Le Cordon Bleu: Lesson 3

Le Cordon Bleu Lesson 3

Alright, finally making my way to lesson 3. It seems like every weekend something keeps me from working on a new lesson. But not this weekend! It’s all or nothing.

I am a little concerned that the family will not enjoy the dishes. Not that I’ll cook them incorrectly but I already know that the tastes are not what we are used to. The previous statement excludes the mousse because I made a similar recipe for Kristi’s birthday a couple weeks ago.

I think my biggest challenge I can imagine thus far will be finding the veal shanks. I know it is going to be expensive for one meal. But, it’s all about learning and experiencing. Will let you know, of course, how it turns out. Stay tuned!

Our New Food Rules

Recently I have been reading many books and blogs about France. One of my best friends lives there and our family is planning to visit this coming year. I don’t like everything about French culture just as they don’t like everything (or much at all from my current impressions – France please forgive me if I speak in ignorance). One thing I do like and model is their concept of food and education.

French Kids Eat EverythingOn that note, my wife brought home a book from the library titled French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon. The subtitle reads, How our family moved to France, cured picky eating, banned snacking, and discovered 10 simple rules for raising happy, healthy eaters. At a certain point in the book she lays out a plan based on what she has learned. What I find most interesting is that it is a plan that aligns with what our family is currently in the process of developing. The most amazing part is that our oldest, René, has adjusted without any resistance. Maybe that’s because it is more natural than how we eat here in the Americas.

So, without further delay, here is the list of her rules or plan. Maybe they will help you. But it does take some time to adjust. Don’t go about doing them all at once. Add a new one every week and never return to your old habits. It will change your life.

Rule 1: No random, extra snacks, especially at bedtime.
Rule 2: No eating in a stroller, car, or anywhere else.
Rule 3: No gulping or gobbling. Every bite has to be chewed slowly.
Rule 4: No substitute or replacement dishes, and no extra “fillers” like bread and butter.
Rule 5: No special dishes for kids (like making two dinners – one for them and one for adults).
Rule 6: Stop relying on pasta and bread.
Rule 7: Shop as much as possible at the local market. No ketchup, except on hot dogs and hamburgers.
Rule 8: If you complain about something, you have to eat a second serving.


Failed On The Caramel. Veal Was Divine. Lesson 2.

Caramel Custard

Finally lesson 2 is complete. But, not without some failures. The main failure, as the title suggest, is the caramel. I have made caramel before but it has been a really long time. And, without the history there I did not know how long to keep it on the stovetop and what “light caramel color” was to Le Cordon Bleu. Also, was it going to keep cooking after I had the custard on top and make it more caramel colored?

Caramel Custard

Alas, all the answers were no. Above is almost to the place that I stopped actually cooking the water and sugar. Obviously it was way too light and I will have to make it more of an actual caramel color before I put it on the bottom of my molds. Speaking of molds, the recipe calls for a Charlotte mold. I don’t have a Charlotte mold and I wasn’t about to go find one. Therefore, I used my ramekins. We also use these for Cheerios for my children.

Custard in Ramekins

Custard in Ramekins

I also recently broke a large baking dish and had to use these cake pans for the water bath. The custard came out great! The caramel, because it did not have enough of the water evaporated, sat on the bottom in a watery pool. After removing the custard, there was basically a simple syrup on top of the custard. It still tasted delightful and sweet. But, I still felt defeated. I decided to just make an extra batch of caramel and pour it over the remaining custards. But, we ate them too fast to do such delightfulness. Until the next caramel recipe then.

Custard in Ramekins

No for the success of the meal. Above is the baked apples. I had to work on my pealing technique. I am doing my best to use basic tools when it is about technique. Therefore, I put down the pealed and used a pairing knife to peal the apples. It turns out I can peal an apple this way in the same amount of time that my wife can use a pealer. Mine look much prettier though.

Sliced Mushrooms

Sliced Mushrooms

The mushroom sauce was divine! On the veal it was a perfect compliment. The amazing part about the whole process of cooking these recipes is how well each course actually compliments one another. The sweet baked apples with the saltier mushroom sauce over the veal was perfect. Even though I have only done two lessons, I am beginning to see why certain tastes and dishes are placed together.


Veal Scallops With Apples

Above all, the meal was a success. I will definitely be trying my hand again at the caramel custard. The mushroom sauce is locked in my memory. The soup, well, I’ve already made again since the last time I posted about it. On to lesson 3!

Chocolate Buttermilk Cake With Chocolate-Pecan Icing from Fat Hen

This past week was my youngest son’s (Charles) birthday. He turned the bit 12 months. Or is it 1 year. In any case, I thought it would be a special enough occasion to make a cake I’ve had my eye on for a while. The cake comes from the Fat Hen restaurant in Charleston, SC. It is one of my wife’s and mine favorite places to eat when we visit. I came across this recipe in a Bon Appétit magazine from January 2013 in the Reader’s Favorite section.

As with any good dessert, no calories are spared. The largest ingredient is, of course, flour followed by sugar (if you include the icing).What could be more delicious! I made the cakes one day and the icing on the next.

Cake Batter

I was truly amazed at how adding the sugar to eggs almost doubled the amount of ingredients I had in the bowl. I am not a great baker so I had never made a cake in this manner.

Chocolate Buttermilk Cake Batter

And, as the ingredients finally came together for the cake batter, the consistency was like no other batter I had made before. The taste was so delicate and full of flavor when tasting it before putting into the pans. No box has anything on this!

Chocolate Buttermilk Cake Pans

I did not have the 2″ round pans to cook with as the recipe calls to use. So I used some smaller, about 1 3/4 inch deep rounds and a 2″ square. Because of this I could not cut the cake rounds in half like and create 4 layers. Instead I created 2 with the rounds and a single layer cake with the square.

Cake Overflow

As I said, I am not a baker. You know what happened. I put too much batter in because I wasn’t using the correct sizes for the recipe. I just cut them off and the cake turned out just fine and cooked through. I think it would have retained more moisture if I had used the bigger sizes.

Chocolate Pecan Icing Ingredients

Chocolate Pecan Icing

The icing was really easy to make but you better watch out if you are diabetic. The pictures above are the ingredients for the icing and the icing on the stovetop before adding the pecans. At this point, I had to beat my wife off with a spatula to keep her from eating all the icing!

Chocolate Buttermilk Cake with Chocolate-Pecan Icing

As you can see from the picture above, I did not get to the camera in time for a full picture of the cake. Actually, I forgot because it was birthday time. We ate half and the square cake for the party and decided to give half to our neighbors (a private chef) and reports were good. The recipe is below and comes directly from the magazine. If you have a special occasion to make a special cake, then this one will make you shine.

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
3 1/4 cups cake flour
1 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 large eggs
2 3/4 cups sugar
3 cups vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5 cups powdered sugar, sifted, plus more for dusting
1 1/3 cups finely chopped toasted pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Two 10-inch-diameter cake pans with 2-inch-high sides


Place a rack in middle of oven; pre-heat to 325°. Coat cake pans with nonstick spray, line bottoms with parchment-paper rounds, and coat again with nonstick spray; set aside. Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl; set aside.

Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat eggs in a large bowl until slightly frothy. With mixer on high, gradually add sugar; beat until mixture is pale and has doubled in volume, 7-8 minutes.

Reduce mixer speed to medium; gradually add oil. Beat until emulsified (mixture will resemble a grainy mayonnaise), 3-4 minutes.

Reduce mixer speed to low. Add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with buttermilk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Beat to blend between additions, scraping down sides and bottom of bowl as needed. Add vinegar and vanilla and beat just to blend. Divide batter between prepared pans.

Bake until cakes begin to pull away from sides of pans and a tester inserted into centers comes out clean, 50-55 minutes.

Transfer cakes to wire racks and let cool in pans for 15 minutes. Run a thin knife around insides of pans to release cakes; invert onto racks and let cool completely. DO AHEAD: Cakes can be made 2 days ahead. Wrap tightly in plastic and chill.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Whisk in cocoa powder (mixture will stiffen). Slowly whisk in milk and salt, then 5 cups powdered sugar. Whisk until smooth (icing will be soft). Stir in pecans and vanilla. Chill icing, stirring often, until spreadable, about 30 minutes.

With a long, serrated knife, halve each cake horizontally, creating 4 rounds. Place 1 round on a cake stand. Top with 1/3 of icing; spread to the edges. Repeat twice with cake layers and icing. Top with remaining cake layer. Chill until set, about 3 hours. DO AHEAD: Cake can be assembled 2 days ahead. Cover and chill. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour before serving.

Dust with powdered sugar.

Creating Crema With Stovetop Espresso

There are three things that changed my at home coffee drinking life. The first, of course, is a good burr coffee grinder. I cannot tell you how much money I save buying coffee in bulk and then freshly grind just enough beans for what I am making. Freshness is second to none and the ability to change the grind for French and espresso is priceless. I have used this one by Cuisinart for the past 5 years and have had no trouble.

The second is the French press. When I began using a French press I literally threw out my drip coffee maker. Then came the stovetop espresso maker. It isn’t the same as espresso from a fine cafe but it has a richness that is close. Since I cannot afford a quality espresso machine for the house, the stovetop is a marvelous and rather old alternative.

When comparing the cafe espresso and the stovetop there is one obvious difference, the crema. I have seen a number of chefs and friends create a crema-like top on their stovetop espresso with sugar. So I thought I’d give it a try. And if you have any tips they would be much obliged.


Stovetop Espresso

If you’ve never made stovetop espresso, then you probably don’t have a stovetop espresso maker. It’s pretty simple how it works. You put water in the lower basin. As the water heats and boils it pushes steam through the grinds (as you see above) and then through a spiket in the upper carafe. You know it’s done when you don’t hear a gurgling sound anymore. So, you have to keep an ear out. We have a dishwasher that is extremely loud and I have created quite a brown color on the bottom basin because I couldn’t hear the finishing of the gurgling. I can’t believe I just used the word gurgling twice in a post! Go me!

Sugar and Coffee Cups


I experimented a few times with the amount of sugar and ended up using about a tablespoon in the cups. The sugar is to create the fake crema. You put the sugar in the espresso cup and then add a little bit of espresso coffee to it (after it has finished gurgling!) and stir to create a paste (as seen below).

Sugar Crema


Then, you just add the coffee to it and you get a “crema” substitute. I tried a number of times and I couldn’t get the crema I had seen on a show with the Barefoot Contessa. As the last image shows. It doesn’t look like much crema stayed on top. I waited a little too long to take the picture. On the bright side, the coffee had a great taste considering I am used to drinking it black. Only with cafe espresso can I taste the caramel of a good crema. I will have to keep trying and perfecting my technique, but overall the experiment worked out well.

Crema Espresso

Piecemeal Lesson 2 Le Cordon Bleu

A yes, everyone is still sick in the house. With a dinner party on Sunday, lesson 2 fell behind. But due to such an environment, I went ahead with the wonderful Country-Style Vegetable Soup.

Thinly Sliced Cabbage

Thinly Sliced Cabbage

Leeks Quartered

Leeks Quartered

I am not sure how much the word vegetable really needs to be in the name. I mean really, there are cabbage and leeks. I would have probably just called it cabbage soup. But maybe that would throw off anyone who has a predisposition to not liking cabbage.

Chopped Leeks

Chopped Leeks

The recipe is uber easy. Pretty much you cut up the cabbage, blanch it in boiling water, then cook it in butter (always good). Then you cut up the leeks and cook them in butter (double good). Add the two together and fill with your chicken stock. Oh yeah, the chicken stock. That’s why this recipe is in here! Making a homemade chicken stock is none other than the key to every soup you will ever make in your entire life. Again, not much difficulty here, but it just takes some time and a good amount of herbs. The directions in the book are really well laid out. I like to use the left over chicken for chicken salad or fajitas or chicken pot pie. Yum to all three.

Cooking Cabbage in Butter

Cooking Cabbage in Butter

Back to the soup. After boiling this mixture for a while, the recipe calls to put the vermicelli in to cook for 5 minutes before serving. I tend to not be able to ever eat this soup all at once considering our family size. As a matter of fact, I cut the recipe in half (including this time). Because I don’t like my noodles “souper” soggy, I break up the noodles in a bowl and then pour boiling soup on top. Vermicelli takes on a few minutes to cook so it works perfectly. Then, I can just save the soup for the next day or two and repeat the process.

Country-style Vegetable Soup

Country-style Vegetable Soup

Such an easy soup but such amazing flavor. Real cooking doesn’t have to be hard. I have found that some of my favorite recipes, this one included, are very easy. Now I just have to finish lesson 2 but will probably not get to it until this weekend. But, the parents are in town and they are not big on veal. I don’t really know if they’ve ever tried it. Ah, sure, I’ll help them out with their taste buds.

Le Cordon Bleu. Lesson 2. My Wife Loves You.

Le Cordon Bleu - Lesson 2 Menu

It’s about time to begin lesson 2 from the Le Cordon Bleu At Home book. Let’s just say that if it were up to my wife, and my oldest son, I would make all the desserts first and then work on the rest. Therefore, yes, caramel custard will not last very long.

This will be my first adventure in using calvados. For those that don’t know, it’s an apple brandy similar to the cointreau used in the first lesson of the book. I personally just like to say the word, “calvados.” It makes me feel a little more Latin than French and a little more suave than I actually am. Go ahead, say it aloud. I’ll have to whisper it into Kristi’s ear as I serve her the caramel custard (oh, maybe too much information).

I hope to serve up this scrumptious meal this weekend but with all the sickness in the house I am not sure we’ll get there. If not, then don’t fear. I will be sure to execute the dish by the following weekend and post other bits in-between. Now it’s time to study the course and get prepared for my next foray into French cuisine!

Let’s put on some French tunes to help get us in the mood for study. Nothing can bring the feeling of France like Edith Piaf singing Ne me quitte pas.

After Soup, There’s Hummus On A Cold Winter Day

Hummus & Guitars

Hummus at Work!

Yes I know. Not many people think of hummus on a cold winter day. I mean, hummus is usually a cold dish. But let me put it into context.

I’ve got two awesome boys, René and Charles. Life is great and cheery as long as a cold doesn’t hit the house. But when the colds hit, the cranky level goes a bit through the roof. This is especially true when I share in the cold that these two wonderful children bring into my life.

I hate not working. I really enjoy life and what I do. If I don’t work, then I get miserable. If I don’t work because I am sick, then, well, you can just imagine. Yesterday was that day. I was home sick and slept for almost 24 hours. I have to hand it to my wife for keeping the house sane. Remember, both my boys are sick as well and we have to constantly worry about our oldest because of asthma when he is sick.

Oh yeah, back to the hummus. I had soup beginning Tuesday night and all through the day yesterday. There is only so much soup you can take in a 48 hour period. Well, as I began to feel better this morning, I remembered the large can of chickpeas just waiting to be used. Hence, a wonderful hummus came out of our new Ninja blender for work tonight (as you can see in the photo). Having a slightly spicy hummus on a snowy 5 degree day is nothing but wonderful after about a gallon of soup. And yes, I do wash my carrots but don’t always see the need to peel them.

I can’t give a recipe because it was eyeballed this morning. Two cups of chickpeas, juice from one lemon, some red pepper, 3 tablespoons of tahini (what’s hummus without tahini), olive oil, and some salt and pepper. I add the oil and some water to create the consistency I want as I blend. So for those of you tired of soup on a Winter day, go for the hummus . . . especially if you’ve been sick.

UPDATE: I forgot to include one of my favorite Winter pieces for this post. Therefore, here it is in all its glory, the 1st Movement of Winter by Antonio Vivaldi. Great to listen to if you need to cook in a hurry!

I Will Not Buy Chickpea Salad Again!

I really enjoy Mediterranean food! I feel very healthy for the most part when I finish a meal based on Mediterranean ingredients. The exception is the American gyro which has a pretty mutilated form of lamb. In any case, I tend to visit my local Greek store by my workplace just about every day. And everyday, I buy the same thing – chickpea salad. Then it finally dawned on me, dummy make your own!

So that’s what I did. I know most of you are thinking, “that’s not a real revelation” and “you didn’t think to do this sooner?” Well, I’m not perfect. But I did get my chickpeas at Costco and paid a measly $3 for an extra large can of chickpeas that I can use for the salad and for hummus. A package of small cans for about 1/3 the amount of chickpeas was twice that cost!

My recipe is pretty much eyeballed. About 1 cup of chickpeas, half a diced red bell pepper, half a cup of crumbled feta cheese, and equal parts lemon juice and olive oil (about 2 tablespoons each). Then just salt and pepper to taste. The most important part of the process is to let it sit for at least 3 hours in the fridge before eating. That time really causes everything to come together.

I will still visit my Greek store for times when the cupboard is empty. But, as long as I have chickpeas I’ll keep making them for about 80% less of the cost they charge!

The cooking music for today comes from Miroslav Tadic. It’ll put you in the Mediterranean mood for sure!