Saturday, October 24, 2015

New and old

I know the blog has been empty for a while.  That is due to life's ups and downs.  We seem to be looking at an up cycle so I'm taking a moment to throw out a few things.

Thank you..
To the friends and family that stood with us, supported us and were the ones who helped in any manner to get us where we are now.

A lot of new has gone on in our lives.  We have a new son-in-law, a new grandchild, a new place to lay our heads and new jobs.  That is a lot of new!

Which is another point of this blog, what do you do when so much is new to hold onto what got you to this place?  Our choice was to decorate with it.

Gallery walls seem to be a hot item on Pinterest and other designing sites.  My husband, Jeff and I went around and around on how to decorate a really, REALLY, long wall.  We didn't have much material items anymore and definitely not large enough artwork to put on the long wall.  The artwork we had would look like a stamp in the middle of a large manilla envelope.  Not exactly a look we were going for.  We decided to do our own version of a gallery wall.

Now, I know it's not in perfect balance in this picture, but I'm posting anyway because life isn't perfect.

The photos are all ones we have taken on our travels so it was only a matter of getting them printed in sizes we liked.  The frames all came from WalMart for under $3 each.  The wall vinyl came from Hobby Lobby.  All told, the entire wall was around $75.  A large art piece would easily be that much or more and wouldn't mean as much as our pictures do.  They are wonderful conversation starters and best of all, none of them include our faces so it isn't a vanity wall.  I love our photos but I don't want to look at pictures of myself all the time. 

I'll be blogging more about changes and yes, food, more this year and next.  Welcome back and thank you my friends.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Playing in Chocolate

My best friend Jennifer and I got together this past weekend to play with chocolate.  It was a day that was long overdue.  I mean what isn't better than getting together with a friend, catching up and playing with chocolate?

We were supposed to go to the National Chocolate Show held in Chicago this past October together. Unfortunately I was unable to attend as my day job took precedence over the hobby.  I felt bad for letting Jen down and having to ask her to get samples and information for me.  But that allowed us to get some time together to share samples but by the time we were able to do that, we couldn't have fun playing with the chocolate.

I had found an amazing Apple Spice Truffle recipe and had already created the ganache filling and so all she would have to do is mold and coat them.  I knew she would love the recipe!   So our day of fun started by pulling out our Truffly Made molds and using the Classic European Round Truffle mold we piped in the filling and let them chill out in the freezer to firm up before popping them out and dipping them in milk chocolate. We topped them with a mixture of cinnamon and graham cracker crumbs.  Don't they look delicious?  She even posted them to her FaceBook page and the first lucky local respondents were going to receive free truffles!

While those were chilling we next set to try creating one of our passions, passion fruit chocolates.  We had sampled a chocolate from the show that was a milk chocolate passion fruit bar.  Looking at the ingredient list we noted that it was made with passion fruit powder.  This of course led to an immediate search on the web to find NutraFresh Passion Fruit Powder.  This was then part of Jen's birthday gift which included the book Chocolates and Confections at Home with The Culinary Institute of America.

So, using the basic chocolate ganache recipe in the book (sorry I can't post due to copyright laws but it is worth owning the book or borrowing it from the library which I did at first) we added the passion fruit powder until we thought it would be enough but not overpowering.  We first used warmed raw cocoa butter and added in some rose coloring.  The cocoa butter mixture was painted into the truffle molds.  For these we used the heart mold (also Truffly Made).  Piped the filling in and popped them into the freezer.  These will be coated on the bottom with a cocoa powder/passion fruit powder mix to show off the pretty pink top.

We did so much more but these will be a theme for another post. Soon to come!

Keeping lifeTasty!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Strawberries & Cream macarons

When I had filled some of my culinary curiosity months ago by attending a class on the traditional French Macaron, there was an active discussion on the flavoring and coloring of the macaron.  You don't want to add too much moisture back into the cookie so it is important to use items like gel food coloring, dried herbs and it was hypothesized that you could use a properly dehydrated fruit.

My mind jumped immediately to these amazing freeze dried fruits called Crunchies.  They are the whole fruit with the water removed and are light and crunchy, almost puffs.  I believed I could smash them into a powder and use that to flavor the cookies with full fruit flavor and all the nutrients.  This turned into my Strawberries & Cream Macarons.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts and comments but in the meantime, I want to share the recipe and the tips for making these delightful treats.

In my commute from my day job, I sat next to a person and couldn't help overhear her phone call.  I asked a couple of questions and found out that her business is advising restaurants on the creation and effective usage of their dessert menus.  How lucky was I!  I opted to take the moment and ask her about areas where I had run into issues.

We enjoyed a discussion on my new passion and challenge, the macaron.  Her advice to leave the egg whites on the counter for two to three days with a cheesecloth covering was the best tip I could leave with you.  I typically do leave my eggs for baking most cookies on the counter overnight but three to five days is fine if they are in the refrigerator.  She told me about the French bakeries and their tiers of sifters and how they leave their egg whites on the counters as well.  I figure if centuries of tradition are working, I'm going to follow along.

The next best tip I can give is regarding how to pipe to keep the cookies even without the little tip.  With your pastry bag fitted with a large round tip, hold the bag perpendicular to the tray and about a quarter of an inch high.  Squeeze to pipe out, the mixture will flow from the bag and up around the tip.  Lift the bag up slightly when you have reached the preferred size and swirl the tip in a "c" shape to cut off the batter.  When I pipe I am typically thinking: pipe, pipe, pipe, lift and swirl.

For the basic recipe, I used the Sur la Table recipe from class but since I don't have permission, a copy can be found here.   Instead of using the lavender and purple food coloring, I used 1/2 of a package of Crunchies Strawberries crushed into a powder.  I used a rolling pin with the berries in a bag but you can use any food processor to do the same.  The idea is to have powdered strawberries or blueberries or any of the other fruits.  I also added a bit of red food coloring to boost the color although the powdered berries added a lot of color when stirred into the mix.

The ultimate result is a burst of real fruit flavor with the creamy center.  A decadent treat isn't so decadent when you have fruit in it.  Or at least it is a reason to justify that extra one (or two).

Hope you enjoy!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Don't Fear the "D" Word

Do you cringe when, after a delightful dinner, your family asks "What is for dessert?"

If you do, a few staples can make a fun and easy dessert in no time.  If you are like me and tend to keep fruit in the fridge, mix up your favorite berries or tropical fruits and let them sit to get juicy.  For dessert tonight, I mixed blueberries, strawberries and blackberries with a little sugar and Cointreau (all attending were adults). For children, you can use a splash of orange juice instead.  Stir lightly and let sit while you finish getting dinner ready and have dinner.

I used a panini sandwich maker to lightly grill the pound cake.  I sliced a loaf of Sara Lee pound cake about 1/2" thick.  I brushed a little butter on each side of the pound cake to prevent sticking to the panini grill and to give a bit of moistness to the frozen and thawed cake.  I also let these slices sit while we had dinner.

After dinner, I plugged in the sandwich maker and once hot, put four slices in and closed the cover to let them get toasty and happy.  The smell from the grill was slightly sweet and hot like sugar cookies coming out of the oven.

After two minutes, I opened the grill, took two slices out and topped them with the berry mixture.  After the addition of the whipped cream, it was a delicious, light and yes, very easy dessert.

After dessert was over, I imagined what the dessert would be like with a bit of Nutella or PB & J.  I can easily see these appealing options when the fridge might not yield the fresh berries.  You can also do a variation where you grill apples or peaches on the panini grill as well.  I think I know what I will be trying next.

Enjoy and don't fear the "D" word. ;)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Tasty, easy entertaining

I love to entertain.  While my budget doesn't run to caviar, I am always looking for ways to entertain tastefully.  An event doesn't need to be that posh but tasty is a requirement.  I firmly believe that you can do easy, tasty and impressive food to show family and friends how much you care.

I had shopped the Whole Foods in Wheaton while waiting for my husband, Jeff to get off of work.  I found a product that intrigued me, Rutherford & Meyer Fruit Paste.  It is whole fruit, cooked down not quite into fruit leather but into a very dense jelly like texture.  I had to play with it!

My concept for the Premier Designs open house we are holding included the fruit paste, creamy goat chevre, walnuts and puff pastry.  Very simple and easy to accomplish, can be made up in advance and VERY tasty!

I used pre-made puff pastry to make it easy.  I would have preferred fresh vs frozen but time demands didn't allow me to make my own. I opened the sheet and cut approximately 1" squares to line the bottom of a mini-muffin wrapper.  I had some lovely ones from IKEA that I had gotten on sale last year. 

Next I layered a small piece of the plum fruit paste.  More than a sliver, it was a small chunk.  A slice across the container short ways and then cut into quarters.  Place the fruit paste directly on top of the puff pastry lined cups.  Add a few small pieces of walnut and then top with a generous size of goat chevre.

Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 10 minutes or until puffed and golden.

The result is crispy yet soft, tangy yet sweet, small yet satisfying.  Would pair well with a nice buttery Chardonnay for the wine lovers out there although it could hold up well with most semi-sweet reds thanks to the plum fruit.

I do believe that these will have to go to Thanksgiving at Mom & Dad's this year. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Boeuf Bourguignon A La Julia Child

This past weekend was a bit cool for the first weekend of Fall.  Some places in Illinois had frost warnings and the temperature on Saturday was in the mid-50s.  This has caused our trees outside to go from green with a hint of yellow to outright reds.  Hopefully we won't lose the leaves before getting to enjoy their colors.

The cooler weather was tempting me to have something warm and soothing. Real comfort food but what to have? Soup or stew?  The housemate Michelle agreed that stew sounded delicious.  At that point, I knew it had to be Boeuf Bourguignon!  I had been to my favorite foodie store, Whole Foods the weekend before and picked up a couple of bottles of wine that were on sale and a good wine at a price like 2/$20 is a great deal.  Pantago Pinot Noir and Malbec were the featured wines out of Argentina.  Their 2010 Malbec is Wine Enthusiast Best Buy!

The Pinot Noir was, however, fated to be part of a wonderful, warm and delicious dish with a glass or two for the chef.

I went to an old standby, if it was french food then Julia had a recipe for it.  I found her recipe posted on multiple sites with very high ratings so I had to go with it.

The recipe Boeuf Bourguignon A La Julia Child was found on, recipes for the home cook.  A quick run over what pantry items I had and I was off to the store to soon be home with tasty items.  I followed the recipe almost exactly with a few exceptions.  Most noteably the bacon lardons.  I did use a thick cut sliced bacon instead of going through the process of boiling, cutting and frying the solid chunk of bacon.  I didn't see any negative aspects to using this shortcut and from the start of the cooking process, the house smelled like heaven.  Starting with bacon, then sauteeing the beef in bacon fat and then adding the wine and herbs to simmer for hours.

In my shopping trip, I was unable to get the pearl onions in fresh form, having to use frozen instead.  I do highly recommend Julia's tip to thaw and drain the frozen onions.  I don't think I've ever had them when they have been browned and then added to a dish and a very welcome addition.  The button mushrooms quartered and then sauteed in a little olive oil made interesting "squeaky" noises while tossing them around in the pan.  A fun little fact to see if you find when you try the recipe yourself!

While I did drain the sauce out of the dutch oven to thicken it a little more, I did not pick out the sliced onions and carrots.  We like them and I think that while not "traditional" I will actually add a little more next time.

Here is a plate of the final results. I have one of the dish in the dutch oven as well but I will upload when I find the camera cord or the regretfully misplaced camera SD card.

Hope you enjoy and please do try the recipe.  It has a lot of steps but is very a worthwhile adventure and the perfect thing for a cool evening's dinner.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Tasty and fast food

So, this Labor Day, it was just me and the dear husband.  Eldest daughter moved away to college to pursue her PhD.  Housemates off to a family picnic.

I'm not sure the last time we had a dinner for two like this.  So we did it up a bit but easy and fresh and fun.

Dinner started with a new invention of mine, grilled pesto butter crostini and that was a great start!  Yesterday, we had wandered through one of our favorite stores, Angelo Caputo's Fresh Markets and found this great italian bread that you can bake at home from frozen in it's own bag.  Caldo, il Filone di Grano duro veropane.  They were also sampling the Academia Barilla products on the other side of the store.  While their pesto is fantastic, my immediate thought was to put two great things together to make something extra special.

I mixed the pesto in with some Plugrá butter to form a nice spread.  I sliced the bread thin and then cut each slice in half.  I spread generously with the pesto butter and then sprinkled fresh ground parmesean cheese on top.

I placed the pieces on the hot grill for a brief 3-4 minutes.  This was enough to melt the butter into the bread, toast up the bottom with nice grill lines.  The result was hot, tasty and just awesome appetizers.

Side dish was a caprese salad with basil from our herbs, fresh capellini  mozzeralla and tomatoes from my parents farm.  A sprinkle of sea salt and a splash of red wine vinegar. (I'm sorry I hadn't splurged on the Academia Barilla Aged Balsamic Condiment, it would have been the perfect touch.)

The dear husband grilled steaks and it was a tasty, fast and romantic dinner for two.