Category Archives: celebration

CAT CAKE

When I was at Lawrence, I was the go-to person for staff birthday treats. I’d figure out everyone’s birthday, then I’d secretly investigate what their favorite birthday sweet was. We’d wrap up dinner service and be done cleaning around midnight or 1am, then I’d surprise the birthday boy or girl with a big platter of warm chocolate chips cookies or a teetering Queen Elizabeth cake.

So when my friend and Marlow colleague James asked me to bake a cake for his girlfriend’s birthday, I happily obliged. Special occasion cakes are a challenging niche unto themselves, but James had only two requirements: that it be super chocolatey, and that it incorporate the visage of a cat. (!!!!) I hope I did his vision justice.

Oh hey, Brooklyn…

Oh, my. Figuring out where to begin is like staring at this wide expanse of ocean — infinite, overwhelming, and totally abstract. Let’s just start with the facts and dive right in. I haven’t written here in over two months. Fact. After almost three gorgeous years, I left Montreal. Fact! Now I live in Brooklyn. Crazy fact.

In July, I departed my beloved Lawrence, home to the finest food and folks in all of Montreal, for Williamsburg’s Marlow + Sons and Diner…. yeah. Kind of a big deal if you are into food. For me, it’s totally amazing and inspiring. My learning curve has been a little extreme.

Let me just get right into it. My move to Brooklyn was completely unplanned. My Montreal buddies were shocked but not surprised. You know when something feels really right? This was like that.

Lawrence closes for two weeks every summer, so I took the opportunity to accept a pastry stagiere at Marlow + Sons. It was so mindblowing, inspiring, and cool, but I never thought for a second that it would lead to anything else besides a great week or two away from Montreal.

But they were looking for a pastry cook, and even though I initially felt so reticent, the refrain from my friends went thusly: “This is a no brainer. Take it. Do it. Go!” 24 agonizing hours later, I accepted the job. The next day, I put in my notice at Lawrence. And two weeks after that, I moved to Brooklyn and began my new job. It happened so fast, I didn’t even have time to consider if it was the right decision for me or not. My head spins just thinking about how quickly I pulled it all together.

I swore I’d never move to New York, but now that I’m here it feels so simple. It was somehow harder in Montreal, the ache of displacement lingered for months.  This transition feels less tricky and also like the most meaningful gesture of independence. I’m here, it was my choice, I’m pursuing my love of pastry, and it all feels really right.

So anyway, if you had asked me ten years ago where I thought I would be as a late 20-whatever, I would not have said Brooklyn. I definitely would not have guessed working in restaurants. Nothing about where I have ended up today has been predictable or easy, but my last two months in New York has been an inspiring part of my journey.

I can’t promise that I’ll write more, but I really think that I will. Being in New York has filled me with an entirely new kind of enthusiasm for writing. Working at Marlow + Sons is the coolest thing I’ve done all year and I’m filled with gratitude and righteousness for my new surroundings. I love it here.

Weirdly, I haven’t pulled out my camera once since I moved here! I did, however, finally buy an iPhone, my first ever. Here’s a little peek at what my summer has been like. (I’m kind of obsessed with Instagram now!!?) As for what it is like living in Brooklyn?! That’s for future posts. I’ll be around. I have so much to say. XOXOX

QUEENLY BIRTHDAY

If you have a fear of sugar — the kind that’s heaped into quantities that makes your hands tremble and eyes twitch — then this cake is probably not for you. But for us, the sugar-high-riding gang at Lawrence (gummi worms at 5pm is a daily kitchen snack), well, we pine for the Queen Elizabeth cake, which is sweetened with not just regular granulated sugar, but also brown sugar, dried coconut, and dates.

The Queenie, as we affectionately called it, lived on the menu much longer than most of our desserts because it was so popular with clients. (It was also topped with a scoop of homemade Makers Mark-infused ice cream, so that probably didn’t hurt, either). And in the kitchen, we never got tired of the coconut-topped cake either, and we regularly ended shifts with a shared slice or two.

The Queen derives most of its sweetness from dates, which are soaked in hot water until a thick, mashable paste forms.  The rest of the cake is a breeze to assemble — cream some butter and sugar, add a few eggs and vanilla, then alternate sifted flour with the warm date mixture. I love making this cake in a single bowl, creaming butter and sugar by hand, with a good wooden spoon. No mixer required. The batter puffs and swells into a lovely tan-colored cake, which is then topped with cooked mixture of (more) butter, heavy cream, unsweetened shredded coconut, and brown sugar. Then, finally, the cake is broiled until the topping caramelizes into a crunchy, amber crust.

So when Jessica’s birthday rolled around, I surprised her with a Queenie encore, this time gussied up, American-style, into a three-layer birthday cake smothered with vanilla buttercream frosting. (I was in such a rush that the cake didn’t completely cool before I frosted it, which is why you can see that top layer sliding around in the final photo!) I can make this cake in my sleep — I realized I still had the recipe memorized — but it was an entirely new challenge to bake this cake during service with her only a few meters away from me. Jess could totally spy the action from her garde manger station (as in, she saw the cake layers cooling on our speed rack and overheard us whispering about it, oops), but I think she was surprised anyway.

Note — Warm out of the oven, this cake is cozy and comforting, but it’s even better the next day. The flavors are richer, the topping even crunchier, the innards moist and sticky. I’d bring it to a picnic for a sweet finish to a long afternoon.

HOT POT ADDICTION

In the dead of winter, traditional Chinese hot pot might be the perfect remedy. My thought process of the last month: Quick! Before winter ends… and it’s going to end soon… You have one final thing to accomplish. A hot pot feast at home!

I adore everything about hot pot. Thinly sliced meats — like beef, lamb, chicken — perched delicately in a mesh wire basket, are lowered into a bubbling cauldron dotted with floating mushrooms, a tangle of rice noodles, cubes of tofu, and a mysterious thicket of vegetables. As the meat simmers to doneness, the fixings, like a big spoonful of spicy, rich sesame sauce, are arranged in a tiny bowl, alongside a few wedges of crisp Chung Yao Bing, or a savory scallion pancake. As the night crawls forward, the broth gets thicker, meatier, richer, condensed with the dazed memories of the meats and the seafood that entered and exited its steamy world.

My fondness for hot pot has been documented on this site before. There’s that time I had it in Hong Kong, which was pretty mind-blowing. But organizing a hot pot feast at home  — as I did once in California — is not even that hard, and maybe even more fun than going out. So for my friend Karine’s birthday, I knew right away that I wanted to throw her a party that we’d all remember forever.

The day of the dinner, we drove down to Chinatown and scooped up all of the ingredients for a proper hot pot experience. As for prep, that’s about it. The night of the party, it’s an every-man-or-woman-for-himself kind of situation. You make the food as you crave it, gulp it down as soon as it’s ready, and don’t stop until you’re about stuffed, practically hallucinating with pleasure, peering through the steamy room that feels as hot as a sauna.

It’s the best way to say zàijiàn to winter.

BIRTHDAY QUAILS

Not that I need an excuse to throw an elaborate dinner party, but it’s become something of a tradition around these parts that I host a big feast in honor of my friends’ birthdays. (Sometimes, of course, the birthday parties end in blood and tears).

So for Fred’s birthday, something special was in order. We began with fresh oysters, halved radishes, bowls of salty pistachios, and local charcuterie. We moved onto a creamy purple potato dauphinoise spiked with thyme and sage. We relieved palates with a shaved fennel, dandelion greens, blood orange and chicory salad. The main event was a heaping platter of roast quail, fried in duck fat and stuffed with black cabbage and bacon. We ate them with our fingers, squirting the birds with juice from lemon wedges. Then we tackled a huge board of cheeses – most of them local Quebec products that we also feature at the restaurant. (Have you ever had the Alfred le Fermier? It’s one of my favorites, like a creamy, milky gruyere).  For dessert, a leftover baked alaska pinched from work and a sweet chocolate ganache tart contributed by Seeger. There’s just something about cooking for friends… it always makes me feel great.

(Quail photo by Marc)

RETURNING, AND SOME MUSSELS

When I first started working at Lawrence, I thought for sure that I would be able to make time for both work and writing. That between the long days making anglaise, puff pastry, bread, custards, and caramel, I would still feel stoked to write in this blog (or anywhere else!). Six months later, I’ve accepted the struggles that I’ve encountered when searching for energy and inspiration to ever visit this space, especially when the one thing that I blog about the most — cooking! — I simply don’t do much anymore. (I mean really: you don’t want to hear about endless breakfasts of avocado toast, lentil mush, and late-night popcorn). So one of the things that I thought about over the holidays was how to make this space feel engaging and special to me again. Because I’d really like it to be! And already: relaxing in this space again feels comforting and cozy.

These photos aren’t that recent, but hopefully still worth sharing. I’ve written about the beauty of steamed mussels before (my recipe can be found here). They’re one of my favorite dishes to make for friends because they’re awesomely cheap, easy, and healthy. And right now, they’re in season. I also added an obscene amount of chopped herbs (I used a mix of fresh dill, fennel fronds, parsley, basil, mint, and tarragon), pastis, and my secret ingredient — a tiny dice of raw celery. The steam relaxes the celery slightly and gives the dish a miraculous lift and lightness. We ate big bowls of brothy mussels with crisp duck fat-fried potatoes, a shaved fennel salad, and golden garlic toasts — made with my own bread! (A smuggled-home stump of Lawrence sourdough).

So here’s to more parties… and garlic toast… and brothy healthfulness… and finding time to spend in spaces that you love…. even if all you make six days of the week is avocado toast and lentil mush.

CHRISTMAS PUDDING

I probably should have posted this earlier in the week, but tonight is the last night that you can order our one-year-aged (!) Christmas pudding at Lawrence. The pudding has a special place in my heart because it’s one of the first things I learned how to make when I first came to the restaurant. This iconic English pudding is creamy, dense, sticky and super flavorful — it’s packed with all kinds of dried fruit, citrus peel, beef suet, clarified butter, breadcrumbs, brandy, spices, and so much else. As a final flourish, we serve it with heavy cream, brandy butter, and then light the whole thing on fire. It’s so dramatic and old school!

To double up on the holiday spirit, we’re also serving whole roast goose with all the trimmings. It’s gorgeous. We’re fully in the spirit!

[Photo by Martin Chamberland. For the full recipe, visit La Presse for their article on our pudding!]

GIVING THANKS

Around these parts, Thanksgiving is something of a week-long celebration. We’ll feast again with friends this Monday, but earlier in the week we hosted another small gathering. The idea was fowl, but definitely no turkey. What did we eat?

Fennel confit with saffron, currants, orange zest, coriander seed. (I make this all the time; it’s very popular around these parts! I always look for the tiniest bulbs at the market for the most tender flesh.)

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Sauteed chicken livers with torn radicchio and honey vinaigrette

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Shredded duck legs with lentils, kale, and duck-fat roast potatoes

Roasted butternut squash with herbs de Provence, fresh bay and smoked paprika

Crispy brussels sprouts with pancetta and pine nuts

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A big hunk of Comté from Jura and sourdough bread

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Tangerines!

There was lots of laughter, record playing, and garland-making. One of the best Thanksgivings I’ve had in ages. There weren’t even any leftovers!

GOLD MEDAL PLATES

A few weeks ago, the team at Lawrence competed in the annual Gold Medal Plates competition, a charity event featuring Canadian chefs cooking their signature dishes for hundreds of people. Marc was invited to participate in the Quebec event, and we all helped him out. I felt like I finally had a taste of what it would be like hustling on one of those insane Top Chef challenges — complete with copious amounts of running back and forth between our display table and the onsite kitchens — and we took home a bronze medal! The dish? The ultimate marriage of sweet and salty: crispy pork cheek and mustard sauce atop a mini apple tart tatin. I’ve never made more puff pastry in my life.

A DOWNTON BIRTHDAY

For my birthday party this year (well, one of three parties… but more on that later!), Adam and I decided to throw a glorious Downton Abbey-themed dinner. The inspiration came from our friend Michelle — a die-hard Downton Abbey lover, just like me.

I can’t quite decide if I’m more upstairs or downstairs (which are you?), though I suppose working in a kitchen 10 hours a day lands me squarely downstairs. So we made our menu a celebration of both elements, with upstairs decadence like endless bottles of champagne and claret; roasted bone marrow with a simple parsley and caper salad; beautiful, soft French cheeses (I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of the Tomme du Maréchal); and the crowning glory, an apple charlotte that Michelle made and brought to the party. Fellow Downton aficionados will remember this dessert from the infamous salty pavlova episode (one of my personal all-time favorite Downton moments). Michelle’s apple charlotte was so gorgeous and well-constructed I felt a little heartbroken cutting into it. But the pudding — just imagine warm, soft cooked apples incased in a crisp, buttery shell of brioche — was one of the most delicious and memorable desserts I have eaten in my life.

The main course — braised beef shin served over boiled potatoes with chives and tarragon — was resolutely downstairs. Adam bought over seven kilos (!) of beef shin from Marc at Lawrence (P.S., there’s a nice story on his remarkable butchery philosophy over here) which he slowly braised until tender. We served it with a jiggly Yorkshire pudding (Hugh’s recipe, the only one I’ve ever used), roasted brussels sprouts with pancetta, and glazed carrots, and ate it, naturally, with plenty of strong Claret.

This was the dinner party of my dreams, even if my imaginary t.v. boyfriend Matthew couldn’t make it.