September 2009


DSC_0013I have news for you.  Rabbits are not nearly as cute with their skin off as they are with it on.  This, however, makes it much easier to guillotine them with a cleaver.  Luckily when they are delivered their ears and whiskers are also missing.  They arrive as skinned rabbits, and look somewhat like praying fetuses.  Now that we’re done with that lovely image.  You begin by removing the nasty bits visible in their stomach cavity and chest.  This is also the time to remove and clean the kidneys and liver of their membranes, but set those aside for some innard fun later.  The hindlegs are removed first; this is a good time to separate the rabbit from the waist down.  Chop the legs off entirely, then worry about cutting them pretty.  The saddle is exactly what it sounds like, the mid-section of the rabbit which you separate from the body, leaving the bones attached.  So you have a spinal section and two flaps that look like butterfly wings, only made of rabbit flesh.  Anyway, brush the saddle with mustard, add a sprig of rosemary, and pull the wings over to cover that.  Tie it all together in five, not too tight, not too loose, knots.  So you’ll also need to remove the front legs.  For the hind legs you’ll want to break off the lowest joint and cut through.  Lastly, the rabbit’s ribs.  For the saddle you’ll want to count four ribs from the bottom and separate there.  For the ribs, count five ribs, mind you they get much smaller as you continue towards the neck, and are much closer together.  So now you have the spine, and five ribs in either direction with skin on them.  Try very hard not to break any of the rib bones, because 1 it looks stupid if you do, and 2 the next step is much harder.  Set all your carcass, seemingly trash bits, aside for the meat to cook with later.  Break those bones up with your cleaver to let out all the wonderful rabbit flavor.

Next, carefully cut off the white tips (cartilage) from each of the ribs, and begin to peel with your hand the skin back over the bones.  If you can get it started it’s not that difficult.  I worked three ribs at a time.  Once you get it started the meat will slide right down.  Leave it attached to the bone.  Heat some oil in a pan, and brown the meat (lightly dusted in flour).  Set it aside once browned, but do not cook it all the way through.  Add your carcass bits, shallots, and garlic to the pan and brown those.  Once they do, deglaze the pan with white wine, add a little water, and place the cooked meat atop the mixture, placing the pan in the oven for about 40 minutes (I removed mine at 35).

The rest of the dish was simple.  Turned potatoes (cylindrical) cooked in a cast iron skillet until browned around the edges, then strained.  When they were warmed back up before plating, you add a little butter, finely chopped parsley, and garlic.  The sauce is made by straining the rabbit juices that come from the oven pan when the meat is done.  Allow this to reduce on the stove on fairly high heat before adding some cream, whisking it in, removing that from the heat (important) before adding 2 tablespoons dijon mustard.  Season it, mine just needed a pinch or two of salt.DSC_0001

The rabbit tasted delicious, and finally I turned out a sauce I was really happy with.  Tonight the leftovers are going into a burrito: rabbit, mustard, mesclun, apples.  In pastry we made a cake with pears, almost, black currants, and a meringue topping. What can I say?  Next to cuisine, pastry class is a paid vacation.  Even when the chef yells I can never get too worked up about it, by then I’m usually too exhausted to anyway.  The cake went well I think.  I’m getting seriously better at always having my station organized, and about being organized in my mind, and thinking ahead to the task that comes next.  The cake was pretty fantastic, and I didn’t even think I would like it.  I had about four bites and trashed it though because none of my usually recipients were around, and I didn’t want to accidentally consume it in its entirety.  Well, tomorrow we’re making Poached Hake Steaks and Hollandaise.  Hake, if you didn’t know, was the grotesque fish that played the shrieking eel in The Princess Bride.  Seriously, google a picture of those nasty things.  Luckily, I’m pretty sure we are getting ours tomorrow with the head already removed.  Tune in tomorrow as I already have a seriously punny name for my entry title.

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To bring you up to date, Thursday we made a Dacquoise.  Basically we made two cakes, then topped them with almonds and powdered sugar (sucre glace).  The difficult part of it was all the whisking.  The egg whites had to be whisked for a long time to develop the perfect texture.  Then the yolks we didn’t use had to be whisked until the boiling sugar we had added to it became cold.  Did you get that?  Whisked until the boiling sugar was cold.  We put the cakes in the oven, and began our praline butter cream, which tasted amazing.  When the praline cream was done we put it into a pastry bag, and let it rest while we learned to make marzipan flowers.  It looked difficult even in demonstration, where everything looks easy, but it was surprisingly simple.  The marzipan was very easy to work with and shape.  We each made a rose, and three leaves to put on top of the cake.  The cakes were hard to get out of their molds without damaging the sides at all because unlike all the other cakes, the mixture that when in was wet, so we did not use butter to grease the molds.  The cake probably tasted good, and I licked copious amounts of praline cream off my hand, all the while resisting the urge to pipe the leftovers straight into my mouth.  I gave it to the dishwasher because in the end decided it wasn’t worth carrying home just to take a picture and have a sliver.  It really seemed too rich to think of eating much more than that.An Attempt

Thursday night I fell asleep and stayed asleep until ten o clock.  When I awoke I removed the mushrooms in my fridge and started practicing.  We had learned we would be turning mushrooms on Friday, and it was impossible to tell how to do it in the demonstration.  But I tried my best.  This is not what they’re supposed to look like as I discovered the next day.  But usually that’s how it works, if I at least try on my own I have a little more composure the next day in practical.  The one that I turned out by plating time looked much better than these.  So we also had to make stuffed chicken, and of course, yet another sauce that fucked us all.  The stuffing for the chicken was made of more chicken, ground up with egg white and cream.  My error occurred in this stage: I did not season the seasoning enough, fail.  Such a small thing can totally ruin the final product.  I mean it tasted fine, but just fine.  The mushrooms had to be cooked on high heat for a short time, then strained, and added to this sauce.  The sauce was made of a little butter and strained juice from the pan the chicken cooked in.  I can never get all the fat out and it makes little bubbles of fat on the plate, gross.  We were also supposed to add cream, but everyone was yelling about how we were out of it and there wasn’t enough, so I didn’t get a chance too.  So yeah, the finished product was not the best, but by that time I just wanted the week to be over, and it was.  We had the rest of Friday off.

yayFriday night, after an all-day nap, I felt refreshed as hell and went out to a party at Hendrik’s, a kid from our group.  I got there later than I intended, but went to the kitchen where people were readying the appetizers they had chosen to bring.  I made dates stuffed with goat or blue cheese and wrapped in the closest thing I could find to bacon.  It ended up being more like prosciutto, but after a few minutes in the oven came out pretty good.  Hendrik made some cheese, tomato, basil concoction in the oven that was fantastic, as were Joanna’s Armenian cheese phyllo things.  So good.  It turned out to be an excellent night complete with Frederico playing the piano and singing for us. Oh yes, a good night.

InjuriousThe market tour was huge fun, mainly because there could be nothing as refreshing as being surrounded by my group full of food nerds, and being taken on a field trip to a French market with them.  They appreciated everything just as I did, and the chef who took us knew just what to point out.  He talked about the difference between the vendors, and how you can tell who has picked their products from a warehouse, who has done it with care, and who has grown their own.  You can tell the latter by their hands, which look a bit like the outside of carrots with dirt sealed into their cracks.  The translator who doesn’t know any food words accompanied us as well, which lent itself to attempting to understand the chef’s French rather than listen to her English, so as not to miss anything.  We visited a fromagerie, and walked past a super-badass pastry shop where some Cordon Bleu kids intern, and also visited the premier ham shop in Paris that won some sort of Ham Trophy a few years back.  We ought to have more ham trophies in the Etats Unis.  That’s right, I said Etats Unis, someone’s French is improving over here, but we’ll get to that in a second.  When we returned to school we had a tasting of some things that the chef had purchased at the market among which was a truly foul tripe, which I couldn’t even sit near once I’d tasted it.  Gross.  The cheese was sublime per usual, and we had a little wine as well, which did not turn out to be such a marvelous help during the practical class that followed.

The recipe was fairly simple, but the two and half hours we were allotted were fully packed.  The chicken had to first be trussed and cleaned, then added to the oven atop some chicken wings and oil.  After one side cooked we added a pan of chopped vegetables, and swirled the liquid about the pan, turning the chicken to its other side.  We cut and boiled the carrots, celery root, daikon radish, and green beans for the artichoke garnish.  Each one cooked at slightly a different rate, and in the end I cooked them all well, but slightly overcooked the radish said the chef.  The green beans had to be handled a little differently and chopped differently, but at the plating all of the vegetables were supposed to be the same length and be rectangular in shape.  The artichokes were fairly simple to turn (at least compared to what we have done since).  All the parts I would normally eat were removed, and you move your knife in a circle around the base, trimming it to shape it.  Then the artichoke is boiled til it is easy to stick a knife into it.  You don’t want it to keep cooking, so you add half the water (not hot) it cooked in to a bowl of cold water, along with the artichoke.  The chicken must be turned again.  Breasts up.  Logical, right?  Use a ladle to spoon the chicken liquid accumulating in the pan over the chicken to keep it moist and delicious.  Once the chicken is done, USE A TOWEL to remove the hot-ass pan from the oven, and remove the chicken carefully with a meat fork by inserting the meat fork into the chicken as to not pierce any of the filets you will later cut.  Put it in a bowl above the burners.  Now take the pan filled with browned veggies, browned chicken wings, and mmmm chicken juice.  You want to pass it through a strainer (une passoire) and into a saucepan, which you will continue to reduce on the stove.  Trash the nasty in the strainer.  Now you can cut your chicken and start to plate it.  Plate using the turned artichoke as a little bowl which you loosely fill with the rectangular, boiled vegetables.  Season and taste the sauce before adding it to the plate.

At the beginning of the pastry practical that same day, my first real injury occurred.  My own fault, really.  Our knife kits have this netted area where mostly things that can’t hurt you belong. My scissors are in there (I have since used a wine cork to stop the end), and were opened.  As I ran my hand up the kit to open the netted flap I jammed my finger up and into the point of the scissor.  Since coming here I’ve learned so much about how you can cut yourself.  The things that was particularly biting about this one, was that it wasn’t superficial it was a puncture wound.  The length of the cut really just shows how far my finger went into the scissor.  Anyway, the chef was quick to attend to it, and I wore a glove taped to my wrist for the remainder of the practical 🙂

PalmsWe made palm cookies, and apple turnovers, both using a puff pastry.  The turned out divine, what can I say?  Once the puff pastry was rolled out, for the Palms, we very simply folded it, sliced it, brushed a little egg wash.  Most importantly though, we did not use any flour once it was rolled out to unstick it, we used sugar to coat it.  For the apple turnovers, we chopped up some apples, cooked them on the stove with cinnamon, vanilla, and butter.  The puff pastry were cut out with little circular molds, then we rolled the rolling pin over the middle of the dough circles, careful not to roll out the edges so that we had some room to seal the turnovers.  Then we scooped in the apple mixture and sealed them with egg wash, added egg wash to the outside, as well as some clean lines with the BACK of the paring knife.Turnovers, hell yes

That evening, after two practical classes, and a demonstration, we were sufficiently exhausted.  Our group went out to grab a beer, but eventually ended up on the Seine watching the Eifel light show, drinking wine under a bridge, and around two in the morning scarfing down the roast chicken and turnovers we had been lugging around with us all night.

Next, let us turn to the Grilled Salmon with Byron Potatoes, and Spinach.  In case you don’t know, Byron is just code for: they taste really good.  First off, we had to peel and boil the potatoes, and in retrospect, I probably should have boiled mine longer.  Then we put them in the oven to dry for a little bit.  We put them through a hand mixer, and added to them a pastry bag.  Then we prepared the Bechamel sauce, mostly cream, milk, butter, flour.  We had to cut some cheese finely as well.  The potatoes were piped onto a baking sheet in a little circle, using a ladle make the potatoes concave, pipe or spoon in the Bechamel, then sprinkle a little cheese to the center.  Then the potatoes were ready to be cooked.  If its any indication of how they turned out, this side dish did not make it home for a picture.

Leftover SalmonThe spinach had to be cooked at a very high temperature for a very short time on the stove in butter, and (apparently in mine) too much salt.  Then strained, and if it’s going to sit for a while, cover it in the strainer with plastic wrap.  The salmon meanwhile was prepared with a little coarse sea salt, and a toothpick to secure the ends.  We grilled it by rubbing just a little oil onto it, cooking one side, then turning it ninety degrees, and waiting for the two lines to appear.  It was finished in the oven. Careful not to burn it.  Also, do not forget to remove the center bone before plating, if it is cooked properly it should be very easy to wiggle free with just a little help from a paring knife.  We each received three salmon steaks, and took them home contentedly for dinner.

In pastry we made Eclairs and Chouxettes.  The chouxettes were extremely simple: prepare a choux pastry, pipe it kind of like a rounder Hershey’s Kiss onto the baking sheet and add gran sucre (big sugar), tapping out the excess.  The eclairs were slightly harder.  They required us to pipe the chous pastry out in the shape of an eclair, bake it, and meanwhile, prepare the cream for the inside.  Once the eclair is ready, poke two or two holes in the bottom of it, and use them to pipe in the cream.  Heat up some fondant, add chocolate, and dip the eclair in, wiping the excess.  Make sure the chocolate is fairly hot otherwise it will come out messy.  I found this out the hard way.  Nevertheless, they were maddeningly tasty.Eclair

Wednesday we made quelque chose that I can not even describe, and not in the usual way, where it’s too good to be true.  This was just kind of weird.  It was a ground pork mixture, with which with mixed sliced, browned ham, cream, and spices.  We scooped that into veal pieces that we flattened with our cleavers, and balled it together.  Then we wrapped that in a strip of fat, and tied it with thread as though it would be opened neath a tree on Christmas morning.  It was first cooked for a few minutes til brown on the stove, then added to the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes.  You can test it by putting your knife into the middle of it and holding the knife to your lips to see if it’s hot.  We also had to cooked glazed onions and carrots.  The carrots first had to be turned, which was, certainly, the most difficult part of this practical.  Just google a turned carrot.  It means the carrot has to be round.  But we did it by first halving the carrot width-wise so one side was flat, and nearly impossible to round, as least without shredding the whole carrot.  For this the turning knife was really effective, and the other concern was how to do this without also accidentally turning one of your fingers.  There were, however, no such losses.  It is truly my failure for not capturing this ridiculous meat concoction with film.

As of yesterday, after a mere month in France, I have internet in my maison.  Thank Christ.  I hope to keep the blog updated daily.  Today’s food, alas, will have to wait until tomorrow since it’s already past my bedtime.  Tune in tomorrow for the Dacquoise cake, Stuffed chicken and turned mushroom with mushroom sauce, and a charming essay entitled “Scraper, How Do I Love Thee?  Let Me Count the Ways.”

A few days without le Internets, and I have much to update. The good news is when I arrived at my door this evening there was a big box sitting outside it. It’s pretty sweet every time I get mail since it means someone knows where I am, and it’s exciting to receive a big box regardless of what country you’re in. I spent the last hour trying to translate the installation guide, and got pretty far before hitting a rough patch. Then finally I translated the line that said it starts working sometime in the ten hours after you install it. So I grabbed my laptop, wrote this entry, and went to the Wi-Fi park for what is hopefully the last time.

Monday we made the Crab Bisque, and started the puff pastry for Wednesday’s cheese sticks. For some reason it likes to chill in the fridge for a while. With some trepidation I showed up in the morning, Epipen and steroid pack in hand. As the assistants, Rafaele and I went to the basement to load the elevator with the food for the day. Upstairs, we unloaded the lift and portioned the food into trays to be shared between two people. The crabs had to be dropped into searing hot olive oil, to be, well, seared. The hotter it is the faster they die. With a wire rack we held them over the sink and rinsed them, trying not to let them escape. By this time they had already been sitting in a fridge for a few days and were fairly subdued. The smell was awful, but they stopped squirming soon after been dropped in the oil. From there it is fairly simple. You let them cook with fish stock, veggies, and tomato paste, which is some of the reason it turns out the color it does. We wrapped the end of a rolling pin in plastic wrap and rammed it over and over again into the pot of crabs to crush their bodies, and release more flavor into the soup. Everything would be strained at the end so we could really go nuts. While the soup was cooking we prepared the puff pastry: just rolling a shit ton of butter into dough, turning it, and rolling again. It had to be rolled four times this day, and another two when actually used. The whipped cream garnish had to be prepared as well so that we could add a spoonful it onto the bisque as a garnish. Luckily I had some friends willing to try my soup and advise me on seasonings, since I couldn’t very well do it myself out of respect for my nasty shellfish allergy. When it was near to being done, I put a plate in the oven for a few minutes to warm it. I ladled the bisque in, topped it with the whipped cream, and added a pinch of paprika for color on top of that. The cream immediately began to dissipate in the soup and made an orange ring where the two met. The chef seemed pleased, and I thanked my lucky stars I had help with the seasoning, as that tends to make it or break a dish, unless you do something really wrong. We also had to make croutons, which came out great, probably due to the fact that I used what I thought was way too much butter. Essentially you slice hard blocks of bread into little cubes and toss them in butter until they brown. So easy, and so good. I may never buy them again.

Wednesday morning we made consommé and cheese sticks. I didn’t know what consommé was before this, and now I’m a big fan. The consommé looked completely disgusting the whole time it was cooking because much of the cooking is called the “clarification.” You simply add a ton of things to it and wait for all of their impurities to cook off without disturbing the soup too much so they do not get reincorporated. You add some vegetables (when I say vegetables in this blog I invariably mean leeks, carrots, onions, and celery), tomato, ground beef, tomato paste, and stock to the pot along with water. The beef gives off much of the impurities and they form like a cloud of vomit at the top of the water. What it should look like is one big cloud, with a naturally forming hole at one point. From this hole you dip the ladle in and drop the soup back over itself. Then you turn your attention to cutting celery, carrots, daikon, and green beans into super tiny cubes to add to the soup once it has been strained. I still have trouble getting them as small as the chef would like sometimes, but I am getting better. The vegetables have to be boiled so they are not crunchy in the soup, but not too boiled. When someone asks in a demonstration how long something should be cooked, the chef always answers, “Until it’s done.” When the soup is ready it has to be strained through a “chinois” lined with paper towels to minimize the damage of this seriously grotesque scum that has formed like a hat on the soup. The bowl should be warmed and the soup served piping hot with the vegetables and a couple sprigs of parsley. In pastry, Wednesday, we made this super-horrendous, mountain of whipped cream piled atop what I think was a cake, though it was a bit hard to tell after all the cream. This cake was called a St. Honore. It consisted of a rolled out piece of dough cut into a circle. Then we made choux pastry, and added it to a pastry bag. We piped it into a spiral on the cake, leaving some room between each line. Using what we had in our bags we piped “shoebuns” right onto the baking sheet, which would later be added in a ring on top of the outermost layer of the cake. Then we beat the cream, and we beat it, and we beat it. It took a while, but was amazing at its completion, to have turned liquid into whipped cream. Hot damn.

While it stayed cool in the fridge, we began to make the caramel for the “shoebuns.” We had been warned that making caramel is pretty much the most dangerous thing you can do in pastry. Once the liquid gets on your skin it sticks to it, is hard to get off, and continues to burn through your skin until you do. After telling us horror stories of Cordon Bleu kids being sent to the hospital with caramel burns, and being injured enough to have to drop out, the chef also said to resign ourselves to it because it will happen. I managed to burn myself probably quicker than most. As I brought the sugar and water to a boil I went to skim it with a ladle (which it was already too hot to be doing), and then as I carried the ladle to the sink I instinctively held my hand under it so it wouldn’t drip on the floor, which it didn’t, rather a drop fell right onto my open palm. Oh yes, it smarts. But at least I was already on my way to the sink. I got it off fast, and will never ever do that again. Several of us allowed the caramel to brown and keep cooking, and therefore burn. The chef was very upset with us, yelling in French, although almost none of the people in our group speak it. We understood through a series of motions that as the caramel approached the appropriate color we were to prepare a bath “d’ eau froid” to stick the saucepan into, by which we would stop the boil. Even after the caramel was off the burner it was still very hot. We carefully dipped the “shoebuns” into the caramel and then onto a baking sheet where the caramel would hard, then we were free to dip the other side and stick it directly onto the cake. Once there was a ring of caramelized “shoebuns” around we put the whipped cream into a pastry bag with a pastry tip of our choice. As the chef did in the demonstration most everyone piled their whipped cream high on the cake. I thought it looked stupid, and tried some other piping thing I wanted to try. The chef said it was well done, but was not high enough. Then yelled at us for taking so long. If I remember correctly he had “displaisir.”

Wednesday night began the first of ten two hour French classes I’ve signed up to take.  They’re geared toward people at the Cordon Bleu who don’t speak French yet, and have to learn it by the time they get to the Superior level.  The class was small, only six of us, and I bet one girl will transfer because it was clearly too easy for her.  We only learned six kitchen utensils, numbers one through ten which I already knew, and how to say introductory things like I’m an American, and I am 22 years old.  i kind of hope next week is more challenging.  Anyway, must go I just got kicked out of the park by a guard, and it’s getting dark.

Tomorrow we have a market tour in the morning, then make apple turnovers, roasted chicken with jus, and turned artichokes. Stay tuned.

As I write this it is pouring cats and dogs outside, which I did not know the meaning of living in California.  Really a horrendous downpour.  It’s kind of cozy though, having to keep the windows closed and pressing my face up against them, and them being so cold.  Today we made the leek puff pastry. There were only two minor muck-ups.  Each week there are two assistants for the cuisine “practical” classes, and two others for the pastry.  Those people are in charge of going down to the basement where everything is prepared, refrigerated, and put into baskets by class.  Superior students stand, and chop for what I assume must be hours.  Huge vats of stock are prepared.  When you find the baskets that is meant for your class you use this shelf elevator machine to send it up to the floor (etage) where your class is cooking.  When the other guy and I went down there we sent up everything but the chicken and veal stocks that we needed to make the sauces.  This became abundantly clear twenty minutes later when everyone was looking around for them.  I ran back down to get them and sent up the veal stock and all the chicken stock I could find, which was clearly not enough.  The elevator had already gone up by the time I found more so I just carried the stockpot full up three flights of stairs.  When I arrived slightly sweaty on the third etage, Chef Stril was standing at the top wondering why I didn’t use the elevator.  And all I could do was shrug.  I really must learn French.

DSC_0017The rest of the cooking proceeded smoothly except for one minor incident where I confused my burners and dropped a bunch of butter into a pan that had been warming on 6 (the highest setting), thinking it was on 2.  The room (and I’m not exaggerating), the room filled with smoke and cause me to tear.  The assistant who was helping us dealt with it quickly, and Stril from the next room, did not seem to catch on that it was me.  Other than that, I managed to turn out a really nice brown sauce from straining the veal stock so many times.  I remembered to warm the plate in the oven so it was hot at presentation, and wipe it clean of any stray fingerprints.  The puff pastry rose to perfection, and my sauces cooked nice and thickly so when it came to plating them I was able to draw the lines I wanted on the plate easily.  One of the guys in our group, Enson, shared a tip with me for chopping leeks faster.  After you halve them, chop them only three layers at a time rather then six, and try to flatten them.  At first I thought the leeks were not julienned finely enough, but when they were sautéed and combined with the cream they came out looking just right.  The first batch of eggs I poached was somewhat disappointing, probably because I dumped out some of the water and too much vinegar also spilled out with it.  That’s the real secret to keeping the whites together.  So to the second batch I added a bunch of vinegar and they came out great.  That’s one of the things I’ve learned so far: if you take your time, and even go back and do things right, it makes a huge difference at the end.  The chef’s assistant’s only tip was to add un petit more salt to my white sauce.  It seems that the best way to season things “judiciously,” as they encourage us to do, is to season them as you would to your enjoyment, and then season them above and beyond.  It seems to be the most common complaint from the chefs, that we have not added enough salt to a particular dish.

Later in the day we attended a demonstration for tomorrow’s dish, a crab bisque.  They also presented a cauliflower cream soup, an asparagus cream soup, and the beginnings of consommé, the last of which we will soon have to make.  I was relieved to find that despite my severe shellfish allergy, the vapors (even from the front row) did not bother me.  I can only hope I am so lucky tomorrow.  We have to throw the crabs live into a very hot stockpot of olive oil.  The chef kept teasing like he was going to toss a live crab at us today.  The smell was seriously nauseating to me, but there appeared to be no real reaction.  Needless to say I skipped the tasting.  I have packed in my bag an Epipen, allergy pills, and steroid pills that I can pop in case of an actual emergency.  Also, I wrote out a note in French to the chef that says: Chef, I’m allergic to shellfish like mad.  If I leave the room it’s because I’m having trouble breathing.  I do hope it translates.

DSC_0012After the demonstration we went to a pastry “practical,” in which we made the Ghetto Basques.  Gateau apparently just means cake, and this one in particular, is named for the part of Spain.  The dough was exceedingly hard to roll out, and I think we all agreed on this point.  I could not flour my surface enough to keep the dough from thinning and sticking to it.  The first layer of the cake was alright.  The dough had to be tucked inside a buttered mold, then filled with the custard cream from a pastry bag.  Here was my only error.  In the demonstration, so according to the recipe I’d written out, the chef spread the custard, once it was cooked, to a tray and refrigerated it.  What I should have done was add it to a pastry bag and let it sit in the fridge like that.  It became slightly hardened in the shape it was in, and hard to squirt out as the spiral within the cake that it was meant to be.  The crust formed very nicely, and my only was regret was not being able to find someone to give it to at the end of the day.  Because of the weather, my homeless homie was absent from his usual spot.

Chef Cotte, the pastry chef who normally does our demonstrations, speaks broken English, which he incorporates into his lectures. Sometimes I think he would be better suited to a comedian (and I don’t even understand most of what he says). He’s just one of those people that really makes use of his face, and is constantly goofing off, and pretending like he’s sweating over the mountainous task that is rolling out pastry dough. I can’t describe it in a way that does him justice. Some of my favorite expressions of his are: “I never see as beautiful in all my life” (in reference to various desserts people cooked) and his great combination of porquoi (why in French) and why, “por-why.” Some people in the class ask inane questions. Some more than others. And one woman in particular asks several, each day, each class. And no matter how many times they tell us to bake everything at a hundred and eighty degrees unless explicitly stated otherwise, people continue to raise their hands and ask how high to set the oven. I wonder how long it will take for that to stop. Another example being people asking again and again how you can tell when the sauce is done when the answer is almost invariably what I’ve begun to refer to as “the stripe test.” You let sauce coat the back of a spoon and wipe it with your finger, if there’s a clear line then it’s done. Yesterday was our first day with a new translator who seemed to skip over half the things the chef was saying. It was really hard to follow. He would say something funny; everyone who understood French would laugh; she would translate, and it was not funny. Talk about motivation to learn French. Thank heaven that next week start my French classes.

Yesterday I had two demonstrations. The first was to learn to finish the puff pastry dough we prepped last class, which by the time we do the “practical” on Monday will have been sitting for four days. But apparently rest is good for it. The dough is prepared and then you take a generous square slab of butter, and fold the dough into a square around it. You roll it out then turn it the other way, and repeat five times. So we’ll have our dough, flatten and place it on a baking sheet, throwing it in the fridge. By now you’ll have fanned the leeks and soaked them in water, and the veal stock will be reducing on the stove. The veal stock needs to be strained several times as a skin forms on the top, then move on to cutting leeks julienne (or into ribbons). They need to be sautéed and later we’ll add cream to them. Then we have to prepare the sauce, which is some combination of things too rich (my memory fails me now, but Monday there will be more insights on the sauce). The chef had all sorts of sweet molds to punch out the puff pastry dough with, which I hope, hope, hope we get to try during the “practical.” You need to punch out two of each shape and place one atop the other. In the top one you cut a square whole, which will serve as a lid. While these are rising in the oven it is time to poach the eggs. I knew the ones I poached in the past were a little runny. The secret is to use some vinegar in the water you’re using; this will make the egg collect in a neat, soft, perfect white package. When they are done drop them into a bowl that has been chilling over ice to stop them from continuing to cook. Dice a red pepper until it is superhumanly fine, and sautee it in butter. As soon as the puff pastry looks like the outside of a croissant, maybe a tad darker, remove them, let them cool, and cut out the uncooked innards of the pastry carefully (even the one on the lid). Once you’ve warmed up the leeks, lift the lid of the pastry and spoon some in. Cut the tails of the poached eggs and place them with your hands in the heated white sauce to warm them. Ladle an egg and some white sauce into the pastry as well. Add a little red pepper to the top of it. When the chef plated it he used a drizzling of white sauce, keeping it away from the pastry bottom, a little reduced veal stock (much tastier than it sounds), and just a tad of red pepper. Voila!

It was indescribable. Seriously.

In the afternoon demonstration we learned a Gateau Basque, or as I prefer to call it, a Ghetto Basque. We also learned a Diplomat’s Pudding. To be honest, I was busy fantasizing about the leek puff pastry, and the wonderful taste in my mouth overshadowed most of the lesson. There was some amazing plating though. Monday we cook the leek pastry and the Ghetto Basque, so pictures and reminiscings will appear.

Tonight I finally am to meet Thea’s friend, Dan, a fellow American working here in Orsay.  After dinner I intend to check out the Cordon Bleu student party at Miller’s Bar near Metro Rambuteau; hopefully people will show up.

The list of reasons I could get used to it here is ever-growing, and I feel, for your amusement as much as my own, that I should share them here.

PDA: I don’t know why I get such a kick out of seeing so many lip-locked faces on doorsteps, in the supermarket, or right in the middle of the street, but I do.

Old women (and Cankles): Old women here walk around a lot. I even pass a few of the same ones daily.  I did not say fast, but they do walk.  Or rather, some hobble.  I have to give them props, as many of them don’t look as though they should be walking anywhere.  On a related topic, many of these said women possess the most remarkable cankles I’ve ever seen.  They look like pirates with two wooden stumps, neither tapered, nor functional.  In other news, this old woman sitting on the bench next to me keeps dropping a pile of crumbs at her feet to which they instantly flock.  Then she waves her purse wildly until they scatter when they promptly fly in the opposite direction, mere centimeters over my head.  I kid you not, and I’m worried one of them will eventually miscalculate.  Not enough to actually get up and move, but I’m still fairly certain this woman would be annoyed if I were to start fanning the pigeons in her direction.  I thought I was shooting her cold stares, but perhaps I’m being too subtle.

Walking: Does everyone in Paris walk as much as I do?  Certainly they don’t walk their mileage for the same reason as I do: my wonderful gift for being constantly lost, but I suspect that most of them walk at least as much as I have been.  And they say Bonjour to one another (and me) despite the fact that they are strangers; it’s nice.

Jaywalking: You can do it! Everyone does.  And even when you push your luck and enter the intersection too late, cars will stop and wait while you cross, and more impressively, while others, having seen that first bozo, start to cross.  I suppose it is, on a smaller scale, representative of everyone’s attitude here, which is that nobody seems to be in a hurry to do anything (except in kitchen).

Potholes: Where are they?  Surely there is some street is Paris where there is one, but I have not yet crossed it.  I assume potholes are just another thing strictly reserved for Americans.

DSC_0008 French people & their Food: I will perhaps never recover from the sublime experience of having a boulangerie, a poisonnerie, a charcuterie, a fromagerie, and hundreds of tiny stores that specialize in one thing, many of whom have likely been honing their craft since they were young.  And, yes, people do walk around carrying a baguette or two in their bags like it ain’t no thing.  The one word I would use to describe how the French think about their food is: immediacy.  It seems that rather than buy a bunch of food at once, they relish going to the market often.  All the fruits and veggies are sold at their peak ripeness, and it’s best to buy just a couple, and go back again later in the week.  When people here find out that I’m in culinary school they flip out.  And then they say, “That’s a good idea.”  Another thing I’ve noticed in restaurants, and the chefs in class tell us, to watch the serving we put on the plate because here they prefer moderate portions, and there is no such thing as leftovers.  If you ask to take something home with you, the waiter will wonder what you are thinking.

Reasons I have to avoid France: European keyboards, which force me to look down at my hands whilst I type, and cause me to feel like a degenerate.DSC_0004

Now for today’s food.  I had class at 8:30, bright and early we were in the kitchen preparing the savory dough first for the Quiche Lorraine(quickly as not to overwork it), and setting in the fridge to rest.  Then we trimmed, blanched, and sauteed the lardons for the filling.  Next was the preparation of the filling with eggs and some cream (when I say some I mean a shit ton).  We “blind baked” the dough in the mold, filling the inside with a layer of plastic wrap and lentils, to preserve the shape of the quiche.  When it emerged the dough had been cooked enough to fill it with the lardons, cheese, and creamy liquid.  As it baked we practiced rolling dough for a puff pastry, which was uncomplicated, but not uncomplicated enough to explain here.

DSC_0002The quiches turned out fantastic, and golden brown.  We took them downstairs to the Winter Garden and enjoyed them for lunch.  After an hour we returned upstairs to do the pastry “practical.”  On the agenda: pound cakes with candied fruits, and madeleine cookies (those shell shaped once that have a puff on the back).  The madeleine dough had to rest so we prepared it first.  Once it was in the fridge we started the batter for the cakes, which had to be prepared in a few different bowls, then combined, and whisked to perfection.  Finally, the candied fruits had to be mixed with a sprinkling of flour and folded into the batter.  We greased and filled the molds and topped them with sliced almonds before putting them in the ovens.  Then we returned to the madeleines.  The dough was done, we simply greased and floured a pan, and prepared a pastry bag in which to put the dough so we could pipe it in to the delicate molds.  Then we added those to the oven and turned our attention to cleaning the kitchen.  Hopefully my homeless dude will be there on the way home, because otherwise I have no clue what I’m going to do with a quiche, two pound cakes, and 12 cookies.  After I drop these off I’ve got to scurry back to school since tonight is our first wine pairing class for cuisine, in which a guest chef comes, prepares a meal, there is a tasting and a lecture.  Class goes late tonight, til 9:30, and tomorrow is the same, yowsers.  Life is good.

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