Thursday, June 30, 2011

Around the kitchen and other thoughts...

This cute little tea pot hangs on my kitchen wall.  It reminds me of two things.  Number one, it's always tea time.  And number two, I love roses.  I once read a quote that said "never have anything in your home that you don't love, or believe to be useful".  I guess I'm covered here. 

I was looking around my kitchen this morning and mentally planning out my weekend.  We have a holiday coming up, a family cookout, and also my mother's birthday.  I have lots to do in the kitchen, and frankly - I can't wait.  I love it when I have an "excuse" to spend a little extra at the grocery story and treat my family to something special. 

My mom has requested a blueberry pie this year instead of a cake.  We LOVE blueberry pies in my family, so I will be making a special trip to the farmers market on Saturday morning to get the blueberries.  They are starting to know me by name.  I guess that's not a bad thing....: )

Here is a picture of my favorite flour sifter.  I've only had it a few years but I feel like I've made a million pies with it.  I love the vintage feel it has.  In the fall I keep it out on the kitchen counter as a decoration. It has a recipe for pumpkin pie on it too, but I haven't made it yet.  I will be sifting the flour for my mom's blueberry pie crust with it this weekend, though.  I hope I have this sifter for years, until the pumpkins are worn off and the handle is broke. I'll still love it. 

Two years ago I strayed from my regular recipe and made a blueberry pie that had lemon juice in it.  I did not like it as much.  In fact, that was the general consensus from everyone who tasted it.  This disappointed me because it was Martha (THE Martha) who recommended the lemon juice.  Oh well, you can't win them all I guess.  I decided to go back to my Nana's recipe, which has stood the test of time for decades and I am never disappointed.  She didn't put lemon juice in her blueberry pie, and she was around long before Martha.  This is a picture of a juicer that belonged to my Nana.  My mother gave it to me to have for my kitchen when I got married.  I know there are easier tools out there for juicing today, but I have a soft spot for this juicer.  It's bulky and heavy and old fashioned.  Have you ever had homemade lemonade with mint in it?  I make lemonade every summer just so I can use this juicer.  This is true.  Put a few mint leaves in your next tall, icy glass of lemonade.  Go outside, find a stop of sunshine and enjoy. You will love it.

With the left over pie crust dough I will use these little cuties to make "pocket pies".  I've filled them with everything - cherries, cheese, even nutella.  Individual apple pies are my hubbie's favorite, so I will have to make a few for him. They are also great to make little hart and star sandwiches.  I've done pb&J, egg salad, and cucumber.  I got them for my birthday a few years ago.  I saw them in the window of Williams Sonoma and commented how adorable they were.  A week later my mom mother gave them to me for my birthday.  I didn't know she was listening. Lucky me : )

We are having the birthday celebration on Sunday and I plan on setting a nice table. My hubbie thinks having all this china is crazy because we don't use it.  My response to him is always " but we WILL someday".  Holidays and birthdays are another one of my "excuses" to break out the good dishes. (maybe I shouldn't have used the word "break" - knock wood...)   A lot of people, including Mr. Hubbie, would prefer paper & plastic because of the clean up factor.  I understand this, but I always remember feeling special when my mom set the table with her china and silverware that we only saw a few times a year. I have a mish-mosh of china.  I have the Lenox set I picked out for our wedding, a tea and coffee set from Italy that we received as a wedding gift, and I also have various miscellaneous items that I have picked up at yard sales and second hand stores.  I love it when things don't match and I love owning something that someone else had before me.  I think about it's history and where it's been.  Every spring I take everything out of the china cabinet and wash it until it sparkles.  I think about all the good times we've had over these dishes in the few short years we've had them.  The exciting part is there are many more to come.  Many more birthday's, celebrations, and Christmas dinners.  I have to prove my hubby wrong...wink...: )

Watching over us is my favorite tea cup shelf. Speaking of variety, it's an array of cups that have been given to me over the years by friends and family.  The first one I received was a demitasse cup given to me in high school by my best friend.  That started a love affair with china cups that will never die. The shelf filled up quickly, but the collection is ongoing.  My problem is that I need more wall space. 

As I passed by the kitchen slider, I glanced out to see how all my babies were doing.  All is well.  Soaking up the sun and singing with the birds.  My deck is small and nothing terribly special, but it's home to things I love, which makes it extra special in my eyes. In life I try to focus on the positives and make the most of what I have.  All I'm missing from this deck are twinkle lights across the lattice.  And that's coming soon! Twinkle lights make everything better.

After roaming around the kitchen for awhile thinking about everything from my Nana's blueberry pie, to our 25th wedding anniversary dinner in 2023, which will be served on my china - I needed a breath of fresh air. 

Something amazing happened over the three days that we were in New Hampshire.  The hydrangeas opened!  I've been watching the buds everyday, waiting and waiting....and they have finally popped.  Beautiful blue, white, aqua, and lavender petals have arrived.  I'm in hydrangea heaven right now.

Hydrangea's are always the star of the yard, aren't they?  They are so big and bold, yet so soft and beautiful.  I ran into the house to get my clippers and vase.  I have to bring some inside to cheer up the kitchen.  That's the best part of growing flowers - being your own florist.   

This rose bush also opened while we were gone.  I don't know the variety of this rose, but it's different from the other ones we have. It's survived many a strong, New England winter, so I give it a lot of credit. Kind of like all of us.  Every winter we bury ourselves inside where it's warm and cozy, until the sun comes out again and we can bask in it's warmth.  I guess mother nature has the same plan for all beings. Whatever doesn't kill us makes us stronger. 

The inpatients in my flower box are doing well. I check them every morning as I rush out the door to work.  Before long they will be peeping over the concrete, and by August I will see a mound of color and hardly any concrete at all. 

Here is a yellow rose bush that we thought was dead.  Hubby had plans to rip it out, then one day we saw a green leaf.  I was so excited to see signs of life in this little mother's day gift.  We've been taking good care of it, and I hope it will thank us with beautiful yellow roses. 

This is a statue that  that sits in my front yard.  I had it long before I had my son, but now when I look at it I see him and I.  A mother duck smooching her baby duck.  It's also ironic that he thinks this statue belongs to him.  In fact he thinks everything belongs to him - but in a way it does, so that's ok by me.  I love ducks and I love him.

Back inside I want to give you a sneak peak of something else I'm working on....

I went to Michael's last week and got these white flip flops for $1.  I thought it would be so cute to embellish them.  I got two flower sequin appliques in the sewing section for $2 and a box of silver sequins for $2.50. It took me a long time to pick out these sequins.  Have you ever been to the bead isle in Michael's? So many choices!  I must have changed me mind ten times!  However, in the process I got lots of other ideas.  I think I feel a new obsession coming on.... but one thing at a time.

I'll be working on these this week after my little guy goes to bed.  The flower appliques are a beautiful aqua color that I am crazy for.  Can't wait till they are done. 

Before going to bed I stepped outside to take a big breath of fresh air.  This is something I do first thing in the morning - sometimes before the sun comes up - and right before I go to bed. I count the stars in the sky, fill my lungs with air, and thank God I'm alive.  There were no stars out tonight, but the night sky was a beautiful haze of midnight blue.  Hopefully the stars will be back tomorrow night.  My favorite sky is a winter sky.  Cold, frosty, & sparkly.  I'll have to wait for that though.  Tonight was warm and a little humid, but I loved the moon glow that was coming up from behind the trees.  I find the night sky comforting. It's the same for all of us, even though we may be miles and miles apart.  I'll sleep well thinking of my loved ones, far, far away.

I'll be back in a few days with my blueberry pie recipe and also show you my "new shoes" once they are done. 

Sleep well everyone. Have a great week!


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Chocolate Chip Snack Cake

Here is the recipe I promised for the chocolate chip cake I blogged about on Father's day. 

I call this a snack cake because the pieces are small (i.e. snack size).  It's perfect when you need "a little something" to curb your chocolate craving.  A little sweet to end a meal, or something to go with tea at 4pm.  My son loves this cake because it literally tastes like a big chocolate chip cookie. 

Here's what you need to make it:

1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips

In a small bowl cream butter and sugar. Beat in egg.  Once incorporated, beat in applesauce and vanilla. 

In a separate bowl combine dry ingredients.

Add to creamed mixture.  Stir in chocolate chips.

Pour into a greased 8 in fluted bunt pan. 

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.  Let cool for 15 minutes before removing from pan. 

This cake is the perfect late night snack OR if you want to serve for desert as I did on Father's day - cut two pieces and put a big scoop of vanilla ice cream in the middle. 

I've also been known to top with a drizzle of chocolate syrup and a dollop of whip cream.... much for a "snack". At that point it's more like a sundae! 

Bananas Foster

Here is my version of a classic desert.  Bananas Fosters originated in New Orleans in the early 1950's.  I first had it many years ago at a friends wedding in Boston.  The wedding was held in the restaurant above the actual Cheers bar (based on the TV show).  Sadly, Cheers didn't look quite like I expected it to - Sam Malone did not greet me at the door, nor did I see Norm sitting at the end of the bar. Too bad : (  

The wedding however, was something to be remembered.  Everything about it was fabulous, including this scrumptious desert.  Today, you will pay a pretty penny for it in high end restaurants.  Funny thing is, it's made with ingredients that we all have on hand.  Go figure.  Here's all you need to make it. 

1/4 cup butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
3 1/2 tablespoons rum ( I recommend Myers dark rum)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 large bananas, peeled and sliced lengthwise & crosswise
1 pint vanilla ice cream

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter.  Stir in sugar, rum, vanilla, and cinnamon. When mixture bubbles, place bananas in the pan.

Cook until bananas are hot, about 2 minutes.  Serve immediately over vanilla ice cream.  This recipe makes 4 servings. 

The contrast of the warm sauce and cold ice cream are what makes this dish.  It truly tastes like you put way more effort into it that you actually did.  Wear your prettiest apron and bring the pan to the table.  Channel your inner Julia Child and spoon over the ice cream as your guests oooh and aaah.  Only you will know the real secret. Life's simple pleasures are sometimes found right in our own kitchen. 

Bon Appetite!

ps...K&L this was for you : )

Dinner with Dean

Hello everyone!  I'm just back from a 3 day mini vacation to NH with my family.  We went to Storyland & Santa's Village.  It was a great time for the kids and I highly recommend it to everyone.  Yes, we had our fair share of meltdowns, but nothing that couldn't be fixed with ice cream and a trip to the gift shop : )  We drove antique cars, went to the Three Bears house, and road Cinderella's carousel.  We came home with a very happy little boy.

Who was also exhausted! It's taken us a few days to get back to a normal schedule, but it was worth it.  The best part was that we just found out that we have an opportunity to go back to NH in October.  One of the best things about living in New England is the fall foliage, and October in NH is peak season.  We will drive the same roads we just drove, but they will look entirely different.  Instead of bright green and yellow trees we will see red and orange leaves fluttering through the sky.  Fall is my favorite season, so I already can't wait.  When my mother gave me the news on Thursday,  I went to bed craving hot apple cider and pumpkin donuts.  I have to put this out of my head now, or else I will wish my summer away - and I don't want to do that just yet.

Once home and unpacked I was anxious to get back to business.  First thing to do was check on my plants.  My mother had told me we had heavy rain while we were gone, so I was hoping my potted plants weren't flooded.  I had just planted these the day before we left.

Those plant stands aren't very heavy and I was afraid strong winds would blow them over. 

Luckily, everything was just fine.

In fact they must have enjoyed the rain, because they looked better than ever.  I was greeted with vibrant colors and happy green leaves.

I love it when things go well and I didn't have anything do with it.  In fact, I wasn't even here....ha-ha!

Next thing to do was get back in the kitchen. I had an agenda on my mind since last week and I was anxious to get cooking.  I want to share with you my meal from Sunday night.  I made simple, easy chicken parmesan and eggplant rollatini.

For the chicken parmesan, here's my method. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Pound boneless, skinless, thin sliced chicken cutlets between two sheets of waxed paper until they are about a 1/4 inch thick.

Season both sides with salt and pepper.

Next set up three bowls for your assembly line.  Put flour in the first bowl, two beaten eggs in bowl #2, and seasoned breadcrumbs in the last bowl. (Judge your amounts based on how much chicken you are making.  You want enough to coat each cutlet). 

In a large skillet heat two tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat.  Dredge each cutlet into the flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs.  Add as many cutlets to the skillet that will fit, without crowding them.  Cook about four minutes on each side or until browned on each side.

Remove from skillet and place into a 9x13 baking dish.  I put a few tablespoons of sauce on the bottom first and then lay the cutlets on top. 

Spoon two or three tablespoons of sauce over each cutlet.  Anyone will tell you the sauce is the key to any Italian dish.  I learned how to make sauce from my mother, who learned from her mother, etc.   To this day I still don't think mine tastes as good as my mother's even though it's the exact same recipe.  It's one of life's great mysteries.  Anyway, I'll post my recipe soon, so stay tuned....

Top with shredded mozzarella cheese and a heavy sprinkle of parmesan cheese.  I love cheese, so yes - I'm heavy on the cheese.

Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes.  It's as simple as that.  Serve with pasta and a gravy boat of extra sauce.  Oh yes, and a big hunk of Italian bread. 

Now for the eggplant....

Try this dish instead of eggplant parmesan, if you want to try something different.  It's easy to make and oh-so good.  Here's what you need:

4 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup parmesan cheese
2 medium eggplants
1/4 cup parsley
1 cup flour (seasoned with a few shakes of Italian seasonings)
2 eggs, beaten
4 oz mozzarella cheese
12 oz ricotta cheese
salt & pepper

(note: This recipe can be cut in half if you are only cooking one eggplant, which is what I did on Sunday)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice eggplant lengthwise.

Sprinkle each side with salt & pepper. 

Drudge each slice into seasoned flour.  Heat oil in large non-stick skillet.  Saute eggplant until golden brown. 

For the filling, combine in a medium bowl:

Ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, parsley, and egg.

 Remove eggplant slices from skillet and lie flat.  Place a heaping tablespoon of the ricotta mixture at the end of each slice of eggplant and roll up into bundles.

Place in a baking dish and cover with sauce and mozzarella cheese. 

Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. 

(This dish can also be served as a cute little appetizer....: )

I made the chicken and eggplant together so they could bake at the same time.   While they were cooking I made my veggies and pasta. 

Everything was ready at the same time , which is always a good thing. 

Serve with a good bottle (or two) of red wine and Dean Martin on the stereo. "On an Evening in Roma" is my favorite Dean Martin song.  I played it while I made my sauce, and hummed it to myself as I ate it.