Spinach-Gruyere Gateau de Crepes

January 31, 2009

Martha made these on her show back on January 15, and it’s in the Feb issue of Martha Stewart Living, so I was ready to give Spinach-Gruyere Gateau de Crepes a try. Last night was the big night (you know you’re getting old when a “big night” is staying home and making crepes).

I started by making the crepe batter first thing in the morning and sticking it in the fridge. I started cooking around 4:45 and we didn’t eat until 6:15 so that gives you an idea of how long this takes.

Making the crepes

Making the crepes

I was a little apprehensive about making the crepes. I’ve made them once before and wasn’t thrilled with the results. I’m happy to report that Martha’s recipe was easy and they turned out quite nicely. The recipe made more than 12 – I think I would have gotten 18 if I had kept going, but I used the leftovers to make one big thick crepe for our son to eat with powdered sugar on it.

Crepe in the pan

Crepe in the pan

These are not hard to make but it is time consuming.  Now it’s time for my crepe story. When I was a kid in the 70s, I remember my parents (true gourmets in a 70s way) had an electric crepe maker. It was this convex surface with a handle that plugged in – almost like a saute pan but no edges and it was rounded on the top. It came with a special bowl. You mixed up the crepes in the bowl and then just dipped the heated surface in it to get the batter on it. Why this was necessary, I have no idea. Cooking it in a pan was pretty simple it seemed to me. Anyway, I remember it being used only once or twice when they had a crepe night. I also recall there being a dacquiri night where they made all different varieties and became completely sloshed.

Bearnaise Sauce

Bearnaise Sauce

Moving on with Martha’s creation — while the crepes were endlessly cooking, I mixed up the bearnaise sauce – very simple. Then I cooked some spinach (I used frozen that I squeezed dry – shhhh) with garlic and added salt and pepper, nutmeg and some lemon juice. This then gets added to the bearnaise.

Once all the crepes were done (days later it seemed), I was ready to assemble. You spread bearnaise/spinach mix on each crepe and layer another crepe on top, etc. Once you reach the top, you add some plain bearnaise which you reserved (no spinach) and sprinkle cheese on top.

Ready for the Oven

Ready for the Oven

Finally it was ready for the oven. I left it in the prescribed amount of time, but it needed longer. It was not piping hot all the way through.

It looked ok coming out of the oven, but some of the sauce had oozed out.  It was easy to cut into slices (I was sure it was going to be a mess!).

Fresh from the Oven

Fresh from the Oven

I served this with some grilled salmon and peas.  It tasted good, but I felt as though it was a little bland. We put a lot of salt and pepper on and that helped.

I actually ate  a small piece for breakfast this morning (it was similar to an omelet in my mind) and it tasted better today than it did last night.  I don’t think I would make this again, although there was nothing horrible about it. It was just a lot of work for something that didn’t really excite me.  They tried this recipe over at the  Good Things blog and their result looked a little different than mine. It was definitely fun to try (which is part of why I’m in this Martha experience).

On the Plate

On the Plate


Creative Office Spaces

January 30, 2009

I LOVED seeing the office spaces of MSLO employees in the January Martha Stewart Living (pp.100-107). Martha’s office looks too bare to me. And the color coordinated books in Kevin Sharkey’s office would make me nuts – I need them organized by topic. It really felt as though you could get a good feeling for each person’s personality by looking at their workspace.

Isn’t it interesting that they did this big spread on their creative offices, then the big controversy hit the news, about Martha’s employees no longer being permitted to personalize their spaces. The bit about no garbage cans in individual offices is going to mean, in my opinion, that people are going to pile trash up on their desk or in a drawer and dump it in the community receptacle rarely.

I once worked in an office where they wanted a “clean” look, which meant nothing hanging on the walls and no personal photos, and as clean a desk as possible. I thought I would lose my mind and needless to say, I did not work there very long. In a lot of ways, the rules about that office environment clearly reflected the management personalities and firm culture and none of it was pleasant. I hope that that is not the case at MSLO. I can say for certain that even the limitation on what pens you can use would make me wacky. I’m very picky about pens and really, really prefer those with purple ink!

office3I now work in a home office, which as you can see, is certainly not minimalist! We actually redid the room in a reality show way – two people, one weekend, $500 – and painted, carpeted, put together new furniture, installed cabinets and countertops and made the closet a functioning part of the room. I was so proud of what we accomplished that weekend. I painted my office plum, since purple colors are supposed to inspire creativity.

The stuff that fills the room has gradually crept in. In the past, I’ve shown you my fortune cookie collection, which is part of my office. I also have a collection of bookmarks and book art.office1

The personal items mean so much to me in my office – photos of my kids and drawings by them. I can’t imagine trying to be creative in an office space that did not permit them. I also have a collection of sand from beaches we have visited. My office has to contain things that inspire and motivate me. I need to be reminded of why I am working – for my family and to be able to travel. I need to be able to see out the window. We use window air conditioners in our house and I’m now at the point where I don’t even put it in my office window because I can’t bear to have my view blocked.

office2I understand the idea behind the MSLO changes – I can just see that people’s clutter would drive Martha completely bonkers. I also can see how the execs would rationalize that reducing clutter would help people focus more clearly on their work. However, I think it’s incredibly stupid to expect people to be creative in a sterile environment.

officecounter

office-bkcase


Martha Saved Me a Trip to the Store

January 29, 2009

I decided to make Brown Sugar Pound Cupcakes With Brown Butter Glaze to send into school for my son’s birthday.  These cupcakes were easy to make – nothing wild and crazy about them at all. The glaze requires you to brown some butter before mixing the frosting up. Very easy.

So, there I am with the cupcake batter mixed and the cupcake pans out and I realize I have no cupcake liners. I ripped the pantry apart – there are none. Now, when sending cupcakes to school you’ve really got to have them in wrappers, or else you need to send in paper plates, which I didn’t have either.

I was just about to go to the store, when I remembered Martha’s cupcake show and the kooky woman from Pure who lines her cupcakes with parchment paper. Now she used a beige color, but I had a roll of just plain white for lining baking sheets. So I cut it out into squares. On the show, the Pure lady said she smooshes it into the tins with a glass. Here is what happened:

cupcake1I smooshed it in with the glass and thought, wow! This is cool.

cupcake2But then I took the glass out and the paper just popped out! I ended up scooping the batter onto the paper and kind of pressing it down to get it sit in the tin. It’s not really a very effective or easy method. The batter got on some of the edges of the paper and I didn’t really like how that looked.

The cupcakes baked up nicely though and the batter tasted yummy. They did take a little longer than the recipe said.

cupcake3Doesn’t the paper look pretty? It does make it look more exciting than just a plain cupcake, for sure.

The next challenge was the frosting. You cannot frost these in a normal way because you can’t reach the cupcake. You do need to use a pastry bag to get the frosting into the paper.

Confession time. I could not face trying to dig out my pastry bag and tips. I do have a set …….somewhere! So instead, I used the ziploc bag with a corner cut off method.

cupcake4I should have doubled the frosting recipe. The Pure woman loaded the tops of her cupcakes with frosting and to make it look pretty, you really do need a lot, so you can completely cover the top of the cupcake.

They turned out ok though I think. As for the taste test, I can’t give a lot of firsthand info. I had 24 cupcakes, which needed to feed 23 kids plus a teacher, so there wasn’t even one available to sample! The batter tasted great and so did the little crumbs I managed to find. The frosting had a great taste too. The kids ate every single one and the word is they  liked them a lot – and thought they looked exciting too.


Lamb Chops with Citrus Sauce

January 28, 2009

I loved the idea of Martha’s Lamb Chops with Citrus Sauce and Baby Mache Salad (p. 132 January Martha Stewart Living). I’ve been experimenting with different fruity sauces lately – I did a pomegranate reduction over pork tenderloin and a mango sauce with fish.

First of all, I grilled my lamb. I would much rather have grilled meat than broiled meat.  So, that was simple. The next issue was the citrus sauce. Martha says to use Cara Cara oranges, a pummelo and Oroblancos. Yeah, right. Look folks, I just used orange juice. First you cook up garlic and shallots then you add the juice and some sugar. You cook it down then add crame fraiche (I used plain yogurt instead). Then you cook it down again. This made a WONDERFUL sauce. It was so creamy, rich, and flavorful, I could not believe it! It thickened so nicely. You have GOT to try it. It’s so simple and so good.

Martha says to serve the lamb with a baby mache salad. I love mache, but I was not wild about her dressing for it – just oil, orange juice, and salt and pepper. Pretty bland.

lamb-macheThis made a very pretty plate. The lamb was so good, I ate it cold the next day with the sauce also cold!


Martha’s Reminders

January 27, 2009

“Gentle Reminders” is at the beginning of January Martha Stewart Living and I read this section with interest. I like reading the little tidbits that are included.

Martha suggests that this is a good time to order plants and seeds.  Someday, maybe. Outdoor gardening is not a strong suit here. I love to pick out plants and watch them grow, but boy, do I hate weeding. Mr. MarthaAndMe hates it even more than I do, so our gardens aren’t the greatest. I would love to start planning my garden in January – it would give me hope that summer will come.

Wiping down windowsills or painting them is supposed to help us enjoy the sun more during these winter days. That’s a good tip, although I don’t know how you can paint just the window sill. You would end up painting the entire window. No thanks. I think cleaning the actual window might help you get more sunlight than just the sill.

Martha says this is the time to take stock of your plates and dishes. I just broke a good ceramic pie pan this week, so I need to order a new one of those. This month I also ordered some new pots. I agree with this tip.

Another section talks about how ice melting solutions can be harmful to pets. This is absolutely true. One of my parents’ dogs get a rash on his underside when he goes for walks on a road that has been treated.

Martha reminds everyone to get their credit reports. I second that! As the author of The Complete Credit Repair Kit, I can tell you this is absolutely crucial to do once a year. Most people don’t do it and you will be surprised at what you will find on your report!

I had never heard that you are supposed to keep your gas tank half full in the winter. It’s not a bad idea anyhow because if you get stuck somewhere, it would be nice not to have to worry about running out of fuel!

This section also reminds us that January is National Blood Donor Month.  None of us in this house can donate because of medications we take, but I would if I could.  I would add to this reminder to ask everyone to decide to be an organ donor – sign your driver’s license and tell your family of your wishes. My daughter is active with a school club in promoting organ donation, so it’s  a cause we think is important.

I already sent in my receipts to clear out last years FSA (flexible spending account). Now if I could just get the card to work for this year’s! There’s some glitch I need to get straightened out.

Martha warns of the dangers of serving alcohol at parties — no worries there. We don’t drink alcohol at all and don’t serve it, unless a guest brings wine.


Burning Down the House Moroccan Style

January 26, 2009

Martha made Moroccan-Spiced Chicken with Olive, Apricot, and Pistachio Couscous on her show, on Thursday (Jan 22). These recipes are also the February What’s for Dinner in Martha Stewart Living, along with Minted Carrots.

I’ve made Moroccan chicken in the past (slightly different) and have always served it with a yogurt sauce, so this was a slight departure. We had Moroccan chicken at Epcot and also something very similar at an Afghani restaurant in NYC (which may have been the best chicken I’ve ever eaten).

Cutting up the chicken

Cutting up the chicken

First of all, we cut up the chicken the way Martha did on the show. Mr. MarthaAndMe went in boldly with the kitchen shears and I have to say, Martha’s method was a lot easier than the method they showed when they did the cooking school episode about this. The shears are an easy way to go and I would definitely use this method again to cut up a whole chicken. It was not nearly as unpleasant as the other method.

Next I mixed up the spices and oil and got the oven and pan hot. I spread it over the chicken, popped it in the oven and got going with everything else.

The carrots get roasted in the oven also. I have to say that roasting vegetables is my new favorite method and this was easy to do. While that was cooking, I started the couscous. On the show, Martha made her couscous plain and added the additional ingredients after it was cooked, so I did it that way too, even though the recipe says to add the apricots to the couscous while it is cooking (mini-Martha likes his couscous plain, so I wanted to have some plain for him).

Now, as I am cooking all of this, the kitchen is filling with smoke. It is just pouring out of the closed oven. The chicken is supposed to cook at 425 for 30-35 minutes. I was at about 40 minutes and it wasn’t done, but my kitchen had become a danger zone. I had had on the exhaust fan the entire time, but it wasn’t doing the trick. I opened every single window in the kitchen, the back door and the window in the attached bath, as well as cracking the sliding glass door in the dining room. It was still horrendously smoky – and we were freezing since it was about 19 degrees outside. I was just about at the point where I was going to have to take it out no matter what when finally, it was done and I let it rest.

I turned off the oven and the smoke started to clear out, but slowly. This was seriously a pretty dangerous situation. Maybe in Martha’s test kitchens they have heavy duty exhaust fans, but I really don’t recommend cooking this at this temperature in a home.

Minted Carrots

Minted Carrots

Now for the results. The carrots were great. They are just roasted with some olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper. When you dish them up, you add some thinly sliced mint.  Total thumbs up on this dish. I loved the mint.

Next up, the couscous. I am a fan of couscous, so I was excited about this. I did not add the olives, since no one in my house

Couscous

Couscous

will eat them. I did like the apricots and pistachios in the dish. I felt the pistachios were not a very strong flavor though and hard to detect. Like an idiot, I forgot to add the lemon juice to this and that would have really given it a little kick which it needed, because it was kind of dry and flavorless.

Moroccan Chicken

Moroccan Chicken

Now for the chicken. It came out of the oven looking great, don’t you think? Very brown and lovely. I threw lemons on the baking sheet with it and they cooked up well too. As for taste – sigh. It didn’t wow me. Here’s the thing – I do not like fatty, mushy chicken skin. I love chicken skin if it is crisp and does not have nasty fat all over the back of it, so I removed the skin from my piece since it wasn’t anything resembling crisp. The chicken underneath tasted like, well like chicken. Not a lot of flavor there. I was taking my bite size pieces of chicken and rubbing them over the skin to pick up the spices, and also rubbing them over the roasted lemons to get some flavor. That did help and the spice combination was a nice one, as was the lemon flavor. The best way to eat this is with chicken and couscous on your fork together. I think I should have followed my first instinct, which was to use boneless, skinless breasts and cover them with the seasoning and cook them in the oven. Less smoke, more flavor and just easier.

If I made this again, I would marinate the chicken in the oil and spices for quite a while – maybe overnight. The flavors did not soak into the chicken at all and it really needed to. If they had, this might have been fantastic.


Organizers

January 25, 2009

Martha has a beautiful two page spread in January Martha Stewart Living (pp. 26-27) about organizers. I cannot live without my calendar. I remember when I a student, I had one of those checkbook sized calendars that showed a month at a time. I really liked being able to see an entire month spread out before me. Then I became an attorney and had a giant calendar that showed only day per page. This made me totally nuts. I couldn’t see ahead to what the rest of the week or month held.

organizersToday I use a weekly engagement calendar and though I still miss seeing a whole month at a time, it’s nice to take things week by week. Every year I start the search for a new calendar in November. I’m pretty picky. For a while I went with Impressionism calendars, but lately I’ve been buying this Inspiration calendar that has photos of gorgeous landscape scenes.

I am not one to use electronic calendars or organizers. I keep all my work deadlines and payment information in a blue spiral notebook. I like to be able to page through it and make quick notes. Mr. MarthaAndMe loves anything electronic and so he keeps his calendar that way. Because he can’t easily see ahead to the next day or week, he never seems to know what is happening when. I also always think that if your device crashes, you lose the entire thing.

I would be lost without my calendar and notebook. Sometimes I feel as though they contain my entire life!


You Can See Russia from My Dessert

January 24, 2009

Mini-Martha is having a birthday next week. To celebrate, he had some friends over last night. I approached the cake topic cautiously. I have made lots of crazy things for my kids’ birthdays – a brownie pizza, a spaghetti and meatballs cake (for an April Fool’s Day theme), pumpkin pie, strawberry pie, a bowling pins and bowling ball shaped group of cakes, red velvet cake – you name it. I have also purchased grocery store cakes (I know! The sheer horror of it). I wasn’t sure what he wanted this time around. I suggested baked Alaska and once I showed him the photo in Martha Stewart Living (January issue) he was hooked!

I made baked Alaska once many moons ago when Mr. MarthaAndMe were dating. Clearly it convinced him to marry me. When I made it before, I am pretty sure I made one big one. Martha advocates small individual Alaskas.

Now, what kind of a fool am I to think I should make baked Alaska for a group of 10 and 11 year old boys, to be served after an excursion to Dave and Buster’s (gaming place)? A big silly one I guess.

 

Cake ready for the oven

Cake ready for the oven

 

I made the cake the day before. What a strange cake this was – you beat egg yolks with sugar then add chocolate. Separately you beat 12 egg whites with sugar till they make peaks.  Then you fold it all together. There is no flour, but you absolutely would never guess that when you taste it. You cut out circles from the cake. There is a LOT left over and you can’t really do much with it since it is scraps.

You coat small bowls with plastic wrap then layer strawberry and vanilla ice cream into them. You place a cake circle on top. The recipe does not say this, but you really have to press that cake circle down into the ice cream so it will adhere.  I had a couple where I did not press hard enough and it did not attach. You then wrap it up and freeze it. I

 

Cutting out the circles

Cutting out the circles

 

did all this the day before.

The night of the party (after returning from the headache inducing Dave and Busters at 9 pm) I made the meringue. You beat egg whites then add a syrup you cooked using a candy thermometer. The egg whites turn a pale caramel color once you add the syrup. The recipe says to add the syrup slowly, but I would say to be careful not to add it too slowly – I had some syrup crystallizing on the side of the

 

Ice cream molds

Ice cream molds

 

bowl and I had to pick it out.

Ok, so once the meringue is ready, you’re supposed to pop the desserts out of their molds. The recipe says to let them sit for a few minutes and then they will come right out. Yeah, right. We ended up dipping the bottoms of the molds into hot water to get them to loosen. Once we did that, they did pop right out and you could easily peel the plastic wrap off.

Then I spread the meringue over them. This is where things started to get

 

Ready to freeze

Ready to freeze

 

loony, in more ways than one. As I am frantically trying to get this together and into the oven before it melts, it is announced that one of the party guests is having an allergy attack and needs meds. I am not about to hand out Zyrtec without parental permission, so Mr. MarthaAndMe had to make the call to get clearance while I worked on dessert.

There was definitely not enough meringue. Double the meringue recipe for this if you make this. I had ice cream peeking out and meringue that was too thin. You really want a nice thick layer of meringue in my opinion.

The recipe says to preheat the oven to 500 degrees and put the desserts in for 2 minutes (you can also use a blow torch, but oddly enough, I just don’t have one laying around).  This oven setting was not a good idea.

 

Making the meringue

Making the meringue

 

Everything started to melt and the meringue was not cooking. Disaster in the making! I quickly switched over to broil and that did the trick. So, my recommendation is to broil not bake!

Despite the melting situation, these turned out pretty well. The meringue was SO good, even if it did kind of slide off some of the desserts. It was crunchy, sweet and delicious and in nice contrast to the ice cream. Most of the ice cream was intact and the cake on the bottom was good. I served this with chocolate sauce, which really added to it, so I highly

 

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

 

recommend that.

I mentioned to some people that I was making this and they asked if it was going to be flaming. Apparently, they serve this on cruise ships and set it on fire (they must put alcohol on it to do this, I imagine). So, no, there was nothing flaming at this party, but I think it was a hit. Everyone scraped their plates clean and I think I got points for the novelty factor. And really, you can’t go wrong with cake and ice cream, which is what this basically is.

 

Results

Results

 

 

More results

More results

 

alaskalast1


Boston Cream Pie Cupcakes

January 23, 2009

Didn’t you just love the cupcake show Martha did on Wednesday this week? OMG, cupcakes are so cute and so good. I have been to Magnolia (the famous cupcake shop in NYC Martha mentioned) and I have to be honest – I thought their cupcakes were kind of dry. They did not wow me at all.

I loved the parchment paper wrapper idea that one of the chefs showed. So cute!

In addition to bringing on two NYC cupcake chefs, Martha made Boston Cream Pie Cupcakes, which is in the February issue of Martha Stewart Living (pp. 149-150). I imagine this is also in the soon to be released cupcake book.

We were having a dinner guest last night, so I decided to give these cupcakes a shot. Prepare yourself my friends – this is another one of Martha’s all day recipes.

The Batter

The Batter

Things started off well enough with the batter for the cupcakes. You essentially beat the cr** out of the eggs until they are light and poufy. No problem. Martha said to fill the cupcake tins only half full. I would ignore this advice next time – I felt my cupcakes were too short.

Next I baked the cupcakes. They needed a little less time than the recipe

The Cupcakes

The Cupcakes

says. They turned out nicely – soft and spongy. They were easy to cut in half.

Next, I moved on to the vanilla cream, which is the pudding-type filling for the cupcakes.  I followed the instructions on this to the letter. I cooked it and refrigerated it, and when I took it out, I had a bowl of runny glop. It was far too thin – and it was somehow thinner than it was when I first stuck it in the fridge. I was in a total panic, because I

The Too Thin Filling

The Too Thin Filling

needed to get these assembled in time for dinner. I dumped it back in a pot and heated it up again, but it did not thicken. Finally I added some more cornstarch and it immediately came together. I refrigerated it again and when it came out, it was too thick! Aaaahhh!!! Now, in the rational light of day, I think I should have probably just whisked in a little milk to thin it, but I didn’t think of that. I used it as it was and actually, you really couldn’t tell when you ate the cupcake that it was too thick (and it had the added effect of not running out the sides at all). If you make this recipe, I would recommend doubling the amount of cream. I didn’t have enough to fill all the cupcakes (I ended up with 24 cupcakes).

The Final Product

The Final Product

The final step is to melt some chocolate with cream and corn syrup to make the ganache glaze. This was easy. It melted nicely and I spooned it over the cupcakes. It did need a little help to drip down the edges, but once I got it to run, it looked great.

These tasted great. We ate them with a fork, but you could definitely just pick them up like a regular cupcake. This is a fun twist on cupcakes, which sometimes can be sort of boring, no matter how pretty they are.


Pizza with Martha

January 22, 2009

Pizza is a big favorite in our house, so I was excited to give Martha’s pizza crust a try (Everyday Food, January issue). The magazine touts it as an easy pizza crust.

It was easy to throw together, but what pizza crust isn’t? It’s essentially flour, water, yeast, oil, sugar and salt. Not so complicated. Her recipe uses half wheat and half white flour, which gets the thumbs up from me.

The dough

The dough

I made this dough in my breadmaker – something that really makes it easy to make.

I wasn’t so thrilled when I took the dough out. The recipe says it makes enough for 2 large pizzas. You can get 2 large pizzas from this if you like your crust very, very thin. I’m from Buffalo – between NYC and Chicago and our pizza crusts are also between NY style and Chicago deep dish. Not thin, but not deep dish either.  This was too thin for me.

The Crusts

The Crusts

I made one large pizza and two smalls. Pizza is incredibly complicated in this house. The kids like it with just cheese. One likes a lot of cheese and one likes a little cheese and a lot of sauce, so I made the large pizza with a lot of cheese on one half and not much on the other.

I like my pizza loaded with veggies – spinach, mushroom, broccoli, and tomato. Mr. MarthaAndMe will eat a veggie pizza if forced, but much prefers meat – anchovies, sausage, and pepperoni.

The 3 Bears of Pizzas

The 3 Bears of Pizzas

Therefore, I make several pizzas to keep everyone happy (God help us if we order pizza for takeout – it is very difficult to place the order!)! The crust had a nice taste to it. If I made this again, I would have to probably double the recipe to get the thickness we like. Other than though, I thought it was good.


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