The Whiskey Chronicles

©cookinginmyheels.com

©cookinginmyheels.com

I’ve recently discovered bourbon. Actually, that’s not true. I recently rediscovered bourbon. I discovered bourbon, or rather its cousin Jack (in shot form) in my early twenties. Which is why it’s taken me until now to venture into the brown booze again. And I apologize to bourbon for that. College capers and a life-long loathing of scotch kept me from any caramel colored quaff, as I assumed all brown booze = blech. Oh silly, silly girl….

Whiskey, I’ve gratefully discovered, is a very versatile liquid. Sure there’s experiencing it in glorious simplicity: a good glass, a nice pour, sit back, sip, breathe. It’s taken me about 25 years to appreciate that. But as far as the amber brew’s culinary charms go, well, the applications are endless. Simply put, whiskey makes things taste better! To be clear,  I’m not talking about those overly potent bourbon balls where you can practically see the fumes rising as they sit on holiday plates in the staff lunchroom. I’ve never been fond of recipes with booze in them where all you taste is the distillery. What I mean is the subtle, caramely undertones a shot or three of bourbon imparts on a sauce, custard or even caramel truffle ganache. For example, check out this Bourbon Pumpkin Tart from Fine Cooking. A little tipple in the tart makes all the difference in the world. In fact, just about anything you make with pumpkin is better if you bless it with a shot of amber nectar. Sweet squash and whiskey are pretty much a perfect match.

Then there’s fruit, which brings me to the first installment of the Whiskey Chronicles (yes, there will be more.) When you live where I live, finding ways to enjoy the ample gifts from the orchards is mandatory. On a recent Sunday I traveled up into the Hood River Valley and picked up a few apples. Ok, more than a few. A crisp fall day in the orchards is a great idea, until you get them home and realize you have 10 pounds of apples to consume. But when you introduce a basket of apples to a bottle of Maker’s Mark, wonderful things happen…

2014-11-02 08.09.24

Bourbon Apple Butter

Makes about 4 pints (8 cups)

I made this in a slow cooker for two reasons. First, I don’t want to have to mind it, stirring on the stove top so it cooks but doesn’t burn. Second, (and the real reason), if I start this right before I go to bed, my house smells AMAZING when I wake up the next morning. So if you want to make it on the stove top, go right ahead. Stand there. Stirring. I’m going to bed…

  • 6 1/2 lbs apples (crisp-tart works best), peeled, cored and sliced
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 TBSP cider vinegar
  • 1 TBSP lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4-6 TBSP bourbon

In a medium bowl, mix together the sugars, spices and salt. Add the sliced apples to two large bowls (if find it makes it easier to mix.) Add half the dry mixture to each bowl of sliced apples and toss well so all the apples are coated with the sugar and spices. Pour the apples into the slow cooker, add in the lemon juice and vinegar and toss well. Set the slow cooker to low and cook 9 hours.

After 9 hours, the apples will have broken down, and the color will be a beautiful mahogany brown. Now is the time to grab the bourbon. Add in 4-6 TBSP, stir around, then set the slow cooker on high for 2-3 hours more, leaving the top halfway on. You want the liquids to evaporate enough so that you have a spread that is thicker than apple sauce. Once you are at a thickness you like, use a stick blender or food processor to puree. Portion into prepared jars and can as you would any jam, or store in the refrigerator. Enjoy on toast, pancakes, waffles, or right out of the jar. 🙂 Approximately 50 calories per tablespoon.

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!  🙂

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And the Oscar Goes To… (Again)

Last year I pondered the following question: ‘What if they gave an Oscar to food?’  This time around I’m in Oregon, so any musing on that and all the other Hollywood hullabaloo unfurls with the red carpet around 3PM. So after sitting though the marathon of “interesting” fashion choices, multiple mothers/wives/partners/agents/5th grade teachers thanking, and awkward camera zooms on those whose name the envelop didn’t contain, I’ll still have time to catch up on Shameless. That perk aside, I’m going to have to figure out how to fill 5 hours with food. I’m guessing so are some of you, and to that end, I’ve included a few nominations of nibbles below.

So settle in, get those Oscar bingo cards ready, and enjoy the annual parade of tinsel and stars!

©cookinginmyheels.com

©cookinginmyheels.com

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 atcookinginmyheels.com Thanks! :-)

Happy Thanksgivukkah!

How could I possibly not be thankful about this? Two holidays completely interwoven with food happening on the same day!! Yes gentle readers, for the first time in, well, I have no idea how long, Thanksgiving and the first night of Hanukkah happen at the same time this year. Visions of cranberry sauce topped latkes dance in my head!

To honor this culinary convergence of two of the BEST food holidays (ok, so any holiday that involves food is tops in my book), I’ve combed the CIMH archives for a few pithy posts and associated recipes from years past to help gear up for next week’s feasting festivities.

Gobble Tov!!!

timesofisrael.com

Spiced Cranberry Pear Sauce, from The Thanksgiving List

Orange Olive Oil Cookies, from Religious Gastronomy

Pumpkin Turkey Enchiladas, from Leftovers

If you like what you read here, follow along and share with your friends to help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button). Thanks! :-)

Kid, You’ve Got Moxie!

It’s a line you might hear in an old movie, usually delivered by a cigar chomping agent/producer/director to a plucky young chorus girl just itching for her shot. “Kid, you’ve got MOXIE!” Look it up and it means courage combined with inventiveness. That’s good for a start, but I think it means much more. To me it embodies someone who’s taken a few hits, maybe even more than a few, but instead of letting it destroy her gets up, throws her shoulders back, and says “Oh yeah? I’ll show ‘em!” We don’t seem to use words like ‘moxie’ anymore. They’ve been relegated to the back of the vocabulary closet with other mothballed verbiage like ‘pizzazz’, ‘oomph’, ‘spunk’, ‘razzmatazz’, and ‘zing’. Maybe I watch too many old movies. And sure, times have changed. But considering the current crap-storm the world out there seems to be weathering, I’m thinking there is no better time to open the closet and pull out a little moxie.

©cookinginmyheels.com

One of my favorite qualities (other than my impeccable taste in footwear) is my moxie. I think I was probably born with it, coming from a long line of moxie-rich ancestors, but it didn’t really start to show some oomph and pizzazz until I hit the 4th grade. My class was doing a historical play about…well, I have no clue what the script was about. What I do know is I was cast as Susan B. Anthony. And let me just say, I made a hell of a suffragette. Long dress, braided hair powdered gray and piled on top of my head, my 9-year-old incarnation was getting women the right to vote come hell or high water! Our gripping elementary school production was in two parts, which gave the audience an opportunity to catch their breath from all the action on stage (and take baby brothers to the potty before an unfortunate accident.) So naturally, there was need for an intermission act. But who?

I’m sure many of you out there are aware of Susan B. Anthony’s contributions to women’s history, but did you know she was also a virtuoso on the accordion? Well, my version of her was. So the minute the curtain closed on Act I, a hand appeared from within the folds gripping a music stand, followed by our Susan B, white mother-of-pearl adult-sized accordion strapped to her chest.  A hush fell over the audience as the accordion, (and my parents) took a BIG breath and out flowed the Wild Gypsy Dance with all the razzmatazz and zing a 4-foot 11-inch high suffragette could muster. Just as our Susan was hitting the second verse, the man-sized accordion started to slip down her little girl-sized body. But did this deter our gal? Never! As the accordion moved down her body, her right knee moved up to meet it, resulting in a pitch perfect rendition of flamingo dressed as Susan B. Anthony playing gypsy music on a mother-of-pearl squeezebox special with gild gold minor keys. And there sitting in the audience was my mother, who leaned into my beaming dad and uttered, “You know what? That kid’s got MOXIE!” Know what?…I still do!

If there was ever food with moxie it’s rhubarb. Looks like pink celery, tastes awful raw, but just add sugar and cook it down and it becomes zippy zing and razzmatazz in your mouth. Pair it with some sweeter fruit and you’ve got a combo as good as a one-legged-4th-grade-accordion-playing suffragette!  This time of year my desserts move away from heavier cakes and cookies and towards fruit-based sweets. I came up with this Peach Rhubarb Sauce as a twist on the more traditional strawberry-rhubarb combo (which I LOVE) because Trader Joe’s had some terrific ripe peaches on sale the other day. Wonderful on its own, over yogurt, ice cream, pound cake, or even as a neat alternative to strawberries over shortcake, it is also a terrific compliment to next week’s recipe (and you’ll just have to tune in next week to see what that is!).  And the best part? It’s all done in 10 minutes in the microwave. Give my peach rhubarb sauce a try – it will definitely put a little pizzazz in your mouth!

Peach Rhubarb Sauce

Makes about 2 cups

  • 2 cups chopped rhubarb
  • 3 peaches, peeled and chopped to total 1 ¼ cups
  • ½ cup sugar (or more to taste)
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 peach unpeeled and chopped to add in at the end

Put the first 4 ingredients in a deep microwave safe bowl and mix well. Microwave on high uncovered for 5 minutes. Stir and microwave again for another 5 minutes. Let cool a little and taste for sweetness. I like this more on the tart side since I’m usually serving it over something sweet, but how much additional sugar you want to add is completely up to you.  Add in the remaining chopped unpeeled peach and stir. Will last 1-2 weeks in a jar in the fridge or you can freeze for up to 2 months. Calories: approximately 100 per ¼ cup.

 

The Thanksgiving List

Ah, Thanksgiving. That wonderful start to the holiday season that brings friends and family together in gratitude and affection. And as with most family gatherings, everyone sitting around your bountiful table brings with them a matched set of emotional luggage that, when added to the stresses of the season, amplifies the crazy of your dear ones. It happens to everyone, no matter how ‘well adjusted’ you are. It’s not that you don’t love each other (mostly). It’s just that you know these people way too well and for way too long, so no matter how much you plan to be on your best behavior, crazy comes to the table and pulls up a chair. Someone always says that thing that sets it off, like tossing a match on dry kindling. My family was no different. I’m not saying that we didn’t have fun. We had tons. Yet there were always the things that set you off, and suddenly happy turned to harpy Thanksgiving.

Enter the Thanksgiving list. Invented by my mom for my aunt, it brought laughter to a stressful day. The list was somewhat of an inside joke between hostesses (with a few of the ‘kitchen help’ also in the know), because they were the ones who really needed it. Its purpose? To help us laugh through what happened every year at Thanksgiving, giving the barbs, comments and craziness less sting. It worked beautifully. The list was composed of those annual family foibles that really got under the skin, setting off tears or tantrums like striking a match. Checking items off as they happened and giggling along the way took away their power. For example, one family member hated chestnuts, going on at great length annually about her loathing of the offending little jewels. Unfortunately for her, my grandmother made stuffing with chestnuts, every year. As soon as the blessing was out of our mouths, the question was out of hers; “are there chestnuts in the stuffing?” Oma would respond exactly the same every year. She’d lie. The asker would then take a bite, usually right into a chestnut, and exclaim, usually loudly “but you said there are NO chestnuts in the stuffing!” Ah, tradition… Another item on the list involved my grandmother asking for the one kitchen tool my aunt didn’t have. Auntie would try to anticipate her every time, and almost certainly had the BEST equipped kitchen as a result. But there was always that one thing missing. It was uncanny, as though Oma had a sixth sense for absent utensils. Many other family quirks made the list, and we giggled our way though each checkmark, all of which were hit by the end of the day. I’m sure we would have survived otherwise, but that list made the day a little easier to handle, and a lot more fun in the kitchen.

Thanksgiving has changed a lot since then, and while the crowd around my table is much smaller, I still laugh whenever I remember our list. Because the crazy is what makes a family, a family. And ours was a hell of a lot of fun.

We always had 2 cranberry sauces on our Thanksgiving table. The first was that wonderful ‘log’ of jellied cranberry sauce with the ribs from the can firmly in place. I can still hear the ‘THWOCK’ as the log slid from the can and hit the plate. The second was my grandmother’s homemade version with pears. I loved them both. Here is my updated version of Oma’s pear cranberry sauce, with a little touch of cloves, port and lime to give it a new twist.

Spiced Cranberry and Pear Sauce

Makes 2 cups

  • 2 cups whole cranberries**
  • 2 medium pears, peeled and cut into ½” cubes
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 TBSP port
  • 1 tsp grated lime zest
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • ¼ cup water
  • pinch of salt

Put all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Let cool and keep in the refrigerator. The sauce will keep for a couple of weeks so you can easily make ahead. It also makes a very nice gift. Calories: 30 per tablespoon.

** There are 3 cups of cranberries in the typical bag. So if you make my Mini Pumpkin Corn Muffins with Fresh Cranberries too, you’ll use up a full bag!

WTF?

I like swearing. Shocked? If so, then you don’t know me very well. Those who do know my penchant for potty mouth and that I could likely keep up with longshoremen if need be. I’m a very well spoken gal…And though I enjoy the zeal of those who use curses as noun, verb, adjective, and adverb all in one sentence (think Pauly Walnuts in any given episode of the Sopranos), I prefer a more precise placement when I swear. It’s far more effective that way. Which is why I don’t like cursing via initials. I’m a firm believer that these pearls of vulgarity only reach their full sheen when said outright without anything clouding the sentiment. ‘WTF’ and the like may be more suitable for electronic transmission (and the FCC) but they just have no pizzazz. Allow me to illustrate: Say you are making a big pitcher of ice tea, teabags at the ready, kettle whistle just post-blow, and scalding hot water making its way into pitcher. It’s at that precise moment the pitcher remembers it’s for COLD liquids, and wants this boiling hot stuff out of it NOW, creating many more exits and pouring hot tea all over counter, floor, rug, stove, and of course, you. ‘WTF’ just seems so unsatisfying. ‘DAMN’ could work, but it’s hard to pull off without sounding like Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady. No, nothing else will do but a swift, succinct ‘F –K!’ I suppose you could go with ‘S—T’, but I prefer its use it in situations where it can be drawn out, ‘IIIIIIIIIIIIIT’ hanging in the air as though you were going over a waterfall in a canoe or something large or pointy was hurtling toward you at great speed. Before you get the wrong idea about me, I’m not in need of a soap sandwich ALL the time. I can be more lady-like if decorum dictates it. Of course, you really don’t want to read the thought balloons over my head at those times. If I just can’t hold it in I have been known to use stand-ins as substitute, sort of like seat fillers at the Oscars. ‘BITE ME’ can be inserted and have similar effect, although the luster is dulled a bit and delivery not nearly as satisfying. ‘BLOODY HELL’ is always fun, but hard to pull off with the proper panache when you’re a Yank and best saved for use when her Majesty’s subjects are present. And flipping the bird can be quite a handy gesture when someone is out of earshot but you still want to commemorate his or her actions in some way. Yet when it comes to a situation that just screams for the real deal, I’m sticking with the classics. And if you have a problem with that, well you can just go…

Betcha think I can’t come up with a recipe for this post, huh? Yes I FIGGING can! (I can hear you groaning out there….oh throw me an f-ing bone, you think this stuff is easy?!)

The first time I made a fig tapanade I used a recipe that called for dried figs, but I really like it better when fresh figs are in season. This recipe’s origins came from Epicurious.com, with substitutions I made based on ingredients I had on hand and the mix of olives I preferred. The result is lovely on crostini by itself or with goat cheese, aside roast chicken or lamb, and really great on a sandwich with just about any meat you like. It freezes pretty well too, so if you are lucky enough to have a fig tree nearby – make a sh**load!

Fresh fig tapanade

Makes about 1 ¾ cups

  • 8 ripe figs, stemmed and halved
  • 1 ½ TBSP olive oil
  • ¼ cup kalamata olives – pitted
  • ¼ cup oil cured olives – pitted
  • 1 TBSP drained capers
  • 2 TBSP balsamic crema (this is a reduced balsamic syrup that many markets now carry. If you can’t find it, you can make it by reducing ½ cup balsamic vinegar with ½ cup sugar until it forms a syrup. Keep it on hand in the fridge – it’s wonderful on a lot of things.)
  • 2 tsp fresh chopped rosemary
  • ½ tsp good aged balsamic vinegar
  • ½ cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat broiler. Line small baking sheet with foil and spray with non-stick spray. Lightly brush figs with ½ TBSP olive oil. Arrange figs cut side up on sheet. Broil until figs are lightly browned at edges, about 3 minutes. Cool on baking sheet.

Combine figs, olives, capers, balsamic crema, rosemary and vinegar in food processor. Pulse to coarsely chop figs and olives. With motor running, add remaining 1 TBSP of oil. Add salt and pepper to taste (you may not need any salt since both the olives and capers have plenty.) Transfer to a bowl and stir in the walnuts. Let stand at room temperature for 2 hours for the flavors to blend nicely. Store in refrigerator. Calories: about 50 per tablespoon.

The Michelangelo of Lemonade

“When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” Is anyone else tired of that ancient chestnut? However, I like the message, so I’ve tried to come up with a better way to say when the unexpected (and unwanted) happens and things go south, make the best of it. Here’s what I have so far: When life throws tomatoes, make sauce; When life curdles your milk, make ricotta; When life boils your brussels sprouts …yeah, I got nothing. Regardless of how to say it, I’ve become quite adept at it. Hell, I’m a frigging  Michelangelo of lemonade! From the bushels of lemons I’ve received, I’d better be. And after the wailing, teeth gnashing, infantile foot stomping and the rest of the feeling sorry for myself floor show, I eventually come to the realization that I have to be a grown-up (aw crap…again?) and ‘make the best of it’. Funny, in doing so I often wind up with something unexpected and maybe even better (shocking, I know.) Take this blog. The idea began in the midst of yet another lemon-filled tsunami. Still unemployed, lot’s of ‘thank you but no thank yous’, dwindling bank account, deflating confidence, ‘nobody loves me I’m gonna eat worms’, blah blah blah. Then I started the blog. People started reading it, liking what they read, and a lovely little lemon soufflé starts to rise. I have no idea where it will go (getting paid would be awfully swell), but what the hell, at least it’s going. Lemonade works like that. You start out thinking “oh come on, be a success at this?? PA-LEESE! This thing is just to pass the time until I find the real thing.” Then, slowly, ‘this thing’ turns into something real. At least I hope it does. Either way, that squirt in the eyes opened them to a new possibility.

Hey Tamaytah!

Since I think we’ve all had more than enough lemon for one post, my recipe has a ‘when life throws tomatoes at you” theme. The other day I had a mess of cherry tomatoes looking for a recipe to jump into. Having a freezer full of sauce already, I decided to give tomato jam a try. I make jam from fresh or frozen fruit throughout the year in my microwave, using less sugar and cooking time than standard jam recipes call for. I wondered if tomato jam could work with this method too, and it did! Sweet and a little savory with just a hint of heat, it is wonderful with cream cheese or fresh goat cheese on a bagel, as a nice addition to a cheese tray, a special twist on a PB & J, or added to a sandwich. Makes a nice gift too.

[Recipe Note: This type of jam doesn’t last as long as the sugar laden kind, but since I don’t make vats of the stuff and I eat it up rather quickly, a few weeks in the fridge is just fine with me. It also doesn’t get as thick as traditional jam and has more of a conserve consistency.]

Quick Tomato Jam

Makes a little under one cup of jam

  • 1 lb cherry tomatoes (you can use whatever kind you like. Just remember you’ll be peeling them, so you might want to go with some of the bigger varieties.)
  • 5 TBSP sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp lemon juice (or more to taste)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar (if you have a really good one, this is a place to use it)
  • A pinch of ancho chili powder, cayenne, or whatever your favorite. (I used a combo of ancho and New Mexico since that’s what I had on hand. This is supposed to be a subtle heat to compliment the sweetness, not blow the back of your head off.)

Put a pot of water on to simmer and prepare an ice bath (bowl of cold water with a few ice cubes in it.) Cut a small X in the bottom of the tomatoes. Once the water is simmering, toss in the tomatoes for about 20-30 seconds or as long as it takes to see the skins start peeling back where you cut them (it won’t take long). Remove the tomatoes from the hot water and immediately put them into the ice bath to cool quickly. Drain the tomatoes and slip off the skins. I find the easiest way to do this is just grab the stem end (end you didn’t cut) and gently pinch the skins off.  Doing this step takes a little bit of time, but the end result is SO worth it. **

[**RECIPE NOTE: when I take the tomatoes out of the boiling water, I toss in the jar and lid I’m going to use for the jam and boil for a few minutes to sterilize them. Then I carefully take them out of the water with tongs and put them face down on a clean towel.]

Put the peeled tomatoes and everything else in a deep microwave safe bowl. The bowl should be big enough so that there’s about 3-4 inches from the tomatoes to the rim to avoid any boiling over.  DO NOT cover the bowl (if you do, you’ll guarantee the stuff will boil all over your nice clean microwave). Nuke on high in 5-minute intervals, stirring between each, until the mixture has thickened and there’s barely any liquid left. In my microwave it took a total of 18 minutes, but since all microwaves are different, yours may take a little more or less time. When it’s thickened and looks jammy, remove from microwave (REMEMBER – the bowl and the jam will be HOT) and let cool a little. Taste it and adjust if you need to — if you like it sweeter, add a little more sugar, if it’s too sweet, add some more lemon juice.

Pour the jam into the prepared jar, being careful not to touch the inside of the lid or rim of jar. Close tightly and let cool a little on the counter, then put in the back of the coldest shelf in your fridge.  Calories: approx. 35 per tablespoon.