A Deep Dark Chocolate Cake for Snowy Valentine

Valentine Dark Chocolate Cake 1My husband joked last week that if you walked though our house you’d find every TV turned to the weather channel and each computer screen set on the weather forecast. We have had so much snow in western Mass that one might mistake our backyard for a scene from Siberia. To counter the chaos outdoors, I’ve made countless runs to the supermarket, loading up on food so I could cook during the storms. The dense, deep dark chocolate cake featured here has been one of my projects since Valentine’s Day is so close at hand.

This classic, flourless cake calls for four primary ingredients—bittersweet chocolate, butter, sugar, and eggs. You need only to melt the chocolate and butter together, stir in the sugar, and finally add the eggs one a time before pouring the batter into a deep sided pan and baking it.To give this traditional cake a little extra embellishment for Cupid’s Day, I cut out a paper heart and centered it on the top before dusting the cake with powdered sugar. A bowl of espresso-scented whipped cream is a tempting garnish.

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A view of our snow-covered back yard!

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A Comforting Soup for a Cold Night

Fennel and White Bean Soup with Prosciutto 1 2448x2448At the end of last week we had planned to meet a good friend at a new bistro in Paris. But the tragic events that unfolded between Wednesday and Friday were so unsettling that we all agreed a casual dinner at home was a better idea. When I suggested that we gather for a simple soup and salad supper at our small apartment, our pal was on board immediately and offered to bring dessert.

For the main course, I had in mind a rustic soup prepared by sautéing chopped fennel, onion, and carrots and then simmering those vegetables along with white beans in stock. Short on time, I opted for canned beans, rinsing and draining them well before stirring them into the pot, and was delighted with the results. For extra flavor some chopped fresh rosemary and dry white wine balanced the flavors nicely, while crispy julienned prosciutto and golden homemade croutons made fine garnishes. Continue reading

Baking on a Snowy Day

Oatmeal Tuiles 2Looking out my kitchen window, I once again see snow cascading from the skies. Although the fields behind our house take on a fairy tale glow as the snow blankets them, I am weary of staying in during yet another winter storm. (I’ve lost track of how many we’ve had this year!)

What I do during these blizzards is cook. I’ve made countless soups. Chicken and black bean chili, a thick tomato soup topped with Parmesan cream, and spicy Indian lentil and butternut squash soup helped me ride out previous storms. This week I’ve turned to baking, and pulled out a favorite recipe for extra-thin, extra crispy oatmeal cookies. I was reminded recently of this recipe, which I first made and wrote about two decades ago. A food editor from a Honolulu newspaper wrote to tell me she was running it in the food section of a local paper at the request of one of her readers. Continue reading

Duck for Dinner—Easy, Delicious, and Inexpensive

Roasted Duck Legs with Parsnip Puree 3Last fall at the supermarket, I was debating whether to buy some individually packaged duck legs with thighs when a friend passed by and picked up several packets. “Have you tried these?” I asked. To which she quickly replied that were they not only delicious, but also a terrific bargain at around $3 per serving. Since my husband never met a duck dish he didn’t like, I added a couple to my cart.

Uncertain how I’d prepare this purchase, I remembered on the way home a fabulous duck entrée I’d ordered in a Paris bistro several years back. It featured a duck breast that was quickly sautéed and sauced, then served atop a creamy parsnip puree. Duck legs, I reasoned, could be easily substituted, but would need a longer cooking time. Continue reading

Piping Hot Onion Soup Counters Freezing Temperatures

Onion Soup Gratinee 1After three blissful weeks in Paris where the thermometer rarely registered out of the 40s, we returned to blizzard conditions in New England and temperatures so cold (try minus 5 as a low and 12 as a high) that we haven’t ventured far from the warmth of our home. Although the Artic blast has prevented us from walking for exercise, it hasn’t diminished our appetites. In fact, the weather has made us ravenous, especially for comfort food.

On my first trip to the grocery, I picked up all the makings for the ultimate cold weather dish—soupe à l’oignon gratinée. This particular recipe, the pièce de résistance of a recent cooking class called Midnight in Paris, is based loosely on the first onion soup I ever made from Julia’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume I. The main difference is that I suggest using a quickly made short-cut beef stock, or, when rushed, opting for quality purchased stock. Continue reading

A Stay At Home Lunch in Paris

Scallop and Mushroom Tart 2In 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

Cooking Like A French Chef- Bien Sûr!

Sauteed Scallops and Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Polenta 1When 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

A Simple Yet Delicious Winter Soup – Good for Post-Holiday Decompression!

It’s been gray and rainy in Paris for days, so what could be better to counter the overcast skies than bowls of a warm, homemade potage. At the marché this week, I picked up a beautiful cauliflower, some root vegetables, a packet of grated Gruyère, and some hazelnuts—the makings for a soup I had prepared to begin my family’s Christmas dinner just a few week ago. This time, I carefully omitted the cream I had used so liberally in that earlier version, and instead reached for a bottle of reduced fat milk.

In the tiny kitchen of the apartment we rent, I made the soup as I had before, sautéing chopped leeks, carrots, celery, and cauliflower florets in olive oil, then simmering this vegetable mélange until tender in stock. Next the soup was pureed and enriched with milk. And, guess what! The quartet of vegetables provided so much flavor that I didn’t miss the taste (or the calories) of the cream at all. As finishing touches, a small sprinkle of Gruyère, a few coarsely chopped hazelnuts, and some snipped chives made fine garnishes, adding both color and texture. Continue reading

Roasted Red Onion and White Cheddar Tart

Ever since I’ve been a food writer (for several decades now), I’ve kept a file of recipes that serve as inspiration for my own creations. The folder is filled with newspaper and magazine clippings, and with hand-written or copied recipes friends have shared.

Several weeks ago I spotted a recipe in this cache for a gratin of red onions. Cooked slowly in the oven with garlic, thyme, and white wine, they were then covered with crème fraîche and cheese. The concept of this dish became the starting point for the roasted red onion tart featured here. Continue reading

Super Bowl Chili

Whether for Super Bowl bashes or casual, cold-weather suppers, the chili recipe that follows is perfect for such gatherings. Ground beef, onions, carrots, and garlic are sautéed, then simmered in stock along with tomatoes and traditional seasonings of chili powder, cumin, and oregano. Chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce add a hint of smoke and heat, while black beans replace the usual red ones. This dish improves in flavor when made a day or two in advance, and yields 8 generous bowlfuls. Continue reading