Sunday, September 26, 2010

Seared Steaks

In my quest for downsizing my cookbook collection, I found a recipe for seared steaks with a mushroom cream sauce. I have made it a few times and each time, I have modified it...I like to say perfecting it (it is ME who's cooking, you know). Here is the (very) modified recipe.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 strip steaks (any steak about 1 inch thick or so)
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup shallots, finely chopped
8 ounces mushrooms (I like a combo of porcini, portabella, and shitake)
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup creme fraiche
1/2 chopped chives

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil. Season the steaks with salt and pepper and add to the skillet. Cook for about four minutes on each side (for medium-cooked meat). Transfer to a plate and keep warm.

To that same skillet, add the shallots and cook until slightly softened, about 2 minutes or so. Add the mushrooms and cook until they release their juices, stirring constantly. Add the wine, chicken stock and creme fraiche. Bring to a simmer (not a boil). Add the chives (same a little for garnish). The sauce may be a bit thin. Add either flour or cornstarch (very little amounts at a time) and stir until you get the right consistency.

Top the steak with the mushroom sauce. Garnish with the chives. It's great with some toasted Italian bread.

Friday, September 24, 2010


It was a very late night and early morning. I got the idea to make little cakes for two of my co-workers’ birthdays today. Unfortunately, I decided this yesterday afternoon. Too bad I had to work until 10 last night. By the time I got home, I was feverishly whisky up a chocolate cake and making fondant. When morning (does it count as morning if at one time – mainly college - I would be coming home then?) came, I was up again decorating the cakes. They came out well and thankfully, I had a little more idea of what I was doing than on the Day of the Caterpillar. Things went more smoothly. I hope they’ll enjoy them!

Thursday, September 23, 2010


These recipes are a bit different from what you would normally consider to be, well, recipes. They are for cleaners. Environmental health is a huge part of my life (it's what I do on a daily basis) and when I moved into my new apartment I didn't have to fight about not using chemical cleaners. I made the decision of not having any harsh, chemical cleaners in my home. You know, the ones that are bound to give us all cancer and respiratory issues sooner or later. I bought some plastic spray bottles from the dollar store (sadly, I love dollar stores...I feel so proud when I walk about with a bag full of items and spent $5) and went searching online for good, natural cleaners. These are recipes from that search and after a couple of months now of using them, I can tell you they work and work well.

Household Cleaner
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon castile soap (I like Dr. Bronners, which you can get at Whole Foods and lasts you forever)
1 squeeze lemon (either juice or essential oil)
1/4 liter water (I just filled up the rest of the bottle with water)
Add together and shake!

Drain Cleaner (great for slow running sinks)
1/2 cup baking soda down the drain, followed buy 1/2 cup vinegar. Cover the drain and let sit for 15 mintues. Then flush the drain with about 2 quarts of boiling hot water.

Toilet Cleaner
1/4 cup baking soda in the bowl and drizzle with some vinegar. Let sit for 20 minutes. Scrub with the toilet brush and flush.

Daily Shower Spray
For every one part vinegar, add two parts water (ie 1 cup vinegar + 2 cups water)
Several drops of essential oil (citrus and lavendar are my favorites - citrus in particular is a natural disenfectant)
Shake together!

Glass Cleaner
1 cup vinegar
1 cup water
3 drops essential oil (I'm a fan of the citrus)
Shake together!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Vanilla Extract

I stumbled across a recipe today that I felt I had to make. Vanilla extract. For those of you who have coughed up $8 for a little bottle of pure vanilla extract, this will interest you. This takes only a few minutes to do, but takes two months to marinate. And for anyone who hasn't been inside a mall or Target, two months is smack dab in the middle of the holidays...baking season! I am even thinking of buying little jars and giving this as a holiday gifts to my culinary-swayed friends.

1 glass jar, cleaned
3 medium vanilla beans
1 cup liquor (rum or vodka)

Slice the beans lengthwise to expose the beans. Put the beans in the jar and add the liquor. Shake well and place in a cool, dark, and dry place. Shake about once a week for 8 weeks. Use after the 8th week.

Monday, September 20, 2010


My father surprised me with a care package full of all sorts of goodies. Freshly dried herbs from his garden and a package of farro. Farro is a delicious hulled wheat. It's a grain that has been eaten in Italy for centuries. It's not exactly cheap (about $12 for a pound), but it's so delicious. It can be eaten either hot or cold. So, I was so excited to try it out.

Farro with Herbs

2 cups of water

1 cup of farro

2 teaspoons of salt

1/2 to 3/4 cup tomatoes, seeded and chopped (use more or less depending on your taste)

1/4 cup onion

1/4 chopped fresh chives

1/4 parsley (I used the dried parsley that my dad just sent me)

1-2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Ground black pepper

1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil

Boil the water in a medium pot. Add the salt and the farro. Boil for about 20-25 minutes. When done, drain any excess water and add the farro to a medium-sized bowl. Add the tomatoes, onion, chives, and parsley. Toss. Then in a small bowl, combine the garlic, balsamic vinegar, pepper, and oil. Add to the farro mixture and toss well. Serve hot or cold.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


So, the Day of the Caterpillar came and went. I spent Friday night baking the cupcakes and the head (odd statement). I also discovered that making fondant was actually not difficult! I made a marshmallow fondant since I have had traditional fondant, which tastes horrible! Here's the recipe for the fondant:
1/2 package of marshmallows
2 tablespoons water
3/4 lb (about 3/4 package) powdered sugar
Place marshmallows in a large microwave-safe bowl and add the water. Mix well and microwave for 30 seconds. Remove and mix well. Microwave for another 30 seconds, then remove and mix well. Continue until completely melted (about 2 minutes). On a sanitized counter, coat the counter with crisco to prevent the marshmallow to stick. Then pile the sugar on the counter. Take the marshmallow mix and scoop it out onto the sugar. Using your hands (helps a lot if you coat your hands with crisco), mix and knead until it resembles bread dough. Then lightly coat the mound with crisco and cover with plastic wrap and place within a ziploc bag. Refrigerate overnight.
The next morning I got up early, convinced that I would need extra time for when I made mistakes and would have to start over from the beginning. I tackled the head first. Once I evened the top and filled it with a raspberry filling, I covered it with a thin layer of buttercream. The raspberry worked well with the lemon cake. I started to play with the fondant, experimenting with colors. With the book cover as my guide, the head slowly came to be a caterpillar head. I shaped the feet and antennae. Then onto frosting the cupcakes (thankfully easy!). Once I arrived at the shower, I assembled it with great relief!
Surprisingly, I had such a fun time putting this cake together. I had been quite anxious to figure out what I was doing, convinced that I would ruin the cake and in essence ruin the shower. I was so glad that I actually went through with it and didn't just order it from someplace else. While it was somewhat time consuming, it was completely worth it. Do you feel an after-school special lesson coming on?? Don't worry, I'll spare you (and myself in the process). So, for all those who have heard me complain and worry all week about this, thanks for listening and I'll owe you a cake for listening!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Hello Again!

Life has gotten in the way of me posting updates on this blog. I am hoping things may settle down to allow me to be more consistent. For now, I am mentally preparing for a dessert I am to make this weekend. A good friend of mine is having her baby shower and I volunteered to bring anything she needs. Well, the hostess asked me to bring the cake. Sure! A theme cake. Sure. A Very Hungry Caterpillar. Sure?? All I have to say is thank goodness for the internet and youtube. I have been pouring the internet in search of decoration ideas, as well as, how in the world do you make fondant and how to you use it?? The cake itself, no problem. Execution is the more challenging part. I feel I have a game plan. One that starts on Friday to give me plenty of time to re-do it (planning on lots of "what am I doing" moments) in time for Saturday afternoon. Worse comes to worse, any major mishaps and I'm blaming it on those horrible, pot-filled roads. Pictures to come...