Thursday, December 16, 2010

Mussels in Spicy Wine Sauce

If you like mussels, I guarantee that you will love these!  They are simple to make, and pack a lot of flavor. I'm a little crazy about this recipe.  They are a fantastic appetizer, double or triple the recipe and they would be an impressive addition to a holiday buffet or, if you are like me, you'll eat them as a main course with a salad and a crispy baguette to sop up the sauce. 

I've played with this recipe for quite a while.  I've learned a few things that I'd like to share before we start cooking.  First, buy the freshest mussels you can find.  If fresh local mussels aren't in season, I buy Prince Edward Island mussels from someplace like Whole Foods, where they label the bag of mussels with a harvest date.  This recipe calls for a lot of shallots.  I've substituted onion when I forgot to buy shallots. I have to say, the flavor that the shallots give the sauce is superior; go for the shallots and only use fresh flat-leaf parsley.   If I have fresh homemade tomato sauce or frozen sauce, I use that.  If I don't have any homemade sauce on hand, I use a good jarred sauce.  You only need a little so I like to use something like "Vincent's Original Sauce".  Lastly, use a dry white wine like a pinot grigio.  Even a semi- sweet wine will ruin this dish.  Oh, and if you are not mollusk savvy, you can refer to my note about clams in this post.  The same goes for mussels.  Be sure to discard any that do not open during the cooking process as well.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Aunt Dot's Rugelach

I guess if you had to assign a signature recipe to my mother, this would be it.  Every Christmas, my mom would make a tray of home baked cookies to take to her sister's house or my cousin's house, depending upon who was doing Christmas that year.  Her choice of cookies changed from year to year, but the one constant that remained was her rugelach.  She baked them exclusively for the holidays, and it was expected that they would be present on every tray.  They were everyone's favorite.  They became known as Aunt Dot's Rugelach.  Even I call them Aunt Dot's rugelach, and she is my mother.  "Did Aunt Dot make her rugelach?" or "Aunt Dot's rugelach is here" is how we were usually greeted at the door.  My cousins and I all had the same idea to sneak one off the tray before dinner; heck no one would notice just one missing.  The problem was, when you multiply 10 or 12 people sneaking just one cookie, it gets noticed.  My mother, wise woman that she was, eventually brought an extra tin of rugelach along to fill in the holes.
My mom use to bake her rugelach with a raisin and nut filling.  It wasn't until I took over the Christmas baking, that I began to add some apricot or raspberry jam.  Sometimes I'd fill them with a cocoa-chocolate bit filling.  You can use any jam or dried fruit that you like.   I find it easier to mix the pastry the night before I want to bake the cookies.  I mix the dough, wrap the dough in wax paper and refrigerate it overnight.  I take the dough out of the refrigerator an hour before I am ready to roll the pastry and they are the perfect temperature.  They take a little time to make, but they are well worth the effort.  Add some rugelach to your cookie tray this year.  My mom would be happy!
Cookie bags for EVERYONE!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Heath Bar Shortbread Meltaways

Christmas has been sneaking up on me.  Thanks to the internet, my shopping is now under control .  It's a quiet weekend.  Paul is away visiting his family.  Today was the perfect day to start my holiday baking.  I sat with a cup of coffee this morning, looking through cookbooks, reading tattered recipe cards, and pulling out cookie recipes that I've been collecting all year.  I thought I'd spend the day mixing batters, baking off some cookies and freezing the rest.  I wanted to use ingredients that I had on hand.  I've been squirreling away cookie-baking ingredients since October.

I finally decided to start my first day of holiday cookie baking by making my mom's rugelach recipe, her spritz cookies, some sparkling ginger chip cookies, russian tea cakes, peanut butter cookies, and I was thinking of making some shortbread cookies.
I've been a busy baking elf today
This morning I came across a hand written shortbread recipe that my mom probably wrote back in the '60s.  I remembered that she liked them with her afternoon tea.  They weren't too sweet and they melted in your mouth.  I was thinking of jazzing them up with some chocolate, either chopped and added to the batter, or better yet, maybe I would dip the baked shortbread in some dark chocolate.  I started pulling all of my ingredients out of the pantry and lo and behold, a bag of Heath Bar chips was tucked between a bar of Belgium chocolate and a bag of chocolate chips.  I bought them because one of Paul's favorite candy bars is a Heath Bar.  I didn't have anything in mind to bake when I bought them.  I don't know what possessed me to do it, maybe I was missing Paul, but I decided to go a little crazy and add the Heath Bar chips to the shortbread and heck....dip them in chocolate as well.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Best Chocolate Cake

I have the recipe for the best chocolate cake.  Yes, that is a BOLD statement, but I truly believe that it's a TRUE statement.  If you made this cake, you would understand where I am coming from.  For me to consider a chocolate cake to be really good, it has to meet a certain criteria.  Here is my criteria for what I believe constitutes a good chocolate cake:
This is what my best chocolate cake looks like
  1. A good chocolate cake should not be a mere vehicle for frosting or butter cream.  A good chocolate cake should be able to stand on its own.
  2. A good chocolate cake should have depth of flavor.
  3. The only after taste a good chocolate cake should have is chocolate.
  4. A good chocolate cake should have a fine crumb.
  5. A good chocolate cake should be moist, and remain fresh if properly stored, for a few days (if you hide it from your husband the masses).
  6. When a good chocolate cake is baking, it should fill the air with an aroma that stops people dead in their tracks and makes them think they have died and gone to heaven.
  7. When you eat a small piece of a good chocolate cake, you contemplate each bite and nothing else in the world matters.
  8. When my husband eats you eat an even bigger piece of a good chocolate cake, you break out in a  chocolate sweat, right between your upper lip and your nose.
  9. A good chocolate cake makes your mouth feel happy.
Last weekend we were invited to a dinner party and I volunteered to bring dessert.  I did not not know everyone attending, so I thought it safe to bring one chocolate dessert and one non-chocolate dessert.   The only chocolate cake I considered bringing was this Chocolate Guinness Cake.  The Guinness and the little bit of molasses, not to mention the brown sugar, give this moist cake a deep, complex flavor. Yes, it was the right choice.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Mavis Webb's Southern Pecan Pie

Over the past few weeks, food bloggers have been posting their favorite pie recipes like crazy.  It's almost as if Thanksgiving marked the beginning of pie season.  It's understandable.  Pies are meant to be eaten with company, unless of course, you happen to have a large pie-loving family.  Personally, I only bake pies when I know there will be enough mouths around to eat them.  There is nothing appealing about a soggy week-old pie.

Everyone has been professing to have the "best pie you have ever eaten", or the "pie that will change your life".  Bloggers have been revealing their families' pie secrets.  Everyone seems to have had a pie baking grandma.  Not me, the only thing I remember my grandma making was tea.  As I was reading these blogs, I agreed that every pie sounded wonderful, but I kept thinking to myself, "how could this be the best pecan pie on earth?  I have the recipe for the best pecan pie on earth!"  Actually,  it is not my original recipe at all.

In the early 80's we moved from Santa Cruz, California to San Antonio, Texas for business reasons.  It was there I met this lovely "blue-haired" lady named Mavis Webb.  Mavis worked in our office.  She had a sweet and gentle southern demeanor.  Mavis had a way of speaking that was different than the usual office banter.  She's say things like, "bless your little heart" or "time to circle the wagons".  She looked a bit like SNL's church lady, bouffant hair and all.  Mavis was like the office mom; and that office mom could bake!

I recall the day that Mavis introduced me to her pecan pie.  Pecan pie had always been a favorite of mine.  One bite of her pie, and instantaneously, my idea of the perfect pecan pie was changed forever.  Every bite transported me to pecan heaven.  Her pie did not have a heavy, gooey, dark middle  with a distinct layer of pecans on top.  No, Mavis Webb's pie had a slightly lighter texture than other pecan pies, and the flavor was homogeneous.  What was her secret? .... Pecan meal... Pecan meal is the main ingredient that set Mavis's pie above all others.   I asked Mavis for her recipe and the next day, she brought in her pie recipe typed up on a 3x5 Mavis Webb personalized recipe card, along with a BIG sack of pecans from her backyard.  Not only did this woman make the best pie in the world, but she grew the pecans!  OMG!

I dusted off this recipe and made this heavenly pie for Thanksgiving this year.  Thanksgiving has come and gone, but this recipe is one to consider to top off any holiday meal.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Spiced Cranberry and Cherry Compote

I intended to post several of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes all month long, but life got in the way,  and as you can see, it never happened.  I'm somewhat disappointed in myself, but I will chalk it up to a learning experience.  Next year, I will get an earlier start.  After all, this is my first year of blogging and I'm just getting the kinks out.

So not to be totally disappointed, I'd like to share a quick post with you, spiced cranberry and cherry compote.   I just whipped up a batch for Thursday's feast.  If you haven't decided on your cranberry sauce yet, you might give this one a try.  It has a fresh taste, a bit tart, with a nice zip of spice.  It's also great on a turkey sandwich and goes nicely with a holiday ham. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mexican Chicken Soup, Simple and Delicious

I'm always on the lookout for a good soup recipe.  This time of year, I tend to make soup on Sundays.  I do this for a couple of reasons.  First of all, the as the days get shorter, I burn out earlier.  It's quite a phenomena.  Not having to think about dinner on a Tuesday or Wednesday night is a real gift.  I tend to like soup even more the second time around.  I'm not a fan of leftovers, but soup is an exception.   Another reason why I like to make soup on a Sunday, is because football makes dinner planning difficult.  Actually, it makes planning anything difficult.  As you might guess by that remark, I am not a fan.  Paul is.  Enough said.

This Mexican chicken soup has become one of my absolute favorites.  It's got a spicy kick, it's hardy, and its just plain good.  Oh, and I forgot, it's easy to make.  Once again, I bow down to Ina Garten for coming up with this creation.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Slow Cooker Pot Roast: Nostalgic and Ridiculously Easy Comfort Food

There's a chill in the air.  The days are getting shorter.  Time to dust off some of those recipes I wouldn't think of making in the summer.  I was looking for some old fashioned comfort food.  I didn't feel like fussing and if I could get 2 dinners out of 1 night of cooking, even better.

My mom used to be big on comfort food.  The first time Paul came to dinner at my parents house in New York, my mom made her famous pot roast.  Well, it was famous in our family at least.  I think she was trying to impress him.  My dad met Paul in California a few months earlier and he must have given mom a favorable report when he returned home.  Up to that point in time, my dad couldn't stand never particularly took to any of my boyfriends.  I was home from California for the holidays, and Paul was in the city on business.  I told my parents that Paul was coming out to Long Island to pick me up and we were going out to dinner.  My mother said, "nonsense, he'll come here for dinner!"  My dad said, "your mother will make a pot roast".   The rest is history.  That pot roast is the most talked about pot roast in the history of pot roast!  When Paul visits my mom who will be 92 in February, he always asks her, "do you remember the first dinner you ever cooked for me?"  She smiles, takes his hand, kisses it and holds it against her cheek.  You see, she doesn't remember much of anything anymore.  He reminds her, "you make me pot roast!"  She smiles and says, "I know that, I wanted to see if you remembered."

Now that you know my pot roast story.  I have a confession to make.  I was not a big fan of mom's pot roast.  I always wanted to like it, but it just lacked something.  I think I didn't like mom's pot roast because it simply wasn't cooked slow enough and she didn't cook with wine.  Slow, low, and pour on some wine....that's the secret!  

This recipe is the easiest thing in the world to make.  You dump everything in the crock pot, plug it in, return 6-10 hours later....and you will have the richest, tastiest, pot roast ever....definitely not your mother's pot roast.  If you love braised short ribs, you'll really love this dish.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cranberry Orange Scones

I think a good scone is one of the most perfect baked goods.  In my opinion, a good scone is light and flaky, with a touch of sweetness, and most importantly, it can stand on its own.  It does not need jam or heaven forbid, more butter to make complete.  It is perfect all by itself, along side a cup of coffee or tea.

I think Ina Garten, aka the Barefoot Contessa, is the queen of scones.  She is also the queen of cream and butter.  I have experimented with her scone recipes for a while now, and I've decided that low fat buttermilk is an acceptable substitute for heavy cream in her scone recipes.  I have tried to reduce the amount of butter she uses, but quite frankly, if you reduce the amount of butter too much it changes the texture and the integrity of the scones.  If you are not willing to use some butter in a recipe, don't bother making scones.

The key to making good scones is making sure butter your butter is ice cold and work quickly.  As a matter of fact, your buttermilk or cream should be very cold as well. If you handle the dough too much, the heat from your hands will melt the butter and will result in dense scones.  You want to see small bits of butter in your dough. This dough freezes well too.  You can mix up a batch, cut them out and freeze them before you bake them.  I put the cut-out scones on a pan lined with a silpat, place the pan in the freezer, and freeze for about an hour.  After they are frozen, I remove them from the pan and pop them into a ziplock freezer bag and keep them for a rainy day. When you want to bake them, just pop them onto a baking sheet lined with parchment or silpat, brush with egg wash, and sprinkle with sugar.  They do not need to be defrosted and take just 5 minutes longer to bake.
This recipe makes a lot of scones.  I made a batch for our October staff meeting along with Pumkin Ginger Nut Muffins that can be found on Simply Recipes.
I think I ended up with 20 scones.  Obviously, you can change the yield by using a different sized cutter.  If you don't want 20 scones, cut the recipe in half. I usually cut the recipe in half, and still freeze half.  It's a good idea to only bake as many as you will consume in a day or two. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Last Dinner, Late Nite Turkey Burgers

As I sit and think about this past week, I get kind of sad.  I always feels so relaxed and content when I visit Matt in Florida; it always makes me sad to leave.  When I am here, I can be as mindless as I want it to be.  I make an effort not to look at the clock, drink way too much coffee in the morning, and plan my day as it unfolds.  This trip was low key.  We just wanted to spend some time with Matt and Lauren and decided to forgo the usual obligatory Orlando theme parks.   My days were spent sleeping in, doing some shopping at my favorite SteinMarts (yes I went to 2 of them), taking a stroll on Park Avenue in downtown Winter Park, catching a movie downtown and spending a long day at the Mount Dora craft fair.
Leather rockers with double elbow room....nice!  Wish the movie was better.
Everyone needs an alligator muffler....don't they?
We were able to get in a little time at the pool, I had time to write, and let's not forget our afternoon at the Black Hammock biker bar in search of alligators.
Matt is not a biker
Me and Matty
It's safer to dance on tables when alligators are around
The guys in the background gave us their recipe for fried gator!
I guess you can't swim in this lake!
We ate well too.  We had excellent Thai food at Sea Thai, yummy BBQ at 4 Rivers and Lauren's famous turkey tacos at home, YUM.  I did not do any cooking until last night.  Since Matt was working late, and Lauren worked all day as well, I decided to whip up a batch of late nite Mar-a-lago Turkey Burgers.  Yes, it was a relaxing trip.

I love cooking in this kitchen.  Why???  I HAVE SPACE!!!!  At home, I am very methodic when I cook.  I have to be.  At the condo, I can cook with reckless abandon... I love having space!
So let's get down to cooking....

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Apple Spice Cake

It seems as if cake and desserts have undergone somewhat of an evolution over the past twenty years.  Dessert is so much more sophisticated than it used to be.  Maybe it really isn't, but since the advent of The Food Network and the internet, it sure seems that way.  Sophistication has its place, but sometimes I just want to make a cake that is homey and nostalgic.  I came across this Apple Spice Cake recipe on this site.  After reading all the comments, I had to give it a try.  This is one of the simplest cakes in the world to make.  It satisfied my nostalgic urge, that just-like-mother-used-to-make kind of cake.  It was heavenly with a cup of coffee and stayed moist for days.   My dad would have loved this cake.  He was a no-nonsense cake kind of guy; he didn't go for cakes with mounds of frosting.  He loved coffee cakes, pound cakes, pies and anything my mom would bake in this pan.

I have a nice bundt pan, but to add to the nostalgia, I thought my mom's old tube pan would be appropriate.  It's an old soldier.  This pan has to be at least 50 or 60 years old and bakes cakes like a charm.  I line the bottom with parchment or wax paper so it doesn't leak....this pan has been through a lot.  I tweaked the recipe just a little to reduce the amount of fat.  I also used a combination of brown and white sugar, just because I like the brown sugar - cinnamon combo.  I hope you like it too.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Chicken Scarpariello, My Way

A few weeks ago, Paul and I decided to try a local Italian restaurant for dinner.  When I saw chicken scarpariello on the menu, I immediately thought of the first time I ever had the dish.  It was at Carmine's in New York's theater district.  I remember it being aromatic and tart with lemon.  I had it again at one of my favorite Italian Restaurants, King Umbertos.  It was quite different from Carmine's version, but still delicious.  Umberto's recipe was less lemony, but had the addition of pepperoncini, mushrooms, and a lot of wonderful sauce.  I can't remember where I had my third scarpariello experience.  All I recall was a boneless version, with hot cherry peppers and a dark sauce, very different from the other two.  It was then that I came to the conclusion that every chef has their own interpretation.  That brings me to my most recent dinner at my neighborhood restaurant.  Although our calamari was outstanding, Paul's penne a la vodka was excellent, my chicken scarpariello was....BORING!  It was then that I decided I needed to make this dish myself; and am I glad I did!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Roasted Butternut Squash ... (and Friends) Soup

I don't know why it took me so long to discover butternut squash, it just did.  I don't remember my mother ever cooking it when I was a kid.  Looking back on my childhood, it would be fair to say we were a squash-less family.  We ate our vegetables, but they were more along the lines of string beans, peas, carrots, and broccoli.  Mostly frozen vegetables were served in our house, with the exception of holidays.  Holidays always commanded fresh vegetables.

When I moved out of my parent's home,  I headed west to California, the land of fresh vegetables. While living in Santa Cruz,  I had a brief stint with vegetarianism.  I had an open mind and found the joys of fresh produce: artichokes, arugula, lettuce that was not iceberg, brussel sprouts and squash.  I also learned that there were many ways to cook vegetables as well. Vegetables could be more than an obligatory lump of green on your plate. I discovered one of my favorite ways to cook winter squash was roasting.  Roasted butternut squash has a wonderful depth of flavor and can stand on its own.  It doesn't take much of leap to know that if you take that roasted squash and puree it with some broth, you'll have the start of a really good soup.  Add a few other ingredients to the mix and you'll have something special.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

End of the Season Gazpacho

My beloved tomato plants took a severe beating in yesterday's storm.  I'm not sure whether it was the wild wind or the deluge of rain, but they look like hell.  The ground is covered with tomatoes.  I am going to glean what I can and hope that the remaining soldiers can hang on a bit longer until the season's first frost.

Earlier this summer I experimented with some gazpacho recipes.  I decided that I like my gazpacho to have some texture and chew.  For that reason, I loved Ree Drummond's gazpacho.  Her technique of adding finely diced and minced vegetables to the pureed vegetables worked perfectly for me.

This gazpacho is a wise way to use up some of those extra tomatoes and random veggies you may still have in your garden.  It tastes fresh and clean and is relatively quick to make. Just be sure you leave enough time to chill it before serving.  If you are good with your food processor, you can do most of your dicing and prep with it.  Just be sure not to pulverize the veggies.  Do the dicing in small batches.  Serve the gazpacho as a first course or have a big bowl for dinner.  If there are any left-overs, it makes a delicious lunch although I must warn you the raw garlic becomes more pronounced.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Roasted Tomato and Garlic Sauce

I've said it before, and I'll say it again.  I like to cook with produce that is in season.  Having said that, I am sad to say that my tomato plants look as if they are giving up the ghost as I write.  Oh, they are still producing flowers and are adorned with many green tomatoes along with some slowly ripening ones, but this nasty weather we are experiencing combined with the shorter number of daylight hours is surely taking its toll.  My once beautiful behemoth plants are beginning to look, well, decrepit.  These plants were so generous and kind to us, I hate to see them go.  They have given us three solid months of tomatoes, tomatoes, and more tomatoes.  You would think I had a huge tomato patch but I only had two, yes I said two tomato plants this year, a Roma tomato and a cherry tomato.  That cherry tomato plant (sweet millions) was my pride and joy in a whiskey barrel.  It has inspired me to plan a vegetable garden over the winter and expand my horizons.  I even named her.
Her name is Audrey 2

These tomatoes were the inspiration for many a summer dish.  My intention was to post the recipes earlier, I just never seem to have enough time to write about all of them.  I'll get as many posts in as I can over the next few days just in case you have an end-of-season bumper crop and are wondering what to do with your tomatoes.  If you are fortunate enough to live in a place with a longer growing season....hooray for you!  You can eat fresh a little longer.

I simply adore roasted vegetables.  Roasting intensifies their flavor.  They caramelize and the flavor becomes deep and sweet. This sauce is not your ordinary sauce.  Try it, you'll like it!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Ricotta Cheesecake: A Fitting End to the Start of Gravy Season

What's the matter?  You never heard of gravy season?  Gravy season starts shortly after Labor Day when the temperature outside is cool enough to spend the day inside over a pot of Italian meats and sauce.  I'm not going to get into the "is it gravy or is it tomato sauce?" debate.  Paul and I are fortunate enough to have friends like Barbara and Rob who take gravy season very seriously, no debate involved.  That's why when we got an invitation to The Italian Kitchen  for the inaugural pot of gravy, I knew I had to come up with just the right dessert.  Deciding on the right dessert can be tricky.  After all, everyone would be pigging out dining on pasta covered in homemade gravy with out-of-this-world meatballs, sausage and homemade braciole,  not to mention everything we would be eating and drinking before dinner...that's a whole other story.  I wanted to make something Italian and rustic, yet I wanted to keep it light.  I decided to make this light, almost souffle-like Ricotta Cheesecake and top it off with a Strawberry-Raspberry Coulis.
Cheesecake, coulis and fresh fruit

Robert and Barbara in their swanky new kitchen
Get to work Paul!


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Apple Sauce, Plain and Simple

Apples have arrived... fresh, crisp, juicy apples.  I've been getting some early crop apples at the farmer's market since the end of August.  A few days ago those giant wooden bins, straight from the orchard, arrived at my local supermarket.  They were brimming with Macintosh, Jonamacs, Gala, Rome and Golden Delicious apples.  The season is just getting started.  I am looking forward to Empire and my favorite of all apples,  Macouns.

Apples make me feel nostalgic.  I have one of those warm and fuzzy early childhood memories of flannel shirts, seeing my breath in the morning, and feeling the warm sunshine on the side of my face through the car window as my dad and I took a drive upstate in search of apple orchards.  I have no idea where we went, but I remember feeling rebellious eating apples off the tree without washing them.

I went to college upstate New York.  I was surrounded by apple orchards.  I became the apple pie queen of my dorm.  There was a huge kitchen in the basement of the dorm with 3ovens.  Our guy friends would sneak into the orchards at night with empty pillow cases, filling them with apples, that is until one of them got shot in the butt with buckshot!  Yes, they were stealing, but we justified it because we were poor college students and was the 70's!  My roomie and I  rolled out pie crusts by the dozen.  Occasionally, I'd throw in a dutch crumb.

When my kids were young, we created more apple memories.  Our family took annual apple picking trips with friends from my son's cub scout pack that continued even after the boys lost interest in scouting.  The kids ran wild in the orchards, picked way too many apples, took hayrides, drank cider, and ate apple donuts.  The day always ended with a picnic and a cut throat game of soccer.  Yes, apples make me feel nostalgic.

I thought I would kick off the season by putting up some jars of applesauce.  If you have not done any canning you can refer to one of my earlier posts for the specifics.
Start by sterilizing  your jars.  This big pot takes awhile to get boiling...even with 2 burners.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Sneak Peek of Autumn ... Apple-Sage Stuffed Pork Chops

Earlier this week I wrote about my brother's visit to New York.  He helped us with a few projects around the house and  I owed him a home cooked meal.  I wanted to make him a dinner with a "fall flavor".  The new crop apples have arrived in the market.  Nothing says Autumn is just around the corner, more than a fresh new crop of crispy apples.  Since I was dying to make an Almond Tart for dessert, the apples would have to find their way into the main course...and they did.
Apple - Sage Stuffed Pork Chops
Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Shallots
Mashed-Baked Sweet Potatoes
Homemade Applesauce 
Almond Tart

Sunday, September 12, 2010

One Good Turn Deserves Another Almond Tart

I've been busy in the kitchen.  My brother Don was in town for a few days.  He lives in Florida and by this time of the year, he has had it with the hot weather.  Needless to say, he wanted to bottle up our cool breezy New York weather and take it back to Florida.  I appreciate it too.  Cool weather invites me into the kitchen.  I literally have hundreds of recipes bookmarked and dog-eared, waiting to be made, but when you experience one of the hottest summers on record, it is easy to put off lighting the oven, or standing over the hot stove until cooler weather prevailed. 
I owed my brother a good dinner.  You see, Paul bought a new kitchen faucet sometime last winter on an impulse buy.  It's been sitting in my basement in the box, taunting me every time I walk by.  I would nag suggest to Paul that it would be nice to actually see the faucet functioning, at least once a week for the past few months.  Knowing that this faucet installation could potentially turn into a plumbing nightmare, Paul had no intention of installing it by himself did not want to brave it alone.  Don's visit was the impetus for Paul to tackle the job; with Don's help of course, they did it.

Technically it is still summer, but the cool-ish temperatures warranted a fall-ish menu for the "good deed" dinner.  I'll get to the actual dinner in another post.  I want to start with dessert.  I chose to start with dessert because I've been dying to make this...

and didn't want this evil thing lurking around the house with just me and Paul at home.  I adore almond desserts.  Years ago, a time which I fondly refer to as "in my previous life", I lived in Santa Cruz, California..  I frequented a cafe, India Joze, that make the most delectable Mazarin Torte.  Mazarin Torte and a pot of was the stuff of which dreams are made.  I discovered this recipe for an Almond Tart that I think comes pretty darn close.

Monday, September 6, 2010

An Early Scone Season: Cranberry Almond Scones

Sunday was a beautiful dry and breezy day.  The evening was cool and delightful. So what the heck, I thought, let's brave it and not turn the air conditioner on tonight.  I am somewhat addicted to the white noise of my air conditioner.  I think my pup Sweetpea is too.  It blocks out all the random street (and air) noises that are a part of suburban living.  I usually hate the air conditioner-to-open-window transition period.  The drone of airplanes and distant trains, the sound of the newspaper delivery person's car and the "FLOP" of the paper hitting the sidewalk, not to mention the scream of a motorcycle at 2:00AM tearing down the Southern State Parkway, all drive me crazy.  Oh, and how can I forget the birds? I thought birds woke up at dawn. Not in my neighborhood!  At 3:00AM they're having a party.  If I manage to sleep through any of these annoyances, Sweetpea does not.

Much to my AMAZEMENT, it was an eerily quite night. I had a wonderful night's sleep. It was so quiet I don't even think Sweetpea woke up until the newspaper was delivered....not bad. I can't help but wonder, what happened to the birds?  And the strangest thing of all....I was cold!  Yes, it was downright chilly!  I pried myself from under the covers and headed to the kitchen  It was 53degrees outside.  I don't know what the temperature was inside the house, but since we had left several windows open, there was a definite nip in the air.  

A perfect reason to light the oven I thought.  I checked out the pantry and my eyes focused on a sack of oat flour that I picked up at the King Arthur Baker's Center in Vermont a few weeks ago.  I had some buttermilk that I wanted to use up as well.
 and then I remembered my new fluted cutters from King Arthur's...

SCONES!   ...It's a perfect morning for scones. 

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Millions of Peaches...Peaches for Me! Peach Chutney

Peaches, peaches and more peaches!  I thought this year I would make some peach preserves.  I've changed my mind however, since I made plenty of blueberry and strawberry jam earlier this summer, and I'm planning on making a truckload of apple butter this fall. I decided to change things up a bit and make some peach chutney instead.  Peach chutney?  Why peach chutney you ask?  Because I like peach chutney! It can turn a plain piece of chicken or pork chop into something special.  Sometimes I'll grill a spice rubbed pork tenderloin, slice and serve with chutney for a quick mid-week dinner. I LOVE peach chutney on a turkey burger.  As a matter of fact, I substitute my peach chutney for Major Grey's chutney when I make these  Yes, you can buy chutney in the gourmet section of the grocery store, but you will pay dearly for it.  Trader Joe's has a decent chutney, but for some reason they don't always have it in stock. Homemade is so much better. It's one of those things that you don't think you need, but if you have it on hand, an interesting meal is just minutes away. I made a smallish batch, and it should last me the year. If you haven't done any canning, you can refer to my entry
So let's get down to business and make some chutney.

Isn't That Just Peachy: Peach Blueberry Cake

When I started this blog, I fully intended to write at least one entry a week.  I've been negligent.  It's not that I haven't been cooking; far from it.  I've just been enjoying summer too much.  I have a ton of pictures and quite a few recipes that I planned on blogging about.  I've written the blogs in my head.  I usually do that when I have trouble sleeping, which is quite often.  I have to restrain myself from getting out of bed in the middle of the night and jumping on the computer.  I've learned that can be counterproductive to my sleep cycle. So my big dilemma is, where do I start?  Since I am smelling the aroma of freshly baked peach blueberry cake, I guess I will start there.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Blueberry Jam Session

Blueberries are still showing up at the farmer's market.  If you love blueberries, you should consider putting up some blueberry jam.  I did.  Now I have little jars of summer sitting in my pantry, ready to open on a bleak winter's day.  But you had better hurry....blueberries won't be around much longer.

If you haven't done any canning, you should do a little reading first.  This is a good site, loaded with information . Don't let canning frighten you.  Generally speaking, be sure you read through your recipe and plan to do your canning on a day when you do not feel rushed and you can give it your full attention. There are no safe shortcuts when it comes to canning.  Blueberry jam is a great place to start.  It is practically foolproof.  The addition of lime to this jam makes it something special.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Manhattan Clam Chowder Rules!

It has been my experience that one either thinks of oneself as a Manhattan clam chowder person or a New England clam chowder person.  It is rare to meet someone with equal admiration for both.  Sure, a curious mind may be drawn to "taste the other side", but one's allegiance usually brings them right back.
But how is it determined?   I was thinking it is much like the nature vs. nurture debate.  Are we born  "tabula rasa" and our experiences determine what we become?  Or are we genetically predisposed, a product of our ancestors? taste, just a matter of taste....????
I grew up on Long Island, 20 miles from Manhattan.  Both my parents were raised in NYC.   My mom always made Manhattan clam chowder. I don't know of anything else.   My mom did not always write her recipes down.  This is pretty darn close to her recipe. 

Friday, July 30, 2010

I'm Diggin' Those Baked Clams

This past Wednesday, Paul and I drove down to the beach to meet our friends, Lorraine and Al, for Wine Night at Lola's.  We sat outdoors enjoying the warm breeze, feasted on some wonderful food, drank some good wine, shared a bunch of laughs and, overall, experienced a truly pleasant, relaxing, midweek summer evening.  After dinner, we walked back to Lorraine's place where Al opened a cooler filled with clams sitting atop ice, waiting to be transformed. They sent us home with a bagful of those beauties.  I knew what I would be doing Thursday night.

After some deliberation I decided to make some baked stuffed clams and a pot of my mother's Manhattan clam chowder. Did it matter that it was 86 humid degrees outside and we had 4, count 'em, 4 air conditioners running?   Not at all....some things are worth wasting energy over....Did I just say that?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sayonara Sushi

I have a love/hate relationships with my job.   Generally speaking, it can be very rewarding.  On the other hand, it can be very frustrating, bordering on depressing.  I help people with disabilities prepare for, find, and maintain employment.  In this economy, it is more than challenging.  The bright side of my day however, is being a part of an AWESOME team of women who face this challenge as a force to be reckoned with.  I am sad to say, but also happy for her, that our youngest team member, Morgan, is moving on...... to bigger and better things.

Morgan is a vocational rehabilitation counselor who has been part of our team for the last 3 years.  She has been a ray of light with a youthful exuberance that will be sorely missed.  Fran, friend and colleague, was gracious enough to host a "farewell brunch" for Morgan.  Since Morgan loves sushi and chocolate, I thought it only fitting to make Morgan some Brownie Sushi for her send-off.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Tale of Two Bruschettas

What do you do when you have a bunch of tomatoes that ripen all at once? ...
......And you hear the little gnomes in your herb garden calling ..."pinch these herbs...NOW!"
You listen to those gnomes!  Pinch some herbs, pick some tomatoes and with the addition of just a few more ingredients, you will be enjoying two bruschettas in no time.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

I'm Lovin' Those Blueberries, Muffins, That Is!

Blueberries are awesome.  I haven't always felt this way about blueberries.  As a matter of fact, I can remember a time when I avoided blueberries at all cost.  I think I was traumatized by  blueberries when I was a child.  It must have been another 20 years before I saw the light.

The fresher the blueberries the better.  I am a firm believer in eating local produce that is in season.  I eat some blueberries everyday during the summer months... blueberries with Greek yogurt, blueberries and strawberries with cottage cheese or just a bunch of blueberries mixed with some melon and peaches....Blueberries are one of those "super-foods"

Sometimes you want more than just pop-em-in-your-mouth fresh blueberries. Blueberries that are baked in a tart or pie, or simmered into a jam are raised to another level...and sometimes you just need to go there.  Why not start your day on a high note with a  Blueberry Muffin?  These muffins are an adaptation of a recipe that I found in my mother's recipe box.  It was hand written on an index card, and not in her hand writing.  I don't know who to credit for their goodness....but thank you mystery baker.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Pulling the Trigger; Time to Get Cooking!

What's the big deal?  I've spent more time trying to perfect the look of this blog than I care to admit.  Do I want it to look "foodie" or should it be abstract?  Should I use earth tones or should I use muted pastels?  Decisions,decisions!  So what did I do?  I pretty much scrapped everything, downloaded a picture of my berry tart, returned to default settings........ so now, I can present to you...... Kitchen Catharsis.  I have a tendency to over-think things.  That is a habit I am trying to break.

So the trigger is pulled, and I can get down to the business at hand, sharing my musings and culinary adventures with you. But who are you?  What happens if there is no "you"?  Here I go over-thinking things again.  Actually, I am doing this for me.  I don't know why, but it is something that I've wanted to do.  So here I am.