Friday, March 30, 2012

French Fridays with Dorie - Crab, Grapefruit and Avocado Salad

Fanciful and confetti-bright...Dorie's words for this week's French Fridays Crab and Grapefruit Salad. It truly is, with bursts of color from sweet red and yellow bell peppers, and spicy green jalapeno, gently tossed with a classic trio of succulent crab, tangy grapefruit and buttery avocado.  The salad is nicely rounded out with cucumber, minced green onion, chives, a drizzle of olive oil, grapefruit juice, and squeeze of lemon.  What a refreshing way to ease into spring!

To serve four, you'll need a pound of jumbo lump crab. I bought a half pound at Whole Foods for the two of us, but it's still quite pricey. John thinks he's allergic to crab, after one bad reaction, but I've convinced him he just had bad crab.  I'm always careful when it comes to seafood, or anything for that matter, to buy a quality product from a trusted store. Grilled shrimp or scallops would also work well if you're not up to splurging on crab.

Dorie highly recommends cutting the grapefruit segments at least a few hours ahead of time to allow them to dry out as much as possible. Although composed of similar ingredients, this isn't ceviche.  The crab should also be drained if necessary and patted dry. I supremed, rather than segmented, the grapefruit. I also used two small pink grapefruits, which gave me about 20 supremes (Dorie uses one Ruby Red grapefruit).

Pink Grapefruit supremes

I used the same quantities of ingredients with my half-pound of crab as Dorie uses for a full pound, to stretch the salad into more of a meal. I also sliced the cucumber and bell peppers into paper-thin slices on the mandolin, as opposed to dicing them...just because I felt like playing with our mandolin we hardly ever use.

Dorie describes this salad as "fanciful and confetti-bright"

If serving the salad as a first course, it presents beautifully in verrines. A verrine is a confection, originally from France, made by layering ingredients in a small glass. You could layer the ingredients (Dorie tosses them all together), or even mold them into a stacked salad. However, after photographing the salad in verrines, I decided to serve it over baby lettuce tossed lightly with grapefruit vinaigrette.  With a hunk of crusty bread and two glasses of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, this made a wonderful dinner.

For our two entree salads, I used: 1/2 pound lump crab, supremes from 2 small pink grapefruits, 1/4 red bell pepper and 1/4 yellow bell pepper (thinly sliced), 1/4 cucumber (thinly sliced), 2 scallions (white and light green portions, diced), 1/4 jalapeno chile (diced), 1 small avocado (cubed, with juice of 1/2 lemon squeezed over), 1 tablespoon minced chives, and about 3 ounces baby lettuce tossed with grapefruit vinaigrette (olive oil, grapefruit juice, salt and pepper).

French Fridays with Dorie is an online cooking group, dedicated to Dorie Greenspan‘s newest book Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. As members of the group, we have purchased the cookbook and cook along as much as we can. There is a new recipe each week, and we post about that recipe on Friday. We are asked to refrain from posting the actual recipes on our blog. The book is filled with stunning photography, and personal stories about each recipe, which makes it that much more intriguing. I highly recommend adding it to your cookbook collection if you haven't already!

Here are a few similar recipes that sound appealing:

Crab Balls with Grapefruit Salad (Jean-Georges Vongerichten, for Food & Wine)
Hearts of Palm Salad with Ruby Red Grapefruit and Dungeness Crab (Kerry Simon, Simon Kitchen & Bar, Las Vegas)
Grapefruit and Avocado Salad (Emeril Lagasse, Food Network)

Friday, March 23, 2012

French Fridays with Dorie: Mexican Hot Chocolate Sablés

French Butter Cookies, or Sablés, are classic French cookies originating in Normandy France. The name 'Sables' is French for "sand", which refers to the sandy texture of these delicate and crumbly shortbread-like cookies. The flavor of these Sablés is enhanced by the use of quality ingredients, such as European-style butter, pure vanilla extract, and high quality cocoa powder and chocolate.

My adaptation of the French Fridays with Dorie Cocoa Sablés was inspired by Mexican Hot Chocolate. I added some espresso powder to the dough and then made a sugar-cinnamon-chili mixture to coat the cookies with before baking. I was up at 4:30 a.m. this morning baking these, due to a certain puppy who wouldn't go back to sleep, so I appreciated having a little extra zip from the espresso and spice to enjoy with my coffee.

Mexican Hot Chocolate Sablés
Adapted from Dorie Greenspans's Cocoa Sables, Around My French Table


2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Scharffen Berger natural unsweetened)
1 tablespoon espresso powder
10 ounces unsalted butter (2 ½ sticks), at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I use Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract)
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

Cookie Coating
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, to taste

1. Sift the flour, cocoa powder and espresso powder together in a medium bowl. Put the butter in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat at medium speed until the butter is soft and creamy. Add the sugar, salt and vanilla extract and beat for another 1 or 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add the sifted dry ingredients in three additions. Mix only until the dry ingredients are incorporated. Mix in the chopped chocolate. Work the dough as little as possible for the best texture.

2. Turn the dough out onto a smooth work surface and divide in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into a log that is about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and chill them for at least 3 hours. (Wrapped airtight, the logs can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for 1 month.)

3. Mix together the sugar, cinnamon and chili powder coating and set aside.

4. Center a rack in the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

5. Working with a sharp, thin-bladed knife, slice the dough into 1/2-inch thick rounds. Gently submerge each dough round in the mixture of sugar, cinnamon and chili powder, turning over a few times until fully coated. Place cookies on prepared baking sheets, leaving an inch of space between them. Bake only one sheet at a time. Keep the second baking sheet of cookies in the refrigerator until ready to bake. Bake cookies for about 15 minutes, until slightly firm to the touch. Transfer the sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest, on the sheet, for about 5 minutes. Newf Note: If the cookies spread a bit, and the edges look ragged, use the appropriate sized round cookie cutter to cut away the edges and even them out while still warm.

6. Gently transfer the cookies to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely. Repeat with the second sheet of cookies. Baked cookies will stay fresh in an airtight container for 2-3 days.

I'll polish off these, with a spot of port, tonight ;-)


French Fridays with Dorie is an online cooking group, dedicated to Dorie Greenspan‘s newest book Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. As members of the group, we have purchased the cookbook and cook along as much as we can. There is a new recipe each week, and we post about that recipe on Friday. We are asked to refrain from posting the actual recipes on our blog. The book is filled with stunning photography, and personal stories about each recipe, which makes it that much more intriguing. I highly recommend adding it to your cookbook collection if you haven't already!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Monday Morning Blues and a Pasta Fix

Trapper shared my Monday morning blues. Within moments of being tossed outside on a rainy day, he retreated to the shelter of the doorstep sporting a kinky hairdo and look of disgust. Less than 10 minutes later, I was stranded on the side of the freeway with a flat tire, in pouring down rain and rush hour traffic. My hair was also frizzed from the rain and I can assure you my look of disgust wasn't nearly as cute. I called work, only to find out the network was down and there was no point coming in. So, I waited for the CHP to escort me off the freeway and John to come to my rescue. Razor blade in my tire. Nice.

The storm has passed, the sun is shining, and Trapper is still adorable. He's quite content with our early morning Starbucks routine, and is rapidly accumulating his own fandom. Brother Nicolas may come for a puppy play date on Sunday, and puppy photos are likely to continue for quite some time.

Several days of rain...

Sunny skies and flowers in bloom to welcome spring...

Inspiration for this Rigatoni alla Castellana came from Il Fornaio's Trentino-Alto Adige menu, and two leftover pork chops. In addition to thinly sliced pork and thick, chewy rigatoni pasta, it soaks up flavor from bacon, cream, brandy and cheese. But the fattening ingredients are balanced by a healthier additions - shiitake mushrooms, garlic, shallots, thyme, and a few handfuls of fresh spinach. A small serving (with a hefty glass of wine) is all I needed to chase away my Monday blues, bid farewell to the rain, and welcome the first day of spring.

Rigatoni alla Castellana
Inspired by Il Fornaio
Serves 4


½ cup stemmed dried shiitake mushrooms
1 cup hot water
12 ounces rigatoni pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 slices thick bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4 inch pieces
4 ounces thinly sliced cooked pork (from leftover pork chops or tenderloin)
¼ cup minced shallots
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup brandy
1 ½ cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 ounces fresh baby spinach
½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese


1.  Place the dried mushrooms in a medium bowl, cover with the hot water, and let sit until reconstituted and soft, about 15 minutes. Drain the mushrooms and their liquid through a fine mesh strainer into a clean bowl, squeezing the mushrooms to extract as much liquid as possible. Reserve ½ cup of the liquid and roughly chop the mushrooms. Set aside.

2.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the rigatoni and cook until al dente, 10-12 minutes (or according to package directions).

3.  Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and sauté until browned and just slightly crisp, but still chewy.  Remove the bacon from the pan with a slotted spoon onto a paper towel and set aside.

4.  Add the shallots to the pan and sauté until soft and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add the chopped mushrooms, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the ½ cup reserved mushroom liquid, and ¼ cup brandy, and bring to a boil, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is nearly all evaporated. Add the cream, thyme, salt, and pepper and return to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cream is reduced and thick, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the half of the cheese and stir to incorporate. Add the bacon, sliced pork and spinach and heat just until the pork is warmed through and the spinach is slightly wilted.

5. Drain the pasta and add to the pan with the sauce, tossing well to coat. 

6. Divide the pasta between four serving bowls, garnish each with the remaining cheese, and serve immediately.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Weekend of Irish Weather: Steak and Stilton Pies and Soda Bread

May you always have walls for the winds,
a roof for the rain, tea beside the fire,
laughter to cheer you, those you love near you,
and all your heart might desire.

It felt like Ireland this past weekend, with all the wind, rain and hail, and it's still raining this Monday morning. However, rainy days are ideal days to spend in the kitchen, and that's what I did most of Saturday, preparing a small St. Patrick's Day dinner, and Sunday, making a pot of soup.

I had seen these English Steak and Stilton Pies in Saveur back in October, and they resurfaced in my brain on Saturday morning as an option for our St. Patrick's Day dinner. Although English in origin, the combination of beef, Stilton, and vegetables, all bathed in a rich stout and beef gravy, and topped with a buttery puff pastry crust, sounded comforting on a rainy St. Paddy's day. You could easily substitute lamb for the beef, and even add some potatoes, for a more traditional Irish dish.

I set up Trapper puppy's pen in the breakfast nook so he could see me, turned on some Irish music, poured a glass of Sparkling Shiraz, and started chopping and sauteing. Of course, Dooley was also there, sprawled out across the kitchen floor in his usual spot. Once everything was in the pot simmering, I had time to make a loaf of Irish Soda Bread.

You can use 6" pie tins per the recipe, ramekins or bowls. My only option was these lion's head bowls, and they worked just fine. You're also supposed to cut the pastry into rounds, but I cut the dough into squares, and just scrunched it up for a more rustic look. I also made a few adjustments to the recipe, adding a little more carrots and celery, and reducing the onions, rosemary, and cheese. The flavor of the cheese was still pronounced, but I think it would have been overbearing with the full 6 ounces. For the stout, I was able to snag the last bottle of Speedway Stout off the shelf.

Steak and Stilton Pies
Slightly adapted from Saveur
Makes 4 individual pies


1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1" cubes
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 medium yellow onions, sliced
3 ribs celery, thickly sliced
3 small carrots, thickly sliced
1 tablespoon minced rosemary
1 12-ounce bottle stout beer
1/4 cup cup flour
2 cups beef stock
2 teaspoons mustard powder
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
10 ounces mushrooms, quartered 
4 ounces English Stilton (or other blue cheese or Gorgonzola), crumbled
1 10-ounce package frozen peas
1 sheet puff pastry from 14-oz. package puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, lightly beaten


Heat oil in an 8-quart dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season beef with salt and pepper, cook until browned, 10–12 minutes, and transfer to a bowl. Add garlic, onions, celery, carrots, and rosemary to pan, and saute until soft, 10–12 minutes. Add beer, and allow to reduce until all the liquid is absorbed, 18–20 minutes. Add flour and stir until smooth. Return beef to pan, and add stock, mustard powder, and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, cover partially, and cook for 1½ hours.  Turn off head and set aside.

Heat butter in a 10″ skillet over high heat. Add mushrooms and saute until browned, about 8 minutes. Add mushrooms, peas and cheese to the beef filling.

Heat oven to 375° F. Divide beef filling among four ramekins or 6" pie tins (12 ounce capacity). Roll pastry into a 14" square; cut out four pieces. Brush ramekin or tin edges with egg, and place one piece of pastry over each.  Press to seal.  Cut a couple slits into pastry and brush with egg. Bake until browned, about 40 minutes.  Allow to cool 5-10 minutes and serve.

Irish Soda Bread and a few St. Paddy's Day decorations

Irish Soda Bread
Slightly adapted from Barefoot Contessa


4 cups all-purpose flour (I used 2 cups all-purpose and 2 cups whole wheat)
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 1/2 cups cold buttermilk, shaken
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 cup currants
1/2 cup Irish Whiskey (optional)


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper.

In a microwave-safe bowl, combine the currants and whiskey and heat on high for 45 seconds. Set aside.

Combine the flours, sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is mixed into the flour.

With a fork, lightly beat the buttermilk, egg, and orange zest together in a measuring cup. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture. Drain the currants and mix into the dough. The dough will be very wet.

Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and knead it a few times into a round loaf. Place the loaf on the prepared baking sheet and lightly cut an X into the top of the bread with a serrated knife. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. When you tap the loaf, it will have a hollow sound.

Cool on a baking rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

For a spur of the moment St. Patrick's Day dinner, this was just about perfect.  Now, PLEASE stop raining!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Falling for You: Irish Cheddar and Chive Souffle

It seems I've neglected the blog, and my kitchen, this past week. French Fridays with Dorie is already here again, and I haven't published a post since last week's French Fridays. I happily blame it in part on this attention-sponge, who eats three times a day and is already up to 43 pounds at just 12 weeks. We can't walk into the kitchen without him bouncing up, perking his ears, cocking his head, and then flying into the kitchen to see if he's getting another meal.

Trapper, drifting into puppy nap time

Not to say we haven't eaten quite well this past week - that's definitely not the case after making the rounds to three Coronado restaurants.

Last Friday, we sat out on the patio for a sunset Happy Hour at Saiko Sushi, sipped $5 glasses of wine, and shared a few of the happy hour and house specialities: Saiko Edamame (seasoned with celery salt and garlic), Saiko Roll (salmon, yellowtail, crab, wasabi, aioli, eel sauce, tempura fried), and the Rey Roll (seared albacore, tempura shrimp, crab, apple and mustard vinaigrette).

Saiko Edamame

Saiko Roll

Rey Roll

On Monday, Leroy's Kitchen + Lounge invited us to photograph a Wine Dinner featuring Fritz Underground Winery (Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, CA). The five course menu offered Asparagus Soup, Steamed Mediterranean Black Mussels, Mar i Muntanya, Spice Rubbed Tri Tip, and Zinfandel Poached Strawberries, paired with Fritz wines. Emily's Mexican Chocolate Cake Martini sealed the deal.

Our top pick of the evening was the Mar i Muntanya, a multi-layered paella-esque creation, paired with Fritz Pinot Noir.

Mar i Muntanya

Leroy's Kitchen + Lounge added a few new dishes to the regular dinner menu, including Diver Scallops with Asparagus Risotto, California White Seabass, and Duroc Bone-in Pork Chop. You can see our photos of the Fritz Wine Dinner, and new additions to the menu, on Leroy's Facebook Page.

Seared Diver Scallops with Asparagus Risotto

On Tuesday night, we photographed Il Fornaio's Passaporto Dinner celebrating some of the Festa Regionale crowd-pleasers. We photographed, and promptly devoured, Pasta alla Castellana from the Trentino-Alto Adige region. Rigatoni pasta tossed with pork tenderloin, bacon, shiitake mushrooms, Parmigiano, brandy, cream and fresh thyme...need I say more?

Chef Giorgio

Pasta alla Castellano

Last night, I was finally able to get to this week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe, Cheese Souffle. In honor of St. Patrick's Day, I substituted Irish Reserve Cheddar Cheese and chives, in place of Dorie's Gruyere and nutmeg.

Souffle Mise En Place

Rather than making one large souffle, I played around with a few different sizes...

Petite Souffle

Individual serving in a small ramekin

While attempting to get one last photo of two souffles together, I rushed to get them from the oven to the table and dropped the second on the table. Souffles fall quickly once removed from the oven, but they really fall fast when dropped! Despite doing what souffles do best, falling rapidly before your eyes, the flavor and texture was grand.

To accompany our souffles, I made these Sweet and Sour Glazed Pork Chops from Saveur. During grilling, they are brushed with a reduction of balsamic vinegar, honey and rosemary. I cooked ours stovetop, in a dutch oven, and they were tender, flavorful and pretty alongside the souffles.

Within minutes of posting a photo of my fallen souffle on Facebook last night, I received the most heartwarming e-mail from Ann, who gave me permission to share her words and photo:

"Despite your French Friday's with Dorie disaster, you are an inspiration to all of us. I love your blog and of course, Dooley and Trapper! My Sister Sal and I made this dinner last week, with Trapper supervising! See attached photo! Have a great weekend!"

Ann's Chicken Picatta, inspired from this post

Thank you, Ann. You truly made my evening with your e-mail and photo!


French Fridays with Dorie is an online cooking group, dedicated to Dorie Greenspan‘s newest book Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. As members of the group, we have purchased the cookbook and cook along as much as we can. There is a new recipe each week, and we post about that recipe on Friday. We are asked to refrain from posting the actual recipes on our blog. The book is filled with stunning photography, and personal stories about each recipe, which makes it that much more intriguing. I highly recommend adding it to your cookbook collection if you haven't already!

Friday, March 9, 2012

French Fridays with Dorie: French Country Benedict

John is the biscuit-maker in our house. He has perfected John Besh's Grandmother Walters's Biscuits, and has been known to bake up a batch of Red Lobster's Cheddar Bay Biscuits. Other than those, and a bite or two of his Biscuits and Gravy at a country cafe in our local mountains, my life has been pretty much void of biscuits.

This week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe, St-Germain-des-Prés Onion Biscuits, is Dorie's adaptation of the basic American biscuit. She adds chopped and quickly sauteed onions to the dough, cuts the dough into trendy cocktail-size rounds, and serves them with country ham and Champagne. Dorie's biscuits, named after her swanky Paris neighborhood, are now a staple at her cocktail parties.

St-Germain-des-Prés Onion Biscuits

I needed to make a meal out of these biscuits, so I decided to do a slight twist on Country Benedict, which replaces the English muffin, ham and hollandaise sauce in traditional Eggs Benedict with an American biscuit, sausage patties, and country gravy. The poached eggs are replaced with eggs fried to choice. I used St-Germain-des-Prés Onion Biscuits, sausage patties made with Jimmy Dean sage sausage, and country gravy; I did stay with poached eggs.

French Country Benedict

Breakfast for dinner is nice on occasion, and our French Country Benedict was simple and satisfying. 

Dorie's recipe for St-Germain-des-Prés Onion Biscuits can be found here. Other than the onions, the recipe is almost identical to the John Besh recipe we've used. Some biscuit recipes use buttermilk, instead of milk, and add a teaspoon of baking soda. Thomas Keller uses a combination of cake flour and all-purpose flour (he also uses buttermilk, baking powder and baking soda). 

Critical factors in biscuit-making are: Proper ratios of flour, leavener (baking powder and/or soda), salt, fat (usually butter), and liquid (milk, buttermilk, cream); quick cutting of the fat into the dry ingredients to keep the butter cold and firm (food processor with a steel blade works best); stirring in the liquid just until the ingredients are bound, so the gluten will not become activated (i.e, DON'T OVERWORK); gently patting the dough into a 3/4-inch thickness rather than rolling it with a rolling pin; resist twisting the cutter when cutting the biscuits; and high oven temperature (425 degrees F) with a short baking time (15-18 minutes). It probably goes without saying, but biscuits are best hot from the oven. We also like sprinkling the tops of the biscuits with a pinch of salt just before baking.

For perfect poached eggs, I used the method I learned from Michael Rulman, and for the country gravy, I used this recipe from Homesick Texan.


French Fridays with Dorie is an online cooking group, dedicated to Dorie Greenspan‘s newest book Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. As members of the group, we have purchased the cookbook and cook along as much as we can. There is a new recipe each week, and we post about that recipe on Friday. We are asked to refrain from posting the actual recipes on our blog. The book is filled with stunning photography, and personal stories about each recipe, which makes it that much more intriguing. I highly recommend adding it to your cookbook collection if you haven't already!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Figs in My Wine, and a NEW Newf in My Soup!

When Dooley's breeders offered us one of three boys from a litter out of Ch. Wynship's Top Gun and Seabrook's All Hail Wynship, we had to do some serious thinking. After losing Diver so suddenly a year and a half ago, when he was only three, and Dooley just turning 13 in January, we debated whether it was the right time for another puppy.

As soon as we went to visit the two puppies JoAnn brought back from Michigan, it was all over. Saying no to one of those faces was not an option. All puppies are adorable, but Newf puppies are scrumptious. At 10 weeks old, they were already 30 lbs. of lovable, cuddly, and playful bundles of soft fur.

Within a few days, we were introducing Dooley to his half-brother.

Getting acquainted

Choosing the perfect name is a challenge, but I think we came up with a good one: Wynship's Guardian of Trapper Peak aka Trapper. John and I have vacationed at Triple Creek Ranch in Montana, where the views of Trapper Peak are stunning. We are drawn to the beauty of the Bitterroot Valley, and dream of having our own vacation or retirement home there someday (I suspect this ranch, for a mere 15 million, could be converted to a quaint Bed & Breakfast). The Lewis and Clark expedition also traveled a trail through the Bitterroot Valley, in the shadow of Trapper Peak, with their Newfoundland dog, Seaman.

Trapper Peak, Montana, at sunrise during our last visit to Triple Creek Ranch

Although I've been consumed with puppy love this past week, I did manage to prepare another bookmarked recipe out of The Hearty Boys' Talk With Your Mouth Full cookbook. I made this Gorgonzola, Fig and Pecan Terrine for a food writing workshop taught by Dianne Jacob and coordinated by the San Diego Food Bloggers group.

Photograph by Laurie Proffitt, Talk With Your Mouth Full

I could dedicate an entire blog post to Dianne's inspiring workshop, but I still need time to digest all of the valuable information and tips she provided, and read the revised and updated edition of her book, Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Reviews, Memoir, and More. I started this blog as a hobby and creative outlet for my cooking, but I am continually striving to improve my food photography and writing.

Before tackling this recipe, you should know it won't come out looking as beautiful as the photograph in the cookbook, unless you make a few preparation and styling revisions. I instinctively knew this before my first attempt, but plunged ahead without taking the time to think through the final presentation.

Next time, I will divide the cheese mixture between two loaf pans and mold the top and bottom pieces separately. That way, I can un-mold the bottom piece onto my serving platter, spoon over the figs, pecans, and herbs, and then loosely position the second piece of cheese on top of the filling. If fresh figs are in season, they make a beautiful garnish.

I did make a few changes to the original recipe. I doubled the amount of figs and pecans, because I felt the ratio of cheese to filling was too high. I also chose to simmer all of the figs in the red wine, rather than leaving half of the figs sober. I could have easily eaten every one of those drunken figs, without a smidgen of cheese, in two minutes flat.

A few more notes: This terrine is large enough to feed 20-30 people, so you may wish to cut the cheese and butter quantities in half, and prepare a mini-version for more intimate gatherings. If you're not in the mood to prepare and assemble the entire terrine, make the drunken figs! Simply simmer the figs in red wine and thyme sprigs, drain, spoon them over a log of goat cheese or wedge of Gorgonzola, drizzle with honey, add toasted or candied pecans, crackers, and grape clusters, and call it a day.

Gorgonzola, Fig and Pecan Terrine
Adapted from Talk With Your Mouth Full, by Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh
Original recipe published on Food


2 cups dried Mission figs, quartered
1 ½ cups red wine
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
8 ounces Gorgonzola, crumbled
2 tablespoons brandy
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups pecan pieces, lightly toasted (1 cup to go in the terrine and the other cup for garnishing the top)
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley, plus additional parsley leaves for garnish


Put the quartered figs, wine and thyme sprigs into a small saucepan and allow to simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. Drain the figs, discard the thyme and wine and set the figs aside to cool. Half of the figs will go into the middle of the terrine, and the other half will be used to garnish the top of the terrine.

Put the cream cheese and butter into the bowl of a standing mixer fixed with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until blended, about one minute. Add the Gorgonzola, brandy, and salt, and beat for another minute. Do not overbeat.

(This is the step I would change, as discussed above). Spray a one-quart loaf pan with cooking spray and line the inside with plastic wrap. Spoon half of the cheese mixture into the pan and spread it evenly, making sure to get into the corners. Scatter one cup of the wine-soaked figs, 1 cup of the toasted pecans, and all of the chopped parsley evenly over the top, and then cover with the remaining cheese. Fold the overlapping plastic wrap over the top and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

About an hour before serving time, carefully lift the terrine out of the loaf pan, remove the plastic and place terrine on a serving platter or cheese board. Garnish the top with the remaining one cup of figs, one cup of toasted pecans, and parsley leaves. Serve with crackers.

Friday, March 2, 2012

French Fridays with Dorie: Olive Oil-Poached Salmon with Lentils, Bacon and Crispy Fried Leeks

This week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe, Roasted Salmon and Lentils, introduced me to another classic pairing of ingredients. Of course, I had to first read and compare several recipes, and consult The Flavor Bible, before tweaking the recipe. I also prepared different variations, two nights in a row, before achieving the results I preferred. Dorie even says, like many simple dishes, this one takes to tweaking, even to deluxeing - I've seen it made grand with the addition of truffles, which are wonderful with both lentils and salmon. I didn't have a hunk of black truffle hanging around, but followed Dorie's recommendation of adding a few drops of truffle oil to finish the salmon just before serving.

As with last week's French Onion Soup, each chef puts his or her own twist on the pairing of Salmon and Lentils. If you look up lentils in The Flavor Bible, you'll see the very highly recommended pairings of ingredients - bay leaf, carrots, celery, garlic, oil, parsley, pepper, SALMON, salt, stocks, and vinegar. Under salmon, you'll see many of the same very highly recommended pairings, including bay leaf, carrots, garlic, LENTILS, oil, onions, parsley, pepper, salt, stocks and vinegar. Frequently recommended pairings for both salmon and lentils include bacon and leeks. Finally, under salmon, one of the flavor affinities (compatible flavor groups) is salmon + bacon + lentils + sherry vinegar.

While I didn't follow Dorie's preparation methods, I did use the classic pairing of ingredients used in many of the recipes I reviewed, and I added a few others which are often used: Bacon and sherry wine vinegar in the lentils, and crispy fried leeks for garnish. I've poached fish in olive oil once or twice, and wanted to try that method with this salmon (wonderfully moist, tender and perfectly cooked). For the lentils, I liked the idea of rendering the bacon until just starting to brown, and then sauteing the carrots and onions in the bacon fat before adding the lentils and stock or water. The crispy fried leeks added a nice flavor and texture to the finished dish.

Olive Oil Poached Salmon with Lentils, Bacon, and Crispy Leeks
Inspired by Roasted Salmon and Lentils (Around My French Table)
(Serves 4)

Lentils with Bacon

2 slices bacon, cut in thin strips
1/4 cup chopped carrots, chopped in roughly ½-inch pieces
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 pound French green lentils, lentilles du Puy if you can find them
2 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar
Black pepper, to taste

Cook the bacon over medium-low heat in a medium pot until the fat renders and the bacon starts to sizzle and brown, about 7 minutes. Add the chopped carrots and cook until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the onion and cook until it is softened and translucent, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the lentils, coating them with the flavoring mixture. Add the water, stir and bring to a simmer. Add three-fourths teaspoon salt, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook until the lentils are tender, about 40 minutes. They should still be slightly soupy. Just before serving, stir in the red wine vinegar and black pepper.

Olive Oil-Poached Salmon
Adapted from Salt to Taste by Marco Canora (published in The New York Times)

2 pound salmon fillet, skin removed, cut into 4 pieces (room temperature)
10 sprigs fresh thyme
1 large sprig fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
About 3 cups olive oil; more if necessary to cover fish
1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Minced parsley or chives, for garnish
Crispy fried leeks, for garnish
Drizzle of truffle oil (optional)

Using a vegetable peeler, peel lemon to remove yellow part only, in strips. Combine thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, garlic, lemon peel, and olive oil in a pan just wide enough to hold fish in a single layer without touching. Make sure there is enough olive oil to cover the fillets once added.

Season salmon fillets on both sides with salt and pepper.

Attach a deep-frying thermometer to pan and heat oil to 180 degrees over medium-low heat. Reduce heat and monitor temperature, adjusting until temperature remains stable at 180 degrees. When temperature is stable, add fish. Oil temperature will drop, so raise heat slightly (never above medium-low) just until it reaches 180 degrees again, and then reduce heat.

Cook fish about 13 to 15 minutes, until the top is completely opaque and the internal temperature of the thickest part of the fillets reach 140 degrees. Carefully remove the fillets from the oil to a plate lined with paper towels, and let drain.

Spoon lentils into serving bowl and place salmon fillet on top. Drizzle with a few drops of truffle oil, and garnish with fried leeks and chopped parsley.

Crispy Fried Leeks

2 cups matchstick-size strips leeks (about 4 medium leeks) 
Peanut oil
1/2 cup flour

Cut the leeks  (white and pale green parts only) in half lengthwise, wash and dry thoroughly, and slice into very thin strips.

Pour peanut oil into heavy small saucepan to depth of 1 inch and heat to 350°F. Dredge leeks in flour, shake off excess, and fry in small batches until golden brown, about 30 seconds. Using slotted spoon, transfer fried leeks to paper towels. Season with a pinch of salt and allow to drain.


French Fridays with Dorie is an online cooking group, dedicated to Dorie Greenspan‘s newest book Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. As members of the group, we have purchased the cookbook and cook along as much as we can. There is a new recipe each week, and we post about that recipe on Friday. We are asked to refrain from posting the actual recipes on our blog. The book is filled with stunning photography, and personal stories about each recipe, which makes it that much more intriguing. I highly recommend adding it to your cookbook collection if you haven't already!