December 30, 2012

Best of 2012

After the shit of a year that was 2011, I had high hopes for 2012....and it did not disappoint. Overall, this has been a fairly satisfying year. I won the area Teacher of the Year award in April, for which I was nominated by my students. I had a fun, relaxing summer. I finished fall semester with only missing two days and without any major break-downs.

In fact, most of 2012 was pretty stress-free. Who knew that life could be so peaceful!

I had a very low-key holiday this year....hanging out at home with Corey and the pup. But, I wouldn’t want it any other way. One night, as all three of us were snuggled in bed, I thought “I love my little family.” Pure happiness.

Sometimes I find it hard to be thankful for things. But not lately. I am so very thankful for Corey, the best friend, best partner I’ve ever had. I’m even thankful for my damn dog Arlo. He’s a pain in the ass sometimes most of the time, but I love him still.

My goals for 2013 are to keep focused on living a happy (aka "simple & beautiful") life, keep cooking & learning new recipes (like cassoulet, ramen noodles, and macarons), save money for a summer 2014 trip to Paris (to celebrate my 40th birthday), buy a new car this summer (I have my eye on a Fiat 500 or a new VW Beetle), read more about/by Jack Kerouac and F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald, and work my way through the growing stack of books I keep accumulating.

But, before we start a new year, let's look back on some of my favorite posts, recipes, and photos of 2012:

December 11, 2012

Classic Spritz Cookies

In an effort to ward of my usual holiday funk, I'd planned on doing one festive thing each day in December. I even made a list of 55 activities (from eating candy canes to going ice skating) to choose from. It sounds like a great idea, right?


My December started off busy and stressful, and I simply didn't feel like being all holly-jolly every damn day. I did put out some decorations around the house (though, no tree this year) while listening to carols, watch Elf, make some gifts, do some online shopping, plan a menu for Christmas Eve dinner, continue knitting that scarf I started two years ago, and participate in my school's Secret Santa gift exchange. So, I haven't been completely scroogey.

Next week, once the semester winds down and I'm not drowning in things-to-be-graded, I'll hang some more lights around the house and do some holiday baking...gingerbread, pie, fudge, and cookies. Lots of cookies. Because my favorite part of Christmas is the cookies after all.

My Grandma Green always made spritz cookies for the holidays; green Christmas trees with sprinkles were my favorite. I bought a cookie press several years ago and always use the recipe that came with it...a recipe that calls for 3 sticks of butter! THREE STICKS OF BUTTER...what could be wrong? 

Classic Spritz Cookies
recipe from Pampered Chef

makes 6-7 dozen cookies

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
colored sugar or sprinkles (optional)
  • Preheat oven to 375°F. 
  • In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar on medium speed of electric mixer about 3 minutes or until creamy, scraping down sides as necessary. Add egg and vanilla; beat well. Add flour; mix on low speed just until blended, scraping down sides as necessary. (Dough will be soft; do not refrigerate.)
  • Fit a cookie press with the desired disk; fill with dough. Press dough 1 inch apart onto a silicone-mat lined cookie sheet. Decorate cookies with colored sugar or sprinkles, if desired.
  • Bake 10-12 minutes or until edges are light golden brown. Cool cookies 2 minutes on the cookie sheet, then remove to cooling rack. Repeat with remaining dough.

December 3, 2012

Apple Pie, American Gothic Style

Remember when I mentioned that I was reading Making Piece back in September? Well, there's more to that story...

At the end of the summer, Corey and I took a roadtrip to Des Moines for the Iowa State Fair (foods on sticks!). On the way there, we saw one of those brown tourist attraction roadside signs in the middle of Iowa for the American Gothic House. Here's how it went in my head:

Does that mean what I think it means? I dunno, what do you think it means? That's the house in Grant Wood's American Gothic painting? Could be, look it up. OH MY GOD, it IS the house. Go, go, take the next exit!!

Sure enough...there is was:

Just like in Wood's iconic painting:

At the little visitors' center across from the house, we got dressed up and took our own American Gothic photo:

We also learned that a woman named Beth Howard actually LIVES there. We were told that she rents the house from the state, runs a pie stand out of the house on the weekends (summers only), and writes a blog. It sounded vaguely familiar, so when we got back into the car I looked up her blog. Beth wrote the memoir Making Piece, which the Novel Cuisine book club class at Kitchen Conservatory had just read. I hadn't read the book yet myself, so I decided to get a copy as soon as I got home.

When I finished the book, I emailed the author about scheduling a pie-baking class. So, yesterday we drove 4 hours (one way) to Eldon, Iowa, with a group of our foodie/blogger friends to bake apple pies with Beth IN THE HOUSE.

November 30, 2012

Creamy Tomato Soup from Panera

I've been a "Featured Publisher" with FoodBuzz (now DailyBuzz Food) since December 2007. One of the perks of this relationship is occasional offers to try products, sample menu items, and review cookbooks. I usually decline such offers (unless it's for a cookbook, as I'll always say YES to free books), but when asked if I'd try some of Panera's new soups I gladly agreed (I do like Panera, which started out as the St. Louis Bread Company, though I don't eat there often).

So, as part of the DailyBuzz Food Tastemaker program, I received a gift card and stipend from Panera to do so. All opinions, however, are my own.

Panera's soup menu changes every day. There are five varieties offered daily, with two additional seasonal selections that switch each day. I chose the creamy tomato soup paired with a "Big Kid Grilled Cheese" (three cheese with bacon). I just couldn't pass up my favorite classic soup & sandwich combination.

According to the Panera Soup Stories webpage, they use whole pear tomatoes in this soup for a more intense flavor, less bitterness, and a nice texture that's not just a smooth puree. The soup is topped with asiago croutons, which are meant to mimic the flavors & textures of a grilled cheese.

I was happy with my choices; the soup is boldly flavored (instead of tasting like watery tomato juice, a curse of many tomato soups) with a generous topping of croutons. It made for a satisfying & comforting dinner on a cold November evening. 

* * *
Can't make it out to a Panera to try their new soups? Then, make some of your own at home! Here are some of my favorite soup recipes:


November 25, 2012

Homemade Twinkies

By now, you've all heard that Hostess has gone out of business, stopping production at their plants and selling their assets. According to the Hostess Brands website: "In addition to dozens of baking and distribution facilities around the country, Hostess Brands will sell its popular brands, including Hostess, Drakes and Dolly Madison, which make iconic cake products such as Twinkies, CupCakes, Ding Dongs, Ho Ho’s, Sno Balls and Donettes. Bread brands to be sold include Wonder, Nature’s Pride, Merita, Home Pride, Butternut, and Beefsteak, among others."

The closing is noted as the result of a union workers' strike. However, it seems as if Hostess has been struggling for a while. I would think it was in part due to a backlash against overly-processed, high fructose-laden foods. Steve Ettlinger's book Twinkie, Deconstructed certainly didn't help, I'm sure.

While I don't typically buy or eat Hostess snack cakes, the closing makes me a little sad. It really is the end of an era. It's a little weird to think that future generations won't know what a Twinkie or a Ding Dong tastes like (ah, nostalgia)...unless we make them ourselves.

Last year, I made homemade Twinkies for my College English class. We were studying food issues; we watched the documentary Food, Inc. and read excerpts from Ettlinger's book. I wanted my students to realize how bad fast food, processed foods, and sugar was for them. So, I brought in a box of Twinkies (which are made of 37 ingredients) to compare with my homemade version. Everyone thought the homemade cakes tasted better; the "real" Twinkies were just too sweet and sticky.

I used an eclair pan to get that classic Twinkie shape.

The cakes were filled with a fluffy vanilla frosting. Don't they look just like "real" Twinkies?

 Homemade Twinkies
recipe from Leite's Culinaria

makes 12 snack cakes

Nonstick cooking spray or vegetable oil 
1/2 cup cake flour 
1/4 cup all-purpose flour 
1 teaspoon baking powder 
1/4 teaspoon salt 
2 tablespoons milk, preferably whole 
4 tablespoons unsalted butter 
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 
5 large eggs, at room temperature 
3/4 cup granulated sugar 
1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter
Seven-Minute Frost, for the filling (recipe below)
  • Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) and adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position. Coat a cream canoe/eclair pan with non-stick cooking spray or vegetable oil. (If you don't have a pan, click HERE for directions on how to make molds out of aluminum foil.)
  • Whisk the flours, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl.
  • Heat the milk and butter in a small saucepan over low heat until the butter melts. Remove from the heat add the vanilla. Cover to keep warm.
  • Separate the eggs, placing the whites in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or, if using a hand mixer or whisk, a large mixing bowl) and reserving the yolks in another bowl. Beat the whites on high speed until foamy. Gradually add 6 tablespoons of the sugar and the cream of tartar and continue to beat until the whites reach soft, moist peaks.
  • Transfer the beaten egg whites to a large bowl and add the egg yolks to the standing mixer bowl—there’s no need to clean the bowl (or, if using a hand mixer or whisk, simply place the egg yolks in a separate large bowl). Beat the egg yolks with the remaining 6 tablespoons sugar on medium-high speed until the mixture is very thick and a pale lemon color, about 5 minutes. Add the beaten egg whites to the yolks, but do not mix.
  • Sprinkle the flour mixture over the egg whites and then mix everything on low speed for just 10 seconds (or, if using a hand mixer or whisk, until blended but not thoroughly combined). Remove the bowl from the mixer, make a well in one side of the batter, and pour the melted butter mixture into the bowl. Fold gently with a large rubber spatula until the batter shows no trace of flour and the whites and yolks are evenly mixed, about 8 strokes.
  • Immediately scrape the batter into the prepared pan, filling each with about 3/4 inch of batter. Bake until the cake tops are light brown and feel firm and spring back when touched, 13 to 15 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and allow the cakes to cool in the molds.
  • Just before filling, remove each cake from the pan. Using the end of a chopstick, poke three holes in the bottom of each cake, just like in the bottom of real Twinkies. Wiggle the tip of the chopstick around quite a lot to make room for the filling.
  • Transfer the frosting to a pastry bag fit with a small tip (about 1/4 inch across). Pipe the frosting into the holes you created in the bottom of the cakes. As you fill each cake, hold it in your hand and press your palm gently around it so you can feel the cake expand, taking care not to overfill and crack the cake.
Seven-Minute Frosting (Filling)

3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
3 large egg whites
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  •  In the metal bowl of a stand mixer set over a saucepan of simmering water (make sure the bowl doesn't touch the water), combine the sugar, corn syrup, 3 tablespoons of water, egg whites, and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar has completely dissolved, about 3-4 minutes.
  • Attack the bowl to the mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat on high speed until glossy, thick, billowing peaks form, about 7 minutes (duh).
  • Beat in the vanilla & use immediately.

November 17, 2012

Cranberry & Apple Salad

I really miss family holidays. I fondly remember going to my grandma & grandpa's house in Mt. Olive, Illinois, the night before Thanksgiving. We get up really early in the morning to put the turkey in the oven, then Grandpa would make eggs-in-a-cup (coddled eggs in coffee cups) for breakfast. They'd let me drink coffee, before I was even ten years old.

Grandma Martin, circa 1940s in Florida (?)
Grandpa Martin, United States Marine

I'd watch my grandma make dressing with lots of torn-up white bread, celery, onions, sage, and turkey broth. I'd help pop cranberries in the old metal grinder for her infamous cranberry salad. These two dishes were my favorites, and I usually still make them each year.

This year is no exception. I've been invited to The Mom's house for Thanksgiving dinner (first time meeting her...eeeeek!). I'm bringing a Bailey's caramel chocolate pie and Grandma Martin's cranberry salad.

Cranberry & Apple Salad 

 Grandma's recipe looks just like this one from The Food Channel, even though they have different ingredients.

 It simply doesn't seem like Thanksgiving without this side dish. 
More like a relish than a salad, this is what my family always served instead of cranberry sauce.

1 bag fresh cranberries
2 red-skinned apples (like Jonathans), cored & cut into wedges
1/2 cup sugar (or more to taste)
1 cup pecans, chopped
  • Pop the cranberries & mush the apples by running them through a meat grinder. Grandma always used the old fashioned metal kind that attached to the counter (in fact, I don't remember her using it for anything else!). If you don't have a meat grinder, pulse the cranberries in a food processor just to pop them. You want this to be fairly chunky.
  • Mix in the sugar & pecans. Taste. Add more sugar until it's sweet enough for you.
  • Serve as a side dish with Thanksgiving dinner.
This also makes a great relish for turkey sandwiches...and you can make some tasty cranberry muffins with the leftovers!

November 15, 2012

Pumpkin Icebox Cheesecake

It seems as if the holidays are officially upon us. Thanksgiving is next week (already?), and I noticed today that Santa will be arriving at the mall on Saturday.


This year, I'll try to focus on the aspects I enjoy about the holidays...namely the food. And the booze.

Here is an easy, no-bake dessert that's perfectly acceptable for your upcoming holiday meals. It's quick to assemble & requires overnight refrigeration, so it's great for making the night before a dinner party or family gathering.

Pumpkin Icebox Cheesecake

16 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
15 ounces pure pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
28 graham cracker sheets
2 cups pecans, toasted & roughly chopped
  • Beat the cream cheese and the sugars until smooth. Add pumpkin, half-and-half, salt, spices, & vanilla and beat until smooth and fluffy. 
  • Lay enough graham crackers in a 9x9 inch pan to cover the bottom (break to fit if necessary). Spread a quarter of pumpkin mixture over the crackers. Layer 3 more times, ending with the pumpkin mixture*. Sprinkle with the pecans.
  • Cover & chill overnight before serving. 
*The more layers this has, the better it is. So, spread the pumpkin on as thinly as possible, while still covering the graham crackers completely.

November 10, 2012

Green Curry Stew

I'd never made curry paste from scratch, so I tried this recipe recently. This makes a soupy kind of curry, perfect for serving over rice or rice noodles. Be careful not to cook the stew too long after adding the green vegetables, as they will start to gray if overcooked (as you can see in the photo). 
This is a fairly mild curry, but you can spice it up by adding more peppers to the paste (or using 3-4 serrano chiles instead of jalapenos) and adding more spicy to the finished stew.

Green Curry Stew
recipe adapted from Martha Stewart

serves 4-6

For the curry paste:
1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 large jalapeno chile, seeded & sliced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro or parsley
zest of 1 lemon
3 large garlic cloves
2 green onions
2 tablespoons chopped & peeled fresh ginger
zest of 1 lime
juice of 2 limes

For the stew: 
2 ounces spinach (1 cup)
1 can (14 ounces) unsweetened regular coconut milk
1 can (14 ounces) unsweetened light coconut milk
1 cup chicken stock
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced 1-inch thick
2 cups broccoli florets
2 cups haricot verts, cut in half
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
3/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • To make the curry paste: Blend all the ingredients in a blender or food processor. (Curry paste can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks or frozen for up to 3 months.)
  • To make the stew: Puree 5 tablespoons curry paste, the spinach, and 1 cup regular coconut milk in a blender until smooth. Reserve remaining curry paste for another use.
  • Bring remaining regular coconut milk, the light coconut milk, and the stock to a boil in a medium Dutch oven or heavy stockpot. Reduce heat, stir in curry-spinach mixture, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the chicken, zucchini, broccoli, & green beans and cook until chicken is cooked through & vegetables are slightly tender, about 10 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, & cayenne (if you want more heat). Remove from the heat & stir in the basil.
  • Serve over cooked rice or noodles.

November 5, 2012

Stovetop Rice Pudding for Emergencies

Dinner tonight was some kalamata olive hummus (via Trader Joe's) with pita chips and a bowl of stovetop rice pudding...something warm and soothing on this cold and dreary pre-election evening.

Rice pudding is traditionally made by either cooking raw white rice and sweetened milk in the oven for a couple hours or cooking the raw rice and milk on the stove, then slowly adding beaten eggs and sugar. I've even seen recipes that call for simmering cooked white rice with milk and spices.

Those recipes have never appealed to me. Rice pudding as always ranked low on my dessert spectrum, right below tapioca pudding. I just don't want chunks in my should-be-smooth-and-creamy sweets. That is, until I saw Nigella Lawson's version.

Nigella, people. That means that this rice pudding is probably the sexiest rice pudding you've ever seen.

The Domestic Goddess's recipe is essentially a sweet risotto (which seems to make a lot of culinary sense to me). Caramel-coated arborio rice is cooked slowly with warm milk gradually added and finished with heavy cream and vanilla. I sweetened mine with honey (instead of sugar) and threw in some spiced rum-soaked raisins at the end.

Stovetop Rice Pudding for Emergencies
recipe & photo from Nigella Bites

Nigella Lawson writes: "For those days when you just can't wait the three hours for proper, old-fashioned rice pudding, this is what you need. In fact, it's just a sweet risotto, with warm milk substituted for the stock. This does mean that the rice takes longer to cook--and what's more, you want it rather less al dente than is usually desirable--but it's the best I can offer. Anyway, you can't, on eating this, resent one moment of your stoveside-stirring captivity."

2 3/4 cup whole milk
1 heaping tablespoon unsalted butter
2-3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup arborio rice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (or vanilla bean paste)
2-3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • Heat the milk (on medium-low heat) in a pan that preferably has a lip, which will make pouring easier (or give it a couple of minutes in a plastic or glass measuring cup in the microwave). When it's about to boil (but don't let it), turn off the heat. 
  • Melt the butter and a tablespoonful of the sugar in a heavy-based pan. When hissing away in a glorious pale caramelly pool, add the rice and stir to coat stickily. 
  • Gradually add the milk (I added 1/4 cup at a time), stirring the rice all the time, and letting each swoosh of milk get absorbed into the consequently swelling rice before adding the next bit. 
  • To see when it's ready, start tasting at 20 minutes, but be prepared to go on for 35. You may want to add more milk, too (and if the rice tastes cooked before all the milk's absorbed, don't use all of it).
  • When the rice feels as it should, thick and sticky and creamy, take it off the heat and beat in another tablespoonful or more of sugar (or honey), the vanilla, and as much of the cream of you like. Think of this as the mantecatura: the final addition to a risotto, to thicken and add fat-globular volume, normally of butter and grated Parmesan; indeed just add butter if you haven't got any cream in the house.
Serves 1, according to Nigella. But, it's easily enough for 2.

November 1, 2012

Winter Cooking Classes

Kitchen Conservatory's winter schedule is now posted online. To register, call Kitchen Conservatory at 314-862-2665 or register online.

My new menus include a wine pairing class with wine distributor Kyle Harsha (January 12), a rum inspired couples class (January 20), & a pie-baking class on Pi day (March 14). I'll also be repeating my newest kids' class, which will make foods from the Hunger Games (including homemade goat cheese), on February 23.

Hope to see you there!

  • We'll enjoy beer cheese fondue with soft pretzels, local lager with spicy Sriracha chicken wings, fruity Belgian wheat beer with grilled scallops and corn salad, plus creamy stout with chocolate hazelnut cake and vanilla ice cream. 
MATCHMAKERS - Jan. 12 @ 6:30-9:00 (demonstration)
  • Kyle Harsha, of Vintegrity Fine Wines and Spirits, and I prove that it is not which wines to match with food, but rather how to prepare your food to perfectly balance with your favorite types of wine! All of the specific wines will be hand-selected by Kyle from small batch wineries. Enjoy an outrageous evening, starting with truffled popcorn to highlight the butteriness of chardonnay, aromatic sautéed lemon grass & lime shrimp with riesling, seared beef tenderloin with mushroom-cabernet sauce paired with cabernet, plus stilton, pears, and dark chocolate truffles served with port. 
DATE NIGHT FOR COUPLES: READY TO RUM-BLE - Jan. 20 @ 5:00-7:30 (hands-on)
  • Learn to prepare coconut bisque with rum flambé, macadamia-crusted scallops with rum beurre blanc, jerk pork tenderloin with spiced rum glaze, Caribbean rice, mini-hot buttered rum cheesecakes with caramel sauce, plus a piña-limonada cocktail.
HEIR AND A PARENT: THE HUNGER GAMES - Feb. 23 @ 10:30-1:00 (hands-on)
  • Suzanne Collins’s popular book series is filled with vivid descriptions of food, especially the decadent meals eaten by the tributes in the Capital. Learn to prepare some of Katniss’s favorite foods, including District 11's crescent moon poppy seed rolls, Prim's goat cheese-basil bundles, The Capital's chicken in orange cream sauce with steamed rice, Cinna’s honey pudding and Mr. Mellark's sugar cookies. And may the odds be ever in your favor! This class is designed for children, at least 7 years of age, plus a parent. 
CALCULATING π - March 14 @ 6:30-9:00 (hands-on)
  • The formula for exceptional pie on 3.14 is fairly straightforward, as this hands-on class discovers the ratio of the circumference of the crust to its diameter! Join me to create four stunning pies, including classic apple pie with salted caramel sauce, individual peanut butter-banana cream pies with chocolate crumb crust, poached pear and almond tart, plus coconut key lime pie with ginger-graham cracker crust.
DATE NIGHT FOR COUPLES: SALSA SALSA DINE AND DANCE - March 16 @ 6:00-9:00 (hands-on)
  • Grab your partner and join us for a unique experience of dancing and dining. The evening begins with a one-hour Latin salsa dance lesson with a dance instructor from COCA, that will spark your appetite for an incredible evening in the kitchen. Refresh your thirst with a mojito, as this hands-on class prepares fried corn tortilla chips with black bean dip, grilled shrimp quesadillas with smoked tomato salsa, roasted pork tenderloin with papaya-mango salsa and yellow Cuban rice, plus banana cream pie with chocolate crumb crust.
DATE NIGHT FOR COUPLES: SUSHI U FOR TWO - April 14 @ 5:00-7:30 (hands-on)
  • This class will create tempura-fried shrimp rolls, sesame tuna hand rolls, unagi smoked eel rolls, spicy scallop rolls, hot-smoked salmon rolls with mango and jalapeño, plus ginger-peach green tea ice cream - all served with cold beer.

October 27, 2012

Pumpkin Spice Pina Colada

I got to sample this cocktail at Kitchen Conservatory last night and thought is was a genius idea...refreshing & fruity yet seasonally festive, something a bit different for the holiday season. This was so good that I'll I'm thinking of making a few for an upcoming backyard bonfire. Kudos to Barb Nack, who served this drink in her Girls' Night Out class.

Pumpkin Spice Pina Colada

Kelly's note: I reduced the ice by half for each drink. If you like an icier beverage, use a full cup of cubes.

For each drink:

2 ounces Coco Lopez cream of coconut
2 ounces pineapple juice
1 ounce spiced rum
1/2 cup of ice
dash of pumpkin pie spice, for garnish (recipe below)
cinnamon sticks, for garnish

Mix all ingredients, except the pumpkin pie spice & cinnamon stick, in a blender and whiz until smooth. Pour into a glass, add a cinnamon stick & sprinkle with a pinch or two of pumpkin pie spice.

If you stir the drink gently with the cinnamon stick, you'll create a spicy swirl. Yum.

For the pumpkin pie spice:

1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice or cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Stir to blend in a small bowl.

October 13, 2012

Halloween Menu Ideas

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. least it used to be. I think I've gotten to the point that I've out-grown it. I used to throw pretty wild "Tarts & Vicars" costume parties, but some resulting drama put an end to that years ago. Plus, I don't have kids to dress up and trick-or-treat with. In fact, I've begun to loathe trick-or-treaters around's usually just a bunch of teenagers sans costumes. I'm now the grumpy old lady who keeps her porch light off and her curtains shut.

This year, I'm hosting a two-person dinner party and monster movie marathon. I'm planning a simple supper: black & orange cheese and fruit platter, green curry, and caramel popcorn.

In thinking about my Halloween menu, I wanted something sophisticated but easy, festive but not childish. As a result of my research, I started a list of grown-up party menus. Then, I asked a couple of my favorite foodie/blogger friends to contribute a round-up of recipes. Here's what we came up with...

Black & Orange Cocktail Party:

The "sinister spread" from Martha Stewart
Black velvet cocktail
Blood orange margarita
Candy corn vodka martini

Black & blue cheese log 
Black olive tapenade with orange & white crudite (endive, fennel, cauliflower, daikon radish, jicama, orange bell pepper, baby carrots)
Deviled eggs with pimento cheese & smoked paprika 
Poppy seed & cheddar cheese ball
Roasted carrot dip
Roasted sweet potato slices topped with black bean hummus

Chocolate caramel marshmallow pops
Chocolate cupcakes with orange cream cheese frosting
Chocolate pumpkin pie bars

It's all about the Boos!
Festive cocktails complied by Ruth Sparrow

 Ghostly spirits from BHG

Monster Movie Marathon Munchies:

Zombirella's Frankencake
"Death in the Afternoon" cocktail 
Caramel apple martini
Green olive tapenade with crackers
Garlicky kale salad
Ricotta & chive gnocchi with kale pesto
Grasshopper macarons
(And LOOK...a whole menu inspired by The Bride of Frankenstein!)

Pumpkin Feast:

Nigel Slater's hot, sweet baked pumpkin

Pumpkin juice (recipe below)  
Pumpkin hummus with pita chips
Grilled salmon (or chicken or pork) with pumpkin-molasses barbeque sauce 
Pumpkin & red lentil soup
Pumpkin-pecan pie

Day of the Dead Dinner:

 Sugar skull sugar cookies from Sugarbelle

Pan de muerto (bread of the dead)
Dulce de Calabaza (candied pumpkin)

Autumnal Desserts:

Candied apples from Just a Taste

Bourbon sweet potato cupcakes
French pear tart
Maple cake with maple syrup frosting
Mini cranberry meringue pies 
Pumpkin muffins
Salted caramel sauce
S'mores with maple-bacon marshmallows & dark chocolate
S'more shooters
Spiced apple sorbet

Black & White Bash
 compiled by Laura of Food Snob STL

 Black and white cookies from Smitten Kitchen


Pumpkin Juice
inspired by J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series

2 quarts apple juice, divided
1 piece fresh ginger (about 2-inches), sliced
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 28-oz. can pumpkin puree
bourbon or spiced rum, optional
  • Pour 3 cups of the apple juice into a saucepan; add the ginger slices, cinnamon stick, and cloves. Bring the mixture to a boil, turn down to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes.
  • Remove from heat, add the honey and brown sugar, and stir to dissolve.
  • Add the pumpkin puree & remaining apple juice. Refrigerate the mixture until well-chilled.
  • To serve an adult beverage, add a shot of bourbon or spiced rum to a glass of ice. Fill with the pumpkin juice.
Note: If the mixture is too thick for your liking, strain it through a mesh-strainer before serving.   

September 27, 2012

Better-Than-Sex French Silk Pie

In the middle of a rather trying work week, as I was reading the last 100 pages of Beth Howard’s memoir Making Piece, I was overwhelmed with a pie craving. All of Howard’s talk of the healing powers of pie finally got to me: I NEEDED to make pie. I was feeling a little sad (and angry) that evening, so I raided the kitchen for pie ingredients. A small bag of frozen strawberries wasn’t going to cut it, but I did have a can of pumpkin puree in the pantry...mixed with a couple eggs, some milk, sugar, and spices...and a pumpkin pie was in the oven in less than 30 minutes. The pie was an homage to the approaching autumn, which I am looking forward to after a miserably hot and dry summer. The golden pumpkin pie came out of the oven at 8:30 that night. I stayed up reading until it was cool enough to slice and eat.

And you know what? I felt better. There is definitely something to this pie therapy. As Howard says, "Pie may not cure cancer, but it could cure the blues."

But, I’ve always been smitten with pie. Even though I learned to make pie crust several years ago, I am still so happy every time I make a start off with a bunch of individual ingredients and end up with something that I made from scratch with my own hands, something that is an entity in and of itself, that is completely different from the pile of things I started out with. Flour, salt, butter, and water become a tender, flaky, golden crust. Fruit, sugar, and cornstarch become a sweet, sticky filling. It's a comfort to create something that makes people happy. The fact that it tastes good doesn't hurt either.

I get it, Beth. I really do. (And yes, we are on a first name basis now. More on that in a couple months. *wink*)

In fact, I get a lot of what Beth was feeling about life and love and loss. And sex. She talks about sex pretty frequently. Of course, sex and food are often closely linked in terms of satisfaction. Pie really is quite sexy (the words itself is sexy.....say it soft and slow..... p i e ). Also, ALL THE PUNS. See...?

September 3, 2012

Honey Plum Clafoutis

I recently read Susan Loomis's memoir On Rue Tatin, her story of "living and cooking in a French town." It is a quaint tale, one filled with walks to the local pâtisserie & boulangerie, shopping at the farmers market, trips to Paris, and eating meals outside in the courtyard...all while renovating a historic country home. Her chapters are, like most food memoirs, punctuated with recipes inspired by the local fare & contributed by neighbors and friends.

Near the end of my reading, I was motivated to buy a little metal table and chairs for my front porch so that I could take my meals outside. I picked up some small, deep purple plums at my local farmers market (which I'm lucky enough to have just a few blocks from my house) and decided to make the clafoutis recipe Loomis included in her book. She writes:
I was standing in line to buy pears at the market in Louviers from a handsome young pear grower. The elderly woman next to me was being very choosy about the state of her pears and their variety, and I asked her what she was going to do with them. "I'm going to make a clafoutis," she said with a mischievous look. "Oh, no. Everyone who tastes it says it is the best they've ever eaten."
The addition of honey is what Loomis says makes this recipe unique. The technique is also different that the traditional clafoutis I've seen; instead of mixing the batter in a blender, it is folded with whisked egg whites. The result is a kind of double-layered dessert...custard & fruit on the bottom with cake on the top.

Honey Plum Clafouti

August 19, 2012

Sole Meuniére

Famed chef and cookbook author Julia Child would have turned 100 on August 15. Child learned to cook at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris in her mid-thirties & worked for years on her tome Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the first book to bring classic French food into American kitchens.

Julia and her husband Paul arrived in France on November 3, 1948. Her first French meal, at Restaurant La Couronne in Rouen, featured sole meuniére, oysters on the half-shell, a green salad, her "first real baguette," fromage blanc, and a bottle of Pouilly-Fume.

In the opening pages of her memoir My Life in France, Julia writes:
Rouen is famous for its duck dishes, but after consulting the waiter Paul had decided to order sole meunière. It arrived whole: a large, flat Dover sole that was perfectly browned in a sputtering butter sauce with a sprinkling of chopped parsley on top. [...]
I closed my eyes and inhaled the rising perfume. Then I lifted a forkful of fish to my mouth, took a bite, and chewed slowly. The flesh of the sole was delicate, with a light but distinct taste of the ocean that blended marvelously with the browned butter. I chewed slowly and swallowed. It was a morsel of perfection.
[...] at La Couronne I experienced fish, and a dining experience, of a higher order than any I'd ever had before. [...] Our first lunch together in France had been absolute perfection. It was the most exciting meal of my life.
Julia later admits that the meal was "the standard by which [she] would now measure every eatery."

That lunch is my favorite scene in Julie & Julia; Meryl Streep as Julia Child is emotionally overwhelmed with the first bite of sole meunière, a dish that seems so delicious that she cannot express her satisfaction in words. It's a moving scene that nearly brings me to tears every time I watch it.

In "The Whole Fish Story" episode of The French Chef, Julia calls sole "one of the glories of French Fishery." Sadly, we can't get authentic Dover Sole in the United States. The fishes that are sold as "sole" here are all flounders, which is a similar fish.  Julia explained:
The great difference between the true sole and all other of the flat flounder type of fishes is that you can easily peel the skin from a sole but not flounder; They must be filleted first before removing the skin.
In honor of Julia's 100th birthday, I prepared this historic dish for myself tonight.

I carefully dredged the delicate, white filets & cooked them. I smiled as the hot browned butter made the lemon juice and parsley sizzle on the plate. I took the first bite while standing in the kitchen. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine what Julia was thinking when she took her first bite. I could instantly understand why she was so smitten. It was quite delicious. I savored each bite...the nuttiness from the browned butter, the slight tartness from the lemon juice, the freshness from the parsley, the sweetness from the fish. 

It was, dare I say it, a little bit magical...even in my midwestern kitchen on a late summer Sunday evening.
Sole Meuniére

recipe slightly adapted from The Culinary Institute of America
Serves 2
2 sole filets
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
pinch of fresly-ground black pepper
All-purpose flour, for dredging, as needed
2 ounces clarified butter
juice from 1 lemon
2 tablespoons chopped parsley 
1 ounces whole butter 
  • Season the fish with salt & pepper; dredge in flour.
  • Sauté the fish in a large sauté pan in the clarified butter over medium heat until lightly browned and cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes per side.
  • Transfer the fish to a serving platter and sprinkle with the parsley & lemon juice.
  • Wipe out the pan and add the butter. Heat the butter until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes, then pour over the fish.
The CIA says, "Dover Sole is classically served whole and filleted tableside. Steamed potatoes are an excellent accompaniment." On her cooking show, Julia recommended serving the dish with parsley potatoes, cucumber salad, and Riesling. I ate mine with a bottle of white Bordeaux and steamed broccolini to soak up the remaining buttery, lemony sauce.

And what was left, I literally licked clean...standing with my empty plate over the sink. I got butter in my hair.

I think Julia would approve.

* * * * * * * * * *

Here are a few other of Julia Child's recipes that I've made:

Boeuf Bourguignon
Lobster Thermidor 
Oeufs Brouilles (scrambled eggs) 
Potage Parmentier (potato & leek soup)
Soupe a L'Oignon (Onion Soup)

August 7, 2012

Pickled Watermelon Rind with Hibiscus

This recipe comes from a new canning book by Laena McCarthy (owner of Anarchy in a Jar) called Jam On: The Craft of Canning Fruit.

The book includes classic recipes along with some pretty interesting sounding ones..including spiced beer jelly, raspberry rye whiskey jam, pear jam with chipotle, garlic & tarragon jelly, green tomato chutney, pickled strawberries, sour cherry liqueur, and grapefruit & smoked salt marmalade (which I will be trying next).

The last chapter "Pairings" features recipes to make with the fruits you've jammed, jellied, pickled & canned. 

I chose to try the pickled watermelon rind with hibiscus & spices for a couple reasons: (1) I've never eaten pickled watermelon rind, and (2) I had half of a watermelon sitting in my fridge.

The recipe calls for hibiscus flowers, which I assume were meant to be the kind of dried flowers you find in hibiscus teas. I used wild hibiscus flowers in syrup, but the final product wasn't as pinkly-tinted as I imagine you'd get if you used hibiscus tea.

Still, these pickles were quite good...sweet, slightly tart, with a firm texture. I ate them as McCarthy suggests with buttery, oozing Brillat-Savarin cheese on a hot baguette.

She also recommends pairing these with barbecued baby back ribs, adding them to a prosciutto/melon/argula salad, and sandwiching them in a grilled cheese.

Pickled Watermelon Rind with Hibiscus

August 2, 2012

Fall 2012 Cooking Classes

Kitchen Conservatory's fall schedule is now posted online. To register, call Kitchen Conservatory at 314-862-2665 or register online.

My new menus include a pasta class for kids (September 1), a stovetop shrimp boil (September 23), a girls' night out inspired by my friend Iron Stef featuring all kinds of BALLS (October 27), a Mexican themed girls' night out (November 3), and the ultimate holiday cocktail party (December 9).

Hope to see you there!

FRANK 'N STEIN - August 26 @ 1:00-3:30 (hands-on)
  • Let's create serious fun in the lab kitchen as this hands-on class concocts sesame-honey pork meatballs, grilled local salsiccia with grilled fennel relish, sweet corn pudding, seared romaine with balsamic vinaigrette, plus chocolate whoopie pies with salted caramel filling. Enjoy two beer pairings that have been perfectly calculated.
THE APPRENTICE CHEF: ON TOP OF SPAGHETTI - September 1 @ 10:30-12:30 (hands-on)
  • For aspiring chefs, children from ages 7 to 12. Keep your eye on the meatball, so that it doesn't roll off the table, and spend a fun morning creating homemade spaghetti noodles. Learn to make three sauces, including marinara sauce, cheesy Alfredo sauce, plus meatballs and sauce. Finish with chocolate gelato for dessert.
  • Forget the porridge, chair, and sleeping - the three tastings of beer will be just right and plenty cold! Join me (aka"goldilocks," though now I am red-headed) in a fun evening designed for couples. This hands-on class will prepare beer cheese fondue with soft pretzels, local lager with spicy Sriracha chicken wings, fruity Belgian wheat beer with grilled scallops and corn salad, plus creamy stout with chocolate hazelnut cake and vanilla ice cream.
DATE NIGHT FOR COUPLES: SHRIMP BOIL SHINDIG - September 23 @ 5:00-7:30 (hands-on)
  • Spend a festive evening with your partner creating a modern shindig with Cajun lemonade, cheddar-ale spread with homemade crackers, stovetop shrimp boil with spicy andouille sausage and baby potatoes, creamed summer corn, plus strawberry-balsamic ice cream with lime shortbread. 
DATE NIGHT FOR COUPLES: GOURMET MAC-AND-CHEESE - October 14 @ 5:00-7:30 (hands-on)
  • Mac-and-cheese has never tasted so sophisticated! Couples will love the adult version of three luscious interpretations of this classic dish, as this hands-on class creates orzo with mascarpone and butter-poached lobster, ultimate mac-and-cheese with peas and bacon, plus souffléed mac-and-cheese with gouda and smoked paprika. The class will also prepare a rum-ginger beer cocktail, fennel-apple salad with apple cider vinaigrette, and refreshing key lime sorbet.
HEIR AND A PARENT: WIZARDS AT HONEYDUKES SWEETSHOP - October 21 @ 1:00-3:30 (hands-on)
  • Muggles and wizards gather for a fun afternoon concocting delicious treats from Honeydukes Sweetshop. Satisfy your sweet tooth, with Hagrid's treacle fudge, Mrs. Weasley's strawberry ice cream, marshmallow crumpets, pumpkin pasties, and amazing warm and frothy butterbeer. This class is designed for children, at least 7 years of age, plus a parent.
GIRLS' NIGHT OUT: BALLS! - October 27 @ 6:30-9:00 (demonstration)
  • If you feel that you have been going in circles all week, gather your girlfriends for an evening that will certainly be a ball! I'll prepare pecan-goat cheese balls with "drunken" grapes, pork meatball bahn mi sandwiches, Italian wedding soup with chicken meatballs, peanut butter-bacon-chocolate truffles, plus white wine-melon ball-berry sangria.     
GIRLS' NIGHT OUT: THE WHOLE ENCHILADA - November 3 @ 6:30-9:00 (demonstration)
  • Indulge your guilty pleasures for craving Mexican cuisine, as I make a Mexican chocolate martini, fried avocado rolls with cilantro dipping sauce, chile-crab enchiladas with green chiles and homemade sauce, roasted street corn salad with spicy Mexican crema dressing and cojita cheese, plus tequila-lime sorbet.