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

A Crowd-pleaser Dish—Chicken Schnitzels!

There was no glazed ham, roast leg of lamb, or grilled beef tenderloin at our Easter table this year. Instead Mike, my son and co-chef, and I agreed on an untraditional main course. Chicken cutlets, prepared Wiener schnitzel style, were our choice and turned out to be a big success with our family.

The suggestion was my idea since our clan included two teenagers with picky taste buds. I felt certain they would like the crispy coating on the chicken. Wiener Schnitzel (“Viennese cutlet”) is a classic dish prepared with thin veal slices that are dredged in flour, then dipped in beaten eggs, and coated with bread crumbs before a quick sautéing. For my version, I Continue reading

Spring Weather—No! Spring Cooking—Yes!

Although the calendar declares that spring officially got under way this week, you wouldn’t know it by the weather in New England. Predictions of snow have been the constant refrain of our weather forecasters, and even though our town has received only light snowfalls, it still feels like winter here.

I’ve countered the cold by cooking spring dishes. Although not local yet, bunches of asparagus and fresh peas have been on display in our markets—an inspiration for cooks to transition from one season to the next. One main course that I’ve prepared several times is a risotto studded with slices of asparagus and peas, and topped with sautéed sea scallops. At last count I had made it three times this month for my husband and me!

Risotto requires your undivided attention. Prepared by stirring simmering stock into a Continue reading

What’s Old is New Again So Crepes for Dessert!

A few weeks ago my cooking pal, Barbara Morse, and I gave a class titled The Art of the Crepe. It had been years since either of us had given such a course, but we were betting that there was a new generation of cooks who had never made crepes. Our gamble certainly paid off. Every seat was filled and our students—both young and older—were all enthusiastic about an evening devoted to making light and airy French pancakes.

We included a tip sheet explaining that either a classic French 7-to 8- inch iron crepe pan or a nonstick skillet of similar size would work. A long, metal spatula for turning crepes in the pan, and a quarter-cup measure rounded out our utensil recommendations.

We explained that it’s best to let the batter rest before using, and that when cooking Continue reading

Delicious Lamb Chops for Quick and Easy Weeknight Cooking

When I was growing up, fried chicken, braised pork chops with onions, smothered cubed steaks, meatloaf with mushrooms, and the occasional steak were the staples of my mother’s weeknight repertoire. Lamb never made an appearance at our Southern table. Only later when I spent my junior year of college studying in Paris, did I discover the glories of lamb. I savored it in stews like the springtime lamb Navarin, tasted my first leg of lamb roasted to a perfect rosy hue, and admired stately racks of lamb.

Those memories stayed with me so that lamb, especially chops, are among the essentials of my own weeknight meals. Recently, when a local supermarket had a special on chops I Continue reading

Angelina’s Parisian Hot Chocolate for Valentine

Last month in Paris, I met a friend in the late afternoon for hot chocolate at Angelina’s, one of Paris’ most celebrated tearooms. Even though the line to get into to the famous salon took more than half an hour to pass through, the ethereal rich dark chocolate was definitely worth the wait. This month as Valentine’s Day approaches I’ve decided to reproduce the French hot chocolate stateside.

Served in a small pitcher along with a bowl of whipped cream, this French hot chocolate with its silky texture and intense chocolate flavor has been my favorite for years. I first discovered it on a trip to The City of Light back in the 80s. During that visit, I went to Angelina’s several days in a row to sip cups of the concoction while trying to unearth the recipe. A waitress finally revealed that the drink was made with chocolate bars that were broken into Continue reading

Grilled Pimento Cheese Cocktail Sandwiches for Super Bowl!

The New England Patriots are going to the Super Bowl once again! Against the odds, they pulled out all the stops (or should I say passes and runs!), and beat the Jacksonville Jaguars in the last minutes of the recent play-off game! Whew! My grown son and my teenage grandson will be stunned to learn that their non-athletic Mom and “Mimi” is so up-to-date on their favorite team!

But rather than keeping track of all the stats and plays of the Super Bowl, I look forward to reading about the down-home fare that fans across America savor while rooting for their hometown teams. Chili, ribs, sausages, burgers–just about anything from the grill–anchor many a table, while salads and baked beans (especially here in New England) play supporting positions. Salivating over this roster of good ideas, I want to offer my own.

This year, I called on my Southern heritage to create mini grilled pimento cheese Continue reading

A Delicious French Stew for a Paris Dinner with Friends

A few days ago, we invited two of my husband’s college students, who are brothers, to come for a home-cooked meal while they were in Paris. Then we learned that their parents were also in town, so we quickly extended the invitation. I had already planned the menu, and had chosen a veal stew with tomatoes and white beans to anchor the meal, a dish that could easily serve six.

In the City of Light, I entertain like my French friends, applying the “cook some, buy some” philosophy. I put most of my effort into the main course and sides, and purchase the rest. For openers, I bought two kinds of olives at a neighboring Sunday marché, and from a local Italian deli I purchased freshly made hummus that I garnished with toasted baguette slices and cherry tomatoes. After the main course, cheeses from a fromagerie were served with Medjool dates, clementines, and thin, crisp nut crackers. For the sweet ending, a tray of pastries–lemon tarts, chocolate ganache sablés, sleek hazelnut and chocolate bars, coconut and pineapple domes—from a near-by patisserie completed the menu.

The Provençal-style veal, tomato, and white bean stew, simmered slowly in wine and Continue reading