Thursday, October 19, 2017

Cottage Kitchen, Cozy Cooking in the English Countryside, Reviewed

It probably helps that, before I read this book, I had spent a considerable amount of time in England, the countryside in particular. There is no more beautiful place on earth than the English countryside. So, I had a suspicion, before I even read this book, that I was going to like it. Naturally, I did, but I think you will too, because you don't have to bring any particular knowledge of England along with you when you read it, all you have to do is sit back and enjoy. I use the word "read" here because, while this is technically a cookbook, it also reads like a wonderful tale of discovery.
The Cottage Kitchen, Cozy Cooking in the English Countryside is the product of writer, photographer, and blogger extraordinaire, Marte Marie Forsberg. Fosberg, who grew up in the countryside of Norway, spent childhood and teenage summers in France and Switzerland, as well as considerable time in Italy, now finds herself planted in the English countryside, with her faithful companion, an English Pointer named Mr. Whiskey. Together they wander, forage, photograph, and cook up a delightful companionable existence, and a toothsome one, too! 
This charming book is a visual delight. Before I read a single word, I fell in love with it. The author is quite an accomplished photographer, and her love of England shines through in every photograph. Her stories are enchanting, her recipes delicious.
The book is charmingly divided by season: Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn, and, well, Afternoon Tea, not a season in itself, of course, but well worth covering.
On a whim (and because I had a vegetable crisper full of it), I tried the recipe for Stuet Käl (Creamy Cabbage Stew), a simple cooked cabbage in white sauce recipe that I found as tasty as it was warm and soothing.
With still more cabbage remaining, I tried her recipe for Waldorf Salad, in which I found cabbage a rather surprising addition, finding it to be my new favorite version, and on my list for monthly, if not weekly consumption.
I'm not a baker, particularly, but so many recipes beckoned to me here, that I might just end up changing my status in that regard, No-Knead Pecan and Fig Bread high on my list of Recipes to Try. Doughnuts with Chocolate Sauce, Almond Rice Cream Pudding, and Prosecco Scones, all had me similarly sighing.

Carnivores will no doubt find themselves tempted by Steak and Cheese Pie, Partridges Baked with Figs and Olives, or Marie's Meatballs with Parsnip and Cardamom Purée.

Whether a cook or diner, all will find this book a delight. Some may find themselves booking passage to the heart of England. This is a delicious, inspiring volume, a must for the home cook's library, and sure to make a welcome gift.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the Publisher via Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Campanelli with Mushrooms, Bacon, and Parmesan

For me, pasta is the ultimate comfort food. Pasta, and cheeseburgers, I love cheeseburgers. And a steak, a nice medium-rare Filet Mignon. Oh! And lobster bisque, sweet and succulent lobster bisque. Where was I? Oh yes, pasta. I find pasta to be the ultimate comfort food because it's easy to put together, and so warm and soothing to consume. It doesn't take a whole lot of effort to make a truly wonderful pasta dish that can work equally well as a starter, or main course.

Finding my fridge with more mushrooms than I needed, and wanting to make good use of them, I decided to create this dish. It was absolutely delicious, and so easy. It's important, in this case, that you use the Campanelli, because those little scroll-like noodles hold onto so much of your delicious sauce.
Campanelli with Mushrooms, Bacon, and Parmesan

4 ounces Campanelli pasta
4 pieces thick bacon
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 ounces mushrooms, sliced

2 Melissa's organic shallots, minced
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/8 teaspoon thyme
A glimmer of freshly grated nutmeg*

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add 1/2 tablespoon salt. Cook pasta according to package directions, about 10 minutes to al dente; drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta water; set aside.

While pasta is cooking, rough chop bacon and cook over medium heat in a 10-inch sauté pan until crispy, about eight minutes. With a slotted spoon remove bacon to a plate. Drain all but 2 tablespoons bacon grease.

To the pan in which you cooked bacon, add garlic and shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots are soft. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring, another 3 to 4 minutes until mushrooms are tender. Return bacon to the pan.

Reduce heat to medium-low and pour in heavy cream, stirring continuously. Slowly add Parmesan, salt, pepper, oregano, thyme, and nutmeg, stirring all the while. Allow to simmer 2 to 3 minutes until it reaches desired thickness. If the sauce needs thinning, stir in reserved pasta water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached. Add pasta and stir to coat. Serve immediately.

This makes two main course or four starter course servings.

*There is, of course, no official measurement called "glimmer." Considering a single grating of nutmeg to be just that.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Tasty Tip Tuesday: How to Grate and Chop Ginger

I am a big fan of ginger. I love adding it to dishes, both ethnic and otherwise, to give it a tasty kick. But, being a root, ginger can be problematic when it comes to chopping, slicing, or grating. All of those fibers just tend to get in the way, and you can end up with a real mess.

So here's a little tip for you today. When you get ginger, as soon as you get it home and out of its bag, toss it into the freezer. It grates, slices, and chops like a dream when it's frozen. It also keeps forever, so you will always have it on hand. I make it a habit to have one or two ginger roots in the freezer so that I can make any recipe that has ginger, at the drop of a hat. Throw that powdered stuff away, and grate your own. It's easy, if it's freez-y. (Bad pun, I know, but I just couldn't resist.) :-)

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Monday, October 16, 2017

Autumn Alfresco Tablescape

In looking at the 10-day weather forecast, it appears that my dining alfresco weather days are on the wane. Not that I'm complaining; no one loves fall weather more than I do, but I like to have breakfast out-of-doors, and mornings when temperatures are in the 50s make this a bit too cold to manage.
Over the weekend, I decided to go all out and set a pretty table on the lanai.

The flowers that I had gotten for my birthday still look as glorious as ever, so I decided to use them as the centerpiece on my table. As soon as fall hit, I changed the decor on the lanai to reflect the season.

Gone was the Tommy Bahama tropical tablecloth, replaced by a brown floor length tablecloth, and this autumn topper, that I made myself. I love the colors of autumn, and every one of them are reflected in this beautiful fabric featuring colorful fall scenes.
With the tablecloth in place, and the flowers at the center, all I had to do was build from there. Because it was a round table, I chose the same woven round placemats that I used indoors last week. That was my base.

I topped those with the plaid plates that I am so in love with these days, and, because I was going to have soup later in the day, I decided to use these wonderful bowls. Aren't they colorful and gorgeous?

The napkins are the same gold ones that I had used before, the flatware are of the faux bamboo variety that seems so appropriate for out-of-doors.
I only have two of these wonderful pumpkin mugs, so they were the perfect choice.
The yellow chalices were a gift from my mother about 40 years ago. You've seen these a lot, and I still love using them. They always get comments from people, they hold a lot of water, or iced tea, or whatever beverage I'm serving at the time, and add so much color and fun.
Naturally, I had to put a mini pumpkin in each of them for a bit of whimsy.
Because the flowers are still in my favorite vintage corn picture, I had to make use of the crows once again.
I had such fun dining at this table. I hope you enjoy looking at it as much as I enjoyed putting it together.

Here are my sources:
Brown floor length tablecloth -
Gold napkins -
  Round woven placemats - World Market
Plaid dinner plates - Pier 1
Soup bowls - David Harden “Autumn Splendor” pattern
Pumpkin mugs - Starbucks, many years ago
Yellow chalices - gift for my mother
Bamboo flatware - eBay
Vintage corn picture - eBay
Flowers - Secret Admirer

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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Stock the Crock: 100 Must-Have Slow-Cooker Recipes, 200 Variations for Every Appetite, Reviewed

For my money there are no better slow cooker cookbooks available today than those by Phyllis Good. Good has published over a thousand slow-cooker recipes in her various offerings, so she obviously knows what she's doing. In her latest, Stock the Crock: 100 Must-Have Slow-Cooker Recipes, 200 Variations for Every Appetite, she offers not just her own excellent recipes, but those gathered from her fan base. Each was tested, perfected, and then offered up in numerous variations in order to make the recipe easy to prepare by the average home cook. Once the recipe was perfected, Good went one step further, creating variations for those who observe gluten-free, paleo, vegetarian, or other special diets. 

There are a wide variety of crockpot recipes here, in all categories, and I am particularly appreciative of the fact that, in addition to gluten-free, paleo, and vegetarian adaptations, she didn’t forget those of us whose households have shrunk, by including two-serving versions of some of the recipes. The Pumpkin Crème Brûlée, for example (that sounded amazingly good to me), is offered up as a recipe that serves six, but with a smaller variation to serve two, using ramekins. I have never made crème brûlée in the crockpot, so I plan on trying this recipe tonight.

There is so much to like about this book. Yes, it doesn't have as many recipes as her previous books, however, it does have lots of full-page colorful, mouth-watering photos, and I really love that in a cookbook.

I can't say enough about this cookbook. If you are a fan of slow cooking like I am, you need to add this to your library. With the holiday season ahead, you might consider a gift of this book along with a suitably sized crockpot. Delicious!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary cookbook from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Pumpkin Spice Sugar

By now you all should know that I have a vast collection of dishes. What you may not know is that I love each and every one of them. Despite the sheer volume of dishes that I have, every one is special in its own way. With this in mind, you can imagine my distress when, the day before yesterday, my pumpkin pepper shaker slipped from my hand, hit the floor, and shattered. I was absolutely crushed! I love this set of pumpkin salt-and-pepper shakers, and have had them forever.

There was nothing particularly special about this set, it just appealed to me. Pumpkins would take me from early September all the way to the end of November, and I like that.
Not a fall table was without them. I used them at a Halloween luncheon at my old house.
I used them on the Baker’s rack when I would start decorating for fall.
They graced every fall dinner table.
And I just liked looking at them.

I wasn't about to discard the one lone, rather sad, salt shaker. But, I did empty it of salt, wash it up, and set it on the counter to stare at for a day or two.

While it sat there, I started to think of ways in which I could use it. Ways in which I could use a single unit from a set. It was then that it came to me. I would fill it with pumpkin spice sugar, in the same way in which I had filled another solitary shaker from a set where one had broken with cinnamon sugar for toast. An idea was born!

I had no idea as to the portions, so just guessed, but now I am happy as a clam to have this one shaker, filled with something special, that I use every morning. So pleased to still have it in use, and with a very special purpose all its own.

If you would like to make some pumpkin spice sugar of your own, here are the proportions that I used. Certainly you could double or triple it. I needed only a small amount to fit into my pumpkin shaker.
Pumpkin Spice Sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon homemade pumpkin pie spice

Mix together thoroughly with a whisk, and put into your favorite shaker. Use to sprinkle on top of hot cocoa, your morning latte, ice cream, muffins, or simply on top of a buttered biscuit, croissant, or, as I have done here, a humble piece of toast.

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Texas Sheet Cake Brownies

It seems as though I did nothing but cook over what should have been a restful birthday weekend. I wanted to have a lot of meals prepared to take to my dad that I could deliver when we had lunch on Friday, as well as the yummy desserts that he loves. Last Thursday I made Texas Sheet Cake Brownies to take to dad's. I don't like Texas Sheet Cake (That, of course, begs the question as to why I would make these, for which I have no answer.), but liked the ease (They don't call me "Easy Pattie" for nothing.) and, of course, had to put my own special spin on them. I mean, why use a tablespoon of brewed coffee when a bottle of Kahlúa is calling your name?

I also don't particularly care for brownies (Again, not liking Texas Sheet Cake and brownies, one really has to wonder why I made this recipe.), because they never seem to have the density, chewiness, or rich chocolate taste that I'm looking for. This recipe looked like it had possibilities; with my Kahlúa addition in both the cake and frosting, I think I have reached brownie perfection. They are a little bit of work because you have to make cooked frosting, but, hey, brownies need frosting. These are decadent; you are going to find yourself in chocolate heaven. I topped them with crushed Butterfinger bars to take them right over the top.

A word about the pictures:  I totally forgot to photograph them on the day that I made them when the frosting was smooth and creamy. Instead, these hung out in the fridge for a couple of days. Yours are going to look a heck of a lot prettier than these. 
Texas Sheet Cake Brownies
Adapted from

1 stick unsalted butter
ounces dark or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 large eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
tablespoon Kahlúa
1 tablespoon coffee
1 teaspoon instant espresso granules
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

½ stick unsalted butter
3 tablespoons whole milk
3 tablespoons unsweetened dark cocoa powder
1 3/4 to 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon Kahlúa

To Make Brownies:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line an 8-inch square pan with aluminum foil leaving a 2”overhang on each end (for easy lifting), and spray with cooking spray; set aside.

Place butter and chocolate into a large microwave-safe bowl, and heat on high power to melt, about 2 minutes, stirring at 30-second increments. Allow mixture to cool momentarily before adding the eggs so they don’t curdle.

Add the eggs, sugar, Kahlúa, coffee, and espresso granules, and whisk vigorously to combine. Add flour and salt, and stir until smooth and combined without overmixing.

Pour batter into prepared pan, smoothing the top lightly with a spatula as necessary.

Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until center has just set and is no longer glossy. A toothpick should come out clean or with a few moist crumbs, but no batter. Allow brownies to cool in pan on top of a wire rack while you make the frosting.

To Make Frosting:
In a medium saucepan place butter, milk, and cocoa powder, and heat over medium-high to melt butter. Whisk constantly until butter has melted. Allow mixture to come to a boil and boil for about 15 seconds before removing from the heat.

Add 1 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar (more if you like it thicker) and Kahlúa, and whisk until smooth and combined. 

Pour frosting on top of brownies, using a spatula to spread.
Allow brownies to cool, uncovered, for at least 1 hour before slicing and serving. Brownies will keep airtight at room temp for up to 1 week, in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, or in the freezer for up to 6 months.

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