Thursday, April 28, 2011

French Fridays with Dorie - bistro paul bert pepper steak

Goodness gracious but the boys were happy this week.  Steak is at the top of their list of favorite dinners, so when they asked what was for dinner and I told them filet mignon with cognac sauce and french style frites there were cheers!  How nice to make a recipe that I knew from the get go was going to be a winner.

I also got to use a new to me kitchen appliance (a deep fryer).  The deep fryer was from my mom's house (she had an amazing collection of brand new appliances, still in the boxes and this was one that I took (not really sure why, as I never deep fry things...but after using it, I'm so glad I've got it.)

We generally don't like filet mignon as much as other cuts of steak (New York & Rib Eye), but I decided to follow Dorie's recipe to a I got filets (instead of t-bones...ha ha...get a t...t-bones...guess you have to be in my mind to see the humor), and I've got to say I'm really glad I did.  These steaks were fork tender and had a great flavor (plus the cognac sauce was unbelievably yummy!!) Ethan's steak was a little big and he thought he'd save a bit to make a steak sandwich for school the next day.  However, when he got home from Boy Scouts, he decided to scarf the rest of his steak (he's getting good at eating two dinners each night!)

The cognac sauce, before stirring

With respect to the frites...I was not as successful.  Since I had a deep fryer to test out, I decided to follow Dorie's instructions and "blanch" the fries, let them cool and then fry again (at a higher temp).  As I got ready to cut my fries, I searched hi and low for my know...the one I've used numerous times to make Dorie's version of scalloped potatoes (other wise known as pommes dauphinois), but I couldn't find the mandolin anywhere.  Alas, I had to cut the darn things by hand.  Unfortunately, I did not achieve the beautiful, even cuts that my mandolin is so good at and some of my fries were more steak fry size than frite size.  With the blanching and then hot frying, the frites got a little too brown.  While Ethan and I loved them (especially with our sel gris on them), St. James said that he preferred thinner fries (aka McDonald's style).  Guess I'll just have to keep experimenting until I get them right.  (Although for all you deep fryer users out there, do you keep your oil or toss it?  It seemed like such a waste to dump all that canola oil, but I did.  I'm thinking next time I might put the fryer bin in the garage frig...any thoughts?)

Wondering how all my fellow Doristas did with this week's assignment?  Check them out here (and leave them some love in their comments...they're working hard to keep us entertained, enlightened and hungry!)

Friday, April 22, 2011

French Fridays with Dorie - mustard batons

Mustard batons...gotta say, I was not even a little bit excited about making this recipe.  Why, you might ask...well I have a deep, dark secret.  I HATE mustard!  That's right...for my entire life I've had a mustard phobia.  I hate mustard so much, that if I have to cook with it and I get some on my hand, I kind of freak a bit.  I wonder if I was abused as a child and mustard was involved?  Not only do I hate mustard, I'm not a fan of anything mustard related (like wasabi or horseradish).  I have been known to bypass eating all together if mustard is involved.  So, of course, the idea of mustard, smeared on puff pastry just sounded pointless.

Then I remembered that I had some interesting mustards in the cupboard that we got in Dijon last summer.  When we were in Dijon, it was the thing to do to go into mustard shops and buy lots of mustard (even though, as I've mentioned, I HATE mustard).  But somehow, all the pretty bottles were quite alluring.  We ended up buying about 50 jars of mustard (no, I'm not kidding).  The boys like mustard and I thought they'd make great gifts too.  Plus, the flavors were just too interesting to pass up.  I have actually been using a bleu cheese mustard in our salad dressing recently that is beyond amazing.  So amazing, that I have ventured a taste of the mustard on its own.  That's right, I've let straight mustard pass my lips.  And, guess what?  I didn't die.  Unbelievable!

So, when faced with this week's FFwD recipe, I decided to go to the cupboard and see what types of flavored mustards we still had.  I discovered this jewel of apricot and curry!  Sounded interesting and enticing, so I decided to give it a try.  I also decided to follow Dorie's bonne idee and make my own tapenade (something I'd never done before, given how easy store-bought is to buy)...just in case I couldn't stomach the mustard batons.

The tapenade took less than five minutes to whip up.  It was very tasty...totally salty, a little lemony and I got to use some fresh, French thyme from my bathroom herb garden.

Puff pastry spread with tapenade

Puff pastry spread with apricot & curry mustard

Mustard batons after being cut

This is an incredibly easy recipe...especially if you use store bought puff pastry (which I did).  Thaw the puff pastry, smear the goods on it, fold over, cut with a pizza cutter, wash with egg wash, sprinkle with poppy seeds, bake, eat!  I only baked up 8 of these (4 of each flavor) to sample and froze the rest.  I'll be taking these to my brother's for an appetizer at Easter dinner.

Still Life on the Counter

Batons with egg wash and poppy seeds

Final product!

The verdict?  Quite lovely.  Great crunch and the tapenade was wonderful (although I used too much and the tapenade batons kind of exploded).  The apricot and curry mustard was pretty good (a little too mustardy for me...but not so awful that I had to wash my mouth out) and these batons came out perfectly.  I think my palate is expanding, since I even considered eating mustard and then actually did.  I probably will never be able to ask for mustard on my sandwich or dip anything into a honey mustard sauce, but having mustard added in to things is becoming less of a traumatic experience for me!  Unlike the experience below.  Can you guess what these are?


Oh so sad!
Yep, I made a batch of Mocha Macarons with Chocolate Ganache filling.  The macarons were a complete failure (sorry Mardi, I followed your tutorial to the nth degree) as they totally cracked, sank and had no feet.  Of course, as we all know, ugly macarons still taste good.  My ganache was a failure too.  I was in a hurry, melted my chocolate in the microwave, then added the cold cream (without stirring the mixture over some boiling water).  The cold cream hardened the melted chocolate into tiny pieces (of course it would, duh!  What was I thinking?)  So, while tasting didn't firm up and was a runny mess.  Nevertheless, I spooned the running filling onto the incredibly ugly macarons and got them all settled in our macaron container.  I turned to go to the sink, hit the container and macarons flew across the kitchen.  All of them except four!  I started to pick them up (using the five second rule), but the first one had a piece of cat hair on it, so I decided the whole batch had to be tossed.  Really, really sad.  And, look how brave I am, sharing these photos which also show an incredibly dirty kitchen mat (another total mistake...I bought these cushion mats for the kitchen in a beige color and they show every drip and don't come clean...they are about to be replaced with black cushion mats...I really don't know what I was thinking!!!)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

French Fridays with Dorie - vanilla eclairs

This recipe was my first official Dorie disaster...twice!  That's right...I failed at making beautiful, light, airy eclairs with smooth, delicate pastry cream.  Instead, I ended up with flat, eggy, doughy things, stuffed with slightly lumpy (but oh, so damn delicious) chocolate pastry cream and lemon curd whipped with cream.

While my eclairs will win absolutely no beauty awards, they were actually quite delicious.  I had wanted to use Dorie's tip and pipe my eclairs with a star tip.  However, I accidentally used a ribbon tip...leading to my first batch of eclairs being a complete disaster.

I also piped some in a creme puff shape...however these puppies fell the second they came out of the over.  So I ended up with flat cigars and smooshed frisbee shapes (actually I think they look like partially melted hershey kisses...because I left a little curly cue on the top when I piped these).

On my second batch, I decided to just follow the easy way and pipe smooth cylinders.  As they went into the oven, they looked beautiful.  I was sure I had a winner this time.  They did puff up as they were baking and looked terrific; however they started to deflate as I removed them from the oven and I had more flat cigars.  Not quite as flat as the first batch, so I was able to slice through them and create two layers to "stuff" with filling.  I decided to make chocolate pastry cream and then lemon curd (my Meyer lemon tree has finally started producing lemons after a two year hiatus).  I folded the amazing lemon curd into whipped cream and then pipe the fillings into my sorry, oh so sorry, eclairs.  Some of the eclairs were so flat, I just used one for the top and one for the bottom.

I decided not to glaze the eclairs...given the inordinate amount of time I had dedicated to getting a good batch (and still failing).  Maybe a glaze would have made them more lovely (but I really doubt it).

I didn't do any research on why my eclairs failed me.  I've made grougeres several times with this recipe and never had an issue.  I know my fellow Doristas will have the answer for me.  Oh well...we were all still very happy with the tasty results...if not appearance of these eclairs.

PS...for all those wondering...the sugar cleanse went great last week and I feel so much better.  I will be watching my sugar intake going forward (so only one eclair a day, thank you very much)...and now I just found out I have high cholesterol...goodness it couldn't be all the butter and bacon...could it???

PPS...did I mention that I cut the recipe in half so we wouldn't have 20 eclairs...then had to make them again, so we still ended up with 20+ eclairs.

PPPS...maybe the reason my eclairs fell is because I shouldn't have really been making eclairs at all...but some lovely, healthy vegetable concoction.

Charcutepalooza - It's all about the smoke!

This month's Charcutepalooza challenge was to smoke something.  Your choice was salmon or pork.  If you know me at all, you know which one I picked.  That's right...this month I went the canadian bacon route.

Did you know that this is how canadian bacon starts?

It's true, really.

First, you start with a lovely brine (which we know all about from last month).  My brine had beautiful sage and thyme from my garden, a little garlic, salt, sugar and pink salt (nitrates). really is pink.  You put your pork loin in this brine for 3 days.  I had a humungo 6+ pound loin, which I cut in two and brined for 3 days.  Then the loins sat in the fridge uncovered for 24 hours and developed a lovely tackiness...all the better to hold on to the wonderful smoke they were about to encounter.

Now, the smoking was the real challenge this month.  All month long I hemmed and hawed over buying a real smoker.  I really wanted The Big Green Egg (but at over $500, that seemed a bit silly at this stage of the game).  I also looked at smaller smokers, including some electric models.  After a bit of research, I realized there was absolutely no reason that I could use my already owned gas grill.

So, with a few easy modifications (pans of water over the lava coals and tin foil in the end holes), I converted my grill into a smoker.  I used the indirect heat method and kept my grill at between 200 and 225 degrees and in about 2 1/2 hours...I had beautiful, smoked canadian bacon.  (I also purchased a dual gauge, remote control thermometer, which measures the temperature of the meat and the grill cool!)

I now have about 6 lbs of canadian bacon (which is a lot of canadian bacon).  

So, I sliced up much of it and wrapped it well and put it in the freezer for later use.  

The boys and I sampled some slices of it and it was quite tasty.  A little smoky, a little sagey, a little salty...really quite nice.  I then decided to make eggs benedict (with homemade hollandaise sauce...but store bought english muffins).

It just hasn't been my week with egg based dishes.  My hollandaise scrambled a bit and I had to strain it. It wasn't near lemony enough, nor salty enough.  I will definitely have to try this again (especially since the boys gobbled these up...even in their imperfect state).

Just keeping it real!
All in all, another fun month playing with meat.  I really can't wait to see what May's challenge is.

Friday, April 8, 2011

French Fridays with Dorie - garlicky crumb-coated broccoli

This is it...this is all you get this week!  I'll be making this dish on Sunday...just couldn't get to it this week.  Why is it when we have the really easy dishes (like they take 5 minutes)...I have trouble getting to them?  Well, I have a good excuse reason this week, my fellow Doristas.  After Vegas (which was an amazing amount of fun...but unfortunately I have to invoke what happens in Vegas, stays in protect the innocent and not so innocent...but I will say ladies, if you have the chance to see Thunder from Down Under...don't miss it!), I started a sugar busters cleanse.  With all the cooking and eating and cooking and eating and working and stressing, my body needs a little tender loving care.  So, I'm taking a break from eating (just doing shakes and bars) for a bit.  Which means I'm not that inclined to cook anything (even for my poor starving boys), including broccoli coated in bread crumbs, garlic and butter!  Next week I'll be back to eating a healthy dinner, so I'll be able to cook again.  Now, don't feel sorry for me...I did this to myself!!

On a side note, I do have a pork loin brining, which I will be smoking on Sunday (on a smoker, not rolled in paper) and making canadian bacon for charcutepalooza, which I will be posting about on the 15th.

Friday, April 1, 2011

French Fridays with Dorie - quinoa, fruit and nuts salad

Fresh herbs growing in my greenhouse window in bathroom
It's spring...finally!  We've had a few days of amazing weather and I have to say that I'm glad the majority of the cold, rainy days are behind us.  I realize cold is relative, but it's been in the low 40's upper 30's in the morning when I'm working out (outside) and that just seems too darn cold.  I'm much happier in the 50's and 60's  (which seems lucky for me, since my 30's are behind me...40's are on their way out and I have my 50's and 60's to look forward to).

This week's recipe for our French Fridays with Dorie was a perfect introduction to spring (click on the link to see what my fellow Doristas did).  A beautiful, light salad of quinoa, various dried fruits and nuts and seeds.  Add a light lemon dressing and you've got an interesting little salad.  I have cooked quinoa twice before and we have liked it.  It's a small grain that has a little "pop" when you bite into it.  It doesn't have an overwhelming flavor, so whatever you season it with will be the real star of the show.  I followed Dorie's recipe (which was easy because you get to choose what fruits and nuts you want to use) and used apricots, cranberries, black raisins, golden raisins, figs, walnuts, almonds, pepitas and sunflower seeds.  I also used basil, cilantro and parsley from the new herb garden I planted in my bathroom's greenhouse window.  I made the dressing with lemon juice, olive oil and a touch of mandarin olive oil (I have some amazing flavored oils from Ojai Olive Oil Company).  I also used my citrus zest sea salt (which I love to put on any salad).  I then served the quinoa (pronounce keen case you're wondering) salad over a bed of greens.

The verdict?  Ethan wasn't a big fan (but ate it because that's the kind of good kid he is).  James liked it and said he'd like to have it again (to which I said, good...since we've got a lot left'll be having it for lunch tomorrow).  I enjoyed it too, but thought it was a tad bit bland (even though the lemon dressing was quite tangy) and am going to add a bit more salt to the leftovers.

I'm off to Las Vegas today to help my youngest sister celebrate her 40th birthday!  Should be some fun stories to tell when I return.