ffwd – arman’s caviar in aspic

armanThis recipe must be one that is most-dreaded by Doristas of all of the offerings in Around My French Table. Upon reading the description, I had to go out and find examples of Arman’s work, since it was supposed to be the inspiration of the dish for a dinner party. Based on Dorie’s description, this should be reminiscent of his work. And some of his work is familiar. It was interesting to see the other works he’s produced as well – particularly the artfully displayed (…) drawer of old flatware. To be truthful, I did enjoy looking at the images, but couldn’t for the life of me quite get the connection. But I’m sure it’s just my provincial mind.

The dish is essentially cubes of seafood jelly with a divot in the top to hold some caviar. The jelled mixture is placed in a square pan, then cut into smaller squares… It seemed easy. I thought I’d use my new seafood stock, and some simple caviar.

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Now, I used to prepare a fair number of caviar presentations, but to be honest, I wasn’t the real caviar-lover in the bunch. I thought about what the typical accompaniments might be, and did a little research. Hard boiled eggs, sour cream, onion… I decided to make a couple of deviled eggs to encase in the aspic, and also a little chopped egg mixed with sour cream. I thought they would make for a fun presentation, and also make the dish a bit rounder, and what I’d typically be wanting to serve. Plus it would allow me to use some of my fancy molds!

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Some of these were actually my Grandmother’s, from the time when a dinner party required an individual molded salad for everyone!

I made the aspic. I was not initially thrilled with the flavor – the “1/2 cube for 2 c water” sounded very bland. I did add a bit of seasonings, but was afraid to add too much. I filled the molds with a bit of the aspic and chilled them, then added their filings, and covered with more aspic. The fun thing is all of this comes together quickly.

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I unmolded the jellies, then placed them on their plate. I did rinse my caviar as well (to rid it of a bit of salt, plus it’s less likely to “bleed” black on the food it’s placed on).

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They actually look pretty cute! And they are darling with the dainty black caviar on top, and served with champagne in a coupe – since this all felt so retro.

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At the end, this was more fun to think about and make than it was to eat. As I’ve said, while I don’t have a problem with caviar per se, it’s not really my thing. And I wished that the aspic itself had more flavor. I should have trusted that it wasn’t highly flavored enough, because it was totally overwhelmed by the caviar.

But. Still. Fun. I think it will be interesting to see what any of our other Doristas did with this recipe, if they tried it (and I know for a fact, some did).

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ffwd – simplest breton fish soup

The first recipe of our last year of cooking through Around My French Table (not to say the last of French Fridays with Dorie), is a simple fish soup/stew, that is both light and filling. You might ask, how does that work? But work, it does. The list of ingredients seems a bit long, but not really, once you look closely. Mostly some aromatics, a vinaigrette and then some fishy stuff. I decided to try the Penzey seafood base (if you follow me, you know my love of the place), because I hadn’t tried it before. I know it will be a great help with gumbos, and other seafood items I make.

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This is a simple layering of things – the onion, leek, garlic, (celery), shallot all getting a nice slow cooking in some butter. (note: I did make a half a recipe). The seasonings are salt and white pepper.

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The bouquet garni was the trickiest part – how to tie the herbs and bay leaf together with a leek green? Good thing I’m not fussy – I just put them in separately – easy enough to pull the stems out!

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Once the vegetables are softened, the broth and bouquet are added and they get to simmer for several minutes. Then chunks of potato are added.

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The mixture simmers for another 7-10 minutes, then the fish is added. It is supposed to be in about 1/2″ chunks, and can be a mixture of fish, which sounds great if you’re near the ocean! As it was, I picked up some true cod at WF and then, realizing that I didn’t actually buy enough, supplemented with some scallops I had in the freezer.

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Since all of this needed to simmer for another 7-10 minutes, I had time to clean the mussels. The up side to getting them at the same market is that they hand pick ones that are in good shape. The down side is that they aren’t actually cleaned. But easy enough for a pound of mussels to be de-bearded and cleaned.

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I was planning to have some for lunch, but really to save this for dinner. One of my mom’s very favorite things: mussels! So I only cooked a few for my lunch. But again, they are simply added to the top, and allowed to steam for a couple of minutes until they open. When I was cleaning them, I thought maybe there were a couple of varieties – I think I was right based on the cooked mussels.

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This is to be served in a wide soup bowl with a slice of toasted crusty bread on the bottom. I had just made some bread, but not the crusty kind (the kind my grandmother taught me to make!), so I had it on the side. After tasting the broth, I decided to go ahead and make the optional vinaigrette to go on top as well.

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This was pretty delicious! I do think that the vinaigrette is an important element, since it provides a bit of acid to the soup. It really brightened things up. And some nice bread is a must for that delicious broth.

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This really was a simple dish. I think I might just add a bit of white wine to the broth. And maybe a bit more garlic. But as is, it is still a terrific dish! Hopefully it will be a hit this evening!! It should be – it’s crisp and cold in the high country in Arizona today – hopefully there will still be a little snow by the time I get there!

If you would like to see how other Doristas fared with this simple breton fish soup, you can check their posts out over at the French Fridays with Dorie site.

CCC – December: Leek risotto with chestnuts

Leek risotto with chestnuts. It just sounds lovely. And, ok, like all risottos, it sounds a bit time-consuming too. My plan this month was to make a couple of much-simpler recipes, and aspire to this one. Well, my month got busy – two trips to Mexico City, another to Seattle… well, and all of those other holiday things. So, it was the leek risotto after all!

This was a fun, easy recipe to make. Sliced leeks get sauteed in butter, and after about 20 minutes of a slow simmer turn wonderfully soft and silky.

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While all of that is happening, the stock is prepared. I usually use Penzey’s, and their vegetable stock is a real favorite. I don’t have the space to keep home made stock on hand, so this makes for a good substitute. Of course, arborio is the rice of choice.

The rice is added to the leeks, coated with butter, and then a bit of wine is added. Once that’s evaporated, then the process of slowly adding a bit of stock at a time with a good stir commences. Once all of the stock is incorporated, a bit of butter is dabbed on the top and it gets to wait for a few minutes while the chestnuts are readied. They are crumbled and heated in a bit of butter.

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Finally, the dish is assembled by topping the risotto with the chestnuts and some fresh thyme leaves.

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This was a delicious dish. It was important to have the thyme as well, as it really added another note to the dish. Like most risottos, it was warming and filling. I will look forward to trying the Arancini with the leftovers!

There were so many other wonderful recipes for the cooks participating in the Cottage Cooking Club, that I hope you will check out their results here. And of course, the book is terrific, so you could even pick up a copy of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg yourself.

ffwd – 2014 Christmas Card/Recipe Exchange

Question #102: If you could indulge in only one type of cookie this holiday season, which cookie would you be eating a lot of?

Thus started my participation in this year’s Christmas Card exchange among the members of French Fridays with Dorie. For the past few years, those who were interested/able exchanged Christmas cards. It’s a wonderful tradition, and one that has also prompted me to up my game on Christmas cards in general. It is such a treat to check for mail and find some interesting and lovely cards that are so thoughtfully provided by friends and family. After receiving a couple of (wonderful) recipes in the post along with a card, as a much lesser co-conspirator with our friend Alice who amazes us all with her energy and is the real spirit behind this project, we decided it would be fun to exchange recipes and blog about them – either our own, or someone else’s that we wanted to try.

Well, so that leads us to where we are now. I worked on an international project until the 18th of December, and of course, cards with recipes wouldn’t necessarily arrive until close to Christmas itself. But what a wonderful project! We were able to share in the real lives of our virtual friends, and in some of the experiences of love and family across the miles. Totally irresistible!

So, back to my question – my Mom’s answer was: “the coconut bars Grandma used to make”. So that was my choice for the recipe exchange. Of course, this is a group that has decided opinions – so the first time I read “eeewe!” I thought that perhaps I should make my own. But so many other choices too. I confess that I went with the 1st received methodology for choosing my recipes. So many more I would love to try! But alas, not enough time!!

I did enlist my nieces for some of the work. We get together every year for as much time as we can to bake cookies in anticipation of the Christmas Holidays. It’s a special time we get to share with each other, and we are able to catch up on what’s going on. Now that they are “all grown up” it is even more fun that they can make time to spend an afternoon with “Aunt Candy”.

OK, so my coconut bars were on the agenda. I guess people like coconut or don’t – if you do, these are really fantastic. Before the girls joined in the fun, I made Maria’s melomakarona. What a fun departure, which was the whole point. I got huge kudos for these when I shared with friends. I also made Karen’s Christmas Crack(ers) as I dubbed them – irresistable, and just a bit lighter than traditional toffee. I’d never made them before and it was fun to try Karen’s Grandmother’s recipe! We also made Tricia’s snickerdoodles – always a treat (well, ok, not perfect looking, but still a favorite for all of our tasters). Finally, Trevor’s hollandaise was irresistible as a treat for Christmas eve – just the perfect thing to make our king crab legs and broccolini that much more special!

Since my timeframe is getting a bit narrow, I will leave you with the photos of our efforts. So very much fun, and I was sorry to not have enough time to make all of the recipes I received. I will certainly make the effort over the coming days/weeks, as they all sound so delightful.

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Thanks to all of the Doristas who helped make this season Merry and Bright. It is such a pleasure and privilege to cook along with you, and be so impressed with all of your awesome efforts each week. Thanks so much for sharing a part of your home and families this season!! Here’s to a delightful and delicious 2015!!

ffwd – lamb and dried apricot tagine

This dish is a wonderful departure from other braises that are so perfect for this time of year. Not only is it lamb vs. beef, but it includes a combination of warming spices and dried apricots for a bit of sweetness that contributes to a wonderful combination of flavors that is so satisfying. There is a mixture of spices including coriander, saffron, cinnamon, ginger, red pepper flakes and cumin along with salt and pepper. Of course garlic and onions and the lamb and dried apricots. Rounding the recipe out, some canned diced tomatoes and a bit of chicken broth.100_3751

I used slices from a leg of lamb because that was what was most convenient. Perhaps even a bit too lean, but that eliminates steps down the road. The lamb gets cut into chunks and browned in a bit of olive oil – it takes a few shifts in the pan to brown all of the meat without crowding. Once that’s complete, the onions and garlic are added for their turn in the pan, stirring up all of the browned bits on the bottom.

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Next, the tomatoes get added along with some broth, and that gets to simmer for a bit along with the spices.

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After about an hour or so (mine was longer – I was working and got sidetracked!), the dish comes out, gets a good stir and is ready to serve with your choice of something to take advantage of the lovely sauce. I chose rice. Toppings are toasted almonds and a bit of cilantro (no, I didn’t get that far, but there’s another meal where I can try that out).

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This is such an aromatic, yummy, warming dish. The flavor combination is different, but so delicious, and not a stretch at all. It was terrific with the rice, though I’m sure if your preference was some other grain, seed or starch, it would be nice too. This was a fun dish to make. You can find out what other people thought of the recipe by checking the French Fridays with Dorie site.

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Cranberry Spice Cake

Before I’d ever really heard of Dorie Greenspan, before I had seen the cookbook Around my French Table, or been introduced to French Fridays with Dorie, there was this cake. This amazing cranberry spice cake that I found in Bon Appetit magazine and it was Dorie’s recipe. Look how gorgeous the official photo looks! Well, I’ve been baking this cake at this time of year since the recipe appeared in 2008. It is the perfect cake for taking to a party, or simply having a slice with a cup of coffee (lately, I know people who have been eating it for breakfast!)

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The recipe is fairly simple and straightforward. Butter, sugar, almond meal (I think this might have been my first use of it all those years ago – thanks again Dorie!), flour, etc. and then – Chinese Five Spice! Another revelation – and one of the best uses for that spice blend. Also, the recipe uses yogurt for tangy-ness and both dried and fresh cranberries.

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The steps are fairly typical for any cake – creamed butter and sugar, the additions of the other ingredients, and then a stir-in of the cranberries and nuts.

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The batter gets spread into a prepared bundt pan. I love using the vintage one that I’ve had for years. It was someone’s grandma’s – maybe my ex’s? But I still love it with its wonderful shape.

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Then this gets baked for about 70 minutes in a 350 degree oven, you can test it with a toothpick or needle to see if it comes out clean. The cake turns a lovely golden color, and provides a delightful spicy aroma as it bakes.

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To be honest, I never bother with the glaze. I’m sure it would be terrific with its hint of orange, but I think this cake is perfect as it is. Though for dessert, a little ice cream wouldn’t go amiss!

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Hopefully you’ll try out this wonderful confection when you’re looking for something simple, yet fancy. So much simpler than cookies or pastries, but a big step up from other bundt-style cakes. And the perfect flavor combinations for this time of year!

CCC – chestnut & sage soup, twice-baked potatoes – the November recipes

At this time of year, things seem to get very busy. I’ve been working a lot, some of it on a new project out of the country, so between that and hosting Thanksgiving (weekend!), I have missed out on a few recipes. That said, I did get to a couple, and I’m happy I did.

At first blush, the chestnut and sage soup  was a little too reminiscent of a number of beige-looking soups I’ve made over the past couple of years. But I was determined to try it because every time I use chestnuts in soup, I love the result. And in this version – there’s sage. And I think that nothing says fall like sage. Interestingly, some of it gets crisped up in a bit of olive or other oil.

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The soup is simple enough, vegetable broth and a few other things, along with some cooked chestnuts. I was able to find them prepared, so it turned into a quick soup. I used the immersion blender, but if I had more time I think it would turn out better (that is, much smoother) if I used a regular blender. I also added a dollop of cream and a drizzle of the sage oil along with the sage leaves. I wished I’d made more!

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It may not be much to look at, but this was a wonderful soup. And I totally loved the crisped sage leaves. I need to make them again, and find different ways to use them. So very good.

The other recipe I completed this month was for twice-baked potatoes. To be honest, I did make them to serve alongside something not-vegetarian-at-all, but these would make a delicious meal on their own, or with some shredded and sauteed squash (as I did here). They are simplicity itself. A baked potato, with the flesh scooped out, and combined with green onions, butter and sour cream, placed back in their shells and topped with some cheese. Then baked to heat through.

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I ended up using a fairly “pedestrian” cheese, but it was lovely combined with the soothing potatoes. Individual servings of anything are always fun, and these do make for a nice presentation, though of course, some truly flavorful cheeses would be great, or even some different seasonings. But these were delicious as they were.

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You can find all of the Cottage Cooking Club results here. I’m sure that there are some wonderful dishes I missed, and I can’t wait to read through all of the results!