Monthly Archives: August 2011

THROWN TOGETHER, EATEN UP

Buying a few clutch pre-made dishes, dressing them up in a more personal way, and preparing a few other easy side dishes might be one of the easiest ways ever to throw an impromptu dinner party. Everyone’s happy and everything’s delicious.

Earlier that morning, we took our friends out to Abu Elias and did a little grocery shopping of our own. Of course, I couldn’t resist their excellent hummus, or a pound of their excellent beef tartare, which is massaged with bulghur wheat, cumin, sumac, and other spices. But we also ordered a huge carton of fatteh (but then buttered and toasted our own pita chips to ensure crispiness late into the night), and a delicious lahmajoun.

I cracked open a jar of tiny pickled carrots that I made earlier in the week, and we readied a platter of radishes, waiting to be sliced in half and spread with butter. Adam prepped a small plate of celery sticks and taramosalata (a killer combo). We made a huge tomato, olive, and pepper salad, and a quick tabbouleh. I even whipped up (perhaps incongruously) a warm potato salad, with crispy pan-fried potatoes, tender green beans, bacon, scallions, and a rich mustard-crème fraîche vinaigrette.

But my favorite dish of the evening was derived from a recipe that I’ve had an eye on for months — a simple beetroot salad dressed with pistachios, lemon juice, and mint, from the indispensible Moro East cookbook. We picked up a bundle of gorgeous chiogga beets from the market, and roasted them in foil until tender. The Clarks like to thinly slice their beets and dress them with a chunky vinaigrette that includes minced pistachios, orange blossom water, mint, parsley, lemon zest and lemon juice. It was outstanding — light and floral but full of flavor.

CHEZ PANISSE MENUS

Ordering this book immediately. I love reading menus, and lists of ingredients; it’s so soothing. Is that weird? My favorite Richard Olney volumes are his books arranged by precise meal plans —specifically,The French Menu Cookbook: The Food and Wine of France—Season by Delicious Season—in Beautifully Composed Menus and Ten Vineyard Lunches. I can’t even count how many times I’ve referred to its pages for inspirations for dinner parties and other events. I love thinking about the sequencing of a great meal as being similar to a tracks on a record or chapters in a book. Why should a meal be assembled haphazardly, when it could be composed as a linear, thoughtful event? Oh, and this Patricia Curtan book inspires me to host a Grand Aïoli of my own, too.

[via the Paris Review]

SOME SPECTRE FOLKS

Thank you to everybody that came out for the Spectre Folk and MV+EE concert last week at La Brique. The music was incredible, and the night super fun.

Because La Brique has a big kitchen, I decided to make everyone a massive dinner before the show: a savory potato-rosemary tart in whole wheat pastry; Richard Olney’s zucchini gratin (the key is plenty of anchovies and a freshly-made persillade); Richard Olney’s baked eggplant with fresh tomato sauce and ricotta; wild arugula tossed in mustard-walnut oil vinaigrette; smoked salmon, taramosalata, dill, Beluga lentil “caviar,” and lemon wedges on toasted Fairmount bagels; and Lulu‘s (by way of Richard Olney) gorgeous walnut gateaux with homemade crème fraîche and halved Quebec plums (Lulu’s book can be hard to find; David Lebovitz presents his adaptation of Lulu’s cake here).

But the most popular dish of the evening? An unexpected combination of pickled carrots, diced celery, and clams, smuggled in from Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. Oceanic, bracing, and very pleasantly chewy.

A SURPRISE TRIP TO NORMAN HARDIE

I never would have imagined that I would find myself spending the night in the private staff quarters of one of Ontario’s finest wineries, but then again, Adam always has had a way of surprising me.

Let me explain. Immediately following our trip down to Ithaca for Meredith’s wedding, we spontaneously decided to make our way through Ontario before returning to Montreal.

We drove through Niagara Falls (I’ll spare you the photos I ecstatically took of the insane wax museums, cheesy restaurants, and, inexplicably, haunted houses that line the mains streets of the town) and spent one day and one night in Toronto (more on that soon!), so Adam could do more work on his book.

The morning we were to leave Toronto, we were faced with a question — should we drive straight back to Montreal, or take a day-long detour through Prince Edward County?

PEC is a gorgeous, bucolic wine region in Ontario known for its delicious Burgundy-style pinot noirs. At the lobster dinner party we hosted earlier this summer, we sampled a fair amount of French white burgundies — eight, in fact. (It was a hectic night). But there was one lone bottle of Canadian white burgundy, from a small winery in PEC called Norman Hardie.

Amazingly, the verdict was unanimous: this bottle of Ontario wine was everyone’s favorite burgundy. By a long shot. It was sublime.

So back in Toronto, Adam tells me to pack my bags. We’re leaving Toronto in an hour, and we’re going to Norman Hardie after all. To stay. For the night.

“Wait. So what you’re saying is, we’re staying at a hotel near the winery? Is that what’s happening?” — Me

Nope. We were staying at the winery. In a bed. On their property. Oh, and they were cooking us dinner. Don’t ask me how Adam makes these things happen. He has a gift for it.

A few hours and three Popul Vuh CDs later, we arrived at Norm’s estate, just as the sun was dipping out of sight. It was a stunning property — undulating acres of twisting vines, all bearing tiny, hard green grapes.

When we arrived, our host, Richard, one of the associate wine makers, welcomed us into the kitchen, which was housed in this beautiful hangar that also housed all of their barrels. Of course, he poured us a glass of wine right away.

I was happy to sit back, while Adam had the pleasure of fiendishly nerding out with fellow wine freaks. After all, it’s not often you have a wine maker make you dinner.

The night went on and on, in the best way possible. It was like having dinner with old friends — that’s how fast we clicked.

We snuck upstairs to the tasting floor to pick up more wine for the dinner and grab some pasta.

Richard put us right to work, cutting squash, mushrooms, and onion for a huge pot of tomato sauce he was making. I’m glad he asked for help. I always feel more comfortable when I’m busy in a kitchen.

By then, the sun had almost disappeared. The sunsets in PEC? Spectacular.

This was our dining room table. We were surrounded by vats and vats of wine. It was a little surreal.

Of course, we had to being a few wines of our own, to spread the love. I died over this 2002 bottle of Simon Bize & Fils Savigny-lès-Beaune 1er Cru Aux Vergelesses. (Just a few days earlier, we drank the 1996; I can say with confidence that the 2002 vintage is spectacular in comparison).

Since the main topic of conversation was wine, they showed us a few priceless bottles that they’ve enjoyed on a few drunken, late nights. Apparently that 1982 Penfolds is really something else.

The pasta — made with heirloom tomatoes and basil from their own garden — was outstanding. Meaty, rich, and full of sweet tomato flavor.

Oh, and it was topped with a perfectly grilled, medium-rare beef tenderloin. I told you this night was special. At this point, I was beside myself with happiness. I ate all of my steak, plus a few bites stolen from Adam’s plate.

We drank a lot of wine that night, including a very special Cabernet Franc that tasted like jalapenos. It was uncanny.

After dinner, Richard gave us a killer tour of their barrels, and explained a bunch of weird, insider wine knowledge (as a wine neophyte, I can honestly say that I had no idea what was happening).

Full of fantastic food and even better wine, I don’t think I’ve ever slept better in my life.

The next morning we woke up early and did — what else? — but a barrel tasting. (I had never done one before!) We grabbed coffee, muffins, toast, jam, and peanut butter at the adorable Tall Poppy Cafe, and then headed back to Norm’s for one final tasting before hitting the road. I wish I had taken photos at the Tall Poppy — they had hosted a wedding (!) the night before, so there were beautiful jars full of flowers everywhere.

A wine tasting at 9am may sound a bit intense to some (it certainly did to me), but the opportunity to taste straight from the barrel was too cool to pass up.

We were told to sip and spit — right onto the floor! (I tried to aim for the little cracks between the tiles). I laughed every time I attempted to spit, and dribbled wine onto my shirt like a crazy person.

We left shortly thereafter, with plenty of souvenirs (read: a case of wine) with which to remember our trip. As a final present, Richard sent us down to their garden, where he said I could pick whatever I wanted to take home with me. I went for the tomatoes and peppers, and we ate half of them, still wet from the morning dew, in the car on the way home.

Man. What an unforgettable night. Thank you Norman Hardie and crew for your incredible hospitality and generosity — and come visit us in Montreal soon!

TOUGH DECISIONS

After getting an inside tip that Sasha was considering growing out her bangs (my two cents: don’t, they’re so awesome!), I’ve started thinking about mine. I’ve had heavy bangs for six or seven years now, and feel terrified about growing them out. (They’re like a safety blanket for your face!) But now that Sasha’s put the bug in my brain, I’m considering it. Should I go for it? Eeek…

COUPLED UP

Last wedding post, I promise. (And it wasn’t even my wedding!) The day of Meredith’s wedding, it poured rain, which at first was stressful, but in retrospect was kind of nice. Everything was foggy and cool and sort of mysterious looking, in that Twin Peaks-kind of way. Definitely preferable to the scorching 100+ degree temperatures we were enduring only days earlier.

DRINK UP

Adam being Adam, he just had to sneak in a few bottles of wine to Meredith’s wedding reception. Clever boy. Our table enjoyed two magnificent bottles of wine that he picked up at Sparrow’s (his new favorite wine merchant): a 1996 Barbaresco Vigneti in Montestefano, and a J.M. Boillot Pommard 1er Cru Jarollières from 1997.

Tellingly, he pulled the same move the night before at the rehearsal dinner. This time, it was a funky bottle of 1996 Domaine Simon Bize et Fils Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru Aux Vergelesses. It was… intense. We were probably in denial that it was on the edge of going off, because we drank the entire bottle. 

At this point, I was a little tipsy, so I made him pose for a bunch of fake wine writer shots. It’s so close to the real thing, it’s almost not funny anymore. (I was just stoked to have him pose in the new Gant shirt I bought for him at the Barney’s in San Diego.)

But I guess he wasn’t the only one with the classy idea to smuggle in booze — I saw plenty of empty PBR cans around the venue. Rad.

BLOSSOMS

One of the most special moments in Meredith’s Ithaca wedding had to be the harvesting of flowers at West Haven Farm. It’s moments like these that I really miss being out in the country.

Wow. Everything about this look — the jeans, her shirt, that bun, the makeup — is completely flawless. She’s so beautiful it’s scary.

[Photo by Vanessa Jackman, via Ringo, have a banana]

MORNING PERFECTION

Our talented and awesome friend Michelle gave us a generous parcel of her blackberry brioche. The brioche was some of the best I’ve ever had, truly donut-like in character, tender, sweet, and light. I gobbled one down for breakfast, accompanied with some green tea, syrupy Greengages and Ontario nectarines.