Monday, May 21, 2007

Chocolate & Zucchini Dinner

I got an unexpected surprise in the mail this week: Andrea sent me an autographed copy of the new Chocolate & Zucchini cookbook. Since I was planning on having guests over for dinner on Sunday, I decided to build my menu using recipes from the new cookbook (all page numbers are from the American edition).

The Menu ~ La Carte
Cumin Cheese Puffs ~ Gougeres au Cumin (p. 84)

Mustard Chicken Stew ~ Poulet Mijote a la Moutarde (p. 103)
Braised Fennel ~ Fenouil Braise a Romarin (p. 140)
Basmati Rice

Chocolate Caramel Tart ~ Tarte Chocolat Caramel (p. 192)

This was a great dinner for multiple reasons: first, we got to spend some quality time with good friends; second, I got to build a menu and test out some new recipes from the new cookbook; and third, everything was pretty delicious.

The gougeres were great. I had never thought of adding cumin to gougeres and it was a great touch. I used ground cumin in the batter and then we sprinkled the tops with whole cumin seeds when they went into the oven. The baking method calls for 20 minutes in the oven and then a few more in the oven with the heat turned off. I didn't bother and just baked then for about 25 minutes at 350. Clotilde's recipe says it makes 40 gougeres. Hers must be way bigger than mine as got 40 out of half a batch of batter. I froze the rest of the batter as an experiment.

The chicken stew was delicious. I made it a day ahead and reheated it on the stovetop before dinner. The mustard wasn't a strong as I thought it would be so I may put a little more in next time (I used dijon - I will also try coarse ground next time). Also, I think my chicken gave off more liquid the expected during the stewing process. So, to thicken up the juices without turning the chicken to rubber, I took the chicken pieces out and then boiled the sauce to thicken it some more. Just before service, I stirred chopped parsley and chives into the stew.

Fennel is one of my favorite vegetables, but I usually eat it raw. This braised fennel was easy and satisfying. I didn't have any rosemary, so I used winter savory from my herb garden instead. It worked very well and complemented the anise flavor of the fennel well.

The tart was very good. It was rich and decadent as promised, but I didn't feel like I had overeaten after I had a slice. I had two problems with the recipe. The crust is the type that you press into the baking dish. I confess that I have never had any luck with this style of crust (which is surprising in that this type of crust is usually recommended to baking novices), I generally make a "pie" crust for my tarts and I think I'll try that next time as I clearly am not skilled enough to press crumbs into a baking pan. The other thing that I noted was the caramel layer was made with brown sugar instead of white. This did speed up caramelization considerably, but I didn't get the depth of caramel flavor that would have come with a slow caramelization of white sugar. On the plus side, the whole tart was very easy and a crowdpleaser - so it would be a great showstopping desert for a new baker. One additional fillip: I put a light scattering of cocoa nibs on top of the caramel layer - it made for a nice crunchy addition to the tart.

I should also note that almost everything was made ahead, so this was a relaxed menu at dinner time. I made the gougere batter, cooked the stew, cut up the fennel and made the tart ahead. At mealtime I just had to make the rice, bake the gougeres, braise the fennel (although this could have been done ahead too) and heat up the stew.

You can buy the book here:


W Kova said...

Hi Mary - I am a fan of C&Z and saw your comment on Clotilde's blog and decided to take a look at your dinner prepared from her book - it looks wonderful!! I am also pleased to know how the caramel chocolate tarte came out... my husband loves chocolate and caramel desserts and have been itching to make it for him... but I think he has been overloaded on sweets lately (as I have been baking feverishly) and may have to wait a week or two!

Great job! I will let you know how mine turns out!

Sunday Cook said...

Thanks! I'm glad you have been inspired. :-) It's a fun book and I am really looking forward to cooking from it some more. I want to try the savory French toast with tomatoes but have to wait for August tomatoes.

Anonymous said...

Hello all. I (Ann) and my husband (Jim) were pleased to be the dinner guests of Mary and Dave (of this blog) on the evening of this meal. And I am here to tell you that the Cheese Puffs were magnificent! I could have eaten 1000 of them, and they were so light, there was plenty of room for the Chicken Stew which was tender and savory. Now, the Tart which followed was a heavenly affair, and garnished with fresh-picked violets from a New England spring backyard on a sunny evening after two days of soft rain! All of this was accompanied by appropriate wine and excellent conversation. Tell me what is better than all of this?

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