Hey hey hey! Today is a good day. Last week, I was sidelined by a horrible fever and ear infection (yes, I have the immune system of an eight-year-old). On Sunday, the fog lifted and oh, what a brave new world it is. I’m celebrating by hosting another Instagram giveaway, this time of a gorgeous new French cookbook, S’Cook: The Complete Cookery Course, by Michelin-starred French chef Anne-Sophie Pic (a $60 value)! Although Chef Pic has established quite an amazing reputation in France, she’s just started to break through in the U.S. with S’Cook, which is her first English-language cookbook.
I really liked this cookbook from the second I laid my hands on it. It’s chock full of recipes that, taken together, appear to form the basis of modern French cuisine. The photography is beautiful, and the cookbook is organized thoughtfully into five sections of recipes: Entertaining, Everyday, Classics, Homemade and For Children. I loved the section for children especially. It’s nice to see an expert in haute cuisine think about how to make beautiful food for kids. Each section also has breakaway sections with step-by-step photos on how to accomplish basics in French cuisine, like how to make melba toast or a fundamental vegetable stock. I tested three recipes to see whether I could make Chef Pic’s dishes sing in my home kitchen.
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The first recipe, Grandma Suzanne’s stuffed tomatoes, was from the “For Children” section. Chef Pic’s notes on the recipe say that these stuffed tomatoes are her mother’s recipe, and the stuffing is made with ground lamb and ham. I thought my kids might love the little tomatoes topped with their own “hats,” so I set out to make it on a weeknight. The prep time is a stated 40 minutes, with a 30 minute cooking time, so for the average working mom, this actually might not be a good weeknight meal unless you prepped and stuffed the tomatoes ahead of time and kept them in the ‘fridge until after work.
As soon as I started prepping my recipe, I hit a little roadblock. The measurements in Chef Pic’s cookbook are also esoteric for an American cook, meaning that she generally uses ounces as opposed to “cups” as her unit of measure. The problem with this, of course, is that even cooks who are comfortable in the kitchen might not know how to eyeball 8 1/2 ounces of ground lamb meat or 3 1/2 ounces of ham, which is what the recipe calls for. I mean, I know there’s Google to convert these measurements into cups/tablespoons/teaspoons, but who has time for that, especially when this is supposed to be an “easy” recipe? Instead, I found myself relying heavily on my food scale to make sure I got the measurements just right (I mean, surely there’s a reason for that extra 1/2 ounce of ham and lamb, right?)
Measurement fretting aside, my tomatoes emerged after their 30 minutes in the oven glistening with tomato juices. I garnished our tomatoes with springs of fresh Italian parsley from our garden and served them anxiously to the kids. Would they love them? See below for your answer:
That would be a resounding yes. The tomatoes were a fun new way of packaging their dinner, and the kids loved scooping out the juicy lamb, ham and mushroom insides. I served the tomatoes with crusty bread, and the kids also loved spooning out bits of tomato and lamb and spreading it onto their baguette. Mais oui — perhaps we can be French after all, non?
The second dish I attempted was from the Entertaining section. I picked the roast duck with black cherry compote because it just seemed so fancy — so different from what I’d usually serve at a dinner party, and also a good choice for summer, what with all the cherries in season. But in order to make this dish, I needed to find fresh duck breast, which isn’t carried in our everyday grocery store, or Whole Foods, or Trader Joe’s. I looked for fresh duck breast for nearly a week before I found it at my good ol’ standby, Wegman’s. Ahh, Wegman’s. You never let me down.
The stated prep time for this recipe was 25 minutes, with only a total of 22 minutes required for the duck breast and compote. I found this calculated time to be woefully inadequate because it didn’t factor in the sweetcorn blinis (the little round pancakes you see in the photo above). Making these blinis tacked on a full extra 30 minutes, especially since they’re meant to be small and delicate (about 2.5-3 inches in diameter). I have to tell you that for each of those tiny, delicate blinis you see in my photos there were at least two that were large and misshapen, about the size of my fist. It wasn’t a proud moment.
But the duck — oh, this duck dish. It was heavenly. The duck fat rendered just enough to form a blistery crust, and Chef Pic’s cooking instructions produced a marvelously medium-rare duck breast that sliced like butter. The cherry compote was tart and heavenly. Even the fluffy, slightly sweet blinis made sense. Well, they kind of made sense. I ended up with a massive number of leftover blinis, so many that the hubby wondered if maybe we could re-purpose them with maple syrup for breakfast the next morning. We did, and it worked.
The last dish I made from S’Cook were the Saint-Marcellin cheese croquettes. These little fried balls of cheese, or cromesquis croquettes, were billed as part of “the great French culinary tradition.” Well, shoot. That means I basically had to make them, right? They looked delightful in the book, with one broken in half and cheese oozing everywhere. I couldn’t wait to make these for a party, or for a Tuesday night to celebrate absolutely nothing. I imagined Ge Ge (my four-year-old son) toasting my success, then washing his down with a cup of milk. Yes, these croquettes had to be made.
Before I could start deep-frying cheese to my heart’s content, though, I ran into issues. As it turns out, Saint-Marcellin cheeses, which are described as tiny cheeses akin to brie, weren’t available for purchase anywhere near my house. Trust me, I looked. I asked every cheese section, gourmet food store, and grocery store in the area if they carried Saint-Marcellin. After a few weeks of searching, I gave up, settling instead for a nice hunk of Delice de Bourgogne. Have you had Delice de Bourgogne? It’s available at both Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, and it’s creamier and softer than brie. It’s earthy and flavorful and completely addictive. I figured that if I loved Delice de Bourgogne on its own, I’d probably love it deep-fried.
The issues and the drama with these cheese croquettes didn’t stop there. The prep and cook time for this recipe was stated at a total of 50 minutes, with several hours needed for chilling AND freezing. Yes, you read that right. Plus, I needed hemispheric molds to freeze the cheese filling (thanks, Amazon.com). When it came time to batter the cheese filling, the recipe called for English breadcrumbs, which requires five different alternating dishes of flour, bread crumbs and egg. It’s a heady recipe not meant for beginner home cooks.
But … but. By the end of the process, I had a handful of beautiful, perfectly round cheese croquettes that burst with oozing, cheesy goodness as soon as you bit into them. Ge Ge clamored for his, nearly bulldozing his sister on his way to the table to grab one and shove it in his mouth in one giant bite. The cheese oozed from his lips and dribbled down his chin. “Mommy, what is this? Why is there so much melted cheese coming out of my mouth and crunchy stuff too?!! THIS IS AMAZING!”
Of course, he said all of this while he was eating it, so it was kind of muffled with crumbs and cheese. We all agreed — the croquettes were lovely. Were they worth the three days it took me to make them? Yes, absolutely. But I’m not sure I’ll be doing it again anytime soon. I have a about a hundred other recipes to try out in S’Cook, and I can’t wait.