Sunday, March 27, 2011

around my french table - 6 months on

Some of the recipes I've made have been memorable, others not so much. But Dorie Greenspan's around my french table (her use of capitals...) has proven to be a great cookbook. It's been interesting on this journey - I've found that one of my go-to recipes for the holidays is hers (a wonderful spiced cranberry bundt cake I found on Epicurious), as well as seen multiple articles about Dorie and this cookbook in several magazines. It seems that Dorie is everywhere these days.

But I have to say, rightfully so. I suspect that there's been a resurgence of interest in French food, but we're all so busy these days. It's pretty wonderful to find things that are terrific, easy and require only a few ingredients (most that can be found in my kitchen on a regular basis). I've made quite a few recipes from the book outside of those for french fridays with dorie (see above), and several of the ones included multiple times. So I thought now would be a good time for a re-cap. I think I'll just start at the beginning...

gougeres - I wish I would take the time to make another batch and just freeze most of them. One of my favorites from the book, and one that really delivered by being able to freeze them unbaked, and then pull them out at any time for an amazing appetizer.

mustard batons - this is a recipe for this month. I'll be happy to make these again. They were shockingly good. Dorie had to struggle to put 4-5 (2 optional) ingredients for these. But they were so good. And they froze uncooked well, to be taken out and baked fresh as needed.

sweet and spicy cocktail nuts - I've made these several times, with different variations. My personal favorite was adding some ground chipotle to the mix. But whatever way you make them, a must-have, particularly at the holidays.

savory cheese and chive bread - I would have loved to make this again. Wasn't a huge favorite with friends when I was "sharing" but I thought it was great. Probably another wonderful holiday-ish thing. Although it would be great for a summer salad dinner...

christine's simple party soups:  the asparagus version - so simple and wonderful! I used fresh spinach instead of zucchini (it seemed "French" since they are supposed to use what they have on hand), and it was terrific. I love, love vegetable soups, and this was terrific. I want to try the others - red pepper and broccoli.

leek and potato soup - my version was hot and smooth for a rustic lunch during a wreath-making party. This version was good, but I have to admit, there's something about picking up Mastering the Art of French Cooking and making this. Maybe it's just more romantic, dunno.

cote d azur cure-all soup - I made this for my sister-in-law who sometimes suffers from sniffles, congestion... not to get too graphic! I have to admit that I saved a little back for myself. She was nice enough to offer some to my brother too - they loved it! I am convinced of its curative properties, almost enough to want to be sick to ... nah, forget that! Great, easy...

paris mushroom soup - I've made this twice. Once before it was a ffwd recipe, and then again - that time for a dinner party. My guests liked it a lot, but I'm still not convinced. I'm sure there's a better mushroom soup recipe out there (for me at least!)

spicy vietnamese chicken noodle soup - I loved this so much!! I've made it at least twice. I even tracked down some imported Vietnamese noodles once. This is for sure a go-to. It's wonderful. The real tricks (IMHO) are the condiments - hoisin, chile sauce and a combination of fresh herbs on top - cilantro, basil and mint. That really sends this over the top. I adore the combination of mint and basil along with Asian flavors. This is really a winning recipe!!

chunky beets and icy red onions - ok, so not exactly this (I had a guest that does not eat raw onions and didn't want to press the issue), but I made (generally) the bon idee salad of beets, arugula, goat cheese along with the vinaigrette. Wonderful. I love beets!

bacon, eggs and asparagus salad - this one wasn't chosen as part of our ffwd experience (yet), but asparagus is in season, and it just has always looked amazing. It was. I had it as a main course with an extra egg. Even tried it with a bit of parmesan. Good whichever way.

basque potato tortilla - another of the ffwd recipes. I thought it was really pretty good. I made it for another group... just in case anyone was hungry (and it was perfect, since one of my friends has a gluten-free diet). We were, and it really fit the bill. This is the one that my friend declared "totally authentic" - it didn't hurt that another friend supplied some amazing wine - but that's totally beside the point.

pumpkin-gorgonzola flans - this is one that I thought I'd like. And I didn't.

gerard's mustard tart - I've made this twice. Both with tomatoes (I actually had the carrot and leek version at a friend's). I really (unexpectedly) loved the combination of mustard and tomato. But it required summer tomatoes, so another attempt will have to wait. This is an odd one, but I ended up really liking it and will likely make it again.

spinach and bacon quiche - I don't even remember what I did - probably not Dorie's crust. It was only OK. Maybe it was the level of effort. (all of Dorie's quiche/tarts/etc require a very long duration of effort)

roast chicken for les paresseaux - I've made this at least a couple of times. Never have I made Dorie's "bread trick" work. It's never going to be my favorite (that's a guy named Emeril's tangerine-glazed chicken with fresh rosemary), but it's really pretty good. Almost impossible to beat a roast chicken...

chicken breasts diable - a nice, creamy mustardy sauce. Who doesn't have practically all of these things on hand (ok, I admit, only crazy people have cream for no reason, but really...?) In the southwest, we'd consider this a pretty amiable "devil", but it was nice (I'm beginning to like mustard in food a bit more)

chicken b'stilla - this was pretty good. It even was pretty good re-heated. I did mine as individual bundles. I liked it more than I thought I would. Not sure I'd make it again. But nice enough.

my go-to beef daube - well, my Dad declared that he liked this better than Julia's Beef Bourguignon. I'm not a fan of this type of dish. But other people are. And they liked this. A lot. For my money, I have a recipe for short ribs with rosemary, wine and little chocolate - yum! I still haven't tried Dorie's short ribs yet.

hachis parmentier - I made this for a dinner party and it was a huge hit. Was going to make it again, but things changed. I thought it was surprisingly great. Next time I'll likely cheat and make the quick version.

fresh orange pork tenderloin - I probably didn't do a careful rendition of this. Wasn't anything special, and it probably should have been.

scallops with caramel-orange sauce - I'd kind of like to make these again, when they're the only thing "special" I'm making. Would definitely work on the sauce a bit, and add the candied orange peel as suggested. But they were definitely a hit.

spiced butter-glazed carrots - this is a great (great) technique. I've made this several times, once as a special request. They're super-good. Cooked in broth, and the finished with a tiny bit of butter - and I like the spice. Yum!

potato gratin - this was really quite good. Creamy, yummy comfort food. Not the "ultimate" potato, but really good.

beggar's linguine - despite others' professed love for this dish, I'm still in the "not so much" camp.

gnocchi a la parisienne - this is so over-the-top that I will likely not make this again. That said, this was really good in a guilty-pleasure way, particularly with a little truffle oil or salt - because once it's this decadent, why not add more?

creamy, cheesy, garlicky rice with spinach - this is really a "lazy" version of risotto. And it's really, really good. I've made it a couple of times. I don't know who would possibly be able to eat half of this as a main course, but whatever Dorie says!

compote de pommes two ways - essentially a nice applesauce. But it's good. And really a good reminder that something as simple as applesauce makes a nice dessert.

salted butter break-ups - really a fun little (ok, big) cookie. Nothing to it, but it's charming because of its shape, and the combination of slightly soft interior and crunchy edges - oh, and the scored top makes it pretty cute. It's the Gray Salt (sel gris) that makes it special.

speculoos - thin, crispy spice cookies. What fun.

marie-helene's apple cake - this makes the most of flavorful apples, along with the flavors of butter and a bit of rum. A super easy, super nice light cake. Great as a dessert, but many liked it as a tea cake. I've made this a couple of times. Does not disappoint when you'd like a rustic, tasty dessert

caramel-topped semolina cake - not for this American. Not really as terrific as the individual parts, I thought. There was something about it, but not enough for me to make it again.

michel rostang's double chocolate mousse cake - very yummy! I've never gotten that clear division between layers with the double baking, so it's hard to think it's important. That said, I even taught a couple of friends to make this. That day I made one with a four-pepper blend (equal parts white, black, cayenne & chipotle) and some Vietnamese cinnamon for a bit of a southwestern spin on the original. Amazing.

coconut friands - I'm a total fan of coconut. Might be my favorite flavor. I mean really, you can't go wrong. This is a super-simple recipe for almost a macaroon made in a tart shell. So they're easier. And soft and moist (so maybe you miss that essence of crunch). Would of course be terrific embellished.
I suspect they'd be great frozen. With chocolate. Or nuts...

orange-almond tart - I've made this twice. When I made almond flour out of blanched almonds, I finally understood. The first one was great but not perfect. The second one was great but not perfect - each for totally different reasons. Loved the juiciness of the orange contrasting with the creaminess of the filling and crunch of the crust. This one actually needs a glaze though so that the fruit doesn't end up looking pathetic. If only I had time, I'd make it again...

And I think that takes me to this point in time. All in all, it's been a fun journey - maybe as much because of my new on-line friends as the food itself. Generally, these are good recipes. Sometimes great. A couple not-so-much. There are still plenty of recipes that I want to try, so I'm looking forward to our next six months.

Friday, March 25, 2011

ffwd - scallops with orange-caramel sauce

I really didn't do the level of planning that I would typically do for one of the French Friday recipes. This was a last-minute (ok, the day before - but I work so it felt a little last minute!) change to a menu for a mid-week dinner party. When I found out that my original plan wouldn't work, someone suggested "fish", I countered "I don't have a grill, I'm not making fish for 6, 7, 8...!". But then, as I started looking around to decide what to prepare, I really just kept coming back to these scallops. And I finally just decided why not? Well one reason why not was that I had a guest or two who profess a dislike for scallops. Then I thought - I could add some shrimp. But in the end, I decided that they could just deal with it, since I really thought that they would turn out well and everyone would like them. There is a particular type that I always buy, and they're always terrific (I'll admit it, even I don't like all scallops!). So, it was decided!

Then, I had to think about what else to serve - I landed on Dorie's suggestion of the spiced glazed carrots - they are now one of my go-to recipes. I also made a riff on one of her salads, this one with arugula, beets and goat cheese - and then we finished up with the salted butter break-up from last week. Simple enough.

Well, with all of that going on, you can imagine that I really didn't get too into taking photographs. While I had made the caramel sauce earlier, there were enough things going on, that I really didn't get to it.

I love the steam! :)
But the whole thing came together. We had a memorable evening, filled with a lot of laughter and great stories. And the scallops were a hit. Every delicious one enjoyed. Made a convert out of the non-scallop-eaters (who admitted that they would have only eaten shrimp if given the option and never even tried the scallops!), and found that they are a favorite of our guest-of-honor.
This turned out to be a super-simple dish. I wish I'd reduced the sauce a bit more. And would have liked to have made the candied peel as a garnish. Next time. But otherwise, it was really nice - a bit fancy, and also really fast! So Dorie came through again!

Friday, March 18, 2011

ffwd - salted butter break-ups

Let me just put it out there... I think this will be pretty much a universal favorite. Maybe a bit more for some than others, but this is really a fun, tasty treat. Oh, and did I mention easy?

Last night I had some people coming over for dinner - didn't really know how many, wasn't sure if the dessert would actually show up, and I was already cooking, so I thought why not go ahead and make the break-ups, you can always hide them if a fabulous dessert walks through the door! And besides, I was already practicing being flexible after a semi-last-minute reminder that one of my guests doesn't eat meat (I knew that!) - out with the hachis parmentier, in with the scallops in caramel orange sauce! Oh, but that's next week's story...

The only bad part is that when I'm cooking for people, rather than my blog, I can sometimes get out of sequence... oops! I kind of already started when I remembered that I should be taking pictures. Hmmm.

simplest of ingredients... butter, sugar, flour salt, water
my lovely gray salt
I love, love it! of course, it's nice enough to share it's space with some regular sea salt
sneak preview - it's totally worth using your fancier salt
and I did use the full 1t, since I'd read others talking about wanting a bit more

dry ingredients mixed, and ready for the butter!
my poor, 30-year-old Cuisinart!
I keep thinking of getting a new one, but then... I just don't

I was a little afraid I'd added too much water (it was the 5 T from the recipe)
but it turned out exactly as Dorie described: malleable
(here's the missing photo part...)
I plopped the dough onto a parchment sheet, topped it with another, flattened it out a bit
and put it in the freezer while I worked on other things
took it from the freezer, rolled it out a bit, did the whole egg wash thing, and then I used a knife (!)
 to make the markings. I am not sure I believe that the markings shown in the book were made by a fork - look
at the next picture - and you decide!

the baked and cooling break-up
smells wonderfully of butter, and looks pretty ok, I think!
as you can see, the break-up made it's way to the table after all
These turned out exactly as described: "the perfect break-up is crisp on the outside and still tender within". I loved the salty-sweet combination. I think that the gray salt was, if not necessary, then very desireable. This was such a fun confection to make, and so incredibly easy and fast, that I will surely make it again. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

ffwd - beggar's linguine

Wow, that was underwheliming! Now, I'll give you, that on a late night in Paris, at a delightful bistro, I might have a different idea. For my money, however, please, just stop at the butter, parmesan and a little grind of the pepper mill.

Don't get me wrong, I like all of these ingredients - in fact, I had them on hand. I just wasn't sure, but, given Dorie's track record, I was willing to suspend my disbelief. Well, no harm, no foul. No dinner guests in the plan for today, so hey, why not give it a whirl???

Of course, couldn't be simpler. A few ingredients - a combination of salty, sweet & crunchy.


This one was not for me. I think I'll just stop at a little butter and cheese next time. But it was fun to try, even if it didn't turn out. Of course, I agree with Dorie, these flavors would be fabulous with some dark chocolate. Unfortunately, I'm just not sophisticated enough to really enjoy this dish. I hope everyone else was pleased though!!!

Friday, March 4, 2011

ffwd - savory cheese and chive bread

This is yet another recipe that I'd been drawn to when I first looked at Around My French Table. I think that quick breads are wonderful - flavorful and homey. I love chives (and other fresh herbs), and who doesn't like cheese?? Also, it was an easy recipe to get back into the swing of French Fridays. I needed that after a bit of time away (though I really want to figure out when I can make those shortribs and green beans!).

This was super-simple, and as Dorie suggests, lends itself to whatever you might have on hand. I can totally see this in the summer too, when fresh basil is at its best, or maybe thyme - and of course, one of my favorites - rosemary. This along with a nice vegetable soup (I made Dorie's asparagus soup a couple of weeks ago) would make an amazing summer evening meal.

Ok, but here's the fun part! The only trick to making quick breads is in the final mixing. It's always better to undermix than overmix.

so here are our ingredients (well, minus the chives...)

cheese, shredded and diced
I used comte (my new favorite cheese, thank you Dorie!)
a nice 1/4" dice and fine shreds

fresh chives, sliced and ready to go

you can tell here that I diverged from the recipe
I like to add herbs, cheese (fruit, nuts) to the dry ingredients
I simply add them, once the dry ingredients have been fully mixed together
that way they are evenly distributed, and I don't overmix the dough by adding them later
I didn't happen to have any walnuts on hand, though I think they would have been terrific

this is exactly the point when you stop mixing
I know that there are a couple of flecks of flour that you can see
and it's lumpy! but that's what you want
overmix this, and you will end up with a really tough, chewy bread

exactly as a quick-bread should look
mine isn't quite as smooth as Dorie's, I think because I didn't
"even the top with the back of a spatula or spoon"
what can I say, I like rustic 
while I knew that I should wait until it was cool
I couldn't resist taking one slice
even warm, it sliced beautifully!
but I did like this better after it had completely cooled

I really liked this bread. I liked the crispy exterior, and that you could taste the different flavors (use some nice olive oil here!). I thought it would be terrific with other flavor combinations, and with the addition of nuts as suggested. Other herbs, other cheeses - even the olives or sun-dried tomatoes as suggested would be great. One thing that I thought would be terrific with this would be to pair it with a blue-cheese spread. I make one that's layered with some type of blue cheese (often Stilton, but could be Gorgonzola, or Maytag), alternating with a butter/cream cheese mixture (no, not good for you at all!). I often make that during the holidays, and that combination would be pretty special. Of course, the other thing that this just screamed for was a good cup of tomato soup! What a nice bread that you can either dress up or down, and easy enough to make at the last minute!!