Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Look Ahead

I am one of those people that is always looking to the future.  Not in a 'i'm dissatisfied with my life and can't wait for things to get better' way.  I'm actually incredibly happy and blessed with what I have - a beautiful child, a loving husband, a good career.  Its much more of a 'I have all of this excess energy and want to accomplish all of these amazing things in my life and am always setting goals' way.

To that end, i've been thinking about what I will do in a year when i've finished The French Laundry and hosting my little parties.  I love cooking for people.  I'll still have dinner parties - maybe with prettier dishes and place settings (I think about this all the time now, but don't really have the money to spend on this stuff with the cost of the ingredients that go into TFL).  I've considered the idea of maybe cooking all of Keller - Bouchon, Ad Hoc, Under Pressure (experimenting with sous vide would be pretty awesome, although it might be a stretch to convince hubby that I *need* an immersion circulator).  I was catching up on my blog list today and saw that Michael Ruhlman, the amazing author of The French Laundry (as well as all of the other Keller cookbooks from what I understand), is doing the Bouchon Bakery Cookbook - so that could be added to the list.  I've toyed with the idea of training for a triathlon or marathon - there are times when I spend as much time cooking as I would training - but i'm much better at eating than running... so the cooking Keller thing may be more desirable.  On the other hand, I do like instant gratification, or at least finishing things as fast as possible... and four more cookbooks seem like they would take an awfully long time.

What would you want to cook through?  Or what other big self-improvement projects have you considered?  What goals do you have for yourself?  Am I crazy to think I can take on all of Keller?

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Moment of Silence

My mac, with all of my pretty food pictures, crashed.  Crashed hard, like the hard drive died.  *A moment of silence for all of the lost photos, documents, planning, and music*

 Mac is currently sitting at the apple store, awaiting a new boot drive... so no new posts until he's back.  And some of those posts may or may not have pictures, depending on what we are able to recover from the drive (i'm decent about backing stuff up, but I haven't backed any of my French Laundry pictures, boo).

In the meantime, I had another dinner on Saturday, and i'm really zipping through the book.  20% down!  And, really more like 25%, considering that the blini will all be done at once.  Yippee, I might actually do this!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thursday Night: Cinnamon Ice Cream and Cookies

Trust me, its how all of our Thursday nights should end.

Cinnamon Ice Cream

You know how I was looking forward to the cake?  I was looking forward to the cinnamon ice cream even more.  And it did not disappoint.  And it was easy.  And I have an ice cream maker, and have discovered that making ice cream is pretty easy.  So what i'm saying is... I foresee at least 5 pound of fat creeping around my stomach due to the crazy amounts of cinnamon ice cream that I foresee making and eating.

So, getting around to making it:

I just put the cream, milk, cinnamon stick (which was split in 2), a container of egg yolks, and some sugar in a big saucepan, and let the cinnamon 'infuse' for 30 minutes.

Then I strained it.

And then it was done!  (well, except needing to chill and be put into the ice cream maker)

The custard base tasted like the milk from cinnamon toast crunch, except without the weird residue.  It was so good, I literally could not keep myself out of the pan.  To the point where I was licking it to get the last little speck stuck in the corner.  Mmmm....

Cookies for the Veloute:

The veloute is cleverly cooked on cookies, which makes it a lot easier to slide on and off the cookie sheet.  The cookies seemed like they were going to be a giant pain, due solely to the presence of rolling and cutting utensils (I hate rolling things), but they really weren't too bad.  [i'm totally lying here, they were a giant pain, but the big glass of wine I had while cooking make it a lot better]

So, the dough itself was pretty easy: just combine everything in a mixer.

Then I had to roll it out on a silpat:

Then freeze it (getting more obnoxious... putting cookie sheets in my freezer is not easy):

Then cook it enough to thaw it out, and then cut the cookies:

And then cook them some more.  Done at last!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Artichokes Barigoule

Whenever I think of an artichoke, my dad's constant saying of 'okie doki, artichokie' pops into my head.  So forgive me in advance if i'm a little less eloquent than usual - its hard when you think like a five year old.

Something I understand, but dislike immensely, are what I refer to as the "hidden components" in The French Laundry Cookbook.  These are recipes - things that require actual preparation, sometimes lots of it - thrown in amongst the ingredients.  I have learned to read (and think) very carefully as I look through recipes and make grocery and prep lists, because its easy to lose track of them... shooting you  One of the many "hidden components" of the Pan Roasted Striped Bass entree is artichoke barigoule.  Luckily, I actually noticed this one (as opposed to, say, the vegetable stock I inadvertently ignored in this recipe).  Good thing, since it took a fairly long time - at least 2 hours total.

First, I had to butcher (or whatever you want to call removing the hearts - trust me, butcher is the right word for me) all of the artichokes.  It was messy, and resulted in several puncture wounds from the artichoke spikes.

If you are good at removing artichoke hearts, then the rest is no big deal.  Just softened some aromatics in some olive oil, added the artichokes, cooked for a bit, then added a mixture of stock and wine to braise.  If you are not good at removing artichoke hearts, you are tired, have a backache, and are rather cranky by this point.

I was supposed to make a bouquet garni, but couldn't, since my leeks somehow walked away between the grocery store and my house.  I swear, I have terrible luck with losing things i've paid for at the store.  [amusing aside: I asked Brandon to go out to my car and see if he could find my leek.  "Your what?  Where do you have a leak?"  "In my trunk, I think."  "Why do you think you have a leak in your trunk?"  "Because I can't find it here."  "What?  How do you bring a leak inside?"  "Umm... by carrying it the grocery bag."  "What?  How do you buy a leak?"  (getting irritated, since I think he's just being passive agressive) "at the store... OH... the VEGETABLE leek."  "oh, that makes a lot more sense than what I was thinking."  I can't even imagine how this would go if we spoke something that is actually dependent on tone, like Chinese].

Anyways, after pouring the liquid in, you are supposed to cover with a towel.  The idea of that kinda grosssed me out... until I remembered that my grandma had given me tea towels forever ago.  It was perfect!

After braising, I removed the artichokes, strained the liquid, and poured the liquid over the artichokes in a container.

The instructions said that by cooking and then braising, you would avoid discoloration.  I think I must not have done something right, because they were still kind of discolored.  It may have been the roughly 15 minutes it took for me to butcher each.  Regardless, it smelled divine, and the veggies that were supposed to be discarded made a delicious dinner.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Yum: Chocolate Veloute

My very first endeavor for this dinner was the VERY best part of it (in my humble opinion): the chocolate veloute.

For those not into fancy french words for dessert, a veloute is basically a chocolate lava cake.  Every time i've flipped through The French Laundry Cookbook, i've stopped and drooled over this cake.  Not only does it sound absolutely delicious, it looked like a giant bowl of heaven.

And even better: it was fairly easy (and not that time consuming, if you count actual working time) to make the cake.

One thing is that you need to be pretty well prepared, since you have to melt the chocolate and make a meringue-like egg white mixture at the same time.  And this totally looks like the kitchen of someone who is well prepared, right?

[seriously, it bugged the crap out of me that my kitchen was this filthy, so I was trying to do dishes simultaneously.  My dishwasher AND garbage disposal were broken the week before, so it took a good amount of time to get through a weeks worth of dishes that piled up while we were trying to get both of these things fixed]

Back to cake: first you combine egg whites and sugar over hot water.

Then, while melting the chocolate, sugar, cocoa, and some other stuff (baking soda?  flour?  something white), I tossed the egg whites in the mixer and turned it up.  Just as the chocolate was melted, I had meringue!

I stirred a gelatin sheet into the melted chocolate (which I think was a little more dry than it was supposed to be.. luckily the gelatin water helped loosen it up a little).

I stirred in some meringue to temper, then folded in the rest.

And then I tasted it.  I don't recommend tasting it before getting it into the ring molds.... because I COULD.  NOT.  STOP.  eating it.  Absolutely no willpower.

I slipped it into the tiny spot in my freezer that I had so painstakingly cleared out... then realized the ring molds were too tall to fit.  Ten minutes and a complete freezer reorganization later, these were on the way to being frozen lava cakes.  Naturally I rewarded myself for all this hard work by licking the bowl.  Then I went and collapsed into bed in a sugar coma, ignoring the rest of my work.  But its ok, because I had lava cakes, and who would complain if I just served these for dinner???

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


The other day at Costco, I was just wandering down the aisle (looking for blood orange juice for the hub-sters)... and I wandered right into the Vitamix road show display.

After sending a text message to said hub-ster (who was busy watching basketball or engaged in some other man-like activity at home) asking if I could buy myself my birthday gift a month early, and after interpreting his lack of response as an implicit 'yes,' this bad boy jumped into my cart to go to his new home:

Ah, its so much better than my old, broken blender that was sure to become even more broken as this project progresses.

After only my second use, I managed to break the tamper.  Go me!  The best part is that the co-worker who I borrowed the Vitamix from in order to make beet juice mocked me for a good five minutes for breaking it already... and using it in a way i'm not supposed to... then broke his the next morning.  Karma exists, just saying.

I've made more smoothies and protein shakes and regular shakes in the last week than I have in the last two years, which is a Good Thing (well, except the milkshakes).  Yay Vitamix!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Dinner 4: Its on...

Actually, i'm writing this after we had dinner, so technically its over, but i'll be writing about it during the coming week.

It's funny, i'm starting to internally think about these dinners in 'Friends' titles.  As in, 'The One where I almost set the kitchen on fire.'  This dinner will be known as 'The One with the Ravioli.'  Note the intentional capitalization.

In other internal musings, i'm noticing that this is actually getting easier.  I don't know if i'm just becoming a more skilled cook, or if I just happened to pick an easy menu, or if i'm getting better at reading all of the directions ahead of time (unlikely given my two spur of the moment grocery store trips)... but its losing the freak-out aspect before I do unfamiliar things.  Now its more like 'Oh, i've kind done something like that, no biggie.'  Hopefully that will carry over to the pigs head.

Now, the menu!

Canape - English Pea Soup with Truffle Oil and a Parmesan Crisp
First - Sweet Potato Agnolotti with Sage Cream
Entree - Pan roasted striped bass with artichoke ravioli and a bunch of other stuff (I don't actually have TFL beside me as i'm writing this)
Dessert - Chocolate Veloute with Cinnamon Stick Ice Cream

I've drooled over the last item ever since I first picked up the book.  This dinner kind of got rearranged into a going away dinner for a friend who decided to pack everything away, quit her job, and move to Italy (my response: 'Congratulations, its all so very Eat Pray Love of you.'  And utter jealousy.)  With the rearranging, I decided that the most spectacular looking and sounding dessert was in order.  And ohmygod it was so good.  More on that soon! 

Friday, March 4, 2011

Ad Hoc: Chicken Pot Pie

Unlike the asparagus salad-thing, this was a giant pain in the ass.  I realized this as soon as I saw "simmer each of the vegetables in separate saucepans for 8-10 minutes.."  This said so... nonchalantly... could only mean a giant pain-in-the-behind recipe.

And it was.  BUT.  It was worth it.  And, in Keller's defense, if I had actually *read* (rather than skimmed) the recipe all the way through, I would have done things in a different order and saved roughly an hour of time.

Earlier in the day, I made pie crust and stuck it in the freezer.  Then forgot about it.  Tip #1 in not taking 3 1/2 hours to make pot pie: don't freeze your crust all the way through and then take it out when its time to roll the dough.

The filling: a bunch of veggies and some shredded chicken.  I had a thing of pre-made frozen shredded chicken which was a giant time-saver.  Yeah, the opposite of my fancy-free-range-hippy chicken from when I roasted a chicken, but sometimes you have to make do with what you have.

So, as I alluded to earlier, I peeled the carrots/onions (this wasn't mentioned anywhere, but I figured no one likes onion skins), cut these and the potatoes up, and boiled/simmered them one by one with a bay leaf, thyme sprig, and eight peppercorns.  Yes, EXACTLY 8.  Oh, and I had to cut and blanch some celery.  I realized early on that (1) I didn't have enough saucepans to do them at once and (2) it would take even long if I did them all at once, so I basically cooked each as I finished cutting and dumped them on a cookie sheet to cool.

I moved onto the next "step" in the instructions, the bechamel.  Obviously, i've made this before.  I did not think about the fact that it needed to cook for a total of 45 minutes - the same amount of time it took me to do all the veg - or else I would have started with that.  Tip #2 - do the bechamel first.  Then prep the veg.

The roux:

About the same time I started the bechamel, I realized my crusts were currently doubling as hockey pucks in the freezer, so I took those out to thaw.  Then I made toddler vegetables and chicken with a "cheese sauce" that consisted of me stealing some bechamel base (which was nowhere near thick), tossing in some gouda and melting it.  It was rather grainy, but he didn't mind.  Enough that he asked for seconds, and thirds, and I ended up just pouring a spoonful of bechamel over the veggies/chicken for his last serving.  Upon simmering and thickening, I strained into a measuring cup and tossed in the herbs and spices.

After baby was in bed, I rolled out the dough -

- then put in dish (one upside: no need for re-chilling the crust, since everything was done and it was still pretty cold).

I adore pie crust, so I wasn't cutting any away.  Instead I just brushed some extra egg on it and rolled it up.  I also poked the crust with my nails several times, whoops.

In the oven it went:

And out it came, an hour later.  As you can see, bechamel leaked through where my nails punctured.  Plus, it probably should have been a little thicker, but I didn't care to wait any longer to get the damned thing in the oven.

It.  Was.  Amazing.  The crust was buttery and flakey and a little more savory than pie crust usually is (maybe because the cream had soaked in?)  SO GOOD.  I ate seconds even though I was bursting because it was so good I didn't want to stop.  Mmm....

So, timesavers for anyone that tries this:  don't forget about your dough and over-chill (30 minute savings).  Start with the bechamel (45 minute saving).  And have enough saucepans on hand that you can cook 5 things at once (at least 20 minute savings).  With those, this is a reasonable dinner.  Otherwise... save it for a Sunday where you can cook allll day if you want.  And still have time to do the 40 million dishes you have spread over your sink and kitchen counters because your dishwasher broke.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Ad Hoc: Asparagus with Poached Egs, Prosciutto, and Croutons

This recipe, more than any other, fascinated me every time I thumbed by its picture.  As i've discussed before, i'm scared of poached eggs.  I had never eaten a poached egg before I embarked on this project.  Technically, I still hadn't eaten a poached chicken egg until I made this.  I've always been grossed out by runny yolks and salmonella and overly bright colors.  Poached eggs were the biggest offenders.  The SMELL of them made me gag.  I even used to make my dad make me scrambled eggs for our christmas/mother's day eggs benedict.  (sometimes I wonder how my parents tolerated feeding me as a kid)

Until.  Until this.  The picture that I kept coming back to.  I decided it was time to try a poached egg.

And you know what?  I DO like green eggs and ham... oh, wait.. poached eggs.  I couldn't eat a lot, they are too rich for me to even try, but I just LOVED this.  To bits.  So much that I even want to try real eggs benedict now (I still haven't figured out how i'm going to break this to my dad).

Not only was it delicious, it was easy.  Like 30 minutes to table easy.  At least as long as asparagus is in season, this may be a go-to for quick dinners.

Now... enough talk, lets see some pictures!  (even though I say this sequentially, I was really pretty much doing this all at once)

First, I ripped up some bread, heated up garlic oil (that I luckily still had on hand from the lamb), and made croutons.  I overcooked them a teensy bit - they cooked quick! - but they were still buttery-garlicky deliciousness.

Next, I poached the eggs.  And did a remarkably good job for such a newbie - no broken eggs!  My only issue was that Brandon bought extra large eggs instead of large, so I had to poke them around a bit to get the eggs around the yolk to cook through.

Finally, I threw some olive oil, salt, and pepper on the asparagus and grilled them in my grill pan.

Because I was in a hurry, I didn't put the eggs in an ice-bath, cut the white "tails" off, or reheat the eggs.  But they were fine anyways.

"Artfully" arranged on each of our plates after all of the elements were done, along with a little torn up prosciutto, a drizzle of balsamic, and a sprinkle of fleur de sel.

The verdict:  Brandon cleaned his plate.  I savored half, then said if I ate anymore I would be sick... so Brandon polished off my other half.  Like i've said before: human garbage disposal makes me feel better about food waste!