A girl can dream…

24 Feb
February 24, 2015

It’s 13 below this morning here in the hollow at Connecticut Country House, and I’m catching myself daydreaming about spring, and about that certain smell and feel of fresh earth cupped in my hands. And when you find that perfect quote that truly sums what’s in your heart and head, you’ve just got to share it with your friends!

“The person going out to plant wears gloves on her hands. She lifts out the first shovelful of earth and empties it to one side. It is neither wet nor hard, merely moist, easily poured. It contains air and well-made air channels and is therefore light in a way good bread sponge is light. It’s fresh, earthy fragrance rises up, familiar and provocative; and suddenly the planter knows why she wore gloves. It was for the pleasure of shucking them off and taking a handful of the fresh earth up in her bare hands, to smell its satisfying perfume and feel it against her skin. Now is the moment for an intimate renewal of kinship with the earth.” ~ Rachel Peden

You’re welcome. 

Stay warm, spring is coming!

Love, Nora

Foodie Friday: Allspice Crumb Muffins

20 Feb
February 20, 2015

One of my favorite bakers is Dorie Greenspan. About a year ago, I had discovered one of her videos on the New York Times online food section, and fell in love with her passion for baking.

So when I was digging for a autumnal/wintry-feeling muffin recipe, Dorie’s recipe for Allspice Crumb Muffins won over all my senses. The scent of these muffins baking fills the house. They look absolutely decadent, and the lightly spiced flavor makes me feel warm and cozy!

I think you’ll love them too.

Dorie’s Allspice Crumb Muffins

(Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s cookbook: Baking – From my home to yours)

For the streusel:

½ cup all-purpose flour

½ cup packed light brown sugar

½ teaspoon ground allspice

5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into bits

 

For the muffins:

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ cup sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon ground allspice

¼ teaspoon salt ¼ cup (packed) light brown sugar

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

2 large eggs ¾ cup whole milk

¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

*Optional: Grated zest of 1 lemon (Even though I’m a nut for lemon, I opted to keep these muffins pure, and left it out.)

Center a rack in the oven, and preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Fit regular-size muffin pan with paper muffin cups, or butter or spray molds.

To make the streusel:

Put the flour, brown sugar, and allspice in a small bowl and sift them through your fingers to blend. Add the bits of cold butter and toss to coat, then use your fingers to work the butter into the dry ingredients until you’ve got irregularly shaped crumbs. Set aside in the fridge. (You can make the crumb mixture up to 3 days ahead and keep them covered in the fridge.)

To make the muffins:

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, allspice, and salt. Stir in the brown sugar, making certain there are no lumps.

In another bowl, whisk the melted butter, eggs, milk, and vanilla extract together until well combined. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and, with the whisk or a rubber spatula, gently but quickly stir to blend. The batter will look lumpy. Now’s the time to stir in the lemon zest if you’re using it. Divide the batter among the muffin cups.I usually fill only 9 of the 12 cups, because I like big and plump muffins!

Sprinkle streusel over each muffin, them use your fingertips to gently press the crumbs into the batter. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the tops are golden and a thin knife inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes before carefully removing each muffin from its mold.

Store in an air-tight container. To warm up a muffin, I pop into the microwave for 22 seconds, and it tastes like it’s fresh and hot from the oven!

Enjoy with a hot cup of coffee, tea, or cocoa!

Love, Nora

 

Cozy up with your honey

13 Feb
February 13, 2015

For Valentine’s Day (or any time really), you just need a few ingredients (actually I came up with 10) to create a special little dinner for 2.

  1. Gather in a quiet place off the beaten path. My go-to quiet spot is our small, ancient parlor.
  2. Pull-up a couple of upholstered chairs instead of dining chairs. I love a pair of wing chairs for this intimate grouping.
  3. Set a small table (stationary or folding).
  4. Dig around in your linen closet and drawers for tablecloth options. I used a twin sized vintage coverlet for the base cloth, and layered it with a Royal Stewart tartan runner.
  5. Take out the good stuff: Silverware and crystal stemware.
  6. Mix up your old and new china. Floral vintage plates layer beautifully with new white plates. Footed compotes that are usually used for serving up fancy desserts, are re-purposed with simple healthy garden salads.
  7. Press cloth napkins and go one step further by using napkin rings…now’s the time to take them out!
  8. Add fresh flowers to the mix – but keep it simple. Try a small pot of primroses you can pick up at the market, and pop it into a decorative container.
  9. Make a fire if you have a fireplace and/or light candles.
  10. Turn on some favorite tunes.

Now just kick-back and enjoy!

Happy St. Valentine’s Day dear friends!

Love, Nora

 

Foodie Friday: Murph’s Potato Leek Soup

06 Feb
February 6, 2015

It’s 5 below in Newtown this morning, and I’m chilled to the bone! This kind of frigid weather calls out for one thing (other than summer!) – a bowl of piping-hot soup. Mmm.

Here’s one of my favorites…

Murph’s Potato Leek Soup

3 pounds red potatoes

2 bunches leeks

2 32-ounce chicken broth

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning

2 tablespoons powdered Ancho pepper

Half-dozen shakes of Worcestershire sauce

3 teaspoons brown sugar

¼ teaspoon liquid smoke (I do believe this is the secret to Murph’s soups!)

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

  • Scrub potatoes well under running water, cut out any eyes, otherwise leave skin on and cube.
  • Take a large cookie sheet, cover with aluminum foil and spray with oil.
  • Place cut potatoes on sheet – be sure to spread them out. Sprinkle with Old Bay, Ancho, kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Lightly spray oil potatoes on top and place in preheated oven.
  • Cook until browned well and fork tender, approximately 40 minutes.
  • As potatoes roast, cut off the bottom ¼-inch of leeks, along with the top half of the green portion. Cut these leeks into 2-inch pieces, and then cut lengthwise.
  • Place cut leeks in the sink, pull apart leeks with you fingers, and methodically wash the sand from each piece. (Be careful and don’t rush, as any sand can ruin this soup.)
  • Heat large soup pot on the stove, and add butter and olive oil. Add the cleaned leeks. Keeping the heat at a low/medium to medium, stir leeks from the bottom. In time the leeks will begin to brown and caramelize.
  • After 20-30 minutes the leeks should be caramelized nicely. Add 1 1/2 containers of chicken stock, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, and liquid smoke. Bring to a simmer.
  • When the potatoes are done, place them into the broth leek soup. Simmer altogether for about 20 minutes to meld the flavors.
  • Finally, ladle mixture into a blender until about ½ full. Blend each batch very well; you are aiming for a creamy mouth feel. You may need to add a bit of the reserved chicken broth to loosen up the mixture as you blend. Place the blended batches into a large pot. When all blended, return to original pot. You may add chicken broth, milk or cream to the soup if it is too thick. Adjust salt and pepper.

Serve with Garlic and Herbes de Provence-sprinkled homemade croutons.

Hope this helps to warm you up!

Love, Nora

Surviving a blizzard Country House style

26 Jan
January 26, 2015

What happens when a crazy busy schedule meets “The Blizzard of 2015”? I feel it’s nature’s way of saying “time-out”! (Sadly, I need a blizzard to make me stop and just be.)

So, if we’re in the same boat and need to “just be”, don’t you think it’s a matter of style? Here’s my checklist:

I’m ready to re-boot my reserves for Wednesday, when I’ll need all my strength and endurance to help dig us out of Connecticut Country House!

Be safe and stay warm!

Love, Nora

Morning muffins

18 Jan
January 18, 2015

I realize that today is not Friday (or more specifically Foodie Friday), but I found a new Blueberry Muffin recipe that I’ve been wanting to try from an old Hay Day Cookbook I bought at a library book sale this past summer. So, the other morning I whipped up a batch of these blueberry muffins (or I should say these killer blueberry muffins!).

As I pulled them out of the oven, they were just so dramatic looking, like a cross between a muffin and a scone. I quickly grabbed my camera, documented them, and posted my favorite pic onto facebook. It wasn’t long until friends realized, that they too, were smitten with these beauties.

I’m all for satisfying a hankering now and again, so here’s the recipe to whip them up as soon as you can!

Oh, and by the way, they taste good too…

Hay Day’s Blueberry Muffins (Adapted from The Hay Day Cookbook, 1986)

1 egg, beaten

¾ cup milk

3 tablespoons butter, melted

1 2/3 cups flour

¼ cup sugar

2 ½ teaspoons baking powder

Pinch of salt

1 cup fresh blueberries, washed, stemmed, and tossed with flour to coat

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Combine egg, milk, and butter. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
  • Add the egg mixture, stirring just until moistened. Gently fold in blueberries.
  • Fill paper cupped, or buttered, muffin pans and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the tops are puffed and golden.

They will keep for a few days in an airtight container. After a few days, I freshen up a muffin in my microwave for 22 seconds on high. Beautifully moist and steaming hot!

Enjoy.

Love, Nora

 

Foodie Friday: A classic bouquet garni

16 Jan
January 16, 2015

Simply tie together snips of parsley, thyme, and bay for a classic French herbal combination…perfect for infusing soups and stews with rich flavor.

Bon appétit!

Love, Nora

Foodie friday:Butternut squash ravioli with sage brown butter sauce

09 Jan
January 9, 2015

There’s something just so visually satisfying about this dish, that every time I’m on Pinterest, I simply can’t resist pinning yet another Butternut squash ravioli with sage brown butter sauce pin!

So finally, I picked one…a great version…put our own twist on it, and loved how it turned out! A perfect meal for a freezing cold day.

Enjoy!

Love, Nora

Butternut squash ravioli with sage brown butter sauce

(Adapted from a recipe by Emeril Lagasse)

9 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons chopped shallots

1 cup butternut squash puree *

salt & white pepper

½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

A pinch of nutmeg

6 large pasta sheets**

1 dozen or so fresh sage leaves

1 egg, beaten and reserved

* For butternut puree, split squash in half, scoop out seeds, place skin side down on oiled, aluminum foil covered cookie sheet. Bake in 350 degree oven 30-40 minutes until fork tender. Allow to cool, then scoop out flesh and pulse in a food processor until smooth.

Saute the shallots in a tablespoon of butter until softened, and add to the squash puree to  food processor. Season with salt and pepper, and add 3 tablespoons of cheese and the nutmeg. Pulse till mixed well and smooth. Remove mixture to separate bowl and let cool completely.

Lay a sheet of fresh pasta on a flat, clean surface (** When I don’t have time to make pasta, I buy it from a local pasta shop. The sheets are approximately 8” x 11”). Scoop heaping teaspoons of squash mixture at intervals on pasta sheet leaving adequate space around each one to press down in forming ravioli. In the spaces in between, use a brush and coat the pasta with egg wash.

Place a second pasta sheet on top, and using your fingers, carefully press around each squash mound to begin forming your ravioli. When the two are fairly well adhered, use a large knife to cut the pasta and make individual raviolis. Make sure to leave enough pasta around the edges to hold the ravioli together (you may use a fork, pressing fairly hard around the edges of each ravioli to ensure they will not open up during cooking. Repeat this process until all raviolis are complete.

In a large pan, melt the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter. Add the sage to the butter and continue to cook until the butter starts to brown. Remove from heat.

Add your raviolis to a pot of boiling salted water. Cook about 3 minutes, until pasta floats and/or is pale in color. Drain well.

Place several raviolis onto a plate and dress with sage butter sauce. Sprinkle with freshly grated Asiago cheese.

Best served hot. Mangia!

 

Window stopping

05 Jan
January 5, 2015

One of the best things I love about living in Connecticut, is that it’s right next door to New York. From our house, a drive into mid-town Manhattan takes about 90 minutes. And one of the things I love the most about the holidays in Connecticut is the frequency of jaunts into the city that are purely for pleasure.

Of all the sights and sounds of  New York City, the holiday season would not be complete without our annual stop at Bergdorf Goodman, showcasing my very favorite Fifth Avenue holiday windows. The creativity and execution of these windows is just so inspiring…just what I needed to kick-off a creative new year!

Hope you enjoy!

Love, Nora

A new year

01 Jan
January 1, 2015

“One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things.” – Henry Miller

This is my resolution for the new year. What’s yours?

Wishing you a fabulous new point of view for 2015!

Love, Nora