Friday, December 31, 2010

ffwd - spiced butter-glazed carrots

I actually like carrots. In fact, they are one of my favorite non-green vegetables. Still, when this was first on the menu for December, I didn't get that excited about them. I ended up leaving this recipe for last - just worked out that way. I'm glad it did though! Because I made these last night when I was already wanting something simple and really yummy - but no more fuss, no more fancy. That was so last week!

what a simple list of ingredients: butter, onion, ginger, garlic, cardamom seeds, salt & white pepper,
carrots and chicken broth
finally - and opportunity to use my mortar and pestle!

with butter melting, ingredients into the pan for a quick saute

adding the carrots to get their coating of butter

then the chicken broth - this is where I started wondering...
is this going to work????

once they've simmered, though, the heat gets turned up, so the sauce
thickens, and makes a beautiful glaze
I have to say, these are very more-ish. I couldn't stop eating them. Would I have liked a little fresh rosemary or thyme in place of the cardamom? Yes. Would maybe some other herb or spice been nice? Sure. But these were really good carrots. The depth of flavor from the ingredients and the cooking technique made them more than the sum of their parts. This was such an easy, good recipe, that I think I might be hard-pressed to make carrots as a side dish any other way. And I think it could easily become something that I would serve more often. I thought they were great!

Friday, December 24, 2010

ffwd - my go-to beef daube

I made this for my Dad's 80th birthday (eve). My Mom, Dad and I had a nice, cozy evening before the next day's big festivities. Jillian's last Christmas Ballet, and then a Birthday Party with friends and family. So we needed something easy, but delicious and filling. It was a good kind of thing, when you want to be able to start something, and then not really mess with it.

Last year, I made Julia's Boeuf Bourguignon. It has many of the same techniques (though fussier), but here's the one that I tend to think about - dry the meat before you fry it! Which is excellent advice - but my mind wanders to - what did all of those French people do before there were paper towels? If you've ever seen an early video of Julia Child on TV, she'd practically use an entire roll when making a recipe!! So before paper - who did all of that laundry??? Certainly country cooks wouldn't want to do all of that! I will likely probably never know, but it makes me wonder - all of these old French techniques that I wouldn't dream of if I had to wash all of those towels (by hand!).

ingredients... I had never used parsnips before, so that was something fun and new
I also hadn't had brandy or cognac in a stew...

mmmm.... bacon frying
the first of about 4 sessions of browning the meat

nicely browned beef, nicely crisped bacon
my vegetables with their turn in the oil
I love using the halved heads of garlic - yum!
my stew ready for the oven
I started fearing for it, since the pot was so full - but no worries, it wasn't a problem
our finished dish
served simply with some crusty French rolls
I think that some mashed potatoes would have been nice, too
 This was a big hit. I have to admit, this kind of thing isn't my favorite, though I know that this was good. My folks actually liked it better than the Boeuf Bourguignon. I wished that I'd kept some of my leftovers (I sent some home with my folks, and over to my brother's since they were having a big weekend, and could use a meal that didn't involve anything other than heating something up) after reading how so many people enjoyed it more the next day. Oh well. Next time!

Friday, December 17, 2010

ffwd - speculoos!

I had a big cooking weekend last week! I made the speculoos, since I wanted some cookies to take to work, plus I had houseguests. So it was fun to try out this recipe, along with others, including another Dorie recipe (for my next post!). We'll stick to cookies for here. I was grateful for some other ffwd posts, so that I got some good ideas for rolling these out and handling the dough. Thanks!!

I'm posting this a little late because today's been a "cookie day" too. My niece Jillian arrived at 8:30 to start (she wanted to come at 7:00, but it's my day off!! nooooo!). We made dozens and dozens of cookies - some she took home as samples, but we've learned over the years that between my brother, sister-in-law and the two girls (and their friends), it's a better bet if I'm the keeper of the cookies!! They'll get more for Christmas Eve, plus I have to take some up north for Grandma & Grandpa (and the rest when they come up). It seems to work out. We tried some new cookies (red velvet shortbread dipped in white chocolate, and some oreo balls in chocolate - a theme going), as well as old favorites. So it was a lot of fun!!

On to Speculoos. I really liked these cookies a lot. A bit easier than I expected, and quite tasty. I do want to try them again and use a filling (I think I read about Nutella and Dulce de Leche... mmm). But here we go!

simple ingredients, including some of my favorite flavors

dry ingredients - look at those spices!
I took someone's advice and rolled the dough between sheets of parchment - it allowed it to be super thin
this is after the dough's frozen for a bit

because of the parchment and freezing, the cut-outs were a breeze
as long as I worked quickly
I decided that since everyone said they smelled like Christmas, I thought, why just make circles?
though they looked beautiful, who knows, these might be the only ones I cut out this year!!
I also read where people had difficulty with detailed shapes, but I found that with the frozen dough, they came out ok
I realize that not everyone would think a sheep was a "Christmas" shape, but for me - well, yes!

finished cookies... I think they look pretty cute! oh, see the little Westie in the corner...
 The reason I was baking cookies was that I had a group of co-workers (and friends!) from Puerto Rico coming for the week to my office to do some training - so I wanted to make sure that they were welcomed "properly". Of course, all people that love food and cooking, eventually end up talking about food. After the last time they were all here, they gifted me with a couple of Puerto Rican cookbooks. I've made some recipes already, but thought it would be fun to have some cookies out of one of the books to go along with the Speculoos. So I found a recipe for "Tasty Cookies"  or Mantecaditos. I might translate them as shortbread. Well, they were wonderful!! I kept a plate to share with my family (my Dad's 80th birthday!) on Sunday, and then brought the other plate to work. Needless to say, they were all gone quickly!!! (I see a trend here). Both definitely things I'll make again.

Friday, December 10, 2010

ffwd - leek and potato soup

For those of you who have been wondering... leek & potato, or potato & leek... well, correctly, Dorie's is called leek and potato, because all of us who have made it realize - there are a lot of leeks in there! But leeks are wonderful, so that's all good. I didn't look up Julia Child's recipe from MTOFC until just now, though I've made it before. She also calls it leek and potato - though to be fair, in French, it's Potage Parmentier which (as we learned when we made our hachis) really refers to potatoes. Of course, all of this is purely academic. As I mentioned last week, (almost) every year, my mom & I host a wreath-making party. She typically supplies the brains and creativity, and I supply the sustenance. It seems to work out, since as this year, we even had a friend's friend join us from the UK! It's a wonderful kick-off for the holidays, and is a no-stress, no-pressure day, that results in a lot of laughs, catching up, and something beautiful to take home!!

But I digress. I served the sweet & spicy nuts as a starter (yum!). And since I normally serve soup - I chose our leek & potato soup from our list of December recipes with french fridays with dorie. I decided to make it "hot and smooth" because that makes it easy to serve in mugs - quite handy. As I compare to Julia's recipe: no herbs, both leeks and onions (and many more leeks), no milk or broth (I suspect water is more classic). For those of you who either saw the movie or read the book, it's true that Potage Parmentier is the first recipe in MTOFC, and it was also the first one that I made after picking it up again. Interesting to see how both versions are done - and food for thought... and tinkering!

ingredients ready to go
I was happy that I still had some fresh thyme from the garden and sage
oh, and yes, I made a double-batch

couldn't decide whether to keep this picture or not - it's hard to see, but those are the little "germs:
that Dorie likes to remove from garlic
I suspect I'm more peasantish because I'm not sure I am able to distinguish, but sometimes
I still go ahead with it, since I'm "supposed to"

a lotta leeks!! (these were nice, totally clean, and quite white, so - perfect!)
I have to say, that looks really great - all ready for a nice simmer

now for the "smooth" part
I love using a hand-blender, it's so much easier (and let's face it, less dangerous!)
than transfering to a blender
since it could be chunky or smooth, I didn't think it would matter too much
I might try chunky next time

ready to serve
(oh, those are gluten-free cheese "puffs"? - they were a big hit)

yes, lunch break!
a little soup, a little bread, a little wine... what more can you ask for??

This was really good. Nice, simple, comforting. I think I will change it up a bit next time - maybe somewhere in between. But I get the impression that this is one of those recipes that is a great starting point too. So this was fun to make, and a terrific reminder that I should break this out again. Dorie had a couple of great suggestions... and I've seen others as well (croutons, bacon, spinach swirled in at the last...). Now I'm sorry I don't have any leftovers!!

Friday, December 3, 2010

ffwd - sweet and spicy nuts

I've been making different versions of spiced nuts for years - a tradition I picked up from my parents who had been making them starting some 25 years ago. My most recent favorites (though not everyone's - but, hey, I'm the one making them!) are a honey & fresh rosemary combination, that also have that "pinch of cayenne" that most of my favorite mixtures have. This is one of those things that I also love to package up as a little gift, particularly at Christmas - so I was excited when I first saw the recipe, and even more so when I saw the voting totals add up! Plus, it's a pretty do-able kind of recipe for a busy season.

I like to make batches of mixed nuts - it seems everyone has their favorite type, and it all works out in the end. I was originally going to make a single recipe, but one thing led to another...

my ingredients, ready to start
I wanted to use sea salt, and my favorite cinnamon - Penzey's Vietnamese
also used their chili powder, it's pretty good - I usually make my own spice blends, but this one is nice
almonds, pecans, walnuts and cashews

sugar, salt and spices ready to blend

after the egg whites cover the nuts, on goes the sugar & spice
before baking

and after...
I can't wait for these to cool off so that I can try some
the smell was amazing as they cooked for their half-hour

These turned out great!! I loved the combination of flavors. The spices come through, but also the flavor of the nuts - and I really like the texture! I'm going to be serving these to my friends tomorrow, who are coming over to make wreaths for the holiday, so this should be a nice treat. Since I always serve soup and bread at this party - I'm going to make Dorie's leek and potato soup (probably hot & smooth). Hopefully they'll like the latest Dorie recipes!

Friday, November 26, 2010

ffwd - potato gratin

One of the things I'm learning on this journey of cooking with French Fridays with Dorie, is to appreciate the subtle flavors, and the highlighting of one or two ingredients in her recipes. For a person who loves the recipes of Bobby, Emeril and K-Paul (and don't forget, living in the Southwest!), this is a lesson in understatement. And it's lovely. There's no bam, there's no bold flavors, but the combinations that we put together bring out the best in the several ingredients in each recipe.

This week's recipe is a perfect example. It really highlights the flavor of the potatoes, adding the warmth of garlic, and the richness of cream.

I've read some of the other posts about this recipe, and agree that different (or more!) cheese would be great. Bacon, or ham - another nice addition. Or even changing up the herbs - I was tempted to use some fresh rosemary -  but in keeping with my project, I stuck to the original recipe. And I happily did. Both elegant and comforting. Rich and homey.  
my gratin, with it's yummy topping of toasty cheese
beautiful layers of creamy, potatoey goodness

 What a surprise when I was getting ready to make this recipe - the December issue of Bon Appetit arrived - and there it was, a menu by Dorie... A Cozy French Supper featuring none other than the potato gratin. Several other recipes are included in the recipe, including some fabulous-looking short ribs. I was already making a different recipe for short ribs, so I'll tuck that idea away for later.

The next surprise came when I was baking my favorite cake to share at this time of year - Spiced Cranberry Cake . I happened to look at the recipe while it was baking, and for the first time, realized that it was also a Dorie recipe! I've made it often since it was first published, and it's always a hit.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thinking of Thanksgiving

This is the hands-down favorite holiday in our family. Still adore Christmas, Easter is lovely, and Independence Day has its charms. But Thanksgiving has become our holiday. Of course, part of it is we all love to cook.  Plus, it's all about happiness and thanksgiving for the blessings in our lives...

For many years, I've been creating a special menu for Thanksgiving that includes recipes. The adventurous and willing are encouraged to make a dish to bring to the feast (or pitch in, if they're at the house). Last year, many of us were inspired by the movie Julie & Julia and thought it would be fun to have a French Thanksgiving. I even have a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking from the early 60s, so I had that as a resource for our menu. And our A "Julia" Thanksgiving was really spectacular. Soups, appetizers, 2 (yes 2!) boneless ducks in pastry, a grand turkey stuffed with brioche & mushroom dressing, the most amazing garlic mashed potatoes I've ever eaten... but let's face it. That's a LOT of work.

So this year, instead of all of that decadence, we're having a bit simpler day. Of course, as it turns out, it really doesn't seem a lot more simple - but I'm sure it will be!! (honest!) I'll be enlisting my two nieces who love to cook/bake, plus a couple of brothers, well really, ... the whole crew. Plus we even have people bringing things - so it really will be simpler. So, here it is...

Farmhouse Cheddar & Stilton Terrine
Dorie's cheese-it-ish crackers

Roast Boneless Turkey with Cornbread Dressing
Garnet Yams with Maple-Sugar Stuesel
Peas with Pancetta
Mashed Potatoes
Cranberry Sauce with Port & Cinnamon
Grandma's Dinner Rolls

Caramel Apple Cheesecake
Pumpkin Pie with Cinnamon Crunch & Bourbon-Maple Whipped Cream

It should be lots of fun. How terrific is it to have a niece that specializes in cheesecake! Of course, we had to have a Dorie recipe too.

So, we'll have lots of opportunities to make memories, share stories, and remind ourselves how much love we share. And how blessed we are in every way.

My wish to you is that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Filled with peace and all the things you love!

Friday, November 19, 2010

ffwd - caramel-topped semolina cake

This was (again), one of the things I first thought of making from around my french table by Dorie Greenspan. And another that I voted for to make in November. I have a mixed reaction to it... and you'll see why soon enough. This is really like a country-cousin to a flan. The flavors are good, and I even like the texture (it even tasted good when the cereal was cooling). I liked some others' idea of switching up the fruit, which I will likely do the next time, but I stuck with the original. I like raisins anyway, but they were a pretty powerful flavor up against the eggs, vanilla and cereal - and of course the caramel. I'll leave my conclusions for later...

ok, ready to start
wow, not really very many ingredients
making the cereal mixture - add the cream of wheat, just as the milk is about to boil
adding the sugar and vanilla when it's thick - setting aside to allow this to cool off for about 15 minutes
now it's time to make the caramel
the sugar and water are just beginning to boil

fully melted and boiling

just beginning to get a bit of color

almost ready
off the heat and into the pan
Dorie suggests heating the pan in the oven first - of course, I needed to move it and forgot! Ouch!!

now it's time for the golden raisins and eggs
once fully incorporated, into the pan on top of the caramel it goes!!

well, um,, I don't think it's supposed to look like this - not that big puff on the side!
Dorie says to bake it until it "firms and puffs", but I don't think this is what she had in mind
the cake just out of the oven, not really looking right...
ok, let's admit it - that's ugly! the dip with the pooling caramel is the "puff" from the other side
that's not pretty

the "pretty side" sliced nicely, and really looked a lot like Dorie's
we'll just ignore that other side

I think I'll make this again, since I really do like flan, and this faster, easier cousin has some real potential. Will I ever make it for a dinner party? Not so likely. I often make things for parties that I've never made before. Now that I know? Doubtful.

That said, here's what I think I might do: I used an 8" pan. I think I'd even go down a size and use a 6" pan to give a bit more depth to the filling, or "cake". I would definitely try some other fruit too - I loved the idea of dried cherries (yum!), but I think other things (or nothing) would be good. To make it a bit different, some cinnamon, or even a pinch of nutmeg might add a nice flavor note - particularly without the fruit.

This was definitely homey, comfort food. It won't go to waste, it's pretty tasty. Though not exactly what I'd expected. Of course, now that I have the whole box of Cream of Wheat...

Friday, November 12, 2010

ffwd - pumpkin-gorgonzola flans

I really hesitated when it was time to make this recipe. It was actually one that I chose for a November recipe. They looked so beautiful in the book... well, and why wouldn't they be good? But I had a nagging feeling that they just wouldn't work. After all, I'm the original person who puts together a dinner party with un-tested recipes, just based on ingredients and how I think things will go together - and it pretty much always turns out! Despite my doubts, I decided to go ahead and make the recipe as written, since the other recipes had been good despite their simplicity.

But here's the thing, they do look beautiful, but as a fan of savory pumpkin-ish things, well, they didn't cut it. They were bland. There's really no other way to describe them. If they'd had more gorgonzola, maybe. But what I really missed were all of the spices and herbs that I'd expect in a terrific pumpkin soup. Tried the honey drizzle too... it just, well...

Ingredients ready to go: toasted walnuts, pumpkin, cream, eggs, gorgonzola...
and it's nice that I get to use my little ramekins!

The baking dishes ready to go -
I did think that the layers of paper towels was a great idea - no slipping!!

ingredients into the blender

the last little seasoning of pepper

ready to pop into the oven
the last step before baking will be to put boiling water in the outer pan about half-way up the sides

just barely out of the oven
the cheese is still bubbling!

after cooling to warm, or room temperature, it's time for a bite
 So, while the recipe is easy, and they turned out exactly as described, I just wouldn't make these again. Unless of course I added a bunch of seasonings (maybe Mexican or Southwestern), and topped it with some salty queso fresco, and maybe some pepitas... now that sounds pretty yummy!