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Lobster Club Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette

It's lobster season! // FoodNouveau.com

It’s one of my favorite times of the year: lobster season! I love cooking with lobster because I find it incredibly versatile. Although many people like to eat lobster straight out of the shell, using the lobster’s meat as the star of a recipe is my favorite way to enjoy it. Its delicate texture and taste makes any dish feel extra special.

This year, I got to taste some of the very first lobsters out of Gaspésie, one of Quebec’s biggest lobster-producing regions. Gaspésie is a peninsula that stretches along the south shore of the St. Lawrence River and into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Now, I know all the lobster-producing regions will say their lobster is the best, but I must vouch for our own: the cold and clear waters of the Gulf make for an especially sweet and delicate meat. Because we’re lucky enough to have such an abundant source right here in our waters, to us, eating lobster from outside Québec is like pouring maple syrup from Vermont on our crêpes: a cardinal sin!

What I learned this year is that a local nonprofit organization closely monitors fishing methods to make sure lobsters are harvested in a sustainable manner. Plus, lobsters harvested in Gaspésie wear a special tag around their knuckle that says Aliments du Québec (literally, “food from Québec”). This designation, inspired by France’s appellation d’origine contrôlée (that AOC tag you can see on wine, cheeses, and charcuteries) aims at maintaining quality standards and having valuable resources recognized as being part of our terroir. On that tag is also a number that corresponds to the fisherman who harvested the lobster. You can enter that number on the organization’s website to view the lobster’s exact provenance and get more information about the fisherman, see him at work in a short presentation video, and even get his e-mail address—you know, just in case you want to thank him for the goodness that made its way to your plate.

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And Then They Were Three (On Being a Food-Blogging New Parent)

Baby J with hand on keyboard // FoodNouveau.com

In late December of last year, I gave birth to our son, Baby J. And then started the biggest adventure of our lives.

Having a baby wasn’t easy for us, so we had been waiting for him for a long time. As we grew older and more attached to our lives as child-free adults (“free” being the key word here), we had many moments when we thought, why mess with the balance we have now? Why trade our freedom for a family? My freedom was the thing I was most reluctant to let go of; as a long-time freelancer, I had grown accustomed (addicted, perhaps) to being by myself most of the time, doing whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I expected that my biggest challenge as a new parent would be to learn how to carve a space for a little one in my life, and indeed it was. I went from being alone most the time to being with someone all the time.

The challenges awaiting new parents are many, but this is not a parenting blog so I’ll leave parenting advice to those who are far more competent on the topic than I am. I wanted, however, to share my experience as a food-blogging new parent.

In the last few months of my pregnancy, my plan was to write several recipes and posts in advance and schedule their publication so my post-delivery break would go unnoticed. I expected I’d get back into things after a month or two. How hard could it be to find a few hours here and there to keep posting regularly? Other new-mom bloggers managed it, so why wouldn’t I?

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Maple Walnut Cream Tart

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I’m pretty sure I won’t need many words to convince you that this dessert is holiday-worthy. It looks spectacular, but tastes even better. The crust and glazed walnuts can be made in advance, and assembling the tart is as quick as whipping a cup of cream, making it perfect for a busy day. Its deep maple flavor makes it addictive, but its light texture won’t make anyone feel guilty for indulging.

What I found most intriguing in this tart is the use of crushed unsalted crackers in the crust. I was doubtful at first, but it turns out that they are indiscernible in the baked result: they only help giving body to the meringue crust. While you can make the crust the day you plan on serving it, it’s even better if you can make it ahead and store it overnight in the fridge. Resting gives it a slightly chewy texture that’s especially delightful against the silky whipped cream.

Makes one 9.5-inch [25-cm] tart

For the crust
½ cup [125 ml] granulated maple sugar
½ cup [125 ml] white sugar
3 large egg whites at room temperature
Pinch of salt
2 tbsp [30 ml] dark maple syrup, divided
¾ cup [180 ml] chopped walnuts, toasted
¾ cup [180 ml] unsalted soda crackers (or unsalted water crackers), crushed
1 tsp [5 ml] baking powder

For the candied nuts
¼ cup [60 ml] dark maple syrup
16 walnut halves

For the whipped topping
1 cup [250 ml] heavy whipping cream
¼ cup [60 ml] dark maple syrup

To serve
Coarse maple sugar (optional)

Preheat oven at 350°F [175°C]. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9.5-inch [25-cm] tart pan (a pan with a removable bottom is ideal).

Combine white and maple sugars in a small bowl. Put egg whites and salt in a large mixing bowl and beat them together at high speed until soft peaks form. Keep whipping and slowly add the sugar mixture, two tablespoons at a time, until all the sugar is fully incorporated and stiff and glossy peaks form. Slowly mix in two tablespoons [30 ml] of maple syrup (do not overbeat!). Using a spatula, fold in the chopped walnuts, crushed crackers and baking powder. Spread the mixture into the prepared tart pan, taking care to make the sides high and the center thinner, so that there is good indentation to hold the maple whipped cream topping.

Bake the shell for 25 to 35 minutes or until the meringue is golden but not brown. Remove from the oven, and cool completely. Refrigerate the shell at least two hours, or preferably overnight.

To make the candied nuts: Place a sheet of parchment paper over a baking sheet or a large plate. Put the maple syrup in a non-stick skillet and add the walnut halves, coating them with syrup. Heat up the mixture over medium-high heat, letting the syrup bubble up around the nuts. When the syrup is very sticky and the nuts are coated, take off the heat and lift the nuts out of the pan one at a time to transfer them to the parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Let cool completely (the syrup will harden as the nuts cool), then store in an airtight container. The nuts can be prepared several days in advance.

To serve: Whip the heavy cream to soft peaks. Add ¼ cup [60 ml] maple syrup and whip the cream a bit more. Spread the cream in the meringue crust. Top with the candied walnuts, sprinkle with coarse maple sugar if desired, and serve. You can assemble the tart up to 4 hours ahead and store it in the fridge until service.

Maple Walnut Cream Tart // FoodNouveau.com

Recipe Credit: Adapted from Food 52.

Download this recipe in PDF format - Food Nouveau

The Best and Easiest Butterscotch Sauce You’ll Ever Make

The Best (and Easiest) Butterscotch Sauce You’ll Ever Make // FoodNouveau.com

I’m a big fan of caramel, the kind that’s enjoyed from liquid to chewy, depending on the degree it reaches on a candy thermometer. The slightly burnt taste of caramel is unique and intriguing and my favorite way to enjoy it is by making Vanilla Caramels with Fleur de Sel, which are difficult to forget once you’ve had the chance to taste them.

Until recently, I’ll admit I was a bit of a snob regarding butterscotch sauce, which I saw as a cheap and unsubtle version of caramel you bought in jars at the grocery store. I know, that’s terribly judgmental, but let me reassure you, I’ve changed my mind since; in fact, I may have become one of the biggest butterscotch advocates you’ll ever meet. It all started when I wanted to make caramel sauce to give with my Brownies in a Jar so it could turn the dessert into a decadent treat. I did make a regular caramel but I wasn’t satisfied with the results: the taste felt too “adult” for the unpretentious dessert I wanted to make. Because I was using butterscotch chips in the dessert, making a butterscotch sauce was the next logical step. I whipped a batch in a few minutes, not really believing it would be that good considering how fast and easy it was to make. Well, let’s just say I’m eating it by the spoonful now.

The sauce is made with just 5 ingredients I’m sure you already have in your pantry and it will take you all of 10 minutes to make it. Don’t skimp on the quality of the vanilla extract you use in the recipe though; it literally makes the sauce. To make it extra special, add the seeds of a short piece of vanilla pod: the addition will transport your taste buds to a warm, exotic island.

There simply is no excuse not to try this amazing butterscotch sauce, but be aware that it’s highly addictive. Once you try it, you’ll be tempted to use it on anything and everything from crepes, waffles and pound cake to ice cream and roasted fruits – heck, I’d even dip cookies in it. Pour it in cute little jars and it makes for a beautiful, delightful and, yes, easy hostess gift.

The Best and Easiest Butterscotch Sauce Ever

Makes 1½ cups sauce (recipe can easily be halved)

See notes for additional information about the ingredients.
½ cup [125 ml / 1 stick] unsalted butter
1 cup [250 ml] packed brown sugar
1 cup [250 ml] heavy cream
½ to 1 tsp [2.5 to 5 ml] sea salt or fleur de sel
2 tsp [10 ml] best-quality pure vanilla extract (such as Nielsen-Massey)
Optional: Seeds scraped from a 1½-inch [4-cm] piece of vanilla bean

Melt the butter in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the sugar, cream and ½ tsp [2.5 ml] salt and whisk until the ingredients are well blended. Bring to a gentle boil and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla extract and vanilla seeds, if using, whisking to combine. Taste the sauce; if you feel it still needs a little salt, sprinkle more until you reach a flavor that makes your head spin with delight.

Serve the sauce warm or cool. The sauce does thicken a little as it cools, but it still remains soft enough that you can spoon it straight out of the fridge (very handy for sudden cravings!). Store in airtight containers in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Notes: 

  • Butter: Using unsalted butter is preferable because you control how salty your sauce becomes. If you only have semi-salted or salted butter, simply omit the salt, taste the sauce at the end, and adjust the seasoning if it needs it.
  • Best-quality vanilla extract: This is another thing I’m a snob about. You simply should never use cheap, $2 a bottle vanilla extract in any recipe; the taste just doesn’t cut it. Nielsen-Massey vanilla is a gourmet product, but a little goes a long way. For the past few years though, I’ve been making my own vanilla extract: it’s easy, you can refill the bottle endlessly, and it tastes just as good as the expensive stuff. Try it!
  • Salt: Don’t use regular table salt in this recipe. Its harsh taste would be much too strong for the sweet sauce. Any kind of sea salt (flaky or fine) is good, but for the best taste use fleur de sel, which has a deliciously subtle salty flavor that goes perfectly with sweets. Because every salt’s salting power varies widely, always add a little at a time, tasting as you go, to make you don’t ruin your caramel.
  • Lactose-free butterscotch sauce: Because I’m lactose-intolerant, I have tested the recipe both with regular butter and cream and with goats’ milk butter and lactose-free cream. Both results were just as delicious (and showed very little difference in flavor), so feel free to use easier-to-digest substitutes if need be. Goats’ milk butter is fine for me, but I know it does contain some lactose, albeit much less than regular, cows’ milk butter. If you successfully make the sauce with another type of butter or cream (soy, rice, etc.), please let me know, I’ll be curious to try it!

Recipe Credit: Adapted from The Washington Post.

Download this recipe in PDF format - Food Nouveau

The Perfect Holiday Gift: Brownies in a Jar

The Perfect Holiday Gift: Brownies in a Jar // FoodNouveau.com

Every year, I plan and make an edible present that I give to my clients and friends who live out of town. This tradition started three years ago, a year after I decided to become freelance again. I was so grateful for the clients who had decided to trust me that I felt like I needed to say thank you in something other than words. Given that macarons are what launched Food Nouveau (which I started around the same time as my freelance career), they seemed like the perfect choice. I made a big batch of the dainty Parisian cookie and couriered the precious boxes to my (very happy) clients.

That first year set the bar pretty high, so the second year, I decided to bake a selection of my favorite cookies, and I reinvented the lineup for the third year and shared the recipes during last December’s Cookie Week. This yearly tradition became an opportunity for me to satisfy my love for crafts (which I don’t often get to indulge), as well as to create and assemble a different packaging and holiday card every year to ship the sweets.

The Perfect Holiday Gift: Brownies in a Jar // FoodNouveau.com

This year, because I was over eight months pregnant at the beginning of December, I didn’t see myself baking for hours on end, so I decided to hop on the “in a jar” bandwagon to gift what may very well be my favorite dessert: brownies. I used the proportions provided in Ricardo Magazine and personalized the recipe to my liking (adding pecans and butterscotch chips along the way). I also made an incredibly delightful butterscotch sauce to be drizzled on top of the brownies—for extra decadence—and provided more toppings to make the dessert gift- and holiday-worthy.

The Perfect Holiday Gift: Brownies in a Jar // FoodNouveau.com

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