My Take on…Dinner Chez Moi

Book Reviews, Cooking

After having read both of Elizabeth Bard’s memoirs, I decided to give her cookbook a try. Mixed in with the recipes are little paragraphs of tips or “secrets” as the author calls them. I found those fun to read and read them straight away, as I was skimming the recipes. I decided to make a full meal including desert from Dinner Chez Moi.

I enlisted my daughter to help me prepare the meal. We made the Lentil and Sausage Stew (Lentilles aux saucisses fumees), even though it is summer here in California and rather warm. The author assured us that, ” This is a favorite dish in our house year-round-warm and comforting as a big bear hug. Friends and family request it each time they visit, even if it’s 100 degrees in the shade!”. Well, ok. If it is recommened in any temperature then let’s go for it! And go for it we did. Next on the menu were the Ham and Rosemary Cheese Puffs (Gougeres au fromage, romarin, et jambon cru). To top off the meal, we made the Butter Cookies with Orange-Flower Essence (Sables aux fleur d-oranger).

We made the butter cookies first. They take an hour in the fridge to chill and then fifteen minutes to bake. They were light and very flavorful. The orange rind and orange-flower water gave the perfect amount of flavor. Sometimes, flavors are not so distinct. Also, I found this to be a nice treat with very few carbohydrates per cookie. The sugar was a mere 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon. Nice!

Next, we made the stew. I have a go-to lentil soup recipe, however, this one might have surpassed it. It was easy to make and loaded with fresh vegetables. It took an hour to simmer, which is normal for recipes with lentils. I really liked the added touch of wine and sausage. Yum!

While the stew was simmering, we made the Cheese Puffs. I did not find the ham at the store, so we left it out. I figured since there was already sausage in the stew we did not really need more meat with the meal anyway. I used fresh rosemary from our garden. They smelled delicious. Again, this was an easy recipe to whip together. I found that they did not need the full time in cooking. As with all new recipes, be sure to watch the bake time so as not to over bake these puffs. As with the cookies, I found this recipe low in carbohydrates. Nice!

My take on Dinner Chez Moi by Elizabeth Bard is that I think it is a keeper. Three out of three recipes tried were winners. The bonus “50 French Secrets” are interesting and worth the read. The only question is, “What will I make next?”. As always, Happy Cooking!

My Take on… Picnic in Provence

Book Reviews

In a recent post, I gave my take on Lunch in Paris, a memoir with recipes by Elizabeth Bard. Having enjoyed her first book, I decided to follow her journey to the French countryside of Provence. Picnic in Provence is full of more of Bard’s recipes, this time with a flair for the French countryside.

In Picnic in Provence, the now pregnant Elizabeth and her husband set off on an adventure to Provence to visit the home town of Rene Char, a poet that her husband finds of interest. To their surprise and great luck, the home that Char used to inhabit is now available for purchase. Falling in love with Provence, the couple decide to leave Paris for the countryside. They learn to live at a slower pace and decide to become entrepreneurs as well. What town could not use an ice cream shop?

After reading Picnic in Provence, I am ready to pack a bag for France. After all, I am fond of lavender, French cooking, and ice cream. Picnic in Provence did not dissapoint. It was a perfect follow-up to Lunch in Paris. I highly recommend making some croissants and sitting down with a copy of Bard’s latest memoir. Au Revoir!

Summer Calls for Strawberry Shortcake

Book Reviews, Cooking

I like eating fresh fruit in the summer. Wanting dessert last night, I decided to make strawberry shortcake. A great way to top off a summer meal.

I again turned to the cookbook, Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery and Cafe by JoAnne Chang to get my recipe. Chang’s strawberry shortcake recipe was easily whipped-up in the stand mixer. The biscuits were made and topped with the no-fuss, no-cook strawberry sauce that included balsamic vinegar in the list of ingredients. I chose to top the shortcakes with a chickpea based whipped topping (see previous blog post for recipe) instead of Chang’s whipped cream, so I can not comment on the topping.

So what did I think of Chang’s Strawberry Shortcake recipe? Yum! Another success story from the cookbook Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery and Cafe. The biscuits were crisp on the outside, light on the inside, and packed with flavor. The strawberry topping was easy to make and tasty as well. Put together, a delicious summer dessert that I will be making again. This recipe, unlike her fabulous croissant recipe, does not take all that long to make.

Chang’s cookbook is easily becoming one of my favorite cookbooks for baking. It seems as though everything made from this cookbook turns out delicious. As always, Happy Baking!

Biscuit waiting to be topped.
Strawberry topping
Chickpea Whipped Topping

My Take on…Lunch in Paris

Book Reviews, Cooking

I decided to read Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard for a fun summer read. After all, if I can not get to Paris, why not read about it. From the first chapter, I was suddenly transported to Paris.

Lunch in Paris is a memoir slash cookbook. Bonus! The book starts with Elizabeth (an American from New York living in London) meeting a Frenchman for lunch in Paris. They had met at a conference in England. This was a weekend visit that would ultimately change Elizabeth’s life. I will not give out all the juicy details. I will leave that up to the reader. I will, however, say that this book was delightful. It was a good choice for a summer read. One that I did not want to put down.

Elizabeth comes across as very likable and funny. Besides being a good book and making me feel like I was in Paris, the book also has recipes. Since I love to cook this is a treat. But not only does it have recipes, it has lots of recipes. I am talking recipes at the end of each chapter. I am talking more than one recipe per chapter. As many as three recipes per chapter. The back of the book also has an index of the recipes for easy reference.

Luckily, when I finished reading Lunch in Paris, I could keep my summer vacation in France going. I had also purchased Bard’s second book Picnic in Provence. So now I am following Elizabeth to the French countryside. My take on that will be out shortly.

So, if feeling the need to escape quarantine, pick-up a copy of Lunch in Paris. Not only a good read but a cookbook to boot. There is even a recipe for Zucchini Flowers Stuffed with Goat Cheese and Mint. Super! I still have a few zucchini flowers in the garden. This time I know to check for bees first. As always, Happy Reading!

My Take on: Married to Laughter

Book Reviews

Jerry Stiller passed in May of this year. He was 92 years old. I loved watching him as the over-the-top father, Frank Costanza, on the hit television show Seinfeld. Married to Laughter is a book written by Jerry Stiller about his life growing up in New York, meeting and marrying actress Anne Meara, and his life as an actor.

Jerry Stiller was nothing like the character he played as Frank Costanza. He was an actor after all. He attended Syracuse University, where he studied Theater. He worked in clubs and the theater. Even while working on Seinfeld, he worked in theater. He was an actor and he was driven to act. Not only was this his way to earn an income but it was his passion.

I find it interesting to read autobiographies. I feel like I get to know that person better by reading about them in their own words. One gets a sense of who they are and what they are like. It was interesting to hear the stories Stiller told of his life and what his thoughts were on what was happening at the time. I would recommend Married to Laughter to anyone that enjoyed Stiller’s work. I would also recommend it to anyone interested in theater or acting. The book gives a good sense of what it is like for an actor and the struggles they face at keeping the jobs coming in. It takes a lot of drive. As always, Happy Reading!

Making Croissants

Book Reviews, Cooking

As I have said before, my kids and I are cooking together this summer. So my teenage son made a couple of requests of foods he would like to try to make with me. One being croissants. Ambitious! I was in.

I found a recipe for croissants in the cookbook: Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery and Cafe by Joanne Chang. Chang said that after visiting France with her husband, she wanted to perfect the bakery’s croissant recipe even more. The recipe in her cookbook reflects her efforts at doing so. There are no pictures, just descriptions of the steps, which can seem complicated, but are well written and tested by Chang. She warns that one needs to start making the croissants two days in advance. Really? Yes, really. It is a time consuming process, however, most of that time is spent waiting for the dough to proof, so one can go about their day while the dough does it’s work.

The picture of the finished croissant in the cookbook looked mouth-wateringly good. This is what we were striving for, not the soft, American grocery store version. We wanted the crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, French version. After spending two days in the kitchen, my son and I were nervous when the time came to pop them in the oven. We did not want to burn them. We knew they had the potential for being grand. They had puffed-up into the most amazing looking croissants. We both had moments of joy making these croissants. I remember the ah ha moment when after making a slit in the top of our first croissant and spreading it into a y form, it rolled into a perfectly shaped croissant. A high-five was given as we excitedly formed the rest of our croissants. So, this was not something to risk in the baking. We stayed close to the oven, watching and waiting.

Ready to go into the oven.

I was nervous that the croissants seemed to be browning a bit sooner than expected given the time left on the timer. As the recipe said to bake them a total of 30 min plus or until golden. They were golden but what about the insides? This was our dilemma. We decided to tent them with foil for the remainder of the cook time. All turned out well. The croissants were delicious and got rave reviews from the family. They were crispy and flakey on the outside. On the inside, the tender and chewy layers could be seen as well as tasted. Oh yum! Am I in Paris!?!

Perfection!
The inside with a bit of jam.

If wanting a good French croissant, I highly recommend picking-up a copy of Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery and Cafe by Joanne Chang. While this recipe does seem like quite a task, it is actually very easy to make, just time consuming. The dough can be made in a stand mixer. The steps of folding the dough with the butter (I bought European butter for this recipe.) were easy and the dough rolled-out nicely (I used my pastry cloth.). Most importantly, the were DELICIOUS! As always, Bon Appetit!

My Take on…The Kingdom of the Blind

Book Reviews

The suspended head of the Surete du Quebec, Armand Gamache, receives a letter informing him of a meeting to discuss a will. Curiously enough, Gamache has been named executor of a complete stranger’s will. As he arrives at the meeting place, which turns out to be an abandoned farmhouse, his neighbor, Myrna Landers also pulls-up in her car. Going inside they are met by the Lawyer and are introduced to a young builder named Benedict who was also named as executor to the estate. Not one of the three persons named executor knew the deceased. How odd…

And thus begins the novel The Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny. The threesome decide to accept the role of executor and will find themselves not only asking why they were named executor to a complete stranger’s will, but who done it. Gamache will also try to solve his own mystery. The mystery that got him suspended from the Surete.

With likable characters, such as Gamache’s unique neighbors, and plenty of mystery, The Kingdom of the Blind is sure to keep one guessing and intreaged. This novel has two mysteries in one book that are unrelated to each other. So, it is a bit of a bonus. This is not the first in the Gamache series. Choose to start at the beginning or jump right in with this page turner.

As always, Happy Reading!

My Take on… The Word is Murder

Book Reviews

I just finished another book by Anthony Horowitz, The Word is Murder. This was another winner for Horowitz. In this book, Anthony writes himself, as an author, into the book. Interesting…

The book is set in England. Chapter one starts out with Diana Cowper going to a funeral parlour to arrange her own funeral. Later that very day, she is found murdered in her own home. Coincidence?

Ex-police detective Daniel Hawthorne is on the case helping the department solve the murder of Diana Cowper, who is the mother of the famous actor Damian Cowper. Anthony, who has been hired by Hawthorne to write a novel about him, is tagging along taking notes for the book. However, Anthony is not sure he likes Hawthorne and not at all sure writing this book is a good idea.

How will the case unfold? Grab a copy of The Word is Murder to find out. As always, happy reading!

My Take on…The Ghosts of Eden Park

Book Reviews

Author Karen Abbott’s The Ghosts of Eden Park set in real life jazz-age America is an interesting read. This nonfiction piece is about bootleg king George Remus and his life as a bootlegger and where it led him. Remus was a famous bootlegger well before the famous Al Capone.

George Remus was a German immigrant who worked in a pharmacy, then practiced law, and ultimately bootlegged whiskey. He was a multimillionaire who threw grand affairs and lavished his guests with expensive gifts. Prosecutor Mabel Walker Willebrandt is out to get Remus. She sets investigator, Franklin Dodge, on the case. Dodge, however, plots to get his hands on Remus’ money and his wife Imogene. The outcome…murder.

Karen Abbott has written an interesting work of nonfiction with The Ghosts of Eden Park. According to her note, every word between quotation marks actually is taken from a government file, archive, diary, letter, newspaper article, book, a hearing or trial transcript. The transcipts were so long that she could accurately describe scenes, conversations, and the characters themselves.

The book reads like historical fiction although it is in reality nonfiction. For anyone interested in life as it was in the 20’s, this book is sure to please. Happy Reading!

My Take on…The Masterpiece

Book Reviews

I often pick up books off the shelves by their cover designs and titles. Fiona Davis’ book The Masterpiece had a title that screamed art and a cover that screamed historic novel. I then flip to the back and read the summary. This one was right up my alley.

Fiona Davis starts her novel in 1928 New York told through the eyes of Clara Darden. Clara teaches illustration at the Grand Central School of Art. Chapter two takes the reader to 1974 New York told through the eyes of recently divorced Virginia Clay. Virginia has an appointment with the Trimble Temp Agency, which takes her to a law office located in the Grand Central Terminal . The chapters will take turn throughout the book telling each lady’s story.

Clara will try to make her way in a very male dominated field. Just when she thinks she has the perfect life, the Great Depression hits. Losing everything only to start over when another major tragedy will shake her world.

Virginia is finding herself after her divorce. Her new job is paying the bills and that is all. She comes across an abandoned art school within the Grand Central Terminal where she finds a watercolor. When she tries to find out more about the artist, Clara Darden, she seems to have opened up a can of worms. Let the mystery begin.

I enjoyed this book and by the end found it very hard to put down. (“Fionia Davis ‘The Master of the unputdownable novel.'” — Redbook) I enjoy historic fiction and found this piece to be very interesting. I also enjoy a good mystery and The Masterpiece did not disappoint. The twists in the ending took me by surprise and made for an interesting read. Two thumbs up for Fiona Davis and The Masterpiece. Pick up a copy and see how this one plays out.