I have been putting off writing this blog post for over a month now. It might be because of procrastination, it might be because I am hungry and trying to lose weight and this food looks so good, or it might be because if I write this post that means that my CBC days are almost over.

I started the Charm City Cookbook Club, as it is now known, almost 4 years ago to make friends, cook, eat, and expand my cookbook collection. The CBC has become much more than I ever thought it would. I have made friends and grown relationships to a level that I didn’t think possible. Of the original members Alayne is the only one left, but added or departed we have some amazing women that have cooked with us. I am moving to Houston in September and I hope to make another meeting or two in the next year when I come back to visit but I will be reading this blog and sometimes cooking along with all the great food. Keep it up ladies! P7101380

July was my last month of hosting. So sad. I love my Baltimore kitchen and will miss the great light, huge sink, and island table that have made cooking there enjoyable. For my last meeting I picked Ad Hoc at Home. It seemed fitting to do a homey book to celebrate. We have cooked out of almost all of Thomas Keller’s books, The French Laundry being the most notable. This book did not disappoint.

During the last 4 years there have been a lot of changes. The cutest being the addition of Miss Colette….she is one lucky baby to get to eat this food. P7101387

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Our first dish was made by Alayne who like Maria in the soup to come used wonderful local produce and made Tomato and Mozzarella Salad. The kitchen started to smell amazing when she began cutting the tomatoes.

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and here it is. It tasted as amazing as it looks.

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Next Maria cheated a little but to our benefit and made her Sun Gold Tomato Gazpacho ahead. This was the best Gazpacho I have ever had. And Colette drank a whole cup of it!

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To serve with the salad as an appetizer Julie cooked little Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs. I could have eaten the who tray. They were light but rich and a great match to the salad.

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The main course was fun. I made a Leek Bread Pudding that was to die for and Robby’s could not stop eating at 12:00 that night. To go with that I made Marinated Skirt Steak, not just with beef but with beef and buffalo that I got from the farmer’s market. http://www.gunpowderbison.com/

You can see the difference in the color of the meat above. Our favorite turned out to be the buffalo. It was more flavorful and more tender.

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To end this great meal Joanne made Peaches & Cream. Another perfect use of local fresh produce. The cream took a bit of work but Joanne is amazing and turned out the perfect desert.

Thank you all, I will miss you so much.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Being part of Charm City Cookbook Club gives me courage to do things that I wouldn’t normally do. Like mail order shaved pressed fish roe from Italy for a French Laundry blini recipe, or shred a mess of oxtail a la Mario Batali, or have a gaggle of girl chefs over to cook dinner in my small, not very well equipped kitchen on a cold Friday night in April.

I put my hostess anxiety aside last week, grabbed a copy of Melissa Clark’s “In the Kitchen With a Good Appetite,” (Hyperion, 2010) and headed to the kitchen with Julie, Alayne, Joanne, Renee, and Elizabeth to cook up a mess of fun. It was my first time hosting and I was excited.
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First up was Joanne, who made Lamb and Bulgur Kibbe, little nuggets of ground lamb, onions, bulgur and spices that were broiled in the oven and served with chopped tomatoes, cucumber and onions, garlic yogurt sauce, and homemade sumac scented pita. She hit this dish out of the park. My kitchen has never smelled so good. In fact, the scent roused the boy child from the basement, and he pilfered kibbe from the tray when he thought we weren’t looking. He even stuffed a few in his pockets for good measure.

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Elizabeth had the questionable honor of making salad, a task that can be somewhat overlooked and thankless. This salad of tender greens with herbs and hazelnuts was neither. It was so delicious and easy — just baby greens, toasted hazelnuts, and a simple nut oil, salt and vinegar dressing. Clark calls it “Hello, Salad.” We all loved it.
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A brief aside: Like at all Charm City Cookbook Club gatherings, there was sparkling wine and dancing.
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Okay so next up was Julie who wins the night’s award for most ambitious and difficult to pronounce dish. She made spaetzle, a European egg noodle whose name means “little sparrow.”
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Making these little dumplings take a few extra hands and a cool little spaetzle maker, which Julie purchased just for the occasion, that cuts and drops the dough into a pot of salted boiling water.
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After she fished the cooked dumplings out of the water, Julie mixed them with carmelized red onion, sautéed Swiss chard and Emmentaler cheese and baked it all in the oven until it was warm and bubbly and delicious.
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But I am getting ahead of myself. Sort of. Because there are still other components on the plate that we need to talk about. Like the roasted balsamic carrots and roasted spiced cauliflower with almonds that Alayne fired up in my vintage 80s oven.
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I usually hate cooked carrots, but these were delicious. And the cauliflower had a lovely warmth and nuttiness to it.

And speaking of nuttiness ….
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And
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Now where were we? Oh yes, the main course: Crisp Chicken Schnitzel with Lemony Spring Herb Salad. It’s a simple dish: A panfried panko crusted chicken breast on some greens with a lemon anchovy dressing, but it came out really well and it tasted like spring.
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Thanks to Joanne and Julie for manning the saute pan while I was God knows where doing God knows what.

And here’s dinner:
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Now, perhaps you would think that with so much good food and delicious wine on the table that no one would even dare think about dessert. Well buddy, you are wrong. Not only did we think about dessert, Renee was planning on making TWO desserts: A gooey honey butter cake and Fudgy Brownies with Chile and Sea Salt. Alas, the yeast dough that formed the based of the butter cake failed to rise to the occasion even after multiple attempts and so we had to soldier on with only one dessert, a la mode of course.
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The chile and sea salt gave the brownies a nice flavor, although they would have been delicious without them, too.

Thanks to all for a great night of cooking and friendship, for tolerating my vintage 80s kitchen and my overly energetic family and yellow Lab, and for inviting me to become part of the best, most fun, most vibrant group of girl chefs ever to hit Charm City.
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P.S. by Someone new says she wants to join, but I think we should put her off for about 10 years…
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I decided that I wanted to give us a challenge for the March cookbook club so I chose to work with Thomas Keller’s French Laundry for this month. I gave people a heads up that this wasn’t going to be easy but that it was going to be delicious, boy was I right on both counts.

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CBC started at 3:30 and I wanted to give people a bit of encouragement so I welcomed everyone as Keller does at the restaurant with the salmon cornets.

I borrowed the cornet molds from my new friend Megan (thanks Megan) and set to work at about 1:30. These were really quite tasty but the cornet in and of itself was a lot of work (note the theme of the day). You basically had to stand in front of the oven for an hour while they cooked, burning your fingers every 5 minutes or so as you flipped and rolled the hot dough around the cornet mold. Let me tell you, I was sweating when I finished the 11, count-em 11 cornets I had made at the end of that hour.DSC_0060

Luckily, filled with the crème fraiche and minced and rinsed red onion  “french onion dip” (that’s what it tasted like) and the lovely, lemon and chive salmon tartare, followed by a bubbly sip of cava, they melted in your mouth. To the ladies of CBC!!! Cheers

We set to work with a vengance after that. Maria’s blini were first and she had her work cut out for her, boil those potatoes for a good 45 minutes, peel them while they were hot, OUCH…

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then she had to quickly press this through the tamis that Julie provided. There was nothing “quick” about it and playing with a hot potato, sounds like a game doesn’t it? We ended up getting out my food mill, grinding up that damned potato in there while Maria pushed it through the tamis. Check out our system:
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Ok so this blogpost could go on forever but I think I’m going to do a show and tell of the basic beautiful recipes and leave the details of each of them to the other girls.

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So, Maria’s blini were very different. Usually blini are made with flour. This was kind of like a mashed potato pancake. She had apparently spent her entire Friday night making a “tomato coulis” which was 3lbs of tomatoes reduced to about 1/4 cup. They were beautiful, tasty and well presented with the shaved tuna roe sprinkled on top.
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Next up, Julie’s beautiful “Caesar Salads” which she prepared ahead of time and plated at my house. The composed salad had the dressing on the bottom under a baguette crouton, topped with a light, creamy parmesan custard, a parmesan crisp, some shredded romaine tossed with the anchovy salad dressing and topped with parmesan shavings. On the side you can see the balsamic reduction that was a beautiful contrast to the lightness of the custard. MMMMmmmmmm.
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It’s a bit un-traditional but it was ready so we decided to do Elizabeth’s cheese course which was called Corsu Vecchiu with Spiced Carrot Salad and Golden Raisin Puree. She substituted Manchego for the Corsu Vecchiu as she coudn’t find the former, but Keller states that it is a semi-hard sheeps cheese from Spain so we felt this fit the bill. It was utterly delicious, crunchy spicy carrot, sweet puree and the tartness of the cheese all went together very well, though we did find the dried pulverized carrot to be not more than a bit of decoration and probably not worth the effort.
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Renee’s pasta course Sweet Potato Agnolotti with Sage Cream, Brown Butter, and Prosciutto ended up being sweet potato ravioli as we paused too long in the rolling/drying phase of the program and were unable to make the agnolotti. These melted in your mouth, bacony, proscuittoy, sweet delights. She took the rest of the batter home to make on Monday night 😦 Ah well…..

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I chose to make the Black Sea Bass with Sweet Parsnips, Arrowleaf Spinach, and Saffron-Vanilla Sauce. I had to start by making mussels in a white wine broth, not using the mussels but using 1 cup of the broth for my sauce. I did that at about 1pm right before I mixed the cornets up, let me tell you, those mussels were quite tasty on monday night for dinner.
The parsnips needed to boil in cream and be pressed through that tamis again (we ended up using the Maria method again for that). Boy that sweet parsnipy cream was tasty, I ended up adding it to a corn chowder later in the week. Always leftover extra parts with Keller.
Once the saffron vanilla cream mussel reduction was done, the parsnips were piped onto the plate, the orange spinach was fried, squeezed and balled on top of that, it was time to make the fish.
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Note, I am not the worlds best fish fryer. I ended up using rockfish for most of it because the black sea bass was tiny, and I did end up undercooking some of the larger pieces of fish (sorry peeps) but all in all, it was a beautiful, time consuming, deliciously creamy dish.

And here it is:
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Last but definitely not least was Alayne’s tasty Lemon Saboyan Tart with Pine Nut crust and Honeyed Mascarpone Cream. The tart was beautifully browned, tart yet sweet. It was reminiscent of the one I make from Dannenberg’s “Paris: Boulangerie Patisserie” with a much richer crust.
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We didn’t finish up until about 10pm on Sunday night so you can see that it was an intense, wonderful evening spent. Thanks to everyone for pitching in with the dishes as we would not have had enough cooking or serving dishes for everything. We used every single dish towel I possess. Looking forward to Friday night at Maria’s house…..

This month was very fun for me, why?? Cause it was at my house AND we got to look at ourselves in the March edition of Baltimore Magazine!!! Check out the online article right here! So I chose this cookbook because someone I know is obsessed with Claire Robinson… She loves cooking french food, has a funny little french bulldog and spends her Sunday afternoons drinking beer and watching golf. I wonder who has that obsession?? So I was in the bookstore one day and laid my eyes upon this cookbook and Claire’s. I must admit I do enjoy some Food network cookbooks in my collection (Ina & Tyler) so looking at her recipes made me equally happy. And lucky for me, that certain someone bought both books for me for Valentine’s Day!!!

So last Saturday night was a busy one! We had seven of us (six of the crew + 1 special guest!) But wow were these recipes good. Like 90% of them! And we had a nice cocktail too, a clementine one that Beth so graciously prepared for us!

So Alayne had appetizer and chose a asparagus pesto over polenta. In my mind this sounded like a really tasty recipe, but when we got to eating it, it left a little something to be desired! Look at these beautiful skinny asparagii (??) from Trader Joe’s.

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We blanched the asparagus and threw it in the food processor with parmesan cheese and pine nuts.

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Then we made the polenta and spread it out on a baking sheet to cool.

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Since I don’t have circle cookie cutters, we improvised! Hearts it was! I mean its still the month of Valentine’s day!

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Isn’t Alayne’s heart just darling?? And heres the finished product. The pesto had a bright interesting taste (the lemon zest helped with that too), but the polenta was too mushy for my palate. I don’t remember what the recipe said we could do to doctor up the polenta. But in our discussions we thought they could have used a trip to the broiler or a deep frying!

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Maria, our newest overachiever, made these drinking snacks in advance, aka cheese straws! Boy oh boy were they salty. I loved em!

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Then Renee got to her soup, potato with leeks soup, to be exact. Sauteed some leeks and bacon and then boiled the potatoes, heated up some chicken stock, brought out the immersion blender, and….

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Voila! I really liked this soup, because we did not add that many potatoes, it had a lightness to it. And the cheddar cheese and marscapone (no sour cream in da house!) additions were great.

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Then Joanne got to her salad. Ever since I saw this recipe in the book I knew I wanted to eat it. Because Joanne loves me so much and knows I love strawberries she went with it! Strawberries, arugula, fennel and almonds. The dressing used was kinda crazy – just reduced vinegar and boy did that stink up the kitchen! But it was only for a little while so it was all good.

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Beautiful! And the wine we paired with it was awesome too, a french one that had notes of anise in it that I picked up from Viniferous so it really paired great with the salad. Bob the owner of that store is just great and I am so glad two important parts of this meal came from local shops! (also the catfish from the Common Market!)

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Then we got to entree time. Maria made the brussel sprout gratin and that was probably the best decision of the night. This gratin was insanely good.

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Lovely sprouts and shredded mozzerella cheese from Wegmans.

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After she made the bechamel, it went right on top of the sprouts.

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And after broiling for a while, we topped it with hazelnuts! Isn’t her pink dish just the bees knees??? I can’t wait til I have a kitchen and dining room of my own so I can fill it with lovely serving ware such as that!

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And here was the entree composed. I made the blackened catfish – see more details on my blog how I put that together! I think the two recipes went very well together, mostly because both tasted so darn good! I am totally making both recipes again, like totally. 😛

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Lastly for dessert, Julie made two dishes! First one was pretty cool – a chai spiced chocolate mixture to put onto smores!

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Yummm chocolate…

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We used the broiler on my stove for the very first time! (who knew its in the drawer underneath the oven where I keep some of my pans…)

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And Julie also made a prosecco jelly and topped it with fresh whipped cream. Oh my word this was good. I still have some leftover and plan on eating it on Saturday night with Beffy, Kelly and Laurita!

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All in all, even some may view Food network chefs as “hokey” I think Claire did a good job with this cookbook. The whole five ingredient thing did work pretty well, but I’m sure I’m going to use the ‘extras’ she lists on  the side of each recipe. Can’t wait for next month – French Laundry at Joanne’s house and I have the composed cheese course!

The January Cookbook Club, hosted at Casa de Dunn, was filled with celebration, amazing food (as usual), and an uninhibited frenzy of fun!   We were also joined by a Baltimore Magazine photographer, who had the pleasure of documenting our monthly kitchen chaos.   The book for the evening was “Tapas – A Taste of Spain in America,” by renowned DC chef, Jose Andres, which provided many flavors and delights to our awaiting taste buds.

The evening started with a champagne toast to celebrate our spotlight in a “supper club” article in the upcoming March issue of Baltimore Magazine.   Cheers!

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I also picked up some gorgeous (and quite tasty) olives from the store to tide us over while the rest of the dishes were being prepared.

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And so began the procession of tapas…First up was Renee’s dish, Austurian-style Salmon, which is the fancy name for salmon ceviche.  Renee splurged at H-Mart and bought the good sushi grade salmon and it literally melted in your mouth.   The salmon was mixed with a medley of apples, juniper berries, blue cheese and salmon roe and dressed with a tasty apple cider vinegarette and chives.  The flavors and textures greatly complimented each other, although Elizabeth and I thought the salmon roe was a bit much.

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Next up was a refreshing salad from Julie, the Frisee with blood oranges, goat cheese, almonds, and garlic dressing.  I bet you can guess the ingredients she used!  The salad had a beautiful balance of bitter and sweet, with the blood oranges being the shining star.  They were perfectly ripened and juicy.

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Joanne went all out this month and decided to make two dishes.  First up were the Traditional Catalan flatbreads, which featured handmade dough topped with carmelized onions, roasted peppers, and manchego cheese.  Here’s a picture of Joanne adding the fixins…

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and here’s the finished product fresh out of the oven…

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Joanne also made the Morish-style chickpea and spinach stew, which finally brought the spice to the table.  Perfectly textured chickpeas in spicy spanish saffron and paprika broth and balanced with fresh spinach.

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Meanwhile, Elizabeth was busy making Serrano ham and chicken croquetas.  The croquetas had an crispy crust and a decadent creamy center that was bursting with flavor.  We paired these with the chickpea stew, which provided a nice contrast.

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And we’ve finally made it to the “main course” of the evening, a chicken and mushroom paella. I was really excited to test out my new paella pan and I was pretty satisfied with the results, although, I think it took a little longer to make than I had anticipated. Saffron is the main spice in this dish, and worked well combined with the chicken, serrano ham, and mushrooms. I honestly think the mushrooms (shitake, chanterelle, and oyster) were the star here and brought the most flavor to the dish.

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Maria was tasked with dessert, and while she was preparing, we decided to have an impromptu dance party (these are becoming a regular thing when cbc ladies get together).

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Back to business!  Maria was also adventurous and made two desserts.  First was a flan prepared ahead of time due to the timing in the recipe.  I’m normally not a huge fan of flan (ha!), but the flavor of vanilla and lemon zest, topped with gooey melted sugar syrup was out of this world.  I’m drooling just thinking about it again.

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Finally, we sprinted to the finish line with Maria’s Rustic Bread with dark chocolate, olive oil, and salt.  I know that you’re thinking “this sounds weird, how will this ever taste good?”  But trust me, it was pretty spectacular.  The chocolate mixed with the salt, was pretty heavenly, and how simple is it to melt chocolate on bread, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt.  I love simple and delicious!

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Our evening tour of spain was a success and I think all of the dishes had something unique in flavor, whether it be a spice or an interesting pairing (e.g. chocolate and olive oil. say what?!). And while I would never claim that the cbc is as talented as Jose Andres, I think we did a solid job of recreating his vision and ended up with an amazing array of dishes to enjoy.

Thanks for tuning in and don’t forget to check us out in the March issue of Baltimore Magazine!



We were interviewed last November and the photographer comes tonight. Look for us in the March issue.