We woke up to a sunny and “fresh” morning on Tuesday, which I think is a lovely way of saying, “Damn, it's really, really cold outside!” Apparently they reserve the word “cold” for when things get like an icebox and I'll take their word for it – no need for the firsthand experience on that front. Luckily, I planned to spend the day in a warm kitchen in front of the stove so I was all set.
We started with a Provencal pizza, made on a light but buttery puff pastry shell. We made a quick sauce from tomato puree, garlic, herbs, sugar, and olive oil and spread it on the shell. This was topped with thinly sliced tomatoes and then baked. An easy and very tasty appetizer.
Our entree was an Asian chicken salad, and we made use of the chicken breasts we'd carved out the day before. Another very simple preparation: we marinated slices of chicken in a mixture of sweet and salty soya sauce, orange juice, chili, and ginger and then pan fried it and served it with toasted pine nuts on a bed of greens.
We saved the heavy lifting for dinner, which was a delicious and extravagant affair. Our starter was local scallops from the northern Brittany coast pan seared and served with a curry Sauternes sauce. I would never have thought to mix sweet French dessert wine with yellow curry but it worked. We made the sauce by sautéing onion and curry, then adding in the Sauternes and letting the alcohol burn off, before whisking in an obscene amount of butter. We served the sauce, which was sweet, creamy, and slightly tangy drizzled over the scallops and by the end of the first course we were all using our homemade bread to sop up the remainder.
The main course was a veal fillet with a basil sauce, again using our chicken stock as a base. We browned the veal in a pan and then poured lemon juice on it before putting it in the oven to roast. In parallel we made the sauce by boiling and reducing our stock and then adding in the chopped basil and some seasoning.
We again made two side dishes to round out the meal. The first was pan fried salsify, which is a northern European root vegetable that I had never heard of before. You buy it completely caked in dirt in order to preserve it, and when you peel it, a sticky sap comes off the white root. When cooked, it has a very dense texture and a slightly nutty flavor. Although my hands were sticky for the rest of the night from peeling, it was certainly interesting to learn about a totally new kind of vegetable.
We also made creme fraiche potatoes, which involves shredding potatoes (unlike my arm workout in Italy, we thankfully used a machine here), squeezing out the excess liquid, and then mixing them with creme fraiche, eggs, garlic, and lots and lots of salt. We baked them in small foil ramekins so that we had neat little portions of the creamy and delicious potatoes.
And then there was dessert. We made chocolate fondant AND fresh ice cream. Despite the rule in my house that all appliances and gadgets need to have multiple functions (i.e., no waffle maker on the wedding registry), I think we are going to have to invest in an ice cream maker when I get back. There are just too many delicious possibilities to live without one! If you have the right equipment, ice cream is actually surprisingly easy to make. You start by heating milk, sugar, and vanilla and then whisking in 'pasteurized' egg yolks. You can pseudo-pasteurize your own eggs if you are using them raw by quickly dipping them whole into boiling water and then into ice water to kill any of the bacteria on the shell without cooking the eggs inside. We decided to make caramel ice cream, so in parallel we made liquid caramel, by allowing sugar to caramelize on the stovetop and then whisking in milk. We poured this into the egg yolk mixture (never the reverse apparently, or the eggs will scramble) and then allowed the mixture to cool before putting it in the ice cream maker to mix it for about ten minutes. We then put it into the freezer to harden before serving.
Next up was the chocolate fondant, or as Poul said with a smirk, an American chocolate lava cake. I guess it is a silly name when you really think about it. I thought this was going to be super complicated (how on earth do you get the middle to stay gooey and the outside to cook?) but actually it is pretty easy. We mixed chocolate and butter in a bain marie (double pot so that it cooks with steam rather than direct heat) until it melted and then poured the chocolate liquid into a mixture of eggs, sugar, and flour. We put these into well buttered ramekins and then let them harden in the fridge before baking. You get the gooey center because the outside bakes more quickly than the inside of the cold fondants and you take them out of the oven before they are fully cooked so that you get the “lava” effect. Served on top of a fresh strawberry sauce (spiked with raspberry liquor, creme de cassis, and cointreau), with homemade ice cream on the side, the dessert was absolutely decadent and delicious. I was definitely in a contented food coma by the end of the meal.