Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Market Abounds

(Read my review of Montreal, lunch, hot-spot, The Sparrow in Examiner.com)

Fig.1. Le Cendrillon goat cheese, winner of best cheese 2009.

Staring out the window on these sunny, spring days, my thoughts wander toward spring garlic and onions. If you’re like me, this warm air compels you to venture outdoors and straight to the Jean-Talon Market, and judging by the hordes of people I saw, I wasn’t the only one hungering for the sights and smells of a farmer’s market.
A market isn’t just a place to buy food: it’s communal. Markets are internationally common, existing in every country and culture in the world in one form or another. Farmer’s markets, however, are much more common outside of North America; it’s time for a change.
Here’s an overview of the two hours I spent wandering through the Jean Talon Market.

Walked into Boucherie Capital and talked to the butcher about his big sausages. (C’mon people, this is a family blog, but seriously, the sausages there are huge.) I then walked into Boucherie du Marche and found organic, free range chickens raised in a farm just outside Montreal. The butcher told me his product would indeed taste different, he was right. The chicken, which I roasted, had a very pleasant, cereal taste, it was also more tender than regular supermarket poultry.
The smell of grilled meat filled the air. The divine, porky perfume was coming from a small Eastern European butcher. I got in line and waited twenty minutes for a polish sausage and sauerkraut sandwich. I advised the Eastern European grillmeister that he should get a cooking line going as to speed up production; he remained very stoic and unresponsive. (I wasn’t complaining, I was only trying to help, but I saw at least four people leave the line.)
I then headed to Les Cochons Tout Ronds for some prosciutto and rillette de porc which I thought would go perfect with the bread rising at home. The bread also needed cheese, so I headed to Hamel for a piece of Quebec cheese heaven: A goat cheese from La Maison Alexis de Portneuf. For those who don't know, Le Cendrillon beat out 2440 cheeses from around the world and was named best cheese 2009.
I noticed some vendors unloading crates of winter apples from Rougemont; the apples, while not at their peak, are still sweet, and, being a locavore, I bought a bag.

Fig.2. Melt in your mouth prosciutto from Les Cochon Tout Rond.

My journey ended with Francois Brouillard from, A la table des Jardins Sauvages. I bought some of his incredible wild mushrooms and listened to him enlighten me on how butter producers in Quebec are as ruthless as the mob. Who knows, he might be right, dairy producers in this province can be brutal. I do know one thing however with absolute certainty; his passionate rantings made the mushrooms taste that much better.

Fig.3. Shitake, portobello, cremini, and oyster mushrooms sliced and ready to be added to pasta.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Setting the Standard for Italian Bread

Fig.1 The big holes in the flesh of the bread come from using bread flour, and from the long fermentation.

I’ve been consumed by this Sullivan Street Bakery, bread book I got on my last trip to New York. I’m teaming with carbs and loving every minute of it, but, I’ve been neglecting my blog and for that I’m sorry. Some of you are tired of hearing it, but the bread at Sullivan Street Bakery is true Italian bread, as it should be and as it still is in most of Italy: It's a good thing our baguettes are good, because when it comes to Italian bread, Montreal is a let down; and so we bake our own.

Regarding my last post, the “Basic No-Knead Bread Recipe”, as found in Jim Lahey’s, My Bread; I’ve received a few e-mails regarding problems with the dough’s texture and consistency. Let me just start off by saying that having the book in front of you would really help, the book provides step-by-step photographs. Also, some people have informed me that they’ve made the bread with all-purpose flour instead of the bread flour the book calls for. Bread flour, without getting too technical, has a higher protein count than regular all-purpose flour, more protein means more gluten, more gluten means more elasticity and chewy-ness. (I don’t think chewy-ness is a proper word but I like the way it sounds.)

I have made some adjustments to Lahey’s recipe which I’ll share with you. Lahey does state that the amount of water can vary depending on ambient temperature, well, he’s right, in order for the dough to be “wet and sticky” I’ve had to add two to three more tablespoons of water to the dough on top of the 1 1/3 cups called for in the recipe; add one tablespoon at a time, as soon as your dough is wet, cover it with plastic wrap rather than a kitchen towel, the plastic wrap keeps the dough moist and keeps the cold air out. (I’ve also noticed from the photographs in the book that Lahey uses plastic wrap.) I also let the dough rise for a full 24 hours instead of 18 hours with phenomenal results. Also, let the dough cool properly, as tempting as warm bread is, especially with that stick of butter in the fridge calling out to you, letting it cool properly will allow a more complex, malt flavour to develop. Who am I kidding, go ahead and have some of the bread while it’s still hot and steamy, I like to rub it all over my face while it’s still warm.

Fig.2. I like the crust darkened slightly, I also prefer dusting with corn meal instead of flour. Corn meal doesn't stick to the crust.

Fig.3. I attempted Lahey's recipe for Stecca with tomatoes but for some reason the dough kept pushing my cherry tomatoes out. They taste better than they look; I've sent Lahey an e-mail regarding my tomato dilemma, I'll keep you posted.