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

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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!


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