Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pumpkin Soup: Beta-Carotene on Steroids

Pumpkins are a type of squash that has been in the Americas since 7000 BC and was introduced to Europe in the sixteenth century. Pumpkins are really a berry with a hard outer shell rather than a vegetable.

The bright orange color of pumpkin indicates that pumpkin is loaded with the antioxidant, beta-carotene. Research indicates that a diet rich in foods containing beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and offers protection against heart disease. Beta-carotene aids in the prevention of other diseases as well as some degenerative aspects of aging.

1 cup cooked pumpkin has 49 calories and 2 grams of protein.

This is a great recipe to use on Thanksgiving or any of the colder evenings that are bound to present themselves this fall. I supersized my beta-carotene levels by slicing the roasted carrots that I made over the weekend and adding them to the soup. I topped the soup after I plated it with a sprinkling of roasted butternut squash cubes. If you don;t have the butternut squash, croutons will do just as well.

Sweet and Creamy Pumpkin Soup 
Serves 6
2 tablespoons brown sugar
15 oz can pumpkin puree
2 cans chicken broth, 14 ½ oz each
1 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup heavy whipping cream
⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 c fresh parsley
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 cup capers
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar


  • Sauté onion in the butter until tender, then add half the chicken broth. Stir well and bring  to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.
  • Process broth in a food processor until smooth. Put it back in the pan and add the other can of broth, the salt, cinnamon, pumpkin puree, pepper, sugar and ginger.
  • Stir the mixture well and bring it to a boil.
  • Cover and reduce heat. Let the soup simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring it all the time.
  • Stir in the cream, add capers and balsamic vinegar and warm without boiling. 
  • Optional: add sliced roasted carrots.
  • Place soup into 6 serving bowls and top with croutons or cooked butternut squash cubes

Monday, October 25, 2010

Boo-scotti: A Halloween Treat

'Biscotti' is the plural form of 'biscotto' a word which comes from the ancient Latin word 'biscoctus', meaning "twice-baked." Goods that are baked twice are very dry and can be stored for long periods of time. Nonperishable foods were particularly useful during journeys and wars, and twice baked breads were a staple food of the Roman Legions. 

In more recent times, biscotti has become an American favorite appearing in TV shows like  Friends, Sex and the City, and Gilmore Girls. They're a best-selling item in Starbucks. We are a nation of coffee drinkers and biscotti are the perfect accompaniment.

A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to work on a new Wall Street Journal section called 'Pursuits.' The section was noteworthy for many reasons but particularly because it was the first section in the mostly business newspaper that tested and published recipes. Around this time of the year, back then, a recipe appeared called 'Boo-scotti'. It was a traditional almond biscotti dipped in white chocolate and decorated with fun candies to resemble ghost faces. I loved the name and the look of the cookie and volunteered to make the recipe for my colleagues. The section no longer appears but has been replaced by a new section called "Off Duty" and the recipes are back. I've since left the paper but made a batch today to send off to my friends still there to wish them all a Happy Halloween. This time, I made two different kinds: the almond biscotti and a pistachio, cranberry version. I also dipped them in chocolate chocolate as well as the vanilla. These are great to bring if you're going to a Halloween party. They're easy to make and are fun for all ages. 

Almond Biscotti
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
3/4 cups white sugar
3 eggs
t teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
This almond biscotti recipe is a traditional biscotti and does not contain butter or oil, instead eggs are used to bind all the ingredients together. 


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toast almonds for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool and then chop coarsely. Set aside.
  • Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 
  • In a small bowl lightly beat the eggs and extracts together. Set aside.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer or hand mixer combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Beat until blended. 
  • Gradually add the egg mixture and beat until a dough forms, adding almonds about halfway through. 
  • On a lightly floured surface roll dough into a log about 14 inches long and 3 - 4 inches wide. 
  • Transfer log to the prepared baking sheet and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until firm to the touch (log will spread during baking). 
  • Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes.
  • Transfer log to a cutting board and, using a serrated knife, cut log into slices 1/2 inch thick on the diagonal. Arrange on baking sheet. 
  • Bake 10 minutes, turn slices over, and bake another 10 minutes or until firm to the touch. 
  • Remove from oven and let cool. Store in an airtight container.
  • Substitutions: Anise for almond extract, hazelnuts or walnuts for the almonds. Add 1 tablespoon of orange or lemon zest to the egg mixture.
Makes about 28 biscotti.

Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti

2/3 cup granulated white sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup shelled, unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries


  • Combine dry ingredients and set aside.
  • Beat eggs with mixer adding extract
  • Combine the two and add chopped pistachios and cranberries.
  • On a lightly floured surface roll dough into a log about 14 inches long and 3 - 4 inches wide. 
  • Transfer log to the prepared baking sheet and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until firm to the touch (log will spread during baking). 
  • Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes.
  • Transfer log to a cutting board and, using a serrated knife, cut log into slices 1/2 inch thick on the diagonal. Arrange on baking sheet. 
  • Bake 10 minutes, turn slices over, and bake another 10 minutes or until firm to the touch. 
  • Remove from oven and let cool. Store in an airtight container.
  • Substitutions: Cherries for cranberries

To decorate: Melt (white or chocolate) chocolate (available in candy making supply stores, Michael's or AC Moore. according to the directions on the package.  Dip cookies halfway into the chocolate and create fun faces using mini-licorices, m&m candies, tic-tacs, candy corn, sprinkles and mini-jelly beans. Let dry on waxed paper. 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Roasting Vegetables For Easy Sunday Fare

This past week, I roasted some vegetables (beets and butternut squash) and thought it an uncomplicated and healthy way to cook and decided to try some more today for a quick and easy Sunday meal. It was such a fabulous fall day that I really didn't want to spend it in the kitchen and roasting made it very easy not to. 

Roasting is certainly a summery way to cook, usually on the grill, but oven roasting seems so 'fall-ish' to me. The color and scent of the produce makes the kitchen feel warm and cozy even on a sunny Indian summer kind of day like we had here in Staten Island this weekend. 

I had another butternut squash and was determined to make it in the style that was used as a topping on the risotto I made last week. Cut the squash in half (top cut from round bottom), peel and cut into cubes. Slice the round bottom in two and cut out the seeds and pulp, peel and cut into cubes as well. Place the raw, cut squash into a large plastic bag, add 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1 tsp. kosher salt, 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper and 1/2 tsp. nutmeg. Seal bag and shake to coat. Place squash on cookie sheet and oven roast for about 1 hour @350 degrees.

For whole carrots, peel and coat with olive oil, salt and pepper in the same manner as above. Place on cookie sheet and roast for about 1/2 hour.

Another quick side dish I made is a spinach and goat cheese galette. A couple of weeks ago I made a plum galette and had a small amount of pate brisee left over. I froze it and defrosted it yesterday (not sure if it would actually still taste good). I rolled it out on a greased cookie sheet, topped it with fresh baby spinach, dabs of goat cheese and about 1/2 cup of  chopped walnuts.  Drizzle olive oil and fold edges in to make a rectangle.  Bake for about 1/2 hour until the crust turns golden. Delicious!!

Pate Brisee
Makes 1 double-crust or 2 single-crust 9- to 10-inch pies (yes, you can freeze it) 
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

  • In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt, and sugar. 
  • Add butter, and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds.
  • With machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream through feed tube. Pulse until dough holds together without being wet or sticky; be careful not to process more than 30 seconds. 
  • Divide dough into two equal balls. 
  • Flatten each ball into a disc and wrap in plastic. 
  • Transfer to the refrigerator and chill at least 1 hour. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fall Decorating That Morphs Into Christmas

If you're a typical American consumer, you probably get a lot of catalogues especially around the holidays. Two of my favorite are Pottery Barn and Crate and Barrel I think because they're centered on decorating the home which I am enormously interested in.

Their most recent offerings were Fall and Christmas Holiday themed and I savored each page like a child with a toy catalogue...I wanted everything! But the professionally styled and photographed items can be recreated very cheaply by using some typical items you might have in your home, a few things from the supermarket and others found while walking outside during these cool autumn days.

I'm sure you've received flowers now and then and perhaps saved a glass vase that the flowers arrived in. Some vases are a bit pedestrian but others have great shapes and since I like to do my own flower arranging, I'd saved a few that were now collecting dust in a closet. I decided to put them to work.

I filled some with pine cones I'd collected and others with acorns also from outside. I rinsed them off and dried them in the sun for a day to insure that tiny critters would not get inside. I filled other jars with some inexpensive potpourri purchased at a discount off season. I had some small green apples (not real) and I repackaged them in a tapered round vase. I purchased two packages of real cranberries at the supermarket, They're cheap right now and hopefully they'll dry out nicely and last through the Christmas season. Corn candy rounded out my fillings and some old colorful candles served as centerpieces in some of the vases.

I was pleased with the result and will place these throughout the house for Halloween and Thanksgiving. When December rolls around, some flaky fake snow and bright Christmas tree balls will make the tansition form fall to winter.

Happy Decorating!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Fantastically Easy Beet and Goat Cheese Salad

When I was in Chicago earlier this month, my sisters and I had the opportunity to eat in some pretty fabulous restaurants. Both evenings (in different venues) we ordered beet salad as an appetizer...obviously a family favorite! I had had beet salad in Ireland this past August as well and it's been on my mind ever since. I came across some luscious and large beets in the supermarket last week and I decided to procrastinate no longer.

I've made beets before from scratch and I always found it a messy process. When you boil them the water tends to get a deep beet red (no pun intended) and any spillage stains clothing and counter tops, temporarily of course, but it does make a mess. This time I decided to roast them. I took the three large beets, wrapped them in parchment paper and sealed them with aluminum foil. I set the oven to 375 degrees and placed the wrapped beets on a cookie sheet. They were done in about an hour and were tender and much easier to work with.

Beets belong to the same family as chard and spinach and actually beet leaves have more nutritional value than beets themselves, though beets and beet greens are very powerful cleansers and builders of the blood. Betacyanin is the phytochemical in beet that gives it its rich 'amethyst' color that significantly reduces homocysteine levels. Beets are loaded with vitamins A, B1, B2, B6 and C. The greens have a higher content of iron compared to spinach. They are also an excellent source of calcium, magnesium, copper, phosphorus, sodium and iron. Its iron content, though not high, is of the highest and finest quality that makes excellent food that is blood building. This renders it highly effective in treating many ailments caused by our toxic environment and surrounding. The beet is also a remarkable source of choline, folic acid, iodine, manganese, organic sodium, potassium, fiber and carbohydrates in the form of natural digestible sugars.

Beets have long been known for its amazing health benefits for almost every part of the body. 
  • Acidosis: Its alkalinity is essential and effective in combating acidosis.
  • Anemia: The high content of iron in beets regenerates and reactivates the red blood cells and supplies fresh oxygen to the body. The copper content in beets help make the iron more available to the body. A great blood builder.
  • Atherosclerosis: This wonderful crimson juice is a powerful solvent for inorganic calcium deposits that cause the arteries to harden.
  • Blood pressure: All its healing and medicinal values effectively normalizes blood pressure, lowering high blood pressure or elevating low blood pressure.
  • Cancer: Betaine, an amino acid in beet root, has significant anti-cancer properties. Studies show that beets juice inhibits formation of cancer-causing compounds and is protective against colon or stomach cancer.
  • Constipation: The cellulose content helps to ease bowel movements. Drinking beets juice regularly will help relieve chronic constipation.
  • Dandruff: Mix a little vinegar to a small cup of beets juice. Massage it into the scalp with your fingertips and leave on for about an hour, then rinse. Do this daily till dandruff clears up. Warning: you will smell awful during this hour!
  • Detoxification: The choline from this wonderful juice detoxifies not only the liver, but also the entire system of excessive alcohol abuse, provided consumption is ceased.
  • Gastric ulcer: Mix honey with your beets juice and drink two or three times a week on an empty stomach (more frequently if your body is familiar with beets juice). It helps speed up the healing process.
  • Gall bladder and kidney ailments: Coupled with carrot juice, the superb cleansing virtues are exceptional for curing ailments relating to these two organs.
  • Gout: Another ailment that can be greatly helped by the cleansing that beets have to offer.
  • Liver or bile: The cleansing virtues in beets juice is very healing for liver toxicity or bile ailments, like jaundice, hepatitis, food poisoning, diarrhea or vomiting. A squeeze of lime with beets juice heightens the efficacy in treating these ailments.
  • Varicose veins: In similar ways that it helps to keep the elasticity of arteries, regular consumption of beets juice also helps prevent varicose veins. WOW! 
The recipe below calls for goat cheese and candied walnuts. I'd come across directions to make candied nuts and thought I'd give that a try as well. So easy and much less expensive than buying them ready-made!! Over the next couple of weeks I'm going to try out a few recipes for the upcoming holiday season. This one will definitely be served this Christmas because of it's great, rich color, health benefits  and the fact that I can make it a few days ahead.

Beet Salad With Goat Cheese and Walnuts

3 large fresh beets
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup maple syrup
salt, pepper to taste
small package goat cheese

For beets:
  • Peel roasted beets and chop into 1/2 inch cubes
  • Marinate in olive oil and balsamic vinegar for 2 hours (or overnight)  to cool.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
For walnuts:
  • In saucepan heat maple syrup
  • Off the flame, add walnuts and  stir to coat
  • Refrigerate until set.
To assemble:
  • Shred lettuce.
  • Put a half cup of beets on top and crumble goat cheese on top.
  • Top with candied walnuts

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Butternut Squash Risotto

Back after a few days off and I'm happy to offer a great fall recipe using a vegetable that makes a grand appearance in the fall and early winter: butternut squash or 'winter' squash. One of the great qualities of this thick skinned vegetable (actually a gourd) is that it's able to be stored for at least a month if kept in a cool, dry place. Winter squash provides an excellent source of the carotenoid beta-carotene, which converts into vitamin A. A single serving (about one cup) is about 75 calories and contains fiber and potassium, some vitamin C, magnesium, folate, calcium, and iron. A pretty healthy vegetable all around.

About two weeks ago on the Rachel Ray show, I caught the end of a segment where Rachel prepared Milanese style Butternut Squash Risotto. It got my attention, not just because of the attractiveness of the dish, but also because I'd never prepared butternut squash in any form ever. I decided to give it a try.

The recipe follows but I changed it up a bit. Instead of saffron, I used two tablespoons of lemon zest. I wasn't sure if I'd like saffron though it enhanced the color of the risotto and I also didn't have any in the house and wasn't sure if it was even available in my supermarket but I was pleased with the resulting lemony flavor. I also used pinot noir wine which I had on hand but I don't think that made any difference at all. 

Toasting the cubed squash (to garnish the risotto) tossed with nutmeg, olive oil and salt and pepper was a fantastic dish by itself and I confess to eating more than I should have! I'll try that as a side dish later this fall.

Butternut Squash Risotto
1 medium-large butternut squash
2 tablespoons olive oil plus more for coating the cubed squash 
Salt and pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
3 tablespoons chopped pistachio nuts or pine nuts
4 cups chicken stock (32 ounces)
2 tablespoons lemon zest
2 cups water
2-3 large cloves garlic, very finely chopped
1 small yellow onion, very finely chopped
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used Pinot Noir)
2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

  • Pre-heat the oven to 375°F. 
  • Cut the squash in half, separating the upper half from the bulbous bottom. Use a sharp vegetable peeler or paring knife to trim away the skin. Cut off the top stem and chop it into bite-size pieces, then halve the bulbous end, seed and chop. Coat the pumpkin or squash in olive oil, salt, pepper and nutmeg. 
  • Arrange the pumpkin or squash on a baking sheet or cooling rack over a baking sheet and roast for 35-40 minutes, until very tender. Puree half of it in a food processor until smooth; reserve the remainder in a dish. Toast the nuts in the oven for the last few minutes of roasting time. 
  • Combine the stock, water and lemon zest. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and keep the liquids warm. 
  • In a skillet heat the remaining olive oil. Add the garlic and onions and soften for a few minutes; stir in the arborio rice and toast for a minute or two, then add the wine and let it absorb completely. Add the stock in small batches of a few ladles at a time, stirring a minute or two for each addition of stock. Cook the liquids out and continue to add more a ladle or two at a time for 18 minutes. Stir in the butter, cheese and puree of squash.
  • Serve the risotto in shallow bowls topped with the roasted squash, nuts and parsley.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Poached Salmon For All Seasons

This summer, when my sisters and I had our cooking weekend in the Hamptons, one of the courses was Poached Salmon. It's a specialty of my sister who lives in Florida and the recipe is more 'feel' than 'formal', usually the best kind! Growing up on Long Island our family ate a lot of fish, some of it self caught, but I've gotten away from cooking fish at home instead ordering it when we dine out. Watching the preparation however made me aware of how easy the poaching technique is and I wondered why I had gotten away from making it myself. 

Salmon is great in any season. It's a great course for Easter dinner and in the summer it's light and delicious served with salad greens and corn on the cob. When fall comes around, salmon is just as pleasing served with roasted potatoes and green salad or other green vegetables. I think it's the color that makes it a great autumn offering. Salmon is usually on the menu for our family Christmas dinner making it an attractive alternative to the non-carnivores in our large family. 

When poaching fish make sure that your stove temperature stays low and the liquid does not come to a boil. This makes the fish less likely to break apart when transferring to a serving dish. Poaching is also a much healthier way of cooking. This dish takes about 10 minutes to cook and not long to prepare...what could be better than that? The  salmon used here was purchased fresh from a fish store but just a note that Costco and other large warehouse stores have excellent fresh salmon  that wold work well for a lot of people. 

Poached Salmon
1 and a half pounds fresh salmon
1 cup white wine
fresh parsley chopped
1 onion chopped
1 lemon thinly sliced 
1 tablespoon olive oil

In fry pan:
  • Lightly saute sliced onion in olive oil without browning
  • Add white wine and salmon simmering without boiling
  • add chopped parsley, salt and pepper to taste
  • Add sliced lemon
  • Simmer for 10 minutes or until salmon i not translucent.
  • Transfer fish to platter and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon chopped parsley arranging sliced lemons on top.
Just a note: The leftover salmon was served cold for lunch the following day. Chopped celery and just a small amount of mayonnaise were added. The lemons were discarded but the flavor added just a touch of citrus to the salad. Nothing went to waste!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Salem, Massachusetts: If You're In The Mood For Halloween

There are people that I've worked with and others who live near my home on Staten Island who are totally into Halloween. I mean seriously into Halloween! I'm talking graveyards on the front lawn, giant spiders attached to the sides of homes and and eerie bloodcurdling howls electronically projected into the street. I'm not one of them however, a scarecrow and handsome pumpkin does it for me, but I've come to appreciate these 'macabre' decorators as I walk around my neighborhood this month.

A green satin witch hat
This weekend we took a trip to Salem, Massachusetts. A Halloween lovers paradise just 40 minutes north of Boston, this historic town boats beautiful homes, tree-lined streets and a waterfront teeming with restaurants, boats and on this weekend, lots of witches. Yes, witches predominated as we strolled through the streets and perhaps that's because of the sordid history of this New England village. In 1692, Salem was the site of the famous witch trials and will be remembered forevermore as an example of mass hysteria and the dangers of "religious extremism, false accusations, lapses in due process, and governmental intrusion on individual liberties." (from Wikipedia) 

Salem is also famous as the birthplace of one of the most famous American writers: Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne, born on July 4th, 1804 and authored 'The Scarlett Letter', 'The House of the Seven Gables' and 'Twice-Told Tales' , three of his most noted works. The actual House of the Seven Gables still stands today in Salem and is a main tourist attraction.

A witch in a window box..of course!
There was a street fair in Salem this weekend and one of the most popular items for sale were beautifully decorated, almost couture-like, witch hats. They were everywhere and I wondered if this might be a trend that we'll start to see in the New York area this Halloween. I've attached a photo of one of the hats and some decorations that I thought were clever. I liked the pumpkin with buttons for eyes, nose and mouth, a great idea for those of us not into carving. 

Tomorrow I'll be sharing a poached salmon recipe that my sister from Florida made this summer. It's perfect for October...the lovely orange (well, salmon is kind of orange) color pairs well with a green salad and roasted potatoes. 

Friday, October 8, 2010

Holiday Baking: A Cautionary Tale

When my three children were in grade school my friend and I (who had three boys) were feeling very creative around the holidays. Inspired by professional looking gingerbread houses in Good Housekeeping magazine, we got together at her house on a half-day of school to make a cookie confection that would rival any of the homes in the magazine's December issue.  We were full of ambition and we thought, talent,  and we decided it would be a great activity for the kids. They thought otherwise.

As I recall, we were aiming for a grand mansion, not unlike the one Little Orphan Annie lived in with Daddy Warbucks. Or perhaps we were really fantasizing about the kind of home we'd prefer to be living in.....victorian, perhaps, with a wrap-around-porch, turrets and gargoyles, shutters on all of the windows...no detail would be spared.

We gathered around her large kitchen table and the mixing began but when the boys decided that the wooden spoons and brown batter made great catapults similiar to those used by the Ewoks to launch primitive rock projectiles at the occupying Imperial force during the Battle of Endor, we knew we were lost. Our only hope were the girls, but they liked the Ewoks too, and...well....good mothers that we were we sent them into the living room to watch a video while we did the baking. 

It didn't get any better. Pieces broke, everything was uneven, nothing fit like we'd planned. The only thing that worked was the Royal Icing. As it approached the dinner hour and it was time to go home, we once again gathered the kids around the table to view our creation: a two sided tent! But it was a beautiful tent loaded with candy canes, mints and mini-marshmallows attached by the glorious Royal Icing. If Santa's North Pole had a campsite, this would have been a five-star accommodation.

I never attempted another gingerbread house and I'm not sure if my friend did either but with Halloween  approaching I found some spooky cookie cutters and a bag of Pillsbury cookie mix (yes, cheating is allowed when a resurrecting a trauma is at stake) and I made a batch in anticipation of a weekend trip to Massachusetts for my grandson's third birthday. Royal icing is involved.

What follows are two recipes for the icing. I'm using the first one (the easier one) and you can see by the photos that it didn't disappoint. Perhaps I'll tackle gingerbread in December!

Royal Icing Using Egg Whites
  • 2 large (60 grams) egg whites
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3 cups (330 grams) confectioners (powdered or icing) sugar, sifted

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the egg whites with the lemon juice until combined. Add the sifted powdered sugar and beat on low speed until combined and smooth. The icing needs to be used immediately or transferred to an airtight container as royal icing hardens when exposed to air. Cover with plastic wrap when not in use.

Royal Icing Using Meringue Powder
  • 4 cups (440 grams) confectioners' (powdered or icing) sugar
  • 3 tablespoons (30 grams) meringue powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon extract (vanilla, lemon, almond)
  • 1/2 - 3/4 cup (120 - 180 ml) warm water
In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the confectioners' sugar and meringue powder until combined. Add the water and beat on medium to high speed until very glossy and stiff peaks form (5 to 7 minutes). If necessary, to get the right consistency, add more powdered sugar or water. To cover or 'flood' the entire surface of the cookie with icing, the proper consistency is when you lift the beater, the ribbon of icing that falls back into the bowl remains on the surface of the icing for a few seconds before disappearing.

The icing needs to be used immediately or transferred to an airtight container as royal icing hardens when exposed to air. Cover with plastic wrap when not in use.

Makes about 3 cups

Use food coloring and sprinkles to decorate. 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Baking Substitutions: A Public Service Announcement

A bit dramatic perhaps, but this blog is one you might want to bookmark just as the holiday baking season is about to begin. I came across an article from almost 10 years ago that I'd saved and of course misplaced but now it's on 'the daily suse' for you and I to use.

This is about ingredient substitutions for baking. We've all had this happen to us at one time or another. The kids are asleep, you're ready to make a batch or two of cookies or a cake for the office party...and you've forgotten a key ingredient! It's snowing out or there's a nor'easter heading your way and you just can't get out. More drama.

Check out this list and worry no more. All measurements are based on one cup so if you need more (or less) you'll have to do the math.

If you're out of:           

self rising flour                         
USE: 1 cup all-purpose flour + 1 and a half teaspoons baking powder + 1/8 teaspoon salt

cake flour                                  
USE: 1 cup minus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

light-brown sugar                    
USE: 1 cup white sugar + 1 tablespoon molasses

USE: 3/4 cup dark brown sugar + 1/4 cup water

whole-wheat flour                    
USE: 7/8 cup all-purpose flour + t tablespoons wheat germ

USE:  1 and 3/4 tablespoons of cream of tartar to a cup of milk, or  add a tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar to a cup of milk and let stand for 5 to 10 minutes. You can also just use plain yogurt or sour cream instead of buttermilk.

I'm going  to add wheat germ and cream of tartar to my shopping list...I just bought some fresh molasses especially for some upcoming blog posts. Stay tuned!  As always, there are a bunch of websites out there with longer lists but these are some basic substitutions. Check online for others if necessary.....and happy fall baking!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

'Tis the Season To Be Spooky

It was inevitable. I was walking this morning with my two grandsons today and we were pumpkin peeping. Lots of neighbors have begun decorating for Halloween with pumpkins, gourds and scarecrows and on a cool, sunny fall day it was a great activity. After nap time, I decided to go to the mall and check out their decorations and this is where it got a bit ugly...Penney's was in the process of putting out their Christmas decorations!

No really, it just gets earlier and earlier. By the time Christmas comes around, these decorations will be old and dusty and we the customers will be so sick of looking at them. I realize most stores do not decorate for Halloween or Thanksgiving but a little restraint is in order!

But sticking to Halloween, I looked up the history of the jack-o-lantern. This information is from a website who edited it from the history channel and of course it's probably folk lore on top of all that but enjoy the tale and resist stringing the popcorn for at least until after Thanksgiving!
People have been making jack-o-lanterns at Halloween for centuries. The practice originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed "Stingy Jack." According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn't want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree's bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.
Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with it ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as "Jack of the Lantern," and then, simply "Jack O'Lantern."
In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack's lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. In England, large beets are used. Immigrants from these countries brought the jack o'lantern tradition with them when they came to the United States. They soon found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make perfect jack o'lanterns.
More Halloween/Fall decorations coming next week. Meanwhile, if you don't want your inner holiday clock upset, stay away from the malls!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

String Beans With Tomatoes: Summer's Bounty Comes To An End

Today I decided to clean out the fridge and take inventory of my fruits and vegetables. This year was the first year I grew vegetables and herbs in a small garden in my backyard. Left over from my diligent dirt dabbling were about a pound of string beans and three plump plum tomatoes. 

While trolling my unorganized collection of recipes recently, I'd come across a recipe that included these very ingredients. There were a few other items needed but mostly things anyone would have in their pantry or refrigerator. 

Pierre Franey
The recipe was something I'd saved from the New York Times dated December 9, 1992. The column was called the 60 Minute Gourmet, a column I had heard of written by Pierre Franey, who I (embarrassingly) had not. Apparently the 60 Minute Gourmet was Franey's column for 20 years starting in the late 1970s and he was an acclaimed chef with best-selling cookbooks to his credit. Here's a bit of biographical information from a cookbook review site: 
Pierre Franey's recipe columns appeared regularly in The New York Times for nearly twenty years, under his own byline and with Craig Claiborne. His other books include The New York Times 60-Minute Gourmet and The New York Times More of the 60-Minute Gourmet, both of which were bestsellers. He died in 1996. Bryan Miller the New York Times' restaurant critic and a long-standing collaborator with Pierre Franey, emphasizes the ease of Franey's recipes, "Pierre always bought ingredients at local stores so readers wouldn't be exasperated by trying to locate Peruvian blue onion or Mexican jicama."
Anyway, I was glad that I'd saved it and am able to share it with you today.  The string beans and tomatoes were a side dish to a Roast Pork Tenderloin main course but I unfortunately didn't have that in my freezer. But this recipe seriously took about 10 minutes to prepare and it was delicious. 

String Beans With Tomatoes

1 pound fresh string beans
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 ripe plum tomatoes, about 1/2 pound
1 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
1 bay leaf


  • Cut tips off beans and cut into 2-inch lengths
  • Bring enough water to boil to cover the beans when added. Add salt to taste, then add the beans. Cook 5 minutes until tender. 
  • Core tomatoes and cut into half-inch cubes
  • Heat oil, butter in a skillet and add garlic. When cooked but not brown, add tomatoes, salt, pepper and bay leaf. Cook for about 2 minutes while stirring. 
  • Add beans, stir and cook for about 1 minute.
  • Remove bay leaf and serve hot. 
Franey's cookbooks are available on Amazon and for those of us with little time, I'm sure they will make precious acquisitions. 

Monday, October 4, 2010

Chicago: A Wonderful Town

The Trump International 
Hotel and Towers
This weekend my sisters and I got together for a 'girls' weekend in the wonderful city of Chicago. We had all passed through the city briefly in 1965 changing train stations on a family trip to Los Angeles. I had not been back but two of my three sisters had and I was perfectly willing to be 'led' around a city that I heard so much about but had never really visited.

First impression: Chicago is very clean, and I think it has a lot to do with the lack of street vendors. Though we may all decry the congestion they create street side in New York, those pesky vendors do come in handy when it's cold or nasty. Where can you get an umbrella or pashmina for $5. when you leave work unprepared on a cold, rainy evening? And lets not forget the hot dog vendor who saved Times Square from a terrorist explosion! But their absence was OK with me, maybe vendors should be exclusively New York..and yes, I'll stop my obvious biased affection for my home town!

We stayed at the Intercontinental on Michigan Avenue conveniently located across from Nordstrom's and right in the middle of the Magnificent Mile. Why had I never come back? Chicago is a shopper's paradise and I love to shop! I was soon to find out that the city is a dining paradise as well... that is if you make or can get a reservation. We had decided to eat in a restaurant called The Purple Pig on Michigan across from our hotel on Friday evening. There was an hour and a half wait but when a customer named "Al' didn't show - we were ushered in after only 15 minutes! Chicago, my kind of town!

Bill Rancic
For Saturday, my sister had recommended the Architectural Boat Tour. Chicago, it seems, was the birthplace of the skyscraper and has continued its dominance in tall and cutting edge architectural wonders that grace the river bank as well as the rest of the city. There are some noteworthy skyscrapers: the Sears Tower (now named Willis), the John Hancock Building, the Aon Center and the Trump International Hotel and Towers which was built after season one of 'The Apprentice' (remember Bill Rancic?). The tour skirted the banks of the 156 mile long Chicago River. The river is the reason why Chicago became an important location. It created a link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi. In the 19th century the flow of the river was reversed away from Lake Michigan which it emptied into, towards the Mississippi River basin. This was done for reasons of sanitation. The river is also dyed green on St. Patrick's Day.

After our tour, we opted to regroup in the hotel lobby to discuss our dinner plans. A friendly Chicagoan gentleman sitting nearby (waiting for his wife to finish shopping!) offered a few suggestions: Gibsons, Hugo Frog's and Rosebud but all were booked. Our concierge recommended a restaurant called Sepia and it was great (all links below). Earlier that day we spotted a restaurant called The Original Pancake House and quickly decided that it would make a perfect Sunday breakfast destination! 

The Allerton Hotel and it's 'misleading' sign!
An interesting note: Near our hotel was an older hotel called the Allerton. It had a bright neon sign atop the hotel displaying the name and in smaller neon letters the word TIP, TOP, TAP, obviously a rooftop nightspot sounding for all the world like a place where Fred and Ginger once hung out! We were intrigued.  After dinner on Saturday night we decided to go for a drink only to discover that the Tip, Top, Tap has long been closed but the name remains prominently displayed because of the landmark designation of the building. Such a  disappointment! Here's a bit of the history of the hotel and the Tip, Top, Tap from Wikipedia: 

In the 1940s and 1950s, the hotel housed a swanky lounge on its upper story, called the "Tip Top Tap." Although the lounge closed in 1961, the sign proclaiming its existence is still displayed on the Allerton Hotel.[2] By 1963, the room was home to a new restaurant, the Cloud Room, when Don McNeill moved his broadcast of "Don McNeill's Breakfast Club" to the location. While the show was broadcast from the Allerton, McNeill's guests included regular Fran Allison.
After the Allerton Hotel was declared a Chicago landmark, it was closed from August 1998 through May 1999 for a $60,000,000 renovation. The restoration work reversed the hotel's trend toward seediness. When the hotel reopened as the Allerton Crowne Plaza Hotel, the twenty-third floor, which had housed the Tip Top Tap and the Cloud Room, opened as the Renaissance Ballroom. At the same time, a lounge opened on the second floor called Taps on Two, and featured one of the Tip Top Tap's signature drinks, a Moscow Mule.

Moscow Mule? An interesting history for sure and a great city to visit, just remember to make a reservation in advance!

  • www.gibsonssteakhouse.com/
  • http://www.thepurplepigchicago.com/
  • http://www.hugosfrogbar.com/
  • www.originalpancakehouse.com
  • http://sepiachicago.com/