So, I’m in the market for a new doorbell, for a door that leads from our courtyard gate to our front walkway.  I thought it would be pretty easy to find one I could live with, while not breaking any of the strictly enforced, holier-than-thou HOA rules, but I was so completely wrong.  As in, countless, fruitless hours wrong, wrong, wrong.  Lesson learned – doorbells are tricky.  Sigh.

Then, I came across a random photo of a doorbell-looking device.  The thingamabob itself was kinda ho-hum, really, just a square, brassy-looking affair with a plain black push button and four screws surrounding what looked to be a glass-covered placard.  I don’t even really like brass.  But printed inside the placard area it clearly stated, in all caps, “Press for Champagne.”  Who doesn’t want to press for champagne?  Must.  Have. Doorbell.

Turns out, though, it’s not technically a doorbell.  Not in the run-down-to-the-hardware-store-and-pick-one-up sense, and not in the special-order-from-anywhere-I-can-find sense.  Instead, it belongs to Bob Bob Ricard, an eclectic, sumptuous restaurant in London. Oh, and what I thought was brass?  Um, no, it’s gold-plated.  Sigh again.  While I quickly added Bob Bob Ricard to my list of “Places I Must Visit, Hopefully Soon”, none of this seemed to get me any closer at all to solving my doorbell dilemma.  When my husband, who was out and about, called to check in, I recounted the whole ordeal in detail, in a sort of huffy tone of voice.  To cheer me up (and probably because he was more interested in champagne than doorbells), he brought home a bottle of bubbly, and this delicious white peach nectar.  Bellinis to the rescue!

These bellinis are the easiest I’ve ever made, and by far the best.  I’m giving the credit to Alain Milliat’s brilliant nectar pêche blanche; it is just lovely and not too sweet.

That whole doorbell thing is so going to have to wait.

Makes about 7 servings.

1 bottle white peach nectar
1 bottle champagne (or prosecco)
1-2 fresh, ripe peaches

Chill peach nectar in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

Slice peaches for garnish.  Set aside.

Fill each champagne flute with 1 1/2 ounces of peach nectar.  Slowly add 3/12 ounces of chilled champagne to each glass.  Garnish with reserved peach slices and serve immediately.

Note:  For a close-up view of the coveted “doorbell” and a review of Bob Bob Ricard, check out theboywhoatetheworld.  Alain Milliat nectars are available from Williams-Sonoma

Yellow Tomato Tartlets

Summer + tomatoes.  These two just go together.

We’ll eat loads of tomatoes this summer, pretty much every which way you can think of. Sliced and topping sandwiches and burgers, in myriad salads, lightly charred on the grill, or just plain as part of a crudité platter; all will be devoured with delight.  At some point, we’ll start to add pastry – and that begins a whole new chapter in the summer tomato saga.  Suddenly, there will be a tomato pie, an heirloom cobbler, or these puffy tartlets, each one providing a different little twist on the summer staple.

Here, I’ve used yellow tomatoes, and the difference is notable beyond the color.  Yellow tomatoes have a different nutritional profile than dark or red tomatoes, and are lower in acid, which lends a milder, sweeter flavor to the tartlets.  For best results, save your reds for another use, and stick with yellow (or orange) for these tartlets.

Apart from being super easy to make and incredibly delicious, the best thing about these little savories is their adaptability.  I’ve made these as a dinner side to grilled steak, with garlic jack cheese and a bit of basil on top, but the possibilities are practically endless. Mozzarella and parmesan are a a good variation, garnished with a sprinkling of fresh oregano.  The tartlets are equally yummy as a breakfast or brunch dish, topped with cheddar and a spoonful of chives and served with an egg or two as an accompaniment. Simple stuff – the puff pastry and tomato remain a constant, while you switch things up with your favorite cheese and herb combinations.  Totally easy.

These are best eaten the day they are made, but can be stored between layers of parchment in an airtight container for up to 24 hours.  Hold off on adding the herbs until just before serving.



Yellow Tomato Tartlets
Makes ten to twelve tartlets, slightly adapted from Everyday Food, here

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
handful of flour, for rolling
3 ounces garlic or pepper jack cheese, shredded
2-3 yellow tomatoes, sliced about 1/4 inch thick per slice
1/4 cup olive oil, for brushing
freshly ground pepper
handful of small basil leaves, for garnish

Preheat oven to 375℉.  Line baking trays with parchment, set aside.

Flour rolling pin and board and roll out puff pastry evenly into a rectangle (about 14 by 16 inch).  With a 3 1/2 to 4 inch cookie cutter, cut out ten to twelve rounds and place on reserved baking trays.  With the tines of a fork, prick the surface of each round thoroughly. Mound each with 3/4 to 1 tablespoon cheese, leaving a 1/4 inch border, and top with one tomato slice.  With a pastry brush, gently gloss each round with olive oil and season with freshly ground pepper.

Bake for 25 minutes in the oven, rotating trays halfway through.  Pastry should be puffed and golden around the edges.

These are best served warm or at room temperature.  If serving warm, leave them in the baking tray and tent with foil, adding the basil garnish just before serving.  If serving at room temperature, remove from tray and let cool on a wire rack until ready to serve.  Add basil garnish just before serving.

Nicoise Salad

nicoise salad


As a child, anytime we ate canned tuna my dad would always place the sandwich or salad in front of me with a somber admonishment to “watch out for bones.” Despite his sterling intentions to avoid my choking to death at the table, this was not a particularly appetizing prelude, and any warm or fuzzy feelings I might have had about eating the tuna were immediately replaced with a certain (and totally understandable) antipathy.  Eventually, I stopped eating it altogether.

That is, until several years later (all grown up, and no longer squeamish about the bones or whatnot general foodstuff may/may not contain).  Lunching in a small cafe, I ordered the Salade Nicoise, and fell in love with it.  I’ve tried many variations, and this one is my absolute favorite.

I should mention that while in the past I’d not been an ardent fan of green beans, these little French filet beans were a whole different story.  Although they are commonly called haricots verts (vert being French for “green”) they are also available in yellow and purple varieties.  I find this very funny, but any of the varieties work well here. They are small, sweet, tender snap beans and are typically available from mid-March through September. If you must, you can substitute with another type of green bean, just be sure to do so sadly (and adjust the blanching time accordingly).

While there is much debate among purists, especially in France (I know, shocking!), about whether or not it is okay to include cooked potatoes in the salad in order for it to be deemed “authentic”, this recipe contains the potato. I say go with what you like, and I like these potatoes a lot.  In the interest of full disclosure, I should also point out there is no artichoke or red pepper in my version, and the anchovies are incorporated into the vinaigrette, instead of placing the fillets on top.  So, while this Nicoise may be a bit of an anarchist, its also really, really good.

Here, I’ve plated the salad in individual portions, but it is quite nice presented on a big platter, especially for groups or parties.  I serve the olives and the remaining dressing passed on the side – just add a loaf of fresh, warm bread with butter and a dry, chilly rosé and you’re all set for a fabulous, French-style fête.

Oh, and yeah, watch out for bones.

Nicoise Salad
Serves four.

2 ounces anchovy fillets (about 8)
1 large shallot, finely minced
1 celery stalk, finely minced
2 1/2 tablespoons dijon mustard
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

4 large eggs, hardboiled, sliced
1/2 pound haricots verts
1 pound small red potatoes
1 head romaine lettuce, roughly chopped
1 bunch of radishes, sliced thinly into rounds
8 ounces grape, pear or cherry tomatoes, halved
1 six-ounce can water-packed solid white tuna, drained and flaked
4 ounces Nicoise olives

For the dressing:  In a small bowl, mash the anchovies into a paste using the back of a fork.  Add the next four ingredients, one at a time, stopping to mix thoroughly after each addition.  Whisk in the olive oil, and adjust seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

For the salad:  Blanch the haricots verts by adding them to a medium saucepan of boiling water for 1-2 minutes.  Drain, plunge into a bowl filled with ice water, and drain again. Pat dry and set aside.

Refill the saucepan with fresh water and add the potatoes.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer until potatoes are cooked through and tender, about 20 minutes.  Drain, and let cool for ten minutes.  Cut potatoes into bite-sized wedges and place in a bowl, and gently toss with just enough of the reserved dressing to coat (about 3-4 tablespoons).  Set aside.

To assemble, arrange lettuce on plates or a platter, and mound the lettuce in the center. Fanning out from the center, arrange reserved potatoes, radishes, tomatoes, haricots verts, egg slices and flaked tuna, and drizzle with about half of the dressing.  Pass remaining dressing and olives on the side.

Note:  If you are looking around for a good canned tuna, I highly recommend American Tuna and Island Trollers.

Sunrise Smoothie

Just before Christmas last year, I gave my husband, the mixologist, a few bottles of ginger syrup from Morris Kitchen.  I figured he would experiment and whip up some tasty cocktails for us to enjoy whilst wrapping presents, making cookies and just generally enjoying all the holiday hubbub.  It worked, and he did. Success!

What I didn’t anticipate in any way, shape, or form was that this particular ginger syrup would cause me to become a thief.  Yes, It’s true.  I loved the ginger syrup so much I started pilfering the coveted elixir from his stash of cocktail accoutrements.  I began adding the syrup, just a dash or a smidgen, to all sorts of things – sautéed shrimp, fruit compote, lemonade.  Subtle, spicy, seductive ginger magic!  I was hooked.

Of course, eventually I was found out (this tends to happen when you blow though an eight ounce bottle like the wind).  Someone had a hankering for a Dark and Stormy but alas, the last bottle of syrup was nearly empty. I was appropriately contrite, and all was forgiven, albeit grudgingly.  The stock of syrup was eventually replenished, and domestic tranquility reigned once more.

Now that I no longer have to be covert, I’m especially enjoying ginger syrup in my morning smoothie.  These fruity concoctions function as my wake-up call, and a little kick of ginger adds just the right undertone of aromatic complexity.

Sunrise Smoothie
Serves two.

1 cup apricot-mango juice
1 cup coarsely chopped apricots, frozen
1 cup coarsely chopped banana, frozen
3 tablespoons frozen mango puree
1 tablespoon ginger syrup
1/2 cup crushed ice

In a blender, combine first four ingredients.  Pulse until smooth.  Add ginger syrup.  Pulse again until incorporated.  Add crushed ice, pulse until smooth.  Divide evenly between two chilled glasses and serve immediately.  Straws helpful, but not mandatory.

Note:  If you are juicing the fruits yourself, use 3/4 cup apricot and 1/4 cup mango juice for this recipe.  You may need to adjust the sweetness, dependent upon the flavor of your fruit.

For the frozen fruit, cut up the fruit at least the night before and tuck it into the freezer in individual, freezer-safe plastic bags.  Fresh, sliced fruit will keep in the freezer without taste degradation for a minimum of two to three weeks.