Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Italian Bowl

A few years back, the National Constitution Center featured an exhibit called Ancient Rome & America which showcased the cultural, political, and social connections between the lost world of ancient Rome and modern America. As is typically the case with exhibits, the visitor exited the show to a gift shop that offered many reproductions of items from the exhibit, including the lovely Italian pottery bowl below. There were two color choices, a beautiful, tranquil blue and a creamy white…I chose the white, but only after much deliberation!

I could not get that blue bowl out of my head, so I decided to make my version of what I now affectionately call the Italian Bowls in pottery class. As you see in the original, the design includes many delicate and fanciful scrolls and curly-cues, and a few raised medallions, including a cherub. Recreating these intricate details has been challenging, especially achieving the thinness of the scrolls and then attaching them to the bowl. I make the medallions using lace doilies, candy molds and other clay building do-dads borrowed from my wonderful classmates and very talented teacher, Annie. It's nice being in a classroom each week with such wonderful and gifted people....they inspire me!

This blue version of my Italian Bowl is actually my 4th attempt and each time my detail-adding skills become more polished, delicate and perhaps even a bit more daring and original…like the little crown. Adding detail of this sort requires patience and sometimes I spend two class nights embellishing just one bowl. Glazing these pieces is a breeze because I have settled on just two options…the beautiful blue you see or the creamy white of the original. I rub off some of the glaze along the edge and on some of the detail to give each a rustic, archaeological feel.

I am thrilled.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Brandied Bananas

While at Architect’s house for dinner last week, we decided to try something new for dessert so we made Brandied Bananas. The recipe calls for setting the liquor mixture on fire and you won’t see any photos of that because I dropped my camera during the igniting process – perhaps due to my absolute excitement about getting the perfect shot! I was a little wary about this ignition business right on the heels of the flood incident, but all was fine.

Anyway, this recipe is from Sandra Lee's Semi-Homemade Cooking 2, page 206, under the Everyday Dinners category. I don’t know about you Sandra, but I don’t set a dish on fire everyday, at least not on purpose.

I'm just saying.

Regardless, this was delicious and is a relatively easy option for a somewhat hoity-toity dessert.

Bandied Bananas
4 bananas (make sure they're not too ripe, in fact just past green would work best)
2 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons of brown sugar
½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon
½ cup of tequila
1½ Tablespoons brandy
1 pint of coconut or vanilla sorbet (I like Ciao Bella)

Peel bananas and cut each in half crosswise, then cut each half in half again, lengthwise. I a large skillet, melt butter over low heat and place bananas in skillet, cut sides down, and cook for five minutes. Turn and cook for five minutes more. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon, allow that to melt for just a little, then transfer the bananas to serving dish in a single layer.

Pour the tequila and brandy into the same skilled and heat over medium heat, making sure to scrape any bits up with a spatula.

When the liquid mixture is hot, use a long match to carefully ignite the mixture in the pan. When the flames die down, pour the mixture over the bananas. Place four banana pieces in an ice cream dish, add a scoop of sorbet and spoon some sauce over each serving.

We hated it.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Coq au Vin

We had dinner at Architect’s house this week and she made Coq au Vin, French for "rooster with wine." This braise of chicken cooked with wine, onions, and mushrooms quickly becomes a household favorite once served. There are many versions of this long-time rustic favorite and Architect used the Cook Illustrated version. Cooks Illustrated does a great job of paring down complicated recipes to easier adaptations while retaining the full flavor and spirit of the original. I just received my first subscription and I am eager to read and learn from one of the masters.

Regardless of the version, the chicken used – Architect used boneless thighs – is marinated in red wine then seared and simmered in fat, CI uses bacon. Architect cooked this culinary classic in her often-employed and well-loved Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven…I’m so jealous! Once the meat is simmered and tender, the usual suspects of seasonings are added and finally the sauce is thickened. Upon serving, the lucky diner is immediately transported to the lovely Parisian countryside! Perfect served over a bed of egg noodles.

Coq au Vin
From: Cooks Illustrated

1 bottle fruity, smooth, medium-bodied red wine like a Cabernet or Beaujolais
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
10 sprigs fresh parsley leaves
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
4 ounces bacon, preferably thick-cut, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces
2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat and cut in half crosswise
Table salt and ground black pepper
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
24 frozen pearl onions, thawed, drained, and patted dry (about 1 cup)
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, wiped clean, stems trimmed, halved if small and quartered if large
2 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1. Bring all but 1 tablespoon wine (reserve for later use), broth, parsley sprigs, thyme, and bay to simmer in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until reduced to 3 cups, about 25 minutes. Discard herbs.

2. Meanwhile, cook bacon in large Dutch oven over medium heat until browned, 7 to 8 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper-towel-lined plate. Reserve 2 tablespoons fat in small bowl; discard remaining fat.

3. Lightly season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon reserved bacon fat in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add half of chicken in single layer and cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to plate and repeat with remaining chicken and 1 tablespoon bacon fat.

4. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in now-empty Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When foaming subsides, add pearl onions and mushrooms; cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, add garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomato paste and flour; cook, stirring frequently, until well combined, about 1 minute.

5. Add reduced wine mixture, scraping bottom of pot with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits; add 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Return chicken, any accumulated juices, and reserved bacon to pot; increase heat to high and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover pot, and simmer until chicken is tender, about 25 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking time.

6. Using slotted spoon, transfer chicken to large bowl; tent with foil to keep warm. Increase heat to medium-high and simmer sauce until thick and glossy and measures 3 1/4 cups, about 5 minutes. Off heat, stir in remaining 2 tablespoons butter and reserved 1 tablespoon wine. Season to taste with salt. Return chicken to pot and top with minced parsley. Serve immediately over a bed of egg noodles.

We also had a field green, blood orange and pistachio salad served in the lovely traveling salad bowl and a fantastic bottle of French wine. Again, dessert will be a separate post!

Rooster image from

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

As you read in the Sea Bass post, my assignment was dessert last Wednesday evening. I love desserts that exploit different ingredients, like cardamom, olive oil, jalapenos, beets, carrots, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, parsnips, and, yes, even sauerkraut (that supposedly mimics the taste of coconut...this must be investigated!).

There’s something magical about how non-traditional flavors blend with more conventional ingredients for more interesting, pretty desserts that give the taste buds a I-can’t-quite-put-my-finger-on-it surprise! Plus vegetables makes the cakes moist and more forgiving for the waistline.

I’ve been dying to try a Chocolate Zucchini Cake I found on-line and since I was on Operation Dessert, it was my perfect opportunity!

Chocolate Zucchini Cake
Adapted from


2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups white sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup of buttermilk
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
3 cups grated zucchini
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup chocolate chips

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9x13 inch baking pan.

2.In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Add the eggs, buttermilk, vanilla and oil, mix well. Fold in the nuts, chocolate chips and zucchini until they are evenly distributed. Pour into the prepared pan.

3.Bake for 45 minutes in the preheated oven, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool cake completely before topping desired glaze or confectioner’s sugar.

This cake is moist and decadent and at just 275 calories per serving, kind of thrifty in the sweet-tooth category!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Oven Roasted Sea Bass

We had dinner at Foodie’s house on Wednesday and she served Black Sea Bass filets that she prepared with a light brush of olive oil, seasonings and blood oranges and then roasted for about 20 minutes at 350º. She served these little lovlies with leeks (on which the fish sat while baking) accompanied with basmati rice prepared with coconut oil, fresh ginger and fried shallots.

Wikipedia explains that the “black sea bass is an exclusively marine or saltwater fish that inhabits the coasts from Maine to NE Florida and the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Sea bass spend most of their time close to the sea floor and are often congregated around bottom formations such as rocks, man-made reefs, wrecks, jetties, piers, and bridge pilings.”

Although Foodie baked the bass we devoured, this tender and flakey white meat fish is delicious grilled as well. Sea Bass is an extra lean fish with a subtle flavor that can be accentuated by any number of herbs, spices, fruits or vegetables. It is often referred to as the fish equivalent to chicken breasts, making it perfect for fish tacos, tossed with pasta and topped on a salad.

When Foodie was in our local Co-Op buying the Sea Bass she asked the fishmonger if he had any fish bones because she wanted to make fish stew….he gave her the skeletal remains of a Striped Sea Bass. We had some of that beautiful bottom-dweller as well!

We also enjoyed a delicious field green salad with strawberries and raspberries and a delightful bottle of French red wine. My assignment was dessert….watch for that post in a few days!

Black Sea Bass image from Google.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

A vintage valentine served on a lovely Royal Dalton "Cheadle" tea tennis set.

Tennis sets were very popular at the turn of the century to allow a person to carry tea and tea-time treats -- crustless sandwiches, hot buttered toast, scones, and little pastries -- to the table at the same time. Fancy society who held endless tea parties to suit almost any occasion is, no doubt, responsible for the term.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Scallops with Mint Pesto and Couscous

We had dinner at Singer's house on Wednesday and she made the most delicious pan-fried scallops with mint pesto served on a bed of whole wheat couscous.


Before I share the recipe, a word about couscous. It is a grain, typical in Middle Eastern cuisine. Traditional couscous is “semolina sprinkled with water and rolled with the hands to form small pellets, sprinkled with dry flour (to keep them separate), and then sieved.” The instant couscous we enjoy has been pre-prepared and dried and is then rehydrated with liquid…I use chicken or vegetable broth. You can add anything you’d like to couscous such as pine nuts, chopped mint, cilantro, thyme, parsley, raisins, figs, and apricots…anything to gussy up an otherwise basic side dish!

Now for the star of Wednesday’s show!

Scallops with Mint Pesto
From: Martha Stewart

2 cups packed fresh mint leaves (from about 2 bunches)
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove

In a food processor, place mint, cup oil, 3 tablespoons pine nuts, lemon juice, and garlic. Process until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes; thin with water if necessary. Season with salt and pepper.

To serve this dish, place a cup or so of couscous prepared according to directions on a plate, place the scallops that have been pan seared on the bed of couscous, then top with the mint pesto and garnish pine nuts.

Elegant and so delicious!

Foodie finished a gorgeous shawl she made to supplement the inventory for the grand reopening of BEAdazzle!, the gift shop at the art center to which we all belong. It's made from a lovely pink and purple self-striping yarn. The pattern calls for knitting on a bias...starting from one point and ending at the other. Foodie found this pattern on

I’m working on a project using self striping yarn too. It is a pretty substantial shawl that requires six (yes, count em, six) balls of yarn. I just started ball four. It is a straight-forward but time consuming pattern on size 8 needles. It is a gift…hopefully the recipient is not reading this post!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Downton Abbey Cottage Pie

Why watch the Super Bowl when there is a perfectly acceptable alternative that offers intrigue, passion, deceit, and the occasional laugh?’s a British production.

And, the costuming is more appealing and the characters are less dodgy. Well, there is the cheeky lady's maid and her conniving sidekick, the footman. And let's not forget the valet's wretched ex-wife, the crooked newspaper mogul, and that little trollup of a maid.

Oh, there's the Turkish diplomat who suffered an untimely and scandalous demise and the scullery maid who's neither mean or manipulative, just maddening.

Besides them, this show offers a refined cast of characters.

My Wednesday evening dinner mates and I gathered for a Downton Abbey marathon on Sunday evening and we thought serving something British was in order so we enjoyed Cottage Pie along with a few pints of Boddingtons.

Wikipedia informs me that Cottage Pie or Shepherd's Pie is a meat pie using any kind of leftover meats and vegetables with a mashed potato crust. Commoners typically made the dish and the name "Cottage" originated from the term describing the modest dwellings of the rural workers who commonly ate the same.

The movie, The Holiday, featured one such cottage. Blimey, I wouldn’t mind that “modest dwelling.”

"Shepherd's pie" is sometimes incorrectly used synonymously with "cottage pie" however, the term “shepherd” is only correct if the dish is made with mutton or lamb...because shepherds herd sheep and not cattle.

What is mutton anyway? The meat of a sheep?


1 1/2 lbs ground beef (the fattier cuts are probably the tastiest)
1 onion chopped
2 tablespoons garlic
1-2 cups vegetables - chopped carrots, peas
1 can of corn
4 large potatoes
1 stick of butter, divided
1/2 cup beef broth
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt, pepper, other seasonings of choice

Peel and cut the potatoes and boil in salted water until tender (about 20 minutes).

While the potatoes are cooking, melt 1/2 a stick of butter in large frying pan. This will seem like a lot of's not. Sauté onions in butter until tender over medium heat, about 5 minutes, then add the garlic and the carrots and sauté for another 2-3 minutes more, then add the peas.

Add ground beef and Worcestershire and sauté until browned. Sprinkle in the salt and pepper. Add half a cup of beef broth and cook, uncovered, over low heat for 10 minutes, adding more beef broth as necessary to keep the mixture moist moist.

Mash the potatoes with the remaining butter, season to taste and add a bit of milk if they are too thick. I mash potatoes in the very pot I boiled them in….it’s still hot, keeping the potatoes warm and there is one less dish to wash!

Add the corn to the beef mixture and place it in a baking dish, then spread the mashed potatoes on top.

Cook in 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes. Broil for last few minutes to brown the potatoes.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Herbes de Provence

We had dinner at Architect’s on Wednesday evening and she made a roasted chicken…nobody makes a roasted chicken like Architect.

As I explained in a previous post, she fills the cavity with onions and a lemon (this time she used an orange), and sprinkles the bird with salt, pepper and seasonings, mainly Herbes de Provence, then she sits the bird upright on this contraption and roasts it on her barbeque grill. For the first 15 minutes, she sets all burners on high, then she turns the center burner off and continues cooking over a medium flame for another 60-75 minutes.

We’ve had a mild winter (so far) so the grill is still an option.

Herbes de Provence is a mixture of savory, fennel, basil, thyme, lavender and other herbs typical of Provence, France traditionally gathered along the French countryside. This pretty and delicious blend of herbs is perfect peppered on meats, fish and added to stews and soups.

Architect served the chicken with white and sweet potatoes and carrots roasted in her new oven that she acquired due to the previously mentioned flood courtesy of a destructive little critter. We also managed to polish off 2 ½ bottles of wine.

Foodie helped me correct another knitting blunder...I watched and I think I may be (finally) beginning to understand how to confidently correct mistakes.

This statement may prove to be a bit too cocky.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Opera Singer

Daughters and I decided to have dinner at Fellini Café in Media last Monday night and, as is the case every Monday night, it was Opera Night. Younger daughter’s voice teacher serenaded us…it was beautiful. Listen to a sample performance on Opera Night here.

For some reason we can’t upload our video…I will keep trying!

There was a special that night…Roasted Capellini al Pesto and let me tell you it was tasty. As I’ve been known to do, I asked our server to recommend a dish for me and she suggested this harmony of roasted capellini, shrimp, scallops and broccoli tossed in a red pepper cream sauce that was a melody for my senses indeed!

Roasted Capellini al Pesto
12 oz Capellini, uncooked
1 - 7oz jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
1 1/4 cup light cream
1/3 cup pesto, homemade or store bought
Grilled shrimp, scallops, chicken
Any vegetable desired

Pan roast the pasta in some olive oil until it’s just a bit brown. Cook pasta and drain. In the same skillet heat 1 tbsp olive oil and add red peppers, cook 1 minute. Add the cream and simmer until thick, about 3 minutes. Stir in pesto sauce and immediately remove from the heat. Toss with the capellini and top with freshly grated Asiago or Parmesan cheese. Add shrimp, scallops, chicken, vegetables or anything else you desire!