Monday, November 29, 2010

Pantry Pride

Remember in the Kitchen Re-Do post I told you that I was going to build a pantry at the bottom of my basement steps….well guess what – I am a girl of my word – it is built! Well, I didn’t build it, Closet & Storage Concepts built it, I just had the idea and paid for it. Now, all I need to do is fill it up. Above is the after picture...this is the before picture.

This is proving to be more vexing than one would think.

Let me give you a tour of the yet-to-be-occupied organizational marvel.

I exaggerate.

First, there’s the slots for cookie sheets and other thin stuff like baking racks, muffin pans and pot lids, that are always annoying to store.

Then there’s the 24” shelf on which I will store TALL items like my FOOD PROCESSOR and ice cream maker.

There’s a drawer, and I don’t know exactly what to store in there yet but the very nice woman from Closet & Storage Concepts, Amy, told me I needed one and I said “ok.” I was feeling particularly agreeable, because I was very excited to finally get this storage unit built.

And what would a pantry be without a cabinet (with a lock) in which to store liquor. I have a good kid who has equally nice friends but best to be safe. I hope I remember where I put the key.

That would be unfortunate.

And inconvenient.

My strategy is to first plan where I want to put similar things. Then, as I put each item away, I think I will ask myself a few questions….Do I use this item? Does it have sentimental value? Is there a practical purpose for this item? Do I have more than one because, I kept buying the same item before my “I’m organized, damn it” existence? If the answers are NO, NO, NO, and YES, then off to Goodwill it goes, leaving more room for the useful things that matter…like a beehive cake pan.

I will post pictures once the shelves are full.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Butternut Squash Soup - Happy Thanksgiving!

So, it’s Thanksgiving – my favorite holiday – and this is the day that we give thanks for all the wonderful things in our lives…it is also the day that we can give thanks for the simple and mundane stuff that makes our lives easier. For instance, butternut squash in a bag….Trader Joes came through…my-bag cutting skills will endure.

And no lost fingers.

Where’s my good scissors?

Every Thanksgiving, I make Butternut Squash Soup. I clipped the recipe from the Philadelphia Inquirer about 20 years ago and have edited this yummy bisque over the will be my contribution to our family’s Thanksgiving feast this year.

This savory soup is very easy to make and is always a big hit. Oldest daughter just said to me last night that she couldn’t wait to have some!

1 medium onion, chopped
½ stick of butter
2 carrots, scrubbed and chopped (I use whole baby carrots)
One 2 lb bag of butternut squash (or 2 butternut squash, peeled and cubed)
1 quart of vegetable or chicken stock (I use vegetable)
2 Granny Smith apples, cored and wedged (my addition)
5 bay leaves
5 whole cloves (I like to put the bay leaves and cloves in a cheesecloth herb pouch so both are easy to remove later)
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (my addition)
Dash cumin
Dash nutmeg
1 tablespoon of dark brown sugar
½ cup of Half & Half (my addition)
Salt & Pepper to taste


Sauté onion in the butter until limp and translucent (be nice).

Add the carrots, butternut squash and vegetable stock making sure to cover all the vegetables.

Bring to a boil, add the bay leave & clove pouch and the apples and simmer for 45-55 minutes until vegetables are soft.

Remove the bay leaves and cloves and puree in the food processor until very smooth.

Return to the pot and add a little more vegetable stock if too thick. Add the cumin, nutmeg, sugar and Half & Half and simmer until warm

Serve with a dollop of sour cream, if desired.

As is sometimes the tradition on a holiday…something breaks in my house. One Christmas, it was the oven and we had to cook the turkey in the crock pot…that was fun. We briefly contemplated the outdoor grill but realized we didn’t have enough gas. This year, it was my trusty hand blender that I’ve had for many years….thank goodness we had the food processor…remember, you read about that. Oy.

You can always open a box of soup – similar skill to opening a bag – and pour the contents into a pot and heat it up, less time consuming, but not as satisfying!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Thanks for following my antics.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Cranberry Upside Down Cake

Just in time for Thanksgiving!

For the topping:
4 Tbs. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 lb. cranberries (frozen will work fine too)

For the cake:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
8 Tbs. (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, separated
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
1/8 tsp. cream of tartar
For the whipped cream:
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbs. confectioners’ sugar

To make the topping, butter a 9-inch round cake pan. Put the butter and brown sugar in the prepared pan and place the pan over medium heat. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter is melted and the sugar has dissolved. Scatter the cranberries over the butter-sugar mixture. Set aside.

Preheat an oven to 350°F.

To make the cake, in a bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter and granulated sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and mix well. Using a silicone or rubber spatula, fold in the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the milk.

In a bowl, using a whisk or an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add the cream of tartar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form. Using the spatula, fold the whites into the batter.

Spoon the batter over the cranberries in the cake pan, spreading it evenly. Bake until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, 55 to 60 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the cake. Invert onto a serving plate, let stand for 5 minutes, then lift off the pan.

Recipe from Williams Sonoma.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Tagine, it is all they claim!

One of the nicest things about our Tuesday evening affairs is the smell of the dishes cooking as we walk in the houses of cherished friends. The various meats, spices, fruits, and vegetables titillate the mind and body and it is a pleasant memory indeed and, you know, we have to create memories, they don’t just happen! Titillating the body….well let’s just say, don’t forget to exercise at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days per week.

This is a wholesome blog.

I think.

On Tuesday, Foodie served a vegetarian version of Moroccan Tagine - vegetable stew with chickpeas, apricots – served over couscous. Remember, I made the chicken version back in February. Now this is why Foodie is Foodie…..she was not happy with the moistness of the dish so she pops some vegetable broth in the microwave, pours it over the dish, gives it a little stir and, abracadabra, the dish is perfect! I learn something from her every week.

A word about Tagine….it is an exotic stew with many wonderful spices including coriander, cinnamon, curry and chili powder. The traditional tagine pot is formed entirely of heavy clay that is sometimes painted and/or glazed. There is a flat, circular base with low sides and a large triangle shaped dome that covers the base during cooking…the base is brought right to the table for serving. Foodie made her tagine stew in a heavy cast-iron pot and served it in a beautiful hand-made bowl.

Moroccan Tagine

1 onion
1 butternut squash
2 sweet potatoes
1 28 oz. can of canned tomatoes
1 package of cherry tomatoes, halved
2 1/2 ounces dried apricots
1 14 oz. can chickpeas, well drained
1 tablespoon tomato puree
1 tablespoon coriander
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 tablespoon cumin
1/2 tablespoon garlic powder (I would use fresh)
1 pinch hot chili powder
8 oz. of vegetable stock

Chop the onions, cherry tomatoes, apricots, and dice the butternut squash and sweet potatoes into small pieces. Spray a pan with spray oil and fry the onions for a few minutes on a high heat. Add everything else, then reduce heat and simmer for at least 1 hour. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro. Our gracious hostess also topped with chicken thighs.
We had a wonderfully fall fig salad served in the lovely traveling salad bowl and a caramelized cranberry upside down cake (for which I will ask foodie for the recipe because it was fabulous!).

Photo of the Tagine pot is from Google Images...since I don't have one, but I think I will ask my pottery teacher how to make one and post the process!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Chow Line

My youngest and I went to see the “Art of the American Soldier” exhibit at the National Constitution Center this weekend…it is a show not to be missed. The fortitude, resiliency and courage of our troops, not to mention their humor to help manage their often times dismal situations, are commendable. As the name suggests, the show is a montage of paintings, drawings, cartoons and photographs created by military artists whose mission was/is to capture life as an American soldier….some are humorous (like the soldier in the bath tub!), most moving and hard to imagine. Equally moving are the stories the soldiers, from WWII to our present conflicts, tell on the iPods that the NCC issues as part of the exhibit. If you have a pulse, you will tear up, I promise. At the end of the exhibit, each visitor has the opportunity to write a post card that the NCC will send to our soldiers….please do. A very poignant exhibit. The photo above is my dad (on the right) and a buddy, taken in Europe, in 1943.

What does this have to do with cooking or knitting, you ask? During WWII the troops were issued K rations. First used in 1942 by U.S. Airborne troops on an experimental basis, the K ration was initially praised for its ease of use and (relative) variety of culinary (I use this term very loosely!) offerings. According to Wikipedia, the Supper Unit consisted of "canned meat, either chicken paté or pork luncheon meat with carrot and apple (1st issue), beef and pork loaf (2nd issue), or sausages; biscuits; a 2-ounce D ration emergency chocolate bar, Tropical bar, or (in temperate climates) commercial sweet chocolate bar; a packet of toilet paper tissues; a 4-pack of cigarettes; chewing gum, and a bouillon soup cube or powder packet.” There was also a breakfast and lunch version.

I learned from the exhibit that some K rations from WWII were issued during more recent conflicts…holy cow, the military takes its non-perishable mission seriously! More wholesome (and preservative free) treats sometimes arrive in the mail and, especially during wartime, soldiers eagerly anticipate “mail call.” In addition to letters from moms, dads, siblings, and sweethearts, there were/are often packages with cakes, cookies and other baked goodies from home. Mail call has always been a soldier’s favorite time of the day – the written connection from home helps to make the separation tolerable – and receiving a package with a baked goodie was a welcome and shared surprise!

Thank a soldier today for their service!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cable Girl

I like to pass along interesting patterns when I see them and this free sweater pattern from Berroco Knits is stunning with the gorgeous criss-cross cabling pattern on the back. Cabling used to intimidate me, but it really isn't all that hard with the right tools....and the end product is absolutely worth the effort. Remember the owl hats...they were cabled!

Cabled Back Sweater

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Word Up!

So, I’m driving home from work the other day and I hear a story on NPR about dictionary words previously a part of our active lexicon that are being eliminated and/or replaced to make room for new words like bromace (the boy version of BFF), chillax (calm down), stacation (staying home for vacation), frenemy (a friend who should be an enemy…be careful), and, of course, blog (you know what this is). So I visited the site - Save The Words - and I was quite amused! Upon entering, there is a billboard of nearly extinct words and as you mouse over these little gems, you hear little shout outs from the nerdy hopefuls like “over here, yo, pick me, hello!, and yes-yes-me.” Very cute....and effective!

This is how it works…you “adopt” a word and promise to use this word at least once a day…I chose PAMPHAGOUS which “means eating or consuming everything” (I thought that a word about food would be appropriate). I think I’ll buy the tee-shirt they offered me. A fun way to keep fancy words alive.

Well, we were pamphagous eaters indeed on Tuesday evening because we ate every last bit of the Pumpkin Gnocchi with Sage Cream Sauce I served!

Sage Cream Sauce
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup finely chopped white onion
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage (fresh only, do not used dried)
3/4 cup dry white wine
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
Pinch of nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese for sprinkling
Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat; add onion and sage to skillet. Sauté about 30 seconds. Add wine, cream and seasonings. Increase heat and boil, uncovered, until sauce is reduced and thickened, about 5 minutes. Serve on desired pasta garnished with Parmesan cheese

I also made a roasted pork tenderloin that I maninated in apple juice and rosemary. Except for the basil, my potted herb garden is still going strong, so I was able to clip and use fresh sage and rosemary! Of course, we had a beautiful salad in the lovely traveling salad bowl and for dessert, we had Ginger Chocolate Cookies. The youngsters were there watching Glee.

Where's my holy water?

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Chick Loves Farro

So, I'm driving home from a work function the other day and my daughter sends me a says...."Guess who's at the Borders? Lisa Scottoline." Remember the weak-in-the-knees episode involving Cake Boss Buddy, well, this was equally debilitating. I composed myself, drove to the Media/Swarthmore exit of the Blue Route, and headed east on Baltimore Pike, turned right into the parking lot and proceeded straight to Borders where Lisa was amusing the crowd with her stories and signing books. I gave her a hug and we had a nice little chat about her last book "Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog"....I told Lisa that if she ever sees me in a white dress with a bouquet of flowers in my hand she should just trip me....she laughed...

No, really.

She signed my book....I am beyond elated.

I was absolutely thrilled to meet Ms. Scottoline...I can only dream about being equally as witty....and charming!

In a recent Chick Wit post, Lisa talked about a trip to a New York -- where her daughter lives -- Italian restaurant where she tried and totally enjoyed a dish made with farro, tomatoes and cheese. Farro, considered the "mother of all grains," is an ancient grain that has a delicious nutty flavor and chewy texture. Italians have enjoyed it for many centuries. I found a recipe for Farro with Roasted Vegetables on and I post the link below....enjoy!

Farro with Roasted Vegetables

Saturday, November 6, 2010


We are in now full autumnal jollity….baseball season is over, we were delighted with our Halloween ghost and goblin visitors, and Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, is just around the corner. The leaves on the tree tell the story best…..

The tree in front of my house with its beautiful gold and rust leaves…

…the same tree after a windy buzz cut (remember the flowbee???)…

…and here they land (well, not all by themselves in a nice, neat little pile – that would be wonderful indeed…a human wielding a rake intervened. Heaven forbid we use a leaf blower and instigate another round of letters to the editor of the Swarthmorean).

We had dinner at the architect’s house on Tuesday and she made Malfatti, which is a spinach and cheese dumpling. The word means “badly (mal) done (fatti)", but these were very tasty….kind of like eating pasta, but because they are made with fresh spinach, Ricotta cheese, bread crumbs, and eggs they are extremely light. She served them with a sage butter sauce, and a salad. I picked up pumpkin cupcakes with maple cream cheese frosting for dessert from a shop in Wilmington.....we suspect they were inspired by the Barefoot Contessa’s recipe so I post that link below. After dinner, we watched the election results…I won’t comment further.

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Help

As you know dear readers every now and then I write about a book I've read. Usually I try to limit these "reviews" to books about cooking or knitting to be true to the name of the blog but, alas my sometimes wayward thoughts have co-opted that intention.

I just finished reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett. It is set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960's and tells the stories of the domestic help who tend to well-to-do Southern families. It may seem a bit unusual for me to say this about a book that I thoroughly enjoyed, and perhaps this is exactly the dichotic response the author wished to elicit, but this book left me feeling both sad and embarrassed. I kept wishing I was Skeeter writing about things many of us know only through history books, television, or kitchen table stories.

Although this is a fictional tale, it could easily have been about any number of people from that time and situation. I would consider myself fortunate indeed to have known the dear, kind Aibileen, or the sassy Miss Minny (a soul mate, perhaps) or the spunky and courageous twenty-two year old Skeeter, who sacrificed the security of her comfortable Southern life to expose the plight of others.

A must read.