Sassy Southern Cooking with a French Twist

Recipes from My Kitchen

Recipes from my kitchen – either from my cookbooks or recipes tested for events or for upcoming books I’m working on.

Easy Peasy Apple Walnut Tart

Of late, I’ve become increasingly sensitive to waste.  Wasted clothing, wasted time, wasted paper, and especially wasted food. Most Saturday mornings I go through my fridge to assess what I need to shop for that day. This involves cleaning out food that’s “past due” and that horrible sensation of throwing out and wasting what was once perfectly good food.

I’ve always hated doing this, my mother taking the motto of “waste not, want not” to epic proportions (she even re-uses underwear!),  but in a world where so many are in need from the ravages of storms, disasters, poverty and more, it seems even more reprehensible.

So, when I saw three forgotten Winesap apples I had  picked up at the farmers’ markets several weeks ago were starting to soften and fade, I refused to render them refuse and instead, decided to turn them into a tart. I also had some prepared frozen puff pastry in the freezer left over from recipe testing for a book I wrote on tarts, so there was yet another reason to make it happen.

With holidays on the horizon and Thanksgiving coming in two weeks, this tart is delicious and incredibly easy to make. In fact, it comes together in less than 30 minutes, and could be prepared while the turkey is resting and baked while everyone’s digging into their Thanksgiving feast, simultaneously perfuming the air with its heady aromas.

Normally, I’m not a fan of prepared pastry, but prepared puff pastry is so complicated to make and increasingly delicious prepared.  I say, go for it! I like Pepperidge Farm best. All you have to do is remember to defrost it over-night in the refrigerator or set aside 40 minutes for it to thaw at room temp. Tart/sweet, nutty, and rife with the aromas of cinnamon and vanilla, a warm slice of this tart practically begs for a generous scoop of best-quality vanilla ice cream. You can prep and assemble it a few hours ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator before backing. Bon appetit!

Easy Peasy Apple Walnut Tart

Easy Peasy Apple Walnut Tart

(Makes 6 servings)

3 apples (suggest a tart/sweet variety like Granny Smith or Winesap), peeled, cored, halved and thinly sliced

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1/2 cup light brown sugar

Seeds scraped from two fresh vanilla pods (or 1 TBS vanilla extract)

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Generous pinch salt

Generous pinch ground nutmeg

1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts

1 sheet thawed prepared puff pastry

Egg wash: 1 yolk mixed with a splash of cold water and a pinch of salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into 4 pats

Preheat oven to 425F. Line a baking pan with a sheet of parchement paper. Gently unfold the thawed pastry and place on the parchment, pressing with fingertips to gap any holes in the creases or elsewhere. Combine the apples, lemon juice, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, salt, nutmeg and walnuts in a medium bowl, tossing well with your hands to coat evenly. Arrange in the center of the puff pastry, spreading the filling out to all but the last inch of pastry. This should be left “naked,”  as it will puff around the filling to form the edges of the tart. Smooth out the filling with your fingers or a wooden spoon so it is even and about the same thickness all around. Scatter the butter pats on top of the filling, spacing evenly.  Prepare the egg wash in a cup and brush the naked edges of the tart lightly with the wash, being careful not to let it slip under the pastry and onto the paper.

Bake in the center rack for 25 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Cut and serve with a fat scoop of delicious ice cream. (Note: This tart is also delicious at room temperature or cold).


Time is Ripe for Tomatoes

As we all prepare to greet fall and her cooler air and promise of crisp apples and warming winter squash, don’t yet shut the door on tomatoes and the lingering taste of summer they can offer all year round.  At least in the Lowcountry, tomatoes will be coming in for a few more weeks. Here’s some ideas on how to put them to use from an excerpt from the tomato sauce chapter in my upcoming book on French Sauces (Gibbs Smith, Spring, 2013):

Les Sauces Tomates – Tomato Sauces

Though frequently associated with Italian cuisine, tomato (also called “pomme d’amour,” or love apple in French) sauces play a significant role in French sauce-making and cooking as well. One of the five mother sauces of French classical cooking, tomato sauces can serve as a garnish for fish or meat or tossed with pasta. The meaty juiciness of tomatoes make them the perfect conduit for a quick, fresh, naturally thickened sauce, often enhanced with wine, garlic, onion and fresh herbs.

When in season, fresh tomatoes are preferable to canned. Select firm, fragrant tomatoes. Plum varieties are considered ideal, but the many heirloom varieties available at farmers’ markets and groceries have magnificent flavor and color. When using canned, look for  whole peeled tomatoes, preferably the San Marzano Italian imports.

Tomatoes are often peeled and seeded prior to cooking or the seeds and skins are strained after cooking. Peeling and seeding fresh tomatoes is simple enough. Trim the stem base out with a paring knife and cut a little “X” into the top of the tomato. Place the tomato(es) in simmering, hot water for about 30 seconds, or until the “X” forms little, loose skin flaps. Remove them from the water and submerge in ice cold water for several seconds. The skin will literally peel right off a ripe tomato. To seed the tomatoes, cut them in half horizontally. Gently, using your fingertips, prod the seeds from the little seed pockets distributed throughout the tomato and discard. Don’t fret if you miss a few.

One of the many advantages of tomato sauces is that they freeze beautifulyy for up to three months. Make a few big batches now when tomatoes are still being harvested and freeze them in quantities you will use as fall and winter approach. Thaw, reheat and voila, an instant taste of summer on your plate even when winter winds howl.

Sauce Mariniere – Marinara Sauce

Beautiful, fresh marianara sauce prepared with late summer tomatoes and basil.


(Yield: 6 cups)

This lovely, light sauce is worth making over and over again. It simply sings with tomato flavor that goes just as well tossed with a bowl of spaghetti as it would to dress grill fish or roasted chicken. There are countless variations on the theme, as well. Ground beef,  turkey, pork, sausage, and bacon could be added early in the cooking process, or it could be finished with other vegetables including mushrooms, bell peppers and fennel. Add the fresh basil at the very end, just before serving. The sauce can be refrigerated for several days prior to using or frozen for up to three months.

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped (about 2 cups)

1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, peeled, mashed and finely chopped

Pinch sea or kosher salt and ground black pepper

6 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped

1/2 cup good quality red wine

1 1/2 cups chicken stock

4  sprigs each fresh rosemary, thyme, and oregano sprigs tied in a bundle with kitchen string

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

Pinch red chili pepper flakes

1/4 fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped

Sea or kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, garlic, and pinch of salt and pepper. Stir to coat, reduce heat to medium low, and cook for 10 minutes or until the vegetables are softened and fragrant, but not browned. Add the tomatoes. Increase heat to medium high, stir, and cook another 3 minutes. Season with another pinch of salt and pepper. Add the wine, chicken stock, fresh herb bundle, sugar, and red chili pepper flakes. Bring up to a boil over high heat and reduce to a simmer. Cook over medium, medium-low heat for 45 minutes, or until reduced by about one-third. Remove herb bundle. Puree the sauce lightly in a blender or with a hand-held emulsion blender, about 30 pulses,  or until frothy and chunky-smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Add the basil just before serving. Serve hot.

Bon appetit!


More Cheese, Please!

Remember that song from Monty Python about  “Wonderful Spam, Marvelous Spam”? Whenever it pops into this cheese-head’s head, the words are always automatically converted to “Cheese, Cheese, Cheese, Cheese, wonderful cheese, marvelous cheese!” Like so many of us, I am a bona fide cheese devotee.  If I could get away with eating it three times a day, I would do it. As it is, I try and keep it down to a few times a week, and always try and stick to the best quality, most delicious cheese I can find.

As heady as cheese is in its “natural” state, it’s arguably even more decadent in a smooth, silky sauce, as in the Cheddar Cheese Bechamel Sauce and Roasted Cauliflower recipe that I  created and tested last week for a book I’m working on about French sauces for Gibbs-Smith.

A virtual fondue, this sauce would be exquisite for dipping bread cubes, fat pretzels, and  raw vegetables. I loved it so much, I found myself eating it by the spoonful, as if it was a soup. Indeed, by adding a bit more cream or milk, it could become just that. Here, I use it as a sauce to cover sweet roasted cauliflower florets. It would also be sublime on broccoli, a juicy steak, and roasted potatoes. It’s excellent for entertaining because it can be prepared ahead and gently re-heated at the last minute.

Save this for your back-to-school repetoire. Kids will love this ooey, gooey cheese-treat after school or anytime of day or night.

Creamy Cheddar Cheese Sauce Bechamel over Roasted Cauliflower Florets












Cheese Sauce Bechamel with Roasted Cauliflower 

(Makes 4 to 6 servings)

For the bechamel base:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 small shallot, finely chopped

2 tablespoons All-Purpose flour

1 cup skim milk

3/4 cup Half & Half


2 cups lightly packed best-quality grated sharp cheddar cheese

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 tablespoons best quality white wine (suggest Chardonnay)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the cauliflower:

1 large head cauliflower, cut into florets (see directions below), about 3 cups

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Garnish (optional): 2 tablespoons fresh, finely chopped parsley leaves

Preheat oven to 450F. Prepare the bechamel base. In a large sauce pan, melt the 2 tablespoons butter over medium low hear. Whisk in the shallots, and cook until softened, whisking, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the 2 tablespoons AP flour, and continue cooking until bubbling and cooked through, about 2 minutes, whisking all the while. Pour in the milk and Half & Half in a steady stream, whisking the entire time. Bring up to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Continue cooking gently, whisking, until the sauce starts to thicken and set up. This will take 10 minutes.  To finish the sauce, whisk the grated cheese into the warm sauce in 2 or 3 handfuls, until melted and smooth. Whisk in the butter until melted and incorporated. Whisk in the wine. Taste and season according to taste with salt and pepper. Reserve warm over low heat.

Meanwhile, rinse the cauliflower head thoroughly. Cut the base from the cauliflower head, pulling off any external leaves. Cut into quarters. Cut awy the solid, tough core from each quarter and break off the florets into about 2″ chunks. Toss in a roasting pan with the olive oil and a generous dash of salt and black pepper. Roast in the pre-heated oven, stirring 2 or 3 times, for about 25 minutes, or until tender and very lightly browned.

Serve the cauliflower on individual plates or a platter with a generous portion of sauce. Garnish with fresh parsley if desired.

Bon appetit!


Rounding the Bechamel Bend

It has been a busy week of testing and tasting in my little kitchen, faithful dog Tann Mann by my side. On the menu? The wonderful, versatile world of bechamel as I seek conclusion of the bechamel chapter in the latest book project.

It’s been good news all around, as it should be for anyone working with this creamy, mild sauce. Firstly, it’s pretty difficult to err preparing a bechamel, a simple blend of butter, flour, shallot, milk and/or cream. Secondly, it’s really fun to come up with flavor pairings to embellish and enhance the bechamel base.

Frequently, people ask me how I come up with recipe ideas. It can be ideas from friends, a long walk with a head full of recipe ruminations, or a tasty restaurant feast. But, more often than not, it begins with a simple product, usually a vegetable, to get me started. This is the first flavor layer that hopefully will yield a perfect flavor and texture symphony that bursts in happy mouths and souls.

And, so it was product inspiration that got me started this past week. At the market, I came across a bin full of spectacular shitakes and some beautiful, fresh asparagus. The asparagus got me thinking about citrus, specifically orange, and a mild onion flavor and bright color, the kind that chives offer with panache. Thus, the asparagus gratin I made with an orange/chive bechamel.  This recipe needed a little tweaking however, because the walnut topping I opted for, turned out to be too much. A little back to the drawing board, and we hit the mark. Besides,  Tann Mann appreciated a few walnut treats.

But, it was the shitakes that formed the first flavor layer that ultimately combined with morels, portobello, leeks and more to yield a lovely lasagna that my friendly neighbor taste testers deemed “Wonder bar,” “Perfect – don’t change a thing,” and “divine.” Yeah – I’ll take it! This does not happen every day,  and it’s very welcome when it does.

I happened to have a chunk of fragrant, creamy Port Salut cheese in the fridge, so this was whisked into the bechamel base, transforming it into a variation on the sauce theme, called a Mornay. Fresh thyme, leeks and the sweet richness of Marsala brought it all together. It’s a little bit time consuming and a little bit rich, but with a small side salad, it’s still the perfect meal for early summer. Also, it can be completely assembled a full day ahead, refrigerated and baked off in a brief 30 minutes, as guests enjoy an aperitif and easy company.

Wild Mushroom & Leek Lasagna with Marsala & Thyme Mornay



Wild Mushroom & Leek Lasagna with Marsala and Thyme Mornay Sauce

(Serves 8 to 10)

1/2 ounce dried morels

1 cup dry Marsala

4 TBS Olive Oil

2 leeks, cleaned, trimmed, quartered and finely diced

6 cups thinly sliced shitake mushrooms

3 cups portobello mushrooms, cut into 1/4″ cubes

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup dry Marsala wine

3 TBS white wine (suggest Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio)

For the pasta:

One pound dry lasagna

Water to cover

Several tablespoons salt

3 TBS Olive Oil

For the cheese filling/toppings:

2 cups ricotta cheese

1/2 cup fresh mozzarella Perline (tiny cheese balls) or grated fresh mozzarella

1 cup grated Parmesan

For the Mornay:

4 TBS unsalted butter

1 shallot, finely chopped

4 TBS All Purpose flour

2 cups skim milk

1 1/2 cups Half & Half

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

reserved Marsala from the morels

2 tablespoons fresh thyme, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3/4 cup Port Salut cheese, coarsely chopped (or substitute Fontina)

Combine the morels with 1 cup dry Marsala in a small, non-reactive bowl.  Heat on high for 1 minute in the microwave. Set aside to re-hydrate the mushrooms, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large, deep skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high. Add the leeks, stirring, cooking until just softened, about 5 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Add the shitakes and portobello mushrooms, stirring to coat and soften. Season these lightly with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking until the mushrooms (they will look like a LOT at first), have softened, about 7 minutes. Increase heat to high. Add the 1/2 cup Marsala and cook until the wine has reduced to nothing. Repeat with the white wine.  Meanwhile, using your hands, squeeze the Marsala out of the reserved morels, and finely chop the morels. Add these to the mushroom mixture, stirring to combine. Reserve the Marsala soaking liquid for the sauce.  Turn off the heat and set the sauteed mushroom/leek mixture aside.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water up to a rapid boil. Season generously with salt. Add the lasagna all at once, and cook to package directions. The goal is to cook the pasta to al dente. Count on about 8 to 9 minutes, depending on the brand used. Drain the pasta once it’s cooked and set aside.

While that’s happening, measure out and prep the ricotta, mozzarella, and Parmesan, and have it ready for the lasagna assembly. Preheat oven to 375 and lightly oil or butter a lasagna pan or large, rectangular casserole pan.

Prepare the Mornay. In a large sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shallots and sweat to cook down for about three minutes. Add the flour, whisking to combine. Cook through for another three minutes. Add the cold skim milk and cold Half & Half, streaming in as you whisk. Increase heat to medium high, whisking the entire time. Once the sauce has come to just below a boil, it will thicken to a thin pudding consistency. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the reserved Marsala from the morels, thyme, nutmeg, and Port Salut cheese. Continue to whisk until the cheese is fully melted and incorporated. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Time to compile the lasagna!

Pour 1 cup of the Mornay onto the bottom of the pan and spread with a spatula to evenly distribute.  Top with a layer of  slightly over-lapped lasagna noodles (you will need about 5 or 6 for each layers, loosing broken pieces to fill any gaps in the corners, etc). Top that with 2 cups of the mushroom/leek mixture, spreading with a spatula to evenly distribute. Top with 1 cup of ricotta, spread to even with a spatula. Drizzle with 1/2 cup of the grated Parmesan. Top with another cup of Mornay, spread to distribute. Repeat with another layer of lasagna, remaining mushroom mixture, another cup of ricotta, and another cup of Mornay. Finish with another layer of lasagna and a thin coating of the remaining Mornay sauce.

Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes, until heated through and bubbling. Remove the foil, and add a layer of the remaining Parmesan and mozzarella, scattered across the top. Cover with foil and return to bake for another 10 minutes. Remove the foil, and bake a final 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to stand 10 minutes before cutting.

Serve with sprigs of fresh thyme and a fresh green salad.

Bon appetit!


Bechamel Embellished

Voila!  The stock and fumet chapter is put to bed, so now it’s onto bechamel in the new sauce book. Some might argue, and in fact some of my friends have, that bechamel is boring. One of the five French mother sauces, I agree that it is certainly basic. It’s a simple white roux, sometimes flavored with a bit of onion and finished with milk and/or cream and seasoning.

But to me, that’s a huge part of bechamel’s beauty. The simple flavor backdrop and creamy, slightly thick consistency sets a dynamic flavor potential stage that help it evolve into anything from a Nantua to a Soubise with the addition of herbs, stock, cheese, or really just about anything that makes sense depending on what you’re pairing it with. Consider a chive and Parmesan bechamel over soft-scrambled eggs and toast or seasoned with mushrooms and wine as a tasty pasta topper? The possibilities are literally endless!

Not just a sauce, bechamel is also the tasty glue that holds together casseroles and gratins, as it does in this recipe I tested in my kitchen yesterday.

Crunchy Crustacean Gratin


The inspiration for the recipe came from a visit to my local fish monger. I found some gorgeous seasonal shrimp and some beautiful fresh stone crab (one pound of each). I crushed the crab with a mallet, leaving the raw flesh in place, and peeled and de-veined the shrimp. Both the crab and the shrimp shells went into a large pot with a bit of butter and a finely chopped leek and a finely chopped small onion. After it softened, I deglazed the pan with a fat splash of Chardonnay, reduced it down, added 8 cups of water, and allowed the whole thing to simmer lightly, skimming along the way (see previous post) until it reduced by half. Then, I strained the entire fumet, discarding the solids, returned it to the pan and reduced it until it was down to a cup of liquid. The result is known as a glace – in this case a crustacean glace. Two tablespoons of this were whisked into the bechamel, along with some herbs and seasonings to top the beautiful fresh shrimp and some more lump crab. The result was creamy, rich goodness that utterly defies the concept of a boring bechamel! Sacre bleu!

Crunchy Crab and Shrimp Gratin

(Makes 8 to 10 portions)

Basic Bechamel

1 shallot, finely chopped

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 tablespoons All Purpose flour

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups cold skim milk

1 cup cold Half & Half

Heat a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Add the butter and shallot and sweat to soften, for about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the flour and whisk to incorporate. Cook another 2 – 3 minutes, whisking, and avoiding coloring the roux. Add the milk and Half and Half all at once, whisking to incorporate smoothly. Increase the heat to medium high and bring the bechamel up to a gentle boil. Reduce heat slightly, and continue cooking until thickened enough to coat a spoon and the flour flavor has cooked out – about 5 minutes. Season careful to taste with salt and pepper. Reserve warm for the gratin recipe, which only uses half of this recipe. The rest will store fine in the refrigerator for a couple days until you’re ready to make those eggs!

For the gratin:

1/2 recipe Basic Bechamel (above)

1 tablespoon sweet Vermouth

2 tablespoons of crustacean glace (see top of the column for instructions on preparation) OR substitute best quality fish stock or clam juice

2 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning

Generous dash Tabasco sauce

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

1 pound shrimp, peeled, de-veined and coarsely chopped

1 pound lump crab meat

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup bread crumbs tossed with 4 tablespoons softened butter

Preheat oven to 375F. Prepare the basic bechamel. Divide in half reserving the remainder for future use. While still warm, whisk in the Vermouth, glace, scallions, parsley, Old Bay Seasoning, Tabasco, lemon juice. Taste carefully and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, arrange the shrimp in the bottom of a shallow,   baking dish or pie pan. Top with an even layer of the crab. Pour the bechamel over the top, spreading with a spatula to distribute it evenly. Top with a layer of the bread crumbs. Bake until golden and bubbling, 20 – 25 minutes. Serve warm! All this needs is a small salad to be a meal, and also makes a great appetizer with toast points.

Bon appetit!

Cracking the Cookbook Code Retreat

Join me and blogger, chef and author Beckie Carrico Hemmerling March 29 – April 1, 2019 for Cracking the Cookbook Code, Writing, Cooking, Marketing, Photography + Wellness Retreat. Limited to only 8 people, we will have a blissful few days in a beautiful, relaxing setting with like-minded souls, eating delicious food and having a wonderful time. Click for details.

Latest from the Blog
Never Miss a Post!

Sign up for my newsletter and never miss a post or give-away.