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.