A Serendipitous Summer Salad Becomes a Favorite

After a long morning of prepping for a cooking class scheduled the following day, my two assistants and I were wondering what to have for lunch. Looking in the fridge we spotted some limes and lemons, a large bunch of cilantro, a couple of ears of corn, and a bag of leftover salad greens. On the kitchen counter we noticed a ripe avocado and a bowl of multi-hued cherry tomatoes. It didn’t take us long to decide we could make a salad with our cache. What we weren’t expecting was for this impromptu creation to be so memorable!

We whisked lime and lemon juices with olive oil for a simple citrus vinaigrette, and for the salad we began by sautéing corn kernels scraped from the cobs. When lightly browned, we combined the golden morsels with halved cherry tomatoes and diced avocado. Since we had only a handful of salad greens, we used a generous amount of torn cilantro sprigs as a substitute. The substantial hit of cilantro’s assertive flavor turned out to be the secret to this salad’s delicious taste.

We piled the salad high on plates and dusted them with some coarsely grated hard-boiled egg. We also added a sprinkle of Mahon cheese, but the latter can be optional. The salad has become such a favorite that we’ve had it three more times for lunch on work days. Now each of us is planning to use it for summer suppers as a side to grilled mains such as chicken, lamb, or shrimp!

 

Glorious Beef Tenderloin with Aioli Anchors a Summer Meal!

This summer one of my most popular cooking classes featured a Provencal menu. Along with a fig and mint pizza, I included a beef tenderloin rubbed with herbes de Provence, that was then roasted and served with homemade aioli, Provence’s celebrated garlic mayo. Haricots verts scented with orange peel and poached summer cherries for dessert rounded out the menu.

The glorious fillet of beef was definitely the winning dish. I discovered that many students, although they loved this cut of meat (which is expensive), were unfamiliar with how to cook it, and were searching for a fail-safe method to prepare it.

Nothing could be simpler than the recipe featured here and in that class. A tenderloin, Continue reading

Summer Tiramisu Instead of Traditional Birthday Cake!

For my husband’s birthday celebration last week, he requested tiramisu instead of a traditional birthday cake. He didn’t have in mind classic tiramisu, the Italian specialty assembled with coffee-flavored ladyfingers and mascarpone. No! He specifically was longing for a delectable summer version he had sampled recently in France.

In Paris last month, at a dinner hosted by our French friends, Brigitte and Guy Bizot, he had discovered Brigitte’s tiramisu d’été, a multi-layered creation prepared with ladyfingers dipped in kirsch and cane syrup (rather than espresso), kirsch-scented mascarpone cream, and juicy strawberries and raspberries. One bite, and he swooned over this glorious dessert that easily serves 10.

At home a few weeks later, I pulled out the French recipe my friend had shared with me, Continue reading

Zucchini and Tomato Gratin- A Delicious Summer Side

When in France, one of my delights is cooking vegetables. With each season the French look forward to the arrival of fresh produce, and always use it imaginatively. Take for example the talented host who served my husband and me a delicious dish of baked veal slices topped with a beautiful asparagus sauce, or the creative restaurant chef who paired roasted eggplant cubes with fresh orange segments and then topped them with thin slices of dried goat cheese.

My own seasonal creations are far simpler since our rented apartment has a small kitchen. Zucchini (courgettes) and tomatoes are bountiful at the near-by fruit and vegetable stands, so I bought both to make a summer gratin.

A tian, a type of Provencal gratin prepared by baking layers of vegetables in a shallow dish Continue reading

A Simple Dessert for a Last- Minute Dinner in Paris

Recently on a Saturday morning young friends in Paris suggested that we get together for dinner that evening at their apartment. They had a toddler and no baby sitter, but wanted to entertain. Together we decided to buy most of the dishes—an easy task in this city that boasts tempting food specialty shops in every neighborhood. I volunteered to bring purchased appetizers and a simple homemade dessert, while our pals chose to oversee the main course. The dinner was not only delicious, but also stress-free.

For openers, my spouse and I arrived with fresh marinated artichokes, thinly sliced herbed ham, stuffed olives, and a slice of pâté. Roast chicken, ratatouille, and a salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, and feta followed. But we lingered longest over the dessert of juicy sliced peaches and plump raspberries served with a bowl of crème fraiche scented with honey and minced ginger. It took less than a half hour to assemble from start to finish, and Continue reading

A Summer Pizza for Lunch in Paris

After arriving in Paris last week, I couldn’t wait to make a foray to the local food markets in our Left Bank neighborhood. I marveled at the produce displayed by the fruit and vegetable vendors. Baskets of strawberries were so ripe that they were red all the way through. Golden apricots were soft when touched and ready for eating. Asparagus—green and white, slender and plump—were also tempting. But the bin that caught my eye was filled with dark, luscious figs. When I squeezed them gently in my hand, they were so tender that I needed real will power not to take a bite.

I bought a bunch, and came home to make a pizza that featured figs as part of the Continue reading

A Parisian Fresh Pea Soup Perfect for Late Spring

When I spotted fresh shelled green peas in two of my local supermarkets recently, I was at once reminded of a pea soup I had sampled in Paris late last spring at Le St. Joseph, a restaurant located on the outskirts of the city, but definitely worth the cab ride. When the creamy, celadon green soup arrived at the table, it was garnished with a fine dice of snowy white feta and with crisp, golden mini- croutons. One sip of this delicious, verdant potage, and I was smitten. I polished off the bowl in less than 5 minutes.

Fast forward a year to those fresh peas nestled among the sugar snaps and snow peas at the grocery. I picked up several packages to create a facsimile of the Parisian original. Sautéed leeks and tarragon make fine partners to the peas, which are simmered for a few minutes in stock, and then pureed. Some half-and- half adds a smooth finishing touch, but it is the simple garnishes that truly distinguish this dish. I sliced a block of feta into fine Continue reading

The Asparagus Season Has Arrived!

The Pioneer Valley where I live in western Massachusetts makes its claim to fame when the asparagus season opens in May. Farmlands, dotting the region’s landscape, yield all manner of crops, but none is more anticipated than asparagus. In fact, our community is so celebrated for its handsome stalks that it is often referred to as Asparagus Valley.

I love to partake in this incredible harvest, so when signs appear in our markets for “native” asparagus, I pick up several bunches to cook every way imaginable. This past week, for example, I pulled out a recipe for asparagus and mushroom tarts that I created several years ago. (A reader of this blog reminded me of the dish recently, saying that it had become a family favorite.)

These tarts take only a short time to assemble since they are prepared with purchased puff Continue reading

Caramel Wins Over Chocolate in this Dessert!

When it comes to dessert chocolate and caramel are two of my favorite flavors. Truth be told, chocolate almost always edges out caramel, but not these past few weeks. Early last month as host of my book club, I included some caramel almond squares as a sweet treat for my fellow readers. The group ate them with abandon, even asking to take extras home for their spouses and partners. Then a few days later, on a rainy night, my husband and I invited out- of-town friends for a last-minute, take-out Mexican supper at our house. I baked the caramel squares again, and once more watched as they and their two sons helped themselves to seconds and even thirds.

Several nights in a row, I found myself headed to our kitchen for a midnight snack that included one of these shortbread bars topped with a mixture of toasted almonds nestled in Continue reading

A Good Book and a Good Crab Dip for Book Club

Earlier this month when it was my turn to host book club, I was at a loss for what to serve. We always have a generous offering of seasonal appetizers and sweets, but this year in New England spring has brought cold temperatures and even snow to us. Finally, I came up with a menu: a hearty and savory Gorgonzola cheesecake garnished with grapes, apple slices, and crisp crackers, plus a creamy fresh crab dip with orange-scented toasts, and caramel almond squares accompanied by a bowl of berries and whipped cream.

The crab dip, my nod to warmer weather, was a big hit with my fellow readers. Its creaminess comes from cream cheese whipped with Parmesan, and then seasoned with spring accents of tarragon and chives, plus a hefty citrus note of orange. Served atop Continue reading