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.


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! 



imageFor some reason that escapes me, the pumpkin, or rather its incarnation as a spiced overly sweet caffeinated beverage has become quite the phenomena. The PSL (give it a minute, you’ll figure it out) is a beloved seasonal visitor to some, worthy of fan-blogs and twitter accounts. To others the pumpkin-spiced quaff is fodder for meme-worthy face booking, an aphrodisiac, and to one very earnest and a bit over serious Swathmore undergrad, the poster-child of sexist stereotyping. OK people, get a grip…it’s just a pumpkin spice latte. An overly tarted-up beverage version of beloved vegetable, and up until recently didn’t even contain the sexy orange squash it’s named for.

Seriously…what the?! I mean, I like pumpkin season as much as the next person, have even sipped the overhyped coffee version on occasion, yet I’m still flummoxed by the frenzy of pumpkin spiced everything this time of year. Is the combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and allspice truly worthy of social media over exposure, Swathmore undergrad ire, and coverage by both Psychology Today and the National Review? I’m thinking not. I get that the combination of those spices attached to a chubby and arguably adorable veggie invokes thoughts of crisp weather, turning leaves and cozy sweaters. So does a toddy with crisp apple cider with a good glug of whisky, but you don’t see it tweeting or begging for attention on instagram (and it should, it really should.)

File Oct 11, 6 05 46 PMSure pumpkins are swell, but let’s all just relax, enjoy the season, and not work ourselves into a lather about what pumpkin spice lusting or loathing really means. There are so many more tizzy-worthy things to fuss about out there…like how wrong donut-flavored beer and blueberry bagels are…

After all my squash rhetoric above, my original intention with this post was to spurn the combination of pumpkin, cinnamon, and associated spices and share a favorite recipe of the savory variety. However, when I got down to making the dish I’d planned, the resulting glop was a hot mess. Yep, happens to me too. I burn, over bake, under bake, and sometimes come up with truly awful concoctions. Such was my savory pumpkin disaster. And I’ve learned that when that happens, only thing to do is toss the offending dish, open a bottle of wine, take a look around my kitchen, and regroup.

Half a bottle of wine and two tasty local tacos later it hit me. Sure I’m tired of the usually cloying over sweet pumpkin pie, but why not take all the things I like about it, tone down the sweetness in the custard with a touch of fluffy whipped cream cheese and orange, put all that in a crust I don’t have to roll out because I’m just tired, and top the whole shebang with salted caramel because, well, do you really need a reason?

Salted Caramel Pumpkin Tart will forever be my go-to pumpkin pie recipe from now on. A beautifully light pumpkin custard covered in salty sweet caramelly goodness all baked into a buttery brown sugar crust. Oh man… You know, they just might be right about that pumpkin spice aphrodisiac thing after all. 😉

File Nov 06, 10 23 46 AM

This is a great addition to any Thanksgiving feast because each components of this tart can be made ahead of time if you like. The crust freezes well unbaked, and you don’t even have to thaw before baking,  just add a little time to baking. The filling can sit in the refrigerator in an airtight container for a day or three, and the salted caramel sauce keeps well in a sealed jar in the fridge too. Any extra of the sauce is pretty much awesome over ice cream, on bread pudding, on a spoon, your finger…

Salted Caramel Pumpkin Tart

Makes 1 9″ tart, or 4 4″ individual tarts

Brown Sugar Crust

If it is possible to be in love with a pie crust, this is the one. And it’s ridiculously easy to prepare. The butter is melted, so you don’t have to worry about chilling and cutting into teeny pieces. It’s easy to just mix this up in a bowl with a fork and not have to pull out (and more importantly clean) a food processor. Yes, there is a major amount of butter in it. I don’t have a problem with that.

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 5.5 ounces or 1 stick + 3 TBPS butter, melted

File Nov 06, 10 25 34 AMWhisk together the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. Slowly add the melted butter as you mix it with a fork until it comes together. Press the dough into your tart pan and pat out evenly on the bottom and up the sides. You could make this in a pie pan and decoratively crimp the edges, but with a tart pan you don’t have to bother. This is truly a lazy crust. An amazingly delicious lazy crust.

File Nov 06, 10 25 17 AMYou’ll want to blind bake the crust and cool it before adding in the pumpkin filling. Line with foil or parchment, then baking weights, rice or beans, and bake at 350ºF for 15 minutes. Uncover and bake another 5-10 minutes until dry and slightly browned. Reduce oven to 325ºF, and let cool completely while you make the filling.

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Filling

Made a mess of pumpkin butter in my slow cooker a few weeks ago, and have been itching to develop a recipe to used some of it up. If you don’t want to make your own, pick up a jar of your favorite. I’ve found Trader Joe’s has a nice one that’s pretty affordable too.

  • 1 cup pumpkin butter
  • 1 container (about 8 ounces) whipped cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup apricot jam, loosened up a bit with a few teaspoons water (start with one and add more if needed) so it’s a bit more fluid and not a solid lump of jam.
  • 1 tsp orange zest
  • 2 TBSP dark brown sugar
  • 1 shot whisky (3 TBSPS)
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 TBSP flour
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp allspice
  • A few tablespoons of chopped toasted pecans for garnishing the finished tart

Add the pumpkin butter and cream cheese to a large bowl and beat together on low/medium until completely incorporated. I used a hand mixer, but you could use a standing one if you liked or a food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients and beat on medium until fully combined. Pour into the cooled pre-baked tart shell.

Bake the tart at 325ºF until the filling is set, about 30 minutes but time will vary based on your oven and if you have convection or not. If you are making 4 small tartlets rather than one big one, they should bake in about 15-20 minutes. Cool completely before topping with caramel sauce.

See that color? That’s what you want. And if it wasn’t lava hot when I took the picture, I’d be doing shooters.

Salted Caramel Sauce

Oh my god….this stuff….this incredible wonderful fabulous stuff…

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 TBSP water
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 TBSP butter (I used salted)
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Add the sugar and water to heavy bottomed saucepan and cook over medium-low until the sugar has completely melted. Raise heat to medium-high and cook, swirling pan occasionally but NOT stirring until the sugar is a medium-golden brown. Be brave. The darker it get’s the better it is. If you let it go too far and it burns it’s just sugar. Try again.

Once the sugar syrup is dark enough remove from heat and carefully add the cream, butter and salt. It will bubble up so be careful. Put back on medium-low heat and stir until smooth. Now raise the temp a little and gently boil about 10 minutes to let it thicken. You want about 5 fluid ounces, or a little more than 1/2 cup for the tart. Pour into a heatproof jar or bowl and chill in fridge about 15-20 minutes. It can still be warm, but you don’t want lava hot.

File Nov 06, 10 23 18 AMWhen the caramel has cooled, pour into the center of the cooled tart. Carefully tilt the tart pan to move the caramel around so it completely covers the tart. Sprinkle a ring of toasted chopped pecans along the outer edge of the tart. Chill tart in the fridge for about an hour to let everything set. Bring to room temperature before serving. This tart keeps well in the fridge, but I doubt there will be any issues with leftovers!

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! 

The Last Pageant

DSC04185I was never destined to wear a sash and crown, and have lived most of my life comfortably with that knowledge. I came to this realization early in life, imprinted through a series of failed attempts to sit on a float and perfect my beauty queen wave. No, significant therapy dollars were not spent to help me overcome the trauma of this. Just one irrefutable fact. I simply did not fit the dress. Let me explain…

When I was a kid, every late summer/early fall, my family would go to a local biergarten park for a weekend of brew, brat, and oompah-fueled bacchanal known as Volksfest. Each year the festivities included a pageant of sorts, wherein that year’s Steuben Parade queen and her court of adorable mini princesses would be crowned. Until I came to my pageant epiphany, each year my hopes up would rise at the thought that one of those taffeta wrapped princesses would be me. Imagine a stage filled with a stream of little girls sashaying past a group of judges while some jaunty german ditty played. And there I was among them, ready to take my place on the throne. Then, as judge fingers pointed to the fortunate few, the rest of us would be handed a Kennedy half-dollar and shown the steps leading off stage.

Truth be told, I had two things going against me and my shot at a ride along Fifth Avenue  atop a crepe paper float. The most obvious was that my grandmother was one of the pageant judges, which upon my victory could open me up to ethical allegations that could haunt my Fifth Avenue float ride. But at 8 or 9 years old, that thought never entered my mind, nor prevented me from smiling my cutest smile, curtseying like a little Von Trapp, and batting my baby blues judge-ward. Yet despite stinkin’ cuteness, every year my Kennedy was dropped in my palm, and off the stage I’d go. Obviously there was another reason (not for nothing, but I was seriously cute). There had to be something sinister going on. Palms must have been greased. The fix had to be in. How was it possible that year after year, all I had was a collection of coins. Then I finally learned the truth. It wasn’t sinister goings on, it was sartorial. Turns out, all that princess taffeta came at a price, a discounted that price when all the dresses were one size. A size, it turns out, that wasn’t mine. In other words, no matter how cute a potential float-sitter, if the dress doesn’t fit, the judge can’t commit.

Why am I reliving this trauma now? After years, nay decades of swearing off pageants, I entered one last weekend. A pie pageant. Sure it was for a charity event with a cause most worthy, but the cash prize for the winner was enticement enough to block out my past taffeta-lessness and Kennedy coin flashbacks. It’s nice to know that in a constantly changing world, some things can be counted on. The sun rises each morning, the moon rises each night, and my pie didn’t fit the dress. Doesn’t matter. It raised about $40 for a great local charity, and tasted better than a bucket of Kennedys. 🙂

imageYes, this is the recipe of the runner up pie, though I prefer to think of it as Birthday Pie, since a special birthday was the reason I came up with this recipe in the first place. It’s a tasty amalgam of my mom’s pie, my favorite pie crust, and the addition of caramelized apples added out of necessity to use up some pink ladies I had sitting around for a while. This is a tart apple pie, so if you are looking for high sweetness, this dress won’t fit you. 😉

Birthday Apple Pie

Makes one 9-inch pie

For the Caramelized Apples:

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 ½ TBSP sugar
  • 1 lb sweet-tart apples (pink lady, honey crisp), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/3 cup whipping cream

For the pie:

  • 5-6 large granny smith apples (about 2 lbs), peeled and cut into 1/4’’slices
  • 3-4 rounded TBSP of sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • Zest of one lemon (about 1 TBSP)
  • 3 TBSP cold butter, cut into about 1/4 ” cubes

Make a double batch of pate brisee according the recipe. Divide the dough into two pieces, making one disk slightly larger than the other. Roll each crust out, one to fit a 9″ pie pan (I use pyrex, but metal pan or foil pan works fine too), and one slightly larger to use as the top. Chill the crust while you prepare the apples.

For the caramelized apples:

Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat; sprinkle sugar over. Stir until sugar begins to melt, about 1 minute. Add apples. Sauté until apples are brown and tender and juices orm, about 10 minutes. Add cream and simmer until sauce thickens slightly, about 2 minutes. Cool 15 minutes before adding to bowl with raw apples.

For the pie:

Preheat oven to 400°F. Peel and core apples, cut into slices ¼” thick slices. Put sliced apples in large bowl, sprinkle with the sugar, cinnamon and lemon zest. Add caramelized apples, toss well and set aside.  Pile the apples into the chilled crust-lined pan and scatter the butter cubes over evenly. Cover with the second crust and crimp the edges. Cut 4 slits around center of top. If you have some extra dough, you can cut out some leaves and place decoratively on crust. Brush top with a little cream and sprinkle with sugar (brush just the center, not the edges.) Put pie on a cookie sheet (it makes it easier to move in and out of the oven and catches any drips). Bake at 400°F for 30 minutes or until crust is lightly browned. Let cool 20 minutes before serving.

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