"Thyme" for Beef Stew

The nights are turning crisp, the heat is kicking on at 5 a.m., and the thyme in our garden has never been better. This richly-seasoned beef stew is authentically French, more of a Boeuf Bourginon, and straight from Ron's mom, our favorite French cook.

The stew's complex flavors come from the layering of deeply browned beef (the first step in creating a fond) rich red Burgundy wine, spices, sautéed mushrooms, and -- of course -- butter.  Serve over buttered egg noodles with a salad and you have a meal fit for a "roi"!

2 lbs. lean beef chuck cubes
1 large or 2 medium sweet onions, sliced
3-4 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
Butter and extra-virgin olive oi
Salt and pepper to taste
Slurry of 2-3 tbsp. flour + 1/4 c. hot water
1 lb. sliced mushrooms
1 lb. carrots cut into 1-1/2" slices
2 tsp. fresh thyme
1 package frozen peas or 1/2 lb. fresh peas, hulled
1/2 - 1 cup red Burgundy wine (or any good French or Italian red wine)(Remember, cook only with wine that you would drink.)

In sauté pan, sauté mushrooms in 1 tbsp. butter with 1 tbsp. olive oil until deeply browned and they have given up all of their water. Salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

In dutch oven large enough to fit entire stew, brown beef cubes in 1 tbsp. olive oil and 1 tbsp. butter until well-browned.  Remove beef and set aside.  Add onions and garlic, more olive oil if necessary, and sauté until wilted and soft.

Make a slurry out of 2-3 tbsp. flour and hot water. Add to onions, deglaze pot, stir well to combine, and add 1/4 c. red wine. Let simmer about 10 minutes, adding water if necessary.

Return meat to pot.  Add mushrooms, carrots, fresh thyme, another 1/4 cup red wine, salt and pepper to taste, and lower heat.

Simmer for 40 minutes to 1 hour, stirring frequently and adding wine as needed.  After one hour, add peas, simmer for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare egg noodles and serve.

Note: You can substitute lamb for beef. Choose a tougher cut (a loin chop with bone in works really well), and add four Idaho potatoes, cut into 1-1/2" cubes, at the same time you add the carrots.  Mmmm. Your house will never smell so good!

Ghoulish Gooey Gummy-Cakes

It's Halloween, and I just love the way kids enjoy this holiday.  Our neighbors' adorable children asked me to give them a "trick" instead of a "treat," so I thought I'd give them a little of both.

German chocolate cupcakes provided the "graves" of "dirt" and gooey pecan and coconut frosting the ghostly gobs on top. The gummy worms slithering out of the ghastly graves completed the "trick." They'll have these to enjoy after collecting candy and other treats from lots of other neighbors around our town. Sweet.

Homecoming Dessert - Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Usually a springtime dessert, we found crisp fresh rhubarb and sweet strawberries to fulfill another "special request" from our son upon his return from two weeks in the Adirondacks in late August. This pie requires pre-cooking half of the strawberries and rhubarb in order to reduce the liquid and intensify the flavor, but it is another easy recipe and one that really pleases.

Cut and hull 5 c. strawberries. Cut 3 c. rhubarb into 1/2" pieces. Divide in half. Mash and cook one half of the fruit mixture in a non-stick saucepan with 1 c. granulated sugar, 1 tbsp. lemon zest, and 1 tbsp. Cointreau or Grand Marnier liqueur. Reduce until most of the liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Cut fresh rhubarb into 1/2" pieces
Cut and hull fresh berries
Reduce 1/2 strawberry/rhubarb mixture

In separate bowl, combine rest of strawberries and rhubarb, 3 tbsp. Minute Tapioca mix, 1 tsp. grated fresh nutmeg, 1/2 tbsp. cinnamon, 1 tsp. fresh lemon zest, 1 tsp. freshly-squeezed lemon juice, 2 c. granulated sugar.  Add cooked berries, and mix to combine.
Combine and mix all
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Pour mixture into prepared pie crust. (Time-saving tip: Use refrigerated pie crust, available in the dairy section at your grocer.) Or make your own!! Dot top of berry mixture with 2 tbsp. butter, cut into small pieces.  Cover with top crust, crimp and cut vents. Make an aluminum foil collar around pie and place all onto cookie sheet.

Form a collar with aluminum foil

Bake at 425 for 30 minutes. Reduce oven temp to 350 degrees and cook for 30-45 minutes longer, until fruit filling is bubbling and crust is a golden brown.

Allow to cool for at least 2 hours before serving. Fantastic accompaniment:  Hagen Dazs Vanilla Ice Cream and a few fresh berries on the side.  A wonderful way to welcome your loved ones home!

Mrs. Crawfords' Pizza Chicken

Here's a dinner winner with adults and kids alike -- "Mrs. Crawford's Pizza Chicken," so named by our son's childhood friend, Matthew, who chose it as one of his favorite meals at the tender age of five.  It's easy to make, delicious, loaded with protein, healthy, and economical, and stretches to a special next-day lunch.

Matthew, now all grown up, recently spent a year teaching in China. Upon his return, we invited him and his family for a reunion dinner of Pizza Chicken, and a sent him home with a doggie bag! Served with a bucatelli or long fusilli pasta, it's just the thing for a cool autumn night!

Pound thinly sliced chicken breasts to even thickness. Dredge with flour, salt and pepper. 
Dredge in flour

Dip in an egg wash (one-two eggs, 1/4 cup milk, beaten lightly with a fork).
Dip in egg and milk mixture
Then press into seasoned bread crumbs (your own, or Progresso Italian.) Add grated parmesan cheese and finely chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley to the breadcrumbs for extra flavor.
Press breasts into seasoned breadcrumbs

Place on plate for a few minutes to set

Heat a few tablespoons butter and olive oil in a large sauté pan and, in batches, sauté each thin breast on both sides, until golden brown.  Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sauté breasts in olive oil and butter

Use your own rich and thick tomato sauce
Place in baking dish lined with a light covering of tomato sauce, covering each breast with slice of mozzarella, freshly chopped sweet basil and a little more tomato sauce. Do not cover completely with tomato sauce. 
Cover with freshly chopped basil and sauce

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes until bubbly and browned on top. (At this point, can be stored in refrigerator for one day, or frozen up to one month. If you store or freeze, let casserole come to room temperature before baking.)

Serve with fusilli or bucatelli pasta, red wine and crusty Italian bread. Mangia bené!

Tommy's "Real Deal" Pancakes

Tommy's breakfast gift to his dad for his birthday was a double batch of his own "Real Deal" Pancakes, which he made with flour, whole milk, organic eggs, butter and baking powder.  He added Ron's favorite -- blueberries (what else!) and a few halved walnuts (Tommy's favorite) to individual pancakes as they cooked.  Served up with Camp's Maple Syrup and the Sunday edition of The New York Times ... it doesn't get better than that.

Lazy Hazy Glaze-y Days

When the weather gets hot and humid, we like a fruit tart better than a dense brownie or cake for dessert.  In this light delight, fresh berries and peaches take center stage, baked on a puff pastry shell, and glazed with apricot jam to sweeten it up and provide a beautiful, shiny finish.  For a variation, you can use any kind of berry, apples, pears or apricots. In late summer, for a "Tuscan twist," try it with juicy little Italian plums or fresh figs. It bakes up in only 20 minutes, so it won't heat up your kitchen. If you use store-bought frozen puff pastry, give it 40 minutes on the counter to defrost while you take a cool shower or run to the gym ... then your prep time will be less than an hour, start to finish. To serve, top with a generous spoonful of whipped cream, creme fraiche or marscapone, bring out an icy bottle of wine and watch it disappear.  Perfetto!


Two sheets of puff pastry (One box of frozen Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheets)
Flour for rolling pastry
One pint each fresh raspberries and fresh blueberries (or berry of your choice)
Two peaches (or plum, apricot, apple, or pear)
Apricot jam for glazing (about 3 tbsp.)
One egg and 1 tsp water, beaten with a fork
Ground cinnamon and nutmeg for topping
Sugar for topping


Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Boil peaches for two minutes, submerge in ice water, peel and slice thinly
Heat apricot jam over low-medium flame until it becomes soft and spreadable, about 1 minute 

Roll out defrosted puff pasty on lightly floured surface to approximately 14" x 14"
Using pastry wheel, trim off 1/2" from edges.

Using a pastry brush, brush the inside of the trim lightly with water, fold over pastry square, and brush with egg/water mixture.

Brush center of square with apricot jam. Place berries and peaches in a creative design on puff pastry and glaze fruit generously with the rest of the apricot jam. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon, grind a few twists of nutmeg all over and put in the oven.

Immediately reduce oven temp to 375 degrees. Bake for 20 minutes, checking at 15 minutes.  Set on counter to cool for 2 hours before serving. Serve at room temperature, and top with a spoonful of whipped cream, creme fraiche or marscapone if desired.

As American as ... Apple Pie

This favorite dessert is the final entry to our Memorial Day menu. An American classic, filled with juicy apples, cinnamon, sugar and nutmeg!  When you're pressed for time, as I was today, instead of making my own pate brisée, I used store-bought pie crusts from my grocer's refrigerated section.  The secret to this pie is Williams Sonoma's perforated pie tin that sits within a solid tin. Makes the crispiest crust and firmest apples.

This pie is a big winner for not a lot of effort.  It travels well, doesn't need refrigeration on first day, is delicious alone, works in every season and gets lots of oohs and aahs when you bring it to the table.  Perhaps best of all, it takes only 1-1/2 hours start to finish (one hour in the oven), and will keep for up to two days in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.


Pastry crust: Use your own favorite pate brisée or one box of refrigerated crusts
3 large organic Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut in 2" rough pieces
3 large organic Red Delicious apples,  peeled, cored and cut in 2" rough pieces
3/4 cup sugar plus 2 tsp. for topping
3 tbsp. flour
1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cinammon plus 1/8 tsp. for topping
1-2 tbsp. butter

In large bowl, mix ingredients well with a wooden spoon.  Let sit for a few minutes while you spread the bottom crust in the pie tin.

Fill pie tin with apple mixture.  Brush the outer edges lightly with water using a pastry brush. Dot the top of the mixture with 1-2 tbsp. butter and top with the second crust. Fold top crust over bottom crust and crimp edges to seal.

Cut vents in top to prevent bursting in oven.  I always draw a little design on the top with a sharp knife -- initials if it is a birthday pie, an apple, a fir tree for Christmas or a pumpkin for Halloween. You can be creative!

Sprinkle sugar and cinnamon on top and bake for 30 minutes at 425 degrees on center rack of oven. This will give maximum crisp to the crust.  After 30 minutes, reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and move pie to upper third of oven.  Bake 30 minutes longer. Allow to cool two hours before cutting.  Serve with whipped cream, ice cream or all by itself!


Add to apple mixture: 1/3 cup raisins, 1/3 cup walnuts and/or 1/3 cup dried cranberries. If adding all three, reduce to 1/4 cup each.

All-American Holiday

It's Memorial Day weekend, and time to bring out the burgers and fries! We grilled our own ground beef, topped with red onion, dill pickle chips, a slice of hot house tomato and a side of curly fries. This mouth-watering treat, and a Yankee game, makes the day complete.

Poor Man's Paté

The nights have been cool lately, and there's nothing more comforting than a densely-packed meat loaf with hot buttered rice to take the edge off a crisp breeze. We've loved this dish for a really long time. It's a fragrant mixture of ground beef, eggs, minced onion, chopped green pepper, ketchup, Kosher salt, pepper and a dash of milk. The secret to this dish: homemade breadcrumbs, made with ciabatta bread, minced fresh parsley, sage, rosemary, sweet basil, grated Parmagianno Reggiano, French Sel de Mer and a medly of freshly-ground peppercorns (white, red, green and black). I make it in big batches and freeze in big ziploc bags and use for meatballs, meat loaf, and breading chicken breasts.

This meat loaf goes from the dinner table to the lunch bag in the blink of an eye. Just a spooonful of Russian dressing on a soft roll, some lettuce et "voila!," you have a "paté" sandwich manifique!

Butter Him Up for His Birthday!

Butter Cake
Our favorite birthday cake, a variation on a traditional strawberry shortcake, is a great way to butter up your favorite friend on his or her birthday. For his birthday this weekend, Tommy requested blueberries and bananas in the whipped cream, in addition to strawberries. I baked a rich, butter-filled cake and set it out to cool for a few hours. The frosting is heavy cream with sugar and real vanilla extract, whipped until it is almost butter! Fold in fresh blueberries, fresh sliced strawberries and sliced bananas. (Keep some of the whipped cream aside for the top of the cake.) The secret to a fabulous finish -- a double-extra helping of whipped cream with berries between the two rounds. It stands up to the cake when sliced, and makes every bite extra-moist.

Chips Ahoy, Senorita!

Cinquo de Mayo put us in the mood for easy Mexican snacks. But we wanted something better than the dried-out, preservative-filled chips off the shelf. So we made tortillas and fried them in vegetable oil, doused them with Kosher salt when they were still sizzling hot. The result, an incredibly fresh and mouth-watering tortilla chip, fit for your Margaritaville. Olé!

Let Me Call You Sweet-Tart

Lemons lemons lemons. This delectable lemon meringue pie is a perfect dessert for a filling meal, or lovely with tea in mid-afternoon. Freshly squeezed lemon juice and the zest of a million lemons are the key to loading it up with flavor. Topped with an airy and sweet meringue, the perfect foil to the tart-y lemon.

Mamma Mia!

We love perciatelli, a beautiful tube pasta, swirled with a rich and meaty Bolognese sauce. I flavor the sauce with San Marzano tomatoes, organic beef, organic parsley, spices and basil, and lots of deep red Chianti wine. It simmers on the stove for many hours, and I adjust the spices and flavorings as it cooks. The aroma of this sauce brings me back to my grandmother's kitchen, my first favorite food place. My family loves this dinner with hot Italian garlic bread and a tangy Caesar salad. It satisfies even the hungriest of appetites -- the kind of irresistible dish that you would share in a restaurant, and can't have just one bite. Good the first day, and even better a day later.

Our favorite sandwich

So simple and yet so full of flavor and texture! Roasted chicken breasts, cut into 1" squares, tossed with mayonnaise, sour cream, celery and simple spices, and plumped between two slices of La Brea whole grain bread with a few leaves of red leaf lettuce. It's hearty, filling, and works both in lunch bags and at the table. We love it with a tomato vinaigrette salad and iced tea.

Potage Poireau

This unique and savory soup is a family favorite, passed down several generations from French cook to French cook. Piping hot broth, steamy leeks, potatoes that melt in your mouth, redolent of spices. It's a full meal in itself, great for a simple dinner or a Saturday lunch. We serve with homemade croutons, salad, a sparkling cold glass of Perrier or Chablis. (P.S. Blended well and served cold, it's viccychoise.)

Cheesecake Craving

When friends and family began asking me to bring this cheesecake to their parties, or for doggie bags after my dinner parties, I began to wonder if this was possibly my best recipe. So I make it often, for friends and neighbors who do wonderful favors for us, for holiday celebrations with family, and for our son, who has intermittent "cheesecake cravings." (It's a great lure!) Not difficult to make, but takes the better part of three hours from start to finish. It also needs an hour or two (better overnight) to chill and set. So make it on a Saturday when you don't have to rush it. I serve it plain, but superb accompaniments are sweetened whipped cream and raspberry or pineapple purée. It freezes really well, too.

Oui, Monsieur, a Croque Tartlette

This petit quelque-chose takes its cues from the classic Croque Monsieur, with layered slices of jambon (French ham) and Gruyere cheese tucked into buttery puff pastry. Once it's baked and golden, it's cut in squares, served with French rough mustard and Chablis or a nice Alsatian beer. Perfect for munching on while you watch the Sunday afternoon game, or do the crossword. It works beautifully as breakfast when you have a houseful of out-of-town guests. For breakfast, serve with freshly cut mango/orange fruit salad and steaming hot French press coffee.

A little lamb.

Mmmm. Springtime is lamb time, and the perfect entrée for a Saturday night dinner with friends. This recipe is four generations old, dating back to southern France in the early part of the 19th century. Redolent with a rich gravy formed by onions sautéed in the pan with creamy flageolets (white beans), this "gigot," as they call it in France, is a meal in itself, although I serve it with broiled half tomatoes, each topped with butter, shaved Parmagiano-Reggiano, salt and pepper, homemade breadcrumbs and a drop of extra virgin olive oil. This, and a bottle of Beaujolais, will satisfy and impress your guests, from the next door neighbors, to the new boss. Don't forget the French bread.

Early Sunday supper

“What’s for dinner?” Words I love to hear. Give me a reason to cook. It’s always about food. It’s always about making something tasty and good. Tonight we’re having a hearty and healthy soup (almost a stew) -- beef barley, filled with fresh vegetables, tender chunks of organic beef and organic barley. I let this big pot simmer for hours, until the broth becomes rich, thick and brown, filling the entire house with the aroma of spices. Perfect served with a hunk of crusty French bread, a tossed salad and a glass of Beaujolais.

A late afternoon cake break

This ultra-moist cake is the perfect decadent treat to spike up your afternoon. Filled with raisins, carrots, walnuts, cinnamon and other fresh (and mostly organic) ingredients, and topped with a smooth butter/cream cheese frosting, it's delicious by itself, or with a cup of tea or coffee, or a frosty glass of milk. Relax on the patio, or in the sun room, turn on the classical music, and feast on carrot cake and your daily crossword puzzle. What more could an afternoon want?