I just can’t tell you how weird/strange/odd it feels to literally be living and following, almost exactly in my mother’s footsteps. I mean, I’ve heard the saying… “As we age we become more and more like our parents”, but this is crazy.
As I was entering adulthood my mother was advancing in her culinary journey. When I was married and we started our own family was when she was really in the thick of things. I know it was at this time that she was truly influenced not only by the French chefs and their techniques, but all the “upper crust” chefs in the culinary world. The food she was making was incredible. Her techniques were advancing as well as her equipment. My mom had a dish, pan, tool, vessel, bowl, jar, utensil, for everything! Come to think of it, it was around this same time that I too reaped the benefits of her journey, and now I see even more parallels between my mother and I.
When my mom began making stocks, and I don’t mean just a simple stock, I’m talking serious stocks (demi glace’s, and glace’s) for serious recipes, she purchased a set of stock pots for me. Clearly one of the best investments she has made on my behalf. These are the same stock pots that I still use today. In fact I think I received my first serious chef knife from my mother. Our wedding gift was a complete set of Le Creuset Cookware. I was also the recipient of many cookbooks. My mother loved cookbooks. She was constantly buying them. One particular favorite was authored by Pierre Franey. Over the years I have received many gifts from my mother to help me along in my journey, but now the timing is right. Right now at around the same age as she was, I’m in the thick of it too, and as I am trying to master all kinds of stocks, recipes, and techniques, so many memories come flooding back.
To continue…. Oh yes, all about the stock……My mother ALWAYS had homemade stock on hand, and now I know why. It’s not that I didn’t understand how useful stocks were/are, but now I understand how important they are in every day cooking. Stocks are literally the building block of any great dish or sauce. So, just like my mother I have over a dozen different sized containers holding different types of stocks in my freezer. Now, while I’m browsing the meat sections at the grocers, I also look and shop for bones. Stocks aren’t necessarily hard to make, but they are time consuming. It’s kind of like baking bread. It takes several hours and usually more than one day (for myself anyway).
OK, so, my last entry was from lesson 1 , so, now on to lesson 2 of my Le Cordon Bleu At Home, and the starter recipe for this lesson makes perfect sense. Lesson 1 had included roast chicken and there are plenty of left overs including the carcass for stock. The starter course for this lesson is a “Country Style Vegetable Soup With Noodles”. Sounds simple enough. Well, unless your making it the Le Cordon Bleu way that is. How hard can it be? It literally has 5 ingredients. So, I figure it’s a good time to attempt my first pastry/dessert lesson as well. I should have plenty of time (Hahahaha…Yeah, I can laugh now). Now for my two day lesson…. 🙂
Day 1 – As I’m sure you guessed, the first part of this recipe is making the chicken stock. I followed the recipe in the book which is pretty basic. Chicken, aromatics, herbs, and water. I take it to the point of straining it, then I placed the cooled and strained stock in my refrigerator over night. This way I can get all the fat out very easily.
Day 2 – The recipe has me begin with cabbage. The cabbage is first washed, quartered, cored, and sliced thin Then it is blanched for about 5 minutes, and then shocked in cold water to stop the cooking process. Then it’s drained. Now I take the cabbage and cook it in butter until soft, paying special attention to not let it color or brown. This would give it a different flavor and appearance. Once that step is done I place it aside. Then I quarter (almost to the root end), wash, and slice 2 pounds of leeks, and do the same process with the leeks. I cook it In butter, until soft, no color. Then the cabbage is returned to the pot with the leeks and the chicken stock is added. It is seasoned at this point to taste and simmered for about 40 minutes.
After 40 minutes the broken vermicelli is added and allowed to cook in the soup for about 5 minutes. The soup is garnished with Chervil.
Now, let me tell you. This soup was so hearty, and so flavorful. I cannot imagine it being made with boxed chicken stock. Can it be? Yes, but the results will not be the same. The flavor of the fresh chicken stock was front and forward. The aromatics and herbs in the stock you could clearly taste in this soup. The cabbage became so tender it’s as if it became one with the stock. The main texture came from the pasta. The cabbage and leeks merely “melted” into the stock. I will make this recipe over and over again it’s that good, and just as all the recipes, it can be modified in countless ways. You could add cooked meat (chicken, turkey, or ground varieties). You could prepare meatballs and drop them in (pork, veal, chicken, turkey), or you could use cooked sausage (chicken, turkey, pork, kielbasa). You could add a variety of beans, peas, or even potatoes, as well as many other varieties of vegetables. This recipe is a real keeper, and so is the technique.
Well, we’ve heard it time and time again. “It’s the most simple of recipes that are the most delicious”. This recipe is the perfect example of that.
Now to proceed to preparing the dessert course of this lesson.
Once again, I am a little duped into thinking this simple recipe is simple. It’s true the ingredient list is just as short as the soup and just like the soup, it becomes all about the technique, that’s where the all the time and effort is spent.
Let me start out by saying that while growing up my mom rarely made desserts. Desserts were for special occasions and they were usually the type of dessert that would feed a crowd, like cakes, pies, cookies, etc. So it makes sense that I never really got into baking. However, I do believe a well rounded chef, even a home chef, needs to learn some techniques regarding baking and dessert preparations. So, I am prepared to explore the dessert side and make as many pastries and desserts as I can from the lessons in this book. My husband LOVES this idea. 🙂
The dessert recipe in this lesson is for caramel custard. First things first. I start scanning through the ingredients and equipment list. It calls for a Charlotte Mold. So this prompts me to go on the internet to see exactly what this is and if I have anything that might work in my arsenal of cook and bake ware. I see that my souffle dish might work and the only way to find out is to try it (another gift from mom) . Eventually, I will have to order some molds and make this again. Charlotte molds have a specific shape and come in many different sizes. They are slightly wider at the base than at the top. They will be a useful addition to the kitchen.
So, I gathered all the ingredients and equipment needed. I read that the custard preparation starts on the stove and finishes in the oven via a “bain marie”, otherwise known as a water bath. This technique is very useful in these preparations as it will maintain the silky and moist texture that custard is known for.
Well, after reading this recipe through, I really thought that the custard was going to give me the problem and the caramel sauce would be very easy. After all, the caramel sauce only consists of sugar and water. Yup, how hard can it be?
I begin by heating up the sugar and water. This is supposed to cook until it turns thick and amber in color. The instructions state that once it starts to color it can darken very quickly, so at first sign of amber I remove it from the stove. The instructions say to cool off the pan so it will not continue to cook, but there is no warning telling you how quickly you need to work as the caramel seizes up really fast. Literally, in seconds. Now I have a blob in the middle of my mold, and it will not spread out as I tip and swirl the dish. It is supposed to coat the entire base of the mold. OK. no worries, I’ll start over. Well, now it’s like glue on the bottom of the pan. OK, so I decide to make another batch and just add it to the existing batch stuck to the bottom of the pan. It seems to work. Well, at least the whole bottom is covered, even if it is thicker than the recipe states. I mean, I’m in it at this point and I’m determined to follow it through. Besides, double caramel sauce sounds fine by me. 🙂
Now, on to the custard. Miraculously, that preparation goes along without any problems. I place it into the bain marie and it goes and into the oven. The recipe states that it will bake for a good 50 minutes or so, warning that it should never boil. What did I get myself into? This is turning into quite the process. Well, while keeping vigil at the oven, baby sitting my custard, I have surpassed that time and then some. The knife I am inserting is not coming out clean. Another ten minutes or so and finally I think it’s done. It has a lot of movement. It is very “jiggly” but the knife comes out clean. I take it out of the oven to cool. I’m not going to lie. I played with it for a while. It had a lot of movement. I took a video (yes, I’m weird that way).
Now, it’s cooled and all that’s left is to unmold it. I imagine it to be an epic fail and I will have to start all the way over again. But, to my surprise it unmolds and looks decent! Not all of the caramel sauce comes out with the mold, but that’s alright, it was a double batch anyway and I was not using the right pan. Regardless, I made it, it worked, and I had a great (although, time consuming) lesson.
This custard was so smooth. It was like air. If the caramel was just a tad darker it would have looked exactly like the photo in the book.
It took a long time and both my husband and I couldn’t wait to try it. Needless to say it was delicious and not only was my husband proud of me, but I was proud of myself, and I know my mom would have been really proud of me too. She would have loved both of these recipes. Love you mom.
Here it is – The finished product. Le Cordon Bleu “Caramel Custard”
For this day? Let’s just say…my feet hurt. 🙂 What a fantastic lesson. Now, all that’s left are the dishes (more than you would think) the photos, and the memories of these recipes I made this day.