Monday, March 28, 2005

Vinaigrette - salad dressing

This recipe is pretty basic but if you should know one thing about french cooking, it should be the Vinaigrette salad dressing. I believe this is the first recipe I learned as a child, while watching and helping my parents prepare dinner. Vinaigrette would turn any lettuce leaf into a delicate french course... Vinaigrette is also great on steamed aspargus, steamed leeks, boiled artichokes (all of them served warm), or a half avocado.

Here's how I prepare it (but there are as many ways to prepare Vinaigrette as there are cooks out there):
  • 1 tablespoon of Dijon Mustard (try "Maille" or "Amora" brands)
  • add salt and freshly ground pepper
  • add 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar (not balsamic)
  • stir well then add 1 tablespoon of canola oil, stir until having a homogeneous emulsion
  • add 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil, one at a time, and stir well. If you add the oil too fast it won't incoporate to the dressing so make sure to stir well but not necessarily fast. Small movements work best, I think, but you should try to find your own technique
  • try the dressing and add whatever is necessary (oil, salt, vinegar...) to make it perfect for your taste. Note that this dressing should be a little thick (not too oily).

There are many variants to the Vinaigrette dressing. You can mix different oils or use a flavored vinegar depending on what's in your salad (for example: add whole walnuts to mixed greens and replace one table spoon of olive oil by walnut oil). You could also add a finely sliced green onion or chopped chives. As long as you stick to Dijon mustard + any kind of vinegar + any kind of oil + optionally herbs, you can consider your dressing to be a vinaigrette...

Tip: if you leave the dressing in the fridge the mustard and vinegar will separate from the oil. You can get the emulsion back by stirring slowly in the center of the bowl, making small circles until part of the dressing starts to emulsify, then widen the circles to incorporate a little bit more of the oil until the whole batch of dressing is smooth again.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Chocolate Mousse

Last Saturday night we had a dinner party at our house. I made a chocolate mousse for dessert and that was the best recipe I'd ever tried. Of course I found it on Marmiton which is a true gold mine for recipes (but only in french...). So here's a translation (with a bit of adaptation). By the way here's a cool culinary dictionary.

It takes about 10-15 minutes to prepare, at least 3 hours in advance.

For 4 people:
- 3 eggs
- 150 grams of semi-sweet chocolate (that's 1/3 of a pound)
- 30 grams of unsalted butter (that's about 1 ounce)
- 1 table spoon of sugar (well, some sugar: it depends on your taste and also on the chocolate --sweet or bitter).

1) Melt the chocolate and butter:
Break the chocolate in tiny pieces and cut the butter in small cubes. Then melt them in a "bain marie": put the chocolate and butter cubes in a sauce pan and put this one in a larger pot. Pour water in the larger pot until the sauce pan is floating (about half of the sauce pan should be immerged but make sure the water doesn't flow in the chocolate/butter). Heat until the water is almost boiling. This will allow you to melt the chocolate and butter at fairly low temperature, without risking to burn them. Stir regularly until you obtain a shiny, smooth paste.

2) Break the eggs and separate the whites from the yolks.

3) Whip the egg whites. First add a little bit of salt (just the amount that you can hold between two fingers -- what's the english word for "pincée"?). This will make it easier to have a bright white, firm meringue.

4) When the chocolate is nice and smooth, remove it from the fire and let it cool down for 1 or 2 minutes, not more. When it's still warm but not hot, add the egg yolks one after the other and stir well.

5) Add one table spoon of sugar to the chocolate mix and stir again until it's melted. Taste and add more sugar if you feel like it (that's really up to you... it shouldn't be overly sweet, though).

6) Pour the chocolate mix in a large bowl and add the egg whites one table spoon at a time. Incorporate them slowly to the chocolate without "breaking" the foam. Make big circles with the spoon, taking the chocolate from the bottom of the bowl and pouring it over the egg whites, etc. You should obtain a nice brown foam.

7) Pour the mousse in the serving dish (either a large bowl or individual cups) and place it in the fridge. Leave it there at least 3 hours, until the chocolate mousse is cool and firm.

Last Saturday we were 12... So I simply trippled all the ingredients. It doesn't make it more difficult to prepare. With strawberries and shortbreads, it's delicious!

Picture added on March 24, 2006

Monday, March 21, 2005

French Food Idioms

Have you noticed how food sometimes ends up in expressions that have nothing to do with it? Like "piece of cake", "apple to apple", "cool as a cucumber", etc. Well, you can imagine that French people, food-centric as they are, have tons of food idioms as well. Some of them are regional, others are used very commonly all over the country; and all are so picturesque!

I thought it would be fun to explain some of them (the cream of the crop!) in this blog, along with pictures and a recipe if possible. Here is the list of previously posted idioms. Click on any of them to get the full explanation!

If you want to share your favorite French or English idioms, please do so! Leave a comment!