Not So Starving Artists: Katie Boyts and Chris Attenborough Travel, Eat, Scheme, and Mash it Up

I drove to Canada with an Australian last week. We visited Montreal and Quebec City and a charming little town called Beaupre, all of which felt idyllically European except that you can drive there in a somewhat questionable Nissan.

In the midst of travel, the burning question arose: How do we approach “Not So Starving Artists” while on the road? We had the idea of both Chris and I simultaneously eating at separate Taco Bells while texting, but quite frankly I didn’t want to spend time in Canada tracking down the elusive Quebecois Taco Bell. There was too much poutine and way too many jaffles to eat. If these terms mean nothing to you, allow me to expand…

Poutine is a uniquely Canadian dish, originating in Quebec and consisting of french fries slathered with brown gravy and dotted with cheese curds. This is clearly the perfect combination of salt and carbs and richness. With a near sense of urgency, the Australian and I went for poutine the first night we arrived in Montreal.

We ended up eating in a strange college bar playing Bon Jovi way louder than Bon Jovi should ever be played, which I quickly forgave them for when the giant bowl of salty, cheesy, gravy-laced carbs arrived. As evidenced by my typing of these very words, I find poutine so fantastic a concept to be inspiring.

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Jaffles are Australian toasted sandwiches with sealed edges. They can be either round or square. On paper, jaffles sound like a mere toasted sandwich. And yet they are so much more than that. Maybe the magic of the jaffle is really in those sealed edges, allowing one to stuff anything in there and making them beautifully portable. Traditional fillings are disturbing things like canned spaghetti or baked beans. (I never claimed objectivity.)

Totally delicious, aka less disturbing, options include things like ham, cheese and eggs, vegemite or bolognese and cheese. I had my first jaffle ever at a cafe in Montreal called Cafe Melbourne. As a reminder, I was travelling with an Australian so he insisted we stop in. And there too, in this small cafe where two Australian transplants were slinging hot, tasty jaffles and beautiful cappuccinos, I found inspiration.

At some point during this French Canadian getaway, post-jaffle and amid the many poutines of the week, it occurred to me that, perhaps in this Special Travel Edition of “Not So Starving Artists,” we bring some Canadian/Australian cuisine to you in a Special Edition mash-up invention of… drumroll please… The Poutine Jaffle. Yes my friends, a jaffle stuffed with french fries, cheese curds and gravy. Allow me to take this moment in advance to say… You’re welcome.

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To be clear, I am not delivering poutine jaffles to your home today, or ever. We will however be telling you how you can create this affordable international delight in your very own home. In addition, if anyone feels inclined to copy the Jafflechute in Baltimore, you have my full support.

Chris, my Australian companion, acting as jaffle expert consultant, and I tackled this creation. We first purchased one to-go order of the Classique Poutine at Clark Burger and a loaf of bread. Upon insistence of the Australian, we also purchased cans of beans and spaghetti to make the traditional jaffles.

Machines called jaffle makers actually do exist, and some would argue are necessary to a successful jaffling session. They’re basically a waffle iron but with concave insides to cradle the filling and edges that seal the bread. Because I don’t own a jaffle maker, but really should, and because we’re not the people who would argue they’re necessary, we got resourceful. Our cooking innovations actually worked surprisingly well, and I’m proud to say that our poutine jaffle was a massive success, ultimately winning the Australian’s approval.

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Our jaffle consultant provided expertise on crucial elements such as:

* Knowing your filling limits: “No, no, take out a few chips (that’s Australian for french fries) and add some cheese.”
* The proper amount of pressure to apply to seal the edges: “Press slowly. Slowly! You’re going to tear the bread.”
* Confirming that in fact canned spaghetti jaffles are actually a thing people enjoy: “Yep. That’s tasty. Reminds me of my childhood.”
* Cautionary tales regarding on the danger of jaffles: “You have to watch out for the filling. It’ll come out approximately as hot as the surface of the sun.”

It turns out that the Poutine Jaffle is in fact absolutely delicious. The butter browns the bread like the best grilled cheese. The cheese curds melt within the jaffle’s belly and upon breaking in, stretch out in front of you in that magical stringy way. The gravy brings the whole thing together, providing the necessary sauce element. And french fries, well I mean, they’re french fries. What else can I say? Clark Burger’s poutine would make any native Canadian proud I think. The fries are the proper thickness, the gravy is the proper saltiness, the cheese is the proper curd size. This is the best kind of food you make with friends after a few too many cocktails – innovative, rich, and more than a bit spectacular.

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Afterwards we sat around discussing jaffles. I discovered there is what I would call a fierce jaffle subculture. One might even call it the underbelly of the sandwich world. Jaffle food trucks, jaffle chutes, fireside jaffles, bourgeois jaffles with poached pear and pistachios and vanilla beans. We decided it is probably a good idea for Baltimore restaurants to round up their leftovers and contribute them to a jaffle cafe to reduce citywide food waste and also cost for the jaffle cafe. Then, we decided this was absolutely not a good idea. We decided we are in fact brilliant for the creation of this poutine jaffle.

It has frequently occurred to me in cooking, whether it was during menu development as a pastry chef or simply as a consumer, that so often when we make or eat food we are ultimately attempting to replicate some experience we had as a child. Perhaps it is simply a sensation, a familiarity, an unadulterated joy that could come only in childhood when food was a simple, sheer pleasure.

We were not old enough yet to judge ourselves or count calories. We were not snobby enough yet to think that ‘basic’ was a bad word when it came to food. We could just revel in the bare bones of good flavors, good textures, and the joy that came with simple good food. That I think is the real magic of the jaffle. (Especially one stuffed with french fries, cheese curds, and gravy.) For a moment, we could sit down with a beer and this absurd toasted sandwich and feel a bit like kids reveling in the playful, good food. We hit the ultimate mark.

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Poutine Jaffle Recipe

Recommended equipment: saute pan, circular glass bowl, a can of baked beans, offset spatula.

Ingredients:
1 order of Classique Poutine from Clark Burger
1 loaf of white sandwich bread
Butter

1. Heat skillet over medium-high heat.
2. Butter one side of two slices of bread. Once the pan is hot, place one slice of bread, butter side down, in pan.
3. Place a heaping scoop of poutine in the center of the slice of bread, leaving a border at the edge of the bread. Make sure not to overfill and that there is at least a couple of cheese curds. 4. Place the second slice of bread on top, butter side up.
5. Center the round bowl over the sandwich and slowly press down till the bowl is almost touching the pan. Now put the can of baked beans on top of the bowl to act as a weight.
6. Allow to cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until the bottom of the sandwich is golden brown. Remove beans and bowl and flip carefully to the other side, recentering the bowl and again gently pressing it into the jaffle. Place the can of beans on the bowl again and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes or until the bottom is the same golden brown.
7. Repeat the flipping two more times for a total of about 6-8 minutes or until you’re confident the filling is piping hot.
8. Enjoy with a cold pale ale.
9. You’re welcome.

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