Monday, February 28, 2011

Cooking With Friends For My Birthday!

I’ve been neglecting my blog for a few days now and I’m sorry for those who came by to get new recipes. But it was all worth it and this is why: this weekend was my birthday! Yep! I’ve turned the page on another great year and am ready to attack the new one. As you can imagine, the past few days were filled with great food experiences; and they were!! I had such a great time with friends and family and have been eating some amazing food. Sadly, I haven’t taken a picture of everything I ate… probably due to my enthusiasm which made me forget about all the serious stuff!! But this recollection of food will surely please the most enthusiasts!

My friends gave me a big treat on Friday: they cooked for me! Yep, that’s how we do things amongst us. After the French Laundry experience, we decided to reproduce it at home! Everyone had to cook a small plate which made up for a seven course meal, plus some little extras. It was absolutely delicious and everybody brought to the table their culinary creativity and style. The evening’s food was a surprise as we didn’t know what people were preparing. We ended up eating for a total of almost 6 hours and had an amazing time. We thought we would have too much to eat but in the end, because everybody respected the small quantity rule, we had just enough.

Personally, I took care of the desert. I need practice in that department (referring to the cake disaster episode) so I took on the challenge. On top of that, I decided I was going to take care of the mise-en-bouche and of the entremets. All four plates were delicious a great crowd pleasers. Very easy to make, you’ll find here recipes for both the entremets and the first desert (the teaser!). Tomorrow I’ll share my desert recipe… You’re going to have to be patient to see what it was!

Here's a recollection in images of what my friends prepared. 

Goat Cheese and Sundried Tomatoes Pockets
Arugula and Crispy Prosciutto Salad

Fresh Mushroom and Foie Gras Ravioli
Crispy Pancetta and Mushroom Broth

Duck Magret with Red Wine Sauce
Watercress and Beets Salad

Wild Canada Goose (Outarde) with Red Currant Sauce
Potato and Celery Root Purée

Slow Infused Beef Consommé

Seared Beef Tenderloin
Crispy French Fries

Makes 24 spoonful servings

100g selection of fresh berries
2 gelatine leaves
100ml water
50g granulated sugar
100ml sake
Fresh mint for garnish

Wash the fruits gently, drain well and place on a kitchen paper to absorb excess moisture.

Place the gelatine leaves in a small saucepan and add the water and the sugar. Warm gently over low heat and stir slowly until all the sugar and gelatine have dissolved. Set aside to cool slightly.

When the mixture is tepid, stir in the sake and strain the mixture through a fine sieve to remove any remaining lumps of gelatine.

Pour a little of the mixture into the base of the spoon to cover the bottom, and place in the freezer for a few minutes to set.

Remove from the freezer, place the fruit on top of the set jelly and cover with the remaining jelly mixture. Place in the refrigerator and allow to set for 3-4 hours. Garnish with mint sprigs.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

¾ cup sugar
1 ½ cup water
½ cup fresh mint, minced
1 tbsp lemon juice
3 cups fresh strawberries (or raspberries)
A few mint leave for decoration
Vodka (optional!)

In a small saucepan, mix the sugar with ½ cup, water and the mint. Bring to a boil and boil for 1 minute. Let the syrup cool completely. Strain through a fine sieve and throw out the mint. Add the lemon juice a mix well.

In a blender, reduce the strawberries and 1 cup of water into a purée. Strain through a sieve if necessary (especially if you’re using raspberries). Add the mint syrup and blend well. Poor into a shallow pyrex. Cover saran wrap and put in the freezer for 4 to 6 hours.

Just before serving, scrape the granite with a fork. Split between serving glasses or cups. Add a little bit of Vodka and a mint leaf to decorate.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Addicted to Maldon Sea Salt Flakes

I’ve said this before and I’ll repeat myself; I love salt! There’s something about salt that makes my tongue go wild! Yet I know we keep on reading everywhere that salt is not good for you. You’ll get your arteries clogged if you have too much of it. But what is too much? Really, when you think about it, if you buy all your food in boxes, prepared and precooked for you, then maybe you’re in trouble. Read the labels. You’ll see that you eat a hell of a lot of salt in a day… and it’s probably a type of salt that’s not too good for your health either. On the contrary, if you prepare all of your food yourself and add a few good pinches of salt here and there, I’m sure in the end you’re using a lot less salt than what they put in those boxes. So really, who eats more salt? The one who buys the prepared foods or the one who cooks his own?

I was raised on salty foods. If you ask me to chose between a salty dish and a desert, I’ll pick the salty dish way before the desert, without even thinking about it! Which is why my cooking is always enhanced with a touch a salt, with a dash of those brilliant crystals.

If you start looking around, you’ll find that there are a whole lot of finishing salts you can choose from to enhance your dishes. Lately, I discovered my personal favourite salt at a friend’s house. I liked it so much I was adding it everywhere… So I went hunting for it, looking for that crunchiness, that perfectly balanced saltiness, those huge crystals that look so beautiful on top of my food. This salt is called Maldon Sea Salt Flakes. The crystals are bigger and better than the standard sea salt, they’re super tasty and crunchy yet not too hard when you bite into them! To me, this is the perfect salt!!

If you’re in Montreal, you can find the Maldon Salt at Les douceurs du Marché (Atwater Market), at Alexis le Gourmand or any other fine food store. Enjoy!

Add Maldon Salt  to a simple tomatoe and fresh mozzarella salad. 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Bouillabaisse For Your Saturday Night Cooking Fever

Is Saturday Night the evening you make sure your food is yummy, different and nothing like what you’ve been eating during the week? I sure am one of those! Sure, restaurants are nice when you want to have a nice evening and some good food, but sometimes going out is just not an option. So staying in needs to be just as fun as if you were going out… or close to it! It’s also interesting to see that people usually take out their cooking books on Saturday, looking for something that will make their taste buds go wild in the evening, regardless of who’s going to be around the table. That’s how I do it anyways! 

For a little while now I’ve been wanting to make a Bouillabaisse, a nice warm Provençal seafood soup aromatized with the subtle taste of saffron. I’ve never made Bouillabaisse before but I’ve had it in restaurants and I always love it. There’s something comforting about hot soup as a meal, so what better time than winter to try this one out? Add to it crispy bread croutons with rouille spread and your taste buds are bound to be happy tonight.

If you’re going to make Bouillabaisse, don’t get intimidated by all the ingredients on the list. It’s really not that hard to make, it just looks complicated. If you make your own fish broth (fumet de poisson), you’re going to be really proud of the end result. But there’s no shame on buying premade broth. If you do so, it will save you about 1 hour’s worth of work. Also, be aware that Bouillabaisse is all about the saffron. Aromatic, delicate and never one to take over, saffron is a very sophisticated, delicate and sexy spice. It needs to be the predominant flavor to your soup without being overpowering. A big pinch should be quite enough for this recipe. Finally, making your soup will take you nothing more than 15-20 minutes. Since this dish needs to be served just when it’s ready, you can prepare all the ingredients in advance and start making the soup 15 minutes before you want to sit at the table. That way you’re sure nothing is overcooked.

So if you’re ready for Saturday Night Cooking Fever, here’s one perfect for tonight!

Makes 6 servings

Fumet de poisson
6 cups water
2 pounds fish backbone and head or sole backbones (ideally)
2 onions, chopped
2 sprigs parsley
2 tbsp mushroom peels or mushrooms
Juices of ½ lemon
3 fresh thyme sprigs
3 fresh savory sprigs
1 tsp salt

1 lb tilapia or sole fillets, diced  
½ lb small raw shrimps, peeled  
½ lb small scallops
1 fresh live lobster, cut in pieces or crab (optional)
6 cups fish stock (fumet de poisson)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 medium-sized leek, white part only, halved lengthwise and finely chopped
2 cups potatoes, peeled and finely diced
2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
½ cup olive oil
1 tbsp grated garlic
2-3 sprigs thyme
2-3 sprigs savory
1 tsp fennel seeds, slightly chopped
1 pinch saffron threads
Salt & pepper
1 tbsp unsalted butter
¼ cup flat parsley, coarsely chopped

Croutons and rouille
1 french baguette, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, cut in half
1 tsp lemon juice
1 pinch saffron threads
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 egg yolks
¼ tsp salt
1 pinch cayenne
½ cup + 1 tbsp olive oil

Fumet de poisson
In a deep pot, put the fish or the sole backbones into cold water. Bring to a boil. After the water starts to boil, add the onions, parsley, mushrooms, lemon juice and salt.

Boil for 30 to 45 minutes. Strain in a large bowl through a chinois, only keeping the broth. Keep cold (you can freeze if you want to make this in advance).

In a large saucepan, place the onion, the leek and the garlic with 2 tbsp olive oil. Heat slowly, stirring frequently, until they are well softened but not brown. Pour the fumet de poisson and add the potatoes, the tomatoes and the live lobster pieces (optinal). Add the thyme, savory, fennel seeds, saffron, a large pinch of salt and some pepper. Sprinkle the butter and the rest of the olive oil on top. Bring to a boil, cover and cook until the potatoes are tender (about 5-8 minutes).

Add the tilapia or sole, shrimps, and the scallops. Cook on high heat for another 5 minutes. As it boils, the fish stock, the oil and the butter will thicken to the consistency of a creamed soup. Add the parsley.

If you want, you can drain the fish carefully, and arrange the pieces on a serving platter. If not, you can pour the boiling soup with the seafood in serving bowls and top with the bread croutons and rouille.

Croutons and rouille
Preheat the oven at broil.

In a bowl, combine the lemon juice and the saffron. In a small food processor, purée the garlic, egg yolks, saffron-infused juice, salt and cayenne pepper. While processing, slowly drizzle in half the olive oil, and then add the remaining oil. The rouille should have the texture of a thick mayonnaise. Adjust seasoning. Refrigerate.

Take the slices of bread that have been rubbed with garlic, sprinkle them with a few drops of olive oil and broil in the oven until brown and crispy (about 3 minutes).

Notes: Some people add shellfish to their Bouillabaisse such as mussel or clams. According to great French Chefs, we shouldn’t do this because the taste of mussels would be too strong, and the shells often leave sand at the bottom.

As I’m allergic to lobster, I replaced it with cooked snow crab claws, which I added to the soup at the last minute.

It is essential to serve this soup as soon as it is cooked. If it’s forced to wait, the natural thickening that forms the charm of this dish will rapidly disappear.

This recipe is best if you make your own fish stock. But, if you don’t have time to make it yourself, you can buy it premade at your fish market.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mushroom Cappuccino To Make Me Feel Better

After my now famous cake disaster, I needed to calm down. Make myself believe in my skills again… Because I still think I have a certain panache in the kitchen. So I went back to basics and simplicity, using an ingredient I simply never get tired of: mushrooms! And this recipe is so easy; I knew it was impossible for me to miss it.

This Mushroom Cappuccino doesn’t reinvent anything. It’s a mushroom soup, but it’s tasty and when presented with a sense of style it can be damn impressive. It’s a great introduction to a meal if you have guests coming over. Mushrooms can be expensive (if you buys the fancy ones) but they can also be really cheap. Simple white mushrooms, when cooked for a long time, become full of flavor and take up all the smokiness needed for tasty recipes. So don’t buy fancy mushrooms for this recipe. Even better, if you’ve got some mushrooms in your fridge and they’re starting to look a little faded, then this is the perfect camouflage for them!  

Do you think I succeeded with this recipe? I sure did! So I’m back on track. Although this was far from a baking experience, it still gave me that little extra confidence kick that I needed to start liking my kitchen again. And the next time that I bake, I just might get better results… If you keep on reading my posts, you might be in the front row… watching me succeed… or fail!!!

Makes 6 servings

1 onion, finely chopped
4 branches celery, finely chopped
2 tbsp butter
500 g mushrooms, sliced
1 small potato, peeled and chopped
Salt and pepper
1 cup 35% cream
1 tbsp fresh or dried thyme
2 tbsp fresh Italian parsley
15 g dried porcini mushroom, finely chopped or grated (optional)
3 cups low sodium chicken broth

Whip ½ cup of the cream and reserve in the fridge.

In a large saucepan, melt the onion, the celery and the garlic in the butter over medium heat.Add the mushrooms, bringing the heat up. Cook until all the juices have evaporated. Add the potato along with salt, pepper, thyme and parsley. Add the porcini mushrooms (keep a small piece on the side for decoration). Bring to a boil and cook for about 15 minutes, half covered.
Take of the heat a let cool for a few minutes. Add ½ cup of the cream to the soup and pass in the blender. Keep warm over low heat.

Serve in 4 nice bowls or cappuccino cups. Top with the whipped cream and finish by grating some porcini mushrooms on top. 

Note: You don’t need to add the porcini mushrooms to the soup but if you do, it will add a lot of flavor to your soup.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Cake Disaster; When A Chocolate Cake Goes All Wrong

There’s something about baking that just doesn’t suit me. What is it about chemistry that is so hard to understand? I wasn’t so bad in my high school chemistry class, but I wasn’t that good either. I guess I didn’t make the wrong career choice by not becoming a scientist…

This weekend was my brothers-in-laws’ birthday (twins!). As Valentine’s Day was just around the corner, I thought chocolate was an absolute must for the dinner party. So I found this amazing looking chocolate cake recipe. Little did I know that I was in for an afternoon of hell preparing this monstrous cake! Everything went wrong! Starting from the size of my pans (I used 8-inches pans instead of 9-inches), to my icing (I used granulated sugar, as the recipe indicated… but realized too late that there was a mistake and it should’ve been icing sugar), to my timing (I needed an extra 30 minutes that I didn’t have, which means my cake collapsed… not being cooked enough). It was sooooo frustrating, not being able to complete my cake correctly. Having to see this ugly, disappointing looking piece of chocolate.

What have a learnt from my experience? Well, first of all, when you bake a cake, make sure you have enough time ahead of you. Baking does not accept any rule bending so there’s no cutting time (which was my first mistake!). Also: R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Not the Aretha Franklin song, but the ingredients on the list. Don’t cut back, don’t approximate. Chemistry requires exactitude. Finally, make sure the recipe has no mistakes (yes, that does happen). I’ve also learnt that if I cooked like this all the time, I would not like it… Which made me understand why so many people hate cooking. I guess it’s possible to be terrible in the kitchen.

In the end, I did serve my cake at the party. And guess what? People loooooooved it!! Yes, it did look a little weird and certainly wasn’t perfect. But the taste was all there and in the end, it’s pretty much what matters most. So I got to serve the entire cake, not leaving any leftovers behind. Will I ever bake this cake again? YES. Will I do it differently? Without a doubt!! So do take the time to try this one out. I’ve made sure the recipe is correct this time. And please, let me know if yours turns out to be amazing looking. I know it’s got the full potential to be an amazing crowd pleaser.

Disaster Chocolate Cake
Makes 12 servings and more!

What my cake ended up looking like...
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
8 eggs, room temperature
1 tsp cream of tartar
3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oilt
1 cup buttermilk (or sour cream)
1 tsp vanilla extract

1 ¼ cups unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ 35% cream
5 cups icing sugar
1 cup cocoa powder

It looked ok to begin with...
The beginning of the disintegration...
Preheat the oven at 350˚F.

Line two 9-inch round pans with parchment paper, butter and flour. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder. Set aside.

In another large bowl, beat the eggs, the cream of tartar and sugar at high speed until the mixture doubles in volume (about 5-8 minutes). Add the oil, buttermilk and vanilla. Reduce the speed of the mixer. Add the dry ingredients.

Pour into the pans. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool completely on a rack. Cut each cake in half horizontally.

In a large bowl, beat all the ingredients together until the mixture becomes light and fluffy. Layer the cake with frosting. Finish by frosting the cake evenly. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Winter Calls for Meat: Pork Tenderloin With Caramelized Onions and Apples

Winter is always a good time to eat meat. There’s something nice and comforting about eating warm meat on a cold winter’s night. Why is it that there are some dishes that we just won’t accept to eat during the summer? Who wants to eat a hot meat stew when it’s 30˚C outside? Certainly not me! That’s why I try to use the remaining cold days (because yes, summer is getting closer by the day) to try out some heart-warming meat recipes.

I’m not usually a big fan of the sweet and sour mix. I like salty stuff and I don’t like it when sugar messes around with salt. But there are some recipes that actually do work well, and I believe that subtlety is the key to success. No screaming flavors, just a nice blend of both flavors that makes your taste buds ask for more. This recipe did it for me. It’s a perfect balance of both and the pork tenderloin never tasted so good. If you can accept the idea of playing around with butcher’s twine, using your hands a getting a little messy, than you should have fun with this one.
Pork Tenderloin Stuffed With Caramelized Onions and Apples
Makes 2 servings

1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 tbsp butter
1 pork tenderloin
2 tbsp vegetable oil
¼ cup dry white wine or Vermouth
½ cup chicken broth
1 tsp dried sage
2 Cortland apples peeled, seeded, cut into wedges
1/3 cup sour cream or 15% cream
Kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350˚F.

In a skillet, brown the onions and garlic in the butter over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Allow to cool.

On a work surface, butterfly the tenderloins (slice in half the entire length of the tenderloin without cutting all the way through). Open flat and spread the onions stuffing over the entire length of both tenderloins. Close and tie with butcher’s twine. Dust the meat with flour.

In an ovenproof skillet, brown the tenderloin in the oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Deglaze with the wine over high heat. Add the chicken broth, sage and apples. Bake for about 20-25 minutes. Remove the meat and add the sour cream. Reduce the sauce over high heat for about 2 minutes. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Untie and slice the meat, then serve and drizzle with the sauce. Serve with colorful vegetables.

Note: Tying the meat can be a messy process. Don’t worry about keeping it perfect looking, once cut and served with the sauce, no one will notice your lack of butcher’s skills!

Butcher’s Twine is a very strong cord that can be used for a variety of wrapping purposes, and also in food preparation, since it is sterilized.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The French Laundry

I haven’t been posting any new recipes in the last few days, and I’m sorry for those who were in search of inspiration. And I have to admit, I haven’t been cooking either. Yes, this does happen once in a while! Instead, I was on a short escape to a great city, San Francisco, California. Although I was not behind the stove, I was certainly enjoying some good times and some amazing food… And I was really spoiled. I was taken out to the French Laundry in Napa Valley.
Chef Thomas Keller

For those unfamiliar with the French Laundry, it’s one of the world’s most renowned restaurants. Opened in 1994 by famous Chef Thomas Keller, it won best restaurant of the world both in 2003 and 2004. Since 2006 it even has 3 Michelin Stars. For many years now, it’s been figuring on the world’s top 50 best restaurants list.

The Restaurant's Front

The food consists of two unique nine-courses menus, none of which offers the same ingredient twice, and none of which are featured for more than one day. Add to that a few extra ‘surprises’ and you’re bound to walk out of this restaurant drunk from all the greatness. Trust me, it happened to me and I only had a ‘splash of champagne’, as the maître D’ said it. The bread is prepared at the local Bouchon bakery (also owned by Keller), the herbs are grown in the backyard and the cheese, butter, salts come from all over the world. Not one detail is left aside. And only the best work in the kitchen.

French Laundry Garden
My purpose here is not the offer a critic of this restaurant but to share an amazing food experience with you. To me, this meal was everything food perfection should be, and more. The service was impeccable (there is a 1:1 staff per client ratio) and the setting is simple yet majestic. If you ever are in the San Francisco area and have a few extra bucks to spend, then you should go here. You won’t regret it! I still dream of all those flavours I got to savour during my meal. And I consider myself privileged to have had an exclusive visit of the kitchen where I got a glance of the tall Thomas Keller who so happened to be gardening in the back that day (no, he’s not the one in charge of the kitchen anymore!).

Cauliflower "Panna Cotta"
with Island Creek Oyster Glaze and
California Sturgeon Caviar

Moulard Duck "Foie Gras au Torchon"
Pickled Asian Pear Relish, Celery Branch, Parsnip Purée,
Black Winter Truffles and Vanilla Sented Sauternes

Sautéed Fillet of Atlantic Black Bass
Manila Clams, Chick Pea "Croquette", Fennel,
Arugula and Saffron-Pepper Reduction

Sweet Butter-Poached Scallop
Roasted Cilantro Shoots & Chanterelle Mushroom "Pierogi"
and Hobbs' Bacon Reduction

Liberty Farm Peking Duck
Duck Confit "En Feuille de Bric", Couscous, Nantes Carrot,
Curried Sultans and Cilantro Shoots

Elysian Fields Farm Lamb Rib-Eye
Ribettes, Pole Bean "Cassoulet", Braised Mustard Greens,
Parsley Oil and Dijon Mustard

"Beets and Leeks"
"Boho Bel", King Richard Leeks, "Pommes Maxim's"
and Red Beet Essence

Marshall Farm's Wildflower Honey Sorbet
Chilled Hibiscus-Pink Peppercorn "Consommé" and Poached Rhubarb

"Délice aux Pistaches"
Shiso Gelée, Lemongrass "Crémeux"
and Granny Smith Apple Sorbet

And I most certainly have some inspiration for a few recipes to come…