Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Wishing you a sparkling New Year…!

The Christmas cookies have been baked...

The Christmas candies crafted…
and all the yummy goodies have been wrapped, given and gobbled with delight.

The presents under the tree (blue Tiffany boxes included) have been opened and “ooohed and aaahed” over and so very much loved and appreciated…

In a few hours it will be a brand new year and a fresh new start for us all.

I just wanted to express my heartfelt appreciation and send hugs to my fellow bloggers for all their hints, tips, emergency helps, encouragement, and generous support.
(One in particular, even when she was on the road and working took the time to assist me...and you know who you are, chère Sue...!).
I feel very blessed that you all believed in my humble efforts.

I also want to send heartfelt virtual hugs and much gratitude to my faithful readers, followers and visitors. You are very kind to take the time out of your busy days to read my foodie words and view my images.
I very much appreciate your kind comments, as they let me know you are really out

I want to wish you a sparkling 2009, as lovely and sparkling as this Tiffany ceiling.
May 2009 be filled with love, happiness, joy and good health for you and your loved ones.

Une bonne nouvelle année...!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Joyeux Noël...!

I am grateful to you, my faithful blog readers, new readers and those who stop by to say hello.
I will be posting again after Christmas.
Thank you so much for all your kind comments, visit and for just viewing my blog images.

May all your Holiday celebrations be filled with joy, love warmth and happiness.

From my petite cuisine, heart and home to yours...

Joyeux Noël et une bonne nouvelle année…!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

kitchen tip Tuesday…handy holiday baking tips

It has been snowing like mad outside and I have been in my warm little kitchen baking Christmas cookies like mad for gift baskets.

In the spirit of the season of baking, I am giving a few simple baking tips that have helped me this week of intense baking.

I hope they serve you well as they have me over the past years. I will be posting cookies recipes and images of some my old favorites and some new concoctions I worked on this year.

Handy baking tips

~ Read a recipe all the way through BEFORE you begin.

~ Prep ingredients before you proceed. I always do a mise-en-place before I start to mix each recipe to stay organized.

~ Set an oven thermometer or add an addtional internal thermometer if your oven is older and you are unsure if the temperatures are accurate. A small $4.00 investment can save you from scads of burnt cookies.

~ Preheat the oven according to your recipe.

~ Measure flour using the dip and sweep method.

~ Always use unsalted butter.

~ Butter should be pliable.

~ Invest in the best ingredients and equipment.

Tips for baking cookies

~ When baked in the lower third of the oven, cookies tend to darken too much on the bottoms. If you are baking many batches at once and must use the lower third, insulate the bottoms from the heat by baking the cookies on two stacked baking sheets.

~ Many kinds of cookie dough can be frozen raw and baked later.

~ If you prefer soft cookies, slightly under-bake them.

~ Always rotate baking sheets, usually once about halfway through the baking time.

Above all, have with your food...!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

double kitchen tip Tuesday…NO dishwasher…and software for your cutting board

The first kitchen tip is the one I submitted to Culinary Cory to be in the running to win Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks.

tip # 1

Rather than plunk them in the dishwasher, always wash your good and sometimes very expensive chef knives by hand in mild detergent and water and then rinse well. Wash the carefully, one at a time so the knife blades don’t nick eash other or your fingers for that matter. Dry the knives thoroughly before putting them away in a knife block or protective knife roll with their knife guards in place. Also don’t let them soak in the hand wash water, as that can warp wooden handles.

The harsh and often citus acid chemicals of the dishwasher soap and the extreme high temperatures of a washer itself can damage the blades and the wood or composite handles. The expansion and contraction of the handles in the extreme heat in dishwashers can loosen the rivets causing the blade to shift over time. In the dishwasher, the knife blades can also be accidentally nicked when coming in contact with other silverware or dishes and lose their edge.

Many knives such as the Chroma knives designed by Porsche of pure Japanese steel even comes with a red warning label “NO dishwasher”…!

Even though it can be a pain at times, taking the extra effort to care for your good knives will reward you with knives that remain sharper, safer and newer looking longer.
(I have had some knives for 15+ years).
It will also same bit of cash and time over the years, with fewer trips to the professional knife sharpener.

tip # 2

Before I begin cutting or chopping on my cutting board, I have a piece of skid proof plastic shelf or drawer liner that I place between the counter and the cutting board that will keep it anchored as I work. I like the particular one that is pictured as the tiny rectangles act as miniature suction cups and make my cutting surface immovable during food prep. When I work in a kitchen other than my own, I find that a damp kitchen towel between my cutting board and counter works well in a pinch.
I still work in the kitchen with safety as my need to spend Christmas Eve in the E.R.

One of my favorite Porsche-designed Japanese steel knife on my secured cutting board, ready for action...
now, if I only had a car that looked like this...

Monday, December 8, 2008

Santa's culinary elf...

”Every time I watch a chef chop an onion, I learn something about that person.” ~ Linda Carucci

Last week I submitted a tip to a Cookbook giveaway contest on the blog Culinary Cory. The prize was the book by Linda Carucci, Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks.

And WOW... I was fortunate enough to have won this wonderful book.

Linda Carucci is an award-winning cooking teacher and the Julia Child Curator of Food Arts at Copia, the food museum in Napa, California. I have visited Copia and Julia’s Kitchen restaurant at Copia so I was sure that this book would be wonderful, and I was right.

Right before I saw the give away contest on Culinary Cory's blog, I had spent some serious time carefully looking through this book and had added it to my list that I sent to sent to Santa.
Well Santa came early for me…
merci beaucoup to Santa’s culinary elf…!
Merci Cory...!

Now that I own this book, I can hardly put it down as it contains so much useful and easy to follow information for not only the novice cook etting up a kitchen but a great refresher course for experienced cooks.

However, even experienced cooks can find many fresh new ways of livening up your cooking skills and spicing up your menus with great new recipes.
Each recipe is explained so thoroughly that it is almost a class in itself. This is not surprising, since the book is filled with the fruits of the author's many years of culinary experience, teaching and running her own cooking school.

I will treasure this book and I promise to share the Cooking Schools Secret treasures contained in this book with all of you, my faithful readers.

Tomorrow on my blog in Kitchen tip Tuesday, I will also share the tip that I submitted to win this book.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

kitchen tip Tuesday…kitchen multi-tasker from the office

At this time of year I bake from the old recipe collection that belonged to my mother and grandmother and from my own recipe collection that are all still on paper recipe cards.

To hold the cards as I assemble and combine the recipe ingredients, I use a large Binder Clip.
It holds that card upright, easy to read and out of my way (and out of the way of flying flour and frosting…I am a messy baker...!)

I also keep a supply of small and medium clips on hand for a variety of tasks in the kitchen.

I use them to hold the skin closed after stuffing a whole chicken or game hen. I started to use them when I was in Paris and was stuffing whole Bresse chicken to roast for a dinner party at my appartement. I was naturally without a trussing needle and thread to close the cavity to keep the stuffing inside the bird. However, for some reason I had office supplies.
I have found this method to work like a charm, just be careful to let the clips cool before removing them.

I use binder clips to reseal multi-serve bags of frozen foods, pretzels, chips and the like.

Binder clips also come in handy to keep my side-towel in place, clipped to my apron as I cook.

I am sure there are many, many other uses for these multi-tasking clips from the office supply store.

How would you put Binder Clips to work in your kitchen?

I would love to hear your ideas…merci in advance...!

Monday, December 1, 2008

sugar snow on cinnamon creek...

From Sunday night to Monday morning we had our first significant snow that covered Cinnamon Creek in a blanket of sparkling sugary snow...
I just wanted to share it with my readers.

”Sometimes our fate resembles a fruit tree in winter. Who would think that those branches would turn green again and blossom, we hope it, we know it.” ~ Goethe

Sunday, November 30, 2008

recipe…3 sugar Palmiers

As I promised here is the recipe for:

Three-Sugar Palmiers (Palm Cookies)


1/2 cup each of Demerara, Azúcar Morena, and Sanding Sugars

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

2 sheets puff pastry
(I made my own a day ahead this time, and refrigerated it overnight.
But I have used pre-made frozen puff pastry many times, with good results.)


Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Combine the 3 sugars and kosher salt.

Pour 1 cup of the sugar/salt mixture on a flat surface such as wooden board or marble.

Unfold each sheet of puff pastry onto the sugar and pour 1/2 cup of the sugar mixture on top, spreading it evenly on the puff pastry.

Make certain that the pastry has an even covering of sugar.

With a rolling pin, using even pressure, roll across the dough until the sugar is pressed into the puff pastry uniformly.

Now with the tips of your finger, roll the sides of the square toward the center until you have what looks like 2 side-by-side “jelly-roll” shapes that meet in the middle.

Refrigerate for 15-30 minutes for easier slicing.

Slice the dough into 3/8-inch slices and place the slices, on baking sheets lined with parchment paper or Silpat silicone mat.

Bake the cookies for 6 minutes or until just caramelized and pale brown on the bottom.

Then turn with a spatula and bake another 3 to 5 minutes, until caramelized on the other side.

*** Watch these cookies carefully as they can very easily burn…!

If you have an older oven as I do, or are unsure about how hot your oven runs, get an inexpensive internal oven thermometer at the hardware store.
I got one last year about for $5.00 USD.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

a tale of 3 sugars…

I was about to start baking Palmiers for Thanksgiving day and noticed that there was periously very little granulated sugar left in my cannister. Palmiers or Palm Leaf Cookies are made from Puff Pastry dough dough that is sprinkled with granulated sugar, folded or rolled and cut into thin strips.

I did have on hand ample amounts of Demerara, Azúcar Morena, and Sanding Sugar. Each of these sugars have different flavors and react slightly different to the heat of baking, but all are larger grained that than the common table or granulated sugar.

Demerara Sugar
Demerara is used as the generic name of a type of specialty raw cane sugar often used in home baking and in sweetening coffee and tea. Demerara is normally brown in color—the natural color of cane sugar.
Demerara has a coarse texture due to its large crystals. It takes its name from the Demerara colony in Guyana, the original source of this type of sugar, which is produced today mainly in Mauritius.
Demerara is a type of unrefined sugar with a large grain. Its colour is pale to golden yellow.
It comes from pressed sugar cane which is then steamed for the juice to form thick cane syrup. The syrup is dehydrated to form large golden brown crystals. As it is not refined much so it has a it is rich and creamy flavor and very crunchy texture.

Azúcar Morena Pure Cane Sugar
A granulized cane sugar common in Mexican regions that is processed into a fine textured sweetener. Slightly tannish-white in color, azúcar morena sugar provides a sweet caramel flavor when added to foods.

Sanding Sugar
Sanding Sugar has a grain slightly coarser than table sugar and is perfect for baking cookies because it does not melt like regular sugar.
It is also called pearl sugar or decorating sugar.
White sanding sugar is slightly silvery in color and "sparkles" because the sugar crystal grains are large and reflect light.

Armed with these three sugars I began the Palmiers, rolling the sugar mixture with a pinch of kosher salt into the Puff Pastry that I had made the night before. The layer of sugars looked like a sparkly fairyland with a soft sheen of the pale yellow Azúcar, the silver sparkle imparted by the Sanding sugar and the Demerara looking like zillions of tiny golden quartz crystals.

I made the Palmiers as usual, but as they baked, my house filled with an incredible aroma of caramel and vanilla.
The fragrance transported me immediately to my corner pâtisserie in Paris.

The taste of the Palmiers has also been transformed by use of the three sugars.
The wonderful part of eating Palmiers for me has always been that first incredible light and flaky bite with a gentle but satisfying crunch of the sugars. They were sweet, but I have to admit a bit bland.
These cookies had a bit crunchier mouth feel with the addition of the larger grains in this sugar combination, but it perfectly highlighted of the lightness puff pastry. They were also far more flavorful with soft and creamy buttery light caramel flavor with a slight vanilla back taste, and held the lovely fragrance that had perfumed my kitchen.

Clearly, the lack of granulated white sugar in my pantry forced me in discovering a new spin on a cookie that has been a favorite for years
all over the world.
Palmiers (palm cookie) recipe to follow tomorrow…

Thursday, November 27, 2008

giving thanks...

Many thanks to my faithful blog readers, supporters and brand new readers.
I very much appreciate that you have taken the time to look at my photographs and read what I have written over the past 3 months.

I appreciate your comments very much, they really keep be going.

A very Happy Thanksgiving to you all...! ! !

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Kitchen tip Tuesday…dicing through history…mirepoix

Most cooks know that mirepoix is the French name for the combination of onions, carrots and celery. In and effort to prepare ahead some of the ingredients for my Thanksgiving feast, I spent some time this morning chopping these three aromatics for the flavor base for some of my dishes.

A layer of these three humble vegetables, coarsely chopped and lightly sautéed in olive oil, is a perfect bed on which to roast my turkey. Chopped in a fine dice, used either raw, roasted or sautéed with butter or oil, you will find mirepoix in my Holiday dressing, sauces amd other side-dishes.

Traditionally, the ratio for mirepoix is 2:1:1 of onions, celery, and carrots, but I vary that according to taste of the recipe.

As I washed, peeled and chopped this morning, I wondered why this tridium of veggies was called mirepoix and if it meant different things in other types of cuisines.

My Food Lover’s Companion explained that there are many similar combinations, both in and out of the French culinary repertoire. Other combos may include leeks, parsnips, garlic, tomatoes, shallots, mushrooms, bell peppers, chilies, and ginger.

For the combination mirepoix au gras or Matignon, lardons or bacon are used as additional ingredients. When a mirepoix is used for making a fond blanc or white base, parsnips or pale mushrooms are substitued for carrots in order to keep the creamy color of the resulting dish.
I use fond blanc with mushrooms for making my white chicken stock that I use in risotto for that very reason.

In Cajun cuisine, a mirepoix is called “The Trinity” and is a combination of onions, celery and sweet bell peppers.

Soffritto is made both in Spain and Italy with similar ingredients, of anise seeds sautéed in pork fat then the aromatics of onions, green peppers, garlic are added. Soffritto means sub-fried, so the ingredients simmer in an emulsion of oil and very little water until the mixture becomes thick.

A chef at a local Hispanic restaurant explained to me that he makes Soffrito (slightly different spelling) with red onions, tomatoes and a Goya brand seasoning called Sazon. Sazon Goya is a mixture of salt, garlic, cumin, coloring, coriander, annatto, oregano, turmeric, black pepper, and lemon or bitter orange. He uses this savory starter that is also called a mir pua (mirepoix) as a base for Latin dishes

The Catalan sofregit of olive oil, tomatoes, and slowly carmelized onions is present in almost every sauced and stewed dish.

The town of Mirepoix in the Languedoc region

Mirepoix derives its name as many other elements of French cuisine from the patron of the chef who established it. My Oxford Companion to Food states that the chef de cuisine of the duc de Lévis-Mirepoix established the sautéed three vegetables that served as a basis for his culinary art. Since the 11th century this tridium of vegetables honors his patron.

Lévis-Mirepoix of the Languedoc region was a maréchal de France and ambassador of Louis XV.
The famed 19th century publisher Pierre Larousse called duc de Mirepoix “an incompetent individual…who owed his fortune to the affection that Louis XV felt for his wife.” Sounds as though Larousse had a major case of sour-grapes because he never had a any culinary combination or dish named after him.

I imagine that I will never look at the simple combination of carrots, onions and celery in the same way again, but as finely diced bits of history.

Monday, November 24, 2008

holiday surprise

Today I received a package in the mail.
I did not order anything, nor did I enter a contest, but there it was…
A beautiful, shiny new Wüsthof offset cheese knife…

Did you hear that loud thunk a few hours ago?
Well that was my jaw dropping…!

This cheese knife features an acid-etched blade to prevent cheese from sticking to the side of the blade. It was gorgeous to see and felt like an extension of my hand.
I had to try it out right away…!
Wrapping papers and box scattered, I gave the knife a bath in hot soapy water and a good rinse.
I then pulled out every cheese I had in my chill chest drawer and sliced away.

It was damn perfect…!
Firm cheeses and soft cheeses were sliced thick and sliced thin with my hand on this magical instument with barely an effort.

What a stunningly beautiful knife that handles like a dream and does what it says it does…slice cheese.
And it slices cheese perfectly.

Well…whoever is my magic and very generous gourmet elf, merci mille fois…!
I will thank you whenever I slice a Manchego or a Morbier, a Brie or a blue,
a Camembert or a Chevrotin du Mont Cenis…
and my guests will give thanks you, too.
Happy gourmet holidays...!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

culinary pleasure: professional knife sharpening

"Get a knife that's balanced and weighted for you. There's no reason you shouldn't get fitted for a knife the way you get fitted for . . . a dress, a suit, or a pair of skis."
~ Tom Douglas, Seattle chef and restaurateur.

Nestled beneath the elevated train Green Line on Halsted and Lake Streets sits Northwestern Cutlery.
It has been rightly called "The Candy Store For Cooks".

This gem of a store is in a part of Chicago where restaurateurs used to do all their shopping for meat, fish and produce. Although it has an out-of-the-way location, it is easy to reach by the elevated train from most anywhere in the city and if you drive there, it has a super-convenient parking lot right next door.

I cannot think of a better recommendation for this store than that all of the restaurants, chefs, culinary students and meat markets in the surrounding west loop area come to Northwestern Cutlery for knife sharpening. Their prices are a bargain as they charge $3.50 for each knife.

I come here a few times a year to get my Le Cordon Bleu Wüsthof knifes expertly sharpened ”while I wait”. But for me, a consummate lover of all things related to food, I also come here to drool over and purchase a few of the very reasonably priced cookware, knives, kitchen gadgets and culinary supplies as often as my budget allows.

The carry a mind-blowing selection of the finest cutlery, at prices better than I have seen surfing the net for bargains.
The wide variety of knives includes Global, Henckels, Wüsthof, Mac, Shun, Masahiro, Kershaw Wasabi, and Messermeister. They also have a wall that is chock-full of colorful Victorinox Swiss Army knives.

They have the best prices on a great selection if cooks tools and other unique and often hard-to-find kitchen items (like fish spatulas and real crepe pans.)

I also found the best prices on my favorite, Le Creuset. I love the colorful enameled cast-iron cookware that comes from the foundry in Fresnoy-Le-Grand, France, since 1925.
This cookware has a worldwide reputation for its cooking excellence and the pieces are made to last a lifetime. They are safe for use in refrigerators and with all heat sources; gas, electric solid or radiant plates, vitroceramic glass, induction, and ranges fired by gas, oil, coal or wood.
I know where I am going to spend my “money from Santa” this year…

Northwestern Cutlery also supplies the culinary students at nearby Kendall College with their gear. They have a separate room for Chef Wear: chef jackets, shoes, pants, aprons, toques and hats.

When I arrived to have my Wüsthof knife-set sharpened there were several chefs and culinary students in line ahead of me. However, for a kitchen tool aficionado like me, there was so much to see so the 20-minute wait flew by in what seemed like seconds.
After my knives had their beauty treatment, I spent a great deal of time asking questions and talking to the very personable and very knowledgeable staff.

Eddie packing up my "babies" in their knive case after their beauty treatment and ready for Holiday slicing and dicing...

In particular, a man named Eddie, was more than helpful and very patient answering my questions on knife maintenance and care. He has worked at Northwestern for many years, assisting and educating customer and skillfully sharpening knifes for customers form celebrity chefs to humble home cooks like me.

He was also so kind to take out some of the most expensive knives in the store for me to photograph. Eddie gave me a bit of history about how and where each knife was forged and manufactured. These knives were gorgeous works of art, hand-crafted artifacts form another era but yet right here in front of me.

This kind of customer service and attention is rare today and was very welcoming and welcomed. I know from past experience and from local chefs that this is the norm at Northwestern Cutlery.

If you think Williams Sonoma or Sur La Table is a cook's mecca, here is a place where you can shop along side people who cook for a living and know where to find value and quality.

If you live in the Chicagoland area or planning a trip here soon and are crazy about food and kitchen tools, Northwestern Cutlery is well worth a visit. It is a great place to find a gift or a stocking-stuffer for the foodies on your Holiday gift list.
For those of you that live elsewhere in the foodie universe, they also have a marvelous website so you can visit from the comfort of your home.

Northwestern Cutlery
810 W Lake Street
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 421-3666

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

kitchen tip Tuesday…a sharp knife is a safe knife

Your knife should always be sharp.

But when faced with a dull knife, use the portion of the blade that is closest to the handle. This part of the blade sees less use, it will be much sharper than the mid-portion of the blade that that gets a workout everyday. A small tip to help you work smarter and safer.

But as soon as you can, especially with the upcoming holiday season, when we foodie people cook to excess, do your self a favor and get your knives professionally sharpened…
a sharp knife is a safe knife...

It may seem like an excess expenditure in these days where everything seems to cost more, but it makes your work easier and much safer. And it saves time...more time to spend with your family and friends and less time spent in the Emergency Room.
Dull knives are the greatest danger in the kitchen.

my babies after their "beauty treatment"

Kitchen rant…
I was watching one of my favorite cooks on TV produce a complex recipe and she scraped the ingredients that she had just julienned with the blade end of her knife…screech…………..


She was using a beautiful and very expensive knife.
But I imagine on TV you can do that to your knives…sigh….
But in my world, in my small kitchen, that would be a major faux pas and mortal sin of the highest degree.

Bonus kitchen tip:
After slicing and dicing whatever you need to cut for your recipe, turn your knife over and use the knife’s spine side of the blade to scrape your cutting board into the vessel that is awaiting the ingredients.
Naturally, your knife will stay sharper and be safer much longer.

I imagine for me, this kitchen tip goes back to a basic premise.
As I strive to become a better cook with each dish that I do, as I try to learn to cook wonderful and tasty dishes, the bonus has been that I have learned to respect my ingredients.
In the process, I have also learned to respect and take very good care of my tool.

These are the very same tools that get my food to…the yummy and the "this tastes marvelous"
and the general chorus of "mmmmm's..." heard all around the table…!

My next post will be a field trip to Northwestern Cutlery, a Chicago culinary mecca and my friendly neighborhood professional knife sharpener.

Do not miss it…!