“Pretty women wonder where my secret lies
I’m not cute or built to suit a model’s fashion size…”
– Maya Angelou

The minute I saw it, I knew I had to have it and I knew what I had to do. A shoe this captivating, this spectacular, this dramatic and dazzling requires a very special occasion and a very special audience.

The minute I saw it, I envisioned it as a magnificent centerpiece perched regally on a bed of flowers commanding attention of everyone around it.

The minute I saw it, I knew I had to host a girls dinner, a Phenomenal Woman dinner, in homage to this fabulous shoe with a bow of reverance to Maya Angelou and her phenomenal poem.

Last Friday, nine amies (friends) came over for an official “girl’s night” chez moi. The most exciting thing for me, besides my uber-sexy centerpiece, was the combination of countries represented around the table. Three Americans, four French, one German, one Italian, and one Singaporean. Ten women from different countries, ten different backgrounds, ten different careers, friends, hobbies and habits.

And all these ten women came together around a table, toasted to this fabulous shoe, to each other, to new friendships and to Phenomenal Women everywhere. It was a magical evening.

Les femmes phenomenal…

I knew that this evening deserved a very special menu. When I was back in San Francisco at Thanksgiving, I visited my friends Katie and Chris in St. Helena and, as usual, they made a delicious dinner seemingly effortlessly as we gathered in the kitchen, drinking wine and snacking on foie gras. Home-made squash raviolis in a white wine broth just about took my breath away. Katie made the filling while Chris rolled the pasta and I filled the divots and cut them apart. They were so delicious, I decided to try to recreate them for my Phenomenal Woman dinner.

After the most miserable flight of my life — 36 hours, 4 stops, rain delays, circling over Wisconsin, a refueling stop in Rockford Illinois, 2 missed connections, lost luggage, stolen items, no water and cranky flight attendants — I arrived back in Paris a day late on Wednesday night, sick as a chien (dog) about to cough up a lung. On Thursday late afternoon, it was raining and cold and I knew I had to shop but didn’t dare try to trek around town on the subway, guaranteeing another week in bed.

So I hailed a cab, with our first stop at Jean-Paul Hevin on rue St Honore to purchase his fabulous chocolate shoe. Second stop was to Dehillerin for a pasta machine. 60 euros later (yikes! twice the price as in the US!) I headed for La Vaissellerie, one of my favorite stores in Paris. It is filled from floor to ceiling with a gazillion dishes, plates, utensils and culinary gadgets. If I ever wine the lotto, I am going to walk in and order one of everything. Ten large wide bowls, perfect for my raviolis, and I was ready to head home, cough up my other lung and collapse.

Up the next morning, I headed to the market, made my rounds to tous mes fermiers then back home to start chopping and kneading and rolling and sauteing. My friend Virginie came a few hours early to help with the final mad rush. She chopped and stirred and plated and took on her assignment of de-seeding a pomegranate with great gusto. It was her first time seeing a pomegranate up close and personal. The pomegranates I bought at the farmer’s market across the street actually came from California, which accounts for the 5 euro ($6.65! ouch!) price tag on each!

By 4pm I was covered head to toe in flour, kneading dough, rolling dough, rolling out sheets of pasta, filling pasta and making raviolis. I made one batch with flour and egg and a second batch I made with flour, egg and pureed beet for a beautiful deep red color.

The filling I made with roasted pumpkin and other winter squash, ricotta, sauteed onions, garlic, parsley, and proscuitto. I had to squeeze the heck out of the squash and pumpkin to get all the juice out otherwise it would make the raviolis soggy sponges.

For the broth, I sauteed more finely chopped onions in olive oil and parsley, deglazed with white wine and added chicken broth. After cooking the ravioli in water I added them to the broth, then served them in a hot bowl in the broth with a quick grate of fresh Parmagiano. “Hot food, hot plate, cold food, cold plate,” admonished Chef Henri to his twenty-four stumbling students.

For the next course I served a salad that I found when flipping through Sunday Supper at Lucques just before leaving for the airport — a combination of arugula, persimmons, pomegranate seeds, and roasted hazelnuts. I drizzled a light Clementine vinaigrette over the top and served it after the raviolis.

A stellar cheese plate from both Philippe and Madame Leitao at the market included a Tomme de Cumin, Bleu de Queyras, Chevre au Figues, a brebis, and a chevre wrapped in grape leaves.

Now if you remember from past posts, I am pastrily-challenged. As inept as one can get with a whisk, would be an understatement. And for the first time, a chocolate dessert turned out perfect for me! I was beyond giddy. I selected a tried and true flourless chocolate cake recipe I learned, again, from my first cooking classes at HomeChef. I wanted to use my two large bottomless heart molds but my cookie sheet was warped so the chocolate leaked out. I quickly maneuvered the batter back in the bowl and grabbed my silicon heart shaped mold sheet. I filled the little hearts and popped them in the oven along with a few Hail Mary’s. Thirty minutes later they were ready. A scoop of my home made vanilla-persimmon-pomegranate ice cream, a swirl of leftover chocolate batter and a few raspberries and it chocolate a-go-go! A decadent ending to a great evening.

Voila le menu

Femme Phénoménale! Phenomenal Woman!
Vendredi, 1 Decembre 2006
chez Laura

Moet & Chandon Champagne Brut Imperial

Pate a l’Armignac – Pate with Armignac
Saumon Fume sur Brioche avec Creme Fraiche au Citron – Smoked Salmon on Toasted Brioche topped with Lemon Creme Fraiche
Endive avec Roquefort et Framboises – Endive with Roquefort and Raspberries

Domaine de Banneret, Chateauneuf du Pape 2001

Ravioli a la Courges d’Hiver dans un Court-Boullion au Vin Blanc – Winter Squash Ravioli in a White Wine Broth

Salade de Roquet, Kakis, Pepins de Grenade, et Noisettes Grillees avec une Vinaigrette aux Clementines – Salad of Arugula, Persimmons, Pomegranate Seeds and Roasted Hazelnuts in a Clementine Vinaigrette

Assiette de Fromages – Plate of Assorted Cheeses

Decadence de Chocolat et Cognac – Chocolate-Cognac Decadence Cake
Glace a la Vanille Faite Maison – Home Made Vanilla Ice Cream

Voila les recettes

Basic Pasta
– adapted from HomeChef

1 cup flour
1 egg
olive oil (as needed if too dry)

1. Pour the flour into a large glass bowl

2. Make a well in the center and crack the egg into the well.

3. With a fork, gently whisk the egg the gradually incorporate the flour from the inside of the well.

4. Incorporate as much flour as possible. If it’s too dry, add a few drops of olive oil at a time. If it’s too wet, then slowly add more flour.

5. Form a ball and let it rest in the fridge for a minimum of 30 minutes.

6. Cut it into 1/4s. Take 1/4 of the dough and place the rest in a zip lock bag to keep moist.

7. To knead the dough, run it through the widest setting on a pasta machine until it is smooth.

To make the raviolis:

8. Begin rolling the dough through the machine from the widest to narrowest and stop at the desired thickness. For the raviolis, I stopped at the 2nd to the last slot.

9. Lay the sheet of dough over the ravioli mold

10. Drop in the filling and brush the exposed dough with egg wash.

11. Place a top sheet of pasta and press down with the mold.

12. Separate the squares and place on a floured towel or cookie sheet.

13. To cook, drop gently in boiling, salted water for just a few minutes.

To make the beet pasta: Puree 1/2 beet with 1 egg and combined with 2 cups flour.

Ravioli Filling
– adapted from HomeChef

1 pound pumpkin and sweet potato flesh, roasted
olive oil
1/2 onion, finely diced
3-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 bunch parsley leaves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon oregano, finely chopped
2-3 slices proscuitto, finely chopped (easier to cut if frozen)
1 cup ricotta
1 egg yolk

1. Roast pumpkin and squash in a 400F oven until just starting to brown. Roll in a think cotton towel and squeeze out as much water as possible.

2. Saute the onion and garlic for a few minutes, then add the proscuitto and parsley.

3. Combine everything in a large bowl. Season to taste. You probably won’t need much salt as the proscuitto is salty but you will most likely need some fresh ground pepper.

Chocolate Heart
– adapted from HomeChef

2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup cognac
6 oz (170 gr) bittersweet chocolate (I used 70%)
4 oz (115 gr) butter
3 eggs
2-1/2 teaspoons flour

1. Heat oven to 350F.

2. In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cognac and dissolve.

3. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate and butter, then add the sugar-cognac mixture.

4. In a glass bowl, whisk the eggs then add the flour and whisk until combined. Add to the chocolate mixture and combine.

5. Pour into an 8-heart silicon mold (or a buttered, parchment-lined 8″ cake pan) and set on a cookie sheet with sides to hold a water bath.

6. Bake for 30 minutes

Voila le poem

Phenomenal Woman
by Maya Angelou

Pretty women wonder
where my secret lies
I’m not cute or built
to suit a model’s fashion size
But when I start to tell them
They think I’m telling lies.
I say
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips
The stride of my steps
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please
And to a man
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees
Then they swarm around me
A hive of honey bees.
I say
It’s the fire in my eyes
And the flash of my teeth
The swing of my waist
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can’t see.
I say
It’s in the arch of my back
The sun of my smile
The ride of my breasts
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say
It’s in the click of my heels
The bend of my hair
The palm of my hand
The need for my care.
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman
That’s me.

Diner des Femmes Phénoménales 9 December,2006Cucina Testa Rossa

  • Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic

    I love that poem, Laura. Gorgeous post, gorgeous thought.

  • wendygee

    Excellent post, beautiful poem… and I love that shoe! The chocolate shoe thing is becoming quite the fetish. Wish I could have been at the PWD…the food looks fab!

  • LPC

    Laura- you throw the best parties! I love that poem and menu you put together and have a copy of it on my fridge.
    Everything was very delicious… I still wished I snuck a piece of the shoe. ;-p And I’m sure I was not the only one.
    Can’t wait for the next party.

  • Anonymous

    Before I was sad that I had to miss your girls’ night. Now I’m devestated. Please write the word “Raincheck” next to my name in your address book!


Cucina Testa Rossa

After a decade in Silicon Valley, Laura traded her keyboard for a cutting board and moved to New York City to immerse herself in food and wine studies and restaurant operations. She graduated from the French Culinary Institute where she studied under Master Chefs Jacques Pépin, André Soltner, Alain Sailhac, and Master Sommelier Andrea Immer. While in New York, Laura cooked with some of the world’s most highly acclaimed chefs including Mario Lohninger (Danube), Morimoto, Mark Franz & Emily Luchetti (Farallon), Michael Romano (Union Square Café), Mario Batali, Marcella Hazan, Jonathan Cartwright (White Barn Inn), Martin Heierling (Bellagio), Dave Pasternack (Esca), Richard Reddington (Redd, Auberge du Soleil), and the legendary Alice Waters (Chez Panisse).

After working as the Back Kitchen Chef of Jacques Pépin’s PBS cooking show, “Fast Food, My Way”, Laura moved to France to cook her way around the country. She cooked at the Cannes Film Festival, then to the northwest corner of France, to Britanny, to cook on a lobster boat, then east to Paris to the world famous Pierre Hermé Patisserie where she made thousands of his macarons every day! Laura cooked for the fabulous Olivia de Havilland and interned at 3 Michelin Star Le Cinq under Chef Philippe Legendre and Pastry Chef Fabrice Lecleir. Laura was the executive chef and cooking instructor at the DaVinci Code chateau outside of Paris where she was on set during the filming of the movie.

In Fall 2007, Laura worked on Jacques Pepin’s most recent PBS television series as prop and food stylist. “More Fast Food, My Way” should air in the Spring of 2008. “My Keyboard for a Cutting Board ~ Adventures in a French kitchen v1.0”, Laura’s first book highlights her first three months cooking in France, was published in Summer 2006. Convivialité is her second book and will hopefully be published in the fall.

Laura now splits her time between Paris and the San Francisco Bay Area doing private chefing, teaching cooking classes and leading market tours when in Paris. Bon Appetit!

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