Sunday, December 30, 2007

French Laundry at Home: The Year in Review

Ah, the end of one year and the beginning of a new. For some, myself included, the new year comes in September -- when the sloth of summer takes a sharp turn into crisper weather and busy schedules, and memories of the smell of pencil lead and paper cuts from a just-opened packet of notebook paper.

However, I also celebrate the new year just like everyone else does -- when December turns into January, and you screw up the first 10 or 15 checks you write by filling in the wrong year on the dateline. At this time of year, the one thing it seems like a lot of my friends are talking about are their New Year's resolutions. In fact, I bet some of you are thinking, "Gee, I don't know what New Year's resolutions I should make this year. Let's see what Carol has up HER sleeve!" (and seriously, if any of you actually DID think that, you need to have a drink; I mean it)

Cream of Walnut Soup, February 25, 2007

The thing is, if you're coming here for answers, you're S.O.L. I don't make New Year's resolutions. What I do instead at this time of year is spend a little time thinking about what I've liked about the past 12 months or so, as well as what I might want to do in the coming year. I spend an afternoon just like I did today going through old email, reading through my datebook, perusing pages of some of my journals, and thinking about what I've accomplished or what made me happy.

Carnaroli Risotto, March 10, 2007

Last year at this time, I looked back on 2006 and my first reaction was that I thought the year was in the shitter. My grandmother died, I had a few health problems (none of them serious, just mostly annoying), went through a crappy breakup, saw some legislation my colleagues and I worked hard on get vetoed by the President, and missed out on an opportunity to move to New York. As soon as I finished making that mental list, I actually sat back and thought, "WAITAMINUTE! Despite a few disappointments here and there, on the whole 2006 was actually a pretty good year." I spent time with great friends and loved ones, signed on lots of new clients, built up a healthy bank account, made some much-needed cosmetic changes to my home, set aside time to write and read, traveled, and experienced countless other things I know I sometimes take for granted and shouldn't.

So, while I knew deep down inside that 2006 was actually a pretty great year, I couldn't get past this noodgey feeling that something was just off. And then I realized what it was: I was bored.

It's no good when I'm bored. Not at all. I get cranky and annoying. More so than usual, I should clarify. And, I just kind of coast and then annoy myself in ADDITION to annoying others. So, yeah; boredom, not so good.

Because I love making lists more than you'll ever know, I made a list last year of anti-boredom things I thought I should do in 2007 -- house renovations, business expansion, travel, shampoo purchases, etc. -- but as I was writing it, nothing was really jumping out at me. Sure, they were all things I could do, but somehow, I knew I'd still be bored.

Salad of Haricots Verts, March 18, 2007

So, instead of a big to-do list of crap I knew would deliver yet another boring year, I decided to go a different route and figure out an overarching strategy for the year. Yes, people, I gave 2007 a theme. Because if you didn't already know I was a huge nerd, you sure do now.

Instead of resolutions or a list of specific goals for that year, giving a year a theme is something that I've done off and on throughout my adult life -- sometimes without even knowing I was doing so. For example, 1999 was The Year I'm Not Learning Anything, and I dove headfirst (more than I usually do) into trashy magazines and bad television with no apologies. When not at work, I really tried hard to let my brain go to mush as often as possible, and it was great. 2001 was the year I started my own company, so I really didn't have a theme other than Let's Not Have 2001 Be the Year I Declare Bankruptcy Because That Would Totally Suck. 2002's theme was I Made It Through The First Year of Business So Let's See If We Can Keep This Gravy Train Moving Along Because Going Bankrupt Now Would Be Embarrassing and Also Suck. 2005 was The Year I Will Not Put Up With Bullshit From People (an incredibly liberating year, as I'm sure you can imagine). 2006 didn't really have a theme, which ipso facto, The Year I Was So Bored And Thus Annoying and Cranky That I Can't Believe Someone Didn't Punch Me in the Throat Because, MAN.

Chicken Stack-Ups (hee!), April 1, 2007

I decided that if I was really going to do this theme thing for 2007 (again, NERD), I needed to pull a little mental jujitsu on myself and declare 2007 as The Year of Yes. Now, that didn't mean that I was going to say "yes" to everything that came my way, because, hello, basket case. I'm very good at saying no, and turning down stuff that I think will infringe upon the very little amount of personal life a self-employed person tends to have. But I needed something that would stave off another year of impending boredom, so I was willing to try anything. I didn't have specific criteria for The Year of Yes, but my thinking went a little something like this: If I've never done it before, or I'm reluctant to try it, I'd say "yes." (get your minds out of the gutter, you sick, sick people) If something seemed the least bit daunting or made me wrinkle my nose or clench my shoulders in trepidation, I was going to say "yes." If something seemed preposterous and could very likely crash and burn in a heap of firey failure, I'd say "yes." I decided that for me the only way to not be bored was to leap before I looked and enjoy the ride. The goal wasn't to say "yes" to everything or to the things I would ordinarily say "no" to. It was to say "yes" to the things I would have ordinarily said, "Are you f-ing kidding me?!?!?!?" to.

The first thing I said yes to was on January 3rd, 2007 when a friend asked me to teach public relations writing in the Masters program at Johns Hopkins University. Me? A teacher? A professor? I don't even HAVE a graduate degree, and I was pretty sure I'd suck at teaching other people what I do for a living. But, I agreed to do it, and you know what? It was a TON of work but I loved it, and I found out I'm actually pretty good at it. I loved it so much that I followed her to Georgetown and now I teach part-time in the Masters program there. My students have been amazing, and I learn as much from them as I hope they learn from me.

Cherries, July 2, 2007

Another thing I said "yes" to was hosting a radio show. I talk to the media all the time for my job; and, I have hosted segments and done panel discussions on-air here in the DC market, but I've never hosted my own show. So, when the host of a program I was a panelist on left the program and they asked me to take over, I said "yes" and it's been fantastic. The show runs on the eight Clear Channel-owned radio stations here in the DC market every Sunday morning, and I love every minute of it. Even the hate mail from listeners who think we're full of crap (which sometimes we totally are).

Something else I said "yes" to this year were two enormous and daunting client projects that a year ago I would've turned away without even considering. One involved a high-profile international celebrity, and the other one involved a government program for people with disabilities. Both projects took me out of my professional comfort zone and have led to other things in the pipeline for 2008. I've grown so much both personally and professionally as a result of working on these two projects, and met some amazing people in the process. And, to be totally selfish, my bank account ain't suffering, either.

Heirloom Tomatoes, August 9, 2007

But the one thing I decided to do in 2007, this Year of Yes, that has taken on a life of its own and in fact has changed me the most, is this very blog. I started it because one morning I had the TV on in the background as I was cleaning the house, and got really angry that people who were watching a particular program on a particular cable network were expected to believe that dumping some vodka and a taco seasoning packet on a store-bought rotisserie chicken was a great idea for dinner. I was ranting inside my head composing a hateful letter to that cable channel's programmming VP just as I was dusting my bookshelves, and there it was: The French Laundry Cookbook -- a book I often thought deserved white-glove treatment and should be viewed only under glass because it is so lovely and clean and full of delicious, crisp writing and storytelling... and a book I admire and respect for its dedication to the pursuit of perfection.

I pulled the book off the shelf, turned off the TV, plunked down on the sofa, pulled a heavy wool blanket over my lap, and started gingerly turning the pages once again, as I had done at least once every month for YEARS. But this time, it felt different. As most people who know me in real life will attest, I, too, am a bit obsessed with the pursuit of perfection. I don't like to be wrong about anything, and I can't stand it when I don't live or work up to my own expectations or standard of perfection. So, when I read through The French Laundry Cookbook in the past, I saw it as something that would give me more than 100 ways to screw up, not live up to my own standard of perfection, and be a big, fat failure.

But opening The French Laundry Cookbook that day felt different from all the other days I'd looked at it before. I actually felt as though I might be able to pull off one or two of the dishes. As I continued looking through it, I flipped the pages faster and faster, realizing that everything about the dishes appealed to my sense of order, time management, discipline, and list-making obsession. And, something just clicked.

I decided right then and there that there was no point to my anger at the cable channel I'd been pissed off about because its programming wasn't going to change, nor was it going away. So, instead of trying to find a way to prove them wrong (because I'm not really a stubborn 5-year old although I sometimes play one on TV), I decided instead to prove to myself that I could cook every dish in the heavy, gorgeous, pristine book that was sitting in my lap. And, as I reached to open the drawer in the coffee table to get a pad of paper and a pen to make a grocery list, it hit me -- maybe I should do a blog about cooking every dish in this cookbook. I have to say, even though I'd set up blogs for clients and other people, I wasn't necessarily a big fan of blogging. So, I asked myself, "Who the hell would read a blog about me cooking every recipe in The French Laundry Cookbook?" I counted: My mom, my dad, eight or nine friends who liked food, and maybe a cousin or two. Were a dozen readers worth it? At that point, I felt the shoulder shrug and wrinkled nose thing going on that told me I was shirking it for some reason, so I said (out loud, strangely enough), "Fine. I'll do it." I just figured I'd give it a go and see what happened. If it sucked, it sucked, and I'd just delete it after a few posts and pretend like nothing happened.

I turned to page 35 of the book -- Gazpacho -- wrote down the ingredients, drove to Whole Foods, bought everything I needed, and got started that afternoon.

Gazpacho, January 15, 2007

As soon as I'd done the first dish, I was hooked. I was already a pretty good cook, if I do say so myself, but this gazpacho was better than any I'd ever made before. And, not only did the gazpacho taste amazing, the whole process of planning and shopping for it, as well as making it, was energizing. Sharing it with my friends and neighbors, and anxiously awaiting their response, was nerve-wracking and powerful all at the same time. I was slightly giddy as my guests left and I started the dishwasher.

I went upstairs to my little home office, loaded the photos onto my laptop, and opened a Blogger account. When I started to type my first post, I felt a little guarded, like I was putting myself out there more than I was comfortable with. I proofed and spell-checked the post, and as soon as I clicked the "Publish" button on that first entry, I knew I was in for a wild ride. But I didn't know then what I know now -- that the book and this blog would unlock something in me I still can't quite define.

It may sound odd coming from someone as cynical and snarky as I am, but doing this blog and cooking this food has changed my life. Okay, maybe "changed my life" is too much. It's really more that it's made me more comfortable and happy in a life I already loved. I've fallen in love with my kitchen again (I was in a long-held "hate" stage in my love-hate relationship with that room), and reclaimed a part of my brain I'd long since ignored. I've been able to write about something I love. I've been able to hear from so many of you about what you love about cooking and food. I've eaten amazing food in my kitchen, as well as others. I've become a better cook because I'm more open to taking risks in the kitchen. I've received the most kind and generous advice and counsel from some of the best in the business. I've received accolades I never thought possible. I've met one of my literary heroes.

But above all, and perhaps MOST important -- I wasn't bored for one single day of the year because I was doing something that fed me in a way I didn't know I needed. And, you all are a big part of that -- so, THANK YOU. I'm grateful that you come here to see what I'm up to, and I love your comments and email, so keep 'em comin'. I'll need it when in a month or two I have to slice the skin off a baby cow's tongue and try really, really hard not to vomit. Repeatedly. For days. Because, ack.

So, what's my theme for 2008? No clue. But I hope you'll stick around to find out. In the meantime, I'm raising a glass of wine here at my desk to clink with yours in wishing you a happy, healthy 2008.

Happy new year, everyone!

Read my previous post: Roquefort Trifle with French Butter Pear Relish

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Roquefort Trifle with French Butter Pear Relish

I'm a little sad today. This was the last cheese dish I made as part of French Laundry at Home. Let us bow our heads for a moment of silence.

> urp <

Sorry 'bout that, but I'm still burping up Roquefort from this dish, and loving every minute of it. And, while I'm sad that this is the last cheese dish in the book, I'm elated that I finally made a dacquoise that didn't look like turdis caninus.

Here we go...

The first layer in the trifle is a pear purée. To make this, I wrapped 6 allspice berries and 15 black peppercorns (no more, no less) in a piece of cheesecloth, tied it closed into a little sachet and put it in a saucepan with water and sugar, and brought it to a simmer.

I added six ounces of dried pears, which I'd diced:

I covered the pan with a parchment lid and let them simmer for about 30 minutes. I was afraid it was going to smell like a Crabtree & Evelyn threw up in my kitchen, but it actually was not offensive at all. It smelled smooth and fruity, and a wee bit peppery. I removed the sachet and poured the contents of the pan into the blender and whacked the heck out of the pears to make a lovely purée. Have a look-see:

Next, I made the pear relish. I peeled, cored and diced a Bosc pear, as well as a little bit of red onion and red bell pepper. I put them in a small saucepan with some red wine vinegar and sugar and cooked it over very low heat for about 30-40 minutes and most of the liquid had evaporated:

Next up? Making the Roquefort mousse. I put a gelatin sheet in a bowl of cold water to soften it. I then put room temperature Roquefort cheese (one of my favorites, by the way) in a bowl, poured hot milk over it, then scraped it all into the blender and blended it for about 10-15 seconds. I poured this mixture back into the saucepan in which I'd heated the milk and rewarmed it. I squeezed the water out of the gelatin sheet and put it in the hot milk/cheese mixture to melt and dissolve the gelatin:

I strained this mixture through a chinois into a bowl, then let it chill in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes until it had cooled completely. I then whisked some cream until it formed soft peaks. I folded the cream into the Roquefort mixture a little bit at a time:

I got the little cups ready for the trifles. I wish I'd had little clear bowls or dishes so you could see the layers, but I didn't have anything that was the right size or shape, so I'm stuck with these suckers:

I put a few tablespoons of the pear purée into the bottom of each cup, then topped it with the Roquefort mixture:

I put them in the refrigerator for a few hours to set.

Now, on to the walnut dacquoise. It's no secret here in French Laundry at Home Land that I sucky suck suck at making anything remotely pastry-related. And, when it comes to making dacquoise, I suck at levels never attained before when measuring suckitude. Witness the dacquoise that looks like a dog got into a box of tissues then had a nice poo. Also, see the dacquoise that had to moonlight as a sort of nacho-esque chip aboard a most fantastic bowl of blueberry soup.

So, imagine my dismay to learn that I had to make a go of it once again... on this, the fateful, final cheese dish of this project. I was heartbroken at the prospect, and almost went out and just bought some freakin' Pepperidge Farm nonsense just because they'd at least LOOK good and I could save face. But no, I knew that wouldn't be fair, so I figured, why not -- let's give these lovely readers one more chance to bust my chops about that fact that, clearly, Stephen Durfee has put a hex on me and I shall never be able to make pastry again!

I preheated the oven to 325 degrees. I then cranked it up to 350 because I remembered that I needed a little more heat (learned my lesson from the last debacle). I also turned on the dehumidifier right outside the kitchen, because I know humidity can have an impact on dacquoise, causing them to be more chewy than crispy. I know I am blinding you with some serious F-ing science, but stay with me.

I put the walnuts and flour into my food processor and pulsed it for about a minute, until the mixture was finely ground, but not overly processed and oily:

In a glass bowl, I whisked some room temperature butter until it was the consistency of mayonnaise:

Next, I folded the floury nut (ha!) mixture into the butter:

In a separate bowl, I whisked some egg whites until they were foamy, then added some salt, whisked some more, then folded that into the nuts, flour and butter mixture:

The texture was kind of gloppy and spackle-like, which I wasn't sure was normal, but I soldiered forth and using an offset spatula spread it onto a Silpat-lined baking sheet so that it was about 1/8" thick:

Using a 2" biscuit cutter, I cut circles into the dacquoise so that they'd be easier to cut when they were done baking:

I put the dacquoise in the 350-degree oven for 12 minutes, then turned the pan, baked them for another 15 minutes until they were an even brown and firm when I touched them:

Can you believe what you're seeing, boys and girls? No turds. No cracklins. Just good ole-fashioned dacquoise, the way they're SUPPOSED to be. And, on white paper towels (YAY!) to boot. No more of those stupid floral jobbies, no sir.

With the dacquoise complete, it was time to assemble the dish. I took the trifles out of the refrigerator, placed a dacquoise on each one, then topped the dacquoise with a bit of pear relish and served my guests:

These? Were delicious. I could have eaten twenty of them. Maybe more. Even though each element of the dish was scrumptious on its own, the real trick was to get a little bit of everything on the spoon all at once -- the pear purée, the Roquefort mousse, the crunchy, walnutty dacquoise, the pear relish. Together, the combination was glorious. Sweet, nutty, tangy, salty, and sharp, but harmonious all in its own special way. The textures worked well together, and the tastes were truly a delight. I already loved this combination from the get-go because one of my favorite salads to make is an endive, pear, walnut and roquefort salad with a homemade honey-dijon dressing. So, I had an inkling this dish might be pretty damn good. And, even sweeter was the victory of my dacquoise. What a fitting way to close out the cheese chapter of this fantabulous book. Stephen Durfee, I love you, man.

In just a few hours, I'll be heading back to my Amish homeland for some Christmas cheer. Whatever you celebrate -- Christmas, Chanukah, Festivus -- I hope your time off is or has been enjoyably restful and has left you feeling sated in every way.

Up Next: Tasting of Potatoes with Black Truffles

Eggs and spices from Takoma Park Silver Spring Co-op
Roquefort, walnuts, onion, red bell pepper and pears (fresh and dried) from Whole Foods
Organic Valley cream
365 organic butter

Music to Cook By: The Dream Academy; The Dream Academy. I listen to this album at least once every winter because it reminds me of driving with my younger brother to Ski Roundtop for our ski club. Everyone knows Dream Academy's "Life in a Northern Town" but I think I'm partial to "Edge of Forever" as a favorite nostalgia song because it opens with the lyric, "When you were young, did you ever love somebody" to which my then-13-year old brother yelled, "NO!" and I almost drove off the road laughing so hard. I still can't listen to that song without hearing his voice yelling "NO!" And, the whole Dream Academy thing came full circle a year or two ago when my brother and sister-in-law drunk-dialed me at 1 a.m. wanting to know "the name of that band that sang the northern town song" to which I replied, "do you mean Dream Academy?" There was a split second of silence, followed by a rather loud "HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!" from my sister-in-law. Why? Because my brother swore up and down that the band's name was Icicle Palace. Snerk. And we continue to remind him of that on a pretty regular basis, and now the Internet will, too. I'm the best sister EVAR!!!11!1!!!!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Whole Roasted Moulard Duck Foie Gras with Apples and Black Truffles

I don't think it's any secret that when I started cooking The French Laundry Cookbook, I was completely squicked out at the thought of deveining a foie gras. After angsting about it for months, I eventually did it and found it strangely satisfying... and now I actually look forward to it. So, when the foie arrived from D'Artagnan, it was all I could do to get through that first 24-hour soaking in milk before I could get to the deveining. I know. I'm weird. Let's just get that out of the way, shall we? Okay, moving on...

Here's the foie in its packaging, and after having soaked in milk, just before deveining:

After deveining it and putting it all back together, I covered it in salt, pepper, and a little bit of sugar, then put it in a glass baking dish. I pressed plastic wrap tight against it, then wrapped the entire dish and let it marinate in the refrigerator for about 10 hours.

This dish originally called for thin slices of Granny Smith apple and chunks of truffle to be served with it, but I was so enamored with the foie with pickled cherries I'd made this spring, that I decided to improvise a bit. Foie gras is very rich and incredibly decadent, so I wanted something sweet, tangy and a little bit zippy to go with it. So, instead of the Granny Smith apple slices and truffle, I made a rustic apple and onion relish. I peeled, cored and cubed three Granny Smith apples, chopped up half a red onion, and put it all in a pan with some red wine vinegar, salt and sugar:

I cooked it over medium-high heat for about 5-7 minutes, then on medium-low heat for about twenty minutes, then let it come to room temp:

It smelled so lovely, I couldn't wait to try it with the foie. I preheated the oven to 475 degrees and got the foie out of all its wrappings. I cut off a small piece of the foie and put it in a heavy sauté pan to render the fat so there would be some fat upon which to sear the whole foie. I then scored the top of the foie and placed it top side down into the hot pan, moving it around so that the sides of the foie would touch the inside edge of the pan, as well. After about 5 minutes when it was sufficiently browned, I flipped it, added five unpeeled-but-smooshed garlic cloves, and did the same thing to the other side.

When the other side was starting to brown, I placed a bunch of thyme on top of the foie and placed the entire pan of it in the oven for about 5 minutes. I took it out and let it rest for 5 minutes before removing it from the pan to a serving plate:

Look at all that drippy, awesome fat. I shudder in the presence of its awesomeness.

Because this dish naturally lends itself to being served "family style," I invited the neighborhood and a few other friends over to celebrate a great week for French Laundry at Home. I served this in the dining room, and we all stood around the table slicing off pieces of foie, placing them on toasted brioche and baguette, topped with the apple and onion relish, and devoured almost the whole thing in no time. The relish was a huge hit, and I'm surprised that we plowed through the foie as quickly as we did. It was absolutely delicious, and the best preparation of it I've made thus far. If you're feeling a bit decadent this holiday season, and you have adventurous friends when it comes to eating, I recommend trying this. It's incredibly easy to make, and if that first bite doesn't make your eyes roll back into your head, then I don't know what will, you crazy monkeys.

Up Next: Roquefort Trifle with French Butter Pear Relish

Foie Gras from D'Artagnan
Garlic, apple, chives and thyme from Whole Foods

Music To Cook By: Yael Naim, assorted. There's a lot of great music coming out of France lately, and Yael Naim is my new favorite. She's a bit quirky, but the music is boppy, odd and fun. A friend of mine in LA hipped me to it, and I'm glad he did. Enjoy!

Monday, December 17, 2007

You Like Me, You Really Like Me!

So, a priest, a rabbi, and a giraffe walk into a bar. The priest says to the rabbi, "Hey, let's see if we can get the giraffe to..." oh wait...

I got an email this morning from the lovely folks at the WellFed Network's Food Blog awards. The subject line was "FBA Winner!" I was really psyched and honored, and ran to their site to see which category French Laundry at Home won -- Best New Blog, or Best Blog (Humor)? I would've been pleased with either one, honestly. But you know what? My jaw is still on the floor, people... I won BOTH!

Wow. Just, wow, you guys. I honestly didn't expect to win AT ALL -- I was up against some very popular, well-loved blogs. Thank you, everyone, for your votes and your hilarious comments and emails along the way.

The only other blog to win two categories? A certain Michael Ruhlman, who won Best Food Blog, Chef and Best Blog, Industry. Congrats, Michael. More than well deserved.

Congrats also to Heidi Swanson/101 Cookbooks (Blog of the Year), Anita/Married with Dinner (Best Blog, Drinks). Two great blogs, and fantastic women who write them. Check them out if you haven't already.

Here's a complete list of all winners: 2007 Food Blog Award winners

I'll have a food-related post up in a day or two, but I just wanted to come in here and say thank you. And, while I have your attention, remind you that there are 14 days left in the French Laundry at Home Share Our Strength donation campaign. Click here, and list French Laundry at Home as the "honoree" and I'll match 10% of total monies raised by the end of the year. If you're not comfortable donating online, you can send a check (with French Laundry at Home in the memo line of your check) to:

Share Our Strength
ATTN: Amy Zganjar
1730 M Street NW, Suite 700
Washington, DC 20036

Again, many many thanks.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"Pot Au Feu": Braised Prime Beef Short Ribs with Root Vegetables and Sautéed Bone Marrow

With winter finally here and our first snowfall (!!) behind us, what better to cook and serve than a hearty bowl of Pot Au Feu, right? Pot Au Feu is literally translated from French to mean "pot on the flame/fire"; the loose translation is that it's a French boiled/simmered meat stew. However, leave it to me to have to translate it yet again to accurately reflect my experience with it -- Pot Au Duh -- because, well, you'll see. Read on, you rascals, read on...

Let's start where all good dishes should start: bone marrow. I went to my usual guys at Union Meat Company at DC's Eastern Market, but we had a bit of miscommunication over the phone and they didn't have what I needed and weren't able to get it for a few days. So, I got on the phone and called a few other places and was able to get some marrow bone pieces from a funky little grocery store in Silver Spring called Snider's. I also picked up my ribs there, but that's a story for later on in today's program. Back to the bone marrow... I soaked the bones in ice water for about 20 minutes:

I drained them and went about removing the marrow from each bone. I had a tough time doing this, and had to soak them briefly in warm water to loosen the marrow. That didn't work. So, I got out a small paring knife and gently went around the edges to try and nudge it out. Also, not successful. I ended up having to use a combination of skewer and paring knife to get those suckers out, so they looked as hacked up as Joan Van Ark's face when I finally got it done:

I soaked the marrow in ice water overnight, changing the water after the first 8 hours to remove the bloody water and avoid spoilage.

Next, I prepped the red wine marinade for the ribs, since they, too, needed to sit in the fridge overnight. To make the marinade, I poured a bottle of Tyrus Evans Claret into a pot, along with some carrots, leeks, onions, garlic, parsley, thyme and a bay leaf:

I brought it to a boil, then removed it from the burner, and lit a match on the surface of the marinade to burn off the alcohol. After three matches, I was good to go and let the marinade come to room temperature while I prepped the ribs. Here's where I discover why it's important NOT to talk on your cellphone while at the grocery store.

I opened the refrigerator to take out what I thought were three-and-a-half pounds of boneless prime beef shortribs. That's what I asked the butcher at Snider's to have ready for me. And, I know it's what he handed me. However, I had to take a call from a client while I was completing my meat transaction, and I placed the package of ribs in the meat cooler area while they were cutting my marrow bones. When I was done with the call, I strolled back over to the meat section and picked up what I thought were my beef shortribs. Alas, I didn't realize until 1 a.m., when I was prepping the marinade and reaching this step in the dish that I had picked up someone else's order -- 5 pounds of pork baby back ribs. Knowing my only options were to wait until morning to go buy more ribs, or just say "F it" and move on, I decided that I'd wing it and see if I could make the dish work in a more pork-tastic manner. So, I weighed out 3.5 pounds of the ribs and put them in a giant ziploc along with the marinade:

I went to bed, cursing all the way upstairs, and thinking, "well, maybe I can pull this off." The next day, I preheated the oven to 275 and stuck my head in it. KIDDING. I did preheat the oven, and removed the ribs from the marinade. They were an interesting shade of purple I shan't soon forget:

They actually look sort of beef-ish, don't they? I poured the marinade from the ziploc into a saucepan, straining it to hold back the vegetables. I simmered the liquid and removed all the gunky crap, I'm sorry, impurities:

I was left with a beautiful, fragrant liquid that would be used in the braising process later on. Or would it?

I heated some canola oil in a large skillet and seasoned the ribs with salt and pepper, dusted them lightly with flour, then cooked them for 2-3 minutes on each side until they were browned. I put the ribs in a heavy pot to prep them for braising. I poured the oil out of the skillet and sautéed the reserved vegetables from the marinade. I caramelized them, then put them in the pot with the ribs:

Time to put these ribs in the oven to braise for a few hours. All I have to do at this point is add 3 cups of homemade chicken stock (check) and 3 cups of homemade veal stock (che... oh shit). Yeah. I thawed the WRONG STOCK. I organize and label my stocks pretty clearly, but after a thorough freezer cleaning by my awesome cleaning lady, I did some rearranging and accidentally put some mushroom stock on the same shelf as the veal stock. Yes, ladies and germs, I had 3 cups of mushroom stock waiting to go in my Pot Au Duh. I figured since I already screwed up the beef purchase and was using pork instead that WHY NOT just move forward with mushroom stock and see what happens. I knew the combination wasn't lethal (unlike my charming good looks), so once again, I said "F it" and rolled with the punches.

If you're playing along with the cookbook in hand, you'll notice that in addition to all these creative substitutions, I'm also forgetting a key ingredient in the braising pot. We'll reveal that at the end and keep the trauma coming.

Okay -- the meat is in the pot with the veggies and the stock, so I covered it with a parchment lid and put it in a 275-degree oven for about 4 hours.

Over the course of the braising, it smelled better and better, so I knew it wouldn't completely suck... but I was still grumbling at myself, because you know, that's really helpful.

Time to make the donuts. Kidding. That's in a few weeks, actually.

Time to prep the root vegetables: carrots, parsnips, turnips, scallions, and white and red pearl onions. I peeled the onions and cut the other vegetables into somewhat equal sizes:

I blanched and ice-bathed (separately) the carrots, parsnips, turnips, scallions and white onions. When it came time to blanch the red onions, I added a bit of red wine vinegar to the boiling water so they'd hold their color. I let them cool in the ice bath, drained and dried them on paper towels, then put them all in a bowl (minus the scallions) until I was ready to finish the dish:

After the ribs were done braising, I removed them from the braising liquid and rested them on a plate:

Wow, they look pitiful, don't they. Jeesh. I skimmed the fat from and then strained the braising liquid into a taller, skinnier pot and threw away the vegetables. I strained the liquid three times to make sure it was clean. This is one dish where I'm glad I have multiple strainers, chinois, and pots, because I used a ton of them and had my dishwasher running all day. I reserved some of the braising liquid in which I would later cook the vegetables, and more of the liquid for reheating the ribs. The rest, I reduced to a sauce consistency, which took about an hour.

To finish the dish, I reheated the ribs in a skillet with some canola oil, then added some of the braising liquid to keep them warm while I finished the vegetables:

I put the vegetables along with some tomato diamonds in a medium saucepan, and covered them with the rest of the braising liquid.

It's at this point that I see there's a saucepan of room temperature liquid sitting on a hotpad on my countertop. I think, "Huh, that must be for the sauce that goes on the bottom of the dish, right?" So I read and re-read the dish's instructions from start to finish, trying to figure out what this mystery liquid is. It smells great, and as soon as I take a second whiff, I let out my third string of expletives in a 24-hour period because I realize that this is the remainder of the red wine marinade -- the stuff I'd skimmed all that gunk out of -- and was supposed to add to the ribs as part of the braising liquid FOUR HOURS AGO WHEN THE BRAISING PROCESS BEGAN. I went back and forth in my head about what I could do with it -- could I add it to the sauce, should I put some on the vegetables, and decided that I'd already screwed up enough with this dish that I was just going to have to ditch it and not worry about it. Bye-bye red wine marinade sauce. Nice knowin' ya.

It's at this point that I'm ready for this dish to be o-v-e-r because I feel like such a doofus for not being able to handle such simple ingredients. The pig head I'm going to do in the spring? I expect that to be difficult. Butchering a lamb? Challenging beyond anything I've done before. But, buying pork instead of beef, and forgetting to include a really important component in a braise? The self-esteem is taking a hit, my friends.

So, now what do I have to do? Oh yes, remove the bone marrow from its ice bath in the fridge and look at those amateur hack jobs and feel EVEN BETTER about myself. Remember what they looked like? You don't? Here, let me remind you:

I bet you thought I was gonna ka-pow you with the Joan Van Ark photo again, didn't you. You're welcome.

I drained and dried the marrow pieces, seasoned them quite liberally with kosher salt, then coated them in flour and cooked them for a few minutes in some canola oil in a non-stick pan. I fully expected them to a) explode, b) melt, or c) shoot across the room. Fortunately, the planets were in alignment and they turned out perfectly. You'll see them in the plating photos... speak of the devil... first in the dish, the vegetables:

Next on the plate went the ribs:

Next? The marrow:

And finally, the scallion, along with a few chopped chives and some grey salt:

Doesn't look too bad, does it? I've had really good Pot Au Feu before, so knowing all the behind the scenes nonsense that went on in making this dish, I fully expected to not enjoy this. But you know what? It was good. It was better than good. I really enjoyed it, and my friends did as well. When they opened the front door to come into the house, it was raining and cold outside, so my warm, meat-smelling house was a welcome place to be.

We sat down at the table and I explained the dish, and we tucked in. Every bit of it was delicious and enjoyable -- especially the marrow. When I was younger, I didn't like marrow -- I couldn't stand the texture, and my grandfather used to eat it all the time. My mom had some recently when we went out for dinner and it smelled good. The marrow I had at Per Se was the best I'd ever eaten, and honestly? Mine was a close second. To me, eating sautéed bone marrow now as an adult is a little bit like when in A Time To Kill, Ashley Judd and Matthew McConaughey are covered in a thin film of summer-in-Mississippi, silky, sexy sweat. If you think about it too much, it's gross. But if you just leap before you look, you'll love it.

The pork was tender, and the bones just slid right out. The vegetables were really clean yet hearty and cooked just right. Not mushy at all, but they didn't give any resistance when you bit into them. I can't imagine if doing this so wrong made it taste this right, how excellent doing it the right way is going to be.

I will probably do this dish again: with beef shortribs, veal stock, and remembering to include the red wine sauce when braising. I'll be sure to let you know how it turns out. But really, this Pot Au Duh wasn't bad and turned out WAY better than I ever could've hoped.

To add insult to injury, had I used the boneless beef shortribs intended for this dish, I would not have had to walk up and down my street in my pajamas the next morning with my hair all over the place, collecting the pork rib bones that the raccoons dug out of the outside garbage can and spread throughout the neighborhood. Good times.... gooooood tiiiimmmesss....

Up Next: Roquefort Trifle with French Butter Pear Relish (my last cheese dish in the book, :::sniff, sniff:::)

Marrow bones and ribs from Snider's
365 canola oil
Tyrus Evans 2003 Claret for red wine marinade
Produce and aromatics from Whole Foods

Music to Cook By: The Spice Girls, assorted. Don't be a hater. I just saw the Girls in concert in LA with Catherine and Heather, and had a wonderful night of overly camp people-watching. It was fantastic!