Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Ear Warmer

Younger daughter is taking a winter term class that is was kicking her butt.  So she could concentrate on studying and not be lured by the appealing "let's go out tonight" invitations from her friends, she decided to come home each weekend.

As you know, I am taking a sock knitting class and my rendezvous with the needles sparked a renewed knitting interest in younger daughter.  During one weekend home, she made a beautiful "infinity" scarf and this past weekend, she made a lovely ear warmer head band to match.

She chose a medium weight, variegated yarn, casted on 70 stitches on size 5 circular needles and knitted until the piece measured five inches in width.  When done, she said "this really needs a flower or something."  I sat down with my crocheting needle and whipped out that little bud you see.

Very easy. Adorable for a quick, two hour project!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Brown Rice Pudding

It was my turn to bring dessert last Wednesday.  Our crew is striving to be a little more gluten-aware and I wanted to make a dessert being mindful of that.  You would think that this would pose quite a conundrum – not at all because one of the tastiest, most satisfying and comforting desserts EVER has always been gluten free…Rice Pudding. 

I looked through my book collection for a recipe but nothing blew my skirt up so I borrowed a pretty little book from my Mom called Heart of the Home that included a Brown Rice Pudding recipe. 

Perhaps I've mentioned this before but I just can’t get cooking rice right and, to be honest, I avoid making rice, so I used Trader Joe’s microwavable brown rice. Do not underestimate the tastiness and time-saving advantages of some healthy, prepared foods….I look at it this way….there are some very nice and talented people at Trader Joes doing their jobs so that I have more time to make the foods I love when I return home from my day job.  It all works out and everyone is happy….a mutual facilitation society, of sorts.

I added a dash of cardamom and used 2% milk instead of whole milk but I think the recipe REALLY needs the whole milk. I didn’t have enough raisins so I used ½ cup of raisins and ½ cup of craisins.  I love craisins….I toss them in green salads, chicken salad along with walnuts, olive oil mayonnaise, and fresh cracked pepper and have even thrown them in a meatloaf to give the mixture a bit of a brighter note.

In addition to the dash of cardamom, the next time I make this I’ll make some other adjustments that I include below.

Brown Rice Pudding
From:  Heart of the Home by Susan Branch

3 eggs
2 cups of cook brown rice
3 ½ cups of whole milk (1/2 cup more my addition)
¼ cup of brown sugar
½ cup of raisins
½ cup of craisins
½ teaspoon of mixed cinnamon and nutmeg
Dash of cardamom (my addition)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract (my addition)

Beat the eggs in a large bowl.  Add all the other ingredients and mix well.  Pour into an oiled casserole dish.  Bake at 325° for 50-60 minutes or until set.  Serve hot or cold topped with some yummy whipped cream.




Saturday, January 26, 2013

Wild Mushroom Risotto

It has been downright frosty here in the northeast.  Temperatures have barely climbed out of the 20’s and it took me three hours to get home on Friday evening following a “snow storm” that left about an inch – yes ONE inch – of snow behind.

Why is it that the slightest how-do-you-do from Mother Nature causes traffic chaos?  Also, have you ever noticed that people just don’t know how to drive in snow or pouring rain?  I was both terrified and amazed by the passenger cars, pickup trucks and an assortment of other large vehicles that just whipped by at their usual speeds of a gazillion miles per hour stirring up spray and salt in their wake.

I ran out of wiper fluid, but that’s another story.  I was so on edge by the time I got home that I ate half a cheese steak, a slice of pizza, a macaroon and downed two glasses of wine.  For those of you who know me, that little collection of carbs is completely off the grid for me and was categorically salty about that dinner entry.

On a more peaceful note, I walked into Architect’s house on Wednesday night for our weekly soiree and I was instantly greeted by the sweet smell of sautéing onions that provoked an “it smells so good in here” outburst from me.  Architect was making wild mushroom risotto because since it’s been so cold, she wanted to have “something warm and comforting that sticks to the ribs.”  It was so good, I had two helpings and my suspicion is that it’s going to stick to more than my ribs.

Risotto is an Italian rice dish that is prepared in a soffritto (vegetables, onions and butter or olive oil) to coat the grain then small amounts of liquid - broth, wine or water - are gradually added to plump the grain to a rich and creamy consistency.  Finally, cheeses are incorporated to make the mixture even more velvety and totally irresistible.  Risotto is normally a first course (primo) but when things such as vegetables, meat or fish are added, it stands out as a completely satisfying and delicious main course.

The Wild Mushroom Risotto recipe that Architect used is from  The recipe touts a “four fork” rating from previous users because it’s somewhat fancy, easy to prepare and very tasty.  One user substituted truffle oil for half of the olive oil…truffle oil is expensive but the resulting flavor it adds to food is worth every dime. Another user made the recipe with wild and brown rice chanterelles mushrooms and reported amazing results.

Wild Mushroom Risotto

3 14½ ounce cans vegetable broth
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
1 pound assorted wild mushrooms (such as chanterelle, oyster, crimini and stemmed shiitake), sliced
1 cup arborio rice or medium-grain rice
 ½ cup dry Sherry
 ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 ounces)
 ¾ teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

Bring vegetable broth to simmer in medium saucepan. Reduce heat to low; cover and keep broth hot.
Melt 3 tablespoons butter with olive oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add chopped shallots; sauté 1 minute. Add wild mushrooms; cook until mushrooms are tender and juices are released, about 8 minutes. Add rice and stir to coat. Add Sherry and simmer until liquid is absorbed, stirring frequently, about 8 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high. Add 3/4 cup hot vegetable broth and simmer until absorbed, stirring frequently. Add remaining hot vegetable broth 3/4 cup at a time, allowing broth to be absorbed before adding more and stirring frequently until rice is just tender and mixture is creamy, about 20 minutes. Stir in Parmesan cheese and chopped fresh thyme. Serve warm.

We also had a delicious salad of greens, roasted carrots, blood oranges and goat cheese that was not presented in the traveling salad bowl because Foodie wanted us to appreciate the cacophony of colors and textures before we enjoyed the explosion of flavors.  The entire meal was simply delicious and was complemented nicely with a bottle of red wine.  

Monday, January 21, 2013

How to Prepare a Cheese Tray

Architect asked me to bring a cheese tray for our New Year’s Eve celebration so I thought I would share some of the ideas I gathered while assembling this variety of milk-based flavors, textures and forms.

First, if you don’t have a cheesemonger to consult (because we all have a cheesemonger), go to your local whole foods store, sample a variety of cheeses and ask some questions.  Chose some that are sure to be crowd favorites, like cheddar or Swiss, but make sure you include selections from a few different categories.  The taste of the cheese is affected by several things.  Most cheeses are made from the milk of three animals – cows, sheep and goats.  The milk from these animals vary based on the breed and that contributes to the taste and texture of the cheese…smooth, mild, sweet, rich or hearty.  
Where and when the animals graze and what they eat influences the taste, aroma, color, and texture and fat content of the milk they produce and, naturally, the resulting cheese product.  A cheese produced from the milk of cows, sheep or goats that graze on mountainside pastures in Europe will taste quite differently – and some believe more superior – than animals that nibble on commercially prepared feed.   Also, the milk of animals eating springtime chutes -- like the photo of these cows  I took while in Ireland last March --  will be subtlety different than the milk of animals grazing on the abundant summer fodder or feed stored to sustain the long winter. 

Okay, now that you know what affects the taste, texture and quality of cheese, think about the categories of cheese you’d like to serve and pick one or two from each category. 

Blue Cheeses such as French Roquefort, English Stilton or Italian Gorgonzola. 

Hard Cheeses such as Pecorino, Swiss or Gruyere.

Aged Cheeses such as Cheddar, Romano, Gouda or Muenster.

Soft Cheeses such as Camembert, Humbolt Fog, Mascarpone or Brie.

It might be fun to choose a theme for your tray like all cow’s milk cheeses or different types of cheeses from the same country.  For my tray, I mixed it up and chose an Irish Cheddar, Amish Blue, French Brie and Camembert, a creamy spreadable Goat, a Gruyere, and an Italian Truffle.   Whatever you choose, choose an odd number of cheeses and plan for about 1 ounce of each type of cheese per person.

Crackers are not the only thing that pair nicely with cheese and you will want to give some thought to what to serve to complement your cheese platter.  Flavored crackers work well for spreadable cheeses, but so do pear and apple slices and honey. 

Hearty cheeses can handle robust mustards or other spicy-savory spreads such as fig jam, chutneys, balsamic vinegar jelly, or horseradish. Flavored nuts are fabulous served along side of Blue cheeses.  Olives are lovely and grapes are a safe bet for any type of cheese.  How about artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, hummus or caramelized onions! Also, cured meats like prosciutto, salami or praline/maple bacon pieces are always a hit.

Presentation is also important.  Arrange the cheeses from strongest to mildest on a lovely cheese board.  I lined a fun, filigree serving tray with cheese paper and made labels for each cheese.   I chose seven cheeses but could only fit six on my tray!

Also, chalk-board cheese trays are not only interesting but handy because you can write the names of the cheeses directly on the tray! Humbolt Fog is one of my favorite soft cheeses. 

I mentioned cheese paper.  A cheesemonger will wrap cheese in a special paper that helps cheese stay fresher longer because it’s made from material that allows cheese to breathe while maintaining optimal humidity.  I found a brand at Giant.

Pick a drink to serve with your cheeses…wine is always nice, but sparkling water or cider will work nicely.  Choose a light wine for soft cheeses – maybe a Pinot Grigio – and a more robust wine for heartier cheeses – perhaps a nice Cabernet or Malbac. 

Last but certainly not least, relax and enjoy!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

www.Why I Haven't Written in a While

I’m sorry I haven’t written in a while, dear readers.  During the station break, I started my sock making class, we’ve had two Wednesday night dinners, my Nikon D40 malfunctioned (I am most sad) and, after three, count them three, hours on the phone with Comcast that included two disconnections, I discovered that my wireless router is broken…busted…kaput.  I had to connect to the internet the old-fashioned way – via an Ethernet cable streamed directly from the modem.   Imagine that.  Thanks to an over-the-phone tutorial provided by older daughter, this process went quite smoothly – after I identified an Ethernet cable.  Mine is pink….of course.

I ask you – how did we survive before we had our wireless wonders? 

Quite nicely.  And simply.

Younger daughter installed a new wireless router last night and I am as happy as a pig in mud – up at 6:53 a.m. on Saturday morning writing this post at my usual spot, my farmhouse-style kitchen table that is my muse, of sorts.

I am a creature of habit...I just don’t feel inspired in the office, where the modem is (logically) located and where I should be writing these posts. Maybe it’s finally time to do something about the sterility and coziness of that room?

Anyway, the Wednesday before last, it was Singers turn to cook.  She had no heat in her house so she brought her entire prepared meal to Architect’s house where we gathered to enjoy baked swordfish, fingerling potatoes and string beans.  It was delicious…thank goodness her stove and oven were functional!
This past Wednesday, it was Foodies turn to cook and she made Polenta Lasagna.  The entire concoction took comfort food to a whole new level….a layer of polenta, topped with a homemade tomato butter sauce, grilled eggplant, basil, grated cheese, and the star of the show…homemade ricotta, made using a recipe from one of her favorite food blogs,  It looks like making homemade ricotta is quite easy.  I just may have to give it a whirl!

Rich Homemade Ricotta
From:  Smitten Kitchen
Inspired by Salvatore Ricotta, via Tasting Table

Makes about 1 generous cup of ricotta

3 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream (see Note above about using less)
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Pour the milk, cream and salt into a 3-quart nonreactive saucepan. Attach a candy or deep-fry thermometer. Heat the milk to 190°F, stirring it occasionally to keep it from scorching on the bottom. Remove from heat and add the lemon juice, then stir it once or twice, gently and slowly. Let the pot sit undisturbed for 5 minutes.

Line a colander with a few layers of cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl (to catch the whey). Pour the curds and whey into the colander and let the curds strain for at least an hour. At an hour, you’ll have a tender, spreadable ricotta. At two hours, it will be spreadable but a bit firmer, almost like cream cheese. (It will firm as it cools, so do not judge its final texture by what you have in your cheesecloth.) Discard the whey, or, if you’re one of those crafty people who use it for other things, of course, save it. Eat the ricotta right away or transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use.

The photos on the Smitten Kitchen site are just beautiful (big sigh).  I really need to get the problem with my Nikon D40 corrected….I just don’t like the (food) photos taken by my little guy.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Lemon Thyme Shortbread Cookies

To watch the premier of Downton Abbey, Season 3, we are gathering at Foodie's our pajamas!  We’ll sip tea and hot toddies and what is a proper cup of English tea without a sweet little treat to enjoy with it.  So I made Lemon Thyme Shortbread Cookies for everyone to nibble on.

The basic shortbread recipe was contributed by a co-worker for my workplace Cookie Exchange but I gussied it up with Lemon Thyme that is – amazingly – still growing in my herb garden.  Regular thyme will work just as nicely, or rosemary.

Lemon Thyme Shortbread Cookies

1 cup of butter (I used Irish butter because Branson, the Irish Driver, now Sybil’s husband, is one of my favorite characters)
2 cups of flour
¾ cup of powdered sugar
½ teaspoon of sea salt
2 Tablespoons of chopped Lemon Thyme

  • Cream the butter together with the powdered sugar using your hands.
  • Add 1 cup of flour to the butter/sugar mixture and incorporate with your hands.
  • Add the remaining flour, salt, lemon thyme and mix with your hand until a dough ball forms.


  • Press the dough into an ungreased pan.  I used my 10x15 Pampered Chef pan.
  • Prick dough with fork throughout.
  • Put the dough in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
  • Bake at 325° for 25-30 minutes.


  • As soon as you take the shortbread out of the oven, cut into squares with a sharp knife.
  • Leave in the pan for at least 30-45 minutes before removing with a small spatula.
These are so good!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Lemon Chicken Piccata

I don't know about you but after a holiday season of relative gluttony overindulgence, I am ready to eat a bit more sensibly.  It was my turn to cook on Wednesday and, I thought, what could I make that is easy, delicious and somewhat light?  

I get a daily recipe email from  Some recipes don’t appeal to me and get immediately deleted but others get filed away, like this recipe for Lemon Chicken Piccata.  

Chicken Piccata is a protégé of the Italian dish, Veal Piccata.  Piccata is simply a method preparing meat that is pounded thin, sliced, coated, sautéed and served with a sauce. The meat is traditionally dredged in flour then browned in butter or olive oil. The drippings are used to make a sauce with lemon juice, white wine, butter and capers that is poured over the browned beauties.  This version uses Ritz Crackers instead of flour and chicken broth instead of white wine, although white wine could be easily substituted.

A word about capers.  Although they taste like olives and are frequently substituted for olives in drinks and recipes, capers are not a member of the olive family.  They are the mature lemony-tart buds of an evergreen bush common in the Mediterranean that are picked and preserved in wine vinegar.     I skipped the harvesting and pickling part and just picked the jar right off the supermarket shelf.

Lemon Chicken Piccata

3 large lemons, divided
4 small boneless skinless chicken breast halves (1 lb.)
¼ cup  KRAFT Reduced Fat Mayonnaise
22 RITZ Crackers, finely crushed, about 1 cup (I used wheat Ritz Crackers)
2 Tbsp. olive oil (I used Meyer Lemon Olive Oil)
2 tsp. chopped fresh parsley
½ cup chicken broth
1Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. capers

Cut 4 thin lemon slices from half of 1 lemon; squeeze juice from remaining lemons. Coat chicken with mayo, then cracker crumbs.

Heat oil in large skillet on medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook 5 min. Turn; cook on medium heat 5 min. or until chicken is golden brown on both sides and done (165ºF). Transfer chicken to platter; sprinkle with parsley. Cover to keep warm. Carefully wipe the skillet clean of big crumbs with a paper towel. Don’t clean the skillet too well because you want some of the browning residue to flavor the sauce.  

Add lemon juice and broth to skillet; cook on medium-high heat 6 to 8 min. or until slightly reduced, stirring occasionally. Add butter, lemon slices and capers; cook and stir on low heat 3 to 4 min. or until butter is melted and lemons are heated through. Serve over chicken.

This dish was delicious…lemony, light and low calorie* just what I was looking for.  We also had a wonderful French red wine, La Frande, 2011 Cotes Du Rhone, and a refreshing salad of greens, oranges and pistachios served in the lovely traveling salad bowl.  To end the evening, we (nearly) finished the leftover – but mouthwatering nonetheless – tiramisu that Foodie made for New Year’s Eve.

*About 300 calories per fist-sized serving.