One woman's foray into cooking for herself, for her family, and for her friends. It's not always picture-perfect, sometimes a little messy,
but it's always delicious. Join me in exploring new recipes, savoring the "résultats" and learning from the "erreurs".

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Cookie Monsters

My 11-year-old nephew (Ricky) and 4-year-old niece (Ashlynne) came over this weekend. My nephew's favorite thing to do when visiting me is making sugar cookies. It's a little tradition he and I started when he was only about 4 years old himself. This was Ashlynne's first baking stint in my kitchen. She got the hang of it pretty quickly! Ricky showed her how to use the cookie cutters and decorate with colored sugars. Ricky is very 'meticulous' in his cookie decorating. He knows what colors he wants to use, even using dragees on a couple of his cookies. He likes to use alphabet cutters to spell out his name in cookie dough. Ashlynne used a few alphabet cookies to spell out part of her name, using more sugar than cookie dough on her creations! She also wanted to venture outside the alphabet world into shapes: hearts, flowers, and butterfly cookies (most of which broke before being photographed) . For all the rolling, cutting, and decorating they did, relatively few cookies survived the onslaught of raw cookie-dough-eating and baked cookie sampling before I could get any photos of their baking session finale:

Sugar Cookies

1/2 pound unsalted butter, room temperature
1-3/4 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream butter and sugar in mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, thoroughly incorporating them into mixture until batter is smooth.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to butter mixture alternating with milk. Add vanilla and mix until well-combined. Wrap and chill the dough for at least 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Divide dough into thirds and roll out each section to 1/8 inch thick. Cut into desired shapes. Place on parchment- or silpat-lined baking sheets. If decorating with sugar, sprinkle on before baking. Bake until golden, about 8 - 12 minutes. Let cool on racks. If decorating with royal icing, bake as directed, cool thoroughly, and decorate with royal icing as desired.

Source: Martha Stewart

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Chicken Piccata

One of my favorite after-work meals is chicken piccata. It's so easy to make, both of my kids learned how to make it when they were in their teens. It's so quick to make, I can have the entire meal on the table in about 20 minutes. Seriously. Put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta. Heat up 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet. Pound out the boneless, skinless chicken breasts to an even thickness. (I place the chicken breast in a large Ziploc and pound away.) Put some flour seasoned with a little salt & pepper in a dish, and dredge the chicken in the flour. Place the dredged chicken in the skillet, squeezing 1/2 a lemon over all the chicken. When the first side has browned, turn the chicken over to brown the other side, squeezing the other 1/2 of the lemon over the browned chicken. (At some point here, put the pasta in the boiling water and cook until al dente.) When the chicken has finished browning on both sides, remove to platter and keep warm. Add approximately 1/2 cup of white wine and let reduce by half. Add 2 tablespoons of capers. Spoon sauce over chicken and drained pasta.

As a side, I minced a clove of garlic and sauteed in olive oil, adding grape tomatoes, cooking until they start to pop. To serve, garnish with chopped fresh basil.

Dinner is done!!

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Rose is a Rose... A Darling Baker Event

The Darling Bakers held A Rose is a Rose themed event this weekend. Perfect time of the year! Unfortunately, I'm not currently growing any roses in my yard, though I have some on order to try again. I was fortunate to find some pretty roses at my local grocery store. The peachy/pink roses were a mere $3.99 for 1/2 dozen! I placed one right in the middle of the mini cupcakes, which I attempted to decorate by piping buttercream - a first for me. They look much better from the side than they do straight-on!!

But first things first. I layered the table with a blue tablecloth that I've had forever, and set the table with Villeroy & Boch dishes I've had for quite some time, as well. I love the way they pick up the color of all the roses!

I used a caddy to hold the cupcakes, as well as little cucumber tea sandwiches.

The ivory roses looked so pretty in this little rose bowl, another little piece I took out of retirement for this event!

Even the pups were anxious for lunch:

Bailey and Sasha:

It was a warm day... perfect for a cocktail! I made the little rosette ice cubes using a candy mold. I placed a fresh raspberry in each opening, mixed water with a few drops of rosewater, and poured that into the mold around each raspberry and froze overnight. With temps in the 80's, it didn't take long for them to melt!

The cocktail consisted of a little rosewater at the bottom of the glass, with sparkling wine (I used Prosecco) poured over that. Very refreshing and delicious!
The meal started with Chilled Peach Soup, an easy blender recipe and ideal for a refreshing lunch or summertime dinner starter. I garnished it with a little raspberry yogurt:

************************ The Recipes ************************

Chilled Peach Soup

1 quart frozen peaches*
3/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup pineapple juice
1 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup dry sherry wine (I used some of the Prosecco)
1/2 cup peach juice *(from frozen peaches)

Blend peaches and sour cream in blender. Add remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. Strain and serve cold. (Note: I don't always strain the soup as sometimes I like the added texture.)

Cucumber Sandwiches

1 medium cucumber - finely chopped, then wrapped in paper towelling and juice squeezed out
8 ounces cream cheese, softened with a small amount of mayonnaise
2 - 3 tablespoons minced onion
1 small clove garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire
salt to taste

Mix all ingredients well. For sandwiches, freeze extra thin bread. Spread slices with mayo and 1 tablespoon of cucumber mixture.

Vanilla Cupcakes with Buttercream Frosting

1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup (130 grams) granulated white sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Zest of 1 large lemon (optional)
1 1/2 cups (210 grams) all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (60 ml) milk

Buttercream Frosting:
2 cups (230 grams) confectioners sugar (icing or powdered sugar), sifted
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk or light cream
Assorted food colors (if desired)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) and lightly butter or line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.

For the Cupcakes: Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract and lemon zest.

In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and milk, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Evenly fill the muffin cups with the batter and bake for about 18-20 minutes or until nicely browned and a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Once the cupcakes have completely cooled, frost with icing. If you want flat topped cupcakes then slice off the dome of each cupcake, with a sharp knife, before frosting. If you want to pipe the frosting, I like to use a large Wilton 1M closed star decorating tip.

For the Frosting: In an electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, cream the butter until smooth and well blended. Add the vanilla extract. With the mixer on low speed, gradually beat in the sugar. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the milk and beat on high speed until frosting is light and fluffy (about 3-4 minutes). Add a little more milk or sugar, if needed. Tint the frosting with desired food color (I use the paste food coloring that is available at cake decorating stores and party stores).

Makes about 12 cupcakes


Thank you to Jain and the Two Stews for sponsoring another fun event at the Darling Bakers!

Sunday, May 24, 2009


This weekend, my son and his wife came over for eggrolls. I hadn't made them in awhile, and it is one of his favorite meals! They're a meal in themselves, full of vegetables and (usually) shrimp. I don't really use a recipe when making them, but follow a general guideline:

In just a c
ouple of tablespoons of oil (like canola), saute whatever vegetables you prefer/ have available, like thinly sliced bell peppers, chopped green onions, chopped mushrooms, a clove of garlic (minced), thinly sliced onions, grated fresh ginger, bean sprouts, chopped water chestnuts - I've been known to throw in can of chow mein vegetables in a pinch! Thinly slice or shred a whole head of Napa cabbage, mix in with the sauteed vegetables, and cover for about 5 minutes, until the cabbage cooks down. Add 1/2 pound - 1 pound of salad shrimp and cook for 1 - 2 minutes more. Move the vegetables & shrimp to one side of the pan, and cook 2 - 3 beaten eggs until set, then mix in with the rest of the vegetables. Flavor mixture with 1/2 teaspoon - 1 teaspoon of toasted sesame oil (a few shakes of the bottle) and 1 - 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, to taste. Remove mixture to a bowl and let cool for about 15 minutes.

Place about 1/4 cup of slightly cooled mixture in middle of eggroll wrapper, bring side corners in to the middle, place bottom corner over mixture and roll, wetting last corner with a little w
ater, sealing the roll. Heat 1/2 inch of vegetable oil in skillet, and brown egg roll on all sides. Serve with soy sauce, sweet chili sauce, Chinese mustard sauce, or sweet & sour sauce.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Lamb Chops

Sometimes I just get hungry for meat and potatoes, and tonight was one of those nights. I had lamb rib chops on hand, and since those little things thaw pretty quickly, that was dinner. I made a wet rub of grated garlic, lemon zest, minced fresh rosemary, extra virgin olive oil, salt & pepper, and let the meat marinate in that for about an hour.

I roasted a head of garlic for the potatoes: cut the top off the head of garlic, place the garlic in a double-thick square of aluminum foil, and drizzle olive oil over the head. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and close the foil up tightly around the garlic. Throw the whole thing into the oven - 425 F. for 30 minutes, until the garlic gets soft, nutty and almost sweet. Pull it out of the oven, and open up the foil to let the garlic cool. Cook your potatoes until tender. Drain, add butter and milk, and squeeze the garlic into the potatoes and cover. This lets the butter melt a little and the milk warm up, which blends into the potatoes better.

I heated the grill pan over high heat, and placed the chops in the pan, cooking the chops just 2 -3 minutes on each side. While the meat was cooking, I mashed the potatoes. Sooo good. The meat was perfectly cooked, and the potatoes were smooth. Oh boy - sooo good!

Saucisson Chocolat, Figues et Pistaches

My friend, Monique, of La Table de Nana, made this and I was amazed! I thought it was such a great example of trompe l'oeil - a "sausage" made of chocolate and other goodies! I finally had a chance to make it myself and was surprised at how easy it was. This would be a very cool addition to any party - everyone will be talking about it! AND... the best part... it's delicious!

Thankfully, Monique was kind enough to translate the recipe from French into English (my French isn't that great!)

Saucisson Chocolat, Figues et Pistaches
Yields: 2 "Saucissons"

120 g (4 ounces) chocolate 70% dark (Bittersweet)
30 g (3 tablespoons) butter
27 g(1 cup) pistachios, coarsely chopped (or almonds… I used almonds when I made this)
27 g (1 cup) Rice Krispies
165 g( 1- 1/2 cups )of dried chopped figs
2 tablespoons icing sugar

In the microwave or in a bain-marie, melt chocolate and butter. Incorporate the next 3 ingredients. Roll into a log approximately 2 inches in diameter, approximately 6 inches long. Press tightly when making the rolls so they do not break when you will eventually slice. (I put the mixture into a sandwich-sized resealable baggie and formed the roll, squeezing the mixture as tight as I could.) Refrigerate 3-4 hours.

Unwrap the rolls and place individually in a bag with the icing sugar and shake. Tie with kitchen string butcher style. At the time of serving using a bread knife, slice in approximately 3/8 inch slices.

(Monique's notes..I halved the recipe…so I made 1 log...To make sure we liked it…I did not crush my Rice Krispies…I have searched the net and saw that one person suggested it would be better. I like them the way they are :) DO press tightly.. a firm firm boudin is necessary.I used 3/4 cup of the chopped dried figs.. for my 1/2 recipe... And the next slices showed many more pistachios :) I just did not want to slice off too many pieces before sharing the photos with you.)

Source: Josée Di Stasio via Monique

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto

I had a butternut squash I needed to use and couldn't decide exactly what I wanted to cook using it. I considered squash ravioli. I thought about just roasting it and using it as a side dish. But I finally decided on risotto. I found a wonderful-sounding recipe on the blog, Garden of Eating, (love that name!), so off I went. I ended up using vermouth for the white wine called for in the recipe, as I had the perfect amount left in the bottle without having to open a new bottle of wine. I also had two quarts of homemade chicken stock in the freezer and used it all in this recipe. In retrospect, I think I could have added more liquid for a little creamier end product, but the flavor was amazing. That little bit of vermouth added the right amount of brightness and lightness to an otherwise autumnal dish. I will be making this over and over again!

Risotto with Roasted Butternut Squash
Serves 4-6

One butternut squash (2 pounds), peeled, de-seeded, and cut into 3/4-inch cubes cubes
One large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
7 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 cups arborio rice (risotto rice)
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used vermouth)
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped (I used rosemary)
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the cubed squash with the olive oil, salt and pepper and turn out onto a heavy baking sheet in a single layer. Roast for 25 - 30 minutes, until soft, turning once, half-way through. Remove and set aside to cool.

2. Heat the stock in a saucepan. Cover the stock and leave it on low at a simmer while you're cooking the risotto.

3. In a large, heavy bottomed pan melt the butter and cook the onion on medium-low heat until softened, about 5 minutes.

4. Add the rice and stir to coat all the grains with butter. Saute the rice for 2 - 3 minutes until the rice becomes chalky and you can see a white dot in the center of each grain. Then add the wine and cook for 2 minutes, stirring, until it's been absorbed.

5. Add one cup of the hot stock to the pan and stir until it has all been absorbed by the rice (if you don't stir and cook until the liquid is absorbed with each addition, the rice will get very gummy).

6. Continue to add stock, one cup at a time, stirring constantly until the rice has absorbed the liquid and starts to seem dry before adding more stock. Once you've added 6 cups of the stock, you should start adding 1/2 cup at a time. Keep doing this until the rice is cooked through but still a little al dente, about 30 minutes total (you may not end up using all of the stock but it should be pretty close -- if you run out of stock, you can substitute hot water towards the end.)
7. Turn off the heat, add the roasted squash cubes, chopped herbs, and parmesan cheese, season with salt and pepper, mix well and serve.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Stuffed Shells

Another use for that cheese filling that I use for lasagna and manicotti - stuffed shells! When I made the sauce, I sliced up some Italian sausage that I had cooked with peppers and onions last night and served on homemade bread. After boiling the shells and making the sauce, I put the cheese filling into a resealable bag and snipped the corner so I could pipe the filling into the shells. I spread some of the sauce on the bottom of a baking pan, layered the stuffed shells, spooned a little sauce over the shells, then sprinkled grated mozzarella and parmigiana over the top and baked at 375 F. for 25 minutes, until the cheese was melted and a bit bubbly. Put a little sauce in the bottom of a shallow bowl and place three shells on top. Dinner is served!

Coconut Muffins

I've recently been hearing about the health benefits of coconut oil. Not only does it benefit one's health, but it is also a substantially stable oil without need of refrigeration. So I purchased a jar of it and have been on the prowl for recipes using it. I came across several recipes for coconut muffins and decided to create one of my own. The batch I made this afternoon came out quite good, though I'm still tweaking it just a bit. They are a bit denser than a traditional muffin though not quite as dense as a biscuit. They're not overly sweet, making them a great foil for fruit spreads, butter, or even cream cheese. If you like coconut, give this one a try!

Coconut Muffins

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup full-fat unsweetened coconut milk
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup shredded, sweetened coconut (plus extra for sprinkling on top of muffins)

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Mix flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in large bowl. In separate bowl, mix coconut milk, coconut oil, egg, and almond extract until thoroughly combined. Mix wet ingredient into dry ingredients until just combined. Mix in 1 cup coconut.

Prepare muffin pan with liners. Portion out batter (which will be very thick) into liners with one ice cream scoopful per muffin cup. Sprinkle additional coconut on top of muffins. Bake 18 - 23 minutes, until test skewer comes out clean and dry. (Muffins will not brown much and stay very light, so test for doneness with clean skewer or toothpick.)

Once done, remove from oven and allow muffins to rest in pan for 5 minutes, then remove from pan and cool on wire rack.

Makes 12 muffins.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Tablescape Thursday - Lunch on the Back Porch

With the warm weather weekend we had, I decided that my tablescape for this week would be located out on the back porch.

My porch is rather small, so it can be a little cozy back there. I have a little table and a couple of chairs that my grandmother gave me about 6 or 7 years ago, as well as the canopied swing my son-in-law and daughter put up while they were visiting last month. I found a throw pillow at Target with a dragonfly motif and thought the swing was the perfect place for it!

When I found the pillow, I also came across these little dragonfly candles. I think they're so cute (and I love the color!)

I picked up the pitcher at an antique store in upstate New York several years ago... one of my treasures I rarely take out anymore!

The luncheon plates are part of a set that my great-grandfather gave to my great-grandmother some time after they were married. By my calculation, the set should be at least 75 - 80 years old. My grandmother currently has the rest of the set and has told me that I'm to inherit the set. I think of my great-grandmother and my grandmother every time I use the little luncheon plates. I love that.

The pressed glass bowl was given to me many, many years ago. It's another lovely piece that I rarely use anymore, though I really should!

The glasses are from Williams-Sonoma. The white napkins that the plates are resting on were purchased from an antique store many years ago. I've had the tablecloth for about 25 years - I have no idea where I got that!

Thank you once again to Susan of Between Naps on the Porch for sponsoring Tablescape Thursday. Don't forget to check out the rest of the participants listed on her site!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Fresh Loaves of Bread

I wasn't feeling well today, but this afternoon I decided to make up some bread. Bread or crackers is generally all I feel like having when I'm under the weather. So, I used Ann's French Bread recipe again - I think it's the easiest bread recipe I've ever used - it's generally my go-to recipe these days. Throw everything in the food processor, knead by hand a couple of times, and that's basically it. Made for some great toast for dinner tonight.
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