About Karin Duncker

Welcome to Cooking in my heels, the ramblings and recipes of an ex-executive and serious food lover in her fabulous shoes. I’m Karin, a cook, baker, recipe developer, cooking and baking teacher, aspiring entrepreneur, blogger... and that well-shod ex-exec. After years of a career in the NYC non profit and corporate world, a lay-off in late 2009, the subsequent crappy job market, and a mid-life realization that life was short and I wasn’t doing what I loved, I gathered up Pradas, pots, pans and a BIG bucket of chutzpah and this Gotham gal moved from NYC to small town Oregon to live, work, blog and hopefully grow a business from my love of all things food. After three years, great friends, hungry Gorgers (it's a PNW thing) and many pounds of butter, I decided to move to the mountain west, and a smaller but pretty awesome city next to a big Salty Lake. Stay tuned gentle readers. Not sure what the next chapter will bring, but I'm certain it will be awfully tasty.😉 Cinderella is proof that a pair of shoes can change your life!

Eating my young

Fifi, Jacques, Pierre, Coquette, et al

Happy Mother’s Day!! Ok, perhaps “Eating my young” isn’t exactly the best title for a post on Mother’s Day, but bear with me. Remember back a month or so ago when I mentioned I’d jumped thumbs-first into gardening? Turns out when you put those seeds from the cute packets into the dirt and water it frequently, (well, fairly frequently – I mean geez, you have to keep that crap up), stuff happens. Crops stuff.

Crops may be a bit of an exaggeration. Let’s just call them crops in training. Specifically, radishes. The cutest little baby radishes you’ve ever seen. I’m not sure they are supposed to be so little, but since putting “baby” in front of vegetables makes them fancier (and a dollar more at the market), I’m going with the premise that I am intentionally growing ultra-chic baby “French” radishes. Why French? I have no idea. I bought the seeds in Lowes in Salt Lake City, about as far from France as you can get. But hell, the sweet little seed pack said they were, and since it was right about that “water frequently” thing, I can go with Fifi and Jacque radishes.

Anyway, after I dug the trench, sprinkled the petites grains de radis over, slapped some dirt on their tiny little tetes (ok, I’m carrying this french thing a little too far), and watered, worried over, covered up when they were cold, told them they is smart, they is kind, they is important, this ←happened. This crap actually works! And as a good mom, I just had to see what was going on under that tousled head of green leafiness.

So I pulled one up. “What little adorable red and white root are YOU! Who’s a good radish. YOU ARE!” Then, I did it. I couldn’t help myself. I ate my baby.

Before you get all judgy on me, think about what you would have done. You raised them to be wonderful. Your job as a parent is to prepare them for life, give them what they need, and let them go. In this case, I let Fifi go into my mouth, providing all the crisp, peppery goodness I raised her to be. Did I feel guilty? Maybe a little.  I got over it by the third one.

Happy Mother’s Day!

I don’t really have a recipe for you this time, just a favorite preparation. Radishes with Sweet Butter and Sea Salt. I’ve been eating radishes on buttered bread with salt and pepper since I was a little girl. My father was “chef”, the radishes from our tiny backyard garden. There’s really not much better. And just in case you think this is too simple to serve to guests, don’t. One of the best restaurants in my old home town (Prune in NYC), features this dish on their menu and has since they opened. Preparation is simple – fresh radishes, washed and left with their greens attached (they make a great handle), good sea salt (Maldon or another flaky one is great for this), good sweet butter (slightly cool but not hard), and a crispy baguette or thick slice of artisan loaf.  Add a latte or chilled glass of rosé and you have the perfect breakfast, lunch, snack or appetizer, and a great way to celebrate Mother’s Day!

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Traditions, Chickens and Fancy Pants

In honor of chocolate bunnies, colored eggs, matzo brei, fancy pants, Oma, Mom and the joy of it all, some seasonal musings I first posted few years ago. 🙂


I’ve mentioned before that I don’t follow any specific religious dogma, unless you count no white before memorial day.  Rather, my dogma tends to be an amalgam of all of them, paying particular attention to the ones with food-related traditions. So at this time of Passover, Easter and the Vernal Equinox (lest we forget the Druids), I’m quite happy. I get to sample all sorts of wonderful fare, from matzo brei and gefilte fish (the former being a perfect vehicle for butter, the latter for horseradish), to wonderful Easter breads, eggs in every form, and fresh ingredients sprouting from the newly thawed ground. It’s a veritable new life and renewed hope buffet.

Food aside (for the moment), I do appreciate all the traditions celebrated this time of year. As a little girl up we did Easter, but the Sunday School litany held less interest for me than ceremonies involving jelly beans, chocolate bunnies, and playing hide and seek for eggs colored with PAAS dye. And my favorite holiday tradition involved getting a new dress from my grandmother and matching accessories (bag, gloves, hat and especially fancy shoes) from mom. No frills were spared, and it was not unusual to have ruffles on my dress, gloves, socks, and, of course, fancy pants.  What exactly are ‘fancy pants’? Dressy bloomers for little girls. Think underwear with rhumba-sleeve-sized ruffles. Fancy pants were worn under your dress but over your underwear, and, in my opinion, definitely meant to be admired by all. I loved my fancy pants, I mean really loved them, and found countless ways to show them off. Cartwheels worked pretty well, a subtle but effective option, but it wasn’t beyond me to hike up my pretty dress and say in a loud voice “look at my fancy pants”. Fashion is fashion after all.

My fancy pant obsession aside, of all the traditions of day the most beloved by my family was the knitted chicken. For us, it just wouldn’t be Easter without a flock of them. Let me explain. As part of our Easter baskets, my grandmother would give us plastic eggs filled with jelly beans, chocolate eggs and the like. However, decorum being what it was, these eggs could never be presented naked. They required dressing, and their vestments took the form of a knitted chicken sitting on top. Usually white or yellow with a red comb, googly eyes and a jaunty pink ribbon around wooly neck, knitted chickens lined up down the middle of the table, smugly guarding their plastic eggs filled with sugary bounty. As we grew older and into obnoxious adolescence, we’d make fun of these poultry egg-cozies, but they had better be on that Easter table.

The flock has scattered in the subsequent years, but I’m betting if you visited my brother or mother on Sunday, pieces of the knitted chicken nativity would be on display, regardless of whether the grown kids were around. After all, that chocolate bunny needs guarding. 😉

Eggs play a part in all of the holidays this time of year, which seems logical since life, hope and rebirth are central themes. Since they are one of my favorite foods, eggs feature in my recipe too.  When I was a kid one of the best treats my mom made for dessert was my grandmother’s baked custard. Similar to flan or crème brulee but far less fussy, there are few desserts more comforting.  I’ve decided to take Oma’s basic recipe and liven it up a bit with a little orange in the form of zest and a splash of Cointreau. My Baked Orange Custard would make a great dessert (or breakfast) on any holiday table this season. Baked Orange Custard

Makes eight 1/2-cup servings

  • 3 cups milk (whole is best, 2% works too)
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsps Cointreau or Grand Marnier
  • ½ tsp orange zest

Preheat oven to 500°F. Put eight ½ cup ramekins or glass custard cups into a roasting pan or large lasagna pan. Fill the pan up with warm water to about ½ way up the cups, creating a water bath. Whisk together eggs, sugar, salt, liqueur and zest and set aside. Heat the milk in a saucepan to scalding (just before it boils and there are little bubbles around the sides of the pan.) Take the milk off heat. While whisking egg mixture, add in about 1/3 cup of the hot milk and whisk well. You are bringing the temperature of the eggs up or tempering the eggs (so that you have a smooth mixture and not sweet scrambled eggs.) Now add the rest of the milk and whisk thoroughly. Skim off about a tablespoon of the foam and put into each cup, then carefully fill the cups with ½ cup of the custard mixture. Bake the custards in the oven for 10 minutes or until just set and the tops have browned a little. If they are browning too quickly, just loosely cover pan with foil. If they are not set by 10 minutes, turn oven off and leave the custard in a few minutes more until they set. Carefully remove the custards from the water and let cool a little. These are wonderful warm, but are also swell at room temperature. If you are not serving right away, let cool to room temp then cover with cling film and store in the fridge. Let them come to room temperature before serving. Calories: approximately 220 per ½ cup 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), or my Instagram page. Thanks! 🙂

Farming in My Flip Flops

File Apr 09, 8 29 12 AM

I’m sitting here at my kitchen window looking out over a soft light layer of snow, thinking. Mild annoyance would be the logical destination of those thoughts, as in, “aw sh#t…when is this nonsense going to stop.” That could be the script considering it is now April, tulips abound, and yesterday I was running around in my flip flops. And believe me, all those  things were in there, but that wasn’t the first stop on the thought train. My first thought upon looking out over this frosty tableau was…OH MY GOD!!!! MY BABIES!!!! – quickly followed by pulling on boots, (after glancing at my flip flops, a tiny tear running down my cheek), and running outside.

Hello, I’m the lunatic standing in nothing but a bathrobe and rubber boots on the front lawn…in the snow. At least I remembered to close the robe.

Yes, I’m a mother now to hundreds of tiny tender green shoots. City girl is making the leap of faith and fertilizer, to farmer. Or as I like to think of it, from Cooking in My Heels, to Farming in My Flip Flops.

This isn’t exactly my first foray into shoving seeds in dirt and watching the magic happen. But back then I was 5, the “garden” was a lima bean poked into a dirt-filled dixie cup, and there was no way in hell I was going to eat whatever happened after that. This is different. This is a big girl grown up garden, not just a few disposable-if-dead plants on the air conditioner in the sunny window facing W. 24th street.

I decided to make the leap of faith into a steady relationship with dirt over the past winter, when I desperately needed something to distract my mind to something to look forward to. What could be more anticipatory of reward (and/or frustration, mold, bugs, weeds, etc.) than a lovely garden. So about 4 weeks ago, I dug in. (You see what I just did there, right?)

Now some gardeners are a cross of landscape-architecty botanist-engineers, planning square footage, testing soil pH, examining phases of the moon and such, so that their fertile ground gets the most production per earthworm of healthy organic sustainable yield possible. I bought a cute pair of gardening gloves. I mean, I’m going to be taking pictures of this stuff and posting on instagram after all. I also picked up a few tools on sale, and big watering can, and a squishy purple mat which should protect my knees for about 20 minutes of weeding before I take a break.

New tools, gloves, and squishy purple thing in hand, I set out to prepare the soil for what would surely be the most successful, photogenic, and productive 8’x8′ plot of dirt in the lower 48.  After about an hour of turning 64 cubic feet of soil over on an unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon I discovered the BEST thing about gardening. Cold alcoholic beverages. And you thought I leapt into this without doing some studying first, didn’t you.

I’ve discovered a few things on the month-long journey since that first cold beer too. I think I’m a helicopter parent. I have quite literally been out to peer into my dirt void every single day since the first seeds went into the ground. I knew enough not to worry for the first week or two. I do have a degree in biology after all, and a vague memory of botany and that lima bean in the dixie cup. But once it got to week three, I began to wonder. Was it something I said? Did my little pre-shoot darlings know I was a life-long city kid, and who was I kidding? Were they just being stubborn? Then, it happened.

I was a mother!! I named her Peanelope. Then I discovered the second thing about gardening. It turns me into a lunatic. One of those odd people that cause you cross the street when you see them. I talk to my seedlings. I tell them they are cute. I tell them they will grow big and strong. I need to find a man…

Anyway, I’m now the proud parent of two rows of english peas, 4 rows of future spinach (that right now looks alarmingly like blades of grass), and two rows of radish seedlings that started nice and neat, and are now looking more like a radish mosh pit. I’ll keep you posted on the technicolor carrots if and when they show their shoots, (because why go with orange when you can have all those silly posh colors they charge extra for in Trader Joe’s.)

And this morning’s snow? Well, luckily my children are far smarter than me, and know that a surprise blanket of warm spring snow is nothing to be scared of. But tonight, they get tucked in, just in case… 😉

goodbye heels, hello mini-greenhouse

Fennel Salad

So it turns out, not only am I a new mom to future vegetables of my own doing, I’m the adoptive parent of a rangy fennel plant. When I moved in last July, I noticed this lanky, nearly 7 foot tall delinquent in my side yard. One rub of the “flowers” let loose the familiar anise smell and I knew I was dealing with fennel, (one of my absolute favorite root veg.) Ten minutes of tugging the bamboo-like stalks with bupkis to show for it lead me to believe this was not going to yield much of anything for my kitchen. But…about 3 weeks ago, those beautiful frilly green shoots gave me new hope.

I’m not sure what I’ll actually get from this resilient baby once the bulbs underneath grow bigger, but the fronds themselves in this tender stage are sweet and absolutely delicious. So, I decided my first of hopefully many recipes involving the dirt candy of my 64 square feet of soil will be my go-to fennel salad.

This is less a recipe than a technique you can adapt to your taste of lemon/olive oil ratio. Raw fennel is commonly served in Italian and Sicilian homes as a digestive after a meal. I learned that from my favorite Sicilian-American the first time I stayed at his house on the Jersey Shore, long before I was the pioneer I’ve become in  recent years. Back then I decided rather than just pieces of raw fennel, I’d make a lemon vinaigrette and toss the thin slices of veg in. I’ve been making this salad ever since. It’s highly adaptable to change, like oranges or pink grapefruit sections and oil cured olives, substituting the appropriate juice of the appropriate fruit for the lemon. Serve after a great meal of pasta and Sunday gravy, or grilled whatever from the BBQ.

Ingredients

  • 1-2 fennel bulbs, stalks removed and tough outer layer removed or peeled down
  • Fresh lemon juice
  • Extra virgin olive oil (this is a good recipe to use the good stuff, since there are so few ingredients every one counts)
  • Flakey sea salt, such as Maldon
  • Freshly ground pepper

In a bowl, squeeze the lemon, add in a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper, and a little more olive oil as you have lemon juice. Whisk together until it emulsifies, or doesn’t separate. Taste and adjust for whatever is needed.

Cut the fennel bulb in half, and remove the triangular core (this is really too tough to eat). Slice each half into 1/4″ pieces, then cut up the pieces to bite-sized. Toss with the lemon vinaigrette. Taste, and adjust with more salt, pepper, lemon or oil, whatever floats your boat. If you are lucky enough to have those spring-fresh baby fronds, chop them up and toss with the fennel. And eat smugly, knowing you grew at least some of that deliciousness. 🙂

There will be more Farming in My Flip Flops and the adventures of a city girl turned loopy helicopter parent gardener as long as the dirt is doing something interesting. In the meantime, 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! 🙂

Multitasking

I get a little overzealous at times. I see something I like, admire, want, or think is really cool and I’m all over it. It’s like when I was a kid. I was the little sister, and as such everything was somehow so much better, more awesome, or wicked cooler when my big brother was doing it. So naturally that made me want it even more.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a little overboard enthusiasm. It’s good energy, and I’ve counted on it to carry me through some pretty crappy times and scary bits. Buy me a cocktail sometime, and I’ll tell you about the last few weeks before I moved to SLC. Enthusiasm is the only thing I had going for me.

Unfortunately, excess enthusiasm often leads to way more of whatever you were excited about than you know what to do with. Call it “Costco Syndrome.”  You walk through the colossus of canned goods and everything you could want, think you could want, or didn’t know you wanted until it’s in your cart is right there. It’s not until you get home and start playing pantry-jenga with a mountain of stewed tomatoes that you realize you may have been a tad overzealous.

I have the same problem when it comes to growlers. For those not fluent in brew-speak, a growler is a large jug containing draft beer. Basically it’s a beer doggy bag. A half-gallon beer doggy bag. The thirstier side of the room is probably thinking, “yeah, so?” But as a single gal who lives alone, the prospect of consuming 64 ounces of anything in the span of a day or two, even some luscious libation, is daunting. Yet that is exactly what I faced last weekend.

One of the local craft breweries here in SLC recently created a very tasty beer for a very good cause –  supporting refugees. That brewery, Squatters, released their limited edition Tempest-Tost wit beer (look up Emma Lazarus if you haven’t figured out why the name), with all of the proceeds going to the local Utah chapter of the International Refugee Committee.  With hints of orange and cardamom, I wanted some not just because I’m a first-generation American and a proud immigrant daughter and granddaughter, but because I love those flavors. Unfortunately, the only way I was going to get some home was in a 1/2 gallon swig-worthy growler. So, I did.

After downing my second frosty glass of this tasty brew the realization sunk in that I was no-way no-how going to drink up all this wit goodness before it went flat in the giant doggy jug. I was going to have to figure out something else to do with it. Luckily, culinary multitasking is one of my specialties. Since I was already defrosting some leftover Superbowl chili (created with some leftover short ribs), I figured why not toss some of this lovely brew into a beer bread to go with. And since cornbread goes really well with leftover chili from re-purposed short ribs…

Beer Batter Cornbread

Makes one 9″x5″ loaf

  • 1 cup corn meal (I like Bob’s Red Mill Medium Grind)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus a little extra melted butter for brushing on top of the loaf
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 12 ounces Tempest-Tost  (or, since you can’t get it anymore, I’d substitute Blue Moon)

Preheat the oven to 375°F and butter a 9″x 5″ loaf pan. Sprinkle a little extra cornmeal around the pan.

Mix the dry ingredients together. In a measuring cup, mix the melted butter and honey until the honey thins out a little, then add the orange zest and beer. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and mix just until there are no dry spots.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes. Remove pan, brush the loaf with some more melted butter, and bake another 5 minutes or until the loaf pulls away from the edges of the pan and the top is starting to brown a little.

Remove from pan and let cool about 10 minutes on a rack 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), or my Instagram page. Thanks! 🙂

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…

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! 🙂

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.

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! 🙂

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!


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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….

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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! 🙂