Asparagus in a Starring Role

Grilled Asparagus with Gribiche 2 3648x2736My husband, who has taught at Amherst College for over two decades, is crazy about his students. During their four years at the school, he gets to know these young people well, teaching, advising, and mentoring them throughout their stays. So, when graduation arrives each year, we plan a champagne celebration to honor those he has worked with closely. This past weekend we hosted four students and their families at a fete for 25. Smoked salmon with lemon-scented crème fraîche, capers, and shallots, cantaloupe wedges marinated in a syrup scented with mint and Pernod, a plate of cheeses garnished with sage and plump cherries, goat cheese hazelnut phyllo tartlets, and a platter of grilled asparagus served with a special mayo were on the menu. Although our guests ate everything enthusiastically, hands down the asparagus were the hit of the party!

The recipe for Grilled Asparagus with Gribiche is from The Fat Radish, a new cookbook by Ben Towill and Phil Winser, owners, and Nick Wilber, chef, of the popular NYC restaurant of the same name. Gribiche is a classic French mayonnaise that includes chopped hard-boiled eggs, capers, and pickles. But for their version, this trio simplified the sauce using purchased mayo and seasoning it with grainy mustard, lemon juice, and chives. It took me 10 minutes to prepare this sauce the day before. An hour before our party I cooked the spears in batches on a stovetop grill pan until charred and tender. If you pull out your grill, you’ll be able to cook them even more efficiently. Continue reading

Soup Making with Young Cooks!

Brodo with Spring Peas, Pancetta, and Mint Several days ago two young women, both seniors at Amherst College where my husband teaches, emailed that they had some free time the following week to come and cook with me in my kitchen. Stellar students as well as passionate foodies, they had, during their four years of taking rigorous courses at the college, often found extra hours to cook and, of course, to sample recipes with me. This would be the last time before graduation for us to be in the kitchen together, so I picked some special dishes, including a soup with spring peas, mint, and pancetta.

To prepare the dish we made a rich but quickly assembled broth and then added orecchiette (small ear-shaped pasta), fresh peas, snow peas, and chopped bibb lettuce to the simmering liquid. The brodo was garnished with crispy bits of pancetta, fresh mint, and a sprinkling of Parmigiano Reggiano. From our first sips, we all adorned this soup with its Continue reading

Simply Delicious Crab Quesadillas

Crab and Tomato Quesadillas 1 3648x2736Recently, while going through some old files, I came across a recipe of mine for crab and tomato quesadillas. I hadn’t made these pan-fried tortilla sandwiches in years, but the ingredients sounded as delectable today as they did over a decade ago.

Flour tortillas were spread with a mixture of grated Jack cheese and cream cheese scented with citrus accents of orange and lemon. Then, a colorful mélange of crabmeat, diced tomatoes, and chopped green onions was added before the tortillas were folded in half and cooked on the stove top.

I tweaked the recipe slightly, replacing the lemon and orange seasonings with the more assertive flavor of lime. And instead of  Monterrey Jack, I used Mahon, a delicious slightly sharp Spanish cheese. I also experimented with both whole wheat and regular flour tortillas, and found that each worked well. Continue reading

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