A Perfect Cake for All Summer Long

Recently on a favorite French website, I spotted a recipe for a sponge cake scented with ground hazelnuts, and served with strawberries and mascarpone whipped cream. Since local strawberries are omnipresent right now in markets and farmers’ stands in our New England town, I was anxious to try this dessert on my side of the Atlantic.

French recipes are typically abbreviated and often assume that cooks know basic culinary  techniques, so I read up on sponge cakes. Prepared with a minimum of ingredients (usually eggs, sugar, and flour plus seasonings), they can still be challenging to make. The eggs need to be at room temperature for best results, and then are separated. The yolks along with sugar need to be beaten for several minutes until pale yellow and thickened, and the whites should be whipped just until firm and glossy, and stiff enough to form straight peaks when a beater is lifted from them. The whites are what make sponge cakes rise, so most recipes suggest not greasing the baking pan to ease the batter’s rise up its sides.

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A Favorite Asparagus Soup to Welcome the Asparagus Season!

Hadley, Massachusetts, near my home in Amherst, proudly claims to be the Asparagus Capital of the U.S. In late May this little town has its moment of fame when the farmers bring their crops to groceries and outdoor markets, and the locals grab bundles and head for their kitchens. This annual asparagus harvest has inspired me for more than twenty years to create dishes featuring these beautiful spears.

I spotted this year’s first bunches  a few weeks ago in a nearby market, and promptly put several in my cart. At home I pulled out a recipe I had created a decade ago for a silken smooth asparagus soup. This potage takes only minutes to assemble and is made with sliced asparagus that are sautéed with chopped leeks, and then simmered in stock until tender. After this mélange is pureed, swirls of crème fraîche scented with lemon are stirred in. Chopped chives, toasted bread crumbs, and small dollops of that distinctive lemon-scented crème fraîche make simple but delicious garnishes.

Like most soups, this one can be prepared ahead, so you will need only to reheat it and add the finishing touches at serving time. Offer this soup for a light lunch of supper with a salad (I love a mix of torn romaine, mint, and diced ricotta salata) or with grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch or a light supper. Or use it as an opener for a dinner. Of course, if you are lucky enough to live in the Pioneer Valley in western Massachusetts, make it with Hadley spears!

 

The Quintessential Greek Salad—Always a Winner

Although I’ve seen many versions of Greek salad on menus in the States, it wasn’t until recently when my husband and I traveled to Greece for the first time that I saw how truly versatile this dish could be. On this side of the Atlantic, this popular salad typically includes a mound of mixed greens tossed with cucumbers, tomatoes, and olives, all drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice or other dressings, then sprinkled with crumbled feta. In Athens, and while visiting the islands of Syros and Mykonos in the Aegean, I saw other variations.

At a taverna in Athens, the chef combined the requisite trio of cucumbers, tomatoes, and olives with sliced red onions, then garnished this mélange with Continue reading

Perfect Little Appetizers to Welcome Spring

At our house spring  begins when we open the large sun porch located on the southern side of our home. Although spring arrived officially back in March, we only recently felt that the weather was warm enough to spend time in this special room which opens on three sides to the outdoors. We’ve been entertaining al fresco there by inviting friends to come for wine and appetizers. For last minute nibbles I’ve set out ramekins filled with Castelvetrano olives, mixed roasted nuts, sliced figs, or cubes of aged Gouda cheese. However, when I have more time, I love to make starters like the Bruschette with Goat Cheese, Prosciuto, and Figs that are featured here today.

Simple to assemble, these savory treats are satisfying, but still light enough to enjoy before a meal. They are prepared with toasted baguette slices that are spread with creamy goat cheese, covered with prosciutto, and then topped with fresh sliced figs. Drizzles of balsamic vinegar and honey add tart and sweet notes to these hors d’oeuvres, while julienned fresh mint provides an herbal accent.

A single recipe yields 12 servings, but you can easily double it for a larger group. I think these bruschette taste particularly good with a chilled rosé or pinot grigio. Cheers to spring!

 

 

 

French Apple Tartlets: Perfect Anytime of the Day

As a longtime fan of La Grande Épicerie, one of Paris’s most celebrated gourmet groceries (it’s part of Le Bon Marché department store), I follow this French food market on Instagram. There’s always something interesting posted—their cooks do quick demos, their buyers talk about the new products that have arrived, and occasionally recipes are featured. Several months ago I was intrigued by a dessert called Apple Flower Tartlets. They were prepared with puff Continue reading

A Perfect Spring Frittata for Easter Brunch

If you are celebrating Easter and looking for recipes for brunch, this frittata could easily be the centerpiece of a morning or midday menu. Prepared with a classic mixture of eggs beaten with milk, this one gets an unexpected addition of creamy burrata torn into chunks, plus some grated Parmigiano. 

The secret to a good frittata is not to overcook the eggs. You’ll Continue reading

Brownie Fudge Pie with Bailey’s Whipped Cream for St Patrick’s Day

Looking through some old files on my computer a few weeks ago, I spotted a recipe for Brownie Fudge Pie with Bailey’s Whipped Cream that I created back in 2010. Although I hadn’t looked at the recipe since then, with St Patrick’s Day only a few days away, I decided to showcase this dessert again. It will be the star of a cooking demo I’m doing for “Mass Appeal,” a local midday show aired on our NBC affiliate.  And, I’m including it here on Continue reading

Delicious Risotto from a Left Bank Restaurant in Paris

Our granddaughter, Edie, a college junior, arrived in Paris in early January to spend a semester in the city. She is the third generation of our clan to study in the City of Light. My husband Ron and I spent a whole year there on a junior year abroad program several decades ago, and her mom traveled to France’s capital for a semester abroad in the 1990s. All of us plus her dad (a true Francophile) couldn’t wait to see Edie during a short visit last month. All foodies, we were excited about having dinner the first night at L’Affable, a charming restaurant in the 7th arrondissement recommended by a good friend. We were not disappointed! Small, warm, and inviting, the restaurant offered a creative menu and an excellent wine list. Among the delicious dishes we sampled one stood out in particular–risotto with celery root, hazelnuts, and Tomme de Continue reading

Pan Seared Flank Steak with a Delicious Winter Relish

Slowly simmered chicken and wild mushroom ragout served with polenta. Merguez lamb sausages paired with couscous and a bowl of vegetables simmered in homemade broth. Cassoulet (an abbreviated 2-hour version). Those are just some of the robust and time-consuming dishes I’ve been cooking during the cold snowy weather we’ve been experiencing here in New England. Although I love these hearty entrees, I was searching for a lighter and quicker main course when I spotted a recipe for pan seared flank steak with a caper and walnut relish. I loved the idea of juicy strips of rosy-pink steak topped Continue reading

Kirsten Bell’s One Potato Two Potato Winter Hash

When my good friend and talented assistant, Emily Bell, sent me a photo of a beautiful Yukon Gold and sweet potato hash with red bell peppers, onions, and baby spinach, I knew I wanted to make it, so quickly asked for the recipe. Emily’s daughter, Kirsten Bell, created the dish as a side to scrambled eggs and bacon for a Christmas brunch, but I wanted to serve it as a light main course for a post-holiday supper or lunch.

As its name implies this hash includes two types of potatoes–Yukon Golds as well as sweet potatoes The latter along with bits of red bell pepper and baby spinach leaves form a striking mosaic of colors in the finished dish. For seasonings, cumin and smoked paprika provide warming spicy accents.

Served on a platter or in individual gratin dishes, this vegetable mélange can be presented unadorned, but it’s even better when garnished. I opted for a sprinkle of crumbled goat cheese, but a fried or poached egg, grilled or sautéed cod or other fish fillets, or pan-seared chicken breasts would also pair well with this hash.

Except for the spinach you can cook all the vegetables a day ahead. At serving time you’ll only need to reheat them and stir in the baby spinach leaves. Serve the hash on a large platter or in individual gratins, offer it as a main course as a side. Either way it’s a winner!