28 February 2007

Winter Along the Bay and Patchwork Quilts

When this is how it looks outside, your thoughts turn to hearty food — and that's what I've got on the menu for the rest of the week.

Meanwhile, I wanted to call your attention to a new site that brings together "a patchwork quilt" of women bloggers, 100 BloggingBabes. As it happens, a post from this blog is today's feature.

I like the quilt analogy a lot. One of my first important gifts from Grandma Annie was a 1930s-era Sunbonnet Sue quilt, with lilac as its predominant color. I treasured that quilt for years, until I gave it to my niece Molly on the the day she was baptized. I am a firm believer in passing such gifts along in your lifetime. We are only caretakers, not owners, of family legacies.

I do not have ready access to a photo of the quilt. Instead, I share today one of the reasons we like quilts so much: Cold weather. Every bed in my house has at least one quilt. In winter, sometimes two are piled on. So, yes, they keep us warm and comfortable.

But also, quilts are a way of preserving those odd bits of material and memory and a way of paying forward. We've all heard the saying, "When life gives you scraps, make a quilt." Yes, it may be a bit corny, but it reflects my approach to life and often, to cooking.

Finally, quilts have always represented a way for women to bond. Mémére had a quilting frame (long gone, alas!) set up in her sunny living room and I am told that in the 1930s and 1940s, she and her friends often sat there in the afternoons, making warmth from remnants.

How I wish I could have watched them.

27 February 2007

Warm Salmon and Asparagus Salad

Although I vowed to experiment with chicken in 2007, I am getting a bit bored already. I've had chicken with pistachios, cashews, capers, tomatoes and red peppers since the beginning of the year.

It's Lent and seafood beckons. Looking for something light, I made my version of Kalyn's Warm Salmon and Asparagus Salad from the fabulous archives at Kalyn's Kitchen.

The recipe calls for smoked paprika, which I did not have. Otherwise, I followed the recipe to the letter, adding my own touches: Roasted red pepper and sautéed almonds.

My friends, this is among the best salads I have ever tasted. Roasted asparagus, which I have made before, has an almost nutty aroma and flavor.

I've been a fan of both salmon and asparagus for a long time, and have made asparagus as a side dish for salmon many times. This trumps anything I have done in the past.

P.S. Thanks again to Kalyn who has helped me out many times, the link should now work.

25 February 2007

Spicy Chicken Breasts With Ratatouille Vegetables in a Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Winter has finally come to my corner of the Upper Midwest. It hit around 3 a.m. on Sunday morning and has been going full force. Schools are closed, kids are inside and the only sound you hear is the cacophony of snowblowers and the occasional freight train trundling through town. Those of us who are lucky enough to be able to work from home are doing that.

After Blowing Us Out Round One on Sunday, my husband made chili. Hot stuff. I made something similarly spicy cobbled together from what was on hand and in the larder: Chicken Breasts with Ratatouille Vegetables in a Roasted Red Pepper Sauce.

It's a fricassee kind of dish, served with strips of eggplant, peppers and zucchini. Since I'm off carbs for two weeks, I had to make up for that sacrifice with protein and heat.

For the Chicken

  • 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • dash sel de fleur
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with roasted red pepper
  • 1/2 cup roasted red peppers from a jar
  • 1/2 cup salt-free chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme


Toss seasonings and chicken in a plastic bag to coat. Then, use a heavy skillet to lightly brown chicken in olive oil. When chicken is barely golden brown, remove it from pan; set aside. Add onion and garlic and brown lightly, adding a little more olive oil, if necessary. Cook for about three minutes. Pour in tomatoes and water. Add red pepper. You may chop this into small pieces, or even mince it. Return the chicken to the skillet and cook for about 30-45 minutes under low heat. Since I was using dried thyme, I added it midway through the cooking process.

I always use a meat thermometer to check chicken prepared this way, or any way, for that matter.

I kept checking the sauce and adding more spices. There is no prescribed amount, really; it's whatever you can tolerate.

For the Vegetables

  • 1 medium eggplant
  • 2 peppers, green and red
  • 1 medium zucchini
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • fleur de sel

While the chicken was cooking, the vegetables were roasting in a 450-degree oven. These I prepared earlier in the day, working with the eggplant first, cutting it into strips, but not peeling it. I sprinkled it with sel de fleur and let it sit for about an hour to remove water. I almost always use a mix of salt and herbes de Provence (above). The peppers and the zucchini were also cut in strips. I drizzled the vegetables with olive oil before putting them in the oven.

I timed it so the vegetables and chicken were done at the same time. Usually, I get the timing all messed up, and one thing ends up being cold or overcooked.

Having nothing else to do (well, nothing else I had to do), enabled me to get it just right.

Let's hear it for snow days.

24 February 2007

Brussels Sprouts with Shallots, Mushrooms and Thyme

For me there is something immensely pleasurable about preparing a meal as night begins to fall, especially as the clouds gather outside and the wind howls. There is no place I'd rather be than in my own kitchen.

So I was thoroughly enjoying myself Saturday about 6 p.m. as I marinated steak for broiling and sliced tomatoes for a simple side salad with black olives and an herb-peppered chevre.

The long-predicted storm had not arrived (it finally hit at 3 a.m.), and as I chopped and sliced and seasoned I kept an eye on the sky.

I’ve sworn off simple carbohydrates for a while, and thus have forced my husband to do so, too, at least on weekends. Without potatoes, rice or pasta, I’m paying more attention to side dishes. It seemed a while since we’d had Brussels sprouts, and I found a recipe on Epicurious that intrigued me.

As usual, I modified it quite a bit to suit my diet and my time constraints.

Brussels Sprouts with Shallots, Mushrooms and Thyme

For Brussels sprouts

  • 3 lb Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved lengthwise
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
  • dash sel de fleur


For shallots

  • 1/2 lb large shallots (about 6), cut lengthwise
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil


For mushrooms

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 lb mixed fresh mushrooms
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • dash salt
  • dash freshly ground black pepper


Preheat oven to 425. Trim sprouts, douse with oil, sprinkle with garlic and salt. Toss. Arrange in one layer in a shallow baking pan and place in pre-heated oven for about 20 minutes, checking and turning frequently to ensure even roasting and no burning.

While the Brussels sprouts are roasting, sauté the shallots in oil and butter until they are soft to the touch and are beginning to turn golden brown. Remove from the pan and drain.

Using the same pan, add more butter and the mushrooms, sautéing until the mushrooms turn golden brown. Add the thyme about midway through; season at the end. The whole process takes about 15-20 minutes.

Finally, mix all three ingredients and serve.

Note: The original recipe calls for a white wine glaze. This was a pared-down version: I used Smart Balance in place of butter. I also used olive oil as sparingly as I could.

It was wonderful: Both sweet and herby, the tastes of the early spring woods. We will definitely do Brussels sprouts this way again.

My husband thought the vegetables were so good that he was unbothered by the mess I made of the steak. It was tough and tasteless!

21 February 2007

Lenten Sacrifice, Memere's Candy Jar and Billy Gumbo

Growing up Catholic, we took Lent seriously and were encouraged to give something up. Usually it was candy.

Nowadays that doesn't bother me in the least, but it was a difficult sacrifice for a child. My resolve rarely lasted a week. I'd be fine the first three days, and would feel highly virtuous, a feeling I like more now than I did then.

But within two days of Ash Wednesday, I craved sugar with an intensity that made my teeth chatter, and I usually found some way to sneak red licorice or chocolate into my mouth. (Giving up red meat would have been a far easier sacrifice back then, as I loathed the stuff and resorted to all sorts of ingenious ways of avoiding it.)

The entire family (except my father) was sacrifice-prone for the dreary weeks leading up to Easter. Candy jars would go unfilled until Holy Saturday when no one could wait any longer and the deprivation generally ended.

My father ignored such things, as he ignored religion. But he relished the culinary customs of Catholicism. On Shrove Tuesday, he'd prepare some fatty dish and hum "Jambalaya" under his breath, always deliberately mishearing the lyrics so he could ask, "Who's this Billy Gumbo fellow, anyway?"

During Lent, he'd order lobster and clams and shrimp, having some of it flown in from the East Coast (a huge extravagance in those days). It was for the restaurant, of course, but we enjoyed it, too: Lobster with chive-y butter, clam chowder, oysters, scallops, shrimp - oh my!

For school-day lunches, there were fish sticks and French fries and macaroni-and-cheese.

Today I try to give something up, not for religious reasons (I stopped practicing when I got it right), but because it feels good.

Note: The candy dish belonged to Mémére. I noticed today that it has a few small splashes of red paint on it, same as Annie's pressed glass goblets (Sept. 25, 2006).

19 February 2007

A Brief History of Chateaubriand

"Why didn't you include some history of Chateaubriand?" asked a reader who does not post comments but happens to sit next to me at work.

"Uh, because I forgot," I said. That's the truth. Ideas and information don't seem to stay too long in my brain these days. Stress overload?

Chateaubriand, like London Broil, is not a cut of meat, according to some sources. It is a way of cooking a thick cut of beef tenderloin. Other sources, like Wikipedia, to which I can never successfully provide a precise link, refer to it as a cut.

Does it matter? I think not. It tastes heavenly.

The dish was reportedly created for Francois René Vicomte de Chateaubriand (1768-1848), a statesman and writer. Born in St. Malo, he grew up in a castle in Normandy. He spent part of the French Revolution in the American Deep South, which ultimately influenced several of his novels. He is considered the father of French Romanticism.

The dish that bears his name may have been created by his chef, Montmireil, according to the Food Reference Website.

Here's what else the Web site says, "Sources differ on the other important details of this recipe. Most say it was originally cut from the thickest part of the beef tenderloin, but several state that it was originally cut from the sirloin. Some say it was one very thick cut of beef, seared on the outside and rare on the inside. It may or may not then have had the seared and charred ends cut off before serving. Others state that the thick steak (filet or sirloin) was cooked between two inferior steaks to enhance its flavor and juiciness. The inferior steaks were cooked until well charred, then discarded."

Another site, O Chef, asserts that Montmireil "placed his master's roast between two other cuts of tenderloin, burnt both the outside meats to a crisp, and threw them away, leaving the Vicomte's portion evenly pink through and through."

I must admit that while my Chateaubriand is never well done, it is rarely as pink as it should be in the middle.

There is some disagreement about how thick a real Chateaubriand must be. When I'm flush, mine is thick. When I buy a cheaper cut, it is not.

There is apparently some disagreement over the sauce. Was it originally Béarnaise or something made from white wine and shallots?

The traditional side dish is small potatoes, called chateau potatoes. They are cut into small shapes about the size of olives and then browned. Not a purist, I use the smallest potatoes I can find, or I cut larger potatoes in half. Even on my weekends, I do not have the time or patience to carve olive-sized potatoes. Also, the recipes often call for russet potatoes. We prefer Yukon Gold.

I must use shallots in the sauce, however. That is a hard and fast rule for me. I like the cross between onion and garlic taste they offer. Supposedly, they offer cancer-fighting compounds, too, another plus. While I usually roast either small or pearl onions alongside my Chateaubriand, I have used shallots, too, intensifying the shallot taste of this wonderful dish.

18 February 2007

Chateaubriand with Herbes de Provence and Cognac-Dijon Mustard Sauce

I was a teenager the first time I watched by father prepare Chateaubriand for two. He explained that it was a very romantic dish so of course, I paid a good deal of attention to its preparation, imagining that some day I would make it for someone I loved.

What fascinated me was that there were really no prescribed vegetables to surround this very tasty tenderloin. My father told me it was a good opportunity to serve seasonal vegetables. If I recall correctly, his was made with small potatoes, onions, carrots and green beans. I have made this with broccoli and Brussels sprouts and would like some day to try it with root vegetables.

I now prepare it at least once a year for my husband. My father's recipe was in his head. Here is mine, adapted from one I found online somewhere years ago.

Chateaubriand for Two

  • 2 pounds trimmed tenderloin
  • 2-3 large cloves garlic, slivered
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 4 medium shallots, minced
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 2 tablespoons grainy Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon dried herbs de Provence
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • freshly-ground pepper
  • Béarnaise sauce or one package Béarnaise sauce mix


Preheat oven to 450.

Cut 3/4-inch deep slits in the underside of the tenderloin. Fill these with minced garlic. Brush tenderloin with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Heat the third tablespoon along with one tablespoon butter in a heavy skillet. Brown meat on all four sides, using tongs to turn it over so that it browns evenly. This process takes about 4-5 minutes.

Once meat is browned, set it on the top rack of roasting pan (I use the one that came with my oven, for best results.) Surround it with the vegetables you are using and bake for about 30 minutes for medium rare meat.

While the meat is in the oven, place one tablespoon of butter and shallots in the skillet. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add broth, which will deglaze the pan. Turn up the heat and reduce the liquid by half before adding the Cognac, mustard and herbes de Provence. Whisk into butter. Season with pepper.

Prepare Béarnaise sauce from scratch or according to package directions. I use skim milk and Smart Balance.

Once the Béarnaise sauce is ready, add it to the shallot-Cognac sauce in the skillet and blend, whisking. As the sauce cools it will thicken.

Serve the tenderloin on an oval platter surrounded by vegetables. Cover the entire dish with sauce. There will be leftovers.

Note It's a good idea to check the vegetables and the meat, every 5 minutes or so, especially if you are including brocolli. Sunday I used pearl onions, Yukon gold potatoes, young green beans, baby carrots and button mushrooms. It changes every time I make it, as I try to keep the vegetables seasonal. We like to pair this with Cabernet Sauvignon, something a little oak-y.

I try not to add salt to my Chateaubriad, especially when I used a canned beef broth, which I do when I am pressed for time. I used a Béarnaise Sauce mix today, but if you have time it's nice to make your own. Here's Michael Ruhlman's recipe.

Our Valentine's Day celebration was a bit delayed, but we celebrated twice. Saturday night we enjoyed pomegranate martinis, beef risotto with sage, lobster bisque with saffron and curry, tenderloin with cherry sauce and whipped parsnips, and a heart-shaped flourless chocolate cake with vanilla-raspberry sauce and another bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon at our favorite restaurant.

A much simpler diet awaits us starting tomorrow.

13 February 2007

The Secret Ingredient

I had big plans for this week.

Tarte Tatin, Red Velvet Cupcakes and a heart-shaped cake in my new Williams-Sonoma pan were among them.

But real life — in the form of deadlines and special projects — has intervened. I have no time. What time I do have is spent curled up on the sofa or soaking in a warm tub of bubbles.

I was supposed to — per Glenna of A Fridge Full of Food — share my Secret Ingredient. Now it will have to wait.

Let's just say the Secret Ingredient is Love.

This week, isn't that enough?

10 February 2007

Onion Salad with Roquefort and Bacon

During my first semester at college, my roommate Vivienne and I talked about food incessantly and prepared food almost as often as we talked about it.

We were trying very hard to become gourmets or at least decent cooks, and we made lots of dishes with rice, mushrooms, leeks and garlic. The tiny Pullman kitchen in our apartment-style dorm got a real workout, and we were constantly scouring local markets for new culinary finds.

I must have come home for the holidays jabbering on and on about cooking because that Christmas Grandma Annie gave me not only the cheese basket I talked about on Feb. 5, but also my first cookbook.

It must have been a last-minute gift, for it was a cookbook culled from her own large collection and it had her name written inside: Mrs. H.J. Doran. This she covered up with a strip of paper that bore my name in capital letters, produced no doubt on her battered Underwood.

It was a first edition of “Betty Crocker’s Good and Easy Cookbook,” a small, handheld cookbook that now sells for up to $75in the online auctions.

By the time Annie gave it to me, many of the recipes were already outdated. But others were classics, and for years this was my only cookbook. I augmented it with a few French cookbooks that I picked up cheap at the used booksellers on Madison’s State Street.

A Meaning Beyond Recipes

I can tell which recipes I used again and again, for those pages are stained, and there I’ve jotted down notes and calorie counts. Among my favorites were Spanish Rice, Chicken-Rice Bake, Miroton of Sea Food, Chili Con Carne, Tuna-Broccoli Casserole, and Peanut Butter Cookies.

Of course, many of the recipes I did not make, believing as I did at the time that great meals come from the heart. I rarely used cookbooks for recipes, only inspiration.

The book must have meant something to me even in my callow youth, because at one point I wrote, “First cookbook, Christmas gift from Grandma” inside the cover.

It means so much more to me now.

It is an historical document of sorts, a primary source for understanding the way people ate in the 1950s, that time of unbridled optimism when convenience foods were viewed as miracles of progress.

The cookbook is also part of my grandmother, for it sat among her own collection for decades, unused, until she thought I needed it.

For more than 25 years, it has been among my equally vast collection of cookbooks and has held a place of honor there. I could not fathom giving it away, even though I have not used it in years.

But I opened it the other night and I don’t think I can accurately describe the wave of something — nostalgia? — that poured over me.

I felt good, I felt comforted, I felt wrapped in love and security.

Perhaps this humble gift was more than a cookbook, I thought. Perhaps it was — it is — part of me in a way other cookbooks, other books even will never be.

A Culinary Epiphany

Great food artfully prepared dazzles me and sweeps me off my feet. It is like seeing the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe for the first time.

Humble dishes nourish my soul in a way nothing else can. They are like an old friend, or a good and long marriage.

Here is one from the book that I think stands up across six decades, with a little tweaking. I lowered the salt and added bacon.

Onion-Roquefort Cheese Salad

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3 ounces Roquefort cheese
  • 1/4 cup bacon, cut into small chunks or bits
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • dash sel de fleur
  • dash freshly ground pepper
  • dash paprika
  • 4 sweet onions, thinly sliced or cubed


Blend all ingredients, save for onion. Pour over onion and chill. Serves six. This would be a great side for hamburgers.

Well Worth Checking Out: For a thoughtful treatise on seasonal food choices, please read the Feb. 1 post at Lucy's Kitchen Notebook.

Also, there are two blogs, one new and one not-so-new, I'd like to call your attention to: (1) Charles at Bi-Coastal Cook, which is new and out of Maryland; and (2) the not-so-new but oh-so-spot-on Molly at My Madeleine, who also writes about taste, memory and experience as well as food (thanks to Terry B of Blue Kitchen for the link. I will be adding these to my blog list later today.

Thanks to Chris L. at The French Journal and to Erika at Tummy Treasure for links and mentions of B-Day and thanks to ChrisB at Ms. Cellania for the link today.

As part of my desire to be kinder and gentler, I vow to be better at thanking people for links.

06 February 2007

Not Really French, Maybe Not Even Food, But it Worked for Me

A few weeks back, I came down with a bad case of stomach flu.

It crept up, as these things do, in the middle of the night. In my experience, the bug is usually gone by mid afternoon the following day, but this time, I was not so lucky. I called in sick and languished on the sofa all day, devoid of enthusiasm for anything. Around 3 p.m., I dragged myself into the kitchen to make tea, using my Yixing tea set, shown above.

I bought the set a few years ago in April. The sleek jade green teapot and cups were my gift to myself after an especially taxing and stressful winter. I use it for green tea only, this time making green tea with mint. It helped. I think the beauty of the tea set was soothing, too.

But what really made me feel better was supper. When my stomach is upset, I crave French toast, which some say is the American version of the French "pain Perdu," or lost bread. French toast and milk.

So my husband, who is nice about these things, made me French toast. He was tired, after a long day of meetings, and made it from what we had on hand. Which happened to be somehting no self-respecting foodie would admit to eating: Mrs. Karl's Bread.

For the unfamiliar, Mrs. Karl's in its blue-and-white check wrapper, is like Wonder Bread. You get the picture.

My husband and I differ on the issue of bread. I grew up in a household where it was baked regularly, by my father, or his mother. I love baking bread. I love kneading bread. I love the aroma and the taste of freshly baked bread.

I loath most of the stuff for sale at grocery stores.

But on this particular night, the French toast my husband made was the sweetest and most delicious supper I could have eaten. It settled my stomach. It made me feel cared for and loved.

The toast melted in my mouth. The butter was soft and, well, buttery. The syrup was sweet (Mrs. Butterworth, meet Mrs. Karl). I felt better after the first bite. Plus, it tasted like childhood.

Sometimes, the love with which a meal is prepared and served makes the most ordinary food taste good. That is one of the secrets of cooking from the heart, my reoccurring theme this month. (It also helped that I was feeling so lousy.)

When we were kids, mother would make beanburgers at the end of the week. We loved 'em, but as my brother once pointed out, they were probably served because they were cheap and it was the day before payday. Same principle.

(OK, food blog police: Come and get me. Just remember, Tanna, who recently made a delicious-looking onion-cheese bread with Bisquick, and I want kitchen privileges.)

Now, we've all had these meals. Maybe it was a quick bite from a street vendor after a bracing walk in winter. Maybe it was the time you and your best friend (or lover) bought sandwiches and ate them at a park in the middle of town or at the lighthouse. Maybe it was a meal mom cobbled together during hard times. Share?

05 February 2007

A Basket, Tomatoes and True Love

My first gifts of food were, not surprisingly, from my maternal grandmother.

I am speaking not of the Lady Baltimore cakes she made for our birthdays, but the first food gift for my home, the one that made me feel like a grownup. It was my first semester away at college, and Grandma Annie gave me a cheese sampler basket, probably from Wisconsin's own Figi's.

A humble gift, to be sure, but one that delighted me and started me on a lifelong passion for baskets. There was also a cookbook that Christmas, but that is for another post.

Recently I weeded down my basket collection to a mere dozen. Of course, the first basket stayed with me. As you can see, I filled it with cherry tomatoes for the photo above.

I will never let go of that basket.

Since I love tomatoes so much — and since Grandma Annie did, too — it is only right that I matched the basket with tomatoes.

On Jan. 30, I reviewed Laura Florand's delightful "Blame it on Paris," a book in which tomatoes (and other salad ingredients) have a minor but essential supporting role.

Let's put it this way: In Laura's book, tomatoes demonstrate the potential to stand between two people in love. Who knew?

But, I have a solution. A variation on a previous theme, you might say.

You can read about it at Laura's blog, starting Tuesday, Feb. 6.

04 February 2007

Gingery Pear Crisp with Salted Almond Topping

























Tarte Tatin and Cherry Clafoutis not withstanding, pears are the fruit I have always associated with a true French kitchen.

When Grandma Annie wanted fruit, she usually chose a juicy pear. Her mother, Mémére, loved them, too. It took me years to develop a taste for pears, as I found them too metallic.

I like them now, and they are second only to apple desserts in my repertoire.

This dessert was created from odds and ends and leftovers on a winter night in 2007. It was better than I expected, and I've made it a time or two since

I've update the recipe a bit, as I no longer rely heavily on artificial sweeteners. I have also tried this with mixed nuts, with good results.

Here is my original recipe, updated:

Pear-Ginger Crisp with Salted Almond Topping
  • 6 D'Anjou pears, peeled and cut into small chunks
  • 1 tablespoon candied ginger, cut into small chunks
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup almonds, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cold cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • sea salt to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Chop the pears and candied ginger and combine with sweetener, cinnamon and vanilla extract in medium bowl. Toss to ensure each piece is well coated. Set aside.

Chop nuts, and blend with flour, butter and sugar. You may start out with a pastry tool, but I find there is nothing like plunging your hands into the mix until it is coarse and grainy.

Pour the fruit into a greased 8-by-8 inch baking pan. Press down with a spoon or spatula. Spread the crust mix evenly over the top; again tamping down. Sprinkle with sea salt. Bake for 45-55 minutes or until crust turns golden brown. Garnish with more candied ginger, if you like.

Note: The crust smelled so good while I was making it, and I sampled a fair amount before I put the crisp in the oven. I love the mix of sweet and salty.

The flavors here are subtle and delicate. That was my intention. I really did not want any single taste to overpower the others.

This light dessert passed the Ultimate Taste Test (that's when leftovers taste equally delicious), and I ate it for breakfast with a hunk of low-fat cheddar cheese.


01 February 2007

Chestnut Tagliatelle With Mushrooms

I'd never tasted London Broil until my husband, in the early days of our marriage, tossed together a quick meal of it with French fries on the side and deli cole slaw.

The meat was a surprise to me: I thought London Broil was something you made from scratch. Somehow I missed the fact that it can be purchased in a cute little spiral shapes in most meat departments.

London Broil is not a cut of meat, but a way of preparing either flank steak or top round roast. It can be a bit tough, since it's threaded with muscle, so marination is necessary. It is not London at all. In fact, it is a purely American invention, I am told.

You can certainly prepare your own London Broil, of course, and when you do, it looks different than those little meat department packages. But since at our house it's a meal reserved for nights of limited time and energy, we purchase it. I marinate it for several hours in red wine and olive oil with garlic and onion. I spread a bit of crushed garlic on top, along with a very small amount of mustard and some dried herbes de Provençe and stick it under the broiler, turning often. When the meat is finished, I top it with sel de fleur and freshly ground pepper.

One of these days, I will make it instead of buying it and then report back. Maybe during spring break, when I only have my day job to worry about.

Here's what accompanied our London Broil last night: Quick Chestnut Tagliatelle with Mushrooms.


  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2/3 cup low-sodium beef stock
  • 8 ounces button and crimini mushrooms, slice or quartered
  • 4 tablespoons red wine
  • 2 teaspoons tomato puree
  • 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • dash sel de fleur
  • dash freshly ground pepper
  • 8 ounces chest tagliatelle
  • grated Parmesan cheese


Pour stock into heavy sauce pan. Add onions and garlic and cook until tender, 4-5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, wine, tomato purée and soy sauce. Cook under medium heat for about five minutes. Continue to boil until liquid is reduced by about half. Add chopped herbs, a dash of salt and pepper.

Toss with freshly cooked and drained tagliatelle and top with Parmesan cheese.

Note: The chestnut pasta offers a slightly sweet taste that contrasts nicely with the earthy mushrooms. You could certainly use other pastas.

The dish passed My Ultimate Test: It tasted better the next day.

P.S. Am I the only lazy slug who uses store-bought London Broil? Anybody else want to share techniques or marinades?

Chef James Haller: Cooking From the Heart

Welcome to February!

I like this month because it means we are closer to spring and up here on the Wisconsin tundra, we usually get a few warmer days. February is the month that my husband and I mark the anniversary of our first date and our engagement, which came just before Valentine's Day — by sheer coincidence, not planning.

So I thought I would concentrate on matters of the heart this month. What is cooking, if not a matter of the heart?

I asked Chef James Haller (see Jan. 5 post) to write a guest post to kick off the month. He kindly did so, in his usual graceful style. I have added a link to his site at the left, someting I should have done weeks ago. He is, as you can see, in a class by himself.


Cooking from the Heart
By James Haller

I've always thought that cooking for someone is one of the most loving
things you can do. The nourishment of the food, and the nourishment of
someone knowing they are "being cared for" make it truly a gesture of love.

A few years ago a friend was celebrating a birthday and wanted to have his family for dinner including seven children: the eldest aged six, the youngest age two.

For the birthday cake I made a chocolate Genoise cut into three layers and filled with a lavender mousse. I made a plain white, powdered sugar frosting for the cake. When dinner was over we cleared the table and I filled seven little pastry bags with different colored icing, handed them to the kids and said, "Okay, why don't you all decorate Uncle Jack's cake?" I showed them how to hold and squeeze the bags and with-in minutes the artful decoration was underway. The youngest, the two year old, had to stand on top of the table over the cake to have room. The event lasted for almost a half hour, a very long time to keep kids interested, and when they finished, the cake was truly lovely though I must admit it was a little abstract, a sort of multi-colored, very sweet Jackson Pollack.

But the enjoyment and the effort and the involvement of the kids to make Uncle Jack's cake beautiful was a gesture of love they still talk about.

Cooking has always been a passion for me, even before I ever thought I would become a chef. Part of that passion was a desire to see people enjoy what I had cooked for them. To hear the oohs and ahhs as they smelled the aromas of a wonderful chowder made from wild mushrooms and prosciutto, or a chicken breast stuffed with pears and duck breast in an orange and fig dressing, is the reason cooking continues to make me happy almost forty years since I first walked up to a stove professionally.

My whole approach to cooking has always been instinct, almost what you might think of as design. The dinner is designed with tastes rather than presentation, and although presentation is commendable, I feel the dinner is going into your stomach and not the Louvre. Never repeat an herb during a dinner, use cream only once, either in a soup or an entrée or maybe an
appetizer, don't repeat foodstuffs. Designing each taste so that it compliments the last and sets you up for the next is a constant effort to create a new taste. In the sixteen years I owned Blue Strawbery I never repeated a menu.

So it doesn't matter if you only make hamburgers, creamed chipped beef on
toast or a chateaubriand, this Valentines day set the table, light a couple
of candles, open a bottle of wine that you like, and as you're dishing out
the food lean over and whisper to that wonderful person, "I love cooking for
you."