May 23, 2010

Reading "The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry"

"The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry" is an exceptional book. This true story is a first book by Kathleen Flinn who has been a writer for over 20 years. At the age of 36, Flinn had built a career as an executive with a major software firm, she managed 24 people and her team ran a $100,000,000 division. She'd fought long and hard to get where she was and had just realized that she was truly in love with Mike, the man she'd been seeing. Sounds wonderful? Maybe not! As she returned from a vacation with Mike, her boss asked to meet her in a hotel lobby rather than the office. And this is where her new life began, as the old one was yanked out from beneath her and she was suddenly without a job, an American living in London.

Her dream since being a child was to cook, to attend Le Cordon Bleu, the famous cooking school in Paris. Now, with Mike as her personal cheerleader, she applies to attend the school and is accepted. She quickly moves to France and begins the difficult task of earning a diploma in January 2004. This means successfully completing three parts of a "classic cycle" of cooking ... Basic, Intermediate and Superior Cuisine.

This is a very well-told story that made me alternately laugh out loud and hold my head in agony. You must really want a diploma to go through this process, especially when your French is lacking. Can you imagine being screamed at in French by a French chef in front of the entire class and not really understanding what he's upset about? How do you fix what you don't understand? The tag line on the cover of this book is "Love, laughter and tears in Paris at the world's most famous cooking school." Such a true statement!

Here are a few excerpts from the book:

     Le Cordon Bleu began life in the late 1800s as a cooking magazine started by French Journalist Marthe Distel. La cuisinère Cordon-bleu centered on classic recipes and tips for entertaining, a nineteenth-century version of Gourmet. To boost circulation, Distel offered free cooking classes to subscribers. After the first was held in 1895, the lessons proved to be more popular than the magazine. Le Cordon Bleu now has twenty-seven schools in fifteen countries; the magazine closed in the 1960s.

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     "Hot food always goes on a hot plate, and cold food goes on a cold plate," Anne says as Chef takes a blue-rimmed dinner plate out of the oven and sets the fish on top with some sauce and perfectly chopped parsley. With that, he bows, the class applauds, and students crowd around the chef's plate to take copious photos.
     We taste. The sweet fish couples nicely with the sting of the shallots, muted by the softness of the butter sauce. This is more like it, I think.
     He makes it all look easy, but then chefs are like that. They're magicians in white, accomplished at sleight of hand.

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     The Saturday after the buffet, I review the remaining ten lessons for Intermediate Cuisine. Among them is another featuring puff pastry. I head down to rue Montorgueil and pack my collapsible shopping cart with two heavy bags of flour, dry butter, and fresh yeast. Mike lugs them up the stairs to our flat. For the next three days, I make no less than six batches of puff pastry. By the fourth batch, it's light, airy, and flaky. I work slowly and methodically, remembering that you cannot rush puff pastry. You must show it respect, like a person you admire. Showing remarkable restraint, I eat none of it, so that I can fit into a wedding dress, if I ever find one.

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     Three days later, Mike and I move back into the apartment on rue Etienne Marcel. We trade keys, kisses, and good-byes with Niccolo and Alberto, who pack up their bags and rush for the airport. We open a bottle of wine, and for the rest of the evening Mike and I sit at our kitchen table. We dine on a simple roast chicken and marvel at the view overlooking the busy five-way intersection. We love watching Paris in action: the stream of people coming and going through the curved art-deco entrance of the Metro; tourists dragging wheeled luggage toward the train station at Les Halles; and the comedy and high drama of French driving. We watch the color of the sky change above the gray tin roofs, so solid with time, and the limestone walls graced by delicate etchings. In some buildings, the white French windows open outward onto their wrought-iron balconies, revealing interiors or inhabitants. A few others play the same game, watching the street. Sometimes we catch them watching us.

I absolutely loved this book. I enjoyed every single page and was sorry when it ended. One thing I especially love about this book is that it includes a number of recipes that are truly simple and beautiful. Even though the actual dish Chicken Cordon Bleu (Poulet Cordon Bleu) has nothing to do with the cooking school, it is a classic recipe that Flinn included in the book. It sounded fairly easy and I actually had all of the ingredients on hand so I gave it shot.

ingredients for chicken cordon bleu
butterflied chicken breasts
spread with dijon mustard
layered with swiss cheese and ham
I love having my laptop handy in the kitchen - I input this recipe into my new Recipe Manager program
chicken breasts tied with butcher's twine - I'm planning to try toothpicks as a closure next time because they'll be easier to remove for eating
flour, beaten egg and bread crumbs for dipping
ready to go into the oven
chicken cordon bleu with corn on the cob

I must say, the hardest part of this recipe was the sauce - and it really wasn't that hard, I was just distracted. First of all, I cut the recipe in half to make only two chicken breasts so that cut the sauce ingredients down to nearly nothing. And nearly nothing cooks pretty quickly.

As I started the sauce the first time, I had white wine and chicken stock reducing in a saucepan on the stove top. Hubby came in to say that when he opened the gate, Miles (or Miles-you-little-bastard, as he is sometimes known around here) shot through and took off down the street. This has been a favorite game of his since we got him. He thinks it's hilarious and has nearly been hit twice running right out in front of cars. We spent $200 on obedience classes and while he can sit and down as pretty as you please - and he did come when called just beautifully in class - at home, it's one big party. If he gets out the gate or the front door, the chase is on. So I went out with Hubby to chase Miles-you-little-bastard up and down the street with treats. When I came back in, my pan had cooked dry.

Then Hubby jumped in on the cooking action and we prepared the sauce together. One of my great joys is cooking with Hubby. When he joins me in the kitchen, we always have a good time. And it was so worth it making the sauce again. Amazing! Delicious! The chicken was perfect and tasted great with the fresh sweet corn on the cob.

I can't say enough good things about this wonderful book, the fascinating story and the lovely recipes included. It's definitely a keeper!


☼¨`*•.♥Rocío♥.•*¨`☼ said...

What a yummy recipe!!

Angie said...

mmmm... that looks delicious

And the book sounds good too! Might have to check it out