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Preview: French Laundry at Home

French Laundry at Home





Updated: 2015-07-06T20:48:29.572-04:00

 



Thank you.

2008-11-12T10:53:19.437-05:00

Picture it: Mount Wolf, PA. December 25, 2000. It's Christmas morning, and I'm sitting in front of the Christmas tree in my parents' living room. My parents, my brother, his wife, and I each have a stack of gifts to open, but there's one present that is serving as quite the distraction (to me anyway). It's a book. A big book. The French Laundry Cookbook. I opened all the other gifts first -- socks, clothing, a Cuisinart, a few CDs and DVDs, but I saved this special one 'til the end of the gift-opening extravaganza, because I'd been pining for it for over a year and knew that once I opened it, I wouldn't really pay much attention to anything else. Why?In the weeks and months after The French Laundry Cookbook was released, I'd go to Borders and Barnes & Noble, take the only non-shrinkwrapped copy off the shelf, gently open the cover, and slowly turn the pages as I tried to imagine the lucky, lucky people who actually got to own this book. The lucky people who actually got to cook this food. The lucky people who actually got to eat this food.See, it was 1999 and then 2000, and I was working in the technology sector right smack dab in the middle of the dot-com bust. I was working 16-hour days and although I was making a good salary, I'd just bought my first house, and had to stick to a tight budget because, like most of us working in the tech sector that year, I didn't know if my job would be there the next day. There was no extra money for splurges... and The French Laundry Cookbook was, begrudgingly, a splurge.So, on that Christmas morning after we'd all opened the rest of our presents, I tore the wrapping paper off the book, curled up in a chair next to the fireplace, removed the plastic shrink wrap, inhaled the new-book smell of my brand new, very own copy of The French Laundry Cookbook, ignored everyone else (that's the Christmas spirit!), and began to read. I don't remember much else about that day. Couldn't tell you what we had for lunch. Don't remember if it snowed. Can't recall which relatives I saw that night. All I can remember is absorbing every word, and wishing I could eat every page. I swear I could smell the Creamy Maine Lobster Broth from just the photo alone.When I went back home a few days later, I put the book on my coffee table in my cozy, little living room, and it warmed me all winter long. I'd come home from my job, beaten down from handling media calls, trying to reassure a nervous board of directors, and watching our stock price go into the toilet, and just imagine what eating dinner at The French Laundry must be like.Those nights reading The French Laundry Cookbook and the full-on sensory engagement that ensued oddly enough transported me back to the many afternoons I spent sitting in the hall in second grade. Because I never could quite figure out that I should raise my hand to get called on instead of just shouting out the answer and being sarcastic about how awesome I was with all my knowledge, my teacher, Mrs. Hohenshilt, "punished" me by making me sit in the hall with a book. I almost always chose What's For Lunch, Charley? because there was a section in the book I loved to read over and over again. The book is about an elementary school-aged kid and the crush he has on the new girl, Rosabelle Ruggles. He watches her eat lunch every day, but one day, Rosabelle's lunch stands out in particular -- a thermos of tomato soup, a drumstick of fried chicken, a small jar of fruit salad, and a piece of chocolate layer cake... all spread out on a clean white cloth napkin.When Charley forgot his lunchbox one day, he decided to slip out of school undetected and eat lunch at the very fancy King Charles Hotel. Charley walked by the hotel and its street-facing dining room every day, and he always wondered what it would be like to eat there. So, he did.He could ask for a peanut butter sandwich, an apple, a cookie, and some milk. But that didn't seem like the right thing for lunch at the King Charles. Charley drew a breath and said, "Tomato soup, chicken leg, fruit salad, and chocolate cake." Then he added,[...]



French Laundry at Home: Lists and Menu Suggestions

2008-10-23T14:10:14.563-04:00

Now that I've cooked every dish in The French Laundry Cookbook, I think it's appropriate to do a bit of a retrospective, don't you think? I've had some time now to think back on the good and the bad... the surprise successes and the dismal failures... the things I loved and continue to make today, and the things I'll never make again.So let's get all listy.* * * * *I hear from a lot of people who say they have The French Laundry Cookbook or want to buy The French Laundry Cookbook, but wouldn't even know where to begin when they think about cooking from it. To them, I say, "Been there." Without going into a big arm-flailing rant about the current state of mainstream consumer food media, I will say that it has done a terrible disservice to the home cook with its proliferation of emphasizing all things quick, easy, and simple. Why? Because one thing that approach does is instill fear and self-doubt in home cooks when it comes to cooking anything above and beyond the standard fare. "Oh, I could never cook out of The French Laundry Cookbook... it's too hard."Bullshit.I don't and wouldn't cook from this book every day for every meal. And, most of the food I make for myself on a regular basis is quite basic, yet tasty. However, if there's any big life lesson from this blog, it's that if I, of all people... the queen of Kraft Mac-n-Cheese throughout her 20s and 30s... can cook from The French Laundry Cookbook, ANYONE can. All it takes is the willingness to try. Chances are, you'll end up feeling really proud of what you've done.So, if you've never cooked from The French Laundry Cookbook, but you're ready to give it a go even though you might still feel a wee bit intimidated, here's what I recommend as Great First Steps:Gazpacho: It's pretty easy to see why this was the first dish I did, even though I started the blog in January, which is not exactly peak tomato and pepper season here in the mid-Atlantic region. It seemed easy to do, although I remember looking at the balsamic glaze instructions and thinking, "Wow.... balsamic glaze. That might be kind of hard to do." Now, I say, "Pffft. How about a pig head glaze? Want me to do that? Oh yeah, BRING. IT."Gruyère Cheese Gougères: Easy, and perfect any time of year, although I always associate them with a lovely snowfall, because that's when I first made them.Citrus-Marinated Salmon with a Confit of Navel Oranges, Beluga Caviar and Pea Shoot Coulis: When you click on that link, try not to cringe that the final plating of this dish. I'm so sorry. It's just bad. But, this is not a difficult dish to do, and I think the flavor profile can't be beat. I really don't like salmon, but I freakin' LOVE this dish.Black Sea Bass with Sweet Parsnips, Arrowleaf Spinach, and Saffron-Vanilla Sauce: This was one of the simplest dishes to do, and it's really, really good.Eric's Staff Lasagna: Alright, fine... so, it's technically not something served to guests at The French Laundry, but it's in the book, so it counts. Why? You know how sometimes when you eat lasagna, it's good but so heavy that you feel full in maybe a not-so-good way? This lasagna is delicious, easy to prepare, fresh, and light. It fills you up, but you don't get that hesitant-to-burp-for-fear-you'll-puke feeling. I know Eric Ziebold is going to love that kind of review when he sees this in his Google Alert (Hi, Eric! Love CityZen!).Sally Schmitt's Cranberry and Apple Kuchen with Hot Cream Sauce: Bring on the umlauts! Again, not something served at The French Laundry, but it's in the book, and it's lovely, straightforward, easy to do, and perfect for fall.Lemon Sabayon-Pine Nut Tart with Honeyed Mascarpone Cream: Gorgeous. Easy. Delicious. A real crowd-pleaser.* * * * *As 2007 moved into 2008, I did a little reflection on some of my French Laundry favorites and other recommendations. When I look back on that list of my Top Ten Favorites, it's interesting now to see what stayed on the list, and what has been replaced by things I've made since then.Top Ten FavoritesRoulade of Pekin [...]



"Cornets" -- Salmon Tartare with Sweet Red Onion Crème Fraîche

2008-10-18T22:01:25.291-04:00

Wow.You guys, this is a really hard post to write.I keep typing, then deleting... then typing more slowly... and stopping to just watch the cursor on the screen blink on and off after each word I type.I don't even want to think about, when I'm done writing this, how long I'm going to stare at the "Publish Post" button at the bottom of the screen when all the writing is done and let the little hand-shaped cursor linger over that.Make fun all you want of little miss sarcastic here getting all sappy and goopy, but having to actually sit down and write this post is weird and strange and much more difficult than I ever could have imagined.I spent almost an hour this morning staring at pages 316 and 317 of my copy of The French Laundry Cookbook... gliding my finger left to right under each line as I read and re-read the title and corresponding page number of each dish....seeing my checkmarks (some in black pen, some in blue pen) indicating which dishes I'd already done, hoping that maybe, possibly, (please oh please oh please) I'd see a small blank space and find that I'd missed one. But I didn't. With this dish, I'd done them all. Cooked all 100 dishes in this book, and a few extras to boot.I closed the book, laid it on the wooden butcher block you've seen in so many of my photos, stood there with my hands pressed down on the cover of it, and just cried.It wasn't a big weepy, ugly cry... it was a quieter "wow" and a "whew" kind of cry. And after about 15 seconds, I saw my reflection in the kitchen window and had to laugh at myself because it's been the most amazing ride, hasn't it? I knew I'd been heavily invested in this project for quite some time, but instead of bursting into tears, I really thought I'd feel joyful, jubilant, celebratory, accomplished and victorious. And I do. I just have a dorky way of showing it.I've known for a long time that I wanted this dish to be the last one I cooked and the last one I posted, since it's one of the first things (along with the gougères) you're served at The French Laundry and Per Se when you sit down to eat.In fact, now that I think about it, it's almost a year to the day that I ate at Per Se for the very first time, and got to hold one of these cornets in my hand... unwrapping the perfect little, white napkin from the cone, and making sure I got the salmon tartare, red onion crème fraîche, and the top centimeter of the cone into my mouth in the first bite. I remember saying to myself, "Stop. Think. Taste. Remember. Because you're going to make these one day, and they need to be great. This is one dish you cannot and must not screw up."I had the cornets again the second time I went to Per Se for dinner, and then again the third time, when I went there for the Under Pressure book preview luncheon. That time, as I stood in the front lobby-lounge area at Per Se, meeting journalists, writers, publishers, and others I'd long admired, one of the servers brought around a beautiful tray with white napkin-wrapped salmon tartare cornets nestled inside. With a glass of champagne in my left hand, I picked up a cornet in my right hand and just stared at it for a few seconds. I thought about whose job it was to perfectly fold and then perfectly wrap all those little napkins around the cones. I thought about how many of those tiny savory cones must get made every week, and if any ever break, or are they all perfect every single time. And I thought about how lucky I was to be in this place, seeing Thomas Keller just a few feet away talking to his publisher, Ann Bramson, before the sous vide demonstration was to begin... and I thought, how in the hell did I get to be this lucky?I took a bite of that cornet, unwrapped the napkin from the rest and finished it in the second bite, and magically, someone appeared by my side to take the napkin from my hands. That was, without a doubt, my favorite cornet of all... until I made my own. Granted, I also had them in August when I ate at The French Laundry and Per Se, and they were lovely. But there's s[...]