Our chef for today's cooking lesson was a big tall guy who doesn't speak English well, but that didn't stop him from demonstrating everything so well that we had no problem following him.
He had us slicing shallots the proper French way we learned a few days ago, and trimming and cutting green beans in half. He put about two tablespoons of olive oil into a sauté pan and got it very hot before tossing in the thinly-sliced shallots. He sprinkled salt over the shallots, cooked them until they were wilted, and then added the sliced green beans. He stirred them to evenly coat the beans with the oil and mix in the shallots, then he added about a half-cup of water, covered the pan with a lid, turned the heat down to low, and told us, "Approximant dix minutes!" holding out both hands with all ten fingers stretched out.
Next, he brought out trays of small boneless beef steaks , about three-quarters of an inch thick -- I don't know what cut they were, but they seemed very good quality -- and showed us how to use a small, thin, very sharp knife to make small slits in the sides of the meet and insert sprigs of fresh thyme.
When I first saw him from a few feet away, I could see that our chef was a "big tall guy" but it wasn't until he was demonstrating for me how to make the slits in the meat, and could see his hands against the light working surface, that I knew he was black. His hands were very nimble and graceful, and moved almost too fast for me to follow.
At the stove, he heated olive oil in a sauté pan until very hot, and then put the steaks in, which had been salted on each side. He kept the heat on high and cooked the steaks on one side for about four minutes before turning them.
At this point he went back to the green beans, stirred them and added a little more salt, ground some black pepper over them, and turned the heat up a little.
Then he went back to the steaks, which had about two more minutes to go. He swirled about a tablespoon of herbed butter into the pan (each sauté pan had four small steaks in it), basted the steaks with the herbed butter and pan juices, and then removed the pans from the heat.
He piled a mound of the hot green beans onto each of our plates, then placed one of the steaks on top of each mound and spooned some of the cooking juices over all.
It was a very satisfying meal with good crusty bread to mop up all the juices and red wine. A simple meal, but with the best-quality ingredients. The green beans were tender and flavorful, and the steak was juicy and tasted great with the thyme and herbed butter. (Andy said, "it's pretty rare" (not "raw" this time!), but he ate the whole thing with relish and admitted it probably wouldn't have tasted as good if it had been well-done.)
The chef had already made the dessert before we had arrived, and now we were served -- profiteroles! They were filled with ice cream and covered in a very good chocolate sauce. Andy was a happy camper, especially when I gave him mine to eat, too.
Because it is the Labor Day holiday, the Musee des Beaus Arts is closed. It is just as well, as neither Andy nor I feel good today (I woke up with Andy's sore throat this morning). And none of our group was interested in doing a walking tour in the rain. So we all headed back to the hotel for an afternoon off. I think we all needed some time off, as Andy and I are not the only ones in our group with sore throats and headaches.
We have used up all my Alka Seltzer Plus Cold tablets, so Andy and I stopped at the pharmacy a few doors down from our hotel. They didn't have anything like Alka Seltzer Plus Cold, but we bought a small box of something that the pharmacist said should help. "Take one tablet three times a day," she said. I have no idea what they are, but I've had two so far and they do seem to be working.
We're on our own again for dinner tonight, and this time Andy and I wanted better than the salad and sandwich shop we went to last night. And again because of the Labor Day holiday, not many eating places are open, including the hotel restaurant. But there is a little brasserie open not far from the hotel that we decided to try with a few of our tour fellows. We didn't need reservations because we decided to go early (remember, in France, any time before seven is very early for dinner), and the place was practically empty when we arrived around 6:30.
With my sore throat, all I wanted was a bowl of hot soup. When Andy read "French onion soup" on the menu, he didn't have to read any further.
It came steaming hot with the crusty cheese on top still bubbling from the broiler. There was a little carafe of Madeira mixed with a beaten egg yolk that came with the soup, and our waiter lifted up the crusty topping and poured in the Madeira and egg yolk under it. The soup was full of hearty robust beef and onion flavor, and the bread, Madeira and egg yolk gave it a very satisfying richness. The crusty cheese was classic, and the perfect topper.
There were five in our dinner group, and one other person chose the French onion soup along with me. Andy and the others ordered salads, and Andy also got a plate of sautéed vegetables that was good, but none of the others were as happy with their meals as we were with our French onion soup. With some red wine, it was absolutely the perfect meal for us.
I should have passed on the rum baba dessert, though. It was a big sponge cake over which the waiter poured a copious amount of spiced rum. The fumes alone were enough to get the rest of our table high. It wasn't quite what I expected. For one thing, I thought the cake would be more dense, like a pound cake, and for another, the rum was straight rum rather than a light rum-based syrup. The whole thing was very alcohol-y and I didn't finish it.
Tomorrow we have our last cooking lesson, and get to visit a cheese shop and a silk factory. I'm especially eager to see the silk factory.
Silk used to be a major industry here in Lyon from the 16th through 19th centuries, but silkworm diseases, the Industrial Revolution and the advent of modern fabrics like nylon and other polyesters have led to the demise of most of Lyon's silk factories.
Apparently there aren't many of the old silk factories left, and I am looking forward to significantly improving the economy of the one we see tomorrow. Grin.
The Hotel Best Western Charlemagne is an OK three-star hotel but Andy and I are less than impressed with the hotel's stated provision of room service. Not only is the hotel restaurant completely closed on weekends and holidays, but room service is only available when the restaurant is open. This isn't helpful to guests who are tired and need some rest and respite from constantly eating out. No hotel restaurant or any room service at all for three solid days (apart from the morning breakfast buffet, which is a good one) is not good.
While the hotel is reasonably navigable with a cane (or guide dog), it's impossible for anyone in a wheelchair to even get in the front door, as there is a six-inch step up from the sidewalk through the front door into the lobby. You have to navigate three steps up to an elevator to get down to the basement level where the breakfast buffet dining room is located, and then after you get off the elevator there are three more steps and then two flights of stairs before you actually reach the dining room.
On the plus side, our room is spacious and I love that we have a little balcony and a sliding glass door opening out onto it. Our balcony overlooks a side street and a church across the street. The church bells chime on the quarter-hours from nine in the morning to ten at night. The church evidently operates a school because there is a playground within the church grounds and we can hear the sound of children playing at regular intervals.
We've noticed that Lyon street-cleaning machines seem to operate almost every night. Emmanuel said yes, they do, otherwise the city would smell very terrible from all the piss and vomit spewed onto the streets every night.
Drunk driving in France:
Emmanuel said that French law is very strict against drunk driving. He said drunk driving used to be a major problem a couple decades ago, but since laws were passed against it, the problem has largely ceased, "although it can still be a problem outside of the city on country roads," he said.
It made me remember our Easter holiday feast with Ingrid and her family in Gothenburg, Sweden. Her husband Thor and son Bert picked us up at the hotel and drove us to Ingrid's home in Bert's car, but we went back to the hotel after dinner on the tram, with Ingrid's daughter Ann. Thor told us we'd have to go back by tram, because we'd all been drinking, and it wouldn't be good for anyone to drive. The laws against drunk driving are very strict in Sweden, too.