Thursday, January 18, 2018

Hygge: What is it?

It's a Danish concept that's been traveling about for a few years in American decor magazines. I know. Sometimes I am slow to catch up. Hey, I am still decorating in the Country Living/Victorian era. No, Mid-Century for me. I was raised with that stuff. 

Hygge, pronounced 'hue-gah' has no one word English translation other than perhaps "coziness" and a concept of peace, serenity, and enjoying simple pleasures.  January and February are the perfect months to start building your hygge space. 
Here are some easy ways to incorporate "hygge" into your life:

Surround yourself with friends and family
Enjoy the simple pleasures
Be present and thankful
Stay an extra hour in bed
Barbeque outside
Reuse and recycle
Take up a new hobby
Don’t stress
Appreciate your surroundings
Enjoy a good book

How to decorate "hygge?" It's mostly about attitude, but here are some ideas:

Create cozy areas with fluffy pillows and snugly blankets (especially important this time of the year). 

Treat yourself and your guests with special nibbles like nuts, fruit, bites of cheese, pretty imported cookies and crackers, and warm teas and cocoa. 

Decorate with candles. 

Light up areas in your house with twinkly lights. There are so many shapes and sizes available now to accent your home. 

Make a fire - or if you're like I am, "fake-a-fire" with the many pretty mantles on electric fire places - and they help keep the house warm. 

Create a spa-like bathroom with fluffy towels, candles, and pretty soaps.

Is my sanctuary hygge? Certainly some of it is as I have been decorating this way before I ever knew it was cool... I mean "hygge." My interpretation of hygge will always be a work in progress. 

Hygee Hugs! 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Another Year..

It's almost the end of the year. I know. I know. I haven't shown my face much, but I have a good excuse. Sometimes I have to write for a living. Sometimes I have to write around editor schedules, which I finished just in time giving me an opportunity to do a little holiday cooking - - and even put a hint of holiday touches in the house. 

Chocolate Crinkles are easy, and especially work well if you make the cookie dough the night before. There are several recipes, but the one with vegetable oil and cocoa powder is the easiest.

Candy isn't just for kids. This white chocolate bark is topped with healthy goodness like "craisins" (dried cranberries), chopped salted pistachios, and slices of dried apricots. I can't take credit for this one, as it is a Barefoot Contessa favorite. She uses white chocolate and I took the easy way with premade easy-to-melt white candy bark.

The camera and I don't understand each other so these aren't the best snaps, but here are a few holiday touches around the bungalow. Yup, I hand carved two of the snowmen, and the little houses are known as Putz, a decor from the Occupied Japan era. These are just a few in my collection. 

In the mean time, I wish you a Merry Christmas, many Happy Holidays, and a healthy and prosperous New Year.
Thank you my friends for reading me. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Where Did My Year Go?

Rabbit, Rabbit... 

It's the first of the month and I am wondering where my year went? In my mind I am still in August - and no, I am not ignoring my blog so that's why I am checking in. I'm still writing, I'm just not writing in my blog at the moment. However, I will as soon as I get a manuscript sent off this month according to the publisher's deadline. My second local history book will hopefully arrive on the shelves after 2018. Will keep you posted. 

In the mean time with the holidays coming up, it's time to invest in butter. Let this article from Savuer inspire you - and don't let French recipes intimidate you. Tackle them and let them know you are the boss of the kitchen. Channel your inner Julia Child! 

Here we go - grab the butter and a few bottles of red wine as here are 65 classic French recipes to add to your recipe file - which by the way, I recently read the Millennial youngsters don't even use recipe books any longer, and especially have no use for  little tin or wooden recipe file boxes. Say it ain't so! 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

My Version of Pissaladiere: A Funky French Pizza

So what is "pissaladiere?" 

It's a pizza-like dish that originated from Nice, located in the southern region of France. So yes, this is a French pizza. 

The dough is typically a bread dough thicker than the classic Italian Pizza Margherita, but there are really no rules. Why? Because it will be your pizza and you can choose whatever kind of crust you prefer.

What makes this "pissaladiere?" It's about the toppings. Now first off, you need to know that it gets its name from the Latin word piscis (fish), which became pissalat meaning "salted fish." Pissalat (or pissala) is a type of an anchovy paste,
 a condiment also originating from Nice. This condiment is made with anchovy puree and flavored with cloves, thyme, bay leaf and black pepper mixed with olive oil. Sometimes this French classic will even be covered with whole anchovies.

Wait! Come back! Don't let the anchovies turn you away! If you don't like anchovies, then don't use the anchovy paste or the whole bodied tiny fishies. Just concentrate on the rest of the toppings! 
The rest of the toppings? Caramelized onions, herbs, and black olives. Now do I have your attention? For me, this pizza is all about the caramelized onions. 

Where's the cheese, you ask? Pissaladiere doesn't have cheese. Typically, olive oil is the base instead of the Italian red sauce. However, add cheese if you want, but keep it somewhat old world traditional and thoughtful. Don't add mozzarella. That's too easy. Use Raclette, Comte, or even Fontina cheese - - semi-soft cheeses - - and don't smother the top of your pissaladiere with cheese. Add the cheese to your base. Let the onions, olives, and even the anchovies be your toppings.

Are you ready to start? Use your favorite pizza dough recipe, or buy a frozen pizza crust at the store. Okay, so if you want to do it quick and easy, use the Pillsbury pizza or even the crescent doughs. Another tip? Use a sheet of the Pepperidge Farms puff pastry. It will give you a nice light and airy crust, so the toppings will be the true star.  

There are no exact ingredients for this. Just get creative and enjoy the flavors of sauteed onions, herbs, olives, and even fishies... 

Ingredients (topping for one pissaladiere):

1/4 cup good olive oil, plus extra for brushing
2 pounds yellow onions, halved and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves or dried Herbes de Provence
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 whole cloves garlic
12 French (Nicoise) pitted black olives, or even Kalmata pitted olives. Slice or leave whole.
12 to 18 anchovy fillets or brush anchovy paste lightly on the crust (optional).

Around 1 cup shredded semi-soft cheese, Raclette, Comte, or Fontina. 
1/8 cup or less of cornmeal for baking

For the topping, heat the olive oil in a very large saute pan and cook the onions, thyme, salt, pepper, and garlic over low heat for 45 minutes, until the onions are sweet and soft but not almost black. Toss the onions from time to time. After 30 minutes, take out the garlic, chop it roughly, and add it back to the onions. If you want to really caramelize the onions, sprinkle just a hint of sugar to them while they are cooking - no more than half of a teaspoon. 

Or if you want to caramelize your onions the day or even a couple of days before, use your crock pot. See this recipe I posted last month for Crock Pot Onions. You can always add the thyme, garlic, and salt and pepper if you didn't add these things previous to the crock pot onion mixture. 
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Have your dough and or pre-made crust ready. Add a tablespoon or so of dried cornmeal on the baking sheet before you lay the crust in the pan. The light addition of cornmeal gives the crust a nice little crunch. Traditionally the shape is not round, but rectangle - the size of a regular baking sheet. 
Brush the base of the dough lightly with olive oil, and start building your version of pissaladiere. If you have chosen to use cheese, sprinkle on your chosen shredded cheese - - or not. Spoon the sauteed onion mixture on top of the dough, leaving a 3/4-inch border all around. Artfully arrange, or sprinkle evenly on top of the dough the anchovies and olives. Sprinkle a touch more of thyme or Herbes de Provence on top of the onions and olives. Brush the edge of the dough with olive oil, and bake for 15 minutes, or until the crust is crisp. Serve hot on a cutting board. Eat! Eat! Eat! 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Cooking is Cheaper than Therapy: Slow Cooker Caramelized Onions

Last week I had a craving for "pissaladiere." What is pissaladiere, you ask? In short, it's a pizza with origins from southern France topped with lots of caramelized onions (Stay tuned for recipe next week). 

The one drawback to sooth my craving is it's hot outside and the last thing I want to do is stand over a stove. I remembered hearing about caramelizing onions in a slow cooker, so instead of following a recipe, I experimented. Success! 

As many of my recipes are, this one is "fool-proof." Also, no matter if you have three onions or six onions, just adjust the butter (or olive oil) and spices accordingly. Or if you want to eliminate the fats, no need for any butter or oil. The onions will cook via their own juices.

Now you can have your own main ingredient to pissaladiere, French onion soup, an accompaniment for burgers or grilled cheese sandwiches, additions to quick soups, and toppings for side dishes.  


 3 - 6 White, yellow, sweets, or red onions, peeled and thinly sliced
     1 - 3 Tbsp butter (or olive oil or half butter/olive oil), depending how many onions
     Salt and pepper to taste
     1/2 Tbsp thyme (or Herbes de Provence)        
     Optional: 1 tablespoon of brown sugar, or 2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar, or chili flakes

Layer in the slow cooker an average of one sliced onion. Add salt and pepper to taste, as well as the thyme. Keep layering. If you are using brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, or chili flakes; spread out for each layer and sprinkle these items in as well. 

Add to each layer the butter and/or olive oil - - or if you are watching your fat intake, don't add. 

Cook on low for 8-10 hours or cook on high for 4-5 hours, stirring once or twice if desired, until the onions are a rich golden brown and caramelized. If the onions are really juicy at this point, set the lid an inch or so ajar and let the juice boil down. If they are not to the desired juice you prefer, leave the lid on to seal in the moisture of the onions. Continue cooking until the onions have reached the desired texture and thickness of the liquid. 

These delicious caramelized onions will keep 2-3 days in the refrigerator, but why would you "keep" them? Eat them! 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Cheese: Respecting the Wedge

Leave it to me...

Here I thought I was well read about the basics, and yes my mother really did teach me table etiquette and proper place settings. Hey  - - I even traveled a few miles in my life out of the continent and sat at some fine dining tables, but when it came time to "respecting the wedge," man did I screw up. 

Picture this. Me - a guest - sitting at a dining room table. My delightful hosts pass around the cheese plate after dinner. Now mind you, both of the hosts were born and raised in France. The cheese plate arrives to me first. As I slowly start to cut into a wedge, all of a sudden I hear from both of my hosts, "No! No! Stop! Respect the wedge!"

After it was all said and done, and long story short; I am now permanently and emotionally scarred by the "wedge."   

The best way to explain my future with cheese is when you're sitting at a formal dinner party and you look through the corner of your eye to see what utensil your dining partners are reaching for first among the sea of knives, forks, and spoons at their place settings. 

Nowadays, when I see a new wedge of cheese in a social setting, I avoid it and watch everyone else cut into it - - first. If someone before me does not "respect the wedge," and I follow their "dissing" of the wedge, my defense is "Don't look at me. They started it."

To help you avoid the embarrassment of being a social pariah, just follow the incisions. Cheers to cheese.

Semi-Soft Wedge
Cut the wedge cross-wise, then cut vertically along the rind. 

Cheeses: Fontina, Gruyère, Gouda, Swiss

Soft Pyramid
Slice the cheese into wedges from the top center. 
Cheeses: Soft goat or cow cheeses from England or France often coated in vegetable ash.

Soft Wedge
Section the cheese into long, narrow wedges from the point outward 
Cheeses: Brie, 
double and triple-cream cheese
Slice across the log into coins. 
Cheeses: Usually goat, fresh or aged

Soft Wheel
Cut it into even wedges, from the center outward. 
Cheeses: Camembert, aged goat cheeses

Veined Wedge
Slice it into points from the bottom center of the thin edge. 
Cheeses: Blue cheese, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Stilton
Images from Martha Stewart Living

Friday, July 21, 2017

Wander and Ponder: A Quiet Week

After a few busy weeks and weekends in a row, it's rather nice to have several days of solitude. Through most of my adult life, "solitude" has been a rare thing for me - - and after almost forty years of working in occupations (funeral homes, domestic violence shelter, and law firms - civil and defense) where you see people at the worst point of their lives, it's a blessing to have the solitude. Now the only noise I  hear, and by choice, is two little yapping dogs and Pandora

Pandora: is a free, personalized internet radio that plays the style of your favorite music, starting with your favorite artist, song or composer. There are various "stations" to choose from, and you can stream it to your television, your computer, or if you own Echo; ask Alexa to play it for you.

My choice of music with my morning coffee is "Andrea Bocelli Radio." If you don't know this already, the basic app is free. The station isn't all Bocelli, but music that is similar in some ways such as: Josh Groban, Enya, various symphonies  - - easy background music that doesn't interfere with writing. 

Cravings: Can't explain it, but every so often I get a craving for various things. This week it's a cuppa Earl Grey tea, and preferably with a large warm Danish topped with a pat of melted butter. I think Earl Grey is the perfect tea to enjoy with sweet pastries.

Kitchen Tools: A few months ago I looked at my drawer full of kitchen tools and found it depressing, so I started a campaign to replace some of the old ones I've had since... well, a long time. Replaced a potato peeler, masher, pastry brush, tongs, wooden spoons, spatulas... and still replacing. I think the cheese grater is next. After all, a girl likes pretty new things. 

Pretty Things: Now for something pretty - - the detail of the stitches and beading makes me want to grab a needle and thread. 

If it's your choice, I hope your weekend is quiet for you to take the time to enjoy a few "pretty things."

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