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~Barbarians At The Table~

March 6, 2021

Paris Sweets-Great Desserts From the City’s Best Pastry Shops by Dorie Greenspan (Clarkson Potter)

When I think of Paris, a few things naturally come to mind. The Eiffel Tower, phenomenal art work, gardens galore and of course, a seat at an outdoor cafe sipping a cappuccino while engaging in some serious people watching.  However, Paris wouldn’t be the same without ALL of the yummy pastries begging to be boxed up and eaten by those who dare look their way.

“For anyone who loves pastry, Paris is the center of the universe.  Not only can you find a patisserie or boulangerie on every street, but the odds are tremendously in your favor that you’ll find a good, perhaps great, pastry or bread shop, and that it will turn up just when you most need a buttery croissant or a bittersweet chocolate cookie.  Like sidewalk cafes, street-corner kiosks, and every famous monument from the Eiffel Tower to Sacre-Coeur, patisseries are part of what makes food lovers, bon vivants, and romantics cherish Paris.”

My husband and I went to Paris 22 years ago.  We were young and in love and oh so eager to soak up all that this city of lights had to offer.  Before we left on our much anticipated trip, my mother-in-law gifted me  a signed copy of Paris Sweets-Great Desserts From the City’s Best Pastry Shops by Dorie Greenspan.  Just in case you are wondering, Dorie Greenspan is a James Beard Award-winning author of Everyday Dorie and Dorie’s Cookies and a columnist for New York Times Magazine. I fell deeply in love with her book.  It is not only a guide to some of Paris’ most decadent treats, but also a tribute to some of the most admirable Paris Patisseries. I devoured each page of this scrumptious book over and over again before our trip.  I could not wait to visit all of these pastry shops and indulge in all of Paris’ sweetest treats.   

My Signed copy of Paris Sweets

Greenspan’s book will transport you directly to Paris.  Her book consists of six main sections…

  • Cookies Big and Little, Buttery, Crunchy, Tender and Crisp
  • Simple Cakes for Snacks, Suppers, and “Le Gouter”
  • Tarts for Teatime or Anytime
  • Pastries and Small Treats for Occasions Simple and Swell
  • Grand Gateaux for Fetes and Feasts 
  • Base Recipes

Paris Sweets has some of the most incredible recipes adapted from Paris’ most treasured pastry shops.  Greenspan writes all about these sweet shops offering her readers their history, origins of the various goodies and the importance of using simple and high quality ingredients (think butter, fleur de sel, chocolate, etc.).  This book is one to bake from and also one to read and cherish by the fire.  From tarts, to meringues, to the most luxurious chocolate in the world, Greenspan has the Paris “treat” scene covered. With recipes that are completely manageable, even a baking rookie can take them on.  

I have baked from this book more times than I can remember. Today, I am sharing with you two recipes that my 15 year old son and I made together that pleased all of the barbarians at my table.  The first recipe we made was Grandmother’s Creamy Chocolate Cake/Gateau au Chocolat Grand-Mere adapted from La Maison Du Chocolat.  The Maison Du Chocolat in Paris was one of my first stops that I actually remember from 20+ years ago.  Though I can’t recall what we ordered, I will never forget the glorious smell of chocolate that filled the chilly air.  This small chocolate shop was founded by the late Master Chocolatier, Robert Linxe, and decades later, La Maison Du Chocolat has boutiques all over the world.  In all honesty, this cake is very similar to a flourless chocolate torte, except this recipe includes ¼ cup of flour.  Five ingredients is all you need to make this rich and lavish cake.  This dessert can be served alone in all of its elegance or can be dusted in some powdered sugar to give it a glow.  Of course ice cream and whipped cream are never a bad idea either.  The cake was a five star hit with zero complaints.  The nice thing about this dessert is that it can be served casually after dinner or it can truly put on the ritz at a swanky dinner party.  

Sifting the flour into the batter is a game changer!
Different shaped cake pans are always fun to use!

Classic Madeleines are ALWAYS a good idea.  These light and airy cookies are perfect with a hot cup of tea mid afternoon.  And let me just tell you this…these gems have massive roots.  The love of these cookies dates back to the early eighteenth century and have been popular ever since.  Greenspan’s recipe is adapted from Patisserie Lerch (which to my understanding is now closed).  With just seven ingredients, this recipe was easy-breezy to make.  My only warning is to read it through one full time for planning purposes. Once the cookie dough is made, it does need to be refrigerated for a minimum of  three hours to develop its “crown”.  Another recommendation is to use a nonstick madeleine pan for the quintessential shell-shape they are known for.  We made the Classic Madeleine, which has the loveliest hint of lemon to it.  Greenspan offers a Honey or an Earl Grey variation as well.

Madeleines in the making!

Our cookies came out awesome.  The shape was perfect and the texture was light and spongy. They are pretty amazing on their own, but I would pair them with an ice cold glass of milk or a piping hot mug of tea. Even your pickiest eater will adore these.  

How fabulous is this?

Greenspan’s book is an oldie but goodie and a STAPLE on my cookbook shelf.  If sweet treats from Paris fill your dreams at night, this needs to be a part of your life.  Next up for me is the Whole-Lemon Tart and Coffee Eclairs….how good is that!!!!!!

Cheers to making a delicious mess in our kitchens!


Click on the book pic to purchase!

~Barbarians At The Table~

The Lost Kitchen by Erin French

February 23, 2021

The Lost Kitchen:  Recipes And The Good Life Found In Freedom, Maine by Erin French (Clarkson Potter)

I have lived in Maine for almost 15 years now. One of the greatest things about this “Vacationland” is Mother Nature’s gift of having all four seasons. Leaf peeping in the fall, skiing in the winter, mud season in the spring and outdoor shenanigans in the summer, make Maine an absolute wonderland. Because Maine’s natural food supply is based on the different seasons, so are our kitchen menus.  Think pumpkins in the fall, stews in the winter, ramps and fiddleheads in the spring and of course, the quintessential lobster in the summer.  Erin French is the owner and chef of the critically acclaimed restaurant, 𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐋𝐨𝐬𝐭 𝐊𝐢𝐭𝐜𝐡𝐞𝐧. Not only is The Lost Kitchen nestled in the small rural town of Freedom, Maine, but it was also named a 𝘛𝘐𝘔𝘌 world dining destination. Not too shabby! In The Lost Kitchen cookbook, French takes her readers though each of the four seasons, one bite at a time. Using the simplest of ingredients, French’s cookbook is a delicious treasure that belongs on every home cooks’ shelf… no matter where they live.  

Who isn’t in the market for simple and mouth watering recipes?  There is a time and place for convenience meals (frozen meatballs and jarred sauce anyone). But it does feel extra satisfying to step it up just a wee bit more on some nights, especially given my family’s love of food and eating all things fabulous. 

French’s stunning cookbook is divided up into the four seasons.  Each season has its own lineup of Firsts, Mains and Sweets and includes delightful commentary on small town living, French’s childhood memories and where your food is actually coming from.  Cooking with what is in season truly disentangles the notion of complicated cooking.  If you are using what is fresh and available in your kitchen, all will be well in your culinary creations. AND…if you are a lover of a glorious cocktail from time to time, you are in luck.  French has a bunch of Divine adult drinks for winter, spring, summer and fall.  Cheers to that thirst quenching section of the book!  

Dad’s Meatloaf ingredients prepped and ready to go!

Because it is winter here in Maine, I dove right into the recipes of this chilly season to start.  For me, meatloaf and mashed potatoes are the ultimate comfort food in the dead of winter.   In all honesty, meatloaf is one of those dishes that I “freestyle” all the time.  Ground meat, an egg, some breadcrumbs and a bunch of random veggies and spices smothered in ketchup usually does the trick in my house.  I was of course eager to try French’s Dad’s Meatloaf  immediately.  It had a fraction of the ingredients that I use when I am “throwing ” together my version of this classic dish, so I wondered if it would really be that much better.  I’ll come right out and tell you that it was WAY better than anything I have concocted in the past and I am here to tell you why.   French’s recipe has basic ingredients that pretty much anyone can find in their local grocery store.  The quality of the ingredients and my attitude towards using them was the game changer for me.  For example, instead of buying pre-shredded cheese, I took the time to select a block of cheese from the case then enjoyed the process of shredding it myself.  I also bought the fresh sourdough bread and diced it up wicked fine for my breadcrumbs in lieu of the canister of breadcrumbs that’s been sitting on the shelf for weeks on end.  I used the whole milk in effort to not skimp on the fat and I twisted my pepper mill the full eight times just like French instructed.  Lastly, French calls for mixing in some brown sugar and a bit of dijon mustard to our Heinz ketchup to add a little pizazz to this magical loaf. All of these small steps turned this uncomplicated recipe into a five star palette pleaser!

Dad’s Meatloaf in the making!

I always serve my meatloaf with mashed potatoes.  It’s an obvious pairing I never think twice about.  However, I shook things up a bit in my kitchen and served French’s meatloaf with her Parsnip Puree.  At first glance, this pureed root vegetable looked like the smoothest mashed potatoes I’ve ever seen.  My husband and boys were literally drooling over their plated dinner.  Parsnips, heavy cream, butter and salt turned this side dish into something quite decadent.  A piece of the meatloaf with a dab of this sweet and creamy creation nestled on my fork was absolute heaven in my mouth and my husband was in full agreement.   My teens and tween however were surprisingly not fans, which I still can’t understand.  As the adults savored each bite and continued to share enthusiasm for this scrumptious recipe, our boys carried on about how much better mashed potatoes would be with this award winning meatloaf (which they did gobble up), and begged us to stop talking about how “velvety” the parsnips were in our mouths.  My advice to readers is to ignore my kids and make the parsnips…you will have no regrets!   

Parsnip Puree~Heaven in Your Mouth

What I really found quite soothing in French’s book is her DIY activities embedded between all of her tasty recipes.  How to tap your maple tree for sticky and sweet syrup, to making your own cloth napkins, French had me inspired to live more of a simple life using all the beauty that is around me.  One thing I grow in my garden in the summer months is lavender.  I plant a plethora of this soothing plant all around my chicken coop for its beauty and ability to mask any undesirable smells.  When dried, lavender can be used to make scented sachets for your drawers, air fresheners, teas (if edible) and homemade beauty products.  French recommends mixing dried up lavender with baking soda for the ultimate kitchen sink cleaner.  Because it’s the middle of the winter here in Maine and all my gorgeous lavender plants are a thing of the past, I decided to grab myself some store bought dried lavender and make myself a chemical free kitchen sink scrub with the baking soda I had in my baking cupboard.  My white mini kitchen sink and main farmhouse sink never looked better after using this simple mash-up.  And let me tell you how splendid this cleaning process smelled!!!!!  I am now looking forward to putting all my home grown lavender to good use this summer!  

Lavender Sink Scrub

I plan on using French’s impressive cookbook more and more with each season.  Spring is right around the corner and I am dreaming of earthy salads, tender asparagus and some juicy lamb to fill my plate.  Bon Appetite!

If you are obsessed as I am with Erin French and her unbelievable restaurant, The Lost Kitchen, be sure to pre-order her upcoming memoir, Finding Freedom (Celadon Books ) ASAP!

~Barbarians At The Table~

February 10, 2021

Quick and Delicious:  100 Recipes to cook in 30 minutes or Less by Gordon Ramsay (Grand Central Publishing)

Farfalle with Brown Butter, Peas, and Sage

Gordon Ramsay is an absolute hit in our house.  Let’s face it, my boys LOVE watching this guy have outbursts on his television shows while the “F” word rolls off his tongue like it’s nobody’s business. Putting that aside, there is no denying that his recipes and cookbooks are phenomenal. Today I am sharing his latest creation, Quick and Delicious:  100 Recipes to cook in 30 minutes or Less.  This book served my family quite a few easy and delectable meals.  Even better, recipes in this book take under 30 minutes to prepare.  Something I can whip together in 30 minutes without compromising ingredients or taste is what I am always in the market for. This man is officially speaking my love language. 

Prepping my ingredients. A well sharpened knife is key.

The beginning of Ramsay’s cookbook basically sets you up for success. Equipment lists, shortcuts to flavor, and time-saving ingredients (hello pre-cut veggies from the grocery store…..I love you so) are briefly touched upon before he dives into the actual recipes.  His book is then divided up into your basic cooking categories.  Soups and Salads, Fish, Meat, Poultry, Grains, etc.  You get the idea.  I will put it out there from the start that some (not all) of his recipes may seem off the beaten path for the basic home cook, but do not let that intimidate you.  Remember…we are all trying to shake things up and get inspired in the kitchen here. Ramsay’s instructions are crystal clear and his recipes are easy to follow along with as long as you have all the ingredients. 

Double Lemon Chicken.

One of our favorite dishes from this cookbook was the Double Lemon Chicken.  Chicken thighs, lemon, soy sauce, runny honey and a bunch of herbs and spices made this rustic dish feel uber fancy.  I served this with a big loaf of crusty bread and Ramsay’s Green Beans with Tarragon and Pine Nuts.  I’m not lying when I say that this pleased all five of us and was labeled “A Write Down” by the kids.  Such a lovely Sunday dinner that did not require any of us being in the kitchen for hours.  Even better, we had leftovers that made for a tasty lunch for some of us, making this a budget friendly WIN!

Green Beans with Tarragon and Pine Nuts

So I am a huge soup fan.  I personally can make soup my main course with no issues.  My husband and boys, not so much.  They enjoy a bowl of soup, but as a side dish.  I made Ramsay’s Spiced Squash and Lentil Soup as a dinner side dish/potential lunch option.  Butternut squash, red lentils, curry powder, coconut cream and a  bunch of other basic ingredients simmered then were pureed into a smooth, velvety consistency. 

Spiced Squash and Lentil Soup

My husband and I really enjoyed this.  We loved how the coconut cream balanced out the spice and the lentils were a hearty addition making this more of a “ meal” soup for me than a side dish.  All three boys ate the soup which is always a plus, but it wasn’t their favorite.  They typically eat butternut squash soup with no problem and they are not afraid of spicy food.  I think the earthiness of the lentils may have thrown them for a loop.  Still a great soup in my opinion.

Another quick and easy slam dunker was the Farfalle with Brown Butter, Peas, and Sage. With just a handful or so of ingredients, this pasta dish is quick to make and a major step up from your run of the mill buttered noodles with parmesan and peas.  The trick to making this simple, yet elegant dish amazing all comes down to the butter. Heating butter in a pan until in turns a golden brown may seem easy, but one second too long in the pan can basically ruin the whole dish.  I burned my first attempt.  Ramsay’s is very clear about when you should remove the butter from the heat.  When you begin to smell a subtle nutty flavor, remove it immediately from the heat. I personally blew it on that during my first round.  I did not smell anything out of the ordinary and removed the butter from the heat source when it had a very light brown color.  So that was wrong.  Even though I removed the heat, the pan was still hot and quickly turned that golden brown into BLACK.  Not a good sign.  For my second attempt, I took it off the minute I saw the color slightly changing.  PERFECTION my friends.  After that…the dish came together in minutes and was the ultimate crowd pleaser.  I paired this with a big old salad and some trusty crusty bread and this crew was in heaven.  

All in all, Ramsay’s new cookbook is working well for our family.  Up next I am hoping to make the Baked Halibut with Borlotti Beans and Tomatoes for dinner and surprising these Barbarians with some Tiramisu Pots for dessert. 

Cheers To Making a Delicious Mess in Our Kitchens!


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