IMG_1882   First dinner party a la Cook The Books Challenge! I wish I could say that everything was perfect, but that just wouldn’t be truthful. What I can say is that I had a great time reading Dorie Greenspan‘s Around My French Table cookbook, planning the menu, and making the recipes–and I think we all had a good time eating, drinking, and hanging out together last night. So in all of those ways– Success!

See that handsome devil with the fistful of shells there? That’s my guy. I’m very lucky! But I do digress. Back to the story.

I ordered Dorie’s book as soon as I decided to join the challenge– which I learned of randomly, while doing my favorite lunchtime activity–checking in with all the food blogs I love, and then following their blogrolls to new favorites. I was so excited to get the book that the very same afternoon, I stopped off at the bookstore and thumbed through it ahead of time. Then, like a total creeper, I took a photo of a bread recipe with my iPhone, ran home, and gleefully baked it. VERY IMPORTANTLY, I would NEVER do this had I not already purchased the book. It’s stealing and it’s wrong. I know and respect that. But having already spent money in its general direction, and being very much so in need of instant gratification, I thought it was ok, just this once. Why didn’t I just buy it at the bookstore in the first place, you ask? Well, that’s a mystery. Next time.

So my first real experience with this heavy, enormous, and very serious feeling text happened in that way, all sneakified. The bread, back-of-the-card cheese and olive bread, page 33, was delicious, and easy to put together. With 4 eggs, 1 1/2 cups of cheese, and 6 + tablespoons of olive oil, however, it is not a diet food. But it bakes up with this gorgeous brown crust, and is very moist and olivey on the inside. Total delight. Only problem is that from my little iPhone shot of the recipe, I wasn’t really able to enjoy the best part of this gorgeous book–the warm “I’m just hanging out here in your kitchen, please pass the wine ” voice and stories of Dorie herself.

IMG_1860   My copy of the book ,which I had delivered TO MY WORKPLACE so that I wouldn’t miss a single moment with it, finally arrived on Friday. Sadly, Friday was a really busy day, and so there was Dorie, sitting on the corner of my desk, taunting me all day as I worked along, unable to break the binding. Finally the moment arrived, later that night, when I was able to start poring through, and truth be told, it was really difficult to decide on a starting point– I think that because this is a French cookbook, and so big, and so serious looking– that I sort of expected it would be over my head as an at home amateur. But really, many of these recipes are simple, and all of them are gorgeous. They are almost common sense in some ways– take a beautiful food, cook it in such a way, and with such accompaniments, that it shines as its best self. The list of recipes I want to try is SO long– there’s over 300 in here–so I was at a real loss. Add to that the challenge of my dinner guests–my sister and brother in law. My sister is one of my biggest supporters in life, at every turn. With every new hobby or interest, and believe me, there have been many, she gets behind me. I’m very lucky in the sister department!! My brother in law, while also awesome, happens to be one of the pickiest eaters I’ve ever met. Sure, sure, you’re thinking. Whatever. But listen, you don’t get it. HE DOESN”T LIKE PASTA. Who doesn’t like pasta, you ask? Right. Him. The only two things I can think of, actually, off the top of my head, that he likes–are chicken and barbecue sauce. I don’t eat or cook meat, so I was in a straight pickle, there. It was starting to look like pizza when I stumbled across moules mariniere on page 312. I texted my sister. He’ll eat it. Jackpot.

This is a simple, intuitive recipe–even for someone who has never cooked a mussel before in her life. Dorie doesn’t mess around– she presents the best foods, in their most natural and elemental states. This recipe called for 4 lbs of mussels, carefully cleaned, and steamed in a broth of white wine, garlic, onion, shallot, lemon peel, and fresh herbs. In her note on serving, she says, “I like to serve them straight from the pot, making sure that everyone’s bowl has a pile of mussels, which should be eaten with the fingers, and some sauce, which can be eaten with a spoon or just sopped up with bread.” This is exactly what I did, and the mussels were– for certain–the highlight of the meal. So simple–so good. This is something I’ll cook over and over again.

While the mussels and bread could have held their own on the table, I also served an escarole salad with Dorie’s vinaigrette, some herbed oven fries of my own creation, and Dorie’s go-with-everything celery root puree. Funnily, I had a celery root just hanging around, waiting to be soup-ified. I mean, that’s funny, right? Who has a celery root on hand? Hahahaha. So anyway, this was nice. It’s an easy, easy recipe, again. Simply boil the chunked celery root, one onion, and one potato in milk and water, drain, and puree. It tastes just like mashed potatoes, sort of, except for the fact that I don’t really like mashed potatoes that much, and this– I loved this. The texture is creamy like mashers, but it’s a lighter puree, and has just a touch of clean, green celery flavor to it. Good stuff. The fries– well, I was disappointed with the fries. First of all, I matchsticked them all by hand, only to be reminded later on (such a good sister) that I actually DO own a mandoline. So that took forever. I thought I was being all clever by parboiling them, but then my oven/baking sheet was too small and they were overlapped too much. They just didn’t crisp up the way I wanted. Party fail.

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Dessert was pretty good though–Banana and butterscotch tarte tartin, which is actually a recipe from Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen book. Served up with a little vanilla fro-yo, it was just the thing.

IMG_1871  My sister and I drank a lot of wine. She woke up and went to anti-gravity yoga this morning, whereas I woke up and felt grumpy (as an activity). But the man I love and I went for a long walk along the water today, enjoying the crisp-but-not-too-crisp January air for awhile, and I am grumpy no longer. He is a very, very good man.

Can’t wait to turn back to Dorie for some winter soups, stews, and pastries in the coming weeks. Hey Cath– you coming?