Friday, January 31, 2014

FFWD Paris-Brest

Paul and I spent the first few days of our honeymoon in Paris, before going to southern France and Italy.  Our first night in Paris we went to Bistrot Paul Bert.  I, having done my homework ahead of time, ordered the Paris-Brest for dessert.  I can't remember what I had for the first two courses (I think my first may have been a shaved vegetable salad?), but the Paris-Brest was incredible.  It was one of those rare times when my expectations were extremely high, and I wasn't let down at all.  I know Dorie says it's enough to feed a crowd (and it is!), but I think I managed to eat the entire thing myself.  At least in my memory, it was that good.  So, I was very excited to make this Paris-Brest.  We invited our French friends over for lunch, I baked in the morning, and after lunch we decided to dig in.  This was good, but not spectacular.  I wanted my pastry creme to have more of an almond flavor.  Oh well, I guess I'll just have to head back to Paris to get the original!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

TWD Vanilla Chiffon Roll

My memory is kind of shot these days, but of the recipes that I remember I think this is my favorite TWD one so far.  My only complaint is the title. I know vanilla chiffon roll is accurate, the chiffon cake has 2 whole tablespoons of vanilla and a lovely vanilla flavor, but this chiffon roll is all about the bittersweet chocolate and walnut filling.  It was absolutely delicious.  I had to stop myself from standing in the kitchen and eating it with a spoon, so there would be some left to actually fill the cake.  This cake had a lot of steps but they were explained very well and, at least with a heavy-duty stand mixer, none of them were too hard. I was a little worried about caking the cake made when Paul left at 5, because I knew everything involving a mixer had to be done before Charlotte went to bed, but (gratuitous baby photo alert) Charlotte had a great time playing in the kitchen while I cooked and I had the chiffon roll baked and resting, the mousse made, and dinner in the oven by the time Paul got home two hours later.  We were also thrilled to see that this was a large cake. We decided to cut it into 12 portions, and froze half of them for later.  I can (embarrassingly) report that they froze beautifully.  This is definitely a cake I'll make again, although I think I'll wait for a special occasion the next time.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

FFWD Moules Marinière

Saturday nights.  I've never been much for going out.  Even in college I was just as likely to be at home hanging out in my dorm, or at the library studying, than out at a party.  I've never owned a fake ID, have been to a night club exactly once, and don't really like going to bars because it's too loud to have a conversation.  I recently took one of those silly online quizzes and it predicted my age as ten years older than my actual age, based on my answers to questions such as "what do you do when you're invited to a friend's birthday party that starts at a bar at 9:30 at night?"  (My answer: "decline, without thinking twice about it.")  So, this is all a long-winded way of saying that my Saturday nights weren't very exciting even before Charlotte was born.  Paul and I would normally go to dinner and/or a movie, or have dinner with friends, but we rarely stayed out past 11.  Since Charlotte's been here, our Saturday nights have gotten even more boring.  One day we'll start leaving her with my parents and getting out again (right, mom and dad?), but for now we stay home.

This Saturday, the three of us went shopping, we put Charlotte to bed, and a little after 8 I started on the mussels.  The hardest part, by far, was standing and cleaning each mussel.  (Did everyone do this?  Was it necessary?  Mine were farm raised and not actually the least bit sandy or dirty.)  After that, the recipe came together very quickly.  We didn't have wine open and were too tired to open a bottle (see my above comments on how boring I am!), so I used a combination of apple cider and sherry in its place.  Mussels aren't my favorite,  I'm not a big fan of the consistency, but I love the flavor they give the broth, and happily ate slice after slice of country bread dipped in broth.  I actually ate some mussels too, and for mussels they were pretty darn good.  We both liked the flavor the sherry gave the broth.  To go with these I made a green bean and sugar snap pea recipe from my new Ottolenghi cookbook.  It stole the show.  Easy and delicious.  I'm really looking forward to cooking more from that book.  By the time we finished dinner and dessert it was almost 10 o'clock and time for bed.  Another exciting Saturday!

On another note, several of you asked about my brother-in-law's horseradish whipped cream that I mentioned last week, so I made Paul call Scott (or, the brother formerly known as the Kept Dad) tonight to try to get a recipe out of him.  Scott and I have opposite cooking styles--I follow recipes obsessively, and Scott's amazingly creative and just whips up things based on whatever he has at the house.  (This skill comes in useful whenever we're in town.  Paul loves to call Scott and demand he throw us fancy dinner parties on little-to-no notice.)  So, of course, Scott didn't have a very precise recipe for the whipped cream.  He said to steep some prepared horseradish in some heavy cream (when pressed for amounts, he suggested about 1 tablespoon horseradish to 1 cup of cream, but definitely go on taste) for several hours or even overnight.  When you're ready to serve, strain the cream and then whip it.  That's it.  He said you can serve it on anything: steak, scallops, soup.  He does these seared scallops in those fancy appetizer spoons with the horseradish whipped cream on top that are just excellent. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

FFWD Christine's Party Soups

After tasting my renditions of each of these soups, I told Paul that I would be sad if I were served these at a party.  He defended the soups, and said they'd be fine as long as they were starters served in very small portions.

When I read through the soup recipes they didn't sound like much, but the pictures were cute and at this point I definitely trust Dorie, so I decided to go for it.  For the first time in a long time I had all four burners of my stove going while I made the three different soups and potato salad.  I noticed that the recipe was exactly the same as a soup recommended on one of the diets I sometimes do.  (I'm the world's worst dieter, I never make it more than a few days, but even as diet foods go the soup is not one of my favorites.)  I was hoping that the addition of whipped cream, one of my favorite foods. would significantly improve the soup.  I'm no stranger to savory whipped cream--Paul's brother, Scott, makes a really good horseradish version--and definitely thought it added an interesting touch, but I just didn't think it was enough to elevate the rather blah soup.

I served the soup with potato salad and Country Bread.  To go with the bread, I set up an olive oil tasting with three of our olive oils.  Paul and I both preferred the more expensive oils (we're too predictable that way), and enjoyed tasting them with and without the bread.  We were a little bit disturbed to count the number of olive oils we happen to have in the house.  De-cluttering is one of my goals for the new year, and I think our pantry will be a good place to start.  Since another one of my new year's goals is to lose weight (when isn't weight loss one of my goals?), I've been eating the leftover soups (sans whipped cream) as part of my lunches, and have actually been sort of enjoying them.  I think they're better as side dishes, when you aren't expecting much other than an okay tasting way to eat some vegetables.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

TWD Country Bread

Although I always love dessert (I'm so confused by people who don't), I was happy to make bread this week.  It's always nice to have fresh baked bread lying around the house.  It doesn't beat my typical no knead bread for convenience, but I liked this bread a lot.  It was extremely forgiving, and baked up into a large loaf with a thick crust and chewy interior.  I did the overnight rise in the fridge, and also let it rise for much of the next day on the counter. (I kept forgetting to mix the bread while Charlotte was awake--she's becoming very mobile and requires constant attention--and didn't want to mix it while she was a sleep because running the stand mixer always wakes her up, as does whispering her name from the other side of the house!)  Luckily, the bread was very forgiving and I noticed no ill affects of all of the extra rise time.  I served it with the party soups (more on these on Friday) and olive oil, but this bread is so versatile I think it could be served with almost anything.  It's definitely a recipe I would make again.

Friday, January 10, 2014

FFWD Baked Apples Flled with Fruits and Nuts

People who know me are always shocked to hear that I was in a sorority in college.  I would describe myself as the opposite of outgoing, and big groups of people generally aren't my thing.  To make a long story short, all of my friends in my dorm freshman year were rushing.  They all somehow convinced me that we were all going to rush together for fun and for the experience, but we wouldn't actually join houses.  My parents loved the idea of me pretending to be social, so I signed up.  I lasted two nights (I think that was called the first set).  I absolutely hated it.  Especially at the time, I was extremely self-conscious, horrific at making small talk with strangers, and couldn't have felt more out of place.  When I realized that the third day of rush would likely be more of the same, and would conflict with watching the Redskins' playoff game, I quit on the spot.  I had a great rest of the week watching playoff football with the guys in my dorm (even though the Redskins lost in the first round), and even though I generally try not to quit things, I was very happy with my decision.  The last day of rush, when people find out which houses they matched to (I think it's called bid night?), I came home to a message on my answering machine.  Apparently one of the houses had extra spots and was offering me one.  I was pretty skeptical, but I already knew some of the girls in that house and some of my friends were also joining, so I decided to give it a try.

I lived in my sorority house my junior year of college.  At the time, I really just saw it as a place to live.  I liked my roommates and the other girls who lived in that year, and the food was much better than dorm food, but I was by far one of the least involved members of the house.  In hindsight, I wish I had made more of an effort to be involved.  Live and learn, right?  So what's the point of all this?  One thing about living in the house is that our cook, Iola, made excellent desserts.  Also in hindsight, it's no wonder that despite all of my working out, I didn't manage to lose a single pound the year I lived in.  Apple dumplings were one of my favorites.  An entire apple baked in some sort of buttery dough (although it probably wasn't real butter), with some sort of sweet sauce and whipped cream (actually, it was probably cool whip).  I'm not sure I'd eat it anymore--now I'd probably insist on making it myself with real butter and cream--but man did I love it.  Now it's the kind of large, decadent dessert I'd probably insist on sharing with Paul, but at the time I had no trouble finishing off a whole one myself.

As I was making this dessert, I thought of those apple dumplings.  I was skeptical--this seemed like a dieter's version of the dessert that I loved--but these were actually excellent.  They had all of the right flavors and, especially with the ice cream, had enough butter to feel like a substantial dessert.  And they were quick and easy.  Writing this post has made me want to try making apple dumplings for a special occasion, but these baked apples are definitely something I'll make again when we want an easy fall (or winter) dessert.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

FFWD Dressy Pasta "Risotto"

Thank you so much to everyone for all of the kind words about balance.  I felt busy before I had Charlotte and knew logically that babies are pretty time consuming (understatement of the century!), but I don't think I realized how overwhelmed I'd be.  I'm certainly not complaining--I also don't think I even comprehended how happy I would be--but I definitely appreciate all of the the encouragement.  It's nice to hear from people who have been there that it will all work out somehow.

With Paul's help, this dinner came together pretty well in the midst of giving Charlotte a bath and putting her to bed.  I made this chicken recipe, with some roasted broccolini and the pasta.  The chicken was really excellent.  The chicken needed some time to marinate which was perfect because I could prepare it in the afternoon while Charlotte napped.  Then, in the evening all I had to do was broil the chicken and make the citrus salad.  (I've never cooked bone-in chicken breasts with the broiler before.  I was very skeptical, but it worked very well.  The chicken was incredibly moist and the skin was nice and crispy.)  I threw the broccolini in for the last 10 minutes while the chicken cooked, and the "risotto" basically cooked itself while we gave Charlotte a bath.  If I had to pick a desert-island recipe I'd still pick Martha Stewart's macaroni and cheese, but I really appreciated how easy this was and thought it went well with the chicken.  It's definitely one I'd make again if I needed a quick and sophisticated side dish.

TWD December 2013 (Challah and Gingersnaps)

I was raised as a Conservative Jew.  I went to a Jewish high school and while we were less observant than most of the families at school (we almost never went to synagogue except for on major holidays), we did celebrate the holidays and Friday nights were always special.  My brother and I were not allowed to go out until after dinner on Fridays and we always ate dinner at home as a family.  My mother always made a special meal and dessert, and either made or bought Challah.  My dad loves to remind me that at one point I declared Challah and whipped cream as my two favorite foods.  I don't remember saying it--I do remember declaring multiple times that I could live on Challah and butter--but it certainly sounds like something I would say.  I love a good Challah.

Although Charlotte's definitely too young to notice, and often asleep before dinner, since she's been born I've been making more of an effort to make Friday nights special.  I'm off work on Fridays, so I normally try to bake or buy Challah (unless I'm lucky and we already have some in the freezer), and we say the prayers over the candles, wine (usually grape juice in our house), and bread before eating dinner.

On this particular Friday I was very excited about baking Challah, although somewhat bemused that I had planned scallops with spinach and (turkey) bacon to go with it.  I (obviously) don't keep Kosher, and am by no means a perfect Jew!   (Incidentally I've made this scallops recipe a few times now and really like it.  It's very quick and easy, and a real crowd-pleaser.  People fought over it when I made it at my in-laws for Christmas one year.)  Since the recipe made two loaves of bread I decided to follow the recipe's braiding instructions for one, and make my usual six-strand braid for the other.  It's hard to see from the picture, but the bottom loaf--which was the six-strand braid--made a higher, and much prettier, bread.  All in all, I'm glad I tried this recipe, and appreciate any impetus to bake my own bread, but I think I'll be going back to my usual recipe and technique in the future.

I love all things ginger.  I love ginger bread, ginger cake, ginger ice cream, and ginger creme brulee.  The only soda I like is ginger ale, although I prefer ginger beer (also non-alcoholic, just more gingery and less sweet).  I've made these ginger muffins, and recently made a very good pumpkin cheesecake tart with a gingersnap crust.  These would made my top 5 list of favorite cookies, and one of my very favorite ice creams is a David Lebovitz recipe for lemon ice cream with ginger speculoos cookies mixed in.  These ginger snaps?  We certainly enjoyed them, but I doubt I'll be making them again.  They weren't snappy enough for my taste, and just writing this paragraph has made me hungry for all of my favorite ginger recipes that I already know I like.