Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Time for Some Spring Celebrating

Meteorologists are going to be very popular in the next few days.  They are predicting a beautiful Easter weekend, with lots of sunshine and temperatures in upstate New York rising into the mid-70s. This is especially exciting since we've been inundated with rain and grey skies lately.  I told friends at work today that this gloomy weather we're experiencing is just the price we're paying for the beautiful weekend ahead.  After what seems like a 6-month winter, a warm spring weekend is truly a gift.

My daughter Tricia's birthday is this weekend.  Her birthday has fallen on Easter Sunday a few times.  That's not the case this year, but it's close.  We're combining her birthday with an Easter dinner at Katie's house this year.  I remember one year when Tricia was a very little girl.  She was able to choose her favorite meal (the kids always got to choose dinner for their birthdays) and on this particular birthday she wanted Kielbasa.  We had never had Kielbasa.  She'd seen Martha Stewart prepare it during a television show, and she was insistant.  The horse-shoe-shaped sausage was roasted in the oven, cut on the diagaonal into oval slices, and served on a platter of curly lettuce.  Tricia had to have it.  I don't remember if she liked it or not, but that's what she got!

When I think of Easter dinner, I think of an oven-baked spiral-sliced ham, glazed in a brown sugar/mustard/pineapple concoction, with side dishes of au gratin potatoes and carrots, and a cheesecake or a pineapple-upside-down cake for dessert.  My sister-in-law Carolyn and her husband Billy make this almost every Easter.  I've served my share of spiral-sliced hams, too.  No need to spend $75 for the over-priced honey-baked version.  The pre-sliced hams you can bake at home are wonderful, and you can get a terrific one for under $20.  No need to fear the ham.

In addition to a cheesecake and Easter sugar cookies, I'll be baking Tricia a birthday cake.  It will be something simple and pretty.  One year I was just tired of baking.  I'd hit the wall.  So I bought a Carvel ice cream cake for her birthday.  I don't think she's ever forgiven me!  Here I am, baking cakes for anyone who asks, and I couldn't muster one up for my own daugther's birthday.  I won't make that mistake again!  I have become much more discriminating about saying "yes" to requests.  I only bake for people I know well and care about. 

I look forward to this weekend.  Russ will be here, and we'll go to church. Henry will hunt for Easter eggs, which should be especially exciting for a 23-month-old.  I'll have one large, collective basket on my table, filled with the things my kids loved when they were young (including Cadbury Eggs - I don't get it, but they loved them!).  I'll call Meghan in California and wish her a  Happy Easter.   I'll think of my Mom, and Russ's Dad, who both passed away around Easter time. They will be happy memories, because they were both happy, joyful people. 

Whether you are celebrating Passover, Easter, or simply the arrival of spring, I hope you look forward to a beautiful weekend.  Go make some happy memories!

Photo Credit:  http://www.theflowerexpert.com/media/images/aboutflowers/exoticflowers/tulips/muti-hued-tulips.jpg

Hand-Crafted Chocolate Easter Eggs

When our kids were young, my sister-in-law Carolyn and I started making our own chocolate Easter eggs.  I had come across a recipe that seemed simple enough and we gave it a try.  Our first egg-making experiment was a lot of fun.  We spread out all over the kitchen and it was a production. I mixed up the filling.  The kids molded the dough-like substance into oval orbs, and my sister-in-law Carolyn dipped the eggs in melted chocolate.  This activity became an annual event, and all the kids got involved.  We had a great time working together, molding the eggs, cooling them in the fridge, and immersing them in melted chocolate.  The filling was made of a creamy buttercream base with different flavors added: peanut butter, coconut, and mint.  I got fancy and piped little flowers on top, to make them look like the store-bought version.  The special creations weren't put in Easter baskets.  Rather, they took center stage on pretty platters, as evidence of the pride we took in making something special and the fun we had doing it.

Hand-crafted Chocolate Easter Eggs

Filling:
1/4 lb. butter, softened
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 lbs. Confectioner's Sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Chocolate Coating:  12 ounces of milk or dark chocolate (your preference) or candy-melts.  Believe it or not, the original recipe called for 1/4 bar of paraffin to be melted with the chocolate (!) to make the coating very glossy, but I wouldn't do that now! 

Filling flavors: 1 1/2 cups peanut butter OR 15 ounces flaked coconut OR 1/2 tsp. mint extract and a few drops pink or green food coloring (or diviide the filling and use proportionately less of individual flavorings to make an assortment).

Beat the softened butter and cream cheese together until light and fluffy.  Add vanilla extract.  Slowly add confectioner's sugar until it is all incorporated.  Using a wooden spoon, stir in filling flavor ingredient until it is very well mixed in.  Using about 1/4 cup filling, mold into eggs (powder your hands with confectioners sugar if necessary).  Place on parchment- or wax paper-lined cookie sheet.  Place in refrigerator for an hour or more.

Genlty melt chocolate over double boiler or in microwave.  Using toothpicks, dip chilled eggs into melted chocolate.  Return to parchment-lined cookie sheet.  Cool completely in refrigerator.


Photo Credit: http://hostedmedia.reimanpub.com/TOH/Images/Photos/37/exps10243_TH10039C67.jpg

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Big Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies from Cooks Illustrated


My daughter Katie baked up a batch of these oatmeal-raisin cookies today, and all I can say is: They are incredible!  When it comes to cookies, if there are options, I'm likely to grab a chocolate chip first, but these moist, chewy oatmeal raisin cookies can give a chocolate chip a run for its money.  Cookie for cookie, these might disappear first!


BIG CHEWY OATMEAL RAISIN COOKIES

thanks to Cooks Illustrated and Christopher Kimball
makes 16 to 20 large cookies
  • 2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, softened but still firm
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (or a pinch of dried)
  • 1/2  teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 cups raisins (optional)
Adjust oven racks to low and middle positions; heat oven to 350 degrees. In bowl of electric mixer or by hand, beat butter until creamy. Add sugars; beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time. ed.note: don't skimp on the time mixing the sugar and butter together. longer is better for these cookies. and make sure each egg is incorporated completely before adding the next
Mix flour, salt, baking powder, and nutmeg together, then stir them into butter-sugar mixture with wooden spoon or large rubber spatula. Stir in oats and optional raisins.

Form dough into sixteen to twenty 2-inch balls, placing each dough round onto one of two parchment paper–covered, large cookie sheets. Bake until cookie edges turn golden brown, 22 to 25 minutes. (Halfway during baking, turn cookie sheets from front to back and also switch them from top to bottom.) Slide cookies on parchment onto cooling rack. Let cool at least 30 minutes before serving.

Photo of Katie's cookies by me, Jeannie (still trying to figure out my new camera!)

Road Trip

Every now and then I find it so rejuvenating to leave my everyday existance and take the drive east to Hatfield, Massacusetts to spend some time with my friend Jan.  That's where I am right now, sitting on her cozy couch in her beautiful condo, three floors of rustic ambiance in part of a restored barn.  I'm using her laptop to write this post.

Jan and I met almost thirteen years ago, just after I started dating her brother-in-law Russ.  She was going through her divorce and I'd been there, and we formed a fast friendship.  We didn't commiserate so much or wallow in our misfortune as enjoy each others' company.  Jan has a very positive and energetic outlook on life.  We found we think the same way about a lot of things.  She's raised two great kids.  Like me, she works in an academic setting and she is a writer.

Here for just an overnight visit, yesterday we had fun enjoying a casual lunch at Panera and then shopped at my favorite place, Trader Joe's.  I stocked up on things I can only get there.  I've written to the company and begged them to put a store in Saratoga Springs, but got a post card back from "Joe" saying that wouldn't be happening any time soon and to please visit their stores in other locations.  The challenge to that, though, is that the closest TJs to my home is in Amherst, Mass., two hours away.

Last night we ate in.  Jan made a salad and baked a Rising Moon Organics Margharita pizza.  Our "formula" is to spend a day like that and then watch a movie.  We saw "Hurt Locker" which clearly deserved all the accolades it has received.  The acting was incredible, and Kathryn Bigelow deserved Best Director at this year's Oscar Awards. It was a hard movie to watch, but one that shouldn't be missed.

I woke up this morning while Jan was out walking her pretty Golden Retriever, Leila, one of the sweetest, most gentle dogs I've ever known.  Zeke, Jan's aging and pretty white cat, provided the wake-up call.  My accomodations are in Logan's room on the top floor, and Zeke came to visit me and I let him out on the balcony just off Logan's room where he spent a few minutes investigating the goings-on outside.

When she got back,  Jan made us a breakfast smoothie with berries, bananas, a whey protein powder, and yogurt. She'll be going to the barn soon to visit her horse Desi, and I'll get in the car to head home.  I don't know when I'll be back this way again, but I hope it isn't too long, and I hope we do exactly the same thing again.  I love my friend Jan, and I love it here.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Hey Babycakes...

It's 2:25 a.m. and I just finished this cake (photo taken the next morning).  The dishes are all in the dishwasher, and all those little tools are soaking in the sink.  I can't believe how late it is (early?).  I do this all the time.  I decide on a project, think about it alot (kind of like a skier anticipating the course down the mountain) visualizing the most effective execution. THEN my imagination takes over and I get a little creative, or a lot creative, and sometimes just downright gaudy!  I can go long into the wee hours of the morning, and working by myself, the only thing telling me to stop is my aching back.  Luckily, I stopped at the just-right moment with this cake.  My friend Diane (Grandma-in-waiting) provided me a photo of her inspiration cake , and I took a bit of creative license and added more of this, a little that and before I knew it my inner critic was screaming, "STOP!."  It's enough.

This 2-layer cake is French Vanilla with a ribbon of dark chocolate marble. It's frosted in a rose-tinted buttercream, and decorated with fondant cut-outs.  The giraffe just peeks out from behind some jungle greenery.  Flora  never found in nature are splashed all over and the result is a fun cake to welcome my Godson Bobby's and his wife Brianne's first baby, a girl to be named Isabella.

And to add to my baking OCD, I had some left-over sugar cookie dough from yesterday's cookies, and made some more baby feet.  Henry will get one and the rest are accompanying the cake to its destination. 

I used to bake all the kids' birthday cakes.  The most memorable cake for Bobby was a Bart Simpson cake, which, back in my earlier decorating days, was a pretty good likeness to the cartoon character.  On the cake, Bart's text bubble read "Cowabunga, Man!" and I still remember what a hit that was with all the kids, about twenty years ago. 

On nights like this, when I'm bone tired and thinking that it was six and now it's just five hours of sleep I'll get before I have to get up.  I feel like an athlete after a big game.  I've played hard and now it's time to rest and gear up for the next challenge.

Good night, good morning, my friends.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Pitter Patter...

This weekend finds me making special goodies in celebration of babies.  The first project is for my friend Sue's new grandbaby.  I'm making "baby feet" cookies.  Since the parents have decided not to find out whether their soon-to-be baby is a boy or girl, the cookies are frosted in dusty shades of pink, blue, yellow, and sage green.  I couldn't find a cookie cutter in time, so I made my own template.  Using Alton Brown's sugar cookie recipe (now the only recipe I'll ever use), these cookies came out beautifully.  It was fun to pipe little pads and toes using royal icing.  I got up at 6:30 a.m. to package the cookies in cellophane bags and tied them with pretty ribbons.  I think these cookies will be a hit.

I am also baking a cake for my friend Diane's soon-to-arrive granddaughter.  It's going to be a jungle-themed cake for a baby girl, decorated in pink fondant with a little giraffe peeking out from green leaves at the base of the cake.  That will get decorated tonight, and I'll post a picture of both the cake and the cookies later today. The layers are in the oven right now, and the aroma of the French Vanilla cake with a ribbon of dark chocolate marble is warming up my apartment on this cold morning.  Cookies and cakes are not the only things getting frosted today -- I woke up to 20-degree temperatures and a layer of snow coating the ground outside! (Update: It's now later today, and here are the cookies!).

Also, in the spirit of welcoming babies, I send my best wishes to nephew Rod and  his wife Emily, who welcomed their first baby, a son, yesterday.  They are a distance away, but they just may be receiving a box of "baby feet" cookies soon after they return home with their new little bundle. 

I always think of spring as a time for renewal.  It seems my friends and relatives have taken that notion very seriously!  Congratulations to all!

Photo:  Henry's foot when it was really tiny - almost two years ago

Thursday, March 25, 2010

My New KitchenAid!

I wrote recently about the birthday dinner my siblings held for me and my brother Steven.  For my birthday gift this year, my brothers and sisters combined their generosity into one incredible package:  my new KitchenAid Artisan mixer!  My previous KitchenAid was more of a base model, and I loved it. It lasted for over two decades! When it finally bit the dust, I had to start using a hand mixer and later borrowed my daughter Meghan's basic KitchenAid that had been a Christmas gift a few years back from her Dad and me.  She and her boyfriend Mark were moving to the west coast this Christmas, and didn't have room for it in the van -- not with all their belongings, two dogs, and a cat.  She knew I was in  need so she offered hers up.  I was very happy to have it, but was still looking forward to replacing mine so she can have hers back again one day. I put such appliances to very heavy use.

I was thrilled to receive such a beautiful gift from my siblings (check out the photo above left, and disregard the photographer's reflection in the bowl! At least I was in my p.j.s, unlike that unfortunate ebay-er whose naked -- and abundant -- reflection was caught in the image of his tea kettle!). I digress...My KitchenAid is snowy white and looks great with my kitchen cabinets.  Kitchen life, for me, has come a long way.  In my old apartment, I used to bake in a tiny galley kitchen, and now I have all the space in the world, very pretty space, too (despite a bit 'o clutter).

The first year in a new home is always an adjustment.  There are kinks to work out, rooms to define, space to be lived in before it can feel like home.  My kitchen is warm and welcoming.  It is a productive yet cozy space.  It's a place where Henry, and future little kiddos, will come to help me bake, to sample cookies, and find a hug from Grandma.  When I look at the photos I've taken recently, I see that it reflects just what I hoped it would: a space that says come on in and let's spend some time together. 

Speaking of Henry, here's a picture I took recently of him slumbering in his car seat.  I would love to have just one night of such peaceful sleep! 

Thanks to Michael, Patsy and Britt, Steven, Ginny, Danny and Suzette, and Anne and John for my beautiful new KitchenAid.  I promise you years and years of rewarding gratitude in the form of baked goods!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Individual Chocolate Lava Cakes

My brand-spankin' new Kitchen Aid Artisan Mixer (soooo pretty!) came with the standard nifty accessories, including a book of instructions and recipes in English, French, and Spanish.  Perusing the English recipe section, I came across one for Individual Chocolate Lava Cakes.  It uses Ghiradelli chocolate and combines cake batter with a chocolate ganache filling.  I think you'll find it not only interesting, but delicious!

INDIVIDUAL CHOCOLATE LAVA CAKES

Chocolate Ganache Centers
1/2 bar (2 ounces) Ghiradelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Baking Bar
1/2 cup heavy cream

Cake
Nonstick Cooking Spray
1 bar (4 ounces) Ghiradellie 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Baking Bar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup cake flour (AP will do)
Raspberries and whipped cream for garnish

To make chocolate centers:  Melt 1/2 Ghiradelli Chocolate Baking Bar and cream in double boiler.  Whisk gently to blend.  Refrigerate about 2 hours or until firm.  Roll into 6 equal balls; refrigerate until needed.

To make cake batter:  Spray 6 4-ounce ramekins or custard cups with cooking spray.  Melt remaining Ghiradelli chocolate and butter in double boiler; whisk gently to blend. 

Place eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla in bowl.  Mix with whip attachment (or your mixer's regular beaters) and beat until thick and light, about 5 minutes.  Fold melted chocolate mixture and flour into egg mixture by  hand just until combined.  Divide among prepared ramekins.  Place 1 chocolate center in middle of each ramekin.  Bake about 15 minutes or until cake is firm to the touch.  Let sit out of oven for about 5 minutes.  Run a small, sharp kinfe around inside of each ramkekin.  Place a plate on top; invert and remove ramekin.  Garnish with raspberries and whipped cream. 

Photo and recipe credit: http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.ghirardelli.com/images/recipes/recipe_image_1085.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.ghirardelli.com/bake/recipe.aspx%3Fid%3D1085&usg=__t9qXv_ZLMb_vY9wWJZuZls_lNDk=&h=2211&w=2100&sz=2381&hl=en&start=1&sig2=hipYKZ_shdP9a_7DrtyVFw&um=1&itbs=1&tbnid=lzoLJMrXCQtewM:&tbnh=150&tbnw=142&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dindividual%2Bchocolate%2Blava%2Bcakes%2BGhiradelli%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DG%26rlz%3D1T4DKUS_enUS282US282%26tbs%3Disch:1&ei=HY6pS7HNHYa8lQeU-8XHAQ

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cruisin' for Raspberry Tiramisu

My friends Barb and Cathi are cruising on Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas this week.  They are visiting islands of the southern Caribbean and are thoughtfully calling me with updates from their ports of call.  Today they called me from St. Maarten to tell me (1) they miss me, and (2) how great their tiramisu dessert was last night at dinner on the ship.  They miss me because I had planned to join them on this cruise but had to cancel due to lack of funds (it happens).  They wanted to tell me about dessert because they thought it would be a great topic for Adirondack Baker.  So I did a little bit of looking (just a little) and found the recipe on-line. 

I wish Barb and Cathi a joyful vacation, and am not too disappointed (I lie a little).  I'll be sure to make the next one!


Raspberry Tiramisu
From Royal Caribbean International Cookbook

1-1/2 cups mascarpone cheese
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup, plus 1 tablespoon, granulated sugar
1/2 cup Kahlua liqueur
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup strong brewed coffee
1 cup whole milk
36 ladyfinger biscuits
1 cup fresh raspberries
1/4 cup cocoa powder
Chocolate sticks for garnish
Homemade or store-bought raspberry sauce, optional

With a fork, stir the mascarpone until softened; reserve. Bring about 1 inch of water to a simmer in a wide saucepan. Adjust the heat so that the water is at a bare simmer.

In a large heatproof mixing bowl that can sit on the saucepan, combine the egg yolks and sugar. With an electric mixer, beat on high speed until pale in color, about 3 minutes, stopping 2 or 3 times to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Set the bowl over the simmering (not boiling) water and whisk constantly until the mixture is lemony looking, tripled in volume, and very thick. Keep the mixture over the simmering water as you whisk. (Take care that the eggs do not curdle. If necessary, momentarily remove the mixture from the heat if it gets too hot.) Remove from the heat and whisk until cool.

Add the mascarpone and 1/4 cup Kahlua; whisk until well blended. In a chilled mixing bowl, whip the heavy cream until stiff but still glossy. Fold the whipped cream into the mascarpone mixture.

In a medium bowl, combine the remaining 1/4 cup Kahlua, the coffee and milk. Dip each ladyfinger biscuit in the liquid and use 1/3 of them to line an 8-inch oval dish, bottom and sides.

Spread 1/3 of the mascarpone mixture on top and sprinkle with the raspberries, letting them sink in. Top with the remaining biscuits and mascarpone mixture.

Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours, until set. Place the cocoa powder in a medium sieve and sprinkle it over the top. Garnish with chocolate sticks. Cut into wedges and serve with raspberry sauce, if desired.

Yields 6 servings.

Photo credit: http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.ecruisereviews.com/MSC/PoesiaPics/Individual-Tiramisu-Desserts-.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.ecruisereviews.com/MSC/Poesia1.htm&usg=__-1x9L8TdJSkluMnOXfAw3e-hLIc=&h=306&w=400&sz=11&hl=en&start=3&um=1&itbs=1&tbnid=73We_QlhmOrhAM:&tbnh=95&tbnw=124&prev=/images%3Fq%3Droyal%2Bcaribbean%2Btiramisu%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DG%26rlz%3D1T4DKUS_enUS282US282%26tbs%3Disch:1

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sick Day, Health Care Reform, and a Fruit Smoothie

Over the weekend my back decided to scream.  I woke up yesterday morning and knew immediately.  Standing, and then sitting, were too painful.  I'm not sure what I did, can't put a finger on it.  Somehow, something just decided to move or lower-back nerves became agitated.  Russ, my chiropractor boyfriend prescribed lying flat on the floor so I spent a lot of time yesterday doing that.  I had a phone by  my head and spent much of that time finishing a book.  I had to call Katie on the phone to ask her to get me some water and OTC pain reliever since I couldn't even imagine moving.  I stayed there for a while until Katie called to invite me to dinner downstairs, and somehow the lure of food got me moving!

I very, very slowly descended the stairs and sat myself down and watched as dinner was prepared all around me.  Katie grilled seasoned chicken fillets for sandwiches and set out beautiful rolls, leafy lettuce, thinly sliced red onions and tomatoes.  She put out all kinds of condiments (including hot sauce!).  She served a home-made shrimp-and-vegetable "fried" rice (just barely fried) and a tossed salad.  It was a lovely dinner after an unexpectedly pretty Sunday.  I didn't  help with a thing, never cleaned up, just said "thank you" and left to resume the flat position on my living room floor where I spent t he rest of the evening watching March Madness.  Eventually I rolled myself into an upright position and toddled myself to bed.  I have an appointment with my doctor this morning and hopefully he'll be able to tell me what's going on. 

I'm not good at sick days.  I keep thinking of what I could be accomplishing at work.  I've never been able to get that "just enjoy" thing down on a sick day.  Maybe that's because I don't take sick days when I'm not sick!  And now I'm wondering how such medical speed bumps will impact my personal situation, and others' medical lives, now that Health Care Reform passed last night after I went to bed.  Ego-centrically, I am confused and curious about my own medical plan at work, what this bill means for the medical insurance that is supposed to be in place when I retire, and what it means for three of my currently uninsured adult children (one of whom does not want to be forced to buy anything or pay a penalty for not...).  If what I read is correct, most Americans do not really understand the complexities of the bill.  I must admit, I do not.

So, this morning I'll make a fruit smoothie with my favorite greek yogurt, some frozen berries, a half of a banana (already frozen in chunks) skim milk and a little honey for sweetness.  I'll go see my doctor as I normally would, and hopefully he'll give me some good advice (if not an effective prescription) to ease this pain in my back,  and I will look forward to feeling better.  Today, I will deal with today and worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.  This is about as much time as I can spend sitting in a chair, so I'll sign off for now and write again tomorrow.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Fried Calamari, March Madness, and the First Day of Spring!

What a difference a week makes.  Spring arrived officially this afternoon, and as if to magnify its arrival, the weather here in the Saratoga Springs area is spectacular!  Last week it was all rain and mud and muck, and this week it is warm breezes, sunshine, and dry terrain!  I can't tell you how  happy this makes  me!  March Madness is here with enthusiasm as well.  My boyfriend Russ just watched his beloved Villanova lose to St. Mary's, and he's gone off to take a nap in defeat.  I, on the otherhand, watch basketball with no investment.  I just enjoy watching any underdog achieve something never thought possible.  I love all those come-from-behind scenarios.  The movie "Hoosiers" is one of my favorites.

March Madness has me thinking about food people eat while watching basketball.  I've been in pubs and bars watching basketball games during this annually frenetic time, and I think of "bar food" when I think of basketball -- wings, Irish nachos, pub fries, calamari.  The Stadium Cafe in Saratoga Springs has the best calamari I've ever had.  The rings are tender, sweet, and crunchy at the same time, served over a pool of a sweet yet tangy tomato marinara, with no tenticles in sight, yikes!).  I was not eager to try calamari the first time.  It took a little leap of faith but I gave it a shot and learned to appreciate it as a unique appetizer.  I don't have the Stadium's recipe, but I think you'll find Giada DeLaurentis's version more than acceptable!


There's still more than half a week-end left to enjoy this spring's arrival.  Katie and Bill just left to take Henry to the Saratoga Spa State Park.  I'm just loving the sun streaming in my kitchen windows.  I've shed the cold months of winter like an old, heavy coat! If I can just get the warmer months to take their time and linger, I'll appreciate every minute. 



Giada DeLaurentis's Fried Calamari

Ingredients


Vegetable oil, for deep-frying
1 pound clean squid with tentacles, bodies cut into 1/3- to 1/2-inch-thick rings
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons dried parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 lemons, cut into wedges
1 cup simple tomato sauce, recipe follows or jarred marinara sauce, warmed

Directions

Pour enough oil into a heavy large saucepan to reach the depth of 3 inches. Heat over medium heat to 350 degrees F. Mix the flour, parsley, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Working in small batches, toss the squid into the flour mixture to coat. Carefully add the squid to the oil and fry until crisp and very pale golden, about 1 minute per batch. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the fried calamari to a paper-towel lined plate to drain.
Place the fried calamari and lemon wedges on a clean plate. Sprinkle with salt. Serve with the marinara sauce.


Simple Tomato Sauce:

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 (32-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
2 dried bay leaves
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, optional

In a large casserole pot, heat oil over medium high heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until soft and translucent, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add celery and carrots and season with salt and pepper. Saute until all the vegetables are soft, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and bay leaves and simmer uncovered on low heat for 1 hour or until thick. Remove bay leaves and check for seasoning. If sauce still tastes acidic, add unsalted butter, 1 tablespoon at a time to round out the flavors.
Add 1/2 the tomato sauce into the bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth. Continue with remaining tomato sauce.

If not using all the sauce, allow it to cool completely and pour 1 to 2 cup portions into freezer plastic bags. This will freeze up to 6 months.
Yield: 6 cups
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 15 minutes


Recipe and Photo Credit:  Food  Network: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/fried-calamari-recipe/index.html

Friday, March 19, 2010

Birthdays and A little Red Lobstah Last Night

My six siblings and I enjoyed another one of our birthday dinners last night.  We were celebrating two birthdays, Steven's and mine.  We were born one year, one week, and one day apart from each other in 1953 and 1954, missing the "Irish twins" designation by eight days! (My mother Virginia and her sister Jeanne were Irish twins, born 11 months apart.) 

I've written about this before -- we do this birthday "thing" for each other, and it is carried on from when our mother was with us.  She loved nothing more than having dinner out and since she's been gone, we continue as much for her memory as for the time we get to enjoy with one  another. 

We usually choose a casual restaurant environment where we can sit long and linger, and last night we went to Red Lobster in Queensbury, New York.  It's an old favorite of ours.  We love the comfortable if not kitschy seaside decor.  The food is good (especially the wood-fired selections) and the service is always terrific.  Our server Kevin handled our large group with humor and efficiency. 

When I tell people that my siblings celebrate each others' birthdays this way, the response is usually, "That's so nice that you do that."  We're fortunate, now, that all seven siblings can participate.  My youngest brother Danny and his wife Suzette relocated here from the San Francisco area recently, and now our get-togethers are complete.  I sat last night and took it all in, appreciating that we have the opportunity to spend this special time with each other.  Staying connected into mid- (and post-mid-) life isn't always easy.  Inevitably, there are times with the waters are a little rough and we don't always think the same way on things, but what I appreciate about our family is that we get through them, we don't let any "thing" take precedence over our relationships with each other.  If someone is facing a challenge, we rally together.  Maybe its from all those years moving around as kids.  We were always a unit.  And we always will be.  My brothers and sisters are the best (and the KitchenAid Artisan Mixer they presented me with ROCKS!)...

XOXOX to all of you!

Photo: by Kevin the Server
L-R:  The O'Farrells: Jeannie (ADK Baker), Anne, Patsy, Danny, Michael, Steven, Ginny

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Kiwi BerryTossed Salad

After the heaviness of winter and the comfort foods that go with it, my thoughts are turning toward brighter, lighter food. Today I share with you a beautiful recipe for Berry Tossed Salad from the Taste of Home Web site, and have changed it up, just a little bit, to suit my own tastes.  I suggest Greek yogurt as the base for the dressing, and Vidalia onions rather than red in the salad, but it's all personal preference.  Add slices of grilled chicken or salmon to make it a complete meal.  That's the great thing about salads.  Each one is a unique creation.  Use what you have on hand or buy the specific ingredients indicated.  It is all up to you. 

Kiwi Berry Tossed Salad

1 package (10 ounces) ready-to-serve salad greens or the equivalent of your preferred lettuces
1 cup sliced, fresh strawberries
1 kiwifruit, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup chopped red onion (use milder Vidalia onions if you prefer)
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons slivered almonds

Creamy Raspberry Dressing

Whisk all together: 
1/2 cup mayonnaise plus 2 tablespoons sugar OR Greek yogurt (honey or vanilla)
1 tablespoon raspberry vinegar
1 tablespoon milk
2 1/2 teaspoons poppy seeds
2 1/2 teaspoons raspberry jam

To make it a meal:  Top with sliced, grilled chicken or salmon, or any other protein (marinated tofu, shrimp -- the possibilities are there!)


Photo credit:  http://www.tasteofhome.com/Recipes/Berry-Tossed-Salad

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Today's post is short and sweet, much like the little fella I'm spending the day with.  I took this gorgeous spring day off from work to spend some overdue time at home.  Katie had to run errands this morning and Henry came upstairs to hang out with his Granny 'O.  We started out by making Alton Brown's sugar cookie dough.  Henry stood on the kitchen stool and helped pour in the vanilla extract.  He watched with great interest as the mixer turned the crumbly mixture into a smooth dough.  We're using it for shamrock cookies.  While that was resting in the fridge, we went outside where I took Henry  for a ride in the Radio Flyer red wagon he received on his first birthday last April.  He soon wanted to be the captain of his own ship, so he got out and started loading up the wagon with sticks, acorns, and stones. We took a long walk down the driveway (which is drying up, thank God!) to the mailbox, and Oden the Black Lab ran and played the whole way, bringing me sticks that were more like small logs.  I've never met a dog who loves to play fetch more than Oden.  He'll play until he drops.  On our walk, Henry talked and talked about trees and birds (I think - hard to tell what the conversation was really about!).   It is such a beautiful day and it was great to spend some time outside in the sunshine and fresh air. 

We came in for lunch and Katie returned home about then.  He's now off in dream land and cookies are in the oven, sprinkled with green sugar.  Henry will be the first to give one a try. 

I can't think of a better way to spend a day off.  I hope Henry remembers this day. I know I will.










Photo images: my own!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Chocolate Guinness Cake from Nigella Lawson!

On my drive to work today, I was listening to Morning Edition on NPR.  Host Renee Montagne interviewed British chef and cookbook author Nigella Lawson about two St. Patrick's Day recipes: an adapted version of Irish Stew and Chocolate Guinness Cake.  Both recipes can be found by following the link above.  I'm including the cake recipe in this post (follow the program link for Irish Stew), just because.

Montange notes, "Lawson's Chocolate Guinness Cake comes loaded with sugar, chocolate and a cream cheese frosting that recalls the foamy head of a pint. 'If you think of stout and what it has--which is an almost licorice intensity--when you mix it with chocolate, it gives it more complexity,' Lawson says.  'It's a grown-up cake.'"

CHOCOLATE GUINNESS CAKE by Nigella Lawson
Ingredients for cake:

1 cup Guinness
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups superfine sugar
3/4 cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

Ingredients for the topping:

8 oz Philadelphia cream cheese
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat the over to 350 F, and butter and line a 9 inch springform pan.

Pour the Guinness into a large wide saucepan, add the butter — in spoons or slices — and heat until the butter's melted, at which time you should whisk in the cocoa and sugar. Beat the sour cream with the eggs and vanilla and then pour into the brown, buttery, beery pan and finally whisk in the flour and baking soda.
Pour the cake batter into the greased and lined pan and bake for 45 minutes to an hour. Leave to cool completely in the pan on a cooling rack, as it is quite a damp cake.

When the cake's cold, sit it on a flat platter or cake stand and get on with the frosting. Lightly whip the cream cheese until smooth, sift over the confectioner's sugar and then beat them both together. Or do this in a processor, putting the unsifted confectioners' sugar in first and blitz to remove lumps before adding the cheese.
Add the cream and beat again until it makes a spreadable consistency. Ice the top of the black cake so that it resembles the frothy top of the famous pint.

Makes about 12 slices

Recipe and Photo Credit: From Feast by Nigella Lawson. Photographs by James Merrell. Copyright 2004 Nigella Lawson. Photographs Copyright 2004 by James Merrell. Published by Hyperion. All Rights Reserved.

Source: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124611065#124614775

Monday, March 15, 2010

Hot Cross Buns and King Arthur Flour

I have childhood memories of hot cross buns.  They came in a box with a cellophane window, and there were six. This was a problem because there were nine of us in our house.  Hot cross buns remind me of Easter and spring time and warm weather.  Visions of green grass, yellow and purple eggs, and Easter bonnets come to mind as well.  When we were little kids, we got new shoes twice a year, for the beginning of school and at Easter time.  My parents would line all seven kids up at the shoe store, one of those foot-measuring devices came out, and there were boxes everywhere.  The girls usually got patent leather Mary Janes for Easter and saddle shoes for school, and I don't remember what the boys got, but we were loving our new shoes!  How my parents were able to do that, I can't imagine.  Seven pairs of shoes for dress and seven pairs of sneakers for playing all at one shot.  There were no discount shoe stores then.  If you wanted shoes, you went to the shoe store.  In Saratoga, we went to Sundial Shoes on the corner of Church and Clinton.  Mr. Izzo was there forever, and knew every family well.  If I remember correctly (which sometimes I do not) he had an index card for every pair of feet. I even took Joe and Katie there for their first pairs of shoes, in the days when all babies wore the stiff white walking shoes which some people (like my mother) later bronzed.  My brother Michael's baby shoes were the only pair bronzed in our family.  The six siblings that followed, no bronzing. 

In honor of Easter memories and hot cross buns, below you will find a link to their recipe for this spring-time treat from King Arthur Flour.  I love KAF because I read the Web site's blog story about its flour (very interesting) and vow now only to buy KAF even if it is $1.00 more than other brands for a 5 lb. bag.  It's worth it.  Their Web site is great.  They have a host of witty baker-bloggers and I love their products. 

Hot Cross Buns recipe and photo credit from KAF: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/easy-hot-cross-buns-recipe

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Mud Shoes, Mud Pie

If April showers bring May flowers, what do March showers bring? MUD!  This morning I had a tug of war with the driveway and my heavy-duty black clogs.  I should have known better and worn boots, but I had faith and optimism that there would be patches of solid ground on the way to the bottom of the driveway, and there were.  It was on the way back UP that I surveyed the tracks before me.  This area looked more solid than that, so that's the way I went.  Suddenly, I heard slurp and looked down to find my right leg ankle-deep in mud, no sign of my shoe.  I pulled and met resistance -- strong resistance.  I tugged and the earth released my foot, but not my shoe.  I had to feel for it, and in the meantime dropped my keys in the soupy, elastic-y mess.  My shoulder bag swung low and made its own impression in the mud.  After tugging and tugging, the earth finally gave up my shoe and I proceeded forward, only to lose my left clog  three steps ahead.  At that moment, I released a very loud and audible "ARGHHHH" undoubtedly disturbing all types of woodland creatures.  I walked (stomped) up to the top of the stone driveway in my mud-soaked rag wool socks, left the embedded clogs outside, walked through the door and removed my pants and socks right there at the bottom of the stairs.  From there I bolted upstairs to my apartment and into a long, warm shower.

Not in honor of, rather in defiance of the mud, I give you here a recipe for Mud Pie.  It's the only way I ever want to deal with mud again!  Now let's hope for some mild days and warm winds to dry this tundra out!!!

MUD PIE
very loosely based on the Food Network's Version

Spring form pan - 9 or 10"
  • 2 cups chocolate cookie crumbs (crushed Oreos or chocolate wafer cookies)
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/2 gallon coffee ice cream, softened for about 1/2 hour
  • hot fudge sauce
  • Whipped cream (1/2 pt. heavy cream beaten with 2 tbs. confectioners sugar and 1/2 tsp. vanilla until medium/stiff peaks form).
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips or shaved chocolate
Mix cookie crumbs and butter together and press into bottom of spring form pan.  Freeze for 20 minutes.
Pack softened coffee ice cream over crust in spring form pan.  Return to freezer for four hours.
Spread warm (not hot) hot fudge sauce over frozen coffee ice cream.  Return to freezer for an hour.
Spread or pipe whipped cream over top of fudge.  sprinkle with chocolate.  Return to freezer and freeze firm.

To serve:  remove from freezer 15 minutes before serving.  Slice with knife dipped in hot water. 

Photo image: http://img.foodnetwork.com/FOOD/2003/12/01/ad1b05_mud_pie_lg.jpg

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Creamy Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

So, here I am with a weekend ahead of me, and no specific plans.  This is a luxury.  There is no place to rush out to, no big chore looming.  It's raining but it's not a real problem (except for the water-logged driveway that sucks my car into the bowels of the earth.  My car is parked down by the road until things dry out.  So continue the driveway wars).  Thinking optimistically, I realize this rain will wash away the remnants of snow patchworked throughout the woods outside my windows.  It will dissolve the crusts of snowbanks still lurking along these country roads.  It will soak through the ground and dissolve the frost layer, bringing nourishment to the thirsty roots feeding the thickness of trees surrounding our home.  I know there are those who mourn the end of winter (you know who you are) but I am not one of them!

Other than a little bit of baking today, this blank canvas of weekend has me thinking, "OK, now what?"   I have two books from the library waiting to be read, a couple of DVDs to watch before I send them back to Netflix, and blogs to plan.  And of course, there's Henry to play hide-n-seek with.  I'll never get used to having "nothing to do" because there's always something that can be done.  My masters diploma  arrived in the mail last week, yet I'm having trouble shaking the oppressive feeling that there's research to be done, a paper to write.  A friend told me that hangs on for months, long after the degree is received.  Having been a student for so many years, I guess it might take me longer than usual to shake that feeling!  I'll just transfer that energy to blogging, and I can be good for years!

Thinking of my long school career propels me back to my high school lunch room.  I'm suddenly craving  tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, but something elevated a bit from the fare doled out by the lunch ladies.  I'd like a crafted soup, a creamy version with bits of tomato and spiced with basil.  What's better on a rainy Saturday than an easy lunch of soup and sandwiches?  You can take care of the grilled cheese sandwich, using your favorite cheese and bread (I like real deli-sliced American and rye with a little mustard spread on the bread -- not the processed 'cheesefood' stuff in the cellophane sleeves).    Here's a great recipe for your sandwich's better half!

Enjoy your Saturday, and have a great lunch!


CREAMY TOMATO SOUP adapted from Rachael Ray

2 15-oz. containers or 30 ounces chicken or vegetable broth/stock
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes with juice, pureed in blender if you like it smoother
1 cup heavy cream
Fresh ground pepper, and salt, to taste
Basil leaves, chiffonade (rolled like little tobacco leaves and sliced horizontally into 1/4 inch ribbons)
Croutons

Bring broth/stock and tomatoes to a boil.  Add cream and reduce heat to low.  Simmer for 15 minutes.  Ladle into bowls and garnish with basil ribbons and croutons.

Photo and recipe credit: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/rachael-ray/quick-creamy-tomato-soup-recipe/index.html

Friday, March 12, 2010

Bailey's Irish Cream Cheesecake

The O'Farrell/McGeehan in me is wanting to bring you a fabulous St. Paddy's Day dessert. This Bailey's Irish Cream cheesecake bakes slowly above a water bath. It's creamy, smooth, and rich in flavor. There's a hint of chocolate, but not so much as to overwhelm the distinctive flavor of this cheesecake's namesake. After years of experimenting, I have devised a very successful formula for cheesecake which adapts well to most varieties. My formula is that for every 8 oz. of cream cheese, there's 1/4 cup sugar and 1 egg. This recipe makes a BIG cheesecake, but you can scale it down to suit your self. Just remember to proportionately decrease the other ingredients as well.

BAILEY'S IRISH CREAM CHEESECAKE
Oven 350 degrees F

Place top rack in middle of oven. Set bottom rack below, and place a cake pan half-filled with hot water (hot tap water is fine) to act as an indirect water bath. (This will minimize cracking after baking.)

Makes one 10-inch cheesecake (if using a 9" pan, you'll have some batter left over.  You can save it and later bake mini cheesecakes in a muffin pan!)

Crust:
  • Chocolate cookies (wafers or Oreos are fine) crushed to make 2-2 1/2 cups crumbs (in blender or food processor)
  • 1 bar butter, melted
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar

Mix all ingredients together. Pour into base of 10" spring form pan. Using the bottom of a metal measuring cup or a cylindrical drinking glass, press crumbs on bottom and up sides of pan. Make sure the crumbs are tightly packed. Place pan in freezer while you prepare the batter.

Cheesecake batter:
  • 2 lbs. cream cheese (4 8 oz. packages), softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder mixed with 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup plus two tablespoons Bailey's Irish Cream
Beat cream cheese with sugar until light and fluffy. Add cocoa/cornstarch mixture and beat well.Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add sour cream; beat well.Add Bailey's and beat until very smooth, scraping sides of bowl to incorporate all ingredients well.

Pour cheesecake batter into prepared crust. 

On upper rack of oven (over lower rack with water bath) place cheesecake on cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes. Turn heat down to 320 degrees and bake for another 45 minutes. Turn oven off and leave cheesecake in oven, door propped open an inch, for an hour. Remove from oven. Let cool completely on wire rack. Run thin knife around outside edge of cheesecake. Release spring form.
Sprinkle top with shaved chocolate or mini-chocolate chips.

Photo credit: http://www.thedeliciouslife.com/wp-content/plugins/hot-linked-image-cacher/upload/farm4.static.flickr.com/3582/3359577888_e5b6e9b945_o.jpg

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Buttermilk Scones

Scones are always baking in my kitchen.  There are the standards - cinnamon raisin, blueberry, orange cranberry, chocolate walnut - but I like the idea of a basic scone.  Nothing but scone and butter, or clotted cream (found in specialty stores like Putnam Market in Saratoga Springs) or your favorite jam or lemon curd.  Imagine treating your family and friends to a breakfast table set with a platter of buttermilk scones and all these beautiful accompaniments.  It'd be pretty special and easier than you might think.  The only utensils I use for making scones are a grater (for cold butter), a mixing bowl, and a wooden spoon.  No need for the tricked-out stand mixer here.  These scones are my own, with a little bit of wisdom taken from a number of sources, resulting in perhaps a unique method for creating light, fluffy, delicious scones.  I've heard people say, "I don't like scones.  They're too dry."  If eaten plain without any butter or jam, they're probably right.  I've addressed that by adding buttermilk instead of cream, and eggs, and they are plenty moist.  Mine also have a bit more sugar than the traditional.  Discs of dough are frozen for about twenty minutes, cut into wedges, and baked in a fairly hot oven.  Give these a try for your next special breakfast, whether the table is set for one or more, your efforts will be appreciated.

BUTTERMILK SCONES (makes 12 large/24 small)

In large mixing bowl, stir together:
2 cups AP flour (I like King Arthur)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Grate:  1 1/2 bars cold (even frozen) butter (12 tablespoons). If you don't have a grater, cut very cold butter into pea-sized pieces.

Using a fork, mix the grated butter into the flour mixture, making sure all pieces of butter are coated with flour.  Break up clumps with fork to distribute evenly.

In separate bowl, beat:

2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and pour in egg mixture.  Stir just until it all comes together.

On a lightly floured surface, divide dough into two portions (four portions if making 24 small scones).  Roll dough to cover with flour and knead just a couple of times.  Pat into a round disk about 3/4-inch thick.  Place on parchment paper-lined cookie sheet and place in freezer for about 20 minutes.

Remove disks from freezer and, using a very sharp knife or a fluted vegetable cutter, cut each into six wedges.

Separate scone sections and return to parchment-lined cookie sheet leaving about 1/2-inch space between scones, and brush with egg wash (1 egg beaten with a little bit of water). 

Bake at 400 degrees F for 20 minutes for larger scones, 17 minutes for smaller scones, or until they've risen well and the top begins to brown.

Photo credit:  http://img.foodnetwork.com/FOOD/2008/03/10/SH1009_Scones_med.jpg

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Chocolate Bread Pudding!

This recipe is for my friend Cindy.  Not  much I can say to make this any better, so  just make yourself some, and enjoy!

CHOCOLATE BREAD PUDDING epicurious.com

Chocolate Bread Pudding Bon Appétit

February 2001
Dearstyne’s Bistro, Waxhaw, NC

Epicurious.com states: This version of the classic dessert has more custard and less bread than usual, giving the pudding a softer texture.


Yield: Makes 6 to 8 servings


6 cups 1-inch cubes crustless French bread (from about 3/4 of a 1-pound loaf of French bread)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 3/4 cups whole milk
1 cup whipping cream
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 cup sugar
4 large egg yolks
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream (optional)
Butter 8x8x2-inch glass baking dish. Place bread cubes in large bowl; drizzle with butter and toss to coat. Transfer bread to prepared dish. Bring milk and cream just to simmer in heavy large saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chocolate; whisk until melted and smooth. Whisk sugar and yolks in medium bowl to blend. Whisk chocolate mixture into sugar mixture. Pour custard over bread. Cover with plastic and let stand 1 hour (some custard will not be absorbed). (Can be prepared up to 2 hours ahead. Refrigerate.)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake pudding until just set but center moves slightly when dish is shaken, about 35 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream, if desired.


Recipe credit:  http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/printerfriendly/Chocolate-Bread-Pudding-104731#ixzz0hpn6IvCZ
http://pinkstripes.files.wordpress.com/2009/04/choc-bread-pudding-2.jpg
Photo credit:

Cherry Pie!

My friend Sydney is known as much for her pies as she is for her quilts.  She makes a killer cherry pie.  I love pies.  I love the movie Michael because pies are featured so prominently.  The movie even has a song about pie, sung horribly and happily by Andie McDowell.  Pie is happy food.  What's better than a luscious fruit filling nestled between layers of tender crust?  Nothing, I say. Unless of course it's a cream pie, which I might, on occasion, choose over the most beautiful fruit pie.  I love chocolate cream pie and banana cream pie and coconut custard pie and...  Sorry, I got away from myself!  Since Sydney's last pie was cherry, I'm giving  you a recipe for cherry pie from allrecipes.com, a terrific Web resource for great food, with ratings so you know what you're getting into!

CHERRY PIE (from allrecipes.com)
" If you 've never eaten a fresh cherry pie, you 're in for a treat with this recipe. It 's a bit of work to pit the cherries, but once this is done, there 's not much left to do: mix the cherries with almond and vanilla extracts, sugar and tapioca"
Ingredients:
1 recipe pastry for a 9 inch double crust
pie
4 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup white sugar
4 cups pitted cherries
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C). Place bottom crust in piepan. Set top crust aside, covered.
2. In a large mixing bowl combine tapioca, salt, sugar, cherries and extracts. Let stand 15 minutes. Turn out into bottom crust and dot with butter. Cover with top crust, flute edges and cut vents in top. Place pie on a foil lined cookie sheet --- in case of drips!
3. Bake for 50 minutes in the preheated oven, until golden brown.

Photo credit: http://images.google.com/images?hl=en&rlz=1G1ACGW_ENUS356&q=cherry%20pie&aql=&oq=&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=wi

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Irish Food, Family Memories, and Soda Bread


Coming from 100% Irish origins through and through, it's surprising that I didn't grow up eating a lot of what is considered to be Irish food.  We did have lamb chops now and then (my father would buy 27 so our family of nine could each have three).  He broiled them with lemon pepper seasoning and they were delicious.  One time, just as dinner was coming together, he dropped the broiler pan with its just-cooked chops on the kitchen floor and couldn't bear to throw the expensive meat away, so he rinsed them under the faucet and put them back under the broiler! Every now and then there was a pot of stew, and sometimes my mother would leave the kitchen and my father would pour  a bottle of beer into the pot, something she did not approve of!  When my parents discovered the pressure cooker, stew became dangerous.  The little toggle on the top of the pot would start to hiss with steam and wobble, and my father would tell all of us to get out of the kitchen, in case the whole thing blew!  Eating at my house was an adventure.

I was never fond of the traditional corned beef and cabbage.  I didn't like the strong flavor of the meat, and cabbage was just too stinky a vegetable for me.  I've grown to like it in my later years (probably because my senses of smell and taste are less acute!).  Nope, not a lot of Irish food in my house, despite the bloodlines.  Still, I embrace tradition. 

In the spirit of Saint Patrick's Day which will be upon us in just eight days, I'm bringing you soda bread.  My Aunt Jeanne, mother of eight and now age 90, still makes it.  This timely recipe comes from Eating Well, and is featured on the Food Network's Website which states, "Soda breads are hearty Irish staples - wholemeal flour with large flakes of bran and wheat germ, or white flour or a mixture leavened with baking soda and moistened with buttermilk. The acid in the buttermilk reacts with the baking soda, which is an alkali, creating bubbles of carbon dioxide which rise the bread. Soda breads have the heft of a yeast bread but are made in minutes and the dough can be shaped into scones or a round loaf, depending on the occasion. Originally it would have been baked in a bastible (pot oven) over the open fire."

IRISH SODA BREAD from Eating Well and The Food Network

Prep Time:
    10 min
Inactive Prep Time:
    --
Cook Time:
    1 hr 20 min

Level:
    Easy

Serves:
    2-pound loaf (12 slices)

Ingredients

    * 2 cups whole-wheat flour
    * 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
    * 1 teaspoon baking soda
    * 1 teaspoon salt
    * 2 1/4 cups buttermilk

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray and sprinkle with a little flour.

Whisk whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in buttermilk. Using one hand, stir in full circles (starting in the center of the bowl working toward the outside of the bowl) until all the flour is incorporated. The dough should be soft but not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, in a matter of seconds, turn it out onto a well-floured surface. Clean dough off your hand.

Pat and roll the dough gently with floury hands, just enough to tidy it up and give it a round shape. Flip over and flatten slightly to about 2 inches. Transfer the loaf to the prepared baking sheet. Mark with a deep cross using a serrated knife and prick each of the four quadrants.

Bake the bread for 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 400° and continue to bake until the loaf is brown on top and sounds hollow when tapped, 30 to 35 minutes more. Transfer the loaf to a wire rack and let cool for about 30 minutes.

Recipe and Photo Credit:  The Food Network and EatingWell.com

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Girl Scout Cookie Madness! Thin Mint Brownies

I was driving from point A to point B the other day, listening as I do to NPR.  It's always on in my car, 90.3 WAMC FM in the Capital District and beyond.  This year I finally bit the bullet and actually made a donation during the fund drive, since I've been a parasitic listener for a number of years.  Now a bonafide "member," I'm always checking out (online) more about especially interesting stories.   On March 4, I was listening to All Things Considered and learned how Girl Scouts are transitioning to selling their cookies online.  The story highlighted recipes for all kinds of things created from cookies - bread pudding, fried shrimp, and the dish featured here -- Thin Mint Brownies.

The Girl Scouts and I have a long history.  As a kid, I wasn't an especially good scout.  Didn't give it a chance.  My girls, however, were very involved, rising through the ranks from their earliest Brownie experiences.  The Scouts provided my girls wonderful opportunities for community involvement.  They earned enough through fundraising for trips to Philadelphia and Disney World (twice!).  I started out as the Brownie leader but soon realized I wasn't cut out for it, so my good friend Cathi Jackson took over and took off with it, creating life-long memories for "her girls."  I did, however, continue on as "Cookie Mom" which was a very big job.  Every March we'd manage hundreds of orders and it was a lot of work.  It was all worth it when we saw how much the girls were rewarded for their enthusiasm and efforts. 

Girl Scouts provide the ground work for success.  Cathi's troop has produced a physical therapist, a college registrar, a lawyer, business women, wonderful and dedicated mothers, and independent women.  She's so proud to call them "her girls."  I'm glad I had a hand in that cookie jar.

THIN MINT BROWNIES

Ingredients: Yields 6 servings


1/2 box of crushed Thin Mints Girl Scout Cookies
1 box of brownie mix
2 eggs (3 eggs for cake-like brownies)
1/4 cup of water
1/2 cup of vegetable oil

(or instead of the previous 4 ingredients, your own brownie recipe for a 13x9 pan of brownies)

Directions:

Crush Thin Mints into medium size chunks. Mix all ingredients into mixing bowl. Do not use electric mixer— batter will be stiff. Spread batter evenly in greased baking pan (13 x 9 x 2 inch). Bake in center of oven at 350 degrees F for 30 to 35 minutes. Allow to cool before cutting.  Girl Scout suggestion:  serve with mint-flavored tea.
 
Recipe courtesy of: http://s3.amazonaws.com/www.littlebrownie.com/cookies/recipes/ThinMintBrownies.pdf
 
Photo image: http://www.dietsinreview.com/images/cache/303x300_girl-scout-thin-mint-cookie.jpg

A Little Celebration for My 200th Post!

There's a lot going on this weekend.  The Oscars Awards Ceremony is tonight, and a lot of people are excited about that.  There are smaller celebrations taking place as well.  Yesterday, Katie, Sydney, and I took a lovely drive to Winstead, Connecticut where we attended a baby shower for Sydney's soon-to-be-born grandson.  This will be Sydney's third grandchild and she is thrilled.  An expert quilter, she made a beautiful quilt for baby Nolan.  She is a textile artist and her works are cherished.  I returned home last night in time to have dinner at Great Bay in Ballston Spa with my sisters and my mother's oldest and best friend, which is especially meaningful since it's almost 8 years since we lost our own mother.  While I was at Great Bay, my ex-husband and his wife arrived to have dinner at Katie's house (where I have a mother-in-law apartment) with a couple of Marino's pizzas (a family favorite) and dessert.  This morning, I took a cake out of the oven for my brother Steven's birthday today.  All of these events revolve around the food that is shared.  Food is not the reason for the get-together, though it enhances the experience.

Today marks the 200th post of this blog, started May 26, 2009.  While it is a milestone, it is more an indication that this endeavor is worth the effort, though I must admit that writing this blog is more pleasure than work.  Fears that I would run out of things to write about were groundless.  There's always something to say.  The other day, I passed two men in conversation, talking about a recipe.  It was yet another example that discussion of food, whatever the forum, is basic and universal.  Everyone eats.  If we don't eat, we die. Everyone thinks about the next meal.  For some, it's a matter of survival; for other fortunate people, it's about options.   Some people, like me, expand those thoughts toward the creative to produce and provide food that does more than nurture.  The sharing of food creates an atmosphere, provides a sense of home and community, marks a special occasion, and makes a memory. 

Food is so much more than what we ingest.  For me, food is what I can give, what can be shared, that makes it such a primary focus in my life.  More than anything, it says "I care about you." 

Photo image: http://images.google.com/images?hl=en&rlz=1T4DKUS_enUS282US282&gbv=2&tbs=isch%3A1&sa=1&q=celebrate&btnG=Search&aq=f&aqi=g10&aql=&oq=&start=0

Friday, March 5, 2010

These are a few of my favorite things. Part 1: Parchment Paper


MY FAVORITE THINGS

Part 1

This post starts a random series of declarations of love for objects.  Kitchen items.  There are some that I am so taken with, I find it necessary to write about these culinary obsessions. 

On this Saturday, I am writing about parchment paper.  For decades of baking, I never used it.  Once I discovered its versatility as well as its work-saving qualities, I haven't been without out it.  I love parchment paper. 

Mostly, I line cake pans and cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Never do I worry that the cake won't come out of the pan or that the cookies will get stuck.  It is never an issue.

Here's what you can do with parchment paper:
  • Wrap your sandwiches with it.  Make that cool deli-type fold over the top and tuck in the bottom.  Very chic. Wrap a pickle spear to continue the deli theme.
  • Cut circles and line your round cake pans. 
  • Cut rectangles and line your cookie sheets.
  • Make a sling for your loaf pans, extending the paper a good few inches over each side.  When the loaf is cooled, it will lift right out of the loaf pan.
  • Make a collar for your souffle pan.
  • Use it as a counter protector when you're making scones or cinnamon rolls.  When you're done, gather it up by the edges and throw the mess away.
  • Roll your piecrust on it - draw the desired-sized circle on the opposite side and roll to the line.
  • Make a cone and snip the end - use it as a pastry bag.  Write a happy message on a cake.
  • Take a large rectangle.  Place a fresh fish fillet (tilapia, salmon, whatever) in the center.  Over that, load up some fresh veggies and a lemon wedge, season it up a little, and fold over, crimping edges to make a pouch.  Bake in a moderate (350 degree F) oven for elegant fish "en papillote" which is especially good because the pouch allows the fish and veggies to steam inside, keeping all the flavor in. 
  • Cut a rectangle and give your grandson some crayons and have some fun together.
  • Wrap a cookbook and add a pretty ribbon and a little wooden spoon or metal cookie cutter for a gift from your kitchen.
  • Hand-wash in hot soapy water, air dry, and use again. 
Part 2 of "my favorite things" will be posted soon.  Stay tuned!

Photo image: http://static.howstuffworks.com/gif/parchment-paper-questions-1.jpg

Family favorite: Betsy's Brownies

My family fell in love with Betsy's Brownies long ago.  Betsy is a cousin-in-law/friend to me and surrogate aunt to my kids.  When they were young, all our kids would get together often to play and for family gatherings.  My neice Sarah has requested this recipe, and though it has long been considered a "secret," I have found versions of it while researching different brownie recipes, so this delectable brownie is out of the goodie bag, so to speak.  It is with a tinge of guilt that I share this recipe with you, but it is so adored it must be shared.  Be advised that these are no ordinary brownies.  They are more like candy and a little goes a long way, but that won't keep them from disappearing in a flash.  Thanks go to Betsy, not me.

Betsy's Brownies

Grease and flour well an 8" square pan

Get a big bowl and a heavy-duty wooden spoon ready.  Must be mixed by hand.  It would burn out a mixer.  And be aware -- mixing this batter is good for your biceps!
  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs (32 squares, crushed*) mixed with 1 tsp. baking powder (Betsy's original recipe does not include baking powder, but most I've researched do.  Don't use it if you want the intense density of the original.)
* I crush mine in a zip lock bag with a rolling pin.
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Mix all ingredients together until all dry particles are moistened.  Spoon, push, and level into greased pan.  (It's very cement-like). Bake at 350 degrees F for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the brownies begin to brown on top.

Cool on wire rack.

Cut when completely cooled.  Cut into 1" squares.  Any bigger is too much!  You'll need to wipe the knife often when cutting.  I use warm water and a paper towel between slices.

 Photo credit: http://hostedmedia.reimanpub.com/TOH/Images/Photos/37/exps14962_QC10175C22.jpg

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Thoughts of a Weekend Breakfast

It's Thursday morning and I'm already looking forward to the weekend and sleeping a little later, having a relaxed breakfast, and getting outside. I don't make eggs often and this weekend I'm going to make a scramble I found in Relish Magazine.  Scrambled eggs are not all that easy.  Most people eat overcooked, dried out curds of scrambled eggs.  My daughter Meghan taught me to cook them slowly and remove them from the heat before they dry out, for which I am grateful.  This recipe, from chef Jon Ashton, produces very creamy scrambled eggs.  He instructs, "Don't rush these eggs--cooking them slowly keeps them creamy."  He serves this scramble of eggs, cherry tomatoes, and seasonings over thick slices of toasted sour dough bread.  If you're ever thinking "breakfast for dinner," these are as good after the sun goes down as they are for breakfast or brunch.

SCRAMBLED EGGS AND SAUTEED CHERRY TOMATOES
from Joh Ashton, Relish Magazine

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut into halves
2 sprigs thyme
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, divided; dash of white pepper
2 tablespoons butter
8 eggs
3 tablespoons heavy cream
4 thick slices rustic sourdough bread, lightly toasted
chives, finely chopped

Instructions
1. Place a sauté pan over medium heat; add oil. When hot, add garlic and tomatoes and sauté 5 minutes. Add thyme and sauté 4 minutes. Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Remove thyme sprigs.
2. Place eggs in a bowl and whisk. Place a large, heavy skillet over low heat. Add butter and heat until melted. Add eggs. As eggs begin to set, draw a spatula from the edge of the pan to the center, allowing the uncooked eggs to run onto the surface of the pan. Just before eggs are done, add heavy cream and stir until eggs are creamy, soft and a little lumpy. Season with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and white pepper.
3. Place a piece of warm toast on 4 individual serving plates. Top with eggs and tomatoes. Sprinkle with chives. Serves 4.

Recipe by Relish Chef Jon Ashton, March 2010
Nutritional Information
Per serving: 380 calories, 24g fat, 455mg chol., 19g prot., 22g carbs., 4g fiber, 600mg sodium.

Photo credit: http://relishmag.com

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

About Friends, Dinner, Hair, and Katharine Hepburn

Last night I had dinner with two good friends, Tricia and Sue.  Our life circumstances, once very similar, have changed and sent us on three divergent paths.  At one point in time, we all worked within steps of each other.  We had lunch together every day.  Tricia's life was the first to change directions.  She had one child, and then another, and decided to devote herself full-time to motherhood.  Her absence from our daily lives was palpable, though we kept in regular touch.  Eventually a third baby came along.  Tricia's life changed from once arranging study abroad experiences for her students to now volunteering with her son's cooperative nursery school and keeping up with the activities of her two older children  Her joyful life has been challenged by significant illness, her husband's and her own, but you would never know it.  Tricia is one of the most positive, exuberant women I know, and spending time with her is grounding and revitalizing.

Sue is my recently-retired friend.  I've written about her before. The ease of everyday familiarity has shifted and now we have to be deliberate and intentional in spending time together in order to keep the friendship fires burning, not that our friendship is work at all.  Sue is probably one of the most thoughtful, considerate women I've ever met.  She's quietly loyal and remembers people not to be recognized for her generosity, but to let them know that she's thinking of them.  Whenever someone's going through a rough patch, she sends a card or bakes a little something.  She returns from vacations with inspired tokens of appreciation.  No matter what happens in either of our lives, it is certain that we will always be there for one another.

Last night, the three of us decided to have dinner at the Tuscan Grill in Clifton Park.  We arrived to an empty parking lot and a darkened building, which didn't seem to be a good sign on a Tuesday night.  Plan B was to find the next closest place, and just down Route 9 we found Giffy's Barbeque.  It was a good alternative.  Giffy's was quiet last night, and we were able to sit and talk long after our dinners were finished.  We talked about all the things women talk about -- kids, friends from work, health, our daily routines, and hair.  It was one of those easy conversations that go along, one subject rolling into the next, and time passing effortlessly. After a long discussion of things ranging from serious and personal to light and frivolous, Tricia was staring at my hair and said "I have to tell you, I love the way your gray is coming in..."  To gray or not to gray has always been the question, and I decided a few years back not to do anything about it, to let nature define my looks.  I know it bucks the cosmetic industry trend of its "forever young" philosophy (if not cash cow), but in my mind fighting aging is a losing battle, and why?  It's natural to grow older.  It's part of life and at some point, defying that seems, for me, silly.  My perspective isn't shared by many women, and that's understandable.   How one grows older is a very personal decision.  In my case, it's not all 'philosophy of life' that keeps me away from that bottle of hair color; it's financial, too.  Many women spend upwards of $100 to $150 plus tip every six weeks for cut and color.  There's no way.  And the idea of  having to deal with roots, especially with hair as dark as mine, is something I refuse to do.  So, this low-maintenance woman will go gray naturally, slowly, over time, and be pleasantly surprised when someone says "I love your gray."  And I'll consider Katherine Hepburn as the iconically beautiful woman who embraced all of her life with authenticity and enthusiasm.

Spending time with friends is good for the soul.



Photo credit: http://i.imdb.com/Photos/Mptv/1138/3631-0009.jpg