ffwd – couscous salad

This week’s French Friday challenge is another grain-based salad. I only have one rice salad that I make consistently, so these are always a bit different for me. This one is generously flavored with spices in the stock for the couscous. Cumin, tumeric, ginger and cinnamon are the warm spices used here, along with the flavoring of lemon, cilantro, and the added elements of bell pepper, carrot, snap peas, chick peas and raisins.

100_3578The broth is simmered with the spices, then the couscous added. Once the couscous has been added, the raisins are placed on top to allow them to plump a little as well. Meanwhile, all of the fresh ingredients are prepped.

100_3582A simple dressing is made with some olive oil and lemon juice. Once the couscous is ready and has been fluffed, it’s ready to be combined with the fresh ingredients and the dressing.

100_3583I served this alongside a simple almost caprese salad using fresh garden cherry tomatoes and ciliegini mozzarella.


This was certainly pretty, but not the hit that I’d hoped for. And to be honest, it was way more salad than was reasonable. I suspect there are others in our group who adored this however. I’ll be interested to find out what they think. You can see what they thought on our French Fridays with Dorie site.


ffwd – gâteau basque

Home made strawberry jam, wrapped in a crunchy, buttery cookie-like cake. An oh so elegant version of a simple jam cake. That said, this was really quite easy, split into 2 steps, with a chill in between, But it made for a dramatic presentation.

The dough was simple: butter; brown and white sugars; vanilla and a mixture of flour, baking powder and salt. Very similar to a cookie dough, that gets rolled out between plastic or paper and then chilled so it can be worked with. The filling can either be a jam (cherry is the traditional) or pastry cream. If filled with jam, there’s no worry about chilling the leftovers, and since I make my own jams, I decided on using some strawberry that I had on hand.


I ended up using a 9″ pan, because my dough rounds were closer to that size. I sprayed the pan, then lined it with parchment to be sure to be able to remove the cake in case the jam filling made it’s way out.

This consists of 2 layers of dough, with about 3/4 c of jam spread in between. The top layer gets tucked in to make a neat package around the filling.


This gets brushed with an egg wash, then scored with a fork to create a “grid” type pattern. Mine turned out to be more of a plaid, but that was ok. This goes into a 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes. I was doing other things so didn’t check on it until the timer went off. I think it could have used about 5 minutes less – oh, and this pan was black, so I probably should have dropped the temperature down. But it turned out to be a beautiful golden brown.


I was pleased at how easy it was to turn out the cake – first on one side, then right-side up. It’s both tender and sturdy, so no mishaps here. I did end up with a funny bubble (maybe some air trapped under the top layer? But generally, I was pleased with how it turned out.



This really is an elegant dessert. I think it would be wonderful for tea too, or tucked in a lunch box for a special surprise. Certainly some berries, custard or cream wouldn’t be amiss here to dress it up if desired, but it’s a terrific dessert as it is.


If you’d like to see the beautiful desserts my friends at French Fridays with Dorie made, you can find them here.

CCC – Cottage Cooking Club, July Edition

This month in the Cottage Cooking Club, we had another wonderful selection of recipes to make and enjoy, all out of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s lovely cookbook – River Cottage VEG. I committed to three, but then, well, I still had other meals to cook, so I ended up making a few more…

I wanted to be sure to have fresh ingredients for my recipes, but with my crazy schedule, I can’t always get to my favorite roadside stand. What makes it so? It’s a family affair. There are usually kids working the counter, and always adults harvesting something. You can pick produce that was on the vine or in the field literally moments before.


I didn’t start out the month with vegetables from this stand, but I did find some fava beans at the market. I’ve never made anything with them, I’m not certain that I’ve ever eaten any, so I decided that I would try them out, making bruchetta with fava beans and asparagus. The vegetables are cooked separately, sautéed together, and then seasoned and goat cheese added – finally ending up on small toasted bread rounds.


I prepared these after I’d been out of town for a number of days, returning home, craving vegetables! So along with, I thought that the marinated zucchini with mozzarella sounded delicious. I had some fresh mint from the garden, and decided to try that combination with the grilled zucchini – something light and refreshing.

The zucchini are sliced thinly, and the grilled until they get browned around the edges and are softened. They marinate in a light dressing of garlic, olive oil and lemon, along with some fresh pepper and the mint. Just before serving, the mozzarella is added.


Around the same time, I found myself with day-old French bread, fresh tomatoes and garden basil on my hands – so what else? Panzanella! I’ve made other versions of this, though it’s not a typical recipe for me. This one sounded great with the addition of olives and cucumber.


My “official” recipes for July were supposed to be the tomato, thyme and goat cheese tart, pasta with raw tomatoes and eggplant parmigiana. Full disclosure – I didn’t end up making the tart. Forgot the puff pastry… and another full disclosure, I probably don’t need any puff pastry, so I didn’t get there. I did, however, make this before, but with mozzarella and basil. totally worth making again.


The pasta with raw tomatoes was quite good. Anything with capers always works for me. It’s very light and flavorful.  I did have a couple of different types of tomatoes from the farm stand, so that added a bit of nice color. The tomatoes are peeled and seeded, straining the seeds to capture the maximum juice, which gets mixed with fresh basil, capers, a bit of garlic and olive oil then tossed with the pasta. You can add some cheese if you like, but I took the suggestion and chose to go without.


Finally, eggplant parmigiana. In this recipe, a simple tomato sauce simmers together, and gets layered with lightly fried eggplant slices and cheese. I decided to veer a bit away from the recipe with the sauce. It seemed like the flavors were intended to be delicate to let the eggplant shine through, but I still couldn’t resist adding some fresh oregano and basil – but I put in whole sprigs instead, that I could pull out after it simmered for a bit, imparting a subtle herby note. I almost always roast my eggplant, but decided to try the frying method in the book. But with my first batch, I started worrying about the oil content – so I combined methods – brushing each slice of eggplant with oil, then letting it cook in the pan until slightly browned and softened. This reduced the amount of oil that was absorbed by the eggplant, and it turned out quite well once I got the hang of it. All of this gets layered with parmesan and buffalo mozzarella and then baked until it’s bubbly and browned on top.


As it turned out, all of the dishes were quite good. Maybe because I made it most recently, I’d say that the eggplant was my favorite. Fava beans… well, that dish was good, but I am guessing that they were not the early fresh beans that were called for. But very fun to try. The zucchini was delicious as well, and quite beautiful. I also liked the pasta, though I’m not sure that all of the straining and steps were worth the effort (who minds a few tomato seeds?), but super light and tasty. I’m not sure when I’ll make the panzanella again, but it was quite delectable as well. This ended up being (not at all surprisingly) a wonderful group of dishes to make – perfectly seasonal, and perfectly delightful.

If you’d like to see what others in the Cottage Cooking Club made this month, you can find their posts here.




ffwd – provençal vegetable soup

As one of our French Fridays recipes for the month of July, the conversation around this has been as much about the weather as anything else. Since I’d already been behind on recipes this month, I felt bad for not completing this one, so I went out and picked up the remaining ingredients I’d need. On my way home from my last appointment of the day, the temperature registered at 117 degrees! I talked myself into making some soup, reasoning that in Mexico and Southeast Asia, they often heat hot & spicy foods to keep cool…

This soup is a layering of flavors and textures, with each ingredient added based on amount of simmering required or where the flavor note should come in. I tried to keep myself to a half-recipe as I’ve found that soups in AMFT produce a bit more than expected.


This starts with some olive oil and chopped onions, cooked until soft. Then some chopped garlic is added for a quick sauté.

Once that’s complete, some herbs are added – in this instance some thyme, rosemary and fresh oregano. Then layering over that: vegetable stock and carrots; mini potatoes (of course you can use chunks, but these multi-colored mini ones were irresistible). Pasta rounds out the longer-cooking ingredients.


Next, come green beans. The recipe calls for canned cannellini beans as well, which I did not add this time. Then finally, the zucchini,  tomatoes and non-traditionally, fresh corn.


While all of this simmering is happening, a fresh basil pesto is created for the iconic topping. It’s actually pistou in French, hence its real name soupe du pistou. I only had Thai and cinnamon basil available, but it still turned out nicely, and I didn’t think that it would matter. Maybe even add a bit of underlying flavor.


For serving, all that’s required is a dollop of pesto, a drizzle of olive oil and a few basil leaves.


I served mine with a nice white wine and some crusty French bread. Nothing more was needed. I have to say, this soup was divine! Easily the best “vegetable soup” I’ve ever had. I’m oh, so happy that I ignored the thermometer and made this. This is an absolute keeper, and one I’ll make again for sure.

If you’d like to see what the other Dorista’s thought, you can check out their posts here.


ffwd – coddled eggs with foie gras

Let me just start by apologizing to the extremely talented Doristas who chose our recipes this month. So far I’m 0 for 3 in on-time posts, and only 1 for 3 altogether – I might end up batting .250 if things hold up (and I’m allowed to count my late post). Not too bad for baseball, but pretty poor for blogging with the group. Vacation season and my new job have collided to make this a tricky month – oh, and throw in a requirement for some squash blossoms! I am not growing any zucchini this year, so nix that.

I was able to manage this recipe this week, albeit late. The trick was more in procuring the pâté foie gras, more than the method. Surprisingly only one choice was available at my fancy market, but it worked out. Otherwise, cream, eggs, parsley and a bit of tarragon, and a steamer.


Bits of the foie gras are placed in the bottom of a buttered ramekin. Then the egg over the top, cream, salt and pepper, and your herbs. I did use a bit of Mexican tarragon, though I really must have an aversion to tarragon, as I could definitely taste it. Alas, I forgot to bring my truffle salt with me – I’m sure it would have been better that way! (I couldn’t decide which vessel I liked better, so I used different ones)


These get placed in a steamer – I used my Chinese bamboo one, which was the perfect size.


One thing that I didn’t really take into account was that the different dishes allowed the eggs to cook in different times. The recipe calls for 5 minutes, one was ready then, one took another minute or so. I served these with some homemade peach-blueberry muffins, though I have to admit, toast fingers as suggested would have been quite nice.


This was good-ish, though will probably be a one-time thing. After all of the extravagant description, it didn’t really match up – though in all fairness, I didn’t have the truffles. We did, however enjoy the leftover pâté alongside another recipe of the salmon rillettes with some crisp white wine for dinner, so all was not lost!

If you’d like to see how others created this dish, you can look for them here.


CCC – It’s June! tomatoes, potatoes, eggs and herbs

I thought that with my busy June schedule, I’d pick recipes that were related somehow. With a common thread connecting them. I do that all the time with dinner parties and celebratory feasts – if there’s something that provides a degree or two of separation to other items on the menu, then you can be sure everything will come together harmoniously.

Um, that seemed like a great idea, and also a way to take advantage of some of the ingredients included in the recipes. What I didn’t really take into account is that I don’t always eat the same things/ingredients. Thankfully, all of the recipes were terrific, but I may not need to eat a potato for a while…

First up, I made the pizza with potatoes, rosemary and blue cheese. I already had the dough for the pizza in the freezer, and was anxious to see how it turned out after freezing, as well as how it would work if I actually did take the advice of rolling it very thinly. I had rosemary from the garden, so this was easy. The main time-consuming thing was making the caramelized onions. I should probably do a big batch and freeze them, I just forget.


Luckily I had a reasonably not-so-hot day, so that I could heat my oven up to cook the pizza. There might not be too many more of these for a bit, but everything came together with the pizza sliding from the peel to the stone satisfyingly, and the whole thing getting tasty and bubbly in no time.

100_3403On the same day, I decided I should make the honey-roasted cherry tomatoes. I thought that they would be nice to accompany the pizza. I’ve made similar recipes before, but the honey-garlic sweet-savory topping sounded great. After assembly, they get a quick roast.


I served both together, and it was a great combination. The tomatoes contrasted with and complimented the flavors of the pizza.

100_3410Another recipe for this month was the frittata with summer veg and goat cheese. The recipe suggests a few vegetables, and certainly the method. This is another that relies on potatoes, eggs and herbs. Fortunately, I brought back a bunch from my place in Sedona, so was able to enjoy those fresh flavors. What I did not have were a lot of green vegetables, I decided to just rely on some peas, and a few more of my leftover roasted tomatoes. I subbed out some red onions for scallions, and added some fresh yellow peppers to add a bit more color. I used fresh thyme and oregano, along with a few chives.

100_3431The vegetables get sautéed in a bit of olive oil, based on the amount of cooking required, then arranged in the pan with the herbs. The beaten eggs go on top, and cook until about 2/3 set, topped with the cheese, and popped into the oven for a few minutes to set.


Once out of the oven, the frittata sits for a few minutes, and indeed can be cooled to room temperature for serving. In this case, I was hungry… so the first piece was served hot!


My final recipe for June was the new potato, tomato and boiled egg salad. This is an arrangement of those ingredients, generally room temperature, mixed with a mustardy vinaigrette. The trick here is to not-quite hard boil the eggs (7-minute eggs!), and smash them a bit with the dressing.

100_3441100_3443100_3444100_3448This is something that I would definitely make again, though I might tweak the dressing a bit. I don’t even know what “English mustard” is, but used traditional American yellow. ?? But I thought it might be improved with a pickle-ish element, either my home-made ones, or some capers. But really, and excellent concept. It was delicious, fast and filling, so it was a perfect lunch. I could see this for dinner too.

Altogether, these were delicious recipes this month. I really liked every one of them, though I could see a tweak here or there – but even as presented, they suited me. I learned a few new things along the way, and was reminded of a few more. A delicious experiment!

I can hardly wait to see what recipes July brings! If you’d like to see what other participants in the Cottage Cooking Club made, you can check them out online.





ffwd – guacamole!

This version of guacamole is a crunchy, veggie-filled mixture. There are so many ways to make guacamole, that it’s fun to try something different. I’ve always loved avocados (plainly sliced with a nice sprinkling of salt – yum), and guacamole, for me, is not an exception. I’m always surprised to find people who don’t like them, but I suppose that leaves more for me! (can you tell I’m from a large family?)

I used plenty of fresh diced jalapeno (and could have used more, mine was mild), diced cherry tomato, red onion and red bell pepper. I also included the chopped cilantro and added a little minced garlic.

100_3450Once that’s mixed, the soft avocado is added along with a bit of lime juice and a sprinkling of salt. I should have added some picante sauce here as well, since my jalapenos weren’t spicy.

100_3452Classically, this is served with fresh tortilla chips, though any kind are good. This version would be great topping a salad or on a sandwich as well.

100_3456This was pretty good. I did like the crunch, though it required quite a bit of hot sauce on the top. But refreshing and simple, and a different take from what I might normally throw together.

You can see how others prepared their guacamole by checking out their posts here.