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There’s got to be a way to bring a little bit of France into the menu at MAL, nothing too exotic, but something all those old regulars might even like … like soup! I’ll try one of my favorite Julia Child recipes – Soupe au Pistou.

In France, this is traditionally a summer soup, but I make it ‘year round. And it goes together vite vite (that’s French for fast).

Soup Ingredients

Soupe au Pistou

Serves 6

For the soup:

3 quarts water

2 cups each: diced carrots, potatoes, leeks

1 tbs. salt

2 cups diced fresh or frozen green beans

2 cups canned kidney beans

1/3 cup small pasta, such as orzo or small shells; broken spaghetti works too

1 slice good quality white bread, crumbled into bits

few grinds of fresh pepper

pinch of saffron

The vegetables

For the pistou:

4 cloves garlic, mashed

4 tbs. tomato paste

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil or 1 1/2 tbs. dried basil

1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

1/3 cup good olive oil

The Pistou

Put the water, salt, carrots, potatoes and leeks in a large heavy pot, bring to a boil and simmer for 40 mins. Add the green beans, kidney beans, pasta, bread, pepper and saffron. Simmer for 15 mins., or until the beans are just cooked. Taste the soup and correct the seasoning if necessary.

Make the pistou while the soup is cooking. Combine the garlic, tomato paste, basil and cheese in a medium bowl. With a whisk, slowly beat in the olive oil. When the soup is finished, stir the pistou into the soup in three batches. The soup is ready to eat immediately but may also be made a day in advance and reheated.

Soupe au Pistou

Adapted from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck

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I’m so happy to be back home for Mardi Gras! People think it’s just New Orleans, but here in Hot Springs we too know how to “laissez les bon temps rouler” before giving it all up for Lent tomorrow. (But no giving up chocolate or desserts for me, not this year …!) I thought I’d make a big ol’ sugary, fattening King Cake for a little bit of a celebration. Maybe even Juliette will eat some …

King Cake

A little history: This coffeecake-like sweet honors the three kings who visited Christ on Epiphany – also known as King’s Day – which was traditionally the start of the revelry that ends today on Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday. The colored sugars match Mardi Gras beads: gold for power, green for faith and purple for justice.

Makes 2 cakes

1-16 oz. container sour cream

1/3 cup sugar

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1 teas. salt

2 envelopes dry yeast (I use rapid-rise because I am usually impatient!)

1/2 cup warm water

1 tbs. sugar

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

6 to 6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup unsalted butter, very soft

1/2 cup sugar mixed with 1 1/2 teas. cinnamon

Glaze (recipe follows)

purple, green and gold sugar for sprinkling

Place first four ingredients in a saucepan over low heat and cook, stirring often, until butter melts. Set aside and cool until mixture is 100-110 degrees.

In a glass measuring cup, combine warm water, 1 tbs. sugar and yeast. Let stand for five minutes – it should puff up as the yeast is activated.

Scrape the sour cream mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add yeast mixture, eggs and 2 cups flour; beat at medium speed until smooth. Reduce speed to low and gradually add enough of the remaining flour to make a soft dough.

Turn dough out onto a floured board and knead until smooth and elastic – adding more flour if necessary (This will take 5-10 mins., depending on your kneading skill). Grease a bowl generously with butter, place the dough in the bowl, turning to coat it, cover the bowl with a dishtowel and place in a warm spot for 45 mins. to an hour or until it has doubled in bulk. (Tip: I use my oven for this, I turn it on to 200 for a few minutes while I’m kneading the dough, then turn it off before I put the dough in.)

Punch the dough down and divide in half. Roll one piece into a rectangle, 22 x 12; spread with half the softened butter and sprinkle with half the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Starting at a long side, roll the dough, jelly-roll style and form into an oval shape, pinching to seal the ends. Place seam side down on a greased baking sheet and cover with a clean dishtowel while you repeat this process with the other half of the dough.

Let the cakes rise again in a warm place for 20 mins., or until doubled in bulk.

Preheat the oven to 375 and bake the cakes, switching shelf positions if necessary, for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown (be careful not to over-bake them).

Let the cakes cool on the pans for 10 minutes before removing them carefully to a wire rack. Ice immediately with the glaze and sprinkle with the sugars in alternating, wide bands of the three colors. Let cool before slicing (always the hard part!)

Glaze: (make this while the cakes are baking)

3 cups powdered sugar

3 tbs. unsalted butter, melted

2 tbs. fresh lemon juice

1/4 teas. vanilla

2-4 tbs. milk

Combine first 4 ingredients and 2 tbs. milk, mix until smooth. Add additional milk a little at a time until the glaze is a spreading consistency.

Recipe adapted from Southern Living magazine.

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I don’t remember when I’ve needed a drink this bad – I don’t care what it is as long as it goes down easy and makes me sleep. Dad never drinks anything but Jim Beam – ugh – but there’s got to be something in this liquor cabinet that hasn’t been guzzled down by my brother. Let’s see … some cheap port, chartreuse (gag me)  Angostura bitters (that stuff lasts forever), peach schnapps, amaretto … oh, wait, there’s a little bit of vodka left in this bottle – Jamie must have missed it stuck all the way in the back. Mom sure loved her vodka gimlets … what I’m mixing up is nowhere near as genteel …

The Disaster Cocktail

To create a Disaster:

Combine in a rocks glass over ice

2 oz. vodka

1 oz. each peach brandy and amaretto

3 shakes Angostura bitters

Stir, then fill the glass the rest of the way with Mountain Dew

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Now that Dad is up and around again (thanks to Jimmie Sue, much as I hate to admit it) I finally have a chance to get some good food into him. He’s asking for his favorite, the supper Mom always made when she felt like being extra nice to him: fried chicken, her famous succotash and buttermilk biscuits.  Mom may have grown up in New England, but she learned how to cook just like a true Southerner. “And don’t you go making things all Frenchified,” Daddy said when he questioned me about whether I remembered how to make the succotash in that old cast iron skillet. He doesn’t know what a comfort it will be for me to cook this way again,  but I just can’t bring myself to use Crisco in the biscuits, it has to be butter!

Daddy's favorites: fried chicken, Mom's famous succotash and buttermilk biscuits

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Mom’s Famous Succotash

Serves 6

5 slices bacon

2 cups frozen lima beans

2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels

1 medium onion, chopped fine

3 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped

salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste

In a large, cast iron skillet, cook bacon until crisp. Drain bacon on paper towels. Pour all but 3 tbsp. fat out of the skillet. Add the onions and cook until softened, then add the corn and lima beans and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are just beginning to brown. Add tomatoes; continue to cook and stir until tomatoes are “broken down” into the vegetables. Add the salt and pepper and hot sauce, if desired, to taste. Crumble bacon into the mixture in the skillet and stir to blend well.

_________________________________________________________________________

Buttermilk Biscuits

Makes 8-10 biscuits, depending on size

2 1/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

4 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into bits

1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450. Mix all dry ingredients together in a medium bowl. Add butter pieces to the dry ingredients, mixing with a pastry blender or your hands (hands are really better) until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Add the buttermilk and stir with a wooden spoon  just until the mixture is combined, then turn out onto a floured board and pat into an oval 1/2 inch thick. Cut into circles with a round cutter or a juice glass and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake the biscuits until lightly browned, about 10-12 minutes.

Both recipes adapted from My Mother’s Southern Kitchen by James Villas

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Lemon meringue cake

I can’t believe Juliette went off to school looking so dreadful, with that horrible boy’s black suit and her beautiful hair all chopped off. I’m trying hard not to overreact, to chalk it up to normal teenage rebellion and her understandable distress at leaving Paris, but there’s a little voice in my head telling me maybe it’s something more. We used to be so close, and now I feel like she’s slipping away. I want to remind her of all the fun we used to have, especially when she helped me in the kitchen. She always loved that, as a little girl. I’ll bake her one of her favorite special treats, gateau de citron – lemon cake. It’s not so humid out today, so hopefully the meringue will work. And at least baking always makes me feel better!

Lemon Meringue Cake

1 stick plus 1 tbsp. very soft butter

4 eggs, separated

1 1/2 cups plus 1 tsp. sugar

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 tbsp. cornstarch

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

zest of 1 lemon

4 tsp. fresh lemon juice

2 tsp. milk

1/2 tsp. cream of tartar

2/3 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. lemon curd

Preheat the oven to 400. Line two 8-inch cake pans (I used 9-inch) with parchment paper and butter the paper.

In a food processor, mix the butter, egg yolks, 1/2 cup sugar, flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda and lemon zest. Process until smooth, then add lemon juice and milk and process again to blend. Spread batter evenly in the prepared pans.

In an electric mixer, beat the egg whites and the cream of tartar until peaks form, then slowly add 1 cup sugar, beating until mixture stands in peaks when beaters are lifted. Spread meringue evenly on top of batter in pans – smooth one flat and use a spatula or the back of a spoon to create little peaks on the other one. Sprinkle the peaked meringue with the 1 tsp. sugar.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until meringue is golden brown. Remove cakes to a wire rack and let cool completely in pans.

Up to an hour before serving, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Place layer with the flat top meringue-side down on serving plate. Spread with lemon curd, then cream. Top with second layer, cake-side down. Keep in a cool place, but do not refrigerate, before serving.

Adapted from “Feast”, by Nigella Lawson

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3 a.m. … not sleeping – again – how can I with Juliette out there somewhere in the dark? Might as well make some lists about what I’m going to do about MAL …

Decor:

ditch that rickety shelving

lace curtains for the front windows

round table from the apartment covered with one of Mom’s pretty tablecloths – good for displaying new gift items and seasonal things in front

fresh flowers at all times – I could do these myself but it would be nice to give a local florist the business

Merchandise:

homeopathic remedies

aromatherapy oils

makeup lines – Lancome, Clinique, Stila, La Mer, Darphin …

candles

lotions, soaps, etc.

pretty cards, stationery

jewelry (local artisan?)

handbags?

new mom and baby products

Food:

Breakfast:

Keep traditional breakfast items – eggs, etc., and biscuits with sausage gravy (have to find a good line cook to make!)

Breakfast crepes: eggs, bacon or sausage and choice of cheese; orange marmalade

Find good source for croissants and pain au chocolate – I read somewhere that good ones are available frozen here and you just bake them off, but I’m skeptical …

Lunch:

Keep hamburger, cheeseburger and fried catfish sandwich with Creole mayonnaise

Homemade soup – tomato-dill bisque? plus soup specials daily

Sandwiches:

Ham and brie with honey mustard on croissant

Croque Monsieur

Grilled Mediterranean vegetable – eggplant, sweet red peppers, onion and zucchini with goat cheese and pesto mayonnaise

Salads:

Mixed baby greens with roasted pear and warm brie – champagne vinaigrette

Frisee with bacon, blue cheese and poached egg – red wine vinaigrette

Arugula with asparagus, walnuts and goat cheese – balsamic vinaigrette

Salade Nicoise (with or without anchovies)

Crepes: Chicken Florentine; Chicken and mushrooms with Gruyere  and pesto; ham and Gruyere

Specials: (Dig out Mom’s recipe for hot rolls to go with these.)

Thursday: Eleanor’s Famous Pot Roast with mashed potatoes and green vegetable

Friday: Fried Catfish with fries and coleslaw

Saturday: BBQ ribs with fries and coleslaw

Desserts:

Sweet crepes – lemon and sugar; strawberries and whipped cream; Nutella; vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce

Creme brulee

Mom’s old-fashioned chocolate layer cake

fruit pies, shortcakes in season

Beverages:

Must buy a good machine for espresso, cafe au lait and cappuccino

Check soda fountain to see if everything still works

Real lemonade and iced tea (sweet and unsweetened, herbal?)

Loose teas by the pot

Perrier

There … I think I’ve written the whole menu. But what’s the matter with me … how can I possibly let myself think about moving ahead on any of this when Juliette is missing?  Oh, merde, none of this makes any sense without my daughter!

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Stuffed Leg of Lamb

It all seems very surreal … Medhi cooking here, in my mother’s kitchen, taking charge as he always does, Juliette and Hugo huddled together in one corner of the living room, Daddy and Jimmy Sue holding hands on the couch, talking with LaTonya and Darrell.  And Jamie upstairs, nursing his wounded testicles, George on his way over, with Beth … I’m not sure what to feel right now, except relief that Juliette is home, safe and sound. If Medhi wants to cook – he can go right ahead. He’s making his favorite lamb dish – I have no idea where he found a leg of lamb here in Hot Springs, but that’s Medhi – what he wants, he seems to get …

Medhi Laurent’s Stuffed Leg of Lamb

A whole (4-5 lb), bone-in leg of lamb, butterflied, either by you or the butcher – save the bone (you can use a boneless leg, but these are usually smaller)

1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil, coarsely chopped

3 tbsp. toasted pine nuts

3 tbsp. fresh rosemary

Place butterflied lamb fat-side down on work surface. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Distribute olives, cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts as evenly as possible over the meat, then add 2 tbsp. rosemary.

Starting at a short side, roll as tightly as possible and tie in several places with butcher’s twine. Sprinkle the top with salt, pepper and additional rosemary.

Lightly oil a roasting pan and place the tied lamb in the pan, with the saved bone alongside, but not touching. Roast at 375 for about 1 1/2 hours, or until a meat thermometer reads 130-135. Let rest 10 minutes while you make a sauce. Remove bone from pan and discard. Set over medium heat; stir in 1/4 – 1/2 cup water and 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, cook and stir until slightly thickened. Stir in 1 tbsp. butter and remove from heat. Slice lamb and serve with sauce.

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Rhubarb, Apple and Pomegranate Crumble

I can’t believe I just let Medhi make love to me. Well yes I can, that was really the only thing I missed about him. That body, that mouth … I really needed him tonight. But afterward, of course he fell asleep, and of course I couldn’t – as exhausted as I am my mind is racing. So, here I am at the kitchen table, alone with my thoughts, a cup of tea and the remnants of tonight’s dessert – the one part of the meal he would allow me to make. Baking, unlike sex, is not one of his talents …

Rhubarb, Apple and Pomegranate Crumble

4 cups fresh rhubarb, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces (if fresh rhubarb is not available, thawed, frozen rhubarb works just fine)

4 cups tart apples, thinly sliced

1 3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or unbleached white flour)

3/4 cup old-fashioned oatmeal

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut into small pieces

1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 cup granulated sugar

finely grated zest of 1 orange

1/3 cup POM Wonderful 100% pomegranate juice

2 tbsp. cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 350.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, oatmeal, brown sugar and cinnamon. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or your fingers (my preferred method). Add the pecans and egg and mixed until well-combined.

Combine the rhubarb and apple slices, granulated sugar and orange zest in a 3-qt. baking dish. In a small bowl, stir the pomegranate juice into the cornstarch, blending well, then add to the fruit mixture, tossing thoroughly to coat.

Distribute the crumb topping evenly over the fruit. Bake in the center of the oven until golden and bubbling, approx. 1 hour. Allow to cool slightly before serving –  with vanilla ice cream or heavy cream, or just plain is delicious too,

by Susan Sherrill Axelrod
photos by Ted Axelrod