Thursday, April 26, 2012

FFwD: Navarin Printanier

April in Texas is not the time to cook a thick lamb stew, which is the best way to describe this week's French Fridays with Dorie selection: Navarin Printanier. It hit 88 degrees yesterday. After half a bowl, I broke a sweat. My husband reminded me that it's still chilly in other parts of the country, so this wasn't a totally unseasonable choice to be put on the schedule. I know he's right, but that didn't help me want to eat it.

I've said before that I just don't like stew. I would like to amend that statement. I don't like beef stew. I've been delighted with most lamb stews that I've tried, and this one is no exception. Between the turnips and the pearl onions, the smell reminded me of Thanksgiving. The tomato paste and the large amount of flour used to thicken the broth made it even more hearty than stews I've eaten before. This would be lovely if you were snowed in. I'll keep it in mind for next winter, when I live someplace that actually gets damp and cold.
Conclusion: Liked it. Not to mention that it used up the bag of pearl onions that's been in my freezer since Thanksgiving, as well as my bag of baby carrots. The great freezer purge continues!

Friday, April 20, 2012

FFwD: Coconut Friands

I have no specific problem with coconut, except that, given a list of flavors, it would likely be my last pick. I don't mind it as a background ingredient, but I don't like it when it coats the outside of a cake (in the same way that I don't like nuts in my ice cream. It interferes with the texture in a way that other add-ins do not), or when it's the primary flavor of something, because it usually is TOO coconutty for my taste.

That said, this week's French Fridays with Dorie pick of Coconut Friands (little cakes baked in mini muffin tins) was perfectly timed. I was having a lousy Wednesday (fourth anniversary since my dad died) and a little baking therapy was just what I needed. This recipe made me happy because I had all the ingredients already, it used up my coconut and four egg whites that I had in the freezer (trying to eat through the contents of my pantry before I move this summer), and it was easy as can be. I wasn't in a mind-space to do much besides stir ingredients together, so it was perfect.
All that was left by the time I remembered to snap a photo. Don't judge me. haha
I was delighted at how much I liked these little cakes. Especially when they were fresh from the oven, the edges and sides were a little crisp, almost like they'd caramelized. That effect was gone by the next day, but it was lovely while it lasted. They certainly tasted of coconut, but the flavor seemed mild because it was so well balanced by vanilla. I think that the use of unsweetened coconut was crucial to keeping the flavor in check. Hot, they tasted of whipped cream, somehow. I can't explain that.

Needless to say, therapy baking turned into therapy eating. Oh well, it was just for a day. Charlie liked these too, much to my surprise. Maybe I've just been baking the wrong flavored treats for his palate. He ate one and then ran to the kitchen and was stretching to reach another off the counter. Eat up, lad, eat up. Please, don't make me eat them all myself.

Conclusion: Loved them.

Also, consider this a public service announcement. I made the Basic White Loaf from Baking with Julia that was previously covered by Tuesdays with Dorie. The bread was easy and delicious, but the damn dough broke my Kitchenaid mixer. Online searches have revealed to me that you are not supposed to turn the Kitchenaid mixer on higher than level "2" when using the bread hook or it will burn out the motor, so when the recipe instructed me to raise the speed to medium, things went wrong. I had no idea, and I'm guessing some of you don't know either. I have to take her apart this weekend to check out her innards, because the interwebs tell me that the most common problem can be fixed with a $25 replacement part--some failsafe piece that it designed to break before the motor is actually damaged. Fingers crossed!
How can I stay mad at a face like that?
Let me just tell you, kneading butter into a stiff dough by hand is no fun. No fun at all.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tuesdays with Dorie: Lemon Loaf Cake

I held out against the siren song of Tuesdays with Dorie for as long as I could. I wanted to join them back when they were baking through Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking, but the group was closed to newcomers by the time I found out about them. They finished Baking a few months ago, and have moved on to a book that Dorie wrote with Julia Child, called Baking with Julia. I refrained, thinking that I didn't need baked goods around the house every week. I read posts of folks who participate in both TwD and FFwD, and everything they were making from Baking with Julia looked so, so good. And, contrary to my expectations, it wasn't all sweet. About a week ago, it clicked in my head that they weren't posting on a weekly basis. I ran to check Tuesdays with Dorie's website, and realized that yes, it's a bi-weekly group. Twice a month sounds much friendlier on my waistline than four times a month. Yeah, boyeeee! I ordered my book and skipped off to a vacation in New Orleans.

My enthusiasm to get started immediately upon my return from the trip contributed to the mediocrity of my Lemon Loaf Cake (pg 252, or recipe can be found on our hosts' posts, here or here.) I in no way blame the recipe, and I want to try it again, properly. See, my book hadn't arrived yet on Sunday when I went to the supermarket, so I bought ingredients that I thought could be in it, hoping the book would arrive on Monday so that I could bake it by Tuesday. I did not anticipate cake flour or heavy cream, and my loaf pan was the wrong size. I ran to CVS in a monsoon yesterday, certain that they would have heavy cream, but all I could find was half and half. My toddler and I were already drenched, so I grabbed the half and half and crossed my fingers that it would work.

The loaf came together easily and smelled wonderful while it was baking. It has a nice lemon flavor (though I think a lemon glaze icing on top would be perfect), but the texture was definitely wrong. No doubt about it, this tough, chewy crumb was not as it should be. Oh, well. Note to self: half and half is not a valid replacement for heavy cream. Ha! My husband took the cake to work (Navy), so he could put it out in the USO. Sailors always wander through there looking for treats, and I'm sure they'll appreciate it.

I'm super-excited to be part of the group and baking along with this remarkable, intimidating book. There are some complicated recipes in there! Holy moly. I'm especially excited about all the breads. I'm in bread mode these days. Should be fun!

Monday, April 16, 2012

FFwD: I'm here! I'm here!

I haven't forgotten Dorie. We took a trip to New Orleans (I'm now in love with NO), and though I completed both Asparagus and Bits of Bacon (pg 330 of Around My French Table) and the Sardine Rillettes (pg 25) before we left, I never managed to post about it. Whattaya gonna do?

As far as the asparagus goes, there were no surprises. It's a fairly familiar flavor combo, so I have no strong response or dramatic stories to tell regarding it. Will it replace my standard preference of just grilling the asparagus with a bit of oil, salt, and pepper? Nah, probably not. It's nice to have a recipe every now and then that is exactly what you expect and want it to be.
Conclusion: Liked it.

Now. I don't even know where to start with the sardine rillettes. I, like the few Doristas whose posts I've caught up on, bought the most expensive sardines in the store, just to give myself a fighting chance, not that they were really that pricey. Didn't realize I'd have to de-bone them. Honestly, I started out being okay with that idea. I thought it would be self-explanatory once I got in there, because Dorie didn't really provide much by way of instruction besides "lift away the bones" and cut the tail off. I thought the fish's spine (if that's what it was) was pretty cool, and I confess to studying the teeny tiny little vertebrae. While I had my face that close, I noticed almost-invisible slivers of bone in the meat. I attempted to remove those, too, and that's when everything started downhill. I destroyed the first sardine and came to the conclusion that the splintery bones were meant to stay in. I scraped the spine out of the next fish, and then started to get skeeved out that my hands were covered in sloughed-off scales and skin. I decided to scrape the skin off. Mistake. My stomach lurched on the second fish, and between the mess and the smell, I'd had enough after three fish. There wasn't a chance in hell that I was going to muck about with two entire tins of sardines. Nuh-uh. No way.

I mashed my three sardines up with my cream cheese, shallot, scallion, chive, and lemon mixture, then stuck it in the fridge for two hours.
I've read that a few folks thought this tasted like tuna. I thought it tasted like tuna's aftertaste, which is a very different thing than tasting like tuna itself. Maybe if I'd used the whole tin, it would have tasted more tuna-ey, but I can't even imagine that adding more fish would have fixed it. One bite was enough for me. That cream cheese mixture, minus the sardines, would have been kick-ass on an Everything bagel, though. Matt thought he liked it after one bite, but by the third, he decided that he didn't like it. This one was a big old bust, and I'm glad it's out of the way so I never have to eat it again.

Conclusion: Hated it.