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…

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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!   :-)

 

Lazy is Good

FullSizeRender - Version 2Yes, I cook for a living, or part of a living and I love it. Yet, I have never shied away from a dish that calls for little or no work except tossing things in a pot and pushing ON. Or a cake that has as part of its name “dump”. Let’s face it, even when you love to cook, you don’t always want to cook. The crock-pot was pretty much invented on this principle. And yes, I’m going to still call it that even though crock-pot is actually a brand and the foodist “slow cooker” is now the term in vogue. Crock was the first one I had, and all its brethren since go by that even if crock is no where on it. I still xerox things and grab kleenex too.

Anyway, back to my affection for culinary sloth. I’m not talking about overly processed just add water and an egg, though there are times when that can be wonderful in a childhood comfort food add milk and butter to potato flakes kind of way. I was once given a recipe for huckleberries that involved a stick of butter and a box mix, and it was pretty awesome. What I mean when I say culinary sloth is adding a combination of good stuff to the gaping maw of the pot, tossing a bit, turning on low and allowing everything to get to know each other really well, say over 6 hours. Think of it as courting, not speed dating.

2015-10-18 14.03.01-1This time of year I look for the easy route to delicious a lot. Working two jobs and trying to grow a  business during the busy ’tis the season’ season means the crock-pot is my culinary weapon on choice. And why not? Slow cooking pretty much guarantees yummy, economical fare, and as a bonus you can skip the scented candles to make your house smell homey. But if all of that isn’t convincing you, here’s another reason. Tacos. Awesome  flavor packed pork tacos. Specifically, Crock-Pot Carnitas. The recipe is a combo of a few I’ve seen, plus a little of this and a little of that. As far as technique, chuck everything into the pot, hit low, 6 hours, ON. After piggy and all has had their time in the hot tub, shred, add your taco containment method and accessories of choice. Lazy never tasted so good!

Crock-Pot Carnitas

Makes about 6-7 cups 

  • 3 pounds boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of any larger pieces of fat and cut into approximately 2″ cubes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cinnamon stick (about 2″)
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried oregano (Mexican oregano if you have it)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground clove
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 large onion, cut into 8 pieces
  • 3-4 strips of orange zest (remove any white pith)

Toss all of the ingredients together in the crock-pot. Cook on low for 6 hours. After 6 hours, take out a piece of the meat to test for doneness. If it shreds easily, it’s done! Remove the meat to a large bowl and shred.  At this point if you want to make tacos right away, take some of the shredded pork and brown in a sauté pan so you get some crispy bits. You won’t need to add any oil. The pork has enough fat in it. I also like to chop up any onions that haven’t melted, and drizzle a little of the juices over the pork after it’s been fried.

Serve along with a stack of corn tortillas, shredded cabbage, salsa of your choice, limes or wedges of clementines.

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 Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving from Cooking in My Heels – Here’s a post from the past, and one of my best turkey days ever!


 

 

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THE GALVANIZED GOURMET

Over the years I’ve accumulated a respectable collection of cooking gear. Some of it is top of the line, some thrift store, but each pan, bowl,  gadget and tchotchke has a role in my kitchen. I’ve never been a snob when it comes to kitchen toys. If something works, I really don’t care where it comes from or what it’s made of. Stainless, cast iron, or ceramic, if it gets the job done, it earns a space in my space-limited kitchen. This year, I’m considering adding galvanized to the list.

When I first heard about Trash Can Turkey I thought it was a joke. Surely he was pulling my leg…it sounded too much like urban legend. But then Thanksgiving drew nearer and no “just kidding” was offered. The bird ala garbage can was about to enter my life. I actually liked the concept, even before tasting the bird. If turkey is in the can, the oven is open real estate. That means no more wondering how to fit a 20 pound bird, dressing, potatoes, veggies and PIE in one oven. No more having to resort to flow charts and air traffic control algorithms to get Thanksgiving on the table.

So what is Trash Can Turkey?  It’s exactly as it sounds. Start with a new galvanized trash can (reusable for beauteous birds to come), add coals, nestle turkey on stake in the ground underneath, and a mere two and a quarter hours later…SHAZAM! A golden brown juicy beast, just aching for cranberry sauce and taters!

2014-11-27 15.33.54Trash Can Turkey

Trash Can Turkey is really more technique than recipe. Technique, and activity. What’s nicer than sitting around the hobo oven enjoying a cocktail and pondering the questions of the universe… OK, back to the bird. Prepping the turkey can be as simple as olive oil, salt and pepper, or elaborate (rubs, herbed butters, brining or whatever.) The only limitation is you’ll be sitting Tom upright on a foil covered stake, so anything you stuff in is likely to fall out.

 

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 20-22 lb turkey (a smaller turkey works too, adjust timing accordingly)
  • 1 new galvanized trash can
  • Aluminum foil
  • Charcoal brickettes (two bags should do)
  • 1 wooden garden stake, about 1 1/2 feet long
  • A bundt pan
  • 2 barrel slats, or pieces of 2’x4′, and two eager helpers to lift the can when the coals are ready
  • Olive oil, salt, pepper and whatever else you want to use to season the bird

2014-11-27 14.18.37Step 1: Hammer wooden garden stake into ground, leaving about a foot sticking out. Cover the stake with aluminum foil.

Step 2: Find a bundt pan you are willing to sacrifice to this application forever. A well-scrubbed thrift store find is a perfect fit. Place the bundt pan over the stake to catch the turkey drippings for gravy. (I’m told this was a recent adaption, suggested by a smart mom who knew without drippings, gravy is a very sad thing.)

2014-11-27 14.19.58Step 3: Take four sheets of foil, and cover the ground that surrounds the can – this prevents major scorched earth. Forget the foil and you will consecrate trash can turkey ground for hereafter.

Step 4: Set your trash can over the stake/bundt pan. Pile coals on top and arrange around the can, leaving about 4-5 inches of space between the coals and the can.

Step 5: Light the coals, pull up a chair and beverage of choice, warm toes and wait until the coals are ready.

2014-11-27 17.29.03Step 6: When the coals are white and glowing, use the barrel slats (or whatever you have) and two volunteers to carefully lift can off the stake. Place bird over stake and carefully replace can.

2014-11-27 17.29.15Step 7: After two and a quarter hours, (for 20-ish pound bird, or about 6-7 minutes per pound), carefully remove can and revel in the glory of the golden turkey goodness.

 

I may have started a doubter, but by Thursday night I was a convert. And among my list of gratitudes this year is a can, a stake, a bundt and some coals. And the man who made me my first Trash Can Turkey. :-)

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!   :-)

Embracing My Hate

FullSizeRender - Version 2I know we are supposed to be filled with the loving warm fuzzies this time of year.  But I feel it’s time to admit that as soon as Halloween rolls past and “the holidays” come into view, I feel something else too. I feel hate. Shocking, but true. And I’m not the only one.

In the past I’ve tried to hide it. I’ve tried to ignore my loathing, to be open to at least considering the possibility of tolerating if not liking. But this year I’ve decided I’m done. I’m 53 and it’s high time I acknowledge and embrace, publicly. Step back, here goes:

I HATE BRUSSELS SPROUTS!  I can’t think of any food I hate more. Kale comes close, but the sprouts still win. Sure they’re kinda cute, like doll-sized toy cabbages. Cuteness can’t quell my hate fire. Neither does the fact that you can buy them all cozied up on brussels branches and flaunt your purchase through the farmer’s market like a vegetable drum majorette. I still hate them.

Why the need to post my sprout scorn for all the world to see? Because people don’t believe you when you tell them politely. Seriously. All you fellow haters out there try it and just see what happens. The minute your server gleefully announces “we finally have our brussels sprouts back on the menu for the season” and you reply, “thank you, no, I don’t care for them,” the dance starts. You’ll be told that their preparation is different. Countless sprout-haters have been converted with a mere bite, just trust them. Then they throw bacon, or duck fat, or cranberries into the mix. Maybe roast the suckers in high heat ovens, or braise them in bourbon, or countless other ploys to make you think that somehow the offending cruciferous veg would magically shrug off its foulness.

I know you sprout lovers have the best of intentions, but please, PLEASE believe me. I hate them. You could wrap them in hundred-dollar bills, bathe them in dark chocolate and bring out Clooney to serve them to me off his chest, and I would still refuse. THAT is how much I hate them. But hey, my hatred leaves more sprouts for you, right? So the next time you ask me to try them, telling me I only hate them because I haven’t tried yours, don’t. I love that you love them so I don’t have to, and will never question nor judge why. Just let me embrace my hate.

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Not a chance a brussels sprouts recipe could darken my blogstep, but since Thanksgiving is right around the corner, here are a few gems to help your holiday, including last year’s star attraction, trash can turkey!

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! 

Pumpkinomena

imageFor some reason that escapes me, the pumpkin, or rather its incarnation as a spiced overly sweet caffeinated beverage has become quite the phenomena. The PSL (give it a minute, you’ll figure it out) is a beloved seasonal visitor to some, worthy of fan-blogs and twitter accounts. To others the pumpkin-spiced quaff is fodder for meme-worthy face booking, an aphrodisiac, and to one very earnest and a bit over serious Swathmore undergrad, the poster-child of sexist stereotyping. OK people, get a grip…it’s just a pumpkin spice latte. An overly tarted-up beverage version of beloved vegetable, and up until recently didn’t even contain the sexy orange squash it’s named for.

Seriously…what the?! I mean, I like pumpkin season as much as the next person, have even sipped the overhyped coffee version on occasion, yet I’m still flummoxed by the frenzy of pumpkin spiced everything this time of year. Is the combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and allspice truly worthy of social media over exposure, Swathmore undergrad ire, and coverage by both Psychology Today and the National Review? I’m thinking not. I get that the combination of those spices attached to a chubby and arguably adorable veggie invokes thoughts of crisp weather, turning leaves and cozy sweaters. So does a toddy with crisp apple cider with a good glug of whisky, but you don’t see it tweeting or begging for attention on instagram (and it should, it really should.)

File Oct 11, 6 05 46 PMSure pumpkins are swell, but let’s all just relax, enjoy the season, and not work ourselves into a lather about what pumpkin spice lusting or loathing really means. There are so many more tizzy-worthy things to fuss about out there…like how wrong donut-flavored beer and blueberry bagels are…

After all my squash rhetoric above, my original intention with this post was to spurn the combination of pumpkin, cinnamon, and associated spices and share a favorite recipe of the savory variety. However, when I got down to making the dish I’d planned, the resulting glop was a hot mess. Yep, happens to me too. I burn, over bake, under bake, and sometimes come up with truly awful concoctions. Such was my savory pumpkin disaster. And I’ve learned that when that happens, only thing to do is toss the offending dish, open a bottle of wine, take a look around my kitchen, and regroup.

Half a bottle of wine and two tasty local tacos later it hit me. Sure I’m tired of the usually cloying over sweet pumpkin pie, but why not take all the things I like about it, tone down the sweetness in the custard with a touch of fluffy whipped cream cheese and orange, put all that in a crust I don’t have to roll out because I’m just tired, and top the whole shebang with salted caramel because, well, do you really need a reason?

Salted Caramel Pumpkin Tart will forever be my go-to pumpkin pie recipe from now on. A beautifully light pumpkin custard covered in salty sweet caramelly goodness all baked into a buttery brown sugar crust. Oh man… You know, they just might be right about that pumpkin spice aphrodisiac thing after all. ;-)

File Nov 06, 10 23 46 AM

This is a great addition to any Thanksgiving feast because each components of this tart can be made ahead of time if you like. The crust freezes well unbaked, and you don’t even have to thaw before baking,  just add a little time to baking. The filling can sit in the refrigerator in an airtight container for a day or three, and the salted caramel sauce keeps well in a sealed jar in the fridge too. Any extra of the sauce is pretty much awesome over ice cream, on bread pudding, on a spoon, your finger…

Salted Caramel Pumpkin Tart

Makes 1 9″ tart, or 4 4″ individual tarts

Brown Sugar Crust

If it is possible to be in love with a pie crust, this is the one. And it’s ridiculously easy to prepare. The butter is melted, so you don’t have to worry about chilling and cutting into teeny pieces. It’s easy to just mix this up in a bowl with a fork and not have to pull out (and more importantly clean) a food processor. Yes, there is a major amount of butter in it. I don’t have a problem with that.

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 5.5 ounces or 1 stick + 3 TBPS butter, melted

File Nov 06, 10 25 34 AMWhisk together the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. Slowly add the melted butter as you mix it with a fork until it comes together. Press the dough into your tart pan and pat out evenly on the bottom and up the sides. You could make this in a pie pan and decoratively crimp the edges, but with a tart pan you don’t have to bother. This is truly a lazy crust. An amazingly delicious lazy crust.

File Nov 06, 10 25 17 AMYou’ll want to blind bake the crust and cool it before adding in the pumpkin filling. Line with foil or parchment, then baking weights, rice or beans, and bake at 350ºF for 15 minutes. Uncover and bake another 5-10 minutes until dry and slightly browned. Reduce oven to 325ºF, and let cool completely while you make the filling.

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Filling

Made a mess of pumpkin butter in my slow cooker a few weeks ago, and have been itching to develop a recipe to used some of it up. If you don’t want to make your own, pick up a jar of your favorite. I’ve found Trader Joe’s has a nice one that’s pretty affordable too.

  • 1 cup pumpkin butter
  • 1 container (about 8 ounces) whipped cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup apricot jam, loosened up a bit with a few teaspoons water (start with one and add more if needed) so it’s a bit more fluid and not a solid lump of jam.
  • 1 tsp orange zest
  • 2 TBSP dark brown sugar
  • 1 shot whisky (3 TBSPS)
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 TBSP flour
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp allspice
  • A few tablespoons of chopped toasted pecans for garnishing the finished tart

Add the pumpkin butter and cream cheese to a large bowl and beat together on low/medium until completely incorporated. I used a hand mixer, but you could use a standing one if you liked or a food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients and beat on medium until fully combined. Pour into the cooled pre-baked tart shell.

Bake the tart at 325ºF until the filling is set, about 30 minutes but time will vary based on your oven and if you have convection or not. If you are making 4 small tartlets rather than one big one, they should bake in about 15-20 minutes. Cool completely before topping with caramel sauce.

See that color? That’s what you want. And if it wasn’t lava hot when I took the picture, I’d be doing shooters.

Salted Caramel Sauce

Oh my god….this stuff….this incredible wonderful fabulous stuff…

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 TBSP water
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 TBSP butter (I used salted)
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Add the sugar and water to heavy bottomed saucepan and cook over medium-low until the sugar has completely melted. Raise heat to medium-high and cook, swirling pan occasionally but NOT stirring until the sugar is a medium-golden brown. Be brave. The darker it get’s the better it is. If you let it go too far and it burns it’s just sugar. Try again.

Once the sugar syrup is dark enough remove from heat and carefully add the cream, butter and salt. It will bubble up so be careful. Put back on medium-low heat and stir until smooth. Now raise the temp a little and gently boil about 10 minutes to let it thicken. You want about 5 fluid ounces, or a little more than 1/2 cup for the tart. Pour into a heatproof jar or bowl and chill in fridge about 15-20 minutes. It can still be warm, but you don’t want lava hot.

File Nov 06, 10 23 18 AMWhen the caramel has cooled, pour into the center of the cooled tart. Carefully tilt the tart pan to move the caramel around so it completely covers the tart. Sprinkle a ring of toasted chopped pecans along the outer edge of the tart. Chill tart in the fridge for about an hour to let everything set. Bring to room temperature before serving. This tart keeps well in the fridge, but I doubt there will be any issues with leftovers!

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! 

Vengeance is a dish best served with a big glass of milk

Just like the Great Pumpkin and a wealth of children wandering the streets in super hero pajamas, All Hallows Eve brings on something special in my kitchen — the annual baked blood bath…


SWEET VENGEANCE

I see dead people…Well, they are dead to me that is.  Ex-bosses who treated me like crap, sexist coworkers, catty friends, jerks who dumped me, the person who coined the phrase ‘down-sizing’: dead dead dead, dead dead. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a very nice person…really. And I truly believe that taking the high road after disappointment or heartache always makes me feel better in the end. Of course, that doesn’t prevent me from occasionally letting my imagination go a little wild and envisioning those who have done me wrong meeting gruesome fates. Problem is, I also believe in karma and what you send out to others you get back yourself. Unfortunately that means the nasty stuff too.

So what’s a very nice and occasionally vengeful gal to do? I suppose I could wish something not so terrible on them, like a nasty rash or a big zit on the end of their nose the day they are getting an important photo taken. Maybe a sudden downpour on their picnic? A really bad paper cut?  Yeah, none of that is even close to as satisfying as casting them as a victim of Jason, Freddie Krueger or Michael Myers.  But I wonder…. Maybe if I just pretend they get hacked to bits, the circle of karma won’t bite me in the ass. With Halloween coming up, it’s the perfect time to send out some good-natured grisly retribution. Yet rather than let some fictional character do the maiming, I prefer a more personal approach. Specifically, I like severing body parts.

Yes, every year for a while now, this seemingly normal woman turns into a deranged psychopath in the days leading to Halloween. Actually, I’ve been lopping off appendages, severing heads, and poking eyes out for almost two decades. Even more diabolical is I never have to worry about hiding proof of my annual blood lust. My friends and family are happy to take care of the evidence, especially my niece. She, in fact, is the is the reason I gleefully hack off appendages and put out eyes every year.

My niece was born on Halloween, and ever since her 1st birthday party I have been baking her severed body-part cookies as an annual birthday treat. There’s nothing cuter than a one-year-old baby girl in her first Halloween ballerina costume, chewing on the sugary bloody stump of a hand. And even though she’s practically all grown up now, she’s never tired of this annual birthday carnage, nor have I. It’s cathartic, really. Vengeance served, purged and conscience shiny and clean, all in a yummy cookie. And if the karmic retribution of my annual bloodbath is I have to walk another mile or two to burn off the calories? Yeah, I can live with that…

I know there are you out there who need to get in touch with your inner Dexter. Make these cookies and I promise, revenge will never taste so sweet!

SEVERED BODY-PART COOKIES

Each recipe makes about 2 dozen cookies, depending upon which body part you sever. Calories: approximately 100-125 per cookie

** Gruesome shapes: Technically, they don’t make cookie cutters in the shape of spleens, livers, kidneys, but they do make hands. These work very well provided you lop off a finger or two. Eyeballs are easily poked out using a small juice glass or biscuit cutter. I’ve also been known to sever gingerbread men heads and limbs. As for spleens, I use a holly or leaf-shaped cutter. Does it look like a spleen?  Do YOU know what a spleen looks like? Yeah, neither does anyone else, so just tell them it’s a spleen. As far as other shapes, feel free to get in-touch with the little ax-murderer inside you and make them up as you go!

Cinnamon Sugar Cookies

  • ½ cup softened butter
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • 1 TBSP cream or whole milk
  • 2 cups flour
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 ½ tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Thoroughly cream the butter. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Beat in egg, then milk. In a separate bowl mix together all the dry ingredients, then add them to the butter mixture and mix until the dough comes together. Knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together in a ball, then pat out into a disk. Wrap in cling film and chill for 30 minutes.  Roll out the dough to about ¼” thick, and cut out in gruesome shapes.**  Bake for 10-12 minutes on parchment lined cookie sheets. Cool completely on rack before “bloodying” with icing.

Chocolate Sugar Cookies

  • ½ cup softened butter
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp almond extract
  • ¼ tsp instant espresso powder
  • 2 cups flour
  • ¼ tsp salt

Add espresso powder to the chocolate, and melt over a double boiler, or in the microwave (use 30 second intervals so you don’t scorch the chocolate). Set aside to cool a bit. Beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Beat in the egg, then the extracts and chocolate. Whisk the flour and salt together in a separate bowl then add to the wet ingredients and mix until the dough just comes together. Knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together in a ball, then pat out into a disk. Don’t chill (it will make the dough too crumbly). Roll out the dough to about ¼” thick, and cut out in gruesome shapes.**  Collect the scraps and re-roll, but try not to add too much extra flour. These are a bit crumbly and delicate to begin with and too much bench flour makes them more so. Bake for 10 minutes on parchment lined cookie sheets. Watch these carefully – burnt chocolate tastes frightful! Cool completely before “bloodying” with icing.

Royal icing

(If you are uncomfortable using raw egg white, there are several recipes for royal icing on-line that use meringue powder.)

  • 1 large egg white (you may need to add a few drops of water if the icing is too stiff)
  • Pinch of cream of tartar
  • 1 3/4 to 2 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1 tsp lemon juice, vanilla or almond extract

Beat the egg white and cream of tartar until frothy. Gradually add 1 ¾ cups confectioners’ sugar until the mixture begins to stiffen and turn opaque white. Add 1 tsp lemon juice or extract and mix in thoroughly. The mixture should be stiff but still pliable.

Separate the icing into 3 bowls. Add red food coloring to one bowl to get a deep bloody red (add more sugar if the mixture thins too much.) Add blue or green to another bowl (for the center of the eyeballs). The plain white icing will be used to create the white of the eyes.

Put the blood icing in a small plastic bag with the tip cut off (you want just a very small hole) or pastry bag with a small piping tip. Do the same in a second bag for the eye color.

Once the cookies are cooled completely, bloody them appropriately along the hacked off edges. Leave them to dry overnight. They keep well in an air tight container for about a week. Make sure you put something heavy on top of the lid…you wouldn’t want them to crawl out….MUAAAAHAAAHAAAHAAAAAAAAA!!!!!

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! 

Something About Apples

Here’s a little window into my creative process, blog-wise. Don’t be afraid, it’s going to be ok, I promise….

I need to do something about apples because it’s that time of year and I live in orchard land, and I work part-time in Washington, which is famous for its apples (and its trees…and pot, but not doing a blog about trees or pot, well not right now), and I just made a mess of bourbon apple butter and need to put in a recipe because I’m running out of shelf space and empty jars, and I have my monthly cooking demo this week, and then there’s that recipe I’ve been wanting to play with, so just what pithy snark can I surround all this with. Obviously I think in massive run-on sentences.

2013-10-22 13.20.08Google search “apples” yields: Wiki apple listing;  world’s healthiest fruit book plug; expose on some aspect of the entire world of apples meant to raise ire and righteous indignation; and Washington State Apple Commission website (nice SEO, WA apple folks). Not much pithy snark potential there. How about “apple symbolism.”  Hmm. Skip past the “forbidden fruit” stuff, too pedestrian. The latin word for apple and evil are the same, big whoop. Scan down.

The Adam’s apple is named for the forbidden fruit getting stuck in Adam’s throat, hence the lump. Interesting, but choking and a food blog, probably not. Lot’s of sin talk. Fun, yes, new, no. Skip past that, and the poisonous apple spiel from the Grimms (see choking in food blog reference above). Ooo, Norse and Celtic mythology, always good for an interesting story. Norse see apples as sacred symbol of rebirth and beauty. Nice, boring. Celtic….JACKPOT! The story of Conle.

Our boy Conle was the Red son of the high king of Ireland, Conn of the Hundred Battles (because you’re not a high king if you only have a dozen or so battles under your belt.) Conle was traveling with his royal pop when he saw a beautiful woman, invisible to the rest of the group. The babe tempted Conle to go with her to the Plain of Delight (hussy, throwing her plain of delight at the poor boy) and there live forever. Unfortunately Conn’s druid Coran (keep up now, you’ve got kings and druids, and everyone’s name starts with “C” ) drove the temptress off by singing, but not before she threw a magic apple at the boy. And that apple fed Conle for a year, but also gave him an irresistible desire for fairyland. Oh really…. the apple did it? Not the great theater, fabulous restaurants, chic shops and cute guys?

So that’s how it works folks. And now, the recipe. It has something to do with apples.

File Oct 08, 12 04 31 PMDouble Apple Tart with Whole Wheat Crust  (Makes one 10″ tart)

I’ve been meaning to make a variation of this tart ever since I ran across an article about it several years ago. It’s one of those Julia things, reinvented every so often. What interested me was the way it uses apples two ways –  in a sauce as base, and fresh apple slices on top. It’s also visually a stunner, and it lets me place things in a pattern with purpose. I love that crap.

You could buy the applesauce or apple butter if you like and I won’t tell. In fact, it’s the perfect use for that jar of apple butter you bought on your fall apple picking trip, then realized when you got home..”what the hell am I going to do with this?” I used bourbon apple butter because had some (ok, much) which I made in a fit of apple picking autumnal equinoxy last weekend. Plus there’s a mess of bourbon in it, which pretty much has me at hello.

Yes, you could buy a crust if you like, but it’s worth making it with this one (with no rolling out headache) and the whole wheat pastry flour gives it a lovely graham quality. But, feel free to substitute all-purpose flour if that’s what you have. As far as the fuss of laying out those apples? It’s very zen, really, and with a few tricks I’ll show you, not difficult either. 

For the tart dough:

  • 1 cup (140g) Whole Wheat Pastry Flour (you can use regular all-purpose flour too)
  • 6 TBSP (3 oz or 90 g) chilled butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup (70 g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 large egg, slightly beaten
  • The zest of one orange (about 1 TBSP)

For the filling:

  • 1 cup apple butter or applesauce
  • 2-3 crisp apples of your choice (Fuji, Granny Smith, Pink Lady or any other you like that will hold their shape when baked. I used Fuji in mine.)
  • 1 TBSP lemon juice
  • 3-4 TBSP sugar

For the glaze:

  • 1/4 cup apricot or peach jam + 1 tsp water, heated until it’s liquid and then strained so there are no big pieces of fruit.

Make the tart dough:

Add the flour, sugar, salt, chilled butter pieces and orange zest to the bowl of a food processor. Process about 10 seconds, or just until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the beaten egg and pulse until the pastry just begins to hold together (about 15 times.) Dump the dough onto a sheet of wax paper and gather into a ball, then flatten to a disk. This is going to be a sticky dough, especially if it gets warm. If your dough is still cold and you work quickly, you can press it into a 10″ removable bottom tart pan now, then cover and chill. Mine was too sticky for that the last time I made it, so I flattened the disk in the wax paper as much as I could, then popped into the fridge for about 30 minutes before trying to press into the pan. I also used the wax paper to press it into the pan, but you could also use floured fingers. Once it’s all pressed in the pan, wrap well in cling film and chill for at least 2 hours, and up to overnight.

When you are ready to make the tart, preheat oven to 400ºF and line the tart pan with foil, then fill with pie weights, beans or rice and blind bake 15-20 minutes, or until the edges are slightly brown and pull away from the pan. Decrease temperature to 375ºF, remove foil and bake another 5-10 minutes until the bottom of the tart is dry and starting to color a little. Brush 2 tablespoons of the apricot glaze and set aside.

Prepare the filling:

Halve the apples vertically, then remove the core with a melon baller or knife (the melon baller is the best tool for this.) Slice each half the long way into very thin slices, about 1/8″. You don’t need to peel the apples, in fact, it works better if you don’t. Toss the apple slices in a bowl with the lemon juice and 2 tablespoons sugar.

   File Oct 08, 6 59 10 PMFile Oct 08, 6 58 49 PM

Spread the cup of applesauce/apple butter in the tart shell, then overlap the apple slices on top around the outer edge. Now you have this big hole in the middle to fill. Here’s neat trick #1: Rather than another ring of slices, place one slice horizontally at the top of the hole, and follow with one on the right side, bottom, and left side. Continue with the next ring of apples and so on, until just one small hole in the center remains.

File Oct 08, 12 37 32 PMNeat trick #2: If you try to roll up a slice to fit in the middle of the rosette, it will likely break. But, if you put the slice in the microwave for a minute or two until flexible….rolls like a dream! (Don’t be overly impressed. I broke A LOT of apples before I figured this one out).

Sprinkle the tart with 2 teaspoons sugar, and bake for 30-40 minutes until the apples slices are easily pierced with a knife.  Now you could just brush the tart with the remaining apricot glaze, but to be even more fancy, sprinkle over about a tablespoon of sugar, and if you are lucky enough to have a kitchen torch, fire that baby up and brown the edges of theFile Oct 08, 12 37 04 PM apples and melt the sugar a bit, then brush with glaze. If you don’t have a flamethrower, you can pop under the broiler a minute or two, watching it so it doesn’t burn. I choose playing with fire, because it a hell of a lot of fun.

Let the tart 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), and check out what else is going on in my kitchen at cookinginmyheels.com. Thanks!