Asparagus Ricotta-Gruyëre Tarts

Asparagus Ricotta Gruyëre Tarts Lance Lawson“Although these bite-size crustless tarts are easy to make – they are certain to create a big impression with your guests.”

tarts in panThe bite-size tarts are delicious addition to any large or small gathering.  And because they are crustless they come together quickly. I make them by the dozens and keep a ready supply on hand in the freezer for parties or unexpected guests. I developed this recipe because I was looking an hors d’oeuvre which I could easily make in bulk (scooping batter into mini-muffin tins is way preferable to hand assembling dozens of individual pieces). And I was looking for a cocktail snack which would also freeze and reheat well (they stay moist and stand up beautifully). Mini-quiches have become somewhat passe thanks to the frozen foods section at Trader Joe’s – so these tiny tarts offer a gourmet alternative. To further boost the flavor I use fresh ricotta (which I strain overnight in the fridge) and a hearty fresh grated gruyere vs the pre-shredded swiss variety. And you can also use this recipe for larger tarts – which would be a chic addition to a light lunch menu. To make a dozen follow the recipe below, substituting standard size muffin pans and increasing the baking time to 35 minutes. For the recipe: Continue reading

Christmas at The Richmond

Christmas Table 2012“My Christmas Table Set with Treasured Family Heirlooms”

To me Christmas is all about tradition. Traditions I grew up with. New traditions created with family and friends. And it all begins with the decor. For as long as I can remember, this has been my favorite part of the holiday. As a child, the excitement of bringing the boxes of decorations out of their basement hibernation was almost magical. As an adult I honor this memory. Decorating our house is something we plan in advance and enjoy, not something I anxiously check off a to do list.  I look forward to the annual rituals of Christmas all year long; many honor family members who are not with us and all celebrate the spirit of the season. Here are some of my favorites

Holiday 2012 MontageChristmas Rituals at the Richmond (clockwise from top):

(1) The Buffet at our Annual Holiday Open House held the Saturday before Christmas each year. Highlights included Crab Dip Au Gratin (see recipe in previous post), Shrimp Cocktail with Mississippi Comeback Dressing and my mom’s legendary Pimento Cheese. (2) Outdoor lights have always been a huge part of my holiday. As a boy I decorated the exterior of our house using old-fashioned bulbs and lots of greenery. This tradition continues with a 48″ Pine Wreath wrapped in old school Giant Bulb and Globe Lights from Target. (3) MP’s homemade Eggnog, served from Jimmy’s grandmother’s Optic Glass Punch Set, while opening presents. (4) Our Christmas dinner table set with Vintage Italian Christmas Dishes (circa 1970s) from my cousin Nancy – a favorite memory from my childhood. A Ceramic Christmas Tree made by Jim’s Grandmother Matilda serves at the centerpiece. The Pine Cone Salt and Pepper set is from West Elm. (5) Christmas Present Stacks – a fun tradition started by Jimmy. His modern metallic Chevron Wrap for me is on the left, my 1950s vintage inspired styling for him is on the right. (6) Detail of the Christmas Tablecloth hand-stitched by my Grandmother Wanda. A gift to my mother in the 1980s.

Big props to Amanda Puck, my surrogate sister, and beloved Christmas guest, for contributing many of her amazing photographs to this post.

Thanksgiving Mise-en-Scène

Thanksgiving 2012 Montage“think like Coppola or Demille when planning your table” 

Mise-en-scène, as taught in my college film studies course, is a cinematic term which refers to everything that appears before the camera and its arrangement – the composition of sets, props, actors, costumes, and lighting. When I’m planning a party, an event, or even a simple dinner party, I always keep this concept front of mind. I think that entertaining is very much a production (either large or small scale).

Framed in this light, Thanksgiving at the Richmond is for sure an epic.  Filled with tradition, a little excess, and a few novel touches each year. It has become a must attend ritual for the 18 or so folks who gather around our table. And for me it is my very favorite day of the year (thanks in part to lots of help from guests, bloody marys and lorazepam).

For sure the holiday is all about the food (I go the traditional route); but to me it is even more about the table.  Nothing makes guests feel more festive, or welcome, than walking in to a dining room and seeing a thoughtfully planned and attractively executed table-scape with a place set just for them.

Here is a round-up of the “props” I used to create last year’s Enchanted Forest motif:

1 – The centerpieces were made with Burnt Orange Calla Lilies, Purple Artichokes and Light Pink Peonies to add fall color and a natural feel.
2Festive Quail Friends from Wisteria added some still life to the table.
3 – The place settings were on Customized Cranes Cards (a thoughtful host gift from a friend).
4Faux Bois dishes: a discontinued pattern from Marta Stewart & Burliegh
5 – Rather than spend a fortune on a table cloth, I used 12 yards of Mineral Linen from a close out bin.

6 – I love My Drap tear off cotton napkins – here I used  Brown Gingham in the luncheon size.

7Indian Corn painted with Metallic Paint and then sprinkled with extra fine Gold Glitter added some sparkle to the arrangement
8Hermes “Les Maisons Enchantées” salad/dessert plates – a slow building personal collection of mine.
9 – And finally, lots and lots of of Reidel for Target wine glasses to catch light and inspire toasting.


Chicken & Dumplings in Paris

Verjus Montage“Two well lauded Americans are delivering exceptional fusion cooking in cozy spot in the heart of The City of Light.”

Verjus insetTucked away on a quiet side street adjacent to the Palais-Royal is a tiny wine bar located directly below one of the city’s most buzzed about restaurants. Both are run by an American couple – chef Braden Perkins and his girlfriend Laura Adrian. The pair came to prominence with the Renegade Dinner Parties they hosted in their Paris Apartment. Now they have their very own spot. Upstairs at Verjus you find a six course tasting menu featuring Perkins’ creative and distinctly American cuisine. Downstairs at Verjus Bar-a-vin, Adrian mans the wine bar and serves the seasonal small plates which stream down the spiral staircase from the kitchen. Seats at the bar-a-vin are first come first serve and getting there early to obtain a spot proved well worth our while. We were there on our bi-annual buying trip and were seeking something which would measure up to Frenchie Bar-a-vin  (see previous post Two Dining Gems in Paris). And all I can say to that is Eureka!

Montage 1 Verjus

When we arrived at 6:30 the place was already packed. The bar was filled with jovial Americans – but when we left three hours later the crowd had become decidedly French. Settling in at a spot along the wall we and ordered 2 glasses of the blackboard Chablis. Two retirees from Virginia were seated next to us. They had been Verjus and the Bar-a-vin on previuous trips and loved every experience. In particular they went on and on about the fried chicken. Fried Chicken in Paris – I was in.

Verjus Montage 3

All of the eight or so small shared plates we sampled were delicious. But the highlights were the dishes pictured above. The Buttermilk Fried Chicken pieces with Cabbage and Red Chiles delivered great flavor just as promised. But the Southern Style Hushpuppies with Honey Butter were the standout – crisp on the outside, cakey on the inside, super moist and just a tad bit sweet. Delicious.  Another highlight – Celery Root Goyzas with “Dan Dan” Sauce and Toasted Peanuts. The Asian flavors were spot on.  We also loved the Crispy Pork Belly with Grilled and Pickled Chilies.  The chilies were white hot and well tempered with some spicy mayo. The dish reminded me of flavors I love in New Mexico. Another strong stop on the culinary world tour. For dessert we enjoyed a wonderful dish composed of Soft Cheese, Grilled Figs and Homemade Granola – the distinct textures held in perfect balance.

Well priced and well recommended glasses of wine flowed throughout the night and service was super friendly with just the right touch.  Another “must go” on my paris list.  (see previous post 14 Top Paris Picks for Bastile Day). And on our next trip we can’t wait to try the dinner service upstairs and the creative sandwiches they serve at the bar-a-vin Tuesday thru Friday from 12:30 to 2:00.

Verjus Bar-a-Vin
47 rue Montpensier

open Monday thru Friday from 6:00 until 11:00 pm
reservations are not accepted for the wine bar



Chiliqueues Montage“A Mexican breakfast dish which cures most ailments.”

imageAs friends and frequent readers know, I grew up around a lot of Mexican food during my childhood in Colorado. For people from the Western states Mexican food is an obsession. And mine has been further fueled by a decade plus of trips to visit my parents who now live in Santa Fe. At my house Southwestern flavors are a central part of entertaining and everyday menus. That being said I am not sure when I first started making Chilaquiles – a mexican breakfast dish centered around chilies, corn tortillas and scrambled eggs. Unlike most Southwestern food I like to cook, the recipe or idea did not come from my family or one of the Mexican restaurants where I worked during high school. Instead it came from trips to Mexico, where the dish was a culinary godsend for nights spent drinking too many Cheladas with tequila chasers. Chilaquiles are the ultimate hangover helper and breakfast comfort food. Accordingly, through the years I have made the dish at vacations rentals in Mexico and for overnight guests at The Richmond. We even served it a 1:00 am at Jimmy’s 40th Birthday Party to sober up the troops and keep the festivities going.

The central ingredients in all Chilaquiles are pieces of corn tortillas mixed with scrambled eggs. Variations add chilies, cheese, different sauces, and chorizo or pulled chicken. The dish is generally served one of two ways. The first is as scramble where all of the ingredients are loosely combined in a skillet. The other is as a casserole where ingredients are layered and baked. My recipe goes the second route. It makes it easier for large groups and I love the almost polenta like consistency which comes from the time in the oven. After many ad hoc preparations through the years, what follows is a well tested measured version which consistently hits the mark. I like to serve it with an easy pico de gillo which I combine while the dish is in the oven. That recipe is also included below.

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14 Top Paris Picks for Bastille Day

frenchie“Frenchie Bar à Vins – and 13 Other Favorite Food Haunts in Paris”

A post by Amanda Puck and Lance Lawson – appearing on both of our blogs The Foodarazzi and The Richmond (respectively). 

In honor of Bastille Day, July 14th, we decided to put together a joint post to share our 14 Favorite Foodie Experiences within the city of light.  Yes the French can sometimes be snotty, and their cheese stinky, but there is no culture which better elevates and celebrates the art of fine food. We’ve been to Paris nearly 20 times between us, and six times together, and no matter what we always leave wanting more – more haute dogs, more country pate, and of course more macarons. We tend to forgo the five stars for neighborhood spots with a mix of locals and tourists. And we always love a good cocktail. Some choices are established (you can’t argue with success) and others hidden gems (we like to do our research). Regardless, each is a place we return to again and again to experice that certain “je ne sais quoi” which defines this ancient city. Bon Appetit! 

Our Top 14 Paris Foodie Experiences (ranked in no specific order):Montage 1

  1. Frenchie Bar à Vins (okay we lied – this is our top pick): nestled in the 2nd, directly across the street from the much lauded Frenchie, chef Gregory Marchand’s wine bar serves much the same menu in a less formal shared plate experience. From the well priced wine list, to his standout takes on french classics, this spot is not to be missed.  Unlike the restaurant, they don’t take reservations, so get there early to score a prime spot. Read more about Frenchie Bar du Vin.
  2. L’Avenue – make reservations for a weekday lunch, and pay way too much for a club sandwich at this “see and be seen spot” on avenue Montaigne. It’s really not about the food here, more about the social study of the Chanel clad ladies who lunch. Try and score a coveted cafe seat if weather permits. And be sure to order a side of the decadent whipped potatoes which are strangely perfect for dipping the chips which come with your sandwich.
  3. Bar 30  at the Sofitel Faubourg San Honore – This is our favorite place to stay in Paris and much of our love for the hotel stems from this jewel box bar which is the perfect place to start or end your evening. The bartenders take great pride in crafting creative cocktails with the very freshest ingredients – and be sure to say hello to our favorite mixologist Aurele.
    Montage 2
  4. Hot Dogs en Baguette from the green kiosk in the park across from the American Embassy at the beginning of the Champs Elysees at the Place de la Concorde. No visit to Paris is complete without one  It’s a simple and brilliant process where they partially hollow out a baguette, stuff it with a hot dog, pile on the greyere and put it under a broiler until it is bubbly and toasty. Need we say more? And they pair perfectly with lots of mustard (dijon of course) and a stack Paprika Pringles. 
  5. Chez Georges – behind the Palais Royal, on the tiny side street Rue de Mail you will find a french bistro which harkens back to the 1920s. The cramped tables, the crusty old waitresses in starched uniforms, and the old zinc bar combine to create an authentic experience.  But it is the food, all well executed french classics, which have kept this place bustling for generations.
  6. Ladurée – we know they are now in NYC, and that there are a million small bakeries scattered around Paris which may lay claim to better macarons.  But much of the joy of Ladurée is the experience. Go to the location on Rue Royale and wait in line on the carry-out side – it moves fast.  You’ll be transported back to childhood while picking your pastry and grin from ear to ear while watching them wrap it up in an exquisite box.  And while the macarons are fantastic – don’t miss the amazing elephant ears. They are perfection.
  7. Au Bon Accueil – tucked away on a small street at the base of the Eiffel Tower is this small charmer. Formal, but not fussy, look for a creative take on the french standards you know and love. The servers are friendly and the crowd the right mix of locals and tourists.  Plus the majestic view of the illuminated landmark on your way out the door provides the perfect end note to a decidedly Parisian evening.Montage 2
  8. A Sunday lunch of Roasted Chicken at Drouant – the elegant french dining room dates back to the 1880s. Noted Chef Antoine Westerman is now at the helm and his Roasted Chicken is not to be missed (available Sunday lunch only).  The expertly roasted bird is served family style on a silver platter with lots of au jus and piles of crispy frites.  It pairs perfectly with a nice cold bottle of Sancerre. We can’t imagine a more civilized way to spend a leisurely Sunday afternoon.
  9. Le Castiglione – This bustling cafe located along Rue Saint Honore is a perfect place to take a break from shopping and grab a light bite.  It is also an easy spot to start your day with coffee and tartine.  And like L’Avenue this spot is as much about the people watching as the food.
  10. Au Moulin a Vent – This spot in the Latin Quarter is our go to for Chateaubriand.  The old school charmer looks much as it did at inception in 1946 – replete with white table-clothes, red leather banquettes and aproned waiters. The menu is full of french staples like frog legs, escargot and haricot verts with crab, all made beautifully. But Au Moulin a Vent is is all about the bouffe, the corresponding sauces and the accompanying fried potatoes.  Save room for dessert – both the Floating Island and Profiteroles are tops. Read more about Au Moulin a Vent.
  11. Cantine at Merci – On the lower level of Merci, the uber hip concept store located in the Marias, you’ll find a hidden lunch spot. After perusing the store’s well edited assortment of home goods, apparel, and accessories, head downtairs for a light lunch in the bright modern space.  Decidedly french, the menu is limited to wonderfully creative cold salads, soup and a few plats de jour.  Add in a glass or two of Rosé, an espresso and  and a few slices of baguette, and you’re all set for a tres Parisian lunch experience.Montage 4
  12. Aux Lyonnais – Alain Ducasse is now at the helm of the historic bistro dating back to 1890. He has returned the room to it’s early 20th century elegance with lots of Art Nouveau and Art Deco stylings. Like it’s name, the food owes it’s influence to Lyon. We especially enjoy the charcuterie, poached eggs with crayfish and the cassoulet. The baked to order soufflés are a wonderful grace-note to an elegant evening.
  13. Le Defender – this cosy bar tucked inside the Hotel du Louvre is a true hidden gem. Dark and sexy, it is the perfect spot to grab a drink before dinner or to enjoy a night cap. Ice cold martini’s, and a wide array of champagne by the glass, set the tone to sit back and tuck in to this serene spot.
  14. Café Ruc – while we are all about french classics, we also love a good burger.  The one at Cafe Ruc is a stand-out – with a gooey melted cheese topper.  Part of the overtly hip Costes Group, this corner cafe is packed with art and fashion types. Take a break from sight seeing at the nearby Louvre and Palais Royal for a leisurely lunch in the chic dining room or at the sidewalk cafe.

There you have it.  But before we sign off, a few more pieces of advice. Make dinner reservations before you arrive (and lunch reservations at nicer spots like L’Avenue and Drouant). The french don’t understand the concept of walk-ins and popular places are booked weeks in advance. Email your hotel concierge five or six weeks before you go for help making these arragements. Hailing a taxi in Paris is an impossibility and finding a cab stand can be confusing.  So ask your waiter to call a taxi as you finish dessert.  Finally, although almost all of these spots have an English menu, and an English speaking wait staff, a few words in French will go a long way to build goodwill and assure you are well taken care of.

Amanda Puck – the foodarazzi
Lance Lawson – the richmond