Sunday, December 30, 2012

Olney Love Can Break Your Heart

2012 was also Foodlab's first year of existence, and, oh, what a year it was.  Sure, it was wild & wooly at times, but mostly it was a year of lovely, often adventurous menus, stellar events, a truly incredible summer that seemed to want to live up to Foodlab's seasonal theme ("Club Med"), loads of positive feedback, some well-deserved acclaim, and lots and lots of ping pong.

Like I said, Foodlab was the site of a number of fantastic events over the course of the year (a Greek kebab night, on a hot August night, that was amply lubricated with ouzo comes to mind), but my favourite was definitely Michelle & Seth's hommage à Richard Olney.  From the thoughtful Provençal menu, to the fine Bandol wines (courtesy of Theo Diamantis and the Oenopole crew), to the convivial ambiance, and the lively and appreciative crowd, this was a truly memorable night, a heartbreakingly beautiful night, one that Montreal desperately needed, and one that, I'm sure, made dear Richard very proud indeed.

dear Richard

Michelle & Seth put the finishing touches on the chalkboard.

duo theo

Theo's pride & joy.

menu apple

The night's menu.




Game terrine with red-wine-soaked prunes.

stuffed squid

Stuffed and braised squid.

mushrooms, lamb

Marinated & grilled mushrooms.  Stuffed lamb shoulder with jus and white purée.


Michelle's Salade Olney.


Red-wine-poached pear.


Honey & apple tartlet.

Here's to many more amazing Foodlab events, and let's hope the hommage à Richard Olney becomes an annual event!


Friday, December 28, 2012

Belgian Connection 1: Lapin à la Kriek

There were many great meals that we prepared at home over the course of 2012, and, yes, quite a few of them involved green chiles of one variety or another, but perhaps my favourite was one of the most unexpected.  Unexpected not because the dish was new to us, or because the recipe was particularly challenging, or because things appeared to go poorly, but somehow turned out well.  In this case, it was unexpected because another dinner party, one that we'd been invited to, had fallen through, and we'd decided not only to host the same guest list at our place, we'd also decided to use the principal ingredient that was meant to be the focus of that other party:  rabbit.  So there wasn't a whole lot of time for planning, but, more importantly, we had to figure out what we were going to do with all this rabbit, a meat we hadn't had a lot of experience with.

Luckily, I'd given a fair bit of thought to hosting a dinner party involving rabbit over the last couple of years.  I'd come back from one of my many trips to Belgium with quite a few bottles of quality kriek, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do with them:  make a traditional Belgian specialty named lapin à la kriek.

Kriek (pronounced "creek") has a bit of a funny reputation.  Of course, to the Germans, the whole idea of producing beer with fruit is simply horrifying, and it's one of the characteristics that they see as sullying Belgium's much-vauted beer-making reputation (just don't question Franz about the bananenweizen he's drinking).  But even within Belgium, kriek is seen by many as being a "little old lady's beer," because so many modern-day krieks are both weak and cloyingly sweet, bearing little resemblance to the tart, refreshing cherry lambics of the past.  I'd returned with a supply of Boon kriek, one of the few brands that's widely available in Belgium and still made in the traditional manner--in this case, with black cherries added to a six-month old lambic for a second fermentation.

cantillon 3 fig. a:  kriek chez Cantillon

Anyway, I'd fallen in love with good kriek (especially Boon and Cantillon brands, but Waterbury Vermont's dearly departed The Alchemist also made a lovely one) and I wanted to throw a party that showcased this misunderstood, even maligned, classic, and no dish does a better job than lapin à la kriek.

A couple of other reasons the results here were unexpected:  1)  The rabbits had been brined.  Like I said, the original intention had been to make some other dish with them, and, consequently, the rabbits had been brined for a couple of days.  Lapin à la kriek involves marinating the meat in the beer, and we weren't sure if those brined rabbits would still take on the delicate flavours of the kriek, but they did.  2) We started the dish relatively last-minute.  Most recipes call for the meat to be marinated overnight, or for at least 8-12 hours.  We only picked up our rabbits at around noon and we served dinner at around 8:00 pm, so, realistically, our meat had only marinated for about 4-5 hours.  You might think the rabbit wouldn't have had the chance to pick up the delicate flavours of the kriek, but you'd be wrong.

One reason this dish turned out so well:  We held a trump card.  We had some of Michelle's preserved sour cherries on hand, and that's what we used to give the dish the cherry boost it calls for.  When seeking out cherries for your own cherry boost, look for either frozen or preserved sour cherries, assuming you don't preserve your own.  You want cherries that are tart and only lightly sweet.  You can find sour cherries at your better Middle Eastern and Eastern European specialty food stores.

We decided to save our Boon krieks for drinking and to cook instead with one of the only krieks available in Quebec, Mort Subite brand, made by the people at De Keersmaeker.  Mort Subite is a decent kriek--it's certainly good enough to cook with--but it's not a traditional kriek and it's quite a bit sweeter and less interesting than Boon's.  Kriek was what we had as our apéro, and it went exceptionally well with the assortment of charcuterie that we served.  By the time it came to digging into the lapin à la kriek, however, we'd moved on to white wine, and the wine flowed freely.  No one else at the table had experienced this dish before, and a good batch of lapin à la kriek can be quite a revelation, bestowing Belgian cuisine and its beer-making tradition with the love it deserves.  We must have been toasting that rabbit like crazy--somehow we went through an usually high number of bottles that night.

lapin fig. b:  lapin à la kriek

Lapin à la kriek

2 rabbits, portioned into six pieces each
2 250-ml bottles of kriek
flour as needed
2 tbsp butter
2-4 shallots, depending on size
several young carrots cut in half lengthwise
2 sprigs of thyme
white wine as needed (I used roughly 1 bottle for 2 rabbits)
1/2 cup sour cherries
1 tbsp red currant jelly
kosher salt
fresh black pepper

Brine the rabbit.  Marinate the rabbit in kriek to cover for a minimum of 4 hours.

Remove the rabbit from the kriek, reserving the liquid.  Dry the rabbit pieces and flour them lightly.  Melt the butter and brown the rabbit pieces in the butter.  Remove the rabbit and put aside.  

Sauté the shallots in the same skillet until soft and just beginning to caramelize.  Add the carrots and sauté for 5 minutes.  Add the thyme sprigs, the reserved kriek, the rabbit pieces, and dry white wine as needed.  Simmer gently with the lid off to reduce for about 30-45 minutes.  Check the rabbit for doneness.  When the rabbit is fully cooked and perfectly succulent, place the pieces in your serving dishes.  

Add the cherries and the red currant jelly.  Simmer for another five minutes, adjusting the seasoning.  Dress the rabbit with the sauce, making sure to be generous with the sour cherries.  

Serve with roasted potatoes, a nice salad, a loaf of crusty bread, and some quality bottles of kriek and/or white wine (we did both).

Serves six generously.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Green Chile Variations, pt. 2, rev. ed.

green chiles fig. a:  garden-fresh chiles

So, like I was saying...

There was this initiation in the majesty and the mystery of New Mexico-style green chile that occurred sometime in the 1990s in Albuquerque and environs.  This initiation turned into something of an obsession--a Green Chile Madness--albeit one that lay mostly dormant for years afterwards.  Then there was a period of rediscovery that began a few years ago, and that resulted in the rekindling of this obsession.  Things reached a fevered pitch sometime this past summer, not long after a fateful encounter with a green chile pork burrito in Billings, Montana, of all places.  When it comes to green chile pork--the genuine article--you learn to not ask too many questions.  You learn to just accept, and appreciate.

By the time the height of summer hit, we were roasting green chiles over open flames at every occasion.  We made a lot of green chile stew, and, in an homage to both Billings and Albuquerque, we filled quite a number of burritos with that stew.  But we also made a whole lot of chunky green chile sauce that we used for a wide variety of purposes:  from dressing scrambled and fried eggs in the morning, to smothering a pile of nacho chips, to adorning our AEB green chile cheeseburger.  Michelle cried real tears of joy the first time we made these.  She cried real tears of grief about eight seconds later when she'd made her first AEB green chile cheeseburger vanish into thin air.  Luckily for her, we had the means to make more, and that's exactly what we did.

green chile cheeseburger fig. b:  come to mama!

AEB Green Chile Cheeseburger 
1 lb freshly ground beef chuck
AEB green chile sauce*
cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
smoky bacon
beefsteak tomato slices (in season)
ripe avocado slices
lettuce (optional)
mayonnaise (optional) 
Divide the meat into three portions.  Form into patties making sure that you've salted and peppered the meat sufficiently and that you don't overwork the meat.   
Fry in a pan (preferably with your leftover bacon drippings) to desired doneness, making sure to grace with sliced cheese for the last minute of cooking time.  Place patties on buns and dress with the remaining ingredients.  You might think that topping the burgers with guacamole would be even tastier than topping them with avocado slices, but, in our humble opinion, you'd be wrong:  the guacamole just competes with the green chile sauce, and the green chile sauce is already bursting with flavour. Sometimes less is more.
Place the top half of each bun on top.  Try your damnedest to hold that burger together as you take a chomp.  This may very well be the messiest burger you've ever eaten.  It will likely also be the very best. 
Makes three 1/3-pound Green Chile Cheeseburgers.  Serves 1-3.
These burgers are unreal, but don't forget about those eggs and those nachos.  Actually, you'll want to put that green chile sauce on just about everything when you have a batch around.  That's when you'll know the Green Chile Madness has set in.



* I haven't had the chance to turn the AEB green chile sauce into an actual recipe, but I can give you some pointers.

You'll need the following:
vegetable oil or lard
cumin seeds
roasted green chiles
tomatillos (optional)
chicken broth
masa harina (optional)
salt and pepper

And basically, you'll have to do the following.  Sauté your onions until they are nice and soft.  Add your chopped garlic and some toasted and ground cumin seeds.  Add your roasted green chiles, some tomatillos, if you're using them, and your chicken broth.  Be judicious with your use of chicken broth.  You don't want to add too much, but the idea here is to add enough that you can cook your sauce down, uncovered, reducing it into a thing of beauty.  This shouldn't take all that long.  No more than about half an hour, if you've added the right proportion of broth.  Add a sprinkle of masa harina towards the end of this process if you'd like to thicken your sauce further and give it a bit of depth.  The goal here is to create a fairly thick, chunky sauce that will actually be appropriate for dressing a burger.  It ought to taste like heaven, too.

You'll notice that the ingredients and the method here are essentially just a variation on the Green Chile Stew recipe from Part One.

Others opt for a simpler approach to the green chile cheeseburger.  At the end of their Saveur piece on chile-hunting across New Mexico, Jane and Michael Stern included a recipe for a prototype that they picked up from a chef in Santa Fe.  There, instead of creating an actual green chile sauce, they spiced up the burger patties, then topped them with roasted New Mexico chiles that had been roughly chopped.

Either way, you can hardly go wrong.  In fact, you can only go right.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

top ten #47

manny's mini

danish sandwiches

1.  Fall/Christmas bazaar season, Montreal

2.  Meek's Cutoff (2010), dir. Reichardt

eel hunt

3.  The eel hunt, Kamouraska

4.  R.I.D.M. 2012

Richard Olney Eats His Menu

5.  hommage à Richard Olney


6.  lapin à la kriek

7.  Foodlab turns 1

morris scan

8.  Errol Morris, Believing is Seeing (Observations on the Mysteries of Photography)


9.  turkey, turkey gumbo, hot turkey sandwiches


zabriskie point

10.  More (original soundtrack/"music played and composed by Pink Floyd," 1969) + Zabriskie Point (original soundtrack/various artists, 1970)