I am back from my travels!
Warren mentions my interview with Andrew, on making tart
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.
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.
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.
I’ve had this book on my shelf for a very long time, and I’m not sure why I haven’t got around to reading it; I guess I just haven’t been in the mood for a twenty-something-in-love-in-Paris memoir with recipes.
I’ve finally read it. Turns out this might be a Thing. To the point where I’m tempted to go look at Amazon and check out If you like this, you might like…
Elizabeth Bard is a romantic, preferring museums over night clubs and dreaming of living in the past. She begins her story with “I slept with my French husband halfway through our first date” and goes from there, describing weekends in his French flat and exploring the city, the food, and their developing relationship. It’s definitely nice to know that they do end up together; it makes it a more comforting read, to know the ending.
The story is basically an analysis of an intercultural relationship, as well as the somewhat difficult* road she took to get from innocent-arrogant-American thinking she can do anything to eventually writing this book. She had a lot of ‘who am I and what am I’ moments that struck a chord with me. It’s a nice story overall, and the memoir aspect is touching – her remembrances of her mentally ill father, the difficulty of making friends in France, negotiating with her own and his parents: it’s well written, with appropriate pathos but no eye-roll-y over-the-top woe-is-me wailing. I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would; I was at the hankering-to-keep-reading stage at 11pm.
And every chapter has recipes at the end.
I’ve never been especially keen to try French cooking. For a long time I harboured a deep-seated desire to make croissants, until I saw a video about the endless folding, and then voila! I was cured. Anyway, I suspect that this somewhat American take on French cooking is likely to be a bit easier for me. And when I saw the recipe for chouquettes, I thought – really? that easy? So I tried, and I made them, and they worked, and now I can make chouquettes. I AM VERY EXCITED. This might be a new thing for me.
Available from Fishpond.
*yes, the difficulty is all within the context of white privilege; she admits that she isn’t exactly in the hardest place in the world, but I think we all know that when nothing is going our way it feels like the worst thing ever.
I have flirted with beef bourguignon many times over the years. The first time it was from Elizabeth David’s recipe – the long, somewhat involved version. Then I went with a slightly easier version from some stock-standard Australian book, and then I went the extreme edition and did a slow-cooker version. They’ve all been passable – in fact they’ve all been very tasty – but I felt the need to go back to where it all began. So I made David’s version again.
Firstly, I must say that I used the wrong meat. Our local butchers are really nice, but they don’t have a great range, and their diced meat isn’t always all that. So when I asked for meat for a casserole – which I admit was also a bad move – and the butcher gave me oyster blade… well, I figured that it was going to marinate for 6 hours and then cook for more than 2, so it would be ok, right? And yes, it was ok, but it wasn’t fantastic. So next time, I will go with a better cut of meat.
Secondly, this is the first time I have used streaky bacon. I figured if I was going the David route I’d go proper. And… I dunno. I’m sure there’s something to be said for the fat, and maybe there’s something special about the meat that’s next to the fat, but I think next time I’ll go with short cuts again, or maybe middle rashers: a bit of fat, but more meat. Also for the first time I cooked the bacon in lard. The recipe calls for meat dripping, which – ?? – but I happened to have lard left over from a friend’s cooking, so I thought I would use that. I don’t think it made much difference to the taste.
Overall, this was really tasty. Marinating the meat in thyme, wine, oil and onion does make a difference, I believe, and I love that you reuse the marinade. I’m beginning to realise that I really am an onion fan, so the little onions used as a ‘garnish’ (added for the last 30 minutes, after cooking them briefly with the bacon earlier) were delightful. And when you’re making this you might as well make a decent batch, so I’ve got enough in the freezer for another meal for two, plus lunch for one.
And there are no photos of this dish because no matter how you try, it’s just not a pretty dish to look at.