Thursday, December 30, 2010

French Toast Casserole

You probably think all I do is eat....not true…I take pictures of what I make and eat too! For Christmas, my daughter gave me Photo Shop Elements (can’t imagine how she knew I wanted this…perhaps it was the subtle “If you don’t have my gift yet, I’d like Photo Shop Elements” hint) and I am anxious to learn how to enhance the photos I take so that they are as visually appealing as possible.

I also knit.


On Christmas morning, I traditionally prepare a breakfast casserole...sometimes I make a panettone bread pudding or a frittata, but this year I made a French Bread Casserole and the photos do not do this beautiful blend of bread, eggs, cream, nuts and spices justice. Definitely not low calorie, but CRAZY good…I served it with fruit to neutralize the artery clogging consequences. It would also make a fabulous brunch dish or pot-luck contribution.

French Toast Casserole

“Night Before” Ingredients
1 French Banquette
8 eggs
1 cup milk
2 Tbls sugar
1 tsp vanilla
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
Dash of salt

Praline Topping Ingredients
2 sticks of butter, room temperature
1 cup of light brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans
2 Tbls light corn syrup
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg

Slice bread and place the pieces in rows in a large, buttered casserole dish. Mix the other “night before” ingredients and beat until blended, but not bubbly. Pour over the bread slices, cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, preheat the oven to 350°. Combine the praline ingredients and spread them evenly over the soaked bread. Bake for 40 minutes until puffed and golden. Serve with syrup, jam, or honey.

This is delectable and it will be hard to resist a second helping.

You've been appropriately warned.

I got this recipe years ago so I don’t know the source. I apologize in advance for not attributing credit.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

I’m Dreaming of a White Boxing Day and Tiramisu

Well the chaos is over and now we can relax, knit, and enjoy a perfectly lovely snowy day… until you have to shovel the crap or drive in it.

During the holidays, I like orchestrating get-togethers….every year, I hostess a party called the “Ornament Exchange” played like a yankee swap but with ornaments. The sillier (and maybe even naughty) the ornament the better. This year, there was a merman soldier (complete with chest hair and tattoos - photo coming!), a gun toting hunter alligator, and a weight lifting gorilla….it was a lot of fun and, as usual, very competitive (to ensure walking away with a coveted prize!). I make most of the food every year and the Cauliflower Au Gratin was a big hit…the recipe is posted on the Recipe page.

Elegant doesn't need to be complicated (good thing, because if elegant were complicated, I’d have a predicament). I made a quick and easy Tiramisu for Christmas dessert to demonstrate this point and, I have to stay, it was better than some I’ve had in fancy restaurants (like I go to fancy restaurants all the time). I got this recipe on the website (yes, and I substituted some of the specific products they required requested I use.

Quick and Easy Tiramisu

2 packages (3 oz each) ladyfingers, divided (these are found in the frozen food section
2 Tbsp. of instant coffee (I was instructed to use Maxwell House but I used instant espresso)
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 cup of boiling water
2 packages (8 oz each) Philadelphia Cream Cheese, softened (I used 1/3 fat)
2 Tbsp of Brandy (optional....for some)
½ cup sugar
2 cups thawed Cool Whip Lite Whipped Topping
Grated dark chocolate (again, I was instructed to use cocoa powder but I thought the grated chocolate would not only add more flavor, but would present nicely)

Arrange 1 package of ladyfingers on the bottom of a baking dish.

Combine coffee granules and 1 Tbsp. sugar and dissolve in boiling water. Brush ½ cup onto the ladyfinger in dish.

Beat cream cheese in a large bowl with mixer until creamy. Add ½ cup of sugar and brandy and mix well. Whisk in Cool Whip.

Spread half the cream cheese mixture over ladyfingers in dish, top with remaining ladyfingers and brush with remaining coffee mixture. Cover with remaining cream cheese mixture

Grate dark chocolate on top. Refrigerate for four hours.

This is the BEST Tiramisu I have ever had…seriously.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Pot Holders and Cupcakes...

So my sister said to me the other day..."there seems to be a lot of cooking and no knitting going on!" She further suggested that I knit some pot holders to tie the theme of this blog together. I think that is a fab idea so I searched for an easy pot holder pattern and found one on the Lion Brand site.

We had a fabulous party at my house the other night so stay tuned for a post!

Lion Brand Pot Holders

Lion Brand® Lion® Cotton

11 sts = 3"; 6 rows = 1". BE SURE TO CHECK YOUR GAUGE. When you match the gauge in a pattern, your project will be the size specified in the pattern and the materials specified in the pattern will be sufficient. If it takes you fewer stitches and rows to make a 4 in. [10 cm] square, try using a smaller size hook or needles; if more stitches and rows, try a larger size hook or needles.

Potholder is worked with 3 strands of yarn held together throughout. To use one ball, re-roll yarn into three separate balls. (If you hare making more than one potholder, you may find it easier to get three balls of Lion Cotton to eliminate the need to re-roll.)

KNITTED POTHOLDER: With three strands of yarn held together, cast on 28 sts. Work in garter st (= k every row) until 8" from beg. Bind off until one stitch remains. Knit that st, remove needle, insert crochet hook (ch 10, sl st to base st of ch) for loop. Fasten off. I will post some when complete!

It was little daughter's birthday last night....check out the cupcakes. Chocolate with Peanut Butter Mousse piped on top drizzled with Chocolate die for.

Peanut Butter Mousse
1/3 cup whipping cream
1/2 of an 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup creamy peanut butter (do not use natural peanut butter)
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup sifted powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a chilled small mixing bowl beat whipping cream with chilled beaters of an electric mixer on low to medium speed until soft peaks form; set aside.
In a medium mixing bowl beat cream cheese, peanut butter, and milk with an electric mixer until combined. Beat in powdered sugar and vanilla until mixture is smooth. Gently fold in beaten whipped cream, half at a time, until mixture is smooth. Cover and chill for 2 hours or up to 24 hours.
Using a pastry bag fitted with a very large star tip pipe peanut butter mousse onto cupcakes.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Chicken Marsala

Ok, so before I tell you about the perfectly lovely dinner we had on Tuesday evening, I want to give you a verdict on the Cardamom Pound Cake. What I really want to do first is whine because it took me two hours to get home from work because there was a dusting of snow on the ground. Ok. I’m done.

Back to the cake.

The cake was delicious. It was just the right consistency, not too sweet with a hint of cardamom and vanilla…. perfect to serve with afternoon tea.

On Tuesday, it was my turn to cook and I made Chicken Marsala with Sautéed Spinach and Arugula. This dish is very simple to make, but very fancy and delicious.

For the Chicken Marsala you will need:

3 Chicken Breasts
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon of dried basil leaves
Salt to taste
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon of butter
1 8 oz package of sliced mushrooms
¾ cup Marsala wine
¼ cup of any other red wine (I like a Cabernet for this recipe best)

Pound the chicken breasts thin. Cut each in half.

Mix flour, basil leaves and salt and dredge the chicken in the mixture.

Heat oil and butter in the pan and when hot, add the chicken and brown on both sides.

Add mushrooms and cook until tender and golden.

Add the wines and cook for a few minutes longer until the chicken is cooked through. The sauce will thicken a bit from the flour and the butter.

The Sautéed Spinach and Arugula is super easy….coat the bottom of a pan big enough to hold the fresh spinach and arugula (I use a wok) with olive oil. Add garlic, salt and red pepper flakes and sauté for a minute. Add the spinach and arugula and cook until wilted.

See…lovely, simple and so good! We also had a salad with mixed greens and fresh pears served in the traveling salad bowl and Cardamom Pound Cake for dessert...this would be nice with homemade whipped cream.

Architect’s hubby is quite the cook as well and he whipped up a delicious dinner for himself and son…I think it’s a toss up!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Cardamom Vanilla Pound Cake

Pound cakes are usually pretty dense, but for some reason, the orange pound cake I made two weeks ago was very airy, almost angel food cake consistency. After a quick search (you can find anything on the Internet), I concluded that perhaps I beat the mixture for too long -- I followed the directions because we all know what happens when I don’t follow directions. Anyway, I used a pound cake mix (gasp), doctored up…perhaps the added ingredients were the culprits So I decided to try again. Foodie suggested that cardamom is lovely in a pound cake, so I searched for a cardamom pound cake recipe and found one on

The recipe calls for vanilla beans and I was expecting seeds inside the beans – I never used fresh vanilla beans before, only pure extract – but what you really scrape into the batter is more like coffee grounds and for $14 for two vanilla beans, I made sure to scrape every single morsel out of those beans! As you will read, I was directed to “reserve the pods for another use” and I dutifully simmered one in my coffee this morning (don’t want the recipe po-po after me). Very tasty indeed...just a hint of vanilla.

Cardamom Vanilla Pound Cake
“This pound cake not only keeps well but also intensifies in flavor over the first day or so. It's delicious toasted or served with ice cream.”

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
2 vanilla beans, halved lengthwise
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup whole milk

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Generously butter pan and dust with flour, knocking out excess. I used my lovely Nordic Ware Fleur de lis bundt cake pan.

Mix together flour, cardamom, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a separate bowl, beat together butter and granulated sugar in mixer at medium speed, scraping side of bowl occasionally, until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape seeds from vanilla beans with tip of a paring knife into butter mixture, reserving pods for another use, and beat until combined well, about 1 minute.

Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in lemon juice until combined well. At low speed, add flour mixture and milk alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture, mixing until just combined.

Spoon batter into pan, smoothing top. Gently rap pan on counter to eliminate air bubbles.

Bake until a wooden skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool in pan 1 hour, then invert onto a rack and cool completely, about 1 hour more.

I made this beautiful pound cake for a committee gathering at my house this evening so I will post an update after taste-tested!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Grandmom's Meatballs

I grew up with my Italian grandmother and she made the best meatballs ever. I have never been able to replicate these scrumptious little spheres and my family and I speculate that her “secret ingredient” was the almond-scented Jergen’s Lotion she used after she washed her hands. To this day, that scent reminds me of my loving grandmother…a wonderful memory indeed!

We would ask how much of each ingredient she used and she would say – in Italian – “che sanno” – “who knows.” So over the years, we’ve experimented with fancy ingredients and always come back to the simple but fresh ingredients my grandmother used...that she probably purchased at the neighborhood Italian market, DeLuca’s.

Anyway, dear readers, I share my grandmom’s recipe with you, at least how I remember it. If my siblings or cousins have any other information, do chime in!

1 lb. of ground beef
1 egg
¼ cup of FRESH parsley (please don’t disrespect my grandmom’s recipe by using dried)
¼ cup of chopped onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
A few shakes of bread crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste

Chop parsley.

Chop onions.

Add chopped parsley, onion, garlic and egg to the ground meat.

Add breadcrumbs, salt and pepper.

Mix together.

Shape into 1-2” meatballs. You should get 10-12 meatballs from 1 lb. of meat...depending on the size.

Brown on all sides.

Simmer for at least TWO HOURS in tomato gravy…say it after me, GRAVY, not sauce, gravy. Serve on your favorite pasta. Tomato gravy works well on thin pastas, like spaghetti and cappellini. Chunkier sauces work better on ridged, hearty pastas, like rigatoni and penne.

Simple, but oh so good. I made five dozen for an upcoming party at my house.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

17 Bean Soup

By Tuesday evening we all had enough turkey so it was time for something different. The architect made a 17 Bean Soup…it was only after it was served that she told us that the base stock was turkey! Alas, the turkeyfest continues! Despite the revelation, the soup was delicious. She used a soup-starter package from Trader Joes and added plenty of her own goodies like tomatoes, onions, carrots, and herbs…she served it topped with grated cheese. Foodie brought a Ceasar Salad in the beautiful traveling salad bowl and I made an orange pound cake…I will write something about the pound cake in a future post…it was good but a bit too fluffy for pound cake.

Trader Joe's 17 Bean & Barley Recipe

Ingredients (from the back of the package)
1 1/2 cups of T.J. 17 Bean and Barley Soup Mix
1 cup of chopped sweet bell peppers
1 Bay Leaf
1/2 tsp. Italian Seasoning
1 tsp. Dried Basil
1 can Marinara Sauce or 28 oz. Canned Tomatoes
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrot
1 garlic clove or 1 tsp. T.J. Crushed Garlic (roasted garlic would be lovely)

Soak Bean & Barley combination overnight. In a heavy bottom pan cook (BTW…see that pot – I want one!) until soft - in broth, water, wine or combination - onion, celery, carrot and peppers. Add Basil and Garlic. Add to all remaining ingredients. Add additional water, broth or other liquids as needed for your desired consistency.

Simmer covered about 1 hour or longer depending on desired texture, upwards of 90-120minutes, check for bean doneness by tasting or squeezing a large bean.

As I said, the soup was delicious...very grateful I did not have any meetings scheduled the next day.