Category Archives: party

THANKSGIVING FEASTS: THE FINALE

Thanksgiving feast #3: perhaps the most spectacular of them all. So spectacular, in fact, that I completely neglected to take any photos of the delicious, abundant spread, which included pale pink mashed potatoes, roasted romanesco cauliflower, seared brussels sprouts, a faintly sweet, crunchy stuffing made with dried cherries, pecans, and cranberries, and massive magnums of wine provided by two of the most knowledgeable wine folks in the city, Theo and Etheylia. Naturally, you’d never expect anything less from a culinary duo as capable and passionate as Michelle and Anthony. I did remember to whip out my camera at the start of the awe-inspiring dessert course, when Michelle modestly unveiled a perfect pumpkin pie and a moist, boozy bourbon-drenched pound cake. Adam swooned, then asked for a thick slice to take home with him. They complied, of course — Thanksgiving is all about generosity, and these two are the very embodiment of perfect home entertaining.

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!

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.

HAPPIEST DAYS

Adam’s awesome brother Julian (don’t they look so similar?) married the beautiful and talented Annie Briard this past weekend. It was honestly the most fun I’ve ever had at a wedding — full of so much incredible love for the bride and groom. I gave them two presents: a basket of Sable Breton, dotted with lemon thyme from my garden (similar recipe here), and the gift of music. I DJed the entire wedding, cocktail party, dinner, and dancing — I haven’t danced that much since university! Adam joked that I found my true calling that night: as a wedding MC. He’s not entirely wrong, I’ve never felt more in my element. (At one point, I was leading everyone in a group macarena, via cordless microphone.) Adam’s gift to the newly married couple? He was the sommelier for the entire party! Congratulations Annie and Julian!

(PS. I wore this pretty dress — it has pockets and was next level comfortable!)

FOUR SIMPLE STEPS

Four steps for a satisfying dinner party:

1. Pick up the phone. Call Romados. Make sure to call by 7pm at the latest, because they always sell out of chickens by 7:30pm. Order two whole chickens, double order of french fries.

2. Make some salad. Okay, make a few salads. Maybe add those crisp, lithe French green beans from Birri, which taste spectacular after just a few minutes of steaming and a twist of black pepper. Get those French radishes, too, which love a fat smear of country butter and flaky salt. And red leaf lettuce. And cucumbers, and radish, a few melons, grape tomatoes, and Borlotti beans. And field basil, and thyme, and kale. Hell, buy it all. It’s summer, and who knows when it will be this good again. It always seems like an eternity. When you stack it all up on your plate, you won’t even be able to see that golden chicken or those crispy french fries. Somehow, this makes it all healthier.

3. Buy beer, lots and lots of it. Preferably something that you can stick a lime into. This is no night for wine. Have a signature cocktail, too, like this bourbon sour for dummies (a glug of Woodford reserve, a big squeeze of lemon juice, and one ice cube).

4. Call 6 or 8 of your hungriest friends. Eat until bursting.

NOT YR TYPICAL VIETNAMESE FEAST..

I’m so excited to announce the next special event at Le Pick Up, featuring the talented duo behind Rau Rum, an independent and local catering company. We attended a preview event for the dinner last week and the food was totally mindblowing — everything was so incredibly fresh, flavorful, and healthy. I’ve never had Vietnamese food like that in my life! See the full details for the dinner here.

SUMMER QUAIL

There’s nothing quite like a proper summer BBQ — held outside on a drizzling, humid July night — that pools together the talents of your friends. Cassady and Adam opened beautiful bottles of wine all night, and made sure I never saw the bottom of my glass. Noam from Kaizen, having just finished a 10-hour shift at the restaurant, grilled a few dozen quails until golden and charred. (What a champion!) Adam made a delicious spread of smoked eel from Kamouraska, fennel fronds, and milk bread toasts. Marc from Lawrence grilled duck hearts, served alongside simple salad of green beans, anchovy and radishes. And I roasted vegetables — beets and new potatoes from Birri, wrapped tightly in aluminum foil, and tossed directly on the coals — and made the easiest dessert ever. (This cake, which has yet to let me down.) We were spread around Cass’ back stoop, dishes perched on our laps, and picked at the tender quail meat with our hands, throwing the bones directly into the fire. Messy, delicious eating, and one of the best moments of the summer so far.

TROPICAL NIGHTS

Last month’s depanneur luau was a huge success! Apparently all you need for an awesome Hawaiian-themed luau are ombre drinks, dollar store leis, a killer Martin Denny soundtrack, and dessert with three kinds of dairy in it. Organizing special events at Le Pick Up always make me a little crazy and stressed, but they always end up being so fun and chill — thinking about the night is already giving me the nostalgic fuzzies. Thanks to everyone who came… I overbooked the night (a fundraiser for the Montreal non-profit Head and Hands) by about 20 seats. Oops. Glad everyone was okay with packing in!

D.I.Y. GRAND AIOLI

Our friends Radwan and Raia weren’t able to make it to my Kinfolk dinner, so we replicated the grand aioli feast for them right in their home! Afterward, I wrote another column for Offerings honoring this tremendous, life-affirming dish. My last Offerings piece focused on Provencal mussels, so I guess I’m on a bit of a southern France kick! Read on:

Of all of the sacred Provençal traditions, the fierce, garlicky aïoli is one of the region’s most beloved, mystical and legendary rituals. Frédéric Mistral, the lyrical 19th century Provençal poet, wrote that “aioli intoxicates gently, fills the body with warmth, and the soul with enthusiasm. In its essence it concentrates the strength, the gaiety, of the Provençal sunshine.” (He even had a Provencal journal dubbed L’Aioli, so enamored was he of the dish).

In the summer, Provençal villages gather outside for a festival celebrating their local saints and crops of garlic. This culinary orgy is called the aïoli monstre, or The Grand Aïoli, and the feast constitutes a spectacular entanglement of fresh vegetables, seafood, and garlic. This beauteous meal — surely the most sumptuous, color-soaked way to celebrate summer and local harvest — includes a bevy of seasonal ingredients, like beets, carrots, green beans, artichokes, radishes, potatoes, snails, clams, octopus, and salt cod. The only rule is to use the freshest and best ingredients available.

Of all of Provence’s iconic party dishes (bouillabaisse, couscous, and bagna cauda being other notable Les Plats de Festin), aïoli is my very favorite. In Mireille Johnston’s essential tome The Cuisine of the Sun, she writes that these “superdishes” require “exuberance in the planning, many guests to enjoy them, a certain solemnity at the table, and a long siesta to recover from them.” Aïoli pairs up perfectly with my love of parties.

But perhaps a rounded platter heaped high with of boiled fish, raw vegetables, and globs of garlic mayonnaise does not inspire lust in you, so trust me when I say that this will be one of the most lavish, sensual and extraordinary feasts you will prepare all year. It’s a living rainbow on a plate. (In Simple French Food, cookbook writer Richard Olney says that the thought of aïoli “transports a solid block of the meridional French population to heights of ecstasy”). And in the hot summer months when you are loath to turn on your stove, you’ll be relieved to have on hand such a simple, straightforward recipe.

A proper aïoli comprises three main ingredients: egg yolk, garlic, and olive oil. Each must be of impeccable quality, or else there is really no point. Most importantly, look for garlic that is firm, crisp, and sticky. Once it gets a lengthy turn in a mortar and pestle, the garlic will be transformed into a smooth and creamy paste. (Toss any bulbs that are sprouting or feel limp, as you really want the best and brightest specimens). Be creative and loose with the sauce accompaniments, but think variety of color (saturated fuchsias, grassy greens, marigold yellow, shocking orange) and preparation (raw, boiled, steamed, roasted, grilled). If your guests are worried about their pungent breath — and their breath will be pungent — offer sprigs of parsley or mint at the conclusion of the feast. But we’re all in this together, you know?

Recipe notes: I rarely use a recipe when making aïoli, but a good rule of thumb is two cloves of garlic per person and 1 egg yolk for every four people. For those who have never made an aïoli before, I have a sneaky shortcut: a teaspoon of good Dijon mustard, whisked into the yolk-garlic paste, will help stabilize your mayonnaise as you whisk the oil in. You’ll never have a broken aïoli again.

Le Grand Aïoli

Serves 8 people

For the aïoli:

16 garlic cloves, peeled (the “Music” variety, found in most Ontario and Quebec markets, is a delicious Canadian option)

2 egg yolks, at room temperature

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 cups extra virgin olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon

Handful parsley and chives, to garnish

Salt, to taste

 

—Using a sharp knife, roughly chop garlic into big chunks.

—Move to mortar and pestle, and pound steadily using broad sweeps with your wrist. Add a liberal amount of salt, and the garlic should begin to break down after several minutes into a smooth, thick paste.  (If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, a food processor is an acceptable substitute).

—Scrape the garlic into a medium-sized bowl and whisk in the egg yolks and mustard until smooth.

—Using a steady hand, add oil in a steady stream, at first drop by drop, and then faster, whisking constantly and furiously. The aïoli will actually thicken, not thin, with the addition of the oil emulsion. (Note: if the sauce breaks, you can whisk in another egg yolk to get it smooth again.)

—When the sauce looks thick and glossy, whisk in the lemon juice. Add salt to taste.

—If eating immediately, garnish with chopped parsley and chives. If not eating right away, cover with plastic wrap, pressing right on the surface, and refrigerate.

 

For the trimmings, mix and match the following:

Mixed seafood (2 lbs each boiled salt cod, snails, clams, and grilled baby octopus or squid)

6 beets

1 bunch carrots, trimmed and halved lengthwise

1 bunch radishes, trimmed and halved

1 head cauliflower, broken into florets

2 lbs cherry tomatoes, washed and trimmed

8 new potatoes (smaller potatoes like fingerlings would be lovely too)

2 fennel bulbs, sliced thinly on a mandoline

2 lbs green beans, trimmed

8 artichokes, trimmed, boiled and quartered

2 lbs baby squash, trimmed and cut lengthwise

2 lbs asparagus, stalks trimmed

4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and quartered

1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

4 lemons, sliced

 

—Prepare the vegetables that you would like cooked. For example: roast cauliflower florets, baby squash, and asparagus spears in a 425 degree oven, or until golden and crisp. Boiled green beans in salted water for two minutes, or until tender. Roast beets for an hour, then peel and quarter. Boil new potatoes in salted water for 20 minutes, or until tender.

—Let everything cool, and set aside.

—Other vegetables, like tomatoes, carrots, and fennel, will be better raw, and just require a good washing and trimming.

—Using the largest platter you can find (and you may need two or three platters depending on number of ingredients used), and keeping each ingredient separate (don’t mix them together!), artfully arrange the various ingredients on a platter in heaping clusters.

—Spoon aïoli into a small dish and place at the center of platter.

—Serve immediately, and with a bottle of cool, crisp Provencal rosé (I love bottles from Château de Pibarnon, Domaine Tempier, and Domaine Du Gros’Noré).

PIEDMONTESE FEAST

My buddy Marc went to Italy and brought back all manner of Piedmontese goodies — and was generous enough to share his bounty with us one evening. (He also gave me a glorious jar of London peel-less blood orange marmalade!) We feasted on Campari sodas, prosciutto di Parma, donkey sausage, fresh pancetta, truffle butter, and some of the most tender, luscious ham I’ve ever had. There were some heavy Quebec players, too, like local fluke, cucumber salad, grilled zucchini, and summer melon from the market. Little Cosmo kept poking his head up to sneak views of the alluring tablescape. I’m such a sucker for beggars — he was given plenty of fish bits.