Cooking with the Barefoot Contessa- Chicken with Shallots

I think I have discovered my new favorite go-to dish.  The other night we had a more casual dinner party with the neighbors, following the big BBQ party we had the week before.  I wanted something simple and light but with lots of flavor so I looked no further than my Ina Garten cookbook collection.  The Barefoot Contessa has never failed me before so I had high hopes for the chicken with shallots.  As I often do, I decided to read the recipe online (the Food Network posts recipes from its shows) and see what the reviews were.  It was the first time I had seen a Barefoot Contessa recipe receive anything less than a 5-star rating so I decided to heed the advice the reviewers had given.  They found that the lemon juice in the shallot sauce was overpowering and recommended to reduce it by at least half.  Done.  (Instead of using the juice of three lemons, I simply squeezed one.)  Apart from that and frying it in olive oil rather than canola, I followed the recipe to a T and it came out wonderfully.  

I got my chicken breasts at Whole Foods where I had the butcher remove the bone but leave the skin.  The chicken has a great crispy skin from frying in the pan and the perfect texture from baking in the oven  (I used my new favorite frying pan that goes in the oven).  The shallot sauce is the perfect blend of creamy, tangy deliciousness.  If you are not a citrus fan, however, it might not be the dish for you because there is a definite hint of lemon juice.  The shallots lend the perfect texture and sharp-yet-sweet flavor to the chicken.  In an attempt to stay carb-free, we fried up some fresh zucchini and tossed together a quick cherry tomato and onion salad.  
This meal called for al fresco dining and the evening air was a nice respite from the sunny summer day.  We couldn't resist throwing together some raspberry muffins to finish off with something sweet, effectively throwing away any intention of a protein-centered meal.
Our not-so aesthetically pleasing, yet deliciously gooey raspberry muffins

Thanks for the amazing recipe as usual, Ina.  And Jeffrey, you are a lucky man.


Summer BBQ on the Deck

Having spent many a summer night in New England where my mom's family is from, I am all too aware of the nightmare of mosquitoes and the horrible bites they inflict on even the cutest of babies.  Despite the warm evenings New England enjoys all summer, unless one has a screened-in porch, often times al fresco dining has to take a backseat to insects.  I will never forget a warm summer evening spent at Bia Bistro, a lovely restaurant in Cohasset, Massachusetts.  We asked to sit outside only to be swarmed by mosquitoes incessantly while we waited for our drinks and appetizers.  The moment we saw our waitress, we begged to be let inside and she kindly obliged.  Which brings me to the great Pacific Northwest.  Although much of the summer was colder than average, as soon as I got back from my vacation earlier this month, the sunshine hasn't left.  One of my favorite things about this region is the concept of the deck.  It's such a Northwest thing.  No bugs to worry about here.  So....last week I threw a neighborhood BBQ on our deck.  I had great fun preparing the menu, decorating the dining room and deck, and putting little personal touches on things.  The guests all enjoyed themselves, the burgers were a hit, and though I was tired by the end of the night, I was asking myself, "When can I do it again?"  I realized that I love entertaining and bringing people together.  The only unfortunate thing about the whole evening was that I was so busy preparing and entertaining with neighbors that I completely forgot to take any pictures of all the fun!  At the end of the evening I managed to snap a few lonely photos-- of the "bar" in the dining room and a sad pitcher of (nearly finished) white sangria.  At least we had so many delicious leftovers that burgers were on the menu for the next three nights and I was able to take a picture of my plate the next evening!
Bar in dining room included:
Wine glasses, sangria and glasses adorned with swizzle sticks
Lemons in vases as an easy way to incorporate what I already had in the kitchen into a summer decoration
Bowls of chips and homemade yogurt dip with toasted pita slices for guests to snack on while I was preparing the final dishes
Do-it-yourself burger toppings including sliced tomatoes, onions, and lettuce
Leftover goodness- homemade burgers with potato buns and pink sauce, watermelon panzanella salad, oven-roasted rosemary fries, slow-roasted tomatoes, and jalapeno chips

Thank goodness I used recyclable paper plates so that the dish-washing was kept at a minimum!  More time to slowly wake myself from the oh-so-worth-it food coma.


Pie Queen

After my peach pie success, I decided to use the other half of the dough that I had refrigerated to make a raspberry pie.  Maybe it's just me, but I feel like fresh peaches lose some of their flavor when baked and end up tasting like canned peaches, so I wanted to use a fruit that I felt would be enhanced from cooking in the oven.  I turned to my favorite summer fruit, raspberries, and I found that the result was delicious and a slight improvement from the (already yummy) peach pie.  What is your favorite pie or summer dessert? 


Eating on the French Riviera

My best eating experience while on the riviera this summer happened to be at a place I least expected.  Star Plage, situated directly on the beach in Juan-les-Pins (Bd C. Guillaumont) in a prime tourist area was a wonderful dining experience nonetheless with an unbeatable setting.
I started off with the shrimp and chicken salad with ginger and lemongrass which was generous and hearty, but could have used more flavor.
The main course, however, more than made up for it.  I enjoyed the roasted cod in a citrus sauce with basmati rice and ready-to-burst tomatoes.  My dining partners had a dish that was equally as delicious- roasted duck cooked in a wok with a lavender honey sauce served alongside a delicious vegetable stir-fry.
As I was in the south, I ordered my usual traditional drink, a Kir Royal.  For any champagne lover, it can't be beat and is the perfect refreshing accompaniment to a summer dinner at sunset.  The waves were mere feet from our (bare) feet, the sunset a soft pink, and the live but soft guitar music made a wonderful evening that much more special.  


Ile Sainte Marguerite

A short ferry ride away from Antibes and Cannes, there is the island of Sainte Marguerite.  I had been there two years ago and the smell of the pine and eucalyptus trees brought me back this summer.  The island is small enough in size that you can walk around it during your day trip there, but unless you want to camp there for the night, be sure and catch the last ferry back to the mainland which leaves around 6pm in the summer.  It is pretty remote apart from a few buildings, a millionaire's private garden estate, and the most famous attraction on the island- the Fort Royal where the Man in the Iron Mask was held several centuries ago.  
A view of the fort while approaching the island makes for a dramatic start of the day.
Beautiful flowers cover the island.

The water is crystal clear and clean- perfect for an afternoon dip before heading back to the mainland.
Many of the island's paths are covered with tree canopies.
The exterior of a private estate is tempting...
An old eucalyptus tree damaged from the December 1999 storm

The most 'cultivated' beach lies not too far from where the boats dock.  It has the most space for lying on the shore, although the whole island is pebbly so be forewarned.  Some visitors find large rocks around other parts of the island and lay their towels there for the day.


Eating in Manarola, Cinque Terre

My latest trip to Italy included my first visit to Cinque Terre along with some friends.  I was a little reluctant to visit such an overly crowded tourist destination at the beginning of summer since no one likes a place that feels like Disneyland with bad food and servers grouchy from dealing with tourists all day.  Despite the crowds, lackluster food, and tourist shops galore, there was one restaurant in Cinque Terre that stood out.  Towards the end of our hike between the five towns, we stopped in Manarola for a few hours.  After a swim in the cove, we dried off in the sun (no fun carrying towels on a long hike!) and set off for dinner in the hills of Manarola.  Trattoria dal Billy was our destination, and our delicious dinner was accompanied by a gorgeous sunset view on the terrace.

Starting with our appetizer of fish carpaccio caught from the sea below (I wish I could remember what kind of fish), 
 we continued with their homemade pasta with langoustines and tomato & red pepper sauce,
 trofie with pesto, the specialty in Ligura,
 and finished with a delicious lemon semifreddo dusted with powdered sugar for dessert.
 We couldn't complain about our view, either.


Peach and creme-fraiche pie

This week I am all about Farmers Market food for dinner!
Pink dahlias as a center-piece
 Radishes with homemade salted butter
 Slow-roasted tomatoes tossed with sea salt and olive oil
Peach and creme-fraiche pie with streusel-topping, adapted from Martha Stewart's recipe.  I used Deb's (from Smitten Kitchen) pie crust recipe.  Delicious!  It's even better the second day after the flavors have settled.


Farmers Market Fare

Since arriving back in the U.S., there has been nothing more I have been craving than fresh produce like we enjoyed all over Italy.  At my cousins' house in Salerno, they serve pasta with simple side dishes like fresh green beans drizzled with lemon juice and salt.  So one of the first stops we made back home was a visit to two different neighborhood Farmers Market in three days.  Last night I brought Italy back home with us by making fried squash blossoms with a summer filling.  After thoroughly washing the blossoms, we stuffed them with ricotta, mint from the garden, parmigiano reggiano (that we brought back vacuum-packed from Italy), and lemon zest.  We dipped the flowers in a flour, water, and egg mixture before dropping them in the sizzling frying pan.  We also had corn on the cob and roasted tomatoes with jalapeno pepper.  Between the delicious meal and the beautiful evening sky, it was the next best thing to being in Italy!


Rooftop Views in Paris, Part I

Opera House seen from the rooftop at Galeries Lafayette

There are some great views to be had in Paris- like that of the Eiffel Tower and la Tour Montparnasse.  There are also some great views that are gratuit- including the top of the Pompidou Museum and the Sacré-Cœur in Montmartre which is a great place for a sunset picnic on the steps.  My latest trip to Paris in June included an unexpected view that I never took advantage of during my two years in the city.  At the top of the Galeries Lafayette department store, 40 bld Haussmann, 75009, Paris, is a magnificent roof deck that includes the cafe La Terrasse des Galeries Lafayette and wonderful 360-degree views.  The prices are not easy on the wallet, but you are getting a wonderful view with your cafe or glass of wine, and the menu even features some unique and tasty desserts.  I enjoyed a delicious (and beautiful!) French twist on an ice cream sandwich that included passion-fruit ice cream sandwiched in between two vibrantly-colored green macaron cookies.