Doing the Laundry

So, this all started when our friend, Neta, bought a coffee table cookbook.  Not just any cookbook.  Thomas Keller’s French Laundry cookbook.  Have you seen it?  It’s huge in size and Amazon probably charges extra to ship it…it is that big.

Well, Neta decided to sit down and read it.  And as she read she decided that, “wouldn’t it be fun to have a French Laundry Dinner where couples were assigned recipes from the book and I’d do the main course, and of course we would pair each course with wine?”

Yep.  That’s how it all started.  Well, talk is cheap.  I’ve been on the planning end of cooking parties that never materialized.  So, agreement was just that.  Agreement.  Would it happen?  Probably not.  Only nobody told Neta.

Now for those not in the know, Thomas Keller is like one of the best chefs in the world.  His French Laundry Restaurant is located in Napa, heart of the rich and famous wineries.  To wine lovers, Napa is the wine country in California.  Wine Spectator highlights wine from Napa constantly.  They rarely mention Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Amador, Temecula…other wine growing regions in California.  Nope.  It’s all about Napa.  

But I digress.  A prix fixe dinner at the French Laundry will run you about $280 today and that’s without the wine.  And we know why.  Everything Thomas Keller does is extremely labor intensive.  OMG.  Who could even think this stuff up?  Guess that’s the other reason it’s so expensive.

Well, then.  Here we were.  Neta and her idea of having a French Laundry dinner.  Most of us thinking it wouldn’t happen.  But, the phone rang.

Neta says, “would you like to help me publish the menus and ask for participants from our Winers and Diners gourmet dinner group?”

“Well, okay.  I could do that.”  Just like that I lost my mind and said yes.

As luck would have it, Neta had developed not one, but two menus because she could only seat 10 comfortably at her dining room table and she “just knew” that everyone would want to do this.  Everyone in this case is 16 people that are members of our gourmet dinner club.

Let me digress.  We have a dinner group that has been in existence more or less for 4 or 5 years.  There are 8 couples, 16 people.  Three couples host a dinner within a two month window that they are assigned.  i.e. Jan./Feb.  Those three couple have three other couples that are assigned to their dinner party (assigned by the dinner club leaders).  Therefore three different groups of 8 eat together once every other month.  They are never the same groupings.  We try to shake it up so the groups are different.  It’s fun that way.

It is incumbent on the host couple to decide the theme of the dinner and then they either assign dishes (you bring appetizer), provide a recipe to be cooked, or ask for volunteers of the attendees what they would like to bring and then work it out from there.  What could go wrong?  Always something.  But that’s part of the fun.  Like one time, I assigned recipes out of Susan Goin’s cookbook.  Her recipes are for 6.  They could probably feed 12.  So, we had so much food that by the time we got to the main course, everyone was too full to eat it.  It was fabulous anyway.  

So, back to the story.  Neta came over, I typed up the menus and an invitation (aka a call to arms) was issued.  

This was dinner number two.

Cornets:  Salmon Tartare with Sweet Red Onion Creme Fraiche

Shrimp with Avocado Salsa

Ashed Chevreaux with Slow-Roasted Yellow and Red Beets and Red Beet Vinaigrette

Citrus-Marinated Salmon with a Confit of Navel Oranges, Beluga Caviar, and Pea Shoot Coulis

Roasted Rib Steak with Golden Chanterelles, Pommes Anna, and Bordelaise Sauce

Whipped Brie de Meaux en Feuillete with 
Tellicherry Pepper and Baby Mache

Ile Flottante
Slow-Baked Meringues with Creme Anglaise and Bittersweet Chocolate

Here’s the menu for the first dinner

French Laundry Dinner

June 5th menu


Gruyere cheese gougere
shrimp with Avocado Salsa


Puree of English Pea Soup with White Truffle oil and Parmesan Crisps


Salad of Petite Summer Tomatoes


Pan Roasted Striped Bass with Artichoke Ravioli


Double Rib Lamb Chops with Cassoulet of Summer Beans and Rosemary


Strawberry Sorbet Shortcake

So, the stage was set.  Would could possibly go wrong?  There were volunteers for every course (some people did two items).

Did I mention that we are all amateurs.  And did I mention that we are extremely lucky to live in California by the ocean and near growing fields of veggies and trees of fruit and all things wonderful?  In other words, I don’t recommend this in Iowa or places that are land-locked and that don’t have fabulous fruits and veggies because you’ll have to spend a fortune air expressing all the ingredients you’ll need.  It could cost hundreds.  As it was, we Californians had issues.  Thomas called for truffles (the kind found by pigs).  Not in season.  Thomas called for chervil.  None to be found.  As Margaret stated in her email to me after the dinner, “Locally Available.  Salmon season has been very difficult locally.  We got no guarantee from Captain Mark that Salmon would we available.  Alas we ordered but had little hope.  We purchased some Pacific Wild Salmon from Costco (Mon Dieu!) BUT miracle of miracles, Mark T called on Saturday morning and a boat had come in with six King Salmon (the best ones!) and we were spared the embarrassment of saying our fish came from a Box Store.”

And Margaret continued, “The directions about squaring off the round end of the celery and flattening the celery, then putting it longitudinally through the mandolin were ridiculous.  Perhaps if you did not use organic celery like we did, it would be possible. But organic celery is not fat, so the long slices were holey.  Cette domage!  We did manage to make the little nests (celery nests, OMG)  and they were a wonderful green color with the Salmon but what effort for a bit of eye candy!  That took longer than everything else combined.  I believe in one photo you can see the long "show & tell" pieces I brought.

And the other thing.  These recipes are written for the professional cook for heaven’s sakes.  Thomas assumes everyone knows to use only the freshest foodstuffs.  He assumes price is no object.  He assumes the average kitchen cook owns a silpat.  Oh, and the stencil for tuiles cookies.  And don’t even get me started on the french language as several in the group know french, but there are many that don’t.

Okay.  So.  We all did our best.  But some things were just way over the top esoteric. 

I did the dessert,  meringues with Creme Anglaise and Bittersweet Chocolate

Floating Island.  Ah, yes.  Had I ever done one before?  No. However, I have done many meringue desserts from scratch so I was not fazed.  At 8 a.m. I started measuring the ingredients for the creme anglaise (custard), the mint oil (heretofore unmentioned), the chocolate mousse (also unmentioned), the tuile (also unmentioned) and the chocolate salad (also unmentioned).  But in Thomas’s defense, does one really want to mention all those things in the name of dessert?  It might give one pause.

The meringues were to be only partially baked in a water bath in the oven for 20 minutes.  Then I was to check to see that they were set but not firm.  Good luck on that one.  I guessed they were set but not firm and removed them.  Then they were to cool in the refrigerator.  Then I started on the mousse.  Vanilla bean scrapped and steeped in milk and cream and allowed to cool.  Fine.  Except that I was to reserve some of the meringue for the mousse so I had to whip up some more egg whites and sugar to insert into the chocolate, the milk, the cream, the whipped cream.   

Well, then.  The mint oil.  That required blanching 4 cups of fresh mint in heavily salted water for 15 seconds and then, boom, into a cold water bath with the mint.  The mint leaves were then cut with scissors and placed in a blender with canola oil.  About 12 minutes of blending off and on and presto magic, mint oil.

Did I mention that needed to warm cream to simmer and while it was on the burner, it boiled and Ray had to run to the store to get more cream?  And did I mention the mess that made around the burner?

Once the mousse was completed, I had to scoop out some of the meringue from each ramekin filled meringue and stuff the created cavity with the mousse.  Then that went back into the refrigerator.  

The cookie was next.  Tuiles means tile in french and these cookies were to be super thin and the way to get them that way apparently is to use a stencil which I didn’t have (and I have a really well stocked kitchen).  So I winged it because at this point, it was getting late.  And I was tired of Thomas’s grand ideas.

Suffice it to say that the cookies were a little thicker than he would have made them.  And the chocolate salad?  That was bittersweet chocolate shards that I managed to produce.  I’ll spare the dear reader the details.

So.  That was it.  With about an hour or so to spare.  The big question was:  will the meringue release from the ramekin?  Will it hold it’s shape?  Will the cookie make it hard to eat?  And what about that mint oil?

The dessert was fabulous.  It took all day, but it was fabulous.

Of course, everyone else had their stories too.  One of the funniest was the pea shoot story.  Our friend Shary, was assigned (or stuck with, I’m not sure) with whipping up a pea shoot coulis (sauce).  So, she was on a mission from god to find pea shoots.  Calls were made, contacts were shared.  This was not going to be easy.  Plus, she had to leave town to go to northern CA for something (other than pea shoots).  Well, she dug up a guy that dug up pea shoots for her.  Well, she was running late and would not make his place in time to pick up the pea shoots.  He had all these pea shoots that he harvested especially for her and he needed to unload.  Calls were made on cells phones.  They finally decided to rendeveous at the parking lot of Jack in the Box.  She said she would driving a certain kind of car with the license plate that read “Shary”.  So picture this.  He drives up and parks near her.  He has a brown paper bag filled with pea shoots.  He approaches her car and says, “are you Shary?”  “Yes”, she sings out.  Money is passed.  Pea shoots are handed over and everyone leaves the parking lot.

Now really.  We told her she was lucky she was not comprehended by the DEA.  It looked fishy.  Illegal even.  But alas, she made a quick getaway and that’s how she got the pea shoots.

And the picture above includes the pea shoot coulis.  And below is a picture of Shary and husband John preparing the salmon.

Some of the other dishes.  Ron and Ted!!   Champagne pouring.

Chris gilding the appetizer of salmon tartar.  The salmon tartar was to be served in cornets (home made), but the recipe didn’t work.  So, you do what you do.
What was wrong with that recipe?  I dare to say that if it was a Julia Child’s recipe, it would have worked.  

Our hostess and brain child for Doing the Laundry…Neta on the left.  And her fabulous meat and potatoes and mushroom entree!!  The potatoes had prunes and the sauce had a bottle of wine!!!

So, here’s the thing.  We have another date for another Thomas “Killer” dinner planned this fall!!!

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