Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Man Can Not Live By Gougeres Alone

Two days. Two days is the time it takes for my family to finish off an entire batch of gougeres. I'm out of cheese, so I can't make more. Hoping for a quick substitute that Charlie might deign to fill up on, I baked Saint-Germain-des-Pres Onion Biscuits (pg 8). It tastes like a biscuit with onions in it. hahaha--I have such a talent for stating the obvious, don't you think? There's not much else to say about them. They're flatter and thinner than a standard Southern biscuit, are crusty-crunchy on the bottom and moist inside. They reminded me more of a scone, but I'm not clear on the technical distinction between a biscuit and a scone, so I'll take Dorie's word for it that this is a biscuit.
Conclusion: Liked it. They were simple to make and are tastier, because of the onion, than a standard biscuit. They went well with my asparagus soup lunch, and I know I ate more of them than I should have. Charlie's not crazy about them. I never know what this boy will eat.

Monday, May 30, 2011

What's French for "Feeding Frenzy"? Part 2.

It turns out that cheese souffle and chocolate mousse are not the best dishes to feed to a guest who has an upset stomach.

The Cheese-Topped Onion Soup (pg 56) was well worth the three hours that it took to caramelize the onions. The broth was richer and more flavorful than any other version I've eaten. It's better suited for cold weather, but we all enjoyed it, despite the Texas summer. Even Hilary finished her bowl.

Conclusion: Loved it. I'm looking forward to having more for lunch.

Cheese Souffle (pg 150) is not all I expected it to be. I've never had it, and I guess I expected something more than cheesy eggs. I'm sure that this is a perfectly fine recipe, but it turns out not to be my taste. It seems like a whole lot of work for food that's not much tastier than a standard omelet. None of us ate very much of it. Matt suggested it would be better if there was a prize in the bottom of the dish. That made me laugh. We were pretty much in agreement that a quiche packs more punch for the eggy effort.
It's pretty, at least.
Conclusion: Indifferent. I don't like it, but I don't blame the recipe for that. I think I'm just not a souffle girl.

The mousse was awesome. It thickened up in the fridge, so it was denser than I expected from tasting it earlier in the day. Yum, though. It's dangerous for my waistline that I now know how to make this easy, easy dessert.

Also, gougeres have once again proven to be a miracle food. Charlie ate five or so yesterday evening, and lo and behold, he slept through the night without waking up once! I'm telling you, if you have a picky toddler, try gougeres. Seriously. Fortunately, the batter freezes well, so we can have a steady supply.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

What's French for "Feeding Frenzy"? Part 1.

So today is the day of my French feast bonanza. I'm way more excited about this than either Matt (who spent the day napping because Charlie woke up a lot last night) or Hilary (who spent the day napping because her stomach was bothering her.) My day was spent preparing food and hoping that everyone would rally by dinner, or else a lot of food was going to be wasted. 

I added Gougeres (pg 4) to the day's menu. As I may have mentioned 150 times, Charlie has been teething for weeeeeeks. That one stupid molar just won't break through. My theory is that his gums are bugging him, so he's not eating as much during the day, so he's waking several times per night, hungry for milk. My plan for today is to stuff as much food into him as possible, and beg the Gods of Teething to let him sleep through the night. He LOVES gougeres, so I figured it was worth a shot. If he won't eat them, he won't eat anything. This was the very first recipe I made from Around My French Table, and we all--toddler included--couldn't shovel them in fast enough. I've made them three times now, and I'm glad that they're finally represented on this blog, because they are one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten.
Make these. Now.
In the past, I used gruyere, but today I tried it with cheddar. I figured the gruyere on the soup and the gruyere in the souffle would be plenty for the day. They're delicious with either cheese, so don't feel pressured to buy the more expensive gruyere if you don't want to. They are easy and pretty fast to make, and they come out as light, melt-in-your-mouth, addictive cheesy puffs.

Conclusion: I would sell a finger for these cheese puffs. LOVE.

Dessert will be Top-Secret Chocolate Mousse (pg 421). Since it can sit in the fridge all day, I got it out of the way this morning. My only response to this dessert is: that's how you make mousse??? It's harder to flip an omelet. It doesn't even need to cook!! Did you know that? I didn't. It's the easiest thing in the world: Melt chocolate. Mix in egg yolks. Beat egg whites, salt, and a touch of sugar into peaks. Fold into the chocolate. DONE.
Who needs lunch when there's mousse in the fridge?
I licked clean every bowl, whisk, and spatula used to make this. It's gooooood. Everything you want a mousse to be--soft, smooth, and deceptively rich (ie, feels light in your mouth, but has such deep chocolate flavor that you can't eat a vat of it).

Conclusion: Love. I can't get over how easy this was. The more I cook, the more accessible the world becomes. My new life strategy is that if I can't get it, I should make it--bagels, bread, etc. Usually recipes aren't as hard as I expect, and the result is better than most restaurants. It's very empowering. I love it.

I may not have time to post about the soup or the souffle until tomorrow, since I'm not going to rudely blog away my last evening with Hilary (they're still napping, so it's okay for now), so I figured I'd break the day up into two posts. Stay tuned...

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Waste of Good Saffron

Chicken Couscous (pg 214) was a flop. A lot of spices went in the pot, but you'd never know it. This smelled lovely while it was cooking, but didn't taste like anything in the end.

I was turned off from the outset by the instructions to cook the chicken thighs in butter until they lose the raw texture, but that it's not necessary to brown them. I should have browned them anyway, but I prefer to cook a recipe as instructed the first time I'm making it. As expected, once the chicken boiled in stock with vegetables for 15 minutes, I was left with flaccid-skinned, ugly chicken thighs. Some of the rubbery skin bits broke off and were mixed in to the stew, which caused some unpleasant bites. I removed the skin from the chicken before serving, because it was too unsightly for company.

Not even the couscous, which is cooked in three cups of the broth from the chicken, spice, and veg, had much flavor.

This was a disappointing dish, and I wish I'd picked something else to serve as Hilary's first Dorie exposure. As Matt said, "This is a non-repeat."

Conclusion: Dislike. I do not have a good track record with Dorie's stews.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Watched Onion Never Browns

I have big plans for this weekend. My friend, Hilary, is so good that she a) braved a trip to Paris with me in 2009 while I was six months pregnant and allowed me to organize our sightseeing around my "must eat" list of patisseries and chocolatiers (I overcompensated for my wine and soft cheese deprivation by eating every sweet in sight) and b) is flying from DC tomorrow to visit us here in middle-of-nowhere Texas for the long weekend. HOORAY!

I've been mulling over the idea, now that I'm in my last stretch with Around My French Table, that I should prepare a proper farewell feast, made up of the foods that I think of when I think of France: French Onion Soup, Cheese Souffle, and Chocolate Mousse. It would be a pity to move on from Dorie's book without attempting these classic dishes. Hilary's arrival provides all the excuse that I need. Because the soup keeps for a few days, I figured I could make that yesterday, to free up some time this weekend. I also figured that I'd have a bowl immediately and report on it. That didn't really work out. Boy, am I glad I didn't wait until the day of the bonanza to make this.

Dorie warns that the onions take a long time to cook down and brown. She's not fooling. Holy Mother. She says it might take an hour for 4-5 giant onions to brown on your stove's lowest setting, and warns against turning up the heat to try and speed it along.
I only used three onions, because I wasn't sure more could fit in the pot.
The instructions say that if you burn it, you'll ruin it, but if you don't brown them enough, your soup will have no flavor or color. No pressure, though.
Still waiting...two hours later.
 After two hours, I still only had limp, still-white onion bathing in a pool of its own juices, so I upped the heat to medium from medium-low. These onions took THREE HOURS to caramelize.
Almost there.
 I started cooking at noon, and thought I'd have lunch by 130 or so, factoring in Dorie's hour for the onions, then 30 minutes for them to cook in the broth and wine. The soup wasn't ready until 330. By then, I'd eaten my weight in oatmeal raisin cookies, and had to start getting dinner ready. I don't care if a dish takes that long to cook, but I want to know about it before I get started. It messed around with my whole afternoon. On the plus side, the three hours was largely unattended. You just need to stir now and then, stare at a clock, and wonder why on earth it's taking so long.

In a fit of psychosis, I started chopping veg and mixing spices for tomorrow's dinner, totally forgetting about the salmon I had in the fridge for tonight. The salmon needed to be used, so after cursing at top-volume for a good five minutes, I collected myself, wrapped up my vegetables, and moved on. It was very annoying, though.

I tasted the soup, and it was good, but I won't comment further upon it until I eat a bowl, prepared as instructed (brandy in the bottom, toast and cheese on top). It is Charlie-approved, though. He drank a cup of the broth with his dinner. Then, when I got overzealous and gave him a second cup, he discovered that the soup is also handy when used as a refreshing shower (it wasn't hot).

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Cop Out

The only reason I made today's recipe is because I had all of the ingredients available and am feeling lazy. I don't usually like orange-flavored desserts, especially the orange and chocolate combo, so I never would have made Nutella Tartine (pg 415) if not for my unwillingness to hit the supermarket today.

This couldn't be easier to make, so if you enjoy chocolate and orange, I highly suggest you try this. Just butter a slice of bread, then broil it. Once toasty, smear with orange marmalade, drizzle with warmed nutella, and sprinkle with kosher salt and hazlenuts. I used toasted pecans instead. This was tasty. Not something I'd crave, but I enjoyed it more than a number of orange/chocolate desserts I've made by Giada de Laurentiis. She's particularly fond of that flavor combo. You'd think I'd stop trying them by now.
Nutella makes everything better.
Conclusion: Liked it. If I were dying for something sweet, I'd throw this together, because the ingredients are always on hand. The salt is a nice touch. It keeps it from being overbearingly sweet.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Asparagus Soup

Asparagus Soup (pg 58) turned out to be fussier to make than I expected upon reading the instructions. I basically took the lazy route all the way through, and it turned out just fine.

Who has the time or patience to peel 2.5 pounds of asparagus? I sure don't. I peeled two stalks, then decided I had better things to do than to stand in the kitchen all day long grappling with now-slippery stalks and detangling the strips of peel that knotted up my peeler. I threw the remainder in the pot unpeeled and said a quick prayer that I wouldn't end up with stringy soup.
You couldn't pay me to peel all this. Okay, that's not true. I'm not doing it for free, though.
The instructions say to tie the asparagus ends and peelings up in cheesecloth and boil it with the stalks. I don't own cheesecloth and didn't really see how this step could possibly add that much flavor, so I tossed my debris in the trash without using it.

Besides the asparagus and the water you boil it in, the only other ingredients are salt, white pepper, and an onioney assortment: an onion, shallots, leeks, and garlic. Considering the simplicity of this list, there are a remarkable number of steps involved to make the soup. Things go into and out of and back into the pot, the cover comes off, goes on, comes off, goes on, comes off.
A very satisfying lunch.
It's a good soup, and there's nothing in it to make you feel guilty. It's so healthy, you won't even feel bad about eating a slab of toasted homemade bread smeared with soft stinky cheese. I ate three bowls full. I know this will come as a surprise, but it tastes like asparagus and onion. It pureed nicely, so I'm super-glad that I didn't waste my time peeling the asparagus. I've discovered, over the course of this cookbook, that I feel much more kindly toward eating massive amounts of vegetables when they're in pureed soup form. Good to know.

Conclusion: Liked it, though it was a pain in the butt to make, so I'll probably stick with Dorie's more straightforward cauliflower soup as a staple.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Lousy Last Supper

I thought Shrimp and Cellophane Noodles (pg 322) would be a good dinner to fuel up on for The Rapture. Teleportation sounds exhausting. I also thought a Chinese dish would be a nice change of pace. I was wrong. This dish was B-L-A-N-D. The recipe calls for a mere tsp of Chinese five-spice powder, tsp of sugar, and a pinch of cayenne to flavor a pound of shrimp and a whole pot of noodles. The instructions say to be generous with white pepper, and I was, so this tasted like white pepper. That's it. There was no other flavor.

Conclusion: Dislike. I have survived The Rapture to cook again.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Trifecta

I finally got around to cooking Creamy, Cheesy, Garlicky Rice with Spinach (pg 380). I like cream. I like cheese. I like garlic. Mix 'em together, and how could you go wrong? I'm not sure, but something was off with this dish. I can't put my finger on it. I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as I expected to. Dorie compares it to risotto so much in the intro, that I thought it would be a little wetter and loser and, therefore, just a tad lighter. This was thick and heavy and tasted stale. It needs something to freshen it up--lemon or fresh herbs thrown in right before serving, or something. As it stands, it left me feeling icky. That said, I still ate these leftovers for lunch instead of lentil soup. Poor, unappreciated soup. Should I just toss the soup now, or wait my obligatory two weeks?
Conclusion: Indifferent. Not bad, but not very good.

Caramel-Topped Semolina Cake (pg 438) has been calling to me since I bought this book (and since it's on the back of the visitandine page, which got sticky, it now conveniently opens directly to this page. Fate!) The description sounded wacky and delicious: "a simple puddingish cake, almost like fine-grain polenta, dotted with raisins and coated in caramel like a flan." Now, I've been known to scalp people who got between me and a flan, so having an easy flannish dessert in my repertoire would spare much future bloodshed.

Cold, semi-solid farina was one of my favorite breakfasts as a kid, so again, this sounded like a hit to me. Plus, it's easy, and broken down into Mom-friendly steps (meaning that, except for watching that the caramel doesn't burn, the process can be interrupted without ill effect). You cook farina in milk. Once thick, add sugar and vanilla and allow it to cool. Eat four or five spoonfuls, because it tastes like vanilla rice pudding. If you've left enough in the pan, continue on...Make caramel and coat the bottom of a cake pan. Mix beaten eggs and raisins into the "batter," add to the cake pan, and bake.

I almost had a wipe-out catastrophe inverting the cake out onto a plate. Just as it dislodged from the pan, the plate slipped a bit. I only busted up the outer edge, thank God. It wouldn't have tasted as good if it mingled with my tears while I licked the whole thing off the floor. The mess turned out to be a bonus because I was able to sneak a taste from the broken piece without actually having a slice before dessert. It's cozy (there's that word again). It makes me want to curl up with a book on a rainy day, and it's made with common pantry ingredients, so if you found yourself stuck at home on a rainy day, you'd absolutely be able to whip it together in no time.

Conclusion: Love, be it cake or pudding. Want to stick my face in it, but will wait until Matt gets home from work.

I massacred Chicken Tagine with Sweet Potatoes and Prunes for dinner tonight, but it tasted good anyway. I can only imagine how great it would have been if I actually executed the recipe.

I was out of onions, so I thought I could skip the first step, which is to gently cook onions in oil for 30 minutes. Then, you're supposed to add chicken stock, honey, and herbs, and layer prunes, then browned chicken thighs, then cut-up sweet potatoes, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes. Turns out that when you simmer honey and prunes for 45 minutes without any oil in the pot, you end up with an inch of burned sludge on the bottom.
 Oopsie. Still, the chicken was falling off the bone and was infused with the cinnamon, star anise, and cayenne spice. Yum.

Conclusion: Liked it. Will definitely try again, and reserve the right to upgrade to "love."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Can I Like a Lentil?

I want to like lentil soup. I really do. I've cooked a number of recipes over the years, and I'll eat a bowl or two, but I'm never impressed and inevitably end up with a giant pot of soup that sits in the fridge for two weeks until I get around to tossing it. I think it's a textural issue. I don't like how the lentil skins grit up my teeth and tongue.

I was hesitantly hopeful when I read through Dorie's recipe, because a) it uses some different seasonings: orange peel, a clove, coriander, ginger, and b) it is pureed, which might solve my aversion to the texture. I've been pretty impressed by her soups so far (and actually find myself craving the cauliflower soup, now that I finished eating what was in the freezer), so I thought there was a chance that Orange-Scented Lentil Soup (pg 90) would be the soup to change my opinion of lentils.

Nope. Still gritty. Still ugly.
This is not a bowl of soup you can beautify.
 The overall flavor was okay, but there was one thing that caused some particularly unpleasant mouthfuls. The instructions specifically say NOT to remove the spices or the orange peel before pureeing. I pulled the peel out, because I learned from her Spiced Squash, Fennel, and Pear Soup that, the longer the soup sits (in that case, frozen), the more overwhelming the orange flavor becomes. Perhaps I should have left it in, because the lentil soup didn't taste at all orangey. Regardless, I left the spices in. They did not break up when blended. Ever bite into a clove? Not pleasant. My very first spoonful involved a big old peppercorn. Yuck. If I liked this enough to make it again, I would remove the spices. I don't, though. I'll try to finish the pot (there's a first time for everything), but I won't be revisiting the recipe.

Conclusion: Indifferent. Lentils. Blah.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Simple Thing, Done Well

I intended to make Creamy, Cheesy, Garlicky Rice With Spinach (pg 380) to go with a roast chicken last night, but after that Bacon and Egg and Asparagus Salad sat like lead in my belly for the day, there was no way I was going to eat cream and cheese for dinner. Instead, I made Cardamom Rice Pilaf (pg 382), because I had the ingredients on hand. This also happens to be the French Fridays With Dorie selection for next week, so I'm a week ahead of myself. Oh well.

I realize that the dishes I've loved most lately read like humble filler dishes, and they are. They're just perfectly seasoned humble filler dishes (I'm looking at you, Broth-Braised Potatoes). Cardamom Rice Pilaf falls into this category. I expected nothing from this, especially because I haven't liked either of two other Dorie recipes I've made so far that used cardamom pods.  I love it because it surprised me.

The recipe is straightforward and sounds unremarkable: an onion, lemon zest, cardamom seeds, salt, pepper, and rice, boiled in chicken broth. I used half the amount of cardamom listed in the recipe, because I learned from the Spiced Butter-Glazed Carrots that a few pods of cardamom go a loooong way, and Dorie apparently likes a stronger cardamom flavor than I do. I'm glad I did, because it turned out just right.
Boring old rice. Or IS it?
Matt got home from work really late last night, and wound up eating dinner standing up in the kitchen. He ate a giant spoonful of rice, not knowing it was anything different than normal. His eyes widened and he asked what it was. I told him. His verdict: "That's damn good." Word.

Conclusion: Loved it, and it takes hardly any more effort than cooking a plain pot of rice.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Bad Day For Cholesterol

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I'd rather not eat salad, and vegetables are better cooked than raw. Eating lettuce wastes valuable stomach-space that would be better filled with something delicious. However, this week's French Fridays With Dorie selection--Bacon and Eggs and Asparagus Salad (pg 130)--is forcing me to eat lettuce. If I must, I guess coating it in bacon and eggs is a good way to go, though it seems to eliminate any health benefit to be gained from eating the dreaded leaves in the first place. Might as well just eat bacon and eggs, sans lettuce.

Not only is the salad topped with bacon and eggs, but the eggs themselves are rolled around in the hot bacon fat. Sounds good, but if I die of a heart attack one of these days, you can trace its roots back to this salad.

The recipe calls for a soft boiled egg. I like hard boiled eggs and I like runny over easy or poached eggs, but if my boiled egg is at all runny, or my runny eggs are at all hard, I get grossed out and can't eat it. I don't know why. I'm aware that it doesn't make sense. Dorie provides alternate instructions for poaching the egg instead of soft-boiling it, but because I'm 100% sure that I'd bust a poached egg rolling it around in bacon grease, I decided to just fry up an over easy egg using the grease. I wish I had a picture of the egg when I dropped it in the pan--all of the white bubbled up and cooked in that shape. It looked like a bubble bath. WEIRD. Sadly, the effect was lost when I flipped the egg.
I need to put a cardiologist on speed-dial.
 I never thought I'd say this, but the lettuce does actually contribute to this salad as a means by which to get the vinaigrette to your mouth. The best mouthfuls were the ones that included everything--lettuce, asparagus, egg, yolk, bacon. The dressing is light on the vinegar and mustard, which makes it a nice background flavor. I'm kind of annoyed that I went out and bought a whole bottle of walnut oil just for the 1 TB required here. I tasted it on its own and as a dressing component, and it doesn't have a distinct or unique flavor that made it worth the eight bucks to me. Anyone have any fantastic ideas for how to use up a bottle of walnut oil? I know I can saute with it, etc, but it would be nice to use it with purpose, as opposed to using it just because it's in the pantry.

It takes a lot for a salad to win me over, and this one was good. Now I need a nap. The fact that I plan to cook Creamy, Cheesy, Garlicky Rice With Spinach as a dinner component is not going to help matters. I definitely need to find healthy recipes for the rest of the week.

Conclusion: Liked it, but won't make it often.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Waiter, You Accidentally Put Caramel On My Scallops.

I spent some alone time at Barnes & Noble on Sunday, and found myself thumbing through cookbooks (though I placed myself under the strictest orders not to buy one). Once I clear out some of my disposable cookbooks, I need to pick up Dorie's behemoth-sized Baking: From My Home to Yours. Every page I turned to seemed like a different take on a familiar bread/cake/cookie. I don't know what it is about her books that make me want to run back to my kitchen and start cooking. I love it, though. Oh snap, Baking is selling for $16 on Amazon (as opposed to $40 at B&N). I literally do not have room on my shelf for it. Then again, there are some South Beach Diet cookbooks (GROSS recipes--they will not be part of this project) that I can get rid of right now. Must...not...buy. Yet. Very tempting, though. Not like I need another baking book.

What did not sound very tempting was the dinner I selected for tonight: Scallops with Caramel-Orange Sauce (pg 317). Ordinarily, I'd completely bypass this recipe without a second glance, unless to mock it. Seafood and caramel don't belong on the same plate or within the same course. I was so horrified by the thought of this meal that I had to try it. Pray for me...
You call that caramel sauce?
This dinner didn't come out looking or tasting at all like I expected. Dorie says that the dish's "drama" comes from the sauce. I thought the sauce was actually quite subtle, and the scallops themselves were the stronger flavor. That's not a complaint. I'm glad this wasn't a thick overwhelmingly sweet caramel sauce. I may have messed something up, because in the book's photo, the sauce looks thicker. As you can see, mine in no way resembles caramel. Woops. This turned out to be much less terrifying of a dish than I expected, and I'm glad I tried it.

Conclusion: Liked it. I'd make it again. I can't believe how small and pathetic the scallops at my supermarket are, though. I would have needed 42 more of them to fill up.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Simple and Good

We had a birthday BBQ on Saturday. Because it looked effortless and fast, I made Mustard Batons (pg 15) to put out as something to nibble on, even though mustard is not one of my favorite flavors. This recipe truly could not be easier. Take store-bought puffed pastry, smear some mustard on half, fold it over, slice into bread sticks, adhere some poppy seeds to it via an egg wash, and bake.

I cut these into small nubbins, because we were having kids at the BBQ, and I didn't want great big sticks to be wasted if they (or I) didn't like them.
Cute, huh?
I never worked with puff pastry before, so I expected it to be doughier, like a pretzel. They were kind of crispy and flaky, though. It was good, it was just a surprise. I liked these, and could have eaten the whole bowl. Next time, I'll even smear a thicker coat of mustard on there. They also win points for prompting people to say, "You made these??" I sure did, and it only took a minute.

Conclusion: Liked it. It's a tasty little snack.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Playing Catch-up

Heaven and Hell, all on one plate.
It seems kind of stupid to love a recipe like Broth-Braised Potatoes (pg 358), because it is ridiculously simple. I do love it, though. I made these for dinner last night, and maybe it's because my expectations were so low, but this recipe produced a perfectly cooked, perfectly seasoned potato. All you do is toss some herbs, garlic lemon zest, and salt into chicken broth, cook the potatoes in it until they are soft, then remove them and cook down the broth to concentrate the flavor. They were perfect.

The Spiced Butter-Glazed Carrots (pg 335), on the other hand, made me a little nauseous. The first few bites tasted pleasantly cardamom-sweet. I couldn't finish my serving, though, because they were too sweet, to the point that it became overbearing with increased exposure. I won't make these again, even though I did very much enjoy the fact that my purple carrots dyed the onions.

Conclusion: Love the potatoes, dislike the carrots.

Today is my birthday (hooray!). Every year growing up, my Mom made a strawberry shortcake for my birthday, so this year, I baked Visitandine (pg 436). The recipe is just for the cake, but the photo in the book basically showed my Mom's strawberry shortcake, so I baked that tonight.
What are you???
The batter is odd. Very little flour and sugar, lots of butter, and then egg whites folded in. The cake came out flat and thin. It was tough to cut with a knife, but it was nice and chewy. Matt said it was like eating a giant cookie, which was true. Not a bad thing, but not really a cake. I think I'd prefer it without the whipped cream, because I made the cream itself too sweet. I'll have another slice for breakfast, sans whipped cream, and see if that improves things. Overall, a very nice treat, be it cake or cookie.

Update: As I suspected, yes, I prefer this cake unadorned by anything except a cup of coffee. It begs for innovation--lemon zest or almond extract both seem like good ideas--but I don't understand why Dorie says in her intro that if visitandine were the first cake she ever baked, she would never have learned to bake any others because it's so good. That's a little excessive.

Conclusion: Liked it.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Filet Redux

It was Matt's birthday yesterday, so for dinner I made Dorie's Bistro Paul Bert steak again. This time, I followed the variation in the sidebar, meaning that I seasoned the meat with salt and pepper instead of crusting it in peppercorns, and the sauce was a garlic, shallot, and red wine reduction instead of the brandy and heavy cream. The filets must have been thicker this time than last, because they were still raw after I took them off the heat, tented them in foil, and allowed them to sit while I made the sauce. I like my meat rare, but this was still cold in the middle. I threw them in the oven for a few minutes, and that took care of it. The sauce was pretty unnoticeable. It wasn't bad, but it didn't contribute much flavor. I'm not sure if I should consider this a new recipe, in terms of my tally. I don't think so.

I baked Matt a birthday pie from David Lebovitz's Ready For Dessert. I'm trying to figure out how to work this cookbook into my little project here. It's all dessert, obviously. I refuse to devote myself to it for two months, because I'd rather not gain 800 pounds. This book is gorgeous. The photography, his personal stories, and the variety of desserts all make it fun to flip through. However, the handful of recipes I've tried so far have produced totally unreliable results, which sort of makes it a perfect cookbook for this project. Does it, or does it not, deserve space on my shelf? I don't know. For the sake of my waistline, I think I'll just bake a recipe from this book now and then, without confining myself to a timetable, until I decide if it's a keeper.

To that end, here are my thoughts on Lebovitz's Mixed Berry Pie (pg 80). This filling came together in no time, because you don't need to putz around with blackberries, raspberries, or blueberries. Just wash them and throw them in a bowl. The only element that involved the slightest bit of labor was slicing up two cups of strawberries. Mix this with sugar, lemon juice, and corn starch, assemble your pie, and bake. Easy.

This was one soupy pie. The bottom crust basically dissolved during the hours that the pie sat on the counter. I've never seen anything like it. The directions say to bake for 50-60 minutes, until the "juices are thick and bubbling." I baked it for 60 minutes, but maybe that wasn't long enough for the juices to thicken. I didn't see much bubbling action going on, but I was in a frenzied rush (I'd deposited Charlie in the living room and raced back to the kitchen to get the pie out of the oven before he caught me), so I figured that the juices that had pooled on the top crust were a good enough indication that it was bubbling. I thought it would thicken as it cooled. It didn't.
I could take a delicious bath in this pie.
Conclusion: Liked it, but it's not perfect as-is. If I made this again, I would add less sugar, more corn starch, and try to figure out some other way to cut the sweetness. Rhubarb, maybe? Matt was very happy with his birthday pie, and as you can see, we did some major damage to it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Bacon Saves the Day

This week's French Friday's With Dorie selection is Spinach and Bacon Quiche (pg 160). I've never met a bacon dish that I didn't like, so I was excited about this one.

Quiche has always had a mystique for me because my mother has never ever made one. Ever. I think she feels that if she's going to go through the trouble of making a pie crust (and she does make a mean pie crust), she'd rather fill it with apples than cheese and eggs. Valid point. I was a teenager the first time I tried quiche, and I was surprised at how mediocre and homely it was. My imagination had built it into something ultra-fancy. Despite that first letdown, I'm fond of quiche, because it still feels like a special treat.

This was my maiden voyage with a new tart pan, and I hit a few snags. The dough I rolled out looked like it would be big enough, but I discovered after it was in the pan that it was thicker on one side than the other, and while it was the perfect height for most of the circumference, there were a few spots where there was not enough dough to climb the side of the pan, and no overhang elsewhere to fill in the gaps. Not to mention that I forgot to flour the surface before I rolled the dough. That was fun to peel off the counter. The dough shrank away from the pan when I pre-baked it, so by the time the custard was poured in, there were a number of shallows in the crust where the liquid spilled right over, into the pan. I was worried that the crust would turn soggy, since it was sitting in liquid top and bottom, but I needn't have been concerned--it burned, instead.
 Onions and garlic cooked in bacon grease were good enough to salvage my semi-burned quiche. Matt liked this a lot and didn't notice the burned bottom. Now that I think about it, he was more vocally enthusiastic about this dish than most of the others I've made from this book, excluding the filet mignon (which I'm making again for his birthday tomorrow). Even though I knew it was there, I couldn't really taste the burned part, either. My one complaint, and Matt disagrees with me, is that I think I over-salted this. The instructions say to add salt at two stages: salt the onions and garlic while cooking in bacon grease, then add the already-cooked spinach and bacon crumbles and salt it again. I could have done with one fewer salting, methinks. Oh well. Live and learn for next time.

Conclusion: Liked it. Charlie actually ate a little, too, which says a lot, since he's spit out every other shred of spinach to ever pass his lips.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Cheddar Cheese and Chives

My latest effort in the perpetual struggle to find food my boy will eat brought me to Savory Cheese and Chive Bread (pg 34). Charlie likes cheese, and I've had good luck getting him to eat Dorie's other cheesy baked products (especially gougeres, which I haven't reviewed here b/c I haven't made them since starting this blog. They are amazing.) He hasn't been eating much--not even his staples--because his teeth are bugging him, so I figured I'd give this one a shot.

I used cheddar, because it's what I had, but the recipe is pretty flexible. It says to use any cheese, or even a mixture of assorted cheese ends you have in the fridge. The recipe calls for chives, but says you can use any herbs you want. I went with chives, scallions, basil, and parsley. The sidebar suggests that you "have a field day with add-ins," so I diced up some ham that I had in the freezer. I love recipes that give you license to do whatever you want. It relieves the pressure to run out and buy a bunch of ingredients. I had everything I needed in the fridge or growing in my herb garden.

This bread smelled so salty-cheesy-good while it was baking that I needed to snag a slice as soon as it was out of the oven. Who wants cool bread? Give it to me steaming!
My name is Eileen, and I'm a carboholic.
The outside is crustier than any other quick-bread I've baked, and the inside crumb is dry, as promised, but soft. The ham infused the entire bread with a sweet smoky flavor that wouldn't have been there if I followed the recipe precisely as written, so it's hard to tell for sure what it would have tasted like otherwise. I think it would still be wonderful, no matter what you add. If I had to pick one word to sum up the recipes in this book, it would be "cozy," without question. This food makes me feel happy and satisfied.

Sadly, it was not the magic cure to get Charlie to eat. He nibbled his slice, crushed it, and tossed most of it to the dog. Lucky dog.

Conclusion: I had to go back for a second slice to better determine my vote, but I've landed on Liked It. A lot.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

Throw some vodka in there and have yourself a party.
 I baked bagels again this morning, and a friend came over for a lovely brunch. This seemed like a fitting opportunity to make Cold Melon-Berry Soup (pg 101). Also, I wanted to get a simple Dorie meal out of the way early in the day, because Matt's grilling up a lamb chop dinner for me.

I would probably call this a drink instead of a soup, since it's really just canteloupe pureed/liquified with some fresh ginger and lime juice, topped with a tablespoon of white wine, melon balls, strawberries, and mint. I always think of soup as having a savory element, even if it's gazpacho, or something else that's cold. Regardless of how you define it, it was refreshing and good. I could probably drink an entire melon this way.

Conclusion: Liked it, and it was perfect as a brunch component.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Here, Fishy, Fishy, Fishy (I've been watching too much Sesame Street)

Hooray! Simplest Breton Fish Soup (pg 96) has hopefully turned the tide of the mediocre meals that I've made this week. I wanted to use up some of the massive quantity of trout Matt brought home earlier this week, and this seemed like a good way to do it. The only problem is that this made a ton of food, and I didn't realize until I was done that it says in a sidebar that it doesn't reheat very well. I'll give it a shot anyway, because there's no way we could eat it all.
Just looking at it makes me happy.
This was muy muy tasty. Potatoes, onions, leeks, fish, and mussels. The broth was fresh and herby and delicious sopped up with bread. I couldn't figure out how to make a "bouquet garni," which was supposed to be herbs tied up with a leek green. No matter how thin I sliced it, the leek green broke when I tried to tie it. I gave up and just threw everything in the pot. I don't really understand what the point was of tying it up. Seems like an unnecessary step. Otherwise, this was easy and surprisingly filling. I was pretty stuffed after a bowl.

Conclusion: Liked this a lot.

Update: We reheated this for dinner last night, and it was just fine. The fish broke up into tiny pieces, but that was the only big difference. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Maybe It's Just Me

I seem to be on a losing streak with these recipes. Tonight's Garlicky Crumb-Coated Broccoli (pg 334) sounded like just the sort of thing I would like. I toss broccoli with oil and garlic several times a week with dinner, so I was looking forward to a variation on that theme. The French Fridays With Dorie cooking group featured this recipe a few weeks ago, and it seemed, from looking through people's postings about it, that it was a big hit. I guess I did something wrong.
It tastes like it looks.
The directions seem simple enough: Cook broccoli. Melt half a stick of butter (!!!!!), cook garlic in it for 2 minutes, add breadcrumbs and some lemon zest (I used lime, because it's what I had). Dry off the broccoli, add it, and mix until the it's coated.

My conscience tells me that half a stick of butter has no business in my broccoli. I cut it a little short, but there was still a whole lot of butter involved. I could forgive it if this turned out to be delicious, but it didn't. The breadcrumbs turned soggy, even though I'd dried off the broccoli. It was unpleasant. Matt actually rumpled his face in disgust after his first bite. Woops. At least it wasn't a complicated or expensive recipe. I won't be making this again. Three hours later, my mouth still feels greasy.

Conclusion: Dislike. I just realize that I go from Indifferent to Hate in my ranking system, so I'm adding a "dislike" option in honor of this recipe.

I promise I'll start making more interesting recipes again in the next few days. It's amazing how a teething baby can throw everything out of whack.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


My teething Gremlin baby turned me into a sleepless zombie for the day, so I'll try to be brief. There's no telling what sort of nonsense my brain will spit out if I give it the opportunity.

Matt went fishing today as a work outing, and all together, they fought dolphins to pull 30+ trout from the water. He cooked up some of the fish for dinner, and I fixed Vanilla Vegetable Salad (pg 114) and Boulevard Raspail Corn on the Cob (pg 336) to go with it.

The corn was good. It's your standard corn on the cob--it calls for butter and salt, which I never use on corn, and didn't this time--but the cooking method was one I'd never tried. You put the corn, in its husk, in the oven for 40 minutes. It quickly smelled like it was burning, but I checked on it, and that was just the silk that was poking from the end. This corn didn't taste different from any other corn on the cob, but it did prevent me from over-cooking it until it's soggy, which I am notorious for. I'll probably cook it this way from now on.

Conclusion: Like. Cooking it in the oven ensures it won't be waterlogged, which makes it my new go-to method. 

The salad was okay. The only salads that I ever really enjoy would more aptly be described as mountains of cheese and fruit with a little lettuce thrown in, so I'm not a fair judge. For this salad, you toss peeler-thin slices of carrot and yellow squash with a vanilla, lemon, and olive oil dressing, and serve on a bed of lettuce. Dorie says that the taste of vanilla should be "present but not very strong." That's a pretty good description of what you get. The problem with this dish is that it's hard to pair vanilla with dinner foods, so it didn't really work with my garlic fish. I can't honestly think of a full meal that this would complement, unless you use the salad as the meal and add some unseasoned chicken breast. That's not a meal I would want to eat.

Conclusion: Like, though I won't make it often.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


I didn't intend to make a Dorie recipe for lunch today, but I realized I had all the ingredients for Goat Cheese and Strawberry Tartine (pg 44) in the fridge, so I might as well. I hesitate to even call this a recipe. All you do is smear goat cheese on crusty bread, add strawberries, black pepper, and a few drops of balsamic vinegar (or, in my case, a great splash of balsamic vinegar, because it came out of the bottle much faster than expected). All those ingredients are good on their own, but I hoped that they'd come together to create a flavor more complex than their individual parts (like the first time I ate kiwi jam on salty slabs of Romano cheese in Venice. Cue the choir.) They didn't. It was a nice lunch, and a good way to use up leftover bits of food in your fridge, but I wouldn't go out of my way to buy the ingredients to make this.
Conclusion: Indifferent. Unmemorable, but a fine way to use up scraps.

For dinner I made Coconut Lemongrass Braised Pork (pg 274). Maybe it was the title, or maybe it was that the recipe required me to go through the expense of buying a number of whole-pod/seed spices that I already had in ground form, but I expected more flavor from this. It was a little better after I added a hit of cinnamon and squeezed a lemon on top, but it needed something else. Beats me, I couldn't fix it.
Conclusion: Enh. Indifferent. Wouldn't make it again. Didn't dislike it, but it was really bland.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Best Cake Ever

After last night's Storzapretis debacle (I'm still mad), I knew I'd have a meltdown if I cooked anything too complicated today, so I decided to make this week's French Fridays With Dorie selection: Tourteau de Chevre (pg 449).

Dorie paints a very fuzzy (though enticing) picture of this cake. She says that she couldn't identify it when she first saw one in a cheese shop, and can't determine if it's better as dessert or as something served before dinner, with drinks. She says it's a cheese cake, but not like an American cheese cake--more like a dry sponge cake made with goat cheese. This murky description caught my eye when I first read through the book, but I've been avoiding the dessert section (no self-control), so I hadn't tried it yet. By the decree of French Fridays With Dorie, I must turn the page into desserts. I'll try to refrain from sticking my face in the cake, but I make no promises.

The sweet tart dough (pg 500) gave me a little trouble, because big chunks kept falling off while I was rolling it. I was tempted to add a splash of water to make it stickier, but instead, covered the dough in plastic wrap and then rolled it. That worked beautifully, because the plastic wrap helped it smoosh together. Yes, smooshed is the technical term.

The cake batter is wacky, comprised totally of goat cheese, eggs, vanilla, corn starch, and confectioner's sugar, but it came together pretty easily. The only part that threw me was that I wasn't sure when to stop folding the egg whites into the rest of the batter. It still looked a little lumpy, but I thought I'd messed with it enough and stopped folding. I could have used a quick sentence indicating what the texture should be.

Baking, this cake smelled like Christmas cookies. My Mom's pecan sandies, to be specific, though I'm not sure why, since it hardly shares any of the ingredients. The smell was cozy and vanilla-ey and good.
My favorite color is officially "Baked Goods Brown."
Everyone should bake and eat this cake. Now. It's not savory at all. Dorie's intro made me think it would be more ambiguously dessert vs. cheese. I definitely vote this to be a dessert. Sweet, but not too sweet, vanilla-ey (as the smell promised), with a nice crisp crust on the bottom. The texture was odd, and I can't think of a single thing to equate it with. Lighter and airier than a NY style cheesecake, creamier than a flour cake. It's a comforting dessert that doesn't sit in your stomach like a lead balloon. Huzzah!
I threw some fruit on top. That almost makes it healthy, right?
Conclusion: If you can't already tell, I adore this cake. Love, love, love.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Short Post about a Loooong Process

The preface for Storzapretis, aka Corsican Spinach and Mint Gnocchi (pg 376) should spell out that it will take you the entirety of your lifetime to complete, and it will not be worth your effort. I started cooking this around 6. Dinner did not get on the table until 9:30. It took a few tries to get the hang of shaping the "quenelles" with two spoons, but that's the only thing I can think of that I could have done faster. The recipe didn't hide the stages, but I had no idea that I was in for 3.5 hours of constant work, besides the 30 minutes where the gnocchi cools in the fridge.

I always thought that gnocchi were, by definition, potato-based. That's all I've ever had, at least. My experience of them is that they're pretty firm and dense. I wanted to know how balls of ricotta cheese mixed with one egg, spinach, mint, a touch of flour, and a Swiss/Parmesan combo (she calls for gruyere, but almost all of her recipes do, and it's $9 a pop. I assume it's cheaper in France) could come out tasting or feeling like anything except a ball of flavored ricotta. I'll save you the time and answer the question: they can't.
They look cute now, but don't let 'em fool you. They have no intention of keeping their shape.
Once all the gnocchi were formed, then floured, then cooled, then boiled, then dunked in ice-water, then patted dry with a million paper towels, they are arranged in a dish and baked with tomato sauce and cheese until the sauce boils. Once served, the damn delicate darlings don't even hold their shape. What's the point? I could have just baked the un-boiled, un-shaped ricotta cheese under sauce and swiss, and ended up with the same result. You should have seen Matt's face when I set a plate of ricotta mash in front of him. We wound up smearing it on pieces of bread. 

Conclusion: Hate it because it took 3.5 hours to make something that was advertised as gnocchi, and it is not gnocchi. It's not even sort of like gnocchi. This mix of mint and spinach and cheese would make an awesome filling for ravioli or manicotti, but it is not a stand-alone dish. Urge to kill...RISING.

On a happier note, I baked bagels today, and they were spectacular. I'm from Brooklyn, NY, and I have cursed the bagels in DC, Norfolk, Pennsylvania, and Texas. I should have tried to bake my own years ago. They are perfect.