Thursday, October 23, 2008

Thank you.

Picture it: Mount Wolf, PA. December 25, 2000. It's Christmas morning, and I'm sitting in front of the Christmas tree in my parents' living room. My parents, my brother, his wife, and I each have a stack of gifts to open, but there's one present that is serving as quite the distraction (to me anyway). It's a book. A big book. The French Laundry Cookbook. I opened all the other gifts first -- socks, clothing, a Cuisinart, a few CDs and DVDs, but I saved this special one 'til the end of the gift-opening extravaganza, because I'd been pining for it for over a year and knew that once I opened it, I wouldn't really pay much attention to anything else. Why?

In the weeks and months after The French Laundry Cookbook was released, I'd go to Borders and Barnes & Noble, take the only non-shrinkwrapped copy off the shelf, gently open the cover, and slowly turn the pages as I tried to imagine the lucky, lucky people who actually got to own this book. The lucky people who actually got to cook this food. The lucky people who actually got to eat this food.

See, it was 1999 and then 2000, and I was working in the technology sector right smack dab in the middle of the dot-com bust. I was working 16-hour days and although I was making a good salary, I'd just bought my first house, and had to stick to a tight budget because, like most of us working in the tech sector that year, I didn't know if my job would be there the next day. There was no extra money for splurges... and The French Laundry Cookbook was, begrudgingly, a splurge.

So, on that Christmas morning after we'd all opened the rest of our presents, I tore the wrapping paper off the book, curled up in a chair next to the fireplace, removed the plastic shrink wrap, inhaled the new-book smell of my brand new, very own copy of The French Laundry Cookbook, ignored everyone else (that's the Christmas spirit!), and began to read. I don't remember much else about that day. Couldn't tell you what we had for lunch. Don't remember if it snowed. Can't recall which relatives I saw that night. All I can remember is absorbing every word, and wishing I could eat every page. I swear I could smell the Creamy Maine Lobster Broth from just the photo alone.

When I went back home a few days later, I put the book on my coffee table in my cozy, little living room, and it warmed me all winter long. I'd come home from my job, beaten down from handling media calls, trying to reassure a nervous board of directors, and watching our stock price go into the toilet, and just imagine what eating dinner at The French Laundry must be like.

Those nights reading The French Laundry Cookbook and the full-on sensory engagement that ensued oddly enough transported me back to the many afternoons I spent sitting in the hall in second grade. Because I never could quite figure out that I should raise my hand to get called on instead of just shouting out the answer and being sarcastic about how awesome I was with all my knowledge, my teacher, Mrs. Hohenshilt, "punished" me by making me sit in the hall with a book. I almost always chose What's For Lunch, Charley? because there was a section in the book I loved to read over and over again. The book is about an elementary school-aged kid and the crush he has on the new girl, Rosabelle Ruggles. He watches her eat lunch every day, but one day, Rosabelle's lunch stands out in particular -- a thermos of tomato soup, a drumstick of fried chicken, a small jar of fruit salad, and a piece of chocolate layer cake... all spread out on a clean white cloth napkin.

When Charley forgot his lunchbox one day, he decided to slip out of school undetected and eat lunch at the very fancy King Charles Hotel. Charley walked by the hotel and its street-facing dining room every day, and he always wondered what it would be like to eat there. So, he did.

He could ask for a peanut butter sandwich, an apple, a cookie, and some milk. But that didn't seem like the right thing for lunch at the King Charles. Charley drew a breath and said, "Tomato soup, chicken leg, fruit salad, and chocolate cake." Then he added, "Please." He looked up at the waitress, wondering if he had ordered the right things. She nodded and scribbled something on her order pad. Then she winked at Charley and went away.

The book goes on to describe the crisp, white tablecloth, the place setting, his seat by the window, the cold, wet weather outside... and then the food begins to arrive, one course at a time. The tomato soup was piping hot, the chicken crisp and juicy, and I remember smiling and holding my throat when reading the part about how Charley could only eat one bite of the fruit salad until he was "full to the chin." So full, the waitress had to wrap his piece of chocolate cake in foil for him to take home.

When I read that book over and over again in the hallway of Mount Wolf Elementary School in 1975, I could taste the hot, sweet and salty tomato soup on my tongue. I could feel the heavy hotel silverware in my hands. I could imagine eating the crispy, seasoned fried chicken with my fingers and wondering if it was okay to do that in a fancy restaurant. I could taste the cool fruit salad, and I could smell the chocolate cake and feel the crinkled foil around it as I imagined carrying it in my hands.

I don't know if I ever thanked Mrs. Hohenshilt for her awesome form of punishment, but it opened my eyes to so many stories and dreams and ideas. And, best of all, just like we all have distinct food memories from our past, I feel so lucky to have a really significant food literature memory in What's For Lunch, Charley?, and had no idea how prominent and permanent it was until that Christmas morning in 2000 when I sat in my parents' living room, reading The French Laundry Cookbook. As I write this, both books are now sitting side-by-side (a few books down from Michael Ruhlman's Soul of a Chef) on the bookshelf in my office here at home. Seems fitting somehow.

So, fast-forward to today, at the end of what has been a most amazing ride. There's so much to say, much of which I've already said in private to those I've needed to say it to. But there are some things I think I want to say out loud.

While anyone who has ever read this blog knows I'm not exactly the most earnest and mushy of food writers (oh, for the bliss and the cheese and my soul and our love, and YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME WITH THAT), I fully appreciate the role great love letters have played in our literary and social history. Declarations of adoration written by hand, preserved on paper, shared, held, saved, remembered. When I was growing up, these kinds of notes were written with a blue Bic pen (with teeth marks on the cap) on blue-lined white notebook paper with the reddish-pink margin lines, sometimes with drawings in the margins, folded five or six times into a rectangle, and then slid through the vents of a locker in the school hallway. I imagine nearly everyone has or has had a secret stash. Some are tear-stained and looked at every few years. Others are shoved in a box in an attic. Others burned or thrown away when things went wrong. But the one thing they all had in common was that someone took the time to say some things they needed to say in as permanent a way as they knew how.

I appreciate love letters, I really do. But I've never really written one before. Well, maybe in high school, but I'm not sure "Holy crap, trigonometry is so boring and I have marching band practice tonight [nerd!] and I cannot WAIT to go to the prom with you!" is quite the same as what I want to say here, and now, in this very public place.

There's no paper, no ink, no drawings in the margins, no folding... just my fingers typing, and these words appearing for everyone to see. And, it's more of a thank-you note, I suppose, than a love letter, but the need to say it comes from the heart.

First, to Chef Keller:

Thank you for this book, and for your grace and kindness throughout this project.

Thank you for your leadership and your inspiration.

Thank you for your sense of humor, and for letting me express mine.

Thank you for providing a smart, focused, hard-driving example to those of us who want more out of life, and who want to better ourselves, push ourselves, in whatever way we can.

You didn't know you were doing this when you and your team at The French Laundry along with Michael Ruhlman and Susie Heller, and the wonderful people at Workman/Artisan developed, wrote, and released this book, but you published something I clicked with on a level I still find hard to describe. The stories, the order, the instruction, the complexities, the techniques, and the challenges were all things I felt in my bones every time I turned a page to start yet another dish. It was almost as if cooking finally made sense. You provided something that nearly ten years later enabled me to experience the most incredible, and often indescribable, sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. And after all these years of writing for other people, you allowed me a platform from which to speak in my own voice.

Thank you.

To all of you:

I started this blog because I was bored and unchallenged, a little annoyed, and maybe just a tad crazy. I honestly wasn't sure when I started it that I was going to stick with it, but I was hooked from the get-go and felt this strange yet familiar surge of adrenaline kick in when faced with something a little voice tells you you probably can't do.

Sure, there were more than a few bumps along the way, but I am so incredibly proud of what I was able to accomplish. I had no idea I could do this, and I'm so thankful for everyone who, when I met or corresponded with you over these past two years, were so supportive and gracious and kind and funny. It makes me hopeful to know that there are so many of you out there who appreciate good food and are willing to make the effort to try something outside your comfort zone every now and then.

I've been incredibly lucky these past two years. I've been able to meet some people I've admired from afar, and I've been given some amazing opportunities that continue to open doors I never could've imagined.

In addition to all that, what I honestly and truly love are the emails I get every day from people who write to say, "I called in sick to work because I wanted to make veal stock -- am I nuts?" [no] or "I didn't think I could do anything from this book, but I just tried the duck and it's amazing!" [I KNOW] or "You know what? I think I'm gonna try the salmon cornets!" [enjoy!] or "Hey, did you hear Bloomberg is going after a third term?!?" [swoony swoon swoon]

It makes me happy to know there are so many busy, hardworking people out there -- home cooks just like me -- who want to stretch their wings and spend all day cooking something special, and who don't want their food dumbed down. I love that we've been able to connect through this and other blogs. I also love that when you hear news about Michael Bloomberg, I'm the first person you think of. That's awesome.

While I am sad that this specific blog has come to an end, I am surprised at how good it feels to be able to say, "I cooked every dish in The French Laundry Cookbook."

So, thank you. All of you.

For everything.

All my best,

p.s. Here's my forwarding address. I'm moving in next week.

Music to Say "Thank You" To:
Sly and the Family Stone, of course.

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

Friday, October 10, 2008

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


You guys, this is a really hard post to write.

I keep typing, then deleting... then typing more slowly... and stopping to just watch the cursor on the screen blink on and off after each word I type.

I don't even want to think about, when I'm done writing this, how long I'm going to stare at the "Publish Post" button at the bottom of the screen when all the writing is done and let the little hand-shaped cursor linger over that.

Make fun all you want of little miss sarcastic here getting all sappy and goopy, but having to actually sit down and write this post is weird and strange and much more difficult than I ever could have imagined.

I spent almost an hour this morning staring at pages 316 and 317 of my copy of The French Laundry Cookbook... gliding my finger left to right under each line as I read and re-read the title and corresponding page number of each dish....seeing my checkmarks (some in black pen, some in blue pen) indicating which dishes I'd already done, hoping that maybe, possibly, (please oh please oh please) I'd see a small blank space and find that I'd missed one. But I didn't. With this dish, I'd done them all. Cooked all 100 dishes in this book, and a few extras to boot.

I closed the book, laid it on the wooden butcher block you've seen in so many of my photos, stood there with my hands pressed down on the cover of it, and just cried.

It wasn't a big weepy, ugly cry... it was a quieter "wow" and a "whew" kind of cry. And after about 15 seconds, I saw my reflection in the kitchen window and had to laugh at myself because it's been the most amazing ride, hasn't it? I knew I'd been heavily invested in this project for quite some time, but instead of bursting into tears, I really thought I'd feel joyful, jubilant, celebratory, accomplished and victorious. And I do. I just have a dorky way of showing it.

I've known for a long time that I wanted this dish to be the last one I cooked and the last one I posted, since it's one of the first things (along with the gougères) you're served at The French Laundry and Per Se when you sit down to eat.

In fact, now that I think about it, it's almost a year to the day that I ate at Per Se for the very first time, and got to hold one of these cornets in my hand... unwrapping the perfect little, white napkin from the cone, and making sure I got the salmon tartare, red onion crème fraîche, and the top centimeter of the cone into my mouth in the first bite. I remember saying to myself, "Stop. Think. Taste. Remember. Because you're going to make these one day, and they need to be great. This is one dish you cannot and must not screw up."

I had the cornets again the second time I went to Per Se for dinner, and then again the third time, when I went there for the Under Pressure book preview luncheon. That time, as I stood in the front lobby-lounge area at Per Se, meeting journalists, writers, publishers, and others I'd long admired, one of the servers brought around a beautiful tray with white napkin-wrapped salmon tartare cornets nestled inside. With a glass of champagne in my left hand, I picked up a cornet in my right hand and just stared at it for a few seconds. I thought about whose job it was to perfectly fold and then perfectly wrap all those little napkins around the cones. I thought about how many of those tiny savory cones must get made every week, and if any ever break, or are they all perfect every single time. And I thought about how lucky I was to be in this place, seeing Thomas Keller just a few feet away talking to his publisher, Ann Bramson, before the sous vide demonstration was to begin... and I thought, how in the hell did I get to be this lucky?

I took a bite of that cornet, unwrapped the napkin from the rest and finished it in the second bite, and magically, someone appeared by my side to take the napkin from my hands. That was, without a doubt, my favorite cornet of all... until I made my own. Granted, I also had them in August when I ate at The French Laundry and Per Se, and they were lovely. But there's something about having eaten something so perfect and playful in the most amazing context surrounded by people who wow and amaze you, and then being able to replicate it in the most perfect way I am capable of that really made me feel like I'd accomplished something pretty freakin' amazing. Because it wasn't about just making these cornets and having them be phenomenal, it was also about having them serve as the perfect ending to what really has been one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life.

* * * * *

In the past few years, I've seen a number of online and literary accounts of people trying to make these cornets, and read all about the burned fingertips and cracked or burned cones, the alternate methods of serving the tartare on a flat tuille instead, the frustration others experienced in plating and serving them, and figured it would be one, big, colossal FAIL when it came time for me to make them.

I was so happy to be proven wrong.

The first thing I did was make the stencil for the cornets. I needed a 4" diameter ring, and a deli container lid with the center cut out worked perfectly. I lined it up on a plastic binder divider tab thingamabob, traced a circle, and cut out a stencil on that.

Next, I made the batter for the cornets. Big disclaimer here: I did not follow the exact instructions in the book, because I'd heard from a number of very experienced people (and saw a video of Thomas using the Cuisinart for this step; link below) that you can make this batter in a food processor and it works out nicely. So, I decided to give it a whirl and see how I fared. I put the butter into the food processor and zapped it around until it was smooth and almost like mayonnaise in texture, then added the flour, sugar, salt, and egg whites, and pulsed it until everything was combined and smooth, and there were no chunks or lumps.

I placed the stencil onto a Silpat and spread the batter using an offset spatula. Note, you will see a little glob of butter in one of the rounds below.... so I guess I kind of lied about my zapping it around the food processor until there were no lumps. Ooopsie.

I sprinkled some poppyseeds onto the rounds (couldn't find black sesame seeds anywhere)...

... and put them in a 400-degree oven for 4 minutes. At the four-minute mark, I opened the oven, pulled out the baking sheet and put it on the open oven door so I could keep the rounds warm while I used an offset spatula to lift the edge and then flip each one WITH MY BARE HANDS HELLO HOT BUTTER, and then rolled them around the cornet molds (also called cream horn molds or cornucopia molds). The book's explanation of how to do this step is pretty straightforward, but this video of Thomas making the original tuna tartare cornets on the Jewish Television Network might help if you're stuck. It's a really great demo of how you roll these suckers, and you get to see the master at work, which is always a treat. [Thanks to all of you who also emailed me that link over the past 8 or 9 months. You're right; it IS helpful to see.]

You'll see above that one of them has a hole in the cone -- that's where that lump of butter was. So, when you're doing these at home (and you really should do these at home), make sure you don't have any lumps, bumps, or clumps of butter, or else it will melt and leave you with a hole in your cornet. And that would be bad. Very bad.

I put the cornets back in the oven so they could finish baking -- another three and a half minutes -- took them out, let them rest for about 45 seconds, then removed them from the baking sheet WITH MY BARE HANDS HOT CONES BURNY FINGERTIPS AAAAUUUGGGGHHH, and put them on a paper towel to cool to room temperature.

After just 30 seconds on the paper towels, I removed the molds from the finished cornets and used them on the next batch already in the oven. Make no mistake, and in case you missed my not-so-subtle clues, these things are hotty hot hot when you handle them, especially when you have to flip and roll the rounds around the molds. Using gloves is not an option, because you need to be able to work directly with them to get them to wrap and roll tight against the mold. In my experience, the best tool for doing this step expeditiously, yet carefully, is to repeat a lot of swear words in a mantra as you're doing it. Turn those swear words into a song. Or a chant. Or a haiku. Whatever works for you. But for me? I needed to let a few expletives fly to get the job done. Sorry, Mom, but it's true.

When all the cornets had cooled to room temperature, I stored them in an airtight container until I was ready to serve them.

The next thing I did was prepare the salmon tartare.

I minced that lovely 6-ounce piece of salmon belly and put it in a bowl with some olive oil, lemon oil, minced chives, minced shallots and a pinch or two of salt, then mixed it together before covering it with foil and refrigerating it for about an hour.

The last thing I needed to make was the red onion crème fraîche. I put some crème fraîche in a mixing bowl and whisked it by hand until it had soft peaks.

Then, I rinsed the minced red onion under cold water for a few seconds, dried them on paper towels, and gently folded them into the crème fraîche.

I added a pinch or two of salt and white pepper to this mixture as well. I made a little more than the book instructed because I knew I wanted to use some as an omelet filling the next morning for breakfast, along with the leftover salmon I knew I'd have because I upped the quantities a smidge on that part, as well.

I called my friends... my loyal neighbors who are my most trusted tasters, and who have eaten nearly every single dish you've read about on this blog... and gave them the two-minute warning to come on over.

During that time, I used a ziploc bag to pipe red onion crème fraîche into each cone, topped it with a little scoop of salmon tartare which I then topped with a chive tip.

I had 22 in all (one cone had a hole in it, and I dropped one on the floor), and served them in a test-tube rack I found online at some bizarro homeschool supply web site (which I now just realized totally explains all the bizaro fundamentalist catalogs and literature offers I'm getting in the mail):

Here's a close up of the very first one I made:

Not too shabby, huh?

I went back and re-read one of my old posts about when I had these at Per Se and found this:

Salmon Tartare Cornets: I really wish there were words to describe how good these are. Note to self: Ummm, you'd better figure out what those words are by the time you make these.

And you know what? I finally did find the words to describe how good these are:


Absolutely perfect.

You gotta make 'em yourself to know what I mean, and to know what they taste like. It's worth it, I promise.

Up Next: French Laundry at Home Lists and Menu Suggestions (and what I think will be a very cool giveaway opportunity)

King Arthur flour
Domino sugar
David's kosher salt
365 organic butter
Eggs from Smith Meadows Farm
Poppyseeds, chives, shallot, red onion, white pepper from the TPSS Co-op
Salmon from BlackSalt
Monini olive oil
O lemon oil
Vermont Butter and Cheese Co. crème fraîche

Music to Cook By: Earth Wind & Fire; Essential Earth Wind & Fire. There's just something so happy and wonderful about a giant, groovy 70s band with a full horn section and an overall sound I just love. When I was in elementary school, my friend, Molly, and I used to play her parents' Earth Wind & Fire records full blast on the record player as we jumped on the sofa and danced around the living room (but not jumping so hard we'd make the record skip), pretending we were on American Bandstand and Soul Train, with our Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers (root beer!) hanging around our necks. I don't know how you could listen to "Got To Get You Into My Life" and not want to dance around your own kitchen, you know?

Read My Previous Post: Velouté of Bittersweet Chocolate with Cinnamon Stick Ice Cream

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Velouté of Bittersweet Chocolate with Cinnamon Stick Ice Cream

It's no coincidence that I saved this as the next-to-last dish to make. Why? Because I'm incredibly bittersweet about this project coming to its inevitable conclusion, so this dish seemed fitting to hold until near the end. And, I also have to confess that it's taken me ages to write this post, because as excited as I am about starting on the Alinea Cookbook, I'm more than a little melancholy about this particular project coming to an end... so I've been procrastinating on putting this up.

My apologies to those of you who've emailed over the past few days with, "Um, Carol? Are you, like, dead or something?" No, I am not injured, dead, or ignoring you. I'm just spending more and more time with every last dish and every last post, because this has been such an incredible project, and I want to savor every last bit of it. And because, let's be honest, procrastination is in my freakin' DNA.

Alright, alright, I'll save all the mushiness for a future post. Let's get our velouté on.

In the intro to this dish, The French Laundry Cookbook reads: "Here, a seductive disk of molten chocolate sits atop a frozen platform of cinnamon ice cream -- for that hot-cold surprise -- in a pool of chocolate sauce."

If I had written the intro, it would've gone something like this: "Holy $(%#$(%, people; you will NOT want this dessert to end. Mother$(%*#$(%&$."

See why Michael Ruhlman is the writer, and not yours truly?

Thought so.

I did this dish over two days, and I think for the best results, you've got to do it that way. Or else, start reeeeealllllyyyy early in the morning to serve it that night. I reeeeealllllyyyy hate early mornings, so I spaced it out over two days. It worked perfectly. The first thing I did was make the chocolate velouté. Here's the mise en place:

I made the meringue by putting the egg whites and some of the sugar into a mixing bowl over a pan of simmering water. I whisked it until the sugar had dissolved and it had gotten a little foamy, then set the mixing bowl on my mixer stand. I whipped it with my trusty Kitchen Aid mixer (man, I love that thing) for a little over 5 minutes -- by then, the meringue had cooled, had soft peaks, and was light and fluffy.

During the five minutes it took to whip, I prepared the chocolate part of the equation. I poured the milk into a saucepan, then sifted in sugar, cocoa powder, flour, and salt and whisked it to combine everything. Then, I whisked in the egg yolks. Over medium heat, I kept whisking it until it had gotten to the consistency of pudding or custard. Then, I kept cooking it and whisking it, until it had gotten a nice sheen to it and had thickened even more.

I'd had a gelatin sheet soaking in water, so I squeezed out the water and dropped the gelatin into the mixture -- still whisking -- then removed the pan from the heat. Then, I stirred in the chopped bittersweet chocolate and stirred it until it melted completely.

I transferred this mixture to a mixing bowl, where I whisked in one spoonful of the meringue.

When that had combined, I folded in the rest of it.

I put this chocolatey goodness into a ziploc bag, cut off the tip, then filled the ring molds with the mixture:

I covered the tray of ring molds with aluminum foil and put it in the freezer overnight.

Before going to bed, I also made the custard for the cinnamon ice cream, because that needed to cool overnight.

I combined cream, milk, and a cinnamon stick in a sauce pan, brought it to a simmer, then covered it and turned off the flame so it could steep for 30 minutes.

I removed the cinnamon stick and added some sugar, then brought it back up to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

In a separate bowl, I whisked the rest of the sugar with the egg yolks:

Then, as with any ice cream custard, I tempered the eggs with some of the warm cinnamon-milk-cream mixture, then poured the tempered yolks into the saucepan and continued heating and stirring until the custard thickened and coated the wooden spoon I'd been stirring it with.

I poured the custard into a bowl, set that bowl in a bowl of ice, and stirred it every now and then until it had cooled to room temperature. I strained the cooled custard into a separate bowl which I put in the fridge overnight to cool completely.

I woke up early the next morning, because I wanted to get the ice cream moving along so it would be done in enough time to serve this dessert later that afternoon. It was the weekend, and what better time to serve dessert before dinner, right?

I removed the bowl of custard from the refrigerator and put it in my ice cream maker for about 35 minutes. Then, I slathered the nearly frozen ice cream onto a plastic wrap-lined sheet pan and spread it into a 3/4" layer. I covered it with foil and put it in the freezer for a few hours to harden.

When the ice cream had hardened, I cut out six disks (2" in diameter) and returned those to the freezer until I was ready to plate:

Next up? The cookies. They don't get any billing in the dish's title, but they were instrumental in pulling this dish together and were actually quite tasty.

In a bowl, I whisked together regular all-purpose and pastry flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.

In my mixing bowl (using the paddle attachment), I beat together butter, sugar, brown sugar, and honey.

When they had combined, I slowly added in the dry ingredients and kept mixing it until everything was incorporated.

Then, I put the cookie dough onto a Silpat. The dough was kind of crumbly, so I smushed it together as best I could.

I covered it with a piece of parchment paper and rolled the dough into a 1/8" thick layer.

I put the Silpat -- with the dough still on it -- onto a baking sheet and put that in the freezer for an hour. After the hour was up (during which time I got a TON of work done... and by work, I mean Twittering, natch), I took the dough out of the freezer, removed the parchment, and placed the mat o' dough onto a baking sheet and baked it at 350 degrees for 8 minutes.

At the 8-minute mark, I used a 2" round cutter to cut out disks...

... then returned the pan to the oven to bake another 3 minutes. When they were done, they looked like this:

I let the cookies cool for a few minutes, lifted them off the mat with an offset spatula, and stored them in a container until it was time to plate.

The last thing I had to do before finishing the dish and plating it was to make the chocolate sauce. Witness, my bittersweet chocolate:

I chopped it:

Then, poured some warm cream over it:

Then, after a minute or two, stirred it:

I don't know why the hell anyone would buy that nasty-ass ready-made chocolate sauce at the grocery store when you can make something this good so easily.

Just before my friends were due to arrive (okay, walk 30 feet from their front door to mine), I baked les veloutés. I put the cookies on a baking sheet, then gently pressed out the frozen chocolate veloutés from their ring molds, placed one atop each cookie, and baked them in a 400-degree oven for 12 minutes.

In the final plating shot, you'll see what they looked like when they were done baking.

To plate, I poured a small pool of the chocolate sauce into the dish, then centered an ice cream disk, which I topped with a baked velouté... and dusted the whole shebang with some powdered sugar:

Doesn't that look like if someone served it to you, you might actually say, "Holy $(%#$(%, people; I do NOT want this dessert to end. Mother$(%*#$(%&$."?????? Thought so.

So, how did it taste?

Let's refer to the photographic evidence:

That's my neighbor kid, "C," who finished this dish in record time.

He loved it. I loved it. We all loved it. And, I wish I had made more. It was rich and creamy, and we all could've had seconds and then fallen asleep from the massive sugar rush that would've ensued.

The velouté was hot and creamy inside... the ice cream was cold and the cinnamon with the chocolate was so fantastic... and the chocolate sauce? Alone, it's worth the cost of buying this book. I mean it.

The hot-cold combo is especially fantastic when the ingredients are this good. I remember, as a kid, going to Bob's Big Boy after a band concert or other elementary school parental torture device, and ordering the hot fudge cake with the ice cream layer inside, drenched in chocolate sauce. When I was nine years old, I used to dream about that cake (and mashed potatoes with succotash mixed in, but that's a story for another blog) -- the warm chocolate cake, the cold vanilla ice cream, the hot fudge sauce oozing down the sides of the dessert... and now, I've figured out how to not only bring back that glorious dessert memory, but make it a kabillion times better.

And you know what? It's not hard to make. AT ALL. Nothing was troubling, puzzling, or made me feel like I was about to experience a big, fat, colossal FAIL. It was incredibly straightforward, and without a doubt, one of the best things I've ever put in my mouth.

But there were five other people at the table. Did they all love it as much as I did?

Well, imagine this, times six.

I think you have your answer.

Up Next: "Cornets" -- Salmon Tartare with Sweet Red Onion Crème Fraîche

Eggs from Smith Meadows Farm
Domino sugar, confectioners' sugar, and brown sugar
Organic Valley milk and cream
Ghirardelli cocoa
King Arthur flour and gelatin sheet
Noi Sirius bittersweet chocolate
Cinnamon from TPSS Co-op
Savannah Bee Company sourwood honey

Music to Cook By: Heart; Greatest Hits. Because I needed to sing "Magic Man" and "Barracuda" at the top of my lungs. It was just one of those weeks.

Read My Previous Post: Baby Lamb: Five Cuts Served with Provençal Vegetables, Braised Cipollini Onions, and Thyme Oil (Part 2)