I want to make an official apology to the entire province of Quebec. More specifically, to the residents of Montreal. Even more specifically, to those who are fans of the Montreal Canadiens, also known as the Habs (short for les habitants).
And even though he says he doesn’t mean it, the Booze Hound is sorry, too.
You see, we are Boston Bruins fans. We’ve spent years hurling insults at the TV when we see your team take the ice. We’ve wished horrific, incurable diseases on every member of your coaching staff (except Claude Julien– we kind of like him now that he’s on our side). Once or twice we’ve wished the Bell Centre would come crashing to the ground. With all of you in it.
But before you send the Mounties down to Knoxville to avenge your good name, please note two things:
#1: The Booze Hound and I dated and married during the single year that the NHL was on strike. I did not know what I was getting into. By the time the conflict was settled and the players took to the ice again, I was already legally bound to what can only be described as rabid Boston hockey insanity personified (the Booze Hound).
#2: It’s not like we’re the only members of Bruins nation who despise you. Look at this commercial
OK, so although the Booze Hound may continue to mildly dislike residents of the fine city of Montreal, I have decided that I love you. And your food.
Truth be told, I’ve always felt a little awkward hating on the citizens of Quebec because really, you’re pretty French. And if I love anything, I love things that are French. The BH and I went to Montreal a few years ago and it was like a mini-Paris. Great architecture, great cultural scene… and everyone proudly spoke French. Except the BH, who managed to take 7 years of French and only remember the French slurs. That he hurls toward the TV when the Bruins play the Habs.
He’s classy, that one.
The food was great, too, but we didn’t eat classic Quebecoise food. We ate Ethiopian and Lebanese food the two nights we were there. It was still amazing, but it left me with a total knowledge deficit of the local eats. I’ve read about some of the classic dishes in travel and food magazines, but I’ve never attempted to make it myself. I kind of figured it was no different than French food.
Last week I was schooled otherwise.
I attended the “Vive le Quebec!” cooking class at Avanti Savoia
. It was the highlight of my week. 2 hours of learning about Quebecoise food taught by Vancouver-born, Montreal-trained, Chef Arnold Bondi. And, bien sur
, we gpt to taste everything. And I just love being at Avanti Savoia, where I am surrounded by good food and fabulous foodies. The Booze Hound accompanied me because, well, good food is good food, even if it’s prepared by a potential Habs fan.
And just so we’re clear, the first thing the BH asked Chef was “So, you’re a [Vancouver] Canucks fan, right?” “No,” said Chef (with a smile, I might add). “I love the Habs.”
There was a heavy silence. I’m sure no one else noticed, but I did.
Please, God… please don’t let him embarrass me! This menu is awesome, and I will just die if I can’t taste it. Or if the Booze Hound gets punched in the face. But really, it’s about the food…
But my Booze Hound won some grown-up points that night. He just smiled and said, “Oh, well I’m a Bruins fan. But I’m excited to be here.” Maybe he’s maturing, or maybe he was just so happy to be in the presence of a fellow rabid hockey fan in Knoxville, TN, that he set aside their fatal (yes, fatal) difference and had an enjoyable evening. The world may never know, but I was proud of him!
The food? A-mazing. Turns out, traditional Quebecoise food is very similar to French food, but it’s a bit more rustic. I like rustic. I knew we were in for a hot night of food porn when Chef displayed a POT of melted butter that he used as the base for many of his recipes. Habs fan or not, I love the man! Not only for his liberal use of butter, but he was such an awesome instructor. He kept the environment totally fun, relaxed, and I even got to take pics of the final dishes! Here are some photo memories (not the best quality… mostly due to my skills, but I hope a new camera is in my future soon :)…
Pommes de Terre Ancien
Betteraves Grille avec Chevre
(Oven-roasted beets with goat cheese)
Crepes d’erable et des Pommes
(Crepes with maple syrup and apples… also ricotta)
Everything was phenomenal. Scratch that. Beyond phenomenal. But the dish that stood out to me the most was the Potage Saint-Germain (split pea soup). Not because split pea soup, in all its green thickness, is all that sexy (well, I think it is :). But because it’s such warm, comfort food for winter, AND I’ve been wanting to make it, AND it’s because it’s such a national food that you’ll be hard-pressed to find a Quebecoise menu without it. The term Saint-Germain is used in other recipes to indicate they are made with split peas or fresh peas. The origin of the name is unclear… I think it just adds to the allure 🙂
The other reason I was so hot to make this soup has to do with the recommended condiment: creme fraiche. Really, we don’t use enough creme fraiche in life. It’s kind of like sour cream, but thinner and tangier. And French-er. It doesn’t curdle, so it’s good to stir into hot things. Or eat straight from the container.
Although Chef didn’t provide creme fraiche for the soup in his cooking class (I had to choke back the tears), he gave us a recipe to make it at home. Ohhhh, so exciting!! Creme fraiche is not cheap because you usually have to get it from a specialty store, but now I can make it at home!! Life is good!! More money for shoes!!
And so I give you Potage Saint-Germain, my new favorite name for split pea soup, in all it’s hearty, bacon-y goodness. This is my family recipe– it’s a little thicker than Chef’s, and it’s my personal favorite– but the premise is the same, with the added Quebecoise twist of creme fraiche at the end. Magnifique.
So in the end, do we now love Quebec? For all but about 6 nights per year (excluding post-season), oui. The Booze Hound can live with that. Just don’t arrive Chez Hound in a Canadiens jersey. Your face might meet a piping hot bowl of Potage Saint-Germain. But not the creme fraiche– we woudn’t waste that on a Habs fan 🙂 GO BRUINS!!
Potage Saint-Germain (Split Pea Soup) with Creme Fraiche
1 lb dried split peas, rinsed
4 slices bacon, chopped “lardon” style (matchstick slices)
2 carrots, diced (I used 3 today, hence the orange hue of the soup 🙂
2 celery stalks, diced
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
8 cups chicken broth
Salt and black pepper to taste
Creme fraiche (recipe below)
Saute bacon in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until bacon is beautiful (aka light brown and crispy). Remove bacon from pan and set aside. Sweat onion and garlic in pot for about 5 minutes, or until soft. Add carrots and celery, cook about 5 minutes more. Add peas, bay leaves and stock. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down to a simmer, stir well, and cook for 45 mins-1 hour, or until peas are fully cooked. Remove bay leaves. Puree in a blender or with a hand blender until pureed to the desired consistency (I like mine pureed fully so I use my VitaMix). Return soup to pot, season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve topped with a dollop of creme fraiche and bacon crumbles. YUM!
Homemade Creme Fraiche
Adapted from Chef Arnold Bondi
Makes about 1 cup
1 c heavy whipping cream
1 T buttermilk
Warm cream over low heat to 105 degrees F. Remove from heat and stir in buttermilk. Transfer the cream to a large bowl and allow mixture to stand in a warm place, loosely covered in plastic wrap, until thickened but still of pouring consistency. Stir and taste every 6-8 hours. This process takes anywhere from 24-36 hours, depending on the room temperature. The creme fraiche is ready when it is thick with a slightly nutty, sour taste. Chill cream in the refrigerator for several hours before using. Creme fraiche may be made and stored in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.