Spring Salad with a Delicious Za’atar Dressing

Spring Greeens with Za'tar Dressing 1 4032x3024Za’atar refers to a plant whose leaves have been used in cooking since ancient times in the Middle East, but it is also the name for a very popular spice mix used throughout that part of the world. A fragrant blend of dried herbs, often including thyme and oregano, as well as sesame seeds and sumac (a spice with a tangy lemon taste made from ground berries), za’atar adds a robust flavor to many dishes. Rub it on grilled meats or chicken, or sprinkle it over yogurt or hummus. Or use it in a delicious dressing for a spring salad like the one that my friend Joy Howard created.

I first spotted this dressing on Joy’s Instagram feed, and immediately wanted to try it. Instead of using dried herbs she chops fresh thyme and oregano, then combines them with sumac, sesame seeds, and garlic. Mixed with lemon juice and olive oil, the za’atar quickly becomes a dressing. For this salad, soft, tender greens work best. You toss them Continue reading

A Delicious Pizza for Warming Spring Days

This week in the supermarket, I had a eureka moment while standing in front of a display of sleek, slim bundles of asparagus. Why not turn the tempting spears into a topping for pizza instead of using them as a side dish or tossing them with strands of cooked pasta– my usual methods of cooking this spring vegetable.

Within minutes, I had a plan. At the cheese counter I chose a piece of Taleggio, a soft creamy Italian cheese that melts beautifully. A package of those sweet little cippolini onions beckoned as well, especially since they were being sold peeled. To round out the toppings, I decided on brown (cremini) mushrooms. Continue reading

What’s a Cook to Serve in Unpredictable Weather

Spring is officially underway, but New England hasn’t gotten the memo. Temperatures here recently climbed to 70, accompanied by clear, blue skies, and then fell suddenly to the 20s with a daylong snowfall. Each morning this week I’ve checked the weather even before my texts and email (a first!), debating what to wear. And, of course, I wonder what to cook! For a small dinner we hosted for out-of- town friends this weekend, I spent as much time planning the menu as preparing it. In the end the night’s dishes reflected this transitional time of year, satisfying yearnings for both cold and warm weather fare.

Our opener—gnocchi alla romana with roasted asparagus–was a good example.
The gnocchi, assembled Roman style with farina rather than potatoes, are enriched with Parmesan and butter, cut into rounds, and then baked. Served piping hot atop bundles of asparagus, they seemed to welcome spring and acknowledge winter at the same time. Continue reading

Voting for Spatchcocked Roast Chicken for Easter Dinner

My son loves to host our family’s Easter dinner, but he waits until only days before to decide on the menu. Typically, he calls, pondering choices, aloud with me on the phone. Our conversation this year went like this. Should he serve traditional leg of lamb–no, he exclaims the kids (the 11 and 13 year old) and his wife are not big fans! Baked ham–scratch that since we had it last year! Roast beef tenderloin–oops that was our Christmas main course. Finally, I offer a suggestion. What about spatchcocked roast chicken? After a long pause, he requests the recipe!

Earlier this month I taught a cooking class in which students learned to master the simple technique of spatchcocking a whole chicken. You remove the backbone with a pair of kitchen shears and then open the chicken out like a book and press down on the breast to flatten it. Prepared this way, the chicken cooks more quickly and evenly, a big advantage on a day like Easter Sunday. Continue reading

When the Side Dish is the Star

Broccoli Potato Puree from Paris 1 3718x2885When I am eating out, iIt’s not often that I pay more attention to a side dish than to the main course or dessert. But, during our last week in Paris this January that is exactly what happened. At the left bank Café Varenne on rue du Bac, I ordered a roasted bass with a broccoli and potato puree. It was the fish on the menu that had sounded so delicious, but it was the simple vegetable garnish that grabbed my attention.

The light green puree flecked with bits of verdant broccoli was smooth, light, and perfectly seasoned. When our waiter passed by later, I didn’t waste time asking him how it was prepared. He explained that both cooked yellow-fleshed potatoes and broccoli florets were puréed, and then enriched with a modest amount (for the French!) of crème fraîche and butter. Très facile, I thought! Continue reading

Soup and Salad for a Literary Lunch

Last weekend Amherst College hosted a debut literary festival, called LitFest, and invited a roster of notable authors to speak to the college and the community. Lauren Groff, author of Fates and Furies and Angela Flournoy, who wrote Turner House, both 2015 National Book Awards finalists in fiction, discussed how they crafted their books. Stacy Schiff, Putlizer prize- winner, and author most recently of The Witches, and Mark Bowden, who wrote Black Hawk Down, shared their experiences writing nonfiction. Since Stacy was a good friend, we invited her for a quick Saturday lunch during the festival.

I knew the meal had to be simple and made in advance, so I chose a soup and salad menu. As the centerpiece I decided on a cream of celery root soup paired with an arugula salad with lemon and shallot dressing. A dark chocolate hazelnut torte ended our lunch.

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Popcorn Possibilities for Oscar Night!

Oscar Popcorn 1For as long as I can remember (since I was 9 and was allowed to stay up past my bedtime!), I’ve been in front of the television on Oscar night!. And when the 88th Academy Awards Show gets underway this Sunday, I plan to continue the tradition. From the red-carpet segment to the sign-off several hours later, I’ll be glued to the screen and cheering for my favorites. Even though critics seem to be favoring “The Revenant,” either “Spotlight” or “The Big Short” are my choices for best picture.

No Oscar night would be complete without popcorn. Can you imagine watching the awards without a bowl of America’s favorite movie food at your side? If you want to get creative with those popped kernels, here are a few easy and tempting ways to season them.

  1. Melted unsalted butter, finely grated Parmesan, and sea salt
  2. Melted unsalted butter, sea salt, and coarsely ground black pepper
  3. Olive oil, crushed dried rosemary, and sea salt
  4. Truffle oil (this is a slight extravagance, but so good!) and sea salt

Use as much or as little of the ingredients as you like, tossing the popcorn until you are pleased with the balance of flavors.

If you want a printable ballot to compare your choices to the Academy’s you’ll find one here.

 

 

 

 

A Good Book and Some Warming Food

It was a freezing 9 degrees! and snowy when I hosted my book club this week. Undaunted by the weather, our group, almost unrecognizable dressed in their winter gear, arrived on time. I had ready warm tea, steaming espresso, and a small spread of treats to help defrost them!

A basket of paper-thin oatmeal crisps, a plate of cashew brownies (from my Valentine post last week), and a bowl of fresh pineapples and blueberries were set out. However, it was the grilled cheese tartines that were everyone’s favorite. Continue reading

Chocolate Indulgence for Valentine!

Chocolate Cashew Brownies 1 3744x2978When it comes to food, Valentine’s day might just be my favorite holiday, for, like countless other gourmands, I am a bona fide chocoholic. I keep extra dark chocolate bars in my cupboards, breaking off squares for a “fix” after weeknight meals. My eye zeroes in on the word “chocolate” on any dessert menu. And, for my latest book, Soup Nights, over a third of the recipes in the desert chapter are prepared with some type of chocolate.

One such dessert, Chocolate Cashew Brownies with Chocolate Crème Fraîche Glaze, is what I am making for Valentine this year. Rich and decadent, these confections are prepared with semisweet chocolate, plenty of butter, and a touch of crème fraîche. And, in place of more traditional nuts (think almonds, pecans, walnuts), these call for cashews. The recipe is my version of one for French brownies that I spotted in France a few years ago. Continue reading

Roasted Cod with Belgian Endives Inspired by a Paris Restaurant

Roasted Cod and Belgian Endive 3 3630x2787Last month in Paris, I booked dinner at Semilla, a favorite Left Bank restaurant of mine. Every dish my husband and I sampled that night was beautifully prepared, but the one that stayed in my mind for days afterward was the roasted cod and Belgian endives.

The dish included fresh turmeric as well as seeds from passion fruit, neither of which was available in my local groceries. So, I made a few adjustments, using ground turmeric as a rub for the fish and replacing the passion fruit with lemon juice. Although not identical, this stateside version rivaled the French one in freshness and in taste. My husband, who is not a fan of pan-roasted fish, actually stopped between mouthfuls to declare the dish a winner. Continue reading