Saturday, August 29, 2009

vanilla bean loaf, nothing special

so yesterday i made vanilla bean loaves, two of them. i had found the recipe here and also had read several comment about how spectacular these cakes are. the recipe calls for three sticks of butter, eight eggs and three whole vanilla beans. holy cow, this must be one awesome baked good. nope, it wouldn't even qualify as a good pound cake in my book. what overkill with the ingredients. the cake tastes like a crumbly, run of the mill vanilla cake. i mean, it doesn't taste bad, but it's nothing special. it is quite possible that i ain't much of a baker. i'll give you that. i am sure anyone else could do a better and prettier job. i do like how you can see the vanilla bean's seeds on top of the cake and that's about it. i know it will get eaten here at the house and of course, i will pawn it off on others, but i won't make it again. it is just too much of a sacrifice. try if you will. enjoy.

the winner of my itty bitty contest is

"jez in the kitchen"! congrats. i had all of 15 comments and i used to select. it gave me the number two. i told you i had a pitiful blog. teehee. i will be mailing jez her package next week. enjoy.

uh-oh, jez i need your email address.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

haunted rosewell castle

rosewell castle or mansion located in gloucester, virginia is just steeped in history.visit the website to learn about this once glorious mansion and its owners, the page family. what is left now is simply ruins, having burned in the early 1900's. what makes rosewell so popular today is not its rich history , but its rumored hauntings. my brother roger and i decided to do a little outing with the youngin's today and visit rosewell. we had more fun. we had the entire plantation grounds to ourselves to explore. i had never visited the castle before, but roger had, about thirty years earlier and it was one visit he will never forget. his one and only ghost encounter happened on the dirt road that leads to the house ruins. him and his buddy, then just teenagers, watch as an apparition of a woman floated from the woods in front of them, pause and continue gliding across the road and disappear. needless, to say, the two boys disappeared too, as fast as their dirt bike could take them. roger had never returned until today. we both are fascinated with ghosts and haunting. we snapped many photos today, so i thought i would share a few with you. let me know if you see anything!

caroline and travis entering the grand mansion

entrance to basement area
roger and mr. page, teehee!

backdoor to the house

came back to basement to shoot a few more pics
i keep getting this haze. nothing shows up in roger's photos.

my last pic of the day. interesting.

too easy roasted shrimp and orzo

i have i told you lately how much i love oven roasted shrimp? no, well allow me. i love it!!

recently i posted how this method of cooking taught me how to appreciate this shellfish, again. once you try it, you will ask yourself why would you boil, steam, grill or fry the little guy? guess what was for supper? bingo! i roasted a bag of thawed jumbo shrimp from trader joe's-400 degree oven, evoo, sea salt and course pepper, ten minutes and viola, dinner(well part of it). i also threw together some cooked orzo with rough chopped cucumbers, grape tomatoes, whole black olives and reduced fat feta. all from trader joe's, too(no wonder $40 flew out of my wallet). topped it all off with a quick, simple greek style dressing-evoo, red wine vinegar, spot of dijon mustard, sea salt, course pepper and dried oregano and viola, the rest of the dinner. it was really good, really tasty. i surprised myself. there is no real recipe to any of it, just wing it. enjoy.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

hummus, just too easy

i love hummus!! i could eat it everyday with some pita and feta cheese, simply divine. i went to trader joe's today with the mindset of whipping up a fresh batch. i have always purchased the housebrand and have never made my own. i grabbed some canned chickpeas, fresh garlic and tahini. No wait, i didn't get no stinkin' tahini, because TJ's doesn't sell it! pleeeeeze, they sell everything else, why not tahini? i guess they want you to buy hummus rather than make it. i'd showed them. i made mine without the tahini, so there. it was delicious, too. it was not the best, but dang close. it got better the longer it sat. it was creamy and garlicky, just yummy. now, i do plan on buying some tahini next time i see it, but meanwhile i can do without. you know, i have mixed emotions about trader joe's. i find that most of the time i am disappointed with my purchases once i get home. i do have a few staple items from there, evoo, red wine vinegar and chewable melatonin(helps my adhd daughter sleep, great stuff).

tj's, i go once in awhile, spend way too much money and regret it only to return weeks later to start the process all over again.

beth's hummus

in a processor, pulse till smooth the following:

one clove of garlic
one can of drained chickpeas
juice of a half of lemon
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

stream in about two tablespoons of evoo till it is the consistency you like, taste and adjust seasonings. some folks like to add cumin, not me. if you have tahini you could mix it with the evoo and then add. let this sit for little while for the flavors to blend. i like to drizzle a little more evoo on top before diving in with a hunk of pita bread. try not eat all at once. enjoy.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

chocolate zucchini cake, not so purty

first and foremost, always, always use dark or dutch processed cocoa when making this cake. i had to learn this ugly truth the hard way. it not only contributes a deep dark chocolate flavor, it hides the zucchini! yikes. see, i used plain ole hershey's and just look at those little green shreds dangling out the sides. you are not suppose to see them. i was in too much of a hurry to make this and didn't feel like running back to the market. although it didn't affect the taste, it messes up fooling folks. it doesn't work so good.

now, back to the taste. surprisingly the cake is truly delicious. i tell you, my four year old ate this particular piece without a single complaint. amazing. go here to see how a master does it. the repressed pastry chef is a genius. me, not so much. also, this young lady does a bang up job with her version. it was her recipe that i followed, pretty much. i did add a full teaspoon of vanilla extract that i just received from beanilla plus a teaspoon of instant coffee powder. the cake, although not purty, is moist, fudgie with no taste of the squash. i opted not to do a frosting 'cause my family doesn't like it. i know, i know, sinful, huh? i just sprinkled a little powdered sugar on top( mostly to hide the zucchini). i would like to make this again and do it real justice, but meanwhile, i think i will just stick to oven roasting my veggies. enjoy.

Friday, August 21, 2009

coffee, tea and a little contest sponsored by me!

well, i was at the market today and ran across one of my all time and difficult to find, favorite teas, celestial seasonings bengal spice. this is such a tasty, spicy herbal tea and although it is in the 90's outside today, it got me thinking. what are your favorite cold weather drinks? as for me, i am a late comer in life to drinking both hot coffee and hot tea, of course, being a southern gal, both coffee and tea(mostly iced) were a constant. i grew up in a household of coffee drinkers, perked, instant and then mr. coffee, but i never liked any of it. i tried to doctor it up, but i still couldn't see what the fuss was about until i hit forty. then something awoke inside me craving hot coffee and hot tea(sushi too, but we won't go there) and i have been on a trip of enlightenment ever since. i thought it would be fun to share we you my readers, all three of you, a few of my favorites. i was thinking if you would leave a comment about what you love to drink when the weather is cool, i would randomly select someone to receive a little package. now, it won't be no honking size package, just a little gift from me to you. it won't be a box of gourmet stuff. i don't drink gourmet stuff, just things i have found and enjoy. also, it won't be some of my stuff. i'll send you new stuff. it may be tea, coffee, cocoa, who knows? let's say we will run this contest for a week, next Friday, the 28th with the winners Saturday morning. make sure there is a way i can contact you in your post. also, i need to keep it confined to the states, 'cause i hate to ship someplace where is might get confiscated. some countries are so picky. i don't want to be responsible for causing the extinction of some rare bird or something. okay, let's do this. enjoy.

p.s. i would like to also thank lauri, my tea sommelier, without her i wouldn't have any favorites.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

the pita that became a naan

well, i couldn't roll a piece of dough into a circle if my life depended on it. i am geometrically challenged. i had found this really great website with a tutorial on making pita bread. i just knew i just had to give it a try. well, mine were some pitiful pita, in fact it's more like naan bread. they wouldn't puff. i don't know if my yeast was bad. it had a 2010 date or if i used the wrong type of yeast. i didn't have a baking stone either, but used the back of a cookie sheet as recommended. i also preheated both the oven and baking sheet, but they just laid there. in the end i got some excellent tasting, irregularly shaped, flatbread. i got naan. my "naan" came out crispy and slightly chewy. i may have gone a tad overboard on the flour, leaving some exterior excess when done, but no matter, it didn't affect the taste. i slathered butter on the first piece out. it was delicious. go give this recipe a try. it was simple enough and if it flops for you too, oh well, you will have some great naan to share. enjoy.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

roasted shrimp, easy and delicious

let me preface by saying, i don't like shrimp. i had a bad shrimp experience years ago and i have not been able to let that go, until now. my husband has been after me to fix healthier foods, more seafood, veggies, and fruits. i am a southerner, i equate healthy foods to tasteless or boring meals. i envision a cold fresca served with a lovely "diet" plate of one scoop each cottage cheese, tuna and chicken salad on a lettuce leaf. oh and let's not forget dessert, sugar-free jello, usually strawberry, topped with a big ole dollop of dream whip. ewwww. i know we need to eat better, but it's such a drag not to mention expensive. it cost big bucks to eat right. little debbie's are cheap. anyway, i did pick up a pound of shrimp to fix for dinner tonight. it's a good start. i thought i would try ina's recipe for roasting them. oh my gosh!! these are crazy good. i betcha i ate easily a dozen of those little suckers. i didn't maker her cocktail sauce though, just used store bought. the shrimp were so simple and unadorned, yet so full of flavor and juicy. i am so tempted to go buy more for supper tomorrow. no joke, i am going to make these often, although neither one of my kids ate them. who cares? it just means more for me. they choose velveeta shells and cheese. ick.

run forrest run! buy your shrimp. you and bubba need to make these now, it's better than a box of chocolates. well, not really. enjoy.
ready for the oven, evoo, kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

vanilla bean rice pudding

well, like i posted earlier i have been on a vanilla bean kick. my brother roger and i had a discussion the other day about how much we love rice pudding, but are only familiar with the slow oven baked version with raisins and cinnamon. don't get me wrong, that was some good pudding our mama and grandmas used to make. i often requested it instead of a birthday cake, but i wanted to try something a little different. i turned to my trusty internet and found this. guess what? it calls for a half of a vanilla bean. yea baby, count me in. i made a pot of the creamy goodness yesterday. i pretty much followed the recipe to the "t" with two exceptions. i used long grain rice and added a hefty pinch of cornstarch during the final cooking. i was afraid it would not be thick enough to my liking. well, i likey, i likey a lot. it is delicious. the rice pudding came out sweet, creamy and full of vanilla flavor. i feel sure if you don't have a bean, you could sub a teaspoon of good vanilla. i made the pudding early in the day, so it could chill for hours in the fridge. big j loved it. i just served it straight from the bowl with a spoon, but was wishing i had strawberries. holy moley wouldn't that be good? this takes less than an hour on the stove top. go whip up a batch for your gang. you won't be sorry. enjoy.

Monday, August 17, 2009

vanilla bean ice cream

i made my first batch of ice cream yesterday. now, i grew up on homemade ice cream, but was just not the one to make it. it was my dad's job to be the ice cream boss. yesterday was a celebration day in the house, so i borrowed my brother's freezer(i don't own one) and whipped up some vanilla bean ice cream. i know, i know, boring right? nope, it was anything but, it was delicious and way better than the banana or pineapple that my folks always made. i had bought some great vanilla beans from beanilla last week and was wanting to use another one. i am hooked on beans. i also wanted a recipe that didn't involve raw or tempered eggs. i just didn't want to be bothered. roger's freezer is a rival, so i visited their website and found this recipe for a six quart machine. it seemed simple enough and although it didn't call for a bean, i added one. once i scalded the milk i threw in a split bean, turned the heat off and let it sit for about thirty minutes to infuse. i followed the rest of the recipe as written. it turned out pretty dang tasty. everyone seemed to enjoy it and i definitely think it tastes better after it sits in the freezer for awhile. i am thinking next batch, custard style, because i do believe the eggs make for a smoother and richer ice cream, but this one wasn't too shabby. i would make again, so go dust off the ole ice cream churn and flex those biceps, it's cranking time. enjoy.

p.s. who am i fooling, the freezer i used was electric.

p.p.s. i served this with homemade peach cobbler, no pic, none left, but i will share the recipe. it is so easy and crazy good. you can't go wrong with this recipe. you can sub any fruit.

beth's peach cobbler adapted from virginia hospitality cookbook

1 bag of frozen peaches or 3 cups fresh
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp real vanilla extract
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 beaten egg
6 tbsp melted butter

8x8 or 9x9 pan
375 degrees fahrenheit

defrost peaches in a bowl with lemon juice and vanilla. i let them sit at room temp for several hours to get juicy. i would do the same if fresh. you can defrost right in your baking dish. in a separate bowl mix the flour, sugar, salt and egg. i use my hand to mix this because it it gets clumpy with dry spots. i literally squeeze it through my fingers till moist and then sprinkle all over the peach combo. it will be lumpy, it is suppose to be. pour the melted butter on top. bake for 40 minutes. keep an eye on it, it will brown up quickly. enjoy.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

queen bee for a day

so my oldest turned eleven today and all she wanted was a trip to the spa. well, i have never had a trip to the spa. well, she got her trip to the spa, me too, but only to watch. she had selected the queen bee package which included a pedicure, manicure, a honey facial and a makeup application. it was great. we both had a wonderful time. i really enjoyed watching caroline being pampered. the ladies truly made her feel special with all the attention and let's not forget the robe, slippers and fun spa snack. she felt magical and special, but i gently reminded her who the true queen been was and that after today, she was being demoted back to worker bee. sweet.
i had a manicure once, it was free at the car dealership as i got my oil change.

waiting for her honey facial, she swore it made her a nicer person.
mom, enough already.
i swear i can't put mascara on either unless my mouth is wide open.
her kelly lebrock "don't hate me because i'm beautiful" look. she didn't get it.
her nails of many colors.
my girl.

dang, i might cry.

happy birthday caroline!

eleven years has flown past since the day you were born. you are incredibly special to me and i love you dearly. happy birthday mama's girl.

Friday, August 14, 2009

death by monkey bars

so my girl lisa shares her birthday with my daughter caroline, the 16th of this month. c will be eleven and lisa will be, well, i won't go there. let's just say there is a slight age difference. anyway, they are birthday buddies. i like to give lisa a little something to wish her a great day and to start her next birthday year off right. i know she loves these little babies, so i whipped up a batch to deliver to her today, a little early, but full of love. they are monkey bars from marcel desaulniers-death by chocolate cookies book. lisa is the one who first shared this recipe with me. it is to die for, literally. mr. desaulniers, a local chef and the owner of williamsburg's famous trellis restaurant, former employer/mentor to my buddy chef george, is most noted for his dessert, death by chocolate. i have to admit, i have died a few times over it. it's killer, worth every heart palpitation. if i gotta die by something, chocolate is fine by me.

these monkey bars are crazy lovely. don't be intimidated by the recipe. it looks long and drawn out, but it all comes together quickly, very quickly actually. the cookies are incredibly rich and decadent. they are full of banana flavor accented with toasted walnuts and semi-sweet chips. holy moley! oh, and don't forget the ganache icing. it is downright sinful, dark, oh so dark. a few words of advice, keep these in the fridge and cut when cold. the icing can "melt" pretty quick. i do allow the bars to sit at room temp, maybe five minutes, before serving to awaken the banana flavor. i also serve them cut into fairly small squares with large glasses of ice cold milk. enjoy.

monkey bars from marcel desaulniers

1 cup walnut pieces
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 pound unsalted butter cut into 1 oz pieces
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 pounds medium size ripe bananas( i used four large ripe ones)
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips


1 cup heavy cream
4 tbsp granulated sugar
4 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
4 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Toast the walnuts on baking sheet in preheated oven for 7 minutes. Remove the nuts from the oven and set aside to cool at room temperature until needed.

In a sifter, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Sift onto large piece of waxed paper and set aside until needed.

Place the butter and 1 cup sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle. Mix on medium speed for 2 minutes until soft. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating on medium for 1 minute and scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Add 1 tsp vanilla extract and beat on high for 1 minute. Add the whole peeled bananas (you can break them in half but it really isn't necessary) and beat for 2 minutes on medium until fairly smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Operate mixer on low while gradually adding the sifted dry ingredients until incorporated about 1 minute. Add the chocolate chips and the toasted walnuts and mix on low to incorporate about 20 seconds. Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a rubber spatula to finish mixing the ingredients until thoroughly combined.

Pour the batter into a 9x13x2-inch nonstick baking pan. Use a rubber spatula to spread the batter in an even layer.

Bake on the center rack of the preheated oven for 40 minutes until golden brown around the edges and set in the center. Remove the pan from the oven and allow to stand at room temperature for 1 hour before making icing.

Heat the heavy cream and 4 tbsp sugar in a 1 1/2 quart saucepan over medium-high heat. When hot, stir to dissolve sugar. Bring to a boil. Place the semisweet and unsweetened chocolate in a 3 quart bowl. Pour the boiling cream over the chocolate and stir with a whisk until smooth.

Pour the icing over the cooled Monkey Bars. Use a cake spatula to spread the icing evenly over the entire surface of the bar. Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving. Keep cold in fridge.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

greek salad sans lettuce

won't keep ya but a minute, real quick like, i wanted to share our supper last night. i made a greek salad sans lettuce. trust me, you don't need no stinking lettuce, put the iceberg away. i had seen ina garten put one together the other day on tv and thought it look simple and terrific, so i whipped one up for the big j and me. the kids, they had grilled cheese. i have to say this was one expensive (remember, i am a cheapo) greek salad after buying the yellow and orange bell peppers at almost $2 each! i had to protect them like newborns. i turned my back one time, and travis had one of the peppers playing veggietales starring the larry the hothouse cucumber and pimpdaddy pepper. it was like a bad slow motion action scene as i dove for it..nooooooo! crazy.

anyway, it was delicious and it makes a ton, plenty of leftovers. also, in the fridge, i had some cold spaghetti noodles and roasted chicken, so my "mix-in" crazy husband did just that. he loved it. the greek vinaigrette is simple and nothing fancy, but has loads of flavor. i wouldn't say it the best dressing out there, but it was good enough for us. go whip of a batch of this pricey salad today. enjoy.

beth's $$ greek salad

in your favorite bowl add the following:

1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 hot house or english cucumber, seeds removed, sliced big
1 each, yellow and orange bell pepper, cut chunky(check local bank, they might offer pepper loans)
1 half small red onion, sliced thinly
about 1/2 cup calamata olives, whole ( i got mine off olive bar at the market, love these babies)
a big ole hunk of good feta, cubed

in a separate bowl mix, 1/4 red wine or balsamic vinegar(i used balsamic, my favorite and why my salad looks kinda brown), 1/2 tsp of dijon mustard, one glove of garlic finely minced, pinch of salt, coupla grinds of fresh pepper and 1 tsp of dried oregano( roll the oregano in your hands to crush and get the oils to release). whisk. now slowly stream in about 1/2 cup good olive oil, whisking the whole time. this will emulsify the dressing. taste and adjust seasonings. pour over the veggies and cheese. let set for awhile at room temp for the flavors to mellow and meld. i do this and then pop the salad in the fridge. we like ours cold. enjoy.

Monday, August 10, 2009

vanilla bean panna cotta-my first, not the prettiest, but dang tasty

so i had seen a contest on my baking addiction to win some vanilla beans. i got excited. i don't buy vanilla beans because they are beyond my budget, but i will certainly take some free ones, that is if i win. guess what? i didn't win. the donated beans for jamie's contest was from beanilla, a online store in grand rapids, michigan. i went over and started poking around, holy cow, beanilla makes its vanilla products affordable for every budget. i couldn't resist and ordered five of their tahitian beans. i am excited, again. a few days later they arrived. guess what? the folks over at beanilla sent me an additional five madagascar vanilla beans!! whoohoo!! now i am really excited. i highly recommend you pay the nice people over at beanilla a visit. they offer so many interesting vanilla products from vanilla fleur de sel to vanilla paste(gotta try that one). i used one of the tahitian beans for the panna cotta. it was so plump, moist and chocked full of bean seeds(don't know if that is the correct jargon or not to refer to the specks).

now, what to make? i scoured dozens of recipes searching for ideas. i stumbled across this panna cotta. it looked easy enough. i set about making it yesterday afternoon, before rendezvousing with my girls to see julie and julia. it came together quickly and was ready for the fam to enjoy one while i was at the movies.
i don't have any molds, so just used coffee cups. i think they worked okay.
this is the creams ( i used heavy cream and 1/2 and 1/2) warmed and infusing with the vanilla bean. yum.
not too exciting, but the gelatin blooming.
the panna cotta mixture in the cups ready for the fridge. oh yea baby.
viola! not the prettiest panna cotta, by no means, kinda resembles a poached egg, but oh sooooo good. just look at the vanilla bean seeds. they are everywhere. they did tend to gather at the bottom of the cup, which naturally became the top when inverted. it certainly didn't make for a lovely presentation, but who cares. I drizzled plain ole honey on the plate. every spoonful you could drag the panna cotta through the golden sweetness. this was a big hit in my house, everyone loved it. i have to say i think i loved it the most. i ate this particular one for breakfast.

the panna cotta is tasty, but could stand some improving. i believe using all heavy cream is the way to go for creaminess. also, i thought the panna cotta was a little too thick and glunky, too much gelatin perhaps? who knows, but i will make again. go order some beans today and make this. you won't be disappointed. enjoy.

p.s.-julie and julia was great fun!! go see it.