Friday, March 29, 2013

FFWD Lemon-Steamed Spinach

I was one of those strange kids who loved spinach, and I still really love it.  My favorite is creamed spinach (so hard to beat), but most of the time I eat it raw in salad, or saute it quickly with garlic and olive oil.  This recipe is definitely one that I'll add to my quick spinach repertoire.  It was quick, easy--the hardest part was getting out my steamer--and I really liked the flavor.  I also really like that the recipe made a lot of spinach.  Spinach shrinks so much when it cooks, and I feel like most recipes don't make nearly enough.  I served this with Ina's Mustard Roasted Fish, which is not the healthiest recipe but delicious and so easy, and Foccacia for an easy but tasty Sunday night dinner.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

FFWD December 2012 (Cauliflower Soup; Chicken, Apples, and Cream; Cheez-its; Celery Root Puree)

Other than the soup this wasn't the healthiest month of Dorie recipes, but we did enjoy all of them.  I actually forgot to photograph the Creamy Cauliflower Soup Sans Cream and am having trouble remembering much about it, but I am sure that I made it.  I think we enjoyed it, but it definitely didn't knock our socks off--otherwise I'm sure I would remember it!  I have a lot of similar healthy vegetable soup recipes, so I doubt I'll get around to making this one again.

I made the Chicken, Apples, and Cream a la Normande and the Go-with-everything Celery Root Puree (and also the TWD Finnish Pulla) for a Sunday night dinner back in December.  I was running behind and my dad was over for dinner, so while I finished the chicken I asked Paul to finish the puree and my dad to tear and wash lettuce for salad.  Paul did a good job with the puree--he didn't add the butter but it was totally my fault for forgetting to tell him and we actually didn't miss it--and my dad did a nice job of tearing the lettuce.  I showed him how to use the salad spinner, but I was still glad that I checked the lettuce before I started adding dressing.  It was sopping wet!  Like a half an inch of water on the bottom of my salad bowl wet.  I'm still unclear on how my dad messed that one up.  He's definitely very lucky my mom's such a good cook :-)

We definitely enjoyed this whole dinner, though.  I've mentioned before that Paul doesn't really like boneless, skinless chicken breasts, but with enough cream I think almost anything would taste good.  I'd definitely make this again for a relatively quick and easy dinner.  The puree was also delicious, even without the butter.  Paul mistakenly told my dad that it was celery root--my dad's a very picky easier and I was just planning on telling him that it was mashed potatoes--but he still happily ate it.

I made the Cheez-it-ish Crackers as an appetizer for our Hanukkah party, and was very pleased with them.  The children and adults both loved them, and they were so easy to make.  The only time-consuming part was cutting them all out with a cookie cutter.  I found myself wishing I had some kids around to help me cut them out--I should have waited for our guests to arrive--but this is definitely a recipe I'll pull out again.  I've brought cheese crackers to parties/potlucks before, and they have always been very well received.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

TWD Foccacia

I'm very curious to see how this recipe worked for everybody else.  I didn't follow instructions as carefully as I normally do, and had a lot of trouble.  First, I tried using some whole wheat flour and vital wheat gluten to replace some of the AP flour.  I think it hurt my rise.  Second, on the day I was actually going to bake the loaves I just took the ziploc bags out of the fridge and left them on the counter for a couple of hours while I cooked other things.  I totally missed the instructions about taking the balls of dough out of the bags (although mine had lost their shape and didn't look at all like balls at that point anyway) and covering them with flour.  Third, I didn't pay much attention to the dimensions of the foccacia as I was shaping the dough, and think I ended up stretching it way too thin.  So, I ended up with very thin foccacia--not pillowy at all--that could not be sliced in half.  It was thin enough to use one piece for the top of my grilled vegetable sandwich and a second piece for the bottom.  It still tasted great and the sandwiches are excellent, but I think I'm going to try this one again and really focus on the instructions.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

FFWD More November 2012 (Goat Cheese Mini Puffs and Herbed Olives)

The Goat Cheese Mini Puffs were good, but very rich.  Even I could only eat a couple of them in a sitting, and I normally have no trouble eating very rich foods.  These would definitely be a fun party appetizer for a large group.  I used a chipotle goat cheese from the farmer's market, which was excellent.  I served them with roasted brussel sprouts, and one of my favorite bean recipes (I'm always trying to eat more beans).

I love olives.  I frequently spend way too much money filling up a container of them from the bar at Whole Foods (it's really amazing how much a small container costs), and then I'll eat them during the week when I'm starving while cooking dinner.  These Herbed Olives were excellent.  I started with plain olives from the same olive bar at Whole Foods -- so they really didn't save me any money -- but it was fun to flavor them myself and I love the look of them in the glass jar.  This is definitely an idea I'll be using again.

Monday, March 25, 2013

FFWD Lots to Catch-Up On (October and early November 2012)

I finally have a good excuse for not posting!  I am now almost 7 months pregnant and in October and November I wasn't feeling very well at all--sick and tired much of the time.  I actually still made all of the recipes and some make-ups (except for the Top-secret Chocolate Mousse which I'm looking forward to making this summer!), but I spent way too much time lying on the couch and watching bad TV to actually get any blog posts up.  So, here's a quick run-down of the recipes I made:

I was really underwhelmed by the Crispy Crackly Apple Almond Tart.  It was pretty and not too much work, but I just wasn't very impressed by the flavor.  It seemed to be missing something.  The leftovers also didn't keep very well, which is a problem for our household of two.

Despite my attempts to ruin them, we really enjoyed the Honey-Spiced Madeleines.  Maybe I should have sprung for a more expensive madeleine pan, but mine were burnt before the recommended baking time had even passed.  The flavor was great, however.  I'll definitely have to make these again, now that I've invested in the pan. 

The Spur-of-the-Moment Vegetable Soup is the kind of thing that barely needs a recipe, but I was happy to have one nonetheless.  (I'm the kind of person that still looks up recipes for making hard boiled eggs and brown rice.  I know I don't really need the recipes, but I also don't like leaving things to chance!)  I did try to be spontaneous (for me, at least, everything is relative!), and try to use up the vegetables we had at home instead of shopping for Dorie's precise list.  We ended up with yellow and purple potatoes, carrots, and cabbage.  This was a satisfying, easy soup that I will make again.  Served with grilled cheese, it was excellent.

The Caramel-Topped Semolina Cake was another one that I burned.  Paul kept insisting that it didn't taste burnt (he's very nice about those types of things), but I was so mad at myself.  Caramel goes from perfect to over-cooked so quickly!  We still enjoyed this cake, though.  Cream of wheat with milk, butter, and brown sugar was one of my favorite breakfasts growing up, and it was fun to have it in cake form.

I made the chocolate ganache topping but kept the vanilla pastry cream filling for the Vanilla Eclairs, and was very pleased with the results.  I've made profiteroles and eclairs several times now and am finally pretty comfortable with making the dough, and trusting that those ugly little lumps of dough will puff up into beautiful eclairs in the oven.  Eclairs are one of my favorite treats, and definitely something I'll make again for special occasions.

I'm going to have to try the Chicken Tagine with Sweet Potatoes and Prunes again next fall.  My tastes were very off early in my pregnancy, and I just couldn't stand the flavor of this one.  I think it was the saffron that was just too strong for me.  It sounds like something I would like and Paul really liked it, though, so I do think I'll give it another try.

I don't do mushrooms, so the Mushroom and Shallot Quiche turned into spinach and shallot, but it was still delicious.  I love quiche (really, what's not to like about cream and eggs in a pie crust?) and one of my favorite things about it is how adaptable it is.  I normally try to follow recipes exactly and am very nervous about substitutions, but even I felt completely comfortable adapting this one for the vegetables and cheeses that I had on hand.  

Friday, March 22, 2013

TWD Finnish Pulla

I was very excited to try this bread and it did not disappoint.  As a child I would tell people that my favorite foods were challah and whipped cream.  I like to think I've grown up in some regards, but I still love both of them.  I make challah pretty often, but was glad to try this Pulla.  It seemed reasonably similar to a challah, but with less eggs and the addition of milk and cardamom.  I found the cardamom addition especially intriguing.  Paul doesn't love cardamom, but I think it can add a really nice flavor dimension.  The dough was easy to make and relatively easy to shape, although mine certainly isn't as pretty as some of the other bloggers'!  It tasted excellent, though.  The only problem that I can think of is its size.  It would really take a crowd to finish it.  Luckily it freezes well, and it's been fun to pull it out of the freezer for french toast.

FFWD Isaphan Loaf Cake

It's hard for me to think about this cake without adding up the cost in my head.  Rose syrup + rose extract + 2 half pints of raspberries + almond flour (luckily I had some from TJ's in the freezer) + .....As I was buying the ingredients and baking the cake I told myself it better be worth it.  I tried to pay extra careful attention, so as not to make any mistakes, but of course forgot to start the timer when I put the cake in the oven.  I checked it frequently though, and think I baked it close to the right amount.  On the night I baked this cake, we both really enjoyed it.  The rose flavor was subtle and nice, I liked the contrast of the slightly crisp crust and the moist cake, and I enjoyed the raspberry bites.  I didn't like the flavor quite as much on subsequent nights, but it was still pretty good.  It stayed incredibly moist for days.  I'm not sure if this is a cake that I'm excited to make again--there are just so many good cakes out there to try--but given that I now own lots of rose syrup and extract, I suspect I'll be making it again.  I'd love to hear if anybody has other good ideas for ways to use rose syrup and extract.  I can't think of any but know some of you will have great ideas!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

TWD Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookies

I can't even remember the last time I made simple drop cookies like these.  I'm so glad I did.  They were easy and delicious.  With this much chocolate, what's not to like?  I used a combination of white and dark chocolate and also added the apricots, but this recipe is entirely adaptable.  I liked the apricots, but didn't think they were necessary.  The cookies would have been delicious either way.  These were excellent--very soft and gooey--when they came out of the oven, but I really liked them once they set up and cooled too.  The one thing that surprised me was that I really couldn't taste the mocha flavor in the finished cookies, even though I added the full three tablespoons of instant coffee.  It probably heightened the taste of the chocolate, but next time I might try adding even more coffee.

Monday, March 18, 2013

TWD Gingerbread Baby Cakes

This is right up there with some of the worst pictures I've ever taken, and that's saying a lot.  I don't remember the night at all, but I'm guessing I was in a rush.  I love ginger, and was very excited about making these cakes.  I don't have baby cakes pans, so I followed the instructions for making one large cake.  I tried hard not to over-bake it at all, and probably ended up under-baking it by a minute or two.  I find it really hard to tell with cakes that are this dense and sticky.  I rarely say this, but this was a cake that really needed the whipped cream!  It was so rich, dense, and intense that it was hard to eat without it.  With the (lightly sweetened) whipped cream, we definitely enjoyed it in small slices.  Although we liked it, I don't think I'll be making it again.  My favorite ginger cake--and it is excellent--is  David Lebovitz's, served with lemon cream.

Friday, March 15, 2013

FFWD Orange-Scented Lentil Soup

After a lot of travelling, we were finally home all weekend.  Despite the warm, sunny weather I really felt like spending a day cooking.  I miss cooking so much when I'm not here.  On Sunday I made the mocha cookies, banana bread, wild rice casserole, two soups, and Sunday dinner (salmon in phyllo, pan fried sunchokes, and stewed green beans).  We didn't eat dinner until almost 9 o'clock and my feet were killing me by the end, but it was fun and I love starting the week with so many of our meals already prepared.  Given everything I was working on, I was really pleased by how easy this lentil soup recipe sounded.  I love ginger but absolutely hate grating it, so I was thrilled that it only needed to be coarsely chopped because it was going to be pureed anyway.  The soup came together very quickly, and was ready in not much more than hour.  Paul pureed it using the immersion blender and put it away.  The next night when I took it out to serve dinner, I realized that the immersion blender just wasn't enough.  There were still large pieces of orange rind, cloves, etc., floating in the soup.  I put the soup in the real blender and blended it until it was very uniform.  This, I think, is my only complaint about the soup.  I thought the extra blending was necessary because of the large pieces of aromatics, but I much prefer my soup with some texture.  When I'm eating lentil soup I like to be able to distinguish the lentils.  This had a great flavor, but I just wasn't a big fan of the smooth texture.  I think if I made this again I might zest the orange and grate the ginger to make the pureeing step less necessary.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

TWD Pizza with Onion Confit

Paul is definitely the pizza maker in our house.  He's a bit obsessed, to say the least.  When he makes pizza it involves a sourdough starter, and the dough must be started several days ahead of time.  He's also very particular about the sauce, and has all kind of tricks (which I don't like to think about) for getting the oven hotter than it's supposed to be.  He's also been talking about building a wood-burning clay pizza oven in the back yard.  All this to say that I almost never make pizza.  When I was single I used to, but now I feel like I just can't compete.  Which is sad because even though mine isn't nearly as good as his, mine is much quicker and I could definitely get used to eating pizza more often!  So, it was nice to have an excuse to make pizza.  I warned Paul that I already knew it wasn't going to be as good as his and he didn't need to waste his time comparing, and got to work.  I followed the recipe closely, but substituted half whole wheat flour for the AP.  This crust definitely wasn't as good as Paul's, but it was much quicker, a bit healthier, and a good vehicle for the caramelized onions, goat cheese, and olives.  This is definitely a recipe that I'd make again.

TWD French Apple Tart

I think, again, that my main problem with this dessert was not being able to get good enough apples.  I used the granny smiths the recipe called for, but grocery store apples in January just don't seem to be that great.  After roasting them for the called for amount of time, they were still way too hard to mash. I tried letting them go a while longer, but it didn't help at all.  I finally put them in the food processor and was able to get the filling to an applesauce-like consistency, but the flavor just wasn't that great.  The other thing that drove me crazy with this dessert was the crust.  I had trouble understanding the instructions, and my fluted edges are nowhere near as pretty as I'm sure they were supposed to be.  We still definitely enjoyed the dessert, but I don't think I would go to the trouble again, unless I had some really fresh fall apples.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

FFWD January (Long and Slow Apples, "Liver", and Shrimp and Cellophane)

Just for my own records, I'm going to try to do quick run-downs of all of the recipes that I've failed to blog about over the past few months.  I think I've actually made all of the recipes except for one.  Here's January:

I was pretty underwhelmed by the Long and Slow Apples.  Luckily I own a mandoline so they weren't too hard to make, but I thought the flavor was only so-so.  Maybe what I needed was better apples, but the options in January usually aren't that great.  This definitely needed the whipped cream to pick it up.  This is probably why I'll never be very skinny, but I'd definitely choose an apple pie, crisp, or tart any day!

I am normally a very strict rule follower (even my mother teases me about it!) but I didn't do a very good job with the Chicken Liver Gateaux.  I know I wasn't a very good sport, but I really don't eat liver so I decided to make vegetarian chopped liver (like this one) instead.  I was planning on at least trying to mold it and making the pickled onions to accompany it, but I ran out of onions (this never happens to me, but yet I managed to do it twice in two weeks!) so that didn't happen either.  The vegetarian chopped liver was actually pretty good (although Paul said it was nothing like the real thing), but I did wish I had the pickled onions to go with it.  I think it would have cut some of the richness.  What really was good was the Rachael Ray minestrone soup that Paul made to go with the dinner.  I know she's easy to make fun of (I do it often too), but I really do enjoy her recipes.  I very rarely actually get them done in 30 minutes but they are usually relatively quick, always work, and are usually very good.

Last, I still don't quite understand the placement of Shrimp and Cellophane Noodles in a French cookbook, but we did really enjoy these.  I thought the sauce had a nice, subtle Asian flavor to it.  My only complaint was the portion size.  It didn't seem like a lot of noodles for four servings!

TWD Best Ever Brownies

Better late than never, right?  I made and photographed these brownies back in November, but totally failed to get a post up about them.  Am I the only one who enjoys the cooking and eating more than the actual writing part?  The good news is, I have a disturbingly good memory for food and these brownies were especially memorable.  They were absolutely excellent!  I think I may have under-baked them for about a minute, they were almost too gooey to eat when warm, but they set up very nicely when cooled.  I just loved the pure, rich chocolate flavor.  They were so rich that even I was happy with a relatively small piece, they kept well, and they were delicious straight from the freezer.  I don't make brownies too often, but this will definitely be my new, go-to recipe.

Monday, March 11, 2013

FFWD February (Squash and Brussel Sprouts, Coeur a la Creme, and Pea Soup)

I don't eat pork so I skipped the tenderloin, but I did make all of the other February recipes--with mixed results.

I would give the Brown Sugar Squash and Brussel Sprouts en Papillote a C-.  First, I know I need to learn to be more adaptable, but it frustrates me when vegetable recipes don't make use of the entire vegetable.  I never know what to do with the extra half of a butternut squash.  Because the recipe didn't use up either the whole squash or the bag of brussel sprouts I bought, in addition to preparing this recipe I also cooked the rest of the squash and brussels on the same night.  I followed this recipe exactly, and then after preparing the remaining vegetables the same way (halving the brussel sprouts and cubing the squash) I just tossed them with olive oil, salt, and pepper and threw them on a sheet pan.  I put them all in the oven and then worked on the rest of the dinner.  After about 30 minutes, the sprouts and squash on the sheet pan were cooked through and browned in spots--exactly how I like them.  The ones in foil were still largely raw.  Because the rest of dinner was ready I decided to just serve the cooked ones, saving the ones in foil for the next night.  The ones in foil probably took at least an additional hour to cook.  They tasted just fine, but I didn't like them any better than the ones on the sheet pan, and will not bother with this recipe again.

I'm definitely not going to quit my day job to try anything artistic!  However, despite my best attempts to ruin it, the Coeur a la Creme was an easy and delicious dessert.  I'd give it an A.  I thought I had raspberry sauce in the freezer but didn't, so I decided to defrost and warm up some chocolate ganache I found instead.  Raspberries were also insanely expensive at the store (I'm guessing due to Valentine's) but blueberries were on sale, so I bought those instead.  In hindsight, while I actually really like the blueberry and chocolate flavor combination, the color combination didn't exactly scream Valentine's Day.  I also knew I was in trouble the second I tried to "drizzle" my chocolate ganache over the dessert.  It turns out ganache (at least mine) doesn't drizzle at all, and I was left with random puddles of chocolate on my white dessert.  Not exactly appetizing.  I started to panic, reminded myself that it was only Paul and I, and did the best I could to push the ganache off the edges and decorate the top with blueberries.  Still not pretty, though.  The taste, however, was excellent.  A lot like a cheesecake but not quite as dense, and so much easier to make.  When I make this again I'll either spring for the raspberries, or serve the dessert plain with sauce on the side.

I was really unsure about cooked lettuce, but we actually liked the Cheating on Winter Pea Soup.  I wouldn't say it was exciting, but it had a good clean flavor and was certainly easy to make.  I'd give it a solid B.  Next time I'm definitely going to pull out my real blender, though.  The immersion blender left some small pieces of cooked lettuce, which definitely weren't so appetizing.

FFWD Chicken Breasts Diable and Cheesy Creme Brulee

I actually made both of these recipes on the same night.  Since the creme brulee had to chill in the refrigerator anyway, I decided to go ahead and make it to serve on the following night.  Despite how easy and relatively healthy they are, I almost never make boneless skinless chicken breasts.  I have a very hard time cooking them so that they're cooked through but not dry, I find that they don't re-heat that well (key for me since we almost always eat dinner leftovers for lunch), and--most importantly--Paul doesn't really like them and is prone to complaining.  However, I absolutely love anything with mustard and this recipe definitely sounded easy, so I was happy to give it a try.  The verdict?  We both loved the sauce, I think it would taste good on almost anything, and given how quick and easy it was this is a recipe I would make again.  I served it with carrots provencal (an old favorite of mine from Jacques Pepin) and some hash browns I made with leftover boiled potatoes.  Definitely an enjoyable Sunday night dinner.

The creme brulee, on the other hand, I most likely will not be making again.  I'm very curious to see what everybody else thought of this recipe.  I love custards and am a big fan of creme brulee, so I had high hopes for this recipe.  The oven temperature called for seemed way too low to me, but Dorie's recipes almost always work, so I proceeded along.  When I checked the custards after the suggested amount of time, they were nowhere close to being ready.  I turned the convection on and kept cooking them, checking whenever I remembered, but they just would not cook.  At some point I turned the oven up about 50 degrees, but I think I should have gone higher.  I finally pulled them out after 2-3 hours (at some point I lost track of time), when they were finally set.  When I served them the next day, I was sad to see that the bottom layer of cheese hadn't melted at all!  I just don't think my oven ever got hot enough.  This is probably my fault, although I've never had problems with my oven before and double-checked the oven temperature in the recipe several times, but I thought this dish was pretty gross.  I normally have no problem eating very rich things, but the layer of rich (but pretty flavorless) custard followed by un-melted, room temperature cheese did not appeal to me at all.  Paul was a total trooper and made himself eat several of these (he follows in his father's footsteps and cannot bear to see food go to waste), but this is one of the few things in recent memory that I actually threw away.  It just didn't feel worth trying to make myself eat it.