Thursday, November 12, 2009


It's already Thursday! I got up this morning and set out to make brown yeast bread, steak with bearnaise sauce, cauliflower gratin, and a starter plate of various smoked fish. The bread was happily cooking in the oven when I realized that I had added a teaspoon of sugar instead of a teaspoon of salt. I didn't think this was a big deal until I tasted the bland dog food loaf that came out of the oven. I won't make that mistake again (I hope)!

The bearnaise sauce was a little bit trickier than the hollandaise, because you start with a base of reduced white wine, tarragon vinegar, and chopped shallots. The bits of shallots totally threw me off, because they made the sauce look like it was curdling when it wasn't. These sauces will play with your head! It took me two tries to get an emulsified sauce, which sat happily in a warm Pyrex jug until 30 seconds before I was going to serve it. It was as if the sauce heard me call my teacher over for tasting, saw me assemble the steak on the serving plate, and then split for a good laugh. I could have killed it! But with a couple teaspoons of cold water and a good beating with a whisk, it was back in business. Another remedy: when your bearnaise or hollandaise really needs to be shocked back to life, apparently throwing it in a blender can have defibrillator effect.

We carried on to the afternoon demonstration, where Rory walked us through flaky pastry (T-t-t-tedious!), cheese souffles, Pate de Campagne (a terrine smorgasborg of minced pork, spices, chicken liver, ham, and pistachios), various chutneys, tomato and fennel bread, and dessert crepes. After tasting, we had another evening wine tasting lecture with good ol' Colm McCan (Ballymaloe House Somellier) and Jean Smullen ( A wine consultant, she specializes in Chilean and New Zealand wines.

We tasted three wines from New Zealand (a Sauvignon Blanc, a Pinot Noir, and a Syrah) and three wines from Chile (a Chardonnay, a Carmenere, and a Cabernet Sauvignon). New Zealand is famous for their Sauvignon Blanc, and "nothing says Chile quite like a Carmenere" (-Jean). As far as regions go, Hawkes Bay is the backbone of the New Zealand wine industry on the north island, and Marlborough on the south island puts out some great Sauvignon Blancs. In Chile, keep your eye out for whites from the Casablanca, the Limari, and the Bio Bio Valleys. Chilean reds from the Colchagua Valley won't disappoint.

Get your tips!

- "You will probably only make flaky pastry once in your life" -Rory. It is harder to make than puff pastry, and it does not have as good a result (it's the "poor man's puff pastry"). But we learned the technique anyway.

- A "terrine" is something made in a rectangular shaped container, often layered and then turned out for slicing and serving. It does not always have to contain pate, although it often does.

- Nutmeg should never be the main flavor. It is best as an afterthought.

- Another cookbook for your library: Michel Guerard's Cuisine Gourmande.

- Cover a pot with a Pyrex plate rather than its lid and you'll be less likely to forget about it. This is useful when you're making things that need some regular stirring.

- When making chutney's, "on the surface, all can appear calm, but underneath, they can be clinging to the pan with the determination of a whelk" (-Rory). Keep stirring, especially when they start to reduce!

- Cheddar cheese souffles do not rise as much as the traditional Gruyere and Parmesan souffle.

- Rumor has it that beating egg whites in a copper bowl gives you the maximum volume.

- When tasting wine, let it roll around all different parts of your tongue. The tip of your tongue will pick up the sweetness, the sides will pick up the acidity, and the back will tell you the "length" of the wine (i.e. how long the flavor sticks around after you swallow).

- The tannins in the wine are what give you that drying feeling on your teeth. A wine high in tannins will seem to coat your front teeth and gums (so if you are walking around with red teeth late night at a party, blame it on the tannins).

- "There are two types of women in this world: Chardonnay women and Sauvignon Blanc women" (- Jean). Chardonnay women don't like acidity, while Sauvignon Blanc women do. People (including me) often say that they like "dry white wine", when what we really mean is a white with more acidity (like Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling). You can feel it on the sides of your tongue.

- Miles, the main character in the movie Sideways, is a perfect personification of his favorite grape variety: Pinot Noir. He is difficult, neurotic, and hard to please. His famous "I am NOT drinking any effing merlot!" caused merlot sales to plummet in the States and abroad (they called it "the Sideways Effect"). Funnily enough, his coveted bottle of Cheval Blanc which he finally opens at the end of the movie (and drinks in a paper cup at a burger joint) is made from mostly Merlot grapes.

- A funny saying: If you want to make a small fortune in the wine trade, start with a very large one.

- Wines high in tannins are meant to be enjoyed with food. Try one without food and try one with a nice piece of meat - there is an incredible difference!

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