Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Table

So, one day way back in 2012, I’m browsing through eBay looking for something unusual and I see this table:

Hmmm, says Herself.

It’s an Eastlake table and I have a few similar pieces in my house.  If you look closely at the bottom, it appears to have water damage, which perhaps lessened its value (to some) and explains why it was selling for a song.


I planned to have the lovely Linda of FuNkYFuRniTuRe work her magic on it anyway.

Eastlake furniture – so named for its namesake, British architect Charles Eastlake – was made during the Victorian era and is identified by its rich wood, intricate carvings, moldings and other geometric details.  Some consider the modern gothic-esque furniture garish, but I consider it downright stunning.  If this piece were not water damaged, I never would have painted it!  

Fast forward to summer 2013 and I reconnect with my FuNkYFuRniTuRe friend and hand the table over to her with little instruction other than I love what she did with this similar piece:

I trust her…she knows me and my style and after all, her motto is “paint it happy!” 

I anxiously waited for the masterpiece to be complete and when I finally got the facebook message that the piece was ready to be delivered, I was downright gleeful.  My glee was trumped only by sheer elation when I saw the finished piece of art:
There are…



Flowers and Baubles…

Dots and Stripes…

Scrolls and Scallops.

Everything I adore and just the fanciful stuff every happy painted piece of furniture should have.  AND...the top is RED! You can see my other pieces that Linda painted here and hereVisit FuNkYFuRniTuRe's facebook page here.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Pasta alla Puttanesca

We had dinner at Architect’s house this past Wednesday.    On Monday, she just returned from a lovely escapade visiting her daughter in Costa Rica, who was there for a traveling writer program…it’s a beautiful country, as you can see:


Still a little travel weary she wanted to make something easy, so she made one of her go-to dishes, Pasta alla Puttanesca.  Loosely translated, puttanesca means “of the prostitute.”  The myth is that the ladies of the evening would make this fast, spicy and easy (no pun intended) dish with readily available items in the pantry and the aroma of the dish cooking would waft out of the windows and lure clientele into their “establishments.”  

I think the correct term might be bordello.

This is a tangy recipe with plump, delicious tomatoes harmonized by the saltiness of the olives, capers and anchovies, the spiciness of pepper, and the always pleasing, and the oh-so-satisfying aroma of garlic. It’s traditionally served with any long pasta but Architect chose to serve it over a heartier pasta, rigatoni.  Because it takes only minutes to prepare, start the sauce while the pasta is boiling.

We felt downright sultry just eating this dish although we didn’t hear any additional clients guests knocking at the door. 

Pasta alla Puttanesca
Pasta with Olives and Capers
From:  The Ultimate Italian Cookbook

4 Tablespoons of Olive Oil
2-4 cloves of garlic, minced
Small dried chili pepper, crumbled OR 1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes
1 two oz can of anchovy filets, chopped
12 oz of tomatoes, canned or fresh, chopped
2/3 cup of pitted black olives
2 Tablespoons capers, rinsed
1 Tablespoon of tomato paste
1 lb of pasta
2 Tablespoons of chopped parsley for garnish

Add pasta to salted boiling water and cook until al dente.  Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan.  Add the garlic and pepper and cook for 2 minutes, until garlic is golden.  Add the anchovies and mash them into the garlic with a fork.  Add the tomatoes, olives, capers, and tomato paste.  Stir well and cook over moderate heat until the pasta is done, about 8 minutes.  Turn the pasta into the sauce and cook for another minute or two, turning the pasta constantly.  Sprinkle with parsley to garnish.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Chicken Pot Pie

Last Wednesday we had dinner at Foodie’s house and she decided to make something that is considered by some to be the ultimate comfort food, Chicken Pot Pie.

There was a reason for her menu choice...that day, she lost her beloved pet of 16 years, a sweet little terrier mix named Lucy. Lucy was a happy little dog that was always delighted to see our little crew (and everyone else) when we arrived. I remember once seeing her bounce the highest I’ve ever seen a dog bounce and now, in retrospect, perhaps that was a metaphor for her personality...a happy, lively and effervescent little dog who simply loved doing what dogs do. Rest peacefully, sweet Lucy, we will miss you.

Losing a pet is so difficult. 

Chicken pot’s all the good things wrapped up on one, isn't it? Chock full of vegetables, a velvety sauce, spices and a delectable puff pastry topping…mercy, what could be better? There are obviously many ways to make this all-time favorite, but I like the simple, straight-forward approach that Foodie uses. When her children were young, she told us she would make individual pot pies to suit their special preferences – one with more chicken, one with no mushrooms – and Foodie gave us the same loving attention.....she served each of us our own pot pie presented in lovely handmade, yes I said handmade, crocks.

In my opinion, chicken pot pie is a go-to fall/winter dish...a must on the menu repertoire...
...and, the ultimate comfort food. We were happy to be with Foodie to remember a great dog.

Chicken Pot Pie
By: Foodie

One whole chicken or chicken parts
Chicken broth (enough to cover the chicken)
8 oz of mushrooms (any kind, but shiitake work well; they add a bit of earthiness)
1 cup pearl onions
4 carrots peeled and sliced
4 potatoes cut into bite-size pieces (I like Yukon Gold)
Frozen peas or string beans, pre-cooked (if desired)
1/4 cup heavy cream
Spices of choice (tarragon, rosemary, sage, thyme work nicely with chicken)
Puff pastry sheets (Trader Joes makes a nice product)

Cook a whole chicken or chicken pieces in chicken stock until the chicken is fully cooked and falling off the bones. Remove the chicken from the pot and, when cool, tear into bite-size pieces. Set the chicken aside and reserve the stock. Sauté the mushrooms in a bit of butter or olive oil and set aside. Place pearl onions, carrots, potatoes in the broth and cook until the broth is reduced and the vegetable are a bit tender (remember, they will cook a bit more in the oven). The starch in the potatoes will thicken the broth a bit but add some cornstarch to thicken it a little more. Add some spices, heavy cream and a splash of white wine if desired to the broth and vegetable mixture. Pioneer Woman also adds a bit of turmeric to her chicken pot pie sauce to give it a lovely amber richness. Add the reserved mushrooms, chicken and peas/string beans (if using) to the vegetable mixture and pour into one large or four individual casserole dishes. Top with the puff pastry, brush with a beaten egg and bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes...just to brown the pastry.

For dessert, I made whole-wheat brownies slathered with apricot jam and gussied up with white chocolate shavings.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Roast Duck Breasts with Pomegranate-Chile Sauce

Ok, so the bar has officially been raised.

We had dinner at Singer’s house on Wednesday and she made Roast Duck Breasts with Pomegranate-Chile Sauce.  Yep, you read correctly.  It was quite fancy.

And tasty.

Now, I am ashamed to admit this, being a cook and all, but before Wednesday, I never (yep, I said never) had duck before. All I can say is, “what the hell have I been missing?”  Singer used organic duck breasts, and I am told it is a bit more flavorful than run-of-the-mill supermarket duck.  I wouldn’t know, never having had duck before.  To me, duck tastes a bit nuttier and gamier, than the most succulent, flavorful dark chicken or turkey meat you’ve ever had. 

This particular recipe is a bit sweet, courtesy of the pomegranates with a nip of heat, thanks to the chile.  Even though the name of the recipe seems a bit intimidating (I walked into the kitchen and saw the recipe sitting on the counter and thought, “damn, she must have been cooking all day!”), it’s actually pretty easy and straight forward, having less ingredients than most fancy recipes. 

Pomegranates are filled with beautiful and delicious red seeds.  To open the fruit, score the perimeter with a knife and pop it open.  The seeds reside in a white pulp and separate more easily in a bowl of water…the ruby rewards detach from the pulp and sink to the bottom of the bowl.  Our trusty friends at Trader Joe’s have done this work for us, 5.3 oz. for $3.99, and no staining of your hands and clothes!  Pomegranate seeds are sweet, crunchy, and full of antioxidants.  Also, they are blood builders and are believed to be useful for stopping gum and nose bleeds….I wish I would have had some pomegranate seeds a few weeks ago when I walked into a wall and my nose bled for twenty minutes. 

Roast Duck Breasts with Pomegranate-Chile Sauce

1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2 cups refrigerated pomegranate juice (such as Pom)
2 cups low-salt chicken broth
4 large dried California chiles, stemmed, seeded, torn into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons adobo sauce from canned chipotle chiles in adobo
1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin (not toasted)
Coarse kosher salt

8 5-to 6-ounce boneless duck breast halves, skin and fat trimmed to size of breast
Coarse kosher salt
Ground coriander
Fresh pomegranate seeds

For sauce:
Stir sugar and 1/2 cup water in heavy large saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat; boil until syrup is deep amber color, swirling pan occasionally, about 8 minutes. Add juice, broth, and California chiles. Boil until sauce is reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat; cool. Puree in tightly covered blender until smooth, about 2 minutes. Transfer to bowl. Whisk in adobo sauce, vinegar, and cumin. Season to taste with generous amount of coarse salt and pepper. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 week ahead. Cover and chill. Rewarm over low heat before using.

For duck:
Preheat oven to 400°F. Score skin of duck (don't cut into flesh) with 5 cuts in 1 direction; repeat in opposite direction, making diamond pattern. Sprinkle duck all over with coarse salt, pepper, and ground coriander. Place 2 large ovenproof skillets over medium-high heat. Add duck, skin side down, to skillets, dividing equally. Cook duck until skin is crisp and deep brown, about 7 minutes. Turn duck over; cook 1 minute. Pour off fat. Transfer skillets to oven. Roast duck until cooked to mediumrare, about 5 minutes.

Transfer duck to cutting board. Let rest 5 minutes. Thinly slice each breast crosswise on slight diagonal. Arrange slices on plates. Spoon sauce over. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds.

This. Dish. Is. Amazing.

For dessert, we had pumpkin tartlets and they were deliciously flaky and quite tasty.  That sounds like a commercial, but they were really good.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Farro, Kale and Sausage Stew

It was my turn to cook on Wednesday night.

As I have written, dear readers, and because it explains why my posts have been so patchy, October was a travel-a-rama month.  I wasn’t sure which airport I was in half the time.  My aerial adventures facilitated a lot of reading time.  I finished one book (that I will write about), started another, read many on-line articles and salivated over countless recipes in cooking magazines.  One such recipe is “Farro, Kale and Sausage Stew” in the November 2013 issue of EveryDay with Rachael Ray.

I love that this magazine is printed on recycled paper. 

Anyway, the issue is packed with many delights (including one for infusing honey with espresso coffee…yum) but I chose to make this one for my Wednesday evening get-together.

The recipe calls for kale.  Irish Guy tells me that it is an Irish tradition to serve potatoes and kale on Halloween.  Being the curious sort I am I did a little research.  It appears that the Celts celebrated All Hallowtide' or Samhain – marking the end of summer, the start of the harvest season, and the night spirits revisited the mortal world.  The Celts lit bonfires and wore masks believing that both would help to keep evil spirits away.  The night before was known as 'All Hallows Eve' now, Halloween. Before heading out for an evening of tomfoolery on Halloween, the Irish prepared a traditional dish called Colcannon made with boiled potatoes, curly kale, and raw onions.  Sometimes as a special treat they hid clean coins in the potatoes for children to find and keep. 

Even though my dish did not include potatoes (or coins), it did include kale and a grain and it was served on Halloween Eve, so it felt a little Irish to me!
Kale is often called “wild cabbage” and is in the same family as broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, and Brussels sprouts.  This cruciferous vegetable has been dubbed one of the world’s healthiest foods, containing high levels of vitamins A & C and manganese and the best way to enjoy the health benefits of kale is to steam it. The flavonoids in the vegetable contain antioxidants and provide anti-inflammatory benefits.  Additionally, kale has risk-lowering benefits for cancer, and helps the body with natural detoxification. 

I knew I felt better on Thursday morning.

Farro, Kale and Sausage Stew
From:  Rachael Ray

1 cup whole-grain farro
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces hot Italian sausage (about 2 links), casings removed
4 cloves garlic, sliced
5 cups chicken stock
1 bunch kale, stems removed, leaves roughly chopped (about 4 cups)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves (I used thyme from my garden….I love I can still use my herb garden!)
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons grated Pecorino-Romano cheese

1. In a large, heavy saucepan, cover the farro with a couple inches of water. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, salt the water and simmer gently until the farro is tender, about 30 minutes. Drain.

2. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, heat 1 tbsp. olive oil over medium. Cook the sausage, breaking it up, until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Cook the garlic until golden, 2 minutes. Add the stock; bring to a simmer. Stir in the farro and kale and simmer until the kale is tender, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat.

3. Return the sausage to the pan and stir in the thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Divide the stew among bowls, top with the cheese and drizzle with the remaining 1 tbsp. olive oil

My notes….
I used pearled farro and it turned out just fine.  I only used four cups of broth and sweet Italian chicken sausage but added red pepper flakes during the browning process.  Also, I doubled the garlic…sorry, I’m half Italian and can’t help myself.

For dessert, Singer made baked apples that were so incredibly tasty – I wanted another, but reluctantly refrained.  After dinner, Foodie and Architect whipped out their knitting projects.  Architect is knitting this sweater and I think it will be ready to wear very soon! Foodie already finished hers…we won’t discuss about my knitting project.