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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Catching Up With French Fridays with Dorie in 2014

Here's to a great new year - 2014!  I hope it's a good one for everyone around Dorie's French Table. Instead of New Year's resolutions, I try to determine a mindset for the year. So 2014 is all about optimism. I am feeling optimistic about everything - finishing my certificate in Instructional Technology Design, expanding my role in my job, my family's good health, a wonderful sweet spring, a great garden, long hot summer days....even though it's about 19 degrees outside right now.  Whew- what a winter southern New Jersey has had so far!  Way too cold (damn frigid) and some decent snowstorms (by our standards)!

Our wonderful neighbor Rob was snow-blowing the driveway again this morning for us and as I past him on my way to work, he cheerfully (not) reminds me that we have about 8 more weeks of this!  I use this weather to do some cleaning-out in the house and minor little fun projects, like recovering my bar stools (they look great in their new black ultrasuede!), or getting stuff together for  Goodwill runs.  I just love a reorganized closet!

And that led me to think about Dorie and the Around My French Table cookbook blogging.  Gosh, I have missed participating and reading other Dorista blogs on the same!  But I have to accept the starts and stops with it though I so admire (and envy) the staying power of many members of the group.  So, I jumped on the French Fridays with Dorie blog to see what was happening.  The January menu was there, but there was a new link, one that spelled the coming end.......Recipes Left to Complete.  I felt a bit of a panic and sadness realizing that the cooking and blogging was nearing its shelf life.  It seems this is the last year.

It's January, a new month in a new year.  So I start again......and somehow I've got to see this last year through.  I'll be starting another class next week so that's gonna fight for most of my free time but I am determined.  Instead of a weekly recipe and blog, mine might be monthly.  I will accept that. So here's 4 out of 5 Dorie recipes for January ( I don't think I will get to Paris-brest though on page 475).

Here's the wonderfully, creamy, cheesy pasta risotto (Jan. 3, page 369).  It made a terrific quick supper all in one pan.  I added peas and ham to give it some extra bulk.

 And then it was Baked Apples Filled with Fruits & Nuts (Jan. 10, page 394) These were dessert on the same night as the pasta risotto.  Naturally, we added vanilla ice cream to the bowl, YUM.

The Moules Mariniere (Jan 24, page 312) was a super simple supper on Sunday.  French baguette sopped up all the delicious juices (shallots, wine, parsley, butter)

Christine's Simple Party Soups (Jan. 17, page 62), I chose the Red Pepper version for another quick something hot to eat on a weeknight.  The hot version wasn't a hit in our house.  I think I'd prefer the chilled version in summer, it even has a summer weight and texture.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Orange Scented Lentil Soup 3_15_13

This time last year we had a 3 day run of 70 degree days.  This year the winter wants to hold on with days of  wind chills in the low 30's, blustery winds, some peeks of sun, and now a rainy, snowy, icy mix today.  Next week doesn't look any better. Sigh. Maybe that will mean we will have a long spring.  I love spring with the slow unfurling of bright green leaves of plants, shrubs, and trees.  That shade of 'new' green is my favorite.

So the weather called for soup, and as it turns out this week's 'Around My French Table' recipe was the Orange Scented Lentil Soup.  Lentils, carrots, onions, celery chicken broth, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, clove, orange skin peel, and fresh ginger were the ingredients.  This soup was super fast and easy to cook up, and then puree. Everything was great until the puree....I ladled half of the soup into the Vitamix, popped on the top, and turned it on. Guess that lid was on right as I had lentils flying around outside the blender.  Luckily not much was lost but the cleanup of under the cabinet and backsplash wasn't so fun. That's life in the kitchen!   I ladled the soup into 2 bowls for Husband and me, topped it with a little yogurt, and we agreed it was the perfect dish for the day.  Love the flavors of this lentil dish.  It will probably replace my own recipe for lentils; we liked it that much!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Lemon Steamed Spinach

This week's recipe, I thought, was the lemon steamed spinach.  It appears that it was not, but I will go ahead with this post anyway.  What a crazy week!  In New Jersey we had a winter storm threat that didn't quite deliver the snow that was expected (so glad!) but we did have some wicked winds.  Then when we weren't expecting snow, I awoke on Friday morning to see about 1.5 inches on the ground (yes, I know that's not a lot) and had to drive up to the middle of the state for a quarterly conference for work.  March's storm in our are tried to put on a brave face, but she was mild in the end. Winter's last hurrah, I suppose.  Our neighbors in the north though got a good 6 inches.  I know the New Englanders would tell us to quit whining, after all, they got blasted again with some getting another 2 feet.  Oh, I love their summers but those winters...

I don't have a steamer basket (how's that you ask?) so I had no choice but to wilt the spinach in the olive oil, lemon zest, and lemon juice so it doesn't have full leaf appearance. 'Looks aren't everything' is a true adage many times, and certainly the case with my wilted spinach.  The lemon flavor was a real standout with the baby spinach flavor.  I made a version of the salmon Dorie suggested to go with this dish.  My salmon was simple with a hoisin sauce and toasted sesame seeds. Dinner in about 30 minutes, start to finish.

Now I have to go read all about the cheesy creme brulee that the other Doristas made this week.  It's sounds delish!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Chicken Breasts Diable

I didn't think the recipe sounded so great, I have to admit.  But it was a simple recipe using chicken breasts, shallot, onion, white wine, heavy cream, french mustard, salt, pepper.  So it was to be the Friday night supper.  Son is rarely around for dinner these days with his work and social schedule and I try NOT to cook on Friday nights.  Husband reminded me of that. Usually it's pizza or chinese food night.  I assure him it was going to be a quick cook and not a bother.

I didn't have chicken breasts, but did have some skinless, boneless chicken thighs, which I use a lot as they are tasty and moist.  I pounded them out flat between wax paper before slipping them into the fry pan with olive oil and butter.  Is there anything better than the smell of chicken frying?  I got a nice brown crust on the outsides and then I let them rest under a foil tent on a platter in a warm oven while I started on the sauce. Into the fry pan went the shallot and garlic and I let them cook until softened and added the white wine, let it boil some, then added the heavy cream and some wonderful french mustard with provence herbs.  Wow, what an aroma.  It didn't take Husband long to come into the kitchen sniffing the air and asking how long until dinner!  I took a taste of the sauce, and while it wasn't 'hot', it had a nice mustardy-winey bite.
I served the chicken along with some carrots and 2 colors of green beans.  Wonderful dish!  It looked like spring on a plate, more than the pea soup from the week before.

We've got spring fever!  March has now arrived and I can't wait to get outside and work the gardens!  The daffodil leaves are up promising to deliver the gorgeous yellow blooms in just a few weeks. The red tips of the peonies also have emerged.  I saw some red flower buds coming on the trees.
I am a March birthday girl and I usually take the day off from work.  My birthday is mid-month and I've been lucky more times than not, to have a warm enough day to spend outdoors.  I walk around our three quarter acre and see all of the gardening tasks to be done and wonder how many hours I've spent doing that in the last 27 years here.  But I love it, especially since I sit and stare at a computer all day at work.  Every year I say to myself that I've planted enough and can just maintain what's there.  But that resolution doesn't last!  Already I have about 15 new plants coming from favorite mail order company  There plants are sizable, healthy, robust, and reasonably priced.  Do I know where I am going to plant these?  No, I don't, lol! I buy mostly perennials that the deer leave alone unless they are desperate.  Plants like peonies, daffodils, bleeding heart, foxglove, columbine, hellebores. I have my David Austin roses protected behind a wire fence.  Deer love roses.

I also want to start some heirloom tomatoes and eggplant from seeds. I did that a couple of years ago with good results. I have a grow light and heating mat that I set up in the garage.

So what do you do when spring fever strikes you?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Cheating on Winter Pea Soup

This soup held a lot of promise, after all, cheating on winter sounds like a good idea at this time of year.  All those birds I've been hearing in the morning also sounds like 'cheating on winter'.  Maybe they want to cheat, too, and get started early on the construction of their spring homes.

I certainly loved the few ingredients:  onions, butter, chicken broth, peas, and romaine lettuce, along with salt/pepper, creme fraiche or sour cream and bacon bits. As promised by Dorie, I whipped this soup up in about 15 minutes.  My immersion blender seemed to be working hard to puree everything, and though I have my Vitamix in the corner of my kitchen, I chose to keep blending in the pan.  When I read about the pea skins remaining after this process (immersion vs. regular blending), I thought that maybe it wouldn't be a big deal. Especially after coming home from my hour long Jazzercise class (my replacement class for the one that no longer runs at work), and deciding dinner would be this soup and only 15 minutes cook time.  Jazzercise is a lot of fun; if you haven't tried it, it's an hour of fun dance moves guaranteed to get your heart rate up and sweat flowing!  But I love it.  I took it about 25 years ago (yes, it has been around that long!) and loved it.  So when I found a local class about 20 minutes away, I joined.  I am in my 4th week.  Not a class for faint of heart.  To my surprise and delight, there are many women my age (50+) and older, and younger, so it's a very mixed group.  I am happy to see mature ladies taking care of themselves and in such numbers!
So I wasn't worried about a few pea skins at around 8pm, when I decided to plate up the soup for Husband and me.  Son wouldn't eat this pea soup; he prefers the Chunky Pea Soup with Ham (it is good, I admit).
I loved the vibrant green color!  That in itself was 'cheating on winter'!

The flavor was decent though I thought some herbs would have brightened it even more.  And I did find the pea skins to be quite annoying.  If I make it again, it will have to be blended in the Vitamix blender.

Check out this and other great Dorie recipes at

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Squash and Brussels Sprouts

Brown Sugar Squash and Brussels Sprouts en Papillote 1/31/13

In my house, only Husband and I will eat brussel sprouts and squash, Son will not touch either.
Instead of using foil packets to house the cubed butternut squash, I halved Brussels sprouts, and cubed and peeled the apples, and decided to roast them in one large pan. Tossed with olive oil, brown sugar (though I didn’t think the extra sweetness was called for), salt and pepper, they went into the 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes.
It wasn’t a bad tasting dish, but I wasn’t thrilled with it either. I’ve made both vegetables other ways and found my own version brought out their respective flavors much better. Husband liked it well enough, though.
My versions: I bake butternut squash with sweet corn with butter and maple syrup as a side dish for Thanksgiving. My favorite way to prepare brussels sprouts is simple to microwave them with a tablespoon or two of bacon fat. Heavenly (in my opinion)!
I cooked it, we ate it, probably not to be seen on my table in this version again.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Shrimp and Cellophane Noodles

Shrimp and Cellophane Noodles 1/24/ 13
Was there a picture of this in the book?  No, I can’t recall seeing one.  Perhaps it would have discouraged the Doristas from cooking this dish?  The ingredients sounded good, all but the tomato puree.  Did Dorie want to flatter the cook for some reason?  Sorry, Dorie, that’s not fair probably, but I can’t think why you asked for the recipe when you left after my family and I had it for dinner.
I used rice noodles (didn’t have any cellophane ones in the house), and shitake mushrooms (didn’t have time to shop for the Chinese tree ears).  The Chinese 5 spice, sugar, garlic, cayenne-- all great flavors, along with onion and garlic, yum.  Sesame oil adds depth.  Cilantro is bright.  Shrimp—love it.  The weird ingredient?  Tomato puree.  Tomato in any version seemed odd in this dish. 
After I stir-fried all before adding the tomato puree, I thought this was  going to be tasty.  As soon as the puree went in, my hopes were dashing.  Okay, okay, stick with it, I thought as I poured the shrimp-mushroom-tomato concoction over the rice noodles.  I was happy to cover it up with the cilantro.  Did that help its look?  I think not.  It looked like a bad gravy (another word for spaghetti sauce) over way-overcooked pasta. 
But I called the troops to dinner.  Husband, son (wow, he was going to try it?), nephew and I sat down and dug in with our chopsticks.  Husband loved the flavor (he’s pro anything with pasta and gravy); son takes after his father but refused to eat the mushrooms, nephew (always adventurous) said it was ‘different’ but he liked the flavors but not all the sauce. 
Yeah, way too much sauce.  Where did the sauce idea come in?  I also found the noodles kind of gloppy (is that a word?) I dunno know but if I make it again it will have some kind of red curry sauce zigzagged over the top.  Loved the pungent flavor of the cilantro, would have been better without the sauce.  Must make a note on the page….