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bilrus

Five courses from the French Laundry Cookbook

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It's 8:00 pm here, and we just finished take-out turkish food. After clearing the table, I rushed to check for updates! I can't wait to see the results. In fact, I have the FL cookbook out as well, trying to decide if I want to give the five course dinner a shot in a few weeks. Much is riding on these results!

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Sorry to keep everybody waiting. Let me deal with my pics and I'll have a post up in about 10 minutes. Plus the wines - both very good - have my feeling a little "funny" right now.


Bill Russell

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Things were getting pretty hectic towards the end. I did some of my plating of items that could sit at room temperature for a bit, like my cheese course:

gallery_7851_477_13515.jpg

As I was getting the duck ready, I had all four burners going:

gallery_7851_477_1025.jpg

And then we cracked open the bottle of white burgundy and it was time to serve.


Edited by bilrus (log)

Bill Russell

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That's it enough stop teasing it is just cruel :shock:


**************************************************

Ah, it's been way too long since I did a butt. - Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"

--------------------

One summers evening drunk to hell, I sat there nearly lifeless…Warren

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So on to dinner. I want to post my initial thoughts on each dish now, and then follow up later with a little more in depth look at what worked and what didn't and my overall impressions.

Soup: Puree of English Pea Soup with White Truffle Oil and Parmesan Crisps, page 37

This felt like "spring in a bowl." The preparation did nothing to diminish the "pea-ness" of the dish. I didn't end up doing the side-by-side tasting with the frozen peas, but the fresh peas have to be the way to go. The recipe calls for cooking them in a salt and sugar solution that really brightens up the flavor. Even cold, this is a luxurious soup, made all the more so when you whisk in the truffle oil.

gallery_7851_477_4054.jpg

Appetizer: Dungeness Crab Salad with Cucumber Jelly, Grainy Mustard Vinaigrette, and Frisee Lettuce, page 92

This was the one "miss" of the night. The textures of the whipped mustard cream in the crab and combined with the cucumber gelatin was just plain strange - no other way to put it. jenrus made the comment that she's gotten used to strange preparations as we've eaten our way through various tasting menus, but this was strange in a bad way. It was unexpectedly bland and would have improved quite a bit with the addition of a heavy hand of salt in the gelatin (there isn't any in the recipe) and a lot more mustard in the crab salad. This isn't irredeemable and it is a beautiful dish, but it is certainly unusual.

gallery_7851_477_11878.jpg

Entree: Roulade of Pekin Duck Breast with Creamed Sweet White Corn and Morel Mushroom Sauce, page 172-173

This took a lot of work to put together at the end, and I initially undercooked it significantly. I had to re-wrap it and put it in for another good 8 minutes more than the recipe called for. My guess is that the problem was the cheesecloth. This isn't specified in the recipe, but an eG'er suggested it. It made the roulade easier to roll and unroll, so I think it is worth using it, but adjust your cooking time accordingly. I also should have asked "WWTD (What would Thomas do?)" because I should have made my own "quick duck sauce". The demiglace from d'Artangan (my one cheat) didn't have enough of the natural gelatin that a good stock has and never got thick like it should have.

Because things didn't turn out right at first, I was pretty apprehensive about how it would taste, but that wasn't a problem. The duck was very flavorful and I can only hope I get corn as sweet as this sauce all summer long.

gallery_7851_477_4775.jpg

Cheese: Ashed Chevreaux with Slow Roasted Yellow and Red Beets and Red Beet Vinaigrette, page 239

This was a lot of work - beet juice, roasted beets, beet powder - I spent more time on this cheese course than any other, by far. And of course, I didn't end up finding Yellow beets. But I started with a very nice cheese - an ashed, Humboldt Fog chevreaux. This was like two cheeses in one - a gooey, running outer layer surrounding a tart, almost crumbly fresh chevre in the middle. The beets helped offset the tartness of the cheese. But the beet powder was a waste of time. It didn't add anything to the dish, except a little visually, and certainly wasn't worth frying my microwave for. We both felt this was a better cheese course than we had at either French Laundry or Per Se, which we found to be the weakest course both times.

gallery_7851_477_5248.jpg

Dessert: Lemon Sabayon - Pine Nut Tart with Honeyed Mascarpone Cream, page 294-295

Yes, this was as easy as it looks, although I probably could have cooked the sabayon a few minutes longer. It didn't set as firmly as I would have hoped, making it a little tough to cut. I couldn't get it out of the tart pan whole. But the flavor is sweet and tart and the honeyed cream balanced out the tartness well. Keller says in the book his inspiration for this was a cup of tea. I can see that, but I've never had a cup of tea this rich and good.

gallery_7851_477_11020.jpg

The wines worked well. The white is a very smooth drink. There was some concern about this one matching with the crab, but even though it says "grainy mustard vinaigrette" in the title, there isn't actually any vinegar in the recipe. The red was interesting. My first reaction was that it tasted like cranberry juice, but by my third glass :blink: the character had changed and was not as tart and a little deeper tasting. (see - I never claimed to be Robert Parker).


Edited by bilrus (log)

Bill Russell

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Fantastic photos and notes. Thanks! Where'd you get that soup bowl?!?

That was a souvenir from our meal at French Laundry that jenrus bought me as a gift. It is from Keller's line of China and is the bowl that they use to serve the Oysters and Pearls.

I've had it for two years in our china cabinet and have been waiting for just the right occasion to use it.

It is actually a pretty small bowl - more like an amuse sized serving. My bowl was a little bigger - jenrus got served the dishes that we took pictures of - and I thought the bigger bowl was a little overkill. Keller uses these soups as amuses and I can see why.


Edited by bilrus (log)

Bill Russell

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That tart looks so good!

I am so impressed, it is so inspiring to see someone attempt something so difficult and have it come off so elegantly. Just by reading along I've learned so much, so you must have learned a lot and should feel pretty good about yourself.

Thank you for sharing.

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Well certainly worth the wait. Nice pictures. I had same issue with the tart but I don't know if extending the cooking time would of helped. I thought it would brown too much and ruin it and I could not chance it.

So the unanswered question was the results worth the effort overall?

Will you be pulling together other menus from this cookbook in the future?


**************************************************

Ah, it's been way too long since I did a butt. - Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"

--------------------

One summers evening drunk to hell, I sat there nearly lifeless…Warren

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Well certainly worth the wait. Nice pictures. I had same issue with the tart but I don't know if extending the cooking time would of helped. I thought it would brown too much and ruin it and I could not chance it.

So the unanswered question was the results worth the effort overall?

Will you be pulling together other menus from this cookbook in the future?

I was actually thinking about the cooking time of the sabayon itself, while still in the double boiler.

It was defintely worth it.

I have had a blast doing the shopping, cooking, posting, photographing, discussing and obsessing. And the support and response from everybody on here has been great and unexpected.

I still have a few questions I want to answer in depth, but I am pretty tired and a little tipsy. So I am going to do some more posting tomorrow morning. I want to look at the costs, both in terms of time and money and compare this in my head to the actual experience at the restaurant. And I want to talk about the cookbook itself. And whether I achieved the goals I outlined in my first post on the thread.

So be prepared for more of me blathering on. But not tonight.


Edited by bilrus (log)

Bill Russell

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That was fascinating! I'll be curious to see your tally of expenses, but surely the photos and commentary were the biggest draw here.


Michael aka "Pan

 

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Ah, the joys of EGullet. When I woke up this morning the first thing I thought was "How did Bilrus's dinner turn out??"

everything looks fantastic.

Very inspirational to see someone who is not a professional cook, taking the time and making the effort to do something like this. When I cook from cookbooks, I always make a lot of shortcuts and compromises. It's a good lesson for me to see what one can turn out if one doesn't!

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Congrats bil-, jen-rus. Woke up, said my prayers, rolled out of bed and came to this thread. Look forward to additonal comments this morning. WOW!

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Ah, the joys of EGullet. When I woke up this morning the first thing I thought was "How did Bilrus's dinner turn out??"

Right there with you Chufi.

Bill, congratulations. Everything looked lovely, and your plating was elegant. Make some notes in your book (or on a sheet of paper to tuck in that page) about what worked and what didn't while it's all still fresh. Then the next time you'll be able to tweak the recipes to your taste.

Humbolt Fog is currently our favorite cheese. Now we will have to try it with beets.


Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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Well certainly worth the wait. Nice pictures. I had same issue with the tart but I don't know if extending the cooking time would of helped. I thought it would brown too much and ruin it and I could not chance it.

So the unanswered question was the results worth the effort overall?

Will you be pulling together other menus from this cookbook in the future?

I was actually thinking about the cooking time of the sabayon itself, while still in the double boiler.

It was defintely worth it.

I have had a blast doing the shopping, cooking, posting, photographing, discussing and obsessing. And the support and response from everybody on here has been great and unexpected.

I still have a few questions I want to answer in depth, but I am pretty tired and a little tipsy. So I am going to do some more posting tomorrow morning. I want to look at the costs, both in terms of time and money and compare this in my head to the actual experience at the restaurant. And I want to talk about the cookbook itself. And whether I achieved the goals I outlined in my first post on the thread.

So be prepared for more of me blathering on. But not tonight.

Excellent work -- funny about the cheese course being the most time consuming of all. The peas being "spring in a bowl" are exactly how I feel about them. I think next time you need some unbiased judges to help you eat it, though. :biggrin:

My experience with the lemon tart is (as you suspect) that you need to take a lot of time in the double boiler, getting it as thick as possible, before adding to the crust. I'm always nervous around egges -- afraid the sabiyon will break -- but I think you're pretty safe on a double boiler. If you try to cook it too long under the broiler, the top will char completely, long before the saboyon raises its temperature significantly.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Bill - Your dishes look fantastic! Thomas would be proud!

To elaborate on your findings and impressions:

Your reaction to the crab with cucumber gelee was similar to mine when i first tried it, i thought it was odd and also rather bland. After a few attempts and adjustments, I realized that what needed to gain in flavor was not the cucumber gelee which in my opinion should remain pure and unseasoned (I think Keller is right not to season it). I thought the crab mixture itself needed improvement. So what i did was add to the crab mixture some finely diced radish that i had slightly pickled, and added a little more mustard as you had suggested, I thought it improved the mixture significantly and created a nice contrast between the stronger sweet/acid crab mixture and the milder and refreshing cucumber base.

For the duck, as far as i can recall I followed Keller's instructions for poaching time and did not have any problems. I think I poached it for 7 minutes and even thought it was a little too dry! Strange! (maybe our waters boiled at different temperatures :raz: ) But seriously, I am not sure if the addition of cheesecloth would require adjustments in cooking time since it does not really act as a "protective" layer. Maybe your duck pieces were too thick or the cylinder itself was too thick? One problem I had with this dish was that on the day I made it, I used overly sweet corn which in my opinion killed it a little (it masked the beautiful taste of the morel sauce). I made sure I had a milder corn on the following attempt and it was better.

How did you like the beet reduction with the cheese course? I personaly loved it!! So now I use the same beet recipe as a sauce with other preparations such as venison or even duck breast, it's delicious!!

I hope you will do this again and post it here on Egullet! I generally cook from the book often so i have learned enormously reading through your various posts. Knowing how much time it took you to do all this, I am in awe that you were able to come to your computer and tell it all as you went and in so much detail!!


"A chicken is just an egg's way of making another egg." Samuel Butler

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Bravo, Bill. Thanks for sharing.


Can you pee in the ocean?

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Bill,

This thread belongs in the egullet hall of fame. Thanks for sharing, and congratulations.

The only thing missing was a webcam in your kitchen. Maybe next time? :raz:

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I've put pen to paper and done some estimating (to the best of my memory, since I threw out my receipts) of the cost of the ingredients used in the meal. I'm not going to include the cost of a new microwave for these purposes.

One thing that struck me as I was making my preparations is that there were a number of ingredients where the recipe calls for a small amount of something, but as a home cook, we have to buy the item in relative bulk. For example, the duck is rolled in leaves of chard or savoy cabbage. For my one roulade I made yesterday, I needed ONE leaf. So I spent $2 for a whole bundle of chard for that one leaf. Granted, I now have a whole bundle of chard minus one leaf in my refrigerator, but I think to be fair I need to count that against the cost of this meal. A restaurant of course would probably need to buy several bundles of chard and use them all just to prepare this dish for multiple diners, thereby reducing their per dish food costs. Probably half of the items here fall under that category - the parmeggiano, truffle oil (I actually did happen to have this in my pantry), parsley, dill, chives, daikon, allspice, dill, mustard, mache and mascarpone. And we still have six servings of tart in the kitchen (well, actually five since I am eating a slice for breakfast this morning).

I made this meal for two, but making if for four, for example, would probably only increase the costs a small percentage.

I ended up making five trips to three different grocery stores. But this could have been reduced to three trips if I had better planned my time and menu.

Here is the breakdown of my food costs:

Soup

Peas $9.00

Veg Stock $2.00

Parmeggiano $10.00

Truffle Oil $10.00

$31.00

Crab

Cucumbers $2.00

Gelatin $1.50

Dill $2.00

Cream $1.50

Mustard $2.50

Crab $20.00

Frisee $1.50

Daikon $2.00

$33.00

Duck

Duck $10.00

Allspice $2.00

Chard $2.50

Corn $2.00

Cream $1.50

Morels $10.00

Duck Demiglace $5.00

Shallots $0.50

Chives $1.00

Parsley $1.00

$25.50

Cheese

Beets $4.00

Cheese $3.50

Mache $2.00

$9.50

Tart

Pine Nuts $6.00

Lemons $1.50

Mascarpone $4.00

$11.50

Staples $10.00

Total spent on food $120.50

Wine $60.00

Total spent $180.50

Over the course of five days I figure I spent 10 hours cooking and another 2 and a half hours shopping or driving to stores.

So this certainly wasn't inexpensive in terms of money or time spent. But the cost for two at French Laundry these days, with the wines we bought would probably end up being about $600 including tip.

But the point of making a meal like this at home isn't to duplicate the restaurant experience. Going to French Laundry was preceded by anticipation and the time spent there was as much about the pampering and service and the overall experience as it is about the food. And the food is excellent.

The food in last night's meal was very good, but it almost certainly wasn't done with quite as much "finesse" (to use one of Keller's favorite words) as it would have been at the restaurant. And the pace and flow of the meal was not nearly the relaxing, transporting experience that it would be at the restaurant.

I think the value in this lies more in the goals I set out for myself at the beginning of this thread. They were:

I want to see if the book is really as difficult to use as many have said it is (I'm not doubting that it is, but I want to try it out anyway).

The short answer to this is, no it was not as difficult as I thought it would be going into it. Some things require multiple steps for minimal gain - like the beet powder I mentioned a few posts back. But I think the point of the book and the goal of Keller's philosophy is to take things to their extreme - "So what if it takes an hour and a half to make something you are going to sprinkle on a plate and not eat it or you need to spend a few extra dollars to add 1 teaspoon of an ingredient. If it enhances the experience in the least, then it is worth it." Some might find that a frustrating mantra and I probably would on a daily basis, but every once in a while it is worth the effort.

• I'd like to give my cooking skills a good test - I feel like I've been coasting lately, and want to give myself a challenge.

There was no coasting going on here, that's for sure. I used techniques that I have never or have seldom used, like making the sabayon or the method for cooking the roulade. I've never even made my own whipped cream before - couldn't be easier and I did it twice for this meal. I strained and skimmed more than I ever have. I obsessed over the right consistency of a reduction. Now I am looking forward to going back to my simpler every day style of cooking, but I hope that some of these lessons will make their way into my day-to-day and improve everything I cook.

• I'd like to integrate some of the lessons in the eGci Plating Course into my cooking. In looking back at my posts on the Dinner thread - most of my dinners are of the one-bowl variety - pastas, Asian stir-frys, stews, soups, salads. This is the way I prefer to eat, but it tends to be of the "plop it in the bowl" style of plating.

This was a fun part of this. jenrus and I debated and diagrammed (and even argued) over how to plate some of the dishes We had to wipe up several attempts at plating the beets. That juice is a pain to get clean. I've been posting pictures of my meals to the dinner thread and the Weight Watchers thread for a while now. But it did make me more aware of how my food looks on the plate and also how it photographs (not that that is a big consideration for most home cooks). I also added two of the rectangular plates that I've been coveting to my collection, just for the duck dish.

• And not least, I want to get an appreciation of just how much work does go into a meal like this. I've eaten at both TFL and Per Se (in addition to many other similar places) and this sort of task might help me get more out of those meals and not take them for granted. (Yeah, I know how jaded that sounds - see, I need help here).

I now want to go back to FL desperately. I'm amazed by the amount of thought and work that goes into putting a meal like this, much less a nine course tasting menu, then doing it for 30 or 50 or 100 tables a night, six or seven nights a week. And on top of that the pressure of turning out these complex dishes consistently and excellently all the time is staggering to me.

So, I did get out of the project what I set out to get. Plus I gained confidence in my own cooking, which is something I've lacked in the past.

Would it be worth it for someone else to do this? That's up to you, but it doesn't hurt to try, even in small steps. It doesn't have to be five courses of expensive dishes. Make one dish from this cookbook or any other cookbook that you normally wouldn't because it seems too hard or would take too long or is too far out your ordinary routine. It won't kill you and it may make you appreciate it all that much more.


Edited by bilrus (log)

Bill Russell

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Bill, thanks so much for sharing this entire expereience. Everything looked just super -- only wish we had taste and smell internet!

Sidecar Ron

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You did an amazing job, Bill. Great work! Thank you so much for sharing that with us. I was really happy that you put the cost breakdown at the end and all of your reasons for doing it. I can imagine that you felt pretty good at the end of the meal. Bravo!

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Bravo! Bill. Amazing work.

Would it be worth it for someone else to do this?  That's up to you, but it doesn't hurt to try, even in small steps.  It doesn't have to be five courses of expensive dishes. Make one dish from this cookbook or any other cookbook that you normally wouldn't because it seems too hard or would take too long or is too far out your ordinary routine.  It won't kill you and it may make you appreciate it all that much more.

It's very tempting and easy to use having little kids as an excuse for lazy uninspired meals. Time to get off my ass and follow your example.


Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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