Monday, December 26, 2011

FFWD Cauliflower-Bacon Gratin

I don't think I've ever owned a camera.  Maybe a plastic one when I was very young.  I have used a couple of disposable ones over the years, but that's really about it.  For this blog I've been borrowing Paul's camera, but I am absolutely clueless when it comes to photography.  I had Monday off of work this week so I decided to make the Cauliflower-Bacon Gratin for lunch.  This meant that for the first time ever, I was able to try to photograph something in natural light.  As you can see, my pictures look mostly like shadows.  I could tell shadows were a problem but I had no clue what to do about it (should I have actually taken the food outside to shoot?) and was frankly too hungry to care, so my photos are quite shadowy. I do like the brightness, though.  I can definitely tell that if I had any clue what I was doing photos taken in natural light would come out much better than the usual ones I take in the dark.

 Luckily, the gratin came out much better than the photos!  I bought 2 cartons of eggs last week thinking for sure that would be enough, but when I opened the fridge to make this recipe I realized I was down to four eggs.  I guess I went through a lot of them making dinner for Christmas Eve!  Oh well, I just used the eggs I had and decreased the amounts of the other ingredients a bit to compensate.  I also increased the ratio of milk to heavy cream, wanting to feel less guilty about eating this after big meals Christmas Eve and day.  

Gratin and shadows
Even with the changes, I was very happy with how this came out.  I especially loved the edges.  They browned and got a bit crispy, which I just love.  I served this with some brussel sprouts that I roasted simply with olive oil, salt, and pepper and some gougeres that were left over for Christmas Eve.  They weren't quite as good as fresh, but they did toast up pretty well!  This recipe was easy and we both enjoyed it.  It's definitely one I'll make again.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

FFWD Creme Brulee

Crème Brulee is probably Paul's favorite dessert.  This is often an issue when we want to share a dessert at a restaurant.  He often wants to order the creme brulee, and I very rarely do.  It's not that I don't like Crème Brulee.  Custard is one of my all-time favorite foods.  It's just that I think it's a little bit boring.  Unless the flavor is interesting--like lemon and ginger, green tea, chocolate--I always know exactly what to expect.  For our wedding, I finally got smart and registered for a creme brulee set which includes the ramekins and a small blow torch.  Now, I get to make  Crème Brulee at home, and when we go out we get to try more interesting desserts.

Loved the jam
I think David Lebovitz's recipe for Lemon-Ginger Crème Brulee (in Ready for Dessert) is probably my favorite, but I definitely liked this recipe.  It was incredibly easy to make, and I thought the custard had a perfect texture.  I used a black cherry jam that I found in my pantry, and really liked the flavor that it added.  It was definitely more interesting, and a nice contract to the smooth custard.

The only thing I had trouble with was caramelizing the sugar.  Did anybody try the browning sugar that Dorie recommended?  I didn't have any, so I used regular brown sugar for the first two.  I had a lot of trouble getting it to melt without burning it (like the ones in the picture below!).  For the next ones I used regular white sugar, which is what I've used in the past, and it seemed to work better.  I couldn't taste the difference and it was easier to keep from burning.  I'm definitely curious to try the browning sugar the next time we're in the mood for Crème Brulee.

Slightly burnt tops

Friday, December 16, 2011

FFWD Potato Chip Tortilla

By the time this posts, I'm hoping to be asleep on the beach in Puerto Rico.  It's been another busy week, but the good news is that this week ends in a vacation!  I did all of my cooking on Sunday this week because I had plans Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday night (that absolutely never happens to me!) and then on Thursday morning we're flying to Puerto Rico for a short vacation.

I try to avoid buying my lunch at work, so I decided to make the potato chip tortilla and some broccoli slaw on Sunday to take for lunch during the week.  Before I tasted it, I was absolutely thrilled with how the tortilla turned out.  As I mentioned, last Sunday I tried to make a swiss chard frittata and while it tasted great, it looked ugly.  I had a lot of trouble keeping it from sticking to the pan, I tried to flip it which only made it more of a mess, and it basically turned into scrambled eggs.  This tortilla, however, came out looking beautiful - if I do say so myself.  I used a smaller pan and a little bit more oil which I think really helped with the sticking, and I love Dorie's broiler method.  It's always so much easier than trying to flip it over. 

Finished tortilla
Since I've been blogging I've been paying more attention to how dishes look than I used to, but I'm still primarily concerned with the taste.  On that dimension I liked, but didn't love, this recipe.  I was a bit wary - I can't remember the last time I purchased potato chips - but it was definitely easy and I liked the flavor they added.  The one thing I think I messed up was the salt.  I didn't add any because I thought the chips would add enough salt, but once I tasted it I wished I had.  It was good, but maybe a bit bland.  I liked the color the herbs added - I used what was left in my vegetable drawer: basil, parsley, and cilantro - but was surprised that they didn't add more flavor.  This is definitely something I'd make again if I had extra potato chips around, but I doubt I'd go out of my way to make it.  The broccoli slaw ( is definitely something I'd make again.  It was quick, easy, tastes good, and is actually reasonably healthy.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

FFWD Matafan

I'm sure I'm not the only one, but it's been another crazy week!  I'm hoping it will calm down in January, but this blogging schedule has been harder for me than I thought it would be.  I thought I would easily be able to post once a week for FFWD, and I'd probably post at other times as well.  I'm lucky if I get my FFWD post up by Sunday!  I'm definitely going to try harder, but it's hard because I do most of my cooking on Sundays, and then the work weeks get so crazy I have a hard time getting anything written up by Friday.  But anyway, on to the food....

We got our last CSA basket of the year on Friday and it was full of good stuff.  We got a 4.5 pound rutabaga - I've never even eaten rutabaga before, but I braised some with some of the turnips we got, roasted some with some more of the turnips we got, and mashed the rest up with a potato for a kind of mashed potatoes.  I was a little worried about it, but I actually enjoyed the rutabaga.  I still have some more turnips left, though.  I'm hoping to roast those tonight.  We also got a daikon, but luckily I learned that they store really well so I'm keeping that one in the basement for a while.  We got a napa cabbage which I used to make a big Asian-style salad with roasted peanuts and tofu.  We got some escarole which I made into an Italian soup with turkey meat balls.  And we got swiss chard.

The swiss chard would have been perfect for this week's Dorie recipe (chard-stuffed pork roast), but I don't eat pork.  So, since I completely missed last week I decided to make the Matafan everybody else made last week and serve it with a swiss chard frittata.  I wish I had read everybody's posts before I did my menu planning!  I thought the Matafan was going to be more like a potato latke, so I agreed when my husband suggested we eat pancakes for breakfast.  After breakfast I sat down to read everybody's blog posts, and noticed that several people said Matafans tasted a lot like regular pancakes.  It was hard to believe given the amounts of potato and flour called for, but you all were right!  I made them for dinner and they did taste a lot like regular pancakes.

Lots of Matafan
I don't think I'd make this recipe again.  I'm probably not a fair judge since it was my second time eating pancakes that day, but I really like pancakes and just didn't think these were that special.  I think I prefer my regular pancakes recipe (Emeril Lagasse's, actually) for breakfast, potato latkes for a dinner side dish, and the buckwheat blinis if I wanted something for an appetizer.  I was happy I got to use the food mill I bought a couple of weeks ago as part of an apple canning project (apple butter and apple sauce), though, and I also really liked the swiss chard frittata (from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food) so it definitely wasn't a bad dinner, just probably not something I'll make again.

Our dinner
P.S.  Paul asked if the pomegranate seeds went with the pancakes.  I told him they were just necessary to make the photo look less ugly.  Eggs and pancakes definitely aren't the most appealing combination visually!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Gerard’s Mustard Tart

The lamb stew sounded interesting (I love stewed fruit and cardamom), but I don't eat lamb so I decided against making the recipe this week.  Since I joined the FFWD group a year late, I decided to make one of the recipes everyone else made this time last year.  I took a look at the list of completed recipes, and chose to try Gerard's Mustard Tart for dinner.  I absolutely LOVE mustard - I usually have at least three different kinds in my fridge - and thought this would make a nice Sunday night meal.

Sunday dinner
Unfortunately, even though I was home all afternoon on Sunday I didn't read the recipe ahead of time, so I was pretty worried when I read through the crust recipe about 5:30 and realized that it called for four hours of resting time.  Well, I knew that wasn't going to happen so I decided to try to improvise.  I did all of the chilling in the freezer instead of the refrigerator, cut the times, and completely skipped the step of letting the crust cool before I filled it.  The dough was a bit challenging to roll out and cracked in a couple of places when I pre-baked it, but I still thought it tasted great.  Next time I'll try to follow the instructions better, and I'll be curious to see if it changes the flavor and/or makes things easier, but it didn't seem to be a big deal at all and I did save myself a couple of hours of waiting.

Finished Tart
I wanted something fresh (and a bit healthy) to go with the tart, so I choose to make Dorie's Orange and Olive Salad, but to serve it over some lettuce I received from my CSA this week.  The salad was very lightly dressed, so it tasted a bit bland once I added all of the lettuce.  I think next time I would squeeze some of the oranges to make more of a vinaigrette, but we otherwise enjoyed the salad and thought it went well with the tart.

Orange and Olive Salad

Friday, November 11, 2011

FFWD Spiced Squash, Fennel, and Pear Soup

We've been eating a lot of squash this year.  Our CSA has been giving us one a week (sometimes more) since August, and Paul magically grew a couple in our garden (we think they must have been planted by the previous owner because they just appeared).  I've done grilled squash, an awful lot of roasted squash, and a squash soup with thai curry and coconut milk.  But there's still a lot more squash downstairs, so I was happy to see this recipe for a different take on squash soup.

I roasted the squash on Sunday and the soup was relatively easy to finish on a weeknight.  I followed the recipe exactly, using butternut squash (I certainly wasn't going to go out and buy a different variety of squash!) and some pressure cooker homemade chicken stock that I made last week and froze in portions.  I tasted the soup when it was finished and didn't think it needed cream (I also didn't want the extra calories after having been away at a conference last week...) but I also wanted Paul to like it so I let him decide.  He - to my surprise - also didn't think it needed cream, so we ate it as is.  I did finish it with some toasted pumpkin seeds.  I really liked the crunch, since the soup itself was so smooth.

Finished soup
We enjoyed this soup a lot.  As I mentioned last week I was worried about adding the fennel, but I added a relatively small bulb and actually kind of enjoyed it.  We thought it's flavor was very subtle.  I asked Paul to guess what was in the soup - this is one of our favorite dinner-time games, we're suck dorks! - and he couldn't really tell at all.  He got the butternut squash and chicken stock (mainly because he saw those!) but didn't guess the squash, pears, or any of the other ingredients.

As soon as I served the soup I took out our camera to take a photo, but the camera promptly died on me.  We were too hungry to wait for the camera to charge, so we just ate our dinner and I photographed our leftovers.  This soup made enough for lunch the next day, and also for me to freeze some.  My downstairs freezer is getting pretty full, but I love having food already prepared.

Soup for lunch
I also had some tomatoes and arugula I wanted to use up, and I was tired of the same arugula salad, so I made an arugula provencal recipe (New Basics, Rosso and Lukins) and served it over bread.  It didn't really go with the soup at all, but it did taste good!

Arugula provencal

Sunday, November 6, 2011

FFWD Honey Glazed Duck

Finished dish
I like to think that I'm not a very picky eater, but the FFWD choices for November seemed to hit on all of the foods that I don't like. I'm excited for chef's choice, but the other ones are all problematic. I don't eat red meat, so I'll be skipping the lamb recipe. (I have no real reason for this, my parents just stopped eating it before i was born and I've never been very interested in starting.)  Until a couple of years ago, fennel was on the VERY short list of of vegetables I don't like (the only other one that I can think of is mushrooms). I've been making a (somewhat successful) effort to learn to like fennel, though, so I will try the squash and fennel soup recipe next week and hope for the best.  I was also very nervous about trying the duck recipe.

I don't remember eating duck growing up.  I vaguely remember trying it a couple of times and not liking it, but it was definitely something I only saw in restaurants.  Last year I ordered a tasting menu at a restaurant and the main course was meat.  When I declined that they offered me something with mushrooms, and when I declined that again the waiter offered me duck.  I felt bad saying no three times in a row - especially when the waiter said "would the lady enjoy a duck?" in such a great french accent - so I agreed to the duck.  Maybe it was the wine, but I loved it.  It was served very rare, and much closer to red meat than anything I'd ever tasted, but it was delicious.  

Since then I've ordered duck a couple of other times at restaurants, but it had never occurred to me to cook it at home until this recipe was selected.  I read it over and it sounded straight forward enough, and twenty minutes sounded great for a weeknight, so I decided to give it a shot.  This was also my first time purchasing duck and I was shocked by how expensive it was.  The two pounds the recipe called for also seemed like a lot for four servings, but I decided to trust Dorie.

Once I made the decision to try it and purchased the duck, the cooking part was easy.  I found Dorie's precise instructions very helpful, and quickly realized why she called for two pounds of duck - so much of it is fat!  I saved the duck fat, though, and am pretty excited to cook something in it.  I'm thinking potatoes, but need to look for a recipe.

Duck cooking away
I wanted something healthy to serve with the rich duck, and also needed to use up all of the turnips and turnip greens I've been getting from my CSA, so I made a turnip soup recipe (from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food) to serve with the duck.  I was please with how the soup came out.  It wasn't the best soup I've ever had - probably because it was so healthy - but it did use up the turnips and nicely balanced the rich duck.  I don't think I'll be making the duck recipe too often because of the cost, but we definitely enjoyed it.  It's something I'd pull out again if I had company coming over and a short amount of time to cook.

Soup, homemade chicken broth, and duck

Sunday, October 30, 2011

FFWD Stuffed Pumpkin

Just out of the oven
This post is going to be quick.  It's been a crazy week and I'm already late for French Fridays with Dorie.  I LOVE this recipe.  I found it online a couple of years ago (probably right when the book came out), read through it, thought it sounded amazing, was very scared by the amount of heavy cream (not to mention bread and cheese!), but quickly got over the fear and made the recipe :-).  I've made it at least once since then - loved it both times - so I was very excited when I saw it chosen for the recipe of the week.  I don't think Paul loves it quite as much as I do (although he does seem to like it) so I was thrilled to have an excuse to make it again. 
Lidded pumpkin
I used turkey bacon (I don't eat read meat) but otherwise followed the recipe pretty exactly.  I had some extra filling so I baked it in a ramekin on the side - I just couldn't bear to let it go to waste!  I served it in slices which I thought looked great visually, although next time I might stir it up as Dorie suggests, I'd like to see how it tastes that way.

Slice of stuffed pumpkin

Friday, October 21, 2011

FFWD Pissaladiere + Daikon

We got home from our Portland trip around 6 on Sunday night, so this wasn't the greatest week for cooking.  I tried to get the pissaladiere started right away, but soon realized that the egg needed to be at room temperature (seems to be my favorite thing to forget!) so I left it on the counter while I went to the grocery store.  I started the pissaladiere when I got home, and finished it just before going to sleep.  I tasted it when warm, but then sliced the rest (I also forgot to take the photo before I started slicing!) and saved it in the fridge.  We've eaten it for a couple of meals this week.  What can I say?  I just don't like anchovies very much.  I want to learn to like them - they seem to be so trendy right now - but I'm having a hard time.  I used to avoid them completely, but then last spring I spent some time tracking down a can of anchovies packed in salt (it was for a Marcella Hazan recipe that I wanted to make for Paul's birthday, and she's very exacting about ingredients) and realized that I actually liked the flavor they gave certain dishes, as long as they were chopped finely enough that I couldn't quite tell they were there.

So anyway, against my better judgement I decided to be brave and follow the recipe exactly (this might also be related to my annoying obsession with following rules).  I put anchovies both in the onion mixture, and on the top.  The first day I was eating this I wasn't paying enough attention and bit into one of the whole anchovies.  Wow!  They are really strong.  I liked the other components of this dish a lot, though.  The crust is nice (I like the richness the egg adds), I love olives, and you just can't go wrong with caramelized onions.  Overall it definitely wasn't my favorite dish, but I would consider making it again.  If I did, I would cut the anchovies in the onion filling in half and leave them off the top completely.  

This week was also challenging because when I got home Sunday night I had 3 daikon radishes from my CSA waiting for me!  Daikons aren't our favorite, but I always try to find ways to use them up, but this week was just too much.

Three daikons
The largest one weighed in at 4.5 pounds, and was more than a foot long.  I used one of the small ones for potato-daikon pancakes, which we actually enjoyed.  Anything with fried potatoes is good in my book, and the small amount of added daikon is subtle and adds a nice, peppery flavor.  (I used this recipe:  But I gave in to Paul's demand and donated the largest daikon to the compost bin (after saving the greens to add to a braise).  I already have plenty of pickled daikon in my fridge from previous CSA baskets, and couldn't think of anything else creative to do with it.  Does anybody have any good daikon recipes?  I've been using - and loving - the site but even with all of the cookbooks I own I don't seem to have nearly enough recipes for daikon!

Paul with the daikon

Friday, October 14, 2011

FFWD Buckwheat Blini

I’m on vacation this week, but I made the blini last week and hopefully (if I can figure out the delayed post feature on blogger!) I’ll still be able to participate in FFWD this week.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever had blini before; I’ve definitely never made them.  I have made - and really enjoyed - buckwheat crepes so I had a good feeling that I’d like the flavor of these.  We rarely have the time or energy for fancy appetizers in our house, though, so I decided to serve these alongside another appetizer (Sara Moulton’s jalapeno mini-quiches) and some braised greens and call it dinner.

Monday night dinner

These seemed pretty time consuming for a weeknight, so I started them on the weekend.  On Saturday I put the batter together and let it rise in the fridge overnight.  On Sunday I let the batter warm up for a while, and then started to fry the blini.  Did anybody else’s batter have the consistency of Silly Putty?  I’ve never made anything with that consistency before and I was pretty worried, but I just kept going.  We have a griddle now (yay wedding presents) which makes frying big batches of things go much faster, but I’m still learning to regulate the temperature and had some trouble with these.  My first batch took way too long so I turned the heat up, but I guess I turned it up too much because the next batch was sort of burned.  Oh well, I just served them upside down!  I do need to get better at this, though.

More blini

Anyway, I refrigerated the cooked blini so that on Monday night all I had to do was warm them up and top them.  (Are blinis supposed to be warm?  I wasn’t sure.  I tasted them cold and didn’t like them, but wasn’t sure if they were actually supposed to be warm, or just at room temperature.)   We had them with smoked salmon and creme fraiche and really liked them (I didn’t spring for the caviar).  We had a bunch left over - I was surprised that the recipe said it only served 6 as an appetizer, we both ate it for dinner and lunch the next day as essentially our main course and still had leftovers - so I served them for breakfast on my birthday topped with creme fraiche and mango.  I liked them this way too.  I think I just really like the buckwheat flavor.  (I, coincidentally, was actually served regular blini the following night, and didn’t like it nearly as much without the buckwheat.)  

Friday, October 7, 2011

FFWD Olive-Olive Cornish Hens

We’re leaving tomorrow for a 10 day trip to visit Paul’s family in Oregon.  This week was also my birthday (30!) so we ate out more than usual.  All this to say that I had a lot of cooking to do on Sunday.  I wanted to use up our CSA vegetables, make the FFWD recipes for this week and next, and also make some cookies as a thank you to the friend who got us the Wilco tickets.

Apple pie for my birthday

As soon as I finished watching the Redskins game (and watching Dallas lose to Detroit!) I headed to the kitchen to get started.  I made the cookie dough, finished making the blini (which I’ll write about next week), made jalapeno mini quiches and greens to serve with the blini, pickled a bunch of jalapenos (the jalapenos at our CSA did great this year), and roasted a butternut squash to make soup.  I also roped Paul into grilling a bunch of vegetables to make wraps for lunches this week.  

After that was finished it was time to move on to the FFWD recipe.  I really loved this recipe.  I made my own tapenade and I still had everything ready to go in the time it took the oven to preheat, and the hens came out really well.  I usually try not to eat the skin, but it was so crispy and had such good flavor that it was hard to stop.  The meat also came out very moist, and it was all so easy.  When I make this again I think I will use more of the tapenade, though, I could barely tell it was there.

Black olive tapenade

The cornish hens at my grocery store were very small (I’ve never really eaten them before, were everybody’s hens small?).  When I checked out the cashier actually looked at my two hens and said she hoped I didn’t have a lot of people to feed!  It was only my husband and I, but I wanted to have leftovers for lunch the next day so I knew I’d need substantial side dishes to stretch the meal.  I decided to serve the hens with arugula salad with tomatoes and homemade ranch dressing, a grilled pepper salad with cheese, and some Potatonik.  

Hens out of the oven

The tomatoes are the last from Paul’s garden and the ranch dressing really needed to get used up before we leave for vacation.  Our CSA gave us tons of green peppers this summer, and the green pepper salad is my new favorite way to use them up.  I don’t really like raw green peppers, but once they’ve been grilled until their black, steamed/peeled, and tossed with good cheese and balsamic I really like them.  The Potatonik is a new recipe for me.  I got the recipe from George Greenstein’s Secrets of a Jewish Baker and really enjoyed it.  It’s more similar to a potato latke than to a bread, but I thought it complemented our meal very nicely.  All in all, I was very pleased with how the dinner came out.  We had leftover flip over plum cake (from Dorie’s Baking book) for dessert.  It was a nice way to end the weekend.  

Dinner plate

Dinner with leftovers for lunch

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Deconstructed BLT with Eggs

I love to cook and I love to read cookbooks.  I am also a somewhat-obsessive planner, organizer, and list maker.  Every Saturday I sit down with a stack of cookbooks and plan meals for my husband (Paul) and I for the entire week.  I don’t always stick to the schedule (things come up!), but I do enjoy making it.  I also love hosting and planning dinner parties, but those happen with much less frequency.  

I started this blog on a whim.  Paul showed me an article about Tuesdays with Dorie, which I used as an excuse to buy her Baking book, but that group was closed so I decided to use that as an excuse to buy Around My French Table and join the French Fridays with Dorie group.  I am starting this blog to document my attempts to keep up with that group, as well as to document other cooking projects.

I do most of my cooking on Sundays.  I’ll generally block out a few hours to cook something for dinner that I wouldn’t have time for during the week, and also to start some of the dinners for the week.  I knew I wanted to bake the bread for this recipe (since I discovered Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread I barely ever buy bread anymore), so I got the dough started on Saturday.  Sunday morning Paul woke up earlier than I did so he started the second rise (thank you, Paul) and I finished up the bread when I woke up.
Basic No Knead Bread
I started cooking pretty early this Sunday because we had Wilco tickets at night.  I roasted, chopped, and froze a bunch of green peppers that we got from the CSA and had to use up.  Then I cooked dinner for one night this week, using up CSA turnips (with their greens) and pak choi in a Deborah Madison recipe (a mash of potatoes, turnips, and goat cheese, smothered with greens cooked with well-browned onions).  

After that was finished, I started the Deconstructed BLT with Eggs recipe.  I immediately realized that I had forgotten to take the egg out (I always forget!  and mayonnaise really doesn’t work unless the egg is at room temperature), so I got that out before getting started.  I hard boiled the eggs using Sara Moulton’s method (cover with water, bring to boil over medium heat, take off heat, cover, let sit 13 minutes, into ice bath).  They come out perfect that way every time.  No grey ring and never over-cooked.  

Home Made Mayonnaise
 After that the recipe came together easily, and we both really enjoyed it.   I like any salad as long as it’s covered in bacon (I use turkey bacon), eggs, and croutons!  The homemade mayonnaise was also a great addition. I really prefer the consistency to what I buy in the jar, although I do still use purchased mayonnaise most of the time.

Deconstructed BLT with Eggs

Paul didn’t think it was quite filling enough for dinner, so next time I might add another side or some soup or something, but we just ate ice cream (home made malted milk from David Lebovitz’s the Perfect Scoop!) so that worked out perfectly for us.

Our Dinner
   I even enjoyed it for lunch the next day.

In containers and ready for lunch