Monday, March 29, 2010

Still Crazy After All These Years

One of the definitions of crazy is someone who repeats the same task over and over expecting a different outcome.

After another failed attempt at an olive oil cake on Friday, I vowed that I was done with this elusive task. But while browsing through dessert recipes in my to-be-tried file over the weekend, I came across--you guessed it--a recipe for this Walnut-Orange Cake made with olive oil. Now I don't know if it was crazy, obsession or just tenacity that made me do it--but I had to try this cake.  It was worth the wait.

It was sweet, light, tender, and--best of all--delicious. "Are you done now?'" asked my friend, L, in her inimitable style.  Yes, I'm done now.

For dinner we had Jacques Pepin's Crusty Chicken.

These chicken thighs are started to cook in a cold non-stick pan, then when sizzling, covered until done. While the chicken is kept warm, a quick sauce of diced onions, garlic and mushrooms is made in a small amount of the chicken fat and finished with white wine.  The ubiquitous, but refreshing, green salad rounded out the meal. Topped off by, of course, Walnut-Orange Cake.

Tomorrow marks one year since I began writing this blog. It has taken a different turn from what I set out to do, but I think I am starting to find my voice and having fun along the way.

We are having a crowd for Easter dinner, and I still must decide on the desserts. Other than Aunt Louise's Cheesecake, I can't make up my mind.

Whether you are celebrating Passover, Easter or the coming of Spring, I hope that it is joyous.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Rainy Weekend

Another weekend of terrible weather in the northeast. Torrential rains and high winds wreaked havoc on the area with fallen trees and downed power lines making travel difficult at best. We were lucky to never have lost our lights or our heat, so it was a good time to at stay home and catch up on a few things that had gotten away from us.

Sunday afternoon J and L stopped by and decided to stay for a while to watch a movie with us.

When it became evident that we all wanted to eat, ingredients were easy to gather, and water was put on to boil.

Broccoli florets were tossed with some olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes and salt then put to roast in a hot oven. I soaked some very thinly sliced red onion in ice water while I made a salad of escarole and baby spinach, then I dropped the orecchiette into the waiting pot of boiling water. I drained and dried the onions, tossed them into the greens and then dressed them with a lemon mustard vinaigrette.

The cooked pasta was quickly dumped into the waiting bowl and tossed with 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter, the roasted broccoli, a couple of handfuls of toasted walnuts and enough hot pasta water to marry everything. While John poured the red wine, I tasted for seasoning and sprinkled the pasta with freshly grated Parmagiano. Dinner!

I have had some unsuccessful baking projects lately, but this almond torte was a hit.

Kath of The Ordinary Cook was hoping I would post the recipe. Here it is.

Almond Torte from Everyday Food, March 2010

1 1/4 cups (6 ounces) whole natural almonds, toasted
1 teaspoon cornstarch
4 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (from 1 lemon)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, blend almonds and cornstarch until finely ground, about 15-20 seconds,

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat egg yolks, sugar, lemon zest, vanilla and salt until light and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes. Gently fold in almond mixture.

In another bowl, whisk egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold one-third of whites into almond mixture; then fold almond mixture into remaining whites just until combined.

Pour batter into a 9-inch springform pan. Bake until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool in pan.

Note: There is no mention of greasing the pan in the recipe. Make sure that the cake is thoroughly
cooled before removing springform pan. Next time I would consider using buttered parchment
on bottom of pan to make removing cake from bottom a bit easier.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Thinking of Spring

"A kitchen without a lemon is like a song without a tune." David Wheeler, writer

While I was reading a post last week at racheleats about making crackers, Rachel mentioned that Rome was experiencing spring-like weather and that she was going to be picking lemons later in the day.
We were in the middle of another snow storm with 12 inches already dumped on us. With another full day of snow expected, I thought that making these gorgeous crackers was a great way to spend the afternoon. I was prepared to do just that. But somehow I just could not get the thought of spring time in Rome or the beautiful scent of lemons out of my head.

My thoughts started to drift  towards all the wonderful food I could make with a few lemons.  Citrus is always plentiful in the winter, and the bright color and intoxicating aroma of a bowl of lemons was enticing. Because of the severe weather this winter on the East Coast, the cost of these beauties has skyrocketed. I've  seen the cost of one lemon as high as 80 cents this season. But a trip to the local vegetable market after the roads were cleared scored me eight lemons for $2.

Lemons are so versatile for use in both sweet and savory dishes that my options were vast--Marcella Hazan's fettucine with lemon cream sauce; risotto with lemon zest; Neiman Marcus' Zodiac Room's famous lemon bars; lemon ice cream; lemon martinis. This was going to be tough. Sweet won out though.

I have been experimenting of late with using olive oil in baked goods.  It seems to be the it thing among pastry chefs, and many recipes have been showing up on various sites online.  I have been baking pastry chef, Gina DePalma's,  Cinnamon Breakfast Toasts , which include olive oil, for quite some time with great success.  Also, I love her Torta di Mandorla.  But this was to be all about the citrus.

I came across a recipe for Lemon Olive Oil cake posted here which sounded great.

The cake went together quickly, and the batter smelled delicious.  Forty minutes later the cake was out of the oven and cooling.

Finally, the cake was ready for a taste test.

Unfortunately, the cake was not what I expected.  It was drier than I had anticipated and not as tender as it should have been. Perhaps I left it in the oven a couple of minutes too long or used an olive oil that was too heavy.

 I guess I'll just have to try again.  I know it's a tough job, but somebody has to do it.                              

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Lamplight Inn Bed and Breakfast

"Old friendships are like jewels, polished over time to become beautiful and enduring."
Celia Brayfield

I can't believe that The Lamplight Inn Bed and Breakfast is celebrating its 25th anniversary! It seems like yesterday that my best friend from high school and her husband took on this labor of love.

It was 1984 when Linda and her soon-to-be-husband, Gene Merlino, bought the 1890 Victorian home overlooking Lake Luzerne in New York's Adirondacks. They had a wonderful vision of turning this run-down home into a thriving bed and breakfast. Sounds romantic--but they had no illusions. They embarked on this adventure with eyes wide open and were ready for the work that lay ahead.

It wasn't long before each weekend they would leave their jobs in the textile industry to go to work on the house. Most weekends a group of friends and family accompanied them, and soon the renovation began to take shape. Sometime in October that year they found the time for a wedding, and they got married on our front porch surrounded by the people who loved them. Our old house was undergoing a renovation of sorts, too. So we were just glad that no one fell through the porch! The inn was opened for guests in September, 1985.

The Lamplight Inn is a beautifully restored home on ten acres of hills, white pines, and trails. The large wrap-around porch greets you before you walk into the great room which is divided into three seating areas. The sunporch dining room beckons you to sit awhile. There is a renovated caretaker's cottage on the grounds as well as a newly built carriage house. There is a room for everyone's taste here.

Linda and Gene quickly won over the community with their friendly manner and their genuine hospitality. They have became a mainstay of the community that they love. Gene is even the town supervisor. And let's not forget Valentino, the Inn's dog.

The inn is known far and wide for the wonderful breakfasts that Gene and Linda cook up. Each morning guests are greeted in the dining room with Linda's home made granola, muffins or coffee cakes and fresh fruit. These can be enjoyed along with your coffee while deciding what to order from the menu.

Every day besides eggs any-style and a variety of omelets, Gene offers a Special of the Day. There are often Belgian Waffles, Pancakes, Peach Crepes or Croissant French Toast--my favorite. After a breakfast like this you will be ready for hiking or biking or enjoying the lakes and beautiful views.

The Lamplight Inn is well-known for bridal and baby showers as well as their New Year's Eve Dessert Buffet and the very popular Mother's Day Breakfast Buffet.

This month in celebration of their 25th Anniversary, The Lamplight Inn is hosting "Evening In Tuscany" dinner on Saturday nights March 13, 20th and 27th. In a addition to soup, salad and dessert, Gene will create a pasta entree right in front of you in the dining room. Sounds like fun!

So to my dear friends, Linda and Gene--you did good! Happy Anniversary!

These muffins have been on the menu from the beginning. Enjoy.

Healthy Bran Muffins

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 cup low-fat milk
1 1/4 cups 100% bran cereal
1 egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup raisins, optional

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with vegetable oil.

Combine bran cereal and milk, and let sit for 5 minutes. Blend together dry ingredients.

Add egg and oil to bran mixture. Stir until well blended. Add dry ingredients, stirring until just combined. Stir in raisins, if using. Full muffin tins about 2/3 full. Bake 15 minutes until done.

Makes 12