Friday, February 27, 2015

FFWD Riviera Fish Soup

I don't know what to say about this soup.  On the one hand, the flavor really was great.  On the other hand, it was absolutely painful to push through a food mill, and then throw away, a 28 dollar red snapper.  I would have felt much better about this soup if my store had an inexpensive bin of "fish for soup," the way Dorie described.  In hindsight, I probably should have just skipped the food mill and served the soup with chunks of fish (although I'm not sure what I would have done with the skin and bones in that scenario).  I served this with salad, shrimp dumplings, salmon (was supposed to be for Charlotte, but we all shared), bread and quick-aoli (I was too tired to make my own, so I added lemon juice and garlic to store bought mayonnaise).  Paul was still hungry after.  Again, with a whole red snapper I was expecting more of a meal.  This soup felt like a delicious starter.  I'll be very curious to see what everyone else thought of the dish.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

TWD BCM Pink Grapefruit Tart

After seeing some of your photos, I'm almost embarrassed to show mine.  I'm definitely not going to win any awards for my decorating ability.  Luckily, the placement of the grapefruit segments in a pretty pattern does not affect the taste of the dessert and the taste of this dessert was excellent.  Was it worth the work or the calories?  I'm not sure.  I made this over a couple of days.  Luckily, Paul had made and frozen extra tart dough, so for the crust all I had to do was defrost, roll, freeze in pan, and bake.  On that same day I also made the almond-lemon cream and the grapefruit cremeux.  On the second day I segmented the grapefruits, and baked and assembled the tart.

Let me just start by saying that Paul's tart crust (from the Tartine book) was amazing--it's like puff pastry it's so buttery--and I absolutely loved the grapefruit cremeux.  Grapefruit is a favorite for me, and I thought Dorie balanced the sweet and tart flavors perfectly.  The almond-lemon cream?  I was unimpressed.  It was fine, but I barely noticed it with all of the other flavors going on.  It has done a nice job of protecting the shell--it's been in the fridge for a few days now and is still nice and crisp--so maybe that's reason enough for making it.  I'm glad I made this once, but in the future I could see myself making the grapefruit cremeux to serve in bowls and skipping the rest of the steps.

I try to avoid gelatin, so I substituted agar agar in the cremeux.  I totally guessed at the amount and the instructions, but it seemed to work perfectly.  In case anyone's interested, I used two tablespoons of agar agar.  I increased the amount of grapefruit juice by a few tablespoons (to account for the water used to soak the gelatin), and added the agar agar to the pan directly with the grapefruit juice.  I know agar agar sets up pretty quickly when it cools, so I also skipped letting the cremeux sit for 5 minutes before adding the butter.  I added the cremeux to the blender, and started adding butter and blending immediately.  As soon as it was all incorporated, I pored the cremeux into a bowl.  When it cooled, I covered it with plastic wrap and placed it in the fridge.  By the next day it was VERY thick and creamy.  It reached the perfect texture once whisked.

Friday, February 20, 2015

FFWD Vanilla-Butter Braised Lobster and Winter Ceviche

Again, traveling has gotten in the way of posting.  This month I had an aborted trip to New York and a trip to San Francisco for work, and we went on a family vacation to Florida.  Luckily, in between traveling I have been doing as much cooking as I can.  The Winter Ceviche was my favorite recipe of these two.  I have never had scallop ceviche, but I have had raw scallops at sushi restaurants so I had a feeling I would like this.  I was right.  The marinade was delicious, and the grapes and tarragon were nice accents.  I knew I would not need all of the marinade, so I saved some for Charlotte.  I seared some scallops in a fry pan (until cooked through) and then added the marinade and cooked until they were glazed.  They were delicious too, and she ate them happily.

I could not quite bear to use six sticks of butter, and I could not find lobster (fresh or frozen) the day I went to the store, so I made a much smaller version of this recipe with prawns.  I clarified and flavored two sticks of butter with a vanilla bean, and poached about half a pound of prawns in the clarified butter.  This was fun to try, good, and different, but I was not "wowed" enough to make this again. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

FFWD Croquants

These were an absolute breeze.  They didn't even require an electronic mixer.  The hardest part for me was figuring out how to store them.  An airtight container that wasn't a plastic bag (my go-to)?  I thought about using glass, but Paul suggested a brown paper bag so we decided to try it.  It worked perfectly.  I made these on Sunday and they were still crunchy Thursday night.  I followed Dorie's suggestion and used salted cashews.  I think these would be perfect alongside hot chocolate, or as the base of an ice cream sandwich (I wish I had noticed that suggestion sooner!).  They were good on their own, but not especially exciting.  Charlotte enjoyed the idea of these--she asked for them every time she saw us eating them--but didn't actually like them very much.  I think nuts are still hard for her to chew.  Oh well.  More for us!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

CCC January

As far as I'm concerned, January through March are the worst months for cooking vegetables.  In April we start to get spring vegetables and summer is amazing.  By fall I'm usually excited to start cooking with kale, squash, and root vegetables again.  By January I'm starting to get sick of them.  So, it's really nice to have this group to remind me to cook lots of vegetables, and to cook them in new ways.  This month was a bit of a challenge for me, because mushrooms and fennel have always been the two vegetables that I just really didn't like.  I'm learning to like fennel so I made both of those recipes, but I skipped the baked mushrooms and modified lasagna.  This was another fun month.  Here's what I made, in (rough) order of most to least favorite.

#1) Cauliflower with toasted seeds

What a pleasant surprise!  Until now I've made cauliflower two ways: roasted and steamed.  When I have a bit more energy, I'll add spices (this recipe is excellent) to the roasted version.  I've never really liked raw cauliflower, so this was a revelation.  Very thinly sliced (I was too lazy to pull out my mandoline and just used a knife) with the seeds, lemon juice, and sumac, this was delicious.  I couldn't stop eating it.

#2) Kale and mushroom lasagne

I'm no stranger to vegetarian lasagna--spinach with tomato sauce and butternut squash with a bechamel are my favorites--but adding kale was a first for me.  I substituted zucchini for the mushrooms, but I think almost anything would work here.  I really enjoyed the bechamel, I thought the mustard added a lot of flavor, and liked that the cheese wasn't overpowering here.  This is obviously stick-to-your-ribs comfort food, but I appreciated how substantial the vegetables were.

#3) Pasta with greens, garlic, and chilli

I learned to make pasta with greens from Jacques Pepin.  His pasta with bitter greens is still a favorite of mine.  I usually make it with escarole and endive, so it was fun trying different greens here.  I took this as an opportunity to use the remainder of a napa cabbage and some kale that were hanging out in my fridge.  This came together quickly, and I appreciated the ratio of greens to pasta.  Charlotte did not.  She ate all of the pasta on her plate, then finished my pasta and Paul's pasta, then ate about a bite of greens before declaring she was "all done."  Oh well.  I try to tell myself there's value in just exposing her to different things.

#4) Curried bubble and squeak

My post was delayed because I just made this for dinner tonight.  I could eat eggs every night and be very happy.  The curried potatoes and greens made a delicious bed for my perfectly poached eggs (LOVE Hugh's technique!).  I had to plan to have leftover greens and potatoes for this dish, but I can definitely imagine making it again. 

#5) Beetroot pizza with cheddar

Every time we make a pizza recipe I have a hard time not ranking it number one for the month.  We just love pizza.  This isn't the best pizza I've ever had (Paul makes excellent pizza, but also has to remember to start his dough 3 days ahead of time), but it's very good.  I also love how flexible it is.  I made the dough in the morning when I had time and let it rise.  After it rose I punched it down and stashed it in the fridge.  Before dinner, I let it come back to room temperature while I preheated the oven and prepped the rest of the ingredients, and we were eating in less than an hour.  Delicious.  This was my first time eating beets on pizza.  I don't think it will be my last.

#6) Roasted potatoes and aubergines

I really wasn't sure about this one.  Potatoes and eggplant just seemed like an odd combination.  The method also seemed odd.  I roast a lot of potatoes and vegetables, but had never pre-heated the oil in the pan before.  Well, it worked.  These were nice and crispy, but tender on the inside.  I loved how the potato offset the smooth texture of the eggplant.  This is another one that I hope to repeat soon.

#7) Spelt salad with squash and fennel

Paul was nice enough to make this one for us, as he had a Monday off for MLK day and I did not.  I didn't have any spelt and didn't want to buy any, so I pulled out a bag of mystery whole grains and suggested he try it.  I thought it was farro, but in hindsight I should have realized it was a hot cereal (Kashi?).  I really liked the flavor of the grains, but they were not as distinct as you'd want them to be in a salad.  Also, I found myself wishing Paul had sliced the fennel a lot more finely.  He followed the directions perfectly, but while I'm learning to like fennel I find that I like it a lot better in small pieces, and when it's very caramelized.  We still enjoyed this one, though, and I would be up for trying it again.  

#8) Artichoke and white bean dip

Last month we made salsify puree.  I couldn't find salsify, so I substituted burdock root with so-so results.  Of course, the very next week I went to the same grocery store and they had salsify.  Paul thought I was crazy, but I bought some anyway.  I had to know how it tasted.  Well, I'm sure burdock root has its uses, but in this recipe salsify was much better.  To go with the salsify puree I had bread, the artichoke dip, and some leftover mango chatini for a quick and easy lunch.  I used some cooked white beans that I had in my freezer and the dip was very good, but honestly all it really did is made me crave my mother's hot artichoke dip.  I'm not sure what's in it--I know it can't be healthy--but man is it good.

#9) Fennel and celeriac soup with orange zest

This was really a very nice soup.  I'm sure that if I liked fennel more I would have ranked it a lot higher.  I enjoyed the creme fraiche topping, and thought that the orange zest was a really nice touch.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

TWD BCM Brown Butter and Vanilla Bean Weekend Cake

Have I told you all about Paul's fascination with the French language? I took 6 years of French in middle and high school and was a member of the National French Honors Society.  I was also told by my French teacher that I spoke French with the worst American accent of anybody she had ever tried to teach.  As soon as I finished high school, I decided to avoid the French language for as long as I possibly could.  Paul, on the other hand, absolutely loves the French language.  His ancestry is French Canadian, and he loved French in high school.  He continued French in college, and lived in France for a while after college.  He reads French books and listens to French radio for fun.  When Charlotte was born, he decided to try to speak to her mainly in French.  I wasn't thrilled about it (I thought she wouldn't learn English as quickly), but quickly gave in.  Her English is much better than her French, but she does understand many French words and uses some of them appropriately (which, in my unbiased opinion, is very cute!) .  I normally skim Dorie's recipe head notes to get right to the instructions.  Paul, on the other hand, loves hearing the background of the recipes and the other tidbits about life in France.  He was especially interested in this week's header.  Funny that with all of their precise expressions, the French steal "weekend" from English!

Anyway, on to the cake.  My favorite thing about this being a brown butter cake is that the butter doesn't need to be at room temperature to start.  For me, that's often the hardest step of making a cake.  I skipped the rum (we were out), and use vanilla paste instead of the vanilla bean.  I liked this cake plain, but liked it better with whipped cream and some brandied figs that I canned last year.  It was good fresh, but even better toasted.  This is a great basic cake, and I'm happy to have it in my repertoire.

Friday, January 23, 2015

FFWD Spice Crusted Tuna, Mango Chatini, and Curried Mussels

I love dishes like this one. They alone are certainly worth the price of the book.  I probably started dinner 15 minutes before Paul got home.  Chopping the mango for the chatini was the most time consuming part, and it wasn't bad at all.  (I was a bit disappointed by this mango salsa.  It was fine, but I didn't think the flavors added much to the fish.  I misread it as mango chianti, and for some reason was expecting alcohol.)  After that I pounded the spices with my mortar and pestle, patted it on the fish, and a few minutes later dinner was ready.  To round out our meal, I sauteed spinach while searing the fish and heated up a store-bought Challah.  I don't eat a ton of tuna these days, does anyone think this would work on a different kind of fish?  I wasn't brave enough to try it, but would love your ideas.

I also just realized that I totally forgot to post last week.  If this doesn't look anything like mussels it's because it isn't.  I think I just need to accept that--despite my attempts--I really don't like mussels.  I love dipping bread in broth enough that I'm willing to make them occasionally, but we just had them in the fish stew and I just couldn't make myself buy them again.  So I substituted shrimp and scallops in this recipe.  It was excellent.  More importantly (at least for my life at the moment) Charlotte inhaled this one!  These are both recipes I hope to pull out again.