Monday, February 28, 2011

A Family Birthday... Chocolate Buttermilk Layer Cake With Buttercream Icing

Pin It

In this house everyone has a different birthday cake favorite.  Mine is orange cake with lime curd filling and meringue frosting, my daughter;s is plain old cheese cake and my son, who takes after his mother,  adores chocolate cake with vanilla frosting.  I always try to take the easy way out and buy old faithful Duncan Hines mixes and make the frosting myself but this time I decided to go the extra mile.

Most of you know Magnolia Bakery in New York City, famous for its cupcakes and cakes.  I have previously posted their  recipe for Red Velvet Cupcakes, a strong contender for yesterday's birthday party.  Instead, I decided to go out on a limb and make their Chocolate Buttermilk Layer Cake with their Vanilla Buttercream Frosting.  Anything buttermilk always sparks my curiosity for they make cakes lighter and fluffier. 

The recipe calls for 9 inch pans which I substituted for 8 inch to make the cake higher and narrow, just a preference of mine.  If you go this route, it will take an extra 5- 8 minutes to cook.  I also sprayed the pans with Baker's Joy thus skipping the waxed paper routine.

As to the frosting, you really do not need all 8 cups of powdered sugar, something they tell you in the recipe. I used about 6 1/2.  If you have a guard for your beater, use it. I had sugar all over the counter even using the low setting.  Use the frosting right after you mix or it will start to set and become difficult to spread.  You can always add a little milk to make it more spreadable if this happens.

This recipe is a definite keeper for birthday cakes and cupcakes.  I could tell the minute I tasted the raw mix and couldn't stop!


2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
4 eggs at room temperature
6 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and flour two 8 inch cake pans.  Line with wax paper.

In a mixer with the paddle attachment cream butter and sugars until smooth, about 3 minutes.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition/

Add melted chocolate, mixing until included.

Add dry ingredients in 1/3s, alternating dry and wet.  Beat smooth after each addition. Add vanilla.

Divide batter between pans and bake 25-35 minuted until toothpick comes out dry. (for cupcakes 20-22 minutes)

Let cake cool in pans 10 minutes

Remove to wire rack and cool completely before frosting.

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
8 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla

Place butter in mixer and beat well. Add 4 cups sugar, milk and vanilla.  Beat until smooth and creamy.  Gradually add remaining sugar, 1 cup at a time until icing is thick enough for spreading.  Add coloring if desired.  Use and store at room temperature as it will set if chilled.  Can be stored in air tight container for 3 days.

Save extra frosting to make repairs, particularly if you have little grandchildren like the one above!

Recipe Adapted From Magnolia Bakery Cookbook
Photos Lindaraxa

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Healthy Eating...Skirt Steak And Bok Choy Stir Fry

Pin It

This weekend we had a spell of warm weather all the way into the high 60's on Saturday.  With warmer temperatures come thoughts of Spring and eventually Summer.   Shorts and bathing suits are just around the corner, so the sedentary life and all that marvelous and hearty food I've been cooking has to come to an end.   Starting this week, I'm getting the old wok out and more Asian food and stir frys will begin to make an appearance on my table.  Just in case we get another freak storm I have plenty of leftover half cooked cassoulet in the freezer ready to go in the oven for its final baking! You gotta think ahead.....

This recipe is a quick fix for a weeknight dinner.  With the skirt steak's generous marbling, you don't need much extra oil for a stir-fry. Bok choy can be found at most supermarkets in the produce section.

This recipe serves  4 people with ample leftovers.  Four people is a bit of a stretch unless you are serving something else before or with the meal.

I am having trouble downloading my photos from Blogger and Picasa so Martha's photo is up.  Anyone else having this problem?


2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 tablespoon peanut butter

1 tablespoon honey

2 garlic cloves, minced

coarse salt and ground pepper

1 pound skirt steak, thinly sliced crosswise

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1 large head bok choy, cut 1 inch thick crosswise

4 medium carrots, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced on bias

cooked rice, for serving

1/4 cup peanuts, chopped


1.In a small bowl, mix soy sauce, vinegar, peanut butter, honey, and garlic; season with pepper. (I doubled the recipe 4/8/2011 and liked it even more)

2.In a bowl, toss steak with cornstarch; season with salt and pepper. In a large nonstick skillet with a lid, heat oil over medium-high. Add 1/2 of steak; cook, tossing, until browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate; repeat with remaining steak. (Sometimes I saute sliced ginger in the oil before I brown the steak).

3.To skillet, add soy mixture, bok choy, and carrots. Cover and cook, tossing occasionally until tender, about 5 minutes. Return steak to skillet; cook until heated through, about 5 minutes. Check for salt. Serve over rice; sprinkle with peanuts.

Adapted from Martha Stewart 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Risotto Frittata With Butternut Squash And Gorgonzola

Pin It

A great way to serve risotto at a lunch or brunch party. With this recipe you won't need to be in the kitchen stirring the pot when your guests arrive. The tender rice, cooked with butternut squash, gives the usually smooth egg filling some welcome texture. The blue cheese, however, is what makes this truly addictive; it pairs perfectly with the sweet squash.

All you need to accompany is a fresh green lettuce and radicchio salad and some Italian breadsticks.

6 Servings


Unsalted butter for greasing pan

3 tablespoons plain breadcrumbs

2 cups vegetable broth

2 cups water

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 small onion, thinly sliced

3 cups 1/4-inch cubes butternut squash (from a 1 1/4-pound squash)

1 cup Arborio rice

Freshly ground black pepper

3 1/2 ounces gorgonzola cheese, crumbled (about 3/4 cup)

6 large eggs

Fine sea salt

an 8- to 9-inch springform pan


Heat oven to 350º with rack in middle. Grease an 8- to 9-inch springform pan with butter and coat bottom and sides with breadcrumbs, tapping out excess; set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine broth and water; bring to a simmer, then remove from heat. Cover to keep warm.

In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium heat; add onion, reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add squash and ¼ teaspoon salt; cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until squash is tender, 15 to 17 minutes.

Add rice to saucepan; increase heat to medium. Cook, uncovered, until rice is lightly toasted, 1 to 2 minutes. Add generous pinch pepper, then add 1 1/2 cups broth mixture. Cook, stirring frequently, until broth is mostly absorbed, then add ½ cup more broth and cook, stirring, until mostly absorbed. Repeat, adding liquid in 1/2 cupfuls, until rice is tender yet still slightly firm to the bite. Stir in half of the cheese. Transfer risotto to a baking sheet; spread out and let stand until cool, about 15 minutes.

Transfer cooled risotto to a large bowl. Add eggs and 1/4 teaspoon salt; whisk to combine. Transfer mixture to prepared pan. Bake until frittata is set, about 1 hour.

Remove pan from oven, then heat broiler. Place pan under broiler until top of frittata is golden, about 3 minutes. Dollop remaining cheese on top of frittata, then cool in pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Run a thin knife around edge to loosen frittata, then remove side of pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.

From Fine Cooking

Monday, February 21, 2011

So, Are You Going?

Pin It

Now all we need to think about is a hat! 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Croquettes de Crevettes...Shrimp Croquettes

Pin It

Next to chicken and serrano ham croquettes these are my favorite, particularly as a leftover alternative for shrimp.  You can roll them small for cocktails, serve them as part of a tapas buffet, or serve them for lunch with a Newburg Sauce.  Definitely a favorite of the Ladies Who Lunch, particularly if they are of a certain age.  All you need is a green salad and if you want to get really retro, add a Tomato Aspic.

Don't let croquettes intimidate you.  They are really easy to make, just a bit labor intensive.   Once you get the hang of it, you will make them with your eyes closed.  To me the worse part is rolling and breading them but once you start, you might as well make the sacrifice and double the recipe so you can freeze for another meal.  Those are the ones you really appreciate...

To get them really crunchy, make sure the oil is hot enough before you slide them in the pan.  Let them cook until brown on one side without moving them before you cook the other side. I also cook them a bit on the sides so they are completely brown.

You can serve these without the sauce but with some lemon slices on the side to squeeze on top.  In that case, a tomato aspic is really a must!

Depending on what else is on the menu, this recipe will serve 4-6 as a main course. 


1 pound shrimp cooked in the shell (see recipe)
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 cup milk
1/2 cup liquid in which shrimp were cooked
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons dry sherry
2 cups fine, fresh bread crumbs
Salt, if desired
Freshly ground pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 egg
3 tablespoons water
Oil for deep frying
Newburg sauce (see recipe), optional


1. Peel and devein the shrimp. Chop them finely. There should be about two cups. Set aside.
2. Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the onion. Cook until wilted, stirring with a wire whisk. Add three tablespoons of the flour and the paprika, stirring. Add the milk and shrimp liquid, stirring rapidly with the whisk.
3. When thickened and smooth, continue cooking about two minutes. Add the chopped shrimp, egg yolks and sherry. Cook briefly about 30 seconds, stirring.
4. Add half of the bread crumbs, salt and pepper to taste and the cayenne. Blend well. Let stand until thoroughly cooled.
5. Divide the mixture into 16 equal portions. Shape each portion into a ball. Roll the balls in the remaining one-quarter cup of flour. Mold them into the desired form: spheres, cylinders, pyramids or flat cakes.
6. Beat the egg with the water. Roll the croquettes in the egg mixture and then in the remaining bread crumbs. Press to help crumbs adhere. Shake off excess.
7. Heat the oil for deep frying. Add the croquettes a few at a time and cook about four minutes or until golden brown. Serve, if desired, with Newburg sauce.

YIELD 16 croquettes .

Sauce Newburg


2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots

1 teaspoon paprika

2 tablespoons flour

1 cup milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

Salt, if desired

Freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons dry sherry


1.Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the shallots and paprika. Cook, stirring, until shallots are wilted. Sprinkle the mixture with flour and stir with a wire whisk.

2.Add the milk, stirring vigorously with the whisk. Add the cream, salt and pepper to taste. Strain the sauce through a sieve, preferably of the sort known in French kitchens as a chinois. Press with a spatula to extract as much liquid as possible from the shallots. Reheat and add the sherry.

YIELD  About one and one-half cups .

Adapted from the New York Times

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Butternut Squash Gnocchi With Sage Brown Butter

Pin It

My favorite pasta of all times is butternut squash ravioli ,but making them at home has never been something I wanted to do.  You know me and flour, not my favorite thing to do on a rainy day.  My daughter is the pasta maker and I have been begging her to help me make the ravioli but since she doesn't like squash, it has been a non starter. When I saw this recipe I knew I had found the answer.  It is a bit labor intensive, no doubt, but if you do it in stages it will be much easier.

Serve squash puree  one night and save 1 cup for the gnocchi the next day.  Also, make it for two people and freeze the rest for another night.  That's what I would do. I wouldn't share my gnocchi with George Clooney himself.  Too much work, the gnocchi, not George.

Serves 4


1 1-pound butternut squash

1 tablespoon olive oil

1-2 12- to 14-ounce russet potato, peeled, quartered

3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided

1 large egg, beaten to blend

1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 3/4 cups  all purpose flour

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage

Additional grated Parmesan cheese

Special Equipment:

Potato ricer


1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut squash lengthwise in half; discard seeds. Place squash halves, cut side up, on baking sheet and brush with oil. Roast until squash is very tender when pierced with skewer and browned in spots, about 1 1/2 hours. Cool slightly. Scoop flesh from squash into processor; puree until smooth. Transfer to medium saucepan; stir constantly over medium heat until juices evaporate and puree thickens, about 5 minutes. Cool. Measure 1 cup (packed) squash puree (reserve remaining squash for another use).

Note: This can be made several days in advance.

2. Meanwhile, cook potato in medium saucepan of boiling salted water until very tender, less than 20 minutes. Drain. While potato is warm, press through potato ricer into medium bowl; cool completely. Measure 2 cups (loosely packed) riced potato (reserve remaining potato for another use).

3. Mix squash, potato, 1/2 cup Parmesan, egg, nutmeg, and salt in large bowl. Gradually add 1 3/4 cups flour, kneading gently into mixture in bowl until dough holds together and is almost smooth. If dough is very sticky, add more flour by tablespoonfuls. Turn dough out onto floured surface; knead gently but briefly just until smooth. Divide dough into 8 equal pieces.

4. Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment. Sprinkle parchment lightly with flour. Working with 1 dough piece at a time, roll dough out on floured surface to about 1/2-inch-thick rope. Cut rope crosswise into 3/4-inch pieces. Working with 1 piece at a time, roll gnocchi along back of fork tines dipped in flour, making ridges on 1 side. Transfer gnocchi to baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour. DO AHEAD Can be made 6 hours ahead. Keep chilled. Note: Gnocchi can be frozen at this point – freeze them first on a sheetpan, then transfer them to a Ziplock to prevent them from sticking together.

5. Working in 2 batches, cook gnocchi in large pot of boiling salted water until very tender, 15 to 17 minutes (gnocchi will float to surface but may come to surface before being fully cooked). Using slotted spoon, transfer gnocchi to same parchment-lined baking sheets. Cool. DO AHEAD Can be made 8 hours ahead. Cover loosely and chill.

6. Cook butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat just until golden, stirring often, 3 to 4 minutes. Add sage; stir 1 minute. Add gnocchi; cook until heated through and coated with butter, 5 to 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan. Serve with additional Parmesan.

Note: Unless you have an enormous pan, it’s easier to cook the gnocchi and butter in smaller batches. Half of this recipe in one pan is doable.

Source: Lidia Bastianich via Bon Appetit

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Separated By A Revolution, Reunited On Facebook

Pin It

My cousin Felipe and me on my mule at the rice plantation, early 50's

In the mid 1950's my father bought some land in the southern part of the province of Camaguey, Cuba and started a  rice plantation.  It was more a way of gaining independence from the family than anything else, for we had plenty to live on from the sugar business that belonged to my paternal grandmother's family. Also, rice presented a good opportunity to diversify from a sugar intensive economy and many planters were already doing so as early as the 1950's.  The land that he bought was near the coast, still virgin and uncultivated, and  in the middle of nowhere. It was, though, the perfect soil for the cultivation of rice.

X marks the spot!

The first two years of this endeavor were spent in the city of Camaguey were I attended a catholic girls' school and led a fairly normal life.   Later on my mother decided her place was with her husband and packed up her family and moved to the plantation to be with him.  Now, I have to use the word plantation here in a very lose way,  for the house left a lot to be desired having been erected primarily for my father and my grandfather when he came to visit.  Nobody ever thought my mother would transfer her family from Havana to live full time in a place so far away from civilization.  Little did they know her. The one luxury we did have was air condition, without which my father would not do without, but the rest was pretty rudimentary

My mother, my brother and me circa 1956

The trip from the city of Camaguey to the main house took 4 1/2 hours by jeep on bumpy and extremely dusty and unpaved roads that had recently been added to get from the nearest town to the plantation.  Luckily, my father later purchased a small Cessna plane and an airstrip was built so we could make the trip by air in an hour or less.

Together with the family and our nanny came a young girl that my mother had hired in Havana to live with us and keep me up to speed with my studies.  This was my third grade, I was 9 and she must have been in her early 20's.   She had a masters degree from the University of Havana.

J. at the rice plantation circa 1956

Those two years that we spent in the rice plantation were the basis of what makes me who I am today.  My parents both loved structure, (he was the product of an American boarding school education and my mother was just born that way), and life ran on a strict schedule day in and day out.  We rose at 7, breakfasted at 8 and by 9 o clock teacher and student were in the school room (the guest house) having our lessons that ran like clockwork, just like at school.  At noon my father came in from the fields and we met in the big house for lunch, followed by a nap or siesta until 2:00 pm. Afternoon lessons lasted until 4 when the horses would be brought around and we all went for a  ride.  The family would then gather to play croquet in the garden until the mosquitoes became insufferable and after dinner, homework and a little reading  lights went out at 10.00.  After that time the whole place went dark and whatever happened afterwards was done with a flashlight.  Weekends were the most fun, for we were near the coast and had a small boat to go fishing, swimming and alligator hunting!

J. with my brother at the plantation

J with my brother at our house in Varadero

I don't know where the food came from, for there wasn't a store for miles, but my mother had a big vegetable garden with everything you could ever need.   We had cows and chickens, so fresh eggs and milk were abundant.  Once a month my father would fly to the city and bring back groceries including bread. I can tell you the food was pretty good and no one ever starved.

We both adapted quickly to the schedule and she became a part of our little family.  I have never asked her what ever possessed her to go on such an adventure, but she took to it like a duck to water. I have never seen her since then.  As a matter of fact, I have never thought about her except in the context of remembering those times. I was, after all, only 9 and it was all so long ago.

Four years later, in 1960,  my family left Cuba never to return again.

Photo of me in my uniform, dedicated to "Miss Jane".  She has kept it all these years.

About a month ago, a lady contacted me on Facebook and asked me if I was the daughter of so and so and had I lived in a rice plantation in Camaguey, Cuba.  I answered back in the affirmative and she wrote back that she was the daughter of a girl who had been my teacher, who was still in Cuba, and would very much like to get in touch with me.  Heavens! A couple of days later, she called and we spoke after 55 years.

 I have to say that the conversation was one of the hardest, emotionally, that I have had in a long time for it never left the context of those years.  All she wanted to tell me was how fondly she remembered those times and how she had never forgotten us.  She had pictures, she had letters, recipes, there was nothing she didn't remember.  If you think that she now must be in her 70's and her student the grandmother of two, you will find this quite endearing and a little hard to believe. Later on, I did some research and found she had been quite successful in the Cuba I left behind, holding senior posts in the departments of Education and Culture, as well as being an accomplished and recognized poet and the winner of several prizes in Literature and Poetry.

The student with her granddaughter

It is obvious that our political ideologies are at opposite ends, and I am only mentioning this because I realize now how big a role human emotions play in the big scheme of things.... that when all is said and done, love does conquer all.  She is the only person I  know in Cuba today and one I would love to sit with and talk to someday.   I want to hear the other side, the side that stayed behind and lived under the present regime and endured.     Perhaps a teacher and her student can lay the foundations for a better dialogue.  God knows no one else has been able to.

The photos above, except the last two and the one on top, are ones she had kept all these years and were sent to me after we spoke on the telephone. 

On Valentine's Day I received a link to her blog with a note and this poem.   It is called The Girl From The Rice Plantation.  To my readers who do not speak English I apologize but it would be too hard to translate.


A veces la vida, es un misterio igual que la poesía.

¿Quién me iba a decir, Julietica, que después de cincuenta años, iba a volver a encontrar a aquella criatura rubia de ojos azules, de inquieta inteligencia, a quién llegué a querer de manera muy especial y que además, se acordara de mí?

Tanto deseaba que esto sucediera, tantas veces pensé en ti, que la vida me ha dado la alegría de este reencuentro maravilloso.

Para Julieta, son estos versos:

La niña de la Arrocera

Pequeña niña rubia de los ojos azules
aquella que reía con su risa de sueños
la que cantaba alegre como sinsonte puro
la que giraba en danzas sobre la verde hierba.

Pequeña niña rubia de los ojos azules
niña de pecho tierno con las manos de espumas
dueña de los cielos despertaba caricias
en la llanura inmensa que la abrazaba toda.

Pequeña niña rubia de los ojos azules
que le nacen retoños y crecen como frutos
ahora te estremecen tus cálidos enojos
cuando aquellos caprichos dejaron de ser tuyos
para ser de tus flores que sembraste en racimos
para ganarle al tiempo para escalar la aurora
para probar futuro para mezclar lo bueno.

Pequeña niña rubia de los ojos azules
a escondidas te fuiste de mis antiguas fotos
¡y te encontré en el mundo!

Febrero del 2011

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Petit Pots de Creme Au Chocolat

Pin It

I can't think of a better dessert to enjoy with a good bottle of wine than chocolate pots de creme.  Make them the night before so they are really cold the next day.  You can whip some heavy cream at the last minute, mainly for decoration, for they scrumptious and rich on their own.  Make sure you use the best chocolate you can find as it is all about the chocolate...nothing else.


1 cup heavy cream
4 oz (4 squares) semisweet baking chocolate
2 to 3 TB sugar
1 whole egg plus 2 large egg yolks
1 TB espresso
orange peel
Pinch salt

4 1/2 cup ramekins


The heavy cream with orange zest and coffee are heated to a simmer then steeped 5 minutes off the heat.

The egg and egg yolks are whisked with the sugar until the yolks are pale and thick. Then the hot cream is slowly stirred into the egg mixture.

The custard is then poured through a sieve, (which removes the orange zest and any coagulated bits of egg) into a bowl with broken chocolate pieces (4 oz unsweetened). It is stirred to melt the chocolate.  You can add 1 tsp of vanilla extract here if you wish.

The petits pots are filled with the chocolate mixture, then placed in a baking pan with hot water about half way up the pots. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Top loosely with aluminum foil to prevent from crusting.  They are done when they have puffed into a slight dome but still tremble a bit.  Cool briefly then refrigerate to chill thoroughly.

Adapted from Julia Child

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Valentine's Dinner For Four

Pin It

Yes, you read it right, this dinner is for four people.  This year I decided to put together a menu for four great friends or two couples.  Why not, I'm sure there are some of you out there who are, shall we say, past the initial stages of pajama grams and romantic dinners a deux.  Once you get into the twilight years of your marriage, there's no reason you can't invite another couple to celebrate the day with you ...or, if you are single and there's no one in sight, cook a dinner for four good friends and have a good time instead of moping around.

Going out to dinner on a night like this is asking for trouble.  You can bet your bottom dollar that it will be expensive and mediocre at best.  When restaurants get this full on an evening like Valentine's Day, it is unlikely that you will get good service or an excellent meal.  Trust me, I've been there.  The food and the wines will be pricier since they know you are at their mercy.   Stay home, cook something elegant and easy and spend the extra dollars on a good bottle of wine or champagne.  That's what I would do.

I have put together a menu which takes no time to prepare.  If you decide to spend it alone with your sweet pea it is very easy to adjust. 

As an example of what you can enjoy at home, I have picked out two wines from Sherry Lehman* that represent excellent value.  If you are in the New York City area this might just be your lucky day.  Both add up to around $70. You can always have Champagne with the oysters if you want (that would probably be my choice). The Margaux is from a top chateau and an excellent value.  I have chosen it because Margaux is renown for producing the most seductive wines of Bordeaux, so what could be more appropriate n'est ce pas?  If you want something full bodied, you might want to try a Saint Julien, although they are a tad more expensive.  Just make sure you pick something that has some age and is ready to drink now.

I am suggesting the scalloped oysters as an easy way to prepare this "aphrodisiac".  It is an old myth that oysters enhance the libido but it's fun and a  good topic of conversation when they show up at times like these.  Sorry to crash your party.  With a menu like this though, I would definitely start with something fishy, like smoked salmon, shrimp or crabmeat which you can purchase fresh at your fishmonger . 

The pots de creme are coming up next so stay tuned....

The rest of the evening is up to you!

Valentine's Day 2011 Menu

Alain Chavy Puligny Montrachet 2008



Haricots Vert

Prieure-Lichine (Margaux) 2004


Petit Pots de Creme Au Chocolat

*I get no remuneration from Sherry-Lehman for my recommendations

Table Setting Canadian Home And Country

Monday, February 7, 2011

Valentine's Day...Filets Mignon With Roquefort Sauce

Pin It

This is the perfect entree for Valentine' Day.  It's simple, fancy and quick.  The steaks cook in less than 10 minutes and the sauce takes no time at all.  Best of all, there is only one pan to wash! Finishing the fillets in the oven is the secret of professional chefs so you will indeed impress your love.

This recipe is for four so if you and your valentine have been around the block for a few years why not invite  your favorite couple and make it a foursome for dinner.  Have them bring the wine, preferably a vintage Bordeaux.  If you think about all the money you are saving by eating at home, you won't mind splurging on a good bottle, something that would be prohibitive for most of us these days at a good restaurant.   That's the trade off and in my mind, a good one!

Roasted fingerling potatoes and a simple green vegetable, like green beans,  is all you need to accompany.

Stay tuned for a great dessert...hint, it's chocolate!

Serves 4


4 (8-ounce) filet mignon

3 tablespoons olive oil

fleur de sel or plain salt

coarsely cracked black peppercorns

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup tawny port

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 lbs Roquefort Cheese, crumbled

2 tsps fresh chopped parsley


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat a large, well-seasoned cast iron skillet over high heat until very hot, 5 to 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, pat the fillets dry with a paper towel and brush them lightly with vegetable oil. Season liberally with salt and pepper.

When the skillet is ready, add the fillets and sear them evenly on both sides for about 2-3 minutes per side.

Remove from the stove and place the skillet in the oven. Cook the steaks until they reach 125 degrees F for rare or 135 degrees F for medium-rare on an instant-read thermometer. (To test the steaks, insert the thermometer sideways to be sure you're actually testing the middle of the steak.)I like mine medium rare and usually cook in the oven for about 5 minutes.  But it all depends on the thickness of the steaks and your oven. Try to err on the rare side for remember they will continue to cook internally while they rest

Remove the steaks to a serving platter, cover loosely with aluminum foil and allow to rest at room temperature for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile make the sauce:Add the garlic and port to the skillet and bring to a boil scraping with a wooden spoon any brown bits from the bottom.  Boil until reduced to 1/3 cup, about 2 minutes.  Whisk in the cream, bring to a boil, and reduce by half, another 2 minutes.  Add the cheese and whisk until it melts, another minute or so.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Transfer the steaks to individual plates, spoon the sauce over them and serve at once.

Adapted from Williams Sonoma French

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cassoulet With Sausage, Lamb and Duck Confit

Pin It

“CASSOULET…that sumptuous amalgamation of haricot beans, sausage, pork, mutton and preserved goose, aromatically spiced with garlic and herbs, is cooked at great length in an earthenware pot, emerging with a golden crust which conceals an interior of gently bubbling, creamy beans and uniquely savory meats.” Elizabeth David – French Provincial Cooking 1960

If there was ever a time for a cassoulet, this has to be it!  A huge snowstorm is sweeping across the nation, everyone is riveted by the news from Egypt and I have leftover duck and roast pork in the freezer from the holidays.  If you are thinking what I'm thinking you are absolutely's time for a cassoulet!

Part of the problem of making an authentic cassoulet is having the time to sit around and watch the pot so you can add stuff and stir the beans.  The other is all the components that have to be cooked and added.  That is when planning ahead comes in. 

Cassoulet is  a country dish that takes advantage of leftovers, remember that.  You will never have a great cassoulet at a fancy restaurant;  but you will have an unforgettable one at a French country house. If you go out and buy all the ingredients to make one,  it can be an expensive proposition.  I have been planning and freezing for over a month and now I have everything I need already cooked and ready to go in the pot.  That will save me half the time it would take if I had started from scratch.

Over the holidays we had roast duck and the broth and leftover legs were frozen.  Same with the leftover roast pork we had for New Year's Day. This past weekend, I cooked a small leg of lamb which ,though unnecessary at this point, will make for a nice addition. All I will need now is to soak the beans overnight and make the cassoulet on a day, like today, when it's too cold or snowy to go outside.  If you get a good news day like today, consider it a bonus.

I use the frozen duck broth to cook the beans in and after defrosting the cooked duck legs, pork and lamb, add them to the casserole.  It saves quite a lot of time and minimizes the mess in the kitchen, That, to me, is quite an accomplishment!

Serves 6 to 8


1 1/2  lb dried white beans (preferably Great Northern)
1/2 lbs bacon
1/2 lbs. fresh pork rind
2 carrots, peeled and sliced lengthwise
4 onions, 1 stuck with  2 cloves and 3 onions chopped
5 garlic cloves crushed
1 bouquet garni, parsley, thyme and bay leaf
3Tb butter
Salt and pepper
1 lb lamb shoulder
1/4 lbs. pork loin or shoulder
1 lbs French garlic sausage or kielbasa
2 shallots, chopped
2 - 3 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped
1 TB tomato paste
3 pieces duck confit (or duck legs)
Fresh bread crumbs
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper


Soak and cook beans:

Cover beans with cold water by 2 inches in a large bowl and soak 8 to 12 hours. Drain in a colander.

Return the beans to pot and add bacon, bacon rind, carrot, onion stuck with clovers, 1 garlic clove, bouquet garni, and water (or duck stock) and cover by two inches. Cover, bring to a boil and reduce to low, cooking 1/2 to 2 hour until done and seasoning with salt and pepper.

In a casserole, or casole, melt 2 TB butter, add lamb, pork and duck.  Stir sausages, chopped onions, shallots and remaining 2 garlic cloves. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, season with salt and pepper. Add enough bean broth to cover,  bring to boil, reduce heat and cook  for 1 hour. If the pork and lamb have been previously cooked, only do so for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Drain beans reserving broth.  Remove carrots, bouquet garni, onion with cloves and discard.  In a large gratin dish, spread half pork rind,.  Layer half the beans, half the meats and confit or duck.  Repeat the layers , finishing with bacon, pork rind and sausages.  Moisten with some of the reserved bean broth, sprinkle with fresh bread crumbs and remaining 2 TB butter.  Bake in the oven for 1 hour.

I would serve this for lunch accompanied by a salad and a bagette.  A red French wine from Languedoc would go well with this recipe.

Recipe adapted from Francoise Bernard
Photo David Leibowits
Pin It button on image hover