Last weekend when good friends were scheduled for a last minute overnight visit, I knew we would all want time to talk and catch up, so I prepared our entire dinner from starters to dessert in advance. Artichoke and Feta Bruschette, delicious and colorful appetizers, were followed by bowls of simmering Beans and Greens Soup (featured in last week’s post), warm, crusty whole wheat sesame bread from my farmers’ market, and a red leaf lettuce and Belgian endive salad tossed in a lemon dressing. An apple crumble with a brown sugar, butter, and hazelnut topping served with scoops of vanilla ice cream completed our menu.
The appetizers were a snap to make and yet looked as if they took far more time to put together than the 20 minutes needed. I toasted baguette slices until crisp and then topped them with a puree of artichoke hearts and a sprinkle of crumbled feta. In the past I’ve assembled such artichoke toppings using marinated artichokes in a jar, but found that the flavor varied depending on the brand. This time I used frozen artichoke hearts, then added my own seasonings of parsley, lemon, garlic, and Parmesan, and loved the consistent results. Continue reading
Almost a year ago while visiting my good friend and long-time assistant, Emily Bell, in Columbus, Ohio, I fell hard for a delicious soup she served me. On a cold November night, she sat a shallow bowl in front of me with a mound of brown rice in the middle and a beautiful rust-hued broth with chopped greens and beans ladled over it. A basket of cornbread set near by. One spoonful and I was begging for the recipe.
I couldn’t put my finger on all the flavors, so my host willingly shared the recipe. She had sautéed diced smoked sausage along with onions, carrots, and celery. Next, diced potatoes and minced garlic were added to the soup pot and finally the big flavor makers—chopped collards and kale plus black-eyed peas and field peas. Chicken broth and a can of tomatoes with their juices were the braising liquids for this mélange, which needed to simmer for 30 to 40 minutes.
A few days ago we invited friends over for a last-minute Sunday night supper. The week had been frenetic, leaving me with no time for special cooking, so I opted to make part of the meal and purchase the rest. As appetizers I served cheeses bought at our local farmers market with toasted baguette slices, and radishes that were dipped in a bowl of softened sweet butter and another of sea salt. I ordered several pizzas from a local pizzeria, and served them with a fall salad that our generous guests contributed. And, for dessert I baked old fashioned molasses spice cake squares.
The recipe for the dark, moist squares, studded with walnuts and raisins, came to me back in 2007 from Kelle Quist, a talented personal chef in western Massachusetts. The scrumptious squares, created by her grandmother many years ago, have been a long time family favorite, and it’s easy to see why. The combination of spices, paired with molasses and surprisingly with brewed coffee, results in a beautiful blending of flavors. In fact the only change I made to the original directions was to replace vegetable shortening with sweet butter.
This summer while my family spent ten days in Brittany, I was lucky enough to meet a Breton woman named Manou Gorin. the contact person for the house we had rented. Trim, petite, and charming, this grand’mère (French grandmother) became an instant friend when we discovered that we shared a love of cooking. She brought us treats such as coconut crème caramel as well as crêpes with salted caramel sauce, and gladly shared some of her Breton recipes. One in particular, for lobsters roasted with Pernod and crème fraîche, caught my attention.
She explained that she halved the shellfish (while alive!), and arranged the halves on a baking sheet. The lobsters were topped with pats of butter, sprinkled with cayenne, and then roasted in a very hot oven. Finishing touches included pouring a little flamed Pernod (an anise-scented liqueur) over the fish, then topping them with small dollops of crème fraîche. I couldn’t bring myself to do in lobsters by plunging a knife into them, so I substituted thick salmon fillets instead, and loved the results.
Lately, I’ve become weary of the food police, a term coined by Julia Child for those focused on the questionable health benefits of her beloved butter and cream. Today it seems like the “food police” are everywhere. Newspapers and magazines, online features (especially those that list the top 10 worst ingredients you can consume!), national radio and TV broadcasts–all routinely offer up some new food that is verboten. “Keep fat to a minimum, give up evil carbs, lower your salt, only eat meat occasionally.” I listen, and dutifully adjust my recipes to follow the guidelines. Every so often, though, I throw caution out (much to my husband’s delight) to prepare, guilt-free, an indulgence like Rigatoni with Parmesan Cream, Prosciutto, and Arugula.
Here is a dish that I first tasted in a small neighborhood bistro in Paris. From my first bite I was smitten, not only by the delicious combination of tastes and textures, but also by the creation’s sheer simplicity. Rigatoni, cooked al dente, were tossed in a smooth-as-silk sauce that had been prepared with equal amounts of milk, crème fraîche, and grated Parmesan along with a hint of fresh nutmeg. The pasta, garnished with a small mound of arugula dressed in lemon juice and a sprinkle of julienned Serrano ham, was served in shallow bowls. Continue reading
In the space of a week our weather here in New England has gone from reaching a high in the 90s during the day to a low of 40s at night. Fall is definitely making an early arrival this year! The markets are also beginning to reflect a change of seasons, especially in the produce aisles where the bins are filled with apples. Macintosh, Mollie’s Delicious, Ginger Gold, Gravenstein, and Macouns (my personal favorite) are all on proud display.
I’ve been buying them in varying hues, slicing them thinly, and using them along with fresh sage leaves (from my herb garden) to garnish wedges of local blue and aged goat cheese. This week I branched out and used them in a robust fall salad.
I can’t remember a year when the tomato crops have been better. Heirlooms in myriad varieties, red, yellow and orange cherry and grape tomatoes, as well as field tomatoes (or what I call just plain old summer tomatoes) are having a heyday in western New England this summer. They started appearing in August and are still going strong—so strong that I have been using them creatively week after week in recipes like the simple BLT Soup featured here.
After making countless BLT sandwiches, I decided to try the popular trio in a soup and loved the results. Nothing could have been easier. After frying a few bacon slices until crisp, I used a small amount of the drippings to sauté chopped onion, garlic, and fresh tomatoes, and then simmered this mélange in chicken stock and fresh orange juice. Seasonings of basil and cayenne pepper rounded out the flavors. When done, the soup was pureed to a crimson smoothness.
Editor’s note: Occasionally I receive the best feedback from my readers and testers about the new recipes that they’re trying out. This was a perfect example. I was so pleased to receive this note from a reader along with photos she took of the Tian of Summer Vegetables from the new Sunday Casseroles. Let me know in the comments how you’ve been doing with your own version of the tian or other recipes that you’ve been tackling! And, of course, I always love to see your photos, so send them to me and I’ll post them on my Facebook gallery!
The other day I made the Tian of Tomatoes and Summer Squash with Basil and Mint, from Sunday Casseroles, and it was absolutely fantastic! The kitchen was alive with the smell of roasting vegetables, and chopped fresh herbs. As I layered everything for baking, my husband wandered in to ask when we were having dinner. Here are some pictures of my process.
Like Memorial Day and July 4th that precede it, Labor Day is a holiday celebrated casually. For the last of that triumvirate of summer fêtes, most cooks (and I am certainly one of them!) will be pulling out grills, cooking burgers, steaks, chops–you name it–over open flames. I’m especially excited about my menu this year since I’ve been fine-tuning a recipe for grilled pork tenderloins and plums served with a verdant summer salad.
Nothing could be easier. The tenderloins are marinated in a simple mixture of balsamic vinegar, soy, and canola oil with generous seasonings of fresh ginger, garlic, and black pepper. If you have enough time, it’s best to marinate the meat overnight, but in a pinch you can let it rest for several hours. Grilled over a hot fire, the meat needs 20 to 25 minutes until fork tender and the flesh blush pink. During the last few minutes, juicy plums, quartered and skewered, are cooked quickly alongside until slightly charred.
Every Saturday morning in the summer and fall, you’ll find me at my local farmers’ market. Although our market is small, what it lacks in size it makes up for in variety and quality. On a recent visit to our block-long food bazaar, I spotted “ratte’ potatoes (a French fingerling beloved by French chefs). Nearby a cheese vendor displayed wedges of tomme Normande (made in the style of celebrated French “tomme” cheeses). At a yogurt stand, the dairy farmer offered creamy pots of yogurt scented with New England maple syrup. I also found okra in hues of purple and green, a rainbow assortment of heirloom tomatoes, and most surprisingly, boxes of mild Japanese shishito peppers (slim, green peppers from 3 to 4 inches in length.) I can never resist the lure of such interesting fare, and fill my basket with purchases to try at home. The recipe for the delicious vegetable pizza featured here was inspired by one of these shopping forays.
A thin-crusted pizza round (purchased at Whole Foods) was spread with sautéed onions, and topped with shavings of a robust tomme de Savoie. Next, lightly pan-fried baby zucchini or yellow squash (either works equally well) are alternated with sliced plum tomatoes in a spoke pattern atop the onions. They are sprinkled with more cheese and sliced shishito peppers. Seasonings of oregano, red pepper flakes, and a hint of balsamic round out the flavors. Continue reading