake itself was surprisingly easy. Having used this recipe before and experiencing its impressive rising qualities, I was better prepared this time around. When using this recipe (or any) only fill the cake pans halfway. ONLY FILL THE CAKE PANS HALFWAY. I will say this again here before I’m through because having to scrape chocolate cake out of every crevice of an oven is an experience I’ve had for the benefit of us all.

On a whim, I substituted the “Freshly made coffee” bit of the recipe for an equivalent of Black Blood of the Earth and hot water. For those who haven’t heard of it, Black Blood of the Earth is a creatively made coffee extract made through a vacuum extraction process that….It’s made of Science, OK? I used crazy concentrated caffeinated Science Coffee. And I used the DeathWish varietal, which is even more caffeinated than the crazy normal stuff. Not having baked with this extremely caffeinated substance that I love so much, I was a little worried that it wouldn’t translate perfectly. It worked fine. No one died. And the cake was delicious. So, I’m calling this a win.

The cake itself was pretty simple, as long as you remember to fill the cake pans halfway (see?). The challenge for me was cutting the layers once everything was cooled and then the stacking and trimming process. It wasn’t perfect, but it looked damn pretty if I do say so myself. And it tasted delicious. Everyone at the party really enjoyed it and we still have a few pieces left in the freezer for a special day (or craving) in the future. Of course you can decorate the cake however you like, but since this was a Halloween party I figured it should fit the spirit.

Tips for decorating: The crumb coat is your best friend. BEST. Really. This is when you take a tiny bit of icing and cover the cake with a thin layer in order to ensure a clean, non-crumby product. This is especially important when you’ve got a dark cake and light icing. I was super intimidated by this process, but it wasn’t too bad at all. Especially since I’d thrown the cake, once layered with the raspberry jam, into the fridge to get everything set up. And then returned it to the fridge for about 30 minutes after the crumb coat was applied.

Tip 2: be patient with your decorating icing. I just bought a tube of black, but it doesn’t matter. When it comes to a battle between you and icing, the icing will win. You might wish it would go faster already because there are so many piddly lines to draw and oh god are we done yet my hand is cramping, but the tip will regulate how much icing comes out and no amount of will on your end will change that. So, be nice to your decorating tips and your hands. Breathe steadily, keep even pressure and don’t expect it to be done in a nanosecond. And after you do all that? You get to eat cake. Totally worth it.

Chocolate and Raspberry Layer Cake with White Chocolate Buttercream Icing

Cake Layers

From Smitten Kitchen
  • 3 oz. fine-quality semisweet chocolate
  • 1 1/2 c. hot brewed coffee
  • 3 c. sugar
  • 2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 c. vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 c. well-shaken buttermilk
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla
  • Raspberry jam

Preheat oven to 300°F. and grease pans. Line bottoms with rounds of wax paper and grease paper. If you forget this step or don’t have any wax paper or parchment, do not despair. Just butter the hell out of the pans (yes, that is a technical term).

Finely chop chocolate and combine with hot coffee. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

In a large bowl sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Do not stir too vigorously as, inevitably, you will be wearing a nice black sweater because you forgot to change and your bowl will be just too small to contain the agitated dry ingredients and then you’ll have to get cocoa out of your sweater. In another large bowl beat eggs until thickened slightly and lemon colored (about 3 minutes with a stand mixer or 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer). Into the bowl with the eggs, slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well. Add dry ingredients and beat on medium speed until just combined well. Be glad you ran into your room to change shirts, even if you put on another black one.

Divide batter between pans (but fill ONLY HALF WAY) and bake in middle of oven until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour, 10 minutes.

Cool layers completely in pans on racks. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert layers onto racks. Carefully remove wax paper and cool layers completely. Cake layers may be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature.

When you’re ready to start building your cake, take a long bread or cake knife and slice the layers in half, carefully. Do not slice your finger with your shiny new knife. Endure cracks from roommates about wiggly lines, pretend not to hear them. Place a cardboard cake round and place on the stand you are going to use for frosting. Open your jar of raspberry jam or, if you made your own, split your raspberry filling into 3 parts. Spread your filling onto each of the layers as you stack. Be sure to leave at least 1/4 inch of space from the edge of the cake. Put cake in the fridge. You can leave it in there from an hour to a day.

White Chocolate Buttercream Icing

  • 4 oz. white chocolate, chopped
  • 1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 5-6 c. powdered sugar
  • 2-4 Tbs heavy cream, as needed

Begin by melting the chopped white chocolate in the microwave in 15 seconds bursts, stirring well between intervals, until completely melted. Make sure not to nuke for too long or you’ll have to introduce some water and try again. Alternately, melt over a double boiler on the stove.  In the bowl of a mixer cream the butter and vanilla until smooth.

Add the white chocolate and mix until well combined. Slowly add the powdered sugar, a cup at a time, until it reaches a spreading consistency. This will be an obscene amount of sugar: fear for your teeth.  If the frosting seems to dry add a little heavy cream, a couple of tablespoons at a time, until you reach a smooth consistency.  Cover with plastic until ready to use.

Once you think your cake is chilled enough to not fall apart on you, take it out of the fridge and get ready to frost. To do the crumb coat, take one spoonful of icing at a time and plop it on the top of the cake. Using your spatula, spread the frosting thinly over the entire cake, trying to keep it even. Throw the cake back in the fridge for an hour. Once it’s chilled, plop more icing on top of the cake and then ice the thing for real. You should end up with a very clean, pretty cake. If you like, make up some decorating frosting (or buy it) and decorate at will.

Take cake to your party or serve to guests or keep it all for yourself. Never use any other recipe for chocolate cake because this is, no lie, freaking excellent.

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Charcutepalooza Challenge: Duck Confit

This month’s theme: Stretching. Not like the Spanish Inquisition or Stretch Armstrong, but in a “let’s make this work” sort of way by stretching skills and preservation. For my part,  I decided to go with duck confit. Certainly not my most creative decision, but the best choice for my time and budget constraints this month.  Ah, my delightful duck, you were delicious.

Once I got over my surprise at the head I was greeted with when I unwrapped the duck (hello, entire duck!) I got into the process of breaking it down- an entry for a later date. It’s the legs we’re interested in today. Confit is just a process of preserving bits of an animal using its own fat. If that doesn’t sound decadent and delicious to you then I question your taste. Spices! Fat! Meat! All the delicious things!

In rendering the fat, I did add a bit of water to help control the heat, as suggested by various sources. I was so worried about having enough fat that I bought some from the butcher, but I needen’t have worried. Duck is fatty. I was worried about the rendering process, however and probably didn’t let it go on as long as I should’ve. I didn’t have the cracklings left over so much as vaguely crispy bits. Don’t do that, eat all the cracklings.

Though this is a preservation technique, the duck confit didn’t last that long in my house. By the end of the following two days everything was gone. I ate it on salads and by itself. I hoarded it jealously and sneaked tastes at midnight- a furtive confit. And for my efforts I had a gleaming jar of duck fat with which to roast the most delicious potatoes. Life is really hard. I’m just going to have to do this again. I promise, there will be further duck adventures

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Eating Montréal

For my first vacation in a long while, I decided to take a trip to our neighbor to the North. I’d only been to Canada once before, and then for about an hour with an express purpose– to procure booze. And see Niagara Falls. You see, I was 19. And visiting a good friend in Buffalo, the same weekend I was introduced to pirogi. It happens. But that is not this story. This story is about the lovely city that is Montréal.

I had an amazing trip. Everyone keeps asking me “Why Montréal ?” and I honestly have no idea. Somehow I heard about the $100 round-trip Amtrak fare from NYC-Montreal and it just stuck there and poked at me until I bought a ticket. Yes, the train is 10 hours each way. I saw it as enforced relaxation. There’s no wi-fi on that route so I couldn’t be tricked into getting work done and I didn’t even bother to bring my laptop, which made for a relatively unplugged 5 days. Best decision ever. Also, playing gin rummy with a Frenchman, German, and two Aussies in the dining car was a uniquely hilarious experience I wouldn’t have traded. And can we talk about the leg room? I love train travel. There’s no security theater and you can actually sleep, or make new friends. Yay trains! My first meal of the trip was thanks to the snack bar, but I will save you from an analysis of why Cup Noodles is just the Best Ever.

My train got in late that Thursday night, which means that my first meal was….the breakfast at my hostel. Decent croissant and tea and off to take on the day! I was up stupid early as one of my dorm mates was up and noisy. I trotted down to Vieux Montréal and the Quays. First stop, since nothing else was open at 9am, was Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal. Everyone I talked to about my trip said I had to go to this church and walk around inside. I am so glad I did. What a feast for the eyes. Some of the most beautiful stained glass that caught the morning sun just so and made the architraves sing. I will go rapturous about architecture- blame the training- but now I’ll shut up. It was gorgeous. Go. Pay the $5 to go inside. Pick your jaw up from the ground and just wander. Should you be inspired to spend some time in self reflection, do so.

From Notre-Dame it’s a short walk to the Old Quays. I was lucky enough to be around for the weekend when a handful of Tall Ships were in for a celebration of the Quays’ 300th anniversary. Or something. I got to go stomp around on replicas of boats from the War of 1812. It was Really Cool. And the one based in Pennsylvania is taking new crew for next summer and it’s Really Tempting. Down the road from the Really Cool Boats (Ships), was the Pointe-à-Callière–the  Archaeology and History museum– which I had to visit, because Archaeology and History. I do them! It was a small museum but well constructed and very interesting. The building is built over the original bank building, and you can actually see some of the old walls, as well as bits of fortification walls from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Bad ass, right?

And right down the street from that? Olive et Gourmando! The child of chefs from Toqué, one of the gustatory belles of Montréal, O+G is a cafe. Primarily a lunch spot, it also has gained some fame for their pastries and breads. Understandably so. The wait to eat in, even at 1:30 on a Friday, was nearly half an hour, but it’s totally worth it. They have a daily soup (Roasted pepper the day I was there. Drat) and a selection of both hot and cold sandwiches. There are also daily salad selections to choose from. I went pretty simply and got the Smoked Trout sandwich, consisting of  hot-smoked trout, capers, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach and herbed cream cheese. It was really quite good. The smokiness of the trout blended so well with the rest of the ingredients and oh man, the bread. This is a great example of what a sandwich should be. Together in this way, the ingredients offer a taste palate you wouldn’t get from any other incarnation. The man next to me was determinedly devouring their Cuban sandwich, a favorite apparently. He sure looked pleased. On my way out I grabbed what turned out to be the best café au lait I’ve had in recent memory and a palmier pastry to nibble on later. I would go out of my way to grab a pastry here in the mornings.   Did I mention you can get everything à porter (take away)?

Dinner that night was a family meal at the hostel. I wish I’d gotten a photo of it, but we had a horde of people descend on the meal and trying to stem the flow for a picture would have ended with me dead and without food. Josh prepared a Montrealer version of a shepherd’s pie. Apparently everyone has a  version of this meal. His was: meat and onions on the bottom, a layer of creamed corn on top of that, potatoes and cheese to seal it all in. His secret is to add a bit of sugar to the meat while it’s browning. I noticed this to be a theme with Montrealer cuisine- they like to sweeten their meats. In any case, it was delicious. And free. Many beers followed this meal and at 2:30 in the morning I found myself in the basement of a some club trying to samba. It was that kind of night.

Saturday was my food day. I hit every single food that everyone told me I Had To Eat while in Montrèal. First up: St-Viateur Bagels!  There are two rival bagel stores in Montréal, St-Viateur and Fairmont.  I had every intention of trying them both, but free breakfast and lack of time necessitated a decision. So, St-Viateur it was. Montréal bagels are a totally different beast than NYC bagels. The texture is more like a pretzel, but without any salt and sweeter. It’s thinner and a bit bland on it’s own. However, it’s perfect for making a sandwich. With NYC bagels, I always feel like the bread:food ratio is too heavy on the bread side. Not so with Montréal bagels. They need to be eaten with stuff. Clearly, my hangover needed to be warded off with the application of smoked salmon, red onions and capers, which is exactly what I did. The sesame seed bagel was nice and nutty. Did I meantion that these babies are baked in a wood-fire oven? Oooh, yeah. Yum.

I wandered around the Plateau for a bit before heading over to Schwartz’s, Montréal’s answer to NYC’s Katz’s, for a Smoked Meat sandwich. Smoked Meat is just Pastrami, as I informed my new Montrealer friends and they all replied “Ooooooooh, that’s Pastrami”. I got there right as it was opening and so decided to take a quick walk over to the eponymous Mont-Royal. After hiking around for a bit, I was ready for some meat. Again, there was a line, but by virtue of being a single I got pulled out and sat at the bar. One Smoked Meat sandwich, pickle and black cherry soda later, I walked out full and happy. I have to say that I prefer Katz’s. While it’s neat that you can request fatty, regular or lean cuts, I found Schwartz’s meat to be a little dry and not very seasoned and a bit sweet. It’s also served with yellow mustard on a light rye. The flavors at Katz’s in NYC are much more aggressive, from the seasoning of the meat, to the brown mustard and rye. It’s just a different version of a similar sandwich. Also, Montrealers are unaware of the half-sour pickle–a travesty.

From Schwartz’s I waddled over to the Marché Jean-Talon (Jean Talon Market). A huge outdoor market with everything from produce to charcuterie to fresh seafood to flowers to anything you could want. Marché Jean-Talon is, hands down, my absolute favorite place in Montréal. I wandered for a couple hours, tasting fruits cut open for me by vendors, talking about charcuterie with a local butcher, smelling flowers and running across ground cherries. I had every intention of entitling this entry “What the hell are ground cherries” but it turns out they’re like gooseberries. I had NO IDEA. The vendor who offered me one didn’t speak much English and my grasp on French produce vocabulary is severely limited. But we muddled through. Ground cherries look like a cherry tomato, but taste like a combination of a tomato with a pineapple. You just keep eating them to figure out what they taste like, it’s fascinating. While here I grabbed some fruit, some pâté, and cheese for lunch on Sunday. On my way out of the market, I indulged in a tasting plate of three types of fresh oysters. Life is hard. If you ever find yourself in Montréal, go to this market. It’s the best. What better way to get a handle on what a city eats?

Later that night, after a well-earned nap,  I walked myself over to La Banquise, THE place for poutine in Montréal. Holy crap. This place, again with a line, had 32 types of poutine to choose from. 32. All of which were more involved than the last and equally gut-bombtastic. I ordered the Matty, the standard fries, cheese curds and gravy  PLUS bacon, caramelized onions, and mushrooms. It usually comes with green peppers but I ordered without. Even with the regular portion I ate half of my serving. Delicious though. I wish I had gone with the Original, to be honest. I ended up just rooting out the cheese curds towards the end because wasting those would be a sin. My new French friends were appalled that I actually ate poutine, but they don’t know what they missed. It’s everything a comfort food should be: salty, fatty and carb heavy. Poutine is a drunk food for a reason. I have a  feeling it will prevent any and all hangovers and might just prevent and and all diseases*.

*The author is not a medical doctor and cannot be held responsible for any actions undertaken when prescribing poutine as a remedy.

Sunday was my last full day in Montréal. However! I had big plans. The Metro dropped me off at the Jardin Botanique and off I went. The Botanical Garden is one of the largest in the world, spanning 75 hectares (190 acres) and boasting over 30 theme gardens, 10 greenhouses, an arboretum and an insectarium. It’s a lot of garden. And it’s absolutely stunning. I spent most of my time in the First Nations garden which more resembled a forest than a garden. The Japanese, Chinese, Alpine and Rose gardens comprised the rest of my time there.

Lunch, however, was had under the shade of a tree in the First Nations Garden. The bread, pâté, cheese and ground cherries I picked up the day before made a wonderful lunch al fresco. Until a bee scared me away. Ok, there were like three of them and I’m allergic. Anyhow.  I had two types each of pâté and a local cheese. The first pâté was a pâté de campagne, well seasoned and with great texture, satisfying but nothing out of my realm of experience. The other pâté, however, was one made by Les Couchons Tout Ronds in conjunction with a brewer in their area, using an ale as an ingredient. The ale made the pâté so rich I couldn’t eat much of it, but also added a depth that I think would be fun to experiment with. For cheese, I had Contomme Fermier, a raw milk cheese, and it was nutty and rich and I want more of it. All the cheese! After my rounds in the garden, I popped across the street to the Olympic Stadium and BioDome. And then I spent some time at the Museé de Beaux Arts to see the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit, which was very impressive.  All told, I think I walked something close to 18km on Sunday, and about the same on Saturday. With great food consumption comes much walking needed to feel human again.

After another well-earned nap, I ran out to the grocery store to grab food for the train ride back to NYC. I’d made the mistake of not bringing snacks once, I was not about to do that again.  I figured I’d grab some chips and water and nuts and dried fruit. Oh, no. Not when there’s an entire case of pâté priced from $3-4 each. Why don’t we have this in the US? Why do our stores fail us so badly? Don’t even get me started on the other types of cured meats in the deli section. If I hadn’t already been considering a move to Montréal, this alone would have prompted the thought. I walked out with only one type of pâté along with some chips, cookies and bread. But it was venison and guinea fowl pâté . Venison and guinea fowl. Seriously, America, can we get on this pâté train already? It was a close call between the one I bought and the deer, bison, wild boar and pork pâté or the rabbit and pork with white wine pâté . Eeny, meeny, miney, mo made the decision. It made for a most welcome two meals on the train, with some left to share with my neighbor, who was equally distraught when informed that such products cannot be procured at the average market. I was just sad when it was gone. However, I’m definitely interested in experimenting with layered pâté, now. I’d never thought about mixing meats much.

My last meal in Montréal was a doozy. Friday evening, I made sure to walk over to Au Pied de Couchon when it opened in order to make a reservation for the weekend. Even as a single it was impossible to find a spot for Saturday, so Sunday it was. I took a shower, put on some makeup and took myself out on a date. In doing research for this trip, the internet screamed “Au Pied de Couchon”! It’s apparently extremely popular right now. However, I thought there would be a bit more couchon in my dish than there actually was. What this place is known for is their foie gras dishes. Had I known, I would have tried to get a reservation at Toqué or another restaurant that served high end local food. I have no regrets about this meal, however. Excellence, all around. The restaurant itself is a nice size- intimate without being cramped- warm and welcoming. The kitchen is open and gives off an air of controlled chaos that lends a more casual air to the whole ambiance. After being seated, I struck up conversation with the woman on my left, a fellow Los Angelina in town for business. She insisted I take some of her duck-fat fried french fries. I knew duck-fat roasted potatoes were good, but oh my god. These were insanely good. Crisp on the outside, flavorful–everything you want in a good french fry. My waitress recommended a Bergerac Cabernet Francais, which was exactly the perfect pairing. To start I ordered the Roast Piglet, served cold and thinly sliced with a tuna mayo. Yes, tuna mayo. I was apprehensive, but it was a perfect pairing. The pork was perfectly cooked and velvety with the mayo. I brought home the left overs, since it was a huge plate of meat, to give to the girls on duty at the hostel (yay new friends!) and they devoured it with as much surprised glee as I did. I apologize for the quality of the photos from this restaurant– I’m still not really comfortable with just whipping out a camera in the middle of a meal. So these will have to do for now. And it’s just more enticement for you to go and experience them yourself!

For my main I got the La Plogue à Champlain. Buckwheat pancake, potatoes, foie gras, maple syrup, thick cut maple cured bacon (which tasted more like lardo), and cheddar cheese. I thought this was going to be too rich, too much and it was rich, but really well balanced and not overwhelming at all. There was the perfect amount of salt and sweet to offset the richness of the foie gras and the earthiness of the buckwheat pancake rounded the whole thing out. The fatty bacon was so freaking good. Because of how it was cut and cured, it tasted more like a cured pork and lardo, as opposed to just bacon in a dish. It kind of blew my mind. It’s pretty much impossible to pick out the individual ingredients in this dish. They just all meld together to attack your senses with a most pleasing result. I’m sure I made all sorts of happy noises as I ate. It happens, OK?

(c) Flikr user momomoto

I thought I couldn’t eat any more after this. So much sweet! So much salty! So much foie gras! But my new friend to the left offered the uneaten half of her dessert and who am I to decline a gift of pot de crème au chocolat noir? Like everything else here, this is Rich. Definitely a dish to be shared. The velvety chocolate pudding was topped with graham cracker crumble and whipped cream. Pretty much perfection. Thankfully it wasn’t too sweet, just the right balance of good chocolate flavor. A successful meal, entirely.


Next door to Au Pied du Couchon is a lovely chocolatier by the nameLes Chocolates de Chloé. While I was waiting to make a reservation for Sunday night, I stepped into this store, just to take a few deep breaths. Of course, I had to buy a truffle. I’m a sucker for a good fleur de sel truffle and Chloé’s was exceptional. Just the right balance of salt and chocolate that sits on your tongue and melds together until it’s gone and you wish you could go back those few seconds to experience it again. Chloé was working the counter and gave me a fig and balsamic truffle, gratis. I would go back for that in a heartbeat. I’m just sad I didn’t think to get a box of truffles to bring home. Also, the website is adorable.

I wish I had more than three days to sample the delights of the Montréal culinary landscape. I hit the main ones that everyone says you Have To try, but next time will make sure to hit the places the locals really eat. All I can say is, Montréal cuisine is a wonderful mix of old and new worlds. They clearly cherish their French, British and First Nation roots, but are interested in pushing that dialogue with their cuisine into the future. It is easy to eat well in this city. I highly recommend even just a weekend. And bring some pâté back, yeah?

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Homemade Grenadine

I understand why Persephone ate that handful of seeds while in the Underworld. Rich garnet explosions encased in hidden caverns, tart and sweet–totally worth half a year in the Underworld. It’s always seemed to me a mysterious fruit, one that earned its place in stories as the fruit of seduction or of knowledge. As a kid, a friend’s mom would give pomegranates to us as a snack, which I retrospecively think was brilliant as it got us to shut up for a bit as we hunted out all the seeds from the nooks and crannies. We might have been stained pink around the fingers and mouths by the end, but it was worth it.

Forever ago I came across a recipe for a Jack Rose and was stunned to learn that grenadine was not, in fact, supposed to be red flavored, but is actually supposed to be pomegranate based.  As every grenadine recipe on the internet will tell you grenadine comes from the french word for pomegranate, grenade. Spiffy, right? What I’m trying to tell you is that Rose’s Grenadine is a lie. It’s high fructose corn syrup plus flavorings. Traditional grenadine is pomegranate juice plus sugar to form a syrup. Sounds pretty easy, right?

You have a few options when heading into your grenadine making enterprise. Fresh juice or store-bought and cold or hot process. I did a sort of mixture of the two since I macerated the seeds. I got the instructions from All The Marmalade and The Cocktail Chronicles. The result is this fresh, fruity syrup that’s a rich and satisfying plummy color. Completely different than any commercial brand of grenadine you could find in a store and really just gorgeous.  I would eat this by the spoonful if I wasn’t so excited about making a real Shirley Temple. And adult drinks too. But who doesn’t love a Shirley Temple?

Homemade Grenadine

  • 1 or 2 pomegranates
  • sugar
  • water

Open a pomegranate and release the seeds any way you find convenient. I cut it in half and smack it with a spoon over a bowl. Another way to do this is breaking it into quarters and picking out the seeds under water. Whatever makes you happy and gets the bits out with the least amount of pith possible.

Toss the seeds with half their volume of granulated sugar (eg. 1 cup pomegranate=1/2 cup sugar). Cover the seed and sugar mixture loosely with saran wrap and then pound with a solid ladle, a hefty mug, or similar object until the seeds break and the mixture becomes pulpy. Leave the saran wrap over the bowl  and put everything in the fridge to macerate overnight.

The next day, remove the bowl from the fridge and strain the mixture into a new bowl through a fine mesh sieve to separate all the juice from the seeds and pulp. Place the juice in a small saucepan, add 1/4c water,  and bring to a bare simmer over medium-high heat. Simmer until all sugar is dissolved. Taste. If needed, add a little sugar. Let cool and bottle. Store in your fridge for up to a month. Never buy grenadine again.

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Charcutepalooza Challenge: Packing – English Pork Pie

Yes, as in Pork Pie hat, you cheeky haberdashers. But this one is edible and you won’t want to wear it on your head. I made a few mistakes with this challenge (like sealing the thing…) but even when my pie was leaking onto the baking sheet (quelle horreur!) the lovely Mrs. Wheelbarrow (our fearless leader)  told me to chill it and all would be well. And she was right. She told me so.

See? Much better looking after it chilled.

My friend The Messy Epicure and I both seemed to have trouble with the crust and Jason had a good point- I think it calls for too much fat (a whole pound of lard and butter!) but Mrs. Wheelbarrow had more success when she chilled (again) the whole pie after sealing it. Next time I will have to try that method and chill the pie after all the important steps. So far the only challenge that hasn’t gone perfectly according to plan was the stuffing sausage one where halfway through the mixture broke and thus half the hotdogs were weird. This pie was tasty.

So, what is pork pie? Well, it’s kin to pâté gratineé and pâté campgane- it’s a ground pate. Which doesn’t explain much at all. This is essentially ground pork with spices in pastry. Unlike last month’s smooth and silky pate, this one has texture and lots of it. I opted to not add in diced smoked ham (I forgot to pick it up) and just did straight pork shoulder with seasonings. And it was still good. Also, unlike what one usually thinks of when considering pâté, this is a pie, encased in a crust.  You’ll see pâté  like this all over France as well as other countries, many of them simple and beautiful. Mine was the ugly duckling of pâté  en croute–it tasted much better than it looked. I’ve been eating it paired with an heirloom tomato salad, but this fits right along with a good cheese plate or some pickles and mustard. If you’re in New Orleans, head over to St. James Cheese Company and get the Ploughman’s Lunch, their pork pie paired with cheese is heavenly.

Today, I head to Montreal for a long weekend of adventure, food and being confused by Québécois. Be prepared for a food recap. I am determined to eat ALL THE THINGS.

For now, I leave you with the lurkingest cat.

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