Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Most Amazing Meal

I made the most amazing meal Sunday night... I know, I know -- that sounds so incredibly immodest! But all I can say is that it wasn't due to any particular skills on my part: I think it was simply a question of quality of ingredients, which are oh-so-important, and a good, solid recipe. For once, Elle à table did not disappoint, as it has been wont to do in recent times, leaving me paging through looking for some real inspiration, as well as some recipes that I can actually use on a daily basis. I find that this particular magazine has a bad habit of presenting complicated, fancy-schmancy recipes that just don't hold up over time; they're either fads or of-the-moment trends and I simply don't want to pull them out time and time again to enjoy them. At least, this has been my most recent experience -- because actually, last year at about this time of year, I found loads of ideas in the Elle, and it was one of the motivations that got me back in the kitchen. But then for months on end it would let me down: I would pick it up, purchase the latest issue, and then prepare very few of the dishes. So why did I keep buying it? Good question, especially since now you can get most of the recipes on-line at their website. I guess I was just hoping that something would jump out at me, month after month...

And finally, it has! Part of it is probably this time of year: I've realized that I love the seasonal foods at the market in September, in spite of the fact that the summer is ending and we're having to put fresh peaches and strawberries behind us. They were all pretty disappointing this year anyway, in my humble opinion. But I can't get enough of the figs, I love apples and pears, and we're leading into the perfect season for dishes simmered in a Dutch oven. Yes, that's right: I'm excited to be using my cocotte ! I bought one almost six months ago, and it's just now that I'm able to make great use of it. When I saw the recipe on the pages Friday night, I knew this was going to be my weekend project... Add in the chocolate cake recipe a good friend passed on to me on Friday at work, and I had my own recipe for a Sunday afternoon in the kitchen.

[Ironically, I was convinced that the recipe I used on Sunday would be on-line as well, so I could link to it here, but unfortuantely it isn't! So I'll have to copy it over here...]

Voilà my new favorite dinner menu:

Salade de figues, poires et parmesan
(I adapted this for two persons, but the recipe below is for four)

4 nice-size figs
2 ripe pears
the juice from 1/2 lemon
30 grams of grated parmesan
2 teaspoons of olive oil
a few drops of balsamic vinegar
fresh ground pepper

After washing the fruit, you simply core and cut the pears in thin slices, and the figs in quarters. Then you sprinkle some lemon juice over the fruit, mix it carefully, and then lay the fruit out carefully on plates. Grate some fresh parmesan over the fruit, drizzle on some olive oil and just a few drops of balsamic vinegar. Serve immediately, with some fresh ground pepper.

And now, la pièce de résistance -- OK, don't freak out here -- it's rabbit! It's my first time preparing it, but it was truly wonderful. I can see some of you cringing now, but rabbit is a wonderfully delicious alternative to chicken or other poultry, and if the meat is prepared the right way, it can be really rich and tender! This recipe was just right.

Râbles de lapin aux carottes et aux pruneaux
(recipe serves four, so we had leftovers!)

4 pieces of the rabbit's "torso", basically -- the back or "saddle" of the rabbit -- 100 grams each
4 slices of bacon (poitrine fumée), 10 g each
6 prunes with the pits removed
12 carottes nouvelles (fresher carrots, still in a bunch)
8 fresh green oignons (also still in a bunch -- these melt and become tender!)
1/2 cube of chicken bullion (or fresh chicken stock, if you have it)
1 teaspoon of coriander seeds
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 small bouquet garni (with bay leaves and flat parsley)
a few extra parsley leaves and some fresh ground pepper

[This takes a little over an hour to prepare in total, including the slicing of vegetables and the simmering of the rabbit in the cocotte, for about 40 minutes.]

You start by wrapping each râble with a slice of bacon; the sweet guy at the poultry stand gave me some ficelle to use to wrap around the râbles, because I didn't know where to find it myself... Then you wash and peel the carrots and the onions. You slice the carrots in thin discs and slice the largest of the green onions in half, leaving some of the green stem on them. Toast the coriander seeds in a hot pan, just to bring out the flavor, for a few minutes, and then reserve them for later. Brown the rabbit in the olive oil in the cocotte for a few minutes, and then add salt, pepper, the coriander seeds, carrots, onions, prunes, the bouquet garni and the 1/2 cube of bullion, crumbled up. At this point, you allow the ingredients to cook for about 5 minutes. The recipe says to pour in only about 20 cL of water, but I actually poured in more than half that -- about a half a liter -- I just wasn't sure if the carrots would cook well without a bit more water. In fact, this might not have been necessary, but I still thought everything turned out beautifully, so I feel like 20 cL is cutting it a bit short.

You allow the dish to simmer for about 40 minutes, and then serve, sprinkling some fresh parsley on top.

(both recipes are from Elle à table, septembre 2007)

So that's how I spent a good part of my day on Sunday. I did some much-needed housecleaning as well, things I had been putting off for weeks, I'm ashamed to say. I finally scrubbed my oven and vaccumed the apartment from top to bottom. It was a great sense of accomplishment, and it laid the foundation for an evening of cooking satisfaction. I baked the gâteau au chocolat in the late afternoon, and then set to work on dinner at around 6:30 or so -- I may have gotten a bit of a late start, but I figured we never eat before 9:00 on Sundays anyway, so it wasn't a big deal.

I had never cooked rabbit before -- I can hear you gulping and gasping now! -- but it was just so good. Tender and tasty, worth the effort. But what am I talking about? There was hardly any effort involved, aside from the prep work: the slicing of the carrots and onions, the wrapping of the rabbit with the bacon... I was also pleased because the family that runs the chicken stand at the market are the greatest, and the father had passed on some string for me to use in my cooking. He explained the different parts of the rabbit, and how they're prepared. I had never heard the word râble before, so this was a new one for me.

The combination of flavors -- what can I say? It was heavenly... I haven't made a main dish that was this satisfying in a long time. My old stand-by these days is a dish that my boy's mother made years ago, one of his all-time favorites: pintades aux pommes et lardons. But this rabbit dish, simmered in the Dutch oven with carrots, spring onions, coriander seeds, parsley, bay leaves and prunes was the perfect concoction. As it bubbled away on the stovetop, the scent of the different ingredients wafted around the apartment and just blew me away. I couldn't wait to dig into it! And my expectations were more than met: the taste was just as good as the scent. My boyfriend loved it. I haven't heard him compliment me on a meal that much in a long time. (And it was even better the next day as my leftover lunch...) He thought the entrée was a bit more suspicious, so he wasn't as excited about that. I actually loved it myself. It was more of a savory fruit salad, a combination of pears, figs and freshly-shaved parmesan, along with a drizzling of olive oil, a sprinkling of fresh pepper and a few drops of balsamic vinegar. He thought it seemed more like a dessert, but of course it's the parmesan that makes it an appetizer. Fresh, fragrant and light -- what could be better?

I took a few photos, but I don't know if they're worth posting, because as I mentioned we ate at 9:00, so obviously there was no more natural light, and the pictures under bright fluorescent lightbulbs leave much to be desired. So you'll just have to imagine them... Trust me, it was unforgettable!


Linda said...

I still haven't managed to eat rabbit yet but I definitely try your fig and pear salad.

jeena said...

Hi there you have a great blog,lovely recipes. Feel free to visit my blog too :)

Jeena xx

click here for food recipes

Megan said...

My in-laws have a fig tree. I don't really like figs. Something about the texture... And rabbit, I can stomach it, but honestly it seems like so much work (preparing it) for so little actual meat.

frog with a blog said...

Miam miam! thanks for the ideas.

By the way, when I'm done with all my moving ordeal, I would looove it if we met for a drink and chat! I still have a fabulous interview of you to publish and I'd like to actually talk to you when I'm sober so that you get a better impression of me.

Qu'est-ce que t'en penses?


The Late Bloomer said...

I know, I know Linda -- some people definitely have some reticence when it comes to rabbit. My parents thought I was crazy when I told them what I made on Sunday too. But, well, it's an acquired taste, I guess. You just have to give it a chance!

Jeena, thanks for stopping by -- I'll be sure to check out your blog as well!

Megan, I would KILL for a fig tree... My boyfriend's father said there was a small fig tree (supposedly) behind the house in Noirmoutier, but I couldn't find it. It might have been too early in August for the figs anyway, but how I wish I could get my hands on some fresh figs from the tree myself! I've been picking up a few at a time at the market, and they're not really cheap... Fig jam is my absolute favorite. It's the BEST with salted butter in the mornings!

Micke, you're so sweet to stop by my blog! I know I don't have the good laughs over here like you do on yours (what would I do without your great sense of humor?!), but it's just me, being my ordinary self. I'd love to meet up for a drink sometime! I'll drop you an e-mail. Good luck with your move this weekend -- I know how much of a hassle that can be, but you'll feel so good once you've settled into your new place! We may have to deal with the same one day soon, but I try not to think about it at this point...

And how could I possibly get a BETTER impression of you than the one I have already?! You're adorable! And even more so when a bit tipsy.

Penny said...

Rabbit, yum! I was given a le Creusset casserole for my 40th and I've been meaning to cook a rabbit dish in it. You've just reminded me. I have a lovely old recipe that my Dad used to make but your's sounds so good I might have to try that first. Isnt it great when a meal just comes together so well?


The Beaver said...

(And it was even better the next day as my leftover lunch...)

Oh, I always make them one day ahead . Same goes for Boeuf Bourguignon, Coq au vin ou Blanquette de veau. They taste much better the next day :-)

Betty C. said...

Oh, so you got visited by Jeena, the "lovely recipes" gal too! I thought it was pretty funny since I don't actually post real recipes on my cooking blog.

I quite like Elle à table, but tend to use the simpler recipes. For my daily standby dishes, I got a lot of ideas over the years from Cuisine Actuelle. I don't buy it much anymore, but I use my back issues a lot.