croque madame

In his introcution to this week’s Cook the Book recipe, David warns us that these days it is easy to find a bad Croque Monsieur, a.k.a., a grilled ham & cheese sandwich. I suspect that I must have stumbled upon one of the bad ones my first time around because I have only a vague memory of ordering a croque monsieur once, and thinking that once was enough.

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I’ll even admit to giving serious thought to changing this recipe around. I mean, I love a good grilled cheese, and I love it even more with a slice of tomato or a bit of avocado… or even a bit of both. So why not make a croque végétarien. Actually, I still think it sounds like a good idea, but this time around I followed instructions. To be more specific, I followed instructions for a croque madame, which is a gilled ham & cheese sandwich topped with a fried egg.

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In the end I was rewarded for my decision to follow the rules, because this was absolutely delicious, exactly as written. Granted, it has a few more steps than your average grilled cheese sandwich, but the end result was worth the effort and we both loved this one.

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artichoke tapenade with rosemary oil

In the German state where I live, we officially get 10 public holidays per year; New Years, Easter Friday, Easter Monday, May Day, Ascension, Whit Monday, Corpus Christi, Unity Day, Christmas, and Boxing Day.This will sound like quite a lot, until I point out that many of the holidays are not moveable or observable on a different day. What this means is that when May Day, Christmas Day, and New Years Day all fall on a Sunday, as they do in 2016 for example, well, those of us who don’t normally work on a Sunday are simply out of luck.

But in spring, ah spring, there is simply no room for complaint and it all kicks off with a nice long 4-day Easter weekend. My husband and I usually use the opportunity to sneak away for a small trip and this past Easter we made our first visit to Edinburgh. It was an absolutely lovely city and we really enjoyed our visit. We ate well, we drank well, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. And yes, for the record, we even survived the haggis. We tried it at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, so maybe it’s just the whisky talking, but dare I say that we actually both liked it!

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Back home in Frankfurt, I was very grateful that this week’s My Paris Kitchen recipe, Artichoke Tapenade with Rosemary Oil, was an easy one, and even more grateful to discover that I already had most of the ingredients in my cupboard. Luckily, I even had capers in my fridge because, as David tells us, we’re not allowed to call it a tapenade without the capers. Consider yourselves schooled:-)

This simple spread came together in minutes and was incredibly tasty. I will absolutely be making this one again.

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honey spice bread and attempted stew

I’ve often opined that travel is one of the ultimate relationship tests. Why and how different people travel can be so… well… different! Different paces, different priorities, different expectations, and different comfort levels when dealing with the unknown. I once booked a two-week vacation to China with a boyfriend I had been dating for nearly one year; less than 24 hours after stepping off the plane I knew that we had to break up. The moral of the story is, plan a nice little weekend trip together before you wind up spending 13 days trapped in a hotel room with your future ex boyfriend.

David Lebovitz opens this week’s Cook the Book Fridays recipe, Honey Spice Bread, with these words: “Some people travel to sightsee or visit museums, cathedrals, or gardens. Me? I travel to eat.” David sounds like my ideal travel companion:-)

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He then goes on to warn us that this is a bread and not a cake. I guess I need to work on my listening skills because even after reading this warning, I found myself initially disappointed that this recipe wasn’t very cakey. It just smelled so amazing while it was baking and very reminiscent of gingerbread or similar Christmas treats, that I completely forgot. In any case, my initial disappointment was quickly overcome once I remembered to treat the bread as bread and started experimenting with toppings. David points out that it is quite good with froi gras, but I didn’t have any of that lying around. Topped with the very prosaic peanut butter and jelly, it made a surprisingly good breakfast. My husband enjoyed a few slices with gravalax and sweet mustard. But my absolute favorite topping turned out to be a nice smear of Fume d’Ambert blue cheese. All in all, a delicious and very repeatable recipe.

IMG_4221As for this week’s actual recipe, Belgian Beef Stew with Beer and the aforementioned Spice Bread, well, that didn’t turn out so well. The sauce was delicious, the beer (my favorite Belgian of course!) was also delicious, the meat was dry and tasteless.

As much as I would love to deflect blame away from my cooking skills and on to the recipe, I can’t in good conscious do it because this particular problem seems to plague most of my attempts at making stew. I would love to know where I’m going wrong. Am I cooking it too long, too short. Am I inadvertently buying the wrong kind of meat? It’s entirely possible that something is getting lost in translation between me and the butcher. I just don’t know. At least I had some leftover beer to drown my sorrows.

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dukkah-roasted cauliflower

Last week an old colleague posted one of those memories on facebook from “10 Years Ago Today.”It was a fun memory of an afterwork outing while on a business trip to Frankfurt. Me and the IT gang had been working very long hours on that trip and were enjoying a well deserved cocktail for our troubles. It also reminded me that the photo was taken mere days before I met my husband, for that was indeed the fatefull business trip when our paths first crossed.

Fast forward through one year of loooong distance dating, one international move, and one wedding, and here I am, living on the other side of the pond with an adorable husband who speaks english with a funny accent. Sometimes it just takes my breath away to think about the crazy and unexpected paths that life takes us down. Seriously, had I known, I would have studied German in school instead of French!

Living abroad is a whole mixed bag of crazy highs and lows. According to the relocation book I bought before moving, most expats go through three stages: (1) the vacation period, when everthing in the new country seems exciting and wonderful, (2) transition shock, also known as home-sickness and considered a form of temporary depression, and finally (3) adjustment to the new environment. I went though all of these, multiple times, and while I still have days when I look around and wonder, “how the heck did I get here!” I have mostly long since adjusted to life in my new home.

Adjustment doesn’t mean that everything is perfect, I still miss the US and my friends and family back home (oh, and decent Mexican food!) but it does mean that my view of my new home is more balanced: not perfect as I thought during the vacation period, or horrible like I thought during my deep bouts of home sickness, but a balanced mix of both.

Looking on the bright side of that balance, one of the great things about living here in Germany is the availability of culinary sensations from Africa and the Middle East. I may not be able to find decent salsa here, but there are any number of places I can go to enjoy fresh and delicious hummus, drizzled with oil & spices and served with chopped lamb & warm pita to scoop it up. It’s really, SO good.

All of which brings us to this week’s  My Paris Kitchen recipe, Dukkah-Roasted Cauliflower. Dukkah, if you have not yet had the pleasure, is an Egyptian spiced nut mix which adds great flavor to whatever it is spinkled over. Like salsa, there really is no ONE recipe and variations abound. David’s (which can be found on his website) calls for a mix of freshly toasted ground nuts, seeds, spices, and salt. This recipe was incredibly easy and came together very quickly.

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He then suggests that we sprinkle this nutty mix over roasted cauliflower. Another incredibly simple dish which was absolutely delicious paired some quick chicken breasts. Easy recipes which deliver tasty and wholesome dinners are always winners in my book and I’m looking forward to seeing what else Mr. Lebovitz has up his sleeve as we continue working our way through his book.

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a new adventure

We’re getting the band back together!

This site has gone dormant since French Fridays with Dorie wrapped up and I’m happy to say that a new cookbook adventure has come along to inject a bit of life into my kitchen and my blog. Yes, some of the old FFwD gang put their heads together and came up with a new cook the book project, this time with David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen.

I am not, as it were, a Paris Kitchen virgin. This lovely book has graced my bookshelf for a little over one year and some delicious previews could already be seen in a few of my FFwD posts. So far the recipes I have tried have been delicious and I am very excited to dive into some of the more challenging recipes with my favorite group of online cooks… I missed you guys!

I also missed the first week (way to start off on the right foot) and so my very first post will be a double. Last week the ladies made the very seasonal & tasty Winter Salad. With endives and a creamy roquefort dressing (yum!), this salad was the perfect first course to this week’s recipe…

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Steak with Mustard Butter and French Fries, how great does that sound! I made a half batch of fries because, well, my self control tends to melt around fries, even oven fries, and these were no exception. David writes in his book about how Americans are known in France for eating their streak with ketchup and the French are known for eating their’s with butter. As an American I can say that it has never occured to me to serve my steak with either condiment; ketchup sounds like an insult to a good steak and butter sounds a bit like gilding the lilly. But upon closer inspection, the French may just be on to something:-)

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Let’s do this!

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le fin

FFwD004 024I joined the French Fridays with Dorie group because I needed something to do. I needed a distraction during a time when I was not working and was dealing with some not so fun medical procedures. Lots of time to sit around worrying is exactly what I did not need in that situation and so, in looking for an escape, I stumbled upon French Fridays with Dorie.

I am not a natural extrovert and the idea of joining a public forum like this one was quite daunting. I hemmed and hawed over it for a few months. The blogs I saw were perfectly edited and filled with beautiful photographs of food made by people who were obviously natural-born chefs. Yes, I know this sounds silly, but like I said, it was a difficult time and this was my thought process. I hemmed and hawed a little more and finally took the plunge.

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What I needed was an escape and what I expected was to improve my cooking skills. But as many of you have already said, this journey has proven to be so much more. I have new confidence in the kitchen (the benefit of hanging out with a group of natural-born chefs for 4+ years:-)) and an arsenal of tried and true recipes. So many of Dorie’s recipes have wormed their way into my regular repertoire and a few have even become annual Thanksgiving traditions. I have not yet met the dear lady herself, but one day I hope to be able to thank her in person. Thanks to Dorie, my cupboards are stocked with pistachio oil, cardamom pods, and puff pastry. Thanks to Dorie, I can now spatchcock a chicken and whip up pie dough. And above all, I would thank her for being such a good sport as this rather unruly group of strangers picked their way through her years of hard work. I’m not sure that I would have been able to handle that with as much grace.

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In this group I found kindred spirits. At home I am laughed at (not unkindly mind you, but laughed at all the same) for the sheer number of cookbooks on my shelves and the piles of kitchen gadgetry spilling out of my cupboards. In this group, I am among friends. Friends whose cookbook shelves make mine pale in comparison and whose spacious pantries I envy. On a weekly basis I was able to work up the courage to tackle some intimidating new recipes because I knew that this group would be there at the end to support me. You’ve never laughed at my failures, but have instead helped me to learn to laugh at them myself. I can’t thank you enough.

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Four year ago I had too much free time and too many worries. Today I’m back at work and life is hectic but good. Four years ago I wasn’t sure if I would feel comfortable in such a group. Today my eyes tear up at the thought of it ending.

A few weeks ago, just after we had finished the very last recipe from Around my French Table, I sat down to put together my menu plan and grocery list for the weekend. And do you know, I had no idea what to make. I seriously sat there for a few minutes, stumped as to what I was going to do without Dorie telling me what to cook and without the Doristas giving me support along the way. But then I remembered that shelf full of cookbooks and all the new recipes I’ve mastered, and life carried on:-)

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This is not goodbye, it is just the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next.

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play it again Dorie

After 4 plus years of cooking along with the French Friday’s with Dorie crew, we have come to the end and are now reminiscing about all the wonderful food we have cooked together. This week’s challenge is to write about the recipes which we made once from Around my French Table, and then just kept on making again and again.

As with the other challenges, I started by making a list. It was a very long list and in the end I couldn’t pick just one, so decided to do my top 5 again. Am I the only one who thinks about the movie High Fidelity every time we talk about top 5 lists?

Anyway, the ones I’ve made so often that I’ve lost count are:

FFwD432 0031. Apple Cake – I actually made this recipe for the first time before I even joined FFwD and it was likely a contributing factor to my decision to join the group in the first place. At some point along the line it replaced apple pie on my Thanksgiving table. If you asked any of my German friends, they would probably confidently tell you that Apple Cake is a traditional Thanksgiving dessert in America:-)

2. Lazy Chicken – Oh that Lazy Chicken. I make this dish at least once a month during the cooler months. I love it because it’s easy to make and only uses one pot. I love it because it’s a great way to use up whatever’s kicking around in my crisper. I love it because the chicken comes out so juicy and delicious. I love it because it makes leftovers for the next day. And I love it because it also lands on my husband’s Top 5 list. This recipe alone is worth the price of the book.

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3. Warm Weather Pot-au-Feu – This is the dish I make at least once a month during the warmer months. I never would have made this dish if it were not for this group, not because it sounds bad, but because it sounds boring (which means that it also could have easily landed on my Never Doubt Dorie list). I was stunned by the flavors packed into this recipe the first time we made it and have since made it again and again and again, to absolutely rave reviews. It’s also a guilt-free meal because it’s low in fat and high in veggies:-)

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4. Quinoa Fruit & Nut salad – Here’s another guilt-free recipe which has become a week-night standard in my house. I had long liked the flavor of quinoa, but what I like about this recipe is its fresh taste and the fact that it holds up so well as leftovers.

5. Coconut Friands – This one’s a little different. I really enjoyed these little cakes, but the flavor alone is not what keeps me coming back to this recipe, it’s the fact that it’s also a great way to use up extra egg whites whenever you have leftovers from another recipe.

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There are more… so many more. I often wonder if I would have enjoyed this adventure as much with another book. Dorie’s recipes were diverse enough to keep me interested and well-tested enough to keep my confidence high. I know the lady’s a baker, but I for one hope that she does another book with savories too. I’m sure we could get the French Fridays with Dorie gang back together for another grand adventure:-)

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