Monthly Archives: June 2010

DIAL 911, IT’S THE LOBSTER SQUAD

I’m leaving for Bali in less than an hour and I still have to pack. Does this prove to you how much I hate packing? Because I do. Hate packing. To semi-compensate for probable lack of internet access while in Bali, a handful of varied and unrelated photos from Montreal, including: LOBSTER! Lobster is pretty affordable right now (I think I read in the NYT that lobster is going for $5.99/lb), and I think it’s super important to do weird and fancy things for ourselves when there is absolutely no occasion for them. It makes me feel psychically full and very content and excited about life.

After chilling the lobsters in a sink ice bath and giving them a good back rub (I only wish I were joking here but I’m not), we steamed our lobsters (about 1.5-2lbs each) for 15 minutes in salted water and a handful of bay leaves. There were bowls of lemon wedges and two sauces that blew my mind: clarified butter mixed with terragon and salt, and homemade butterscotch. Take that, Paula Deen! The lobster was served with a wilted spinach / cherry tomato / hazelnut / caramelized shallot salad and a purple potato gratin that is now my food soulmate. Purple potato gratin, marry me!

And in case you were wondering, that is what a $10 bucket of cherry tomatoes looks like. Hard to justify until you’ve had one, but rest assured they were worth every penny.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IHoprNCyl7o]

POPCORN PLAYS ♡ MUSIC = ART

[All images via Music = Art] Ithaca-based artist Meredith Towsand — who also happens to be one of my best friends ever — recently unveiled a new line of lovely, sweet things up at her Etsy shop (she also has a great blog, Music = Art, and professional website), all of which are super affordable and desirous. I love the pressed flower cards and can attest to the peanut buttery magic of her no-bake cookies. Not to get hyperbolic, but Meredith is seriously one of the warmest and kindest people I have ever met. And who wouldn’t want a piece of that little bundle of sunshine in their life? I know. And the best part? She does commissions and special orders.

Her Etsy shop is a pretty recent addition to her overall career arc, most of which has focused on her visual art. I recently commissioned her to do an acrylic in the style of this series she did earlier in the year, all of which I adore. The palette is perfect, the textures spot-on, and the canvas size perfect for the bedroom of my dreams.

RHUBARB FLING

It feels a bit belated to be posting such starry-eyed anecdotes about my experiences cooking in Montreal, but I’m almost done! I promise! I think we’re entering the tail end of rhubarb season, so if you haven’t made a single dish with this tart, delicious, remarkable fruit, please make this galette tomorrow morning. Thank you.

I decided to make this spiced rhubarb galette for a dinner party, and I spent the better part of a morning spastically researching the best (i.e. easiest) ways to make the pastry dough, leaving myself with barely enough time to shop for the ingredients, resulting in two near-misses with angry cars while racing on my bike to Jean-Talon.

Turns out, it is the easiest dough in the world. Stalks of rhubarb, sliced on the diagonal, soak in a little  freshly squeezed orange juice, heapings of zest, and a myriad of spices — I riffed a bit one what Zested uses, and ended up with a heady combination of cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and coriander. The filling sat on the counter for an hour while I made the dough, and I kept leaning over into the rhubarb bowl and inhaling deeply and smiling a little. This is what it looked like during prep:

It was a bit scary to work with the dough at first, because it felt very dry and on the verge of cracking everywhere. I thought for sure I had messed up. But then, magic: everything sort of elasticated and warmed up and tugged into place. The filling spills into the crust raw, and oozes out its juices as the crust cooks and bubbles away. The crust is brushed with an egg wash and topped with generous handfuls of turbinado sugar. This is what it looked like before entering the oven for 45 minutes:

And this is what it looked like coming out:

…And that’s how you make a Gourmet magazine cover! JOKES! Anyway, I’m not a big ‘sweets’ person. I kinda hate super-sweet. Sweet things are almost always more interesting if they’re tempered by other non-sweet things (sea salt on brownies; ginger in strawberry jam; french fries in milkshakes etc). This has been proven true so many times it should be a rule, I think. This dessert was perfect because the crust is buttery but not sweet, and the filling is extremely tart, but somehow made outrageously decadent through the magical combination of citrus and spice. It’s fresh and clean and juicy and sour. I loved it.

And! I also did a quick rhubarb crumble for the vegan contingent of the dinner party crew, inspired by my dear friend Anna, who made Bittman’s simple crisp for a party while I was in Ithaca. Hers was devoured in about 10 minutes. I made it vegan by replacing the butter (used in the crumble topping) with weird vegan spread, which felt awful in my hands, and looked awful before it went into the oven, but as it turns out, tastes exactly the same. Life! So many awesome surprises! This effortless crumble — heavy on pecans and brown sugar — was VERY sweet compared to the vaguely Middle Eastern-tinged crostata (I had one piece of each, side by side, to compare. Science!), but in their own unexplainable ways, complimented each other like a pair of lovers holding hands. Similar, but different all the same.

VANITAS

I… no words. I know I promised a more eloquent post about the Stella McCartney resort 2011 collection, but after a few weeks after the release of these images, I’m more speechless than ever with her sumptuous oil painting florals — especially that third high-necked cocktail dress. What a brilliant dovetailing of 1960s tailoring with old world visual decadence.

They make me think of the classic Dutch still lifes of bouquets and blooms — Hans Gillisz Bollongier, Rachel Ruysch, Rembrandt et al — full of life and death, decay and decadence.

N.B.: Don’t get me wrong, Stella’s monochromatic suits in aquamarine and dusty rose are equally alluring but I could never quite pull off solids head to toe, like somehow I’m not interesting enough to make it work, and therefore I like it less. They’re still so beautiful in a minimalist way that I will continue to love from afar. I really admire the elegant women who can wear solids, but I think I prefer fashion decadence + visual clutter…

BRINGING THIS DOWN TO NOTHINGNESS

I think I finally kicked my jetlag, but not after a sleepless night or two spent reading the entire Internet.

+Hidromiel y Fractal Fluido. Stunning fractal soup in San Sebastian.

+I can’t wait to read David Toop’s new book, Sinister Resonance. Really great interview with Geeta Dayal at Rhizome, with good parallels between John Cage and Virginia Woolf…

sound has this characteristic of the uncanny, that sound is to some degree a ghost, and hence this expression in the mediumship of the listener. Sound is transitory, ambiguous in its location in space, and it’s uncertain; it lends itself to representations of uncertainty. It lends itself to feelings of dread and fear and loss and these emotional states, these extreme psychic states. It lends itself to mysticism, all these ineffable experiences. These sensations of immateriality.

+Best tour rider ever. [And best fan letter ever.]

+Cats eating delicious things! This is old but still awesome.

+”Dedicated to the solitary soldiers keeping the grind alive.” Thank you for existing, Internet.

+Fall A.P.C. verdict: cute camo but not blown away.

+It’s apricot season! Make this tart immediately.

+Three amazing podcasts: curated by Gary War, Ariel Pink, and Toronto artist Maryanne Casasanta. I can’t decide which one I like the most.

THREE TIMES A LADY

UGH jetlag is the worst. Despite borderline overdosing on melatonin in the last three days, last night I felt like I was going to pass out around 7pm, drank an ill-advised Malaysian iced coffee from a food court (more like a watery milkshake) around 8pm, was wired until 1am, finally slept until 5:00am, and then weirdly, passionately craved potato chips around 7:45am.

Anyway! I miss Montreal a lot. One of the most fun change-ups of my daily routine was relegating lunch to the least interesting meal of the day. I mean that in the best way possible. In Portland, lunch tends to be my special, ‘big’ meal, while I often skip breakfast and snack on lunch leftovers for dinner. In Montreal, lunch tended to be super casual and more modest, as it was bookended by one (or two) breakfasts and a magnificent dinner. Our midday routine quickly became sandwiches, potato chips and ginger ale, which happens to be one of my favorite meals of all time, so I’m not complaining, obviously.

But this lunch was a little more special than the others. We had enjoyed a gigantic chopped salad the night before, and I was still on a raw vegetable kick. I lamely called this “Salad, Three Ways.”

Salads are the most foolproof ways to cook without using a recipe. I usually consider things like flavor, texture and appearance, usually trying to squeeze in as many ingredients as I can before things get legitimately out of control. Splitting up my impulses into three salads makes my cooking way more manageable.

Salad #1: Bitter and crunchy. Chopped lettuce, crescents of white Belgian endives, slivers of red radishes, toasted pecans, and Persian cucumbers sliced on the diagonal. To balance the bitter, I made a sweet beet vinaigrette, which was basically my lemon vinaigrette with beets mashed into the dressing, turning it a lovely fuschia hue.

Salad #2: Tart and sweet. Diced cantaloupe, cubes of roasted beets, toasted sesame seeds, ribbons of fresh mint and basil, crushed pistachios, orange zest. I was still craving the feta and watermelon salad that we, sadly, never enjoyed, so I made this more refreshing version instead. I love how beets stain everything around it a wonderful pale pink, and in this case, it transformed my cantaloupe into a passable faux-watermelon. Craving crisis averted.

Salad #3: Warm and salty. Whole wheat fusilli, flash fried kale and shallots, roasted garlic, fresh squeezes of lemon juice, grated Pecorino, pine nuts. This is a dinner standby for me, but it’s solid and sturdy and always makes me feel great.

HAPPY ENDING

Change is in the air. Not only did I become somewhat of a breakfast person in the last month, I also started baking quite a bit. I read at least four iterations of the simple gâteau au yaourt — including the Orangette, Smitten Kitchen, and Chocolate & Zucchini versions — before I settled on the Kitchn’s recipe, which uses olive oil as the primary fat. I also added the zest of one lemon and used Lebanese yogurt.

We served the cake with a quick rhubarb sauce, made by simmering four diced rhubarb stalks in the juice of 1/2 an orange and 2 tbsps of maple syrup until it reduced into a thick, silky sauce, tart and velvety and perfect with a slice of cake. The Kitchn’s recipe is really sized up — we had leftovers for 4 days afterward — and because it’s not that sweet, it’s great for breakfast and as an afternoon snack with tea. I loved the texture, which had a slightly spongey and crumby mouthfeel, a little like cornbread. The most surprising thing about this cake was the complete lack of pronouncement of any individual flavor: the sourness of the yogurt, tartness of the zest, and nuttiness of the olive oil somehow all cancel each other out, resulting in an ambiguously defined, utterly humble and lovely little dessert.

STRANGER THAN FICTION

I’m flying to Singapore in a few hours and may be out of commission for the next couple days as I attempt to fly halfway around the world and subsequently conquer jetlag, so in honor of the probable radio silence, here are some photos of a few of my favorite Montreal breakfasts, since I seem to be a breakfast person now?! I even made a new ‘breakfast’ category, Whuuuuutt?

JUICED

Today is the first official day of summer — the summer solstice — and one of my favorite days of the year. So witchy! In honor of this most holy of days, behold my new favorite summertime drink, born out of ingenuity, but mostly randomness, where most of my ‘ideas’ seem to materialize from.

We bought this beautiful mini melon in Chinatown to make a watermelon, mint and feta salad, but when we finally got around to opening it, it was far too ripe to eat. We thought it had gone off. But! I suggested we throw the whole soupy, slushy mess into a blender and voila. Watermelon juice. One ingredient. Cold and refreshing and slightly sweet.

CASHING IN THE PRIDE CHECK

I finally did it. I made the best chicken of my life: the Zuni Cafe roasted chicken. The tasty end product triggered what I like to call the ‘roast chicken proud’ sensation — a feeling of pride and glee after cooking something impressive (or, in my case, just a mild attempt at baking that doesn’t result in a total mental meltdown). The terms origins can be traced to this momentous meal but I have to say — the Zuni chicken is better (and uses zero butter, too).

I’ve eaten chicken a number of glorious ways since I’ve been in Montreal — in a crispy Lebanese sandwich, in our own bacon-laden coq au vin, in homemade chicken salad — but we agreed this was the best. Intensely flavorful after three days of dry brining, the chicken was outrageously moist and plentiful — leftovers for days. That’s what we get for buying a 5lb chicken.

We didn’t strictly adhere to the Zuni recipe — I mostly followed the Smitten Kitchen adaptation. The results were still spectacular. We also made plenty of our own changes, including slipping at least 8 fresh sage leaves from the garden in various skin pockets, adding about 4 times as many greens (spicy mizuna from the Jean-Talon Market, aka the Best Place In The World), and halving the amount of bread for the salad (which, PS, gets so chewy and warm and perfect and soaks up the plentiful amount of warm garlic and scallions — the amount of which I tripled, at least — in a way that is genius; therefore the salad may have been even better than the chicken, but at the very least, it is now my favorite salad of all time). We even cleaned the oven earlier in the day, which was gross but a blessing — no smoke in the kitchen whatsoever, which I was duly warned about by at least 10 different websites.

Afterward, we made chicken broth with the carcass, herbs, lemons and vegetable bits, which simmered overnight for about 12 hours at 180 degrees. We skimmed and strained it the next morning and I used the rich broth to make everything from lentils to pasta to kale to potato gratin to baked turnips to chickpeas.

I had some leftovers the following day dressed simply with lemon, parsley and cracked pepper, served cold, with hot stewed chickpeas, toast, and a sliced orange.

[EDIT!] Post edited to add photos of finished chicken stock (and discarded carcass) which I forgot to add earlier today. Needed to show off the gorgeous golden amber hue of the finished stock. Most cookbooks seem to praise “clear” stock above all else, but we prefer the creamy, rich opaqueness of our finished product.