Saturday, March 27, 2010

Essential Ingredients

Reading, listening to stories, and writing are essential to a blogger’s existence (guess we can say that after many posts, however, comparative to some others…still a virtual novice). Those who blog depend on life’s fascinating everyday situations to create endless fodder for our little quips…you should know to proceed with caution when in the presence of a blogger because everything is an opportunity for a (hopefully interesting and read-worthy) post. Really.

Formerly Timid (past posts will explain this title) just read a book entitled The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister. Considering that this is a blog partly dedicated to cooking, FT thought that the title was appropriate and, if nothing else, the book had a nice cover. FT once bought a bottle of wine because the label was interesting (Château St. Something) and it was the worse bottle of wine she ever drank, so using this technique has not always been the most reliable selection method. We digress.

This is a charming little story about strangers whose lives cross when they all become students in the same cooking class. Each chapter is named for a student and, in each, we learn a bit about the past of each student and what brought them to the restaurant that serves as their classroom (the chapters go back and forth from past to present and each transition flows flawlessly to the next). The chef and teacher, Lillian, tells her students that she “doesn’t hand out recipes….you will learn what you need to do.” Lillian believes that food is a powerful gift and a provocative tonic, stimulating us to remember things that we lost in our lives and want to experience again (we’ve all had this happen, right?). When we taste or smell something for the first time in a long time, that often serves as a lovely and pleasant souvenir of a past relationship or experience. For example, the homemade pasta we sampled in Italy reminded FT of when she used to watch her grandmother make dough and roll cavatelli using the most graceful movement that FT has never been able to replicate.

The theme of this book is “recollection” providing a recipe for much more than the measuring and mixing of ingredients. A quick read and beautifully written book…perfect for the beach or a plane ride! The author of the last book we talked about, Kate Jacobs, describes this book as “The perfect recipe for escaping from life’s stresses…” Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

L'Italia, la terra di incantesimo

We have each visited the intoxicating country of Italy. Italy offers a treat for all senses…..the food is superb, the people are gracious, engaging, and friendly, the architecture is magnificent, the countryside is stunning, the wine is…the wine (what else can we say), and the art transports us to a time in history that we now only know through words. Although our cameras captured the images, the memories of this amazing country are as vivid as they were the days we spent there. We did not want to come back….but come back we did.

One trip was a culinary tour. Traveling with a group of people is sort of like making a meal or knitting a garment. The heretofore discrete relationships develop over the course of the days and with each interaction....similar to adding an ingredient or knitting a stitch, every one contributing to the complexity, texture and depth of the finished product, a friendship, albeit short term. The tour took us to Rome (standing in the Coliseum was a humbling experience indeed), Tivoli (which sustained heavy bombing during WWII), Lucca, Siena (sigh!), Pisa, Florence (there is a gate on the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) where couples fasten a lock on which they write their names and throw the key into the Arno River…how romantic!) and the Italian countryside of Montacatini Terme, into the farmhouse of a local chef (complete with a Tuscan wood-burning oven).

Before going to the farmhouse, we toured the local market where the most magnificent meats, fishes, fruits, vegetables and herbs were displayed. We sampled the creamiest homemade pasta that simply melted in the mouth. The chef cooked for the group and shared some of his cooking techniques and recipes. Some of us participated as sous chefs, chopping vegetables while sipping Prosecco and with lunch, we had wine (it’s a good thing there was fence surrounding the hillside!).

One dish we made is the La pasta con la Salsa di Carne ed il Formaggio parmigiano (Pasta with Meat Sauce and Parmesan Cheese) that we had for dinner("cena" in Italian) tonight. This is the text of the recipe they passed out after this delightful Tuscan meal…”For the sauce, chop onions, celery and carrots and brown them in olive oil. Then, add meat dampened with red wine. Add peeled tomatoes and water and cook for two hours.” (This reminded us of when we would say, “Grandmom, how much flour do you use?” and grandmom would reply….“who knows, this much” while pouring some unmeasured amount of flour out on the table). We had to define and adjust the quantities and the recipe is posted on the recipe page. We served the sauce with fresh pasta, a crisp red wine, Castello di Monastero, Sangiovese Toscana (2006), and a Caesar Salad. We had almond cake and chocolate tea for dessert…a perfect evening.

When cooking, always try to use the finest ingredients available…it makes such a difference. For this dish, we used organic, farm raised beef, fresh vegetables, a very good olive oil, San Marzano tomatoes, and a delicious, aged parmesan cheese (a little pricey, but so worth it!).

The Accomplished Knitter and Formerly Timid discussed what seems to be an easy-to-make sweater from a pattern we found on It calls for knitting together a beautiful gold mohair and an equally beautiful grey mohair/acrylic blend. We found the gold mohair in a yarn shop in Melbourne, Australia and ordered the required skeins (gotta love the Internet). Still searching for the grey yarn and will visit the local yarn shop this weekend.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Little Mr. Bossy

Watching TV is not high on the priority list for any of us (ok, perhaps one of us has a slight addiction to “Say Yes To The Dress” and “Project Runway”), HOWEVER, The Knitter Formerly Known As Timid, does like to watch Cake Boss. Formerly Timid’s boss told her that when he visited his son in Hoboken, he noticed a loooooong line outside of Carlo's Bakery on Washington Street. Well, let us tell you that Formerly Timid just about went weak in the knees! After composing herself (and despite her obvious envy) she explained the show and why the line was so long!

One day after the weak-in-the-knees episode, the following email appeared in Formerly Timid’s inbox:

“E-Exclusive Pre-Sale: The Cake Boss is Coming!”

Join celebrity baker Buddy Valastro for an evening of cakes, stories, and fun. In this rare live, interactive event, TLC's Cake Boss will share the stories behind his hit series, his colorful Italian family, answer audience questions, and give a live demonstration of the techniques that have made him one of the most successful and renowned cake artists in the nation.

OMG….THE CAKE BOSS IS COMING TO THE THEATRE AT THE HOTEL DUPONT! She immediately (seriously, straight away, without delay, instantly and any other appropriate synonym) called the box office to secure tickets to see this master of confection. Her glee was quite apparent (it was hard to confuse her joyful squealing) to the Box Office attendant who informed her that the tickets were selling like hot (cup) cakes. …in fact, the Theatre later added a second show.

Let us illuminate the allure of the Cake Boss for Formerly Timid. You see, Cake Boss is Italian, and so is Formerly Timid (half Italian, half Irish), so watching him interact with his family and staff (who are also mostly family members) is a familiar and amusing treat (reminiscent of many and memorable family get-togethers). Notwithstanding the heritage hilarity, his creations are amazing and the stories surrounding the cakecapades are very funny (at least to Formerly Timid and her family) and introduce us to the world of fondant, frosting and filling. Among our favorite cakes are the Sesame Street and Fire House cakes and we post a link to the website to view these masterpieces. Although these are very complicated cakes, the more traditional, simpler wedding cakes are absolutely beautiful.


We hope to arrange a little hop to Hoboken to stand in a line outside of Carlo's Bakery….maybe we will be lucky enough to meet the Cake Boss! We'll post an update after the May 1st show! Too exciting!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

On Saint Patrick's Day, Everyone's Irish!

We have a guest poster! This wee Lassie belongs to an organization called the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians (LAOH). Members of this order must be Catholic and either Irish born or of Irish descent. Lassie informs us that one of the original purposes of the organization was to assist Irish immigrants assimilate in the USA, especially in the workforce. Today, the LAOH primarily organizes fundraisers and donates time and money to charity (and they march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade!). Lassie belongs to Division 87 in Philadelphia and each year in February, the Division gathers to make and sell a delectable little delicacy called Irish Potatoes, the proceeds of which are donated to charity. For those of you who are not familiar with these little gems, they are simply delicious and we’d like to introduce you to the process of making an Irish Potato:

Step #1: Mix the “potatoes” of coconut, confectioner’s sugar and one or two other secret ingredients that Lassie won’t reveal (We feel like we're talking to Colonel Sanders). The potatoes will be a sticky, meatball consistency.
Step #2: Shape into 1” size balls

Step #3: Roll the balls in cinnamon
Step #4: Package them up!
Step #5: Enjoy!

Those of you who know us well will figure out quite quickly who Lassie is…thank you so much for the information!


Back to our Tuesday night shenanigans (what a great Irish onomatopoeia word!)… tonight, we had dinner at the architect’s house …she made vegetarian lasagna with peppers, mushrooms and a béchamel sauce. After the lasagne spent the obligatory time in the oven, the architect put it under the broiler to give it a very crispy crust....very yummy. We had Irish Whiskey Cake and pistachio gelato for dessert…of course, there was wine....a cabernet, malbec, merlot blend, very interesting. We must admit, no knitting tonight, perhaps because of the wine.

As the name of this post suggests, on St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is Irish, even President O’Bama enjoys a bit of the blarney (not a political statement, we assure you!).
Records unearthed in Ireland reveal that President Obama can trace his ancestry back to a shoemaker in a small Irish village in County Offaly (according to a Chicago Sun-Times report).

Top 'O The morning To You all…thanks for following our whimsical little blog!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Spring is Coming!

Be patient, everyone, spring is coming, we promise! We can't wait to plant and grow fresh herbs to use in our dishes. Last year, the architect planted all her herbs in individual pots....this enabled her to take advantage of different sun spots in her yard throughout the day. It was quite pleasant sitting on her back patio, sipping wine, listening to music, surrounded by all those fresh aromas planted in their beautiful pots!

Herbs are typically divided into categories...savory herbs, like rosemary and sage, add flavor, other herbs, like basil, dill, thyme and tarragon, accent flavors but don't overpower dishes, while others like chive and parsley work well in blends and as garnish.

We will post more on herbs later in the growing season!


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Ode To The Collection!

The one with many hats is also the one with many books – cookbooks that is! She has quite a collection as represented in the picture.

She has at least one favorite recipe in every book but mostly she uses the books for reference and for general guidance.

So, in homage to her collection, we offer a poem....

The cook with the book
Has many stored in a nook
And reference she does when she’s on the hook
To cook for a crowd or just for a look

She also knits hats
And has a cool little cat
Who used to be fat
She’s very old now, enough about that!

Tonight we had vegetarian chili, made with small French lentils, farrow (wheat grain) pink beans, peppers, onions, tomatoes and many other yummy things, greens, grapefruit, and avocado salad and a cinnamon cream crumb cake for dessert. We post a link to the chili recipe for your reference. VegetarianChiliRecipe

The architect (AKA procrastinator) is still working on her first hat and is having trouble with structure…we may need to excuse her from the knit part of our gathering, but perhaps we will give her a pass because she is a good cook and was working on an architectural project that was recently submitted. It's her turn to cook next week so if we want to eat on Tuesday, we have to show mercy!

Saturday, March 6, 2010


We showed the “owl” baby hat to the NICU PA and she loved it…she said they were perfect for the babies and a special “touch” for worried parents (who will be reminded that they are not alone in their goal for a healthy baby). We are in production mode and we hope to initially donate (at least) four hats.

As promised, we post a picture of a hat that is just about done that the Knitter Formerly Known as Timid knitted. This was one of her first cabling projects, so we thought that seeing the result would encourage otherwise hesitant knitters to try the pattern. This is adapted from a pattern we found on

Find any simple baby hat pattern. As you know from an earlier post, we used the 12” No. 5 circular needles and casted on 56 stitches (remember, these are premmie babies, so the hats have to be small). Knit for one inch then start the owl cable pattern:
Rounds 1-3: P3, K8, P3
Round 4: P3, C4B, C4F, P3 (translation – purl 3, pick 2 stitches off the round needles with a cabling needle and hold them to the back, knit the next two stitches off the round needles, then knit the two stitches off the cabling needle, then pick 2 stitches off the round needles with a cabling needle and hold them to the front, knit the next two stitches off the round, then knit the two stitches off the cabling needle).
Rounds 5 – 11: Follow Round 1
Round 12: Follow Round 4
Round 13: Follow Round 1
Rounds 14 and 15: P3, K1, P2, K2, P2, K1, P3
Rounds 16 -17: Follow Round 1
Round 18: Follow Round 4
Round 19: Follow Round 1
Round 20 -21: Knit a regular round
Follow your pattern to begin to decrease and finish the hat.

We will eagerly accept any knitted donations and happily pass them along for the babies.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

It starts with a hunk of clay!

With each post, we hope to reveal a little more about each of us. For instance, accomplished knitter works at a local arts center and we thought it would be fun show you how some of the lovely pieces in which we serve our culinary creations are made. It is actually a fascinating process, not quite as romantic as Demi and Patrick suggest, but interesting nonetheless:

The process of throwing a piece of clay:

Cut a hunk of clay

Center the clay on the wheel

Make an opening

Widen the opening

Pull the walls up and out

Shape the piece

Cut from bat and let dry

Trim the base

Send to kiln

Dip the bisque piece and fire it

Finished pieces!

Note: We would be thrilled if Patrick visited the center and maybe preformed a dirty little dance for could happen (he has wings now, you know)!

Tonight we had Butternut Squash Enchiladas, with orange, avocado, and lambs lettuce salad and blood orange fruit salad with pistachio gelato for dessert. The recipe for the enchiladas called for boiling the butternut squash and then mashing and mixing with the other ingredients that included sauteed onions and minced garlic, spices, etc....Instead of boiling, we opted to bake the squash with whole garlic gloves and we mashed the two together (it look almost too beautiful to mash!)...what developed was a delicious detour from the original recipe! Don't be afraid to take chances with your will surprise yourself and delight those who will most eagerly devour your epicurean experiments!

We sat and knitted our projects (hats) and it was unanimously determined that timid knitter has been elevated to half-baked knitter. We are told that “baked” may mean something different than we intend, but for our purposes, we mean “intermediate.” Oh, the joys of having teenagers to offer new meanings for once innocent words! We will post an updated picture of the baby owl hats this weekend.