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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Sweet Confections for Super Bowl Bashes

Lime Ginger Cream Cheese Bars 1 3383x2728Here in New England, everyone is gearing up for Super Bowl XLIX, cheering for the Pats (and hoping that Deflategate will soon be resolved!) Like many, I’m planning on making a big pot of chili this Sunday to stave off the frigid temperatures of the last few days, but I’m far more excited about the scrumptious Lime and Ginger Cream Cheese Bars that will end the menu.

Simple, quick, and addictive, they are prepared with a crust of ground ginger snaps, sugar, and melted butter, all combined and packed onto the bottom of a baking pan. The creamy filling is made with a cheesecake-style batter enhanced with bits of crystallized ginger and a robust accent of lime. The batter is baked until set, then cooled and chilled before it is cut into bars, so you can definitely prepare this dessert in advance. I created this recipe quite a few years ago, but recently updated it for my blog.

These slim bars are only about an inch high, but are packed with flavor. You can garnish Continue reading

A Restaurant Dish Becomes a Favorite at Home

Sesame Lamb Chops, Shiitakes, Snow Peas 1 3648x2736Every so often a restaurant dish is so good, so inventive, yet so simple that I can’t wait to try it in my own kitchen. The grilled shiiktake mushrooms with sesame oil on the menu at Semilla (one of my favorite Paris restaurants) are such a creation. We’ve dined in this Left Bank place at least a half dozen times in the past year, and on every occasion either my husband or I have ordered them. They arrive, stemmed but left whole, usually a half dozen or so on a small plate. A sprinkling of chives and a few pools of sesame oil are the only garnishes. One bite of the tender fungi scented with fragrant toasted sesame oil and you’d be smitten too.

Shiitakes with Sesame Oil at Semilla

Shiitakes with Sesame Oil at Semilla

During a visit a few weeks ago, I asked our waitress for the recipe, and, smiling, she responded, “Mais c’est très facile!” Then she explained that the shiitakes were seasoned with soy and sesame oil and quickly pan grilled. A few days later I tried them in my petite French kitchen, and discovered that were indeed effortless, and took only a few minutes to prepare.

I decided to expand the recipe by pairing the shiitakes with lamb Continue reading

A Comforting Soup for a Cold Night

Fennel and White Bean Soup with Prosciutto 1 2448x2448At the end of last week we had planned to meet a good friend at a new bistro in Paris. But the tragic events that unfolded between Wednesday and Friday were so unsettling that we all agreed a casual dinner at home was a better idea. When I suggested that we gather for a simple soup and salad supper at our small apartment, our pal was on board immediately and offered to bring dessert.

For the main course, I had in mind a rustic soup prepared by sautéing chopped fennel, onion, and carrots and then simmering those vegetables along with white beans in stock. Short on time, I opted for canned beans, rinsing and draining them well before stirring them into the pot, and was delighted with the results. For extra flavor some chopped fresh rosemary and dry white wine balanced the flavors nicely, while crispy julienned prosciutto and golden homemade croutons made fine garnishes. Continue reading

A Sad Day in Paris

Winter DuskWe were just finishing lunch with friends when one of our pals checked her email and announced that there had been a terrorist attack in Paris. Stunned, we paid the bill and asked the garçons at the bistro what they knew—not much except that a weekly satirical publication, Charlie Hebdo, had been attacked. My husband and I decided to continue our errands in the city, stopping in a café to watch on a TV screen more details as the tragedy unfolded. On the bus back to our quartier, I noticed how many riders were checking their cell phones—like us, probably searching for more specifics of this terrible act that had claimed a dozen lives.

When we arrived back at our small rented apartment, we turned on the television to once again get an update of the day’s events. What struck us as extraordinary was that thousands of Parisians had already started to gather at La Place de la République in memory of those who had been killed and wounded and also to stand firm for freedom of expression against ideological terrorism. (In fact, such demonstrations were held throughout France.) Continue reading

Paris Gets Ready for 2015!

We’re back in Paris in the familiar Left Bank neighborhood where we’ve welcomed the beginning of many a new year. The quartier where we stay is festooned with lights and bright window displays, and the food shops remind us how important entertaining friends is at this time of year. The French call December 31 le révillon, or St. Sylvestre, and food and Champagne are at the center of every get-together. Here’s a glimpse of a few of our neighborhood stores where we’ve spent the better part of today selecting delectables for ringing in 2015 with friends.

Ringing in 2015 in Paris!

Scallop and Fennel Tartlets 1 3648x2736This year we’ll be in Paris to ring in 2015, but, rather than dine out in one of the city’s restaurants, we’ll be cooking a meal with our friends, Harriet and Philippe, who live there. Our hosts have decided that after marathon Christmas entertaining, we should follow a simpler philosophy of “buy some, make some” for this special night. And, happily, that’s especially easy to do in France.

Harriet’s local boucher displays gorgeous fowl, completely stuffed and oven ready, which she buys and roasts along with chestnuts and vegetables. Our pals love to purchase oysters, a French tradition at this time of year, and a cache of delectable cheeses. I’ll order a dessert from one of my favorite patisseries, and will volunteer to bring champagne and appetizers. Continue reading

A Great Roast for Christmas Dinner!

photo by Susie Cushner

photo by Susie Cushner

Last week my son, Mike, who hosts our family’s Christmas dinner, asked what we should make for this special meal. It took me only a second to answer, “Let’s do those racks of pork from my Sunday Roasts.” He wasn’t convinced so I continued to push my choice, enthusiastically listing the recipe’s merits. Racks of pork are inexpensive, but they look stately and impressive. They cook in far less time that a turkey, and pair well with countless vegetables and sides, I explained. Finally, I got his attention.

This recipe for racks of pork is one of my favorites and is simplicity itself to prepare. The Cranberry Apple Chutney 1 a 3084x2583 2969x2446racks are brushed with curry oil (made by whisking curry powder into olive oil) and baked with red onion wedges. I suggest using two racks of five ribs each to serve ten generously, but you won’t find these racks displayed in your grocery’s meat department. You’ll need to call the butcher, and order them ahead. In the original version I served the pork with a fall apple chutney, but for this holiday variation I reworked that condiment adding cranberries for color and replacing cider vinegar with balsamic. Continue reading