Friday, February 5, 2016

Get In or Get Out

Now that we've moved from Italy, and are settled in our home and our routine in the US, I've been thinking about returning to this blog, in its original format, in which I spend one month cooking as much as I can out of one cookbook in my arsenal, to decide whether the book is a keeper, or should be tossed (aka, donated). Part of my motivation is that I find myself returning to the same books over and over--Curtis Stone's What's for Dinner?, Hugh Whittingstall's River Cottage Veg and River Cottage Every Day, and, of course, Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table. All of these books are rock-solid, but I have quite a collection that I've barely used. I do dip around a bit, but I know there are plenty of recipes that I'm not trying, simply because I'm not pushing myself to. While in Italy, I compulsively collected vegetarian and vegan books (I've been more and more drawn to a more veg-centric diet. I'll never go all the way there, but I feel happier when I'm eating more vegetables and whole grains), and oh-so-many books on Italian cooking. And a few Indian books. And, basically, at least one ethnic book for nearly every country we visited while living in Europe. Many untapped resources.

As much as I love Dorie, I just haven't been able to commit myself to baking through Baking, Chez Moi. I still keep an eye on which recipes Tuesdays with Dorie is baking every week, but it's just not good for me to make so much dessert. Matt and Charlie aren't big eaters of sweets, which means that I end up taking down the bulk of it. I'll still cook along with that group sporadically, but I'm releasing myself from the expectation that I'm going to.

I do, however, hope to cook along with a new group that just started today, called Cook the Book Fridays, which will cook it's way through David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen. This group is stemming from the same group that worked through Around My French Table. Same group of home cooks (though anyone is welcome to join), still exploring French food, but with a different author.

That said, I have to skip the first week's recipe, because it's for Winter Salad, which revolves around Rocquefort cheese. I'm pregnant (just about six months!), so am supposed to avoid soft, moldy cheeses. Sounds good, though. I'm pretty excited about Week 2's steak and frites. GET IN MY BELLY!

To start, I'll dive into The Food52 Cookbook, by Amanda Hesser & Merrill Stubbs. The book is lovely to flip through, and has lots of tasty-sounding recipes, but I am perpetually put off by books that are organized according to season instead of meal. I find it hard to wrap my brain around what's inside when the meals are scattered all over the book. It's not a dealbreaker for me, but it is certainly one of the reasons that I've barely touched this book in the time that I've owned it.

I'm going to be out of town for a week this month, so I'm tacking an extra week on to this book's month.

Hopefully, I'm not biting off more than I can chew. If I can't keep up with it or start to get bothered by cooking primarily from one book, I'll probably say, "Oh forget it" and give myself permission to psychologically abandon the blog. Fingers crossed it doesn't come to that.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

TwD: Tiger Cakes

Yay, I'm posting on schedule for the first time in months. Woohoo!

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe from Baking, Chez Moi is for Tiger Cakes, mini-muffin-sized almond flour-based cakes that are supposedly reminiscent of a tiger's stripes because of the chocolate that is mixed into the batter. I don't know about that. I'm not seeing it. Regardless, these cakes are wonderful.

My son started kindergarten this year. It only took him one month to develop self-esteem issues. Wonderful. For the past week, every morning before school, and every night before bed, he sulks about how he's "not as great" as the other kids, he's not as funny, and he has no friends. (Note: I emailed his teacher to find out if he was being shy all day long, or if he was fine once he was in class, because I know he is more social when I'm not around. She said he has lots of friends and socializes so much that he doesn't always pay attention. Sounds right.)

I grew up feeling like I was not very good at anything besides reading and baking. Baking always made me feel good about myself because, nine times out of ten, even if a baked good doesn't turn out perfectly, it's still pretty good. You put the work in, you create something delicious. People inevitably compliment the product. Instant esteem boost. Recognizing that baking functioned for me in this way, I asked Charlie if he wanted to help me bake the Tiger Cakes on Friday morning, before we took a trip to the zoo.

I supervised, but Charlie basically made these himself (I already had egg whites in the freezer, so he didn't have to separate them.) We had a lovely time.

I told him that I was planning to bake every recipe in the book, and asked him if he wanted to help. He said, "Well, yes, but isn't that going to take a long time?" I said, "Yes, but that'll only make it more satisfying when we finish." He said, "But if we bake all those recipes, how will we have time to go to the zoo?" HA! Once I assured him that we were not making them all in one day, he was fully on board.
Neatness is overrated.
I made sure we thoroughly buttered the pans, because I'd read that the cakes were prone to stick. I guess we didn't butter it enough. We ripped the bottoms off of 90% of them trying to get them out of the pan. Lesson for life: So what? They still taste good.
Charlie got the first taste. I asked how they were. He said, "Deeeelicious. Maybe I am a great boy." That esteem boost may not last forever, but it was exactly what I'd hoped for. We're going to be baking a lot in the coming weeks.

We packed up a few to bring to the zoo, so we could eat tiger cakes in front of the tigers.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

TwD: Apple Kuchen

Our move is complete, my house is mostly sorted, and I'm going to try to get back in the Tuesdays with Dorie groove. I've got quite a few makeups to do.

Hurricane Joaquin was a bust around these parts, not that I'm complaining. While planning to be rained in for the weekend, I couldn't think of a cozier idea than to give myself a baking project. Some people go pumpkin crazy in Autumn. I'm all about apples. So, Apple Kuchen, from Baking Chez Moi.

The dough that lines the springform pan made me insane. I guess it hardened too much in the fridge. It fell to pieces as I tried to form it. Ugh! Deep breaths. I patched it all up. There may have been a few curses.
Things did not go more smoothly once the tart was filled. Halfway through the normal baking time, the raisins had already turned into hard, burned balls. I had to bake the kuchen for an extra forty minutes, and it was still wet on the inside. The knife never came out clean. Finally I took it out of the oven. I added the butter and sugar to the top, and put it under the broiler. The apples were supposed to "char seductively." Mine burned, non-seductively.
I pulled the entire top layer of apples (and all the raisins) off of the kuchen, let it sit until after dinner, and then dug in.
Conclusion: Delicious. It was like apple pudding. Yum! I have no need for the crust. The custard, on its own, is all I need.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Play-It-Again-Dorie Recipe

This week, we're talking about the recipe that we keep coming back to, over and over again. It isn't necessarily our favorite recipe, but the one we've made most often.

It's hard to pick one, but based on number of times I've made it, I have to call out Creamy Cauliflower Soup Sans Cream. I love this soup. It's easy to make, tastes delicious--especially with cheese melted on top--and makes me feel virtuous, even when I eat three bowls in one sitting (ahem, always).
Plus, the kiddo likes it. He won't admit that he likes it, but I can get him to eat it. When he genuinely doesn't like something, no power on earth can get it in his mouth. When he merely wants to be contrary, there are ways to work around it.
I made the cauliflower soup two weeks ago to accompany my gougeres. Charlie was not allowed to have a cheesy pouf until he had ten bites of soup. He ate ten bites.
Then, I told him he could only have a second gougere after he ate some more soup. He said, "29 more bites?" Ummm...sure. Twenty-nine bites will be fine.
He did it, and earned himself all the gougeres he wanted. That's what passes as a crowd-pleaser recipe in this house.

We're heading out tomorrow for an 11-day trip to Ireland (SQUEAAAL!), so I will not manage to write next week's post--the final FFWD post!!--until the following week. I'll sit down with a box of tissues and a cup of tea and catch up with all the other Doristas' posts then.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Never Doubt Dorie

Even though I absolutely hated the outcome of the Salmon and Potatoes in a Jar recipe from Around My French Table, it seems like the perfect write-up for this week's French Fridays with Dorie post, in which we were tasked to "Choose the recipe that might not have been your favorite or even something you enjoyed making or even something you were skeptical about but which taught you a technique or gave you an idea or provided a lesson of some kind."

I did not enjoy making or eating this recipe, in which salmon is brined, then packed into a jar with olive oil, herbs, and vegetables. I was 100% skeptical of it, going in. I knew I would hate it, and so I instantly started backtracking and trying to find ways to not follow the recipe. Granted, I did follow the Roasted Cured Salmon bonne idee, so I didn't go totally rogue, but it turned out horridly. I know that cured fish is technically not raw, but when starting with such dull looking salmon to begin with, cured was too raw for me. I roasted it, and it turned into an overly fishy salt-bomb. This provided the lesson. Two lessons, actually.

Lesson 1: Always, always, always use the freshest ingredients possible. My salmon was gross looking, straight from the supermarket, and so there was no chance in the world I was going to prepare it as written. I should have looked harder for a better product.

Lesson 2: As I quote Matt as saying in my original post for this recipe, "Next time, just trust Dorie!!" It was years ago, but I can still hear his wail as he tried to scrape all that salty fish off his tongue. It was pretty funny.

Going rogue works for some people, but for me, I'm better off when I just trust Dorie.

Friday, May 29, 2015

FFwD: The AHA Moment!

To launch our celebration month after completing every recipe from Around My French Table, we were tasked with choosing our favorite recipe, and then making a top 5 list. (Okay, so I'm 20 recipes short of "every", but I'm at peace with that number.)

No question in my mind, my number one favorite recipe in this book is Gougeres. This was one of the first recipes I made, before I knew that French Fridays with Dorie even existed. I was not much of a cook at the time, and had a picky, cranky 1-year-old on my hands, but I decided to take a risk and try this cheesey choux dough--not that I'd ever heard of pate a choux--for no reason other than that the picture in the book looked delicious.
It felt like a miracle when Charlie ate one. Then two. Then as many as he could stuff into his face. Gougeres became the treat I made when we had long car rides ahead of us. They became my go-to party snack. Charlie learned to say "cheesy poof," our in-house name for gougeres, before he learned to say I love you. Cheesy poofs are dear to our hearts.
He was so leeeettle! I want to eat his face! And that cheesy poof.
I fully intended to bake a celebratory batch of gougeres today, but life got away from me, and now I don't have time. After a full morning of errands, my husband called and said that he'd broken his foot playing soccer at work (darn military and their mandatory PT!), was at the hospital, and that I needed to come and wait for him to be done, then bring him back to work. By the time I dropped him off, I had just enough time to pick Charlie up from school. I'm exhausted, and instead of gougeres and soup, my dinner will now consist of rotisserie chicken and whatever leftover grain/veg I can find in the fridge.

Matt's plan for tomorrow was to clean out our disaster of a garage. Now that his foot is broken, I guess I get bumped up in the queu. boooooo! Actually, he thinks he's doing it anyway. Um, no. I bump myself up in the queu, and he's going to have to learn to stop being productive for a little while. So, tomorrow may suck, but, by God, there WILL be gougeres!! And gougeres will make it all better.

It is nearly impossible for me to pick a top 5. Here's my best shot. I'm not counting gougeres. They're my #1, but this way, it's like I get a Top 6. Mwa ha haaa!

1. Provencal Olive Fougasse. If memory serves me, this was one of my first forays into bread. I was afraid of yeast before this recipe. After, I was like, "Oh. That was no big deal." Salty, lemony, bready goodness. What's not to love?

2. Cheese-Topped Onion Soup. This takes substantially longer to properly caramelize the onions than Dorie says, but it is so rich and delicious at the end, that I don't care. Best. Soup. Ever.

3. Beef Cheek Daube with Carrots and Elbow Macaroni. This one was a shock to me, because up until I made this recipe, I hated stewed beef with a fiery passion. I LOVE this recipe, and I've made it many times, whenever the temperature drops. I'm looking forward to having a real winter in DC next year (Did I tell you, we now have orders to Washington DC??!! Matt and I lived there for 8 years after college. I'm super excited to go back. It feels like going home, because we have so many friends in the area. I am SO going to feed them this beef.)

4. Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good. The name speaks for itself. Maybe I'm just hankering for cool-weather dishes right now, but I miss this dish! I can't wait to be reunited with the proper kind of pumpkin for it. They have pumpkin in Italy, but it's very different. I tried to make this once here in Italy, and it didn't work.

5. I literally can not choose between Marie-Helene's Apple Cake or the Tourteau de Chevre as my favorite dessert. I can't. I'm not even going to try. So there!
It feels so wrong to leave off the osso bucco and veal marengo and the hurry-up-and-wait roast chicken and dressy pasta risotto and potato gratin and the slow-roasted tomatoes and endives,apples, and grapes, and almond flounder mouniere, and the chocolate mousse, and...and...and...there's too much. I feel like a very lucky girl to have so many favorite recipes in my arsenal. Thank you, Dorie!!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

FFwD: Chicken in a Pot

So this is it. The last recipe that the French Fridays with Dorie group is scheduled to cook from Around My French Table. We'll have one more month of cooking, where we highlight our favorites/recipes that taught us something/etc, but, really,

Chicken in a Pot. This is the recipe on the cover.

The prime placement, that gorgeous photo, and the fact that we saved this recipe for last, may have all served to build my expectations a bit too high. I love roast chicken. Love it. In combo with roasted-in-the-same-pot sweet potatoes, carrots, and white potatoes, it's one of my top 5 favorite recipes (and Dorie's Hurry-up-and-Wait Roast Chicken has become my standby). This one uses all my favorite elements (I omitted the preserved lemon), and looks spectacular in the picture.

Except for one thing. It turns out, this is not a roast chicken. That picture totally fooled me. After browning the vegetables, you brown the chicken, then put it in a pot to braise in broth and wine. Dorie calls for white. I used red, because I accidentally drank the white the night before. Well, the drinking wasn't an accident. The forgetting that I'd reserved it for this recipe was.

This is a divergence, but it boggles my mind whenever a recipe calls for a ton of veg, and then, when it wants you to brown it, makes a side note of "if necessary, do this in 2 batches." How big of a pan do these people have that could ever possibly brown this amount of anything in one pan?? Of course it's going to take two batches. In fact, this took me three batches! Pet peeve. I don't know why. I think because the batches always add extra time that I hadn't accounted for on first read. And, in this case, I don't feel that the browning added additional flavor to the veg after they soaked in that braise for an hour.
I appear to have done a terrible job browning my chicken. I'll admit outright that I am an impatient browner. It always takes so much longer than I think it's going to.

That gorgeous golden bread ringing Dorie's pan was a let down. She says that this seals in all the flavor. I, mistakenly, assumed that it would also be good for eating. Nope. It's basically just a putty to seal the pan closed, that is dry and flavorless once baked. Is this step really necessary? No. Not if you have a well-fitted lid, it's not.

One other complaint regarding the bread-sealed lid is that I couldn't check the temperature on my chicken.

In the end, this was a perfectly fine chicken. It took more time and more steps than seems necessary, especially when a straight-up roast chicken, with all the same ingredients, is exponentially more delicious. I wish I had a more dramatic love for our last recipe, but I don't. It was fine. It feels a little anticlimactic. Ah, well. Fine's not so bad.