French Fridays with Dorie
Cooking just under 300 recipes from a single cookbook as full as Around My French Table is no small task. Yet that is exactly what dozens of home cooks pledged to do in 2010 signing up for the online cooking group, “French Friday’s with Dorie.” I don’t think any of us had any idea what we were getting ourselves into, or how our blogs (and our lives) would change as a result. Now as we wind down this not-really-all-that-final chapter, each in our own ways, we have been asked to be reflective and share our final thoughts for just a few more posts. Bear with me as this week, specifically, we have been asked to share our “aha! moment” as defined as “your favorite, loved the most, best recipe.” To make this impossible chore only a tiny bit easier, we are encouraged to share our five top recipes from the book itself.
Not surprisingly, this was not a welcome task for most of us. How do you choose? And having to choose only underscores the finality of this long term project.
I sat with the book for nearly an hour making list after list, reviewing techniques and ingredient, before I suddenly realized that my “aha moment” wasn’t any of these things at all. It was an event.
In the late summer of 2013 one clever Dorista discovered that Dorie Greenspan had been slated for keynote speaker at Seattle’s annual International Food Blogger Conference. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to see how many of fellow Doristas could make the trek across country to see our maestro in the flesh? And many did! Of course it was a very exciting lure to get to meet Dorie in person but even more so, it would be the very first time that many of us would meet the friends we had already spent several years getting to know through our posts.
It was something quite astounding.
We showed up to “meet” each other already knowing all about each other’s husbands, children, and grandchildren. We knew each other’s favorite vacation spots, food aversions, health issues, our proudest work accomplishments, and even our individual senses of humor. (Right Cher?) Upon first sight we gibby-gabbed like long lost childhood friends.
Once Dorie had acknowledged us from her speaker’s podium we sat like royalty together in the conference sessions . It was while sitting at that huge round table across these bloggers, these friends, that I had my aha moment. I realized that this group we had cobbled together through weekly posts was very much a real thing and not just a blog thing. Even those members I had not yet met (or never would) became just as real as those who were sitting in front of me. If I had ever been entertaining thoughts of taking a more relaxed approach to my participation, they immediately vaporized. French Fridays was now very much permanent and for better or for worse, I was now as much committed to them, as I was to finishing the book itself.
We were like a family. Aha!
As it so often is with family, things would not always be perfect. We would squabble. We would get jealous. We could be critical. Some would form tighter bonds with some than with others. Some would decide to go their our own way to find themselves and would always be welcomed back at our French tables. Like families, French Friday’s was certainly now something much bigger than the sum of its parts — and everyone felt it.
I’m sure it changed as well for the many more members who weren’t there that weekend. Inspired by our meeting so many more members throughout the world (for we are a global group) started setting out to meet the others. So much so that I can’t even keep track anymore of who has met each other.
I don’t think anyone ever expected this to happen when they set out to make gourgeres that very first week in 2011:
Dorie Greenspan would speak of many things from the keynote podium that weekend including the many lessons she has learned along her path toward culinary superstardom. One of her utterances would resonate so strongly with me it would provide the other “aha moment” of the weekend. She discussed the importance she placed on “the work” and especially so in in those moments when she doubted what it was she was doing, or in those times when she had anxiety over not having have control over it.
“Just do the work you are going to be proud of and the rest will happen”.
Aha! So simple, right? It is a maxim I have tried (not always successfully) to hold onto since I first heard it. This “Dorie Principle” not only applies to what I try to do here online, but it has pretty much carried over to every other activity in my life. After all, most of life is uncontrollable, so in truth the only thing we have a choice about is how we feel about our own participation in it.
Just do what makes you proud and the rest will follow.
Which brings me (finally) to this recipe for Tuna Stuffed Piquillo Peppers.
These Tuna Stuffed Piquillo Peppers were due to be posted by the group on Friday, September 20th, 2013. It was the very day I arrived in Seattle and met a whole gaggle of Doristas in person. I had made them more than two weeks prior but was suffering an intense writers block perhaps brought on by the anxiety of the trip. When I returned from Seattle it didn’t get any easier. The pressure to post event obligation to post links and reviews for event sponsors took its toll on my writing psyche and I just sort of shut down. That just isn’t the kind of blogging I just was proud of I guess.
So these fantastic peppers never got their due. Which is ok, because this happened:
Tuna Stuffed Piquillo Peppers
Find the recipe here.
My top 5 recipes from Around My French Table
The only way I could tackle this impossible task is to break it down by book chapter:
Nibbles and Hors d’Oeuvres
Cheez-it-sh Crackers – If you cook to get attention then these are the pre-dinner nibbles for you. Until I had made these I had not really understood the imperative to make crackers at home. I boxed these up nicely to take to a dinner party and the hostess took one bite and put them away so she could enjoy them all by herself!
(Appetizer Honorable Mention goes to Mustard Batons because when you have a package of puff pastry in your freezer, the world can be yours.)
Chestnut Pear Soup – Having never roasted them over an open fire, chestnuts were a revelation for me. Using them in a soup was something I had never once heard of. Now it this soup is a regular holiday dinner preparation.
(Honorable Mention goes to Cheating On Winter Pea Soup because I loved the memories it brought and because my photograph of it remains one of my favorites.)
Salads, Starters, and Small Plates
Creamy Mushrooms and Eggs – Its no secret how much I love stuff-on-toast. This dish is the ultimate and never fails to impress when you whip this up as a spur-of-the-moment weekend brunch or lunch treat.
(Of course I have to give an Honorable Mention here to Gerard’s Mustard Tart. So colorful, so easy, so elegant. Even though I unfamiliar with it, the dish flooded me with memories so strong my post won a local award. It was also the first post that Dorie dropped by and left me a comment. You always remember your first.)
Chicken and Duck
Chicken B’stilla – In truth, there were not many dishes in Around My French Table that I did not have any experience with whatsoever. This was one of them and it was so SO very good. This dish had a hand in igniting my friendship with Trix, a lapsed Dorista from way back. I will never forgive it.
(Honorable Mention goes to Chicken Breasts Diable by sheer force of my mother-in-law’s considerable will. It is her number one request for when I cook for her. I’m a bit of a mustard freak myself so she never has to twist my arm that hard.)
Beef, Veal, Pork and Lamb
Hachis Parmentier – When you are a member of a family where “only the close family” means 12 or more can show up for dinner with only a few hours notice, you are always on the lookout for dishes like this one. (This picture serves to remind me just how far I have come as a food photographer during this adventure!)
(Boeuf a la ficelle is a beef dinner in its simplest, purest form. It should get honorable mention for no other reason than that. If you are lucky enough to have any leftovers, the fact that you can make a pretty killer beef salad with them the next day is a plus.)
Fish and Shellfish
Mussels and Chorizo with or without Pasta – On of my favorite dishes to order while on vacations to far away lands, it never EVER occurred to me to make them at home. Now they are a favorite. Usually I had always been a ‘purist’ and ordered them mariniere but after experiencing these moules I am much more adventurous.
(Honorable mention to Salmon and Tomatoes en Papillote for no other reason than I think this is the dish I have made more often than any other. In fact, I KNOW it is as I make this nearly every other week for dinner.)
Vegetables and Grain
Cardamom Rice Pilaf – The fact that this is a Dorista favorite is undeniable and it is so for a very good reason. It is fantastic.
(Give it up for Go With Everything Celery Root Puree as it gets honorable mention because it really does go with everything. Your company will marvel and ask for the recipe. )
Obviously it is going to be hard to choose a favorite but the Paris-Brest pastry wins out because until I made this I never knew I could. Cream filled pastries are the kinds of things I just always assumed you HAD to go out to buy. At least I did. I think this was one of my most proud Dorista moments.
No list of my favorites from this book would be complete, however, without the inclusion of Marie-Hélène’s Apple Cake. This recipe is worth the price of the entire book alone if for no other reason than once you memorize it you will never be at a loss for the most perfect dessert for any occasion. Ever. I implore you to memorize it as it is most fun to cook in other people’s kitchen while they watch. (I have a particular affection for this dessert as it also forced me to learn the foreign language keystrokes on my computer.)
I have a few more recipes yet to share in the coming weeks so don’t go away!