The Food of Love

July 24th, 2016

Love-Walked-Inweb

My most recent television appearance was devoted to encouraging viewers to come to my concert this coming Saturday. Alice Parker and I (known near and far—mostly near—as the Divas of Hawley, Massachusetts) will star in LOVE WALKED IN, an evening of classic love songs by such songwriters as the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Burt Bacharach, and Alice herself.

If you’re in Western Massachusetts this weekend, I urge you to join us on July 30 at 7:30 p.m. at the Federated Church on Route 2 in Charlemont. Donations at the door will go to the Rose Anna Dixwell Fund, which helps fund music lessons for local children.

I firmly believe that all children—and all adults, for that matter!—should make music whenever possible so I’m proud to be associated with this endeavor.

The evening will be fun, with lots of hamming it up from the resident soprano and lots of singing along. Cabot Cheese has donated nibbles for the after-concert reception, and bakers are standing by to brave the heat and make cookies, so our program should be delicious literally as well as figuratively.

To highlight the concert’s romantic theme on Mass Appeal, I prepared my idea of a romantic meal. Everyone’s ideal romantic meal is different. This one was loosely based on a meal I enjoyed when I was 19 at la Maison de Van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise, France.

Van Gogh's Bedroom

Van Gogh’s Bedroom

My companions and I toured the tiny room in which Van Gogh spent his last months. We then dined downstairs in a lovely, convenient restaurant. I ordered a small steak (really, the French know how to cook steak to perfection) with a delectable salad. To complete the meal the waiter brought an ENORMOUS bowl of chocolate mousse to our table. I was in food heaven.

The company—my honorary godmother Dagny Johnson and her nephew Eric—was pretty wonderful, too. If Van Gogh had been able to enjoy such food and such company, he would probably never have committed suicide.

I couldn’t replicate the steak or salad exactly; I’m not French. So instead for my romantic meal I made my favorite flank steak, which I have described before on this blog, and a fresh salad with my neighbor Gam’s herbed buttermilk dressing. Gam’s recipe calls for dried herbs, but since I had fresh ones I used those instead. The dressing turned a fascinating shade of green.

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I did have a French recipe for chocolate mousse, thanks to my mother’s cordon-bleu studies. So the mousse was authentic.

I didn’t have QUITE enough time to beat the egg whites for the mousse on the air—live TV presents unique challenges—but I brought along some mousse to serve and share with everyone at the studio.

It went fast!

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Seth comforted me following the egg-white debacle.

Gam’s Herbed Buttermilk Dressing

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons finely chopped parsley (or more!)
1/2 teaspoon dried chives or lots of fresh
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano or lots of fresh
1/4 teaspoon dried basil or lots of fresh
1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon or lots of fresh
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice (plus more if you like)
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup mayonnaise

Instructions:

Combine all ingredients in the order indicated and mix well. Store in the refrigerator, and re-shake before using. Makes a little over 2 cups of dressing.

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Taffy’s Cordon Bleu Chocolate Mousse

Ingredients:

6 ounces good-quality semisweet chocolate
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) sweet butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
5 tablespoons coffee, divided (you may use water instead or use a bit of each)
4 eggs at room temperature, separated
1/2 cup superfine sugar, divided (if you don’t have superfine sugar and don’t want to buy it, whirl regular sugar around in a food processor for a bit; that will do just fine.)
1 pinch salt

Instructions:

In the top of a double boiler (or in a heatproof bowl over warm water) combine the chocolate, the butter, the vanilla, and 2 tablespoons of coffee. Cook the mixture over hot water, stirring, until the chocolate melts. Remove the pan from the top of the hot water, and set it aside to cool.

In another heatproof bowl combine the egg yolks, 3 tablespoons of coffee, and 1/4 cup of the sugar. Place them over the hot water and cook, whisking vigorously, until the mixture becomes uniformly frothy and lighter in color.

Remove the yolk mixture from the top of the hot water, and whisk it for another minute or so. Whisk in the chocolate mixture. Allow the resulting concoction to cool for a few minutes so that it is lukewarm to the touch. (You may begin beating the egg whites while the chocolate/yolk mixture is cooling.)

Combine the egg whites and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat them until the egg whites are foamy. Sprinkle on the remaining sugar and beat the egg whites and sugar until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the whites into the chocolate mixture. (It helps to add a little bit of them at first, then the rest.)

Spoon the mousse into a serving bowl or bowls. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight; then serve with a little whipped cream. Serves 8.

And now the videos……

YouTube Preview Image

YouTube Preview Image

Humble Mustard

July 15th, 2016

mustardweb

I use condiments year round—but the summer grilling season in particular seems to cry out for them, particularly when I am the griller in charge. My grilling skills are definitely under par, and a little distraction can help.

I have never mastered ketchup—and anyway it’s too early in the season to try making it (we are only just starting to find tomatoes in western Massachusetts).

Mustard is another matter. I love it, and I make it often.

As I have written here before, I love to give fancy, rich mustard as a holiday gift. At this time of year, however, I go for a simpler mustard.

I made it last week on Mass Appeal and want to share the recipe with you.

If you don’t like your mustard with kick, cut down on the dry mustard or add more honey. For me, the formula below is pretty perfect.

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Homemade Mustard

Ingredients:

1/2 cup yellow mustard seeds
2 tablespoons mustard powder
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup tarragon vinegar (or use another herb to make your vinegar)
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons honey

Instructions:

Place the mustard seeds in a stainless-steel bowl. Briefly go at them with a pestle if you have one to release some of the oils. Add the mustard powder, and stir in the water. Let the mustard sit for 10 minutes.

At the end of the 10 minutes pour in the vinegar. Cover the mixture and let it sit overnight.

The next day, place the mixture in a blender. Add the salt and honey. Pulse quickly to blend, but try to leave some bits of mustard coarse.

Pour the mustard into a clean glass jar, cover, and refrigerate for 1 week before using. Makes about 1-1/4 cups.

Here is the video:

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Summer Cupcakes

July 11th, 2016

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Saying goodbye to strawberries can be hard. I DO have the consolation of raspberries, but still strawberries speak to me of high summer as no other fruit can. I felt I had to squeeze in one final strawberry dish on Mass Appeal last week.

I chose cupcakes with strawberry icing because everyone likes a cupcake. I used my favorite yellow cake formula for the cupcakes. For the icing, I thought long and hard about the best way in which to incorporate my fresh berries.

I was tempted by a technique I saw on the website of King Arthur Flour, with which one simply cuts up berries and beats them into the icing.

In the end, however, I used a technique I found on another website, allrecipes. This one reduces berries to a puree and then cooks them down. (I found that my “cooking down” time was a lot less than that of the person on allrecipes; I have no idea why.)

I loved the result. So did Seth Stutman and his new co-host Lauren Zenzie. In fact, so did everyone at the studio. The cupcakes disappeared in no time at all.

Lauren and I are getting along just fine.

1-2-3-4 Cupcakes with Strawberry Icing

Ingredients:

for the cupcakes:

1/2 cup butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups flour
2/3 cup milk

for the icing:

1 cup cut strawberries
1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter at room temperature
confectioner’s sugar to taste (probably about 2 cups)

Instructions:

First make the cupcakes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 18 cupcake/muffin pans with liners.

In a large bowl, cream the butter until light and fluffy. Beat in the sugar and then the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each egg. Beat in the vanilla, the baking powder, and the salt. Stir in the flour and the milk, alternating between the two and beginning and ending with the flour.

Pour the batter into the prepared cupcake pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcakes comes out clean, about 25 to 35 minutes. Cool the cupcake pans over racks for 10 minutes; then remove the cupcakes (with their liners!) from the pans. Cool.

You may start the icing while the cupcakes are baking. Place the strawberries in a blender and pulse until they are liquid. (You may also put them in a 2-cup measuring up and use an immersion blender.)

Pour the strawberry liquid into a saucepan, and cook it over medium-high heat until the liquid reduces into a thicker puree (about 10 minutes on my stove). Remove the puree from the heat, and allow it to cool.

In the bowl of an electric mixer cream the butter and 1 cup of confectioner’s sugar. Add 1 tablespoon of strawberry puree and mix thoroughly. Add more puree and more sugar until your icing reaches the color and consistency that pleases you. (You may have leftover puree.)

Ice the cupcakes. Try to eat them as quickly as possible (this won’t be hard!) as the strawberry icing is perishable. Makes about 18 cupcakes.

Here is the video:

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Asparagus Croque Monsieur

June 14th, 2016

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Asparagus is still sticking up happy stalks at local farm stands, which makes me ecstatic. I try to eat it every day, if only in a salad. I know it will go away all too soon.

Naturally, I wanted to use it for my appearance last week on Mass Appeal. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it—and then suddenly I had a vision of asparagus in the middle of a Croque Monsieur.

I have always adored this French version of a grilled-cheese-and-ham sandwich. It’s my favorite thing to order in Parisian cafés—or it WAS in the days when I frequented those establishments. (Someday I hope to get back to Paris. It has been several decades, hélas.)

Here’s how I made the sandwiches last week. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure the sandwich needs the béchamel (white) sauce. It would be pretty good with just a little extra cheese. But then, when does one ever NEED béchamel? It does make the sandwich just a bit more decadent and French, however.

As I said on the air, a Tinky could conceive of grilled cheese with asparagus. It takes a French person to think of throwing béchamel on top. I have to admit that a French person might have been a bit more sparing than we were in the video below.

My television appearance on Thursday coincided with National Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie Day. Local strawberries are just coming in so I happily made a strawberry-rhubarb crumble. If you’d like to make that, just use my friend Ginny’s rhubarb crumble recipe. Substitute strawberry slices for half of the rhubarb and omit the cinnamon. (I also like to substitute oats for part of the flour.)

P.S. You’ll note from the crumble video that I have now adopted the soubriquet “The Diva of Deliciousness.” This was suggested by Craig Hamilton, a delightful chef on the Jersey Shore. What do you think of the new name?

Asparagus does excited me!

Asparagus does excite me!

Croque Monsieur aux Asperges

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons sweet butter plus butter as needed for browning bread
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup warmed milk
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 pinch salt
4 slices of good bread (I used King Arthur Flour’s pain de mie recipe.)
Dijon mustard to taste
2 slices of ham
4 thin slices Gruyère
4 pieces of cooked asparagus, cut to fit the bread
1/4 cup shredded Gruyère

Instructions:

In a saucepan over low heat melt the 2 tablespoons of butter. Whisk in the flour, and cook, whisking, for 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in the hot milk. Cook and whisk until the sauce thickens a bit, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat, and stir in the paprika and salt. Set aside.

Begin assembling your sandwiches. Spread the slices of bread lightly with mustard. Top two of the slices with a slice of cheese, ham, asparagus, and another slice of cheese. Place the other slices of bread on top to make two full sandwiches.

In a frying pan melt a small amount of butter. Pop the sandwiches into the pan and lightly brown them, adding a little more butter if needed.

Put the sandwiches on a baking sheet. Top them with some of the sauce (you don’t have to use it all; I just like to make sure I’ll have enough!) and the shredded cheese. Broil them until they turn golden brown and bubbly.

Serves 2 decadently.

Here are the videos:

YouTube Preview Image

YouTube Preview Image

Asparagus Quiche

May 20th, 2016
It looks as though we're in the midst of a Shakespearean tragedy—but we’re actually discussing diets.

It may look as though we’re in the midst of a Shakespearean tragedy. Actually, we’re discussing diets.

After a wet couple of weeks we finally have enough sun to bring asparagus up in our area. I eat grocery-store asparagus in the winter from time to time. But I CAN’T STOP EATING farm-stand asparagus in the spring. To me the flavor of asparagus embodies this green, lush, delicious season.

I tend to eat asparagus plain, but as the many asparagus recipes in these pages attest I do also put it into other dishes. Yesterday on Mass Appeal Seth Stutman and I put it into a quiche I have served several times already this spring—first with sautéed dandelion greens, then with sautéed spinach, and now with asparagus.

I based it on the idea of a spinach salad so I wanted to add red onion and plenty of cheese. One could of course add a bit of cooked bacon as well—particularly in the spinach or dandelion versions. I’m not sure the asparagus version needed the bacon; it has plenty of flavor the way it is. In fact, another time I might try a milder cheese to let the asparagus flavor dominate more. I’m happy with the recipe as is, however. (I just like to tinker!)

Seth and I also made rhubarb bread. That recipe was adapted from Land O Lakes. If you want to try my version, add 1 tablespoon orange zest to the batter and double the streusel. And if you’d like to use three little pans as I did, bake the bread for less time than the recipe suggests. The mini-breads took 45 minutes in my oven, but when in doubt use that toothpick!

You’ll note from the rhubarb video below that I forgot to add the baking powder, baking soda, and salt. I also FORGOT TO ADD THE CHOPPED RHUBARB!

I’m sure all TV stars have days like yesterday. At any rate, I hope they do.

I stirred the missing ingredients into the batter in the pans before baking the bread and threw a little more brown sugar on top for color. The end result was delicious; the recipe is very forgiving.

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My Quiche

Ingredients:

1 red onion, peeled and sliced
2 splashes of extra-virgin olive oil (divided)
2 pinches salt (divided)
3 cloves of garlic, slivered
1 large bunch asparagus, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces and blanched for 1 minute (about 2 cups of pieces)
4 eggs
1 cup cream
5 to 6 ounces crumbled blue cheese
1 9-inch pie shell

Instructions:

Sauté the onion pieces in a little oil until they caramelize (ideally, half an hour or more, but you can get away with 15 minutes if you have to). Sprinkle on a little salt, and remove them from the sauté pan.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Splash a little more oil into the pan, and sauté the garlic briefly (3 to 4 minutes) to soften it. Toss in the asparagus pieces, and sauté them just until they are warm.

In a bowl whisk together the eggs, the cream, and a pinch of salt.

Sprinkle two thirds of the cheese over the pie crust. Top the cheese with the onion, asparagus, and garlic pieces; then pour on the cream/egg custard, and top with the remaining cheese.

Place the quiche on a rimmed cookie sheet to prevent spillage, and bake it for about 40 minutes, until the custard is set and the top is golden. Serves 4 to 6, depending on appetite.

And now the videos….

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YouTube Preview Image

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