Wednesday, May 26, 2010
This Sunday brought a close to the series 'Lost'. Not just a show, but an institution I've invested several years dedicated to watching: Wondering what the black smoke meant, If the castaways would get off the island, Are they even on an island, Will Kate end up with Jack or Sawyer. So many questions! After watching the finale, I now feel I have some of the answers. At the very least, I was left with enough suppositions to form some conclusions of my own.
If you were a fan, maybe you'll recall the first season, when Sawyer was reading the Richard Adams book 'Watership Down'? I had read the book about a year earlier and being so presently familiar with it, believed that all the answers for what was to come would be in that book. Turns out, as the show unfolded, that clue would become more and more meaningful.
My Take: Ultimately I think the show explored the potential good and evil that exists within all of us. I believe it served as a didactic, and sort of litmus test, albeit on a grander scale, for who in us would show up when faced with decisions that, though serve for the better of everyone: humanity, including ourselves, asks us to make sacrifices to our individual sense of comfort and what we think we believe. And how achieving more of one state than the other, conscious acts of good over evil, transcends even our sacrifices and determines the place we'll call home, and moreover, what "home" is for each of us. For Jack, that was being surrounded by the people he loves. Earth, Heaven, some alternate sideways world, the location of which notwithstanding.
In the end, my heart was broken when Jack and Kate exchanged "I love you's" and kissed, knowing they may not see each other again. This made the reunion of Sawyer and Juliet bittersweet, but it all worked out. Hugo, a character I hitherto didn't like, emerged as a hero. Ben learned he did matter. I cried two and 1/2 times, one of which was really ugly. And they all made it "home."
"So much good, so much evil. Just add water."
— Markus Zusak 'The Book Thief'
For me, home is everything in my life that represents healing: books, exercise, my fiancé, cooking, fresh air, and on ad infinitum.
What is home for you?
Cappuccino Cinnamon Rolls
Recipe courtesy and Adapted from Taste of Home
1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (110° to 115°)
3/4 cup warm milk (110° to 115°)
1/2 cup homemade buttermilk (Add 1/2 tablespoon of vinegar to 1/2 cup whole milk, stir. Wait 10 minutes or until curdled and stir again before using)
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1-1/4 teaspoons salt
5-1/2 to 6 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 cup packed brown sugar
4 teaspoons instant coffee granules (optional)
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
*Icing/Frosting recipes' follow directions.
To large bowl, add water, sprinkle yeast over-top and allow to dissolve. Next add warmed milk, buttermilk, sugar, butter and 4 cups flour. With a mixer on medium speed, or using a fork, beat or stir until smooth. You may not need all of the remaining flour, but using some, stir in a little at a time, enough to form a soft dough. You want the end result to be a little sticky.
Turn dough out of bowl onto a floured surface; Knead for about 6-8 minutes, or until dough becomes smooth and elastic. Wash, dry completely and grease the large bowl. Return kneaded dough to large greased bowl and turn once. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rise in warm place until dough has doubled in size, approximately an hour.
After an hour, punch down risen dough and turn out onto a large floured surface (you'll need the room). Trying to get as close as you can to 18-in. x 12-in., roll out dough into rectangular shape. Using brush, completely cover dough in layer of butter. In small bowl, mix brown sugar, coffee granules and cinnamon; sprinkle over dough leaving 1/2 in. of the edges clear of the sugar mixture.
Select one of the 18 in. long sides and roll seam over, continue to roll dough in same direction until complete (think jelly-roll style), pinch seam to seal. Recipe yields about 12 cinnamon rolls; cut into 12 slices.
Grease 13-in. x 9-in. baking pan; place rolls, cut side facing down, in pan. Cover with plastic and allow to rise a 2nd time until doubled in size, 30 minutes approximately.
Preheat oven to 350°. Bake rolls for 22-28 minutes or until lightly brown in color. Sit pan on wire rack and allow to cool some. Spread icing over rolls while still warm. Serve immediately and Enjoy.
This is just a matter of taste, but I thought I would give cream cheese icing a try since I've always had traditional powdered sugar glaze. I prefer the latter, but just in case you like cream cheese icing on yours, I'll give you the recipe for both, tradition sugar and cream cheese icing.
Cream Cheese Icing
1/2 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons milk
In a large bowl, combine cream cheese, butter, vanilla extract, confectioners' sugar and milk. Beat until creamy.
Traditional Confectioners' Sugar Icing
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
Milk or cream (2 to 4 tablespoons), more if needed
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and, with hand mixer on medium, mix until creamy.
This is what your dough should look like before kneading.
After the dough has been kneaded.
After the dough has been allowed to rise.
After the dough has been rolled out, sprinkle with sugar mixture and begin rolling one of the long sides into jelly-roll.
Cut your rolls into 12 slices and place, cut side down, in greased pan.
Voila! Eat while still warm.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Warm, sunny days are observed as something of a holiday here in New England. The ground swells, trees burst, life is blooming; The sky is a symphony of song, the air thick with redolence.
The ostensible death of winter pulses beneath the surface of April breathing life into spring--once again. May, June, Rejoice! Breathing life into me…
Yesterday, while walking to the fruit and vegetable store near my house, I was struck by the beauty around me. I don’t mean that in the abstract, poetic sense. I mean, in the most real and basic way, it always strikes me amazing that the nature of anything born or grown is to go on living until that is the last thing to be done. I’ve always found it ironic that, our very first and our very last instinct are the same, to breathe.
After falling into a deep depression some years back--what my doctor described as “P.T.S.D. induced,” The hardest thing I’ve ever done, was having to learn to match my will with my instinct to go on living.
During this battle I came across a passage from “Hamlet” which reads:
‘There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’t is not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all. Since no man has aught of what he leaves, what is ’t to leave betimes? Let be.’
“…The readiness is all.” It was that line in particular, which read more like a question than a statement, that prompted me to answer “Undoubtedly Yes!” And do for my droning on existence what my instincts had been doing for me…Tap into the pulse beneath the surface of my April and breathe spring into life until that is the last thing to be done.
I fear it will not hold as much significance if I keep saying so, but this was absolutely delicious, Both the salad and dressing; So much so that I had it for dinner last night and breakfast this morning.
Spinach and Strawberry Salad
Bunch of baby spinach, washed and dried
Small handful of strawberries, rinsed, dried and diced
2 teaspoons red onion or shallot, finely chopped
1 tablespoon walnuts or blanched, slivered almonds, lightly pan toasted (about 1 minute)
1 tablespoon shredded parmesan cheese (optional)
Combine spinach, strawberries, onion, nuts and cheese in a large bowl. Eat immediately or refrigerate for 15-20 minutes before serving.
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup red wine or distilled white vinegar (I used the latter)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon red onion or shallot, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 fresh ground black pepper
In medium bowl, whisk together vinegar, honey and mustard. While continuing to whisk gently, add in oil slowly. Add in onion, whisk again. Repeat after adding salt and pepper. Whisk again gently just before serving over salad.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
One of the hardest things about being in a long-distance relationship is how much I miss him--terribly; feeling like passengers' being driven in the car of a six-hour time difference and, the way his hand feels holding mine, craving that. This week he's been so busy readying the new flat closer to Paris, when we do speak, our conversations are relegated to the trifle and the essential. He's too exhausted for the usual in between incidentals that typically span hours. I've been trying to alleviate any guilt I feel about not being there to help by keeping myself busy with books, movies and, of course, cooking.
I also watch this video I didn't know he was filming of me, until he said so, taken on one of our last days together in November, and smile.
I received a beautiful letter and card from him today celebrating our premier anniversaire (that's one year anniversary in English), It smells like his cologne. Immediately, I was flooded with chills and the memory of the rush of our first hug in the airport.
The olfactory is a great and magical wonder, possessing a myriad of abilities, chief among them, the ability to transport. Good food posseses the same talent. Although I cooked for him nearly every day Mon Amour was visiting Boston, one of my biggest regrets is that I didn't bake. I promise to correct that when I visit him this summer. In the meantime, he visits my blogs and drools over my cupcakes.
One of the movies I spent some time with this weekend happened to be 'Chocolat', with Juilette Binoche. It was a sweet confection about a chocolate shoppe owner who has an aptitude for seeing what her patrons were missing in their lives and delivering it to them through the alchemy of the chocolate she selects especially for them.
I imagine, for me, she would have selected something rich, but also delicate; sweet, but nutty. As it happens, like this cake. The moistest, yummiest chocolate cake I've had to date.
How was that for a segue?
Fact: This is the best chocolate cake I've ever had. My grandmother seconds that!
Recipe courtesy and Adapted from: Ina Garten/ Beatty and Hershey's
Butter, for greasing the pans
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder, not Dutch-process
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken (I made my own. Directions directly underneath ingredients)
1/2 cup canola oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 & 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
3/4-1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
Remember when we made our own buttermilk for Strawberry Buttermilk Ice Cream using lemon juice? This time we're using Vinegar. To 1 cup of whole milk, add 1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon of vinegar, stir and allow to sit for 10-15 minutes, until curdled. Stir again before adding to wet ingredients.
Chocolate Buttercream, recipe follows
Set your oven to preheat at 350 degrees F. To act as a sort of glue, butter 2 (8-inch) round cake pans. Line bottom and sides of 2 pan with parchment paper, butter again then flour. Shake out excess flour.
Into a large bowl or bowl of an electric mixer (fitted with paddle attachment), sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt. On low speed, mix until combined. In a separate smaller bowl, add buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla, gently stir to combine with fork.
Slowly add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix on low speed until combined. With mixer still on low, Add coffee and mix just until combined. Scrape down sides of bowl. If using walnuts, add 1/2 cup and stir in with fork.
*Batter will be very wet. That's normal.
Allow batter to rest in bowl for 10 minutes. Into the prepared pans, pour half of the batter into one and the remaining half into the other.
Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until tester inserted into cakes comes out clean. Cool cakes in pans for about 30 minutes, then carefully turn pans over individually and, using your hand to support cake, turn cake onto cooling rack and allow to cool completely before handling or frosting.
*When the cakes are nearly completely cooled, start making your frosting. *See below for instructions. Once cakes are cooled, turn one layer over, bottom side up, on large flat plate or cake pedestal. With an offset spatula or knife, spread top of upside down cake with frosting, sprinkle with small handful of chopped walnuts, if using nuts. Place the second cake on top of bottom layer this time, rounded side up. Top with generous mound of frosting and evenly spread down sides and over top of cake.
For decoration, Add chopped nuts to edges of circumference of cake (optional).
Whipped Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
Recipe courtesy and Adapted from Allrecipes.com
1/2 cup butter (no substitutes), softened
2-1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons baking cocoa
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup milk
Sift confectioners' sugar and cocoa power (do not skip this step). In large heat-safe bowl, Microwave butter for 30 seconds or, in a pan over medium heat let butter just start to melt. Remove from heat and, with hand mixer on medium, cream butter for two minutes. Slowly add in sifted confectioners' sugar and cocoa power. Mix until combined. Still mixing on medium, Add in vanilla and, slowly add in milk. Continue to mix for 3-5 minutes, until frosting is light brown in color and fluffy.
Flip one cake botton side up and add a layer of frosting
After the bottom side of one cake has been frosted, place second cake on top, rounded side up and Add generous mound of frosting
When I began making this cake, despite the rain, it was day and there was natural light. By the time I was putting it together, it had begun pouring and turned completely dark outside. Just for the kitchen, I need to switch from energy saver bulbs to brighter lighting.
Share & Enjoy!
Friday, May 14, 2010
Ever since I was a little girl, I've had an aversion to peanut butter. Really. While other kids had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches packed away for lunch, nestled under my kool-aid filled thermos in my Get-Along Gang lunch box was a soggy tuna fish sandwich. I would have sooner eaten spinach than P, B & J, but that wouldn't have been hard to do, I loved spinach!
Peanut butter-- I'm still not all that jazzed over the stuff. So then, you may be wondering why I think the marriage of peanut butter, and my newfound discovery of Nutella®, make for the dreamiest cookie I've ever eaten. Ever, in life, EVER! That's an easy answer: Peanut butter cookies are a totally different animal than peanut butter in a jar. Well, different-in-that, while the former and latter are of the same species, they're a totally different animal. Sort of like how Lions and Kittens are both cats, but you wouldn't want to dangle a ball of yarn in front of a lion and call 'Here Kitty, Kitty.' Unless, of course, you were fulfilling #99 on your bucket list and #100 was to die doing something really stupid.
P.S. Don't do that!
P.P.S. Did you know the Nutella, the chocolate-hazelnut spread, is put out by Ferrero? Of the Ferrero Rocher family. Yes! I just found out myself. Those delicious chocolates I've enjoyed for years, even before they were popular in America and you could only get them in specialty stores: One-in-the-same.
If you're familiar with the chocolates and have never tried Nutella, the creamy chocolate filling that envelopes the hazelnut IS Nutella.
Edification, it's a glorious thing! And so are these cookies.
Peanut Butter Cookies
Recipe courtesy and Adapted from SimplyRecipes.com
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup peanut butter (I used extra crunchy)
1 1/4 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
In medium bowl, mix butter until smooth and creamy, 2 minutes. To the butter, add both the white and brown sugar, mix for another 2 minutes. Mix in the peanut butter and egg until incorporated.
In separate small bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Use a fork to combine. Add combined dry ingredients to creamed butter-sugar mixture and, with hand mixture on low speed or a fork, mix until just completely incorporated.
Form dough into mound or log shape and place in plastic wrap. Cover completely and refrigerate for no less than 3 hours.
Once your dough has firmed and you're ready to make cookies...
Set your oven to 375°F and allow to Preheat. Cut enough dough to form into 1& 1/4 inch-sized balls (for each cookie). Using an ungreased cookie sheet, place each piece of formed dough about 3 inches apart. Use a fork to flatten cookie and create crisscross pattern. Pressing fork down once lengthwise and once crosswise.
Bake until lightly browned, between 9 and 10 minutes. Allow to sit on cookie sheet for 1 minute before transferring and allowing to cool completely on cooling rack.
Bake at 300°F for 15 minutes, if you like chewier cookies.
To Make Sandwiches: Wait until the cookies have cooled completely. Spread the bottom side of one cookie with a thin layer of Nutella and top with the bottom half of another cookie. You want the tops of the cookies visible.
Makes about 24 cookies. This dough freezes very well.
Monday, May 10, 2010
Mother's day has always been a challenge for me. I usually reserve deciding how I feel about it until the very end of the day. And whether or not I cried. And whether or not those tears were happy. Nearly eleven years ago, when I received a call telling me my mom had died, any childlike hope that she was going to get healthy and be the the mother I always wanted, needed, died too.
It has been said that nothing dies without something else being born. I believe that. Even though I lost my mom that day, in that moment, something else was born in me. Something worthy, beautiful, Divine...Life.
I've since made it my mission to learn what it is to truly be alive, not just existing or surviving, but flourishing, dancing, smiling, happy, beaming, ALIVE. For both me and my mom.
In the past year alone, I've made a new peace with her being gone. I turned 30. I fell in love with the most wonderful man on the planet and said "Yes" when he asked me to marry him. I'm back to doing the things I'm truly passionate about, like baking, with a newfound excitement, and I wouldn't change a thing. 9: 52 p.m. last night. Yes, I cried, but they were happy tears.
In honor of My Mom, Your Mom, All Mom's...
Recipe courtesy and adapted from Martha Stewart
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup packed sweetened shredded coconut
6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 large eggs plus 2 large egg whites
3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
I did not use the Seven-Minute Frosting, Opting for Cream Cheese frosting instead.
Cream Cheese Frosting
8 ounce package cream cheese, softened(I used Philadelphia)
1/2 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups confectioners' sugar, approx. (until desired texture and sweetness is reached)
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut, for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line traditionally sized cupcake pan with baking cups.
2. In medium sized bowl, whisk together dry ingredients, including shredded coconut.
3. In a separate large bowl, add butter and sugar, use an electric mixer to cream the two until light and fluffy. Add each egg to creamed butter and sugar individually, beating after each addition. Mixing on low, add in vanilla and coconut milk to wet ingredients.
4. Slowly add whisked dry ingredients to wet mixture, in three additions, mixing after each addition. Scrape down sides of bowl.
5. Filling baking cups 2/3 full, spoon batter in baking cups of lined cupcake pan.
6. Bake cupcakes until lightly browned or tester inserted comes out clean, 20 minutes approximately. Leave cupcakes in pan and allow to cool on wire racks before frosting.
In large bowl, Use an electric mixer to cream butter and cream cheese together until smooth. Add in vanilla extract. While mixing on low, slowly add in confectioners' sugar 1 cup at a time until completely incorporated and frosting is light and fluffy.
Put coconut flakes on large plate or flat surface, such as a baking sheet. Frost cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and gently roll tops of frosted cupcakes into shredded coconut, covering completely.
Serve and enjoy.
Sunday, May 9, 2010
Every great artist has had or has at least one, something that speaks to the viscera of their very being, igniting inspiration;
A book, a song, a person, the sun: A muse. Da Vinci, Dali, O'Keefe, all the greats, I'm sure, were fueled by something that set their senses on fire.
In no way am I comparing myself to these artists', however, what we do share, what we all share in common, is an innate need to respond to a call that begs us to create. For me, in regards to cooking, often times this call is heard through The Food Network and dictated by my mood and/or the weather. The latter two are usually intrinsically connected.
On a rainy day last week I came across a recipe for Pineapple-Lemon Sherbet and thought to myself 'I bet that would taste like the sun, if the sun had a taste.' I know, I have some of the oddest thoughts. True as that may be, this was delicious and did succeed in filling me with the spirit of the sun.
What inspires you?
I'm all in favor of copious amounts of ice cream, but even for me, I found the Original Recipe a little too large to work with, so to make it more user-friendly, I cut the recipe in half.
Recipe courtesy and adapted from Paula Deen, The Food Network
1 quart whole milk
1/2 can sweetened condensed milk (8 ounces)
1/2 can crushed pineapple (10 ounces)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice (3-4 lemons)
Combine all ingredients in large bowl. Stir until blended well. Milk mixture will curdle some once the lemon juice is added, this is normal. Pour liquid into your ice cream maker. Leave to churn according to your ice cream maker's instructions, generally 20-25 minutes. Transfer churned mixture into freezer safe container and place in freezer. Sherbet will take at least to hours to set up.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
91 degree days, as was the case this past Sunday, in a major city--such as Boston; sprawling with urban dwellers, has a way of testing ones will, patience and the sheer ability to breathe. It doesn't help when the main water pipe that supplies Boston and the surrounding cities with clean tap water breaks, making it unsafe to drink, cook with, wash dishes, wash your face, or brush your teeth unless it has been boiled for one minute.
My grandmother says she grew up in a time where it was common to have to boil your water, maybe once a week. I can't tell you how much that made me appreciate modern day advancements. Boiling water for everyday use is a real pain. Not to mention, I can't tell you how many people mistook the words 'boil water order' for 'Apocalypse'. They were acting like animals at the supermarket. It's scary to think what a real emergency would look like.
As it was too hot to bake, I decided to make those chocolate chip granola bars I saw being made on "Martha Stewart" earlier in the week. With a few tweaks and additions of my own, they turned out awesome! I also used the break from cooking to complete Milan Kundera's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being." 'To be, or not to be: There is no question!' And watch things grow in around my backyard. Nature is awesome. And so are chocolate chips.
I'm all in favor of a National Nature and Chocolate Chip Day. Anyone with me?
Recipe courtesy and adapted from what I remember of an episode of "Martha Stewart" that aired last week and The Suburban Jungle
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 cups oatmeal (I used Quaker, quick-1 minute oats)
1 cup rice krispies (or whole wheat equivalent from health food store, like Whole Foods)
1/2 or 3/4 (if you like a lot) chocolate chips
1/2 cup nut of your choice, I used almonds
1/2 cup shredded coconut flakes, I used sweetened
You can mix and match all your own favorites.
Step one is totally optional. I spread oats evenly over cookie sheet that's been covered in parchment paper and toast the oats in an oven that's been preheated to 350degrees for 10-15 minutes--just to give them a nuttier flavor, but you can omit this step if you like.
In large bowl, add three cups of oats and one cup of rice krispies, or a whole wheat equivalent. In same bowl, add coconut if you're using it. If using nuts, see next step. If not, Mix cereal to incorporate.
The next step is optional: If you're using nuts, in my case I used blanched slivered almonds, you can lightly toast them in small sauté pan over medium heat by adding a teaspoon of oil to pan and nuts and allowing them to brown slightly. This will only take a minute or two. Add nuts to oats mixture. Mix to incorporate.
Or you can leave nuts raw and add them to oats mixture.
In small sauce pan, add canola oil, brown sugar, honey and cinnamon. Bring to a gentle boil and immediately remove from heat. Add vanilla extract and whisk liquid mixture together.
Pour the liquid mixture over the oats and stir until all the cereal is coated.
Wait until the mixture has cooled some and then add chocolate chips. Mix chips into cereal mixture. *Note: I added the chips in a little too soon and they melted, but were still totally delicious once the granola set, so no worries if this happens to you.
Spray a bar pan (the one I used was 32 x 23 x 5, but smaller would work just as well) with a non-stick cooking spray, like Pam. Add mixture to sprayed pan and gently spread evenly, patting down mixture so the top appears even. Cover and refrigerate for about 30 minutes, or until mixture has set.
Prepare your ingredients
Mix your oats and rice krispies together
Add the your toasted or blanched nuts to cereal
After the liquid mixture has been added, stir to cover cereal completely, allow to cool and add chocolate chips
Spread evenly in a large sprayed bar pan
After the mixture has been refrigerated, cut into bars and serve.
I'm not quite sure what these lovely flowers are called, but I have several growing around my backyard in red and pink
These are called Hostas
Remember my budding strawberry plants from last week's post? This is them just a little over a week later.
In one woman's opinion, I think the world would be a better place if more people grew things, or at least took a little time to stop and watch things growing around them.