Borgers with No Borders.

our lives, our loves — through our earthly adventures.

Archive for the category “Doing the Julie”

Sur ma table: Semaine 13

Sur ma table” means “On my Table” — my new title to the second season of our Julia Child Series.  It’s the second season because it has necessitated a change.  It appears, by popular demand, that I am no longer allowed to cook on Sundays. Who would’ve thought that the weather would affect even my cooking day, right?  Right.  Now that Winter’s got one foot out the door, hubby thought we should go back to exploring Paris, or simply liberating our lazy Sundays without me stressing out in the kitchen.  Fair enough.  No argument there.

After all, I always look on the bright side of things.  This could only mean that I can now cook in peace, in an empty house apartment on Mondays.  That makes my “Dimanche Repas” (Sunday Meal) impertinent now, ergo … the change to “Sur ma table,” which also no longer restricts me to a particular day in the week when I MUST be in the kitchen.  It’s a liberating detail, and probably one that might even allow me to cook many more times in the week!  (Like the title of my blog ever restricted me from cooking on ANY other day of the week.)  It’s a charming introduction to what you will see on my table — on any day of the week, whether edible or not!  🙂

This week, life got in the way for me … so I only managed one of the two dishes that Tina chose.  The two dishes were: Tranches de Jambon à la Crème (Sautéed Ham Slices with Cream Sauce) and Timbale d’asperges (Asparagus Mold).  I chose the latter, because along with this, I would have to learn an exciting and new sauce:  the Hollandaise Sauce.  This happens to be one of the five master sauces in the French haute cuisine mother sauce repertoire.  So heck… we’ve got to start somewhere!

Out came another one of my priceless acquisitions — which, when I purchased, raised snickers from the Peanut Gallery:  “Why in heaven’s name would anyone buy an Asparagus Casserole?”  Ha!  Pourquoi pas?  I love my little asparagus casserole — because it has a net-like doodad that holds all the asparagus, in a straight “standing” position.  Like soldiers, all being heated up equally, in a sleek casserole of boiling water.  🙂  Neat, right?  See how sweet they look:

Then… I chickened out on Julia’s recommendation to learn the Hollandaise the long and hard way.  She said that the Hollandaise Sauce is often the most dreaded of all sauces to make because the egg yolks can curdle and the sauce can turn. She says that “it is of great importance that you learn how to make hollandaise by hand, because part of every good cook’s general knowledge is a thorough familiarity with the vagaries of egg yolks under all conditions.”  Thanks, Julia.  But when you’ve had a full day, and have rushed home so you can fulfill your commitment to cook with 4 other people around the world, then blog about it, then still do your French homework, and put your 6-year old to sleep…. it just seems to make more sense to use the “Electric Blender Recipe.”  After all, “as the technique is well within the capacities of an 8-year-old-child, it has much to recommend it.”

So let’s leave it at that — and let’s just say, I passed the Junior Competition for now, and will join the Masters at a later stage.

My hollandaise did taste pretty nasty — in a good way.  I had to add water though twice or thrice because it was getting just a bit too thick in the blender as I was pouring the butter in droplets.  Never mind that my hair got quite a few splatters of the churning hollandaise.  It still tasted authentic enough.  Both from my hair and from the bowl.  🙂

The Timbale d’asperges was quite easy.  No fuss, healthy, vegetable dish — best eaten though as a side-dish to roasted meat, rather than a main course.  Next time I make this, I would add some mushrooms too — just to make it a little more exciting.  I also used stale whole wheat baguette bread crumbs rather than american white sliced bread — which, am guessing, didn’t do much to change the taste.  If anything, it probably helped to give it a little more color!   The recipe called for it to be made in a soufflé mold — which I still haven’t gotten around to purchasing.  So, I used my good ol’ reliable terrine silicone mold — which rendered its usual ease when turning over the  custard into a serving dish.

All gone in one sitting … thanks to my hubby’s vegetarian nephew who came that evening to enjoy an impromptu taste test.  All in a day’s work!  🙂

The Itch to Cook

Last Sunday, I did not get to cook the Potage Parmentier that Rx chose (through AC’s empowerment).  And, since I have been having a rather relaxed week — I decided to catch up yesterday.  Plus, my french classes were going to be held at my place today — so again, I had another excuse to be in the kitchen baking!  C’est parfait!

Off I went to tackle the Potage Parmentier (Potato and Leek Soup) which didn’t take much really.  3 cups of potatoes, 3 cups of leeks, a tablespoon of salt, 2 quarts of water, and a measly 6-8 tablespoons of whipped cream.  A suspiciously short list of ingredients.

Simmering the veggies for 50 minutes was no big deal for me because it got me all excited about once again trying out my good ol french reliable equipment:  le moulin à legumes!  A Vegetable Mill, in English.  Julia labels it as one of the two most “wonderful inventions” (she probably never owned an ipod before!) — the other, being the Garlic Press.

This witty contraption purées soups, sauces, vegetables, fruits, raw fish and even mousse mixtures.  And for this particular soup, it was perfect for straining out all the fiber in the leeks vis a vis a regular food processor (or blender).  Well, yes, there’s a little bit of manual labour involved … but nothing that could break your bones.

It comes with three removable disks so you can choose how fine you want your purée to be.  And you just turn that handle at the top, with intermittent pressure downwards, to allow the vegetables to churn.  Cool, yeah?

And that’s the end of my Potato and Leek Story.  Because THAT was just about all the excitement I derived from this recipe.

Following Julia’s recipe to the letter, I found the resulting soup trés trés trés watery.  The soup was much too light for my taste for sure.  And if I were to do this again — I would use 5 cups of chicken stock instead of a whopping 2 quarts of water, and a whole lotta whipping cream (half a cup to one cup, minimum).  It also lacked some flavor to it — despite my adding piment d’espilette — to help waken the flavors!

Maybe it’s my Asian tongue, and maybe this is how the French like their Potage Parmentier.   Whatever it is, you can be sure, that the next time I see this item on a brasserie’s menu — I am definitely going to sample it!  Just for my own peace of mind.  🙂

Off I went to the next agenda of the day (or should I say night — as I was in the kitchen again until 12.30 midnight):  a Tarte au Citron et aux Amandes (Lemon and Almond Tart).

This was quite fun to make, albeit a little tedious.  It called for caramelizing  sugar until thread stage, then sugar-coating the julienned lemon peel.  Neat.  Another opportunity to try out one of my other gadgets in the drawer that’s been waiting to be used:  my kitchen thermometer!

It was not until I used this thermometer that I realized how totally necessary it is to have one … especially when you are making caramel!  The first time I ever attempted caramel, it was a failure — because it was all a guessing game!  Had I, this second time around, not had my thermometer, I would have again removed the pan from the fire way too early.  But no.  This time, I waited until that red baby crawled up to 110 degrees C — and then only did I remove the pan from the heat.  Brainless.  Everyone’s gotta have one of those things.  Just like an American Express card.  🙂

The tart was delicious — but quite a lot of ingredients were wasted.  I used 2 cups of sugar to make the caramel — and hardly used a fourth of it to glaze the pie and sugar-coat the lemon peel.

A little shout-out though to those who plan to bake this:   The custard filling was perfect and delicious — but do go easy on the glaze — otherwise, the pie could turn out overly sweet.  And we all know we don’t need that extra confectionery, right?

So my little french class of 2, plus ma professeure, got their sugar fix.  But I’m staying indoors lest my neighbors start complaining about all the raging electric mixers and banging oven doors at way past midnight!

No cooking tonight.  For sure.  🙂

Dimanche Repas: Semaine 11

This week’s menu was AC’s choice — with soup and dessert choices delegated to Roxanne and me, respectively.  His choice:  Homard Thermidor. Rx’s soup choice:  Potage Parmentier (Potato and Leek Soup), my dessert choice: Charlotte de Pommes (Apple Charlotte).

I loved the choice of the main course because the movie made such a spectacular impact on me then — that I thought, “Hmmm.  It can’t be that difficult to put a lobster into a casserole of boiling liquid, right?”

Wrong.

Here’s a clip to remind you of that particular scene:

This was the first time I was cooking LIVE  lobsters too — so I did some google-ing and tried to search for the easiest, least painful way of killing them.  Julia said that if you could not fathom steaming live lobsters, you could always kill them instantly first.  Yeah. So they wouldn’t have to perish from the heat of the steam or the bubbling boiling water.  She said:  Kill them instantly by “plunging a knife into the head, between the eyes.”

Someone even recommended putting them into the freezer for 30 minutes first to get them into a state of coma — and THEN cook them in their sleep.  Neat.  One day, I wish I could leave the world that way.

Here’s how the fate of my lobsters turned out:

The adventure started with Ani, my ever-reliable marché expert, who purchased my goods for me.  Eight pounds worth of live lobsters bought on Rue Montorgueil for half the price of those sold on the 16th arrondissement.  Strangely enough, when she bought them, les vendeurs simply threw them into a plastic bag, sans rubber bands on the claws, sans a box to keep them constricted.  Half-way down the block, she went running back to them — fearful of what the other Metro commuters would do should those shelled-creatures start crawling up their Gucci-clad-feet.  Good thinking, right?

Fortunately, les poissonières were kind enough to give her a box, and tied the claws neatly — the way they should have done in the first place.

Then came my big dilemma:  On the internet, all the videos I watched on “How to Cook Lobster” showed them being immersed in rapidly boiling water.  But Julia only prescribed using 2 cups of vermouth + 2 cups of water.  Hardly enough liquid to even cover their poor toes!  I panicked.  What a way to die.  “Drown me if you will, but don’t do it half-way!”  So I said a little prayer to Julia, and murdered her stock by adding a lot of water, enough to a comfortable drowning level.   And they all dove in head-first, as many others recommended.

That was the most painful part of the adventure because I could actually hear them blurting small squeaks of  “Eeeeeeeee!”  about 5 minutes into the boil.  It was heart-wrenching… but not enough to make me stop.  I persevered!  Starting with reducing all that liquid down to 2.25 cups — which took a good three hours!

The rest was smooth-sailing:  de-shelling the lobsters while carefully keeping their shells intact, scraping every bit of meat from their legs and joints, cracking their beautiful fat claws (which I saved and later served as appetizers) …

… removing their intestinal tubes, spooning out the lobster coral and green goo, incorporating the goo into the sauce, sauté-ing the meat in cognac.

Four hours later — and well into midnight, I was exhausted.  I reserved the rest of the steps for Sunday morning, when I would simply need to combine the meat with the sauce, put them into the shells, top them with grated parmesan, and bake them.

And there was still the dessert I had to make!

Tomorrow is another day, I thought — and decided to cram everything else to Sunday morning.

I woke up bright and early on Sunday — determined to whip up the rest of the meal with unrelenting commitment.  I started by giving up on the soup because there were just not enough hours left till le dejeuner!  (I promise to do this on Wednesday though!)

Now I had to tackle the Charlotte de Pommes.  Whose idea was this anyway?  Although the recipe was pretty straight-forward — there was one very crucial, hanging threat:  If your sauce is not thick enough, or your bread slices insufficient — it could lead to your whole le gateau “caving in.”  Thanks.  Just the stress I needed on a Sunday morning.

Persevere!

I lined my almost-charlotte-mould with bread, lightly browned in butter:

… thickened my apple sauce in the pan until it held its shape on the spoon …

… made my apricot glaze….panicked.

… piled up my butter-soaked-bread-pieces on my mould.  Panicked again.  Layered it with apple sauce …

… threw it into the oven … took a deep breath, and prayed that everything would turn out right.  Literally.

We were at the table by 12:30 noon — just as it is every Sunday.  I put my apron aside, and made every effort to look cool, calm, and collect.

And…  this is was what we had for one unforgettable Dimanche Repas:

Lobster Claws with Egg Mayonnaise

Homard Thermidore avec Haricot Verts

Charlotte de Pommes

The lobsters were oh so sumptuous, my Charlotte stood firm and proud, and all plates were wiped out.  I received valued compliments from everyone — INCLUDING my hubby!

And for me, when he says it was a “success” — then I dare not argue.  I  can heave a big sigh of relief and believe, that all the effort was well worth the massacre.  🙂

Bon apetit indeed!  🙂



Dimanche Repas: Semaine 10

This Sunday, RS decided to cook something rather simple, but elegant — says he.  And with these prerequisites, he could not have chosen a better dish.  There is nothing easier to prepare than a good tin of Confit de Canard (preserved duck), which is sumptuous whether you are feeding your family or a hungry group of friends.  These cans are the only tinned food that I don’t mind stocking my pantry with — because it’s the perfect solution for days when you are just out of energy, but are looking for something gourmet-ish.

The first ever time I went to Paris, we got hit with hunger pangs while on the road, walking aimlessly, and we went into a random Café and ordered a Confit de Canard. I will never forget the experience. The skin was oh so crispy, while the meat remained tender and full of taste — practically sliding off its bones.  Like Foie Gras, any sauce on the sweet side — whether using apricots, figues, or even mango — is a guaranteed marriage of tastes!  From that day on, I was hooked to this french specialty!

Hubby has been the expert at cooking this at home  — so it was exciting that I would be taking over the same dish for a change.  HB would normally serve it with a mango salsa (mixed with vinegar), marche, sautéed mushrooms, and superb Rosti Potatoes.  Instant heaven, instant comfort food!

This time, I chose a Fig Sauce reduced in brandy and beef stock, Red Cabbage (sautéed in sugar and vinegar), and Pommes Sarladaise — potatoes cooked in duck fat with onions and garlic.  I’ve never cooked Red Cabbage before, and was never a fan of it — and MAN!… did the house stink with the vinegar cooking!  But this dish converted me since it just went ever so perfectly with all the other sidings.

All plates definitely returned to the kitchen clean!  🙂

I was so excited to eat … my picture went blurred!  Woooops!  🙂

The dessert. Ouf!   This was true labor for me.  RS said:  “Cream Puffs” — which I interpreted as anything in that family of desserts.  He said “simple” — so I thought, No Sweat.  I did Les Petite Gougères (Cheese Puffs) before so figured, I could graduate to an “Enorm Couronne a la Crème et  au Chocolat”  (Enormous Cream Puff au Chocolat).  That would be a breeze.  NOT!

First off, I developed a new sport:  Oven-Stalking.  It’s like watching and waiting for Dooms Day. Like biting your fingers hoping for your lotto number to be called.  That was me.  On total look-out for the freakin’ puff to happen.

Today, for the first time in my life, I learned to toss a failed dish into the bin.  How can anyone salvage a cream-puff-turned-flat-pizza?!  I had a very good friend from London, who came to spend the weekend with us, and even SHE was getting stressed.  It’s total frustration, a Prozac-moment, when what NEEDS to happen is not actually happening!  Then, it becomes a real exercise to analyze what could have gone wrong: Which instruction did I miss?  Could it be the “weather” in my kitchen?  Too hot?  Too cold?  Were my eggs too big?  Did I over beat them?  Is Julia Child holding back a secret?

First of all, it was amazing how, when you add eggs to your pastry (butter and flour), the whole thing sort of turns lumpy and separates into blobs!

But you should just keep on beating rapidly, vigorously, with all your might…. and soon, it will all come together again like the universe.   So hold the Panic Attack.  I did well here.

The culprit was this, I realized:  When making the dough for the puff, Julia asked for 5 eggs (mixed just a bit), then measured to exactly 1 cup.  My eggs were big, so I ended up using only 4 eggs.  The crucial step:  When adding the eggs, first you pour a fourth of the eggs, then the next fourth, then the next….  AND!  The last fourth should be done in dribbles…. until you see your dough in its perfect consistency — just holding its own shape on your spoon.  So don’t be an eager-beaver like me, and do dribble in the last fourth — and KNOW when to STOP!

Voila!  THAT was my mistake.  Happy-Egg-Pouring-Me tossed all the eggs inside (albeit a fourth at a time) — and ended up with a mixture which was too wet… that it went flat like a pizza.  The photo above was my second attempt — this time, with the pastry holding its shape like a proud soon-to-be-puff.

The second pastry was better.  Could still be improved… but definitely not pizza flat.  🙂  Yay me.

So this… turned into this by Sunday lunch:

Whew!  Now who would think something supposedly simple and elegant would turn out so complicated and laborious?  But yummmm it was, for sure!  🙂

I know two things that I’m adding onto my growing Wish List:

A whipped cream dispenser … and a no-freeze ice cream making machine.

Can’t wait to make my own first ice cream!  🙂

À dimanche!  🙂

Dimanche Repas: Semaine 9

AC, one of the chosen 5 in our Julia group, suggested that we all file our “Field Reports” and forward them to him — which he would then collate and publish, as one unified group, in a blog (I assume) that he will be creating.  I cringed.  Because his number one guideline was:  Keep it brief.  Something I have a bit of difficulty with.  As you may have noticed, I digress quite easily.  I babble, I vent.  I make side-comments to my very own comments.

So I promised him that I would provide a summarized report of whatever it is I will babble on in this therapeutic blog of mine.  Luckily, he agreed.  He probably knew me only too well, to be simply incapable of sticking to the essentials.  🙂  That’s me.

But I promise to cross-post whatever he comes up with — which is truly an interesting read for those of you who are curious to see how we are all faring out in this exercise.  It is amazing how one identical recipe can lead to many interpretations, how each of us (usually the guys!) can come up with their own ad-libs on how to reach the same end (with a lot of success, I must say!).

So stay tuned for that and be awed by this incredibly funny cooking group of ours.  🙂

This week’s menu was simple — and pretty much “last-minute” since one of the 5 was still busy vacationing somewhere.  It was only on Thursday that I ended up suggesting a simple dish since we had lost track of whose turn it was to choose.

Being the pie-lover that I am, any food that is served with pastry is an instant hit in my books.  So I was happy to try out yet another creamy rendition of Fondue de Volaille on ready-made pastry shells.

It’s a pretty easy recipe to follow — except I still managed to overcook my chicken.  Maybe because my pan blew up in flames when I poured the Vermouth?  Methinks so.  I lost a few eye lashes, and burnt some of my bangs — but my daughter still raved about how delicieux it was.  I served it with haricot verts sautéed in butter and chopped mortadella.

Along with this, I thought I’d catch up on last week’s recommended dessert:  Ile Flottante, or Floating Island for the anglophones.  Whew.  Now this was quite a challenge.  And one that I will remember for the rest of my life because it caused me my first cooking injury.

This dessert called for 3 steps:  Making your Meringue, then your Crème Anglaise (Custard Sauce), and finally your Caramel.

The meringue was pretty easy to make — especially when you have your good old reliable table electric mixer to do the work for you.  The important thing to mind here is that you don’t over-beat the egg whites — so much so that they lose their “stiff shining peaks.”  The other secret that Julia recommended (which I dutifully followed) was to rub your mixer’s bowl with a tablespoon of white vinegar and a teaspoon of salt before pouring in your egg whites.  This certainly delivered on its promise of “stabilizing” the egg whites — as mine came out pretty stiff and shiny.  I also realized that I didn’t have a straight-sided 4-quart baking dish, 3 inches deep — so I had to cut the recipe in half.  After all, I was only serving lunch for 4, so it was really not a problem.  It will be one though, if you decide on serving this to at least 8 people — because the meringue takes up a lot of space … rises to almost double its size… before it shrinks down again when left to cool.  (Which is why you need all that height on the baking dish.)  Here’s my meringue before it went into the oven:

The Crème Anglaise.  Deja vu.  This is practically the same recipe for the créme brulèe that I made a few weeks back, except the latter uses half the amount of sugar, and, whipping cream instead of milk.  No wonder it seemed familiar.  This time though, I didn’t use an electric beater — and relied on my wrists and arm muscles to carry me through to the pale-yellow that was my goal.  I flavoured it with a tablespoon of cognac — and to me, the sauce was heavenly.  It still had those little dotty alien specks of who-knows-what … but it was certainly less than my first attempt at a Crème Anglaise.  (I really should repeat that Crème Brulée recipe again!)

The Caramel.   This was suicide.  If only I had read David Lebovitz’s advise to keep a handy pot of ice water beside you while cooking the caramel — then my finger would not have bubbled from burning it in the 104 degree heat of freakin’ caramel!  That was his advise.  Now let me add mine:  Do not, I repeat, do NOT put your forefinger into the caramel — to test if it is cool.  EVEN IF the casserole is set in another bowl of icy water.  Believe me.  The caramel will take a loooooooong time to cool — so do be patient.

Another advise:  Save the caramel till the last minute.  Do not try to do it ahead of time, thinking that you can easily reheat it — because I found no help in determining how the heck one reheats caramel.  When I tried to reheat mine — they crystallized and became big chunks of sugar crystals.  EPIC FAIL, as my daughter would say.

But I served it anyhow — and the sweet sensation was still there to brighten up the custard and the meringue.  It still turned out to be a happily-ever-after story, with my daughter being the happiest of all.  🙂

You can bet what I will try to master in the next few weeks:  Caramel-making!


I Flaked. Dimanche Repas: Semaine 8

I flaked.  I know.  I regret.  One cut.  Last week.

It was a cook-less week for me, save for some Red Velvet Cupcakes that I had to make for my son’s class — in celebration of his 6th birthday.  Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting, from a very interesting blog of someone who makes cupcakes for a living.  Red as Red can be.

I’d like to do this recipe again with the right american ingredients on hand — since I had to substitute buttermilk with natural full-cream yoghurt.  I also could not fathom how the recipe called for 2 oz of food coloring — which seemed like an awful lot!  I used half of that, and my cupcakes already looked like aliens from Mars.

Instead of keeping warm in my kitchen at home, my little boy and I hopped on a TGV — and made our way down to Paray le Monial (Bourgogne) — for some fresh country air.

I had to make good on a promise to visit an old friend of mine who was practically a neighbor during our old Surabaya days.  She now lives in a 6-hectare land with a little farm house, 2 horses, 3 sons, and a half-finished swimming pool.  Their home is work in progress — totally made by their very bare hands.  Every brick, every layer of paint, every plank of wood was laid down by her and her engineer husband.  Something I really admire and respect — since I don’t think I could ever do the same.  Country living is one thing, and manual labor is another.  They don’t necessarily have to go together, do they?  🙂

For the first time in my life, I imagined myself living in similar surroundings.  With neighbors not any closer than 200 meters, supermarkets with prices that didn’t make you gasp, and shop-keepers who you could actually converse with.   Somehow, this trip made me believe that I might just be able to survive  in the countryside.  I always thought I was a City Girl.  But this trip was different.  Or perhaps it was I who was probably different.  (“Older?”… a little voice whispers inside me.)

It’s a simple, stressless life.  Quiet, fresh, open, and friendly.  Even in France.  Minus the rush and the harsh realities of big city living.  It could be age … but the magnetism of the peace and space of the country suddenly revealed a perspective I had never really experienced before.

My son loved every minute of our trip.  Well, for someone who has lived on an island for practically the first 4 years of his life… it is difficult not to love the outdoors.  Even in Paris, in the dead of winter, he refuses to wear slippers, socks, or shoes when he is home.  His feet need to be free, he says.

I went back to Paris a changed woman.  With a new skill.

The little voice inside me might just right.  🙂

Dimanche Repas: Semaine 7

Almost two full months of blissful cooking.  And even more blissful eating.  Bad.  Very bad for a woman pushing 50, when the body does a 180 degree turn.  When hot flushes begin to feel comforting in the cold winter, when the metabolism seems to have taken a complete halt, and the temper needs no provocation to make it hit the roof.

But the cooking is supposed to be part of my therapy in this stage of my life.  So I will force it to function that way.  There seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel though — which makes me very optimistic about the future.

I went to visit my first French doctor in Paris.  A gynecologist.  My stomach was churning as I made my way to his office — terrorized by the thought of seeing someone who I would have to explain my travails to in a language I am not sure we will both understand.  As it turns out, he was a super duper nice guy, a true gentleman, with English skills far beating my French.  So it was a successful visit.  Without prompting him, he volunteered to restart my metabolism, make me less cranky, remove all the unnecessary kilos (and mind you, the French people know just how thin women ought to be!) and even add some moisture to my dried-out skin.  He was my knight in shining armour.  My genie in a bottle.

I digress.  But see, it’s still all sorta related to this obsession with food and cooking.  Because now I know I can enjoy it all, knowing that my body will (soon) be functioning at “normal” levels.  I have my guardian angel doctor who will allow me to go …. onward bound!!!

BLANQUETTE DE VEAU

In Paris, every arrondissement (or district, neighborhood) has its own fair share of les marchés (markets), pharmacies, boulangeries, or boucheries.  And the sooner you make friends with them, and prove your loyalty — the better the quality of the goods you will take home.  My nounou has made her rounds of all those within our neighborhood — and she has happily found her personal supplier of our meat requirements.  (In the Philippines, one would say she has triumphantly established herself as a “suki.”) Who would have thought that the same concept existed in Paris?

I think, as it is with any dish or dessert, the quality of your raw materials almost determines the success of your dish.  A tough slice of beef, or in our case, a brownish dark tendron would be enough to guarantee a FAILED Project.  What you want are nicely pink slices of veal… with subtle hints of cartilages that add to the thickness and richness of the sauce.  And THIS, I got!  Halleluia!  🙂

Having said this though about my wonderful pieces of pink veal… one cannot imagine what kind of scum comes out of these suckers!  🙂  If anyone should ever call you (heaven forbid) “the scum of the earth” let me show you what he is actually saying:  You. Are. This.

Ewww, right?  Amazing stuff, albeit gross.  The scum is what you need to very carefully fish out — by hook or by crook.  Actually, Julia Child recommends throwing all the liquid down the drain and washing out the meat in cold water to get rid of the frog-egg-like stuff floating about.  Mind-boggling.

When your meat is all clean, now you can make your stew and leave it for a good 1.5 to 2 hours.

Now this is beginning to look edible.

The other fantastic thing about this dish is… you can prepare everything the day before, and simply leave the remaining 15 minutes before service for whipping your crown-of-glory sauce (of egg yolks and cream).  This is what turns your sauce into a smooth, velvety, pale-yellow relish.

Here are the various parts that completed the sumptuous dish that will now become a Borgers staple:

The often-used white onions that stay in the pan for a good 30-40 minutes, with a bouquet of herbs and frequent splashes of the veal stock (that’s cooking in the other burner).

Fresh mushrooms soaking in the Sauce Velouté.

The delish-ness of this whole dish is so well put-together when served with blanched and buttered broccoli and a killer bowl of saffron basmati.

My body is allergic to rice.  But I totally ignored this fact to give justice to all the work I accomplished.  The next day, I gained a solid one kilo … but for me… it was all worth it.  Who’s to worry when I have my genie (no longer) in the bottle?  As Scarlett O’Hara says…

“I can’t think about that now.  If I do, I’ll go crazy.  I’ll think about that tomorrow.”

Pre-Dimanche Repas 7. Me got antsy.

I could not wait for Sunday.  By Friday morning, I was just itching to hang out in my tiny kitchen.  And, since the weather was being oh-so-cooperative (by being freakin’ cold), … I just had all the right reasons.  Besides, the Spinach Turnover of Julia Child on her pbs video with Simone Beck (featuring her home in Provence) was just too tempting not to attempt.  My “classmates” cooked this last week, while I laboured on my Leg of Lamb — since we are still sorta in our “free-wheeling” mode.  (Two of the 5 in the gang are still on vacation!).

It was quite easy to do on a whim because Julia “allowed” us to use ready-made puff pastry dough and even frozen spinach!  🙂  This was good — because that meant I could conserve my energy for the weekend!  I used the ready-made pastry dough but got disgusted with the water and the stems that are so frighteningly present in frozen spinach… so I bought fresh ones instead, and blanched them with no problem at all!  🙂

Anything that has cream, butter, cheese, and a good dough is almost always a sure-crowd-pleaser.  With me clapping my hands the loudest.  I did two sets of this pie:  one was vegetarian — where I used spinach, mushrooms, and gruyere cheese; the other one was a “normal” one with all that PLUS some somptueux English Banger sausages which I picked up from the aux marché on rue d’Aligre.  It makes a great lunch menu, which I served with a nice Tomato and Cucumber Salad (with cider vinegar dressing, capers, and torn basil leaves).  Parfait!

I whipped out my new toy (I mean, my hubby’s toy!… because I gave it to him for Christmas!) for real live footage.  Yay me, for attempting to be techy!  And Yay Me for giving my husband something for Christmas that I could equally make use of!  🙂

Three things worth noting:

1.  I never cook without my cup of coffee (and my ciggies!) for some sweet company; and,

2.  One spice that I never cook without:  Piment d’Espelette.  Apparently, as Paule Caillat mentioned in one of my cooking classes with her, hardly any french cooking is done without it.  I love it, because it just gives that subtle kick to the dish.  (The espelette pepper is a variety of chili pepper cultivated in the french commune of Pyrénées-Atlantiques, the northern territory of the Basque people.)

3.  Ani’s smile is just such a refreshing Asian smile, isn’t it?

À bientôt!

Dimanche Repas: Semaine 6 (Part 2)

Les tomates.

Most people would think of tomatoes as vegetables.  But did you know that botanically, by definition of a “fruit” — the tomate is the ovary, and together with its seeds, is a flowering plant classified as a berry?  From the culinary point of view though, (according to U.S. laws), the tomate is a vegetable.  So let’s keep it at that — so we can decide if we should add it to our surely-short-list-of-vegetables-that-we-enjoy.

In France, during its early existence (after they were introduced to the New World by the Spaniards), tomatoes were considered poisonous — and merely functioned as an ornamental plant.  Ahhh… so that is why, I realize, it took me until adulthood to appreciate its taste!  Can you imagine feeding someone with about a hundred tomatoes and watching him slowly die?  I wonder how they figured it was NOT poisonous after all.

Today though, tomatoes are the number one fresh vegetable consumed in France, with at least six general categories (based on its shape, size, etc).  The most common ones are the tomate en grappe — which are sold as clusters, about 6-8 cms in width, with their cute green stems still attached.  Picture-perfect, don’t you think?

Voila.  Its pervasiveness in french cooking implored me to try a peasant soup called Potage Magali, or Mediterranean Tomato Soup with Rice.  It turned out all right — except you really have to be a fan of tomatoes to repeat this recipe!  Something I am unlikely to do, am afraid.  The small amount of rice added to the soup was a nice homey touch — but reminded me too much of soup dishes we were forced to eat when we were sick as kids.   It had the same effect on me as eating Chicken Noodle Soup.

I ended up only eating half of my serving.  Hubby didn’t make a comment.  My daughter said it was good (I think it should begin to dawn on you that my daughter just loves me too much to disappoint me!) and our vegetarian guest said it was good too.  But he didn’t ask for seconds.  In short, the soup was uneventful.

And THAT, my friends, is the reason why I ain’t cookin’ this again!  🙂

Therefore for posterity sake — let’s take a photograph for memories-sake:

Main course was a Renaissance-Inspired Leg of Lamb, as shown in one of Julia Child’s pbs videos with Master Chef Lynne Rossetto Kasper.  Now THIS was the real main event!  I even purchased a brand new meat thermometer just to ensure that I did not foul this up again by over-cooking my meat.  It was marinated overnight with a mixture of orange zest, anchovies, basil leaves, and garlic cloves.  It was OK (this marinade) — except I felt the orange drowned the taste of all the other ingredients a bit too much.  But taking the dish as a whole, I would say it was good.  That means, worth repeating.  With about 2 cups of red wine constantly being basted onto the meat while it was cooking, the black olives, then the eventual reduced sauce from the drippings mixed with tomato paste and veal stock — mmmmm!  — it was heaven!  I cooked my lamb till it was 56 degrees C — a magic number I should remember forever because it came out just blushing, with the perfect shade of pink!

If I would do this again, I would add more than a filet of anchovy (perhaps not even rinse it in water as the recipe suggested) and go easy on the orange zest.  Everyone loved it — except our vegetarian guest of course.  🙂

Dessert?  Ahhh.  That deserves a whole new post in itself.  If you are having a dinner at home, and want to impress… this, my friends, is the way to go!  It is easy-peasy… can all be prepared hours before… and assembled within a reasonable time frame between courses.  And the final look will take anyone’s breath away!

It all begins with Gale Gand’s (guest chef at Julia Child’s pbs video) phyllo pastry a la fettucini nests — which serve as the top side and bottom side of her Ice Cream Sandwich.  I think this recipe far from epitomizes anything French — but hey, if Julia is impressed, then it must bear something that remotely reminds her of France.  Peut-être.  Maybe?  These may be prepared well in advance — even the morning of your dinner party — because it stays crisp and holds its shape while waiting on its cooling rack.

Then, all you need to do is a nice raspberry purée which you toss upon your fresh raspberries.  Some whipped cream, a nice vanilla (or even cinnamon!) ice cream in between… and voila!  I even added a dash of Cerise & Gingembre liqueur to the purée for a wee bit of punch.  Came out perfect!  A true blend of creamy textures, with fruit, and crunchy bits to munch on.

Even my little monster who is a pain to feed enjoyed his version of this dessert.  I skipped the berries and substituted it with good ‘ol colored sprinkles… and he was jumping for joy!  I was thrilled enough that he tried something new — so yes, this Sunday exercise is certainly beginning to pay off!

Success?  What do you think of this face?

Till the next weekend — unless I get antsy before then!  🙂

À dimanche prochain!

Dimanche Repas: Semaine 6 (Part 1)

Two of the five die-hard-cooks are out of commission this weekend, so we are all free-wheeling.  That means, we can choose whatever dish we fancy — whether it’s for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  No restrictions, no rules.  One of the guys said he would venture into doing one of Julia’s breakfast dishes — seeing that she devoted a whole chapter on eggs alone!  The other guy said he would re-do last week’s menu which left him in a deep depression after some kitchen goblins attacked his dishes.  And moî?  Onwarrrrrrrrrd bound………….!!!!!!!!!!

By Wednesday, I was still undecided about what I would cook.  My French class on Thursday was just looming over me, with pages and pages of homework to finish — so it was quite distracting.  Plus, the weather was absolutely gruesome, painfully cold for my feeble Asian skin.  I stayed home practically all week.

Every morning, I would wake up, look out the window… and see this:

For a moment, I feel trapped.  Captured, imprisoned, almost claustrophobic.  Then my arm brushes on the hot tubes of our heaters… and I am suddenly jolted by the comfort and warmth of my little apartment.  And!  The actual joy of having to stay home with nothing to do but cook!  Ha!  🙂  Le joie de vivre!

In fact, I was so darn antsy to wait for the weekend to cook… so on Friday, I thought… why not try a soufflé?  Hubby always said it was a very tricky dish, and one that required a super reliable oven to bake it in.  At least, one that would allow you to actually dial in the precise temperature of your choice.  Fail.  I was in the mood for “tricky” but I didn’t have that reliable oven he was talking about!  Not our archaic and absurd one which has ONLY specific temperatures that one could dial to:  40, 160, 210, 270, or 300.  That’s it.  Take it or leave it.

I mean… WT_, right? @#($*&@)#*$  Who invented this oven and lorded over the temperatures that one must only bake in?

But… (taking a deep breath) in all of our last 12 years of moving from home to home, of adopting other people’s homes to make it our own for 2 or 3 years at a time … we have learned to live with what we have.  And this time, in Paris, it is this idiotic oven that has become my cross.  I’ll live.

So… on with my soufflé!  Since it was a spur-of-the-moment decision to make a Chocolate Soufflé… I had to make do with whatever chocolate I had in my pantry.  I could choose between a Valrhona milk or noir chocolate bar.  The milk won — only because I thought, if it would turn out a flop, at least I would still have my dark chocolate left!  And I wouldn’t feel so bad.

And surprise!  I didn’t end up feeling bad because I managed to out-wit my idiotic oven!  Turned the heat full-blast for the first 3 minutes (270 degrees!) — since it is only at this setting that the broiler goes on (yeah… don’t ask!!!).  [The first 3 minutes is critical under the broiler because it helps your soufflé to form a thin nice crust on top — before you continue to bake the rest of it.] Then, I lowered it down to 210 for the next 10 minutes, then again down to 160 for the remaining 15 minutes.  And… since you are not supposed to open the oven door at any point while the soufflé is doing its thing (of hopefully rising!), I felt like I was a little child, holding my hands to my eyes, waiting for a big surprise to unveil itself!

Pas mal! It rose — not to the heavens above — but enough.  In fact, it didn’t even touch the safety-foil-sleeves I put around my little thingamajig.  It was great for a first try, if I may say so myself:  A little crusty at the top, and a nice, wet, soft and cushiony texture on the inside.  I was happy enough.

The crazy thing was… I don’t know what possessed me… but I lined the WHOLE freakin’ pan with the cocoa/sugar mixture — which I suspect was the cause of my brand-new pan getting all black and burned!  Ya think?  My soufflé was not burned… but the cocoa on the sides of the pan certainly was!  Another lesson learned:  Just line the bottom of your pan with the cocoa/sugar mixture … and don’t go gaga with the sides (like someone we know)!

Anyhow… it was yumm, especially with the Häagen-Dazs Caramel Biscuit & Cream (Speculoos) right beside it.

Mmmmm…. Let me leave this thought with you for now, as I have a curfew to catch.  (Would you believe, my hubby has asked me to go to bed at 11PM every night?)  I only succeeded in actually LEAVING my computer ONCE in the past week:  shut-down at 11PM,  and reaching bed at about 11.20PM after all my evening ceremonies.  And now, it’s 11.20PM again and I have to call it a day.  😦

I wish I was an owl.  With a mac.  Sitting on the branch of a tree.  With a great grand kitchen WITH a Lacanche stove — all neatly tucked inside the big tree trunk from which I am perched.

More tomorrow on the real Dimanche Repas!  Bon nuit, mes amis!

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