By Ann | March 26, 2013
I felt sure spring was coming because when I went to the Farmer’s Market this weekend I noticed the carrots had disappeared. True, there were Brussels sprouts, Swiss chard, and other winter vegetables that don’t hail from Europe. True, I saw nary a flutter of asparagus, or strawberries, or — that American peculiarity — ramps. But the bright piles of my favorite snacking vegetable were gone. “It’s a sign!” I told my husband.
It was not a sign.
Yesterday it snowed in Washington — snow! — and it’s the last week of March. This weather-seasonal disconnect calls to mind another post from my first weeks in this town, which documented 86 degrees in October. Though I’m more settled here now — an official cell phone owner with a full cabinet of Indian spices — this place still doesn’t really feel like home. Perhaps that’s because I know we’ll be moving again, sooner rather than later (my husband’s career as a diplomat transfers us often) — or maybe I just need to accept that DC is not my soulmate, as much as I appreciate its locavore salad bars, earnest plastic bag fees and independent bookstores.
So, there. I’ve finally got it off my chest: I have not yet fallen in love with my new town. (That’s okay, right?) I have, however, fallen in love with the health food store down the street. It has a funny patchouli smell, and packages of earnest-looking food, and bulk bins of nuts, grains and dried fruit. I know you’re probably thinking: she loves the bulk bins? But I do, I really do. I love how you can scoop out the exact quantity you need — a half cup of pine nuts, a cup of quinoa — no waste, no leftovers. This weekend, I eyeballed out a cup of walnuts and a half cup of dried cranberries. Then I went home and unearthed the bag of wheat germ leftover from this salad, and set about making my favorite cookies.
The recipe comes from Once Upon A Tart… (ellipses not my own), a Soho café I once frequented as an impoverished New York editorial assistant. Back then, splurging on a lunchtime sandwich or slice of quiche from Once Upon a Fart… (as I like to call it) felt like a celebration. And the giant cookies, oh, the cookies — those were reserved for very special occasions, like Saturday afternoons after my husband (at the time my, um, boyfriend?) got his hair cut and we would meet at the café to share one. I loved almost everything about those cookies — the bits of tart cranberry and chunks of chocolate, the marvelous airy, chewy-crunchy, oat-y texture. But I didn’t love the size. They were too big. I like having my own cookie.
When I left New York, a friend gave me a wonderful present: Once Upon A Tart…’s cookbook. Over the years, I’ve adapted the carrot-chick pea salad and ginger peanut sauce into kitchen staples, but for some reason I’ve only made My Favorite Cookie once before (mainly because it calls for dried cranberries and wheat germ, both rather particular ingredients). But this weekend, when I saw the array of dried fruit in the bulk bin and remembered the nearly-full bag of wheat germ in my cupboard, I knew what to do. The cookies turned out just the way I remembered, satisfyingly chewy and crunchy at the same time, thanks to the wheat germ. (They burn in a flash, however, so be careful not to singe a batch like I did.) Best of all, I made them in my favorite size — small enough so you can eat them two at a time.
Cranberry-chocolate chip oatmeal cookies
Adapted from Once Upon a Tart…’s Cookbook
Makes 5 dozen cookies
“A great way to tell if cookies are done is to lift one up with a metal spatula,” the book says. “If it’s brown underneath, it’s done.” I wish I’d followed this advice.
2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup wheat germ
3 cups rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
With a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugars together until combined. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla.
To the wet ingredients, add the flour, wheat germ, oats, baking powder, baking soda and salt, mixing them in a bit at a time. With a wooden spoon, stir in the chocolate chips, cranberries and nuts.
Drop 2-inch scoops of cookie dough onto a baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. (The dough spreads quite a bit.) Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the cookies are golden brown all over, and on the bottom. Don’t undercook, as they’re better crunchy. Don’t overcook, as we’ve discussed. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.
By Ann | March 20, 2013
I know, it’s Wednesday. But I couldn’t wait another week to post this simple, satisfying, buttery and delicious recipe for tadka dal (a sort of spiced Indian lentil stew) from my friend and fellow Paris blogger, Croque-Camille.
Camille is an American pastry chef (with famous buns) who lives in Paris with her husband, Nick, and black-and-white cat, Snoopy. As you might imagine, her blog is very sweet, with reviews of Paris pâtisseries and recipes and tips to make them at home. In fact, Camille was my very first blog friend — the first time we met, we made xiaolongbao and we’ve since cemented our bond over ethnic food — tacos, pizza, mapo tofu — you know, all the stuff that’s hard to find in Paris.
In our constant quest for spice, Camille and I have both become devotees of a fantastic Indian cookbook, Miss Masala (about which I’ve waxed enthusiastic here and here). So I was delighted but not surprised when she sent me this fast, healthy recipe for tadka dal, adapted from this very book. “I make it at least once a month,” says Camille. “It is great any time of year, and I love that it can take just about any vegetable. I’ve made it with carrots, green beans, peppers, leeks, fennel, cauliflower, peas, potatoes, zucchini, salsify, turnips, spinach, onions, broccoli… It’s a wonderful trick for cleaning out the fridge of CSA leftovers on Tuesday night, since I get my new delivery on Wednesdays.
“My pantry is stuffed to the gills with rices, lentils, pastas, and grains, all of which can cook up on a moment’s notice to round out a meal or stretch out leftovers. I keep a steady supply of tomato products (diced, purée, and paste) for last-minute pasta sauces, and canned beans for adding protein to the largely vegetable-based diet we eat at home. Thanks to the CSA, we almost always have fresh vegetables and eggs on hand — topping a vegetable salad or soup with a poached egg makes it feel like more of a meal. And speaking of salads, I used to make vinaigrette à la minute, but now I try to make enough for a week’s worth of salads at once: chop a shallot and put it in a jar, add a spoonful of mustard and pour in vinegar to cover, twice that amount of oil, then close the jar and shake vigorously. Voilà! Who needs bottled salad dressing?”
Tadka Dal à la Croque-Camille
Note from Ann: Soupy, spicy and buttery, this is the ideal comfort food, especially when ladled over steaming basmati rice. “When tomatoes aren’t in season,” says Camille, “I use a couple tablespoons of tomato paste instead. I’ve never weighed the vegetables I put in. I also salt as I go — a pinch in the lentil cooking water, a pinch when I add the vegetables, maybe more at the end if it needs it. I may or may not make rice to go with it, but if I do, I’ll crack a couple of cardamom pods and throw them in the pot with the basmati to further perfume it.”
200g / 7 oz. red lentils
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
Coarse sea salt
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
450-500g / 1 lb. fresh or frozen vegetables, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces if necessary
1-2 Tbsp. ghee or butter
Pinch of asafoetida
2 small dried red chile peppers, crumbled (I use Sanam peppers from India or pili-pilis)
1/2 tsp. chile powder (Not the mix, but chile peppers, ground. I use an Indian one, but cayenne also works)
1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
1. Rinse and drain the lentils several times, until the water is mostly clear. Combine these in a medium saucepan with the turmeric and a good pinch of salt, cover with water by about an inch, stir, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and skim the foam if any comes up. Cook, stirring occasionally to make sure the lentils aren’t sticking, for about 20 minutes. If the water level gets too low, add a little more.
2. When the lentils start falling apart, stir in the tomato paste and cook until it’s incorporated. Add the vegetables and another good pinch of salt and continue cooking until the vegetables are tender, about 10 more minutes. The texture of the dish at this point should be somewhere between thick soup and stew.
3. Measure the asafoetida, chile peppers, chile powder, and cumin in a small dish so you have them ready. Heat your very smallest pan (I actually use my metal 1-cup measure) over high heat with the ghee or butter (ghee is less likely to burn, so watch it carefully if you’re using butter). When it starts sizzling, add the spices and cook a few seconds until you can smell the toasted (not burnt) aromas. Pour this over the dal — it will sizzle — and stir it in.
4. Serve hot, over steamed basmati rice, garnished with plain yogurt, or all by itself.
Aren’t these lentils pretty? (All non-food photos from Camille Malmquist.)
P.S. If I haven’t yet convinced you to buy a copy of Miss Masala, check out her wonderful website for more terrific Indian recipes. (I myself own TWO copies of the book — one for DC, one for Paris. It’s that good.)
By Ann | March 15, 2013
It snowed again in Paris this week, a big snow. After my icy adventures there in January (and last week in New York) I have to admit, I wasn’t that sorry to miss it. Ah, March is a lion, mes amis, hear her roar! This weekend, I’m looking forward to having some friends over for dinner, and going to a reading at the venerable old DC bookshop, Politics and Prose (details below). If your weekend includes some relaxing internet browsing, here are a few lovely food and book links:
–Memoirs about life in Paris usually aggravate me because they so often get the city wrong. But Rosecrans Baldwin’s book, Paris I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down, gets every single detail right, from his hilarious vocabulary lessons with French colleagues, to the expatriate’s wistful appreciation of the temporary.
–Have you ever wondered why so many great ideas appear in the shower? This article explains it all.
–Win a copy of Kitchen Chinese! I’m excited to band together with 26 author friends for a big book giveaway. Find out more details on my Facebook page (click on the blue “win” button at the top), or via the blog of my friend, Randy Susan Meyers.
–*Shamless self promotion alert* I was completely bowled over to find my little old blog featured in the South China Morning Post!
–Isn’t this book cover gorgeous? I’m excited to hear my friend, Nichole Bernier, speak about her debut novel, The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. The event is tomorrow, Saturday, March 16, 1pm, at Politics and Prose (5015 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC). See you there?
Bon weekend, tout le monde!
By Ann | March 12, 2013
Living overseas (and by overseas I mean anywhere outside of New York City) there’s one thing I miss the most. A bagel. With cream cheese. And lox. But not just any bagel — I want one with heft, with chew, with a crust that almost crackles between my teeth. I want the schmear to be plain, creamy and a little tangy, unless I’m foregoing the salmon in which case I’ll take vegetable or scallion. And speaking of salmon, I want it lightly smoked, not too salty, and hand cut into slices so thin they’re transparent.
Alas, even in Bagel Mecca you can find bad specimens — I’ve eaten my share. So imagine my excitement when, on the brink of a week-long visit to NYC, I read a review of a new book, Russ & Daughters, by Mark Russ Federman, which waxed poetic about this family-owned shop on the Lower East Side, the delectable nosh that you can purchase there, the friendly schmooze practiced by the countermen. Reading it, I could practically taste the schmear.
I used to live in Alphabet City, so of course I’d walked by the shop many times though I’d never been inside. (I blame my meager editorial assistant budget at the time.) But now I came armed with plenty of cash and a new vocabulary word gleaned from the store’s website: appetizing. When used as a noun, the word refers to the food you eat with bagels — the cold cured and/or smoked salmon, the filets of pickled herring, the spread of whitefish salad, the cream cheese. You know, a snack. Or, as my husband’s grandmother used to call it, a nosh. “You wanna nosh? Let’s have a nosh.”
My nosh that first morning was a sesame bagel, plain cream cheese, and three slices of silky Scottish salmon that melted on my tongue into a wisp of smoke. The counterman cut them right in front of me, sliding his knife across the filet so effortlessly I gaped when I saw their delicate translucency. The bagel had a chewy heft, the cream cheese was spread on both sides, not too thickly. The salmon had not even a hint of fishiness. It was a meal so perfect, I nearly wept when it was over.
Instead of weeping, I went back the next day, dragging my husband through a freak snowstorm, down thirteen blocks to Houston Street. That morning my bagel was pumpernickel, the cream cheese vegetable. He got sesame, plain schmear, and slices of nova lox reminiscent of butter. Visit #3 (oh, yes, there was a third visit) involved poppy seeds and scallion cream cheese (me), pumpernickel, plain and more nova (him). That morning, as we waited amongst a crowd of appetizing aficionados, I eavesdropped on the chatter all around me. I’m not sure if it was the counterman’s schmooze, but most people ordered with abandon, loading up on bagels, cream cheese, salmon and orange juice as if for an end-of-the-world Saturday morning nosh party, spending up to $100 or more. Russ & Daughters ain’t cheap but New Yorkers know the good stuff when they see it.
There used to be more than 20 or 30 appetizing shops on the Lower East Side, but now there’s just this one, open since 1914, a little living piece of New York history that still gleams shiny, fresh and bright. For those who live overseas (that is, outside NYC), Russ & Daughters offers mail order nationwide (continental US only) and their wares are equally delicious when shipped. If you don’t trust me, perhaps you’ll believe my in-laws — when we sent them some Russ & Daughters smoked salmon for the holidays, they told me it was the best they’d ever tasted.
Russ & Daughters
179 East Houston Street (at 1st Avenue)
New York, NY 10002
(212) 475 4880
By Ann | March 5, 2013
It may be late winter, but my local farmer’s market is still thriving, offering the sweetest carrots and curliest kale. But how to turn this hardy winter produce into a cozy meal? Kristin Harmel’s weeknight minestrone soup is the answer.
Kristin is a journalist — she’s written for People, Ladies’ Home Journal, Woman’s Day, and many other publications — and a novelist who has published seven books. She also appears regularly as the travel expert on “The Daily Buzz,” a national morning show. I loved Kristin’s most recent novel, The Sweetness of Forgetting, which tells the story of Hope, a divorced mother who runs her family’s bakery on Cape Cod. When Hope’s French grandmother, who is slipping into Alzheimer’s, reveals snippets of a family tragedy, Hope travels to Paris on an emotional journey through the faith — and pâtisserie — of three religions.
Kristin has lived in Paris (in my neighborhood!) and currently resides in Orlando, Florida. Today, I’m thrilled to share her tips for fast, weeknight, writerly meals!
On her *tough* winter in Florida (don’t hate her):
My boyfriend, Jason, and I live in Florida, so even though it’s the winter, we’ve had some wonderful 70- and 80-degree days lately. A typical weeknight might consist of a bike ride to the lake in Baldwin Park; there’s a Mexican place we like that serves margaritas on the deck, and it’s lovely to sit out by the water. If the weather’s not quite as nice, we might stay home and rent a movie. Most weeknights include dinners cooked at home, even if we go out for happy hour first.
On her secret weapon in the kitchen:
I am a big fan of my slow cooker, so it’s not unusual for me to throw several ingredients in first thing in the morning and let them cook all day. I particularly like stews, hearty soups, chili and pulled barbecue chicken, all of which are super-easy slow cooker meals that require 5-20 minutes of prep. By the time the meal is ready eight hours later, I’ve almost forgotten about preparing it, so it’s as if there’s a magical chef hiding in my kitchen, catering my meals. I also have a rice cooker that I use at least twice a week and I always keep white and brown rice on hand.
When she doesn’t feel like cooking:
An easy no-cook idea is to make artisan roast beef sandwiches: focaccia bread from the grocery store, horseradish mayonnaise, lettuce, cheddar cheese, and rare roast beef from the deli. In the winter, we’ll brush the bread with olive oil and make the sandwiches into paninis by using a panini press (or even a George Foreman grill).
Her favorite cooking shortcuts:
–I always keep diced onions in the freezer and peeled garlic cloves in the fridge. I find that I use onion and garlic very frequently in recipes, and not having to peel/slice them feels like a huge relief!
–Whenever there’s a sale at the grocery store on rotisserie chickens, I generally pick one up and serve it with Steamfresh greenbeans (you just microwave them in the bag) and rice (from my rice-cooker, so it’s very easy). The next day, I mix the leftover cold chicken with low-fat mayo, diced celery, diced onions, dried cranberries, salt and pepper for easy chicken salad, which is great paired with lettuce and a tortilla for a chicken salad wrap.
On finding cooking inspiration while writing:
I’m a novelist, so when I’m not traveling (for research or book signings – or just for fun!), I’m home most of the day. That often means that I begin thinking very early in the day about what we’ll be eating for dinner. Okay, so it might also have something to do with the fact that my office – where I work on all my books – is actually in my kitchen nook, so I spend my days overlooking my stove and countertops.
Weeknight minestrone soup
Note from Ann: I loved the healthy assortment of vegetables and tomato tang of Kristin’s soup. Though de-stemming and chopping the kale took me a bit longer than expected, this makes a huge amount of soup, which lasted us for two nights. I used low-sodium chicken broth, but stock cubes or even water would work. Don’t skip the rustic croutons — they’re a genius touch.
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
1 medium zucchini, diced
4 cups washed and stemmed kale leaves, torn into bite-sized pieces. (“You can also substitute spinach or Swiss chard,” says Kristin. “If using spinach, add in step 5 instead of step 4.”)
7 cups vegetable stock (“I use two Knorr Homestyle Stock pods, with 7 cups water,” says Kristin.)
1 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes, undrained
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 Tbsp. Italian seasoning blend (I used a mix of dried thyme, oregano and basil)
1 cup cut green beans
1 15.5-ounce can light red kidney beans
1 cup uncooked small, bite-sized pasta (such as elbows, bowties or ditalini)
Rustic croutons (see below)
1. In large soup pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté for two minutes.
2. Add garlic cloves and sauté two additional minutes.
3. Add celery and carrots and sauté two minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Add zucchini and kale and sauté all vegetables together for an additional four minutes, until kale is wilted. (It will look like you have of a ton of kale, but once it begins to wilt, it reduces quickly.)
5. Add vegetable stock, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, Italian seasoning and green beans and bring to a boil.
6. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes.
7. Add beans and pasta, return to a low boil, and cook 10 additional minutes.
8. Serve with rustic croutons.
*Rustic croutons: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roughly tear leftover bread (preferably Italian bread, but virtually anything works) into bite-sized chunks. Toss in a big bowl with 1 Tbsp. olive oil, then sprinkle liberally with freshly ground pepper and freshly grated parmesan cheese. Bake for 15-20 minutes on foil-lined cookie sheet, turning twice.
* Note 1: Instead of using carrots, celery, zucchini and green beans, you could simplify this recipe by using a 16-ounce bag of frozen Italian vegetables instead. Add them with the stock, tomatoes, tomato sauce and Italian seasoning.
* Note 2: This makes a huge pot of soup, so we generally have it for dinner one night with a green salad, and then we reheat it the next night and serve it with grilled cheese (using provolone, mozzarella and grated parmesan). It goes perfectly (both nights!) with a big Italian red wine.
(All non-food photos from Kristin Harmel.)
By Ann | March 2, 2013
Last week, I reveled in reading F. Scott Fitzgerald and baking banana bread, but this week I have to admit, I missed my manuscript. I thought I couldn’t wait to turn it in, but after a few days without it, I started to feel kind of lost. An experienced writer would tell me now is the time to start the next Big Project, but, I don’t know, that seems so abrupt and heartless — like diving into a cold swimming pool, or quitting smoking cold turkey. I wanted to live within my book a little longer, to dream about its French countryside locations. And then I remembered, my work wasn’t complete. I still needed to test my recipe for cassoulet.
As any French food lover will tell you, there are as many recipes for cassoulet as there are cassoulet cooks. I wanted mine to be faithful to the versions I’d eaten in Cassoulet Country — that is, the former province of Languedoc — which meant loads of beans, confit de canard, saucisse de Toulouse — and no breadcrumbs. A crunchy breadcrumb topping is considered sacrilege in this part of the world; instead the beans form a natural crust during cooking, with the starch, and juice, and fat of the dish sealed in the heat of the oven.
Cassoulet is not a dish for the faint of heart — or hurried. Mine took five days. I started by soaking some Northern beans overnight. The next day I cooked them briefly in chicken stock. (All hail the United States and its flowing rivers of packaged, unsalted chicken stock.) Day three found me browning pork belly, duck confit, and saucisse de Toulouse — I’d ordered the latter two online from the marvelous French Selections — layering the ingredients into my cassole – a special, handmade terracotta bowl that I’d lugged home from Castelnaudary — and cooking everything in a slow oven for three hours. Day four: I baked it again and cooled it. Day five: I baked it again and ate it. In total: six hours of cooking.
Thanks to the long, slow simmer, the beans were like velvet, deeply rich with pork fat and mellowed garlic. The confit slipped from the bone, the cubes of pork belly dissolved on the tongue. The fat from the meat had totally disappeared — into the beans, I realized — giving everything a lovely, luscious, round richness. It was a beautiful cassoulet, earthy and sumptuous, a taste of la France profonde on a chilly mid-Atlantic evening.
Six hours of cooking gave me lots of time to contemplate my emotions about the end of this book project. There was a lot of relief, a bit of sadness. I had stretched my four-year stint in France to almost five by continuing to immerse myself in the manuscript. Now that I’ve typed the word “FIN” it’s truly time to move on. And when I snuck my first spoonful of beans from the bubbling cassole, and finally tasted their deep velvety richness, I felt something else, something more than satisfaction, more than contentment — I think it was peace. I had made a cassoulet that could rival any I’d eaten in Cassoulet Country, made it with my own two hands. In the unlikely event that I never return to France again, I know that I will always carry France with me — at least, in the kitchen. More than anything, this book has made me self-sufficient.
Alas, dear readers, I can’t share my cassoulet recipe, though it will be in my book, published this fall! In the meantime, here are some cassoulet links from around the internets. None of them are quite like mine, but then again, every cook’s cassoulet is different, so of course they wouldn’t be. Here’s to finding self-sufficiency in the kitchen!
Toulouse-style cassoulet from Paula Wolfert (Food & Wine)
By Ann | February 26, 2013
Last month in Paris, I was at a dinner party and a friend asked us: What’s your favorite pastry to buy at a boulangerie? Not, she clarified, the dainty cakes found at a pâtisserie, but the everyday workhorse treats: pains au chocolat, chaussons aux pommes, chouquettes, financiers, pains aux raisins. My own favorite is a good old éclair au chocolat, so imagine my surprise when almost half the guests answered: flan pâtissier.
First of all, what is flan pâtissier? It’s a wobbly, starchy, slightly singed custard encased in a pastry crust. It’s sold at most corner boulangeries in Paris, thick wedges that Parisians consume out of hand, one of the few things I’ve seen them eat on the street. In all my years of living in Paris, I’d never been tempted by a slice of flan pâtissier. But after all the raves, I went to Poîlane, bought a jiggly slice and brought it to the cinema (Zero Dark Thirty) to share with a Flan Lover.
What did it taste like? Well, flan pâtissier, mes amis, tastes exactly like it looks: sweet, vanilla-scented, eggy, a little stodgy, with a slightly damp pastry crust. It’s the Monsieur Milktoast of desserts — inoffensive and — dare I say it? — bland. Could it replace an éclair au chocolat in my affection and desires? In two words: HELL NO.
Want a more expert opinion? My friend, the Flan Lover, found the Poîlane version “Just okay. Not the best. It was too rubbery.”
I left Paris before I could sample more flan pâtissier and, to be honest, after Round 1, I had lost my zeal. But upon reflection, I think I have to chalk up the French Love of Flan to a souvenir d’enfance — much like those sugary chlorophyll-green syrups they use to flavor perfectly good mineral water, or their innate fondness for Barbapapa – they’re part of a sweet childhood nostalgia that I didn’t experience and, thus, cannot appreciate. Bring on the peanut butter.
Martha Stewart makes flan pâtissier with prunes (and inexplicably suggests serving it as dessert for Easter dinner)
The best flan pâtissier in Paris (Figaroscope)
Another recipe for flan pâtissier (Zen Can Cook)
All about éclairs (Croque Camille)
Paris Pastry app (David Lebovitz)
By Ann | February 22, 2013
I admit, I took this photo about a month ago during the big chute des neiges in Paris. Though there’s no snow predicted this weekend in Washington, I’m still craving coziness: the smell of cookies in the oven, a slow braise on the stove, a lazy afternoon on the couch with a good book. Ahhh… a good book! Here’s what I’ve been reading:
–In Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, author Therese Anne Fowler traces the lives of tortured F. Scott and his daring, Southern belle wife. Like their marriage, the book is both tragic and thrilling and it made me want to read and reread Fitzgerald.
–As a follow-up, I’m now immersed in the callow adventures of Amory Blaine as told in Fitzgerald’s first novel, This Side of Paradise. Next up is Tender is the Night (did you know Fitzgerald used Zelda’s diary entries from her time in a psychiatric hospital to portray the character of Nicole Diver?). And I read again a few of his brilliant short stories – I’ve always loved ”The Ice Palace.”
–Have you ever wondered what it would be like to marry a man who grew up in a palace? What if the palace turns out to be a sprawling, moldy family manor on the outskirts of Delhi? Where the Peacocks Sing tells the story of my friend, Alison Singh Gee, who moves in with her Indian husband’s family. The memoir is National Geographic’s Traveler’s book of the month. My copy is on its way!
–Isn’t this book cover gorgeous? I love Randy Susan Meyers’s writing and she explores new territory in this novel about the collateral damage of infidelity. The good news? I’m giving away a copy on my Facebook page – just “like” and “share” the post to enter to win. (I’ll also be giving away several more books via Facebook in the coming months, so please “like” my page for future updates.)
–In between lengthy quiet reading periods, I also hope to make this banana bread, with chocolate chips added, of course! Question: I’ve been hoarding old bananas in the freezer and noticed they exude a lot of liquid when defrosted. Do you mix this in?
Bon weekend, tout le monde!
P.S. As soon as I posted this, it started flurrying! Extra cozy! xo
By Ann | February 19, 2013
Phew! That was a long break! Apologies for my absence, mes amis. I was working on revisions to my new book, which meant the rest of my communication was limited to caveman grunts. I’ve been subsisting on crackers and peanut butter and my husband’s cooking (turns out he’s a genius with ground meat: chili, bolognese, sloppy joe’s). We celebrated Valentine’s Day (that is, Due Day) with leftover lasagna eaten in the glow of my laptop as I frantically finished editing the final pages. Romantic, eh?
But now, the final draft has been turned in! And, the draft that came after the final draft? That has also been turned in! I am free again to blog, and bake, and read novels, and respond to email that’s been sitting in my inbox since December. But before I start on all those fun projects, I thought I’d cook my husband a lovely dinner, the one I wanted to make on Valentine’s Day. And who better to advise me on bonne femme recipes, than the author of The Bonne Femme Cookbook, Wini Moranville? Today she shares an elegant Tuesday Dinner: beef filet in cherry and red wine sauce.
Wini is a food writer, author, and summer resident of France — every year, she and her husband rent a little apartment in a town like Collioure, in the Languedoc (pictured above). These warm-weather sojourns have given her the opportunity to dive into honest French cooking, as eaten by real French families. Wini has gathered these tips in The Bonne Femme Cookbook, which offers 250 recipes for simple, fresh ingredients prepared well. I’m delighted to welcome Wini and discover a few French housewife cooking secrets.
On whipping up an elegant French dinner in thirty minutes:
I am all about the “sauté-deglaze-serve” method of cooking. That is, you sauté the meat in a skillet, then deglaze the pan with wine and/or chicken broth. Stir up those tasty browned bits clinging to the pan, reduce the liquids, and then finish this fabulous pan sauce with a few flavorings, such as mustard and capers for pork chops, balsamic vinegar and red grapes for chicken, olives and tomatoes for lamb — I have about 35 variations in the book. Round out the meal with whatever veggies looks good at the market and perhaps my Any-Night Baked Rice — a riff on an old Pierre Franey recipe.
When in doubt, freeze it:
Many French stews and braises freeze extremely well. Generally, they make big batches, with plenty of leftovers. So it’s not unusual to for me to have Blanquette de Porc, Beef Bourguignon, Basque-Style Chicken, or another one of my recipes ready to reheat from the freezer. They’ll thaw and reheat in about the time it takes for me to pour and enjoy a Kir with my husband. Which I do just about every night.
Her favorite pantry staples:
–Wine. It’s the key to intensifying flavors, from quick pan sauces to long-simmering braises.
–Dijon mustard. On the busiest of nights, I count Dijon mustard as a fine sauce for pork chops, steaks, or smoked sausage.
–Shallots. Whenever I don’t know what I’m cooking for dinner, I start chopping a shallot, as something will come to me soon, and it’s generally a key ingredient in one of my pan sauces.
–Butter. I adore what a little touch of butter can bring to a dish in terms of flavor, richness, and intensity.
–Parsley. French cooks use both curly-leaf and flat-leaf parsley, and it’s just a great boost of freshness.
On being prepared:
Think of the “sauté-deglaze-serve” method of cooking a little bit like an Asian stir-fry — it’s a really quick process, so you’ll want to get everything chopped, measured, and ready to go before you start the recipe. It’s amazing how fast a meal can truly get to the table when you take a few minutes to get organized in advance.
Filet with Cherry and Red Wine Sauce
By Wini Moranville
Note from Ann: I loved this variation on a traditional steak dinner — the sauce elegantly balances sweet and savory. I couldn’t find dried cherries, so I used a spoonful of sour cherry jam instead, which gave the sauce a lovely, luscious sheen.
Makes 4 servings
4 (6-ounce) tenderloin steaks (1 inch thick)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large shallot, finely chopped (about 1/4 cup)
3/4 cup low-sodium beef broth
3/4 cup dry red wine
1/3 cup dried tart cherries
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1. Season both sides of the steaks with salt and pepper. In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium- high heat. Add the steaks and cook, turning as needed, to the desired doneness (10 to 12 minutes for medium-rare); reduce the heat as necessary if the meat browns too quickly. Transfer the steaks to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm.
2. Add the shallot to the skillet and sauté briefly, until translucent. Add the beef broth and red wine to the pan and cook,stirring with a whisk to loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the cherries and vinegar and bring to a boil. Boil until the liquid is reduced to 1/2 cup — this should take 4 to 5 minutes, depending on the heat and your pan size. Whisk in the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Stir in the thyme. Season the sauce with additional salt and pepper.
3. Divide the steaks among four dinner plates, spoon the sauce over the steaks, and serve.
(All non-food photos courtesy of Wini Moranville.)
By Ann | January 28, 2013
Tomorrow is my last day in Paris. It’s been a lovely visit, albeit snowy and chilly, filled with long hours at my desk interrupted by brisk, inspirational walks and a few lovely evenings with friends.
Before January slips away (already!), I wanted to share our New Year’s card with you. I hope 2013 brings you lots of peas — and lots of other vegetables, too.
Also, just in case you missed it, here’s the Winter edition of my newsletter, which has information about a big book giveaway from seven of my favorite authors. I’m also giving away a copy of Kitchen Chinese to one of my newsletter subscribers — you can sign up here to enter to win!
I’ll be back with more blog posts when I clear this new book from my plate! Soon, soon (I hope, I hope)!
A très bientôt!