lundi 28 avril 2008

Millefeuilles de betterave

On April 19th, I headed to Bourgogne for the weekend to celebrate a friend’s birthday. The sun came out as I approached my destination and happily, the warm spring weather had finally arrived. We were able to enjoy our welcome cocktail outdoors on the terrace of the impressive Château Percey before heading indoors to enjoy a night of dinner and dancing. Bernadette Martin, the birthday girl, is a super networker and personal branding guru, and she brought together an interesting, diverse and talented group of people for the party. Everyone had a great time.

Château Percey was in a state of disuse and disrepair before a Dutch family bought it and undertook the renovation process. This is a major undertaking as I remember well from my own experience as the construction project coordinator for renovations to Canada’s Chateau Laurier and Royal York hotels. In old buildings you never know what unforeseen challenges might beset you. To do a project of this size on a personal level is impressive indeed. We were given a tour to get some idea of the state of the size and scope of the project in addition to the outcome in the form of wonderfully renovated gîtes. The Château Percey renovation will be an amazing reflection of their family history while still respecting aspects of the local and historical culture of the château.

La Châtelaine, Lara Lunow, capably managed logistics, preparation and catering the ‘soirée dinatoire’ for our group of 30+ adults and children. Lara also provided us with recommendations for gîtes nearby, as we were too numerous to all stay in the Château. I chose Les Champs Mélisey, where several of the group stayed. Everyone appreciated their large, lovely rooms and the warm hospitality of our hosts, Dominique and Henri Ogier.

One course of the diner at Château Percey was “Millefeuille de betterave” or layers of beets separated with a soft white cheese mixture. I do not have La Châtelaine’s recipe for it but here is my version.

Mini Towers of Beets and Goat’s Cheese
Serves 4

300 g (10 oz) fresh goat’s cheese or mascarpone
4 medium beets, cooked and thickly sliced*
Zest of 1 orange + juice of ¼ orange
1 branch of mint leaves, finely chopped
1 branch of basil leaves, finely chopped
4 chives, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a bowl, mix together goat’s cheese, salt, pepper, garlic, orange zest and juice. Add mint, basil and chives; stir into the cheese mixture.
Build 4 towers of beets, separating each slice of beet with a layer of cheese mixture, ending with a slice of beet.

*Beets should be chilled before assembling so that the cheese does not melt and cause the towers to lean.

mardi 22 avril 2008

Carpaccio de bar

To the uninitiated North American, the word “carpaccio” sounds exciting in an «I have no idea what it is but I’ll be adventurous hoping that it is nothing weird» kind of way. More knowing friends will provide the helpful warning “you know that it is raw?” to avoid an embarrassing situation at the table.

In Canada, we were brought up with food presented in pre-packaged in the grocery store and the notion that everything must be cooked until we can be sure that no bacteria survived. If not, we would risk getting very sick. Meanwhile in Europe, people were happily eating meat that was pink in the middle or raw in the forms of carpaccio de boeuf and steak tartare …and not getting violently ill. Enjoying food because it was not overcooked. How appealing is sawing through a leathery piece of meat?

In Canada, while food warnings mounted (don’t eat raw eggs, unpasteurized milk or cheese and the like), our food was being raised in an increasingly commercial fashion and the link between the animal and the food products they become was rapidly disappearing. The animals are being fed things that we really should be scared about. More and more animals are housed in overcrowded conditions and force-fed things that they would not eat in their natural environment and that have to be supplemented with hormones and other chemicals in the name of commercial viability. I don’t think that we should label food “organic” but that we should put warning labels on all food that is not produced in a naturally.

I digress. For me “raw“ is not the issue – “unnatural” is.

I admit that I have never eaten “steak tartare”. In Paris, it is often served as a main course that seems to me to be too large a portion. Steak Tartare is ground or finely chopped steak (called filet américan in Luxembourg and Belgium) prepared with a combination of egg yolk, mustard, anchovy, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce, pepper, oil, Cognac, onion, capers, pickles and parsley. On the other hand, the Italian specialty of raw or lightly seared, thinly sliced beef served with Parmesan cheese on a bed of arugula and drizzled with simple dressing of olive oil and lemon juice is delicious.

The name carpaccio is now also given to salmon and other fish that are thinly sliced and drizzled with an olive oil and lemon juice dressing. I have eaten carpaccio de saumon many times in Paris bistros as a starter.

This recipe uses white fish.

Carpaccio de bar
Serves 6

4 filets of bass (or other boneless, skinless white fish)*
125 mL (1/2 cup) olive oil
30 mL (2 Tbsp) dry white wine
Freshly ground white pepper
Fleur de sel**

Finely slice the filet of bass; place on a large platter and drizzle with olive oil and wine. Marinate for 3-4 minutes. Sprinkle with fleur de sel and pepper. Serve immediately.

*Salmon or smoked salmon slices can be substituted for the bass

**Fleur de sel are the delicate salt crystals raked from the top of salt marshes. Fleur de sel contains no additives and is naturally rich in minerals and lower in sodium than other salts. The most highly prized is Fleur de sel de Guérande from Brittany in France.

dimanche 13 avril 2008

Mango Chicken

Mango is probably my favourite fruit. Ripe mangoes are juicy and sweet with a unique flavour. There are many varieties of mangoes with skin colours ranging from green to red and yellow. The flesh is a bold yellow-orange. To test for ripeness, apply gentle pressure to the skin and it will yield slightly. Unripe ones will be hard on the inside, paler yellow in colour and less tasty than ripe ones. Fibres spread out from the large central pit and the most highly prized mangoes do not have a fibrous texture (notably the ones from the Philippines). The inedible skin is leathery, waxy and smooth but has many medicinal properties. In addition to being delicious, mangoes are packed with vitamins (including the antioxidant A, C and E ones) and minerals and are very good for you. They are also high in other essential nutrients such as potassium, copper, amino acids, are a good source of dietary fibre and contain an enzyme that acts as a digestive aid.

Mangoes can be messy to eat but are well worth the effort. The more delicate way is to cut off the two wide edges of the mango along the pit, slice the flesh into cubes (taking care not to cut through the skin), turn it inside out (a bit like a porcupine) then remove the cubes to a bowl to eat with a spoon or fork (or scooped it out directly from the skin). The best description I have ever read of how to eat a mango is on the bad girls blog:

This green coloured mango is from Peru and is typical of the type commonly available in Canada and Europe.

These yellow mangoes from Mexico do not have a fibrous texture and are very similar to the highly prized mangoes from the Philippines.

Mangoes – delicious, good for you and messy.

The next question is what to do with them? Add versatile to the list of mango properties. Mango can be served up in many different ways as a snack, beverage, aperitif, starter, salads, main course, side dish (condiment, preserves, salsa) and dessert. Dried mango strips from Cebu in the Philippines are a popular export to many countries around the world. These come from the sweet and non-fibrous mangoes and beat all other dried fruits hands down in my book.

Serves 6

2 medium mangoes, chopped
9 boneless chicken thighs
2 cloves garlic, crushed
15 mL (1 Tbsp) freshly grated ginger
30 mL (2 Tbsp) ghee* or vegetable oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2.5 mL (½ tsp) ground coriander
2.5 mL (½ tsp) ground turmeric
2.5 mL (½ tsp) ground cumin
1.25 mL (1/4 tsp) ground ginger
1.25 mL (1/4 tsp) ground cinnamon
300 mL (1-1/4 cup) cream
30 mL (2 Tbsp) limejuice

Process mangoes until puréed; strain into a small bowl.
Combine chicken, garlic and ginger in a large bowl; cover and refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight. Grill chicken until tender. Cut into 2.5 cm (1”) pieces.
Heat ghee in a large skillet; cook onions, stirring until lightly browned. Add spices; stir until fragrant. Add chicken, mango purée, cream and juice; cook, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes or until mixture is thickened slightly.
Serve hot with steamed white basmati rice.

* ghee is clarified butter (heat butter in a small saucepan and remove the white milk solids)

mardi 8 avril 2008

Leek Quiche

Spring seems to be taking the scenic route to arrive in the SaarLorLux region this year. The weather has been very changeable – beautiful and sunny one minute then raining or snowing the next. The plants and trees seem to think it is spring and are trying their best to put on a show of colour.

What to serve at this time of year? How about quiche? One of my favourites is leek quiche. Leeks belong to the same family as onions and garlic. The flavour of leeks is gentler and sweeter than onion. Leeks are a key ingredient in the Scottish cock-a-leekie (leek, potato and chicken stock) soup and French vichyssoise (puréed leeks, onions, potatoes, cream and chicken stock). Vichyssoise is usually served cold but can also be served hot. Leeks can be sautéed and served as a side dish.
Leeks need to be cleaned before using to remove any dirt or sand that can gather between the leaves. Trim the root end and remove any wilted or coarse outer leaves. Chop off the dark green end, leaving just the tenderer light greensand white portions. (Dark green leaves could be used for vegetable stock.) Slice the leeks down the centre and rinse well under cold running water to remove any dirt and sand. Slice or chop as required for the recipe.

Leek Quiche
Serves 4 as main course or 6 as appetizer

60 mL (4 Tbsp) sweet butter
6 leeks, trimmed, well washed and thinly sliced
2 eggs + 2 egg yolks
250 mL (1 cup) light cream
250 mL (1 cup) heavy cream or crème fraîche
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg
1-23 cm (9”) pie shell (pate brisée); partially baked
125 mL (½ cup) grated Gruyere cheese

Melt butter in a skillet. Add sliced leeks and cook, covered, over low heat for about 30 minutes, or until leeks are tender and lightly coloured. Stir frequently or leeks may scorch. Remove from heat and cool slightly.
Whisk eggs, yolks and creams together in a bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add a sprinkling of nutmeg.
Preheat oven to 150°C (300°F) with rack positioned on middle level.
Spoon cooled leeks into prepared pie shell. Add cream and egg mixture to fill to within 1 cm (½”) of the top. Sprinkle the Gruyere evenly over the quiche.
Bake for 35-45 minutes or until top is well browned and filling is completely set. Cool for 10 min. Cut into wedges and serve warm.