Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cooking in Paris: Part Deux

My last post featured our stroll through the markets and the cheese souffle we made and devoured. This week I wanted to spend some time talking about the cheese plate we munched on while other ingredients were simmering, sauteing, and otherwise being prepped for the next steps.

A fair warning.....because of all the cheese I ate in Paris, I am forever changed. It's like I encountered Cheese Jesus firsthand and I have a hard time going back to just my usual routine when it comes to purchasing and eating cheese.  Truth be told, when I got back from Paris, I took a break from the cheese aisle. One of my intentions is to become more acquainted with the local cheese folks in my neighborhood, particularly the folks at The CheeseStore of SilverLake in hopes that I can come as close as possible to what I smelled, ate and loved in Paris.

To accompany our heavenly cheese plate, we sipped on a delicate white wine from Touraine,  these grapes are grown in the center of the Loire Valley. The wine was crisp, fruity and fresh.  
We had two different chevre (goat cheeses) - St. Maure de Touraine and Crottin de Chavignol, a Camembert, blue cheese (Fourme D'Ambert) and a Comte.  Prior to eating cheese in Paris, I thought I "knew" goat cheese, that my friends, was a grande illusion.  The goat cheese in France is not to be messed with, it's rich and creamy, yet subtle. It's three-dimensional.  I learned so many things about cheese - the fact that it has a seasonality to it, that the milk milked in the spring is different then the milk milked in the fall. Also, like wine pairings, when indulging in a cheese plate, there are "rules" to enjoying more milder cheeses and working your way toward the more intense cheeses.  It was hard to resist the plate, but we needed to save room for the rest of our French meal.

For the main course, we made stuffed veal with spinach and mushrooms. I'm not going to entertain a debate about veal and the "cruelties" associated with how veal is raised, it's a touchy subject and I can respect all sides, but dude, I was in France....I had to eat and help make the stuffed veal!
We sauteed chopped mushrooms, shallots and spinach in a generous pat of butter and seasoned the mixture with salt and pepper. Paule shared a fantastic tip about cooking mushrooms - mushrooms are known for absorbing and releasing alot of water.  Consider them fungi sponges. Paule began sauteing the mushrooms in the pan without any fat.  Yes, you read that correctly, NO FAT. Cooking the mushrooms without any fat allows the mushrooms to release their water content and you let them cook until a majority of the water is absorbed, then add your butter or oil. By doing this, when you add the fat, you will fully infuse the mushrooms with all the FLAVOR. Genius!
 We put about a tablespoon or so of the filling onto the veal cutlets and rolled them up.  Then we trussed them together with some kitchen twine.
These bad boys were cooked in a pan, in yes, more butter, til golden brown of both sides.
While the stuffed veal cutlets were cooking, we had numerous other pots and pans bubbling away with goodness. On a whim, Paule bought celeriac (celery root) to make a puree) and we braised endive in maple syrup.  The celery root was boiled with some potatoes - after they were drained, we mashed the celery root and potatoes together, then added creme fraiche, butter, salt and pepper. 

Maple syrup is the "hot" ingredient to use right now in Parisian restaurants - mainly because it's not available to source in their country. Usually endive is braised with butter, sugar and a little lemon, but we were being spontaneous by substituting the sugar with Canadian maple syrup. Who thought braised lettuce would taste so good, but it was divine, melted on your tongue, the sweetness of the maple syrup and the char of the endive leaves.

And we finished off the stuffed veal cutlets with a pan sauce.  Deglazing the pan with white wine, we added dijon mustard and creme fraiche.  Brought to a boil and reduced to perfection, we seasoned it with salt and pepper to finish.  This sauce is so versatile and would work beautifully with poultry as well as other cuts of beef.

Of course, you have to save room for dessert, stay tuned for Cooking in Paris: Part Tres featuring a fig tart with almond cream.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Cooking in Paris: Part Une

Typing the title of my post fills me with glee, yet again! Yes, I took a cooking class while I was in Paris.  Wouldn't it have been a sin against God had I NOT taken a cooking class there?!?! I think so.  That's why months and months before I went, I started researching cooking classes. My research led down the foodie road to Promenades Gourmandes and Paule Caillat.  Paule has been teaching cooking classes in her home for several years now, thanks to a blog post written by David Lebovitz. In this post, Paule shares her family secret for french tart dough. I'll write more about that later on in the post!

I booked several months in advance and on the day of class, 5 students (including me, the only American, I might add) met in front of Patisserie Stroher for a priceless stroll through the open-air markets to purchase some ingredients for the meal we were set to prepare. This particular street is loaded with history, Patisserie Stroher is the oldest store front patisserie in Paris (opened in 1730).

 Based on questionnaires that we completed before our class, Paule composed a menu, fir for the French: cheese souffle, stuffed veal with a dijon creme fraiche sauce, pureed celery root, braised endive and a fig tart.  Oh, and a cheese tasting too. After picking up ingredients for our meal, we headed to the Marais arrondisement where Paule works and lives. It's so stinkin' Parisian! :)

The first dish we started working on is the cheese souffle (my first savory souffle).

The base of any cheese souffle is a bechamel sauce, a classic French sauce. The bechamel sauce is made of butter, milk and flour.  You melt the butter in a pan, add the flour and whisk together, until it comes together as a paste. Then you add warm milk and continue whisking until it thickens (should cover the back of your spoon). Add the cheese to the bechamel sauce and incorporate til it melts.  In this case, our souffle was made of gruyere, comte and parmesan cheese.

Egg whites are separated from yolks and the whites are whisked together in a separate bowl until stiff.The egg whites were then folded into the bechamel sauce before added to individual ramekins and baked for 20 to 25 minutes. To give our cheese souffles a little crust, we sprinkled some grated cheese all around the ramekins before we added the souffle batter.
 And......Voila! I was quite surprised by the texture of the souffle - so light, airy and the luscious notes of the three cheeses perfumed your palette ever so gently. A beautiful first course to our meal! Stay tuned for Cooking in Paris: Part Deux.......