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!

Friday, November 5, 2010

ffwd - roast chicken for les paresseux (for lazy people)

What better recipe to choose (yes, we're chosing the order in which we cook our recipes this month - not helpful for me, who really enjoyed the structure. I make decisions all day - I enjoyed being directed a little!!), for a short week on our cooking journey. We didn't get our recipe choices until Monday... so, given the fact that roast chicken is a favorite, and it was easy... you get the idea. This recipe was made for me! And for this week.

Ok, I'll admit it, I made this once before when I first got the book. This time, I thought I'd go the purist route - only chicken! no vegetables! Also, I learned a few things from reading others' posts: mainly "keep the lid off when baking"; which lead to another try at "the bread trick". When I made this the first time, I put the bread in the bottom of the pan, but covered my chicken as it roasted (it calls for a Dutch oven), so I ended up with a lot of wonderful juice in the bottom and a barely distinguishable piece of bread.

I was in Sedona over the weekend, and remembered to bring home a bunch of wonderful, fresh herbs from the garden. As Simon & Garfunkle prompted me, I ended up with parsley, sage, rosemary & thyme. (corny, yes, true, yes...). Dorie suggests rosemary, thyme and oregano. But it's fall, and I love sage, and then there was still some lovely fresh parsley...

My ingredients ready to prep.
Beautiful herbs from up north, along with garlic, chicken, salt, pepper, olive oil...
does not get a lot simpler that that!

Afore-mentioned bread in the bottom of the oiled Dutch oven

Everything ready to put together. Chicken salted and peppered, check.
Liver ready to put back inside the chicken, check.
Herbs & split garlic, check, check, check...

ready to bake!

The lovely chicken as it comes out of the oven.
This recipe makes a great chicken. In fact, it's exactly what a great chicken should be. Wonderful chicken flavor with hints of herbs and mellow garlic. The chicken liver turns out beautifully (I have to admit, I didn't get a lot farther that trying the bread, eating some liver, and a little of the juicy chicken breast). I still don't think I have the "bread trick" right - and if I do, it's probably something I should stay away from. Mine was carmelized on the bottom, but filled with chicken fat (not that it's a bad thing), certainly not nearly as virtuous as I'd like to think having "roast chicken" should be. It was, however, delicious.

Here's what I learned: With the lid off, the herbs and garlic got overly crisp. But the skin was great, and there was at least the option of the bread. When I made this before, with the lid on (and the optional vegetables), everything stayed nice and softened, and there was still some crispiness to the chicken skin. I know the garlic was yummy... but both were terrific, which is why I'll make this again.