Monday, July 16, 2018

The Art of Letter Writing

I am an insane hoarder of letters.

I have every card and letter sent to me in the last fifty years.

Yes, you read correctly, fifty years.  Letters and cards neatly preserved in boxes.
Every once in a while I peruse them, with much enjoyment.

I could not wait to learn to write.  In my elementary school there was always a childhood illness
(Measles, mumps, chicken pox, etc.) making the rounds and the teacher would
not begin and/or continue our lessons in cursive until all were present.  This, seemingly,
went on forever.

I have always prided myself on having a neat hand writing but, alas, these days the arthritis
has definitely altered my style.

My great, great Aunt used to write notes to me and at the bottom of the note she would tape
two dimes, for an ice cream treat.  Friends who moved away would write to me and it was
always such fun and great anticipation to open and read the letters.

And then the internet was created and, along with it, email.

I must admit that, initially, emails were fun.  They were instantaneous and that, in itself, was amazing.  I confess, however, that to this day I treat an email as a letter, usually complete with
a salutation, etc.

As we all know, the downturn in postal mailings occured due to emails.  And then texts became
the  new form of communication, complete with its own symbols and abbreviations.

And then the public schools chose to discontinue teaching cursive.  (That makes me so sad).

There are now students who only know how to print.  I don't know how they sign a check but then those are becoming a thing of the past as well!  They do not know how to compose a
personal letter or a business letter.

And, they certainly do not know the joy of holding an envelope containing  words written by someone, perhaps from another city, state or country.

If you really want to brighten someone's day, sit down and jot a little note letting them know
you are thinking of them.  I guarantee you will be sending more than words!



Sunday, July 15, 2018

Chicken and Waffles

Growing up in Central Pennsylvania, Chicken and Waffles was a menu item we had quite often.

My Mother would poach a chicken, debone it, and, using the chicken stock, prepare a creamed
chicken.  She would then make waffles, using a waffle iron.  The creamed chicken would be
served atop the homemade waffles.....hmmmmm, comfort food!

Every Sunday I take my ninety-one year old Mother and sixty-one year old brother to Sunday
Lunch.  My brother has Downs Syndrome and food is his hobby!  We go from restaurant to
 restaurant each Sunday - some days it is Olive Garden, some days it is Red Lobster, others it
might be a diner.

Early this morning my brother called me.  He informed me he was in the mood for Chicken
and Waffles.  I told him I would see what I could do to make that happen.

I then punched in "Chicken and Waffles near me" on my ipad.  Many, many restaurants and
diners appeared.  I then zeroed in on the closest restaurants and was quite surprised at the
photos of Chicken and Waffles.

Instead of a Chicken in Gravy over Waffles, what appeared at these restaurants was Fried
Chicken and Waffles on the Side with Maple Syrup.  (What??????)

No where was there a chicken in gravy over a waffle. 

Apparently the Fried Chicken with Waffle on the Side is a Southern specialty.

I must confess, I never heard of that!

Digging further into the internet, an article appeared regaling the wonders of the Amish
Chicken and Waffles, only to be found east of Pittsburgh!

Aha!  Our Chicken and Waffles!!!!!

Little did I ever realize that this was a regional dish peculiar to Central Pennsylvania.
(although I must admit, I thought, as a youngster, that everyone in the world ate pork and sauerkrout
on New Years Day!!!)

With the advent of the rotisserie chicken,  available to everyone, we do not have to cook our
own chicken, make our own stock, etc. to enjoy this dish.

I found a wonderful recipe from good food stories that nails it!

Amish Chicken and Waffles
(4 servings)

1  3-4 lb. rotisserie chicken

Waffles:
1 large egg
4 T. unsalted butter, melted
1 cup milk
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. granulated sugar
1/4 t. kosher salt

Gravy:
4 T. unsalted butter
1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup milk (or heavy cream, for extra richness)
salt and pepper to taste

1.  Pull the meat from the roasted chicken and cut or shred into bite-sized pieces.
Keep warm in a low oven til ready to assemble.

Make the Waffles:
2.  Preheat a 4 square waffle maker.
3.  Separate the egg yolk and white and reserve the egg white in a small bowl.
4.  Melt the butter in a small saucepan and remove from heat to cool slightly.
5.  Whisk the egg yolk and milk together in a large bowl, then add the melted butter, flour, baking powder, sugar and salt.  Whisk together til just barely combined; some lumps may remain.
6.  Beat the egg white by hand or with an electric mixer til soft peaks form.  Gently fold the
egg white into the batter with a spatula.
7.  Grease the waffle maker, if necessary, and pour the batter evenly into the waffle iron; depending on the depth and size of your waffle maker, you may have a bit of leftover batter.  Cook according to your waffle makers' specifications.

8.  Alternative:  purchase frozen waffle and heat according to directions.

Make the gravy:
1.  Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat.  Sprinkle the flour evenly over the melted butter and whisk to incorporate into a roux. 
2.  Cook, whisking frequently, til roux turns toasty golden.  It will remain pale for a few minutes,
then toast quickly so keep an eye on it.
3.  Drizzle in the chicken stock, whisking constantly as it is added.  The flour will clump, but
continue to whisk and the gravy will smooth itself out.  Add the milk and cook, stirring frequently,
until the gravy thickens and comes to a simmer.
4.  Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Add chicken pieces to the
sauce.

Assemble:

1.  Place a waffle on a plate, spoon chicken and gravy over the waffle.
(Sometimes served with a side of mashed potatoes)




Saturday, March 3, 2018

Crostata

One of my all time favorites is the Crostata, or Italian Fruit Pie.

In days gone by, pasta frolla (pie dough) was rolled and filled with homemade jam.
There would be some with fancy lattice, some quite rustic with just the ends turned up.

My personal favorite is filled with fig jam.  The traditional in Tuscany is blackberry jam.
Right now I have peach jam- filled Crostata in the oven.  The house smells delightful!

This is a dessert that is so basic, so simplistic and so very delicious!

I make a batch of the dough and put it in my freezer so I am ready at a moment's notice
of friends coming for coffee or luncheon.  It does not take long to defrost and I always
make sure I have a jar of jam in the pantry.

The pasta frolla must be very cold.  Many recipes will say to chill for 30 minutes but I
have found that is not near enough time.  The dough is still too soft and will fall apart.  I
allow the dough many hours, even overnight, to get a proper chill.

You can prepare a free form tart with the ends rolled in over the filling or you can use a pie
pan.  I use a French tin with a removeable bottom for my Crostatas.

You can fill the tarts with the traditional blackberry jam, or peach, apricot, raspberry.....
whatever suits your taste.  You can also use Nutella, which my grandchildren love!

The dough:

1-1/4 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 C. granulated sugar
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk
dash salt
2 C. all purpose flour

I put butter in mixer (yes! the mixer!) and then add the sugar.  I then add the eggs, dash of
salt and, finally, gradually add the flour.  Pop the dough out onto the saran, wrap it up and
give it a good chill.  (there is no water in this dough! and it rolls like a dream!)

Fill the tart with the jam (or Nutella) of your choosing.  Add some lattice strips. (I like
to brush some eggwash on the strips but be careful!  They can brown very easily!)

Bake in a preheated 350* oven for about 30 minutes.  The dough should be golden. The
jam will be bubbly.

Let cool and enjoy!  I sprinkle a bit of 10-x when serving.




This is a peach jam filling




This is what it looks like with 10-x sugar sprinkled on top





This is a Fig Jam filling (my favorite!)




The classic blackberry jam filling from Tuscany






Saturday, February 24, 2018

Christmas Pavlova

Meringues have always fascinated me.

Dottie Lonardi, who lived next door to us when we lived in the City, used to bake a zillion cookies
at Christmas and always made "meringue kisses" with the leftover egg whites.  She would put
nuts in them.

Those were my very favorite cookies!

As I would research meringues as I became older, I was amazed to discover how the Australians
are the absolute masters with meringue!

This dessert was created in the 1920's when the Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, was touring
Australia and New Zealand.

It should have a crisp crust with a soft, marshmallow-y inside, and is usually served with
fresh fruit and whipped cream.

When in France and Ireland I was surprised to see meringues in every bakery in both countries!

It has only been in recent years that I have discovered Mary Berry, the Martha of Great Britain.

This past holiday season I was trying to decide on a special dessert for one of my dinner parties.
I was already making the croquembouche for the one dinner party and then decided on the
pavlova for the other.

Thank goodness berries of all kinds are available for the holidays!  (I do remember once,
however, when we were catering that there was a scarcity of berries, for whatever reason,
and I was hard pressed to make the fruit presentations look palatable!)

I had made individual meringues for pavlova over the years but never the large ring.

I turned to Mary Berry and the results were raves and bravos!





One tip:  do not attempt meringues when it is raining outside!  Meringues and Rain
do not mix well!


Flounce, Coverlet or Bedspread?

 It is the time of year when we want to purge, organize, make clean, re-do.

It is also the time of year when bedding linens, towels, etc. all are on sale.

So, what better time than to purchase a new bed covering since the old one has pulls
and I am just plain tired of it.

It was one of those great bed-in-bag buys with the bedskirt (aka dust ruffle), shams,
comforter and even some accent pillows.  It has definitely served its purpose and has
definitely seen its day. I am just not crazy over the comforter look any longer.

For the new bed covering, I was thinking of  the lovely matelasse quilts (coverlets).
I started looking all over the internet and, to my dismay, I discovered there is quite a
range in the measurements for coverlets for king size beds.

I was always of the opinion that the coverlet should extend 3" below the mattress.  If you
have a bed skirt, the mattress will be covered and you have a well dressed bed. Hmmmmm,
sounds good but that is not the reality.

I purchased a lovely quilt and was so excited to see how it looked on the bed.  Well, it
did not even cover the mattress sides.    I had to return it.

A king mattress with a pillowtop (and a quilted mattress protector) requires a lot more
material than the linen industry is providing!  It seems they have not yet caught up with
the puffy, high bedding we all now desire.

So, the coverlet is out.  How about a bedspread?

That too is problematic in that the widest bedspread seems to be 120" (and that is termed
oversized!)  and I need 138"!

I seriously thought about going back in time with a 1950's chenille bedspread.  However,.
there would have been a 10" shortage on both sides and I just didn't think that was
going to look right, even with the bedskirt.

Who knew this was going to be such an ordeal?  Remember in those "good ol' days" when
you just purchased  twin or full and all bedding linens fit just fine?  You really didn't have
to give it a second thought.

Now sheets have to be extra deep or you will be having a "Lucy" moment trying to make
the bed!  And the bedskirt has drops of 14", 16", 17".......


Voila!  I found a flounce!  with a 30" drop!!!!  It could not be more perfect!  I just
ordered it tonight.  It is velvet though.....not my first choice,  but velvet is so on-trend right
now....oh well.  This can be the Winter Bedding.

Thank goodness this is something we don't do all that often.  This turned into such a major
project!

Here is store photo of my new  (retro) "Hollywood" bed:









Sunday, February 11, 2018

Trish Giordano: Creme Brulee

Trish Giordano: Creme Brulee: Creme Brulee is one of the most famous custards to come out of France.   However, England, Spain and France all claim to have creat...

Creme Brulee

Creme Brulee is one of the most famous custards to come out of France. 

 However, England, Spain and France all claim to have created this Classic Dish. 

 The first printed recipe for a dessert called creme brulee is from the 1691 edition of the French cookbook Le Cuisinier Royal et Bourgeois by Francois Massialot, a cook at the Palace of Versailles.

Creme Brulee means, simply, "Burnt Cream".

Made with simple ingredients of eggs, sugar, heavy cream and fresh vanilla bean, this dish
could not be more basic.







After the baking process, extreme heat via broiler, salamander or good old plumbers
torch is applied to sugar on top of the custard to form a hard crust.



One year, a very large, prestigious law firm we catered for requested this dessert for  their 
Secretaries Appreciation Day Luncheon.  The law firm was so large, we, in fact, had to make
this a two day affair.

They had a lovely office building  overlooking the Susquehanna River.  We were on the top floor for the luncheon festivities.  The Maintenance Supervisor advised me that  an open flame (pumblers'
torch) would wreak havoc and cause a gazillion gallons of water to overcome us should I attempt
to "torch" these creme brulee desserts inside.

Since there was a terrace, I figured that we could "torch" the desserts outside.....what choice did
I have?

Ok, ok, so maybe I didn't think that one through!!!.....First day of event, we are outside attempting
to torch these desserts and the wind is whipping all around us!  The flame is going everywhere....
but not on the wonderful desserts I have prepared!  What a joy that was .....to get a hard crust
on these desserts!

My bottom line advise is:  do not attempt this outside with the wind whipping all around you!!!!