Sunday, December 12, 2010

If you can only make one cookie...let this be it.

While there hasn't been a lot of writing on this blog, it is at least an accurate reflection of a lack of cooking here, as well! My time to create decent meals is virtually non-existent, and while I have managed to slap together the odd soup here and there, it's not been particularly noteworthy, so do NOT feel that you're missing out on the deep secret to the perfect risotto or anything. I am up to my eyeballs in the two jobs, and while it's a bit of a juggling act to keep a steady stream of clean clothes AND appear at work in a timely and semi-coherent manner, I'm very happy with both.

One of the sadnesses of my time being curtailed, however, is inadequate baking time for holiday cookies. I tend to pride myself on baking 6 or 7 varieties of fabulous cookies every year, and giving plates to those I love (or at least want to impress). While I briefly contemplated doing midnight baking to maintain the standard, I finally concluded that that was insanity, and settled on doing one cookie in abundance. Since I also have a great deal of far flung family (gosh, that was alliterative, wasn't it?), a sturdy cookie that held up to a little time and/or shipping stress was in order. And for that, friends and neighbors, we have the always lovely Italians to thank for.....biscotti! Yep...that coffeehouse staple that is usually dry and oddly flavorless can actually be delicious, and much sought after! I've made permutations of the same recipe for several years, and they are always extremely well recieved. Not unlike the granola recipe, it lends itself well to whatever the hell you want to add or subtract. Don't like cranberries? Add dried apricots! Or double the chocolate! Dip the damn things in chocolate! I like to echo the flavor of the cookie itself in a couple different ways, so I use almonds in the batter, and Amaretto both IN the batter and as a basting liquid when they come out of the oven after their final baking. Since booze improves almost all baked goods, take a gander at your liquor cabinet and let it guide you. I think Grand Marnier could be used to delicious effect, or bourbon (with dark chocolate and pecans...yum!), or Kahlua, or... you get the idea, here.

While the cookies are not at all difficult to make, they do require two bakings, which just tacks a little extra time onto the process. You bake them once as two logs, let them cool, slice them, and then bake the slices (that's what you see in the photo). You will be rewarded for your efforts with a cookie that lends itself perfectly to dipping in coffee for breakfast, or in a digestif (Cognac or Vin Santo are good choices) after a meal. And if you happen to tuck some in with presents for the holidays, you are sure to be viewed in a more favorable light!

Chocolate, Cranberry & Almond Biscotti


3 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
2 tbsp canola oil
2 1/2 tsp almond extract (or amaretto, bourbon, whatever)
3/4 cup slivered almonds
1 cup dried, sweetened cranberries
3/4 cup chocolate chunks/chips

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats, if you've got them.
  • Whisk flour, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl.
  • Using electric mixer, beat sugar, eggs, oil and almond extract (or booze) in large bowl until well blended.
  • Add flour mixture to sugar & egg mixture and beat until smooth.
  • Stir in nuts, cranberries and chocolate bits.
  • Drop dough by heaping tablespoonfuls in 2 long strips on prepared baking sheets. Using wet fingers, shape each strip into a roughly 3-inch wide log, pressing evenly. They may be a bit lumpy.
  • Bake logs until lightly browned and almost firm to the touch, about 30 minutes.
  • Cool logs on sheets about 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees F.
  • Carefully slide logs onto cutting board. Cut each log on the diagonal into generous 1/2 inch thick slices. Stand each slice upright, spacing about 1/4 inch apart, on prepared baking sheets. They'll want to tip over. Speak firmly to them, and don't let them.
  • Bake until pale golden, about 20 minutes. (They may come out of the oven soft, but will firm up as they cool, and they age beautifully.)
  • Baste tops and sides of cookies in Amaretto.
  • Cool completely on baking sheet.

Makes about 20 decent sized cookies.

Happy Winter Holiday of Your Choosing to all of you!

(And I apologize for the crappy was long after sunset when I made these, and I could not get decent light for anything at all.)

Sunday, November 28, 2010


It's not the best kept secret that I love my two big Labradors, and will go to great lengths to keep them safe, healthy and happy. While it has cost me a lot sometimes to do so (financially, of course, but also emotionally), they have given me back orders of magnitude more in companionship, laughter and steadfast love. They're older dogs (9 and almost 11), and they've had their share of medical challenges. They are both, however, bright, shiny, bouncy dogs who eat like Hoovers (well, they are Labs), fling tennis balls for themselves if I'm otherwise engaged, act like a walk around the neighborhood is a trip to Disney, and curl up on the bed with me at night. Grey around the muzzles, yes, but robust and healthy.

On a routine check up, their vet recently found a mass in Cara's left eye. A big one, that had not been there six months earlier, so growing relatively rapidly and causing secondary inflammation. He mentioned enucleation (to be blunt, removal of the eye itself), and I broke down in tears. Referred to a canine opthamalogist, I heard the same thing from her. There just aren't a lot of options when it comes to things growing in the eye, and all things considered, it's not a BIG surgery. No tissue is really cut, pain is minimal and well controlled, and dogs adapt quite readily to being one eyed. I understand all these things, and realize that yes, this is the correct thing to do for this dog I love.

The closer I get to her surgery date (later this coming week), the more my heart breaks over it. I am (justifiably) afraid of what the mass actually IS, which we won't know until the pathology report comes in, and what that could mean for her overall health and future. And I'm worried that she'll be disoriented and confused. But what brings me to tears every time I look at her is knowing that those big brown eyes I've looked into every day for almost 11 years will not both be there. Her beautiful, expressive face will be changed forever, and I cannot really articulate how devastating I find that.

Spare a kind thought for all of us this week, if you can. Cara is sure to be uncomfortable and agitated. And I am going to be afraid that I'm taking apart the dog I love.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Granola (no patchouli or socks and sandals required)

One thing my current insane schedule is forcing upon me is uber-organization. When you have only teensy windows of time in which to, say, wash your underpants, you are going to use that time to do just that, instead of catching up on the critical developments on Real Housewives of Atlanta. (Since I'm wildly behind on that, I'm assuming they're still being psychotic and bitchy and yanking on each other's weaves. Feel free to inform me if this is not the case.)

Lately, I am a machine of efficiency. This is in many ways wildly satisfying for those of us who are overachievers to our very list-making cores, but I'm pretty sure at some point I'm going to have a psychotic breakdown or something. Not yet, though, and that's what counts!

An ongoing challenge for me in the daily busy-ness is breakfast. I am so very much NOT a morning person, and the idea of eating something immediately upon awaking is pretty stomach churning. While on days that I don't go to the gym this isn't a big problem, when I am faced with an ass-crack of dawn workout, I have got to eat SOMETHING before joining the alarmingly cheery ranks of exercise freaks on treadmills at 5:30 am. (By the way...who ARE these people? They are fucking CHEERY and BUBBLY and CHATTY. Before sunrise. When exercising. Thankfully, I just slap my iPod on and tune them out, but seriously...they're freaks of nature.) Anyway... Needless to say, I am most definitely not going to be cooking eggs or making toast at that hour, even if I could stomach the idea, and I draw a firm line at breakfast "foods" like Pop-Tarts and Eggos.

It finally dawned on me what the solution to my early morning calorie needs might be....granola. And not the boxed stuff at the grocery store, which I really dislike (why is it always full of raisins? Raisins are awful.), but homemade stuff, full of only things I actually like to eat. I've made it before a couple of times to pretty good success, so yesterday I cranked out a batch. It had been a while since I'd made any, and I'd forgotten how brainlessly easy it is. For very little effort, you're rewarded quite highly, which is one of my favorite ratios in culinary undertakings. It's pretty cheap to make, and you can vary the basic recipe to meet whatever your whimsy of the moment may be. Also, it makes great gifts for people, as it keeps for ever in a sealed bag in the fridge. The only "trick" is that once you put it in the oven, you really have to keep an eagle eye on it, and stir it frequently. The honey in the mixture means it can burn and/or stick pretty easily, and that is a quick way to go from granola to baking sheet full of burned oats and stuff. Also, every oven is different, so the times that worked well for me may be a little more or less for you, so just keep an eye on it. And keep your nose open, can really smell when it starts to approach doneness, and that's when you need to be ready to haul it out.

While this makes a truly delicious breakfast with milk or yogurt (I love it with Greek vanilla or honey thick and creamy!), it also makes a pretty good late night snack with ice cream, too. Tweak this however you like...leave out the coconut, add or subtract different nuts and fruit, or add chocolate chunks...even add raisins, if you must. Amounts of fruit are merely suggestions...this isn't baking, so ratios don't matter. It's just a matter of personal preference.

So without further ado....

Homemade Granola

(adapted from Ina Garten)


2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1 cup sweetened, shredded coconut

1 cup sliced almonds

2/3 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup honey

3/3 cup dried apricots, diced

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup dried banana chips, crumbled

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

  • Toss the oats, coconut, and almonds together in a large bowl. Whisk together the oil and honey in a small bowl. Pour the liquids over the oat mixture and stir well until all the oats and nuts are well coated. Pour onto a large baking sheet. Bake, stirring often, until the mixture turns a nice, even golden brown, about 30 minutes. (If you decide to double the quantity, it will take a few minutes longer.)

  • Remove the granola from the oven and allow to cool, stirring often. Add the dried fruit and whatever else you've chosen to tart it up with. Store the cooled granola in an airtight container. In a sealed bag in the fridge, it keeps pretty much forever.

Makes about 6 cups

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Once again, no recipe. This is a terrible food blog.

Ok, so I've been a deeply negligent blogger as of late. Adjusting to a new schedule (I'm switching from hamster-like nocturnal to, sleep at all) has me all katywhompus, and my brain is so awash in new job information that by the end of the day I consider it a win if I don't put facial cleanser on my toothbrush. I've also had little to no cooking time, which sucks, and leaves me with hardly any fodder, recipe-wise, for a fresh post. Unless you'd like to know how to microwave popcorn and eat it in bed? Because I have that down PAT.

While I haven't had the chance to stand over my stove much, I've had the time to think really, really hard about priorities. Of course, when I got the new job offer, I was (and still am) euphoric about what it meant for me, personally. Mostly financially. Not that it's going to enable me to finally buy diamond-encrusted underwear or anything, but I should eventually be able to be comfortable and secure. And then, of course, came the onset of greed. The "oooh...what I'll be able to buy" thinking. I'm not the biggest commercial whore in the world by any stretch of the imagination, but I have a tiny fetish for bath products, pajamas and other distinctly non-essential items. Like excellent food and wine.

And then came my daily wake up call, courtesy of my new job. I am now confronted daily with people who have, literally, nothing. No home. No transportation. No food. Certainly no health care or iPod or selection of fancy cheeses. So I started to ask myself how the hell could I even THINK about luxury items or posh dinners when I know for a fact that every day, in my town, this is reality for a lot of people. (Far more than most people are comfortable with knowing about, quite frankly.) And I don't know what the answer is. I love fabulous restaurants. But how do you rationalize dropping $100 or more on one meal, when you've just given someone a $30 voucher and told them that the local government expects them to feed themselves on that for 5 days?

These aren't questions I have to answer now, necessarily (I'm not suddenly staring at wads of cash, for crying out loud), but they strike me as important ones. And since I desperately want to do this job well, and provide people with not just aid, but some dignity, too, it makes me want to think long and hard about the kind of person I am. And not just on work hours. I NEED to remain profoundly grateful for this turn of events. Because I was about 2 weeks away from being on the other side of that desk, asking for help, and I do not ever, ever, want to forget that, and that it could easily be that way again. I had luck, fortuitous timing, and support. Those all saved my ass. Plenty of people have none of those things. And while I don't want to become preachy or overly sanctimonious, I also don't want to become cynical or isolated, just me and my caviar. whole poached foie gras recipes forthcoming from me. And if I don't figure out how to manage my time better, you may end up with my secret recipe for cereal with over ripe bananas. Yum.

Friday, October 15, 2010


So. This has been one hell of a week. I don't know how to write this without sounding like some sort of bullshit motivational poster, so cue the vaguely inspirational music, and here we go anyway.

Loooong story short, I graduated from a relatively prestigious (read: expensive) school with a relatively prestigious (read: imminently useless) degree last May. Said degree had been chosen because of its boundless future employment potential. Tears, breakdowns, loans, and a LOT of spreadsheets later, I graduated. In the midst of the goddamn recession. With a LOT of debt. And a mortgage. And a stupid medical issue. I did have a job, which I truly love, but it pays diddly squat, and still leaves me substantially in what my student loan officer likes to call "a very negative debt to income ratio". (And yet he still calls...perhaps he thinks I've taken up forgery??) I'll spare you the sordid details, because this is, sadly, a deeply unoriginal situation, but the bills got higher, more debt accrued, and my job options sucked.

Fast forward to this previous Thursday. I was full of ennui, and had spent a tremendously uplifting few hours on the phone with assorted organizations to whom I owe varyingly large chunks of money explaining why they would not be getting it on time this month. I did occasionally come up for air to look at my dog's food bin and wonder how long I could really make it stretch. Cheery, right? (Must I mention that at 1 in the afternoon I was still in my pajamas, or can we all just make that assumption?) rings. And it is The Only Goddamn Job I Can Physically Do being offered. (One's options are a bit limited when driving is verboten and standing isn't an option.) Cue angelic chorus. Because starting Monday, there will be liquidity! And benefits! And a 3 mile drive from home! And holidays! And did I mention solvency?? It's hard to go from Dickensian despair to full on euphoria in less than 5 minutes, but it can be done. There was dancing around the living room with two slightly puzzled, but very game, Labradors, and several celebratory phone calls. Because while this isn't the dream job, it's going to let me live a LIFE. And a life without perpetual financial disaster looming is the dream now. It's going to take a long time to dig myself out of debt, but at least I can start doing so. And I am so relieved my bones feel like they're made of Jell-O.

I didn't buy myself a celebratory bottle of champagne, but I did make some hot cocoa and turned the thermostat up to 64. Because this winter? We're going to be warm. And a whole lot less afraid.

Pan above, and Cara below, who will be getting GOOD TOYS for Christmas this year. (And an ongoing supply of Eukanuba.) Because there are no better dogs, and they have let me cry on them for a long time.
And yes, next post will be food-related, I promise!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Butternut Squash & Apple Soup

Today I officially conceded to the inevitable arrival of autumn, and yanked the screens out of the windows and put in the storm windows. This also means that I relocated a LOT of spiders to the basement, as apparently my windows are prime real estate for arachnids. In addition to getting increasingly chilly, for the past few days we've been getting biblical amounts of rain. So much rain that my dogs, ostensibly water dogs (Labradors) refuse to go outside to pee until they're about to pop. Admittedly, these are not exactly stalwart gun dogs (I think Pandora is incapable of sleeping anywhere that doesn't have at least two pillows), but still.

This is all a slightly round about way of saying that it is serious soup weather. I am an enormous proponent of soups year round, but when the skies have been gray for 3 days, and my basement could be optimistically referred to as an indoor pool with a substantial mud problem, I need a pot of warm, rich soup.

From this week's CSA I had a couple of nice butternut squash, and there were two increasingly sad Honey Crisp apples languishing in the fruit bowl from an earlier trip to a nearby orchard. (I feel that you effectively rid yourself of the calories accrued by cider donut consumption if you buy some fruit at the same time...) Also, in a fit of terrifying domesticity, I'd roasted a chicken last weekend and then actually made stock from the carcass and frozen it. Since I usually have good intentions of doing exactly that, but far more frequently end up with a frightening foil-encased chicken corpse in the back of the fridge, and a desperate trip to the trash outside, I was pretty damn pleased with myself.

All of this meant that I had the makings of a decent, appropriately autumnal soup. What follows is, as all soup recipes should be, just a loose baseline. I know there are people out there who don't care for ginger, so I'm going to include some alternate seasoning choices. The only pain in the ass of this recipe is the peeling and cubing of the butternut squash, and if you want to avoid that, you could very easily swap out frozen squash puree (I'd use about 2 packages from the freezer section) and save yourself some trouble.

This would be nicely complemented by some decent bread and a salad. And a Caramel Porter, if you have one floating around.

Curried Butternut Squash & Apple Soup


2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 large yellow onions, finely diced
3 tbsp freshly grated ginger root (1 tsp rosemary for the ginger-phobic)
1 tsp turmeric (omit if not using ginger, use 1 tsp thyme instead)
salt and pepper
2 apples (something firm and a bit tart, like Honey Crisp, Granny Smith)
1 large or 2 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed (or 2 pkgs frozen squash, thawed)
6 cups chicken stock (or vegetable, if you'd like this to be a vegetarian soup)
1/2 cup half-and-half
Sour cream to garnish
Cilantro to garnish (again, omit this if you're using the rosemary/thyme'd be weird)

  • In a soup pot over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Saute the onion until softened, about 3 minutes.

  • Add the apples, squash, ginger and turmeric and cook until starting to soften and nicely fragrant (about 5 minutes).

  • Add stock (and, if using the rosemary/thyme combo, those herbs) and bring to a simmer.

  • Reduce heat to medium and simmer, covered, for about 35-40 minutes, or until the squash is very, very tender. Make sure you can easily poke a fork in it, as you need to be able to puree this with ease. at this point, you have a couple of options. You're going to need to puree this stuff, and you can either remove it from the heat and put it through a blender and/or food processor, or you can be very grateful that your parents gave you an immersion blender for Christmas a few years ago, and just whir the soup in the pot. And if you don't have such a handy device, they can be had cheaply, and are pretty fabulous to have around. It saves a lot of hot soup splattering about (although you do want to be sure you use it in a relatively high-sided pot, as there will be some over spray), and for me, saves me hauling the little-used blender out from under the sink. The immersion blender will give you a rougher puree, versus a very smooth product from the whatever flips your kilt.

  • Puree soup using weapon of your choice. Stir in half-and-half and season with salt and pepper to taste. Reheat gently over medium-low heat.

  • Ladle into bowls, dollop some sour cream in the middle, and sprinkle with some fresh cilantro if using the ginger/turmeric combo, or a little thyme if using rosemary/thyme.

Makes 4-6 servings.

...explosions of this much home-maker-y crap tend to make me overcompensate with the most gangster music available. This post was brought to you largely by the fine musical stylings of 2Pac...somehow, I don't think it's the soundtrack Martha opts for. (Although maybe she does...that'd make her far more bad ass than I tend to give her credit for.)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

This has nothing to do with food...

...but I needed to write about this, and am therefore subjecting you to it. If you are clinging to the hope that a recipe may yet appear, abandon that hope, pour yourself a cup of tea, and seek food knowledge elsewhere.

A brief background is in order here. Many years ago I was diagnosed with a condition that is both cardiac and neurally mediated, and intermittently rears its head and ruins my life for months on end. It comes with a large assortment of physical limitations, and several resulting stress issues. Since it's primary manifestation is passing out, I was yanked from rock climbing a few years ago (something about high potential of making my partner go "splat"). So I took up cycling. At first, recreationally, and then increasingly seriously. Last spring, I forked over a good chunk of change for a pretty decent road bike, with visions of miles unfolding in front of me on countless country roads. I got about 200 miles into that season, passed out on the bike, crashed, and thus ended the season for me. The remainder of the year was a rough one, physically and emotionally. My body didn't/couldn't do what I wanted and needed it to, and many other things unravelled at the same time. I was in a full on flare up, and with nothing to be done medically, I just had to "ride it out". Which meant a lot of time sitting on the couch, sinking deeper and deeper into a pretty dark place. My driving is, shall we say, "strongly discouraged", so, like my geraniums, I became a little pot bound.

By January, the symptoms had started to subside, and I could function more normally. Back to the gym I went, to lose the accumulated fat of apathy and illness. And then on a cool, early March day, I got back on the bike. Gripped in fear of another crash, I went out anyway, shaking and uncertain. And I rode pretty well. And I kept riding. There were some gaps. My dog needed cancer treatment that was quite intense and lost me 6 weeks of riding time. I do not regret that for one minute, because as I write this, she lies beside me, snoring, her paws twitching in a fast dream, and she and her sister are all my love, placed on four black paws a piece.

In May I was able to tackle the bike in a systematic manner again, and the miles kept plugging away. I very, very tentatively set a goal for myself of 1000 miles for this season. It seemed to be an act of hubris to say it out though the gods of syncope would hear, and fell me on my bike. But they didn't. Some days in the saddle were the worst times I've ever spent...every part of my body hurt, I was such an emotional disaster that flying down a hill at 40 mph I would realize that the blur in my vision came from tears I couldn't shed any other time. I puked. I swore...a lot. I sometimes charged up hills with legs like pistons, and I sometimes wobbled up them, sore, tired beyond belief, and barely drawing air. Descents were joyful...a tight tuck, a big gear and a speedometer creeping up to 40 mph...that always makes me feel alive and I never want to be anywhere in that moment but right THERE.

Though I routinely ride through some lovely farm land, and past orchards and lovely homes, I hardly ever noticed the scenery. These rides were not about admiring what was around me. The understanding came slowly this summer, but these rides were proving something that even now I'm not sure I can articulate. It's got something to do with my will being stronger than this incredibly sporadic, often utterly fucking useless body I inhabit. It's been an effort to conquer a lot of different fears. That, I will say, remains a work in progress. Every time I clip in, I'm afraid. I'm afraid my body will betray me, and I'll crash, and never ride again. Afraid that this one thing that makes me feel strong and fast and bold will end, and I won't get it back. These rides were about numbers...speeds and miles. About getting enormous legs and little chicken arms. Improving form and pedaling cadence. And always, always, choking back some fear.

When I set out today, I had only 17.41 miles to go to hit the 1000 mile mark. As I rode along, surrounded by our gorgeous fall foliage, I shook with worry that something, anything, would happen, and I wouldn't get it done. And then...I did. I'd thought a lot about that moment for some time, and at the time, all I felt was tired, with a little edge of relief. I rode the last 8 miles actually enjoying the scenery and smells, and came home. I made a nice dinner for myself, and tried to let my muscles soften.

As I write this, I am overcome with emotions I don't know how to describe. Relief is a big one. There's joy in here, too...and that's one I'm a little tentative about feeling. It's hard to tell you why hitting 1000 miles in a season is so meaningful to me...certainly many cyclists ride many more every year with far less anxiety and fanfare.

This summer, the bike became a lot of things to me...a powerful piece of equipment to go great speeds on, and an outlet for anger and sadness I tend to keep buried elsewhere. This summer...I won. For me. I won. I got to tell my body what to do, and it did it. I am strong, fast, and can endure far more pain than I ever thought possible. But mostly, I believe that I turned into a cyclist this year. Whatever else happens in my life, whatever titles I hold or roles I play (and I know full well that I will be a patient again someday), I am now a cyclist.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Spicy Shrimp & Cheesy Grits

There is not one iota of my being that is Southern...I was born and raised in Manitoba, Canada (north of the Dakotas, for those of you who had crappily taught Geography), which is distinctly north. Of just about everything. This is the land of road hockey, long and dark winters, and endless fields of canola. Beautiful in its own right, but very, very north.

So, when I first entered the South, I was in for, shall we say, a bit of cultural adjustment. While the full details of the story will be shared another time, when I was 18 I joined the US Navy. And after boot camp, I was sent to exotic Millington, TN (close to Graceland...score!) for "A" school. This being the military, I was sent on a bus full of other fresh scrubbed boot camp grads, who, for the first time in 9 weeks, could smoke, drink, and consort with the opposite gender. It was a rather...debauched bus trip. Anyway, when we finally stopped for dinner, it was in the middle of nowhere northern Tennessee at a Shoney's. Which is like IHOP, but with more red eye gravy and a higher incidence of being called "hon" by the waitresses. Nothing exotic about that per se. However, and I swear on my dogs AND the pound of bacon in the freezer that this is true, what was immediately next to Shoney's was.....Earl's Fur, Leather and Gun Shop. I shit you not. And yes, there WAS a high ratio of pick up trucks with rebel flags in the back window in their parking lot. I picked my jaw up off the ground, reassured myself that I had not done any known hallucinogens on the bus, and decided that I was a loooong way from home.

That, however, marked the beginning of my mysterious love of all things Southern (with the minor exception of the over riding political atmosphere). I want my iced tea sweet with lemon, a man with a Southern accent has more than once been my undoing, and while I have not ever tried to see if a Honda Civic could be outfitted with a gun rack, there is a part of me that longs for the slower pace and lush greenery of the American South. It could just be that it's about as opposite from where I was raised as is possible, or just romantic ideals from one too many Anne Rivers Siddons novels, but this Manitoba girl has long since caved to saying y'all far more frequently than "eh".

While there are a thousand foods that are distinctly Southern, and delicious, my current favorite is shrimp and grits. For those of you who are not fans of grits, or just think you don't like them, let me tell you that if you like polenta (and really, who doesn't?), then you like grits, you just don't know it yet. For all intents and purposes, they're the same thing. Ground corn, cooked for a long time in milk and water, seasoned as you please. And while they can be made sweet, plain or savory to suit the time of day or mood, I'm extremely partial to cheese grits. And when you serve them underneath a pile of hot and spicy shrimp with onions and tomatoes...heaven. And it's not just me that loves them...every time I make them, I am besieged by people who attack the stuff like my secret ingredient is black tar heroin. (It's not...I can hardly afford the shrimp, for crying out loud.)

I don't care where you're from...this is a recipe you need to try. It won't turn you into a Republican against your will, or imbue you with the knowledge of the words to "Carolina On My Mind". It will fill your belly, make you happy, and, if made properly, induce your friends to wash your car for you.

Spicy Shrimp & Cheesy Grits
(adapted from Cooking Light)


3 cups milk
1 cup water
1 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp salt, divided
1/4 tsp black pepper, divided
1 cup uncooked quick-cooking grits (They'll be in the cereal aisle by the oatmeal. Use polenta or corn meal if you can't find grits. And if you can't find quick-cooking, still use the same ingredients listed here, you're just going to have to cook them for about 30-40 minutes.)
1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
4-6 slices thick cut bacon
1 lb peeled, deveined large shrimp
1 cup thinly sliced onion (I use red and white)
2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
1 tbsp Sriracha (hot chile garlic sauce) or hot sauce of your choice, as much as you deem fit
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 cup green onion strips (optional)

  • Combine milk, water, butter, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer; gradually add grits, stirring constantly with a whisk. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook 4 minutes or until thick, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat; stir in Parmesan.
  • While the grits are doing their thing, cook bacon in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove from pan, saving drippings. Crumble bacon. Eat at least one slice.
  • Add shrimp to hot pan with reserved bacon drippings; cook two minutes on each side, or until pink. (I love a food that's color coded for doneness, don't you?) Remove shrimp from pan. Smack certain hands away from the cooked shrimp while threatening that there will be NO SHRIMP FOR YOU if you don't stop sneaking the damn things.
  • Add onions to pan, adding a little olive oil if the bacon drippings have been soaked up by the shrimp. Saute 1-2 minutes, or until just becoming soft.
  • Stir in bacon, tomatoes, remaining 1/4 tsp salt, 1/8 tsp pepper; sautee 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. The goal here is to get the tomatoes to just start breaking down a little.
  • Add shrimp, Sriracha, and pepper flakes; cook 1 minute or until shrimp are heated through.
  • Serve over a large splat of cheese grits, and sprinkle the whole mess with green onions.

Yields: Ostensibly 4 servings. I say bullshit...2, tops.

Oh, and a warning about grits and polenta...that shit turns into Quikrete if you don't get it out of the pan pronto. To reheat leftovers, I usually fry them up in a little butter in a pan.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Plum Tatin & Fair Food Confessions

Let me preface this blog with an admission...I know I tend to rhapsodize on and on about local, fresh food, wine pairings, and all other manners of total snobbery. And yes, I do like all those things. However, when it comes to late summer in Columbia County, there comes a time when that all falls by the wayside. That time is County Fair time. It is ostensibly possible to eat real "food" at the Fair...there are Greek gyros, and BBQ and so on. But for the love of god, that is NOT what a fair is about. For my money, a fair is a chance to people watch that surpasses even Wal Mart on a Saturday morning, hoot and holler at racing pigs and rodeo, and eat anything and everything that can be dumped in a deep fryer.
This year, I went with the firm intentions to do just that, and boy, did I ever. My lust for corn dogs makes no sense even to me, but it does dictate that they be the first thing I eat every year, and that at minimum, it's going to be two. With mustard. And a burned roof of the mouth, because they're thermonuclear, and I can't wait a minute for them to cool. I am not going to quantify everything that was consumed that day, mostly because I don't want to give you future blackmail material, but believe me when I tell you it was too much. Of everything. And that I lay prostrate on the couch that night, desperately wishing that there had been a deep fried Pepto Bismol booth.

That is all a long winded way of saying that this week, my body wanted nothing but fruit and veggies. The mere whiff of fry grease made my stomach clench and had me looking around for a chance to win an enormous plush frog. It was with tremendous relief that I went to the market this Saturday to load up on produce. And while I know that before long, the abundance will taper off as the snap in the air turns into actual cold, that day is not here yet. We're still awash in greens, zucchini, winter squash, root veggies, apples and plums. My body has been happily re-establishing equilibrium with kale, sausage and potato soup this week, and lots of apples and cheddar. And I've been hitting the gym with religious fervor, hoping to work off those deep fried Oreos.

This was the first time I'd bought this particular kind of plum...I believe they're known as Italian plums, and they're longer and more oblong than the average supermarket ones, and while they have a very dusky blue exterior, they have a yellow interior and an almost smoky flavor.

While I'm not usually an enormous fan of making French food myself (who the hell's going to make veal stock? Or confit anything at home?), I'd just been to a particularly inspiring Alsatian wine dinner for work, and was feeling in the mood for something French and plum-y. I was also in the mood for the 1997 Riesling we'd had, but at $80/bottle, I think perhaps that's going to be put off for a bit. (Seriously, though? Best, most complex white wine I've ever had. It was insane. Spinach, blue cheese and walnut all in the a very, very good way.) Anyhoo...after some futzing about in cookbooks, I found that I had everything it took to make a plum tatin, which is sort of a plum upside down cake sort of thing. The traditional recipe involves apples, which I will likely end up doing because I have a metric shit ton of them, and this is terribly easy to do. So without further ado....
Plum Tatin
(bastardized from Ina Garten)
6 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the dish
8-10 Italian prune plums, halved and pitted
1 3/4 cups sugar, divided
2 extra large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (or cognac, if you have it. I was feeling a bit French, and for reasons we won't go into here, always have a lot of Hennessy around.)
1 cup plus 2 tbsp all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a 9-inch pie (or Pi!) dish and arrange the plums in the dish, cut side down.

  • Combine 1 cup of the sugar and 1/3 cup of water in a small saucepan and cook over high heat until it turns a warm amber color. This will be easier to determine if you use a light colored saucepan, but if not, keep a close eye. And if you're really anal, it'll be about 360 degrees on a candy thermometer . This takes a while, but once it's almost ready, the difference between heaven and burnt to shit sugar is seconds, so don't leave it unattended. And for some reason, don't STIR this mixture...just swirl it about. I don't know why, it just says so in every recipe, and I am a rule follower.
  • Pour amber-y, molten liquid over plums.
  • Meanwhile, cream the 6 tbsp of butter and the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar in your ever-ready stand mixer (or whatever) until light and fluffy.
  • Lower the speed and add the eggs one at a time.
  • Add sour cream, zest and vanilla or cognac and mix until combined.
  • In a s small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, and with the mixer on low, add it to the butter mixture. Mix until just combined.
  • Pour the cake batter evenly over the plums and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the cake part comes out clean.
  • Cool for 15 minutes, then invert the cake onto a flat plate. This always terrifies me, and isn't always successful, but this time, it worked out fine.
  • Serve warm or at room temperature.
  • Gild the damn lily with vanilla ice cream or whipping cream.

Yield: 6-8 servings

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Saturday Morning Idyll

Around here, Saturday morning is invariably Farmer's Market day...I have to go pick up my CSA share of veggies, and do as much of my weekly shopping as possible. This being late summer in the Hudson Valley, there's not much that one CAN'T get at the market, and it's hard not to walk away with one of everything. (I repeat frequently to myself..."I am just one woman...what the HELL would I do with all that eggplant?".) While I fully intend to do a make-my-northern-family-envious market post shortly, this is not it. It's not even going to include a recipe. Because while I believe in a hearty breakfast as much as the next person, I can't always face the dishes such a meal produces, and sometimes, simple and unadulterated is best.
So, every Saturday, I stock up on whatever fruit is irresistible that day (today I was lured in by white peaches), and a chocolate croissant from the bakery stand. Once I've gotten home with far more kale than any human ever truly needs (apparently, it's a vegetable that flourishes like kudzu up here...), I make a cup of the best coffee in the world, take my treats, and head out into the yard. And there I try and let my brain shut off for at least a half hour. It's the most peaceful part of my week, usually, and I think it's due in part to the ritual of it, and in part because it takes so little effort to be delicious. I've done nothing more arduous than boil water for the French pressed coffee, and it's heaven. A book at hand is nice, though not necessary. Two big black Labs dozing nearby and sporadically eyeing the peach are really all the entertainment and company I need.
I hope we have a long autumn this year...I'm sure as hell not going to sit out there with my parka in the winter, and this is a damn sight cheaper than Canyon Ranch.
Have a wonderful long weekend, y'all...whatever that looks like for you!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

How to Win Friends & Influence People: Cheesecake Version

While I'm not sure that this diagnosis exists in the DSM-IV yet, I am going to come out and state that I have a full blown baking disorder. It manifests in a wide variety of ways, most notable amongst them being a sort of Olympic Winter Holiday Season Cookie Bake-A-Thon (we atheists don't celebrate Christmas, but some of us adore the chance to overcompensate for our emotional shortcomings via fancy cookies), insomnia driven muffin creation, and, of course, the birthday cake of choice for friends and family.

Unfortunately, my complete and utter lack of any artistic skill whatsoever means that while these things will mostly turn out to be tasty (notable recent example of this NOT being the case), they will not necessarily be feasts for the eyes. After sufficient disastrous attempts to draw/write/connect-the-dots with a pastry bag and frosting, I have concluded that the best I'm going to be able to do to tart up a tart is a quick powder with icing sugar or dumping some chocolate shavings on top. In the event of an angel food cake, moderately aesthetic results can be achieved via chocolate glaze and stuffing some flowers in the hole in the middle of the cake. So, if what you're after are hot tips for the next Ace of Cakes-like creation, proceed to any variety of extremely anal retentive sites devoted to such matters. However, if you'd like a pretty decent cheesecake recipe that will improve your social standing, this is the place for you!

While she normally saves her special occasion manipulation resources for Frozen Lemon Cheesecake Squares (which I will post up here someday), this year my friend Val opted for an Espresso Chocolate Cheesecake. After the requisite website searching, I amalgamated a handful of recipes, added booze (because that is almost always the right choice!) and commenced. The result was pretty damn tasty...good coffee flavor, with a not overpowering hit of chocolate from the crust, mini chips, and a few chocolate shavings on top. While there were technical difficulties with the candles staying lit (damn outdoor celebrations), the damn thing did crack, and an initial misreading of the recipe yielded a basically pure sugar crust, requiring a re-do, it was a mocha-y, rich dessert. As with any cheesecake, you will need a good amount of advance warning. Typically, I bake them the day before, let them chill in the fridge overnight, and do my meager decorating the day of consumption.

Espresso Chocolate Cheesecake
(adapted from several recipes, mostly from



9 whole chocolate graham crackers, crushed
1/4 cup sugar
5 tbsp unsalted butter, melted


1/2 cup whipping cream
4 tsp espresso or instant coffee powder
1 1/2 tsps Kahlua or coffee liqueur
1 1/4 cups sugar
4 8-oz packages cream cheese (I use 1/3 less fat, with good results, and the illusion of health), at room temperature
4 large eggs
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 cup mini chocolate chips (regular sized ones sink to the bottom, while the little ones stay suspended in the batter)

bittersweet chocolate for shaving on the top (optional)

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Mix crackers, butter and 1/4 cup sugar in medium bowl; press onto bottom of 9" spring form pan. Using a measuring cup to tamp this down firms up the crust nicely. Bake crust 10 minutes. Cool. Maintain oven temperature.
  • Combine cream, espresso powder and Kahlua in small bowl. The coffee powder won't dissolve fully, and will look weird. It'll be fine in the end, so ignore it and keep going.
  • In large bowl of stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat cream cheese until smooth.
  • Gradually beat in 1 1/4 cups sugar, then eggs 1 at a time.
  • Beat in flour.
  • Beat weirdly undissolved espresso mixture into cream cheese mixture. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour batter into prepared crust.
  • Bake cake until edges are puffed, the center is just set, and (unfortunately and rather uncontrollably) it begins to crack, about 1 hour and 5 minutes. Be careful here, as it may take longer. I think the one I made took another 15 minutes, but it's going to depend on your oven. Check early, check often.
  • Cool cake on rack 30-45 minutes; chill cake in fridge until cold, about 6 hours or overnight.
  • Cover; keep chilled up to 2 days.
  • Just before serving, shave some chocolate on top using a vegetable peeler.

Yield: 10-12 servings

Happy birthday, Val! And yes, I'll make you the lemon cheesecake next time.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

All things porcine are good

My love of all things pig-related is well known in some (very small) circles, and it's high time it made an appearance on this blog. While I am prone to snobbery in a lot of things, I am 100% equal opportunity minded when it comes to pork. A friend of mine says that he likes it all, "from the rooter to the tooter!", and I whole heartedly share that opinion. A big, pink, salty eraser of a ham? Yum! Bacon? Better than... ahem, let's just say "chocolate" since my mother reads this blog. Pork tenderloin is the filet mignon of the pig (it's the same cut of meat, relative to the critter in question), and deserves a certain level of reverence. Roast, chops, sausage, and pig's feet are all heartily welcome on my plate.
The primary appeal of pork (to me, anyway), is its tremendous versatility. There's almost always a cheap cut of some sort in your deli counter, and it thrives under as great a variety of flavors and cooking techniques as chicken. And damn near ANY piece of pork will have a far greater depth of flavor than the ubiquitous boneless, skinless chicken boob. (There will doubtless be upcoming rants against that most bland, insipid piece of meat, and the people who insist on eating them, but that's neither here nor there.)
An ex of mine and I had a deeply seated disagreement when it came to pork, and I dare say it was at least a small part of our demise as a couple. He was of the mind that all pork was tough, rubbery, and accompanied by a side of runny applesauce. If that had been my sole experience, I would have likely shared his view, but alas, he was unable to ever come to the terms with the versatility of pig. I chalk that up to a character flaw on his part, and you'd better bet that the next man in line will love the stuff!
After grilling pizzas a couple weeks ago, I'd vowed to use my grill more this summer, and since I was having a friend over for dinner, it seemed the right time to trot out a tried and true recipe...Spice Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Peach Salsa. With just a tiny bit of advance planning, this is the quickest "company dinner" you can imagine, and it's not just delicious, but colorful and lovely to look at. If you've never played with spice rubs, now's the time. They're a quick, easy and calorie-free way to add enormous flavor to meats, and when used in grilling, they become a tasty crust on the critter you're cooking. There are those of you who have an aversion to fruit served with meat...get over it! Pork and apples are a classic (if often poorly done) combination, but breaking out of that mold to add mangoes, peaches or nectarines will enliven even the most simply seasoned chop.
All that being we go!
Spice Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Peach Lime Salsa
For the spice rub:
2 tbsp chile powder
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried sage
1 1/2 tsp salt
Combine all rub ingredients in a small dish and set aside.
2 pork tenderloins
Olive oil
For the salsa:
2 ripe peaches (or mangoes, nectarines...I just had peaches on hand)
1 large diced tomato
1 diced red onion
1 minced, seeded jalapeno pepper
2 tbsp chopped parsley (mint's nice, too)
1 tbsp honey
juice of 1 lime
2 tsp salt
Combine all salsa ingredients in medium sized bowl, and set aside. Can be made up to 2 hours ahead.

  • Butterfly each tenderloin (this means cutting them down the middle, lengthwise, enough so that you can open the piece like a book, without cutting it in two).
  • Realize that cut like this, the tenderloin looks a bit, umm...phallic. Picture your last shitty relationship, and grab a mallet.
  • Place each tenderloin between 2 sheets of plastic wrap, and pound the ever loving crap out of them, until they're about evenly 1" thick. This is a good addition to your current anger management program!
  • Drizzle each piece with olive oil, and rub all over with your spice mixture. Place each tenderloin in a plastic zip-top bag, and pop in the fridge. This can be done the day before, and left in the fridge overnight, or two hours prior to grilling and left at room temp. If you do refrigerate them, bring them out 30 minutes prior to grilling to allow to come to room temp.
  • Prepare your grill for direct cookng over medium-high heat. Oil the grill rack.
  • Grill tenderloins directly over medium-high heat, turning once, until well browned, 4-5 minutes on each side. I refuse to cut into meat to check for doneness, and instead opt for poking at it with trepidation to see if it's reached an appropriate level of doneness. (For pork with a slightly pink interior, the finished meat should feel like muscle between your thumb and index finger...taut, with just a little spring to it.) If you have a thermometer, by all means, use it, and you should be reading 155 degrees F. If you don't, pray for the best, and hope to Christ you don't give your guests trichinosis.
  • Transfer pork to a platter, tent with foil, and let it rest for 5-10 minutes.

  • To serve, cut against the grain into diagonal slices and serve with the salsa. This is really nice with a side of basmati rice, too.
Makes 4 servings.
We had this with a decent rose of Malbec, which I really like with both pork and grilled fish.
*Thanks to Katie for the food photography!!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Apple Pecan Spice Cake-FAIL

It seemed like such a good idea at the time....

When I got home from work last night, I was in the mood to make something that hinted of autumn. It was cool out, a bit drizzly and gray, and I had an itch to bake something suitable. Since I live in the Hudson Valley of NY, nothing screeches fall here more than apples, so I flipped through cookbooks and found a recipe for an Applesauce Pecan Spice Cake, and thought that sounded about right.

I dutifully sifted, blended, folded, toasted pecans and so on. Lots of great spices went in (nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice), so I had high hopes for good flavor. Batter was dumped into a generously buttered Bundt pan (I'm always looking for a reason to use mine, but really, they're kind of useless, aren't they?), and into the oven it went. And it smelled divine. Warm and spicy and rich...I half expected the whole cast of Little House on the Prairie to step into my house and start playing the fiddle.

That, my friends, is where the success ends. When time was up, I pulled the cake out and set it down to cool. Initial disaster struck when I attempted to get the cooled cake out of its pan. It had either bonded with it a la Stockholm Syndrome, and decided they could never, ever be parted from each other, or I hadn't buttered the pan adequately. Whichever of those you choose to believe (and I lubed the HELL out of that pan), only half the damn thing came out onto the cooling rack, while the bottom half clung codependently to the "non-stick" (BULLSHIT, I say) pan. Prying the remaining clumps out of the pan, I sorted of puzzle pieced the whole mess together, figuring that while it didn't look so hot, surely it would taste fine.

At this point, it was well past 10 pm, so I decided to drape a towel over the whole thing, and let it think about what it had done overnight. (There is nothing a bit weird about punishing cakes, I tell you.) Come morning I would glaze it, and all would be right with the world.

Umm...well.... If there are any of you out there who believe I am without fault in the kitchen, allow me to shatter your illusions. Because thankfully I had the foresight to try a piece of this abomination before bothering to glaze it. And it sucks. It's heavy, dry, and magically flavorless, despite all the additions from my spice rack. So, no, I am not going to include the recipe here. However, if you'd like to know how to make the best smelling, least tasty cake in all the land, let me know.

I suppose it's for the best...we're back to hot and humid today, and an autumnal dessert just wouldn't do. And I suppose I've re-learned that there's just no point in making a dessert that doesn't involve chocolate. But still. Damn.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Lemon Roast Chicken with a side of Pesto Potatoes and sublimated rage

There's a terribly Donna Reed-ish image of cooking for others...that it's always a lovely, altruistic effort, whereby the resulting plate of food comforts, brings joy to, or heals the diners. And while this has on occasion been true for me, there's something you (as potential dinner guests) should for others can be a covert act of aggression, or subtle manipulation of emotions. You think I'm just sauteeing and roasting? Oh, honey. A smart cook in the kitchen may be screwing with your head in ways you are blissfully unaware of.

I have cooked and baked for any myriad of reasons and people over the years...for celebration, mourning, sickness, seduction and reconciliation. For those of us who eschew actual verbal communication, food can be an exceptionally deft mechanism for expressing emotion, inducing affection, and just plain old fucking with your head. As the diner, you are so very, very vulnerable. Good manners handcuff your responses, as who in their right mind will bitch about anything made in their honor? And that, my friend, is where you are utterly at the mercy of She Who Wields the Chef's Knife.

Even when it's with the very best, most benevolent of motivations, my actions in the kitchen are almost always intended to elicit a response from the recepients. That can be great, when it's your birthday, and quite frankly, everyone wants cake. Or if you're an oozing, wheezing sack of sickness, and soup is all the stands between you and an untimely demise. I can't believe, however, that I'm the only cook who has ever stood over a sautee pan and thought something along the lines of, "Go fuck yourself, you doughy, pretentious asshole!". Or maybe that really is just me. If for mysterious reasons (so mysterious, in fact, that you may have no awareness of them whatsovever) I have put you on my shit list, you should really look closely at your plate. I would never (I don't think) include something that would induce anaphylactic shock, but I will include those olives you hate, or make that Turkey Tamale Pot Pie you are thoroughly sick of, and do so with a well acted, happy oblivion.

You may ask yourself why the hell any sane person would elect to be so passively aggressively bitchy with an entree. To which I will respond that A) never presume sanity, and B) I'm a WASP, and we tend to prefer to bury our rage behind broccoli rabe whenever possible.

All of this being there any "safe" dish? What IS the Switzerland of dinners? For me, I suppose it would have to be some permutation of roast chicken. It's delightfully easy to prepare, cheap, makes your house smell wonderful, and is almost universally enjoyed. (Ok, if you have a known vegetarian coming over and you make it anyway, you probably ought to bring up your anger issues in therapy, but that's your choice.) It was the first thing I ever made in my house while there were still cardboard boxes strewn all over, because I could not, for one more minute, stand eating take out. It takes the barest amount of utensils, zero skill, and is pretty hard to screw up. It soothes me, makes enough leftovers for at least two meals, and if one is especially militant, can be made into stock at the very end. Or, more likely, it will result in a carcass entombed in foil in the back of your fridge until you finally give up on your dreams of home made stock. Whatever. Sally forth, I say!

Lemon Roast Chicken


1 (4-5 lb) whole chicken

3 small or 2 medium yellow onions, sliced

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

2 lemons, quartered

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

  • Take the bag of mystery innards out of the chicken and wash it inside and out.

  • Toss the onions with a little olive oil in a roasting pan. Place the chicken on top of the onions. Pat the outside of the chicken dry with paper towels, brush it with a little olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken. Stuff the lemon quarters into indelicate regions of the chicken, and scatter the rest amidst the onions.

  • Roast for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the juices run clear when you cut between the leg and the thigh. Cover with foil and allow to rest at room temperature for 15 minutes. (The onions will likely burn, but I promise you, they'll be delicious, and if you mop them up with some decent bread, you'll be very happy.)

Tonight, I made this with mashed potatoes, for which I think you may not need a recipe. (If you do, let me know, otherwise, just make mashed potatoes as you normally would.) I glopped in about a half cup of leftover pesto into the finished potatoes, just to liven them up a bit.

3-4 servings.

So there you have it...just about the most neutral dinner I know how to make. Look carefully at your wine pairings, never know the troubles that could lie in your glass...

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Grilled Pizzas

While you will doubtless hear me wax poetic on the joys of doing everything from scratch, there are some days when kitchen shortcuts are the only thing standing between me and the second window. If, for instance, you have been out the night before drinking and square-dancing, as I'm SURE you just were (I knew I saw you there...loved how your hair came out, by the way!), and then worked all day, you are probably unlikely to want to start proofing yeast for pizza dough. And if you DO want to do that in such a situation, more power to you, but frankly, you have a disorder, and I fear that you will shortly come after me with a hot glue gun and the word "decoupage" on your lips.

Soo...grilled pizza it is, then! No oven to crank up and heat up your summer kitchen, toppings of whatever the hell you fancy, and no pimply teenager to tip when it's win.

Since we've already ruled out making your own dough, you are going to march yourself to the deli section of your grocery store and buy a blob of pizza dough. It's well worth the $1.50 it's going to cost you in saved effort and dough-y counter tops. While there, figure out what you want on your pizza(s), and stuff those in your cart.

As with any pizza, you can put on it whatever you want....the following recipe is what I opted for this time out, and it was damn tasty. It is key to have all your toppings ready to go before you start grilling the dough...the difference between delicious grilled pizza and briquette with toppings is about 2 minutes.

Pesto, Red Onion & Goat Cheese Grilled Pizzas


1 lb bag pre-made pizza dough

Olive oil

1/2 cup basil pesto (Again, as with the dough, you can be frighteningly anal and make this from scratch, or you can buy it all done for you. Since the goal of this recipe is drive-thru avoidance, I was NOT about to toast pine nuts and puree bail.)

1 large red onion, peeled and sliced thinly

about 4 0z goat cheese, crumbled

  • Prise dough glob out of plastic bag, and plop into a large bowl that you've sloshed some olive oil in. Flip the dough about so it's all oily, cover with a tea towel, and walk away. You're going to let it rise for about 45 minutes.

  • In a medium-sized sautee pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add sliced red onions, and cooking, stirring frequently, until translucent with some brownish edges, about 6 minutes. Set aside and let cool.

  • Fire up your grill and preheat. Scrub the rust off the grill rack and vow to actually use the damn thing more than twice a year. Once the dough has risen, turn the grill heat down to low.

  • Uncover dough, assume it's doubled in size, and gleefully punch it down. Divide dough into two equal sized pieces, and stretch, squish, roll and pat each into about 8-10" circles. (I think I didn't flatten mine out enough, and it ended up a bit doughy, so really try like hell to make it nice and thin.)

  • Place each round on a cookie sheet, and brush the tops with a little olive oil.

  • Put dough rounds on greased grill, oiled sides down. Allow to brown up about 3-4 minutes on the first side. Dough will puff up considerably. Brush oil on the tops. (I know this all seems like a lot of oil...just trust me that dough sticks very easily to the grill, and that is to be avoided.)

  • Flip rounds. Bottom side should have nice grill marks and be lightly browned. Grill about 2-3 minutes. Your goal here is to have the dough ALMOST done, but not quite, before you add your toppings. I use the "poke at it and guess" technique, which while not 100% effective, is certainly easy enough.

  • Now's the time to add your toppings. I slathered each round with some pesto, and then scattered some onions and goat cheese on top. Grill about 2 more minutes over a low flame.

  • Turn flame off, close the lid, and let the pizzas sit in their toasty warmth for a couple minutes...this will allow the cheese to get gooey without burning the hell out the crust.

  • Remove from grill. Eat. This particular combo would have been very nice with a bottle of Vouvray, but someone who shall remain nameless is still trying to work their way through a case of very, very bad beer. Next time.

Makes 2 approximately 8" pizzas.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


The first time I ever made marshmallows from scratch, my sister-in-law said, "You can MAKE those? I thought they were manufactured at some industrial Stay-Puft factory in the midwest somewhere." And to be honest, I did, too. They have that odd texture, aren't really a food in any nutritional sense of the word, and the process of actually creating them bore very strong resemblance to my polymer labs in Organic Chemistry.

Of course, for such a ridiculous kitchen experiment, I can only blame the influence of Martha Stewart, and some long-gone Christmas issue of her overly fastidious magazine. Well, Martha, insomnia, and I dare say a glass or two of wine. (Honestly, never, ever combine all those. It's like the trifecta of insanity.)

Anyway, all liquored up, candy thermometer firmly in hand, and nary a care for the volume of dishes about to be created, I did it. I made homemade marshmallows. And you know what? You should, too. Soon. Now. It's always the season for them... You either need to make them to toast over summer campfires, dip in an Irish Cream Chocolate Fondue, or to float in hot chocolate on a winter day.

You will absolutely need two is a candy thermometer (guessing the temperature of molten sugar is not something I recommend) and the other is a stand mixer. Beg for one, steal one, or get married so you can register for it. A divorce is totally worth a Kitchen-Aid.

Following is the basic recipe for straight up, unadulterated marshmallows. You can, and should, try adding flavors (peppermint, almond), booze, and rolling them in powdered cocoa or toasted coconut.

Marshmallows from Scratch
Bastardized from Martha Stewart and Ina Garten


1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
3 packages (1/4 oz each) unflavored gelatin
3/4 tsp vanilla extract (swap out peppermint, etc for flavors)
1/4 tsp salt
Confectioner's sugar, for dusting

-Combine the gelatin and 1/2 cup of cold water in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and allow to sit while you make the syrup.

-Meanwhile, combine the sugar, corn syrup, salt and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat to high and cook until the syrup reaches 240 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat.

-With stand mixer on low speed, slowly (and very, very carefully) pour the sugar syrup into the dissolved gelatin. Put the mixer on high speed and whip until the mixture is very thick, about 15 minutes. (At this point, I stood over the mixer, mesmerized, as a clear liquid slowly turned into, well...marshmallow. Alchemy, I tell you!) Add vanilla and mix thoroughly.

-With a sieve, generously dust an 8 X 12 inch glass baking dish with confectioner's sugar. Lots and lots of the stuff, as this is what's going to enable you to pry the gooey beasts out later. Pour the marshmallow mixture into the pan, smooth the top, and dust with more confectioner's sugar. Allow to stand overnight until it dries out. Marvel at your domestic accomplishments, put the dishes to soak, and go to bed.

-Attempt to tidily turn marshmallows out onto a board. Fail. Take a bench scraper or large knife, lube it up with butter, and wiggle the big jiggly beast out. With the same bench scraper or knife, keeping it well lubed, cut the block o' mallow into squares the size of your choosing. Dust with yet more confectioner's sugar. Call in your insulin refill.

Makes 20-40 marshamallows, depending on greed

Ta dah! You've made them! And you've got lots and lots of sticky crap all over your kitchen to prove it! However, the second you put one in your mouth and realize what they're SUPPOSED to taste like, you won't care about the goo nearly as much.