January Cook the Books! Wrap-up!

We did it! Cook the Books! January: Dorie Greenspan- Around My French Table is coming to a close.

The Cooking:

I got back in the kitchen this month like I meant business! I started off my cooking storm with café salle pleyel hamburger, broth-braised potatoes, and pancetta green beans.  Early in the month we had a weekend get together with my go-to beef daubemashed potatoes, and top-secret chocolate mousse. There was a weeknight meal of chicken, apples, and cream à la normande. For our Cook the Books! party I made: cheez-it-ish crackers, chicken-in-a-pot, herb-speckled spaetzle, and citrus-berry terrine. I also made chicken tagine with sweet potatoes and prunes. Over the past weekend I tried coconut-lemongrass-braised pork, and crème brûlée. Whew!

Before I go on with the rest of the review and wrap up, I’ll quickly catch up. I chose the chicken with sweet potatoes and prunes because I had everything in the house. I admit I was really hesitant about this one, as I don’t generally like sweet-with-chicken. But, for the sake of research, I went for it. My prunes weren’t really prunes. I pick a lot of italian plums in the summer and I only partially dehydrate them and freeze. The result is less prune and more plum-sicle. Frozen plum candy, if you will. The kiddo and I love them. Anyway, I tossed in some carrots and upped the heat a bit with extra cayenne and a bit of my fermented hot sauce.   It turned out fantastic and, much to my surprise, was one of my favorite recipes from the book! I’d up the heat a bit more next time as I think it helps balance the sweetness of the other ingredients.

The coconut-lemongrass braised pork was excellent as well! I used potatoes, carrots, and onions. I meant to add peas, but forgot to add them. I included them in the leftovers though and think they also went very well with the incredible sauce. I served it over a choice of white rice or egg noodles and both worked well, but I preferred the noodles.  Next time I’ll make my own noodles. A few days later I added some chicken broth to the leftover meat/veg/sauce and it became a fantastic soup. Bonus!

Moving on to the belle of the ball….the crème brûlée- perhaps the best I have ever had. Dorie’s recipe calls for a thin layer of jam or marmalade to the bottom of your ramekins. I used some of Meyer Lemon Marmalade with Cointreau and Vanilla Bean that I got from Shae at Hitchiking to Heaven. It was absolutely perfect and I loved the marmalade addition. I can’t wait to keep making this with different jams and/or bits of fruit on the bottom. If you make this, note that “brownulated sugar” is not the same as brown sugar. Brownulated sugar is granulated, drier, and a bit more like raw sugar.

The Review:

Recipe/writing style:  This is always so personal, isn’t it? What makes a recipe worth doing or a cookbook worth keeping? Or worth buying in the first place? It can depend on your life circumstances, taste buds, cooking style, and so many other variables. For me, if I need to track down a bunch of obscure items that I will rarely use, it is out.  Time consuming? Gone.  Fussy for the sake of fussy? Tossed aside. I like cookbooks with gorgeous photos, but the recipes also need to live up to the expectation set by the photos.

  • Did the recipes taste good? Yes! Everything I made and tried was great!  The recipes work for a weeknight, a family sunday dinner, or having dinner guests.
  • Would I use it again? Yes! In fact, even though we are moving on to February and Dumplings, I’m sneaking in one last round of Dorie this week- French Onion Soup.
  • Is it reliable? Yes! The recipes were easy to follow, clearly written, and the results were dependable. I know I could pick anything in the book and it would turn out as expected.
  • Does it use real food? Yes!
  • Can I replicate the recipes and are the results worth the effort? Yes!

Other: I enjoyed the introductions to the recipes.  Her curiosity and passion for everyday life and food in Paris is clear in how she talks about her experiences. I also loved the margin comments bonne idée (good idea), storing and serving suggestions. Dorie’s tone is polite and friendly, but not at all patronizing. Informative, but non-demanding and non-judgemental. This is awesome because, ordinarily, I despise being told what to do. To the point of being completely (and perhaps diagnosably) unreasonable about it. This extends even to cookbooks. I know, I know. I mean, who buys something to tell them what to do and then feels micro managed when it does?! I know that thinking the cookbooks are trying to micromanage my cooking is ludicrous. But, hey, at least I realize this is completely, or at least mostly, about me.  Anyway, I enjoyed her voice throughout and I can appreciate  that writing a cookbook is pretty hard place to find and maintain a written voice.

The Participants:

Wow!  We totally appreciate your enthusiasm! It was fun to read what about what you made and all you chose to tell us about.  And big welcome to the brand-spanking new bloggers out there as well!

  • Co-host Briggs from Ohbriggsy from Seattle, Washington made everything! Ok, not everything, but damn near!  French onion soup, deconstructed BLT salad, crepes, spicy vietnamese chicken noodle soup, shrimp with cellophane noodles, salmon and potatoes in a jar, caffe salle pleyel hamburger, lime and honey beet salad, go-with-everything-celery purée, short ribs in red wine and port, and both chocolate and vanilla eclairs. Whew! With Briggs you get food, pop culture, and music all rolled into one!
  • Lilly from my neighborhood in Seattle, Washington (represent!Rake & Make jumped right in with a full meal: chickens breast diable, garlicky crumb-coated broccoli, and cheesy rice & spinach. Lilly tackled her doubts around cooking meat and was fearless making some cow-dairy-free modifications.
  • Sarah from Toronto, Canada from Eat Locally Blog Globally whipped up some lemon curd. She also made a loaf of savory chive cheese bread. We remember her from the Can Jam days and glad you are back for Cook the Books!
  • Janet from Canada (Toronto?) at  jams, chutneys and other misadventures  made moules marinieres, as well as cheese and olive bread. The mussels look great to this non-seafood eater and love the blue onion plates!
  • Loryn-Marie from Brooklyn, New York at Brooklyn Make back-of-the-card cheese and olive bread, moules marinieres, and go-with-everything-celery purée. Sounds like a fun time was had by all and you pleased a picky eater! Go you!
  • Aarthi from (metro?) New York at Mish Mash Rehash went for the gusto and made chicken b’stilla, french onion soup, gougeres, paris mushroom soup, and crème brulee. Lovely pictures and I love the bowls you used for the soup! I was curious about the b’stilla as well and I’ll follow your lead in adding more spice to balance the ginger, cinnamon, honey.
  • Cynthia from Ann Arbor, Michigan at Mother’s Kitchen tried out the chard-stuffed pork loin and broth-braised potatoes. The pork was on my list to try as well- glad it turned out well…and that you got to cook it your way! I also like how not bossy she is about these sorts of things!
  • Kaela from Hudson Valley, New York at Local Kitchen made the hurry-up-and-wait chicken. Gorgeous pictures (as always) and the chicken will now be forever more named Dancing Chicken. I also love what you did with the leftover chicken here.
  • Amy from Washington at The Crowded Kitchen loved her chicken, apples, and cream à la normande and lemon-steamed spinach. And you were converted to a spinach lover!
  • Angela & J.K. from San Francisco, CA at Tea Time Adventures  and together they made honey-spiced madelines, french onion soup, and pumpkin flan.  J.K. does the baking and Angela does the cooking. That flan recipe intrigued me as well when I’ll modify it for my most-nuts-and-blue-cheese-despising self.
  • Marisa from Baltimore, Maryland at Marisa Makes  went all out with the pumpkin-gorganzola flan, salmon rillettes, and pissaladiere, Glad you went ahead with a butternut squash from your own garden in place of pumpkin! So satisfying!
  • Carrie from Oregon at Fresh From Oregon  (and here and here) also made a lot of recipes, including sweet & spicy cocktail nuts (hazelnuts), gorganzola-apple (pear-blue cheese) quiché, short ribs in red wine, corn pancakes, and brown-sugar squash and brussels sprouts
  • Cyn from Conneticut at River Dog Prints made cheese topped onion soup. Those pesky onions and their caramelizing time!  I agree…more wine drinking next time! Looks gorgeous though!
  • Karen at Prospect: The Pantry (and here) created chicken in a pot, orange and olive salad (on escarole), and orange-lentil soup. Sounds like it turned out well and I agree that the cookbook definitely is full of food you know will turn out great even if you haven’t tested it before! I need to try the lentil soup!
  • Casey from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at Salted Plates roasted her first whole chicken roast chicken for les paresseux. Glad it was easy!
  • Sarah from  Seattle, Washington at cook.can.read created anchoiade and served it with roasted potatoes/cauliflower.
  • Aimee from San Francisco, California at Homemade Trade & SF Swappers showcased a seaweed butter cookies (and also made cheez-it-ish crackers and a lemon version), orange lentil soup, lime and honey beet salad, and dilled gravlax with mustard sauce. Slice-and-bakes to a food swap… well done!

So friends, we are moving on! Briggs has introduced Cook the Books! February with Asian Dumplings by Andrea Nguyen, so pop over and check it out!  Get the book and make some dumplings!  Write about what you did, and send us a link to your post: cookthebookschallenge@gmail.com.  For this month, please send us your link by Friday, February 22nd.

1/30/2012 Late entry addition:  Mary from Pennsylvania (?) at Come Play in the Kitchen  made the top-secret chocolate mousse. I agree- fantastic!

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23 Responses to January Cook the Books! Wrap-up!

  1. ohbriggsy says:

    great job, everybody! what a month!

  2. ohbriggsy says:

    So awesome that folks are participating from all over the continent! Nice work Meg and Briggs in starting such a great challenge. Meg, cool that you kept cooking recipes through the month, the coconut-lemongrass braised pork sounds delicious! Looking forward to seeing what kind of dumplings people make. We already started with samosas – and they turned out fantastic!

  3. methylgrace says:

    Duplicate comment from previous entry:

    I played along at home and had this vegetarian menu: Herbed cheese with radish (p20-21), Cheese Puffs/Gougeres (p4), Asparagus salad with poached egg (p130), Gnocchi a la Parisienne (p374), Breaded Broccoli (p334) and Chocolate Mousse (p421). And then my kids got sick and I had to dis-invite our friends from the dinner party. WAH.

    So we made the cheese puffs on one day [Good, but not great. An interesting technique, and I piped them onto parchment paper. They disappeared as fast as they came out of the oven, but once cooled, were no longer edible and interesting. Gave the rest to the chickens.]

    We still haven’t made the herbed cheese, but the ricotta is in the fridge ready to be drained. Didn’t serve the asparagus salad because it really should be served with bacon and our guests are vegetarian. Served baked asparagus at a different dinner.

    Breaded broccoli was OK, since I had my own homemade breadcrumbs, but not yummy enough to supplant just homemade mayonnaise.

    Gnocchi was a gooey mess. Will. Not. Serve. Again. Ew. Went with backup plan of Eggplant Parmesan.

    Made the Pumpkin with everything in it, as a vehicle for extra bacon. We used a kabocha squash and it was DELICIOUS, but of course, kids wouldn’t touch it, because it was a vegetable.

    Never got around to the Chocolate Mousse.

    In conclusion, I learned a new technique of pate a choux for the gougeres, which I might return to once in a while, but nothing, except perhaps the Pumpkin, was worthy of writing down in my book of special recipes.

    • Ah Grace, bummer it didn’t work out for you! I’ve had my eye on the pumpkin recipe…so I’ll give that a try at another time. The mousse is fantastic- you should give that a try. I wonder what happened with the gnocchi?!

  4. Mary says:

    Unfortunaely I sent my entry too late to make the list due to sickness, but here’s the short link: http://wp.me/p32HQ0-2x. Hope to be on time next month…The dumplings look fabulous and I am shopping for ingredients first thing in the morning!!!

  5. Julia says:

    Great work! Everything looks amazing!! Unfortunately, somewhere in the middle of January I lost my cooking mojo, so I’m just sitting here drooling instead of talking about the good stuff I made. I still have this fabulous book out from the library in the hopes that things will change for me. Thanks for turning me on to it!

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