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.

Friday, May 1, 2015

FFwD: Cheesecake Tart

This week, the French Fridays with Dorie group was scheduled to bake the final dessert from Around My French Table: Cheesecake Tart.

I've been reducing my carbs and sugar lately, so I was really happy when I read through this recipe. As long as I omitted the tart shell, the only ingredients that interfered with my food plan was 3 tb of sugar and 3 tb of corn starch. Good enough for me. 

After I put the tart in the oven, I worried that it might turn into a giant disaster, because I hadn't buttered my pan. Luckily, the slices came out with no trouble.
The cheesecake filling was made out of cottage cheese, sour cream, egg yolks, sugar, corn starch, lemon zest, and vanilla, blitzed in the food processor until smooth and creamy.

This was good, even without the crust. It had a nice tang to it. However, if I'm going to eat cheesecake, I want a thick, luscious, rich NY cheesecake. This was tasty, but it just doesn't compete. On the other hand, this is a great recipe to keep in my back pocket for days when I want dessert without disrupting my meal plan too much.

I also made up two recipes this week. First, Tomatoes Provencal. I have no idea why it took me so long to make this. It's easy--Cut tomatoes in half. Sprinkle with oil, garlic, and chopped herbs. Roast. The tomatoes turn melty and sweet, with minimal effort. Delicious!

Last night, I made Chestnut-Pear Soup for dinner before having the tart. I've been avoiding this one for quite a while. I adore most of Dorie's savory soups, but I've been unhappy with all of the book's soup recipes that involve fruit. I had half of a bag of chestnuts in the fridge, because I made a chestnut soup from River Cottage Veg two weeks ago, so figured I should make Dorie's recipe, if for no other reason than to use up my chestnuts. To prevent the soup from turning too sweet, I used two very small local pears. They have a good flavor, but are crunchy, like an apple. There was so little meat, I figured they couldn't overpower the soup. I was right. I added toasted almonds on top, because I thought it needed some crunch.
Not pretty.
This soup turned out to be lovely, though it was not nearly as delicious as the River Cottage Veg version. If I were going to pick one of the two recipes to make again, I'd absolutely go with RCV. Still, I'm glad I finally checked this off of my list.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

FFwD: Cabbage and Foie Gras Bundles

I was prepared to make Dorie's Cabbage and Foie Gras Bundles on schedule, a few months ago. I've had the foie gras in my fridge since November (don't worry, it hadn't expired yet.) How did I know it was from November? Because I had my friend, Hilary, pick some up for me while she spent a week in Paris, en route to Napoli, to visit us.

Fortunately, Hilary was staying with a friend in Paris, who brought her to a foie gras shop and did all the talking. I'd told Hilary what Dorie says in the intro, to "buy a small terrine of foie gras made from whole pieces of foie gras, not a mousse or pate made from ground or chopped foie gras." That was not enough information for the woman at the store. Over facebook, Hilary asked me what I was using it for. I told her that I was going to wrap it in a cabbage leaf and steam it. The shopkeeper was befuddled, and said she'd never heard of anyone doing that before. I told Hilary that it sounded like a tragic waste of foie gras to me, but that was the recipe. She had her friend repeat this to the woman. Hilary said that the woman hooted with laughter, and kept repeating, "Oui! Oui! Trajeeeek!" Quite the scene.

After that, I couldn't quite figure out the correct opportunity to make this recipe. I have friends over for dinner often, but don't usually do an appetizer or small plate type of thing. I could never figure out where to fit this in.

However, with the foie gras' expiration date fast approaching, and the deadline for Around My French Table looming, I seized upon the fact that our friends, who are about to move to San Diego, came over for one last lazy Sunday BBQ over the weekend as reason enough to crack open the foie gras and bust out this recipe.

May I just state that I feel like I live in an alternate universe right now, in which I'm like, "Oh yeah, come over for a casual barbecue. While the boys are grilling, we'll eat foie gras and some tartufo pecorino that I happen to have in the fridge." Moving home is going to be a bit of a shock to my system.

I liked that the recipe could mostly be prepared ahead of time, and the little bundles just steamed right before you want to eat them.
Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy eating these. My primary problem was textural. It was too soft and mushy. Paired with the livery aftertaste, it was hard for me to swallow. I did eat my entire bundle over the course of several bites, and even finished the last bite a few minutes later, when my friend (who LOVED them) told me that I should try them again, because they'd cooled off a bit and firmed up to the perfect consistency. Not for me. I know I've eaten and enjoyed dishes in restaurants that included foie gras, but I didn't like this. Matt liked them at first, but after he ate two, he didn't like the aftertaste. Whataya gonna do?

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.