New Location

You can find all the old content and new stuff too at

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Cooking Cucumber: the French Way

Cucumbers - at least one plant in my garden every summer
I previously blogged about cooking cucumber. Those recipes were Asian-inspired. I mentioned that the French cook cucumber too and that Julia Child had a number of recipes for cooked cucumber. As befitting a proper French dish, many of them contain a heckuva lot of cream. France has some of the richest dairy land in the world and they are justly proud of their cream and cheese. Still, as much as I love cream, her recipes seem a bit excessive to me. As sacrilegious as it may sound, I'm going to tweak dear Julia's recipe.

The basics remain the same: you need to draw out much of the water in the cucumber before baking it. Otherwise, you end up with soupy boiled cucumber, which isn't all that appetizing.

Baked Cucumber with Cream
(serves 4-6)

6 medium cucumbers
2 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
⅛ teaspoon sugar
1 ½ teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh dill (or use basil or parsley)
⅛ teaspoon black pepper
3 Tablespoons heavy cream
more black pepper

Peel the cucumbers and cut in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Slice the cucumbers the long way into about ½" slices. Then cut into 3" pieces. Place in a large bowl. Sprinkle with vinegar, sugar, and salt. Mix and let sit for 30 minute to an hour. Drain, pour onto a towel, arrange in a single layer then pat dry with another towel. You want the cucumber pieces dry so they cook up crisp.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Melt the butter with the fresh herbs and ⅛ teaspoon black pepper in a small saucepan. Place the cucumbers in a large shallow baking dish - large enough so the cucumbers are in a single layer. Pour over the melted butter and mix. Place the baking dish in the oven and bake for 50 minutes, stirring a few times during the baking. Remove from oven. Stir in cream and additional black pepper, if desired. Serve immediately.

Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Volume One - Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck, Borzoi, 1961.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Making Pickles

My latest project...called chunk pickles. An old recipe from a book called Preserving in Today's Kitchen by Jeanne Lesem, where "today" is circa 1985. The description says the recipe is way older than 1985, however. I've found lots of great recipes from this book: the recipe for quick dills on my School of Eating Good blog is from the same book. These are not quick pickles. They need to sit for about a day and a half in salt water, get packed in jars, heated (though not actually canned), and covered in brine. Then they sit for 2 months. So, no recipe for these since I have no idea how they are going to turn out. Come back in mid-October to find out.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Reflections on a Week in Montreal

Scenes from Montreal (clockwise from upper left): Asian spiced salmon with a spicy slaw, classic row houses, local strawberries at Marche Jean-Talon, amuse bouche, paella burners and Serrano ham, the Arts Complex, me at the Botanic Gardens, Montreal waterfront
Please dear readers, forgive my absence. I have been spending all my spare time on my other blog (School of Eating Good) and traveling around a bit. Then I had a pet emergency. But, I'm back and I'm will try to be more regular with my posts.

I visited Montreal in early July with a few of my college friends. We went for the Jazz Festival. If you are a lover of great music, you should try to get there during the Montreal Jazz Festival. It's fantastic. While you are there, you will eat well. Really, really well. Like Toronto and Vancouver, Montreal is a foodie paradise. It is every bit as multicultural as these other large Canadian cities but it feels like you are in an old European city. Besides the food, you can enjoy fantastic museums, a world-class Botanic Gardens, and go to the top of the tower built for the Olympics in 1976. There is great shopping, a beautiful and charming historic Old City, and close proximity to the deep forests of Quebec for hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter. Or visit Parc Mont-Royal, where you can see those forests within the city.

Bringing this back to food, those forests produce the most maple syrup of any place in the world, 80% of all maple syrup. Not surprising given that the sugar maple is a Northeastern native and Quebec has a whole lot of maple forest. We visited the Maple Museum in the Old City, full of all things maple syrup. I bought a cookbook (of course!), Cooking with Quebec Maple Syrup by Anne Fortin. It is filled with maple recipes from the traditional to the cutting edge from some of the finest restaurant kitchens in Montreal. I can't wait to try out a recipe for lamb shanks au parfum d'erable.

Montreal boosts an impressive array of ethnic restaurants: Cambodian, Venezuelan, Portuguese, Greek, Ethiopian, Thai, Korean. The list goes on and on. There is a small Chinatown with excellent Asian shopping. I even found rambutans, my daughter's favorite fruit:

We spent a morning at the Marche Jean-Talon, one of three large everyday produce markets. Produce comes from Quebec and all over the world. Of course, I had to find the wild mushrooms, and I found some very wild ones, indeed!
Those are Amanita caesarea, American Caesar's Mushroom, a species I was surprised to see in the market. There are many similar looking Amanita that are poisonous so these guys must know what they are doing!

Here are a few more images from the market. Frankly, I could have spent all day there!

We ate very well during our 5 days in Montreal, sometimes picking restaurants at random, sometimes using the recommendations from our excellent hosts, Bob and Mariko of Bob & Mariko's Bed & Breakfast.

We had a truly cross-cultural experience in a Korean restaurant, a kimchee quesadilla! It wasn't terribly spicy but quite tasty and makes the perfect post-bar snack. We enjoyed a French meal at Cafe Cherrier. I had a Toulouse sausage. I'm not sure what the sausages from Toulouse are supposed to taste like but it was delicious and moist, accompanied by perfect pommes frites (as one would expect at a French cafe). We found out-of-this-world pastry at Mamie Clafoutis. Not exactly French pastry, it definitely had a French-Canadien spin to it. They earned their French creds turning out baguette worthy of any Parisian boulangerie. We enjoyed excellent gelato; traditional Belgian moules (as well as curried mussels, Thai-style mussels, and Provencal-style mussels), frites, and local beer; Portuguese live-fire grilled sardines with piri-piri sauce; and when in Montreal, you must try the smoked meat. Smoked meat is cured, spiced, smoked fatty brisket and it's sort of like pastrami but it has its own special spice blend. I recommend it highly, but if you like your meat lean, it may give you a scare. As my Jewish grandmother would say: "Live a little. A bit of fat never killed anyone." :-)
Clockwise from the upper left: Kimchee quesadilla, Schwartz's Deli, what a selection of salami/saucisson/cured meat, moules, Schwartz's window full of smoked meat, Toulouse sausage and frites
For another uniquely Jewish Montreal institution, visit Fairmount Bagels. Montreal is now considered the only place to get traditional bagels. Given that most bagels in the US have little resemblance to traditional bagels, you may be disappointed by these. They are fantastic, to my mind - chewy, fairly small, and the perfect carrier for a smear and some salty lox. Fairmount turns them out around the clock so you can have a bagel hot from the wood-fired ovens whenever you like, even post-barhopping.

Below are the names and addresses of all the places I remembered to keep track of, if you are lucky enough to find yourself in Montreal in the future.

Pagliacci Bistro Gelati
125 Rue Prince-Arthur E for gelato

Cafe Cherrier
3635 rue Saint-Denis for reasonably priced French

Mamie Clafoutis
3660, rue Saint-Denis for amazing pastry and bread

Bieres et Compagnie
4350 St Denis, for moules frites and an excellent selection of beer on tap

3895 Saint-Laurent Blvd for the best smoked meat

Bob & Mariko's B&B
3458 Avenue Laval, I would stay here again. Great hosts and a great location!

Marche Jean-Talon
7070 Avenue Henri Julien

Fairmount Bagels
74 rue Fairmount Quest