Sunday, April 26, 2009

Lesson 7: Lessons Learned

I had this post all written up and ready to go many weeks ago; however I have been preoccupied with work, family, and all sorts of stuff that has kept me away from both posting anything and working through the next meal.

I hope to get back on track with the next meal quickly.

Here is my list of Lessons Learned from Menu 7:

1. Chicken is a family-friendly, budget conscious, and in for this menu, an excellent substitute for Guinea Hen.
2. Don't buy cheap pastry bags, they aren't worth the price.
3. When cooking puff pastry, use your own oven.
4. I should let my nephew do all of the technical work (pastry work) so that I don't mess it up.
5. Cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen wasn't as bad as I expected, the oven may be a different temperature, but I didn't have to clean up! (sometimes there are trade-offs that are worth it!)
6. Cook with family, it is a good thing!
7. Cook this main dish again for a family meal! I suggest you do the same!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Lesson 7: Cooking and Eating

Final Plating

This is the first time that I have cooked anything from the book in another kitchen. It didn't throw me off as much as I had expected, but did have one very nice benefit...I wasn't as worried about all of the clean-up because I knew I didn't have to wake up to the kitchen a mess. 

It worked out really well cooking in my sister's kitchen and working with my nephew to cook this meal. I think and hope that he had a good time as well cooking with me.

Together we worked through the prep work on the Guinea Hen and Chicken, while I prepared the birds, he worked on some of the vegetables. Because we were cooking for more than 6, we prepared two separate dishes, one with each bird. This was also necessary because the chicken was so much larger than the guinea hen, and because I figured the flavors would be noticeably different.

There were lots of vegetables to prepare with onions, carrots and cabbage. I do really like the flavor and texture differences that appear when you cook onions at different temperatures for different amounts of time. It amazes me how different the flavor can be. In this dish, the onions were cooked very low, making them very creamy in texture and with a distinct flavor.

The cabbage also got special treatment by boiling and then cooking with all fo the other veggies. Then the chicken was added after being partially cooked in the oven. Liquid was added to the entire pot, along with the sausage, and cooking continued until everything was ready to eat.

As we cleared out the oven, my nephew worked to make the puff pastry dough. He did a great job of making dough that looked very good. 

Puff Pastry Dough

We loaded it into the pastry bag and I tried to pipe a few out onto the baking sheet. I managed to pipe two nice rounds out before breaking the cheap pastry bag. See the picture below.

You can see my handywork here

I turned over the technical work to my nephew who was able to finish piping the entire baking sheet without breaking the second bag.

My nephew's pan (much better than mine)

We cooked the puff pastry per directions, while also making the cheese filling. The directions specifically said not to open the oven for the first 15 min and then cook at a lower temperature for 10min or until done. After the first 15min the puff pastry was brown and overdone. This was sad because if cooked correctly I think the puff pastry would be easy to make and really good. I am going to blame cooking in an unfamiliar oven for this and hope that I can make them again in my own oven.

Again we filled the pastry bag and I started piping the cheese filling into the puff pastries. I managed to pipe 2 puff pastries full until I broke the cheap bag again. We solved this issue by using my first idea, using a ziploc bag as a pastry bag. My nephew poked holes in the pastries and I filled with the cheese filling from the make-shift pastry bag.

The puff pastries were good when hot, but the filling cooled very quickly and the exterior was definitely overcooked. The kids really liked these because they were bite size and crunchy.

When the main dish was done we took apart the guinea hen and chickens and plated all of the food. With the kids, we took the meat off of the bones and gave them lots of veggies. 

Guinea Hen, Sausage, Veggies, and Choux Puffs

I thought the dish was really great! The cabbage and other vegetables were very flavorful, and the guinea hen and chicken were fantastic. I wasn't overly excited about the sausage that I chose, and I would have been just as happy without it. I did think that chicken was a really great subsitute and would make this an affordable meal for a family dinner.

After all of the plates were cleaned up, we get ready for dessert. I would call dessert a mixed bag, not completely successful, but interesting enough in flavor that it might be worth a second attempt.

I had made the dessert the night before and chilled it so it would set up. Making the Creme Anglaise wasn't a big deal, adding in the gelatin, strawberries and heavy whipping cream went fine, and before going into the fridge, I tasted a bit. It reminded me of the frothy strawberry flavored drinks from Orange Julius that we used to get at the mall when I was a kid. I like the flavor, but found it strikingly out of place. I knew the final texture would be very different from those drinks as well.

As I took the dessert out of the mold, or bowl that I had used, it spread out over the entire plate like a squished UFO. 

Strawberry Bavarian Cream (UFO)

I don't know if it was the shape I used, or that the gelatin hadn't set as firmly as I expected, or maybe a combination of both. The kids sure didn't mind having dessert that wasn't as firm as I had excpected, and to me there was a suprisingly positive response. The taste was again like a strawberry Orange Julius and the texture was more like yogurt. It wasn't as sweet as some of the other desserts, and I think would make a nice addition to a summer meal with fruit to go with it.

I would give this a so so on the complete execution of the meal, as well as a so so on the full meal, however I really enjoyed cooking with my nephew and spending time with my sister and her family. I would definitely make the main course again, substituting chicken as a family meal-flavorful, hearty and really not that technically difficult.

More to come in Lessons Learned.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Lesson 7: Shopping

Guinea Fowl for Lesson 7

As I had expected, the shopping for ingredients wasn't very difficult for Lesson 7. The best part of shopping was being able to spend some time with my nephew who completed the last minute shopping for the fresh vegetables and a few other ingredients.

I was able to find Guinea Hen a the local butcher, but because of cost and the number of people I was cooking for, decided to buy one Guinea Hen and then substitute a whole chicken for the other hen. This substitution was a fraction of the cost, and for the at home cook did an exceptional job.

So I managed to get the Guinea Hen and Chicken, Polish Sausage and Bacon at the butchers during the week, as well as the ingredients for the dessert.  All of the remaining ingredients I either had already or were fresh produce that we shopped for before cooking.

Before going shopping, my nephew and I reread the entire menu and set up a plan, made a list and then managed to shop for the remaining ingredients.

Pretty easy and straightfoward.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Lesson 7: The Menu

Lesson 7 from page 42 gives me an opportunity to continue to improve my pastry skills with the Choux Puffs, extend my learning of Bavarian Creams, and try ingredients that I wouldn't normal cook in Guinea Hen.

I really liked Gruyere cheese from the Swiss Chard Gratin in Lesson 4 and look forward to using it again. The cheese melts so well I could see it making great grilled cheese sandwiches or macaroni and cheese. If you put it on a pizza you might never be able to get your slice pulled away from the rest of the pizza because of the long string of cheese hanging off!
 Here is the menu:


Lesson 7



Profiteroles au Gruyere



Pintadeaux au Chou



Creme Fraisalia



I am interested in the Guinea Hen dish because it seems pretty hearty, having cabbage, polish sausage, and plenty of vegetables. It is interesting to me that each of the parts of the main dish are cooked separately and then combined at the end instead of being cooked all together. The book explains that "the result is a dish in which complementary tastes are juxtaposed, rather than blended together as in stews or one-pot meals" (44).

Again the ingredients for this menu seem pretty straight forward and should be easy to find. I hope to focus on finding the best, freshest, and most local ingredients. The produce will be important for this as well as for the Polish sausage. I am curious about the guinea hen, if I can't find them then I will use a substitute of Cornish Game Hens or Free-Range Chickens.

I have waited some additional time to get ready to cook this meal because I have wanted to cook with my nephew who helped a little bit with one of the previous menus. With schedules, it is just coming to the weekend when everyone is available.

Lesson I(we) come!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Lesson 7: Some Inspiration

Before I get to my normal sequence of posts for Lesson 7, I noticed that the group on Whisk Wednesday's Blogroll were completing the main course of PINTADEAUX AU CHOU (Guinea Hen with Cabbage) during the past week or so. They have been working through lessons using Le Cordon Bleu AT HOME and I found the timing to be quite nice, being that this was my next meal.

I enjoy checking in on the lessons that they are working on from time to time, and I would encourage you to get a preview of my Lesson 7 from the following places:

At the time I was writing this, the following three had not yet posted about this particular recipe, so I will check back to see how they do:

Friday, February 27, 2009

Lesson 6: Lessons Learned

Pate Brisee for the Onion Tart

The two lessons for this menu are Pate Brisee (and Pate Brisee Sucree), pg. 38, and Bavarian Creams, pg. 41. 

I will start with the easy one--Bavarian Creams. Because the first step of making Bavarian Cream is to make a Creme Anglaise, I knew this wouldn't be too difficult (see Lesson 5). Having already been successful, I made the Creme Anglaise and then added the gelatin, folding in the whipping cream prior to it setting. I felt confident with this, and like that the teaching and learning aspects of the book are illustrated through this progression of desserts. I will again build on these skills in Lesson 7 by making a Bavarian Cream and flavoring it with strawberries, something to look forward to!

Now on to the more complicated and less successful of the lessons. I didn't have too high expectations because I have previously tried to make pie crust and found it better to just buy the frozen packages and go from there. I took this as an opportunity to try again and improve my skills.

As explained in the last post, I was concerned that I was overmixing the dough as it didn't seem to be getting smooth. The pictures of evidence of this, however it seemed to work out fine. I just need to remember to roll the dough out thinner next time.

I wouldn't consider myself much of a baker, as I always associate this with precise measurements and knowing exactly what happens to specific ingredients when you add them, mix them and all around work with them. My guess is it has a lot to do with experience, of which I am lacking in this area. I would definitely like to master some of these easier types of doughs, because I would rather make a pie crust than buy it. With more practice, I could see this happening.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Lesson 6: Cooking and Eating

After getting back from purchasing the mussels on Saturday morning, I decided to make the Bavarian Cream. Having already made Creme Anglaise for Lesson 5 it was pretty simple. The only additions were that I added gelatin to the Creme Anglaise and then as it cooled, prior to setting, I folded in whipping cream that was beat to stiff peaks. I really like how the whipping creme made the Bavarian Cream a silky white color, completely eliminating the yellow color from the egg yokes found in the Creme Anglaise.

I followed this up by making the dough, Pate Brisse, for the onion tart. I followed the directions to the best of my abilities, however I struggled with the step calling for me to "smear it across the work surface to blend the butter and flour into a smooth dough" (38). I felt like I couldn't get the dough smooth, and the more I did this the more I got concerned that I was over mixing the dough. As you can see from my final disk of dough, I don't think I made it smooth as the dough appears to be falling apart.

Pate Brisee-short crust pastry dough for onion tart

I left this in the frige overnight and then left it out of the fridge to warm slightly before working with it on Sunday afternoon. When I did get to rolling out the dough, it surprised me that the dough didn't just crumble apart. Instead it rolled out just fine. I fit it nicely into my springform pan and blind baked it.

When my grandparents arrived on Sunday afternoon, I was getting started with the rest of the meal. They enjoyed a glass of wine while I cooked the onions and onion tart and then prepared the mussels. Both took less than an hour total and made for good converstation and relaxing preparation.

The onion tart before baking:

And after:

The mussels before:

And after:

The picture above shows the mussels right out of the pan. I pulled the shells apart and tossed the half without the mussel. I found that many of the mussels had fallen out of the shell, which makes for a less interesting plate but easier to eat. 

After this, I continued to boil the wine sauce to reduce, before straining and adding creme. This was again boiled and reduced, without scorching anything, before being poured back over the mussels. The leftover creme sauce tasted so amazing that I saved it to put over pasta. I would buy mussels again, make the same preparation with the creme sauce and serve it over pasta in the future.

I plated the meal on warm plates, seen below, and then we enjoyed every bit of what was on our plates. The onion tart was highlighted by sweet onions and perfectly cooked filling. The dough should have been rolled out thinner, but didn't ruin any enjoyment of the dish. The mussels were really tender (I obviously didn't overcook them!) and mild in flavor. I was expecting a very saltwater flavor, and can't explain why that wasn't the case. The flavors of the sauce and mussels were perfect.

Onion Tart and Mussels in White Wine Cream Sauce

Because there were only 3 of us eating, I only purchased 2.5lbs of mussels instead of the 3lbs. We ate every one of the mussels and could have eaten more. I would definitely buy more mussels next time.

After clearing the plates, dessert was served. I am a huge fan of the raspberry coulis, so I smeared it all over the place. My wife loved the Bavarian Cream, but did not like the rapberry coulis because the lemon flavor was too tart for her to overcome. I think she will really like the Strawberry Bavarian Cream in Lesson 7.

Bavarian Cream with Raspberry Coulis

As a complete meal, this was easy to shop for, easy on the budget, easy to cook and very good. The only complaint about the meal was that it wasn't as filling as other meals that I have made. I went back for seconds because I was still hungry, and of course because it was very good. I wonder if this is my American perspective on portion sizes, or whether mussels aren't necessarily as filling as the other main courses?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Lesson 6: Shopping

2.5 lbs mussels

I have been busy at work lately, and didn't really have much time to shop for this meal. Lucky for me all of the ingredients were very easy to come by.  Really all I needed for this meal were onions, butter, milk, heavy cream, sugar, wine, herbs, flour, mussels, some herbs, and raspberries, not much else. Because most of these ingredients are staples, the cost for this meal was less than $40 for a meal for 6.

To think about that in terms of eating out, my wife and I ate out last night and spent more than that for just the two of use. I don't think I have ever ordered mussels (just mussels) at a restaurant, but my guess is that it would not be the least expensive item on the menu and would cost more than $40 for a party of six. Don't get me wrong, I love eating out, and I know that you aren't just paying for ingredients but also for the prep work, service, and atmosphere as well as everything else that goes into running a restaurant. However, I want to highlight this meal as a pretty economical menu. It also helps me overcome the idea that French food is expensive. Some of the ingredients have been, however this meal is definitely not one of them.

The only thing I wasn't quite sure about were the mussels, however I went down to the pier and ordered the mussels I needed on Monday to be picked up Friday after work. I didn't make it to pick up the mussels until Saturday morning. The fish monger was fileting salmon, making it look so darn easy. He showed me what to look for in mussels, gave me some cooking tips, then let me pick out the mussels that I wanted.

Not much else to say except that shopping was easy and inexpensive for a meal that I am definitely looking forward to.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Lesson 6: Menu

Niner Savignon Blanc, 2004

I have been eyeing Lesson 6 for quite some time because of the fact that Mussels are the main course. The Mussels also caught the eye of my grandmother when she was checking out the book around Thanksgiving. Because of this, my wife and I have invited my grandparents to come and join us for this Lesson 6. This has been how I have been figuring out who to cook for, by family or friends looking at the book and finding something they like, and then I tend to invite them when that menu comes up.

Let me show you the menu from page 37, and then I will share of my thoughts:


Lesson 6


 Tarte a l'Oignon






Bavarois a la Vanille, Coulis de Framboise


I have never cooked mussels before, however enjoy shellfish. I have been reading several recipes for mussels and have found them to be very simple in directions and seemly fast to prepare. The wine selection to cook the mussels with is a local wine that I enjoy from Paso Robles, Niner Savignon Blanc, 2004.

In addition to the Mussels I am extremely excited about both the Onion Tart and the Bavarian Cream, as I think both will be extremely flavorful.  My expectations for this meal are very high.

As I review the entire menu I am not finding as many challenges as with the last meal, however I anticipate a struggle with the pastry dough for the onion tart. I have attempted making homemade pie crusts in the past, and have found it is much easier and produces better results to just buy the frozen crusts. With the lesson and explanation of Pate Brisee and Pate Brisee Sucree on page 38, I hope to be successful.

The dessert is an area where I don't feel too much concern as the Bavarian Cream is based upon Creme Anglaise, which in Lesson 5 I was able to work out how to make it. This is an excellent illustration of good teaching techniques as a technique or lesson from one menu is build upon and extended in the next meal. It allows for practicing the same techniques multiple times, while adding new skills each time. It should also provide some immediate feedback as to whether my abilities are improving or need additional practice.

My final thoughts on this meal include the fact that most ingredients seem readily available and should not provide much trouble in purchasing; I have selected the wine to cook with; have the guests chosen; and should be cooking next weekend. All seems to be in place for another great meal.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Lesson 5: Lessons Learned

The lessons from menu 5 are Mayonnaise and Creme Anglaise.

As the instructions on pg. 31 note "Mayonnaise is very easy to make if you follow a few rules." I would agree that mayonnaise was easy to make if you follow the rules and have a third hand. So I would suggest, don't make mayonnaise alone. Instead find someone to pour the oil for you while you whisk. If you are so inclined, they could also give you a whisk break when your arm is tired.

The rules that are so helpful would be to bring everything to room temperature before beginning and adding the oil drop by drop until the sauce begins to emmulsify. Then adding the rest more quickly is just fine.

As for the Creme Anglaise, I wrote about my failed first attempt in the previous post. I would say the lessons that I took from making this are that the temperature tollerance of creme anglaise is much lower than a boil and the best judge for me on being done was that the frothy top caused by whisking the milk into the egg yolks dissapeared. This will be extremely helpful as through menu 8 there will be a need to make creme anglaise for various desserts.

The additional lessons that were pretty evident to me are:

1. Cleaning whole fish is not my strength.
2. I am improving my skills in some of the following ways:
-I feel better at finding fresh ingredients at a variety of stores, most notably having success this time at Trader Joe's.
-My knife skills are improving as evidence in the salad.
-My ability to plan and execute a more complex meal has improved.
3. I am continually excited and impressed with the flavor of the dishes and my desire for French cuisine continues to increase. This was a close second, to the leg of lamb, in terms of a flavor and a really well made meal.

I still need to work on a few things, in particular cleaning fish. I would also like to increase my speed in the kitchen without having the quality of my work suffer. My photographic skills need to be worked on. However overall I continue to be very excited about all of the things that I am learning. 

I also feel that by sharing with others (and everyone sharing their thoughts and comments with me) has been an invaluable experience as well. I guess what I am trying to say, is that by blogging I have found an additional learning experience that so far has exceed my expectations. So thanks for reading, and thank you even more to those who have shared their suggestions and comments.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Lesson 5: Cooking and Eating

Summer Harvest Salad

Lesson 5 was by far the most complex meal. It was very labor intensive, involving many diffferent steps for each item, and a great deal of time for me to make. It challenged me on many different levels, but also helped reveal many skills that I have learned over the past few months.

I started cooking on Friday night by making the Sponge Cake. My wife was so excited about it that she wanted to eat the cake right away, but I made her wait. Here's a quick picture, as you can see I stacked the cakes instead of keeping them separate.

Sponge Cakes Stacked Up Ready to Eat!

Saturday I knew for sure that by 2pm I had to have the beans for the cassoulete started for a 4:30-5pm meal. The early meal time was to allow plenty of time to eat and enjoy the company of my parents and grandparents before it got too late. Instead of waiting for 2pm, I decided to do a little bit of work in the morning.

I started with the Creme Anglaise, which proved to be both exciting and challenging. I liked seeing the eggs and sugar turn such pale yellow and become smooth and silky.

Stiring the Creme Anglaise

When I added the hot milk and return the pan to the stove over low heat, I was surprised that it was frothy on top, but as I stired the foam on top started to dissapear. At that point I was thinking that I had no idea what consistency the end results would be. Thinking that it would be thicker, I overcooked this first attempt. I didn't know it was bad until I had strained the liquid and it was cooling. There was clear evidence that the milk had gotten too hot because it had curdled a bit and was no longer silky smooth. I decided to make a new batch, but instead of throwing it away I figured it would be worth trying to use it to freeze and make ice cream. If it doesn't work, I will just throw it out; if it works, I can enjoy some ice cream!

Next I started on prepping all of the parts of the salad, thinking if I had everything done before hand it would be easy to assemble once it was time to eat. I blanched and peeled the tomatoes, sliced the celery, blanched and cut the green beans, broke down and soaked the cauliflower in vinegar, and prepped the artichokes. All of this took a lot longer than expected, so I was glad that I got started early.

It took me almost as much time to wrestle the trout from this:

Whole Trout--Just Starting Out

to this:

What's Left of the Trout

and this:

Leftovers from the Trout

This helped ruled one possible future career--fishmonger.

I did decide not to follow the directions exactly because I didn't want to keep the skin on. I was most concerned about the bones and skin, but the scales aren't fun to remove. So rather than following the directions, I decided to do my best to fillet the fish before cutting it into 1 inch pieces. You can see the results above...not so good. It made me worry about having enough fish, but this was not a problem. I was also planning to use all of leftovers to make a nice fish broth, but was frustrated and didn't want to see the fish anymore so I just threw it all out before remembering to save it for broth. I am kicking myself now because I know that I don't normally have the opportunity to make fish stock, and I don't like seeing the picture now of everything that I wasted. 

At this point I had most of the prep work done and needed to do the cooking part. I had time to take a break, relax and think everything through. At 2pm I again started back up by getting the beans boiling with a clove studded onion and a boutique garne. For the first part of boiling then simmering the beans for 1.5 hours, I proceeded to make other elements of the dish including the onion, garlic and tomato mixture.

I also got the artichokes completely ready and into the boiling water at the correct time. Despite having so many elements to each dish, I felt pretty controlled and relaxed going through the process one thing at a time.

Right before everyone arrived I had almost everything for the salad ready to assemble, plate and eat. The cassoulet just needed the fish cooked and then everything assembled, and then it would go into the oven for 15min. I was feeling pretty good, except for one thing...the mayonaise.

I knew for sure that I would be more successful with a third and fourth hand, so I had encouraged my wife to help me with this step. At the time however she was unavailable. Just in time, I was in luck that my sister and her family came by to visit with my grandparents. Her son, my nephew is someone that I have cooked with before and know that he likes helping out in the kitchen (I think he knows that you get to taste everything when you do the work, and I encourage that for sure). So he helped me both with slicing and cooking the scallops and then the mayonaise.

He did a great job of separating the eggs, and whisking together everything up to the point that you need to add the oil. Then we worked together as I whisked he added the oil drop by drop. Pretty soon it was starting to look like mayonaise and my arm was getting tired. He took a turn at whisking as I poured. He finished off the mayonaise by whisking in the white vinegar.

He then mixed together the vegetables for the salad, cleaned the artichokes and endive, plated the endive and artichoke hards and then I mixed in the mayonaise. The recipe for the mayonaise was pretty large and I didn't want to use so much in the salad, therefore I do have quite a bit of leftovers.

We then plated the dish together. As for plating, I think this is my best presentation yet!

Final Plating of Summer Harvest Salad

As for eating it, I thought it was excellent as well. The mayonaise was heavier than a vinegarette, but much lighter than I expected. All of the vegetables were perfectly sized, the artichokes tasted great, and the endive makes a great little boat to fill up and eat from, adding crunch to each bite.

When my wife saw the dish she thought that it had shrimp in it (the tomatoes with the mayonaise have a slightly pink look). She was dissapointed that it didn't as she has been wanting me to make her shrimp lately. When we were eating, I commented that this salad would actually be pretty good with shrimp in it, while my dad though some Ahi would also go well. Either one I think would compliment this dish well, and could be a meal in itself.

I like having everything prepared and ready to go because it allows me to sit and enjoy the meal as well. As we were eating the salad, the cassoulet was heating up in the oven, just enough to brown the bread crumbs on top and heat everything through. This was the ideal time between the first and main courses.

I cleared the salad plates, plated the main course with my wife's help and then returned to the table. The cassoulet was warm, much heartier than I expected, but definitely not too heavy that it couldn't be eaten. I could taste and find the three fish--trout, lobster tail, and scallops--based upon their texture, and I think the beans and tomatoes were perfect.

I don't think I would have been graded very high by an expert because my beans were mushy (cooked, or rather overcooked, to the point where they didn't retain their shape). This was quite alright with me because their texture was soft and you could taste the flavor very well.

In my focus on plating, eating, and enjoying the company, I didn't get a snapshot of either the dish in the pan or on the plate. If you own Le Cordon Bleu at Home you will notice that they typically have only one picture per meal, and the cassoulet happens to be the dish for this meal (pg. 29). The pictures are rarely enough to help me with cooking or plating, which of course adds to the mystery and excitement of every dish.

The dessert was last but of course not the least of the meal. Here is a picture of one slice topped with the Creme Anglaise (as you can see my photography skills are not improving too much...I mean I couldn't even get the plate in the center of the picture...yikes).

Sponge Cake with Creme Anglaise

The cake was more dense than I had imagined, and was complimented well with the Creme Anglaise to soak into it. As suggested in the recipe, it would also be great with fresh fruit. This was a pretty easily executed cake, which is in all thoughts very versatile. I think it wouldn't be too much trouble to make again.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Lesson 5: Shopping

Trout ready to be cleaned up

It's been awhile, too long to be exact.

I haven't posted in the last two weeks because I haven't cooked a meal since Lesson 4 at the beginning of December. This is a direct result of my over confidence that everything would fall in to place, my lack of focus and problem-solving, my first encounter with difficult to find ingredients, the holidays and holiday travel, and there was a weekend of illness thrown in.

All of these should not be excuses, and I am not letting myself off the hook, but instead hoping this will speed my desire to cook the next few lessons.

Here's what happened during my shopping experience:

1. I went to an expert to get fish and he thought it would be no problem (by went, I mean called).
2. I waited to hear back, without following up...left town, enjoyed the holidays, and then forgot about it for a bit.
3. When I was ready to get moving on cooking I was busy with work and couldn't find time during normal business hours to visit the fish place, so I dragged myself to the grocery store.
4. The grocery store was actually very helpful. They called the wholesaler while I waited and found out that monkfish and whiting were not available (I am assuming the fish guy never got back to me because this was the case, or the fact that my email address may have been incorrectly communicated to him). They suggested two substitutes (lobster tail meat and trout) and ordered the trout to be delivered in 2 days.

I left kicking myself, thinking I should have asked about a substitute a month ago. The substitutes, although more pricey, are readily available and will make for a fine meal. What I learned from this is that I need to be more resourceful with my problem solving, asking for substitute options right away and considering using the fresh ingredients when available rather than sticking only to what the menu directs.

These words of wisdom ring true regarding the artichokes as well. As mentioned in the last post, I thought that creating a summer salad in January may not provide me with the freshest ingredients, however I had already seen artichokes in the store. Unfortunately when I returned there weren't any more. I was able to find them at a much higher price at another grocery store.

There were two highlights of my shopping experience this time. First I felt successful for the first time shopping at Trader Joe's. I have sort of scooted around the point before, but so many people that I know just love the store. I have struggled to find what I needed, but changed my frame of reference this time. Instead of going in expecting to find everything on my list, I made it my first stop and whatever I didn't find I knew I could go somewhere else. This helped alleviate the stress of not finding everything on my list, and made for a much more enjoyable experience. I was even able to do a little comparison shopping and found they had some great things that were more reasonably priced than most other stores, milk and balsamic vinegar were the two that stand out (neither of which I needed for this menu).

The second, and personally more enjoyable, was that I had my mom to join me on the shopping trip for the fish and last few items. She did a fantastic job of pushing the cart, and was a bit surprised by the price of the lobster tail meat. She was also very helpful finding things. I am sure she will enjoy the meal even more, having been there to shop for everything with me.

Shopping done, ready to cook!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Lesson 5: Menu

Happy New Year!

I am looking forward to Lesson 5 because I don't normally cook and eat fish. It is not something that I dislike, just something that I don't usually buy and cook at home. I also don't normally order fish when we eat out, although my wife and I enjoy going out for sushi and often order crab cakes when we see them on a menu. I also really like calamari, however other than that, I normally select other items to cook at home or to order off a menu. I would really like to find good home fish recipes that would open myself and my wife to eating more fish, and something about the Fish and White-Bean Stew gives me hope.

Here is the menu for Lesson 5, found on pg. 29:


Lesson 5


Salade Messidor



Cassoulet de Poissons



Biscuit de Savoie, Creme Anglaise


In my last post I mentioned that timing may be an issue with finding fesh ingredients, mostly focussed on the fish. I have done some initial research, and Mike at Olde Porte Fisheries has assured me that it should be no problem getting whiting, monkfish and for Lesson 6, fresh mussels. This again is someone that has been extremely helpful and willing to share information with me, for which I am very thankful. My research was done the week before Christmas and since then I have yet to follow up again regarding the fish. I will be doing that this week and hopefully cooking this weekend or next.

The other timing issue would be that the first course of this menu is Summer Harvest Salad, and I will be enjoying this in the middle of winter (if you call it winter when it doesn't snow and everyone, including myself, has been complaining about it being "cold" when the highs are in the 50's and lows in the 30's-40's). I am not too worried about the ingredients for the salad, as I have already seen places to buy most, if not all of the ingredients.

As for the unknown, I am curious and excited about the Sponge Cake with Creme Anglaise. The desserts have definitely been a highlight. As an extension from the sorbet I might be curious enough to double the amount of Creme Anglaise, so that I could freeze some to make ice cream. I have also noticed that I will be making the Creme Anglaise as a base for Bavarian Cream in Lesson 6, a Strawberry Bavarian Cream in Lesson 7, and Creme Anglaise again in Lesson 8, so in the next few recipes I can expect a lot of practice.

In addition to the Creme Anglaise, the other lesson will be to make mayonnaise. Page 31 starts by saying "mayonnaise is very easy to make", which is far enough for me to read to not freak out (even though the rest of the sentence reads "if you follow a few rules").  Following directions, I can handle that, so mayonnaise should be no problem...right?

Can't wait for the fish to arrive!