Wednesday, August 26, 2009

New Home, Old Classics

The last few weeks have been crazy, busy and emotional as I dismantled my life with Seth and moved into my new house with new housemates. I've been so eager to resume my cooking; not only am I sick of subs, sandwiches and eating on the go, but also I've missed the sense of grounding I get cooking in my own kitchen.

But now, it's not just my kitchen; I'm sharing it with four other people. I've had to pare back, and sharing will be . . . interesting. I'm looking forward to learning some new techniques and recipes from the other ladies. One woman makes traditional Lebanese food (yum!) and another cooks vegan.

In the spirit of learning, I took a cooking class at the Stonewall Kitchen Cooking School in York, ME. With the release of the film Julie and Julia timed perfectly with both Julia Child's birthday (Aug. 15) and the anniversary of her passing (Aug. 13), the Kitchen has been running French cooking classes to honor her.

The name of the class was Venez Sil Vous Plait Pour Diner, which translates as "Please come to dinner." The class featured traditional French favorites as presented in Child's seminal work, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

The first dish was the one I was most looking forward to, Coquilles St. Jacques, and it did not disappoint. Scallops -- fresh, Maine sea scallops -- are one of my favorite foods. This is a great recipe for an intro to French cuisine because it features two classic French techniques (poaching and gratinee), a French sauce, (veloute), and a refined presentation (upon a large scallop shell). The veloute was so tasty, I wanted to lick the shell.

Things I learned about making this dish:
* The name "Coquilles St. Jacques" comes from a legend of St. Jacques whose emblem was the scallop shell and who saved a crusader knight from drowning. When the knight emerged from the water, he was covered in scallops.
* Use the poaching liquid from the scallops in the veloute for extra flavor.
* Some of these French sauces should not intimidate people as they do -- this creamy white sauce is very simple to make.
* Cheeses made in late summer and fall are particularly fine because the cows/sheep/goats have spent the whole summer grazing, and this rich health is inflected in the cheese. Yea cheese!
* Viking cookware is made of 7 layers of metal. I thought that was interesting. Seems a little . . . fussy, but interesting.

The salad was a Caesar's salad. Sullivan (the chef giving the demonstration) told us that Julia Child's recipe comes directly from the man who invented the caesar salad, Caesar Cardini. In the day, this salad was served on whole leaves of romanine so that people could eat it like finger food.

Things I learned about this dish:
* When making croutons, toast the bread before dressing with garlic oil. It prevents the croutons from getting too oily. (When I did this the other day, the croutons were too oily, but I think I had too much to start with).
* Anchovies were not in the original dish. But put them in if you like them. Their flavor is distinctive.

Ratatouille. This is not my favorite dish, though it was very well-done by Sullivan. What I usually don't like about this dish is the way the peppers dominate the flavorscape. However, I learned to layer the vegetables in order to enhance the distinctiveness of each. I enjoyed the soft texture and smokiness of the eggplant, but I still feel that the taste of bell pepper was too strong.

Things I learned about this dish:
* Use regular olive oil (not extra virgin) for sauteeing.The delicate flavor of EVOO gets wasted when cooking with it, and it's senseless to pay extra if the quality of the oil that you pay extra for is going to be cooked away. Use extra-virgin olive oil to garnish or in dressings.
* Like lasagna, ratatouille is better the second day.

For dessert, we had poached peaches in chocolate cups with dulce de leche. Beautiful presentation and a phenomenal dessert. Use excellent chocolate; Sullivan used Callebaut, which is the best there is. Poaching is used here again. This time the peaches are poached in a red wine and cinnamon stick reduction.

Things I learned about this dish:
* the difference between freestone peaches and clingpit peaches.

1 comment:

Queen B. said...

Oh you are so silly.......You have a GREAT BLOG AND FUN RECIPES !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!THANKS FOR VISITING.......... :)