Sunday, February 26, 2012

The aftermath

We have been sick for about a week now.  I've thought a number of times we were on the upswing, and hopefully now we really are.  Crazy.  As soon as the dinner was over, Bennett woke up with pink eye the next morning.  Before lunch Silas had it, by bedtime Graham was getting it, Ansley woke up with it Sunday and before breakfast was over that morning Colin had it.  At first I thought the problem was primarily pink eye, except that Bennett had an extremely high fever, so I took him to the doctor Sunday afternoon and found out that he had ear infections in both ears.  I got a prescription for eye drops for everyone else and thought we were doing better.  Then Monday night Colin started running a fever, so Tuesday I took all 5 kids to the doctor, because Silas was extremely fussy, as was Graham, and well, everyone else was going to Ansley may as well.  At that point, all of the boys had ear infections in both ears.  So all 4 boys were on antibiotics, and Ansley was still on eyedrops.  So I thought by the time Wednesday was over we should all be in good shape.  Wrong again - at bedtime Wednesday, Ansley started running a fever.  Thursday she woke up fine, so I waited a little bit before calling the doctor.  By lunch she had told me that her ear hurt, and I had determined something was wrong with Bennett.  He slept until 10, and wanted to only be held.  He was a limp noodle in my arms.  Graham didn't have a whole lot more life to him, but he would at least eat and drink like normal.  On top of both of them running a fever all day, Bennett would hardly eat, and wouldn't drink.  So I was starting to get worried about him being dehydrated and was pretty sure that by the doctor would want us in the hospital.  So we didn't get in to the doctor until 4:30.  By 10 that night, we had chest xrays and iv fluids and iv antibiotics and confirmed pneumonia.  It had been a year since any one was in the hospital, so I guess we were due.  He was still pretty lethargic Friday, although he did wake up a couple of times and he ate a little - still wouldn't drink anything.  But Graham was going downhill fast at home, so we made an appt. for him.  He too, was suspected of having pneumonia, but it took over an hour for R. to get him to the hospital because we had this awful storm.  Roads were closed, huge hail had been coming down, trees had fallen, power lines in our neighborhood had caught fire, so the power was out at our house where the other 3 kids were with a dear sweet friend who later cloroxed my whole house (THANK YOU!).  At any rate, the final diagnosis was a nasty virus that the whole family had, turned bacterial pneumonia in the babies, and after a few rounds of antibiotics and observation and xrays, and Bennett had oxygen once b/c he couldn't breath (which left a nice tape mark on his face that is just now going away), they let us come home.  Russ and I had a date in the hospital watching 'The Notebook' which I had never seen, but really liked (another sweet friend loaned this to me for us to watch while she bravely had the older 3 kids sleep over at her house).  And I didn't cry that much, until I was driving home from the hospital today and thought about it again. Anyway, we're home now and I ate brussel sprouts for lunch to try to counteract the week long eating out and hospital food.  Hopefully this time, we're really on the mend.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Dinner Time!

Well, it is always amazing to me how so much prep goes into this dinner, and then just like that, it's over.  
Before I get into all the details though, I have to tell you that right as the dinner was starting, I find out that our friend who is allergic to shellfish has actually eaten at the French Laundry.  I should've know.  This guy knows everyone and has eaten everywhere.  He's probably bff with Thomas Keller, too but I already felt additional pressure since he had something to compare it with, and I couldn't take any more. 

Here is our menu:

Here are all of the dishes that we used for the 5 of us to eat.  This was before they were dirty and stacked all over the kitchen.

And this is what the kids ate.  Hot dogs and macaroni and cheese from the box.  Isn't that awful?  I guess the only redeeming thing about it, is that it's their absolute favorite things to eat, and they were looking forward to it all week.

 Ok, so here is the finished product of Tuna Tartare with Seaweed Salad in the Cornets that burned my fingers off.  They were so good. 

For some reason, I forgot to take a picture of the gruyere cheese gougeres (little cheesy creampuff like biscuits) AND the first course - Gazpacho.  I also forgot to ever mention making the gazpacho.  Probably because there is nothing exciting about it - but it was the best gazpacho I've ever eaten.  I'm having leftovers for lunch today.

Ok, so then we get to the second course.  This is the Salad of Globe Artichokes with Eggplant Caviar and a whole bunch of other veggies blanched and stacked on top with an herb salad.  The stuff around the edge is reduced balsamic vinagrette.  I was so pleasantly surprised by this dish.  It sounded so basic, and I don't love eggplant, but the eggplant ended up being my favorite part, and it was all so tasty, that I took a biscuit and cleaned the plate with it.

For the Third and "Main" course, we had the Maine Lobster Pancakes with Ginger-Carrot Emulsion and Watercress.  It was supposed to be Pea Shoots (Peas & Carrots) but we couldn't find those anywhere.  I was nervous about this dish.  I don't make crepes very well for some reason.  I mean, they always taste fine, but they are never, ever pretty.  I realized after this experience it's because I use too high of a heat.  I was able to make these crepes perfectly, and the lobster filling with the mascarpone cheese and reduced lobster glaze was so rich and decadent. And the carrot emulsion, which you wouldn't think would be that big of a deal was wonderful.  I probably could have eaten it plain.  The picture just really doesn't do it justice. 

So then for the cheese course, which is normally my least favorite course.  As much as I love cheese, I don't love it by itself.  I like for it to be an accent instead of the main flavor, and normally in cheese courses, the cheese is overpowering to me.  But this one was so good.  The cheese was pecorino toscano, more balsamic glaze around the edge, with an arugula & olive oil mix on the bottom, roasted red & yellow bell peppers (tossed in balsamic vinegar & olive oil), and a toasted baguette.  I wished afterward that I had bought more cheese.

And then finally, dessert. I was so nervous about this one, and it definitely was not as "pretty" as pictured in the book.  The paper towel thing was a little nerve wracking, and my mint oil, while tasty, was not as thick as what was pictured.  So you can tell it's not as quite as refined as it is supposed to be but it sure tasted good.  The bottom is a creme anglais custard, with a meringue hollowed out and filled with chocolate mousse.  Then a cookie and chocolate shavings on top, drizzled with mint oil.  

So it went great, all the kids cooperated nicely, Bennett waited until this morning to get sick, and a good time was had by all. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Everything is fine!

Well I'm pretty much back on schedule.  I started out today making the "cornets" for one of our canapes, Here are the molds and the stencil,

Here is one of my favorite foods, which happens to be a main ingredient in the cornets: butter. 

Here is the first batch that I made.  They were too thick, so we just ate them.  They were like pancakes a little bit, and cracked when I tried to roll them around the molds.  Plus they were pretty hot, and so I was slow.  And the thickness made it so that they didn't brown properly.  Anyway, I tried again.

Eventually, we had these.  Not quite perfectly browned, but they're going to work.  And taste wonderful once I fill them with tuna.  These are going to be my shout out to Chef Heinz at La Maison, who makes fabulous Tuna Nachos, however mine are going to be Tuna Cornets instead of on a fried wonton.

So those took most of the morning believe it or not.  But in between opening the oven door, burning my finger tips, and waiting for the silpat to cool down, we cooked the lobster.  
Here they are, helping me measure how much water I need to cook them in.

 Yummy delicious, lobster.

My help, playing with the lobsters while waiting for the water to boil.

All the delicious meat, ready to be put in a filling to stuff the crepes for the main dish tomorrow (except for our friend who gets the halibut).  Incidentally after my initial panic attack, I did feel sorry for the guy.  He doesn't know what he's missing out on! 

I also made the lobster glaze, which is basically stock that cooked pretty much ALL day, until 2 cups had cooked down to about a tablespoon.  This concentrated stuff is going in the filling for the crepes.

And then, this afternoon, I made the majority of the dessert. Here are the meringues, right after they've come out of the oven in their water bath.

Here is a mostly finished one, filled with the chocolate mousse.  It's supposed to be a surprise in the middle.  I'll dump this out onto a paper towel, then after some of the moisture is absorbed put it on top of some creme anglais, and then a little chocolate cookie on top with some chocolate shavings and mint oil.  I'm pretty excited to eat it.  I just hope I can pull off the whole paper towel part.

The last two things I did, were to juice 3 lbs of these beautiful red carrots and and little bit of ginger, and then cook the 2 cups of juice down to about half a cup.  This is going to mixed with lots of cream and butter tomorrow and will be the base of the lobster "pancakes".  
Here, is my sous chef, washing the carrots before we juice them.

I then took some of the carrot pulp left in the juicer, and microwaved it for over 40 minutes.  I have honestly never in my life microwaved anything that long.  After reading Nourishing Traditions I am just a little afraid that we all have radioactive waves just flowing through our bodies right now, but I'm trying to put it out of my mind.  I'll just try to eat enough organic meat next week to counteract the damage.  
Here is the pulp in the microwave.  

So tomorrow, I still have a lot to do, but it's a whole lot of little stuff, and as long as we don't have any major disasters (like say, oh, I don't know, Ansley accidentally eating Miles's heartworm medicine instead of giving it to him), should be totally attainable.  I was actually done by dinner time tonight, almost.  And Mr. Bob brought us dinner so I didn't even have to worry about that.  His "thanks" was some of the extra dessert that I didn't need - it wasn't pretty, because it was the scooped out middles of the meringues, but it sure tasted good.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

AAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH or Regaining my composure

So, today was supposed to be Lobster day.  That did not happen.  I went to my morning Bible study, which gets out at noon.  I knew I was going to have to get lunch in the kids before I could go to the store, and didn't want to have to load/unload and then load/unload/load again, so I had the great idea to just go to Earthfare since they have that little eating area next to their hot bar and deli.  So we get there, get our little sandwiches/pizza/macaroni and cheese, and eat an uneventful lunch.  Well Silas didn't eat, he was too busy arguing with a girl his age sitting a couple tables back over his drink.  Evidently she didn't believe that he had an apple juice and he was all out of sorts over it.  Anyhow, we eat, get a few other specialty things that I needed and head back to the seafood department.  When I arrived, I realized, they don't sell live lobster.  Oops.  How could this happen?  So, at this point there is NO WAY we are going to another store, Silas was already late for his nap, the babies were tired, I was already exhausted and I hadn't even started cooking yet. So we just came home.  
After I got Silas in bed and got the babies situated I came to my senses and just started making whatever I could.  It wasn't much. I made the mint oil for the dessert.  Well mostly made it, it's still infusing in the refrigerator so that it will achieve a bright green color.  Here is the mint in my herb-ball ready for blanching.

 I cut the rind off of the cheese for the cheese course and then sliced it on the mandoline.

 And then I cooked some balsamic vinegar to death until what was previously 1/2 cup ended up being the consistency of syrup.  All so I can pipe some dots on the plate of our salad and cheese course.  

I was about to start the cornets, when R. called to tell me that his buddy who is coming for the dinner - someone he has knows for like forever and who we didn't think to ask if he had any food allergies, because when you know someone for forever you assume you know their food allergies - is allergic to shellfish.  Last time I checked, lobster was a shellfish.  So about this time, my head started spinning.  Never have I changed the menu this late.  I mean never.  I have the menu ready weeks ahead of time and plan out my cooking schedule and this I was just not prepared to handle.  I immediately got a headache.  So, after taking a prescription strength aleve, I looked at all of my lists and realized that miraculously, we were going to pull this off just by changing the soup.  We're all still eating lobster, and this guy gets halibut.  I'm not sure how Thomas Keller would feel about this little change-up, and I really don't know how it's going to taste, but it's going to have to work.  Say a little prayer for me, R. is going to the grocery at like 7 am to get some lobsters... tomorrow is going to be a busy, busy day.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Short & Sweet

Today, I really did very little cooking.  I finished up the eggplant caviar, and then made creme anglais.  That's it. So, here is the vanilla bean, already split, but before I have scraped out all of the deliciousness.

 Here is the vanilla bean, pod and all, infusing with equal parts heavy cream and whole milk.  This part of the dessert is virtually fat free.

Finished product, waiting to be put in the fridge.

 Even though I did little cooking, I did have to run out to Wal-mart because I ran out of olive oil and needed it for the eggplant caviar, and when you have 5 children and the oldest is 6, this can be an ordeal.  Everyone was extremely well behaved, it just took about 45 minutes to get everyone ready to get in the car, and then an additional 20 to actually get in the car.  Then unloading everyone, including putting on the baby bjorn etc, takes approximately 10 minutes, and we have to walk through the parking lot holding hands so that takes another 5, and then just repeat on the trip back to the car.  So "running" out for olive oil takes around 2-3 hours to accomplish and you only spend like 15 minutes in the actual store. Tomorrow will be more interesting - it's lobster day!

Monday, February 13, 2012

On schedule so far!

So, today I made 3 things for our Friday dinner.  Chocolate Tuilles, pictured here (one component of the dessert) although I actually only baked 4 for practice.  I actually froze the dough, and will bake the cookies Thursday or Friday

Roasted yellow & red bell peppers, one part of the cheese course,

 and I started the eggplant caviar, which has no caviar in it at all, just eggplant and some seasoning.  Here it is after it has sweated for a couple of hours, right before I roast it....

 and here it is again, after I've scooped out the roasted flesh and am now draining it in the fridge. I'll finish it up either late tonight, or sometime tomorrow.

Not a heavy work day, but there are only so many things you can make this far in advance and every little thing helps.  So I'm going to tell you a story about the chili we're having for dinner, just to make life interesting.

We are officially homeschooling Kindergarten this year.  I have sort of made up our curriculum pulling from all sorts of different things - probably not something I'll repeat for future grades, but since it's only K.  and we're only doing formal schooling 3 days a week, it works.  Anyway, for our "history" we are studying different cultures.  I have this book that was a gift from someone, actually, that describes the lives of children all over the globe.  We do one continent at a time, and one kid a week.  Depending on the country we try to do a craft or read a book or watch a documentary or something related to this kid.  Sometimes, I try to cook a dish that the kid would eat.  Initially, I'll admit, this was self-serving.  I cook dinner 4-5 nights a  week.  If you have children, you may not be surprised to know that 4-5 nights a week, my kids complain about dinner before it ever hits their tongues.  Sometimes it never even hits their tongues.  Now, I don't make gross stuff.  But I also don't make "kid" stuff (except when I make mac n' cheese as a side item, which I try to do once a month but no more than that, because Ansley would eat her weight in it if I allowed it; she has been known to request it for breakfast.).  I try to make at least one thing that I am pretty confident that they'll eat, but we eat a good variety of foods.  The first time I ever heard a "thank you" was about a year or maybe 2 ago, and the first time that I ever served hot dogs for dinner.  The kids had eaten them before, but maybe just a couple of times and it was at a cookout or something.  I'm pretty sure I had never made them.  Colin, then probably 4 thanked me profusely for the "best dinner that I had ever made."  The only other time I've had a reaction like that was when we had cheese fondue dinner followed by chocolate fondue dessert (he actually hugged me after that one!).  

Anyway, so back to self-serving.  I wanted them to appreciate the food that was put in front of them every night, so we started with Africa, and not just any country in Africa, but Tanzania.  Those kids eat corn mush for dinner.  I figured if I put some corn mush in front of them, they might start eating the other stuff I make. I'll have to admit, it wasn't good.  I actually made polenta, but I tried to make it a little authentic, and it was kinda gross.  When we studied Morocco, I made lamb.  Colin got a stomach bug about a week later and tried to blame it on the lamb. So, lots of complaining still happening.  Then we did South America.  We just plain skipped North America because that's too familiar and there's no ethnic food in Antarctica, so we have made it around to Europe.  They think they've died and gone to heaven.  We did Hungary last week, and the girl we read about gets chocolate chip crepes.  Which brings me to tonight - we had chili - made with venison.  It was the closest thing to reindeer meat (which our friend from Finland eats) that I could muster. But I haven't told anyone that it was deer yet.  I honestly forgot until everyone had started eating.  Then I thought if I bring it up now, no one will finish their dinner, and Colin was already halfway through his.  Then the babies finished eating their leftover beet ice cream that I am determined not to waste, and it was bath time and then bedtime, and now, here I am, typing, and no one knows yet about the deer.  The End.  

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Feast or Famine

So I went from no posts to posting every day.

This week is officially Thomas Keller week.  Six of the nine birthdays that Russ has had since we've been married I have had the pleasure of cooking a nice meal for him on his birthday.  We try to do French themed stuff on special occasions, and so my favorite cookbook of all times, The French Laundry is my cookbook of choice for this dinner.  I have done a couple of repeats, but I always try something new, and I look forward to this week every year because it's the closest to culinary school I will probably ever get.  We have affectionately dubbed the dinner La Laverie. Which is French for "The Laundrymat."

The first time I did it, is was just us.  I stayed up late the night before and then spent the next day prepping a little bit, and then the dinner took a long, long time with the assembly and everything.  We had leftovers for about a week.  There were a couple of disasters, because I had only really been cooking for about a year at that point.  Also, I normally don't follow directions exactly. I have since learned that with Mr. Keller's cookbooks, the dish turns out fabulous if I follow the directions.  I've also learned to distinguish a little better which things I can not follow the directions on.  Each of the recipes has several components (we normally do 5 courses) and so these days I have to choose recipes where I can make several of the components days in advance.  I start cooking early in the week, and then the day of and prior to are very heavy cooking days.  So I'm going to try to keep up and blog a little each day, but I might have to finish up next week.  Anyway, it was while planning this year's menu that I came across the beet ice cream recipe, which I'm sure was fabulous with the Chocolate Cake that Mr. Keller paired it with, was far better with the brownies than stand alone, but just really was not a hit.  Except with Bennett and Graham, but we've already talked about that.  Here is a picture of it, and we have plenty of leftovers if you're hankering to try something new:

Ok, so back to my adventures in cooking.  Today, I cooked artichokes.  Here is an artichoke:

In all my years cooking, I have never cooked a fresh artichoke.  I know it's terrible.  I try to stay away from all things canned personally, but artichokes are one thing I have always bought canned. Until today.  First, I had to pull off the bottom leaves. 

Then cut off of the top

Then cut off the stem

and then, scrape out the fuzz (which I guess, technically, is called the "choke")

That last picture is actually fuzz that I had to dig out of the trash, because artichokes discolor if you're not fast enough (there's always a learning curve, so I was a little slow on the first one) and by the time I got to the last one the babies had realized that I was actually accomplishing something, and rushed to the scene and were about to pull the whole trash can over.  So I had to hurry, and then dig out the fuzz later.  But you get the idea.   

Anyway, this is going in a salad which will be our second course, I think.  I'll have to consult the menu.  I marinated them and cooked them for a while, and I'll make the other parts at a later date because they can't be made as far in advance. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Cooking Class

I love food.  And I love to cook.  I mean, really.  I have been sort of obsessed with food/cooking a little more these last few months.  Probably due in large part to all of my research on mouth ulcers, sheep dairying, and other random stuff - everything was pointing me toward organic.  So I started buying local, in season as much as possible.  I made it one of my goals for 2012 to try to go completely organic by the end of this year.  We'll see how that pans out.  In any case I have started trying new foods, vegetables in particular, in the attempt to stay in season.  Two that I can honestly say I never ate until this last year are parsnips and beets.  I love them both.  Who knew?  I have been trying to find new and different ways to cook them both - none of which have been received well by any of my kids.  Well I take that back, the babies will eat both parsnips and beets.  But they also eat the bark off of the floor that the kids track in from their playground, so I'm not sure that they count at this juncture in their lives.

I think I am most surprised at my love for beets.  Maybe it's because they have such a bad reputation - but people - they are good.  I have thus far tried them 4 ways.  First:  Shredded and sauteed in bacon grease (one of my new things - after reading a particular cookbook which has me scared witless about using canola anymore).  They were great, but what doesn't taste good sauteed in bacon grease?  Second: Cranberry Borscht.  This was just ok.  I'm not a huge cabbage fan, but I did eat it leftover so it obviously wan't too bad.  Third: My favorite way so far - just roasted in the oven in foil, with a little olive oil salt & pepper.  Perfect.  I think I might have actually eaten near a pound of them myself.  And lastly, today in ice cream.  Yes that's right, Ice Cream.  Ya see, I intend to write about my love for all things Thomas Keller here in a few days, but there's just way too much back story since I can't tell a short one, so starting right in the middle of the story, he has this recipe for Chocolate cake with beet ice cream.  I have not made anything by this man that wasn't wonderful, so I figured I'd try it.  Now, I didn't try it with the cake, which is a mistake.  Because you can't take one thing from any of his recipes and eat it alone - all the flavors go together and they end up being amazing.  So I'm hoping that when I serve it at Sunday lunch tomorrow with some fudge brownies, something amazing happens.  Because right now, the ice cream tastes like beets.  Hubs said "I don't think we should call this ice cream."  And nearly tripped over himself on the way to the fridge to get a drink.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


Well I get an "F" in blog updates.  Sorry.

I've been meaning for some time to write down Ansleyisms.  She says some of the funniest stuff that I know I'll forget.  So I'm dedicating this post to her 4 year old brain.  As confused as we who try to understand her are most of the time, I know I will miss it one day.

She is SO literal. I wish I had recorded a conversation we had just before Christmas, when we were discussing what to get Uncle Thomas.  He didn't want any Christmas presents this year, which provided us a great opportunity to talk about contentment.  We sat down with the World Vision catalog to pick out an animal to donate in his honor.  I explained to the kids that some kids didn't have toys or even food or homes, and that we were going to pick out something to send these kids.  We eventually chose ducks, and then Ansley started asking questions:
A: "So where are we going to get the ducks?"
me:  "We're going to order them from the catalog."
A: "Are we going to take the ducks to the kids? Or is Uncle Thomas going to take the ducks?  He goes a lot of places."
me: "Yes, he does go a lot of places, but we are just going to order the ducks, so we won't ever see or hold them.  Someone else will deliver the ducks."
A: "Will a farmer deliver the ducks?"
me: "Yes"
A: "Can we go with the farmer?"
Ok, so you get the idea.  This actually went on for what seemed like a small eternity, but was probably only like 10 minutes.  When we were finished, I was pretty sure that I had explained this every way humanly possible, and that she understood.  Then, at dinner that evening, when they were telling Daddy about their day, she says "Daddy! We're getting Uncle Thomas a kid for Christmas.  Because he doesn't have a kid."

Something like this happens weekly it seems.  Then there are the regular just every day sort of comments, when we are following R. home from somewhere and the kids think it's a race and she'll blurt out "Is Daddy going to beat us or are we going to beat ourselves?"  

But I do need to start writing them all down, because she is growing up way too fast. Russ is always wanting me to read articles and so he had one that I just made him paraphrase for me because I don't have time for that sort of thing normally, and it was about how the teen years start earlier and last longer because kids don't have responsibilities in the family.  This ends up being bad when they get to be adults.  His paraphrase was longer than that, but I just superparaphrased it for you. Anyway, so we do girl things together.  She helps me cook, and as soon as she wakes up she asks if she can help me take care of the babies today.  She wants to help me with everything.  She starts planning her day when she's going to bed the night before.  Most important on the list is "What are we having for breakfast?"  which probably is in large part due to the unfortunate fact that she normally doesn't want to eat her dinner.  At any rate, I love her little mind.  One day, I hope to understand it.