Monday, July 30, 2012

Good Things in July

I love the month of July for so many different reasons.  At this time of year we're enjoying very warm weather, rain showers, lazy weekends, barbecues, vacations and the bounty of summer gardens.  Gatherings with family & friends always seem extra special, and mine have been a  lot of fun this month.  This year, I was fortunate enough to have spent an entire week with my extended family in California which was rather nice.  The weather out there was gorgeous, the food was delicious and the laughs seemed endless.  Although there was a flurry of activity at my parent's, I still managed to spend quite a bit of quality time with some of my favorite people at cafes, restaurants (the only time I ever go out to eat!), parks and shops.  My main objective of that visit, however, was to spoil my niece whom I adore immensely.  I must say that my mission was accomplished!

A few delicious Good Things were shared this month, like that batch of delicious sugar cookies or the raspberries from our home mixed with a bit of thick, tangy yogurt.  A lovely set of Martha by Mail cookie cutters were displayed for you collectors out there and I finally managed to show you how I keep my mixers super clean at all times.  Some scrumptious nibbles made with pie crust are great when you have that small amount of leftover pastry, but I do caution you: they're addictive!  Let's not forget the lemony rice salad that my family enjoys with or without tuna or those spicy, savory black beans that make vegan or vegetarian (also gluten-free) meals a cinch to put on the table.  With August just around the corner, why not take a quick look back at July?  

This tender dough is the type of cookie I enjoy making.  I love cookies of all types, but I especially love those that are quick to make either in the stand mixer or the old-fashioned way, by hand.  There are times when I absolutely have to eat a fresh-from-the-oven cookie with a cup of tea in the afternoon, so the faster a cookie can be made & baked, the happier I'll be. 
This is a porcelain dish holding a few of my soft sugar cookies.  They each get sprinkled with clear sanding sugar (colored sugars can be used, of course), either coarse or fine, right before baking. 

I just love this photograph of the cookies sitting on one of my jadeite plates.  Sparkly and fragrant, the cookies are definitely worth making several times a year, especially around the holidays.

If you do make them for a specific holiday, sprinkle the cookies with an appropriately colored sanding sugar.  Everyone is going to want them!

This post was a bit long overdue.  It came as a result of one of my readers who had a bit of trouble with a batch of The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie.  Remembering a few tips when baking, such as proper measurements, temperatures, and the correct baking sheets is extremely helpful when we want excellent results in the kitchen.

Note: these cookies are thin & crisp on the edges, while chewy in the middle.  I do have another recipe for chocolate chip cookies on the blog which makes soft & cakey cookies, so don't confuse the two.  Some like soft & cakey chocolate chip cookies, and some only love thin & crisp.     

You may think to yourself this is a bit of a no-brainer David and you may be right.  But, it is important to know the areas of a stand mixer which tend to get the dirtiest.  I should know, I use mine every week.  The last thing I want to do is walk up to one of my mixers and find a splatter of dough or butter or whatever on it.  I just don't like working that way.

My soft, 100% cotton towels from the former KMart line, Martha Stewart Everyday, are very useful in my kitchen.  I wipe down just about everything with these absorbent towels and keep a few fresh ones in my kitchen at all times. 
A Professional KitchenAid 5qt. stand mixer with an enamel coated paddle attachment is clean and ready to get put away. 
The area behind the arms (if your mixer is a lift-bowl model) does tend to get flour stuck in there very easily, so move them up & down to release any particles when you're cleaning it. 

I'm spoiled with these raspberries.  I look forward to picking them at the beginning of July when they pop open and are perfectly ripe.  I always walk with a basket in hand, lined with one of my kitchen towels so that they don't get crushed as I pick.  If I'm not making a dessert with them, then I enjoy them as is. 

Just look at the color!  Definitely not the type you'll find at the supermarkets.

This sun-kissed batch was still warm from being outside and a few were so ripe that they simply disintegrated in my hands.  I wasted nothing.
Eating the berries with some sweetened Greek yogurt is out of this world!  I love enjoying this little snack in a teacup.  Since it's a rather small serving, a Wedgwood Drabware cup is just the right size.

The raspberries almost seem jewel-like.

On a different day, I photographed the serving in a white bone china cup.  The contrast in colors here was rather striking. 
Here's a closeup of the pick me up.  Do try it with your favorite summetime berry if you haven't done so already.

I reposted this entry the day I flew out to California because it was actually an activity I had done the day prior.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, it's always nice to walk into my kitchen and see shiny pots and pans when I return from a trip.  This is how they're currently stored against a wall in my kitchen.  They're all within easy reach.

I love pie crust.  I love eating every single flake of it if I'm having a good homemade pie, so whenever I have leftover pastry from pie baking, I make these nibbles.  There's no reason to throw away all of that deliciousness and although I do encourage sharing, I tend to keep these to myself.  We're allowed to enjoy the fruits of our labor aren't we? 

So buttery & flaky.  What's not to love?

Another set of gorgeous cookie cutters from the former Martha by Mail catalog.  Made of solid copper, the cutters are extremely collectible.  I hope the readers out there who do own these are using them throughout the year, because they make beautiful cookies.

One of my favorite antique stores in the Los Angeles area is King Richard's.  Do I regret not buying these jars?  Yes & no.  Although they are unique and beautiful, I already have plenty of storage jars.  Maybe someone reading this post will end up getting the pair.  If you do, make sure to clean them thoroughly and oil the lids properly to prevent them from splitting. 
Look at the salt cellar on the lower right hand corner of the photograph.  There is a horn spoon inside it and I completely missed the implement until I was going back and reviewing my pictures!  I should have purchased it. 
I do regret leaving these mixing bowls behind.  The Robinson Ransbottom trio would have looked lovely in my kitchen. 
I had to include a picture of this shelf filled with tupperware, not because I collect it (I wouldn't dare!), but because I remember mom using it in our kitchen when we were growing up.  Storage containers, bowls, jugs and jars were definitely in heavy use at home when I was a kid.  I can still picture the green jello sitting in one of those bowls.
This yellow jug always had some iced tea in our refrigerator.  It seems like only yesterday!

I'm not one who dreams about vintage kitchen ranges, but this O'Keefe & Merritt model really stayed with me.  It's in pretty good condition considering its age.
Another old range (I'm not sure the make or age), with some enamelware, spice jars & jugs surrounding it.  Do visit King Richard's if you ever find yourself in Los Angeles.  If you're a collector, you're going to love it.

We can never seem to get enough of this rice salad which has been in my repertoire for many years now.  As I said in the post, I sometimes include the best American pole caught tuna or some wild Alaskan red salmon in it.  Play with the types of vegetables in the salad and make it your own.  It's refreshing and very good when feeding a crowd.
I do recommend that you use ingredients that are ripe & fresh when composing the salad.  Remember, freshly squeezed lemon juice for the vinaigrette.  Never use bottled!

What could be easier than combining these ingredients in a pot and cooking them until tender?  A hearty meal without the stress of having to do too much. 
Serve the beans with some steamed rice, along with your favorite vegetable for a complete meal. 

Here's to many more good things in August.  Enjoy your summer!
~ David

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Basic Black Beans

Black beans are among my favorite legumes because they are earthy, meaty, tender and downright tasty.  Their flavor is incomparable.  Served as a vegetarian main course, the beans will provide you with a lot of good iron and protein which are essential to our every day diets.  As a side dish, black beans are a delicious accompaniment to so many things such as chicken, pork, beef, shrimp and of course, sausages of all kinds.  At home we love the combination of hearty chicken or turkey sausages and black beans, served with vegetables and a rice pilaf.

I make a small pot of black beans at least once or twice a month here at home, using them several ways for lunches or dinners.  Although I have nothing against canned beans or legumes of any sort (I do stock them in my pantry for emergencies or last minute preparations), I find it so easy to make my own from scratch.  With only 4 ingredients one has the ability to create something delicious without having to spend too much time in the kitchen.  Most of the work is done in the pot and if you prefer to cook things in a crockpot, even better!  Let me show you my favorite way to prepare black beans.  It's quite easy.

 Black Beans with Steamed Rice
The Ingredients
  • 1 lb. dry black beans {453 grams}, picked over for stones
  • l small onion (white or yellow), chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, left whole
  • 2 jalapeƱo peppers, seeded & diced (optional!)
  • salt to taste
Yield: at least 8 servings

Rinse the black beans in a colander under cold water to remove any dirt or residue.  Place them in a stockpot or dutch oven and add cold water to cover by at least 3 inches {7 1/2 centimeters}.  Discard any beans that float to the top.  Turn on your heat to high.

Add the chopped onion, jalapeƱos (if using) & garlic cloves.  Cover the pot with a lid and bring up to a boil.  As soon as the beans come up to a boil, give them a quick stir then lower your heat to low; cover the pot with a lid.  Simmer, undisturbed until cooked through.  Check the water level once or twice during cooking to make sure it hasn't fallen dramatically.  If it does, add boiling water to the pot to cover (never add cold water to a simmering pot of beans).  Toward the end of cooking, carefully taste the beans for doneness.  When they are toothsome with just a bit more time left to cook, add about 1 teaspoon of salt to the pot (less if you wish or to taste); stir well. 

Total Cooking Time: 1 hour 20 minutes to 2 hours.

Cooking time will depend on the age of the beans.  Older beans take longer to cook than younger ones.  Buy your dried legumes from a store that  has a high turnover rate.

Tasty & nutritious.

I always use a rimmed soup bowl to serve the beans if I plan on adding a bit of the cooking liquid.  This one is Wedgwood Queen's Ware.

You can certainly multiply this recipe several times over if you plan to serve a very large crowd, just make sure you have one large pot or several of them on hand.  Cooked beans freeze extremely well, so any leftovers can be frozen in airtight containers (with cooking liquid) for a few weeks; thaw them in a microwave or on the stovetop until bubbly hot.  For me, the most natural way to serve and enjoy black beans is with some steamed rice or with some pilaf.  Some people prefer to eat these legumes soupy, with a bit of the cooking liquid, while others prefer to have them dry, without any cooking liquid.  Whichever way you want to eat these tasty black morsels, enjoy every bite!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Rice Salad

Summer is the perfect time to make rice salad, because it's delicious and very light.  I find myself enjoying it several times during the year with variations on this particular recipe; I either leave it vegetarian or I add the best canned tuna or salmon, depending on what I feel like having.  Served cold or at room temperature, this salad is a perfect no-fuss dish to have for lunch or dinner.  I always search for the freshest Jersey tomatoes from my farmer's market, along with the firmest kirby cucumbers and the sweetest of onions.  A salad will only be as tasty as its ingredients, so choose the best of the best available to you.  Steaming and cooling down the rice ahead of time is the only step which may seem a bit involved when composing this salad, but with a bit of planning, the ingredients come together very quickly.  Delicious for work lunches or when entertaining, my rice salad is also good on the days when you just don't feel like working over a hot stove.  Tasty, satisfying, bright in color & flavor, Rice Salad will hopefully become a go-to recipe for some of you.

Rice Salad with flavorful tonno.

Steamed Rice Ingredients
  • 1 cup {195 grams} long-grain rice (I use white)
  • 1  3/4 cups {410 milliliters} cold water
In a pot with a tight-fitting lid, add the rice and cold water.  Over high heat, bring the mixture to a boil, lower the heat to low and cover with the lid.  Set your timer and steam for 18 minutes or until the rice has completely absorbed the water.  Let it sit for 10 minutes undisturbed. 

Fluff the rice with a fork, remove it from the pot and place it in a single layer on a wide platter.  Let the rice cool down completely to room temperature.

Salad Ingredients
  • 4 cups cooked rice, cooled to room temperature (entire recipe above)
  • 1 medium size tomato (about 1 cup), chopped
  • 2 kirby cucumbers or 1 seedless English cucumber (about 2 cups), diced
  • 1/2 cup finely diced Vidalia or Walla Walla onion; red onion can be substituted
  • 3 tablespoons Non-pareil capers packed in brine, drained
  • 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) minced Italian flat-leaf parsley
Vinaigrette Ingredients
  • 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) {60 milliliters}, strained lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons {30 milliliters} extra virgin olive oil
  • salt & pepper to taste
Optional Ingredients
  • One 6-ounce {170 grams} container, pole-caught tuna packed in olive oil, drained & flaked
  • One 6-7ounce container wild caught red salmon, drained & flaked
Rice Salad Ingredients

In a large bowl, add the cooled rice, tomato, cucumber, capers, onion & minced parsley.  Drizzle the vinaigrette ingredients over the bowl, salt & pepper to taste.  Toss everything with a silicone spatula very gently.  Add the optional tuna or salmon now & toss gently.

Yield: 6-8 servings

The rice salad is delicious served at room temperature or chilled.  The salad can be made up to 1 day in advance, held in the refrigerator well covered until serving time.  However, I strongly advise that you add the tuna or salmon right before serving for the best flavor. 

As I said, the salad can be left vegetarian if you wish to have it that way.  I don't always eat tuna or salmon, so it's good to enjoy it with just the vegetables, but every now and then it's nice to add a bit of protein to it.  When served with tuna, the rice salad can become a main course.  Serve it with some spinach salad or some crudites for a light, spa-like meal on those days when you don't want anything heavy.  I've thought of trying my salad with wheat berries or quinoa instead of regular long-grain rice, so I may do that in the future.  From my home to yours, enjoy this rice salad just as much as we do! 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

King Richard's Antiques

You must know by now that I love antiques and the thrill of finding a small treasure or two when I'm perusing a shop is always fun.  If I'm in the Los Angeles area I have to make a quick stop at the largest antique store in the state.  Located in the charming town of Whittier, King Richard's Antiques has over 47,000 square feet of merchandise from about 260 dealers on three separate floors.  One can find fine silver, linens, kitchenalia spanning many decades, furniture from several periods and many other unique items all in one space.  I'm always amazed to find certain pieces of 'stuff' that I clearly remember growing up with, mixed among items that I truly covet.

A few days ago I walked in there with my younger brother because we were in the area.  I knew I wanted to capture images for everyone to see, so I made sure to ask for permission before I started photographing.  My time was limited and I tried to get as many pictures as I could, while keeping an eye out for things I found interesting.  I came across some nice objects that I simply could not walk away from, yet there were others I found to be beyond my price range.

One of the things that I truly love about King Richard's is their friendly staff.  Not at all stuffy or aloof, but helpful and willing to answer all of your questions.  Like any good antique shop, this store clearly tags every item with the dealer's number, along with a description of the piece, and of course, the price.  Many things are locked behind glass display cases and one has to ask for help if there is something which needs closer examination. 

The entrance to the store.

As one walks in, the items are bright, cheerful and neatly arranged.  The diner set in this photograph would look nice in a small apartment or an eat-in kitchen with its black & red chairs.
More furniture, paintings and even a large, oversized winged horse from a Mobil gas station greet visitors.
I fell in love with this pair of old apothecary jars with wooden lids, but in the end I did not buy them.  I can see these in a country kitchen or one with Shaker sensibilities. 
Mid-century Pyrex bowls in primary colors are quite lovely (these were in mint condition).  The charming set can be at home in most kitchens and will be cherished by anyone who owns them.   
I zeroed in on this glass case because I noticed several salt cellars.  As I gave them a quick look, I realized I already owned these shapes, so I passed them up.  Have a look at what I do have by clicking here
I almost bought some of these linens.  Bundled in sets, the cocktail, luncheon or dinner napkins can grace any table.  I make it a point of examining the needlework, hemstitching or embroidery to see if it's held up well over the decades.  I then look at the overall state of the linens and check for stains; if they're too problematic, I leave them.
Here's an overview of the main floor.  There are 4 aisles with numerous vendors here.  A lot of kitchenware from the 1800s through the 1960s or so can be found in this area.  You really have to keep your eyes peeled for them, because they may be hidden behind a cabinet or other pieces.  This is one of the thrills of antiquing.
Let's not forget vintage clothing.  If you're into collecting clothes from a bygone era, have your fashion tastes on full allert, and pick & choose among the offerings. 
Old crocks, storage jars, blackened cast iron cookware from the turn of the 20th century, along with an old coffee grinder and a vintage kitchen scale are offered by this particular vendor. 
Colorful soda fountain glasses and a mint green Hamilton Beach Drink Mixer (for delicious milkshakes) are so retro.
Look at this set of turquoise Pyrex bowls in mint condition.  I know of a few people who obsess over this hue.  There's a hand crank flour sifter next to it.
A six pack of old RC cola bottles and their original cardboard carrying case for the collector are pure kitsch.  The square cake carrier, however, really got my attention.  It isn't often that one comes across a square one; they are almost always round.  The dome is chrome metal and the base is clear glass.  There are locking mechanisms on the side.  Imagine having this case loaded with your favorite brownies or a wonderful chocolate cake.
Some wonderful opaline green glass, perhaps mid century (I'm not sure if they're French or not), is not expensive.  Thinner and more translucent than true milk glass jadeite, opaline glass is quite beautiful.
I wanted this square Fostoria cake stand but there were two things working against me.  The first was solving the dilemma of transporting it back to Philadelphia and the second was the hefty $170 price tag.  Needless to say, I did not get it.  Go back to my post on the Vintage Wilton Yearbook to see a beautiful cake sitting proudly on one of these glass pedestals.  The shape and style of the stand has a small "well" in the center of the plate.  I'm told that the "well" was designed to catch the brandy or other spirit used to douse a cake (probably a pound cake).  
I stopped in my tracks when I saw these stoneware bowls with blue bands.  As I began to lift the set, I noticed how heavy they were for their size.  I was curious, so I took the smaller bowl out and flipped it upside down.

Much to my delight I read the imprinted logo of the Robinson Ransbottom Pottery company.  The same company that produced the Great Big Mixing Bowls for Martha by Mail made this gorgeous set of stoneware.  With the company no longer around, these cream colored bowls are very collectible in my opinion. 
And then we come to the Fire King jadeite and blue milk glass.  Batter bowls with handles, teardrop mixing bowls, chocolate mugs, refrigerator dishes, teacups, salt & pepper shakers are ready to be collected by the avid jadeite aficionado. 
More Pyrex and several Ball Jars & Mason Jars with screw & clip tops are great in so many types of kitchens.  I passionately collect them.
Silver.  I adore it.  I collect it.  A treasure trove of spoons, forks, knives and servers are behind locked glass cases.  It's always advisable to ask for help if you want to examine a piece closely.  Tags will sometimes get flipped over and the price may not be visible.  Don't be afraid to ask to look at something that catches your eye.  That's what dealers are there for.
Boxed sets are always nice to look at.  That middle space is empty because I bought the beautiful set that occupied it.  A few napkin rings are on the upper shelf along with some silver salt dips.  In this general area there are many estate quality pieces for the collector. 
Glassware that is so collectible is neatly arranged by style and color.  I had my eye on the ruby rimmed wine glasses, but again, I left them.
I thought of someone who collects one-of-a-kind silver spoons when I saw this display.  I was actually surprised at how inexpensive they were.  A very nice assortment.
The basement floor houses larger items such as furniture.  Many toys & dolls are located in this area.
A lot of this furniture can be purchased quite cheaply and be left as is or repainted to suit one's tastes.  Be on the lookout for unique lamps and sconces if you're remodeling or decorating a space.
I came across this steel pot rack which wasn't overpriced.  Place it over a kitchen island and hang your pots and pans from it.  These are a very good thing.
Diner stools & tables, all in mint condition, are great for those who love this type of retro style.
An old O'Keefe & Merritt 36" range with a back shelf and double ovens is just waiting for someone to collect & refurbish it.
Many old stoves had printed cooking times & temperatures to help the housewife make effortless meals for their families.
The O'Keefe & Merritt logo.
A griddle in between the burners was meant to cook anything from hotcakes to burgers.  If you look closely, the front burners have heat diffusers built onto the grates.  The back burners are opened, not sealed.
Your price? $500. 

King Richard's is a must for those who love to collect.  Going through this store is very informative, because one can gain a lot of knowledge just by reading the tags.  Finding out what things are & what era they pertain to will make you a savvy shopper.  Don't be intimidated by lack of knowledge when it comes to perusing any type of antique.  Once you become a regular of antiquing it will be easy to walk into any antique shop confident and ready to be a discriminating browser or collector.  In my opinion, King Richard's Antiques is a very good thing.  Visit it if you're ever in Southern California.