Happy Officially Sanctioned Cake Day!

© cooking in my heels

© cooking in my heels

Think about it. There’s really only two days in a person’s life where it’s practically mandated that you eat cake. But only one of those is applicable to everyone. It’s really quite a democratic cake consuming situation. I mean, not everyone has had a wedding, but there isn’t one of you reading this who hasn’t had a birthday. Therefore, ipso facto, your birthday is an officially sanctioned (by the governing board of these types of things), CAKE DAY!

There are certain rules and regulations when it comes to your cake day. When the calendar rolls around to your turn, the laws of physics, thermodynamics, and sensible nutrition simply do not exist. In other words, your consumption of sanctioned confection has no calories. Seriously, not a single one. It’s like a miracle. Go ahead, look it up. And since there are no calories, feel free to consume slabs of the stuff for whatever meal you happen to be bellied up for. Cake for breakfast? SURE! Lunch? Well, yes. Dinner? Indeed. It’s the one day of year you are in the zone, so go for it.

You’re thinking “sure, that’s all just dandy Karin, but what if I wasn’t in a cake-accessible zone on my natal day?” No problem. A little-known loophole of the cake statute allows one postponement if for any reason you were unable to consume your officially sanctioned slab of butter/sugar/flour goodness on your birthday. Of course, significant paperwork must be filed, so you may as well eat while the eating is good. After all, it IS your birthday…

As it happens, today is MY cake day. And to that end…

 Dark Chocolate Mini Cakes with Chocolate Port Wine Glaze

Makes four 3″ Mini Cakes. These are very rich, so I often serve half per guest. (But if it happens to be MY birthday…oh yeah, I’m in for the whole thing)DSC07765

For the cake:

  • 1/2 cup water (room temp)
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, melted
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 TSP vanilla
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 TSP baking soda
  • 1/2 TSP salt
  • 1 tsp instant espresso powder
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 TBSP cups packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 TBSP granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs

For the filling:
(Here I used an almond based filling, but apricot, raspberry or cherry jam work well too)

  • 5 TBSP Frangipane
  • 1 TBSP warm cream
  • 1 ounce melted bittersweet chocolate

For the Chocolate Port Glaze

  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 ½ TBSP butter, cut into small pieces
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp instant espresso powder
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar
  • ¼ cup your Port wine (you could substitute a fruity red wine if you have no port)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray four 1-cup ramekins with cooking spray and line the bottom with a 3″ circle of parchment. Spray parchment.

In a mixer, cream the butter with the two sugars until fluffy. Add in the melted chocolate and mix until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time until mixed. Don’t worry if it looks a little curdled. Mix together the warm water, milk and vanilla in a measuring cup and set aside.

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, salt, espresso powder and baking soda together. To the butter/sugar mixture, beat in flour/cocoa and water/milk mixtures alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture.

Fill each prepared ramekin with 1/2 cup of the batter (you will have about 1 cup of extra batter once you are done. It freezes well so save for cupcakes or another two mini-cakes at another time). Place the ramekins on a baking sheet and bake until a tester comes out clean about 20 to 24 minutes total, rotating pan halfway through the baking time. Cool cakes in dishes 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edge, invert onto the rack and cool completely.

While the cakes are cooking, make the filling and glaze:

To 5 TBSP frangipane, mix in 1 ounce melted chocolate and 1 TBSP warmed heavy cream. Set aside until the cakes are completely cool.

For the glaze: Melt the chocolate, butter, salt and espresso powder together in a bowl over a double boiler and whisk together until smooth. In a separate pan, bring the port to a boil. Once the chocolate mixture is completely melted, add in the powdered sugar and mix until completely combined. (It will get thicker but don’t worry ). Add in the hot wine and mix until fully combined and spreadable.

To assemble:

With a serrated knife, trim any domed top off the cakes so it is flat and even. Flip the cakes over so the bottom is now the top. Slice the cakes in half along the equator making two layers. Spread 1/4 of the frangipane mixture over the bottom layer and replace the top. Pour 1/4 of the glaze on the top of the cake, and with a spatula or butter knife, spread over the top so it begins to drip down the sides. Use spatula to spread the glaze over the sides, covering the cakes completely. Chill in the fridge for 30-45 minutes until the glaze is set.

To serve:  These are much better at room temperature than right out of the fridge (although, they are pretty freakin’ good then too.) Stick a candle in it, light ‘er up, sing “Happy Birthday to ME” and fully enjoy your officially sanctioned cake day!

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), and check out what else is going on in my kitchen at cookinginmyheels.com Thanks!  :-)

Where the day takes you…

DSC07748I’ve had a bit more time on my hands lately, so after I take care of the daily necessities, I’ve been trying to practice going where the day takes me. Sounds swell, right? It can be, if you are able to do it. That’s where my problem lay. While the whole om-shanty-shanty-crunchy-granola-live-in-the-moment groove is all around me out here, actually doing it takes a true effort. It’s not because I’m still in Gotham gal mode, that go Go GO switch constantly on. I’ve been fairly successful turning that thing off since moving westward. And it’s not because I’ve a ton of other things to do. Oh I have things, in fact I’m staring at a list of them right now. And now I’m ignoring it.

So that just leaves, well, the control thing. The assertion many of us have that without oneself controlling the universe it would spin chaotically out of kilter, and then all hell would certainly shake loose. Oh yeah…that. You’d think I’d have learned by now that, barring the sudden manifestation of some fate-changing super power, I really don’t control much and things just happen. And in light of yet another recent reminder, to not leap at the chance for random fun is just stupid.

As it happens, I was presented with two leap-worthy experiences lately, so instead of over thinking them, I decided to leap. Of course you know what happened. A distinct lack of awkward exchanges, Florida retirement condo pitches, or chloroform, duct tape and hefty bags (hey, I’ve seen those Lifetime movies… it could happen.)  Nope, none of that, nor regrets that I didn’t get to that list. Just fun. Fun, new friends, and if I’m lucky, more opportunities to see where the day takes me.

2014-08-04 13.52.24

Originally, this recipe was going to include huckleberries, but that day went in a different, and far more interesting direction. So instead, it features the damson plums that I collected on my morning hike, and could easily be adapted to other stone fruit or berries.

Inspired by a day of random acts of fun – Plum Cake with Lime.

Serves 8-10

For the cake:

  • 3/4 cup almond meal (or finely ground almonds)
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 1/4 cup corn meal (medium to fine ground, not stone ground)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 stick (4 oz.) butter, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 TBSP sugar
  • Zest and Juice of a large lime (a little less than 1/4 cup juice)

For the fruit:

  • A heaping cup of chopped damson plums, other stone fruit, or berries
  • 2-3 TBSP sugar (depending upon the sweetness of the fruit)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350F. Cut a circle of parchment the size of the bottom of a 9″ cake pan or springform pan. Line the pan with the parchment, then spray paper and sides of pan with cooking spray. Set aside.

2014-08-04 14.23.12In a small bowl, toss the chopped plums (quarters is fine, doesn’t have to be finely chopped) with 2-3 TBSP of sugar and the cinnamon. Set aside for at least 20 minutes.

Whisk together the flours, baking soda and powder, salt and lime zest into a medium bowl. In another bowl, beat the eggs, then whisk in the sugar and lime juice. Add to the bowl with the dry ingredients. Pour over the melted butter and mix together until incorporated.

Pour batter into prepared pan. top with the plums and their accumulated juices. You don’t have to create a pattern, random is kind of the point of all of this, right?  Bake 30-40 minutes until a tester in center comes out clean. Let cool completely before removing from pan.

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), and check out what else is going on in my kitchen at cookinginmyheels.com Thanks!  :-)

Goodbye, to Pie…

DSC03647Well, not forever. Never forever. Just for now. To be completely crustless would be too cruel. That said, it’s definitely time to create a different menu, grateful of what was learned, and ready to put new knowledge to use in a less crusty environment.  Change, as they say, is good. Fitting too, considering this past week I celebrated the start of my second year of this westward exploration, and today is the third anniversary of cooking in my heels.  So like a ladle-bearing Lewis & Clark or saucepan-toting Sacagawea, I embark upon chapter two (and year four), eager and ready to climb new culinary cliffs and forge gastronomic gorges. Oy that was a mouthful…

All the corny historical references aside, since I’m no longer doing the professional pie thing, I thought I’d leave the dough rolling with a bang. Not one, but TWO of my favorite constructs of crust and filling. Neither of these recipes are mine, and that’s OK because I’ve learned over many years and many pies, you just don’t mess with perfection.  The first, a Twice-Baked Sour Cherry Pie, I discovered in the NY Times a few years ago, and first tried as the birthday “cake” for my mom (a cherry pie freak if ever there was one.) I love that instead of the usual lattice crust, you cut out circles or hearts or whatever floats your boat, and use that to create the top.

The second recipe is a Spiced Peach Pie with Lattice Crust I brought to a friend’s rooftop fireworks viewing Fourth of July bash in Chelsea several years ago. Here’s a tip for making the often frustrating lattice crust. Cut the strips out, and weave them on a piece of wax paper, pressing wherever crust meets crust. Pop the crust in the freezer just until it gets firm, then place the whole lattice on top of the pie. Let thaw a little, trim and crimp as usual. A whole lot less messy and frustrating!

For both of these recipes, I’ve included the crust they suggest, however when I make these, I use my own all-butter Pate Brisee recipe instead.

Oh, and what will I be doing instead of baking pies? Whatever it is, I’m sure it will be an interesting adventure, hopefully tasty, and you are welcome to come along… ;-)

Twice-Baked Sour Cherry Pie (NYT, June 18, 2010)

  • 1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, more for rolling out dough
  • 3/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 15 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons instant tapioca
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 pounds sour cherries (about 6 cups), rinsed and pitted
  • 1 tablespoon kirsch or brandy
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • Demerara sugar, for sprinkling.

To make dough: in bowl of a food processor pulse together flour and salt just to combine. Add butter and pulse until chickpea-size pieces form. Add 3 to 6 tablespoons ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse until mixture just comes together. Separate dough into 2 disks, one using 2/3 dough, the other using the remaining. Wrap disks in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour (and up to 3 days) before rolling out and baking.

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Place larger dough disk on a lightly floured surface and roll into a 12-inch circle, about 3/8-inch thick. Transfer to a 9-inch pie plate. Line dough with foil and weigh it down with pie weights. Bake until crust is light golden brown, about 30 minutes.

While pie crust is baking, prepare filling. In bowl of a food processor, combine sugar, tapioca and cinnamon (use more tapioca if you prefer a thicker, more solid filling, and less if you like a looser, juicier filling). Run the motor until tapioca is finely ground. Place cherries in a bowl and add sugar and tapioca mixture. Drizzle in kirsch or brandy and toss gently to combine.

When pie crust is ready, transfer it to a wire rack to cool slightly and reduce heat to 375 degrees. Remove foil and weights. Scrape cherry filling into pie crust.

Place smaller disk of dough on a lightly floured surface and roll it 3/8-inch thick. Use a round cookie cutter (or several round cookie cutters of different sizes) to cut out circles of dough. Arrange circles on top of cherry filling in a pattern of your choice.

Brush top crust with cream and sprinkle generously with Demerara sugar. Bake until crust is dark golden brown and filling begins to bubble, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Transfer pie to a wire rack to cool for at least 2 hours, allowing filling to set before serving.

Yield: 8 servings.

Spiced Peach Pie with Lattice Crust (Bon Appetit, July 2000)

Crust

  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
  • 4 tablespoons (or more) ice water

Filling

  • 2/3 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 pounds medium peaches

For crust:
Whisk first 5 ingredients in medium bowl to blend. Add butter and shortening and rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles very coarse meal. Mix in 4 tablespoons ice water. Mix in more water by tablespoonfuls if dough is dry, tossing until moist clumps form. Gather dough into ball. Divide dough into 2 pieces, 1 slightly larger than the other. Flatten into disks; wrap and chill at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.

For filling:
Mix sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice and spices in large bowl. Bring medium saucepan of water to boil. Drop in 3 peaches at a time; blanch 1 minute. Transfer peaches to bowl of cold water. Using small sharp knife, peel 1 peach. Cut peach in half; discard pit and slice thinly. Stir peach slices into sugar mixture. Repeat with remaining peaches. Let filling stand until juices form, at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Roll out larger dough disk on lightly floured surface to 13- to 14-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch-diameter deep-dish pie dish. Roll out smaller dough disk on lightly floured surface to 11-inch round. Using ruler as aid, cut dough into 1/2-inch-wide strips.

Spoon filling into dough-lined dish. Arrange some of dough strips atop pie, spacing 3/4 inch apart. Form lattice by arranging more dough strips at right angle to first strips, spacing 3/4 inch apart. Trim overhang of bottom crust and lattice strips to 3/4 inch. Fold under and crimp edge decoratively.

Bake pie until crust is golden and filling bubbles thickly, covering edge of crust with foil if browning too quickly, about 1 hour 20 minutes. Cool pie to room temperature before serving.

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), and check out what else is going on in my kitchen at cookinginmyheels.com Thanks!  :-)

What a long, strange trip it’s been…

A year ago this evening I was sitting in a hotel room in Boise Idaho, knowing that by the end of the following day, I’d be in my new home. The 365 days that followed were filled with uncertainty and fear, joy and melancholy, laughter, more than a few tears, new friends, new jobs, and the biggest challenge of my life.  And though I’m still uncertain, challenged, and occasionally melancholy and scared, I’m also optimistic. And grateful for the lovely friendships and beautiful sights along the way.

So before I embark on the next year and the new chapters in my odyssey, I wanted to stop and say thanks. Here’s to all of you who’ve made this year one worth remembering, and to all both west and east who’ve joined me on this long, strange and hopeful trip I’m on.  I raise my glass of Oregon wine and clink to all of you and to the start of my next page. You’re all welcome to come along for the ride.

photo 3

 

If you’d like to read about my westward journey, here’s some posts from last year’s grand ride:

 

 

The Crostata Chronicles

We now return to our continuing story of crostata creation….

I’ve been focusing on these ridiculously easy and adaptable morsels of buttery crust wonderfulness a lot lately, and I offer up no apologies. Nope, not a one. Let’s face it, there isn’t much better in this world than a swell piece of pie. Maybe chocolate….and bacon…and wine… OK, so there’s a lot of good stuff out there, but pie of any shape and in any language is still pretty high up on the swell meter. So, in our continuing saga of crostata (nee galette, nee pie) variations, I offer up the following three, which are sitting on my counter right now just waiting for us to dig in.

[For specific bake times, dough and frangipane recipes, check out last week's post]

photo 3Peach, Blueberry Frangipane: To last week’s blueberry frangipane variation, instead of all blueberries, do just a border, and then a circle of thin cut ripe peach in the center. Sprinkle the peach slices with about a teaspoon of sugar. Fold edges over, brush with cream, a sprinkle of sugar and bake.

 

photo 5Cherry Rhubarb: Instead of all rhubarb slices, do a border of pitted and halved black cherries, on a bed of ground almonds with a 1/2 teaspoon of tapioca and some strawberry rhubarb jam (or strawberry jam if that’s all you have). Generously sprinkle fruit with turbinado sugar, fold,

photo 4Cherry, Goat Cheese and Herbed Walnut: I use semolina crust for this one. Chop some walnuts together with a mix of herbs (I used basil, flat leaf parsley, and thyme). Put a layer of herbed nuts on the crust, then sprinkle some goat cheese on top. Add a layer of pitted halved cherries and top with some more herbed chopped walnuts. Fold edges, brush with egg wash, sprinkle a little salt and pepper on the crust, and bake.

My mom has been visiting me in OR for the past week, and her one request in the “what to do while visiting in OR” was to learn how to make pate brisee. The culinary karmic circle has gone a full 360. She took this video on how to fold the crust. The Ed Sullivanesque plate-spinning music is optional…

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), and check out what else is going on in my kitchen at cookinginmyheels.com Thanks! :-)

 

James has one, now I have one too…

©cookinginmyheels.com

©cookinginmyheels.com

Hi there. Remember me? Cooking. Heels. Oh yeah…her. It’s been a while, but I have a really good reason.  When I started this whole adventure in food and fabulous footwear, it was to find something positive in an otherwise crappy time. It was fun, frivolous, and gave me a reason to talk about, think about and play with food — which was something I did anyway, but now I had a somewhat legitimate reason. Life continued on, so did the blog at a weekly pace, and all was running in greased grooves. Then I decided to actually try to make money thinking about, talking about and playing with food. And whaddya know, it seems that living is starting to happen, causing my weekly blogging to sit on back burner, turned down to a once or twice a month simmer. Now about that step in the “making a living” direction. It happened about two weeks ago, precipitating an even BIGGER step yesterday (you see a pattern here…) All of which brings me to Bond…James Bond.

What could 007 and I possibly have in common, other than a penchant for martinis?James had a license to do what he does, and now so do I. So what if his was for killing bad guys. A license is a license, right? Mine, l assure you, is not for anything as sinister. What it does is allow me to do what I now realize is the work I was born to. As of two weeks ago, that kitchen where the cooking and heels-wearing occurs is fully licensed, meaning I can now make products for sale to the public. All official-like, with a bureaucratic-looking paper certificate, check payable to the Oregon Department of Agriculture, and everything. It seems I am now, a brand. Me, Famous Amos, and Sara Lee, all in the same club! Leading me to the second big step in my quest for total yummy stuff world domination (cue the “dah dah DAAAAH” music). As of yesterday, cooking in my heels products are available in places other than the doggy bag I hand you at the end of a dinner party, or send in lieu of an actual birthday present.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit there’s a bit of terror in my heels about all of this. Perhaps terror isn’t the right word. Respectful of the leap off the cliff I’m about to make seems more like it. Sort of like peering over the edge of the ledge right before you bungee jump. Then today, as I was in a local gallery with my visiting mom, the woman behind the counter asked what cooking in my heels was (mom was sporting a swell new CIMH sweatshirt). She had seen it recently and was curious. Turns out she was a customer in the market I just delivered to yesterday. Suddenly, that leap off the cliff doesn’t seem so scary anymore…

©cookinginmyheels.com

©cookinginmyheels.com

Between working 40+ hours at the hotel (and creating a menu for a soon-to-open new cafe therein…more on that next blog), licensing my kitchen, promoting my brand, and producing product, I’ve gotten pretty good at adapting master recipes to many (MANY) variations. Which is actually pretty fun to do. Take for example, the crostata. I’ve been focusing a lot on them lately at the hotel (in their schmancy french incarnation, la galette), because if you have a great dough, the incarnations in free-form tart heaven are infinite. I’ve featured both my pate brisee and semolina crusts here before – they are my go-to dough recipes and have never failed to be crispy and versatile.  Here’s how I’ve played with dough of late, in fabulous sweet and savory ways.

Sweet Crostatas (with Pate Brisee)

  • Blueberry Frangipane:  Roll out some pate brisee into a circle (doesn’t have to be precise – this is a rustic tart). The size of the circle and amounts are up to you – a 6″ circle makes a nice tart for two, 9-10″ can easily make 6 servings.  Place the dough on parchment, and the parchment on a cookie sheet. Spread frangipane in a thin layer over the bottom of the tart, leaving about an inch border. Pile a layer of fresh blueberries on top on the frangipane, covering it. Sprinkle over a teaspoon or two of almond/tapioca mix (1/4 cup almonds and 1 TBSP tapioca, ground fine in a food processor). Top with a teaspoon or two of sugar (I love using vanilla sugar for this if I have it) and a few chopped almonds. Fold the crust border over and pinch where crust meets crust. You’ll have what is basically a pentagon-shaped pastry when your are done, or 5 edges. 2014-06-14 12.10.56Brush the crust lightly with cream, half and half or milk, sprinkle lightly with sugar and bake at 400 °F for about 20-25 minutes. The key to this crust is color, so you are looking for a nice medium golden. Don’t be tempted to pull it out when it’s pale. Color means crisp when it comes to crust.
  • Strawberry Rhubarb: This is so basic and simple it’s downright silly. Use strawberry rhubarbcompote as a base –a cup strawberries, a cup chopped rhubarb, up to a 1/2 cup sugar depending on how sweet you like, 1 tsp lemon zest, a pinch salt, cook until it’s thick and had a consistency like jam. If you don’t have the time or inclination, strawberry jam will do in a pinch. Thinly slice fresh rhubarb stalk (about 1/8″ thick), and arrange in a circle over thecompote, leaving about an inch border of dough.
    ©cookinginmyheels.com

    ©cookinginmyheels.com

    Sprinkle turbinado sugar (sugar in the raw) generously over the rhubarb. Bake as directed in the blueberry crostata.

  • Ginger Peach: Here’s the thing about frangipane. It picks up other flavors beautifully. Orange or lemon zest, ginger, even cocoa powder added into a bit of frangipane creates a brand new base to play with. To 1/4 cup frangipane add 1 tsp grated fresh ginger. Use that as a base, slice fresh peaches thinly and arrange on top. Top peaches with a sprinkle of sugar (more or less, depending on ripeness of fruit), and some chopped almonds if you like. Fold, brush, sprinkle and bake as above.

Savory Crostatas (with Semolina Crust)

©cookinginmyheels.com

©cookinginmyheels.com

When it comes to a savory tart, I love the little bit of texture, crunch and color the semolina crust provides. The technique is the same as sweet – a base of flavor, a fruit on top, and cheese instead of sugar. Brush the crust with an egg wash and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper or grated parmesan, bake. Here’s a few examples:

  • A base of herbed ricotta (whole milk ricotta, your preference of chopped herbs, a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper), strips of prociutto, and thinly sliced apples on top.
  • A base of thinly sliced gouda, topped with caramelized onions, diced and sautéed pancetta, and thinly sliced red pear.
  • A base of herbed ricotta, garlic and olive oil sautéed spinach, toasted pine nuts, shaved parmesan and plumped golden raisins.

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), and check out what else is going on in my kitchen at cookinginmyheels.com Thanks! :-)

 

 

Batting Practice

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©cookinginmyheels.com

All good players know the importance of taking batting practice before a game. It’s a chance to limber up and shift gears, get a few whiffs out of their system, and start hitting dingers that hopefully will end the game in a win. Two weeks ago I set my last 3AM alarm, thus ending the first act of my evolving new career in the culinary arts. Act two began a few days later when I tied on a new apron as chef of a small hotel in downtown Hood River. And during intermission I took batting practice. Armed with cookbooks, recipe files, and the various whosis and whatsis of internet gastronomical search engines open on every computer, I perused, bemused, researched and ultimately broke out the whisks and bowls for a few practice swings.

Switching from production baking to filling far fewer bellies with recipes of my own takes physical downshifting and mental up shifting. Recipes go back to cups or ounces instead of pounds, butter is now measured again in sticks, not cases, and the standard kitchen oven feels a lot like the Easy-Bake variety, especially when you turned on one at 3:30 AM the size of a large phone booth. In exchange I face the realization that everything on the menu will be a product of my hands and the information that lives in the culinary file cabinets of my brain. While I’m thrilled at the opportunities that lay ahead, until now the product of my own oven was mostly served to people who knew and loved me. They had to be nice, or they wouldn’t be fed. Well, they would, but serious sucking up would be necessary. Now I’d be cooking for relative strangers, at least until I fed them. And they’d be paying for it too. A wave of something akin to major excitement and minor terror washed over me at the thought. I was heading to the Bigs. Well, maybe not the Bigs, but certainly the Biggers in regards to my role in it. So I did a little practicing, if for nothing else than to make me a little more confident before charging into the breach. Did I embark upon some lavish 14-ingredient recipe? Well, no. After all, this is a small hotel, not the Plaza, and the guests just want a nice farm to table breakfast. So I kept it relatively simple, and really tasty. And hopefully as I step up to the plate in this new ball yard, I’ll hit more than a few out of the park. :-)

I’ve always thought it was kind of fun to learn how to make something you’d normally buy in the supermarket. Not only is it most often cheaper, you know exactly what the ingredients are. And if you are like me in the kitchen and often dive into a new recipe at a moments notice, knowing how to make a few special things saves you a trip to the market after you’ve just hunkered down in your pjs. The other day batting practice began after several minutes of fruitless surfing around remote. I needed a little kitchen distraction. So I opened the repository of inspiration…my fridge. Nothing all that fascinating jumped out, but then I saw them in the door. Heavy cream and buttermilk. Ok you’re thinking…that’s what got her excited? Well, yes, when you know that with the two you can make a heavenly substance called crème fraiche. Not quite sour cream, nor whipped cream, crème fraiche is a slightly tangy pillow of love when it’s paired with pies, tarts, fresh fruit, or even fish. And it’s ridiculously easy to make.

Homemade Crème Fraiche

Makes one cup

This version is thinner than some (which I like) and lasts over a week in the refrigerator.

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 TBSP buttermilk

Mix the two ingredients in a bowl, cover with cling film and let sit on the counter overnight (or at least 8 hours and up to 24). Once it has sat a while, chill for at least 4 hours. It will continue to thicken in the fridge. If you want a little thicker version, you could heat the mixture to just tepid (not more than 85 degrees) before covering and leaving out.

Uses for the wonderful stuff

Alongside any of these: 2014-05-07 17.41.38

Atop a filet of Salmon:

Per 4-6 ounce filet (about 1” thick) – Preheat oven to 425°F and line a rimmed baking sheet with oiled or buttered foil. Place filets skin-side down, season liberally with salt and pepper. Mix in ½ tsp of lemon zest or minced herb (dill is nice with salmon, so is tarragon or basil) into 1-2 tablespoons crème fraiche. Spread over filet, and bake for 12-14 minutes. The fish is done when all but the center is opaque at the thickest part.

Atop Balsamic Marinated Strawberries or Peaches

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©cookinginmyheels.com

Hull and quarter ½ cup of strawberries or cut a ripe peach into pieces a little larger than bite-sized. Sprinkle over 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp balsamic vinegar and a tiny pinch black pepper. Let sit at room temperature 30 minutes or longer. Drizzle crème fraiche over the fruit.

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Show Us Your Crust

I had a job interview last week. It’s been a while since I’ve had a “sit down and tell us about yourself” chat, but since I spent a great deal of time back on the other coast doing just that, I still had muscle memory for the usual prep involved. So after coordinating the various coordinates, I asked if there was anything they wanted me to bring. Here I usually expect either “no, nothing” or “could you bring a copy of your resume”. Instead I got “could you show us your crust?”

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©cookinginmyheels.com

These are the times I know I made the right decision in picking up heels and pans and schlepping them 3000 miles west. Over the past, oh, 30 years of telling someone about myself, interviewers have asked me to draft new marketing pitches, submit writing samples, design lesson plans, teach a new concept, submit a 5-year strategic plan, and come up with new strategies for raising money. This, after describing my worst quality, my perfect boss, a challenge I’ve overcome, one I hadn’t, and once, having to answer what I would do if all of my staff met an untimely demise during working hours — (seriously…I wonder what the past history of that place was…) You can imagine my surprise, followed quickly by glee at last week’s request. A crust?! Hell YES I can do that! How about two? One savory, one sweet. You want all butter? Or a cookie crust? Gluten free, perhaps?

Of course, this spot-on in my wheelhouse request didn’t mean I wasn’t up at 3AM (on a day I didn’t actually have to be), thinking about prepping for my interview. But the thoughts interrupting my sleep were less “oh crap…I can’t believe I have to jump through these freakin hoops”, and more “hmm…if I do the semolina crust with a savory filling, I could use that pancetta I have…” Yup, this was definitely my kind of interview. No suit required, heels affixed to the logo graphic on my t-shirt rather than my feet, and a warm resume packed neatly in bakery box briefcase. Best of all, if things didn’t go well, at least I’d have something for lunch.

I think from now on I’ll bring a home-baked crust to all interviews, and I recommend you do the same.  And for this week’s recipes? Crust of course. You’ve seen these on the blog before – they are my go-to recipes. This time around I’ve made them into a Ricotta, Apple, Onion & Pancetta Crostata with Semolina Crust, and an Apple, Almond & Frangipane Crostata with Pate Brisee. I suggest you bring them to your next interview. I can’t promise you’ll get the job, but I can promise they’ll remember you fondly.

These crusts can adapt to savory or sweet fillings and freeze well. The fillings are just two suggestions. Feel free to adapt these at will – countless creative opportunities await you too!

Ricotta, Apple, Onion & Pancetta Crostata

This recipe makes 2 approximately 6-7” crostata or 4 servings

  • 1 recipe of Semolina Crust Doughrolled out into two approximately 8″ circles, then wrapped and chilled in refrigerator
  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 medium onion, cut in quarters and thinly sliced
  • 2 ounces pancetta, diced
  • 1 granny smith apple, diced
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 tsp olive oil, divided
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • A pinch of course sea salt like malden for crust

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Heat ½ the oil in a small pan over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and sauté until lightly browned. Remove to a paper towel to drain. If the pan is dry, add the remaining teaspoon oil, turn heat down to medium low and add the sliced onion, thyme and a pinch of salt. Sauté slowly until onions are soft and lightly caramelized. Set onions aside.

Take one egg yolk and put in a separate dish with a tablespoon water and mix to make an egg wash. Add the remaining yolk to the ricotta, along with 1/2 tsp salt and ¼ tsp pepper. Mix in the diced apple. Take the two crusts out of the refrigerator and put on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Spread half the ricotta mixture over one rolled out crust, leaving about an inch around the edges so you can fold over the crust. Repeat with the other crust. Mix the pancetta into the onions, then divide and spread over the ricotta on each crust.

Fold the inch of crust at the edges over the filling, gently pressing a little where the dough overlaps. Brush the dough with the egg wash, and lightly sprinkle with coarse salt.

Bake about 15-18 minutes, turning pan halfway, until the crust is golden brown.

Apple, Almond & Frangipane Crostata

This is enough for two 6-7”crostatas, or 4-6 servings

  • 1 recipe of Pate Brisee, rolled out into two approximately 8″ circles, then wrapped and chilled in refrigerator
  • 1/2 cup almonds
  • 1 ½ tsp flour
  • 3 TBSP sugar
  • 1 TBSP softened butter
  • ¼ tsp almond extract
  • 1 egg white
  • A pinch salt
  • 1 medium-tart apple, peeled, cored, cut in half from stem to bottom, and sliced lengthwise into about 1/8th inch slices
  • Turbinado sugar (sugar in the raw) for sprinkling on crust
  • 1 egg yolk + 1 TBSP water for egg wash
  • 1 tsp orange zest

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Add the almonds to the bowl of a processor and process a minute to chop. Remove a heaping tablespoon of the chopped nuts and reserve to sprinkle over the tart. Add the sugar to the almonds in the processor; pulse until the mixture is relatively fine. Add the remaining ingredients and process to a smooth paste. Set aside. (If you are going to assemble the crostatas later, cover and keep the frangipane in the refrigerator. You’ll want to take it out and let it come to room temperature before using so it spreads easily.)

Remove the crusts from the fridge and lay out on a parchment lined baking sheet. Spread half of the frangipane on one crust, leaving an inch border. Repeat with the other crust. Sprinkle half the orange zest over the frangipane. Lay out the apple slices in an overlapping circle over the filling and orange zest. Sprinkle over the reserved chopped almonds. Fold the edges of the crust over the apple slices, pressing gently where it overlaps. Brush the crusts with the egg wash, and sprinkle over the turbinado sugar. Bake 15-18 minutes or until the filling is bubbly and puffed a little and the crust is golden brown. Let cool 15 minutes before eating. 

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button.) And check out what else is going on in my kitchen at cookinginmyheels.com Thanks! :-)

“Hobby Ladies”

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©cookinginmyheels.com

The other day I was speaking with a woman about a possible collaborative opportunity for Cooking in My Heels. Our chat went pretty well at the start — she, Cordon Bleu-trained in Paris; me, cook when I’m blue trained in Queens. Over the course of conversation I asked whom else she’d spoken with, so I could get a sense of what her goals were with a collaborator. Apparently we (the spoken to) ranged from ‘serious professionals’ with real culinary school training (her words), to (her words again) “hobby ladies who think that just because they love to cook they can cut it.” Hmm… 

Now obviously this person had an opinion on “hobby ladies” that crossed the border into judgment. And naturally, I made my own judgment based upon hers. Then I began thinking about my new category and my pleasant pastime sisters. To be clear, I have the utmost of respect for anyone with an earned toque on his or her head. Cooking school is no easy ride, so bravo to those who’ve made it through, and especially through an institution that trained the culinary mother-goddess of us all, Julia. Where I have a teensy bit of a problem (ok, maybe more than teensy) is someone who dismisses a large slice of the whisk-wielding public, lumping us into a category that brings to mind sewing circles and stamp collecting. Not that there’s anything wrong with hobbyists, but whoa there missy! 

I mean, think about it. Who better to excel at something than a person who chooses to do it purely for the joy it brings? Someone who is constantly trying to get better, to learn more, and looks forward to “hobbying” at the end of a long day of doing all those un-hobby things we do to get by. I’ve spent a lot of time working with entrepreneurs over the past 20 years, and a sure sign of one who has a good shot at success is a driving passion for the work, without focusing on the financial payout it will deliver. Which is really good, since there’s probably no cha-ching to focus on, in the beginning anyway. And while I don’t deny there are plenty “ladies” and “gentlemen” out there who will likely not move beyond making their friends and family very happy with full bellies, there’s no reason to discount the growing number who have or will turn that passion into a thriving business.

I really do wish Ms. Cordon Bleu the best of luck in finding her “perfect collaborator” and I’d bet that person has a pedigree like hers. I think I’d rather be happy with my “hobby ladies and gentlemen” peers anyway. I mean, with Ina Garten, Martha Stewart, Paula Deen, Nigella Lawson, Ree Drummond and Jaimie Oliver around, to name just a few, I figure I’m in pretty good company. So COOK ON HOBBY LADIES! There’s plenty of room for us all.

This week’s recipe, Lemon and Garlic Chicken and Mushrooms is adapted from one of my favorite food writers, and as it so happens, someone who didn’t train as a cook either – Martha Rose Shulman. Based on a classic Provencal chicken recipe, this comes from Shulman’s “Recipes for Health” column in the New York Times, and like most of her recipes, is quick, easy, good for you and really delicious.

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©cookinginmyheels.com

Lemon and Garlic Chicken and Mushrooms

(Adapted from Martha Rose Shulman, New York Times, March 2014)

Serves 4

The original recipe called for chicken breast cutlets, but I find boneless skinless thighs are a lot more flavorful. I like to nestle the chicken pieces in under the mushrooms for the last 5 minutes of cooking. It gives the opportunity for the juices of the chicken to flavor the sauce. Serve it on a bed of arugula dressed with lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper, and it makes an elegant and healthy dinner.

For the marinade

  • 16-20 ounces boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or puréed
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons grapeseed, sunflower or canola oil
  • 1 pound mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine

To serve:

  • 1 bag baby arugula
  • Flavorful olive oil
  • ½ a lemon cut into two wedges
  • Salt and pepper

1. Stir together olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, rosemary, and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Cut each chicken thigh into 2 equal pieces (3 if they’re 12 ounces or more) and place in the bowl. Stir together and refrigerate for 15 to 30 minutes.

2. Remove chicken from marinade and pat dry (discard marinade). Place two sheets of plastic wrap (1 large sheet if you have extra-wide wrap) on your work surface, overlapping slightly, to make 1 wide sheet, and brush lightly with olive oil. Place a piece of chicken in the middle of plastic sheet and brush lightly with oil. Cover the chicken with another wide layer of plastic wrap. Working from the center to the outside, pound chicken with the flat side of a meat tenderizer until about 1/4 inch thick. (Don’t pound too hard or you’ll tear the meat. If that happens it won’t be the end of the world, you’ll just have a few pieces to cook.) Repeat with the remaining chicken pieces.

3. Season the pounded chicken breasts with salt and pepper on one side only. Dredge lightly in the flour (you will not use all of it) and tap the breasts to remove excess.

4. Turn oven on low. Heat a wide, heavy skillet over high heat and add oil. When oil is hot, place one or two pieces of chicken in the pan – however many will fit without crowding. Cook for 1 ½ – 2 minutes, until bottom is browned in spots. Turn over and brown other side, about 1 ½ – 2 minutes. (Do not overcook or the chicken will be dry.) Transfer to the platter or sheet pan and keep warm in the oven. If there is more than a tablespoon of fat in the pan, pour some (but not all) off into a jar or bowl.

5. Turn burner heat down to medium-high. Add mushrooms to the pan. Let them sear for about 30 seconds to a minute without moving them, then stir, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to deglaze. When mushrooms have softened slightly and begun to sweat, add wine, thyme or parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Continue to stir until wine has evaporated and mushrooms are tender, 5 to 10 minutes.

6. Add the chicken back into the pan and spoon mushrooms over the chicken. Simmer another 5 minutes to let the flavors meld.

7. Toss the arugula in a bowl with a good drizzle of olive oil, the juice from ¼ of a lemon, and a good pinch salt and pepper. Divide onto 4 plates. Divide the chicken and mushrooms between the 4 plates. Finish with a squeeze of lemon.

Nutritional information per serving: 234 calories; 10 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 6 grams polyunsaturated fat; 2 grams monounsaturated fat; 73 milligrams cholesterol; 7 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram dietary fiber; 138 milligrams sodium (does not include salt to taste); 28 grams protein.

[Advance preparation: The chicken breasts can be pounded several hours ahead – but don’t marinate them until shortly before cooking – and kept between pieces of plastic in the refrigerator.]

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), and check out what else is going on in my kitchen at www.cookinginmyheels.com Thanks! :-)