My French class, as it were, came over pour un petit repas recently. And really, what is a French meal without bread? Unfortunately it was about 940 degrees out and turning the oven on seemed like a bad idea. I went with the grill option.
I had an extra vol au vent shell left since one of our French colleagues was a no show. I used it to make a dessert. A tin of Bird’s custard has been clanking around in the back of my cupboard for a few years and the rhubarb is up so I made an . . . I am not sure what.
A rhubarb/honey and custard pastry of some sort. It looks very fancy. It was easy. I’m gonna totally do this again.
Seems like we get together less and less but cooking for my fellow former French student colleagues is always a pull out the stops kind of meal. Oeufs mayonnaises is a French classic and a favorite of mine and also of one of our number Jean (en francais, Jeanne). So I put that on the entrée list. Entrée in France is the first course. Le plat, the plate is the second.
Le plat in this case was crevettes vol au vent. Shrimp flying in the wind or some such thing. It is so blessedly fussy, luscious and gorgeous. Les deux plats étaient un spectacle. Et oui, j’ai fait ma propre mayonnaise.
Unfortunately, our fellow Francophile, Jean, however did not make the meal citing other commitments. Who would chose something else over flying shrimp?
It’s a personal philosophy. I cannot eat a peach, nectarine or apricot unless it is so ripe the skin is like the back of my grandmother’s arm. I recall vividly sitting outside on our porch on a September evening while my mother was off having a baby. I put my hand on the back of her arm and said “Oh, gramma! Your skin is so soft.” Her clucking laugh sounded like a chicken. Although knowing my grandmother as I did, she was probably thinking, “Scram, what’s-your-name.”
My friend Jean (Jeanne, in French) brought me a Georgia peach. I waited 4 days for it to reach the proper skin-so-soft. Then I refrigerated it and ate it over the sink. You have to. They are soooo juicy and luscious, to fully enjoy it, you must endure the disturbing ignominy of the eating procedure.
Sorry Jean. But first there’s the boiling of them, actually, I steam them not boil them and the results are far more uniform, but then there’s the peeling of them. Good Christ I hate that (If I had my worm farm I’d at least be able to feed them the shells, yes, really, and feel somewhat better about the struggle to get the damn shells off but I don’t have that implemented yet). And so book club, we read A Gentleman of Moscow or some damn thing, and I made a Russian meal. Starting with hard boiled eggs…deviled eggs anyway. I bought this infuser contraption in Belgium a few years ago and it seemed like a great way to decoratively fill the hard boiled whites. But A, you need both hands to squeeze the filling out. B, the egg whites do not stay in one place as you do this. C, the filling did not like to let go of itself to make the decorative swirl on the top, you know, a pretty swirly top on each one. To be honest, I was afraid that my book club would think I was insane if I had presented a platter of swirl topped deviled eggs. I mean, I’m freaking fruity enough as it is.
So I ended up opening the damn contraption up and filling the eggs with a spatula. It was not as Martha Stewart as I’d hoped and they looked a little messy, but well, Russia, if you take my point. I solved the messiness of it by just haphazardly scattering them with dill, green onions, capers, paprika, I dunno, whatever. It looked lovely and good enough to serve in the Metropole, if only by the Bishop, at any rate.
I happened to notice that I have 24 unpublished drafts on my blog posting list. So I’ve decided to fill in a few empty spaces with some of these.
I first had this salad in Paris on my 60th birthday (now a distant memory), dining alone on a Sunday night. Sitting in a relatively charmless cafe on the street. Vinaigrette, shallots, celery, carrots and parsley. I served this to my French class on arugula. It was great, as usual. But the leftovers the next day were the big attraction. I love leftover salad.
Recently I had my French class for dinner and in an effort to make something out of the ordinary I made Joel Robuchon’s pureed potatoes. Potatoes so lustrous and delectable that they are reputed to have won him his Guide Michelin stars. My friend Jean who is in the class with me sent me (in the freaking mail, isn’t that cute? She is very old school) a xerox copy of the what appeared to be a pretty straight forward mashed potato recipe.
Straight forward in the sense that it was highly complicated and involved food mills and tamis neither of which I have or use. Not deterred, I unearthed my potato ricer and pressed a fine sieve into service in place of the tamis. It also involved beating a pound of butter into 2 pounds of potatoes. How hard could that be? The butter it turns out needs to be ice cold and beaten in teaspoon by teaspoon with a goddam wooden spoon. Forty five minutes later I was forcing the shit through the sieve with a plastic spatula into a double boiler.
I’m not sure the end result was worth the effort. It was good enough but I know it wasn’t worth antagonizing my tennis elbow into a white hot rage.
This is the perfect ski food. Nutritious, delicious (no matter Jean’s opinion), satisfying, easy, clean up’s a breeze and, it’s deeply evocative of another time and place. My family, my father, skiing up north, staying in cheap, crappy places, driving for forty seven hundred hours to get to them, and beer. Back when I drank beer.
On further reflection today, having had crackers, peanut butter and pickles for dinner last night as I was too lazy to get up and go out, it works better with soda crackers. It also works better with beer as opposed to wine but since I had neither it didn’t matter.
In my search for a soft pie crust recipe with which to make my empanadas I stumbled across this recipe from Cook’s Illustrated. Of course, in Christopher Kimball’s infinite wisdom I cannot see this recipe on their website even though I have had a subscription to their magazine since its inception. But no matter, you can find these things pretty easily on the internet and in the process I discovered a nice blog too.
So I made this pie dough. It is stranger than fiction but the crust it produced was amazing. It calls for a quarter cup of vodka and a quarter cup of water. The dough was nearly liquid. But it rolled out like a dream and the pastry it makes is soft and flaky and lustrous.Those are olive, mushroom and red pepper empanadas. I took them to French class. Even if we don’t eat everything, Jean’s husband will.