A Scrumptious Dessert for Splurging!

Butterscotch Pot de Creme 2 2909x2736 2909x2736It doesn’t happen often, but on rare occasions, I sample a dessert so delectable that I abandon all healthy eating guidelines, and just indulge. That was the case a few weeks ago when I was in Washington, DC, and ate at Ripple. (See last week’s post for more on that terrific restaurant). The Butterscotch Pots de Crème on the dessert menu sounded so tempting with their garnishes of cinnamon-scented cream and bits of toffee that I promptly ordered one. To describe this confection as addictive would be an understatement. I intended to take only a few bites, but in less than 5 minutes the little ramekin was licked (or should I say spooned) clean. Continue reading

Two Great Restaurants in Washington, DC

Recently, I’ve visited our nation’s capital three times, and on each occasion, I’ve been stunned by the number of interesting restaurants the city boasts. In March I was in Washington for the annual meeting of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, a group of food lovers par excellence! A bonus of the conference was that the local DC members compiled a list for the attendees of their top 50 favorite eateries in the area. The restaurants sounded so varied and tempting that I found myself wishing for a longer stay. China Chilcano and Ripple, two places I tried, were definite winners!

My friend and Rizzoli editor, Caitlin Lefflel, picked China Chilcano—the two-month old brainchild of celebrated chef, José Andrés, whose restaurant empire started with Jaleo, a famous Washington tapas institution. China Chilcano, however, features Peruvian cuisine. We went for drinks and appetizers, and looking at the menu, I was amazed to learn that the dishes included both Chinese and Japanese accents, the result of settlers from those countries to Peru in the 19th century. Our group of three started with pisco sours, a divine drink made with a clear, grappa-type liquor, lime, egg whites, and bitters. We also sampled a variation infused with an essence of purple corn. Paper-thin fried plantain and taro root chips served with a sauce for dipping made a great accompaniment as did a beautiful Japanese-inspired potato creation topped with crab, tobiko (roe), spicy mayo, cucumber, and avocado. A stirfry of rice and noodles infused with vegetables was another temptation. Continue reading

A Serendipitous Spring Pasta Dish

Pappardelle, Peas, Pea Shoots, Serano 1 3648x2736This past week my friend and longtime assistant, Emily Bell, traveled to New England from Ohio for a week of marathon cooking with me, testing recipes for a new cookbook.
Each day we made our way to the supermarket to purchase groceries, carefully checking off the items on our list. On one such visit to the local Whole Foods, we noticed some gorgeous pea shoots, and then spotted some shelled peas in the produce section. Both were so appealing and such great harbingers of spring that we put them in the cart.Serrano Ham and Snow Pea Shoots from Whole F 1 3431x2298 A few aisles away we found packages of sliced Serrano, Spain’s contribution to the world’s ham repertoire.Those three discoveries sparked an idea for a delicious pasta dish.

We cooked pappardelle al dente, adding the fresh peas during the last few minutes so that both finished cooking at the same time. Melted butter, fresh lemon zest, and crème fraîche were then stirred into the pasta along with a little Parmesan cheese. Oh, and the Serrano ham– we julienned the slices and quickly sautéed them to use as a garnish. Continue reading

When the Side Dish Shines at the Easter Table

Roasted Asparagus and Radishes 2 3339x2656My son, who is in charge of our family’s Easter dinner this Sunday, has called me three times the past week to discuss the menu. He has dismissed ham (last year’s centerpiece) as well as lamb (our main the year before), and was contemplating grilled salmon a few days ago. Today he announced that pasta with lobster and fresh peas in a cream sauce would anchor the meal. Whether this latest remains the plat du jour or not is anybody’s guess. What is certain is a side dish that I plan to bring of roasted asparagus and radishes scented with a light Asian-style sauce.

Several years ago at a summer dinner, I tasted roasted radishes for the first time when friends served them as a side to grilled fish. The radishes had lost their peppery quality, and tasted more like petit turnips. Scented with sesame oil, they made a unique and delicious vegetable garnish. When I decided to roast asparagus for Easter, I remembered those radishes and decided to pair them with the green spears. Continue reading

Crispy Wings for March Madness

`While in Florida earlier this week, my husband and I had a quick dinner one night at a taco restaurant. We ate at the bar where two giant TV screens were broadcasting the current games kicking off March Madness. The place was packed and everyone seemed to be glancing at the matches while nibbling on spicy fare. It reminded me that the crispy wings with a Creole dipping sauce I created for a recent cooking class would be perfect to serve during this month of frenzied sports watching.

The chicken wings are marinated in Tabasco-scented buttermilk, then seasoned with both cayenne and black pepper before being coated with yellow cornmeal. Skillet fried until golden and crunchy, they are served with a classic rust-hued Creole sauce that is traditionally used for shrimp, but works equally well with chicken. Continue reading

A Great Pizza—Inspired by Leftovers!

Wild Mushroom Butternut Squash Pizza 1 3648x2736Recently I read an article about zero-waste in commercial kitchens. The gist of the story was that many chefs have adopted a philosophy of using not just some, but all the food scraps and leftovers in their kitchen. One chef confessed that a dish he made with leftover broccoli stems was better than the original he had prepared with the crowns, and was now a staple on his menu. When I looked in my fridge later that day, and found a sizeable collection of partially used ingredients, I realized that a little zero-waste attitude could be applied at my house.

I spotted a half full container of mascarpone, a chunk of white cheddar, and some smoked kielbasa, as well as a package of mixed mushrooms and some butternut squash (remainders from some recipe testing). In a “eureka” moment I realized these could be the makings of a delectable winter pizza.

The only ingredient I purchased was an extra thin pizza crust. It was spread with mascarpone, sprinkled with grated cheddar, and topped with a mélange of sautéed mushrooms, onions, and kielbasa. Garnishes included roasted cubes of butternut squash and a final dusting of cheddar. Continue reading

Chicken Soup is Good for What Ails You!

Chicken Noddle Soup 1 3648x2736After the aspirin, the Tylenol, the decongestants, the cough suppressants, and all those other over-the-counter cold remedies, in the end there is universal agreement that nothing is better than a bowl of steaming homemade chicken noodle soup when you have a rotten winter cold! So when drafting the outline for a new soup book (working title—Soup Nights), one of the first entries I made was for a hearty chicken noodle soup jazzed up by the addition of some sautéed mushrooms and a good dusting of Parmesan cheese.

What gives this soup such a robust and luxuriant flavor is the easily made chicken stock that forms its foundation. You start with good purchased stock (like Swanson’s, my favorite, or College Inn) add fresh chicken, root vegetables, and herbs to it, then simmer the mixture for an hour or more. The resulting stock rivals many that are far more time consuming to prepare. Continue reading

Secrets from a Parisian Chef

Riz au Gruyere 1 3264x2448  3264x2448 3264x2448When in Paris, I spend hours reading reviews of the latest restaurant openings. Some of the reviewers, like John Talbot, a popular food critic and blogger, have even become my friends. On a recent visit John suggested that my spouse and I join him and his wife for lunch at Clover, a new restaurant in the 7th arrondissement. Clover Interior 1 3264x2448Our meal was inventive and delicious, but what made our visit to this small dining spot memorable was the amicable chef, Jean François Piège of two-star Michelin fame, who set down at our table to talk and even shared a special recipe.

Our lunch included lieu jaune (a mild white fish) with endives, nuts, and shaved green apples as well as an incredibly tender chicken served with a golden rice cake scented with Comté cheese, plus a dessert of roasted butternut squash with house made vanilla rum ice cream. It was the side dish, the small rectangle of rice bound with cheese, though, that caught my attention. Continue reading

Winter Soup and a Good Book for Book Club

Winter Tomato and Garlic Soup 1  3648x2736Last week by some miracle (read a blizzard-free night), ten of the thirteen members of my book club braved the freezing temperatures and the snow covered streets and roads of our small New England town to meet at my house for our monthly gathering. Although the menu choices are up to each host, I thought we all needed some comfort food, and decided on a soup supper. A winter tomato and garlic soup garnished with creamy blue cheese bruschette was the centerpiece and a dense chocolate cake the finale. A mixed greens salad tossed with julienned fennel, blood orange segments, and toasted walnuts rounded out the meal. Both the food and the book selection—All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr—got good reviews!All The Light We Cannot See Cover

This delicious tomato soup, vibrantly scented with garlic and unexpectedly with a hint of bracing orange, is a snap to assemble and takes less than half an hour to simmer atop the stove. Although it is pureed, the texture of this rustic soup is still slightly chunky, adding to its charm. You can make this dish several days in advance and reheat it. For the bruschette, toast the baguette slices several hours ahead, then spread them with Gorgonzola and pop them in the oven at serving time. Continue reading

A Deep Dark Chocolate Cake for Snowy Valentine

Valentine Dark Chocolate Cake 1My husband joked last week that if you walked though our house you’d find every TV turned to the weather channel and each computer screen set on the weather forecast. We have had so much snow in western Mass that one might mistake our backyard for a scene from Siberia. To counter the chaos outdoors, I’ve made countless runs to the supermarket, loading up on food so I could cook during the storms. The dense, deep dark chocolate cake featured here has been one of my projects since Valentine’s Day is so close at hand.

This classic, flourless cake calls for four primary ingredients—bittersweet chocolate, butter, sugar, and eggs. You need only to melt the chocolate and butter together, stir in the sugar, and finally add the eggs one a time before pouring the batter into a deep sided pan and baking it.To give this traditional cake a little extra embellishment for Cupid’s Day, I cut out a paper heart and centered it on the top before dusting the cake with powdered sugar. A bowl of espresso-scented whipped cream is a tempting garnish.

Panorama Scene 1 4580x2386

A view of our snow-covered back yard!

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