A couple of things to get out of the way right off the bat:
- The James Beard awards are often called ‘The Oscars of Food.’ They reward cooks, and cookbooks. I seriously hope this cookbook picks one up, as it is a viable contender in several categories.
- If you are at all concerned with calorie counting, the amount of fat you take in (or alcohol, or meat) move on. This may not be the cookbook for you.
- If you are looking for gluten free recipes, we carry a lot of cookbooks on that topic – but this is not one of them.
However, if you are looking for a book about food as pleasure, and without pretension, this book is for you. If you are interested in looking at how one of Canada’s best restaurants got off the ground, their philosophy, & what makes it tick, then again – this book is for you. This book is about food, the experiencing of it, the pleasure of it, regardless of any concern with health.
The full title of this cookbook, including the subtitle, is: The Art of Living According to Joe Beef: A Cookbook of Sorts. That description is entirely accurate. This cookbook is about the experience of a meal, from the cooking of it to its consumption, & the subtitle is not misleading, either. This is the first cookbook I’ve owned that I wanted to read in bed. No hyperbole there – there is plenty of text here besides just the recipes.
There are chapters on how their restaurant came to be, the history of eating in Montreal, the long-lost art of train travel as enjoyment (& dining car history, of course), how to build your own smoker, even tips on building a garden (specifically, in a crack den – but their tips apply to any backyard). And booze. Lots on booze. Their winelist, how to appreciate wine without being a snob, contributions from their favourite vineyards – and I haven’t even discussed hard liquor yet.
And when I say ‘chapters,’ I mean chapters. These are not just dashed-off chunks of text to pad out a cookbook & make it special. It’s not just a cookbook, it’s a book about food as well. The intent is truly to make it special, not make it appear so. And with this thoughtful text and the accompanying photographs, they’ve succeeded.
But how can I neglect the recipes themselves? Let me give you a taste of what you’ll find in The Art of Living According to Joe Beef.
- Foie Gras Breakfast Sandwich
- Filet de Cheval a Cheval
- Zesty Italian Tartare
- Beer Cheese
- Chicken Skin Jus. OK, how can I not love this cookbook? In my house, I’m encouraged not to eat too much fat, & discard all that chicken skin (though I don’t, & I usually grab whatever chicken skin is available that the health-conscious eaters have cast off). Anyone who is smart enough to recognize the great taste of chicken skin & include a recipe for it is cool with me.
- Kale for a Hangover
- Sausage Martini. No, that is not a typo. Finally, a good use for little canned sausages. To quote the book, “Why did the olive meet the martini, the onion the Gibson? It just seems to make sense that if you want a snack in your liquor, you should make it a sausage.”
- Filet de Boeuf: The Postmodern Offal!
… & I didn’t even cover the desserts. There’s not many of them, but these people are not playing around.
This cookbook even has gatefold centerfolds, only the photo spreads are antipasti plates, seafood platters … Beautifully designed, & truly a pleasure to read, this is an essential cookbook of 2011.
I asked a colleague, Jason Jordan, who works in nonfiction & is trained as a chef, what he thought of this cookbook. Here is his feedback:
I own a lot of cookbooks to the point where I have a book shelf dedicated to them. I collect them, I read them - however, I rarely cook from them. Recently there has been a wave of cook books that have transcended the genre, and forced me to reconsider my ways. The Art of Living According to Joe Beef is the first of those books. Very often I flip through a cookbook, look at the pictures and get some ideas for my own recipes; with The Art of Living According to Joe Beef I sat down and read it, and it was an enjoyable read. This is not just a cookbook but a book for cooks - part history, part philosophy, and yes, part cookery.
On the weekend I decided I would try out a recipe from the book, specifically Smoked Cheddar with Doughnuts. This seemed like a good recipe to start off with as it combined something I enjoy, smoking food, with something that I do not do, baking. The recipe itself was not difficult, and all of the ingredients were easily attainable. The hardest part was waiting for the cheese to finish smoking, because I could not wait to eat it.
The recipe itself called for the use of a doughnut cutter, which I do not own, but improvising with a glass tumbler and the cap from a bottle of rye worked just as well. This is not a book that I would pull out and cook from when the in-laws are coming for a visit; it is one of the books I would pull out for that truly special occasion.
This is not just a book for someone who enjoys cooking, this is a book for anyone who enjoys food.
We’re happy to include this recipe, as well as some images, to show just how special this cookbook really is. A great gift for any food lover, The Art of Living According to Joe Beef is truly special & highly recommended.
Smoked Cheddar with Doughnuts
By David McMillan, Frederic Morin and Meredith Erickson authors of The Art of Living According to Joe Beef.
Pier Luc Dallaire has worked for us for five years (and counting) as a cook, busboy, bartender, oyster shucker, and now a real French waiter! His dad, Bertrand, was a kindred soul gardener, and his mom, Huguette, made these killer doughnuts. They rise with baking powder, not yeast. The Isle-aux-Grues cheese is a great Quebec product that we couldn’t resist smoking. Together they sing.
Makes 20 to 24 doughnuts, depending on size.
2¾ cups (350 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ cup (55 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup (100 g) sugar
¼ cup (60 ml) whipping cream (35 percent butterfat)
¼ cup (60 ml) milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Canola oil for deep-frying
1 cup (300 g) maple syrup
8 thin slices Smoked Cheddar (recipe follows)
1. In a bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Set aside.
2. In a second bowl, cream the butter with the sugar until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition until combined. Slowly add the cream and milk, mixing until combined, and then mix in the vanilla. Lastly, add the flour mixture and stir until a stiff dough forms.
3. On a floured countertop, roll out the dough about ½ inch (12 mm) thick. With a doughnut cutter, cut out the doughnuts. We prefer a smaller doughnut, but it is up to you.
4. Pour the oil to a depth of 3 inches (7.5 cm) into your deep fryer (or according to the manufacturer’s instructions) and heat to 350°F (180°C). (Or, use a thick-bottomed, high-sided pot and a deep-fat thermometer.) Working in batches, add the doughnuts and fry for 3 to 4 minutes, or until they are a nice light brown. Drain on paper towels.
5. In a small saucepan, bring the maple syrup to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. With your trusty tongs, dip and coat the doughnuts with the syrup. Serve 4 to 6 doughnuts per person with a couple of slices of the Smoked Cheddar each.
2-pound (900-g) block Cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon Canadian whisky
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1. Combine the cheese, whisky, and syrup in a large freezer bag. Seal the bag and place it in the freezer for 4 hours.
2. Start your smoker and heat it to 85° to 105°F (30° to 40°C); you want to keep the smoke “cold,” that is, at a slow smolder, using mostly wood chips.
3. Insert a remote thermometer into the cheese and place it in the smoker. Smoke the cheese until it reaches an internal temperature of 39°F (4°C). The smoked cheese will keep in the fridge for up to 1 month, wrapped tightly in plastic.
Excerpted from The Art of Living According to Joe Beef by David McMillan, Frédéric Morin, and Meredith Erickson; Foreword by David Chang Copyright © 2011 by David McMillan, Frédéric Morin, and Meredith Erickson; Foreword by David Chang. Excerpted by permission of Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
For further reading:
The Whole Hog Cookbook by Libbie Summers (soon to be featured in the Indigo Blog)
Medium Raw, or anything by Anthony Bourdain, really …
… & interested readers can browse other cookbooks from the world’s great restaurants in this boutique: Can't Get a Reservation? Cook It Yourself!