Thursday, December 15, 2011

Baking with Laura - Christmas Cookies

Wilton Cookie Pro Ultra II Cookie Press

Christmas press cookies are delicious and fun to make!  I use the recipe in the Joy of Cooking for spritz cookies.  It is basically a batter for butter cookies.  The batter is then placed in a cookie press, and then baked in the oven.  The cookies can be stored in a tin for a week or so and then served on a pretty platter for Christmas Eve and Christmas.  You can choose the design disk to place in the cookie press.  The photos show wreath cookies and Christmas tree cookies.  They look pretty when topped with sprinkles.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Cooking with Linda - Broccoli Rabe

Broccoli rabe is my husband's and my favorite vegetable. We try to eat it about once a week. Our three sons don't like it, though I think they will acquire a taste for rappini as they mature. After all, they eat edamame!

one head of broccoli rabe
extra virgin olive oil
2-3 cloves of garlic
garlic powder
juice of one lemon
iodized salt
white cannellini beans (optional)

Sit down at the kitchen counter to prepare this vitamin-rich green, as it is time-consuming, at least for me. Cut off and discard roughly 2" of the hard, tough stems. Tenderize remaining stems by peeling the tough stem exterior or "skin" with a pairing knife then splitting them lengthwise, twice, so that the ends "flower."  My mother-in-law, a wonderful cook, taught me this trick. For ease of eating and incorporating this green into recipes, cut all stems and large leaves in half.  

Soak greens (split stems, leaves, florettes) in a large pot of water for ten minutes, agitating with tongs to remove any impurities. Drain water; replace with fresh, clean water. Soak again, and drain water in the sink in a large colander The one featured in this link is my favorite, the one I use several times a week.

Lay out a clean, dry dish towel on the counter top. Place two layers of paper towels on top of dish towel; using tongs, place wet broccoli on top of the toweling to absorb some of the water.
Over medium-high heat, saute 3 thinly-sliced garlic cloves in a few tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil.  I cook the broccoli in my favorite large stainless steel saute pan. It comes with a clear, tempered glass lid, which helps me keep an eye on the cooking process.

Place the greens into the sizzling oil and use tongs to turn so that all leaves, stems, and florettes are lightly coated in olive oil. Saute with lid on for about 7-8 minutes or so, until broccoli is tender and bright green. Season to taste with iodized salt, garlic powder, fresh lemon juice, and a teaspoon of "raw" extra-virgin olive oil. The combination of these flavors in unbelievably savory.

Rappini - Tenderized, Ready to Saute
Cooked & Ready to Eat
I use stainless steel tongs  (a favorite cooking and serving tool) for flipping while sauteing as well as for serving (one-handed tongs for buffet service works great...for salads, especially).

A Very Versatile Green One of our favorites is broccoli rabe combined with slices of boiled-then-grilled Italian sausage and orecchiette (little ears) pasta. We also enjoy broccoli rabe with white cannellini beans.  Simply add the canned and drained beans toward the end of the saute process, so the beans become warm and flavorful.

A versatile topper, broccoli rabe is delicious on top of a grilled chicken breast or Italian bread toasted in the oven with a sprinkling of olive oil and salt. Leftover broccoli rabe leaves, tenderized stems, and delicate florettes are delicious and nutritious in a sandwich in lieu of lettuce. Or, simply place it alongside a fresh Italian roll, your favorite cheese (we are fans of Asiago and Dubliner) and (as pictured below) portabella mushrooms with roast red peppers.
Satisfying Vegetarian Lunch
Carnival Glass Dish

Tip from Mom: Even if it's just for the two of you, always cook the whole head of broccoli...or the whole head of boiled cabbage or cauliflower. Leftover Andy Boy broccoli or broccoli rabe can be warmed up and used as a side dish for next evening's dinner.  Or, you may want to prepare the leftover vegetables in a new way by incorporating them into a favorite recipe.

~ Linda

Monday, February 14, 2011

Baking with Linda: Heart-Shaped Brownie for Valentine's Day

Soon after I was married, my mom gave me a heart-shaped baking tin. Now, nearly 19 years later, a heart-shaped brownie is our Valentine's Day dessert....following pale pink, heart-shaped raviolis with pink vodka sauce. This Valentine's meal, by candlelight in the dining room, has become a tradition in our family. Tonight we listened to Andrea Boccelli, which was perfect.
Ghirardelli - our Favorite Brownie Mix
Follow the recipe on the box. I use one bag of brownie mix for my approximately 10-inch baking pan. Ideally, use organic eggs and olive oil in place of vegetable oil. Serve with a dusting of confectioner's powdered sugar, strawberries, festive swirls of whipped cream, and glasses of cold milk!

If there are coffee lovers in your family, you may want to try 1/3 cup espresso or coffee in place of the 1/3 cup water called for in the Ghirardelli brownie recipe. A delicious mocha flavor results.

Happy Valentine's Day.
 ~ Linda

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Finding the Balance on and off the Mat

For me, yoga practice is a metaphor for living well, balanced, strong, healthy.
As a stay-at-home mom, if I can't find a few hours a week for working out, then something is off-balance within the demands of daily living, raising children, and keeping a home.

My gifted yoga instructor says yoga increases our ability in "finding balance between exertion and ease" ... whether settling into a deep twisted lunge, holding side plank in yoga toe lock, "resting" in plank, or struggling to get a spot in the parking lot before class is filled.

With this in mind, I am trying to find "the ease" when the pressure's on to get it all done, when there's too much "Incoming", too many demands on the too few hours in a day ...  when I make the time for yoga and running the treadmill, I am more productive, energetic, and positive outside the gym; when I'm not exercising ... well, you get the picture...

I come from a long line of hardworking women (my mom raised four without help ("Don't think about how you're going to get it all done, just do it!" she routinely says, even when I was expecting my third...)
- she beat Nike to that slogan.
Her mom - whose frequent adage was a firm, "Push yourself" - worked full-time on her feet until she was 88, walking to and from work in the snow... And her mom (my great grandmother) ran a bar and grill in Astoria, Queens, while raising seven children ...

Still, I will intentionally try hard to take occasional shavasanahs (restorative, resting poses) by sitting for a while with feet up on the ottomon, by flipping through a magazine, by trying a new recipe, by enjoying a frivolous phone conversation with a friend about nothing important.

If you practice yoga or are determined to give this ancient, body and mind-encompassing exercise a try because you believe in its benefits ("Don't mess with ancient wisdom," my teacher says.) I encourage you to use yoga props such as foam blocks, cotton straps (pictured below), or bolsters

These props will help you to experience a full-range of postures ... with some measure of "ease" as you settle into the poses and as you reach your personal edge of exertion within these challenging yet health and strength-yielding positions.


~ Linda

Friday, February 11, 2011

Where We're Dining - BLT Market, NYC

Beautiful paintings of fruit and vegetables at BLT Market

Semi-Smoked Jumbo Scallops

Acacia Marinated Alaskan Black Cod Served in Skillet

BLT Market is one of several BLT restaurants located in Manhattan and in several other cities.  Their website is  BLT stands for Bistro Laurent Tourondel.  Laurent Tourondel is a French trained chef.  Others include BLT Steak, BLT Fish, BLT Prime, BLT Burger and BLT Fish Shack.  BLT Market is located in the Ritz Carlton Hotel at the corner of 6th Avenue and 59th Street in Manhattan.  The setting is beautiful yet casual.  The menu changes seasonally to adjust to use the freshest seasonal ingredients available.  The portions are small and the prices are high, but the food is beautifully presented and amazingly delicious.  We started with an appetizer portion of fresh pappardelle/sunchokes/red wine braised short ribs/garlic parmeson gremolata.  This was one of the tastiest dishes I have ever had.  My only complaint is that the portion was miniscule.    For main courses, we had semi-smoked jumbo scallops/green apple nage/braised endive/american caviar and acaia marinated Alaskan black cod/celeriac puree/wilted spinach.  Both were exquisitely presented and delicious.  The cod was truly amazing.  I can't wait to try some of these recipes at home.  We shared a spiced flourless chocolate cake/brandy creme anglaise for dessert.  Of course, it was so delicious!  Even the coffee was special.  Check this link for two cookbooks by Chef Laurent Tourondel, New American Bistro Cooking, and Fresh from the Market: Seasonal Cooking with Laurent Tourondel. Both cookbooks are filled with amazing recipes that I can't wait to try.  For a real treat, I would certainly recommend BLT Market! ~ Laura

Thursday, February 10, 2011

What We're Buying: I Love My New White Plates!

I recently bought new everyday china.  After years with my old pattern, I was missing a few mugs, a few bowls, and a few dishes.  It was time for a fresh start.  After looking at many patterns and many stores, I solid white round plates at HomeGoods.  The brand is The Palm - they are marketed as restaurant quality dishes from The Palm Restaurant.  The dishes have a rim that is slightly raised, which is very attractive. They are bone china rather than stoneware, which means that they are very light - which makes it so much easier to carry a stack of plates to the table.  They have a nice shine to them.  HomeGoods also has boxed sets of Palm dishes, but they are porcelain.  The bone china is sold by the individual piece.  I was lucky to get an entire sets of twelve (mugs, bowls, dinner plates and lunch plate) individual pieces. 

I've owned many patterns over the years but I love solid white.  Food looks beautiful on a solid white plate.  The food is what stands out without the distraction of a patterned background or color.  Using solid white dishes lets you decorate your table according to the season.  You can change the mood of the table by using different colored placemats, napkins, and glassware.

For formal dinners, I love my timeless Lenox Eternal china.  It is solid off-white, with an elegant gold border.  I have had this china for many years and have never grown tired of it.
~ Laura

Monday, February 7, 2011

Where We're Going - Enrique Iglesias at Madison Square Garden!

On Saturday night my husband took me to an Enrique Iglesias concert at Madison Square Garden.  We had great seats - right on the floor!  This was the most amazing concert I've ever been to!  Jay Sean opened for Enrique.  He was excellent.  I love his song "Do You Remember It".  But when Enrique came on stage, it was amazing.  He is an excellent entertainer and has a spectacular stage presence.  His music and voice are fantastic.  He sang many songs in Spanish and many in English.  He spoke to the audience a lot - in both Spanish and English.  He brought several audience members on stage with him, and sang to them, and had them sing and dance.  It was so much fun!  The lighting effects and background videos were excellent as were the dancers and the band.  Assorted reggae artists and rappers joined Enrique on stage at various times throughout the show.  Enrique's new album is Euphoria.  I'm certainly going to get it.  The audience went crazy when Enrique sang Tonight I'm Loving You, Hero, I Like It, and other favorites.  Enrique sings with great passion.  At one point, he re-appeared on a small stage that was only a few feet from us in the back of the floor.  He is not afraid to go into the audience and have the audience crowd around him.  The audience was covered with graffiti, and huge balloons breezed around the garden.  It was a night to remember.      ~ Laura

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Cooking with Laura - Grilled Zucchini

What vegetables should I make tonight?  Typically, I make a salad - chopped romaine, dried cranberries, thinly sliced red onion, sliced grape tomatoes, maybe some walnuts and goat cheese - dressed with a mixture of two parts extra virgin olive oil and one part balsamic vinegar - delicious! 

But salad every night can get boring and a variety of vegetables is healthy.  So, lately I'm making a lot of grilled butternut squash - Stop & Shop sells butternut squash already peeled and chopped into small pieces.  I chop the pieces into bite size chunks, and then just toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in 400 degree oven for 20-30 minutes until browned (turn halfway through). 

We also love cauliflower - washed, and cut into two inch pieces, steamed til soft and then baked in 350 degree oven topped with salt, pepper, low fat deli-sliced American cheese, and a teaspoon of unseasoned bread crumbs, for 15 minutes until cheese melts. 

Zucchini is always available, typically inexpensive, easy to cook, and lasts days in the refrigerator.  No need to peel it - the skin is full of nutrients.  Just wash well, cut the zucchini in half width-wise, and slice into thin slices.  Toss with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, and grill on medium-high heat on a grill pan. Garnish, if you'd like, with some fresh mint leaves. Delicious. Turn when nicely browned on the bottom.  They are done when soft enough for a fork to pass through easily.  Enjoy!  

Monday, January 31, 2011

What We're Doing: Reflecting on a very Happy 16th Birthday Party

Friends' Sneakers in the Foyer -
Can you believe there's a bunch in the closet!
Our eldest turned 16. He invited 25 friends over; our 13-year-old had 10 or so buddies over as well. Of course, family was here.  Initially, I was putting the sneakers in the foyer closets, then I gave up ... to the pile shown here! Proudly sporting his Air Jordan 12 sneakers, our 3-year-old sneaker aficionado jumped in for the photo!

These boys were terrific, as each and every one of them took off his sneakers (without being asked) and several used the paper towels to wipe down the foyer floor...  again, without being asked. Polite and respectful, what amazing young men they are!  Our sons have a knack for choosing terrific friends. For this, my husband and I are very grateful.
Dessert Buffet - Something for Everyone
Feeding 35 teenage boys means big quantity. 18 feet of hero sandwiches, four pizzas, Buffalo wings, side salads, and chips n dip are tasty but nothing beats the dessert table: berry salad, walnut-carrot cake (unbelievable), lots of cookies, Ghirardelli Double Chocolate brownies (our family favorite), homemade pear tart, and my girlfriend's scrumptious medley of chocolate (a decadent mix of dark and milk) and candy-covered pretzels and marshmallows beautifully served on a large winter-white Ikea serving tray.

Happy Birthday! We love you!

~ Mommy (Linda)

What We're Watching - The Kardashians

Okay, maybe we're not keeping up with the Kardashians, but we're watching them.  Find this fun reality show on the E channel.  Watch Bruce Jenner, Olympic decathalon athlete, and his wife Kris interact with their blended family.  Kris' children from her marriage with Robert Kardashian are Kim, Khloe, Kourtney and Rob.  Kris and Bruce have two daughters, Kendall and Kylie Jenner.  Bruce has two older sons from his first marriage.  The Kardashian girls are stylists.  So check out what they are wearing for the latest styles.  Their homes are beautifully decorated, and the family interaction is entertaining. 

Catch up with DVDs of the First Season, the Second Season, and the Third Season, and be sure to watch Kourtney & Khloe Take Miami.  These pop culture icons will certainly keep your attention or, at the very least, provide some mindless entertainment.

~ Laura

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Cooking with Laura - Chicken Cutlets

Chicken cutlets is a quick, easy, healthy, and delicious meal, and everyone loves them.  Buy boneless breast of chicken.  Rinse the chicken and trim any fat.  Dry the chicken with paper towels.  If the breasts are very thick, I sometimes carefully slice them into two thinner cutlets.  Lightly dip the breasts in a beaten egg. Then coat the cutlets with a thin layer of breadcrumbs - I like non-seasoned breadcrumbs because they don't burn as easily.  Also, I buy natural breadcrumbs with no additives or preservatives.  Pan saute the cutlets in olive oil, which gives them a great taste.  They cook beautifully in a cast iron pan.  Place the cutlets on paper towels to absorb excess oil before serving. Serve with a large tossed salad.  It doesn't get much easier than that. 

Another Tip from Mom: Economizing Key:
If you are low on eggs, no need to run out and pick some up. Instead, dip the breasts in fat free milk. The milk works just as well (even better because the breading won't go on as thick) as egg in holding onto the breadcrumbs, plus now you have an extra egg or two for scrambled eggs for tomorrow's breakfast. 

Economizing Key: Turn leftovers from this dinner into tomorrow's lunch. Nothing my son loves more than for me to pack him this brown bag lunch for school: a chicken cutlet, Romaine lettuce, and light mayo sandwich on a long hero roll for lunch the next day!

Romaine salad with black olives, grape tomatoes, romano cheese, and red onion

Friday, January 28, 2011

No Fuss Visits with Friends and Family: A Well-Appointed Coffee & Tea Tray

More than what we say or the gifts we give, the time we make for each other speaks volumes about how we feel and care. Sometimes, though, friends and family don't have the time to spend the day or go to lunch. Most often, though, they have time for a quick visit. Sharing a cup of tea or coffee in the privacy and comfort of one's home is a warm and enjoyable way to catch-up with good friends. A good friend of mine, Kim, simmers deliciously-scented potpourri on her stove when we gather at her home. This is a welcoming touch.

So that I'm ready when expecting a visit or impromptu guest, I keep a service tray set on a shelf in my dining room closet, a spacious storage area that my husband built several years ago.  
Convenient to have a tea & coffee service tray
ready-to-go so you can enjoy your guests without fussing.
    Checklist of what you might want to keep on your serving tray.
Having this tray ready eliminates last-minute fussing:

~ assorted decaf & regular teas: organic green tea is a favorite
~ organic, all-natural honey
~ teabag tongs
~ wooden honey server
~ sugar with spoon
~ sugar substitutes
~ small pitcher for milk or half-and-half
~ a small votive holder & vanilla-scented tea light
   (tray above holds a favorite teardrop-shaped crystal votive)
~ or, a small scented candle in your favorite seasonal scent

A wooden honey server and mini "tongs" of sorts (mine is heart-shaped) are two of my favorite tea-serving accessories. I keep them both handy on the tray. Honey is served neatly with the spiral server, which my kids find fun to use.  The tongs work perfectly for removing teabags after seeping.

In the closet, next to the tray, I keep a large, wooden dome-topped box (photo below) filled with assorted teas that friends might enjoy. I keep classic regular and decaf teas on hand (Lipton, Irish Breakfast tea) as well as my favorite Yogi teas, which come in exotic and delicious flavors such as Lemon-Ginger and Vanilla-Hazelnut.

Vintage teacups make elegant holders for teabags. Above, I use my great Aunt Helen's pretty pastel-floral teacups to hold the organic green teabags. To hold the used teabags, I use another antique cup from her set. Fun part is, these teacups don't have to match. Although I have several Portmeirion pieces that I treasure, eclectic service is my favorite. A particularly elegant serving piece is the Portmeirion Botanic Garden teapot;
it is classic and vibrant.
The only thing left to do before your friend arrives is to slice some lemon and put out something sweet. You may want to try one of the baking recipes in our older posts - walnut shortbread cookies, pizzelle waffle cookies, chocolate-cranberry biscotti, low-fat blueberry muffins... With this coffee break, we're having my mother's moist and tasty pound cake, made with mini bittersweet-dark chocolate chips.

Served with Mom's Dark Chocolate-Chip Pound Cake
Tip from MomLeave a plastic spoon - tablespoon size if you have one - in your can of coffee. Convenient and time-saving. Or leave a spare 1/4 measuring cup in your coffee can. (my sister-in-law gave me this tip) A matter of taste but, for me, the 1/4 cup makes about 3 cups of coffee.

~ Linda

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Baking with Laura - Low Fat Blueberry and Chocolate Chip Muffins

Low-fat Blueberry Muffins cooling on granite countertop
  On a cold winter day, there's nothing better than warm homemade muffins just out of the stove.  I found this recipe, now a favorite, in Cooking Light Magazine.

Low-fat plain, organic yogurt replaces oil, reducing fat and adding protein.  They are moist and delicious.  Since my son doesn't like blueberries, I split the batter and add blueberries (loaded with antioxidants) to half of the batter and dark chocolate chips to the other half.  We all enjoyed a nutritious muffin for breakfast, and for a mid-afternoon snack with a cup of coffee.  I made them in my favorite nonstick muffin tin.  These are wonderful to bake on a snow day, or to bring to a friend. I brought a bunch to my nephews who enjoyed them with tall glasses of milk. 

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup Stonyfield organic plain yogurt
2 organic eggs
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon lemon zest grated (optional)
                                 1 cup blueberries

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and spray muffin tin with cooking spray (or use cupcake liners, as I did).  In small mixing bowl, sift together flour and baking soda.  In another bowl, combine sugar, yogurt, eggs, butter, cinnamon and lemon zest.  Beat until thoroughly combined.  Add dry ingredients and mix until just blended.  Be careful not to overmix.  Gently fold in blueberries and spoon the batter into the muffin tins, filling each cup 2/3 full. Bake for 15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown and toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Cool for 5 minutes before serving.  Makes 12 muffins.

I sprinkled muffins with Wilton yellow sparkling sugar to give them a golden sparkle and a little extra sweetness.