Tag cookbook

September Cookbook Club: A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes

Yesterday I had the pleasure of experiencing my first Parties That Cook Cookbook Club. In case you are not familiar with the format of a cookbook club, as I wasn’t until recently, participants each pick and execute a recipe from a particular cookbook. Sounds easy enough, right?

As the lunch hour approaches, one can feel the tension building. Those with dishes to submit add the final touches to their item or items, and begin the plating process. In the few minutes before lunch, the office kitchen hosts a whirlwind of activity. The kitchen becomes the place where everyone congregates at a party.

The purpose of our cookbook club, aside from a great excuse to sit and chat and EAT together, is to ultimately evaluate the featured cookbook. Up for dissection this month: David Tanis’ A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes. Tanis is the current co-chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., where he has been a fixture on and off since the 1980s. Tanis is also well known for the private dining club he hosts in Paris.

Green Chili Stew: Beth started us off with a delicious labor of love. She definitely picked a challenging recipe, and I loved it! She found herself a little frustrated by the lack of instruction, or even instructions like, “Fiddle with it”. This was the first hint that A Platter of Figs may be written for your not-so-average cook. Beth ultimately decided to deviate from the recipe, which she felt did not allow for the fat to burn off.

Corn, Squash, and Beans with Jalapeno Butter:
Tanis’ recipes are categorized by season, which is a great thing to keep in mind when trying to decide on a recipe! Rosie’s dish fell in the category of summer foods, and called for fresh vegetables. Luckily, she was able to find her favorite veggies at a local farmer’s market. The jalapeno butter was a nice touch, and not at all overwhelming. Rosie was able to stick to the recipe. Unfortunately, a lack of information on the number of servings produced led her to make a dish that could feed an army!

Provencal Toasts with Olive Tapenade, Grilled Eggplant Paste, and Spicy Walnut Paste: Crissy’s execution of each of these spreads was great! She could not find the specific olive called for in the recipe, though substituting a different type of olive did not compromise the quality. Everyone loved them! The recipe noted that the pastes were meant to be thin, so even a small amount packed a punch. Again, problems arose with lack of details and yields. Because the Eggplant Paste recipe gave no size specification, Crissy ended up with SO much more than the other two pastes.

Chicken Tagine with Pumpkin, Chickpeas, and Harissa Oil: Bibby did an excellent job interpreting this dish -a definite contender for the group’s favorite! Using her chef’s eye, she was moved to deviate from the recipe, which didn’t call for searing the chicken. Also, despite halving the recipe, these was such an abundance of this dish! No complaints here, as the chickpeas and chicken were nicely complemented by the Harissa Oil. Strangely, there was no suggestion for what to serve this dish with, though the consensus was that it would be great over rice.

Lavender Honey Ice Cream: Carolyn took the coveted position of ice cream maker extraordinaire, and this dish was delicious! She was commended for her use of lavender, which can easily be overdone and made to taste like soap! Though this recipe calls for 5 egg yolks, Carolyn used 2 eggs, and the result was an incredibly rich and creamy dessert. I’m sure the remaining ice cream in the office freezer will be my downfall.

Peaches in Wine: Much to everyone’s surprise, two people chose to bring in this dish! Great minds must think alike. This dish was low-maintanence, simply calling for raw peaches soaked in wine for “several hours”. Open to interpretation, Michelene made her dish the night before, while Susanne made hers the morning of. I don’t think anybody could tell the difference in timing, though there were opposite preferenes for wine choice and peach flavor.

A Platter of Figs offers some amazing recipes. These delicious dishes are probably best suited for individuals who do not need to follow recipes down to a tee, and are okay wingin’ it in some cases. If all of our cookbook clubs result in meals as delicious as this one, I have no problem being a Parties That Cook guinea pig in the future! All in all, it was a wonderful day had by all.

Tartine Cookbook Club

When it became my turn to choose the cookbook for our monthly cookbook club, I decided to take full advantage of having professional chefs on hand to make my meal. San Francisco has many wonderful bakeries and cafes and Tartine Bakery is one of the most well known. The owners have published a cookbook with recipes for all of the treats at the bakery (what a shame). They boast delicious, freshly made baked goods that we soon found out either took all day to make, all of the eggs and sugar at the grocery store or all week to digest. I wish I could apologize to my coworkers for this predicament, but the leftovers stocked in my fridge are akin to edible gold.

Some of my coworkers must have caught on to my game plan and chose to cook up savory treats. These ended up creating the perfect bolsters to the sugary temptations that filled our table.

The Wild Mushroom Tart combined 5 different kinds of mushrooms (button, oyster, shiitake, and crimini and portabello) with shallots, thyme, crème fraiche, and egg yolks. It married perfectly with a flaky tart that was used for all of the tarts at breakfast! The buttery tart crust and array of mushroom flavors was perfect for any meal and would be great for a holiday first course.

The Savory Bread Pudding was a versatile dish that had basic ingredients and allowed for a lot of flexibility with what you could add to the mix. I held off telling the breakfast bunch that the custard contained 10 eggs, 2 cups of heavy cream, and 2 cups of whole milk, plus cheese. Regardless of the heart-attack-inducing amount of dairy, the bread pudding ended up being light and fluffy. It is a great way to use crusty bread ends or day old bread.  The recipe calls for smoked ham, thyme, cheddar or gruyere cheese, and onion. It was great with sweet onion and aged cheddar cheese and could be altered to make a perfect and easy Christmas morning treat.

The Quiche was also a very simple recipe that the owners picked up from a region in the south of France. The basic ingredients are eggs, flour, crème fraîche, milk, salt and pepper, and thyme. They suggest adding any kind of leafy green like chard or spinach. This quiche definitely indicated its French roots because the custard was a little more jiggly than quiches made locally. We took a liking to the looser yet fluffy texture and simple, delicious taste that left us wanting more. There was a lot of crust because the recipe called for a deep pie dish and didn’t yield much filling, but we actually liked it that way.

The sweets included in this cookbook club were worthy of a round of applause just because they put everyone into a sugar-high-then-food-coma pattern for the rest of the day. This course of delicacies made me decide that if I pursue a career in food, it will be with sweets and I will rot my teeth and cholesterol away quite happily.

The Chocolate-Oatmeal-Walnut cookies (which I am hoarding right this second) were the perfect twist on a traditional chocolate chip cookie. Instead of chocolate chips, the recipe calls for coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate that resulted in a richly addicting flavor. They also included oats, molasses, and walnuts, which gave them a unique texture. The owner of Tartine likes making these cookies thin and in 4 or 5 inch rounds, tricking you into thinking you’re eating less when you end up eating the entire batch.

The Banana Cream Pie was literally the death of all of us. It challenged the chef because it included 4 recipes (flaky tart dough, caramel, banana pastry cream, and homemade whipped cream). Instead of a stiff pie with too much cornstarch, it oozes but makes it a lot lighter and easier to eat. It is lined with chocolate and caramel, layered with pastry cream, freshly sliced banana, homemade whipped cream and chocolate curls. And if you’re wondering, yes, I took half of the pie home for myself.

The Apple Nougatine Tart was also a great twist on a traditional apple dessert that could be great for any holiday. The recipe suggested using different types of apples which gave it a unique apple flavor. For this tart, Granny Smith, Fuji, and Gala lent the pie a wide array of tastes and textures along with the flaky tart crust, caramelized sugar, and sliced almonds. It is perfect for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (I would know), especially with the caramelized bits left over at the bottom of the skillet.

The Almond Breakfast Cake is the perfect solution for anyone who is a big fan of almonds. It is thick and rich, actually the closest thing to perfection when a summer fruit is added into the mix (we used white peaches but it is equally delicious when using raspberries). Even though it takes about twice as long to bake as the recipe calls for, it is worth the time. I’m not sure if it was the touch of our favorite chef or the cake, but it was a perfect crisp white and had a moist consistency. It could be a great breakfast cake or as a dessert served warm with caramel.

To top off all of these temptations, we had a White Chocolate and Lime Parfait with Lime Granita. This parfait defined summer. With the thick, ice cream-like texture of the parfait that featured white chocolate chunks, it was such a unique take on a parfait. The lime granita consisted of steeped kaffir lime leaves, lime juice, and zest with sugar and water. It could have been perfect on it’s own but highlighted the parfait perfectly.

Needless to say, none of us was hungry for about 7 hours. Some people are ready to take a long break from sweets, but I think we all came to the consensus that this cookbook club, despite a few recipe snags, deserves about 5 bazillion stars. As for me, I will require this cookbook as a house warming gift or steal the office copy and pass it off as a parting gift.

Contributed by Leigh Hermansen