After all the years I’ve spent experimenting with recipes I feel I’ve got a decent grasp of which flavors work together, but tend to be a traditionalist — especially in the savory department. Cilantro goes with onion, tomatoes, spicy peppers, and citrus. Basil goes with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and olive oil. Bell peppers go with celery and onions. Once in a while, I’ll play around with one of the combinations, but not often.
I scan the ingredient list of an accomplished chef’s recipe and think, really? wondering where their inspiration comes from. I dissect it with my own familiarity of and opinion about each flavor in an attempt to understand how one works with the other, but know that my simple lack of experience is my biggest obstacle. It’s a slow process, but it works if I’m in the mood to tackle one of the often complicated recipes. Again — not very often. And even when I do, the experience is rarely if ever repeated, so my ability to grow knowledge beyond my traditional ingredient choices peters out. Well, except for that dense, rich, dark chocolate tart I’ve made a few times with cayenne and chipotles in adobo. But still.
A good example of my semi lack of awareness would be with maple syrup. It makes me think of breakfast: bacon or ham, eggs, hash browns. I think of Fall for some reason because I think of apples. Apples + maple syrup + walnuts = great with a German pancake. Chalk this up to someone who grew up about as far as one can get from maple trees and their accompanying “sugaring-off” season which occurs as winter’s cold temperatures wane into spring. Sasha Chapman’s article “The Sweet Life: Maple Syrup Season in Quebec” published this past March in Saveur magazine provided an excellent foundation to restructure my thinking about maple flavored anything — authentically, of course. I was drawn into Chapman’s nostalgic description of how Canadians gather in the “sugar shack” and work within the family to make syrup, waiting for that first taste of the season.
Why use maple syrup as an example to explain my not so edge-cutting ingredient combining ability? Because it’s what the Daring Bakers were challenged with this month. Color me surprised. The April 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Evelyne of the blog Cheap Ethnic Eatz. Evelyne chose to challenge everyone to make a maple mousse in an edible container. Prizes are being awarded to the most creative edible container and filling, so vote on your favorite from April 27th to May 27th at http://thedaringkitchen.com!
I had to do a bit of reading to get my head out of my maple syrup rut and consider what flavors might work with a mousse.
There are berries everywhere…
Resisting the addition of a chiffonade of basil, a piquant maple balsamic vinegar reduction was added, and voila.