Monday, September 17, 2018

'The Incredibles' Sugar Cookies

If your kids like the Pixar movies of The Incredibles, then you may want to have a set of 'Incredibles' logo sugar cookies for their next birthday party.  A neighbor of mine asked that I make a set of these cookies for his son's birthday several weeks ago, so that all of the kids in attendance could get one as a party favor.

This set of cookies came together very quickly because the design was straightforward and there were only four colors to work with.  

After cutting out dozens of oval-shaped sugar cookies, I took a smaller oval cookie cutter and traced a slanted oval and a slanted 'i', using a food coloring pen.  With yellow royal icing, I then outlined and flooded the letters, and then added a single dot of white royal icing to the center of the dotted 'i'.  

Working quickly and while the icing was still wet, I then outline and flooded the slanted oval in black royal icing, and then outline and flooded the rest of the oval in a bright-orange royal icing.  These were then left to dry completely.

How easy was this?

Clear cellophane bags and orange ribbons were used to package up the cookies before being delivered to the party.

Easy, tasty and simply incredible, these Incredibles logo sugar cookies are a great treat for any kid's birthday.  Remember them the next time you're planning a party for the little ones, and they happen to be big fans of this particular Pixar franchise.  They're going to be a hit, just like the movie!

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Eggs Poached in Tomato Sauce

Have you ever had the pleasure of eating eggs poached in tomato sauce?  It's such a delicious way to cook and serve eggs for a light breakfast, lunch or even a dinner.  Nothing could be easier than cracking a few eggs into a pot of simmering tomato sauce, and then having them poach to perfection.

Since there are only a few ingredients to this dish, it's of the utmost importance to use good, cage-free, free-range eggs, and fresh garden tomatoes, if possible, or canned San Marzano tomatoes.

Many gardens are still bursting with tomatoes, so if you're lucky enough to have a bumper crop I strongly encourage you to make a large pot of marinara sauce.  It's an easy thing to do, and it's such a great way to capture the essence of summer. 

After harvesting several plump Brandywine tomatoes a couple of weeks ago (above), I wasted no time in making a most delicious marinara sauce. 

The first order of business is to skin the tomatoes.  Fill a pot halfway with water and bring it up to a boil.  Score an X on the bottoms of the tomatoes (I made marinara sauce with about 8 lbs. of fresh Brandywine tomatoes).  In the meantime, fill a large bowl halfway with water and add plenty of ice; set this on the counter next to the pot.  As soon as the pot is boiling, plunge 2-3 tomatoes at a time (depending on size) and leave them for about 30 seconds in the boiling water.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer them to the ice water to stop the cooking.  Continue with all of your tomatoes.  Peel your tomatoes and cut into segments.

Marinara Sauce
  • 8 lbs. peeled, chopped tomatoes (or two 28 oz. cans of San Marzano tomatoes)
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 bunch fresh basil or Greek oregano
  • salt and pepper
  1. In a Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat and add the onion.  Saute until translucent and then add the garlic.  Let the garlic cook and sizzle for about 1-2 minutes, add a few pinches of salt and pepper, then add the tomatoes.
  2. Bring the tomatoes to a simmer over medium-high heat.  Using a large wooden spoon, stir the tomatoes a bit and then cover.  Add the bunch of herbs (either basil or Greek oregano makes a delicious marinara sauce).
  3. Let the tomatoes simmer over medium heat for 10-15 minutes until they release most of their juices and the tomatoes start to break down.  Stir from time to time.
  4. Lower the heat and simmer the tomatoes for 1-2 hours until the marinara is reduced and thickened.  Remove the herb stems.
  5. Use immediately in your favorite recipe(s), can the marinara sauce, or let cool completely and refrigerate/freeze for future use.

Eggs Poached in Tomato Sauce

  • 1 cup marinara sauce
  • 2-4 fresh eggs
  • sliced bread (grilled or toasted)
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh oregano or basil
  • freshly grated parmesan (optional)
Serves 2 people
  1. In a small sauce pan or frying pan with a lid, bring the marinara up to a simmer over medium heat.
  2. Add 2-4 eggs into the marinara sauce, spacing them evenly throughout the pan.
  3. Cover the pan and gently poach the eggs for approximately 5 minutes.  
  4. When done, the whites should be completely set and the egg yolks should still be runny.
  5. Ladle eggs and marinara sauce into shallow soup bowls and serve with toasted bread.
The recipe can be halved or it can be doubled.  The amount of eggs will depend on your appetite and that of your family/guests.  Calculate 1/2 cup of marinara sauce per serving.

As you can see, this humble dish of eggs in marinara sauce is not fussy or difficult to make.  It's a great thing to have for a weekend brunch or an impromptu dinner.  If truth be told, you could even make this with some doctored up, store-bought marinara sauce.  Just don't tell anyone that you did.

A good slice or two of some hearty bread that's been grilled or toasted is very important.  I love to scoop up an egg and some marinara sauce onto my bread and simply bite into it.  How delicious is this?

If you have a lot of garden tomatoes and have run out of ideas on how to use them, make a batch of garden tomato sauce.  Marinara sauce freezes very well. When the moment is right, simply simmer some sauce in a sauce pan and crack some eggs into the mixture.  A most delicious lunch or dinner can be ready in less than 30 minutes.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Elegant Monogram Sugar Cookies

If you want to make some impressive monogram sugar cookies for an elegant get-together, consider using an airbrush kit to quickly color a design onto a blank canvas.  This type of cookie can be used for a birthday party, a wedding, an anniversary or any special event.  Begin with a good sugar cookie base, whether it be chocolate, citrus, marble, spice or plain, and then cover each cut out with some delicious royal icing.

After the stenciled design has set, the fun begins. 

I'm new to airbrushing and feel so behind the rest of my fellow cookie decorators out there.  However, it's time I began experimenting with the airbrush kit, because I need new design ideas for my family, friends and clients.

Not having an extensive selection of stencils, I turned to some from Martha by Mail.  The ones I have were originally meant to stencil designs onto cakes, but I thought that they would work perfectly on my cookies.

These particular monogram sugar cookies were designed for a dear aunt of mine celebrating a birthday out in California.  I knew that I wanted to make a single monogram, and I knew that I wanted to use gold on them.  As much as I thought how great it would be to get intricate with the designs, I changed my mind halfway through the decorating process.  Less was more in this case.

Whenever I embark on a sugar cookie decorating project, I make sure to bake the amount of cookies I will need ahead of time, and I make several batches of my perfect royal icing.  If I've made royal icing a day or two ahead of time (this is stored in a large bowl; plastic wrap is placed directly on the surface of the icing, and then another piece of plastic wrap gets placed around the entire bowl), I make sure to beat it in my mixer right before I use it.  

Do you remember that vintage Hobart N50 mixer I custom-colored?  It works like a charm for whipping up royal icing.

For my aunt's cookies, I cut out plaques, squares and rectangles.  The doughs were a combination of chocolate, sugar and marble.  It's important to me to have cookies that taste as good as they look.  This is why my tried-and-true recipes (below) are made over and over again.

This is how I like to work.  Start by outlining the design of your cookie with some royal icing.  I use either a #3 or #4 plain piping tip to do this.

Since my blank canvas for every cookie was white, I immediately flooded each one in white royal icing.

The same was done for the chocolate and for the marble cookies.  These were then left to dry completely.

That beautiful garden chair cake stencil from Martha by Mail was used for many of these cookies.  Working with a metallic gold airbrush food color, I quickly sprayed the cookies.

Note:  it's important to not only center the stencil on the cookie, but it's also very important to carefully lift the stencil straight up, and as quickly as possible.  If it slips, you will mar the stenciled design.  Also, you will need to wipe the stencil after about 3-4 cookies sprayings. 

Once the stenciled design is dry (probably within the hour if you have a cool, dry working area), you can then add your single monogram to each cookie.  An 'A' was placed in the middle of these plaques, and then gold French dragées were placed on the points of the plaques (add a dot of white royal icing and then carefully place a candy on it to adhere).

A beaded border was used for some of the cookies, while others were left with a plain border.  I absolutely love that garden chair design.

I know that doilies can seem old-fashioned and best used for tea presentations, but don't overlook them if you're setting up a cookie/dessert buffet.  They can serve as "platters" on a plain tablecloth or atop a silver salver.

This cookie design was one of my favorites from the set.

An overview of my aunt's cookies shows you the possibilities of working with a couple of stencils and an airbrush kit.

These cookies are simple, elegant and sophisticated enough for any special celebration. Whether you add a monogram or not, stenciled cookies like these work best if you keep to a few stencils and a color palette suitable for the occasion.  Don't forget that the cookies must taste great in order for them to be outstanding. Set them out on a dessert buffet or wrap them up in cellophane bags or clear-top boxes for gift giving.  Everyone in attendance at the party is going to want to take home one of these.

I want to wish my dear aunt a very Happy Birthday!

Much Love,

Sunday, August 5, 2018

A Small Summer Harvest

Summer is a time of bounty for us.  Several sets of catbirds have raised a few broods under our back porch and next to the house, the bees have been busy visiting the wildflowers, our resident groundhogs (we have two this year!) can't seem to stop eating, the robins, cardinals and bluejays are as active as ever, and gardens around the neighborhood are ready to burst with vegetables, fruits and herbs.

I'm the first to admit that we're spoiled here in our part of Pennsylvania.  The more-than-average rainfall has been good to everyone's garden.

I spent a morning over the weekend harvesting a few vegetables that were ready for picking, and I collected some eggs which were greatly needed in the kitchen.

The kirby cucumbers are crisp and delicious right now (garden gloves were needed to pick these because of their very prickly skins).  I love using them in my salads, but they also make great pickles.  The carrots are also sweet and crisp.  If I'm not snacking on them in the afternoon, I will more than likely roast them with the roast chicken on Fridays.  The tomatoes are great in salads, but they're also perfect for a bruschetta served with a glass of wine. The frying peppers get chopped up and sautéed in some olive oil, and are then added to a pot of simmering beans.  Those colorful Flamin' Fury peaches come from our friends at Hamilton Family Orchards in Coopersburg, Pennsylvania. They're the best tasting peaches in the world!

I can't say enough about the eggs.  Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds, Australorps and Araucanas are laying beauties right now.  Don't tell anyone, but we're hoping that the baby Marans start laying in the coming months! I can't wait.

The arugula and salad bowl greens have been so delectable to say the least. Every lunch and dinner at our home includes a salad of some kind.  That we can compose a salad from freshly-picked greens is nothing short of amazing.

Even baby Henry (he's already ten months!) enjoys the garden's bounty.  He's such a curious and lively baby cat, that he can't help but inspect every fresh fruit and vegetable that comes into the house.  He especially loves the herbs! Those, by the way, get used to make pesto, garnishes and stuffings for chickens.  A little tarragon under the skin goes a long way.  

Baby Henry inspecting the harvest.

It's amazing to me how quickly the time has gone since we rescued Henry.  He has established a very loving, unique and particular presence in our household.  We both love him to no end.

How is your summer coming along?  Have you managed to plant, grow and harvest a little something in your area?  Even if you haven't, farmers markets are filled with fresh produce, meats, cheeses and eggs right now.  Everything is delectable, and everything is worth trying at least once.  I hope that you're supporting local farmers and small businesses in your area.

Here's to a great summer!