Friday, October 28, 2011

Martha by Mail ~ Sanding Sugar Sets

The sanding sugar sets from Martha by Mail offered 6 shades of coarse & fine sanding sugar (12 bottles total) and eight 1 oz. bottles of paste food coloring, which made it possible for the baker to decorate a myriad of desserts.  These two cards were included in those sets; they show many unique sugar cookies decorated with slightly different techniques.  Take a look.

~ These are beautiful cookies to make this fall. ~

Deep-Colors Sanding-Sugar Set

These cookies were made using our Leaf Cookie-Cutter Set and extra fine sugar (Pastel-Colors Sanding-Sugar Set and cutters are available through Martha by Mail), and royal icing or egg whites to make sugar stick.

Raw egg whites should not be used on cookies for pregnant women, infants, the elderly, or anyone whose health is compromised.

Sugared (leaves 3, 7, 9, and 12)  For a simple sugared effect (3), brush a think layer of beaten egg white on a baked cookie.  While still wet, "flock" or dust with sanding sugar.  Let dry, and tap off excess.  For half-sugared (7,9, and 12), brush egg white on one part.  Flock with sugar, let dry, and tap off excess.  Outline and "flood" or fill in the remaining surface with thin icing (7 & 9), and flock with sugar in a similar color.  Or leave surface unsugared (12).

Flocked (leaf 1)  Flood cookie and flock with sugar.  Let dry, and tap off excess.

Two-Toned Flocking (leaves 2, 6, and 8)  For a raised design (2), outline and flood cookie; flock with sugar.  Let dry; tap off excess.  Pipe a contrasting color.  Dust with sugar, let dry, then tap off excess.  For two halves (6 & 8), outline and flood one side; dust with sugar.  Let dry; tap off excess.  Flood contrasting color on the other half (if you like, leaving a center "vein"); flock.  Let dry; tap off excess.

Combinations (leaves 5, 10, and 11)  For a flocked design (5 & 10), outline and flood cookie.  Once dry, pipe a design.  Flock with sugar, let dry, and tap off excess.  For half and half (11), outline and flood one side.  Flock with sugar; let dry.  Tap off excess, then outline and flood the other half with the same color.

Veined (leaves 4 and 11)  Create a raised vein design (4) by piping thick icing up the cookie center, and then out from the same line.  Flock with sugar.  Let dry, then tap off excess.  Add rows of contrasting dots between lines, and flock with sugar in a similar color.  Or invert this vein design (11) by leaving blank spaces to simulate veins on a real leaf when flooding the cookie. 

Pastel-Colors Sanding-Sugar Set

Flocking:  Sprinkling sanding sugar on top of wet icing creates an effect like flocked velvet.  Pipe designs, or flood cookie.  Sprinkle sanding sugar over icing.  Tap off excess sugar (saving it for the next cookie), then allow to dry 1 or 2 hours.

Sugaring:  For subtle sparkle, dust sugar over dough before baking, or lightly brush baked cookies with beaten egg white, then sprinkle with sugar.  Allow to dry for at least 2 minutes before tapping off excess sugar.

Two-Tone Combinations:  Brush half a cookie with egg white, then sugar it.  Allow to dry for several minutes, and tap off excess.  Flood other half with icing.

Royal Icing
Makes about 2 cups

Consistency may be thinned by adding water.  Add two or three drops of gel food coloring after mixture is smooth.  It can be stored, covered, at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

5 tablespoons meringue powder
1 one-pound box confectioner's sugar (about 4 cups)

Place meringue powder, and a scant 1/2 cup water in bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment.  Whisk mixture on low until combined.  Add sugar, scraping sides of bowl as needed; beat until soft peaks form and mixture is smooth, 10 minutes.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Fall Colors at Home

Fall happens to be my favorite time of the year.  The change in weather means sweaters, warm blankets,  delicious soups, and certainly a lot more baking & roasting at my home.  It also means that nature is about to give us one of the most breathtaking transformations during the year.  Nothing beats the colors of Fall and around our house it really is a sight to behold.  During my daily walks I try to bring along my trusted camera to capture, catalog & perhaps share what nature is doing on the property.  This is but a small glimpse of what we've been encountering here the past few days.  I hope you enjoy these pictures.


Maple leaves behind the house.

The glade on the eastern side of the house is experiencing bright shades of chartreuse and blazing yellows.

The driveway.  Leaves are already beginning to fall.

One of my favorite pictures.  I'm standing in front of the Barn looking toward the driveway & the dense canopy of trees across the way.

Just look at the colors.  So many shades.  Absolutely breathtaking!

Across the street, my neighbors have some gorgeous trees.

Maple trees in various stages of transformation.

Looking up toward the field, it too is experiencing fall's beauty.

The meadow itself has had its last mowing.

This is the same trio of dogwood trees I've documented before.  The leaves turn a stunning crimson.

Look at the holly & dogwood next to each other.  Isn't nature beautiful?


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Martha by Mail Revisited

I know a Good Thing when I see it.  Over a decade ago I came across Martha by Mail and instantly became captivated by the beautiful & exclusive product line offered in that catalog.  Shortly thereafter I began to collect passionately many pieces of glassware, earthenware, copper cookie cutters, etc., from Martha by Mail, not only to beautify and enhance my home, but to create, share and gift many Good Things for the people I love most.

Little did I know at the time that Martha by Mail would one day cease to exist, but alas, in 2004 the catalog came to an end.  Many of the beautifully designed products became instant collector's items in a matter of months.  I have witnessed many pieces increase in value and desirability since the catalog's closing.  Truth be told, certain items are beyond my reach now, but nevertheless, I cherish what I do own.  I also use and take very good care of my collection from Martha by Mail.  It is my wish to share with you, not only pieces of this very personal collection, but also the many items that were produced for the exclusive catalog.

Look at this new page dedicated to the Martha by Mail label as a source and as a guide.  For the admirer, designer, baker or cook, it may inspire you to create something new.  For the discerning and avid collector, I certainly hope you find it informative & useful.  I think once you revisit Martha by Mail (later called The Catalog for Living) you will agree with me that for the years it was available and in production, it indeed was a very Good Thing.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sausage & Bean Stew

When I was thinking of making this sausage & bean stew, I turned to my mother.  It isn't unusual for us to discuss food during our daily chats over the phone, so recently the conversation turned to beans.  Her favorites at the moment include black beans & Peruvian beans (also called canary beans) that are slowly simmered until tender.  What kind do I like?  I also love black beans as much as mom does, but I also crave pink beans, cannellinis, Roman, pinto, navy, garbanzos and lentils.  It's sometimes easier and more convenient to make bean dishes with canned beans, but if you plan just a bit ahead of time, dried beans are even tastier. 

If I know I'm going to cook beans a certain day, I always pick them over the night before (usually after I've cleaned up after dinner) and soak them in a large bowl with plenty of water (at least 3 times the amount of beans); any beans that float should be discarded.  The bowl is left out at room temperature. 

The following day, I drain the beans & discard all of the soaking water.  I then place the beans in a large dutch oven or wide stock pot & cover with cold water.  You want 1" of water above the beans.  Turn on your flame to high & bring them up to a simmer.


The Ingredients
  • 1 lb. dried beans (such as pink, navy or canary), picked over, soaked overnight
  • 3 strips of bacon (your favorite)
  • 12 oz. smoked kielbasa, andouille or other smoked sausage of your choice, sliced 1/4 " thick
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 2 jalapeños, seeded, finely chopped (optional)
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled & left whole
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt & pepper

Yield: about 6-8 servings.

1. In a dry nonstick skillet over medium-low heat, fry the bacon until all of the fat is rendered and it is nicely browned (you don't want the bacon to burn so watch your flame), about 10 minutes.  Set aside on a paper toweled plate & coarsely chop when cool enough to handle. 

2. Discard all but 1 tablespoon of bacon fat in the frying pan (if you don't have enough - turkey bacon doesn't render fat like pork - add 1 tablespoon canola oil) and fry the onion & jalapeños until soft, 5-7 minutes. 

3. Add all of your ingredients, except the smoked sausage, into the pot of beans.  When everything comes to just under a boil, lower your heat and simmer.  The beans will take anywhere from 1-2 hours to become tender.  Halfway through cooking, I add 1 teaspoon of salt & give the beans a good stir.   

4. As soon as the beans are tender, add the sliced sausage.  Since smoked kielbasa is already cooked you only want to heat it through.  This should take about 10 minutes.  Taste for seasoning and add a few pinches of ground black pepper to taste.

The stew is ready to serve.  Ladle into bowls and serve hot.

My favorite way to eat this type of dish?  Served over steamed rice (quinoa is also good) with just a bit of the cooking liquid.  Add some chopped cilantro to garnish and tuck a large, generous spoon.  Enjoy! 

Go back to the basics and use dried legumes to cook my Sausage & Bean stew.  A long, slow simmer and just a handful of ingredients is all you need to make a tasty dish for dinner.  Your kitchen will entice everyone with the inviting smell of simmering, tender beans and savory, smoked sausage.  When serving, add as much of the cooking liquid as your loved ones want or serve them with no liquid.  Pour a glass of pinot noir and voilà, dinner is served. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Martha by Mail ~ Owl & Bat Cookie Cutters

Now that Halloween is right around the corner, let's scare up some wonderful cookies in these adorable shapes.  The American-made solid copper cutters were part of the Martha by Mail catalog beginning in the late 90s.  Designed for Halloween, these large (almost 8" in size) creatures provide bakers with a large canvas on which to decorate.  If you're lucky enough to own a set of these collector's items, make several spooky cookies for special trick-or-treaters in your neighborhood.  There happen to be a few little ghouls and goblins in my family who would enjoy having a few of these this Halloween, so I'm going to start baking very soon.

A photo from the Martha by Mail catalog.  The bat is covered in black royal icing & is flocked with ink black sanding sugar.  Simple white dots make up the eyes.  The sugar cookie owl is given a coffee-colored head, small tufted ears, two giant round eyes & a quadrilateral beak.  Dark chocolate wings are flooded with icing and white dots are piped around their perimeter.  With a toothpick, the dots are dragged & given the appearance of bleeding hearts.  Truly unique.

The back side of the cutters have large handles with appropriate names for each creature.  If your cutters need a bit of polishing (these do!), follow my directions.

Catalog # KMB 006 

Great Owl 

Belfry the Bat

This image from Martha Stewart Living shows an array of chocolate & gingerbread flavored bats decorated with royal icing.  Eerie, spooky & positively delicious. 

These wise feathered friends are keeping each other company high atop a branch.  With their giant eyes they can see everything down below.  As the picture suggests, the owls can be as whimsical and interpretive as you want them to be. 


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Butternut Squash Soup

I always make Butternut Squash Soup with freshly roasted purée and serve it in my thick porcelain Pillivuyt bowls as soon as I find great squashes.  I showed you in a previous post how simple and delicious roasted butternut squash is, so why not turn some of that purée into soup?  For a spectacular dinner serve this with a good piece of buttered artisanal bread and a fresh salad.  My version of this soup uses one of the basic French foundations in cooking: a delicious and easy mirepoix.  Treat yourself & your families to a bowl of this soul warming soup while butternut squashes are plentiful.  I guarantee you're going to like it. 

The Ingredients
  • 1 celery stalk, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
  • 1 medium carrot, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 2 cups homemade Chicken Stock (vegetable can be substituted)
  • 2 cups Roasted Butternut Squash Purée
  • salt & pepper
Yield: 4 servings

In a 4 qt. sauce pot over medium heat, sauté the carrot, onion & celery in 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil until the vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes.  This "trinity" of vegetables is called a mirepoix in French and is the foundation for so many soups & classic sauces.  Salt & pepper to taste, then add the minced garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add the chicken stock & sprig of thyme to the pot & raise the heat.  Bring the mixture up to a simmer, cover the pot with a lid & lower your heat.  Simmer for 15 minutes, just until the mirepoix has softened completely. 

Remove the thyme sprig & discard.  Strain the mixture into a medium-sized, heatproof bowl using a fine mesh sieve.  Purée the mirepoix with 1 cup of the reserved stock in a blender or a food processor until it is smooth. 

Note: When blending hot liquids you must provide a means of escape for the heat, so leave the lid slightly ajar and drape a kitchen towel over the opening to prevent any burns. 

Have the 2 cups of Roasted Butternut Squash ready.  Return the pureed mirepoix and all of the chicken stock to the sauce pot, and mix with your butternut squash purée.  Salt & pepper the soup and bring it up to a simmer.  I find that it only needs a few minutes simmering on the stove before it's ready to serve.

Note: if you find the soup too thick for your liking, you can thin it out with some more stock, some milk or cream.  You decide what consistency you like.  

Ladle the soup into bowls and serve immediately.

I know it's tempting to buy premade Butternut Squash Soup from markets and restaurants, but you shouldn't have to settle for it after seeing how simple it is to make at home.  There are many versions of this soup and I like them all for the most part.  To my mind, the pure flavor of butternut squash should come through in this type of soup.  I don't want to have too many other flavors competing with each other.  You can enhance & boost the flavor, if you wish, with other herbs or perhaps a dollop of crème fraîche or even some yogurt.  Some crumbled bacon is certainly welcomed and quite delicious.  I hope this soup has managed to capture your attention and taste buds.  Make it for dinner this weekend and let me know what you think.  Bon appétit!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Roasted Butternut Squash

Squashes of all types, Cucurbitaceae,  are arriving at supermarkets now and should be enjoyed without a moment to lose.  I'm always looking out for beautiful butternut squashes to roast and serve to my family throughout fall and winter.  There's something about roasting these Cucurbita muschata around this time of year that makes my home seem a little bit cozier & nicer.  A good source of Vitamin A, E, C, and fiber, butternut squashes are not only nutritionally beneficial for you, they're also very tasty.  Apart from that, roasting this squash is the easiest thing in the world.  Let me show you what I do in my kitchen. 

Preheat your oven to 425°F.  Cut your butternut squash in half, lengthwise, with a very sharp chef's knife (be careful!) & scoop out the seeds. 

Note: I'm roasting squashes that weigh between 2 to 3 lbs. 

Place the squash cut side down on a parchment lined baking sheet & roast for approximately 45 minutes, or until the halves can be pierced with a knife all the way through. 

As soon as the they're cool enough to handle (after about 20 minutes or so), remove the skins with a spoon to expose the flesh.  You can also turn them over & scoop out the flesh. 

Note: At this point, they're wonderful to have as a side dish if left in big chunks.  Simply dot with a little bit of butter, and salt & pepper to taste.  Delicious.

Place the peeled squash in the bowl of your food processor & purée until smooth.  You may have to pulse this several times & scrape down your bowl. 

Butternut Squash Purée 

At this point, I let the purée cool completely & then freeze it in 1 cup portions for later use.  This is the type of purée I reach for if I'm making a pumpkin pie or my delicious pumpkin bread.  It's also perfect for my Butternut Squash Soup.  You can, of course, serve this purée to your baby or toddler as is, or as a side (dot with butter) at dinner time.    


As soon as you spot butternut squashes or any other type of Cucurbitaceae at your local supermarket, buy a few of them.  Roast the squashes in the oven and either serve as is, or create something else with their delicious flesh.  It doesn't take much to coax the full flavor of butternut squash, but if you want to enhance this vegetable you can try a few fresh herbs.  Sage & thyme are naturals, but should be added sparingly to your dish.  I also like rosemary and flat leaf parsley with my butternut squash; let your taste buds guide your preferences.  Do I need to tell you that cream & butter are exquisite with butternut squash?  Whatever you decide to add to this vegetable, remember these words: make it your own & enjoy! 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Martha's Oatmeal Cookies

This recipe is one that I turn to again & again.  It comes from the Martha Stewart Baking Handbook and is just one of the many great recipes found in this must-have book.  As a matter of fact, it's my brother Erik's all-time favorite cookie.  It has to be included on the Christmas table when I visit him & the family, but I also get requests for it during the year.  I think it's the combination of pure maple syrup (Vermont maple syrup is delicious) and delicious flaked coconut that makes this cookie extra special.  Martha's recipe calls for raisins, but quite honestly, you can substitute your favorite dried fruit.  The ones I made below had cranberries in the mix because they were going to my special niece, Audrey (she loves cranberries!), who needed a bit of cheering up.  Enjoy them!  

Martha's Oatmeal Cookies.  Simply delicious!

The following recipe & text comes from the
~ Martha Stewart Baking Handbook. ~

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
Makes about 2 dozen  These classic drop cookies are large, soft and chewy.  Look for Grade B maple syrup, which has a deeper flavor than Grade A.

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sweetened, shredded coconut
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup raisins

1.) Preheat the oven to 325°F, with racks in the upper and lower thirds.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.  In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt; stir in the coconut.  Set aside.

2.) In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes.  Add the maple syrup, and mix to combine.  Add the egg and vanilla; beat until well combined, about 1 minute, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

3.) With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in two batches; mix until just combined.  Add oats and raisins; mix until just combined.

4.) Shape 3 level tablespoons of dough at a time into 1 1/2" balls (or use a 2" ice cream scoop) and place 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets.  Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes.  Let cookies cool on sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer parchment and cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.  Cookies can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days. 

The cookie dough full of Good Things.  An ice cream scoop always gives a consistent sized cookie.

One dozen cookies per sheet.  Fresh out of the oven.

Cookies cooling on racks before being mailed out.  I'm telling you, these are superb!


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Raspberry Sandwich Cookies

Now that Fall is here, let's fill our homes with the enticing aroma of spice.  My Raspberry Sandwich Cookies have a good dose of cinnamon & ginger, with just a touch of freshly grated nutmeg & clove.  Their flavor is very reminiscent of Austrian linzer cookies, but the inherent difference lies in the lack of ground hazelnuts.  The cookie dough itself is very easy to make and can be doubled if you wish to make a larger batch; you may just want to share some of these with neighbors or friends.  I often vary the flavor of the cookies by using different jams.  Among my favorites include: strawberry, blackberry, boysenberry, cherry & apricot.  Let's start baking because I want to have a few of them with my tea just about now.

Just-filled Raspberry Jam Cookies on a cake stand.

The Ingredients
  • 2 cups + 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • pinch of cloves
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons pure honey (local is best)
  • 1 large egg

Sift your 7 dry ingredients into a medium sized bowl.  Cream the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed (a handheld mixer can be used) until light, about 1-2 minutes.  Add the brown sugar & honey and cream until combined, another minute more.  Scrape your bowl at least once or twice.  Add the egg and let it emulsify completely, about one minute.  Scrape down your bowl.  On low speed, add your dry ingredients and combine thoroughly. 

This is what your finished dough should look like.  No speck of flour.  It's very fragrant & spicy at this point.

Flatten the dough into a squared disk and cover well with plastic wrap.  Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

~ Preheat the oven to 350° F ~

Lightly flour your counter or dough board.  Notice that I use a light hand and don't sprinkle too much flour on my surface.  There should be just enough flour to prevent the cookie dough from sticking. 

Remove the dough from the refrigerator & plastic wrap.  Place it on the floured surface & use the same piece of plastic wrap to roll out the dough.  I place it directly on the surface of the disk.  Roll out the dough to 1/8" in thickness.  Make sure the dough can still be moved from the counter as your rolling.  If you encounter any stickiness, use a metal spatula to release the dough & add a bit more flour underneath. 

Using a 2" round cookie cutter, begin cutting out rounds from the perimeter of the dough, as close together as possible.  Maximize your dough & waste not.  In between cuts, dip the cookie cutter in a small bowl of flour & tap it to remove excess flour.  Doing this will prevent the cutter from sticking to the cookie dough.  Cut out as many rounds as possible.  You can reroll the scraps once more.

Place the rounds onto parchment lined (or silpat) baking sheets, spacing 1" apart. 

Bake in the preheated 350°F oven for 10-12 minutes, or until lightly colored.  Don't let them brown. 

Let the cookies cool on racks completely before proceeding.

Sandwich the cookies with your favorite raspberry jam.  The wafers themselves without any filling will keep in an airtight container for 3-4 days.  Sandwiched with jam, they're best eaten that same day. 

Yield: approximately 1 1/2 dozen sandwich cookies.

My favorite afternoon treat.  A homemade cookie or two or three(!), and a cup of tea. 

Aren't you tempted to make a batch of these jam cookies?  You should be.  My Raspberry Sandwich Cookies are not only delicious, they're also very tender and very fragrant.  Bookmark this recipe because you just may find yourself making a batch or two for the holidays.  I can see a platter of them on a Christmas table or as part of a cookie exchange.  Since they're easy to make, I think you'll be hooked once you try them.  Have fun baking!