Friday, January 18, 2013

Cook the Book—Around My French Table

I was out of town and had to wait to get my hands on the library copy of Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan. It was on hold so I wasn't worried about someone else checking it out and running off with it, but I was a bit concerned about what I would choose to cook! How would I have time to look through this book and choose something, buy the ingredients and cook the recipe, eat the food and then write my blog post?
It turned out to be amazingly simple. I ran to the library after work and hefted this tome up from the shelf. It's got a great food photo right on the cover in oversized still life. I thumbed through it a bit and wandered around looking for some light mystery reads to add to the pile. After I self-checked my books out I sat for a minute at the big library table to flick around the recipes in the cookbook. The pictures and writing drew me in even as I jumped around from the middle to the end and back again. Some recipes looked exotic, some too complicated, some of the stories Ms. Greenspan included were almost more interesting than the foodie porn pictures. My blog partner in crime, J.K., is a baker. I cook, I bake, I make things up. Sometimes it feels like a chore to follow the recipe. However, this is a cook the book experiment, and I wanted to choose something warm and inviting to cook Plus follow the recipe.

I found myself coming back to the French Onion Soup (page 56/57) recipe with its delightful story about D.G.'s trip to the Famous French Market Les Halles - or what was left of it.  FOS looks so delicious, no one can resist bubbling hot cheese on toasted bread. I even have FOS bowls to use! However, just making a soup from this cookbook seemed a little tame, even if it's a classic that's been on my mind to learn to make. So I flipped and flopped around the book a little more and this time a picture caught my eye. It looked so seasonal. A Pumpkin Flan with Walnuts and Gorgonzola Cheese (page 146). I have Never made flan. I purport not to even Like flan. But who could resist such a picture! Perhaps I Do like flan, but I don't know it because I have not had a Pumpkin Flan. With Cheese! What a dilemma. How do I pick?

French Onion Soup - FOS

Pumpkin Flan

As you can see, I didn't. I made the easiest choice, which was to dive into French cooking with a recipe in each hand. Another thing that made these recipes a delight is the ingredient list was short. I even found I only needed to buy 4 things from the store. (I could have made do with 3, but I decided to get the Gruyere for the Soup instead of using a cheese from the larder.) Looking through the book there seem to be other, more complicated recipes, but I really like that D.G. offers up simple good stuff as well.

For full disclosure, I used Vidalia onions in my French Onion Soup as I have no idea where to find "Spanish" onions. I also chose to add meat. In an "OMG, I am a cook!" moment, I read a side note on the French Onion Soup recipe page where D.G. suggests making the soup more substantial by adding meat. Since I'd already purchased my oxtails and browned them in the pot before adding the onions I felt validated instead of slightly subversive. I purchase my meat from a local butcher, and I had also bought a bone-in chicken breast to poach in order to have the chicken broth needed for the recipe. I think that the tender chicken, laid in the bottom of the bowl as she suggested is just a tasty as the oxtail. It took quite a while for the onions to cook down, but the end result was worth it. A lovely soup featuring loads of caramelized onion flavor with its own built in cheesy bread. I will make this soup again, and again, though I doubt I will ever need the recipe.

Cutting onions according to D.G's instructions.

My low tech cheese grater. I love it!

Oxtail surprise!

mmmm, so cheesy!

The flan was an art. Just a few ingredients are used to make a fancy dish. All the ingredients got dumped in a glass bowl while I toasted the walnuts. My favorite way to separate egg whites/yolks is the hand method, which is messy but gentle and effective. I got out the immersion blender and it worked perfectly, no need to dirty any fancy food processor. As you can see, I used coffee cups. Since I didn't know if I would even like the end product, I didn't want to purchase ramekins. If I make this recipe again for a dinner party, I would purchase the 'proper' dishes to cook it in because someone might want coffee or tea later. I also did not line the dish with paper towels. I don't use paper towels, and I figured the thick ceramic of the pan would be enough protection. I let the pan and water sit in the oven as it preheated. Wait, what's that smell! Oh No, Walnuts! Yes, sigh, I burned my nuts. So out they went into the compost and I grabbed some candied pecans to replace them. My flan with toppings went into the coffee cups and the coffee cups went into the water bath. I added a bit more water so that it was half way up the side of the coffee cups and set the timer. Once the knife blade came out clean I gave a shout and pulled the pan and let it rest on the cooktop. This recipe is pumpkin goodness with the salty cheese and crunchy nuts giving a great contrast. Guess what, flan is not scary, or gross, and I like it after all! I would heartily recommend this recipe as a Thanksgiving 'alternative.' Next time I make it, I would drop some salty cheese in the middle too. Delish.

All the ingredients ready to blend.

The flan in its bath, waiting to cook up to perfection.

Puffy pumpkin deliciousness with pecans and Gorgonzola cheese.
 I have this cookbook for a few weeks, so maybe I'll find the time to shop for and try one of the more complicated seafood recipes. Or maybe I'll find another picture that catches my eye and then see that the recipe itself is simple. The best kind of food! Simple and delicious. No one could ask for more. I can't wait to see what the other people decide to cook. Maybe that will inspire me too. Stay tuned for February, when the group cooks another book: Asian Dumplings. Tea Time Loves Dim Sum, so this should be good!

My simple French meal was a hit with my dining partner.
A Post Script:

This cook book has won my heart. I love that Dorie Greenspan encourages you to make each recipe your own, both through suggestions of "Bon Idee" sidebars or direct encouragement through stories of her own experience. This is how I cook, so the fact that a famous cook book author has made sure to include this outlook and, in fact, nearly requires you to add your own sparkle to her recipes is an eye opener. Around My French Table has introduced me to simple French cooking, and I admit that it has changed my perspective on what French cooking requires you to do. More simple and delicious food in my life is so good, I love cook the book already.