Thursday, October 23, 2014

Reasons to Celebrate with Dorie

October marks several Dorie-related occasions--it's Dorie's birthday, it's French Fridays with Dorie's 4th anniversary, and Dorie's new baking book (Baking Chez Moi) comes out. Woohoo! To celebrate, the Doristas were given three recipes from the new book and told to pick one.

I went with Palets des Dames, Lilles Style, which is a fancy name for a simple and delicious cookie that I've never heard of. Charlie helped me bake the cookies, and it turns out to be a perfect recipe for kid participation because there are only a few basic steps, no expensive ingredients, and includes an icing that begs to be dyed colors and/or coated in sprinkles. These cookies bake up with a little bit of a dome, and have a texture that's closer to cake than cookies, so they're nice and sturdy. Not one fell apart after being handled by my overzealous 4-year-old.
 I thought I measured the batter properly, but I only got 24 cookies, instead of 40. I also needed to make two batches of icing to coat all the cookies. Minor complaint. With a touch of vanilla in the batter and a touch of lemon juice in the icing, these are the perfect match for a cup of tea.
Charlie and I had a lot of fun baking these together. Halfway through decorating them, he threw his arms around my neck and exclaimed that he was "so happy!" He kills me with how sweet he is sometimes. He may have been a difficult infant, but he's becoing a pretty incredible kid. Thanks for the memory, Dorie. I'm sure it's the first of many I'll associate with Baking Chez Moi.

Check out the links of the other participants, and the other recipes we had to choose from. I could sure go for some Brown Butter Peach Tourte right about now.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

FFwD: Celery-Celery Soup

I so wanted to rave about this week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe: Celery-Celery Soup. I mean, I cooked this for dinner on Friday, so provided that I managed to blog about it by Saturday, I'd almost be participating in real time! Fancy that!

Unfortunately, I did not love this soup, which primarily consists of celery, celery root, and apples. After scanning through Dorie's soup section, I've come to a realization about my own tastes. I've adored the majority of her savory soups. I haven't enjoyed a single one that involve fruit. I just don't dig sweet soup. See that? I've learned something about myself.
Hideous.
Matt ate one bowl and said he didn't want another. Charlie actually ate most of a bowl, but it was only because I was dangling dessert over his head. All's fair in feeding kids.

I hate to say it, but we threw out the leftovers. We all knew they'd mold over in the fridge before any of us went back for seconds. Oh well.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Dorie, Dorie, Everywhere.

Are you tired of me saying that I'm behind on my Dorie posts yet? I don't blame you. I'm tired of it, too. The whole cooking-along-with-the-group thing is a lot less fun when you're not actually cooking along with the group. On the plus side, I've busted out quite a few make-ups and feel like I'm beginning to close in on my list. Sort of. I have a butt-load of dessert to catch up on. I better get a move on, since baking through Dorie's new baking book begins in November. I thought I had more time before tackling Baking: Chez Moi. If I don't bust these tarts out before the new dessert book begins, I'm not certain I'll get it done. The countdown begins.

Since it was a more recent recipe, I'll start this off with French Lentils: a Basic Recipe. I didn't have du Puy lentils, but the normal Italian ones I bought maintained their structure and worked just fine. There was a time when I hated lentils. I'm glad those days are gone. This was easy to throw together since there wasn't much chopping involved, and it made for a very tasty lunch.
Everything looks better in Polish pottery.
I originally skipped Twenty-minute Honey-glazed Duck Breasts because I can't find duck here in Napoli. I even asked my Italian friend if he knew where I could get some. He looked baffled, then said, "No. We don't eat that here." Okay, then. I'm certain that this recipe would be more delicious with duck. In the interest of finishing all my recipes, I grilled some chicken cutlets and then drizzled them with the sauce. I expected a thicker, more honey-centric sauce. The balsamic vinegar was what monopolized the flavor. That's not a complaint. I like balsamic. I just think it should have earned a spot in the title over honey. It's entirely possible that I did not reduce the sauce enough, and if I had, it would have become more honey-ish. Regardless, delicious, easy, and barely used any ingredients.
For dinner one night, I made Dieter's Tartine. I rubbed my toasted sourdough bread with a garlic clove, because Italy has taught me that doing so makes all versions of bruschetta exponentially more delicious. Then I smeared it with ricotta (rather than cottage cheese) and topped it with Dorie's tomato and cucumber mixture. It was fine. Unremarkable.

At the same time, I made Roasted Peppers. This was a pretty basic roasted pepper recipe, so I don't have much to say about it, except that I love roasted peppers, and would take the tartine I made them into over the Dieter's Tartine any day of the week.
I know I've bemoaned the state of avocado at the commissary on many, many occasions. It is the reason that I skipped Pistachio Avocado, which, it could be argued, is the easiest recipe in the book. All you're supposed to do is halve an avocado and fill the pit-hole with pistachio oil. Okay, the second reason I didn't make this is because I don't own and have never seen pistachio oil. The third reason is that eating a hole full of oil doesn't appeal to me.

I got my hands on a decent avocado, and knew I needed to do something to tick this recipe off. I smashed it on some German rye bread, drizzled lovely olive oil on top, and sprinkled it with sea salt. It bears little resemblance to the original, but it's the best I'm going to do before the group finishes the book in the spring, so I say it counts.

Last, and maybe least, I brought Crispy Crackly Apple Almond Tart to a JAG wive's lunch thing hosted by a higher-up. I liked that I had everything in my house that I needed to bake this recipe, and that it came together easily.
I expected to love this, but I didn't. I blame my apples, not the recipe. They had no flavor, and the almond mixture wasn't impressive enough to carry the absence of apple deliciousness. The dish I carried it on got a lot of compliments, though.

Okay. Phew. That covers what I've cooked lately. Now I have to get my hands on a celery root by Friday, so I can participate in real time. They sell them at the Italian supermarket, but I hate having to make a special trip there for one item. We'll see if I get there.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Beef Fajitas and Homemade Tortillas

I've gone fajita crazy. I cooked The Pioneer Woman's Beef Fajitas and Homemade Tortillas (pg 141 and 143 of A Year of Holidays) last week, and have been craving them again ever since. The ingredients are already on my grocery list to make again for dinner this week.

The meat sits in an easy-to-throw-together marinade of Worcestershire, garlic, lime juice, sugar, olive oil, and spices for several hours, then gets grilled. The veg (multi-colored peppers, onions, and mushrooms) are simply cooked in olive oil and butter. I was originally skeptical that there was no seasoning for the vegetables, but it turned out that the meat marinade provided plenty of flavor.

I didn't get as many tortillas out of my "walnut-sized" balls of dough as I was supposed to, and the tortillas, which I flattened in my tortilla press, were too small to wrap the food up like a fajita, but they tasted delicious and were a nice, soft, bendy texture. Next time, I'll know not to halve the recipe. The tortillas, used like tacos, disintegrated under the weight and wetness of the food, but as long as you're not a neat-freak, the deliciousness will compensate for the mess. If you have a problem with messes, you probably shouldn't be eating fajitas in the first place.

I inhaled these so fast that I didn't even think to snap a picture. Whoops.

Conclusion: Loved both recipes. I want more, right now. I may experiment with the ratio of corn to white flour in the tortillas, because I do prefer a cornier flavor, but that's just a matter of taste.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Let's Get This "Long Term" Ball Rolling

I recently asked Charlie to pick a recipe out of C is for Cooking. He went with Ernie's Fruity Frozen Fun Pops. I like the idea of these a lot more than either one of us enjoyed the outcome.

Blitz banana, canned crushed pineapple, plain yogurt, and a little sugar in the blender. Fill an ice cube tray with the mixture. Put them in the freezer, and when they're half frozen, stab them with straws.
These were annoying to eat, because the second they get a little melty, they fall off the straw and make slow-eating 4 year olds scream. Also, the straws that I used weren't sturdy enough to support the weight of the cube, so they bent. Refer back to the screaming 4 year old.

My biggest problem with this, though, was that the texture of the cube was unpleasant to eat. There weren't fruit chunks, but there was a lot of fiber from the pineapple, so you almost had to chew it. Not ideal.

Charlie barely ate his first one, and never wanted another. I felt the same way.

Conclusion: Dislike.

My first two forays into Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays have been delightful.

First up: Sticky Cherry Cake, from her Valentine's Day section. This cake uses canned cherries in the batter, and then the syrup from the can is cooked down with sugar and butter, and poured on top of the cooked cake.
Holy moly. This thing was rich, sweet, and delicious. The chewy, caramelized edges were the best part. For me, a little went a long way, and my family didn't eat much of it on the day I made it. However, our friends and their kids came for dinner the next day. We demolished the rest of the cake. One of the kids may have licked the pan clean.

Conclusion: Loved it. Sometimes you need something this decadently sweet.

The Chipotle Chicken Chili from the section for "The Big Game" is, hands-down, the best chicken chili I've had. I think that the element that sets it apart from other recipes I've tried is that, in the last few minutes, you add a mixture of beer and masa harina. This provides that nice, earthy, corn flavor, and also thickens the chili beautifully. I'm also a huge fan of the flavor that chipotle peppers in adobo give to any recipe, so this wins points for using them.
I realize this looks like a pile of cheese, with no chili.
Conclusion: I loved it. Matt loved it. Charlie ate an English Muffin.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

FFwD: 2 Make-Ups

The recipe that the French Fridays with Dorie gang is cooking this week is Curried Chicken, Peppers, and Peas en Papillote. I've made this dish several times. Each time, I amp up the measurements and the variety of the spices I use, and each time, it turns out bland. For me, it's a cozy kind of blandness that I don't mind. Matt, however, grumbles and moans and says it doesn't taste like anything. It may be bland, but it's so, so easy, and one of these days, I'm going to figure out a good way to make the spices stand up to the amount of water that leaks out of the vegetables.

Because I mistakenly thought that I'd already done a post about this dish back in the day when I first made it, I decided to skip it this week and catch up on two recipes that I missed.

First, I made Potato Chip Tortilla. Yuck. I like potato chips. I like Spanish tortillas. I'd skipped this recipe originally, because dumping half a bag of potato chips into my eggs didn't exactly align with my dietary ambitions at the time. I shouldn't have worried about it. I ate three bites and threw the rest out. I would think that food cooked with half a bag of potato chips would be salty, but it wasn't. It was remarkably underseasoned, and the texture was weird, to the point of being gross. I'm pleased to say that I hated this one. I could have been in trouble if I thought it was delicious.
Last night, I served one of my old Dorie favorites: Creamy Cauliflower Soup Sans Cream. To go alongside, I made Socca from Vieux Nice, which is a simple batter made from chickpea flour, water, olive oil, salt, and chopped rosemary. A thin layer of this goes into a cake pan, where it's baked for a few minutes, then broiled to brown and (ideally) burn the top.

I didn't cook mine properly. I baked it for the specified amount of time, but hit a snag with my broiling. My oven is gas, but the broiler is electric, and takes a looooong time to get going. I switched over from baking to broiling, and let it sit there for quite a while, but I don't think the broiler was even warm yet when I finally took the socca out of the oven. I made the executive decision to remove it, even though there were no brown or burnt patches, because it looked like it was drying out.
Not a looker.
For such simple ingredients, the flavor was surprising and delicious! Chickpea flour. Who knew? The best bits were the crunchy edges, so I imagine this would have been even better when cooked properly. Dorie isn't joking when she says it should be eaten immediately. When Matt got home from work, his portion was gummy and dense. He ate it anyway, but after tasting both, I can confidently say it was much better hot out of the oven.

Despite the fact that easyjet flies cheaply from Naples to Nice, I haven't really been interested in going, because it's so expensive to stay there. Now I kind of want to go, just to try "real" socca. We'll see.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Wrapping Up, and Up Next

In my heart, I'm not really done with My Calabria. Not even remotely. I've loved six recipes, liked five, and hated one. There was only one in-between take-it-or-leave-it recipe. Pretty strong statistics. There are many more intriguing recipes in this book, but I'm trying to limit my carbs right now, which doesn't really jive well with Italian food. There are plenty of fish and meat recipes left in this book, but I can't crack it open without trancing out, staring at a picture of mussel risotto, or daydreaming about her special doughnuts, made at Christmas, or her family's everyday loaf of bread, or, of course, the pasta.

 No doubt about it, My Calabria is a keeper. It's beautiful to read, and the food knocked it out of the park most of the time. I mentioned in specific posts that I was impressed with the precision with which these recipes correctly claimed that x amount of stuff would produce y number of finished product (meatballs, etc). I trust this book. 

Frankly, focusing attention on any one book isn't really working for me right now. I need diversity in order to keep myself interested in my food plan.

I have non-food-related reasons for hitting the pause button, too. Charlie's home from school, and keeping me busy. Plus, I've enrolled in a photography course, and want to focus more of my free time on that (not that I've been especially consistent at spending my free time on this blog, but that's besides the point. Leave me to my delusions of all the time I'll save!)

So, I'll declare a new book once my head is in the right space for it.

I do, however, want to name another Long Term Project: The Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays. I enjoy The Pioneer Woman as a character. Her children's book, Charlie the Ranch Dog, is a long-running favorite with my Charlie (and with me, too.) Her food always looks delicious and cozy, and her photos are beautiful. I like that she lets us in to see her life at the ranch, and that she's so unabashedly herself, quirks, flaws, and all. I own two of her cookbooks.

I've cooked a grand total of one recipe so far.

Why yes, I would like another biscuit. Thanks, Ree!
See, the thing is, Ree cooks for cowboys. Hard-working, horse-riding, manual labor type of cowboys. They can eat whatever they want and stay rail-thin. If I cooked from her book semi-regularly, I'd puff up like a Thanksgiving Day balloon. There is no moderation in these recipes. Not that that's a bad thing. Butter and sugar make food taste good.

My conscience would never allow me to focus on one of her books, as I do not burn calories like a cowboy.

With its purpose being cooking for holidays throughout the year, A Year of Holidays makes sense as a long-term project. I hope Ree's food tastes as good as it looks. I sure wish I made her hot cross buns last Easter, instead of Nigella's. They're on the agenda for this spring.