Saturday, April 30, 2011

Vacation....

Mr. Lucky and I are leaving for South Carolina tomorrow night (tonight!) for a week of the beach, relaxation and,hopefully, some good southern food. 

I will do my best to give updates, get some menus and take some pictures.  I always feel a little weird taking pictures in a restaurant.  Who does that, right?  I'll do what I can.

Now I really have to get some sleep!!!!  See you in South Carolina!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Happy Easter....

I hope everyone that celebrates Easter had a great one and everyone that doesn't had a wonderful Sunday.  I spent a great day with both mine and Mr. Lucky's families.

We usually go to a restaurant for Easter with Mr. Lucky's parents so today we had a noon reservation.  For the past few years we have gone Stoneforge Tavern. The food is great, the service is great and most importantly the in-laws like it.  Mr. Lucky went totally off the radar and ordered the Chicken Saltimbocca.  I, of course, had to try it and it was delicious.  I went boring and got steak tips but they were very good too. My in-laws went Easter traditional and had the ham dinner.  They love it, they get it every year.  Because I wanted to be able to see my family, mostly my nephew, I had to leave right from the restaurant to head to my parents' house.  Mr. Lucky went back with his parents to their house and had a wonderful afternoon of Wii golf with his dad.

For the big dinner at my parents' house I made a cake.  I will admit that I use boxed cake mix most of the time.  Don't worry, I do make cakes from scratch every now and again but if I am doing any kind of decorating I focus on that and use a boxed mix.  99% of the time I doctor the mix in some way.  This time I used a white cake mix and used whole eggs (who wants to have extra yolks lying around?  I just can't throw them away!) and I added some of my homemade vanilla extract. I always use the Wilton recipe for my buttercream with a few tweaks. Here is the recipe:

Buttercream Icing

  • 1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine softened (I use salted butter)
  • 1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract (I have never used clear vanilla extract, I have never had to have a pure white cake and I don't think it tastes the same)
  • 4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar (approximately 1 lb.)
  • 2 tablespoons milk 
I also add a drop or two of each orange and lemon oil, I use Lorann. This just adds a little extra flavor.  

Makes:

About 3 cups of icing.

Instructions:

(Medium Consistency)

In large bowl, cream shortening and butter with electric mixer. Add vanilla. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When all sugar has been mixed in, icing will appear dry. Add milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Keep bowl covered with a damp cloth until ready to use.
For best results, keep icing bowl in refrigerator when not in use. Refrigerated in an airtight container, this icing can be stored 2 weeks. Re-whip before using.
For thin (spreading) consistency icing, add 2 tablespoons light corn syrup, water or milk.
For Pure White Icing (stiff consistency), omit butter; substitute an additional 1/2 cup shortening for butter and add 1/2 teaspoon No-Color Butter Flavor. Add up to 4 tablespoons light corn syrup, water or milk to thin for icing cakes.

For this cake I made two 9 inch round cakes and torted (made layers) each of those once. To be sure I had enough, I made 2 1/2 batches of buttercream.  For the top layer filling I mixed some lemon curd with about a cup and a half of the buttercream and did the same with some raspberry jam for the bottom layer.  The middle layer was just plain buttercream. 


This cake was so delicious. If I do say so myself (She says modestly)! 

I had grand decorating plans for this cake but the Boston Bruins' playoff game on Saturday night kinda put an end to that.  Two overtime periods and I couldn't look away.  So, I went with some grass, royal icing flowers and a bird's nest. 






I made the nest out of melted chocolate chips and broken up spaghetti.  I don't know where the idea came from it just popped into my head at some point during the first overtime.  I thought the cake came our really cute.  What do you think?

I will definitely be using this flavor combination again.  I can't wait to make my next cake.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Feeling old....

My niece Mehgan and I have always been very close.  She is finishing up her junior year in high school in a culinary arts program and starting to look at colleges.  I am so excited for her but at the same time I am feeling a little bit old!

This past weekend Mr. Lucky and I brought her to visit New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, VT.  This was her first college tour and definitely the one all others have to surpass.


We had an amazing time.  The campus is beautiful and the school has a retail bakery/coffee shop as well as a full service restaurant that are both staffed but students.  We were able to tour both sites and speak to a few of the Chef instructors.  We were so pleased that they took the time   If you are ever in Montpelier check out La Brioche or NECI on Main! 

This is a relatively small school but I think that is a great advantage.  Our tour guide told us that most classes are 10 students or less, how great is that? He also said that their highest enrollment is around 500.  I think this makes for a more personal experience and it seemed like everyone knew each other.  It was a great environment.

Mehgan told us that all the other colleges have to live up to this one.  I'll let you know how she makes out!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Comfort....

When I found this recipe I knew I had to make it, the main ingredient is potato! It may be due to my heritage or just because there are so many delicious ways to prepare them but either way I LOVE potatoes. Mashed, baked, fries, whatever! Just give me some potatoes.  I know Mr. Lucky gets sick of them, he's not the biggest fan.  He'd rather have rice or bread as his starch. Won't he ever learn???

On to the recipe...I guess I'll say I used this recipe as a guideline.  I did make quite a few changes, that I'll notate for you.

Slow Cooked Ham and Scalloped Potatoes
5-6 medium baking potatoes, unpeeled and sliced 1/4" thick (I have a mandolin that makes this super easy)















1/3 cup diced green onion, green and white parts
Approx. 2 1/2 cups smoked ham, thin cubed (I used some ham steaks)
3 Tbsp unsalted butter (I NEVER use unsalted butter, I don't buy it. I usually just omit any additional salt)
3 Tbsp Flour
1 2/3 cup milk
3 Tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated
salt & pepper
cooking spray















Coat the interior of the slow cooker crock with cooking spray.  Evenly layer the potatoes with the onions and ham.  Sprinkle each layer with a pinch of salt and pepper. (I decided to fore go the slow cooker in the interest of time so I used my Corningware baking dish and a 350 degree oven. I parboiled the potatoes for about 10 minutes, until they were slightly softened before layering them in the baking dish. Be sure to let them cool a bit before trying to layer them, I did not.  Learn from my mistakes!!!)

















In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the flour and cook for 1 minute, until the butter is completely absorbed.  Slowly add the milk and heat for 3-5 minutes or until slightly thickened.  Do not allow the sauce to boil.  Remove from heat and add the Parmesan cheese. Stir until the cheese has melted.

Pour the sauce over the potatoes.  Cook the mixture on high for approximately 2-2 1/2 hours or until the potatoes have completely softened.  There should be no need to stir during cooking.  Serves about 4-6 as a side and 3-4 as an entree. (I also sprinkled some Parmesan over the top of the casserole. I baked it for about 45 minutes, until the sauce was bubbling up.)



Forgot to take a picture before we dove in!



























This turned out so delicious, I will definitely make it again.  The only things I will change are adding some more cheese to the sauce and adding more ham but cutting it up smaller than I did this time.
 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Funk....

I have not cooked a blessed thing in weeks!  Mr. Lucky has really stepped up to the plate.  We've had a few days of grill worthy weather so he is very happy.

Last year the Easter Bunny brought Mr. Lucky a new grill.  He was thrilled! See, for a few years we had been using a glorified hibachi and it just wasn't working. See, Mr. Lucky is a die hard charcoal guy, no gas grills around these parts. He has even converted me!  The food just tastes better.

I am hoping to try to get one of those combination charcoal/gas grills someday.  Gas is a little bit less time consuming and easier to use in the winter!  Yup, I'd grill in the winter if I could!  My dad does it!  He has a portable heater in his garage that he turns on and puts the grill just outside the overhead door and grills away. 

We're both trying to increase our grilling repertoire with veggies, marinades and sauces.  I am really looking forward to a long spring and summer of tasty grilled food.

What's your preference? Gas or charcoal?