This week's lesson was by far the hardest and our results were mixed, but not because the recipes were bad. The recipes were just fine and I have been so pleased to read in a flurry of emails that several of my fellow Whisk Wednesdays members had great results from their efforts and thought the soup was delicious. I think everyone probably felt that the paillettes were were delicious - where can you go wrong with puff pastry and grated fresh Parmesan?
I know exactly where we went wrong with the soup. Billy Bi (pronounced "Billy Bee" and named by chef Louis Barthe at Maxim's in Paris after restaurant patron William "Billy" Brand) calls for mussels, which are not exactly thick on the ground in my little blue collar city. I was thrilled to find 2 pounds of frozen mussels from Prince Edward Island for $5.99, which I didn't feel was a bad price for a dinner component, in the seafood case at Meijer; they were pre-cleaned and pre-cooked and I felt that I'd rather handily killed two (pounds of) mussels with one fishing net or however you'd prefer to state that.
Did you catch the word "cooked" in that last paragraph?
It turns out that one of the most essential parts of this recipe was the cooking of the mussels so that their juices could be used to add a layer of flavor dimension to the soup. Without those juices, the girls and I wound up with bowls full of pleasantly flavored creamy broth. It smelled fantastic, but the mere aroma didn't translate to the taste. It was too bad.
If we have an "exotic" seafood in some other recipe, I think I'll definitely make the drive over to Kayte's city (where the girls and I do so many other things, so it will be easy to combine several errands and save gas) and go to see her new friend, the fishmonger, and get the real, fresh deal. One of the things that really stings about this recipe is that Kayte's two pounds of fresh mussels cost less than my two pounds frozen!
One thing I enjoyed about this recipe was removing the mussels from their shells, which were the most intriguing indigo-black with pearly pale blue interiors - beautiful. The mussels themselves were ugly little buggers and Meelyn sat flinching on the chair across the table from me, uttering little horrified screams.
"Why are they that awful color?" she asked, shuddering.
"Because God is the artist of all artists and that's how he made them." I flicked another mussel out of its shell with a spoon and Meelyn recoiled when it landed in my bowl with a slight splash.
"I don't like this art."
"Maybe this is art that has to be tasted to be appreciated," I mused, throwing a lovely shell into the wastebasket.
Sad, sad. It didn't happen. Everything went off just the way it should have -- the herbs and wine, the roux with the cooking liquid added and then the cream poured in -- I was very pleased, until I took that first taste.
Swallowing, I said hesitantly, "I think it needs salt."
Meelyn tasted, then Aisling. "More salt, definitely," they agreed.
I added more and gave the soup kettle a stir, then tasted a second time. "I think it still needs more."
The girls agreed, so we went another round. Finally, Meelyn said, "You know, I think it doesn't really taste like much of anything. Except maybe cream."
I knew my husband would be very disappointed if I offered him a bowl of warm herbed cream after twelve hours at work, so I hustled some leftovers out of the fridge and served barbecue sandwiches, potato salad and green beans instead. *sob!*
But then there are the paillettes, the cheese straws. Shari said we didn't have to make the cheese straws for this assignment if we didn't want to. She'd already made them in a previous lesson (I jumped into Whisk Wednesdays at Lesson 12) and didn't intend to make them again. I, who have never even made a pie crust in my entire life, thought I'd go ahead and give them a whirl. Or maybe a "roll" would be more accurate. Anyhoo, the puff pastry doesn't call for any exotic ingredients, just flour, butter, and some egg, basically. I had everything I needed already on hand, so I set forth.
I had to scrub down my kitchen counter to roll the pastry on. Before I started, I wet two tea towels and put them in the freezer for fifteen minutes to make the counter nice and cool, which I believe has something to do with the pastry not getting all hot and sticky. In this weather, I could understand perfectly. Many's the time I've wished I could lay my hot and sticky body on a nice cool counter, although come to think of it, don't they do that at the morgue?
Forget I said that.
I measured out the flours and made a little well in the center as Le Cordon Bleu at Home instructed me to do; the only thing bad that happened in the making of the puff pastry was when my liquidy ingredients naughtily overflowed and attempted to frolic all over my counter and run off into the utensil drawer. I firmly put a stop to that and mixed them up with the flour and started rolling.
After that initial rollout, the dough had to be wrapped and put in the fridge for 30 minutes to allow it to rest. Cooling the dough helps it lose its elasticity: the elasticity is what makes the dough tough. (Isn't it very strange to see the words "dough" and "tough" right next to each other and contemplate their pronunciations? It isn't? Okay, then. Never mind.) The butter had to be softened by placing it between two pieces of parchment or waxed paper and pounding it with the rolling pin until it was the consistency of the dough. Aisling and I had a great deal of fun doing that.
After abusing the butter, we shaped it like the dough we'd just rolled out -- into a rectangle. Then began the process I really enjoyed, which was rolling the dough, folding and turning it, refrigerating it after each two rolls-and-turns. I can't really explain why I found that to be so entertaining, but I told Kayte in an email that I was so proud of that pastry, I was practically cooing babyluv at it each time I passed the fridge.
When we made the cheese sticks, the only mistake I made (other than not having an egg for the glaze, drat it all) was in not separating the sticks in the middle of my baking sheet a little better. The ones in the middle, because they were crammed in so tightly, didn't have enough room to puff up like the ones on the outer edges. But I'm happy to report that being squashed in closely didn't affect their taste.
"Thede theez thicks are good evn do they're nod puvvy!" I said indistinctly as I carried a little tray of cheesy paillettes into the dining room, spraying my family with a delicate rain of flaky crumbs.
Julia Child states that the most important part of cooking is tasting what you've made and I believe her.
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