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…

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©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…

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©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)

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©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! :-)

 

 

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?”

©cookinginmyheels.com

©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! :-)

Awesome

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©cookinginmyheels.com

I love to people-watch, but perhaps even more, I love to people-listen. I’m absolutely mad about accents. There’s nothing better to identify place, and nothing so comforting as the lilting sound of a nasal A, a western twang or southern drawl when you feel lost or a teensy bit homesick. Same goes for regional words. Even those who have gone to great pains to erase their vocal geography and mimic TV anchor speech give themselves away when it comes to the words of their land. So let’s play a game of guess the geographical vernacular! All-righty then, if you’re wicked smaaht you’ll probably know where to order jimmies. And if not, well, not fuh nuthin but, maybe you’re just a bag of hammers, bless your heart. Did you guess them all? That’s freakin’ AWESOME!

I’ve always found it valuable when traveling to learn a bit of the language of the location. It’s a sign of respect and always makes me feel a little less the tourist, even though I may be butchering the native tongue. I know a soupcon of français, un po italiano and enough deutsch to get by and feel like I made the attempt. When I first visited Oregon I didn’t notice much of a native accent, but what I did notice was awesome. It seems ‘awesome’ is the adjective of choice in this land. It doesn’t seem to be exclusively Oregonian, but since I’ve landed in the world of marionberries, microbrews and windsurfing, my ears have averaged about 3 awesomes a day. Which is actually pretty low considering how many things here really are awesome. There’s the land itself, stunning in it’s beauty, especially when there’s some mist rising from the river in the early morning. The river, well that’s pretty darn awesome too, when it’s capped by a rainbow or reflecting the frequent awesome sunsets. We have awesome coffee here, lots of awesome coffee. Beer too. And the wine? Yup, awesome.

But probably most awesome in the ranking of awesomeness are the people. They are a friendly lot, warm, incredibly generous, and welcoming, even to a Gotham gal with ill-hidden accent. That’s not always the reaction to city slickers, especially ones from the biggest apple. This accent carries baggage and assumptions, as I suppose most do. Yet when my story unfolds, the vast majorities respond with a friendly ‘awesome’, and then introduce me to my next new friend. Not fuh nuthin but, picking this place is looking like a wicked awesome decision. Ja, you betcha….

Starting a business anywhere is tough, so picking a good location is key. It’s feeling more and more like starting my business here was the perfect spot. Part of what I’d like Cooking in My Heels (the business) to be is a place for the culinarily curious to learn the love of cooking and baking. Sure there’s the occasionally pithy commentary and instruction contained in this blog, but to really learn, you have to get your hands dirty. Last week I had the opportunity to participate as an invited teacher in a cooking class held in the lovely Lucia’s kitchen. And it was absolutely awesome! Small bites made with Lucia’s Calabrian love, shrimp cooked on a salt block (seriously awesome technique), a finale of sweet and silky tiramisu prepared by the beautiful Claudia, and a little something from yours truly. That little something was orange olive oil cake – one of my favorites and something I’ve made a few dozen times since first having it in Rome 15 years ago.

orange olive oil cakeThis time around I decided to play a little with the recipe before sharing it with the class. The result was Awesome Orange Olive Oil Cake. A substitution of some of the flour with almond meal, and using half fresh orange juice and half thawed OJ concentrate created a new depth of flavor that was, well, awesome. This is one of those cakes that actually gets better over time, so it’s the perfect thing to make ahead and lasts several days on the counter loosely covered.

Hopefully this will be the first of many classes with my new cooking friends, and the first of many shared recipes from class. As Mama Lucia would say… Buon Appetito e Mille giornate deliziosi!

Awesome Orange Olive Oil Cake

(Adapted from The New York Times Dessert Cookbook)

Serves 12-14

  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for the pan
  • 1 ¾ cups superfine sugar (if you don’t have superfine, you can make it by processing regular sugar for a minute in food processor)
  • 1 cup flour
  • ½ cup almond flour (almond meal)
  • 1/3 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/3 cup orange juice concentrate, thawed
  • Zest from two oranges
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • Pinch of salt (about 1/8th tsp)
  • Powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 375°F. Oil and flour a 10” spring form pan. I always have olive oil spray on hand and use it for this.

Wisk the flour, almond meal, baking soda and powder and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside. In another bowl, beat the egg until will mixed, then stream in the superfine sugar. Beat on medium speed until pale and thick and the sugar is almost all dissolved, about 2-3 minutes.

In a measuring cup with a spout mix the orange juice and concentrate with the zest and olive oil until incorporated. With the mixer running on medium low, alternate adding dry and wet ingredients into the sugar mixture in thirds, ending with the dry ingredients.

Pour batter into pan, spreading evenly. This is a relatively thin, but very rich cake. Bake at 375 for 15 minutes, turn, and bake another 15 minutes. Because of the oil, the top of the cake will get brown before the cake is completely done, so after about a half hour I put a piece of foil over the pan loosely. After 30 minutes, drop the temperature to 350 and bake another 10-15 minutes or until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Total baking time is about 45 minutes.

Let cool 15 minutes in pan, then remove the sides and let cool completely. Sprinkle powdered sugar on top. The top of this cake may crack or sink. Don’t worry about that – the powdered sugar covers it up nicely, and the cracks add to the cake’s character. Calories: about 350 per slice.

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! :-)

 

Spring has SPRUNG!

You didn’t think it was going to happen, did you? You figured that evil polar vortex just sucked it up and that was that. But it did happen. It happened today, at around noon. That’s the good thing about seasons. They are, well, seasonal.  So as I sit here staring at the big bucket of daffodils on my table, I thought I’d repost one of my favorite spring things from two years ago.

Hope the sun is shining by you, and the tulips have opened their purple smiles WIDE!

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IT’S SPRING, AND LOVE IS IN THE AIR…

And on my air conditioner. Over the past week or two I’ve noticed something going on outside my window. I’m very lucky, NYC apartment-wise. In a city filled with sounds of every imagining (usually loud), the vast majority of the sounds outside my window are bird-related. That’s because all of my windows face an enclosed courtyard. It’s a glorious oasis of bird song, punctuated by the occasional laughter of little kids playing, babbling water from a fountain in the warmer months, the occasional gardener blowing or mowing through machinery, and random acts of late night merrymaking when a weekend party moves outdoors. So as I sit at my desk by the window and write, a bird often joins me, perched happily on my air conditioner. Usually solo, my winged companion sits for a bit watching the goings on below, then flies off to some other pressing business. Lately however, my feathered friends have started showing up in pairs. One lands, then the other, and in a moment or two the dance l’amour commences.

Seems my AC has become the avian equivalent of the hourly rate motel. Usually it’s pigeons, but a few mourning doves, sparrows, and even an occasional squirrel chasing some fluffy tail have checked in. It’s a veritable porn playground on my Fedders, and in broad daylight!  You’d think they’d have the manners to do what they do in private. Or at least under cover of darkness, maybe a few candles flickering, some Barry White gently playing in the background. But at 10AM, with an audience? It’s like an episode of ‘Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom’, and I’m Marlin Perkins! I can imagine the voiceover now: “Jim will carefully turn the AC to low so we can study the effect of adding a vibration aspect to the mating zone, while we hover overhead in the copter and film the pre and post coupling behavior”. I think the birds are talking about my AC too. You know how you never see just one pigeon, there’s always a crowd? I think they are spreading the word. “Hey, you and your lady friend need a place to get busy? I know a great air conditioner with a view in West Chelsea.”

What I find most puzzling is not the fact that the birds outside are getting a lot of action. It is spring after all. But what is it about my AC that inspires them to get their groove on, right there? Surely there more romantic trysting spots in the courtyard. I’m up on the 5th floor for heaven’s sake. They could fall off! Yet they continue to pick my AC, as though it’s the feathered brain’s equivalent of an airline bathroom and schtupping on it is their version of the ‘mile-high’ club. Maybe there’s something in my karmic aura that promotes bird fertility. If so, perhaps I should invest in a couple of chickens. Fresh eggs right outside of my window would be awfully convenient. Economical too.

Ah well, whatever it is, let them have at it. Far be it from me to stifle their birdie lust. After all, the end result is more birdsong to enjoy at dawn and dusk. So here’s to the circle of life. Hakuna matata!

And since we are talking about all things Spring….

Spring Pea Soup

Makes about 6 cups

  • 1/3 cup chopped shallots (about 2 shallots)
  • 1 tsp each butter and olive oil
  • 6 -7 ounces potato, peeled and cubed (about ½ a large russet)
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups frozen petite peas
  • ½ TBSP lemon zest (from a small lemon)
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1-2 TBSP cream to garnish (optional)

Sauté the shallots in the butter and olive oil over medium low heat until softened, about 5 minutes (you don’t want color on them.) Add the cubed potato, stock and water and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer, cover and cook until the potatoes are soft, about 6-8 minutes. Uncover, turn the heat up and bring to a slow boil. Add in the frozen peas and lemon juice. Bring back to a boil and cook for another minute or two. Turn off heat and add in the lemon zest. Puree the soup in small batches* in the blender until smooth. Taste for seasoning, add in pepper and salt to taste.

[*Remember to remove the center of the blender lid and put a dishcloth or towel over top when blending hot liquids. Start off on low, then turn to high. Green soup is not fun to clean off the ceiling, or you.]

At this point you can serve the soup hot, or let it chill and serve cold. Either way, it’s nice to drizzle a teaspoon or two of cream over top as a garnish. Calories: – approximately 60 per cup.

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! :-)

A Soda Bread, a Lamb Shank, and an Irish Toast…

DSC07527If you grew up in my hometown, the 17th of March was on the list of major holidays. Happens when the citizens number many with roots deep in the old sod. There were Meehans, and Feehans, and Sheehans (all in one class), and an O’ or a Fitz was not foreign to the front of last names. Sure there were others too with roots vast and wide, but on that day in mid-March, we were ALL Irish just a bit. So in that spirit I offer up two recipes and a toast. Bubbe’s Irish Soda Bread with Sour Cream fills the quick bread needs of the day deliciously, and what’s better than lamb and Guinness when celebrating the best of Ireland?  And as for that Irish toast? I can’t think of one more fitting than this:

May your home always be too small to hold all your friends…

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Guinness Braised Lamb Shanks

Per lamb shank

  • 1  cup of Guinness (I trust you’ll know what to do with any leftovers)
  • 1 lamb shank (1 – 1.25 pounds)
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped
  • 1 medium rib celery, chopped
  • ½ a medium onion, chopped
  • 1 TBSP tomato paste
  • ¼  cup red wine
  • 1-2 TBSP balsamic vinegar
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 anchovy fillet, chopped
  • ½  a bay leaf
  • 2” sprig of thyme, left whole
  • 1 “  sprig of rosemary, left whole
  • water or stock
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Generously salt and pepper the lamb shank. Brown the shank on all sides. Remove to a plate, turn heat to medium and add the chopped onion, carrots and celery and a pinch of salt to the pan. (Add some more oil to the pan if it is dry.) Cook the vegetables until they begin to soften and brown slightly. Add in the garlic and cook another minute. Add in the tomato paste and anchovy, stir into the vegetables, and cook another minute. Add the red wine and stir, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add back in the lamb and any accumulated juices, the bay leaf, rosemary and thyme. Add in the beer and enough water or broth to come up to the top of the lamb shank but not cover. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for about an hour, turning the lamb once or twice. About 10 minutes before the hour is up, turn the oven on to 325°F.  When the lamb is starting to pull away from the bone, remove the cover, baste with the braising liquid and bake, uncovered for 10 minutes. Turn shank and bake another 10 minutes. This will give the lamb a beautiful shellacked finish. Remove lamb to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.

Put the pan with the braising liquid over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Cook until it is reduced and thickened a bit. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Serve with roasted potatoes and steamed asparagus.

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! :-)

Like Darwin’s Finches

©cookinginmyheels.com

©cookinginmyheels.com

I’m sitting here in one of the local coffee shops (of which there are several….from my window perch I can view another three over a two block span,) fascinated by a beetle walking up the window. Ok, some of you are doubtless thinking “she’s sitting in a restaurant watching a bug walk by and is NOT; 1. Shrieking and waving something squish-ready at said bug, or B.  Alerting the authorities of A BUG!  Nope, I’m not, for two reasons: first, the bug is more of the interesting than icky variety (and as an ex-biologist, I have a higher ‘ick’ tolerance than most); second, the bug has provided an interesting example for today’s blog musings. (NOTE: I feel it necessary to let you know that as I typed the above, the beetle in question began to join me on my table, and didn’t seem at all phased that I dispatched him back to his window with a gentle flick.)

The point of all this entomology? As this critter was wandering up the window, he fell off. Being determined, he began his upward journey again. And again. And, again. These Sisyphean efforts aside, what was interesting was every time the guy fell, he landed on his feet. No lying on back all legs-a-wiggle helplessness. Just dogged persistence. Seems Ringo (I’ve named him that, for obvious reasons) and his folk have adapted to a shape that always lands on its feet. Dripping metaphor aside, I kind of hope I’m the same way. Actually, I’m counting on it, or to stick with the buggy theme, squishing is inevitable.

A year ago, it wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary to look into a coffee shop window on a Sunday and see me tapping away at my keyboard. Of course, my view back then was considerably different from today. The volume of everything was much greater. The people, sound, vehicles, everything multiplied at least tenfold. And it’s likely I’d have barely noticed. However, take that same keyboard-tapping gal and plop her down into small town Pacific Northwest, and I notice everything. Admittedly, it was a little jarring at first. The lack of noise made every sound louder. Lessen the number of feet on pavement and every foot is more noticeable. The types and varieties of gear, or coffee, or wine and beer — ridiculously plentiful and totally overwhelming. And Subarus. The only thing comparable in NYC to seeing so many of one type of car in so few square miles is the taxi line in front of the Garden after a Knicks game.

But like Darwin’s finches, one adapts over time. I find “awesome” coming out of my mouth more and more. Polar fleece usage is definitely up, I know what a growler is, and I’ve stopped running outside to take pictures of rainbows every time I see one, (only running out every third time now…) And hopefully, somewhere along the way, I’ve started to land on my feet too.

photo 1OK, so I know I’m pretty good at assimilating into a new landscape, there is one thing I will never adapt to…the local pizza. While I give points to a sincere effort in certain venues, for a decent back-home slice my search has turned up nada. I admit I’m a pizza snob, but anyone who grew up in the NY metro area would be. And even though they do so many things really well here,  pizza (and bagels) isn’t among them, so I thought it high time to take matters into my own hands.

Homemade pizza can seem daunting (there’s yeast involved), but it really isn’t all that difficult, especially if you find a good recipe. And what you put on it is entirely subjective to the dough thrower’s taste. I knew there was no knead (sorry) to reinvent the wheel here, so what I’ve done is take my favorite dough recipe (from Stanley Tucci) and my favorite sauce recipe (a combination of Lidia Bastianich’s and Jim Lahey’s), and adapt both to what I like. The dough recipe below is enough for two 12” round pies, or one round and one 9×13” rectangle. This dough freezes really well, and as far as the toppings, I’ve given you the basic margherita pie. Think of it as a jumping off point and evolve away!

Pizza (Without the Box)

This is the basic Margherita Pizza – in other words, just sauce and cheese. However, that doesn’t mean you can load it up with other stuff on top. Just remember one basic rule – less is more. Too much on top and it’s likely all that goodness will land on your lap when you pick up a slice.

Pizza Dough (From The Tucci Cookbook by Stanley Tucci, 2012)

Makes enough dough for 2 12” round or 9×13” rectangle pies

This is Stanley Tucci’s grandmother Tropiano’s pizza dough recipe, which is one of the reasons I love it. The other is it’s a terrific and very reliable basic dough. I did this all by hand just like grandma, but you could just as easily do it in a standing mixer with dough hook attachment.

  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 2 cups warm water (you may not need it all)
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 TBSP kosher salt
  • 2-3 TBSP cornmeal (fine ground is best)
  • 2 TBSP olive oil

In a measuring cup combine the yeast with ½ cup of the warm water. Stir until yeast dissolves.

In a large bowl (or bowl of mixer), combine the flour and salt. Make a well in the center and add the yeast mixture. Begin by mixing with a fork and then by hand while adding enough of the remaining 1 ½ cups water to form a soft, dry dough. *  (*Don’t add in all the water at once. Add half, and then more as you are mixing.)

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and continue mixing it with your hands. Knead to form smooth dough, adding more flour as necessary to keep the dough from being too sticky. Form into a ball and place in a clean bowl. Cover the bowl loosely with a clean dishtowel and set aside in a warm, draft-free place to rise until doubled – about 2 hours.

When the dough is risen, preheat oven to 500°F.

Divide the risen dough in half. (If you wanted to freeze half, wrap well in oiled cling wrap, then put in freezer bag.) Roll one half of the dough on a lightly floured surface into a round or rectangle (depending on what pan you have.)  Sprinkle the pan with a tablespoon of the cornmeal, then transfer dough to baking sheet.photo 2

The Sauce:

Some folks like to use a cooked sauce for pizza, but since the sauce is going to cook on the pizza, I prefer to do a simple raw sauce for the best tomato punch. You could substitute the same amount of your favorite basic sauce if you prefer.

  • 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes (use the best ones you can find – there isn’t much to the sauce but really good tomatoes, salt and olive oil. And if good fresh tomatoes are available, use those!)
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp olive oil, plus 1-2 TBSP more for drizzling 

Drain the tomatoes, saving the juices. For each pie, measure out 1/3 cup drained tomatoes and 3 tbsp juice (you want a total of 5 oz.). Add 1/8 tsp salt and ¼ tsp olive oil. Stir and set aside.

The Cheese: (per pizza)photo 3

  • 2 ½ ounces shredded mozzarella (I love a combination of 2 oz. mozzarella or fontina, and a ½ oz. gruyere)
  • 1 TBSP grated pecorino romano  

Putting it all together: 

The biggest mistake when making homemade pizza is too much sauce on the dough. It gets soggy and bottom doesn’t crisp nicely, or gets way too heavy and molten sauce and cheese slide off and onto your lap when you pick up a slice. That’s why only 5 ounces of the tomato mixture is all you need. You’ll also notice I don’t use any oregano or garlic. That doesn’t mean you can’t. If you want to add both, just sprinkle a pinch of oregano over the sauce, and as much minced garlic as you like before adding the cheese.

For each pie: 

Drizzle the dough with 1 TBSP of olive oil. Spread the 5 oz. of sauce on the dough, leaving an inch all around the edges. Sprinkle the mozzarella on top, then the romano.

photo 4Bake until the edges and bottom are lightly browned, about 12-15 minutes depending on your oven. Let sit 5 minutes before cutting and serving.  And for an authentic NY slice, have extra romano cheese and dried red pepper flakes on the side for sprinkling on top. Calories: about 200 per slice, based on 6 slices per pie.

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! :-)