Alexandria · Baking · Cooking · Travels

Lancaster’s Central Market: One of the World’s Ten Best Fresh Markets?


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I love farmer’s markets and Raj and I frequent Old Town’s very own regularly on Saturday mornings to buy DSC05130produce, flowers, and freshly baked bread. [In case you didn’t know, Old Town’s market is thought to be one of the nation’s oldest continually operating farmer’s markets and George Washington sent his produce from Mount Vernon (just down the road) to be sold here.] Anyway, we were searching for a day trip to take and I came across this CNN Travel article, Ten of the World’s Best Fresh Markets. Considering the article’s glowing recommendation and pairing it with my desire to shop for Amish jams and jellies (and perhaps a quilt–Lancaster is the heart of Amish country), it sounded like a perfect day!

DSC05132Lancaster’s Central Market is located in the downtown area of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It’s nice, but in no way, shape, or form does it belong on a list of the ‘Ten Best’ in the WORLD (let alone the country). It’s relatively small (think Eastern Market in DC), indoors, and not particularly Amish (as I mistakenly presumed). There were a couple Mennonite and Amish (not sure which and I’m no expert) merchants selling their wares, a couple of flower vendors, a fair sampling of beautiful farm raised vegetables, herbs, fruit…, a few bakeries, a small food court where sandwiches and such were prepared, along with the requisite tchotchke profferers. We bought a couple of loaves of bread from a cute couple and three jars “Amish” jam, which turns out are ‘made in the Amish style,’ meaning we were hoodwinked.

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DSC05150After a short jaunt through the market,  I wanted to get out of the city and onto the country roads where I envisioned bucolic farms and out-of-the-way stands selling unique, one of a kind items along with jams and jellies packaged by unjaded Amish women and girls and made in’ authentic’ ways (without corn syrup–the first ingredient on one of the jams we purchased). We headed towards the towns of Bird in Hand and Intercourse, but my fantasy was left unfulfilled. We stopped at a few ‘Amish’ markets that were less than noteworthy and ended up buying nothing. Nada. Zilch.

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This was an enjoyable day trip that I would highly recommend (preferably on a sunny day), but one needs to go with the understanding that this is a nice fresh market, not a mecca of amazing foodstuffs. Your local farmer’s market is probably better than this one, and if you’re in the mood for authentic Amish wares, you’re better off driving to Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market, where a much more impressive array of items are readily available.

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After a long drive home, we settled in for the night with a few items we picked up along the way.
Alexandria · Baking · Uncategorized

Classic Chocolate Mousse in Mini Cocottes


I’ve been a lazy, slothful blogger again despite already having this post ready to go since Valentine’s Day. I’m not a big mousse fan, but these little, easy beauties provided me with an excuse to pull out my utterly useless, yet adorable Le Creuset mini cocottes. It’s amazing what little you can do with them, so any opportunity is cause for celebration. This can be made ahead a few days in advance and then dressed up just before serving. I served mine with a dollop od whipped cream with a sprinkling of cocoa powder and fresh strawberries.

Classic Chocolate Mousse

6 Servings

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  • 3/4 cup chilled heavy cream, divided
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup espresso, room temperature
  • 1/8 tsp. kosher salt
  • 3 Tbsp. sugar, divided
  • 6 oz. semisweet chocolate (61-72% cacao), chopped
  • 2 large egg whites

Beat 1/2 cup cream in a medium bowl until stiff peaks form; cover and chill.

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This recipe calls for yet another excuse to pull out rarely used equipment such as the espresso machine.

Combine egg yolks, espresso, salt, and 2 Tbsp. sugar in a large metal bowl. Set over a saucepan of gently simmering water (do not allow bowl to touch water). Cook, whisking constantly, until mixture is lighter in color and almost doubled in volume and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the mixture registers 160 degrees, about 1 minute.
Remove bowl from pan. Add chocolate; whisk until melted and smooth. Let stand, whisking occasionally, until room temperature.

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Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites in another medium bowl on medium speed until foamy. With mixer running, gradually beat in remaining 1 Tbsp. sugar. Increase speed to high and beat until firm peaks form.
Fold egg whites into chocolate in 2 additions; folded whipped cream into mixture just to blend.

Divide mousse among ramekins or mini cocottes. Chill until firm, at least 2 hours. Do Ahead: Mousse can be made a few days ahead; cover and keep chilled. Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving.

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The serving size of these is more like two servings, not one as it would be in a ramekin.

Before serving, whisk remaining 1/4 cup cream in a small bowl until soft peaks form; dollop over mousse.

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Alexandria · Cooking · Eating

Way Too Much Work Veal Meatball Pie


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In my recent quest to make Friday Night Pizza more interesting than the usual “Raj’s Pizza,” comprised of red sauce, pepperoni and mozzarella (for the past six years!), I’m continually seeking out pies that will sway Raj towards variety. The latest, a Veal Meatball Pie, was amazing, but WAY too much work for anyone who works, has a life, hobbies, a dog that needs walking… The recipe is comprised of FIVE separate recipes (which I had to break down between two days) if you count making the pizza dough, sauce, meatballs, caramelizing the onions, and compiling the pizza…but for those of you with lots of time and motivation, knock yourselves out. Raj says this is a keeper–but then it would have to be relegated to Saturday Night Pizza–he won’t be seeing the likes of this pie anytime soon.

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Veal Meatball Pie

  • 1 ball of dough–I used is the same one I always use–my whole wheat standard (see Raj’s Friday Night Pizza)
  • 1/4 cup Basic Tomato Sauce (see below)
  • About 2 ounces fresh Mozzarella, pulled into 5 clumps
  • Scant 1 tbl Caramelized onions (Oh my God–all that work–1 HOUR of pure devotion for 1 tablespoon of them?! See below)
  • About 5 pitted Alfonso olives–good luck finding these at any other place than Whole Foods (Did I mention shopping for the ingredients took lots of time too?)
  • About 3 tbl Parmagiano-Reggiano, grated
  • 4 or 5 Veal Meatballs, broken in half
  1. Put pizza stone in oven about 8″ from broiler. Preheat oven on bake at 5oo degrees for 30 minutes. Switch to broil for 10 minutes.
  2. Place dough on pizza stone (you can also assemble the pie on a peel and then slide it onto the stone, but I’ve never had luck doing this), spoon tomato sauce over surface and spread evenly, leaving about an inch of the rim untouched. Distribute mozzarella over the sauce. Space meatballs evenly over the pie. Distribute the onions evenly on top, then the olives. Sprinkle the Parmagiano.
  3. Broil for 4 1/2 minutes under gas until the top is bubbling and the crust is nicely charred but not burnt.
  4. Using the peel (yes, I use it here with the help of a spatula), transfer the pizza to a cutting board. Sprinkle additional Parmagiano over the pie. Slice and serve immediately.

Basic Tomato Sauce (SO SIMPLE that it really shouldn’t be called sauce)

  • 28 ounce can peeled Italian plum tomatoes
  • 2 tbl extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  1. Using your hands, squish the tomatoes in a bowl. 
  2. Stir in olive oil and salt. (I only used about half of the sauce and froze the rest for next week’s pizza)

Veal Meatballs

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  • 3/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1 pound veal
  • 1/2 medium Idaho potato, peeled
  • 10 grinds black pepper
  • 1 to 2 garlic cloves
  • Leaves from 3 sprigs of thyme
  • 2 tbl whole milk
  • 1 tbl canola oil
  1. Bring salted water to gentle boil in medium saucepan and cook the potato until tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain and then pass through food mill (which I don’t have so I grated it).
  2. Add the veal, salt, pepper, garlic, thyme leaves, and milk and blend thoroughly, but gently, with your hands. With moistened hands, roll into meatballs about 1 inch in diameter. You should have about 35 to 40.
  3. Coat a saute pan with the oil and brown the meatballs for about 7 or 8 minutes over medium heat, until they medium (just a bit pink in the center). Set aside until you are ready to use them, or let cool, cover, and refrigerate for up to 4 days.

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Caramelized Onions

  • 3 medium onions
  • 1/2 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbl extra-virgin olive oil
  • leaves from 2 thyme sprigs
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  1. Cut the onions in half and then into 1 1/2-inch-thick slices. With your fingers, separate the slices into strips and put them in a medium bowl. Toss with the vinegar, oil, and thyme leaves.
  2. Transfer the onions to a 10-inch saute pan. Cover and cook, stirring every few minutes, over medium-low heat for 20 minutes. Do not burn. Uncover the pan and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden and soft, about 30 minutes.
  3. Sprinkle with the salt, transfer to a platter, and set aside to cool to room temperature.

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Alexandria · Cooking

Not Raj’s Regular Friday Night Pizza–Caramelized Onion and Prosciutto Pizza


So the traditional Friday night routine of Raj’s favorite pizza has kind of come to a slow death. With our multi-step progression of moves, our lack of a working kitchen up until recently, and my boredom of the same pizza every Friday for the last several years, I finally took a stand a switched it up a little. Here’s my first attempt at a deviation:
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Caramelized Onion and Prosciutto Pizza
  • 1 whole wheat pizza dough (see Raj’s Friday night pizza post for the recipe)
  • olive oil for drizzling
  • 1 half red onion, sliced thinly
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • salt to taste
  • parmesan cheese, to taste
  • 10 ounces, mozzarella di buffalo
  • about 10 slices of prosciutto

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet. Add onions and brown sugar and toss/stir for several minutes, or until onions are brown and cooked. Set aside.

Roll out pizza dough. Drizzle olive oil, sprinkle on a little salt, followed by a little parmesan.

Lay slices of mozzarella evenly over the top of the crust. Arrange caramelized onions over the top of the mozzarella. Randomly lay slices of prosciutto over the onions.

Bake for 15 to 17 minutes in the lower half of the oven, or until crust is golden brown. Remove from oven and cut into squares. Serve immediately.

I’m happy to report that despite Raj’s reluctance, he happily enjoyed the switch and he is looking forward to a next Friday night’s “Surprise Friday Night Pizza.” Stay tuned.

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The accompaniment, a sparkling Vouvray.

 

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Alexandria · Baking

Home Sweet Gingerbread Home


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Last year for Christmas we were in Cairo…this year Alexandria–not Egypt, but Virginia. As a result, last Christmas Eve, we promised to do next year’s Christmas BIG…well, not that big, but anything is bigger than last year. What a difference a year can make.

Check it out…I’m pretty pleased…but now I have more pressing things to do, like unpack our final shipment of furniture and such from Jordan that arrived yesterday.

Here are the steps:

1. I created a template from thin cardboard, fashioned after a picture of our house.

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The bay window on the third floor in my attempt at perspective.

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2. Make the gingerbread dough. I used Martha Stewart’s recipe here. http://www.marthastewart.com/342245/molasses-gingerbread-cookies

This picture is really just to show off my new mixer.
This picture is really just to show off my new mixer.

3. Roll out the dough; place template pieces over dough to cut out shapes; bake.

4. Here’s my favorite part. I smashed up butterscotch candy to melt into the windows so that they would light up.

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butterscotch candies
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Place smashed candy into window and bake at 350 degrees, watching closely until melted.
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Perfectly melted window
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…and some more windows…

5. Assemble all of the pieces.

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6. Assemble the house using royal icing as the glue. This step got a little dicey with no one to help hold the roof into place, resulting in a slight slope.

7. And the finished product…

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Taken in full light…
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…and in the dark, but with the flash you can barely tell there’s light behind the windows…

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Side view of the Necco roofline
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I cut out a square on the back of the house and placed a battery operate tea light like this one into the center to illuminate the stained butterscotch glass windows.

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Alexandria · Baking · Crafting

Sugar Cookies from Halloween & Day of the Dead’s Past


I’ve been living without a functioning kitchen now for over FOUR months now. This means no cooking and no creative outlet. Since I cannot bake or cook or do much else creatively speaking (because everything is on its way from Jordan and isn’t set to arrive for months), and given that I’m at home from work due to the storm, I searched through my pictures of Halloween’s past to reminisce about the beautiful cookies that I could have been baking and decorating if I had a full larder and was equipped with my cookie making supplies.

Inspiration? Jack Skelington
If you plan on making lollipop sugar cookies, make the cookies a little thicker than normal and insert cookie stick into dough before baking.
Dia de los Muertos beauties–my personal favorites
I wish I had a friend like me who bakes and distributes cookies for holidays!

In case you’re inspired enough to want to bake, here’s the recipe for the cookies and the icing:

No Fail Sugar Cookies

Preheat oven thirty minutes before you begin. (This recipe makes a lot of cookies, so I usually cut the recipe in half or save half of it to freeze and use later.)

Ingredients:

6 cups flour
3 tsp. baking powder
2 cups butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract or desired flavoring (I like almond myself)
1 tsp. salt

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs and vanilla.  Mix well. Mix dry ingredients and add a little
at a time
 to butter mixture.  Mix until flour is completely incorporated and the dough comes together.

Chill for 1 to 2 hours (or see Hint below) 

Roll to desired thickness and cut into desired shapes.  Bake on ungreased baking sheet at 350
degrees for 8 to 10 minutes or until just beginning to turn brown around the edges.  This recipe
can make up to 5-dozen 3” cookies.

HINTRolling Out Dough Without the Mess – Rather than wait for your cookie dough to
chill, take the freshly made dough and place a glob between two sheets of parchment paper.
Roll it out to the desired thickness then place the dough and paper on a cookie sheet and pop it into the refrigerator.
Continue rolling out your dough between sheets of paper until you have used it all.  By the time you are finished, the
first batch will be completely chilled and ready to cut.  Reroll leftover dough and repeat the process!  An added bonus
is that you are not adding any additional flour to your cookies.

Royal Icing 

Makes 3 cups of base consistency icing

3 3/4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
3 T meringue powder
6 T warm water

Beat 4 to 5 minutes
By hand, stir in optional flavorings and desired tints.

Add 8 T of warm water if you want flow consistency.

Baking · Cooking · Eating · Living in Amman

Penzeys Spices True Love


Get a catalog

Love to cook. Cook to love. That’s Penzeys Spices motto and my adopted motto as well. I’ve been a devotee of Penzeys ever since my sister turned me on to their catalog years ago (yes, Nicole, I give you full credit!). The closest store to us back in California was Torrance (way too far from San Clemente) so we would both study the catalog, read the articles, and then coordinate our orders to save on shipping. Lucky for me, I have access to the fabulous Falls Church, Virginia store, which I have yet to visit, but plan on supplementing my diminishing stores of spices soon.

Some of you may know that I was featured in the catalog a few years back and paid homage to Raj by including our traditional Friday night pizza recipe. One night while I was combing through the catalog in Amman (feeling sad for not being able to ship spices overseas), I was inspired (once again) to respond to their “Calling All Cooks” campaign. I was contacted by one of their pleasant writers and shared with her my experiences of living overseas and a few of my favorite Middle Eastern recipes. The story sort of morphed into a love story about how Raj and I met.

Here’s the link to the Fall, “True Love” catalog http://www.penzeys.com/images/F12.pdf. Our story is featured on page 48-49. Check out my recipes for Shish Tawouk (my favorite, simple and easy grilled chicken kebabs) and fattoush (a mixed salad with toasted pita bread pieces). Enjoy…