Monday, July 14, 2014

L'Escoffier, The Beverly Hilton and Fresh Pea Soup

Many and many a year ago, back in the time of dating, Andrew took me out to dinner at L'Escoffier  in the Beverly Hilton Hotel.  I was awestruck although we didn't see a single famous person that we recognized.  It was enough to be in that venerable old hotel on the corner of Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevards.  The dining room was elegantly staged with white tablecloths, deep purple napkins, and roses in low vases.  The lighting was low.  Candles flickered in crystal holders on the tables.  My menu had no prices listed.  When the sommelier brought our bottle of wine, he showed Andrew the label and discreetly asked me the year of my birth.  Taken aback and thinking he was going to compare the date to the age of the wine, I hesitated slightly.  Hesitated enough for him to ask to see my driver's license!!  All was well and we sipped a marvelous vintage red with our dinner.

The meal was delicious!  We started with a pea soup that has never left my memory.  Through the years, I've tried to duplicate it without ever quite getting it right.  I always assumed the base was split peas.  An "aha" moment came when I found fresh peas in the market.  Of course, we've had fresh peas many times but the thought of using them for that particular soup never came to mind.

Here is my first attempt and it is very near the original.  Even Andrew agreed.  I wish he had prepared a dessert cart like the one we chose from that evening to finish our meal!!

Fresh Pea Soup as I Remember It (Almost)

1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium-sized sweet onion, such as Vidalia, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, mashed and chopped
2 large leeks, halved and cut into 1/2 inch pieces with some green included
1 large potato, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
5 cups of chicken stock
3 cups of fresh green peas (can use frozen)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup of heavy cream (it's o.k. since it serves 8)

1.  Melt the butter and oil in a large soup pot.
2.  Add the onion, garlic and leeks and sauté for about 4 minutes, until soft
3.  Stir in the potato.  Add the stock and cook on high heat until it reaches the boiling point.  Lower the heat, cover lightly and simmer for about 25 minutes until the potato is softened.  Add the peas, cover and simmer an additional 10 minutes.
4.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  
5.  Add the cream and simmer an additional minute.
6.  Puree the soup using an immersion blender or a regular blender.
7.  Adjust the salt and pepper if needed.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Scones, Plain and Simple

It's 7:30 a.m. here in the midwest.  Have you had breakfast yet?  If not, you could whip up these scones in a trice.  Since I'm not sure exactly what a trice is, I'll just say you can have them table ready in a little more than thirty minutes.  This is a very simple recipe that is delicious.  Even The Baker was impressed!!

A few days ago, I had an early morning meeting at a friend's home. "Come hungry and I'll have something to nibble on with coffee" she said.  Shortly after arriving, she pulled a pan of scones from her oven.  They were delicious.  "So simple" she insisted.  I insisted, well I politely asked, on having the recipe.  In reading it over, I thought she'd left out something--namely butter.  "No!"  

I couldn't wait to make them for The Baker.  When he and Oliver left for their early morning walk, the kitchen was pristine.  When they came back, I was pulling the pan of scones out of the oven and the kitchen was still pristine.  There was no flour on the counters and floor--or me.

An added bonus:  They were just as good the next day.


2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 cup heavy cream, well chilled

NOTE:  I sprinkled the top of mine with sparkling sugar crystals before baking.

Preheat over to 350

1.  Combine the dry ingredients in a mixer bowl.  With the mixer stopped, pour in all the cream and mix on low speed for 10 seconds.
2.  Remove to a lightly floured board and quickly pat into a round about 3/4 of an inch thick.  
3.  Cut into six equal triangles then quickly form each into a rough round.
4.  Place on a lightly oil sprayed baking sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.  Rotate the pan halfway through.
Makes 6


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Israeli Couscous, Beet and Spinach Salad

When I was in Rhode Island in the spring, I picked up several lunches at a delicious little place called The Pantry.  It shares space with the wonderful Seven Stars Bakery in the old Rumford Baking Powder factory in Providence.  There is a small eat-in space and, in warm weather, a few tables are scattered about outside.  Mainly a take-out place, they offer an ever-changing variety of salads and entrees.  I had this tasty salad one day and knew it would be a big hit at home as well.

Here is how I think it was prepared.

Israeli Couscous, Beet, Spinach and Feta Salad

2 cups of cooked Israeli couscous
5 medium sized beets, roasted or jarred, cut into 1/2 inch
  pieces and any juice collected with the beets
A handful of baby spinach, fresh (it will wilt as it chills)
Feta cheese

1.  Prepare the couscous according to package directions.
2.  Stir the beets and spinach into the warm couscous, let sit for ten minutes.  Chill.
3.  When ready to serve, sprinkle with feta to taste.


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Happy Independence Day!

Wishing you all a
happy 4th of July!

We'll celebrate our freedom sitting on the porch
waiting for the parade.

Enjoying the shade of ferns
this beautiful, but messy, member of the
begonia family.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Grape Tomato and Feta Tart

I've known Betty Rosbottom for a long time.  We met, via her Cooking School Cookbook about twenty-five years ago.  It is one of those cookbooks on my shelf that is stained, dog-eared and notated.  Such notes as:  "Jim loves this sweet potato recipe and he doesn't even like sweet potatoes" and "the boys really like this cranberry chutney".  While Betty and I have not actually met in person, she has played a big role in my kitchen.   It's a well-known fact that The Baker loves a good breakfast/brunch.  Imagine my delight when I found a new (to me) cookbook from Betty entitled Sunday Brunch.  I thought it would be a perfect small gift for him (me, as well if you get my drift).  As it turns out, I was the first to make use of the book.  Betty's recipe for this tomato tart kept calling to me.  I made several changes since I wanted to experiment with making the crust ahead of time and freezing it.  That worked well.  I used feta cheese.  Betty used bleu cheese.  The feta was delicious and I'm sure the bleu cheese would be as well.  I must note that I'm not a pastry crust expert but this was so easy to prepare.  We enjoyed it while watching one of the World Cup games (yes, Oliver got fed on time in case any of you are wondering).  I think it will be perfect for a ladies' luncheon.

Grape Tomato and Feta Tart inspired by Betty Rosbottom

1 cup all-purpose flour
4 ounces of cream cheese, chilled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 stick butter, chilled and cut into 8 pieces
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

375 degree oven
Use a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom
1.  Place the flour, cream cheese, butter, salt and pepper in a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse corn meal and starts to come together.
2.  Place the mixture on a lightly floured board and knead until smooth--just a few turns should do it.
3.  Press into the bottom of the ungreased tart pan.  Do not press up the sides.  Smooth out evenly with a flat bottom measuring cup.
4.  Place in the refrigerator for 15 minutes or, if making ahead, cover with plastic wrap and place in the freezer.   When ready to use, defrost in the refrigerator for a few hours.
5.  Bake until golden brown--about 30 to 35 minutes.  Remove and cool for five minutes.

4 oz of feta cheese
2 cups grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt
1.  Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the warm crust and top with the tomatoes, cut side up.  Drizzle with the olive oil and then the vinegar.  Sprinkle with salt to taste.
2.  Place in the still hot oven and bake until the cheese is melted and the tomatoes are hot--about 15 minutes.

Chop together a couple tablespoons of parsley and 2 green onions.  Sprinkle over the tart and serve warm or at room temperature.


Saturday, June 28, 2014

What's For Lunch? Radish Sandwiches. Really?

My first, and only for a long time, cookbook was The Joy of Cooking.  Next came the Time Life series of cooking around the world.  In the British cookbook, I was impressed with the delicious simplicity of the ploughman's lunch.  And, especially, the radish sandwiches.

Our farmers' market is still recovering from the challenges of a much longer winter (well into spring actually) and a lot of rain.  Alas, asparagus season was much too short this year.  Not enough tomatoes have appeared as yet.  We are making do with some delicious ones that our farmer started in the greenhouse.  In fact, there are eight lovely ones on the kitchen sill awaiting our dining pleasure.  Deep ruby red beets are waiting to be roasted once again this week.

What has been been beautifully delicious are the radishes.  So, we had ourselves a nice ploughman's lunch today.  All you need are slices of a good crusty bread, cream cheese into which a sweet onion is grated and a few spicy and crunchy radishes to slice and top the sandwich with.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Whole Beet

Question:  I use Blogger's Reading List to check for your postings.  The past two days, instead of showing the list, Blogger shows only one posting and when I click on "more", nothing comes up.  Are any of you having this problem?  It's a first for me.  If your new posts don't show up on Facebook, I don't know when you've posted.

Saturday's Farmers' Market had a perfect setting.  The sun was shining, the temperature was moderate and lots of people got out early.  Just north of the market, and around the city square, food tents were up and preparations were underway for the second day of "Taste of Crown Point".  Starting with the corn roast a few weeks ago, there is some sort of festivity going on around the square up to and on July 4th.

In addition to a nice Napa cabbage, a few young zucchinis and half a dozen luscious tomatoes, two bunches of beets with the greens attached came home with us.  Let me admit, up front, that for a long time, I cut those delicious and healthy greens off and tossed them in the garbage.  Beet greens were not something I grew up eating.  A few year's back, I came upon a recipe for them--well, not really a recipe.  It was more a hand slapping for not using them in the same manner as kale, spinach or other leafy greens are used.

Happily, the whole beet is now utilized in my kitchen!

Don't be fooled by how much the leaves from two bunches (about five beets) of beets seems to be.

Wash the leaves and remove the stems
To a large pot, add a Tbsp of canola oil, 1/2 cup water, 
salt and pepper to taste and bring to a simmer.
Add the greens and cover the pot.
In a few minutes, stir the greens down 
and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally,
for about 20 minutes.
They cook down to about three servings.

Add a splash of balsamic vinegar and enjoy!

For the beets, leave about an inch of the stems
and do not trim the roots.  
Wash them and lay on tin foil in a baking pan.
Cover with a top of tin foil and roast in a 400 degree oven
for about 40 minutes.  They are done when tender to the touch.
Cool slightly and slip the skins off.

We enjoyed some of ours served on a bed of the
cooked greens and topped with a sprinkle of 
feta cheese and spring onions.