Monday, March 30, 2015

Baking Chez Moi: Lemon Madeleines and Crispy-Topped Brown Sugar Bars

Earlier this month, I made Dorie's Lemon Madeleines. Matt and I were leaving our son with a friend and flying back to the states for a funeral the following day, and since I'd already planned to make them for Tuesdays with Dorie, I went ahead and baked them, in an effort to distract myself from all the emotional stuff going on. I figured I'd bring the madeleines to the airport for breakfast, because they had to be better than an airport cornetto. (If you're not familiar, cornetti are Italy's less-delicious version of a croissant. Shaped the same, but always stuffed with cream, nutella, or jam. Every now and then, I get a good one that someone actually made, but the vast majority seem to be mass-produced mediocrity.) I'm assuming that I was too distracted to do the madeleines justice. They were a hot mess. I overfilled the pan, so every one of them overflowed and then fell apart when I tried to pry them out. Yes, I buttered and floured the pan. Also, they mysteriously were really greasy. It's entirely possible I botched something up.
These were the "best" ones I made. Oy vey.
They were so ragged by the time I was finished that I didn't even bother bringing them to the airport. They would have been reduced to crumbs by the time I got there. I tossed them in the freezer, where I will very likely forget they exist until I move this summer.

I always feel like I'm missing something when it comes to madeleines. People love them so much. This is the fourth recipe I've tried, and I haven't found one that made me swoon. Granted, this particular failure was all my fault, but still. I don't get it.

I made Crispy-Topped Brown Sugar Bars to bring to my book club this morning. They were tasty, but not addictive. I consider this to be a good thing. I ate one, thoroughly enjoyed it, and that's all I wanted.
Perfect with a cup of coffee.
They reminded me of chocolate chip cookies, and they remind me of Rice Krispie bars, but didn't have the same eat-the-entire-batch quality as either one of those things. Huzzah! It's very rare that I find a sweet that I can have in the house without sticking my face in it.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

FFwD: Next-Day Beef Salad

I couldn't quite wrap my brain around this week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe. Next-Day Beef Salad was created as a way to use up leftovers. Conveniently, I'd made a roast beef earlier in the week, so this used up the remainder.

Dice up the meat, then mix it together with a hodge-podge of refrigerator ingredients: tomatoes, capers, olives, red pepper, a tart apple, all mixed up with a mustard/mayo mixture, and served over lettuce (I used arugula). I also added cheese, because cheese improves any salad it touches. I like a thin smear of either mustard or mayo on a sandwich, so the thought of covering an entire salad in a combo of the two sounded kind of icky to me. Knowing this, I halved the dressing recipe.
Kind of tasted like deli pasta salad, which I hate. So why couldn't I stop eating it?
Even after eating it, I can't decide whether or not I liked it. I didn't think the dressing was great, but I did enjoy the crunchy/chewy/salty/sweet-tart elements, and that no two bites were exactly the same. I may play around with the dressing to tweak it to my liking, but this is a solid way to use up leftover meat. It certainly beats the hell out of simply reheating it.

I also have three makeups from this week.

Spice-Crusted Tuna was fine. I didn't love it. I didn't hate it. Part of my problem is that I got food poisoning from a piece of tuna a few months ago, and I've had an aversion to it since then. This aversion is also preventing me from making up any of the Dorie's recipes that involve raw fish. I'm not ready. ha! So, I don't think I ground up my spices enough. I don't really like getting mouthfuls of practically whole coriander. This was not the right time for me to try this recipe. I may cook it again in a year, and have a totally different response to it.
My side dish--Broccolini with Sweet Tahini Sauce (I think that's the name), from Plenty More, is DELICIOUS, though.
I expected to like Jerusalem Artichoke Soup, because I've enjoyed the majority of Dorie's soups, and nothing about this one struck me as a risk. I didn't expect to love it as much as I did. In the absence of fresh truffle to shave on top, as Dorie suggests in her bonne idee, I stirred some truffle cream stuff that I'd bought in Umbria into the soup. Oh, Nelly. In the interest of fairness, I tried the soup plain, and it was good, but this cream stuff (it was too solid to be a sauce. I'm not sure what to call it.) brought it to another level. The flavors were made for each other.
Not the prettiest plate of food.
Last, but definitely not least, I made the Veal Marengo from a few weeks ago. I'd planned to cook this on time. I'd bought the veal, and everything. But then life got in the way, the veal went in the freezer, and cooking went on the backburner. Happily, I finally had the chance to make it.
Ooh la la! This cow was born in France, and was killed when it was younger than 22 months. Very informative label.
The sauce from this dish is one of the best things I've ever eaten. I don't even need the meat. I want to put the sauce on everything I ever make, going forward. I always thought that I didn't like normal white mushrooms. Apparently, my mistake was that I wasn't cooking them in enough butter. I'm embarrassed to confess how many of them I ate directly out of the pan, but not nearly as many of them made it into the stew as I'd anticipated. I couldn't find small white onions, so I omitted them, and I had to use red wine instead of white, and still, this was just mind-blowingly delicious. It joined the ranks as one of my favorite recipes we've cooked from the book.

My only complaint would be that the meat was still kind of tough after the recommended cooking time. I don't think there was enough liquid in the pan to have cooked it much longer, though, so I'm not sure what the solution is. I'm afraid that adding extra liquid would mess with the glorious balance of this sauce. I don't really care, though. So, so good.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

FFwD: Cote d'Azure Cure-All Soup

I'll admit that I wasn't remotely interested in cooking the Cote d'Azure Cure-All Soup from Around My French Table. On paper, 10 cloves of sliced garlic, steeped in chicken broth with herbs (sage, bay, and rosemary instead of thyme), then thickened with egg yolk and Parmesan, and drizzled with olive oil sounded, at best, boring, and at worst, nasty.
Charlie wouldn't taste it, but he was impressed by the polka dots.
I came down with a cold on Monday, and all of a sudden, this soup sounded like the only thing I wanted to eat. I don't know if you have to be sick to like it, but this was a surprise hit. It was cozy and comforting and, because of the thickening from the egg and cheese, soothed my throat. I loved it. It didn't cure my cold, but, for a few minutes, it made me less miserable. Good enough for me!

I can't believe that we only have 10 recipes left to cook from Around My French Table. It's blowing my mind. I don't think I'm going to manage to complete all of my make-ups--I have more desserts than my judgment thinks I should bake in three months, and there are some things (dilled gravlax, chicken liver gateaux, arman's caviar) that I flat-out refuse to make. Including those, I only have 22 to make up after this post, so I'm going to try my damnedest to get that number down. So, here are some make-ups:

I always thought of Orange and Olive Salad as being an Italian dish, so I was surprised to see it here. Because I've made what was basically the same recipe in my cooking class here in  Napoli, I stalled on making Dorie's version, because it's not one of my favorites. I put this together this week, and I don't know what went wrong, but by the time I was done, my oranges, which were extremely sweet on their own, tasted BITTER with the onions and olives. That didn't happen when I made it in cooking class. Maybe the type of olive I used changed the flavor. Regardless, neither Matt nor I enjoyed this.

In the same meal, I made Salty-Sweet Potato Far. This has a strange list of ingredients--grated potatoes, bacon, prunes, raisins, eggs, milk--but I like all of those things individually, so I was open to the idea of them coming together and creating something glorious.
Maybe I didn't use enough bacon (I cut up 3 strips), but this was underseasoned. For the first few bites, I couldn't figure out if I liked it, though I was leaning toward yes, for it's nursery-type blandness and bread-pudding texture. Halfway through my portion, I'd had enough. Matt thought he liked it, but a few hours later, he tried to eat a cold piece, and he said it was disgusting, which ruined it for him.

I didn't hate it, but I wouldn't make it again.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Pioneer Woman: Bagel and Cream Cheese Baked French Toast

As host of the book club meeting where I prepared Dorie's vanilla cake, I also served Pioneer Woman's Bagel and Cream Cheese Baked French Toast (from the New Year's Day section of A Year of Holidays). This recipe was perfect for morning-time company, because the bagels, cream cheese, and grated cheddar are supposed to soak in the cayenne and mustard egg goodness overnight. There's also supposed to be chives in there, but I had none.

This was delicious and filling. My friend's mom who was visiting her and came to book club asked for the recipe. I had to use Thomas' bagels, which are an affront to everything this Brooklynite holds dear, but they worked okay here. My husband would have killed me if I baked my homemade bagels and then ripped them apart and used them in this manner.
Leftovers reheated pretty well
I'm certain that this breakfast would be amazing with fresh bagels--but preferably ones purchased from a shop. I am certain that I'll be trying this again when I move back to the states.

Conclusion: Liked it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Vanilla Beans are Better Spent in Cake

I didn't deliberately coordinate this, but the Tuesdays with Dorie recipe and the French Fridays with Dorie recipes that I've made recently both involve vanilla beans.

First up, the Brown Butter and Vanilla Bean Weekend Cake from Baking, Chez Moi. This cake was really easy to throw together. The only problem was that I burned the first batch of browned butter and started over. Not that big of a deal, and an easy problem to solve.
I baked the cake to serve to my book club gals, and served it with barely-sweet whipped cream. I thought it was a bit dry without the whipped cream, but with it? SO delicious.
Hell yeah!
Last week's FFwD recipe from Around My French Table was Vanilla-Butter Braised Lobster. Unable to get my hands on lobster, I poached my bag of frozen shrimp in the vanilla butter. It was fine. I felt greasy after I ate it, though. I think eating all the little shrimp amounted to more surface area than a lobster tail would, so maybe I'd feel less disgusting if this was prepared as written. That said, the vanilla flavor was very subtle. I'm not sure it's the best use of a bean. I'd rather eat cake.

(The shrimp looked like shrimp. I didn't bother taking a picture.)

Friday, January 30, 2015

FFwD: Croquants

I've never heard of Croquants (pg 410 of Around My French Table) before, but it turns out they're one of the simplest cookies that I've ever made. Chop nuts. Mix with sugar. Stir in egg whites. You don't even have to whip the whites into a meringue or anything. Straight from the egg and into the batter. Then stir in a little flour. Then bake. That's it.

I used salted cashews, because Dorie says they're her family's favorite. Who am I to argue with the experts? I also added vanilla, because why not?
Hello, my lovelies.
I'm in real danger of eating the entire output of this recipe. Dorie says that they're defined by their crunch texture. The edges of mine are crunchy, but the middles are chewy, and this is what is causing me to devise excuses to pass through the kitchen and grab another.

The bottoms of the cookies on my second tray burned slightly. These are so simple that the slight burn ruined the cookies. I'm pretty happy that I could, in good conscious, throw half out.
The remainder have to go to work with Matt tomorrow, because I'll take them down if I'm left alone with them for too long. They're so light, I don't even feel like I'm eating anything. Trouble.

Conclusion: Love them. Too much.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Catching Up with Pioneer Woman

I haven't cooked from A Year of Holidays in a while, primarily because most of the recipes don't click with my post-holidays detox. However, I do have a few to catch up on.

One day before Christmas, I brought Eight-Layer Dip to a friend's house (pg 43, from the The Big Game section. I like that Ree counts the Super Bowl as a holiday. Ha!) The entire event provided me with a perfect example of my current refrain of "I'M OVER NAPLES!"

My friend lives on a main drag in Pozzuoli (birthplace of Sophia Loren). We foolishly scheduled a date at 1:00 on a Sunday. I can never find parking in Pozzuoli on Sundays, because all the Italians (and I mean ALL of them) go out to lunch, unless they're going to Mama's. I drove three rounds of the area, which took my 45 minutes because of car and pedestrian traffic, and found a spot in a lot just when I was about to give up. In the lot I normally park in, you don't have to pay on Sundays. I couldn't determine if I had to pay based upon the sign in this lot. It said it was free on "festivi and pre-festivi." So that's on holidays. And pre-holidays??? I don't know. I assume that means the day before a holiday? I pretty much decided that I did have to pay, even though no one else was. I carefully formed a question in my head and asked a man who was in the lot, and after quite a bit of me not knowing what he was saying, he did gesture to the ticket machine and say "bigliette", which means "ticket." I took that to mean that I did need a ticket.

I, of course, had no change, because in most lots, you don't have to pay on Sundays. I went to the restaurant next door and asked if they could break my 20. No. I went across the street and bought a bottle of water. The cashier gave me the look of death, exhaled disgustedly, and gave me my change. They're very territorial regarding their coins here, to the point where I've had people refuse to sell things to me if I try to pay with a bill. And yet, the ATMs distribute 50s. And around and around we go...

Back to the ticket machine. Balancing my 8 layer dip on my knee, I bought my ticket for a few hours. The man I'd spoken with earlier walked up to me. I finally figured out he was saying that he was going to watch my car and make sure it wasn't broken in to. That's a thing, here. You really have no choice in the matter. If you don't pay them a few euro, they'll break your windows next time they see your car. Yay, Italy! Standard procedure is that you pay them when you return to your car and see that it's safe and sound. This guy was demanding money from me up front. I was like, "Dude, I just used all my change to get my ticket," except I don't know how to say that, so I just kept saying, "Bigliette!" like an idiot. Also, like an idiot, I still had the 15 euro in bills that the cashier had given me clutched in my hand (which was also gripping my long, heavy Pyrex tray).
Dude plucked a 5 euro bill out of my hand and walked away. Simultaneously, I realize that my legs were wet. I looked down. The tomatoes had watered down the sour cream, and the entire front of my body was splattered with white water. Jacket, legs, and shoes were soaked. I stormed down Via Napoli, cursing Naples under my breath long after I reached my friend's house. It was two months ago, and I still get pissed off when I think about it.

For what it's worth, my car was unharmed when I returned to it.

The dip was tasty, but the memory of it will always be wrapped up in residual aggravation. We ate 3/4 of a tray while watching The Bourne Identity. That's a lot of refried beans for two girls.

Conclusion: Liked it, but I might need therapy before I can make it again. 

Friends invited us over for dinner shortly before Christmas. I made Spreads (pg 312 of the Christmas section) because they looked quick and easy, and don't involve nuts, which one of her sons is allergic to. It's a basic shortbread type cookie that is spread out on a baking sheet. Right before they're ready, sprinkle chocolate chips on top and bake for another minute. These are supposed to get melty, and then you spread them out so they ice the cookies.
These are the best looking ones, and they're not that great. Most were a wreck.
Yeah. Umm. This didn't work. At all. Maybe my chocolate chips were old or something, but they didn't become spreadable. They were grainy and solid. I kept leaving them in longer and longer, hoping that they'd start to melt. Didn't happen. All I accomplished was overcooking the cookie dough, which, frankly, wasn't particularly delicious.

They looked horrendous, and tasted pretty bad, too. I couldn't bring them to dinner. I had to make a quick cake (Nigella's olive oil chocolate cake) to replace them. The cake was delicious.

Conclusion: Hated them.

For dinner one night, I made Grilled Chicken Skewers (pg 358, the New Years Eve section). This is basically chicken satay. I forgot how much I love chicken satay. This sauce was sweeter than I prefer, but it definitely satisfied the satay craving. I'd cut back on the honey next time. I was sure Charlie would like this. Nope.
Conclusion: Liked it.