MOZART AND M.A.S.H.

It is interesting how a piece of music can recreate vivid memories.  This morning I was listening to CBC radio.  They were playing a Mozart violin concerto  and I slipped a couple of decades back into the past.  I was remembering Father Mulcahy and the actor William Christopher who played him in the television series M.A.S.H.

 

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William Christopher was performing dinner theatre at a major hotel in our city.  On his night off he came to our restaurant for dinner.  Of all nights for me to be out of town!  I was dismayed that I had missed the opportunity to tell him how much joy watching M.A.S.H had given us.   I gathered up my courage and telephoned him.  “You had given us so much over the years would you please let us show our gratitude by dining with us at Roxy’s Bistro.”

And that is how it all began.  He walked into the restaurant.  Other diners smiled and nodded and respected his privacy.  A group of us talked long into the evening.  William Christopher told us when he wasn’t doing dinner theatre he taught music at a California university.

I asked if there was music he was particularly fond of.  “I love Mozart.  Particularly his violin concertos.. The concerto #5 in A Major is one of my favorites”  he replied.  I slipped quietly from the table  and put a tape into our sound system.  Mozart’s violin concerto #5 soared through the high-ceiling room, swirled around our table wrapping us in music.  We sat quietly sipping our wine and listening.  It was the perfect ending to a perfect evening.

Early the next morning the phone rang.   The oh so familiar voice from M.A.S.H.  William Christopher asking us to be his guests at the dinner theatre.  We still watch M.A.S..H. every evening at 7:00 pm.  It is like watching old friends.   And every once in a while we say to each other “remember when we’ve dined with Father Mulcahy”.

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TOMATOES IN CREAM AND FRESH THYME

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The most wonderful part of walking out to the garden and  picking tomatoes is the fragrance of  their leaves.  You rub them between your fingers then inhale.   It’s an intoxicating aroma.  It begs you to pluck a ripened tomato from the vine.  You know which tomato is perfect for picking.  You gently  touch it and it falls into your waiting hand.

You fill your basket with the little darlings.   Then if you are like me you can’t resist choosing the most perfect tomato and bite into it.  You  savor the sweet flesh and juices still warm from the sun.   This is bliss.

And then when you get just a little weary of another BLT sandwich or one more tomato enhanced salad  you make this glorious, very French, so addictive,  extraordinary simple dish of tomatoes simmered in a little butter, sprinkled with fresh thyme, sea salt and freshly ground pepper and cloaked in rich cream.  Unlike most French recipes containing tomatoes you do not peel or seed the tomatoes.

This is the perfect side dish for grilled meats or roasts.  Served with savory suppertime crêpes it is positively a star.  Head out to the garden or your favorite Farmer’s Market and choose the most perfect tomatoes for TOMATOES IN CREAM WITH FRESH THYME.

 

 

POLENTA WITH BRAISED PORK AND TOMATO SAUCE … and my favorite cooking pan. !

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I have a favorite cooking pan.  It is the one I reach for when I am sauteing or braising meat.   It is a very large pan –  13 inches across.  You can brown a lot of meat at a time.

It is a very deep pan – 6  inches deep. The contents can sizzle and spit and everything stays IN the pan.

It is a very heavy pan – 10 pounds. But two handles make it easy to handle.   The bottom of the pan is very flat.  It cooks so evenly there are no hot spots to burn its contents.

It cleans beautifully – shiny as a new silver coin.  Amazing when you realize this same pan had been used several thousand times in our little French restaurant, Roxy’s Bistro.  I have great affection for this pan.

I use this perfect pan to make  Southern Italy dish PORK RAGÙ with polenta.  Pieces of boneless pork shoulder (Boston butt)  browned in olive oil are slowly simmered in a robust rich wine tomato sauce fragrant with fresh thyme and rosemary.  Then it’s served over the creamiest, most luxurious polenta you have ever tasted.

I also use my perfect pan to make polenta.  Think of polenta  rich with whole milk, unsalted butter seasoned with a little brown sugar and fine sea salt.  Grate a little Parmigiano-Reggiano over it.  Sprinkle the polenta with chopped fresh parsley and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and you have polenta that is the stuff dreams are made of.   Polenta that compliments superbly your lovingly prepared Pork Ragù.

There is a secret to this type of cooking.  The Pork Ragù tastes even BETTER after it dreams away in the refrigerator for a couple of days.   This makes it the perfect dish for entertaining.  You simply carefully reheat the Pork Ragù  and  whip up the polenta.  Even the polenta benefits from a tiny rest before being plated.  If you have any left over Pork Ragù it makes a gorgeous sauce over pasta.  It also freezes beautifully.

Have an Italian for dinner – cook PORK RAGU.

 

 

 

 

MENU FOR A PERFECT PICNIC

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Rillettes of Pork.  The name sound like something you would like to take on a picnic?   You know – one of those picnics where you spread heavy blankets and soft cushions over fragrant grass.   Throw a checked tablecloth down.  Unload crystal wine glasses, linen napkins and heavy silver from an ancient picnic basket.  You open a terrine of  rillettes of pork.  Smear it generously on crusty bread.   Add some sharp, sweet gherkins.  Open a bottle of good red wine. Utter Bliss.

Rillettes of pork is a type of French pate famous around the Loire.  It’s sold everywhere in charcuteries and I even spotted it in supermarket.  The ingredients are very basic – Boston butt and pork fat. These are the two main ingredients of divine pate the English call “potted meat”. If you can find a good butcher shop selling organic pork and organic pork fat that is the best way to go.  If that is not possible buy a very fatty Boston butt  and use fat cut from the meat.  You also can use fresh pork belly.  Since we raise our own pork I used the”fat back” in this recipe.

Chunks of pork and fat are braised slowly until the moisture evaporates the meat is fork tender.  The meat and fat is mashed and packed into a terrine or small ramekins.  The fat that tops this decadent bit of delight has simmered with the meat and for me it is the best part of pork rillettes.   There is a little back and forth  into the refrigerator but the recipe is easy.  Most of the time spent is the slow simmering of the meat so do plan to make this when you can pop back into the kitchen and keep an eye on things.  The rillettes will keep, well wrapped, in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.  You can also freeze pork rillettes.

RILLETTES OF PORK  – a delicious appetizer and part of your menu for a perfect picnic.

 

 

ROASTED RHUBARB

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Roasted rhubarb!    Doesn’t its title simply roll off your tongue.  Roasted rhubarb!  How intriguing.  How absolutely delicious.  Stalks of rhubarb roasted to sugary tartness.   This simple method allows you to roast pieces of rhubarb to a delicate tenderness that stays almost intact.

Rhubarb definitely has attitude.   It can be difficult to prepare.  It demands all your skill and attention.   A few minutes to long on the heat and you have mush.   Roasting your rhubarb is the secret to perfectly tender, perfectly whole pieces of rhubarb.  It  couldn’t be simpler.  Simply sprinkle with a little sugar.  A scatter of grated zest or orange or rhubarb, pop it in a very hot oven and VOILA you have superb rhubarb sauce.

Spoon it  into a crystal goblet.  Lavish it with cream.  You have the perfect ending to a meal.   Mix it into a dish of yoghourt.  Sprinkle it with a little crunchy granola and breakfast is ready.   It’s delicious with rice pudding.     Serve it over slices of toasted pound cake with an extravagant splash of whipped cream and you have company fare.  You can serve roasted rhubarb warm, at room temperature, or chilled.  All this from a few stalks of rhubarb.   ROASTED RHUBARB … it’s the perfect summer dessert.

FOREVER CHIC … Le Femme Francaise d’un Certain Age

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I am a woman of a certain age.  La Femme Francaise d’un Certain Âge

It is my wish on my birthdays to celebrate a life well lived.  To celebrate with elan, grace, elegance, humor and a glass or two of Champagne.  To celebrate with family and friends.  To celebrate with cake and sparklers.  To celebrate with joy and happiness this life of mine.

FOREVER CHIC by Tish Jett is a book divulging French women’s secrets for timeless beauty, style and substance.  What makes this book different is the advice is for older woman.   The significant chapters deal with hair, skin care and fashion.  Take your little black book and pencil in the lists, the suggested products and the ideal must-have fashions.  Some of the products may not be available to you or prohibitively expensive but there is an encouraging abundance of excellent ideas.

If you have little time for this type of book you can skim read the mantras that make French women  appear younger than their years and more stylish than runway models.  But their thoughts on beauty regimes and fashions  will inspire and encourage you to accentuate your strengths and conceal your weaknesses.

 

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I don’t understand how a woman can leave the house without fixing herself up a little  –  if only out of politeness.  And then, you never know, maybe that’s the day she has a date with destiny.  And it’s best to be as pretty as possible for destiny.” – Coco Chanel

I am not embarrassed to admit I never leave the house without  make-up and the right clothes for the occasion.   Sometimes it is simply bright red lipstick, perfectly pressed chinos  and a classic white shirt.  It is never t-shirts with silly words, flip-flops and baggy ripped jeans.   This does require effort and discipline but organization makes it possible.  I do like to do things the easy way.  Perhaps I am a little bit lazy.  But if all parts of my life are tidy and in order.  If my closets are organized. If my shoes always put away cleaned and polished.   I can accomplish anything.  It is not possible if you live in chaos.

The situation for women of a certain age is this.    The children are grown up.  You have less obligations. You may live alone.   Perhaps you have retired.   Why not look your very best? Recently I went to a convention for women volunteers.  I was late arriving and sat in the back row.  From this vantage point I looked at the back of about 300 women well over a certain age.  The majority of the women had their steel gray hair cut so short that from where I sat it looked like a room of men dressed in women’s clothes.

FOREVER CHIC is inspiration and encouragement for those of us getting older.   Why not do it the French way – with grace and style.

 

 

 

SALTED CARAMEL SAUCE

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It is the attention to detail.  The little extra that pushes something over the top.  That take it from very good to extraordinary.    And when that extraordinary itself is truly magnificent you have pure gold.

During our restaurant years every evening I made a gorgeous caramel sauce.   We would pour it liberally  over our house-made ice cream.  The recipe was time consuming and demanding.  So I started  the hunt for a caramel sauce that one could whip up quickly and without too much stress.

Making caramel sauce is rather like the fairy tale Brothers Grim Rumpelstiltskin.  You turn water and sugar into a deep burnished rich golden colour.  And you do not have to give up your first-born child to do it.

This caramel recipe has just the right balance of caramelized sugar to butter and cream.  The recipe is easy.  You put water and sugar into a pan.  Watch it turn a deep golden brown.  Whisk in butter.  The aroma smells like McIntosh Toffee.    Add a little cream.  Cool.  Taste.  Sprinkle in  flakes of  fleur de sel  and faster than you can say Rumpelstiltskin you have the most decadent salted caramel sauce.

Pour it over ice cream or a slice of cake.  Add a generous dollop of whipped cream and you have a dessert worthy of a four star restaurant.  The very best part of this recipe for caramel sauce.  It refrigerates beautifully.  I must admit I occasionally remove the chilled sauce, dip a spoon into its silky goodness and swoon over this stealthy treat.  The sauce will keep two weeks refrigerated.

SALTED CARAMEL SAUCE  – is pure gold!

CONSIDER THE LILIES HOW THEY GROW

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“Consider the lilies how they grow: They toil not, neither do they spin; yet I say on to you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”  (Webster Bible Translation)

I spent half my life living in the North and Prairies of Saskatchewan.  Exotic, sweetly perfumed lilies were delivered by the florist in long green boxes.  Layers of tissue paper protected their fragile petals.  They were special occasion flowers.  Very expensive and to me something rare and wonderful.

Then I moved to the West Coast of Canada.   I was in garden heaven.  Flowers bloomed most of the year.  But best of all I discovered that I could actually grow these gorgeous lilies.  When we moved on to The Farm the very first flowers I planted were Stargazer lilies and Casablanca lilies.  One dozen of each.   Later my lily bed had to make way for construction so I carefully dug up the precious bulbs and planted them in pots.

My outrageously beautiful lilies continue to flower and bring such joy to my heart.  They sit regally on the patio.  Surrounding me with their heady perfume.  And the very best part – when they begin to bloom I move them close to the open windows.  Their heady fragrance fills my home.  It is especially strong in the early morning.  I take my cafe au lait and stand by the window and tell my lilies how much I appreciate them.

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TARBAIS BEANS AND CASSOULET LANGUEDOC

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There is food I dream about.  And the classic French cassoulet is the top of my list.  This dense, rich, earthy casserole of beans, sausages and meats gently simmering – filling my kitchen with its mouth-watering aroma is indeed the stuff that dreams are made of.

Since we now raise our own pork I was even more determined this dish should be perfection itself.  I now have lean fresh pork fat,  fresh pork rinds and spare ribs.  All organic, all from milk fed pork.  What I did not have was Tarbais beans.   It is the these fat, white, meltingly smooth French beans that are the essential ingredients for authentic cassoulet.    The skin of the Tarbais beans is unusually thin and delicate.  The bean is low in starch and of remarkable tenderness.

I poured over my seed catalog and found the Heirloom Tarbais seeds.  We were a little late planting our garden this year but seven days ago we lovingly and tenderly patted the soil over the beans.  Almost like Jack’s magic beans they popped out of the ground four days later.  This summer promises to be incredibly hot.  Perfect weather for beans.   They will grow through the summer climbing up to six feet on supports and finally in the  fall we will pick, shell and store away our Tarbais beans.

Come the rainy, gray winter months Tarbais beans will find their way into a slow cooked cassoulet of incredible richness and flavour.  Over two days the ingredients will be off the stove and in and out of the oven several times.  Then when the breadcrumbs on the top of the cassoulet become a mahogany brown I will give it a  quick stir and return it to the oven one last time.   It will be the perfect dish to serve for Friday night supper with friends and family.  There will be lots of crusty home-made bread to sop up the juices.  I’ll provide extra large napkins to tuck under chins and we’ll  sit around the kitchen table and nibble and talk into the night.

(recipe to follow sometime in the winter months to come)

 

THE WONDER OF RHUBARB

 

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This unprepossessing plant.  So humble in origin.  A grow anywhere especially in back lanes plant.  This long awaited harbinger of spring type of plant.  This new darling of avant-garde young chefs.  This wonderful rhubarb is the upside-down topping on the most delicious of brown sugar cakes.

I discovered this scrumptious recipe in a new cook-book by one of my favorite cook-book authors – Dorie Greenspan – “Baking Chez Moi”.    It is perfection on its own as a snacking cake or one could lavish it with whipped cream or crème fraíche.   Add a few very ripe strawberries and it would be a spectacular finish to a meal.

This is an easy recipe to put together.  You don’t use a stand mixer – just your favorite balloon whisk.    The cake stays moist and delectable for up to three days.  Simply keep it covered at room temperature.

The original recipe calls for fresh rhubarb but you can also use frozen rhubarb.  Just be sure to allow time for your frozen rhubarb to defrost and drain (gently pressing on the stalks to help remove the moisture.

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RHUBARB UPSIDE-DOWN BROWN SUGAR CAKE – bake it today.  Bon Appetit

 

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