Mission Accomplished: An epic feast at Au Pied de Cochon

Ever since my friend DB gave us a copy of the Au Pied de Cochon (PDC) cookbook, my husband and I have been a little obsessed with chef Martin Picard. We watched the DVD that came with the book several times, even playing it for our friends last Thanksgiving. Picard spends a majority of the video eating copious amounts of foie gras and drinking wine — two interests we definitely have in common.

We also watched the “No Reservations” episode where Anthony Bourdain ate so much food at PDC, he started to turn green. Towards the end of the segment, he was taking just one bite from each plate and wearily waving the rest away. The best part is seeing Picard in the kitchen, threatening to send out more and more foie gras. I admit we (foolishly) laughed at Tony’s inability to keep eating, thinking we could do better.

So when we made our own travel plans to Montreal, Au Pied de Cochon was, quite honestly, the only place we had to go. There were no ifs, ands or buts. We would be dining on duck in a can one way or another, come hell or high water street riots.

Luckily, we were able to make a reservation for the second night we were in town. And since we knew we were about to be killed with food, we made sure to walk a few miles around Montreal’s Plateau area as a warm-up. It didn’t help.

Clearly, we underestimated the extravaganza that is PDC. We didn’t stand a chance against all of this:

To Start:

Bison Tongue with Tarragon Sauce

Cromesquis de Foie Gras — deep-fried foie nubbins — best thing ever!

Next was the “salad” course:

Freshly Shucked Scallop with Fiddlehead Ferns and Beurre Fondue

Salt Cured Foie Gras with Potatoes & Gruyere on a Flaky Pastry

Our next dish, an evening special, was supposedly “foie for two”:

This was the dish that put us over the edge. The server told us it was 350 grams of foie gras, but when the Le Cruset pot came out and we peered into it, my husband and I shared a look of wonder and fear. Along with the chunks of ham, pineapple and potatoes, there was a whole lobe of roasted foie gras nestled in the pot. It was absolutely ridiculous.

And I will straight-up admit I hit a wall during this dish and tapped out after only eating about six ounces or so of the actual foie. But my husband managed to almost finish it. He really is my hero.

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Gratuitous Food Pic: Tea-Smoked Quail in an Atrium

Quail, favas and asparagus, pea tendrils and flowers on a bed of dehydrated olive “dirt.”

The Gilt Club, 2012

This dish arrived covered so when the lid was removed, the smoke slowly filtered out of the “atrium” tableside. It was a beautiful thing!

Adventures in Booze: Making an Effervescent Martini

Not too long ago my husband and I attended a special dinner at KitchenCru, a community kitchen in Portland. One of our six courses came paired with a cocktail that has been on my mind ever since. The bartender made a martini using sake instead of vermouth. It blew me away.

I have never really been a martini drinker, but the floral notes of the sake made this one intriguingly unique. Last weekend, we decided to recreate the cocktail at home, even buying the same brand of sake, but thought we’d give it our own spin using a twist of Meyer lemon. Oh yeah, and by making it bubbly!

You might be asking, isn’t adding club soda to a martini diluting its integrity? The answer to that is the Perlini, the most recent secret weapon in our kitchen arsenal. There’s way more to this thing than I have time to write, but it makes for an interesting read if you’re curious.

As a fun side note, I actually met the man, Evan Wallace, who invented the Perlini while drinking cocktails in a Seattle bar called the Zig Zag. We had an excellent conversation about the time he once ate lion. That hilarious interaction plus the fabulous cocktails I drank a different time at his bar, the now-defunct Vessel where they actually used a commercial-grade Perlini machine, made me seriously consider the possibilities of owning one myself. And since I had a lack of better ideas this last December, I decided to buy the home version for my husband for his Christmas gift — and what a gift it’s been!

First off, it looks badass. Just look at the case it comes in! Every time we open it, I feel like James Bond. It’s got a row of CO2 cartridges (all labeled with the Perlini name), plus a shaker and a whole slew of other instruments, including a flash drive instruction manual. The curved gadget is a hand-held pressurizer — you screw in the cartridges and use it to filter the CO2 into the shaker.

So how exactly does this sucker work?

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Cobb Salad 2.0 with seared quail breasts & Benton’s bacon

 

This dish came as a refreshing surprise considering the day I’d had leading up to it. I made this last week, on a Monday night, while our kitchen was in the midst of some serious home improvement. It started when our faucet went tits up. Basically the people who owned our house prior to us put in the cheapest possible equipment and the kitchen faucet was hanging on by a thread. This lead to us spending a day roaming around Home Depot, overwhelmed by the massive amounts of options available.

Which then lead to us getting a brand new sink, which lead to the whole kitchen being in complete disarray when dinner time rolled around. There were wrenches and silicone sealing stuff everywhere and, oh god, even a circular saw. I had these lovely quail breasts thawed and ready to be cooked, but my motivation level was at a steady decline as I surveyed the mess around me. It was a serious toss-up on whether I was going to cook or if we were ordering pizza. The pizza was looking like a front-runner, but somehow I resisted its siren call.

And when I managed to whip up this dinner about thirty minutes later, I damn near felt like a miracle worker.

But I can’t take all the credit because I had some amazing ingredients to work with. The first of which was some Benton’s bacon, a gift from my dear friend DB’s parents. They had come into town a month or so ago and I took them to my husband’s restaurant where he showered us with amazing, delicious treats. As a totally unnecessary (but truly awesome!!) thank you, they sent us the gift that keeps on giving — the gift of bacon. If you haven’t had Benton’s bacon yet, you are missing out. I would suggest you immediately click here and order some for yourself. Be prepared to be wait-listed, this stuff is in serious demand, but the four-week delay will be well worth it.

Quail Breasts — bone out, skin on

I also had some Manchester Farms quail breasts. This is a South Carolina-based company that I buy from every week at my job — though we tend to buy mainly whole or semi-boned quail. The breasts were an item we had ordered a few months ago to run as a special and I snatched up a few packs to stash away in my freezer. They cook quickly, are easy to eat (no teeny tiny bones to nibble around) and are way more fun than chicken. If you haven’t eaten quail before, you really should give it a try. Quail has a flavor almost like a cross between chicken and duck, and it’s extremely versatile — I’ve had it grilled, chicken-fried and, most recently, in a preserved plum sauce.

Next, from the depths of my fridge, I brought out hard-boiled eggs, goat cheese, butter lettuce, tomatoes and a few random veggies. I started by tossing some cauliflower and brussels sprouts in olive oil and roasting them in the oven. I looked at the rest of my ingredients and thought — hmmm…Cobb salad!

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Stray Cat Strut: Meet Friday — the prettiest kitty of all time…

* Friday is the only one of our cats who did not actually come to me as a stray. But I saved her from the possibility, so I think it counts.

Back in the fall of my junior year of college at HSU, I was living in a house with five other people, one of them my former roommate Oliver Lucky. There was a knock on the door one evening, and we opened it to find a woman standing there with two small children holding a basket of kittens. All of us were enamored with their adorableness (the kittens not the children) but I was the only person who didn’t think taking one was a good idea.

This is surprising, I know, considering my serious cat obsession. But we were college kids with no jobs and no real responsibilities. Cats are certainly less maintenance than other pets, but none of us had even committed to living together for any longer than the year. Sure we were all friends, but senior year was completely up in the air. And none of us planned to spend the summer in Humboldt County, thus a pet would have to travel with someone during school breaks.

And yet, we took one. The little black one to be precise.

We named her Friday because she was a black cat born on Friday the 13th. She was a sweet kitten with a sense of adventure and undeterred curiosity — until she was stung by a bee. After that she preferred to stay inside where she became infamous at our small parties for her devotion to fetching everything from glitter ball cat toys to bottle caps.

One year later, as suspected, I was Friday’s sole owner (something Oliver has heard ad nauseam ever since). But I have to admit I wouldn’t have it any other way. After I graduated, she came with me to Portland, meowing the whole way, and was basically my best friend for the first few months I lived here.

Wait — that sounds pathetic, doesn’t it? Well, it’s true. I soon made friends, both in my neighborhood and at culinary school, but it was Friday who kept me company when I was home. No longer just a college kitty, she began to settle in to our quiet life in Portland. She had never been overly affectionate, but she developed the habit of sitting on my lap while I was on my computer, purring away. At night I would give her a little “tsk-tsk” and she would come running to cuddle under the covers.

This lasted until we adopted Lucifer. Used to being an only cat, she resentfully avoided us for a few months. Now she’ll come and cuddle but it’s always on her terms. If she’s in the mood for pets, she will meow and swat you. If she’s not — stay away.

All of my cats have fairly distinct personalities and though Friday is easy to just pass off as just a slightly cranky and neurotic old-lady cat, she really has a lot more going on. She enjoys water — as a kitten she used to love to have the sink running so she could paw at the stream coming from the faucet. Now she still likes water, but mainly just drinking it out of things that are not meant as water bowls.

This has led these defiant acts of kitty thirst quenching:

She is also far from a pushover. Our other cats are boys who came straight from the streets, basically the unruly teenage punks of the feline world. Friday was declawed when she was only a couple of years old (a decision I still regret) but that doesn’t stop the other two from being terrified of her.

If they get too close, she gives them an earful — hissing and growling as if she was actually going to fight them. I think she sleeps with one eye open just in case they get any ideas. They might be rough-and-tumble former alley cats, but she clearly rules the roost. Lucifer gave up on trying to play with her years ago and Gus Gus gives her a wide berth, though occasionally his curiosity gets the better of him and he tries to initiate contact. This does not go well.

In fact here’s a picture from almost a year ago, when Gus Gus was still new to the household. He didn’t know that Friday values her personal space as much as she does her dinner time and tried to edge her out of the eating area. She showed no fear and, ears pulled back, taught him a lesson on who eats first in our house.

She’s still my sweet little girl though, and the first pet who belonged to just me. Not a family cat that my parents help take care of, but a pet that (after that first year) was actually my sole responsibility. We’ve been through a lot together in the past twelve years and I think we’ll always have a special bond because of that.

A delicious exercise in resisting the allure of restaurant brunch

My husband and I had a list of things we needed to get done last Sunday — a fairly long list too. Usually, since it’s our only day off together, our Sundays are full of complete and utter laziness. Many of them start with us deciding to go out to brunch, which, I have finally discovered, is why we never manage to get anything done. People might say breakfast is the most important meal of the day but, believe me, brunch is nothing but a sneaky productivity killer.

First, it always takes forever. This is not an insult to the restaurants we frequent, I’m sure the staff is doing all they can to hurry things up. It just seems that whenever we think brunch will only take a little while, it’s a minimum of three hours before we get back home. Sometimes there is a long wait to get seated or maybe the kitchen staff is in the weeds, but more often than not, the worst time-sucking culprit is the brunch cocktail. You have a couple Bloody Marys while waiting for your eggs to arrive. Then once you’re done eating, wandering aimlessly around Target sounds way better than going home to do chores. I’m beginning to think my husband knows this too. Just as he knows my weakness for a good breakfast-approved cocktail.

So this Sunday when he looked at our to-do list and suggested we start by going out to brunch, I was wise to his tricks. Luckily I had a recipe for Baked Eggs with Bacon and Spinach picked out and ready to go. While it looks pretty enough to make up for staying home instead of going out, I made sure it was simple enough that my lazy Sunday morning was not totally ruined by ambition.

Now right off the bat I had to change things up. I didn’t really mean to, but I realized belatedly that we were out of spinach. We did, however, have a bunch of kale looking for a good home. So the night before I blanched it until it was just tender, then gave it a quick sauté with onions and garlic for added flavor.

The next morning, I started by cooking the meat. I had some lovely pepper bacon from Nueskes in Wisconsin. But, of course, I didn’t quite have enough for both of us, so I threw in a couple of breakfast sausages too. Lately I have been dreaming about breakfast sausages. This seemed like a great time to make my dreams come true.

While the meat was cooking, I toasted some bread for the base layer. The recipe calls for a whole wheat English muffin but (are you sensing a trend here?) I didn’t have any. However I did have some scraps of brioche left over from an event my husband did earlier in the week. It worked perfectly since they were already cut into strips, and brioche is way more fun than an English muffin.

Next I went searching for a couple of nice-sized ramekins for us to use. Most of ours are fairly small and I wanted this breakfast to be filling enough to keep us satiated through our chores. I remembered my little Le Creuset French onion soup bowls that don’t get used as much as I wish they would. They were the perfect size and added a little flair to the presentation.

The final step was layering — first the bread, then the roughly chopped meat (with a small tab of butter too, just because) and then the kale. Make a small well in the greens and drop in one egg and a dash of cream. It also worked just fine with milk if you forgot to buy cream. Ahem.

Top the eggs with a sprinkling of salt and pepper, then pop the whole shebang in the oven. Wait about ten minutes or so, but be careful not to overcook the eggs. The liquidy yolk is basically the sauce for this dish. Without that moisture, it might be a little dry.

While the eggs bake, your time is best spent making a cocktail. Sure, you’re not out on the town at some fancy brunch spot, but dammit, it’s the weekend and you deserve a pre-noon drink. I won’t tell anyone. I promise.

Then, after a bit, check the oven. Your egg should go from this…

…to this…

A little Parmesan cheese grated on top and a smattering of brioche bread crumbs makes this an easy dish worth staying home for. And our chore day was successful! We were so productive I even got to take a nap — which is a serious accomplishment in my book.