Friday, April 30, 2010

Thursday Night Dinner and a CreamyTortellini Salad

Last night's dinner seemed more like a relaxed weekend meal.  Katie and Bill had some friends over and were cooking out on the grill.  I walked in and said "yes" before they even invited me!  They were grilling marinated chicken breasts (spiedie-style) and chicken sausage, and Katie was making a tortellini pasta salad.  Feeling a little guilty for crashing their dinner, I contributed my own (chicken) breasts (!), more frozen tri-colored tortellini, and a loaf of Italian bread.  (This reminds me of my own otherwise-proper yet funny mother, who used to say her breasts were thawing on the kitchen counter!)...  OK, enough with the juvenile anatomy references, except to say that I smile any time something my mother said comes out of my mouth!

Along with the grilled goods and pasta salad, Katie served bright and fresh broccoli.  Rounding out the meal was a platter of lemon cupcakes topped with a swirl of blackberry (just a hint) buttercream frosting, each sporting one blackberry - a little surprise for Henry's actual birthday today since his big bash was last weekend. His cupcake had a candle in it, and he's getting really good at blowing them out!  He got it with the first shot and no help!

 I loved the pasta salad, which was served cold, and here's the recipe as far as I can decipher:

CREAMY TORTELLINI SALAD

2 bags frozen tri-color tortellini, cooked and drained, then rinsed in cold water
Mayo/ranch dressing (equal parts of both), enough to coat
crumbled bacon
Freshly ground pepper, a little salt

I thought it would be great to add some crisp broccoli florets, broken up, or peas, and maybe just a little bit of  finely diced red onion. 

Photo credit: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_GG2nXPEgt2s/Sh1Ap-lFCSI/AAAAAAAAEho/qJoD9oRCN4k/s400/pasta+saleboreo+001.JPG

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lemon Drop Cookies



I'm in love with classic lemon drop cookies, also known as Italian lemon cookies, or Anginetti.  One place to find them locally is in Saratoga Springs, at Roma's, on Washington Street. Roma's is the place to pick up a great Italian sub, custom made while you wait (with pickles or those big fat olives).  Roma's also sells all kinds of imported goodies. My friend Sue stops there often to get that long spaghetti with the hole down the center.  It's her husband's favorite.  While she's there, she always picks up a tub of Jordan Almonds and shares them with her friends!  One item that always catches my eye is the pretty little package of Italian lemon drop cookies.  My daughter Meghan used to work at The Jonesville Store and that's where I first had one of Mama Rao's Lemon Drop cookies.  The story is that they are baked fresh in Brooklyn, every day, and shipped right out.



They are wonderful!  With all this talk of lemons, my mouth is watering.  I'm providing here a recipe from Recipezaar.com, so you can make your own lemon drop cookies.  Hope you love them as much as I do!
(Photo credit: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_6m1oasu5fk8/RpVm3PpSzdI/AAAAAAAAAWY/4lpArSpH3lg/s400/italianlemoncookies.jpg )

LEMON DROP COOKIES from Recipezaar.com

COOKIE

  • 1/2 cup sugar 
  • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening 
  • 3 large eggs 
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon extract
  • 2 cup all-purpose flour 
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt 

FROSTING

  • 3 cups confectioner's sugar 
  • 1/4 cup water 
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract 
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. For cookies, cream together sugar and shortening.
  3. Add eggs and lemon extract and beat well.
  4. Add flour, baking powder and salt; Mix well.
  5. The dough should be soft and sticky.
  6. With a small cookie scoop, drop dough onto a slightly greased cookie sheet or baking stone, spacing them about 2-inches apart.
  7. Bake for about 12-15 minutes, or until firm and lightly brown.
  8. Remove cookies from cookie sheet and allow to cool completely on wire racks.
  9. For frosting, combine confectioners' sugar, water and lemon extract and mix until smooth.
  10. Frost the tops of each cookie with a metal spatula.
  11. Allow cookies to dry before stacking.
  12. Store in an airtight container.
  13. ~NOTE~If you want to freeze the cookies, freeze unfrosted and frost once thawed.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hostess Cupcakes, Home Style!

If you have fond childhood memories (or even more recent!) of Hostess Cupcakes, you can make your own version at home without all the additives and preservatives.  There are a lot of copycat recipes on-line, and many use the same recipe from what original source, I don't know.  So, instead of recycling the same recipe, I'm giving you my own take on how to make a homemade Hostess-style cupcake.

For the cupcake batter, use the Hershey recipe I gave you for the Ultimate Birthday Cake.  When they are cooled, pipe filling into the middle.  Top with a chocolate ganache-type frosting, and then pipe little ringlets of the filling mixture over the top to mimic the Hostess signature look.

Cake (Hershey's recipe)

HERSHEY'S PERFECTLY CHOCOLATE CHOCOLATE CAKE

2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups AP flour
3/4 cup Hershey Cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease and flour two 9" round pans.
Combine dry ingredients in large bowl.  Add eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla; beat on med. speed 2 minutes.  Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). 

Carefully fill paper-lined cupcake pans with batter, each cup half full.  Bake for 20-22 minutes or until center springs back when pressed.

Cool completely on wire rack, at least an hour.

Make filling:

Cream together: 
1/2 bar butter, softened
1 cup confectioners sugar
1 cup marshmallow creme
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons milk, a tablespoon at a time (or enough to make it a smooth and creamy consistency) 
(Reserve about 1/2 cup of filling to pipe on top of frosted cupcakes.)

Fill piping bag with filling.  Use a tip with a large opening (star or writing).  Make a slit in center of cooled cupcakes with a very small knife, about half way down.  Poke tip of pastry bag into slit and gently put pressure on pastry bag until about a tablespoon of filling has been added (filling just begins to pop up at surface).  If the cupcake cracks a bit, it's OK.  You'll cover that with the chocolate frosting. 

For the Ganache Frosting:

12 ounces chocolate chips (semi-sweet)
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Heat cream and butter in small saucepan until it just begins to bubble around edges and is hot.  Pour over chocolate chips in medium-sized bowl.  Let sit until chocolate starts to melt, and stir in vanilla.  Stir well to blend and let cool until it is of spreading consistency.   Ice cupcakes.  Using a writing tip, pipe little ringlets across each.

Photo credit: http://art.newcity.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/08/hostess-cupcakes.jpg

Monday, April 26, 2010

THE ULTIMATE BIRTHDAY CAKE: Chocolate on Chocolate

April 27th is my son Joe's birthday, and I've baked what my family considers the ultimate birthday cake:  chocolate cake with chocolate frosting.  My kids come from a long line of chocolate lovin' ancestors on their father's side, though the O'Farrell/McGeehan maternal influence highly favors the cocoa bean as well!  This obsession with chocolate is not always understood by others.  Why not lemon cake, or carrot, or even yellow?   Those flavors are wonderful, but in most cases are passed over for the richer, darker attraction of THE CHOCOLATE CAKE!   For me, it's insurance:  I know I can't go wrong if there's chocolate, somewhere, in a birthday cake!

For Joe's birthday, I've baked a deep, dark fudge cake and frosted it with my version of Hershey's cocoa frosting.  The standard recipe for the cake and the frosting can be found on the back of the Hershey Cocoa can.  I'm posting it here, with my frosting adaptations,  for you.  I'm sure it will be a big hit.  The trick tonight is to see if the cake can actually last until the morning, for Joe's actual birthday!

HERSHEY'S PERFECTLY CHOCOLATE CHOCOLATE CAKE

2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups AP flour
3/4 cup Hershey Cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease and flour two 9" round pans.
Combine dry ingredients in large bowl.  Add eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla; beat on med. speed 2 minutes.  Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin).  Pour into pans. 
Bake 30-35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire cooling racks.  Cool completely. 

HERSHEY'S PERFECTLY CHOCOLATE CHOCOLATE FROSTING

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
2/3 cup Hershey Cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk (more if needed - I always need a couple extra tablespoons)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt butter.  Stir in cocoa.  Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating on med. speed to spreading consistency.  Add more milk, a little at a time, if needed.  Stir in vanilla.  Makes about 2 cups of frosting.

Homemade Granola Bars from Ina Garten

My lovely student assistant Anne Kenealy was the fortunate recipient last week of a "care package" from her mom. It contained, among other things, a box of individually wrapped, homemade granola bars. They were beautiful rectangles of nutritional chewy goodness, and she shared one with me. Now I can't wait to make my own. The great thing about granola bars is that they can be customized to your own tastes. Like nuts? Add those. More fruit? Do that. Craving chocolate? Throw in some semi-sweet chips. Anne sent me the recipe her mother uses, with the following notation:

"Here's my mom's granola bar recipe, which she said she got from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics Cookbook. She said, 'I usually only add apricots and sour cherries (from Trader Joes) instead of dates and cranberries. I've also made them with golden raisins if I'm out of apricots and sour cherries.'"

Thanks to Anne, and to Anne's mom, and once again to my favorite cook, Ina Garten.

Homemade Granola Bars

2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup shredded coconut, loosely packed
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup honey
1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup pitted dates
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8 x 12-inch baking dish and line it with parchment paper.

Toss the oatmeal, almonds, and coconut together on a sheet pan and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and stir in the wheat germ.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees.

Place the butter, honey, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt ina small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook and stir for a minute, then pour over the toasted oatmeal mixture. Add the dates, apricots, and cranberries and stir well.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Wet your fingers and lightly press the mixture evenly into the pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until light golden brown. Cool for at least 2 to 3 hours before cutting into squares. Serve at room temperature.

Photo credit: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3291/2972411557_0a8e6889c9.jpg

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Henry's 2nd Birthday Party

The big day has come and gone, and Henry had quite a happy 2nd birthday party.  He was excited to wake up from his nap and find balloons all over the house.  That made his day.  Everything else was icing on the cake. This was pretty simple as parties go, with friends, relatives, good food and my contribution: cake.  Luckily it was a beautiful day so kids enjoyed playing outside much of the time.  Katie  had a nice platter of cold-cuts and rolls, a home-made mac-n-cheese that she whipped up and kept warm in a crock pot, and lots of fresh fruit.  She made a nice cranberry lemonade.  Most of Henry's gifts were toys for outside, and he was thrilled with them.  There were trucks, tractors, sand toys, a t-ball set, and such.  Lots of fun.  My gift was the Anchors Away water table I wrote about yesterday. 

This morning I took Henry for a walk while Katie assembled the table, and when we came back it was outside and ready to go!  Henry completely immersed himself in play (and water) and was heart-broken when I carried his saturated and shivering little self into the house to dry off. 

I'd say it was a successful choice!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Anchors Away and My 250th Post!

OK, random IT guy who told me most blogs only last a month:  This is my 250th post since the first on May 26, 2009.  What do you think of them apples?!  : )

I don't have time to write today, so this is short and sweet.  We're preparing for Henry's birthday party tomorrow.  I have a cake to decorate (you'll see it tomorrow) an apartment to de-dog, and some shopping to do.I do have something to share. Don't tell Henry, it's a secret. It's his birthday gift, an Anchors Away play table from Little Tykes. Now if I can just get someone to put it together before his party, we're good to go!

Isn't that cute?  I think he's going to love it.  I know I do!  Having a Piscean Granny is probably going to be a lot of fun for him, with water toys, water parks, water slides, fun at the beach... 

I'm off to start checking things off my to-do list.  Hope you all have a terrific beginning to your weekend.

Photo credit: http://cache.gifts.com/photos/4/B/Z/E/4BZEB2WFCQN3SZ3GJ3JG_L.jpg; http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51mytcpYZvL._AA260_.jpg

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ice Cream Sandwiches!

One of my favorite treats is an ice cream sandwich.  When I was in high school in the early 1970s (how long ago????!!!!), lunch was 45 cents.  That meant, if I didn't want what the lunch ladies were serving, I defaulted to the ice cream sandwich/milk lunch.  (Milk was a nickel; ice cream sandwiches, a dime.) At the time, I was a mere whisp of the woman I am now, though that lunch habit may have launched other nutritionally unsound behaviors resulting in the challenge I've had with the scale ever since reaching true adulthood (you know, when  soup or a sandwich are preferred lunch options). 

Anyway, I love the inexpensive, standard, paper-wrapped chocolate-wafered-vanilla-ice-creamed sandwich, 12 to a box.  You know, the kind where the softened chocolate wafer sticks to your thumbs and there's no really polite way to get it off?  They were/are the best.  However, I do get inspired to reinvent the wheel now and then.  I have made really great home-made ICSandwiches.  There is a trick to it. I use freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies, two (of course) to a sandwich.  I spoon about 2 heaping tablespoons of really good vanilla ice cream (Stewart's Philly Vanilla!) between the baked and previously frozen cookies.  Gently squeeze until the ice cream reaches the edges of the cookies, and the ice cream middle is about 1/2 inch thick. Wrap in plastic wrap and put back in to the freezer until they are frozen hard, at least a couple of hours.

I have another great idea for an ice cream sandwich.  I haven't made it yet, but I will soon and will absolutely post the recipe.  Here's a hint:  baked 4" pie crust circles filled with softened vanilla ice cream that's been marbled with some apple pie filling.  Made the same way as above, and frozen.  It's the Apple Pie ala Mode Ice Cream Sandwich! If there's another one out there, I haven't heard of it.  It'd be nice to think I have an original idea!  Actually, I have a lot of ideas about the variations this dessert could take.  Let me know if you have any favorite ideas!

Photo credit: http://familyfun.go.com/Resources/Features/Food/famf0600icecream_sandwiches.jpg

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tangy Tomato Salad Dressing

My sister Ginny and I love Outback's Tangy Tomato salad dressing.  I've searched on-line and have found, at cdkitchen.com, something said to be very similar to our favorite.  Outback's version is like a spicy Catalina.  It has that nice, tomato-y base, a sweet side, but also packs a little heat.  Every time I order a salad at Outback, I make sure to order the Tangy Tomato dressing, with no regrets.  Now I can make it at home.  Just love it.


Tangy Tomato Dressing

Ingredients:


2/3 cup ketchup
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/8 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon coarse black pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1 pinch thyme
1 dash salt
Directions:

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, whisking often, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Cover the dressing until cool, then refrigerate it until well chilled.

Photo credit: http://www.lifepal.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/tomato1.jpg

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Stella's Graham Cracker Cake

Recently my friend Catherine Golden and family honored their mother Nancy with a celebration marking her 85th birthday.  Catherine made the family's heirloom dessert, a graham cracker cake with real fudge frosting.  The original recipe is decades old, and came from the family's beloved cook, Stella.  Catherine brought back a slice for me from the festivities in Buffalo. 

It is a dense, rich dessert, sweet but not too sweet  The genuine fudge frosting is the perfect compliment to the nuttiness of the graham cracker cake. This is one of those recipes that evokes nostalgic feelings of an earlier time, of kitchen traditions, and fond memories of family gatherings.  Happy Birthday Nancy, and many more!

Stella's Graham Cracker Cake

Ingredients

1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
4 eggs, separated (whites stiffly beaten)
1/2 cup shredded walnuts (finely chopped)
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup milk

Cream butter, sugar, egg yolks, and milk.  Add to chopped walnuts, graham cracker crumbs, and baking powder.  Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites.

Bake in 2-layers in a 350 degree F oven until it tests done with a toothpick inserted in center (check at 35 minutes). 

Fudge Frosting

1 1/2 cups sugar
2 oz. bitter chocolate
1/2 cup milk
2 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla

Melt chocolate over a slow fire.
Add milk and sugar and boil until a few drops form a soft ball (in cold water).
Add butter and 1 tsp. vanilla.
Let stand undisturbed a few minutes. 
Beat until cool enough to spread.

Frost middle layer and entire cake. 

85th birthday sign credit: http://www.candysnob.com/archives/pictures/516045_85.jpg
Photos of cake:  Catherine Golden

Monday, April 19, 2010

Anti-Funk Fudge

I've been battling a life-funk lately, and my new exercise study begins soon which will elevate endorphin levels considerably.  In the meantime, I'm thinking it couldn't hurt terribly to quickly take in some special treats before my diet consists of whey protein and more whey protein.  It will be four months, after all, that I will be completely and utterly compliant with the study's guidelines!

I want fudge.  Nothing fancy.  No need for pans or cooking or any of that bother -- this is a microwave recipe allowing for almost-instant gratification (if you wait the alloted 2 hours to let it cool!). There's nothing complicated here --  just plain, basic, craving-satisfying fudge.  Here's a simple recipe from Kraft Foods.

EASY FUDGE (a.k.a. Anti-Funk Fudge)

2 pkg. (8 squares each) BAKER'S Semi-Sweet Chocolate
1 can  (14 oz.) EAGLE BRAND® Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 cup chopped PLANTERS Walnuts
2 tsp.  vanilla 

LINE 8-inch square pan with foil. Microwave chocolate and milk in microwaveable bowl on HIGH 2 to 3 min. or until chocolate is almost melted, stirring after 2 min.; stir until completely melted. Stir in nuts and vanilla.
SPREAD onto bottom of prepared pan.
REFRIGERATE 2 hours or until firm. Use foil to lift fudge from pan before cutting into pieces.

Notes from Kraft Foods: 
Fudge can be stored in airtight container in refrigerator for up to 1 week. For creamier fudge, remove from refrigerator and let stand at room temperature about 1 hour before serving.
Variations
Prepare as directed, using one of the following flavor options: Rocky Road Fudge: Add 2 cups JET-PUFFED Miniature Marshmallows along with the vanilla. Peanut Butter Fudge: Omit nuts; spread fudge mixture into prepared pan. Immediately drop 1/2 cup peanut butter by teaspoonfuls over fudge; cut through peanut butter with knife several times for marble effect. White Chocolate Layered Fudge: Immediately melt 1 pkg. (6 squares) BAKER'S White Chocolate as directed on package. Stir in 1/2 cup canned sweetened condensed milk. Spread over fudge layer in pan before refrigerating as directed. Coconut Fudge: Substitute toasted BAKER'S ANGEL FLAKE Coconut for the chopped nuts.
Photo credit: http://www.kraftrecipes.com/recipes/bakers-classic-chocolate-fudge-57398.aspx?cm_mmc=srch-_-google-_-traffic-_-easy_fudge_recipes&pf=true

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Houseguests and Fish

Recently I've been host to a grown son and his Bloodhound.  It isn't the perfect living situation.  In a small space, hosting any grown adult is challening enough after even a short while (for me and him); add his dog, and it pushes the limits.  (What is it "they" say:  After seven days, fish and houseguests begin to stink?)  As I type this, Hayden the year-old black-and-tan Bloodhound is attempting to sit on my lap.  His owner, my son Joe, is here (temporarily) and we're all kind of squashed into my 800-square-foot or so apartment.  It's necessary right now and we'll make the best of it. 

As dogs go, Hayden is actually very sweet.  He is mostly legs, it seems, which all seem to work independently of each other.  I've written about him before.  He's a cartoon of a dog.  Everything about him that bothers me is not his fault.  He can't help how big he is, or that he has to room with Joe in my small apartment, or that he is of a shedding, slobbering, drool-slinging breed. Or that he walks away from his bowl with water streaming from his jowels. And, he smells like a dog.  As soon as he and Joe move on, I will have to seriously de-dog this place.

I can be grateful for some things, if I think hard enough.  He doesn't chew my furniture.  He sleeping quarters are covered in towels and sheets.  He lets Joe know when he has to go out.  On the other hand, there are behavioral issues I wish could be corrected.  He howls at the moon when little Henry is sleeping.  He takes off, running right through the electric boundary, whenever he's excited by something "out there."  He loves to ride in my car and likes the wind flapping his long, luxurious ears, but this leaves drool residue glazing my back windows.  (I have all sorts of lint-picker-uppers and odor-diffusing sprays for my car.)  Inside,  I have to keep my kitchen counter-tops empty after finding him, seemingly 6-feet tall, vertically surveying the length and width for anything snatchable.   And, because of separation anxiety, Hayden must come in to the bathroom when I (or  Joe) shower.  Otherwise, he's grief-stricken and inconsolable.  There's nothing like lathering up and having a Bloodhound's head peeking through the shower curtain. 

Joe and Hayden need wide-open spaces, a place to settle and do their own thing, and he's working on that.  I simply need my own little space, a "room of my own" big enough for just me, to feel at home again.  I love my kids, and their dogs, and they are welcome here anytime, but please, remember -- fish begin to stink after seven days....  Nice mother, eh?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Coffee Cake Muffins

My friend and good baker/cook Matt mentioned that he might expect to see a recipe for my coffee cake muffins on this blog some time.  This version (yes, my own recipe) is a sour cream muffin enhanced with a middle layer of simple brown sugar/cinnamon struesel, and crowned with a crusty struesel top dusted with just a bit of confectioner's sugar. 

These muffins are great I made them last night and I have some spare Saturday morning time, so here you are, Matt!

COFFEE CAKE MUFFINS
makes 1 dozen standard-sized muffins  (and maybe a few more)

Oven 375 degrees F

Ingredients:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 3/4 cups AP flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup brown sugar blended with 2 teaspoons cinnamon

Just a little confectioners sugar for dusting the tops

Directions:
(read through first - there are a few steps and you should know what to expect)

Beat butter with sugar till light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add sour cream.  Blend thoroughly.

In separate bowl, mix flour with baking powder, soda, and salt.  Add to butter mixture and beat well (yes, it's OK to mix this very well) until all the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.  Scrape sides of bowl and beat again for a few seconds.

Spray standard-sized muffin tins with cooking spray or canola spray, or use paper liners.  Using small cookie scoop (or about 2 tbsp. batter) fill muffin cups with half the batter.  Level batter with a floured measuring cup or bottom of glass (I spray my 1/3 c. metal measuring cup with canola spray and then dip it in flour).  Put 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar mixture on top of bottom half of muffins.  Spread a little.  Repeat with second half of dough, leveling after, another teaspoon of brown sugar, spread.   (You may find you have enough batter to make 4-6 additonal muffins in another tin.)

Bake at 375 degrees F  until muffins dome a little and the tops are dry.  Remove from oven.  Allow to cool on rack.  Sift confectioners sugar over tops.  Remove when cool to a baking rack. 



My muffins are have already been enjoyed by a small crowd, so here's credit to the featured picture from the Web:  http://fruittart.files.wordpress.com/2007/06/coffeecake-muffin.jpg

April Showers, Flowers, and Birthdays

With its earlier than typical arrival, spring has made its presence known in this part of Upstate New York.  Leaves on trees are appearing weeks before their usual coming-out in May.  Tulips are everywhere.  I was driving down North Broadway in Saratoga Springs, and many of the grand homes along the way are showing off beautiful beds of colorful tulips and daffodils. Splashes of bright color are bursting from azalea and forsythia bushes.  It's been raining a lot, which I don't really mind because there's a lot of growth that relies on such hydration.  This rain is revitalizing nourishment, a healthy elixer to rejuvenate our surroundings still sleepy from winter dormancy.  New trees in our yard,and recently spread grass seed laying under a protective blanket of hay, will take hold with the help of this moisture.

April is an eventful month in my family.  It marks a number of significant days.  Today is my sister Patsy's birthday -- Happy Birthday Pats!!!!  I'm baking a lemon angel-food cake just for you!  April is also host to my  youngest child's birthday.  Tricia was 28 on the 3rd.  When she was little, she would say, "My birthday is April THE third" with an emphasis on "THE."  (Every year since, I find my self saying, "Today is April THE third!")   Nephew (and Godson) Ben's birthday is April 26th.  He's all grown up now -- graduated from Marist last year and just started a terrific job in Manhattan.  He was born on the anniversary of his great-grandfather's birthday, my father's father, Valerian O'Farrell.   My son Joe's birthday is the next day, April 27th. That was such an exciting day, almost 34 years ago.  Hard to believe.  The icing on April's birthday calendar now is Henry's birthday on April's last day, the 30th.  We're celebrating his second, this year.  Katie and I have been designing his cake in our minds and I hope it's going to be one that lights up his baby blues.  All it needs is a balloon and he'll be happy, but the cake-artist/Grandma in me wants it to be memorable.

There's almost nothing I find more gratifying than creating a birthday cake for someone I love.

Photos:  Katie's tulips, curly-topped Henry, and Patsy's lemon angel-food birthday cake.

Friday, April 16, 2010

SPIEDIES

My family loves spiedies.  They are cubes of herb-marinated chicken, skewered and grilled over an open flame (or on a grill pan if you're not fired up).  They are then stuffed between a soft roll or a big folded slice of Italian bread.  I personally like mine with a very thin slather (can a slather be thin?) of mayonnaise, though purists would revolt at the suggestion. 

While searching recipes for spiedies, I found this one on Recipeezaar.com from an Australian who signed his entry as Dr. Nick.  He writes, "I had the privilege to be introduced to the legendary Upstate New York gastronomic delight- the spiedie - while visiting Binghamton, NY. I've long ago used the last of the terrific Lupo's marinade I brought back to Australia with me. I searched for years to find a similar recipe and have tried many. This one was posted on a web forum and claimed to be the authentic recipe from someone who used to work there. I've adjusted it slightly and think its pretty close. This is my favorite football Sunday lunch." 
SPIEDIES

25 min | 15 min prep
SERVES 3 -4
  • 2-3 chicken breasts 
  • 1/3 cup olive oil 
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice 
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar 
  • 2 garlic cloves (finely chopped or pressed)
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley 
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil 
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano 
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper 
  • 3-4 sandwich buns or soft, sliced Italian bread 
  1. Dice chicken breasts into 1" cubes.
  2. Whisk all other ingredients together to form marinade. Set some aside for basting or sauce if desired (though I don't think this is necessary).
  3. Add marinade to chicken and refrigerate overnight, stirring occasionally (the acidic nature of the marinade will 'chemically' cook the meat partially).
  4. Thread 5 or so cubes onto metal or soaked bamboo skewers and grill for a few minutes either side, just until meat is firm (remember, they're already partially cooked by the marinade).
  5. Place two skewers on a fresh bread roll or Italian bread, grip the meat firmly with the bread and pull out skewers.
  6. Enjoy!
Recipe credit goes to Recipezaar.com; Photo:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/elektro4/799899433/in/set-72157594253455931/ Photo by ElekTro4

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Getting Ready for the Transformation

This morning I arrived at the Skidmore College Sports Center at 6:55 a.m. to undergo initial testing for an exercise science study.  It was an earlier-than-usual morning.  My cell phone also serves as my alarm clock, and the alarm can be set eight different ways.  Slept right through the first one at 6:10 a.m.  I did hear alarm #2 at 6:15 and chose to ignore it.  The third blast at 6:20 got me up out of bed.  Once at Skidmore, I was greeted by two student interns who escorted me back to the lab area where I underwent a number of (personally) humiliating measurements.  Height, not so bad. I'm pretty consistent there and know what to expect.  Weight -- well, I am SO glad they weighed me in kilograms rather than pounds -- it's a much smaller number.  Waist and hip circumference - ugh.  Dexoscan, where your body mass is calculated...is it optimistic or pessimistic to think of my body as half-empty of fat rather than half-full? What an eye-opening experience!  The technician who conducted the scan showed me the picture on the screen.  It looked like a shadow of the Staypuff Marshmallow Man with a skeleton hidden within.  And yes, I am my own worst enemy and my humor tends toward self-depricating, but I gotta tell ya, this is a tough way to begin the day!  On top of that, my blood draw didn't go particularly well.  My friend Patty, the RN, had a little trouble with me (my curly veins' fault, not hers) and I left there with more than one Band-Aid.

To prepare for this test, I had to cut back on caffeine yesterday (just one cup of tea rather than the three Diet Cokes I typically consume).  And then there was no food allowed after 8: 00 p.m. last night, which would never really be a problem because I usually have dinner and that's it, but knowing you CAN'T eat anything after 8:00 makes one very hungry at about 10:00 p.m., especially when that person is baking a last-minute batch of really perfect chocolate chip cookies as bartering currency for a friend doing my taxes (only to find out that I owe Uncle Sam, as usual).

When I was leaving the Sports Center this morning, I was struck by what a beautiful spring day we have.  I thought about all the leaves that are just beginning to unfold from their buds (early this year) and how I hope to unfold from the bondage of too much good living and begin to enjoy a healthier life.  I'm on my way!

Photos:  Budding tree, and shadow, near the Skidmore College Sports Center this morning

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Wheatfield's in Saratoga Springs

Last night I treated my friend Catherine to dinner at Wheatfield's in Saratoga Springs.  I wanted to thank  her for all the help she's given me along the way.  Catherine had been my faculty supervisor for my undergraduate thesis, and also served as a reader (and incredible support) for my masters thesis.  That's a lot of guidance and hand-holding, and this dinner was just a small token of my appreciation.  Since Catherine is a vegetarian, I thought Wheatfield's would be the perfect place and it was.  I ordered eggplant parmesan, and Catherine ordered the special, eggplant rollatini.  They were, of course, similar because of the eggplant, but I had myself a case of rollatini envy when I saw what Catherine was eating.  There were two perfectly shaped rolls of breaded eggplant stuffed with cheese, sitting on a bed of broad home-made noodles and all covered in a flavorful tomato sauce.

I make eggplant parmesan now and then, but didn't have a recipe for rollatini.  Catherine raved so much about her dinner that I'm giving you my take on the dish here:

EGGPLANT ROLATINI

1 larger eggplant, sliced lengthwise into 8 slices (peeled if you prefer, though not necessary)
salt
2 egg whites beaten with 2 tablespoons water
Italian-flavored breadcrumbs
Olive oil or canola spray

Mix together:
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 cup parmesan or romano cheese (or a blend)
1 egg


1 cup spinach, cooked, drained, and exess water squeezed out
8 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese

Lightly sprinkle both sides of eggplant slices with salt.  Let sit for about half an hour.  Wipe slices dry with paper towels. Dip in egg whites and then breadcrumbs.  Spray baking sheet with non-stick spray. Place slices on baking sheet and spray tops lightly.  Bake slices at 350 degrees F until nicely browned.  Remove from oven.  Let cool until they can be handled.

Spread cheese mixture over all eight slices.  Layer spinach over cheese.  Roll up jelly-roll style and secure with toothpicks.  Place eight rolls in baking dish and cover with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese.  Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.  Remove foil and bake 10 minutes longer.

While eggplant is baking, cook up your favorite pasta.

Serve rollatini with sauce over pasta with grated parmesan or romano cheese.

Photo credits: http://www.saratoga.com/commonimages/BusinessSlideshow/3402-1877-080813094433-1589.jpg;http://agricultureguide.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/istock_000005797543eggplant.jpg

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Oatmeal Banana Bread (it's Weight Watchers!)

This recipe from Weight Watchers combines the best of healthier eating with true delicious indulgence.  Who doesn't love banana bread?  With canola oil instead of butter and mostly egg whites and just one whole egg for 10 servings, the fat in this recipe won't hurt you.  Brown sugar provides sweetness, oatmeal adds fiber, and, well, the bananas...  But enough about how bad this isn't for you, and let us focus on how much you're going to love it (especially the warm scent of banana bread wafting through your house!). 

OATMEAL BANANA BREAD
(from Weight Watchers)

Ingredients: 
- 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup unpacked brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp table salt
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp allspice
- 3 tsp canola oil
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 2 medium egg whites, beaten
- 3 large bananas, ripe
- 1 cup uncooked old fashioned oats

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, stir together dry ingredients. Add oil and eggs; mix thoroughly.
In a smaller bowl, mash bananas with a potato masher or fork. Add bananas and oatmeal to batter.
Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray. Pour batter into pan and bake until top of loaf is firm to touch, 45 to 55 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool in pan for 5 minutes. Flip out and cool on a wire rack for another 10 minutes. Slice loaf into 10 equally sized slices.

Serving size is 1 slice

Each serving = 4 Weight Watchers Points

Photo:   http://www.weightwatchers.com

Monday, April 12, 2010

Room to Grow

Everything is growing these days.  There's a newness to this spring, especially, that I'm aware of.  Yesterday I wanted to buy Henry a new pair of Crocs for his growing feet.  Size 6 is becoming much too small, yet he insists on wearing them even though they must be getting uncomfortable.  I couldn't find Crocs locally so I picked up a similar-style shoe at Kohl's, size 7.  They were much too big.  I realize that these shoes will fit him pretty soon and it's nice to have a pair waiting in the wings.  I'll have to take his in-between feet with me to the store in Bolton Landing that sells Crocs and all the little doo-dads that can be plugged in to them.

Katie and Bill planted three young trees yesterday, their trunks barely wider than my wrist -- a Honey Crisp apple tree, a peach tree (a hardy variety for our climate), and a cherry tree.  They placed them along their just-installed split-rail fence.  This morning I took a photo of one of the trees near the fence, to remind us later how big the trees will have grown.  One day Henry's new and too-big shoes will look tiny compared to his bigger feet, I'm sure.  I am keenly aware of how "beginning" everything is for their family -- their new house, their growing family, and their new trees.  I am reminded of having once had that perspective on life; it seems familiar, though I am not part of it, really.  My seasoned eyes see these beginnings with an awareness of how fast time passes, how quickly trees and children grow, and how "newness" is so fleeting.  I hope they stop time for a moment to smell the apple blossoms and the sweet scent of a baby's  hair.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

S'Mores, Indoors!

Today was a gorgeous day and tonight promises to be cool.  Katie and Bill have their fire pit ready, Adirondack Chairs circling round.  A fire at night usually means we break out the graham crackers, marshmallows, and Hershey Bars.  We find good marshmallow sticks in the woods and the S'More fest is on.  If, however, you do not have a fire pit, and don't want to work through a blackened marshmallow to get to the soft middle, how about making your S'Mores in the oven?  It's easy to do and it will remind you of your campfire days!

S'Mores, Indoors
(inspired by Paula Deen and the Food Network)

Preheat oven to broil.
Place oven rack about 6 inches from broiler.

Have ready:  graham crackers, halved, marshmallows (not mini), Hershey bars (1/2 a bar per S'More)

Place a piece of aluminum foil on a cookie sheet, shiny side up. 
Arrange graham cracker squares (half a cracker) on cookie sheet.  On top of each, place a large marshmallow.  Heat under broiler until marshmallow begins to brown and is soft in the middle.  Watch carefully, this can happen very quickly.
Remove from oven.  Place half a Hershey Bar over soft marshmallow.  Place other half of graham cracker on top.  Press down.  

Let sit for a minute, then enjoy!

Photo credit: http://img.foodnetwork.com/FOOD/2003/11/07/pa1b01_smores_lg.jpg

Lunch and Shopping in Greenwich, NY

My sister Ginny and I are taking a ride to Greenwich, New York, for lunch today.  It's about 20 minutes east of Saratoga Springs, and the ride there, on Route 29, is beautiful.  As you head east, the Green Mountains of Vermont loom in the distance.  This part of New York State is very New-Englandy (is that a proper adjective?) with rolling hills and open fields.  On the way there, we pass quaint antique shops and small businesses that stand alone -- no chains along this route.  There's the Farmer's Daughter ice cream stand that sells all kinds of not-too-fast food and home made hard and soft ice cream and Italian ices.  Further east is a Chinese Restaurant that was once home to Schuyler Farms Dairy Bar that I wrote about in an earlier post. 

Once in Greenwich, Ginny and I will have lunch at Beth's Cafe.  I typically order a half-sandwich and their soup of the day.  Their chicken salad is amazing -- chunky and stuffed with grapes and celery.   After lunch we'll browse in the nearby shops -- Just Because (that's the name of the boutique next door, where I've bought some beautiful baby gifts as well as pretty clothes), and the Yankee Peddler, home to great kitchen ware, Christmas items (Department 56) and some of the best home-made fudge I've ever had.  Down the street we'll walk through Union Village, a beautiful shop that houses two stories of gorgeous country furnishings, textiles, artwork, wrought iron accessories -- it's just so pretty.

I live near Saratoga, yet for a day of casual shopping and lunch, I love to take that drive east to Greenwich.  It's like a trip back in time to an earlier era, when people shopped downtown rather in malls or on-line, where you walk in and the shopkeeper says "Hello  Jeannie, how have you been?" and you know they're glad to see you and really appreciate the business. 

I like to spend part of my weekend doing such things.  It's like a mini-vacation, and if you read my post yesterday, you know I'm in need of one! 

Hope you all enjoy the rest of your weekend!


Photo credit: http://i.timeinc.net/recipes/i/recipes/ck/05/04/chicken-salad-ck-1041889-l.jpg

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Busy Baking Weekend and Dreaming of Getting Away

This morning finds my kitchen quite a mess from last night's baking.  I have to take a good half hour to empty the dishwasher and load it up again, and put everything away only to take it all out again and bake later.  What was this about a week "end"?  It seems I go from one mode of productivity into another.  Not that I am complaining, I love to bake, but I have to create time for it. In order to fit in everything I want to do, or like to do, it means doing those things and then baking around them, or not doing those things (like going to dinner and the movies with my sister-in-law Carolyn the other night - wouldn't miss it).  I won't give up the social aspects of my life, so it all gets fit in, somehow.  It has been one of those weeks.  And this weekend I thought I was free, for at least a day or two, from cluttered hours and too much to do, but that is not the case.  The weekend is becoming overcrowded just as it takes off.  It began with a lot of baking last night, until 2 a.m. (one happy task - making a cake for my friend Alison's daughter, Katie). 


It's no wonder that I love to go away, probably more than anyone else I know.  When I go away, I leave behind not only my daily life, but also all the things I try to fit in around it.  A vacation, for me, is truly vacating not only a place but also all the demands that fill up the space of my life.  I fantasize about time.  Not so much about particular places or sights to see (though a beach will always call my name); more, it's about the luxury of free time, with nothing in particular to do, no chore looming, no schedule to dictate my every move.  I once went away for a week, all alone, to Myrtle Beach.  One of my sisters had indicated she'd like to go, but couldn't at the last minute, and I decided to take the trip by myself.  I have to tell you, it was one of the very best weeks of my life.  I took a shuttle from the airport and didn't rent a car.  It dropped me off at a humble Best Western in quiet North Myrtle Beach.  This was before I had a cell phone, so there wasn't much communicating, but that was OK; in fact, it was necessary.  I got up every morning for a continental breakfast in the hotel's lobby.  Days were unfilled with nothing in particular, just enjoying the surroundings, reading good books, and walks along the beach.  I found anything I needed at a little grocery mart across the street.  There were take-out lunches from restaurants along the shore, and casual dinners sitting at the bar of a sea-side restaurant, enjoying a quiet meal conversing with the bartender.  It was a week of beautiful sun rising and setting, and in that solitude I found I can be very good company for myself.  There was no lonliness, just peace. 

As much as I enjoy vacationing with the people I love, sometimes I crave time alone to refresh my perpective on life.  I look forward to going away like that again, one day. I recommend this kind of vacation at least once in your life.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Nothin' like a dumplin' - Haluskis

Many years ago my friend Peggy invited me for lunch.  We worked in the same office and took a quick ride on our lunch hour so she could tend to her little Yorkie Terrier.  She had made Haluskis for our lunch, a traditional European (often Slovac or Polish) dish of sauteed cabbage and dumplings.  I was hesitant because I HATE CABBAGE, or I did, until I tried this dish.  Besides, it would be rude to say "I hate cabbage" when she was so kind to invite me.  To my delight, it was absolutely delicious -- a silken concoction of onions and cabbage cooked in waaaaayyyy too much butter with pillowy dumplings coated in all the goodness.   I'm thinking that butter is what won me over to the cabbage side.  Regardless, I only had this dish that one time, but memories of that afternoon lunch keep surfacing.  It opened a new door to me, and now cabbage (or even an occasional Brussels sprout) might appear on my dinner plate.

There are many Haluskis recipes available on the internet, some with dumplings, others with noodles, but butter and cabbage are the core ingredients for this dish.  This recipe is an adaptation of those, using ingredients and steps consistent in most.  If you think you hate cabbage, try it.  If you already like it, you'll be really happy.

HALUSKIS

 Ingredients

   1 head of cabbage, coarsely chopped
   1/2 lb. (2 bars) butter
    2 large onions, chopped

    2 cups mashed potatoes, cooked and cooled
    2 well-beaten eggs
    1 tsp salt
    2 - 2 1/2 cups of flour, more or less as needed

Crumbled bacon for garnish, if desired.

Directions

In large frying pan over medium heat, melt butter and, in it, sautee onion and cabbage until softened and golden brown.  Keep warm over lowest heat while making the dumplings.

In a large mixing bowl, thoroughly combine mashed potatoes and eggs. Combine potato mixture with salt and enough flour, a bit at a time, until the dough is soft but firm enough to shape and loses its stickiness.   On floured surface, roll dough into 1" wide ropes and slice into 1" pieces.  Roll off fork (to make pretty indentations, similar to gnocchi) to make dumplings and drop, all at once, into boiling water.   Boil 8-10 minutes or until they test done (being careful not to let them cook too long or they'll get too soft and fall apart in the next step).  Drain.

Gently fold drained dumplings into cabbage mixture.  Return heat to medium and let it all hang out, stirring a few times, until it is nice and hot again.   Serve garnished with crumbled bacon if desired.

This dish is much more delicious than it is pretty, so no picture of that today! Instead, lunch break: http://www.robweychert.com/portfolio/images/lunch_break1.jpg

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Raspberry White Chocolate Scones

No breakfast for me this morning.  I drove home yesterday on fumes, and realized I had to fill up on the way to work or risk running out of gas.  There was no time for breakfast.  It's not that I have a lot going on before I have to leave.  Rather, the alarm went off and was ignored, leaving me to jump out of bed with barely enough time to get a shower, swallow some vitamins, and head out the door.  Under-eye concealer and a little lipstick were applied while traveling down Young Road (don't tell my State Trooper relatives!) and I'm sporting a very low-maintenance look today.   Once at work, I helped my friend Mary with a small project, and she was very grateful and rewarded me with a scone.  It was raspberry white chocolate, and I liked it a lot.  The commercially-prepared scone is baked on premises, but I suspect the raspberries are not real.  They have a sticky, nugget-like consistency, making me wonder if they are really berries.  Still, it was delicious, and because I liked it so much, today's post is for my own version of Raspberry White Chocolate Scones - the real deal.

RASPBERRY WHITE CHOCOLATE SCONES

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt (I like Kosher)
12 tablespoons very cold or frozen butter
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup frozen raspberries tossed in 1 tablespoon flour (this is an adjustment from the previously listed 1 cup of raspberries, which is too many and causes the scones to be too mushy - sorry!)
6 ounces chopped white chocolate (Ghiradelli or some other REAL white chocolate)
 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water for egg wash

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F

In large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Grate cold or frozen butter over bowl and stir lightly to coat butter pieces. (If you don't have a grater, cut butter into tiny cubes).

In separate bowl, gently beat eggs with buttermilk and vanilla extract.  Pour all at once into flour mixture.  Stir with fork, pulling from sides, until all ingredients are moistened.  Very gently stir in frozen raspberries (fresh would fall apart) and white chocolate until evenly distributed.

On a piece of parchment or wax paper sprinkled with a couple of tablespoons of flour, divide batter into two sections.  Pat each into a circle about six inches in diameter.  Place on parchment-lined cookie sheet and freeze for 20 minutes or longer.

Remove from freezer and cut each circle into 6 wedges.  Place wedges an inch apart (at least) on cookie sheet.  Brush with egg wash.

Bake scones for 20 minutes or until they have puffed up nicely and are beginning to brown.  Remove from oven and allow to cool on pan until they can be moved to a cooling rack.

Photo credit:  http://theseasonalgourmet.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/p1000849.jpg

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Pasta, Pesto, and Peas


I've had dinner a few times at Forno Tuscano in Saratoga Springs, where my sister-in-law Suzette once ordered the entree "Three Ps" for prosciutto, peas, and (I think) pesto.  This recipe is similar to the one I remember. It comes from Ina Garten and the Food Network and is also a three p-er (sounds bad, somehow!), named so for its pasta, pesto, and peas.  Pasta dishes can be heavy, and despite the olive oil, mayo, and cheese, this one might seem deceivingly light for all the fresh flavors.  But if it's an occasional indulgence, it just might be worth it. 
  • 3/4 pound fusilli pasta
  • 3/4 pound bow tie pasta
  • 1/4 cup good olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups pesto, packaged or see recipe below
  • 1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 1/4 cups good mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen peas, defrosted
  • 1/3 cup pignolis (pine nuts)
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Cook the fusilli and bow ties separately in a large pot of boiling salted water for 10 to 12 minutes until each pasta is al dente. Drain and toss into a bowl with the olive oil. Cool to room temperature.
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, puree the pesto, spinach, and lemon juice. Add the mayonnaise and puree. Add the pesto mixture to the cooled pasta and then add the Parmesan, peas, pignolis, salt, and pepper. Mix well, season to taste, and serve at room temperature.

Pesto:

  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 1/4 cup pignolis (pine nuts)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped garlic (9 cloves)
  • 5 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups good olive oil
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Place the walnuts, pignolis, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process for 15 seconds. Add the basil leaves, salt, and pepper. With the processor running, slowly pour the olive oil into the bowl through the feed tube and process until the pesto is thoroughly pureed. Add the Parmesan and puree for a minute. Use right away or store the pesto in the refrigerator or freezer with a thin film of olive oil on top.
Notes: Air is the enemy of pesto. For freezing, pack it in containers with a film of oil or plastic wrap directly on top with the air pressed out.
To clean basil, remove the leaves, swirl them in a bowl of water, and then spin them very dry in a salad spinner. Store them in a closed plastic bag with a slightly damp paper towel. As long as the leaves are dry they will stay green for several days.
Yield: 4 cups

Original recipe on Food Network site: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/pasta-pesto-and-peas-recipe/index.html

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Virginia O'Farrell's Tuna Casserole

Today marks eight years since we lost our Mom.  It seems much longer some times, and other times like it was just yesterday.  I still want to pick up the phone to call her, and then have to remind myself that I can't do that anymore.  That's always a tough realization.  I used to call my mother pretty much every day.  Now and then, when a particular day had been difficult, she'd intuitively know, asking "What's the matter?" which, of course, found me disintegrating into an emotional puddle, when only a mother's words could understand and help.  On the other hand, she was a very funny woman and made us all laugh, often.  She used to brag about her "10-beat flutter" in swimming, or that she earned "best legs" in high school.  She used to reenact her cheer-leading moves in our kitchen.  My mother hated being referred to as "she" and would say, "Who's she, the cat's mother?"  I often hear her words coming out of my mouth.  Almost every day, I say something and realize that it is hers. Often, I don't know what the phrase means; I just know it's right, fits, seems appropriate, and works.  The other day I said someone was "fit to be tied."  Now really, what does that mean?  It's a mom-ism, and I will devote a future blog post to such gems.

I credit my mother with my love of cooking.  It's not that she loved it so much herself; she didn't, but she was so enthusiastic for my efforts, encouraging me all the way.  There are little things I will always remember, including her advice, "Clean up as you go" which has made cooking much less a chore than it might be.  The other piece of advice was "Make sure you have all your ingredients before you start."  This, after she had to run to the grocery store mid-recipe to get something for me,  like cornstarch or vanilla extract. 

I've written before about the tuna casserole my Mom used to make for us.  We loved it.  It was a simple recipe with canned tuna, canned mushroom soup, and Pennsylvania Dutch noodles.  She never added peas, cheese, or other things I've noticed other recipes call for.  Hers was simple and very, very good.  I've never given you the recipe, so today I share it with you.

Virginia O'Farrell's Tuna Casserole
(I love you, Mom)

2 cans tuna, drained and flaked (she used Chicken of the Sea)
2 cans Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup
1 1/2 soup cans of milk
1 bag Pennsylvania Dutch Noodles, cooked and drained
salt and pepper
Plain bread crumbs
butter

Buttered casserole dish - a large one

Stir together tuna and soup until well combined.  Add milk and stir until very well combined.  Add a few shakes of salt and a few shakes of pepper.  Dump drained noodles in casserole dish, stir in tuna/soup mixture.  Make sure it is all mixed together well.  Sprinkle the top with bread crumbs.  Drizzle with a little melted butter.

Bake at 350 degrees F until it is bubbly and the bread crumbs begin to brown. 

xoxoxoxox

Monday, April 5, 2010

Left-Over Ham? Pea Soup!

How many of us are wondering what to do what that left-over ham from yesterday's Easter dinner?  I'm thinking pea soup (my sister Patsy's  all-time favorite). There are many recipes available on the internet.  I went to a trusted source, epicurious.com, to find an easy and highly rated recipe.  They credit Bon Apetit and another Patricia, a woman by the name of Patricia Murray from County Kerry, Ireland for the original. 

PEA SOUP from epicurious.com
  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup chopped peeled carrots
  • 1 1/2 pounds smoked pork hocks (my note: or equivalent in left-over ham, a smoked turkey leg, or other smoked meat)
  • 2 teaspoons dried leaf marjoram
  • 1 1/2 cups green split peas
  • 8 cups water
Melt butter in heavy large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion, celery and carrots. Sauté until vegetables begin to soften, about 8 minutes. Add pork and marjoram; stir 1 minute. Add peas, then water, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Partially cover pot; simmer soup until pork and vegetables are tender peas are falling apart, stirring often, about 1 hour and 10 minutes.
Transfer hocks to bowl. Puree 5 cups soup in batches in blender. Return to pot. Cut pork off bones. Dice pork; return pork to soup. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Refrigerate until cold, then cover. Rewarm before serving.) 

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Morning 2010

I woke up to hearing gleeful sounds of happiness coming from next door.  Henry was on a hunt for  hidden Easter eggs.  Katie had arranged the cookies we decorated last night on a platter (yes, those are OUR cookies in the photo!).  I ran and got my camera to capture the moment.

I hope you all have a wonderful day!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Au Gratin Potatoes

I'm spending today preparing for Easter and my daughter Tricia's birthday.  I have two cheesecakes in the oven (one crust-free for gluten sensitivity).  Tricia's birthday cake will go in the oven as soon as the cheesecakes make their exit.  She's requested a chocolate fudge cake with buttercream frosting.  I've already made fondant daisies and leaves for decoration (getting fondant confident!).  Katie's taking care of dinner.  She has a ham and all the fixings.  I'm excited for the au gratin potatoes she's decided to serve, a very nice accompaniment to an Easter ham.

This recipe for au gratin potatoes comes from About.com: Southern Food and uses red-skinned potatoes, though they are peeled.  You can use whatever potatoes you have on hand.  Onion, garlic, and cheedar cheese provide the classic au gratin flavor. 

AU GRATIN POTATOES
•2 to 2 1/2 pounds red-skinned potatoes
•2 tablespoons butter
•1/2 cup diced onion
•2 small cloves garlic, minced
•1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
•2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon pepper
•1 1/2 cups milk
•1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
•salt and pepper, to taste

Preparation:

Peel potatoes and slice thinly. Rinse and cover with water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil; boil for 2 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop cooking.

In a saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add the diced onion and sauté until tender; add minced garlic and parsley. Stir in flour and pepper until smooth. Gradually add milk, cooking and stirring over medium-low heat until thickened. Stir in cheese until melted and sauce is smooth.

Arrange sliced potatoes in a 2 to 2 1/2-quart casserole, sprinkling layers with salt and pepper. Pour sauce evenly over potatoes. Cover dish and cook at 350° for 40 to 50 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.

Photo credit: http://rawcookbooks.files.wordpress.com/2009/10/potato-gratin-ck-1072216-x1.jpg

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday

Good Friday brings memories of time spent with my mother.  When she was older, she took great delight in excursions to western Massachusetts, to the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge.  We made it a late tradition to take our mother to lunch there on Good Friday.  Whomever of her seven children were available took time to spend that day with our Mom.  She loved to sit with her kids in the elegant restaurant of the Inn, and because it was Good Friday those of us who still feared repercussions ordered something meat-free.  Those of us who weren't concerned with such limitations ordered whatever we wanted! 

I make it a habit never to talk about politics or religion.  Both are extremely personal matters, and I prefer not to wear either on my sleeve.  As a good friend recently said, my politics are expressed in the voting booth.  My religion is private, though I'm revealing a little bit here.

I often recall aspects of growing up Catholic. I went to church every Sunday and Holy Day.  Easter was especially important.  Good Friday meant fasting, and being quiet between the hours of 1 p.m. and 3 p.m..  It also meant being in church for confession and the Stations of the Cross.  I remember the ominous weight of each station.  Each year, it was as if the tragic story was unfolding again for real, and I felt the impact of that through and through.  Decades later, calendars dictate certain dates are important to observe,  and I am aware, but it all seems diffused somehow.  Yes, it is good Friday.  No, I won't eat meat.  I don't really know why - perhaps it is "spirit memory" or some other deeply-ingrained habit.  I often think of church rules as political and man-made, and not divine in origin.  All those years of bobby-pinning Kleenex to our heads before entering church, all those years of fearing the confessional, all the exposure to the weaknesses of the church as an institution and its clergy -- I must admit it is hard for me to muster reverence.

If I need a direct line to God, I have it in a simple prayer or in a good deed.  I just don't feel the need for a middle man.  Perhaps I'm a user -- embracing those aspects of organized religion that work for me and rejecting those that don't.  In my mind, there is so much universality to the diverse faiths of the world.  The important thing is that we try to live good lives by treating each other well, and acknowledging the beauty and the need that are with us, every day. I think that's where spirituality lives.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Coca-Cola Basted Ham

I've been doing a little research on the southern tradition of the Coca-Cola basted ham.  There are a number of different methods, it seems, but one consistency is that cola makes a wonderful ham.  This recipe from the Food Network's Paula Deen is simpler than many and has 5-star reviews.  Reviewers said it is the best ham they've ever had.  If you have an Easter ham sitting in your fridge and you're wondering just how you're going to prepare it, take a look at this recipe.  If you have a smaller ham, just reduce the rest of the ingredients proportionately.

Ingredients


•1 (18-pound) cured ham
•2 (12-ounce) cans cola (NOT diet)
•Canned pineapple rings
•Brown sugar
•Maraschino cherries
•Cloves

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Place ham in a shallow roasting pan. Baste the ham with cola. With toothpicks, stick some pineapple rings on the ham, about 4 or 5 rings. Sprinkle some brown sugar on the rings. With toothpicks, place a cherry in each pineapple ring hole and then stick some cloves in the rings. Cover it with foil. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes per pound of ham, or until the ham reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees F. Baste with cola about every 30 minutes during cooking.

Original Recipe and Photo: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/cola-basted-ham-recipe/index.html

An April 1st Wedding Cake

It was no April Fool joke when a friend called early last evening to ask me if I could make a small wedding cake for TODAY!  She needed a small chocolate wedding cake with buttercream frosting.  I wondered how I could make such a small cake elegant enough for something as significant as a wedding.  I baked two 6" layers, put them in the freezer to firm up, and then started playing with fondant.  I'm somewhat fondant-fearful, so each time I use it, it feels more comfortable and I get more confident.  I formed the flowers, painted them with edible gold dust, and the photo here displays the finished product. 

I'm happy.

Early morning photo of tiny wedding cake:  by me (getting used to that camera).

Blackberry Fool, No Kiddin'

This recipe (and the accompanying photo) comes from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food and while it isn't summer yet and you might have to be somewhere tropical to find fresh berries, there's no better day than today, April 1st, to provide you with a fool-proof recipe.

 

BLACKBERRY FOOL
  • 2 cups blackberries (8 ounces total), plus more for garnish
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  1. In a blender, combine berries, sugar, and lemon juice; blend until smooth. Pour mixture through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing with a rubber spatula to push through. Discard seeds; transfer 1/2 cup berry puree to a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate; reserve for topping.
  2. In a large bowl, combine cream and vanilla; whip until stiff peaks form. Gently fold remaining berry puree into cream. Spoon mixture into custard cups. Cover loosely and refrigerate 1 hour (or up to overnight). To serve, drizzle blackberry fools with reserved berry puree, and garnish with blackberries.