Glazed Carrots and Fennel

Glazed carrots paired with fennel are a beautiful accompaniment to grilled or sautéed fish.

Successful glazing resides in taking time. The process simply cannot be rushed.

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Glazed carrots and fennel with garlic and thyme.

Preparation is fairly simple. Clean and cut the fresh ingredients, assemble, and simmer. The simmering process is slow, but also low maintenance. Just check periodically that the vegetables are cooking evenly and that the liquid is not evaporating too quickly.

Plan to start preparation for this dish about two hours ahead. Simmering can easily take an hour to an hour and a half.

The nature of glazed vegetables is to be very sweet, typically because of added sugar. As we attempt to keep a healthy approach to our cooking, I have increasingly been using agave syrup instead of sugar. Agave syrup is a natural sweetener that can be used by health conscious cooks to replace the high-glycemic and refined sugars we want to avoid.

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Ingredients:

8 medium to large carrots

1 fennel bulb

6 garlic cloves

1 cup water

3/4 cup agave syrup

3 tablespoons olive oil

a few springs of thyme

The glazing process considerably shrinks the vegetables. Use a large pan, deep enough to accommodate all the raw vegetables. I like using a heavy cast iron pan for slow cooking, where the heat is evenly distributed and held throughout the cooking time.

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Garlic and thyme. A classic combination to deliver the fragrances of Provence. We did not grow thyme, as it grew wild, we used to pick it fresh from the grounds on our Sunday afternoon walks through the rocky and hilly countryside.

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Peel and cut the carrots into even sizes.

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Clean the fennel bulb. Cut in half and slice evenly.

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Moderately heat the olive oil in a heavy cast iron pan, with deep sides, and place the carrots and fennel in the pan.

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Peel the cloves of garlic, slice in half lengthwise, remove the inner green part.

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To remove the small thyme leaves, hold a spring by one end. With your other hand, slide the tips of your fingers along the stem to catch and detach the delicate leaves without crushing them.

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You’ll quickly accumulate the leaves, leaving the stems bare.

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Add the thyme leaves and halved garlic cloves to the vegetables.

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Add the agave and water, bring to a boil, and simmer… for about one to one and a half hour.

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By the time the liquids have been absorbed, the vegetables will have acquired a beautiful shine, with a tender texture, and a sweet taste. Enjoy!

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Eggplant Caviar

This dish is quite fragrant, served either as an appetizer or a side to an entree.
Here I shaped the eggplant caviar in ‘quenelle’, a classic presentation for any puréed type vegetable. This technique is simple, fast and offers beautiful visuals.

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Accompanied by an arugula salad, occasionally with smoked salmon, or even spread onto toasted sliced baguette.

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Ingredients:

3 or 4 small to medium eggplants. (Or 2 medium to large ones). Choose them firm and shiny.

25 to 30 black olives cured in oil and herbs

3 garlic cloves

a small bunch of chives

1/2 lemon

1 tablespoon olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

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Place the whole small eggplants in a dish and bake at 400 F for about 45 minutes, until soft to the touch, and the skin is wrinkled. If the eggplants are medium to large, cut them in half lengthwise and place the cut side down on the dish to bake.

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Take out of the oven and set aside a few minutes until cool enough to handle. With a spoon, scoop out the meaty part of the eggplants into a colander to drain excess liquid. Discard the empty skin shells.

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Be sure to completely scrape out all the inside.

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Once drained, place on a cutting board and chop grossly.

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You might place the chopped eggplant back into the colander as more liquids will drain.

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Peel the dry skin off the garlic cloves and cut in half. If the garlic is aged, cutting the cloves open might expose a bit of green in the center. If so, this is an indication that the garlic is about to sprout. This green part is harmless, but my grandmother used so say it had a slightly bitter flavor and would not be digested. It should be discarded. To remove, use a paring knife, pull the inner green part from the stem where it is connected and it will detach from the clove.

We used to braid fresh garlic by their long stems and hang them to dry. We would them pick the cloves directly from the braid to use in cooking, fresher at the beginning of the season, more aged toward the end of the season which is when we encountered more green centers.

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Then, you can crush the cloves by flattening a wide chopping knife on top of each of them and pressing with a firm hand. I prefer to use a non porous board for garlic and onions, but one that is still suitable to preserve the sharpness of your knifes. Chop garlic and chives finely.

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Place chopped eggplant in a bowl and mix chopped garlic.

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Chop the black olives finely and squeeze the half lemon.

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Add the chopped black olives and lemon juice to the mixture.

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Mix in the chopped chives.

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I particularly like this extra virgin olive oil from Mas des Barres, an ‘Appellation’ from the Vallée des Baux, where I grew up. An ‘Appellation’ means that the geographic area where the olives grow has specifically identified boundaries within which yield restrictions apply to control growth and ensure quality consistency. This olive oil will bring a delicate, subtle, round, earthy, and rich aroma of nuts, fruits and fresh meadow. It is a fruity well-balanced olive oil of exceptional quality.

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Add one tablespoon of olive oil and mix well.

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At this point, the “Eggplant Caviar” is ready. You might refrigerate it until use.

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To serve, shape the ‘quenelles’ with two soup spoons. Again, you might drain the mixture if there’s too much liquid. To shape the “quenelles”, take a spoonful of the mixture and keep rolling it from one spoon into the other until you achieve the desired shape.

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Finishing the shaping. Then place onto a plate.

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Finished dish for serving. Three eggplant caviar ‘quenelles’ with an arugula salad as an appetizer. Enjoy!

French Apple Tart

French Apple Tart
Classic and beautiful, a combination of Golden Delicious apples for the base and Granny Smith for the top layer

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This recipe is inspired by my French technique of slicing apples thinly (which does, admittedly, take time) and the cinnamon from my Midwestern surroundings. If you are interested in the pure French version, omit the cinnamon and use a vanilla bean instead.

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Ingredients:
8 Golden Delicious or Honeycrisp apples
8 Granny Smith apples
1 14-oz Dufour puff pastry (see below photo)
1/2 cup of saffron mango jam (or apricot jam)
Cinnamon
Agave syrup
1 cup water

Tools:
1/4 sheet for baking
1 large saucepan for the apple sauce
1 small saucepan for the jam
1 potato masher or food processor
1 pastry brush
1 paring knife
1 rolling pin

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This puff pastry can be found in the frozen food section at Whole Foods. The ingredients are the same that I would use if I were to make it from scratch – simply butter, flour, salt, water and lemon juice – and it’s a great time saver. If you decide to make your own puff pastry, I learned from my time at the Ritz pastry school that you can only give the dough two turns a day. This means you would have to plan three days ahead for the necessary six turns.

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First, quarter the apples and then peel them. Here I’m using Honeycrisp instead of Golden Delicious, but either variety works. Honeycrisps tend to be a bit more watery when cooking, so reduce the amount of water you add to the saucepan.

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Cut each quarter into thick slices, making them as uniform as possible so that they cook evenly.

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Place the apples in a saucepan with about a cup of water. If you are using vanilla bean instead of cinnamon, add it at this time. Simply cut the bean in half lengthwise, scrape the black seeds into the saucepan and drop the open bean onto the apples. Bring to a boil and simmer until tender. If the water evaporates before all the apples are soft, add a little more. If there is extra water when the apples are ready to be mashed, drain them and reserve the syrupy liquid.

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Once the apples are soft enough, use a potato masher to purée them, country style. If you used a vanilla bean, remove it before mashing the apples. If you’re using ground cinnamon add it here, as well as agave syrup to taste.

You may return it to the stove if the consistency is too watery. You want to have a spreadable apple sauce consistency.

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If you prefer to have a smoother consistency, place the cooked apples into a food processor fitted with a steel blade (without the vanilla bean), and process until silky smooth. Return to the saucepan and add cinnamon, if using, and then agave. Again, you might heat it up a little longer to obtain the right consistency.

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While the apple sauce is cooling, roll out the puff pastry to fit a quarter sheet. There is no need to butter the bottom of the quarter sheet as the butter content of the puff pastry is high enough that it won’t stick. Then spread the cooled apple sauce into a smooth and even layer.

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Now comes the task of skillfully slicing the Granny Smith apples in thin, long and even slices. Start by quartering and peeling the apples. Then, with a paring knife, slice each quarter lengthwise, about 2 to 3 millimeters thick. Place each piece on the apple sauce starting at one end of the quarter sheet, one slice next to another in overlapping vertical rows. The thinner the slices, the more beautiful the results when cooked.

When you’re finished, place it in the oven and bake for about 45 minutes or until golden brown. Check halfway through the baking to ensure the tart is cooking evenly. If one side is browning faster than the other, turn the baking sheet around.

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Start heating the saffron mango jam (or apricot jam) in a small saucepan over the stove until it is liquefied enough to spread with a pastry brush. If the consistency is too thick, add some of the syrup reserved earlier from the apples. If you do not have syrup, add water.

Using a pastry brush, lightly spread the liquefied jam over the hot apples. It is important to do this right out of the oven, while the apples are hot for best, most even results.

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Close up, the pattern looks like fish scales. Beautiful!

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Serve a thin elegant slice accompanied by a vanilla soy ice cream. Delicious…..and chic!
Enjoy!