A Few Days Off

There's been no cooking for the last couple of days; and none on the horizon. Although I've been defrosting and reheating what was in the freezer.

Le Cordon Bleu
I know that I miss the people I met there. I think I'm going to miss going to class. The latter is sort of unexpected.

Before heading home I've got a couple of last days here in Paris. I'll probably go shopping for kitchen wares.

Once home my plan is to systematically reproduce (maybe consecutively) all the recipes I learned at LCB; but at home, with its radically different kitchen infrastructure. I won't have 4 big powerful burners and a big wide oven, no empty cooler for stashing things while doing prep, nor an endless supply of pots and pans (nor will they be miraculously washed clean by someone else - as they were at Le Cordon Bleu Paris). Rats.

The LCB Basic Cuisine course had 30 sessions (each session was one demo and one practical) - about 6 each week; totaling 90 or so individual recipes. I figure about 3-4 months to go through the whole lot of them again. I'll need some serious freezer capacity to stash the results because there's no way to eat it all as we go along.

Wish me luck.

Le Cordon Bleu Paris - Graduation

LCB Chefs
Originally uploaded by willsong.

Despite their better judgement, Le Cordon Bleu Paris has bestowed a certificate on me. Congratulations & Champagne all around!

Rack of Lamb

I believe I passed the exam (phew!). During the last demo they made this lovely rack of lamb - with a parsley butter pastry crust. Delicious.

Duck Margret avec Sauce Orange

Duck Margret avec Sauce Orange
Originally uploaded by willsong.

I haven't actually cooked this one yet. But tomorrow is the exam and I won't be posting anything - too busy studying.

This is duck in an orange sauce. I'll be taking it home; love duck.

Tomorrow is:
8:30 Make this duck dish
11:30 break / lunch / study / panic
12:30 Exam
3:30 Demo / who cares / gala

Poulet Farce

Poulet Farce
Originally uploaded by willsong.

I under browned this one. I also sort of thought it peculiar that it was taking so damn long to cook the thing in the oven (this disk is, as many are, browned in the pan and 'finished' in the oven). Turns out that my oven blew a fuse.
None the less... my jus (sauce) was - - perfecto. Non plus ultra.

¡Ding! One point for me.

Those turned veggies are, by the way, apples.

Sea Bream Stuffed with Fennel

This one might be on the practical exam so it was important to pay attention - which most of us had trouble doing today. The class was kind of 'dozey' for some reason. One guy popped onut 3 times to get a cup of coffee from the machine.

It's 2 filets of Sea Bream (Dorada) sandwiching a filling of julienned and very slow cooked fennel. The fennel and fish trimmings are used to make the sauce (I particularly like it when the 'waste' from cleaning the food products becomes something useful).

The tricks were: 1) cut a little 'X' through the skin side if the fillets to prevent curling; 2) use a non-stick pan (cast iron in our case); 3) skin side goes into the pan first; 4) cook the fish very very lightly ('just' colored on the skin side [30 secs]; maybe 2 min on the flesh side)

Wednesday's the last full day. Thursday's the exam. Gotta go study.

Fish Terrine

Quick pic of the Fish Terrine with salmon to surprise you (inside).

Poulet Sauté a l'Estragon

Saute Chicken with Tarragon

Things we learned today: how to cut a chicken into 8 pieces, adding tomatoes to the sauce and remembering to not strain them out, blanching tarragon to eliminate some of it's overpowering taste.
That Chef Didier's in a really good mood after returning from vacation, and that he's blazingly fast. He did the afternoon demo, normally 2 1/2 hours, in 1 1/2.

Médaillons de Porc Charcutiére, Pommes Dauphine

Pork Medallions in Mustard Sauce

Really interesting sauce on this one; the usual juices from coking the meat and trimmings; degalze: add onions, cook 'em a little; white wine, reduce by about 90%; add thickened veal stock, cook a bit; then strain. That's the regular part. Next mix 2T of Dijon mustard with 20 grams of butter; put a little of the sauce in it (tempering) and whisk/stir; then that mix goes back into the sauce; making mustardy sauce. Add julienned gherkin pickles; bring just to a boil; add chopped parsley & chervil. Done. That's Charcutiére sauce.

The pickle & mustard combination is really good.

And the potato Dauphine (balls) were made from mashed/milled potatoes mixed with a choux pastry & fried. The choux pastry is the hard part - getting the right anount of eggs into the mix. I think our fryer fat was a little too low temp because the result was a litle bit greasy.

The tricks for the park dish are to 1) temper the mustard/butter combo 2) cook the pork through enough - but not too much; and avoid drying it out
and 3) remembering not to strain the sauce after putting in the pickles.
We've been trained for 2-3 weeks to get all the lumpy stuff out of our sauces and reaching for the strainer has become quite automatic. But is to be avoided in this case.
Chef's comment on mine was: good work.

Beef Stroganoff

Kitchen session #2 today. We were all getting pretty tired after 4 days of 9 or 10 hours each. And the Chef was pushing us to get it done in record time (we did; the whole shebang in an hour and a half).

Obviously we're learning something because the dish seemed so darn easy. It's really quite similar to a couple of things we've done in the last 3 weeks but now we can do them without hesitation; sort of.
For example: the rice contains carrots, french (mini) green beans and zuchinni - cut in itty bitty burnoise (little square pieces). We all (most of us) used to spend 20 minutes agonizing over how to do a burnoise and now we just grab the veggies and authoratively hack away. Managing to produce a pretty reasonable result.

As with the duck earlier today I got a "very good" as the assessment.

Roast Duck

Today we have 2 "practical" sessions (the actual cooking) and 1 demonstration. The first one's duck. Dead easy - except for trussing the thing so that it's nice and symetrical and with the trussing string not showing. This involves a great big needle and running it in a complicated diagonal pattern through the beast. Duck's a possible dish for the final exam so I'd better figure it out. Sunday's reserved for practicing on some chickens.

Tricks to remember: when resting the duck, after it's cooked, place it 1) on a rack [to not stew in its own juices] and 2) breast side down [to keep the breast meat moist].

Somehow, I was the first one finished; to present the dish to Chef for evaluation.
I was just rolling along, not flailing around at all, really efficient in the kitchen. I even beat the 2 pro & semi-pro chef types that usually are done 10-15 minutes ahead of the rest of us.
The only problem is that it might have been a one time thing and I don't know how to repeat it.

Roast Veal

I believe we may have winner here. A real serious chunk of meat is involved. A veal rib section. Slow pan cooked. Lovely jus if you're lucky (nope, I wasn't); decent veggies.

This is a demo photo but my practical came out pretty much similar (and yes I know the photos are not top notch; if you want quality photography have a look at mishMosh's flickr stuff [link in upper right part of page]).

Anyway, I burnt the meat trimming's a little so the 'jus' had a carmelized taste - damn it. Otherwise the veal was great and the vegs teriffic. This one I took home for later.

It seems that the whole thing's getting easier as we go along (or, perhaps, I'm actually learning something?).

It's pretty good that we all managed to produce anything at all in practical session... because last night was the class dinner (at "Train Bleu" restaurant - a gorgeous joint in the Gare de Lyon); on the house from Le Cordon Bleu and the wine flowed readily. Today could have been a little hazy if one wasn't careful.


Can it be any easier?! Steak & fries. Okay, so you've got to make a bernaise sauce (3/9 failed on the 1st try). Then fry the oversized french fries in 2 steps (blanch them at 140c, drain and later fry them golden brown at 200c). Oh, and "turn" an artichoke to act as a cup to hold the bernaise. Also had to Grill then "Oven" the steak (also at 200c). The grilling is really only to hashmark the meat. But, by the standards of week 4 of the course this is a breeze.

Chef's comments were "perfect" (sauce) & very good (meat). That's satisfactory.
The meat I cooked 'rare' so I could take it home and successfully reheat it to something like 'medium'. The chef's dirty trick was that before jumping into his evaluation of today's dish he asked what degree of doneness I'd done the meat to - and then judged whether I had delivered the steak as stated. I was off by a bit. Rats.

By the way- it's a pic of my own food (not the demo's).

My Souffle

It's supposed to look like the one on the right. Mine's on the left. You've seen better (so have I). This is a few minutes out of the oven.

Probably I did not have the rim of the mold perfectly clean or the butter/flour coating of the mold was not even enough.

But it's not completely horrible.

Gambas : Jumbo Shrimp

Today the "intensive" part of the course started; 3 sessions a day - either 2 demos and 1 practical or vice versa. Lots to keep track of.

The jumbo shrimps/gambas were pretty simple and looked nice (although this is, as usual, a 'demo' photo). And it was a good thing to have a simple day as the 1st of "intensive" since this was also the day we had the written exam.

Marinatred, battered, and deep fried. One good trick: cross-hatch 3-4 cuts on the belly side (cut shallow X's) to prevent them from curling up too too much.

We also had a soufflé in this practical (pic posted separately). It rose somewhat crooked but didn't collapse right away (which is good). Oh, and mine tasted okay too (sort of important).

Two (2) Demos and 1 (One) Practice Session Today

Not to mention the Exam.
Not a lot of time to write - nor inspiration. Tired.
Give me a coupla minutes & let me get back to you. Right at this moment I need some sleep.

Consommé aux Brunoises

Consomme with vegetable brunoise

Simple simple simple. Sometimes it's good.

This is a consommé with tiny chopped up vegetables in it. Carrots, french (mini) green beans, radish/turnip, and celery.
The trick here was to get the bouillon (meat soup) that we started with from being a cloudy / murky soup to being a crystaline beauty. See the pic; it can be done. It involves stirring in a ground meat & egg whites mixture with some minced vegetables and letting the mess glom together at the bottom and then float to the top - taking the impurities with it. A basic culinary technique - and it's fun to see the transformation happen from cloudy to clear.

Chef's comments on my consommé were 1) perfect (beautifully clear and properly seasoned) and 2) the brunoise was wrong. It was unequal between the different vegetables :-( . That is, each veggie is supposed to be cut into little 1-2mm cubes - the same size; as mine in fact were. But my carrot cubes, although equal sized amongst the carrots (for example) were not the same size as my turnip cubes! Nor were the bean cubes the same size as (e.g) as the celery. Major error - apparently. Perfect symmetry is part of the charm of this soup (I guess).

It's an tradiational recipe of the Escoffier era so there's only one right way to do it.

No biggy anyway. I got good points for flavor; good clarification; just messed up on technique. Better luck next time.

Now it's two consecutive days off; Sunday and the national holiday on Monday (Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary); just in time to study for the written exam on Tuesday. Speaking of next week... we go from doing 5 1/2-6 hour afternoons to doing 10 hour days (8:30 - 18:30). Ought to be fun. The "intensive" part of the title of this course has finally kicked in.

Crab Bisque

Crab Bisque

I believe the quality of my photos is deteriorating. I'll try to pay more attention when snapping the pic of what I prepare in "practical" class. Although that's difficult to accomplish in the few seconds between

  • the panic of actually completing the dish and plating it and
  • when the chef comes over to critique it.

The pic shows it with some cream on top (the brown specks are croutons); but the cream melted so you can't see the actual soup itself. Oops.

Bisque d'étrilles is really very simple. Sauté some (live) crabs, crush 'em; cook with some veggies, wine and stock; strain well; finish up with some cream; add a little something to thicken it. That's all.

Oh, and (as always) add more salt!.
I had this thing tasting like the Pacific Ocean - good and salty I thought. But no-o-o-o; not enough. Chef said "maybe for home, family & friends it would be okay. But in a restaurant... needs more."

Taste was good; should have had a redder color (by adding more tomato [but we were short shrifted on tomatoes today]); good texture. Not a bad result for a 1st try.

And tomorrow is a whole day off! Which means that I can stay home and do the laundry. For those who might ever consider taking such a course - there's a whole lot of washing uniforms and towels and aprons involved. Where you rent a place you'll want to make sure it has a washer - beat the local launderette any day.

Filets de Barbue Dugléré

Demo pic Brill Fillets in White Wine Sauce
I was absolutely last to have this plated and checked by the chef. My first time trailing the pack but it's got to be someone, doesn't it?

The potatoes held me up 'cause I started them too late. I forgot the basic "start first on the items that take the longest time". Duh. Also I boiled them too hard so they banged against each other and had smashed edges. And not enough salt.
Not enough in the sauce either; nor enough pepper; nor cayenne. Fish was overcooked. Forgot to put the colorful sauce over the fish. :-( All in all, a bummer.
Oh, but the thickness of the sauce and the taste was okay! (even though it needed seasoning). So that was something positive. Okay then, that was the only thing positive.

In the demo Chef made mayonnaise. I didn't know that 1 egg yolk can be used to "absorb" up to a liter of oil!

Food history: Dugléré (as in the sauce) was a pupil of Carême. See Food Reference.

This should have been dead easy. Poached fish, a few turned potatoes "Anglaise" (medium sized, cooked in salty water) and make a sauce with the fish stock (made from the trimming after filleting). Doesn't sound too complicated, does it? But again it was the deceptively simple one that caught me. A question of planning.

In celebration of finishing half the course we went to a local café after school for a drink. The waiter took a look at the group (we were in our civilian clothes) and asked "Are you in cooking or pastry classes?". He knew we were Cordon Bleu students because 1/2 of us were walking around Paris at night carrying translucent plastic containers of food.

Tronçons de Colin Pochés, Sauce Hollandaise

Poached Hake Steaks with Hollandaise Sauce

Two things to learn today:

  1. Court Bouillon
  2. Hollandaise Sauce
One of which worked just fine for me.

Court Bouillon is a heavily (vegetable) flavored soupy/water thing. Heavy salted to cook (poach) the fish. It's a classic French cooking product. Gotta learn it.

Item 2 was a little more troublesome.
Hollandaise Sauce is well known for giving cooking students headaches. For example, of the 9 of us in the practical room 4 "broke" their sauce (that's when a smooth sauce separates and becomes wierdly lumpy).
Yes, I was one of the 9.

Advice: when holding the sauce (once it's made) warm over a bain marie make sure it's not actually touching the water - trust me on this one - the eggs might cook/coagulate otherwise.

Advice 2: When making the sauce include all the ingredients. Especially the water - in fact the whole trick to Hollandaise Sauce is the water.

What happened it that I was merrily whisking my eggs over boiling water and the chef wanders by, casts a glance my way and says... "More water" (well, in French he says that). I say ¿more water? and he says "Yes, more water" (although this time in Spanish). I say "Some water" - to him. He says "water, water" (in English). I say "sorry, forgot, it has no water yet - I forgot. He raises his eyebrows and carries on elsewhere.
I say "Merci Chef". Hoping for forgivness.

Eventually when the troublesome sauce was evaluated it got a quote "perfect" unquote from the chef. Very satisfying. Salt good, lemon perfect, cayanne enough.

Lapin à la Moutarde, Pommes Sautées à Cru

Rabbit with Mustard & Sauteed Potatoes

A smash success. Delicious. Chef Bruno's back from vacation and will be teaching the next 2 weeks. I think I might like this; he's clear, explains things and paces the demonstrations well. That, and he scored me 80% on my Rabbit with Mustard Sauce. Only suggested that I should have sauced the little part of the saddle (on right in pic).

That makes for decent results about 3 good days in a row!

As for the rabbit - a pretty familiar routine as far as roasting and sauces goes. No panic there. The tricky bit was that the bunny was skinned and only 1/2 gutted. Heart lungs kidneys liver head - all present and acounted for. So there was a fair amount of butchery to be done. Step one: hack of the bunny's head. Some squeals were emitted from certain members of the group.

Had some when I got home. Tastes really good.

Pommes Tournés

Pommes Tournés
Originally uploaded by willsong.

After approximately 1276 hours of manipulating potatoes this was the result. Or, it seemed like it. A great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. That pic is 2 1/2 kilos - about half of what I've got scheduled for this week. That, and a kilo of carrots (which turn out to easier to "turn").
Practice makes perfect.

Suprême de Volaille Farcis, Sauce aux Champignons : Stuffed Chicken Breast & Mushroom Sauce

Two good days in a row. And no injuries either! Might finally be getting the hang of this cooking thing.

This is a 'supreme' of chicken (a boneless breast) filled with chicken mousse; a cream sauce (which includes the chicken's cooking juices); some cooked mushrooms and a decorative turned mushroom.

Lot's of cream in this one - the French style of cooking that we know and love. Julia Child would be proud.

Again, a simple recipe and it came together really well. Finally I reduced a sauce enough. Too much salt on the exterior of the chicken & too little in the 'shrooms was the one negative remark.

The only tricky bit: remembering to put the juices from the cooking mushrooms into the sauce. Way, too easy to forget in the rush to finish. But without it then we don't have Sauce aux Champignons (mushroom sauce) - do we?

A good day - and a day off tomorrow. Which will be spent practicing turning veggies and studying nomenclature. That, and maybe 15 minutes outside in the sun to avoid turning into a mushroom myself.

Paupiettes de Veau Bourgeoise : Stuffed Veal Rolls with Glazed Vegetables

Demo pic

It felt like things were finally coming together with this one. Much less lost in the kitchen; developing a bit of flow. After 11 days I had a fair bit of success (I may have had some successes earlier but since the last couple of days of disasters the good days were long forgotten).

Everything worked: stuffing, veal rolling, turned & glazed carrots, turned & glazed brown mini onions, sauce, hot plate, presentation.
Actually, the sauce was +/- 80% good, but too thin; which Chef agreed was a typical error of timidity by new cooks. The other typical error is too thick sauce caused by forgetting it on the burner.

This one was so very delicious. Usually when I get home I'm sort of tired of seeing and being around food so I don't eat it until maybe lunch the next day. This one I chowed down on as soon as I got home.

Saumon Grillé : Grilled Salmon, Beurre Monté a la Ciboulette : Chive Butter Sauce

Just a quick entry 'cause I've got to go out and do some book-shopping before class (which runs from 3:30 to 9:30pm).

It's a Demo pic of course - with my usual excuses for not having one of my own plate. Plus the fact that mine was un unmitigated disaster. The chef's comments:

  • Spinach: undercooked, undersalted
  • Potatoes Byron: unmentionable (I'll explain below)
  • Salsa: excellent
There was some discussion of whether the sauce was a "beurre fondu" or a "beurre monté"; my but aren't we getting esoteric - after just 10 days. Speaking of which - 10 days! the course is 1/3 done! It's going way too fast.

Not in the pic above but included in the practical session are Potatoes Byron (this pic of Roast Pork Ribs has them).
Roast Pork RibThe potatoes...oh my goodness. Made an unrecoverable error. The idea is: a mound of pureed potato, dimple on top, fill with bechemal, top with cheese. Simple enough, right?

Well, while reading my recipe I was doing the sequence as I'd written it: potatoes, smash/mill them, add butter, add egg yolk, top w/ bechamel... and that was the problem. I put the full pot of bechemal, which I had ready and was sitting right there on my counter, right on top, into, the potato mixture - instantly created potato soup! One dollop is supposed to go on top of each dimpled potato mound - not the whole thing into the mix.
Scored a zero on that part I think.

The recipes were actually pretty simple: grilled salmon (marked on the grill & finished in the oven); fancied up cooked potatoes; wilted spinach; a dead simple butter sauce with 1/2 a lemon's juice in it. But somehow we all had trouble bringing it together. I mean, I was born in Canada; have grilled salmon all my life; literally hundreds - and today I screw up. Go figure.

I guess that's my quota; my one bad day this week. So tomorrow ought to be great - Stuffed Veal Rolls.

Hot Pots

Having burnt my fingers (slightly) twice in the last 3 days and having seen a colleague's hand wrapped in bandages for some serious burns (he'll have scars) - - I decided to pop into Monoprix (a local wide ranging groceteria) and buy some tacky tea-towels. Everyone here in class has identical "Le Cordon Bleu" towels so I figure these are so unique that I'll notice them lying around and finally remember that I'm to use these for touching pans - hot or cold. Always. Without fail.
I hope.

Poulet Roti : Roast Chicken

Lovely looking, isn't it. Therefore, obviously, a pic from the demo. Mine, which in the rush to get it plated and judged I again forgot to photograph, was a little too crisp; the skin was dark and a little fragile. This also contaminated the jus with a sweet/tart/carmelized flavor (not a good thing).

1,5 kilo chicken; 180c for 45 minutes.

The key to this one is (1st) the jus {gravy} and (2nd) the chicken. Thus, the chicken is secondary [although mine was especially excellent I was told - so at least something went right; well, the vegetables were okay too].

Tricks for the jus: the mirepoix goes in with the chicken just for the end of the cooking time. After removing the chicken heat the residual stuff in the pan on a low-medium burner until the fat is clear (and all the water is gone); then drain the fat off.

Oh, and we also turned artichokes. I'll put in a pic of them too (along with the tray with a whole chicken presented). They were cleverly used as cups to hold the four (4!) different julienned veggies that we also had to make.
Reminder: boil water first; then add the vegetables. Reminder 2: start by cooking the white vegs first so you can reuse the same boiling water for the green &/or orange veggies.

Poulet Roti Whole

After class it was off to FNAC to look for a couple of the "must have" cookbooks (Escoffier, Ducasse) - discovering by the way that the FNAC on the Champs Elysee does not carry books at all. Luckily the Virgin Megastore, just down the street does. My colleagues purchased several kilos worth. Oddly the (few) English language cookbooks are downstairs mingling among the French ones.

Grilled Rib Steak : Côtes de Bœuf Grillées

Rib Steak
Originally uploaded by willsong.

The demo yestarday also included this lovely steak. About a kilo (2 pounds) worth. This is a single person serving for meat lovers.

The Sauce Bordelaise that accompanies it is made separately and does not contain juices from the meat - that's very strange to me. My thinking on classic sauces is that you deglaze a pan and build a sauce from there. This approach was quite elightening.

Accompaniments were marrow (white cirles on top) and Tomatos Provençal; green is cresson (water cres).

Beef Burgandy : Bœuf Bourguignonne

Beef Burgandy for Friends

I plated it in a more restauranty fashion; single serving on a plate - - but forgot, again, to snap a foto. This pic's from the demo and my usual poor quality. The chef presented it in this family and friends style in a big enamel cast iron pot.

Things to remember: when preparing the meat to go into the oven (sieving the wine/juice/sauce over the meat); or when it's in the oven; or after you remove it - - do not let the meat boil at any time. Makes it tough; or so I'm told by the chef. He also thought me sauce was too acidic; probably too much tomato paste. Well, at least the plate was hot today. That's a big step up from before.

My first "turned" potatoes came out pretty good; although my buddy across the worktable from me took all the perfectly sizd potatoes and left me with the mutants. The idea of practising the motion of tourning on a (hard-boiled) egg sounds like a good one. And no tourning is not a spelling error; that's what it's called in French. It means to trim to a little barrel shape.

Burnt my fingers (again) picking up a hot pot-lid. Reminder to self: never touch a pan without a cloth in your hand.


An Aiguillettewas also demoed. Aiguilette

Pommes Mousseline :Puréed Potatoes

You'd think it would be simple, huh?

  • Boil 1kg potatoes in salted water
  • Smoosh/mill/grind/tammy
  • Add 100 g butter
  • Add 250-300 ml hot milk
  • Ta Dah!
But notes include these 8 (eight!) additional points
  • Cook really thoroughly (5 mn more than you think)
  • Drain & then dry in 180c oven for 5 mn
  • When grinding they must be really hot (do in batches)
  • Butter quickly - when still hot
    • sticks the purée together & gives body
  • Not too much milk - it's not potato soup
  • To keep warm put over a water bath
  • Cover with film right on the surface of the potatoes - or a plate if all else fails
  • Puréed potatoes cannot be successfully reheated - don't even think of it.
Alternative implementation: no butter, no milk, just use olive oil - very tasty. Not to be done today but reportedly worth trying


Lovely bit of meat this is (it's a demo foto - in the rush I forget to take a pic of my own - but it looked the same).

Basically it's roast sirloin. There's about 6 tricks to know to make this properly. Oddly, the mashed potatoes takes about 6 tricks too. You'd think it was simple: cook potatoes; smash; add butter; add milk. But it's not (see the notes for gory details)

Anyway - a fine piece o' meat it was.

Somewhere during the practical (where we actually cook the recipe) someone stole my jus! It was sitting there next to the burners; I went off to wash some knives and when I came back the jus in my little pan was gone! Damnation to whoever it was (& I have my suspicions).
There wasn't even all that much of it really. Luckily a colleague helped out with a little jus he had extra - which I mixed with the dregs in my own pan. Bah!

Forgot to heat the plate so by the time the chef got to me to assess the stuff it was just plain cold. Crap!

Oh, & I burnt my fingers on a way too hot pan handle (+/- 200 C).
'Twas a lovely day all in all.