Note: My apologies about disappearing (again!) for a short time. My mom’s ongoing health struggles have meant I’ve been spending a lot more time helping her and offering my assistance, than having time for blogging. Posting is probably going to be spotty for the remainder of this year because of this. Thanks for understanding!

in the kitchen: an English moment

Do you ever have one of those days that you wake up and realize that you need to bake? Somehow it must be fit into the busy day because there is a recipe calling your name or maybe you’re craving something? Having recently bought several jars of various jams and preserves at Trader Joe’s, I decided I needed a good batch of (what we call on this side of the Atlantic) English muffins (click for the recipe I used). I was getting bored of toast and jam every morning for breakfast (along with my usual cup of Irish Breakfast tea), and wanted to try my hand at baking my own since I heard they weren’t too difficult at all.

This actually took two tries; the first didn’t turn out as expected. But a second batch did beautifully. The only thing I plan on doing differently next time is using half whole wheat flour (instead of all white), just to make them a bit more healthy. I also plan on cooking them on the griddle (I used a counter top griddle) over lower heat for longer; I found they weren’t as “done” in the center as I’d have liked. (Though I toast them, so it really doesn’t matter!) Very, very yummy though! I don’t think I can ever go back to the packaged kind; these are so much more satisfying and don’t have any funny aftertaste that manufactured bread products sometimes have (or maybe my taste buds are just weird).

in the kitchen: an English moment

I was nontraditional and topped mine with peanut butter! (Good protein for the pregnant lady…)

Slightly off topic (but not too much so since they make muffins in the breakfast episode–which is what started this baking frenzy), but I’ve been watching a delightful series called The Victorian Kitchen on YouTube lately. It’s a BBC production from the 1980s, and one I find utterly fascinating, having spent a good deal of reading time last year engrossed in domestic history (as well as Downton Abbey). There is a bit of gardening, lots of pretty shots of Victorian kitchen ware (how I want some of those big, earthenware bowls!), and concoctions that sometimes make me scratch my head. (Or in the case of the muffins, whet my appetite.) I highly recommend it if you find these sort of documentaries fascinating. (The videos can all be viewed here.)

October 17, 2012 · 34 lovely thoughts
posted in in the kitchen ·

06.10.10 {impromptu tea}

An interesting email popped up in my inbox recently on the topic of what I considered “pantry staples”. Those things we all keep in our kitchens because they’re either basics or things that are easy to grab and make into a meal on the fly. The gal who emailed me and I had an interesting email “chat” about the topic, which prompted me to think this would be an interesting idea to post about: what do you consider “pantry staples”? I wrote up a small list of my necessities; it pretty much just encompasses dry good items, although I threw in a few things that stay in the ‘fridge or freezer but are still things I always keep on hand!

  • Canned tomatoes: diced are my preferred, since I can puree them even more to make spaghetti sauce or use in curry.
  • Pasta: usually spaghetti noodles of some sort.
  • Rice: white or brown; I use this not only as a side dish, but in soups and even our favorite turkey “meatloaf” recipe.
  • Chicken and vegetable broth: I usually stock up on the large containers and freeze what I don’t use when I open them. Useful for everything from soups to using in place of oil when sauteing vegetables.
  • Flour: all purpose white, whole wheat, bread flour and usually there is some cake flour somewhere as well.
  • Dried and canned beans: various types of course!
  • Oatmeal: more of a breakfast thing, but I occasionally make bread and such that requires it.
  • Cornmeal: used for baking pizza, a few bread recipes, or cornbread!
  • Cooking oils: good olive, canola and sesame oils.
  • Vinegars: balsamic, good red wine, rice wine, and usually a good “basic” one like white or apple cider.
  • Soy Sauce: sometimes a couple varieties, but most often just a basic soy sauce.
  • Nuts: a few varieties of them; again great in just about anything.
  • I also have a lot of the usual pantry accouterments like cornstarch, baking powder, sugar (white and brown), etc. on hand.
  • Various condiments: chili-garlic paste, Dijon mustard, Sriracha, some sort of gourmet hot sauce, capers, wasabi. (Yes, we like our spicy foods!)
  • Dairy items: eggs, milk, yogurt (good for all sorts of things–not just breakfast!)
  • Fresh produce: garlic, basic yellow onions, carrots, green onions, limes, lemons, sweet potatoes, and usually some fruit (whatever is in season).

Although not a “pantry” item exactly, I also keep a variety of frozen vegetables in the freezer at all times. I can throw them into soups/stews, curries, stir fry or even pan saute them to use on things like burritos.

I also have a large spice cabinet. My dad is a great cook, and he really impressed on me the importance of having a hefty selection of spices. Even though most of my pantry basics aren’t terribly exciting, adding spices really can change things up. We eat a lot of curry, Italian and Asian dishes, so I tend to skew most towards spices from those regions. Plus they tend to be cheap!

That’s pretty much what I would call my basics list! The only things missing are the breakfast cereals we eat. Otherwise I find that most of the other things I have in there are items I bought for specific recipes and just sit and only are occasionally used. If I were stranded on a desert island and only could bring the basics, this is what I’d take! I usually try to do a “big” grocery shop every couple weeks, but the past month I’ve been unable to regularly except run to the store to get milk and yogurt (two other “basics” in my refrigerator!). So I’ve been having to pull things from the pantry and be creative with dressing up the basics. What do you consider your pantry basics?

May 6, 2011 · 39 lovely thoughts
posted in in the kitchen · tags:

Yes, soup. With springtime hitting for most of us in the Northern Hemisphere, soup seems like a rather odd topic to be taking up considering it is usually a hot dish. But I have to admit that although I was lukewarm on soup growing up, for the past several years I have become quite enamored with it. Not only is it a one-pot deal (throw together a salad or some hearty bread alongside and you’re set!), but there are endless variations (I’m sure I could cook soup once a week ’til I’m 80 and still not try everything!). Which considering I have finally decided that I am one of those sorts who is intensely curious about cooking and culinary things (I made tortillas from scratch last week just because I wanted to try my hand at it!), is not surprising that I have latched on to this versatile dish.

I discovered the book Love Soup by Anna Thomas via Amy’s blog. I kept checking it out of the library and renewing the maximum number of times I could get away with, until I remembered we had an Amazon giftcard from Christmas unused, and happily bought a copy for my (small–but growing!) cookbook shelf. I have already made two recipes over the past several weeks, both of which were hits.

The aspect that I really adore about this book is that it’s not only about cooking and full of soup recipes (along with a good dose of salad and a variety of breads). It’s also about cooking according to the seasons. I’ve become more attuned to seasonal cooking since the local farmer’s market became a regular visit for us. While the seasons don’t necessarily mirror the ones I experience in Florida, I’ve been delving into the summer sections with great gusto and enjoying the tastes of fresh and light warm-weather veggies and herbs. One of the dishes I made, Butter Bean and Summer Vegetable Soup, was amazingly delicious and satisfying with a chunk of bread alongside. A bonus was that the amounts these recipes make would be great for larger families or dinner parties, but I find this has been a lifesaver for me. I’ve been putting up leftover soup in the freezer like it’s going out of style, and it makes things easy on nights I don’t feel like (or have time to) cook a meal from start to finish. Beats calling out for Chinese!

While I wouldn’t call many of these recipes “easy” (the ones I’ve made do tend to be a bit time intensive just from a prep-work standpoint), the results are worth the effort. I dare say with the abundance of seasonal soup recipes in Love Soup, this one will become a cookbook I refer to regularly.

Do you have a favorite warm-weather soup? I know this summer I”d love to try a cold soup and am on the hunt for a delicious recipe (especially since SH is somewhat skeptical on the idea of cold soup).

April 22, 2011 · 24 lovely thoughts
posted in books,in the kitchen · tags: , ,

If you follow Elegant Musings on Facebook, you probably saw these cupcakes on Wednesday, when I posted them. Wednesday was Sailor Husband’s birthday, which meant that cake of some sort was a must! I had a few questions about the recipe for these, so I thought I’d do a post today on the topic…

One of his favorite cakes is rum cake (that and pineapple upside-down cake), and this is the second year I’ve made these using this recipe. Last year I made a full cake, but cupcakes seemed like a better (and more cute!) option this year. I adjusted the recipes cooking time to about 26 minutes for the average-sized cupcakes. This recipe is dead simple and is one that just uses a boxed cake mix with additional mix-ins. The only warning is that it makes a lot of batter; last year when I used the regular cake pans I had extra! This year I was prepared and just used my mini cake tins to bake the excess and stick them in the freezer for later.

The cupcakes were glazed according to the recipe, but I also added a basic buttercream dollop atop. I don’t know about you, but I love buttercream (though it doesn’t love me back. *sigh*), and nothing screams birthday quite like that rich icing. I made a half recipe and added blue coloring (I usually use paste or gel colors, but couldn’t find mine when I was making the icing, so I resorted to the cheapie liquid stuff) to imitate “water”. Why? Did you see the shark toppers*? I was browsing Bake It Pretty late last year and spotted these. SH happened to be looking over my shoulder and requested them for his birthday. hehe! For the dollops, I used this icing tip and also added some sanding sugar (all from Bake It Pretty).

My birthday is in less than a month and I’m trying to decide if I even want to make a cake (or cupcakes!) for myself. For some reason I’ve been craving a chocolate cake, which is usually not my favorite. Or maybe I’ll revert to my childhood and make a vanilla cake with rainbow sprinkles inside? (Amy posted about homemade boxed cake last year, and I’ve been itching to try it!) What is your favorite flavor of cake?

*Unfortunately these shark toppers seem to no longer be available!

April 15, 2011 · 34 lovely thoughts
posted in in the kitchen · tags: , ,

I have to admit, I feel a bit awkward posting about foods that are still out-of-season for most of you. But really–I can’t help that Florida obviously doesn’t like to conform to “seasons” the way I’m accustomed to! lol. We are currently in the midst of the abundance of strawberry season here in Florida. Driving just a bit out of town into the farmland that surrounds us, we’ve been eagerly watching as the endless fields of strawberry plants show more and more ripened berries each week. Last weekend I bought our first 2-pound box of the year, and it didn’t take long for us to decimate at least a pound of those. (Mostly me… I can’t help snacking on them!)

A recent trip to Ikea where I found a set of popsicle molds meant that I had another use for the remaining strawberries (especially since Sailor Husband is always on the lookout for new dessert-things to have in the house). I’ve made this recipe both with frozen strawberries (leftover from my smoothie-making binge earlier this year) and now the fresh ones. Have to say, the fresh definitely beat out frozen! They are very tasty, even though I skipped the Greek-style yogurt and just used what I had in the house (regular, vanilla-flavored yogurt).

Of course, this has started all sorts of ideas rolling around in my head for more frozen, warm-weather treats! All the flavor combinations we could try… I’m especially keen to try and replicate the melon and sea salt popsicle I get every time we go to the farmer’s market (sadly, the vendor doesn’t have a storefront. Which might be a good thing because I’d probably end up eating more popsicles than is healthy for a person!). So far I haven’t found anything recipe-wise online, but I’m thinking I’ll just wing it once honeydew melons are in season.

Have you made homemade popsicles before? What is your favorite flavor of popsicle–anything “unusual”?

March 18, 2011 · 41 lovely thoughts
posted in in the kitchen · tags: , , ,