Monday, July 30, 2012

Brandy Snaps: an English Treat

Yesterday I made a batch of brandy snaps, an English cookie, in honor of the host country of the 2012 Summer Olympics. I was flipping through a 2001 issue of Martha Stewart Holiday Cookies when an article on Cookies from Around the World jumped out at me. These English brandy snaps caught my eye. In addition, there are delicious-looking recipes for French palmiers and butter cookies, Vietnamese sesame cookies, Austrian linzer sandwiches, German springerle, Italian Florentines, Mexican wedding cookies and Australian Anzac biscuits, to name a few.

I had never made brandy snaps before, and it was quite an enjoyable process. There are only a few ingredients: flour, ground ginger, butter, sugar and Lyle's Golden Syrup, a product of Great Britain. There is no brandy in this recipe, but sometimes the cookies are filled with whipped cream which could be flavored with brandy (oooh, yum!).

The batter is thick and sticky, and the cookies flatten and turn a deep golden color as they bake. After removing them from the oven, let the cookies cool about 2 minutes (or a little more), then wrap each one around the handle of a wooden spoon. What I found is that after two minutes of cooling on the pan, it helped to flip each cookie over very carefully and let cool another 15 seconds or so before wrapping each around the spoon handle. This makes them easier to work with. If they get too cool to shape, you can return them to the oven for a few seconds to soften.
Here is a link to Martha Stewart's recipe for brandy snaps, except in this online version, the cookies are molded into bowl shapes to hold a scoop of ice cream. How cute! For the rolled cookies above, use a level tablespoon of batter per cookie, then wrap the cooled, baked cookies around the handle of a wooden spoon.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


My dear friend Rhoda sent me a gift. It wasn't for my birthday or any other occasion. It was one of those lovely, unexpected "just because" gifts -- the best kind! She thought of me when she saw this gorgeous vegetarian cookbook called Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London's Ottolenghi (copyright 2010). It is written by Yotam Ottolenghi (who isn't vegetarian, as he explains in the introduction) and beautifully photographed by Jonathan Lovekin. With permission from the publisher, Chronicle Books, I would like to share a recipe and a few photos of the many mouthwatering dishes in this cookbook that are sure to be on my menu in the near future. 

If you have this cookbook and can recommend a recipe or two from it, please leave a comment and let me know. Or, share the name of your favorite cookbook and a few tried-and-true recipes!

Leek fritters
Don't these look yummy? The sauce has Greek yogurt, sour cream, garlic, lemon, parsley and cilantro in it. Or the fritter can be had with just a squeeze of lemon.

Lentils with broiled eggplant
I love cooking with lentils. They are a good protein source and so delicious. My husband also loves them. I am lucky that he likes the same kinds of foods I do. It makes cooking a pleasure.

This dish looks so fresh, healthy and tasty! Here's the recipe.

Green Bean Salad with Mustard Seeds and Tarragon

1-1/4 cups green beans, trimmed
2-1/4 cups snow peas, trimmed
1-3/4 cups green peas (fresh or frozen)
2 tsp coriander seeds, roughly crushed with a mortar and pestle
1 tsp mustard seeds
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp nigella seeds*
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
1 mild fresh red chile, seeded and finely diced
1 garlic clove, crushed
grated zest of 1 lemon
2 Tbsp chopped tarragon
coarse sea salt
1 cup baby chard leaves (optional)

1) Fill a medium saucepan with cold water and bring to a boil. Blanch the green beans for 4 minutes, then immediately lift them out of the pan and into iced water to refresh. Drain and dry.
2) Bring a fresh pan of water to the boil and blanch the snow peas for 1 minute only. Refresh, drain and dry. Use the same boiling water to blanch the peas for 20 seconds. Refresh, drain and dry. Combine the beans, snow peas and peas in a large mixing bowl. 
3) Put the coriander seeds, mustard seeds and oil in a small saucepan and heat up. When the seeds begin to pop, pour the contents of the pan over the beans and peas. Toss together, then add the nigella seeds, red onion, chile, garlic, lemon zest and tarragon. Mix well and season with salt to taste.
Just before serving, gently fold the chard leaves, if using, in with the beans and peas, and spoon the salad onto plates or into bowls.

* Note: Nigella seeds (I didn't know what they were until I looked online) are used in Asian cooking and are much like onion seed with a bitter, pepper-like taste; I may not be able to find them locally, so I will probably leave them out.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Hand-Loomed Rug and a Story

Last weekend I visited the farmer's market and bought a rug from a 90-year-old gentleman who looms them by hand from scrap fabric and denim. First, let me tell you why I wanted a rug for this tight space next to our bed, then I'll tell you a little bit about the man who makes these rugs.

Our dog sleeps on her dog bed over on my husband's side of the bed, where there is also a floor rug. Lately, in the wee hours of the morning, Phoebe will come over to my side of the bed (usually to whine and ask to be fed). She'll lay down and get up several times, and each time her nails make this awful sound on the bare pine floor. It not only wakes us up, it also drives us nuts as we picture all the scratches being added to the floor. When you have dogs in the house, you have to make concessions, I know. But our 90-year-old soft pine floors were suffering, and I needed a solution. 

I started by putting a towel down on the floor, but that temporary solution was neither attractive nor practical. When I spied a display of rag rugs at the farmer's market, I thought, "Yes, one of those would do nicely!" I had bought rugs from the gentleman before and loved them -- until Phoebe decided to make chew toys out of them. That was 11 or 12 years ago when she frequently acted out due to a delay in supper or not enough exercise.

I chose the rug below because I thought the color would blend well with the warm wood tones in the room and complement the rug on the other side of the bed. Since our room is small, you cannot see the two rugs at the same time from the doorway, but I wanted the colors to go well together, and I think they do. For only $20, it's a great solution.

And on the other side of the bed is this indoor/outdoor rug, which is very practical for a house with dogs. See how scratched up the floor is? Ugh. One day we'll refinish them like we've done in the living and dining rooms.

Now, a little story about the 90-year-old man who loomed my new rag rug. First of all, he's in great shape, very sharp and doesn't even wear a hearing aid! He lives independently and works on his rugs every morning before going to lunch with a friend or one of his "young'uns." He told me his mother lived to be 107, so obviously he has inherited good genes. She also wove rugs ... I imagine she was his teacher.

A WWII veteran, Mr. Parnell has some stories to tell. When he realized I was interested in hearing them, he pulled out a collection of black and white photos taken in Germany by the military photographer who was stationed with his division. As I looked through them, I saw disturbing images of emaciated men in concentration camps, bombed out streets and bodies piled high. But there were pleasant images too: scenery shots and a photo of a glamorous-looking woman who entertained the troops with Bob Hope.

However, one photo showing five men standing naked and thin as corpses was especially haunting. When I asked about it, Mr. P. told me quite plainly that he was the one who freed those men. He didn't elaborate and wasn't the least bit boastful. I asked what that had felt like and he replied, with a smile on his face, that it had been the greatest feeling in the world. 

Mr. P. is quite the character, and had me laughing with some very funny jokes and stories. He said he's the happiest old man he knows, and I believe it!

I look forward to going back to the market with my husband, who enjoys talking to veterans. I'm sure Mr. P. will pull out his black and white photos and tell us some good stories.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Strawberry-Blueberry Pops

These popsicles are awesome! They are perfect for summer and easy to make, not to mention patriotic with their red, white and blue color scheme (I know, I should have posted this before Independence Day). Make a batch now and skip the store-bought pops. With less than 60 calories and only .6 grams of fat each, you may be tempted to eat two!

Strawberry-Blueberry Popsicles

1) In a food processor, puree 1-1/2 cups fresh strawberries (hulled and cut in half) with 1 tablespoon sugar. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside. In clean food processor bowl, puree 1-1/2 cups fresh blueberries with one tablespoon sugar. In a small bowl, whisk together 1 cup low-fat vanilla or plain yogurt (I used vanilla-flavored) and 1 tablespoon sugar. 

2) Pour the three mixtures, alternating, into 3-ounce popsicle molds to make 3 to 5 layers in each. With a skewer or knife, swirl the mixtures together using an up and down motion. Insert sticks and freeze until solid, about 3 hours. Keep frozen for up to one week. 

You'll love these! So, what's your favorite icy cold summertime dessert?
recipe adapted from Everyday Food

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Beautiful Bouquet

My sweet husband sent me a beautiful bouquet last week at work. I received an email from the receptionist saying there was a delivery for me at the front desk. Hmmm, I thought, what could that be? When I stepped off the elevator, I spotted this lovely arrangement of yellow and orange flowers (orange is my favorite color). My husband doesn't send flowers for birthdays or anniversaries or Valentine's Day. He sends them as a complete surprise to let me know he's thinking of me. I'm a lucky girl.

Asian lilies, orchids, Eremurus (foxtail lilies), pincushion Protea and Craspedia (Billy Balls).
Just happened to have an orange-colored candle out on the coffee table, which coordinated nicely with the arrangement.

Eremurus, or foxtail lily

Pincushion Protea (the round, spiky flower) and Craspedia, or Billy Balls (the yellow pompom on the right)

Beautiful Mokara orchids

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Summery Peach Cake

Peach Cake

1/4 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup light brown sugar
4 ripe peaches, peeled and cut into 8 wedges each

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup light cream

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 
2) Make the topping: melt butter in small saucepan over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until sugar is melted. Pour the mixture into a 9" round cake pan with 2" sides; spread carefully to distribute evenly along bottom of pan. (Note: when I made this, I cooked the mixture for at least 4 minutes and the sugar never "melted." It was more of a paste consistency, which I spread in the pan as evenly as I could.) Next, place the peaches in a circular pattern to cover the bottom of the pan; set aside.
3) For the cake, stir together the flour and baking powder in a small bowl. In the large bowl of an electric mixture, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla extract and cream; beat until well combined. Gently stir in the dry ingredients until just incorporated.
4) Spoon the batter evenly over the peaches and gently spread with a spatula to cover peaches. Place the pan on a baking sheet with sides and bake in the center of preheated oven for 55 minutes, until top is set and springy. Let cool for 10 minutes before turning out upside-down onto a plate. Allow to cool before serving. Serve with whipped cream, if desired.

A note about the pan:
Since I only have 8" cake pans, I used a 9" springform pan. If using a springform pan, it's especially important to set it on a baking sheet when putting cake into the oven because some juice will run out of the pan. Also, before releasing the outer ring of the springform pan, be sure to run a knife around the edge all around to release any cake that might be stuck to the pan.

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