Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Don't Get All Puffed About Puff Pastry

Keeping a pantry full of favorites is important, especially for those last minute meals, guests, and events. As I wrote a while back, Cooking is Cheaper than Therapy: The Infallible Brownie Mix there is always a brownie mix in my cupboard, or a note on my grocery list to replenish the one I just used.

There will be a new addition to my pantry, or at least in my freezer "pantry" - frozen puff pastry. How did I ever get along without it all of these years? I have used it before as the topping for chicken pot pies, but that was about my limit. It was just last week my sister, the professional pastry chef, started telling me the virtues of this little box of dough, especially to novices like myself who isn't a fan of baking. It is obvious to me that my "kid" sister got the baking gene in the family.

There are a couple of brands in the market freezer section, but you're probably familiar with this brand. 


Now, what to make? It is endless. There are a variety of pastry desserts that are easy to bake and assemble and you will look like a "French" pastry chef. It's easy to stack individual baked pastry squares and in-between whipped cream, fruit, and top with chocolate syrup and more whip cream. Make one large fruit tart from one of the sheets, or cut to size and make individuals. 


Puff pastry makes the perfect vehicle to hold scrumptious morsels for small appetizer bites. You can cut it into small squares or circles, bake, cool, and add the savory topping. 

I had a party to attend on Sunday afternoon, so I used puff pastry for little savory bites. I kind of followed the spinach pinwheel recipe on the back of the box. When using frozen spinach, it's important to drain the thawed spinach well. Soggy spinach means soggy dough. Squeeze it! Then add the cheeses and spices. I added dried basil. Instead of the recommended egg wash to layer on the dough before you add the spinach filling, I used Dijon mustard instead. Gave the flavors a nice tang. It's one of the recipes that you can do your own thing as long as you remember the techniques. 



I also made palmiers. What's a "palmier"?  It's also known as a "pig's ear," a classic French pastry in a palm leaf shape or a butterfly shape with a simple filling of just sugar and butter. However, I did my own savory spin. For this filling I used my old standby listed in Dont Be Hatin' on the Mayo: Delicious Mayonnaise Hacks under "Catholic Daughters" olive-cheese-mayo spread. When it comes to making a palmier, it's all in the fold. 

I cannot stress how important it is to keep the working dough chilled. It's easier to slice into the desired shape, and easy to start a routine. I chilled it after I placed the filling on the dough and rolled it. Only need to chill for about 15-20 minutes. While it's chilling you can make another filling for another roll if desired. After I cut the desired shapes and placed them on the pan, I gave them another quick chill before baking. 


In the mean time, my mind is wandering about all of the delicious ideas to come up with for my next batch of puff pastry in my freezer. Will they be sweet or savory? 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Wander and Ponder on Friday, March 24, 2017

What's been on my mind this week, other than the usual of checking the weather reports, running errands, writing a bit here and there...

Spring Cleaning: My mind is feeling more inspired about it than my body is. Every morning I wake with big hopes of big projects to tackle from my house to the lawn. A few months ago I bought one of those Swiffer Wet Jets for the kitchen and bathroom floors. I am not convinced if I like it as well as just a plain ol' sponge mop. Perhaps I am feeling overwhelmed after a long winter. I feel like I have at least three years of winter to catch up on. Oh well, as the old saying goes, "How do you eat an elephant? One chunk at a time." Okay, not that I would eat an elephant... 


Hash Browns: Nothing like crispy fresh cut hash browns served with an egg on top, or even sausage gravy. However, nothing worse than to serve fresh cut hash browns that are gray and soggy. As soon as you have shredded the potato, get the shreds soaking in cold water. Soaking the potato shreds removes the starch, and keeps the potato shreds a nice white color, instead of the ugly looking brownish-pink - - which fries up an ugly gray color. But beware - be sure and drain the shreds well before frying. 

If you are making potato pancakes or latkes, it's good to remember to do the same soaking technique and draining, before adding the rest of the ingredients. However, in this case I will take the remaining starch out of the bottom of the bowl and put it back in the flour and egg mixture used for pancakes or latkes. Gives them a bit of body. 




Bracelets: I love them. My bracelets speak to me. They are not necessarily for show, but I tend to find strength in the bracelets I chose; and I know I am not alone when I see other wrists adorned with gems, threads, and woven leather. I never leave home without a wrist of amethysts. They are my good luck stone. Why am I thinking about bracelets? I saw this beautiful photo and thought of my own bracelets. 



From www.facebook.com/healthycreatureswisdom
Some people wear special friendship bracelets, and old Native American turquoise and silver bracelets. I also see many simple red threads wrapped around a wrist signifying a Jewish folk custom to ward off misfortune. 

The old hippie may like the old talisman beads around a wrist, but she enjoys a few links of Tiffany silver, just as much. I may walk out of the house without earrings, but never without a bracelet.  
My bracelets. Can't leave home without them - - or at least one. 
If you have a bracelet "collection" with meaning, or just because they make you feel good; snap a photo and send it to me. I will post it on this blog. 

That's all I really have to say this week. Did I mention I will be attending a Fairy Tea this weekend? I am not sure how much tea we will be devouring, but for sure some bottles of sparkling French wine. I'll save a few photos to share. Now if my wings will only arrive... 

"I Know I Live In My Own Little WorldBut It's Okay They Know Me Here."






Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Hurry Spring! Bring Your Violets

Roses are red
Violets are blue... 

Some gardeners refer to them as lawn invaders. I refer to them as secretive little petals with a magical fragrance. 



Sometimes I think I must have lived another lifetime as I am often drawn to many things from the Victorian or Belle Epoque eras  - especially when it comes to the artwork and furnishings. This may explain my love of violets, as the Victorians had an extreme passion for this little purple flower.  They wore the fragrance of violets and eventually every fragrance house was offering their own line of violet perfume. 


Violet fragrance from France among my perfume bottle collection
The Victorians even ate and drank the little flower. Crème de violette was a popular drink, and often served with a touch of vermouth or alone as a cordial. While crème de violette was popular drink in France, it was unavailable for decades in the United States until about ten years ago. Knowing the history of this liquor and the obscurity of it, I couldn't wait to get a bottle of the Giffard Crème de Violette when I first laid my eyes on it.  There are now other brands to choose from, but whatever brand you happen to come upon, give it a try. Just a couple of drops in a glass of Champagne is so luxurious. What a treat. 
From my liquor collection 

Candied violets were placed on top of cakes, and tucked inside of chocolate creams. Making candied violets at home is easy as can be. All you need is some fine granulated white sugar and an egg. Make sure the violets are pesticide free. 

Rinse the violets lightly, shake off excess water and spread the violets on paper towels or an absorbent dish towel to dry. Separate the white from the egg yolk. Whisk the egg white in a small bowl until frothy. Use a very new and clean artist's paint brush and paint the frothy egg white onto each violet - be sure to cover every petal. Then evenly sprinkle sugar over each petal - shaking off excess. Place the sugared flowers onto wax or parchment paper and allow to dry overnight on a (pansies and rose petals may also be sugared). 



When preparing cupcakes with the adorned violets, be sure and add a hint of c
rème de violette to the frosting - or even a hint to the batter. And don't just stop with decorating pastry with these pretty little flowers, violets and their leaves are edible with the leaves having a high level of vitamins A and C. The flowers and leaves can be tossed into salads, and the flowers can be made into jellies and syrups.


During the Victorian era, dainty nosegays of violets were sold on street corners, and even men would tuck the tiny petaled purple flower on their hat brims and lapels. At the time flower-pressing was a popular hobby for the women of the Victorian era. After a leisurely walk in the country and through the woods where violets would flourish in the spring, many a little violet would find its way pressed into a scrapbook. I have found that violets and violas are the perfect flower to dry, as Vintage Posies: How to Dry Flowers




Surely as cometh the Winter, I know
There are Spring violets under the snow." - Robert Henry Newell 



Friday, March 17, 2017

Wander and Ponder on Friday, March 17, 2017

Happy Saint Patrick's Day! Where is my mind wandering and what is my mind pondering? Well, I am thinking about Saint Patrick's Day. 

While I love preparing a traditional Saint Patrick's Day meal of corn beef and cabbage, I am not into dying everything green. In other words, I don't do green beer. I don't even drink beer, but I think green beer is kind of dumb. They're not drinking green beer in Ireland. In fact, I believe many people in Ireland are in church during this holiday. What else am I thinking about? 

Edith Head: Who is she? Edith was an American costume designer who won a record of eight Academy Award Oscars for Best Costume Design. She dressed the best of Hollywood, when Hollywood was - - well Hollywood - glamorous, sophisticated, and mysterious. Edith died in 1981. She was 84 years old. A sample of some of her beautiful designs. 



Edith Head
Kindle: I love this little device. I bought the very first edition of Kindle Fire back in 2011, and have loved that little tool ever since. I still buy many hard bound books, but there are some little one-day-reading books I don't need to have laying around, so Kindle is perfect. Kindle is also kind to my wrists with the addition of a leather case that props up by itself, instead of holding a heavy book. 

Bookbub and Freebooksy are the perfect way to purchase affordable or even download free books. For free and quick-to-read books, I will typically download more "chick-lit" style of books. I don't go for the predictable "girl meets boy"... instead I look for more of a unique story with a mystery to solve or possibly a story about a contemporary mid-life woman changing her life. Therefore, I don't download every free book out there. And if the book cover shows a half-naked man, I just scroll past that offering. Now, I have nothing against half-naked men, but to use the image to sell me a book is rather - - insulting.



Spring: The daffodils are coming up. We love spring, but in a way I am not feeling it as I look at my lawn and garden, and realize the winter has left me with a lot of work to do. 



And speaking of spring, has your internal clock recuperated after we moved our clocks to "Spring Forward"? 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

What's For Dessert? Affogato

If you have vanilla ice cream and espresso (or very strong coffee), then you have an impressive last minute dessert. In Italian, “affogato” means “drowned” or “drowned in coffee.“ It refers to an Italian espresso-based beverage in which hot espresso is poured over a scoop - or two scoops of vanilla ice cream or gelato.

That's the simplest form of this after dinner treat, however there are many delicious combinations to create with various flavors of ice cream or gelato: butter brickle, butter pecan, and even chocolate. For a "grown up" dinner party pour a shot of Amaretto, Bailey's, Frangelico, or Kahlua over the ice cream, as well as the espresso. 

Make a presentation garnish with one or more: whipped cream, caramel syrup, chocolate syrup; and top with chocolate sprinkles, grated chocolate, cocoa powder, or crushed chocolate espresso beans. To really indulge, serve with a biscotti on the side. Trust me, there will be plenty of creamy liquid for dipping. 

In a pretty coffee cup or bowl add: 1-2 scoops of vanilla ice cream or gelato. Pour 3-4 shots of warm espresso over ice cream. Optional: add liquor and garnish. Serve with a spoon, and serve immediately while the espresso is still warm. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Wander and Ponder on Friday, March 10, 2017

This week of Wander and Ponder is my third attempt to let my readers know where my mind is wandering and what my mind is pondering. I am a bit frustrated that I cannot seem to finish a blog on the fragrance and history of violets, but maybe next week. 

In the mean time, here's what's been happening in my brain this wet week during the month of March.  

Brownie Mix Secrets: Coffee and parchment paper. There's always a brownie mix in my cupboard. While I like to make cakes from scratch, I don't feel the same way with brownies. However, I add things to the mix to make it seem a bit less "boxed." Substituting the morning's leftover coffee instead of the listed water ingredient does the trick. Also, I may be late to the game but I recently discovered parchment paper. I "pammed" the pan well like I always do, but also added parchment paper to the bottom leaving excess to pull out after the brownies were baked and cooled. The pan was perfectly clean, so all I had to do was give it a quick wash and rinse. It was also a cinch to cut the brownies on the parchment - easy to make those end cuts, and perfect lines. Find out more ideas in The Infallible Brownie Mix. 



White Candles: Picture this. Friend moves to new house. Friend is on stepladder taking photos of her new home for the interior designer who lives a few states away. Friend falls. Friend breaks leg. It's one thing to be suffering a broken bone, but another when the interior designer takes notice of the white candles in the photos and suggests, "Just say no to white candles" as it's the mantra of home decor for 2017. 

Needless to say that suggestion to my friend got me a bit paranoid. My leg isn't even broken, but much heartfelt sympathy to my friend for her broken leg, but deeper sympathy to be called out for your choice of candle colors - - or more like non-color candles. I looked in the greeting card section to find a "Get Well" or "Sympathy" card on being called out for your choice-of-candle-colors that are not on the cool list of 2017 Home Decor, but I came up short. Hopefully the doc gave her some good pain meds, not only for her leg, but for this design upset. 

Listen, I am not the Anna Wintour of Vogue candle decor, but I think I have some furniture that are timeless pieces of good taste and quality. I don't use those fake silk flowers in my home. Just ignore the 1980's wallpaper and vertical blinds in my kitchen, but give me some points on my large kitchen island with the Jenn-Aire stove top. Yeah, so shut up about the tall white wooden shabby chic candle holder topped with the white pillar candle perched next to the stove. 

After much tossing and turning at night, looking through many of my favorite decor online sites perusing colored candles, I finally made a decision - -  I am keeping my white candles. In the mean time, something tells me the day my friend removes the armor from her leg, she will march forward into the world of candle color. She is brave. 

Just move along, interior designers. There is nothing to see here. Ignore my old hippie "Made in India" incense burner/ash collector and Satya Sai Baba Nag Champa fragrance. Ignore my boring white walls in my living area and dining room. Call my decor old and outdated if you must, but I will not be lured into the world of "Island Sky,  Corsica Brick, and Cassis Noir Chrome." Isn't my amber Voluspa Japonica candle enough color for you? I give in to color and you just want more. Tapers and Pillars! Oh my! 
And speaking of incense burning... 

Ketchup and Brass: After too many years of cleaning up ashes from incense (What? 45 years now?), I started thinking I needed some kind of a cool platter to place the old flat wooden incense burner on. Obviously, I knew I was in no hurry after all these years, but when I saw the piece, I would know it. 

Two weeks ago, I was at a second-hand shop perusing, and there it was tucked on the bottom shelf.  An old brass platter, about a foot long. It was perfect. If I decided not to use it to hold the incense burner on, I figured it would make the perfect authentic charger-like platter to hold a serving bowl or platter for when I get in one of my Middle-Eastern cooking storms of making tabbouleh, hummus, kofta, or something curry. 

Trust me, the thing looked worse than the photo shows. Lots of dark spots, with many I have been able to rub out.  Look, I am not in the military so I didn't have a can of Brasso metal polish handy, so I did an internet search of kitchen applications to clean brass. Ketchup. Every day French-fry-dipping ketchup. Well of course! I use ketchup from time to time to spiff up a few pieces of copper. It's all about the tomato acids and vinegar that works to clean up metal. It must be known that when it comes to my silver, copper, and brass pieces, I don't like them very shiny. I may give it another coat of ketchup, but give me that well loved patina. 


Noodles: I don't know why, but the last week I have been thinking about my grandmother's recipe for egg noodles. They were big and thick cut toothy eggy-rich noodles. My dad would refer to them as "dumplings," but we all knew those round soft clouds of biscuit-like goodness cooked in broth were also known as "dumplings." In our home, we often referred to those cloud-shaped "dumplings" as "snow balls."  

Spring is just around the corner, so it's time to make this winter comfort food before the warm days appear.

Oh, and one more thing about candles. Martha Stewart once said that when you use candles in the house, be sure and burn the wick whether you plan to burn the whole candle or not. It sets the mood, whether they are white or colored candles. So there! 


Friday, March 3, 2017

Wander and Ponder on Friday, March 3, 2017

Wander and Ponder is my attempt to let my readers know where my mind is wandering and what my mind is pondering. So here's what's been happening this week in my brain. 

Pie Plates: I have no clue why pie plates, other than I was in a thrift shop and spotted a pretty ceramic pie plate. It spoke to me. The price was right. Then I had visions of pretty pie plates dancing in my head. So two days later I went to visit another thrift shop and spotted another pretty ceramic pie plate, and another and... 

Could it be that these plates tell a story? Maybe the prettier plates remained empty and only used as a decor? Maybe they were filled with Grandma's favorite pie recipe from many generations ago? Maybe the plate was a Mother's Day, wedding, or birthday gift filled with pie? Or maybe... 


If I end up collecting more pie plates I may end up sharing a few with you. 




Soup Recipe: was a life saver for me this week as I faced a few writing deadlines. Once all of the ingredients were placed in the slow cooker, I walked away. Leftovers were just as delicious the next day. 

Soap Opera: It's one of the oldest soaps still on television. I've been watching The Young and The Restless from the first day it aired in 1973. Oh sure, I missed a few here and there, but with DVR, reruns in the evening, and now down streaming; I haven't missed a one in over ten years. In fact, I sometimes save up a few and binge watch. Yes, I have a secret crush on "The great Victor Newman." Did you know Eric Braeden aka "Victor" played John Jacob Astor in the Oscar winning movie, Titanic? And yes, his German accent is real. 



Shine a Light: I love this little book light by French Bull. It's very light, and runs on affordable batteries. The clamp will hold onto hard and soft books, and even a sturdy magazine. Perfect for reading in bed, instead of turning on my bedside table lamp which lights up the whole room. I am thinking of getting another one to put by my favorite chair when I do cross stitching. This mini book light also comes in different patterns and colors. 


My Secret Cold Medicine: Don't laugh. If you know anything about my history, then you know when I am wanting a drink, I will grab a glass of wine. However, for over 30 years I have been making this "medicinal" elixir to ward off colds - and I have been successful as colds only come around me every 5 or 6 years. As soon as Thanksgiving is over, I bring home the ruby red grapefruit juice (Florida's Natural) and mix it with a couple of shots of vodka over ice, and make what is referred to as a Greyhound. If you are ambitious, you can squeeze your own grapefruit juice, and cut a slice grapefruit or an orange to float in the drink. I often keep a fresh lime around, as I particularly love a lime wedge in the drink when using prepared juice. Makes the drink taste a bit fresher.  Add salt to the rim of the glass and you have a "Salty Dog."  

Now if my preventative medicine doesn't work on you, and you still catch a cold it will make a great medicine to help you relax during a cold. The grapefruit juice is good for you, too. You're welcome. 



Some Advice: 


Thursday, March 2, 2017

Cooking is Cheaper than Therapy: Minestrone Soup

There's still a few weeks of winter to make a big pot of hearty soup, and especially this filling minestrone soup. 

I love this easy and forgiving recipe of Italian origin, as you don't have to worry about perfect measurements. It's friendly enough to change out vegetables and beans, such as exchanging green beans for cannellini beans, adding a few leaves of baby spinach or Swiss chard, and even playing with different shapes of pasta like shells, rotini, or orecchietti. 

If you prefer vegetarian style, use vegetable broth and leave out the meat. Instead of lean ground beef, you can swap out and use turkey burger. The recipe also makes a lot of soup, so you can easily split the recipe in half, or make the full recipe and freeze half. The prep time is about 15 minutes. Put it in the crock pot and walk away. 

Ingredients: 

1 lb lean ground beef 
2 whole carrots, diced
4 celery stalks, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
28 oz can crushed/chopped tomatoes
2 cans (14.5 oz each) beef broth or fresh beef stock
2 whole bay leaves
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
salt and pepper to taste
1 can (15 oz) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (15 oz) red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup ditalini pasta (or similar shape), uncooked
Grated Parmesan cheese and/or shredded mixture of Italian cheeses to top

Instructions: Place in 6-quart slow cooker all of the above ingredients except beans, pasta, and cheese. Break up the raw ground beef with spoon. Stir. Cook on low heat for 7-8 hours or on high for 3-4 hours. Towards the last 30 minutes of cooking add the drained beans and desired pasta. Season with more salt and pepper to taste. Cook until pasta is al denta. Serve and top finished bowls of soup with cheese. You may even want to add on the side hunks of toasted garlic bread. 




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