mish mash and rehash

January 26, 2013
by solitaire

January Cook the Books Challenge – Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan

I have been meaning to write a blog for a few years now.  I decided 2013 is going to be the year to get started and the “Cook the Books” challenge was the perfect kick in the pants to get me started.

This month’s “Cook the Books” selection is Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan.  To be honest, I am not the biggest fan of French cuisine and I hadn’t heard of Dorie Greenspan before this.  My visit to Paris in Dec 2009 didn’t do much to change my opinion of French food either.  I am sure the fact that I was three months pregnant at that time and did not have the palate or stomach for any food had something to do with it!

Also, for some reason I don’t associate French food with comfort food the way I do with Italian pastas and Indian curries.  I have always thought of French cuisine as fancy food composed of small portion sizes and heavy sauces.  So I was ready to put my preconceptions to test and dive into this cookbook.

I must say I was pleasantly surprised by the simplicity and familiarity of the recipes in this book.  Many recipes have Spanish, Italian and North African influences.  I decided to experiment with recipes that are in my mind intrinsically “French” and others that would challenge me new ways.

Here are the recipes I chose:

Gougeres – It’s basically a big cheese puff and who doesn’t love cheese crackers.  So this felt like a good place to start.  I was impressed by how quickly and easily this came together.  I halved the recipe, since I didn’t want to be tempted into demolishing 36 cheese puffs!  They came out delish but perhaps a tad burnt!

French Onion Soup – This is probably the only French dish (other than French pastries) that I really enjoy!  I always order it when I see it on the menu.  And I always thought this was something complicated and a lot of work.  However, other than some elbow grease (and many tears) chopping up a bunch of onions, there isn’t much to making this yummy concoction.

Chicken B’stilla – I was smitten by the picture in the book. It seemed like the grand finale for this month’s challenge.  A chicken pot-pie with French and Moroccan influences – what could be better!  And the ingredient list read like something out of an Indian cookbook with the coriander and ginger.  Sounds yummy!!   Phyllo dough is not something I have enjoyed working with in the past.  So that added another challenge to the mix!  The recipe was definitely a challenge, but I would tweak a bit for my palate the next time round.  I thought it needed more spice in it!!

Paris Mushroom Soup – Mushrooms intimidate me.  For some reason, I can never get them right.  But we love mushroom soup (especially the one that we had at Juniper last year), and wouldn’t it be great if I could replicate it at home!?  Well, it turns out that I can!  This soup was so delicious.  I have yet to post the recipe and pictures.  It doesn’t use any cream, but the butter at the start is critical.  It’s also important that you puree this to a velvety smooth texture to get the full impact!

Crème Brulee – This is another French classic that I always order!  I ordered a set of ramekins three years ago with the goal of making crème brulee at home.  And I still haven’t made it!  My excuse is that I don’t own a blow torch and I don’t really feel like investing in anything that shoots an open flame (especially now that I have a nosy toddler to reckon with).   However, I am encouraged with my broiler’s performance after the French onion soup experiment.  So let’s see if the broiler can work the same magic on my crème brulee.  I plan to try my hand on this over this weekend.

One of the many mementos on the Williamsburg Bridge

January 25, 2013
by solitaire

B’day Outing to Williamsburg, Brooklyn

The route we walked

The route we walked

My birthday fell on a Friday this year.  Hubby and I took the day off and decided to celebrate it in a way reminiscent of the days before we had our daughter.  It was a cold and gray day, but I was determined to make the most of it.

We started the day as usual by dropping off our daughter at her daycare and then boarding the train into the city.  By 10 AM we were at city hall.  We stopped at Blue Spoon Coffee for a cortado and bagel and then walked towards Brooklyn Bridge.

Despite living in the NY metro area, we have never walked across the Brooklyn Bridge before.  The weather and the time of the year, kept the usual hordes of tourists away and we had the bridge to ourselves.  After entering Brooklyn, we walked in the direction of Williamsburg.  Thanks to GPS on our smartphones and a few helpful locals we found our way into Williamsburg . It was interesting to see how the landscape changed from seedy to Orthodox Jewish to hipsterville.

Once in Williamsburg, we walked up and down the main drag before heading to Mast Brothers chocolate.  Hubby bought me a half-dozen chocolate bars as my b’day present and we headed back to the main street in search of a place to eat.  We ended up at Potlikker, where we had yummy sandwiches for lunch.

Tummy full, we headed towards the Williamsburg bridge.  It was close to 1:30 at this point.  We walked across the bridge back into Manhattan.  There were even fewer people on this bridge and the views of the city, Brooklyn and the Manhattan & Brooklyn bridges were spectacular!  This is a grittier bridge striped with graffiti and with a subway line running thru the middle of it.  It also seemed like a longer walk than the Brooklyn bridge.  I personally thought this was more interesting than the Brooklyn Bridge!

Once on the other side, we took a cab to Union Square and ended up at City Bakery for hot chocolate.  A friend of mine had taken me there the week before and I had been dreaming of their hot chocolate ever since!  It is definitely the best hot chocolate I have had, almost feels like liquid milk chocolate!

And that was the perfect ending to our perfect day out! After the hot chocolate, we headed back home to pick up our little monster from day care and celebrate my b’day together!

Here are pictures of our walk from City Hall to Williamsburg and back into Manhattan


Places we visited during our walk:

Blue Spoon Cafe

Mast Brothers Chocolate


City Bakery

Other places that were also on my list

Brooklyn Brewery – They offer public tours during the day Monday thru Thursday

Blue Bottle Coffee – The New York outpost of the famous San Fran coffee

Diner – Farm to table etc. etc. etc.

Robertas Pizza – Supposedly best pizza in Brooklyn

Out of the oven and onto the platter

January 25, 2013
by solitaire
1 Comment

Chicken B’stilla


I picked this recipe for January’s Cook the Books challenge because it really looked like a challenge!

This recipe turned into my Sunday project!  Marinating the chicken took up most of the afternoon. And then making the chicken filling was a two-step process – first cooking the chicken in broth and then making a custardy sauce from the remaining broth.  I thought I was in the homestretch when the filling was done, ….but I hadn’t accounted for the darn phyllo dough!  I didn’t realize that the frozen phyllo sheets had to be defrosted before use.  By the time I realized my error, I had already wasted one perfectly good roll of phyllo!  Anyway, it was 9PM at this point and I didn’t have the 2 hours required to defrost the remaining phyllo.  So I just popped it into the microwave for 30 seconds and hoped for the best.  Well, it worked …sort of.  The sheets didn’t peel off cleanly but I did the best I could with the few pieces I could salvage.

In the end, it did look very pretty and it was only around 10:30PM before we sat down for dinner. However, I am not so sure it was worth all the time and effort though.  Of course, it will go more quickly the next time round but I do think I would make a few tweaks to the recipe.  I would definitely amp up the spice level. Initially, I was impressed by the ginger, coriander and cinnamon in the recipe and thought it would be very reminiscent of an indian curry…but not really!  I think this recipe would taste even better replacing the honey with cayenne pepper and curry powder.  But those are just my Indian roots speaking!

So here’s the recipe (with detailed pictures at the bottom) – Modified from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table

Yields 6 servings


8 chicken thighs (boneless will do fine)

2 large onions, chopped

3 garlic cloves, chopped

3/4 tsp ground ginger or 1 tbsp of fresh grated ginger

3/4 tsp ground coriander

3/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tbsp of curry powder (optional)

1 tsp of cayenne (optional)

A pinch of saffron

2 1/2 cups of chicken broth (You can substitute water here but just make sure you add more salt in the end!)

Salt and pepper to taste

3 tbsp fresh lemon juice

3 large eggs

2 tbsp honey (skip this if you don’t really like your chicken on the sweet side!)

1 tbsp of chopped cilantro

1 tbsp of chopped fresh parsley (optional)

8 sheets of phyllo (9 x 14 inches)

A few tablespoons of melted butter or ghee

2 to 3 oz of sliced almonds

Cinnamon sugar for dusting (optional)

A 9 inch or 10 inch round cake pan


  1. Mix the chicken thighs, onions, garlic and spices in a large pot and let it marinate for at least an hour.
  2. Now is a good time to start defrosting your frozen phyllo sheets!
  3. Add the broth (or water) and a teaspoon of salt to the pot containing the chicken and bring to a boil over high heat.  Cover the pot and simmer the chicken in broth for an hour.  At this point, the chicken should be tender enough to shred.
  4. Take out the cooked chicken thighs from the pot and keep them in a separate pot.  Strain the remaining broth to separate the liquid from the onions.
  5. Shred the chicken once it has cooled down and mix it with the onion mixture.
  6. Pour the separated (or clear) broth back into the pot or a medium saucepan.   Whisk in the lemon juice and boil the broth at a high heat till you have only a cup of liquid left in the pot.  Reduce the heat to low.
  7. Beat the eggs with honey (if you are using) in a separate bowl.  Slowly whisk the egg-honey mixture into the broth, whisking all the while.  Keep whisking for five minutes or so, till the sauce thickens to a custardy texture.  Take the pot off the heat and season with salt and pepper.
  8. Stir in the chicken-onion mixture along with the cilantro and parsley.  Your filling is now complete!!
  9. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  10. Separate the phyllo sheets and place one sheet inside the cake pan.  Brush the sheet with butter or ghee.  Place the next layer in the opposite directions and continue this process with two more sheets.  The sheets will be falling over the edge of the pan.  These will be tucked in the end.
  11. Sprinkle the almonds and spoon in the chicken filling evenly across the cake pan.  Top with more almonds.  Cover with four more sheets of phyllo dough (in the same way as described in the previous step).  The excess phyllo dough falling over the edge, can either be cut out or tucked in. The goal is to make sure the filling is completely covered on all sides!
  12. Dust the top with cinnamon sugar and put it into the oven.
  13. After 20 minutes, reduce temperature to 350 degrees F and bake for another 20 minutes.
  14. Let the b’stilla cool for five minutes before flipping onto a serving platter.
  15. Serve the b’stilla warm, cutting into wedges.  Sriracha goes well with it!

Here are the pictures!

Prepping ...chopping fresh ginger and grinding coriander

Prepping …chopping fresh ginger and grinding coriander

More prep - onions, garlic and spices

More prep – onions, garlic and spices

Cooking the chicken and spices - this smelt heavenly!

Cooking the chicken and spices – this smelt heavenly!

Separating out the components - chicken, onion mixture, broth

Separating out the components – chicken, onion mixture, broth

Shredded chicken ready for the filling

Shredded chicken ready for the filling

Eggy-chickeny sauce ready for the filling

Eggy-chickeny sauce ready for the filling

The filling is almost ready - Mixing the herbs and chicken with the sauce

The filling is almost ready – Mixing the herbs and chicken with the sauce

Fun with Phyllo - Bottom layer of phyllo done

Fun with Phyllo – Bottom layer of phyllo done

Here comes the filling ...

Here comes the filling …

Top layer of phyllo in place

Top layer of phyllo in place

Out of the oven and onto the platter

Out of the oven and onto the platter

Chicken B'stila ready to be eaten

Chicken B’stila ready to be eaten

Out of the oven

January 22, 2013
by solitaire
Comments Off on Gougères


This was the first recipe in Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table and it immediately caught my attention.  I love cheese, I love crackers and I love cream puffs.  A savory cheese puff seems like a delectable combination of all the above (minus the cream, of course!).  And, the name “Gougères” makes it sound fancy and complicated.

The original recipe in the book yields 36 Gougères, but it seemed like too much for just the three of us to devour over a course of the evening.  So I halved the recipe and ended up with 16.  While halving the recipe, I went with 2 eggs instead of 2 1/2 (the original recipe calls for 5 eggs for 36 Gougères).  The slightly less egg content did not seem to impact the fluffiness or taste of the final puff.  Also, do keep an eye on them during the last 5 minutes or so as they do burn quickly!

Despite halving the recipe, I still had a few left over which I kept in the fridge for later.  But it’s best if eaten immediately.

Here’s my slightly modified recipe:

Yields 16 to 18 Gougères that should be eaten hot out of the oven!


1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup water

4 tbsp or 1/4 cup unsalted butter

a heavy pinch of salt

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

2 large eggs

3 ounces of coarsely grated cheese – I used Cheddar since that’s what I had at home.

A baking sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminium foil


  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and prepare your baking sheet
  2. Heat the milk, water, butter and salt in a saucepan till it is boiling
  3. Add the flour, lower the heat and start stirring vigorously till the dough comes together. Keep stirring till the dough is dry and smooth
  4. Turn the dough into another bowl (this could be a mixer bowl or just a regular bowl if you are going to use old-fashioned elbow grease)
  5. Add the eggs one at a time. Make sure you mix an egg in thoroughly before incorporating the next one.  The dough may separate while adding the eggs, but will come together eventually!
  6. Mix in the grated cheese and get ready to spoon onto your baking sheet.
  7. Spoon the dough onto the baking sheet and make sure you have a couple of inches of space between each spoon.
  8. Place the baking sheet in the oven and immediately lower the temperature to 375 degrees.
  9. Bake for around 12 mins and then rotate the pan from front to back
  10. Bake another 12 to 15 mins, till they look golden and puffed.
  11. Eat immediately!

Here are the pictures:

Getting started - Milk, butter, water and salt on the stove

Getting started – Milk, butter, water and salt on the stove

Bring the milk mixture to a good boii;

Bring the milk mixture to a good boii;

Adding in the flour and stirring vigorously to form the dough

Adding in the flour and stirring vigorously to form the dough

Stirring in the eggs one at a time

Stirring in the eggs one at a time

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

Rotating the sheet 12 minutes into baking

Rotating the sheet 12 minutes into baking

Out of the oven

Out of the oven

Ready to eat!

Ready to eat!