Strawberry Muffins

June 30, 2009

straw muff1I haven’t cooked anything from Martha Stewart’s Body and Soul magazine to date, so it was time. The July/August issue has a recipe for strawberry muffins (no link on Martha’s site).

I often make blueberry muffins in the summer, usually with a streusel topping. I have tried to make strawberry muffins by substituting strawberries for blueberries, but somehow the muffins always turned out soggy and not so good. I was ready to see if Martha had a solution.

The recipe was a basic muffin recipe, but it uses some whole wheat flour, which got points from me. The key to this recipe is to cut up the strawberries, sprinkle the sugar on them and then mash them, before adding them to the batter. I never would have thought to do that. You don’t get big hunks of pulpy berry this way and it fills the muffin with the fruit flavor.

straw muff2As always, mine took longer to bake than they should have, but I was really pleased with the results.  The muffins were very moist and not dry at all. They were sweet but not too sweet. We ate them with salad for dinner and they didn’t need any butter. Overall, they were very good. I’m definitely going to make these again and remember the technique of mashing the berries.

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Berry Tasty Mess

June 29, 2009

Local strawberries are in and I’m looking for lots of ways to use them. I decided to make Martha’s Vacherin with Whipped Cream and Mixed Berries . (July Martha Stewart Living) I had never heard of vacherin, but the recipe is basically for meringue with whipped cream and berries. It sounded light and tasty and the photo in the magazine was pretty and appealing.

The first step is to whip the egg whites.  Let me be honest here – I have no idea if I whipped them long enough. Martha says to whip until they are very stiff and glossy. Mine were glossy but I have no idea how stiff they should be. I guessed.

vacherin1You draw a circle on parchment paper and heap the egg whites inside it, on two separate pans. Then you bake it at 200 for 2 hours and then turn the oven off and leave them inside for an hour and a half. I did all this precisely, however when I went to assemble this, neither of the meringues were cooked all the way through and stuck to the parchment paper. I was totally crushed. I’m really getting tired of following Martha’s instructions to the letter only to have it not work! The good thing about this recipe is that the mess was easily covered by whipped cream.

I assembled the dessert with the whipped cream and berries and it did look vacherin3very pretty. It actually cut pretty well, but didn’t look so great on the individual plates. It looked mushy.

As for taste, the part of the meringue that was cooked was delicious- crunchy and sweet and light. I loved it with the berries. I thought there was a bit much whipped cream for my taste.

The biggest problem with this dessert is that it is a use or lose it proposition. vacherin5You can’t save it since the meringue gets mushy. So you really need to be prepared to serve and eat the entire thing or waste it.

If the meringue had been cooked, this would have been a winner.

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Corn and Shrimp Chowder

June 28, 2009

shrimp corn chowThe in-laws were coming for dinner on a Friday night. When I invited them, I said I would make something simple, so Martha’s Corn and Shrimp Chowder with Bacon (July Martha Stewart Everyday Food) fit the bill. I’m a sucker for chowder and the surprising thing about clam or shrimp chowder is that it doesn’t have to cook long at all, unlike other soups.

To start, I cut the corn off the cobs. I am highly skilled at this, if I do say so myself. I used to freeze dozens and dozens of ears of corn every summer and developed a system. I used to use an old tube pan. I would put the ear of corn on the hole in the middle and it would hold it in place while I cut the corn off, then scraped the cobs with the back of the knife to get all the juice.

This soup was simple – cook some bacon, then cook your green onion whites in the grease. Add the potatoes and cook in a mix of milk and water. The recipe calls for thyme and seafood seasoning and it was the perfect mix. I did add more flour than this calls for because I like my chowder thick. And I added some heavy cream. You add your shrimp in at the end because it cooks quickly. I happened to have some lobster tail that was brought home by Teen Martha from a dinner she was at, so I threw that in too.

The soup was delicious. Very simple to make and very flavorful. Instead of water, I would use some seafood stock (I didn’t have any on hand).  The recipe says this makes 4 servings. I fed 6 people with this and had lots left over. This was the main part of our meal too – I served it with bread and salad.

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Following Martha’s Recommendations

June 27, 2009

kindleThis past season, Martha did a segment on what she carries with her when she travels. I always love seeing segments about Martha’s real life. One of Martha’s fave travel items is a Kindle. We’re taking a trip this summer and Martha convinced me to give Kindle a try.

I’ve had my Kindle several weeks now. First of all, I was surprised by how thin and small it really is.  It charges easily. It’s cute.

But how does it work? The first book I read on it was a travel guide.  Not so great. I think Kindle is nice for just plain reading, but with a book where I wanted to make a lot of bookmarks and notes, I found it tediously slow and not easy to use. My toggle button is not very loose and it’s a bit difficult to use.

I will take it with us on our trip because instead of having to pack 5 books to read, I can just bring the Kindle, which is definitely convenient. I was hoping I could load all my travel guides on it and just pull it out of my purse when I need to know where something is, but it’s just not convenient enough for that, not to mention most travel books are not yet available on Kindle.

And by the way, this little baby cost me $359. A lot for me, maybe not so much for Martha. I appreciated Martha’s recommendation, but I’m not wild about this yet. I’ll report back after the trip.


French Potato Salad

June 26, 2009

I love potato salad. My grandmother was the queen of potato salad makers and I learned how to make an awesome one from her. I’m very, very fond of the family recipe and generally will not eat potato salad in restaurants or delis because it does not measure up. Martha had big shoes to fill with her French Potato Salad (July Martha Stewart Everyday Food – not up on the site).

Fr Pot saladThis potato salad was not difficult and it didn’t require any peeling, which gave it bonus points as far as I’m concerned. You use new or fingerling potatoes. Boil them then chop up some red onion. Mix up the dressing – oil, Dijon mustard, vinegar, shallot and herbs. Toss it and you’re done. I let mine sit in the fridge for a few hours which helped the flavors meld.

I liked this, but it’s not as good as my grandmother’s. It is, however, totally different. It’s a nice change and is a great thing to serve on a summer evening. It tastes light and feels very refreshing.

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Martha’s Steak Sandwich

June 25, 2009

When some people think of steak sandwiches, they think of Philly steaks. When I think of steak sandwiches, I think of dinner with my dad. When I was little, my mom used to teach on Tuesday nights and Dad made dinner for the two us – steak sandwiches. We would eat them in front of the tv and watch the Muppet Show. He used those thin frozen steaks that are meant for steak sandwiches. I don’t even know what they are called or if they sell them anymore. In retrospect, they were pretty gross, but at the time I thought they were good. The memories aren’t all happy ones however. One night I choked on it and I don’t think my dad knew the Heimlich. I remember him turning me upside down and shaking me to get it out. Obviously it worked since I’m still here.

beef tend sandSo with that trauma in mind, I made Martha’s (Martha Stewart Living, July) Beef Tenderloin Sandwich with Herb Mayonnaise. The first step is to  roast some garlic. Oh, I love roasted garlic. The rest of the sandwich is a breeze. You mix the garlic with mayo and herbs. You grill the tenderloin and then assemble it on a piece of bread with some greens and the mayo. It was simple to make.  It was a little hard to eat. The meat kept sliding off and we ended up with mayo all over our hands. But it was good.  Not my favorite way to eat beef tenderloin by any stretch of the imagination, but it was something different at least. This won’t go in my favorites file. No one choked though, so that at least was a victory.

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Pound Cake Party

June 24, 2009

My experience with pound cake has mostly been with the Sara Lee kind you buy from the freezer section of the grocery store. Martha would be horrified. I’ve never made my own. I buy pound cake once a year – to dip in our New Year’s Eve fondue.

The Martha Stewart Living July issue has a huge spread on pound cakes – more than 10 kinds. My son was graduating from 5th grade, so I decided to whip up a few different kinds as a dessert.

I started with the basic pound cake recipe. Since I was rushing around, I failed to read it carefully and notice that it actually makes two loaves.  Once I realized I was going to have two, I decided to make one chocolate chip and one poppy seed. This just meant I needed to add those ingredients last, so I split the batter in half.

Poppy Seed

Poppy Seed

Let me just say here that this batter was so good that I could have just eaten it plain. I was like a little kid – constantly sneaking taste after taste of it. It was out of this world.

At the same time, I also made a batch of blueberry pound cake, which uses the basic recipe, but has you substitute 1/2 cup of sour cream for one stick of butter and add 2 cups of blueberries that have been tossed with 2 tbsp flour. I ended up with two loaves of this, but am

Blueberry

Blueberry

planning to foist one off on my in-laws. This batter tasted good, but not as good as the original batter.

Into the oven my 4 loaf pans went.  The recipe says to bake for 65 minutes. My poppy seed loaf was done in that time, but the others took about 10 minutes longer.

They all came out of the pans easily, which was a relief. The bad news is that the cake did not taste anywhere as good as the batter and I don’t know why. It wasn’t too dry. It just

Chocolate Chip

Chocolate Chip

tasted bland and boring, even with the poppy seeds, chips, or berries.  Now, it wasn’t horrible by any stretch of the imagination and maybe the batter just inflated my expectations.

The blueberry loaf was the most moist and the blueberries really looked beautiful. The chocolate chip loaf was sweet and good, but I would rather eat a chocolate chip cookie. I felt the poppy seed load needed lemon to give it some flavor.

The family thought the cakes were good, but honestly you would be hard pressed to put cake in front of them and get complaints.

I don’t think I would make these recipes again. Sorry Martha.

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Mediterranean Chickpea Salad

June 23, 2009

chickpea saladThank you Martha for including so many great salads in July Martha Stewart Living. I’m emphasizing vegetables more and more in our diet and am so happy to have these great ideas.

I made Mediterranean Chickpea Salad (seemingly not on Martha’s site – p. 130 of July Living) for a family dinner with my parents. Martha says to start with dry chickpeas and soak them. I just bought canned and drained them.

This salad was simple. You start by smashing up some garlic and making a dressing with oil and vinegar and oregano with the garlic. I added a little sugar, since Martha and I disagree on how dressing should taste.

You let your chickpeas soak in the dressing for about half an hour. Then you chop up and add cherry tomatoes, cucumber, carrots, scallions  and pepper and some basil and parsley (there is a lot of chopping involved). I tossed mine and let it all sit for an hour or two before we ate and that seemed to improve the flavor.

Everyone liked this salad, even Teen Martha (17 yo daughter) who hates red peppers (she picked them out). It was refreshing, satisfying and really yummy. I ate it for lunch the next day and it was just as good. These are the kinds of things that make me appreciate Martha. I would never have thought this salad up on my own, but it is a nice summer salad that is easy to put together.

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The Grandmother Project

June 22, 2009

As some of you might recall, my 99 year old grandmother passed away at the beginning of May. I was very close to her and although her passing was not unexpected given her age, it was still hard.

My grandmother was a collector, but a selective and tasteful collector. In the past month or so I have been involved in sorting through her belongings and dividing them up. My grandmother had 2 children, 2 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren, so it’s not a huge family. She had a LOT of things (almost 100 years worth of belongings) and so everyone is bringing home a lot.

blueglass2Since Martha is a collector, I have been greatly influenced by her as I’ve gone through this process. I’ve inherited some beautiful Depression glass (and some much older) and have been relying on Martha’s principles when it comes to displaying it. The first thing I had to do was be selective. I ended up with boxes and boxes of glass, so I’ve chosen to display only those that are sets, similar in some way or which create pretty color combinations in ways I imagine Martha might do. I put away some amber colored pieces to display with my fall decorations. I would love to some day install some lit glass shelves to better display all of the items.

I’ve also hauled home boxes of very old household items – stoneware crocks, some interesting cake pans that have a bar that you spin to get the cake to come out, and an old hand held egg beater. I also have a set of round wooden crates that are called dry measure crates. My great grandfather used them at the market where he sold produce – they have his last name and initials on them. I also brought home a very old two-handled hinged picnic basket which unfortunately was painted yellow at some point. I may end up repainting it another color (tips on that are welcome!). In my mind’s eye I can just see Martha doing a segment on things like these. Each piece is unusual and beautiful.

buttonsI’ve got a big tin of old buttons as well. I haven’t gone through it yet, but I’m thinking there must be a Martha craft that involves buttons I could do. Any suggestions?

My grandmother had lots and lots of costume jewelry, some of it so gaudy it iscostume jewelry beautiful. I once heard Barbara Walters say she wears her mother’s old costume jewelry brooches and people think they are real and I might use some of the brooches in that way. Mostly, I was unable to imagine it all going to charity. I don’t quite know what to do with the many beaded necklaces and clip earrings though. Any suggestions are welcome for this as well!

Then there is the furniture. I brought home two end tables which desperately need refinishing. I know Martha would enthusiastically pop some gloves on and get to work, but I’m afraid to ruin them, so they will have to wait until we can pay someone to do it.

I also brought home two lamps which I am not sure what to do with. Neither one quite fits the style of my house. One is a reconditioned oil lamp and the other is milk glass. I couldn’t walk away from those either.

I am now the proud owner of many doilies and dresser scarves. I have no idea doilieswhat to do with them. Displaying them on tables is not my style. I am thinking some might be beautiful framed (another Martha inspired idea). We think my grandmother may have made some of them – unfortunately there is no way to know. I also now own two pretty aprons – again, I have no idea what to do with them.

I’ve discovered that my grandmother kept every note, card or postcard I ever wrote for her. Going through those brought back many memories.  She also had many mementoes from her travels. My grandparents traveled to every continent, except Antartica, and brought home many interesting items.  I have the world map that shows all of their trips (and am trying to figure out where to put that!).

One thing she collected on trips was dolls. I inherited the entire collection which looks like a little United Nations  – each doll in native dress. Many are in need of repair, so I’m going to have to find a doll hospital. Then I will need to determine how to display them (and where!).

One thing I have learned from all of this is that I need to take the time to document the things I own that are meaningful to me. A friend suggested I take photos and paste them into a Word doc and write a brief description. That way my children (or hopefully grandchildren) will know what it all is, where it came from and why I cared about it. So many of my grandmother’s things are beautiful and interesting, but no one knows where they came from.

As I work through the boxes of things and find ways to use them that are Martha-inspired I will post them.

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A Real Turkey

June 21, 2009

turk breast

The header is not a comment on all the dads out there! Happy Father’s Day! Today we’re celebrating with my dad. I went totally Martha and printed a bunch of old photos (one is of my mom and dad before they were married – Mom is in shorts and knee socks, Dad is holding a cigarette and they are standing in front of my mom’s convertible!) and framed them for him for a photo wall he is creating. On to the blog—

Since I’ve committed to cooking much less red meat, we’ve been eating lots of chicken and fish. And I do get a little tired of it. So, the idea of grilling a turkey breast sounded like a nice change. Brined Slow-Cooked Turkey Breast (Martha Stewart Everyday Food, July) was a weeknight meal for us. I bought half of a turkey breast. The recipe says to brine it for 6-8 hours in salt, brown sugar and water. I ended up getting this in the brine the night before and I’m afraid it ended up being too long of a brine, but there was just no way I could find time to brine in the morning craziness that happens here.

The recipe says to grill the turkey over indirect heat. We have a gas grill, so this meant turning only one burner on and putting the turkey on the other half of the grill. It took my half turkey breast about an hour and 10 minutes to cook.

It turned out nicely browned. Unfortunately though, this was so tough we almost could not eat it. I suspect the fact that I brined it for about 20 hours may have been the problem. When I made this, I anticipated there being leftovers I could make sandwiches with the next day, but this was so tough, I had to throw it out. As for flavor, it tasted ok. It wasn’t anything to stand up and shout about. In general I find turkey to be pretty bland and just plain by itself it’s never anything great. It needs seasonings or a gravy or a sauce to make it good. This was a total bust. And it definitely was not worth an entire hour of propane!

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