Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Sitting Down With a Good Book- The French Laundry Cookbook

A while back I spent the night at my daughter's house. I never pass up a chance to spend the night and watch over her "kids"- Napoleon the Chihuahua and Sebastian the Siamese cat. It was a mini-vacation of sorts, a time for The Chef and I to have some necessary alone time and a chance for me to unwind with a really really good book- Thomas Keller's The French Laundry Cookbook.

You might remember meeting my daughter Laura in a prior post about all the food industry pros in my family. She manages a popular restaurant downtown Des Moines and, just like her mom, has an interest in enjoying good food of all kinds and learning as much as she can about the culinary field. I was beyond delight when I found out she had this amazing cookbook and couldn't wait for the next overnight. I thought I had my chance back on Valentines Day, but Mother Nature threw a wrench- and a snowstorm- in my plans and caused my daughter to abandon her plans to travel. 

Staying in her adorable little bungalow is a real treat. Nestled in the historic Beaverdale neighborhood in Des Moines, the house is so cute, decorated beautifully, and a true oasis from an otherwise hectic world. Warm hardwood floors, soft and soothing wallcolors, modern and eclectic art on the walls and contemporary furniture bring it all together in a very inviting way. No heavy curtains dragging the windows down, she instead chose the clean lines of wooden blinds, in white to match the wood trim. Scented candles ensure her home has a welcoming fragrance, even if they aren't lit. 

What makes this house such a respite from the chaos outside? It's quiet. There is no cable tv, no satellite tv, no internet. No distractions. No noise. No commercials, no sitcoms, no bad movies. Why is this so wonderful? In her life, particularly, noise is part of the job. As a busy restaurant manager she s always on the go, always putting out fires, dealing with employee and customer needs, back office, front of house, customer service, scheduling, labor costs, overhead, ordering- you get the idea. So here I am, in this little haven, just me and the fur kids, and THAT cookbook.

The French Laundry is a restaurant in Napa Valley, California, but you probably already knew that, and Thomas Keller is the owner/chef. The son of a restaurateur he began his career working for his mother in her restaurant and drawn in by the magic of Hollandaise sauce he took off, cooking and apprenticing at some of the most incredible restaurants in the world. Many awards have been bestowed up Chef Keller. In 1999 he published The French Laundry Cookbook and the world has not been the same since.

And so I finally got my chance to settle in to the corner of that comfy sectional ouch in that quiet little bungalow with no electronic distractions, and slowly turn the pages. I am immediately drawn in. I had heard from other food nuts that the cookbook is pretentious and unrealistic- that no home cook could or would ever prepare these recipes. Pure nonsense. Honestly, with the exception of a few recipes involving an entire whole foie gras roasted or poached (and who can afford that??) everything in the book was very accessible to the regular cook like me. I am quite obsessed by canapes, hors d'oeuvres and cocktail party foods, and the first chapters filled my heart with joy. Pastry cornets filled with salmon tartare- the only way I can stand salmon is raw, and pastry work is my niche, how can I possibly NOT want to make this recipe? Quail eggs and bacon- a no brainer. Yukon Gold Potato Blini. Again, this is absolutely something I would make. 

I made a list. Things I Am Going To Cook From The French Laundry Cookbook. You better believe I did. First on the list? The Lobster Broth. The technique is fairly simple, not unlike stock-making,and the ingredients are not that out of line for a regular person like myself. I can come up with lobster bodies. Tarragon is growing in the garden. The rest is easy peasy. I wonder if I will be able to find anyone to volunteer as a taste-tester?

Thomas Keller's Creamy Lobster Broth

1/4 cup canola oil
3 lobster bodies, cut up
1 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1 bunch fresh tarragon
2 cups heavy cream

Heat the oil in a large rondeau or deep straight-sided braising pot. Add the lobster bodies and sear over medium high heat for 1 to 2 minutes on each side, until they turn red. Add the tomatoes, carrots, and tarragon, cover the shells and vegetables with water, and bring to a boil. Skim off any impurities that rise to the top. Reduce heat and simmer for one hour. Strain the stock through a large strainer, pressing on the lobster bodies with a wooden spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Strain again through a chinois into a saucepan. Return the strained stock to the heat and simmer until it is reduced to 1 cup. Add the heavy cream. Return to simmer and cook until reduced to 2 cups, skimming as necessary. 

To serve, heat in a saucepan, whisking to a slight froth. Serve in demitasse cups as a light hors d'oeuvre

Sounds amazing, doesn't it? My dream vacation would include a meal at The French Laundry, among others. This sounds like an extravagant dish to prepare but really, 3 lobsters aren't all that expensive if you catch them on sale. I've seen them in our local gourmet market for under ten dollars for a lobster- which would be perfect for a nice lobster dinner, and reserving the bodies for this recipe. Even the technique is not too technical that even a beginner couldn't reproduce this beautiful soup with ease. This one is destined to be a favorite around here.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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