Sunday, March 21, 2010

Follow Me!

Hello, and thank you for stopping by. I've still got my heels, and I still love my kitchen, but I've moved here. Come check out my new blog.

See you there!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

From Prunes to Parsnips, a Palate Awakened


When I was growing up, I had a lengthy list of dislikes based primarily on the idea of a food rather than the actual taste. I did not take into consideration the variety of methods for preparing an ingredient, and declared something awful after just one bad experience—and very often, no experience at all.

I had harbored a loathing for green beans since at the age of seven I sampled one at my uncle’s annual pool party. It was brownish green, cold, and rubbery after sitting on a platter under a beach umbrella all day. I gagged, spit it out, and never touched green beans again—until last year. Last Thanksgiving, I decided to try a simple recipe for green beans sautéed with salt, pepper, and garlic. And to my great surprise, green beans weren’t the rubbery bits I had recalled with horror for more than twenty years. They were bright green and had a little crunch to them. What a revelation! It led me to wonder: What other foods have I always “hated” without due cause? What surprises does the grocery store hold for my emerging palate?

Most of my revelations have been about vegetables: carrots are all right after all and broccoli is divine. And there are hitherto unimagined varieties of lettuce. I had always thought salad was resigned to wilted bits of leaf and chunks of bitter tomato. But the leafy varieties! The textures that can be incorporated with walnuts, pears, dried cranberries, seeds, red—or green or yellow—peppers! Even the humble, earthy beet lends a distinctive character to a bowl of what I had previously considered mere roughage.

With my mind newly opened to the wonders of the culinary world, it was time to give prunes another try.

Owing to an embarrassing childhood ailment, I was forced—once a morning for months—to down a full glass of prune juice. My grandmother challenged me to prune juice races, which she always let me win. I still remember the bitter, cloying syrup and its awful aftertaste and I vowed, once I had weathered my ailment, never to let a prune or its foul juice touch my lips again.

I broke my vow last month. I was making a recipe for non-fat gingerbread that called for prune purée in place of butter, so I bought a full tub of prunes. When I opened the lid, the prunes glistened in a moist heap and smelled sickly sweet, just the way I remembered their juice. As I puréed the shining, sticky fruit, I became curious. Would prunes live up to my most distressing gastronomic memory? I unglued one from the mound, and bit into it.

In what was perhaps the most shocking moment in my life, I enjoyed the prune. With finality, that one taste devastated the entire foundation on which I had based my appetites. If I liked prunes, what wouldn’t I like?


I don’t like parsnips. I am pleased to discover this fact because after the prunes, I realized with equal measures pride and dismay that I might just like eating anything and everything. Where once I couldn’t think of a vegetable I liked, now I couldn’t imagine a food I didn’t like. Until Monday, when I made parsnip soup.

I had tried parsnips roasted and crisped and whipped, and they had left me unimpressed. I thought I just hadn’t yet discovered the ideal method for preparing them. Soup seemed like a logical progression in my parsnip experiment, so I found a lovely seasonal soup recipe that paired the parsnips with potato, celery, salt, pepper, and paprika—a combination that sounds creamy, sweet and a little spicy. I made eight servings, so I would have enough soup to keep me warm for nearly two weeks in my chilly cubicle.

I tasted the soup while it simmered on the stove and added more seasoning. And a little more. And more salt. And a dash or two of extra paprika. And a few more pinches of salt, until the soup was as good as it was likely to get. I thought it might improve by resting overnight in the fridge. So with hope and good intentions, I divided the soup into eight Tupperware bowls and put it to sleep.

When I heated my lunch in the office microwave the next day, a pungent, bitter scent filled the kitchen and clung to me as I headed down the hall back to my cube, which immediately filled with the aroma. I hadn’t even removed the lid.

The soup was sickeningly bittersweet. I liberally added Parmesan and crackers. The cheese helped to mask the bitterness and make the soup barely edible. The crackers added texture to the otherwise watery mixture, but they didn’t stay crispy for long, and drowned in the mess. I nearly cried when I emptied seven Tupperware bowls into the sink that night.

I say never again to parsnip soup.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Pat on the Back

“Did you have a relaxing weekend?” J asked on Monday.

“I did! At least, I tried to relax, but I ended up baking bread all day on Sunday.” I replied, arranging slices of challah next to the office kitchen sink.

“That sounds relaxing. Wasn’t it?” she asked.

“Not really.” I sighed. “I must have done something wrong, because the dough was so runny that it spread across the counter and started dripping on the floor.” A motherly sort of person, J would sympathize with my culinary crises.

“Maybe I used the wrong flour.” I pondered.

Is there a wrong flour?” she asked. I didn’t know. The recipe calls for “strong white flour,” but I have five different types of flour, and I wasn’t sure which was the strongest.

I chose bread flour, since I was making bread. But perhaps I should have used all-purpose. Then again, maybe my kitchen scale is defective.

Or maybe I shouldn't have used my hand-held electric mixer to mix the ingredients. Mrs. Beeton instructs us to “Rub in the butter or margarine. Beat the eggs into the yeast mixture and stir in the flour mixture. Mix to a soft dough.” As I mixed and beat the ingredients, the flour clumped into pebbles and the runny dough splashed the cabinets. It was at this point that I began to panic.

I gave up the mixer and began squishing flour clumps with my hands. This was truly a labor of love. I mixed and mixed and mixed with my hands, the mixer, a spoon—but the liquid never transformed into “a soft dough.” I don’t know why I thought it would be a good idea to turn it out onto a floured surface. But I did. And that’s when the dough made a run for it across the counter.

“Did you start over again?” J asked. I paused. I had never considered that option. I finish what I start. That’s how I ended up with a C+ in Latin my freshman year of college. If only I had dropped that class when my professor said, “I know you’re trying very hard, but I don’t think this language is for you.” But it never occurred to me to give up.

So, approaching hysteria on Sunday afternoon, I tore F from his book and made him cup his hands around the quickly spreading dough as I added handful after handful of flour, kneading and patting the dough, scooping flour until I had added a good cup and a half to the mix, moaning all the while, My challah! My challah!

“I probably should have started over,” I answered J, “But I just added more flour until the dough held together.”

When the dough had finally risen for the second time, I divided it into two equal portions and rolled them into strands for braiding.

The dough was still so soft that the strands melted into each other as I wove them together. I added a few more heaps of flour until the strands rested against each other without melding. I carefully transferred the loaf to a baking pan and brushed with egg. I let it rest for 30 minutes before baking.

“But the bread turned out OK in the end?” J asked.

“Yes." I replied sheepishly, "It’s actually pretty good.”

To my great surprise, the bread turned out beautifully, after all.

“So you saved it! That’s impressive.” J squeezed my shoulder and I smiled self-consciously.

“Did you pat yourself on the back?” J asked.

“Um… no.” I replied.

“You should pat yourself on the back more often.” J said as she took a slice of challah and ambled back to her desk.

As J turned away, I remembered something another JJulia Childonce said, “The measure of achievement is not winning awards. It's doing something that you appreciate, something you believe is worthwhile. I think of my strawberry soufflé. I did that at least twenty-eight times before I finally conquered it.”

Feeling just a little bit silly, I quickly patted myself on the back and smiled.

I’ve got twenty-seven loaves to go!


From Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Baking

Fat for greasing
800g / 1 ¾lb strong white flour
10ml / 2tsp sugar
25g / 1oz butter or margarine
2 eggs
Flour for kneading
Beaten egg for glazing

Grease 2 baking sheets. Sift about 75g / 3oz of the four and all the sugar into a large bowl. Measure 400ml / 14fl oz lukewarm water. Blend the fresh yeast into the water or stir in the dried yeast. Pour the yeast liquid into the flour and sugar and beat well. Leave the bowl in a warm place for 20 minutes.

Sift the remaining flour and the salt into a bowl. Rub in the butter or margarine. Beat the eggs into the yeast mixture and stir in the flour mixture. Mix to a soft dough. Turn on to a lightly floured surface and knead for about 6 minutes or until the dough is smooth and no longer sticky. Return to the bowl and cover with cling film. Leave in a warm place until the dough has doubled in volume—this will take up to 2 hours, or longer.

Knead the dough again until firm. Cut into 2 equal portions. Cut one of these into 2 equal pieces and roll these into long strands 30-35 cm / 12-14 inches in length. Arrange the 2 strands in a cross on a flat surface. Take the 2 opposite ends of the bottom strand and cross them over the top strand in the center. Repeat this, using the other strand. Cross each strand alternately, building up the plait vertically, until all the dough is used up. Gather the short ends together and pinch firmly. Lay the challah on its side and place on the prepared baking sheet. Brush with beaten egg. Repeat, using the second portion. Cover with lightly oiled polythene. Leave in a warm place for about 30 minutes or until the dough has doubled in volume. Set the oven at 220 degrees C / 425 degrees F / gas 7.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Makes two 1 ¾ lb loaves.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Good Woman

F has to work late tonight. While I will miss him, I am also excited to have the house to myself. I shall sit on the couch with a bottle of wine and watch a girlie movie with a kitty on each thigh. And I shall make myself something for dinner that F does not enjoy.

And then I will make something that F does enjoy, so he can come home from work to a nice snack. I shall make him cupcakes. From a box. With icing from a tub.

When F and I first started dating, Moist Deluxe Duncan Hines Classic Yellow Cake Cupcakes were the extent of my baking expertise. I wooed him with cupcakes. I seduced him with Betty Crocker Whipped Chocolate Frosting. He would leave my littl
e Hyde Park apartment with a cupcake in each hand--and he always came back for more.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Good Man

I haven't written in awhile because I've been in Scranton, PA, renowned for The Office and not much else. More to come on that. In short, I saw my best friend become an Elder of the church and spent a glorious few days at home with my parents. When I finally got back to Chicago on a chilly June night, homesick and smelling like airplane, F greeted me from the kitchen where he was making me dinner.
Salmon with White Wine Mustard Sauce and asparagus:I've got a good man, indeed.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Disastrous Feast of Figs

Last night I made a disgusting dessert. It sounded good, it had good ingredients, but something went terribly wrong in the execution.

The figs at the grocery store had intrigued me for weeks. Although fresh figs are no longer in season, the dried figs resting side-by-side in a snug little wheel promised to impart the essence of a warm, spiced Middle-Eastern desert breeze to my cold Chicago apartment. So, in what might have been an ill-advised decision, I made an entirely fig-themed dinner.

The Chicken with Balsamic-Fig Sauce was fine. I tried to convince myself throughout the meal that I didn’t mind—and even appreciated—the gritty texture of the fig seeds in the sauce. But on the whole, I found this recipe a little strange and unappetizing.

And for dessert—Spiced Figs in Red Wine. I chopped three dried figs in half and dumped them in a saucepan with a cup of red wine, 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract, a dash of cinnamon, a sprig of rosemary, a spring of thyme, three peppercorns, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of honey, and 1/3 cup sugar and brought the mixture to a boil. I left it to simmer for 35 minutes, as directed. It smelled wonderful—much like I would imagine the inside of a desert caravan would smell as it trundled across the desert on a hot night.

I will pause here to say that Cooking Light should in no way be held responsible for the utter failure of this dessert. I assume all responsibility for the recipe’s disastrous consequences because I made two very silly mistakes: Cooking Light tells us to let the spiced fig syrup cool and then chill for an hour. I thought this dessert might be nice warm—and I didn’t want to wait for my dessert. So when the 35 minutes were up, I strained the solids and filled two ramekins with vanilla frozen yogurt. Then I poured the steaming wine mixture over the yogurt and placed three chunks of fig on top of each.

Upon further reflection, I should have let the syrup cool. And I should have followed the instructions to scoop the yogurt over the syrup, instead of pouring the syrup over the yogurt. Before I even reached the living room to present this dish to F, the frozen yogurt had melted into a lukewarm, pinkish soup garnished with half-submerged fig chunks. The figs, balancing between the hot liquid and the cold yogurt, had hardened. My glorious, Middle-Eastern desert dessert was overwhelmingly winy, spicy, and gritty—and barely edible.

F politely declared himself full after two bites. But I had made this elegant, delectable dessert and by God, I was going to finish it.

And I ate it all.

Monday, December 28, 2009


MIA image courtesy of

I have to apologize for being MIA. F always teases that when I become interested in something (like food, for instance), I devote my every waking hour to it, to the exclusion of everything else.

This is true.

I have been writing a Big Project (BF) for the last few months, and I am committed to finishing it, no matter what else suffers. I may forget to eat, my marriage may fail, I may lose my job, and worst of all, I may forget to post on High Heels. But by God, I will finish BF!

BF has nothing to do with food, so I can't really share much about it here. But I can say that much of my time has been dominated by writing. I write at lunch. I write on the bus. I write while walking down the sidewalk. I write at the gym. I write while sauteeing chicken. I've taken a few workshops, I went to a conference, I've been reading related books and magazines, I've been applying to contests and requesting grants.

I think F is correct in saying that I commit to things.

But don't worry. I'm around.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

"Fine" Dining

When you make a meal for your spouse, you expect him to savor it with gratitude and exclamations of delight.

Once I finish a dish and have arranged the parts on the plate in a pleasing display, I bring it steaming from the kitchen and place it gently on the cushion in F’s lap (yes, we eat on the couch). I expect him to begin eating immediately while his dinner is still hot and at its best. I join him on the couch and await his praise. He eats quickly. I wait, chewing very slowly to make my dinner last at least a quarter of the time it took to prepare.

Finally, I prompt him with practiced nonchalance,

“Is it ok?”

“It’s fine.” He says.

F is spoiled by home-cooked meals now. When we began dating, he dined every week on ramen noodles and frozen chicken patties. He grew up on meat and potatoes and had never had Chinese food or Mexican food or rice—or a bagel—until college. Until he met me, he had never tasted lamb, lobster, duck, pork tenderloin, tofu, salmon, quinoa, turnips, tiramisu, parsnips, cilantro, pesto, cumin, cucumbers, or a wealth of other culinary delights. Nor had I cooked them. My cooking had been limited to one or two chicken dishes and a failed French fry experiment. I’m still learning—which is why my recipes still sometimes fail miserably.

On our walk home the other night, O and I commiserated about the fact that men do not understand why we get upset when our cooking fails. “It’s just food,” F says when my sauce doesn’t thicken, while I hover over the pan, tears thinning already watery and smoking tomatoes. And they don’t understand why we get upset when, in response to the tentative question, “How’s your dinner?” they reply, “It’s fine.”

“Fine” is not the word we’re after. If we spend an hour chopping onions and peeling carrots, skinning fish and stirring sauce, we want our work to be considered “Fabulous,” or “Better than my steak at Morton’s” or “an exquisite blend of flavors and textures.” Not “fine.”

One recent rainy Sunday, I tried to make F a stack of divine pancakes. I always use the same recipe from my favorite cookbook, The Best of Cooking Light 1999. Apparently 1999 was a good year for Cooking Light, because absolutely every single recipe I’ve ever made from this cookbook has been perfect, and the recipe for Buttermilk Oatmeal Pancakes is no exception. But I get bored with perfection, so I cheated on Cooking Light with Gourmet, who recently highlighted this recipe:

Bridge Creek Heavenly Hots
(fifty to sixty dollar-size pancakes)

From The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham

These are the lightest sour cream silver-dollar-size hotcakes I’ve ever had—they seem to hover over the plate. They are heavenly and certainly should be served hot.

4 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup cake flour
2 cups sour cream
3 tablespoons sugar

1. Put the eggs in a mixing bowl and stir until well blended. Add the salt, baking soda, flour, sour cream, and sugar, and mix well. All of this can be done in a blender, if you prefer.

2. Heat a griddle or frying pan until it is good and hot, film with grease, and drop small spoonfuls of batter onto the griddle—just enough to spread to an approximately 2 1/2-inch round. When a few bubbles appear on top of the pancakes, turn them over and cook briefly.

In an effort to make these slightly healthier, and because I have a mistaken confidence in my ability to adapt recipes, I used fat-free sour cream and egg whites. I’m convinced this must have been the problem with my hotcakes, which were certainly not heavenly. Nor did they hover over the plate.

Instead, the batter leaked across the pan and burned immediately. I turned down the heat, added some flour to the mix, and tried again. The pancakes refused to bubble and the bottom scorched. I added a little more flour. By this time, my mix was lumpy and my pan was coated with burned batter.

I swore and dumped the rest of the mix into the garbage, startling F, who should be used to this by now.

“What’s wrong?” he cried, thinking I had burned myself, so uncharacteristic was my profanity.

“I burned your hotcakes!” I wailed in despair.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “It’s just food.” This was the wrong thing to say.

“It’s NOT just food!” I sobbed. “It’s your breakfast. I was trying to make you a nice breakfast from The Breakfast Book. It’s supposed to be simple and delicious. You were supposed to have a nice breakfast!”

“I’ll still have a nice breakfast,” he said. “Just make the other pancakes.” I was immediately filled with loathing for my beloved The Best of Cooking Light 1999.

“I can’t now.” I said, fully aware of how petulant I sounded, “I used up all the eggs.”

“Well let’s have oatmeal.” He suggested.

“Fine. That’s all I can really make right, anyway.” I huffed, and turned back to the stove.

Granted, I make a mean bowl of oatmeal, so my agony over the hotcakes soon abated. But the complete failure of my adapted recipe still rankles. I’m gathering the courage to try those hotcakes again—this time with full-fat sour cream and whole eggs.

And I’ll have F to comfort me if they burn again. Poor F still just doesn’t understand why I get so upset. It may sound silly, but cooking is more than just making food. It’s creating something. And after a long day in my cubicle, marketing things that other people create, I savor my hour in the kitchen when I get to make something for myself—and for F.

You can’t frame a pancake and hang it on the wall. You can’t put a loaf of bread on stage and expect an audience to applaud. And you can’t display a fish fillet on a pedestal for all of eternity. Food is fleeting. It only looks pretty for so long. You eat it, and it’s gone. And if you don’t eat it, it rots.

A meal is created just the once for a specific person to enjoy, whether that person is a customer in a restaurant, a son or daughter, or a husband. Cooking is an expression of creativity and of love. It’s more than food, and it should be more than “fine.”

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cubicle Lunch: Leftover Fish

Image courtesy of

Today, I'm the annoying girl who brings fish for lunch.
I hate that girl.

The fish is left over from last night's experimental dinner. To truly understand and appreciate this experiment, you must know that F loves Cheez-Its and barely tolerates fish.

I thought that by crusting a cod fillet in his favorite snack, I could trick F into changing his mind. I crushed a bunch of Cheez-Its, coated the fillet, and baked. Sounded like a flawless plan.

It didn't work too well, honestlywhich is why there are leftovers for my lunch.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Becoming More Like Julia

Julia Child dedicated Mastering the Art of French Cooking to "the servantless American cook who can be unconcerned on occasion with budgets, waistlines, time schedules, children's meals, the parent-chauffeur-den-mother syndrome or anything else which might interfere with the enjoyment of producing something wonderful to eat."

This is the woman I want to be.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure there is such a woman. I’m not sure there is a woman alive who can put aside all of these concerns at one time and simply enjoy the act of eating.

On the rare occasion, we can splurge on a feast without counting our pennies. On the rare occasion, the stars align and we have the time to enjoy a long meal with friends. On the rare occasion, children will eat what is presented to them without complaint.

But I wonder if there’s ever an occasion when a woman can disregard her waistline and dive into a chocolate soufflé without a trace of guilt.

I will admit I don’t know much about children or the parent-chauffeur-den-mother syndrome, but I can say that I wish I could be more like Julia and liberally pour cream into my soups, blend whole sticks of butter into my cookies, and beat dozens of eggs into my cakes without worrying that they will later convert into jiggly bits.

I began to cook because I had gained ten pounds. I had gained ten pounds from blithely enjoying my food in large portions and forgoing physical activity. This was not a rational decision, mind you, but an accidental, creeping phenomenon caused by a cubicle job and a long drive to and from work. In short, ten hours a day of sitting in a small space, grazing on Starbucks and snacks from the vending machine, coming home to large portions of noodles and meat. I didn’t notice the ten extra pounds I was lugging around until I visited the doctor for a yearly checkup, and the fact that it had arrived silently and stealthily filled me with horror and shame. How had I let this happen, I lamented.

I panicked. I joined the gym and Weight Watchers. I read articles about nutrients and took classes in spinning, boot camp, yoga, and weight lifting. I turned down any and all desserts, except for Weight Watchers ice cream. I gave up pizza, pasta, and French bread and turned to apples, oatmeal, and Splenda. When F came home with a steaming, crusty loaf of bread, I heated up one of my frozen wheat rolls and ate it slowly, savoring its spongy texture and cardboard tang. It was almost bread, but not quite.

I lost the weight pretty quickly, and was in better shape than I’d ever been. After all, Weight Watchers is about learning to eat right. I learned about portion sizes, I decided to give vegetables a try, and I was getting exercise. But I wasn’t happy. I counted my points and worried constantly.

I wasn’t happy because I no longer enjoyed eating. Food had become the enemy and the act of eating was accompanied by fear. When you fear something you must do at least three times a day to stay alive, it makes for a pretty miserable existence.

Cooking made me brave. When cooking for myself, I can control portion sizes and ingredients, while making dinners that I actually enjoy. I can make my own wheat rolls that actually taste like bread. I can grill my own marinated chicken that is tender and flavorful. I can make cakes and brownies that taste like dessert. I found that I when I enjoy cooking a meal, I enjoy eating it, too.

Slowly, as I learned to love cooking and to appreciate food, I started to reintroduce the dishes I loved into my menu, and to find new foods to love. I started to eat French bread again, and now I also love oatmeal. I reintroduced pasta, and have now discovered quinoa. I found that I really like vegetables and love fruits. And I realized that I can have a full-fat feast once in awhile, and it tastes all the better because I don’t do it every day.

Julia had the right idea. Life is too short to regulate our food while closely monitoring the fluctuating girth of our thighs. Life is too short to allow a fear of food to “interfere with the enjoyment of producing something wonderful to eat."

But I still think about my waistline. Even while enjoying a fancy dessert or a Pig Dinner, I can’t help but consider how many points I’m packing away. And that’s pretty sad. I wonder if there exists a woman who is able to snuff out these fears and completely give in to the simple enjoyment of food. Are we capable of turning off that little niggling voice in the back of our skulls that says, “That may taste good now, but you’ll be sorry later”?

I like to think so. I like to think that Julia Child was just one such woman.

And I want to be another. Here’s to becoming more like Julia.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Gotta Love the Pig

Somehow, F and I have acquired reputations as pig lovers. I don’t know how this happened.

Maybe it was this.

Or this.

Or this.

Or it could be this:

Or this:

Or this:There’s no denying we love the pork. Tenderloin, bacon, belly, butt. Hocks, snout, shoulder, skin. It’s all good.

Which is why when I saw an ad for a "Pig Gig" at Heritage Prairie Farm in upstate Illinois, we invited our friends L and J to come along and sped off in the little yellow jeep.

The menu:

The spread:The pork enthusiasts (F, me, L, J):
F's favorite part:
And the best part of all...

We discovered there is at least one person who loves pigs more than we do:

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Scary Dinners From the Deep

Up next in scary dinners from the deep...

Soft shell crabs!

One of our favorite dishes is the Soft Shell Crab at New Tokyo on Broadway, which is deeply fried and delicious.
These little crustaceans were just hanging out at Treasure Island the other day and, on a whim, F and I decided to give it a shot. How hard could it be, we figured. Turns out it's not hard at all. A little salt and pepper, a little flour, then a quick sizzle in some butter.We took our crabs out to the back patio, which seems to be the setting for our stranger experiments with sea creatures. They were crisp and salty and surprisingly rich. When I broke into the back of mine, however, I unearthed a pocket of grainy green ooze. I figured that our fish man missed something when he cleaned our crabs, and that this mysterious slime was probably some undigested crab food. Although I knew it likely wasn't poisonous, it put me off my dinner just a little. I guess I'm not really as adventurous as I'd like to think.

I definitely recommend this recipe--just make sure your crabs are clean!

Sauteed Soft Shell Crabs
From Cooking Light, April 2003

4 servings (serving size: 1 crab)


4 (3 1/2-ounce) soft-shell crabs, cleaned

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon butter


Sprinkle each crab with salt and pepper. Place flour in a shallow bowl. Dredge each crab in flour, turning to coat; shake off excess flour.

Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add crabs to pan, top sides down; cook 3 minutes. Turn crabs over; cook an additional 2 minutes.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Like a Crabby Old Woman

When we were little, B and I danced in the living room for our babysitter, flourishing hairbrushes and belting out "Material Girl" and "Like a Virgin" with abandon.

Many years have passed since we were that unselfconscious.

B arrived from New York City late Thursday night with two colleagues from the Jewish hipster magazine where she is associate editor. They're here in Chicago until tomorrow, ostensibly to cover Pitchfork and drum up some magazine subscribers.

She arrived on my doorstep wearing a denim jumper with suspenders, high-heeled suede boots, and a plaid blouse, and assured me she is at the height of a bizarre fashion the kids are calling "hobo-chic." Perhaps embarrassed that at the early hour of 11pm, I was wearing a matronly robe and my husband's slippers, B paused a moment before flinging her arms around me. Then she pointed to her shoulder, which bore a freshly peeling tattoo of her initials in Sanford font.

In one of our rare moments together in the last few days, my formerly shy and nerdy sister clicked through the angst-filled photos of her 987 Facebook friends to point out who among them she has dated in the last month: a bartender, a photographer, a journalist, and a documentary maker. For my belated-birthday gift, she brought me earrings made of bullet casings.

Although B's visit is technically "a business trip," I was looking forward to a weekend of getting to know this strange, tattooed person and finding my little sister again behind her navy nail polish and loops of gold chains.

This has not happened.

First, her colleague D found himself unexpectedly homeless for the weekend, so he ended up on our floor. Then, "for the sake of journalism" B had to attend random all-night parties with Pitchfork band members, so she has left the house early each morning and returned home around 2am, by which time F and I, fuddy-duddies that we are, have already been asleep for approximately five hours.

Since Thursday, our apartment has been overrun with suitcases, bedding, and boxes of magazines. I could not help feeling put-out and put-upon as I handed over my house keys and told B to have a good time at the second late-night party in two days. Our robust, OCD cat Barry kept me up all weekend because he doesn't like when strangers invade his living-room, and I spent yesterday in the waiting room of Marvin's auto repair while the car's electrical grid was re-wired--only to have it die again at 9:30 (half an hour past my bedtime!), just as I squeezed between two mac trucks in Pitchfork's VIP parking section.

As I waited for B and her colleagues, a man toting a cart of kegs yelled at me for parking the defunct jeep in front of his mac truck. So, running on little sleep and a lot of stress, I wallowed in self-pity and looked forward to this evening, when I would have the apartment to myself.

B and F will be at Pitchfork until 10 tonight. So far, I rented two movies, bought a parsley plant, visited the grocery store, and put in a load of laundry. Now begins the relaxation. I exchanged one of F's punk CDs for
Like a Virgin and whipped up some banana bread.
Note my new parsley plant and the requisite whiskey bottle among my banana bread clutter.

After such a hectic weekend--before the start of an even more hectic week--I thought I would be relieved to have the apartment to myself for a little while. But as the apartment throbs to the first unmistakable beats of "Material Girl," I can't help wishing B were here so we could dance together in our pajamas, once more with abandon.

At least she'll have some banana bread to take with her on the plane.

Mom’s Banana Bread
From Cooking Light, November 1996

4 loaves, 4 servings per loaf (serving size: 1 slice)

* 1 cup sugar
* 1/4 cup light butter, softened
* 1 2/3 cups mashed ripe banana (about 3 bananas)
* 1/4 cup skim milk
* 1/4 cup low-fat sour cream
* 2 large egg whites
* 2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* Cooking spray


Preheat oven to 350°.

Combine sugar and butter in a bowl; beat at medium speed of a mixer until well-blended. Add banana, milk, sour cream, and egg whites; beat well, and set aside.

Combine flour, baking soda, and salt; stir well. Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture, beating until blended.

Spoon batter into 4 (5 x 2 1/2-inch) miniature loaf pans coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool in pans 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pans. Let cool completely on wire racks.

Note: To make one 9-inch loaf, spoon batter into a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray; bake at 350º for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Yield: 1 loaf, 20 servings (serving size: 1 slice).

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Quiz in the Kitchen

Weird head image courtesy of University of Michigan School of Public Health.

Ganache. Ceviche. Panna cotta.

If you watch cooking shows such as Bravo's "Top Chef" and "Top Chef Masters," you've probably heard these and other 50-cent food words tossed around like croutons in a summer salad. But--hands off the keyboard!--do you know what they mean without looking them up?


Oh, you might know a few on this list. But unless you work in a restaurant, you'll probably be stumped by the rest.

See how many of these food words you can correctly match with their definitions.

--James A. Fussell, McClatchy/Tribune News

Hey James, you've got to try a lot harder to stump High Heels in the Kitchen! I got 24 out of 25 correct (I guess I know less about raw meat than I thought I did...)

Beat that!

Click here to see if you can do better.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Fish and Flowers

This is my first time making whole fish. As advised by various fish-focused websites, I looked for trout with unclouded eyes and shiny scales. These two were bright and glistening, which I found mildly intimidating. I'm used to fillets without skin or eyes--or teeth.

Although these trout did have eyes and teeth, they came all clean and gutted so it wasn't nearly as traumatic as it could have been. When the fish man handed my trout packet over the counter, however, I admit that I did have to fight the urge to gag. I could feel the fish body through the butcher paper, and the packet flopped with a rubbery heft.

Worse than the flopping was the tingle under my fingertips as I massaged gritty rosemary mixture into its moist scales.
He watched me as I rubbed.
But after a mere eight minutes on the grill pan (on which you can see he got a little ragged), we had ourselves some flaky, tender trout with a side of roasted potatoes and asparagus. It tasted much better than it looks. F and I partook of our delectable dinner on the back patio, which we really ought to use more often.

A special thank you to S, who gave us the beautiful glass-blown wine glasses in celebration of our nuptials. We toasted S, each other, and our trout. Then F ate the eyeballs.
Since I can't end bear to end this post with a photo of trout eyes, I'll wrap this up instead with some lovely nature photos of our back patio:

Recipe for Grilled Trout with Rosemary and Garlic
From Cooking Light

This simple presentation is a go-to summer recipe that allows the flavor of the fish to shine. If you like, substitute thyme for rosemary.


4 servings (serving size: 1 trout)

  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 (8-ounce) dressed whole trout
  • 4 (6-inch) rosemary sprigs
  • Cooking spray

1. Prepare grill to medium-high heat.

2. Combine first 4 ingredients in a small bowl.

3. Cut 3 diagonal slits on each side of fish; rub rosemary mixture evenly over fish. Place 1 rosemary sprig in cavity of each fish. Place the fish on grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 4 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork or until desired degree of doneness.