Thursday, March 27, 2014

FFwD: Recipe-Swap Onion "Carbonara"

I was supposed to cook Vegetable Barley Soup with the Taste of Little India for this week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe. For no good reason other than that I'd already made a big pot of soup this week, I decided to hold off on this recipe and make up one that I'd missed.

For some reason, I didn't expect much from Recipe-Swap Onion "Carbonara." To start with, steamed onions? Ew. Spaghetti alla Carbonara is one of the meals that I can always get Charlie to eat, and it's one of our standby restaurant orders for him. As such, I've tasted some excellent carbonaras, and a lot of mediocre/terrible versions. The worst are soupy and bland. Okay, that's not totally true. The VERY worst actually had curds stuck to the pasta. Cooked egg? Bad cream? I don't know. Gross. Charlie ate it anyway. I envisioned Dorie's version to be on the soupy/bland side. I was wrong.

I ripped up a rotisserie chicken and threw it into the pan with a pound of steamed onions, to make it a one-pot meal. I also transferred a bit of bacon grease over from the pan I'd cooked the bacon in, because bacon flavor is more than half of the appeal of carbonara. Am I right? Of course I am. I did need to add a little extra cream, because the chicken bulked things up farther than the sauce would spread. I used Italian panna da cucina. They have different kinds of cream here. I never know what I'm buying. This stuff is practically solid. It's awesome. It helped reduce the soupy factor.
I was also wrong for wrinkling my nose at steamed onions. Much to my surprise, they turned out to be sweet, and a nice texture.

This was a delicious meal. No pasta necessary.

Conclusion: Loved it.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

FFwD: (Shrimp) and Onion Tartes Fines

This week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe is technically supposed to feature scallops instead of shrimp, but my kid eats--no, gorges on--shrimp, so I'm game to cook them as often as I can. The swap was a no-brainer.

To make Shrimp and Onion Tartes Fines, you start with Dorie's favorite method of preparing puff pastry. Namely, weighing it down with a cookie sheet while it bakes to prevent it from puffing. She uses this technique in a number of recipes, and it's fine, though I don't think I'm as enamored with the outcome as Dorie is.

After the pastry is baked, cook some pancetta, then slow-cook onions in the pancetta grease until they're caramelized. I cooked the shrimp in this delicious glop, then topped the puff pastry with it. In the original recipe, you would slice raw scallops very thinly, then briefly pop the assembled tartes back in the oven.
This was straightforward and tasty, and I think that the onion/pancetta/shrimp combo makes a delicious topping for a salad, assuming that you don't care if your salad is coated in pancetta and its grease. I know that this works as a salad because my giant wedge of puff pastry collapsed on itself when i picked it up, so I ate most of it with a fork. Guess that's why Dorie says to cut them into nicely presented circles. Oops.

My big adventure for this recipe involved locating puff pastry at the Italian supermarket. I walked out with this...
At no point was I sure that I'd purchased puff pastry instead of pie dough, and the box was no help. Of all the dishes it could have shown, the image on the box depicts what seems to be an artichoke gallete. Obviously. That clears everything up. Even though galletes are made with something closer to a pie dough. Right? Beats me. I'm happy to report that "Pasta sfoglia" is, in fact, puff pastry. Phew! This could have been a hot mess.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Few Dories

I'm trying to kick my Dorie make-ups into high gear. News that Dorie is publishing a new book in the next year, and the realization that we only have a year's-worth of recipes from Around My French Table yet to cook has spurred me on to catch up to the group. I really want to "finish" the book, since that's the whole reason for the club.

I cooked three recipes this week, but didn't get my post written until now.

I'll start with the recipe that was slated for this week: Sausage-stuffed Cornish Hens. Honestly? I was indifferent to this. My hens took A LONG time to cook. Much longer than specified, and even when the thermometer read the correct temperature (which I had to look up in How to Cook Everything, because Dorie doesn't supply one), and the thighs ran clear when stabbed, they still weren't cooked through. Grrr.
I also found my sausage-to-bread ratio to be off, with the emphasis on sausage. Maybe if I had made the pan sauce, it would have married the chicken and sausage flavors. As it stands, the stuffing and the hen seemed like two totally unrelated entities. I was starving by the time the damn things were finished cooking, and had no patience for making sauce, though. Whaaatever.

Most of the recipes I have yet to complete are desserts. Fortunately for my waistline, my friend recently decided to start a book club, so my plan is to always bring a Dorie dessert to book club. Have I mentioned lately how much I hate tart dough? Ugh. So many tarts to do. Anyway, this month I chose the easiest possible baked good that I'm behind on: Financiers.

These were perfect for a morning book club. A friend described them as "exactly the right amount of sweet," and I agree. Charlie ate two in the morning, and the two I saved for him as soon as he got home from school. He was furious when he realized that those two were all he could have. It's not often he inhales something that's not a chocolate chip cookie, so I call that a win. And almond flour and egg whites means it's healthy right? Right. We'll just pretend the 1.5 sticks of butter never happened.
Lastly, I made Butter and Rum Crepes, Plain (sans Rum). I've never made crepes before, and wasn't totally confident that I'd end up with anything besides a pile of deformed crepe. However, the crepes were surprisingly easy to work with, and delicious, to boot. I doubled the recipe, and they were GONE in about five minutes. My favorite preparation was to smear them with nutella and homemade tangerine curd. Holy moly. YUM.

They were gone so fast I never took a picture. My bad.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Wrapping Up, and Up Next

I declare The Epicurious Cookbook to be solid. Everything except for the spice-bomb lettuce wraps, which were practically inedible, ranked at least an "okay,"with the majority (13 out of 18 recipes) being in the "liked" or "loved" category. Not too shabby.

Usually, by the time I've cooked 18 recipes from a book, I'm antsy to move on. In this case, there's a ton I still want to cook, but I'm switching books to afford myself a better chance at losing any weight during the 3 months of Weight Watchers that I paid for. I've gained four pounds since I signed up in January. ARGH! Anyway, I have one month left included in what I've already paid for, so I'm going to try really hard to make it work.

I unenthusiastically claim my next book to be Giada's Feel Good Food, because a) they're healthy recipes, and b) each recipe provides the nutritional breakdown per serving, so I can just plop that into WW's points calculator and be done with it, rather than having to build recipes one ingredient at a time to figure out how many points the meal will be. I hate that crap.
I'd pre-ordered this book when I heard about it, because I'm compulsive like that. It arrived, and bummed me out. It's totally uninspiring. Almond Butter Strawberry Toast? Smear bread with almond butter. Add strawberries and a drizzle of honey. Really? This is a recipe?? Very little sounds appetizing to me. You can be damn sure I won't be cooking a Strawberry-Mint Omelet for breakfast. Sugar in my eggs? I just threw up in my mouth. I will not eat Detox Broth for three meals a day. One of her dinner recipes is Grilled Herbed Tofu with Avocado Cream. As dinner? Really? It even looks sparse in the book's photo.

I've made a recipe or two since I got the book. The Chewy Granola Bars were weird and gross. I had the adorable idea to make them and cut them into heart shapes for Valentines Day. No one ate more than a bite. The Oatmeal with Olive Oil was not exactly delicious, but it was somehow more satisfying and kept me full longer than oatmeal with a smashed banana or applesauce, which is how I usually eat mine. Maybe I ate it slower because it was savory/bland. I don't know. So that recipe was okay. Still, I don't have high hopes for this book.

I know it's meant to be helpful, but the personal stories in this book make me jealously hate Giada a little. My  main thought is, "Well la-dee-dah for YOU." The only other time a cookbook evoked this feeling in me was when Ina Garten recommends that everyone have two dishwashers in their kitchen, for easy clean-up. Lady, I don't even have one dishwasher in my kitchen at the moment. I AM the dishwasher, so shut up. So Giada's pretending to be normal and cute too much, and it grates on my nerves. Regarding her weekly manicure, she says "I'll embellish my ring fingers with something a bit special. I stay in the same color family so it's a little hit of fun but nothing too crazy!" SMACK. Her favorite things to freeze so they're ready to cure a sweet tooth are "chocolate chips, grapes, mini peppermint patties, sliced banana, and berries." If frozen grapes were sufficient to cure my sweet tooth, I wouldn't need your damn book. Every three months, Giadia, her aunt, and her sister "head to the same Korean spa for a head-to-toe scrub." SMACK. She wears concealer, because "Between being a mom, working, and traveling, I dont' often get to catch up on my beauty rest!" SMACK SMACK. Maybe I'm surly, or maybe it's her excessive use of exclamation points, but the tone is so sappy and annoying. As I said before, I'm jealous. She's so perfect in her white house with her white shirt. Giada at Home made me worry that, if I knew her, I'd spill something in her squeaky clean house. This book makes me fantasize about smearing pasta all over her couch. She's pushing an image of being a normal person, but includes pictures of her gorgeous self washing her face, as if this brings her closer to us.
See? Jealous.
Pictures like this make me feel worse about me, and for that, Giada gets another SMACK SMACK.

All will be forgiven if the food turns out to be tasty. I'm not holding my breath.

Sunday, March 9, 2014


The recipe for Black Bean and Tomato Quinoa on page 70 of The Epicurious Cookbook hit that sweet spot of lime and cilantro and green onion flavor that I don't come across in Italy unless I make it myself.
I approve.

Conclusion: Liked it. Basic "southwestern" salad, but a good one. It would be a good BBQ dish, because there aren't any ingredients that could go bad in the hot sun.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

FFwD: Two Tartines from La Croix Rouge

I can't say that I was particularly excited about this week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe, except for the fact that its two components were easy. So easy that even my easily distracted self could handle preparing it on time, for once.

The recipe is really two recipes, if you can even call them that, for tartines made at a cafe in Dorie's neighborhood.

The Tartine Norvegienne--a slice of bread toasted, buttered, and layered with a slice of smoked salmon, capers, and ground pepper--sounded particularly unappetizing to me. I've never been a fan of smoked salmon, so I sprang for the pricier of the two options I could find. It wasn't actually expensive, it was just more expensive, so I figured it would give me my best shot of enjoying this.
Turns out, I did not hate this. In fact, I almost enjoyed it. I liked it enough that I plan to finish the pack of salmon instead of tossing it. Huzzah!

The second, Tartine Saint-Germain, was more my speed. It's basically a roast beef sandwich without the top piece of bread. Toast bread, smear with mayo, add thinly sliced cornichon (I used a normal baby dill pickle), and top with "paper-thin slices rarest-possible roast beef." I just used what was at the deli counter at the commissary, and I don't regret it.
The group prepared Helene's All-White Salad a few weeks back. I made the dish on time, but we traveled to Bologna the next day, and it derailed my efforts to blog about it, especially since I HATED this salad.
It's like Helene made a list of the most unappetizing raw things she could think of, and threw them together with the slightest bit of seasoning. Cabbage, celery, white mushrooms, and Granny Smith apples do not belong together, especially when bound by a dressing of egg yolk, Greek yogurt, salt, lemon, and olive oil.

No thanks.

I'm just mad that I wasted 1/2 cup of my precious produced-at-an-agriturismo-I-stayed-at olive oil on this.


There's not much to say about the recipe for Soft Scrambled Eggs with Ricotta (without chives) from pg 15 of The Epicurious Cookbook. It's scrambled eggs. With ricotta. It tastes exactly as you would expect it to. Did I like it? Well enough. Would I make it again? Nah.
Conclusion: Just okay.

If I ever create a recipe, I'll make sure to omit the superlatives in its title. The outcome can only suffer from inflated expectation. I made Amazing Chocolate Chip-Peanut Butter Cookies (pg 283) for my husband to bring to a poker night last weekend. They're intro describes them as "crisp on the outside and gooey on the inside." I fiddled around with the baking time with each sheet that went in the oven, and never achieved that effect. The day I baked these, I thought they were dry, even when I practically undercooked them, and the peanut flavor (provided by chopped peanuts and Reese's peanut butter chips) didn't pack much punch. My big takeaway was that I want to add chopped peanuts and Reese's peanut butter chips to my gold standard Toll House chocolate chip cookie recipe, and in the future, that's what I'd do.
I concede that these became moister and more flavorful overnight. Not sure how the moisture level change. Maybe the peanuts released oil or something. They were much better the next day.

That said, everyone at poker night devoured/raved about them, so maybe I'd feel more kindly toward them if the book hadn't amped them up so much. Regardless, I'll stick with adding things to Toll House's recipe next time.

Conclusion: Just okay, as far as cookies go. Don't get me wrong, I ate my fair share. Not as good as they could be, though.