Friday, December 30, 2011

Visiting California

I just got back from a trip to the Los Angeles area last night and I must say that I had a wonderful time visiting friends & family.  Having lived and gone to school there, I have a lot of fond memories of Southern California.  Although I had planned on visiting with several people and family members during my stay, I wasn't able to see everyone.  The ones I did meet with managed to make my vacation extra special.  Going to cafes and chatting or having a cocktail party with long time friends are among my favorite things to do, but spending quiet moments with my family is what it's all about.

Having quality time with my dear mother and father, along with my brother's family, is what I look forward to whenever I visit Los Angeles.  Picking lemons from dad's many citrus trees and bringing home a suitcase full of them is always a pleasure, because I get to use them as soon as I return to Pennsylvania.  Cooking Christmas dinner with mother and recounting the many times we've made these meals or sharing a laugh over a cup of tea & a freshly baked cookie, never gets boring for either one of us.  I'm grateful for these special moments because it is then that I get some pearl of wisdom from mom; I love her immensely. 

My younger brother and his wife always manage to make me laugh on these visits.  Even though we talk on a weekly basis, it's great catching up with them at the dining table over a glass or two of wine.  We're into Pinots at the moment, but any good wine is welcomed.  Then of course we come to their children.  Being an uncle has always been a Good Thing for me.  Spoiling them with lots of love and attention, along with baked goods & gifts has its rewards for me.  I get to see wonderful smiles and laughs that light up the room and brighten my days.  I love my niece and my nephews; they mean the world to me and always will.  Although I visit once or twice a year, leaving them and saying goodbye is always bittersweet. 

It's always during take off that I pause to reflect on the time spent there; I recall the things I did, the things I wanted to do but didn't accomplish and the missed opportunities.  I think about my loved ones and what each & every one of them means to me.  I think about the future and what I want it to be.  The new year is upon us and although I don't make resolutions like most people do, I hope it's filled with more auspicious conditions for all of us. 



I took a few pictures from my window seat yesterday while departing Los Angeles.  I hope you enjoy them.



The plane is climbing over the Pacific Ocean on a warm, sunny day, with the cliffs of Rancho Palos Verdes Estates on the left & the tip of Catalina Island on the upper right.  I love this sight.



As the airlpane banks to the left, we get an overview of the coast line.  Los Angeles International Airport can be seen on the left hand side (it's the open space along the coast).



Rancho Palos Verdes, blue skies and beautiful water.


A broad view of the Los Angeles basin.  This is home to so many people I love.


Downtown Los Angeles.  What a skyline.


Downtown Long Beach.  Do you see the Queen Mary on the bottom left?  The large dome next to the ship houses the Spruce Goose designed by Howard Hughes.



As the plane goes over Los Angeles, it's scale is evidently immense.  Traveling at night, the city lights up the sky for miles on end.  I love you Los Angeles!




I want to wish everyone a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ryan J. Greenheck

It's not everyday you come across great works of art while traveling through an airport.  On a recent trip I decided to take a stroll through the international terminal at Philadelphia International Airport while waiting for my flight.  Much to my surprise I discovered a wonderful exhibit of ceramic artwork.  Upon closer inspection, I realized that I was looking at unique vessels with some very compelling glazes & styling.  I love ceramics of all types, but the ones that caught my complete attention were those of artist, Ryan J. Greenheck.  Take a closer look at these magnificent pieces or art.   


This is his exhibit at the airport.  A small portion of his oeuvre.

The brief artist bio states: Ryan J. Greenheck uses the potter's wheel to create extremely precise forms that are both functional and beautiful.  His repertoire includes vases, jars and teapots along with complete dinner sets - plates, bowls and cups.  Greenheck received his Master of Fine Arts from New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University. 


The giant urn is stunning; it's called Large Honey Sprig Covered Jar.  I love how the finial on the lid echoes the shape of the actual vessel.  The ringed base anchors the urn beautifully.  The warm, earthy glazing is absolutely amazing. 


This decorative yet functional teapot is one of my favorite pieces from the exhibit.  I love the dark tones as well as the shape. 


The shape of this teapot reminded me of Wedgwood.  If you look very closely, there is a diamond pattern stamped around the body & lid.  This is part of a dinner service with the same pattern.  The pot is called Slip Trailed White Teapot.


Another jar.  Look at the beautiful glaze and how it seems to drip down the sides like rich honey.


This is a Blue Brown Sprigged Mug.  Generously proportioned and beautiful to behold.


This is a large tankard.

Perhaps my favorite of all his pieces is this dinner service.  It's from his White Slip Trailed Fishnet Dining Stack

Here's a closeup of his artistry.  The rim of the white earthenware plate has that beautiful stamped pattern with just a hint of color.  The inside of the bowl takes on even more color.  The texture, shapes & subtle hues of this dinner service can grace any table, both formal & informal. 




I know that art is subjective and that tastes differ greatly among each & everyone of you, but I think one can definitely admire the technique and use of color found in these choice pieces.  Ryan J. Greenheck does offer his work to the general public and I encourage you to visit his website for pricing and more information.  By the way, if you happen to find yourself at Philadelphia International Airport, his exhibit can be seen in the corridor between terminal A & B.  I hope you enjoyed discovering Greenheck's artwork just as much as I did.


Click here to see his oeuvre or email him at ryanjgreenheck@yahoo.com

Monday, December 26, 2011

Lentil Soup

I love the earthy taste of lentils in soups, salads, pilafs & as a main dish.  When I was a strict vegetarian many years ago, I developed a taste for these nutritional legumes and came to rely on them quite often.  Packed with a lot of fiber and protein, among other beneficial good things, lentils make a most comforting & delicious soup during the colder months.

Lentil Soup is among my favorite things to eat for meatless dinners and it always manages to get devoured by everyone.  This particular soup gets its flavor and texture from 4 different types of lentils, but you can get away with using just 2 types and still make it delicious.  I've given you several optional ingredients to add to the soup, so pick & choose according to your preferences.  The best thing about this soup, other than the taste, is that it can be made with a minimum of fuss in the kitchen.  Let me show you.



My Lentil Soup



The lentils, clockwise from top left.  Le Puy French Lentils are small & green in color; they hold their shape when cooked through (great for salads).  Black Caviar Lentils are the smallest & perhaps the earthiest of these 4; they hold their shape very well when cooked.  Red Split Lentils range in color from salmon/pink to a deep orange and are great for curries; they are the quickest to cook & turn into puree when fully done.  Brown Lentils are the most common; they take the longest to cook, but are very meaty & quite tasty in soups.



The Ingredients
  • 1 cup French (Le Puy) lentils
  • 1/2 cup black caviar (beluga) lentils
  • 1/2 cup brown lentils
  • 1/2 cup red split lentils
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 3 medium sized carrots, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 3 quarts (12 cups) homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock
  • salt & pepper

Optional Ingredients
  • 2 plum tomatoes, seeded & chopped
  • 1-2 jalapeño peppers, seeded & chopped
  • 2 large yukon gold potatoes, peeled & diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Note: if you're only going to use 2 types of lentils, make sure you use 1 1/2 cups of a solid lentil (green, black or brown) & 1/2 cup of the red split lentils.  To me, this soup needs the red split lentils to give it body and a rich texture. 

Yield: at least 8 servings.

In a large stock pot (at least 6 quarts), add the chicken stock and all of the ingredients at the same time.  If you're including potatoes it's fine to add them at the beginning.  Bring the soup to just under the boiling point over high heat & lower to a simmer; add several pinches of salt & pepper.  Cover the pot well & simmer until all of the lentils are cooked through.  Each legume cooks differently, so check after 45 minutes for tender lentils.   



The finished soup is perfectly done; test for seasoning and add salt & pepper if needed.  The black, brown & Le Puy lentils have held their shape, while the split red lentils have pureed to give the soup a thick richness.  If you've added jalapeño peppers, the soup will have a bit of kick.




Make this recipe and enjoy a bowl of my hearty Lentil Soup.  It's great to serve to vegetarians (using vegetable stock) and non vegetarians alike during winter, but it's also good to have whenever you feel like some wholesome goodness.  The soup freezes extremely well in individual portions and reheats wonderfully for work lunches or weeknight dinners.  If you do make it, let me know what you think.  Bon Appetit!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas


I just want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and hope that you all find yourselves surrounded by loved ones, good food & good cheer.  This beautiful and whimsical gingerbread house was constructed by my adorable niece Audrey & nephew Andrew this Christmas Eve; to hear their laughter & see their bright smiles while constructing it was priceless for this proud uncle.  I vow to make it a tradition for my little ones from this day forth.  

Best Wishes & Cheers!

~David             

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Holiday Treat Packages

Giving loved ones homemade baked goods during the holidays is such a pleasure for me.  It isn't something I do haphazardly at the last minute when there is so much else that needs to get done.  Weeks before, I begin to make lists of what I want to bake and what I want to try, then I check my pantry for items I need to stock.  If something needs to be bought or special ordered, I do it in advance.  Old favorites are baked every single year, but I always try to include something new or different.  If I get requests for a special treat, I try to oblige because I know it's going to make someone happy (my niece always gets her Cranberry Coins!).  Let me show you what I usually do.




My dough counter in the kitchen is filled with baked cookies, breads & packaging materials.  I like to assemble everything in one place to make my packaging go a lot quicker.  I try very hard to give everyone the same amount of treats.


Here's a closeup of that fragrant, moist & spicy Pumpkin Bread.  Everyone seems to like it, so I bake several batches every winter for the family.  Do you see those stickers I had made with 'From David's Kitchen' written on them?  A small, personal touch like that really does make something stand out.  I'm told by people that whenever they see that sticker come into their homes, they know it's something good. 


Chocolate slice & bake cookies are simple to make.  Go to my post about Martha by Mail ~ Creating Cookies Booklet and follow the recipe for chocolate cookies.  Divide the dough into 3 portions and roll into logs.  Seal them in plastic wrap & chill for 2 hours.  Simply slice & sprinkle each with sanding sugar before baking.  Voila!  So easy and so delicious.



Here's a closeup of that cookie.  It's pleasantly spiced & the sprinkling of fine sanding sugar (coarse can also be used) gives these cookies a bit of crunch and sparkle.



These giant gingerbread cookies are much easier than the roll out variety.  I used a 1" cookie scoop to portion out the dough & baked them for about 12 minutes in a 350° F oven.  Find a good recipe for gingerbread cookies and try making them this way.



Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a batch of my mom's Cinnamon Orange Cookies.  This is a double batch sitting in an old 19th century ironstone platter waiting to be packaged.  I just know everyone loves these!


I have my labels, an embosser, foil stickers, a fountain pen & notecards to personalize each package.  That spool of waxed linen twine (from Martha by Mail) gets used to cinch the cellophane bags shut.  The embosser (also from Martha by Mail--I'll blog about that soon) has several disks that are interchangeable.  For these treats, I chose the one that says, "It's a Good Thing" of course.   



This is a typical treat package ready to go (these are from last year).  I have cookies, a bread and a notecard for each recipient.  Packaging your baked items in cellophane bags really makes them seem more special.  Adding a tag or sticker with the name of the item is the icing on the cake in my opinion.  Take an hour or two to whip up a batch of something delicious to hand out to those closest to you this holiday season.  They're going to love you for it.




With a bit of planning & a day or two of baking, you can assemble treat boxes or packages like these to give as gifts.  Everyone loves homemade baked goods especially around the holidays.  Let your tastes & preferences dictate what you bake for the special people in your life.  If you plan on shipping your treats, make sure that the items themselves keep well & and travel well.  Items that will be given locally can be placed in tins, baskets or even a nice bowl.  From my home to yours, enjoy baking this holiday season! 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Pumpkin Bread

I'm in the middle of getting ready for a trip, so I thought I'd repost this delicious recipe for Pumpkin Bread

Enjoy!

~David



Pumpkin bread is something I like to start baking a few weeks leading into the holidays.  It's wonderful to give as a gift to loved ones, but it's also great to have on hand because it is so tasty.  Don't think, however, that I limit myself to baking this delicious bread only around this time of the year.  I've been known to whip up a batch of these loaves well into March if the mood strikes me.  Although the original recipe I use is a classic, I've changed bits here and there over the years and I think that this final version is my favorite.  The recipe makes 4 large 9x5x3" loaves, but can be cut in half if you wish to only make 2 loaves.  Let me show you how I make them.


Large bowls from my yellowware collection.


The Ingredients:
  • 3 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 8 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups orange juice (cranberry, apple or pomegranate can be used)
  • 4 cups pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)
  • 6 2/3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon  grated nutmeg
  • 2 1/2 cups raisins or currants (or your favorite dried fruit)
  • 2 cups toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped (optional)


  
Preheat your oven to 350° F (racks centered).


Toast your walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet for about 10 minutes.  Let them cool completely; coarsely chop.  Take 1 tablespoon of your measured flour and toss it into your raisins.  Doing this will help suspend them in the batter as the breads bake. 


Cream your butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle/spade attachment for about 4 minutes, until the mixture is light & creamy.  Stop and scrape your bowl at least once during this process.  This is what your want your mixture to look like (above) before proceeding.


Add your eggs one at a time and beat well; let the eggs emulsify into the sugar/butter mixture one at a time.  Your mixer bowl should  be scraped once or twice during this stage of mixing.  After all your eggs have been incorporated, the mixture should be thick and smooth (above).



Now it's time to add your pumpkin puree and the juice.  Beat this until combined.  Don't be alarmed if your mixture looks grainy.  This is normal.  Stop your machine, detach your bowl and scrape the paddle of all that delicious batter. 

Note: if you're using a 5qt. or 6qt. mixer, it will not be large enough to accept all of that flour, so use a large bowl (7qt. is perfect) to proceed with the recipe.  If, however, you've cut the recipe in half, your mixer can do all of the mixing.

In a large bowl, add your dry ingredients.  You'll notice that I sift my spices along with my leaveners through a sieve in order to remove any lumps.  This is crucial.  After you've done this, simply whisk everything to combine.


Add the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.



Combine these mixtures well with a large spatula.  


Add your raisins and nuts just before you've finished mixing your dry and wet ingredients.  This will prevent you from over mixing.  Can you see the raisins covered in flour?


The 9x5x3" loaf pans are buttered well and lined with loaf liners.  If you're not going to use the liners, simply dust the buttered pan with flour and tap out the excess.


Scrape all of your batter and divide it evenly.  To make that attractive crack down the middle of the loaf, I use a paring knife and make a slash lengthwise.  Bake in your preheated oven for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Don't over bake.  Let the loaves cool in the pans set on racks for 15 minutes.  Remove the loves carefully & let them cool completely.


Delicious Pumpkin Breads.


Make a batch of this scrumptious bread for your family & friends during the holidays.  I absolutely love baking many batches of this Pumpkin Bread because it keeps so well & seems to improve in flavor day after day.  You can, of course, roast your own pumpkins and puree the flesh if you don't want to use the canned variety.  I've always gotten good results with sugar pumpkins or even butternut squashes.  One thing you can be sure of is that there won't be a crumb left after you bake this version of Pumpkin Bread


Happy Holidays!  

Friday, December 16, 2011

Martha by Mail ~ Tree & House Cookie Cutters


Imagine a charming little house surrounded by an evergreen forest of trees, all in delicious cookie form.  These copper cutters from Martha by Mail feature a House & Tree that can be adapted any number of ways.  The facade of the little, quaint cottage can be adorned with a welcoming doorway, a set of whimsical windows and a sweet, snowy rooftop.  The giant evergreen tree can be festooned with lovely multi-colored lights or Christmas ornaments in royal icing.  Whatever design or style you choose, make sure to bake plenty of cookies because everyone is going to want one.




As you can see, every facade of these tiny homes is unique.  A doorway invites everyone to take a big bite and the rooftops are heavily covered in either snowy royal icing or sugary icicles.  You can even add a wreath & several "ornaments" if you like.



The tree on the left is flooded in white royal icing, suggesting a recent snowfall, and is festooned with multicolored lights.  The cookie on the right is simply outlined in a forest green shade and is flocked with fine sanding sugar.


Both cookies here are flooded in white or green royal icing.  The cookie on the left is left to dry completely before piping colorful dot ornaments haphazardly in various shades.  The cookie on the right has dot ornaments that are piped while the base icing is still wet, thereby embedding them. 




Tree Copper Cutter


House Copper Cutter



A decorated cookie next to the cookie cutter.  As you can see, this cutter differs from the one in my personal collection (each one is unique!).



House cookie next to its cutter.


A single cookie wrapped in a large cellophane bag, tied with a pretty ribbon makes a wonderful gift.

Happy Holidays!


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Martha by Mail ~ Nutcracker & Mouse King Cookie Cutters

Plucked right out of the ballet that is performed the world over, the iconic Nutcracker & Mouse King are perfect for Christmas.  These images are just the thing for the little ones in your life.  How clever of the Martha by Mail catalog to have produced these beautiful cookie cutters for customers and aficionados of the ballet.  One of the things that I truly love about this particular pair is the sheer size of the cookies; plenty of room to express your creativity.  If you're thinking of attending a Nutcracker production this season, bake a set of these lovely cookies to share with the children (make a few extra for the adults!).  They will be just as enchanting and sweet as the characters in The Land of Sweets.  Merry Christmas!  


Martha by Mail Decorating Card.  A pair of gingerbread cookies are iced in various shades of royal icing.  The gallant Nutcracker is given such a wonderful hat & a most intricately designed coat.  The charming Mouse King in robin's egg blue is wearing a dotted coat fit for royalty and a dragee studded crown.  Sweet!

~ Caring for Copper ~

Catalog #KMB018

The Nutcracker

The Mouse King

Nutcracker Sweets from Martha Stewart Living magazine.  The Nutcracker itself is given flocked curly hair, a cute face with just a hint of blush, a mint green coat with piped sleeves & a dotted hem, along with a pair of red pants.  His head is crowned with a light blue hat flocked with sanding sugar and his feet have those unmistakable patent leather jack boots.