Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve Dinner-Rigatoni in a Woodman's Sauce

Christmas Eve in our house is always full of so much energy. Everyone is waiting to get to those presents under the tree and to share what they bought for one another. I don't cook a big meal because I am too busy keeping the troops in line. I save the big meal for Christmas day. Christmas eve is for laying back with a table full of food to graze on and of course a platter full of Christmas cookies which we usually devour.

I made this dish one year and it has been tradition on our Christmas eve table ever since. It is a very comforting dish, great for a cold winters night.

Serve with a full bodied red wine and a nice hunk of Italian bread and all is good with the world.

Rigatoni in a Woodman's Sauce

3 Tbsps olive oil
1/2 c. chopped onion
1/4 lb sweet Italian sausage, removed from casing
2 cups crimini or baby bella mushrooms, cleaned and chopped coarse
2 Tbsps butter
1 Tbsps olive oil
1 can (14 oz) san marzano, cherry tomatoes, canned
1/2 cup fresh ricotta cheese
1 cup cooked peas or frozen
1 cup heay cream
salt and pepper to taste
lb rigatoni, cooked al dente
1 cup freshly grated parmigianno reggiano

In a large non reactive saucepan heat the olive oil. Saute onions until wilted. Add sausage and cook for 10 minutes or until cooked through.

In a separate pan saute the mushrooms in olive oil and butter until tender.

Add the tomatoes and simmer gently until thick, about 10 minutes. Add 1/4 cup of the ricotta cheese to the sauce and mix well, then add peas, cream and boil lightly for 4 minutes. Add the sausage and onions and season with salt and pepper.

Add the rigatoni to the pan and give a stir coating the noodles. Fold in the parmesan and 1/4 cup more of the ricotta cheese.
Garnish with fresh basil and serve with some Italian bread.

Merry Christmas to all. Enjoy your families and friends and I hope your holiday is filled with good food and lots of laughter. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Tis The Season To Make Spritz Cookies

Well every year it sneaks up on us and before you know it the Holiday season is here. We have our first Christmas party this weekend so I thought I would make a batch of my favorite Christmas cookies, spritz. Apparently the word spritz originates from the German word Spritzen which means “to squirt or spray”.

I love this cookie in it’s simplicity. It is pure butter, flour and sugar with a little flavoring of almond and vanilla extracts to give it a distinct flavor. I only make these once a year so that is why I relish them so much. Making this cookie is a bit of a ritual for me. It is the one cookie I make that has a special machine to make it. Over the years I have developed a confidence in making them that I have passed on to Eva my 14 year old daughter. 

Atlas Cookie Press

The most important part of this cookie is the cookie press. It is a dough extruder.

This is the second one I have owned, my first one broke after many years. When my press broke I went down the street to Crate and Barrel and got their version. I saw the shiny white new press and I was excited. When I got it home and started using it I was underwhelmed. I missed my old Atlas.

You know how personal cooking/baking equipment is. You get used to things and they work for you. You know it with all it’s quirks. Now for someone else the Crate and Barrel version might be the cats pj’s. But not for me.

I am a purest. I like things to work well and simply. So my cookie press from Italy that has no bells and whistles is pure perfection to me. We formed a relationship all these years. I knew just what to do to make the perfect cookies. So on ebay I went, in search of a replacement. I found one and it did not disappoint.

Let’s get started. First you make the dough. My go to recipe is from the Joy of Cooking Christmas Cookie book. It works like a charm every time.

After making the dough you chill it. This is important. Depending on the temperature of your refrigerator I would say 20-30 minutes. You want the dough the perfect temperature because too cold and it won’t squeeze out. To warm and it will not squeeze out.

This is something you will need to experiment with.

When the dough is the perfect temperature you pick out your metal disk shape and insert it into the cylinder and load it up with dough. Simply turn the lever and press. There is a knack to it. Just play around or call me and I’ll help you.

Then decorate with your favorite sprinkles or sugars and bake. This is the creative part. I like to mix sprinkles with sugars. Another idea I have seen done is to add food coloring to the dough to make colored spritz.

Another thing I like about this recipe is that the cookies are small, about 2 inches in diameter. They don’t spread much when baking so you can really crowd the cookie sheet. This is good because you get a lot of cookies with each sheet and who does not want a lot of cookies.

Gorgeous Bits of Joy

Another factor in the success of these cookies is telling when they are done. I tend to be an underbaker by nature so I have to watch myself. To tell if your spritz are done they should have a tinge, very slight, of golden brown on the edges. Pull them from the oven at this point. When you bite into this cookie, after they have cooled, you will notice a slightly crisped edge almost like a shortbread with a buttery interior.

I am a baker. Pies, tarts, bread, cakes, muffins, scones I have a passion for anything made with flour, butter, sugar, eggs.  My truest love is cookie dough, simply adore it. That is why this time of year is pure magic to me.

Now the kids are older and they love to unleash their creativity as well. So put on your favorite festive music and get baking. My personal favorite is Charlie Brown’s Christmas.

P.S. These are the perfect cookie to leave for Santa…
He will not leave a crumb.


1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cups sugar
2 lg egg yolks
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsps vanilla
3/4 tsp almond extract
2 1/4 cups flour

Cream butter and sugar until very fluffy and well blended, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg yolks, salt and extracts until well incorporated. Sift flour over bowl and mix.

Place dough in refrigerator for 20-30 minutes until chilled.

Load the dough into your cookie press and follow manufacturers directions.

Use sugars or sprinkles to decorate and bake at 350 degrees F until the edges are a slight tinge of golden brown.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Photo Shoot~Chocolate Cake

My son has been begging me to make a cake. I finally succumbed to his wishes and of course a photo shoot occurred before he came home from school to eat it.

I had just gotten these vintage straws in the mail from ebay and had an idea for them in the shot. However as with most photo shoots the plans did evolve into something different. I found some other props at my favorite store anthropologie and I went in a slightly different direction. I love combining new items with vintage.

thinking about props-getting ideas

Every shoot is a little bit unique but what stays the same is the focus and that is the subject. In this case the cake. I made the cake using a recipe I make quite often. This one is from the Food Network website by Pamela Anderson (not of baywatch). Usually I frost it with a chocolate buttercream however today to save some time I used the bakers one bowl recipe I got while working at kraft. It is very quick and surprisingly good. Albeit on the sweet side.

After the cake was done and frosted. I get my scene set. For me creating a world out of what I see in the viewfinder is play time. All that matters is what is in my frame. The first thing I decide upon is the look. When I get a vision in my head I start with a background. In this case the old wood I found was perfect. These were actually old shutters that had some rot. I turned them over and viola beautiful barnwood.  The plate on which to put the cake I loved with it’s handmade look, scalloped edges and muted color.  On the wood however it did not pop so I added a white plate underneath for separation. The recipe book worked great with the vintage straws because the colors were coordinated but subtle. Too me it had a homey feel.

When I shoot using natural light the goal is to find the best light. Not the brightest light but the softest most flattering light. The light will change drastically so working quickly is what I must do. This could be a detriment however I think it is a plus. You have to think fast and you don’t have time to second guess. The worst that can happen is that you don’t like the end result and then you reshoot the next day. This does not happen often.

view from the top

So I found the light in the north lighted window of my kitchen which was spectacular. It started changing quickly due to daylights savings. I moved to a big window in the front with the sun very low. I was shooting on the floor and decided to lay down to get this shot which I absolutely love. As I was laying down I pointed the camera up and the sun was peering over my wood backdrop. It created the effect you see.

Rays of sunlight 

As my new photography friend Kevin said in an email to me. Breaking the rules (ie: shooting into the sun) can yield great results. Always be critical of what others tell you and ultimately judge for yourself. Don't desire to be liked or admired and don't allow your integrity to be compromised.

This I believe to be true and for such a young guy to know this already. Wow!
He is a very good photographer who I am sure will have great success.

So I shot my chocolate cake, broke some rules, made my son happy and had fun. Life is good. 

The End

Oh I almost forgot the recipes...

A Chocolate Cake That's Got It All-Pam Anderson

Butter or shortening, for coating pans
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups cake flour
2 Tbsps cornstarch
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
2/3 cups unsweetened cocoa, preferably dutch process
1 tsp instant coffee
3/4 cups boiling water
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 lg egg whites, at room temperature
14 Tbsps unsalted butter, melted but not hot

Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two 9 inch pans and dust with flour. I always use a parchment round in the bottom. This cake is super moist and will stick.

Whisk sugar,flour,cornstarch,baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Set aside.

Place coffee and cocoa in a medium bowl. Whisk in 3/4 cups boiling water to form a smooth paste. Stir in sour cream and vanilla. Set aside.

With a hand mixer in a medium bowl, beat egg whites to soft peaks. Without cleaning beaters, mix melted butter into dry ingredients until mixture is smooth. Immediately add cocoa mixture and beat until batter is smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Carefully fold egg whites into batter until just incorporated.

Divide batter evenly between pans and bake until a skewer inserted into center comes out with wet crumbs, 30-35 mintues. Remove from oven and let pans cool on wire rack for 5 minutes. Invert each cake onto a plate. Frost when cooled.

Bakers One Bowl Frosting

4 squares bakers unsweetened chocolate
1 pkg (16 oz) powdered sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 tsps vanilla
1/3 cup milk

They microwave but I use a double boiler to melt the chocolate. Add sugar, butter and vanilla. Gradually add milk and beat constantly on LOW speed until well blended. Easy.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

I Am Thankful For....

Top part of the beautiful plant-looks like cabbage

So hard to finish this sentence because there is truly so much to be thankful for. Even though our country is in a recession and the news has not been the brightest worldwide.

Every end of November our thoughts go to turkey, pie, stuffing, football, whose house we are traveling to or not traveling to.
Everything focuses on food and the meal that we are about to enjoy on this Thursday the 24th day of November.

We think back to the meals we grew up having and we remember funny things that happened in years past. Don’t even get my husband going on this one. He would be happy to talk about the year the tablecloth was set on fire by a relative who placed a bouquet of flowers down on the table next to the tapered candles.

Ah yes memories. We remember the meals from the past. Who could forget the canned
cranberries that no one ate. The green bean casserole with the canned onions on top. The pumpkin pie that was a little rubbery. That was then this is now. Today I cook the meal. I do traditional foods with a gourmet twist.

I am thankful for Brussel sprouts. These beauties are a vegetable that I serve  this time of year. They are in season so are at their peak.

I grew some for the first time this year. They were planted to late in the growing season so they are to immature to be eaten. However watching them grow was something I appreciated. They are a beautiful plant.  About 6 inches tall when I planted them. With thick rubbery leaves that just got bigger as the summer progressed. As they grew the stalk got thicker and little sprouts started growing along the stalk as it protruded out of the ground. It looks like a spine to me with the sprouts being vertebrae.

The stalk that grows out of the ground

I have many loves and two of my biggest are photography and cooking. So combining the two is a dream come true. When I photograph food. I get very personal with it. I look at what I am photographing and think about what makes it special. For me the light coming through the leaves was beautiful. The way it outlined the veins. When I pulled the plant from the ground it was spectacular. The weight of it and its purpose was apparent. It was not fragile in any way. Each little sprout was like a work of art. Each leaf resting on the next so tightly and compactly.

I think as home cooks  we appreciate food much more when we know where it comes from. 
When you go to the store and get produce all sanitarily wrapped in plastic to me it has no feeling. When I pull a plant out of the ground or go to the farmers market that food has meaning to me. Hence, I take better care in it's preparation. I have a respect because I know the grower. There is a human attached to it.

Even though my Brussel Sprouts will not be adorning the Thanksgiving table I will use the leaves as garnish around my Turkey. Also part of the top can be used in a floral arrangement. I love combining flowers with vegetables.

Cooking Brussel sprouts is not hard. For successful preparation first they need to be in season. Any vegetable that is not fresh will not be good no matter what you do to it.

little cabbage like sprouts grow along the spine

Brussel sprouts tend to be tough. What I have learned is to make an “X” in the bottom of the stem with a sharp knife. Also trim off the end of the stem to open up the cells. This will insure even cooking. I like to steam my sprouts in a double boiler. If you have sprouts of different size obviously the smaller ones will cook quicker. Just do a knife test. I simply season with fresh salt and pepper.

A quick do ahead method is to steam them the day before serving. Place in a container covered in the refrigerator. When ready to serve. Cut in half and sauté with butter or extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Or try this recipe by Ina Garten one of my favorite chefs. I have been making her recipes for years and they work.

Be sure to think this Thanksgiving about where your food came from. It was grown with love by someone and we need to be Thankful to them for getting it to our table.

Happy Thanksgiving to my friends in the US

mother earth

Thursday, November 17, 2011

When Your Garden Gives You Green Tomatoes...You Take A Photo

I am not a gardener. Oh I have tried. To grow vegetables that is.

It is a joke between my husband and I about my lack of gardening prowess. But what I do have however is an appreciation for anything grown.

So my yield this year on tomatoes was 4 red ones, 6 green that never went to red before the frost and two green ones eaten by my Labrador Retriever, who is a vegetarian.

Ok nothing we could ever survive on, but being the creative that I am I jumped at the chance to photograph my little green darlings. Plucking them from the vine before the cold made them unphotogenic.

They are simply gorgeous and are bringing me much joy as I move them around on set. The color is stunning.

This year’s low tomato yield I believe to be credited to the weather partially, always blame the weather that is the Chicago way, or to having them in a pot that was too small.

No matter, the few tomatoes that I did grow were stellar in taste. Even though the yield was low my joy was high.

Stay tuned for an upcoming post. I am pulling my brussel sprouts out of the ground before the next frost. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Beautiful Clementines in Season

As a food stylist and photographer there is nothing more exciting than going to your local grocer and seeing a beautiful piece of produce that looks like it was just plucked from a tree. The leaves intact make this clementine so photogenic.

This time of year the clementines are at their peak. After shooting this was suitable for eating and very juicy I might add.

A little clementine history from Produce Pete
 follows. Clementine's are the tiniest of the mandarins. Imported from Spain, Morocco, and other parts of North Africa, clementines are a cross between a sweet orange and a Chinese mandarin. They are small, very sweet, and usually seedless. Most people think of clementines as small tangerines, but they're a different variety entirely, with a distinctive taste. The Clementine is an excellent eating orange. Its small size and lack of seeds make it particularly popular with kids. Clementines have been available in Europe for many years, but the market for them in the United States was made only a few years ago, when a devastating freeze in Florida made domestic oranges scarce and expensive. A lot of oranges, including clementines, were imported from Europe, and clementines started to catch on. Over the past few years they've become increasingly popular, and as the demand has gone up, so has the price.

Clementines also make a nice garnish for the Thanksgiving bird. I hope you can find clementines in your neck of the woods.


Oatmeal is something that ¾’s of our family enjoy. When the weather is cold hot oats hit the spot. 

This studio I work at started putting oatmeal out for breakfast and I really enjoyed it. Let’s face it if there are pastries I will eat them but having oatmeal was a healthy alternative. I felt full after eating it but in a good way.

So I started making it at home. I have this mini crock pot that came with my big crock pot. It is the perfect size for holding our morning oatmeal. When the oatmeal is just about done I put it in the crock pot and cover it. That way it stays hot but is not really cooking so when everyone gets up, all at different times, it will be hot and ready for toppings.

I like dried strawberries, brown sugar and raisins on mine. The sky is the limit with topping ideas.
How about granola, nuts, dried cherries, cream/milk, cranberries or apricots, cinnamon/nutmeg, or fresh fruit. 

The oats that I have prepared are Trader Joe's steel cut oats. How much do we love Trader Joe's products? I have found so many great products there. This one is on the top of my list. I believe it is organic as well. I add a little vanilla to the cooking water and a dash of salt always.

What I like about steel cut oats is the al dente texture. The taste is more nuttier and the texture is chewier than your regular rolled oat. Some think it has a higher nutritional content. I don't believe there is any proof to this.

The texture is due to the processing of the oats. Large steelblades are used to chop the groats into two or three pieces, leaving steel cut oats with a texture that is chewier and coarser than most other forms of oats. 

If you have oatmeal lovers in your household do give this one a try. Drop me a note I love comments. Let me know your thoughts on oatmeal. Love to hear from you all.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Today is one of those rainy fall days when the leaves lose their crunch to the wet and become soggy. The light is inspiring and filtered through the clouds making the sky a giant soft box. A hot steamy cup of coffee tastes extra good and you want to put on warm socks grab a good book and snuggle under your new fall blanket. Well I may do the book thing a little later but now I have to catch up on my blog writing. So I am tethered to the computer for a good bit.

Today I am thinking about pomegranates. They are an amazingly inspiring fruit. When I first met one it was a mystery. What do you do with it? How do you eat it? What once used to be considered an exotic fruit is now commonplace in American cities.

The pomegranate is an ancient fruit originating in the Middle East. Westerners started embracing it when scientists discovered the leathery skinned reddish fruit with a crown on one end might help with heart disease, cancer and problems associated with aging. Loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, potassium, folic acid and iron. The pom is the new super food. It is replacing green tea and red wine in topping the list of anti-oxidant rich foods.

I like pomegranate fairly well but it is my daughter that is mad about them. In fact when I come into the kitchen after she has had one it looks like a crime scene from her favorite csi show. I think you know what I mean. The knife is a bloody/pinkish red and the cutting board is filled with the blood red juice dripping onto my counter staining it ever so beautifully. She is just lucky I am not a clean freak.
I tend to look at things in a real way. I like the way it looks all splattered about. Even though I wish Eva, my daughter would get a little better about clean up.

Anyway I tend to see beauty in the real and even messy parts of life. So the pomegranate crime scene can become a thing of beauty and inspiration.

On Halloween night we were at a neighbors for a little after trick or treat dining. Another neighbor Dillon and I were chatting of all things blogging and frugality. Two things I love talking about. Anyway we got talking about our favorite diy projects. I was telling him how I took a pomegranate that we had that was over ripe and browning inside and instead of throwing it into the compost I thought of the red juices that stained my cutting board and decided to take some gauzy fabric and dye it with the crushed pomegranate. Ok I do get a bit excited talking about creating something out of nothing. To me it is thrilling.

I diluted the juice from the crushed pomegarite with a little water and the cloth you see in the photo is the result. I like the color it is very subtle. Many foods are great for making natural dyes. How about beets red or orange, purple cabbage, turmeric, onionskins. What I like about natural dyes is they have a more organic feel to them.

I often dye my Easter eggs this way. Thanks to Ms. Martha Stewart.

So after I told him about my pomegranate dye he told me about a blog he saw that showed how to hit a pomegranate to get the seeds out easily. He did not remember his source or I would reference it. Anyway as in the picture you hold the half of pomegranate over a bowl and I used my meat mallet to whack it. Make sure the membrane is peeled away slightly this will help the seeds literally just fall out.

One quick whack 

hand model? I think not

Before my daughter would attack the pomegranate picking away frantically trying to get the seeds. Not anymore thanks to Dillon’s little suggestion. This method worked very well.

I saw an article on the internet on how to deseed a pom by soaking 
it in water to get rid of the juices and loosen the seeds. Oh such a bad idea. When you rinse the seeds you are losing all the good stuff. I also saw a piece of plastic in our local grocery that touts itself as a pomegranate deseeder. Come on you don’t need a $4.00 piece of plastic to get your seeds out. Just give it a good whack and your done.

I have to say that I get so many tips from people who are not necessarily in the “food business”.

That is why I am always very inquisitive and interested in learning how others do things. Sometimes I learn so much from unexpectant sources. If you have any tips to share about pomegranates or anything please comment. I love to hear what others are doing.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Tuna and Noodle Casserole

Every once in awhile don’t you just crave those oldies but goodies you grew up on. There is something about the flavors of our childhood that bring us joy and comfort. The recipe your mom made you were we’ll acquainted with. Like old friends.

I had some pretty weird things growing up liked chipped beef on toast and canned creamed asparagus on toast. I think these dishes came from the great depression when to make things go further they added a thick white sauce to everything and put it on toast. I think the slang for it was “shit on a shingle”! I don’t see me blogging about these anytime soon. Even though at the time I ate it up.

One childhood favorite that I long for every now and then is tuna and noodle casserole. I don’t have my mothers recipe it was probably one of the recipes on the label of Campbell’s soup.

I looked at joy of cooking for some guidance and this is what I came up with. Books such as joy of cooking are good resources for creating some of these old recipes. You can revamp them to your liking and create a new updated version.

What I love about this recipe is the crunch top and creamy interior. So soothing for these colder days ahead. My husband voted it the best one I have made so far. So hey it is definitely worth a blog post.
For the topping cooks have used things like bread crumbs, potato chips, etc. I happened to have some trader Joes dried French onions (you know those onions that go on the famous dish a lot of people make at thanksgiving with overcooked green beans) my husband picked up a can last year and I never opened them yet. When I was making this casserole they came to mind for the crunch component. I really liked how it turned out . I hope you do too.

Tuna and Noodle Casserole
2 Tbsps butter, unsalted
½ cup chopped onion
6 ozs wide egg noodles, cooked
1 can cambpells cream of mushroom soup
3/4 can (use empty soup can for measure) whole milk
1 tsp white wine Worcestershire sauce
2 small cans albacore tuna, drained
1 cup frozen or fresh peas
¼ cup chopped parsley, loose pack
salt and pepper, to taste


Melt butter in saucepan. Add onions and sauté until translucent.

Cook Noodles in large pot boiling water. Do not over cook. Cook al Dente. You are cooking them again in the oven if you cook them too long at this point they will be mushy and overcooked.
Drain when done.

When onions are translucent turn off heat. Add soup, milk, tuna, Worcestershire sauce, parsley, peas and salt and pepper. Mix well.

Mix gently with noodles and place in casserole dish. Top with trader joes French onions Bake at 375 degrees F. until heated through. Top will look slightly crusted and browned. If getting too dark put tin foil gently over top and continue heating. About 15 minutes total.

Suggestion: I would go out on a limb here and serve this with a full bodied chardonnay and salad of mixed greens.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Cinnamon Chip Muffins

Muffins are a big hit with everyone in our household. They are a favorite after school snack for the kids and mom loves them with a piping hot latte or tea.
Super easy. These muffins  remind me of individual coffee cakes. The crumb is very tender. The cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg is just right. 

I found this product called cinnamon flav-r-bites at King Arthur Flour a great place to buy flours, sprinkles, decors, flavorings, anything for baking really. So these were the inspiration for this recipe. 

One thing that is so important when making muffins is to not over beat the batter.

I learned this lesson in food science class in college and even vaguely remember doing a report on muffins and leavening. However it was the time another stylist sternly told me about muffin mixing that really hit it home for me. I knew over mixing was bad it produced a pointed top and could lead to nasty tunneling in the crumb. But on this particular job the stylist I was assisting was not sure I knew that and upon my mixing looked over my shoulder to tell me to stop mixing the muffins. I got it. She was a perfectionist and wanted perfect muffins and she was unsure of my ability to do so. So this lesson was brought home and the muffins were photo ready that day so many years ago. 

Cinnamon Chip Muffin Recipe-makes 12

8 Tbsps unsalted butter, room temp
2/3 cups sugar
1 lg egg
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp soda (baking)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup king arthur cinnamon flav-r-bites
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 tsps vanilla

**cinnamon sugar made with 2/3 cups sugar and 1 Tbsp cinnamon for topping.
I always have this on hand in a shaker jar for cinnamon and french toast

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin tin with paper liners.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy about 2 minutes. Make sure butter is at room temperature. Add egg.

In another bowl mix the dry ingredients flour, baking powder and soda salt,nutmeg. You can put them through a strainer to sift or whisk when all together. Then add cinnamon chips.

Add vanilla to buttermilk.

Add flour mixture and buttermilk mixture to the butter alternating between the two and starting and ending with flour. Be sure to do this step by hand and only mix until incorporated no more. Actually you can have a slight bit of flour unmixed and you will be fine.

Put batter in muffin tins sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and bake for approximately 20 minutes.

When done muffins should be golden brown. Leave cool in tin about 5 minutes on cooling rack and then take them out of pan and let finish cooling on the rack. Otherwise the muffins will steam in the tins and get soggy. 

Note: I have no affiliation with King Arthur Flour I just blog about things I like.

The End

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cream of Broccoli Soup

Time to reflect a bit on where I have come from and where I am going. It has been six months since I started blogging. At that time I never knew what a blog was or about all the food blogging going on. Thanks to Julie at democralypsenow  for acquainting me to the blogging world. Her advice to the audience "blog about what you know." That is exactly what I did.

As a food stylist I work on sets with other stylists preparing beautiful food for advertising. In a suburban kitchen I prepare what my family likes, experiment with recipes and create new ones. 

I love photographing food in my kitchen especially when the light is perfect. Light is everything. When we cook there is a story. I try to be conscious of that, the story. 

In my kitchen there is no art director or any one telling me what looks good. This is a blessing and maybe at times a curse because you are Hans Solo. I think this one comes from cousin Liz.
So blog I will out into the cybersphere and hopefully people will come to visit and hang out and talk food.

Today I am making broccoli soup. Cream of to be exact. I opened the vegetable drawer, as we call it, and noticed it was brimming with broccoli. It was a no brainer as to what to do with it. This soup is easy and it is wonderfully satisfying and high in fiber as you can imagine. This recipe is from one of my favorite cookbooks and it may be one of the first ones in my library. It is Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook. What I like about this book is the simplicity. The book has no photos, no bells and whistles but what it does have is great recipes. Every one I have made has not disappointed. This cream of broccoli soup tastes just like it should. Smooth, creamy and comforting to the core. Grab your favorite baquette for dipping and you have a meal.

You can make it vegetarian as Mollie does or you can substitute chicken broth for the water and adjust the seasonings.

As with all recipes they are guides. Feel free to make them your own and make notes. You may find you like what you did better. Or not.

smart phone shot

This is the base recipe I used.
The changes I made are I omitted the dried thyme because I had fresh lemon thyme in my garden. I also omitted the basil.
For the milk I used 1 cup whole milk and one cup heavy cream. I liked the richer flavor of the cream.

This soup is not super thin or thick. If you like a thicker soup you could make a roux. To me the viscosity was perfect. Mollie suggested garnishing with some steamed broccoli florets. I like this idea a lot. It adds dimension and makes a nice accoutrement.

Another garnish idea is fresh thyme. I have this fragrant lemon thyme in the garden and it is perfect for this soup.
Please feel free to comment and let me know what you think. Would love to hear from you.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Autumn Squash and Apple Bisque

Fall Leaves on Pleasant Street

What can I say but fall has arrived. We are enjoying a beautiful week of Indian Summer weather here in the Chicago burbs. The temperatures are warm and the leaves are beginning to turn and fall. Today I felt the first crunch beneath my feet. In some ways it felt like a switch was flipped the way the seasons just seemed to change almost overnight.

I think as you get older you are more aware of these things or at least I try to be. Or maybe it is my conscious effort to slow things down a bit and feel the world around me.

To me the first things I thought about when the kitchen temperature dropped was baking and soup. What a better soup to make other than butternut and apple bisque. With squash and apples at their peek this is seasonal cooking at it's best. This soup was a recipe I prepared and styled years ago for a Chicago Tribune article. I spent about 7 years as a freelance food stylist for the Sunday magazine section of the Chicago Tribune. I loved trying the recipes and some stayed with me over the years.

What I love about this soup is the texture and the sweet, spicy goodness it possesses. I love to have it with a hunk of French baguette for dipping. Top it off with creme fraiche for extra zing and a sprinkle of paprika for color. 

Autumn Squash and Apple Bisque-
Adapted from “Apple Companion” by Liz Clark and jill Vorbeck

4 Tbsps butter
1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped
½ tsp ginger
½ tsp cinnamon
1 qt chicken stock
2 medium autumn squash (I used butternut) 1 ½ lbs total, peeled, seeded, diced
2 ½ firm apples, cored, peeled, diced (I used honey crisp)
½ cup heavy cream
salt and cayenne pepper to taste

1. Melt butter in heavy saucepan over medium heat.
2. Add onions, ginger and cinnamon.
3. Saute, stirring constantly, until onions are transparent.
4. Add chicken stock, squash and apples and bring to a boil.
5. Simmer until squash and apples are soft.
6. Cool mixture slightly.
7. Puree in a blender, filling container no more than ¾ full or you will be splattered with hot burning soup and no one wants that.
8. Return to heat and add cream season to taste.

Cooking Tip: When cutting a hard squash be very careful. My only kitchen accident involved an acorn squash and the emergency room. My advice on this squash avoid it at all costs. Just kidding of course. I love acorn squash but to peel it whole I recommend softening it slightly in the oven until it is slightly softer and you could get a knife through it. When cutting round things it is a good idea to cut a part off the bottom so it will sit flat and not roll.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookies-My Best Ever.... So Far

Ah Americas favorite cookie? I think so. When it comes to this cookie we all have a vision in mind. Some of us may like crunchy, some may like chewy, some a lot of chocolate and some not so much.

Some like my son love the cookie dough the best. Which brings me to a story. In this world of so much information and daily reports of a new thing that is going to kill us. It is a wonder we are not all nuts. So one day a few years ago I was making cookies. A group of kids wandered into the kitchen. My son was like “cookie dough yum”! One of the boys in the group looked at him eating the cookie dough with horror on his face like you are going to die and proceeded to tell us about salmonella and how you will get sick. Wow I think it is good to have information but that poor kid was missing out on the best part of the cookie making process. Licking the beaters. Scraping the bowl with your fingers until it shined.

It made me sad actually that he had to look at cookie dough as a poison. I have to say in all my years of eating cookie dough and everyone in my family eating cookie dough no one has ever gotten sick. My kids are 11 and 14 and have been eating it as long as they could eat it and they are thriving.

This is not poison

Yes, as with all things there is a risk. But we can't live our life being afraid of everything. Eggs either have salmonella or they don't. The odds are with us that in our lifetime we will not be infected with salmonella from an egg.

As parents we need to look out for our kids and give them information but being alarmists just stresses everyone out. For God’s sake let them eat the cookie dough.

I have tried different recipes over the years and the Toll House  one is a darn good one. I have also tried the Neiman Marcus Recipe. All good but not the best ever. While I hate to use the term "best ever", because my best may not be your best so I will just say the recipe I adapted is “my best chocolate chip cookie, so far” recipe.

What I love about baking versus cooking. Baking is more science. I studied food science in college and loved how there was a reason for everything that happened in baking. When you know the reasoning behind what is happening it makes it easier to understand. 
For instance one of the most important factors is the temperature of the butter and the creaming process. We read our recipe and it calls for soft butter or room temperature butter. Well what does this really mean? How soft
should it be. Nearly melted?

I pulled out some books and internet research and found that the best temperature for creaming butter is 65 degrees F. How to tell if your butter is at 65 degrees? I use an insta read thermometer. Another way is to push your finger in it and it should give slightly and leave a slight indentation.

Butter is basically an emulsion of water in fat, with some dairy solids that help hold them together. Keeping the butter at the right temperature keeps the emulsion intact. One day this summer I left my butter out on the counter and it was melted because the temp in the kitchen was about 80 degrees. The butter was runny meaning the emulsion broke. It would never be able to form a structure if I used it.

In addition to the butter another factor is the flour. I have always used all purpose or ap flour. However when I came across this recipe by Jacques Torres I noticed him using cake and bread flour. Dah that makes sense. The bread flour would give some more structure to the cookie due to the added protein.

Ok so I did some testing and this is my recipe.

Chocolate Chip/Chunk Cookies

2 sticks unsalted butter, 65 deg F
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
2 tsps vanilla
1 1/4 cups cake flour
1 cup bread flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
chocolate chips or bittersweet chocolate bars, chopped 
fleur de sel, for sprinkling

Cream butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. About three minutes in a kitchen aid on number 3 speed. Add eggs one at a time. Beat well. Add vanilla.

Mix dry ingredients together and add to creamed mixture.

Add some of chocolate to batter (see tip below) and scoop with a #40 scoop on cookie sheet, not insulated. Add extra chocolate to top. Sprinkle lightly with fleur de sel. Bake at 350 degrees F until golden brown.

Food Styling Tips: When I make cookies for work or the home studio I always use a food service scoop. This will give you uniform cookies.

When placing pieces in my cookies be it nuts or chocolate I add some to the batter and leave some out to place on the cookie before it goes into the oven. This will insure you have some identifiable pieces on top. You can even add part way through baking if you like!

I find the fleur de sel makes a nice addition and reminded me of the carmels I make of the same name. The little splash of salt with the sweet is a nice touch. So enjoy these cookies and please comment on how they worked for you.

Friday, September 16, 2011


I have a big fan of my blog my friend Anastasia a creative genius in so many ways. Her talents are astounding as an author, artist, musician, salad maker, craftswoman. One of those people that can do anything well.

She is always telling me you should write about this or that. So many things to write about I don’t know where to begin. I don’t want to bore the pants off people with what I had for breakfast and what my kids did funny but talking real truth about daily life is kind of interesting. It helps us connect with other people.

I guess if you come to a blog you want to feel like you are sitting at the kitchen table with the person discussing life.
So this post will be some of this and that and ramblings along those lines so pull up a kitchen chair and let’s chit chat.

The biggest challenge for me as a mom /freelance working mom is to balance it all. I mean work, home, kids, dogs, husband, shopping. Enough to make my head spin. Well I admit I am a bit fascinated by those women who seem so put together and life seems calm for them.  I am NOT one of these woman. I heard Suze Orman speaking the other day, I love her by the way, she has a great philosophy about life, finances whatever. She says “know your truth.” Wow that one is IT in a nutshell. She was referring to spending primarily but it relates to all aspects of life.

Know what your good at, your strengths and weaknesses, and spend time doing it. The stuff you suck at forget about it. Or if you really want to punish yourself keep trying until you get better at it.

Now my husband has often thought I have ADD. Well I don’t think that is the case more like I am not 30 anymore and I stayed at home raising the kids and now they are older and I am on a mission from GOD!
To quote Elwood Blues.

Seriously I have things to do and learn. I love it that my husband was on board with me staying home to raise the kids. To me it was important and something I waited my whole life to do. Yes I was one of those girls. I had no post partum anything just pure bliss with baby/toddlerdom. Pre-teen/teen years not as blissful!! LOL

Now that the kids are teen and pre-teen they don’t need or want me as much and with college looming in the forecast I better get making some dough. Plus getting out of the house and being with adults is a good thing. For me and the kids.

My career has suffered or lets just say I could have been further along if I had not stayed home with the kiddies. It was hard entering the workforce after 10 years and expecting people to hire me again.

The people who were assistant food stylists were now lead stylists and I could not exactly say hey here I am I know you have all been waiting for me to return. Really, the fact is there were plenty of others to take my position. And chomping at the bit to do so. So starting all over again has been hard. That is why the blogging has been so good for me. I can be creative in my home studio/kitchen and use my talents as a food stylist and also perfect my photographic skills.

Anyway back to my ADD. So my friend Anastasia came over last night to deliver a red velvet cake she got from one of her students after having her emergency appendectomy. I had worked out of the house food styling so everything felt chaotic. That is when she said you should blog about this. Oh you mean my crazy life?

I have been freelancing all my career so that is all I know. Here is how it goes. So I get the call to work a job for the next day. Ok it’s a book. So I proceed to put all the ducks in a row like hiring Lynn the dog walker, figuring out who will take Michael to football practice, making sure everyone has food, feeding dogs, cooking and cleaning house, doing laundry, packing lunches, signing school papers and so on.

When I work I come home and literally leave one kitchen and step into another. Yesterday I left the photo studio and walked in the house and went right to our sink to tackle the days dishes as well as a few from the evening.

As in most households the kitchen is the hub. Well mine is no different. Everyone is hungry all the time.

I actually have a big smile on my face as I’m writing this because it is so comical when I am in the kitchen. I have three dogs yes I am crazy and yes it was a mistake but would not give them up for the world. So every time I am in the kitchen I have at least one if not all three waiting for any crumb to drop. I have a black lab that is obsessed with produce and when I even so much as open the fruit or vege drawer she is running from wherever she was prior to sit for a piece of fruit or vegetable. Or sometimes half a cantalope if I turn my back and she gets on the counter.

My son has been begging me for cake. My daughter wants muffins. My husband wants meat of any kind that pulls away from the bone and is fork tender.

So my house is set up like a restaurant kitchen because that is what it feels like to me. I have all my white restaurant dishes on a shelf above the stove. Ready to grab. Frig behind me for easy reach.

A small breakfast bar to the left of the stove where people like to hang while I cook. Above the breakfast bar is an industrial strength pot rack put in by Bob my handman extraordinaire.

So my life is a bit crazy as a freelancer the stopping and starting the wearing of this hat or that but I would not change it for the world. I could never go to a cube all day I am not cut out for it. I need the constant change and stimulation of new things. Even though I do get a bit stressed it all works out and when I am working on new things and get that fix of creativity from my styling it makes it all worth it. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Thinking of New York Today

As I was just thinking about writing and what I felt like photographing today. This delicious cake from the Magnolia Bakery in New York sprang to mind. Then I thought about what happened on this day 10 years ago. Oh course we all remember it even those of us that were not in harms way. One of those days you will never forget like your wedding day, the birth of each child, etc.

The Magnolia Bakery is in New York and has been a favorite cupcake hangout since 1996. People line up down the block to get a taste of Allysa Torey’s baking.

My daughter first made this cake a few months ago when she had a hankering for something sweet. She did it all herself just like the book said. In Allysa’s book the cake was two tiered with whip cream and nectarine slices in the middle and top layers.

We absolutely loved the cake it was lightly sweet and tender. The addition of fruit and cream was perfect.

However, for our purposes the two tier was a little much and hard to cut into. So the next time I made it I served it almost like a shortcake I sliced one layer and covered each slice with fresh whipped vanilla cream and berries. So easy and simple. You can freeze the other layer if you'd like.

I have three of Magnolia Bakery’s books but my all time favorite is the one titled “at home with Magnolia”. I want to live inside that book. Her style is exactly what I love. The old chairs at her dining table all mismatched with chips in the paint. Vintage fabrics and dishes adorn her table. Oh and fresh roses in beautiful milk glass vases.

Some of the favorite things I have made from that book are the crostini with goat cheese, beefsteak tomatoes, and red onion, vegetable tacos, chicken with mustard-shallot cream sauce.

So today I will share this delicious recipe with you. Let me know if you make it and if you like it as much as we did. On this day share something with someone. Food is a great way to bring people together on this day and everyday.

Buttermilk Cake with Berries and Vanilla Cream
adapted from "at home with magnolia"

2 cups cake flour (not-self rising)
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 1/3 cups buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
4 lg egg whites, room temperature

Vanilla Cream

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 Tbsps powdered sugar
2 tsps vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and lightly flour two 9x2 inch cake pans lined with waxed paper on the bottom.

In a small bowl sift the dry ingredients together. Set aside.

In a large bowl, on medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk and vanilla, always beginning and ending with the flour mixture. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are combined do not over beat.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites on high speed until soft beaks form. Gently fold into batter. Divide the batter between the prepared pans and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let the cake cool in the pans for 1 hour. Remove from pans and cool completely on a wire rack.

Vanilla Cream

In a large bowl, whip the heavy cream with the sugar and vanilla until stiff peaks form.
When cake is cooled. Cut into wedges and serve with assorted fresh berries and vanilla cream.