30 August 2009

My Recipe File - Part I - A Lifetime Collection of Memories

My recipe file contains years worth of food stained recipes I've collected from various cooking classes over the years, as well as restaurants I've worked in, magazine clippings, and best of all - treasured recipes handwritten by my mother, father, sisters, cousins, aunts, a great aunt, my husband, my brother's girlfriend who later became his wife, and various other family and friends, some of whom are no longer living. Every time I see any of these, it brings back memories of the person and situation it came from. Although I never intended it as such, this is my treasure trove!

A divine recipe from the first person who taught me to cook - my mom - in her handwriting.

My dad's Mediterranean Sour Dough Bread, in his handwriting.

Plating instructions with wine pairings, written by my husband, before a dinner party we gave, years ago.

Soup recipe written by a dear friend.

Dip instructions written by another dear friend.

Recipe given to me by my sister-in-law, before she married my brother. (It has her maiden name).

A recipe from one of my aunts, copied out in my sister's handwriting.

From another aunt, in my college handwriting.

A recipe from my dad's mother. My mom's mother was also a great cook, but she did everything from memory - never wrote her recipes down.

My mom's Florentine Cookie recipe, which I copied in grade school. I think I had just learned cursive handwriting!

I wrote out this recipe of my mom's, when I was in high school.

My great-grandmother's Blueberry Cake recipe, written for me by my great aunt (her daughter), when she was in her 80's.

Brownie recipes from a neighbor, my 7th grade home economics teacher (the purple mimeographed one), and the wife of our neighborhood grocer.

Menu and plating ideas from a class with Lydia Shire.

16 August 2009

Julie & Julia... & Me

If you have not yet seen the hit movie, "Julie & Julia" I highly recommend that you do....soon. In fact, I'd like to see it a second time....very soon! It is so inspirational on several levels. The French passion for food was clear and the French scenery and stage sets were a feast for the eyes. Julia's commitment to cooking techniques was first and foremost a goal to be admired, and Julie's commitment to learning and completing all of the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking was admirable (more so in the movie than in the book, I thought. In fact, I didn't really like the book, Julie & Julia when it came out, a few years ago.)
Having also read Julia's biography, Appetite for Life, as well as My Life in France, (both great reads, by the way) and having watched Julia on TV so many years ago, I couldn't get over how well Meryl Streep matched my own image of Julia Child. Stanley Tucci was also stellar as Paul, Julia's husband. All around, the movie was superb fun!

Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci

One reason I liked the premise of the movie/blog/book is that, about fifteen years ago, I had made a New Year's resolution to go through Mastering the Art... from beginning to end, learning every technique in it. I was not as successful as Julie Powell, who did complete every single recipe in one year. (Yes, I had young kids at the time, which made it difficult, but excuses aside, mine went the way of most New Years' resolutions, I have to admit.) I had been inspired by Gordon Hamersley, whom I had heard in a panel discussion on Julia, when he said that he had learned to cook quite young by working his way through Mastering the Art... (This informative discussion about Julia had been held at the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe, where Julia's massive collection of papers is housed; but I digress...)

On one occasion, a few years back, I was incredibly lucky to have been able to cook with Julia Child. I had signed Jack and myself up for a hands-on seminar on EGGS with Julia, at the Boston University School of Culinary Arts. At the last minute, Jack was unable to go, so my mom came along instead. Anyone who imagines that cooking eggs would be an uninteresting subject - think again. As with all food preparation, technique and chemistry are so important to the end result. Julia Child was passionate about learning and understanding both. In truth, the art of cooking cannot succeed without knowledge of both technique and chemistry.

Working with Julia Child in BU's seminar kitchen

This week, I am putting together a list of recipes and class ideas for cooking lessons I'll be offering in my own kitchen, beginning this fall. The overall theme of the classes will be what I am most passionate about - French Country Cooking. I am so thankful to Julia Child for the work she did bringing French recipes to the American cook. Although I don't always follow her recipes verbatim, these days, I know that we would not even be able to purchase so many of the ingredients necessary for French cuisine, if she had not led the way in introducing Americans to their goodness.
In addition to Julia, I have been truly inspired by several other ex-pat Americans like our friend, Patricia Wells, with whom Jack and I cooked and reveled in Provencal food and wine for a full week, twelve years ago. (I know I've promised to write a whole post on cooking with Patricia - I just have to sort through our photos from that incredible week - it will be soon.) We use all of Patricia's books.

I also love the recipes and explanations of Susan Hermann Loomis, whose French Farmhouse Cooking is one of my bibles. Susan spent a lot of time traveling around France and talking with farmers and farm wives, to compile a great collection of "everyday" French recipes.

Stay tuned for my cooking class schedule, which I will publish by the end of next week. It will also include classes by Jack, and some we will teach together. We look forward to sharing what we know (and are still learning) with all of you. Thank you, Julia, for making it possible!

Julia et moi

10 August 2009

Cousins, Cousines et Nos Chers Amis

Ineke, Jack's darling cousin from Paris, was here visiting for the month of August and we had a lot of fun, mostly centered around cooking and eating (wow, big surprise, huh?) We started off the evening of her arrival, with a large block of fois gras, which Ineke had brought from France. I am just a huge fan of fois gras, which Ineke knows, so she very generously treated us to some of the best, procured from a chef friend of hers. When she unveiled it, I knew we were in for a fattening month.

Melt-in-your-mouth divine!

We planned a feast with friends for the following Saturday night. Giles, Mia and Taylor were coming from New York, so we would have a full house chez nous.

On Saturday, our kitchen was crowded with busy cooks, preparing various parts of the evening's meal. It never ceases to amaze me how many cooks we can fit in our kitchen, all doing different things at once: opening the refrigerator and the ovens, stirring pots on two stovetops, chopping and slicing on all the countertops, and generally making a huge mess. I mean, our kitchen is not that big, but it can host a lot of activity! Somehow it always works, with no one getting a paring knife in the ribs, or a black eye from bending down at the wrong moment.

My three iron chefs: Drake, Jack and Giles

Jack made bread, which he does frequently. He never measures anything, just goes by instinct. I will write a future post on his bread making, with step-by-step photos (and measurements).

The rising dough always emits a tantalizingly yeasty aroma!

Two loaves, dusted with fennel powder, ready for the oven

Giles and Mia had brought their Old Smokey meat smoker with them from New York (along with the baby, her stroller, portable crib, numerous bags, a guitar, and the dog.) About mid-day, Giles began preparing a dry rub for the ribs. The colors of this mixture, before the ingredients were mixed together, reminded me forcibly of the earth in Provence, especially in the area of Rousillon, where the soil is every shade of ochre - reds, oranges and yellows - spectacularly gorgeous.


Garlic Powder
Onion Powder
Ground Cumin
Sweet Paprika
Hot Paprika
Kosher Salt
Cracked Black Pepper

(All amounts are to taste.)

Removing the membrane from the bone side of the rack eliminates the bitter flavor the membrane can have.

Step One - Rub the ribs.

Step Two - Put wood chips in the bottom of the smoker and start to heat.
These are Hickory chips.

Step Three - Ineke and Giles load the hot smoker.

You can smoke different kinds of meat on different tiers within the smoker. Of course, this alters the flavors of all of them.

Drake assembled fresh cut, juicy chunks of pineapple, wrapped in apple wood smoked, maple sugar cured bacon.

Drake's hors d'oeuvres ready for the grill

Ineke prepared dessert, a fruit soup invented by her son Brian, who is a pastry chef in Paris and Brusssels.

Preparing the fresh strawberries from the Hingham Farmers Market

Ineke simmering spices in simple syrup


Simmer in equal parts sugar and water (simple syrup):
Star Anis Pods
Seeds scraped from Half a Vanilla Bean
Cardamon Seeds
Whole cloves
Small Cinnamon Stick
Whole Black Peppercorns

After the spices have imparted their flavors to the simple syrup, strain well, through several layers of cheesecloth, so that the liquid is clear. Let cool.

When cool, add the syrup to Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice. Stir to blend. Then add sliced Strawberries. We also added halved Blueberries and chopped fresh Mint from our herb garden. (Every time we use this mint we think of our friend Renato, who brought the seeds back from one of his trips home to Italy, and gave us some - real Menta Triestina. I made a mental (no pun intended!) note to let Renato know later that evening, that we had used his mint, since he and Dolores would be joining us for the feast.

The finished soup would chill until later.

Meanwhile, as Giles's ribs smoked outside, he was back in the kitchen, stirring the makings for his barbeque sauce. He then let it simmer for several hours over low heat.


Cider Vinegar
Full Grain French Mustard
Worcestershire Sauce
Ground Cinnamon
Ground Cumin
Chile Powder
Garlic Powder
Onion Powder
Ground Kosher Salt
Freshly Ground Black Pepper

(All amounts are to taste.)

It's worth making a lot of this sauce, as it keeps well in the refrigerator, and can be used to complement a variety of meats.
Hours later, the smoked ribs are ready for a dousing of barbeque sauce.
Just out of the smoker

Giles coating the ribs with sauce, as Ineke, Mia and Taylor look on.

Ready for presentation to the assembled party

Meanwhile, in the upper garden.....

Lisa looked happy, as Drake did some last minute assembly with toothpicks.

...then grilled his pineapple/bacon hors d'oeuvres, which were so incredibly juicy, they dripped profusely when we ate them. They were the perfect combination of sweet, salty, crispy, chewy and juicy.

A variety of sausages were grilling, topped with rosemary leaves.

Jack's bread had been baked, sliced and then toasted on the grill with garlic, olive oil and parmesan cheese.

Yee haw!

Madeleine and Matt (I call them Maddie and Mattie)

Lisa, Drake, Ineke and Dan

Austin, Sam, Alec and Drake anticipating dinner

As the Italians say, a tavola.

Dolores and Renato

Ineke serving her dessert soup

After a feast that included roasted, marinated beets, and grilled eggplant, as well as various other veggies, olives and cheeses, we tasted Ineke's dessert, which was light and fruity with an almost elusive hint of spice. Both tangy and sweet, it was a perfect way to top off our meal.

And then the music started. We had four guitars going, with various singers entertaining us. Madeleine sang a lilting rendition of the Beatles' "Blackbird"; Cindy put in a superb imitation of Norah Jones; and the piece de resistance was Alec, rapping and ad lib-ing about all of us there - in both Spanish and English. I was laughing so hard, I barely got any photos of that.

Madeleine singing

The incredibly talented Joe, who plays numerous instruments

Alec the rapper, accompanied by Jack, Joe, Austin and Giles

Jack playing lone flamenco

Madeleine and Ineke share a hug

Suddenly, Ron has picked up a new talent... "Baby, I'm the guitar man."

End of a terrific evening. My three Iron Chefs, slightly looser than in the previous photo.

Ah...breakfast the next morning. What better way to start the day than with a slice of fois gras?
Ineke and Jack's sister, Anne
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