Monday, April 29, 2013

Good Things in April

April should have marked the beginning of spring for all of us, but I feel as if the season has been delayed somewhat.  Our weather patterns have given us colder-than-normal temperatures, yet Mother Nature has already forged ahead with her wonders.  As much as I love autumn and the changes it signals, I also love spring and everything that comes with it.  Around our home I can always tell when change is in the air.  The little yellow flowers of the invasive species of lesser celandine pop up everywhere, the ostrich ferns shoot out, the trees begin to bloom and the birds chirp all day long.  Just the other morning I woke up  to the Canadian geese heading back north to their native habitat.  Yes, spring is wonderful!

On the blog I covered a lot that was tasty, sweet & appealing for everyone.  After the introduction to the Monthly Cookie, I decided to have a cookie contest.  I wanted to give back in some way to the many readers I get here, so I thought what better way to do so than with some of the cookies I bake and feature?  It was so hard for me to choose the winner and after not being able to make up my mind on just one person, I chose two lucky individuals.  A package was mailed to one of the winners last week, so I imagine that they will have already savored those treats by the time you read this.  The other winner is going to surprise her mother on Mother’s Day with cookies.  Those will be baked fresh & will get mailed right before that weekend.    

The subject of crafting finally commenced here on Good Things by David via my friend & expert crafter, Christian, and I couldn’t be more pleased.  Although I don’t consider myself a true & dedicated crafter, I may find myself attempting a project or two for all of you, but I will leave the big, inspirational stories to Christian.  With how-to videos and step-by-step instructions, you will have the opportunity to craft, plan & share the many ideas we’ll be covering.  Once again, thank you Christian!

It’s no secret that I adore lemon, and those lemon cupcakes I made are a dream to eat and share.  Let’s not forget about that healthy Roasted Tempeh & Asparagus salad that was presented to you by writer, James Puisis.  My favorite lobster roll from The Green Bean on The Main Line was such a pleasure to eat and to photograph.  I already had some of my Maine friends tell me that it just isn’t like the ones you get up along the Maine coast.  I know, I know.  I simply happen to adore this particular sandwich and since I can’t get to Maine at the moment, it’s the next best thing.

Alright, let’s go through April once again.

I love the combination of mint and chocolate.  The cookies I came up with really satisfy my craving for these two flavors and I think you'll agree that they're pretty spectacular if you make a batch.  

It was so much fun for me to have a cookie contest here on the blog.  Sending someone a little sweetness from my Pennsylvania kitchen was rewarding for me.  As I said before, the decision was a bit difficult for me because there were several compelling entries.  After deciding on two individuals, I notified them and asked for their desired flavors.

Lucky Winner: Ashley
Mint Chocolate Cookies with a Mint Ganache.

I added a handwritten note.

The boxes were packaged, labeled and tied.

The first batch (those mint chocolate cookies) were already shipped.  The second winner will receive their cookies right before Mother's Day.  Shhhh!

Finally crafting here on the blog!  I absolutely love linens.  It's so much fun trying new color & pattern combinations for different occasions, which is why this craft is so appropriate for Good Things by David.  To be able to custom-color your linens is wonderful!  I'm so tempted to make these linen napkins at home, but since I don't have a sewing machine (yet...) they're going to have to wait.  

Oh my, I'm still dreaming about these cupcakes.  These are for those who appreciate lemon and can't get enough of the citrus.  You know the ones.  A small pocket of lemon curd is cleverly hidden in the middle of each cupcake and the tops are covered in a simple lemon buttercream.  Make them for a garden party, a kid's birthday party or for a bake sale.

How nice are these cookie cutters?  If you love the Martha by Mail cookie cutters I have featured here on the blog, I suggest you keep an eye out for them.  They do come up for auction every now & then.

Thanks to contributing writer James, you now have a wonderful vegan salad to try this spring while asparagus is tasty & plentiful.  Whether you make it as a main course or as a side to a larger meal, multiply it by the number of guests you're expecting.

Tasty.  Perfect.  Lobster rolls are the cream of the crop of sandwiches in my opinion and I couldn't be happier with the one from The Green Bean.  Although it's $22 for one, it's well worth the price.  Do visit that little eatery/cafe if you're ever on The Main Line.    

Just the other day, as I was doing laundry, I happened to glance out from one of the windows and just gasped.  I couldn't stop staring.  The ostrich ferns on the eastern end of the property were so vibrant and so green that I just stood there for awhile and stared.  I love ostrich ferns and always will.

There is so much to cover this May and I can't wait for it.  I already have The Monthly Cookie lined up for you this week, so do keep an eye out for it.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Wonderful Ostrich Ferns

I've written about the gorgeous ostrich ferns around our home before, so I thought I'd repost that information, because we're currently in the midst of a dramatic change in the landscape thanks to these wonderful plants.  It's always amazing to me how quickly the ostrich ferns unfurl within a week to two week time span.  Many of the magnolia trees around the neighborhood have already bloomed, the cherry blossoms have a few more days left before their blooms fade, but the ostrich ferns are here to stay for several months.  If you have any around your home do enjoy them!

Matteuccia struthiopteris or ostrich ferns, are beginning to show their glory at our house right now and it always seems like they magically appear overnight.  For me it's a dramatic event every spring when the first fiddleheads pop out of the ground and continue to grow for about a 3-4 week period into enormous, broad ferns.  This type of fern, which is deciduous, does well in zones 3 through 7 and prefers areas that receive partial shade to full shade.  The ferns will spread if given ideal growing conditions, so they're perfect for covering large patches of ground.

Here in the woodland around the house, there are several areas of the grounds that have ostrich ferns and I absolutely love them.  In the wild, these ferns can grow up to 6 feet in height, but if cultivated at home, they will more than likely grow between 2-4 feet.  This clump-forming fern grows vertically with a beautiful, somewhat trumpet shape to it.  Many people will plant ostrich ferns as a form of soil erosion control, so keep this in mind if you live in an area that is prone to flooding.  The only drawback that I can think of is that ostrich ferns will lose their beauty toward the end of summer and well into fall & winter when they become dormant.  The infertile fronds (these are the showy green parts) will brown, dry out and die down; spore-bearing fronds which stay about 2 feet tall, remain brown year round.  Take a closer look at these beautiful ferns and think about planting a few if your garden needs some ground cover.   

This photograph shows the fronds just coming out.  This was taken in mid March.

As you can see from this picture, the fronds are tightly wound and will shoot up anywhere from 2-6 feet.

Around this area behind our house, a colony of ostrich ferns has taken hold and will cover a good 40 feet of woodland.  The daffodils in the background (most of them have already bloomed & died) will soon be entirely dwarfed by them.

I'm standing in front of our home looking east toward the bottom of the hill.  There is roughly 100 feet or so of ostrich ferns running down this side along a stream.

An old well and a teak bench settle into the landscape quite naturally around the ferns.

Looking down toward the glade, there is a small area of ferns that wasn't there the year before.  I love it!  They seem to be taking over, but that's OK.  There is plenty of room for them here.  Our azalea is just beginning to bloom, but I'm not too hopeful for it because the deer always eat it up!

There is nothing like freshly mown grass.  This scene looking from the back of our house never gets old for me.  
 If I'm in the mood, I head down this path toward a small bridge which leads onto some trails.  

 You can see how wonderfully shaped each trumpet is if you look straight down at one.

 This frond hasn't quite finished unfurling.  I give it a few more days before it joins its counterparts.  

I couldn't resist gently prying one open for you to see.  Don't worry, I didn't damage it.

OK, a bit of cheating.  This photograph was taken last summer, but just to show you what it will look like in a month or two, the same area is now completely engulfed by beautiful ostrich ferns.  Don't they make a gorgeous ground cover?  By the way, where is the bench?  It's been swallowed up by the fronds.


Here I am standing next to a patch of ferns (last summer) surveying some of the trees.  You can see how high these ferns get; some will continue to grow past my head! 

Monday, April 22, 2013

My Favorite Lobster Roll

Are you a fan of lobster rolls?  I am.  Found at lobster shacks, roadside stands and fancier restaurants throughout the state of Maine, lobster rolls are now gaining popularity throughout the country for one reason & one reason only.  These sandwiches are delicious!  I feel it is important that the sandwich be filled to the brim with fresh, cold lobster taken from the tail & claw, and that the bun be either toasted or warmed, and lightly buttered.  Whether you like your lobster filling mixed with mayonnaise or butter, the condiment should be used judiciously, and to my mind, there should be no other “filler”.  It’s perfectly fine for me if a small amount of fresh herbs or a kiss of lemon juice finds its way into the filling, but that should be it.

On my quest for such a sandwich, I was recently lead to a wonderful eatery called The Green Bean in the beautiful town of Gladwyne, Pennsylvania.  I had been told by several people that this place served a pretty delectable lobster roll, so I went in to find out for myself.  

The Lobster Roll at The Green Bean
What arrived at my table was just what I was after.  The sandwich was packed with the most delicious lobster meat and with it, I was served a mesclun salad of baby greens, along with the typical side of kettle potato chips.  I’m so glad I was given several napkins, because I wasted no time in devouring the roll with gusto.  Pure heaven!  I don’t think it took more than 5 minutes to finish that meal (shhh, don’t tell anyone!).  

This famous lobster roll at The Green Bean is the perfect blend of tail, knuckle & claw meat that is very lightly enhanced with mayonnaise, in addition to the right amount of lemon juice.   A small sprinkling of freshly snipped chives to top it off and that completes the roll.  The bun is lightly buttered to enhance the flavor, so what you end up with is what a true lobster roll should be.  

Thankfully, chef & owner, Tammin, graciously allowed me to take a few photographs of his wonderful lobster roll for me to show you.  Trust me when I tell you that this sandwich is well worth the price.  Just get over the sticker shock & order one.  You won’t regret it whatsoever.  

Just so you know, The Green Bean was voted Best of The Main Line & Western Suburbs in 2012 by Main Line Today.  

Have a look!  

Perfection!  If you take a closer look you'll notice the combination of lobster meat I mentioned.  You can't even see the mayonnaise, but it's there.  

The mesclun salad is generous and artfully piled onto the very modern plates used by The Green Bean.  What you must understand, however, is that the red wine vinaigrette is phenomenal!  After the lobster roll, the salad dressing comes in second.  What's more, I got the chef to give me a list of the ingredients, so I'm going to attempt to recreate it at home to share with you in the near future.  Stay tuned!

Kettle chips down the hatch!

The Green Bean
358 Righters Mill Road
Gladwyne, Pennsylvania

If you do find yourself wanting this lobster roll on The Main Line, here in the suburbs of Philadelphia, tell them David sent you to The Green Bean.   You're going to love it!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Roasted Tempeh and Asparagus Salad

A reader recently asked me if he could share a delicious vegetarian recipe here on the blog and after looking at it I agreed, because it looked fantastic.  Many of us are trying to stay fit these days and trying to keep our new year's resolutions from falling apart.  Let this recipe inspire you to try something new.  

Thank You James!

Author: James Puisis 

Slimming Down for Spring

Spring is officially here! For some, spring only means better weather. But for many others spring is the beginning of transition. It is a time of change. People choose to make many personal changes during spring because they see it as a great time to transition into the summer. If you are looking to be healthier this season here are some tips for staying healthy and recipe for a delicious and nutritious meal for you!
  1. Keep the Good Carbs
It is very essential to a good diet that you incorporate good carbohydrates. Too many fad diets call for you to get all carbs out of your diet. But they fail to remind their followers that dark leafy greens, vegetables, and fruits are carbs. Remember what your parents and grandparents said, “eat your fruits and vegetables.” These foods are absolutely necessary in order to get fit. 

  1. Make Healthy Substitutions
There are many simple ways to substitute certain foods for healthier ones. For instance consider replacing butter with olive oil or coconut oil. Not only can this help make you fit but it even tastes better. If you are a vegetarian get your essential proteins by replacing your meats with tempeh, tofu, quinoa, and eating certain seeds and nuts such as almonds. 

  1. Eat More Often
Believe it or not eating more often can actually help you lose weight. Having several smaller meals throughout the day instead of three big meals boosts your metabolism which helps keep weight off and also keeps you from succumbing to poor diet choices or overeating. Eating more often in smaller portions can keep you healthy.

In order to begin your spring transformation here is a recipe to start you off:

Roasted Tempeh and Asparagus Salad
  • 2 packages (8 oz each) Lightlife® Organic Soy Tempeh, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 2 pounds fresh asparagus spears, trimmed, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 8 cups mixed baby salad greens
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinaigrette dressing
  • 1 cup frozen shelled edamame, thawed
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomato halves
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
Yield: 4 servings

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Toss tempeh with 3 tablespoons of oil, soy sauce and garlic powder in medium bowl. Spread tempeh in single layer on baking pan; set aside. On another baking pan, spread asparagus in a single layer; drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and sprinkle with salt. Shake pan to coat asparagus. Place both pans in oven. Bake asparagus 6 to 8 minutes or until crisp-tender, shaking pan to turn spears once. Bake tempeh 15 minutes or until browned, turning once. Remove from oven.

  1. Meanwhile, toss together mixed greens and dressing in large bowl; divide evenly between 4 plates. Top evenly with edamame, tomatoes and onion. Top each with roasted tempeh and asparagus.

This post was brought to you by Lightlife. For other vegetarian recipes using tempeh  visit the Lightlife website. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Cookie Giveaway Winners!

Let me just say one thing: Thank You!  Thank you all for your kind words regarding my blog and what I try to do here for you.  It takes a great amount of effort to produce good content and I'm glad that it is appreciated.  And, a big thank you for submitting a request for a few of my homemade cookies!  It's nice to see that so many kind-hearted individuals want to spread a little cheer to a loved one. 

As you can imagine, it was a tough decision for me to choose the winner of the contest.  I only wish I could send each of you a thank you set of cookies to enjoy, but I have to make a decision.  I'm choosing to make two of you the winners of the contest!  

Thank You!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Martha by Mail ~ Cat Cookie Cutters

A set of furry feline cookies decorated in adorable shades of royal icing would make the perfect gift for any cat lover.  These clever designs were an exclusive creation for the Martha by Mail catalog many years ago, and collectors can’t seem to get enough of these cookie cutters.  I don’t blame them.  

Charming as a host or hostess gift, the edible kitties can be designed to look like true cats that many of us own or they can be made to look unlike any cat we know.  Pipe a dot here, a dot there or give the kitty cat whorls of color any which way you choose.  If you want to be nice you can add a little bow of royal icing or flock the cat to accentuate the design.  Whatever you do, make them adorable and make them your own.  Everyone is going to want one.

Return to these copper cookie cutters and their clever designs so that you can create your very own cat cookies.  

For collectors and bakers everywhere!

Set of 5 cutters.

The cat on the left looks as if he or she is perched on a window sill looking out.  The body is outlined and flooded in white royal icing; this is left to dry.  A small bow in brown royal icing is piped on top and is immediately flocked with fine sanding sugar.

The cat on the right is a tuxedo cat standing on all fours.  Outline the bottom fourth of the kitty in white icing and flood it with the same icing.  Outline and flood the remaining cookie in brown royal icing.  While still wet, flock the cat in clear, fine sanding sugar; let this dry.  Pipe a small dot for an eye and let dry.

This domestic longhaired cat is very luxurious to say the least.  The top coat is piped with a light brown/gray color and the bottom coat is piped in white royal icing.  The kitty is flocked in fine sanding sugar.

The silhouette of this cat as it sits upright is completely unique.  White royal icing is used to outline and flood the cat.  Brown dots are then piped throughout the cookie while the base is still wet, and then each dot is given another white dot on top of that while it is still wet.  When dried, the polka-dotted cat will be ready for gift giving.

Looking as if it’s ready to eat a meal, the cat on the left is bubbly and cute with its curled tail and sleek outline.  A base of cream-colored royal icing is used to outline and flood the cookie.  Once dried, the body is accented with various-sized dots of light brown royal icing.  Adorable!

The calico on the right with its upright tail is ready to pounce!  Outline and flood this cookie in white royal icing and while still wet, fill the top portion of the body with various odd-sized dots in contrasting colors.  Don’t forget to give the kitty some mittens and socks.  Meow!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Final Call for Cookies!

Don't forget that my cookie giveaway ends this coming Monday.  You have until that evening to submit a request for a few of my homemade cookies.  It's easy, just click HERE or click the small image on the sidebar and read what you have to do.  

I hope you submit a request!

The winner will be announced on Tuesday.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Lemon Cupcakes

I’m a huge fan of lemon desserts, always have been and always will be.  Lemon cupcakes often disappoint when you get them from the market (not something I do, but I have tasted them on occasion--one must compare), but if you make them at home and add a bit of extra indulgence, you can make sublime cupcakes that far surpass those which are mass produced.  

I recently made a batch of some that included lemon curd, along with an easy lemon buttercream to crown each treat.  An ode to that marvelous cake I’ve shown you before, these sweet miniature versions are so much fun to make.  The hardest thing to do, perhaps, is the lemon curd, but if you give yourself some time to get it just right, it too is not a task that is unattainable.  I love making the curd a day in advance and having it cold & ready in the refrigerator. 

The cupcake batter is a straightforward version of the 1-2-3-4 cake and is divided among 24 cupcake liners.  Two dozen beautiful cupcakes that are then filled with curd and topped with the simplest of buttercreams will satisfy the craving of those die-hard lemon dessert fans.  Make these for a Mother’s Day lunch, a weekend gathering or a casual get-together with friends.   

Let me show you how!

Lemon Cupcake Batter Ingredients
  • 2 sticks or 16 tablespoons {226 g.} unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups {400 g.} granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon {15 ml.} finely grated lemon zest
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 3 cups {320 g.} cake flour, spooned & leveled
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons {12.5 ml.} baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon {2.5 ml.} fine sea salt
  • 1 cup {240 ml.} milk, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons {10 ml.} pure vanilla extract

Yield: 24 standard size cupcakes
Equipment: Two standard size muffin tins with 12 wells in each pan, 24 cupcake liners.

Note: If your cupcake pans are nonstick, there is no reason to butter the tops of the pans.  If your cupcake pans are light aluminum, they must be prepared because the cupcakes may crown and stick to the rims of each well.  I line each well with a cupcake liner and then spray the tops with a nonstick cooking spray.

Center the oven racks
Preheat to 350° F (177°C)

  1. In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium speed for 30 seconds to 1 minute, just until the butter is nice & creamy.  Gradually add the granulated sugar and the lemon zest in a steady stream & continue beating for a good 4-5 minutes.  You want to incorporate as much air as possible to make the cupcakes light, so cream the butter & sugar until it is very light & fluffy.  Stop the mixer and scrape the bowl & paddle at least once or twice during this process.
  2. On medium speed, add the eggs one at a time and beat well, until each egg is fully emulsified in the batter (it shouldn’t look curdled).  Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl & paddle at least once.
  3. In a medium bowl, sift the cake flour, baking powder & fine sea salt; whisk to combine well.  Combine the vanilla extract with the milk.  On low speed, alternately add the dry ingredients with the milk/vanilla.  The dry ingredients will be added in 3 additions and the milk/vanilla in 2 additions; start and end with the dry ingredients.  Beat just until combined and no specks of flour are left.
  4. Stop the machine and give the batter a couple of turns with a large spatula, making sure to reach all the way to the bottom of the bowl.
  5. With a 2 1/4” ice cream scoop, evenly divide the batter evenly among the muffin tins lined with cupcake liners.  Fill each cavity 3/4 full of batter.

Bake the cupcakes for approximately 18-22 minutes.  

Dark, nonstick pans will bake the cupcakes much faster than light aluminum pans.  Each cupcake should feel springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the middle should come out free of crumbs.  

Let the cupcakes cool in the pans for 5 minutes and then remove them onto racks to cool completely

Lemon Curd Ingredients
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 3 whole eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar {265 g.}
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
  • 3/4 cups {180 ml.} freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 6 tablespoons {85 g.} unsalted butter, room temperature

Yield: approximately 2 cups lemon curd

  1. In a saucier or saucepan, add the egg yolks, whole eggs, granulated sugar, lemon zest and freshly squeezed lemon juice.
  2. Using a whisk, mix the ingredients until well combined.  Set the pan on your stovetop over medium, medium-low heat.  Stir your ingredients with a clean, wooden spoon or heatproof spatula (I reserve a wooden spoon just for this purpose so that I don’t transfer other flavors to my curds).  Pay close attention and don’t walk away from this task.
  3. Lemon curd will gradually thicken in 5-10 minutes or so.  It’s important to watch for visual clues, because the curd can go from a watery substance to scrambled eggs if you don’t stir the entire time.  

  1. As soon as you notice the curd thicken considerably, check to see if it coats the back of the spoon or spatula in a thick film.  If it does, it’s ready to come off the heat.
  2. Have a fine mesh strainer set over a heatproof bowl or other vessel and strain the lemon curd through it.  Stir and press it through.  You’ll notice all of the lemon zest and perhaps some egg whites left in the strainer; discard this.  Make sure to scrape off the curd from the bottom of the strainer.
  3. Add the reserved butter a few tablespoons at a time, stirring until it melts. 
  4. Once the butter has melted, cool the curd by either setting it into an ice water bath or by putting it into the refrigerator.  I much prefer to put my bowl of curd over an ice water bath to cool it quickly (I stir this until there is no more heat left).  If you’re going to place it straight into the refrigerator, put a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the curd to prevent a skin from forming.  
  5. The curd can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, again, with a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming.  Make sure the entire bowl is covered well.

NOTE: the lemon curd has to be thoroughly chilled before constructing the cupcakes.

Easy Lemon Buttercream
  • 2 sticks or 16 tablespoons {226 g.} unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 8 cups or 2 lbs. {907 g.} confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 6 tablespoons {90 ml.} milk, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon {5 ml.} pure vanilla extract (if not using lemon extract, double the vanilla)
  • 1 teaspoon {5 ml.} pure lemon extract (optional)
  • 1/2 cup {120 ml.} cold Lemon Curd (recipe above)

Yield: enough for 24 cupcakes or a 9” layer cake.

  1. In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until lightened, 30 seconds to 1 minute.  Stop the mixer.
  2. Add all of the confectioners’ sugar, fine sea salt, milk, vanilla extract and lemon extract.  Start the mixer on low speed until everything begins to come together and then gradually increase the speed to medium until the buttercream gets light & creamy, about 3-4 minutes.  Stop and scrape down the bowl & paddle at least once.
  3. Add the 1/2 cup lemon curd and beat until well combined.

Constructing the Cupcakes

With a sharp paring knife, cut a cone shape from the center of each cupcake and remove it.  These will be the wells that will hold the lemon curd.

Place the 1 1/2 cups lemon curd into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4” plain piping tip.

This is 24 tablespoons of lemon curd, so pipe 1 tablespoon into each cupcake.  No one gets cheated here.

If you’re working in a warm kitchen, place the cupcakes onto a rimmed baking sheet and pop them into the refrigerator until the lemon curd is chilled.

To frost the cupcakes, place the buttercream into a large pastry bag fitted with a large open-star tip and pipe a generous spiral of buttercream, making sure to cover the exposed lemon curd.

The cupcakes can be served at once or if you want to hold them for several hours or longer, put them back onto the baking sheet and chill them until the buttercream hardens.  Once the buttercream is cold & stiff, wrap the baking sheets in plastic wrap to keep the cupcakes fresh.

Since the cupcakes contain lemon curd, don’t let them sit out for more than a few hours.

These cupcakes were packaged up for a special client.  Delicious!

I hope you make these cupcakes for your next celebration.