Clearly Consomme

The manuscript for my newest cookbook, The French Cook: Soups & Stews (Gibbs Smith, June, 2014) has been filed. Though not yet finished (photo shoots, edits, and design await), my months of soup recipe testing and writing have come to a close. I would by lying if I didn’t say it was a relief to have this book done, but I am also a little bit sad that the creation steps are behind me.  I’m elated with the cover which I just discovered this morning.  Here it is:

My very newest book baby, The French Cook: Soups & Stews, currently available for pre-order  on Amazon.

My very newest book baby, The French Cook: Soups & Stews, currently available for pre-order on Amazon.

I hope you like it, too. I am eager to see the new book when she’s done. Gibbs Smith and my editor and her design team always do such a wonderful job.

I want to share with you another little advance peek into the book’s content with the following (adapted) chapter front on consommes, the very last chapter I wrote.  A recipe for a simple and beautiful Beef Consomme with Mushrooms and Chives follows.

The inviting and elegant clarity of this soup makes it an excellent candidate for a special occasion or holiday, such as Easter.



Consomme (prounced con-some-may) is the consummate soup. A darling of The Belle Epoque in 19th-century France (and elsewhere), it is a dainty soup that deserves to be served in pretty, petite bowls and demands polite sipping. Made from stocks that are clarified with egg whites and enriched with meat (or seafood) and vegetables, they become as clear as the Azur sea and can be “finished” with anything from fresh herbs, to pasta, to truffles and even savory cream puffs. Escoffier catalogued hundreds of consommés in his legendary Le Guide Culinaire. There are consommés named after sunrises (Consomme a l’Aurore), actresses (Consomme Sarah Bernhardt), and Kings (Consomme George V).

It’s a shame that consommés have slipped somewhat out of fashion, because they are truly a pleasure to see and eat, can be made ahead, and are so versatile. The process of making a consommé is not complicated, but it does take a little time. Because the soup is purely “stock” (beef, veal, seafood/fumet, or chicken can be used), you really must use a well-prepared homemade stock or a top-quality commercial stock. Make it several days ahead and/or freeze it to break up the work. Once the stock is at room temperature, the stock is combined with a mixture of egg whites, (sometimes) ground meat, and finely minced vegetables. These ingredients do two things: they add a second, corresponding level of flavor to the soup and most importantly, the egg whites “clarify” the stock, literally pulling out impurities as the strange looking mixture simmers along. For the first several minutes (about 15), the egg/meat/vegetable mixture needs to be stirred, basically non-stop, with a wooden spoon, to make sure none of the crucial egg whites stick to the bottom or sides. After that it’s left alone, uncovered, and the most miraculous thing happens. The mixture starts cooking and thickening at the top and becomes what is known in consommé circles as a “draft.” After 30 minutes, it’s done its work and what lurks below the rather ugly draft is a beautiful, clear as a brilliant, sunny day, consommé. Next, a ladle is nudged into the draft to form an opening, and the consomme is ladled into a waiting bowl, through a fine sieve lined with three paper towels. The draft is then discarded, having done its work.

After that, the list is virtually endless on ways to finish the seasoning and garnishes for the consommé, but they should pair with the flavor of the stock, be petite, and be pretty. Nothing clunky will do. This chapter gives you an opportunity to pull out your food processor, which does an excellent job of mincing the vegetables finely for the clarifying mixture. All consommés can be prepared ahead and frozen or refrigerated, but add the garnishes just before serving the steaming soup, preferably served in your prettiest China.

Beef Consomme with Mushrooms and Chives

(Makes 4 to 6 servings)

Whisper thin slices of button mushrooms are added to the hot consommé to cook in just five minutes and are garnished with a sprinkling of fresh, green onion flavor chives. The “feet” of the mushrooms are added to the vegetable mixture to add another layer of mushroom flavor using an otherwise discarded part of the mushroom. This is an excellent consommé for beginners as it relatively simple and simply beautiful to behold.

Beef Consomme with Mushrooms and Chives

Beef Consomme with Mushrooms and Chives


2 stalks celery, chopped into 2”-lengths

1 leek, trimmed, cut to 1” above the white root, halved vertically and well-rinsed. Cut into 2”-lengths

1 medium onion, peeled and quartered

Cleaned “feet” from 14 cleaned button mushrooms. Reserve the mushroom heads separately.

1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves and stems

4 eggs whites

1/2 pound lean ground beef

1 teaspoon salt

10 black peppercorns, lightly cracked with a chef’s knife

6 cups best quality beef stock

To finish the soup:

1 tablespoon Cognac

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

4 cups very thinly sliced reserved mushrooms

2 tablespoons finely chopped chives

Place the celery, leek, mushroom feet, onion and parsley in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse until very fine, about 30 seconds. Set aside. Place the egg whites in a very large bowl and whisk energetically with a whisk until frothy, about 1 minute. Whisk the reserved vegetable mixture into the egg whites and combine. Fold in the beef, salt, and peppercorns with a wooden spoon and stir to combine.

Place the room temperature stock in a 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven or similarly sized pot. Stir in the vegetable/beef/egg white mixture with a wooden spoon. Turn on heat to medium, and continue cooking (uncovered), stirring constantly, until the stock comes to a simmer, about 15 minutes total. The draft will form now. Stop stirring and leave it alone for 30 minutes, making sure to keep it at a low simmer as to not break up the draft.

Remove from the heat. Break a hole in the draft, gently with the bottom of a ladle, and start scooping it out into a sieve lined with three paper towels into a large bowl. Keep working until all that is left in the pot is the draft. Discard this. The consommé can be refrigerated or frozen at this point. To finish, heat the consommé over medium high heat in a medium saucepan until simmering. Add the Cognac and mushrooms. Taste and adjust seasoning. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until the mushrooms are just wilted. Serve with a sprinkle of fresh chives, being sure to get mushrooms in every bowl.

Variations: Another way to use a good beef stock consommé such as this is to serve it with a julienne of a combination of vegetables, such as carrots, turnips, leek, celery, onion, and cabbage. Cut the vegetables into a julienne and simmer them in the warm, finished consommé to cook just before serving. They give extra flavor to the consommé at the last minute and are both beautiful and delicious.

Bon appetit!

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A Reluctant Crustacean Killer and The Curious Case of Delicious Crab Bisque

When it comes to killing (unless you count mosquitoes) , I’m a wuss. I can’t even stamp out a palmetto bug (a.k.a. cockroach). Once, when I was twelve, while retrieving the mail from our mailbox in Florida, a pretty green lizard leaped out from the box into my face. Terrified,  I slammed the door shut, automatically decapitating the poor little guy.  I wept for hours, assembling his remains, burying them, and building a small cross out of twigs for his grave. At Le Cordon Bleu, on the day we were making eel stew, yours truly was handed one of the few live ones that slithered on my board as I tried, and failed, to cut off its huge head. Chef Jackie Martin had to rescue me, screaming and faint having somehow flown to the corner across the room, wrap the eel’s head with string, and bang it against the stainless steel cupboards until it was lifeless.  Twenty years later, I’m not sure I’ve yet recovered from that one.

Dogs, cats, cows, pigs, lambs, goats, horses – I love them all, really truly all of God’s creatures (though I still struggle with snakes). But its those spiny, ancient creatures of the cold Atlantic waters for which I have a special affinity and sympathy. I think it’s because I grew up outside of Boston and summers were always spent in Maine where lobster, steamers and drawn butter were regularly served to sate our young bodies, spent from hours playing in the sea. How I loved eating lobster then, as I do now, I just hated the killing part, and I still do. That’s why the little hypocrite in me lets someone else do it, though I did once rescue and release a 60 year-old lobster from the steamer tank into the waters off Rockport, MA which somewhere assuages my extreme lobster killer guilt.

All of that changed a few days ago. I was preparing to make and test lobster and a crab

Beautiful Boiled Lobsters (photo from

Beautiful Boiled Lobsters (photo from

bisque recipes for The French Cook: Soupes et Daubes (Gibbs Smith, September 2014).

Impossibly torn at the sheer joy of savoring one of my favorite things, a delicious seafood bisque (or two),  and the sheer horror of the inevitable: I was about to become a lobster and crab killer.  Because their internal organs and flesh rot very quickly and bacteria mounts fast when dead, these crustaceans really must be cooked alive. And, in the case of a bisque (of any kind) the shells are a crucial part of building the flavor. And, shells from a cooked lobster or crab, don’t give off the same flavor as shells from a raw lobster or crab, where the fresh, raw flavor seeps into the fumet as it cooks.

So, off I went to my affable advisors at the seafood counter at The Harris Teeter in downtown, Charleston, eye-balling a couple of handsome, pre-cooked lobsters. Full of hope, I told Doug what I was making and asked him (knowing the answer) if I could just use the pre-cooked guys. “No, you have to use live,” he said, resolutely.

Next stop, Crosby’s Seafood, uptown. The kind lady there plucked two, 1 3/4 pound beauties out of the tank (I couldn’t stop thinking about their already traumatic journey from the bottom of the craggy, cold Maine waters, to a trap, to a plane, and once again to this tank in SC), and now she was putting them in a paper bag. I asked her to double the paper (images of that eel enforcing images of  panicked pinchers breaking through), which she did, also wrapping it with plastic. Same for the poor crabs, though I felt less sorry for them somehow, for reasons I can’t explain. I confessed my concerns about limiting their pain, erasing it if at all possible. I couldn’t bring myself to do the one method Doug had recommended (sticking a knife between their primal, groping black eyes). She suggested something else. Put them in a freezer for about 30 minutes. This “puts them to sleep,” so going into the pot is less traumatic.

Hopeful, I asked my neighbor Lucie to house the crustaceans in her large freezer, while I prepared to cook them. I put on two large pots of salted water to boil.  By now trembling, I decided to start with the crabs because they were smaller and it would be faster. Well, that part proved true, but one of them almost successfully crawled out of the pot. I was able to get him back in there. Less than 10 minutes later, it was over. Now, it was time to tackle the big boys. It didn’t go well and I hesitate to explain it in detail (I didn’t even take pictures because I didn’t want to exploit them), but suffice to say, the first guy didn’t want to go in and he wasn’t asleep.  I had to take a fifteen minute time out to breathe and calm down, but now I was ready to make bisque.

The recipe that follows is made from fresh blue crab, thickened with a flour roux, and finished with cream, sweet lump crab meat, fresh thyme, Old Bay Seasoning and fresh thyme. It is sublime! If you, like me, suffer from crustacean killer guilt, keep in mind that you are using every single part of these creatures and absolutely nothing goes to waste – it’s purely crustacean bisque and so delicious it will make you cry, but in a good way. It may seem like a lot of work, and frankly it is. But, you can do it in three parts: 1) steam the crabs and strain the fumet base, 2) make the bisque base, strain and store overnight in the fridge, 3) finish the bisque in minutes the next day.Blue Crab Bisque with Old Bay Seasoning, Vermouth and Fresh Thyme

Blue Crab Bisque with Old Bay Seasoning, Vermouth and Fresh Thyme


Blue Crab Bisque with Old Bay Seasoning, Vermouth and Fresh Thyme 

(Makes 6 to 8 servings)

To steam the crabs for the fumet base:

8 cups water

1 tablespoon salt

6 live blue crabs (about 3 pounds total)

For the bisque base:

4 tablespoons butter

1 leek, trimmed to 1″- above white base, halved horizontally, well rinsed and finely chopped

1 onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped

2 stalks celery, trimmed, and finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning

4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Reserved shells from the crab fumet

3/4 cup dry vermouth

2 bay leaves

To finish the bisque:

2 tablespoons butter

1 large shallot, finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning

3  tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup heavy cream

8 ounces (1 cup) lumb crab meat

Reserved meat from steamed blue crabs (about 1/4 cup)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves

Start with the fumet base. Bring the water and salt up to a vigorous boil in a 5 1/2 quart Dutch oven or similarly- sized pot. Add the crabs all at once. Cover, and reduce to high simmer over medium high. Cook 8 minutes. Remove from the pot and set aside to cool. Strain the cooking liquid through a very fine sieve or Chinois into a large bowl. Set aside. When the crabs are cool, pull off their legs and set to the side of your work surface. Pull of their backs, rinse, and add to the shell pile. Pull the little tab up on the bottom of their bodies to release, remove (saving for shell pile), remove and discard the gills and rinse off any bitter green matter, or “tomalley.” Carefully, work inside the bodies to remove any sweet flesh and be attentive to removing and discarding any bits of shell or cartilage. Reserve the meat in the fridge. With a mallet or the bottom of a sturdy sauce pan, smash the reserved shells into smaller bits. This will help them to release flavor on the next step of the bisque journey, and probably the most important one, the bisque base.

To prepare the bisque base, melt the butter over medium heat in the same Dutch oven or pot, rinsed. Add the leek, onion, celery, a generous dash of salt and pepper, and Old Bay Seasoning. Stir to coat, cooking five minutes or until just softened. Add the flour, stir, and cook another minute. Add the reserved shells, stir to coat and cook 2 minutes. Add the Dry Vermouth, increase heat to high and cook down to a glaze. Add the reserved, strained fumet base, 2 bay leaves and a generous pinch salt. Bring up to a boil over high, reduce to a simmer over medium, medium low, cooking uncovered for 25 minutes, skimming off foam and elimating as you go. Strain through a China cap or fine sieve/colander into a large bowl, pressing hard against the solids to release flavor before discarding them.  Set the bisque base aside.

To finish the bisque, melt the butter in the same Dutch oven or pot, rinsed, over medium heat. Add the shallot, a dash of salt and pepper, and Old Bay Seasoning. Stir to coat and cook until just softened, 5 minutes. Add the flour, stir to coat and cook through one minute. Stir in the cream, lump crab meat, reserved blue crab flesh. Taste carefully and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Stir gently to avoid breaking up the crab. Serve steaming hot with a garnish of fresh thyme for each bowl.

Bon appetit!


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Wearin’ of the Green St. Patrick’s Day Asparagus Soup

I call this soup “triple threat asparagus” because the flavors are layered in a stock based upon trimmings, roasted fresh asparagus for maximum flavor and color, and a finishing garnish of roasted asparagus tips. A perfect starter for your St. Patrick’s Day feast, this will whet the palate for corned beef and potatoes like no other.  Adapted from the soon-to-be-released The French Cook: Soupes and Daubes (Gibbs Smith, September 2014).

Soupe d’Asperge Cremeux

Triple Threat Creamy Asparagus Soup

(Makes 6 to 8 servings)

Special equipment needed: China cap or fine colander

A shining example of French method and frugality, this purely asparagus soup uses every part of the tender spring spear, and precious little else. A quick asparagus stock is assembled with the tougher outer-layer peels and feet of the spears. Next, the tender asparagus themselves are roasted to intensify flavor and are added near the very end of cooking to maximize color and texture. Leeks provide a bit of onion brightness and a tiny splash of cream at the end is the finishing touch on this exquisite, brilliant green and slightly textured soup.

2 large bunches (about 40 spears) fresh green asparagus, rinsed, tough foot (cut about 1” above the bottom) removed and peeled, starting about 1” below the tip to the bottom. Reserve the removed feet and peelings together in a small bowl. Reserve the peeled asparagus separately.

For the asparagus stock:

1 onion, halved, peeled and thinly sliced

2 stalks celery, rinsed and thinly sliced

7 cups water

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt

5 sprigs fresh thyme bundled together with kitchen string

Reserved asparagus peelings and trimmings

Asparagus stock in the making, using every scrap possible to build flavor and eliminate waste.

Asparagus stock in the making, using every scrap possible to build flavor and eliminate waste.


For roasting the asparagus:

Reserved, prepped asparagus spears

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

Generous dash freshly ground black pepper

To finish:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 shallot, peeled, halved and finely chopped

2 leeks, tough green leaves removed to 1” above white (save the green leaves in the freezer for later use in a stock), quartered lengthwise, well-rinsed, and finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Reserved roasted asparagus spears, cut into 1/4”-lengths (put aside 1/4 cup for garnish)

3 tablespoons whipping or heavy cream

1 teaspoon Dry Vermouth

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450F. In a 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven or similarly sized soup pot, combine onion, celery, water, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, fresh thyme bundle, and asparagus feet and peel trimmings. Bring up to a boil over high heat, reduce to a mild simmer over medium/medium low and cook uncovered, 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, to roast the asparagus, on a full, edged baking sheet, toss the prepped asparagus spears in the extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and arrange in a single layer. Place on the middle rack of the preheated oven, and roast for 20 minutes, or until tender and just starting to take on a little golden color. Toss once midway through cooking. Set aside. When cool enough to handle, cut the asparagus into 1/4”-lengths, reserve.

Strain the finished stock through a China cap or fine colander into a large bowl, pressing against the solids to extract flavor. Discard the solids. Keep the strained stock off to the side. Rinse the Dutch oven or soup pot if needed. In the same pot, melt the butter over medium heat. When melted, add the shallot, leeks and seasonings. Stir to coat and cook for 5 minutes, or until just softened. Sprinkle evenly with the flour and stir to coat. Cook for one minute. Add the reserved stock, stirring. Bring to a boil over high and reduce to a gentle simmer over medium/medium low. Cook for 20 minutes uncovered. Remove from the heat. Add all but 1/4 cup of the reserved asparagus spears to the pot. Puree with an emulsion blender, traditional blender or food processor until chunky smooth. In the same pot, bring the puree up to a low boil over high heat. Stir in the cream and the dry vermouth. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Serve the soup very hot in individual bowls, each garnished with five spear tips. (Note: The soup and garnish can be made ahead and refrigerated or frozen. However, only add the cream, vermouth and final seasonings just before re-heating and serving.)

Finished and ready to serve.

Finished and ready to serve.

Bon appetit!

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A Real Book Page Turner

Thank you to The Times and Democrat for a nice  article about me and my books as well as the other two authors participating in next week’s sixth annual Page Turner event, the newspaper’s biggest annual fund-raiser. I enjoyed speaking with reporter Dionne Gleaton. To read the entire story, click on the link below.

Otherwise, here’s a short except and quotes from yours truly:

She  said her first cookbook was based on a newspaper column she had written about shopping at farmer’s markets.

“It really hasn’t stopped since then. It’s been fun. I still love going to farmers’ markets or a beautiful grocery and finding something spectacular. It’s about sharing the knowledge and love of cooking and doing it in such a way that everybody will love and enjoy it,” Herrick said. “The goal is to make it inspirational and fun.”

Herrick said perseverance is a critical to the art of writing.

“You just have to do it. Dreaming doesn’t get it done. The actual art of any kind of writing is to be attuned with what is going on around you all the time. The key is to be very observant and to try to be a good listener. Try to get the undertones as much as possible because that sensitivity will come back through your writing,” she said.

She said food writing is as much an art as novel or poetry writing.

“I think of the myriad of examples of experts in food writing like James Beard and Julia Child. They’re all people who described food and had a poetry of their own. I went to one of the biggest cooking schools in the world, but I learn something new every day even in my own kitchen,” Herrick said.

France, French cooking and her current book series are among the topics which she said she will touch on at the Page Turner Luncheon.

“I’m sort of between two cultures right now, but there are similarities between Southern cooking and French cooking, which most people think of as fancy and impractical. But French cooking actually stems from frugality and freshness,” Herrick said, adding, “I promise to make it fun.”

Here’s more specific information about the event on March 4. I hope to see you there!



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Pot au Feu Weather

I spent most of last week channeling my inner Irish Catholic guilt. I confess that’s because while what seems like the rest of the country was commiserating over the “Polar Vortex,” I was (as my Iowa-born husband used to say) happier than a pig in mud.  Despite the unaturally brutal SC weather, my week was happily spent making one fabulous French stew after another. The kind of stews that take hours to reach perfection, very little effort to make and reward me, the dog, the cat and my neighbors with impossibly delicious feasts. The cold, somehow, made them taste even better. The recipe to follow is one of my favorites. Time to pull out the old Dutch oven (or substitute a sturdy stock pot) and get cooking. Spring, as hard as it may now seem to believe, is just around the corner.  Adapted from my next cook book, The French Cook: Soupes et Daubes (Gibbes Smith, late summer 2014 release).

Pot au Feu

(Makes 6 servings)

Special equipment: Dutch oven, China cap or colander

Pot au Feu (pronounced pot-oh-fuh)  is a centuries-old peasant dish that has worked its way into the hearts of the modern-day French. It’s one pot cooking at its finest and derives its name from the method of which it’s cooked, in a single pot. Similar to Boeuf a la mode in that it uses tough cuts (in this case a chuck roast), and is braised, it is different in a couple of ways. First, the beef is not browned and is simmered with beef marrow bones, in water as opposed to wine, which affords a silky, gelatinous texture to the jus. This jus is served over the sliced beef with a generous side of braised vegetables. A glorious Dijon mustard and horseradish cream as well as cornichons and bread are served alongside. Although it takes a long time (about 4 hours) to cook, this is a wonderfully simple and inexpensive dish to prepare.  Cloves and cinnamon give it a warm, almost medieval exoticism that makes the house smell like Christmas when it’s cooking.

Pot au Feu

Pot au Feu















2 pounds chuck roast

2 large beef marrow bones (about 1 pound)

7 cups water

1 whole onion, peeled, pierced evenly with 5 whole cloves

1 celery stalk, trimmed, cleaned and cut into 3 or 4 coarse chunks

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

2 teaspoons salt

1 cinnamon stick

5 thyme sprigs tied into a bundle with kitchen string

For the vegetable garnish:

3 leeks, white and 1” of the pale green leaves only, halved vertically, thoroughly rinsed and tied firmly together with kitchen string

12 slender carrots, peeled, cleaned and tied firmly together with kitchen string

1 large turnip, peeled (cutting into the outer and inner skin, about 1/4-inch deep), halved, and cut into 16 large, equal-sized chunks (about 2” each)

1 – 2 cups water

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Mustard Horseradish Cream Sauce:

1/2 cup cold Heavy cream

1 heaping teaspoon prepared horseradish

1 heaping teaspoon Dijon mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven, place the roast, marrow bones, water (adding more if needed to cover), clove onion, celery, bay leaves, peppercorns, salt, cinnamon stick,  and thyme bundle, beef down first. Bring up to a high simmer over high heat, reduce to medium low. The goal is a very low simmer – do not boil!  Cook, uncovered for two hours, skimming off rising foam and scum frequently along the way.

Remove the marrow bones and discard or save for your dog. Using a fork, remove the roast from the pan and reserve nearby. Strain the cooking liquid through a China cap or fine colander into a large bowl. Press down on the solids with a ladle to extract maximum flavor then discard the solids.

Return the roast to the original Dutch oven with the cooking liquids. Place the leek bundle, carrot bundle and turnips around the beef in the pan. Add more water to cover, about 1 to 2 cups. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Bring up to an aggressive simmer over medium high and reduce to medium low. Tuck the vegetables down around the beef. Simmer gently for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the vegetables are very tender.

Meanwhile, prepare the sauce. Combine all of the ingredients in a medium-sized, cold bowl. Whisk vigorously to combine and mount into a soft whipped “cream.” Taste and adjust seasoning. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

To finish/serve the pot au feu, remove the beef from the pot. When cool enough to handle, arrange it in the middle of a large serving platter. Drain the vegetables from the pot and arrange artfully around the beef in their bundles (minus the string). Cover to keep warm. Meanwhile, reduce the cooking liquid down over high heat until there are just two cups left. Taste and adjust seasonings. Strain and drizzle about 1/2 cup over the meat and vegetables. Place the rest in a gravy boat or pitcher. Present with the jus and a bowl full of the mustard horseradish cream. If desired, scatter a dozen cornichon pickles around the platter.

Bon appetit. I promise you (remember, Catholic girls don’t lie) this is truly delicious. So delicious you can probably make whomever you prepare it for fall in love with one bite – it’s just that good.

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Red, White and Beignet

Valentine’s Day, the holiday that almost everyone loves to hate, is upon us. While not one of this diehard romantic’s favorite holidays due to its forced, contrived nature and requisite expense, I can still see the value in this lovers’ holiday. However, it’s not via cards, chocolate or heart candies. It is, of course, the process of cooking. While cooking French stews for a very special guest this weekend, I was sweetly reminded of the process of cooking, the meditative, nurturing act of cooking as one of the most sincere expressions of love. For those who love to nurture through food, it just feels right, and better than unwrapping any red bow.   The recipe for beignets with a fresh raspberry coulis from The French Cook: Cream Puffs and Eclairs seem to fit the bill nicely for a loving Valentine treat. Hot out of the fryer, they are exquisite with just a dusting of powdered sugar and served on a plate of brilliant red, acid/sweet raspberry coulis.

Recipe adapted from The French Cook: Cream Puffs and Eclairs (Gibbs Smith, March 2013) This post should guide you through the cooking process fuss-free, but if you’d like to see me demonstrate how to make them, I’ll be doing so this Sunday at Le Creuset in downtown Charleston, SC. See picture below for details. Book signing to follow.  Come on by and bite into a beignet and maybe a book. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Beignets with Raspberry Coulis

(Yields 12 Beignets)

Beignets with Raspberry Coulis. Photo by Alexandra DeFurio

Beignets with Raspberry Coulis. Photo by Alexandra DeFurio


Raspberry Sauce

4 cups (2 pints) fresh raspberries

1/3 cup sugar

Juice of 1/2 lemon (about 1 tablespoon)

1 tablespoon grenadine syrup

2 tablespoons creme de cassis liqueur, optional

1/4 cup water

Pinch of sea salt or kosher salt

Make the sauce first. In a medium saucepan, combine all of the ingredients by stirring with a wooden spoon. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and then reduce to a steady simmer, stirring until the berries begin to break up, about 5 minutes. Puree with a blender or food processor until smooth and frothy. The sauce can be covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Sweet Choux Pastry Recipe

1 cup water

3/4 stick (3 ounces) unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/2 cup bread flour

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt

4 large eggs (about 1 cup) room temperature, beaten together

(Note: Keep in mind that things move fast once the pastry is made. You’ll want to keep it warm while you heat up the oil for frying, so only make it once you’re able to fully commit to making it from beginning to end. Only minutes are involved before the delicious beignets are ready!)

In a medium, heavy-bottom saucepan, heat the water and butter together over medium-high heat, stirring once or twice to help the butter melt. Once melted, reduce the heat to medium.

Sift together the two flours and salt over a medium bowl. Add the sifted dry ingredients all at once to the water mixture, and set the bowl nearby. Stire the dough vigorously with a wooden spoon to bring it together. Continue stirring, less vigorously, until the pastry pulls away from the sides of the pan and forms a uniform ball. Turn the pastry out into the reserved bowl and let sit for about 1 minute, or until the pastry is cool enough to touch comfortably with your fingertip for at least 10 seconds. Add half of the beaten eggs (about 1/2 cup) to the pastry. Stir vigorously until it looks uniform and glossy about 1 minute. Add half of the remaining egg mixture (about 1/4 cup) and continue to stir until the pastry is uniform and glossy, about 1 minute. Repeat with the remaining egg mixture.  Reserve the pastry warm while the oil heats.

For Frying and Garnish:

6 cups vegetable, peanut or canola oil

1/2 cup powdered sugar

Pour the oil into a high-sided, 2-quart saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat until the oil starts to slither and swirl along the bottom of the pan and begins to make popping noises. This will take about 5 minutes.

The ideal temperature for deep-frying is about 300F. (I recommend using a thermometer). When the oil is hot, begin cooking the beignets in batches of 4 or 5 at a time. Dip an everyday table service soup spoon into cold water. Fill to heaping with choux. Carefully drop the first “test” beignet from the spoon into the hot oil. It should pop to the surface within 30 seconds. (If it doesn’t, the oil isn’t hot enough. Wait a few more minutes and try again.)  Add 3 or 4 additional beignets to the oil in rapid succession. After 4 or 5 minutes, they will start to puff and expand noticeably. Turn each with a spoon from time to time, to brown and cook evenly. Cook 8 to 10 minutes, total, or until airy and golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining beignets. Reserved drained beignets in a warm oven until ready to serve.

Serve the beignets warm, 1 to 2 per plate over a 1/3-cup of the cool sauce. Sprinkle each with a tablespoon or so of powderered sugar. Serve immediately.

Bon appetit!


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Super Stew Play for Game Day

Sack the chili and other usual Super Bowl menu suspects and throw a pass on this classic French stew: Coq au Vin. Make it ahead, serve and hear ‘em roar! This one is a winner that the whole team will love on game day, but will prove a welcome player any day of the year.

(Adapted from my next cookbook, The French Cook: Soupes et Daubes, Gibbs Smith, August, 2014)

Coq au Pinot Gris with Mushrooms, Leeks and Dijon Mustard

Coq au Pinot Gris with Mushrooms, Leeks and Dijon Mustard


Coq au Pinot Gris with Mushrooms, Leeks and Dijon Mustard

(Makes 4 to 6 servings)

Chicken braised in wine is the basic formula for what’s called “coq au vin” (pronounced ‘coke o vaen’), which is at the heart of the cooking action in this recipe. The kind of wine, though typically a red (especially a Burgundy), can really be any grape varietal including Alsacienne-inspired Pinot Gris in this especially delicious, and slightly sweet version. Interpretations of this stunning French stew can be found throughout the France, but the classic garnishes typically include lardons (or substitute bacon), mushrooms and onions. This stew can (and really should) be made a day ahead to enrich flavors. If you choose to do so, add the cream and mustard just before serving. It’s exquisite alongside a mound of tender, buttered spaghetti.

2 large bone-in chicken breasts (about 3 1/2 pounds), cut horizontally into 4 equal-sized pieces, trimmed of excess fat, skin and small rib bones

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced

3 cloves garlic, peeled, smashed and finely chopped

1 leek, white and pale green part only, halved vertically, cleaned, and thinly sliced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Eight ounces (about 2 cups) white button mushrooms, feet trimmed, brushed clean and sliced about 1/4”-thick

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 cups good quality Pinot Gris (or substitute Riesling)

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves

1/3 cup heavy cream (Do not substitute Half & Half or milk!)

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Prep the chicken (being careful to remove any stray, spindly rib or spine bones) and season generously with salt and pepper on all sides. Heat the butter and olive oil in a 5 1/2 quart Dutch oven over high heat. When bubbling, add the chicken in a single layer, skin side down. Reduce heat to medium high and cook for 3 minutes, or until the skin is golden brown. Turn all of the chicken pieces and cook another 3 minutes on the second side. Using tongs, remove the chicken from the pan and reserve (I always use my inversed Dutch oven lid as a “plate” for this purpose). Reduce heat to medium low. Add the onion, garlic, leek and a dusting of salt and pepper. Stir to coat. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until the vegetables have softened, but not browned. Add the mushrooms, stir to combine, and cook another 3 minutes. Dust the flour evenly over the top, stir to combine, and cook 1 minute. Increase the heat to high. Add the Pinot Gris, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon to pick up any brown bits. Bring up to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Stir in the thyme. Return the reserved chicken to the pot, arranging in a single layer, about 3/4 covered with the wine. Cook, uncovered for 35 minutes or until the chicken is completely cooked and free of any pink juices (insert a small paring knife in a piece to be sure), stirring once or twice. When cooked, remove the chicken and reserve. Increase the heat under the pot to high and reduce the cooking liquid/wine by about 1/3; about 3 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. (Note: Return the chicken to the pan, cool and refrigerate overnight if serving the following day). To finish the stew just before serving, whisk in the heavy cream, parsley, and Dijon, and heat through. Serve warm over warm, buttered pasta or egg noodles. Garnish with fresh thyme sprigs.

Bon appetit!

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Books & Beignets for Valentine’s Day


Wondering what to get your sweetie for Valentine’s Day? How about some sweets for your sweet? Learn how to make fried choux pastry (beignets) with a fresh raspberry coulis from my demonstration and perhaps purchase a signed copy of one (or two!) of my cookbooks after. They really do make lovely gifts anytime of the year for anyone that enjoys cooking. I would love to see you there. It’s going to be fun and delicious.

Bon appetit!




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The Thick of Warming Soup Season

The brutal winter weather of the past few weeks has left me with a near constant craving for soups and also long-braised stews. Combine this with the near constant recipe testing for my next cookbook, The French Cook: Soups and Stews (Gibbs Smith,Late summer, 2014) my beloved Dutch ovens are getting daily work-outs and I’m a very well-fed girl. The soup that follows is layered with the earthy, peppery flavors and chewy density of the Puy lentil. I love these guys so much, I once suffered an hour delay in customs trying to convince the agent they were legal. This soup is remarkably delicious, easy to make and a little dressier than most lentil soups. I think you’ll love it. It’s adapted from the yet to be published pages of the new cookbook.

French Green Lentil Soup with Bacon and Creme Fraiche

French Green Lentil Soup with Bacon and Creme Fraiche

French Green Lentil Soup with Bacon

(Makes 8 servings)

Deep in the volcanic rich-soil of Auvergne in South Central France reside the nutrients that help create the special flavor and color of the Puy lentil. It is an extra firm, dark green lentil with sage-hued threads and a peppery flavor. Unlike other lentils, it holds its shape and its firm, toothsome texture even when cooked, rather than breaking down into mushy legume puddles. Referred to as French Green Lentils in the United States, they are increasingly easy to find here at regular grocery stores and markets. They are worth tracking down, as their body and flavor are what make this simple, yet delicious soup so outstanding. Be sure to rinse the lentils and pick over for any small stones. It’s ok to salt them very lightly in the beginning of the cooking process, but save the bulk of the salt until finishing the seasoning after they’re cooked. Salt can harden the lentils. This soup can be left in its whole lentil state, but I like to lighten it and puree it with an immersion blender. A dash of cloves and dried sage give it an extra earthy, hard to resist flavor that works magic with the peppery nature of the lentils. Not only do these lentils make delicious soups, they are outstanding cooked in salads or as a seasoned garnish to fish, particularly salmon.


1 1/2 cups (about 8 slices) bacon cut into a 1/2” dice

Freshly ground black pepper

1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped

2 leeks, trimmed to 1” above the white part of the stalk, halved vertically, finely chopped, and well-rinsed

2 medium stalks celery, finely chopped

1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, smashed and coarsely chopped

Light salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup good quality full-bodied red wine (suggest Cabernet Sauvignon)

1 1/2 cups French Green Lentils

4 cups vegetable stock

1 cup water

2 bay leaves

Generous pinch ground cloves

1 1/2 teaspoons ground sage

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the garnish:

1/2 reserved cooked bacon

1/4 cup crème fraiche or sour cream

3 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley

Heat a 5 1/2 quart Dutch oven or similarly sized soup pot over medium high. Add the diced bacon and black pepper. Cook to render fat and brown the bacon, stirring every minute or so. Reduce heat to medium low and continue cooking the bacon until it’s cooked through and nicely browned. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Set aside. Drain off all but 3 tablespoons of the bacon fat in the cooking pot. Add the onion, leeks, celery, carrot, and garlic. Season very lightly with salt and pepper. Stir to coat. Cook until just softened, about 5 minutes. Deglaze with the red wine, stirring to pick up any brown bits from the bacon. Increase heat to high and reduce the wine by about half. Add the lentils, vegetable stock, water, bay leaves, ground cloves and ground sage. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Bring up to a boil over high heat and reduce to a simmer over medium low heat. Cook uncovered until the lentils have softened to a gentle chew state (al dente), 35 to 40 minutes. Remove the bay leaves. Puree in a blender or with an immersion blender until aerated and chunky-smooth. Return to the pot and bring to a low simmer. If it seems too thick, add enough water to adjust more to your taste, about 1/2 – 1 cup of water should do it. Stir in 1/2 of the reserved bacon. Taste carefully and adjust the salt and pepper as needed. To serve, ladle the soup into individual bowls, garnishing each with a dollop of sour cream or crème fraiche and a drizzle of bacon and fresh parsley. (Note: The soup can be made ahead and refrigerated for 1 or 2 days or frozen up to 2 months and reheated before serving).

Bon appetit!

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Ringing in the New Year with French Onion Soup

Hardly anything I can think of trumps the utterly simple deliciousness of a well-prepared French onion soup. Similarly, I can think of nothing utterly worse than a thin, flavorless ill-prepared version. Like all dishes with very few ingredients, the key is making each one count. For an exquisite French onion soup it boils down to three things:  a top-quality, rich dark beef stock, long, slowly simmered caramelized onions, and Gruyere or Comte cheese for topping. Therefore, if at all possible make your own stock, don’t rush the onions, and go for the best quality imported cheese you can afford. Processed Swiss will work in a pinch but the flavor and color will be diluted. Aside from its heady layers of sweet onions marrying with nutty, bubbling cheese and a rich broth, this is an ideal soup for entertaining (such as New Year’s Eve or Day!). All of the components can be made ahead and put together at the last minute before serving, and I’ve never met a soul (French or otherwise) that doesn’t love the stuff.

(Adapted from pre-published pages for The French Cook: Soups and Stews, Gibbs Smith, Fall 2014)

French Onion Soup

French Onion Soup

Soupe a L’Oignon Francaise

French Onion Soup

(Makes 6 servings)

Special equipment: Six 1 1/3 cup oven-proof bowls or ramekins

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 large sweet onions (preferably Vidalia), or substitute regular white onions, peeled halved and thinly sliced (about 6 cups)

3 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped

3/4 cup good quality white wine (suggest Chardonnay)

1/2 cup dry vermouth

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

4 cups best-quality, unsalted beef stock (preferably homemade)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the croutons and cheese garnish:

12 slices 1 or 2 day old French baguette bread, cut into 1/2”-thick slices

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 cups grated Gruyere or Comte cheese

In a 5 1/2 quart Dutch oven or similarly sized soup pot, melt the olive oil and butter together over medium high heat. When melted, add the onions, garlic and a generous dash of salt and pepper. Stir to coat. Continue cooking another 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all of the onion “water” is cooked off and the onions have become quite soft. Add the thyme and continue cooking. The onions will start turning golden and caramelizing in 10 minutes. This is what you want. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed. Increase heat to high, add the wine, stirring to pick up any brown/caramelized bits and reduce by half. Add the vermouth and also reduce by half. Sprinkle the flour evenly over the soup, and stir to mix into the onions, cooking for one minute. Add the beef stock, stir. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, cooking another 15 minutes, uncovered. Meanwhile, turn the broiler on high. Arrange the croutons in a single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle each side lightly with olive oil and rub it into the bread. Place the sheet on the top shelf and broil until just golden on each side, turning once. You can stop here and store the soup separately from the garnishes overnight in a refrigerator or continue to finish the soups. To serve, taste the soup again, and adjust seasoning if necessary. Ladle boiling hot soup into each bowl/ramekin. Top each with 2 or 3 croutons and about 1/2 cup grated cheese. Arrange on a baking sheet and broil until the cheese is golden and bubbly, about 4 to 6 minutes. Serve immediately with fresh thyme sprigs for garnish if desired.

Bon appetit et Joyeux 2014!


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