Friday, January 27, 2006

Apple - Rhubarb Preserves

I was wandering in the produce aisle of my favorite grocery store the other day when my eyes got caught by a bright pink bunch of rhubarb sticks, comfortably "seated" between other delicious yet not as visually attractive vegetables. I instantly had the illusion that the slightly acidic taste of this beautiful plant was arising in my mouth. I only had to think for an extra second to also "taste" the apples that would perfecly complement my next sweet-and-sour dessert. I picked a few branches of rhubarb, chose a few Cameo and Sundowner apples, and day-dreamed until I got home and could finally cook these fruits. I love the color transfer that gave the preserves their warm pinky touch!

Apple-Rhubarb Preserves

- 3 apples
- 4 rhubarb sticks
- 2 tablespoons (brown) sugar
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup water

1. Peel the rhubarb while cutting it in 1" or 2" chunks.
2. Peel and seed the apples. Cut them in 4 or 8 pieces.
3. Place the fruits in a pot. Sprinkle with sugar. Pour the water. Toss a little.
4. Slowly simmer for about 15-20 minutes, or until the fruits are soft but they sill hold their shape.
5. Serve warm or cold with a few madeleines or shortbreads, a scoop of vanilla ice cream... or on its own.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Celery rémoulade

Le celeri rémoulade is a popular celery root salad with a mayonnaise-based dressing. You can serve it with other little appetizers such as carottes râpées (freshly shredded carrots with a lemon juice and olive oil dressing), sliced tomatoes, cubed beets (boiled about 30 minutes in a pressure cooker), macedoine, etc... Artfully arranged in concentric circles in one big plate these colorful salads will look like a beautiful and edible flower. :-)

Celery rémoulade can be found at any deli in France but since it isn't the case in Sunnyvale, as probably in many other places around the globe, why not make some ourselves? It's very easy.

What you need:
- 1 celery root
- rémoulade dressing:
. 1 hard-boiled egg (10 minutes)
. 1 raw egg
. 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (e.g. Maille or Amora)
. 1 teaspoon vinegar (e.g. apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar)
. canola oil (1 or 2 cups or as much as you want)
. salt and pepper
. optionally, 1 teaspoon tarragon

1. Prepare the celery root.
- If you have a good mixer with a shredder attachment, peel the celery root and shred it then boil it ("blanch it") for no more than 3 minutes in salted water. It should remain slightly crunchy.
- I don't have a good mixer with a shredder attachment so I use my mandoline on the julienne position. Since the celery root is very hard, I peel it and boil it first for 4 minutes in salted water to soften it up a little. Then I julienne the celery root with the mandoline and blanch it for only 1 minute.
Whatever method you choose, make sure to keep the water. It is an excellent, flavorful and healthy broth that you can use in your next veggie soup. You can freeze it very easily.

2. Prepare the rémoulade dressing. It is basically a very mustardy mayonnaise to which we add a thinly chopped hard boiled egg. Additional seasoning (such as tarragon) can be used. Some recipes also add parsley and even finely chopped cornichons (small French pickled gherkins) and capers. This is purely optional as long as the mustard is strong enough. Note that rémoulade is a smooth dressing: the herbs should blend in rather than make chunks.
- Place the mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper in a bowl or jar. Stir a little. Add the egg yolk and start mixing more vigorously with a hand whish. If you are using an electric blender (as I do) you can use the whole egg. The mayonnaise will be lighter in color and texture. Pour the oil in a thin stream while mixing/whisking continuously. Make sure to get the emulsion going (i.e. get a thick and homogeneous sauce) before adding more oil. You can add as much oil as you need mayonnaise. For this dish, 1 to 2 cups should be enough. Add some seasoning if you want (tarragon -dried of fresh, fresh parsley, cornichons, capers...).

3. Chop the hard boil egg very thinly and incorporate it to the sauce.

4. Drain the celery root and place it in a salad bowl. Pour the rémoulade dressing on top and toss until the dressing is evenly spread. The flavors will be better absorbed if the celery is still warm when you mix in the dressing.

5. Let cool down before eating. The celery rémoulade gets even better if you leave it in the fridge overnight. This will give it time to marinate a little.

Monday, January 16, 2006

O, papillottes!

Coming back from Lyon last week-end I brought back many gourmet memories (what a wonderful trip it was!) but also lots of tangible souvenirs, especially from the chocolate department: a good way to keep the holiday spirit going! My favorite ones around Christmas are les papillottes. This specialty from the Lyon region is on every table at the end of the year. The best of the best are made by Révillon Chocolatier in Roanne, about 50 miles west of Lyon, in a beautiful and hilly countryside.

Papillottes are a treat for all the senses. With their shiny envelope, they look like somptuous little presents. Choose one at random in the bag or plate for a delicious surprise. Take the little jewel between your fingers and pull gently on each end of the package: the metallic wrap makes a delicious rustling noise that wakens the ear and waters the mouth. As the papillotte opens up, the chocolate fragrances rise up to your nose. You are about to indulge yourself with dark, milk or white chocolate and an irresitible filling such as ganache, praliné, hazelnuts or nougat. You could even get a flavorful fruit paste (quince if you're lucky). While eating the sweet treat, read the joke or saying printed on a little piece of white paper placed inside the wrap, around the chocolate. Let the chocolate melt in your mouth. Meditate and enjoy... Then pick another one :-)