Update 23: New Year's Goal: Become an "official" Gourmess by August 2010

I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate. --Julia Child

Session 14: Salads was a definitely a nice break from meat, stock, and potatoes.  I began with the Demonstration: Assiette de Crudités (Raw Vegetable Plate) which included a variety of simple salads. The book says it may not be possible to present all the salads at once, but there should be at least five on a plate.

I made all six simple salads: 

Carrots à la Citronette (Carrots in Lemon Vinaigrette), which is just what it sounds like. Julienned carrots tossed in a vinaigrette of lemon juice, salt and pepper, and vegetable oil and finished with fresh parsley.  Pretty straightforward -- I've made a combination of this before, and it is bright and lovely and a nice change from cooked carrots as a side dish.

Céleri Rémoulade (Celery Root in Rémoulade Sauce), which involved making the remoulade (mayonnaise mixture) by combining a room temperature egg yolk with Dijon mustard, salt and pepper and then whisking in vegetable oil and a bit of white wine vinegar to taste.  Julienned celery root was tossed in the sauce and that was it. One note: celery root oxidizes quickly, so it is important to keep it moist and to rub with a lemon when peeling to keep it from discoloring.  I was surprised at how much I liked the celery root -- this would be a great side with a nice grilled meat or fish.

Concombres à la Creme (Cucumbers in Cream) -- this was my favorite.  Peel a cucumber, cut lengthwise, scoop out seeds and thinly slice (émincer).  Put in a colander with some salt to dégorger (drain) for about 30 mins.  While that's draining, make the cream by beating heavy cream and lime juice in a bowl (set over an ice water bath) until soft peaks form. Finely chop some mint and fold it into the cream with some salt/pepper to taste.  Nap the cucumbers with the sauce.  Yum.  This combination was a winner.

Choux Rouge à la Vinaigrette (Red Cabbage in Vinaigrette), prepare red cabbage and chop chiffonade, add 3.5 TBS of red wine vinegar, some salt and cover with water by one inch.  Let soak for about 30 minutes until slightly soft, drain and pat dry.  Place in clean bowl and toss with a vinaigrette of red wine vinegar, salt and pepper and vegetable oil   I love the color this adds to the plate.

Tomates à la Vinaigrette (Tomatoes in Vinaigrette) was a good one, too.  Peel your tomatoes, cut into wedges and if under ripe, put in colander with some salt for 30 mins to dégorger. Mine were lovely and ripe, from my organic box order, so I passed that step and put the tomatoes in a medium bowl and tossed with the red wine vinaigrette from above.  Sprinkling in chopped chives added a zing that was really great.  These tomatoes on a plate with a juicy steak or lovely piece of fish -- yum!

Champignons à l'Estragon (Mushrooms in Tarragon Vinaigrette) was my second favorite of these. Make the vinaigrette by combining white wine vinegar, salt and pepper and whisking in vegetable oil.  Thinly slice --émincer-- cleaned button mushrooms (stems removed) and toss with the vinaigrette to coat.  Marinate for about an hour at room temperature and just before serving stir in chopped fresh tarragon.  I got my tarragon from our garden -- the new leaves all green and fragrant.  The tarragon really makes this dish -- it's like adding the perfect pair of heels to an evening dress -- stunning. 

If you were wondering like me why we used vegetable oil in these salads instead of olive oil, it is because olive oil would most likely overpower the other flavors. Vegetable oil is a neutral oil, so it doesn't add extra flavor to the vinaigrette, letting the vegetables shine through.

The next part of this session was the Demonstration of Assortiment de Légumes à la Grecque (Assortment of Greek-Style Vegetables).  The basic preparation for the Greek style of cooking is a mixture of olive oil, onions, dry white wine, coriander, peppercorns, lemon, salt and a bouquet garni.  The vegetables can be served hot or cold, and three or four different vegetables are served together -- but they are prepared separately.

I made Champignons à la Grecque (Greek Style-Mushrooms), Chou-fleur à la Grecque (Greek-Style Cauliflower) and Courgettes à la Grecque (Greek-Style Zucchini).  All three began with the same steps: Heat olive oil in sauce pan over medium heat and add chopped onions (plus garlic for the cauliflower and zucchini) and sweat for 4 minutes, without taking on any color.  For the mushrooms: add in washed and trimmed mushrooms (quartered or sliced), white wine, water, lemon juice, bouquet garni and toasted coriander seeds. Season with salt and pepper, cover with a parchment lid with a hole in the center, bring to a simmer until mushrooms are just cooked. The cauliflower florets are prepared the same way, except there is no bouquet garni and a pinch of saffron threads are added instead. For the zucchini, the skin is left on and it is cut into equal pieces. You add the wine, water, lemon juice, bouquet garni from the other recipes, with an added cheesecloth sachet of toasted coriander and peppercorns.  All three vegetables are cooled to room temperature, seasonings are adjusted with salt and pepper, and that's it.

Oddly,  I didn't have any actual lettuce salads to make in this session on salads, but I did prepare a variety of vegetables and vinaigrettes. The final Demonstration for this session was Macédoine de Légumes (Diced Vegetable Salad), which my book says was one of the most popular Parisian bistro salads of the late 19th century. I began by making a simple mayonnaise (egg yolk, Dijon mustard, salt, vegetable oil, vinegar to taste) and then added it a bit at a time to a bowl that had a combination of the following vegetables: carrots, turnips, string beans and petite frozen peas.

To prepare the vegetables, I peeled/trimmed  the carrots and turnips and cut into macédoine (uniform cubes about 5mm square), then I cut the beans (ends removed) into the same size as the carrots and turnips.  I brought a medium saucepan of water to a boil, added a strainer to the pot and cooked the carrots for about 3 minutes, or until tender. I removed the carrots via the strainer and refreshed them in cold water and set aside. I did this process with the rest of the vegetables with the turnips and beans taking about the same amount of time as the carrots, and the peas taking less than a minute. I drained the veggies, cooled, and then the mayo was mixed in. I added some salt and pepper to taste, and that was it. It was creamy and crunchy and very satisfying.

There were several suggestions for presentation,  from diced cooked beets and caviar to lettuce cups with hard cooked eggs and anchovies, but I went with a mound of it on a plate with chopped herbs, as it was already pretty enough on its own.

Some tips from my book:

  • The classic French vinaigrette is made of three to four parts oil, slowly whisked into one part acid seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper.

  • The addition of oil slows down the infusion of flavor, so any seasoning  -- even salt and pepper -- should be added before the oil.

  • Never pour a vinaigrette directly onto a salad, due to the risks of overdressing.  Instead, place a small amount of the vinaigrette in the bottom of the salad bowl, and just before serving, add the greens and toss to coat with tongs. There should be no vinaigrette left in the bowl once you have removed the greens -- if there is any left in the bottom, you've used too much.

Next, is Session 15: Working with Fish (!!!)