Friday, October 17, 2008

French Laundry at Home: Lists and Menu Suggestions

Now that I've cooked every dish in The French Laundry Cookbook, I think it's appropriate to do a bit of a retrospective, don't you think? I've had some time now to think back on the good and the bad... the surprise successes and the dismal failures... the things I loved and continue to make today, and the things I'll never make again.

So let's get all listy.

* * * * *

I hear from a lot of people who say they have The French Laundry Cookbook or want to buy The French Laundry Cookbook, but wouldn't even know where to begin when they think about cooking from it. To them, I say, "Been there." Without going into a big arm-flailing rant about the current state of mainstream consumer food media, I will say that it has done a terrible disservice to the home cook with its proliferation of emphasizing all things quick, easy, and simple. Why? Because one thing that approach does is instill fear and self-doubt in home cooks when it comes to cooking anything above and beyond the standard fare. "Oh, I could never cook out of The French Laundry Cookbook... it's too hard."


I don't and wouldn't cook from this book every day for every meal. And, most of the food I make for myself on a regular basis is quite basic, yet tasty. However, if there's any big life lesson from this blog, it's that if I, of all people... the queen of Kraft Mac-n-Cheese throughout her 20s and 30s... can cook from The French Laundry Cookbook, ANYONE can. All it takes is the willingness to try. Chances are, you'll end up feeling really proud of what you've done.

So, if you've never cooked from The French Laundry Cookbook, but you're ready to give it a go even though you might still feel a wee bit intimidated, here's what I recommend as Great First Steps:

Gazpacho: It's pretty easy to see why this was the first dish I did, even though I started the blog in January, which is not exactly peak tomato and pepper season here in the mid-Atlantic region. It seemed easy to do, although I remember looking at the balsamic glaze instructions and thinking, "Wow.... balsamic glaze. That might be kind of hard to do." Now, I say, "Pffft. How about a pig head glaze? Want me to do that? Oh yeah, BRING. IT."

Gruyère Cheese Gougères: Easy, and perfect any time of year, although I always associate them with a lovely snowfall, because that's when I first made them.

Citrus-Marinated Salmon with a Confit of Navel Oranges, Beluga Caviar and Pea Shoot Coulis: When you click on that link, try not to cringe that the final plating of this dish. I'm so sorry. It's just bad. But, this is not a difficult dish to do, and I think the flavor profile can't be beat. I really don't like salmon, but I freakin' LOVE this dish.

Black Sea Bass with Sweet Parsnips, Arrowleaf Spinach, and Saffron-Vanilla Sauce: This was one of the simplest dishes to do, and it's really, really good.

Eric's Staff Lasagna: Alright, fine... so, it's technically not something served to guests at The French Laundry, but it's in the book, so it counts. Why? You know how sometimes when you eat lasagna, it's good but so heavy that you feel full in maybe a not-so-good way? This lasagna is delicious, easy to prepare, fresh, and light. It fills you up, but you don't get that hesitant-to-burp-for-fear-you'll-puke feeling. I know Eric Ziebold is going to love that kind of review when he sees this in his Google Alert (Hi, Eric! Love CityZen!).

Sally Schmitt's Cranberry and Apple Kuchen with Hot Cream Sauce: Bring on the umlauts! Again, not something served at The French Laundry, but it's in the book, and it's lovely, straightforward, easy to do, and perfect for fall.

Lemon Sabayon-Pine Nut Tart with Honeyed Mascarpone Cream: Gorgeous. Easy. Delicious. A real crowd-pleaser.

* * * * *

As 2007 moved into 2008, I did a little reflection on some of my French Laundry favorites and other recommendations. When I look back on that list of my Top Ten Favorites, it's interesting now to see what stayed on the list, and what has been replaced by things I've made since then.

Top Ten Favorites

Roulade of Pekin Duck Breast with Creamed Sweet White Corn and Morel Mushroom Sauce: Phenomenal.

Black Sea Bass with Sweet Parsnips, Arrowleaf Spinach, and Saffron-Vanilla Sauce: Oh, wow.

Cream of Walnut Soup: It made me close my eyes, smile, and bounce around in my seat with glee.

"Head to Toe" -- Pig's Head
: Three exhausting days. One life-changing experience.

Velouté of Bittersweet Chocolate
: I think this might be the best dessert I've ever made.

Oysters and Pearls: This is the dish that got me to love oysters. No small feat.

Sweet Potato Agnolotti with Sage Cream, Brown Butter, and Prosciutto: Perfection.

Tasting of Potatoes with Black Truffle: I want this on my Thanksgiving table, and then, I want Thanksgiving to be every day. Or twice a day.

"Peas and Carrots" -- Maine Lobster Pancakes with Pea Shoot Salad and Ginger-Carrot Emulsion: This dish makes me want to hug myself.

Braised Breast of Veal with Yellow Corn Polenta Cakes, Glazed Vegetables, and Sweet Garlic: My new favorite comfort food.

* * * * *

So, did I just cook every dish in The French Laundry Cookbook and then stow the book away for safekeeping? Hellz no. Here are the dishes I've Added to the Permanent Repertoire because I think they're worth making regularly (by which I mean a few times a year):

Creamy Maine Lobster Broth

Gruyère Cheese Gougères

Sweet Potato Agnolotti with Sage Cream, Brown Butter, and Prosciutto

Whole Roasted Moulard Duck Foie Gras with Apples and Black Truffles

Black Sea Bass with Sweet Parsnips, Arrowleaf Spinach, and Saffron-Vanilla Sauce

"Pineapple Chop" -- Oven-Roasted Maui Pineapple with Fried Pastry Cream and Whipped Crème Fraîche

I also now use The French Laundry Cookbook's bordelaise sauce recipe and veal stock recipe as the standard in my kitchen.

* * * * *

Now, you know it hasn't been all sunshine, lollipops and unicorns up in here these past two years, and I have had some colossal failures, as well as things that just didn't turn out the way I'd hoped. Some of them I'll never make again. Others, I should probably try again at some point in my life so that I can master whatever skill is was I didn't have before. Or at least try to not suck as badly as the first go-round.

Here are the Things I Feel Bad About Screwing Up and someday will try again so that I can redeem myself in the eyes of those who can cook:

"Chips and Dip" -- Potato Chips with Truffle Dip

"Surf and Turf" -- Sautéed Monkfish Tail with Braised Oxtails, Salsify and Cèpes

"Head to Toe" -- Pig's Feet

"Candied Apple" -- Crème de Farine with Poached Apples and Ice Cream

And, because you know there are some, here are the Dishes I Will Never, Ever Make Again, Not Even if Michael Bloomberg Asked Me To:

Chesapeake Bay Soft-shell Crab "Sandwich": The quotes around "sandwich" aren't mine. It's in the book that way. I think the quotes are there because it wasn't appropriate to call this what it really is: Chesapeake Bay Soft-shell Big Fat Plate of Trauma.

Tripe: No. Just, no.

Lobster Consommé en Gelée: Unless I need a torture device to use on neighborhood children with already-burned hands, or an easy path to bankruptcy, this won't make an appearance in my kitchen again.

* * * * *

Ever since I started this blog, people have asked, "if you had to put together a 4- or 5-course menu for a dinner party, using dishes from The French Laundry Cookbook, what would you recommend?"

Early on, I'm sure I proposed the most preposertous and unattainable combinations, because, HELLO, I hadn't made all of these dishes yet, so what the hell did I know?

So, now that I've cooked everything, here's what I think I'd put together as a menu as something I, personally, would enjoy and would be capable of pulling off. With these recommendations, I'm factoring in prep time, cooking and storage space, and being able to actually spend time with dinner guests instead of having to stay in the kitchen the whole time and not enjoy the food at the table with them.

Menu #1 (Spring)

Gruyère Cheese Gougères

Black Sea Bass with Sweet Parsnips, Arrowleaf Spinach, and Saffron-Vanilla Sauce

Roasted Sweetbreads with Applewood-smoked Bacon, Braised Belgian Endive and Black Truffle Sauce

Roulade of Pekin Duck Breast with Creamed Sweet White Corn and Morel Mushroom Sauce

Peanut Butter Truffles (and maybe the jellies if I'm in the mood)

Menu #2 (Summer)

"Peas and Carrots" -- Maine Lobster Pancakes with Pea Shoot Salad and Ginger-Carrot Emulsion

"Clam Chowder" -- Saut
éed Cod with Cod Cakes and Parsley Oil

Double-rib Lamb Chops with Cassoulet of Summer Beans and Rosemary

Strawberry and Champagne Terrine

Menu #3 (Fall)

"Cornets" -- Salmon Tartare with Sweet Red Onion Crème Fraîche

Fricassée of Escargots with a Purée of Sweet Carrots, Roasted Shallots, and Herb Salad

Braised Breast of Veal with Yellow Corn Polenta Cakes, Glazed Vegetables, and Sweet Garlic

Sally Schmitt's Cranberry and Apple Kuchen with Hot Cream Sauce

Menu #4 (Winter)

Cream of Walnut Soup

Whole Roasted Moulard Duck Foie Gras with Apples and Black Truffles

Sweet Potato Agnolotti with Sage Cream, Brown Butter, and Prosciutto

Velouté of Bittersweet Chocolate

* * * * *

Note: I know I said in my previous post that this post would contain what I think is a cool giveaway. While I'm happy to report that the giveaway is still quite cool, I'm sad to say the timing on it still isn't confirmed.... so stay tuned. I'm hoping all the details are ironed out by my next (and final) post next week. If not, then I'll just have to pimp it on Alinea at Home. So stay tuned.

Up Next: I'm Staying "At Home"

Music To Write Lists By: Rooney; Rooney. I listen to Rooney when I need music that's more than background music, but won't make me stop what I'm doing just to listen to it.

Read My Previous Post: "Cornets" -- Salmon Tartare with Sweet Red Onion Crème Fraîche


Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful post, Carol -thank you. I remember fondly your posts after making some of those dishes - especially the screwy ones - and giggled to myself as quietly as possible so my office-neighbors don't think I'm nuts (hmm, too late).

It's rainy, gray and cold here in Vancouver today and the winter menu has me wanting hibernate and cook all weekend. Sweet potato agnolotti is my fave recipe from that book and a relatively easy way to stun some dinner guests into thinking you're one bad culinary mother.

Anonymous said...

The first time I looked through TFLC it scared the crap out of me with all the steps and sauces, but I agree that with a little patience and know-how a mere mortal home cook can pull it off. Although I will NEVER make the tripe. Just plain YUCK! If there ever was a texture issue. . .

I knew it! You are a blue box mac-n-chese person. That stuff kept me alive in college.

Xani said...

I've been reading since the soft-shell crab "incident" and I am a huge fan. Much luck with your upcoming project-- I will be a faithful reader of that, too!

Anonymous said...

Just so you know (whether or not it mattered to you...I can't say)..

I bought the book. I also have bouchon.

I'll probably be playing with them as well (aka cooking from their recipes at some given point in time).

: ) Your listings are great btw : )


Crystal said...

Huge fan of your blog, and this post was a great way to recall some of the recipes that really stood out (for good or for bad. :)

I'm thinking the sweet potato agnolotti is going to have to make an appearance in my house soon.

Can't wait for Alinea At Home!

Anonymous said...

that summer menu sounds really well balanced and delicious.

The Blushing Hostess said...

Congratulations on finishing this momentous task! I admire your fortitude. So glad you picked another book so we did not lose your voice. Looking forward to reading Alinea. Congrats again!

Victoria said...

This post is so wonderful of you to do. I guess you are the Divine Ms B (sorry about that). I will use this guide.

I am anticipating your next - and last - post with something akin to dread.

But on to Alinea. It's already on my "Reader."


Anonymous said...

I had forgotten how easy the gazpacho looked. Thanks for reminding me to try that one.

You know I'll be calling you for advice, right?

Anonymous said...

I have cooked along with you through some of this and enjoyed it very much. My copy of Alinea came today!!!!!!! And while I'm jumping out of my skin about how gorgeous it all is, I'm also scared to death to try making any of it. You're very brave for taking that on. I'll just have to stay tuned and play along at home, too.

mattatouille said...

I latched on a bit late to you blog, but I want to salute you on a wonderful endeavor and I'm looking forward to Alinea at Home. I just received that book and it is a marvel. If French Laundry is an 6-7 on the difficulty scale, this must be a 9. Good luck, I'll be keeping track...

Rosie Hawthorne said...

Thank you Carol. I've savored every bit of this. I look forward to your next endeavor.

Unknown said...

The sweet potato agnolotti post was pretty much the point where I went "Oh yeah.... gotta get the book" and I still have yet to try it. I *might* try a version of it for thanksgiving.

AK said...


What a great post. I'm so sad that FLAH is drawing to a close but I know AAH is going to be just as amazing.

Thank you so much for sharing all of your experiences. Every time I've had a particularly long shift at the restaurant when I'm tired and felt like nothing went right all day, I re-read your tripe post and giggle out loud until I can't remember why I was so tired and frustrated in the first place.

I'm so glad you're going to keep blogging and can't wait to read about your next set of adventures.

Anonymous said...

I'm looking at your winter menu and salivating heavily...

Gulp said...

After a year of lurking, and reading the cornet post, I stopped sobbing enough to enable posting. The world will little note nor long remember what we commenters say here, but it can never forget what you did here.

I received my Alinea today. I can only say I bet you are so glad mental health parity was included in the bailout.


Kitt said...

Awesome lists. Very handy. I will try the gougeres again; I can't believe I messed even those up.

Looking forward to your next project, too!

Unknown said...

This has been a great ride, and I am in total awe of what you have achieved.

But like Gulp, I just got my copy of Alinea, and that is some crazy shizznit to try and do at home. God speed, Carol!

Anonymous said...

I've been so glad I followed you home from Ruhlman back a while.

I can't say that anything from French Laundry is going to get added to the repetoire here anytime soon, but Bouchon already has several items in the freezer. The French Onion soup components were an instant hit as was the soup.

Your new site is already in the favorites.

Karen said...

Given that the Sea Bass appears in every single list here, I'm thinking that that's where I would want to start.

I wanted to say something after your last post, on the final recipe (the fact of which made me so sad I was literally teary when I read it), but I was afraid it would come out wrong. But then you wrote this:

It seemed easy to do, although I remember looking at the balsamic glaze instructions and thinking, "Wow.... balsamic glaze. That might be kind of hard to do." Now, I say, "Pffft. How about a pig head glaze? Want me to do that? Oh yeah, BRING. IT."

and it made me want to go ahead and say it anyway, even though it might come off sounding like a knock, which it TOTALLY ISN'T.

And it has to do with your next project, which I'm really looking forward to. Your voice is so distinctive and delightful, and you have such a clear love of food.'s not really going to be the same, is it? You started the FLH project truly at the same skill level as most of the rest of us, but you'll be taking on Alinea with a much higher level at the outset. I'm really hoping you can address this, and make it clear what stuff is attainable for you, now so much more skilled than previously, and what is feasibly attainable for the rest of us.

Does that make sense? You didn't take offense, did you? Because I really really didn't mean any!

Anonymous said...

How fun to see your lists of tops and bottoms. Thanks for compiling.

But..but...the blueberry soup didn't make your cut?! Oh, my. To readers out there, let it be known that the blueberry soup is awesome good and simple to make. It makes me laugh, it's so good. So in addition to tackling Carol's faves, give this one a try, too.

Marilyn said...

Thank you for allowing us in your kitchen with you while you sweated your way through the French Laundry Cookbook. It has been an enjoyable experience.

Good luck in your next endeavor(s).

-Marilyn, aka orchidgal

Anonymous said...

Wow, this is great, and super helpful should i venture into the FL territory. Can't wait to see recipes from the next book! :)

Anonymous said...

Your writing is a delight - and damn funny, although I understand the soft-shelled crabs may have caused some trauma. Being a food lover and having eaten at the French Laundry a couple of times (as I live in Napa) of course I had to own the book, although purely for inspiration. Hats off to your blog and your dedication!

Anonymous said...

poaching lobsters in butter...oh my, I think I might want to marry you. Really, though, a wonderful blog, esp. since I received this cookbook as a gift from a friend who thinks that I cook a bit more than I actually do, and I've been quite intimidated to try any of it. Many thanks.

amber said...

i'm a fan of lists. i quite like these lists.

sad to see this project is drawing to a close, but so happy to know that you're not going far away :)

Anonymous said...


Awesome. I had asked many of these questions in your Q&A, so I thank you. And, with Turkey Day around the corner, I was thinking about what minor tweaks could I do to a traditional dinner to make it memorable for our guests who also definately refuse to leave DC on Thansgiving. Based on your lists here, I think the Gourgeres and the tart will fit nicely into an otherwise traditional family-style holiday meal.

Many thanks.

Anonymous said...

I, too, have been a lurker for a while and have eagerly looked each week for your new posts. Your voice comes across very well and I am sad to see this end but excited to see what you do with Alinea. I am confident you will make it entertaining.

oh so hungry said...

Thanks for the menus! I'm working myself up to the sweet potato agnolotti.

I got my Alinea book last night. HOLY SHIT!! Gorgeous and intimidating and inspiring and already a treasure. Can't wait for you to dive in.

Unknown said...

Am having a wonderful time reading old posts starting from the beginning. You get a very nice perspective of how far you've come since the early days.
Your blog induced me to buy the book and shortly after that I met Mr. Keller at an industry 'do in New York. In our brief moment together as he signed my book, I told him how I'd come to his work through your blog. I don't remember his exact words but he smiled when I mentioned your name.
My Thanksgiving menu is in the works and we are having gougeres and cream of walnut soup and one other FL recipe yet to be named. You're upping the tone at our house! Thanks for the inspiration and best of luck and all on the next project.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading along for months now, and I love your writing.

I put the Keller collection on my Amazon wishlist, and by chance my mother got it for my birthday this year. Then my pre-order Alinea cookbook arrived last week! Perfectly timed so you can be my guinea pig to see what works at home :-)

Make sure to tell us where you source the chemicals that you use. I bought some about a year ago (I'd have to check again from where) but they arrived pretty quickly and were not that expensive. Let me know if you're having a problem finding them and I'll point you to the website. I got the calcium chloride, sodium alginate, tapioca maltodextrin and lecithin.

Anonymous said...

Carol, It's my turn to thank you. As I wrote these recipes I could never have imagined that someone would cook the entire book! You make me laugh every time I read the blog and when I saw you list, I could see we were on the same wave length, you name recipes that I just love. So, thank you! I can't wait for you to start Alinea. Grant is amazing, he worked on French Laundry cookbook with me, he was a sous chef at the time. I just got my copy, so I'll follow along! By the way, it was special to meet you in NYC and I hope to see you soon. If I get to DC, I'll come be one of your guinea pigs! Best, Susie

Anonymous said...


Probably the best thing you've ever written in this blog. The only thing I can say is that I've followed this blog with silent interest and loved every line written. Thank you, Carol, for sharing this trip with us.