cooking class: an evening in Paris

galettes and gougeres

The summer season has begun at Gretchen’s Cooking School, so we’re back in the kitchen doing our usual chopping, serving and washing. In honor of Bastille Day, our friend Peter Belknap put together a menu of Parisian delights.


The first course was a composed salad of lettuce, endive, julienned vegetables, sweetened walnuts, apples and marinated sausage, topped with fresh gougères. It made the customers swoon, which isn’t bad for a salad. Someone even said it was the best salad she’d ever had! Continue reading

yogurt cake

 yogurt cake

I used to be a fanatical cake baker. If we went to a party, I made a cake – the bigger and fancier or more chocolatey, the better. My college friends and I stayed up late, baking things that would then disappear within seconds. It was my cooking signature.

yogurt cake

Somehow, though, once I started cooking all my own meals, and discovering the huge world of savory flavors, I sort of lost interest in cake. These days when I bake it needs to be relatively simple, preferably producing something that isn’t too sweet. French yogurt cake (gâteau au yaourt) fits the bill. Continue reading

cooking class: cream sauce, anyone?


A lovely, but very rich, set of recipes from Normandy, presented by chef Peter Belknap. For some reason we didn’t need to wash nearly as many dishes as usual – very relaxing!

chevre toasts
chevre toasts

The kickoff was a very tasty salad of mixed greens topped with sweet spiced walnuts, apple and pear slices, a garlicky/mustardy vinaigrette, and a slice of baguette that had been spread with goat cheese and broiled. I could eat this sort of thing every day. A viognier was poured to go with this, which was a nice match. Continue reading

scallop crêpes

scallop crepe

I love scallops, and I love crêpes. When I saw a recipe in the April 2007 issue of Saveur magazine for buckwheat crêpes with scallops and scallop cream sauce, I knew I would have to make it at some point. We got around to it last week, on a rare sunny evening. We sat by the stove drinking white wine, frying scallops and eating them rolled in hot crêpes as they came out of the pan. Bliss!

We never remember which buckwheat crêpe recipe we like best, so this time J used Mark Bittman’s version from The Best Recipes in the World. The scallop sauce recipe was written to feed a vast number of people, so I edited it heavily to suit myself. The result was delicious, to say the least, but I’m not sure I would make it quite this way again. I’d rather eat my scallops whole and make a shallot-cream sauce to go on them, instead of using any of them in the actual sauce. But that’s just me – the pureed scallop did have a wonderful sweet flavor, and it’s definitely worth trying.

scallop crepe with asparagus

Scallops with Scallop Cream Sauce
adapted from Saveur magazine

  • 3/4 pound large sea scallops
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup white wine

Select a third of the scallops (I picked out the ugliest ones for this part). Pat them dry and season with salt and pepper. Fry them in a bit of butter until golden brown, then puree them in a heatproof container with the broth, wine and cream. Pour back into the pan and simmer until thickened. Salt to taste.

Cut the remaining scallops in half and fry as you go – two pieces per crêpe works well. Cook a crêpe, lay it on a plate and arrange the scallops on it, then spoon a good glop of the sauce on top. Asparagus is a good addition; leeks might be tasty as well. Roll up the crepe and eat.

first time to Tivoli

Tivoli duck 1

There’s a new place in Bellingham, but it’s been hard to find out much about it. We heard some gossip about it at Gretchens, then walked by it once just before it opened, when we went up to Bistro Zazou (now defunct, sadly). All we knew was that it was called Tivoli, and the menu was an interesting-sound melange of dishes from Scandinavia, France and Italy, based on the owners’ travels.


Finally, we heard that it was not only open, but fabulous. We took ourselves out to dinner there last week, and I would like to say to any of you in the Bellingham area – go there. It was not only some of the best food we’ve had between Seattle and Vancouver – it was definitely some of the best service. They are doing a beautiful job, and the place was half empty on a Friday night. Go eat there! Continue reading

buckwheat crepes with mushrooms and prosciutto

hedgehog mushrooms

For J’s birthday we decided a crêpe night was in order. Every once in a while we like the have the sort of dinner where we pull stools and a kitchen cart up to the stove, have all the fixings on hand and just eat crêpes as they come out of the pan, nice, hot and buttery.

J was introduced to buckwheat crêpes when he went to Brittany during high school, but I didn’t get to know them until we went to Paris a few years ago on an anniversary trip. The galette du jour at La Crêperie Beaubourg converted me to buckwheat in one delicious ham-and-cheese swoop! Now we make all of our crêpes with buckwheat flour, unless they’re for dessert.

 As usual when we make buckwheat crêpes, I couldn’t remember which recipe we usually use. This time we did the one from Susan Loomis’ French Farmhouse Cookbook, which is just buckwheat flour, water, salt and eggs; other recipes might use milk or a little all-purpose flour. These crêpes were tasty, but I’m planning to try a different recipe next time. If I can remember which one I used this time (maybe this blog will help).

buckwheat crepe Continue reading

cassoulet for New Year's Day

cassoulet and salad

I was only recently introduced to the idea of eating beans on New Year’s Day for good luck and prosperity. I’ve always figured I’ve gotten my good luck from our noodles the night before – but on the other hand, you can’t have too much good luck. So this year I decided to try my hand at a cassoulet.

white beans

I know that there’s a lot of argument over what makes the “true” cassoulet. I read the recipes in Mastering The Art of French Cooking and The Cooking of Southwest France, and I read David Lebovitz’s post on Camp Cassoulet in Gascony.  Doing it the “official” way, with confit and pork fat and God knows what, certainly sounds exciting. But you know, the only people I was trying to impress were J and myself, and I just wanted it to taste good. So I did it all in one day, skipped the confit, and came up with something I was really pleased with. My one concession to working ahead was to have a pork roast for dinner a few days previous, so we could use the leftover meat.

Continue reading

lunch on 35th Street

35th st burger

We had a few errands to run in the Center of the Universe (otherwise known as Fremont), and took the opportunity to eat lunch at one of our favorite places, the 35th Street Bistro. It has a lot of what I like: great natural light, good wine list, French-themed bistro food that isn’t too locked into the classics, one of the best cheese plates in town, and a darned good hamburger. We’ve been here many times, and I can only remember being disappointed once (I shouldn’t have ordered the yam thread fries).

35 st moules frites

On this visit, we honored our immediate cravings: J got the burger, which is a magnificent, juicy, rich-tasting production, with a glass of barolo, and I indulged in the moules frites with a glass of verdejo. As always, the food was solid, well seasoned, and well prepared. The frites were perhaps not quite as good as the ones at Bistro Zazou, but still excellent, hot and crispy. We passed up even looking at the dessert menu (I knew it would just get me into trouble). This place makes me happy.

Bistro Zazou

bistro zazou

 Edit: I just found out last week that Bistro Zazou has closed. Alas. 3/18/08

One of our favorite restaurants in Bellingham used to be the Calumet, until one day we headed there for my birthday dinner and it had gone out of business. We ended up discovering Flats as a result, so we ended up happy that day, but we continued to walk sadly by the old location. The last time we did, though, we saw that a new place had arisen – Bistro Zazou – a French bistro! We’re very partial to casual French restaurants, since we hiked our way through the Vaucluse in 2004, so we try to check out any place that looks like it might have that certain vibe. We finally got there this weekend, and while it didn’t quite live up to my (admittedly high) expectations, I’m happy to have this little slice of France somewhat nearby.

The space is warm and inviting, with lots of mirrors and black and white photographs. The table we ended up at (after I asked to not be seated right next to a table full of young children) was next to a small gas-fire stove, so it was fairly cozy. We ordered cocktails and studied the menu hard. Continue reading