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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Travel Travails

Lucky that our flight to Paris from Boston was 36 hours after the blizzard of the year hit New England, we touched down at De Gaulle Airport in perfect weather. Whew. Then, we hit something worse than a blizzard: the baggage handlers at De Gaulle Airport. Thirty minutes went by, then an hour, then another 30 minutes: still no bags. The Air France officials were quite helpful: “Not enough containers.” We began making friends with the other frustrated passengers. Finally, a full two hours after landing, our suitcases appeared on the conveyor belt. As I learned from our taxi driver, 10,000 bags had been abandoned at the airport during Paris’ own weather-related turmoil. Still, it took us longer to get our luggage than it took to drive from Amherst to Boston!

At our small apartment rental, my husband and I started to set up our computers. His connected right away, but mine met with a glitch. Two hours went by (a familiar time frame) and several emergency phone calls were made to the States. I, famished and not wanting to panic, went out to buy dinner.

At a favorite bakery I bought a crusty pain de campagne and a ficelle aux lardons (a thin baguette studded with bacon). Next I picked up cheeses –a smoked chèvre, a slice of Roquefort, and another of Comté (a buttery cheese that looks like Gruyère).  At a charcuterie, I purchased perfectly roasted potatoes and steamed winter vegetables. Finally, at the local grocery, I found beautifully trimmed lamb chops packaged with pats of beurre aux fines herbes and some flageolets, those light green, kidney-shaped beans that complement lamb so well, but have yet to find their way to our grocery shelves.

Back in my tiny kitchen, I quickly sautéed the chops, topped them with the herbed butter, and reheated the vegetables and beans. At that moment, my husband announced that I was again on line! Our delicious, but simple dinner tasted even better, causing the travails of our voyage to vanish completely!  We finished with cheeses and bread, and remembered why we love to come to France, baggage or no baggage—for the food, of course. 

Beurre Aux Fines Herbes

For my version place 4 tablespoons of softened, unsalted butter in a bowl; stir in 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs (a combo of tarragon, parsley, and chives with an emphasis on the tarragon). Add 1 to 1 1 /2 teaspoons white wine vinegar to balance the sweetness of the butter and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Mix well with a fork.  Roll into a log and cut into rounds to serve atop sautéed, grilled, or broiled lamb chops.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Dear Readers,

Although this blog and website are only a month old, many have already visited. I’d like to thank each of you who have read my posts and clicked on all those different pages on my new site. I love this high tech (well for me anyway!) way of keeping in touch with others who love food and cooking.

There’s a lot on the schedule for the new year—reports from Paris, new recipes to stave off the cold for those who live in chilly climes, and tips on the latest cookbooks, kitchen tools, and food trends. Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, I’d like to wish each of you joyful holidays filled with delectable indulgences and a happy and healthy 2011!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

So Simple, So Delicious—Scallops to Begin Your Holiday Feast!

This is the time of year when I feel like I’m a doctor on call. The other day at a lesson with my computer guru, the teacher only wanted to talk about eggnog. During my Christmas cooking class last week, the Q and A lasted so long that the course ended late. At the supermarket, friends greet me with questions about the roasts and birds they’ve chosen for their holiday menus, and as December 25th approaches, there will be urgent emails and frantic phone calls. Everyone seems to want recipes (or should I say prescriptions!) for dishes that are extra special yet failsafe.   

Roasted Scallops with Tarragon Mustard Butter delivers on both fronts. The shellfish are arranged in individual scallop shells, dotted with a flavorful butter, and then roasted for about 12 minutes. A garnish of golden toasted bread crumbs adds color and texture. Both the butter and bread crumbs can be prepared a day ahead so there’s no last-minute stress. These succulent scallops floating in pools of melted herbed butter would make a showstopper beginning for a Christmas or a New Year’s Eve dinner.

If you have any questions about the recipe or about holiday entertaining, I’m “on call.” Just send me a note via “comments” on this post, and I’ll answer as soon as I can!

Roasted Scallops with Tarragon Mustard Butter

Tarragon Mustard Butter
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened   
3 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon, plus 6 sprigs for garnish
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard  
2 teaspoons tarragon vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed (See cooking tip.)
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt and several grinds of black pepper

1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup coarse fresh bread crumbs (See cooking tip.)
18 large sea scallops about 1 ounce each, side muscles removed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 scallop shells, crème brûlée dishes, or 1/2 cup ramekins

For Tarragon Mustard Butter, in a medium bowl mix together the butter, chopped tarragon, mustard, vinegar, fennel seeds, salt and pepper until well blended. (The butter can be prepared 1 day ahead; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature until softened before using.) Makes about 1/2 cup.

For scallops, heat oil in a medium, heavy skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the bread crumbs, and cook, stirring constantly until they are crisp and golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from them from the skillet and place on a plate. (Bread crumbs can be prepared 3 hours ahead; cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature.)

To roast scallops, arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Use about 1/2 teaspoon of the Tarragon Mustard Butter to coat each of the scallop shells (or dishes). Pat scallops dry and place 3 scallops in the center of each shell. Dot the scallops in each shell generously in the crevices and on the tops with a generous tablespoon of the butter. Salt and pepper scallops. 

Roast until scallops are opaque and cooked through and butter has melted, 11 to 12 minutes. After 6 minutes, use a spoon to baste the scallops with some of the melted butter in their shells.

Remove and sprinkle each serving with some bread crumbs. Garnish with a tarragon sprig. Serves 6.
Cooking tip: To crush fennel seeds, place in a self-sealing bag and pound with a meat pounder or rolling pin, or use a mortar and pestle. Or, use a small spice grinder and ground the seeds coarsely.
Cooking tip: Use a good quality peasant loaf with crusts removed. Cut the bread into chunks and place them in a food processor. Pulse just until you have coarse crumbs.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

5 Great Gifts Under $50 for the Food Lovers on Your List

William Sonoma Cooking at Home and Bon Appétit Desserts

These two huge books deliver big bang for your bucks. The first, authored by Chuck Williams, the founder of Williams Sonoma, and Kristine Kidd, a former food editor for Bon Appétit, includes 1000 recipes and is priced at $34.95 (Weldon Owen Publishers). The other, written by former Bon Appétit editor-in-chief Barbara Fairchild, boasts 600 delectable confections and costs $40 (Andrews McMeel Publishing). As a bonus you get a year’s subscription to the magazine with your purchase of the Bon Appétit book. Both are available in bookstores and at

Glass Tumblers from The Conran Shop

These extra thin, sleek tumblers would make a great present for those who love to entertain. I have found multiple uses for them. They’re great as chic glasses or as cups for desserts like sundaes. I also use them as vases. I fill them with flowers and arrange several on my holiday table. They are $4 each. You can find them at (search for Gio clear glass tumblers) and at The Conran Shop in ABC Carpet and Home in New York (on the lower level).  At the New York shop they even have these glasses attractively packaged in one of their boxes.

Truffle Salt

A real extravagance, this sea salt scented with bits of black truffle, packs a lot of flavor. My colleague, Elinor Klivans, told me about it, and now I’m hooked.  Sprinkle it on popcorn or scrambled eggs. Season polenta with it, or rub it on a good steak. This small bottle would be a great stocking stuffer. It’s $28 at Williams Sonoma ( and also available at other cookware and food stores.

A Round of Stilton Garnished with Dried Fruits and Nuts

This is a “make-it-yourself” gift. Buy a round of English Stilton about 1 inch high at your favorite cheese shop. Then place it on a wicker tray and garnish with some pine or other Christmas greenery.  Surround the wheel with dried almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts and dried apricots, cherries, raisins, and prunes. Wrap in cellophane and tie with ribbons. Keep refrigerated until you’re ready to give it to the lucky recipient.  A 1-inch round of Stilton purchased at Whole Foods cost me $48.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The French and Their Foie Gras

Leave it to the French to come up with a fast-food special that includes foie gras. While reading the Provence Post (, a terrific blog written by American Julie Mautner who lives in southern France, I learned that Quick, a French and Belgian chain, will be offering what it calls the “Supreme Foie Gras,” a beef burger topped with duck foie gras, relish, and lettuce, for 5 euros (a little more than $6). It will be a pre-Christmas special from December 17 to 19 at more than 300 of its outlets throughout France.

Although foie gras  (literally “fat liver”), produced from the super-sized livers of force-fed ducks and geese, is shrouded in controversy (many protest the practice of force-feeding), this luxury item remains a traditional favorite for the French, especially during the holidays. The chain explained that they wanted to give their customers a chance to start the holiday season early!