Thursday, January 20, 2011

Baking

Do you know how much lobsters cost? (let's not go there)

Do you know how much artichokes cost? (three dollars a piece!)

Do you know how much basically anything to do with French cuisine costs? (entirely too much)

As my Mom just remarked to me, "If we were wealthy, Caitlin, we'd already be deep into this cookbook."
But as you've probably guessed, we're not wealthy, and are, generally speaking, content to be as we are. Lack of funds, does, however, make it ruddy hard to start up cooking in this expensive matter.

But all is well. Because while we may not have a lobster, artichokes, or even the cookbook (trying again at the local resale bookshop didn't work. So, Barnes and Noble it must be. Full price packs a wallop for this cheapskate.), we do have chocolate chips, flour, vanilla, sugar, and baking soda. What's that, you say? Sounds like a recipe for chocolate cookies? Of course it is. And why would I, the living antithesis to the barefoot contessa, know how to make chocolate chip cookies? Simply because I've been making them nearly non-stop for the past week and a half.

Snowy weather brings on hunger pains like no ones business. But only for snow-ice cream, chocolate chip cookies, and Mexican hot cocoa.

So, this girl got out her apron (which is entirely bereft of stains- a crying shame that will hopefully be righted in the near future) and set about making cookies. The first batch didn't take as long as previously anticipated. Could it be that confidence was creeping into my bones? I, who always double counted and re-measured?

But it was so! And every batch I've made has taken less than the time before. Practice makes perfect (except, when you think that what you need to make the texture you want is half crisco/half butter, because you misunderstood what your Mother said, and in reality, half crisco/half butter does *not* make chewy cookies- it makes nice, neat looking, crunchy cookies. Not my favorite kind.) But all the kinks worked out, and all the cookies turned out nicely, with only one burned pan (customary in this household) out of 4 batches.

Confidence in the kitchen.
It's coming.

And in the meantime, I sit here listening to the pressure cooker (not recommended by Julia Child, but a necessity in this household), bundled under a blanket, reading inspiring quotes by Christina Rossetti, waiting for my own copy of the anticipated cookbook, and vaguely entertaining the thought of getting up from my warm nest and dancing to this.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Flipping...

...through the book is time consuming. But so much fun. And a perfect thing to do on an afternoon when the snow is melting and you have a cuppa tea at your elbow, and a perfect Pandora station playing.

Last time I left off at chapter 6. (And does it bother you when people go from using the actual number to using the word? It does me.) So this time we start on chapter 7.

Meat. Viandes. Beef. Boeuf. Steaks. Biftecks(sound like 'beef steaks? To me, too.) Ever broiled a steak? I haven't ever heard of broiling a steak, but then, I have absolutely  no experience with steaks outside of Outback, so I really can't tell if that's the normal way to prepare them or not. How about some filet steaks? Filet Mignon, anyone? Oh, and yum- Tournedas sautes aux champignons chausseur. Filet steaks with mushroom and Madeira sauce. Delicious.

(What is a foie gras? I've heard of that my entire life, but I have no idea what it actually means. After looking it up on Google just now, I've realized the truth behind the statement 'ignorance is bliss'. Specially fattened goose or duck liver?? Now I know. )

Back to meat. Did you expect a hamburger to be in a French cookbook? I suppose it makes sense, given that hamburgers are usually served with *French* fries. But I have a hard time imagining someone going to France and ordering a hamburger- why do that when they'll serve you a fish cooked in butter with some fresh vegetables? It's completely conceivable, though, that not everyone goes to France to entirely soak up the culture of a foreign country.

And here we are. Chapter 7, page 315. 'Boeuf Bourguignon'. Beef stew in red wine, with bacon, onions, and mushrooms. Oh. My. We're making this as soon as possible. You know something has to be good beyond all imagining when it needs to cook 2 1/2 hours.

Lamb. Never had it. Part of me is reluctant to try it. For someone who watched Lamb Chop as a small child, eating a lamb sounds nearly cannibalistic. But then, so did eating goat, and I've done that and lived to tell about it. So I suppose lamb won't be any different. (And if it is, don't tell me.) Moving on. Moussaka. Lamb and Eggplant mold. Hmm. Sounds interesting.

Veal. Isn't veal inhumane? Is there a way to inhumanely come by veal? Do I really want to know? I didn't think so. But pork, or ham. That sounds comfortable and familiar. Sweetbreads, however, is a no go. I absolutely and completely staunchly refuse to eat brains. No, no, no, no, no. So let's move on, shall we?

Chapter 8- vegetables. Legumes. Artichokes (D'Artichauts). Asparagus (asperges). Green Beans (haricots verts. That's fun to say.) Brussel sprouts (choux de bruxelles. We'll see how these go- brussel sprouts are the bane of every child's life. But braising them in butter might help things. After all, you can never have too much butter.) Broccoli (choux broccolli), cauliflower (chou-fleur), green peas (petits pois). Spinach (epinards. Think what you will, but I adore spinach. Perhaps it's being raised by southerners, but collard greens and spinach are 'laruppin good'.) Carrots, onions, and turnips (carottes, oignons, et navets). Basically, every vegetable that was ever heard of, and a few I've never seen, are included in this chapter, so you'll forgive me if I skip the potatoes, tomatoes, and leeks, and go on to chapter 9.

Cold buffet. Which is salads, aspics (no.), potato salad, molded mousses (not the chocolate kind- think chicken liver and fish, and you'll be closer.) Pates and terrines, and generally, all manner of cold side dishes that you can imagine, all of which sound incredibly American. Maybe some real French food made it over the Pond after all.

Mmmm. Chapter 10. Desserts and Cakes. Entremets et Gateaux. Who doesn't like dessert? Creme Chantilly. Doesn't that sound delicate and lovely? Especially for lightly beaten cream. Creme Brulee. Yum. Yum. Yum. Yum. YUM. Orange Bavarian cream. For something I usually associate with a donut from Krispy Kreme, it sounds delicious. Chocolate Mousse (Mousseline au chocolate). Yes, please. Sweet souffles. Chocolate, of course. An Apple Charlotte (charlotte aux pommes), which is a thick, rum and apricot flavored apple puree piled into a cylindrical mold which has been lined with butter soaked strips of white bread. Whoa. I think I gained weight just reading about it. And aspics.... a fruit aspic sounds perfectly acceptable. Jello, anyone? Pears baked with macaroons. Custard apple tart. Strawberry tarts (I'll feel like My Fair Lady eating those.) Crepes with almond cream? Mound of Crepes with apples, flambe? Yes, yes, yes, yes, *yes*. And then there are flans, which I've never had (I'm not an adventurous foodie, I admit.) Oh, and let's make Ladyfingers!

And 'five French cakes.
 #1- Butter spongecake (naturally. Butter.), or 'Biscuit au beurre'.
#2 - Orange spongecake (the French like their spongecake, apparently.) or 'gateau a l'orange'.
#3 - Spongecake with orange-butter filling. (and if you can combine two cakes into two, why not?) or 'gateau fourre a la creme d'orange'.
#4 -  (What do you want to bet that it's a spongecake?) Sure enough- 'Orange and almond spongecake'. Or 'Gateau a l'orange et aux amandes'.
#5 - Surprise! It's not a spongecake. It's a chocolate and almond cake. Like in the movie. 'Reine de saba'.
Then there are icings and fillings, and I think that this post is already too long, so I won't bore you with chocolate and buttercream icings, or raspberry fillings. And that's the end of the book, anyway.

I'll go fix something for dinner (or eat leftovers. Either way, I'm going to go eat.) And naturally, I'll be leaving with a song (because apart from reading and writing and boring you with a synopsis of a 650+ page book, that's what I do- listen to music. While I do almost everything.) today, it's my song- the only one I've ever heard that is written for brown-eyed girls (who are, despite scientific research, the minority in the world; at least in songs, if not in reality.) So goodnight, whoever you are.

Bon Appetit!

Friday, January 7, 2011

I'm getting excited

Just thinking about it. Of course, we still don't own the book (who in all this wide green earth would have thought that it would be nearly impossible to find a cookbook?!?) but the library has a copy that we've borrowed. It's not our own, and it's not advisable to get it dirty (what's the point of a cookbook if you can't get it floured up and a little greasy and splash some burgundy on it? Not much, in my humble opinion.) but it will have to do for getting an idea of what we're getting ourselves into.

And speaking of burgundy, may I just say that cooking with wine is every bit as exciting as owning this book? Truly it is. I don't know what it is about a burgundy, a roséa Bordeaux, or a Riesling, but they have such cooking appeal. Just reading about them in this cookbook is putting the beef in my bourguignon. Honestly, though, cooking with a wine just sounds French and wonderful. Authentic.

Anyways, looking through the book from the library, the first chapter is on soup. 'Potages et Soupes'. ( Go ahead and say it in French. It's fun, I promise.) After watching the movie, I can just see Julia at her typewriter, typing these recipes up, and thinking of little anecdotes and introductions to them, trying desperately to not have typos, and faithfully pounding away at the keys. I must confess, however, to be a bit frightened at the thought of eating Watercress soup. 'Potage au Cresson'. I'm not a person who enjoys much watercress. But I'm willing to give it a shot. 'Soupe au Pistou' (that's Provencal Vegetable Soup with Garlic, Basil, and Herbs) sounds delicious, though. As does the thought of 'Soupe a l'Oignon Gratinee' (Onion soup gratineed with cheese) with croûte, which is simply hard-toasted French bread.

Chapter two is on sauces, which is both spelled and pronounced the same in French as it is in English. While the thought of sauces sounds French, a majority of them are just glorified gravy recipes. Until you get to the 'Sauce au Cari', which is a 'light curry sauce'. (I didn't think the terms 'light' and 'curry' went together, but maybe they do in France.) Then from sauces, it progresses to Hollandaise, Mayonnaise, hot butter sauces (butter!), cold flavored butter, stocks, jellied stocks, and fish stocks. (Fish stocks??? Whoever heard of such a thing?) until finally moving on to the next chapter which is on eggs.

Eggs are not my friends. I do not like eggs. The only way I can even really bear to look at them, much less eat them, is hard-boiled. Maybe if I wear a blindfold, or smother them in ketchup, then I can make it through this chapter (no offense to Julia. Some things just can't be helped.) Although, as I look at it, one recipe sounds like I could possibly stomach it: "Oeufs sur Canapes, Oeufs en Croustades', poached eggs on canapes, artichoke bottoms, mushroom caps,or in pastry shells. And artichoke bottom or mushroom cap sounds doable for eggs.

Ah. Chapter Four: Entrees and Luncheon Dishes (pie dough- pastry crusts). Anyone know what a Timbales is? Me, neither.  Oh. Wait. "Timbales de foies de volaille". Unmolded chicken liver custards. Any takers?

Chapter five: Fish. Poisson. Fish filets poached in white wine. Yes, please. With mushrooms? Pile 'em on. "A note on dealing with live lobsters... If you object to steaming or splitting a live lobster, it may be killed almost instantly just before cooking if you plunge the point of a knife into the head between the eyes, or sever the spinal cord by making a small incision in the back of the shell at the juncture of the chest and the tail." Good news. I do not object to steaming a live lobster at all. No objections whatsoever. Although, my Mom just informed me that they make noise. And that their shells scream from the steam. I'll just play my music really. really. really. loud.

Chapter Six: Poultry. Volaille. Mmmmmm. 'Poulet Roti a la Normande'. Roast chicken basted with cream, herb and giblet stuffing. Yum. Yum. Yum. And duck! We get to bone a duck. 'Canard'. Absolutely. Goose. 'Oie'.

I'll leave you to ruminate on those for awhile while I go clean the kitchen up from a breakfast of waffles (Belgian waffles are sort of close to France... right?). Song for today? What better than a song that's wonderful time after time?

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Book

has yet to be purchased. Believe it or not, it's harder to come by a hardback copy than you'd think... without ordering online, of course, which we'd rather leave as a last resort. Thankfully, a local used bookstore (while new books are nice, there's something comfortable about a used book. Instead of being careful with it, you can treat it like an old friend.) has assured us that they get it in fairly often, and we should check back within a week. However, if worst comes to worst, we can always go to Barnes & Noble in town, where the book is ridiculously overpriced, but still in hardback.

Until then, I've been peeking through the pages available for viewing on Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/Mastering-Art-French-Cooking-Vol/dp/0375413405 The first 30+ pages are full of instructions- what supplies you'll need, common ingredients, and something which brought me much joy- words in French! It tells you what each common ingredient's name is in French. I can't pronounce a French word to save my life, but I don't mine sounding silly while I let my tongue try to sound it out. 

I'm not sure if Mother plans on going through the book in order or not, but I must confess that I have a deep longing to go straight to Beef Bourguignon. Y.U.M. Just looking at it makes my mouth water and my stomach growl. Plus it's just fun to say- Beef Bourguignon. Beef Buorguignon. It makes your mouth feel sophisticated and French.

Today, rather than cook anything from 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking', I'll probably make a batch or two of puppy chow- which is admittedly delicious (though devoid of French appeal) and wish it could be Beef Bourguignon, which would be perfect on a cold day like today.

So, off I go, wearing purple knee socks with my pajamas and singing some song about looking at life through rose-colored glasses (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsMIuuV05uc) to make puppy chow for my puppy-chow loving siblings and Daddy.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Here we are

at the beginning.

But supposing I tell you what it's the beginning of.

Just a little while ago, my Mother watched the movie 'Julie and Julia'. When she was a small girl, she'd spent hours on her back porch (now our back porch) pretending to be the quirky, endearing, and fearless Julia Child. So the movie quickly became a favorite, and she shared it with me. I haven't had much experience at all with Julia Child- I was born towards the end of the cooking legend's life, and I'd seen maybe 2 shows out of all the hundreds of shows she taped. So Julia Child didn't mean as much to me. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the movie immensely. Engaging script, brilliant photography, delectable colors, and partially set in Paris- does it get any better?

I admit to being basically a failure in the kitchen alone- you've no idea how many times I've burned the beans, forgotten the cookies, and numerous other things I don't care to recall. But I can follow a recipe (no originality for culinary arts resides in my bones) and so long as someone else can remember to check the oven or stir the pot along with me, I can squeak along. I'm also an avid eater- when good food is served, I enjoy and appreciate it. So I could appreciate all the deliciously prepared food displayed in 'Julie and Julia'. In fact, it looked so good that I wanted to look up the recipe right away and make it myself, which is incredibly unusal, given that my fear of ruining something usually overcomes my desire to create anything in the kitchen.

Then my Mom started saying she wanted to cook through 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking'. Not in a year, but as we had the money and the supplies (or money to buy the supplies...). And the more she talked about it, the more I liked the idea.

Next came ordering books from the library- 'My Life in France' by Julia Child, 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' by Julia Child, 'The French Chef', series 1 and 2, and numerous other things I haven't even perused yet, but which my Mom is going through voraciously.

So here we are. We're actually doing it. That is, as soon as we procure our own (hardback) copy of 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking'. No deadlines, no pressure, no high expectations. Just fun in the kitchen, learning curves, laughter, mistakes, and oh, did I mention we're skipping the entire aspic section? Because we are- there's a reason no one serves them, and it's because no one wants to eat part of an animal that has been boiled into a juice and gelled overnight. The very idea is disgusting, and plus, I don't have a warm and happy feeling when I think about boiling a calf's foot. Hoof. Whatever you would call it.

And good news! We aren't going to stop at Volume 1 of 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking'- we're going to purchase Volume 2 as soon as we finish the first book. So, whoever is reading this, you won't be rid of us in a year, or maybe even two. And hopefully at the end, we'll all be better cooks, bakers... or, in my case, just more confident in the kitchen.