Almost 10 days ago I started my trip to France to present (and defend) my creations (#1 and #2) at the 2012 Science et Cuisine competition.
This being my main goal, I headed directly to Nantes where the competition final was held. The trip was uneventful, but not much so were the few days that preceded it. Stressed out for the presentation I had to hold, I spent the 3 days preceding the departure in a sleepless walking coma. I did manage to test my speech though, being it in French I couldn't just rely on my admirable qualities of orator, could I? I was rather happy to notice that despite all the "Ahem...", the "Mmmm...", the "Alors..." the speech was still within the 10 minutes I had at my disposal.
The competition wasn't the only thing that kept me on my tippy toes during those days, a super-dear friend of mine, Jamie, lives in Nantes and I was so looking forward to hugging her again after our last meeting almost 1 year ago.
Little did I know that I was going to spend all my sejour in Nantes in her company under a scorching summery sun.
I decided to couchsurf during my whole visit to France, so the first stop we had to do was to my host in the island on the Loire that is part of Nantes.
On the way we got welcomed by an art-deco tower, only remnant of the big cookies factory "LU" once in Nantes.
The night was relaxed and highly enjoyable; as an early summer evening the city was buzzing with people enjoying the many charming cafes that Nantes has to offer under a starry sky.
The next day it was The Day.
The competition finale started around 2 pm with a list of 10 finalists and as many talks; due to my category, I was scheduled to be one of the last but I wasn't aware of that until the first 4 hours had passed by.
Energies slowly started draining out of me, leaving me as limp as a seaweed on the shore; thankfully Jamie was there to support me and offer a sympathetic ear to my numerous remarks on the various projects (you know, tension makes you say things...).
It was finally my time.
The 4 hours and plus of French talking must have done a magic trick on me so much so that I spoke only few words of the rehearsed talk and instead went all free-style. The judges were on the first raw and I was attentively studying their faces for traces of boredom or for the mostly feared "What the heck is he talking about?"-look.
All went smoothly and I was quite pleased with the outcome of my speech; despite that my self-intro was terrible (I did forget to mention what the heck a gastronomical consultant actually do) I managed to say almost all that was important to me to outline the complex culinary-artistic-scientific intricacy of my recipes. Worthless to say that I had such a dry mouth by the end that I felt like I had eaten tampons for lunch.
The official photographer than had to take my portrait but I was still so tensed that we had to chit-chat for roughly 15 minutes to relax my jaw muscles enough to have a nice smile.
The ordeal wasn't yet over; two more talks and the jury decision-time were ahead of us and that meant roughly another hour. "Good things come to those who wait" right? And this is what I received for my wait (and work):
You can read the official notes of the event as well as retrieve my ppt presentation here.
A new month is rolling in and it is already time for the Secret Recipe Club . This month I got assigned Kim's blog Everyday Mom http://everydaymom23.blogspot.com. As from her own words, Kim is partial to baked goods, given her healthy sweet tooth, but having 3 kids she often comes up with kid-safe recipes that are fun to prepare for the hwole faily, like these Meringue cups. Being more of a savory tooth, I browsed her collection of recipes to find something appealing to my senses and I stopped by her Salmon cakes.
As from tradition, her recipe features mayonnaise in it but I wasn't feeling like adding so much fat in my recipe and so I went for another great mushy product: cooked eggplant!
I did take inspiration from her Old Bay seasoning so much so that I made cardamom one of the main spices in my recipes. Since I did have some smoked salmon in the fridge to use up, I added that too to the mix (in little dosage, that thing is powerful...). After a bit of tampering in the kitchen, here you are my:
Salmon-Eggplant cakes with butter-cardamom sauce
- 3 cups water/vegetable stock
- 1/3 cup dry white wine
- 3 garlic cloves, sliced
- 1 small onion, sliced
- 6 cardamom pods, crushed
- 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 250g salmon fillets
- 1 medium eggplant peeled and diced
- 50g smoked salmon, minced
- 2 tablespoons diced green pepper or 1 jalapeno pepper finely diced
- 1 scallion, sliced
- 1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- Few drops Tabasco sauce (skip if using a spicy jalapeno)
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1/2 large egg white
- salt and pepper
- 100ml reduced court-bouillon
- 4 cardamom pods
- 1 tablespoon of butter, cut into small pieces
Prepare the court-bouillon for poaching the salmon. In a small casserole combine the vegetable stock with the white wine and the vegetables and spices; cover with the lid, bring to a simmer and let infuse for 10-15 minutes. Take the casserole out of the fire and let it cool down for 10 minutes.
Slide the salmon fillets in the court-bouillon (chop them in 2-3 big pieces if they won't fit in easily), put the casserole back on medium-low flame and poach the fish until done. Once ready, let the salmon fillets cool down in the poaching liquid.
Put the peeled and diced eggplant on a colander and sprinkle it generously with salt, tossing the dices to evenly distribute it. Let the eggplant sit in the colander for a good 10 minutes.
Rinse the eggplant dices and squeeze as much water from them as you can; pat the eggplants dices dry using paper towels.
In the meantime set a no-stick pan on a medium-high fire with 2 tablespoons or so of vegetable oil. When the oil will start to smoke a little, transfer the eggplant into the pan distributing it uniformly. Switch the fire to high and let the eggplant cook, stirring often until they will be nicely browned and most of their water will have evaporated (you should have roughly 1 cup of cooked eggplant). Season the eggplants with salt, transfer in a bowl mashing them with a fork and set aside to cool down.
Crumble the poached salmon using either your fingers or a fork, combine it with the smoked salmon, the diced green pepper/jalapeno, the scallions, the cooked eggplant and the Dijon. Add in the egg yolk and the half egg white, season with a little black pepper, the Tabasco sauce and salt if needed (remember that the smoked salmon is salty by itself).
Combine all the ingredients thoroughly into a moist mixture. At this point you can either refrigerate the salmon-cakes mixture, covered with plastic wrap, or proceed with the cooking.
Using 1/3cup measuring cup, form 6 patties out of the mixture and fry them in vegetable oil until golden brown on both sides. Set them on paper towel to drain the excess oil.
For the sauce, put the court-bouillon on a high fire and reduce by half or until nicely flavorful. Measure 100ml of the strained reduced stock, add the cardamom pods and bring to a simmer. Thicken slightly the sauce with cornstarch diluted in cold water. Add the butter little at a time and let the sauce boil to emulsify the butter in. Add the last bits of butter out of the fire whisking carefully.
Serve the salmon cakes with the butter-cardamom sauce and a crunchy salad of Romaine lettuce in a Dijon vinaigrette.