A New Way with Carrot Cake

carrot-cake-squares-with-orange-syrup-and-creme-fraiche-icingThere are probably as many versions of carrot cake as there are cooks who make it. Although I’ve been convinced for years that my family’s favorite recipe for this classic cake,covered with cream cheese icing, could never be surpassed, I recently discovered a new interpretation that I like even better.

When my assistant, Emily Bell, returned from a walking trip to the Outer Hebrides, she called to say that she had tasted a fabulous carrot cake at an inn on this Scottish island outpost. I couldn’t imagine that it would be that different. “Try it!” she insisted. I did and was won over with my first bite. Continue reading

Hamburgers with Red Pepper and Shallot Relish

hamburgers-with-red-pepper-and-shallot-relishMy son, Mike, is a passionate sports fan. Ask him about any national team—football, basketball, baseball—and in seconds he can reel off their top players and the teams’ rankings. A talented cook, he is just as zealous about food and wine. Often he combines these two obsessions when he and his wife invite friends over for supper and a game. He keeps track of all the important match ups, and this week’s Ohio State –Oklahoma duel is his top priority! (Truth be told he’s a huge Buckeye fan!)

I mentioned to him the hamburgers with red pepper and shallot relish that I recently created as they are the type of dish he likes to serve for football Saturdays! The relish, prepared with sautéed red bell peppers and shallots, is scented with red pepper flakes and a hint of smoked paprika. A splash of red wine vinegar and a few spoonfuls of tomato paste round out the simple seasonings. No sugar is called for here, since he sautéed Continue reading

A Perfect Side Dish for Labor Day Cooking

Corn, Tomato, and Chard PudddingFreshly picked sweet corn, juicy tomatoes of varying lineages, bunches of leafy greens, slender pods of okra, fragrant herbs. Those are just some of the end-of-summer temptations  at my local farmers’ market this time of the year. Often they serve as inspiration for the side dishes I prepare at home.

One recent creation, prepared with such purchases, was a delicious corn, tomato, and chard gratin. I sautéed corn kernels with leeks and julienned chard, then combined them with a savory custard of Half-and-Half, eggs, and grated white cheddar. This mixture was poured into a casserole pan, then topped with sliced tomatoes and another sprinkle of cheese. When baked the gratin was a lovely contrast of flavors with the sweetness of the corn and tomatoes countering the hint of slightly bitter chard. Continue reading

Summer Party with Champagne, Rosé, and Appetizers

Before summer ended, my husband and I decided to host a last minute-party for our friends. We agreed that champagne (my favorite drink any time of the year) and rosé (his default wine of the season) would anchor the gathering along with appetizers made with the season’s fresh fruits and vegetables. While my spouse tended to the libations, I concentrated on the food.

The glorious produce and herbs that abound this time of year provided me with inspiration. Homemade aïoli served with haricots verts, heirloom cherry tomatoes, and sliced fennel was a colorful creation. An avocado pâté garnished with tomato salsa and chips, and a tray of cheeses and fresh figs were set out as well. Chicken wings seasoned with lime juice, apricot jam, and cilantro, plus mini-lobster rolls, and slices of cantaloupe marinated in a mint and Pernod syrup completed the offerings.

The latter was one of the most popular and definitely one of the easiest dishes. After the Continue reading

Peaches, Cream, and Rosé Combined in a Summer Tart!

IMG_5674Sadly, this year’s peach crops in Massachusetts were lost because of bad weather, so I’ve purchased ones that have arrived in our local markets from other parts of the country.
I’ve used them in smoothies or as garnishes for grilled meats, and added slices to my morning cereal bowl. But, my favorite creation has been to feature them in a glorious French tart.

Prepared with an extra-rich pastry dough (the recipe for which was shared by talented baker and caterer, Barb Morse), the tart shell is pre-baked and then filled with sliced peaches coated in a thickened peach puree mixture scented subtly with cardamom.

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Peach Tart ready to go in the oven in its pre-baked pastry shell.

Once baked, it is best to let the tart stand a while at room temperature so that the juices have a chance to cool and thicken. Then you can slice this confection easily and gild the lily by garnishing each serving with a dollop of crème fraîche and a drizzle of rosé syrup. The latter is made by simply reducing leftover rosé (plentiful around our house in the summer!) with sugar. Nothing says summer like a peach dessert! Continue reading

Rosé and Mini-Chèvre Flans Perfect for Summer Entertaining

IMG_5698At a recent cooking class that featured bouillabaisse as the main course, I was surprised not only by my students’ excitement over the famous Provencal fish soup, but also by their raves for the simple appetizers. In keeping with the Provencal theme, mini-chèvre flans topped with a colorful mélange of chopped tomatoes, fresh herbs, and walnuts were an instant success.

Perhaps it was the simplicity of these starters or the seamless blending of flavors that made them so popular. All I can report is that this hands-on class of 15 downed almost four dozen in less than 15 minutes! Continue reading

Cooking from the Farmers’ Market Back Home

Tomato and Chickpea Soup with Yogurt and Mint 1 3648x2736As soon as we arrived home last week, after a long stay in France, I started stocking our empty fridge and cupboards. Several trips to local supermarkets took care of the basics, but it was at our weekly farmers’ market that I found gorgeous summer vegetables, freshly baked loaves of bread, and locally crafted yogurt.

Honest-to-goodness tomatoes, deep red, juicy, and packed with flavor, were the first thing that caught my eye. They would be perfect to use for a summer tomato and chickpea soup—a dish I had created for my new book, Soup Nights.

The tomatoes need only to be chopped and seeded, then simmered slowly with chickpeas in a cumin-scented broth. Lemon, yogurt, and mint all contribute cooling accents to this soup. I used chicken broth for my version, but vegetarians can sub the quick-and-easy vegetable stock recipe that is also included. Continue reading

Tandoori Style Grilled Chicken for July 4th!

Tandoori-Style Grilled Chicken Wings 1 3332x2991On a recent visit to London, I ate at Gymkhana, a well known Michelin-starred restaurant in the center of the city. Every dish was memorable, but my favorite was a plate of tender, golden grilled chicken thighs that boasted incredibly moist flesh. When I asked our server how they were made, she volunteered only that the chicken was marinated in yogurt, homemade Indian mustard, fresh ginger, and spices. After returning to my small Parisian kitchen, I was determined to make a version to savor again.

For the marinade I whisked whole yogurt, mustard, and freshly grated ginger with lemon juice, garlic, and cayenne pepper. Dijon mustard stood in for the Indian variety that was unavailable locally. The chicken I had sampled across the Channel was reminiscent of tandoori chicken, but it was a rich golden color rather than the usual vibrant orange hue. So, I decided to omit the red food coloring often called for in tandoori dishes. Continue reading

Cooking with a French Friend in Paris

 

Last summer in Paris, my good friend and talented cook, Marie Claire, told me about a tomato tart she had recently made while on vacation in the South of France. A beloved family recipe, this savory tart was a dish her mother, Suzanne, had prepared for her during her childhood in Provence. My French friend showed me photos of the dish and shared the recipe, but somehow I didn’t get around to trying it. This year, soon after we arrived in the French capital, I wasted little time before asking if she would prepare the tart with me.

To make it, we used purchased puff pastry for the crust, and then sautéed sliced onions and diced tomatoes until softened and well melded. The filling, scented with herbes de Provence and garlic, was spread in the tart shell, then covered with sliced tomatoes and a sprinkling of Gruyère cheese. Continue reading

First Home Cooked Meal in Paris!

Lamb chops, Tomatoes, Chickpeas, and Mint 2 4032x3024Following a brief trip to London, we made our way to Paris and settled in the apartment we rent. After eating out for several days across the Channel, I couldn’t wait to go to the nearby markets and buy the makings for a simple supper. I decided on lamb chops marinated in a spicy mix of harissa, lemon juice, and olive oil along with fresh herbal accents of mint and cilantro. As a garnish for the lamb, I reserved some of this marinade as a dressing for cherry tomatoes and chickpeas.

Harissa, a North African condiment made with hot red peppers, garlic, and spices, is available throughout France. At home in the States, you can find it at few groceries, but your best option might be to order it from Amazon. Although I’ve seen it in jars, I prefer the harissa paste sold in tubes like the one here. Continue reading