Lobsters. The last day in class is going to be a seafood extravaganza. On today's menu: mussels in white wine and cream sauce, lobster with sauce américaine, seared scallops with parsley coulis and a bevy of clams and oysters we would shuck with our own bare hands. I look longingly at the wine bottles and count the recipes we will need to finish before the drinking and celebrating can commence. This is it. Lesson 22 marks the end of my in-class culinary adventures and it would be a mixture of salty and bittersweet.
I pick out my one-pound lobster from the bundle. He is locked in some sort of tussle with the others and although he is small, I admire his feisty spirit. I'm trying to come up with a name when Chef informs me my runt of a lobster is actually called a chick. As if I don't feel bad enough, I'm left with the image of dropping Tweety Bird into a vat of boiling water. Chef can see I'm squeamish about my lobster lament. He offers the following option:
"If you don't want to deal with boiling him, just lay him down and crack him in the head just between the eyes. This is the most painless and humane way to kill a lobster."
At this point, my partner explains lobsters have an immature nervous system which only transmits impulses, not emotion. He assures me my chick truly won't feel a thing. For a moment, I'm relieved. Until Chef looks up from his demonstration and says, "Now go murder your lobsters."
As I add my lobster to the boiling water, I can't seem to stop singing the theme song from Grey's Anatomy, "How To Save A Life." As it hits the water, my chick let's out the most horrifying scream. I can't help but think I'm going straight to hell and vow to never cook or eat a lobster again.
Fortunately, the rest of the class goes along swimmingly, and as I take my first bite of the earthy sauce américaine, with it's rich texture and blend of creamy tomato and tarragon sauce, my recent vow of shellfish abstinence is soon forgotten.
I walk back to the subway and squeeze my way onto an express train packed with commuters. I remember the old New York proverb, "a nickel will get you onto the subway, but garlic will get you a seat." After cooking all of that seafood, I literally clear out the car except for a homeless man who winks at me from across the way.
Back at home, after a long shower and a nap, I put on my headset, hoping Lisa's date tonight with her young boyfriend would go à la carte.
After all, her young lover, Matt, is the ultra-hip and super sexy owner of a Taj Lounge in the Flatiron. With carved teak woodwork and a copper topped bar, it would have set the backdrop for the perfect smorgasbord of food, sex and wine. But instead, she chose the comfort of his apartment next door. My only worry is a cat named Cheeky with a mind of it's own and a discerning palate worthy of at least two Michelin stars.
In new relationships where the chemistry is perfect, a trip to Eataly, Mario Batali's artisanal food and wine marketplace, is the ultimate in the first step towards seduction. When it comes to hair and make up, Lisa knows best. She sends me a photo on her iPhone via text. I don't know how she does it. The mother of two has transformed bombshell into something unique and even more glam, amomshell -- and in less than an hour!
They squeeze, poke and prod through Eataly's aisles. She just doesn't see any signs of an expiration date in this relationship as she looks for the perfect ingredients for her moules à la poulette. They return to his apartment and she's taking my culinary cues like a pro.
She brings the cream to a simmer, whisking it from time to time. She stirs it with care so the frothy mixture doesn't boil over or break. They each toast to young love over a bottle of white wine. She carefully cooks the shallots, adding some wine and turning up the heat. As the shells begin to open up and the meat gently begins to pull away from the sides, she lifts them delicately off the heat.
Suddenly, the line goes dead. I hear some shuffling and strange noises. As you can imagine, it's gotten uncomfortable. So in true wingman form, I turn off the headset and try to disconnect.
As I sit there, I realize the truth behind my reasons to go to culinary school. It wasn't about turning 40 or about reaching a new level of skill or perfection. For me, cooking makes people happy. We spend more time talking about our meals than romances, past and present. I realize my culinary adventures are really just beginning and for Lisa, true romance is less than a minute away.
Excerpts inspired by the class, Serious Amateur, French Cooking, Culinary Techniques, Recipes taken from International Culinary Center.
Heidi Brod and Lisa Stolov have a daily newsletter/website DishInOutBeauty.com that focuses on health and beauty from the inside out.
Moules à la Poulette
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
2/3 cup dry white wine
1 ounce shallots
1 pound, 7 ounces mussels prepared for cooking
Fresh lemon juice
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
5 ¼ ounces fresh spinach leaves cooked à la'anglaise and well -drained; or tomatoes, concassè
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Preheat oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place ½ cup plus 1 teaspoon of the cream in a medium-heat heat and simmer, whisking from time to time, for about 10 minutes or until reduced by half. Watch carefully, as cream can quickly boil over. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Place the wine and shallots in another sautoir over medium-high and bring to a simmer. Add the mussels, cover, and cook for 2 minutes. Uncover, toss, recover, and cook for another 5 minutes or until the shells have opened and the meat has pulled away from the sides of the shells. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the mussels to a large bowl.
Measure out and set aside (3 1/2 tablespoons) of the cooking liquid. Leave the remainder in the pan and place over high and simmer until reduced by three-quarters. Remove. Remove from the heat and strain through a strainer into a clean bowl. Set aside.
Remove the mussels from their shells, pulling off and discarding the foot and any remaining beard filaments. Set the shells aside. Combine the mussels with the reserved cooking liquid in a small saucepan to keep them moist.
Rinse the reserved shells and pat dry. Place them on a baking sheet in the oven and bake for about 5 minutes or until very dry. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Return the reserved reduced cream to low heat. Gradually whisk in the reserved reduced cooking liquid. Season with lemon, juice, salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm.
When ready to serve heat the remaining 5 ¾ tablespoons heave cream over medium-high heat. Cook stirring frequently with a whisk, for about 5 minutes or until thick. Add the spinach and toss just until it has absorbed the cream. Season with pepper to taste and keep warm.
Place the mussels in the liquid over medium heat and bring to just a simmer. Place an equal of the spinach mixture in the bottom of as many reserved shells as you have mussels. Place a mussel on top of each shell and nap it with a bit of warm cream sauce. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.
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