Sunday, August 20, 2006

French Laundry Party 2

The Rundown:

* 'Caesar Salad'
* Heirloom Tomato Tart
* Smoked Salmon & Gnocchi
* "Pacific Moi"
* Walnut Soup
* 'Ile Flottante'
* Poached Peaches & Verjus Sorbet

[Note from Ei-Nyung: I think my Gruyere gougers made it out of the oven between the first and second courses. We just put them on the table to eat with everything else.]

Caesar Salad :

'Caesar Salad'

This is easily the most labor intensive and ridiculous salad I've ever seen, much less made. Essentially, it's the basic flavors of the salad, done up in completely differet ways. If it weren't for the novelty of its given name, I'd have called it "Parmesan Three Ways" or something similar. Essentially, the salad, from the top down, consisted of:

* Parmesan shavings
* Dressed narrowly-cut Romaine hearts
* Parmesan Frico
* Parmesan Custard
* Croutons
* Dressing

The custard was the weirdest part, essentially a standard custard with a lot of parmeggiano-reggiano(sp?) added to the mix. The dressing was incredibly punchy - a quarter cup of balsamic, garlic, shallots, anchovies, lemon, and olive oil. Good stuff. I don't think say, I'd make it again casually, simply because of the work involved. But damn tasty, and it turned out pretty well.

Heirloom Tomato Tart

Heirloom Tomato Tart

Uyen & Charles brought over the tomato tart, which was apparently made completely from scratch. Their dish involved making their own puff pastry, which is no easy feat for any non-pastry chef. There were a variety of tomatoes in different states of cooked-ness -- top layer was raw to provide a fresh, cool bite, and the underlying layer was roasted in the oven to intensify in flavor -- and they all played off each other really well. The tapenade provided a high (but not too high) note and tasted kind of nutty. The puff pastry hadn't "puffed" as much as it perhaps should have, but the flavors were spot-on, and delicious. The basil dressing & fresh pepper on the baby greens provided a crunchy, cool, light contrast to the rest of the dish.

Smoked Salmon & Gnocchi

Smoked Salmon & Gnocchi

Colin & Jess smoked *their own salmon* in a cold smoker they built this past week. That was pretty ridiculous. It was spectacular - subtle, but really flavorful, and very "salmon-y" - it was one of the first times where I'd say the smoked quality of the salmon really complemented the flavor of the fish, instead of simply being a parallel flavor. I love smoked salmon, and this stuff was really good. The hand-made, hand-rolled gnocchi were a great accompaniment, and the various sauces made for a delicious blend of flavors. Chive oil, balsamic glaze, and some sort of butter & lemon-oil sauce, with a fine bruinoise... great stuff.

"Pacific Moi"

Pacific Moi

Klay & Nana made a dish that normally contains Pacific Moi, but due to the unavailability of that particular fish, used one of the specified replacements. Klay had the uneviable job of filleting a ridiculously small fish, and managed to do an admirable job of it. The early concerns such as filleting the fish, the sauces "breaking" and some other concerns had me worried for a bit, but the end result turned out really well. The orange sauce was a little over-reduced but the fish was really quite good. The edamame and brunoise hiding under the fish was fantastically tender, and the fish's skin had crisped up wonderfully, providing a nice contrast to the soft meat of the fish. The salad on top provided a nice bite from a ice water bath, which also served to curl up the julienned scallion.

Walnut Soup

Walnut Soup

The second dish I made was a "canape dessert soup" - basically amounted to an espresso cup worth of "soup" for each person. Walnut, simmered in cream for about 45 minutes, then cooled, and blended with pears poached in a white wine/sugar/lemon mixture. There's no way that I'd ever have been able to have more than an espresso cup worth of this stuff - it was apparently originally a sauce for another dish, but people liked it enough they turned it into its own little dish. Tasty, but probably took a year off the end of all our lives.

'Ile Flottante' (floating island?)

Ile Flottante

This dish was Ei-Nyung's - a soft, slow-bakedmeringue, with a chocolate mousse center, in a pool of creme anglaise, with a small chocolate wafer on top, chocolate shavings, and mint oil. I thought this turned out really, really well, and I'll let her describe it.

[Ei-Nyung edits post to add her comments.] If I were to make this dish over again, I'd reexamine my opinion of when "soft-peaks" are forming in my meringue, because I think I didn't really get it this time around. This dish posed a challenge for me because both the software (the components of the dish) and the hardware (the equipment) were unfamiliar to me -- I had never made a non-cookie meringue before, and because we only had four ramikins, I decided to use a muffin pan instead. This posed an issue when it came to removing the meringue.

Seppo has full credit for making the creme anglaise and the chocolate mousse, which, damn, delicious, yeah, me == incoherent from memory of taste.

The mint oil added a nice light note to the dish. It's a very rich dish, yet the lightness in texture of both the meringue and the mousse (as well as the weenie size) and the accompanying sauces kept it from feeling too heavy to follow five entrees. This dish took me about 2 hours last night and another 1 today. Not bad, compared to last time.

[Ei-Nyung steps away.]

Poached Pears & Verjus Sorbet

Poached Peaches & Verjus Sorbet

Uyen & Charles' second contribution to the evening - peaches poached in the same liquid as the pears from the walnut soup, and a sorbet made from verjus, which is apparently a very hard to find unfermented juice made from sour grapes. This was really punchy, bright, and 'clean' tasting - a great way to end the evening. The sorbet was perfect- not too sweet, and the peaches were delicious.

More than anything, what I love about these events is that a.) it's getting a bunch of friends together to push the boundaries - all of us are "reaching" - no one cooks like this on even a marginally regular basis, and we're all doing things that are signfiicantly more complex, and harder than we're used to. More than that, we're doing it with, and for each other, which adds a whole new world of pressure. And yet everything people made was delicious. Sure, it's not perfect, but it's *damned good*, and sharing great food with good friends... man - nothing better.


Blogger ei-nyung said...

Someone asked last night if there was a difference between the first and second French Laundry parties, and I couldn't figure out the answer at the time. Certainly, it was a diferrent group with a different built-in dynamic, but both times, it was all people we love hanging out with and the food was excellent and delightful. Now that I've had a night to ruminate on it, I think I know what the difference was.

When I compare the menus of the two nights, it appears that, inadverdantly, most of us chose to prepare extremely complicated and time-consuming dishes this time around. Of course, every recipe in the book requires care to detail and quality ingredients, but some of them (such as the Gruyere gougers, which I only repeated as an addition because it is so easy) are *far* easier to make than others which may have multiple levels of difficulty.

I think, as a result, the enjoyment to time-spent ratio was much higher over all last time. This time, the food was just as good, and the average presentation and pacing was noticeably better by virtue of prior experience, but because the average number of hours per cooking group was so high, the enjoyment to time-spent ratio was much lower this time. Everyone was absolutely beat into the ground by the end of the day. Last time, we were able to leisurely hang out a bit because we weren't completely sapped.

When we do this again (I am not sure we'll have a chance to do this again before 2007), we, as the hosts, will have to do a much better job of sorting through the dishes and making recommendations and giving a difficulty/time rating on each dish, so that the participants don't get so tired.

I had a fantastic time, but I think we'll wait a few months until the next one. :)

11:40 AM  
Blogger ei-nyung said...

Seppo brought up the idea of doing an America's Test Kitchen meal. I think that's fantastic! The awesome, fantastic thing about America's Test Kitchen is that they test the crap out of their recipes for the home kitchen and they explain precisely how each step is supposed to be executed.

In the French Laundry cookbook, there is a lot of "briefly blanche _____" and "stir until thickened" and "remove from pan when done" type of fuzzy lack of detail. In the America's Test Kitchen book, it's all about, "pear is tender and done when a knife can be inserted with no resistance but still maintains its shape, roughly 8-10 minutes," which is great because it gives you a solid time estimate, then physical indicators so that you can adjust appropriately. Not only that, but the overall prep and cooking time for the entire dish is spelled out.

None of us are idiots and all of us can read instructions perfectly fine, but none of us are trained chefs with all the inside knowledge and lingo that they bring to the table [haha].

Not only is the America's Test Kitchen book great as a teaching tool, it's fantastic for the actual recipes and quality of food. We've never cooked a dish from that book that we felt was unbalanced or lacking in some way.

We are thinking of maybe having a Pre-Thanksgiving Potluck, Brought to You by America's Test Kitchen (tm). :)

11:51 AM  
Blogger A_B said...

I find your lack of bacon disturbing.

3:10 PM  
Blogger h said...

ATK party = great idea!

3:37 PM  
Blogger Seppo said...

I almost made the "Bacon & Eggs" canape, but then... er... decided not to.

6:22 PM  
Blogger Becky in Oakland said...

I'll make sure that next time I write the date in big, bold letters on our calendar and circle it in red marker. The Cal Shakes performance was interesting, to be sure, but I just know I would have had a much better time with all of the food.

9:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Tasty, but probably took a year off the end of all our lives." <- LOL

- Mike

7:30 AM  

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