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I'm happiest when the food I make becomes a backdrop to a lively conversation. When I'm not cooking, I'm traveling or dreaming about travel. Come sit with me, and enjoy! Read more here.

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'pudlo paris,' the new insider's guide


Paul and I have been to Paris enough times to know that you can have a bad meal there -- easily. Just walk into the wrong bistro off Boulevard Saint Germain and order an omelette.

We did this on the last day of a recent trip. When a dry, thin, yellow frisbee arrived on a plate, we knew our final meal in the city was about to be wasted.

That's why I say: When in Paris, screw spontaneity; you've got to plan, plan, plan.

For years we used the Michelin, Le Guide Rouge. We would proudly lug the brick-sized book with us everywhere, decipher its little icons, and flip through its bible-thin pages to find just the right restaurant.

Over time, we found the restaurants that garnered the most stars were the least fun. And the restaurants with fewer or no stars offered excellent food and a more laid back experience. But ultimately, I found myself turning to our other, more accessible guides on Paris for advice on where to eat.

Before our last trip, a friend of mine gave me Pudlo Paris, written by Gilles Pudlowski and translated for the first time in English by several people, including Lucy Vanel, who has a terrific blog, Lucy's Kitchen Notebook.

Pudlo, a journalist and restaurant critic for the French weekly, Le Point, is also the author of Great Women Chefs of Europe, a book I own and love.

From what I had heard and read online, it sounded like Pudlo Paris has been a favorite with Parisians since he started the guide 17 years ago. And, with his witty writing, insightful reviews, and insider tips, it's easy to see why.

Pudlo stickers are proudly displayed on restaurants all over Paris.

Dividing up the city into 20 arrondissements, Pudlo explores Paris through the viewpoint of a food lover and historian.

About the 9th arrondissement, which he calls 'an artistic retreat,' Pudlo writes:

"The Costes brothers, who understand the city, have turned their eyes to the ninth arrondissement, delighting Paris society with their young, fashionable Hotel Amour, a sign that the district can create trends but stands hostage to none. ...This is a friendly, companionable arrondissement, the kind of ode to the pedestrian we dream of: gourmet and Parisian."

Pudlo's insights on the neighborhoods and the restaurants of Paris led me to carry the book around with me everywhere during our last trip there. Not once did he let us down.


Our finds from Pudlo included "Le Nemrod," a low-key but bustling corner wine bar in the 6th arrondissement on 51 Rue du Cherche-Midi that offers a relaxing ambience, a decent selection of wines by the glass, and assorted plates of cheeses and charcuterie. It was exactly the right stop for a 4 p.m. drink and appetizer.


Prosciutto and bread at Le Nemrod provided the perfect afternoon snack.

In the 17th arrondissement, Pudlo led us to "Au Petit Chavignol," located on 78 Rue de Tocqueville. We snagged a table outside this charming little wine bar and drank champagne while nibbling on cubes of bread and slices of charcuterie -- on the house.

We loved these free charcuterie snacks at Au Petit Chavignol.

Our favorite Pudlo find, by far, was Hier et Aujourd'hui, also in the 17th arrondissement. The restaurant, which won Pudlo's "Best Value for the Money" award, was a bit of a hike (we took the metro out to Villiers stop and then walked about a half mile) but well worth the trip.

Located at 145 Rue de Saussure in a working class neighborhood near the Paris beltway the restaurant had a low-key atmosphere you might expect from a restaurant so far from the city's center but offered excellent cuisine and the excitement and energy of a restaurant on the rise.

Speaking of Chef Franck Dervin, Pudlo writes:

"What we like here are his freshness, sharpness and precision, and his amusing way of concocting combinations of flavors that work. ... Turning to the meats, lamb layered with mashed potatoes and eggplant and tender beef with cornichons better than grandmothers'!"
We agreed with Pudlo -- especially his assessment of the cornichons. The menu offered a savory mix of traditional French country and ethnic dishes with simple, excellently preparations such as with my lamb, mint, and pea tagine served with a side of pillowy cous cous. We also loved the gigantic loaf of duck pate the waiter passed from table to table, and the affordable, no-frills but well-selected wine list.



In June, after the excitement generated from Pudlo Paris, the English version of Pudlo France was released. And you can bet it's going on my Christmas list.


vol-au-vent 'monsieur' and vol-au-vent 'madame'


For a recent dinner party with a group of food-loving friends, I was asked to bring the appetizer. The stakes were high: My friend, Lou, was making lobster mac and cheese for the main course and my friend, Carrie, was making a Thomas Keller gazpacho.

In researching all things that you could savor in one bite, I came across "vol-au-vents" and discovered that these little bite-size puff pastries were a catering classic. The only question was what to fill them with.

I had found a promising recipe for a vol-au-vent with a three-mushroom filling in Joanne Harris and Fran Warde's "My French Kitchen." But I had also been spying the quail eggs at my supermarket. So I decided to combine the two and make a vol-au-vent 'madame' with mushroom and egg, and vol-au-vent 'monsieur' with just the mushroom.

Harris and Warde's recipe includes chanterelles, which I have eliminated for the off season. I also substituted butter and armagnac for olive oil and cognac and cut the cream in half.

Vol-au-vent 'Monsieur' and Vol-au-vent 'Madame'

Serves 6 as an appetizer

1 tablespoon butter
8 ounces shiitake mushroom
8 ounces button mushroom
2 shallots, minced
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
1 tablespoon armagnac
8-12 quail eggs
salt and pepper to taste
1 - 2 tablespoons chopped chives for garnish

Heat the butter in a skillet. Add the shallots and simmer for 30 seconds and then add the mushrooms. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until cooked down. Add the cream, mustard, armagnac, and salt and pepper and simmer for 5 minutes.


Defrost one portion of frozen puff pastry. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Unfold the puff pastry on a cutting board. It should be about a 1/4 inch thick. Cut out 12 small rounds with a pastry cutter. Place them on a water-dampened baking sheet and return to the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes. Take a cutter half the size of your first one and cut an indentation in the center of each pastry circle (cutting about halfway down, but not all the way through to the baking sheet). Take a small knife and push up the edges of the vol-au-vent shells to help the pastry to rise in crispy layers. Brush the top of each shell with the beaten egg, making sure none drips down the side or it will glue the layers together. Bake for 30 minutes.

When the vol-au-vents are finished cooking, use a butter knife to pry off the 'lid.' Eat the lids as a snack while cooking or discard them. Fill the vol-au-vents with the stuffing of your choice.

Poached quail egg


The trick to poaching quail egg is to break the shell without puncturing the yolk. The size of the egg makes that difficult. Professional chefs hold the egg in one hand and deliver a swift slice with a knife in the other hand -- just enough to puncture through the egg and the egg's protective inner lining without breaking the yolk.


Once the shell's surface is sliced, pry the shell apart with your fingers and drop the yolk and whites into a bowl filled with white wine vinegar.

When you're finished cracking all the eggs, pour the bowl of eggs and vinegar into boiling water and cook for about 30 seconds. Remove the eggs and drop them into ice water.


Fill the vol-au-vents first with the mushroom filling and then top half of them with egg. Sprinkle the eggs with salt. Garnish with the chives.




tarragon perch and ratatouille: a paris favorite


It's no secret that I'm a sucker for Paris and its trappings -- the young, slim bistro waiters with bow ties; the croque madames; the neoclassical sculptures in the Tuileries -- but on our last trip to France, we had only two days in the city before heading down to the Dordogne.

To make the most of it, we decided that Paul would plan the first day and surprise me, and I would plan the second and surprise him.

With only a short nap after our red-eye flight the night before, we slurped downed an espresso and headed out. Paul led me around like a seeing-eye dog leading the blind. "Turn here," he would say, gently guiding my arm.

We walked all over, discovering new alleys and parks, until we reached our final destination: a tiny, open-kitchen restaurant called 'La Cordonnerie' in the 1st arrondissement. He had been there once before and was eager to share it.


When we stepped into the small, dimly-lit restaurant, I felt as though I were walking into someone's home. The front of the restuarant consisted of only two booths.

The kitchen was filled with an unmanageable number of pots, pans, plates, and utensils. Behind a clear shield, which protected guests from the heat and splatters, Chef Hugo Wolfer handled the various pans and flame-levels simultaneously like a one-man band.

Hugo at La Cordonnerie

Hugo, who took over the restaurant from his father and mother, cooked and plated -- multiple dishes for multiple tables at the same time by himself.

After the restaurant's lone waiter seated us, Hugo came out from the kitchen to present his specials for the evening: pork shoulder with chanterelles or perch with tarragon served with ratatouille. "Let me show you," he said. He disappeared behind the kitchen counter and returned with a well-seasoned copper pot holding two plump filets of perch with fresh sprigs of tarragon on top.


I usually like to order savory pork or beef dishes with rich reductions at Paris restaurants, but after he brought the perch to our table, I couldn't resist.

"I'll have the perch," I said. The subtle flavors of the firm fish and tarragon blended perfectly with the ratatouille and rice.


The next time we go to Paris, we'll definitely return to La Cordonnerie, which translates to "shoe repair place." It's located at 20, rue Saint Roch between Avenue de L'Opera and Rue de Rivoli. It is closed Saturday and Sunday. For reservations, call: 01 42 60 17 42. Ask for one of the two tables near the kitchen.

Here's my own version of the tarragon perch with ratatouille:


Tarragon Perch and Ratatouille

Serves 2

Tarragon Perch
2, 1/2-pound filets of ocean perch
1/2 cup white wine
a splash of white wine vinegar
2 cloves
4 peppercorns
2 sprigs tarragon
Salt, pepper, and freshly grated nutmeg to taste
Sprinkle of paprika

Add the white wine, vinegar, clove and peppercorns to the pan and bring to a boil. Pat the fish dry and then season with salt and pepper. Add the perch, skin down, in the pan. Cook for three minutes over medium heat uncovered. Add tarragon and cover for another 4 - 5 minutes until tarragon is soft. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg. Serve the fish with rice and ratatouille and sprinkle the sides of the plate with paprika.

(adapted from Joy of Cooking)

1/4 cup olive oil
2 small eggplants, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 pound of zucchini, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large onion, sliced
4 small, sweet red peppers, cut into 1-inch squares
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 to 3 large tomatoes, chopped and seeded
2 to 3 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper

Saute the zucchini and eggplant in a Dutch oven over high heat until the vegetables are soft and golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the vegetables and reduce the heat to medium-high. In the same pan, add two more tablespoons of olive oil and cook the onions until they are softened. Add the peppers and garlic and cook until tender, about 8 to 12 minutes. Add the tomatoes, thyme, and bay leaf. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the eggplant and zucchini and cook until everything is tender, about 20 minutes more. Taste, and season with salt and pepper.




heirloom tomato pizza: a summer treat from the 'tomato lady'


Each year at our farmer’s market in Takoma Park, I buy heirloom tomatoes from the tall, athletic woman with the kind eyes at Calvert's Gift. Her name is Gina, but I affectionately call her ‘Tomato Lady.’

She's an heirloom fanatic, and for all the right reasons: Heirloom tomatoes look and taste like they did a hundred years ago when they were first cultivated. They are mangled, discolored, lumpy and they taste sweeter and better than the uniformly red, perfectly round hybrids I usually see at the grocery store.

I visit Tomato Lady every year so that I can gather up a few pounds of the sweetest, ugliest tomatoes she has to make fresh tomato pizza.

I didn't know exactly when the tomatoes would appear this summer so I visited her several times last month, each time asking, "Are the tomatoes here yet?"

"Not yet,” she said the first time, “but we have some lovely garlic pigtails!”

I wanted tomatoes.

By late-July, her story changed. “They were here this morning!” she said, then paused. “Where were you?"

"Sleeping." I looked at my watch. It was noon.

There went another weekend.

When August arrived, Tomato Lady and I were back on track. Her stand was filled with lumpy, yellow-green-red, ripe, juicy tomatoes, even after noon and I was finally able to make my favorite pizza.


On a recent trip, I snatched up a carton of odd-shaped tomatoes, went home, and made the dish that has become a summer tradition -- heirloom tomato pizza.

I make it two ways. The first pizza is topped with fresh mozzarella, capers, fresh basil, and toasted pine nuts. The second pizza is made with oil cured olives, grilled red onion, sun-dried tomatoes, and feta. I can never tell which one I like better, so I always make them both.

Heirloom Tomato Pizza Two Ways

Serves 4 (each pie serves 2)

Basil Way

1 dough recipe (see below)
1 cup basil leaves
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/8 cup capers, drained
3/4 cups diced fresh mozzarella
2 large heirloom tomatoes, sliced thinly
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Olive oil

Prepare dough as described below. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place one layer sliced tomatoes on top. Sprinkle the sugar, salt, and pepper over the tomatoes and drizzle with olive oil.

Bake for 12 minutes. While still steaming hot, layer the pizza with mozzarella, capers, pine nuts, and basil. Slice and serve.

Olive Way

1 dough recipe
2 large heirloom tomatoes
10 - 15 olives cured oil and sliced
1 red onion, sliced 1/8 inch thick and grilled for three minutes on each side
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes, slices thinly
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Olive oil

Prepare dough as described below. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place one layer sliced tomatoes on top. Sprinkle the sugar, salt, and pepper over the tomatoes and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 12 minutes. While still steaming hot, layer the feta, sun dried tomatoes, olives, and onions. Slice and serve.

Dough recipe

1-1/2 cup flour
1 tablespoon dried yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 - 2 tablespoons olive oil

Combine all ingredients into a medium size bowl. Mix together until a dough forms. You may need to use your hands to gather all bits into one ball. Flour a large cutting board. Knead the dough for about three minutes. Coat a medium-sized bowl with olive oil spray and set the ball of dough inside. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place for one hour.

Remove the dough from the bowl and knead for about three minutes. Using a flour-coated rolling pin, roll out the dough onto a floured cutting board to the size and shape of a 12-inch circle.

Place the dough on a round baking sheet or pizza stone if you have one. If you're using a baking sheet, you will probably need to pinch the sides of the dough to keep the dough from spilling over the ledge of the pan. I use my thumb to lift a piece and then pinch it shut with my forefinger. This technique has the side benefit of allowing the olive oil and tomato juices to collect in the dough, rather than run off onto the pan.


beef tagliata with rosemary and fried capers: a dish i've made 100 times

Inspired by a recipe in John Ash's "Cooking One on One," this classic trattoria recipe requires four pans and six ingredients, and voila, dinner is served! That's why it's become our go-to weeknight dinner and one dish I couldn't live without.

Tagliata, which means "carved" or "cut," has numerous variations. Paul and I tried it while traveling in Florence but determined that we liked this recipe better.

Beef Tagliata with Rosemary and Fried Capers

Serves 2

1 New York strip steak (about an inch thick)
1-1/2 tablespoons capers, drained
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 cup oil plus extra to coat the steak
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
3 cups baby arugula
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

Pan 1: Heat a grill pan over medium flame. Coat the steak with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Cook the steak 4-5 minutes on each size for medium rare. Turn on the ventilation fan if you have one, or open all the windows. If it smokes too much, drizzle a little water around the edges of the grill pan to turn the smoke into steam. Remove the steak and let rest.

Pan 2: Heat 1/2 cup of oil until hot. Add the garlic slices and let them sizzle for about 15 seconds or until they just start to blush with color. Turn off the heat and add the fresh rosemary. Side aside the oil and let cool.

Pan 3: Heat the other 1/2 cup of oil until hot. Add the capers and fry for about 30 seconds, then remove with a slotted spoon.

Pan 4: Reduce the balsamic vinegar by about half.

Divide the arugula onto two plates. Drizzle the garlic-rosemary oil over the salad.

Slice the beef into 1/4-inch slices or thinner and divide the slices onto each plate.

Sprinkle the fried capers on top.

Finish by drizzling the reduced balsamic vinegar over each plate.


bordeaux: above ground, below ground


While in Bordeaux, Paul and I visited Saint Emilion, a picturesque village with medieval buildings surrounded by vineyards in every direction.

What amazed us most was what we found underneath – a network of underground caves dating back to the 14th century.

Lionel Candau, the handsome, sprightly manager of Chateau Belair winery, one of only 13 Premier Grand Cru Classe B wineries of Saint Emilion, led us beneath the winery through a maze of limestone hallways with dusty paths.



vertical tasting

We came upon an elevated stone mezzanine, which held a shrine of empty bottles dating back to 1831. It was dedicated to a vertical tasting the winery held several years back to taste the decades of wine it had accumulated.


Lionel continued to lead us down a spiral staircase carved in rock to the second level where the estate stored its collection of vintages.


The cellars, which are part of 10 hectares of underground limestone tunnels shared by other wineries in the area, were used for a period to grow mushrooms. Chateau Belair now keeps the wines at a average temperature of 52.7 degrees with a humidity of 95 percent year round.



We emerged above ground into the bright sun just as another group arrived for a tour. Lionel handled the two groups exactly the way you'd expect from a guy running a Premiere Grand Cru Classe -- with equal parts expertise and charm. He poured our glasses while introducing the other group to its tour.

After the second tour, Lionel circled back and we finished by tasting the Chateau Belair Premier Grand Cru Classe 2003 vintage (a blend of 80 percent Merlot and 20 percent Cabernet Franc).


The wine, which was more fruit-forward than their other vintages due to the hot year, was complex and refined. We rolled the supple red over our tongues coating our mouths with tannins and felt instantly elevated. We loved it so much that we splurged on two bottles at the winery's price of 50 euro per bottle.


After the tour, I peeked around the vineyards and was amazed at how manicured the grounds were compared to other wineries we had visited.




We found out that the winery, which had been owned and operated by Pascal Delbeck since 2003, had just been sold to the Moueix brothers, who own Chateau Petrus. Located just a short drive from Chateau Belair in Pomerol, Chateau Petrus makes some of the most cherished and expensive wine in the world. Click here to read about the sale in the Wine Spectator.

Our trip to the winery was part of a informative tour of Saint Emilion that we took from Caroline Feely, owner of French Wine Adventures.