My book-recommending librarian friend strikes again, ordering The Art of Living According to Joe Beef: A Cookbook of Sorts for me to borrow from the library. I started off flipping through it, thinking it looked kind of fun, and very much a restaurant that I will put on my bucket list for the next time I travel to Montreal. But the recipes (such as Lièvre à la Royale—taking two days and involving a rabbit, a hare, a veal trotter, caul fat, foie gras, truffles, and the reserved blood of the hare, among other things) weren't something I would be likely to try at home.
At least not at first glance. As I looked through more carefully and got sucked into the stories and history of Montreal, and the playful voice of the whole thing, I stumbled across some real gems. For example, in their subsection titled "Tall Tales, Taste and a Few Theories" (all three of which I am a fan) they describe why the Big Mac is so popular (according to them, it is a perfect balance of salt, fat, sugar, acid and bite)—and then set out a series of simple recipes that combine the same perfect balance of flavour.
This will in no way convince me to go out and buy a Big Mac, since my farm upbringing (and lifetime access to real, healthy beef) has spoiled me forever for anything from McDonalds. I have never been able to enjoy it, even as a child. I always wanted to, because you're supposed to, but I was always disappointed in how it tasted. But I digress.
It was the chapter titled "The Smoker", backing on to the next chapter, "Building a Garden in a Crack Den," which got me totally hooked. They actually provided their plans for a homemade smoker (something my dad has built), and tucked in the middle of a book that uses all manner of meat, fat and foie gras, is a gorgeous chapter outlining their monthly garden harvest schedule and a recipe for Jerusalem Artichokes with Ketchup.
And in the middle of that chapter was a revelation to me: Herbes Salées—salted herbs! I had never considered preserving my herbs in salt, but there was a recipe that explains how. In cold climates like Saskatchewan, this is pure gold! Apparently this is a traditional Quebec recipe. Quebec! You've been holding out on the rest of the country! And they store in the fridge for up to a year. I have currently been sneaking out to my herb patch for thyme, since it is merely frozen but not covered with snow. This won't be the case forever, though. I'm so excited to get at my herb bed next summer. I have to plant chervil...
Their booze and dessert chapters also got me thinking. The dessert recipes confirmed my attachment to Panna Cotta as a great quick and easy dessert (if your dinner guests give you a few hours' warning, so it can set), as well as sparking my interest in Eclairs and a cake called Marjolaine, a multi-layered confection of hazelnut cake, ganache, and vanilla and hazelnut buttercreams, that looks absolutely amazing. I may have to make it, very soon. My birthday is coming...
I'm getting more and more into the book as time passes. It's lying open next to me and I just discovered a totally doable recipe for "Onion Soup Sauce," described as "tasting like an extraction of the essence of onion soup." I gotta go. Gotta get back to the book.