Tonight in the CHIC Cafe it was all about being true to my French roots. Well, I don't really have any French roots, but I definitley have some French branches. So I was staying true to my French branches.
I walked in and Chef Gail handed me a Cryovac bag full of red, fatty, Frenched (meaning bone out) lamb chops. Let me first say that I love Chef Gail. Let me also add that lamb is, by FAR, my favorite meat. I was going to say that it's my favorite protein, but that's so not at all true. I would take seafood over a land animal any day. Though the fat in the land animals is so so much more tasty and useful for things like...oh...CONFIT (the thought of which makes me tremble).
I had been talking to my friend Gilbert on MSN this afternoon while I was thumbing through the first French cookbook that I ever owned as a lass. Actually I was 20 when I bought it, never thinking I would ever go to France, much less become a classically trained French chef. THere was a recipe for a dijon-mustard and green herb crusted lambloin (the chops are cut out of the loin, in case there is confusion amongst you). I had to try it. But alas, a thorough perusal of my apartment refrigerator yeilded only the dijon mustard. Not enough to make the lamb. When Chef Gail handed me the lamb tonight, it was like...being kissed for the first time. By Matt Damon. And Brad Pitt. At the same time.
She also handed me a bag of green beans, telling me that they were my vegetable, and for me to think about a starch to put on the plate as well. Since I was going all Francais for my meat, I decided to pull a few more recipes from my classical repertoire to make the perfect French entree. I decided on Haricots Verts au Provencal (green beans with tomatoes and shallots) and glazed carrots and (here's where you gasp) turnips.
I have read a lot about turnips. That's probably the only time you'll ever hear that sentence. You'd better reread it. I have read a lot about turnips. Chef Alain Passard of L'Arpege (doesn't it seem like every French chef's name is Alain? I think I might have to name one of my sons Alain.) calls the turnip "one of the world's great Lost Vegetables." I must agree. I love turnips. Especially glazed with honey and carrots and lots and lots of black pepper. This is weird though. I decided to go out on a limb and cut the turnips into little balls with my melon baller. This turned out to be a fantastic idea, and would have been even more fantastic once someone invents a way to use a melon baller on a carrot. I might die when that happens. So, in essence, I'm left with a masticated turnip that's been melon-balled until it looks like an enormous Whiffle ball, and about 40 little turnipy spheroids. Sitting next to the carrots, the turnips look like mothballs. It looks like I'm glazing MOTH BALLS. I decide not to use the melon aller on turnips anymore. I think sweet potatoes would be a good candidate to be melon-balled.
Everything turned out fabulously. Though I prefer my lamb medium rare to rare, I recognzed that sometimes people are scared of meat that isn't completely done all the way through - so I went for the medium-well route. It was a success on all fronts. The meat was still juicy and SO tender, I can't even stand to think about it even now. The mustard got a kind of smoky flavor. There's nothing like standing in the kitchen surrounded my 10 other chefs in training, holding two Frenched lamb chops by their bones, shaking them like maracas and doing a little shimmy, looking out into the cafe (there's a huge window where everyone in the Cafe can see what goes on in the kitchen (it's part of the 'experience')) and seeing that 20 patrons are watching intently and laughing at your little shimmy, and then biting whole heartedly into one of those delicious and succulent little lamb lollipops. Wow. I wish I had one right now.
That's enough for tonight. More food fun tomorrow.
Yesterday I learned a very powerful lesson. The lesson will become more apparent to you as you read this entry. Actually, it will be crystal clear as soon as you read the next sentence.
Last night I made chocolate-chip cookies using Splenda instead of sugar and Smart Balance-Omega 3 instead of butter.
I'm going to chalk this attempt up to my current quest for low calorie junk foods that I don't have to feel guilty about without all the ridiculous preservatives that make it possible for Snackwell's cookies to be still viable snacking options after they've been in your pantry for 6 months or more.
Needless to say, these cookies, while they probably averaged about 150 calories less than the traditional Toll-House cookie (it should be noted that the Toll House cookie is the official state cookie of Massachussetts. Yeah, they're that good.), but they were three things that a chocolate-chip cookie simply should not be. Cakey, poofy, and smooth.
The usual remedy for the cakey/poofy thing is lower oven temperature. The lower temperature allows the cookie to spread out. Lower temp also means that you have to leave the cookies in there for a longer amount of time, which caramelizes the butter and sugar together to a certain extent, and creates the chewy texture of a perfect cookie. For these cookies, however, the lowing of the oven temperature just made the cookies less poofy - but still cakey and difficult to eat without milk. Oh - and I'm lactose intolerant. And I refuse to admit it enough to take Lactaid. I just thought that was an important point, seeing as how it stifles my cookie-eating rituals.
As for smooth - I'm blaming that on the Splenda. I'm also blaming the fake sugar flavor on the Splenda. I watched a Whose Wedding Is It Anyway? on the Style network the other day and the bride said that she was having the baker make a Splenda cake for the wedding. Good luck with that, baker. My current view is this: leave the Splenda for sweet tea and lemonade. Drink zero-calorie beverages when you're consuming full-calorie, full-fat sweets. You'll be happier.
Here's the lesson. I'm warning you - it's tres francais. Butter and sugar rock.
Little known fact: The dough used to make cream puffs or traditional French eclairs is called pate a choux. "Choux" means cabbage in French.
Apparently, according to www.joyofbaking.com, the French thought that the little spheroids created by the pate a choux when it bakes looks like little cabbage heads. I think that's stupid. They look like pate a choux.
If anyone's interested, creampuffs are a fantastic rainy afternoon activity. Just make sure you dip them in chocolate. :)
One of the main reasons why I was/still am so in love with my high school sweetheart was that he was as obsessed with ice cream as I am. That 135 pound body of his could devour an enormous sundae with as much gusto as a hot-dog-eating-contest contestant who just scarfed 48 dogs in 12 minutes into his 300 pound body. It was fabulous to have ice cream as much a part of our relationship as it was a part of our individual lives. It still is. Ice cream has been on my mind lately - but then again, when is it not?
I was laying awake this evening thinking about Breyer's "All Natural" Vanilla - which seems to be the entire world's idea of the paragon of ice cream perfection. I have a feeling it has a lot to do with the vanilla bean specks that Breyer's markets shamelessly. I have an issue with this ice cream because I am a snob. Vanilla ice cream should not be as white as a Michigan snowdrift. It should be pale ivory or golden ivory, depending on whether it is French vanilla or regular vanilla. Breyer's "All-Natural" is virginal white. With black specks, of course. Creme anglaise is the base for all ice creams. It contains milk, sugar, cornstarch, and (here's the kicker) eggs. The yolk of an egg is yellow, right? So a creme anglaise should be a little bit yellow (a lot yellow if it's French vanilla, since the addition of about 7 egg yolks per gallon of creme would make it much deeper). Breyers is, of course, not hiring thousands of underpaid workers at their packing plant in Nowhere, USA to stand over a hot pot of delicious creme anglaise in preparation to make true vanilla ice cream. But this does account for my distaste for Breyers vanilla, which I feel is too icy and shallow of a taste to be considered real ice cream. It is a good vehicle for toppings though, which I readily will add to the top of any Breyers brand. Vanilla ice cream should be silky, rich, and very vanilla-ey. It shouldn't be vanilla-ey just because there are "bean specks" in the ice cream. I would also like to point out that vanilla beans are DISGUSTINGLY expensive, which means that there's no way in hell Breyers could charge $3.99 and still be making a profit if they used real vanilla beans. Unless they're taking a loss on that just to make up for it with the Heart Healthy sub-brand (which isn't real ice cream, because it tastes like crap) which they charge a hefty $6-7 a half-gallon for.
Alain Ducasse has recently (2002) opened a restaurant in Paris called 'Spoon.' The premise of the restaurant is to bring much more shamelessly modern cuisine to a place where French cooking is considered a religion, and it is very difficult to find fusion cuisine. 'Spoon' is supposed to encourage the French people to learn about the cuisine of other countries, and even try to expand their ideas about their own classic dishes. It's meeting with much resistance, as you can imagine.
Ducasse has, to the chagrin of many, placed Ben and Jerry's ice creams in many of his dessert, marketing them by their names. Ben and Jerry's is almost impossible to get in France. I've tried. When you do get it, it can cost almost $15 a pint - considering the abysmal exchange rate I had to live with for 5 months early in 2005 (it's much better now). There has been so much negative talk about this move by Ducasse, even though Ben and Jerry's is second only to Breyers in sales in the US. Personally, I don't see what the problem is. Ben and Jerry are two hippies from Vermont who use all natural ingredients (except for xanthan gum, I might point out), and who inspire their ice creams from musicians like Dave Matthews Band ("One Sweet Whirled"), The Greatful Dead )("Cherry Garcia"), and of course my favorite, Phish ("Phish Food"). Someone please tell me why I would want to slave over a creme anglaise, add extra ingredients and flavorings, wait for the ice cream maker to warm up/cool down, extract the ice cream (which usually ends up about the same consistency as lightly frozen glue), and then clean the whole damn thing, when I could just pick up a fantastic pint of Chubby Hubby (malt ice cream, fudge swirls, and peanut-butter-filled pretzel bites) and call it good. I just don't understand people sometimes - especially those of the French variety. I think Ducasse is on the right track.
On a recent trip to Panama City Beach, my best friend and I stopped at a "Homemade Ice Cream Parlor." Honestly, the ice cream was mediocre. The flavors were excellent - mint without being too Listerene-ey, chocolate without being too cocoa-ey - but the consistency was just what I mentioned. Lightly frozen glue. But serious props to the old guy behind the counter, who I'm sure has been running the place for the last 400 years. I looked overwhelmed at the menu of 15 flavors when he asked for my order and breathed, "Crap..." The man looked at me and said, "Hm...I'm pretty sure that's the only flavor we don't have." The comment elicited a chuckle from me, but I silently thought, "You don't have Phish Food." I guess I just like xanthan gum in my ice cream.