Monday Night Menu: Seared Fois Gras with baked apples & prunes, Mixed Greens in vinaigrette with walnuts and Roquefort
I have come to realize that most people either love fois gras or hate it. There aren’t many people in the middle. I still remember my first taste of it. I wish I remembered the name of the restaurant, but at a little bistro in San Francisco, I had a sandwich with toasted multigrain bread, cashew butter, boysenberry jam, and seared fois gras, which blew me away. I loved everything about the fois gras, and I especially loved how the cashew butter and sweet boysenberry jam complemented it perfectly. A few months later at Spoon by Alain Ducasse in Hong Kong, I was presented with a “fois gras” trio as part of a tasting menu, and it made me swoon. It included a small piece of seared fois, a slice from a terrine, and a shot of warm fois soup…each element offered a straightforward presentation that showcased the beauty of the ingredient in its simplest form. Those initial experiences happen to be the reason that I fall into the category of people who love it.
|seared fois gras|
Tuesday Night Menu: Duck Confit with braised Belgian endive, Pear Clafouti
|duck confit fresh from the oven|
brasied Belgian endive
Wednesday Night Menu: Fish Quenelles in mushroom cream sauce
I knew this menu was a bit ambitious. I originally planned to make Mark Bittman’s recipe for fish quenelles in a white wine sauce from The Best Recipes in the World. Then, over dinner with a friend, I mentioned that I was attempting to make fish quenelles for the project, and a sort of uncontrollable joy came over her as she told me how much she loves Julia Child’s recipe for them, that she had never tasted anything like them, and how she has made them so many times that the recipe is so smudged that it’s almost unreadable. I decided to up the ante.
Before heading off to work on Wednesday morning, I jumped online and started looking for Julia’s recipe in hopes of finding some of my friend’s inspiration. Although I did find Julia’s recipe, it was a recipe by Jacques Pepin that caught my attention and reset my course for fish quenelles at dinner that night. More than just a recipe, Pepin explains that white fish with high albumin levels, such as Dover sole or hake, bind better in the mousse, and he notes the importance of using more than one type of fish for flavor and texture. Over lunch, I studied his recipe and determined that we could have dinner at 9:15 if I arrived home and was in the kitchen working by 6:30. And so, the challenge began.
|fish quenelles in|
mushroom cream sauce
From 6:30 to 8:45, I made the fish mousse, refrigerated it, shaped it into quenelles, poached it, and cooled it. In between those activities, I made a homemade fish stock, reduced it, and transformed it into a mushroom cream sauce. Finally, at 8:45 PM, I put the quenelles in a casserole dish, covered them in the mushroom cream sauce, slid them into the oven, and sat down with a glass of wine to chill. When we had dinner thirty minutes later, I could not believe that I had made this somewhat sophisticated dish. The quenelles were light and fluffy, yet they stayed perfectly formed. The rich mushroom cream sauce offered a nice, warm complement to the fish quenelles. The hubs loved the mushroom sauce so much that when he went back for seconds, he piled the fish quenelles and sauce into a bowl and grabbed a spoon so he didn’t miss any of the sauce. All in all, I was pretty proud of this one.
Saturday Night Menu: Boeuf Bourguignon, New Potatoes roasted in duck fat, and steamed asparagus with sauce gribiche
roasted new potatoes
asparagus with sauce gribiche
|profiterole with |
vanilla pastry cream
I couldn’t resist using some of the leftover duck fat in the refrigerator, so I tossed a few new potatoes in it and roasted them until the skins were crispy and the insides creamy. I steamed some fresh asparagus and tried out a little sauce gribiche over it. (I’d never had sauce gribiche, and I must say that we loved it with the asparagus. It’s just vinaigrette with chopped cornichons, hard-boiled egg, lemon zest, and a few herbs, but give it a fancy French name, and you have a great accompaniment to steamed vegetables or poached fish.) For dessert, we had profiteroles stuffed with vanilla pastry cream. I was surprised that making profiteroles is quite easy and quick. The only issue I had was piping them out of my pastry bag. The dough is so buttery that it just slips and slides around on the pan. I think it would’ve been easier if I had lined my baking sheets with parchment paper. Nonetheless, they were airy and delicious. We had the leftovers with coffee on Sunday morning.
Sunday Night Menu: Onion Soup, Rabbit Terrine, Mixed Greens, and Tarte TatinI spent most of Saturday getting ready for Sunday night’s menu.
For the Onion Soup, I knew that the most important element would be the stock, so I began by roasting some beef bones and using them, along with carrots, celery, onions, cloves, parsley, thyme, bay leaf, and peppercorns, to make homemade beef stock. In another pot, I cooked down thin slices of five large yellow onions in butter. When the stock and the onions were finished, I combined them and let them simmer together for about two hours. I let the soup cool and refrigerated it until Sunday night. On Sunday afternoon, I made croutons out of Saturday night’s leftover baguettes, and I reheated the onion soup. When we were ready for dinner, I put a crouton in the bottom of a bowl, ladled soup over it, and added a thin layer or parmesan and gruyere cheese on top. (Interestingly, the most common complaint I read about French Onion Soup in America is that Americans use too much cheese, so I purposely went easy on the cheese.) Ten minutes in the oven and our onion soups were finished. I must say that it did not taste like any French Onion Soup I have ever tasted. The broth was flavorful, yet delicate, and I’m confident that it was a result of using homemade broth. It was a nice way to start the meal.
|rabbit terrine with green |
olives and pistachios
For our second course, I served a Rabbit Terrine with mixed greens tossed in a vinaigrette. So, why a rabbit terrine? Well, when I started the project, I decided that I wanted to include rabbit, because I had never cooked with it, and it is one of my favorite dishes when cooked properly. I also wanted to include a pate or some sort of terrine, and since I was already planning to sear the fois gras, I opted for a terrine, instead of a pate. I opened my big yellow kitchen bible, the Gourmet Cookbook, and I found a recipe for Rabbit Terrine with green olives and pistachios. Sounded like a great way to accomplish both goals, so I added it to the week’s menus. This one took me longer to make than I ever imagined.
- The recipe called for a three pound rabbit, but I ended up using 2 rabbits (1.3 lbs and 1.7 lbs). Because I purchased frozen whole rabbits, I did not have the option of asking a butcher to cut the rabbit for me, so I studied a few photos to figure out exactly how I was supposed to butcher a whole rabbit into eight pieces. And, of course, I got to do this two times since I had two rabbits. It was not the most beautiful butcher job, but fortunately, the meat was going to be pulled off the bones and shredded anyway.
- I cooked the rabbit in a large stock pot with water, carrots, shallots, parsley, thyme, leek, garlic, salt and peppercorns for an hour.
- I let the mixture cool for thirty minutes.
- I removed the rabbit from the broth, strained the broth, and proceeded to mix it with crushed egg shells and egg whites. Then, I heated it on the stove top to attempt to clarify it. When I poured it through a sieve lined with damp paper towels, the broth was not clear, so I had to reheat it and attempt to clarify it again. I did this three times until I finally got it right.
- I pulled the rabbit meat and shredded it into small pieces. This took me much longer than expected, too. I hadn’t anticipated just how many little pieces there would be to pull off, and I was trying to make sure I didn’t accidentally pull any bones into my mixture. When I finally finished with the meat, I mixed fennel seeds, chopped picholine olives, chopped pistachios, fresh chives, fresh thyme, salt and black pepper into the meat and set it aside.
- I reduced the clarified broth until I had the correct concentration and removed it from the heat. I whisked in a mixture of cold water and softened unflavored gelatin until it dissolved. I stirred in Madeira and salt for flavoring.
- Finally, it was time to assemble the terrine. I don’t own a special pate mold with a press, but after a little research, I determined that it is easy to create your own press if you are happy with your terrine being made in a loaf pan (and I was fine with that). So, I lined a loaf pan with plastic wrap, filled it with the rabbit mixture, and poured the gelatin broth over it. Then, I fitted a piece of cardboard wrapped in aluminum foil that I cut out earlier in the day over the rabbit mixture and pressed it down so that the gelatin started rising above it. I lay the body of wine bottle that matched the size of my loaf pan on top of the cardboard “lid” and used kitchen string to tie it down and put pressure on the terrine.
- I chilled the terrine with the wine bottle “weight” in the refrigerator for three hours.
- After the three hours, I removed the wine bottle and cardboard lid from the loaf pan. I reheated the gelatin that was on top of the lid until it was pourable, and I poured it back on top of the terrine. Then, I covered the whole terrine with plastic wrap and put it back in the refrigerator until Sunday night’s dinner.
I ended Sunday night’s dinner with my favorite French dessert, tarte tatin. This is a dish that I have made previously, but this time, I spent a little more time researching tips for creating an even better tarte tatin than I’ve ever made. I found a great article by Felicity Cloake from The Guardian entitled “How to cook perfect tarte tatin” and followed her recommendations to use different varieties of apples and to let the peeled apples sit in the refrigerator uncovered overnight to intensify their flavor. I made a shortbread crust (because I like it better than puffed pastry), and I baked it in a cast iron skillet. Another great dish! I wish I had let the sugar caramelize a little longer so that the apples had a richer color on them, but otherwise, I was very happy with the final result. It was a fine way to bid adieu to my week of French cuisine.
I set out to challenge myself this week, and without a doubt, I achieved that goal. Even now as I write about this week’s dishes, I am surprised at how many I squeezed into a few days and that I did not have a single failure. Without a doubt, I will look back to this week as one of the project’s best!