Monthly Archives: February 2011

ON BEING SURPRISED

You know, I actually had a really great Valentine’s Day! It’s not a holiday that I usually make a fuss about, but this year, the day was thoroughly magical. Lunchtime was my responsibility, and my surprise…

Of course, I made roast chicken. If there ever was a dish that more signified love, happiness, family, and contentment, I don’t know it.

I kept it very simple and tucked sage leaves underneath the skin prior to roasting, and provided plenty of lemon wedges and flaky salt for dressing afterward.

I served the chicken with a fresh, wholesome couscous salad, which contained red onion, diced zucchini, plump golden raisins, toasted walnuts, minced parsley, garlic and turmeric.

But as delicious as it was, I had no idea what was in store for me later that night. I was given one hint about our mystery dinner date: onion rings. I was told to wear my beloved necklace, and that was it…

We took a short cab ride to Mont-Royal and Parc and arrived at Le Filet, the brand new, long-awaited fish and seafood restaurant opened by the team at iconic Montreal restaurant, Club chasse et pêche! And, lest I bury my lede, let me say right now: this is currently the most exciting and romantic restaurant in Montreal.

The restaurant was less than two days old — it had opened specifically for Valentine’s Day weekend — and I spotted both Hubert Marsolais and Claude Pelletier on the floor, helping people and keeping an eye on things. The menu was flawless and extremely well-priced; we indulged by ordering as much as possible.

We started with two appetite-whetting bites: a plate of cool, smooth beets, blanketed in a translucent layer of creme fraiche and fresh marjoram; a scoop of tender mackerel rillettes and matchsticks of apple on sesame crackers. Both were simple, unassuming, and braced us for what was to come.

Knowing the kitchen’s strengths were seafood preparation, we were urged to try a few trios of oysters. We opted for three Kumamotos (my favorite, shipped all the way from Washington) and three Raspberry Points (a briny P.E.I. specialty).

We decided to leave the dressing choices up to the chef, and they soon arrived ‘miso gratin’ and ‘bloody mary’ style. I definitely prefer to eat my oysters raw, ice cold, and with a shot of eye-opening sea water; these flash-cooked oysters were a luxurious deviation, but ultimately all I really need is hot sauce, horseradish, and a teaspoon of mignonette.

We started our meal with champagne, but then we moved onto the real stuff: 2005 Simon Bize & Files Bourgogne Blanc Les Champlains. Holy cow. Adam would like to chime in at this point and say that even better than the 2005 white Burgundy was the 2009 Régnié we had by Guy Breton. He’s right. It was magnificent, but sadly I didn’t get a photo. (It’s worth noting that their concise wine list is remarkably well-priced, as well).

We chose one fish dish each, even though I wanted to order everything (the next time, we are ordering the lobster and sweetbreads). Ultimately, I went with the Omble de Gaspé (char), served on a bed of sorrel, clams, tender navy beans, and tomato. The fish was supple, warm and light, the beans firm and creamy.

We both agreed that this was the most incredible thing we had all night: a golden filet of crispy black cod, served atop a smooth celeryroot purée, carrots, and chorizo “croutons.” This dish represents why I go out to restaurants. We’ve tried to make fish this crispy at home, and it has never worked. I’ve tried dredging in flour, I’ve tried an extra-hot pan, I’ve tried the broiler. I’ve tried butter, oil, non-stick pans. But I will never make fish this properly cooked at home. Ever.

We also knew we had to order the seared scallop, which arrived with the same crispy, caramelized, burnt edges as the black cod, while its core was almost perfectly raw and translucent. How do they do it?

The giant scallop was so superlative, I nearly neglected the lovely pork shank, braised until meltingly tender, and served over a mousseline-style polenta.

Though we were both keen to focus on seafood, I also wanted to try the escargot tartelette, which was soaked in garlicky, parsley-flecked butter. The snails were luscious, comforting and rich, though I could have gone without the disc of heavy puff pastry.

But my favorite part of the meal — which I alluded to at the beginning of this monstrous post — was the onion rings, which my bf somehow knew in advance were quite special. He was right. Le Filet makes, quite simply, the best onion ring I have ever eaten. Who knew an onion ring could taste so complex? These were leaping off of the plate with abundant umami, with faint notes of sour and tang (we surmised from buttermilk in the batter), sweetness from the onions, and plenty of salt from the crunchy coating. They were faultless, and so transcendent in flavor and texture that no dipping sauces were needed. I was very happy, indeed…

During my brief time in Montreal, I’ve grown accustomed to the decadent aesthetic of the over-the-top, meat-heavy, and sloppily-presented meals pioneered by chefs at Pied de Cochon and Joe Beef. But the impeccable technique, restraint, intimacy, care and romance imparted to all of the food at Le Filet was inspiring and seductive — we can’t wait to return.

LEFTOVERS

I was cleaning out my hard drive and found some things that, for whatever reason, never quite made it onto here…

The late afternoon sun creates some remarkable, sharp shadows in my office, courtesy of the best cactus of all time. Every time I pick it up (rarely), I get so nervous that its stalks will break. It’s so fragile!

The first cupcakes I ever made for my work. They were a visual disaster — I couldn’t find any cupcake liners, and I utterly failed at piping frosting, resulting in little cakes that resembled dark brown turds — but they were undeniably delicious. Dark chocolate cake with a properly light, airy crumb, topped with a creamy, sweet peanut butter buttercream. They sold out in less than a day.

During the winter, I have soup almost every day. This was a simple, no-frills, tomato-black bean soup, finished with cilantro, chili oil, and lime juice.

At my first trip to downtown brasserie Chez Alexandre, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that despite its touristy Parisian vibe, the food is pretty damn good. My seared filet mignon was juicy and rare and spiked with rosemary and white peppercorns; the frites were reminiscent of McDonalds, extra salty and pliant. I also couldn’t resist ordering their cassoulet, one of my all-time favorite Toulouse dishes, mostly for its liberal application of goose fat. Despite a bizarre dearth of cannellini beans (unacceptable!), it was delicious, salty, and rich with goose and duck fat.

My favorite red pants and what my bf calls my ‘cave woman’ shirt, bought in Bali for $2. Is it just me, or have I been seeing red, stretchy cotton pants everywhere on the internet lately?

FINISH LINE

For the first time in a long time — longer than I’d like to admit — I went to the gym.

I used to be addicted to the gym, addicted to sports, addicted to exercise. Three hours at the gym was nothing; skipping a day’s worth of exercise was unthinkable. But over the years, exercise became more and more sporadic, until I eliminated it completely from my life. If you were a college athlete, then you know how hard it is to transition from 25 hours of exercise a week to only 4. Psychologically, it’s almost impossible, and I opted for (my) path of least resistance: complete bodily stasis.

I found ways to incorporate movement in a more natural way (biking for hours every day; going on long walks; sporadic yoga; pick-up sports with friends; trips skiing). But it’s clear that if I’d like to keep eating this, this, or this, joining a gym is really a crucial imperative. (Wine critic Robert Parker once said that the “only” reason why he exercises is so he can “eat whatever he wants.” Too true).

So I woke up at 8am, went to the gym, ran a few miles, and felt great. Then I hopped on the dreaded ergometer, and tried my very hardest to hold a 2:20 steady state for 30 minutes (for those of you that are rowers, or have been rowers, you know this is deeply pathetic). I finished with a power 10, and was sure that I was going to barf all over myself. (I didn’t). So I stretched, felt great, bought a coffee and a mango, and went home. And didn’t eat breakfast. Or anything at all. And — shocker — had a head-splitting migraine for the rest of the day.

So many mistakes were made! But the biggest, we can agree, is not eating the proper refuel meal directly after the gym. What was I thinking?

I wish I had prepared this lunch that I made recently. It would have been the perfect post-gym meal. It’s a simple cannellini bean and mushroom ragu, made with tomato paste, bacon, onions, bell peppers, thyme, and red pepper flakes, and thickened with butter and some starchy pasta water. Tossed with fresh pasta, a few cups of arugula, and plenty of lemon juice and Pecorino to finish, it was delicious, filling, healthy, and packed with protein and carbs.

But I also don’t want to waste precious post-workout minutes trying frantically to assemble a healthy lunch. This would have been even easier, and just as filling: a simple four-egg omelet (divided between two), with a potato-leek and broccoli rabe hash (all creatively reinterpreted leftovers), and toasted baguette with Brie. Comforting, cozy and super satisfying, and would have prevented the crazy day-long headache I suffered.

I’m pretty sure I forgot all of the nutrition knowledge I picked up during my years spent as a rower at Cornell, but I think this would be an acceptable post-workout snack, for those of you that prefer to exercise in the afternoon or evenings. I made a quick tabbouleh, or parsley salad (bulghur wheat, diced cucumbers, diced red onion, lemon juice, and minced parsley), and ate that with torn pita and a rough white bean dip, made with soaked cannellini beans that I boiled until just fork tender. The beans are then sauteed with thyme, red onion, olive oil and garlic, and mashed up with a wooden spoon (I added a few tablespoons of homemade chicken broth so it wouldn’t get too dried out). Perfect snack for any circumstance, really.

A LITTLE LAMB

We recently picked up a hefty lamb shoulder from one of my favorite butchers in town, Boucherie Abu Elias. Everything there is amazing and insanely affordable — especially their house-made hummus, spicy soujouk, whole chickens, and veal shank — and we were given strict instructions on how to prepare the cut. We covered the shoulder in loosely draped aluminum foil, andp laced in a pan filled with a few inches of water, where it braised in a 325 degree oven all afternoon. So simple and classic, and the results were spectacular and meltingly tender.

Because lamb shoulder is so deliciously fatty — apparently the cut’s fat content equals that of pork belly — the next day we decided to enjoy the leftovers as ‘lamb carnitas,’ and refried them in a cast-iron skillet until super crispy. With that, some seared carrots, rice pilaf, Himo’s pickled beets, the aforementioned Abu Elias hummus (its creaminess — the Platonic Ideal of hummus — is a total mystery to me, and I am in awe of its perfection), and seared green beans (blanch in water for two minutes, drain, and throw in super-hot skillet with butter until spotty with black char; toss with lemon juice and red pepper flakes and serve hot). Love it when leftovers are even more extraordinary than the first time around.

SAUCESSESSION AFTERMATH

I recently organized a sausage-making workshop at my work with Pork Club founder Bartek Komorowski. (Maybe you remember his outstanding hamburgers). The night was way too much fun. Everyone took home between 5-7 sausages that they made themselves, not including the sausage + sauerkraut + fried potato feast that we enjoyed at the Pick Up. He even brought his cellar-dried chorizo and salami for everyone to sample. We took our links home, fried them up, served with spiced couscous, a big salad, and homemade tortilla soup. Delicious.

Many more photos here. Thanks to everyone who participated!

 

BREAKFAST WITH EGGS

I have a very strange and inexplicable aversion to cooking eggs, possibly because of my ineptitude when it comes to preparing them (don’t even ask me to poach an egg, please). My aversion is even more curious when you think about how eggs are often thought of as ‘training wheels’ cooking — think about every dude you know who can only cook one dish: The Scramble. I have had this so many times, and it’s always rubbery scrambled eggs mixed with big chunks of vegetables and sausage and stir-fried into oblivion. Classic Non-Cooker Dude Dish.

This attempt at a fried egg in butter with truffled salt was only partially successful (the other yolk was perfectly molten, while mine had the most unpleasant firmness), but I was very pleased with my spicy hash: fingerling potatoes, onions, mushrooms, garlic, ground lamb, sweet paprika, tomato paste, and plenty of hot sauce. (Note: there is a particularly nice compendium of hash recipes here).

My boyfriend is really the go-to person for eggs. He nails it every time. It’s truly awe-inspiring. My favorite are his tender, silky, velvety omelets (usually as a result of a splash of cream and a thick pat of butter), dotted with any number of mouth-watering fillings (this omelet contained bacon, oven-dried tomatoes, spinach and onion), and topped with a parsley salad. He understands that I like my eggs just teetering on the edge of rawness, in order to optimally preserve its lusciousness.

OFFICE DINING


I’ve been so busy lately that I’ve gotten into the bad habit of eating at my desk. I usually try to stake out a peaceful moment at our dining room table with my lunch, but it’s not always possible. It’s so easy to get sucked into a story, managing to work in bites of food in between paragraphs. Some desk lunches of late:

Sliced cucumbers, lemon juice, black pepper, and brie on Ryvita crackers.

Oven-roasted broccoli rabe, butternut squash, garlic and red pepper flakes tossed with pasta, Pecorino, a big splash of starchy pasta water, and several generous lemon squeezes. I love roasting the broccoli rabe until it’s so charred and dried-out, it gets flaky like paper. Delicious.

Homemade granola + a glass of milk. (Right now my favorite granola combination includes dried blueberries, almonds, flax seed, sunflower seeds + sesame seeds. Very simple + so nourishing; I wish I could use more dried fruit + nuts but the truth is that it can get expensive, so I stick to seeds and high-quality oats to bulk out my granolas).

A gigantic salad, inspired by my numerous trips with my dear friend Paddy to Wegmans for their Wings of Life salads. Back when I lived in New York, every Wednesday night we would order these mega salads and a pizza eat them with beer while we watched LOST. It was always the highlight of my week, and I think I miss these salads as much as I miss my friend and my favorite television show.

The key to a successful main-course salad is to include as many ingredients as possible for constant visual + mouth stimulation. This salad was particularly bountiful. It included: Spinach, arugula, diced cucumber, shredded carrots, sprouts, chopped walnuts, toasted sunflower seeds, Puy lentils, Himalayan brown rice, Quebec feta, chopped red onion, boiled fingerling potatoes. Best to keep the salad dressing super simple, so I turned to my favorite standby: lemon juice, French mustard, and olive oil, shaken up in a mason jar.

YEAR OF THE GOLDEN RABBIT

As many of my friends know, Chinese New Year is my very favorite holiday (my second favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, is the other great gustatory-centric day of the year). And every year I throw a party.

So this year — for my first lunar new year in Montreal — I celebrated with a huge dumpling bash that I planned with my friends.

We planned to make about 1,000 dumplings for about 50-60 people, figuring everyone would want about 20 dumplings each. But there were plenty of other snacks on hand, including steamed pork buns, pineapple candies, Haw flakes (the candy of my youth!!) and outstanding kung pao chicken by Anthony

…as well as these succulent Chinese five-spice ribs by Bartek.

They were a mega success.

And because it is the Year of the Rabbit, Yung made an incredible “Chinese spaghetti” with some tender rabbit gifted by some friends.

But the real star of the evening (not including post-dumpling karaoke session) were the hundreds of dumplings that we churned out.

Seriously, hundreds.

Xi Feng was our fearless dumpling leader, and expertly guided everyone through the process. It was amazing to watch.

I think I spent hours just dicing vegetables, meats and herbs. Thank god for my food processor. This was a bowl of vegetarian dumplings (mushroom, tofu, carrot, scallion, garlic, and cilantro)…

…but my favorite were definitely the meatier variations. We focused primarily on pork dumplings, an extremely auspicious food for the new year.

There were so many dumplings, every single inch of counter space was crawling with the tiny pouches of delight.

There were plenty of tutorials to show everyone how to make a perfect dumpling so each guest could get involved.

Everyone pitched in.

Most of them were boiled…

…but I also decided to fry some up, Jiaozi style. At that point I was so wasted, it’s a miracle I didn’t sustain severe peanut oil burns all over my arms. Why you ask?

Yung decided the most important ingredient for our party was a case of highly contraband Chinese sorghum whiskey, otherwise known as baijiu.

The baijiu, coupled with endless reserves of wine and beer, was a huge hit, mostly because they involved Yung standing on a chair and conducting round after round of toasts celebrating the new year. After completing my evening with a karaoke rendition of ‘Rainbow in the Dark,’ I deemed it the best Chinese New Year’s yet.

JILL STUART FALL 2011 RTW

Another outstanding fall collection, this time courtesy of Jill Stuart, an ultra-feminine designer that I don’t normally give a second glance. But her fall 2011 RTW collection references so many things I love: jeweled autumnal tones (a sartorial color palette I can actually get behind), mid-century Disney iconography, fitted Built by Wendy-esque shapes and whimsy (remember her penguin-printed silk shifts from 2008?), Russian fairy tale drama and sleek Art Deco glamour. But my favorite reference?

[images via Style.com]

FANCY FEAST

Alison nailed it when she noted that she wants these plates to be a part of her fantasy wedding registry. Sometimes, Etsy really pulls through.

[via Leibrary]