The honor of your presence is requested for an authentic French lunch.
French Onion Soup
Soupe á ´l Oignon Gratinée
Mesclun Salad with Rillioons, Hazelnuts, and Sainte Maure Cheese
Mussels in Cider and Cream
Moules á la Normande
Rabbit Braised with Prunes
Lapin aux Pruneaux
Buckwheat Crépe with Ham, Egg and Cheese
Sole in Butter Sauce
Sole Beurre Blanc
Fried Flounder Strips
Goujonettes de Flet
Leek and Cheese Tart
Beef Braised with Beer and onions
Carbonnade de Boeuf
Sautéd French Green Beans
Sauté de Haricots Verts
Glazed Baby Beets
Petites Betteraves Glacées
Crépes with Butter and Sugar
Can you believe it? This was lunch today and WE made it all!
If you haven’t stopped by The Café for the past few days, I’m blogging from Hyde Park, New York where I’m spending the week attending a French Cooking Boot Camp at The Culinary Institute of America.
We studied the history of French cooking yesterday and today was a lesson in geography. France is divided into 22 regions, each one being diverse, not only in landscape, topography, culture and climate, but also in cuisine. We focused today on Normandy, Brittany, Champagne and The North, The Loire, Paris and Íle de France. It was fascinating to learn about the different foods and culinary styles the various regions are famous for and specialize in.
Many of you know that the French take their food and wine very seriously, but you might not know that they actually have laws (called the rules of appellation) regarding nomenclature and production methods. For example the name “Champagne” is reserved exclusively for sparkling wine produced from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France. The way it is to be produced is also very specific. There are tons of other foods and beverages that are governed by these very unique laws.
After our geography lecture, we headed to the kitchen and began to cook up a storm, a quite proper French storm, that is. We are divided into three teams and we all had our assignments. I have been blessed with a very accomplished chef, Kenneth, from Chicago as my cooking partner. He’s already been to boot camp here at the CIA, so he’s been invaluable the past two days – he steered me in the right direction more times than I care to admit.
The entire day was awesome from start to finish! After cooking all morning and seeing wonderful culinary demonstrations from our instructor, Chef Bruno, we enjoyed the fruits of our labor for lunch. We were amazed at the deliciousness and uniqueness of each of the dishes. After lunch we enjoyed a fascinating talk about French cheese by Chef Bruno, and had the opportunity to nibble and critique 12 different cheeses from France.
You’d think that would be plenty for one day, right? Nope ………. we were given a three hour break/rest time (this old lady needed it!) and were invited back for dinner in one of the CIA’s fine restaurants, Ristorante Caterina de’ Medici. Our team enjoyed fabulous Italian food and wonderful service all prepared and delivered by the culinary students.
I’m ready to fall into bed, so instead of writing any more, I’ll just show you a few pictures of our day. Oh, and the Puff Pastry Pears, I made them for a dear friend’s birthday celebration one evening last week, but they actually would have fit quite well into our lunch feast today. Pears are beloved and available throughout France, but it seems that the majority of them are grown in the orchards of Normandy. Puff pastry is thought to have originated in France back in the 17th century. So there you have it …………. maybe I should be calling them Pâte Feuilleté Enveloppé Poires …….. sounds much fancier, don’t you think?
So you asked for it; here I am in my “chef duds”.
Note- I’ve just given up the idea of trying to look cool and not grin like a Chesire cat, I’m thinking this type of cat might be in my blood lines somewhere, what do you think?
My new friend and very adept cooking partner, Kenneth.
Chef Bruno showing us how to cut up a whole rabbit for our Braised Rabbit with Prunes.
A French culinary term that is foundational to the C.I.A. is Mise en Place (everything in place). I love it!
One of my favorite demonstrations was for the Pate Brissee for our quiche crust. Chef Bruno showed us his super easy technique.
He makes whipping up a pastry crust and rolling it seem like child’s play!
Our wonderful teacher, Chef Bruno, is a graduate of the CIA . He worked in the industry for many years and is now back at the CIA sharing his experience and skill with students like us!
There are professional CIA students who help us in the kitchen. This is Ricardo who is wonderful and has gotten me out of more than one pinch! Thanks Ricardo!
Oh, and these amazing pears. You’ll love them. Pre-packaged puff pastry makes them simple to prepare, and the poaching liquid is used to make the caramel sauce. I adapted my Ridiculously Easy Caramel Sauce recipe, so it’s a breeze to make the sauce once your pears are poached. It’s a lovely presentation, don’t you think?
- 2 cups apple cider
- 1 cup brown sugar packed
- 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
- 2 tablespoons Calvados optional
- 6 firm pears
- 1 17 1/2 ounce package puff pastry thawed in refrigerator
- Additional ingredients for the caramel sauce:
- ½ cup butter 4 ounces
- ½ cup heavy cream
- Peel and core pears. I use a melon baller to core my pears.
- Combine cider, brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice and Calvados in a large pot. Bring to a simmer and stir until all sugar is dissolved. Add pears, cover and simmer for 25-30 minutes or until pears are tender, but not falling apart, just until they can easily be pierced with a small sharp bladed knife. Remove pears onto a plate and allow to cool and drain for 10 minutes. Drain excess cider mixture back into pan and refrigerate pears for at least one hour.
- Return cider liquid to a simmer and simmer until syrupy and reduced to about 1/2 cup. Watch carefully towards the end as this sugary syrup can easily burn.
- Add butter and cream and return to a simmer. Whisk gently until well blended. Cook for 7 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and add vanilla extract, stirring to combine.
- Mixture will thicken as it cools. If it becomes too thick, just add an extra bit of apple cider or cream. Sauce can be made ahead and warmed at serving time.
- Heat the oven to 400°F.
- Unfold the pastry sheets onto a lightly floured surface. Roll out the first sheet to a 10" x 12" rectangle. Cut the pastry sheets lengthwise into 1/2" wide) strips. Starting at the top, wind pastry strip around 1 pear, slightly overlapping the edges of the pastry and adding more strips as needed. Use a bit of water on your finger to help a new strip adhere to the previous one.Tuck the end under the pear. Repeat with the remaining pears and pastry strips, cutting more from the second sheet as needed. Cut out leave-shaped pieces of pastry if desired and place on top of pears with a bit of water to adhere.
- Place the wrapped pears onto a baking sheet. Loosely cover the wrapped pears with aluminum foil. Bake for 25 minutes or until the pastries are golden brown. Spoon the caramel sauce onto 6 plates. Top each with one pear. I like to serve the pears warm and add a scoop of vanilla ice cream or frozen custard.