Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Mango Cakes, Lobsters, "Pac Man" Meat Pie

Yesterday in cuisine practical, we made a puff pastry pie stuffed with shredded guinea fowl meat, hearts and lamb sweetbreads.  Not at all my cup of tea, but very French.  Instead of making a huge loaf, I made a mini pie, then cut out a wedge so that the layers would show.  What I meant to have look like a cake ended up bearing a striking resemblance to PacMan.  They must not have the game here, because Chef didn't say anything negative about it.
This morning in pastry, we made mango raspberry log cakes.  They were pretty easy to make and put together and we had a wonderfully relaxing class.
Later in the afternoon, I had another cuisine practical, this time with a lobster dish.  The chef made terrines with lobster and vegetables and I got in a very creative mood and did a deconstructed dish.  I made a carrot puree instead of slices, then I made a burnt sugar crust on top of it.  After that, I julienned leeks and daikon radish.  I presented the vegetables in varying sized ring molds, and put them next to a few lobster medallions.  I was very proud of my plate, but Chef thought I went a little too crazy, completely abandoning the recipe.  I guess I will have to find a happy medium in the next cuisine practical.
The weather has been so nice that Katherine and I have being going on walks AND sitting outside in a park during some of our school breaks.  Hopefully it will keep up so I can finally get rid of my pasty Parisian complexion.  

Monday, March 30, 2009

What's With RollerBlading?

I had really awesome rollerblades back in middle school.  Black with teal and peach accents, they were hot; with all the gear to match.  Like most things from middle school, they are no longer essential fixtures in my life.  People in Paris have NOT moved passed rollerblading.  Yesterday, I witnessed my second rollerblading race.  These races close down entire streets; some people seem competitive, some have strollers, some are in costumes.  I have no idea what they're doing or why.  But I'm very intrigued.  Does anyone know what's going on with the rollerbladers?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Saturday Morning Creole Cake

My classmates and I dragged ourselves to school at 8 this morning to make a Creole cake.  This one wasn't one of my favorites to make because we didn't do anything we haven't already done.  I do love the flavors though.  Syrup flavored with pineapple juice and Malibu rum?  Count me in!  
When I got to school and changed, I headed into the "Winter Garden" lounge area where students congregate between classes.  I noticed a huge table set up with glasses, mugs and carafes of fresh OJ and coffee.  I was joyed at how nice the school was, giving us coffee for coming in on a Saturday morning.  Then I noticed the DO NOT TOUCH sign.  Another espresso from the vending machine.  

Above - a picture of my Creole cake (I know, the decoration is a little uninspired), a picture of my fish pie plating from yesterday, the forbidden coffee from this morning, and of chef Therrien whipping up a beet mousse.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

First Few Classes Of Superior!!!

This week was my first week in Superior, the top level at Le Cordon Bleu.  There is no longer a translator and my French is still horrible, so I was very nervous about following the chefs' demonstrations.  
During the first demo on Monday, the chef lectured a bit about how serious we need to be, etc.  I understood very little and panicked that I was making a huge mistake taking classes I would never be able to understand.  After I calmed down and the chef began the lesson, I realized I understood a lot more than I thought I would.  The demos also run a lot faster and more seamlessly when there isn't a translator slowing down the chef. 
I was amazed at the differences is the dishes we are making.  Goodbye rustic stews and meat stuffed with more meat, hello fusion cuisine.  On Monday we experimented with Indian-French fusion and made John Dory fillets with tandoori , wild rice and a tropical fruit salsa.  In our next cuisine class, we made lamb chops with a truffled bechamel coating and we used purple potatoes to make crisps.  For pastry classes, we have made the more traditional Baba Rhum.  It is a simple cake soaked for a long time in rum syrup, then garnished with a rum-flavored custard.  The assemble is tricky since the soaking cake is heavy and can crumble easily.  
In our practicals, we are getting a lot more freedom to be creative with our plating and presentation.  I have been loving it and trying a lot of new things.  I make an effort to present at least one extra sauce or garnish with every dish.  Chef was very pleased when I made a mango-papaya-cilantro smoothie to accompany the tandoori fish.  Unfortunately, I have forgotten my camera for the past few days, but I am trying to remember tomorrow, and for my class Saturday morning.  

Sweet Dreams!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Montmartre, Bar Hopping in the 1st

Last Tuesday, Chris and I set off walking all the way to Sacre Coeur.  It was a great walk and we really worked up an appetite, so we treated ourselves to an afternoon apertif and some delicious escargot at Chez Plumeau, in Montmartre.  Next we headed to Espace Dali, one of my favorite museums in Paris.  I expected to love Dali's Don Quixote works, but I liked his Alice in Wonderland series even more.  The descriptions of Dali's life and thoughts behind his masterpieces were very informative (and in English!) and the gallery even had a few pieces for sale.  
After Dali, we took a stroll back down through the 1st, looking in all the windows of the fancy boutiques.  We eventually found Willi's Wine Bar, a famous haunt for Americans.  We were unimpressed with the decor, the uncomfortable bar stools and the awkward quiet of the place.  We WERE impressed by the expansive, and not too expensive, wine list.  
Next we stumbled upon a bar called Le Nomad, a very cozy and welcoming place with a kind of safari theme.  The Hemingway vibe made us crave the Ritz's Hemingway Bar, so we went off on a mad search.
Once we got to the Hemingway Bar, we found two seats at the end of the bar.  Luckily, we got the attention of the famous head bartender Colin Field.  He was extremely helpful all night.  He is known for being able to read people and know what kind of cocktail they might get.  He got us both dead on for several rounds, anticipating perfect cocktails and dreaming up fanciful concoctions.  All the while, he kept us entertained with his vast Hemingway knowledge.  This was by far, the greatest bar I have ever visited.  


Above is a picture of us in Montmartre and another of the view of the rest of the city.

Dinner at L'Atelier; Quite an Experience

On Wednesday night, Chris and I decided to try the culinary MUST, L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon.  They only take reservations at 6:30 so we braced ourselves for a wait at the bar of the Hotel Pont Royal (the restaurant is run out of the hotel).  The restaurant is a basically a huge bar, set up around an elegantly modern open kitchen.  After a pretty miserable 2 and a half hour wait, we were seated, and starving.  I had been dreaming of the discovery menu for months, so we decided on that, along with a few wine pairings.  We had course after course of decadent and interesting treats.  One of our favorites was the asparagus cappuccino, which was deliciously foamy.  

A great culinary adventure, but if I go again, I think I will just stick with an unfashionable 6:30 reservation.  

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sunning and Relaxing in Champagne

On Thursday morning, Chris and I rented another car and headed to the Champagne region, armed with a few tour reservations and a list of other Champagne houses to investigate.  The area was even more picturesque than we had imagined; lots of rolling hills covered in vines and chateaus.  We got to our hotel and were greeted with Champagne and Madeleines.  Then we headed to our room, which overlooked the vineyards of Moet and Chandon and had views of Reims and Epernay.  Our porch was perfect for sunset vistas so we cancelled any tours we had planned that afternoon and enjoyed some relaxation in the sun.  
Although we toured town a bit, our favorite thing to do in Champagne was leisurely drive through the country and enjoy the scenery.  The concierge at the hotel insisted that it is even more beautiful in summer and fall and we will have to come back.
We learned a few new favorite brands of Champagne, including Champagne Guy Charlemagne's Mesnillesime.  The ladies at Les Caves des Filles were incredibly knowledgeable and helped us pick up a few souvenirs for our return to Paris.  


Note - I can't take credit for any pictures from our week in France; Chris was our photographer.   

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Day Trip To Normandy

This week was spring break and Chris came to visit.  We had a wonderful time exploring Paris and the surrounding areas.  On Monday, we rented a car and drove to Normandy to see Mont Saint Michel and the beaches of the invasions on D-Day.  Getting out of Paris turned out to be a lot more confusing than I thought it would be.  Luckily, Chris has a great sense of direction and we made it out alive.  
First, we headed to Mont Saint Michel, one of the most visited places in France.  I had heard how breathtaking it would be and it still amazed me.  We parked a bit away from the abbey, which is on an island, accessible only during low tides via a tiny strip of land.  Stairs wind up through a mini village built around the abbey and then through the building itself.  I couldn't believe how big it was.  
On the way towards Caen, we stopped to explore a little Calvados shop.  Normandy is famous for their apples and liquors made from apples, so of course we had to sample a little local flavor.  Next we went to the beaches.  They were beautiful, especially since we got there right before sunset.  

A wonderful day trip!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Delicious Bread

Last Friday night, we had our bread demonstration.  Chef made a ton of bread; baguettes, focaccia, sandwich bread, braided bread and rye bread.  Since there was so much food and some students brought cheese and jam, Chef decided to pass around some wine.  We had a wonderful time.
This morning, we got a chance to make baguettes and sandwich bread.  We made 4 baguettes, one round loaf, one square loaf AND we had a little extra dough to make whatever we wanted.  Chef suggested braids and everyone else in the class did that, but in honor of UNC destroying Duke on Sunday, I made a bread UNC logo.  
The entire process was really interesting.  There is a lot that goes into bread-baking; special molds, lots of kneading and rising and even equations to figure out what temperature the water should be.  The ingredients are very simple; baguettes are just flour, water, yeast and salt.  
Above are pictures of Chef's creations and a few from our class.  

Off to study for tomorrow's exam...

Friday, March 6, 2009

Finished Croquembouche!

Yesterday we finished out croquembouches.  First we baked choux buns, then filled them with delicious pastry cream, and covered them in caramel.  Then we used MORE caramel to glue them into a hollow tower.  after it tried, we stuck it together with the bases from yesterday.  I was a little sad that we couldn't make ours as tall as Chef Cotte's (the huge one in the picture above) but it was still a lot of fun.  Mine leaned a little bit, but it was the tallest in the class, which was kind of exciting. I left it on the "for grabs" table in the student lounge area at school during my next practical and when I came back down, a huge fistful of choux buns were missing from the top.  I guess someone enjoyed it! 

Off to the bread-making demo!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Guest Butcher and Day 1 of Croquembouche

Today during cuisine demo, we had a guest butcher come in and cut up an entire lamb.  It was very interesting and I feel like I learned a lot.  Granted, I probably won't ever need to butcher an entire lamb, but I'm still excited to know how.  I took a few pictures in case I wasn't the only person interested.
After a few hours of the bonesaw, we went upstairs to work on the nougatine bases for our croquembouches.  For storage purposes, we weren't allowed to make ours as tall as the chef's, but it was still very fun.  I made a base and a piece to add to the top.  Working with burning hot caramel was a little challenging, especially since my hand has just started healing from last week's burn.  I found that if I just worked quickly, dunking my hands in ice water when it started to hurt too badly, I managed just fine.  I escaped with only 2 small blisters, and I didn't even have to use the hot pink rubber gloves I bought in case of emergencies.  On Thursday, we will complete the towers; if anyone has any suggestions about how to get the completed work back to my apartment, please let me know!

Sweet Dreams!

Crawfish and Wedding Cakes

Yesterday was a long but fun day.  Pretty much this entire week in pastry, we are working on croquembouches, which are the French version of wedding cakes, since the French can't do anything the same way as everyone else.  Here, pastry chefs create wedding cakes with a nougatine base and a giant pile of profiteroles (choux buns stuffed with pastry cream, sort of like a ball shaped eclair).  The entire thing is put together with caramel as glue, sometimes completely covered in caramel afterwards.  It can be decorated with chocolate, flowers, candied almonds and spun sugar netting.  Instead of a cake-cutting ceremony, couples can crack the caramel with a spoon.  Usually each guest gets about 3 profiteroles and the croquembouches can cost thousands of euros. 
In class yesterday, we all watched chef assemble a HUGE nougatine base.  Ours will be much smaller.  The nougatine is kept in the oven while you work piece by piece, grabbing a chunk as you need it.  You must work the nougatine while the caramel is still burning hot, so I'm sure we will all have severe burns by the end of class today.
In cuisine practical, we made fish quenelles (dumplings) and baked them in a Sauce Nantua, which is made of crawfish.  We didn't get to plate the dishes, but I tried to jazz up my aluminum baking pan as much as I could.

Off to start my croquembouche!