Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cooking D'Lites in Paris, Cookin' with Class

Welcome back to Cooking D’Lites.  As I start to write this post we are just beginning the final leg of our European vacation, an eleven hour flight from Frankfurt, Germany to San Francisco.  As you may recall from earlier posts, the purpose of this trip was to attend the wedding of our eldest son, Randy to Deborah Baron of Manchester, England. The wedding, held last Sunday in Manchester, was the most wonderful affair, and will be long remembered as perhaps the best we have ever attended. We can’t wait to see the pictures.

We began our trip October 29th with a flight from San Francisco to Paris where we stayed for five days in order to decompress, acclimate ourselves to the time change, tour, shop and, of course, eat.  French food has always been famous for its quality, diversity and taste.  I however, having formerly been primarily a “meat and potatoes” guy with a bent toward Bar-B-Que, never acquired a taste for many of the French delicacies such as Escargot (Snails), Cuisses de Grenouille (Frogs legs), Herring and the like. On this trip I surprised myself by trying all of these dishes, and several others, for the first time.  Guess what? I am now a true believer in French epicurean delights.

On the final evening of our stay in Paris, the night before we left for jolly old England, Judy and I, along with Judy's mother Charlotte, took a French cooking class. The class was given by a company called Cookin'
with Class and was located in the Montmartre district of Paris. As it turned out it was a private class for just the three of us. Our instructors, Brian and Patrick are both top chefs in their own right and give classes at times when they are not working at their own restaurants.  Brian is originally from Winnipeg, Canada and has been living in Paris for the past eleven years.  Patrick, originally from Paris had been living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana for about twenty five years and has only recently returned to the City of Lights. The class was given in English and was completely “hands on”.  We enjoyed a three course meal, paired with wine, as well as a cheese tasting which included five utterly delicious French cheeses.

“Why in the world”, one might ask, “would Barry be writing about fancy French food in a blog dedicated to low point healthy food?”  Well, the answer is simple; these two things aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. The dishes we prepared in class, although extremely rich in flavor are healthy and, as I found out, much lower in points that I ever thought they could be. The one exception would be, of course, the Tart Tatin.  But, hey, when you're in Paris, enjoy the moment.

When we arrived at the kitchen studio we were introduced to Brian and Patrick, our culinary instructors for the evening class. Brian was the head chef for the evening and Patrick was the sous chef.  Brian had been to market earlier in the day and, based on the menu for that evening, had purchased all of the necessary ingredients for the dishes we were to learn to prepare.  After introductions and a brief history of the school we put on our aprons and readied ourselves for the experience of a lifetime. 

First we were shown the proper way to sharpen our knives. One secret to cooking is having a sharp knife. Brian went over each and every ingredient we would be using. Most were very familiar and some, like the Potimarron squash, were not.

We were shown the proper way to slice, dice, mince and chiffanade. Judy even made caramel from scratch.  Bye the way, Do Not try to steal a taste of fresh caramel right out of the pan!!  It’ll burn you!

Following are the recipes including ingredients and instructions for the three course meal we enjoyed, in class, that evening.  If any of you happen to be planning a visit to Paris, ever, we would strongly suggest that you do not pass up an opportunity to take any one of the several cooking classes offered at Cookin’ with Class. 

They can be found at

COQUILLES ST-JACQUES EN GUISE DE CÊPES, ÉCHALOTE EN CONFIT (Scallops dressed as ceps, confit of shallots) 

Choose 3 scallops and 3 medium porcini mushrooms per person.  You can try to substitute large white mushrooms, or creminis, as well.  Clean, remove the cap from stem and sauté the cap in a hot pan with melted butter till browned on both sides, then add 2 Tbsp. water, if necessary, to finish cooking and softening the mushroom caps.  Season with just a pinch of salt and pepper and set aside.
Fine-dice the stems, sauté to brown while stirring, and add 1/2 shallot fine diced for another 2 minutes to soften without browning.  Deglaze with just enough dry white wine to release sticking bits from pan bottom, simmer 1 minute and add enough liquid cream to make 2-3 Tbsp. of sauce per person.  Add a sprinkle of fresh herbs such as chive, dill or parsley.

For the shallot confit, thinly slice the onions lengthwise finely, heat casserole, add olive oil, shallots, and stir to coat. (Count one large shallot per person)  Add more oil if necessary, and bay leaf and sprinkle of thyme, and cook on medium-low heat about 30 minutes, covered with lid, stirring occasionally to prevent browning.  Add 1 Tbsp. white wine per shallot used, and simmer 5 minutes with lid off.  Season with salt and pepper.  Form into a small cylinder on the plate, as we did, using a small plastic cylinder or cookie cutter for the mold.

Clean and trim the scallops, heat 1 Tbsp. butter in a non-stick pan until foaming stops, but before smoking, and place scallops in pan.  Depending on size, sauté about 2 minutes each side with light browning, season with salt, fresh chives, and a squeeze of lemon, and plate immediately with sauce, and each scallop topped with warm mushroom cap.

PointsPlus value per serving,8

PIGEON RÔTI, SAUCE AUX RAISINS À L'ESTRAGON, POTIMARRON AU FOUR, DÉCLINAISON DE BLETTE (Roast squab in muscat grapes and tarragon, potimarron squash, and Chard 2-ways)

Squab: For 3 squabs, heat 2 Tbsp. butter in pan till bubbling stops, add trussed squab and brown on all sides over medium heat, sprinkle with salt and place in 375 F oven 20 minutes, or until breast has a medium firmness to the touch.  Let cool 10 minutes, then discard wings and remove breast and leg as shown in class.  Meat should still be quite rare.  We then heated another fry pan, added olive oil, and sautéed the meat again over medium heat another minute on each side.  Allow to rest in pan 5 minutes before serving.

Deboning the Squab
For the grape sauce, mince 2 shallots and soften in a small pot with 1 Tbsp. olive oil and pinch of salt, covered, 10 minutes.  Halve and seed grapes to make 2 Cups. Mince 6 sprigs fresh tarragon, and toss with grapes into fry pan with 2 Tbsp. melted butter.  Add the cooked shallots and 2 Tbsp. dry white wine sauté 2 minutes, just to heat through.

For Swiss Chard, count one large leaf and stem per person.  Dice stems, and mince 1/2 shallot or onion per stem.  Heat casserole; add 2 Tbsp. olive oil, stem and onion, thyme or bay leaf, stir and cover, cooking over medium heat 15 minutes.  Mince 1 garlic clove and add to pot for last 5 minutes of cooking.  Stir to avoid browning.  Meanwhile, heat another pot for the greens, pre-sliced thinly as shown in class, add 1 tsp. butter for each leaf, and cook gently while covered, about 10 minutes.  Season, and place 1 Tbsp. greens in bottom of ramekin.  Top with 2 Tbsp. stem mix, press down, and invert on plate to have green side up.  For a family service, gratinéed, place all cooked chard in a baking dish, top with your favorite cheese and broil 5-10 minutes in the oven.

Potimarron Flambe
Potimarron squash: we simply halved it, cleaned it out, and cut wedges.  We then placed them in a hot non-stick pan filmed with olive oil, browned both sides over medium heat, salted and added about 3/4 cup water to the pan.  After this is brought to the boil, put in oven and bake about 30 minutes at 375F, turning once or twice to ensure even cooking while water evaporates.  Toss with some butter and fresh ground black pepper.

PointsPlus value per serving,7

CHEESES: Trou de cru, Abondance, Brebis au piment d'Espelette, Roquefort, Chevre "le Figuier" , Ste-Maure de Tourraine.

Point value…just have a little taste and don’t worry about points. 

TARTE TATIN INDIVIDUELLE (Reversed apple tarts)

For 7-8 small tarts, or one large:       
5 baking apples                        Pate brisé pastry dough:
1 C. sugar                                   200 g  all-purpose flour 
60 g melted butter                     100 g  soft, cool butter diced
2 Tbsp.  cider vinegar                        50  g  cold water
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Tarte Tatin
For the dough, work 150 g of the flour and a pinch of salt into the butter with a fork, then mix in the water till you have a homogeneous paste.  Add the remaining flour and incorporate by hand without overworking.  If dough still sticks, add another spoon or so of flour, but incorporate fully.  Roll into ball, dust with flour, wrap in plastic, and cool at least one hour.

Judy making dough
Peel the apples, and cut 4 into quarters, 1 into 8ths.  For the caramel, coat the bottom of a small, sturdy pot with about 3 Tbsp. of the sugar, and put over medium high heat to dissolve without water.  When light brown and dissolved, stir with wooden spoon, and add another 3 Tbsp. of the sugar.  Keep repeating the process till all the sugar has been added, is fully dissolved and medium brown in color.  Meanwhile, heat the butter with the vinegar and cinnamon and keep warm.  (Vinegar is optional to give added tartness.)  With the caramel still hot, but off heat, slowly add the melted butter and stir in with whisk.  Immediately pour into bottom of buttered tart pan.  Place rounded outside of apples down into caramel and arrange, adding smaller pieces between, to fill the gaps, and create a flatter "top."  

Stirring the sugar
Pouring sugar for Caramel
Dust counter top with flour and roll out dough which has been out of fridge 5-10 minutes.  Use round template about 4 cm wider than pan to cut out round shape from rolled dough (can use pizza cutter.)  Using just enough flour to avoid sticking, roll dough over rolling pin and place over apples, tucking in the sides.  Bake at 350 F about 30 minutes, or until crust has browned lightly, and apple juices are bubbling.  Cool at least 5 minutes, but not too much as to allow caramel to set in pan.  Use a plastic spatula to release edges of tart from pan before inverting carefully onto plate. 

PointsPlus value per serving, 10.  But, this is so delicious. Throw caution to the wind and enjoy!!

 This cooking class was really a thrill, as was enjoying the fruits of our labor.  Brian and Patrick were so accommodating and made certain that we understood each step of the process before moving on to the next.

We're back home now and ready to resume our own adventures in the kitchen.

We had a wonderful time. We learned that it's not just what's in the recipe, it's what you make out of it with  all of the little special details that make your dish elegant.  

As Julia Child (another French trained chef) often said, "Bon Appetite".

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