I Left My Heart in Poutineville

It began with our first meal in Quebec City at a joint across the street from the loft where we were staying called Poutineville — our love affair with the uniquely French Canadian comfort food called poutine.

Poutine with smoked meat and jalapeños

Poutine with smoked meat and jalapeños at Poutineville in Quebec City

I had heard about poutine and read more about it while researching for our trip — it is, in its simplest form, french fries, gravy and cheese curds. As you travel through eastern Canada, you will see all manners of creative and — in some cases — obscene variations.

At Poutineville, they hand you a menu and pencil — something like the paper list they give you at a sushi bar — from which you can check off what you would like from a variety of toppings, different gravies, and potato variations. Or you can choose one of the house specialties such as poutinachos, Philly cheese steak poutine, shepherd’s pie poutine, BLT poutine and so forth. For my first-ever poutine, I chose smoked meat — another Quebecois specialty — jalapeños, grilled onions and “smashed” potatoes. It was a winning combination. And Leslie liked hers even more.

While in Maine, I had made it my mission to try as many lobster rolls as I could. And now, Leslie had given herself a similar challenge with poutine while in French Canada.

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I found poutine Ruffles chips at the local grocery store, which would see us through between poutine meals and on the drive from Quebec City to Montreal.

Poutineville is a franchise that began, apparently, in Montreal. We had considered looking for a location in Montreal, but there was poutine on nearly every menu. And we found a place we liked called Montreal Poutine, located in the interior courtyard of an ancient stone building in the charming old port area. We would eat several meals there, including a poutine-and-beer breakfast the day we left Montreal.

So overwhelmed and entranced were we by the waiter’s “specials of the day” monologue at Au Pied de Cochon that we didn’t try their famous foie gras poutine. I would recreate my own version of the dish, however, for my pal Donnie’s birthday party — one of the four or five poutines I’ve made so far at home in the few weeks we’ve been back.

Digging in at Montreal Poutine

Digging in at Montreal Poutine

I had my first opportunity to make a poutine of my own a few days later at the Buck Camp in the Adirondacks. It takes a bit of background explanation before you serve an elegant dinner party french fries with gravy, and a bit of diligence to keep your pal Jon from eating all the fries before they’ve been poutined. But the effort, which included bacon, wild mushrooms foraged on the property and homemade stock, was a resounding success.

I have yet to try my own version with the smashed potatoes I experienced at Poutineville, which adds something of a gourmet touch to this comfort food. I’ve found that the frozen “handsome cut fries” at Trader Joe’s are the perfect canvas, but any frozen fry will work. (I saw along the poutine trail but never tried versions made with sweet potato fries.)

Willa back home with Dad's homemade poutine

Willa back home with Dad’s homemade poutine

Here, then, is my basic poutine recipe (with the luxurious and delicious addition of truffle oil). Think of it as a launch point for your own poutine explorations, and add whatever condiments, accoutrements and accents you feel inspired to. You could even make your own french fries, but why bother?

Enjoy!

*    *    *

Poutine
serves 4

1 24-oz bag of fries
1 cup good-quality beef stock
1 cup good-quality chicken stock
1/4 cup red wine
2 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. chopped shallots
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp. white truffle oil
1 onion, sliced
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup cheddar cheese curds
1/4 cup chopped parsley

Heat fries in oven according to directions.

While fries are cooking, melt 1 tbsp. butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add shallots and sauté for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add beef and chicken stocks and bring to a strong simmer. Cook for 20 or 30 minutes, until reduced by a third to a half.

While stock is simmering, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add sliced onion and fry, stirring frequently, for 8-10 minutes,  until translucent and golden. Remove from heat.

Mix flour with 1/4 cup water to a smooth paste. Stir into broth and continue simmering until a thick gravy has formed. Turn off heat and stir in 1 tbsp. butter and white truffle oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Divide fries between four plates. Spoon a generous bit of gravy over the top, and sprinkle with cheese curds. (You can give the plates a minute or two in a warm oven, if you’d like, to melt the curds a little.) Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.

 

Singapore Swing

“There must be more to Singapore cuisine that bak kwa,” I thought to myself.

The dried sweet meat our friend Shoba brought us back from the tiny island nation — her home turf — was certainly delicious. But there had to be more.

Hainanese chicken rice

Hainanese chicken rice

Other than writing a marketing blurb here or there for one or the other cruise line about the Jurong Bird Park, breakfast with tigers at the zoo or Singapore slings at Raffles Hotel, I hadn’t really thought much about Singapore before Shoba entered our lives. More

The Great Camps & the Vermont Problem — a Northeast Roadtrip Postscript

I’m always intrigued when I travel by the different names people in the different regions use for the same things. In Ireland, for example, they call gravel along the road “loose chippings”.

In the Northeast, we discovered that the bumpy line in the middle of the road is called a “rumblestrip”, what appears for all practical purposes to the Californian eye to be a lake is actually called a “pond,” and a small structure for camping is called a “lean to.”

Sagamore

Sagamore

All the large lakeside houses in the Adirondacks are called “camps”. We arrived at Big Wolf and followed the big directional sign pointing the way to the thirty or so camps on the lake. Pulling into the Buck Summerhill Camp, we were still puzzled. It looked to us a like a house.

“Why is it called a ‘camp’?” we asked. More

Loons, Leccinum & Leftovers — Skinny Girls Roadshow LIVE from Big Wolf, NY

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It was our fifth night at the Buck Summerhill Camp in Big Wolf. And they were sick of my cooking, I could tell.

“We’re going to have a fridge tilt tonight!” Nancy announced, explaining the camp tradition of a big dinner to clear out leftovers and uneaten stuff. “So you can have a night off.”

I imagined them whispering in the bedroom:

Nancy: “Can you possibly choke down another of his ‘gourmet’ dinners??” More

Adirondack Lake Life — Skinny Girls Roadshow LIVE from Big Wolf, NY

We arrived at the lake, the last destination and second half of our epic East Coast road trip, on the eve of Independence Day. It felt uniquely American, crossing the border from distinctly French Quebec, to be winding along northeast country roads, past farms and cottages and through quaint villages, adorned with American flags, one and all.

Sunset on the lake

Sunset on the lake

It had been raining on and off all week in the Adirondacks, and one of the first things I noticed walking the Buck Summerhill Camp at Big Wolf Lake was a mushroom — a surprising revelation for a summer day. On a July 4 morning walk, up with the sun, I found not only Lost Pond but also a bag full of mushrooms — including several birch boletes, some black trumpets and a single lovely porcini. More

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