Friday, March 25, 2011

French Fridays with Dorie - scallops with caramel-orange sauce

This is the first Dorie recipe that I thought might not go over well at my house.  While St. James and Ethan love seafood, for some reason they're not keen on scallops.  It's funny because I don't really like seafood but can abide scallops.

Ok, just an aside...funny story.  When I was about 18 (hadn't met St. James yet, that would be the following year), I was at a "fancy" french dinner with some relatives.  We were having a multi-course meal, all ordered in I had no idea what we were having.  The second course came out and I took a bite.  It was something white and a little mushy (that's about the extent of my culinary descriptions back then).  As I was eating it, I asked my companions what it was.  I thought they said "shallots."  I started choking and gagging (because I was choking).  At that time in my life, I did not eat all!  As I was growing up, one great thing my mom did for me whenever what she was cooking had onions, she would make mine without onions.  I loved my mini-meatloaves without onions!  So, when I heard I was eating shallots...I couldn't get it out of my mouth fast enough.  I coughed and sputtered and gagged and made quite the scene.  Well, I'm sure you know where this is going.  It wasn't shallots, it was scallops.  Gotta say, if I had heard scallops, my reaction would have been the same.  That was my intro to scallops.  It was many years before I voluntarily ate one again and now look at me...actually cooking them!

Since I knew the boys weren't going to be thrilled with the scallops, I made them for our appetizer and served steaks for the main dish.  I loved making the caramel-orange sauce and decided to follow Dorie's Bonne Idee and make the candied orange zest also (because, what's a little more sugar among friends).

The scallops cooked up quickly and easily (and since I only bought 6, I did not break the bank this week either).  I actually took the time to shoot a picture while there was still a bit of light (thank you Daylight Savings Time) and then we sat down to eat.  I've got to say, given boys who don't like scallops...there wasn't a drop left on either of their plates (or mine).  Ethan used his bread to sop up the sauce and St. James poured the extra sauce all over his asparagus.  I actually dipped a spoonful of chocolate ganache that I was stuffing macarons with into the sauce after dinner.  Dang...that was good sauce!

So, another successful French Friday.  To see how all my fellow Doristas fared, check it out here.  Still on the fence about joining us?  Well get off and come play with us...the food is great and the group is really terrific!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Macarons...if I can too!

I finally took the plunge!  Since returning from France, I have been yearning to make macarons.  We ate some amazing macarons while in France.  Not just the famous ones from Laduree, but some incredible ones from a local macaron lady (this was at our village's weekly farmer's market).  I've been dreaming about making them since we returned.  Alas, I've read so many blogs about how difficult they are to make, that I haven't attempted it.  I'm not big on planned failure.  At least not until now.

While reading one of my favorite blogs, Eat, Live, Travel, Writewhere the amazing Mardi and Mr. Neil create amazing food, amazing pictures and amazing stories, I was again amazed at Mardi's incredible macarons (she participates in a monthly macaron challenge at MacTweets).   As I was reading various MacTweets submissions, I stumbled upon PastryPal's blog, which has a step by step tutorial for making macarons (all you have to do is give her your email and she sends you the link).  Once I read the tutorial, I was sold.  I even had almond flour in my pantry from a previous Dorie recipe.

Piped and drying
Macarons really aren't that difficult, as long as you follow a few simple rules.  Don't under beat your egg whites and don't over beat them.  Let your piped macarons sit until they are dry before you bake them and then let them cool before you remove them from the cookie sheet.

My first batch were the traditional almond macaron with a chocolate ganache filling.  Turns out my macarons were baby sized (the tutorial said to pipe them nickel sized, which I did) and I ended up with a lot of ganache left, so I tackled some chocolate macarons also.  So, in one day, I made about 200 macarons (which became about, not from my eating them...but from making them into sandwiches).  These puppies are quite addictive and we are going through the 100 or so quite quickly (plus I gave a few away).

Look at those beautiful feet!
I am over the top happy with my first attempt at the elusive macaron.  The first batch had the beautiful "foot" that is required for a proper macaron.

The only issue with them is they were a little tall for their small diameter, so they tended to tip over once they were sandwiched together.  Kind of like weebles...except when they wobbled they did fall over.  I made the chocolate ones a little larger, so their proportion was a bit better.  I am looking forward to experimenting with a variety of flavors now that I feel like I've got the basics down.  I know salted caramels are in my future and maybe a coconut concoction (that I'll have to eat all by myself since the boys are coconut phobes)!  If you've got a favorite flavor, let me know!

My favorite shot...the leaning tower of macarons!

Because, you can never have enough macaron shots!

Friday, March 18, 2011

French Fridays with Dorie - Salted Butter Breakups

Confession time.  When I got Dorie's book...I read the whole thing...cover to cover.  I loved the stories, the anecdotes, the recipes, the pictures...everything about it.  One downside of having read the entire book is that some of the recipes are stuck in my head and some of the recipes are a little jumbled up in my head.  Salted Butter Breakups is a perfect example.  I love all the different cracker recipes in the book and have been wanting to make some (especially for a friend who loves crackers).

Well, it was this friend's birthday two weeks ago and I was having her and her family to dinner to celebrate.  I thought, hey...I'll make the salted butter breakups to serve with a nice cheese as our appetizer.  I'll kill two birds with one stone (the Dorie assignment and making a nice cracker for my cracker loving friend.)  I never looked at the recipe when I made this plan...just assuming this was one of the cracker recipes in Dorie's book.

The day of the dinner party rolled around and I was busy cooking all day.  I made Dorie's Devil's Food White-Out Cake from her Baking book (which turned out great and tasted great and not a single damn picture of it was taken...just look at page 246 of her book...mine looked just like that.  Well almost, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it.)  I also made thick cut brined pork chops and home made sauerkraut.  All was super yummy.  And we started the evening with the Salted Butter Breakups and a wedge of St. Andre's cheese.

Some of you are probably laughing right about now.  Who serves cookies for the appetizer course?  Well, I guess I do.  When I don't pay attention and bake what I think is a cracker, but really turns out to be a cookie.  Half way into the recipe...which only has about three ingredients...I realized that perhaps this wasn't a cracker I was had an awful lot of sugar for a cracker.  I finally looked closely at where the recipe was situated in the book and saw that it's in the Desserts section.

Oh well!  At that point, I was committed.  I love the Carr's Wheat crackers with brie...they're kind of sweet and go great with the creamy brie.  I decided the Salted Butter Breakups would be fine with the St. Andre's.  And you know what?  They were.  Or, at least I thought so.  Everyone else ended up eating the Wheat Thins I put out (which were the only real crackers I had).  I proceeded to eat the rest of the breakups all week long.  I loved the sweet, buttery crunchiness.  As you can see from the photo below, I rolled this cracker cookie a little unevenly, with the edges being thinner than the middle.  So, the edges browned a lot.  They were really crunchy...and almost had a burnt flavor (definitely a deeply browned butter flavor).  But the center of the cracker cookie was fabulous.  Another bonus was I got to use the fabulous sel gris we brought back from France (we bought a five pound bag for about $2).

One thing about this recipe.  When I saw the picture in the book, I laughed when Dorie said to take a fork and make the cross hatches (like you would on a peanut butter cookie).  I thought hers looked way to uniform to have been made with that method, plus there was a lot of real estate to press your fork into.  I also thought I could get the same result if I pressed a cookie rack into the dough before baking.   Um, not so much.  That didn't work well and my dough was a bit on the wet side (definitely needed 3 tablespoons of water, not 4), so it stuck to the cookie rack.  It was kind of a mess.  Once I got it unstuck, I tried the fork method.  Not too successfully.  I'm really looking forward to how everyone else made these and if they have any tips on making the hash marks.

When I made the cracker cookie, I was only able to get a shot of the whole thing.  I thought that was kind of sad at the time and thought I might have to make the recipe again so that I could get some photos of the broken up pieces, since that's really the magic of this recipe.  Low and behold, I checked out the bowl on my counter and found a few small pieces still left in a Ziploc (two weeks after making them).  So, I took them outside and took a couple of photos (sorry about the shadows...I was too lazy to go back inside and get my homemade light filter.).  And then I ate the pieces.  And you know what?   They were still yummy and not stale at all.  Yippee!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Charcutepalooza - A month of brining

March has been another successful Charcutepalooza party.  This month we were challenged to get down and dirty with salt...and water...and spices.  That's right, we were brining.  This month, I did not have any earth shattering revelations regarding my inner psyche and why I'm here and what I should be doing with my life.  I'm too darned busy and tired from all the busyness to have any revelations.  Thank goodness, I need a break from revelations.

I have to say, I had a great time this month brining things.  Pretty much, if it didn't move, it got brined!  (OK, that might be a slight exaggeration, but only slight).  Not only did I brine a lot, everything I brined came out great.  No, really, I mean it!  No recipe failures this month.  Unbelievable!  There was one big failure this  It's so sad.  I made so many great things and just don't have the photos to show all of their wonderfulness.  It's that late night, no light issue.  But, for next month I'm much more hopeful, with the time change giving us some more daylight.

Here's what I made this month.  I started with sauerkraut (easy, peasey...chop up cabbage...make brine...put in brine...put in closet...let it do it's thing for two weeks).  (If you want the actual recipe on how you too can make your own sauerkraut...get Ruhlman's book.)  I then tackled corned beef.  I ended the show with brined pork chops.  Ultimately, we had multiple meals from each of these ventures.

Out of the oven...waiting to be sliced.

Sliced...waiting to be devoured.
The corned beef was ready to cook first.  I had purchased a five pound brisket from my butcher, knowing that I would have company when I cooked the corned beef.  On Oscar day, the brisket was done corning (which took five days), and ready for roasting.  Alas, our company was not able to make it, so the three of us tackled the corned beef by ourselves.  I'm proud to report that we did not eat the whole thing in one sitting.  In fact, we had enough left for corned beef hash the next day and Reuben sandwiches a few weeks later (I froze half of the cooked roast).  

While the corned beef was roasting, the house smelled divine, as only a corned beef can make a house smell.  And, much to my surprise and delight, it tasted just like corned beef!  I had gone to the extra effort of getting all my own individual pickling spices (rather than buying a jar of pickling spices) and was so glad that I did.  Everything was extra fresh and aromatic and really made the corned beef special.

On the pannini press...can't wait for that first bite

Reuben Sandwich with homemade sauerkraut and Russian dressing
The Reuben Sandwiches were a perfect weeknight dinner. Quick to make (now that the kraut and corned beef had come out of purgatory and were just waiting to be eaten), and easy to eat!  I decided to make my own Russian dressing (mayo, ketchup, horseradish, Worcestershire and salt & pepper) after looking at the unpronounceable ingredients on the label on the store dressing bottle.  I've pretty much avoided all bottled dressings for quite some time, as whipping up my own balsamic and oil concoction is so easy.  I figured Russian dressing couldn't be too hard, and I was right.

I served the sauerkraut with the brined pork chops at a birthday dinner for my friend.  For the sauerkraut, I found a great recipe at Simply Recipes for Sauerkraut with Bacon and Apples.  I, of course, used some of my home-cured bacon from February's challenge (boy, having 14 lbs of bacon sure has come in handy!)  This sauerkraut recipe was completely delicious (I left out the caraway seeds as St James and I don't like them) and perfect with the brined pork chops.

Chops brining

For the brined chops, I followed the recipe in Ruhlman's book and brined them for about 5 hours as they were very thick (almost 3 inches).  I was amazed with the first bite as the essence of sage and brown sugar (from the brine) married perfectly with the pork.  I wasn't sure that the flavors of the brine were going to come through, but each bite of chop had the subtle hints from the brine.  Just perfect!  The only shot I got of the chops was in the brine...doesn't do them justice at all!!

All in all,  a very successful Charcutepalooza month, just wish I had more photos of the finished products.  You'll just have to trust me that everything looked just as good as it tasted!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

French Fridays with Dorie - Beggars Linguine---on Sunday

Well, it's Sunday...not Friday.'s the first FFwD that I've missed posting on Friday.  I'm afraid things just got away from me a bit.  With my new schedule, Sundays are really the only day I have to prepare whatever recipe we're cooking for the week for Dorie.  And, last Sunday I cooked an amazing dinner for a friend's birthday.  Unfortunately, Beggars Linguine was not appropriate for this shindig.  I'll be posting about that dinner on the 15th for my Charcutepalooza post (lots of brining was involved)!  I did make the Salted Butter Breakups for an appetizer, so I'll have those to post for this Friday.

During the week, I kept trying to decide if I was going to try to cook the Beggars Linguine late at night after I got home from working at the store.  That's so laughable!  The whole point of participating in FFwD is to enjoy the process.  There is nothing enjoyable about throwing ingredients together at 11 at night, shooting bad pictures and then posting just to post.  So, I decided to let myself off the hook and to make this dish when I could enjoy making it.  Funny, but I ended up making it Saturday after work (but I was home at 4, not 11).  It actually was the perfect way to unwind from a long week.

Such a nice, simple recipe.  Chop a few nuts and fruits, melt some butter, cook some pasta, toss it all together.  Easy as pie (well the kind of pie you buy already made...not the kind of pie you make from scratch...which isn't that a commercial for a well known insurance company is touting right now..."it can get soupy"...anyone know what I'm talking about???).  Anyway...the pasta came together in minutes.

I personally loved it.  Ethan ate a big plate before his baseball game and liked it ok....he ate a second plate after the baseball game and declared he didn't really like it that much...too bland.  Did I mention I put my home-cured bacon in it (you're thinking...of course she did...there's been bacon in every recipe for the last 4 weeks!!!)  Anyway, the bacon (and bacon grease I added to oil the pasta) actually gave the pasta a great flavor and worked well with the fruits and nuts.  I also soaked the raisins in Ruby Port (which I now have a bottle of from another Dorie recipe), because they looked kind of sad.  They were pretty darn happy after that soaking, and so was I.  In fact, I'd be happy to soak in a tub of Ruby Port myself.

Curious how all the other Doristas (term courtesy of Trevor at Sis...Boom!) fared this week.  Check out all the great posts at FFwD.  Have a great week and I'll hopefully be on time this week.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

French Fridays with Dorie - Bacon, Cheese and Dried Pear Bread

All the yummy add-ins
This week, our Dorie recipe was Savory Cheese and Chive Bread.  A nice, relatively simple quick bread.  Looking at the photo in around my french table, I was very excited to try this recipe.  The bread looked savory and warm and comforting.  And, since we've had abnormally low temperatures here in Southern California, with even a dusting of snow in some areas, a warm and comforting quick bread seemed just the thing the Dr. ordered.

After reading through the recipe and all the Bonne Idees, I decided to make the bacon, cheese and dried pear variety.  After all, those 14 pounds of home made bacon are not going to eat themselves!  I also am realizing that unless I want my butt to be as big as my house, I need to add small amounts of my bacon to dishes...not eat large slabs of it just for the pure joy. (You, dear reader, are spared the inspired paragraph I wrote and then deleted on the trials and tribulations of living with a JLo inspired behind!)

The quick bread comes together very quickly with a few base ingredients (like flour and milk and eggs and oil).  I then added my diced up bacon, shredded and cubed medium sharp cheddar cheese, diced up dried (but moist) pears and sage...picked from my garden.  I was so happy that our nasty frost did not kill my herbs!

Sage, enjoying a bit of sunlight.

Here's the bread ready for the oven.  Don't you just love all the wonderful bits of things peaking through the batter?

Here's the bread right out of the oven, just begging to be sliced, buttered and eaten.  Dorie says the bread can be served when it is slightly warm, but she thinks it's best when it's completely cooled.  Well, I absolutely had to try a small slice right out of the oven and then saved the rest for our Oscar watching dinner (with my home cured corned beef...which will be a subject for a post on the 15th!).

The bread did not disappoint.  Definitely a nice comfort food...but almost a meal in itself!  A small slice is really all you need.  Which is good, because in this house, that's about all you're going to get!!  It was crumbly and soft, and a little crusty where the cheese had cooked on the outside of the loaf.  The sage was the strongest flavor, giving it that earthiness that is so sage.  Then the bacon, with it's salty bite and the pear with it's light, sweetness were wonderful complements to the sage.  The walnuts added the right amount of texture, with their crunchiness.  While I thought the cheese would be overwhelming, it wasn't and mixed nicely with all the other flavors.

Cat 2...perturbed that her nap was interrupted
Finally, every one's been sharing cute pics of their furry here's a pic of Cat 2.  We have two cats and two dogs.  The dogs are labs (Sierra and Sophie) and the cats are sisters named Padme & Leia (calling all Star Wars fans...yes, I know they were mother/daughter...but that didn't deter Ethan from naming them).  The cats look a lot much so in the beginning, that we just called them Cat 1 and Cat 2.  The names have stuck...I have no idea which cat is Padme or Leia...but I know which is Cat 1 and Cat 2.  So, for your viewing pleasure, may I present Cat 2...wondering why I just moved a chair near her with an unbaked loaf of bread on it (for the light, baby)!

You can see what amazing variations my fellow Doristas came up this week right here.