06 April 2008

Banana-stuffed French Toast with Cashews

If the temperature is 60 and the skies are blue, it better be a Saturday.

And it was. To celebrate, we had French toast for breakfast.

My husband, ever the purist, prefers his plain with no frills. Oh, maybe a dash of cinnamon in the batter.

I have grown especially fond of stuffed French toast. I have been experimenting for the past year or so, with varying results.

Normally, I would suggest using a home-baked or bakery whole-grain bread, but I was too hungry to shop for some yesterday.

Banana-Stuffed French Toast with Cream Cheese and Cashews

  • 2 slices whole grain bread, cinnamon with raisin would be perfect, lightly toasted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon low-fat milk
  • Dash sugar
  • Dash cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon Smart Balance (or butter)
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup low-fat cream cheese
  • dash sugar
  • 1/2 banana, sliced
  • handful of cashews

Blend cream cheese with sugar and set aside.

Whip eggs, milk, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla in a shallow bowl. Soak the lightly toasted bread just long enough to coat each side and slightly permeate the bread. While bread is soaking, melt butter in large skillet. Brown soaked bread in pan, turning frequently to ensure thorough toasting.

Transfer browned toast to plate. Smear one slice with cream cheese and top with sliced bananas. Then top with the second slice. Add butter or butter substitute, if you like, and top with cashews. I also added a tablespoon of low-sugar maple syrup.

It was a good start to a busy day.

The variations of stuffed French Toast are endless. Anyone know of a savory version out there?

24 March 2008

Rich Chicken Soup with Roasted Asparagus, Mushrooms and Shallots


I dreamed of my father last night. In the dream he was strong and whole - and living happily in the south of France.

Perhaps he is.

People who have heard me relating my vivid dreams often ask me, "What did you eat before you went to bed?" and of course, I tell them nothing, because late-night snacks are not part of of my diet.

But a good supper - and we tend to eat later - is essential. I am often hungriest at night, when we hunker down in our cozy snuggery with books and magazines and DVDs and a remote control at hand.

Last night, after our wonderful roasted chicken, I made a rich golden stock from the carcass. All day I imagined how it would be, simmering away on the stove, filled with the vegetables of late winter into spring.

Shallots and mushrooms I had on hand; asparagus I found at the supermarket - yes, it's beginning to show up there!

I sautéed the shallots and mushrooms while I roasted the asparagus, just enough to impart that delicate flavor roasting provides.

Added together, the vegetables gave the soup a sweet and dark and bosky flavor, like a forest in spring. I paired it with a slice of whole grain bread from a rustic loaf from the bakery.

Chicken Soup with Roasted Asparagus, Mushrooms and Shallots

  • 10-12 stalks of asparagus
  • 3-4 medium shallots, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup fresh mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3-5 cups homemade chicken stock
  • 1 cup chicken, dark and white meat, cubed
  • grated pepper and fleur de sel to taste
  • pinch of your favorite herbs 

Wash the asparagus, breaking off the tough bottoms of the stalks. Coat with a tablespoon or less of olive oil and roast until the stalks just begin to turn brown at the edges. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, slice shallots and mushrooms. Place in a deep sauce pan and sauté in a tablespoon of olive oil until the shallots and mushrooms begin to turn golden brown. Remove from pan and set aside.

Empty chicken stock into saucepan (I like to chill it first so I can remove the congealed fat). Bring to a boil, then lower heat and allow to simmer, adding more water if necessary. Lower the heat and add the vegetables and the cubed chicken. Check the soup and season to suit your tastes. Allow to simmer about 5 minutes longer on low heat.

I kept the seasonings simple because I wanted the flavors to remain true. But I'd recommend a pinch of fresh parsley flakes. You may also add a bay leaf to the soup while it simmers.

Update: I have made this with fresh thyme, and also with a dash of herbes de Provence.

23 March 2008

Poulet Provencal (Roasted Chicken with Tomatoes and Olives)

They say it is spring, although you would not know it here in Wisconsin. I may hear cardinals and mourning doves in the morning, but what I see is snow and more snow, although patches of brownish-green grass have finally begun to show through here and there.

Easter began blustery with flurries and I had no idea what we'd eat for dinner. We are both still recovering from longish bouts with the flu and worse yet, suffering from acute cases of cabin fever.

Searching for a new way to make grilled tomatoes, I stumbled upon this wonderful recipe at Epicurious. Then I noticed it was from the March Gourmet, which for some reason I have two issues of - a good thing, because I can never get enough of this fabulous variation on chicken from the South of France. The recipe calls for all my favorites: tomatoes, garlic, onion, olives, herbes de Provence and fennel seeds. Did I mention chicken?

I added some potatoes to the vegetable mix to please my husband, and I stuffed a quartered lemon inside for additional moisture. These two ideas came from the readers comments on the Epicurious site.

This was possibly the best Easter meal I have ever made. I knew I did not want ham this year, and by happy coincidence, I'd picked up the chicken yesterday.

March was a trying month for me, with several big projects and an auto accident to cope with (I'm fine and my car is fixed already). But a good meal, some scented candles and bouquet of daffodils cheer me today.

Better days lie ahead. I am planning three trips, one for work and two for pleasure. Soon I'll be able to walk outside and enjoy warmer temperatures. Maybe.

11 March 2008

Paris: Historic Photos

On this chilly Wisconsin night, it does not take much effort to mentally transport myself to Paris on a spring afternoon.

All I need is a photograph to fire my imagination. I am easily seduced by a shadow on the grass, a hint of breeze, a warm sun and children in a park.

This particular park is Le Jardin des Plantes and it looks familiar to me. No surprise, because I have spent a fair amount of time in that area. The photograph that transports me is a simple portrait of street life in 1935, of mothers, perhaps nannies, and a boy with a ball and a blond girl in a pastel dress and a baby buggy.

In 10 years which of them will have escaped harm and which will have not? For Le Jardin des Plantes is near that sad little school on Rue Buffon that broke my heart on a spring day 70-years later.

The simple black-and-white photograph of an ordinary spring day caught me. It makes me wonder about the exact tint of the sky, the time of day, the weight of the air, the sound from off camera. Who are these people and where did they go after they left this little square of time?

If you like to be intrigued by photos and if you love Paris, you will want Rebecca Schall’s Historic Photos of Paris on your coffee table.

The book is filled with many photos that were unfamiliar to me. Some were blurred. All suggested a story. The great flood of 1910. The man with the push cart. The little girl with the pigeons. The women defiantly pedaling a velo-taxi during the Occupation. Josephine Baker. Marlon Brando arriving at Orly. Adoph Hitler and his thugs. The liberation of Paris.

Here is Paris, warts and all. The text makes no effort to romanticize, to sugar coat. The photos, many from the Roger Viollet Agency, show a cross section of Paris life and people and icons. Paris at work and Paris at play. Paris at war and Paris at peace.

The book is the perfect accompaniment to my growing collection of Eugene Atget. I love the Paris of this book.

I was asked by the book’s publisher (Turner Publishing Co.), to do a review, and was provided with a review copy. I have been asked to review books or videos before, but have not done so.

But Paris has my heart. She always will. I made an exception.

24 February 2008

Fruit for Sick People

I have been waiting for a springlike day to show you these lovely raspberries from a vendor on Rue Cler.

I am told it was about as springlike as we can expect today - with temps in the 20s - but I cannot say for sure as I came down with the flu everyone else has.

When I am sick, I want only fruit. This probably stems from childhood when I was given comforting things like apricot nectar and bananas when I was bedridden. Tea and toast were another sickbed standard.

"Eat light, you'll feel alright," my mother would chirp, bringing me a tray. There was usually some embellishment on the tray, like a canned pear with raisin eyes and a cherry mouth. I felt cared for and secure and on the mend.

I had major surgery once, and went without solids from Wednesday to Saturday. My first meal was a small box of Cheerios. They were like some sort of manna to my hungry palate. I have loved them ever since, though they were never childhood favorites.

Chicken noodle soup still works, though I buy the low-sodium stuff now and it's not the same.

My husband provides the same loving care my parents did, but now I worry that he will catch whatever I have.

This time around, I've been living on a totally decadent but simple treat: Ice cream in orange juice. I could blend it and make a smoothie, but I just dump the scoop of ice cream in the glass of orange juice so it's more like a float. I know it is not healthy, but it soothes my sore throat and banishes my fever.

What's your favorite sick time antidote?

17 February 2008

Kalyn's Chicken and Barley Soup

What began as an ice storm tinkling against roofs and windows early this morning turned into a full fledged blizzard by noon. By suppertime, a civil defense alert was issued warning us to stay off the streets.

As if. We can barely get our back door open.

It is soup making weather here in Wisconsin. I made Kalyn's Chicken and Barley Soup, because I had all the ingredients and it helps me live up to my goal of eating good carbs and more grains this year. I had a small amount of stewed tomatoes on hand and in those went, giving the soup a tangier taste.

I paired it with pita chips, cheese and cole slaw, because that's what we had on hand.

Tomorrow, everything will be delayed at least two hours while we dig out from under the last onslaught. This is getting old!

What did you cook on Sunday?

04 February 2008

Green Grapes with Walnuts in a Sour Cream Dressing


In winter we eat our share of of hearty and savory dishes and we begin to crave fruit in no time.

Topping fresh strawberries and blueberries with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of brown sugar makes an easy and elegant summer dessert and it's a favorite on our menu.

But never thought about pairing green grapes with sour cream. My sister introduced me to this a few years ago, and has also become a staple at our house.

You will need
  • 2 large bunches green grapes, washed, with stems removed
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Blend sour cream and cream cheese. Add grapes. Toss. Top with brown sugar and walnuts.

I've lately taken to dropping a few grains of sea salt on top for contrast.

19 January 2008

Paris: From My Grandmother's Desk

Allow me to tell you about the mysteries of my grandmother’s desk. Indulge me. I am leading somewhere with this one.

To Paris, in fact.

It all began when I was a child, seven years old maybe. Old enough to read. Young enough to venture where I should not go with no qualms.

On Sundays, after that big midday meal of chicken and gravy and mashed potatoes and green beans that went on interminably, the grownups would move drowsily to the living room, grab their favorite part of the paper and drift into somnolence.

I would delve into the deep drawers of my Grandma Annie’s desk. Oh, the intrigue there! Old letters and postcards and programs from concerts and plays and church events. Holy cards and prayer books and recipes scribbled on the back of envelopes. Old leather bookmarks and bottles of glue with orange rubber tops and photographs of women garbed in high-necked dresses with leg-of-mutton sleeves and men with handlebar moustaches, all of them dark-eyed and dark-haired and looking squarely into the camera with stern faces

Each item fascinated me and gave me a sense of what? Family? Roots? Place?

This was the ephemera of my grandmother’s life, and it acquired a certain mystique for me, while it also shaped my notion of the past.

The desk had a certain smell, too: A flat, old, paper-y smell.

For decades the sherry flat-topped desk with its two pedestals of drawers remained in the living room of Annie’s house, the house her father bought in 1883.

Lamentably, the house was sold four years ago. Happily, it was sold to people who care about old houses and who have brought it into the 21st century.

The desk remains in the possession of my Aunt Pat, who lives now in a modern apartment only a few blocks away.
It still holds secrets, apparently.

One of them was a tattered book of black-and-white postcards of Paris, which my aunt gave us earlier this year upon our return from that storied city. Most of the cards have been torn from the book; those that remain suggest – from the look of automobiles in the street shots and the clothing of pedestrians – that the book was produced in the 1930s, in the years just before the Nazi Occupation.

These are bittersweet images then, images of a Paris gone forever, a Paris humbled and brought to her knees, a Paris not yet beautified by Andre Malraux and his exterior cleaning program: The buildings and monuments are soot-blackened with age.

These and other images formed the Paris of my young dreams. Gritty, a little seedy, but still elegant.

Who gave this booklet to Annie or her mother, Memere? Someone who knew what Paris meant to them. Paris, the mother of cities in the far-off motherland.

Neither woman ever traveled to France. Memere was born in Quebec, Annie in Michigan. But Paris drew them all the same.

I wonder about this book of postcards. But I am not overly eager to solve the mystery of its provenance.

I know this: At some time my young hands must have held the book, my eager fingers rifling through its pages.

And it must have touched me and formed my views of Paris. And forged my dreams.

17 January 2008

Red Pepper and Chickpea Dip


The No. 1 topic here in Northern Wisconsin these days is, of course, the Green Bay Packers-New York Giants game set for Sunday on the soon-to-be frozen tundra.

It’s been 11 years since Green Bay went to the Superbowl, and everyone is excited that this might be the year the Pack returns. I hope so, too. I loved that game in 1997 when a beaming Bret Favre made that long victory run. You gotta love the guy.

I normally don’t go in for much Packers hoopla. Or any football stuff. (But for several years, I worked with the organization – not for it, but with it – and I will say this: There are some mighty nice people in the team’s front office.)

But I am not and never will be someone who understands football, no matter how my husband or brothers or ex-boyfriends try to help me. The first time I saw a ref throw a yellow flag on the ground I thought he was just having a fit.

But I do enjoy the snack preparations. I mean, what is football without snacks?

Given my penchant for anything made with roasted red peppers and my 2008 quest to eat healthier, I will probably make this wonderful Roasted Red Pepper and Chick Pea Dip.You will notice it is really not much different from the other red-pepper dips I favor. It just seems healthier, thanks to the chick peas.

  • 1 8-ounce container low-fat cream cheese
  • 1 16-ounce can of chickpeas, drained
  • 1 12-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1/tablespoon aioli
  • 2 teaspoons minced onions
  • dash lemon juice
  • dash freshly ground pepper
  • dash fleur de sel

Set the cream cheese out so that it is at room temperature. While you are waiting, puree the chickpeas and the red peppers. Blend them into the cream cheese with a beater. Add mayonnaise, minced onions and aioli. (It’s a good idea to taste it now – you may want to add a dash of hot sauce or horseradish to sort of pump up the volume, so to speak.). Add lemon juice, salt and pepper, and allow the flavors to marry for several hours or overnight. Serve with vegetable chips or raw vegetables.

Bakeries and delis at local grocery stores will offer green-and-gold pasta, bread, cakes and special cuts of cheese and sausage for tailgaters at Lambeau Field and those of us who prefer to warm our frostbitten fingers around a big-screen TV.

Go Pack.

12 January 2008

Chef Jean-Claude Voisin of Le Vinois, Caillac

It is 11 p.m. on a Saturday night and I am never going to eat again.

I have found culinary nirvana.

Jean-Claude Voisin is in town. But not for long, sadly, only two more weeks. Voisin is chef and owner with his wife of Le Vinois in Caillac, just north of Douelle in the Lot Valley. He is guest chef at my neighborhood restaurant, which - happily - is a place of warm welcomes, fine wine and exquisite food.

J-C is also a wizard. He knows how to marry tastes and textures in a way that preserves the taste of the food, sometimes finding a foil or a balance, other times playing matchmaker with flavor.

A few days ago, I tasted duck a l'orange in a sauce that was a dream of orange, of course, but of something more, something rich and sweet and deep. It was paired with thin slices of potatoes baked in cream, not cheese, that allowed the true flavors of earthy potato and mild, sweet cream to merge, then separate - a sort of pas des deux of flavors.

The dessert was two swirls of mousse, chocolate and vanilla, topped with a spiral of hard, dark chocolate set at a rakish angle and neighbored with a paper-thin fan of pineapple and a sweet pineapple-y sauce.

Alas, I have no photos. You will have to take my word that this dessert was good, and surprising, as desserts should be, and that it lured me back for more.

I was prepared on Saturday, and in the candlelit restaurant, I captured Jean Claude's artistry on my little Nikon CoolPix camera.

Last night, a snowy Saturday night with the Packers on their way to the NFC championship game, dinner was later than usual in my part of the world. We sipped a crisp and happy Viognier, while my husband ordered chicken encrusted with gingerbread and served with a medley of root vegetable strips. I chose salmon with potatoes topped with pistachios and paired with thin strips of carrot and zucchini swirled around one perfectly tart and scarlet cherry tomato.

Did I mention the first course? A thick, soupy "coffee" of butternut squash and chestnut topped with a stick of bacon surrounded by delicate pastry. Comfort food, my favorite!

Dessert this time was a trio of apple confections: A moist and spicy terrine, a crisp smoky French toast slice and green apple sorbét with a fan of fresh apple slices.

The food of Jean-Claude Voisin is presented with imagination and verve. It offers me a dream of the possibilities that exist in my own kitchen, and that recalls the seemingly careless but always artful way my father dropped a slice of this and a fluff of that on a plate to create a canvas of color and texture.

Such grace! Such flavor!

06 January 2008

Red Pepper and Shrimp Dip

I've just come from a reception for a new chef that featured some lovely finger foods, including red caviar and goat cheese on toast rounds and stuffed Brussels sprouts.

The finger foods that emerge from my own kitchen are always a bit more rustic, and I rarely plan for them. They happen organically and are made from whatever it is I have on hand at the time.

Recently, I scrambled together a dip that my palate was very enthusiastic about, especially the second day. I served it with toasted bagel chips (the photo above does not do it justice). It has enough of a kick so that it also pairs well with bland vegetables like celery and cauliflower.

Red Pepper Shrimp Dip
  • 8 ounces low fat cream cheese at room temperature
  • 3-4 roasted red peppers, from a jar
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • 1 can shrimp, drained
  • 1 teaspoon horseradish
  • 2 teaspoons aioli
  • 1 tablespoon low-fat mayonnaise
  • dash freshly-ground pepper
  • dash fleur de sel

Place the softened cream cheese in a mixing bowl. Use a blender or food processor to turn the red peppers into pulp. Add to the cream cheese and blend. Chop the onions, then the shrimp. Toss those into the dip and blend. To deepen and enhance the dip, add horseradish, aioli and mayonnaise. Add pepper and fleur de sel, using a hand blender to keep it smooth. Allow it to chill for an hour or two before serving.

You can certainly add more horseradish to punch up the flavor. I will next time. I often add a dash of lemon juice, but I am not sure I did this time.