Recipes @ Suite101.com: May 2011

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

DIY Weddings


Heart Sandwich Cookies


Get ready for the big day with simple, beautiful wedding ideas and delicious recipes from Michael Vyskocil's Suite101.com Recipes articles.

Recipes
Tips

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Kitchen Spice Grinder

Toast and grind your own spices in a spice grinder to assure the freshest, most potent flavors.

Coffee grinder for grinding fresh spices.

Coffee beans and spices have something in common: Since their delicate aromatic oils break down quickly, they taste their best when freshly ground minutes before use. However, to keep this morning's coffee from tasting like last night's curry, you might want to consider this simple solution: two grinders. Designate one for coffee and the other for spices; label each accordingly to avoid confusion.

To keep your grinders in top condition, remove loose grounds and residue with a pastry brush. Place a large piece of soft bread in the bowl of the grinder, grind thoroughly, and remove the oil-absorbing bread crumbs.

SOURCES
Cuisinart coffee grinder
(DCG-20), $30

800-726-0190

Available at local retailers

Making Homemade Vanilla Extract

For the best flavor in all your baked goods, homemade vanilla extract is incomparable. Learn how to make your own batch of vanilla extract.


Vanilla Extract

The smooth flavor of vanilla in baked goods can be as soothing to the tongue as aloe is to sunburned skin. Homemade vanilla extract makes a great present, especially for someone who has a penchant for baking.

Vanilla bean pods are the product of an orchid species, Vanilla planifolia. These orchid varieties are native to areas of Mexico, Madagascar, Java and Tahiti. In order for the orchid to produce its edible treasure, the vanilla bean pod, the plant must flower and the flower must be pollinated. However, the flower only opens once each year; the only known animal pollinators are certain species of ants, hummingbirds and the Melipona bee. To make pure vanilla is a laborious and highly exacting process. The vanilla beans must ripen or cure from anywhere between three and six months. During this time period, the vanilla bean pods shrink tremendously--about one-quarter of their length before curing. They also dry, losing about 85 percent of their moisture content, and intesify their signature aroma.

Making your own vanilla extract isn't difficult. You'll need vanilla beans, which you can obtain from specialty food stores or in some large supermarkets. First, run the dull side of a knife up and down the vanilla beans several times to loosen the seeds. Next, split the beans in half lengthwise and place them inside a bottle of bourbon, vodka or some other similar flavored liquor. For best results, use the best liquor you can find. Seal the bottle and place it in a cool, dark place for five to six months. During this infusion stage, give the jar a shake every few months to redistribute the vanilla bean seeds in the liquid. As the months pass, the liquor will assume the flavor of the vanilla bean seeds. If you're using vodka or other similar clear liquor, the color will darken during the aging process. After six months, the vanilla extract is ready to use. Since you'll only need small amounts of vanilla extract in recipes, it's best to transfer the vanilla extract into small containers. Clean and sterilize small bottles or jars with lids, and, using a canning funnel, fill the bottles or jars with the vanilla extract. To store, keep vanilla extract tightly covered in a cool, dark place.

Michael's Classic Christmas Ideas for Holiday Entertaining

I've collected my favorite ideas for everything you'll need for a delightful Christmas holiday. Peruse these ideas below for Christmas and holiday entertaining inspiration:

Michael's Classic Thanksgiving Ideas

I've collected my favorite ideas for everything you'll need to put Thanksgiving dinner on the table. Peruse these ideas below for Thanksgiving Day dinner inspiration:

Preserved Lemons in Oil

Learn how to prepare Preserved Lemons in Oil with Chef Jody Denton of the Restaurant LuLu in San Francisco, California.

Preserved lemons are an essential ingredient in Moroccan cuisine. You can purchase preserved lemons in oil in specialty shops, but they are just as easy to make at home.

Chef Jody Denton of the Restaurant LuLu in San Francisco, California, shares his recipe for Preserved Lemons in Oil.

RECIPE
Preserved Lemons in Oil
Makes about 1 cup

Ingredients:

  • 3 lemons
  • 1 tablespoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil.
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Scrub the lemons well under running water. Cut off ends of the lemons. Cut lemons into 1/4-inch-thick slices and remove the seeds.
  2. In a 3-quart rectangular baking dish, toss the lemon slices with the salt. Arrange the lemon slices in a single layer in the baking dish. Pour lemon juice over the slices. Cover and bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the lemons are slightly dry and the skin is tender, stirring lemon slices around in baking dish occasionally.
  3. Remove lemons from oven and let cool completely. Transfer lemon slices and roasting juices to an airtight container. Cover and refrigerate 2 to 3 days.
  4. To make preserved lemons in oil, transfer lemon pieces and juices to the bowl of a food processor. Cover and process until the mixture is finely chopped. Add olive oil to lemon mixture; cover and blend just until the oil is combined. Store, uncovered, up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
SPECIAL THANKS
Jody Denton

Restaurant LuLu
816 Folsom Street
San Francisco, CA 94107
415-495-5775
Fax: 415-495-7810

Sweet Dessert Bruschetta


Food for Thought

The bruschetta (broo-SKET-ta), originally from the olive-growing regions of Italy, started out as the typical lunch of the olive grove workers. The classic bruschetta included olive oil and vegetables, such as red sweet peppers or ripe plum tomatoes, and perhaps fresh mozzarella or creamy goat cheese. Here we present a sweet dessert version.


Sweet Dessert Bruschetta

RECIPE

Sweet Dessert Bruschetta

Ingredients:

  • 6 slices (about 3/4 inch thick) Italian country bread or crusty sour-dough bread
  • 3 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup chocolate hazelnut spread*
  • 3 medium bananas, thinly bias-sliced
  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
  • Chocolate shavings or curls (optional)
Directions:

Toast bread and let cool. In mixing bowl combine nuts and sugar; set aside. Spread cooled bread slices with chocolate hazelnut spread. Layer banana slices on top of spread. Brush banana with melted butter or margarine. Top with nut mixture.

Broil 5 to 6 inches from the heat about 30 seconds or till bananas just begin to glaze and nuts are toasted. Garnish with chocolate shavings or curls, if desired. Makes 6 bruschetta.
*Note: Purchase chocolate hazelnut spread in specialty food stores or large supermarkets.

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds Recipe


Michael displays a tray of pumpkin seeds.


When eaten out of hand, pumpkin seeds make a healthy, flavorful snack. Learn how to turn the remnants of pumpkin carving into a seasonal treat.

Full of vitamins A and C, pumpkin seeds are nutritious. They don't require much but a sprinkling of salt to bring out their natural nutty flavor. If your pumpkin is particularly striking, you may choose to save some seeds for planting in the garden in the spring; the rest of the seeds can be turned into a delectable snack. After you've finished carving out your pumpkin, separate the seeds from the pulp and spread the seeds in one layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Discard any seeds that appear shriveled or pitted. Avoid the temptation to wash the seeds with water--washing will only take away the inherent flavor from the seeds. Sprinkle the pumpkin seeds lightly with coarse salt or, for a sweet alternative, use granulated sugar. Place the pumpkin seeds in a 350 degree F. oven for 5 to 10 minutes. The fragrance of the toasted seeds will indicate when they're ready to be removed from the oven. Let cool and enjoy a tasty autumnal snack.

Mulled Cider for the Holidays

Hot mulled cider is a warm and comforting treat to serve to guests at the holidays. Find out how to make this spicy cider.

Gather around your Christmas tree this year with a steaming mug of hot apple cider infused with some of your favorite flavors. Try such spices as cinnamon, star anise, cloves and lemon peel for a delicious aroma and flavor.

Hot Mulled Cider

Serves about 20

Hot Mulled Cider


Ingredients:
  • 4 whole star anise
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • 4 whole cardamom pods
  • 1 orange
  • 1 small apple
  • Cloves
  • 1 gallon apple cider
  • 3 cinnamon sticks, plus more for garnish
Directions:
  1. Place star anise, lemon zest and cardamom pods in a square of cheesecloth and tie to secure.
  2. Stud orange and apple with cloves.
  3. Place apple cider in a large pot. Add cinnamon sticks, cheesecloth bundle and the orange and apple studded with cloves, and place over medium-low heat.
  4. Bring the apple cider to a simmer and allow the cider to steep for 1 hour.
  5. Serve warm in mugs, garnished with a cinnamon stick, if desired.
SOURCES

Star anise, cardamom pods, cloves and cinnamon sticks
Penzeys Spices
12001 West Capitol Drive
Wauwatosa, WI 53222
800-741-7787
Fax: 414-760-7317


Present Food Gift Baskets for Christmas

A food gift basket is a Christmas gift that's sure to be treasured by its recipient. Of course, you can purchase food gift baskets already assembled, or you can create your own gathering items that your friends and family will love. For the friend who loves hosting cocktail parties, include a book on hors d'oeuvres and garnishing tools. Or, for a delicious way to start Christmas Day, pack a basket with all of the fixings for Christmas morning breakfast.

If you're putting the baskets together, begin with the essential materials: You'll need an appropriately sized basket, packing material, ribbons and gift tags. Pack all the items securely. If the basket doesn't have a lid, wrap it in cellophane or tissue paper, then tie it with a ribbon.

Our food gift basket suggestions can be tailored to suit other tastes and interests. You can adapt this idea to other areas, including gardening with a basket filled with seed packets, garden gloves and a few tools.

FOOD GIFT BASKET IDEAS


Hot Cocoa Gift Basket
  • Individual packets of cocoa
  • Cellophane bag of cookies or biscuits
  • Stainless-steel whisk
  • Jar of preserves
  • Stoneware mugs
Breakfast Gift Basket
  • Bag of pancake mix
  • Pure maple syrup
  • Reversible cast-iron griddle
  • Juice glasses
  • Spatula
Hors D'Oeuvres Gift Basket
  • Hors d'oeuvres cookbook
  • Pastry brush
  • Mini muffin tins
  • Pastry bags with couplers and assorted tips
  • Garnishing tools
  • Serving tray

Homemade Chicken Stock

This recipe makes more than you'll need for many recipes, but the stock can be frozen for up to five months. The gelatin from the chicken bones is released during the long cooking time yielding a rich, flavorful stock.

HOMEMADE CHICKEN STOCK
Makes 8 Cups

Ingredients:

  • 8 whole black peppercorns
  • 4 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1 large onion, washed, cut into thirds
  • 3 carrots, scrubbed, cut into thirds
  • 2 stalks celery, leaves attached, cut into thirds
  • 1 four-pound chicken, cut into 6 pieces
  • 4 pounds bony chicken parts (backs, necks and wings)
  • 12 cups water
Directions:
  1. Place the peppercorns, parsley, thyme, bay leaf, onion, carrots, celery, whole chicken, chicken backs, necks and wings into a large stockpot. Add water. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a very gentle simmer and cook for 50 minutes. The liquid should just bubble up to the surface. A skin will form on the surface of the liquid; skim off the skin with a slotted spoon and discard it. Repeat the skimming process as needed during cooking. After 50 minutes, remove the chicken from the pot and set the chicken aside until it is cool enough to handle.
  2. Remove the meat from the chicken bones, set the cooked chicken meat aside and return the bones to the stockpot. Shred the chicken meat and refrigerate until ready to use.
  3. Continue simmering the stock, on the lowest heat possible, for 3 1/2 hours, skimming any skin from the surface of the stock as needed. The chicken bones will begin to disintegrate. Strain the stock through a sieve lined with a layer of cheesecloth into a very large bowl. Discard the solids. Place the bowl in an ice bath and let the stock cool to room temperature. Divide the stock into airtight containers. The stock may be refrigerated for 4 days or frozen for 5 months. Refrigerate for at least 10 hours or overnight. If storing, leave the fat layer on top to seal the stock. Before using, remove the fat layer that collects on the surface of the stock. 

Flavored Whipped Cream

Keeping whipped cream stiff can be a challenge. Find out how to thicken and add flavor to whipped cream with honey or melted quince jelly.

Just like a toddler, whipped cream has a tendency to be troublesome. Sometimes it cooperates with you, forming fantastic stiff peaks. Other times, it stubbornly throws a wrench in your plans, refusing to fluff up and whip itself into proper form. But like a baby sound asleep, whipped cream is a sight to behold because of its sweet nature.

One day, I was in the kitchen, and I couldn't find any sugar to sweeten some whipped cream. So, I decided to use honey instead. Later, with a second batch, I used melted quince jelly. Both of these items added sweetness to the cream, but the jelly provided an additional component. The high pectin content in the jelly acted as a thickener, keeping the whipped cream stiff for hours. Another way to increase your success of making whipped cream is to place the bowl and whisk (or mixer beaters) in the freezer for 20 minutes. Then, when you whip the cream, the fat molecules around the bubbles of air in the beaten cream will stay strong, holding up the foam.

RECIPE
Flavored Whipped Cream
Makes 2 cups

Ingredients:

  • 1 pint heavy cream, chilled
  • 1 tablespoon buckwheat honey, or
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons quince jelly, melted
Directions:
  1. In a chilled mixing bowl, whip the heavy cream with a balloon whisk until stiff. Alternatively, whip the cream in the chilled bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. If using quince jelly, gently melt it in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Fold the sweetener of your choice into the whipped cream. Serve immediately.
  2. Save any remaining cream by transferring it into a sieve lined with two layers of cheesecloth. Place the sieve over a bowl, cover the bowl and sieve tightly with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Chocolate Butter Cookies

Chocolate Butter Cookies
Makes about 2 dozen cookies

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Combine the butter, sugar, egg and chocolate in a medium bowl. Add the flour, baking powder and vanilla; mix well. Cover the dough and refrigerate until firm, about 4 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a 1/4-inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes with a cookie cutter. Place the cookies about one inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for about 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly brown. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Gingerbread Cookies

Gingerbread Cookies
Makes 2 dozen 3-inch cookies

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup dark molasses
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and add the molasses. Beat well.

In a large bowl, combine the brown sugar, flour, ginger, cinnamon and baking soda. Beat the dry ingredients into the butter mixture until all of the ingredients have been incorporated.
Remove the dough from the mixing bowl; halve the dough and flatten into one-inch-thick rounds.

Wrap each round in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough until it is about 1/4-inch thick. Cut into desired shapes with a 3-inch floured cookie cutter.

Place the cookies one inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake for about 12 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned. Cool for two minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Royal Icing

Royal Icing
Makes About 2 1/2 Cups

  • 4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • 3 tablespoons meringue powder
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the sugar, water and meringue powder on low speed until all ingredients are moistened, scraping sides of the bowl constantly. Beat on medium-high speed for about 7 to 10 minutes or until icing is thick and glossy. Use immediately or cover tightly with plastic wrap.

Note: Icing will soften upon standing. If necessary, beat the icing again with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until it thickens.

Ginger Cookies

Ginger Cookies
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup packed dark-brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup unsulfured molasses
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon; set aside.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, brown sugar, and 1/2 cup granulated sugar until light and fluffy; about 5 minutes. Beat in the egg and molasses. Add the flour mixture; mix until combined. Form dough into a flat round; wrap in plastic wrap. Chill the dough at least 2 hours or overnight.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Pour the remaining granulated sugar into a bowl. Form the dough into 1-inch rounds; roll each ball in the sugar. Place the sugar-coated balls on the prepared baking sheets, spacing the balls about 2 inches apart. Using the palm of your hand, flatten each ball slightly into a flat disk.
  4. Bake the cookies until brown, rotating the sheets from top oven rack to bottom and bottom to top halfway through baking to promote even browning, about 10 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack. Store cookies in an airtight container up to 1 week.

Pastry for a Double-Crust Pie

Pastry for a Double-Crust Pie

Makes Enough for 2 Piecrusts

  • 2 cups plus 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup ice water
  1. In a bowl, stir together the flour, salt and sugar. Using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the pieces are the size of small peas. (If you have a food processor, you can use it to pulse the dry ingredients together first. Once you add the butter, pulse for about 20 seconds until the mixture resembles coarse meal.)
  2. Add 1/4 cup ice water over the flour mixture, tossing with a fork until all of the dough is moistened. Depending on the humidity at the time you're making it, you may need to add more water as needed, 1 tablespoon at a time. You don't want a big sopping wet ball of dough. Just as soon as the pie crust comes together in the bowl (much like bread dough), stop adding water. (If you're using your food processor, you can add the 1/4 cup ice water in a slow steady stream through the feed tube with the machine running. Process just until the dough holds together. Do not process any longer than 30 seconds.)
  3. Turn the dough out onto a flat round on a piece of plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour before using.

Beef Broth

Beef Broth
The butcher can cut veal bones into small pieces for you. This beef broth is great as a base for quick, homemade soups any time.

Makes About 7 Cups
  • 3 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried
  • 2 sprigs fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 5 whole black peppercorns
  • 2 pounds beef shank cross cuts
  • 2 pounds veal bones, cut into small pieces
  • 1 small onion, peeled and quartered
  • 1 medium carrot, cut into thirds
  • 1 medium celery stalk with leaves attached, cut into thirds
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Tie the parsley, thyme, oregano, bay leaf, and peppercorns in a piece of cheesecloth to make a seasoning packet. Set aside.
  2. Arrange the beef shank, veal bones, onion, carrot, and celery in an even layer in a large roasting pan. Roast, turning ingredients every 20 minutes, until the vegetables and the bones are deep brown in color, about 1 1/2 hours. Transfer the meat, bones, and vegetables to a large Dutch oven, and set aside. Pour off the fat from the roasting pan, and discard. Place the roasting pan over medium heat on the stove. Add the red wine, and stir, using a wooden spoon to loosen any browned material from the bottom of the pan; boil the mixture until the wine becomes reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Pour the mixture into the Dutch oven.
  3. Add 6 cups cold water to the Dutch oven, or more if needed to cover bones. Do not reduce amount of water; cover and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer so that bubbles only occasionally rise to the surface. Add the reserved seasoning packet. Skim foam from the broth's surface. Continue to simmer the broth over low heat for 3 hours. During simmering, a foam will form on the surface of the liquid; skim off with a slotted spoon. Repeat skimming as needed. Add water if at any time the level at the surface of the broth drops below the bones.

Homemade Polenta

Homemade Polenta
  • 4 cups homemade or low-sodium canned chicken stock
  • 1 cup polenta (coarsely ground yellow cornmeal)
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a boil and very slowly add the polenta, whisking constantly with a wire whisk. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the spoon can stand up straight by itself in the mixture, about 15-18 minutes. When the polenta is done, stir in the salt and butter. Pour the polenta into a lightly buttered baking dish. Bake until firm, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven. Let the polenta cool before using or refrigerate it overnight before using.

Vegetable Broth

For those readers who've requested the Vegetable Broth recipe, here it is. This will make 8 cups of stock.

Vegetable Broth
  • 6 large carrots, washed and cut into large pieces
  • 1 head of garlic, unpeeled
  • 3 medium onions, peeled and quartered
  • 4 turnips, washed and cut into large pieces
  • 4 leeks, washed and cut into large pieces
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 bunch fresh oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and quartered
  • 4 celery stalks, cut into large pieces
  • 5 quarts water
In a large, heavy stockpot, add the carrots, garlic, onions, turnips, leeks, thyme, parsley, oregano, bay leaf, apples and celery. Pour the water over the vegetables and bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 2 1/4 hours.
Strain and discard the cooked vegetables. Continue cooking over medium heat until the mixture is reduced to 2 quarts, which will take about 1 more hour.

Roasted Garlic

Garlic is indispensable to most professional chefs. Sharp and spicy when used raw, it turns almost nutty when sauteed. When roasted, garlic becomes sweet and mild and can take on many different personalities. Roasting garlic is a simple process; you'll enjoy caramelized cloves that are as soft as butter. Roasted garlic cloves are delicious when spread on toasted bread, on top of grilled meat or fish and as a flavoring for sauces.

Roasted Garlic
  • 6 to 8 heads of garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Juice of one lemon (if you want to store the roasted garlic)
  • Fresh parsley, if desired

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Place the garlic bulbs in a baking dish; drizzle with olive oil. Spinkle the bulbs generously with salt and pepper.
  2. Place the baking dish in the center of the oven; roast the garlic heads until they are soft when poked with the point of a sharp knife, about 1 hour.
  3. Cut off the tops of the garlic heads and squeeze out the soft cloves from their papery shells. Use immediately, or if you plan to store the roasted garlic, squeeze the garlic cloves into a jar; cover the jar with olive oil and add lemon juice on top of the cloves. Flavor with fresh parsley, if desired. Seal the jar and store in the refrigerator, tightly covered. The roasted cloves will last about ten days if kept in the refrigerator this way.

Fluffy Vanilla Buttercream Icing

This buttercream holds its shape particularly well, making it good for decorating. If the buttercream becomes soft while piping, stir it over an ice-water bath until it stiffens. It can be made ahead and kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 2 days. However, you must rewhip the buttercream before spreading it; let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes to soften lightly, then transfer to an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until the buttercream is smooth and spreadable. It will go through a curdle-like stage; keep beating. (You can also beat the buttercream vigorously with a rubber spatula if you don't have an electric mixer.)

Makes 3 1/2 Cups, Enough for One 2- to 3-Layer Cake or About 2 Dozen Cupcakes

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening
  • 6 to 8 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Directions:
  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat 3 cups of the confectioners' sugar, butter, vegetable shortening, 4 tablespoons milk and the vanilla extract until smooth, about 3 to 5 minutes.
  2. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the remaining confectioners' sugar; beat until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes.
  3. Add the remaining milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, to the mixture, as needed, to achieve a good spreading consistency.

Winter Pantry

A pantry is more than just a storage space for food. A well-stocked pantry can give a sense of order, peace and bounty to a home. The ingredients stored there can also inspire a home cook to create new recipes using favorite ingredients. And, the pantry provides the answer to that eternal question, "What to have for dinner?"

The wealth of high-quality packaged foods available in stores makes it easy to keep your pantry full. Grains, such as pastas, are pantry staples. These grains include couscous, a tiny grain semolina pasta that cooks in virtually a few minutes, and arborio rice, a starchy creamy Italian rice that's traditionally used in risotto.

Other ingredients, like dried mushrooms, go a long way toward adding rich, deep flavor to almost any dish. Items such as capers, olives, dried chiles, anchovies, dried tomatoes, dried cheeses and canned tuna can also pack a punch per ounce, adding fabulous flavor to quick-cook dishes.

Except for summertimes, when tomatoes are flesh and flavorful, canned tomatoes are the better choice. There are lesser-known brands available that have superior texture and flavor, including those imported from the San Marzano region of Italy. Pomi-brand, sold in heat-sealed paper packages, and organic tomatoes, sold in lead-free, enamel-lined cans, are some examples.

So, the next time you have unexpected dinner guests, just open up the doors to your pantry. Experiment with your pantry items. You'll find that, just like old friends, they're reliable and comforting.

Vinegars

PANTRY LIST
  • White-wine vinegar
  • Red-wine vinegar
  • Champagne vinegar
  • Sherry vinegar
  • Balsamic vinegar
Oils
  • Grape-seed oil
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
Canned and bottled items
  • Dijon mustard
  • Chestnuts
  • Mango-and-ginger chutney
  • Hoisin sauce
  • Wasabi powder
  • Pure maple syrup
  • Lavender honey
  • Capers
  • Olive paste
  • Oil-cured black olives
  • Kalamata olives
  • Morello cherries
  • Gherkin pickles
  • Irish oatmeal
  • Thai pepper jelly
  • Thai peanut sauce
  • Pure vanilla extract
  • Pickled asparagus
  • Preserved lemons
  • Homemade preserves
  • Whole peeled tomatoes
  • Pomi strained tomatoes
  • Dried tomatoes in olive oil
  • Canned tomato paste
  • Anchovies
  • Canned tuna

Dry goods
  • Dried morel mushrooms
  • Dried porcini mushrooms
  • Dried cranberries
  • Dried blueberries
  • Dried apples
  • Dried pears
  • Prunes
  • Dried arbol chiles
  • Cornmeal
  • Israeli couscous
  • Yellow and green split peas
  • French green lentils
  • Pine nuts
  • Barley
  • Red lentils
  • Grits
  • Basmati rice
  • Arborio rice
  • Red-pepper flakes
  • Chocolate chips

Pasta
  • Cannelloni
  • Penne
  • Spaghetti
  • Tricolor fusilli
  • Quick-cooking polenta
  • Soba noodles
Fresh Food that keeps for weeks
  • Garlic
  • Red and white potatoes
  • Red and yellow onions
  • Butternut and acorn squash

Sailing Party Goody Buckets-Birthday Celebration Favors for Guests

Sailing Party Goody Buckets


Party guests will adore these goody buckets full of sailing-related trinkets and sweets. Line each beach bucket with a sheet of colored tissue paper (such as blue or sea green), then fill the bucket with a compass journal that allows kids to track their voyages at sea, a handy traveler's world globe, a few decorative seashells, flavored lip sunblock, a local tide chart, a toy sailboat, and gummy fish and fish-shaped crackers tied in small bags made from cheesecloth tied up with twine. Finally, top the buckets with a ship captain's hat. Wrap the bucket in a piece of clear cellophane wrapping.

SOURCES
Kids Compass Journal
Captain's Hat
Traveler's World Globe in Box
Cyber Island Shops, Inc.
524 Mid Florida Drive, Suite 202
Orlando, FL 32824
888-974-3557

RELATED CONTENT
Sailing Party Decorations
Sailing Party Invitations
Sailboat Cake

Italian Grilled Chicken Recipe

Here's a simple grilled chicken main dish that's versatile enough for a weekday or weekend dinner. If you have leftovers, you can reheat the pieces of chicken and serve them over salad greens.

ITALIAN GRILLED CHICKEN
MAKES 4 MAIN-DISH SERVINGS

  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 small bunches fresh thyme (about 1/2 cup of thyme leaves)
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 whole cloves garlic
  • 2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 4 whole boneless and skinless chicken breasts
Combine the lemon juice, thyme leaves, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and sugar in a blender and blend until smooth. Use immediately or refrigerate until ready to use. This marinade will keep in the refrigerator, tightly covered, for up to one week. Pour 1 cup of the marinade into a large resealable plastic bag. Refrigerate the remaining 1/2 cup for brushing on the chicken while grilling. Place the chicken breasts inside the bag; seal and turn the bag up and down to coat the chicken breasts with the marinade. Allow the chicken to marinate in the plastic bag in the refrigerator for about 4-12 hours. Prepare a charcoal or gas grill; arrange the coals for direct cooking. Lightly coat the rack with nonstick cooking spray. The coals should be hot. When ready to grill, remove the chicken from the marinating bag; discard the bag. Grill on one side of the breast over direct heat for 15-20 minutes. Brush the chicken breasts with the remaining 1/2 cup of the olive-oil mixture. Turn the chicken breasts over; grill for about 10 minutes longer or until the inside of the breasts are no longer pink. Serve immediately.

Cobblers, Crisps, Slumps and More

What does a betty, a buckle, a cobbler, a crisp, a slump and a grunt have in common? They're all members of the "clump cake" family, a broad category of desserts combining fruit with pastry, batter or crumbly streusel dough. Here are just a few explanations of some of these family members:
  • Betty-Almost everyone has heard of apple brown betty. A betty is a fruit dessert made by topping fruit with browned, buttered bread crumbs.
  • Buckle-This cake is made with fruit that's either sprinkled on top of the batter before baking or incorporated into the batter. During baking the fruit sinks into the cake (or "buckles") creating a tasty interior.
  • Cobbler-The cobbler takes its name from the biscuit topping that's placed on top of the fruit; when baked, the topping resembles round, flat cobblestones.
  • Crisp-In this dessert, fruit is topped with a loose crumb topping, consisting of flour, oatmeal, breadcrumbs or graham crackers.
  • Grunt-If you've ever had a fruit pudding, you've tasted a grunt in your life. A grunt has the consistency of a thick pudding and is made by cooking fruit on top of the stove and covering it with a rolled biscuit dough. In England, steamed puddings are a traditional dessert. Early American settlers tried to duplicate this English treat, improvising on the dessert. The term grunt refers to the sound the fruit makes when it's heated. In New England, this dessert is often referred to as a "slump."

Popovers 101

Popovers are one of my favorite breakfast and brunch treats. Here are a few tips for achieving success with popovers:
  • Always use large eggs when making popovers.
  • Stir the batter lightly before filling the popover tins or custard cups to keep the mixture well blended.
  • Bake popovers either in popover tins or in 6-ounce custard cups or ramekins
  • Grease and flour the tins or custard cups well to make the popovers easy to remove after baking.
  • Never open the oven door during baking. Just like souffles, cool air is detrimental to popovers, and the slightest draft can cause the popovers to fall.
  • Prevent overbrowning by placing the oven rack in the lower part of the oven so that the custard cups or popover tins will be in the center of the oven.
Experiment with popovers by using the recipe below.

Popovers
MAKES 10 LARGE POPOVERS

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter and lightly flour 10 popover tins or custard cups. Set aside. Whisk together the butter, milk, flour and salt until smooth. Whisk in the beaten eggs, little by little, until incorporated. Do not overbeat the batter; it should have the consistency of thick cream. Fill the prepared popover tins or custard cups approximately three-fourths full with the batter. Transfer the tins or cups to the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Without opening the oven door, lower the heat of the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake the popovers for an additional 15 to 20 minutes. Serve hot.

Broiling Points

Before you begin broiling, study these broiling tips from the Better Homes and Gardens Test Kitchen:

  • Preheat the broiler before cooking, but don't preheat the pan and rack. Doing so can cause them to warp and may cause foods to stick. If you don't have a broiler pan, use a wire rack set in a shallow baking pan.
  • Position the broiler pan and its rack far enough away from the heat source so the surface of the food, not the rack, is the specified distance from the heat. Use a ruler to measure this distance. Slit the fat and membrane of a steak or chop at 1-inch intervals to prevent the edges from curling.
  • Brush melted butter or an herb-oil mixture on lean cuts of meat. This keeps the meat surface moist and adds flavor.
  • Sprinkle salt or seasonings on meat just before the food is turned or when it is brought to the table.
  • Use tongs, not a fork, to turn the meat--a fork will prick the meat and cause a loss of juices.

Picking Steamed Crabs 101

Perhaps nothing is as iconic to the Chesapeake Bay region of the United States as steamed hard-shell blue crabs. Summer in Maryland wouldn't be complete with sampling a few steamed crabs. If you've never learned to pick a crab before, here's the 101 Guide to Picking a Crab:

  1. Let the crabs cool slightly before you handle them. Dump them onto sheets of brown paper or newspaper. Begin by breaking off the pincer claws and legs, and set them aside. Place the crab on its back, and insert the tip of a paring knife into the “apron,” the flap on the underside of the shell. Pull it up and back to pry off the shell. Next, pull out the gills and the “dead man” or "devil," the spongy matter surrounding the gills.
  2. Fold the shell inward, and crack it in half. Cracking it inward, rather than outward, makes removing the meat easier. After pulling out the white top meat with your fingers, pull back on the back fin (it looks like a lump) near the back of the shell. This meat is particularly delicious.
  3. Save the claws for last. Insert knife about a third of the way into the softish white joint, then twist to separate the claws into two pieces. Use a wooden mallet to crack the shells.
To see a step-by-step video demonstration of this process, visit the Web site of Obrycki's Crab House in Baltimore, Maryland, at www.obryckis.com.

Kitchen Tips for Using Cherries

Storing Fresh Cherries on Ice

Whether from a pick-your-own expedition at a local farm or from a purchase at the market, fresh cherries can quickly wilt from the summer sun and heat. If you plan to serve cherries fresh, place them in a bowl filled with ice cubes or crushed ice. The ice will keep them crisp and cool until you're ready to devour them. As the ice melts, replace it with a fresh supply.

Pitting Fresh Cherries

Fresh cherries are packed full of flavor. But removing the pits can be a cumbersome task. Make the job easier with a cherry pitter. These ingenious gadgets, available in fine cookware stores or online at www.cooking.com, can expertly pit dozens of cherries without making a mess of you and your kitchen. If you don't have a professional cherry pitter, try using a paper clip to pit cherries. Simply unbend the clip and use one of the ends to poke through the stem end of the cherry until you reach the pit. Push the pit through to the bottom of the cherry and remove the pit. Since cherry juice will leave stains, cover any clothing with an apron and wipe off stains immediately.

S'mores Gift Basket

A basket filled with all of the ingredients necessary for making s'mores is a practical gift. The tasty campfire treat--whose name originates from the idea that they taste so good you'll want "some more"--first appeared in a 1927 book titled "Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts." Choose a basket and line it with a clean dish towel (look in crafts stores for an assortment of baskets). Add a package of graham crackers, a bag of large marshmallows, a large chocolate bar, and roasting sticks tied up with a length of natural twine. To make the roasting sticks, you'll need 3-foot long hardwood sticks, approximately 1/2 inch in diameter. With a pocketknife, whittle one of the ends down to form a point for skewering a marshmallow. Smooth down any rough edges with a piece of sandpaper. Using a small drill bit, drill a hole in the opposite end of the stick to create a hanging loop--you'll always know where to look for your sticks. Cut a 12-inch length of waxed-linen twine, thread it through the hole, and tie a knot to create a hanging loop.

RECIPE
S'mores

Ingredients:
  • Roasting sticks
  • Marshmallows
  • Graham crackers
  • Chocolate bars
Directions:
  1. Use roasting sticks to toast marshmallows over a campfire or gas-burner flame.
  2. Place one or two squares of chocolate on a graham-cracker square, place the hot marshallow on top and cover with another graham-cracker square.
SOURCES
Trug basket
Smith & Hawken
800-981-9888

Waxed-linen twine
The Caning Shop
926 Gilman Street
Berkeley, CA 94710
800-544-3373

Growing Blueberries

Everything's coming up blueberries at the DeGrandChamp Farms in South Haven, Michigan. These blue beauties can be seen glistening in the sun on a warm summer's afternoon. Blueberries rank next to strawberries and peaches as one of the most popular summertime fruits. Here are a few tips on growing your own blueberries:
  • Plant blueberries along foundations or in a border garden. They not only produce delicious fruit, but they also are covered with pretty white, bell-shaped flowers in the spring. In the fall, the leaves turn a deep crimson creating a spectacular autumn display.
  • Select the type of blueberry plant that best suits your climate and the location you plan to grow them. For gardeners in moderate to cold climates, consider the hardiness factor of the plants before you purchase and plant them.
  • Pollination is essential to successfully growing blueberries. Cross-pollination between to different varieties is important in order to set a good crop of berries.
Two hardy varieties to consider for small backyard gardens in cold climates are 'Northblue' and 'North Sky.' They will survive winter temperatures to 35 degrees F. below zero. They also are sometimes called "half plants" because they only grow about 2 feet tall, but each plant will produce 4 to 7 pounds of berries. Blueberries from mail-order companies are usually shipped bare-root. Upon receiving them, check to be sure the root system is moist.

Getting Kids to Eat Healthy

Spaghetti Squash

One look at a spaghetti squash and your child may back away from this unfamiliar object. Here's how to turn this late-summer vegetable into two child-friendly dishes: To cook a 2 1/2 to 3-pound spaghetti squash, halve the squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Place the halves, cut side down, on a baking sheet. Bake in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until tender. Cool slightly before using.

CANDIED Squash

While the squash cools, in a large skillet heat 4 tablespoons of butter or margarine until melted. Using a fork, remove the stringy pulp from the squash; discard. Cut the flesh into cubes and add to the skillet. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon and 2 tablespoons maple syrup; cook and stir until heated through.

MOCK Spaghetti

While the squash cools, in a saucepan heat 1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes. Using a fork, remove the stringy pulp from the squash; discard. Cut the flesh into thin strips and arrange on a serving platter. Top with the crushed tomatoes. Sprinkle with finely grated Parmesan cheese.

Healthy Snacking for Kids

When your children come running into the kitchen looking for a snack, they want something they can grab and eat. Freshly cut vegetables are always a great idea. Of course, it can be difficult to remind yourself to constantly replenish the supply. A simple solution: Just cut up that extra half of sweet pepper or leftover part of zucchini or cucumber whenever you're chopping the vegetables for a salad or for another dish. With bite-size vegetable pieces on hand (and a container of delicious accompanying dip), your children won't have to raid the pantry at snack time.

Stir Up Summer Drinks

If you're looking for simple summertime drinks that go beyond cola and ginger ale, try these thirst-quenching favorites--homemade lemonade, cherry lemonade and iced tea. These drinks are great to make when the weather turns warm and humid. Make a pitcher or two early in the morning and keep refrigerated until you're ready to serve.

Lemonade Recipe
MAKES 3 QUARTS

Ingredients:
  • 2 3/4 cups sugar
  • 6 3/4 cups water
  • 3 1/2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 18 lemons)
  • Crushed ice, for glasses
  • Lemon slices, for garnish
Directions: In a large pitcher, combine the sugar, water and lemon juice. Stir well to combine. Add ice to chilled glasses; pour lemonade into glasses. Garnish each glass with lemon slices and serve.

Cherry Lemonade Recipe
Makes 3 Quarts

Ingredients:
  • 6 3/4 cups water
  • 3 1/2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 18 lemons)
  • 2 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 jar maraschino cherries, plus 2 teaspoons reserved cherry juice
  • Crushed ice, for glasses
  • Lemon slices, for garnish
Directions: In large pitcher, combine the water, lemon juice, sugar and reserved maraschino cherry juice. Stir well to combine. Add the ice to chilled glasses; pour the lemonade into the glasses. Garnish each glass with lemon slices and whole maraschino cherries. Serve.

Iced Tea Recipe
MAKES 1 QUART

Ingredients:
  • 3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 5 lemons)
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 4 cups freshly brewed tea (use your favorite blend)
  • 1 cup water
  • Crushed ice, for glasses
  • Lemon slices, for garnish
Directions: In a large pitcher, combine the lemon juice and honey; stir until the honey is completely dissolved. Add the tea and water. Stir to combine. Add ice to chilled glasses; pour iced tea into glasses. Garnish each glass with a lemon slice and serve.