Sunday, December 30, 2012

Finish Your Knitting

As you may have observed, I have a problem finishing my knitting projects.  I don’t lack enthusiasm or the will to execute; I lack, well, quite frankly, patience.  I get bored easily while knitting so I try to choose projects that I can finish quickly before I become disinterested.  I wish I was one of those people for whom knitting is relaxing, but I am not. Writing relaxes me and that’s why I write this blog, but if I don’t have any knitting projects for which I can write posts, then I’ve got myself quite a conundrum, don’t I?

For post material, I do a lot of cooking and baking, but knitting is so cathartic….and I yearn to proudly say “yes, I knitted this sweater!”

One day I'm browing through a magazine and I see a plain black sweater embellished with a white knitted Peter Pan collar.  So onto I go to see if there was a pattern and, sure enough, there was a cute little number, a pattern called "Sophie" by Jones Vandermeer.  This little gem will gussy up any plain sweater and to knit it, all I need is a ball of yummy white cashmere yarn, a crochet hook, some ribbon, and size 7 straight needles, but – what do you know – I don’t have size 7 straight needles. Off to the local knitting store, Finely A Knitting Party I go.  I procure the required knitting needles and the latest copy of KnitSimple and while exchanging pleasantries, Kathy, the shop’s owner, asked me how my knitting was coming.  I explained that I had more on the needles than a reasonable person should and she said “Oh, we have a class for knitters like you, it’s called ‘Finish Your Knitting’ and we are meeting Friday at 1:00.”   

This is the perfect kind of class for me…I enroll.

I arrive at the appointed time and there are several other perfectly delightful knitters joining me. 

While we knitted, Kathy made her rounds to check on our progress, right our knitting wrongs, and/or suggest fixes.  Additionally, there was a steady stream of customers including one in particular visiting her family from Kansas who knitted this lovely little frock...

The pattern is called “Daybreak” from designer Stephen West. 

Another knitter presented the West creation she knitted called “ClockWork.”

Both are absolutely stunning.

And, finally, thanks to Kathy’s gentle push, I can happily report that I finished the capelet I’ve been knitting.

I will gussy this little number up with some ribbons and other bobbles.  I wrote about the beautiful pattern here.

Now it’s on to sock class in mid-January.  The class meets every other week but the approach is brilliant….learn the skills and knit one sock in class, practice the skills learned and knit the other sock during the off week. Because, what good is one sock?  

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Pumpkin French Toast Bake

Every year for Christmas morning, I make a breakfast casserole.  Sometimes it’s a quiche-like casserole, but that got deep-sixed a few years ago because younger daughter apparently doesn’t like eggs.  

What, no eggs, that’s okay, I make bread. 

Forgive the movie clue….

So for the past few years, I’ve made a bread-based casserole.  It is usually something praliney,gooey and oh so good, but definitely not good for you. 

So this year, I scoured my cookbooks and internet typed “breakfast casseroles” into Google and this little ditty appeared….

And – bonus – it gave me an excuse to try yet another outstanding Stonewall Kitchens product…

This recipe is from the  My photos aren’t nearly as interesting or well-composed as hers, so I invite you to visit her blog for a complete visual and culinary experience, but, I can say confidently that my end result was surely as delicious as the inspiration.   The aromas that filled the house during baking were a treat for the senses.  The pure comfort of the bread, the crunchiness of the pecans, the gentle zip of the pumpkin pie spice and the sweetness of the syrup all blend ever so nicely to make this a perfect morning indulgence.   I served with fresh strawberries, blueberries and raspberries.

Pumpkin French Toast Bake
Serves 10 (or fewer depending on the slice size!)


3 1/2 – 4 1/2 cups 1-inch bread cubes (I used French bread)
7 large eggs (I used 5)
2 cups milk (I used skim)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/4 cup pumpkin BUTTER
3-4 tablespoons brown sugar for topping
Pecans,walnuts and/or craisins for topping


1. Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes and scatter into a lightly greased 9×13 baking dish.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, vanilla and pumpkin butter until well combined. Pour over bread and push down with a spoon or your hands until it’s all soaked and mostly covered. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
3. In the morning, preheat oven to 350 degrees, uncover and top with brown sugar and nuts and/or craisins. Bake for 35-45 minutes or golden brown and no longer wet.
4. Serve immediately with maple syrup or honey.

There won’t be any leftovers but in the unlikely event there are, this recipe will keep in the refrigerator covered for a couple days.
Bonus #2, includes the nutritional content for this very recipe on their site…110 calories per slice!  Of course you will need to double (or triple) accordingly....

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Cookie Exchange

A few Mondays ago, Architect and I were driving to Yoga class with the best instructor ever – Dot – and she said “Hey, I have a great blog post idea for you…the history of the cookie!”  She went on to say that unsweetened wafer versions of the cookie originated in Persia because they were easy for dessert wanderings to transport in their sacks and for centuries sailors stowed hard cracker-like discs to sustain them during long voyages at sea.  Later on, courtesy of the Spanish Conquest, trading routes opened and sugar and spices were introduced to Europe.  The Europeans brought the wafer to new heights enriching them with butter, eggs and cream to form biscuits, commonly served with tea.  The term cookie is a derivative of the Dutch word koekje that means little cake.

Although I listened very intently, I’m sure I do not record the story verbatim here, but you get the idea.  I liked her suggestion and, since we were having a Cookie Exchange Event at work, I had the perfect opportunity to write a post!

So below is the list of the delicious cookies my co-workers contributed…
I made the Mint Chocolate Chip cookies. We were instructed to  bring packages containing six cookies in each.  We were also encouraged to bring copies of our recipes and a few extras goodies for the sampling tray. All of the selections were delicious but I had a few favorites.  One was a savory/sweet confection that I’m still thinking about, Anise Seed Cookies, and below is the recipe. 
Merry Christmas, dear readers.    

Anise Seed Cookies
2 cups + 4 Tablespoons of all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
3 teaspoons of anise seed
Plastic bag with some powdered sugar, about 2 cups

Preheat oven to 375.  In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.  In a large bowl, combine the butter, sugars, and vanilla extract and beat until creamy.  Beat in eggs.  Gradually add hte flour mixture and incorporate well.  Stir in 3 teaspoons of anise seed.  Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes.  Cool on a rack.  Once the cookies are completely cooled, shake several cookies at a time in the bag of powdered sugar.  Makes 4 dozen.

The cookie exchange was a lot of fun and hopefully we can add it to some other favorite work place traditions!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sautéed Brussels Sprouts

Dinner at Foodie’s house is always an adventure…she is a great cook and she frequently introduces us me to new things (compared to my dinner mates, I have a stunted food repertoire).  This week it was something familiar but still not a favorite of adults and children alike, Brussels sprouts.  Leave it Trader Joes to come up with a fancy method to make these underappreciated darlings easier to make – and camouflage – in a variety of ways.   
Shaved Brussels Sprouts, available at Trader Joes for $2.29 a bag, can be tossed raw in salads and slaws, roasted to caramelized perfection, or substituted for a vegetable in your favorite quiche.  My dad used to cut Brussels sprouts in quarters, blanch, then quickly sauté them in garlic, olive oil and salt and pepper.   

Although TJ's sprouts come in a handy-dandy bag, Brussels sprouts actually grow on stalks and, along with cabbage, broccoli, rapini, and cauliflower, are members of the cruciferous (because of their four-petal flowers that resemble a cross) family of vegetables. All are a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, folic acid and dietary fiber and, bonus, contain cancer-fighting agents.  As the name suggests, Brussels sprouts perhaps originated in Belgium and Thomas Jefferson grew the emerald gems at Monticello but California is responsible for most of the production enjoyed in the United States today.

To prepare, Foodie first sautéed mushrooms and shallots until browned and then she added the bag of Brussels sprouts.  She sautéed the mixture for a few minutes more until the sprouts were bright green and softened.  Before serving, she drizzled a little walnut oil on top to finish off. Quick, easy and definitely delicious.

She also served baked chicken thighs and baked potatoes and we noticed that the potatoes were lightly crusted with salt…Foodie explained that the salt helps to keep the moisture in the potato producing a fluffy white, evenly baked and perfect potato.

Puncture the potato a few times to let the heat escape while the potato is baking.  Rub the outside of the potato with olive oil then roll in coarse or sea salt.  Bake aS usual, about 45-60 minutes at 400°.

Image of sprouts on stalks from Google images.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Rosemary Collins

There’s a new girl in town and her name is Rosemary Collins.

Every year at my annual holiday party called “The Ornament Exchange” I offer a featured drink. This year Foodie suggested a twist on the traditional Tom Collins that involves infusing the simple syrup used in the drink with rosemary, hence a Rosemary Collins.   Anything that involves Rosemary sounds satisfactory to me so Rosemary was happily invited to the bash.   

A traditional Tom Collins is a concoction of gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and club soda garnished with a Maraschino cherry or lemon slice.  This drink replaces the straight-up simple syrup with a rosemary infused version.

To make rosemary simple syrup, combine 1 cup each of sugar and water and a few fresh sprigs of rosemary in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved, about one minute. Remove the pan from the heat, and let the mixture sit for 30 minutes. Strain into a jar and throw away the rosemary sprigs. Place the lid on the jar and chill a few hours.

Rosemary Collins
1 ½ oz gin
1 oz lemon juice
½ oz rosemary simple syrup
Club soda or seltzer water
Pomegranate seeds and fresh rosemary for garnish

Pour the gin, lemon juice, and rosemary sugar syrup into a tall glass with ice cubes. Stir thoroughly or place a martini shaker top on the glass and give it a shake. Top with club soda, and garnish with Pomegranate seeds and fresh rosemary.   Adjust the proportions to make a pitcher…like we did!

Rosemary was the hit of the party!  A welcome guest anytime.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Christmas Mantle

I wanted to share some holiday decoration ideas that I collected and archived in my merry memory over the years.
As I was browsing the fabulous Holiday Gift Shop at the Hotel DuPont I see a string of festive embellished white lights in the display case.  Not being shy and of course wanting to take a closer look, I ask the sales clerk about the twinkling little gems.   They are simply a string of white-wired lights with tulle tied around the wire in 3-4 inch intervals.  I took the idea a step further and added wire ribbon with a sparkly trim.  The wire in the ribbon gives the strand enough flexibility to arrange the lights in a non-linear way.

Pinterest has may similar ideas posted, some of which add pieces of lace.  That's a fancy look indeed!

Now having the embellished lights as my mantle inspiration, I spot this beastly beauty….

Isn’t he just the most handsome thing ever?!  Well maybe not ever, there is still George Clooney.

I purchased the lovely trees from the gift shop several years ago.

With my creativity now in full gear, I reclaimed a trash picked window as the backdrop for a glistening wreath that I purchased from who-knows-where many, many years ago.   

The holly berry candle, glass candle stands and the NOEL stocking holders are all from Target.

The candles are from Pier 1.


And finally, the stockings are Ballard Designs.

I am so pleased with the results but I really need to polish up those letters!  Happy decorating everyone!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Fettuccine with Spicy Sausage and Broccoli Rabe

I’m one of those people who when I see something that looks delicious in a magazine and says “I’m totally going to make this” I actually do.

It may not be for a few months, but I tuck the recipe away in the crowded archives of my mind and pull it out when I need culinary motivation. 

So I’m flipping though the November/December edition of Fitness magazine and in addition to a mini tutorials on how to get sleek arms, abs and legs, holiday hair and makeup tips, and suggestions for fabulous “hot list” gifts, they included an article entitled “Amazing 15 Minute Meals.” 

15 minutes is right up my alley.  

The recipes all look delicious – Cheesy Chicken Meatball and Tortellini Soup, Chicken Marsala with Jasmine Rice and Peas and the one that particularly caught my eye...

...Fettuccine with Spicy Sausage and Broccoli Rabe.

Broccoli rabe, also known as rapini, is a common ingredient in dishes made in Southern Italy.  The vegetable is quite nutty, a little bitter and looks like an elongated piece of regular broccoli, but is actually more related to turnips both in taste and derivation.

To prepare, rinse the vegetable, trim and discard the thicker stems, preserving the blossoms, leaves and thinner stalks, about 2” from the blossom, then sauté in a bit of olive oil and garlic. Some like to blanch the vegetable before sautéing.  Broccoli rabe is low in fat, and a good source of vitamins A, C, and K and potassium.

It was my turn to cook this past Wednesday so I decided to make this 377 calorie per serving recipe.

Fettuccine with Spicy Sausage and Broccoli Rabe
From:  Fitness Magazine

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 pound hot Italian turkey sausage, casings removed, roughly crumbled
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 pound broccoli rabe, tough stems trimmed, cut into 2-inch pieces
1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 9 ounce package fresh fettuccine
1/4 cup plus 4 tsp freshly grated pecorino Romano
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
2. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add sausage and saute, breaking up large chunks with a wooden spoon, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and crushed red pepper; cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Add broccoli rabe and cook, tossing with tongs, 1 minute. Add broth, reduce heat to medium, cover and cook until broccoli rabe is tender, about 3 minutes.
3. Cook pasta according to package directions, then drain and add to sausage mixture; toss well with tongs. Add 1/4 cup cheese and black pepper and toss well again. Divide among four bowls and sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Three words.  So. Damn. Good.

Photo of the rinsed broccoli rabe is from google images...I accidently deleted the photo I took that looked quite similar.