So we’re almost at the end of our first month of the Cook the Books challenge! What a whirlwind it has been! Remember, when we introduced you to it all at the end of December? We were so young and innocent back then…
Since the month is quickly coming to an end and we will all soon start thinking about dumplings, I thought I’d tell you a little about all the other stuff I’ve made in Dorie Greenspan’s seriously awesome book, Around My French Table. If I wouldn’t have already ordered this book and now have my very own tattered and stained copy, I certainly would have bought it for myself by now. Yep, it’s that good. Here’s what I’ve made.
Spicy Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup. Page 98.
Last weekend, I decided to see what Dorie could do with Asian food. Let’s start positive. The Spicy Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup may end up being my single favorite thing from Dorie’s book.
Dorie mentions that, due to the history of France colonizing Vietnam, it’s common to find little Vietnamese restaurants in even the smallest towns in France. And that the “bones” of Vietnamese cooking are present in a lot of French cooking, as evidenced by the French use of Vietnamese spices, condiments and seasoning. Dorie mentions that this soup her combo homage to two soups she gets at her local neighborhood Paris Vietnamese spot, pho and la sa ga, a coconut milk soup. She gets it right, because this combination is delicious.
This soup was very easy to make. The flavors were spot on; it was like a slightly heavier/creamier take on pho, which sometimes you want, especially on a cold night. Double S really loved this one too and made me promise to add it to our dinner repertoire. Done and done!
I got/had all the optional garnishments Dorie suggests, but seriously? The soup is so good it doesn’t need any garnishing, other than some fresh mint and basil prior to serving.
But here’s a brag for the homemade chili garlic sauce and chili oil I made last fall!
Shrimp and Cellophane Noodles. Page 322.
I also tried Dorie’s, admittedly barely Chinese, take on shrimp with cellophane noodles. Dorie mentions how freely French chefs will add ingredients or techniques from other cultures in their attempts at fusion, and this recipe comes from that spirit.
I eat and cook a good amount of Thai and Vietnamese food, mainly noodle dishes and pho. There are great markets near my neighborhood and at many other local neighborhood in the Seattle area as well, that it make it easy to get the few more obscure ingredients you might need. This one called for dried wood ear mushrooms, cellophane noodles, and a few spices you probably already have at home, including Chinese 5 spice.
I made the called for tomato puree with my own garden tomatoes I froze last summer. Wow, I’m glad I decided to preserve tomatoes by freezing. So easy!
The only thing I needed some guidance on here were the cellophane noodles. This is one of the recipes in the book that was not further illustrated with a photograph and it suffered for that. Although I’ve bought noodles many times at Asian markets, I never called them or heard them called “cellophane noodles,” so I Googled “cellophane noodles” and the first photo that came up was a picture of the very thinnest cellophane noodle. That kind of noodle is what I ended up using and I wouldn’t recommend it.
I’d also recommended to thoroughly read the recipe. Duh doy. I must have just thoughtlessly assumed the whole package of noodles would go into the recipe. When I saw all the (delicious) sauce being absorbed into the very thin noodles and becoming a sludge of rice like substance, I checked the recipe and saw that the recipe only called for 3 oz of noodles and I had jut put in a 16oz package. Mother effing shit! That kinda ruined the recipe. The sauce had an interesting flavor that came from the Chinese 5 spice and the other added spices. I’d make it again if I ever had a package of more fitting (read: quite a bit thicker) cellophane noodles. The shrimp absorbed the sauce, and the sauce is delicious. When buying Asian noodles, think of them like the more familiar Italian noodle. Here, you want a cellophane noodle about the size of a spaghetti noodle, as the sauce is supposed to sit on top of the noodles like good old fashioned spaghetti.
My picture looks ok, but this was taken before all the sauce was absorbed up by the noodles.
Salmon and Potatoes in a Jar. Page 182.
I like pickles and pickling, mason jars, out of the ordinary food experimentation, and large projects. Thus when I saw the recipe for Salmon and Potatoes in a Jar, I knew I had to give it a shot. What I didn’t know was how easy it was! It wasn’t a large project by a long shot.
Dorie mentions that this dish is a take on gravalax and tartare. Double S is Scandinavian, so I thought she’d like this one. Dorie was also not wrong on how much this dish impresses. The presentation is killer! Double S was already planning what future dinner parties we could attend and take this as an appetizer that will get us accolades from our friends. Plus this is the Northwest and we have access to great local salmon. Bonus! I got a one pound fillet of sockeye salmon at my local farmer’s market.
The salmon sits overnight in a half salt/half sugar rub, then the next day you add some fresh spices and onion and carrots, and top with olive oil. The rub preserves the fish. The onions flavor everything. And you are left with a flavored oil you can use for many other things. Dorie suggests dressings and marinades.
The salmon is mellowed out by the process, so this recipe could fly with those who do not like “fishy” fish. It was great on good fresh bread and with a slightly tart and fruity white wine.
Cafe Salle Pleyel Hamburger. Page 240.
My efforts with the hamburger had mixed results, but I don’t think it was the fault of the recipe. The only problem I had was that the burger fell apart, both as I grilled it and on the bun. Bummer. I used frozen meat (which has a tendency to fall apart), and I added more cornichons than were called for because I love cornichons. This of course made the patty wetter than ideal. I loved the flavor of the meat but not the texture, which was more like meatloaf. If I tweak my technique, this is a definite keeper.
Oh and fresh grated good Parmesan Reggiano on a burger, brilliant. I’ve never been a fan of a big honking piece of orange cheese on my burgers, other than the occasional piece of blue, but fresh grated parmesan was an eye opener. Plus, I liked how even a small essence of ketchup, which I’d otherwise never put on my burger, from the dried tomatoes, was welcome.
I made the onion marmalade and used some more of Dorie’ recipe for mayo, which I still had on hand from the Deconstructed BLT and Eggs. Still awesome!
And then for the big January dinner party with Meg and our lucky significant others! Total. Success. Here’s what I made!
Lime and Honey Beet Salad. Page 121.
The beets turned out fantastic. One thing I like about this cookbook is how Dorie provides a spotlight for a lot of the vegetables she uses in the cookbooks, with tips for assessing ripeness and potential deliciousness, as well as various cooking techniques. I’ve made beets a thousand times, but I ended up roasting the beets for this salad using Dorie’ slightly different technique for roasting, and I liked the subtle smokiness the technique added to the salad.
Short Ribs in Red Wine and Port. Page 254.
The short ribs were amazing. The meat turned out a pretty close approximation to the idea I have in my mind of the word tender. Dorie mentions that she has tinkered a lot with the spice mix she uses for this one. Well, I loved the one she finally decided on here. These leftovers are going to be amazing. Dorie herself a predicts the lovely lucky situation you’ll be in with leftovers of this beef, and shares recipes using the leftovers. I liked that choice. Also, here’s a plug for Bob’s Quality Meats if you’re in the greater Seattle area.
Dorie highly recommends making these a day ahead if at all possible. I did so, and I agree. The flavor was amazing. The smells will make you sad that you are not eating them on the night you braise them!
Plus, again, a jaw-dropping dish that isn’t hard to make. Once you brown them off a little in your broiler, you’re just waiting, whilst delicious smells waft through your house.
The Go-With-Everything Celery Root Puree. Page 354.
The purée was good. You got a real hit of celery flavor with this dish. I may have added slightly more celery root than she calls for though, due to the sizes of the roots I purchased. I would perhaps attempt to balance the celery and the potato more if I made this one again. I like how she adds a whole onion; it makes a delicious addition to the dish.
This was another really easy dish to make, once you had the ingredients. After the veggies are boiled, just whirl it in your food processor to a state of creamy deliciousness.
I served the puree topped with the short ribs and the gravy.
Vanilla Eclairs. Page 473. I made chocolate and vanilla cuz I like to go over the top.
Finally, and the dish I was most scared to make, came the eclairs. They ended up tasting delicious, but too small to be eclairs. I’m now sure if I somehow made a mistake when making the dough, or if I didn’t have a big enough pastry tip.
Dorie mentions the need for a 2/3 inch pastry tip for a pastry bag. Problem is I couldn’t find a tip that large in any store. The pastry creams and chocolate ganache were phenomenal though.
I couldn’t have done this one without Double S. She piped out all the pate a choux, and cut and filled the eclairs. Double!!! S!!!
We all had a debate as to whether the chocolate or vanilla eclairs were better. Shocker: It was a tie!
I’m kind of in awe of this book so far. There have been only a very few many minor misses in the dishes so far, and most were caused by something I need to work on in the kitchen, like paying more attention to detail.
I’m gonna try to squeeze in a few more recipes before I start thinking about dumplings. Speaking of dumplings, stay tuned for my introduction to February’s Cook the Books Challenge cookbook, Asian Dumplings, on Friday January 25.
And as we’ve told you, if you’ve cooked along with us this month, please send us a link to your post at firstname.lastname@example.org by January 25th, or (if you don’t have a blog) tell us what you made in the comments section on Meg’s round up post, which will be up on January 30th.