Today was our last proper kitchen day at school. Yesterday we were given a whole rabbit and were asked to create a fine dining standard main course using multiple parts of the rabbit. We were given a list of other ingredients to choose from. This is about as close to Master Chef as we have come all year. Everyone’s dishes had to be ready at 3 sharp, at which point, we took a tour of the three kitchens to see what everyone had done. It is amazing how many wildly different plates can come out of one furry creature and a limited number of ingredients.
I largely followed a recipe from The French Laundry Cookbook. Though I own this cookbook, I had to borrow it from the library. Mine is in storage right now because it didn’t make the cut when we moved to London tw years ago. It was given to me as a gift by my husband after eating an amazing lunch at the restaurant in 2006. I have always loved it, but before today had made exactly one recipe out of the book. Honestly, they were all far beyond my skill level. I find it incredibly gratifying that I can now not only cook from this cookbook, but I understand it and I can adapt the recipes (as I did today) to suit my needs.
The change in my cooking ability and instincts has been so gradual that I take it for granted. But the fact that two years ago I decided that this iconic cookbook was too aspirational (and not attainable) to bother bringing to London and today I borrow it from the library and consider buying myself a second copy… Well, this is a clear benchmark to remind myself how far I have come. Dare I say I am proud of myself?
Today’s accomplishment: rabbit loin wrapped in prosciutto, rack of rabbit, caramelized fennel, rabbit jus and fennel oil.
Rabbit a la French Laundry (kind of)
Two weeks left of school. A theory exam, dinner party group project and the practical exam. I can hardly believe it is drawing to a close. Though I am excited to unleash my newfound skills on the world. Fun stuff ahead…
Two weeks back in school and we have already covered a great deal. Last week, we conquered flaky pastry. This amazing little player can do nearly anything: base for tarts, lids for pies, rolled up into sugary palmiers. And it is a fun little math and physics puzzle: every time the pastry is rolled and folded, the number of layers triple. By the end, the pastry comprises 729 layers of pastry interspersed with 244 layers of butter and lard. You knew it wasn’t puffy and delicious for free, right? In class we used our pastry to top a chicken pot pie. It got rave reviews at home that night – the husband is already brainstorming more fillings to put under that delicious lid. Lobster pot pie, anyone? Stick around and I promise to share once we have this one worked out. Read More →
Once in the 80s, my mom went on a trendy diet that (as far as I can remember) involved eating boneless skinless chicken breasts marinated in yogurt and grilled. I think we ate this every day for what seemed like an eternity. I have really never come back around on chicken again (making an occasional exception for a roast chicken, which transcends all other chicken).
Well, we have had so much chicken this term that my entire family is kind of off chicken now. The kids launched a full blown strike about 2 weeks before the end of the term. I can’t blame them: between class and practicing at home, I have probably been through 12 chickens and one turkey over 9 weeks. I really like buying a whole chicken, breaking it down into its parts, pan frying the parts until they are perfect, and using the carcass for stock. This makes better stock. It saves money. It tastes good. You’ll forgive me if I hand you random chicken pieces next time I see you. My fridge is full of ’em. Read More →
I know my people from home are checking my blog hoping to hear about culinary school, and so far they have been sorely disappointed. The thing is it is really intense and busy, and I just haven’t been able to say anything intelligent about it yet. I probably still can’t say anything intelligent, but hopefully you’ll settle for coherent. Also, we aren’t really supposed to take pictures in the kitchen, so I only have the occasional iPhone snap. I expect you’ll forgive me.
Profiteroles Cooling in the Window. Not the prettiest ever, but they did taste nice. The two on the left were left unfilled so they could be used to test the doneness of the pastry.
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I spent Thursday at school. People kept telling me “Happy Thanksgiving” as if it was my own personal holiday. It was nice. But melancholy. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. We cook, we hang out, we watch football. No gifts, no guilt, no drama. Just cooking and relaxing. And the cooking isn’t perfectionist or ambitious. It is nurturing, nostalgic, emotional, symbolic. Everyone seems to need their dish that “makes” it Thanksgiving. This leads to an incoherent menu with too much food and too many dishes. But isn’t it generous? To me the abundant Thanksgiving buffet includes a little bit of all of the guests, an influence from different regions, and it’s sum is greater than its component parts.
But cooking back home after a day in the kitchen at school was thoroughly unappealing. So we delayed Thanksgiving to today (Sunday) and downgraded it significantly. Even with only 4 mouths to feed and a simplified menu, I still spent all day cooking. I knew it was worth it when my husband smiled at the end of the meal and announced that it was a smashing success. Read More →
For many years I have day dreamed about what else I might be doing if I was doing something else. Not that I didn’t love lawyering. Believe it or not, I really really loved lawyering. More than I ever thought I would. But there are more things that I would like to do in this life than I have time for. So I spent a fair amount of time rolling those plans and goals around in my head, sorting ideas that might fit into my life from the ones that really fit only into my imagination. (I can now admit that I am unlikely to be appointed co-Goodwill Ambassador with Angelina Jolie. I am at peace with this. More or less.)
During the intense times, I’d dabble in daydreams of alternate paths. Actually, that’s not true. The intense times made me the happiest. It was the inevitable return to work-a-day lawyering that stoked the daydreams of spending my day doing something else. The recurring dream? Culinary school. Cooking. Growing food. Understanding the food chain. I read all of the books and blogs that one is meant to read to be well-versed in our perverse food economy. That wasn’t enough. I didn’t want to be a lawyer who could talk food. I wanted to really understand it.
So, here I find myself at a natural pause in my legal career. Living in London. After several months away from my old world, my mind began to open a little to the possibilities ahead of me. And then I discovered that Leith’s School of Food and Wine is a 10-minute bus ride from our flat. I think I may have manufactured some should-I-or-shouldn’t-I drama because this seemed like the type of life (and financial) decision that should generate some angst. But in fact, the decision was made the day I found out we were staying in London another year.
So what if the school isn’t well known in the States? (We are eventually returning, after all). So what if I will learn to make more “English food” than I ever imagined? (We start our Christmas Puddings this week). It is all worth it if I can learn to flip an omelette straight out of the pan. (Check!). Learn to make profiteroles and eclairs! (Last week). Joint a chicken and deal with wild game? Really excited. I am three weeks in and every day I have thought ‘I can’t believe that I *get* to do this today.’ Not once has that sentenced passed through my mind with the phrase ‘I *have* to.’ I keep pinching myself. And we haven’t even started wine lectures yet.
So here I am. Happy. Grateful. Even a little embarrassed over my amazing good fortune to be right here. In the right place. At the right time. Right where I need to be.
Textbooks. Much more fun than Civil Procedure.