Friday, October 31, 2008

Lesson 3: Menu

Here are the menu and my initial thoughts for Lesson 3 from page 16:


Lesson 3



Oeufs a la Tripe



Rouelles de Veau Bourgeoise



Mousse au Chocolat aux Noisettes et au Whisky



Looking at the menu, I am excited to again cook veal; knowing that I had already purchased the veal shanks and successfully overcome my fear of messing it up in Lesson 2.  

I am sceptical about the Gratin of Hard-Boiled Eggs.  My first thought is that it will be bland and flavorless, too much egg and not much else.  The great thing is that you never know until you try something whether you like it or not. This could be a recipe that far exceeds my expectations...I am not so sure though.

My wife made it clear that she was not going to have anything to do with the veal...she didn't like the veal scallops in Lesson 2, she doesn't like the idea of where the meat comes from, and she doesn't like any meat that has a bone...definitely not a Nose to Tail kind of eater.

She isn't going to eat the veal, but I knew for sure that she would be eating all of the Chocolate Mousse that I could make. She is looking forward to this part of the meal.

Looking forward to Lesson 3!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Lesson 2: Lessons Learned

The four lessons to be learned (or rather practiced, as I think learned means some level of mastery and I am sure not there with most of these) are stocks, sautéing and deglazing (two separate techniques, but they are listed together on pg. 13), and cooking in a water bath.

Working my way through each one, I made the stock after Lesson 1 with the leftover chicken carcass, and used half the stock for this lesson and half for another soup.  Excellent stock, a technique that I have used before, and if I can keep others in my house from getting upset with using up freezer space and/or not enjoying the house smelling during the stock making process, I should be able to continue to make my own stock.

Sautéing and deglazing are listed together, however are two different followed the other in this case.  My honest opinion is that the doneness of the sautéed veal was totally lucky, and not based upon any proficiencies on my part of knowing the right temperature, time and techniques of sautéing. More practice will help.

Deglazing with alcohol though, now that's something that gets the crowd going!  My wife knew exactly what was going on when I went for the bbq lighter, a single match just wouldn't the lighter is much longer, therefore I would argue safer.  When deglazing next time, I will for sure make sure the alcohol is all over the pan before lighting it.  I had a large pan, one I bought a few years back for cooking the thanksgiving vegetables for stuffing, and the I didn't get the brandy all over before the fire hit.

Cooking in a water bath (I like the words bain marie) seems simple enough...pan with not quite boiling water is placed in the oven with the charlotte pan for the custard is inside.  Making sure the custard cooks in an even, low and moist heat.  I am sure this helped the custard, which turned out fine...just took longer than expected, which I attribute to not knowing exactly what to expect. Now I know, or at least think I have a better idea.

Again, I still feel I have learned a lot from the process, and not necessarily from the stated learning objectives.  The most notable is the fact that I am so glad I have been posting everything to a blog. I feel there are so many unexpected learning opportunities by sharing with others.  Two are notable that I would like to share:

1. I had a nice email conversation with Kim at Easy French Food.  She first suggested looking at her info on Calvados, where I found plenty of great stuff to read as I move forward.  This led us to talking about where to find ingredients. As she said, "I think one of the most important things in cooking is to always use the freshest best quality ingredients you can find and afford.  If that means changing the recipe, so be it." I agree with the her statement, and am trying to find the freshest ingredients in my local area. It also confirms the fact that I used in the first lesson to use white onions instead of pearl onions (just wait for Lesson 3...I found some fresh pearl onions!)

2. Also the comment by the Mediocre Cook regarding plating, leaves me to wanting to learn more about taking good food photos.  I like checking out his food because I envy his pictures (they definitely make him look like much more than a mediocre cook).  I checked to see if he has done any posts about taking the best pictures, but I only find his bio of enjoying food photography.  Maybe he will post or email some suggestions on taking the best photos, that way I can learn to take pictures that do justice to my cooking (my wife said my plating, in person, far exceeded the picture I posted). 

I am glad that I have been posting, reading and sharing ideas, as this has been a great part of the learning process.  Thanks to those who are reading, and I appreciate the comments and help along the way!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Lesson 2: Cooking and Eating

My first experience with cooking veal went well, with the overall menu getting mixed reviews.  

Veal is the part of this meal that keeps sticking out of this menu, however everyone who ate this menu had something different that they liked...some really liked the soup, others really liked the veal and another liked the caramel the best.  

Let me take you through the cooking and explain how it all went.

The morning started by going to the local farmer's market to pick up the leeks which I didn't find the day before. Once returning, I set off to make the Caramel Custard so that it would have sufficient time to cool. Here is everything ready to go:

I made the caramel and tried my best to coat the charlotte pan, bottom and sides, however having stopped the cooking with cold water, the caramel solidifies extremely quickly. I then made the custard and put it in a water bath to cook.

Cooking time called for 40-50 minutes, until a knife comes out clean. It took 60 minutes and I was still unsure that it was cooked enough...just notice the knife marks in the top.

I left this all day to cool and did all of the normal weekend chores, getting back to cooking after 4pm.

I felt this menu was very manageable, in terms of not having to multitask; instead each item was given enough time to prep and cook without much interference or need to juggle when to do what.

The vegetable soup...cut and blanch the cabbage, cook the cabbage, cut the leeks, cook the leeks, combine everything with the stock I made with the leftovers from Lesson 1, and let simmer for 40 minutes.  

Here's what it looked like in the pot:

Next I prepped the apples, and cut up the mushrooms, prepared the mushrooms and creme fraiche, setting it aside until later.

The dinner guests arrived, this time my parents, sister and her husband joined us for the evening.  When they arrived, I put the pasta in the soup and we chatted for a few minutes before enjoying our first course.

The soup was flavorful and quite hearty, even with just 4 ingredients...cabage, leeks, stock and pasta.  This would make a great fall/winter soup, something for a cold day.  It is also easy to make, although I do need to work on the proper portions for pasta in soup, because within a short time of serving up the first round, my soups tend to turn to some sort of pasta casserole when the pasta soaks up all of the liquid.

After eating the soup, I turned to cooking the veal.  Because it cooks so fast, needs to be served warm, and our kitchen has a place for guests to be close, I was able to both enjoy the cooking and the company.

I was unsure of how long to cook the veal, and was pleased when it wasn't overcooked.  The sauce of mushrooms, creme fraiche, shallots, and brandy to deglaze the frying pan, was a big hit and the amount of sauce did not totally overwhelm the veal.  Along with the veal were baked golden delicious apples, which were supposed to coordinate with the Calvados (apple brandy), however I just used regular brandy. The comments from my family were that the apples were best enjoyed separate, as they seemed to overwhelm the veal, while the mushroom sauce seemed to bring out the flavor of the meat very well.

After seeing this picture, I think I will put plating on my list of things to improve.

Dishes were cleaned with a little time to allow everyone to make room for dessert...

I saved the picture of this for last because I like the action it is...the Carmel Custard with a stream of caramel pouring on top...can't waste the best part!

The caramel was excellent; however I thought the custard tasted very eggy.  My mom loves custard and couldn't get enough.  I pictured this being a light dessert to end on, which would have been nice at the end of this meal.  I personally found it to be very rich and didn't eat too much of it...maybe that is what helps with portion control!?!

Overall...excellent way to introduce myself to cooking veal, which I would definitely want to cook again, just not very often, or I might need a second job.  Mixed reviews on the menu, so look to the next post on what I learned to see what I will try again and what I need to work on.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Lesson 2: Shopping

So it has been more than a week since my last post, during which time I have been trying to sort out a few of the things needed for Lesson 2:

1. It's always good to read ahead, so knowing that I needed chicken stock for this menu, and having a perfectly good chicken carcass from Lesson 1, I made a pot of chicken stock which is waiting in the freezer for its time to come.  I used half of what I made for a chicken noodle soup...the stock will definitely work!

2. I was struggling in my head about veal; where to find it, feeling some pressure to cook it the first time, knowing it is more expensive than most meat I usually buy.  To some extent veal has been a lot easier than I expected...I found it in the chain grocery store, only problem, it is in one of those packages filled with chemicals so the meat doesn't turn colors...I'm not so into that.  So I found a butcher, one that I had stopped in before, and was able to talk to the owner.  He has owned the place for 20 of the 100 + years it's been open.  He was able to help me select 6 nice pieces of veal for Lesson 2, and while I was there I picked up 4 giant veal shanks for Lesson 3 (they are almost a pound a piece, so I didn't buy 6).  I talked to him about most of the meat being frozen in his shop, and he satisfied me with understanding that a small shop can't continue to stock items fresh as there may be much wasted.  He also helped me understand some things to properly store the meat and how and when to thaw the meat safely when I am ready to cook.

3 of 6 veal scallops--Lesson 2

3. The Carmel Custard calls for a 4-cup charlotte pan, which I don't have nor a realistic substitute.  I searched several places...a restaurant supply store, kitchen supply outlet store, and a few local chains, before settling on the Internet.  My pan will arrive this week, in time to cook for the weekend.

Some great things about this recipe at this time of year are that it is apple season and there are a bunch of fresh apples from the orchards real close to my house!  Also the warm soup makes for a great starter on evenings which are beginning to cool off now.

One of my delays in cooking Lesson 2 is that I have been waiting for the weekends to cook when I can devote a few hours to preping and when a meal for 6 has time and people to enjoy it with.  This weekend should be the time for Lesson 2, as I have already arranged for a few friends to come enjoy the food and some nice wine.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Lesson 2: The Menu

Here are the menu and my initial thoughts for Lesson 2 from page 10:


Lesson 2



Soupe Villageoise



Escalopes de Veau Vallee d'Auge



Creme Renversee au Caramel



Now that I have completed Lesson 1 with some ease, both with the preparation and with such enjoyment, I look at Lesson 2 with some concern...I couldn't even find pearl onions (although the substitute was great), how am I going to find veal?  

I am not so sure it will be all that hard to buy and prepare, but for me it sounds intimidating. It is also a little shaky because I know it is something that my wife will be very resistant to eating, as she is not very adventurous. If I can cook it properly and get her to try it, she just might be open to eating veal again in Lesson 3 and even be more willing to try other fresh fish.

I know my wife will enjoy the Soupe Villageoise for sure, and she will try the Creme Renversee au Caramel, which I am sure looking forward to. So I know she will be receptive to enjoying the dinner with me.

Any suggestions on where to find veal or suggestions on cooking it?