oysters and arugula


Dorie Greenspan

Happy Birthday to Me

Though I had been toying with the idea for a little while, the final decision to host a dinner party on my birthday weekend was made only hours before the event itself.  I had not thrown a party in a while, and I considered the menu planning and grocery shopping a gift to myself.

Had I made this decision a day beforehand, I might have tried out the cassoulet recipe in The NY Times magazine last Sunday.  It’s still chilly enough in the Northeast to make the idea of a cassoulet party very appealing.  And it’s been something I wanted to try – such a project.  Bean-soaking, confit-making, in addition to providing another opportunity for me to confront my lamb issues.  But it may just have to wait until next winter.  Instead, I built the menu around a recipe in Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table, something called a sweet-salty potato far.  It involves grated potato, raisins, prunes, and a crepe-like batter.  (Oh, I can just hear the groans of raisin detractors far and near!)  Dorie’s description, and its Breton roots captured my imagination.  The infinitely more common version of the recipe is the traditional far breton, a clafoutis-type dessert, studded with prunes. Continue reading “Happy Birthday to Me”

Score 1 for Team Raisin

Newsflash:  Saturday, 9:56 p.m., Pelham, New York

Former raisin detractor (see Raisins Ruin a Good Dessert)  and best friend of this reporter, devoured a bowl of Linguine Mendiant – raisins, figs, pistachios, and almonds all!   Eyewitnesses heard her trying to hide behind the old “butter makes everything taste good” defense, but when pressed, she was woman enough to confess the error of her raisin-slandering ways.

Unfortunately, her husband, who was not present for the meal, has yet to be persuaded.  By long distance phone call from Vermont he had this comment, “Raisins have no business in pasta.”

We’ll make a convert of him yet.

Salted Butter Break-Ups

I am not a baker.  I am certainly capable of baking, and do bake my share of birthday cakes and cupcakes and Christmas cookies, but I’m not a fan.  The measuring, the sifting, the flown-away flour gumming up my sponge . . . these things do not rev my engine (and my engine could use a little revving right now, but I digress . . . )  A few factors, however, conspired to induce me to bake Dorie Greenspan’s Salted Butter Break-Ups:

1.  The French Fridays with Dorie crowd was making her Salted Butter Break-Ups last week, and I had failed to participate, hence a sense of having missed a homework assignment (even if self-imposed).

2.  There are only 5 ingredients (if you don’t count the water) – butter, flour, sugar, salt (albeit sel gris, but coarse kosher is a happy alternative), and an egg yolk.

3.  A family get-together this weekend provided the perfect venue in which to introduce this convivial cookie.

Let me report that this has to be some of the least labor-intensive baking I have ever encountered.  Toss the first four ingredients in a food processor, scrape the dough into a rectangle, refrigerate, roll into a flatter rectangle, paint on some egg wash, bake and break!

The twist on what is basically a butter cookie, is that you serve it whole, placing it in the middle of the table and encouraging your guests to break off how ever much they like.   Fun and unfussy!   We served it after a Vietnamese meal from a favorite local restaurant – curry chicken with vegetables, chicken with onions and oyster sauce, beef with snow peas – and it was reduced to mere crumbs in a flash.

There are those in my life who are generally desirous of no more than a piece or two of dark chocolate after a meal.  But I think I do not go out on too much of a limb to predict that when presented with this cookie, there may be something other than chocolate melting in their mouths . . . and since seeing those I love happy, makes me pretty darn happy, maybe baking could rev my engine after all!

Beggar’s Linguine for a Birthday

Having been apart on my recent birthday, my daughters informed me that we would celebrate my birthday this evening.  They had a little plan up their sleeves, about which they whispered and plotted with our dear friend and irreplaceable sitter, Beth.  I decided to make my own contribution to the evening by trying out this week’s French Friday recipe, Beggar’s Linguine, or Linguine Mendiant.

Calling for pistachios, almonds, golden raisins, and dried Mission figs, a healthy heap of Parmesan and dusting of orange zest and chopped chives, this is not a recipe that would normally catch my eye – even if the 1 1/2 sticks of butter might!  I simply could not get my mind around what it was going to taste like.  Sweet?  Fruity?  Is that really something we want for dinner?  The raisins alone gave me quite a long moment of pause.   Some readers may recall the dismay I caused at my best friend’s home when I showed up with a dessert containing golden raisins.  And a person with whom I generally share a similarity of taste in all things culinary, made a face bordering on disgust when I suggested we share a cinnamon raisin bagel one recent morning.  Would my daughters and Beth join this group of people offended by the inclusion of raisins in their meals?  (Topic for future blog:  Where to do raisins belong?)  After mulling this all over for a few minutes, I decided, “What the hell!” and made my grocery list.

A little background on where the inspiration for this pasta may have come from.  Dorie Greenspan tells us that there’s a French candy called a mendiant, which comes in the form of a chocolate disc topped with chopped nuts, dried fruit and sometimes a little orange rind.  Traditionally, the nuts and fruits represented the four mendicant monastic orders – dried figs for the Franciscans, raisins for the Dominicans, hazelnuts for the Augustinians, and almonds for Carmelites.  So it seems that someone thought it might be a good idea to apply this idea to a pasta dish and, somewhat surprisingly, it was!

Beggar's linguine

After browning that stick and a half of butter, in go the chopped fruits and nuts, followed by the cooked linguine.  Toss that all around, pour it into a bowl, add a generous heap of Parmesan, little orange zest, and healthy handful of chives, and oh my how happy you will be!   I am, in fact, so certain of this fact that I intend to prepare this dish for each of the aforementioned raisin detractors in the very near future.

Good as this pasta was however, it couldn’t beat dessert – a birthday cake baked, decorated, and served with an abundance of love by my two beautiful daughters.

Almost Friday . . .At Least in My Kitchen

My apartment smells of toasting cheese – Comté, to be exact – and scallions.   In the oven is a loaf of Dorie Greenspan‘s cheese and chive bread, though I’ve taken her bonne idée, substituting scallions for chives and throwing in a handful of toasted walnuts, as well.   Cooking this bread is my way of hurrying the start of my weekend, because as I chopped and stirred and now enjoy the warm scents drifting through the apartment, I am thinking of tomorrow night, when this bread will be the accompaniment to a well-deserved glass of Friday-night scotch for an overworked, carbohydrate-loving doctor I know.

Paris, We Miss You!

A week ago last night, we were sitting at the counter at Les Cocottes, and last night we enjoyed those memories over steaming bowls of curried mussels.  (And I’ve not forgotten that I owe you a few more details about that trip.)  We had spent our Saturday consumed with many domestic activities and errands, and I wanted our dinner to be easy and quick but more special than a weeknight dinner.  Flipping open my  now page-stained Around My French Table, I quickly zeroed in on Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for curried mussels.  I also discovered that the Paris establishment, Horse’s Tavern, that inspired this recipe, was right around the corner from the hotel in which we stayed!  Quel dommage!  Adding it to our list.

This was the girls’ first experience and it was most successful.  Not knowing what they were missing, the girls were quite content to sop up the cream-fortified curried broth with a piece of bread rather the crispy pile of salty frites that should have accompanied the dish.  I was less accepting, but kept my complaints to myself.   Expressing her surprise that dinner was ready so quickly, Anna remarked that she didn’t know why people go to fast-food restaurants when they can make such good food at home.  Michael Pollan would be so pleased (as, of course, was this mother.)

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