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.

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Teach a girl to gnocchi…

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Choices, Changes and Coincidences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serves 2

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

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

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

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

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

For the sauce and shrimp:

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

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

For the leftovers

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

File Aug 14, 4 13 46 PM

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Deconstruction

1275177_10201146475478324_493778222_oSeveral years ago “deconstruction” became a popular term on restaurant menus. Let’s say you have a hankering for ravioli so order what you think is the usual bowl of cheese-stuffed pillows of love. Instead, what is placed before you, usually in a white and probably enormous rimmed bowl flecked with some scatter-worthy herb is a square of pasta draped over or under an array of stuff. “Deconstructed Ravioli” says menu. More like ‘fell apart’ ravioli, but who am I to argue. The end result was usually as good as the constructed original, and it all gets deconstructed once it passes the lips anyway.

Lately I’ve noticed deconstruction aptly fits me as well. First, there’s my age, or rather the years on the equipment and its associated general aches, creaks and stiffness. Dilapidation, while perhaps more appropriate, seems such an ugly word. Therefore I’ve decided that I’m just becoming deconstructed. Deconstructed is very chic, very trendy. Sure my package is increasingly undone, but you still get all the general good stuff. Then there’s life in general.  I seem to be in the midst of a deconstruction there too. Most of the pieces are still recognizable, but in a state of rearrangement. I’m crossing appendages that whatever winds up in that big rimmed bowl will be swell too, but only time will tell. So In the meantime, I’ve decided to cook.

From time to time I find myself awake when the rest of the world sleeps. Sometimes I write. Sometimes I read. This past Saturday into Sunday I cracked some eggs into flour and made pasta. Wee-hour pasta making is actually quite soothing, and a great metaphor for making sense of the thoughts you’re noodling that keep you awake in the first place. A wooden board, a pile of flour, pinch of salt, and a few eggs. As you mix the eggs up in the center of the pile, it’s an awful mess. Bring in a little flour at a time, work it some, work it some more, and suddenly you have a silky ball of pasta dough, just aching with potential. Yeah, I get a little sappy when sleepless.

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Anyway, as dawn rolled around and dough (unlike cook) was well rested, I decided it needed to be part of my breakfast. Tomato sauce didn’t seem a breakfast of champs so I went with the next best thing…bacon and eggs. Or in pasta terms, carbonara. In traditional pasta carbonara, spaghetti or some other long dry pasta is cooked, then tossed carefully with beaten raw eggs, cooked pancetta, maybe some sautéed onions, and parmesan. There’s always a bit of risk with traditional carbonara, since you are adding hot pasta to raw beaten eggs and hopefully coming out with an beautifully silky sauce and not scrambled eggs on the other end. My version of Deconstructed Carbonara takes that risk completely away. As the noodles are cooking to al dente, I just fried up some bacon, fried up an egg, and when pasta was done, topped with both, the browned butter from the egg pan, and some shaved parm. Sure it’s not traditional but the end result is pretty great, and really easy (especially if you buy and not make the pasta). All of which is perfect after a sleepless night of reconstruction.

FullSizeRenderDeconstructed Pasta Carbonara (or, Pasta Insomnia)

This makes one serving for the insomniac, but just double or triple for all the sleepless around you.

  • 2 ounces fresh or dried noodles
  • 2 strips bacon
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 1 egg
  • A few shavings or gratings of parmesan cheese
  • Fresh ground pepper

Put the pasta water on to boil. While you are waiting for it, cut the bacon into smaller pieces, and brown in a pan. Remove to a paper towel and wipe out the pan.

Now if you are using fresh pasta, drop it in the boiling salted water at the same time you cook the egg so everything is ready at same time. If you are using dry pasta, heat the butter and fry egg about 4 minutes before the pasta is al dente according to the timing on pasta package.

Add the butter to the pan and heat until it foams. Add the egg and fry over med-high heat. You want the egg to be cooked and butter to brown but not burn. When the pasta is cooked, drain and put in a warm bowl. Top with the fried egg, bacon and a sprinkle of the parmesan. Break into the yolk and toss everything together. Add a few grinds of black pepper.

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!  🙂

Aluminum Rooms

cropped-dsc01979.jpgIf you grew up where I did, chances are diners were a part of your life. A big part. Regardless of whether it was a six booth and counter aluminum room or acropolis of 24-hour neon and naugahyde, the local diner usually served the same purpose. It was the auxiliary kitchen table. And just like at home, important things happened across diner tables. Life changing events were shared. Met a new guy and things starting to get serious? The besties were summoned to a booth, and the details dished over dishes of cheese fries. Break-up eminent and you needed your girlfriend’s shoulders to sob on? Just tell them to meet you at the diner for cheesecake. That’s all the explaining you had to do. By the time you got there they’d have reserved your usual booth, kleenex in hand.

Diners in the NY-Metro area could be small or large, but never understated. Neon, chrome-rimmed, with sparkly vinyl seats befitting a tricked out 70s corvette were par for the course. Decor could vary from Elivs-movie raceway to Athens via the BQE, but one thing you could always count on. The autographed picture behind the counter. For a time Telly Savalas was popular, but as time and television programming changed, Don Johnson, John Travolta, and my favorite, Abe Vigoda were often enshrined behind the butter cookies and melt-away mints at the register.

I miss diners, as much for the ritual as for the food. I loved the weekend diner breakfasts, catching up over eggs, planning the day. And as the last stop of the evening, nothing capped off a fun night with friends better than a plate of pancakes or onion rings in the wee hours. I’ve moved pretty far away from the local diner, but I’m not too worried about that. Because even if there’s no autographed Telly, and “diner” isn’t in the name, as long as there’s a booth and friends to share it, I’ll aways have a kitchen table away from home.

2016-02-04 18.10.45When I think of diners, I think of onion rings. Battered and fried onion rings. Probably because this was the dish most often consumed in the wee hours after work as a waitress at the Rustler Steak House. Yes, my first foray into the culinary arts was done while wearing a plastic cowboy hat.

Anyway, I recently got back from a trip to Salt Lake City, during which I spent a lot of time enjoying some pretty great cider with a cider maker who’s pretty great too. Which brings me back to onion rings. In honor of my diner nostalgia, the Superbowl, and because I’ve been playing with cider recipes lately, here’s my take on a favorite late night treat – Cider Battered Onion Rings.


Cider Battered Onion Rings

The amounts below are for about two portions, but the recipe is easy doubled

  • 1/2 cup flour plus extra for dusting the onions
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp each salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup dry hard cider like Ruby
  • Two large onions
  • 1/2 cup oil (I used coconut oil and it worked great!)
  • 2 tablespoons dried minced onions
  • 2 tablespoons coarse sea salt

For the Onion Salt: 

These rings are good, but a sprinkle of onion salt makes them great. Take the minced onions and the coarse sea salt and grind them up together in a food processor or spice grinder to a fairly fine powder. You’ll have much more than you need for the rings, but this stuff is pretty great on taters, steak, etc.

For the Onion Rings:

Peel and slice the onions into rings about 1/4″ thick, and separate the rings. You could also do these in half moons if that’s easier.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper. Add the cider and whisk until there are no lumps. Let the batter rest for 30 minutes.

When your batter is ready, heat the oil in a deep frying pan (I use cast iron for this). You can test when the oil is hot enough by dropping a tiny bit of batter in once the oil is “shimmering” (about 350F on a thermometer if you want to go that way). If the batter sizzles and cooks, you’re good to go.

You’ll want to set up a place to put the cooked rings before starting to fry, since things go  fast once you’re sizzling rings. Here’s how I do it:   I cover my counter closest to the stove with a brown paper grocery bag. It sops up grease well, makes an easy place to season with onion salt, no waste of expensive paper towels, and easy clean up. Once I’ve laid out the bag, I put a dish of the onion salt right next to it for easy sprinkling once the rings come out of the oil and are still hot.

Now to the frying: Throw a little flour in a bowl, and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Dredge the first batch of onions in the flour, then in the batter, and carefully place in the hot oil. Don’t overcrowd the pan. The battered ring will puff up, which is exactly what you want. Fry for about 3 minutes on one side or until golden. Carefully turn over, and fry another few minutes til done. Remove to paper bag, and sprinkle on a little of the onion salt. Repeat with the remaining rings. If I’m making a bunch, I’ll put a cooling rack on a baking sheet, put the finished rings on it and keep them warm on it in a 300F oven while frying the next batch

Serve with a cold glass of Ruby or your favorite hard cider.

It may not have "diner" on the sign, but you may be pleasantly surprised...

It may not have “diner” on the sign, but you may be pleasantly surprised…

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

Lazy is Good

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

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

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

Crock-Pot Carnitas

Makes about 6-7 cups 

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

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

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

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

Real Gourmet

DSC07902I’m a good, sometimes great cook, and my heart cockles warm when I overhear someone I’ve fed call me that. But please, pretty please, don’t call me a “gourmet cook”. I honestly hate that term. I don’t know if it’s because it brings to mind visions of snooty elites and $100 entrees, or that I just have no idea what a “gourmet cook” is. Either way it’s one of those phrases that just pisses me off.

According to wiki-whatever, the word means “refined, elite, a higher degree of sophistication” and other hoity words you’d suspect. As if a gourmet’s palate has specially adapted taste buds that look down upon the lower, classless buds living on the other side of the tongue. To me, food should be far more democratic than that. I’m a culinary socialist with a palate of the people. Sure I love layered flavors, unique ingredients, creative cooking and top quality tasty things. I just don’t think those things should be elevated over a really good street dog with the works, a perfectly baked potato, or even a late-night plate of stoner nachos. If it tastes great at the time you’re tasting, right on! Who’s to say noshes that would send a self-defined gourmet screaming into the night aren’t gourmet to someone else? After all, one mouth’s trash is another mouth’s treasure, right?

Which brings me to Mormon Funeral Potatoes and a moment of enlightenment. This most tasty and decidedly not (by Wiki standard) gourmet fare falls into the culinary category of hot dish or casserole. You know, one of those wonderful concoctions shared at potlucks and hospitality hours, or brought over to nourish the grieving and guests (hence the name). In its most traditional form, a can of condensed soup, cheese and corn flakes aren’t far from the ingredient list. About a week ago, I tasted a version that can only be described as bar food nirvana.

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The best bar food EVER, courtesy of The Garage on Beck (and Josh).

That Mormon Funeral Potatoes would enter my life had been foretold to me about a month or two earlier. After receiving instructions to “google it”, I had a vision of what might unfold from this potato and cheese prophesy. But it wasn’t until I landed in Salt Lake City a few months later that the full extent of my culinary awakening was clear.

My prophet escorted me into a temple of MFP worship called The Garage on Beck. Our minister Josh handed us prayer menus and we took our place on stools, ready to receive our tater testimony.  Sacramental PBRs were poured, and the reason I was there was placed in front of me. One bite of the revelatory nugget and I knew my life would be forever changed by this bar nosh of trashy greatness. Am I gushing? Perhaps. But if you’d tasted a perfect creamy combination of cheese, bacon and potato wrapped in a perfect deep fry crunch and washed it down with a cold beer, you’d be gushing from steeple-top too. This, my brothers and sisters, this right here, is real gourmet food. AMEN!

IMG_2018 The manager of The Garage on Beck, Josh, is terrific guy. I have a complimentary shot glass to prove it. Unfortunately, Josh was a bit hesitant to ask the cook when when I inquired about the recipe for bar nosh nirvana. I get that. When you’ve perfected something so wonderful, you want to keep it close. Luckily, he was able to give me a  really good visual on what went into the mix, so I figured I could play around a little when I got home. What I found out after some more research is that I wasn’t the first to ask for the recipe. Sunset Magazine had beat me to it, and published it when they featured Fried Mormon Funeral Potatoes as one of their Chefs’ Favorite Restaurant Dishes in March 2013. So that’s the recipe I’ll share with you. Of course, that doesn’t mean I didn’t play around a little with it, since that’s kinda what I do.

At The Garage, MFP are served with a ranch dressing dipping sauce. But my mormon funeral potato missionary and I thought there might be a better way. With the original recipe from Sunset, I’ve included two suggestions for dipping sauces. The first, Wasabi Ranch, and the second Horseradish Honey Mustard both gave a really nice bite of heat and sweet, but if you’d like to stick with ranch I can testify that it was really tasty too. And if you come up with another saucy suggestion, please share in the comments. What good is finding wonderful noshes of trashy goodness if you can’t spread the word! 😉

Fried Mormon Funeral Potatoes (From Sunset Magazine, February 2013) 

Makes 20

These little nuggets from The Garage restaurant, in Salt Lake City, are based on Mormon funeral potatoes, a crunchy, cheesy, creamy casserole dish that is served at just about any big function in that town. Rolled into balls and deep-fried, they are totally over the top.

  • 8 ounces bacon, chopped, cooked, and drained
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 or 2 jalapeño chiles, minced
  • 1 green onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cups defrosted frozen shredded hash browns
  • 1 cup coarsely shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup finely ground corn flakes, divided
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • Chopped parsley (optional)

Whirl bacon, cream cheese, onion, jalapeños, green onion, and sour cream in a food processor, about 1 minute. Place in a large mixing bowl. Stir hash browns, cheddar, flour, cornstarch, salt, eggs, and 3 tbsp. ground corn flakes into bacon mixture. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop up a scant 1/4 cup of potato mixture and roll into a ball. Drop ball into a bowl filled with 3/4 cup corn flakes and roll to coat (mixture will firm up once coated). Place on sheet and repeat with remaining mixture. Chill until ready to cook. Heat 2 in. oil in a medium pot until it registers 350° on a deep-fry thermometer. Fry potato balls, a few at a time, until golden, 5 minutes per batch. Drain on paper towels.

Wasabi Ranch Dip/Dressing Makes about 1/2 cup, and can be doubled/tripled easily Whisk together the following ingredients. Chill until ready to use. (This is also pretty awesome on a steak sandwich!)

  • 5 TBSP sour cream
  • 2-3 TBSP buttermilk (depending upon how thin you want dip)
  • 1/2-3/4 tsp prepared wasabi (depending on taste and heat tolerance)
  • 1/2 tsp yellow mustard
  • 1/2 tsp Lowry’s Season Salt
  • A few grinds of black pepper
  • 2 tsp – 1 TBSP mayonnaise
  • Squirt of lemon

Horseradish Honey Mustard Whisk together the following and chill until ready to use.

  • 1/2 cup Dijon mustard
  • 1 TBSP prepared horseradish
  • 2 tsp honey

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!  

Little Balls of Love

DSC03536_2Stop snickering and pay attention (especially you, over there…I know who you are.)  Have you ever noticed that some of the best, most comforting culinary representations of love are round and often filled with something wonderful? I’m talking about dumplings. Dumplings = love. Tasty, comforting love. Call them knödel,  samosas, gyoza, ha gao, pierogi, gnocchi, gnudi, kreplach, matzoh balls, I don’t care. Just call me, because I’ve never met a dumpling I didn’t like. I’ve never researched this, but my guess is the dumpling in its myriad forms evolved from love. Love, and economy. Take flour, maybe some sort of fat and probably leftovers or fruit past its glamour shot prime and you’ve got it.  Or maybe no filling at all, just glorious gravy to sop up. Cheap, usually easy and always delicious. Yup, dumplings are pretty genius, whether as a means to nourish while using up things, make something special out of nothing, or just be a love-filled comfort carrying sponge. So why all the dumpling gushing? I recently had occasion to bake a version I’d never tried before. I do a monthly recipe demo/class at a lovely assisted living facility in my town. I love my Hawk’s Ridge gals, and when I do my planning I usually try to bring them something that’s easy enough to demo in about 30 minutes and uses familiar ingredients, perhaps even something they made themselves for their family. Apple and Pear Dumplings did the trick last week. The fruit was readily available, and since I make pastries weekly for a local cafe, so was extra pie dough. 2015-04-17 21.01.14I discovered apple dumplings back in my heel and suit wearing days, when I had the chance to visit Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market while attending a business convention. Reading Market is an amazing indoor market filled with food, food and more food. I happily ate my way through over the course of the week, sampling treats from practically all over the globe. A highlight was the Amish stand. Fresh made cheeses, sausages, and OH MY the apple dumplings!  I have no idea why I never made them before last week, but MAN am I happy I do now.  Easy, flakey, sweet and giddy comfort, all in the palm of my hand. Come here my little ball of sweet sweet love…. FullSizeRenderApple or Pear Dumplings This is one of those “technique” recipes, rather than precise measured ingredients. Staying true to the “dumpling ethos”, my recipe was originally created because I had pie dough scraps and some small apples and pears I needed to use up. It’s also highly adaptable, though I’d be careful using fruit that is highly juicy, since it gets a pastry wrapping, and soggy is not pie dough’s friend. I’ve adapted the recipe below for one pie crust, which should make about 4 dumplings.

  • 1 pie crust, rolled out to a little larger than 12″ x 12″ square. If you have a pre-rolled crust, you’ll want to roll it out a little more so you can get four squares or circles that measure about 5 1/2 inches each.
  • 4 small (about 2 1/2″ diameter) apples, or pears, or two of each
  • 1-2 tablespoons butter
  • 3-4 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped almonds, walnuts, or hazelnuts
  • sugar for sprinkling

You don’t have to peel the fruit but could if you like. I don’t and just wash and dry it well. Cut the apple in half horizontally, then take a melon baller and scoop out the core and seeds, leaving a little fruit on the bottom so you have a hole you can fill. If you are using pears, cut them the same way, core the bottom half, (and snack on the top.) In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, zest, salt, butter and cinnamon. Using a fork, mix well so you wind up with something similar to streusel. Roll out the dough, then cut into four 5 1/2 inch squares (or circles), saving a little dough to make 4 small leaves. Sprinkle the center of each dough square with a quarter of the chopped nuts. Place the fruit on top of the nuts, then fill the hole you made with a fourth of the sugar/butter mix. Wet a finger with water, and paint a border around the edges of the dough square (this will help it stick together.) Take opposite corners of the dough and bring up over the fruit making a triangle. Pinch the dough together. If it doesn’t quite reach, carefully pat out the dough a little larger. Do the same with the opposite corners. You should now have something that looks a little like a 4 point star. Wet the tip of each point with a little water, then wrap each point clockwise around the dumpling and press to the dough to stick. 2015-04-26 11.42.06If you cut out circles instead of squares, gather up around the fruit and pinch together like a pouch so everything is sealed. Cut 4 leaf shapes (or whatever shape you like) out of the little bit of dough you reserved, wet the back, and stick on top of each dumpling, pressing to seal.  Sprinkle a little white sugar on top. Bake at 375ºF for 20-30 minutes, until the dough is golden and puffed a little. Let sit 10 minutes before taking a bite! These can be formed ahead and kept in the fridge up to a day before baking too. Preheat oven, then bake them right from the fridge, adding about 5 minutes time if needed.

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!  

Rat Bastard

groundhog

Why? As representatives of the top of the evolutionary chain, why have we given the estimable role of spring prognosticator to a rodent? A big, furry, buck-toothed, beady-eyed rat? He doesn’t look like he wants the job, does he? Yet every year, on the second day of the shortest month, he is ripped from his mid-winter nap and thrust at a throng of screaming fans by a man in a top hat. Does that seem right to you? He doesn’t think so. No wonder he subjected us to 6 more weeks of winter.

I think he takes pleasure in making us miserable at the thought of a prolonged slog through slush, mud, and gray. Because if you are unwillingly given the official title of meteorological rat, you may as well be a bastard about it. Take THAT you silly two-legged hairless creatures! Rip me from my nice warm den in the middle of the night into the cold glare of klieg lights and TV cameras? Go right ahead. You deserve what you get. And should you happen to squeeze my middle too tight, or drop me on my head (thank you Mayor DeBlasio), I’m happy to add in a bite on your stupid gloved hand or pee on your $400 loafers too.

So thanks a lot Phil, or Chuck, or Dave, for seeing your shadow yet again. Perhaps we brought this upon ourselves, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t still one bucktoothed furry rat bastard.

To ‘celebrate’ the onset of 6 more weeks of belch, I’ve compiled a hit parade of CIMH comfort food recipes. In honor of Phil and his vermin brothers, I start with the mother-load of cozy, cheesy, comfort food goodness….Rat Bastard Mac & Cheese.

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!  🙂