It has been over 25 years since I have been to Paris, and after several years of planning and saving, the tickets are bought and the reservations are made we will be on our way in a few weeks. I have been into French cuisine for the past several years. It seems that all chefs go back to basics and the classics when seeking inspiration. And let’s be honest what is more romantic than French food for Valentine’s Day.
Charcuterie is favorite item in Europe, but the term has never has gained much ground state side. Although it is actually very popular here, just not with the classic name. Originally it was made with scraps of meats in earthenware dishes or crusts to help preserve them for later times, which we call potted meats. There are two common varieties, chunky and smooth. Pate de campagne (not champagne, there is no “h”) has a course, crumbly texture that is usually made with pork, duck or game meats. The smooth version, pâté de mousse, is usually made with goose, duck or chicken liver. The American versions of these that you know are deviled ham, salami, prosciutto among others.
Classic Charcuterie platter
4 oz pate de campagne
4 oz pate de mousse
4 Tbs whole grain mustard
1 apple thinly sliced
4 oz cornichons
Sliced Toasted Baguettes
Pâté is a rich mixture, usually savory, meats and sometimes vegetable. You could also include a rillettes or a confit, which is more of a shredded potted meat, and you could add even more texture to the plate with a sliced dried cured meat, like salami. Notice how the texture moves from creamy to increasingly solid as we move across the spectrum? Finally there are solid cured meats like prosciutto. Mix and match any and all of these to make a nice charcuterie plate. And always include just a little bit of condiment. A little gourmet whole grain mustard, a few cornichons (a small French pickle flavored with tarragon), some baguette, or even a little salad.
Serve with a light green Salad
6 oz greens (1 oz per person)
2 Tbs fresh squeezed lemon juice
6 Tbs olive oil – the very best
Salt and pepper
Salads in France are not a main dish, they are used to accent and fill in; a fresh taste to offset a heavier item. For this reason you should use very fresh and simple ingredients. You will rarely find heavy mayonnaise type dressings.
In the US eggs are often just for breakfast. In many European countries they take center stage at lunch and dinner. From crepes to omelettes and quiches they are a main stay.
Alsatian Onion Quiche
2 Tbs butter
1½ cup thinly sliced onions
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 sheet pie dough
1 cup half and half
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
Sauté onions and thyme in butter, long and slow till golden brown and caramelized, which take about 20 minutes on low, then allow to cool completely. Place pie crust into a tart or pie pan, lightly dock or prick the crust. Combine half and half, eggs, salt and pepper, blending well. Place onions in pie crust, then pour egg mixture over. Bake on a cookie sheet at 375 degree for 40 to 50 minutes depending on depth. You should be able to cut a thin line and see into the tart without it running.
Thinking of Valentine’s Day, the ultimate dessert was brought to us by the French, Mousse au Chocolat. The translation is chocolate foam. Everyone I know just thinks of it as heavenly. It is a very simple dish with as many recipes as you can imagine. But sometimes the easiest recipes can be the most difficult. I have been making chocolate mousse for over 25 years and have created my own recipe. I will not tell you that it is fool proof but it takes a lot of the guess work out.
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 Tbs vegetable oil
Melt slowly over double boiler or in microwave. Allow to cool to room temperature
1 cup whipping cream
Whipped firm, be careful not to over whip
½ cup egg whites ( about 3 eggs worth)3 Tbs sugar
Whip egg whites on high, slowly add in the sugar till dissolved and they form soft peaks. If you add the sugar too quickly the crystals will cause it to deflate, and you will have to start over with new egg whites.
Place egg white and sugar mixture in a large mixing bowl. Slowly fold the chocolate mixture into this. Then fold in the whipped cream. Remember to fold not whip. You want to keep as much volume as possible. Place into serving cups and chill or chill in the bowl them pipe or scoop into serving dishes.
Happy Valentine’s Day!