oysters and arugula


Dorie Greenspan

French Saturday Night

Since my daughters were both involved with sleepovers on Friday night – one at our place, one at a friend’s – we pushed our “movie night” off to Saturday this week.   We included a stop at the library in our Saturday errands, and picked up “Julie & Julia”.  Having read the book, I’d been rather reluctant to watch the film, but multiple friends had insisted I would enjoy it, the girls had actually heard about it from some friends and were therefore gung-ho, and then, of course, it did have the whole Paris connection.   In the spirit of our evening’s theme, I chose a couple of recipes from Around My French Table for dinner:  pork loin with oranges and broth-braised potatoes.  I also decided to see if the girls’ palates were ready to recognize the delights of roasted brussels sprouts.

I wish I could report that the pork loin was a hit, but alas I cannot.  I had high hopes, given how beautiful it both looked and smelled as it cooked.

Orange zest, scallions, and cardamom flavored the sauce, but somehow the pork left us all a little unmoved.  It was just okay, not something I can see myself cooking again.  And though I thought the brussels sprouts just grand, my daughters were left cold.  The more apropos word would actually be “offended.”   Thank goodness for the fingerling potatoes and raspberry chocolate chip ice cream that followed later, else my children would have gone to bed hungry.

The movie helped to make up for the disappointing dinner, as well.   We loved the “Julia” scenes!  The glimpses of Paris – restaurants, markets, streets scenes – flamed the anticipation that has been building in our home.  The girls declared that we must visit Shakespeare and Company and E. Dehillerin.  Greta decided it’s time to get serious about learning some French phrases, and spent an hour or so with one of our French textbooks today.  And I found myself captured once again, as I was when I read Julia’s biography, by the story of her life with Paul in Paris and beyond.  The two of them exploring together, eating, cooking, hosting dinner parties, making Valentine cards in the bathtub, and sweet toasts to one another.  He loving her boisterous quirkiness, and she doting on him, and both endlessly encouraging and supportive of one another throughout their lives.  Of course, one can never know the truth of another couple’s relationship, but from what I’ve read, it certainly seems to have been a romance and partnership worthy of admiration.

Let me leave you with this poem, written by Paul Child on the occasion of Julia’s birthday, August 15, 1961:

O Julia, Julia, cook and nifty wench,
Whose unsurpassed quenelles and hot souffles,
Whose English, Norse and German, and whose French,
Are all beyond my piteous powers to praise —
Whose sweetly rounded bottom and whose legs,
Whose gracious face, whose nature temperate,
Are only equalled by her scrambled eggs:

Accept from me, your ever-loving mate,
This acclamation shaped in fourteen lines
Whose inner truth belies its outer sight;
For never were there foods, nor were there wines
Whose flavor equals yours for sheer delight.
O luscious dish! O gustatory pleasure!
You satisfy my taste buds beyond measure.

Lentils for Luck

In Italy, lentils are believed to bring good luck, particularly if eaten as the first meal of the New Year.  And Signora Salvadore, with whom I lived during my semester in Florence, reminded me each time she served lentils for dinner, that when I someday had children, I must feed them lentils to keep them healthy – “piena di ferro!” – “full of iron!”, she would tell me.

I have followed her advice, and my daughters are huge lentil fans, as am I.  We eat a big bowl for lunch with bread and butter on a cold day, or over pasta for a quick dinner.  But I think I like them best with salmon.

Desirous of a little more luck in 2011 than I had in 2010, and in need of a menu for a special evening last week, I turned to Dorie Greenspan‘s roasted salmon and lentils, from her new book Around My French Table.  It being a work night, and there having been a little space of time since my guest and I had an evening together, this was the perfect recipe.  I could prepare the lentils on Wednesday night – toss them in a pot with some vegetables and chicken broth – and merely reheat them while the salmon roasted on Thursday night.  An arugula salad with a little blue cheese would round out the meal.

Dorie’s recipe worked like a charm! (As a member of her French Fridays with Dorie cooking group, I cannot give the recipe here, but I strongly recommend taking a trip to your local bookstore to pick up a copy.)  Dorie is certainly not the first person to offer a salmon and lentil recipe, but this one is terrifically basic while sacrificing nothing in flavor.   The moral of this little story?  I did my part to fortify us with luck and good health AND there was still plenty of evening left for catching up.

"Raisins Ruin a Good Dessert"

So says my best friend Kathleen and her husband, Gary, stands firmly by her side in this opinion.  And now, as I sit and type this in their living room, I have just overheard her whispering in the kitchen to her 6-year old son, “What do we do with this terrible dessert?”

Yes, I’m afraid this was the verdict on the “Caramel-Covered Semolina Cake” from Dori Greenspan’s Around My French Table.  I prepared it this afternoon at my home in New Jersey and transported it, still warm, to Westchester County.  It sat in Kathleen’s kitchen, quietly waiting, for our return from a hockey game and group dinner, and I had high hopes for it, as an accompaniment to our wine and conversation.  Alas, my hopes were quickly dashed as both Gary and Kathleen pronounced the golden raisins problematic.

“I need to try a bite without raisins,” said Kathleen.  “Hmmm…is it supposed to be served cold?”

“Warm or room temperature,” I replied.

“Let me stick a non-raisin bit in the microwave.”  By now, Gary had entered the kitchen.

“Here – try this,”  Kathleen said while passing a forkful to him.

Gary made a bit of a face.  “Raisins really don’t belong in dessert. I don’t even like them in a noodle kugel.”

“Well, Dori says you can substitute any dried fruit, or even a bit of apple or pear sauteed in butter.  She also recommends serving it with a bit of creme fraiche.”

“Now THAT sounds like a good idea – but skip the fruit entirely, ” came Kathleen’s response.

And so ends my report of this week’s French [Saturday] with Dori.

French Fridays with Dorie

French Fridays with Dorie is an online cooking group dedicated to cooking all the recipes in Dorie Greenspan’s latest book, Around My French Table. Participants are encouraged to blog about their cooking experiences each Friday.  Yes, I know it’s Sunday, but rules are made to be broken, or at least bent from time to time!

I had originally planned to make only the pumpkin-gorgonzola flans last night, with the intention of serving them with an arugula salad as a late-night supper upon my return from a school fundraiser, at which would be served only hors d’oeurves.

As it gradually became clear, however,  that NYC and NJ Turnpike traffic was going to significantly delay my date’s arrival, I turned to Plan B – a complete Dorie Greenspan dinner and movie at home.

Into the oven went the Roast Chicken for Les Paresseux (Lazy People!), and out came my mandoline for preparation of pommes dauphinois.

When my date finally arrived, nearly an hour and a half later than he anticipated, he entered an apartment smelling most welcomingly of roasting chicken, garlic, thyme, and potatoes (and proof that I had not been trying to avoid cooking a meal for him . . .)  These dishes were truly a snap to prepare, requiring very few ingredients, and I don’t think a homier meal exists. (Here I would very much like to insert a photo of how this lovely meal looked on my candle-lit table, but I’m afraid preoccupation with my hostessing duties caused me to forget the small detail of photo-taking.)

We both agreed that the arugula and endive salad was a critical counterpoint to the pumpkin flan, which bordered on bland, once you got past the gorgonzola/walnut crust.  Halfway through our first course I remembered Dori’s suggestion to serve with a dollop of creme fraiche, and I ran to the kitchen for sour cream.  A good idea.  Similarly, the potato gratin was an excellent companion to the roast chicken, but no news there.  We drank a young Cotes du Rhone, and broke out some dark chocolate for dessert.  With a wee bit more notice, I may well have added Dori’s caramel-topped semolina cake to the menu, but we’ll just have to save that for next Friday.

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