Sometimes the parallel between my mother and myself simply amazes me. How did we each find our similar path and passion for cooking at the same times in our lives? Why are we drawn to the same foods and style of cooking? Is it simply from growing up with her as my example, or is it a deeper cellular memory (genetic) connection? Probably a little of both.
If it were simply because she was my mother and she set examples, I would think that would hold true then for my own children. The foods that they are drawn to are not necessarily what I am drawn to. I love rustic dishes with deep, rich, developed flavors, not that my children don’t like those foods, lets just say that if we were to choose from a menu with different dishes from other countries, they would not be choosing the same flavors as myself. However, my mother and I would both be ordering the same dish.
With that being said, it really does not surprise me that this is my time to expand my knowledge and skills. I am at the same age as my mother when she began to take more culinary risks and really began to grow as a home chef. So, just as my mom, it’s time for me to take it up a notch and explore and grow as a home chef. I want to learn and know more about flavors, terminology, the techniques, and equipment.
There’s no doubt that I can cook and make delicious and beautiful food, but how do I grow as a home chef? Well, the answer has not only been staring me in the face for years, but it is exactly the same way that my mother learned and grew her skills as well. You go back to classic cooking, you simply go French. I need to learn from the classically trained French chefs to learn these skills that I desire and to build from. So, how exactly does a home chef / farrier / equine dentist / sort of farmer, go about mastering the art of French cooking? My mother began with Julia Child, and I do have my mothers first edition of “The French Chef Cookbook”, but I wanted more sources. After all, I’m a Virgo, so no need to explain farther.
So, I decided to go online book shopping and I came across several good ones that I felt were exactly what I was looking for. The first one being Jacques Pepin – “New Complete Techniques”, the second is a four book collection by Ann Willan – “LaVarenne Pratique”, and then there is the big one – “Le Cordon Bleu At Home”. I bought this one in hard cover, the others are e-books.
Le Cordon Bleu At Home has become not only my favorite, but an inspiration. I just can’t seem to put it down, I am absolutely mesmerized by it. Maybe it’s because it’s such a big book, it’s almost like a college text book. Or maybe it’s because of the beautiful photos and the collection of the school’s recipes. No matter what the reason, my face has been buried in it ever since it arrived. It’s almost like it has immediately transported me there, to one of the most famous culinary schools ever. With every recipe I read I would reflect on how many other chefs learned and prepared this recipe too, and I would think of all the students that attended the school having also prepared these recipes for the first time just like me. I decided to become a student at home, just as the title reads. Upon opening it for the first time I felt like an anxious kindergartner, a sponge ready to soak it all up. I am so ready to take on the challenge of preparing as many of these recipes as possible. This is my new goal, and suddenly I am inspired. Now I know why my mother chose that path, there is no other way to grow and hone your cooking skills. It’s challenging, and at times hard, but all worth it.
Now I have a whole different appreciation for my mother’s skills, as well as her cook book collection, and not to mention all of those recipes she’s collected (yes, the “crate’ O’ recipes”). I cannot wait to tackle some of those with an entirely different perspective.
My journey now feels like it’s just starting. This book has lit a new fire in my heart and soul. My grocery list now includes items like “Souffle” and “Charlotte molds”. Veal, rabbit, eggs, more eggs, and eggs, butter. creme fraiche, and chervil. There are some recipes that I may not be able to make as written. Let’s face it, I’m from WI and I won’t have access to all of the ingredients, but I can always substitute and learn the preparations.
Now, where to start. Well, I’m a Virgo. Yes, we established that, so I figure start at the beginning and go in some sort of order ( my OCD kicks in). Really, it’s completely not necessary, but it makes sense to me. As I start by reading and panning through the recipes towards the beginning of the book, I see that many recipes call for a “fonds de cuisine” which translates to “foundations of cooking” and it is referring to Stocks. Stocks of all kinds. I see that many recipes call for a brown stock. Ahhhh, yes, the brown stock, I remember! I remember my mother spending days making hers. A prized possession when completed. So, I’m following directly in her shoes, and I’m making a brown stock. A good place to start.
First hurdle. No veal bones. I really did try hard to find some, but to no avail. So, beef bones it is. I gather up a several packages. Finding some with plenty of meat on them for additional flavor. What makes it a brown stock is by roasting the bones prior to cooking them in the water, vegetables, and herbs. The brown stock would be used with red meat and game, just as you would think, and the light colored stocks, like poultry and fish, and some made with veal, would be used in veal, poultry, fish, and vegetable based dishes.
I decide to take mine a few steps farther and reduce my brown stock to a thicker version – demi glace, and then finally to a syrupy glace. That way if I need to intensify the flavor in a dish, I would just use a little of this. I literally just pictured my mom walking to her fridge and pulling out her little jar of glace, presenting it to me just as a new mother presents her first born. We both look and admire it. I was not yet in a place to truly appreciate it, but I understood it.
So, here “she” is. I am presenting my first born. I named her glace 🙂
Day 1 start to finish. The preparation of the bouquet garni, adding the roasted bones to the stock pot with the aromatics and herbs, the stock at the end of day 1 ready to strain. After the stock is strained I put it in the fridge to finish the following day. It is much easier and more efficient to remove the fat that way.
At the end of day two. I start reducing it at a low simmer, and continue simmering until I have reached the right consistency. I am feeling rather accomplished. No wonder my mom showed it off 🙂
Now making stock whether it is brown or not, is a staple. I make time for it weekly as it is the Foundation Of Cooking. And my journey continues……..