Thin Air

File Jul 25, 10 05 36 AMLately, I’ve been baking high. Now before you go assuming I loaded up on edibles before crossing from Oregon to Utah, I’m talking altitude, not altered states. While the former might have been fun, it wouldn’t exactly endear me to law enforcement in my new home state.

My first encounter with high altitude baking was probably around the time I was ten or so, and first ventured to the baking instructions on the back of a brownie box mix. There, under the picture of an egg and some corn oil was a tiny asterisk, and High Altitude Instructions, in italics. I think I remember the font being smaller too, as though people living  a few thousand feet above sea level had sharper vision. Of course, being a smart little girl, and knowing I didn’t live on a mountain top but rather on the flat, sea-wrapped Isle of Long, I never paid any attention to the asterisk or tiny font rules.

My first time actually baking 5000 feet above the briny deep was about three decades later, when I was visiting family in Jackson Hole and baking birthday treats for soon-to-be sweet sixteen niece. I didn’t pay attention to the high altitude instructions then either. The result was Red Velvet Cake with Chocolate Guts. It’s name should give an indication of how well that turned out, though filling a cratered cake with the attitudinally challenged overflow of devils food cupcakes was a bit of a stroke of genius. I give my architect brother full credit for that one.

Previous experience aside, now that I live 4,000 some-odd feet above where I did before, it seems high time (sorry) to figure out just how to maneuver this baking high thing. Especially if I am going to continue my quest for tasty pastry world domination, mountain style. I could baffle you with the various whats and whys of baking up here, but there are countless others on line who do that much better (and more boringly.) So here’s how I look at it. There’s less air up here. Or rather, less of the stuff pressing down on your head and your baking goodness. What happens then? Well, first the air bubbles in your culinary confection puff up faster with their newfound freedom. Unfortunately they kind of get, well, how shall I put this….overexcited, and before the rest of the batter is ready, which results in sinkage. I’ll just leave it there.

Basically the fix for this premature rise and droop is a little less of this and a little more of that. Specifically:

  • Reduce baking powder: for each teaspoon, decrease 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon;
  • Reduce sugar: for each cup, decrease 0 to 2 tablespoons;
  • Increase liquid: for each cup, add 2 to 4 tablespoons;
  • Increase oven temperature by 25 degrees F.

As with everything in life, a little trial, error and practice is still needed, but I think I may have this baking high thing down. Sure there will be times of overexcitement and resulting disappointment, but as long as I don’t let frustration get into my head, I think everyone will be satisfied in the end.

My first foray into the high altitude oven were scones. Blueberry scones to be exact. And with adjustments described above, I managed to make a batch that brought moans of satisfaction for all involved. Below is the original recipe, with high altitude adjustments, naturally in italics.

FullSizeRenderBLUEBERRY SCONES

Yield: 8 scones, about 275 calories each

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar (high altitude adjustment: 6 TBSP)
  • 1 TBSP baking powder (high altitude adjustment: 2.25 teaspoons)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Grated zest of one lemon
  • 1/2 cup cold salted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cold cream, or 1/4 cup cream and 1/4 cup buttermilk (high altitude adjustment: 6TBSP cream, 1/4 cup buttermilk, plus 1-2 TBSP more if the dough seems too dry)
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • An extra TBSP cream and some raw sugar to brush on the top and sprinkle before going into oven

Preheat oven to 400ºF (425º for high altitude). Whisk together the flour. sugar, baking powder, salt and lemon zest in a bowl or in electric mixer. Add the butter and mix until you get fine crumbs and the butter is well dispersed. Add in the blueberries and toss until the blueberries are coated in flour mixture.

In a measuring cup, beat together the egg, cream, buttermilk and vanilla. Add the wet to the dry slowly with the mixer going or mix together by hand with a fork until the dough just starts to come together. Dump out onto a floured board, and gather the dough together into a disk about an inch high. Don’t overwork the dough, just bring together until it holds shape.

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Cut the disk into quarters, then each quarter in half to get 8 triangles. At this point you could put the scones on a tray and pop in the freezer, which is what I usually do with at least some of them. Once they are frozen, pop into a freezer bag. They’ll keep for a few weeks, and are easily baked off from frozen, just adding a little time to the bake.

If you are baking them right away, put the scones on a parchment-lined baking pan, brush with a little cream and sprinkle with sugar (I like to use turbinado sugar of this – makes a nice crunch.) Bake for 18-20 minutes or until the scones are golden and firm to the touch.

High altitude baking: Since things take a little longer to bake up here, I raise the oven temp to 425, and bake for about 20 minutes, then lower temp to 350 and bake another 5-8 minutes until firm. This prevents the bottoms from getting too dark before the inside is fully cooked.

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). You can also see what’s cookin’ on my Instagram page. Thanks!  :-)

Scheduling Panic

IMG_5804Hi all. Remember me? Sorry, it’s been a while I know, but I’ve had a few things to do. Find a new job, find a new home, create a new life. You know, simple stuff. It’s not that I didn’t love parts of my old life. I loved the friends made that I now consider part of my family. I loved the beauty and bounty of the Columbia River Gorge, and the people who take what the region offers and make truly amazing, wonderful things. And I’m grateful to my hungry gorgers, who encouraged and embraced Cooking in My Heels, some buying, many drooling, but all along supporting my quest for tasty pastry world domination. Yet life rolls on, situations change, and it was time to move forward. Or in this case a little south-eastward, trading Cascade for Wasatch, and rural for city.

IMG_5809When you pick up and move to a new and somewhat unknown world, with a new and more-what uncertain future, it helps to be organized. Structure takes the fear out of chaos, and I was banking on that. You see, I’m usually a very organized gal. Genetically teutonic, trying to be anything other than overly prepared would be swimming upstream. And since I was crazy enough to do this whole dance less than three years ago, I knew a few things. Like don’t start packing earlier than two weeks before the big truck pulls up, unless you actually like living encased in cardboard. Or don’t seriously start the apartment hunt until less than a month before opening that new door, unless you’d like to pay for a month of empty. But most importantly, don’t forget to schedule the panic.

I discovered the importance of scheduling panic during a full-on panic. My panic reasons were certainly legit – in three weeks time I would be homeless, jobless, with a great big truck pulling up in front of my soon to be non-home, taking all my worldly possessions to a zip code. Yup, just a zip code. Not even my zip code as it turned out. Just one of the several in the city of Salt Lake. And as I was relaying this insanity to my remarkably calm mother, through backdrop of snot, tears and ridiculously squeaky voice, she suggested I set a panic day in my calendar. The absolute last day that anything could be organized, wherein panic would certainly be the most appropriate activity.

You’d be amazed at the calming effect scheduling panic has. It’s really quite logical, once you’ve blown your nose, wiped your eyes, and the palpitations cease. Why live in chaos before chaos ensues? Seriously. It’s not like you are more productive or have clearer thought when you are running around in circles, shrieking and thinking the worst, right? Panic when it’s time to panic. Pick a date, then put it aside. The magic of it is, once you do you get a hell of a lot more things done. And, if you’re lucky, you won’t have to keep that appointment.

So while I’m completely certain my move was the right move, and absolutely love my new kitchen, home, and city, everything isn’t rosy in my new world just yet. But I’m not panicking. It’s on the calendar, though.😉

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To honor my new Salt Lake digs and give a shout out to some new friends, I’m sharing the most appropriate recipe I could find, one I’ve posted about a year ago on my first visit here, and the first thing I wanted to share with my niece when she visited: Fried Mormon Funeral Potatoes. These wonderful nuggets, and the recipe are courtesy of The Garage on Beck. I have a feeling I’m going to like it here.:-)

Fried Mormon Funeral Potatoes (From Sunset Magazine, February 2013)  – Makes 20

These little nuggets from The Garage restaurant, in Salt Lake City, are based on Mormon funeral potatoes, a crunchy, cheesy, creamy casserole dish that is served at just about any big function in that town. Rolled into balls and deep-fried, they are totally over the top.

  • 8 ounces bacon, chopped, cooked, and drained
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 or 2 jalapeño chiles, minced
  • 1 green onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cups defrosted frozen shredded hash browns
  • 1 cup coarsely shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup finely ground corn flakes, divided
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • Chopped parsley (optional)

Whirl bacon, cream cheese, onion, jalapeños, green onion, and sour cream in a food processor, about 1 minute. Place in a large mixing bowl. Stir hash browns, cheddar, flour, cornstarch, salt, eggs, and 3 tbsp. ground corn flakes into bacon mixture. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop up a scant 1/4 cup of potato mixture and roll into a ball. Drop ball into a bowl filled with 3/4 cup corn flakes and roll to coat (mixture will firm up once coated). Place on sheet and repeat with remaining mixture. Chill until ready to cook. Heat 2 in. oil in a medium pot until it registers 350° on a deep-fry thermometer. Fry potato balls, a few at a time, until golden, 5 minutes per batch. Drain on paper towels.

Wasabi Ranch Dip/Dressing Makes about 1/2 cup, and can be doubled/tripled easily Whisk together the following ingredients. Chill until ready to use. (This is also pretty awesome on a steak sandwich!)

  • 5 TBSP sour cream
  • 2-3 TBSP buttermilk (depending upon how thin you want dip)
  • 1/2-3/4 tsp prepared wasabi (depending on taste and heat tolerance)
  • 1/2 tsp yellow mustard
  • 1/2 tsp Lowry’s Season Salt
  • A few grinds of black pepper
  • 2 tsp – 1 TBSP mayonnaise
  • Squirt of lemon

Horseradish Honey Mustard Whisk together the following and chill until ready to use.

  • 1/2 cup Dijon mustard
  • 1 TBSP prepared horseradish
  • 2 tsp honey

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). You can also see what’s cookin’ on my Instagram page. Thanks!  :-)

Bubble Wrap

This is a true story. The names haven’t been changed because who am I kidding, you know it’s about me.

File May 28, 5 57 00 AMIn about three weeks I’ll be moving to Salt Lake City. That in and of itself is kind of exciting — moving to a great city, closer to people I’m close to, and (fingers crossed) the possibility of a really cool life on many levels. Yet with all that potential for awesome comes a bit (plus a bit more) of uncertainty. And that “bit” felt more like a giant load a few weeks ago. Which lead to the pounding stress monster that took up residence in my brain and a few other organs.

The thing about a Stressinator, (think cyborg like Schwarzenegger with the constant nasal whine of Woody Allen), is it has a tendency to nudge you awake at 3AM. Which it did. A barrage of “what if’s” and “oh god’s” ran through my head like the ceaseless news crawl on  CNN. Then a brief and quite pragmatic moment of clarity ran across my mental screen: I need to buy packing tape. So I did, hit send, closed the iPad, closed the eyes, and sleep took over again.

Like many of you, my tablet sleeps next to me on the nightstand. Once consciousness claims me in the morning, it and my readers are the start of my day.  More often than not it’s the “ping” of email that wakes me in the first place, and it did just that the morning after my Stressinator visit. It was an email from the elves at amazon, bringing glad tidings of packing tape in my future. Suddenly I felt better. One piece of the chaos was put into place, and with that ping the monster was vanquished for a little while. Ok, so it’s quite possibly a symptom of insanity that a delivery of office products makes me feel better, but it did, and these days I’ll take whatever I can get.

I relayed this whole thing to my mom in that week’s phone call, we had a good giggle, and life went on its way. Until the UPS man came by a few days later. Not unusual, since I order a lot of things online ever since I moved to a rural small town with closest city 65 miles away. The size of the box was what had me perplexed. It was enormous, and unless I had been sleep-ordering coffee tables, definitely wasn’t mine. “Yup, it’s addressed to you” said UPSMan. “Don’t worry, it’s really light.”

Inside the box was possibly the best defense against the monsters of uncertainty, doubt, and fear of leaping off cliffs…a GIANT roll of bubble wrap. I burst into giggles, then tears, then snorting laughter. Then I called mom. “Did you sent me an enormous roll of bubble wrap?” “Yup”, said she. “I figured if packing tape made you feel better for a morning, this would do the trick for a week!” And it still does, every time I look at it. I even hug it every once in a while.:-)

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How do you follow that with a recipe? With homemade Balsamic Glaze, that’s how. It bubbles, it makes you feel better. You need more reason than that?

This stuff is magical, and stinkin’ easy. Just a bottle of balsamic vinegar (16oz.), half a cup of sugar, and a good pinch of salt, and grind or two of black pepper. Use it over strawberries, ice cream, pizza, salad, drizzled on some pecorino or aged parm, or just really good olive oil and crusty bread.

Balsamic Glaze

  • 1 16.9 oz bottle of good balsamic vinegar (you don’t have to buy the expensive aged ones for this, just use one you like the taste of.)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • pinch salt
  • a few grinds black pepper

One very important thing to note about making your own balsamic glaze is boiling vinegar is a pretty pungent undertaking. Definitely an open window/exhaust fan thing. And don’t stand right over the pot. It’s not scary, just be a little cautious. Some of you may even have to leave the house while a loving volunteer whips some up for you.

Mix all the ingredients together in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and cook until it becomes syrupy, or until the volume is about half of what you started. Store in a clean jar or bottle in the fridge, it will keep for a pretty long time. If it gets too thick, just dilute a little with water, or some good aged balsamic vinegar.

Strawberry Bruschetta

I love making this for Memorial Day weekend, because it’s about that time of year the first strawberries show up at the farmers market.

Clean and chop a pint of strawberries and toss into a bowl. Add a pinch of salt, a grind or two of black pepper, and a teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or 1/4 cup chopped basil. Add in two teaspoons balsamic glaze, 1 teaspoon good olive oil, toss and let sit for about 15-20 minutes.

Toast up some baguette slices or grill slices of a good crusty country loaf. Top with the strawberry mixture 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). You can also see what’s cookin’ on my Instagram page. Thanks!  :-)

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.

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). You can also see what’s cookin’ Instagram page. Thanks!  :-)

…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.

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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.

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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!  :-)

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.

FullSizeRender FullSizeRender

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!  :-)