24 December 2011

Holiday cheer: butter up your days with shortbread biscuits

Cookies (or biscuits as they're called on the other side of the pond) are one of the reasons why Xmas was invented. Forget the religious business – Xmas is a vehicle for consumption of alcohol butter.
[Single batch of petticoat-shaped cookies.]

Full of buttery goodness, shortbread is originally a Scottish blessing made of pretty much just butter, oatmeal flour and sugar. Nowadays, one uses plain flour or mixed with oatmeal flour.
[Buttery proof is in the paper bag]

Taking off from the America's Test Kitchen recipe for perfect shortbread, you can clog a few arteries with a single recipe, or double it to induce a few heart attacks.
[ATK suggests how to properly bake them properly – notice the top one is still slightly wet in the middle... big no-no... I ate it anyways.]

[The middle piece! Or what's left of it.]

Happy butter season to all!

28 November 2011

Try this: Hagelslag – the serious chocolate sprinkles

Hagelslag, according to the Dutch, is the reason bread was invented*. Bread, you see, is the vehicle for conveying hagelslag, chocolate sprinkles for grown-ups (though they do make kid versions).

It's ideal for people who want to relive the youth they never got to experience because their moms were scatterbrained anti-sugar fascists!

[Box of assorted hagelslag. The best is the original one and the pure chocolate one and the golden one.]

Around 1936, some enterprising Dutch man by the name of Gerard de Vries at the Venz chocolate factory decided to revolutionize the consumption of chocolate in the form of sprinkles – which, by the way, can only be called hagelslag if it's 45% chocolate or more, otherwise it's labelled chocolate-flavoured hagelslag.

Butter up your bread (or toast, though it might be frowned upon) and sprinkle hagelslag generously on top and eat with a grin: the butter is the binding agent that unites the world.

[I might go to hell for putting hagelslag on toast but it's totally worth it.]

Take it from the Dutch: chocolate sprinkles are serious business  about 14 million kilos of business annually, on 850 million slices of bread.

* Totally could be made up.

24 November 2011

Baked bread so good, you can hide stuff in

Sometimes when you least expect it, you can learn something. In this case, I learned something revolutionary from the talented local photographer, Mr. Simoneau when I went to help him dispose of bodies learn desktop publishing crap – I learned that you can make [expletive]ly fantastic bread with very little kneading and patience.

Let's call it Fancy Bread for Lazy People.

I was in complete denial that this would work and boy was I ever schooled!

[Still hot in the Dutch oven]

The NY Times piece that first revealed this technique says that all you need is:
  • 3 cups +/- (~750ml) of flour (mix and match)
  • 1/4 tsp (1.5ml) instant yeast
  • 1-1/4 tsp salt (6.5ml) (I found 1 tsp was sufficient)
  • 1-5/8 cup (385ml) water
  • Cornmeal, more flour, or wheat bran for dusting
  • Big bowl
  • A Dutch oven or something similar with an oven-proof cover. They're on sale this week at Canadian Tire, so you have no excuse unless you live in an armpit.
  • Patience (also available at Canadian Tire for $12.99) 
The secret, Mr. Simoneau says, is magical unicorn saliva. But I think it's the humidity that gets trapped in the preheated pot for the first part of the cooking process.

[Mr. Simoneau making his olive version, where he reduced the salt by about a quarter. Please ignore the yelling face he is making at me.]

[A 50% whole wheat bread with black sesame]

Oh, btw, I said you can hide stuff in the bread; I tried hiding Pee-Wee in it while baking and it worked out quite well (wouldn't you say?).

Thanks, Mr. Simoneau for the great tip! And thanks to Pee-Wee for being such a good sport.

18 October 2011

The Roast of Tomato McPomodoro, esq.

Who doesn't love tomatoes (aside for those who are deathly allergic to them)? With over 7500 varieties, these chubby little red a55holes really seem to have latched onto our culinary apron strings* and permeated our digestible landscape like someone passing bad gas in an elevator, except it lasting 500 years.

Sometimes, I don't love them because 1) like rabbits, they multiply in such abundance during that short harvest period that you can't eat them fast enough, 2) there's only so much tomato sauce one can eat before imploding, and 3) you can't play Scrabble against them without making a mess.

[Oven-roasted tomatoes ready to eat.]

Luckily, you can roast these bastards down to size for later consumption through our barren winter months (though evidently, not barren of snowfall).

For three pounds (3-4 lbs) of fresh tomatoes (I used Romas as they are meatier and less juicy and because I had a buttload of them from the CSA basket, but you can use whatever you like —  adjust the roasting time).
  1. Clean them.
  2. Halve them lengthwise.
  3. Toss tomatoes with a generous spoonful of coarse salt, pepper,  +/- 3/4 cup of olive oil  as many cloves of garlic as you want (whole, or crushed or minced -- it doesn't matter cause the vampires won't come near them anyways).
  4. Spread them on parchment lined baking sheets with the cut side up (evaporates better). Drizzle with more olive oil. You will probably want to use parchment or aluminium foil because it's a biznatch to scrub clean otherwise.  
  5. Slow-roast them in the oven at 275F for about 2 hours or 300F for 1h45 or 225F for 4 hours —  it really depends on how patient and hungry you are, and how you like the tomatoes (burnt or less burnt).
  6. Once they're as done as you like it, let them cool, and then eat them. 
You can store them in jars and keeping them either frozen or storing them in the fridge (for up to a week, maybe two —  depends on how dry the fruits are).

* In the early 1500s, tomatoes (pomodoro) were introduced to Italy but used as Martha Stewareseque tabletop decoration because it was thought they were poisonous, and only the very poor Neapolitans ate them. Who's laughing now?

08 October 2011

Keeping vampires away -- with pizza!

So my other job as a vampire hunter, as you know, takes up a bit of my spare time.

And of the brazillion pizzerias in Montreal, ranging from upscale to substitute for cardboard weather-shields even hobos wouldn't even use, there are a number of places where a part-time vampire hunter like myself can kick back and refuel.

Take for instance one of the newer spots – Pizzeria Magpie – in our (now famously famous) Mile-End neighbourhood; their Bianca pizza is perfect for vampire hunters: roast garlic, bechamel, ham, fresh basil, parlsey, dill and coriander. A must for regular humans and vampire hunters alike! 

[Oh how this Bianca pizza warmed my cold, black heart.]

Here's a shortcut for roasting garlic in the privacy of your own vampire-hunter lair.
  1. Take a head of garlic.
  2. With a sharp knife, slice off the top without separating the cloves.
  3. Place it on aluminium foil and drizzle a moderate amount of olive oil over the head of garlic.
  4. Wrap up the aluminium foil and bake it in a toaster oven for 10-20 minutes (depending on size of oven).
  5. Remove from the toaster oven, open packet and let cool.
  6. Squish them out of the garlic sheaths. Eat them on toast, pizza, in sauces, pop them in your mouth, or store them in a tightly covered container, preferably covered in oil. 

[Roast garlic squeezed to perfection.]

As for Magpie, I'd head back when I'm feeling peckish for some tasty vampire-hunting fuel. as it is in the mid-range price-wise, and only AFTER I collect my fang-bounty.

BTW, here's my business card for anyone interested in vampire removal services:

Pizzeria Magpie

18 September 2011

Fresh harvest: blueberries

What's better than locally grown wild Quebec blueberries?

[I wish I had picked these myself]

Locally grown wild Quebec blueberries cozily taking refuge under a blanket of whipped cream.*

[I did, however, eat these ones myself]

Small, portable, and handsome, Vaccinium cyannococcus (bleuets if you're a local) are best when plucked from their bushy low-lying branches by maiden handservants in petticoats and fontanges.

Make no mistake – there are cultivated blueberries in this belle province as well, and it's important not to confuse them with the wild ones which are indubitably sweeter, more flavourful and tinier in person, like your favourite celebrity.

Luckily for us, the spring weather was sh!tty this year and all crops in our part of Canada were late, which means blueberries, normally abundant early August are still around now, mid-September.

Check out some regional quebecois recipes for our blue, blue friends.

*Though the BEST blueberries in the world are those from Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean. I will fight anyone who dares disagree.

01 September 2011

Poutine central: MA-a-am-M Bolduc

When you have overseas visitors who hear of this Quebec mangled food phenomenon called "poutine" and aren't completely revolted by it enough to try one, you gladly humour them.

In my case, my Dutch visitor, Lin heard through the grapevine that was a magical French-Canadian dish called "poutine" that was the cause of all wars in this world,

So I took her to one of Montreal's best poutine destinations to let her find out for herself: Ma-am-m Bolduc.

[A most memorable plate of poutine: Ma-a-am-m Bolduc's vintage original.]

Lin adhered to the standard French-Canadian instructions for eating poutine: grab a fork and dig in. Ma-am-M Bolduc's fantastic savoury sauce and generous dosage of squeaky cheese complement the homestyle fries to a tee (check out their menu for the full list of poutine varieties).

As the Dutch say in Quebec, Het regnet poutine, meaning, "the world would be a worse off place without deep fryers".

As with all that is deep fried, you need a tasty chaser. My lovely friend chose to wash it all down with locally-made spruce beer.

[Lin about to try spruce beer for the first time. She liked it so much, she inhaled it.]

Contrary to urban myth, spruce beer (bière d'epinette) is a refreshing, non-alcoholic nectar of the gods, that tastes like camping, and increases virility all while helping you with your math homework.

[Doesn't look like much but this bottle of spruce beer will change your life for the better!]

(If you're enterprising, you can make your own spruce beer, or hurt yourself trying.)

Poutine initiation was a success! Lin has passed level 1 of Quebec foodstuffs and is ready to move onto level 2: sugar shacks.

(Lin: BTW, thanks for the picolientjes!)

Ma-am-M Bolduc
4351-4355 de Lorimier

Restaurant Ma-Am-M Bolduc on Urbanspoon

10 August 2011

Red curry pizzazz

This is red curry.

This business is [expletive]ly spicy, even of the store-bought variety.

As you can see from the container, red curry is made of garlic, lemongrass, shallots, coriander roots and seeds, galangal, some wrinkled green things, and 2 brazillion chili peppers.

I made the minor mistake of slathering too much on this Thai-inspired seafood pizza, complete with shrimp, crabmeat, bamboo shoots, and hot, hot peppers.

Let's just say there was spicy regret the next day... delicious, delicious regret.

19 July 2011

The butcher did it, with the cleaver, in the kitchen

It's a shame that offal meats are still not widely accepted as they should be, and for no good reason! It's tasty, tasty stuff -- there's no reason to be squeamish! When you think of it, meat is animal muscle, and if the animal devoted its life to becoming food, we respect that and use it as much as possible.

Offal meats (pork intestines and knuckles, chicken hearts, beef tongue, etc.) seem to be more readily sold at Asian butcher counters (Kim Phat, T&T, Marché Orientale, etc) but even then, there's items you can only get by special request.

Sometimes called "fifth quarter" meats by butchers (abat en français) are still even more rare on restaurant menus -- and especially in our fair city where restaurants outnumber inhabitants, we should be seeing more creativity with these meats.

Charcuterie Chez Vito is my favourite neighbourhood butcher (though a tad pricey, the quality is consistently superb). In addition to being dapper in their butcher garb, the butchers are knowledgeable and friendly -- so friendly, you don't mind giving them extra money for their goods!

[Grilled lamb liver à la Vito]

Chez Vito have a few offal meats on hand but they'll be happy to get you whatever you fancy. Since liver is a tad dry when cooked (and can be worn as a shoe when overcooked), Vito recommended an Italian method for grilling liver: wrapping it in caul fat.

Grilled lamb liver à la Vito
2lb (~1kg) liver, rinsed and pat dry
Caul fat* (ask your butcher for some; they might just give it to you)
Salt and pepper (to taste)
Few bay leaves
  1. As always when cooking meat (unless otherwise instructed), let it warm up to at least close to room temperature. Season the liver with salt, pepper.

  2. If the caul fat is bunched up, run it in some cold running water to loosen it. Lay it out flat on a surface. 
  3. Place the liver on top of the caul fat and then top it off with a few bay leaves.
  4. Completely wrap the caul fat around the liver.
  5. Grill it on medium-high (or barbecue it) for 3-4 minutes on the first side, and then another 3-4 minutes on the other side. It should be somewhat rare in the middle.
  6. Slice it up and then serve with something tasty, such as an English ale or aranciata. Or both. 
We can rally together and get out the message that offal is not awful!

(Why am I so ranty these days?)

* Goz says that they sometimes call it la pella (skin) or buccia (layer) in Italian. He could also tell me that "La cadavere della cameriera è nascosto nella dispensa" means "The cake is wonderful and another glass of wine is not out of the question," and I'd still believe him.

11 July 2011

Apfelwein: the conclusion

Because I'm a busy chow, I totally forgot about the results of the Apfelwein that was concocted late last year -- you know, the German alcoholic wine made from apple juice and love.

I'm glad to say that the Apfelwein turned out quite nicely -- not sweet or very bubbly like cider, and slightly harder.

[A sampling of the resulting Apfelwein. I sampled it well.]

You can mix it with juice, cold or warm, but the real men drink it straight up in ribbed glasses to hide the cloudiness of the drink. I don't have one of those so I just use my moustache.

It's easy to make your own Apfelwein and get your own drink on! All you need is home brewing equipment (which you can get at La Choppe à Barrock, Moût International (turn off your sound before clicking unless you like cheese), La Cachette du Bootlegger, or some other fine local homebrew shop), and patience (which you can purchase by sending me a cheque or money order for $100).

30 June 2011

Not your mama's tacos: Montreal's pseudo-street food

My buddy GG treated me to these tasty buggers yesterday from the smiling truck painted booger-green:

[Pork taco and Banh Mi pork taco from Grumman 78]

Oh how I had longed for a taste of Grumman 78 since I first caught a glimpse of the repurposed milk truck many, many moons ago... It's the closest we'll get yet to real street food here, and we all know how awesome street food is.

[The awesome smiling Grumman 78 truck! Note the smiling owner waving at me!]

Earlier this week, the Journal Métro touched on why Montreal city street food hasn't seen the light of day for 60 years, like they currently do in other North American metropolises -- even its rival down the 401!

Though focused on the Grumman 78 enterprise, the article raised a few issues that have previously fallen to deaf ears at Montreal's City Hall. Citing hygiene and "aesthetics" as prime deterrents of allowing street food (not to mention impinging on restaurant businesses, as this city has one of the highest ratios of restaurants per resident), they'll only maybe-perhaps-possibly consider letting mobile food dispensaries in public parks as a pilot project. So far, pop-up food stands are only allowed at city-sanctioned events (i.e. Osheaga, Jazz Fest, holiday celebrations, the list goes on).

Consider the growing number of Montreal "street" food ventures like the Fruixi (bike-hitched fresh fruits and vegetables), or the multipurpose Müvbox, one would believe that the city would seize the opportunity to cash in on "more of the new", rather than play the stuffed shirt card and go the way of the pinball machine1.

[Fruixi in the fruit flesh; photo from]

Spacing Montreal's discussion presents some fine global exhibits of street food abroad. There's street food in some hygienically questionable places in China, India (BOTH STILL HAVE THE BUBONIC PLAGUE!) and even hyper-clean cities like Singapore — there's no real reason for the absence of this from our urban landscape!

Optimistically, it might be a matter of time before City Hall bows to public demand for more and better food available at street level, unless it really wants to end up as the last duckling in the line that gets squashed under the tires of the fast-moving truck that is our ever-important food culture.

I digress. And this entry is already way too long.
1 This example is not unlike how former Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau successfully crusaded for the ban of pinball machines in 1956 in the city. Soon after after Chicago and New York City say that "pinball is a-ok" did Montreal finally lift the ridiculous by-law in 1977.

24 June 2011

Maple syrup makes the world go 'round

The general rule is, when you go sugar shacking, i.e. maple syrup hunting, you need to like maple syrup. You need to like maple syrup because you will drench everything in this sweet Canadian liquid gold*.

[Just looking at the bowl of oreilles de crisse is clogging my arteries.]

Acériculture (I don't think there actually is an English word for it) is bigass industry in Quebec. And this fact, we celebrate by dangerously coming close to inducing adult onset diabetes with the all-you-can-eat formula at our beloved cabanes à sucre.

[A bucket collecting maple sap from a tap. Pretty interesting, especially because it resembles a bucket collecting water but is not!]

Typical sugar shack fare includes maple syrup with a side of baked beans, fluffy omelette, ham, bacon, cretons, sausage, pancakes, followed by homemade doughnuts, and/or maple sugar pie or just plain sugar pie with maple syrup juice.

[Aformentioned homemade doughnuts and maple sugar tartlets.]

(Er, I know my post is much too late in the season for anyone who wants to experience this diabetes-invoking* activity (especially cause it's already la Fête de la St-Jean), but you can make these deep fried pancakes (puffed doughnuts) yourself at home. Recipe below...)

Deep fried pancakes (crêpes frites), AKA beignes soufflées 

2.5 to 3 cups (600 to 750ml) flour
1/2 tsp (2ml) salt
2 to 3 Tbs (30 to 45ml) baking powder
2 Tbs (30ml) sugar
3 Tbs (45ml) butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten
1 to 1.5 cup (250 to 325ml) milk or water (room temperature)
1/4 tsp (1ml) vanilla (optional but delicious)
oil for frying
  1. Make room in stomach.
  2. In a large bowl, sift together flour, salt and baking powder. 
  3. In another bowl, mix together the milk or water, melted butter, and sugar. 
  4. Pour the liquid mixture into the flour mixture. Whisk this batter using a whisk until your hands feel like jelly, which should take anywhere between 15 seconds (wimps) to 2 minutes (contenders).
  5. Heat oil to about 150C (300F) in a vessel large with sufficient room so that doughnuts can float. 
  6. Drop the dough into the oil in large dollops, either with a large spoon or some piping mechanism and fry until they float and are golden. Remove from oil onto a dish lined with absorbent paper towels.
  7. Repeat the frying method (step 6.) for the remainder of the batter.
  8. Once cooled, coat or sprinkle with icing sugar, or soak in maple syrup.
TIP: For larger yield, make smaller dollops and/or hide them  from gluttonous siblings.

I'm not sure why but most of mine turned out shaped like stomachs -- maybe because they know precisely where they're heading!

Bonne St-Jean!!

*YES I know maple syrup is also manufactured in parts of the US. But to us, it's as Canadian as BIXI, and Kiefer Sutherland.

**If required, wear elastic waistband pants.

13 June 2011

Little Britain in Montreal*

(*Apologies, but sadly there is no Matt Lucas or David Williams here.)

The next time your smuggled deep-fried fish** gets confiscated at airport customs from your luggage on your way home from the UK because you couldn't resist sharing the lovely flakes of fish with your friends and family here back home, great news! You can take a deliciously deep-fried lump of fish and crispy chips home from right here, in Old Montreal!

[Haddock in maple syrup batter to the left; cod in Burgundy Lion batter to the right. Oh yes.]
Tucked away at the edge of Old Montreal, in the former McGill Hog Dog diner spot, Brit & Chips is Montreal's answer to the staple UK take-away food, complete with artery-clogging tartar sauce and the lemon wedge designed to fit entirely in your mouth.
[Good-looking take-away boxes and the contents about to get eaten! (cw from the top: haddock, cod and salmon).]

Run, don't walk, down to this chippy if you're in the hood. Oh and maybe shell out a measly $11 bucks for some fish and chips while you're there!

Brit & Chips
433 Rue Mcgill

** Thanks to the peeps at the Darkside HK, I have been enlightened to this "delicacy" of a fried fish practice in some part of China that will cause me to have nightmares for years to come. As if dreaming about talking sandwiches wasn't already disturbing enough!

Brit & Chips on Urbanspoon

31 May 2011

Hi-Chew for me and you!

Thanks to my dear Channy chan-chan, I replenished my collection of weird-flavoured Hi-Chew candy today!

(Hi-Chew, in case anyone wants to know, is a highly chewy but flavourful Japanese candy that can also be used as a substitute for squash or tennis balls, hence the ).

[TOP: High conc. [sic] black sesame milk candy which are not Hi-Chews. I think the "conc" is for "concrete"; BOTTOM: A new kora (cola) Hi-Chew package!]

[I think this one says is is spadorini flavour or something. I can't really read but maybe spadorini is Japanese for cheese drink.]

[I think this ones is sour plum, or umeshu something-something.]

[An older cola flavoured Hi-Chew packaging with the red banner! Untouched and unscathed! ]
[Ramune soda flavour (a nutsoid Japanese soda that has a bottle with a fandangled bottle with a marble in it. Ramune is supposed to be a transliteration of "lemonade" but as we all know, Japanese people went to the washroom when they were handing out the letter L so now they can't pronounce them.]

I don't really eat candy which is why they tend to accumulate but I like the packaging for Hi-Chews. Nothing tastes like aged vintage candy!

17 May 2011

Look what I made!

[Cocoa meringue doodie cookie!]

I've never had a sweet tooth, especially for strange extra sweet confections like meringue cookies [jump to] that look like CJ7 left behind. Unfortunately for me (and those subject to my confections), the egg whites didn't hold their form so the cookies kind of collapsed into its turd form.

[A pilfered image of CJ7 from who probably pilfered it from the film distributors. Gotta love China!]

Though meringue doesn't require cream of tartar, the acidity helps neutralize the alkalinity in egg whites to give them stability and volume, making the doodie cookies less doodie-like!

My mistake was substituting lime juice for cream of tartar (3 times the required amount of cream of tartar) which added liquid to the egg whites, thus adding water in addition to acidity... big meringue-o no-no!

(Evidently, if you rub cut lemons around the inside of a bowl and let it dry, the white powdery citric acid that is left behind is a good substitute for cream of tartar).

24 April 2011

Easter marshmallow kebabs

You won't believe what I've finally seen for the first time ever: Peeps (be forewarned: the site plays slightly annoying Danny Elfman-esque inspired music*)! The Americans have finally invaded downtown Canada!

[Yellow Peeps... kind of gross since they're all conjoined at the wing.]

I have long heard about these baby fowl-shaped marshmallow things through Frawley but had never seen them in the flesh until this week. I thought they would make great skewered treat!

[Remember to thread head through bottom for optimal stability.]

And for extra crispness, a brief scorching over open flames!**

[Toasted Easter marshmallow kababs!]

And there, you have a great little caremelized marshmallow kebab to share with the kiddies!

Happy day of messianic resurrection!

* I love love love Danny Elfman but the Peeps music is nowhere near Danny Elfman calibre.
** CHILDREN: Do not try this without adult supervision.