Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sweets for Saturday

Looking for something sweet to eat? Head on over to Sweet As Sugar Cookies "Sweets for a Saturday recipe share" mmmm - there is something for everyone!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

More Things I've Learned and Chocolate, Cherry & Pistachio Biscotti

I have been on a very personal, very painful journey of discovery these last almost six months.

My journey has taken me places in my soul, heart and mind I have never imagined.

Here are some things I have learned:

Silence can be deafening.
Shoveling snow alone can be spiritual.
Music can heal and music can bring such pain as you could never imagine.
Loss is something everyone at some point in their lives experiences.
Grief has physical ramifications.
Guilt (real or imagined) has no place in grief. Kick it to the curb early on and leave it there.
You are capable of more than you think.
You are stronger than you think.
You are braver than you think.
There is always someone who is worse off than yourself.
Pity is self inflicted and is damaging.
Actions speak louder than words.
Seeing a qualified therapist is a courageous commitment to one's own future.
We need so much less than we have.
Food can be therapeutic.
Sleep can heal.
There are inherently good people and there are inherently bad people. It is good and wise to recognize the difference.
It is okay to ask for help.
It is okay to not answer the phone.
It is okay and necessary to speak of the dead. Please mention his name to me. It tells me he lived. It tells me he lives on.

I don't have a good segue into this recipe except to say Chocolate-Cherry-Pistachio Biscotti is sweet, and salty and challenging and a little nutty... kind of like memories.

Chocolate Cherry & Pistachio Biscotti: 

2 cups all -purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) softened butter (room temperature is fine)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups toasted pistachios, chopped*
3/4 cup dried cherries, plumped and coarsely chopped**
Additional flour as needed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the eggs and vanilla, blend well until incorporated. Add the flour and mix to create a dough. Add the chocolate, nuts and cherries and mix to combine.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into two equal portions. With lightly floured hands roll the dough to create two 12 inch logs. Place on a lightly buttered or parchment lined cookie sheet.

Bake biscotti for 25 minutes (or until firm to the touch). Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes. Cut logs on the diagonal into 1-inch thick cookies (12 per log). Place biscotti cookies 1/2 inch apat on cookie sheets, cut side facing each other. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool biscotti and place in an airtight container such as a cookie tin.
Biscotti can be stored for 2-3 weeks or frozen for 2-3 months.

*to toast pistachios simply place nuts in an ungreased frying pan over medium heat and toast until fragrant. Be careful! Nuts can burn quickly. You can substitute almonds or walnuts for the pistachios or omit completely.

**to plum cherries simply soak in hot water for 10 to 15 minutes, drain and dry between paper towels.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Weather As A Metaphor and Souffles

Another five inches of snow fell from the sky here in the Northeast last night. This is the 5th. major snow storm in just a bit over three weeks.

As I was shoveling the driveway this morning I was thinking that shoveling snow is much like grief work. I have been digging myself out of the snow and digging myself out of grief every three to five days only to get dumped on by both once again.


Speaking of digging. Digging into a soft, creamy, perfectly baked souffle is one of life's pure pleasures, but many home cooks won't attempt a souffle proclaiming them too complicated, too temperamental or just plain difficult. Not so I say! (have I steered you wrong yet?)

Souffles are easy to make; take very few ingredients and with a little time and attention can be a delicious evening meal or late lunch. Why not reward yourself and those you love with a tender, perfectly baked souffle? You will be hooked in no time.

Goat Cheese and Chive Souffle (with two variations) makes one 1 1/2 quart souffle or six individual 8 ounce souffles*

Unsalted butter and grated Parmesan Cheese for preparing the dish
1/2 pound fresh goat cheese brought to room temperature
1/4 cup sour cream
5 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground white (or black) pepper
3 tablespoons minced fresh chives
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Position the oven rack in the lower third of the oven. Butter a 1 1/2 quart souffle dish or six 1 cup (8 ounce) ramekins and dust bottom and sides with Parmesan cheese.

In a large bowl, using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or using a hand mixer, cream the goat cheese on medium-high speed until light. Beat in the sour cream, egg yolks, mustard, salt, nutmeg, pepper and chives until combined. Set aside.
In another large, clean bowl, beat together the egg whites and cream of tartar on medium-high speed until stiff, glossy peaks form.

Using a rubber spatula, fold one-fourth of the beaten egg whites into the cheese mixture to lighten it. Then gently fold in the remaining egg whites just until no white streaks remain.**
Spoon into prepared dish(es) and smooth the top. Sprinkle the top with Parmesan cheese. Using your thumb, run it along the inside rim of the ramekins or souffle dish, this will ensure the double crown that souffles are famous for.

Bake the souffle until set, puffed and the center still jiggles a bit when the dish is shaken, 20 - 25 minutes for a large souffle or 8 to 10 minutes for individual ramekins. Serve immediately.

*I prefer individual souffles. It is a special treat for each person to have a perfectly puffed, golden wonder set in front of them.

** Folding: the proper way to fold egg whites into a batter is to place about 1/4 of the egg whites in the middle of the batter, using a spatula, cut down the center of the egg whites away from you and sweep the whites through the batter. Give the bowl a quarter turn and repeat.

A Cook's Notes: serve souffles with a simple spinach salad tossed with pine nuts and a mild vinaigrette and a good cold, crisp Sauvignon Blanc.

Variations: Use all Parmesan cheese and Rosemary or Cheddar Cheese and Thyme in place of the Goat cheese and chives.

As always, whatever you are digging into today, Bon Appetite!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Five Months, Seven Days and How to Reheat Pizza

It has been 5 months and 7 days since TBHITW died.
I said it.
He died.

What have I learned?

I learned:
that one can be alone without being lonely.
that it is okay to cry.
that it is okay to laugh.
Anywhere. Anytime.
that asking for help does not make you weak.
that no matter how many times I ask God to bring him back, TBHITW is not coming back.
that asking why is futile.
that love doesn't die.
that I didn't die; just a part of me.
that tears are endless.
that sleeping and eating and exercise are important; more now than ever before.
that people care.
that people don't understand (mercifully).
that life is truly a circle.
that many, many people mourn.
that grieving has no time frame.
it is personal.

I've learned a lot the last 5 months and 7 days. Much more than I can write about here. Like I said, grief and mourning is a personal journey. It takes you places you never dreamed. Or want to dream about.

I've also learned the best way to reheat leftover pizza. Leftover pizza was never a problem when TBHITW was here.

So. Let's review:

Oven. nope.

Microwave (don't even think about it)

Frying Pan - read on.

Wipe a large, nonstick skillet with a paper towel saturated with a bit of olive oil*
Place over medium-low heat.
Add as many slices of cold, leftover pizza the pan can hold. Or as many as you can eat.
Place a lid over the pan and wait.... (theme song from Jeopardy playing in your head)
Check after 2 minutes. Recover if the cheese is not melted.
(theme song from Jeopardy repeat).
Check again.
The cheese will be melted, the crust will be crisp and you'll swear the delivery man just handed you a piping hot fresh pie.

*Do not, I repeat, do not use spray oil (aka Pam) on a nonstick pan. This will ruin your teflon - it will become sticky and useless. I have forewarned you. Go forth and use a paper towel saturated with olive oil.

The Good Cook

Monday, January 10, 2011

Vanilla Bean Winner and Creme Brulee Revisted

Drum Roll Please.

The winners of the January 2011 Vanilla Bean Giveaway are:

Nancy @ Life In The Second Half

Nancy @ Blissed Out Grandma

Tamis @ The Marks 5

Email me your mailing address ( and I will package and send out your Vanilla Beans faster than you can make Creme Brulee.

Speaking of Creme Brulee, I have been testing some recipes and want to revise my original post to this, new and improved version:

Creme Brulee (makes 6-8 servings)

1 quart heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 cup sugar (divided in to two half cup portions)
6 large egg yolks

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Place the cream, vanilla bean and its caviar (pulp) into a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and cover for 15 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean "husk".

Meanwhile, whisk together 1/2 cup sugar and the egg yolks until well blended and yolks just begin to lighten in color.
Add the cream/vanilla mixture slowly into the egg yolks, stirring constantly. Do this slowly as to not cook the yolks.
Pour the liquid into 6-8 ounce ramekins. Place the ramekins into a large broiler pan or roasting pan. Add hot water to come halfway up the ramekins*. Bake just until the creme brulee is set, but still trembling in the middle. About 45 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the hot water bath and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.

Remove the creme brulee about 30 minutes prior to serving. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup sugar over the creme brulee, dividing evenly. Using a torch, or your broiler, melt the sugar until it is golden brown and crisp. Let set 5 minutes before serving.

*the easiest and safest way to do this is to boil water in your teapot. Place the roasting pan with the ramekins in the oven and pour the water into the pan. This will prevent unwanted and dangerous spills as you place the dessert in the oven.

Congratulations to the winners! Please let me know how you use your beans!! (both the Vanilla and your brain)

I will be sponsoring more giveaways in 2011 - because it makes me happy; so stay tuned and keep cooking!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The New Year, Vanilla Recipes and A Vanilla Bean Giveaway

Hello 2011.

I don't know what the new year will bring me. 2010 brought me the greatest sadness I have ever known. It lingers still.

I am striving for peace, hope and a semblance of happiness in 2011. What are you striving for?

Now a word about Vanilla Beans.

No, I'm not talking about that shriveled up bean that you buy in the grocery store. You know the one I'm talking about. A single, lone bean sealed up in a glass bottle. You get it home, try to split it and scrape out the "caviar" and end up with a dried up lump of something.

I'm talking real, moist, fragrant Vanilla Beans from Madagascar. Specifically, beans from From The Field Trading Company. A fair trade vanilla bean import company.

"From the Field" offers gourmet, single-origin, equitably sourced Bourbon vanilla beans. They are a family-owned company based in Oakland, California and Madagascar. Their team is committed to equitable trade, community development, and organic cultivation.

Danny Hervol, a friend and head of the Madagascar field operation sent me a supply of From The Field vanilla beans to use, review and share. 

And use, review and (not so much sharing) I did! 

The beans arrived in an vacuum sealed bag and as soon as I opened the bag I knew these beans were special. The beans are fragrant, moist and plump, I couldn't wait to get started. 

So what does all this have to do with you? From The Field has graciously sent me an additional supply of vanilla beans to offer you, my readers. And I have graciously decided to share a few of my favorite recipes with you. I'm just nice that way. 

What do you have to do to receive your beans? Simply leave me a comment telling me what you would do with your own supply of fresh, organically grown vanilla beans. What you say? You don't have any recipes - okay - use some of mine at the end of this post and tell me which one sounds best to you. OR just say, "Hey Good Cook, I want some of those vanilla beans".. you get the picture. 

On Monday, January 10th. I'll pull three lucky names out of my oven mitt and voila! you will be receiving the most delicious, hand picked, plump, fragrant vanilla beans you've ever laid your hands on.  

What are you waiting for? 

These are a few of my favorite things:

Crème Brulee

1/2 gallon heavy cream
1 cup sugar
2 vanilla beans, split
16 egg yolks

Heat cream to a boil with vanilla bean. Whisk egg yolks and sugar until light. Add cream to egg yolks and pour into 4 shallow or rimmed soup bowls. Bake in water bath at 300 degrees until firm. (approximately 35-40 minutes). Refrigerate for several hours. To serve, sprinkle one tablespoon of sugar evenly on top and place under broiler until brown.

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Frosting:

2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped, seeds reserved        
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup whole milk, at room temperature
Salted Caramel Frosting *recipe to follow

Heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Line 2 (12-well) muffin pans with paper liners.
Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk to aerate and break up any lumps; set aside.
Place butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium-high speed until very light in color, about 3 minutes. Add sugar and vanilla seeds and continue beating until the mixture is airy, about 3 minutes.
Scrape down the paddle and the sides of the bowl, turn the mixer to medium speed, and add the egg whites one at a time, beating well after each addition. Then add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Add the milk (and vanilla extract, if you’re using it in place of seeds) and mix until combined (the mixture will look curdled, but it’s not). Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Reduce the speed to low, add the reserved flour mixture, and mix until just combined, about 15 seconds.
Fill the muffin wells about halfway and bake until the cupcakes are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 18 minutes. Set the pans on a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Remove the cupcakes from the pans and let cool completely before frosting.

Salted Caramel Frosting:


1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), at room temperature
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup powdered sugar

Briefly stir together granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue cooking, without stirring, until mixture turns dark amber in color, about 6 to 7 minutes.
Remove from heat and slowly add in cream and vanilla, stirring with a wooden spoon until completely smooth. Set aside until cool to the touch, about 25 minutes.
Combine butter and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium-high speed until light in color and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low, add powdered sugar, and mix until completely incorporated.
Turn mixer off and scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add caramel. Beat frosting on medium-high speed until airy and thoroughly mixed, about 2 minutes. Cover and refrigerate until stiff, about 45 minutes, before using.


2 cups strong coffee
2 cups sugar
1 ½ cups vodka
1 vanilla bean, cut into 4 pieces

Heat the coffee and stir in the sugar until it dissolves. Cool.
Add the vodka and the vanilla bean.
Place in a sealed jar (a mason jar if you have one).
Place in a cool dark cupboard for two to three weeks, giving the jar a shake every day or so.

White Russian:
1 ounce Kahlua
1 ounce vodka
Pour over ice. Add a tablespoon of heavy cream, stir. Yum.

For my vanilla scone recipe, go here. This is my go to recipe when I'm having tea, unexpected guests or just want something warm and sweet to cozy up to. 

A Cook's Notes: I am not affiliated with From the Field nor have I been paid for an endorsement of their product. I just happen to be a fan! To learn more about this eco-responsible company, join their email list, and meet the people behind the Bean go to or click on From The Field
The site even has a short tutorial on how to scrape, use and store your beans.
(I put the empty, scraped pods in my canister of coffee and have vanilla scented coffee every morning; it's good to be me in the morning)

As always, Good Luck and Bon Appetite!
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