Monday, March 29, 2010

Recipe Review

I promise I have been keeping up with my French Cooking Countdown, however I haven't been as diligent posting about it. So here's what I've been cooking up this past week.....

Quiche Lorraine (Cream and Bacon Quiche)

Okay so this turned into Flamiche - Quiche aux Poireaux (Leek Quiche) instead. I realized that I had an extra stalk of leek from the potato & leek soup so I used it to make my quiche. I must say other than the time it took to simmer the leeks, this was really an easy recipe. And was very rich and creamy, much better than any quiche I've had at a restaurant!

Filets de Poisson Bercy aux Champignons (Fish Filets Poached in White Wine w/Mushrooms)and Riz a la anglaise (Rice cooked in butter).

I have never poached fish before but this seemed pretty easy. My fish however was not in great shape. It had a few bones and the skin on one side. This proved to be a disaster when it came to removing the skin, the fish was too thin to fillet well. And that's saying something because the hubby is an expert at filleting fish. Other than that the meal came together pretty easy. I ended up not cooking the asparagus because I was just too tired after dealing with the chaoes with the kids. And sadly my rice was mushy, I think if I had just used the cooking method on the box it would have been light and fluffy but it was just too saturated in butter. Overall it tasted good, rich and creamy. So rich and creamy that I ended up having to leave some on my plate.

Rapee Morv Andelle (Gratin of Shredded Potatoes w/Ham and Eggs and Onions).

This was such a simple dish I almost feel like it shouldn't even be considered cooking. I made this for a quick breakfast, and honestly shredding the potatoes was a cinch with my handy dandy food processor. A quick mix of potatoes, eggs, ham and onions and it was in the oven. We ate the whole gratin in one sitting (gasp). If I had felt up to it I could have served it with the asparagus that I should have cooked a few nights ago but I was just to lazy. This was a winner in my book!

Thon A La Provencale (Tuna Steaks w/Wine, Tomatoes, and Herbs) and Pommes De Terre Sautes (Potatoes Sauteed in Butter).

This started out as Tuna steaks but after thawing the tuna I had in the freezer I realized they weren't up to par so I shelled out the friggin $15.99 a pound for some Swordfish steaks. A quick sear in the skillet and then dumped back in the casserole dish where I covered it with the tomato mixture. Poached in wine in the oven and it smelled pretty good. I lucked out and found the potatoes Julia mentioned in the recipe and didn't have to peel and shape my potatoes from standard potatoes. Instead I had perfect olive shaped potatoes that were golden and just needed peeling. When the fish was finished poaching I made the sauce and then served it up on top of the fish and plated my potatoes with it. The steaks were good, like swordfish could be anything but good! The potatoes were buttery and delish but we couldn't help but noticing the similarities between the sauce and spaghetti sauce. And because of this I think the sauce was just too much for the fish. I think had it been just regular diced tomatoes and fewer of them, and no tomato paste, the sauce would have been better for the fish. I guess I just don't like spaghetti sauce on fish :)

Soupe a l'Oignon Gratinee (Onion Soup Gratineed with Cheese)
Sorry no pictures. This also tuned into Soupe A L'oignon and Croutes au Fromage since I didn't have any bowls that are oven safe. Instead I just made the croutons, super simple. Oh but the smell of the onions carmelizing was wonderful! The soup was great but very strong and since the hubby doesn't care for onions I had WAY too much leftover. I think next time I make it, I'll take the reserve and use it to make a pot roast instead of the dry soup mix!

Carbonnades A La Flamande (Beef and Onions Braised in Beer) with Pommes de Terre Pour Garniture (Parsley Potatoes) and a green salad with Sauce Vinaigrette (French Dressing).

Cooking this meal was amazing. It made the whole house smell like warm carmalized onions, which isn't a really appealing smell other than it makes you hungry. I used my cast iron casserole pot for the whole cooking process. I was excited to finally have something to cook in it. I ended up cubing the beef because I didn't quite understand the recipe at first so my version ended up looking more like beef tips than beef steaks or slices but it still didn't matter because the taste was amazing. The beef was fork tender and melted in your mouth. And the Gravy, oh my, the gravy was heaven sent. It was sweet but salty and creamy and smooth like velvet on the tongue. I could have soaked up the gravy with just bread and been perfectly happy. The potatoes were a cheat on my part - I used the leftover potatoes from the swordfish meal and then just used some extra fingerling potatoes that I left the skin on because I thought the texture was better suited to this rustic meal. In the end I skipped the parsley on them so they turned into just regular potatoes. The green salad was just a bag of fancy mixed greens and a simple red wine vinegar mix with olive oil but it suited the meal perfectly.

Bavarois au Chocolat (Chocolate Bavarian Cream) and Creme Chantilly (lightly whipped cream). This was a mixed bag of feelings for me. It should have been a yummy dessert but somehow I was just turned off by it. It started out great and smelled good but after adding the boiling milk it just seemed a bit too "fluffy" to me. I was picturing something more like pudding I guess. And after adding the egg whites and whipped cream it was even more "airy". After chilling and unmolding, I was very disappointed. It looked like a weird giggly blob of chocolate whipped cream and well thats kind of what it tasted like. I might have to try this one again to see if anything changes and it gets better next time. And thus I'll spare you the picture.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Menu Plan Monday

Last week was a bit crazy with the weather and life in general. We didn't make it to Cowboy Chow since it snowed Saturday, so I made the roast chicken and we ended up not making the hamburgers Friday night. So we'll have those tonight instead. We've got a busy week but I'm hoping to keep up with my "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" recipe countdown. One thing about this task is that it is a bit more expensive than my regular meal planning so some weeks I think I'll only do a few recipes or at least I'm going to have to wait and stock up on the meats when they go on sale. Plus I'm going through butter, eggs and cream like nobody's business and they aren't exactly cheap either.

Breakfast: Cereal
Lunch: Leftovers/Sandwiches
Dinner: Ranch Packet Hamburgers and French Fries

Breakfast: Rapee Morv Andelle (Gratin of Shredded Potatoes w/Ham and Eggs and Onions)
Lunch: Sandwiches at the park
Dinner: Thon A La Provencale (Tuna Steaks w/Wine, Tomatoes, and Herbs) and Pommes De Terre Sautes (Potatoes Sauteed in Butter)

Breakfast: Oatmeal
Lunch: At the playdate
Dinner: something in the crockpot with chicken?

Breakfast: Piggies in Blankets (Lil Smokies in Crossants)
Lunch: Chicken Fries and Mac & Cheese

Breakfast: Pancakes and Bacon
Lunch: At a Birthday Party
Dinner: Soupe a l'Oignon Gratinee (Onion Soup Gratineed with Cheese), Carbonnades A La Flamande (Beef and Onions Braised in Beer) with Pommes de Terre Pour Garniture (Parsley Potatoes) and a green salad, Bavarois au Chocolat (Chocolate Bavarian Cream) and Creme Chantilly (lightly whipped cream)

Breakfast: Cinnamon Rolls
Lunch: Out somewhere running errands
Dinner: Cowboy Chow, trying this again...

Brunch: Oeufs en Cocette (Eggs baked in Ramekins) with Sauce Chasseur (Brown Mushroom Sauce w/Fresh Tomaties, Garlic and Herbs)
Dinner: Homemade Pizzas

For more meal plan ideas see Meal Plan Monday at the Organizing Junkie.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Oeufs a la Fondue de Fromage (Poached Eggs on Canapes w/Cheese Fondue Sauce)

I've poached eggs before, I'm not great at it, they're not pretty and perfectly round or oval or whatever shape they're supposed to be. But I can say they poach and I haven't broken the yolk. So I attempted this recipe with some confidence but caution. I decided since we have TONS of green beans leftover (3 lbs of green beans are ALOT for only 2 adults and really only 1 of them that will eat them) to serve them with our brunch. it turns out they were a nice refreshing break from the salty ham and creamy slightly sweet eggs.
Again I served up some quick pan fried ham with my eggs. This just seems like a good match to sauces and creamy eggs to me. I couldn't imagine having greasy sausage with such an already heavy egg. It was mentioned that I could place the ham on the canapes and put the egg over it but I decided to stick with the traditional recipe. It'd be too much like Eggs Benedict that way.
The sauce came together rather quickly and the aroma of the shallots and vermouth cooking was great. It made waiting for the water/vinegar mixture to come to a simmer nearly impossible. I ran out of white bread so I used sourdough to make my canapes and I just did the oven method since I was concentrating on boiling my water. Maybe a little too hard 'cause I burnt the 1st batch. Oh well half a loaf of sourdough bread down and I finally had perfectly crisp canapes for my eggs.
Poaching is tricky, I don't think I'm good at it. It looks like a big mess to me when I do it. In my head the egg would slip in and the whites would fold over perfectly. Instead I get these stringy wavy things and only half of the whites stay with the yolk as I'm gently spooning them over. Still I guess it's a success since they turn white and the yolks don't break. My OCD brain makes me spoon up the floating strings of egg white before I can poach another. I quickly have 4 poached eggs and I dry them off using the slotted spoon and towel trick. I delicately place an egg on my canape (aka toast) and spoon the sauce over it. Sprinkle with Swiss cheese and I cut up 1 Tbsp of butter into quarters and place one quarter on top of the cheese. A quick run under the broiler and we're done. They look pretty good, I'd be proud to serve these to friends or family.
Turns out I think they'd be eaten pretty quickly by friends and family too. They were GREAT! The eggs were perfectly smooth, the yolk broke and spread to cover some of the ham and blended with the cheese sauce. It all melted in my mouth, sooo yummy! Although the first few bites were a bit awkward at first, I had to adjust my brain to the sauce. I'm very used to hollandaise sauce on poached eggs so my mouth was expecting something more like that. However the shallots and vermouth gave a slightly tart but sweet taste to the sauce and made the dish completely different than Eggs Benedict. I would easily make this again. And since I have so much sauce leftover I think I will serve it over the leftover green beans of maybe the asparagus for this evening.

Poulet Roti a la Normande (Roast Chicken w/Cream, Herb and Giblet Stuffing)

This week didn't go quite as planned, see the chicken dinner was supposed to be Thursday night but it got pushed back to Friday because I was just too tired! Well then Friday the hubby decided to spend 18 hours fishing and didn't make it home Friday night until 10 PM and there was no way I was going to start cooking the bird then. And I had decided earlier that day that I didn't want to cook it to be ready at 6 PM and him not be home to eat it, then have to re-heat it for him the next day. So Saturday it was!

But I did go ahead, since I was home alone after the lil monster was put to bed and the baby was sleeping in the swing, and made the sides that were to be served with it. (Okay so I don't have this whole 1st, 2nd, and 3rd course thing down yet)

Haricots Verts a l'Anglaise (Buttered Green Beans): These were super simple really and not much different than the way I usually make them. I blanched them 'til they were perfect and then buttered them. Tossed them all into a covered dish and they were ready for tomorrow's dinner. The hubby isn't a fan of crunchy green beans so this worked out well since they had a chance to get more mushy during reheating.

Gratin Dauphinois (Scalloped Potatoes with Milk, Cheese, and a pinch of Garlic): Basic scalloped potatoes, the processor made light work of slicing the potatoes for me, I couldn't imagine trying to slice potatoes exactly 1/8th of an inch thick. I did take a knife class but I'm not THAT good yet. I layered and then poured the milk over eveything and put it in the oven 'til it was bubbling and browned on the top. It looked great and tasted pretty good. I do think it was a pretty simple recipe and not nearly as creamy as my "gourmet scalloped potatoes" recipe. Granted I used Swiss cheese as instructed for this and in my recipe I use Gruyere (which technically is a type of Swiss, specifically a French Swiss) so I could have used it in this as well but I was trying to pinch some pennies.

Saturday afternoon I started the chicken. I began by chopping up the gizzard and heart, I didn't have any livers so I added extra hearts or gizzards 'cause I don't know which was which. I also didn't know how to peel it so I just chopped, then sauted them. They looked good, guess I should have tasted them 'cause I would have realized they were very chewy, like calimari. Not sure if this was the desired outcome. I mixed the stuffing which looked good and stuffed it into the bird. After that cooking the chicken started out rough, somehow I ended up with a gimpy chicken with one leg that the ankle was broken off so trussing was a nightmare. Since I didn't have a trussing needle I tried to truss the old fashioned way. Something I have honestly never done. I have roasted chickens and turkeys plenty of time before but never trussed them. I usually just through them in the pan on the rack and twist the wings back and go. So trussing was not fun but I persevered. I slathered that baby up with butter and threw it in the oven. 10 minutes later I attempted to turn it on it's side. HA HA HA, yeah right, how is that really acomplished without taking it out of the oven. I think I spent 15 minutes trying to get that bird on it's side. It just wanted to slide around in the pan. Finally I got it, threw it back in the oven for 5 minutes. 5 minutes later I was trying again to flip the bird, hehe. But to no avail that sucker would not flip. (this was the gimpy side) so I gave up and decided it'd just have to roast breast side up. It was either this or a good chance the bird would end up on the floor with me trying to use oven mitts to make it flip. Roasting and basting went pretty quickly, about 20 minutes 'til complete I started basting with the cream. The chicken looked great!

By this time the onions and carrots (I think I was still supposed to do this step) in the pan were black and the pan I had to use couldn't be used on the stovetop so I put my bird on the serving platter and scraped the drippings into a saucepan. Quickly made the gravy, decided to strain the carrots and onions out of it since I wasn't sure what to do with them and I didn't think they were supposed to stay in the gravy.

All of the dishes were done and I opened up a bottle of wine to serve with it. Something the grocery store guy said would go with it since they were limited on their French wines and didn't have a white Burgandy or Graves. It seemed to go well, at least to my simple tastes. The chicken was juicy and moist, not extremely flavorful but the gravy more than made up for that. The stuffing was good, not something I'd make again though the hubby loved it. Something about the chewy texture of the gizzards bothered me. And then I was overwhelmed by the cream cheese. If I do make it again I think I'd make my own version and use more breadcrumbs and maybe sausage instead or just leave the gizzards out completely, using only their drippings. Overall it was a pretty good meal, nothing spectacular just a good homecooked meal. Something usually reserved for Sunday dinners I would say.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Reine De Saba (Chocolate and Almond Cake) with Glacage au Chocolate (Chocolate-butter Icing)

Thursday was hubby's birthday and I had great intentions of cooking a big meal for him but things just didn't pan out. Since he likes to sleep in I decided to take the lil monster and baby monster to the park. I met up with a friend and we walk the trails, then let the kiddos play and have a picnic. Since we ate at the park I decided not to make the quiche, hubby isn't a big fan of them but will eat them. But if left alone for lunch it wouldn't have been what he chose to eat, so instead my plan is to make the quiche and take it to my brother and his girlfriend on Saturday, they're "fru fru" like that. But I digress....
So after spending half the day in the fresh air and walking a mile or more carrying a 13 lb baby and pushing a stroller with a 28 lb 2 year old in it, I was BEAT! I mean I haven't done any real exercise since before getting pregnant so I am sorely out of shape. Hubby had leftover shrimp & grits casserole to eat anyways, so I decided to push the chicken meal to today. But I did make the chocolate cake since it was his birthday and all!

Let me begin by saying that Julia Child has got nothing on me! Let me see her try to "master the art of French cooking" while trying to keep an eager to help 2 1/2 year old toddler from eating the chocolate out of the bowl, touching the oven or stove, or pushing a kitchen chair around the kitchen from counter to counter while she attempts to make a cake. I continually had to keep moving everything out of his reach, and remind him that he could not eat the creamed butter or whipped egg whites. "Please do not stick your fingers in the melted chocolate!" All the while trying to put everything up as I used it, since that's the only way I could make sure he didn't get into something while I was working on the next step. Oh did I forget to mention that my 2 month old was fussing in the background? Yeah you'd have thought I was octomom (no not the 8 babies mom, but had 8 arms) the way I was having to move around my kitchen so I'm going to give myself props for this feat alone.

After I turned the batter into the pan and set it in the oven to bake I felt pretty good about it. Not too time consuming really, would have gone MUCH faster without the toddler underfoot. The smell waifting through the air as it baked was great and when I pulled it from the oven it looked perfect. I was a little upset that when it had puffed up and the top was a little cracked but I figured I'd just flip it and serve it bottom up. Waiting for it to cool was nearly impossible, the lil monster kept asking to eat it every 5 minutes. When it was finally cool enough to ice I was disappointed, the great puff was gone and it looked like the cake had sunk, not sunk like had a pit in it but sunk like was flat and compressed. Was it supposed to do this? There were no instructions as to if the puff was supposed to stay. Anyways I quickly iced the cake with the chocolate butter icing (which was so simple and pretty plain it's not worth discussing) and pushed the leftover crushed almonds around the edges to make it "fancy". Then I pressed a design of almonds over the icing, really just a simple flower with whole almonds in the center. It looked good, now would it taste good? After the essential singing of happy birthday, I sliced it up and served us all a piece. It was still slightly warm, not enough to melt the icing though! It was great, warm and rich while the icing was light and fluffy. It was good on it's own but I really think it would have tasted even better with a single scoop of vanilla ice cream too.

It wasn't until after the lil monster had gone to bed and things settled down for the night that I had a chance to read and realized that I was supposed to have added a tbsp of sugar to my almonds as I crushed them, supposedly to keep them from clumping together. Oh well they didn't seem to clump on me in the first place. No harm no foul I guess since that was the only thing that I missed in my madness.

Please excuse my horrible photography skills!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Oeufes Brouilles (Scrambled Eggs)

I know scrambled eggs. I know that slow and low is best, I know that adding a splash of milk makes them creamy and that salt is key to the right flavor. I make scrambled eggs at least once a week. My lil monster LOVES scrambled eggs and I like that it gives us variety to the monotonous cereal mornings. So I figured I'd start with the most simple, most comfortable recipe from Chapter Three.

I gaulked when I saw 2 tbsp of butter in the recipe! I have NEVER, NEVER EVER used butter when making my scrambled eggs. But I went ahead since this is supposed to be a learning experience. Granted I was supposed to use a 7 to 8 inch skillet but sadly I don't have one that small, so my 10 inch omlette pan would have to suffice. 2 tbsp of butter into the pan and in went the 8 eggs (remember this is breakfast for 3). I figured we'd have leftovers, right. :) My eggs came together nicely and as instructed I added the cream at the end of the cooking process, something I had never done before either. When I add milk/cream I have always put it in prior to cooking. The eggs were done and looked pretty yummy. I quickly fried up a few pieces of ham and made toast to finish off our meal.

Let me say after one bite I was impressed! These were the best scrambled eggs I've ever had, seriously! So creamy and soft, they just melted in your mouth. I think you could eat them without having to chew. And I was not the only one, my family of 3 ate a meal supposed to serve 5. My lil monster couldn't get enough, he ate his plate and then ate half of daddy's and half of mommy's. I can only imagine how great these eggs would be had I added cheese or any of the suggested items. But really they were just perfect on their own.

Now as much as I LOVE LOVE LOVE these eggs I don't think my waistline or heart would love these eggs as much if I made them this way everytime. See I'm supposed to be losing the baby weight, crazy I know to think I'm going to lose weight while cooking my way through a French cookbook! However to take advice from Julia herself "the way to a full and healthy life is to adopt the sensible system of small helpings, no seconds, no snaking, and a little bit of everything." So I will make them again but just not every week.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Potage Parmentier (Leek and Potato Soup)

So it's potato soup right, that "souper" easy, hehe. I know corny but forgive me I couldn't help it. I've made lots of potato soups before, I LOVE potato soup, it's thick, it's creamy, it fills you up and warms your bones on a chilly afternoon.

The recipe was simple and straightforward: potatoes, leeks, water, salt and cream/butter. I simmered for the required time, so far so good. Now I don't have a vegetable mill, and Julia specifically said not to use the processor, so I figured the blender was out as well. She mentions mashing by hand with a fork but something about leeks mashing didn't work well in my head. So instead I used my mixer with the paddle. Hey it mashes my potatoes for mashed potatoes perfectly, why not! And I could always adjust the speed so not as to "over blend". I drained the veggies, keeping the broth in a pitcher, and pitched them in the mixer. Mush with a few chunks and lots of leek strings, I started adding the broth back in. Seemed like a lot of water to put back in the soup! I reseasoned, and I must admit I had to add a TON of salt, and I'm not a big salt person.

It did not look like potato soup that I'm used to by any means, it looked like water with green onions. And it tasted that way too. VERY watered down compared to my idea of potato soup. So I added the cream, and well at least it began to "look" like potato soup.

Verdict is iffy, maybe it's supposed to be thin and I'm just used to soup that can hold bacon up on top. It's not bad, and prolly much more carb friendly than my old version. I'm hoping that it'll be a bit better reheated since there is a TON. Maybe I'll cheat and use my leftovers for variations on the recipe.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Meal Plan Monday!

Going to the store today so it's a quick fix meal from the pantry!

Breakfast: Frozen Waffles
Lunch: Potage Parmentier (Leek and Potato Soup) with hot ham and swiss sandwiches
Dinner: French's Crunchy Onion Chicken, Roasted Red Potatoes and Steamed Green Beans

Breakfast: Oeufes Brouilles (Scrambled Eggs), Pan-fried Ham and toast
Lunch: Sandwiches
Dinner: Shrimp and Grits Casserole, Lima Beans and Cherry Tomato Salad

It's the hubby's birthday so I'm going to fix him a special dinner & double up on my recipes today.

Breakfast: Cereal
Lunch: Quiche Lorraine (Cream and Bacon Quiche), "Salad" and French Bread
Dinner: Poulet Roti a la Normande (Roast Chicken w/Cream, Herb and Giblet Stuffing), Haricots Verts a l'Anglaise (Buttered Green Beans), Gratin Dauphinois (Scalloped Potatoes with Milk, Cheese, and a pinch of Garlic), Reine De Saba (Chocolate and Almond Cake)

Breakfast: Cereal
Lunch: Prolly something quick like mac and cheese since we've got a full day of playgroup stuff.
Dinner: Ranch Dressing Packet Hamburgers and Curly Fries

Breakfast: Pancakes or French Toast with Bacon
Lunch: Cowboy Chow with my brother
Dinner: Leftovers, if anything 'cause we'll still be full from lunch.

Breakfast: Oeufs a la Fondue de Fromage (Poached Eggs on Canapes w/Cheese Fondue Sauce)
Dinner: Filets de Poisson Bercy aux Champignons (Fish Filets Poached in White Wine w/Mushrooms), Asperges Au Naturel (Boiled Asparagus) with Beurre au Citron (Lemon Butter Sauce) and Riz a la anglaise (Rice cooked in butter)

Out of the Fog!

I did it! I made it through the last weeks of pregnancy and have another wonderful little man in my life. I must admit the first 2 months have been rough, lack of sleep, dealing with colic and reflux, an overbearing big brother who alternates between acting out for attention to being a great helper and inamored with his baby brother. But I'm finally feeling like I can get some time for myself again. I was actually able to read a book this week! And I'm attempting to plan menus again now that we've officially depleted my freezer stock of meals. Which I'm happy about truthfully because I was getting tired of the boringness of just reheating our meals (not that I could have even mustered the brain power or energy to cook something before now). I'm excited about trying out new recipes and honestly I was inspired by the movie Julie and Julia to try to work my way through the classic books as well. I'm feeling more prepared for it than when I first started cooking but I think I'd still like to master technique, something that I'm sure I'm sorely lacking in.

Proof in point, I took a knife technique class 2 weeks ago. Until now I had considered my knife skills adequate, still a bit afraid of the knives, I knew I couldn't peel a potato or apple in my hand well, well with just a pairing knife . I made due with all things but still felt clumbsy about the whole process most of the time. So I decided to learn from the pros. It was great! I learned that sadly I wasn't even holding the knife correctly. Once I figured that out, things seemed to be almost second nature!

So I'm hoping that while I'm comfortable roasting a chicken or baking a ham, I can make crepes from scratch, have made homemade cinnamon rolls and pizza dough and regularly make my own stocks and sauces, I know that my technique is rustic to say the least.

So flipping through the pages of the classic book I realized too that it would be really really boring cooking one chapter at a time, can you imagine a week of eggs? So instead I'm going to do 1 recipe from each chapter a week, like in the Julie/Julia project. And just because I love sweets I might double up on the desserts. But because I still have baby weight to lose I will be adding light recipes and family friendly recipes to our weekly menus. As much as I love butter, cream and Julia I have to keep us healthy too!