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  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

THE SECRET INGREDIENT IN MY HOLIDAY KITCHEN

CRANBERRY UPSIDE DOWN CAKE

Every year in early January I file away copies of the recipes I’ve prepared over the holidays.  The following December these smudged pages are a pleasure to review for the memories and inspiration they provide.  I then throw most of them away.  

The truth is, I rarely repeat holiday meals. As Tina Turner says in ‘Proud Mary’, “I don’t do nothin nice and easy”.  The major components of the meal don’t change much, but my need to reinvent them is a constant.   

      

ORANGE MARMALADE WITH CRANBERRIES

Take the small, homespun cranberry.  It’s an ideal ingredient for conjuring new flavors in a holiday kitchen.  Almost as if by design, this native  American vine bears fruit in late fall just when it’s most needed to complement rich roasted meats and super sweet holiday desserts.  Cranberries are uncompromisingly tart, loaded with pectin and a stunning red (color counts).  They are the perfect foil both fresh and dried in a sauce, compote, preserve or as solo addition for any number of holiday dishes. 

 

NICK'S QUICK BRIOCHE

Two new cranberry recipes joined my growing collection this year.  One is the Cranberry Pecan Upside Down Cake pictured above.  It’s my take on a recipe for the more traditional pineapple version that appears in Thomas Keller’s book Ad Hoc at Home.  

The other addition is an Orange Marmalade with Cranberries.  Just one thinly sliced orange and a few ounces of cranberries will produces three cups of ruby red preserves.  The naturally high pectin level in both fruits insures a firm gel in record time.  While oranges and cranberries are a common pairing, it’s a cinnamon stick simmering with the fruit that provides delicious synergy.  Please pass the brioche!

Happy Holidays from my kitchen to yours!

                                              

 

 

 

  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

A THANKSGIVING POUTINE

 The old saying, ‘never say never' certainly applies to food tastes.   Here is a case in point.  If told I would one day publish a recipe for Quebec’s signature dish, poutine, my response would have been an emphatic, "Never!”.  I wouldn't blog about French steak frites either.  Both are iconic dishes but poutine has always sounded 'over the top'. Just the thought of French fries covered with cheese curds and a ladle of gravy gives me indigestible.  But, what do I know?

It took the intervention of my my son-in-law, Amid, and a recipe from the Sikh candidate for Prime Minister of Canada to cure me of my 'never poutine' attitude.  In an unlikely sequence of events, Amid, who rarely cooks, watched parliament member Jagmeet Singh prepare a curried poutine in a Tweet to his many followers.  Amid made his poutine; loved it and offered to show me how to show me how to make it while I was in Montreal.  I couldn't refuse and followed him into the kitchen.

 

The backstory gets better.  Singh had chosen October 14, Thanksgiving Day in Canada, to Tweet his poutine describing it as his favorite holiday dish.  As he expertly sliced onions and stirred the curds, he riffed on how a poutine with curry seasonings symbolized the integration of his Punjab origins and his present life in Canada.  It was a brilliant but insufficient campaign tactic.  A week later Justin Trudeau narrowly won reelection as Prime Minister.  Jagmeet Singh who placed third in a field of six remains a member of Canada’s Parliament and leader of the New Democratic Party. 

Jagmeet posted a photo of his handwritten recipe for Punjabi Poutine two days after the Tweet.  It reveals poutine’s vast                  potential for substitution.  In his recipe cubed and fried sweet potatoes replace French fries.  A spicy tomato sauce stands in for gravy.  The constant is cheese curds.  

Canadians appear to be addicted to these virtually tasteless blobs of white cheese.  Small bags of curds sit next to the cash register in many Montreal food shops.  Their dryness allows them to remain stable at room temperature. The best curds are so dry they squeak when you bite into them.  That is one of the pleasures of eating poutine.

 

I like to imagine that the first poutine was created in 1950's Quebec by an inventive short-order cook in a small roadside diner along a snowy two-lane highway.   It’s early on a frigid Saturday morning and his bleary-eyed customers are revelers looking for a hangover cure and exhausted long-haul truckers.  Poutine, with its hot, crisp fries, squeaky cheese and mouth-coating meat gravy filled the bill and continues to satisfy to this day.

https://twitter.com/theJagmeetSingh/status/1183756574210158592

 

 

  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

TAKEAWAYS FROM SOUTHWEST FRANCE

                                     

The Vezere River from Site de la Madeleine

Visitors to the serene valley of the Vezere River in southwest France come prepared to discover exciting links to human prehistory A single road along the river connects carefully preserved sites where homo sapiens found shelter and food some 20,000 years ago.  At Site de la Madeleine (no relation, the name refers to time period) I could envision standing guard on a ledge above the river scanning for boats from shelters upstream. On a tour through the newest cave replica of Lascaux, we all gazed with childlike wonder at herds of enormous animals painted on the walls of its narrow passageways.
Replica of cave paintings at Lascaux IV
Our English guide at the Museum of Prehistory in nearby Les Eyzies-la-Tayac showed us examples of early man's technical prowess as hunter and artist. Museum displays of recovered objects are interspersed with dioramas and videos that demonstrate how skillfully early man made weapons and turned softer pieces of animal hide and shells into elaborate headdresses. (A beautiful example is in the collection of Chicago's Field Museum.)  
This phantom world of distant past evaporated as we drove through in the rolling Dordogne countryside.  Gaggles of ducks and geese have replaced the thundering herds of bison and antelope.  Confit of duck and foie gras appear on every menu.  Prehistoric residents would be amazed to see the handsome chateaux and fortified villages built along the Vezere since the 12th century century as global warming after the ice age allowed plants and woodlands to flourish.
                        
View of the town of Montignac on the Vezere River and Confit de Canard
Our quest for an Saturday market was easily filled in nearby Sarlat-le-Caneda, a town first settled in Gallo-Roman times.  The town center swells in the morning with tourists and locals eager for locally grown foods and regional specialties. At stop for coffee in Place de la Liberte, the heart of the market, allowed us to time travel again as we watched shoppers and vendors play out their time-honored roles against the backdrop of the 12th century Cathedral of Saint Sacerdos. That evening in Montignac, we dined on market ‘finds’ in potluck fashion: cheeses from Rocamadour and the Auvergne; bread baked in a wood-fired oven; thinly sliced smoked duck breast; fresh walnut cake and an assortment of locally-grown strawberries.  All of it washed down with local wine from Cahors.
A trip to southwest France would be incomplete without a visit to the winemaking area of Bordeaux.  The most surprising takeaway for me, having let almost two decades elapse since my last visit, was the dramatic change in winemaking practices underway.  Bordeaux wines are traditionally made predominantly with cabernet sauvignon grapes that are structured to mature over a period of 10 to 20 years.  We learned as we toured properties in Saint Emilion that 85% of the wine purchased today is drunk within 48 hours.  This news whetted my appetite (sorry) to learn more about 21st century winemaking in Bordeaux on future visits.
Bar in a Bordeaux Bistro on a Saturday evening
Our group of travelers spent the final afternoon in Bordeaux's 'golden triangle' of luxury shops for gifts to take home. Another takeaway was the new energy I sensed in this ancient port city.  Bordeaux now has an extensive tram system that accelerates travel through the city center, out into the surrounding winegrowing areas and along the wharf whose once abandoned warehouses are now filled with small shops and dining spots.  An ambitious wine museum, Cite du Vin, opened in 2016 and across the street a barn-like food mall called Les Halles de Bacalan awaits anyone interested in casual dining elbow-to-elbow with les bordelais.  Where else can you find a food stand that specializes in an assorted flavors of chocolate mousse?
 
Les Halles de Bacalan on Sunday Afternoon