spice-crusted monkfish with mango chatini

Our refrigerator is in a dire state these days. The prime problem seems to be that we have been away from home every weekend since we returned from the States. Which means that I’ve been trying to squeeze these French Fridays with Dorie recipes in during the work week and have been awfully grateful that the line up so far has been for quick dishes.

This week’s recipe was actually for Spice-Crusted Tuna. As you can see from the title, I went a little off course and selected a nice monkfish fillet instead. Otherwise, I stuck strictly to the recipe, even following Dorie’s advice to serve it with mashed potatoes and Mango Chatini.

The only problem I had with this one was that the spice crust stuck to the pan instead of to the fish and I had to scrape it out after the fact in order to get the flavor on my fish. I thought that maybe it was because I didn’t use a spatula to turn the fish. Diane pointed out that it may be because I oiled the fish before adding the spice rub. Either way, I think that I still got the flavor, it just didn’t look quite as photogenic as it might have.

In fact, the flavor was delicious and I particularly enjoyed the combination with the mango chatini. I will absolutely be making the mango again, I have the feeling that this delicious salsa would pair nicely with most white meats.

What can I say, while I’m sorry to see that some Doristas are suffering, I’m absolutely thrilled that we are finally getting around to these fish recipes. I’m one who will usually stear towards the fish dishes over the meat dishes in a restaurants. Not always, sometimes a good steak is all that will satisfy. But my general preferences seem to be holding because so far I note that I have rated the recipes in Dorie’s fish chapter far higher than those from the meat chapter. Keep em coming!

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Curried mussels

To this day I remember my first pot of mussels. It was at Hopleaf Cafe in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood, an old favorite of mine when I lived in the city, which specializes in Belgian food and beer. I can’t even tell you how many times I ordered those delicious mussels, served with a side of perfect fries in a paper cone and garlicy mayo for dipping. And if you think that fries with mayo sounds gross, may I suggest that you hold fast to that opinion and never try them. Because it’s just about the tastiest combo you’ll ever try, and it will be better for your waistline never to discover this fact.

But I digress, that first pot of mussels was a revelation and I was hooked. Since that day I have enjoyed many more mussels in many more restaurants. I have even tried variations with tomato sauces and even Dorie had us making mussels with chorizo. All tasty, but I always come back to the classic preparation.

Until now!

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This week’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe, Curried Mussels, had me slicing more bread so that I could sop up every last drop of that tasty sauce. We picked a curry powder which had just enough heat to get your attention and we served it with a bottle of sekt, which we also used in the broth. So, so good. My husband and I both agreed that it was our hands down favorite mussel recipe from Around My French Table. We will make it again!

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arman’s caviar in aspic

IMG_3294Phew, well, it’s done, the most dreaded recipe in the book. I feel somehow lighter. In 3+ years of cooking through Around my French Table with the French Fridays with Dorie crew, Arman’s Caviar in Aspic has always lurked in the background as the recipe which I was most dreading. So many delicious recipes, so many rewarding recipes, so many wonderful surprises, and now I’ve survived my first foray into aspic!

I gave a bit of thought to changing up the flavors of this one a bit. If I’m being honest, it was more than a bit. I actually enjoy caviar on occasion, but I was having a hard time embracing the idea of fish flavored aspic. But in the end I couldn’t come up with any brilliant alternatives and decided that I should just stick it out and try the original and see what happens.

IMG_3298Well, not entirely original, because I decided pretty much right off the bat that carving aspic cups was just not going to happen. We all have to know our limitations and my arts and craft skills peaked in kindergarten. Instead I pulled out some schnapps glasses and decided to serve these in little cups with the caviar sitting on top.

What can I say, they were easy, elegant, and I learned something new. But the jelly was too firm and fishy for my tastes and I remain a confirmed aspic skeptic. And heck, if I can survive fishy aspic, I can survive anything! So bring on the raw fish, live lobsters, leftover beef, and whatever the heck escabeche and marengo are. I’m ready!

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fish soup

When I was a child my mother had a rather strict clean plate rule, which meant no getting up from the dining room table until everyone had cleaned their plates. I sat through many university-worthy lectures on the poor starving children in other corners of the world, who would have been grateful for the warm meal which I was distaining. On more than one occasion I expressed concern for those poor starving children and offered to send them my carrots, but for some reason she never took me up on the offer.

Stubbornness may well run in the family because it took years of skirmishes in the ongoing carrot wars before she finally softened and decided that not everyone should have to suffer. And so the rule changed so that only the person who hadn’t cleaned their plate had to stay at the dining room table. She had the advantage of a well-designed house because from the living room she could see me take my cleared dishes into the kitchen and could then verify that the plate was really clean. But, as I would later come to appreciate, she could not see into the dining room itself.

Carrots may have been the most common cause of our nightly hostilities, but they were hardly the only culprits. I have vague memories of staring balefully at plates of brussel spouts, zucchini, lima beans, and the thankfully rare but always dreaded fish soup. Desperate times call for desperate measures and it was the hated fish soup which finally motivated me to find a solution, salvation in the form of a houseplant.

We didn’t just have a few houseplants, we had a virtual greenhouse full of them, and in the dining room we had a particularly large fern which needed a particularly large pot. To this day I still remember the first time it occurred to me that that pot might just be big enough to hide a bowl of fish soup (and yes, I remember that it was fish soup) without being noticed. Had I been old enough to consider the potential consequences of rotting fish in our dining room, I probably would not have attempted it, but I wasn’t and so I did. And over the years that fern grew bigger and bigger and seemed to thrive on its occasional late night feedings.

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I’ve since come clean and admitted this story to a few people and every one of them asks the same questions, “didn’t it smell?” and thankfully, the answer is no. Thinking back on it, I’m as surprised as anyone. But it would seem that I was clever enough to bury it deep and lucky enough to have a guardian angel who didn’t like fish soup either:-)

So, as you see, fish soup and I have a checkered history. I’ve since learned to love it in the form of a hearty bouillabaisse, but this week’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe hit just a little too close to home and jogged those childhood memories loose. At this point though, I don’t have any (still living) houseplants and had to rely on my husband to get rid of the leftovers.

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orange and olive salad

I’m a rather notorious last minute packer and can rarely be bothered to even pull out the suitcase until the night before I’m due to depart. I find this to be an odd trait because it so clearly goes against my usual type-A tendencies of organization and preparedness, but it’s always been so and at this point I’ve given up thinking that I’ll someday grow out of it. This time around it seems to be a double whammy because I’ve put off both packing and posting until the last minute. In a few hours I need to head to the airport to catch a flight home and so this week’s post is going to have to be an efficient one.

Which seems fitting considering how quick and easy this week’s recipe, Orange and Olive Salad, was to put together. The most difficult part of this recipe was slicing up an orange. No, actually, that’s not true, the most difficult part was waiting to eat it. I know because I completely failed. In fact, I made this salad to go with the Lamb & Apricot Tagine, which still needed a bit more time to cook by the time I had finished the salad. I took a bite of the salad to taste it (as Miss Piggy would say, “it’s a chef’s thing dear!”), and then I took another, and then I was luckily wise enough to set it down and take a picture before I got any further. In the end, we decided that it was a first course and not a side dish:-)

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Wishing you all a happy holiday season.

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lamb and apricot tagine

I have a rather strict “no Christmas until after Thanksgiving” rule. I take open offense at stores which start trying to hawk their Christmas wares before I’ve gotten my first bite of turkey (a losing battle, I know) and I’m downright grinchy if anyone tries to ask if I’ve started my Christmas shopping before the calendar flips to December. My personal view is that Christmas shopping on Thanksgiving Day is a sign of the apocalypse, and that Black Friday may well prove to be humanity’s downfall, but now I’m just getting morose, so I’ll move on.

After all of that you’re probably thinking that I’m worse than the Grinch, but the truth is that I still truly enjoy Christmas, in its natural time and place, which is December! I love decorating the tree, I love baking cookies, I love watching the same movies year after year, I love finding the perfect gift for a loved one and picking out pretty paper to wrap it in, and I love my first trip to the Christmas market for a warming mug of glühwein. The Christmas markets are truly one of the great advantages of living in Germany and I know that I’d miss them like crazy if I ever moved away. Every decent sized town and city has its own market, a collection of assorted wooden stands selling glühwein (warmed mulled wine) with or without a shot of something stronger, kinderpunsch (non-alcoholic version), roasted chestnuts in paper cones, food, food, so much food, Christmas decorations (some beautifully handcrafted, some… less so), and more. The Frankfurt Christmas market is huge and spans several market places and the connecting city blocks, but the oldest and most beautiful part of the market is just a 5 minute walk from my flat and therefore we tend to visit at least a few times each holiday season. Even when it’s freezing cold outside, a steaming mug of glühwein with a shot of rum (don’t knock it til you’ve tried it) goes a long way towards keeping you warm and toasty.

We’ll be visiting one last time this weekend and then flying to the States before we get another change! In the midst of all the pomp, pageantry, and preparations of the past few weeks, I somehow managed to knock out all of the December recipes, so now let’s see if I can keep up with posting them. So far, so good. This week’s recipe, Lamb & Apricot Tagine, is probably my husband’s favorite of the month. I think he’s enjoyed most of Dorie’s stews and would be hard pressed to name a favorite. This one was a heady mix of sweet apricots and savory spices and the smell while cooking was almost, dare I say it, christmasy:-)

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tartine de Viande des Grisons

Viande des what now? This week’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe sent me directly to Google to figure out what in the heck we were eating. Turns out that Viande des Grisons, or Bündnerfleisch as it is known in German, is air-dried beef from southeast Switzerland, which is often served with raclette. Somehow that last bit was news to me, because we’ve been serving raclette to our New Year’s Eve guests for years now and never thought to serve it with Bündnerfleisch. Now we know.

I may have never heard of this particular meat before, but the lady at my local delicatessen didn’t even bat an eye when I asked if she had it, she just asked me how much I wanted and then proceeded to slice me off 100 grams worth.

IMG_3264I opened up the package immediately when I got home and tried a piece. My initial though was, okay, but not really exciting. The flavor is pretty similar to a hundred other varieties of cured meats found in and around the Alps. My husband, on the other hand, is a huge fan and is always bringing back whatever local variety from our hiking and skiing trips. So, I thought, at least he’ll enjoy this recipe.

Later that same day I put a pot of lentil soup on to cook. The darn recipe needed an hour and a half and after the first step of browning the sausage, I was starving! So I decided to make myself a little mini tartine to tide me over for the next 90 minutes.

Well, what a difference a little bread, butter, and walnuts makes! I munched my way through my first little tartine, and about half an hour later (with an hour still to go until dinner) I made myself another. Then my husband got home and of course wanted one. And then we made another batch for breakfast the next morning, and finally remembered to take a picture.

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By now it should be clear that this one was a huge hit in my house. We will make it again. The lentil soup, on the other hand, not so much. I’ll stick with Dorie’s lentil soup recipe from now on.

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