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.