Embracing My Hate

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), and check out what else is going on in my kitchen at cookinginmyheels.com. Thanks! 

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Rude Acts

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That’s right honey, look away….

This weekend I did something rather rude to a chicken. And despite living about 65 miles east of Portlandia, I didn’t ask the chicken her name, or anything about her life. Clearly that was inconsiderate, but not really rude. Rude came a little later, when I shoved a can up her, well…

I’ve been curious about the whole concept of Beer Can Chicken for a while now, but never attempted. I think a certain boldness is required to pursue it. The concept seemed sound enough.  Barbecues can certainly double for ovens. I’ve tested that theory with numerous grilled pizzas and stuffed flatbread. I think it was just the way the bird actually looked that was stopping me. She’s sitting there, upright, as though she was watching her favorite afternoon stories. Well, if she still had a head. It just seemed a little, um, disturbing. That was how I felt until last Thanksgiving, when I met Trash Can Turkey. That seemed a bit odd too, a turkey who looks like he’s sitting in an easy chair watching the game, encased in a garbage can. But the succulent beast that landed on the table was without a doubt the BEST turkey I’ve ever had. So if sitting under a can is good enough for Tom, sitting on one is good enough for whatshername.

File Aug 07, 6 07 05 PMAnd it was good. Really good. Especially with the barbecue sauce I made to dress her nakedness as she sat there, back to the inevitable, like she was waiting for a bus.  A bit more on that sauce in a minute. First the bird. Sam Sifton from the New York Times has a great recipe for Beer Can Chicken. I made two modifications. First, I very generously salted and peppered the beast and let rest in my fridge, covered, for about 24 hours. This is my standard prep for a bird that goes in the oven, so I figured it would work as well with barby-bird. Second, I had no beer but did have a can of hard cider. Since the purpose was mostly a perch I figured it would be fine substituting, and not being particularly fond of this brand of cider, foregoing the contents wasn’t a loss.  I was thinking of playing around with cider in a recipe anyway, so the half can I was going to dump went into the sauce.

The resulting Hard Cider BBQ Sauce was a nice play of sweetness, heat and a little tang. Give it a try. But if you use it on a chicken sitting on a can, at least introduce yourself first. It would be rude not to.

Hard Cider BBQ Sauce

Makes about 2 cups

  • 1/2 a can of hard cider (your preference – I used Schilling Ginger Cider)
  • 1 TBSP tomato paste
  • 2 TBSP cider vinegar
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 6 TBSP brown sugar
  • 1 TBSP honey
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp cayenne, New Mexico, or your favorite
  • 1 TBSP cumin
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 good shot bourbon

Add everything together in a saucepan. Whisk until combined. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook about 30-45 minutes until thickened. I found it to be better the next day, once the flavors have had a chance to get to know each other. Store in a jar in the fridge.

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!  

“Hobby Ladies”

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The other day I was speaking with a woman about a possible collaborative opportunity for Cooking in My Heels. Our chat went pretty well at the start — she, Cordon Bleu-trained in Paris; me, cook when I’m blue trained in Queens. Over the course of conversation I asked whom else she’d spoken with, so I could get a sense of what her goals were with a collaborator. Apparently we (the spoken to) ranged from ‘serious professionals’ with real culinary school training (her words), to (her words again) “hobby ladies who think that just because they love to cook they can cut it.” Hmm… 

Now obviously this person had an opinion on “hobby ladies” that crossed the border into judgment. And naturally, I made my own judgment based upon hers. Then I began thinking about my new category and my pleasant pastime sisters. To be clear, I have the utmost of respect for anyone with an earned toque on his or her head. Cooking school is no easy ride, so bravo to those who’ve made it through, and especially through an institution that trained the culinary mother-goddess of us all, Julia. Where I have a teensy bit of a problem (ok, maybe more than teensy) is someone who dismisses a large slice of the whisk-wielding public, lumping us into a category that brings to mind sewing circles and stamp collecting. Not that there’s anything wrong with hobbyists, but whoa there missy! 

I mean, think about it. Who better to excel at something than a person who chooses to do it purely for the joy it brings? Someone who is constantly trying to get better, to learn more, and looks forward to “hobbying” at the end of a long day of doing all those un-hobby things we do to get by. I’ve spent a lot of time working with entrepreneurs over the past 20 years, and a sure sign of one who has a good shot at success is a driving passion for the work, without focusing on the financial payout it will deliver. Which is really good, since there’s probably no cha-ching to focus on, in the beginning anyway. And while I don’t deny there are plenty “ladies” and “gentlemen” out there who will likely not move beyond making their friends and family very happy with full bellies, there’s no reason to discount the growing number who have or will turn that passion into a thriving business.

I really do wish Ms. Cordon Bleu the best of luck in finding her “perfect collaborator” and I’d bet that person has a pedigree like hers. I think I’d rather be happy with my “hobby ladies and gentlemen” peers anyway. I mean, with Ina Garten, Martha Stewart, Paula Deen, Nigella Lawson, Ree Drummond and Jaimie Oliver around, to name just a few, I figure I’m in pretty good company. So COOK ON HOBBY LADIES! There’s plenty of room for us all.

This week’s recipe, Lemon and Garlic Chicken and Mushrooms is adapted from one of my favorite food writers, and as it so happens, someone who didn’t train as a cook either – Martha Rose Shulman. Based on a classic Provencal chicken recipe, this comes from Shulman’s “Recipes for Health” column in the New York Times, and like most of her recipes, is quick, easy, good for you and really delicious.

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Lemon and Garlic Chicken and Mushrooms

(Adapted from Martha Rose Shulman, New York Times, March 2014)

Serves 4

The original recipe called for chicken breast cutlets, but I find boneless skinless thighs are a lot more flavorful. I like to nestle the chicken pieces in under the mushrooms for the last 5 minutes of cooking. It gives the opportunity for the juices of the chicken to flavor the sauce. Serve it on a bed of arugula dressed with lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper, and it makes an elegant and healthy dinner.

For the marinade

  • 16-20 ounces boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or puréed
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons grapeseed, sunflower or canola oil
  • 1 pound mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine

To serve:

  • 1 bag baby arugula
  • Flavorful olive oil
  • ½ a lemon cut into two wedges
  • Salt and pepper

1. Stir together olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, rosemary, and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Cut each chicken thigh into 2 equal pieces (3 if they’re 12 ounces or more) and place in the bowl. Stir together and refrigerate for 15 to 30 minutes.

2. Remove chicken from marinade and pat dry (discard marinade). Place two sheets of plastic wrap (1 large sheet if you have extra-wide wrap) on your work surface, overlapping slightly, to make 1 wide sheet, and brush lightly with olive oil. Place a piece of chicken in the middle of plastic sheet and brush lightly with oil. Cover the chicken with another wide layer of plastic wrap. Working from the center to the outside, pound chicken with the flat side of a meat tenderizer until about 1/4 inch thick. (Don’t pound too hard or you’ll tear the meat. If that happens it won’t be the end of the world, you’ll just have a few pieces to cook.) Repeat with the remaining chicken pieces.

3. Season the pounded chicken breasts with salt and pepper on one side only. Dredge lightly in the flour (you will not use all of it) and tap the breasts to remove excess.

4. Turn oven on low. Heat a wide, heavy skillet over high heat and add oil. When oil is hot, place one or two pieces of chicken in the pan – however many will fit without crowding. Cook for 1 ½ – 2 minutes, until bottom is browned in spots. Turn over and brown other side, about 1 ½ – 2 minutes. (Do not overcook or the chicken will be dry.) Transfer to the platter or sheet pan and keep warm in the oven. If there is more than a tablespoon of fat in the pan, pour some (but not all) off into a jar or bowl.

5. Turn burner heat down to medium-high. Add mushrooms to the pan. Let them sear for about 30 seconds to a minute without moving them, then stir, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to deglaze. When mushrooms have softened slightly and begun to sweat, add wine, thyme or parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Continue to stir until wine has evaporated and mushrooms are tender, 5 to 10 minutes.

6. Add the chicken back into the pan and spoon mushrooms over the chicken. Simmer another 5 minutes to let the flavors meld.

7. Toss the arugula in a bowl with a good drizzle of olive oil, the juice from ¼ of a lemon, and a good pinch salt and pepper. Divide onto 4 plates. Divide the chicken and mushrooms between the 4 plates. Finish with a squeeze of lemon.

Nutritional information per serving: 234 calories; 10 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 6 grams polyunsaturated fat; 2 grams monounsaturated fat; 73 milligrams cholesterol; 7 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram dietary fiber; 138 milligrams sodium (does not include salt to taste); 28 grams protein.

[Advance preparation: The chicken breasts can be pounded several hours ahead – but don’t marinate them until shortly before cooking – and kept between pieces of plastic in the refrigerator.]

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 www.cookinginmyheels.com Thanks! 🙂

What I Know Now

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They’re everywhere. Year-end revelations. New year resolutions. Pick up a paper, listen to the radio, log onto the various nets and webs and there they are. Joys, regrets, wisdoms and the sundry flotsam and jetsam of a year lived and discarded for the promises of what comes next. I used to make resolutions, but like most, they rarely lasted past the first page of the new calendar. So several years ago I resolved not to resolve, and have managed to stick to that resolution ever since. But that doesn’t mean I don’t make lists. Once the trimmings are gone, halls de-decked, tree curbside and house clean, I fix a big cup of something and remember the past 365. Then I write down what I know now that I didn’t the last time I performed this ritual. I supposed you could call it my lessons learned list. On years where nothing much has happened it’s the size of a post-it. This is not one of those years. Here’s a sampling of my What I Know Now List, 2014 Edition:

  • One woman can lift 3 tons: Sounds implausible? It’s not, and no, I’m not an ex Eastern European weight lifter or part-time superhero. What I am is someone who packed every item she owned into boxes, then deposited said boxes into every nook and cranny of an 825 square foot apartment. It took 3 burly men with hand trucks and dollies to move three tons of my stuff into and out of a large truck. Feh…bunch of lightweights….
  • This country is big, and beautiful, and full of CORN! Don’t believe me? Start in Upstate New York, point car west, step on the gas. The corn doesn’t let up until Wyoming.
  • I now know what a stockyard smells like. I could have probably gone to my grave not knowing that one…
  •  New York City winds its way into your DNA. Leave, and you miss it like family. As the saying goes, you can take the girl out of the city, but not the city out of the girl. Good thing too, because it’s one of my best parts.
  • Simplifying your life is very complicated. Three tons of stuff, Craigslist, movers, maps, boxes, packing, unpacking, Ikea assembling, Ikea disassembling, Ikea reassembling, new friends/job/life, shoes, Shoes, SHOES! 
  • With a jar of peanut butter at hand, it’s possible to make a relatively well-balanced meal from the bounty of most rest stop vending machines. Thank goodness for sourdough pretzels, blue diamond almonds, and V8… 
  • Being chatty is your greatest asset when you’re the new kid in town: Met some pretty swell new friends this year via my gift of the blah blah, yadda yadda yadda. 

And I think the most important one, for this year at least:

  • The thing that scares you the most is most likely the thing you should do, which is likely why it’s the thing that scares you the most.  Yeah, this is all about that “comfort zone” stuff, and how life begins once you dare to take a step outside of it. I hate it when refrigerator magnet wisdom rings true. 😉

There is one thing that I have known for a while, but was reminded of again recently – the joy (and ease) of a simply and deliciously roasted chicken. I must have a dozen clippings of elaborate and delicious chicken recipes, but as with most things simple is often the best. This recipe for Easy Roast Chicken Dinner is as simple as it gets. The only equipment is a cast iron skillet, the only fancy preparation is generously salt and peppering the bird and letting it chill overnight in the fridge. Just add in an onion, some potatoes and a few root vegetables with the bird as it roasts, and you have a splendid one-skillet meal guaranteed to make it on your best of list from now on!

Easy Roast Chicken Dinner

Serves about 4

  • One 3 to 4 lb Chicken (free range, kosher, or organic — I like a smaller bird because it fits in my cast iron frying pan better)
  • 1 onion, cut into quarters or sixths
  • 1 fennel bulb, or 2-3 large carrots, parsnips or whatever other root vegetables you like cut into chunks all about the same size
  • 6- 8 small new potatoes (red bliss or yukon gold), cut in half
  • Salt and Pepper
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • 2 tsp finely chopped thyme or rosemary

(Although you don’t have to, this recipe is best if you season the chicken the night before you are going to make it and let it sit in the fridge overnight and up to 24 hours.) 

Wash and dry the chicken. In a small bowl, combine about a tablespoon of salt, half that of pepper. Sprinkle generously all over the bird. Don’t forget a little inside the cavity, in the leg joints and all the nooks and chicken crannies. Cover with cling wrap loosely and stow in the refrigerator for overnight, a day and up to two days.

When you are ready to roast, preheat oven to 450°F.  Scatter the vegetables and onions into a cast iron pan (I use my 10” one). Scatter the potatoes in the pan, cut side down. Sprinkle the vegetables with a little bit of salt and pepper. (Remember, the bird’s juices will do a lot to season the veggies so go easy).

Pat the bird dry thoroughly with paper towels. A dry bird makes a crispy skin.  Truss the bird (tie the legs together, tuck the wing tips under). Place bird on top of the veggies in the pan (they provide a nice rack). Roast for 50-55 minutes until it’s done and the juices run clear. 

Take the chicken, veggies and potatoes and remove to serving platter. Add the wine and rosemary or thyme to the hot pan juices, stir well, and pour over the chicken and veggies. Cover loosely to keep warm and let rest 10 minutes before carving. Set the table, open the wine, and toast to all the things you’ll learn this year! Calories: about 400-450 calories per 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). 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! :-)

What Siri Hears

Every morning I get up and go for a big long walk to start my day. It started off as a way to trick myself into exercising, figuring if I was going somewhere rather than running on a treadmill like a gerbil, I could pretend I wasn’t really exercising. My daily rambles are also useful in shaking my muses awake, especially those associated with writing weekly ruminations. And when a blog-related thought, snappy bon mot, or just something I need to remember for later pops into my head, I usually send myself a note via email. Which used to require me stopping (or at least slowing down so I didn’t walk clear off the High Line and onto 10th Avenue 30 feet below), while I fumbled with thumbs to tap out the message on my phone. That is until Siri stepped into my life.

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I’ve waxed poetic before about my love for Siri, and how with one little word, (“weather”) I get not only the forecast, but commentary too (“Brrr…it’s 32 degrees”, “It’s a hot one, 92 degrees”.)  But you really get to know the gal when you play around her ‘send an email’ function. Just hit her magic button, ask her to send a note to someone (in this case, me) and a few questions later, POOF it’s done! Which is a pretty great feature when you are deep into a 5-mile walk and a flash of pithy blog goodness comes your way. Just “send an email to me, home” and I’m off, no fumbling with thumbs and touch screens, no to and fro-ing between screen and eye in the attempt to actually see what I’m typing. Just modern technology at it’s finest. Of course, what you say and what Siri hears can vary just a tad, and that’s when she gets creative.

For example, after spending several days cleaning out the accumulated crap of 9 years in one apartment, the idea for last week’s post popped into my head. So I asked Siri to send me an email reminder. “Do blog on the crap that accumulates in your apartment when you move” became “Do a blog on the crack that accumulates in Los Altos Windlestraw YouTube.” Huh? Ok, crap and crack are close, but how did she manage to get ‘accumulate’ but follow it with ‘Los Altos Windlestraw YouTube?! And what exactly IS a Windlestraw, anyway? Siri got a little confused, it happens to us all. But what really takes the cake is when she editorializes. This week’s recipe is for chicken fricassee. Granted, fricassee is probably not the easiest word to throw at her; it’s not likely Steve Jobs’ minions are well versed in French culinary banter. But really, I don’t think it was necessary for Siri to resort to insults. When I asked her to send me a note of “chicken fricassee”, what I got in return was this:  “Cheap, call me…”

Twice in the span of two weeks I called upon my family’s basic recipe for Chicken Fricassee. The first was on a cold, raw day and I needed something warm and cozy. The second after a particularly stressful day of cleaning out crap and looking for a new place to call home 3,000 miles away. Ever since I was a kid, chicken fricassee meant comfort in food form. At it’s simplest, fricassee is a relatively quick yet elegant dish of braised chicken (or veal) in a basic white wine sauce. Mushrooms are  traditionally added, but my mom and Oma would always add in peas, sometimes carrots too. Oma would serve it over toast points and steamed asparagus, or in little puff pastry cups for fancy luncheon. It’s a wonderfully comforting dish with a touch of class, despite what Siri thinks…

Chicken Fricassee (a.k.a.: Cheap, call me)

Serves 2

  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 8 oz. boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 2/3 cup fresh or frozen peas
  • 1 cup low sodium chicken stock
  • 1/3 cup white wine or dry vermouth
  • 1 TBSP butter at room temperature
  • 1 TBSP flour
  • Zest of a lemon, plus 1 TBSP lemon juice
  • 6 oz. asparagus spears
  • 2 slices good white bread
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 TBSP chopped parsley

Cut up the chicken thighs into bite-sized pieces and season with salt and pepper. In a medium sauté pan, heat the olive oil, and lightly brown the chicken. Remove chicken to a plate.  Add the minced shallot to the pan and a pinch of salt and sauté until just softened (add in a little more oil if necessary). Deglaze the pan with the wine or vermouth, scraping up any brown bits. Add back in the chicken and any accumulated juices, then stock and lemon zest. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook until the chicken is cooked through, about 10-15 minutes.

In a small bowl, mix the flour and butter together into a paste with a fork. The fancy term for this is beurre manié, and it’s one of the best ways to thicken a sauce or gravy and guarantee no lumps. Set the paste aside.

Once the chicken has cooked for about 10 minutes, add in the peas and simmer for another 5 minutes.  Whisk in the butter-flour paste and simmer sauce 2-3 minutes until it thickens. Stir in the lemon juice and taste for seasonings, adding salt and pepper if needed. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.

To serve:

Toast the bread and cut in half on the diagonal. Put two triangles of toast in each plate. Steam the asparagus spears until just tender, and lay across the toast points. Spoon the fricassee over the asparagus spears. Calories: about 470 per 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). Thanks! 🙂

Emergency Preparedness

A week ago we had a record-shattering blizzard. Three months ago, the “storm of the century.” Considering the meteorological walloping the East Coast received recently, it’s no surprise a lot of people are thinking preparedness. Water, batteries, generators and the like are such hot items that even my local coffee shop is stocking DDs right there on the counter next to the sugar and coffee stirrers. A frenzy of milk and bread buying ensues at the mere mention of the word “storm.” All of that is good. After what we’ve been through “better safe than sorry” isn’t a bad idea. But what about being prepared for less climatic and climactic events? That’s when a box mix and a covered dish come into play.

Seriously Karin….a BOX MIX? I once pooh-poohed the idea of always having a prepackaged mix around as a pantry staple too. I laughed when my friend told me of her mother’s advice to always have one handy for emergencies. In my mind, box mixes were relegated to the same bucket as TV-dinners – maybe when I was a kid, but that was before I actually learned to cook. That was, until I found myself in a situation where I really needed one. It’s not all that uncommon. Kids let you know they promised the teacher they’d bring in cupcakes for class tomorrow, just as you are tucking them in? No worry if you have a box-mix, (and you didn’t need that extra hour or two of sleep anyway.) Want to invite that cute and single new neighbor moving in to drop by for coffee when he’s finished unpacking? If you just happen to have something fresh out of the oven to nibble on you definitely up the odds of future nibbling. And what if you find out last-minute you need to coerce colleagues to come in an hour early tomorrow for your new pet project? Mention you’ll bring some baked goods from home, because if you feed them, they will come…

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©cookinginmyheels.com

Casseroles used to suffer the same fate as the Betty Crocker box in my mind. Visions of female casserole brigades making their way to the newest widower in the retirement community, cans of condensed soup and Garrison Keillor’s church socials filled my head. Funny thing about a good casserole though. When you bring one to a potluck, new neighbor or laid-up friend, the reception is always warm and the leftovers always scare. Everybody loves a good casserole, including me. And why not? It’s the perfect expression of creativity, efficiency and frugality in a pan. Each bite is a complete meal of protein, vegetable, starch and sauce, all under a crunchy, savory topping. So while I may have scoffed in my early cooking and food-snobby past, I now embrace the humble covered-dish. There are few other things in this world that can nourish, comfort and welcome all at once. And if you have a box-mix on hand, dessert is covered too.

Tarragon Chicken Casserole

With it’s origins in my chicken thing recipe, this casserole gets classed up a bit for company with tarragon, cognac, fingerlings and peas. You could serve it just like that, but like any good casserole it needs a topping. I’ve given you a few options, from breadcrumbs to biscuits or puff pastry. Whatever you choose, it’s a perfect bring-along for any casserole occasion.

Makes 4 servings

  • 3 large boneless skinless chicken thighs (about a pound or a little more)
  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • 2 TBSP flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • ½ cup chopped onions
  • 10 oz. package of sliced cremini mushrooms (or whole mushrooms you slice)
  • 8 oz. fingerlings potatoes
  • 3 TBSP chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1 TBSP heavy cream
  • 2 oz. goat cheese
  • Zest of a lemon
  • 2 TBSP cognac
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 cup frozen peas

Preheat oven to 400°F. Add salt, pepper and flour into a zip-closure bag and mix. Cut up the chicken into bite-sized pieces, drop into the bag and give the chicken a good mixing in the seasoned flour so every piece is covered.

Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan. Sauté chicken over medium-high heat until it is lightly browned on all sides. Remove to a bowl. Turn heat to medium, add in the onions, mushrooms and a pinch of salt. Cook until onions are wilted and mushrooms have given up most of their moisture and the pan is relatively dry. As the vegetables are cooking, put the fingerlings in a microwave safe dish. Toss with a TBSP of water and a pinch of salt. Cover and microwave on high for 1-2 minutes or until the potatoes are just beginning to become tender but not mushy.

When the mushrooms are a little moist but not wet, remove the pan from the burner and add in the cognac, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Place pan back on the heat, add in the remaining ingredients except the peas and bring just up to a boil. Cover the pan and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook about 25 minutes until the chicken is done. Remove cover and continue to simmer another 5 minutes to thicken sauce a bit. If you still think it’s too soupy, dissolve 2 tsp corn starch in one TBSP each of cold water and sour cream, cream or milk, add to dish and stir. The sauce will thicken as it heats up. Taste and adjust seasonings. Stir in the frozen peas, and pour into casserole dish large enough to hold 5 cups (you should have about that much filling).

Choice of toppings

Breadcrumbs: 1/2 cup breadcrumbs (plain or seasoned), drizzled with 1-2 TBSP of melted butter and a pinch of salt– bake until crumbs have browned and casserole is bubbling.

Biscuit topping: Use your favorite “box mix” (enough for 4-5 biscuits), or make them from scratch using any of the many drop biscuit recipes out there. Spread or drop biscuit dough on top of casserole and back according to the recipe you use.

Puff pastry: Using your favorite brand, roll out to fit about ½ inch larger than your casserole dish. You could also divide up the casserole filling into individual potpies too. Wet the rim of your dish with a little water, then cover the dish with the pastry and pressing the extra dough around the edges so it sticks. Cut a slit or two in the center of the dough to allow steam to escape. Brush with milk or cream and sprinkle a little salt and pepper on top. Bake at 400°F for 20 minutes or more, until the dough is golden and filling is bubbly.

Let the casserole sit for 5 minutes before serving. Calories: The casserole without topping is about 360 calories per serving. The toppings add anywhere from 60 (breadcrumbs) to 100 (pastry) to 200 (biscuit) extra calories per serving.

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Accessing the Archives

Back home again with electricity, hot water and heat, and so very aware of just how lucky I am. Lucky that the water only came to the end of my block. Lucky my friends and family here are all okay, though we will all be defining a new “normal” during the weeks and months to come. And most of all, lucky to have a home to come back to. So before I launch into my usual pith, snark and food-related fare, I need to express more than a bit of gratitude. Thank you to all the people I know and the many more I don’t who checked in, kept good thoughts and prayers flowing, and most importantly worked through conditions akin to a war zone to help us all. I may complain occasionally of the petty annoyances that come with living in a city of millions, but the experiences of the past week have made me even more grateful to be surrounded by so many kind, generous, resilient, funny, remarkable people who set aside individual needs and comfort for the needs of neighbors, strangers and community. You’ll never fully know how much it meant.

©cookinginmyheels.com

©cookinginmyheels.com

Like most of the east coast, I spent a good part of the past week “urban camping” courtesy of a spiteful storm named Sandy. First let me say that I love living about a half-mile from the mighty Hudson, and thoroughly enjoy walking along its banks several times a week. I didn’t, however, feel the need to live DIRECTLY ON the Hudson, which is how it all started last week at around 8:30PM. There’s nothing like seeing your street turn into a coursing waterway to make you realize that things are going to change dramatically very soon. So after staring at it in blank disbelief, then staring at the darkness when the power went out almost immediately thereafter, “Camp Chelsea” officially began. Now I used to camp as a kid, so a degree of roughing it wasn’t a foreign concept. Why, it can be fun, romantic even reading by candlelight, playing board games, and if you have a partner, finding ways to keep warm in the dark. Of course I had heeded the advice pre-storm and made preparations to ride it out a while. Everyone has his or her emergency preparedness priorities and these were mine. A working flashlight with new batteries and plenty of candles. Drinking water, peanut butter, chocolate. A Malbec, a Cab, a Pinot, since red wine requires no refrigeration. With my gas stove and my manual can opener I knew I would be able to heat up the canned soups and beans, pasta and sauces in my pantry, and more importantly, I could make coffee. This was going to be no big deal. But as the lack of current moved beyond a few hours and into several days, it became apparent I’d have to access “the archives.” And thus began my walk down gastronomical memory lane.

My freezer is a reference library. A culinary Smithsonian if you will, of past parties, romantic dinners, and ingredients to fuel future happenings at Chez Karin. So when I realized that either I would have to eat all this stuff relatively soon or toss it down the chute, the feast began. I started small with a bowl of chili from an early March post-movie night with friends. But being a cook means you live to share, and I knew I couldn’t and didn’t want to eat through my cuisine catalog all on my own. The first beneficiary was my dear friend around the block. A January birthday dinner of braised short ribs became pasta with short rib sauce lunch for a weary basement bailer. When power came back on a few days later at family farther east, I packed the annals and on the road we went. The pricey artisan puff pastry originally meant for dessert with a now ex-suitor became salted caramel apple tart for mother, auntie, uncle and the neighbors who supply me with fresh figs in summer. The veal shank with caramelized onions and sage made for a post-Christmas Tree viewing party became a hearty lunch after loading up on firewood. The result of an experiment for a future blog became dinner, lunch, and lunch again, the experiment an apparent success.  And the meatloaf pooh-poohed by a past boyfriend in May made a hell of a great sandwich for two hungry gals about an hour after the lights came back on again.

So now I’m back home, cozy and warm on the couch, with a freezer freshly cleaned and vacant. And that can only mean one thing – it’s time to get working on restocking the archives…

Again, THANK YOU to all who helped and are still helping. If you’d  like to contribute to the recovery efforts, here’s a link to the American Red Cross for Hurricane Sandy Relief. Even the smallest amount can make a difference to those in need.

Now here’s that successful recipe experiment: Easy Chicken Cacciatore. We had it with plenty of home-made bread for sauce sopping, but it would sure be swell over polenta too.

Easy Chicken Cacciatore

Serves 4

  • 1 ½ lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • ½ large onion or 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 10 oz. (one box) cremini mushrooms, cut in half  (quarters if the mushrooms are large)
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • ½ tsp dried rosemary, crushed into small pieces
  • 1 28 oz. can or jar marinara sauce
  • 2-3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/4 cup pecorino romano
  • Salt & pepper

Generously salt and pepper the chicken thighs and brown them in 1-2 TBSP olive oil. Once the chicken is browned, remove from pan and add in the onions, mushroom, dried thyme and rosemary and a pinch of salt. Add in a little more oil if needed. Sauté until the onions and mushrooms are soft and the liquid from the mushrooms has evaporated, about 5-7 minutes. Add in thinly sliced garlic and sauté another minute or two, just until the garlic softens but doesn’t brown.

Deglaze the pan with the balsamic vinegar and wine, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Return the chicken to the pan, add in the tomato sauce and bring to a boil. Turn down to simmer, cover and let cook about 35-40 minutes. Once done, turn off heat and add 1/4 cup of pecorino. Stir well, taste for seasonings and add more salt and pepper if needed.  Serve with crusty bread or over polenta. This is great the first night, but even better the next day. Calories: approximately 375 per serving.

An Ode to Dad, in Macaroni…

“I am so glad that there are Dads

To hug and kiss me better.

I am so glad YOU are my Dad

That’s why I wrote this letter…”

Impressive, huh? What, you need a visual? Ok, imagine these pearls of poetic wisdom composed in blue crayon on a piece of red construction paper, tiny fingerprints in the corners from a recently consumed peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and surrounded by a heart, carefully constructed from elbow macaroni affixed with globs of Elmer’s glue. NOW you’re impressed, aren’t you! Yes, dear friends, as early as age seven I showed a predilection for writing witty bon mots about, or in this case with food. And by now you’ve guessed that this week’s post is in honor of Father’s Day.

Hopefully for better, and sometimes for worse, we all have a father somewhere in the mix. He’s the first person we use to threaten physical harm to the other kids on the playground (“Oh yeah? Well my dad can beat up your dad”), the biggest person we know when on the other end of his hand looking up from a four-year-old’s view, and likely the only man a woman wouldn’t mind calling her a ‘girl’, regardless of her age. Seriously, who but your dad would you want using the phrase “atta girl” when you did something ballsy or brave? Though some may have been ‘fathered’ by surrogates of a kind, a grandfather, uncle, big brother, neighbor, teacher or friend, the wisdom and guidance was there to teach you, support you, buck you up when you were down, and have your back when you needed it most (even if you were all grown up.)

My dad left this world over 20 years ago, but that doesn’t mean he’s not still there for me. His stories and theories and unique view of life are interwoven in me. I know how to catch a rabbit because of him: “Sprinkle pepper on a rock, and when the rabbit sniffs it he sneezes, hitting his head on the rock and knocking himself out.” His concept of a perfume that would attract men was brilliant: “Why do women think smelling like flowers would attract a man? Dab a little bacon behind each ear and they’ll come running!” And whenever rain interferes with my outdoor plans, I think of his gray-weather optimism as he’d say “Yup…the sun’s coming out in half an hour!” I cook something he’d love, touch a piece of wood he honed smooth, or get a whiff of sawdust or Aqua Velva and he’s right here again, holding my tiny hand in his giant paw and calling me sweet girl in his hometown language. So to all you fathers out there, and the grandpas, brothers, uncles, coaches, teachers and friends, here’s to a VERY Happy Father’s Day. And in case I didn’t say it before, thank you.

My dad’s favorite kind of meal was something he’d have called an “eintopf” or one-pot meal. A favorite was one created out of necessity, economy, and a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup. Originally developed on a camping trip over a coleman stove, Mom would sauté some chicken breasts and onions, toss in a can of the beige savory mushroom studded goo, a squeeze of lemon, a spoon of sour cream or mayonnaise, and the result was the famous (and quite delicious) “Chicken Thing”. I believe its name came from my brother, who upon asking what was in the pot and hearing mom list the ingredients replied, “oh… chicken thing.”

Now I don’t consider myself a food snob (I did write a whole blog in praise of canned beans), but I am admittedly hesitant to use condensed cream of anything (what is REALLY in there anyway…) So when recreating this recipe, I tried to adapt it to a less processed-food centric world. I think I succeeded, and have a feeling Dad would be okay with this new ‘Thing’. Who knows, there may even be a celestial “atta girl” in it for me!

Chicken Thing 2012 Makes 3-4 servings

A new take on an old classic, sans the condensed cream of mushroom goo.

The chicken part:

  • 1 lb skinless boneless chicken thighs cut into bite-sized pieces
  • ½ TBSP butter
  • ½ TBSP olive oil
  • 1 cup sliced onions
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • ½ tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 TBSP dry white wine or dry white vermouth
  • 1-cup low sodium chicken broth (if you use regular, decrease the salt and pepper above by half)
  • 2 ounces herb garlic goat cheese
  • 2 TBSP heavy cream
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 TBSP lemon juice, plus another 2 tsp to add in at the end

The mushroom part:

  • 1 ½ cups sliced cremini mushrooms
  • 1 tsp butter
  • Pinch of salt and pepper

To thicken the sauce

  • 1 TBSP room temperature sour cream
  • 1 TBSP cornstarch
  • 2 TBSP cool/cold water

Heat the ½ TBSP butter and oil over medium high heat in a deep sauté pan. Mix the salt and pepper together and sprinkle over both sides of the chicken. Brown chicken thighs well on both sides and remove to a bowl. Drain all but 1 TBSP fat from the pan, set over medium-low heat and add the onions and a pinch of salt. Sauté until just soft, about 5 minutes. Add in rosemary and cook another 3 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally.

Add vermouth or wine, turn up heat and scrape the browned bits up as the liquid boils for a minute (in other words, deglaze the pan.) Add back in the chicken and any accumulated juices, the chicken broth, lemon zest, a tablespoon lemon juice, goat cheese and cream, stirring until the cheese is melted and incorporated into the sauce. Bring liquid to a boil, turn down to a simmer, and cover. Cook for about 25 minutes.

At about the 20-minute mark, melt a teaspoon of butter in a small nonstick pan. Add in the sliced mushrooms, a pinch of salt and sauté over medium high heat until the mushrooms are soft and a little browned, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms to chicken.

Mix together the cornstarch, sour cream and water. After the chicken has cooked 25 minutes, remove cover, add the sour cream mixture and bring chicken and sauce to a slow boil for 1-2 minutes, stirring well. The sauce will thicken quickly. Remove from heat; add in the remaining 2 teaspoons of lemon juice.

Serve over noodles, rice, or my favorite, steamed sugar snap peas or asparagus. Calories: about 385 per serving (3), 290 per serving (4).

Leftovers

“What would you say are some of your best qualities?” I’ve answered that question a lot in the last 2 years. So have many of you I suspect. We all have several responses that are highly interview-appropriate and will hopefully inspire the interviewer to leap across the desk, shake our hand and shout “I MUST hire you!” Yeah, that doesn’t usually happen. Your best hope is that your resume will land in the pile of “maybes” instead of the “nots”, so you conduct yourself the best you can and walk home wondering what you should have said that would have been better.The other day I had an interview and did just that. But instead of rehashing every question, what popped into my head were things I wouldn’t and likely shouldn’t say. These are the ‘leftovers’ that are key to the YOU in you, but are probably best not shared on a job interview.

For instance, when asked what I’m good at, I could respond, “I’m really GREAT at handling disappointment!” While I am, it’s not exactly what an organization is looking for in an employee. “We try harder”, yes. “We don’t go postal when we lose”, not so much (although good to know, if ever the situation arose). Who knows, maybe we should let out those leftover qualities your friends love you for. They might come in handy. For instance, I’m highly skilled at sarcasm and excel at snarky repartee. You know you love to work with someone like that. Certainly makes a staff meeting more fun. How about the skills, focus and courage to be the fashion police and actually say instead of just think, “yes, that dress does make your ass look like a canal barge”. I’d want that kind of honesty and frankness on my team. Of course, I temper it with the kindness and diplomacy of one who’s been guilty of wearing something that in wide hindsight probably should have stayed on the hanger. I know when to let loose with the snark, and when a raised eyebrow, slow eye roll or subtle head shake is all you need. But that never goes on a resume. How about restraint? I’m GREAT at restraint! I illustrate it by NOT rolling my eyes when responding to “what is one of your greatest strengths” for the 100th time, or adding in “sweetie, did you get dressed in the dark this morning?”

In full disclosure let me say that I too have asked all the same interview questions that I’ve been answering of late. It’s no picnic being on either side of the table. Making the process fresh and insightful, let alone enjoyable and relaxed is near impossible. The interviewer has an inventory of folks to get through, asking the same questions over and over again in an effort to get to know the person attached to some well-composed words on a piece of paper. The interviewed has to appear confident, well-spoken, an excellent listener and the perfect fit, all while dealing with her nerves and the realization that she is just one of many and another interview could be weeks or months away. There just isn’t any way to get around it. The most you can do is bare down, get through in the best way possible, and keep optimistic that one day it’s going to be you getting the job, and your ‘leftovers’ can finally come out to play.

Speaking of leftovers (you knew there was a point to all of this), the other day I had ½ cup of pumpkin to deal with. Why is it that NO recipe calls for a full can of pumpkin? Seems every recipe I have for pumpkin bread, pumpkin scones, or pumpkin ravioli calls for an amount that ALWAYS leaves ½ a cup of orphan pumpkin looking for a home. And the other day I found it one in Pumpkin Enchiladas. To me, enchiladas are a perfect leftover transport vehicle and I figured the play of slightly sweet to spicy just might work. I then explored my fridge for friends to keep the pumpkin company. Whenever I make enchiladas I try to add in a cup or so of chopped spinach. This way, I feel like I’m eating something good for me in the midst of all that cheese. I had some leftover roasted turkey so it jumped in too. I was just about done when I spied a bag of dried cranberries. Why not? Just a few in each enchilada would make a nice addition of flavor and texture. I have a favorite jarred enchilada sauce always on hand, and with a cup of shredded cheese and some corn tortillas my dish was done. The result was savory, creamy, a little sweet, and the occasional pop of tart cranberry was lovely. Garnished with a little sour cream and a few pomegranate seeds sprinkled on top, my orphan pumpkin was lonely no more. And considering the ingredients, looks like a new post-Thanksgiving tradition is about to be instituted!

Pumpkin, Turkey and Spinach Enchiladas

  • ½ cup pumpkin puree
  • 10 corn tortillas
  • 16oz. jar or 2 cups of your favorite enchilada sauce
  • 6 oz. shredded turkey or chicken (you could leave this out if you wanted a vegetarian version and just add in another cup of spinach and ¼ cup cheese)
  • 1 cup frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed mostly dry
  • 1 cup shredded cheese (I use ½ cup sharp cheddar and ½ cup of a lite Mexican mix. Jack, Pepper jack, or any cheese you like is fine as long as it melts well. Don’t use fat-free)
  • A good pinch of salt and pepper
  • 3-4 TBSP dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 400°F. Spread about ½ cup enchilada sauce in a 9 x 11” baking dish to cover the bottom. Wet some paper towels, wring them out and wrap around the corn tortillas. Microwave for 45 seconds to soften and make the tortillas are more pliable. Mix together the turkey, spinach, pumpkin, ½ cup shredded cheese and a good pinch of salt and pepper together in a bowl. Take a tortilla (keep the others wrapped until you use them), put about ¼ cup of the mixture down the center, top with a few cranberries. Roll the tortilla up and place seam-side down in the baking dish. Continue with the rest of the tortillas, fitting them all tightly in the baking dish. Pour the rest of the sauce over, making sure to cover all the tortillas. Sprinkle the remainder of the cheese on top. Bake for 20 minutes, until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbling.

Garnish with your favorite toppings. (I like just a little sour cream and some pomegranate seeds.) Calories: about 160 per enchilada.

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