The art of French cooking

As many of you will be aware, I am currently travelling. We had a few weeks of camping, and we’re now coming to the end of our month in Europe.

A fortnight before we were due to be in Paris, my darling suggested, out of nowhere, that we look into a French cooking class. Clearly, this was an inspired idea. After a bit of googling we found Le Foodist, which had exceptional online reviews and which had spots available for our last night in the city. We decided not to book for the market bit at the start, because we figured there wasn’t much point when we were leaving 12 hours later, and becuase we thought we might want more time doing museum-y sorts of things.

The food

Our menu consisted of cauliflower soup, coq au vin, and peach Melba (which as an Australian I found hilarious). Our class of  twelve was divided into different working groups at different times to do a range of prep. While doing so we tried different French white wine and two different Bries. We ate everything that we prepared. 

Cauliflower soup doesn’t sound all that exciting. This cauliflower soup, though, was topped with roasted cauliflower florets that had been brushed with curry powder; with boiled mussels – whose broth was added to the soup; and with dots of truffle oil. (I have to get me some truffle oil.) It was exquisite. 

Coq au vin is something I have heard of, and may have eaten once or twice, but I haven’t made it. Making the sauce was a fascinating exercise: using a vegetable base and a large quantity of red wine which reduced to nothing, and then adding stock to turn it back into a sauce. Cooking the chicken was the most interesting part: salt and pepper on the chicken breast then rolling it up with plastic film into a sausage, and then boiling it for five minutes and resting for another five. It was delicious and succulent and this method is going straight to my must-repeat list. For the vegetables, we were introduced to not-melon-ballers: small spoon-like instruments with rounded ends that have a fancy name in French and come in a variety of sizes. These are used to carve balls from things like carrot and turnip. We were introduced to the sensible way to finely chop thinks like shallots. And we were shown how to make the best potato mash ever, which involved a fine sieve and a very large amount of butter.

For dessert, we made raspberry cousli and creme anglais, which then became ice cream, served with delightfully fresh peaches. It was a very simple dessert which was a good accompaniment to the fairly rich main meal.

The course

Our teacher, Fred, was excellent. He was good at dividing us into groups and showing us a variety of cooking techniques. He is passionate about food and French culture (the tag line of Le Foodist is “discovering culture through food”), and sharing his knowledge about food, the regionality of food, about Paris, and tricks for making food work. The premises aren’t huge, but there was enough space for the dozen of us to cut and stir without chopping anyone’s fingers off.  

Highly recommended. I absolutely intend to make chicken in this way when I am home; at some stage I would like to recreate the “au vin” part of the recipe too. I’m inspired to make cauliflower soup that really works – it gives me a reason to plant them again, too. 

Acts of Kitchen: Jacqui teaches food studies

AoK_logo_v2In which I talk to Jacqui, who teaches adolescents about food and cooking and has only experienced one fire in the classroom.

She mentions the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, which is a different format from the Healthy Eating Pyramid that I grew up with, with some different information too.

 

Acts of Kitchen: Lisa and Vikings

AoK_logo_v2

In which I talk to the wonderful Lisa Hannett about Vikings: their sagas (farmers come to blows), their food, their rubbish heaps, and modern attempts at recreating such experiences…

Lisa’s site

Cranky Ladies of History, edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessely (including a story by Lisa about a woman of the Viking Age)

Podcast on seaweed from the BBC Food Programme

Oseberg ship at the Museum of Cultural History

Skyr

An Early Meal: a Viking Age Cookbook and Culinary Odyssey 

bowl food

Unknown.jpegI have had this book for one million years. I am a very big  fan of bowl food in general, so I remember that when I first saw it I was really quite excited. I haven’t cooked much from it more recently, because I got distracted by other shinies, but I would never give it up.

The book is divided into convenient categories: soups; salads; pasta; rice; wok; curries; one pots. Every recipe has a photo accompanying it; they’re not crazy-styled, just straightforward and attractive. The recipes themselves are also straightforward: easy to read, and easy to follow The recipes don’t have numbered instructions, but most of them aren’t especially convoluted so it’s not too tedious.

One of the aspects I really like about this book is how varied it is for me, as a white Australian. It’s got pea and rocket soup; fattoush; Thai beef salad; chicken and pork paella; and yellow curry with vegetables. Some of the recipes call for a rather long list of spices, but it has always been worth it… and reassure me of some love of authenticity, for whatever that means.

Some of the recipes I’ve tried:  Continue reading “bowl food”