I’m always torn when choosing a cookbook for cookbook club. Should I go with something outside my experience that pushes me, say an ethnic cookbook that introduces me to spices and techniques I’m unfamiliar with, or should I go with something more traditional where I’m more likely to find things that I’ll make for dinner on a regular basis? More traditional won this time and I chose Dorie Greenspan’s Around my French Table as our May cookbook.
We started the evening with Maria’s Cheez-it-ish crackers and champagne. Maria wasn’t able to spend the entire evening with us but she dropped off her crackers and went off to her work assignment, then made it back in time to sample the main course and dessert. These were delicious — very short, very savory, and a perfect accompaniment to champagne.
Our next course, which was one of the big hits of the evening as far as I was concerned, was a bacon, egg, and asparagus salad made by Renee. The asparagus was dressed with a sherry vinegar vinaigrette, layered with bacon and hazelnuts on a bed of greens (Renee used mache) , then topped with a six minute egg which had been briefly fried in the bacon fat. The egg yolk mixes with the dressing and combined with the bacon it makes a rich, satisfying salad which could easily be a meal in itself.
Joanne (as is so often the case) made the most complicated dish of the evening –storzapretis which are a Corsican spinach and mint gnocchi. Joanne had made her own ricotta before she arrived and then set about cooking and chopping spinach, combining the chopped spinach with ricotta, egg, cheese, mint, and a little flour. She then shaped the storzapretis, chilled them, boiled them, drained them, dried them, and finally baked them with tomato sauce. It was the recipe of many, many steps and while it was good, its delicious-ness was not in proportion to the amount of work it required. In fact, as Joanne pointed out, their taste was very reminiscent of stuffed shells but stuffed shells are a lot less work.
Our main course was boeuf à la ficelle or beef on a string. It sounds better in French than English doesn’t it? I had high hopes for boeuf à la ficelle which Dorie Greenspan
described as a pared-down and luxury version of pot-au-feu and which she also says is an elegant dish, perfect to serve at a party. I made a beef broth, and then simmered vegetables (celery root, leeks, carrots, and potatoes) and then, briefly, a beef tenderloin. And it was… ok. A little boring; not bad, but not great.
Our next course, which was actually supposed to be our appetizer but due to timing issues was served after the main course, was this beautiful mustard tart with carrots and leeks made by Alayne. It’s gorgeous, isn’t it? But its taste didn’t equal its looks and this recipe didn’t wow us either.
Elizabeth’s dessert, floating islands, was my other favorite of the evening. Floating islands is a soft meringue served in a pool of custard. In most recipes I’ve seen (and the one time I tried to make it) the meringue is poached in the milk which is then used to make the custard, but in this version, the meringue is baked in springform pan in a hot water bath. Elizabeth made the delicious custard in advance and also a lovely caramel sauce that was drizzled on top. This is something I look forward to making again!
So overall, Around my French Table had more misses than hits but as always Cookbook Club was a great way to spend the evening.