Saturday, April 30, 2011


I'm not going to lie. Tonight's dinner was so pretty that I fell in love with it while it was cooking, before I ever tasted it. I made Veal Chops with Rosemary Butter (pg 268) and Endives, Apples, and Grapes (pg 338), except that I had to make major substitutions in each.

 For some bizarro reason, H-E-B, which is the monopoly supermarket in Texas, has no endive. When I lived in Virginia, I saw them all the time, but never knew what to do with them, so never tried one. Perhaps Texans are not endive-lovers. There wasn't even an empty spot for them on the produce shelf. I panicked for a moment, and then remembered Dorie saying in her intro to the recipe that the bitterness of the endive contrasted well with the sweetness of the fruit. Aiming for bitter, I bought a raddichio. I'm not sure where raddichio falls on the bitterness scale when compared to an endive, but Matt and I agree that it was too bitter to be pleasant. I like the idea of bitter with the fruit, and hope that an endive would be subtler. It sure did look pretty, simmering away in butter, though...
Purty food
Conclusion: LOVE. Sweet, warm, caramelized fruit. Mmmmm. I can think of so many meats I would pair this with.

I'm sure veal chops would have been delicious, but the pork worked out just fine. Like so many of the recipes in this book, it tastes like it should be more work than it is. The chops are seasoned with fresh rosemary and thyme, then cooked in butter. Basically, by the time they're brown on each side, they're done. Then, just deglaze the pan and make a quick sauce, and top the chop with a pat of rosemary butter. The sweet apples and grapes enhanced the salty, herby flavors of the pork. Me like.
I need to learn to plate food nicely. One of these days.
Conclusion: Like the pork chops a lot. I'm not going to put them in the love category, because I'm not sure if I would have been as impressed without the apples and grapes. Regardless, this was a wonderful dinner.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Soup's On

Matt will make a Shepherd's Pie for dinner tonight with our leftover lamb from Easter, so I decided to get my Dorie on for lunch. More soup, since I'm still attempting to cook healthy food for a bit (though the bowl of jellybeans I just finished and the impending lamb pie would contradict that claim).

Spiced Squash, Fennel, and Pear Soup (pg 80) is a dish I've been looking forward to cooking since I bought this cookbook. I like squash. I like fennel. I like pears. I couldn't imagine how they'd come together in a soup, though.

This was a very nice recipe, and I would make it again (in the Fall), but it let me down a bit. With such a range of interesting flavors going into the pot--licorice and tangerine and cumin, oh my!--I expected to taste layers and backnotes. Didn't happen. This soup is overwhelmingly, one-notedly gingery. I like ginger, but I expected something more. Next time, I would use fresh ginger instead of ground and see if that animates the other flavors at all. That said, if I ordered this in a restaurant, and it were just called Ginger Butternut Squash Soup, I'd be perfectly happy with it.
More fennel, please!
Remember how I said we're having Shepherd's Pie for dinner? Well I was boiling the lamb bone for stock earlier. Once clean, I tried to break it with the sharp point of a knife to get to the marrow. Fail. Next, I tried bashing it with my heavy rolling pin. As you can see, that didn't work out so well...
A worthy adversary.
How the hell did that happen? Not only did the cutting board split, but the metal plate that says Cuisinart popped right off. My last ditch effort to break into this bone had me wielding branch loppers in the middle of my kitchen. When the blades began to bend and the hinge was visibly strained, I called it a day and named the bone the victor. All hale Woolly's revenge!

Conclusion: Liked. Wish I loved.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Fire Extinguisher: Ready. Still Waiting.

 I decided to join the online cooking group "French Fridays With Dorie", in which 2000 people cook the same meal from Around My French Table each week and then post about it on their blogs. It's kind of fun to see that everybody's finished product looks totally different, even though they're all following the same instructions. This is my first week joining the group, and the selected recipe--Bistrot Paul Bert Pepper Steak (pg 238)--is not one that I would have chosen on my own, for two reasons:

1) My husband cooks steak beautifully. I burn it. There's nothing worse than destroying an expensive piece of beef, so I usually cede control to Matt.
2) This recipe involves setting brandy on fire. I am accident prone. (Did I mention that I sliced my thumb open on my mixer blade making yesterday's crackers?) Of the 2000 participants, I'd be the one voted most likely to burn her house down. Still, I figured that if all those other people were willing to risk possessions, pets, and families in pursuit of Dorie devotion, then so was I.

I cooked the filets and tented them in foil. I left the pan to cool for a minute, per the instructions, then poured in the brandy that I had on hand, which was, admittedly, super-cheap. I summoned my courage, lit a match, and...nothing. I spent the next five minutes trying to ignite the sucker. Every now and then a section would ripple under a soft, quickly-extinguished flame. Part of me must have been hoping for a fireball, because I felt really disappointed. It was so anticlimactic. I didn't realize it as it was happening, but I think all the alcohol must have burned out when it hit the hot pan (or, my brandy was so cheap that it had no alcohol. It's possible. Later, Matt tried to set it a slug of it on fire in a cold pan, and it took some work to light.) Anyway, by default, I wound up using the instructions for boiling the brandy.
I don't know why, but I absolutely could not get a decent photo of this.
 The sauce (reduced brandy + heavy cream) was good, but I'm more pleased with the fact that I finally, finally cooked a good steak. Not a great steak, but a good steak. Besides the fact that my pyrotechnic failures caused the meat to sit under the tent for waaaay too long, my filet was thinner than Matt's, so it was more well done than I would have liked. His was cooked perfectly, though. We'd been a bit snippy with each other before dinner. Matt took one bite, smiled, and said "All is forgiven."

Conclusion: Love, for Matt's reaction, for the fact that it would be really hard not to love filet mignon, and for the fact that it was so easy. Ever-so-slightly-overcooking the meat was my fault, not Dorie's. I would try to use better brandy and flame it right next time, and see if that imparts more flavor to the sauce. Really, though, when you weigh the Easy Factor against the outcome, this dish blows it off the charts. There's hardly any prep. If the brandy had flamed as expected, this steak and its sauce would have taken a whopping 7 minutes to cook.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Quicky

I've found my new favorite food: Cheez-it-ish Crackers (pg 10). These are basically homemade cheez-its (durr), but oh-so-much tastier, lighter, and flakier than any packaged cracker I've ever had. I thought that my 15 month old would like them, so instead of using all-purpose flour, as the recipe calls for, I used the Sneaky Chef's baking mix, which I had on hand in the pantry. It's equal parts white flour, wheat flour, and wheat germ. The healthier mix didn't negatively impact the outcome, as far as I can tell. They're browner than the picture in the book, but are still compulsively eatable.
Enjoy your last moments on Earth, crackers.
Charlie does like these crackers, but apparently I like them more, because I've already eaten about 10 of them, and he's only had 1. At the rate I'm going, 1 may be all he gets. They would be awesome on top of yesterday's cauliflower soup. Guess what I'm defrosting for lunch tomorrow.

Conclusion: Love! Sharper and cheesier than any cracker you could buy in the store.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pretending It's Deep Mid-winter

For lunch, I made Creamy Cauliflower Soup Sans Cream (pg 68). I'd like to preface my ruling that this is the best plate of cauliflower I've ever eaten by saying that cauliflower is something I merely tolerate. I hate people who say they can't tell the difference between mashed potatoes and mashed cauliflower. Liars! Besides trying to mash it, the only other way I've fixed cauliflower is in a stir-fry, where it takes on the flavor of the spices. I got a little antsy as I watched the cauliflower, onions, and celery boil away, because the only seasoning called for is salt, white pepper, and two sprigs of fresh thyme. If this didn't turn out well, I was going to have a whole lot of bad soup to eat.
This does not look delicious.
The recipe's title should have tipped me off, but I was still surprised that once pureed, this soup was so creamy in texture and taste. In a blind taste test, I would definitely think that cream and more than 1 TB of butter were involved.

First spoonful was mighty cauliflowery. Initially, I thought that was a bad thing, but as I finished my second bowl, I decided that cauliflower soup SHOULD taste like cauliflower. It shouldn't pretend to be mashed potatoes or hide behind a curry. This is cozy food that warmed me up from the inside with the back-heat of the white pepper. It would be the perfect bowl of soup to have when you're bone-tired and freezing from shoveling snow. It's 85 degrees in Texas today, so some of that appeal was lost on me, but it was still fun to imagine it.
Conclusion: I liked it. It's a good way to trick yourself into eating loads of veg without adding many calories, and if you toned down the white pepper and threw enough cheese on, you could probably get kids to eat it too.

For dinner, we had Roast Chicken for Les Paresseux (aka, Lazy People) from page 200. I wasn't expecting a ton from this, because I already cook a pretty mean roast chicken. This recipe is super-easy--quarter an onion, quarter some potatoes, throw in carrot chunks, herb sprigs, a splash of oil and one of wine--which is exactly what I needed tonight, after taking my wee boy to the doctor for shots this afternoon. The most interesting and unusual element, that takes no time at all, is to cut a head of garlic in half horizontally, then stick half in the chicken and half in the pot. YUM.

The chicken turned out beautifully browned, and after tilting it breastside-down for ten minutes, the breast was juicy. When I roast a chicken, I usually smear butter and seasoning under the skin. I prefer that, because this meat didn't really take on the flavor of the herbs and garlic shoved inside its cavity. However, smearing sweet roasted garlic on top made up for it's lack of seasoning. I'm keeping this garlic trick for every future chicken I roast.
That's a good looking bird.
One thing that I don't think worked out right was that the recipe says to place a thick piece of bread under the bird before roasting. Dorie implies that this bread will be delicious, post-roast. All I had was a slice of whole wheat sandwich bread. I don't think this is what she had in mind...
Conclusion: Love the garlic trick and the standing the chicken upside down trick, but as a whole, I would have to put this in the "like" column, because I prefer the way I usually do it. This WAS easy, though, so if I'm feeling lazy, I may go this route in the future.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Couscous Salad

I ate horribly last week, so I'm trying to find some healthy options to cook this week. This limits the recipes I have to choose from, so the menu will take fewer risks.

Loaded up with raw veggies, Couscous Salad (pg 136) seemed like a good choice. I was afraid it would be bland, like so many diety recipes, but it was good. Really good. Good enough to become a staple meal. I love recipes that are perfectly spiced as written. I always find myself adding more spice than recipes call for just to make them taste like something. Not so, this time. The couscous is seasoned with ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, and cumin, then tossed with raw peppers, sugar snap peas, raisins, carrots, chickpeas, and cukes. I'm not one to fawn over raw veggies, so I wasn't sure how this would come together, but it did, in crunchy glory. I'm really fond of how Dorie throws raisins into savory dishes. The shrimp were my idea. Clearly, I'm a culinary genius.
I'm glad that I halved the amount of couscous in the recipe (I ran out. I halved the seasonings and some of the veggies, accordingly), because this made enough food to fill a giant Pyrex bowl.

Matt liked it, but felt unsatisfied. He said it would have been great if it came with a loaf of bread or a steak. I think it's substantial enough just the way it is.

Conclusion: Liked it. It's not a dish that I expect to crave, but it's a good, healthy meal to keep in my arsenal, and I know I'll revisit it pretty regularly.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


After the disastrous green stew, I needed to pick a recipe that couldn't miss. Of course, I said this to my husband while we were eating and he said, "Wait, you thought that almonds, pistachios, raisins and dried figs tossed with linguine couldn't miss?" Correct. Fortunately for all of us, Beggar's Linguini (pg 370) was absolutely delicious.

The recipe requires 1.5 sticks of butter, which I just couldn't bring myself to use. I used a stick plus a chunk, which somehow sounded healthier in my head (though, surely, not on my hips.) Honestly, I'm not sure what the extra butter would have contributed. It turned out plenty buttery as it was. It was kind of difficult to incorporate all the tasty bits into the pasta, so maybe the extra butter would have greased the noodles that extra little bit to make them less clingy.

The element that made this dish unique and wonderful was the orange zest shaved on top of each serving. It tied all the sweet and salty and nutty flavors together and elevated the flavor, which would have been good, to a much more interesting, lovely mouthful of food. Many, many lovely mouthfuls of food. Dorie warns that this doesn't reheat well, so to eat up. I did. I'm going to explode now.

Conclusion: LOVE. This is a dangerous dish to enjoy so much. We're heading out of town for a few days, but when I come back, I need to seek out some healthy options from this book.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

She's Human, After All

The best thing about "Green As Spring Veal Stew" turns out to be the title. When reading the intro, I imagined tender chunks of meat nestled into a refreshing, light puree of arugula, spinach, and loads of herbs. The intro may have also prompted a vision or two of myself running knee-deep through fields of wildflowers, though in reality, if I were running through a field, it would probably be to escape the insects. Insert your own screaming soundtrack.

Maybe I did something wrong, but this dish turned out NASTY. First of all, I can't afford to buy three pounds of veal at $12/lb, so I used three pounds of sirloin instead, per the recommendation of my butcher. I bought the arugula, spinach, and herbs from the farmer's market, so they were as fresh as I could get them.

I was surprised that the instructions didn't say to brown the meat before slow-cooking it in stock. Lo and behold, this produced boring boiled meat. Maybe veal would have worked better than steak, but since the method was the same, it seems that the result would be similar.

I blended all the veg and was excited by the brilliant emerald color of the puree. Then I added the creme fraiche, and it washed the color out to a 70's era lime green. Dorie says to use creme fraiche instead of heavy cream or sour cream because it won't separate when heated. I don't know what went wrong, but my creme fraiche balled up on the surface and would not smooth out, no matter how much I whisked it. I eventually gave up and dumped the meat back into the pot.
Dig in, if you dare
There was a lot more liquid than I expected, so perhaps I didn't reduce the stock enough. I don't think that was the crucial difference, though. Bland is bland, and no amount of reduction was going to add enough flavor to rescue this. Did you ever see the episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia where Charlie says his favorite food is "milk-steak"? That was all I could think of while eating this.
More milk-steak, anyone?
My mother's response summed it up best. When asked how she liked it, she said that the accompanying bread I'd baked was good. Way to find the silver lining!

Conclusion: Awful. Just awful.

Monday, April 18, 2011

It begins...

I've gone carrot-crazy. The farmer's market has these beautiful dark red/purple carrots that I've never seen before, and I keep stocking up.  

First up, I cooked Monkfish and Double Carrots (pg 294). I couldn't get my hands on monkfish, so I swapped it out for sea scallops, which Dorie suggests as a replacement in a sidebar. (I don't think she'd mind if I call her Dorie. Her cookbook is so friendly, I feel like I know her. That, itself, is probably weird. Ah, well, Dorie she shall remain.) This recipe caught my eye because it could either be really good or totally disgusting. If nothing else, it's healthy.

Basically, you cook sliced carrots in carrot juice with some herbs and butter. Then you cook the scallops, place them on top of the carrots, pour the juice over, and top with crumbled bacon. Carrot juice poured on seafood? Sounds gross.

What a pleasant surprise. The sweet, rosemary-infused sauce contrasted beautifully with the salty bacon. If I make this again, I'd keep the bacon in bigger pieces, and would salt the scallops more. I think that would balance the flavor better. Scallops are one of my favorite foods, but I've always been afraid to cook them myself, because they seem like they'd easily turn into rubbery little pucks. These cooked perfectly, though, remaining moist and meaty, using Dorie's directions of searing for two minutes per side.
I love my purple-ringed carrots
My husband made spaetzl to go with it. Yum. He paid the dish a nice compliment when he said that it tasted very country, meaning simple, but good. The problem is that we were both starving again an hour after we ate. The scallops were not very big, so that could have been the problem.

Conclusion: Liked it. Quick, easy, healthy, and tasty. I can see myself making this often, though with a more filling starch component.

Last night, I used up the carrots I had on hand for Cafe-style Grated Carrot Salad (pg 107). I can't decide what my thoughts are on this side dish. My mouth liked the texture of the carrots, raisins, and walnuts together, but I wasn't crazy about the dressing, which was a mustard-based vinaigrette. I'm not a huge mustard fan. I used half of the dressing on the salad, and it was more than enough. I think I would have hated this if I'd used all the dressing. That said, I ate a whole lot of it while I was trying to decide if I liked it, so it couldn't be that bad. My husband and mother were both lukewarm about it.

Conclusion: Indifferent. Probably wouldn't make it again, unless for a bbq, because I wouldn't have to worry about mayo turning if it was sitting out.