Baking with Julia – The Big Finish

Baking with Julia

All the way back in 2012, Tuesdays with Dorie started working their way through Baking with Julia. They’d recently finished baking through Dorie Greenspan‘s Baking, From My Home to Yours and wanted to continue with another of her books. Meanwhile, I’d been participating in French Fridays with Dorie, which was tackling Dorie’s terrific Around My French Table.

Thinking this would be a great project to do with my teenaged nieces, I jumped on board. I created a collaborative blog, The Family That Bakes Together…, and we were off to the races. Or the kitchen, really.

We didn’t last through the project. As my nieces became adults, it became too difficult to co-ordinate baking dates. But, I’ll always cherish the experiences we had in our Baking with Julia adventures and I’d like to think they will, too. I’ve followed along since, reading some of the posts of those who continued with the project, and I love finding occasions to bake from the book on my own.

Since the logistics of getting together to bake the group’s final recipe would have proved impossible, I’ve decided to share some of my favourite posts from our year-and-a-bit on the project. Though honestly, I read through all the posts with relish, enjoying the memories they evoked. If you have the opportunity to bake or cook (or do anything you love to do, really) with two or more generations, do it – it’s a wonderful experience.

Kat’s meditation on sisters and chocolate.

How my French-Canadian mother made Irish Soda Bread her signature bread.

Jessica’s debut post: Hungarian Shortbread.

How making biscotti revealed Kat’s power-hungry ambitions.

Jessica waxes poetic about pie and cake.

The most fun I’ve had writing a post, on this blog or my own: Bagel Throwdown.

Kat evokes Proust and Jessica makes madeleines.

The real stars of the show are the stalwarts that baked their way through the whole book. I can hardly wait to read their posts, detailing their experience with the project’s crowning glory – Martha Stewart’s Glorious Wedding Cake.

After you head over and congratulate them, you might want to consider joining in on the other project the group is working on – working through Dorie’s Baking Chez Moi. I join in when I can and everything I’ve made has been fantastic. Or, you can jump on board Dorie’s latest initiative, Cookies & Kindness, and help spread some joy.

Cook the Book Fridays – Sardine Rillettes

Sardine Rillettes

Doristas, we’ve been here before, when we were working our way through Around My French Table. And yet, there was still so much trepidation at the thought of this recipe making it into our monthly rotation that it sparked an entirely new posting theme for Cook the Book Fridays. This is the first of our “extra edition” entries – whenever there’s five Fridays in the month, our admins will pick a recipe that group members find challenging for an optional posting on the final Friday.

Sardine Rillettes redux

I have a feeling that that all worries disappeared with the first bite – rillettes made with fish are satisfyingly savoury comfort food and sardines are especially suited to this treatment. David’s version uses a little cream cheese along with the traditional butter and it would be hard to imagine enjoying it as much without that creamy tanginess. His recipe is similar to Dorie’s, but hers is full of fresh herbs, while his has the briny herbaceousness of capers. Both are wonderful and perfect for a Friday night in, after a busy week. Especially if there are cocktails involved. I should look into that.

You can read through everyone’s posts here. And consider joining this community of wonderful cooks and lovely people, as we work our way through David Lebovitz‘ My Paris Kitchen.

A Piquant Tomato Tart

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I received a jar of Maille’s Honey and Modena Balsamic Vinegar mustard from Maille Canada, but received no other consideration. All opinions are my own.

I keep two kinds of mustard in my refrigerator – a Dijon mustard and a grainy mustard. I’ve tried many different grainy mustards, but the Dijon is always Maille. I use these mustards in salad dressings, slather them over lamb and other meats for roasting, and sneak them in as my secret weapon for pan sauces, dips, casseroles, or savoury pies. These dishes are all improved by mustard’s piquancy, but the very best application for quality mustard is in Dorie Greenspan‘s recipe for Gérard’s Mustard Tart. I do not come from a mustard-loving family, but they all ask for seconds when I make this dish.

Since I focus on mustard as an ingredient rather than as a condiment, I haven’t really explored flavoured mustards. So, when Maille Canada offered me the opportunity to try their Honey and Modena Balsamic Vinegar mustard, my mind turned to cooking. The first thing on my agenda was the tomato variation of Dorie’s tart. I swapped out grainy mustard for the balsamic and studded the custard with juicy grape tomatoes. I also added a touch of sage along with the rosemary called for in the recipe.

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Since I had the pastry in the freezer, already fitted into my tart pan, this dish took about 30 minutes from cracking the eggs to pulling it from the oven. This is a weeknight supper that looks like it belongs in an upscale buffet. Pair it with a winter salad and you don’t really need anything else. Since it keeps very well, this one will be making a brunch appearance tomorrow, too.

You can find the recipe here for the original version of the tart – to make the balsamic tomato version, swap out the two tablespoons of grainy mustard for balsamic mustard and use sliced tomatoes in place of the carrots and leeks.

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The balsamic mustard is mellow, with a sweetness that’s balanced by heat. It’s terrific in this tart, playing against the Dijon mustard, the herbs, and tomatoes. I might just change my mind about mustard as a condiment, if this is on offer. I can imagine putting a layer of this mustard on a bresaola tartine or, even better, a goat cheese and strawberry tartine. It’s mild enough that it’s perfect for all sorts of dishes that straddle the line between savoury and sweet. It’s also going to become a favourite for dressings and marinades.

Maille was kind enough to send along a jar of their Malossol cornichons with the balsamic mustard, but I’m unable to review them. The jar opened in transit and I reluctantly had to compost them. My partner was heartbroken – good cornichons are one of his favourite indulgences.

Luckily, Maille’s gourmet lines can be found at a number of food purveyors, including Urban Fare, which hosted a Maille pop up shop over the holidays. I hope they bring back their mustard on tap to British Columbia soon – I’ve decided that my mustard collection is in need of expansion.

A Best of 2015

Bestof2015

I know it’s cliché (as I’ve said before), but I enjoy looking back over the year through the lens of the posts you liked best. When I think about my favourite posts of the year, it’s the process that stands out for me – a new skill mastered, a story shaped and re-shaped until it achieved the effect I was looking for, a photograph (for once) well-made.

The list of top posts, on the other hand, show me which ones intrigued people enough to click through to them. It’s not a perfect measure of quality, to be sure – comments may be a better guide there. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to see what brought people here this year.

It’s also interesting to see that the top posts this year are completely different from last year’s list. I think it’s encouraging to see that the blog is at least a little dynamic, though I think the end of French Fridays with Dorie was part of the shift.

12. Made with Love

We start with a post that would count as one of my own favourites from 2015, in which I share the recipe for my mother’s spicy vegetable chili. It’s a winter dish, really, full of pantry staples and vegetables that are available year-round. But, it’s so popular, that we get requests for it through all the seasons. My mother makes enormous batches of it for the church and community gatherings she organizes. I make it for co-op meetings. We both make it for Kevin, who loves it so much that he’d happily eat it weekly.

But, it’s not really the recipe that makes the post, at least for me. It’s the story of how the recipe came to be and the love it represents.

11. Sucre à la Crème

I was surprised that this one made the list, as it’s a short post that shares two French language videos of people making a classic, homey French Canadian sweet. I’m a little fond of it, though, both for the winkingly nostalgic photo and the video of the Québécoise grand-mère.

10. French Food Revolution Friday with Dorie 2015

This year’s French Fridays with Dorie edition of Food Revolution Day was a lot of fun. I made a dish I’d missed when it came up in the rotation originally, reviewed some past favorites, and connected it all to the day’s goal of promoting cooking skills and food literacy.

9. FFWD – Holiday Card and Recipe Exchange

This post is about something that’s become a yearly tradition amongst French Fridays with Dorie alumni. We exchange cards, and often recipes, at year’s end. It’s nice to have something to look forward to when checking the mailbox, isn’t it?

8. FFWD – Marengo As You Like It

I suspect people came to this post looking for a recipe, but it’s really just a recounting of my experience with Dorie’s recipe. Though many of my French Fridays posts were designed to have wider appeal, others – like this one – were really addressed to our group. Posts like these are travel diary entries for a journey through a cookbook.

7. Eastside Coffee Culture

This post was a lot of fun to research. It’s a celebration of the coffee shops in my neighbourhood and it’s meant to be the first in a series of themed explorations. More will come along, slowly, as I gather enough intelligence on each subject.

6. Baking Chez Moi – Brown Butter and Vanilla Bean Weekend Cake

A short, fun post on a delicious cake I’ve made over and over again.

5. Holiday Book Reviews – True to Your Roots

I very much enjoy writing my cookbook review series, so I was happy that one of these posts made the list. This book intrigued a number of people and the person who won it in the giveaway was thrilled. I’m very happy, myself, that it’s now on my cookbook shelf.

4. FFWD – Brioche and Nutella Tartine

Who can resist the siren call of Nutella? (Not me.) However, my favourite part of this post is the beautiful braided brioche I made.

3. FFWD – Celebration Week #1: The AHA Moment

I’m so glad I “cheated” on our assignment for this post. As a result, it’s a lovely guided tour of my French Fridays years.

2. Spring Book Reviews – Teatime in Paris!

Another book review, for a cookbook I turn to on special occasions. Thinking about Jill’s pâte sucrée makes me want to start my holiday baking all over again.

1. Eat Local: Kin Kao

The number one spot this year goes to one of my (very occasional) restaurant reviews, for one of our favourite neighbourhood spots. I’m quite pleased that reviews took three of the top five spots. I’ve been enjoying writing them this year more than almost anything else.

So, there you have a list of some of the buzziest (in the very calm, sort of backwater way that my blog can be said to generate buzz) posts on my blog. And I have food for thought about the directions I may take the blog in 2016. I hope you enjoy clicking around the list as much as I did.

You’ll hear from once more before the close of the year. I hope the dwindling days of 2015 are treating you well!

A Lot of Catching Up to Do

Dahlia

I’ve got a fistful of draft posts awaiting completion, but instead, I’ve been making Periscope videos and commenting on other people’s blogs.

Since French Fridays with Dorie wrapped up, I haven’t been keeping up with my favourite bloggers as well as I’d like. So, I’m going to spend time giving them some comment love this weekend. Would you like to join me?

You can find most of them in this list: French Fridays Folks & Cottage Cooks

If I’m missing someone, let me know in the comments.

I’m going to leave it at that tonight. It’s a long weekend, after all. Have a great Labo(u)r Day!

FFWD – Celebration Week #4: Grand Finale

Now that our group has, collectively, cooked through the whole of Around My French Table, we’ve moved on to four weeks of celebratory posts, reflecting on our more than four-and-a-half years of cooking together.

Our assignment this week:

For the improvisers among us, share an original recipe that was inspired by an AMFT recipe or do a recipe that you would like to Make-Up or just make again. We also suggest that you say whatever you wish to say in this Post. We intend to have boxes of tissues on hand when we read everyone’s posts.. Do your best with this one.

Salted Butter Break Ups

Cooking together. It’s one of the simplest expressions of caring that I know. Cooking for friends and family is nurturing, but cooking with someone develops camaraderie and involves more than a little synergy. It’s easy to see this at work as you move through a kitchen, working with a person or a group.

It’s not something I knew was possible to create by cooking through a book with a group of bloggers scattered across the world.

Each week, as the French Fridays crew worked on another selection from Around My French Table, we began by sharing our questions and concerns with one another, then ended by reading about each other’s experiences with the dish. That alone created solidarity, as we identified with difficulties, helped each other problem-solve, and congratulated each other on successes.

However, it’s what we wrote alongside the practical details that really created our community. We shared stories, in the same way that cooks in a kitchen together might. We learned about the markets and culinary specialties of the places each of us live, while we shared the challenges we faced in finding ingredients across hemispheres, regions, and seasons. We cheered each other on in trying flavours, foods, and techniques we might have been too intimidated to try on our own. As we got to know one another, the quirks of our palates (and those of our loved ones) became fodder for discussion. And as we moved through the recipes, we shared our selves.

So, yes – camaraderie, synergy, and friendship built along the pathways of the Internet. Offline, a number of us have met in person. And even though this part of the journey has ended, we’ll keep following each other’s adventures online, while taking the opportunity to meet up in real time whenever it arises.

None of this would have been possible without Laurie Woodward, who first created Tuesdays with Dorie, then launched French Fridays with Dorie. Mary Hirsch and Betsy Pollack became the administrators of the group a little later on and their warm, encouraging presence made the group feel like a circle of friends. And Dorie Greenspan herself has been the warmest and most welcoming one of all – her encouragement to us along the way has helped us to become better cooks and bakers. More importantly, her generosity of spirit has been the model for how we’ve approached our connections with one another.

  

Now, I encourage you to go back and discover this wonderful cadre of bloggers for yourself – not only the fabulous stalwarts who’ve made it to the end, but also those who cooked alongside us at various points along the way. And do think about joining Tuesdays with Dorie – many of us are over there, too. Then check back with French Fridays in the fall. Laurie and Trevor Kensey (who coined the term Dorista) have something in the works. Until then, I’ll lift a salted butter break-up in salute to every one of the wonderful Doristas.

As you can see, I’m determined that this is not adieu, but à bientôt.

Grab your tissues and read through the Doristas’ wrap up posts, here: Celebration Week #4: Grand Finale

FFWD – Celebration Week #3: The Play-It-Again-Dorie Recipe

Now that our group has, collectively, cooked through the whole of Around My French Table, we’ve moved on to four weeks of celebratory posts, reflecting on our more than four-and-a-half years of cooking together.

This week, we were asked to:

Choose the recipe from the book that you have made the most often. Or, that you have made a variation of the most. It may not be your favorite or your AHA recipe but it’s the Repeater.

Strawberry Tartine

I’m going to choose a seasonally-appropriate answer to this week’s assignment. Dorie’s Goat Cheese and Strawberry Tartine has become an early summer ritual for me. The ingredients enhance the flavour of strawberries at their seasonal peak. And the freshness and portability of this tartine makes it the perfect summer food – whether it’s breakfast on the balcony or a picnic on the beach. So, this is my “repeater” in mid-June.

If you’d put this question to me in November, I might have answered with Roast Chicken for Les Paresseux or Leek and Potato Soup. Ask me in August and I might choose Salmon and Tomatoes en Papillote. On a day when I’m craving a treat, my choice might be Croquants or Marie-Hélène’s Apple Cake, instead.

All of which is to say that there isn’t just one page that’s stained, worn, and in danger of falling right out of the book. There are many.

Which recipes had the Doristas coming back for more? Find out here: Celebration Week #3: The Play-It-Again-Dorie Recipe

Win one of two copies of Jill Colonna’s beautiful Teatime in Paris!

FFWD – Celebration Week #2: The Never-Doubt-Dorie Moment

Now that our group has, collectively, cooked through the whole of Around My French Table, we’ve moved on to four weeks of celebratory posts, reflecting on our more than four-and-a-half years of cooking together.

This week, we were asked to:

Choose the recipe that might not have been your favorite or even something you enjoyed making or even something you were skeptical about but which taught you a technique or gave you an idea or provided a lesson of some kind.

 

In any long-term learning experience, there will be moments of doubt and skepticism. But, we push through to find out if that doubt was warranted and often, minds are changed. Personally, I’d rather be happy than right. Especially when that learning experience is happening in the kitchen.

There were many moments that I found myself feeling skeptical as we worked through Around My French Table and I think that’s a very good thing.

Sometimes, it was the instructions that took me aback. How could flattening puff pastry possibly be a good thing? Turns out, it’s a delicious thing.

Tomato-Cheese Tartlets

Tartlets

Sometimes, it was my own abilities in the kitchen that gave me pause. Now I know I can stuff a pork loin, present a soufflé, and even spatchcock a hen.

Olive-Olive Cornish Hens

Spatchcocked

At other times, it was a flavour combination that made me hesitate. Oranges and olives in a salad? Olives or nori in a cookie? Consider my palate improved.

David’s Seaweed Sablés

Seaweed

What I’ve never doubted was how much I’d grow as a cook during this process, though if you’d asked me at the beginning if I’d grow as a person, I’d have scoffed. As I said, I’d rather be happy than right.

Find out which recipes quashed the skeptic in the hearts of the French Fridays crew, here: Celebration Week #2: The Never-Doubt-Dorie Moment

Win one of two copies of Jill Colonna’s beautiful Teatime in Paris!

FFWD – Celebration Week #1: The AHA Moment

Now that our group has, collectively, cooked through the whole of Around My French Table, we’ve moved on to four weeks of celebratory posts, reflecting on our more than four-and-a-half years of cooking together.

  

This week, we were asked to:

Choose your favorite, loved the most, best recipe in FFWD to share this week and tell Why? Also share with us your Top 5 favorites list (you don’t have to make them)

I can’t be the only one who found this idea a little overwhelming. I’ve loved the majority of the dishes I’ve made from Around My French Table and there are over 300 recipes in the book. So, I went to a café with the book and some paper, got myself an iced latte and started making lists. Yes, lists, plural. I had to break it down by category, because the single list I started with became unmanageable.

So, I’m going rogue and sharing (wait…since I’m going rogue, does that mean I’m Cher-ing?) my favourites by category. Maybe by the end of this post, I’ll be able to settle on my #1.

Small Things

Small Plates

Gérard’s Mustard Tart

One of the very first dishes we made for French Fridays and still one of the most memorable. Who knew that mustard would mellow out so beautifully when baked in a rich tart crust? And this also marked my first introduction to one of the great revelations of this cookbook – a perfect, versatile, foolproof crust.

The Runners Up:

Gougères
Leeks Vinaigrette with Mimosa
Bacon and Eggs and Asparagus Salad
Herbed Olives

Soups

Soup

Spiced Squash, Fennel, and Pear Soup

I’ve made this one again and again – it’s the perfect introduction to fall. I’ve even made it for one of my co-op’s soup swaps and it was a hit for everyone. That said, there are a lot of delicious soups in this book. The runners up could easily have company.

The Runners Up:

Cheese-topped Onion Soup
Leek and Potato Soup
Paris Mushroom Soup
Spicy Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup

Poultry

Chicken

Chicken, Apple, and Cream à la Normande

This might be the best chapter in the whole book and it was hard to choose a favourite. I picked this dish, because I’ve made it more than any of the others. It elevates everyday eating beautifully.

The Runners Up:

Roast Chicken for les Paresseaux
Chicken Basquaise
Chicken B’Stilla
Duck Breasts with Fresh Peaches

Meat

Meat

Short Ribs in Red Wine and Port

I’d never have guessed that this recipe would turn out to be my top pick in this category, but it’s elegant, aromatic, delicious and versatile. It gets extra points for teaching me to finally like ribs.

The Runners Up:

Bistrot Paul Bert Pepper Steak
Hachis Parmentier
Chard-Stuffed Pork Roast
Navarin Printanier

Seafood

Seafood

Mussels and Chorizo

Admittedly, the fish and shellfish chapter is the one in which I’ve got the most catching up to do, but I don’t think my #1 will change. This has been a consistently pleasing dish for everyone I’ve made it for and it’s something I always look forward to making again.

The Runners Up:

Almond Flounder Meunière
Skate with Capers, Cornichons, and Brown Butter Sauce
Monkfish and Double Carrots
Salmon and Tomatoes en Papillote

Veggies and Grains

Veggies

Cardamom Rice Pilaf

One of the simplest recipes in the book and one of the most frequently made in my house. Cardamom is one of my favourite spices and it works beautifully in this pilaf. This side is as versatile as it is delicious.

The Runners Up:

Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good
Cauliflower-Bacon Gratin
Celery Root Purée
Chanterelles with Napa and Nuts

Sweets

Desserts

Marie-Hélène’s Apple Cake

This cake has become a family favourite. I’ve made it many times for many people and so have my mother and my nieces. It’s gone to meetings, parties, and picnics. Now, people in all our circles ask for it by name.

The Runners Up:

Michel Rostang’s Double Chocolate Mousse Cake
Salted Butter Break-up
Speculoos
Floating Islands

Bonus: Kevin’s Favourites

Kevin’s favourites have changed over the course of this group, particularly since he became vegan. As it stands now, these are his top 5:

Kevin

Endives, Apples, and Grapes

At the top of the list is a dish that I crossed off one of my own lists with reluctance. It’s something we’ll gladly have again and again. It’s as sophisticated as a restaurant dish and as simple as a weeknight side.

The Runners Up:

Lemon-Steamed Spinach
Baby Bok Choy, Sugar Snaps, and Garlic en Papillote
French Lentils
Spiced (Earth Balance)-Glazed Carrots

What Kevin’s choices have in common is that they make great sides, but are flavourful enough that you’d be happy simply eating a big bowl of any of them all on its own.

And the winner is:

Dorie’s techniques. You didn’t think I could pick just one recipe, did you?

Rillettes, sablés, tartines, roasted vegetables and fruits, quiches and tarts, cooking en papillote – these are just some of the things in the book that have changed my approach to cooking for good, and for the better.

So many Aha! moments. So many delicious meals.

Curious to see if the group reached consensus on the best of the book? You can find out here: Celebration Week #1: The AHA Moment.

FFWD – Chicken in a Pot: The Garlic and Lemon Version

Chicken in a pot

It never occurred to me in October of 2010 what joining a weekly online cooking group would come to mean to me. I thought that I was setting up a routine to help keep me writing regularly on my new blog, but it’s been so much more.

Along the way, bloggers have come and gone, but there have been connections – no, friendships – built that have persisted through the whole of our journey through this book.

Our community has shared our cooking experiences, but we’ve also come to share our lives, at least a little, with each other. Many of us have met in person. I’ve been lucky enough to meet Cher and Mardi. And I was thrilled to have the opportunity to meet Dorie when she visited Vancouver on her Baking Chez Moi book tour. But even for those far away, our weekly posts have felt like visits more often than stories.

And now, as Trevor pointed out, four years, seven months, and twenty-one days after we began, the group has reached the final recipe. It’s fitting that we saved the cover recipe for last, as we’ve all looked at that image so many times over these years. It seems like a celebration in itself to finally make the dish.

  
It’s a whole chicken braised with garlic, lemon, white wine, herbs, and vegetables. The pot is sealed with a simple bread dough that’s broken dramatically when the chicken is ready to serve. It felt a little like popping a champagne cork on New Year’s Eve – the end of the better part of five years spent cooking together.

My chicken needed a bit more than the hour that was specified in the recipe, but when it was finally done, it was perfect. And there was enough wine left over to toast the group before we settled down to eat. I purposely waited until now to try this dish, but I won’t wait that long again – it made a wonderful meal.

We’re not quite done, yet. There will be a month of celebratory posts as the group wraps up, so I’m (trying) to save my tears.

And here is the link to the very last round up of posts for a French Fridays recipe: Chicken in a Pot: The Garlic and Lemon Version.