Sunday, October 11, 2015

TwD: Tiger Cakes

Yay, I'm posting on schedule for the first time in months. Woohoo!

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe from Baking, Chez Moi is for Tiger Cakes, mini-muffin-sized almond flour-based cakes that are supposedly reminiscent of a tiger's stripes because of the chocolate that is mixed into the batter. I don't know about that. I'm not seeing it. Regardless, these cakes are wonderful.

My son started kindergarten this year. It only took him one month to develop self-esteem issues. Wonderful. For the past week, every morning before school, and every night before bed, he sulks about how he's "not as great" as the other kids, he's not as funny, and he has no friends. (Note: I emailed his teacher to find out if he was being shy all day long, or if he was fine once he was in class, because I know he is more social when I'm not around. She said he has lots of friends and socializes so much that he doesn't always pay attention. Sounds right.)

I grew up feeling like I was not very good at anything besides reading and baking. Baking always made me feel good about myself because, nine times out of ten, even if a baked good doesn't turn out perfectly, it's still pretty good. You put the work in, you create something delicious. People inevitably compliment the product. Instant esteem boost. Recognizing that baking functioned for me in this way, I asked Charlie if he wanted to help me bake the Tiger Cakes on Friday morning, before we took a trip to the zoo.

I supervised, but Charlie basically made these himself (I already had egg whites in the freezer, so he didn't have to separate them.) We had a lovely time.

I told him that I was planning to bake every recipe in the book, and asked him if he wanted to help. He said, "Well, yes, but isn't that going to take a long time?" I said, "Yes, but that'll only make it more satisfying when we finish." He said, "But if we bake all those recipes, how will we have time to go to the zoo?" HA! Once I assured him that we were not making them all in one day, he was fully on board.
Neatness is overrated.
I made sure we thoroughly buttered the pans, because I'd read that the cakes were prone to stick. I guess we didn't butter it enough. We ripped the bottoms off of 90% of them trying to get them out of the pan. Lesson for life: So what? They still taste good.
Charlie got the first taste. I asked how they were. He said, "Deeeelicious. Maybe I am a great boy." That esteem boost may not last forever, but it was exactly what I'd hoped for. We're going to be baking a lot in the coming weeks.

We packed up a few to bring to the zoo, so we could eat tiger cakes in front of the tigers.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

TwD: Apple Kuchen

Our move is complete, my house is mostly sorted, and I'm going to try to get back in the Tuesdays with Dorie groove. I've got quite a few makeups to do.

Hurricane Joaquin was a bust around these parts, not that I'm complaining. While planning to be rained in for the weekend, I couldn't think of a cozier idea than to give myself a baking project. Some people go pumpkin crazy in Autumn. I'm all about apples. So, Apple Kuchen, from Baking Chez Moi.

The dough that lines the springform pan made me insane. I guess it hardened too much in the fridge. It fell to pieces as I tried to form it. Ugh! Deep breaths. I patched it all up. There may have been a few curses.
Things did not go more smoothly once the tart was filled. Halfway through the normal baking time, the raisins had already turned into hard, burned balls. I had to bake the kuchen for an extra forty minutes, and it was still wet on the inside. The knife never came out clean. Finally I took it out of the oven. I added the butter and sugar to the top, and put it under the broiler. The apples were supposed to "char seductively." Mine burned, non-seductively.
I pulled the entire top layer of apples (and all the raisins) off of the kuchen, let it sit until after dinner, and then dug in.
Conclusion: Delicious. It was like apple pudding. Yum! I have no need for the crust. The custard, on its own, is all I need.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Play-It-Again-Dorie Recipe

This week, we're talking about the recipe that we keep coming back to, over and over again. It isn't necessarily our favorite recipe, but the one we've made most often.

It's hard to pick one, but based on number of times I've made it, I have to call out Creamy Cauliflower Soup Sans Cream. I love this soup. It's easy to make, tastes delicious--especially with cheese melted on top--and makes me feel virtuous, even when I eat three bowls in one sitting (ahem, always).
Plus, the kiddo likes it. He won't admit that he likes it, but I can get him to eat it. When he genuinely doesn't like something, no power on earth can get it in his mouth. When he merely wants to be contrary, there are ways to work around it.
I made the cauliflower soup two weeks ago to accompany my gougeres. Charlie was not allowed to have a cheesy pouf until he had ten bites of soup. He ate ten bites.
Then, I told him he could only have a second gougere after he ate some more soup. He said, "29 more bites?" Ummm...sure. Twenty-nine bites will be fine.
He did it, and earned himself all the gougeres he wanted. That's what passes as a crowd-pleaser recipe in this house.

We're heading out tomorrow for an 11-day trip to Ireland (SQUEAAAL!), so I will not manage to write next week's post--the final FFWD post!!--until the following week. I'll sit down with a box of tissues and a cup of tea and catch up with all the other Doristas' posts then.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Never Doubt Dorie

Even though I absolutely hated the outcome of the Salmon and Potatoes in a Jar recipe from Around My French Table, it seems like the perfect write-up for this week's French Fridays with Dorie post, in which we were tasked to "Choose the recipe that might not have been your favorite or even something you enjoyed making or even something you were skeptical about but which taught you a technique or gave you an idea or provided a lesson of some kind."

I did not enjoy making or eating this recipe, in which salmon is brined, then packed into a jar with olive oil, herbs, and vegetables. I was 100% skeptical of it, going in. I knew I would hate it, and so I instantly started backtracking and trying to find ways to not follow the recipe. Granted, I did follow the Roasted Cured Salmon bonne idee, so I didn't go totally rogue, but it turned out horridly. I know that cured fish is technically not raw, but when starting with such dull looking salmon to begin with, cured was too raw for me. I roasted it, and it turned into an overly fishy salt-bomb. This provided the lesson. Two lessons, actually.

Lesson 1: Always, always, always use the freshest ingredients possible. My salmon was gross looking, straight from the supermarket, and so there was no chance in the world I was going to prepare it as written. I should have looked harder for a better product.

Lesson 2: As I quote Matt as saying in my original post for this recipe, "Next time, just trust Dorie!!" It was years ago, but I can still hear his wail as he tried to scrape all that salty fish off his tongue. It was pretty funny.

Going rogue works for some people, but for me, I'm better off when I just trust Dorie.

Friday, May 29, 2015

FFwD: The AHA Moment!

To launch our celebration month after completing every recipe from Around My French Table, we were tasked with choosing our favorite recipe, and then making a top 5 list. (Okay, so I'm 20 recipes short of "every", but I'm at peace with that number.)

No question in my mind, my number one favorite recipe in this book is Gougeres. This was one of the first recipes I made, before I knew that French Fridays with Dorie even existed. I was not much of a cook at the time, and had a picky, cranky 1-year-old on my hands, but I decided to take a risk and try this cheesey choux dough--not that I'd ever heard of pate a choux--for no reason other than that the picture in the book looked delicious.
It felt like a miracle when Charlie ate one. Then two. Then as many as he could stuff into his face. Gougeres became the treat I made when we had long car rides ahead of us. They became my go-to party snack. Charlie learned to say "cheesy poof," our in-house name for gougeres, before he learned to say I love you. Cheesy poofs are dear to our hearts.
He was so leeeettle! I want to eat his face! And that cheesy poof.
I fully intended to bake a celebratory batch of gougeres today, but life got away from me, and now I don't have time. After a full morning of errands, my husband called and said that he'd broken his foot playing soccer at work (darn military and their mandatory PT!), was at the hospital, and that I needed to come and wait for him to be done, then bring him back to work. By the time I dropped him off, I had just enough time to pick Charlie up from school. I'm exhausted, and instead of gougeres and soup, my dinner will now consist of rotisserie chicken and whatever leftover grain/veg I can find in the fridge.

Matt's plan for tomorrow was to clean out our disaster of a garage. Now that his foot is broken, I guess I get bumped up in the queu. boooooo! Actually, he thinks he's doing it anyway. Um, no. I bump myself up in the queu, and he's going to have to learn to stop being productive for a little while. So, tomorrow may suck, but, by God, there WILL be gougeres!! And gougeres will make it all better.

It is nearly impossible for me to pick a top 5. Here's my best shot. I'm not counting gougeres. They're my #1, but this way, it's like I get a Top 6. Mwa ha haaa!

1. Provencal Olive Fougasse. If memory serves me, this was one of my first forays into bread. I was afraid of yeast before this recipe. After, I was like, "Oh. That was no big deal." Salty, lemony, bready goodness. What's not to love?

2. Cheese-Topped Onion Soup. This takes substantially longer to properly caramelize the onions than Dorie says, but it is so rich and delicious at the end, that I don't care. Best. Soup. Ever.

3. Beef Cheek Daube with Carrots and Elbow Macaroni. This one was a shock to me, because up until I made this recipe, I hated stewed beef with a fiery passion. I LOVE this recipe, and I've made it many times, whenever the temperature drops. I'm looking forward to having a real winter in DC next year (Did I tell you, we now have orders to Washington DC??!! Matt and I lived there for 8 years after college. I'm super excited to go back. It feels like going home, because we have so many friends in the area. I am SO going to feed them this beef.)

4. Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good. The name speaks for itself. Maybe I'm just hankering for cool-weather dishes right now, but I miss this dish! I can't wait to be reunited with the proper kind of pumpkin for it. They have pumpkin in Italy, but it's very different. I tried to make this once here in Italy, and it didn't work.

5. I literally can not choose between Marie-Helene's Apple Cake or the Tourteau de Chevre as my favorite dessert. I can't. I'm not even going to try. So there!
It feels so wrong to leave off the osso bucco and veal marengo and the hurry-up-and-wait roast chicken and dressy pasta risotto and potato gratin and the slow-roasted tomatoes and endives,apples, and grapes, and almond flounder mouniere, and the chocolate mousse, and...and...and...there's too much. I feel like a very lucky girl to have so many favorite recipes in my arsenal. Thank you, Dorie!!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

FFwD: Chicken in a Pot

So this is it. The last recipe that the French Fridays with Dorie group is scheduled to cook from Around My French Table. We'll have one more month of cooking, where we highlight our favorites/recipes that taught us something/etc, but, really,

Chicken in a Pot. This is the recipe on the cover.

The prime placement, that gorgeous photo, and the fact that we saved this recipe for last, may have all served to build my expectations a bit too high. I love roast chicken. Love it. In combo with roasted-in-the-same-pot sweet potatoes, carrots, and white potatoes, it's one of my top 5 favorite recipes (and Dorie's Hurry-up-and-Wait Roast Chicken has become my standby). This one uses all my favorite elements (I omitted the preserved lemon), and looks spectacular in the picture.

Except for one thing. It turns out, this is not a roast chicken. That picture totally fooled me. After browning the vegetables, you brown the chicken, then put it in a pot to braise in broth and wine. Dorie calls for white. I used red, because I accidentally drank the white the night before. Well, the drinking wasn't an accident. The forgetting that I'd reserved it for this recipe was.

This is a divergence, but it boggles my mind whenever a recipe calls for a ton of veg, and then, when it wants you to brown it, makes a side note of "if necessary, do this in 2 batches." How big of a pan do these people have that could ever possibly brown this amount of anything in one pan?? Of course it's going to take two batches. In fact, this took me three batches! Pet peeve. I don't know why. I think because the batches always add extra time that I hadn't accounted for on first read. And, in this case, I don't feel that the browning added additional flavor to the veg after they soaked in that braise for an hour.
I appear to have done a terrible job browning my chicken. I'll admit outright that I am an impatient browner. It always takes so much longer than I think it's going to.

That gorgeous golden bread ringing Dorie's pan was a let down. She says that this seals in all the flavor. I, mistakenly, assumed that it would also be good for eating. Nope. It's basically just a putty to seal the pan closed, that is dry and flavorless once baked. Is this step really necessary? No. Not if you have a well-fitted lid, it's not.

One other complaint regarding the bread-sealed lid is that I couldn't check the temperature on my chicken.

In the end, this was a perfectly fine chicken. It took more time and more steps than seems necessary, especially when a straight-up roast chicken, with all the same ingredients, is exponentially more delicious. I wish I had a more dramatic love for our last recipe, but I don't. It was fine. It feels a little anticlimactic. Ah, well. Fine's not so bad.

Friday, May 1, 2015

FFwD: Cheesecake Tart

This week, the French Fridays with Dorie group was scheduled to bake the final dessert from Around My French Table: Cheesecake Tart.

I've been reducing my carbs and sugar lately, so I was really happy when I read through this recipe. As long as I omitted the tart shell, the only ingredients that interfered with my food plan was 3 tb of sugar and 3 tb of corn starch. Good enough for me. 

After I put the tart in the oven, I worried that it might turn into a giant disaster, because I hadn't buttered my pan. Luckily, the slices came out with no trouble.
The cheesecake filling was made out of cottage cheese, sour cream, egg yolks, sugar, corn starch, lemon zest, and vanilla, blitzed in the food processor until smooth and creamy.

This was good, even without the crust. It had a nice tang to it. However, if I'm going to eat cheesecake, I want a thick, luscious, rich NY cheesecake. This was tasty, but it just doesn't compete. On the other hand, this is a great recipe to keep in my back pocket for days when I want dessert without disrupting my meal plan too much.

I also made up two recipes this week. First, Tomatoes Provencal. I have no idea why it took me so long to make this. It's easy--Cut tomatoes in half. Sprinkle with oil, garlic, and chopped herbs. Roast. The tomatoes turn melty and sweet, with minimal effort. Delicious!

Last night, I made Chestnut-Pear Soup for dinner before having the tart. I've been avoiding this one for quite a while. I adore most of Dorie's savory soups, but I've been unhappy with all of the book's soup recipes that involve fruit. I had half of a bag of chestnuts in the fridge, because I made a chestnut soup from River Cottage Veg two weeks ago, so figured I should make Dorie's recipe, if for no other reason than to use up my chestnuts. To prevent the soup from turning too sweet, I used two very small local pears. They have a good flavor, but are crunchy, like an apple. There was so little meat, I figured they couldn't overpower the soup. I was right. I added toasted almonds on top, because I thought it needed some crunch.
Not pretty.
This soup turned out to be lovely, though it was not nearly as delicious as the River Cottage Veg version. If I were going to pick one of the two recipes to make again, I'd absolutely go with RCV. Still, I'm glad I finally checked this off of my list.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

FFwD: Cabbage and Foie Gras Bundles

I was prepared to make Dorie's Cabbage and Foie Gras Bundles on schedule, a few months ago. I've had the foie gras in my fridge since November (don't worry, it hadn't expired yet.) How did I know it was from November? Because I had my friend, Hilary, pick some up for me while she spent a week in Paris, en route to Napoli, to visit us.

Fortunately, Hilary was staying with a friend in Paris, who brought her to a foie gras shop and did all the talking. I'd told Hilary what Dorie says in the intro, to "buy a small terrine of foie gras made from whole pieces of foie gras, not a mousse or pate made from ground or chopped foie gras." That was not enough information for the woman at the store. Over facebook, Hilary asked me what I was using it for. I told her that I was going to wrap it in a cabbage leaf and steam it. The shopkeeper was befuddled, and said she'd never heard of anyone doing that before. I told Hilary that it sounded like a tragic waste of foie gras to me, but that was the recipe. She had her friend repeat this to the woman. Hilary said that the woman hooted with laughter, and kept repeating, "Oui! Oui! Trajeeeek!" Quite the scene.

After that, I couldn't quite figure out the correct opportunity to make this recipe. I have friends over for dinner often, but don't usually do an appetizer or small plate type of thing. I could never figure out where to fit this in.

However, with the foie gras' expiration date fast approaching, and the deadline for Around My French Table looming, I seized upon the fact that our friends, who are about to move to San Diego, came over for one last lazy Sunday BBQ over the weekend as reason enough to crack open the foie gras and bust out this recipe.

May I just state that I feel like I live in an alternate universe right now, in which I'm like, "Oh yeah, come over for a casual barbecue. While the boys are grilling, we'll eat foie gras and some tartufo pecorino that I happen to have in the fridge." Moving home is going to be a bit of a shock to my system.

I liked that the recipe could mostly be prepared ahead of time, and the little bundles just steamed right before you want to eat them.
Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy eating these. My primary problem was textural. It was too soft and mushy. Paired with the livery aftertaste, it was hard for me to swallow. I did eat my entire bundle over the course of several bites, and even finished the last bite a few minutes later, when my friend (who LOVED them) told me that I should try them again, because they'd cooled off a bit and firmed up to the perfect consistency. Not for me. I know I've eaten and enjoyed dishes in restaurants that included foie gras, but I didn't like this. Matt liked them at first, but after he ate two, he didn't like the aftertaste. Whataya gonna do?

Monday, March 30, 2015

Baking Chez Moi: Lemon Madeleines and Crispy-Topped Brown Sugar Bars

Earlier this month, I made Dorie's Lemon Madeleines. Matt and I were leaving our son with a friend and flying back to the states for a funeral the following day, and since I'd already planned to make them for Tuesdays with Dorie, I went ahead and baked them, in an effort to distract myself from all the emotional stuff going on. I figured I'd bring the madeleines to the airport for breakfast, because they had to be better than an airport cornetto. (If you're not familiar, cornetti are Italy's less-delicious version of a croissant. Shaped the same, but always stuffed with cream, nutella, or jam. Every now and then, I get a good one that someone actually made, but the vast majority seem to be mass-produced mediocrity.) I'm assuming that I was too distracted to do the madeleines justice. They were a hot mess. I overfilled the pan, so every one of them overflowed and then fell apart when I tried to pry them out. Yes, I buttered and floured the pan. Also, they mysteriously were really greasy. It's entirely possible I botched something up.
These were the "best" ones I made. Oy vey.
They were so ragged by the time I was finished that I didn't even bother bringing them to the airport. They would have been reduced to crumbs by the time I got there. I tossed them in the freezer, where I will very likely forget they exist until I move this summer.

I always feel like I'm missing something when it comes to madeleines. People love them so much. This is the fourth recipe I've tried, and I haven't found one that made me swoon. Granted, this particular failure was all my fault, but still. I don't get it.

I made Crispy-Topped Brown Sugar Bars to bring to my book club this morning. They were tasty, but not addictive. I consider this to be a good thing. I ate one, thoroughly enjoyed it, and that's all I wanted.
Perfect with a cup of coffee.
They reminded me of chocolate chip cookies, and they remind me of Rice Krispie bars, but didn't have the same eat-the-entire-batch quality as either one of those things. Huzzah! It's very rare that I find a sweet that I can have in the house without sticking my face in it.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

FFwD: Next-Day Beef Salad

I couldn't quite wrap my brain around this week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe. Next-Day Beef Salad was created as a way to use up leftovers. Conveniently, I'd made a roast beef earlier in the week, so this used up the remainder.

Dice up the meat, then mix it together with a hodge-podge of refrigerator ingredients: tomatoes, capers, olives, red pepper, a tart apple, all mixed up with a mustard/mayo mixture, and served over lettuce (I used arugula). I also added cheese, because cheese improves any salad it touches. I like a thin smear of either mustard or mayo on a sandwich, so the thought of covering an entire salad in a combo of the two sounded kind of icky to me. Knowing this, I halved the dressing recipe.
Kind of tasted like deli pasta salad, which I hate. So why couldn't I stop eating it?
Even after eating it, I can't decide whether or not I liked it. I didn't think the dressing was great, but I did enjoy the crunchy/chewy/salty/sweet-tart elements, and that no two bites were exactly the same. I may play around with the dressing to tweak it to my liking, but this is a solid way to use up leftover meat. It certainly beats the hell out of simply reheating it.

I also have three makeups from this week.

Spice-Crusted Tuna was fine. I didn't love it. I didn't hate it. Part of my problem is that I got food poisoning from a piece of tuna a few months ago, and I've had an aversion to it since then. This aversion is also preventing me from making up any of the Dorie's recipes that involve raw fish. I'm not ready. ha! So, I don't think I ground up my spices enough. I don't really like getting mouthfuls of practically whole coriander. This was not the right time for me to try this recipe. I may cook it again in a year, and have a totally different response to it.
My side dish--Broccolini with Sweet Tahini Sauce (I think that's the name), from Plenty More, is DELICIOUS, though.
I expected to like Jerusalem Artichoke Soup, because I've enjoyed the majority of Dorie's soups, and nothing about this one struck me as a risk. I didn't expect to love it as much as I did. In the absence of fresh truffle to shave on top, as Dorie suggests in her bonne idee, I stirred some truffle cream stuff that I'd bought in Umbria into the soup. Oh, Nelly. In the interest of fairness, I tried the soup plain, and it was good, but this cream stuff (it was too solid to be a sauce. I'm not sure what to call it.) brought it to another level. The flavors were made for each other.
Not the prettiest plate of food.
Last, but definitely not least, I made the Veal Marengo from a few weeks ago. I'd planned to cook this on time. I'd bought the veal, and everything. But then life got in the way, the veal went in the freezer, and cooking went on the backburner. Happily, I finally had the chance to make it.
Ooh la la! This cow was born in France, and was killed when it was younger than 22 months. Very informative label.
The sauce from this dish is one of the best things I've ever eaten. I don't even need the meat. I want to put the sauce on everything I ever make, going forward. I always thought that I didn't like normal white mushrooms. Apparently, my mistake was that I wasn't cooking them in enough butter. I'm embarrassed to confess how many of them I ate directly out of the pan, but not nearly as many of them made it into the stew as I'd anticipated. I couldn't find small white onions, so I omitted them, and I had to use red wine instead of white, and still, this was just mind-blowingly delicious. It joined the ranks as one of my favorite recipes we've cooked from the book.

My only complaint would be that the meat was still kind of tough after the recommended cooking time. I don't think there was enough liquid in the pan to have cooked it much longer, though, so I'm not sure what the solution is. I'm afraid that adding extra liquid would mess with the glorious balance of this sauce. I don't really care, though. So, so good.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

FFwD: Cote d'Azure Cure-All Soup

I'll admit that I wasn't remotely interested in cooking the Cote d'Azure Cure-All Soup from Around My French Table. On paper, 10 cloves of sliced garlic, steeped in chicken broth with herbs (sage, bay, and rosemary instead of thyme), then thickened with egg yolk and Parmesan, and drizzled with olive oil sounded, at best, boring, and at worst, nasty.
Charlie wouldn't taste it, but he was impressed by the polka dots.
I came down with a cold on Monday, and all of a sudden, this soup sounded like the only thing I wanted to eat. I don't know if you have to be sick to like it, but this was a surprise hit. It was cozy and comforting and, because of the thickening from the egg and cheese, soothed my throat. I loved it. It didn't cure my cold, but, for a few minutes, it made me less miserable. Good enough for me!

I can't believe that we only have 10 recipes left to cook from Around My French Table. It's blowing my mind. I don't think I'm going to manage to complete all of my make-ups--I have more desserts than my judgment thinks I should bake in three months, and there are some things (dilled gravlax, chicken liver gateaux, arman's caviar) that I flat-out refuse to make. Including those, I only have 22 to make up after this post, so I'm going to try my damnedest to get that number down. So, here are some make-ups:

I always thought of Orange and Olive Salad as being an Italian dish, so I was surprised to see it here. Because I've made what was basically the same recipe in my cooking class here in  Napoli, I stalled on making Dorie's version, because it's not one of my favorites. I put this together this week, and I don't know what went wrong, but by the time I was done, my oranges, which were extremely sweet on their own, tasted BITTER with the onions and olives. That didn't happen when I made it in cooking class. Maybe the type of olive I used changed the flavor. Regardless, neither Matt nor I enjoyed this.

In the same meal, I made Salty-Sweet Potato Far. This has a strange list of ingredients--grated potatoes, bacon, prunes, raisins, eggs, milk--but I like all of those things individually, so I was open to the idea of them coming together and creating something glorious.
Maybe I didn't use enough bacon (I cut up 3 strips), but this was underseasoned. For the first few bites, I couldn't figure out if I liked it, though I was leaning toward yes, for it's nursery-type blandness and bread-pudding texture. Halfway through my portion, I'd had enough. Matt thought he liked it, but a few hours later, he tried to eat a cold piece, and he said it was disgusting, which ruined it for him.

I didn't hate it, but I wouldn't make it again.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Pioneer Woman: Bagel and Cream Cheese Baked French Toast

As host of the book club meeting where I prepared Dorie's vanilla cake, I also served Pioneer Woman's Bagel and Cream Cheese Baked French Toast (from the New Year's Day section of A Year of Holidays). This recipe was perfect for morning-time company, because the bagels, cream cheese, and grated cheddar are supposed to soak in the cayenne and mustard egg goodness overnight. There's also supposed to be chives in there, but I had none.

This was delicious and filling. My friend's mom who was visiting her and came to book club asked for the recipe. I had to use Thomas' bagels, which are an affront to everything this Brooklynite holds dear, but they worked okay here. My husband would have killed me if I baked my homemade bagels and then ripped them apart and used them in this manner.
Leftovers reheated pretty well
I'm certain that this breakfast would be amazing with fresh bagels--but preferably ones purchased from a shop. I am certain that I'll be trying this again when I move back to the states.

Conclusion: Liked it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Vanilla Beans are Better Spent in Cake

I didn't deliberately coordinate this, but the Tuesdays with Dorie recipe and the French Fridays with Dorie recipes that I've made recently both involve vanilla beans.

First up, the Brown Butter and Vanilla Bean Weekend Cake from Baking, Chez Moi. This cake was really easy to throw together. The only problem was that I burned the first batch of browned butter and started over. Not that big of a deal, and an easy problem to solve.
I baked the cake to serve to my book club gals, and served it with barely-sweet whipped cream. I thought it was a bit dry without the whipped cream, but with it? SO delicious.
Hell yeah!
Last week's FFwD recipe from Around My French Table was Vanilla-Butter Braised Lobster. Unable to get my hands on lobster, I poached my bag of frozen shrimp in the vanilla butter. It was fine. I felt greasy after I ate it, though. I think eating all the little shrimp amounted to more surface area than a lobster tail would, so maybe I'd feel less disgusting if this was prepared as written. That said, the vanilla flavor was very subtle. I'm not sure it's the best use of a bean. I'd rather eat cake.

(The shrimp looked like shrimp. I didn't bother taking a picture.)

Friday, January 30, 2015

FFwD: Croquants

I've never heard of Croquants (pg 410 of Around My French Table) before, but it turns out they're one of the simplest cookies that I've ever made. Chop nuts. Mix with sugar. Stir in egg whites. You don't even have to whip the whites into a meringue or anything. Straight from the egg and into the batter. Then stir in a little flour. Then bake. That's it.

I used salted cashews, because Dorie says they're her family's favorite. Who am I to argue with the experts? I also added vanilla, because why not?
Hello, my lovelies.
I'm in real danger of eating the entire output of this recipe. Dorie says that they're defined by their crunch texture. The edges of mine are crunchy, but the middles are chewy, and this is what is causing me to devise excuses to pass through the kitchen and grab another.

The bottoms of the cookies on my second tray burned slightly. These are so simple that the slight burn ruined the cookies. I'm pretty happy that I could, in good conscious, throw half out.
The remainder have to go to work with Matt tomorrow, because I'll take them down if I'm left alone with them for too long. They're so light, I don't even feel like I'm eating anything. Trouble.

Conclusion: Love them. Too much.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Catching Up with Pioneer Woman

I haven't cooked from A Year of Holidays in a while, primarily because most of the recipes don't click with my post-holidays detox. However, I do have a few to catch up on.

One day before Christmas, I brought Eight-Layer Dip to a friend's house (pg 43, from the The Big Game section. I like that Ree counts the Super Bowl as a holiday. Ha!) The entire event provided me with a perfect example of my current refrain of "I'M OVER NAPLES!"

My friend lives on a main drag in Pozzuoli (birthplace of Sophia Loren). We foolishly scheduled a date at 1:00 on a Sunday. I can never find parking in Pozzuoli on Sundays, because all the Italians (and I mean ALL of them) go out to lunch, unless they're going to Mama's. I drove three rounds of the area, which took my 45 minutes because of car and pedestrian traffic, and found a spot in a lot just when I was about to give up. In the lot I normally park in, you don't have to pay on Sundays. I couldn't determine if I had to pay based upon the sign in this lot. It said it was free on "festivi and pre-festivi." So that's on holidays. And pre-holidays??? I don't know. I assume that means the day before a holiday? I pretty much decided that I did have to pay, even though no one else was. I carefully formed a question in my head and asked a man who was in the lot, and after quite a bit of me not knowing what he was saying, he did gesture to the ticket machine and say "bigliette", which means "ticket." I took that to mean that I did need a ticket.

I, of course, had no change, because in most lots, you don't have to pay on Sundays. I went to the restaurant next door and asked if they could break my 20. No. I went across the street and bought a bottle of water. The cashier gave me the look of death, exhaled disgustedly, and gave me my change. They're very territorial regarding their coins here, to the point where I've had people refuse to sell things to me if I try to pay with a bill. And yet, the ATMs distribute 50s. And around and around we go...

Back to the ticket machine. Balancing my 8 layer dip on my knee, I bought my ticket for a few hours. The man I'd spoken with earlier walked up to me. I finally figured out he was saying that he was going to watch my car and make sure it wasn't broken in to. That's a thing, here. You really have no choice in the matter. If you don't pay them a few euro, they'll break your windows next time they see your car. Yay, Italy! Standard procedure is that you pay them when you return to your car and see that it's safe and sound. This guy was demanding money from me up front. I was like, "Dude, I just used all my change to get my ticket," except I don't know how to say that, so I just kept saying, "Bigliette!" like an idiot. Also, like an idiot, I still had the 15 euro in bills that the cashier had given me clutched in my hand (which was also gripping my long, heavy Pyrex tray).
Dude plucked a 5 euro bill out of my hand and walked away. Simultaneously, I realize that my legs were wet. I looked down. The tomatoes had watered down the sour cream, and the entire front of my body was splattered with white water. Jacket, legs, and shoes were soaked. I stormed down Via Napoli, cursing Naples under my breath long after I reached my friend's house. It was two months ago, and I still get pissed off when I think about it.

For what it's worth, my car was unharmed when I returned to it.

The dip was tasty, but the memory of it will always be wrapped up in residual aggravation. We ate 3/4 of a tray while watching The Bourne Identity. That's a lot of refried beans for two girls.

Conclusion: Liked it, but I might need therapy before I can make it again. 

Friends invited us over for dinner shortly before Christmas. I made Spreads (pg 312 of the Christmas section) because they looked quick and easy, and don't involve nuts, which one of her sons is allergic to. It's a basic shortbread type cookie that is spread out on a baking sheet. Right before they're ready, sprinkle chocolate chips on top and bake for another minute. These are supposed to get melty, and then you spread them out so they ice the cookies.
These are the best looking ones, and they're not that great. Most were a wreck.
Yeah. Umm. This didn't work. At all. Maybe my chocolate chips were old or something, but they didn't become spreadable. They were grainy and solid. I kept leaving them in longer and longer, hoping that they'd start to melt. Didn't happen. All I accomplished was overcooking the cookie dough, which, frankly, wasn't particularly delicious.

They looked horrendous, and tasted pretty bad, too. I couldn't bring them to dinner. I had to make a quick cake (Nigella's olive oil chocolate cake) to replace them. The cake was delicious.

Conclusion: Hated them.

For dinner one night, I made Grilled Chicken Skewers (pg 358, the New Years Eve section). This is basically chicken satay. I forgot how much I love chicken satay. This sauce was sweeter than I prefer, but it definitely satisfied the satay craving. I'd cut back on the honey next time. I was sure Charlie would like this. Nope.
Conclusion: Liked it.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Not Quite FFwD

I am having such a hard time keeping up/catching up with French Fridays with Dorie. This week's recipe was supposed to be a spice crusted tuna dish. Sounds good. I just didn't get there.

I have, however, made up a few old ones, which I promptly forget to blog about. I'm so irritatingly redundant. I apologize. I can't promise it won't happen again.

By substituting frozen shrimp for mussels, I managed to make last week's Curried Mussels out of items I had in my poorly-stocked kitchen after being in Siena for our 4-day weekend (Thanks, Martin Luther King, Jr.!) This was easy and totally delicious. I loved it. And it was easy enough to please everyone by cooking a few shrimp in butter on the side for Charlie. Shrimp is one of the few animal proteins he'll reliably eat. I really should cook them more often. This recipe will definitely be a repeat.

Before the holidays, I spotted Jerusalem artichokes at the Italian supermarket. I thought, "Ooh, I need to make up the 2 Dorie recipes soon!", but dawdled too long, and when I tried to find them, they were gone. However, I spotted one lonely package of them at the market last week, so I grabbed them, even though I couldn't remember what else went into the recipe for Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes with Garlic. Turns out, it's mostly just garlic and olive oil. Score. I had rosemary on-hand, but did not have thyme. No big deal. Due to their name, I shouldn't have been surprised that these sunflower tubers taste exactly like artichokes, but I was. I hate preparing artichokes, but really enjoy eating them. I'm on a new mission to substitute Jerusalem artichokes for every Italian preparation of artichoke that I've learned since I've been here. Next month's Italian cooking class involves a dish of artichoke, potato, and cheese, baked together in the oven. Sounds to me like that recipe was built for a Jerusalem artichoke substitution!!

A while back, I made the Warm Scallop Salad with Corn, Nectarines, and Basil. I had to use frozen shrimp, frozen corn, and frozen peaches. It was pretty flavorless. I hold it against my ingredients, not the recipe. If you don't have fresh food for this recipe, don't bother. 

I'm certain that I uploaded my pics to my computer, but they're not showing up. No time to sort it out right now. Charlie's 5th birthday is on Sunday, and there is much to be done. (FIVE??? HOW IS HE FIVE????)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

TwD: Granola Energy Bars

I have actually been baking along with Tuesdays with Dorie on time, but I keep getting distracted and not blogging about the recipes. This post will bring me up to date for Baking, Chez Moi.

I was not overly excited to make Granola Energy Bars for the very reason that they appealed to other people. I get the whole "overdid it in December, start fresh in January" thing, and I mostly agree, but a granola bar would still be the last thing I would pick when told to choose from a book of indulgences. And this is why I suck at diets.

That said, these granola bars were simple to make, and were exponentially better than store-bought. I've never tried to make granola bars before, and I loved being able to select my own add-ins. I used dried apricots, cherries, craisins, and dates, and also roasted some pecans, pine nuts, and cashews to round out my slivered almonds. I used light corn syrup instead of buying a jar of brown rice syrup, because I am officially in use-up-the-pantry mode. We'll move to our next duty station (Norfolk, VA) next summer, so we need to start eating through our stored food. Dorie says that brown rice syrup does the best job of binding the nuts and the oats, but the corn syrup worked just fine.
Breakfast is served. Don't mind the crumbs.
I brought these granola bars to my book club meeting. They couldn't really compete with the mountain of bacon, the quiche, or the brownies that other members provided. In a battle of bacon vs. a granola bar, the bacon is always going to win. I've been enjoying the granola bar leftovers all week.

My husband brought half the batch to a breakfast potluck at work. He didn't bring any home, and he did report that his boss, who recently had a baby and is watching what she eats, came to his office to say that it was the best granola bar she'd ever had. Yay!

My husband's input on the bars: "It may just be a granola bar, but it's a damn good granola bar." I think that basically sums it up.

Now, to catch up on the two recipes I failed to post about.

A few weeks ago, some Jewish friends invited us over for a Hanukkah party. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to make The Rugelach That Won Over France without having to eat the entire batch. I was a bit intimidated by all the steps, and by early reports from other participants indicating that they were having trouble cutting the dough. Armed with the knowledge that I didn't want the dough to get too stiff, I only chilled the completed logs for about a half an hour before I sliced and baked them. My biggest problem was that I didn't roll the logs tightly enough, so a lot of the filling fell out when I sliced them. They turned out okay, though. I didn't love the dried-fruit filling. I might try this again with a raspberry jam filling. They vanished quickly at the party, and my friends gave them their "Jewish stamp of approval." Ha!

We hosted Christmas dinner for a group of our dearest friends here in Napoli. The Gingerbread Buche de Noel was a most impressive way to end an excellent dinner. This was such a time-consuming project that I doubt I'll ever make it again, but I'm happy that I did it this one time. Everyone seemed to love it. For my part, I loved the cake itself and the marshmallow frosting. I think I made a mistake by using salted butter in the filling. No one but me thought so, but I thought the filling tasted salty. It balanced out when every component was on the fork, but when I only got cake and filling, I didn't like it. Again, I think the problem was that I used salted butter, so it's probably my own fault.

I was too busy celebrating to take a picture of the cake. You'll just have to take my word for it.