Monday, February 26, 2007

Fall Colors - Who Cares?!

I went to Williams-Sonoma to buy some Linzer Cookie Cutters for Easter. With that in mind I just browsed the isles telling myself I only needed cookie cutters. Then these beautiful green mixing bowls caught my eye. I turned them upside down to look at the price tag; you know, just out of curiosity. What $9.99?! I asked the saleswoman: is that right? Three beautiful stoneware mixing bowl at Williams-Sonoma for $9.99. She said: Yes, they are on sale for a fraction of their original price because they are from our Fall Collection and we are cleaning out the Fall colors. I will take them, I said! Who cares if they are a fall shade of green and spring shades of green are lighter. They are so beautiful.

First Signs of Spring

They are coming back! I got so excited when I heard birds in my neighborhood last Friday. I saw them flying over my house on Saturday again. The snow was almost all melted, the birds were back. Those are always the first signs that the worse of the winter is over. Then I woke up on Sunday morning and it was snowing again... Oh no, poor birds. We got several inches of snow during the day. I am hopeful the first signs of spring will come soon -this time for real - and the birds found a nice and warm place to hide from the snow storm.
Looking out my kitchen window:

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Just another day at the office

I attended a conference this morning at the Hamilton Crowne Plaza at K and 14th Streets. The IBM Technical Briefings go hand and hand with good food. Too bad they are scaling down. Probably because the cost was too high. A few years ago, their briefings were followed by a sit-down lunch. I clearly remember the one with Crab Cakes on the menu. Yum. Now, they have a breakfast bar which is not too bad. I had lots of coffee (without guilt because I heard on the radio it can prevent heart disease), a Danish and a mini-muffin that comes with little glass jars of jam - very cute. How can you tell if the hotel hosting the conference is too fancy? When you have no clue how to turn the restroom faucet on. It took me a little while and a few tries to get it right.

Getting back to the office, I was talking to co-workers and all of a sudden we heard a loud noise. You know something is really wrong when a noise makes everybody jump out of their chairs and go look out the window to make sure all the buildings are still standing. The close proximity to the White House can have this effect on you. It took some time for us to realize it was just a thunder... We are all a little shaken. I can now include on my job description Escape Hood Training, Evacuation Drills, Real Evacuations Scare. I guess that's just another day at the office.

Monday, February 19, 2007


It was one of these days: I craved homemade, warm, comfort foods. The night before I made Asian noddles with beef and mushroom, but that wasn't quite what I was looking for on Sunday night. I craved fresh ingredients, sauces made from scratch; but time was an issue. I have been crazy busy with my upcoming vacation. There is so much to think about when you travel with an infant. I needed something that wouldn't require hours standing by the stove. The answer for my craving came in form of Italian food; what else - there is nothing more comforting than Italian Food. I had a recipe for "Polenta with Warm Tomato Compote" that jumped out of the page begging "make me, make me". How could I resist? I made some changes on the original recipe and it hit the spot! I made a "Salt-Crusted Pecan Currant Rye Bread" from The Inn at Little Washington that was delectable and versatile. I had with cheese for dinner and had again for breakfast with blackberry preserve. The salty crust and the currants are an unexpected combination - in a very good way.

Polenta with Warm Tomato Compote (adapted from Cooking Light Magazine)

6 cups cherry tomatoes (about 2 pounds)

Cooking spray
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup sliced shallots (about 3 medium)

1/4 cup diced onion
2 cloves garlic
Fresh Basil leaves
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups 1% low-fat milk
2 cups water
1 cup dry polenta
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shaved fresh Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 425°. Cut several slits in the bottom of each tomato; place, stem sides down, in a shallow roasting pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 425° for 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375° (do not remove tomatoes from oven); bake 30 minutes or until browned. Cover and let stand 10 minutes.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallots and onion; sauté 2 minutes, add garlic; sauté until browned . Add sugar; sauté 5 minutes. Add wine; reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. Remove from heat; stir in tomatoes and basil. Cover; set aside.
Combine the milk and water in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. Remove from heat, and gradually add the polenta, stirring constantly with a whisk. Cover and cook over medium-low heat 2 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon salt; cover and let stand 5 minutes or until thick, stirring occasionally. Top the polenta with the tomato compote and Parmesan cheese.

Yield: 8 servings CALORIES 153 (28% from fat); FAT 4.8g

Salt-Crusted Currant Pecan Rye Bread (from The Inn at Little Washington)

1 tb Dry yeast
1 tb Sugar
7 1/2 tb Caraway seeds
1 tb Salt
2 1/2 cup Rye flour
3 cups Bread flour plus additional for working dough
2 cups Warm water; (95 degrees)
1 cup Coarsely chopped pecans
1 cup Dried black currants
1/4 cup Kosher salt

In the 5-quart bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the yeast, sugar, 1 1/2 tablespoons of the caraway seeds, the salt and both the rye and bread flours. Mix until thoroughly combined. With the mixer running, slowly add the warm water and mix until the dough forms a ball and leaves the sides of the bowl. This will take about 2 minutes. Add the pecans and currants and mix for 2 minutes more. Turn the dough out onto a floured board. Wipe out the mixing bowl and spray with nonstick vegetable oil cooking spray. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with a damp tea towel, and place in a warm (about 85 degrees) spot for about 1 hour, or until the dough has doubled in size. Punch the dough down to release the trapped gases. Form into 3 loaves approximately 12 inches long and 2 inches wide. Brush with cold water and sprinkle generously with kosher salt and the remaining 6 tablespoons caraway seeds. Place the loaves on a lightly greased baking sheet and let sit in a warm place for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Bake for 30 minutes, turning the pan every 10 minutes or so to ensure even browning. Cool on a wire rack. (Makes 3 loaves, about 15 servings).
The perfect accompaniment to cheese or smoked salmon.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Valentine's Day

Sweet and Romantic with a few hiccups - that's how I would define Valentine's Day 2007. We exchanged gifts in the morning and I promised to cook a special dinner. We got snowed in for a couple of days, both of us trying to work from home and taking care of the baby at the same time, at the end of the day I was tired and didn't feel like cooking. We couldn't eat out because of the blocks of ice and snow everywhere in the neighborhood. Luckily, we had bought all the ingredients I needed for dinner the weekend before. The day before V-Day I made a very special dessert from my all-time favorite cookbook. I love everything about The Inn at Little Washington which is one of the top ten restaurants in the world. I love their story, their food, and their stunning cookbooks. I chose the dessert they make for anniversaries and special celebrations. He [Patrick O'Connell] described his Coeur à la Crème With Raspberry and Chambord as a knock-out dessert. The dessert is fabulous, elegant, and dressy. I assembled the dessert before I got started on the main dish. I carefully laid the hearts on a dessert plate, hand-picked the most beautiful and plump raspberries from the pint to garnish and used the rest to make the raspberry sauce. When I turned around the get the raspberries I left on my kitchen island to garnish the dessert, I found only 1 of them sitting on the bowl where I left all of them. I look at my husband who is chewing something. I asked: "What happened to the raspberries?" He says: I ate them, thanks sweetie, they are delicious. At first I was furious, I told him I didn't leave them out for him, I had "plans" for the raspberries. He looked so surprised and gave me a heartfelt apology, I couldn't help but laugh. What the heck, I made the dessert for him. I should be glad he liked the raspberries. After dinner, we ate the Coeur à la Crème with no garnishes but he loved it anyway. We laughed the entire time, I should had known better. This is not the first time he eats one or more ingredients that I am using on a recipe.

Coeur à la Crème (adapted from The Inn at Little Washington)

8 ounces mascarpone cheese, softened
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoon Chambord or other raspberry liqueur
1/2 cup sifted confectioners' sugar

For raspberry sauce
1 pint fresh raspberries
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Fresh raspberries
Mint leaves

Cut a piece of cheesecloth into four 6-inch squares. Dampen and wring out lightly. Press one square into each of four perforated heart-shaped ceramic molds and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip the mascarpone cheese, 1/4 cup of the cream, the vanilla, the 1 tablespoon lemon juice and the Chambord until thoroughly blended. Refrigerate.

In a small bowl, whip the remaining 1 cup cream and the confectioners' sugar until the cream forms stiff peaks. With a rubber spatula, fold the whipped cream into the chilled cheese mixture in three batches. Spoon the finished mixture into the prepared molds and fold the edges of the cheesecloth over the tops. Lightly tap at the bottoms of the molds on the counter to remove and air spaces between the mixture and the molds. Refrigerate on a tray or baking sheet a minimum of 2 to 3 hours.

Meanwhile, make raspberry sauce:
In a blender or food processor, purée the raspberries, granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Taste the sauce for sweetness and adjust the sugar or lemon juice as needed. Strain and refrigerate.
Assemble and serve:
Unfold the cheesecloth and drape it over the sides of the molds. Invert each mold onto a serving plate. While pressing down on the corners of the cheesecloth carefully lift off the mold. Smooth the top with the back of a spoon and remove the cheesecloth slowly.

Spoon raspberry sauce onto the plate around the heart and garnish with fresh berries and mint leaves.

Serves 4.

Casual Gathering

If I only knew if they liked it... We had friends over for Sunday lunch. We were 6 adults and 3 children (who are too young for table food). I went overboard and made way too much food. I played the role of the insecure hostess and asked myself a ton of what-ifs when I planned the menu. What if they don't like it, what if this recipe doesn't turn out good... I planned an ultra casual gathering with comfort foods and chocolaty desserts. But I spent most of the time in the kitchen and didn't have time to socialize and enjoy my guests. I guess that's an excuse to have them over again. I love having my house full of interesting and fun people. The lunch menu was "Pear, Walnut, and Blue Cheese Salad with Cranberry Vinaigrette" and "Gnocchi and Puttanesca Sauce". I made a couple of Focaccias, a Baked Brie Cheese, Bruschetta, Crab and Artichoke Dip with Toast, and Pretzel with Ginger Wasabi Sauce. For dessert I made Chocolate Covered Strawberry and Hazelnut and Cream Puffs - everything from scratch. No wonder I was so busy. Some were new recipes, some old recipes. They are all keepers. I made little chocolate shapes for the Hazelnut and Cream Puffs and got a lot of compliments. They were so cute and delicious. I will make them again and take pictures.

Pear, Walnut, and Blue Cheese Salad with Cranberry Vinaigrette (from Cooking Light Magazine)

1/2 cup canned whole-berry cranberry sauce
1/4 cup fresh orange juice (about 1 orange)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon minced peeled fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt

18 Bibb lettuce leaves (about 2 heads)
2 cups sliced peeled pear (about 2 pears)
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 cup (1/8-inch-thick) slices red onion, separated into rings
1/3 cup (2 ounces) crumbled blue cheese
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted

To prepare the vinaigrette, place the first 7 ingredients in a medium bowl; stir well with a whisk.
To prepare the salad, divide the lettuce leaves evenly among 6 salad plates. Toss pear with 2 tablespoons orange juice. Divide pear and onion evenly among leaves. Top each serving with about 1 tablespoon cheese and 1 teaspoon walnuts. Drizzle each serving with about 2 1/2 tablespoons vinaigrette.

Puttanesca Sauce (from Cooking Light Magazine)

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh or 2 teaspoons dried basil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 (14.5-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, undrained
1/4 cup chopped pitted green olives
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon capers
1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

Heat oil in a saucepan or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; sauté 5 minutes. Stir in wine and next 6 ingredients (wine through tomatoes), and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, and cook, uncovered, about 15 minutes. Stir in olives and remaining ingredients; cook until thoroughly heated.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Muffin Galore

Tired of eating whatever is on hand in the morning? I am. Breakfast is the most important meal and I rarely have time to eat a nutritious meal. I experimented buying bagels and English Muffins and eating with cheese or sugar free jams but I am pretty tired of eating everything with high fructose corn syrup and other ingredients I can't even pronounce. I then purchased healthy cookbook with several ideas for any meal - from breakfast to dinner and snacks in between. I baked two recipes and froze them in grab-and-go bags, now I am all set in the morning. One recipe was Mini-Chocolate Chip Muffin with Walnuts, the second one was an Apricot Tea Bread that I baked in muffin cups. The chocolate chip muffins tasted great but I just loved the Apricot Tea Bread. A few years ago, while on vacation in California, I had breakfast at a coffee shop in Santa Monica. I had an amazing apricot muffin with a hot cup of coffee by the beach. I tried a few recipes but they didn't taste as good as the "vacation muffin". This one however, went beyond my expectations. It will go the to beginning on my recipe binder where I keep my faves.

Apricot Tea Bread (adapted from Healthy Homestyle Cooking)
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
6 ounces dried apricots (about 1 cup)
1 cup fat-free sour cream
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 egg whites
2 whole eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 9" x 5" loaf pan with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, stir together the dry ingredients. Snip the apricots in small pieces and drop them into the dry mixture.
In a medium bowl, whisk the other ingredients together. Fold in the pecans. Combine with the dry mixture and stir until just moistened.
Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until the bread begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Allow the bread to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Remove and cool completely on a rack.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Healthy Lunch

Last weekend I made two delectable recipes. They are both light and low-fat, quick and easy to make, and don't require a lot of ingredients. For lunch on Saturday I made a Spinach Frittata with a side of steamed veggies. On Sunday I made Apple and Horseradish-Glazed Salmon served with Couscous.
Even though I eat wholesome meals over the weekend, I’m way off track on my diet. This weather is making me crave chocolate and sweets so badly. I succumbed to temptation and had chocolate every day for the last week or so. It’s been freezing for a while now. I mean day and night. When I leave my house for work in the morning the temperature is around 8 degrees F.

Spinach Frittata (Adapted from Real Simple Magazine)

3 eggs
3 egg whites
1 lb spinach, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup low-fat shredded mozzarella

Steam or boil the chopped spinach for 2 minutes. Drain well then squeeze between paper towels. Whisk the eggs, stir in the spinach, salt, and pepper.

Pour the mixture into a 6-inch nonstick ovenproof skillet. Top with cheese and bake at 350 degrees F for 12 to 15 minutes or until set. Broil for an additional 2-5 minutes or until the cheese is light brown.

Apple and Horseradish-Glazed Salmon (Adapted from Cooking Light Magazine)

1/3 cup apple jelly
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons horseradish
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
4 (6-ounce) salmon fillets (about 1 inch thick), skinned
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 350°.
Combine apple jelly, chives, horseradish, vinegar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt, stirring well with a whisk.
Sprinkle salmon with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add salmon, and cook 3 minutes. Turn salmon over; brush with half of apple mixture. Wrap handle of skillet with foil; bake at 350° for 5 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Brush with remaining apple mixture.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Friday, February 02, 2007

Amazing Maze

The Edge Brownie Pan is a very creative invention by former urban planner Matthew Griffin. Indianapolis resident Griffin, 32, and his pastry chef wife, Emily sold more than 5000 pans. The 9-by-13-inch maze-like pan delivers more crust and no soggy centers. Griffin hopes to meet with representatives from Sur La Table and at the 2007 International Home & Housewares Show in March. The pan costs U$39.99 at but hopefully the price will go down once they start to mass produce them and make them available in retail stores as well.