The Post-Valentine Valentine’s Day

2015-12-23-14-17-18-1How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day when you are post-valentine? Slasher movies come to mind. Wine bottle with a big straw, perhaps. Swiping right? Or maybe Russell Stover yourself into a sugar coma? All would be appropriate I suppose, and hey, I’m never going to be one to judge. But before you get out that big stock pot and rent Fatal Attraction for pointers, might I suggest one of the following two approaches. The first provides ample opportunity for exorcising the ex, the second just reminds you that love isn’t limited to just one recipient.

Whichever one you choose, one thing is certain. There will be great food, and there will be love in the room. ❤

The S.O.A.B.R.B. Dinner Party

That’s Amore too…

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A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants…

This has been one hell of a week. Not only are we here in the States witness to troubling acts that well, at the least have been distressing to watch, we lost an icon who meant the world me and countless others who needed a role model to start the discussion of all the things we could be.  So in honor of Mary Tyler Moore, and to provide a recipe that is the definition of comfort at a very discomforting time, I’m reposting something I wrote several years ago. Rest easy Mair…


I have great fondness for the ridiculous. I can’t help it, it runs in my family. My dad was once helping a rather shnockered woman onto a canal boat and one of her shoes fell into the canal. As she cried “my SHOE!” Dad reached down, grabbed the other shoe and tossed it overboard too. “Well, you won’t be needing this one then!” Yup, genetic – my whole family suffers from it. We just can’t help loving the ridiculous, goofy, and silly. I would have been the one like Mary Tyler Moore, consumed by body-wrenching panty-wetting giggles during Chuckles the Clown’s funeral. There’s no sense in shushing me – it only makes it worse. Can you stop laughing when someone tells you to, especially when they give you that “you’d better stop or ELSE” look? Worse yet, that’s usually when my uncontrollable snorts emerge. And it’s not just in the sad times. Imagine trying to get fired up during phone sex with your someone and she starts giggling during the “ooo, baby babies.” Sure you can try to hold on, but when uncontrollable laughter is emanating from the other end of the line, it pretty much deflates the purpose. Ok, so my timing wasn’t good, but seriously it really IS a pretty ridiculous thing to do, don’t you think?

The good news is silly can get you through some pretty awful times. In fact, I believe it’s one of my best coping skills. Funerals, broken hearts, job loss, fear, the hopelessness that things will never get better — all these and more can be soothed by some uncontrollable giggles. Even if it only lasts for a few moments. So what if gasping laughter gives way to sobbing? It’s a release either way and better out than in I say. Yes it happens at ‘inappropriate’ times, but that’s usually when you need it most. Plus holding in a laughter-induced snort is damn near impossible and there’s really no use in trying. You might sprain something important. So to all the giggle gaggers and snort stiflers out there, I suggest you just go with it. Hell, join in! It’ll do you a world of good too. There’s plenty time to be serious so give silliness it’s due. Sometimes the surest way to feel better is a little song, a little dance, a seltzer down your pants…

When I’m looking for a little culinary silliness, I head toward pudding. Perhaps it’s the comfort-food aspect, or the tactile goofiness, or maybe just how silly the word pudding sounds. Whatever it is, you just can’t stay sad with a big bowl full of pudding and a spoon.  I found this recipe years ago in a copy of Real Simple magazine and it’s been my go-to recipe ever since. It’s as easy as the cook & serve box mix, takes about the same time, has nothing in it you can’t pronounce and tastes WAY better. And depending on how creative you are feeling, you can add in a little cinnamon, a little ancho chilli powder, switch out the vanilla for almond extract, add a little orange liqueur, etc. Whatever is going to put that well needed giggle in your mouth.

Chocolate pudding (adapted from Real Simple)

Makes 8  half-cup servings, or one BIG bowl, when it’s been that kind of day…

  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 TBSP cornstarch
  • 3 cups whole milk (I’ve used 2% and it works just fine)
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 6 oz. bitter-sweet or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (I like bittersweet, but if that’s too strong a flavor for you, use semi-sweet or a combo of both)
  • 1/2 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder

Mix together the sugar, cornstarch and salt in a medium saucepan. Add in 1/3 cup of the milk, stirring to form a smooth paste. Whisk in the remaining milk and the egg yolks.

Cook the pudding over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with spatula until thickened, about 10-15 minutes. Do not let it boil – if it’s at the stage when a few tiny bubbles are forming, turn off the heat – it’s done.

Add in the chopped chocolate and the vanilla extract and stir until the mixture is smooth. Pour into 8 4-oz. ramekins, custard cups, tea cups, etc.  Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 2 hours. You can make these up to 2 days ahead of serving (yeah, like you could actually keep out of them for that long…) Calories – 275/serving.

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Teach a girl to gnocchi…

img_8531I’ve moved twice now over the past three years, and there’s one thing I know for certain – picking up and moving a life is not for wussies. It brings countless sleepless nights, pallets of kleenex to soak up buckets of tears, and at least a half-dozen hissy fits and panic attacks. It involves facing the possibility of not finding a good job, nice home, or decent supermarket with a well-stocked Goya aisle. And it means leaving a network of people who know you and all your quirks and love you anyway. You’re left standing alone to face a strange new place with all the confidence of a kindergartener on the first day of school. Yup, picking up and moving a life can really suck.

But, if you are brave or crazy enough to do it (and probably a little of both), it can be pretty great too. Sure my first few months here were lonely and rough, really more than the first few, but 6 months into it I can now safely say things are looking brighter, the panic, tears, and hissies come less frequently, and I’m looking forward to what’s opening up ahead. What shifted it for me? Not surprisingly, it was a bunch of pretty awesome women and the promise of a gnocchi lesson.

When it comes to my ability to make the whole pick up and move shtick work, opening up my kitchen to women who want to be there is the trick. Teach a girl to gnocchi, (or just feed them) and you have a friend forever. Sure guys can be swell too, but a kitchen filled with girlfriends, good food and wine will always make the journey easier.

So for those of you contemplating indulging your inner gypsy, take heart. No matter where you go, your girlfriends will be there. You just haven’t met them yet. ❤

Now on to that gnocchi. Over the years I’ve tried several recipes for these lovely little dumplings, and have come to the following conclusion – simple is best. Gnocchi is really only a few ingredients, regardless of whether you choose potato as the base or ricotta cheese. Flour, salt, egg, and a gentle touch is pretty much it. A potato ricer or food mill makes it easy to get fluffy fine potatoes, and draining the ricotta overnight over a sieve makes sure you don’t have too wet a base to go with. Then it’s just adding the egg, and enough flour for it to hold together and allow you to form ropes, and then cut off little pillows.

Here’s my favorite recipe for potato gnocchi from Mario Batali.

 

file-dec-31-3-07-25-pmBasic Gnocchi (From Simple Italian Food, by Mario Batali)

Makes 12 servings (I halve this recipe and it works like a charm.)

  • 3 lbs russet potatoes
  • 2 cups flour (you may not use it all)
  • 1 large egg (if you are halving the recipe, just use a yolk)
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Place the whole potatoes in a saucepan with water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook at a low boil until they are soft. While still warm, peel the potatoes (you can just rub the skins off with a doubled paper towel). Pass the warm potatoes through a potato ricer or food mill onto a floured board.

Bring a large pot of water to boil, and set up an ice bath so you can drop the cooked gnocchi into it and stop the cooking while you make the next batch.

Measure out your flour into a bowl and add the salt. Mix well. Line a cookie sheet with a clean towel, and flour the towel (this is where you’ll put the formed gnocchi before they go in water, or you can take the full try and pop in freezer to freeze gnocchi for another time.)

Gather the potatoes into a mound, and make a well in the center. Add the beaten egg (or just yolk if you are making 1/2 recipe) and mix well with a fork. Slowly start adding flour and gently knead (more like folding) together until you have a dough formed. Add flour just until the dough is dry to the touch.

At this point you should break off a small piece of dough, and drop in the boiling water. If the “test gnocchi” stays together, you are good to go and form the dumplings. Trust me, this is an important step. I’ve made a whole tray, only to dump them into boiling water and have them disintegrate on me.

Divide the dough into 6 pieces, and then roll each piece into a 3/4″ rope. Cut the ropes into just under 1-inch pieces. You can cook them like this, or form ridges by rolling them down the back of a fork, or if you are like me, roll them down a floured gnocchi board (you can buy these on amazon for about $8). Place the formed dumplings on the prepared cookie sheet.

When you are ready to cook them, drop the gnocchi into boiling salted water a handful or two at a time. Cook until they float to the surface, about 1-2 minutes. Strain the cooked gnocchi into the ice water bath to stop the cooking, then to an oiled tray or plate so you can continue to cook all the gnocchi before adding to whatever sauce you are serving with them. Continue with the remaining dumplings until all are cooked. Add to heated sauce or browned butter and toss to heat through. Remove from heat and add a generous amount of grated parm or romano cheese. Serve right away.

Since this is my last post of the year, I’d like to thank you all for coming along for yet another ride. I wish you good health, great friends, more laughs than tears, many wonderful meals and more love than you think you can handle in 2017! xoxo

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), or my Instagram page. Thanks! 🙂

Rules and Traditions

When you write a recipe blog, there are certain assumed rules you should abide by:

  1. Include a recipe.
  2. Post a picture of the completed dish.
  3. As Thanksgiving nears, post more recipes than any one kitchen could possibly churn out over a lifetime of ways to make the menu “new and exciting”, or “spicy and unexpected”, or “old-world”, or “vegan, raw, turkey-shaped gluten-free quinoa loaf we promise you won’t notice there’s nothing traditional in it (or that it tastes good)”…you get where I’m going with this, right?
  4. Don’t repeat yourself too much.

I’ve been writing this blog for over six years now, or to use blogger time – 7 Thanksgivings. During that time I’ve pretty much blown every food-blogger rule above, and some I’ve made up just because I want to. Guess what kids… I’m going to do it again.

You see, I’m a big believer in traditions. So I figure, if I post the same thing several years in a row, I’m just following a time-honored tradition.

Turkey Day slacker you say? Absolutely. But let’s face it, when you are lucky enough to have participated in the annual ritual of making the featured player of Bird Day in a big ol’ garbage can, it kind of sticks with you.  Thank you, JG for making this the new gold standard. 🙂 ❤

So, here it is, making it’s annual appearance (…and trust me, it’s not the last time you’ll see it) — Hungry Readers…let’s hear it for Trash Can Turkey!


2014-11-27 15.33.54

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!


Trash 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 his who-ha.

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), or my Instagram page. Thanks! 🙂

It’s the Great Pumpkin Babka Charlie Brown!

I’ve always had this idea to do a food film festival. Babette’s Feast, Eat, Drink,Man, Woman, Big Night, The Cook, the Thief, Her Lover and His Wife…(well, maybe not that last one.) The idea has evolved over the years, new movies come out like Julie and Julia, (though I’d skip the annoying Julie part and just do the Julia), or Chef, and the thing grows to a point that it gets too overwhelming to wrap my head around.

So I decided to switch to the smaller screen. And one specific cast of characters. It wasn’t that hard to choose them either. When I started looking closely, there was a wealth of culinary inspiration. “Look to the cookie, Elaine”. “No Soup for YOU!” “Big lettuce, big carrots, tomatoes like volleyballs.” “It’s chocolate, it’s peppermint, it’s delicious!” And then, there’s babka.

You just can’t beat a babka.

Now truth be told, I’ve always had babka-envy.  It was hard not to. I grew up just outside of NYC, or as it’s known by its other name, Babka-land. These magical bread-cake creatures were not something mere mortal hands could make, sitting there all smug and alluring in the bakery case. They flaunted their funky twists and turns of chocolate and buttery sweet breadness as they peeked out from under a veil of powdered sugar. No, these must be the result of the yiddish-tinged incantations of eastern european mystics. Occasionally I’d look at the instructions of some blogger or cookbook peddler who claimed they made them all by their little self, but I never really believed it. You’d obviously need three hands to cut and hold and twist and plop into pan before all that good babka stuff falls out.

Then I saw it. A recipe from Tasting Table (tastingtable.com) that was the baking equivalent of peaking behind the Wizard’s curtain. With slides! It was babka, with training wheels. Sure it wasn’t a chocolate babka, or the lesser one (cinnamon), but this babka I was going to try. And it was freakin’ awesome!

Someday soon I’ll give the lesser babka a try. But not the chocolate. Not yet. I’ve got to practice my yiddish incantations a bit more before I go for the babka big leagues….

file-oct-29-4-06-14-pm

The Great Pumpkin Babka (From tastingtable.com)

Check out this link to see the life of a babka in pictures. It makes the forming of the loaves a lot easer.

Makes 2 loaves

INGREDIENTS

For the dough:

  • 1 cup whole milk, warmed to 115° 21⁄4 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1⁄4 cup, plus 1 teaspoon, granulated sugar, divided
  • 51⁄4 cups flour, plus more for dusting 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1⁄4 cup light brown sugar
  • 4 eggs, divided
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cubed and softened, plus more for greasing

For the filling:

  • One 15-ounce can pumpkin purée
  • 1⁄2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins (optional)

DIRECTIONS

1. Make the dough: In a large bowl, combine the milk, yeast and 1 teaspoon of the granulated sugar. Let it sit until it begins to foam, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt and cinnamon, and set aside.

2. To the foamy yeast mixture, add the remaining granulated sugar, the brown sugar and 3 eggs, and whisk to combine. Slowly stir in the flour until a dough forms, then transfer to a lightly floured surface. Using your hands, knead in the softened butter, a little at a time, until a smooth dough forms. Place in a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

3. Meanwhile, make the filling: In a medium bowl, stir the filling ingredients together until incorporated.

4. Assemble the babkas: Preheat the oven to 350° and grease two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans. Divide the dough into 2 balls. On a lightly floured surface, roll 1 ball of dough out into a 14-inch square, about 1⁄8inch thick.

5. Spread half of the filling evenly over the surface of the dough, leaving a 1-inch margin at the top of the square. Sprinkle with half the raisins. Starting with the edge closest to you, roll the dough up tightly. Leaving 1⁄2inch of dough connected, cut the roll lengthwise in two. Twist the strands together and pinch at the end to seal. Carefully place the babka in one of the prepared pans.

6. Repeat this process with the remaining dough and filling. Cover both babkas loosely with plastic wrap and place in a warm area until the dough expands to fill the pan, 45 minutes more.

7. In a small bowl, beat the remaining egg and liberally brush onto each babka. Bake, rotating halfway through, until golden and cooked through, 40 to 45 minutes.

8. Let cool slightly, then remove each bread from the pan and let cool before slicing and 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’ on my Instagram page. Thanks! 🙂

Storm’s a brewin’…

This is for all my friends on the east coast. While I wish the Matthew you were expecting had washboard abs and a fondness for things being “all right” (all right, all right), I know the anxiety of wondering just how bad it’s going to be, or at the very least, how long before your wifi works again. Here’s wishing you all smooth sailing, dry feet, and firmly planted trees.


 

Hurricanes. If you live anywhere on the East Coast you know them. If you went purely by the news coverage leading up to one, you would have thought that a meteorological Armageddon was on its way. Yes, it’s a serious storm, and the media have an obligation to keep us informed so everyone is safe and prepared. But theme music and a logo for a weather event? Not that I begrudge reporters their opportunity to don mackintosh and wellies and stand in a place no sane person would during 70 mile an hour winds and lashing rain, but come on… Surely there is a better way to notify the masses without screaming into a microphone while standing in the approaching tidal surge. It doesn’t exactly inspire calm, you know? Plus, did anyone else notice the electric cord attached to the microphone floating in that ever-increasing puddle? Certainly all the mothers watching did (especially the cameraman’s and reporter’s.)

All the brouhaha aside, a hurricane is serious business and preparations must be made so that IF the worst happens you can ride it out with the least damage. Once you’ve done that, well, what’s the harm in making sure you have a little fun in the bunker too? That’s the way my family has always looked at major catastrophic events. Be prepared — for the danger, and the party. For example, on Tuesday my mom had a birthday. As we are all sitting around the table at her birthday luncheon, it felt like the room was swaying a bit. No one was sure if it should be mentioned, so it was chalked up to the lovely cosmopolitans we were all drinking. Until someone noticed the lamp over the table swaying…. Yup, earthquake! My mom now thinks this is the BEST birthday she’s had…EVER. On Saturday my uncle turned 70 and a big party was planned…during the hurricane. Did we cancel the party? HELL no… Why should he be gypped? Mom got an earthquake; he figured a hurricane does that one better! The party went on, with a few less guests, a little more food and wine for the rest of us, and a great story to tell next year. So you see, we do know how to take it all in stride. That doesn’t mean we ignored the major event barreling up the coast aimed straight at us. We prepared too. Batteries, candles, bathtub filled with water, camp stove at the ready (if I can’t make coffee it won’t be pretty), bottles of water in the garage, and all the things that could potentially achieve lift-off safely put away or tied down. We then moved onto the really important stuff: vodka, ice, olives, wine, chocolate, good bread, cheese, sausage, and maybe some peach cake… you know, just in case.

emergency preparedness supplies

So, you have survived ‘the big one’ (well, this big one…). The power is off and the fridge is slowly but surely turning into a tropical zone. How are you going to feed all the family that picked you to stay with, plus the stray friends and neighbors who ‘dropped by’ to check in on you (and just happen to have brought a bottle of wine.) Well, before the stuff in the fridge goes green and fuzzy, make Hurricane Pasta! This was literally invented one day post storm (with the trees outside doing the hurricane hora as the last remnants of Irene left town.) I used what was at hand, and the ingredients are interchangeable so throw in whatever you like. Doesn’t even have to be a cloud in sight.

Hurricane Pasta

Serves 3 very hungry hurricane survivors or 4 average diners, and can easily be doubled or tripled for a crowd of basement bailers, fallen tree removers and helpful wine-bearing neighbors.

  • 2 cups dry short cut pasta (whole wheat or regular penne, rigatoni, or whatever you have at hand)
  • 2 tsps chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • ½ large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 Portobello cap, gills removed, sliced in half, and then thinly cross-wise (you can substitute whatever mushrooms you like best)
  • 1 cup cooked bratwurst, Italian sweet sausage, or any mild sausage, sliced into ¼ inch coins
  • 1 TBSP butter
  • 1 TBSP garlic oil
  • ½ cup white wine
  • ½ cup cooked corn kernels
  • ¼ cup blanched frozen peas
  • 3 TBSP soft mild goat cheese
  • 2 TBSP grated parmesan
  • 1 TBSP chopped parsley
  • ½ cup reserved pasta cooking water

Fill a large pot with water and set to boil for the pasta. When the water is boiling, throw in a handful of salt and stir until dissolved (the water should taste salty). Add pasta and cook according to directions on box or to just al dente.

While the water is heating, heat butter and oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter is melted, add the sliced onion and cook for 1 minute. Add in the mushroom, thyme, rosemary, a good pinch of salt and a small pinch pepper. Sauté until the mushroom exudes all it’s liquid and starts to brown, and the onion is soft and translucent (about 5 minutes).

Turn up the heat to high; add in the sausage and sauté for 1-2 minutes until the sausage is warmed through. Add ½ cup white wine, bring to boil and cook until the wine is reduced by 1/3rd, about 5 minutes. Turn heat down to low, add in corn and peas and heat until just warmed through. Turn off heat until pasta is almost done.

When you have about 2 minutes left on the pasta, turn the heat back on under the sauce to medium low, and add ½ cup of pasta water and 3 TBSP goat cheese. Stir until the cheese melts and it comes together as a sauce. Turn heat off, stir in Parmesan and parsley. Add drained pasta into saucepan and toss until it is well coated.

Taste to check seasoning. You probably won’t need to add any salt (the cheeses and sausage are salty enough) but you will likely need to add a little pepper.

Pour a glass of wine, serve up in bowls, and toast your success in riding out a nasty storm. Calories: You don’t need to worry about the calories tonight, do you? And anyway, you need your strength to clean up the mess tomorrow…

My Freezer is a Clown Car (again)

img_7105This past week the season turned from summer to fall, as it does every loop around the globe. Mom Nature took that turn very seriously here in the beehive state. On Monday, it was 91. On Wednesday it was 50, and the mountain peaks that surround my new fair city were iced with their first snow. I’m not sad about that one bit, because when my toes start to turn frosty in flip-flops and thoughts turn to boot season, that means it’s time to fill the freezer with cozy fare for football weekends and chilly nights. Here’s a favorite posts from the early days to usher in hot food in a big bowl season.

Oh, and if you need something to read while the soups are souping, check out this wonderfully ridiculous article from Car and Drive (seriously…Car and Driver) — The Physics of Clown Cars.


[Hi there. Present-day me again. Just thought I’d mention that I’m making the potato leek soup today, and made a few adjustments for those of you out there (me included) who are a little less “my body is a temple and fat is the enemy.” Start off with a strip of bacon (oh, how I wish every sentence ever uttered started with that), cut up into pieces and heat up in the soup pot, with a scant bit of olive oil if the bacon isn’t rendering a mess of fat. Cook the bacon until lightly browned. Toss in the onions, leeks and shallots, and a knob (about a tablespoon) butter, and sweat them until soft. Then add in the taters and proceed as written. Until the end. Once you’ve done the cooking and pureeing, add in a glug, or glug glug of cream or half and half. Season and serve. You can thank me later.]

My Freezer is a Clown Car

There’s something strange going on in my freezer. Structurally, it’s the ‘typical’ rental apartment freezer. It lives on the top third of my fridge and is small. Very small. Yet while it’s dimensions are diminutive, it continually defies the laws of physics. As an avid cook and food blogger, I’m constantly testing recipes and cooking for friends. Add to that I happen to have a good deal of time on my hands these days and relieve the stresses of not having a job, (and having way too much time on my hands), by cooking. Problem is, all that food has to go someplace. I’m a good eater (very), but even I can’t consume it all quickly and I hate to waste food. So it goes into the freezer. My very small freezer. And somehow it fits. How? My freezer it seems, is a clown car. Or rather has the same physical properties as one. You know when that teeny-weeny car drives into the center ring, the door opens, and an endless supply of clownage pours out? That’s what happens in my freezer. Except, they pour in. And in. A seemingly endless number of containers filled with homemade soups and sauces, zip-top freezer bags filled with fresh-baked tasty treats, tightly wrapped aluminum foiled leftover fare, and the occasional cocktail glass in anticipation of a forthcoming dirty martini.

I’ve studied physics in school and nowhere did I see the “Bozo-Principle” mentioned. I think it only occurs in three places. The clown car, a small handbag when you are trying to carry less crap (but really need that third lipstick just incase), and my freezer. It’s a place where time and the parameters of space are suspended, and no leftover is lonely or unloved. A 30 degree time-capsule where on any given day I can relive menus of dinners past, visit the results of successful new recipes, sample birthday baked goods too plentiful to fit into “if it fits it ships” boxes, and sticks of butter and shortening, brown sugar, and sundry nut meats all waiting their turn in some future recipe. Yes, my freezer is a magical and miraculous place. All that’s missing are the giant pants, floppy shoes, and maybe a pony.

This time of year my freezer’s main residents are homemade soups. Soup is my favorite way to get all sorts of good, healthy ingredients into me efficiently and tastily. They also provide me the best excuse I know to make grilled cheese sandwiches, a favorite comfort food choice when I’m in need. (I’ve included a list of my favorite grilled cheese ingredient combos at the end of this post).

A carrot obviously destined for my pantry…

My Spiced Carrot Soup is healthy and delicious, with the Moroccan  flavors of cumin, allspice and cinnamon guaranteed to make you feel toasty on the chilliest of days. And if carrots are not your thing,  give my Potato Leek Soup,  Creamy Spinach, or Creamy Tomato, a try!

Potato Leek Soup Serves 4

This soup comes together in 45 minutes, and you will be shocked at how creamy it is without a drop of cream added. Perfect for a casual dinner,  just serve with a green salad, some nice cheese, crusty bread and a glass of wine and you’ll be in spud-heaven!

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • ½ lb leeks, well cleaned and finely chopped
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 ¼ lb yukon gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • 1-2 TBSP chopped fresh dill, or 1 tsp dried dill
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in large stockpot over medium heat. Add onion, leek, shallot and a good pinch of salt. Cover and sweat for about 10 minutes until soft, stirring occasionally.

Once the onion mix is soft, add the potatoes, dill and stock. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

Turn off the heat and puree the soup in batches in the blender, or with a hand blender in the stockpot. Season with salt and pepper. Calories: about 100 per serving.

Spiced Carrot Soup

Makes 4 servings, or about 6 cups

  • 1 TBSP butter
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 lb carrots (one bag), peeled and cut into ½-inch slices
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 ½ tsp cumin, plus extra for sprinkling on top
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • A pinch allspice
  • A pinch cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper (or more to taste)

In a large saucepan, sauté onion in butter and a pinch of salt over medium heat for about 2-3 minutes. Add carrots, cumin, cinnamon, and allspice and sauté another minute. Add broth, bring to a boil, then turn down heat, cover and simmer until carrots are tender, about 20 minutes.

When carrots are very tender, turn off heat and carefully puree soup in small batches in a blender until smooth. Return to pan, whisk in  lemon juice, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Serve with a sprinkle of cumin on top and a squirt of lemon. Calories: approximately 125 per serving.

 

 

Choices, Changes and Coincidences

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Utah’s spectacular red rock wilderness, and the place I’m going to be working to protect.

Seven years ago, August 3rd, I was on a rafting trip down the San Juan river in the spectacular red rock country of southern Utah. Four months after that trip, I lost my job and as it turned out, my career. Five years ago, August 3rd, I started writing this thing called Cooking in My Heels. Two years ago, yup, 8/3 again, I met a guy who quite literally changed my life, though I didn’t know that at the time. And this year on that august August day, I began the next phase of a career path that brings me full circle to those aforementioned red rocks I first met seven years ago. For me, August 3 doesn’t suck.

It’s said timing is everything and I believe that’s pretty much true. I know this because every time I try to map life’s route to move things in a direction of my choosing, there’s a big “RECALCULATING” projected somewhere in the ether, and ‘Siri of the Universe’ has another route planned. Which in hindsight, is usually a better one than I could have maneuvered or manipulated in the first place. Geez that just pisses me off.

What’s that? Forget the existential crap and tell us about this new job? (I like to think you talk to me.) Let’s just say it fits firmly in the tree-hugger category, though in this case, rock-hugging. Now before you start worrying your hungry little tummies that CIMH’s days are numbered, I assure you I still plan on cooking, baking, truffling, quaffing, and most of all, recipe-ing. After all, a girl’s gotta eat. It’s just that now, I can afford better groceries. 😉

Speaking of better groceries, how about shrimp? And since with change comes stress, and with stress comes the need for comfort food, shrimp and grits would be a good idea right about now. Good thing I just put together a recipe for that.

File Aug 14, 4 14 41 PMSpicy Shrimp and Italian Cheese Grits (Polenta)

Polenta is just an Italian word for yellow corn grits. At least it is in my kitchen. And there’s nothing more comforting than cheesy polenta, especially when it serves as a base for a spicy sauce of fire roasted tomatoes, green chiles and shrimp. This recipe makes extra sauce and polenta so I’ve added a few suggestions for the leftovers at the end.

Serves 2

  • 12-16 raw shrimp in their shells (6-8 shrimp per person)
  • Heaping 1/4 tsp pimenton de la vera (hot smoked paprika)
  • 1 cup fire roasted tomatoes with green chiles (Trader Joe has these, or you could just use regular fire roasted tomatoes and add in extra canned green chiles)
  • 2 TBSP canned green chiles (TJ’s has these fire roasted too but regular is fine)
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1 fat clove of garlic, minced
  • 3 TBSP butter
  • 2 TBSP flour
  • Juice from 1/2 a lemon
  • 1 oz (or more) shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup polenta (yellow corn grits)
  • Salt & Pepper

Prep the shrimp and stock:
File Aug 14, 4 14 57 PM  File Aug 14, 4 14 08 PM

 Shell the shrimp, saving the shells. Toss the shrimp in a bowl with the smoked paprika, and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Set aside. Add the shells and 1 1/2 cups of water to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer for 10 minutes. Essentially you are making a quick shrimp stock. Strain the stock into a measure cup. You should have at least a cup. Set aside and start the polenta.

File Aug 14, 4 14 25 PMFor the cheesy polenta:

Put 2 1/2 cups of water into a saucepan with good pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling, slowly whisk in 1/2 cup polenta and turn down to a simmer. Cook, stirring frequently for about 20 minutes or until the polenta is creamy. You may need to add a little water if it gets too thick, so I just keep a measuring cup with water next to stove, and add in 1/4 cup at a time if needed. When the polenta is cooked, turn off the heat, add in the cheese and 1 TBSP butter and stir until the cheese is melted. Add in a few grinds of pepper and taste. Add any additional salt to taste if needed. Cover and keep warm.

For the sauce and shrimp:

Melt the remaining 2 TBSP butter in a sauce pan over medium/high heat until it just starts towards browning. Turn heat to low and add in chopped shallots and a pinch of salt and cook over low for about 3 minutes or until the shallots start to soften, being careful not to burn the butter. Add in the minced garlic and cook about a minute. Add the flour and whisk for a minute. Now add in the shrimp stock, turn heat up to medium and whisk to get rid of any lumps. Once the sauce is smooth and thickening up, add in the tomatoes and chiles. Stir until combined. Distribute the shrimp around the pan and cook over medium about three minutes or until they just turn pink, flipping once so both sides are cook.

As the shrimp are cooking, uncover the polenta and spoon enough to cover the bottom of warmed shallow bowls. As soon as the shrimp are just pink through, turn heat off and squeeze in half a lemon. Taste sauce and adjust salt and pepper if needed.  Spoon shrimp with some sauce* over the polenta and serve immediately.

For the leftovers

This recipe makes more sauce than you will need. I save the sauce and polenta separately, and when I want another meal, just add in more shrimp and cook them as described above. The polenta is easy to reheat with just a little addition of water or better yet, half & half or cream. And if I have no more shrimp, I top with a poached egg for breakfast!

File Aug 14, 4 13 46 PM

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!  :-)

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.

FullSizeRender IMG_6058 FullSizeRender

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!  :-)