Tourtière time: an update

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After serving up my first-ever tourtière for my folks for Christmas Eve dinner, I come bearing a brief update. My previous post related a play-by-play of how these pies took shape.

As per Grand-maman’s advice, I had planned to cook the tourtière at 350 degrres Farenheit for about 25 minutes. However, before placing the precious pies in the oven, my father gave me a bit of additional advice. He suggested that I brush a bit of milk on the crust which would help give the crust a nice golden color. He also suggested I place the oven on broil for a couple of minutes at the end for it to be slightly crisp.

The verdict… Success! The flavors were great. The filling wasn’t dry. It tasted pretty much the same as my grandmother’s. I could have perhaps left it on broil a touch longer, but other than that, I can say mission accomplished!

Cam from Gekiuma was intrigued by the use of 7-Up in the pie crust. I have to admit that I was too. Surprisingly enough, the pie crust wasn’t particularly sweet. This pie crust can be used in both sweet and savory situations.

More posts to come on items served for Christmas!

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Tourtière time!

A labour of love: five tourtières ready for a family feast!

A labour of love: five tourtières ready for a family feast!

Having family over for Christmas has prompted me to tackle this classic québécois and French Canadian dish.

When the word “tourtière” comes up in conversations, a debate is sure to ensue. Everyone will argue that they have the real deal and that others are simply “pâtés à la viande” (meat pies). The discussion will more than likely turn into a very territorial one. The ingredients, their texture, and the size of the pie are the elements at the heart of the debate. For instance, some say that for a tourtière to be legit, it must contain game meat while others debate on whether or not the meat should be in cubes or ground and if the pie should contain potatoes. In other words, the combinations and regional variants are endless.

If you’re curious about the history and debates surrounding the tourtière, check out this article from Le Devoir (it’s in French, but it’s worth using Google Translate). It provides a bit insight on this dish that has survived the tests of time.

For this dish, I followed two recipes: my paternal grandmother’s for the filling and my friend Véronique’s for the dough.

All my previous attempts at making pie dough have been a struggle. It was sometimes too dry, other times too soft. No way would I buy frozen pie shells (well not for this project, at least). My friend Véronique had recently spoken to me about a foolproof recipe that had worked wonders. I thought I’d give it a try.

Dough! Ready to roll out some pie shells.

Dough! Ready to roll out some pie shells.

Pie dough
(variants of this recipes seen also on Recettes du Québec and Canadian Living)

Makes 5 large pie shells and covers

Ingredients

  • 5 ½ cups of flour
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 4 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1 pound (454 g) of cold lard or butter (I respected my friend’s recipe and used lard)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon of white vinegar
  • 1 can (355 mL) of cold 7Up or any clear fizzy pop (yes, you’ve read correctly)

Method

  • In a medium sized bowl, beat the egg with the vinegar. Add in 7-Up, and place in the fridge.
  • In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and baking powder.
  • Cut the lard in small chunks (about pea sized). And combine into the flour mix with a fork.
  • Create a well in the middle of the flour and pour the egg, vinegar and 7-Up blend into the bowl. Mix together until dough holds together.
  • Place dough in to a large ball at the centre of the bowl, make sure it is covered and refrigerate it for at least an hour.
  • The dough can be rolled out for pie shells, make sure you generously flour your rolling surface to make sure the dough doesn’t stick.
The tourtière's filling: ground veal, pork and beef seasoned with savory, cloves, allspice and onions and celery.

The tourtière’s filling: ground veal, pork and beef seasoned with savory, cloves, allspice and onions and celery.

The filling and a bit of intergenerational banter

Even if all the ingredients and quantities were carefully listed on a recipe card, I still needed to defer directly from grand-maman for some additional insight. Our phone conversation went something like this.

Me: “I’ve got your tourtière recipe. Other than what is written, do you have any additional advice?”
Grand-maman: “Well you can add a bit of garlic. Your grand father didn’t like garlic so I never put some, but you can if you like.”
Me: “Anything else?”
Grand-maman: “Just make sure the meat doesn’t dry up.”
Me: “One last thing… You know how everyone debates the issue of tourtières versus meat pies… Are these tourtières or meat pies?”
Grand-maman: “They’re tourtières! Don’t be mistaken. I learned how to make them in my culinary arts class when I was young. The nuns were teaching us how to cook back then. They taught us how to cook tourtières!”

With that being said… I got to work.

Ingredients

  • A total of 5 pounds of ground pork, veal and beef
  • 4 medium sized onions finely chopped
  • 2 to 3 large branches of celery
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • Savory, cloves, allspice, salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 to three cups of water
  • 1 cup of breadcrumbs

Method

  • In large skillet, melt a bit of butter and brown the onions and celery.
  • Add in the ground veal, pork and beef making sure to break up any chunks. Season to taste with savoury, cloves, allspice, salt and pepper. Cook well at medium heat.
  • Add in a bit of water. Mix in a bit of breadcrumbs. (I didn’t really follow the exact recipe when it came to the breadcrumbs and water. The meat mixture wasn’t too dry from the get go. I added less than half a cup of breadcrumbs. Again, the texture seemed appropriate.)

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Quite possibly the most challenging part of the process: making decent looking pie shells.

Quite possibly the most challenging part of the process: making decent looking pie shells.

Then comes the fun part: the making of the tourtières.

The rolling of the dough to make the pie shells proved to be a bit of a challenge for me. There were flour and excess pieces of dough a little everywhere in the kitchen. I flattened the dough with a rolling pin and cussed like a sailor, but was able to roll out five pie shells that were filled with the meat mixture and covered with more pie crust. As seen per the photos, the pies are somewhat unequal in appearance, but hopefully on Christmas Eve, everyone will agree that despite their appearance, they taste great!

To serve: preheat oven at 375 ° F and cook tourtière for about 30 to 35 minutes or until crust is golden.

Got any holiday cooking anecdotes and tips? Feel free to share them!

Tarnished Spoon Travels: a Montreal Food Crawl

Visitors are greeted by colourful chairs at Brooklyn.

The tradition continues. Over the past seven years, I’ve made a habit of  taking advantage of Thanksgiving weekend to head down to Montreal for a quick visit home. Since moving to Ontario back in 2005, I’ve returned home every three months or so to spend time with my folks and friends.

It’s easy to get caught up in a certain routine from trip to trip, visiting the same reliable places. For the sake of keeping up with the times so to speak, I try, as much as possible, to at least venture out to one new place per visit. With that in mind, friend and freelance reporter Vincent, suggested we explore boulevard Saint-Laurent and its surroundings through Rosemont, the Mile Ex and Mile End.

Here are some the place that we visited.

Brooklyn
Café – Atelier – Showroom
71, rue Saint-Viateur est

Smoked trout served with labneh and caper berries at Brooklyn.

Hungry and looking for mid century furnishings? If you answered yes to one of the two, the Brooklyn is sure to tickle your fancy. When entering the Brooklyn, you’re welcomed by a series of colourful retro folding chairs. Inside, smiling staff serve up delicious coffee, pastries and a Mediterranean inspired menu.

We took advantage of the tasting platter in order to savour all what the café had to offer. This included: a Spanish tortilla served with avjar (a red pepper and eggplant relish) and mixed greens salad, smoked trout served with labneh, caper berries and mint. We also enjoyed some barbecue-smoked veal served with tomato salad. The meal was capped off with a platter of baba ganoush, muhammara, walnut tzaziki and picked olives and mushrooms. The best way to describe the meal: fresh.

The space in the back of the café is dedicated the owner’s passion for vintage home furnishings. Her collection includes, among others, Scandinavian designed kitchen accessories, an Expo 67 mosaic or even teak furniture, just to name a few.

The Brooklyn proves to be a pleasant midday stop.

Delightful doughnuts

Café Sardine
9, rue Fairmount Est 

Sardine doughnuts are baked fresh daily and served in a Mastercraft tool box.

A short stroll south on Saint-Laurent from where we were, took us to Café Sardine, a restaurant with what seemed like a delightful savoury menu… But we were there to indulge our sweet tooth. Just like Toronto, Montreal is also experiencing a doughnut renaissance. According to Vincent, Café Sardine makes quite the good doughnut. It was only natural taht we give them a try. Displayed in a bright red Mastercraft toolbox, they are baked fresh daily.

On that day, Café Sardine was serving up smoke and sugar, chocolate orange and mint and bourbon. We opted for the latter two. The chocolate and orange was OK. The doughnut itself was tastier than the icing. The mint and bourbon doughnut was delicious. The glaze and the minty taste made for a great afternoon snack.

Big in Japan Bar
4175, Saint-Laurent

The interior impresses with the large angular counter that extends throughout the bar

Located at the corner of Saint-Laurent and Rachel, on can easily walk right past the Big in Japan Bar. The red door, with the tiny inscription of the word “Bar”, Japanese characters and hours of operation are the lone signs of this elegant Montreal hangout.

The interior impresses with the large angular counter that extends throughout the bar. Tea lights lit by fuel stored under the counter punctuate seating. Dark velvet curtains surround the space creating a wonderful setting for meeting up with friends post work or to kick off the weekend.

Whiskey bottles in suspension at the Big in Japan Bar.

Owned by the same person of the behind the Big in Japan, a restaurant located south on Saint-Laurent, the Big in Japan Bar offers an extensive cocktail menu. Whiskey bottles are suspended on the ceiling adding to the décor. The bar also offers a snack menu.

5295
5295, avenue du Parc

Attentive staff prepare delicious cocktails at 5295.

 A recent addition to the Mile End, this new bar has yet to bear an official name. It simply goes by its address: 5295. This laid-back bar takes the visitor on a trip to a 1950s, Hemingwayesque Havana complete with tropical plants and wood and wicker furniture. At the other end of the room, the visitor goes on another journey, this time in a makeshift Moroccan souk with lanterns and bright colors.

5295 offers a great cocktail selection prepared by perfectionist bar staff that take great pride in mixing up the concoction of your choice.

Notre Dame des Quilles
32, Beaubien Est

Strike! A good time was had by all at Notre Dame des Quilles.

I started off my Saturday evening with my friends Jennifer, Vincent-Gabriel and Vincent at Notre Dame des Quilles. This is a perfect neighbourhood hangout where one can sip on suds on the cheap (pints were 4 $ before 7 P.M. and 5 $ after). If hungry, there is a short snack menu focused on comfort food. Items such as small bowl of mac and cheese, fishcakes or a trusty plate of chips served with house made pickled veggies and dip hit the spot just right.

The fun thing is you can also get a bit of bowling in; after all, this place is called Notre Dame des Quilles (quilles being the French word for bowling). The bar has two small bowling alleys where we all tried our best to hit a strike or two. Some of us obviously more luck than others, but regardless, it was all about having a good time. If I lived in the neighbourhood, this place would most likely be my home alley

Hotel Herman
5171, Saint-Laurent

The welcoming center bar at Hotel Herman.

From the casual and laid-back atmosphere of Notre Dame des Quilles we headed south on Saint-Laurent to the elegant Hotel Herman. The first thing one notices when setting foot in the restaurant is the welcoming U shaped bar in the middle of the space. In the back, Hotel Herman staff members are cooking up a storm in open kitchen.

Gaspésie Rock Crab salad with radish and watercress was a success.

The menu is composed of some 16 appetizer sized platters that vary in price from 8 to 23$. The best way to to sample some of chef Marc-Alexandre Mercier’s culinary creations is by sharing a couple of dishes. Over the course of the evening, Jennifer, Vincent-Gabriel, Vincent and myself sampled the venison tartar served with mushrooms, Gaspésie Rock Crab with radish and watercress. We also shared some seared duck breast, seared halibut with celeriac and seared foe gras served on a bed creamy corn and brioche. Everything we tasted was quite good. All four of us were pleasantly surprised by the crab and particularly enjoyed the foie gras and halibut. The flavours and the refined presentation of all the dishes made every bite the most enjoyable.

We capped up our evening of laughs and catching up with some dessert. We all sampled the spiced pound cake topped with squash purée and root beer cream. We also got our chocolate fix with a Manjra chocolate terrine with marrow caramel and hazelnuts. Delish.

It was great to rediscover some interesting addresses in my hometown. What are your favourite spots to grab a bite or a drink in Montreal? Feel free to share them!