Cranberry-caramel upside down cake! Rosemary-pear sorbet with cognac!
Also, not a dessert but a related thought to my sorbet: In France, they have this thing called a "trou normand" (Norman Hole) where you put some sorbet in a shot of calvados that you consume *halfway through* a large meal involving many courses. The idea is that it burns right through all that food and restores your appetite for the second half.
We Americans may know how to shovel it in, but the French know how to go for the long-haul. I feel that this would enhance any Thanksgiving.
Another riff on your roasted squash idea, this is a great one:
Acorn Squash with Chili-Lime Vinaigrette
I got excited and blurted out merguez!!, but forgot to mention that I have used it in stuffing recipes before and it was great. I stuffed acorn squash with a merguez stuffing last Thanksgiving. It does have a strong, gamey-spicy flavor, but that goes really nicely with sweetness and adds a fun twist to your Thanksgiving flavor palate.
I vote never stir! With water or without, just swirl the pan around from time to time, but stirring just causes trouble and isn't necessary.
Can't help but suggest Au Pied de Cochon. In the category "unique to Montreal," you'll get your money's worth.
If you're beer fans, though, try to make time to stop by either Dieu du Ciel or Vice et Versa for a couple pints while you're in town!
Once a cheese is cut, it stops the ripening/aging process, so your wedges won't get any better. All you get after that is flavor loss (or, with time, the addition of grosser, unwanted flavors). If you buy a whole wheel of cheese (camembert is a good fridge-friendly size), you can certainly age it yourself, but you have to be careful to keep it in the right conditions. Put it in the least cold part of your fridge, and make sure it's not in direct contact with any plastic. You want the rind to stay moist, but be able to "breathe." Moisture trapped against the surface causes it to ammonianize, which basically means smell and taste like bleach. In the cheese shop, we used to store soft-ripened cheeses in wooden cheese crates lined with parchment paper and covered with plastic that we punched air holes in. If you buy a camembert in the little plastic-covered wooden box they often come in, that will be a fine home. Extra points if you flip it every couple days to keep the moisture even.
You can check on its "readiness" by taking a little core sample from the side to check on texture and flavor, but you have to be sure to patch it up afterwards.
As for expiration dates, it's kind of like life expectancy. It's an estimate, but you can trust your own senses to let you know if cheese is still good. When the aftertaste starts to turn metallic, you know the end is near.
I actually used to have a cast aluminum pan with a removable handle that worked wonders for tarte tatin. It could go from the stovetop to the oven with no problems, and was light and easy to flip.
Brie is a soft-ripened, "bloomy rind" cheese that is firm when it is young and becomes increasingly gooey/liquidy as it matures. I don't remember exactly the science of it from my cheesemongering days, but it has to do with the thick rind keeping in the moisture, which collects first under the rind, causing something or other to break down and goo-ify. The process then spreads toward the center until finally the whole paste is gooey. (This is different than "brainy rind" cheeses, like those little goat cheeses, whose thin rinds let the moisture escape, so they harden as they mature). To ensure a gooey one, ask your cheesemonger. If you are able to touch the cheese, though, you can tell much like you tell if an avocado is ripe.
I'm a big fan of Alice Water's cornbread recipe. On the cakey side, and nice and buttery. I've also made it with brown butter which is not half bad. Here's the recipe minus cooking times because somehow I am missing that detail:
1 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1-1/4 cup buttermilk
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
Mix the dry ingredients together. In another bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and egg. Add the buttermilk mixture to the rest, stirring just till combined, then add the melted butter.
Bake at 425ºF / 218ºC in a square cake pan or muffin tin until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean.
Here in Quebec there is a dessert called "pouding chômeur" ("poor man's pudding) where you basically mix up a basic cake batter, then pour syrup on it and bake it. Traditionally it's a brown sugar syrup, but obviously maple syrup works very well. It is simple, easy, cheap, and not bad at all. I don't have a particular recipe on hand, but a quick google search will give you everything you need.
Wow, Roanoke!? My hometown...
The most local of local flavor is to be found at the Texas Tavern (http://www.texastavern-inc.com/), a simple burger/chili joint that seats maybe 10 people and has been doing so since 1930. Not the most spectacular food but a very local experience. Maybe a good greasy spoon style breakfast stop on the way out of town.
Otherwise, if you're up for bbq and beer, Blue's BBQ Co. would be right up your alley. It's a little less "local" in the sense that they have a couple locations around VA/MD, but it's located right on the Center in the Square, and I can heartily recommend the Carolina-style pulled pork with hush puppies...
Enjoy your trip!
Thanks for your suggestions! I think both of those would have been great. I'll keep them in mind for next time.
For anyone interested, I ended up choosing Unibroue Trois Pistoles, an abbey style strong dark ale on lees. Worked for me!
Thanks, everyone! I feel better now :-)
I think my oldest was like a 9 year gouda. I hated it! At that point there's so little moisture left in the cheese, I find it completely unpleasant to eat. Even if the flavor is nice, moisture is a flavor conductor. Gnawing on hard old rubbery gouda, it takes work to taste anything.
I much prefer a 2 or 3 year old cheese, where your teeth still sink in...
For a meal, I have two suggestions... both restaurants outside of central Paris, and they both serve a sort of ameliorated comfort food, but with a very different feel. Very different too from the white tablecloth-ed touristy spots you'd find in more traditionally touristy or wealthy neighborhoods.
First, I really suggest Le Baratin. It's a small, cosy kind of wine bar/bistro in the 20th arrondissement that I've heard described as "where chefs go when they eat out." The atmosphere is very laid-back, even homey, the wine selection is largely organic and very good, and the food is taken very seriously. Here you'll have a great meal, and it's not too far from the very lively nightlife of Rue Oberkampf if you want to go out after.
My other suggestion is Mama Shelter, whose restaurant (and hotel) are designed by Philippe Starck, a major French designer. It's a sight to see, and it's a very hip spot to go out. The food is basically classic homestyle French comfort food, sometimes with little innovative twists, but served in this supermodern atmosphere, with fancy (amazing) cocktails, it makes for a fun night out as well. It's also across the street from La Fleche d'Or, a great place for concerts and dancing!
Just a little note about sweets: I really prefer Pierre Herme to La Duree for macarons! But Angelina can also be a fun place for a very rich hot chocolate and a pastry, with its lush, old-fashioned decor, and tasty goodies.
Breakfast at Tartine !!!!!!!!!
i agree with twistie, follow that typical ratio (or find exactly the ratio that you prefer) but play around. other fun elements to add can be crushed garlic, cream, leftover oil from a jar of sundried tomatoes...
my boyfriend's french grandmother makes a dressing with classic vinaigrette plus dijon mustard and cream cheese that is not half bad.
Another option, just in case this fits the bill for you:
My recipe for North Carolina style (vinegar-based) BBQ sauce
2 cups cider vinegar
1 tablespoon salt
3-4 tablespoons hot smoked paprika
1 teaspoon Tabasco
1/4 cup brown sugar
It's enough for between 15-20 pulled pork sandwiches. Just mix everything together, and shake it up before you douse your meat in it.
Ohhhh, of course! So logical...
Thanks guys very much for your smarts.
@MarvinDog: Ah yes, the fun factor. I guess that's a decent argument. Deglazing is OK I guess but doesn't compete much in the thrills department.
Is that the only difference in my case?
Thanks for your answer. What you say makes sense, but this still doesn't:
In one particular recipe (Alton Brown's steak au poivre), we remove steaks from the pan, remove excess fat, then add Cognac to the pan (just Cognac) and flambée it, then add other stuff.
Why flambée? (Is it just more fun?)
@phillamb : i had the same problem and i recently adopted this solution:
for maximal fluffiness and absorbency, maybe go extra light on (or skip?) the egg wash. but anyway the recipe is amazing.
Think volume, things you can make in big quantities without much work necessary for each individual item (avoid small baked goods, go for big ones and cut them, for example).
One good idea for big groups is to buy lots of puff pastry, cover it with pretty much anything, and bake, then cut into little squares.
Another good idea is to bake savory cakes (ham, cheese, olive, and pesto, for example) and cut them into little chunks.
I also agree with the idea of dips and salsas. Mix dairy products that you can buy in big quantities with things like pureed veggies, herbs.. (chevre with parsley and basil; leek and fromage blanc..). Hummus works. Seasonal "salsas" with crackers, chips, toasted bread is good too.
Then just serve things that need no work: fresh grapes, nuts, etc.
For sweets, fruit is great. I also once made giant format cheesecakes for 80 people by making them thin (baking on cookie sheets with edges) and cutting them into little bites. You can drizzle them with a little bit of some topping before cutting.
I tend to prefer things that don't need dishes to be eaten, because it simplifies everything.
Hope that helps. Good luck!
Wasabi peas yes!
Typical French bar snacks = peanuts, saucisson, olives. I dig that.
Also, they have these puffy snack foods à la cheese puffs, but they're PEANUT flavored. CURLYS. Genius. I try to believe that it's disgusting, but... I just can't.
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