CCC – Thai Tomatoes in August

This month for the Cottage Cooking Club I made Tomatoes with Thai Dressing – I love Thai flavors, and I also love tomatoes – and fortunately had plenty from the garden.

Like many of the “raw assembly” recipes, this was simple to put together – designed to highlight the flavor of the tomatoes, while adding something a bit more interesting. The dressing is made first – with a bit of hot(ish) red chile, garlic, balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar, sesame oil and honey. The suggested herb was mint – but I forgot mine, so I went with one of my favorite herb combinations in Thai food – fresh basil and cilantro.

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To this, I added my halved cherry tomatoes along with a little salt and pepper.

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Alone, this is a gorgeous dish. The Thai tomatoes shared the table with a fresh/charred corn salad, a tian of summer vegetables and a cheese platter designed to compliment the nectarine cinnamon-basil nectar that I’d made the weekend before (we had cambazola and manchego – yum!).

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Since all of the meals were made from farm/garden fresh vegetables and herbs picked that day – it was difficult to find a favorite – but I will certainly say that when I was offering “go-packages”, the tomatoes topped the list.

They were refreshing and the complex dressing complimented the sweetness of the tomatoes. If I were making this again, I would certainly want to add the mint to the mix. I would also probably either substitute the sesame oil with some fish sauce – or at least reduce it and add some. That would make this dish a bit more Thai to me – and I think would work well with the other flavors.

There were other recipes that I had planned to make this month, and others that I had on my short list as well. I hope to get back to those when things slow down a but. But until then – you and I can visit the Cottage Cooking Club, and find out how well the other dish choices went over with our members this month. Fortunately, members often make different recipes during the month – so you can see a preview of any recipes you missed.

Nectarine Cinnamon-Basil Nectar

One of my favorite things about summer is growing edible plants in the garden. For me, it is relaxing, and it also reminds me of my Dad. We always had some kind of a garden when I was growing up. Sometimes not such a big one because he was a busy man, but I think it brought back memories of growing up on a farm in New Mexico, and he would talk about truck-farmers with respect – folks whose lives revolved around growing food to support their families. Of course, my Mom’s Dad had the greenest thumb ever. He grew exotic orchids in his back yard in Southern California and sent them to us every year so that my mother could make spectacular corsages for my brothers’ prom dates. Of course, he grew lots of other things, though by the time I was old enough to participate, we would go pick boysenberries so that my Grandmother could make amazing boysenberry cobblers and all sorts of other delicious things. So, I guess I come from a wonderful tradition of people who love to grow (and cook) food for their families.

Living in northern Arizona (forget trying to grow anything in the valley of the sun!), it’s just wild enough and just hot enough that there are limits to what we can grow (oh, and that part about being a weekend-only gardener, among other things). So there are only a few things I grow. Sweet 100 tomatoes, and then a myriad of herbs. One of my favorites that I have found is cinnamon-basil. It has a beautiful aroma, and I just can’t get enough. Sure, there’s sweet basil, sometimes Thai basil, purple basil (when I can get it to grow), African purple basil – but it’s always a treat to find cinnamon basil and growing it in the garden.

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About two ago, I made some peach-basil jam. I had found a recipe for nectarine-basil a few years ago, but of course I didn’t have time to do the whole process – and didn’t really want the texture it described. But  when I made the peach-basil a couple of years ago, the version I made was great! One of my friends’ favorites. So, this year, I decided that I would take advantage of the bountiful basil I was growing – and thought why not go back to the original – OK, with a tweak!

I wanted to end up with some slices of nectarine, suspended in a fragrant, jewel-like jelly.

I have learned that basil, when left in the jam as it cooks gets brittle – so decided I would go with macerating the basil with the sugar and nectarines. I used 2-3 large branches of basil, and bruised the basil – leaving in the stems, since I’d be removing them and they would impart fairly strong flavor..

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I used just over 4 cups of nectarines sliced very thinly, the basil, 1/3 c lemon juice and 7.5 cups of sugar. Usually I’m a fast canner (I can make a batch of jam in 30 minutes if I try – and that includes clean-up), since I most-often use pectin. This time, I decided to take others’ advice and let the fruit, herbs and sugar sit – infusing the sugar and juice with the cinnamon-basil flavor. (note: this is the process for liquid pectin – I don’t often use it for jams, but makes wonderful jelly – and allowed me to have the sugar, fruit and herbs sit and combine flavors)

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As it turned out, this left me some time to run some errands and go pick up some corn and other vegetables from my favorite vegetable stand. So, this mixture sat for around 5 hours or so (this can be left for up to 8 hours, but after that, must be refrigerated). Before I could finish up my nectar, I had to remove the basil in the mix. Already it had started to toughen and get brittle. I took some time because there were some small pieces from getting this all mixed up. I strained the herbs as well.

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Finally, ready to go – all of the jars, rings, lids simmering away. All of the other tools ready too – and a few fresh basil leaves – one for each jar, ready for the process. The packets of pectin, cut open and propped up, ready for the quick action of completing the recipe. One note: I always use the tip of adding just a 1/2 teaspoon of butter to keep the foam down from the pectin – and I also find that Ball brand creates less foam as well.

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The process is easy – and I followed the directions on the box. The fruit mixture is heated to boiling (one that is hard enough that you can’t stir it down), then 2 packages of liquid pectin are added. The mixture is brought back to a full rolling boil for one minute. This is the trickiest part – it can boil over, and it can also bubble drops of molten sugar out of the pan – so just be forewarned. Stir the entire time – and I usually partially move the pan on and off of the high heat to maintain the boil, but keep it safe!

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Finally, the jars are filled and capped off. As noted, I added one basil leaf to each jar (it’s pretty and reminds me that’s what’s in there until I get the labels on!). Process per the directions. This is easy/not dangerous canning – since there is so much sugar, and the acid from the lemon juice.

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I ended up with a couple of extra jars – supposed to be 7 jars, I ended up with 9. A nice problem to have. I think the color is gorgeous, and what I tasted was delicious!

So, what will I use it for? I actually love this kind of thing on good toast, or a bagel. But what I really think is divine is to pair with cheese. This will pair so well with so many delicious options. Manchego, burratta, brie, a soft goat cheese… or even simple cream cheese. I also think it will be fabulous drizzled in lieu of honey over crostini with a soft gorgonzola. So many options! Of course, this would also make a wonderful glaze for grilled salmon or chicken.

 

Nectarine Cinnamon-Basil Nectar

4 – 1/4 cups thinly sliced nectarines
2 large bunches of cinnamon-basil (or any other basil – purple would be lovely)
1/3 c lemon juice
7 1/2 cups sugar
(1/2 teaspoon butter)
2 packets liquid pectin

CCC – It’s the end of July already?

I’m not certain where the month of July has gone,IMG_4352 but it surely has. This has been known as the “silly season” in my field. Too many projects, too short of timelines – and well, too much in general. The month did start off with a bang! Literally. I spent the 4th of July weekend in the San Diego area. A small-town parade and barbecue on Coronado Island, Beautiful fireworks lighting up the beautiful sky, and of course, great friends to spend time with…

This month for the Cottage Cooking Club, I was planning on making 4 recipes. And really, who couldn’t fit in a little stir-fry and some sliced cucumbers with mint? Who? Me, that’s who. But I did complete two recipes. Though I’m embarrassed to show one of them. Not because the vegetables are not beautiful, but because, well, so very easy! Might as well start there!

100_4042One of my chosen recipes was for Artichokes. Simple, steamed artichokes. They are one of my favorite vegetables, and often make their way to my table. I particularly like the medium sized ones – they are perfect for a quick meal, and small enough that you can actually eat the heart before you are completely full! To be honest, I followed my regular plan. I cut off the tops, and if I want to 100_4045be “fancy” or just make sure that no one gets stabbed with the little spikes at the end of the leaves, I will trim the leaves as well. It does make for a prettier presentation.

These then get steamed, cut side down for about 30 minutes. I have a couple of ways to check them. One is to pierce the bottom of the choke with a knife to see if it’s cooked through. Another that I’ve often seen (and sometimes do) is to pull off one of the leaves – so100_4046rt of near the middle – if it comes off easily, and the meat appears to be cooked, they are ready. I love the color of artichokes too! especially the combination of purple and green. So pretty!

I’m kind of a purist with artichokes. If I want to be fancy, I will sometimes pull out the center leaves, scrape out the choke itself (the little fibers in the middle), and place the leaves back to create a little cup. That can be filled with whatever you’re dipping the leave in. I used to use sour cream topped with caviar, but something like a shrimp salad would be wonderful too. But usually, I just opt for mayonnaise. I have some cute artichoke plates that I inherited. I can’t think of a better summer meal than a perfectly cooked artichoke – served hot or cold – just wonderful!

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The other recipe I completed was Peperonata. This is another version of sauteed peppers, this time, with an egg baked on top. It can be used as a topping for crostini, or in plenty of other ways – but as I was planning on this for dinner – well, what isn’t good with an egg on top? This recipe uses multi-colored peppers and they really are beautiful!

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Once the peperonata is made, for this presentation, it’s either placed into individual baking dishes, or it could remain in the pan. Eggs are broken on top, and baked for a few minutes. I topped mine with a bit of Parmesan cheese.

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This was quite tasty. I think I like it better as just a topping, or alongside other things as a side dish, but this is a good example of this type of recipe.

Alas, I did not get to the other two recipes as promised. That does not mean that I didn’t take advantage of the fresh produce that July had to offer.

Grilled shrimp-stuffed mushrooms and asparagus

Grilled shrimp-stuffed mushrooms and asparagus

A repeat of last month's grilled houlumi and fresh-picked cherry tomatoes, along with some fresh grilled corn substituting for the potatoes

A repeat of last month’s grilled houlumi and fresh-picked cherry tomatoes, along with some fresh grilled corn substituting for the potatoes

Smitten Kitchen's tomato scallion shortcakes

Smitten Kitchen’s tomato scallion shortcakes

Beautiful squash blossoms

Beautiful squash blossoms

All in all, July was a great food month, even if I didn’t stick with the script the way I should have. I’m sure that all of the other members of the Cottage Cooking Club came up with wonderful dishes as well. You can find them here.

Squash blossoms - filled with shrimp or herb cheese, served with a cilantro serrano cream

Squash blossoms – filled with shrimp or herb cheese, served with a cilantro serrano cream

CCC – The wonderful month of June!

This month of June with the Cottage Cooking Club has been a great one! So many delicious recipes, and not nearly enough time. But! We were offered many great selections from Hugh Fearnely-Wittingstalls’s River Cottage Veg. I feel like I’ve fallen down on the job recently – but I’m really the one that misses out! IMG_4190

My recipe choices for June included a Beet Green and Ricotta Tart. I was fortunate enough to be able to find beet greens when so many of my fellow participants could not. They were, also, attached to beets! So that meant that I would also be making an earlier favorite – beet soup!

We were definitely looking forward to the tart. It has the same sturdy crusts as Hugh uses, which makes it both delicious, and a great casing for fillings, since once served, the slice can be picked up – no wimpy falling-apart crust here. I did decide to save time and try pressing it into the shell. Well, not the best idea I ever had. It looked great, even par-baked, but it leaked… Surprisingly, it still held together once cooked though – so good lesson learned! The filling is the sauteed greens along with onions, garlic and fresh herbs. Then with ricotta salata (delicious!) and an egg and cream custard. This was fantastic, and held up well as a leftover. I would maybe use more greens next time, but it turned out great – so maybe it was perfect as is!

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IMG_4196I did make the beet soup again, this time roasting the beets attached to the greens. The ratio of greens to beets was high – lots of greens left over from the tart. But we decided that we liked the soup made with baby beets as I had before better than this time. I loved the roasted garlic, but the beets just weren’t as sweet – in fact a bit bitter. So. Note to self!

Another recipe I made this month was Macaroni Peas. A very simple macaroni pasta 100_4016recipe with a “sauce” made from green peas. There’s a little butter and Parmesan in there as well. Of course you can IMG_4206imagine the recipe. Cook Pasta, saute peas in butter, smash or blend some of them, add a bit of the pasta water and drained pasta – throw in cheese. Season with pepper (and herbs if you have them). This made for a quick dinner one evening after work. And it was ok. My peas ended up being a bit sweet for the dish, I thought. The Parmesan just didn’t add enough of a counterpoint. But I will likely make it again, since these ingredients are almost always on hand.

100_4023The New Potato Salad “Tartare” was one I made for a quick lunch one day. I am pretty sure that this was really popular with the other members of the Cottage Cooking Club. Not so much for me – which was a surprise because I love the New Potato, Tomato and Boiled Egg Salad. It was probably me. Too much of a hurry, oh who knows? But this one didn’t work for me. Maybe I had the wrong expectations.

Tomatoes with Herbs – another easy100_4027 assembly of wonderful ingredients. Cherry tomatoes, fresh chives, a bit of olive oil and some balsamic vinegar. Oh, and maybe a grind or two of fresh ground black pepper. This is always just shockingly good. The chives and balsamic really add to the dish. It really does scream summer!!

The final recipe I completed this month was Halloumi, New Potato and Tomato Kebabs.
Early in the month, I had despaired of nice grilling weather getting here (What was I thinking??), so didn’t know if I would be able to make these. But I love Halloumi cheese, so was looking forward to it. This recipe was a case of some things going spectacularly well, and a couple that I will change when I make this again (yes, it will happen!).

The marinade makes this recipe. I used meyer lemon olive 100_4030oil, lemon thyme and orange mint from my garden. That’s mixed along with a bit of honey, and I did add a splash of lemon juice. A few dried red chile flakes are added. The herbs of course get chopped up, and this is used to marinate the cheese, the tomatoes and boiled new potatoes prior to 100_4032grilling. That was the super-fantastic, never-to-be-forgotten part. The not-so-much part was the cooking of the potatoes. What was I thinking? When the recipe said slightly under done – I took it a bit too seriously. They needed to be cooked longer. And I forgot that the Halloumi that I get from Trader Joe’s is already “conveniently sliced”. That doesn’t work very well for skewering. Skewered it was, and marinated along with the potatoes and tomatoes. Knowing that the cheese would indeed melt a bit, I wanted to put something under the kebabs. Instead of using foil on the grill top, I used another handing screen that helps with veggies and other things falling through. Hmmm. Again, I should know better (but in truth, I was a little seduced by the photo in the book). So, it all started well, The cheese in places getting a bit brown, the tomatoes getting cooked and even the potatoes toasting in spots. But perfection was not to be. At least not in the grilling department.

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Perfection of another kind was, however. I was told to put a huge star on the page! While the potatoes could have been cooked a bit more, and the cheese could have held together better (and in truth, like all kebabs, putting each ingredient on skewers themselves would likely work better), this was delicious!! The marinade was amazing. The tomatoes were perfect – just a fabulous flavor combination. I’m actually happy that there are corrections to be made – since that requires I make it again – and soon!

There were other recipes to be made this month – a total of 10 to be exact! You can find out what all the others thought of these recipes by visiting the Cottage Cooking Club.

ffwd – the grand finale

As I’ve thought about this post over the past few weeks, running up to our final FFWD post from Around My French Table, I’ve thought of creating a finale evening, with champagne toasts, cheese-it-ish crackers, and of course, gourgeres. That would have been fun. Or some kind of eloquent reminiscence of the journey.

I’m pretty certain that there will be Doristas who do both of those things. And it will likely cause a few sniffles, if not actual tears (yep, I’ll have some). But this is really a graduation of sorts – so just like kids striking out on their own after the safe embrace of childhood and even university life – one of those “I’m an actual adult now!” moments. That’s both scary and exciting, and often bittersweet. Gone are the days when your mom or dad reminded you of your need to get out of bed, get a haircut, change the oil in your car (if you were lucky enough to have one), and even supplement your budget when things got short at the end of the month. So many responsibilities, now! But this is also a time when you can really choose what you want to work on, where you want to live, and learn how to do a lot of those little things that were taken care of for you for all those years. It’s a time of challenges – good and bad, and an opportunity to meet them and grow from them. I suppose that’s why graduations are often correctly referred to as commencements.

I’m trying to think of this as a sort of graduation too! We have become a close-knit group, and in advance of this inevitable graduation, among us we’ve come up with several ways to stay in touch, whether the Alumni group on FB, Andrea’s Cottage Cooking Club that several of us have been participating in for the last year, or the new group being sponsored by Alice, Emily and Christy, we’re pretty committed to staying in touch, and cheering each other on in the future. Of course, there may be other forays into groups either based on this one, the TWD group, or something else. Who knows! The future is bright, and we have ways to stay connected. I’ve thought of a few ideas of what other ways we might informally, or formally, challenge each other as well. We’ll see!

And like so many others in this group. I have other cookbooks. Lots of them. Really, lots. And that’s after sharing some with my nieces who have become good cooks, and sharing with strangers through book drives (yes, it’s true). Of course, I always add more, even though with this project I have tried to hold back. I’m looking forward to actually baking more from the beloved Baking Che Moi. But also I’m excited about cooking from The Slanted Door – Modern Vietnamese Food. I’ve also just purchased Teatime in Paris, and Food 52 Genius Recipes at the behest of our Dorista Family members (note to all who have the Food 52 book – the Carnitas recipe is genius indeed – the same recipe I’ve used for years. Diana Kennedy is to Mexican Food as Dorie Greenspan is to French). So, see, there are so many other things to cook. And bake. And enjoy. And share!

So, starting out in this new phase, I’m probably going to be looking to my “family” to help with the transition – maybe the occasional challenge or nudge. And of course for your inspiration! I am looking forward to seeing what cooking (and other) adventures people are endeavoring. What we will get up to. With a bit of trepidation, I’m hopeful and excited.

One of the things I’ve found most entertaining in putting together these last few posts is looking at all of the food pictures I’ve taken. Some are terrible, some not so much. Some food was amazing, some not so much. So I’m going to depart with a number of photos. In no particular order, certainly not preference. But what an amazing array from over the years!!

ffwd - salmon and tomatoes en papilloteffwd - tourteau de chevreP1020037100_1278IMG_1356100_2106100_3085100_3288100_3278IMG_2352100_3909100_1155100_0989100_0950100_0996100_1501100_1513100_1626100_1580100_1544100_1606100_1682100_1669100_1930100_1856100_2022100_1994100_1963IMG_1713IMG_1706100_2375100_2317100_2436100_2449IMG_2020IMG_1990IMG_2096100_3033crepes5100_3221100_3141100_0175100_0387100_0703100_3429IMG_2478c100_3521100_3536100_3713DSC00555100_3886100_3874100_3854100_0145000_0006100_0373100_0303\100_0269100_0252100_0218100_0196ffwd - spinach and sausage quicheffwd - bacon and eggs and asparagus saladffwd - roasted rhubarb ffwd - cola and jam spareribsffwd - vanilla eclairsffwd - orange-almond tartffwd - garlicky crumb-coated broccoli ffwd - basque potato tortillaffwd - chicken b'stilla ffwd - michel rostang's double chocolate mousse cakeffwd - gnocchi a la parisienne ffwd - spiced butter-glazed carrots

So with this, I bid a fond adieu! And look forward to the commencement of the next chapter in all of our journeys! You can find all of the final posts from my fellow bloggers at French Fridays with Dorie if you log onto the site. I’ll have my tissues ready for reading all of your posts! I am looking forward to all you have to say and share!

ffwd – play it again, Dorie

As we finish up our French Fridays with Dorie journey of cooking through Around my French Table, we are asked this week to offer the recipe or recipes that we’ve made most often from the book. Not necessarily a favorite, but something that we’ve made a number of times.

In no particular order, please consider:

my go-to beef daube. Before ffwd, I didn’t really like anything braised. “Boiled Boot” was just something that didn’t appeal. Sure, we had an occasional pot roast growing up, but this version, with wine, cognac and vegetables, is one that is both easy, and elegant all at the same time. It certainly satisfies for when you want something warm and comforting – or, maybe you just need something that can be made ahead. I have another recipe for short ribs that maybe I like better, but this always turns out perfectly and is the opposite of fussy. (as with all of those early recipes, the pictures are horrible!) Now that I look at this picture it reminds me that I first served this for one of my Dad’s birthdays! :)

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dressy pasta “risotto”. Dorie calls this is a recipe for a faux risotto. Not rice, but pasta. And very delicious. It’s also something that you can make just about any time – though I have to say that the marscapone is pretty key to the dish. It’s easy enough to dress up a bit, but fine as it’s written. And a bit of truffle oil certainly does not go amiss.100_3049

creamy, cheesy, garlicky rice with spinach. Michael, Dorie’s husband, is right – this is really good! I’ve made this countless times when I want something really yummy, in one pot, and only really have spinach for a vegetable on hand. It is super easy, but makes for a delicious meal. And sorry, but I’m just fine with it leftover, too.

100_0950And my final choice for a play it again recipe is compote de pommes two ways. This is really a fancy way of saying applesauce. But apples prepared at home this way are a far cry from what you get in a jar. This is the easiest of recipes, and results in a really wonderful dish. It’s a great way to use up apples, or to have on hand for a dollop on top of yogurt – or even ice cream. The “two-ways” really is about how long you cook the apples. The longer version produces a thicker, jammier dish. Oh, and did I mention that you add some good vanilla at the end, and perhaps a bit of butter? Warm or cold, smooth or chunky, made with the whole apple and sieved, or peeled and chunked up – it’s worth making this dish. IMG_1980Are there other recipes I’ve repeated? Sure. But these are the ones I’ve made most often, and are most likely to be something I repeat again. I’m sure that just like our other challenges this month, others will have different choices. Look to the French Fridays with Dorie site to see what they come up with!

ffwd – never doubt Dorie (aka, who knew?)

This second celebratory week for the French Fridays with Dorie group asks the question “what recipe(s) were surprises for you?”. OK, that wasn’t the real question, but when I think about the title – I think about those recipes where I was very quite skeptical, but learned that Dorie knew what she was doing when she wrote about it – and I was happy to have tried it.

There are three recipes that immediately came to mind. The very first recipe I ever tasted in the book was gérard’s mustard tart. My friend Teri, who got me started with this whole blogging adventure, served it at a book club meeting that she hosted. She did indeed make the selfsame tart as in the book. She’s a very skilled baker, and hers looked just like Dorie’s. She also introduced me to the group, since she planned on joining, and thought it would be fun for me too. I had been following her baking/blogging adventures and thought that it would be fun. Her blog certainly informed my concept, including documenting the steps in the process, etc.

To be honest, I didn’t really love, love the original version. It was good. So when it was time to make the tart in October of 2010, I decided that I would take advantage of a different version in the book. The tomato-mustard tart. This is something that I really must make again. I often forget because I think it would be amazing with summer tomatoes. But the mustard, the crème fraîche, the fabulous pastry – all combine with the tomatoes and rosemary combine for an amazing affect! Not in a million years would I have expected to like this so much (of course another benefit was making her tart dough…)

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The photos don’t do it justice, but certainly, this is one of those haunting – “wow that was good” recipes. Thank goodness it will be tomato season soon!

tourteau de chèvre was another surprise. This is a cheesecake of sorts – but one as unlike any American cheesecake as can be imagined. It really is the simplest thing to make – A crust of Dorie’s sweet tart dough, and then just eggs, goat cheese, a bit of sugar, vanilla or orange-flower water, touch of cognac and a bit of cornstarch. I am fairly certain that was my first use of the orange-flower water as well. Another item introduced by our author.

I really was taken aback by just how good this was. Not too sweet, a bit of tang from the goat cheese. I actually made mine with the regular pastry crust, not the sweet version. Either would be terrific. 100_0802

It was fun too, to have a recipe end up looking so much like the photo in the book. So satisfying.

And finally, another recipe that I adored, but didn’t expect to. goat cheese and strawberry tartine. It would never have occurred to me to put together this simple combination – but with such amazing results! We had this with a bit of wine on the patio, but the same idea could be used at any time of day. The sweetness of the strawberries and the tang of the goat cheese are accented with a good-sized grind of black pepper and some Balsamic vinegar.

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It will be fun to see what others thought about this little assignment. There were other surprises for sure, some of them not so pleasant even, but these were at the top of my list. To see what other Doristas thought about their never-doubt-Dorie moments, you can find their links on the French Friday with Dorie website.