September 28, 2010

Montreal Bagels

Montreal bagels are simply the best bagels in the world.  In fact, I don't think those other round rolls with a hole in the middle should even be allowed to call themselves bagels.  I've heard lots of reasons why they are so special- its the wood burning oven, its because they are boiled first, its the chemical composition of the Montreal water, its the old Polish recipe that hasn't changed in over 100 years, or perhaps because they are made with love and tradition.

Although I've grown up with them, I've never really known the history of the Montreal bagel, so I did a little research.  Turns out that there is "real" reason why the bagels are so unique.  In addition to the common bagel recipe, Montreal bagel makers add egg and honey to the dough, and then also add honey to the water the bagels are boiled in.

No matter what the reason, they are legendary.  So legendary in fact that whenever I visit, I bring back a dozen with me in my suitcase.  "Anything to declare?", they ask when I cross the border.  "Just bagels".  This answer never surprises them, instead it seems to elicit a small knowing smile.

While doing research, I found a few more fun tidbits...

Montreal bagels have flown in space, proof that they are really out of this world.  Gregory Chamitoff, who grew up in Montreal, took three bags with him on his 2008 mission to the International Space Station.

I also found an amusing story about the battle of the bagel.  Apparently, some folks in Toronto actually thought they could beat out Montreal on the bagel front and demanded a challenge.  Of course, the Montreal bagel emerged as the overwhelming winner ("best in the galaxy"-there is that out of this world reference again!) and the article makes for a great read.

There are only a few main bagel bakeries around the city, and some aficionados claim they can tell which one the bagel comes from.  Fairmount and St-Viateur bagel are the most famous, but Real Bagel near my parent's house is just fine with me.

I believe this is part of the secret- A wood burning oven.

The common question is "white seed or black seed?".  In non-Montreal terms, that means "Sesame seed or poppy seed?"

They are best when you get them fresh out of the oven.  

The cheese bagel- not really a bagel, but we let them call it that.  It is a flaky pastry filled with sweetened cheese, kind of like a cheese danish only better.  Much, much better.  

Beyond bagels...
The bakery also supplies spreads, prepared foods, composed salads and assorted snacks from some other famous Montreal eateries.

Solly's is another famous bakery- here are some of their chocolate rugelach (aka mini chocolate danish)

They also carry Moishe's cookies.  Look for an upcoming blog all about Moishe's steak house...

The only rule to enjoying these bagels is to eat them straight out of the bag when they are hot.  

Later, you can toast them and add cream cheese.  

Once you have one, you will be ruined for regular bagels forever.  But its totally worth it!

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September 23, 2010

Happy New Year in September

Every fall, I celebrate New Year.  No, I'm not that ahead of schedule.  I celebrate the Jewish New Year, called Rosh Hashana.  This year was 5771, and we partied like it was 6000.  As with most Jewish Holidays there is a big focus on food and we have lots of favorite dishes and traditions.  We are supposed to eat sweet foods to encourage a sweet year so honey is a featured ingredient, and my aunt's honey cake is a great example but more on that later.  Both my aunt and my mother hosted family meals, and I am more than happy to show off their beautiful table settings and delicious food.  

Shana Tova! (that means Happy New Year!)

This is my aunt's stylish dining room and table setting.   Traditional candles are lit by the women of the house at every Jewish Holiday. 

At the beginning of the meal, the traditional wine is blessed and we all take a sip.  I work in Napa, and therefore feel the need to put a disclaimer here.  I say "wine" because technically it is, but Manischewitz is the sweetest wine in the world.   You would never see it on a wine list, nor would you catch someone opening a bottle for dinner.  But it is the wine we all associate with Jewish holidays and so it lives on.  Even the kids get to have some, diluted with water, and we knew we were grown up when we were promoted to drinking it at full concentration.

While not my favorite, I recognize that chopped liver is a must-have at the holidays.  The part I do like is the crispy fried onions that are used as a topper.  Some family members have tried to argue that if we don't eat the liver, we shouldn't get the onions but that has not passed legislation. 

Matzoh Ball Soup is also a must-have.  I once tried to explain what a matzoh ball (also called a kneidel) was to someone who wasn't familiar with Jewish cooking and the conversation went like this. 

Them: "What is the ball in the soup?"
Me: "Its a ball made of matzoh meal". 
Them: "What is matzoh meal?"
Me: "Its ground matzoh"
Them: "What is matzoh?"
Me: "Ummm, the hard cracker like things we eat at Passover"
Them: "Why do you eat those at Passover?"
Me: "Just taste the soup..."

We have choices!  We can have a soft ball, a hard ball, or one of each.  The hard balls are made by covering the soft balls in oil (or chicken fat back in the days when my grandmother made them), and baking them for hours.  You actually need a knife to cut through the crunchy outer shell to get to the moist center.  I know it sounds unusual, but they are delicious.  Trust me. 

Ahhh, my aunt's brisket.  There are no pictures that can do it justice.  It is simply delicious.  I was a vegetarian and didn't eat red meat for 16 years.  My biggest regret is missing out on the brisket all that time.  I didn't appreciate it as a teenager back then, but I sure appreciate it now. Unfortunately, that means the other meat eaters in the family have to fight one more person for the leftovers.  Shouldn't I get a larger portion now seeing as I didn't get any for so long?  I will bring that up at the next family meeting.   

Roast Chicken. White meat or dark meat?

Tzimmes is the closest we get to eating vegetables at a meal like this.  It is made of stewed carrots and raisins in a sweet sauce.  Because of those pesky raisins again, this dish rarely finds itself on my plate. 

Potato latkes (pancakes) are traditionally a chanukah food, but they have crossed the holiday barrier into New Years and Passover.  Good thing because they are one of my favorites.  We often have 3 varieties to choose from: Potato, sweet potato and vegetable. 

For dessert, there is always fresh fruit or fruit salad.

It was my parents' wedding anniversary (42 years!).  Happy Anniversary Mom & Dad!

The sweet theme continues into dessert, and honeycake is a traditional New Years delicacy.  My aunt is famous for her cinnamon coffee cake too.  She bakes batches of it ahead of time to ensure there is enough for all of us to fight over. 

"Who wants tea?"  is a common after dinner question.  With beautfiul tea cups like these, who wouldn't want tea?

In case one meal wasn't enough....

...the next day we had lunch at my parents house.  My mother loves hosting family meals because she gets to pull out all her serving dishes and try out new recipes.  I give her props for being more adventurous in the last few years.  While I wasn't in town to help her cook, I did come over early to help set up and get the food ready.

More challah, more Manischewitz wine.

Its traditional to eat apples with honey.  More sweet foods....

For the first time ever, my mother decided to serve falafel.  Falafel, a popular Israeli street food, is a small fried ball made of ground chick peas with middle eastern seasonings.  Its eaten in pita bread with hummus (more chick peas), tahini (ground sesame seeds), lettuce, tomato and cucumber. 

Smoked salmon and cream cheese spirals, made with multi-grain tortillas.  They came out really well, and were the perfect one bite treat.  Is this when I admit that I offered to slice them so I can eat the un-servable ends?  

For those of you who don't know what gefilte fish is, it probably won't sound very good.  But for those of you who have eaten it, you know its delicious!  I've always described it as the sausage of the fish world, but Wiki describes it as poached fish patties made from a mixture of ground, deboned fish.  Like I sausage. Its eaten with chrain, which is horseradish made bright pink because it is flavored with beets.  

Salad with apples and dried cranberries (so much better than raisins!)

Steamed asparagus with a balsamic, garlic dressing.

Poached salmon and dill, served with a cucumber relish.

She tried a new recipe, crustless vegetable quiche, and it came out really well.  

Mini potato knishes.  Knishes are flaky pastry pockets filled with mashed potatoes.  One of my favorite Jewish foods.  

For dessert we had carrot cake with cranberries instead of raisins (no raisins, thanks Mom!), covered in cream cheese icing.  
And more more honey cake of course.  

Have a happy, healthy and sweet year everyone!  

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