Sunday, April 3, 2011

What I Want to Do When I Grow Up ...

Okay you lot, you've been sitting idly reading this for the past year or so in spare time stolen from your employer and now, I'm afraid, it's payback time.  ("Stolen" might be a poor choice of words. Would "incompletely accounted for" be more felicitous, or does "misappropriated" sound better?)

Let it be known that I have decided, should a bit of hopelessly optimistic guesswork scientific market research turn out to be favourable, to marry business and pleasure (does that count as bigamy, I wonder?) and start doing a bit of home-invasion cooking. Basically I shall have to find some stinking-rich bone-idle clients who can't - or won't - cook, and offer them and their bloated plutocrat guests the chance of a reasonably good  (and hopefully original) meal cooked and served in the comfort of their own homes.

Work on a maximum of eight or ten people, a lot of flexibility in the menu-planning department with the option of supplying some petits vins bien sympatique, for a quite reasonable 70€ or so per head.

This will fairly obviously never be a day job - unless I am really spectacularly good - and would no doubt involve a bit of travelling around should it come off, as I kind of doubt that Chambéry has enough of the sort of clientèle I'd be looking for, but I think it could be done, and be rather fun. For me, anyway.

So if you were that sort of person, what kind of menus would you be looking for? I have my own ideas, and I shall doubtless be amusing myself in the near future flicking through old favourites and going through some of my cook books and doing a number of dry runs just to test the water as it were, but a bit of outside input would be appreciated. (Sophie doesn't know it yet, but I get the feeling she'll be serving as a test-bed. As it were.)

Might be the time to dig out Guérard from hibernation, maybe even look at Bocuse again: hell, could even fish out the old City & Guilds textbooks.

This could also force me to enlarge my culinary horizons somewhat. Yes, I can do a bit of Thai-style food (a good spicy barbecued beef salad is wicked) and I can manage a pretty lethal vindaloo (although lacking any Indonesian/Dutch friends or acquaintances I'd be hard put to it to vouch for its 100% authenticity), but I might need to go further. And staying safely within the confines of classic Frog cookery seems rather timorous. Whatever. Who knows, my brain might get stretched.

If nothing else, while I'm working on this we should manage to eat reasonably well. Not that we actually eat badly at the worst of times, but there are a couple of old favourites I shall have to revisit just to make sure I can still do them in my sleep, and new things to try out. (Come to that, there's still some foie gras in the fridge from the other night. How am I going to get rid of that? You see the problems I'm confronted with on a daily basis?)

Checked up on Meteo France and it seems the latest forecast is for bright, sunny and hot on Saturday: mind you, they still have two days in which to cock it up. But I do so want my picnic, and on top of it our friend Stacey is organising a meal that evening, so nice weather would definitely be A Good Thing.

Later ... as you can probably guess, it did turn out fine. Sufficiently so that in a sudden overdose of enthusiasm not only did I tart up my tee-shirt with a tie, but Sophie kitted out the barbecue with a brand new gas bottle so not only did we have that fish I've been going on about, but also a nice bit of rouelle de jambon, liberally slathered with Ancona chili sauce before going on the grill.

Wine for the foul-mouthed
 But about that fish ... you start off with as many fillets of sole as you think you'll require: your mileage will vary according to the size of your sole and your appetite. Doesn't actually have to be sole either, any decent white-fleshed not-too-overpowering fish would do the job.

Then you need to cut each fillet into three strips along almost the entire length, so that they're still attached at one end, and plait the strips. Neatly, please. And when that's done, put them aside, pour yourself a glass (feel free to guzzle, none is required for the recipe) and look dismally at the pile of king prawns, trying to work out if you can really be arsed shelling them and, if not, whether it'll really make that much of a difference.

Having decided that, in the long-term, the likely answer is "not really", cheer up and get on to the serious part, which is browning a couple of chopped garlic cloves in butter for a couple of minutes. (Please note: "browning" is not the same as "burning". If it was they wouldn't be spelled differently, would they?) Then fling in the prawns and sauté hell out of them until they start to turn bright red as god intended, at which point it would be a good idea to put the fishy plaits in as well and cook them briefly on both sides. And do remember, overcooked fish is Not Nice.

It is now time to arrange the fish and the prawns nicely on a heated (please) serving dish whilst you prepare the sauce, which is as simple as pouring about 15cl of cream into the frying pan along with 2tbsp of lime juice and a pinch of saffron, then reducing it, stirring in all the brown crispy bits (there will be some, mostly garlic which has to be good), until thick. And when this happens slosh it over the fish (but do try not to make it look too much like a dog's breakfast) and serve. With bread, to make sure that none of the sauce goes to waste.

Before attacking the St Marcellin with what little bread there was left over, we took the time to do a little critique, the outcome of which was that

  • I have to do it again, to get it right
  • leave out the king prawns just this once, as they're  a bit of a distraction
  • add a vanilla pod, and maybe a bit of cardamom, to the sauce while it's reducing.

So Sophie's lined up some friends, and that's the main course for the first of my dry runs organised. Easy, wasn't it?

Which brings me to the subject of dessert. As a general rule I dislike using gelatine: the stuff varies so much in setting power between different brands that you run the risk of having thick slurry instead of jelly, so you tend to put too much in which is equally unpleasant.

Whatever, I have found by trial and error that 9 sheets of Leader Price leaf gelatine is just right for 500gm each of fruit purée and fromage blanc. The day they stop selling the stuff I'll have to start experimenting all over again, which will be a bit of a pain.

Anyway, it sometimes happens that in summer I buy a little too much fruit even for us, at which point the apricots, nectarines, peaches and whatever get puréed in the kitchen whizz, then put away in tubs to lurk in dark corners of one of our various freezers, waiting for just such an occasion as this.

I came across one such the other day, so it seemed a reasonable idea to get some fromage blanc at the supermarket and introduce the two. It is quite simple: just mix the fruit and cheese in a large bowl, put the gelatine leaves in a little cold water to soften, and turn 120gm of sugar into a syrup with a little water.

(Incidentally, should you want to try this, I note that one sheet of gelatine is 1 gram. But like I said, your mileage may well vary. Caveat emptor, and it is in no way my fault if it all ends in tears.)

Food critics. The worst kind.
Once you've got the syrup ready, drain the gelatine and stir it in: it should melt straight away. Then stir that very thoroughly into the fruit/cheese mixture, and put the lot into the fridge for about twenty minutes. (When I say "thoroughly" I mean it. Otherwise you risk having great ropy blobs of pure gelatine floating around in  the stuff, which is not particularly nice. Believe me, I've had it happen to me once, and I know. All my own fault too, for not listening to my exellent advice.)

When time's up, take the mixture out of the fridge and contemplate it. If it's already set and stiff, you've used way too much gelatine and there's not much you can do about it. But if it's only just starting to set around the edges this is a Good Sign: you should probably taste it, because this is your last chance to add a bit more sugar if you think it necessary.

Whatever, beat three egg whites into stiff peaks and fold them - delicately - in, then pour the whole lot into a ring mould. One of those floppy plastic ones is best as it makes unmoulding absolutely foolproof, but if you don't have one do not despair, a bit of a bath in hot water does the trick. (You could also, if you feel like it, dribble some passionfruit coulis on the bottom of the mould. It wouldn't hurt.) Anyway, before you start to worry about unmoulding you really need to put it back into the freezer for a couple of hours: don't forget to take it out at least half an hour before you plan on serving it.

Dessert was our contributions to Stacey's little dinnerfest. I'd had a couple of calls from her while I was going around the market that morning, wanting to ask what she should do with her chicken curry, which she feared was going titsup. Don't know why, because it was obscenely good and made me wonder, just for an instant, whether it was me that should be thinking of going into cooking. Until I decided that the best thing to do would be to borg it into the menu options - without attribution, needless to say. I have no shame.

Whatever, an excellent evening, although I fear we rather went overboard on the wine department. There were but eight of us, and I'm pretty sure we started out with at least as many bottles, although I can't be certain. And to tell the truth, at 2am I wasn't really that worried. Although right now I'm kind of thinking that perhaps I should have.

Spring's come in with a thump and a bang: every tree seems to have burst into leaf, the garden's full of enough daffodils to make Wordsworth wet himself, and the japanese quince is in flower, alongside the forsythia.

Our favourite son is still down at Rochegude, apparently enjoying life even though he does live it - when not in the kitchen - in the 11th-century equivalent of a broom cupboard. Although there is, as he said, "sod-all to do around here". Which I suppose keeps his mind on the food, in the absence of anything else to occupy it. Probably just as well that the closest certifiably female adolescent is about 30 km away.

Anyway, I've rabbited on for long enough: time to start thinking about what to do with the rest of the afternoon, what to have for dinner, stuff like that. And exactly where the aspirin is, if Jerry's left us any.

A little update, having spent all afternoon shifting, cleaning and re-erecting an enormous walnut buffet in the dining room (courtesy of Stéph the neighbour, who'd have chucked it otherwise), I had time to think of menu options. So far, chez Bimler (have to do something about that name), you could pick from the following:

En entrée:
delices landais: petits sandwichs de veau et de fois gras, panés et poelés

millefeuille au 3 fromages: croustillant de filo au batusson de chèvre, au comté et au parmesan

coquilles de St Jacques à la nage, sauce crème et vin blanc

poivrons doux farcis au chèvre

mendiant au chèvre et aux dattes avec gelée de groseilles

Plats principaux:

petites tresses de sole, sauce à la crème et au safran, vanille et cardamom
turbans de saumon, serti de son noix de St Jacques, sauce safran et pomme
saumon en papilotte, beurre blanc à la badiane

poulet vallée d'auge, flambé au Calvados, sauce crème, cidre, champignons et pomme

tournedos rossini, foie gras et sauce béarnaise

poulet italien, cuit à l'etuvée avec jus de citron,romarin et crème

filet de boeuf charlemagne: filet roti, tranché, farci aux duxelles riche puis glacé à la sauce béarnaise

salade Thaï de boeuf au barbecue pimenté

curry de poulet, façon Stacey

truites maconnais, pochées au vin rouge avec champignons et grelots confits

"poulet des amis" de Sven Chartier, persillé et cuit en croute de pain aux herbes de Provence et ail confit

saumon en croute: petites papilottes avec paprika et parmesan , crème fraiche et fines herbes

poulet au vinaigre du bistrot

souris d'agneau, au vin rouge, legumes printanières et baies de genièvre

gigot d'agneau roti, servi dans son jus avec sauce à la menthe: pommes de terre et panais roti, patates douce confites à l'orange, petit pois à la française

le tout accompagné par la salade Sophie: rougette et vinaigrette au miel et au vinaigre aux piments


gateau bouse de vache, au chocolat et aux fruits rouges

flan bourguignon aux raisins

tarte frangipane aux cerises

pastis à la poire

tarte tatin, fleur d'oranger

le pavlova

1 comment:

  1. Menu preferences?

    we rather went overboard on the wine department.

    Just leave it at that.