Tuesday, December 30, 2014

TWD BWJ and BCM Rewind

For rewind week I'm posting about four recipes that I made this fall and never wrote up.  I think this means I'm again (at least temporarily) caught up with the group.  I'll discuss them in the order in which I made them.

My grocery store only sells almond paste in a tube, so the hardest part of making the Amaretti (BWJ) was mail ordering almond paste in a can.  After that these came together very easily.  I was thrilled.  My favorite Italian bakery at the beach we love sells these, and I always look forward to them, but I'm always shocked by their price tag.  It's so great to know I can make these at home, much less expensively, anytime that I want.  Paul wished these were a little less sweet.  I'm thinking next time I might try making my own almond paste so that I can have more control of the sweetness level.

I love making rough puff pastry (so quick!  so easy!  so delicious!), but the Sunny-Side Up Apricot Pastries (BWJ) were my first attempt at making real puff pastry at home.  It was fun, but not entirely successful.  I think I rolled over the edges way too much.  It tasted good, but really didn't puff properly.  I'm going to try to watch the video of this episode--and would welcome any other tips--before I attempt this again.  By the time I made these it was no longer apricot season, so I used some home-canned peaches.  This was a fun breakfast, even though it didn't puff properly.

With the leftover dough I made Puff Pastry Pizzettes (BWJ).  I did half with goat cheese and the other half with cheddar.  The cheddar half was supposed to be for Charlotte but of course she refused to touch them.  Oh well, more for us!  We had these for dinner with a couple of salads, but they would be a fun party appetizer as well.

Cooking and baking with these groups has completely changed my opinion about meringue.  I always thought I didn't like it, but now I know I just don't like bad meringue.  When it's fresh and home-made it's delicious.  I'm hoping this Cranberry Crackle Tart (BCM) will become an annual tradition in my house.  I loved the way the tartness of the cranberries played off the sweetness of the meringue.  Another winner.

Monday, December 29, 2014

CCC December

We just got home from nine days in Portland, Oregon with my husband's family.  As always, the trip was a lot of fun but completely exhausting.  I feel like I need another week off just to recover.  Unfortunately I'm back at work today, but I did have the weekend to catch-up around the house and make a few vegetables dishes.  I always try to keeping eating vegetables while travelling, but it's never the same as being at home, and I always feel like I have some catching up to do when I get back.  I made fifteen recipes in the past month-or-so, including a few that I bought ingredients for but didn't get around to last month.  These were good, but not my favorite set of recipes.  I don't know if the recipes are to blame or just the cold weather vegetables.  It's definitely more of a challenge this time of year.  Here they are, in order of most to least favorite.

#1) Brussels sprouts, apple and cheddar

What a great surprise!  Even Paul loved this.  I used the slicing disk on my food processor to make quick work of the sprouts, and the rest of this dish came together in no time.  I'm always looking for raw vegetable salads for the winter months, and this is definitely one that I'll be repeating.

#2) Stuffed cabbage leaves

Due to some poor planning on my part, I made stuffed collards with orzo and ground turkey one night, and these stuffed cabbage leaves the next night.  I thought for sure we would all prefer the ones made with turkey, but we actually preferred these.  This sounded like a strange combination but it really worked.  The flavors came together beautifully.

#3) Sweetcorn fritters with coriander or mint raita

One of my all-time favorite recipes is fresh corn fritters.  I make them in summer, topped with goat cheese and sliced heirloom tomato.  These weren't as good, but for winter they were a very nice change-of-pace.  I really liked the Indian flavors.

#4) Curried sweet potato soup

Paul liked this soup better than the corn fritters, but it's my blog so we're using my ranking.  I wished this soup wasn't quite so thin--next time I will cut down on the broth--but I liked the warming spices.  I made this the same night as the corn fritters and thought they went quite well together.  I used the raita I made for the fritters to top the soup as well.

#5) Creamy potato and celeriac mash

Potatoes, butter, and cream.  What's not to like?  I though the celery root was a great addition.  It made this more interesting than standard mashed potatoes, and allowed me to tell myself that it was a little bit healthier.
#6) Leek risotto with chestnuts

I followed the recipe's instructions to crumble the chestnuts, but wish I had sliced them, it definitely would have made for a prettier presentation.  We enjoyed this risotto--I don't know if I've ever had a risotto that I didn't like--but chestnuts just aren't my favorite.

#7) Roasted roots with apple and rosemary

I roast vegetables all of the time, especially in winter, and I thought the apples and rosemary were a very nice addition.  The only problem was that I kept avoiding the vegetables in my search for more apples.

#8) Chestnut and sage soup

Paul and I thought this was fine, but Charlotte loved it.  Go figure.  I like the flavor of chestnuts a lot more than the texture, so if I'm going to eat chestnuts this probably is the way for me to go.

#9) Bruschetta with cavolo nero

This is one of those simple recipes that really depends on the quality of the ingredients.  We had this on home baked sourdough bread, and really enjoyed it.  My only complaint was that my kale was too chewy.  Next time I will cook the kale until it's very soft.

#10) Quick chickpea pasta

I have a confession to make.  At the last minute I was worried this wouldn't be enough food and decided to double the recipe.  Unfortunately I only had one can of garbanzo beans (and no time to run to the store) so I added a can of tuna fish instead.  We really enjoyed it, but I don't get credit for making a vegetarian dish.  We gave Charlotte her own bowl and she very carefully ate only the pasta, handing us back a bowl of chickpeas and tuna when she was finished.  Oh well.  She will be a more adventurous eater eventually, right? :-)

#11) Salsify puree

I'll be very curious to see how many people found salsify.  I couldn't find any, thought about substituting a common root vegetable (like carrot, parsnip, or rutabaga), but changed my mind when I spotted a burdock root (several feet long!) at the store.  I decided to give it a try.  I have no clue whether it tasted anything like salsify, but I was pleasantly surprised.  The puree had a very nice flavor.  We didn't love eating it on its own, but I think it would be very good on some bread.
#12) Patatas bravas

I loved the patatas bravas that we had in Barcelona, and have since enjoyed them at tapas restaurants in the US, but have never made them at home.  I was excited to try, but somewhat disappointed by these.  I think mine were under-salted (all my fault), but also thought the flavors in general were a bit flat.

#13) Swede speltotto

I love the idea of using a whole grain (spelt) instead of rice, but have to admit that I would have enjoyed this better with rice.  It wasn't bad, but not my favorite either.

#14) Roasted baby beetroot with walnuts and yoghurt dressing

Baking beets continues to baffle me.  Sometimes they're ready in an hour, sometimes they take more than two, and it doesn't seem to be very related to their size.  For this recipe I bought small beets, but they still took over two hours to bake.  That meant they weren't ready until after dinner, so we didn't eat this salad until the next day.  I have a feeling it would have been much better fresh.  I think I'll need to give it another try.

#15) Corner shop spanakopita

This wasn't bad, but I've made a lot of spanakopitas and this was nowhere near my favorite.  I didn't love the cumin seeds and, as much as I love puff pastry, I do prefer fillo for this type of recipe.  This was fine, but I'll choose another recipe in the future.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

FFWD Makeup Week

I'm practicing saying "my life is full" instead of "I'm completely overwhelmed and despite my constant efforts I can never, ever get it all done."  I've been reading a lot about the power of our thinking, and I'm much happier when I focus on the first thought (although the second still comes much easier to me!).  So, all this to say that thanks to a blur of Charlotte, work, Paul, friends and family, Charlotte, travel, trying to exercise, cooking, baking, Charlotte, etc., etc., I didn't get around to as much actual blogging as I wanted to this fall.  As always, and especially with the new year starting, I hope to do better next month.  For now, here is a run-down of all of the recipes I made this fall, but never got around to posting about.  I think this will catch me up with the group (with the exception of a couple of meat and/or mushroom-based recipes that I skipped).  I also wanted to say how much I loved getting all of your cards, and reading all of your cookie and drink recipes.  I hope to make some of them soon!

Celery-Celery Soup

I'm not 100% sure that this picture is actually of celery-celery soup, but I think it is.  If it's right, I served it with smoked salmon (Paul made this, it was delicious!) and roasted cauliflower and brussel sprouts.  I am sure that we both really enjoyed this soup.  Even Charlotte liked it.  When I read through the recipe it didn't sound like much, but the whole really was better than the sum of the parts.

Monkfish and Double Carrots

Paul made monkfish for me one Valentine's Day and we both absolutely loved it, but I couldn't find any this week so I used shrimp instead.  Paul thought it was a very odd combination--and he's probably right--but I thought it worked well.  I especially loved the carrot sauce.  This is definitely a recipe that I would make again.

Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes with Garlic

Toward the end of October I ordered something like 6 pounds of Jerusalem Artichokes on Ebay, so I could make this recipe.  (Thanks to you all for the tip!)  Luckily, they store very well in the refrigerator.  I'm happy to report that we finally finished them all just before we left for our vacation in Oregon.  I liked these a lot, but they weren't great for Paul's stomach.  He was much happier with the sunchoke soup recipe.

Dorie's Birthday Sweets from BCM

I made the Palets de Dames.  I thought they were only okay.  I have loved everything else I've made out of BCM so far, though.

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Parsley Coulis

We both really enjoyed this soup.  I served it with a beet tarte tatin that I made for CCC.  I thought the garnishes made it a prettier picture, and added to the interest of the soup, but I made it a couple of weeks later without the garnishes (needed to use up the sunchokes!) and we all still enjoyed the soup.

Pan-seared Duck Breasts with Kumquats

I have no clue why this was the only picture I took.  That's the duck down in the left hand corner.  I couldn't find kumquats, so I used mandarin oranges canned in juice as a topping and some orange marmalade in the sauce.  This was another winner.  I'm so glad that Dorie's taught me how to cook duck.

Orange and Olive Salad

I know people thought this was unusual, but I actual make a lot of citrus salads in the winter.  My favorite is this Canal House one with hearts of palm, but I also make one with citrus and avocado, and have made one very similar to this before.  We enjoyed it, and will continue to enjoy salads like this one until we start to see fresh spring produce again.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

TWD BCM Buche de Noel

I've wanted to try making a Buche de Noel for a while now, but haven't had the opportunity.  Usually we spent Christmas in Portland with Paul's family, and when we've been home in DC we've had our friends over, and our French friend Bea always makes the Buche.  I was excited when I realized that this year I was "required" to make one for the blog.  We invited our friends over (including Bea and her parents who live in France but were in town visiting) the weekend before we left for Oregon, and told them that I'd be making the desserts this year.  I was pretty nervous making a French dessert for people who were actually French, but Bea and her parents are such great people (and excellent dinner guests) that I knew it would be fine no matter what.  Luckily, the dessert came out well.  I'm not great at decorating, but the flavors were all there, and I got lots of compliments on my rolling.  The ruler and paper method really did make a difference!

I'm not sure if I'll ever make this again, I have so few opportunities and there's another Buche recipe that I've been wanting to try, but I'm definitely glad I made this one.  I also wanted to thank everybody for all of the advice on the rugelach.  I defrosted the other two logs of dough and baked them to serve with the Buche, and they turned out much better.  I followed your advice to let them warm up a bit before slicing and cut them more thickly, but the biggest change was that I actually read the recipe!  For some reason the first time I made these I thought the recipe said to put the cut side down, so I turned these on their sides.  The second time I realized it said to put them seam side down.  It definitely made a big difference!  I still want to get my mom's recipe, but I'm glad I was able to make these work the second time.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

TWD BWJ Chocolate-Mint Nightcaps

I really wanted to love these.  When I was growing up we’d go visit my grandparents in Chicago every summer.  One of the highlights was eating Frango mints, the chocolate mint truffles that used to only be available at Marshall Fields in Chicago.  (Now you can buy them at any Macy’s, which I have very mixed feelings about.)  I’ve loved the chocolate mint combination ever since.  I made these in stages.  One morning I made the ganache.  It was absolutely delicious (what’s not to like about chocolate and cream?), but I couldn’t really taste the mint. Paul says I’m crazy and that the mint flavor is very pronounced, but I really didn’t think so.  I thought the cookies could have used more.  Later that day I made the cookies.  They were only alright.  The chocolate flavor was pretty mild, and they just didn’t have anything very exciting about them.  The next day I assembled the cookies.  I was hoping that this would be a case where the whole was better than the sum of the parts.  For me, however, it wasn’t.  First, I had an absolutely impossible time piping the ganache.  After struggling, and struggling and the ganache not coming out of the piping bag at all, I finally gave up and just spooned it on.  It didn’t look like much, but it worked.  Afterward, when cleaning the piping bag, I realized that a piece of un-melted chocolate was stuck in the bag.  Lesson learned!  If you’re going to be piping a ganache, make sure the chocolate is melted very well.  Once I finally got the cookies made, though, I just thought they were underwhelming.  They were rich, but just not especially interesting.  In my book, these weren’t worth the time and effort.  Not when there are so many good cookies out there!

Friday, December 12, 2014

FFWD Chicken & Dried Apricot Tagine

I've never made a tagine before, but when I read this recipe I knew I would like it.  I love Moroccan food.  The combination of warm spices in a savory dish is such a welcome change from the way we usually eat.  We had a Moroccan restaurant that we liked in Chicago, but haven't found one here.  I guess I'll have to do more of this kind of cooking at home!  Anyway, the one problem with this recipe--for me--is that I don't eat lamb.  I substituted chicken, without making any other changes, and I thought it was great.  I also loved that, after the initial set-up, this spent a whole hour in the oven by itself.  It gave me plenty of time to complete the rest of our dinner (couscous, sauteed red peppers, and potato and celeriac mash for CCC) and to give Charlotte her dinner.  This would be great for a dinner party.  It's comforting yet exotic, and the time in the oven would give you lots of time to get everything else ready.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

TWD BCM Rugelach

I've eaten a lot of rugelach in my life.  Some very good rugelach (my mother's, my great aunt's) and a lot of awful rugelach (the packaged kind they have at most synagogue kiddushes after services on Saturday mornings).  However, I  think the only other time that I've attempted to make it myself is with TWD BWJ.  Re-reading my post (my memory is not what it used to be!), I liked those rugelach, but preferred my mother's.   I have the exact same feeling about these rugelach.  They are good, but my mother's are better.  I seriously need to get her recipe.

As you can see from the photo above, my rugelach were an absolute mess.  I loved the dough (so flaky!) and love the combination of coconut and chocolate, but my rugelach didn't hold together at all.  I had a surprisingly easy time making the rolls (they were neat and surprisingly little filling spilled out), and froze them overnight, but cutting them was really hard.  Many of them broke when I tried to cut them, some more broke when I put them on the cookie sheets, and the rest seemed to break in the oven!  I think one mistake was cutting them too thin, but I don't know what else I did wrong.  I am looking forward to reading everyone else's posts, and would also appreciate any advice you all have.  I still have two rolls in the freezer, and am hoping to be able to make the next batch of cookies look good enough to serve to company.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

FFWD Tartine de Viande des Grisons (Except Not Really)

I was so glad when I saw the recipe for this week was a tartine.  I needed something easy.  I was less glad when I looked up "Viande des Grisons" and realized it was beef, which I don't eat.  I debated using turkey instead, but that sounded boring, so I settled on lox.  I made walnut bread the same day for TWD, and thought it would be perfect with this.  Because there were already so many walnuts in the bread I skipped the walnuts on top (even though judging by other people's photos they would have been very pretty), but did use a walnut oil.  Served with cheese, patatas bravas (a CCC recipe I'll write-up soon), and sauteed greens, this was a fun Sunday night dinner.  Although I can't comment on the actual recipe, I appreciate the reminder of tartines.  We all need more "quick and easy" options this time of year.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

TWD BWJ Walnut Bread

I wanted to make the recipe this weekend, but didn't read it carefully until Friday.  Luckily, I was already planning on making pizza Friday night, so it felt like plans were falling perfectly into place.  I'd save a piece of risen dough from the pizza, make the dough on Saturday, and we'd be eating fresh bread for dinner on Sunday.  Well, the plan worked right up until I completely forgot to save some pizza dough!  I was ready to scream.  So, I guessed at proportions, mixed up some sourdough starter, flour, salt, and water, and let it rise overnight.  The next day, I proceeded with the recipe.  It's very little work, but I was pretty annoyed by the number of steps and all of the lengthy wait times.  I was convinced the bread would never be worth it.  Well, I was completely wrong!  This has such a great flavor.  I love the walnuts--they add a very nice sweetness and crunch--but I also want to make the plain Mixed-Starter bread to taste its flavor on its own.  This is a delicious recipe, and we've loved having the bread around this week.