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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cauliflower - Bacon Gratin (French Fridays with Dorie)

I'm not hugely crazy about cooked cauliflower, although raw cauliflower is my first pick from a plate of crudités. It has a nasty smell while cooking, reminiscent of a bad boarding-house kitchen (if the cook at the bad boarding house was into cauliflower). So, while this cauliflower dish was a good one, I'll admit that my favorite parts were the bacon and cheese. But you really can't have a bacon gratin, can you? There has to be something in there besides bacon, cream, and cheese.

Jim liked watching the cauliflower boil because it turned somersaults.

I bought the makings for this dish without double-checking the recipe. I knew that it called for Gruyere cheese, but somehow, in my feeble brain, that translated to Fontina, and that's what I bought. Although Fontina is definitely not a classic French cheese, it worked quite well.

The sauce, which turned out to be lovely, not only had cream and full-fat milk, but it also had five eggs, which were beaten, one at a time, into the flour. Not surprisingly, the eggs made the sauce custardy, rather than white saucy.

The cauliflower was decent, the sauce was delicious, but it was the bacon that made this dish.

Into the oven it goes,

and out it comes, just 25 minutes later.

We had this as a main course at our house, with just a green salad, so it was an easy weekday dinner. I would probably add a little thyme if I made it again, but it doesn't really need it. I'd also cut the cauliflower pieces a little smaller. All in all, though, I was pretty satisfied with it just the way it was. Although Dorie says it doesn't keep very well, I had it for lunch today, and, although I had to apologize to the people at work for the odiferous cauliflower, it still tasted fine.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Potato Chip Tortilla - French Fridays with Dorie

Would I make this again? If I had to make dinner, and if all I had was a bag of potato chips, some eggs, herbs and spices, I probably would. Otherwise, I'll just call this an interesting experiment, but not one I'd care to repeat.

I was game for the experiment, but I did have a few questions, like "Is this really French?" And "What's wrong with real potatoes?" Dorie says she found the recipe in a French food magazine, so I guess it is more or less French. I never found the answer to the second question.

I have to say that crunching potato chips is easier than slicing potatoes (and I guess that's the answer to the unanswered question).

Here's another question. Why are basil leaves bigger in the winter than in the summer? These were gigantic.

There were a lot of greens in with the eggs, so I did have hopes that the greasy potato chips wouldn't be overwhelming. (And, by the way, I have nothing against grease. I like a fat-dripping hamburger as much as the next person. And doughnuts. And bacon).

I had no piment d'Espelette, so I substituted the suggested cayenne pepper, as well as some smoked paprika, just because I like it. I used a light hand with the spices, but the final product wouldn't have suffered from a heavier one.

I believe this is the first time I've ever cooked potato chips. It looks odd, doesn't it? I was hoping that the potato chips would miraculously turn into potatoes. But the tortilla tasted like a potato chip omelet. Not horrible. (Probably better than a Cheetos omelet would taste). But not great. I'm curious to see how the other bloggers reacted, and if I'm the only chip naysayer. But I'm excited for the cauliflower!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Chard-Stuffed Pork Roast with Matafan - French Fridays with Dorie

It's nice to get back to my house and my kitchen, after trips to Portugal and Morocco. Not that I'm complaining, but as Dorothy says, clicking her ruby slippers, "There's no place like home." And home is especially nice when the oven warms the kitchen and sends out smells of roasting pork.

Contrary to my predictions, the stuffed pork roast was amazingly good, and the matafan - last week's recipe for most people - was a disappointment.

For one thing, the pork roast was seriously easy to make. Just a quick saute of onion, garlic, and chard,

stuffed into a butterflied loin of pork, which is then rubbed with crushed peppercorns and coriander seeds, and tied.

The matafan, on the other hand, requires riced potatoes. Or at least it recommends riced potatoes. I stared at my big potato ricer for about 5 minutes before I got up the spirit to actually do the ricing. It's not hard, really, and there was a time when I was a little smug about including this step whenever I made mashed potatoes. Now digging out the heavy ricer, and - worse- cleaning it after it's gummed up with potatoes makes me more irritable than smug. But I did it.

Ricing is followed by folding in egg whites, another irritating step.

In fairness to the matafan, the ricing and folding aren't really all that difficult. I think I was just disappointed because after doing these extra steps, I was expecting something really amazing, especially because I really, really like potatoes.

And when I took the first bite, and sampled the heavenly light texture, I was very pleased. But as I really tasted, I realized that it was - well, it was pretty boring. An ethereal but tasteless morsel.

Compared to the pork, which was savory, rich, and perfectly balanced, the pancakes didn't carry their weight. Maybe I expected too much of them. Maybe if they were served with creme fraiche and caviar, as suggested, they wouldn't be boring. But if you put creme fraiche and caviar on top of stale saltines, they probably wouldn't be boring either.

Jim said he liked the matafan as much as the pork (or maybe he said he liked the pork as much as the matafan). Either way, he thought they were both winners. I thought the pork was surprisingly good and the matafan surprisingly underwhelming. As I've suspected on so many other occasions, it's all about the expectations.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Butcher's Choice Risotto - Gutsy Cooks Club

A whole lot of meaty flavor for what turns out to be about a half-bowlful of meat.

I forgot to take a picture of the two small short ribs (about one pound total) before I browned, roasted, and shredded them. That takes time (about 2 hours for roasting, cooling, and shredding). After that, it's pretty much just a regular risotto.

Starting with a brief saute of shallots and garlic, and an equally brief saute of the rice.

Then you add the meat, and--very gradually--the warmed mixture of chicken and beef stocks.

Risotto is one of those magic foods. It absorbs much more liquid than you think possible and--if you're lucky--it doesn't remain hard or get mushy. In fact, making a good risotto makes you feel like a real cook (especially if you've eaten some dismal risottos in restaurants, and I'll bet you have).

Finally, the finishing touches--a little more olive oil, a small glug of brandy (optional but nice), parsley (seems like it should be optional, but it's not), and grated parmesan (assuredly not optional).

It can rest for a few minutes while you make a simple green salad, and there you are--probably the heartiest, beefiest risotto you've ever tasted. Accdording to Saveur, this recipe is courtesy of Cesare Benelli of Ristorante Al Covo in Venice. Grazie, Cesare!

Jim: "I'm going to give this one a 9. It's really, really good--one of the best risottos I've ever had. I like that it has meat in it."

Marie: "I'll also give it a 9. I wasn't sure I'd like a beef risotto--I don't think I've ever had one before--but I think it works."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tomatoes Stuffed with Rice - Gutsy Cooks Club

My children used to beg for toys that were advertised on TV. "But, Mom, I really want it. It's so much fun! Look how much fun the kids on TV are having"!" "No," I said. "They're not having fun. They're actors. They're pretending to have fun."
That's how I feel when I look at the ads for Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup, which show the entire family lit up with joy when Mom brings the casserole made with C of M soup to the table. They're actors. Soup casseroles don't really make them happy.
My point? Yes, there is a point here. It's no struggle to find easy recipes that don't taste very good. And it's not difficult to find delicious food in three-page, multi-ingredient recipes.
But good and easy? That's not a combination that you find every day.

This recipe, from Saveur magazine, is both. Monica discovered this gem for the Gutsy Cooks' rice month, for which she sussed out every version of rice known to mankind. Naturally, I chose the easiest one. (In my defense, however, so did she). First, you scoop the tomato pulp out of however many tomatoes you want to bake, and pulse it a few times in the food processor.

Then you mix in all the other ingredients: rice, fresh basil, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. You could add other things too, but why bother? The tomato/basil/olive oil/garlic flavor combo is a classic one for a reason--it tastes so good.

Then you spoon this soupy mixture into the hollowed-out tomatoes. I'll admit there's a little leap of faith involved here. Will the rice really cook? Will this rather unappetizing glop turn into food? Yes and yes.

You don't really have to put the little severed tomato ends on top of the tomatoes stuffed with glop, but you should. It's very little extra trouble and they end up looking awfully cute.

Then you walk away for 50 minutes and do something more interesting. The baking time actually gives you enough time to catch up on an episode of Dexter, if you're so inclined. Or you could do something else not involving lovable serial killers.

If you happen to have a bazillion skewers of chicken satay left over from your husband's birthday party, you'll find that the stuffed tomatoes make an excellent side dish. Rounded out with a simple salad, it's a meal that will make you happy.

Jim: I'll give these a solid 9. The tomatoes taste really fresh, and the rice is so much better than plain rice.
Marie: I think that 9 is about right--maybe even a 9 1/2. It's a perfect way to use end-of-the-summer tomatoes. And it does make you want to eat your rice.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Olive-Olive Cornish Game Hens - French Fridays with Dorie

I think it took me longer to wander around the grocery store aisles looking for the game hens than it took me to cook them. The only reason that this isn't a spur-of-the-moment recipe is that I haven't yet found a place where I can buy game hens that aren't frozen.

But once they're thawed, it takes only a few minutes to whack them up, and just a few more to roast them.

Whacking them up is more technically known as spatchcocking. First, cut out the backbone (I used some kitchen shears). Then flatten the rest of the bird.

Then you loosen the skin from the chicken and insert some tapenade. It would have been better with homemade, but that would have added a little time, and I was trying to turn this into a quick weeknight dinner. The first time I tried the old seasoning-under-the-skin trick, I was surprised at how easy it was. The skin is actually quite cooperative--it loosens easily and doesn't usually tear. I've used fresh herb pastes under chicken skins, but the tapenade/game hen combo is new to me.

Then you just douse them in olive oil, squeeze lemon juice over them, and give a few good shakes of salt and pepper. Hopefully you've remembered to preheat the oven to 500 (and remove anything that you might have stored in your oven).

Just 25 minutes in the hot oven gives you crispy brown-skinned chicken and a few spoons of flavorful drippings.

Some cubes of sweet potatoes cooked at the same temperature and for the same time as the game hens (you'll notice that a few pieces got burned--I shouldn't have put them in the oven 5 minutes early). Al dente sugar peas added color and texture.

This was a delightful dinner. There are no official bonne idees here, but I think any herb paste or butter would work well. And I also think that leftovers would make a lovely lunch with a salad of baby greens. (In fact, I'm looking forward to that for tomorrow's lunch).

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Deconstructed BLT and Eggs - French Fridays with Dorie

A BLT is my favorite sandwich, and one that I order to judge a restaurant's capabilities. There are so many ways to screw it up: mediocre bread, underdone or overdone bacon, pink tomatoes, runny mayonnaise, soggy lettuce. When done right, though, there's nothing to top it. So why deconstruct it? It's perfect the way it is.

It is a perfect sandwich, but the salad may be - and this is heresy - even better. First, I was lucky enough to make this during the height of fresh tomato season, and to buy some organic arugula at the same Farmer's Market stand I got the tomatoes. The arugula adds a welcome peppery bite to the mix.

The croutons, made with bread from Patisserie 46, was good to start with, and even better when it was crisped and flavored with great bacon.

And the eggs give the sandwich some added heft and nutrition (in case you're feeling guilty about the bacon fat croutons).

I almost skipped the blob of mayonnaise on top the salad, figuring that I didn't really need both salad dressing and mayonnaise. But it turned out to be a nice touch, especially good for dipping the bacon-flavored croutons.

I wouldn't bother with this salad during the winter (unless I lived someplace where I could get tomatoes year round). Its success depends on the quality of the ingredients, and tomatoes are not worth eating in January. But in the brief tomato season, which is coincidentally also a time for a second crop of arugula, it's worth eating at least once a week.

Marie-Helene's Apple Cake - A Recipe Catch-Up

Everyone else made this cake last October - almost a year ago. I'm a year late, but glad to make it to the party eventually. A moist (maybe almost too moist?) cake brimming with apples and dead easy to make. A handy dessert to have in your repertoire.