Friday, August 10, 2012

French Fridays Double Header-Warm Scallop Salad and Tomato Cheese Tartlets


My puffy Tomato-Cheese Tartlets
I played a little bit of catch up this week with a couple of the last recipes for French Fridays.  Last week's recipe was Tomato-Cheese Tartlets, a super simple combination of puff pastry, pesto, in my case goat cheese, tomatoes, basil, olive oil and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.  I have used puff pastry in the past, but had forgotten how versatile it can be.  You can make a really quick, beautiful entree or dessert in no time if you remember to keep some on hand in your freezer.  For this recipe, I kind of strayed from the directions a bit.  I was supposed to cut the pastry in to circles and bake them under a baking sheet so that they would get really crisp and not puff up.  Where's the point in that?  Puff pastry is so delicious, light and airy...I just felt the need to rebel.  The result was a little difficult to eat, so I understood the point, but they still turned out lovely and really delicious.  I used a store-bought pesto and goat cheese, but many of my fellow Dorista's used tapenade as a base and mozzarella.  Really, the variations are endless, and I could easily see these a little mini tartlets if you cut the puff pastry with a biscuit cutter and followed the anti-puff directions for baking,  I definitely plan on trying this soon.

Warm Scallop Salad with Corn, Tomatoes and Nectarines
This week's recipe for Warm Scallop Salad was seafood, so you know I did not go there myself, but the hubby got to have his favorite scallops in a delicous salad of fresh corn, tomatoes, with a super light lime dressing and savory basil, and a nicely surprising grilled nectarine on the side.  I had my salad with grilled chicken, and it was absolutely delicious.  I loved the crunchy sweet corn with the tangy and slightly spicy lime vinaigrette.  Grilling was a snap (literally 3 minutes to done on the scallops) and we both had a perfect Sunday evening dinner.   

I'm excited because this weekend I am taking my first cooking class at Sur La Table learning to make macarons.  I will definitely be posting about the experience, so stay tuned.  Next up for FFwD, we have Cafe Style Grated Carrot Salad.  We'll see.... 


Friday, July 20, 2012

FFwD: Salmon with Basil Tapenade

Salmon with Basil Tapenade
Anyone who knows me, and even any one who has read this blog knows that fish and I just don't get along.  I don't mean from a cooking standpoint, I mean I just can't seem to find fish that I like the taste of.  It always, or nearly always, tastes, well-fishy.  I don't know how else to describe it.  Over the years I have managed to find out that I like crab and lobster, but even shrimp are a no-go.  That one is primarily due to my 10th grade biology teacher who lovingly called them the "cockroaches of the sea".  Scarred for life, I tell you.   Perhaps it is also the fact that my father tortured me (Dad, I say this with love) with long days of fishing any chance he got in the summer, and some times even ice fishing on Lake St. Clair in winter.  I think it would have been fine if we had ever caught anything, but inevitably we would come home empty handed.  I think about friends of mine with children and their constantly shifting attention spans and wonder how I ever survived these episodes from my own childhood. 

 Anyway, my husband really likes salmon, so when a friend of ours was coming over for dinner the other night I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to serve something different from the usual chicken or beef or pasta entrees we usually serve.  Both of them loved this.  I have to say, cooking it was a breeze.  I did use a store-bought tapenade that had a healthy dose of garlic rather than making it myself.  I served the salmon on a bed of spinach and grape tomatoes sauteed with some olive oil, garlic and a pinch of crushed red pepper.  Stuffing the tapenade in to the fish was a bit of a challenge mainly because I had never done this before, and I am still not sure I followed the directions properly but it all seemed to go well, regardless.  

Our friend Nikki thought the flavors were unexpected, mainly because she thought the tapenade would be overly salty.  Not so, apparently, and she and Edmund both loved the sauce.  Edmund was particularly surprised by this because he is not a huge fan of olives.  I used a combination of fresh mint (growing in vast quantities in the flower bed on the side of our house) and fresh basil (growing in pots just outside the kitchen door), and both of my guinea pigs really enjoyed the blend of flavors.  The mint apparently cut the saltiness of the olives quite nicely, and overall the dish seemed well-seasoned.  I think this could become a "do something nice for the ball and chain" type of meal in the months to come. 

Hope you all have a great weekend.  See you next week.  Up next for French Fridays-lemon barley pilaf. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

FFwD-Blueberry-Mascarpone Roulade

Blueberry-Marscapone Roulade
Bonjour, mes amis!  It's been so long.  My one week vacation turned in to a hiatus of sorts, though unintentional.  Between just a busy life and a brutal heat wave where the last thing in the world I wanted to do was turn on an oven, I just could not seem to find the time to post (even this one is a day late).  I did manage to make last week's gingery pickles (yum) but was not able to get a post up.  Oh well, I am back at it now, and just in time for this yummy roulade. 
Blueberries soaking in simple syrup
A simple sheet cake made largely of merigue is baked and cooled after rolling in a towel.  The mascarpone, whipped cream and blueberry filling is then spread over the unrolled cake, rolled up again, chilled and sprinkled with powdered sugar before serving.  As you can see from the photo below, my cake did crack as I was rolling it, so note to self to be cautious next time.
The assembled and plated roulade
Oh, and speaking of next time, this recipe is crying out for lemon zest, lemon juice, something.  Don't get me wrong it was delicious as is and won raves at the work potluck I brought it to, but I think the lemon blueberry combo is a classic and both flavors compliment each other so well that this recipe would be all the better with lemon. 

Anyway, I will leave you with a review of sorts of The French Laundry, Thomas Keller's uber-famous restaurant in Yountville, CA.  I was in Napa recently for the wedding of some dear friends.  The concierge at the soon-to-be-married couple's resort was able to score a reservation for us-which if you know anything about reserving here is a feat unto itself.   The dinner was impressive, but perhaps my palate is not yet refined enough to have appreciated all that was served.  And by all, I mean 11 courses over 5 hours!  I enjoyed the meal very much (the company more), but for such a well-respected restaurant (Anthony Bourdain called it the best restaurant in the world) I was expecting to be overwhelmed by delicious flavors.  The food was very good, the service attentive, and some courses amazing, but overall I could not help but feel a bit disappointed in the experience.  That many courses and the time we were there was just a bit much.  I know that my friend who joined me on the trip agreed with me. 

My husband is very much looking forward to next week's recipe, Salmon with Basil Tapenade.  Until then, hope you all have a wonderful week.






Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Vacation!!!

Well, dammit, I have missed the last few weeks of recipes.  Our weekends, when I usually cook, have been packed!  We just celebrated Edmund's birthday this past weekend with a lovely dinner at Roy's Chicago, followed up the next day with the matinee performance of Rock of Ages, the musical-not the film.  Anyway, Just wanted to post that I will be taking some time away this week to see some friends get married in Napa Valley.  I am also visiting Thomas Keller's French Laundry!  So excited for both.  I'll fill you in on my return.  Until then, hope you all have a wonderful week.

*photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net, www.freedigitalphotos.net

Friday, May 25, 2012

FFWD: Lyonnaise Garlic and Herb Cheese


Lyonnaise Garlic and Herb Cheese
I have been having a really hard time keeping up with my postings.  To you it seems like I may have given up on my kitchen adventures, but there have been many over the past several weeks I have just not had the time to write about.  Working crazy hours right now and weekends have been very full.  I even missed last week's posting for a dish I actually had the time to make, though in my defense I was on vacation.  So that brings us to this week and a super simple recipe, thank goodness, that did not take a day and a half to make.  Not a criticism, I'm just sayin'.....

So, this cheese spread is the type of appetizer I enjoy serving, because you almost can't go wrong.  Most party guests love cheese, garlic and herbs, so herein is the perfect appetizer solution.   I used store-bought ricotta because I was unable to locate fromage blanc and, frankly, did not want to go to the trouble of making my own.  I think if I had to make this again I would use a combo of goat cheese and ricotta (if I still cannot find the fromage blanc).  Even with the vinegar and the salt this seemed to cry out for a tangy something or other.  I am taking this to a potluck lunch at work today, so we will see other's reactions.  From tasting this morning (made last night), I was surprised at how strongly the tarragon flavored the cheese.  I would have expected the garlic and shallots to overpower it, but the flavors all blended rather harmoniously. 

I hope you all have a wonderful long weekend with friends and/or family.  Please take a moment to remember the fallen soldiers who gave their lives defending the freedoms we all enjoy this Memorial Day.  Until next time, bon apetit!

Friday, May 18, 2012

FFWD: Double Chocolate Banana Tart

Hey gang, on vacay this weekend, so photos and discussion to follow, but this was truly delicious and pretty simple, really. Looks hella impressive, too. Will post next week.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Almond Flounder Meunière-French Fridays with Dorie

Almond Flounder Meuniere
Hello, dear reader. I have to tell you all about my exciting weekend in NYC, where with my job I was, coincidentally, so fortunate to be with a group of very influential home, cooking and lifestyle bloggers at an event celebrating the launch of Sandra Lee's new venture in to kitchenware and tabletop with Kmart and Sears. I was so inspired by these lovely ladies who work so hard on their blogs and have cultivated huge followings as a result.  I truly enjoyed meeting them all and talking with them about what inspires them. Sandra Lee was also rather inspiring. I found her to be warm and genuine. She said at one point that she feels the Food Network edits her personalIty out of her shows, and I must concur. She has a wicked sense of humor, but you really dont get that from her shows.   Anyway, meeting these "real" bloggers makes me want to do better with my own blog!  It's certainly something to aspire to at any rate.  If you have a chance, please check out a few of the blogs created by the attendees of this event. www.rachelferrucci.comwww.tonyastaab.com

  Almond Flounder Meuniere...hmmm.  So, anyone who knows me will probably be surprised that I actually cooked this dish because I am not a fish lover at all. I have been dabbling with sea creatures as food over the past several months, however, and I think I can safely say that I...like....crab now. There, I said it.  All other seafood is still on my wait-and-see list, however, until I have that one fabulous dish.   

The entrance to the event at The Kitchen in Midtown Manhattan
  Anyway, back to the flounder.  Maybe one of you with more experience can explain why this dish came out rather on the soggy side.  I paper-toweled the filets, got a good crust on the fish, but still they were soggy.  My theory is that with an oil able to take high heat, rather than or in addition to the butter, I could have raised the heat and flash-fried the fish creating a more firm texture and crispier crust.  Your thoughts?  I'm thinking I just dont have enough, or frankly any, experience in cooking fish to know if I had even cooked it all the way through, either.  The flavors of the dish were nice, if conventional, but I was underwhelmed as was the hubby.  Hopefully the next seafood dish I attempt will be a bit more inspiring.  Until next week, bon apetit

A Tablescape featuring Sandra Lee products available at Sears and Kmart

Saturday, April 21, 2012

French Fridays with Dorie: Coconut Friands

Coconut Friands...giant sized.
Two weeks after my surgery and all is well.  Almost fully healed!  I did manage to bake these lovely little coconut cakes during recuperation, but failed to write this post in a timely manner.  It's certainly not because these weren't delicious.  The hardest part of this recipe (which is insanely easy) was locating unsweetened coconut, but once found I was off and baking.  I actually misread the recipe and greased a regular size muffin tin instead of a mini, and only realized it when I only got 8 cavities filled.  Oh well, go big or go home I always say. 

I am not a coconut fan, honestly,  but we both loved these.  Something about the vanilla-y, coconutty, buttery goodness.  I enhanced the recipe a little by adding some lemon zest as well.  Served with a little lemon curd, these were amazing, and even a little fancy!  We ate all of them by the next day and I had to make another batch last night.  This time I made them without the baking cups and the edges got browned and crispy, making them even more delightful.  Oh, Dorie, I am never going to lose that 10 pounds before my friends' wedding this Summer at this rate! 

Anyway, mes amis, this week's recipe is lamb stew.  I will do my best to make it, but I am headed to NY late this week for a work event, so I may not get to it before Friday.  Hope you all have an amazing week.  Bon apétit!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

French Fridays with Dorie: Sardine Rilettes. Well, not really.

Gross.

All I have to say is eww.  I draw the line at sardines.  Sorry folks, but I am just not adventurous when it comes to fish.  Read on, though if you like delicious bread!
What I would like to share with you this week is Cinnamon Swirl Bread.  You may be saying ho-hum about now, but I feel like a veil has been lifted and the elusive secret to Cinnamon Swirl Bread, the kind with no gaps between bread and filling, has been lifted. 

Delicious!

Those geniuses over at Cooks Illustrated (which is probably my new favorite resource for all things cooking) figured it out, and it could not be simpler.  The bread dough is not just a basic white loaf, as you normally find in most recipes.  It is based on a type of Japanese bread called shokupan, which in Japan is swirled with red bean paste.  The author of the article was inspired by a piece of shokupan toast from a Norita airport kiosk.  The bread dough is more like a brioche, with the amount of butter and sugar added to the mix, but the real secret is in the filling.  My immediate thought when choosing what to put in my filling would be brown sugar and cinnamon, and maybe some raisins.  But the secret actually lies in using powdered sugar and LOTS of cinnamon, and using a fine mist of water on the filling to make it stick to the dough, therefore alleviating the gaps. The coolest part of this recipe (which can be found here if you are member of their website http://www.cooksillustrated.com/recipes/login.asp?docid=35476)  is the twist.  Literally.  After you fill the dough, you cut the rolled loaf length-wise, exposing the filling.  You then braid the two halves Russian style, brush with egg wash and bake.  The end result is a springy, delicate, delicious loaf that is honestly easy enough to make all the time, but looks super special, and would make a very nice gift bread. 
The dough, risen and ready to bake
I will be back next week with the French Fridays recipe for Coconut Friands, which sound fun.  Until then, bon apétit!
P.S. For those of you curious about the outcome of the oral surgery, all is on the mend.  I had a small cyst on my tongue  removed, which turned out to be benign.  I spent the better part of the Holiday on Vicodin, which is actually a pretty good way to survive a visit from the in-laws, to be honest.  Hope you had a fantastic time with your families, or whoever you were with over the weekend.

Friday, April 6, 2012

French Fridays with Dorie: Asparagus and Bits of Bacon


Everything is better with bacon....

I am going to have to make this a brief post.  Had a bit of oral surgery today and am in a bit of a vicodin haze, but wanted to post nonetheless.  A very simple side dish, and one that will be repeated very soon, Asparagus and Bits of Bacon was not particularly challenging but the flavors were top notch.  Asparagus is lightly cooked and dressed with a bit of lemon juice and walnut oil (or, if you prefer, hazelnut oil).  I really enjoyed the nutty flavor of the oil with the asparagus, and would even serve it without the bacon and onion topping, but, c'mon...what isn't better with bacon and onions?  Delicious and nutritious, while at the same time clogging the arteries.  But, as Paula Deen has said...I'm a cook, I'm not your doctor. 

Until next week, mes chers, bon apétit!

Friday, March 30, 2012

French Fridays with Dorie: Crab & Grapefruit Salad

Refreshing Crab & Grapefruit Salad

We have had a beautiful, early warm spring here in the normally frozen tundra known as Chicagoland, so this week's recipe was a pleasant and refreshing accompaniment to a breezy Sunday afternoon lunch on the sun porch.  I love being a member of French Fridays because things I would not normally seek out, like crab (as I have said before, not much of a seafood fan), end up being such pleasant surprises.  This recipe was no exception.  Incredibly simple, and undeniably elegant, this little salad will be on my summer menus for sure.  I was able to find super chunky and delicious lump crab at a nearby specialty market.  The dressing of olive oil, grapefruit and lemon juices was perfect, but the mint is the real standout here,  I was surprised a bit by this ingredient, because I normally associate mint with desserts, but it adds so much to the delicate flavor of the salad. 

I also used this opportunity to catch up on the Cheese Souffle, with what I thought was a great result.  To me, though, cheese souffle sounds a lot better, or at least more exotic, than it really is.  It is essentially really cheesy eggs.  Delicious, yes, but rather simple nonetheless. 

Apologies, dear readers, for the late and rather short post, but it has been an extremely busy week, and this little blogger is tuckered out.  Until next week (asparagus and bacon, oh my!), bon apétit!

Friday, March 23, 2012

French Fridays with Dorie: Cocoa Sables

Cocoa Sables as an Ice Cream Sandwich-even more delicious

It has been too long, mes amis,  and I have missed writing these past two weeks.  Unfortunately I unable to make one of my favorite recipes last week, cheese soufflé, because on my normal recipe day I was attending the Chicago Housewares Show.  The show was great, but as a result I will have to make the soufflé another time.  This week’s recipe is for a little shortbread called a sablé, and specifically cocoa sablés.   Flaky, tender and surprisingly chocolatey this is a recipe that I did not expect to enjoy that much, but I think it may become a staple.
I have always enjoyed shortread cookies.  When I was a kid I used to love even the ones from those tins of really bad butter cookies you see with Holiday themes on them around Christmas.  As I got older I started experimenting with different recipes for shortbread, and even found a great little terra cotta shortbread mold that I use from time to time to make my favorite, lemon shortbread.  Somehow the lemon provides just the right amount of lightness to offset the rich butteriness of the cookie.  I have made chocolate shortbread before, but I never cared for it…some how it was not rich enough.  I like my chocolate a little gooey, I guess.  Chocolate shortbread, and many chocolate cookies for that matter, always taste like something is missing to me.  Dorie’s cocoa sables provided the missing link!  I think the chopped semi-sweet chocolate is the trick.  I was impatient and did not wait until the butter was room temp, so my dough did not come together very well, and as you can see from the photo above my cookies were not that round, but they were delicious-and made a great ice cream sandwich.  Until next week, bon apétit!

Monday, March 5, 2012

French Fridays with Dorie-Saint-Germain-des-Prés Onion Biscuits

Saint-Germain-des-Prés Onion Biscuits
OK, I admit it.  I am a biscuit snob.  But, I have good reasons for it.  I come from a long line of biscuit lovers, and biscuit bakers.  Both of my parents grew up in east Tennessee, my mom on a farm where she and her sister and brother churned their own butter, raised hogs and where my grandfather made home made pork sausage, the perfect biscuit accompaniment.  (Country ham is another good choice, but that is a point for later.)  One of my fondest childhood memories is of sitting in my granny's kitchen watching her make biscuits every morning.  She used no measurements.  She had a pull-out container mounted in her kitchen cabinet that held flour (surely White Lily self-rising) that had a sifting crank on the side.  She would pull out the container, place her bowl under the sifter and crank...one...two...three.....  She knew just how many cranks it took to get the perfect amount of flour.  She cut in the shortening, mixed in the buttermilk, rolled and cut the dough and baked the biscuits for 15 agonizing minutes.  I have strived for years to make biscuits close to as delicious as hers, or even to find a close approximation.  The perfect biscuit, to me, has that wonderful combination of crunchy base, fluffy soft layered, salty interior that balances out the tangy sweetness of home made blackberry jam....yum. 

Biscuits come in all shapes and sizes, from super tall, doughy fluffy ones I found at a hole-in-the-wall BBQ joint in Montgomery, AL, to those hideous canned, so-called Grand kind you find in the grocery store.  I think if people knew how easy it was to make home made biscuits, and how superior they are to those canned monstrosities the world would be a better place.  Or at least the North would be a better place.  On my quest to find what I consider the perfect biscuit recipe, I tried many combinations...there are so many variations on this quick bread, it really can be mind boggling.  Butter or shortening?  Or both?  Milk or buttermilk?  AP flour or self-rising flour?   My personal favorite is the recipe below, taste tested many times by Edmund and me. This one also gets the family seal of approval after serving at many a breakfast, and even at Thanksgiving dinner:


Buttermilk Biscuits
½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut in to 16 pieces
2-1/4 c. self-rising flour, White Lily if you can find it…it’s the best
1-1/4 c. buttermilk
2 tbsp melted butter
Preheat oven to 450.   Grease a cookie sheet with shortening or butter. 
Place flour in a medium bowl.  Toss in the pieces of butter, and either using a pastry blender or two table knives cut the butter in to the flour until the combination resembles a coarse meal.  Work as quickly as you can so that the butter does not begin to melt.  You will have some larger and some smaller chunks of butter and that is great.  Chill this mixture in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.  Once chilled, make a small well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the buttermilk.  Stir with a fork until all the flour is just moistened and a soft dough begins to form.  Turn dough out on to a floured work surface and pat  dough out to a ¾” thick rectangle.  Fold dough like a letter, then flatten to a 3/4” thick rectangle again and rotate one clockwise turn, fold into a letter again.  Turn and fold two more times.  This creates those coveted layers.  Pat or roll dough out to a ½” rectangle and, using a sharp 2” biscuit cutter dipped in flour, push straight down-do not twist-and cut as many biscuits as possible.  Gather scraps and press out, cut the remaining biscuits.  Again, the quicker you work and the less you work the dough the fluffier the biscuits will be.  Place cut biscuits on prepared cookie sheet and bake for 13 to 15 minutes.  Brush baked biscuits with the melted butter and serve immediately.
I think these are the best, most delicious biscuits, and they work well with both sweet and savory fillings. 
Ready for the oven.....
So, with all of this said, on to the Saint-Germain-des-Prés biscuits.  Being the biscuit afficianado that I am, I somewhat objected to the idea of sugar in my biscuit dough...after all sugar is for shortcakes, not for biscuits, but I decided to follow the recipe faithfully rather than add or omit ingredients.  I did take some liberties with method in that I chilled my cut biscuits in the freezer for about 10 minutes prior to baking to prevent the still slightly warm onions from melting the butter.  I cut larger biscuits than called for, as well,  so I ended up with about 13 rather than the suggested 32 biscuits.  I decided to serve the breads with some prosciutto and melon, thinking the saltiness of the Italian ham would approximate the salty deliciousness of country ham, and that the classic pairing of proscuitto and melon would work nicely with the savory biscuit.  It was delicious, but truth be told, I think my biscuit recipe wins for flavor and texture.  I found this dough too sweet and under-salted.  I do like the idea of the savory addition of onion, so I will try adding some to my recipe for the next gathering.  Until next time, mes amis, bon apétit! (yes, I figured out how to use accents over my e's).

Friday, February 24, 2012

French Fridays with Dorie: Cheese Topped Onion Soup

Cheese Topped Onion Soup
Another week-long hiatus while my counterparts enjoyed their Mussels with Chorizo.  Not my thing.  However this week's recipe was right up my alley!  If there was ever a pairing made in heaven it has to be onions and Gruyere.  One of my favorite dishes of all time is the Onion Strudel from a fantastic restaurant in the Lincoln Square neighborhood of Chicago called Bistro Campagne.  Caramelized onions are layered with shredded Gruyere in pastry and baked until golden.  It's certainly an evolution from this humble, yet no less delicious, onion soup. 

The onions after nearly two hours of cooking
If you have never attempted to make onion soup, be ready for the very long time you need to cook your onions.  I cooked mine for nearly 2 hours and probably could have cooked them longer.  The longer you cook them, without burning them of course, the richer and darker your soup will be.  Other than time, the soup itself really could not be simpler.  Add wine and chicken broth, season and enjoy.   But, what would onion soup be without that fantastic floating crouton covered with bubbling Gruyere?  Incomplete, to be sure.  So I fired up the broiler, toasted some sourdough (in retrospect, perhaps a bit too tart for this application-would have been better off with a simple baguette) and topped it with shredded Gruyere cheese.  Under the broiler again and it was time to serve. 




I realized I forgot that before you ladle the soup in to the bowls, you add a teaspoon of brandy.  I used some of the leftover Armagnac from our chicken recipe from earlier this year, and it added a subtle, yet wonderful complexity to the flavor of the broth.  The hubby was not much of a fan of the bread choice, but loved the flavor of the soup and the Gruyere, anyway.  Another DG success!  Until next time, mes amis, Bon Apetit!
Ready for the broiler!

Friday, February 10, 2012

French Fridays With Dorie: Nutella Tartine

I wanted to crawl on the plate and curl up
next to it...
Brioche, butter, Nutella, orange marmalade, hazelnuts.  Holy s**tballs was this good.  I mean, with a list of ingredients like this, how could you go wrong, but I was curious how the orange marmalade was going to work against the hazelnut flavor of the Nutella.  It was beautiful.  Angels descended, birds sang, it was better than "Cats". 

My lovely brioche loaf with the Nutella Tartine fixings
 Let's face it, this is less a recipe than assembly instructions.  So, to have something more to write about in this blog, as well as for an extra delicious version, I did make a loaf of brioche the day before. Fortunately we had made the bubble top brioche a few weeks ago, so I was familiar with the recipe and the time it would take.  I decided to forego the smaller loaves suggested in the "Bonne Idee", and bust out my 5x10 loaf pan to create a super sized brioche to get the larger slices suitable for this recipe and perhaps some yummy French toast down the road.  All I can say is "wow", what a beauty! 

The loaf was the perfect size for this recipe.  Even though I scoffed a bit at calling this a recipe, I did manage to screw it up.  I discovered that getting even a little bit of water from your double boiler in your Nutella as it is heating turns it into a hard, unmanageable mess, so the first batch of the lovely stuff had to be chucked amid much cursing and slamming of pots and pans.  (This was a morning, pre-caffeinated event, and therefore subject to crabbiness).  Round two came off without a hitch, however and those lovely brioche slices toasted up nicely under the broiler.   I think  next time I will use a toaster or toast both sides of the bread under the broiler to have a uniform texture.  Spread the marmalade, drizzle the Nutella and toss on some hazelnuts and you have a rich, decadent, delicious treat that is insanely easy to make,  and it looks rather impressive.

Wish I could say that I am looking forward to next week's recipe, however seafood is not my thing, so I may have to skip and post on something the group has already tried prior to my joining.  Regardless, I hope you all have a good week.  Bon apetit!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

French Fridays: Gorgonzola-Apple Quiche

Gorgonzola-Apple Quiche
After a brief hiatus, I am back for this week's delectable addition to the quiche pantheon...Gorgonzola-Apple.  As mentioned in previous posts...eggs, cheese, etc, what's not to love?  And real men do eat quiche in this day and age, thank you very much.  We make it, too.  I was excited to make this recipe because this was the first time I have made home made tart crust...at least I think it was.  I say if you can't remember if you have or have not, it's new to you anyway so what's the difference?  Hard to believe that as much as I bake I have not really ventured into pies and tarts.  Of course, Edmund makes a killer crust for apple and cherry pies in the summer and fall months, so why mess with perfection?  
Gorgonzola dolce, a mild version of this blue cheese, is the
perfect companion to apples and onions.


I was a bit surprised that this recipe called for a sweet-ish crust, and personally I think if I do make this again I will reduce the sugar or leave it out of the crust altogether.  The onions, apples and gorgonzola blended so beautifully together to create a sweet, tangy and savory filling that, in my opinion, would be better matched to a more benign crust.  Oh, that crust, though.  Crisp, flaky and delicious on its own, it will be the base of many a tart to come, I am sure!
The actual making of the tart crust dough was very simple, but if you make this or any quiche or tart that requires a crust, build time in for chilling both right after mixed and once in the pan ready to go in to the oven.  

The filling required little more than a trip to the cheese counter and some light sauteeing of apples and onions.  I thought the gorgonzola dolce called for might be difficult to find, but there it was in the cooler at Whole Foods.  Yes, I bought too large a block, but trust me, cheese does not go bad in this house.  In fact, I think I have a loaf of sourdough with that leftover cheese's name on it.    Until next week, mes amis, bon apetit!
The quiche ready for the oven


  

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Phew! Weekend Cooking-Palooza


Chocolate eclairs...delicious, but almost too rich.  Powdered
sugar on top because my ganach glazing technique needs some work!

So, a weekend or two ago, Edmund, my husband, was leafing through Around My French Table and saw the recipe for Vanilla Eclairs.  Skinny as a rail and with a huge sweet tooth, this was his kind of dessert.  To him sugar is a food group all its own.  So, since the group had already tackled them I decided to give them a try.  OMG.  Unbelievably delicious, challenging and fun to make.  I had never made puff pastry before!  I enjoyed it so much that I thought I would try the chocolate variation yesterday.  They were rich to the point of decadence...almost too rich, really with the ganache AND the chocolate pastry cream filling.  I, personally have never understood when people say that a dessert is too rich...really?  I can usually eat my dessert and theirs when this is the case, but the bittersweet chocolate explosion that was the chocolate eclair made me understand their point.  I think next time I may try filling with either whipped cream, like a cream puff, or vanilla pastry cream and top with the chocolate ganache.  Our friend, Molly, suggested either a raspberry mousse filling with the ganache top or a raspberry glaze with chocolate filling.  Decisions, decisions. 

   On Sundays I make our weekly recipe for the group, so today's recipe, Broth Braised Potatos, was accompanied by Short Ribs in Wine and Port, another recipe the group has already accomplished.  So much fun to make the short ribs.  The potatos, a snap.  More on those Friday.  I also made two loaves of bread...just regular old white sandwich bread, but since I started this blog one of my friends at work has asked me to make some for her.  As I said, a busy weekend.  Looking forward to some down time with Downton Abbey tonight.  Bon Apetit, mes amis.

Friday, January 20, 2012

French Fridays with Dorie-Quatre Quarts

Quatre quarts with homemade raspberry sauce and whipped cream

Light and surprisingly flavorful given its simplicity, quatre quart was this week's recipe for French Fridays with Dorie.  I chose to use Amaretto rather than cognac or rum for flavoring, and I am happy that I did.  The cake had that delicious almond flavor that was offset nicely by the raspberry sauce I made from some remnants of this past summer's berry crop.  Described as sort of a French version of pound cake, I was expecting a dense, rich cake, though the whipped egg whites seemed counter-intuitive to this way of thinking.   Drier and certainly lighter than pound cake, it's perfectly nice  but certainly lacks the wow-factor of the last several recipes in the series.  Definitely needs a saucy accompaniment.   My husband said it makes a great tea cake.   I did like the brown sugar baked in to the top of the cake,  It was a nice, textural addition. 

The top of the cake with the brown sugar baked in.  Yes, I used extra!

Friday, January 13, 2012

French Fridays With Dorie: M. Jacques' Armagnac Chicken

M. Jacques Armagnac Chicken-heaven in a Dutch oven

Incredibly easy and equally delicious...I think we have a new staple in our house.  The most difficult thing about this dish is finding the bottle of Armagnac.  I went to a local liquor store, which is generally pretty well stocked.  After meandering the aisles for the better part of 20 minutes, I finally decided to ask...."Do you have Armagnac?"  Yes they did...on the highest shelf in the furthest reaches of the store I found three options-atop the zillions of Cognacs.  Interestingly, Armagnac is similar to Cognac in that it is a brandy distilled from grapes, but the makers of Armagnac tend to be small producers whereas Cognacs are made by the big name liquor producers.  Armagnac has a sweet, flavor that is complex, and in this dish, lends a unique flavor that infuses the dish.  It is somewhat indescribable, though AMFT describes it as prune-like.  This may not sound appealing to some, but I assure you the end result is delicious.

I really enjoy complex recipes from time to time, but there is something great about a recipe that pretty much tells you to throw everything in to a pot and bake it for an hour.  This is the best kind of lazy Sunday recipe, that has a surprisingly elegant taste.  Onions, carrots and potatoes go in the bottom of the pot and the Armagnac is poured around them.  The vegetables become infused with the flavors from the brandy, the onions and the seasonings from the chicken.  The carrots, in particular, took on this amazing sweetness.  I will be adding more carrots next time I make this, because I soon found myself picking them out of the dish!  Delicious!  As for the chicken, it was incredibly moist and perfectly seasoned.  All in all, this recipe is a snap, and versatile enough to be a simple dinner for two or for a small elegant gathering of friends. 

Bon Apetit!
Armagnac Chicken, just after the lid came off of the pot


Friday, January 6, 2012

French Fridays with Dorie: Bubble Top Brioche

Bubble Top Brioche. 
(Custom tablecloth and bread cloth
by Jeanette Zebrowski)

French breads and pastries are a particular weakness of mine, so I was very happy to discover that Bubble Top Brioche was this week's recipe from French Fridays.  This was so fun and ultimately satisfying to make!  I love to bake, anyway, and this was one of the more challenging yeast bread recipes than I have tried.  I loved seeing the metamorphosis of the dough from raggedy looking, dry-as-a-desert ugliness to smooth-as-silk buttery richness.  Shaping the dough and watching the little loves rise was so gratifying.   Having the kitchen smell like a Parisian bakery was heaven, too.  These were delicious and beautiful.  I will definitely be making these again.  

  Brioche is an egg  and butter based bread that is generally eaten at breakfast.  As you can see from the photo below, the dough is divided in to small rounds, 3 of which go in to a muffin cup and become the delightful little bubble tops you see in the photo at left. 


Like Parker House Rolls, Bubble Top Brioche are made
up of 3 maller pieces of dough rolled in to balls and placed
in a muffin cup.
 To achieve the best texture the dough should be chilled overnight after a series of risings and deflations.  I think I may try freezing the dough in the little balls next time I make them so that I have a fancy breakfast treat that can be made ahead and still impress!  Absolutely perfect with a little butter and jam, I also tried some with a little bit of nutella and it was amazing.  Another fantastic and fun recipe. I am already looking forward to next week! 
Fresh from the oven...can't you just smell them?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Cauliflower-Bacon Gratin and a New Year's Eve Dinner Menu


Cauliflower-Bacon Gratin, from Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table, p. 362
I decided "why wait?" and dove in to this week's recipe from Around My French Table, Cauliflower-Bacon Gratin.  As DG mentions in the recipe, it is almost like a quiche with the number of eggs involved, and it was the star of our quiet New Year's Eve dinner for two.  The recipe calls for boiling the cauliflower florets for 10 minutes, draining them and then patting them dry.  Dorie also suggests steaming as an alternative, and I think next time I make this I will do that because after 10 minutes of boiling time my cauliflower was a bit too tender for my and my husband's tastes.  In addition, I will be more dilligent about removing as much moisture as possible from the cauliflower before baking because the finished gratin was a bit soupy out of the oven.  Perhaps I could have baked it a bit longer, as well.  That said, we loved this dish.  Bacon and cheese and cream and eggs, what is not to love here?  I did add sauteed onions as suggested in the bonne idee, because to me the recipe just seemed to call out for them.  The general recipe could easily be used with broccoli, brussels sprouts, spinach or a combo of these and other veggies. 

New Year's Eve Dinner for 2: Scallops with Caramel-Orange
Sauce, Cauliflower-Bacon Gratin and roasted asparagus.
The rest of the NYE dinner menu included Scallops with Caramel-Orange Sauce, also from AMFT, p. 317, roasted asparagus and, for dessert, Marie-Helene's Apple Cake, p. 432.  I am not a seafood eater and this was honestly the first time I have ever cooked it.  My husband loved the scallops and said that they were perfectly cooked  (thanks to Dorie's directions on this)  He thought that the citrus-infused sweetness from the sauce provided a nice foil to the salt and white pepper crust. 

Marie-Helene's Apple Cake, from P. 432 of AMFT
I had made Marie-Helene's Apple Cake several times before and it has become a favorite in our house.  It is incredibly easy to make, and delicious.  The key to this recipe really is choosing 4 different apples to get the most interesting texture and flavor.  This time I decided to play around with the recipe a bit and add some cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and lemon zest.  While these additions were excellent, the recipe is so simple and delicious as written, I think I will go back to making it without these extras next time.  The key to a good looking cake here is to use a springform pan, which I could not find yesterday when I made it, so my cake wasn't especially beautiful out of the pan, but it was still delicious with a little whipped cream and a glass of Veuve Cliquot. 

Extra cardio in the gym this week, for sure, but a special, delicious dinner for the start of the New Year.   Happy New Year to you and your families, and all the best in 2012! 

An Exercise In Patience...Or The Art Of The Loaf

In addition to French Fridays, I intend to use this blog to document more kitchen adventures, like this one! 

I don't know about you, but if I don't recognize an ingredient in supposed food I am buying at the grocery, I do my best to steer clear.  A few years ago this led me to begin baking bread for sandwiches and accompaniments to dinners rather than buy what is on the shelf.  Honestly there are many more, and better, choices in most stores now, but it is immensely satisfying to watch your own handcrafted loaf rise and bake to perfection.  The smell of bread baking takes me back to when my mother would bake a loaf for Sunday dinner.  She would place the dough in a pan near the heat register in the kitchen so that when we got back from church it had risen so high it had huge holes from gas bubbles in the finished bread, but it was delicious.  After the purchase of several well respected bread baking books with incredibly time consuming directions, temperature taking more complicated than caring for a newborn, and ingredients only available in the most out of the way specialty stores, I have managed to produce some amazing every day breads using a few simple recipes.

One of the first recipes I tried is one I found for Pane Integrale, a simple dough that requires nothing more complicated than flour, a bowl and a wooden spoon.  This bread works well with an overnight rising and so far for me has been foolproof.  There is a bit of a time commitment here, so plan on serving this bread, delicious with a cheese plate or with pasta dishes, about a day after you start it.   It is baked in a Dutch oven or similar vessel, but I imagine you could achieve pretty good results in a hot oven on a baking sheet or pizza stone. 
Pane Integrale, a bit time consuming, but delicious and simple
Pane Integrale

2-1/4 c. unbleached bread flour
3/4 c. whole wheat flour
1-1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1-1/3 c cool water
Flour, for dusting

In a medium bowl, stir together flours, salt and yeast.  Add water and mix well with a wooden spoon.  Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature (70-72 F) until dough doubles in volume and is dotted with bubbles, 12-18 hours.  For me, I have found the longer this initial "proof" time, the more flavorful the bread becomes. 

Transfer dough to a floured surface using a spatula to scrape out from the bowl.  Form the dough in to a loose round using floured hands to lift the edges of the dough towards the center.  Place dough on a well-floured towel, seam side down.  Dust the top of the dough lightly with flour, and cover loosely with the towel.  Set in a warm place to rise until doubled, between 1 and 2 hours depending on the warmth of the room.  30 minutes prior to baking, heat the oven and covered Dutch oven to 475 F.  When dough is ready, remove Dutch oven from oven, uncover and carefully place dough in to the pan.  Cover and return to the oven.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Uncover the Dutch oven and bake for 15 minutes more.  Remove bread from pan and cool on a wire rack. 

 


"Our Favorite Sandwch Bread" from the King Arthur Flour website
  A great resource for the home baker is http://www.kingarthurflour.com/, the website for King Arthur Flour, considered to be one of the best reaily available flours out there.  In addition to selling the full line of King Arthur Flours and specialty items, there is a fantastic set of recipes available, as well.  So far the easiest and most reliable sandwich loaf I have found is here:  http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/our-favorite-sandwich-bread-recipe.  I won't reprint the recipe , but it is a good starter recipe if you are new to baking bread.  A stand mixer with a dough hook is extremely helpful with this and many other bread recipes, so time to break out that accessory if you have not used it before.  I made this loaf yeterday.  Sweet, buttery and delicious, it makes a mean PBJ or morning toast. 

For many, baking bread seems daunting, but more than anything it is time and timing.  Having the right tools helps, too, but I think you will prefer your own bread to what you buy once you get started.  Happy baking!