In the mood for Love!


Have you heard of the love locks of Paris?  This is how it works…the happy couple puts their initials on a padlock, clips it onto one of two bridges in Paris and throws the key into the Seine as a symbol of their undying love.  This is the Pont des Arts, a nice little pedestrian bridge that connects the 6th arrondisement to  the Palais du Louvre in the 1st.  Supposedly, this is the bridge to which you affix your love lock if you are in a committed relationship.  The other lock-festooned bridge is over by Notre Dame and is apparently designated for those lovers who may not be quite ready for the commitment bridge.  I hear that that “lovers fling” bridge has many more locks on it than this one so we’ll have to check it out.




This lovely old lock caught my eye because the initials are those of my brother and father, neither of whom, I hope, traveled to Paris in 2009 with a certain LGB.

In the mood for a room with a view!

View to the left...Place St Germain des Pres
View to the left…Place St Germain des Pres

Greetings from Paris!  I’ve decided to hijack my own blog for the next couple of months and use it as a way to keep in touch with friend and family during our sabbatical.  First stop, Paris, where we have rented a delightful little apartment on the left bank.  As much as I love the woodsy views of our home in North Carolina, it’s such a treat to have this beautiful city right on the other side of these charming, floor to ceiling casement windows.


View to the right…Rue Bonaparte

Anna and I left home on leap day… a fitting date to start a journey, wouldn’t you say?  We arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport, stiff legged and foggy brained, as are all who endure the ridiculously small seats of coach class for 8 hours.  We were met at our apartment on Rue Bonaparte by the rental agent, a lovely young american from Maryland, who gave us the keys and a couple of instructions and was off.  Too tired to search for a great lunch spot, we popped in the first cafe we saw and ended up with a somewhat forgettable meal and went straight back for a nap.

Now I hate jet lag as much as anyone and possibly more than most.  But getting my daughter up after a 2 hour snooze was near to impossible.  So, while Anna was comatose on the couch, I ran to the Monoprix to purchase our basic survival items…water, fruit, yogurt, coffee (for me) and chocolate (for her).

It was the promise of pizza that got Anna back on her feet that first evening and we found a wonderful little restaurant Pizzaria Positano (15 rue Cannettes, 6eme).  The pizzas came straight out of the wood fired oven and had that wonderful crunchy yet chewy crust that we love.

View from bedroom windows

So we are off to a great start!  I’ll try to post a little something each day and possibly add some recipes if I ever get around to cooking again!  Please send us hellos using the comment button below.

In the mood for Banana Bars!


Here’s a wonderfully easy and extraordinarily tasty little bar recipe that I tried this week.  I needed to use up some over-ripe bananas and was in the mood to try something different.  Since I am traveling right now and not in possession of my collection of cookbooks, I moseyed on over to Tastespotting and searched for photos with the keyword “banana”.  So… this recipe is comes courtesy of Cooking Classy and it is definitely a keeper!  Enjoy!

For the base:
1 1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sour cream
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons applesauce
1 egg
1 cup over-ripe mashed bananas (about 2 large bananas)
For the frosting:
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 3/4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup pecans, lightly toasted and chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine all ingredients for the base in a large mixing bowl.  Mix with an electric mixer for 2 minutes.  Pour mixture in to a buttered 13×9 inch baking pan and spread evenly.  Bake about 20-25 minutes…until edges are just beginning to turn golden and center is puffed and set.  Cool completely.
Mix the 5 frosting ingredients together in a medium bowl.  Whip until fluffy.  Spread evenly over cooled banana base and sprinkle with chopped pecans.

In which I make a show stopping Holiday Dessert!

Must be the festive holiday spirit in the air that compelled me to make this special dessert from Laurent Tourondel.  I’m no pastry chef so many of the spectacular holiday cakes that I see in cookbooks and magazines intimidate me…. but I had a feeling that I could pull this one off.

This is definitely a chef’s recipe, and by that I mean it is a recipe that was written from a professional’s prospective instead of being geared to the average home cook like me.  But it is actually very doable and I am going to try and be a bit more precise as I rewrite the directions.  I will warn you that I used a lot of mixing bowls in this process.  But you can make this dessert and run the dishwasher a good 36 hours before your guests walk in the door.

It cracks me up that this is called “Mom’s Chocolate Cake”!  No wonder this guy became a chef….growing up with a mom who whips up cakes like this!

I am so happy to finally know how to make beautiful chocolate curls.  Of course I had to do a little online research to find a technique.  See what I mean about “chef’s recipes”?  They say things like, “decorate with chocolate curls” just assuming that we all know how to do that.  But now I do know how to do that so thank you Chef Tourondel for inspiring me to figure it out.



Mom’s Chocolate Cake
 (chocolate mousse cake with creme anglaise) 

Adapted from Bistro Laurent Tourondel: New American Bistro Cooking by Laurent Tourondel and Michele Scicolone. Here is the basic idea:  you make a yummy chocolate mousse, layer it with lady fingers dipped in syrup then let it sit in the refrigerator overnight.  Then you make a vanilla creme anglaise, let it chill a couple of hours, pour it on top of the cake and chill again for a bit.  Decorate with chocolate curls and serve.  I’ve made the cake a little less boozy cause I like my liquor on the side rather than in my dessert.  In my version the liquor just heightens the flavor but it won’t come through on its own. As for the chocolate curls,  I turned to  The Pioneer Woman to get a photo demonstration to show me the way. (I used chocolate chips)  Here’s a link:  Chocolate Curls
Chocolate mousse
7 ounces semisweet chocolate
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1 tablespoons rum
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup heavy cream
5 eggs, separated
6 tablespoons sugar, divided


1. Break the chocolate into small pieces and place it in the top half of a double boiler set over simmering water. Add the espresso powder and rum and let stand uncovered until the chocolate is softened. Stir until blended. Transfer the chocolate to a large bowl to cool.
2. In a large, chilled bowl, whip the cream on high speed for 4 minutes, or until soft peaks form.  In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks with 2 tablespoons of the sugar until pale, about 3 minutes. In yet another bowl, beat the whites with an electric mixer on medium speed until frothy. Gradually add the remaining 4 tablespoons of the sugar and increase the speed to high. Whip until soft peaks form.

3. Add the egg mixture to the melted chocolate and stir to combine. Fold the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture, then gently fold in the whites.

Cake Assembly
Chocolate mousse 
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons  rum
20 to 25 ladyfingers, cut in half horizontally
1. Make a simple syrup by combining the sugar and ¾ cup water in a small pot and bring to a simmer. Stir until the sugar is fully dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow it to cool completely.
2. Mix together the simple syrup (you should have ¾ cup) and the rum. Dip half of each ladyfinger in the syrup until slightly softened.
3. In a 2-quart glass serving bowl, alternate layers of 1/3 of the mousse followed by 1/3 of the ladyfingers, finishing with the mousse. Alternatively, you may make individual servings by layering the mousse and ladyfingers in large wine glasses. Cover and chill at least 8 hours or up to 2 days.
Creme Anglaise
2 cups whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/2 cup sugar
5 egg yolks
Chocolate curls or shavings, if desired


1. Bring the milk, vanilla bean scrapings and pod, and 1/2 cup of the sugar to a simmer in a large saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Immediately remove the saucepan from the heat and discard the vanilla bean.
2. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks until thickened slightly and well combined. Very slowly,  add about 1/2 cup of the hot milk mixture into the yolks and whisk until well incorporated. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the saucepan with the remaining milk mixture, stirring constantly.  Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until thickened slightly and the mixture lightly coats the back
of a spoon, about 5 minutes. Alternatively, dip a spatula in the sauce and run your finger through it. If your finger makes a trail rather than causes all of the custard to run off, the sauce is ready.
3. Remove the sauce from the heat and strain into a clean bowl. Place the bowl in a larger bowl filled with ice to cool. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
4. Pour the creme anglaise over the chocolate mousse cake and chill until ready to serve.  Decorate with chocolate curls just before serving.

In the mood for a Good Night’s Sleep!

Isn’t is ironic that insomnia is so common in 40 something gals like me?   I have no exams to pull an all-nighter for, no babies to feed every 2 hours, absolutely no reason to be productive at 2 am, and yet I find myself wide awake at that ungodly hour.

I suppose I could try one of the popular sleep aids, or as The New York Times  called them last Sunday,  “mother’s little helper of the new millennium“.  But I am entirely convinced that I would be the one out of a thousand people who would fall victim to the dreaded SRED (sleep related eating disorder).  I can see it now…. my jeans start to feel tight so I hook up a web cam in the kitchen and am horrified to discover that every night I creep into the kitchen and stand at the open refrigerator in a trance, eating whole packages of cookie dough and chugging half and half from the carton.  When they invent a sleep aid that has the potential side effort of causing sleep-running on treadmills, I’ll be all over it.


Let sleeping children lie….unless they might fall down the stairs.



Running on empty…


The Slumbering Superhero (note candy wrappers)


The not-so-vigilant vigilante
“You can make me go to bed but you can’t make me sleep!”




Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Muffins

Another wonderful recipe from Glamour’s Gourmet on the Run.  It’s a collection that never fails me.  I usually end up with 11 muffins instead of 12 because I like to fill the cups at least 3/4 full.

1 cup boiling water
2/3 cup oatmeal (not instant)
4 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Grease a 12 cup muffin tin or line tin with cupcake papers. In small bowl, stir together boiling water, oatmeal and butter.  Set aside and let stand for 20 minutes.  In a large bowl combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.  Add chocolate pieces and stir.  Beat eggs and vanilla into oatmeal.  Stir oatmeal mixture into dry ingredients just until flour is moistened (batter will be lumpy, do not over mix)  Spoon into muffin cups.  Bake 20 minutes or until tops are golden.

Meanwhile, maybe I’ll just use these photographs of my sweet children and their amazing capacity for peaceful slumber as inspiration.  On the other hand, I think I’ll just pop into the kitchen and get the ingredients together for these Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Muffins….they will be a lovely treat to wake up to.


In the mood for Holiday Sides!

I like turkey… but other than cooking and seasoning the bird properly, let’s face it, it’s not too exciting.
No, it’s the side dishes that make the holiday meal interesting.  When else could I put bacon in the Brussels sprouts, sour cream in the potatoes or butter-toasted nuts in the rice?
By the way, if you are looking for a new turkey recipe, here are links to two of my favorites.  Some years we fire up the outdoor turkey fryer and use this recipe from the New York Times.
Other times, we stick to the traditional oven roasting method  and use this recipe:

Balsamic- Braised Brussels Spouts with Bacon

This recipe is adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques, by Suzanne Goin.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound small Brussels sprouts, washed and trimmed
1/4 pound bacon, finely diced
2 tablespoons finely diced shallots
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup lower sodium chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste
Heat a large saute pan over high heat for 2 minutes.  Swirl in the olive oil and butter and wait another minute.  Add the Brussels sprouts, and season them with 1 teaspoon salt and some pepper.  Shake the pan, rolling the Brussels sprouts around to help them brown evenly.  After a few minutes, turn the heat to medium and cook another 3-4 minutes until the sprouts soften slightly.
     Add the diced bacon to the pan and cook a minute or two, until it starts to crisp.  Stir in the shallots and garlic and cook another minute or so, until they are translucent.  Pour in the balsamic vinegar and reduce by half.  Add the chicken stock and reduce to about 1/4 cup, stirring and shaking the pan often to glaze the sprouts.  If you start to run low on liquid before the sprouts are cooked, add a little water to the pan.  You want the Brussels sprouts to be tender yet still have a bit of a crunch to them.  Overcooked Brussels sprouts are the reason that a lot of folks think that they don’t like the vegetable. Serve immediately or transfer to a baking sheet to cool.

Wild Rice and Toasted Pecan Pilaf

Here is a special rice pilaf that just seems perfect for a holiday meal.  This is from Gourmet Magazine, April 1993.

1 cup pecan halves, chopped coarse
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large onion, halved lengthwise and sliced thin lengthwise
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into julienne strips
1.4 cup olive oil
2 1/2 cups wild rice, (about 1 pound) rinsed well in several changes of water and drained
4 1/2 cups chicken broth

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  In a small baking pan toss the pecans with the butter, the thyme and the salt until they are coated well and roast them in the middle of the oven for 10 minutes, or until they are crisp and fragrant.

In a flameproof casserole, cook the onion and the bell pepper in the oil over moderately low heat, stirring for 5 minutes, or until they are just softened, and with a slotted spoon transfer them to a bowl.  Add the rice to the casserole and cook it, stirring constantly, for 1 minute,  Stir in the broth, heated to boiling, and salt and pepper to taste and bring the mixture to a boil.  Bake the mixture, covered in the middle of the oven for 40 minutes.  Stir in the onion mixture, bake the pilaf , covered, for 30 minutes more, or until the rice is tender and the broth has been absorbed, and stir in the pecans.  Serves 8.


Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Nutmeg and Sour Cream

I love sweet potatoes but I don’t want them to taste like dessert,  which is why I love this recipe from Emeril Lagasse.

4 large sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 tablespoons sour cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4  pieces
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Rub the sweet potatoes with the oil and place in an ovenproof baking dish and roast potatoes until tender, about 1 hour, turning over after 30 minutes.  When potatoes are cooked, set aside to cool for 10 minutes.  Cut the potatoes in half and squeeze the potato pulp into a three quart saucepan.  Set the flame to medium low and mash gently until smooth with a potato masher.  Add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, sour cream, and butter and fold together until thoroughly combined.  Remove from the heat and serve immediately, or keep warm , covered, until ready to serve.  Serves 4-6

In the mood for New Ways with Tortillas!

     In the Feedback column of Bon Appetit magazine, (you know, the very last page where they profile a famous person and ask them 5 or 6 questions about their life with food) they often ask the celebrities to name three things they have in their refrigerators.
     I figure I could go a lot of different directions with that question.  If I mention that I always have unsweetened vanilla almond milk, fresh blueberries and fish oil capsules, I come across one way.  If I admit that I  have presliced individually wrapped American cheese, a tube of Pillsbury crescent rolls and a huge jar of Welsh’s grape jelly…that’s a whole different picture.  Maybe I should showcase the jar of tiny imported Nicoise olives, the small container of creme fraiche and the beautiful capers that my sister brought back from Italy.  My frig has multiple personalities.
     Here are three of the reasons that you will always find a package of flour tortillas in my refrigerator.
Thai Chicken Tortilla Spring Rolls
This recipe is from the appetizer section of the California Pizza Kitchen cookbook by Larry Flax and Rick Rosenfield.  In my version, I increase the amount of chicken and serve them as dinner, with a big green salad.  Although there are several step to putting this recipe together, you can do it all ahead of time and have it ready to pop in the oven right before serving.
Grilled Teriyaki Chicken
4 tablespoons bottled teriyaki sauce
4 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Spicy Peanut Dressing
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons asian toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon dried chile flakes
Thai Satay Sauce
1/2 cup canned coconut milk (stir before measuring)
1/2 cup spicy peanut dressing (from above)
1/2 teaspoon thai red curry paste
For the Spring Rolls
8 8-inch flour tortillas
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
spicy peanut dressing (from above)
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup thinly slivered carrots
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
1/2 cup fresh bean sprouts
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh parsley
To make the chicken:  Preheat a stove top grill or broiler.  Lightly pound the chicken breasts to help them cook evenly and quickly.  In a mixing bowl, stir together the teriyaki sauce, olive oil, garlic and ginger.  Turn the chicken breasts in this marinade and leave it at room temperature for ten minutes.  Grill or broil the chicken until cooked through.  Chill thoroughly in the refrigerator, then ct crosswise into 1/4 inch thick strips.  Cover and refrigerate.
To make the spicy peanut dressing:  In a small saucepan, combine all the dressing ingredients.  Place over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 1 minute.  Remove from heat and set aside.  (be careful as this burns easily)
To make the Thai satay sauce:  Combine all the sauce ingredients in a blender or a food processor and blend until smooth.  Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate.
To make the spring rolls:  
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Lightly spread the softened butter onto one side of each tortilla.
Turn the tortillas over and evenly distribute the following ingredients over a 1-2 inch wide strip on their unbuttered sides. just below the center of the tortilla from end to end:
a tablespoon of the spicy peanut dressing
sprinkle of mozzarella
a layer of grilled teriyaki chicken
carrot slivers
sliced scallions
bean sprouts
minced cilantro
Roll up each tortilla into a tight cigar shape and place them seam side down on a baking sheet.  Keep the rolls about one inch apart.  Sprinkle each roll lightly with parmesan cheese.
Bake in preheated oven until heated through and lightly brown, 5-7 minutes.
Slice each roll diagonally into three equal pieces.  Sprinkle with minced parsley and serve with the Thai Satay sauce.  Serves 8-12 for an appetizer and 4-6 as a meal.

Peanut Butter Nutella and Rice Krispie Roll Ups

This little treat couldn’t be easier, but what a wonderful combination of flavors and textures.  I found it inSkewer It!  by Mary Corpening Barber and Sara Corpening Whiteford.  They garnish theirs with chocolate chips after cutting them but I like them better without.  Nutella is a chocolate spread that has been popular in Europe for years and has become fairly easy to find here in the States.   It blends wonderfully with peanut butter.
1/2 cup peanut butter, crunchy or smooth
4 six inch flour tortillas
1/4 cup Nutella
1/3 cup Rice Krispies
Spread 2 tablespoons peanut butter on each tortilla, leaving a 1-inch border.  Spread 1 tablespoon of Nutella evenly on top of the peanut butter.  Sprinkle each one with 1-2 tablespoons Rice Krispies and roll up tightly.  Place seam side down on a cutting board.  Using a sharp knife, cut off the ends of each roll and slice into 3/4 inch thick pieces.  Secure each piece with a toothpick and serve.  Makes about 24.

Tortilla Pizza

And now….the #1 reason that we always have flour tortillas in our refrigerator.  Tortilla pizzas have been a staple lunch item in our home for years.  I found that it was worthwhile to purchase a set of small perforated pizza baking sheets.  This helps the bottom of the pizza get crispy and I can easily fit 6 or 8 of them in the oven at one time.  The key to a good crispy tortilla pizza however, is to make sure that all of the toppings are sliced very thinly and scattered evenly over the surface.  If you go crazy piling on the topping, you will have to eat it with a knife and fork, although it will still taste great, I imagine.  We like to use thin slices of fresh tomatoes instead of tomato sauce.  This also helps keep the pizza light and crispy.  The possibilities are endless, but here is the recipe for the tortilla pizza pictured.

1 flour tortilla
olive oil
thinly sliced cherry tomatoes
thinly sliced Vidalia onion
shredded mozzarella cheese
sliced pepperoni, cut into slivers
grated parmesan cheese
coarse ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 450.  Place a flour tortilla on a pizza baking sheet and brush topside lightly with olive oil.  Scatter tomatoes and onions evenly over tortilla then top with a light layer of mozzarella cheese.  Sprinkle with pepperoni and parmesan and season with black pepper.  Bake until golden brown and crispy, 8-10 minutes. Serves one.


In which I make Boeuf Bourguignon just like Julia Child….more or less.


If you’ve never made Julia Child’s Beef Burgundy, I want to convince you to add it to your repertoire this very minute.  It is absolutely the perfect make ahead dinner party recipe.

The only way you can possibly screw up it is if you place it on the stove to reheat while you run upstairs to change and get ready for your guests and take too long deciding what to wear and scorch the pan so badly that the whole dish tastes horribly burnt through and through and you actually have to throw away not only the stew but also the pan because it is ruined beyond repair and then you have to go get take out for twelve people from the Italian place down the street.

But believe me….that will only happen once and the zillions of times that you prepare this dish, from that day forward, will all be smashing successes!



Here is what you need:
a large, deep oven proof casserole (I use enameled cast iron Le Creuset)
a slotted spoon
4 slices thick cut bacon
3 lbs. lean stewing beef cut into 2 inch pieces (I use a rump roast)
1 sliced carrot
1 sliced onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups full-bodied red wine (Chianti, Cabernet… just make sure it is good enough to drink)
2-3 cups canned beef broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves smashed garlic
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 crumbled bay leaf
24 small white onions, peeled
1 pound fresh mushrooms, quartered
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup chicken broth
Here’s what you do:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Saute the bacon over medium heat until light brown and starting to crisp.  Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon.  Set casserole aside while you pat the pieces of beef dry with a paper towel.  Then reheat the casserole with the bacon grease until hot and brown the beef, a few pieces at  a time, until nicely browned on all sides, as shown above.  Set the beef aside with the bacon.
Now brown the sliced vegetables then pour out any remaining bacon grease and return the beef and the bacon to the casserole and toss with the salt and pepper.
Sprinkle the beef and vegetables with the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly.  Set the casserole, uncovered  in the middle position of the preheated oven for 4 minutes.  Then toss the meat and return to the oven for 4 minutes more. ( This browns the flour and covers the beef with a light crust as shown in the photo above)  Remove casserole from oven and reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.
Stir in the wine and enough beef broth so that the meat is barely covered.  Add the tomato paste, garlic and herbs.  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.
While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms.
Saute the mushrooms in a tablespoon of butter until they start to release their juices and are lightly brown.  Set aside.
Saute the onions in a tablespoon of butter until they start to brown then add a cup of chicken broth and simmer gently until they are tender.  Drain and set aside.
When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan.  So you’ll have the sauce in a medium saucepan, the meat and veggies in the sieve and now you can wash out the casserole to clear away any burnt bits and then return the beef and bacon to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms over the meat. (pictured below)
Put the saucepan of sauce over low heat and simmer gently, skimming off any fat that rises to the surface.  You want to have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce, thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.  If your sauce it too thin, boil it down rapidly.  If it is too thick, mix in a few tablespoons of beef broth. Taste carefully for seasonings.  Pour the now reduced and thick and wonderful sauce back over the meat and vegetables in the casserole.  *Recipe may be completed in advance up to this point.
For immediate serving:  Cover the casserole and simmer for 2-3 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 cooled, cover and refrigerate.  About 15-20 minutes before serving, bring to a simmer, cover, and simmer very slowly (see introductory paragraph) for 10 minutes, occasionally basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce.

In the mood for Farmer’s Market Tomatoes!

     Every Saturday, I go to the Piedmont Triad Farmer’s Market in Greensboro and get into all sorts of trouble.  I find it impossible to resist the truckloads of sweet corn, watermelons and peaches, the buckets of fresh cut flowers, the homemade baked goods, the goat cheese lady (who lets you taste everything), and especially the tables of carefully laid out vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes.
   This past week it seemed clear that the best of tomato season is over.  But happily there were still lots of beautiful cherry tomatoes and also boxes of field ripened tomatoes for 99 cents a pound that, while slightly unfortunate in looks, were extremely lovely in taste. So here is what I did with my end of season tomatoes.

Peeled Cherry Tomato Salad with Tarragon Mustard Vinaigrette and Walnuts

Who would actually score, blanch and peel a whole mess of cherry tomatoes?  That would be me, of course, after I read a description of how these little tomatoes, without the constraints of their skin, soak up the vinaigrette and explode in your mouth.  This is based on a recipe from renown chef and teacher Anne Willan from La Varenne.  And while I may not start peeling all of my tomatoes from this day on, I will definitely be serving this wonderful and unique salad from time to time.
2 pounds cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup walnut pieces
1 small bunch fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup walnut oil (or olive oil)
Boston or Bibb lettuce leaves
Score a tiny x into the bottom of each tomato. Bring a large pot of water to boil and drop tomatoes in for just a few seconds to loosen the skins.  Drain and rinse until cold water to stop the cooking.  The tomatoes should be quite easy to peel now.
For the Dressing:  Strip the tarragon leaves from their stems and coarsely chop.  Whisk the vinegar with the mustard, salt and pepper in a small bowl.  Gradually whisk in the oil so the dressing emulsifies and thickens slightly.  Whisk in the chopped tarragon, taste and adjust the seasonings.
Put the peeled tomatoes into a salad bowl.  Pour the dressing over the tomatoes, mixing carefully, and taste again for seasoning.  Shortly before serving, sprinkle the tomatoes with walnuts, top with tarragon and serve over leaves of Boston or Bibb lettuce.
(tomatoes can be made and kept at room temperature for 2-3 hours, and the flavors will mellow in that time)
(Serves 6-8)

Fresh Tomato Soup

Hands down my favorite tomato soup.  I make it a few times at the height of tomato season and then stash the recipe away until summer returns.  It really isn’t worth the effort if you are using supermarket tomatoes (trust me, I’ve tried) This recipe is from The Victory Garden Cookbook, by Marian Morash. Also, more tomato peeling here…it’s necessary, sorry.
4 pounds ripe tomatoes
3 tablespoons oil
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped leeks
1 cup sliced carrots
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons flour
6 sprigs parsley
1 celery stalk with leaves
8 cups chicken broth
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Peel, seed and roughly chop tomatoes.  You should have approximately 6 cups.  In a large saucepan, heat oil and saute the onions and leeks until wilted and golden,  Add 2 cups of the tomatoes, the carrots, garlic, and sugar, and cook together, stirring, until the moisture has evaporated and the mixture is thick.  The cooking time varies, from 10-25 minutes, depending upon the moisture of the tomatoes.  Whisk in flour and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring, to cook flour and make smooth.  Tie together the parsley and celery and add to saucepan.  Add remaining tomatoes and 3 cups of the broth.  Cook for 10-15 minutes to release the tomato juices and thicken slightly.  Add the remaining broth; simmer for 20 minutes.  Remove the parsley and celery and lightly process using either a food processor or a stick blender. (or you can put it through a food mill if you have one of those…this recipe makes having a stick blender worth it’s weight in gold) You can either puree this soup finely or leave a little texture, which is how we like it.  It is wonderful with french bread croutons made with parmesan cheese and lots of black pepper, as shown above.
Makes 2 1/2 quarts

Cherry Tomato and Ricotta Salata Salad

This mild salty cheese is perfect with summer sweet cherry tomatoes!  I’ve just added it to my list of favorite cheeses.  This recipe is from A Good DayFor Salad, by Louise Fiszer and Jeannette Ferrary.
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup best quality balsamic vinegar
2 cups red cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cups yellow cherry tomatoes, halved
6 cups arugula, about 8 ounces
6 ounces ricotta salata cheese
salt and pepper
1 cup fresh basil leaves
In a small bowl, whisk oil and vinegar together,  In a large bowl, gently combine tomatoes and arugula.  Toss with dressing and place in a shallow serving bowl.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Shave thin slices of ricotta salata and place over tomato mixture.  Sprinkle with basil.
(Serves 10)

In the mood for Frijoles Negros!

Black Turtle Beans… a staple of Latin American cooking and probably my favorite legume. The three dishes below demonstrate the flavor and convenience of canned black beans when combined with other fresh ingredients. The gobs of cheese and sauce that you find in many Mexican restaurant dishes can be tiresome and before long everything starts to taste the same.  These recipes showcase some of the wonderful flavors of Latin American and southwestern cuisine without all that heaviness…perfect for summer!


Delicious, Clean and Healthy Tostata

Yes, that is the name of this recipe from The Family Chef, by Jewels and Jill Elmore.  But when I served this for dinner, no one in my family commented on how healthy it seemed.  They just ate it up and asked for more. I’ve made a couple of changes just to simplify a step or two.  I get the achiote paste at the Mexican market.  It comes in a little box and makes the most amazingly vivid orange marinade with a wonderful flavor.  Definitely worth the trip to the market.
6 corn tortillas
1/8 cup oil
1 can seasoned black beans
1/4 head cabbage
1/4 head lettuce
1 bunch cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
2 spring green onions, thinly sliced
2 tomatoes, seeded and thinly sliced
1/3 cup cotija cheese
1 avocado, sliced
1/4 cup pickled red onion (recipe below)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
achiote marinade (recipe below)
1.  Prepare the Achiote Marinade.
2.  Marinate chicken for at least 20 minutes and as long as overnight
3.  Prepare the pickled Red Onion
4.  Brush tortillas lightly with oil and bake at about 350 degrees until crispy.
5.  Drain the black beans, do not rinse.
6.  Grill the chicken, cool slightly and slice thinly.
7.  Toss all salad ingredients with a little juice from the pickled red onion and some olive oil.
8.  Assemble the tostadas:  Pile the beans and thinly sliced chicken on the crispy tortillas shells; then add
     the salad.  Top with pickled red onions and serve. Serves 4-6
Pickled Red Onion
1 red onion, thinly sliced
3/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
2  tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar
Heat vinegar with sugar and salt until dissolved.  Add red onions and let sit 20 minutes or longer.
Achiote Marinade
1/2 cup achiote paste
1 clove garlic
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 cup light oil
1 lime, juiced
Mix all ingredients in a blender.

Spicy Grilled Corn Salad with Black Beans and Queso Fresco

This lovely salad has a distinct warm and smoky flavor from the chipotle peppers and adobo sauce.  The queso fresco is mild so it absorbs the flavors of the dressing and is a wonderful contrast to the sweet crunchy grilled corn. The recipe is from Fine Cooking. 
3 ears fresh corn, husked
1 medium red onion, cut into disks about 1/3 inch thick
1 large red bell pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1 small chipotle pepper, seeded and minced, plus one tablespoon adobo sauce (from a can of chipotles in adobo)
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 15 1/2 ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
5 ounces queso fresco, crumbled (1 cup)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
Prepare a grill.  Brush corn, onion and bell pepper with oil and season with salt and pepper.  Grill corn and onion until beginning to brown, 6-10 minutes.  Transfer to a cutting board to cool slightly.  Grill the pepper until charred on all sides, about 12 minutes.  Put the pepper in a bowl, cover, and cool slightly.  Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk 6 tablespoons oil, the chipotle and the adobo sauce, vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.  Coarsely chop the onion and put it in a large bowl.  Cut the corn from the cobs and add to the bowl.  Skin, seed, and coarsely chop the pepper; add to the bowl, along with the beans, cheese, cilantro and oregano.  Re-whisk the dressing , add it to the corn mixture and toss well.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Quesadillas

One of my sons raved about the butternut squash quesadillas that he had at The Garden Grille in Providence, RI and this is our attempt to recreate them.  We used sweet potatoes instead of the squash and added caramelized onions and black beans.  On our first try, we overdid the cheese and while they were fine, we didn’t get the bright sweet potato flavor that we were looking for.  Being light handed with the cheese was the trick to nailing this copycat recipe. ( I didn’t write down any amounts while playing around with these quesadillas so I will just give a general game plan)
several sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
a couple of Vidalia onions, peeled and thinly sliced
a can black beans, drained and rinsed
queso fresco cheese, crumbled
grated cheese (cheddar or colby/jack)
olive oil
large flour tortillas
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Put the potatoes in a roasting pan and toss with a bit of oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread out into a single layer and roast until tender and starting to brown…this will only take 10-15 minutes. While potatoes are roasting, cook the onions slowly in a drizzle of oil, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and golden.
Preheat broiler, leaving the rack in the middle of the oven.  Brush one side of a tortilla with oil or melted butter and place it buttered-side down on a baking sheet.  Sprinkle with a light layer or queso fresco then add a layer of caramelized onions.  Top this with roasted sweet potatoes and black beans and a sprinkle of the grated cheese.  Cover with 2nd tortilla and brush the top with oil or butter.  Broil quesadilla until golden brown on one side (this will only take a minute or two so watch carefully) then remove from oven and use a spatula to press down on it gently (this will help the melting cheeses hold it together) and carefully flip it over and return to oven to brown the other side. Cut into wedges and serve with lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and or salsa, if desired.

In the mood for a Dip!

I’ll be heading to Mississippi for a family reunion this week…three days of visitin’, playin’ and eatin’.  I see “catfish n’ fixins” on the itinerary as well as picnics and barbecues so I think I’d better step away from this computer and get in some serious exercise in preparation. Today I offer three great chip and dip combinations that should cover the bases for any type of 4th of July celebration that you may be hosting this year.

Barbecue Potato Chips with Peppered Feta Dip

I find this combination of flavors positively addictive! The dip is best at room temperature and I think that Cape Cod brand BBQ potato chips work really well as they are nice and sturdy and won’t crumble into the dip. I cut this recipe out of a magazine several years ago and didn’t note the source.  My apologies to the creator.
8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup mayonnaise, or plain yogurt
1/2 cup pickled peppers (pepperoncini and/or Sweet red cherry peppers) sliced (see note)
1/4 cup scallions, sliced
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
Coarse ground black pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil
BBQ potato chips
Blend feta, cream cheese, and mayonnaise in a food processor until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl periodically.  Transfer to a mixing bowl,
Fold in peppers, scallions, lemon zest, and pepper.  Transfer to a serving dish and chill at least 1 hour to let flavors develop.  Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before serving.  Drizzle dip with oil and garnish with additional pepper.  Serve with BBQ potato chips.
note: I’ve used both types of pickled peppers in the recipe and while both are good, I prefer the red.  In the photo I used Peppadew Mild whole sweet Piquante peppers.

Marie’s Herbed Cottage Cheese Dip

Sometimes it is nice to have a healthy, no guilt, option.  Especially on a weekend that is sure to be full of hot dogs, hamburgers, barbecue and all those “fixins”.  This dip is light, clean tasting, and chock full of vegetables and fresh herbs.  I’ve served it here with carrots and pretzel chips but it is also good with others vegetable crudities or pita bread. This recipe is from Frank Stitt’s Southern Table.

2 cups cottage cheese
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 heaping teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
2 scallions, finely chopped
1 cucumber, peeled and cup into tiny dice
2 small cucumbers, peeled and cut into tiny dice
1/2 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into tiny dice (optional)

Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir to combine.  Taste and adjust the seasonings.  Serve.


Tuna Ceviche with Avocado and Cilantro


This lovely little dip is elegant in its simplicity yet casual enough for any barbecue.  It is from the July 2001 issue of Food and Wine magazine and is offered as an example of what one might find around the southern tip of Baja.  In the photos here, I have minced the red onion instead of slicing it and I also doubled the amount of avocado.
1 pound Sushi grade tuna
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
3/4 cup fresh lime juice (about 5 limes)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large Hass avocado, cut into 1/3 inch dice
1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro, plus leaves for garnish
tortilla chips for serving
Cut the tuna into slices, 1/4 inch thick.  Line a baking sheet with plastic wrap.  Arrange the tuna slices in a single layer on the baking sheet and freeze until fairly firm, about 15 minutes.
Stack the slices of tie using a very sharp chef’s knife, cut the tuna into meat 1/4 inch cubes.  Transfer the cubed tuna to a medium glass or ceramic bowl and stir in the red onion, lime juice and black pepper.  Cover the tuna with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour, stirring gently with a plastic spatula every 15 to 20 minutes (the diced tuna will change color slightly as the lime juice “cooks” it)
Just before serving, gently fold in the diced avocado and chopped cilantro and season with salt.  Transfer the ceviche to a bowl , garnish with cilantro and serve with tortilla chips.

In the mood for Shrimp…hot off the grill!

It’s 95 degrees here in North Carolina today…seems more like August than June…. so I thought that I would share some favorite grilled shrimp recipes. Shrimp is the perfect protein for a hot summer supper.  The kitchen will stay cool and you will only have to stand over the hot grill for 5 minutes or so.

I prefer to buy shrimp at the fish market, and mine will peel and devein them for me if I call them and order in advance.  They charge an extra dollar per pound but it’s worth it.  If I buy shrimp a grocery store, I always peel and devein it myself.  Most shrimp has been frozen at some point and the shell protects the meat. Other general guidelines:

Shrimp should be firm and have a full shell with white meat.  (Don’t hesitate to ask for a smell.  It is annoying to get home and open a package of shrimp and get that strong “shrimpy” smell.)  If there is the smell of ammonia then the shrimp is way past it’s prime.

Go ahead and buy frozen shrimp and defrost it yourself if the “fresh” shrimp at the market looks or smells tired.

Never buy shrimp with black spots or rings on the shell. (Unless it is Black Tiger Shrimp)

I actually have quite a few shrimp recipes for the grill, but these three are the best of the best.  Enjoy!


Spicy Grilled Jalapeno and Lime Shrimp

This recipe is from Cooks Country (June, 2007). You can adjust the amount of jalapeno according to your taste for heat.  Either way, these shrimp have a big burst of flavor that I love.
1 jalapeno chile, seeded and chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon grated lime zest
5 tablespoons lime juice
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 pounds extra large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro
1.  For the marinade: Process all ingredients in food processor until smooth.  Reserve 2 tablespoons marinade; transfer remaining marinade to medium bowl.
2.  For the shrimp:  Pat shrimp dry with paper towels and add to bowl with the marinade.  Toss to coat and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes but not more than an hour. (after that, the lime juice will begin to “cook” the shrimp.)
3.  Heat grill on high.  Thread shrimp onto metal skewers and sprinkle one side of shrimp with sugar.  Grill shrimp sugar side down on the hot grill until lightly charred, about 3 minutes. Flip skewers and cook another 1-2 minutes until just no longer translucent.  Using tongs, slide shrimp from the skewers into a medium bowl and toss with reserved marinade.  Sprinkle with minced cilantro and serve.
Serves 4.

Grilled Herb Shrimp

This has been my go-to shrimp recipe for years.  It comes from the Barefoot Contessa Parties cookbook and she mentions that it is a slight variation of the recipe in the New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne. Kudos all around for such a winning recipe.  The Contessa serves it with a mango salsa which is very good.  I have tossed it with pasta, skewered it for appetizers, served it over grits, and mixed it into salads.  One of my favorite things about this dish is that it can marinate for as little as one hour and up to two days!  I have marinated pounds of shrimp, filled up big zip lock bags, set them on ice in a cooler and  travelled to the beach for a cookout.  The easiest way to cook them is to use long metal skewers.  But they can be grilled individually as well…it just takes a bit longer to get them all turned. I do use wooden skewers from time to time but they really can be a bother catching fire, etc.
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium yellow onion, small diced
1/4 minced fresh parsley
1/4 cup minced fresh basil
1 teaspoon dried mustard
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup good olive oil
juice of one lemon
2 pounds jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails left on
Combine the garlic, onion, parsley, basil, the mustards, salt, pepper, olive oil, and lemon juice.  Add the shrimp and allow them to marinate for 1 hour at room temperature or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.
Prepare a charcoal grill with hot coals or preheat gas grill to high.  Clean the grill rack well and brush with oil to prevent sticking. Skewer the shrimp and grill for 1-2 minutes per side.  Serves 6

Crusty Grilled Shrimp with Soy-Sesame Sauce

When I first tried this recipe, I couldn’t quite see how it would work to grill breaded shrimp.  I thought that I might be in for a huge mess on the grill.  Well, it does leave a bit more mess than the other shrimp recipes I’m giving you but I promise that it is worth it.  I have never, ever, had one shrimp left over when serving this dish.   (These shrimp can also be broiled in the oven.  I suggest that you do a trial with one or two shrimp to determine the timing and the rack placement that works best with your oven.  I found that putting the rack in the middle of the oven and turning the shrimp once after 2 minutes worked best for having the breading crispy and brown and the shrimp cooked through all at the same time.) The recipe is from At Blanchard’s Table, by Bob and Melinda Blanchard.
1 pound large shrimp
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2/3 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Prepare the grill.  Peel and devein the shrimp, leaving the tails on.  Using a small knife, butterfly the shrimp by slicing down the length of the inside of each. Be careful not to cut all the way through.  Spread and flatten the butterflied shrimp.
In a medium bowl, combine the oil, lemon juice, bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper.  Put the bread crumb mixture in a pile on a cutting board.  Coat both side of the shrimp with the bread crumbs.
In a small bowl, mix the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and sesame oil together and set aside.
  Grill the shrimp on both sides until just done, about 4 minutes.  Drizzle with the soy-sesame sauce.  Serve immediately. Serves 5-6