Like a mother-in-law, she has her own, iron-clad way of doing things; she is a little disdainful of time-saving tricks; she is convinced that old-fashioned hard work is good for everyone; she insists that you try everything – even aspic and bone marrow – and dares to look triumphant when you admit that it’s good.
She is challenging; she forces you to acquire new skills and step outside your comfort zone; and – if you succeed – she ultimately rewards you.
I’m not a French chef and I don’t aspire to be one.
I’m a home cook drawn to exotic foods from around the world. I live for blow-your-head-off spiciness. I’m undisciplined and a little lazy. I like near-instant gratification. Although I enjoy watching Julia and Jacques and reading their books, I never cook their recipes. I learned from Julie Powell’s lesson – I don’t need to live it.
But still, when I had a chance to take a French cooking class (one night only!) I thought the belle-mere and I should get to know each other a little bit better.
Although I can’t pretend to have really cooked any of these dishes, I did enjoy watching the real chefs pull it together. And – armed with lots of information on how to “cheat” my way to close-enough, I might even prepare some of these dishes on my own.
Chestnut Soup with Madeira
I’ve never really eaten chestnuts before. Sure, I sing the song during Christmas but that’s about it. So my expectations were pretty low when I saw this soup on our to-do list.
The other students and I watched as the sous-chefs painstakingly picked apart roasted chestnuts to get enough for soup for 25.
As they slit into the shiny (and slippery) roasted chestnuts with extremely sharp knives, I closely examined the cut I had earned just a few days before trying to slice open an English muffin.
I knew – no matter how fantastic this soup was, and it was fantastic – that I would never prepare it myself. I just don’t have good enough insurance (or hand-eye coordination). But the chef assured me that frozen chestnuts or canned chestnuts would produce roughly the same result.
I really like Salade Nicoise and I have to say I was embarrassingly excited to make the vinaigrette for this dish. I would definitely make this for my family.
Coq au Vin
This classic dish was delicious and looked relatively easy to make (on the French scale, at least). I really loved the mushrooms and pearl onions we sauteed in bacon fat as a side dish.
Pot au Feu
As good as it was, I will not be making pot au feu for the next big family get-together. Too many “interesting” ingredients such as bones and oxtail. But I would definitely order it in a restaurant!
After this feast, who would still have room for dessert? It turns out, I did. By the way, I think Clafoutis would be a great name for a child of a celebrity.
By the end of the night I had reached an agreement with the belle-mere. All that was left was the bon digestion!