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.

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.