Traditions, Chickens and Fancy Pants

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


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

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

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

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

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

Makes eight 1/2-cup servings

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

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

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Farming in My Flip Flops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

goodbye heels, hello mini-greenhouse

Fennel Salad

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

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

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

Ingredients

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

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

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

There will be more Farming in My Flip Flops and the adventures of a city girl turned loopy helicopter parent gardener as long as the dirt is doing something interesting. In the meantime, if you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), or my Instagram page. Thanks! 🙂

Multitasking

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beer Batter Cornbread

Makes one 9″x5″ loaf

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

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

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

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

Remove from pan and let cool about 10 minutes on a rack before serving.

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The Post-Valentine Valentine’s Day

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

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

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

That’s Amore too…

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), or my Instagram page. Thanks! 🙂

Teach a girl to gnocchi…

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), or my Instagram page. Thanks! 🙂

It’s the Great Pumpkin Babka Charlie Brown!

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

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

You just can’t beat a babka.

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

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

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

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The Great Pumpkin Babka (From tastingtable.com)

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

Makes 2 loaves

INGREDIENTS

For the dough:

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

For the filling:

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

DIRECTIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. Let cool slightly, then remove each bread from the pan and let cool before slicing and serving.

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button). You can also see what’s cookin’ on my Instagram page. Thanks! 🙂

Storm’s a brewin’…

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


 

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

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

emergency preparedness supplies

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

Hurricane Pasta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Freezer is a Clown Car (again)

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

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


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

My Freezer is a Clown Car

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

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

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

A carrot obviously destined for my pantry…

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

Potato Leek Soup Serves 4

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

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

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

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

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

Spiced Carrot Soup

Makes 4 servings, or about 6 cups

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

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

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

 

 

Choices, Changes and Coincidences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serves 2

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

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

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

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

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

For the sauce and shrimp:

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

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

For the leftovers

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

File Aug 14, 4 13 46 PM

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button). You can also see what’s cookin’ on my Instagram page. Thanks!  :-)