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I'm a guy who likes to cook, eat, and drink, but not necessarily in that order. This blog is nothing fancy; just my random thoughts about anything that can be baked, roasted, or fried. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Ricotta

© 2015 Laura Flippin
A few years ago, I developed this sudden desire to make cheese. I bought a book on cheesemaking and read it cover to cover. But like many of my other stillborn hobbies (e.g., painting, fountain pens, Civil War re-enacting), neither curds nor whey ever graced my kitchen. So it was interesting when I opened up my newest food magazine to which I’ve subscribed—I think I’m up to five now—and saw an article on homemade ricotta, and then just a few days later, I came across this piece on ricotta by the New York Times’ Melissa Clark. (Watch how Melissa Clark makes ricotta.). Maybe the food gods were trying to tell me something. 

The word “ricotta” literally means “re-cooked” in Italian and has been made there since the Bronze Age. Traditionally, it is made by reheating the whey left over from cheese making and adding an acid, like lemon juice or even vinegar. It is technically not cheese but a diary product.

Ricotta cheese is slightly sweet and low in fat—similar to cottage cheese. You can make it as creamy or as dry as you like, with small curds or big curds, depending on your preference. When I made it, it was soft, with small curds and spread on a slice of fresh French bread, it was delicious. Because of its sweetness, ricotta makes an excellent “cheese” for dessert, either simply with fresh berries and other fruit, or in cheesecakes.

Of course, you probably don’t have extra whey sitting around because you, like me, aren’t making cheese. Also, it’s not like you can drive down to the local Piggly-Wiggly and buy some whey. (Even Whole Wallet doesn’t carry it.) So most recipes for making ricotta at home call for whole milk and cream, which is probably close enough. It is also ridiculously easy to make. Here is the recipe from Fine Cooking (Apr./May 2015) I mentioned above:

Homemade Ricotta

With so few ingredients, the quality of each is very important. The better your milk and cream, the better your ricotta will be. A high-quality sea salt will also make a difference. This recipe is easily halved. 

Yield: about 4 1/2 cups ricotta

Ingredients

1 gallon whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 Tbs. flaky sea salt,such as Maldon
1/2 cup fresh, strained lemon juice (from two large lemons)

Preparation

Line a colander with 3 to 4 layers of lightly dampened cheesecloth, and set it in a clean sink or large bowl.

Clip an instant-read or candy thermometer to the side of a heavy-duty 7-to 8-quart pot. Put the milk and cram in the pot and slowly warm it over medium heat, stirring occasionally with a silicone spatula, until its’ 185 degrees, about 20 minutes.

Remove from the heat, stir in the salt, and then slowly pour the lemon juice over the surgance of the milk. Once all of the lemon juice has been added, stir gently for 1 to 2 minutes to encourage curds to form.


Gently ladle the curds into the prepared colander. Fold the ends of the cheesecloth over the curds to loosely cover. Drain until it reaches your desired consistency, 30 minutes for a soft ricotta and up to 24 hours for a very firm, dry, and dense ricotta. Transfer the drained ricotta to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks.


Monday, June 8, 2015

Stack 'em High!

Pancakes. Flapjacks. Hotcakes. Griddle Cakes. Whatever you call them in your neck of the woods, they are awesome in their deliciousness. Seriously, have you ever met someone who didn’t love a good pancake? In fact, the whole world loves some kind of version of the pancake. The French have their crêpes, those delicate, thin pancakes perfect for wrapping around fresh strawberries or Nutella. The Chinese also make thin pancakes—Mu Shu Pork would be the same without them. And in some real sense, even a Mexican flour tortilla is a pancake.

Then there’s the question of syrup. For the kids I would keep Aunt Jemima on hand, even though you can’t beat real maple syrup. Growing up, we were a Log Cabin family, but somewhere along the way I strayed and became a fan of Aunt J. Finally, there’s also the issue of which goes better with pancakes. Sausage or bacon? I’m a sausage guy myself (wow, that sounded bad!), but only sausage links. My boys, on the other hand, are solid bacon supporters.  

Pancakes have been a staple with my kids for some time. When they were little, I would take them to the local McDonald’s—one of those with the playground—on Sunday mornings and get them “hot cakes” (what McDonald’s calls pancakes) with sausage. I’d watch them crawl around those plastic tube thingies while I read the Sunday New York Times. I would have joined them but my middle aged dad-butt would have gotten stuck. Other times, I would take them to IHOP or The Pancake House, and many times I would make them from scratch at home.

©2015 Chris Terrell
A Labor of Love!
The kids, now 13, have outgrown the McDonald’s playground, replaced with X-box and soccer. So Sunday morning pancakes have fallen by the wayside. But that changed on a recent Sunday morning.  I decided that, after a long hiatus, I would make pancakes. I had everything I needed: flour, eggs, vanilla extract, sugar….but wait. The recipe called for milk. I had no milk! While I did have a pint of skim milk, it had expired about 16 days ago. The local grocery down the street is closed on Sundays, and I was too lazy to get in the car and drive to the local Piggly Wiggly. And then I remembered that I had a big box of Mini Moos from Costco! And while it only took about 75 Mini Moos, I got the required cup and three quarters of milk required for the recipe. Mission accomplished! And this time, Forrest wanted blueberry pancakes.

Here’s the recipe I used. It’s from The Joy of Cooking, and I’ve been using it since high school—it’s never let me down.

Pancakes

About sixteen 4-inch pancakes

Whisk together in a large bowl:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Combine in another bowl:

1 1/2 cups milk (or 75 Mini Moos)
3 tablespoons butter, melted
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Mix the liquid ingredients quickly into the dry ingredients. Spoon about a 1/4  to 1/3 of cup of batter per pancake onto a non-stick pan at medium high heat. 

Here are some good tips from The Joy of Cooking:

  • Ignore lumps and don't over mix the batter—it will make the pancakes tough.
  • Superior results are achieved when batter is rested, covered, and refrigerated for 3 to 6 hours before cooking.
  • To test if the griddle is hot enough, place a few drops of water onto the surface. If the water bounces and sputters, the pan is hot enough. If it the water sits and boils, it is not. If the water evaporates quickly, then it is too hot.
  • If the griddle is not hot enough, the batter will spread out too thin and the pancakes will not rise enough. 
  • Turn the pancakes only once. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

It’s That Time of Year: Fire Up the Grill!

Once that patty of browned beef was laid on a bun for the first time, the hamburger shimmered into existence philosophically.  Because the burger has a kind of inevitability to it; it is a gastronomic endpoint, like sashimi or a baked potato. Its basic design cannot be improved upon.

—Joel Ozersky—


Even though astronomically the first day of summer is several weeks away, it unofficially began on Monday, May 25, 2015. Memorial Day. For most Americans, this means firing up the grill and grilling hamburgers. This year, I traveled to Williamsburg, Virginia, to spend the weekend with Laura, her family, and some dear friends from our college days who now live in the ‘Burg.

Most of my readers should know by now that I am an inveterate menu planner, and this year was no different. I wanted to go whole hog—Southern hog that is. Menu version 1.0 consisted of fried chicken, potato salad, Southern style green beans, grilled corn, and brownies. Version 1.0, however, never made it out of Beta. After taking into account food allergies and a general consensus that I should try and cook a tad pit healthier, I developed Version 2.0. 

My friend Andrew would bring over pork shoulder and grilled vegetables; I would grill bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs with chimichurri sauce, grilled corn with chili-lime cilantro butter, and kale salad. Dessert would be mango mousse (essentially pureed mangos folded in with Chantilly cream). Unfortunately, poor logistics meant that the corn never hit the grill. But we had plenty nonetheless.

©2015 Andrew Langer
But the more interesting menu item of the night was Andrew’s. What he calls Grilled Cabbage

Here’s the recipe:




Grilled Cabbage
(Courtesy of Andrew Langer & Jorge Jimenez-Rojo)

Ingredients

1 head cabbage (about 2 lbs)
1 package bacon
1/4 cup Barbecue Sauce
1/2 stick butter, sliced into six pieces

Preparation

1. Cut bacon crosswise into small pieces. Sauté until cooked, drain, and set aside.

2. Core head of cabbage, leaving the rest of the head intact, so that there is a cavity 3-4 inches across and several inches deep.

3. Take aluminum foil, crumple and make a ring, 3 inches in diameter (see picture).

4. Mix cooked bacon and barbecue sauce together. Lay 3 slices of butter in cavity, add bacon mixture, then lay three more piece of butter on top.

5. Turn grill to high and pre-heat until temperature reaches 300+ degrees. Put aluminum foil ring on grill, put cabbage on ring. Close grill..

6. Cook cabbage for 60-90mins [though I think 45 mins to 60 mins is plenty], rotating cabbage head with tongs every 15 mins. When cabbage is soft all the way through, it's done. Don't worry if exterior leaves start to char—they will fall off when you take the cabbage off the grill.

As I mentioned earlier, Memorial Day Weekend is when a lot of folks fire up the grill for the first time. Now Laura has a grill (charcoal), but the discussion Saturday morning quickly moved to whether she needed a new grill—a gas grill. I know there are a lot of purists who will not use anything but charcoal. But you can’t beat the convenience of a gas grill. I’ve had both, and I’ve found that I’ve grilled a lot more with a gas grill than with the charcoal version. Besides, Laura’s place in the ‘Burg is a second home, and things should be as convenient as possible. So, after a quick trip to the local Ace Hardware and some haggling, we got a real good deal on a Weber floor model. The new grill worked beautifully, notwithstanding a major flame-out in the grease trap which was a bit too close to the propane tank for my tastes!

So let me get back to burgers because that’s where this blog post started. Despite the fact that my fried chicken and potato salad got nixed, I did get to make hamburgers Saturday night and again on Monday afternoon before heading to the airport. 

I have several rules when it comes to making hamburgers. First, always buy 80/20 beef if you can find it. It’s getting harder and harder. Your best best bet is the local Piggly Wiggly or Wal-Mart. But honestly, 80/20 makes the best burgers. Period. Besides, it’s not like you eat these things every day. I then put a generous amount of kosher salt and ground black pepper on each burger. Sometimes I will put a bit of onion powder on as well. I then place the burgers in the fridge for at least an hour. Cold hamburger meat holds together better while grilling and allows you to get a good char on the outside without overcooking the inside. 

But most importantly don’t overcook the burgers. Start on one side with the lid open. (If you close it, you will start to cook the burger before you can get a good char.) Once you have a good char on one side, flip. You will only flip once! At this point, place your cheese of choice on the burger and close the lid. Personally, I prefer blue cheese. Dress the burger anyway you like. I like to keep it simple—lettuce, red onion, tomato, ketchup, and mustard. But sometimes I like to chop up some chipotle peppers in adobo sauce and add that to the ketchup for an extra kick. 

Finally, toast your buns dammit! Melt some butter and brush it onto the outside and insides of the buns and toast them on the grill. Your guests will thank you.

And that’s it. Another Memorial Day weekend for the history books. While I think the healthy option was a good idea, I’m glad I got my burger fix in because Memorial Day without burgers is like New Year’s Day without luck and money. And just like a good burger can’t be improved upon, neither can a Memorial Day with wonderful friends and family.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Please Place Your Tray in the Upright and Locked Position

©2015 Chris Terrell
We’ve heard it before: “air travel ain’t what it used to be.”  This appears to be especially true when it comes to airline food. It gets worse and worse, assuming you get anything at all.   

But are we expecting too much from the airlines when it comes to food? They are constrained by weight and space and so don't have a lot to work with. There’s also the issue of heat. One can’t exactly sauté mushrooms on an open gas stove in a Boeing 767. Even so, the food could be better.

Of course, it wasn’t always so. I’m old enough to remember the days when even in coach (a/k/a “economy class”), the stewardess (dated myself!) would serve lunch or dinner with real silverware and linen napkins. And she did so with a smile on her face and the kind of attention that you sometimes get in business class on a transatlantic flight. Why? Because out of the 160 seats on that Boeing 727 from New York to Miami, only 120 of the seats were occupied thanks to regulation.

In the early to mid-70s when I began my flying career, airlines were regulated by the federal Civil Aeronautics Board (“CAB”). Since 1938, the CAB had regulated all domestic interstate air routes as a public utility. The CAB set the fares, routes, and schedules. The CAB also was obligated to ensure that the airlines had a reasonable rate of return. In other words, the airlines were guaranteed a profit, albeit not a big one, but a profit nonetheless. This meant that Eastern Airlines could afford serving lunch with silverware in a less-than-full airplane.

In 1978, this all came crashing down with the passage of the Airline Deregulation Act. This law abolished the CAB and removed government control over fares, routes, and market entry. The goal was to increase competition, which would mean lower prices for consumers. Believe it or not, the law actually worked. After adjusting for inflation, it is generally cheaper to fly today than it was in the 1970s. (I'm not sure about the competition part because we have about the same number of airlines as we did in 1978.) Of course, cheaper fares mean more people flying. And therein lies the rub when it comes to airline food. With increased competition and no guaranteed profits, the airlines have had to cut costs. And the first thing out the window was the semi-decent food. 

These days we're lucky if we can get a diminutive package of pretzels or peanuts (Southwest may be the only airline left that offers both.) About the only time any of us will get a meal on plane, much less a decent one, is on an international flight.

But at least it sometimes gets interesting. 

Several years ago, I was on a Delta flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg, South Africa, when breakfast arrived at hour 13 of a 15 and a half hour flight. To this day, I have no idea what I was served. It was some kind of orange, yam-like thing.  I also have no idea why it was breakfast food. I guess it made sense because we were flying to South Africa. (The food on the return flight was much more "American.") 

But perhaps the best example of food following the route was an Air France flight I took from Atlanta to Paris. Even though we were in economy, the flight attendants walked up and down the aisles with large baskets full of french bread. Later in the evening, I walked to the back for another glass of French wine. I pointed at the bottle on the drink cart, and the female flight attendant, without saying a word, and with a classic Gallic  shrug, told me “sure.” Vive La France!

What I find interesting is that, as the quality of airline food has declined and essentially disappeared, the quality of food in airports has increased, especially in terms of variety. I’ve had great wine and food at a wine bar in Dallas’s Love Field; a really good Cuban meal at the airport in Miami; and my home airport in Birmingham now has some pretty good barbecue. Hope springs eternal.

The only downside is that, because there’s no food service on airlines anymore, people bring food onto the airplane. This has created a different set of problems. Have you ever sat next to a fellow passenger with an order of garlic rice and falafel? 

But oh well, air travel is still pretty amazing. We can now travel distances in hours that took our ancestors weeks, if not months. As the comedian Louis C.K. once said, “You’re sitting in a chair, in the sky!” Good point. So, maybe we should all just relax, wait until we land to get a good meal, and leave the falafel at home.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Yes, Of All People, I Ate at Applebee's!

©2015 Chris Terrell
How the Mighty Have Fallen!
I’m not a big fan of chain restaurants.* The food is generally uninspiring and pretty much the same. There are but so many ways one can deep fry something or slap a Bourbon barbecue sauce on a slab of meat. I guess my biggest compliant is one of value, which is interesting because the marketing departments for places like TGI Fridays or Applebee’s have convinced people that they offer good food at a good price. But by the time, you’ve had a couple of Summer Squeezes (real drink from the Applebee’s bar menu) and some Churro S’mores (real appetizer from Applebee’s menu), and….

OK, I have to stop here. This thing called Churro S’mores is a real appetizer, or “app” in Applebee’s-speak!  It consists of some kind of bread with a toasted marshmallow and chocolate dipping sauce. This is listed in the “bar snacks” section of the menu. Really?! Why the hell would I get this at a bar?! What full-grown, gainfully employed, self-respecting American male is going to drink a martini and eat this concoction?

OK, sorry about that digression…..

And so you order the Bourbon Street Steak and the Bourbon Street Chicken and Shrimp (both real items—these guys obviously love New Orleans!), Triple Chocolate Meltdown (real) for dessert, and now you are out about $60 for a party of two after tip. You’d be better off to go to a local mom-and-pop restaurant. The food would be better, and you’d be helping the local economy.

But the more important question is how did I end up at an Applebee’s on a Sunday afternoon? The short answer is: soccer. This past weekend, I fulfilled my annual paternal duty of taking one of my sons to the state soccer tournament in Decatur, Alabama. If you’ve ever been to Decatur, well you’re not missing much, and this comes from someone who lives in Alabama, so I’m used to being under-whelmed. Our team did better than expected, but after the last game on a Sunday afternoon, we were hungry. Someone suggested Applebee’s. I could have easily protested but my food-snobbery is well established amongst the soccer parents. I relented mainly out of curiosity. I saw this as a sociological experiment. What makes people go to Applebee’s? Am I missing something? Can it really be that bad? Maybe it has improved since the last time I went to one on a business trip on April 23, 1997.

The staff was pleasant enough and the beer was cold. But the food? It is what it is. I got the Thai Shrimp salad, which was not too bad after I added a bit more salt and pepper. More importantly, the kids enjoyed it and had a good time.  At the end of the day, I was not completely disappointed because my  expectations were met. I mean really, I don’t go to McDonalds expecting seared foie gras and black truffles.

By now, I’m sure the casual reader of this blog is thinking, “this guy’s a real snob,” and I probably wouldn’t blame you. But I’m not. I eat in hole-in-the-wall BBQ joints; Mexican restaurants, hot dog stands and love every bite. The difference is that these are restaurants owned by real people who love what they do. Not some homogenized chain restaurant with a menu created by marketing lackeys. 

But then again, chain restaurants are as American as apple pie. It all started in 1940 along the Penn Turnpike, where motorists could turn off the Pike and pull up to a building that resembled a New England town hall with a painfully bright orange roof and turquoise blue cupola. Howard Johnson’s or HoJo for short. This was arguably the first franchised restaurant, founded in 1925 in Quincey, Massachusetts, by Howard Deering Johnson. It was famous for its fried clam strips, chicken pot pies, “Frankforts” (HoJo’s version of a hot dog), and 28 flavors of ice cream (including peppermint stick). I grew up on HoJos. No road trip to Florida would be complete without dinner at HoJo’s, where my mom would invariably order the fried clam strips, while I quivered in anticipation of the peppermint stick ice cream that came with a sugar cookie shaped like a delta wing jet plane. They also had a birthday club, and I recall going to the local HoJo’s for my annual complimentary birthday cake. 

At HoJo’s peak, there were over 900 orange roofs across America. Today, only two restaurants remain.  

How the Mighty Have Fallen Too
I really have no way of knowing if the food at the HoJos of my youth were any better or worse than your local Applebee’s today. I do know that they just felt different—full of youthful promise. Only in that optimistic era could you have a restaurant as garnish as a HoJos. There’s a reason, Howard Johnson’s figured prominently in an episode of Mad Men. The title of that episode is Faraway Places. How apropos. 

So here’s a modest proposal to myself. The next time I’m asked to go to an Applebee’s, I won’t complain or make some snarky comment. I’ll just squint and pretend it’s 1975, and I’m five years old eating a chocolate birthday cake with some peppermint stick ice cream. 

That sounds pretty inspiring, don’t you think?




* Fast-food joints are excluded from my definition. Who doesn’t like a good fast-food burger now and then? And besides, we all know these are not really restaurants.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Ramp It Up For Spring?


When it comes to vegetables, spring is the redheaded stepchild. Summer gets all the blockbusters like tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, and zucchini.  Even fall and winter veggies get more attention: pumpkin, beets, carrots, leeks, broccoli, and brussels sprouts  With the exception of asparagus, spring doesn't have too much, and what it does have doesn't seem to stick around for long. (In Alabama, we hold onto spring like a dog with a bone. We are lucky to get a few weeks past the A-Day game in Tuscaloosa before summer starts in.)  But perhaps the ultimate, short-lived spring vegetable would have to be ramps. It is also the most over-hyped, hyper-obsessed vegetable out there. In case, you've never heard of ramps (a/k/a allium tricoccum), they are nothing more than a wild onion.

Every spring I buy ramps, but I can never cook them before they go bad. This year, I vowed not to let that happen. I asked the guy selling ramps at the local market—who frankly didn't seem all that enamored with them (which should have been a clue)—how he prepared them. With a shrug, he said simply that he just cooked them chopped up with scrambled eggs, like his momma always made 'em. "Really, that's it?" I asked. Surely, I thought to myself, there must be more to these things than that. After looking through the 36 cookbooks I own, all of which say nothing about ramps, I took to the Internet.  Most of the recipes I found there were nothing more than ones where ramps substituted for onions, leeks, garlic, or some combination thereof. Eventually, however, I found one recipe that looked promising. It claimed to bring out ramps' pungent simplicity.  Here is recipe I found on The Crepes of Wrath:

Caramelized Ramps

Ingredients

2 bunches ramps, cleaned well
2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
pinch red pepper flakes

Preparation

Cleaning ramps is a bit of work, but it's worth it! Fill a large bowl with cold water, then place your ramps in the water. Swish them around to remove as much dirt as possible, then remove them from the bowl and give them a second rinse under running water to remove any remaining grit. Change the water and do the same with your second bunch of ramps. 

Place the ramps on a dry paper towel, then top with another paper towel and pat out as much water as possible.

Clean the ramps by removing the tip of each stalk. Set aside (don't slice them - they're perfect as is).

In a heavy bottomed skillet, heat your butter over medium-high heat. Swirl around until browned and nutty, about 3-4 minutes. Add the ramps to the browned butter and cook over medium heat, turning occasionally, until the ramps are lightly charred and wilted. Serve with your favorite protein as a side, or enjoy them on their own.

And after much anticipation, we sat down for dinner and held our forks above these delicate spring denizens, quivering with anticipation. We all took a bite. Wow! Talk about being underwhelmed! The ramps had a decent flavor but their consistency left a lot to be desired. I thought they were a bit tough and stingy. Maybe these were simply not very good ramps. Perhaps I waited too long to cook them. Maybe I can't cook ramps. Or maybe, just maybe, ramps simply suck. 

At least for the next 365 days, I'll have to let the mystery be because ramp season is over. I'll try again next year. In cooking, try anything twice or, in the case of ramps, three times.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

It's All In the Wrist

Not another day goes by that one doesn’t read or hear about the importance of provenance when it comes to food: Is it organic? Is it sustainable? Is it locally sourced? But what you don’t hear about too much is technique—also known as the actual mechanics of cooking. But during a recent trip to France, I discovered that technique is alive and well when my son Forrest and I took a pastry class at Le Cordon Bleu, the 150-year-old French cooking school in Paris. (The same one that helped launch Julia Child’s career in 1949.)

©2015 Chris Terrell
Our Mise en Place
At precisely 12:30PM, Forrest and I, along with 12 other students, were escorted into the kitchen and took our places around a long work table with Chef Olivier Boudot at the head. I wasn’t sure what to expect, as I’ve never attended a cooking class. I figured it would be more of a demonstration for tourists, and not very sophisticated. Boy, was I wrong! This turned out to be a very intense, hands-on class. At one point, it felt like I was on Top Chef because Chef Boudot was maniacal about staying on schedule. 

©2015 Chris Terrell
Chef Boudot
A few words about Chef Boudot.  If you were going to make a movie with a scene in a French restaurant kitchen, and you needed a French pastry chef,  the actor you would get from central casting would look like Chef Boudot. Chef Boudot was big and imposing, made more so by his toque. He was serious and intense, but had a good, dry sense of humor, punctuated by that infamous Gallic shrug.    

At each of our stations, we were given an apron and towel (both of which we were allowed to keep), a rolling pin, butter, yeast, and a dough scraper. Through a translator, Chef gave us the day’s scheduled, precisely laid out in 20-30 minute increments.

Our goal that day was to make croissants, pain au chocolat, and brioche.

©2015 Chris Terrell
Forrest Gets Started
We learned to roll the dough in a precise manner and at a precise thickness, and to fold the dough in  a certain way, as well as the proper time and temperature for proofing the dough. (At least when it comes to cooking, the French are very, very precise.) At one point, Chef Boudot even used a ruler to measure out the pieces of dough for the croissants! The last thing we learned that day was to make our own dough, which we took home with us.

©2015 Chris Terrell
Graduation!
The class lasted almost six hours, with a brief 20-25 min coffee break around 3:00PM. So needless to say, Forrest and I were exhausted by the time we left, but we had six boxes of fresh pastries that we proudly shared with the family. As we walked out with our day’s work, we passed a class of advance students waiting outside the kitchen. They seemed pretty proud too, though I detected a slight trace of dread on their young faces. Perhaps, Chef Boudot was more gentle with us tourists than with his students.

©2015 Chris Terrell
Graduation!
A few days later, in our little gite in Normandy, I realized that I had forgotten to pick up a baguette for dinner—obviously not something any respectable Frenchman would have done. We also had finished all those pastries we had made back in Paris. Thankfully I had the dough from the Codon Bleu class! 

It was 7:30pm and obviously I had no time to proof the dough for two hours, thinking that this proofing thing was overrated, right? I rolled the dough out, shaped the croissants and threw them in the oven.  (I did manage to get an egg wash on them.) What came out of the oven bore no resemblance to those delicate, flakey croissants we had made at Le Cordon Bleu. Rather, what came out of the oven were these smallish, somewhat dense rolls, like Pillsbury crescent rolls. I guess all that precision about timing and temperature for proofing made all the difference in the world.
©2015 Chris Terrell
The Finished Product (At Le Cordon Bleu)


But as we sat there with our bowls of potato, leek, and mushroom soup that I had made from scratch, listening to the Norman wind rattle the windows, I realized that learning to cook and do it right is hard and takes effort. In other words, there’s a reason that people go to schools like Le Cordon Bleu and then open great restaurants. However, I also learned that there is a certain margin of error that allows us amateurs to make pretty good bread. After all a homemade crescent roll is still better than loaf of Wonder Bread, and even Wonder Bread is better than no bread at all!