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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Navarin Printanier

Let's face it--lamb isn't a palate-pleaser for everyone. One Easter, Jim's family were dinner guests. I'd thought about making lamb, but decided against it because of the non palate-pleaser issue, and made an innocuous ham instead. But I thought I might as well find out people's stance on lamb, for future reference. I asked Jim's nephew, David, if he liked lamb. "Sure. I mean, I guess. Mom, do I like lamb?" (David was in his 40's at the time). Dwayne, Jim's sister's husband, got truly alarmed. "Lamb?! I hate lamb. Why would you ruin dinner with lamb? If you made lamb, I'll have to go to McDonald's to get something to eat." Dwayne was never one to hide his feelings. Would he have liked, or at least tolerated, this navarin? It's hard to imagine that he wouldn't, but stubbornness is powerful.
I started with the 3 pounds of lamb shoulder, as recommended. This is a lot of meat, and it needed to be trimmed of fat and gristle, but it was so delicious after being sauteed and braised.
And the spring vegetables tasted earthy and luscious.
All it needed to be printanier was the peas: not fresh, but still good. I don't quite agree with Dorie's assessment that frozen peas are as good as fresh ones, but they're definitely more obtainable.
Dinner is ready to be served.
And for dessert, a catch-up creme brulee--I used a rhubarb-strawberry jam because I thought it would be a nice foil for the sugary creaminess, but I wasn't crazy about the jam addition. I thought the dark brown sugar would be a nice addition, but it just turned out to burn more readily than white sugar. I think I'll stick to my old recipe.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Crab (shrimp) and Grapefruit Salad - French Fridays with Dorie

There's not much to say about putting this salad together. It's really just a loose set of recommendations, and you could make it a dozen times with it tasting a little different every time. The essentials are grapefruit, some kind of greens, and seafood--the recipe specifies crab, but as I feared, there was no fresh crabmeat available in these parts. The only thing I saw was a large tin of expensive lump crabmeat. I bought this once before to make crab cakes, and, although it came highly recommended, I thought it was more than a few notches less satisfactory than fresh crab. So I substituted precooked shrimp, a substitution that made the salad a cinch to put together.
As happens more often than I'd like it to, I neglected to thoroughly read the recipe, and missed the step about cutting the grapefruit a few hours ahead of time. I dried it ferociously in paper towels, and I thought it was just fine. So I've just started this recipe, and I've already concluded that crab isn't necessary for a crab salad, and preparing the grapefruit ahead of time isn't necessary for a grapefruit salad.
While I started in this devil-may-care manner, I did everything else according to Hoyle. Cucumber, orange pepper, mint, chile pepper....everything else was just as it was supposed to be. I loved the fresh flavors of the chile and mint, and the general lightness and healthiness of the salad.

I piled a generous dollop of guacamole on top of the salad. For years, Jim has claimed to dislike avocados and guacamole. While we were in Mexico, though, he ate it twice a day (at least). I was a little unhappy that he ate it all, because I was thinking he'd eat around it and leave it for me. He claimed, though, that guacamole in Mexico was a completely different thing than guacamole in Minnesota. But I noticed that he ate his Minnesota guacamole too. Apparently he's getting flexible in his old age.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Cocoa Sablés - French Fridays with Dorie

Of all the 30-some recipes that I'm behind in FFWD, about a third of them are desserts. Not that I don't like desserts. Far from it. It's a matter of trust. No matter how much I like, say, a pan of potato gratin, I know I'm not going to go to the refrigerator and gobble up the leftovers in one sitting. Rich, chocolatey cookies? That's a different matter. So I wouldn't have dared make these unless I had a plan to give them away. A meeting where people love it when I bring in treats was scheduled for Monday afternoon. These people are all wild about chocolate and wild about cookies.

Not only is the dough chocolatized with cocoa (delicious Italian cocoa), but also with a quarter-pound of chopped bittersweet chocolate. This is considered optional, but I would say it's required.

It makes a dark, dark cookie dough, which you roll out into a dark, dark cylinder.

If you don't read the recipe ahead of time annd want to make the cookies immediately, you're out of luck. I've done that before, but not this time, since I know by now that sables, being fancy refrigerator cookies, have to be refrigerated for a while. I made the dough in the morning, saw a movie in the afternoon, and baked the cookies in the evening--rolling the logs in sugar before slicing them and putting them in the oven.

Decorating sugar would have been nice, but I only had about two teaspoons, so granulated sugar had to work. They sugared cookies looked a little odd, I thought, but it at least gave some contrast to the dark cookies.

I was the hero of the hour when I brought a tin of cookies into the conference room. Never underestimate the power of chocolate.

And a catch-up salmon dish. This wasn't the best salmon I've ever had, or even that I've ever made. But it's the easiest. The French lentils cook very quickly, so dinner can be on the table in just over a half-hour.

AND a question: Do any of the other land-locked people out there have ideas about the crab for the upcoming salad? The only thing I've seen is a very expensive tin of crab meat, which I'd rather not buy. Do some of you have plans to substitute?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Cheese Souffle - French Fridays with Dorie

Why have I never made a cheese souffle before? After making this, my first, I have no idea why it's taken me so long. If you can make a cheese sauce and beat egg whites, you can make a cheese souffle.

Seriously. It's that easy. You stir the butter and flour together long enough to get rid of the floury taste, then add hot milk, cheese, and egg yolks.

I used gruyere, which was lovely. But I think it might have been even lovelier to use a mixture. In fact, I'm pretty sure that a cheese souffle is a perfect vehicle for using up dribs and drabs of cheeses, as long you show a little restraint.

The egg whites are folded into the cheese sauce mixture, poured into souffle dishes, and put in the oven. That's it. Then you just have to wait.

I cut the recipe in half. My souffle dish was too big for a half-recipe, so I used a few small dishes. Here's what I learned. A rim at the top of a dish really messes with the souffle's rising.

I used two rimmed dishes and one without a rim. For some reason, the rim made the souffle crazy.

The one in the straight-sided dish was normal.

Both normal and crazy souffles tasted great.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Saint-Germain-des-Pres Onion Biscuits

I'm on vacation in playa del Carmen, Mexico, and I'm trying to finish this post on my iPad so I can post it for FFWD. Which means posting it tonight because I have to get up early to go to Tulum tomorrow. Somehow getting up early on vacation is worse than getting up to go to work. I'm having problems editing this on the iPad, but it'll have to do.

I like biscuits as much as the next person. Maybe more. And I love French food. But I have a hard time equating the two concepts. The only French biscuit I know is pronounced bis-kwee and is a cake. But for the fun of having good biscuits I'm willing to play along.

Biscuits are fun to make as long as you remember to bring out the food processor instead of using forks or fingers to mix the dough. This is just one person's opinion, and if you think they're lighter, flakier, or more delicious if you make them the traditional way, good for you. But since I discovered the food processor method, there's no going back.

I love biscuits, and I thought these would be a terrific variation. They were a cinch to mix up and roll out, but I didn't think they had a lot of onion flavor. I was imagining how they'd taste with caramelized onions, and these onions, softened rather than browned, didn't measure up to my imaginary ones.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Cheese-topped Onion Soup - French Fridays with Dorie

The first thing Jim said when he tasted this was, "I love this soup!" This is noteworthy because the word "love" does not slip easily from his mouth. In fact, the first time he told me he loved me, many years ago, he hedged his bets. He said, "I think I might love you"--not exactly an undying declaration--in case things didn't turn out so well.

But he didn't hedge his bets with the soup.

I was, frankly, a little less enthusiastic. Oh, it tasted good, but 4 pounds of onions is a whole mess of onions. Four pounds of onions make you cry. As I stood sniffing and sobbing, I tried to remember all the antidotes for onion tears. Aren't you supposed to cut them under water? I didn't want to stop to google the cure, so I just persevered.

And persevered some more. After an hour and ten minutes of being stirred over very low heat, my onions showed not a single sign of caramelizing. White as snow.

So I did exactly what Dorie cautions against: I turned up the heat.

After 20 minutes on medium, and then, desperately, on medium-high, they finally showed signs of browning. I turned the heat back down, and cooked them for another half hour. After over TWO HOURS of being stirred, the onions finally caramelized.

They weren't the only ones that needed a fortifying glug of cognac at this point.

I wonder why we used chicken broth instead of beef broth for the soup. The broth got browner than I thought it would, but beef broth would have made it even darker and, I think, more flavorful. I might try it with beef broth next time, assuming there ever is a time when I feel like stirring onions for a few hours.

I had a little loaf of homemade bread that I'd made in the morning (the bread took less time to rise than the onions took to cook).

I opted for Comte cheese, solely because I'd never tried it before. I learned that there are strict regulations governing Comte:

"Only milk from Montbeliarde Cattle is permitted, and each must have at least a hectare of grazing.
Fertilization is limited, and cows may only be fed fresh, natural feed, with no silage.
The milk must be transported to the site of production immediately after milking.
Renneting must be carried out within a stipulated time after milking, according to the storage temperature of the cheese.
Only one heating of the milk may occur, and that must be during renneting. It may be heated to no more than 40˚C.
Salt may only be applied directly to the surface of the cheese.
A casein label containing the date of production must be attached to the side of the cheese, and maturing must continue for at least four months.
No grated cheese may be sold under the Comté name."

I was very happy to learn that the happy French cows had each had at least a hectare of grazing land. In case you wondered, and I'll bet you did not, that is the equivalent to about two and a half acres.

The cows are contented. The cheese melts nicely and tastes very good. I'm still not wild about peeling and stirring four pounds of onions.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Mussels and Chorizo - French Fridays with Dorie

I didn't have time to make this during the week, so I waited until Friday. Then I discovered that it's actually a perfect weeknight dinner because it takes no time at all. What takes the longest is to stop at the seafood store and decide whether to get Prince Edward Island or Mediterranean mussels (I went for the P.E.I.) and whether I was really going to need two pouonds for a half recipe. (No. I got a pound and a half, and a pound would have been fine).

Then it takes 3 minutes to dice the onions, peppers, and garlic and another 5 to saute them. Meanwhile, cut up the chorizo sausages. Another 5 to simmer the sausages and tomatoes.

The scariest part is brushing the mussels. Mine were pretty clean and beardless, but I was acutely aware that they were alive. (Except for those that had already kicked the bucket). I don't do mussels often enough to be used to them. Sometimes I thought one was moving. Then I said, "Eek!" and dropped it in the sink. Jim asked me if it bit me. "No," I said, "but I think it tried to."

I was also acutely aware that I was killing them when I dropped them into the pot. "Sorry," I told them. Jim said he didn't believe I was sorry at all, but I was. At least sorry that someone else wasn't killing so they would have it on their conscience. I don't know what I'm going to do when we come to Dorie's lobster recipe.

But the poor little guys died for a good cause--although if I were the one being boiled, I'd probably be less sanguine about the goodness of the cause. The mussels were sweet and tender, and paired perfectly with the spicy Chorizo sausage. The tomato-y broth was flavorful. We chose the option of sopping it up with sourdough bread, but pasta would have been great too. I'd like to try it with shrimp, as some others did, which would be less traumatic than the mussels.

I also managed to get caught up with the Gorgonzola-apple quiche, which I made in a pie pan instart of as a tart. I didn't think I'd be keen on that combination, but it was quite good. AND I caught up on the quatre-quarts cake as well, which was astonishingly good. But I forgot to take pictures of it. I hope it still counts, even without proof that I made it. If not, I could probably be persuaded to make it again.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Nutella Tartine - French Fridays with Dorie

This is what French school kids get for a snack? Why is it that Americans, eating PB&J on white bread, are obese, and French kids, with sugary Nutella on buttery croissants, are slender as reeds and cute, too? It's a mystery--the same reason, apparently, that French women don't get fat.

At least this recipe isn't complicated. In fact, it's barely a recipe, requiring only bread (I used croissants because I couldn't find a good loaf of brioche yesterday, and I was way too lazy to bake it), Nutella (which is actually Italian, by the way, not French), orange marmalade, and a sprinkling of hazelnuts.

You wouldn't have to use orange marmalade, although the contrast with the sweet chocolate is nice, and the chopped hazelnuts are probably not strictly required, although the crunch does add a certain je ne sais quoi. And the baguettes are not even in the recipe, but I thought they were perfect. Parfait, I mean.

But watch that broiler. Another 20 seconds, and they would have been unpleasantly and unphotogenically charred.

I know that people are nuts (sorry) about Nutella. Somewhat to my surprise, I realized that this was the first time I had tasted it. It was sweeter, more chocolatey, and less nutty than I thought it would be. I think you can talk yourself into believing that peanut butter is a health food, but you would have to stretch your powers of disbelief to consider Nutella healthy. Still, 50 million Frenchmen can't be wrong.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Broth-Braised Potatoes - French Fridays with Dorie

A recipe like this is why many people think that French cuisine is the greatest ever. Potatoes - the simplest, most earthy vegetable - cooked simply with a few basic flavor enhancers thrown in (literally) turn into a glorious dish that you can't stop thinking about. Why do we make boiled potatoes when, with just a little more effort, you can end up with something like this?

You're always likely to have a few cloves of garlic on hand. Mine weren't even in pristine shape, but they were good enough to flavor the broth.

And I had a lemon that was buried in the fruit drawer. A little sad-looking, but perfectly fine for giving up a wide swath of peel.

I happened to have both fresh thyme and fresh rosemary in my crisper. I bought them both for recipes I made weeks ago. Again, they were both somewhat tired-looking, but not too tired to be tossed in simmering water.

Those few simple things were enough to turn boiled potatoes into something good enough to be the star of the show.

When the potatoes were fork-tender, I took the lid off, turned up the heat, and let most of the liquid boil away. They turned into what looked like a real braise: lighly coated in olive oil, with the potatoes on the bottom of the pan picking up a little crust, and with just a tiny bit of liquid for flavor. I'm glad I have enough left to use Dorie's suggestion of turning leftovers into hash browns. That'll come up later in the week, or maybe for Sunday breakfast. I really want to eat them again.