Baked Apples with Dates, Walnuts, Prunes and Salted Caramel Sauce

A warm winter treat.
Using Salted Caramel Sauce (recipe posted on 1/11/14) as a finishing touch, these apples are stuffed with a simple mixture of dried fruits and walnuts. A perfect balance to enjoy the delicate flavors of the salted caramel sauce.
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If you do not have salted caramel sauce on hand, or to simply prepare a vegan, lactose-free version, you might add a hint of cinnamon in the dried fruit mixture and serve with a little sprinkle of cinnamon instead of salted caramel sauce.
I like to use a variety of apples, so long as they hold reasonably well after baking: Fuji, Jonathon, Honeycrisp. Some might split, but they remain deliciously tasty. The apples to avoid would be Golden Delicious or Red Delicious, as they have a tendency to become mushy and mealy when baked.
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Ingredients for 4 guests:
4 apples (honey crisp, Fuji,…)
3 dates
3 prunes
A handful walnuts
4 Tbsp Salted Caramel Sauce (recipe posted on 1/11/14)
Preheat oven to 350F.
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Slightly cut the bottom of each apple to that they stand straight.
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They should be relatively even on a flat surface.20140120-143609.jpg
Cut off the top of each apple, about 1/4 of the way down, keeping the stem up. 20140120-143627.jpg
Core the center to remove the seeds and tough center part. 20140120-143644.jpg
Be careful not to go too deeply and leave enough thickness at the bottom.20140120-143703.jpg
Mince the dates and prunes.20140120-143719.jpg
Then, continue chopping them as well as the walnuts and mix.20140120-143736.jpg
Place the apples in an oven-proof dish, add this mixture in the center hole of the apples, press down to pack the cavity, and spread the remaining dried fruit mixture on top.20140120-143754.jpg
Cover each apple with their respective cap. Place them in the preheated oven.20140120-143814.jpg
After an hour, remove from the oven. Set the apples aside, turn off the oven, and place the jar of salted caramel sauce in the still warm oven to melt it slightly. 20140120-143834.jpg
Serve the apples on each plate and spread some warm salted caramel sauce. 20140120-143855.jpgEnjoy!

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Salted Caramel Sauce

In rare occasions, indulging in the sweetness of the moment calls for a treat savored delicately. Salted caramel sauce provides that rarified quality, reserved for a special moment, allowing you to truly savor every bite and relish your taste buds.
20140105-035527.jpgSalted caramel sauce can be enjoyed over poached or baked fruits, a tart or pie, ice-cream, or simply drizzled over Chantilly cream.
Making it is very easy, and it keeps for quite a while refrigerated.
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The essential ingredient is fresh French butter, which tastes smooth and rich.

Ingredients for 1-12 oz jar:
(Multiply the recipe for more jars)

6 oz. sugar
1 Tbsp. water
4 oz. French butter
1/8 tsp. sea salt
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream

Useful tool: wide mouth canning funnel (see photo at bottom of recipe)
20140105-040848.jpgPrepare the jar(s) and utensils in advance of starting to cook the caramel sauce, as you’ll need to pour it into the jar(s) as soon as it is ready.
20140105-041034.jpgBegin by placing the sugar, butter cut into small pieces and sea salt into a saucepan with a heavy bottom or copper pan for even melting.

Add the water to moisten the sugar.
20140105-041139.jpgLet melt on medium heat, mixing with a wooden spoon occasionally.
20140105-041400.jpgThe mixture will foam and rise and might slightly crystalize.
20140105-041528.jpgContinue cooking mixing with a wooden spoon as it starts to caramelize.
20140105-041620.jpgWhen the caramel falls back down and turns a beautiful brown color, turn off the heat.
20140105-041823.jpgAdd the cold cream at once.  Watch out for splatters. The caramel will harden. Continue mixing rapidly.
20140105-041922.jpgPlace back on the stove, on medium heat.
20140105-042035.jpgBring back to a boil and turn off the heat as the caramel mixture rises again.
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Using a wide mouth canning funnel, poor the hot caramel sauce in the jar(s).
20140105-042155.jpgBe sure to pour the caramel almost to the top as it will shrink while cooling.  Let cool till warm to serve.

Let cool completely to refrigerate. Enjoy!

One last Chef of Provence

Wrapping up our visit, in the Papal city of Avignon, adjacent to the Palace, the restaurant of Master Chef Christian Etienne is a must if you are in the area. Please enjoy below a tomato menu…

20131005-121131.jpg Tomato juice as a palate opener.

20131005-121321.jpgTomato on a bed of tomato goat cheese.

20131005-125055.jpgGaspacho of green and yellow tomatoes.

20131005-121418.jpgTomato mousse in a rail of tomato cracker with tempura snail on tomato coulis.

20131005-125406.jpgMediterranean fish with tomato confit and eggplant caviar.

20131005-125528.jpgMediterranean fish with tomato risotto.

20131005-125630.jpgConversations with wine pairing from the sommelier.

20131005-125749.jpgChocolate cake, mousse, fondant.
20131005-132413.jpgRaspberry cake with fig.

20131005-130139.jpgTomato sherbet.

20131005-130240.jpg After dessert “Mignardises”: Macaroons, Caneles, Pates de Fruits.

Hoping you enjoyed this Provence Chefs series.  Next week we start autumn vegetables back in Chicago 🙂

Another Chef of Provence

Continuing our culinary sojourn brought us to Saint Rémy de Provence in Les Alpilles. At the heart of the village is an exquisitely classy and discrete restaurant: La Maison Jaune. Please enjoy the following creations from François Perraud.

20130928-214124.jpg Delicious ‘mise en bouche’ with herb and garlic olives, olive oil AOC from La Vallée des Baux, and…

20130928-214459.jpg Zucchini soup, quail egg with tomato confit.

20130928-214647.jpgPurple artichokes with goat cheese and herb vinaigrette.

20130928-215050.jpg Cantaloupe from Cavaillon with carrots and radishes accompanied by a vinaigrette with mustard from Meaux.

20130928-215526.jpg Marinated Red Label Scottish salmon with roe, capers, tomato and herbs.

20130928-215708.jpg Steamed fish with seasonal vegetables.

20130928-220608.jpgGoat cheese with fig bread and strawberry jam.

20130928-221538.jpgPineapple carpaccio with vanilla and herb served with ‘pain d’épice’.

20130928-221842.jpg Walnut and hazelnut tart served with fresh citrus and strawberry syrup.

20130928-222324.jpgKumquat, nougat and pate de fruit.
Trusting you enjoy the sharing of these images.

Chef of Provence

Our culinary visit of Provence led us to exceptional chefs. Please enjoy photos of creations from Xavier Matthieu, chef of Le Phebus.

20130921-192048.jpg Tempura snails with licorice and fennel emulsion. A perfect ‘mise en bouche’.

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Pistou soup. The flavors were out of this world. A masterpiece.

20130922-065428.jpg Crayfish Jambalaya. Spicy and yet so delicate.

20130922-153826.jpgSaint Pierre with autumn squash and mushroom. Exquisite!

20130922-153948.jpg Purée de pommes de terre with black truffles. The best and smoothest texture ever coupled with amazing truffles.

20130922-154248.jpg Vanilla and anchovy ice cream with basil and lemon sherbet. Unexpectedly perfect combination.

20130922-154647.jpg Cherry macaroon, apple mousse and pâte de fruit. Sublime!
If your eyes and tastebuds can already anticipate how extraordinarily delicious these dishes are, just imagine how much fun it would be to learn how to prepare them!

Hazelnut Praline Flan for Leslie

Flan was a regular staple at the end of a meal in my family. It is easy to make in advance and keeps well refrigerated and much lighter than a crème brûlée. My mother used cubes of sugar to make caramel, and knowing exactly how many sugar cubes to use to make caramel made it fast and easy. Here I’m using almond milk as a way to make this recipe lactose free, but feel free to use other milk if you do not have lactose intolerance in your family.

20130902-003153.jpgFor this recipe I decided to add hazelnut praline because a dear friend of my boyfriend loves hazelnut desserts and I made this one in Leslie’s honor. It takes a few extra steps to make the praline, and it is well worth it.

20130902-003514.jpgIngredients:
For the flan:
3 farm fresh eggs
2 cups organic almond milk
4 Tbsp organic sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the hazelnut praline:
1 Tbsp grape seed oil
1/2 cup hazelnuts (shelled and preferably skin removed)
3/4 cup organic sugar
3 Tbsp water

For the caramel:
1/2 cup organic sugar
2 Tbsp water

Sugar thermometer
4-6 individual ramequins or terrines with lids (depending on size)
Large baking dish for the water bath
Preheat oven to 375F

20130902-003639.jpgIf the hazelnut still have skins, place them in the oven on a baking sheet in a single layer for a few minutes.

20130902-004109.jpgTake them out of the oven before they brown and set aside until cool enough to handle.
Once cooled, rub them between your hands to remove the skins.

20130902-065923.jpg Making the hazelnut praline:
Brush a thin layer of oil on a marble surface or a baking sheet.
Place sugar and water in small sauce pan.

20130902-070309.jpgMelt sugar into caramel until temperature reaches 130 C (266 F).

20130902-070536.jpgAdd the whole hazelnuts. Continue cooking.

20130902-070626.jpgThe sugar will initially react to the hazelnuts by crystallizing. Keep cooking, mixing vigorously using a wooden spoon.

20130902-070711.jpgOnce the caramel is dark brown, remove the pan from the heat. Be sure not to over cook the caramel, otherwise it will burn and you’ll have to start over.

20130902-070754.jpgPour it immediately onto the oiled marble or baking sheet, spreading the hazelnuts so they do not overlap.

20130902-070939.jpgOnce cooled and hardened, break it up by hitting it with a rolling pin.
Place the broken pieces into a food processor fitted with a steel blade.

20130902-071044.jpgProcess until you obtain a granular powder. Set the praline aside.

20130902-071125.jpgFor the caramel, place the sugar and water in a small pan and cook until dark brown.

20130902-071207.jpgRemove from the heat and pour into the ramequins.

20130902-071244.jpgImmediately sprinkle a layer of praline powder so it sticks to the caramel.

20130902-071343.jpgPour the almond milk into a pan and heat until boiling.

20130902-071541.jpgMeanwhile, place three eggs into a mixing bowl.

20130902-071621.jpgAdd the vanilla and whisk the eggs until completely blended.

20130902-071735.jpgAdd the sugar while whisking vigorously until the mixture is pale yellow and foamy, and has doubled in volume. Note: please keep whisking while adding sugar to the eggs otherwise the sugar will “cook” the eggs.

20130902-071902.jpgAdd the hot milk into the egg mixture continuing to whisk until fully incorporated.
Note: it is important that you pour the hot milk into the bowl with the eggs and not the other way around. If you added the egg mixture into the hot milk, it would cook the eggs.

20130902-071941.jpgUsing a ladle, pour the mixture equally into each ramequin. Feel free to fill them up as much as you wish. These will not rise during baking, and rather sink once cooled.

20130902-072031.jpgPlace the ramequins into a baking dish with a water bath.
Place in the oven for about 40 minutes until the top is brown and feels settled.

20130902-072342.jpgOnce cooked, take out of the oven and let cool. Then place the lids on top of each ramequin and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

20130902-072426.jpgWhen ready to serve, run the blade of a knife around the flan.

20130902-072942.jpgPlace a plate on top and reverse it upside down, shaking a bit to ensure the flan detaches from the ramequin onto the serving plate.

20130902-073017.jpgSprinkle additional praline powder and decorate with a few extra hazelnuts. Enjoy!

Cardamon Honey Chocolate Mousse

An old fashion dessert that remains a favorite of all ages across cultures. It is fluffy, tasty and a perfect ending to a dinner in any season. Best served in individual ramequins or cocottes, chocolate mousse can be prepare a day ahead and, as such, perfectly suited for entertaining.
20130718-153311.jpg The flavor of the mousse depends on the type of chocolate. Personally, I enjoy particularly dark chocolate and used 99% in this recipe. I understand that not a lot of taste buds are accustomed to this flavor, and using 70-85% is probably more along the lines of what most of you will truly enjoy. Either way, be sure to use a high quality chocolate Callebaut, Valrhona, Guittard, Sharffen Berger.

20130716-213701.jpgIngredients:
140g or 5 oz dark chocolate
60g or 2oz butter (I rarely use butter, and I like to use a high quality French butter when I do. It has a lower water content than butter typically found in the U.S. and a smoother, tastier finish)
3 eggs plus two egg whites
1/4 cup honey (up to 3/8 cup if you like it sweeter)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp cardamon (can be omitted, or more added if you like a stronger cardamon flavor)
Pinch of salt

20130716-213738.jpgChop chocolate to ensure even melting.

20130716-213813.jpgMelt chocolate and butter ‘au bain marie’, which is basically over a water bath in a double boiler, by placing the pot containing the chocolate and butter over a pot of water on the stove, set at medium low heat. I like using a chopstick to mix melting chocolate.

20130716-213852.jpgOnce the chocolate and butter are completely melted, remove the heat source and add honey and cardamon. Mix well and let cool.

20130716-213935.jpgSeparate egg yolks of the 3 eggs. Add the additional two egg whites in a mixing bowl for a total of 5. Adding the extra egg whites makes the mousse extra light and fluffy.

20130716-214011.jpgOnce the chocolate mixture is cool enough so it won’t cook the egg yolks, add each egg yolk one at a time, immediately whisking vigorously to ensure they mix well without cooking from the heat of the melted chocolate.

20130716-214058.jpgWhisk egg whites with a pinch of salt and a little. vanilla till firm peaks form. For those who enjoy a sweeter tasting mousse, you might add a couple tablespoons of sugar to the egg whites while whisking.

20130716-214146.jpgAdd 1/4 of the egg whites to the chocolate mixture.

20130716-214230.jpgWhisk together to fully homogenize.

20130716-214339.jpgPour this mixture over the remaining fluffy egg whites and carefully fold them together with a curved rubber spatula.

20130716-214519.jpgContinue folding until fully incorporated but do not over mix, otherwise you’ll loose the lightness of the air in the egg whites.
20130718-153348.jpgPour in individual serving dishes, preferably with a cover to refrigerate.
20130718-153437.jpg Refrigerate for a minimum of four hours to allow the mousse to set. You’ll obtain best results and consistency if you prepare them a day ahead so they sit overnight.

20130716-215157.jpgEnjoy!