Tuesday, February 23, 2010

It Doesn't Look Pretty

I hate umbrellas in New York. I think they are misused. Tools to poke and jab, weapons rather than shields, excuses to walk blindly around the streets without a care who you are pushing into a puddle. All manners run straight down into the gutter when those darn city umbrellas open.

Today was a rainy, rainy, windy and wet day. So, in the name of manners and what's right in the world, I decided to don my rain boots and rain jacket, honorably leaving the umbrella at home. I returned tonight dripping, my jeans stuck to my frozen legs, frustratingly cursing both umbrellas, lack of umbrellas, and ultimately cold winter rain itself.

It was indeed a situation only remedied by a big, steaming bowl of hot soup.

Now, as much as I hate umbrellas I'm starting to love...crock pots. If my grumbling hasn't painted a picture of a grumpy old woman in a flannel nightie, then my love for crock pots may have just pushed me over the edge into tapered khakis, bifocals and a walker. But the truth is, when you don't have time to slowly stew veggies in a stock pot, a crock pot is just the thing! As if the morning knew just what the day had in store for my chilly umbrella-less-jean-clad legs, by the drizzle of morning light Russ started a mixture of white beans, split peas, chicken and spices, leaving it to slowly warm, stew and heat up until it sprawled a spicy trail down the hallway, meeting me upon returning home tonight.

And oh, it was delicious. Slightly spiced with curry and cumin, it was thick, stick-to-your-ribs, too-thick-to-be-soup soup. The best kind in my opinion. Really, really delicious. But...well, not so pretty.

I warned you. Not elegant, brightly colored, or classy-looking in any way. But hearty, warm, comforting and just the pairing for an ugly, rainy and not so pretty kind of day.

By the bottom of the bowl, my legs had warmed, my belly was full and my distaste for umbrellas had changed to the taste of shallots and beans, thyme and ground pepper. And you know, as I've mentioned before, one of the best qualities of soup is that it's just soup. Flavorful and at times deceivingly simple, it comes without bells and whistles. Just a bowl and a spoon. And bite by bite it warms you up, whittling away wet worries from the day.

Chance of rain? Umbrella or not, no matter how old or grumpy, and appearances aside, this little soup is just the thing to turn an ugly day into something lovely and tasty and in it's own simple soup-like way, sort of beautiful.

Split Pea and White Bean Soup with Chicken

1 pound green split peas
1 pound dry cannellini beans
2 large shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 pound chicken thighs, skinless, cut into pieces
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
30 turns of a pepper mill
3 teaspoons kosher salt
2 quarts of vegetable or chicken stock
Asiago cheese for garnish

1. Stir ingredients together in a crock pot.
2. Cook on low for 5 hrs, and on high for 2 hrs, stirring occasionally for even cooking.
3. Serve! If you prefer a thinner soup, stir in a light white wine to achieve desired consistency.

Yield: 8 warm-you-up servings

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


The theme for my friend Josh's birthday party potluck was simple. "Delicious."

With that mission in mind, and in the spirit of birthdays as celebrations steeped richly in traditions of cake and ice cream and sweets in the name of you just being you, I decided to bring dessert. I immediately started to think of layers of cake holding up buttery frosting...but before I got carried away, I figured I should ask the birthday boy what he thought sounded, well, delicious.

"Josh," I said, "when you envision eating dessert at the end of a perfect birthday potluck, what are you eating?"

"Well," he pondered out loud, "I'm not a big fan of chocolate. And I like cheesecake, but I just had cheesecake last weekend, and I like apples, and fruit crisps, and things that are crunchy, and I always like caramel..."

So. Not cake and not exactly an exact answer. But birthday wishes should never go unfulfilled and dessert is not truly dessert if it is not indeed delicious, so I set my mind to thinking. A little cheesecake...apples...caramel...crunchy... Some mixing here and matching there, and before too long those ingredients spelled out a recipe for this:

Cheesecake cupcakes with oatmeal crisp crusts, sauteed cinnamon apples and apple cider caramel. Which, all together, spelled out this:

A mouthful of a name in description, we resorted to knighting the little creations, "Clayton Cups," after the honoree himself, though agreed the name didn't do the 3 bite-sized creations quite the justice they deserved (no offense Josh). But whatever the name, what these jumbly delights were was one big mouthful of tastiness! Creamy cheesecake was punched up with soft, spiced apples, the required element of crunch and the not to be forgotten, dark caramel fancied-up for the occasion with a hint of cider.

Bellies packed nearly full with the evenings perfectly delicious mish-mosh of captain crunch fried chicken, perogies, peach kugel and baked ziti, the apple crisp cheesecake-ettes were the perfect odd pairing to a good bottle of red wine and great company.

So not a seven layer cake, but a birthday done right all the same. I've always loved home cooking because, reminiscent of backyard mud pies and sandbox stews, no matter how strange or unexpected the ingredients you put together, it doesn't have to be about subtlety, complementing flavors, doing things right, or neatly or even that well. It's about having fun, making friends happy, stirring a bunch of things together in a pot and and sharing what you've stewed up. And sometimes, when life is good, and you're feeling pot-lucky on your birthday, everything comes out just, truly delicious.

Mini Apple Crisp Cheesecakes

1 recipe vanilla bean cheesecake

For the crust:
1/2 stick butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 cup oats
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of allspice

1. Combine sugar, oats, cinnamon and allspice. Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly.
2. Pat a thin layer of mixture into the bottom of cupcake liners. Bake at 350F for approx. 10 minutes, or until crisp.
3. Set aside.

For the apples:
2 Granny Smith apples
1 T butter
3 T brown sugar
3/4 t cinnamon

1. Peel apples and slice thinly. Cut each slice into thirds.
2. In a sautee pan, heat butter, sugar cinnamon and apples together until apples are soft, but still hold their shape.
3. Set aside.

For the caramel:
125 grams sugar
40 grams water
40 grams apple cider
1/2 can sweetened condensed milk
pinch of salt
1/4 t vanilla

1. Cook sugar and water over medium-high heat until golden brown.
2. Deglaze with cider.
3. Stir in condensed milk, salt and vanilla.
4. Let cool.

To assemble
Place three pieces of apple into each oatmeal crusted cupcake liner. Pour cheesecake mixture over apples, filling each liner 3/4 full. Using a piping bag, pipe* caramel ontop, in swirls, letters, dots or any shape that looks delicious. Bake at 250F, for approx 20 minutes, or until set.

If you don't have piping bags on hand, fill a ziplock with caramel, twist it closed and cut a small hole in the corner of the bag. Voila; you are ready to pipe!!

Yield: 24 Clayton Cups

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Where I've Been

Well hi there.

Remember me? I hope so. Either way, I remember you and it feels good to be back. If I know you like I think I do, you are tapping your finger right now with that look in your eye which says, "Sooo. Kaitlin. Where you been, huh?" Ok my friends. We'll start with that.

Where have I been all this time? When I left you last there was blueberry jam on the stove and I was on my way to Maine. Well I made it there, and man oh man oh lobster and sea spray... It was a glorious time. At a campsite by the ocean Russ and I feasted on beer and oysters, more blueberries and smores every night. I ate my first live lobster, carrying it home on my lap squeemishly as it wriggled in a brown paper bag. I also ate my second live lobster and a number of lobster rolls, dressed in butter and piled between toasted white bread.

Back in New York, fall crept in and I turned another year older, celebrating my birthday with the annual tradition of an oversized breakfast at Clinton Street Baking Company: huge biscuits, a pile of eggs, thick sliced country ham and hot chocolate barely contained in a bowl of a mug.

Fall leaves and chilly winds accompanied a unique weekend trip which took me from city to farm. As a participant in Flying Pigs Farm's new program Farm Camp for Food Professionals, I gathered eggs, stomped around with heritage pigs, went maple sugar crazy at a sugar shack with syrup piled high on windowsills, sipped farm fresh, creamy milk and slaughtered a chicken. Yes. That's right. I killed a chicken.

One farm fresh-roasted chicken, a first coating of snow on city streets, 20 pounds of turkey, an ambitious pot of mashed potatoes, pie, latkes, Christmas cookies, a spice rubbed roast and two glasses of New Year's champagne later, I find myself catching up with you now in 2010.

Lately, I've been occupied with a project I'm really excited to share. It has always been a dream of mine to start a business of specialty cakes and well gosh darn it, I'm giving it a try. With a few projects under my belt I'm putting my whisk to work. Here's a peek at my most recent project, a 60th anniversary cake for a lovely Brooklyn couple, recently having renewed their vows over lemon curd and sweet vanilla bean cream frosting:

When I say I'm putting my whisk to work, what I really mean is that I've turned our apartment into a veritable workshop covered in sugar petals, cake forms, sketches, website plans, paper flowers, piping bags, cake scraps, and lots of hope.

I have a feeling this year is going to be great. Full of cake, stories and heaps of other grand things. I have a lot in store for your neglected bellies too. Paging through Julia Child's autobiography I plan to journey through a "boeuf bourginon" while we are in the height of stew weather. I have an enormous new flame colored dutch oven which is crying for a leg of lamb, red wine, figs and a dinner party. I have an oversized crate of eggs from my dear friends farm and an upcoming birthday for a certain cheesecake hungry friend we fed last year around this time.

So, I'm back. Thanks for missing me and hold on, because I'm feeling like if we plan the recipe just right, this year is going to be one heck of a feast.