Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Simple And Elegant Mid -Week Dinner Party

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There are ocassions when you have to entertain an out of town business associate or personal friend for dinner and the only time available is the middle of the week.  A lot of us work and the time we have available to put together a nice dinner party is during the weekend but circumstances arise and we just have to work around it.  In a way, entertaining during the week is easier for not as much is expected of you and these parties tend to be a little more casual and more relaxed than those we have on a Saturday night.  It also makes for an early evening since some of your guests will have to get up early to go to work. 

With a little planning and some creativity, you can pull off an evening like this with great success. Plan to make something you have cooked before, this is not a time to experiment, and make it easy on yourself by buying the dessert or the hors' d'oeuvres so you only have a couple of recipes to worry about.

You can set the table and make the main dish the night before and if you have had plenty of notice, even the weekend before.  I find winter and fall to be perfect times to entertain during the week.  There are so many hearty entrees that you can make ahead either the day before or on the weekend and freeze.

 Here's an elegant no hassle menu I often used when I lived in the city:

Green Salad

Fresh Baguette

Fresh Pears served with Crackers, Stilton and Port

Coffee, Verveine

The truffles can be made the week before or bought. Make sure you buy very good  pears, they are the stars of the dessert course.  If you can't find, go with something else.

Wine:  Burgundy or Cotes du Rhone

Photo: Southern Accents

Friday, February 26, 2010

Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguinon Simplified

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This is one of Julia Child's most popular recipes and the one everyone complains about.  "So many pots and pans, my kitchen was a mess!" is the one I hear most often. I have made it so many times over the years that I no longer have to look at the directions, just the ingredients.  And here lies the trick.  There are a lot of steps you can cut out without sacrificing the dish by simply modifying her directions somewhat and using the same pan to saute some of the ingredients.  You will note that my directions only involve two pans, and frankly, if pressed, I could even make it in one pan by sauteeing the mushrooms first and setting them aside before I cook the bacon.

I know this is easy for those of us who have been cooking for a long time, but it just goes to show you that with time and experience, you gain confidence and cooking becomes much simpler and enjoyable .

Keep this recipe in mind as part of a casual yet elegant dinner party.

Servings: Serves 6

You will need:

9- to 10-inch, fireproof casserole dish , 3 inches deep*
Slotted spoon


6 ounces bacon

1 Tbsp. olive oil or cooking oil

3 pounds lean stewing beef such as sirloin or chuck, cut into 2-inch cubes

1 sliced carrot

1 sliced onion

1 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

2 Tbsp. flour

3 cups full-bodied, young red wine , such as a Chianti

2 to 3 cups brown beef stock or canned beef bouillon

1 Tbsp. tomato paste

2 cloves mashed garlic

1/2 tsp. thyme

Crumbled bay leaf

18 to 24 small white onions , frozen

1 pound quartered fresh mushrooms

3 TB butter

1/2 cup cognac

Parsley sprigs


Cut bacon into lardons (sticks, 1/4 inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long). Simmer  bacon for 10 minutes in 1 1/2 quarts of water. Drain and dry.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Sauté the bacon in the oil over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon. Set casserole aside. Reheat until fat is almost smoking before you sauté the beef.

Dry the stewing beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Sauté it, a few pieces at a time, in the hot oil and bacon fat until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the bacon.

In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the sautéing fat.

Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with the salt and pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly with the flour. Set casserole uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and return to oven for 4 minutes more. (This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust.) Remove casserole, and turn oven down to 325 degrees.

Stir in the wine, and enough stock or bouillon so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, and herbs. Bring to simmer on top of the stove. Then cover the casserole and set in lower third of preheated oven. Regulate heat so liquid simmers very slowly for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

Remove casserole from the oven and set on top of the stove.  Add the frozen onions.  Saute the mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of butter for 10 minutes until lightly browned.  Add the cognac and ignite.  When the flames dies down add the mushrooms (with the butter) and cognac to the stew.  Bring the stew to a boil on top of the stove, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.    Remove the bay leaf. Let the casserole rest for at least 2hrs.

For immediate serving: Cover the casserole and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times. Serve in its casserole, or arrange the stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles, or rice, and decorated with parsley.

For later serving: When cold, cover and refrigerate. About 15 to 20 minutes before serving, bring to the simmer, cover, and simmer very slowly for 10 minutes, occasionally basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce.

Accompany with Buttered Noodles or Spaetzel:  Cook noodles or spaetzel  in boiling water according to directions.  Add butter, stir ,and add 1-2 TB sour cream, dill, salt and pepper

*I use my Le Creuset enameled (orange) cast iron French oven

Photo Credit Saveurs du Monde
Recipe adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child et al

Boeuf Bourguignon on Foodista

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

This Weekend's Family Dinner - The Perfect Roast Chicken!

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This weekend's family dinner is roast chicken with new potatoes and carrots.  It's a one dish meal so cleaning up is a breeze.  I am also enclosing the post on How To Carve A Chicken the way it's done at Daniel, the famous restaurant in New York City.

Menu 2/23/10

Roast Chicken With Herbes de Provence Garlic & Lemon
Roasted New Potatoes and Carrots
Brownies with Coffee Ice Cream

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Tagliatelle With Ragu Bolognese, Ricetta Antica

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Everyone traveling to Bologna, in Emilia Romagna, is bound to eat ragù Bolognese, ricetta tradizionale and/or ricetta antica. Served with fresh tagliatelle, particularly spinach tagliatelle, it is the precursor to meat sauce as we know it, and still the main Sunday staple at a Bolognese Sunday meal. The ricetta antica, an old recipe, has milk added, while the sauce simmers, to give it additional richness and velvety texture. Today, it is mostly the tradizionale, without milk, that is cooked in Bologna. I prefer the antica, where the milk solids help break down the meat, allowing it to have a smoother, creamier texture and it is the one you will see in this post.

Garlic is not a typical ingredient, although both Mario Battali and Lidia Bastianich use it in their recipes.  I only use one clove mashed to flavor the oil.  The basil is definitely my idea and you can omit if you prefer.  I had a lovely bunch lying around that I didn't want to see go to waste.  The color of the wine is also a contested ingredient.  I typically use a red Tuscan since it is what I am going to drink with the meal but if you prefer white, go with it.  As to the tomatoes, here it is important to use good quality.  I buy  Cento San Marzano D.O.P. Certified. They are by far the best.

Another thing about ragu bolognese is the use of two different types of meat.  I typically use beef and pork but beef and veal is also a nice combination.  As with a lot of traditional dishes, you will be hard pressed to find two people who agree on one recipe for Ragu Bolognese.  The one constant is the use of onions, celery and carrots so make sure you don't skip that!  Check out Marcella Hazan's recipe in the country blog.

If there are only two of you, this quantity will be enough for two hefty servings of Tagliatelli alla Bolognese, with enough left for lasagna later on in the week. You can also double this recipe and freeze for a later use.

Printable Recipe

Servings 6-8


3 TB extra-virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic mashed

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 stalk celery, leaves included,  finely chopped

2 laurel leaves

1 carrot, scraped and finely chopped

1 pound ground beef

1 pound ground pork

1/4 pound pancetta, minced

1/2 cup milk

1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, crushed by hand, with the juices

1 TB tomato paste

1/2 cup dry red wine (you can sub white)

Salt and pepper

2 TB chopped basil (optional)

2 lbs tagliatelle (for 8 people)

Parmiggiano, Reggiano


In a 6 to 8-quart, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the olive oil  over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, carrot, laurel and garlic and sweat over medium heat until vegetables are translucent. Add  pork, beef, and pancetta to the vegetables, brown over high heat, stirring to keep meat from sticking together for about 15 to 20 minutes. Add the milk and simmer until almost dry, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and simmer 15 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, until flavors are developed. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and remove from the heat.  Add the chopped basil if using at the last minute, stir and serve.The longer you cook it the better it is. Let it rest while you cook the tagliatelle.

Cook the tagliatelle in plenty of boiling, salted, water for about 10 minutes.  When it's done, drain and add to the sauce.  Mix and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmiggiano Reggiano.

Ragu Bolognese on Foodista

Friday, February 19, 2010

Chicken Fricassee With Morels And Vin Jaune

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If  there is someone in this life whom I would  love to exchange places it would definitely have to be Patricia Wells.  A well recognized author, restaurant critic and teacher since the late 1970s, Patricia Wells  won the James Beard Award for Best International Cookbook for At Home In Provence published in  1996. Wells is the only American and the only woman to be a restaurant critic for a major French publication, L'Express (1988–1991). She was also a restaurant critic for the International Herald Tribune from 1980 until 2007.  She is married to Walter Wells, former editor in chief of the IHT and divides her time between Paris and Provence where she runs a wonderful cooking school. They have lived in France for the last 30 years.

photo Steven Rothfeld

Granted, Patricia Wells doesn't have the fame or the empire that Martha has created but as to quality of life...I wouldn't think for a minute!! Can you imagine getting up in the morning and having to review yet another Paris bistro, brasserie or gastronomic temple?! Or being best friends with Pierre Gagnaire and  Joel Robouchon whose cuisine and cookbook she introduced in the United States? tant pis!

I know I have been writing a lot about chicken lately but somehow the cold weather and chicken seem to go hand in hand.  I've been thinking about morels a lot also...more on them in another post.

Photo Google

About Vin Jaune

Vin jaune (French for "yellow wine") is a special and characteristic type of white wine made in the Jura wine region in eastern France. It is similar to dry fino Sherry and gets its character from being matured in a barrel under a film of yeast, known as the voile, on the wine's surface. Vin jaune shares many similarities with Sherry, including some aromas, but unlike Sherry, it is not a fortified wine. The wine is made from the Savagnin grape and is usually served after diner with a good cheese, such as a Comte. Château Chalon is the oldest and most famous of the 6 Jura AOCs.

You will not find a wide selection in the US as the wine is not as popular here as it is in France.  If you live in a major metropolitan area do try to find it.   Sherry-Lehman in NYC carries it and you can order online. Dry sherry is a good substitute and it's what I used here at the lake

Cook Time:45 min
Yield: 4 servings


2 cups (2 ounces) dried morel mushrooms

1 fresh farm chicken (3 to 4 pounds), cut into 8 serving pieces, at room temperature

Fine sea salt

Freshly ground white pepper

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 shallots, peeled and finely minced

2 plump, fresh cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced

2 cups vin jaune from the Jura, or sherry, or an oaky Chardonnay

1 cup heavy cream


Prepare the morels: Place the morels in a colander and rinse well under cold running water to rid them of any grit. Transfer them to a heatproof measuring cup. Pour boiling water over the mushrooms to cover. Set aside for 20 minutes to plump them up. Then, using a slotted spoon, carefully remove the mushrooms from the liquid, leaving behind any grit that may have fallen to the bottom. If any of the morels are extremely large, halve them lengthwise.

Liberally season the chicken pieces on all sides with sea salt and white pepper.

In a deep 12-inch skillet, combine the oil and 4 tablespoons of the butter. Place over moderate heat. When the fats are hot but not smoking, add the chicken, skin side down, and brown until it turns an even golden color, about 5 minutes more. Carefully regulate the heat to avoid scorching the skin. (This may have to be done in batches.) When all the pieces are browned, use tongs (to avoid piercing the meat) to transfer them to a platter. Season again with sea salt and white pepper.

Pour off and discard the fat in the skillet. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, the shallots, and the garlic. Cook, covered, over low heat, until soft but not browned, about 3 minutes. Add the wine and boil, uncovered, over high heat for 5 minutes to burn off the alcohol, which could make the sauce bitter. Add the cream and the morels, and stir to blend. Return the chicken and any juices that have accumulated to the skillet. Cover, and cook over low heat, turning the pieces in the sauce once or twice, until the chicken is cooked through and has thoroughly absorbed the sauce, about 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning and serve

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

This Weekend's Family Dinner...Meatloaf

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This weekend's family dinner is Meatloaf, one of my family's favorites.  The whole meal can be prepared early in the day and heated or baked just before serving.  The combination of the baked yams with the meatloaf is out of this world, so try not to substitute!


Baked Yams
Creamed Spinach


Meatloaf Sandwiches

The yams are baked at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until done.  When done, cut a slit across the top and place 1 TB of butter and salt.  The baked apples can be made early in the morning.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Tapas...Garbanzo Beans With Chorizo on a Crusty Baguette

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This is the fourth post on the tapas buffet and probably my favorite.  I Could have this for lunch on any winter afternoon.  It is a collaboration of my mother and me,  perfected this past Christmas during her stay with us.

Chick peas are the only beans I buy already cooked and canned.  I always have some in the pantry for salads, soups and tapas.  In half an hour you can be eating something that most people will think took you hours to cook.  If you want to eat them like the Spaniards do, place a spoonful on a piece of bread and enjoy!

Serves 2 for lunch or 4 for tapas


3 TB olive oil (preferrably Spanish)
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced green peppers
2 small chorizos sliced and quartered
1/2 Cup Pomi crushed tomatoes
1 15 oz can Goya garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
1/4 cup Sherry wine
1/4 tsp Pimenton de la Vera (Spanish Paprika)
Salt & Pepper to taste
Crusty Baguette

Sautee the mashed garllic in the olive oil.  Remove from the pan and discard.  Add the onions and peppers, cook until translucent.  Add the chorizo and cook for a couple of minutes. Add  the Sherry and reduce.  Add the Pomi tomatoes, and about 3/4 cup of water.  Stir.  Add the garbanzo beans, the pimenton, salt and pepper to taste and cook for about 20 minutes.  You will see that the sauce thickens and reduces by about half.  At this point you can add a couple of TB sherry and cook another 5 minutes.

If you are having for lunch serve with a crusty baguette.  If you are serving for tapas, have a basket with slices of baguette next to it so guests can top with the garbanzos.

I just had it with a cold beer for lunch but a Rioja or Ribera del Duero is what you should serve it with.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Chinese New Year...Tangerine Beef

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Wow,  three in a row! Mardi Gras, Valentine's Day, and the Chinese New Year, all within a couple of days of each other.  Luckily, only one requires presents.

According to the calendar, the Lunar New Year and Valentine's Day fall on the same day this year and Mardi Gras follows two days later.  If you are in the food business, you will be very busy over the next few days.   In this house, there is no question which one we will be celebrating next week and, this year, it doesn't entail presents!

Tangerine Beef is my favorite dish to order with  Cashew Chicken. This recipe is a lighter, stir-fry version of the Szechwan restaurant favorite, in which the beef is usually deep-fried. I also like the fact that the beef is thinly sliced instead of cut in big chunks.  It makes for a more attractive presentation.



2 pieces (EACH about 1 1/2 inches square) dried tangerine peel (see Note)



1/3 cup orange juice

2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine OR dry sherry

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon chili garlic sauce

2 teaspoons sugar


2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon cornstarch


3/4 pound flank steak, thinly sliced across grain

2 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil

6 small dried red chiles

1 small onion, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 stalk celery, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

1/2 orange, sliced


Soak tangerine peel in warm water to cover until softened, about 20 minutes; drain. Thinly slice peel.

Combine all Sauce ingredients in a bowl; set aside.

Combine all Marinade ingredients in a bowl.

Add beef to marinade and stir to coat. Let stand 10 minutes.

Place a wok over high heat until hot. Add 2 tablespoons oil, swirling to coat sides. Add chiles and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add beef and stir-fry until no longer pink, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. remove meat and chiles from wok.

Add remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil, swirling to coat sides. Add tangerine peel, onion and celery; stir-fry 1 minute.

Return meat and chiles to wok and add sauce; bring to a boil. Add cornstarch solution and cook, stirring, until sauce boils and thickens.

Place on a serving plate and garnish with orange slices. Makes 4 servings.

NOTE: To make dried peels of tangerines and oranges, peel fruit, cut peel into pieces and cut or scrape away white pith from inside peel. Let pieces sun- or air-dry until firm but still flexible. Then store in an airtight jar.

Recipe adapted from Martin Yan

Thursday, February 11, 2010

This Weekend's Family Menu 2/11/10

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For those who work outside the house, particularly working moms, weekends are the only time to go to the store and prepare a homemade meal.  It is also the only time to experiment with new recipes.

Every Thursday I am going to post suggestions for a simple and economical  meal to enjoy with your family at the end of the week.  It's not only a good time to eat well and enjoy some quality time with each other but also an inconspicious way to  check out those table manners.  Have you seen kid's table manners these days?!

If you are a novice cook, this is a good way to start. If there's only one or two of you, cook and freeze for the rest of the week.  When appropriate, I will also include suggestions for leftovers.  Past recipes will be posted on the fray for previous weeks.  Some recipes are from this blog, others from my country blog My Kitchen By The Lake and the rest from other sources with a direct link. 

Weekend Menu 2/11/10

Mashed Potatoes


*leftover turkey meat can be frozen for a later use

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Antoine's Best Kept Secret...Oysters Rockefeller

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I was looking for a typical New Orleans recipe to celebrate the Saint's victory at last Sunday's Super Bowl when I came across this earth shattering revelation:  the original recipe for Oysters Rockefeller did not have spinach!   Antoine's, the renown New Orleans restaurant where the recipe was created in  1899 still guards the recipe to such an extent that it does not appear in their cookbook.  I was knocked off  my socks.  Did you know this? Am I, like the cheated wife, the last one to find out?

Oysters Rockefeller is a famous oyster dish served at many restaurants throughout the United States. The dish consists of oysters on the half-shell that have been topped with various other ingredients (often spinach or parsley, cheese, a rich butter sauce and bread crumbs) and are then baked or broiled.  Contrary to whatever you have heard before, the original recipe did not contain spinach!


"Oysters Rockefeller was created at the New Orleans restaurant Antoine's. Antoine's was founded in 1840 by Antoine Alciatore, who moved to New Orleans after two frustrating years in New York to open a restaurant of his own. It is the country's oldest family-run restaurant. The dish was created in 1899 by Jules Alciatore, son of the restaurant's founder.

The Rex Room at Antoine's

The dish was named Oysters Rockefeller after John D. Rockefeller, the richest American at the time, for the richness of the sauce. The original recipe is a secret, the sauce is known to be a puree of a number of green vegetables other than spinach. It consists of oysters on the half-shell topped with the sauce and bread crumbs and then baked or broiled.  Jules Alciatore developed Oysters Rockefeller in the face of a shortage of French snails, substituting the locally available oysters for snails. Antoine's has been serving the original recipe dish since 1899. It is estimated that Antoine's has served over three million, five hundred thousand orders.

Antoine's Large Annex Room

Though many New Orleans restaurants serve dishes purporting to be Oysters Rockefeller, Antoine's claims that no other restaurant has been able to successfully duplicate the recipe. Knock-off versions of the dish have proliferated in New Orleans, developed to capitalize on the fame of Antoine's signature dish, but because the recipe for Oysters Rockefeller was passed down from the creator, Jules Alciatore of Antoine's to his children, and has apparently never left the family's hands, competing restaurants have had to formulate their own recipes.

Alton Brown of The Food Network series Good Eats states in the episode titled "Shell Game" that Jules Alciatore took the original recipe with him to the grave, and any version of the recipe that exists today is only an assumption, based on descriptions of the original dish. While many have achieved the trademark green color of the original — a color easily attainable by using spinach in the recipe — it is said that few get the flavor of Antoine's recipe right. Antoine's chefs have repeatedly denied that the authentic recipe contains spinach. A 1986 laboratory analysis by William Poundstone in Bigger Secrets indicated that the primary ingredients were parsley, pureed and strained celery, scallions or chives (indistinguishable in a food lab), olive oil, and capers.

Malcolm Hebert, native Louisianan, cookbook author and wine and food editor, also indicates that the original recipe did not have spinach  and takes issue with the addition of Herbsaint.  He claims that it is not possible that Herbsaint was in the original 1899 recipe, as it was first made in 1935. However, Pernod which is in many recipes easily pre-dates the year Oysters Rockefeller was created." (Wikipedia)

Wow, what is this world coming to. Next they are going to tell me there is no Santa Claus!

I have now looked  through a bunch of recipes for Oysters Rockefeller searching for more clues  They all use mostly the same ingredients, butter, breadcrumbs, onions, Pernod, spinach, watercress, parsley.  Some add Parmesan cheese at the end and although I seriously doubt this was in the original, I think it adds a nice touch.

There is really nothing to it.  It is the perfect recipe if you want to impress that special someone. Winter is the time for the best oysters and Valentine's Day the perfect occasion.

Congratulations New Orleans Saints on a victory well deserved!

Oysters Rockefeller


4 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/3 cup bread crumbs, Panko preferred

2 shallots, chopped

2 cups chopped fresh spinach

1/4 cup Pernod

Salt and pepper, to taste

Dash red pepper sauce (Tabasco)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup grated Parmesan

1 tablespoon chopped chervil or parsley

2 dozen oysters, on the half shell

Rock salt

Lemon wedges, for garnish


Melt butter in a skillet. Saute the garlic for 2 minutes to infuse the butter. Place the bread crumbs in a mixing bowl and add half the garlic butter, set aside. To the remaining garlic butter in the skillet, add shallots and spinach, cook for 3 minutes until the spinach wilts. Deglaze the pan with Pernod. Season with salt and pepper, add a dash of red pepper sauce. Allow the mixture to cook down for a few minutes. Finish off the bread crumbs by mixing in olive oil, Parmesan and chervil, season with salt and pepper.* Spoon 1 heaping teaspoon of the spinach mixture on each oyster followed by a spoonful of the bread crumb mixture. Sprinkle a baking pan amply with rock salt. Arrange the oysters in the salt to steady them. Bake in a preheated 450 degree F oven for 10 to 15 minutes until golden. Serve with lemon wedges and red pepper sauce.

Make Ahead Note*: 

You can place both mixes in separate baggies and place in the refrigerator until ready to bake.  Go to the fishmonger that day, get him to shuck some oysters for you (talk him into giving you some crushed ice or rock salt) distribute the two mixes on top and bake.  Now, how easy can that be?

Recipe Source:  Tyler Florence

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Valentine's Day...Dinner for Two

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I don't think there is anything more romantic than a Valentine's dinner at home.  Here's your chance to show off your domestic skills, if only for a day! Set a pretty table by the fireplace, if you have one, light the candles, pick the music you both like and plan a simple yet elegant dinner.  That is more appreciated these days than any present you could ever give.  The recipes are already on the blog and I've made sure they are also foolproof, including the souffle!  The gougeres can be baked early in the week and frozen and the souffle and some of the bernaise can be made early that day . Now, go ahead and make plans!

Valentine's Day Dinner

Gougeres & Champagne*

Salade Verte

*If you want an additional hors d'oeuvre, go out and buy some nice pate and serve with crackers
The gougeres can be made and frozen early in the week

If you are thinking brunch for Valentine's Day, here's a cool and simple menu!

Photo:  Carolyne Roehm

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Valentine's Day...Is He Up To It?

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Valentine's Day always  reminds me of a play I once saw on Broadway in the late 1980's.  M Butterfly, inspired by Puccini's Madame Butterfly, loosely depicts the affair, in the years before the Vietnam War, between a French diplomat attached to the French Embassy in Peking and an opera singer who is actually a man masquerading as a woman.   Unbeknownst to the diplomat, the singer is a spy for the Chinese government and uses the relationship to extract vital information.   He is sent back to France, divorces his wife, he/she follows, they resume the affair which lasts 20 years before the truth is discovered, he is convicted of treason and kills himself.  Phew, so there you have it in a nutshell...except that it is somewhat based on a true story!

The play has many dimensions and explores the stereotypes that underlie and distort relations between Eastern and Western culture and for the purposes of this post, between men and women.  Something  that I have never forgotten is a soliloquy by John Lithgow who portrays the diplomat, delivered towards the end of the play, explaining how he was fooled for so long .  I can't specifically remember the exact words, but the part that struck me the most went something like this: " She was a man's idea of what the perfect woman should be"  Who better indeed. And by now you are probably wondering what all this has to do with this post! Nothing more than this...

Here's a woman's idea of what her perfect Valentines Day gift should be:

Roses from Bloom, NYC

Everyday I Love You  notebook

Jo Malone Red Roses Cologne

Jo Malone Red Roses Bath Oil
(Oh the possibilities!)

A puppy! (only for a select few...
and you know who you are)

The Tiger Woods Special

You know perfectly well what this is...
now is as good a time as any...

...and make sure there's a full moon!

Now be prepared to give him his idea of what his perfect Valentine's gift should be! I have some suggestions on the next post...stay tuned!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Valentine's Day Truffles from La Maison du Chocolat

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Truffles are one of the easiest candies to make and probably one of the most expensive.  A box of 28 plain chocolate truffles at La Maison du Chocolat will set you back $43 and at Godiva, $65 will buy you 36 truffles.  Are you nuts? In this economy? If you are willing to spend a little time in the kitchen, wear disposable clothes and keep from scratching your nose while you roll these little babies in cocoa powder, then I can show you how to make them at home for a fraction of the cost.

Truffles are a simple ganache rolled in cocoa or whatever else you can think of, including nuts and powdered sugar.  This morning I saw a presentation in the local channel from the Cordon Bleu in Atlanta and it reminded me of this easy recipe, particularly now that Valentine's Day is just around the corner.

Save your money for something else like a nice bottle of Veuve Cliquot .  Good champagne is a must, no substitutes there. But DO use some good chocolate, preferably Valrhona. Now you can afford to.

Chocolate truffles are not just for Valentine's Day.  I like to set them at each end of the table in small silver bowls and have my guests enjoy them with coffee or with an extra glass of champagne. For a casual ladies lunch, I like to serve them with espresso, instead of dessert. They keep in the refrigerator for at least a couple of weeks, if not more.

Just so you see there is no secret to great truffles, I have printed two recipes,  my own and La Maison du Chocolat's.  The main difference is Linxe rolls them a second time in the ganache to make them last longer.  Mine fly out the window the minute they are set on the table so I've skipped that step and haven't noticed the difference, but it's up to you. just go make some!

Chocolate Truffles


For the ganache

8 ounces of semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate (high quality, 62% cacao or higher), well chopped into small pieces

1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Optional base flavorings:

 Cinnamon and cardamon (1 cinnamon stick, 2 cardamom pods)

Amaretto (1-2 tablespoons)

Almond extract (1 teaspoon)

Grand Marnier (1-2 TB)

Orange extract (1 tsp)

Rum (1-2 TB)

Truffle coatings

Cocoa powder

Powdered Sugar

Finely chopped walnuts

Finely chopped almonds


1 In a small, heavy saucepan bring the heavy whipping cream to a simmer (this may take a while, be sure to stir and scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula every few minutes).

If you are using one of the other recommended flavorings, stir it in with the cream (and ignore vanilla in the next step). If adding mint or other solids, after the cream simmers, remove from heat and let seep for an hour. Then strain away solids, and return the cream to a simmer and proceed with recipe.

2 Place the chocolate in a separate bowl. Pour the cream over the chocolate, add the vanilla, and allow to stand for a few minutes then stir until smooth. (This chocolate base is called ganache.)

3 Allow to cool, then place in the refrigerator for two hours. Remove and with a teaspoon roll out balls of the ganache. Roll in your hands quickly (as it will melt from the heat of your hands) and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place in the refrigerator overnight.

4 Roll in cocoa powder or chopped nuts and serve, or place back in the refrigerator until needed.

Makes 30-40 chocolate truffles.

Robert Linxe’s (La Maison du Chocolat) Chocolate Truffles

Gourmet, February 2001

Makes about 60 truffles (Linxe says not to double the recipe).


11 ounces Valrhona chocolate (56% cacao)

2/3 cup heavy cream

Valrhona cocoa powder for dusting


Finely chop 8 ounces of the chocolate and put in a bowl. Bring heavy cream to a boil in a small heavy saucepan. Make sure your pan is small, so you’ll lose the least amount of cream to evaporation, and heavy, which will keep the cream from scorching. Linxe boils his cream three times — he believes that makes the ganache last longer. If you do this, compensate for the extra evaporation by starting with a little more cream.

Pour the cream over the chocolate, mashing any big pieces with a wooden spoon.

Then stir with a whisk in concentric circles (don’t beat or you’ll incorporate air), starting in the center and working your way to the edge, until the ganache is smooth.  Let stand at room temperature until thick enough to hold a shape, about 1 hour, then, using a pastry bag with a 3/8-inch opening or tip, pipe into mounds (about 3/4 inch high and 1 inch wide) on parchment-lined baking sheets. When piping, finish off each mound with a flick of the wrist to soften and angle the point tip. Freeze until firm, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt 3 more ounces of the same Valrhona and smear some on a gloved hand. Gently rub each chilled truffle to coat lightly with chocolate. (The secret to a delicate coating of chocolate is to roll each truffle in a smear of melted chocolate in your hand. Linxe always uses gloves.)

Toss the truffles in unsweetened Valrhona cocoa powder so they look like their namesakes, freshly dug from the earth. A fork is the best tool for tossing truffles in cacao. Shake truffles in a sieve to eliminate excess cacao.

Store truffles in the refrigerator.

Gift wrapping ideas from Carolyne Roehm

Is the top one worth the extra money????

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Help is On the Way!...Weekend Family Meals

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For most families nowadays, the week end is the only time to get together and have a nice meal as a family, particularly if Mom works.  It is also the only time available to go to the store and get your shopping done.  I know, I remember it well...boy,  how I hated Saturday mornings. One of the most common lines I get on the comments or on Twitter is "Great recipe, I think I'll try it this weekend!"

I was lucky enough to grow up at a time when there was a Dad who went to work and a Mom who stayed at home and took care of the kids.  She also cooked and baked cookies and wonderful casseroles.  There were no Barefoot Contessas or Giadas or Food TV and Gourmet magazine was only for the serious cook.  Our Moms cut recipes from Good Housekeeping,  Better Homes & Gardens and followed the Joy of Cooking almost as closely as Dr. Spock.  They also guarded those recipes with their lives.  Recipes didn't have great names then like Chicken Kielbasa with a Tomatillo Sauce on a Bed of Arugula & Goat Cheese.  They were simply Mrs. SoAndSo's Baked  Ham (we called everyone, Mr. & Mrs. in those days, never Mike, I'm your waiter tonight!).  Then came Julia and Martha and the Silver Palate.  Oh my, that first book of Martha's, Entertaining...  Most of the recipes didn't work, but who cared! we all wanted to be Martha, just like today we all want to be Ina and have a husband like Jeffrey.

Starting today, I am going to try to help working couples and Moms by posting a menu of past recipes that I think will work well in this context and which I think will be fun to share with your family at the end of the week.  This is your time to shine! It will be done according to the seasons so you can take advantage of what is in the grocery store and the farmers market. We'll play along with it but your feedback will be very helpful.  So, what do you think?

This weekend's recipe is Yankee Pot Roast with Mashed Potatoes (what else!) and apple crisp for dessert! They are both easy and go well together.  Wait til you get a whiff of the aromas emanating from this dish, rum, horseradish..By the time this baby finishes cooking you will have gone stark mad!  It is a wonderful start  to this series and a great recipe to have in your repertoire.

Above is Ina Garten's new kitchen/dining for inspiration.

Photo:  Google

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Le Cordon Bleu French Onion Soup (Soupe a l'Oignon)

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When my parents moved to Europe after I was married, my mother attended the Cordon Bleu school in Brussels.  This was one of the many recipes on the course  and the only one she ever graced us with. I wonder what ever happened to the rest...

Onion soup is the quintessential French comfort soup and another great remedy for a hangover.  Cookbooks are fond of saying that onion soup was a favorite of locals stopping by the central Paris open markets after the theater or cabaret. As famous as the onion soup of Les Halles may have been, I have not been able to find a recipe purporting to be actually from this famous marketplace.

Interior of Les Halles, 1835, a painting by Max Berthelin.
In this recipe beef consomme rather than beef broth is used.  There has been a lot of argument going back and forth between American versions that use beef broth and french versions that use water. Supposedly, the french version tastes more "oniony"  than ours; so be aware when ordering in France.  I checked out Balthazar's (chicken stock) and Julia Child's (beef broth) cookbooks.  Both recipes are almost identical to this one with the exception of the stock, so Vive La Difference!

 If you live in Paris, you can find wonderful French onion soup at the Brasserie Balzar or at Au Pied de Cochon, a two minute walk from Les Halles.  This is actually where the workers went for their soup late at night. Similarly in New York,  I understand Artisanal and Balthazar serve a delicious one, although I have never had it...I have other fish to fry when I go there.  Here at the lake we make my mother's Cordon Bleu recipe and frankly, it is the best I've ever had, particularly on a cold winter night. A tarte au citron or a pear or apple crisp for dessert is all you need to wrap up the meal.

Serves 2 - 3


2 large Spanish onions, total weight about 500 g (1 lb)

2 x 295 g cans condensed beef consommé (I use Campbell's)

90 g (3 oz) butter

salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 teaspoons plain flour

125 ml (4 fl oz) dry white wine

1 bouquet garni*

6 - 9 slices of baguette

60 - 90 g (2 - 3 oz) Emmental, Gruyère of Jarlsberg cheese

2 - 3 tablespoons Port or Madeira*


1. Halve the onions lengthways and finely slice them. Make the consommé up to 1.2 litres (2 pints or 1 quart) with water and heat to boiling. Keep hot.

2. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Add the onions, stir well and season with a generous pinch of salt. Cover and cook gently for 5 minutes. Remove the lid, increase the heat to moderate and cook the onions until light golden brown in colour, 12 - 15 minutes. Stir frequently during this time and watch carefully towards the end of cooking, to prevent the onions catching on the bottom of the pan.

3. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 - 2 minutes, then add the wine and bring to the boil. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly to loosen the browned pieces of onion on the bottom of the pan. Add the hot consommé and the bouquet garni, stir well and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, preheat the broiler and lightly toast the slices of baguette on both sides. Leave the broiler on. Thinly slice the cheese and arrange it on top of the baguette. Remove the bouquet garni from the soup, stir in the port or Madeira (if using), then season the soup to taste.

To serve: Ladle the soup into individual flameproof bowls. Top each serving with 3 slices of baguette and put under the broiler until the cheese melts and bubbles. Serve.

Chef's Tips

Don't skimp on the browning time for the onions - this is essential to give the soup a good colour and flavour

*If you don't have Port or Madeira, you can use Sherry or Brandy but it won't quite be the same.  I STRONGLY SUGGEST PORT.

*The bouquet garni is parsley, thyme and laurel leaf.  Tie some together with a string so you can remove easily.

I use Gruyere cheese.

If making the day before, cook the soup up to the end of step 3, then remove the bouquet garni. Cool over and refrigerate the soup. Before serving, reheat the soup until bubbling, preheat the grill and prepare the croûtons.

Source: Le Cordon Bleu
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