“French refinement, English Basics, ethnic influences and folksy charm.”
As a kid, I watched her doing cooking segments on afternoon television. I remember being amazed that the food that she was cooking even existed. Cheese fondue, oh how delicious it looked, Gruyere cheese, what was that? The cheese I knew came wrapped in individual slices and I hated them, therefore, I thought that I hated cheese. And the baguette that was cut into cubes and dipped into the warm fondue, it looked like a delicious dream as the bread at our house was decidedly white with a soft brown crust and came already sliced. I adored my own Nana, but secretly wished that Madame Benoit could fill in once in a while just to have her cook for me. My grandmother worked hard cleaning offices at night, cooking dinner was something that she did just before going to work, so it had to be no-fuss and easy to clean up afterwords. It didn’t seem fair that all of this food was kept a secret from me. Garlic, wine, olives, spaghetti, tourtiere, poached salmon, cretons; I was in love with Madame, and It has been a lasting affair, (probably the most successful relationship of my life) I am still in love with her today, probably more so as I am able to appreciate her voice, her accomplishments and her mission.
I knew her only from TV and she spoke and acted like a kind grandmother, but now I know that she wrote over thirty cookbooks and opened what is thought to be Canada’s first vegetarian restaurant in Montreal in 1936. She then went on to open a cooking school where she taught over 8000 students. clearly she was smart and ambitious. But what resonates the most with me was her belief in the existence, importance and relevance of a distinct and regionally based Canadian cuisine. Long before it was fashionable, she championed the joy of eating seasonally and locally and she disdained the fad of “slimming,” choosing instead to eat sensibly well. Her mission is one that we can relate to today twenty eight years after her death.
But sadly, like a long and fruitful marriage, I took Madame for granted, began to get a little bored and looked for culinary excitement elsewhere…where, I became disappointed from the lack of substance and originality. I had seen it all before, the eat local movement, snout to tail, blah, blah, blah, it had all been done, without beards, tattoos and attitudes. So I returned to my culinary roots and to Madame Benoit, the original, who believed so strongly in her message that it became her life’s work. “Learn the basics of cooking, then use your imagination.”
Madame Benoit 1904-1987
From The Complete Heritage of Canadian Cooking, pub. 1976
Cottage Cheese Biscuits (Delicious!)
“Lightly textured inside, crisp and crusty on top, these biscuits can be served either for breakfast, with fruit, salad or soup, or with the main course instead of bread.”
1 egg, lightly beaten
3 tbsp. milk
1 cup cottage cheese, any kind (but lite)
2 tbsp. butter, melted
2 scant cups all-purpose flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced (I didn’t use it)
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
Mix the egg, milk, cottage cheese and butter thoroughly.
Stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, and parsley. Add to the first mixture and blend with the fingertips. If necessary, add more milk a few drops at a time, to make the dough hold together.
Turn on to a floured board and knead for 30 seconds. Pat into a shape 1/2 inch thick, then cut into 18 squares.
Put on a greased baking sheet and bake for about 12 minutes or until golden brown.