Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Daring Bakers' April Challenge - Maple Mousse in an Edible Container

The April 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Evelyne of the blog Cheap Ethnic Eatz. Evelyne chose to challenge everyone to make a maple mousse in an edible container. Prizes are being awarded to the most creative edible container and filling, so vote on your favorite from April 27th to May 27th at!

I really wish I had something better to show for this month’s Daring Bakers’ challenge – not least because it was hosted by fellow Montrealer and friend Evelyne of Cheap Ethnic Eatz. Several months ago, as we were freezing our asses off with other food bloggers in front of Le Boucan, Evelyne hinted that her challenge idea was pretty unusual, and that I probably wouldn’t guess it. Indeed, she was right: maple mousse in a bacon cup was not something that crossed my mind!

Actually, the official challenge was to make edible containers for the mousse. But how could I resist the bacon option? Incorporating bacon into sweet desserts (particularly chocolate ones) has been a trend for a long time now, so long that it’s probably not technically a trend anymore. And as any brunch lover knows, maple and bacon are a match made in heaven.

Strangely enough for a resident of Quebec, I rarely use maple syrup. The bottle I keep in the fridge has been there for a long time. And yet, as I began to heat the syrup (from a new can I purchased for the occasion) for the mousse, I was seriously puzzled at my neglect of this spring staple: it smelled so divine, I literally swooned!

So, if anything, this challenge will have reconnected me with maple syrup. However, as I stated at the beginning of this post, I am not quite happy with my results. And unfortunately, I didn’t have time to try again, because I was very last-minute – not because I was busy, but just lazy and disorganized.

For starters, I chose to work with ingredients which are not especially cooperative, but in different ways: bacon and chocolate.

Chocolate is a notorious prima donna. Controlling its temperature is tricky when using small quantities, which leads to all kinds of drama. Fortunately, it didn’t go too badly this time. I wanted to make chocolate cups, following instructions I found on The Global Gourmet. It’s really quite simple: you melt the chocolate, spread it across a cupcake liner, chill, and peel the paper off. I was worried about not having found foil-lined cupcake cups, which probably would have facilitated the peeling. But it worked anyway.

Bacon, in my book, is difficult to work with for a different reason: it shrinks like hell, making it a less than ideal material for sculpting or moulding. I had actually tried making bacon cups for the last Daring Cooks’ challenge (also on edible containers), but I had ended up with bacon saucers instead. This time, I used more bacon per cup, allowing for shrinkage. I obtained an approximate cup shape, but still ended up with holes in my container. Which wouldn’t have been too big a deal… if my mousse had come out right.

I’m not sure what happened with the mousse. It was a pretty straightforward recipe, but I guess the stars weren’t aligned. The preparation simply refused to solidify, and so I ended up with something that was closer to a maple crème anglaise. Which, of course, leaked through the holes in my bacon cup. But it still tasted great, and we ate it up without any complaints.

I had other ideas for this challenge, of course: tuile cups, crepe bowls, cannoli (which, however, would also have required a solid mousse)… I’m still glad I went for the bacon, though. It’s official: bacon really does make everything (and I mean everything) better!

You can look at the challenge recipes here, and don’t forget to look at the blog roll to see all the awesome sweet containers (and mousses worthy of that name) the other Daring Bakers have made. Also, there’s going to be a contest for the best creation, so don’t forget to vote!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter comes early - Braised Leg of Lamb

Laurent will be away this weekend, on a work-related trip (because somebody forgot that it was Easter weekend, and booked the trip for everyone months ago, and nobody realized this until it was too late). As a result, we celebrated Easter a little early.

I’m not sure I’ve ever had lamb for Easter before. Easter has always been one of the lesser holidays in my family: we’d go to church, I’d get a chocolate egg and/or bunny, and that was mostly that. If we ever did have lamb, it was probably lamb chops: it wasn’t in my mother’s habit to cook up large pieces of meat, so leg of lamb or shoulder roast were not staples in her kitchen.

And now that I’m usually celebrating Easter with Laurent’s family, my chances of being served lamb are even smaller: Laurent’s father dislikes red meat, so he tends to choose the non-traditional route (see last year’s cold salmon platter). But since I’m celebrating Easter twice this year (once on Thursday, once on Sunday – where, in an even more defiant break with tradition, Laurent’s parents are taking me to lunch at a Chinese restaurant), I decided that one of the meals had to be leg of lamb.

Since we were ahead of schedule, there was still plenty of frozen lamb at the market. I hesitated on the cooking method; finally, rather than dry-roasting it to the requisite pinkish hue, I braised it for four hours. Regular basting ensured that it was flavoured and moist all over.

I realize it looks monstrous. It was also hell to carve, which explains the sub-par plating. But rest assured, it tasted great!

Overall, it all went smoothly, and we were both pleased with the result. It certainly wasn’t raw-pink on the inside, but it wasn’t dry, either. If we’d had the time, I would’ve like to braise it even longer, and see what would happen – but we were starving, and also I wasn’t feeling brave enough to experiment with a giant, 30-dollar cut of meat. The basting liquid, in addition to keeping the meat interesting as it cooked, also turned out to make a great sauce, thanks to the garlic, tomatoes, and fresh herbs. And I tried a new technique for roasting potatoes, which was also a hit: definitely the crispiest non-fried potatoes I’ve ever made! Just let me tweak it a little to make it more interesting, and I’ll be sure to post it.

So, even though I wish Laurent didn’t have to go on that trip, it was still fun to have an opportunity to try out a traditional Easter meal – without all the relatives and pressure to shine!

Braised Leg of Lamb
Adapted from Christophe Felder’s Les meilleurs plats mijotés

Serves 6

One 2,5 kg (5 pound) leg of lamb
Two heads of garlic
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter, cut into small cubes
240 ml (1 cup) dry white wine
240 ml (1 cup) chicken stock
One 400 ml (1 2/3 cup) can of diced tomatoes
2 bay leaves
One bunch of fresh thyme
One bunch of fresh rosemary
3 French shallots, peeled
1 carrot, peeled and cut into four segments
Salt and pepper

Pre-heat oven to 150ºC (300ºF).

Cut three cloves of garlic lengthwise into segments, make incisions into the lamb and insert the pieces of garlic. Rub the lamb all over with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Place the meat in a large roasting pan, and sprinkle with the butter.

Pour the wine, stock, and tomatoes into the pan. Add the shallots, the carrot, and the remaining heads of garlic (don’t bother with separating and peeling the garlic, just lightly separate the cloves and put them in as they are). Season with salt and pepper all over, and toss in the bay leaves, thyme, and rosemary.

Bake for 4 hours, basting the lamb with the braising liquid every 45 minutes.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Daring Cooks' April Challenge - Edible Containers

Renata of Testado, Provado & Aprovado! was our Daring Cooks’ April 2011 hostess. Renata challenged us to think “outside the plate” and create our own edible containers! Prizes are being awarded to the most creative edible container and filling, so vote on your favorite from April 17th to May 16th at!

This month’s Daring Cooks’ challenge was definitely one of my favourites ever. It was tons of fun, and so inspiring. There’s something about edible containers that brings out the kid in me – and judging from the funky dishes I’ve seen on the Daring Kitchen forums, I’m not the only one!

But since I have a tendency to overthink everything (staying in school forever will do that to you), it wasn’t long before I started wondering: “What exactly qualifies as a container?” I mean, if a container is considered to be anything that holds your food together, then doesn’t the rice paper in spring rolls qualify as an edible container? What about the crust in a tartlet? But those didn’t seem like particularly creative options, and creativity is what this challenge was all about.

Anyways, after a few days of pondering, I decided to forget about solving the problem, and just have fun. A few things I’ve already posted on this blog featured edible containers, such as my baked eggs in a bread ramekin, and Laurent’s parmesan salad bowls. But I wanted to make something new.

The first thing I tried was a recipe from the beautiful blog La Tartine Gourmande: smoked salmon potato nests. They were very easy to make, and tasted so delicious, with such lovely contrasts of textures and temperatures. And don’t they just look adorable?

I then tried one of the challenge recipes: a noodle salad bowl. Noodle bowls in Chinese restaurants are usually fried, but this one was baked. It was a little tricky weaving the noodles together, and I was afraid they wouldn’t crisp up properly, but they did. Served with a cool salad of baby greens, grated carrot and cucumbers, with a sesame oil dressing, this bowl was a wonderful nibble.

Finally, I experimented with choux pastry. It’s definitely not the ideal dough for this kind of challenge, as it rises a lot in the oven. I wanted to make choux pastry cups, so I lined ramekins with dough, and had to keep pushing the dough down during the baking process. The cups took a long time to bake, too. But the result was worth it: they were crisp, and their rich taste made them the perfect container for a creamy filling. I would recommend these as a substitute for puff pastry shells in vols-aux-vent (which we’ve already made for the Daring Bakers).

The filling was also an experiment, but a less successful one. I made a béchamel with shallots and lemon, and poached pieces of white fish and Nordic shrimp in it, adding a spoonful of chopped tarragon at the end. But somehow, the whole thing was rather bland, and the wonderful flavour of the Nordic shrimp had disappeared. It needs work.

Below are the recipes for the potato nests and the choux pastry bowls. I want to thank Renata for this amazing challenge! I encourage you to take a look at the other Daring Cooks’ edible containers, because people have really outdone themselves this month. And if you get inspired and want to give it a try, the challenge recipes are here. Also, we’re having a contest this month, so please vote for your favourite dishes over at the Daring Kitchen!

Smoked Salmon Potato Nests

Adapted from a recipe from La Tartine Gourmande

Yields 12 units

3 medium russet potatoes, peeled
1 egg
1 tbsp flour
Salt and pepper
3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
60 ml (1/4 cup) crème fraîche
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp pink peppercorns, crushed
4-6 slices of smoked salmon
Dill sprigs, for garnish
Fleur de sel, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 180ºC (350ºF). Rinse the potatoes to remove part of the starch. Grate them in a food processor. Lightly beat the egg and mix it into the potatoes. Season the flour with salt and pepper and incorporate it into the potatoes. Brush a mini muffin tin with melted butter. Divide the potato mixture among the muffin tins, shaping them into little nests. Brush the inside of the nests with butter. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until crisp and golden brown. Let cool until just warm.

Combine the crème fraîche with the lemon juice. Divide the salmon among the potato nests, and add a dollop of crème fraîche into each. Garnish with pink peppercorns and dill, sprinkle with fleur de sel, and serve.

Choux Pastry Cups

Yields 5 cups

4 whole eggs 100g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, diced
Pinch of salt
125g (7/8 cup) flour
240ml (1 cup) water

Preheat oven to 180ºC (350ºF). Heat the water with the butter and the salt in a saucepan over medium heat, until the butter is melted. Remove from heat and add the flour, all at once. Return to heat and cook, stirring constantly and making sure to hydrate all of the flour, until you obtain a smooth, shiny dough that does not stick to the pan. Remove from heat and stir in the eggs, one by one.

Butter five small ramekins. Divide the choux pastry among them, pressing to line the ramekins with the dough. Bake for at least 40 minutes. During the baking process, check on your cups regularly, pressing down on the dough whenever it rises in the bottom, so as to preserve the shape of the cups. The finished cups should be crisp and dry. Let cool in the turned off oven, to finish drying completely. Serve with the savoury filling of your choice.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Chocolate Bunny turns 2! - Rosemary Cashews

I’m very proud and happy to celebrate my blog’s second anniversary today!

Like the previous one, this year just flew by. Although there have been periods when I haven’t posted much, I find that this was always due to lack of time, not lack of inspiration. I still enjoy writing about food as much as I did when I started this blog. In fact, I would say I enjoy it even more, being more comfortable with it.

As with last year, I failed to come up with a gorgeous, jaw-dropping dish for today. Instead, I have something very simple, but extremely tasty: rosemary cashews.

The original recipe by Ina Garten was printed in The Gazette a while back. I made these nuts for the first time that very same day. Flavoured roasted nuts are a favourite appetizer of mine, and we regularly treat ourselves to lime-and-pepper macadamias, or lemon-and-sea-salt almonds from Sunsource (and they are a treat in every sense of the word, as they are not particularly cheap – damn good, though). But I had never tried making them at home.

I can’t describe how delicious these rosemary cashews are. They are rich, salty, lightly sweet, a little spicy, and simply perfect. I’ve served them to guests on a few occasions, and they were a huge hit. They are now my go-to appetizer whenever I need to impress my guests at little effort.

I haven’t changed much to the recipe, just added more butter, as the coating mixture appeared to require more moisture. And I don’t have kosher salt in my pantry, so I adapted the quantity to suit sea salt.

Rosemary Cashews
Adapted from a recipe by Ina Garten

500g (1 pound) unsalted roasted cashews
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp brown sugar
2 tsp sea salt

Preheat oven to 180ºC (350ºF). Spread the cashews on a baking pan, in a single layer. Toast for about 5 minutes, until nuts are warm and fragrant.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the butter, salt, sugar, cayenne pepper, and rosemary. Add the nuts and toss, until the nuts are evenly coated. Let cool and serve warm, or at room temperature. Store in an airtight container.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Cauliflower Soup with Scallops

I’ve just gotten through a pretty intense couple of weeks. My apologies for the lack of posting here, as well as my lack of commenting on anyone’s blogs. But I finally got a proper night’s sleep on Friday, and woke up not feeling terrified of everything I needed to do – instead, I woke up feeling like it’s the weekend, which hasn’t happened in a long time (weekends have just been slightly more mellow work days, recently).

In other words, I’m back.

I admit Laurent has been picking up the slack, and doing most of the cooking recently (so I’ve at least been eating well, if not sleeping well). But I haven’t been completely absent from the kitchen, and so I have a soup to share with you today. It’s adapted from a recipe by Louis-François Marcotte.

Cauliflower and scallops are not something I would have thought to combine, yet once the idea was popped into my head, it seemed to make sense. This soup confirms that they actually work very, very well together. Marcotte’s original recipe uses light cream, but milk works as well, although you inevitably lose richness. He also adds a few mushrooms pickled in vinegar, but I personally think this overwhelms the delicate flavours of the main ingredients.

Serve this as an elegant first course, or a light main course (in which case you might consider adding more scallops).

Cauliflower soup with scallops
Adapted from Sexy: Cuisiner pour Deux, by Louis-François Marcotte

Serves 6 as a first course

1 leek, white part only, washed, sliced lengthwise, and chopped
1 head of cauliflower, washed and cut into florets
1 1/2 litre (6 cups) chicken stock
360 ml (1 1/2 cup) whole milk
18 raw scallops
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
Chopped dill, for garnish
Salt and pepper, to taste
6 dollops crème fraîche (optional)

In a large saucepan, melt 1 tbsp butter over medium-low heat. Toss in the leeks, salt lightly, and cook, stirring frequently, until leeks are tender. Add the stock and cauliflower, bring to a boil, and simmer until the cauliflower is very tender, about 30 minutes. Let cool and purée in a blender, or with a hand mixer. Return to saucepan and stir in the milk. Warm over medium-low heat, until soup is heated through. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Pat the scallops dry and season with salt. Melt the remaining tbsp of butter with the tbsp of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Sear the scallops under browned, about 1 minute on each side. Remove from the pan.

To serve: Divide the soup among heated bowls. Put 3 scallops into each bowl, spoon the crème fraîche in if using, sprinkle with chopped dill, season with freshly ground black pepper, and serve immediately.