Tiramisu–A Variation


Well then.  Sometime toward the end of last year, I decided that 2011 would be the year of adventure.  I am not a risk taker by nature, but I decided–somewhere between surviving a partial bike ride down the side of volcano and one too many cocktails–that I needed to do a bit more with life, because, well, this is the only chance I get at it.  I’d read a book that was really terrible, but had one really good line in it about finding ways to say yes instead of reasons to say no.  That resonated with me, because–being an essentially risk averse person (read: lawyer)–before the word “maybe” is out of my mouth, my mind has come up with 73 scenarios as to why something may not be a great idea.  It’s pretty hard to jump on the adventure bandwagon when your go-to response is no, right?

All this to say that I decided that I needed to change into more of a yes! that sounds fun!! person and so far this year, I’m doing a stellar job if I do say so myself (one good thing about being Type A is that when you set your mind to something, you’re always aiming for that gold star…).  The upside is that since January, I’ve been to Morocco, NYC, Los Angeles, Monterey, Cozumel and just got back from Ireland last night (hello, jet lag!).  Yeah, I don’t recognize myself either.  The downside is that I was home for only one full week in April, much of which was spent looking for a fabulous fascinator, which dramatically cuts down on the cooking going on chez moi.

I did manage, though, to whip up a wee dessert a couple of weekends ago, which I’m going to suggest you tuck away for those moments when time is not on your side but you need something decadent and impressive.  I’ve wanted to make tiramisu since I took that culinary boot camp last fall and I vaguely remembered from the class that it was one of those things that could be put together quickly and left to its own devices before serving.  That, and I had half a container of mascarpone left from my polenta adventure.  Always helps when you have a main ingredient on hand.  The one thing I did not have was the lady fingers and while my mind was swirling with visions of rum and cokes (I’d just gotten back from Cozumel) and rolling fields of heather (I had just bought my ticket to Ireland), I couldn’t for the life of me think where in all of the city of Chicago I could find them.  I also didn’t have enough time to go here, there and everywhere looking for them, so I decided that I’d substitute another cookie.  Lucky for me, I was standing in Trader Joe’s when I made that decision and decided to snag some ginger crisps and call it a day.

Unlike my other experiments, this one actually worked! Shocking, I know.  It couldn’t have been easier to put together (the recipe called for instant espresso, but I just used really strong coffee) and the crisps worked well after I decided to add several layers.  I loved the spice that the ginger added to the recipe, and truth be told, I liked my version better than the traditional because I find that lady fingers can get a bit soggy and heavy, whereas the ginger crisps soaked up the mascarpone filling without becoming mushy.

I’ve promised myself that I’m home for a good stretch now, and I’m looking forward to being back in the kitchen whipping up fun items, taking pictures and posting.  What can I make for you?

Tiramisu–A Variation

  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons brewed espresso (I used very strong coffee)
  • 4 ounces mascarpone cheese
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
  • 12 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
  • gingerbread crisps

Combine water and 3 tablespoons of sugar in small saucepan and bring to a boil to melt sugar (I did this in a measuring cup in the microwave).  Remove from heat and add espresso.

Put mascarpone, sugar and vanilla in large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until smooth (I misread this and added the syrup (above). Really didn’t make a difference, but I suppose one should follow the directions?).  Add heavy whipping cream and beat until mixture is thick and fluffy.

Break ginger crisps in half and add about 3 layers in the bottom of each ramekin.  Add a couple of tablespoons of espresso syrup.  Spread half of the mascarpone mixture over top.  Continue with second layer of ginger crisps, syrup and mascarpone mixture.  Chill for 1 hour (you can also do a day ahead).

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Peppermint Patty Brownies


Do you ever have one of those moments when you realize that it is very possible that you are someone else’s crazy? Like, when you have to dig deep and say, “Self, you are about to become the punchline in someone’s ‘Oh my god, I used to know this crazy girl who…’ story if you don’t stop acting so, well, crazy.” ? I was (am?) there yesterday.  I asked someone a question that as the words were coming out of my mouth, the logical, non-Sybil side of me was screaming, “STOP TALKING!!! STOP. TALKING. RIGHT. NOW!!” but it was out and there was nothing I could do but own it and try to move on.  Yikes.

What this has to do with food is really nothing other than I decided to bake some brownies to occupy my mind (because I’ve never made brownies from scratch before so I thought it would be a good project) and try to bring myself back to a place that’s a little more Zen and a little less whirling dervish.  Baking has a calming effect on me mainly because I have to concentrate on measuring ingredients out and setting up bowls and not overmixing or underbaking and it’s hard to think about random acts of nuttiness as you are trying to get egg whites to reach a perfect peak.  For a very long time I’ve wanted to make brownies with Peppermint Patties in them because I love brownies and I love Peppermint Patties and so, why not?  I realized that putting them at the bottom of the pan would likely not be a good idea, so I decided to do a layer of brownie batter followed by a layer of Peppermint Patties and then topped by a layer of batter.  Keep in mind that I was watching the end of Kings of Pastry while I was thinking about this, so inspiration was running high.

It’s doing this–making up recipes–that makes me realize that I really have no idea what I’m doing in a kitchen, despite having taken classes and made my way through boot camp.  So when the original recipe called for 2 cups of sugar, I had to pause and try to figure out how to account for the fact that I was adding Peppermint Patties to the mix.  And then would that change the consistency of the brownies? And would the middle of the patties melt and harden and become inedible? And should I cut back on the chocolate? AND……! And before you knew it, I’d forgotten all about my moment of crazy the day before since I had now spiralled down into an abyss of culinary kookiness.  But unlike my other bout of WTF?, I was the only witness and could easily conceal all evidence if need be.

After a bit of tweaking and doubling the baking time, I have to admit to being pretty happy with my experiment.  They’re a little crisper on top than I’d normally like, but the center is moist and fudgy and I cut them so there’s a Peppermint Patty in each square.  The sides (which are usually my fave part of a brownie) were much too crunchy, so I had to cut them off.  I’m not sure if that had to do with lining the pan with foil or that I had to bake much longer than recommended (I think the suggested pan size is too small).  But the absolute best part is that I was completely distracted, which is exactly what I wanted (more than I wanted a whole pan of warm brownies, which says a lot).  I feel better, I can think back on what was said without cringing and calm has returned to my world.  But…there’s one lingering thing nagging at me.  If being in a kitchen can make me this happy so quickly, what the *$)#%& am I doing sitting in an office all day….?

Peppermint Patty Brownies (adapted from Gourmet, October 2003)

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Chocolate Chip Crisps


I always think that the worst part about the holidays being over, other than my credit card statement, is that the treats just end.  And there’s no weaning period, either.  You leave work in December slightly overwhelmed by the chocolate and candy on every desk and come back in January and there is nary a goody to be found.  Not even a Lifesaver or a broken candy cane.  After being on a sugar high since Halloween, it’s kind of harsh to give up the sweets so suddenly.  And it adds to the winter blahs, too, no?

I’d planned to whip up another Hawaiian treat for you so you’d forget that the forecast is cold, followed by frigid and rounded out with a little dear-lord-I-think-the-inside-of-my-nose-has-frozen for the next 7 weeks, but I was craving something comforting and chocolate laden and not too terribly bad for me (as hard as it is to imagine, that combination does exist!) to ease me into the new year.  Luckily, one of Santa’s elves delivered these crisps in my stocking and it took every ounce of self-control I had not to eat the whole bag in one sitting.  Twenty minutes later I said to myself, “Self, it is Christmas and you have suffered in overheated stores and ruined new boots in the snow in order to spread holiday cheer to others, so if eating an entire large Ziploc bag of crisps would warm your soul, go for it.” And so I did.  With a glass of milk that may or may not have had a shot of Kahlua in it.  Why do I admit these things to you?! 

Anyhoo, they are as easy as they are delicious and the hint of curry is a nice addition to the standard cookie happiness.  I think I would up the curry a bit more next time, but I like a little spice.  The original recipe called for pistachios, which I obviously avoided, but I think just about any nut would work here.  Get creative! What’s the worst thing that could happen? You have to eat a tray of test crisps all by yourself?  If that’s the low point of winter, I’d say we’re off to a good start…

Chocolate Chip Crisps (adapted from Paul Grimes’ Pistachio Dark-Chocolate Crisps in Gourmet, December 2007)

  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 large egg white
  • 2 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used Nestle semi-sweet chips)
  • [1/2 cup of chopped nuts of your choice]

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Line a large baking sheet with parchment.

Blend butter, brown sugar, flour, vanilla, salt, curry powder, and egg white in a food processor until smooth.

Glue parchment down with a dab of batter in each corner, then spread remaining batter evenly into a 14- by 10-inch rectangle (1/8-inch-thick) on parchment with spatula. Scatter chocolate and nuts evenly over batter, then bake until firm and golden-brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer, still on parchment, to a rack to cool completely. Remove from paper, breaking into pieces.

Christmas Treats


I have a friend who is a terrible regifter.  There is nothing wrong with regifting; I’ve done it myself on occasion (never to you or one of your presents though! NEVER! How could you even think that?!?).  The key to regifting is to remember who gave you what and never make the regift seem as though that’s exactly what it is.  I mean, if you have a known dislike of scented candles, don’t go and give someone a set of pine scented tapers that you received. It’s going to be obvious that you didn’t purchase that.  But, if you get something that you already have one of, or that doesn’t fit and you really can’t return, I say regift away in good faith!  This friend, though, has not only regifted me something that I have given her (can you seriously imagine??), but has regifted me something that is so hideous that you know someone regifted it to her at some point.  There was likely a chain of this particular gift dating back to the late 20th century that I had to break.  I couldn’t, with a clear conscience, give it to anyone else (even a work grab bag), yet I couldn’t throw it away because it was a gift, as horrid as it was… So it sits in my closet taking up valuable shoe space.  I wish I could tell you what it is, but I need to protect the regifter here.  Don’t be that person this year.

Anyhoo, I bought many ingredients over the last couple of days to make all manner of Christmas goodies, but truth be told, the transition from sunny Hawai’i to bitter cold Chicago has taken its toll.  Tears have been shed as I watched the weather report while eating from a bag of chocolate chips intended for chocolate covered pretzels.  But this is where the regift is totally acceptable.  I’ve listed below some of my fave recipes from Christmases past so that you can make a list, hit the stores and be ready for Santa or other guests that may drop in unexpectedly.  You can thank me by promising to have a happy, joyful, restful, food-and alchoholful Christmas.  Merry Merry to you!

Chocolate Covered Oreos are my favorite go-to easy dessert year round.  Adding crushed candy canes kicks them up a holiday notch.

Sugar and Gingerbread Cookies are two of Santa’s favorites, so if you haven’t been all that good this year I’d commit these recipes to memory ASAP.  The vanilla cream is addictive, so be careful.

Would it really be Christmas without a fruitcake?  In a perfect world, you would have started soaking yours in rum around Easter, but give your guests a shot of Appleton’s on the side and they’ll be happy.

Speaking of rum, a little goes a long way in this egg nog.  Unless you’ve had a really stressful shopping experience; then you may as well do it up a bit.  I won’t tell.

If you’re feeling like really ramping up the decorating, try making red velvet cupcakes and adding a little green food coloring to the icing.  I don’t know, for some reason it looks really cute in my head.  It could be that I’ve had a bit too much of the spiked egg nog mentioned above…

Growing up, Christmas breakfast was almost as important as Christmas dinner in our house.  These cinnamon rolls are hella labor intensive, but also hella delish and impressive, so get started on making Santa’s good list for next year and have these ready.  Otherwise, doughnut holes or blueberry muffins will definitely hit the spot after all the presents have been unwrapped.

You deserve a break today, and it’s not at McDonald’s.  After all the shopping and wrapping and making chit chat with cousins you (a) see once a year and (b) don’t actually like, relax with a Come Heather Look, brought to you by the letters G-I-N and the friendly folks at St. Germain.  Don’t say I never gave you anything…

Sweet Potato Muffins


 

I am, generally, an organized person.  It may not seem like it if you were to look at my desk, but I always know exactly where things are (likely because I’m an only child and there was no one around to move something once I put it somewhere), I rarely lose things and I can pretty much remember details of where I need to be without writing them down. I say all of this to tell you that I rarely do more than glance at information, because I rely (overly so) on my ability to absorb it quickly and remember it.  Fortunately for me, I show up where I’m supposed to be 9 times out of 10, so I’ve had little need to reconsider my methods.  But that 10th time? That 10th time will always be when it truly truly counts.  The biggest “slip up” I’ve made was when I was supposed to get sworn in to the Illinois bar.  Weeks prior to the swearing in, the bar people sent a letter listing where you needed to go based on where in Illinois you lived.  For Chicago, it was McCormick Place on XYZ day at 2:30pm. Done.  I alerted relatives and friends and threw the paper into a pile.  

The appointed day arrived and I put on my new lawyer suit and went into work.  I told the partners that I’d have to leave around 2pm and wouldn’t be coming back for the day since a celebration at a Cuban restaurant was to follow.  I vaguely wondered why none of my classmates were around that morning, but I realized that they were probably smart and took the whole day off for this big event.  2pm rolls around and I pull out the letter so I could get the name of the room where the swearing in was supposed to be held. And what do I see?  The Chicago ceremony had started at 11:30.  My heart skipped a beat as I realized that I had just missed getting sworn in and I had no idea what that meant (these bar people are no joke.  To even take the exam you have to jump through so many hoops that I figured that they’d punish me in some way for missing it).  Tears, frantic phone calls and a speeding taxi ride followed.  I arrived at McCormick Place to see the janitors sweeping up left over flower petals and locking the doors to the auditorium.  My well-wishers arrived to find me sitting on the floor crying with nothing to show for the day but that crumpled letter.  You’ll be happy to know that I was able to be sworn in by a judge a few weeks later, but, while I still believe in my abilities, few people trust me to tell them where they need to be and when any longer.

This story has nothing to do with food other than to lead into another example of how I get something in my head and completely think it’s right and there’s no need for me to double check or think about it again.  Basically, I ended up making sweet potato muffins when, up to the minute I was about to put the sweet potato in the microwave, I thought I was making pumpkin muffins.  A coworker had given me a recipe for–the way I remembered it–pumpkin muffins a few years ago and given the autumn weather, I thought they’d be a happy treat.  I could even see the picture of the muffins in my head from the printout she gave me, but couldn’t find the recipe online and she didn’t remember it (likely because we were searching for a completely different recipe).  I finally found it this weekend when I cleaned out a folder full of dashed cooking dreams, with magazine recipes dating back to 1996.  I glanced at the recipe to make sure I had the ingredients, made out my grocery list and crafted the story behind the muffins based on the pumpkin picking I did a few weekends ago.  It was not until I was washing off the potato last night that it occurred to me that I was actually making sweet potato muffins instead of pumpkin ones.  How’s that for the power of suggestion (or my ability to kid (delude?) myself)? Even though I bought sweet potatoes, I still had it in my mind that these were all about the pumpkin… At least my efforts weren’t totally lost and I actually had the sweet potato.  And! I was right about the picture, so my long term memory seems to be fully functioning.  I take comfort wherever I can get it.

Anyhoo. They’re super yummy and moist and the cinnamon sugar coating is a nice addition, although I suppose if you want to be super healthy about it, you could leave it off.  And, I also suppose you could substitute pumpkin if your mind’s set on it…

Warm Sweet Potato Muffins with Cinnamon Sugar Coating (courtesy of Cuisine at Home)

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Caramel Apples


Before I got braces, I really really wanted them.  I also wanted glasses and a cast (preferably arm, but I would have made do with a leg).  I’m sure any therapist worth his or her $200 an hour fee would tell you what I really wanted was attention, even in the form of teasing and taunting, but because I went to a school full of nerdy people–even the coolest kids crammed around our old school Apple computers and played Oregon Trail at lunch–having braces and glasses would barely have gotten me noticed.  Unfortunately, thanks to all the carrots I ate, my eyesight was 20/20 (although I did try to fail an eye exam, but took it too far and had a very alarmed school nurse thinking I was legally blind) and I was never adventurous enough to break an arm, but luckily my teeth were a mess.  I’m sure there was a bidding war in the back of the orthodontist’s office to fill my mouth with metal.  I mean, at one point there was talk of breaking my jaw to align my teeth.  So, months before turning 14 I got my wish for braces and they were all I hoped for.

That is, of course, until I was approaching my 16th birthday.  What almost 16 year old wants braces?? I threatened to remove them myself if Dr. G didn’t take them off for me.  I even convinced the man to up the ante in the months leading up to my birthday by removing the wires and giving me a mouth guard to speed up the process (I, of course, did not think of the fact that the mouth guard would prevent me from talking, which I’m sure is why he went for it.  Luckily I only had to wear it while I slept). 

Anyhoo.  The braces came off days before my 16th birthday and the first thing I wanted was a caramel apple.  Obviously they were verboten while I had braces, but even before I’d never been able to eat one right off the stick, because my top and bottom teeth didn’t meet in the middle (you thought I was kidding about how crazy they were, didn’t you??).  I always had to cut them up, which really defeated the purpose.  So, I wanted to bite into a caramel apple and drink sugary drinks and eat Cheetos to my heart’s content.  I was totally foiled though, because my birthday is in July and there was nary a caramel apple to be found.  But I kept my dreams alive and at the first whiff of fall I went in search of caramel to make my own batch of apples.  This is where the shininess of youth starts to color your recollections, because as I remember it all I had to do was melt the caramel, dip my apples in, let them cool and voila! Happiness at my fingertips. 

This go round? Not so much.  First of all, there were no sticks in the bag of caramel like I remember, so I had to schlep to Michaels (usually a happy experience, but I was on a mission) and then it took me forever to actually get them in the apples.  As for the melting of the caramel, I admit that I didn’t follow the package directions completely–I used a double boiler instead of melting it down–but I really don’t remember nearly getting third degree burns while dipping the apples.  Melted caramel is hot, kids! You heard it here first.

In the end, an apple covered in caramel is never a bad thing, no matter the process to get there, so hopefully they’ll make your Halloween to-do list.  As for my teeth, they’ve shifted a bit (I actually went to talk to Dr. G about it last summer and he was SALTY. Like I had done his good work a disservice.  He retired soon after…). I still don’t wear glasses and have no desire for a broken arm or leg any longer.  My need for attention, though, has grown significantly…

Caramel Apples

  • 1 bag Kraft caramels
  • 5 apples
  • lots of patience

We’re going super simple on the recipe today.  Follow the directions on the back of the bag of Kraft caramels.  Don’t be foolish (like me) and try to invent your own.

Cinnamon Rolls


 

I’m a total morning person. If I have work to do, I’d much rather go to bed at 10pm and wake up at 4am than stay up late.  Obviously I was a lot of fun in college.  I think I was one of the few people who actually left parties to go to bed (plus my grandfather always said nothing good happens after midnight.  Now, we all know “good” things can happen after midnight, but when you think back on it the next morning, it’s unlikely to fall into any category that constitutes good for a grandfather.  I digress…).  This saved me from gaining the notorious Freshman Fifteen, because I was tucked in well before the late night pizzas were delivered.  Senior year, I instituted the 11:30pm rule in our house which meant that on a school night, no one was allowed to wake me up unless the house was on fire, I was on fire or someone had died.  Don’t you wish you’d lived with me?  The 11:30 rule has become the 10:30 rule since I now live in a CST timezone.  I’m really not kidding about this; I’ve actually had friends ask if they can break the 10:30 rule to call me (I usually say yes…).

I have no idea where I was going with this (I actually wrote that paragraph last night and then, guess what? I got sleepy, so I’m finishing it this morning and have no idea what I was going to say next.  True story.).  At any rate, I truly believe that breakfast is the most important meal of the day for many reasons, but it’s rare that I have anything more than cereal.  I really want to be one of those people who wakes up and squeezes orange juice to go with my freshly made waffles and crisp bacon, but for all of my morning person-ness, this is likely never to happen.  Why would I do that when there are perfectly good brunch spots within walking distance? I’m all for reinventing the wheel recipe-wise, but not if it’s going to stand in the way of bacon, you know?

So I was all over making these cinnamon rolls because I was craving them and it was too cold and rainy to go outside just for baked goods, especially when I had a delicious recipe from The Chopping Block and all of the ingredients.  But, you know what? I should have braved the elements because these are so ridiculously time consuming that I didn’t even want them half way through.  Seriously. It took me an hour to make the dough, what with the cooling times and mixing and figuring out how many ounces are in 3-3/4 cups of flour (that last part has more to do with my math skills than the recipe).  At any rate, I decided to just let the dough rise overnight, because it was close to lunch time by the time I finished making it and I couldn’t be bothered.  Putting them together was another lengthy process and all I could think was thank goodness there was no one waiting for these because they would likely have given up on me and gone out to get the canned version that bakes in 10 minutes.

That said, they are as ridiculously tasty as they are ridiculously time consuming.  The dough is sweet and chewy and I created a little icing based on the bourbon bread pudding version that is lick your fingers worthy.  So, if you are a total morning person who wants to spend some quiet time kneading dough while everyone else sleeps, make these this weekend.  Otherwise, I’ll catch you at brunch.  I’ll be the girl in the back cozying up to a plate of bacon…

Cinnamon Rolls (courtesy of The Chopping Block)

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Guest Post: Blueberry Muffins with a Gazpacho Chaser


Summer has come and gone and I admit to being more than a little sad about it.  I’m really not ready to pull out the fall gear, and the idea of heavy winter anything–clothes, food, boots–makes me a little twitchy. Luckily Heidi of Green Roof Growers is able to help me hang on to summer a bit longer with these lovely (98% of the time!) blueberry goodies and tasty home grown tomato treats.  Long live summer!

Clafoutis, Zucchini Blueberry Muffins, and Blender Gazpacho: Many Variables Later

A couple weekends ago Heather came by for a long-overdue visit. I’d already decided on the insanely easy and explicitly French clafoutis [a fruit filled cake] to have for nibbles, along with some gazpacho made with our roof-grown organic tomatoes.

I’ve made dozens of clafoutis (it’s one of my favorite sweets) using an equal number of recipes. Every time I see a clafouti recipe online I see it as a sign to Make Clafouti. It’s always eggs, flour, milk, sugar, and fruit…but in varying proportions.

Frankly, I now skip all recipes that call for preheating the pan and pouring in a thin layer of batter (sorry, Julia), letting it set up in the oven, and then taking it out to receive the fruit and rest of the batter. Who needs this?

A couple days earlier I’d made this recipe–with half-plums plopped cut-side down before being bathed in the batter–with a gorgeous finish.

 

 I used the very same recipe to make a blueberry clafouti for Heather. And the results were just depressing. There are many ways a clafoutis can look (I dare you to check out this image gallery and not run to the fridge to see if you have enough eggs to make one), but this isn’t one of them.

 

Heather asked what I’d done differently. Well, said I, I used blueberries instead of plums. And it was far more humid the day I baked the blueberry. And too late I noticed one of the burners on my oven had stopped working, so it wasn’t up to temperature when I slid in the pan.

(Heather is doubled over with laughter at this point.) “Anything else?!” she squeaked out. Well, it was so hot outside and there are so many new restos on our block sucking power away from us that the voltage stream to the oven was compromised (who except my smart boyfriend with a voltage meter knew this could even happen?).

Heidi’s Zucchini Blueberry Muffins

Undaunted, I’d also whipped up a couple batches of my favorite blueberry muffins for the folks working our honey harvest the following day. I assure you that this recipe can withstand the vagaries of baking in an uncertain oven…and how can I make that assertion? I baked them in the same under-heated oven (just longer than usual) as the clafoutis.

This altered recipe for zucchini bread delivers a 200-calorie muffin that makes people want to eat five, replacing a lot of the high-gluten white flour with quick oats.

Recipe

Two bowls are needed: a large bowl for the wet ingredients, sugar, and oats + a smaller one for the scant dry ingredients and blueberries.

Preheat oven: 375 degrees

Baking time: 20 minutes

Broiler time: a minute or so to brown the muffin tops after they’re done baking (optional)

Oil a 12-cup muffin tin before you start…

Wet bowl

  • 1 medium zucchini, shredded (1 heaping cup)
  • 1 cup quick oats
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil (olive oil or canola)
  • ¾ cup buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

 Combine the mix well, moistening the oats so they absorb the liquids while you prepare the dry bowl.

  Dry bowl

  • ¾ cup white flour or pastry wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

 Use a whisk to mix the dry ingredients.  Then add 2 heaping cups fresh or frozen blueberries, tossing to coat.

Mixing dry into wet

Pour the dry ingredients into the wet bowl and, using a rubber spatula, blend using confident, large strokes. The idea is not to thoroughly combine the ingredients (though if you do this the sky won’t fall), but rather to combine to a point where you still see some dry flour in the mix.

Use a quarter-cup measure to fill the muffin tin. Then shake a little extra cinnamon and nutmeg onto the top of each muffin. These are not extremely sweet tidbits, so if you like sugar, sprinkle a little on top of each muffin for extra sweetness.

Bake @ 375 for 20 minutes or until a wooden skewer comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for ten minutes or so and then remove the muffins to the rack to cool completely.

Gazpacho

Meanwhile, the Mark Bittman Gazpacho was coming together. I realized too late that Heather has had her issues with Bittman (something about a chocolate cake?), but his basic gazpacho is a farmers market girl’s dream.

I had the blender half-full when Heather arrived, with extra cukes because I’d bought a bunch at the Wicker Park Farmers Market.

Not in the recipe, but we chopped and tossed in handfuls of fresh basil from the window boxes out front and added stale bread (that is part of the recipe).

Then we whizzed it up in the blender and strained it all through my new chinoise, a lovely gift from a thoughtful boyfriend (he’s not all about voltage meters). Adjust the sherry vinegar to your palate—we like a little bite.

No final photo, but this is the quickest soup you’ll ever make, smooth as silk. If you like a rougher soup, there’s no need to strain. And…if it’s the dead of winter, using canned tomatoes produces an equally delectable result.

Cocktails, Anyone?


So my birthday was last month and it was fabulous in a way that a girl can only dream.  Good friends, wonderful presents, perfect weather and lots of laughs. If this year is a fraction as lovely as my birthday celebration was I will be a lucky girl indeed.

I had my party on the rooftop of a new hotel here in the Chi and while we watched Transformers 3 being filmed below us, we munched on bacon wrapped dates stuffed with blue cheese, vegetable dumplings, bbq pork belly pizzas and whoopie pies. Yum, right?  I decided that I needed to have a specialty cocktail to enhance all of that food goodness and I knew right away that it had to involve St. Germain.  I don’t remember exactly when I discovered this bit of elderflower liqueur happiness, but it has become a favorite in the alcohol arsenal.  It can be served on its own over ice or mixed with a bit of Champagne for a delightful cocktail.  It is the perfect summer drink, because it’s sweet, mellow and understated–3 things I’m definitely not, but I love it anyway. 

Of course, my birthday specialty cocktail had to include it and I thought I’d add my other favorite, gin, to the mix.  Luckily the hotel was willing to indulge me, and even said that I could name the cocktail since it wasn’t on the regular menu.  Although I don’t have kids and have never had a pet, I’m going to say that naming a cocktail is just as important. I mean, it has to speak to my personality, the elements of the alcohol involved and the setting where it’ll be served.   You can’t just go around calling something so delicious by any name; this required thought and deliberation.  It could also be that I’m just super Type A. Either way. 

Before I tell you the name I chose, I need to backtrack a bit to give you a little history.  In case you haven’t noticed, I fully embrace my nerdiness and dorkiness.  But there is a funny and flirty side that comes out every once in awhile (and I think there are some people who would say comes out more often than I think/intend).  At any rate, I’ve been told that when I’m in full on flirting mode (and I’ve come to believe that flirting has become like breathing to me, because I really don’t realize I do it.  On the other hand, I do realize I need to look into that) I give a “look.” I’ve asked people to describe this “look” and all I get is, “it’s, like, a look. You know? A LOOK.” Not helpful. I’ve tried to give myself the “look” in the mirror, but all I see is crazy staring back at me.  Finally, one friend said, “it’s like a come hither look, but it’s your own. It’s a come Heather look.”

So, I introduce you to the Come Heather Look: equal parts St. Germain and Hendrick’s Gin, with a splash of club soda, shaken and poured into a chilled martini glass.  Garnish with a lemon twist. 

I dare you to have more than one and not create a look of your own…

Peach Kuchen


Following all good memoirists who now put disclaimers in bold typeface all over their books thanks to James Frey: the following story is based on my recollection of certain events.  All conversations are as I remember them and effort has been made to lay out the facts in chronological order, although some liberty may have been taken solely for the purpose of moving the story forward.  All names and defining features have been changed, except in the instance of the peach kuchen (a type of cake with fruit), because that’s the star of the story.

Senior year of college, my two best friends–Marie and Jenny–and I decided that it would be a good idea to share a house on campus.  The fact that all three of us are still alive to tell about it really does not do justice to how hard it is to live with your two best friends, another new friend (Lily) and a very angry cat while writing a thesis and in the throes of about 17 different college romances (spread out among us. Seriously! Who do you think I am??).   We were all writing a thesis, but Marie’s was due first semester, while Jenny, Lily and I had all year.  This meant that while Marie was busy being the queen of footnotes and index cards, the rest of us were free to gallivant for the first 3 months of the school year.  It also meant that when we’d get home from a party, Marie was still up working and we’d try our best to be quiet as we tipsyly made our way to bed. 

One Saturday afternoon, Jenny’s mom came up from New Jersey bringing with her a cooler full of food for us–lasagnas, bread, soup and desserts.  Being the poor starving students we were, we ate about 2/3 of the food she’d meant to have last at least 2 weeks.  We were clever enough to store a lasagna in the freezer and put away most of the desserts, except for the peach kuchen.  I think we decided we’d devour it the next day for breakfast after a night drinking watered down amaretto sours (because we were nothing if not classy).

That night, Jenny, Lily and I headed out to parties, leaving Marie behind to work on her key to Phi Beta (which she got!). The next morning Jenny and I are in the kitchen making coffee, while Marie was reading the Sunday NYT.  I suddenly remember the kuchen.  The bright light of the morning seemed a bit more mellow with the thought of homemade pastry. 

“Jenny!! We have kuchen! Pull it out!”

“Why are you yelling? It sounds as though a freight train is running through my head.”

“That’s why we need the kuchen, babe.  Hand it to me and I’ll put it in the oven to warm.”  Jenny’s head disappeared into the refrigerator and I hear a muffled voice.

“It’s not here.  Did you freeze it?”

“No, I put it on the bottom shelf last night. Just keep looking.  You can’t be that hungover.”

“I’m telling you there’s no kuchen in here. There’s milk, a half eaten lasagna, some rotten lettuce and condiments. No kuchen.”  It’s at this point that Marie’s little voice pipes up.

“Um. I have to tell you something.”

“Hold on a second. We’re on the hunt for the missing kuchen.”

“Yeah. Um. About that.  I ate it.”  I stop pouring coffee and look out over the kitchen island to the dining room where Marie is sitting.

“What do you mean you ate it? Like you had some of it? Who cares. Where’d you put the rest, though?”

“No, no. I ate the kuchen.” Now Jenny’s head has popped out of the fridge and she’s staring at Marie like she’s speaking another language.

“You ate an entire kuchen? By yourself? In one night? Who does that?”

Marie looks stricken, but is trying really hard not to laugh.  “No. I mean, yes. I ate the entire kuchen.  But it’s not what you think.”

“What I think is that you ate an entire kuchen, Marie. BY YOURSELF.  How am I wrong?”  This from Jenny, whose head looked like the freight train may come rumbling out at any minute.

“Ok. Technically, I ate the entire kuchen by myself. But listen to what happened!  I was working and you all were gone and I was sitting there and I remembered the kuchen.  So I went and I got a slice.  And then I went back to work.  And it was taking me a lot longer to finish this chapter that I need to get done to keep on schedule and so I made some tea and remembered the kuchen and so I had another slice.  And then it got later and I got more tired and I thought some sugar would help, so I got another slice and then…. Well then the slices started to add up and it was gone.” 

It was at this point that the tears started rolling down my face I was laughing so hard.  I could barely breathe, but managed to ask, “So your plan for staying up all night was to inhale a whole cake?  At what point did you figure out that that wasn’t the best idea?”

“Um… after it was gone and I realized I’d have to tell you guys what I did.”  By now Marie’s head is down on the table and all I can see are her shoulders shaking from laughter.  “I’m sorry, but the good news is that I finished my chapter.”

“Well, thank goodness for that,” piped in Jenny, who was not seeing the same humor.  “God forbid a kuchen my mom slaved over was sacrificed for no reason!”  This got us started laughing again as Jenny stormed out of the kitchen.

“Jen!! I’ll make you another one! I promise! I’ll get the recipe from your mom. Don’t be mad.”  But Jenny was already in her room, door slammed and didn’t hear.  Her dramatic exit started us laughing again.

“Marie.  Really. Did you eat the whole thing?”

“I did. And it was good. I’d do it again.”

Present day: Marie and I are still friends and still laugh over the kuchen.  We’ve lost touch with Jenny (not over the kuchen episode, although I’m sure that didn’t help) and we miss her and her mom’s baked goods.  I don’t know if Marie ever made Jenny a make up kuchen, but I saw fresh peaches yesterday and I knew I had to give it try.  Since I’ve never actually tasted one, I have no idea if this is real deal, but just getting to tell this story is dessert enough….

Peach Kuchen (adapted from allrecipes.com)

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