Tuesday, October 13, 2009

PEARS AND PEPIN

September felt fast and furious and full of change. I swear there were more squirrels, acorns, and spiders than ever.  I now have rats in my attic. We all have colds and coughs. I'm sad to buy my last strawberries and tomatoes at the farmers' market. I'm never ready for fall.

Summer produce needs so little attention. Sliced tomatoes with salt, oil and vinegar plus a chunk of cheese and some bread. There's your meal. Baby greens with vinaigrette plus prosciutto and melon. Another meal. Fall and winter cooking require so much more stewing, braising, roasting, baking and TIME.

The cookbook we're looking at this week is "Jacques Pepin's Complete Techniques." This book is a combination and reorganization of two of his classic cookbooks: "La Technique" and "La Methode." I love the practical nature of this book. But if I didn't know how well respected he is as a chef and a teacher I might not have picked it up.  This book combines traditional French dishes with slightly fuzzy black and white technical photographs.

FIRST LESSON: A STUNNING PHOTO IN A COOKBOOK MIGHT INSPIRE YOU TO MAKE A RECIPE BUT IT DOES NOT TEACH YOU HOW TO COOK.

What Pepin does so brilliantly is he includes photos of most of the steps in each recipe. Describing in words how to fold parchment paper into a cornet (paper cone) for piping icing is close to impossible. But Pepin's written steps combined with 13 photographs of the parchment cone in all of its stages make it very clear. Culinary students use books like these in school, but it's not so common for the home cook. Pepin has compiled what he deems to be the essential techniques of cooking.  The book teaches you how to:
  • clean a leek
  • sharpen a knife
  • carve a rack of lamb
  • kill a lobster
  • poach an egg
  • carve a mushroom fish AND a cucumber turtle
  • make chocolate bark
  • stuff a pig's foot
  • make corn crepes
  • shop for broccoli
  • stuff a flank steak 
  • chop garlic
  • roll headcheese
  • make a flower vase out of a squash
  • make a croquembouche
  • turn a napkin into a gondola
Plus 293 more techniques.

Two weeks ago my friend Shannon gave me a bag of pears from her tree. She warned me about them. They ripen slowly and have a tough skin. Every fall she picks them and places them on a tray in the basement and forgets about them. She discovers them rotten a few weeks later and throws them out. I've had mine in the coat closet for 2 weeks. The stem ends are tender to the touch and I put them in a bowl so we can look at them. I like a challenge. I'm going to try to cook something good with them.
Dash, Bella and I take the dog for a walk and we run into our neighbors. They invite us to dinner. I offer to bring dessert. It has to be a Pepin recipe and I really want to do something with pears. There's only one pear recipe in the book so we don't have a choice. We're going to make Pears in Caramel on Puff Paste (Feuillete de Poires au Caramel, technique # 278, p. 734).

Puff paste. Puff pastry. Pate feuillete. Pate feuilletage. All the same. It's made up of equal parts flour and butter. You make a dough with flour and water called detrempe. In the photo below (at Tavern in Los Angeles), the chef is encasing the butter block in the detrempe.
This is followed by folding, rolling, chilling, and resting. Repeat 6 times or so. Temperature of the air and the ingredients, humidity, and rolling pin skills will all affect the final outcome. In the oven the butter melts and the steam causes the layers to separate and rise creating the thousand-layered effect. Pepin says: "Puff paste, or feuilletage, is the hardest dough to make, and it has its pitfalls even for professionals."

Look what Dash and I make. Aren't they gorgeous?
 
I know it looks like we spent the whole day folding, rolling, chilling and resting (six times) to make these gorgeous pastries.

SECOND LESSON: TWO-YEAR OLDS CAN'T MAKE PUFF PASTRY DOUGH FROM SCRATCH. BUY IT FROZEN.

You couldn't pay me to make puff pastry dough from scratch with my son. I've got frozen Dufour puff pastry dough that's been sitting in my freezer for a year. It's ready to roll out in about an hour.

I learn from Pepin that by rolling out the puff pastry with sugar and cutting it into ovals we are making pastries called carolines. Dash can't wait to get his hands on the sugar.
The sugar keeps the dough from sticking to the counter and the rolling pin. We roll it out, scatter more sugar over the dough, fold it up like a letter, and roll it out again.

Dash chooses the cookie cutters that we will use to cut out the puff pastry. Big heart, little heart, butterfly. We don't have an oval cookie cutter but we still want to call them carolines.

 Time to cut out the carolines.

THIRD LESSON: WHEN YOUR KIDS STOP LISTENING, GIVE THEM  MINI TIMEOUTS. DRAG THEM 3 FEET AWAY FROM THE COOKING SPACE BUT MAKE SURE THEY CAN SEE WHAT THEY'RE MISSING.

Me: You CANNOT lick the sugar off the counter.
Dash: I wanna listen.
 
Me: Are you a big boy?
Dash: I'm not a big boy. I'm Dashiell.

Look at those dirty fingernails.
FOURTH LESSON: WHEN YOU'RE DONE CUTTING OUT WHAT YOU NEED, GIVE YOUR KIDS SCRAPS TO SQUEEZE, STRETCH, CUT AND EAT. 
FIFTH LESSON: KNOW THAT YOU ARE GOING TO SACRIFICE A PEAR OR TWO. IT'S HARD FOR TWO-YEARS OLDS TO PEEL PEARS AND CORE THEM WITH A MELON BALLER.
SIXTH LESSON: GIVE YOUR KIDS EASY TASKS LIKE COMPOSTING.
I make some caramel, swirl the pears around, turn the heat down, and put on the lid.
Pepin says that the pears should take about 5 minutes to soften. He says to be careful because you don't want them to fall apart. I check after 5 minutes. Hard as a rock. Again after 10 minutes. Still hard. I'm worried the caramel is going to burn. I turn the heat down some more. 30 minutes later the pears are mostly hard with a few soft spots. Shannon warned me about these crazy pears.

SEVENTH LESSON: DON'T ASSUME THAT HALF AND HALF IS A GOOD REPLACEMENT FOR HEAVY CREAM.

I don't have any more time to cook the pears. Time to finish the sauce. I mix in some half and half because I'm out of heavy cream. Instant curdled caramel sauce. The caramel sauce that has been cooking for half-an-hour doesn't react well with the half and half. Because cream has more fat it is less likely to cause the sauce to curdle. Yuck. I scrape the curdles off of each pear and strain the sauce. A bit better.

Pepin says to take the pears off the heat and "cool until cool."
 Carolines and pears with curdled caramel sauce wrapped and ready to go.
My neighbor Laurel is incredibly organized. We arrive and a printout of Pasta Carbonara is in the recipe stand. The salad greens are washed. She has a squeeze bottle of homemade salad dressing ready to go. The water is boiling.

Dinner outside. Gin and tonics. Delicious pasta. Great wine. Four kids. Three adults. Not too crazy.

Bella and her friend Jacob plate all of our desserts. Carolines topped with sliced pears and ice cream.
  • Carolines: Beautiful, light and delicous.
  • Pears: Too sweet from stewing in the caramel for so long. Jacob very politely passes his serving back to Bella.
  • Haagen-Dazs Brown Sugar Ice cream: Pretty perfect.

Just look at those ice cream faces.
I've just learned that Shannon is going to replace her pear tree with a fig tree.

And I just noticed that Pepin's technique #270 is for FAST Puff Pastry.

P.S.: This week's leftovers? We're going to keep our last caroline and use it as a Christmas ornament. Next week: recipes from the amazing Elizabeth David.

15 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  4. You are outrageous!

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  5. sorry, ms. mccune. we're having technical difficulties with the comment posting function. don't take it personally.

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  6. ms. mccune is checking up on you... which reminds me i need to check up on her one of these darn days. hi maryanne.
    phyllis: what a brilliant mom you are.
    i wonder how your friends liked the picture of dirty fingernails on their dessert.

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  7. anonymous=margi who can't seem to post from texas with a name

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  8. Your friends are big believers in dirty fingernails. Based on the photo of his shorts, one of your friends is pretty sure he had dirty fingernails while eating the dessert, too.

    Speaking of dirty, the same friend is dying to know what Marianne said to offend the blogosphere gods...

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  9. BTW, phyllis, stroll down the block anytime you want to borrow our 1976 copy of La Technique! Someone should use it. I always liked the how-to-kill-a-lobster lesson best...

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  10. marianne was just doing a test for me last night because most people are unable to post comments. very frustrating. i think the very offensive comment i deleted went something like this: "testing 1, 2, 3." i thought it would disappear altogether but it left her name behind. so she called me a biatch.

    btw, are ya'll posting as anonymous because it won't let you use a name? or are you just hiding your identities? there are so many bugs in blogspot's comment widget. let me know if it's not working.

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  11. Phyllis, your posts continue to inspire me! Each week I so look forward to reading your newest blog, knowing that I will be wow-ed by your incredible cooking talents and photography skills, laugh over and over at your jokes and slight mishaps, and be awed by your ability to juggle so many things, and somehow produce these phenomenal meals. Can you teach me, please?

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  12. Thanks for posting a thorough, honest and entertaining review! We linked to your excellent post on our blog, *Product Review Round-Up* under the category of Books. The link is embedded in this listing:

    11/9 NEW: Beautiful foodie blog Dash & Bella reviews a Jacques Pepin cookbook


    Again, many thanks!

    Happy Trails to you,
    Grace and Tiffany
    The Uncommon Cowgirls of Product Review Round-Up
    http://productreviewroundup.com

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  13. Wow! I have a 2.5year old daughter who always wants to cook with me and after reading your post I feel I should be letting her do more....and I'm normally the one pushing the boundaries of freedom. You're a great inspiration. Thx for the lessons. Valuable!

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