never doubt 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 a moment when we may have doubted Dorie.

Moi? Doubt Dorie? Surely not.

IMG_2600I would love to be able to say that I never doubted Dorie for a second, but if I’m being completely honest, I went into more than a few of these recipes with a healthy amount of skepticism. In fact, typing the word “skeptical” into my blog’s Search field hits a total of 12 FFwD posts. For most it was for one of two reasons: either it (1) sounded too difficult or used a unfamilar technique or (2) something about the ingredients sounded weird to me. I picked one of each for this week’s post.

First, I was VERY skeptical the week we made Ricotta-Filled Zucchini Blossoms because the recipe sounded fiddley and difficult and like it was never going to hold together and it was going to look like a mess and I was going to have spent all that effort for nothing! Phew, okay, maybe I was a little stressed that week in general, but in all honesty, this is exactly the kind of recipe which I would have normally skipped right over because it just sounded too complicated for my limited kitchen skill set. But Dorie talked me through it and the resulting meal was not only a huge ego boost, but also a reminder that sometimes it’s a good idea to challenge myself in the kitchen. Other contenders here would have been the Blueberry-Mascarpone Roulade, Tuna Confit, and Gnocchi a la Parisienne.

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Second up, Beggar’s Linguine was actually one of the easier recipes we ever made, but pasta with dried fruit and nuts sounded… well… nuts! Seriously! As I’ve probably said many times over the course of this journey, there is no way I would have made this recipe if it wasn’t for this group. And as I’ve also said many times by now, I’m so glad that I did! As improbable as it sounds, this combination is delicious and I’ve repeated it a few times since. Other contenders in this category include Sardine Rillettes, Salmon in a Jar, and Gorgonzola-Apple Quiche… yum!

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I love this week’s assignment because it reminds me of all the amazing recipes which I would have missed if it was not for this group. These recipes are the hidden treasures which are discovered when one really cooks the entire book.

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Favorites

Picking a favorite anything always seems an impossible task, there are simply too many variables in life. Trying to pick a favorite recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s Around my French Table is equally impossible. My answer would depend on the season, on the weather, on the occasion, on my mood…

IMG_3731Yesterday was my 4 year anniversary, both as a blogger and as a member of French Fridays with Dorie. I joined the group a little late and my very first post was for Cardamom Rice Pilaf on May 28th, 2011. During the past 4 years I mostly caught up with the recipes which I missed before joining and am finishing up this little adventure with all but 2 checked off. Which two? Olive Fougasse (because I still do not own a standing mixer and am too lazy to do it by hand) and Almond-Orange Tuiles (because I attempted tuiles once in my life using Martha Stewart’s recipe, and once was enough).

FFwD364 013That still leaves 234 recipes from which to pick a favorite. An impossible task really, but I can say that reading back through my old posts to try to pick a favorite has been a fun trip down memory lane. So here they are, in no particular order, my top 5 recipes from French Fridays with Dorie:

1. Gerard’s Mustard Tart – because it reminds me of time spent studying in France, because Dorie has taught me not fear pastry dough like I used to, because I love mustard, because it is elegant simplicity on a plate

IMG_33132. Curried Mussels – because it has the perfect balance of creamy, spicy goodness, because I still can’t stop raving about how good these were, because I never would have discovered this recipe if it wasn’t for this group

3. Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good – because it looks harder to make than it is, because it’s served during my favorite season, because it tastes like comfort food

4. Coeur a la Creme – because anyone whose favorite part of the carrot cake is the cream cheese frosting will not need another reason:-)

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FFWD280 0295. and finally, Cola and Jam Spareribs – because my husband has been an awfully good sport over the past 4 years, who has (mostly) learned to wait patiently while his food is having its close up, and so one of his favorites should make the list too

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the cover

Denial. It’s usually bandied about in such a negative context, but I happen to think that denial is unfairly maligned. As part of my work I’ve attended many courses on Organizational Change and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s 5 Stages of Grief is often one of the classic models to be discussed. After studying the effects of death and dying on her psychiatric patients, Kübler-Ross posited that most humans faced with a significant life change will go through at least 2 of the 5 Stages of Grief, namely: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Now, some of you will probably try to remind me that this week’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe, Chicken in a Pot, is our LAST ONE. In which case, I would refer you to the above, no, it’s not, I’m in denial, we still have 4 more weeks to go. Plenty of time to work through the remaining stages!

I will, however, ever so bravely acknowledge that this week’s recipe is the last in Dorie’s Chicken and Duck chapter (see, I’m making slow progress into acceptance) and I have to say that it has been among my favorites. Did I just say that last week when we finished the fish chapter? Entirely possible, I loved pretty much all of the recipes from both. Dorie’s Lazy Chicken is made at least once a month in my house, her Chicken Basquaise got my fussy husband to eat bell peppers, and I now not only know what the word spatchcock means, I also use the technique on a fairly regular basis with absolutely delicious results.

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On the surface, Dorie’s Chicken in a Pot looks like it’s closely related to my favorite Lazy Chicken recipe, in that both are cooked in a pot with a lid instead of in a roasting pan, and both have a generous dose of root veggies thrown in to keep the chicken company. But upon closer inspection (which didn’t happen for me until I actually started cooking the thing) the two recipes are actually quite different. In her Chicken in a Pot recipe, Dorie has us browning the whole chicken, adding a generous amount of liquid, and then sealing the whole thing off with an airtight seal of dough. Oh, and holy garlic! Vampires will be giving my place a wide berth for years to come after using 4 entire bulbs in this one little recipe.

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As you can see, my supposedly airtight seal sprang a leak, but otherwise this recipe came together as promised. The chicken was juicy and delicious and with the veggies thrown in, made for a wonderful one-pot meal. I did find that browning the whole chicken was a bit unwieldy, and would likely stick with chicken pieces in the future. Otherwise, this was a fun recipe and a new technique to add to my arsenal.

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Still in denail here, we will have to wait until later to say our goodbyes.

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seafood pot au feu

Pot au Feu, where have you been all my life?

Somehow in many years of visiting France (heck, even living there for a while), visiting French restaurants, and generally nosing around for all things good to eat, Pot au Feu did not cross my path until I started cooking through Dorie Greenspan’s Around my French Table. Her first recipe, Warm Weather Pot au Feu, had me instantly hooked and I have repeated this recipe many, many times. In fact, I made it just a few weeks ago for visiting family and they even asked for the recipe to take home with them.

This time around Dorie has us making Seafood Pot au Feu. Like her Warm Weather version, this one has us layering the flavors into the broth by adding the ingredients one at a time. I halved the recipe and couldn’t find any mussels (not that I looked particularly hard), but otherwise followed Dorie’s instructions. Okay, okay, if I’m really being honest, I also used store-bought aioli. Hey, it was a busy week!

Like the Warm Weather version, I loved this dish. It looks so simple, but the underlying flavor in the broth and veggies is anything but. And it’s these simple yet nutritious recipes which I get the most excited about, because these are the ones which I know I can use again and again.

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So, last fish recipe in the book. I know that there are some fish haters out there but I absolutely loved this chapter and would be hard pressed to pick a favorite, though, those curried mussels were just amazing. I’m going to try not to dwell on the fact that we only have one recipe left, and will instead start reviewing my favorites to figure out which ones I’m going to tackle again for our last month.

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cheesecake tart

This week’s recipe, Cheesecake Tart, is our last dessert at French Fridays with Dorie:-( My husband, our resident sweet tooth, has gone into full mourning.

As I may have mentioned before, there are some general differences between American cake and German cake. Now, it’s always dangerous to generalize and any statement I make here could be easily argued by the experts on either side of the Atlantic, but I’m going to dare to make one anyway. In general, American cake is sweeter and richer than its German counterpart, and cheesecake seems to be the perfect example of that difference. American cheesecake is made with cream cheese and no small amount of sugar. German cheesecake is made with quark (the equivalent of French Fromage Blanc and I’ve yet to find a reasonable translation into english) and with much less sugar. The resulting cake is drier and, rather obviously, less sweet. My German husband prefers the German version and I prefer the American version, and I have noticed that these preferences seem to hold true across cultural lines in my social circle as well. I have in fact made American cheesecake for friends here in Germany and most declare it “too rich”, as if such a thing could possible be!

Which brings us to this week’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe, Cheesecake Tart, made with Fromage Blanc. It would seem that German cheesecake and French cheesecake have some similarities, so I decided to invite some German friends to judge for themselves.

I used one of Dorie’s Bonne Idees and swapped out the raisins for dried apricots and was delighted to discover that, aside from the ever dreaded pie dough, this tart was a cinch to pull together.

The end result was a huge hit with my husband and our guests. They raved! I served it with the first fresh strawberries of the season and a bowl of whipped cream. I’ll have to admit that the slice of tart in the picture is a stunt double, because I completely forgot to pull out the camera while our guests were here. Thankfully we had one lone slice leftover (but no more berries) so that I could still take one quick shot for posterity.

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As for me, I liked it. The filling was thin enough that the dryness was not the dominant texture and the apricots added a hit of sweetness. So, an all around winner.

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sardine escabeche

Sardine what now?

This week’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe sent me straight to google to try to get a hint as to what the heck we were supposed to be making. Somehow escabeche has never crossed my plate before and, if I’m being completely honest, Dorie’s description and ensuing recipe was not getting my culinary juices flowing.

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But let’s face it, this is hardly the first time I’ve gone into a Dorie recipe with a bit of skepticism, and from what I’ve seen on the ingredients list for next week’s tart, it will not be the last. Still, I didn’t hit my first real stumbling block until I hit the fish market, when my normally accommodating fish guy said that they would be happy to clean the little sardines for me, but that I would need to fillet them myself at home. For me the answer was clear and started to order shrimp instead. For my husband, however, the answer was also clear, the recipe is called “sardine escabeche” and so that is what we were going to make. He offered to do the filleting work and I was sold. But we bought a few extras just in case:-)

I can report that my husband did a great job, and that meant we got to snack on the extras as they came out of the frying pan. A pinch of salt and a spritz of lemon = delicious! There may or may not have even been some semi-serious discussions of stopping right there and enjoying dinner.

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Instead, one day later we unwrapped our fish and had our first bite. My husband’s comment, “did we really just spend all of that effort to make our fresh sardines taste like they came out of a can?” pretty much sums it up. They were a little acidic and neither of us were loving them.

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Not one to waste food, we braced ourselves for a second serving on day 2. And you know what? The flavor was completely different. The vinegar had mellowed and the fish were actually quite tasty. We thoroughly enjoyed our dinner and might even be willing to expend the effort again.

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pork roast with mangoes and lychees

Pork may well be my culinary nemesis. As I may or may not have complained about again, and again, and yet again, I can just never seem to hit that two-second window of cooking time between raw and bone dry. Dorie has tried her darndest to teach me how to deal with it, but alas, her valiant efforts seem to have been mostly in vain.

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But take heart, this is at least the last pork recipe in Around my French Table and I’m not one to throw in the towel just before crossing the finish line. So last week we made Dorie’s Pork with Mangoes and Lychees. And, as if that wasn’t enough complaining, as I was sticking the pot in the oven, I may or may not have voiced a little frustration with Dorie’s penchant for sweet additions to savory dishes. It turns out that I may well have more in common with Howard than previously thought:-)

I checked the meat at 30 minutes… way undercooked.

I checked it again at 40 minutes… WAY overcooked!

Sigh.

Whatever, I was quickly consoled by the fact that the sauce for this dish was crazy good and I had to quickly take back all of my complaints about Dorie’s sweet additions because this sauce was just perfect; it was sweet and slightly thick from the mango, a little salty from the soy sauce, and a hint of spice from the piment d’espelette. I’m not sure that I fully appreciated what the lychees had to offer, but they certainly didn’t detract.

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So, favorite pork recipe in the book? Nope, that title goes hands down to the Cola and Jam Spareribs. But I just might make this week’s recipe again, and THAT, my friends, is just about the highest praise a pork recipe can earn in my kitchen.

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