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.