[Photo of our apartment, a pretty cheerful post-birthday party scene]
Phew. It’s been another long week. I kind of always feel like I’m recovering from a really fun, intense, social party. Today I plan on doing nothing. This morning I rifled through the refrigerator to pull ingredients for a big pot of soup. I’m going to this new cafe for ramen (right in my hood, too!), then wander around the market, then stop by Milano’s to stock up on canned tomatoes and tomato paste. Then it’s back home to catch up on Downton Abbey and wait for my soup to finish. Just typing the words is bringing me relief and relaxation.
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.
If you live in Montreal, then you already know that the markets are ridiculous. Like, jaw-droppingly, achingly spectacular. It’s my favorite time of year around these parts — early summer vegetables are still kicking around, and early fall produce is starting to make its first appearance. (I saw pears yesterday!) Basically it means that you can eat whatever you want and in incredible abundance. Yesterday morning, we went for the corn, tomatoes, amaranth, carrots, kale, and fresh eggs. Tomorrow, I’m going back for eggplant — we’re finally upon ratatouille season!
Funny how tempura fried fish still qualifies as a ‘healthy dinner’ for us, but it does, somehow. Tender, local fluke fillets dipped in flour, beaten egg, and tempura gets shallow fried in some olive oil and butter before liberally drizzled with lemon juice, and then eaten rapidly while still crispy and hot. We held back on the salt because Adam picked up a small parcel of samphire, which was somehow briny enough to flavor my entire plate of food. Served alongside broad beans, red peppers, and wild red rice, it certainly felt like a healthy, no-wine kind of night. Sometimes you need a break from all the pancetta pasta and crispy duck!
One of the very best things about the internet (besides adorable cat videos, of course) is the fact that I have met so many cool ladies through our various blogs, though many of our friendships exist only in the cybersphere. Happily, I had a one-night-only chance to meet beautiful Jennifer and her partner Evan in real life.
The pair were in Montreal for some R&R, so I invited them over for a Monday night supper: crispy roast duck legs, navy beans, heirloom beets and dill, Chad Robertson’s dinosaur kale caesar salad (and please, don’t hesitate: make this salad immediately) with big whole wheat croutons, roasted carrots in honey, and duck fat-fried potatoes. (Pro tip: sprinkle your potatoes with chives and smoked paprika and they will emerge from their oven roast tasting of Ruffles-brand sour cream & onion potato chips). For dessert, a little Canadian pride: Ontario peach and Quebec blueberry galette and vanilla-scented whipped cream.
Just a few words on making perfect duck legs. The legs I purchased had a tremendous amount of excess fat, so I rendered all of my trimmings. Just place them in a big pot, cover them halfway up with water, and let it simmer on low, low, low heat. After a few hours, the water will have completely evaporated, leaving behind crisp, golden duck cracklings and a few pints (!) of perfectly rendered duck fat. I used a decent amount to coat the roast potatoes, and bottled the rest — it’ll be perfect for biscuits, savory pie crust, and scones.
But back to the duck. This video sums up the technique quite nicely — the idea is low and slow — though Adam and I couldn’t help but make a few adjustments. Rather than 90 minutes at 300 degrees F, we roasted our legs for two hours at 250 degrees F, turning on the broiler at the end to get extra crispy, golden results. The result is a stunner every time: paper thin shards of skin atop moist, tender leg meat.
Is it redundant to post about a meal that’s already been so lovingly written up? In the case, not if your blog includes one photo of the beautiful chef, a rare photo of the cook in motion. We did a super-quick fuel-up just hours before the Kinfolk Dinner — including a car run to the bakery, where I bought every single baguette they had, among a few other delicious things — and Sasha said, ‘It’s amazing how fast a meal can get made when two people in the kitchen both know what they’re doing.’ So true. Between the two of us, scrambled eggs, poached carrots, roasted asparagus, trimmed radishes, and a big salad with strawberries (totally a trademark Sasha dish) came together it about 15 minutes. Teamwork!
Call me saccharine, but I’m totally into the idea of Ladies Night. (I even like calling it ‘Ladies Night.’) I’ve always been more of a girls-girl, and feel happiest when I’m hanging out with my girlfriends. So after a heavy weekend of partying, a light, ladylike meal of chilled rosé, steamed vegetables, garlicky aioli, and a big, crunchy salad with avocado with some super cool ladies was exactly what I needed. Dessert was simple but special — we ate the one souvenir I brought back from Provence, a single bar of nougat from Sanary-sur-mer, sweetened with honey and crunchy with pistachios (my favorite!). That it tasted heavenly was really a bonus — I confess that I bought it for the detailed bee-stung wrapper. (Which now hangs on our refrigerator!)
Le Grand Aioli isn’t just for ladies night… it’s the perfect thing for summer, boys included. (I have a more detailed write-up about this light summer meal here).
Though I love traveling, one of the most challenging aspects of it is not being able to cook. Luckily, on this trip I will be able to spend time in the kitchen, at least for a few days, because we’re renting a small apartment! (I even packed a few of my most favorite French cookbooks!) I’m already fantasizing about making meals just like this one — one small roast chicken, swiss chard dotted with cherry tomatoes and fresh garlic, and crisp jerusalem artichokes, peeled and roasted until golden and fragrant.