Month: September 2012

Big thinking on a Friday afternoon

What IS it about food that makes it so compelling? When I think about why I love to eat, I get grossed out. Why do we like the act of tasting, chewing, swallowing and filling our bellies? Come on, I feel like I’m writing about a lizard! I see its beady eyes as its tongue snatches a morsel of ickyness… But alas, I do love eating, and am guilty of planning dinner as I eat breakfast or lunch. Not only do I love eating, but I love the act of making good ingredients into something that provides pleasure. Really, I even enjoy making a fridge-full of weird bits into something passable! Maybe I should change my perspective and consider myself an aspiring artist whose medium isn’t the pencil and paper I tried to master, but rather, flour and sugar and yeast and water and cheese and veggies and… OK,  I can buy that visual.


Bad Bread. Why?

Why is it in the culture of “heirloom” this and “artisanal” that there is still so much bad bread? I’m not talking about the stuff sold in bags in supermarkets (which I admit, makes great pb+j and grilled cheese sandwiches). No, I’m talking about the $3 and over loaves we all buy at our local bakeries.  No argument works for me. It doesn’t cost more to bake good bread, or take more time.

If you mix flour, yeast, salt and water, let it sit for 12 – 18 hours, you can bake a great loaf of bread at home. NO kneading, no mess, no fuss. The secret is a good, heavy oven-proof pot. Here’s what I use.

My secret to baking great crusty bread

If you want to see how to do it, watch Mark Bittman’s video.   Now you are done the hard part of the process! (Really.It is that easy!)

Recipe for 1 minute bread:

3 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 tsp. yeast

1 1/4 tsp. salt

1 1/2 cup water

For EXCEPTIONAL bread, follow Chad Robertson’s recipes. They are in a book named for their bakery in San Francisco, Tartine.  If anyone would like sourdough starter, e-mail me and I will send you some. Otherwise, it is a fun and easy project to make your own. Buy his cookbook for lots of amazing options. Here’s a video from Tartine’s site:

Tuesday’s Sourdoughs


Martha Stewart (no comment) has the basic recipe on her site. Here is the link:

Challah really deserves a post of its own. If bread could be a hug, this would  be it. Here is my go-to all time favourite recipe. Warning – do not eat it with butter. Or Nutella. Or jam. Or anything.  There’s no going back to regular, crappy bread if you do.

4 braid challah


3 tbs.                    active dry yeast (instant or regular)

2 ¼ cups               warm water, divided

¾ tsp.                   sugar

5+1                       eggs (room temp. if possible)

1 1/3(ish) cups    clover or other light honey ( or you can substitute part with maple syrup)

¾ cup                    canola oil

2 ¼ tsp.                salt

10-12 cups          All-purpose flour ( I use organic unbleached, sometimes some bread flour…it really isn’t a finicky recipe)

Directions: This makes 2 HUGE breads, or 3 – 4 normal size loaves.

  1. In a small bowl, stir together the yeast, 1 ½ cups of the water, and sugar. Let sit 10 minutes and make sure it proofs.
  2. In a very large bowl beat the 5 eggs with the honey. Add remaining ¾ cups of water, oil and salt. Add the yeast mixture and mix well.
  3. Add 5 cups of the flour and start mixer. (can add raisins now – 3 cups or so).  Keep adding flour until you have a shaggy mess. 2 options – keep adding flour and mix until you get a dough that is pretty stiff (almost done here) OR, you can let it sit now for 20 minutes – it makes the final knead really easy.
  4. If you are hand kneading, do it now. Add enough flour to get a stiff but not dry dough. Think of “baby’s bum” as what you want here.  If you are machine kneading only, keep adding flour carefully until you get the right texture.
  5. Let rise in a clean bowl, covered with damp towel for 2 – 4 hours. It is forgiving. OR let rise in fridge overnight.  If you refrigerate, it needs 4 – 6 hours to rise the next day)
  6. When dough has risen, punch down and turn onto board.   Give it a good knead for 3-5 minutes Divide dough into a multiple of 4. (this recipe makes 3 -4-5 loaves) Roll each lump into a ball, then pull the ball onto itself, making a seam at the bottom (to develop surface tension). Let balls rest 10 minutes at least (cover if they seem like they will dry out)
  7. Roll balls into sets of 4 ropes. Let ropes rest a few minutes (covered).  Add flour to roll the ropes if necessary to keep from sticking, but you still want the dough to feel soft.
  8. Do a 4 rope braid (pinch ropes together.  Number them 1,2,3,4. Put 1 between 2and 3, put 3 where 1 was then take 4 and put it between 3 and 2, and take 2 and put it where 4 was. Continue and tuck the ends under the loaf. If you need to see it, there are you tube videos.
  9. Put braided challahs on a cookie sheet with parchment. Cover with damp towel (or do egg wash + sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds) and let rise 45 mins – 1.5 hours.  Again, it is really forgiving. Just make sure it is puffy and doesn’t spring much when you press it.
  10. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Do the egg wash and sprinkle seeds – sesame or poppy, or my kids’ fave, pasteurized or sparkle sugar.
  11. Bake for approx. 45 minutes. You may need to cover loosely with foil if it browns too fast.  Test for doneness by tapping bottom of bread and listening for hollow sound.

I just wish I could somehow post the aroma.

Thank you, Martin Picard

Lazy post but OH so good…courtesy of the Montreal Gazette – which really I was about to cancel but just redeemed itself


Drop whatever you are doing and make this pie

Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon’s Apple Pie

Makes two 9-inch pies

Pastry chef Gabrielle Rivard-Hiller makes 160 of these pies a week for the restaurant as well as 60 a week for takeout. She is now using Lobo apples for the filling, but says you can also use a mixture of Cortland and McIntosh. The idea for the filling is not to have firm apples or apple sauce, but a combination of the two textures.

For the upper crust:

3 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup unsalted cold butter, cut into small pieces

11/2 teaspoons salt

100 mL (scant 1/2 cup) ice water

1 egg

Using a pastry blender, your hands, or a mixmaster on low speed, fit with a paddle attachment, rub the flour and butter together until the butter breaks down into the size of SMALL peas. Stir in the salt. Whisk together the water and egg, then pour it into the flour mixture. Combine until it forms a dough and knead only very lightly to make a ball. Flatten it into a disc, wrap and chill for at least 2 hours.

For the lower crust:

2 cups flour

1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 teaspoon salt

70 mL (a generous 1/3 cup) ice water

Using a pastry blender, your hands or a mixmaster on low speed, fit with a paddle attachment, rub the flour and butter together until the butter breaks down into the size of LARGE peas. Stir in the salt. Add the water, combine until it forms a dough, and knead only very lightly to make a ball. Flatten it into a disc, wrap, and chill for at least 2 hours.

For the dry mix:

1 cup sugar

3 tablespoons flour

1 rounded tablespoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine all the ingredients, and measure out 1½ cups of the mix in all (you will need ¾ per pie; ¼ cup of which will go underneath the apples and ½ cup of which will go on top).

For the filling:

16 apples (count 8 per pie), peeled and each cut into six equal pieces (count about 3 cups of apple slices per pie)

1 egg yolk, whisked

Sugar for sprinkling

To make the pies:

Prepare two 9-inch aluminum pie plates.

Slice the base crust into two equal pieces, and shape each piece into a disk. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each disc of dough into a 10- to 11-inch round, 3 mm in thickness. Brush off any excess flour. Place each round of dough onto the base of the prepared pie plate, allowing some overhang on the sides. Sprinkle ¼ cup of the cinnamon sugar onto the base of each, then pile over the 3 cups of apples onto each. Sprinkle over the reserved ½ cup cinnamon sugar over the apples in each tray.

Cut the second round of pie dough in half, shape into two discs, and roll each into a 10- to 11-inch round, 3 mm in thickness. Brush off any excess flour.

Brush the base pastry of each pie with the beaten egg yolk, then lay over the second round of dough, pressing the two layers of dough together to seal the crusts. Slice off any excess dough, and then crimp the dough to make a decorative edge. Repeat the process for the second pie.

Brush the top of each generously with the egg yolk and sprinkle with sugar. Cut a small hole in the top for steam to escape.

Bake the pies in a preheated 375-degree F oven for 20 minutes, then drop the temperature to 350F for a further 40 minutes or until the juices inside come to a boil. Let cool before slicing.

© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette


For External Use Only

Usually when I taste something I like, I need to make it. To have more of it and to be able to “own” it. Such was the case with a mostarda I was lucky enough to taste at a Mark Vetri evening last year at Joe Beef. Mostarda is a fruit (or veggie)  conserve that combines the intense spice of mustard with the sweet flavors of candied fruit.  The artichokes were unreal. Sweet, nose clearing perfection.

Mostarda fruits

Essentially the recipe is:

1 lb. fruit or veggies such as quince, peeled + seeded squash, clementines…

1 2/3 c sugar

4 c water

¼ c liquid glucose or light corn syrup

And here is the interesting part: 2 drops essential oil of mustard, or 1 or 2 tsp pure mustard oil or mustard powder

I saw a magic bottle of essential oil of mustard at Joe Beef, up on a shelf and cloaked in mystery. You see, this stuff is basically liquid mustard gas! Apparently, there are a few pharmacies in Italy who sell the stuff (I can’t wait to go and ask for it in my horrendous Italian and see the look on the pharmacist’s face). But alas, I had to make do with “pure mustard oil”, which is almost as hard to track down.  I forayed into a dusty East Indian grocery to find a bottle.  The FDA and Canadian Food Inspection Agency require imported mustard seed oil to be labeled ‘for external use only,’ so this is the label on this bottle. As the spice expert Gernot Katzer says:

”Because of the erucic acid and maybe also the isothiocyanates, mustard oil is not a legal foodstuff in most western countries, including the EU and the USA, and it must not be sold as a cooking oil. Nevertheless, Indian food shops often sell mustard oil, but to circumvent these paternalistic laws, their mustard oil is labeled ”For external use only”. There is no need to take that remark seriously, although mustard oil does have cosmetic use in India (e.g. as hair balm).”

Unfortunately, the brand I bought was almost tasteless, and the mostarda was a non-event…I will give it another try after my next trip to Italy.  BUT WAIT – I found some pretty darn amazing mostarda on this side of the pond at Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, MA. 

They have a great selection, including a quince paste (already yummy) mostarda. Break out your cheese or salumi….it is seriously mmmmm

Day 1 – toss the fruit/veggies with the sugar in a bowl and let sit overnight uncovered at room temperature.

Day 2 – put the fruit into a colander set over a bowl and rinse with some of the 4 c of water. Rinse the bowl with the rest of the water (you don’t want to throw any of it out). Set aside the fruit/veg. Add glucose / corn syrup to the liquid and boil until you get 220 degrees F (attach a candy thermometer to the pot).  Add the fruits and reheat to 220 F. Immediately remove from heat and let stand uncovered overnight at room temperature.

Day 3 – drain the fruits/veg and boil the liquid over high until it reaches 222 F for 10 – 15 minutes. Return the fruits and heat until you get back to 222F. Immediately remove from heat and let stand uncovered overnight at room temperature.

Day 4 – do it again to 224F

Day 5 – same thing to 226F. Once cooled to room temperature the fruits/veg should be soft and covered with syrup. Stir in the mustard oil. If using powder, first stir it into ¼ c of the syrup and heat them until powder dissolves. Add back into rest of syrup

It will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.

Please tell me if you make it.  I want to hear the story

Beating tastebud jet-lag

Time does funny things to my memories of flavor. Thinking of delights tasted in far-off lands usually ends in my attempting, and failing, to recreate them. Even if I get every nuance of the recipe right, it just doesn’t work. The air smells different. The setting is all wrong. Until now. Rewind a few months to an idyllic Moroccan vacation full of adventure, colours, and mouth-watering delicacies. While I haven’t even tried to tackle a Moroccan breakfast, I recreated a moment in time with Sofra’s recipe for Sesame-Tomato Jam. I am sitting in a tiled Riad in Marrakesh…..mmmmm.











• 4 cups peeled and seeded tomatoes (or one can diced tomato)

-­‐ for easy peeling, blanche the tomatoes in boiling water for about one minute until the skin splits, then remove and let cool enough to handle before peeling

• 1 heaping teaspoon tomato paste

• ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

• 2 teaspoons ras el hannout (see below)

• 2 tablespoons honey

• 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

• 2 tablespoons sesame seeds

• 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Place all of the ingredients except for the lemon juice in a large sauté pan on low heat and GENTLY simmer until it turns into a soft jam. (About 30 minutes)

Stir in lemon juice.

Season with salt and white pepper

RAS EL HANNOUT (this makes enough to use in lots of other ways)

• ¼ cup cumin seeds

• ¾ tsp saffron

• 1½ tsp ground cinnamon

• 1 T turmeric

• 1 tsp ground ginger

• 1 T ground black pepper

• ½ cup paprika

In a small skillet on low heat, toast the cumin seed for 2 minutes until fragrant. Cool and grind with the saffron.

Place in a small mixing bowl and combine with the remaining spices.

Gluttony, but the good kind.

Passion.  It is something that is contagious, and hard to fake. In the food business, I understand how easy it must be to get jaded. But really, the difference between going out for a meal and having a great night out boils down to mojo.  I’m not sure why Montreal has so many passionate chefs, but I’M NOT COMPLAINING! After prepping of a few days eating lettuce and cottage cheese, I recently had the pleasure of spending a few gluttonous hours at Martin Picard’s Sugar Shack, which this fall is offering an apple menu. While I must admit there were a few dishes that weren’t particularly apple-y, everything was, as expected, fabulous. Cream of squash au gratin, garnished with apples and Amaretti cookies,

Cured ham from the “Cabane PDC” and headcheese (photo required to even TRY to explain that one),

Curdled goat yogurt with honeycomb and foie gras shavings on toast, Ravioli stuffed with chicken livers, cavatelli apple sauce accompanied by a foie gras confit, Salmon “en papillotte” (in newspaper) with snails and apple cider sauce ( that I thought was actually and disappointingly not as great as it could have been), apple glazed beef roast, eggplant crepes, warm oysters, hazelnut broccoli (addictive) and lettuce salad (why bother you ask? No, it was really good)…followed by Apple Pie (incredible crust), Soft ice cream and apple sorbet, apple and plum sticky toffee pudding with caramel sauce, and, in case anyone could still breathe, chocolate and apple soufflé.

Italian Grandmothers everywhere are shaking their heads…

Every once in a while I see a recipe that looks like it is either intentionally booby-trapped, or is just plain wrong. When I finally looked at my August newsletter from Bonnie Stern (author of several go-to cookbooks in my arsenal) there was one freaky recipe that caught my attention. Not only do I not believe in re-inventing a perfectly good wheel, I think there are a few things you don’t mess with, like cooking pasta properly, and making risotto. So OF COURSE I had to try….


This recipe is from Judy Witts Francini, a friend and colleague of Bonnie’s who leads tours, writes guidebooks and has a helpful website for anyone travelling to Italy  Don’t worry that it is against every rule of cooking pasta – it is amazing.

  • 3 lbs ripe tomatoes, cut in half
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 tsp hot red chile flakes
  • 1 lb spaghetti
  • 2 cups boiling water

for finishing:  3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil or butter

1. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large 12″ deep skillet. Add tomatoes, cut side down. Add about 1/2 cup boiling water and cook about 10 to 15 minutes until tomatoes have softened. Add garlic and hot chile flakes. Turn tomatoes over, cook another 5 minutes, adding more boiling water if necessary to prevent sticking. Now break tomatoes up with a wooden spoon and cook, until sauce-like and juicy.

2. Add dry spaghetti and stir a little until it softens and you can stir everything together. Adding water about 1/2 cup at a time, as the spaghetti absorbs the liquid, stir and cook until the spaghetti is al dente – about 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Stir in salt and pepper to taste, oil or butter and basil. Sprinkle with grated Parmigiano Reggiano if you like.

makes 6 servings

Folks, the texture is incredible and the lack of boiled-in-water-sog is amazing. Revolutionary even, perhaps. The sauce becomes creamy from the starch released from the pasta (which is why you really have to keep stirring as it cooks.).  I did skin the tomatoes to spare everyone the skin-in-the-teeth smile. The only slightly odd part of this adventure is the colour. If I were to name a new Crayola colour for the finished sauce, it would be “Chef Boyardee”