I like cooking, and most nights of the week I eat at home. When I am dining solo, my meals are usually veggie based and revolve around stir fries, soups, wine, cheese. Something comes alive when guests dance into the picture. Suddenly, a meal is created, a shared concoction bringing out dreams of flavor profile and different sensations on the palette. Every Monday, the guy and I share a meal at my place. This has occurred without interruption (save for traveling holidays and horrific work demands), and won me a heart (thank you Great Britain again for your lovely phrases turned to true philosophical experiences). Monday meals produced numerous successes and only a few failures (the flaming hot popcorn incident of Fall 2011 occurred on a sunday, mind you).
Always, I look forward to the preparation and the indulgence of this meal. Eating alone often is about fuel and routine rather than pleasure and ingenuity. Think cranberry apple wild rice, peach and goat cheese pizza, pumpkin blue cheese flans.
Most of my good friends love sharing with me as well. I get a kick when others share something with me and like to create gatherings centered around dishes. In the past two months, I’ve been whipping up eggs, scraping rendered lard from pressed meats, spinning out long lengths of stretchy homemade dough, watching souffles rise…and fall.
You see, I engineered a few of my favorite pals to band together for a little “cooking club.” Big Mac and Big Pink love to taste. Their big personalities creative big sparks in my big kitchen. My big enthusiasm to learn, and to teach (“it means PUFFED UP!” I announced heartedly while pointing out my successful Cointreu soufflé) mingled enough to create a vision for a cooking club…one clearly meant to TEACH US NEW SKILLS.
Of course, I batted first. We were tackling the Egg, and the Egg in the French Way. But as long as we were going French, why not take it up a notch and attempt to produce a homemade pate. Fois Grois (80% liver according to French Standard) is a type of pate, which really is a pressed terrine or smashed plate of meat or vegetables prepared with highly flavored ingredients. So we met a few days before and prepared the country pate and allowed it to set for a few days before savouring at our meeting.
But truly, the egg was king at this club meeting. The big test was to create a perfectly poached egg. Understanding how heat and acid denatures the protein in a egg, causing the proteins to fold back on each other and harden the whites, was key. And seeing how the proteins shifted in durability due to aging. We purchased eggs from the farmer’s market ($3 for 6 of them) and from the commissary ($1.50 for a dozen?) to compare the test. Just look at that color! It was TOOOOO easy to tell visually the difference, and the taste of the fresh egg blew the older ones out of the water.
We tried boiling them in vinegar, in vermouth, and with or without salt. For 2 minutes to 3 minutes. In a large pot and a small one. What we found was that the freshest egg, in a large pot seasoned with vermouth, with two other eggs (three at most, if you have more, some are at risk for over cooking) for 2 minutes resulted in the perfect egg.
Homemade Hollandaise was also created. This classic sauce was the highlight of French cuisine in the 18th century, named for Holland, who exported the best butter and eggs. It is butter sauce, thickened with egg.
Oh, and did I mention that three days prior our trio met together to mash up a homemade pork pate? Oh, yes we did. Complete with a cognac reduction and wrapped in bacon, then weighted down and chilled for three days, imagine our surprise three days later to unwrap in anticipation the little bundles of preserved spreadable edible natural fat enhanced procured meat. Not super pleasurable for MY taste (Pride, and prejudice against meat in general) won out in producing this recipe.
For dessert, oh my!, we produced my new favorite dish…souffle. I had been practicing the art of the soufflé for a few weeks now. I am a huge fan of cheese soufflés with gruyere cheese and bacon salt. This was my first dessert soufflé, and man oh man, whether it was the orange laced flavor of the liquor Cointreau or the little amaretto cookie tucked inside, I ate almost two of these babies. Want to know something about soufflés? They are durable. Hand beat those eggs and fill the cup 3/4 full, and you won’t be dissatisfied.
What’s next..Italy! Homemade pasta, and wedding soup and caccitorre! This little bit half pint (my club name) is gearing up for teacher’s pet award indeed!
The thing is, we all need clubs…don’t, we?