I’ve hosted two meals since arriving in Paris a few weeks ago. The first was a festive New Year’s Eve dinner that included several courses, while the second was a casual soup and salad supper for three millenials in Paris for studies or work. On both occasions, our meal began with a delicious winter salad prepared with frisée, scallops, haricots verts, and bacon lardons–so versatile it fit easily into each of these distinctly different menus.
The recipe is based on Salade Lyonnaise, a celebrated French dish in which bitter greens are combined with bacon lardons, tossed in warm vinaigrette, and then topped with a poached egg. For my version I added blanched haricots verts and sautéed sea scallops to frisée (curly endive), and replaced the egg with a little cream in the vinaigrette. Continue reading
This past week I taught two hands-on classes titled Paris Spring Cooking. The menu included artichoke soup, scallops with asparagus and peas napped with beurre blanc, and as sides a watercress and orange salad, and crispy rice cakes with Comté cheese. By far the technique that interested my students most was that of making the celebrated French sauce known as beurre blanc.
Beurre blanc (or white butter) is one of the simplest of France’s sauces, yet many cooks have never prepared it. It consists of two simple steps. First you add minced shallots, wine, and vinegar to a good sturdy saucepan. Then, cook the mixture until almost all of the liquid has evaporated. For the second step, you whisk in a tablespoon of cream and begin adding small pieces of softened butter while whisking vigorously. The trick is to never let the butter melt completely, but rather keep it at a sauce-like consistency. When all the butter has been incorporated, the sauce can be transferred in its saucepan to a skillet of warm water to keep it from solidifying. Continue reading
This year we’ll be in Paris to ring in 2015, but, rather than dine out in one of the city’s restaurants, we’ll be cooking a meal with our friends, Harriet and Philippe, who live there. Our hosts have decided that after marathon Christmas entertaining, we should follow a simpler philosophy of “buy some, make some” for this special night. And, happily, that’s especially easy to do in France.
Harriet’s local boucher displays gorgeous fowl, completely stuffed and oven ready, which she buys and roasts along with chestnuts and vegetables. Our pals love to purchase oysters, a French tradition at this time of year, and a cache of delectable cheeses. I’ll order a dessert from one of my favorite patisseries, and will volunteer to bring champagne and appetizers. Continue reading
Last week we drove into Boston to take advantage of the city’s annual Dine Out Boston. For this event, many of the town’s best restaurants offer $38 three-course menus. We opted for Zebra’s Bistro in the western suburb of Medfield and were joined by our son and his wife, food lovers par excellence. Wontons stuffed with braised short rib on sriracha cole slaw and crispy falafel garnished with beet yogurt were winning starters. Braised lamb stew with homemade pasta was a delectable main, but my favorite dish of the night was pan-seared trout atop a warm red quinoa salad.
I rarely cook with quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah), but this dish made me a convert. An ancient, nutrient-packed grain that is gluten-free, quinoa comes in varied colors (the most common is beige). My red quinoa salad, prepared with small burgundy-hued grains, was a perfect visual foil for coral-tinted trout, and was the inspiration for the recipe that follows. Continue reading
In Paris, my local cheese store, Quatrehomme, always has an array of savory tarts ready to be sliced and taken home for reheating. Recently, I noticed one made with mild, lovely Cantal cheese topped with sliced tomatoes, another prepared with extra creamy Reblochon cheese and ham, and a new combo of brébis (sheep’s cheese) with smoked ham. A few steps away at La Grande Epicerie, a spinach and fresh salmon torte encrusted in a rich golden pastry shell was equally tempting. All were inspiration for the mushroom and scallop tart I made for lunch a few days ago.
Baking this tart was a breeze because I used plenty of convenience ingredients. For the crust, I bought puff pastry sheets already cut into circles so that all I needed to do was mold one into a tart pan. The cheese store sold grated Gruyère, and it wasn’t a problem to find a box of fresh, sliced mushrooms. On the other side of the Atlantic, puff pastry is sold in most markets, but you will need to cut a sheet to fit your pan. Pre-sliced mushrooms are common too, but you may have to take a few minutes to grate the cheese. Continue reading
About a year ago my book club decided to change its monthly meetings from Sunday afternoons to Thursday evenings. With the change came the suggestion that the usual appetizers and sweets that each host served be replaced with a soup and salad supper. I don’t know whether it was the new time or the menu, but ever since we switched to the current format, attendance has soared!
Goat Cheeses, Figs, and Rosemary Crackers
September is my month to host, and last night I welcomed everyone to my home. Since our book selection was Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz, I planned a menu that I thought would be worthy of this culinary icon.
For openers I arranged French goat cheeses on a wicker tray along with fresh figs. The soupe du jour was a hearty New England scallop and corn chowder garnished with fresh chives from my book Sunday Soup. A salad of heirloom tomatoes and arugula tossed in a sherry vinaigrette was a colorful accompaniment while individual crème brûlées topped with almond and pistachio brittle made a sweet ending.
I returned home from Paris this week with some sound French cooking philosophy. Everyone cooks seasonally there, not only by choice, but often by necessity. Mounds of asparagus, green and white or plump and slim, appear in markets in mid-spring only to completely disappear later in the summer. Deep crimson and incredibly juicy strawberries pop up in June and are available for a few weeks. Even fish have their own cycle. Late last month when I innocently asked a Parisian fishmonger for scallops, he looked at me sternly and announced “C’est fini, Madame!”
However, in New England the latter are in their prime right now. At a local grocery store fresh sea scallops from Cape Cod caught my eye while I was restocking my larder, so I bought a pound along with “native” (translation: homegrown) tomatoes and a bunch of arugula. I added a package of Spanish-style chorizo to my cart and had the makings for a delicious main course salad for our first night home. Continue reading
When in Paris, I make a point of going to small, new bistros, most of which are overseen by young French chefs. I book these tables because nowhere is the food more inventive or reasonably priced. These gifted cooks, who buy fresh seasonal ingredients and pair them in unusual ways, know no boundaries when it comes to creativity. My mouth still waters when I think of a perfectly sautéed cod fillet served on a gratin of potatoes laced with bits of ham and Gruyère that I sampled one cold winter night. At another bistro in mid-summer I savored every bite of that same fish set atop a colorful ratatouille. Succulent slices of roasted rib of beef offered with batons of blanched celery root and a garnish of crisp baby romaine leaves caught my eye and my palate on another visit.
In my kitchen, I often follow the philosophy of these talented cooks, combining seasonal ingredients simply but in unexpected ways. One such dish—Sautéed Scallops and Shaved Brussels Sprouts on Polenta–has become a favorite of my husband, and recently got high marks from two of my discerning (make that very picky!) assistants. Continue reading