Monday, August 29, 2011

How I Survived Hurricane Irene Part II

I woke up early Sunday morning happy to see that we hadn't blown away during the night. In fact, as usual things were not as bad as they seemed to be the night before and the storm has been downgraded (in my area anyway) to nothing more than a tropical storm.  All our trees were still in tact and no water was dripping where it shouldn't be.  Whew!

It was, however, still raining heavily with strong winds blowing against the house.  The kitchen smelled like the morning after a holiday because of the onion soup that had been bubbling on the stove the day before.  I was still in a cozy/domestic kind of mood, so I did the next best thing to making soup.  I made cookies. 

Once you have homemade biscotti you will never go back to store bought. Here's how to make them. 

You will need:

1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 1/4 cups sugar (divided)
3 eggs
1 tsp anise
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
dash of salt
1/2 cup sliced almonds
2 tsp milk

Cream butter and 1 cup of sugar.  Add eggs, one at at time.

Stir in anise.  Combine dry ingredients and add to creamed mixture.

Stir in almonds.

Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or aluminum foil.  Spray with cooking spray.

Divide dough in half.  Spread into two rectangles, approximately 10 x 4 ".  (note: the dough will be sticky.  Start with your hands, and then spread/shape with a spatula.)

Brush with milk and sprinkle with remaining sugar. 

Bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove from oven and reduce heat to 300 degrees.  Lift rectangles, with paper or foil, onto a wire rack and cool for 15 minutes. 

Once cooled remove from paper and transfer to a cutting board.  Cut diagonally into slices measuring around 1 inch thick.  *Tip: use a serrated knife*

Place slices with cut side down onto an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for ten minutes.  Turn cookies over and bake for ten more minutes. 

Remove from oven and let cool on the stove top.  I hear Hubbie. Better make morning coffee...

I made these cookies in the wee hours of the morning.  While the rest of the East coast was watching hurricane coverage, I was watching Uncle Buck on cable and making biscottis.  When Hubbie got up  I served him one with his coffee.  It just so happens he is my official taste tester and what better way to start a Sunday morning?  These are the perfect cookie.  YUM!

As I type this blog post (Sunday night) I can still hear the rain, but the winds have died down.  Good news is things are looking up for tomorrow.  My plants will be able to see the sunlight again and I can put my flag back out in the yard.  We survived yet another storm.  Personally, I much prefer a good old fashioned November blizzard to a hurricane.  They are much prettier, but regardless, I'm glad it's over. 

And that's how I survived Hurricane Irene ~

Good News: After next weekend it will officially be September.  The other day I spotted this in my front yard.  It's here!

I've got my quilts and blankets all ready for evening snuggling.

Here's a peek into my candle cabinet.  Can you spot the pumpkins?  Soon my kitchen will be filled with the aroma of Pumpkin nice!

I hope, wherever you are, you all survived the storm.  Did you make soup? Or cookies?  Did you happen to see Uncle Buck on Sunday morning?  I hope you did. So funny! 

Have a wonderful week and I'll be back soon.  We are having friends over for a Labor Day party this weekend.  Let's hope for better weather : ) 


How I Survived Hurricane Irene Part I

So there I was, Saturday morning.  It was a hot and humid day. The sky was blue and the sun was shining.  I found it hard to believe what was coming our way, but she was....Hurricane Irene!  We had done what everyone had urged us to do and battened down the hatches.  I brought in my plants, all kids toys were safe in the shed, and anything that could potentially be a projectile was tied down. After that, I did what any other good domestic does when there is a storm looming. I made soup.  We domestics are crazy when it comes to soup.  We make it when someone is sick, or when someone has a baby.  We make soup for holidays, or any days.  Soup to me is the be-all end-all of comfort food.  I love it on rainy days - especially when I come home from the grocery store soaking wet because it had started to downpour just as I was running to my car to unload my bags (3 p.m. blue sky's no more).  Oh yes, I love soup.  It warms the bones and the heart, and for some reason I feel good knowing there is a homemade batch of soup in the house just as a HUGE storm is about to hit. 

Saturday I made French Onion Soup.  Some people make this soup with chicken broth, but I prefer to use beef broth.  I like my onion soup to be dark, rich, and full of flavor.  Here's what you need to make it. 

4 cups of thinly sliced onions (2 large or 4 med size onions)
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
3 tbs sugar
3 tbs flour
8 cups beef broth (5 cans or 2 32oz boxes)
3 cups water
2 cups red wine

In a large soup pot, saute the onions and garlic in the butter.  Let them cook for about 10 minutes until the onions are translucent. 

Here is a short video of me sauteing the onions.  Forgive the quality - I'm new at shooting these videos, but I needed something to pass the time while the onions cooked....

Did I ever mention how much I love Nat King Cole?  Who can't smile listening to that?  One of my favorite Cd's. My world stops when Mona Lisa comes on.  I have to take time to daydream. 

The wine glass represents an open bottle that couldn't go to waste.  Which could explain the video... : )  Anyway...back to the soup.....

Add all the other ingredients and bring to a boil.  Cover and let simmer for at least 2 hours.

When ready to serve ladle the soup into oven proof bowls.   Toast a small piece of Italian bread or French baguette and drop it into each bowl. 

Next, top with a handful of cheese.  You could use mozzarella, Swiss, or gruyere.  I had mozzarella on hand so I used that...

Put under the broiler or in the toaster oven for a few minutes, just to melt the cheese.  {I put the bowls on a cookie sheet covered in foil. Be careful when removing from the oven because they will be extremely hot.}

Put the hot bowls on small plates and bring to the table.  Rob, the hubbie, loves this soup and I love making it for him.  My little one likes to nibble on the cheese and toast. 

We had left overs the next night and I froze the rest.  Some cool, crisp October evening when we are weary and tired and there is nothing for dinner I'll defrost this soup and bring us back to life.  That's the power of soup ; - )

So while the wind gusted and the rain fell my little family of three sat around the kitchen table and warmed our chilled, wet souls with french onion soup - thankful to have shelter, electricity, and eachother.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Living With Hope

I collected sea glass all summer.  Every year I add a few pieces to an existing collection  I inherited from my grandmother.  This small bowl of colors represents countless walks on wet sand, strolling along in the sunshine while listening to the glorious sounds of the waves crashing against the shore.  My grandmother used to keep her collection in a glass bottle in her living room.  When I was little I would love to dump it out on the rug and spread out all the colors. I thought they were so beautiful and I wanted to touch them all the time.  A few years ago my mother gave me my grandmothers bottle, and ever since that day I have been adding to her collection.  Whenever I see sea glass I think of my Nana and all her walks on the beach collecting glass.

This summer I also collected white shells from the beach where my son took his swimming lessons.  I got a gold pen and wrote some of my favorite words on each shell - "Peace", "Love", Joy", "Faith", and the one you see above..."Hope".   For me it's a reminder of good things to come.  Everyone needs Hope.  What would life be without Hope?

These past few days I've noticed things starting to change.  There has been a funny chill in the breeze in the early morning and late evening.  Last night we noticed that it's starting to get dim a little bit earlier every night.  It is late August after all.  This could only mean that Autumn is on it's way.  As I've said before I love the fall.  It's by far my favorite season.  By now we've had our fill of Summer, and although it was a great summer - all good things must come to an end - so better things can begin...that's Hope. 

I didn't do as much reading this summer as I planned on.  I spent more of my time writing than I did reading.  I did manage to read The Help, which I loved to pieces, and now I'm reading A Reliable Wife.  So far I like it a lot.  I'm not a fast reader and I have to be in the mood to read, but when something catches my interest I can't put it down.  Most people enjoy reading in the summer.  I love to read in the Fall, when it cool and I can curl up with my green fleece blanket, a hot cup of tea, and my coziest slippers.  I have to be ready for bed when I start reading because chances are almost a hundred percent I'll fall asleep.  I think that's why it takes me so long to finish a book.  I keep dozing off.  I see and hear about so many good books out there that I would love to read.  I'll get to them eventually.  I Hope.

I made a deal with myself that I would wait until after my son's birthday to start thinking about fall.  I kept good on my promise.  We had a great birthday party and yesterday we made our last beach trip of the season. Wow, did the summer go by fast.  BUT the car has now been vacuumed and beach pails and shovels have been put away.  He starts pre-school in a few weeks and I'm officially in "back to school" mode.  Things are going to change this year and I'm so excited for him.  I can't wait to see him grow and learn.  I'm such a proud mother. 

I ventured down into my laundry room storage today and this is what I saw.  The fall decorations are just begging to be brought upstairs. Aren't the colors beautiful? Such a change from the soft pastels of summer.  Both are lovely. I think it's just nice to see a change.  Thank you New England for that. 

I didn't unpack anything yet, I was just snooping. I opened one of my storage bins and I saw these cuties smiling at me.  The fall bin is my favorite.  What is it about pumpkins that makes me so happy?  You will see these guys throughout the house within a week or two.  It's only a matter of time.  Mulling spices, old fashioned ticking clocks, candles burning in red and amber glass votives.  It's all coming.  I have Hope...

Can you see the grapevine wreath with the pumpkin ribbon wrapped around it?  (It's nestled right in front of the Christmas wreath).  That's what will hang on my front door.  The inpatients and geraniums on the front steps will be replaced with mums in vibrant purple and rust colors. This year I also want to attempt to make luminaries out of brown paper lunch bags.  I've always thought they looked so nice in the fall.  I want to line my steps with them. That's another thing about "back to school" season.  I have an incredible urge to make things. Crafting, sewing, cooking - creativity is in the air. 

There are many a Sunday in the fall where hubbie and I are out in the yard, raking leaves, planting mums, or pushing our little one on the swings.  We are always prepared: warm sweaters, sneakers with thick, warm socks inside, and a thermos of espresso.  That's all we need to keep us warm on a chilly fall day.  After that we come inside for a football game on TV and a hot bowl of chili with shredded cheese and onions on top.  AND a side of cornbread of course.  Ahhhh.... so many recipes to look forward to.  Hope City...

In the spirit of all these feelings I was having today I wanted to do some baking.  I resisted the urge to make pumpkin bread, even though I really wanted to..... but I figured there will be plenty of time for that. 
Instead I decided to make one of our favorite treats.  Espresso Brownies.  So chewy and chocolaty. I add a teaspoon of espresso coffee to the batter.  It enriches the chocolate taste with just a hint of mocha flavor.  Here's what you need to make them:

2 oz squares unsweetened chocolate (I used Bakers brand)
1/3 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp espresso coffee (or regular instant coffee can be used instead)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large saucepan on low-medium heat melt chocolate and butter.  Be careful not to burn chocolate.

Once melted remove from heat.  Add sugar, egg, flour, pinch of salt, and vanilla.  Stir in a heaping kitchen teaspoon of espresso coffee...

Stir in nuts...

Spread into a greased 8x8 glass baking dish.  Bake for 30-35 minutes. 

Cool completely before cutting.  Makes 12 chewy chocolaty lunch box treats.  Wrap individually in wax paper and put in a loved ones lunch box.  Hubbie is getting his tomorrow. 

Or serve with freshly brewed espresso as a mid afternoon treat...

Don't we all need a little mid afternoon "pick-me-up sometimes?  Maybe I'll pack one in my own lunch tomorrow.  It's the little things that warm us inside and make our days just a little bit better.
Brownies make me happy.

After all this talk about fall I just realized something.  The best part about the summer coming to end is the hope that it will be back again.

The hope that my new blue Rose of Sharon bush will bloom again after the frost. 
The hope that this Fall will bring us luck and blessings.
The hope that each and every day we will live with our eyes wide open to see the goodness around us.
And the hope that my brownies will survive the night. 
I can only hope..

Happy "almost Fall" everyone.  Let's enjoys these last days of August.  September is right around the corner. 


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Mom's Italian Trifle

Hello Everyone ~ As promised, here is the recipe for my mom's Italian trifle.  It's very easy to make and OH-SO-Good! 

1 5oz package chocolate pudding (cooked - NOT instant)
1 5oz package vanilla pudding (cooked - NOT instant)
2 12oz Cool Whips
2 packages Italian toast cookies (we used Stella Doro's Almond toast)
1 jar maraschino cherries, cut in half
dark rum

Pour a small amount of rum into a pie plate.  Lay toast in rum to saturate it, then flip it over to soak both sides.  Line the bottom of a 9x13 glass dish with the happy toast.

Add a layer of all the vanilla pudding on top of the toast, then a layer of cool whip (1 containter), and half of the cherries.  Next, add another layer of toast, a layer of all the chocolate pudding, the rest of the cool whip (2nd containter), and the remainder of cherries on top.  Chill. 

PS Walnuts can be added
PSS You could also substitute the rum with amaretto if you prefer.

Serve as a sweet ending to any celebration. A georgous way to feed a crowd.  Looks beautiful on a buffet too ~ 

Brew a steaming pot of espresso and remember...

"Stressed" spelled backwards is "desserts". 

You figure it out! ; - )


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Happy Birthday, My Darlings!

Did you all know that today is Julia Child's birthday?  She would have been 99 today.  I first discovered Julia in elementary school.  I remember watching The French Chef everyday after school with my mother and my grandmother.  I was fascinated with everything she did and couldn't wait to grow up and have my own "Julia inspired" dinner parties.  Those were the days before the Internet or Food Network - the world had never seen anything like Julia Child.  She changed the way we thought about food.  She taught us it's okay to make mistakes and not be perfect.  She showed us it's okay to have fun in the kitchen. And she gave us the courage to experiment.  My favorite Julia Child quote is " Remember, you are all alone in the kitchen and no one can see you".  So True ~

Have you seen the movie Julie and Julia?  I LOVED this movie! Meryl Streep was incredible as Julia Child.  {On a side note I adore everything that Nora Ephron directs.  She is responsible for most of my favorite movies: When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail, and now I can add Julie & Julia to the list.  She's another one of my hero's that I'll talk about another time}.  Anyway, I loved getting to know Julia in a whole new way.  She was a strong, determined woman who had husband who loved and adored her.  She also lived in Paris which that in itself is enough to make my heart sing.  Just another reason to love Julia. 

This movie was also my first introduction to a new thingy called "blogging".  Until then I was not that familiar with it.  Fast forward a few years and her I am with a food blog of my own.  You think subconsciously the movie might have had something to do with my motivation to do this blog? Maybe just a little bit....wink, wink...

Speaking of birthday's we had a very special one on Sunday.  We celebrated my son's 4th birthday with family and friends. All gathered around my kitchen table we ate meatball subs (by request - they are my son's FAVORITE), chicken salad sandwiches, Caesar salad, calzones, and fruit salad. 

The chicken salad sandwiches are my Dad's specialty.  He has a secret blend of seasonings he uses and also adds dried cranberries, which is a delicious touch.  He even has a special stainless steel bowl he uses just to mix the chicken salad.  I found this out when I accidentally borrowed it once. This is serious. 

Instead of birthday cake we had cupcakes, ice cream, and an Italian trifle that my mother made.  She soaks (almond toast) biscotties in rum and layers them with vanilla pudding, chocolate pudding, cool whip, and cherries.  It's sooooo good (and has a little zing to it...: )

I'll post the recipe and further instructions for that later in the week.  You can see it there on the left in the picture above.  There was not much left by the end of the party.  I polished off the last of it for breakfast this morning. I'm not kidding.

My kitchen/living room area is on the smaller side and whenever I entertain a large group I worry it will be too close for comfort.  I do love having an open layout,  however, sometimes I wish I had one of those TV sitcom kitchens with the swinging door - like on Threes Company.  Mental note for next house : )

Overall the party was a success.  My little one loved having his cousin's over to play with and got many, many generous gifts from family and friends.  He's a very lucky boy.  He happily played all day and meltdowns didn't occur until the end of the night (once the cupcakes kicked in).  He was smiling all day and that's all I could ask for on my baby's birthday.  He makes us so happy every day!!!! 

My-my, how four years have gone by fast.  I can't write about this now or I will cry.  Truly.

Because my son's birthday and Julia Child's birthday are just one day apart I wanted to add something "Julia inspired" to the party.  This was not easy considering it was a Thomas the Tank Engine themed party, but Julia and I are kindred spirits and this is what I came up with.

For an appetizer I made Pear, Walnut, & Ricotta Costini.  I didn't get this recipe from Julia, but I felt like it would be something she would serve - maybe at a birthday party of her own - in Paris perhaps.  They are simple and elegant, slightly sweet but not overpowering.  All you need to make them is:

ricotta cheese
pear slices
chopped walnuts
salt & pepper

For crostini I used a french baguette, cut into 1" slices, and toasted for 5 minutes in the oven.

Spread ricotta cheese evenly over crostini.  Season with salt and pepper.

Apply each piece with a ripe pear slice.  I used Bosc Pears with the skin on.

Drizzle with honey and sprinkle with chopped nuts.

I have to admit my son was much more interested in the crackers and cheese, but the adults liked them : )

I think I might have become slightly addicted. Several got consumed while preparing this platter.  eeek!

Today was a rainy day so we didn't go to swimming lessons.  We spent the day in our pj's assembling train tacks, reading directions, playing with new trains, and riding a scooter up and down the hallway.  What better way to spend the day after a party.

Nothing can stand between a boy (well, my boy) and his trains.

Life is good at four years old!