Saturday, May 28, 2016

'Rosalind' Pinotage Rosé, Painted Wolf 2015

Now is the time to be enjoying chilled rosé wines with our friends and family, and I couldn't be more enthusiastic about this South African pinotage by Painted Wolf.  For me, South African pinotage wines have their unmistakable terroir, which is why I've been an enthusiast of these wines for many years. Pinotage is very much a South African varietal.  It's only recently, though, that I have come to discover their rosés.    

From Painted Wolf comes this quaffable 'Rosalind' 2015 dry rosé, which hints of tart cranberry with some notes of underripe stone fruit.  Its smooth, dry, yet fruity flavor, complements so many dishes.  I can see this being paired with any number of pasta dishes, some fresh sushi or sashimi, but I can also see it being served with delicious grilled vegetables.  Enjoy this flavorful wine in the coming months!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

TMNT Sugar Cookies

When you hear someone mention Donatello, Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo, you immediately think of the artists from the Renaissance.  For kids, however, you are referring to the teenage mutant ninja turtle comic book characters that some of us grew up with.  These green turtles with their colorful eye bandanas, can be turned into sugar cookies, and get handed out for a TMNT-themed birthday party.  Kids of all ages are going to want them.

What I like about this type of cookie is that you don't need to have a specific TMNT cookie cutter or a myriad of designs to create a set.  They can all be iced and finished with one face, and a handful of colors of royal icing.  Whether you cut out round or square sugar cookies, the faces can be outlined freehand in black royal icing.  If you're unsure about doing this freehand, you can always use a food coloring marker to trace out the design before icing.  All that is left to do is to fill in the blanks.

This one cookie shows you the basic design.  I begin by piping the outline of the entire face in black royal icing using a #2 piping tip.  Next, the bandana and eyes get piped, along with the nose bridge and the mouth.  I then pipe black pupils either looking sideways or right at you.  

Fill in the bandana area with either sky blue, purple, orange or red royal icing.  It's then a matter of filling in the whites of the eyes and a red tongue.

As you very well know by now, I like to work with multiple cookies at a time on my cake decorating turntable, and have the royal icings within easy reach.   Since there are four Ninja Turtles, try to make an even number of each character.

The last part of this cookie is to fill in the face with a bright green royal icing.

Do you see how simple this is?  Once the cookies have been iced, I then transfer them to flat baking sheets and stack them in one area so that they dry evenly.

Here's a good tip if you're finding the icings taking longer than expected to dry (humidity in the kitchen is always a problem):  preheat your oven to a very low 175F and then turn it off once it has come to that temperature.  Put the iced cookies, on their baking sheets (stacked crisscrossed), in the oven (make sure that you have turned the oven OFF) and let them sit in there until the oven has cooled down.  That low heat will speed up the drying process.  I leave them like that overnight.

TMNT Sugar Cookie

Once the cookies have dried completely, it is then up to you how you want to hand these out.  You may want to just put them on cake stands or trays for your kid's birthday party, or you may want to put them in cellophane or glassine bags for party favors.  No one will be able to resist a TMNT sugar cookie.  Have fun making them! 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Amaranth Hot Cereal

Considered a power food because of its fiber-rich, high-protein content, Amaranth is a grain that we should consider adding to our diets.  The leafy variety, that I wrote about last year, is highly delicious and very good for you, but it is the grain which makes a tasty, hot cereal for breakfast or for brunch.  We just started making it here at home and I am glad it has now become a part of our menu rotation.

These small seeds, or 'grains', originated in Mesoamerica and were used for festivities and ceremonies throughout the area before the Spanish conquest. Nowadays only a small amount of the global amaranth supply is grown in this region, with India and Nepal cultivating the bulk of what we purchase in the health food aisle.

As I said, cooked amaranth seeds are a good source of fiber, protein, manganese, magnesium and iron.  In addition to this, it is naturally gluten-free, but aside from these healthy benefits, one of the things that appeals to me about cooked amaranth is that it has a natural sweetness to it.  There are times when I feel it doesn't even need any added sweetener, but you can, of course, sweeten this hot cereal with a delicious honey, some pure maple syrup or even agave nectar.  It's entirely up to you.

This is what I do at home.  Everything can be customized to taste at the table once you divvy up the cereal to your family.

Amaranth Cooking Ratios (1 part grain - 3 parts water)

  • 1/2 cup amaranth 
  • 1-1/2 cups water (you can substitute some of the water with milk of your choice, such as almond, soy or rice milk)
Yield: 2 servings
Note: this can be scaled up to serve any amount.
  1. In a heavy bottom saucepan with high sides,  add the amaranth and the liquid and bring to a low boil.  Lower the heat and simmer the amaranth for 20-25 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so to prevent sticking or burning.
  2. Serve hot.

Serving Suggestions:
  • Milk (to thin out)
  • Dried Fruit (raisins, apricots, cranberries, etc.)
  • Fresh Fruit (chopped mangoes, strawberries, blueberries, sliced bananas, clementine wedges, pomegranate seeds, etc.)
  • Spice (sprinkle some ground cinnamon or ground ginger)
  • Cocoa Powder (to taste)
  • Nuts (chopped walnuts or chopped pecans are delicious)
  • Seeds (pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds or some ground flaxseeds can bump up flavor and nutrients)
  • Sweeteners (use pure maple syrup, agave nectar, brown sugar, sugar in the raw, stevia or the best honey available)

You can feel confident in providing a nutritious breakfast to your family if you make some amaranth hot cereal.  There is nothing easier than cooking a pot of it for a weekday breakfast or for a weekend brunch.  I hope you try some soon and discover this healthy, yet tasty grain.  Cheers!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Barnyard Chicken Cookies

As much as I would like to have chickens of my own, I have yet to explore such an undertaking.  In the meantime I can decorate sugar cookies in the shape of these barnyard animals with one cookie cutter, a good sugar cookie recipe and a handful of colors of royal icing.

Do you remember those cookies I made from 'The Little Red Hen' a while back which were a big hit with some local kids?  These caught the attention of someone I know who wanted a set of chicken cookies in more traditional colors.   

A mix of brown and white chickens were enhanced with nothing more than red combs and yellow beaks.  Aren't they cute?

Using the same cookie cutter (above) I used for the Little Red Hen Cookies, I cut out and altered the original shape to make it more suitable for this particular request.  The arrows in this photo show you how I adjusted the cut outs.  Some back feathers, the extended legs and the wattle were cut out after the cookies were placed on baking sheets.  The shapes were then baked and cooled before icing.  

Note:  some cookies were flipped over to have them facing the other direction.  This made the set of cookies a bit more interesting.

The bodies of the chickens are outlined and flooded with either white or brown royal icing; the combs and beaks are also outlined and flooded with their corresponding colors.  A small black dot is added for an eye to the wet base.  Let the cookies dry completely before enhancing them.  

A bead of icing is then piped around the body in the same color, and small wings are added.  Simple.  Easy!

This gorgeous rooster made of caramel glass, also known as slag glass, is from my collection of Martha by Mail, L.E. Smith Glass.  I love its rich caramel color, its detailed body and how well it complements my kitchen.  If you look closely, you can see variations in color.  

Make some chicken sugar cookies for someone who loves chickens and/or raises chickens.  Line the feathered sweets on a platter or stack them high on a cake stand.  If you wish, you can pipe feathers with stiff royal icing to make them even more unique or you can use various colors to render a very interesting flock.  Don't forget to keep one or two for yourself! 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Mahjong Sugar Cookies

If you play mahjong with a group of friends or know people who do, you may want to entice them with some sugar cookies decorated to look like the game tiles.  A neighbor and dear friend of mine asked me to make several of these cookies for her mother's surprise birthday party a short time ago, and I have to admit that they were perhaps the most challenging set of cookies I have ever made.  I was a bit nervous about the whole project.

Knowing nothing about the popular Chinese tile game, I scoured online for images of these game pieces, but it wasn't until I was given specific tiles to recreate that I realized I had my work cut out for me.  Rather than making diminutive cookies like the game pieces themselves, I decided to enlarge the images onto 4-inch rectangular cookies.

I hope you're not too disappointed in the fact that I didn't take photographs of my creative process like I normally do.  This project required a bit more concentration and quite frankly, I didn't want to mess them up!  

This is but a small sampling of some of the mahjong tile cookies.  Using only four colors (black, green, red and white)  I followed the examples of each tile given to me, down to the detailed strokes of Chinese calligraphy.  Mahjong tiles are categorized by either of a rank or of a suit.  I was told to create certain renditions from the bamboo suit, the circle suit and the character suit, as well as a few dragons.

Note:  in order to get the right shades of red and green, I added a little drop of black food coloring to each batch in order to darken the tone.  I'm very pleased with the way these colors came out.

Also, it is important to work with one cookie at a time. Everything you see here was piped using the wet-on-wet method. In other words, the bases were flooded in white royal icing, and the images, characters and numbers were piped with the corresponding colors while the base icing was still wet.

The Dragon mahjong tile was perhaps my favorite from the dozens of cookies I made.  What I did was outline and flood the rectangular cookie in white royal icing, and then pipe a rough outline of the dragon with red royal icing while the base was still wet.  With an icing decorating pick, I moved the icing around to create the claws and flames.  

I love the bamboo suit cookies.

With a bit of patience and a very steady hand, piping mahjong tile cookies doesn't have to be a daunting task.  As I said, it's best to work with one cookie at a time.  You don't want to waste one moment piping the images, characters and numbers.  You can, of course, use food-coloring writing pens to trace certain images, but in order to get the white shapes in the circle suits, you have to use royal icing.  If you do decide to make some mahjong sugar cookies for your next gathering or for someone's birthday party, package them up in clear cellophane bags and tie them shut with bright ribbons like I did.  Each one can be given out as a party favor.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Ormarine 2014 Picpoul de Pinet

Have you ever had a Picpoul de Pinet?  If you haven't, I recommend that you try this 2014 small production estate wine from Ormarine because it is perfect for warmer weather.  Picpoul de Pinet AOC is a full-bodied white wine from the Languedoc region, and this particular varietal is known for its herbal and citrus notes, however, Ormarine's 2014 Picpoul, which is vinified in stainless steel, lacks the herbal quality associated with these wines, exhibiting more of a crisp, refreshing mineral flavor.

If you're bored with imbibing chardonnays this season, look for a Picpoul de Pinet.  Pair it with delicate seafood like turbot, lobster or cod; you can also enjoy it on its own as an aperitif.

I think you're going to like it!  

Monday, May 2, 2016

Spring is Here

Spring is here and I am happy about it because it means warmer weather, verdant foliage, and an abundance of furry and feathered critters.  The past few days in this part of the country have been a bit on the gloomy and damp side, but otherwise we've been enjoying stretches of sunny days with wonderful temperatures.

As busy as we all are, it's a good idea to take a moment or two to go outdoors and observe what is around us this time of year.  The dogwoods are in full bloom right now.  The crabapple trees are fragrant and ever so pretty with their abundant flowers.  The squirrels, robins and even the occasional groundhogs or foxes have decided to make their presence felt throughout the landscape.

On one of my recent walks I took a few photographs and even a short video of the kinds of things happening around our home.  It's been somewhat of a tradition to have a 'spring has sprung' post here on the blog, so this is it!

Whenever I am standing in this spot on the field, I have to pause and take a look.  I also like to listen to what is happening around the area.  You can see birds, deer, bees and countless insects from this vantage point.  

Turning to my right I can see the barn and the trees which surround it.  A small flowering dogwood is among the first to bloom.  It's beautiful.

If I decide to take a stroll down this way I will come upon even more majestic dogwoods.  At the moment everything looks tame and somewhat subdued, but come summer, the meadow will be buzzing with activity and the grass will be thick and abundant.

You can see the row of dogwoods on the horizon, next to the apple trees. Those white poles are part of the afforestation objective.  It will be decades before those trees become large enough to block the view, but it's something which will benefit the field for generations to come.

Here I am standing next to some newly-planted trees.  I love the view from here.

Looking down toward where I originally started my walk, you can still make out the barn.  In a few months when the grass is allowed to grow quite tall and thick, I won't be able to see the stone structure from this area.

Do you have flowering crabapple trees in your yard?  There is something so alluring about crabapple trees this time of year.  Not only are the flowers absolutely gorgeous to look at up close, but their scent is something else.

I wish you could smell these fragrant flowers.  In a few seasons the trees will be laden with lots of tiny fruit.   

You have no idea how happy I am that we now have black squirrels in the area. I had only encountered these in a neighboring town whenever I happened to be near the train station.  This year we seem to have been bestowed with their charming presence.  We always look out for them from our windows and on this day, I was fast enough with the camera to take these photos.

Here it is digging for something to eat.

Success!  The black squirrel found a small nut which it quickly devoured on the spot.

I'm a big sucker for groundhogs.  It isn't officially spring until we see one of the resident groundhogs out and about.  We've named this cutie, 'Henrietta'. She is always focused on eating the best greens near a hill, but she seems to be quite the explorer.  We've caught her near a small gully which runs alongside the driveway.  I wish we could just pick her up and hug her.

Here's a short video of her eating.

Little Henrietta loves to take short, quick nibbles of grass and other greens. With her stubby legs and waddling gait, she moves with purpose and determination.  Isn't she adorable?

OK, there is no excuse for you to be indoors right now.  Go out and take a walk in a park or simply sit out on your yard to enjoy the view.  You never know what you're going to find scampering on your lawn.  Spring and Fall are my favorite seasons of the year, and you can bet that as busy as I am, I will make it my mission to take longer walks so that I too can enjoy the changes in the landscape.  

I hope all of you are having a fantastic start to spring!