It’s Five Somewhere

FullSizeRender-2Having the people you love in different time zones can be a pain in the tuchas. First, you always have to remember what time it is where they are, as opposed to where you are. Then there’s math. Add 3, subtract 1, no, wait. Is that subtract 2? How many of us have called someone, thinking math and time was on their side, only to get a sleepy “huh?” Or worse, “WHAT HAPPENED?!!” Then there’s screwing up the collective viewing of a favorite show. If it’s not a live event, you either stand in danger of being the spoiler or the spoiled. All because someone decided to throw up arbitrary time boundaries through the middle of the map.

Yet, there are distinct advantages to time zoning, and I learned quickly how to work them. I could swap snark with the gang back home during long Oscar broadcasts, still see my favorite non-preempted programs, and walk into work the next day without the bleary-eyed blahs. And then there’s cocktail hour. You know that phrase “well, it’s five o’clock somewhere”. Living in differing time zones pretty much guarantees at least one of your pals is time-appropriate tippling. Want to toast something after work with your Jersey Shore pal when you live in rural Oregon? Well what do you know, it’s five o’clock there. Oh sure, I suppose you could do that anywhere. But somehow when you actually know someone bellying up at the sanctioned hour right now, it’s like the Royal Observatory in Greenwich is giving the big thumbs up. So cheers to you all in the east, mountain, pacific, and that one county in Arizona where no-one knows what the hell time it is. It’s five o’clock somewhere!

FullSizeRender-1Last week I had the pleasure of teaching a new class to some of the residents of Flagstone Senior Living. The schedule of this class was set specifically to serve as a prelude to their afternoon happy hour. Naturally, this inspired my recipe and demo, and Savory Shortbread became the lesson of the day. They get their alternative name from an uncanny flavor resemblance to a popular childhood nibble. Cheers!:-)

Grownup Cheese-Its (Savory Shortbread)

This is an adaptation of something Ina Garten does, though she includes the addition of herbs. I originally made these for a new winery tasting room opening, so I omitted the herbs, and switched up the cheese a little.

Makes 2-3 dozen

  • 1 stick (4 oz.) salted butter, softened
  • 3 ounces (about a cup) grated and shredded parmesan, romano, grana padano or a combination (**SEE NOTE ABOUT CHEESE BELOW)
  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • *Pinch salt (*if you are using unsalted butter, add ¼ teaspoon of salt. Otherwise I’d leave out since the butter and cheese are already salty.)

[** A little bit about cheese: the original recipe called for finely grated parmesan. I didn’t have enough but did have some shredded parm so did half that, half grated. The shortbread came out with adorable reddish freckles, and everyone LOVED IT!  So now I use a grated/shredded combo. The key here is they should be dry cheeses. If you had a great extra aged sharp cheddar that kind of crumbles it would be fine too.]

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TO MAKE THE DOUGH:

Beat the butter in/with an electric mixer until it is creamy. Whisk together the rest of the ingredients (cheese, flour, pepper) in another bowl. When the butter is nice and creamy, dump in the dry ingredients. Now here’s the trick so that your kitchen DOES NOT get covered in flour the minute you turn on the mixer. Take a kitchen towel, and drape it over the mixer bowl. Pulse mixer 4 or 5 times on low to start, while you are covering bowl with towel just until the flour starts to incorporate. As soon as there are no loose bunches of flour, and the dough just begins to form a ball, stop the mixer.

Lightly flour a work surface, and dump the now crumbly dough onto it. You can go one of two ways here. Form it into a disk if you want to roll the dough and cut into shapes/bars, or roll the dough into a log that is about 2 to 2 ½ inches in diameter. Wrap the dough in cling wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, longer if you like, and you could also pop the wrapped dough in a freezer bag and stow there for when you want to use it. FullSizeRenderTO BAKE OFF: Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and line two sheet pans with parchment. If you made the dough into a log, just cut ½-inch slices and place on the baking sheet. These won’t spread much, so you can put the shortbread pretty close together. You can even bake these right from the freezer, just add a little more baking time.

If you are slicing and baking, you’ll need to let the dough warm up just a bit so you can roll it out. Flour your work surface, and roll the disk of dough out to about ½-inch thickness. Use a 2 or 2 ½ inch biscuit cutter, and cut out the shortbreads, place on the baking sheets. Gather up scraps and re-roll and cut.

Bake for about 20 minutes, rotating pans halfway through the baking process. Let cool completely before serving.

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…and sometimes, I don’t want to

No, this doesn’t have to do with job shopping (although I don’t particularly want to there either, but a gal’s gotta eat.) Sometimes, I really don’t want to cook. Or bake. Or do anything that calls for more effort than it takes to open a bag of salad and douse in the pre-made dressing and crouton packet. However, there too, a gal’s gotta eat, and when part of my funds for that come from shoving things into oven and hawking the results, “I don’t want to” inevitably turns to “suck it up cupcake – you have to”. Which brings me to doughrigami.

I’ve experienced the zen-like attention to making puff pastry from scratch. Roll, fold, rest…roll, fold, rest…repeat again, and again. It’s kinda the flour and butter equivalent of “wax on…wax off”. Patience + time = puff. Know what else equals puff? Freezer section + Pepperidge Farms. So the other day when I had a new class/demo to teach, wasn’t sure of the kitchen I’d be teaching it in, and, frankly, didn’t wanna pull out the butter and flour, I pulled out the box of puff from the farm, and started playing.

The reason puff pastry does what it’s named for is due to many layers of butter and dough. Those layers push upward like an accordion when high heat hits the water in the butter and turns it to steam. It’s like a little pastry steam engine. And when you make little slices, scores and folds in the dough here and there before it hits the oven, wonderful things happen. It’s origami, with dough. Doughrigami!

Doughrigami is actually ridiculously easy once you get the hang of it, impresses the hell out of your friends, and you get to eat any mistakes. It’s also a good way to turn a sometimes I don’t want to, to an I’m glad I did.:-)

2016-04-08 09.21.41Doughrigami

What you’ll need:

  • 1 box of puff pastry sheets (two 9″x9″ sheets per box)
  • Rolling pin, sharp paring knife, pizza cutter, ruler, pastry brush, serrated knife (if you are making mini sandwiches)
  • Flour for work surface
  • Cream, half & half, milk, or just plain water
  • Yummy savory and sweet things to bake in or top the puff once baked (cinnamon-sugar, grated cheese, jam, cream cheese, smoked salmon, chocolate ganache, berries…you get the idea.)

Since puff is sold frozen, you’ll have to thaw so you can work with it. I like to pull it out the night before I use and let it do that in the fridge. You can also do it in about 40 minutes on a counter. You want it cold but not frozen. Also, puff pastry doesn’t last more than a day all nice and crispy so try to bake them as close to serving as possible for maximum shattering buttery goodness. That said, what you can do with all of these is form them, then stow them in the freezer, and when you are ready to bake, just pull and pop in oven.

Preheat oven to 400º F. Lightly dust your work surface so all your hard work (ok, not so hard work) doesn’t stick. Dust the rolling-pin and ruler too.

Mini Puff Sandwiches: (These make stinkin-cute nibbles with your favorite adult beverage)

Puff pastry sheets, the ones from the farm that is, are 9-inch x 9-inch squares, folded in three. This means once unfolded, you’ve already got three 3-inch x 9-inch strips, that just need a little slice down the folds. Now you have two choices. You could just cut each strip into three squares, 3×3, or if you like your tiny sandwiches rectangular, use the rolling-pin to coax another inch out of the dough, lengthwise, then cut to 2×3 inch rectangles. Place the dough on parchment-lined baking sheet.

If you are going to fill the “sandwiches” with something savory, brush lightly with cream or water, sprinkle with a little sea salt and fresh ground pepper. If it’s sweet going inside, sprinkle with a little sugar or better yet, cinnamon-sugar.

Baking time is going to vary on all the doughrigami. Puff pastry doneness is more by eye than time. I always start at 10 minutes on the top rack, let them puff, then lower them to bottom rack and bake 5-10 or so minutes more so they get nice a golden brown and the bottoms are cooked. There’s nothing worse than beige puff with soggy bottoms. Once they are done, cool completely, then use a serrated knife to slice them in half horizontally. Spread whatever you like on the bottom, place top on top, and nibble away!

The bottom left is a pinwheel. Bottom right is a such.

Pinwheels & Such:  Both of these start out as squares. If you go with 3×3, it’s more a nibble, 4″x4″ more dessert-ish/breakfasty. This is why you need a ruler, rolling-pin, and pizza cutter. Makes all of this much easier. And a sharp pairing knife for these guys. Take your square, and for pinwheel, make a slice in each corner towards the middle. Wet your finger with water and dab a little in the center, then take alternating corners and press to middle to make pinwheel. (Don’t worry, I did it wrong the first two times, then got the hang of it. Same with the “such”.)

For the Such:  carefully make a slice around the corner on opposite sides of the square about 1/2 inch from the edge, and to about half way along the edge in each direction. (Ok, look at the pictures below….you’ll get it.) Now dip your finger in a little water and dab the inside point where you made the cut. Gently pull the outside edge across to the opposite inside point. (Again, check that picture out.) Do the same for the other side, making sure to press it to the dough so it sticks. Brush everything with a little cream and sprinkle with sugar or cinnamon-sugar.  Bake until done (see above.) Let cool completely, then fill the middle with jam, chocolate ganache and a berry, cream cheese, whatever you like. Finish with a dusting of powdered sugar.

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Easy tarts: These have been my go-to “can you bring dessert” response for a very long time. Here I’ve made two – one with a base of apple butter, sliced apples and cinnamon-sugar, one with just fresh rhubarb and strawberries, and sugar. I’ve also done these with cherry tomatoes tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper. You can use a full sheet, or roll it out a little to 12″ x 9 ” and slice down the middle to make two 6″x 9″ rectangles. All you need to do is score the pastry rectangle about 1/2-inch from edge. Score, not cut all the way through – I use a butter knife or the back of my paring knife. Spread, lay out or sprinkle the fruit or filling inside the scored edges, brush the outer edge with cream or water and sprinkle with sugar, or in the case of the tomatoes, sea salt and pepper.  Bake until the edges have puffed to form a crust and the bottom is crisp — again, start with 10-15  minutes on top rack, move to bottom or middle, bake until done, lowering the temp or covering the top if the edges look like they are getting too dark.

 2016-04-08 07.33.36 2016-04-08 07.33.30

Cheese squiggles: Hi, I’m Karin. I’ve never made a successful cheese straw that stayed twisted in my life. But, I’ve got something better. Take your favorite grated cheese (parm, locateli, mix of whatever), sprinkle the board. Take a sheet of puff and place over the cheese and roll over a few times with the rolling-pin. Flip the sheet, sprinkle some more cheese, do it again. Now cut strips 1-inch wide, 9″ (or thereabouts) long. Take a metal skewer, and thread the cheesy dough through (think ribbon candy.) Bake as usual. My cheese straw shame is appeased.

 2016-04-08 07.55.20 2016-04-07 17.32.06

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Sometimes, you just have to…

It seems I find myself in the job market, again. Unfortunately, this is not a foreign shop to me, having spent way too many months (years) in the not so distant past searching the aisles, putting things in my basket, only to remove them again. Let’s face it. Nobody likes shopping the job market, not really. It’s an “as needed” activity. Certainly there’s a little anticipatory excitement as you consider the ingredients in the listing, how the final dish might taste, and what you have in your kitchen that could work. But the daily scan of the shelves isn’t really how I’d chose to expend my time, nor I’d guess, would you. Yet, sometimes you just have to.

I’m not going to share the whys or WTFs of finding myself shopping once more. I’ve been down these aisles before, and know both that it’s a grind, and really boring if it’s not happening to you. But I do promise I’ll share the next course on my menu once chosen, and where that meal will be served. In the meantime, all this hunting and hurling oneself at want-ads wears a girl out. It also makes her very hungry for something comforting, a little special, and entertaining. Luckily, I stumbled upon the perfect recipe for that – pfannkuchen.

First, it’s fun to say. Go ahead, say it. Pfannkuchen. Anything you pronounce that even remotely makes that sound is fun. Plus it means pancake, and no one can be blue when there are pancakes!

This particular pfannkuchen is also known as a german pancake, or a dutch baby. Basically it’s one big oven-baked pancake. What makes it even better is how it looks as it bakes. This baby starts out as a lightly-sweetened custard, which you pour into a hot cast-iron skillet judiciously shmeered with butter. Now comes the fun part. As it bakes it starts to puff up in what can only be described as undulating pancakey ripples, browning as they rise. It’s immensely entertaining! Serve it up hot from the oven with a generous blizzard of powdered sugar and squeeze of lemon, or do like I did and top with some balsamic and sugar-macerated strawberries.

I’ve a feeling there will be more of these as my shopping continues, perhaps for dinner, with some bacon and brown sugar whiskey sauce. Because sometimes, you just have to…

File Mar 23, 1 48 42 PM

Dutch Baby Pancake (Oven Pfannkuchen)

I found this recipe on Alton Brown’s website, altonbrown.com, and like it a lot. I used both a generous sprinkle of powdered sugar, along with 1/2 cup sliced strawberries tossed and left to sit an hour (or longer) with a teaspoon balsamic vinegar,  a tablespoon sugar and a grind of black pepper. Trust me, it works!

Serves 2

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 2 1/2 ounces (72 grams) all-purpose flour, approximately 1/2 cup
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup whole milk, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Powdered sugar, for serving
  • Lemon wedges, for serving

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Put 1 tablespoon of the butter in a 10-inch cast iron pan and heat the pan in the oven for 10 minutes. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and set aside to cool slightly.

(In Alton’s recipe, he calls for adding the dry ingredients to the blender, then the wet, and blend. I’ve discovered from past recipes that when you do it in that order, you often get a clump of flour in the bottom that stays in there like cement. I reverse the order, wet first, then dry.)

Whisk together the flour, sugar and salt and set aside. In a blender, add the eggs, milk, vanilla and melted butter, and blend until smooth. Add the flour mixture and blend on high until smooth and frothy, about 30-45 seconds.

Carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven and immediately pour the batter into the center. Bake for 15-20 minutes, do not open the oven while baking. The Dutch baby will puff up in the center and the edges will be dark and crispy. (If you are concerned that one part is getting too dark, loosely cover that part with foil.

Serve warm with a sprinkling of powdered sugar and lemon wedges, the strawberries, or anything else you like to top with!

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!  :-)

Happy St. Paddy’s Day, Bubeleh

Tis a tale that bears repeating. Sláinte mhaith and Mazel tov!

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The following story is based on fact (sort of). The names have been changed to protect the culinarily impaired.

A young Irish lass with a passel of tots and her young doctor husband moved into a predominantly Jewish building, while Dr. McFertile (there were a LOT of tots) finished his residency at a nearby hospital. Mrs. McFertile, while prolific indeed, was not as bountiful in the kitchen. Fact was, our bonnie lass was a lousy cook. Luckily, living in such close proximity to so many bubbes served her well. You see, no bubbe can resist feeding a hungry mass, and soon our badly cooking colleen was taken under a wing and taught a bissel basics for feeding her ever-growing Mc-tribe.

As a thank you, the grateful gal decided to bake something from the Old Sod and bestow it upon her teacher. Irish soda bread was lovingly prepared according to her sainted mother’s receipt and presented with Celtic pride. Bubbe smiled and thanked her pupil for the thoughtful gift.

The following day brought a knock at the door. There stood Bubbe, a freshly baked loaf of soda bread in hand. “Tateleh, yesterday I had a piece of your lovely bread with a nice glass tea. The Sinai has more moisture.”

The following recipe is a bubby-improved version of Irish Soda Bread. Traditional? Feh, but it sure is good, and Mrs. McFertile has been making it ever since. So, what’s not to like?

Bubbe’s Irish Soda Bread with Sour Cream

Makes one generous loaf, as moist as the Emerald Isle.

  • 3 cups flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 pint sour cream
  • 1 ½ cups raisins (I like a mix of dark and golden raisins, but what usually goes in is based on what I have in the pantry at the moment.)

Preheat oven to 350ºF and butter and flour an 8” or 9” cake pan.

Mix the dry ingredients together with a whisk in a large bowl. Add the raisins and mix so they are well-distributed. In a smaller bowl, beat the egg and whisk with the sour cream. Dump the wet ingredients into the dry and mix until combined.

Add the batter to the pan and spread out evenly (wetting your fingers or the back of a spatula makes this a little easier. It’s very sticky dough). Bake for 45 – 55 minutes or until tester inserted in middle comes out clean and top is golden. Cool for 20 minutes before removing to a rack.

Serve with a little (or a lot) of butter. Keeps well wrapped for about a week (as if it would last that long), is terrific toasted and freezes very well. Calories: 3100 per loaf, or about 210-250 per slice (12-15 slices).

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!  :-)

Cider Acts

Washington (the district, not the state) recently passed something called the Cider Act. Basically, this means the folks in DC passed a law that changes the way hard cider is taxed, for the benefit of those who imbibe and even more for those who brew so we can imbibe. Therefore, this new set of cider laws is a pretty big deal for the business of hard cider. Why do I even care? You may have noticed I’ve been including hard cider in some recipes lately. Like in the last two of three posts. I’ve a vested interest in hard cider these days. Actually, I’ve an interest in a handsome cider maker so, well, you know…

Ok, back to acts of cider. While I may not know exactly the ins and outs of the new laws, I am quite familiar with some older ones:

  • Law 1: Cider goes really well with onions;
  • Law 2: Cider goes really well with anything pork, especially in bacon form; and
  • Law 3: Cider goes really well with apples (um…duh)

Of course, no law is worth the parchment it’s written on unless put into use. That dreamy cider maker I mentioned? He threw out the ‘using hard cider in recipes’ challenge a little while ago, and in the interest of scientific experimentation and democracy, I’ve come up with a few. Today’s Cider Braised Onion, Bacon and Apple Tart is the judicious application of my cider laws. God bless the legislative process.

File Mar 07, 11 26 56 AMCider Braised Onion, Bacon and Apple Tart

Makes one 9″ x 13″ Tart

This is one of those recipes that can be done in stages so you can build it around your day and not the other way around (see…very democratic.) Cook the bacon ahead, the onions too and stow in fridge until you are ready to put the whole thing together and bake.  I baked this in my quarter-sheet pan, but you could also bake this on a cookie sheet. Puff pastry usually has enough fat in it not to stick, but I always either spray with oil, or line with parchment (just in case.)

  • 1 sheet packaged frozen puff pastry (defrosted in refrigerator overnight and kept chilled until ready to roll out)
  • 1 large onion, halved then sliced thin
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 -3/4 cup dry hard cider (I used Ruby from Mountain West Cider in Salt Lake City)
  • 1/2 a large green apple, cored, peeled and julienned
  • 3-4 slices of bacon
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan, gruyere, grana padano, extra-sharp cheddar, or a combo
  • 1/2 cup sour cream (full or half-fat, but not fat free)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • Grated zest of a small lemon (about a teaspoon)
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • Flour for rolling out dough
File Mar 07, 11 29 57 AMPrepare the toppings:
Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, then lay the bacon strips flat, making sure pieces do not overlap. Bake until crisp and browned, 15 to 18 minutes, or desired doneness, rotating the sheets once. Transfer strips to a paper towel to drain and cool completely. Once cool, slice the bacon into lardons (strips about 1/4″ thick).
While the bacon is cooking, heat the butter over medium-high heat until it stops foaming, then add the sliced onions, a pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar, and a few good grinds of pepper. Saute about 5 minutes, getting a little color on the onions but careful not to burn. Add the cider to the pan, turn heat down to a simmer, and cook over low heat until the onions are completely soft and there’s no liquid left in the pan. Cool completely.
Peel the apple, slice in half and core (my favorite tool for that is a melon-baller.) Slice half the apple into 1/4″ slices, then stack the slices and cut into 1/4″ matchsticks (in other words, julienne the apple.) Toss in a bowl with the teaspoon lemon juice and set aside.
Mix the sour cream with the 1/2 cup of the grated cheese, the lemon zest, and a few good grinds of pepper (about 1/4 teaspoon). Taste and add a pinch of salt if needed (remember, the bacon is pretty salty so go easy).
  File Mar 07, 11 29 30 AM  File Mar 07, 11 29 09 AM
Prepare the pastry:
Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
Flour your work surface a little, then unfold the thawed but still cold puff pastry. Roll out the pastry to about 10″ x 14″. Cut the pastry to 9″ x 13″ rectangle. (Every pastry chef has a kitchen ruler. Yes, we are a tad anal.) Use the scraps to make two 9″ strips and two 13″ strips, or the crust of the tart.
Wet the outer edge of the pastry all the way around with water, milk, or a little beaten egg (this will act like glue), then place the strips around the edges to build up a crust. Carefully score along the inside edge of the strips with the tip of a knife (don’t cut all the way through.) This will assure the edges rise around the filling, making a really pretty tart.
Spread the sour cream mixture on the bottom of the tart, then evenly distribute the onions, bacon and apple. Bake for about 25 minutes or until the edges are puffed and browned and the bottom is crisp. Serve warm or room temperature, with a big glass of cider!
   2016-02-12 10.17.50    2016-03-01 09.04.28
 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!  :-)

Deconstruction

1275177_10201146475478324_493778222_oSeveral years ago “deconstruction” became a popular term on restaurant menus. Let’s say you have a hankering for ravioli so order what you think is the usual bowl of cheese-stuffed pillows of love. Instead, what is placed before you, usually in a white and probably enormous rimmed bowl flecked with some scatter-worthy herb is a square of pasta draped over or under an array of stuff. “Deconstructed Ravioli” says menu. More like ‘fell apart’ ravioli, but who am I to argue. The end result was usually as good as the constructed original, and it all gets deconstructed once it passes the lips anyway.

Lately I’ve noticed deconstruction aptly fits me as well. First, there’s my age, or rather the years on the equipment and its associated general aches, creaks and stiffness. Dilapidation, while perhaps more appropriate, seems such an ugly word. Therefore I’ve decided that I’m just becoming deconstructed. Deconstructed is very chic, very trendy. Sure my package is increasingly undone, but you still get all the general good stuff. Then there’s life in general.  I seem to be in the midst of a deconstruction there too. Most of the pieces are still recognizable, but in a state of rearrangement. I’m crossing appendages that whatever winds up in that big rimmed bowl will be swell too, but only time will tell. So In the meantime, I’ve decided to cook.

From time to time I find myself awake when the rest of the world sleeps. Sometimes I write. Sometimes I read. This past Saturday into Sunday I cracked some eggs into flour and made pasta. Wee-hour pasta making is actually quite soothing, and a great metaphor for making sense of the thoughts you’re noodling that keep you awake in the first place. A wooden board, a pile of flour, pinch of salt, and a few eggs. As you mix the eggs up in the center of the pile, it’s an awful mess. Bring in a little flour at a time, work it some, work it some more, and suddenly you have a silky ball of pasta dough, just aching with potential. Yeah, I get a little sappy when sleepless.

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Anyway, as dawn rolled around and dough (unlike cook) was well rested, I decided it needed to be part of my breakfast. Tomato sauce didn’t seem a breakfast of champs so I went with the next best thing…bacon and eggs. Or in pasta terms, carbonara. In traditional pasta carbonara, spaghetti or some other long dry pasta is cooked, then tossed carefully with beaten raw eggs, cooked pancetta, maybe some sautéed onions, and parmesan. There’s always a bit of risk with traditional carbonara, since you are adding hot pasta to raw beaten eggs and hopefully coming out with an beautifully silky sauce and not scrambled eggs on the other end. My version of Deconstructed Carbonara takes that risk completely away. As the noodles are cooking to al dente, I just fried up some bacon, fried up an egg, and when pasta was done, topped with both, the browned butter from the egg pan, and some shaved parm. Sure it’s not traditional but the end result is pretty great, and really easy (especially if you buy and not make the pasta). All of which is perfect after a sleepless night of reconstruction.

FullSizeRenderDeconstructed Pasta Carbonara (or, Pasta Insomnia)

This makes one serving for the insomniac, but just double or triple for all the sleepless around you.

  • 2 ounces fresh or dried noodles
  • 2 strips bacon
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 1 egg
  • A few shavings or gratings of parmesan cheese
  • Fresh ground pepper

Put the pasta water on to boil. While you are waiting for it, cut the bacon into smaller pieces, and brown in a pan. Remove to a paper towel and wipe out the pan.

Now if you are using fresh pasta, drop it in the boiling salted water at the same time you cook the egg so everything is ready at same time. If you are using dry pasta, heat the butter and fry egg about 4 minutes before the pasta is al dente according to the timing on pasta package.

Add the butter to the pan and heat until it foams. Add the egg and fry over med-high heat. You want the egg to be cooked and butter to brown but not burn. When the pasta is cooked, drain and put in a warm bowl. Top with the fried egg, bacon and a sprinkle of the parmesan. Break into the yolk and toss everything together. Add a few grinds of black pepper.

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!  :-)

Aluminum Rooms

cropped-dsc01979.jpgIf you grew up where I did, chances are diners were a part of your life. A big part. Regardless of whether it was a six booth and counter aluminum room or acropolis of 24-hour neon and naugahyde, the local diner usually served the same purpose. It was the auxiliary kitchen table. And just like at home, important things happened across diner tables. Life changing events were shared. Met a new guy and things starting to get serious? The besties were summoned to a booth, and the details dished over dishes of cheese fries. Break-up eminent and you needed your girlfriend’s shoulders to sob on? Just tell them to meet you at the diner for cheesecake. That’s all the explaining you had to do. By the time you got there they’d have reserved your usual booth, kleenex in hand.

Diners in the NY-Metro area could be small or large, but never understated. Neon, chrome-rimmed, with sparkly vinyl seats befitting a tricked out 70s corvette were par for the course. Decor could vary from Elivs-movie raceway to Athens via the BQE, but one thing you could always count on. The autographed picture behind the counter. For a time Telly Savalas was popular, but as time and television programming changed, Don Johnson, John Travolta, and my favorite, Abe Vigoda were often enshrined behind the butter cookies and melt-away mints at the register.

I miss diners, as much for the ritual as for the food. I loved the weekend diner breakfasts, catching up over eggs, planning the day. And as the last stop of the evening, nothing capped off a fun night with friends better than a plate of pancakes or onion rings in the wee hours. I’ve moved pretty far away from the local diner, but I’m not too worried about that. Because even if there’s no autographed Telly, and “diner” isn’t in the name, as long as there’s a booth and friends to share it, I’ll aways have a kitchen table away from home.

2016-02-04 18.10.45When I think of diners, I think of onion rings. Battered and fried onion rings. Probably because this was the dish most often consumed in the wee hours after work as a waitress at the Rustler Steak House. Yes, my first foray into the culinary arts was done while wearing a plastic cowboy hat.

Anyway, I recently got back from a trip to Salt Lake City, during which I spent a lot of time enjoying some pretty great cider with a cider maker who’s pretty great too. Which brings me back to onion rings. In honor of my diner nostalgia, the Superbowl, and because I’ve been playing with cider recipes lately, here’s my take on a favorite late night treat – Cider Battered Onion Rings.


Cider Battered Onion Rings

The amounts below are for about two portions, but the recipe is easy doubled

  • 1/2 cup flour plus extra for dusting the onions
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp each salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup dry hard cider like Ruby
  • Two large onions
  • 1/2 cup oil (I used coconut oil and it worked great!)
  • 2 tablespoons dried minced onions
  • 2 tablespoons coarse sea salt

For the Onion Salt: 

These rings are good, but a sprinkle of onion salt makes them great. Take the minced onions and the coarse sea salt and grind them up together in a food processor or spice grinder to a fairly fine powder. You’ll have much more than you need for the rings, but this stuff is pretty great on taters, steak, etc.

For the Onion Rings:

Peel and slice the onions into rings about 1/4″ thick, and separate the rings. You could also do these in half moons if that’s easier.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper. Add the cider and whisk until there are no lumps. Let the batter rest for 30 minutes.

When your batter is ready, heat the oil in a deep frying pan (I use cast iron for this). You can test when the oil is hot enough by dropping a tiny bit of batter in once the oil is “shimmering” (about 350F on a thermometer if you want to go that way). If the batter sizzles and cooks, you’re good to go.

You’ll want to set up a place to put the cooked rings before starting to fry, since things go  fast once you’re sizzling rings. Here’s how I do it:   I cover my counter closest to the stove with a brown paper grocery bag. It sops up grease well, makes an easy place to season with onion salt, no waste of expensive paper towels, and easy clean up. Once I’ve laid out the bag, I put a dish of the onion salt right next to it for easy sprinkling once the rings come out of the oil and are still hot.

Now to the frying: Throw a little flour in a bowl, and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Dredge the first batch of onions in the flour, then in the batter, and carefully place in the hot oil. Don’t overcrowd the pan. The battered ring will puff up, which is exactly what you want. Fry for about 3 minutes on one side or until golden. Carefully turn over, and fry another few minutes til done. Remove to paper bag, and sprinkle on a little of the onion salt. Repeat with the remaining rings. If I’m making a bunch, I’ll put a cooling rack on a baking sheet, put the finished rings on it and keep them warm on it in a 300F oven while frying the next batch

Serve with a cold glass of Ruby or your favorite hard cider.

It may not have "diner" on the sign, but you may be pleasantly surprised...

It may not have “diner” on the sign, but you may be pleasantly surprised…

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!  :-)

OK, I’m done

FullSizeRenderWell that didn’t take long. A few sprightly jaunts through fluffy snow were fun, but as far as this season goes, I’m done. Might have lasted a bit longer had the sun poked its nose out once in a while through the layer of blech that’s taken up permanent residence in the PNW skies. Or if the sweet cottage I live in comfortably during three seasons didn’t suddenly become a walk-in refrigerator when the mercury dipped below 40. Fifty-two degree floors are swell for slowly cooling chocolate truffles. I am not a chocolate truffle.

I grew up in a place with four seasons and actually do like winter, at least for the first month or so. Snow capped mountains and fluffy trees are all quite beautiful, and the quiet that surrounds you during a snowy hike can be sublime. But in my corner of the map these days, the surrounding shades of gray number far more than 50, and elicit more whine than moan. I know this swath of mid-winter bleak isn’t unique to this region, but frankly, we seem to excel at it. Know why there’s so many microbreweries, wineries and cider houses in the Pacific Northwest? We’ve got to find someway to get from January to April. You think it’s coincidence that two of the three states with legalized weed are here? Enough said.

When the mid-winter crap-mood hits me hard, I seek out sunshine. Since I have neither feathers nor greenbacks to fly south for the winter, I try to find my sunshine culinarily. Often that takes the form of certain scurvy-preventing citrus mixed with vodka. But this time my muse is a cider maker, and my sunshine beams forth through a combination of peaches and hard cider. This Peach Hard Cider Sauce is pretty awesome stuff. The combo of peach and cider is truly a match made in heaven, the crisp green apple flavor of the cider bringing out the best in the peach. And since frozen peaches are perfect for this sauce, it’s an easy antidote for the sunlight-deprived days of winter.

IMG_4026I originally made the sauce to top the cake recipe at the end of this post (and it was amazing), but then I discovered something. The sauce makes a ridiculously good cider cocktail too. Think bellini, but with dry hard cider instead of prosecco . It’s also pretty great on toast, pancakes, pound cake, or ice cream. 

Sure there’s still a lot of winter left, but that’s ok. Now I can make my own sunshine.:-)

 

Peach Hard Cider Sauce

Makes about 2 cups

  • 3 cups frozen peaches (about 1 lb.), chopped
  • 3/4 cup hard cider (I used a national brand, green apple flavor, but if you are lucky enough to live in or near Salt Lake City, Ruby from Mountain West Hard Cider would be perfect for this!)
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup to 1 cup sugar (depending on your taste and sweetness of peaches)
  • A pinch of salt

Add everything to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn down to a slow boil and cook for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally so the bottom doesn’t burn. At this point, if you are going to be making the Almond Polenta Cake below, remove 1/2 cup of the syrup you now have in the pot and set aside to use in the cake. Continue cooking another 5-10 minutes until the peaches are mostly broken down and the sauce is thick.

Let the sauce cool for about 15 minutes, then carefully puree in a blender in batches (or use a stick blender if you have one.) Keep in a jar in the refrigerator.

Hard Cider Bellini

Spoon 2 teaspoons of peach hard cider sauce into the bottom of a champagne flute or tall thin glass. Top with hard cider. Stir until combined.

IMG_4022Almond Polenta Cake with Peach Hard Cider Sauce

Makes one 9″ cake, or four 4″ little cakes

The inspiration for the cake is a version of Nigella Lawson’s Lemon Polenta Cake, changed a bit to accommodate what I had on hand and pair with peaches. The recipe calls for fine polenta, but I had medium on hand, and it gives the cake a great texture and a little crunch. However, the star of the show is definitely the cider syrup and sauce. And if you’re looking for a gluten-free recipe everyone will love, this is it.

For the cake:

  • 1 ¾ sticks soft unsalted butter (plus some for greasing)
  • 1 cup superfine sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups almond meal
  • 1 cup fine polenta or cornmeal ** (I used medium grind)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder (if you are gluten-free, double check that this is too)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tsp grated orange zest
  • 1/4 cup hard cider
  • 1/2 cup reserved peach cider syrup from above
  • Peach hard cider sauce (see recipe above)

Line the base of pan with parchment paper and grease paper and sides lightly with butter. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Beat the butter and sugar till pale and whipped. Mix together the dry ingredients and beat some of this into the butter-sugar mixture, followed by 1 egg, then alternate dry ingredients and eggs, beating all the while. Finally, beat in the orange zest and cider and pour, spoon or scrape the mixture into your prepared pan.

Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes for 9″ cake, or about 30 minutes for small cakes. Cake is done when a tester in center comes out cleanish and, most significantly, the edges of the cake will have begun to shrink away from the sides of the pan. Remove from the oven to a wire cooling rack, but leave in pan.

Prick the top of the cake all over with a toothpick. Warm up the reserved peach syrup and pour over the cake, and leave to cool before taking it out of the pan. When the cake is completely cool, spread the peach hard cider sauce over the top.

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!  :-)

 

I resolve…

File Jan 04, 8 33 16 PMNow that the jolly fa la’s and dreidel spinning has ceased for another year, it’s time for that annual self-flagellation of good intentions and promises to do better this year. And in the spirit of that, I have some resolutions for my next 360 days.

I resolve:

  • to hold firm to my commitment to shun kale or quinoa, despite a constant stream of recipes on every food web trying to convince me of how delicious it really is. If it’s so wonderful why haven’t we been eating it for centuries, like say butter, or chocolate, or bacon;
  • to pay absolutely no attention to anything uttered by or about a Kardashian or Trump, unless it’s related to the aforementioned’s long-awaited well deserved exile to an island with no microphones, television cameras, wifi, twitter, instagram or cellphone reception, where inhabitants are forced to live in huts made of selfie sticks;
  • to try to just smile and resist the urge to slap anyone who tries to convince me to live  a paleo or vegan life;
  • to seek facts before saying or doing anything with anything on everything;
  • to keep trying to find the laugh before, through or after the tears;
  • and to continue to share the love and a few giggles through food and snark, because let’s face it, that’s why I’m here.

File Jan 04, 8 31 47 PMSo, in my effort to hold fast to my resolutions, let’s talk about butter. I make a small, hopefully growing part of my living by way of butter. Recently, I’ve decided to expand my quest for tasty tart world domination with puff pastry. Now before any of you decide to switch to watching cat videos because only a lunatic would make her own puff pastry, hold up there a sec. I know there’s some pretty good pre-made puff out there, and cast no aspersions to using it. But I’ve discovered something. Making your own is cheaper, better, and isn’t the servitude to endless rollings and turnings Julia led us to believe all those years ago. In fact, the whole process takes only about an hour, provided you are willing to relax and go rough.

Rough puff pastry has been around probably as long as its high maintenance fussy cousin. I’ve tried several recipes but the one I always come back to is Patricia Wells’ from her Bistro Cooking cookbook (1989, Workman Publishing.) I know that convincing some of you (mom) that spending an hour making your own puff pastry isn’t an hour wasted will be a challenge. But the resulting doughy treasure is so wonderfully layered and buttery, I don’t mind pulling out the rolling-pin and investing an hour, especially on a snowy cold day like today. And since most of that hour is resting rather than active, rolling my own gives me the opportunity to enjoy a cup of tea and four 15-minute intervals of internet surfing, catalog thumbing, or catching up on the latest torture Mary Berry has in store for her British Bake Off minions. Plus the result is so much better than anything I can buy.

Rough Puff Pastry (Patricia Well, Bistro Cooking, 1989, Workman Publishing)

Yield: One 10 1/2″ pastry shell, or enough for eight 4-inch circles or squares of dough to play with, plus a little more.

  • 10 TBSP (5 oz.) chilled butter (Patricia Well suggests unsalted, but for me this is the perfect place to use gorgeous salted Kerry Gold, Plugra or if you are lucky enough to have it, Amish butter)
  • 1 1/4 cup (160 g) unbleached AP flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt (if you are using salted butter, just a pinch)
  • 6-7 TBSP ice water

Equipment: Bench scraper, rolling-pin, ruler

  1. Divide the butter into 4 portions, then chop each portion into little bits. Pop three portions into the freezer/fridge while you’re working with the first portion so everything stays nice and cold.
  2. Dump the flour onto a cool work surface and make a well in the center. Add the first portion of butter, salt and 6 TBSP ice water. Work the butter, salt and water together with fingers until well mixed. This is going to feel weird and look like a mess – don’t worry. Gradually start drawing in the flour, working the dough into large crumbs using your fingertips. If the dough seems dry as it’s coming together, add in the additional 1 TBSP water. Press the dough firmly together into a rectangle – it should be soft but not sticky. Wrap in plastic and pop in fridge for 15 minutes or longer. Put the kettle on, check in on your friend’s lives on Facebook.
  3. Lightly flour your counter, then roll out the dough to a 6×15 inch rectangle. Take the second portion of butter from the fridge, and sprinkle over two-thirds of the rectangle, leaving a third empty at one end. You’re going to fold the dough in thirds so there is butter separating each layer. Fold the empty third of dough over the center, then fold the buttered side over the center. Press the ends together with the rolling-pin to seal, then wrap and stow in fridge again. Sit and drink your tea (or make a cocktail), check your email, thumb through the Sundance catalog for things you’ll never buy for at least 15 minutes while the dough chills.
  4. See all those lovely layers...

    See all those lovely layers

    Repeat the rolling to 6×15″, butter two-thirds, folding, wrapping. Amuse yourself for another 15 minutes. Do this one more time with the last of the butter. You perform this whole dance 4 times.
  5. Patricia says if the dough looks streaky, roll and fold one more time. My dough always looks streaky, so I do this 5th one too (without adding anything, just roll out, fold, wrap.  Once it has rested another 15, you’re ready to make whatever you like, or freeze some, use some.  Here’s a few ways I play with this wonderful stuff:

Roll out to about 1/8-inch thick:

  • File Jan 04, 8 31 05 PM Cut circles from the dough. Score  a 1/2″ border around the edge (use a knife tip but don’t cut all the way through the dough). Now slice up your fruit of choice (apples, pears, peaches, etc.) into thin pieces, lay over the circle within the border, sprinkle generously with sugar, bake at 400ºF until the edge has puffed and the bottom and edges have browned.File Jan 04, 8 31 30 PM
  • Cut 3″ squares, tuck into muffin pans, fill with sautéed mushroom (they should be cooked until dried), sprinkle with parmesan, asiago, or goat cheese and thyme, bake at 400ºF until the edge puffed and the bottom and edges have browned.
  • Cut two circles the same size. Spread herbed goat cheese thinned with a little cream or whipped cream cheese over the bottom, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Top with some sun-dried tomatoes (packed in oil). Brush the edge with egg white thinned with a little water. Put the other piece of pastry on top, crimp the edges with a fork. Bake as above. Or, fill with slices of brie and pear, or cheddar, apple and bacon. Or…

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!  :-)

 

Oh, It’ll Fit…

2015-12-06 16.17.36-1

I have a few talents. The more obvious ones you know about or you wouldn’t be here in the first place. Here’s one not so obvious: I’m a fitting things in small spaces savant. Seriously. Give me a suitcase, a tiny apartment freezer, a dresser drawer and I can clown car that sucker to fit the contents of a shipping container. This talent comes in particularly handy this time of year. You know those boxes from the post office where you pay a reasonable flat rate for 2-day delivery, providing it fits in the box? Those cardboard vessels are my santa’s sleigh. And when they say “if it fits, it ships”, rest assured “it” WILL fit.

I’m not entirely certain where or when my skill of cramming a lot into a little evolved. Perhaps with my first pair of Jordache jeans. You remember Jordache, right? It didn’t matter how thin you were (or weren’t), somehow a pair of Jordache always involved sucking it in and lying on a flat surface while hoisting the zipper. Maybe my talent of turning a small/medium/large cardboard box into Mary Poppin’s magic bag surfaced with my first studio apartment, back when “tiny housing” was because you were poor, not hip. I don’t really care, I’m just glad I’ve got it. So are those naughty yet nice recipients once the cardboard clown car pulls into their mailbox.

Here’s a few last minute goodies to cram into your own tiny boxes, or better yet, into your mouth. Wishing you the merriest of merry from the Cooking in My Heels kitchen!!

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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!  :-)