Tasty Science

DSC03536_2I used to be a scientist. Didn’t know that one, did you? Yup, racks of test tubes, bubbling beakers hovering over bunsen burners, teeny critters swimming around microscope slides, white lab coat. Well actually, no. More like hip-waders, knee-deep in icy low-tide water, turning over rocks to see the squishy things underneath, and dreams of a red knitted cap on my head. Or, more often, scooping belly up freshwater guppies out of tanks in an effort to acclimate them to saltwater  — which apparently, they didn’t. Regardless of the setting, a scientist I was. At least one in training. And after I was handed my sheepskin and sent out into the world filled with my Cousteau-esque aspirations, those lab-coated days pretty much ended. That is, until a few years ago.

Right before I threw everything I owned in boxes and headed west, I was approached by a friend who asked if I was interested in becoming a recipe developer. Naturally, I said yes. Then I figured I’d better find out what exactly a recipe developer was. What I discovered is a profession, wherein someone was wiling to pay me to be a mad scientist in my own kitchen. Ok, so there’s a little bit more to it than that, but since I was already writing recipes for free several times a month, I figured how hard could it be?

Turns out, it’s not as easy as it seems. But then again, no mad scientist has an easy go of it.  Look at Dr. Frankenstein. Cobbling together his creature, then his creature’s bride was no walk in the park. First he had to find the brain, then those dead body parts, stitch it all together, and wait for a lightning-filled dark stormy night. Not to mention he had to do it all in black & white in a drafty damp castle. Luckily I have it better than Dr. F. My lab is my sunny, technicolor kitchen, Pandora mixes blasting out of the computer, apron and flip-flops instead of lab coat. It’s a pretty sweet setup, though I wouldn’t mind having Igor around to do the washing up. And maybe that steel contraption with the lightning and sparks. That thing is pretty cool.

FullSizeRenderAnyway, back to that recipe developer thing. Know what I get to create in my laboratory? COCKTAILS!! No, seriously — I get paid to develop and taste cocktails. Hey, someone has to do it. Actually, I develop cocktail mixers for one of my clients, a swanky caterer in NYC. The mixers are based upon the signature cocktails he serves at his events. Sure it’s a lot of fun, but it can also be pretty challenging, especially when I’m trying to figure out how to make something that can live in a bottle on a shelf, based upon something made fresh on the spot. However, I’ve discovered a trick in my laboratory that makes the challenge a little easier to overcome.

FullSizeRender - Version 2If the goal is to to get the essence of fresh ingredients into a mix, try creating an infused syrup. There’s really nothing new about this -Cocktail Scientists (bartenders) have known about it for years. Just about any flavor can be added to a simple syrup if you let it hot steep for a while. So at your next party, BBQ or homebound happy hour, make up a few of these and add to your bar. Who knows what tasty creations you’ll bring to life!

FullSizeRenderWhen it comes to cocktails, herbs and spices are particularly well suited to infused syrups. I like to use them when making up mixers because I don’t have to worry about powdered spices dissolving, or herbs looking like bits of lawn in the bottom of the glass. I’ve just given you a few ideas here, but there are countless more out there so I encourage you to experiment, and if you discover a great one, please share!

Equipment needed:

  • Fine mesh strainer
  • Cheese cloth
  • Mason jars

Most of the recipes below make a cup or so of flavored syrup, and can be easily doubled/tripled for a party. I buy a bunch of 8 oz ball jars to have around for my work, and they work great for storing syrups in the fridge too. Syrups keep 1 month refrigerated, if not longer. By the way, most of these are great for flavoring lemonade or ice tea too!

The technique is pretty much the same for all — Mince/Heat/Steep/Strain.

Basic Technique:

  • Mince, grate, crush flavoring.
  • Heat sugar and water until boiling, stir to dissolve sugar.
  • Pour over flavoring ingredient and steep until room temperature.
  • Strain through cheesecloth-lined strainer – when most of the liquid has drained, you can give the cheesecloth a squeeze too.
  • Keep in jar in refrigerator until using.

Herb Syrups:

Use fresh herbs, not dried, and the more finely minced the herb, the stronger the flavor it imparts. These work best for the more tender herbs, like basil, parsley, cilantro, and sorrel, and fresh lavender flowers.

Basic Herb Syrup for Basil, Parsley, Cilantro, Sorrel, Lavender

  • 1 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped herbs

Prepare using basic technique.

Suggested Cocktails:  Basil or cilantro syrup are great in margaritas, lemonade, Tom Collins, or added to ice tea. Lavender is lovely in lemonade (spiked or not) or ice tea. Sorrel has a wonderful lemony flavor, great with vodka and soda, gin or vodka tonic.

Cucumber Syrup

I recently discovered this one, and am just itching to put it with lime and tequila or vodka on the next hot day!

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup grated english cucumber (unpeeled – give a beautiful color)

Add the grated cucumber to a bowl — you want the flesh and any juice so I just grate it in a big bowl.  Bring sugar and water to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Pour over grated cucumber, pushing the cucumber down so it is completely covered. Steep until room temperature. Strain through cheesecloth-lined strainer. Keep refrigerated.

Spice Syrups

When making spice-infused syrups, use crushed whole spices instead of powdered.

Green Cardamom, Cinnamon, Clove, Coriander, Fennel or Allspice Syrup

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 5 oz crushed pods, berries, sticks, seeds, etc.

Prepare using basic technique.

Turmeric or Ginger Syrup

Turmeric syrup is a GORGEOUS saffron color, and with everyone all into turmeric these days, finding the fresh root in the market is getting pretty easy. This is more for color than flavor, but the syrup does have a subtle earthy flavor that is nice in citrus-based cocktails. Ginger syrup has spice and heat, and is wonderful in margaritas or other citrus-based cocktails, and is wonderful in tea or lemonade too.

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 5 oz grated peeled root (remove the peels or you will have bitterness)

Prepare using basic technique.

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!   :-)

The Expert?

2015-03-19 14.53.33I was recently invited to be a panelist at a local food conference. My fellow dias food wonks included successful specialty food company CEOs, a food scientist (yup, they exist), service providers and the like. What was I doing there? Well, according to the convener of this tasty gathering, I was the “recipe development expert”. I’ve been to my share of conferences over the years, many of which I produced during a former life in trade association management. I was most often the introducer, occasionally the moderator but very rarely the ‘expert’.

Let’s face it, ‘expert’ is a title best bestowed by others, especially if you want it reasonably believable. Self-inflicted expertise, at least in my view, seems a little narcissistic and always a bit suspect. The minute someone tells me they are an “expert”, I can’t get the vision of George Castanza standing there uttering ” the sea was very angry that day, my friends” out of my head. Being called an expert myself made me a bit uncomfortable.

Yet there I was on the dias, and as it became my time in the spotlight I could sense the audience’s anticipation of the finely honed pearls of wisdom this ‘expert’ was going to spew. Was there revelatory commentary? Earth-shattering insights inspiring frenzied note taking? Burning bush proclamations? Nope. I simply told folks what I had learned by doing the thing I was supposedly expert at. Most important, I relayed the discoveries I made through missteps and mistakes. After all, isn’t that what expertise is anyway? Something you’ve learned by getting your hands dirty, trying it, failing, and trying it again until you get it right.

I suggest the next time someone tells you they’re an expert, you ask them about their biggest mistake. If they really are expert, they’ll probably tell you, and I bet it’s the best thing they say.

2015-03-18 20.55.54This week, gentle readers,  you get two dishes for the price of one!  The first, Guinness Chocolate Cake with Whisky Glaze was the intended confection. The cake is adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Guinness Chocolate Cake, and the glaze a miracle of butter, brown sugar, cream and whisky. Put the two together, and OH HELL YES!!

The second recipe is the result of a mistake that has likely happened to every baker out there. See that lovely cake in the pan at the top of the picture?  Pretty, isn’t it? It was, until it decided to fall apart when released from its pan. However, having been around this block before, and knowing full well there was no way I was going to toss an incredibly moist and wonderful pile of chocolate goodness, the Whisky Cake Trifle was born. The best things are discovered by mistake!

2015-03-18 21.32.27-1

Guinness Chocolate Cake with Whisky Glaze

(Inspired by Nigella Lawson, and a bottle of whisky)

Makes one 9-inch cake, or four 4-inch mini cakes.

FOR THE CAKE:

  •  Butter for pan
  • 1 cup Guinness stout
  • 10 TBSP (1 stick plus 2 TBSP) unsalted butter
  • ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 cups sugar
  • ¾ cup sour cream
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 TBSP vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp instant espresso powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Prepare the pan: Butter a 9-inch springform pan, or four mini-springform pans. Since someone, somewhere decided new springforms need a waffled bottom, I always cut a piece of parchment the size of the bottom, butter it, and line the pans. Saves trying to pick cake out of all those waffled nooks and crannies. I also wrap the pans with foil just in case, having learned that one from watching batter flow out of too many springform pan bottoms.

In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter and  Guinness together. Whisk the cocoa, sugar, and espresso powder together in a medium bowl. Once the butter melts, remove from heat, add cocoa mixture and whisk to blend.

In a small bowl, combine sour cream, eggs and vanilla; mix well. Add to Guinness mixture. Add flour and baking soda and salt and whisk again until smooth. Pour into buttered pan, bake until risen and firm, 45 minutes to an hour depending on your oven. Cool cakes completely before removing pans (trust me on this and learn from MY mistake.) While you are waiting for the cakes to cool, make the glaze.

2015-03-18 20.40.13FOR THE GLAZE(Great on the cake, great on ice cream, great on a spoon!)

  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 4 TBSP butter
  • 1 1/2 tsp instant espresso power
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 TBSP bourbon or your favorite whisky
  • 1/2 tsp salt

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter, espresso powder, and brown sugar together. Add cream and simmer 1 minute. Remove from heat, and whisk in sugar and salt until smooth. Stir in the whisky and let cool.

When the cake(s) are cool, remove pans and pour glaze over the top so it covers and drips down sides. If the glaze is too thick, pop in the microwave for a few seconds to heat and thin a little. Let cakes sit on a rack until the glaze has firmed up again. You can serve immediately or make these ahead – they last a few days, if you’re let them! ;-)

2015-03-19 14.55.26Whisky Cake Trifle

(Happily created from the outcome of a mistake!) Serves 8 – 10

  • 1 recipe crumbled Guinness Chocolate Cake
  • 1 recipe Whisky Glaze
  • 1 recipe Tangy Bourbon Cream (see below) 

Tangy Bourbon Cream: Beat together the following until thick (this won’t get as stiff as regular whipped cream): 1/4 cup sour cream, 3/4 cup heavy cream, 1 1/2 tsp sugar, 1 TBSP Bourbon. Fill 8 stemmed dessert dishes or wine glasses 2/3 full with crumbled cake. Spoon some cream over the cake, and a few tablespoons of whisky glaze over the cream. Add spoon, and ENJOY!

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!   :-)

3.141592653

You’ve figured out what that this post is about, right? No? Take a look at this: fc_pi_41735_smGet it now? How about this? photoToday is Pi day. And depending upon how sincere your commitment to mathematics, (I’m speaking to you, ex-“mathletes” and fans of William Jones), at 9:26AM today or there about, the date and time equaled the value of π. This apparently gets some people very excited. I’m not one of them, but when I was up at 5AM this morning reading the daily news (a.k.a. Facebook), I happened upon this marginally interesting factoid and immediately thought about a topic that does get me excited. Pie. To sum up…

If fc_pi_41735_sm   =   image, then pie must be consumed today.

Here are some variations from the CIMH files. I’ll also be adding a new pie recipe this week featuring another of my favorite food groups, Guinness. Check back for that in about 3.141592653 days… ;-)

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!   :-)

Time Travel

FullSizeRenderHello fellow time travelers! You do realize that just like H.G. Well’s hero, we all became time travelers over the weekend, right? Sure, we didn’t get a cool vehicle with fancy seats and all those flashy lights and knobs, we slept right through it. But forward in time we went! Aren’t you thrilled? Yeah, probably not. Unlike going back in time in the fall, we lost an hour upon awaking Sunday morning. So instead of cuddling under comforters and enjoying the arms of Morpheus a little while longer, you were up, grumpily up, on a SUNDAY!  So was I, though despite the hour and abhorrence of the thought of prying myself from my flannel cocoon, I happily discovered there is an upside to springing ahead. I’ll explain in a moment.

I find it interesting how different members of our species observe the semiannual ritual of changing the clocks. Upon further study I’ve noticed a few distinct groupings. First are the Fastidious. These are the breed that, if they haven’t already set an alarm to remind themselves of spring’s escaping hour, change their clocks the minute they hear it’s this weekend. Obviously they think they might forget, though if one is a creature who sets an alarm to remember to change their alarm, I kinda doubt it. These “clock watchers” also seem to have an internal inventory of all the time tellers in their path. Microwaves and stoves are obvious, but updating dress watches in jewelry boxes that may not see the light of day until the next wedding invite, really?

Then there are the Optimists. These are the folks who avoid changing clocks all together. Perhaps lazy is the word you would have chosen, but I see them as eternally hopeful that they will be around when time inevitably falls back, so why bother changing anything? Naturally, a Fastidious should probably not be coupled with an Optimist, but evolution often has other plans. So these two are usually together, bickering about being late, or way too early.

The final group is what I like to refer to as the Mathematicians. These are the souls who willingly have different time zones for different applications. The kitchen clock is 5 minutes fast. The car clock is about 8 minutes behind. And most importantly, the bedside clock radio is 17 minutes fast. It was supposed to be 15 minutes, maybe 20 ahead, but the physics and eyesight required to figure out how to set the damn thing wasn’t worth exploring (or finding reading glasses), so 17 it is. The point being, the Mathematician knows exactly how many minutes are required in calculations, so that when she wakes before alarm goes off,  she can calculate exactly how many minutes left before rousing. Government mandated time manipulation is not the favorite thing of the Mathematician. It’s a very delicate balance between the time zones.

You’re probably wondering which of the above creatures I ally with. I grew up in a household where the kitchen clock was always 15 minutes fast. We knew it, mom knew we knew it, but she set it that way anyway, forever hopeful that it would incite timeliness in my brother (who naturally fell into the Optimist category.) I was the Mathematician. Too lazy to focus and fix miss-set clocks, I’d wake, cracked an eye through inky bedroom darkness towards red glowing digits, and did math. I like to think I’ve evolved past this. Yet this morning when I started the car I noticed the clock on the dashboard was 50 minutes behind the time. And when the leaves turn amber again, it will be 10 minutes fast…

IMG_1073What does all this have to do with my newly discovered upside to springing ahead yesterday? Well, when time suddenly shifts from 11am to 12pm and you are in the midst of preparing what was then breakfast and is now brunch, you can add a cocktail! In honor of Daylight Savings time I give you Brunch Pizza, accompanied by the official cocktail of DST, the Blood Orange Old Fashioned!

Brunch PizzaIMG_1078

One pizza dough makes 4 mini pizzas

  • 1/2 recipe pizza dough (or one dough purchased from your favorite pizzeria or market), divided into 4 pieces.
  • 1/2 cup of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 4 asparagus spears (try to find thicker ones for this), sliced into 1/2″ pieces on the diagonal.
  • 1/4 cup cooked pancetta or bacon
  • 1/2 cup shredded fontina, mozzarella, or monterey jack cheese
  • About a cup baby spinach leaves
  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 2 tsp red wine vinegar or lemon juice
  • 4 large eggs
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • Cornmeal or semolina

Preheat the oven** to 450°F. Make sure the top rack is in the center of the oven. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment.  Sprinkle cornmeal or semolina lightly on the parchment paper and set sheet aside. On a well-floured surface, roll out each piece of dough to a rough circle, about 6 1/2 – 7″ in diameter. With floured fingers, press about 1/2 inch from edges to make a bit of a crust. Place each crust on the cookie sheet, leaving a little space between.

FullSizeRenderAdd the halved tomatoes, sliced asparagus and spinach leaves into a bowl, drizzle over the olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice, and a fat pinch of salt and few grinds of pepper. Toss together. Divide in 4 portions and top each pizza. Arrange the asparagus as a circle in the middle. You want to build a sort of damn, so when you add the egg later, it stays put in the middle of the pizza.

FullSizeRenderDivide up the pancetta/bacon and cheese into 4 portions, and top each pizza. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove hot pan from oven, crack an egg in the center of each and carefully return to oven. Turn oven on broil (if your broiler unit is on the top of the oven), and cook for another 5 minutes, watching carefully. When the white is set, remove from oven. Sprinkle salt and pepper on the egg to taste.

 ** I love making individual pizzas in my toaster/convection oven, and this recipe works very well with it if you are making just one or two. For more, use a conventional oven.

Blood Orange Old Fashioned

Makes one cocktail

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  • 1 TBSP Amoretti Blood Orange Syrup** (check out  next week’s post to learn how I discovered this wonderful stuff!)
  • 1 TBSP blood orange juice
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 dash bitters
  • 2 oz. Bourbon
  • Ice
  • orange slices to garnish

Add the syrup, juices and bitters to a chilled cocktail shaker. Add in ice and bourbon. Shake and strain into a martini glass (or you could serve over ice in a rocks glass.) Garnish with a slice of orange. Enjoy!

Variation: Using Courvoisier instead of bourbon is great here too!

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!   :-)

Skinny Jeans

DSC03536Everyone has them, even those who claim they don’t. Doesn’t matter if you are girl or boy, somewhere in the recesses of mind and closet stands a pair of skinny jeans. And depending upon just how long it’s been since you’ve been able to raise them higher than thigh, button and zip, they are usually more a symbol of hope and achievement than fashion choice. I mean, unless it’s Halloween, you’re not likely going to sport those self-embroidered hip huggers you bought because Bobby Sherman was wearing a pair in Tiger Beat magazine. At least, please don’t.

Some have a “collection” of the svelte denim. An indigo history if you will, tracing the expanse of time (and ass). Perhaps there’s a pair you have from high school senior year, before gravity and beer worked its cruel magic. Or that pair in your “dream” size, which only fit for one glorious day in college, after a three-week bout of mono. Or the more recent pair you’re currently dieting to achieve, because you’re  determined to squeeze into them for that reunion, even though it means encasing the wobbly bits in Spanx and not breathing for a few hours. Whichever pair you have, the ultimate goal is the same — the feeling of wonderful smugness that you’ve achieved a goal, even if no one but you knows it.

Here’s something I’ve discovered about my personal skinny jean collection. As brain has gotten wiser (and body older), I realize that skinny jeans are completely subjective to the wearer. Sure, their name implies one is a wispy reed, but the wearer is the one who defines the width of that reed. In the end, all that matters is that particular pair is the one your end felt great in. The other day, after working pretty hard toward skinny-jeandom, I pulled out my pair and ventured in. While I’m not quite there yet, I’m well on my way. No, they aren’t the pair I wore at my thinnest. But they are the pair that made me feel terrific. And just the knowledge of that brings the final pounds to goal a bit closer. ;-)

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You’re thinking this is a “diet food” recipe aren’t you? Something that will doubtless get those skinny jeans closer to fanny. It’s not. It is how I look at losing weight. You see, I’m a cook (uh, duh) and an avid eater. Meals are not fuel, they are something to be enjoyed. And over the years I’ve learned that denying luscious tasty things all in the name of reducing Karin isn’t going to work for very long. So, I make those yummy things, just a bit smaller, and maybe adjusting one component to lessen the amount of hiking I need to do to work it off. That’s how my Individual Crustless Quiches came about.

Ok, so something that has cream and cheese as major components doesn’t sound like a skinny-jean inducing dish. And if you have a big slab of it wrapped in all-butter crust, it wouldn’t be. But, if I take the bones of my favorite quiche recipe as a start, make it in an easy single serving size, and leave out the crust altogether, I can have my quiche and eat it too. These are also a great way to get veggies and those “super greens” in me, without having to resort to conspicuously eating kale and chard. Skinny jeans, here I come!

Individual Crustless Quiches

One recipe makes four 1/2-cup ramekin sized servings.

For the custard:

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • pinch teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • pinch nutmeg
  • a pinch of cayenne or a shake or more of hot sauce (optional)

For the fillings:

This is where you can really go wild if you like. The key is not to overload the ramekins with goodies, because the point of a quiche is that luscious custard. Here are some options:

  • Chopped mixed hearty greens, like arugula, spinach, baby chard, baby kale. The “baby” greens are more tender and work better in these than the usual ones.
  • Roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, caramelized onions, diced summer squash, etc.
  • Thinly sliced asparagus
  • 1-2 ounces diced cooked bacon, pancetta, ham, chicken
  • 2-3 ounces cheese: feta or goat are lovely, so are any cheeses that melt well, such as swiss, cheddar or jack, fontina, havarti, etc.
  • 4 tsp grated parmesan to sprinkle on top.
  • Minced fresh herbs – tarragon is particularly good with asparagus, parsley or basil are terrific too, as are chives or tender thyme leaves.

Technique:

I have a convection/toaster oven, and it’s perfect for making these. Eggs are always best cooked slower in a low oven, and with the added circulation of convection, these go a little faster. Don’t worry if you don’t have one, though – they work fine in a regular oven too. (You just have to be a little patient…something I rarely am when I’m “getting into skinny jeans”-mode.)

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Spray the ramekins with baking spray (I always have a can of olive oil spray around for this.) Beat the eggs, then add cream, milk, salt, pepper, nutmeg and cayenne or hot sauce. Add in a teaspoon minced herbs if you are using, and beat until well combined. Add half the cheese and other add-ins into the custard and mix well.

Take the remaining cheese (except the parmesan) and add-ins and divide evenly between the 4 ramekins. Top each ramekin with 1/4th of the custard. Sprinkle each with a teaspoon of parmesan.

Place the ramekins on a cookie sheet or pizza pan, and bake until the custard is set, and the top is nicely browned. Since ovens vary (especially if you are using a toaster oven or convection), start with 20 minutes and go from there. When they are done, the edges of the quiche will have pulled away a little from the sides of the ramekin. Run a knife around the edges, and invert onto a plate. Serve with a green salad, and enjoy your quiche, and your skinny jeans! Calories = approximately 200 to 250 per serving, depending upon the amount of cheese and meat you add.

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!   :-)

Love Bites

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Yes gentle readers, it’s here. Again. That day named after a saint, filled with flying fat babies with arrows, and “officially sanctioned” by Hallmark as a retail holiday. There’s no getting away from it – we are in the post-Super Bowl, pre-Mardi Gras holiday slump, and retail and TV alike are desperate to tag our attentions to something.  And when it comes to observing, this holiday always seems particularly well-set with land mines as it relates to what to and not to do.

Of course, if you aren’t “coupled” and you want to be, the options lean towards a blue possibly kleenex filled day, which isn’t helped much by airwaves filled with sappy rom-coms, tear-jerking love stories, modern day fairytales and the like. There are even channels devoted to nothing else for the weeks following the end of Santa-themed TV. Funny how Rambo is never scheduled for Valentine’s week, isn’t it? I mean, there should be at least one channel devoted to things blowing up, slashed, or hacked. You know, maybe to commemorate the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. For me, when the infamous day rolled around at a time I was “non-observant”, I’d definitely select pyrotechnics over boy-meets-girl. Unless Dirty Dancing was on. I don’t know why, but I’ve always been a sucker for Dirty Dancing, having never tired of Baby being rescued from that corner. And if you’re paired-up, the path isn’t necessarily rosier. Let’s face it, due to all the hubbub and folderol associated with the heart-shaped box and rose-filled festivities, there’s a good shot at disappointment rather than loving joy filling the day.

Over many years of both V-Day options, I’ve realized the best way to avert disaster is the simple approach. I’d much rather cook something luscious (and easy) than pay exorbitant prices for a limited menu of someone else’s ideas of what makes romance. Simple pasta with cheese and butter, a great bottle of wine and your pjs can be the most romantic night with the right person. Add in a great pint of ice-cream and two spoons… heaven! Can’t find a card that says what you want? Make one. Seriously. Wouldn’t you rather get red construction paper and doilies than something mass-produced and $3.50? Remember how excited you were in 4th grade when you got one? You’re smiling right now aren’t you? Go with that.

Don’t have a special someone? Get together with special someones. You know an evening with great friends will end in laughter induced sore sides. Order a pizza and spend the big bucks on a fabulous bottle of wine to go with it. I guarantee it will be an evening you’ll never forget! And if your sweetie is far away? A package of homemade treats will remind them of your love, with every sweet love bite.photo

dsc06139To honor that saint, those chubby weapon-wielding flying babies, and countless greeting card dollars, I’ve compiled a bunch of my favorite V-Day love bites. These are all pretty simple, and any of them is guaranteed to bring a blush to the cheek and a flutter to the heart. <3

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!   :-)

Rat Bastard

groundhog

Why? As representatives of the top of the evolutionary chain, why have we given the estimable role of spring prognosticator to a rodent? A big, furry, buck-toothed, beady-eyed rat? He doesn’t look like he wants the job, does he? Yet every year, on the second day of the shortest month, he is ripped from his mid-winter nap and thrust at a throng of screaming fans by a man in a top hat. Does that seem right to you? He doesn’t think so. No wonder he subjected us to 6 more weeks of winter.

I think he takes pleasure in making us miserable at the thought of a prolonged slog through slush, mud, and gray. Because if you are unwillingly given the official title of meteorological rat, you may as well be a bastard about it. Take THAT you silly two-legged hairless creatures! Rip me from my nice warm den in the middle of the night into the cold glare of klieg lights and TV cameras? Go right ahead. You deserve what you get. And should you happen to squeeze my middle too tight, or drop me on my head (thank you Mayor DeBlasio), I’m happy to add in a bite on your stupid gloved hand or pee on your $400 loafers too.

So thanks a lot Phil, or Chuck, or Dave, for seeing your shadow yet again. Perhaps we brought this upon ourselves, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t still one bucktoothed furry rat bastard.

To ‘celebrate’ the onset of 6 more weeks of belch, I’ve compiled a hit parade of CIMH comfort food recipes. In honor of Phil and his vermin brothers, I start with the mother-load of cozy, cheesy, comfort food goodness….Rat Bastard Mac & Cheese.

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!   :-)

The 12th Woman

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I’m a lazy football fan. If the game is on I’ll watch it, but more likely as background noise than something I’m riveted to my couch to watch. I considered it much like golf or pro bowling. Turn the volume down, and it makes nice company for a lazy sunday nap. That’s before I moved to the pacific northwest.

Up until last year, my loyalties to gridiron gladiator were somewhat anemic. I’d cheer the local guys, happy if either one made it all the way, but not particularly undone if they didn’t. If invited to a Super Bowl party, I’d try to match my outfit (or at least my socks) to the team color, but beyond that, no major effort was made. Then I landed here. Sure it helped that the local team not only made it, but won the BIG show last year. But here was something else too. In a world of jerseys and painted faces (and guts, which takes a lot of guts to do when you’re in Green Bay or Buffalo), I was given a number. Suddenly I wasn’t just a fan, I was part of the team. I know the phrase “the 12th man” is not new to football, but these guys had a flag. I’m a sucker for a flag.

So this afternoon, when the hype stops and the game begins, I’ll be firmly behind the blue and white flag. The 12th man now has a 12th woman too. GO HAWKS!!

Lazy Chicken Enchiladas

Lazy Chicken Enchiladas

This recipe came about yesterday morning when I needed to clean out some room in the fridge. Seriously. I have some recipe development projects to start for a client in the coming week, along with truffle orders for Valentine’s Day, and needed space. I actually LOVE recipes like this. It uses up leftovers while satisfying a couch full of hungry fans, and the variations are endless.

This recipe truly is the height of laziness. The bones are familiar, basically a redux of my basic enchilada recipe that I shared a few weeks ago. But as I piled the ingredients up on my counter, the thought of warming the tortillas, then dishing out quarter cups of filling and rolling just wasn’t looking like much fun. See what I mean…lazy.

However, what if I just laid the tortillas in the casserole dish, and layered everything on top? Lazy Chicken Enchiladas has all the best parts of the original, but far less fuss.

Lazy Chicken Enchiladas

Serves 6

  • 1 16 oz. jar of your favorite enchilada sauce (about 2 cups)
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken (rotisserie is fine, or bake/poach about 12 oz. of boneless skinless breasts, thighs or a combo of both)
  • 10-12 corn tortillas, cut in 1/2
  • 1 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups shredded cheese (I used a combo of cheddar and mozzarella)
  • 2 oz. block of havarti, muenster, or jack cheese, sliced thin (I do this will a vegetable peeler – works great!)
  • 1/2 cup drained and diced pickled hot peppers (I used peppadews)
  • 1/4 tsp each of garlic powder, cumin and chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp each of salt and black pepper

Preheat over to 400F.

2015-01-31 11.42.36 Add the thawed and dried chopped spinach and the diced hot peppers in a bowl, along with the garlic powder, cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper and mix well. Put aside 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese for the top, and add in the rest and toss until combined.

2015-01-31 11.43.20Put 1/2 cup of enchilada sauce in the bottom of a casserole dish (I used my 8 1/2″ x11″ dish.) Layer in a third of the tortilla halves. I halved the tortillas so they were easier to line the pan and cover the sauce. 2015-01-31 12.00.08Now, like a lasagna, add half the spinach/pepper/cheese mixture, top with half the shredded chicken, and drizzle over a third of the remaining sauce. Do another layer of tortillas, filling, chicken and sauce, then finish with the last third of the tortillas and sauce, making sure to spread the sauce so it covers the tortillas.2015-01-31 12.01.03

Layer the thin slices of cheese over the top, and sprinkle the reserved 1/2 cup of cheese. Cover with a sheet of oiled foil (helps keep the cheese from sticking), and bake 20 minutes. Uncover and bake another 15-20 minutes until the cheese is melted and browned a little.

2015-01-31 12.08.41Serve with wedges of lime, sour cream, and chopped avocados on the side. Calories: approximately 350-375 per 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!   :-)

THE SKY IS FALLING!!!

snowheadThis past week the east coast was hit with a blizzard. Which, naturally, is portrayed by the various forecasters, meteorologists and sundry other weather people as SNOWPOCOLYPSE!! BLIZZAGHEDDON!! SHOVELPALOOZA!! Stock in Charmin is sky high due to demand outpacing supply. Easterners are forced to buy FULL FAT milk, as shelves are emptied of their precious 1 and 2%! The only cereal left in the aisle is All Bran, because everyone knows natural disasters and MEGA STORMS mean Captain Crunch and Fruit Loops are allowed as a meal substitute.The. End. IS. NEAR!!!!!

Ok CNN and the rest, get a grip. Sure it’s entertaining as hell to see all those broadcast Chicken Littles work themselves into a lather as they get footage of a lone snowflake on mitten (yes, we know each is unique, we too learned that in second grade), and flail arms over computer generated storm track maps.But it’s just snow. Butt-loads in places perhaps, but still just snow. Frozen water. Something that will melt, eventually. Inconvenient? Yes. Messy? You betcha. And isn’t it fun to hunker down in a cozy home with snuggly people, and the treats everyone allows themselves when the frozen stuff pours from the sky. Even the authorities know this. Orders of “shelter in place” translate to ‘stay inside and drink’. Surely that’s what they meant. And if you weren’t one of the hungry hoards standing on line in the markets during pre-snow hours of non-stop TV doom, you knew the unexpected joys of creating meal plans out of what you had in your bunker.

I think Mother Nature throws these meteorological events at us just for this purpose. After all, just how many boxes of the ‘San Francisco Treat’ do you plan on collecting before you die? There’s no contest you know. Add some cheese, a little of that full fat milk instead of water, roll in breadcrumbs and you’ve got the best fried rice balls you can guiltily have without guilt. You know there’s no guilt in a snowstorm, right? It’s a barometric pressure thing. You want pancakes and french toast and eggs and bacon and sausage? Go right ahead. You’ve got to keep up your strength…there’s SNOW out there!

The basic food groups shift too. Again, barometric pressure. And there are more of them. There’s the chocolate group, the butter group (dip is included in this, and cheese, lots of cheese), the wine group (or whiskey, or both), the “carrier” group (pasta, bread, potatoes, chips), and peanut butter. And anything you can bake with eggs, butter, flour and sugar. Incidences of baking seem to increase at the thought of snowflakes. If you’ve got peanut butter you don’t even need the flour. Peanut butter cookies are as easy as sugar, eggs and the Skippy. Gluten free too…see, it’s HEALTH FOOD!

Of course, by dawn’s light and the plow’s third pass, the crisis has passed, CNN turns back to whatever else is going on, and things go back to a slushy slog, and longing for spring’s first buds. So embrace it while it lasts. The shovel can wait ’til tomorrow…

DSC07878I love the opportunity to peruse the pantry and clear out. It’s a nice exercise in the Karin thought process. For example, why exactly do I have 4 cans of cannellini beans. I know why I had one, but apparently I kept thinking I needed more. Same goes for chickpeas. I really like hummus, but I’m one person. I don’t like it enough to warrant 3 cans of garbanzos worth. So with my wealth of beige legumes, and the Superbowl this weekend, I thought I’d try to come up with something that would purge these beauties from my pantry, in a snacky kind of way. Enter Garlicky Cannellini Bean Dip, and Roasted Spiced Chickpeas.

Roasted Spiced Chickpeas

Makes about 1 1/2 cups of chickpeas

This is a ridiculously simple recipe. Which is good, because the key to a snow day is not slaving over the stove, but rather lying around, eating, drinking, and generally saving up your strength to face the elements at some point. It’s also totally up to you what spices you add. Like curry instead of cumin? Go ahead. Want them a little sweet rather than savory? More cinnamon and a little pinch clove. Hotter? Have at it. You get the idea…

  • 2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 1/2-2TBSP olive oil
  • 1-1 1/2 tsp salt, depending on taste (I used sea salt, which is a bigger flake, so if you use regular table salt, you may want to cut back a bit.)
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp smoked hot paprika (or cayenne or whatever spicy mix you like)

Preheat over to 375F. Drain, rinse and dry the chickpeas. I put them on a paper towel lined  sheet pan, then rub them with another paper towel. Some of the skins will probably come off, that’s fine. Just pick the skins out (they have a tendency to burn).

In a bowl, add the olive oil, salt, pepper and spices of choice. Whisk to combine. Toss in the now dry chickpeas and toss so they are all coated. Taste a chickpea and adjust seasoning if needed. Just don’t over salt. These shrivel up a little so a bit under salted is fine. You can always sprinkle a little more over at the end.

Pour out the seasoned chickpeas onto a foil-lined baking sheet, and arrange so they are all in one layer and spread out a bit. Roast for 40 minutes, shaking the pan a few times during roasting. Taste one and decide if you want them just crispy on the outside and creamy inside, or crunchy through. If you want crunchy, continue roasting for another 10-15 minutes, keeping an eye on them so they don’t burn.

Cool and serve. These are best the day you make them. Calories: approximately 125 per 1/4 cup.

Garlicky White Bean Dip

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Garlicky Cannellini Bean Dip

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!   :-)

 

Cawfee Tawk

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©cookinginmyheels.com

“One coffee, dark” I said. ‘Um, we only have one brew’ she said, looking puzzled. “OK”, looking puzzled myself, “that’s fine, and I’d like it dark.” The look changed from puzzled to a little apprehensive, and the cadence of her speech slowed to ‘english is not your mother tongue’ speed. “I’m sorry, but we only have one brew, and it’s medium, not dark.” I was about to embark on another round of this early morn banter when the thought hit me…Karin, this lovely young woman speaks coffee, NOT cawfee.

A couple of years ago I wrote about the ritual of ordering coffee in Italy: pay first, then go to counter with receipt, or face the mockage of barista and local. I suppose a visitor from a foreign land could be forgiven her ignorance. Countries have their language and cultural norms to respect, and once I learned how, I could practically pass for local. But it wasn’t until the exchange with my local barista that I realized that coffee here (or back in my old there) speaks its own dialect too.

If you grew up in or around NYC, by the time you came of coffee age you knew the language. Step up to any deli or bodega or coffee cart counter, plop down your buck, place your order. Your choices? Regular, light, dark, black. The cardboard cup placed in your hand with its snappy “We are happy to serve you” and random blue and white Grecian theme contains the fully formed caffeinated quaff. Pull back the plastic tab on the cap, try to secure it to the thingy sticking up in the middle, fail, just rip a hole in it, wrap multiple napkins around blazing hot cup, and drink. If you ordered a “regular”, that cup contained your morning joe with milk and one sugar. Light and sweet was, well, light and sweet (lots of milk, 2 sugars.) Dark, my coffee of choice, was a touch of milk. And black, sans cow.

My guess is this ‘cawfee’ shorthand was created sometime shortly after the earth’s crust cooled and the first naugahyde diner banquette was installed, in an effort to help speed things along. Coffee in NY up until the time of the revolution sparked by Starbucks, was purely utilitarian. That first cup a necessary early morning stimulant to get you from point A to B without ripping someone’s head off, or cluelessly stepping off curb and getting hit by a bus. Civilization could function seamlessly as long as that cardboard “We are happy to serve you” was in your hand. Out here in the PNW, coffee is religion. A java church on every corner, the sacrament dosed in ounces from beans lovingly roasted in-house and lavishly described with terms like “after notes” and “floral”. It’s good, great in some cases, but it takes a Gotham gal a little time to get used to. So the next time I order from my favorite drive-thru, I’ll try to remember to translate my cawfee dark before I get to the window.:-)

DSC07832A coffee-themed recipe is clearly called for, and in the spirit of caffeine-fueled indulgence I’ve got one that’s quick, easy, and under 200 calories to boot. Fast Espresso Pudding is just a variation on a chocolate pudding recipe I found a few years ago. I was having one of those days, when the incoming crap storm from work was making me cranky, and something soothing and chocolate was necessary to calm jangled nerves. Already in my jammies (ok, so what if it was 5:30pm), the thought of leaving my cozy nest to go to the market for box pudding just wasn’t going to fly. So I figured, why not make it on my own? Happily, the experiment worked, with just a few ingredients I already had and could pronounce without consulting a chemistry text. To be fair, this isn’t as good as my more elaborate chocolate pudding recipe, but for a quick fix, it’s perfect!

Fast Espresso Pudding Makes 4 approximately 1/2 cup servings

  • 3 TBSP instant espresso powder
  • 2 TBSP unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 TBSP corn starch
  • 5 TBSP sugar (or more, according to taste – I like things a little less sweet)
  • 2 cups whole milk (I’ve done it with 2% but anything lower and the pudding tends to be a little grainy)
  • A pinch salt

Whisk together everything but the milk in a saucepan. Add the milk and whisk until combined. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring continuously, until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens. IMG_0418Pour into cups and let cool for 30 minutes on the counter. Refrigerate for another hour until set. If you want to avoid a skin on top, cover with plastic before cooling on counter, making sure to press the wrap onto the top of the pudding. I like to froth some milk and add a dollop on top and a little cinnamon before serving. Calories: approximately 170 per 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!   :-)