Wednesday, May 27, 2015

I Love A Tea Party

A friend came to visit yesterday.  That was my excuse to have a tea party.  You can never have too many tea parties!

I usually do a sweet, a savory and at least one thing baked. I settled on butterbrickle scones, chocolate dipped strawberries and cucumber sandwiches.

 

I bought VERY thin bread and spread it with whipped cream cheese.  I sprinkled the cream cheese with salt, pepper and dill weed.

 

The store was out of ENGLISH cucumbers, so I had to settle for the AMERICAN kind.  I peeled the cucumber and then cut slices all along the AMERICAN seeds and left the seeds on the cutting board.  The thinly sliced cucumbers went on top and then the icky, horrible CRUSTS were removed and the sammies were cut in wee triangles.

 

The tea was from my favorite tea shop, the White Oak Tea Tavern.  It was almost too hot to have hot tea on the screened porch, but we  turned the fans on and toughed it out.

 

It was great!
  

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Baklava Puffs

I have had a taste for Baklava lately.  If you have never had it, it is a Greek pastry with cinnamon, nuts and honey.  In years past, I have stood at the counter for an hour buttering each layer of phyllo dough, adding many layers of nuts and cinnamon,  while assembling an entire pan of baklava.  Phyllo dough comes in packages and  are ultra thin layers of dough in sheets.  They dry out quickly so you have to keep them covered with a slightly damp towel and cut them to fit the pan you are using.  This is very time consuming, but the result is a flaky, buttery treat!

I wanted to try making them using puff pastry.  I have been using puff pastry a lot and it is so versatile and easy to use.  I couldn't find the exact recipe I wanted to try, so I made it up.  It was actually pretty good and I will make them again!  If calories are an issue with you, these used way less butter and only one layer of the walnut/sugar and spice combination, so I have dubbed these the diet version as well as the fast version.  This is my opinion and not based in fact or research, but feel free to agree with me.

 

Baklava Puffs

1 package Pepperidge Farms Puff Pastry
1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 cup chopped walnuts  I used black walnuts for the earthy flavor
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon each of allspice, cloves and cardamom  If you don't have these spices, just add a bit more cinnamon
1/3 cup honey, or so

flour for sprinkling

 

You may halve this recipe very easily.  Just use one sheet of the puff pastry and make use of the fractions you learned in school to halve the rest of the ingredients.

Heat the oven to 375°.

Place the puff pastry on the counter to come up to room temperature.  Place parchment paper in a baking sheet.  Crease the corners to make sure the sugar and honey can't leak out onto the pan.  Then clean up is a snap.

 

Place the walnuts, sugar and spices in a small bowl, mix well with a spoon or fork.

Lightly flour the counter space and unfold one of the puff pastry sheets.  I rolled it out to about 12X8.  Cut into 2X4 inch strips, or so.

 

Use a pastry brush to butter the center of the strips, leaving about a 1/4 border. Place about  a Tablespoon of the walnut/sugar  mix on one half of the butter.  Use a wet finger to moisten the edges of the pastry.  Fold the strip of puff pastry over to make a square and press the edges together.  I used a fork to seal and then make a decorative border...sort of decorative.

 

Place the square on the parchment covered baking sheet.  I used a pastry cutter to transfer the fragile pastry.

 

When you have made and transferred all the puff to the baking sheet, take a sharp knife, I used a serrated one, to slice diagonally through the top layer of the pastry.  Don't cut through the second layer.  Use the pastry brush to brush melted butter all over the top of the pastry, making sure to coat the slice in the top, so the butter can soak into the walnut layer.

 

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.

 

Remove from the oven and drizzle honey all over the hot pastries, right in the pan.  The parchment paper will prevent you from having a mess to clean up.  Make sure the honey is drizzled all over the top and down the sides of the puffs.  I used about one face worth of honey for one sheet of puff pastry!

 

Let the baklava sit for awhile to absorb all the honey.  When completely cooled, they can be stored in an airtight container for a day or two.


Friday, May 22, 2015

Chicken and Pasta Salad

You know those recipe books that are at the checkout line at the grocery store?  I love them.  They have big pictures and just the right amount of recipes, so they don't intimidate you.  This recipe is originally from one of those, with some minor changes.  It is really good and a family favorite.  It is easy to make it vegetarian by just leaving out the chicken.

 

Chicken and Pasta salad

12 oz. uncooked rotini.  Just use about 4 1/2 cups or about 3/4 of the box
2 cups cubed cooked chicken.  Buy it from the deli, get 3/4 to 1lb. of chicken breast in 1 in. slices
1 1/2 to 2 cups seedless red grapes, cut in half. More is just fine.
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
2 or 3 oranges, peeled and chopped
1 cup cashew halves, save until serving

Dressing

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
3 Tablespoons orange juice
2 Tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon curry
1/4 teaspoon salt

 

Cook the rotini according to the package directions.  Don't get them too mushy.

 

Take a bite of one to make sure it is cooked, then drain and rinse with cold water.  Allow to cool.

 

Use a large bowl.  Cut off the brown edges from the thick deli chicken slices.  I usually get two 1 inch slices and don't worry about how much it weighs.  Cut the grapes in half and add to the bowl.  If you have one of those orange peeler thingies you got from a Tupperware party back in the 80s, use that to peel.   Take off any of the white pith and separate the sections.  Cut them up into 3/4 inch chunks, or thereabouts. 

 

Slice the onions, including the green part and add everything to the big bowl.  Add the cooled rotini.

 

Place all the dressing ingredients in a medium bowl. If you are going to serve this right away, use the amount in the recipe.  If you are going to serve this hours from now, as I did, then add some more of each ingredient.

 

Mix until smooth and then take out some for later.  The pasta absorbs a lot of the dressing and it is nicer to freshen it up a bit just before serving.

 

Mix in the dressing, cover and place in the refrigerator until serving.  If you reserved the dressing, add it to the bowl with the cashews and mix well.  The cashews will get soggy if you leave them in for several hours or overnight.  This makes a big salad, so I save some cashews for the next day.  The ones in the salad become soft, but taste just fine.  But add the fresh cashews to get the salty crunch back.

 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Birds At Church

Did you know that birds go to church?  Even on Wednesday?

 

Well, they do.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Mustard and Ginger Cookies

One of our guilty pleasures is watching Unique Sweets on the Cooking Channel.  It is usually on late at night and it makes us so hungry.  And sad that the bakery that was supposed to go in the empty building in town never did.

Recently they were discussing mustard cookies.  Naturally, I had to do some recipe cruising on the internet and I found a recipe to try.  It is basically a ginger and spice cookie recipe with the addition of the mustard.  There was also a chocolate and mustard cookie recipe and I may try that another time.

 

Mustard and Ginger cookies

3/4 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup molasses
2 1/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/3 cup sugar

 

Don't pre heat the oven.  This recipe has to sit in the refrigerator for one hour before baking.

Beat the butter until very light and fluffy.  This is best done in a stand mixer.  I used my Kitchen Aid.  When it is very light, and you will have to scrape the bowl down a few times, add the brown sugar and resume beating.  Beat until it is light brown and fluffy.  Once again you will have to scrape the bowl.

 

Next add the molasses and the egg.  Beat until incorporated.

 

Combine the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, mustard, pepper, salt and cloves.  Add them to the creamed mixture in three mostly equal batches.

 

When the flour is all mixed in, place the mixing bowl in the refrigerator for one hour.

 

Heat the oven to 375°.  Place the 1/3 cup sugar in a medium bowl.  Use a medium cookie scoop and drop about four scoops of cookie dough in the sugar.  Roll them until covered in sugar and place on a cookie sheet.   I used a Silpat to keep them from sticking.

 

Bake for the surface cracks, about 11 to 14 minutes.  Let cool for about 2 minutes on the cookie sheet, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

 

These cookies were very good.  But I was unable to taste any mustard.  Next time I make them, and I will, I will increase the amount of mustard used. I may even go up to 1 teaspoon and see what happens. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Great Day

Once, when our daughter Tara was very young, I  told her I was proud of her.  She became embarrassed and instructed me to never tell her I was proud of her.  I told her that I couldn't stop telling her I was proud when she did something wonderful, but that from now on I would tell her I was "P" of her, so no one else would know.

This last Friday we went up to Washington, D.C. to see her graduate from George Washington University.  She did her undergraduate studies at Virginia Tech ( Biology and Psychology) and then worked as an Embryologist for over a year while she decided which direction to follow for her Master's.

 

She chose to become a Physician's Assistant.  In fact, after going through the program, she wonders why anyone decides to be a Doctor.  The school loans are horrific, the hours terrible and they have the headache of managing the medical practice.  Her two year program flew by, from our perspective. 

 

 

The day was beautiful and not humid.  That is always a plus this time of year.  We drove in early to get parking and then walked to the World War II monument, which I had never seen. 

 

We walked past the reflecting ponds filled with ducks and took a brief visit to the Lincoln Memorial on our way back to GW.

 

The graduating class was 67 students.  They are rated number three in the United States for their Physician's Assistant program.  Getting accepted was a huge honor.

 

The class was small and they took classes together and went on rotations together.  They became very close and I expect they will stay life long friends and colleagues.  I'm not sure why most of the class was female, but it was.

 

Now she has to take the National Boards and then wait for the paperwork to go through that system and then she can start looking for work.  She has decided to start her career in Women's Health.  Tara did two rotations in OB/GYN and that is where her current interest lies.

 

I am "P" of you, Tara.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Tortilla Soup

I have had a recipe for Tortilla Soup for years.  I cut it out of the Orange County Register back when we lived in California.  If I remember correctly, it was the recipe for the tortilla soup served at one of my favorite restaurants, El Torito.  That is a chain on the West Coast.  I really miss it and go at least once on every visit back to California.

I made it recently and it was delicious.  As good as I remembered.  I make it a bit differently than the recipe, so here is how I like it. 

Tortilla Soup

8 cups chicken broth ( I use 4 cans or two of the cardboard thingies.)
1 medium onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced.  I use a handful of  mini carrots.
2 stalks celery, diced
1 large Russet potato, peeled and diced
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 cloves minced garlic, I buy the kind in the jar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste
2 skinless chicken breast, poached and shredded.  Or buy the rotisserie chicken and shred that.
1 medium zucchini, diced
2 medium tomatoes seeded and diced

4 or 5 corn tortillas
Pam
1 1/2 cups shredded Jack cheese

1 avocado, sliced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

 

Combine the broth, onion, carrots, celery, potato, tomato paste, garlic, oregano. 

 

You can salt and pepper it now or wait until you are done and taste it to see.  Bring everything to a boil over medium high heat.  Then lower to simmer for 25 minutes.

 

I use this time to poach my chicken and cook the tortillas.  Just bring a medium pan of water to a boil and add the chicken breasts.  They only take a few minutes to cook.  Cut one open and if it is pink, keep cooking until they are white clear through.  Remove from the water and let cool.  Pull them apart with a fork in each hand.  Set aside.

 

You can cook the tortillas by cutting them into strips and then cooking them in hot oil. I prefer to place the strips in a single layer on a cookie sheet and spray them with Pam.  I sprinkle with salt and cook for about 10-15 minutes in a 400° oven. 

 

Keep a close eye after 10 minutes.  They go from not brown to too brown very quickly!

 

Take them out of the oven and dump on some paper towels until you are ready to use them.

 

After 25 minutes of the soup cooking, add the zucchini, tomatoes and shredded chicken .  Bring up the heat and bring it to a boil.  Then reduce the heat again to a simmer for about 10 more minutes.

 


Place a few of the tortillas strips in the bottom of a bowl.  Sprinkle some of the cheese on top and ladle in the soup.  Garnish with avocados and cilantro.

Delish!