Saturday, January 1, 2011

A French Table-inspired New Year's feast

Some folks swear by collards or black-eyed peas. Others vouch for downing a dozen grapes at the stroke of midight to guarantee 12 sweet months.

We have no set New Year's Eve traditions, other than typically spending the last night of the year at home. Our menu varies from year to year, though the one in which Tim made a big pot of gumbo does stand out as particularly memorable.

This year's inspiration came largely from Dorie Greenspan's excellent new Around My French Table. I waited my turn to try out this critically acclaimed book from the library, but I'm certain I'll soon have a copy for my permanent collection.

When I checked out the book, the librarian sighed deeply when she saw the title, then set about scanning the index for her personal favorite. Flipping to Marie-Helene's Apple Cake, she grabbed a sticky note and pressed it on the page. "You must make this," she said. "It is sooooo good."

Never one to argue with a librarian, I took her advice to heart. After a quick skim, I decided to not only make the cake but also Dorie's salmon rillettes and tadziki. Each was simple and delicious. Actually, the cake, which was the grand finale to our New Year's feast, was sublime.

We built up to these tasty morsels gradually, starting with take-out sushi (blue crab and eel) and a flavorful shaved seaweed salad. Next up was the Weight Watcher's-friendly tadziki, her traditional take on a classic, with a colorful plate of veggies, pretzel crisps and mixed nuts. Then came a simple bruschette of grilled baguette slices rubbed with garlic, topped with melting blue cheese or feta (Graham's preference) and crowned with a twist of rare roast beef.

Things got serious with the salmon rillettes, which Graham helped make by dicing the salmon, managing the quick poach and gently mashing in the smoked salmon and butter. The mixture set beautifully and made a most elegant spread. I foresee using leftovers in a fritatta dotted with dabs of creamy chevre.

The pièce de résistance, as I think the French might say, was indeed the highly recommended apple cake, which features chunks of four different types of apples (whatever you like best) and a lush, buttery batter. It smelled divine while baking and looked like something you'd be glad to be served at your favorite bistro.

While it certainly needed nothing more than a fork, I could not resist a drizzle of caramel sauce on the dessert plates before serving -- an addition I mentioned when I wrote with grateful praise on Dorie's popular Facebook page. Her reply was, indeed, the icing on my New Year's cake:
ME: Oh Dorie. The librarian was right: the apple cake was sublime! I gilded the lily by serving it on a puddle of caramel sauce. Also made salmon rillettes and tadziki. So good!
DORIE: A puddle of caramel sauce sounds perfect! I'm delighted that you liked the cake and the rillettes and tatziki, too. Happy new year!

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