Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Spritz Cookies

My mom used to make Spritz cookies for Christmas each year.  For those that keep up with my blog, you will remember the entry about the cookies.  I used to steal these from the freezer when she was storing them before the holidays. 

They have been one of my favorites for years. If you do make these cookies, and I suggest you do, after 6 minutes, make sure to watch them.  You only want these to get the slightest bit golden around the edges.
Spritz Cookies
2 ½ cup flour

½ teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 ¼ cups powdered sugar
2 egg yolks
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg white, beaten, for decorating
colored sugar or other sprinkles for decorating

1. Preheat oven to 375°.
2. Mix flour and salt in bowl and set aside.
3. Put butter in large bowl of mixer and cream till fluffy. Add the powdered sugar and beat till fluffy. Beat in egg yolks, almond extract and vanilla extract. Add flour mixture to bowl and beat just until blended.
4. Fill press and press dough into shapes on ungreased cookie sheet and decorate with egg white and sprinkles.
5. Bake 8 to 10 minutes until the edges are just golden.
I just wanted to apologize for my lack of posts.  Kevin and I have been up at the cabin since he was on spring break.  Unfortunately, we have no internet access in the middle of the woods. But, we are back now and posts will continue on a regular basis.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Vodka Pie Crust

I used this crust recipe this past Sunday for a homemade Beef Pot Pie.  This is a great pie crust.  I have used it several times in the past and each time it has always worked out perfectly.

Fast, easy and all done in a food processor.

Vodka Pie Crust
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup cold water

1. Process flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps using short pulses, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour).
2. Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. Process until dough comes together.  Divide dough into two disks.  Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Did you know...Shortening, Butter, Margarine...Interchangeable???

So many times we are in the middle of a recipe and we realize that we are out of shortening. But, we do have butter, or margarine.  Can they be substituted for shortening?  What are the differences?  What will the end result be?

Well, I am here to tell you that you can substitute butter/margarine for shortening.

Butter or stick margarine can be substituted for shortening in equal portions in cake and cookie recipes.  Most people prefer butter because of the flavor.

However, you can expect some changes in the texture of your baked goods.  Cookies made with butter will be darker in color and tend to spread out more as they bake.  Using part butter and part shortening will help cookies keep their shape during baking.

Cakes made with butter can be as light and tender as those made with shortening IF the butter and sugar are creamed properly.  During the creaming process, the sugar and butter are beaten together to incorporate air bubles into the fat, which helps make the cake texture light.

For best results, start with butter at room temperature (65F degrees).  The bowl and beaters should be cool to prevent the butter from getting too warm as you beat it.  Before you begin, it is also a good idea to rinse both the bowl and beater in ice water.

Cream the butter and sugar for 5 minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula and continue with your recipe as normal.

Following these simple guidelines can really help your baking be the best it can be!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Weather is Changing!

Now that the first day of spring has arrived and we are in the midst of weather that is in the 50s during the day, I am getting the urge to start grilling.  Time to pull the grill out of storage, clean it, and replace any of the parts that may not have weathered winter well. 

It really doesn't matter whether you are a fan of charcoal or gas, as long as you are outside enjoying the weather and grilling.  There is nothing better than the charred edges of a burger or juicy steak.  I think the thing I am looking forward the most is to making pizzas on the grill.  The crust on the grill gets those great marks and remains so crusty.

We have one of each type of grill.  At the cabin, we have an old-fashioned charcoal grill.  When we are up there, we have plenty of time to let the coals heat through.  Nothing better than sitting out in the woods on the porch with a cool beverage while a steak or burger is done to perfection over those hot coals.  This past summer I discovered hardwood charcoal and LOVE it.  No more charcoal briquettes for me.

At home, we have a gas grill.  When we come home from work and are hungry, we really don't have the patience to wait for coals to heat through.  The one thing that I do like about the gas grill is that it is so much easier to control the temperature while cooking.  But, my preference is charcoal. 

So, whether charcoal or gas, the main thing to remember is to get out there during the nice weather and do some grilling.  Before you know it the grill will need to get put away for the winter!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Dill Pickle Beef Soup

Dill Pickle Beef Soup
1 pound beef neck bones
1 cup vegetables, diced carrot, celery, onion, leek, cabbage
2 cups dill pickle, diced
1/4 cup dill pickle juice
2 quarts water
2 cups potatoes, raw and diced
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large pot, place neck bones, vegetables, pickles, and juice. Add water and cook over medium heat for 45 minutes.

2. Add potatoes and cook until soft, about 20 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high. Combine flour and milk in a small bowl and gradually add in soup, stirring regularly until mixture boils.

3. Season to taste with salt and pepper, remove neck bones and discard. Refrigerate and serve next day.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Lemon Pound Cake

Kevin and I had dinner by my dad's house recently and I made this cake for dessert.  Great flavor!  It was adapted from an Ina Garten recipe.  She uses a lemon syrup poured over the bottom once it has been removed from the pan.  We all felt that the lemon syrup was too much lemon.  If you really like lemon, go for the syrup.  Otherwise I would omit the lemon syrup since there is 1/3 cup of lemon zest in the cake batter.

Lemon Cake
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup grated lemon zest (6 to 8 large lemons)
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the glaze:
2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
3 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour 2 (8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch) loaf pans. You may also line the bottom with parchment paper, if desired.
2.  Cream the butter and 2 cups granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, and the lemon zest.
3.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup lemon juice, the buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour. Divide the batter evenly between the pans, smooth the tops, and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.
4.  Combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar with 1/2 cup lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves. When the cakes are done, allow to cool for 10 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pans and set them on a rack set over a tray or sheet pan; spoon the lemon syrup over them. Allow the cakes to cool completely.
5.  For the glaze, combine the confectioners' sugar and the lemon juice in a bowl, mixing with a wire whisk until smooth. Pour over the tops of the cakes and allow the glaze to drizzle down the sides.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Greek Panzanella Salad

One day while planning dinner for the night, I decided to take a trip to Greece.  Kevin and I will be going to Greece next year on vacation.  I saw Ina Garten make this Greek version of an Italian Classic.  The dressing was spot on.  We had a mild lemon chicken breast along with the salad.

Greek Panzanella Salad
Good olive oil

1 small French bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (6 cups)
Kosher salt
1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced ¼ -inch thick
1 red bell pepper, large diced
1 yellow bell pepper, large diced
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
½ red onion, sliced in half rounds
½ pound feta cheese, cut in ½ -inch cubes
½ cup calamata olives, pitted

For the vinaigrette:
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ cup good red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup good olive oil

1. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the bread cubes and sprinkle with salt; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 5 to 10 minutes, until nicely browned. Add more olive oil as needed.
2. Place the cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, tomatoes and red onion in a large bowl.
3. For the vinaigrette, whisk together the garlic, oregano, mustard, vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt and the pepper in a small bowl. While still whisking, add the olive oil and make an emulsion. Pour the vinaigrette over the vegetables. Add the feta, olives and bread cubes and mix together lightly. Set aside for 30 minutes for the flavors to blend. Serve at room temperature.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Did You Know...Drying Baking Mats

Silicone baking mats can be a real hassle to dry completely before using or storing.  Simply attach the mats to a pant/skirt hanger and hang from a door/cabinet knob or pantry shelf to air-dry. 

This tip will also work with the flexible cutting mats as well!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Surprise for Me!

Last week I had to work late almost every night.  We were planning on the fast food route for dinner but when I walked in the door that night I was greeted with the warmest, comforting smell!  Kevin had decided to make Beef Stroganoff for dinner.

For those that know Kevin, there are a few things he makes from scratch.  He makes THE BEST meatloaf, a version of stuffed cabbage that would give my grandmother's a run for the money, and a great lemon chicken.  Now, he has a new dish to add to the list.  Beef Stroganoff. He found the recipe on the web ( and surprised me with a great dinner. 

After a long, hard week at work (for both of us), he took the time to make dinner from scratch!  Reason #1,689,839 for why I love him!

I have attached the picture below but I don't have the recipe because he didn't leave it up on the computer.  So, just remember to thank the ones that surprise you because they care!  Thank you!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Prosciutto, Figs and Gorgonzola

A while back, I went to Chicago to visit and we went to an Italian restaurant for lunch.  One of the appetizers intrigued me because I am a huge fan of all three ingredients.  This appetizer, as you can see, is very easy to prepare and great for a snack or party.

Very simply, the ingredients included 1/2 dried fig, chunk of bleu cheese, and a slice of prosciutto ham.  Roll it up and voile!  I could sit and eat this all afternoon.  Mangia!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Chunky Potato and Ham Soup

This is one of our favorite soups for a cold winter day.  I have made this several times and there has never been a need ot adjust anything other than the salt, based on the ham you select. 

I used a package of pre-cubed ham this time.  It seems that ham is really expensive lately.  So, if you don't want to purchase a full piece of ham, the pre-cubed works well.  It was just about $5.00 for the package.

Chunky Potato and Ham Soup (makes 8 servings)
3 large red potatoes

2 cups water
1 onion, small
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
crushed red pepper flakes
1 ½ cups milk
1 ½ cups half and half
½ teaspoon sugar
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup ham, cooked and cubed

1. Peel potatoes and cut into 1-inch cubes.
2. Bring water to a boil in large saucepan. Add potatoes and cook until tender. Drain, reserving liquid. Set aside potatoes. Measure 1 cup cooking liquid, adding water, if necessary; set aside.
3. Peel and finely chop onion. Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat. Add onion to saucepan; cook, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent and tender, but not brown.
4. Add flour to saucepan; season with pepper flakes and black pepper to taste. Cook 3-4 minutes.
5. Gradually add potatoes, reserved 1 cup cooking liquid, milk, half and half, and sugar to onion mixture in saucepan; stir well. Add cheese and ham. Simmer over low heat 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Did You Know...Perfect Tomato Slices

Ever have difficulty slicing that just a soft ripe tomato?  Slices come out too thin or too thick?  This is a great tip for achieving the perfect slice.

1.  Core the tomato.  Working from pole to pole, use the tines of a fork to pierce the skin gently along one side of the tomato.

2.  Using the tine marks as guides, cut the tomato into even slices.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Anyone who knows me well enough will say that I will pretty much eat anything.  I will leave no food untouched.  I have no rhyme or reason to my tastes.  I have no method to the madness.  It is just me and food.  I will get cravings, as I am sure everyone gets, for anything at any time. 

This morning was one of those mornings.  I woke up craving something my dad's mom would make my sister and I if we would visit early in the morning.  It was simply a banana sandwich.  But it was something special.  She would use Roman Meal bread (I can still picture the orange bag), a banana sliced length-wise, miracle whip, and some cinnamon-sugar.  The bread was always toasted just until golden.  This snack is purely simple and just oozed comfort.

With no bananas in the house, I moved on to craving number two.  Last week I was at Costco and they had pineapples the size of the Ford Escort I used to drive.  They were $2.97 and naturally I bought one.  I opened the refrigerator and pulled out the pineapple.  Now, mind you, I have been up for about 10 minutes so far.  The eyes aren't even fully opened and I am on to food craving number two.  Well, after a few pieces of the pineapple, I realized that was not the answer.

Ok, on to number three.  Hopefully, this will be the one.  As I was putting the pineapple back into the refrigerator, I saw eggs.  Hmmmm, I know.  I will make a fried egg sandwich.  Another of my quick morning comfort foods.  Toasted bread - check, Miracle Whip - check, no bananas, but instead a fried egg, slice of American cheese, and a few slices of shaved ham.  Ah, perfection.  Just what I needed.

Well, that craving was satisfied with not my first choice, not my second choice, but the third.  It is always the charm.  However, I will say one thing about my cravings.  They can be for nothing in particular and can come at any time.  No matter if you have dinner for breakfast, breakfast for dinner, or cake/cookies after a nap.  A craving is a craving and must be satisfied by a food that gives you comfort!

Hmmmm...I think my first stop on the way to work this morning is to pick up bananas.  I won't be able to get the banana sandwiches out of my mind until I have one.  I highly suggest this one!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Did You Know....Spice Storage

A Cook's Illustrated reader submitted this great idea in the September/October 2006 issue.  If you lack the storage for traditonal methods of storing spices, you can store each of your spices in zip-top baggies and keep those in the clear plastic snap-top boxes available for sale.  Make sure to keep the spices in a cool, dry, and dark place.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Spice of Life.....Sage

I thought I would start a new feature on the blog.  I will research and share my findings on various spices.  Most cooks use these spices everyday but do not really know where they come from or what they should be used for in cooking.

I am hoping this new feature will demystify spices and there uses.


Sage sets the stage for some good cooking and eating.  Its pleasantly pungent, lemony flavor enhances many foods, including sausage, soups, breads, sauces, and poultry stuffing.

Sage is a hardy perennial in the mint family.  It has square, down-covered stems and grayish-green leaves with a pebbled, velvety texture.

The leaves can be used either fresh or dried.  The dried leaves are slightly less lemony in flavor.  Dried sage comes in crumbled leaves or crushed ground (rubbed sage).

Sage makes a great garden plant and is easy to grown and dry.  Put this herb to good used in your kitchen by trying many different recipes calling for this flavorful leaf.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Chicken Pomodoro

Two weeks ago my very good friend, real estate mogul (?!?), Jeanne came to dinner.  We went to look at a house that my sister-in-law was interested in and I decided I would make dinner.

Jeanne and I go WAYYYY back.  We worked together many years ago as sales managers at a local resort.  We had the pleasure of eating in many great restaurants over the years we worked together. 

I wanted to treat her to some great Italian as a way of saying thank you. 

This meal was very easy to prepare.  I made it with a Lemon Pepper Pappardelle noodle.  I found them at Trader Joe's ( I love that store!)  However, any wide pasta would work fine.

Chicken Pomodoro
4 chicken cutlets

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
¼ cup vodka
½ cup low sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ cup tomatoes; chopped
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/3 cup scallions; minced

1. Season cutlets with salt, pepper, and dust with flour.
2. Saute cutlets in oil. Transfer to platter; pour off excess oil
3. Deglaze pan with vodka. OFF OF HEAT. Cook until vodka is almost gone
4. Add broth and lemon juice to pan. Return cutlets to pan. Cook 1 minutes each side.
5. Transfer cutlets to warm plate.
6. Finish the sauce with tomatoes and cream. Heat through, then pour over cutlets. Garnish with chopped scallions.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Did You Know...Easy Saucepan Splash Guard

If you are simmering a sauce and do not have a lid for your pot?  This easy make-do suggestion from Cook's Illustrated will work out great.

1.  Using a metal skewer, poke at least a dozen holes in an aluminum pie plate.

2.  Using tongs, invert the pie plate onto the pan.  The holes allow the steam - not the splatters-to escape.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Creamy Cucumber Salad

There are three salads from my mom's side of the family that I can vividly recall from childhood.  The first is my grandmother's potato salad (which she NEVER wrote down), and the last two come from my two great aunts.  One is a creamy Harvard Beet Salad and the second is a Creamy Cucumber Salad.

This salad is fast and a great solution to use up that half eaten cucumber before it goes bad.

Creamy Cucumber Salad
3 each cucumbers, medium sized, peeled and thinly sliced

½ teaspoon salt
½ cube green onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon white vinegar
dash white pepper
¼ cup sour cream, light
dash sugar

Sprinkle the cucumbers with salt. Let stand 15 minutes. Drain liquid. Add the onions, vinegar and pepper and sugar. Just before serving, stir in the sour cream.

Simple, tasty, and makes a great side!

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Big 1000 !!!

Well friends, it finally happened. The blog hit 1000 visits during the course of the day. I would like to thank you all for your support and interest in my latest "hobby". I had been thinking about creating a blog and then a friend of mine said the same thing. I was very hesitant about creating this site and unsure about how much work would be involved and whether or not I would follow through.

I am happy to say that I have had a blast testing recipes and researching tips for everyone. This testing also has helped Kevin and I to eat at home more, which in most cases is a good thing! I find myself paying more attention to details of the recipes and focusing on having the end result turn out well. I made a vow to test each recipe prior to posting to ensure success for those who make the dishes in their homes. I promise that I will continue to test and post recipes and will also do my best to research more topics for the "Did you know..." feature. Hopefully, I will be able to remember more great stories from my past which will naturally be related to food.

I would personally like to take this opportunity to thank, first and foremost, Kevin. He has been so patient with my spending nights in front of the TV while I type away. He has been very patient with my "staging" the food for pictues before we can eat. Anyone who knows me, can personally vouch for my countless "hobbies" and he has been so supportive with my many endeavors.

Secondly, I would like to thank you all for being loyal "followers" of this project. You have been inspiration for me on those days where I really don't feel like cooking. Knowing that I need to post for you all has been just what I need to keep me in check.

That being said, please continue reading and if you know anyone who would be interested in the content of the blog, feel free to have them send me an email and I will add them to the list. I also like to challenge you all to post more comments, ask more questions, and if you have topics you would like me to address, send me an email and I will be happy to include it.

Thanks again, my friends and remember let's live to eat, not eat to live!