Scalloped potatoes or au gratin potatoes! Who doesn’t like those dishes! Rich and indulgent, both of these potato casseroles are prepared with layers of sliced potatoes baked with cream and/or milk. (They differ only in that the au gratin variety typically has an addition of cheese.) It’s hard to improve on either of these favorites, but recently I spotted a recipe for a French version with a new twist. Lamb chops were set atop a pan of layered potatoes during their last few minutes in the oven. The meat cooked to a rosy hue as the potatoes baked to a golden tenderness.
In that French creation the potatoes were baked with stock and herbs, but with no milk, cream, or cheese. In my mind, I saw the pommes de terre cooked more traditionally with the irresistible trio of dairy ingredients. It took several tries to balance the amount of milk and Continue reading
Coconut Raspberry Parfaits
Fresh Pea Soup with Feta, Tarragon, and Croutons
Whipped Feta with Dill and Garnishes
Grilled Aspargus Sprinkled with Parmesan and Lemon Zest
A tray of Coconut Raspberry Parfaits
Discussing The Library Book
Discussing The Library Book
The members of my book club love food as much as they do books. So, when it’s my turn to host the group, I spend a little extra time preparing dishes for sampling during the “very important social hour” that precedes our literary discussion. Yesterday, everyone arrived at my house on a glorious spring day (one of a handful so far this season). I had set out a seasonal spread, including a pot of fresh green pea soup with diced feta and tarragon as garnishes, a platter of grilled asparagus spears with a mayonnaise sauce, plus whipped feta with dill surrounded by toasted baguette slices, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers. For a sweet ending there were coconut and raspberry parfaits. True to form, the readers ate with gusto, leaving few leftovers!
Most of the dishes I prepared were favorites I have cooked before, but the coconut and Continue reading
For the past few weeks spring has gradually been making its presence known here in New England. Temperatures reached into the sixties last Saturday, warm enough for us to open our porch. The grass in our yard, blanketed with snow for months, now has a faint verdant hue. And, of course, daylight savings time is offering us longer, light-filled days. All of this has made me eager to change from cold to warm weather cooking.
Recently I couldn’t wait to try a recipe for lemon and garlic grilled flank steak topped with dollops of whipped feta. The dish was a perfect anchor for a simple weeknight meal my husband and I shared. The meat is marinated in a classic mixture of lemon, garlic, and olive oil, but gets a robust herbal accent from a generous amount of fresh chopped dill. When sliced, the rosy pink strips of steak are topped with mounds of creamy whipped Continue reading
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
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
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
Last Saturday when I arrived at my local farmers’ market in our small New England town, the crop that captured my attention was rhubarb. Resting regally on a folding table at one of my favorite stands were bundles of deep red and pale green stalks. I quickly picked up three bunches, knowing that the following week I needed rhubarb for a dessert in one of my cooking classes.
Although typically treated as a fruit, rhubarb is actually a plant with a tartness that requires a complement of sugar. The dessert I had planned was a warm rhubarb and strawberry crumble (which calls for both white and brown sugars); it takes only 20 minutes to assemble and then about half an hour in the oven. For the filling sliced rhubarb and strawberries are dusted with sugar and aromatic spices including cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg. A traditional topping of flour, oats, brown sugar, and nuts (I used sliced almonds) Continue reading
Last month while in London on spring break, my husband and I opted for a quick lunch one day at one of the many Prêt à Manger fast food restaurants located throughout the city. After a few bites of a simple but unusual salad, I pulled out my phone and starting taking photos. My spouse looked on, surprised that I was snapping shots in this popular eatery, not exactly a foodie destination.
The dish that caught my eye was a salad prepared with edamame, peas, and diced avocado tossed with cilantro sprigs and dressed in a spicy sesame dressing. The taste was light yet satisfying, and the varied verdant hues of the ingredients gave the dish visual heft.
Back home, I devoted a morning to trying to reproduce the recipe and came up with a close facsimile. The sesame dressing assembled with both rice vinegar and lemon juice for tart notes, gets some heat from red pepper flakes and a hit of saltiness from soy sauce.
Three cups of loosely packed cilantro sprigs replace lettuce greens in this dish, and can be cleaned several hours ahead and refrigerated.
Pair this spring green salad with grilled chicken or lamb, roasted salmon fillets, or pan-seared scallops for dinner or serve it with soup for a light lunch or supper.
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
Far more than in the past, I find myself considering my friends’ eating habits when we entertain. Are you gluten-free? Do you eat sugar? Are you vegetarian? are questions I ask routinely. And the most resounding “ yes” I hear is to the last of these. Always deferential, my vegetable-loving pals respond that they don’t expect a special meal, that they’ll be fine enjoying salad and side dishes at dinner. But what fun is that for them! It’s like being invited to the theatre, and saying I’ll be okay seeing only the 2nd and 3rd acts. So, I am always searching for delicious vegetarian main courses to share with my expanding circle of discriminating guests.
Rice with peas, fresh mint, and Pecorino will not disappoint. Here is a beautiful spring entrée prepared with easy- to-find ingredients that is uncomplicated to assemble. You start by making a quick “pea pesto” pureeing peas (fresh or frozen) with pine nuts, mint, and Pecorino.The intensely flavored mixture is then tossed with warm cooked rice. Continue reading