Where to begin. This is my last LIGHTSonBRIGHT postmarked from California. In mid-November I left Aspen, barely escaping the first snow flurries, knowing it would be springtime before my return. The left side of my brain, where my logic is warehoused, kept telling me this was a good thing. My heart, where most of my decisions are made, was shouting, “What have you done?”
In the past 5 1/2 months of this solitary journey I have motored through five states, joyously celebrated three major holidays, one VIP 50th birthday and settled into 3 different homes. Good fortune smiled broadly in December for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Galapagos.
This solitude and being alone thing cuts both ways. My adventures and explorations throughout California from Point Reyes in the north to Los Angeles have been magical. I have fallen in love with this state and the people in it. (Caveat: Aspen and the Rockies are still #1.) I’ve relished my aloneness, Yin time to my Yang’s constant busyness of Aspen. Admittedly, it’s time for Yang.
There will be many hours during my 1,000 mile trip back to Colorado, to revisit this journey, realize Life lessons learned, and re-think traveling more simply. Unfortunately, the drive also coincides with what would have been our 30th wedding anniversary. That day I plan to cut short my driving time, stop at a familiar hotel, enjoy a nice dinner with a glass or three of wine and remember the good times. Reservations already booked.
MY PARIS KITCHEN: TAPENADE & the non-sexist CROQUE
I’m betting you’ll like this farewell post from Cambria. It’s Cook the Book Fridays when we feature recipes from David Lebovitz’s spectacular My Paris Kitchen. That man knows how to write a cookbook. Here’s my take on his Artichoke Tapenade with Rosemary Oil, a tasty quickie and multitasker. Try it also on pizza, stuffed in mushrooms or in a myriad of other ways suggested here. And, that Rosemary Oil? Do it.
Let’s be clear. The Croque-Monsieur, which America has bastardized into a fried ham and cheese sandwich, is sexist. Whenever this recipe is featured anywhere, we women end up in parentheses: (to make Croque-Madame, top it with a fried egg). I just can’t work with that. Instead, this week we’re making David’s absolutely delicious Croque-Madame. (If you’d rather make a Croque-Monsieur, hold the egg.)
For David’s, first mix together his Béchamel which elegantly separates his version from the pack. Don’t be intimidated, Readers. It’s a white sauce, plain and simple. Now, start building the sandwich, layering the prosciutto or ham with Comté or Gruyère cheese. Then, butter. Not a good calorie-counting day. Serve this richness with a green salad/mustardy vinaigrette. I cannot express adequately how deliciously amazing this sandwich tastes.
We only post David’s recipes if they are already out there in cyberspace. Luckily these two are flying high so I’m reprinting them. I do encourage you, however, to buy this terrific book.
The BETTER THAN THIS Cookie
The beloved Dorie Greenspan, our talented French Fridays with Dorie mentor, bakes World Peace cookies. Her test-tasting neighbor, Richard Gold, became convinced that ‘a daily dose of these cookies was all that is needed to ensure planetary peace and happiness.’ They are sublime. Blogger Chris Scheuer, who resides at Cafe Sucre & Farine, makes I Want to Marry You cookies, a chocolate chip delight reputed to inspire marriage proposals. These are two of the best cookies I’ve baked.
However, I’m throwing down the gauntlet and suggesting to these ladies that my gem of a cookie can compete. I’m naming it the Better Than This cookie because no cookie you taste or bake now can be, you got it, Better Than This. Here’s the deal. Since returning to Aspen three years ago and setting up shop at The Gant, its young, professional staff has made me feel comfortable and safe. They’ve helped launch me into a happy albeit different Lifestyle. My gratefulness knows no bounds. Those kids have become willing LIGHTSonBRIGHT test-testers. Because I’ve been MIA the past many months, I’m afraid my tiara may have tarnished somewhat. Here’s betting this tasty jewel of dried cherries, dark chocolate, rolled oats and walnuts, will re-burnish my status and have them asking, “What can be better than this?”
When I see you next time, I’ll be happily shedding my road warrior skin and blogging from Colorado’s High Country. Big smiles all around.
CROQUE-MONSIEUR by David Lebovitz, My Paris Kitchen cookbook
Makes 2 Sandwiches
Béchamel Sauce ingredients
1 Tablespoon salted or unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon all purpose flour
3/4 Cup whole milk
Pinch of sea salt or kosher salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
4 thin slices sourdough or country style bread, 1/4 to 3/8” thick
4 slices prosciutto or thinly sliced dry cured ham or 2 thick slices boiled ham
2 thin slices Comté or Gruyère cheese
4 Tablespoon salted or unsalted butter
1/4 Cup grated Comté or Gruyère cheese
1. Béchamel Sauce: Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat and stir in the flour. When the mixture starts to bubble, stir and cook for 1 minute more. Whisk in 1/4 cup of the milk, stirring to discourage lumps. Whisk in the remaining 1/2 cup of milk. Cook for about 1 minute more, until the sauce is thick and creamy, like runny mayonnaise. Remove from the heat, stir in a pinch of salt and cayenne and set aside to cool a bit and thicken.
2. Spread the Béchamel evenly over the four slices of bread. Lay a slice of meat over two of the bread slices, top them with slices of cheese and then top with the remaining ham slices. Close the sandwich with the two remaining slices of bread, Béchamel side down (on the inside). Brush the outsides of the sandwiches without restraint with the melted butter. (TIP: My choice, Prosciutto and Gruyère).
3. Turn on the broiler and heat a large ovenproof frying pan or grill pan over medium heat on the stove top. (Make sure to use a pan with a heatproof handle for broiling later.) Place the sandwiches in the frying pan, drape with a sheet of aluminum foil and then rest a cast iron skillet or other heavy pan or flat object on top. Cook until the bottoms of the sandwiches are well browned. Remove the skillet and foil, flip the sandwiches over, replace the foil and skillet and continue cooking until the other side is browned. (TIP: I used a grill pan and browned for 2 minutes on EACH side.)
4. Remove the cast-iron skillet and foil and scatter the grated cheese on top of the sandwiches. Put the pan under the broiler and broil the sandwiches until the cheese melts. Serve immediately.
ARTICHOKE TAPENADE with ROSEMARY OIL by David Leibovitz, My Paris Kitchen cookbook
Serves 6 to 8.
One 14-ounce) can artichoke hearts (2 Cups), drained and quartered
1/2 Cup pitted green olives
1/3 Cup olive oil
1 Tablespoon capers, rinsed, squeezed dry, and chopped
1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/8 Teaspoon cayenne pepper
Rosemary Oil Ingredients (Makes 1/2 Cup)
1/2 Cup olive oil
Generous pinch of sea salt or kosher salt
1/2 Cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/3 Cup rosemary leaves
Toasted sliced baguette or crackers, to serve
1. Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Have a bowl of ice water ready. Heat the oil and salt in another small saucepan until warm but not boiling. Remove from the heat and set aside. Add the herbs to the boiling water and cook for 10 seconds before draining and putting the herbs in the ice water.
2. When the herbs are cool, lift them out with your hand and press them in a paper towel until very, very dry. Add them to the oil. Let the herbs infuse for 15 minutes.
3. Blend the herbs and oil in a mini-chopper or food processor for 30 seconds. Strain the oil through a fine-mesh strainer. There will be a few bits of greenery in the oil. The rosemary oil can be kept for a few days at room temperature in a closed container, or for up to 1 month in the refrigerator. Bring it to room temperature before using.
1. In the bowl of a food processor, purée the artichokes, olives, olive oil, capers, lemon juice, garlic, and cayenne pepper until smooth. Taste, and season with a bit of salt if necessary.
2. Serve drizzled with a liberal amount of rosemary oil, along with toasted slices of baguette or crackers for dipping. The tapenade will keep for up to 4 days in the refrigerator.
The BETTER THAN THIS cookie adapted from THE KITCHN COOKBOOK by Sara Kate Gillingham and Faith Durand
Note to High Altitude Bakers: When I return to Colorado, I will adjust these cookies to altitude and post the resulting recipe.
Makes 4 dozen cookies
1 3/4 Cups unbleached all-purpose flour, sifted
3/4 Cup dark brown sugar, packed
3/4 Cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 extra-large eggs, room temperature
1 Teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
1 Teaspoon baking soda
1 Teaspoon salt
1/2 Teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 Cup old-fashioned rolled oats
3/4 Cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 Cup dried cherries
8 Ounces (two bars) dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
Flaked sea salt (optional, I use the Maldon brand)
1. Preheat oven to 375°F
2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or nonstick baking liner. Pour the walnuts onto the baking sheet and toast until browned about 10 minutes, turning once. Cool slightly and then chop coarsely. Cool completely before using them.
3. Cover the cherries with 1 cup boiling water and let stand for 10 minutes to plump up. Drain and thoroughly pat dry. Chop the chocolate into small pieces.
4. In a large mixing bowl with the paddle beater, mix together the sugars with the softened butter until completely blended. Add the eggs, one at a time to form a smooth batter. Mix in the vanilla, salt, baking soda and cinnamon.
5. Add the flour all at once and stir the batter gently by hand until the ingredients are well-combined. Fold in by hand the rolled oats, cherries, and chocolate until all the ingredients are combined.
6. Using a medium cookie scoop or mounded 1 1/2 inch tablespoon of mixture, space the dough on the cookie sheet 1 to 2 inches apart. Put each tray in the refrigerator for ten minutes before baking the cookies. Then bake, rotating the tray once, until the craggy tips and edges just start to darken, 10 – 12 minutes. DO NOT OVERBAKE
7. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack. After completely cool, these cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 week. These cookies freeze well.
TIP: When baking, use exact measurements. No eyeballing anything. With all drop cookies, I use an Oxo cookie scoop.