Summertime Holiday Dishes Plus MVK’s Food News of the Week

Note, apologies for the advance unedited piece you may have received on Monday; I’ve been having some troubles with my host and it sent instead of saved!  

I wish every morning this could be my view at breakfast.

I wish this could be my view at breakfast every morning! My view from the top of Mount Abraham.

“In the summertime when the weather is hot
You can stretch right up and touch the sky.”

“In the Summertime,” by Jerry Mungo

The first two lines of this old chestnut have been an earworm for the past two weeks or so. Long sunny days with the light going well past nine, and starting around 4:30 a.m., have me out and about well before my usual early rising time and sometimes well past my bedtime. No matter, this time is fleeting and I know in just a few short weeks I’ll start to notice the time change and that it’s no longer a bright light that wakens me.

That said, it’s almost Fourth of July weekend, which for some marks the start of summer. This is one of those golden years where the holiday is bumped with a weekend, so we don’t have the odd middle-of-the-week day off. I always find this time of year as one with family and friend gatherings, summer guests, picnics, and lots of opportunity to feed a crowd. So this week I’m recycling a favorite idea and bringing you some past suggestions for summer eating and hosting!

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Miscellaneous and Appetizers

Jordan Marsh’s Blueberry Muffins
If you have some fresh blueberries, these are delicious and easy.

Meditteranean Kebobs
My go-to dish for potlucks.

Black Bean Hummus with Queso Fresco
I took this once to a dinner party and I ended up eating most of it! It’s SO good!

Kale Chips
Healthier than potato chips!

Soups and Main Dishes

Julia Child’s Vichyssoise
I’m not one for summer soups, but I do love this one.

Summer Minestrone Soup
A great soup with summertime vegetables.

Zucchini and Red Pepper Frittata
Eggs are a real lifesaver for dinner on summer evenings.

Marinated Grilled Chicken Legs
These are great hot off the grill or cold.

Marinated London Broil
Mmm…

Salads

Israeli Couscous “Tabbouleh”
A fun spin on an old favorite.

MVK’s Nicoise Salad
My take on this classic French summer meal.

Szechuan Cucumbers
No guilt if you eat the whole bowl!

Red White and Blue Salad
A fun salad for the holiday!

Asian Green Bean Salad 
A great vegetarian dish with an Asian twist.

Cavatappi Salad with Tuna and Olives
A delicious heart-healthy pasta salad.

Desserts

Strawberry Shortcake
It’s not summer without having this for dinner one night.

Old Fashioned Blueberry-Maple Pie
A Vermont spin on an old fashioned favorite.

pepsiMVK’s Food News of the Week: This is How Much Celebrities are Paid to Endorse Unhealthy Foods
I recently read this article about how much celebrities are paid to endorse certain foods, mainly soda and fast food. I was surprised and also saddened. If you can believe it (I can’t), Beyoncé was paid $50 million (yes, you read correctly) to promote Pepsi products! You can read the article by clicking here.

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Jerry’s Lasagne

After being snowbound for two days, this scene is what greeted me one morning!

After being snowbound for two days, this is what the backyard looked like when the sun finally came out!

After nearly four years of creating and bringing you recipes from my kitchen and others, I start to get a bit forgetful. This crowd-pleasing recipe I make at least once a year for either a big dinner party or potluck and I can’t believe I’ve never written about it! I thought I had, but I searched high and low, and I couldn’t find it, so if this is a repeat, apologies in advance!

Like I said, this is a great crowd pleaser; a piece of nice, warm lasagna with a glass of wine will certainly fill you up on a cold winter’s night. (See above photo!) This is so simple and relatively inexpensive, canned sauce that you doctor up yourself, plus you don’t have to cook the noodles; the only time-consuming part is putting it together. I sometimes use artichoke hearts soaked in oil and spices for added flavor. The olives and mushrooms give a meaty flavor and texture, so (hopefully!) the carnivores will be happy. And leftovers, if there are any, are especially delicious! This freezes well, so you can always make up a pan on the weekend, divide into dinner-sized portions, freeze, and take out a package on those nights you don’t feel like cooking.

As an aside, I believe the name of the lasagna comes from Jerry Garcia, because it’s suggested you light some candles, open a bottle of organic wine, and listen to the Grateful Dead!

lasagneJerry’s Lasagne
This recipe comes from the cookbook, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, by Sandia Belgrade and Patricia Sweeney-Park, Elmira Publications, 1991.

Serves 12

In a saucepan over low heat, mix:

4 cups of marinara sauce
2 cups fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 cup black olives, sliced
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 cup of water
2 zucchini, sliced
1 cup artichoke hearts, diced
1 box, or 12-15 lasagne noodles, uncooked

Cheeses:
1 ½ cups mozzarella or jack, grated
1 ½ cups colby or cheddar, grated
2 cups cottage cheese

Layer noodles in a lightly oiled 9 x 13 pan, then sauce, then cheeses, etc. Top with grated cheese and bake covered. Bake at 375 for 1 hour. Let sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.

MVK’s Endorsement of the Week: Julia Child’s Kitchen

childs kitchenWhen my good friend, Dawn (hi Dawn!), visited her daughter in Washington, D.C. for Parents’ Weekend this fall, she sent me this photo of Julia Child’s kitchen, that is replicated at the Smithsonian Museum and is one of their most popular exhibits.

America’s Test Kitchen Radio” podcast recently had an interview with a curator from the museum who talked about what it took to move Child’s kitchen from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Washington. It is an exact replication, and it was interesting to hear what went into the actual move; thousands of pieces encompass the space. I also learned what Child thought about the project; she was retiring to California and was selling her home, which is why her kitchen was “available” for the museum.

As a home cook, I’ve always yearned for that top-of-the-line kitchen, with lots of space to work. But Child’s was homey, with small counters and a kitchen table in the middle of the room. where people could gather round to talk while she cooked. It’s sort of like my kitchen, which always seems to be the hub of the house; whenever guests come over, we tend to congregate at the kitchen table instead of the living room. So if a small kitchen was good enough for Julia, it’s definitely good enough for me! You can hear the interview here.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

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I’ve been pretty mad at Mother Nature lately, and then she goes and does something like this! Saturday evening, facing west.

I’m not sure what part of the world you’re living in, but it has been Cold with a capital C for days here in Vermont! The day the calendar changed to January, the temps went down–and down–each day. And ice is everywhere! The driveway is a skating rink and it’s been weeks since I’ve been able to take a walk outside. (Since I started writing this a couple of days ago, the temperature has gone from negative digits to close to 60 degrees with rain! What the heck is going on?!)

DSCN4186Anyways, enough about the weather. At Christmas this year, My Vermont Kitchen received a few food-related gifts: My friend, Jennifer, sent me three tins of herbs from London and I’m so excited to use these in my cooking! (Also, some Jane Austen band aids, which will come in handy for all those times I cut and burn myself!) I received vintage-like martini glasses from another friend, and I found two gifts under the tree from The Eater of the House: an immersion blender, which will be perfect for soups and smoothies; and an enameled cast iron French oven. For years I’ve been coveting one of these, and The Eater thought it was time I was given one. (It helps when you benefit from your gift giving!)

Hello, gorgeous!

Hello, gorgeous!

So with lousy weather and the desire to hunker down inside and keep warm, I decided to make something that was traditionally French to try out the new pot and that would heat the house for at least one evening: Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon!

While I find Child’s recipes to be some of the best out there, in instructions and in taste, some of them are really time consuming. Despite my best efforts, from the time I started cooking to the time we sat down to eat, it was 4 1/2 hours! I thought I was going to spend the majority of the time catching up on “Mad Men” episodes, but no, there is a lot of hands-on cooking that goes into this meal. And washing dishes. I lost count after my fourth round of how many I washed. Good thing you have that bottle of Chianti, you’ll want to have a glass or two when you’re hanging out in the kitchen!

But for me, the real question when it comes to spending a lot of time cooking a meal is was all that effort worth it. And I can give you a resounding yes! I love beef anything, and as I was making this I lamented the lack of vegetables, but I didn’t miss them one bit. This is a true beef stew, with fall of the fork beef, and a deep, rich mix of wine and meat flavors. Complex and flavorful, it was well worth the almost five hours I spent in the kitchen. (And lots of leftovers in the freezer for at least two other meals!) Because, honestly, who wants to go out on such a cold evening?

Boeuf Bourguignon

This recipe originally appeared in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One, by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck, 1961.

Child said this is traditionally served with boiled potatoes, but I like her other suggestion of hot buttered noodles. I served this over buttered egg noodles with a little bit of chopped parsley. Serves 6.

9- to 10-inch, fireproof casserole dish, 3 inches deep
Slotted spoon

6 ounces bacon (MVK’s Note: I used four slices of bacon.)
1 Tbsp. olive oil or cooking oil
3 pounds lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 sliced carrot
1 sliced onion
1 tsp. salt (MVK’s Note: Given there was beef broth, I didn’t add any additional salt.)
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 Tbsp. flour
3 cups full-bodied, young red wine, such as a Chianti
2 to 3 cups brown beef stock or canned beef bouillon (MVK’s Note: 2 cups was all I needed.)
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 tsp. thyme
Crumbled bay leaf
Blanched bacon rind (MVK’s Note: Since I didn’t have a piece of bacon, only slices, I skipped this ingredient.)
18 to 24 small white onions, brown-braised in stock
1 pound quartered fresh mushrooms, sautéed in butter
Parsley sprigs

Directions:

1. Remove rind from bacon, and cut bacon into lardons (sticks, 1/4 inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long). Simmer rind and bacon for 10 minutes in 1 1/2 quarts of water. Drain and dry.

2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. (MVK’s Note: I skipped this, see Step 6.)

3. Sauté the bacon in the oil over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon. Set casserole aside. Reheat until fat is almost smoking before you sauté the beef.

4. Dry the stewing beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Sauté it, a few pieces at a time, in the hot oil and bacon fat until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the bacon.

5. In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the sautéing fat.

6. Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with the salt and pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly with the flour. Set casserole uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and return to oven for 4 minutes more. (This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust.) Remove casserole, and turn oven down to 325 degrees. (MVK’s Note: I skipped this entire step. I added the flour and cooked it on the stove.)

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Before.

7. Stir in the wine, and enough stock or bouillon so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs, and bacon rind. Bring to simmer on top of the stove. Then cover the casserole and set in lower third of preheated oven. Regulate heat so the liquid simmers very slowly for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

8. While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms. Set them aside until needed. **Instructions below.

9. When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan. Wash out the casserole and return the beef and bacon to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms over the meat.

10. Skim fat off the sauce. Simmer sauce for a minute or two, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons of stock or canned bouillon. Taste carefully for seasoning. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables. Recipe may be completed in advance to this point.

For immediate serving: Cover the casserole and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times. Serve in its casserole, or arrange the stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles, or rice, and decorated with parsley.

For later serving: When cold, cover and refrigerate. About 15 to 20 minutes before serving, bring to the simmer, cover, and simmer very slowly for 10 minutes, occasionally basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce.

**For brown-braised onions, add the onions to a skillet that has warmed butter and oil (1 1/2 TBS each, or less). Cook for about 10 minutes until they are evenly browned. Add 1/2 cup of beef stock, dry white wine, red wine, or water; salt and pepper to taste, and a herb bouquet (4 parsley sprigs, 1/2 bay leaf, and 1/4 tsp thyme tied in cheesecloth–MVK’s Note: I totally skipped this.) Cover and simmer slowly for 40-50 minutes or until the onions are tender and retain their shape.

**For the sautéed mushrooms, add 2 TBS of butter and 1 TBS oil to a skillet, and when the butter foam has subsided, add the mushrooms, and stir and shake the pan until the mushrooms start getting brown. (MVK’s Note: I noticed if you turn the heat down, the mushrooms start releasing water, so keep the heat fairly high to avoid this.)

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After.

 

Soupe À L’Oignon (Onion Soup)

DSCN0093Last week was cold. So very cold. Single digits during the day, negatives at night. Every day it was home, work, and back again. No dilly dallying, I even skipped going to the gym. Four layers, including my extra heavy wool sweater. And because of the extra cold temperatures all I could think about was French Onion Soup. If I’m lucky enough to find it on a menu at a restaurant, I almost always order it. A nice warm, crock topped with melted cheese and a bowlful of deep onions in a rich broth is the ultimate comfort  food to me. So I couldn’t wait for the weekend, as I planned on checking out Mastering the Art of French Cooking and seeing what Julia Child’s authentic recipe looked like.

I sat down one evening to watch her cooking show and was thrilled to find they are now repeating “The French Chef,” on a PBS channel. This was Julia Child’s first cooking show from 1963, black and white with the happy little diddy as the theme song. And what was she making that night but French Onion Soup! I saw it as a sign from the cooking gods that it was meant to be!

I figured Julia Child would tell the cook that in order to make it authentic you’d have to make your own beef broth. But she actually calls for canned beef bouillon, so I was saved from the extra effort. I had two cups of leftover beef broth and two cups of broth left over from a pot roast. I bought “Better Than Bouillon” for the other quart. Although, I have an admission; my math was off and I ended up doubling the amount, which lent a saltier than usual flavor. (OK, a really salty soup.) Math was and still is not my strong suit, so another kitchen lesson learned: when multiplying a recipe, always double-check my math–or ask someone else to check it for me!

While the recipe is fairly simple with few pots and pans, it is time consuming; she says to count on 2 ½ hours at the least from start to finish. Definitely a weekend project or one if you have the day off. And have a good book or magazine or plan to organize your shelves as you need to be close to your pot for nearly an hour before you are able to go off and do something else.

This is what two pounds of onions look like sliced!

This is what two pounds of onions look like sliced!

My changes were minimal. Instead of a pound and a half or five cups of sliced onions, I just bought a two-pound bag; there were several small onions in there and figured too many onions won’t ruin the dish. Instead of grated cheese, I bought some nice baby Swiss cheese from the deli and just added pieces to the soup. And, in my opinion, a teaspoon of salt is way too much if you’re using canned broth. I added a little and would suggest adding the rest to taste.

One tip, though, since it is winter and the house is sealed up, remove all coats, sweaters, and any other clothing you don’t want have smell like eau d’oignon; it does have a way of lingering–in the kitchen and on your clothing!

By the time I finished eating this, I was nice and toasty warm. Pure comfort in a bowl. I hope you try making this too and enjoy it as much as I did! 

Soupe À L’Oignon
[Onion Soup]
From Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, Simon Beck.

For six to eight servings

1 ½ lbs. or about 5 cups of thinly sliced yellow onions
3 Tb butter
1 Tb oil
A heavy-bottomed, 4 quart covered saucepan

Cook the onions slowly with the butter and oil in the covered saucepan for 15 minutes.

1 tsp salt
½ tsp sugar (helps the onions to brown)

Uncover, raise heat to moderate and stir in the salt and sugar. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes stirring frequently, until the onions have turned an even, deep, golden brown.

Golden brown onions.

Golden brown onions.

3 Tb flour

Sprinkle in the flour and stir for 3 minutes

2 quarts boiling brown stock, canned beef bouillon, or 1 quart of boiling water and 1 quart of stock or bouillon
½ cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
Salt and pepper to taste

Off heat, blend in the boiling liquid. Add the wine, and season to taste. Simmer partially covered for 30 minutes to 40 minutes or more, skimming occasionally. Correct seasoning.

(*) Set aside uncovered until ready to serve. Then reheat to a simmer.

3 Tb cognac
Rounds of hard-toasted French bread (**see instructions)
1 to 2 cups grated Swiss or Parmesan cheese

Just before serving, stir in the cognac. Pour into a soup tureen or soup cups over the rounds of bread, and pass the cheese separately.

**12-16 slices of French bread cut ¾ to 1 inch thick. Place the bread in one layer in a roasting pan and bake in a preheated 325-degree oven for about half an hour, until it is thoroughly dried out and lightly browned.

The finished product.

The finished product.

Happy 100th Birthday, Julia Child!

This photo of “Les Trois Gourmandes” hangs in my kitchen. I like to think of them as my kitchen guardian angels.

I owe all of my interest in cooking and food to Julia Child. In the 1970s, her show would be on in the late afternoon on PBS and I watched in awe as she cooked something exotic and delicious-looking; I always wonder if that’s why to this day I have an urge to step into the kitchen and start cooking in the late afternoons on the weekends. Wanting to emulate her, my first step in cooking was whisking scrambled eggs with flour (my brother still reminds me to this day of my first “recipe.” And yes, it tasted like eggs and flour and went to the compost pile.) I was an early riser even when I was young, and one morning decided to make hors d’ouevres for my parents before 8 a.m (Ritz crackers topped with cheese and an olive. They were kind enough to eat them in their half-awake state.) When I got a little older, I used to borrow her cookbooks from the library, poring through the pages and dreaming of menus I’d cook for my future guests when I was an adult. I have nine of her cookbooks on my shelf, the most of any other cook. To this day, if I’ve had a bad day, I know her cooking show with Jacques Pépin is on at 7 p.m. and just watching it relaxes me and puts me in a better mood.

So I’ve watched cooks around the country join me on the Julia Child bandwagon for a celebration of what would be her 100th birthday today, August 15. Since I’m out of town today, Saturday night’s dinner was going to be in tribute to Julia and would completely be from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This also gave me time to spend in the kitchen, cooking in homage of this master cook.

How does the phrase go about the best laid plans? I wondered when I went to bed that day if someone was testing me to look outside the box. I awoke to a dreadfully humid day. This summer has been the three H’s, hazy, hot, and humid, and Saturday was no different. I took my usual long walk a little after 6 and by 6:15 I was drenched in sweat. But no matter, I had cooking to do this day!

We ran errands and did all our grocery shopping and were home around 2:30. I put everything away, washed the breakfast dishes, and had the house to myself–I was going to prepare the chocolate mousse! I read the recipe carefully, dividing the eggs by their yolks and whites, and started preparing. I had exactly ¼ cup of Triple Sec left, perfect. I started whisking and whipping over the double boiler as instructed. About 10 minutes into this, I realized I was whisking the whites not the yolks.

Now, this is where living in the country is a pain in the neck. I was furious with myself over this error and I had two options, put everything away for another day or travel to town and pick up more Triple Sec. After much consideration, I chose the latter, and also picked up some super fine sugar, as I also didn’t have enough at home. A short visit with a friend, and we were home a little after six. Still plenty of time to make dinner!

The “proper” chocolate mousse!

With the chocolate mousse properly made, I moved on to the tomatoes.

The tomatoes waiting for the oven.

The two recipes took a little bit under an hour. I was still on track time-wise. I sat down to watch a little bit of the Olympics with a small glass of wine when the electricity fluttered. It looked like it was going to rain, but not a storm that would take out the electricity. I breathed a sigh of relief, my mind going to the fridge, with the scallops, fish, and cooling chocolate mousse. I returned to the kitchen, turned on my computer to listen to music, and the lights went out. This time, for good.

After the rain, a faint rainbow bowed over the mountains and was lovely. The sun came out, but the electricity was still off. It started to get dark. Since we have a gas stove, I could use the stove top, but I needed the oven. Then I thought, I’m going to just cook everything on the stove and forget about the oven; I’d cook the tomatoes in the morning.


Cooking by candlelight isn’t as romantic as it may look and certainly isn’t the most ideal situation, but I was able to make the scallops and its sauce. I was thrilled, there really was no reason to pop them in the oven at all! I plated the food, brought the candles to the living room and just as I brought in the wine and was about to sit down, the lights came on. This time, for good.

So at 9 p.m., I started to make the fish, cook the tomatoes, I gave up on making the hollandaise, and washed the batches and batches of dishes that had accumulated. The scallops were rich, a little too rich for me; the fish overcooked a little bit, I thought; the tomatoes were delicious and a hit; and the chocolate mousse? Taking that trip to town was well worth it too, when I saw my number one eater dig into his dish, and silently return to the kitchen for seconds; I was tired and set mine aside for the next day. And after giving a serving on to a chocolate-loving friend, the request has been made to bring another batch along for this week’s annual trip to Lake George.

So WWJD? “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude,” she is quoted as saying.

To good food and good eating!

The Menu

Coquilles St. Jacques à la Parisienne
(Scallops and Mushrooms in White Wine Sauce)
Recipe can be found here.
(Cook’s note: Since sea scallops are incredibly expensive, I substituted bay scallops. Also, she has you simmer the scallops and mushrooms for five minutes; I think this is way too long, maybe more like three minutes.)  

Filets de Poisson Pochés au Vin Blanc
(Fish Filets Poached in White Wine)
Recipe can be found here, Filets de Poisson Pochés au Vin Blanc
(Cook’s note: My supermarket had neither sole nor flounder, so I used cod. It was a good substitute. You can also use haddock.)

Tomates à la Provençale
(Tomatoes Stuffed with Bread Crumbs, Herbs, and Garlic)
Recipe can be found here.

Choux Broccoli avec Sauce Hollandaise
(Broccoli with Hollandaise Sauce)
The recipe served with asparagus can be found here.

Mousseline au Chocolat
(Chocolate Mousse)
Recipe can be found here.

Julia Child’s Vichyssoise

When I got together with my nieces and nephews, everyone was getting temporary tattoos, so Aunt Chris decided to get one too. And of course, mine had to be food-related–a cupcake!

With the prospect of Julia Child’s 100th birthday on August 15 (restaurants around the country are planning special dinners in her honor), I’ve been reading her tome, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and planning a special dinner for the weekend of August 10. So with that, I’ve been finding other easy-to-make recipes in the book that I could also make during the week.

Book club this month was slated for the lake (Champlain) and I would be coming straight from work, so I needed to pick up something or take along a dish that would be easy to tote and that I could make the night before. I discovered Julia’s recipe for Vichyssoise which, although I’m not a big fan of cold soups, is one of my favorites. I never need an excuse to buy leeks, I love them (especially in scrambled eggs with a little bit of cream cheese), and the chives in the garden had been ignored since springtime. This recipe is quite simple, peel and slice potatoes, slice some leeks, and add some broth and simmer until soft. Puree, add cream, and voilà! you’re done! It’s simple enough I able to make the soup while making dinner!

I spent Tuesday morning getting serving cups and utensils ready and I packed the soup in a cooler, which I put in the fridge at work when I got there. But as luck would have it, Vermont’s summertime weather did not cooperate. Rain in the morning made for a gorgeous afternoon. But by the time 3 p.m. rolled around, so did the clouds and more rain, leading us to cancel and meet at my house. Which actually turned out to be a saving grace for my soup; when packaged, its liquid  floats to the top. Since I had forgotten to pack a ladle (I thought I could just pour it into the cups), this could have been a potential mess. When I got home, I poured the soup back into the Dutch oven and stirred. Much better. Instead of chilled cups, I served in bowls;  since it had been in the fridge for about 24 hours, it was plenty chilled.

The soup was a hit, the book (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) was a hit, and the evening was filled with great food, great friends, and as always, lots of laughs. And the best part was there was just enough leftover for my lunch the next day!

Vichysssoise
(Cold Leek and Potato Soup)
From Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, Simone Beck

3 cups peeled, sliced potatoes (Cook’s note: I found this to be about 2 large Russet potatoes)
3 cups sliced white of leek
1 ½ quarts of white stock, chicken stock, or canned chicken broth (Cook’s note: I used just slightly more than a quart for this, I was worried it would be too thin for my liking. I gauged correctly.)
Salt to taste
½ to 1 cup whipping cream (Cook’s note: I definitely used 1/2 cup, a little goes a long way.)
Salt and white pepper
Chilled soup cups
2-3 TB minced chives

Simmer the vegetables in stock or broth instead of water, partially covered, for 40 to 50 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Puree the soup either in the electric blender, or through a food mill and then through a fine sieve.

Stir in the cream. Season to taste, oversalting very slightly as salt loses savor in a cold dish. Chill.

Serve in chilled soup cups and decorate with minced chives.

Swiss Stash

I’m back! A well-rested two weeks, but no rest for the weary, I’ve been cooking  up lots of new recipes to share with you in the coming weeks!

You wouldn’t know it by the weather (it’s been cold and rainy here for what seems like, and actually has been, weeks), but spring has sprung despite the temperatures, with rhubarb, spinach, and other early vegetables showing their beautiful faces after a long winter. Even the farmer’s market has opened! This is a fantastic time to cook, everything is fresh and tastes like spring.

Last fall, I met a friend from Switzerland through an online social website devoted to book lovers. She was coming to Vermont to take part in a weekend book retreat that we also were attending. Being an uncharacteristic New Englander, I offered to pick her up at the airport and drive her down with us.

So after six months of writing back and forth, we finally met. Kats has become my new BFF, she Avis DeVoto to me, Julia Child (with the countries reversed, and apologies to Julia Child, who I am nothing like!). A few weeks before she was to depart, she asked me what I would like in the way of food from Switzerland. I told her what I would want she couldn’t possibly bring overseas: meat and cheese. She asked why couldn’t she? Of course she could bring some along! All I could think of was the old “I Love Lucy” episode where she brought back a big piece of cheese from Italy, wrapping it like a baby and carrying it on her lap. Kats didn’t do that, she just packed it in her suitcase! And like magic, she spent more than ten minutes emptying her ever-shrinking luggage passing me cheese (oh the cheese!), meat (oh the meat!), chocolate (oh, the chocolate!), cereal, bread, spices, olive tapenade, and more. It was my dream come true!

After I took this photo and put everything away, I realized I forgot to add the four-plus candy bars, too! But of course, they already had been opened!

So even though it was late April, I had been freezing with a cold and damp week in the low 50s. I was able to grab a little bit of time one night after work to mow the lawn for the first time this year, and as I traversed row by row, I wiled away the time with thoughts of my Swiss food and what I was going to make. (Any time I want something to go quickly, I’ll think of food, it makes the time go oh so much quicker!) With the weather we’d been having, I could only think of one thing: cheese fondue.

Now for me, cheese fondue brings back memories of the 1970s and my family huddled over our bright red fondue pot with meat and cheese on a Saturday night. I like both for different reasons; the meat was delicious pieces of beef, dipped into a thin sauce, and the cheese wrapped itself around a warm piece of French bread. Frankly, my idea of heaven!

I wasn’t at first sure how I should start this, I knew you just don’t throw cheese in a pan and warm, so I went to the French expert, Julia Child (FYI, I just heard that 2012 is the celebration of Julia’s 100th birthday! I MUST have a party for this!). Her version of cheese fondue is to make a roux with butter, flour, and cream and to add the cheese from there. I wasn’t sure about having such a rich roux plus cheese, so I made a small one, just a couple of teaspoons of butter with enough flour to make a paste, then added a little bit of milk to thin it. From here, I took my cheese, about three cups, one cup or so of Swiss, the other cup was Tête de Moine (literally translated, monk’s head! And I also was given the Girolle for my birthday!) The cheese has a deep, nutty flavor that I thought would mix well with the Swiss. From here, it was just a lot of stirring, adding milk (2%) when needed. A couple splashes of white wine, a clove of garlic crushed in a garlic press, and a few generous dashes of cayenne pepper and it was ready. I warmed a loaf of French bread and just sliced off a few pieces and placed a few spoonfuls of the fondue in a bowl to dip. You can substitute plain crackers too; as my family who ate the leftovers a few days later can attest, it is just as delicious. It’s a very rich meal, a little bit goes a long way, so a simple salad with a little bit of vinegar is a great addition.

So on that very chilly spring evening, my insides were warmed with the fondue and thoughts and appreciation for my new friend. Bon Appétit!