Off The Shelf: The Cook and the Gardener

The Cook and the Gardener: A Year of Recipes and Writings from the French Countryside by Amanda Hesser is part memoir, part cookbook. The book is designed around the seasons, beginning in January and going through to December. Hesser tells the story of her life in a chateau kitchen in Burgundy and how it intertwines with the chateau’s garden and its keeper, the elderly Monsieur Milbert.

Each month of the year receives its own chapter with a description of what is going on in the garden at that time of year and what gets cooked in the kitchen. The rest of the chapter is devoted to seasonal recipes using the garden produce.

If you are an avid gardener, or, are seriously interested in eating seasonally, you will enjoy this book. I did find that many of the recipes seemed very “French” (of course this is a book about living in France!) and thus perhaps too involved, or too “out there” for my taste. But, the book as a whole is very inspiring, and filled with ideas on what to grow, how to grow it, and how to cook with it. The author gives very clear, detailed instructions, so you are sure to be able to make the recipes she gives you.

I tried two recipes from this book: a soup and a salad. Both turned out very well. I loved the presentation of the egg salad and found that I could make the salad with whatever greens and herbs I had around, improvising on the recipe while keeping to the main idea. And the soup was delicious! I was skeptical at first, but upon tasting it felt like it was worthy of a fancy restaurant. I’ll be making it again, and perhaps taking up the author’s idea of freezing it in large batches when zucchini is abundant.

(The Cook and the Gardener)
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4 eggs (not new ones — they won’t peel well)
3 Tbsp. best-quality olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. heavy cream
2 handfuls tender Bibb lettuce, trimmed and washed
2 handfuls lamb’s lettuce, trimmed and washed, or mesclun
coarse or kosher salt
1/2 Tbsp. chopped tarragon leaves (about 1-2 branches)
1/2 Tbsp. chopped chervil leaves (about 4 sprigs — if not available, increase tarragon to 6 branches)
4 blades chive, sliced thin
freshly ground black pepper

Hard boil the eggs: bring a large pot filled with water to a boil. Add the eggs and cook for 11 minutes. Plunge the eggs in cold water and peel them. Sometimes it helps to run them under cold water as you peel them. The water runs between the thin skin that covers the egg and loosens it, making peeling much easier. Use a thin knife to cut them in half lengthwise.

In a small bowl whisk 2 Tbsp. of the olive oil, the mustard, and cream until well emulsified and smooth. Dress the greens: In a large mixing bowl, combine the greens, season with salt, and pour over the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Toss well to coat all the greens.

Pile the greens on a large round plate. Set the egg halves on the greens in the center of the plate. Season them with salt and drizzle on the mustard dressing. Generously sprinkle the herbs over them and then some pepper. Serve immediately. If the eggs are slightly warm, all the better.

Serves 4.

(The Cook and the Gardener)
Print this recipe

2-3 medium or 2 large zucchini (about 2 1/2 pounds)
3 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more for sprinkling
grated zest of one lemon
1 clove garlic, sliced thin
1 shallot lobe, sliced thin lengthwise (or use white onion or green onion)
2 Tbsp. white wine
coarse or kosher salt
1 cup milk, plus more if needed
2 Tbsp. heavy cream
1/2 Tbsp. chopped wild thyme or regular French thyme (about 4 sprigs)

Peel and seed the zucchini: zucchini rarely needs much prepping, but for this dish you want a light-colored, smooth soup, so some work is required. Begin by cutting off the stem and flower ends close to the zucchini flesh. Then use a vegetable peeler to peel the skin from the zucchini. (If it bothers you to waste this, you may include it; or reserve it and saute the strips of skin in olive oil for another meal.) Cut the zucchini lengthwise in half, then in quarters. If the zucchini are older and the seeds are large, you will want to remove them by laying each quarter on its side and cutting along where the seeds and flesh meet. Discard the seeds. If the zucchini are very young, the seeds are usually insignificant and can remain a part of the soup. Now cut the quarters crosswise into even-sized cubes (about 1 inch).

In a large saute pan, warm the olive oil with half of the grated lemon zest, all of the zucchini, and the garlic, shallot, and white wine. Season lightly with salt, and lay a piece of parchment paper or a lid over the mixture to cover. Sweat over medium-low heat, stirring from time to time, for 20-30 minutes, until the zucchini is soft all the way through and there are just a few tablespoons of liquid remaining in the pan. You may have to do this in two batches if you do not have a very large pan. If so, omit the garlic and shallots from the second batch.

Puree in a food processor fitted with a steel blade or with an immersion blender directly in the pan (if it is deep enough), then pass through a sieve. Now you’re probably asking, “Why did I have to bother removing the seeds if it’s going through a sieve?” Because the seeds are just small enough to clog your sieve and make this step a slow, painful one. In a large saucepan, combine the puree with the milk, cream, and thyme. The soup should be light and creamy, so you may need to add more milk or water to attain the right consistency. (Water may be better, because you do not want the soup to taste milky.)

Heat through, adjust the seasoning, and ladle into four individual bowls. Serve warm or cool, drizzling with olive oil (or cream) and sprinkling some of the remaining grated lemon zest on top of each serving just before going to the table.

Serves 4.

Note: the author suggests doubling or tripling this recipe, omitting the cream and milk and freezing it in batches to thaw later, finishing it with milk and cream then. (What a good idea!!)

Holiday Feast: Christmas Breakfast

Who doesn’t love breakfast food?! Especially on Christmas! Here’s what our families do for breakfast on Christmas morning:

HeatherChristmas breakfast is eaten around the tree as the children open their presents. The first year we were married I discovered the recipe for Swedish Tea Rings and have made one for Christmas breakfast ever since. The rest of the menu may vary some, but it always includes fruit. In recent years we’ve enjoyed bacon-wrapped sausages sprinkled with brown sugar and then baked and I often buy some thick, Greek yogurt to serve alongside the fruit. Drinks consist of juice and plenty of hot tea.


1 pineapple, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 small cans mandarin oranges or 3 large navel oranges peeled and sectioned
1 can apricots
zest and juice of 2 limes

Cut pineapple into pieces and place in a serving bowl. Add the mandarin or navel oranges and the can of apricots. Sprinkle over the zest of lime and stir in the lime juice. Best made the same day as eaten.

For variety I sometimes add dried cranberries or pomegranate seeds. For those who like ginger, one teaspoon of freshly grated ginger adds a wonderful zing or try a few tablespoons of finely sliced candied ginger.

Serves 8.

(originally from Fleishmann’s New Treasury of Yeast Baking)

3 ½ — 4 ½ c. flour
½ c. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. yeast
1 c. milk
¼ c. water
½ c. butter
1 egg (at room temp.)
½ c. flour
½ c. nuts
½ c. brown sugar
1-2 c. fruit (canned cherries, apricot, etc. well-drained)

Mix 1 ¼ c. flour, sugar, salt, and yeast in a bowl.

Combine milk, water and butter in saucepan. Heat to warm liquids and melt butter. Cool until warm. Add to dry ingredients and beat 2 minutes. Add egg and ¾ c. flour, to make a thick batter. Beat 2 more minutes. Stir in enough additional flour to make a stiff batter (but not as thick as bread dough). Cover and refrigerate dough at least 2 hours. (Can be kept in fridge 3 days.)

Combine nuts, ½ c. flour, and brown sugar. Turn dough onto a lightly floured board and divide in half. Roll ½ of the dough into a 14×7-inch rectangle.

Spread with ½ of the fruit. Sprinkle with ½ the brown sugar mixture. Roll up from long side as for jelly roll. Seal edges. Place sealed edge down in a circle on a greased cookie sheet. Seal ends firmly.

Cut slits 2/3 through ring at 1-inch intervals; turn each section outward, on its side.

(Note: This picture shows only one-half of the ring slices turned out — be sure to turn out every ring)

Repeat with remaining dough. Cover and let rise until doubled – about 1 hour. Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes or until done. Cool on wire rack. Frost while warm with confectioners’ sugar glaze.

Often I don’t have the canned filling I want so I make an apple filling by chopping about 3 large, peeled apples and mixing them with 1/4 c. flour, 1/2 c. brown sugar, juice of one lemon and a few dried cranberries. Bring this mixture to a boil and cook until thickened, stirring constantly.

Glaze: mix 3 tablespoons soft butter into about 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar. Add enough milk to make a drizzling consistency. Add more sugar if needed to thicken.

Makes 2 rings.

Alaina – We traditionally enjoy an egg casserole, fruit, some kind of bread or coffee cake, and a few special drinks. The coffee pot is kept going for those of us who were awakened early by eager children. We have breakfast after stockings and gifts are opened or in between the stockings and gifts depending on the time. It’s a leisurely affair and one that I find makes me incredibly content and reflective.

I use the same base recipe for my egg casserole and just switch out the meats and cheese and sometimes add vegetables to make it different. We love it and I’ve been making it year-round for years. One of my favorite combinations is bacon, spinach, and swiss and we also love the traditional classic of sausage and sharp cheddar (onions & peppers add great color and flavor). You could easily make this vegetarian by omitting the meat. This egg casserole also re-heats very well if you have leftovers. I’m sharing one of my favorite versions.


6 eggs, lightly beaten
1 lb. bacon, cooked and finely cut up (I often use less than a pound)
3 c. milk
8 oz. swiss cheese
1 1/3 c. crushed crackers (I use a butter cracker like ritz)

1 tsp. dry mustard
1 lb. mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
1 lb. frozen, chopped spinach, thawed w/liquid thoroughly squeezed out
pepper & salt*

Combine all ingredients. Pour into a greased 9×13 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes – 1 hour until golden brown.

*May not need much salt.
**May be made the night before and refrigerated.

These muffins are delicious! You could make them even more special by drizzling a little glaze over them.

(adapted from Taste of Home)

2 c. flour
1 c. sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 c. milk
1/2 c. vegetable oil
zest of 1 lemon
1 c. fresh or frozen cranberries, coarsely chopped
1/3 c. slivered almonds, toasted

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients. In another bowl, beat the eggs, milk, oil. Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fold in zest and cranberries.

Fill paper-lined muffin cups two-thirds full; sprinkle with almonds. Bake at 400 degrees for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack. Makes 1 1/2 – 3 dozen muffins.

This icy drink always reminds me of my childhood. My mom used to surprise us with it and now I love to share it with my children.


6 oz. frozen orange juice concentrate
6 oz. water
1 c. milk
1/8-1/4 c. sugar (opt.)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
12 ice cubes

Chill glasses in freezer.

Combine all ingredients in blender or smoothie machine and blend until ingredients are mixed and ice is pulverized. Makes 4 servings.