Saturday, March 30, 2013

Happy Easter

This morning I picked up these daffodils at Whole Foods (just $6 for 30). Nothing says "spring" quite like a bouquet of daffodils. Most of them were closed up tight earlier, but now they are slowly opening to grace us with their cheery yellow blooms!

Tomorrow, to celebrate Easter, we'll attend an early Mass, then have my husband's mother over for brunch. This afternoon I made a broccoli and cheddar quiche and a lemon-ginger Bundt cake, so most of the work is done. We'll serve mimosas with the meal and a spring salad of Bibb lettuce and radicchio dressed with homemade vinaigrette. Nothing fancy, just a simple, but festive, brunch. 

Wishing you and your family a very happy Easter,

Monday, March 25, 2013

Super-Quick Lentil Soup

It's spring now and we're welcoming warmer days! But we can still have some chilly nights, and a good bowl of homemade soup is a welcome meal. Here's a recipe for a lentil soup that can be made in a snap thanks to pre-cooked lentils from Trader Joe's.

Super-Quick Lentil Soup

1) In a medium saucepan, heat 2 teaspoons olive oil over medium. Add 1 small onion, chopped; 2 large carrots, finely chopped; 3 stalks celery, finely chopped; and 3 cloves minced garlic. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion softens, about 5 minutes. 

2) Add about 48 ounces of vegetable broth (I used a 32 oz. container of broth plus roughly  half another container); stir in 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about 5 minutes. 

3) Add a 17.6 ounce package of Trader Joe's cooked lentils and cook until soup is slightly thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in 4 teaspoons red-wine vinegar. Season as needed with salt and pepper. Enjoy.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Flourless Chocolate-Pecan Cookies

It's been a while since I posted a dessert recipe. A friend of mine keeps reminding me of this and asking for more baking recipes, so I made it my mission last weekend to whip up something delicious to share with you.

I don't follow a gluten-free diet, but I know that going gluten-free is becoming more popular for various reasons. This recipe for flourless chocolate-pecan cookies looked and sounded wonderful to me. And trust me, they are as delicious as they look. 

The recipe produces giant-sized cookies. Even though they are made with egg whites and no butter, each cookie has about 380 calories and nearly 21 grams of fat (3.5 g saturated). So they are by no means light. However, if you love chocolate and have enough willpower to eat just one, these cookies are for you!

Flourless Chocolate-Pecan Cookies

3 cups confectioners' sugar
3/4 cup Dutch processed* cocoa powder, spooned and leveled
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used Ghirardelli brand)
1-1/2 cups chopped pecans (or other nut)
4 large egg whites at room temperature

1) Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a large bowl, whisk together confectioners' sugar, cocoa and salt. Stir in chopped chocolate and pecans. Add egg whites and stir until just combined (do not overmix). Mixture will start out very dry and then become sticky.
2) Drop dough by 1/4 cupfuls, 3 inches apart, onto parchment-lined rimmed baking sheets. Bake until cookie tops are dry and crackled, about 25 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Transfer sheets to wire racks and let cookies cool completely. To store, keep in an airtight container. Makes 12 - 13 cookies.

*Note: I did not have Dutch processed cocoa so I used a combination of Hershey's natural unsweetened cocoa and Hershey's Special Dark (a blend of natural and Dutch processed cocoas). When cocoa is processed with alkali it is called Dutch process. To learn more about the impact of alkalization on the beneficial properties of cocoa, read this article. It's a bit technical, but interesting.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Polishing Silver

Do you enjoy the process of polishing silver, or do you dread the task? I fall into the first category; I enjoy it. There's something satisfying about seeing a piece of silver go from tarnished to sparkling in a matter of minutes.

Recently I was looking for something in the dining room cabinet and I came across a pair of vintage sterling candlesticks. They belonged to someone in my family, but I'm not sure when they were purchased. The bottoms are marked with "Prelude, International, Sterling, Weighted Reinforced, N212." After doing a little looking online, it appears Prelude is the pattern name, and the company name is International.

Quite honestly, I've hardly used them over the years. Suddenly I had a hankering to shine them up and put them out on the dining table for spring.

Below are the "before" and "after" photos. There's something nice about the tarnished candlestick, don't you think? It almost looks like pewter. Which do you prefer?

Getting tarnish out of the nooks and crannies of an intricate design can be difficult and frustrating. I just learned a great tip in this Martha Stewart video about polishing silver. Use an old toothbrush to get into the hard to reach areas. Martha's expert says to use a toothbrush with natural bristles, not one with nylon bristles. But all I had was an old, soft nylon toothbrush, so I made sure to use it gently. It worked great! The video is very informative and covers more about silver than just polishing.

Is there a special product or method you recommend for polishing silver?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Say Hello to Ella

Meet Ella, the newest member of our family. This little dog made my week. I was so excited to bring her home, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning!

Ella was formerly called Bella, but we dropped the "B" to name her after Ella Fitzgerald, one of my favorite jazz singers. 

Ella is a 10-year-old beagle who was surrendered by her owners to our county shelter around six weeks ago, along with her 3-day-old puppies. That's right, Ella was a late-in-life mama. Because the puppies were so young, Ella and her litter were put into foster care with a loving and generous shelter volunteer until the pups were weaned. This week, mama and her four little ones all became available for adoption. 

We learned about Ella when we were at the shelter looking at another dog, an adorable 10-month-old chihuahua/terrier mix. However, since we have two older dogs -- Henry, who's around 6, and Phoebe, who is almost 14 -- we knew a senior dog would be a better fit than a 10-month-old puppy. Phoebe and Henry agreed. The volunteer who was fostering Ella told us about her, and a couple of weeks later we visited her house with Phoebe and Henry in tow. They got along just fine, and we knew Ella would be a great fit.

It seems our house is becoming the retirement home for dogs. And that's okay with me. There's something really sweet about older dogs. They tend to be calm, housebroken (a plus) and very loving. Older dogs don't get adopted as quickly as puppies or younger adult dogs, so I feel it's our calling to adopt older dogs. 

Ella came home with me Thursday evening. She is incredibly sweet-natured and affectionate, and both Henry and Phoebe accepted her with open arms. I took yesterday off from work to spend time with her and to make sure everyone got along well. No worries there. On her first night home, all three were content in their beds!

Monday, March 4, 2013

New Everyday Flatware

My husband and I were at the mall last week to buy a new Calphalon griddle at Williams-Sonoma (on sale for $30), when I suggested we stop in Pottery Barn to have a look around. Not intending to make any purchases, we left with eight sets of new flatware and a large picture frame. Funny how that happens. 

The flatware we've been using for most of the 17 years of our marriage is actually a mix of two patterns. One had belonged to my parents and dates back many years to my childhood. It's a very simple style and we really love it, but over the years a few pieces were lost, leaving an incomplete set. We've been supplementing with another partial set in a pattern we don't care for.

We had looked at Pottery Barn's flatware in the past and were both drawn to a pattern called Arctic. We prefer simple styles and straight lines -- things with a slightly modern look. The feel of a fork or spoon handle is also very important, and Arctic feels good in the hand. The best part? It's currently on sale!  

Like most things I buy, I expect this flatware to last a long time (if you're a follower of My Little Bungalow, you probably know that I keep things until they wear out, like my last car, which I had for 16 years). Arctic is made for Pottery Barn by Towle Silversmiths, is 18/8 stainless, and has a lifetime limited warranty. Hopefully we'll have this set for many years to come.

A footnote about the other items shown: the nubby table runner, green dishes and floral-patterned green wool rug are all from Pottery Barn (dishes and rug no longer available). The cloth napkin is by Tag; I purchased a bunch of them at our local Ace Hardware, of all places, just before Thanksgiving. They are nice and soft, and very reasonably priced. The dining table was purchased from Room & Board several years ago. It's excellent quality and we're very happy with it. Their Howe table is a similar style.

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