Category Archives: Kitchen Knightmares

Kitchen Knightmares: Sour Cream Dream Coffee Cake

Today on Kitchen Knightmares: Using sour cream mixed with sugar and cinnamon, Jon Paul whips Chef into a frenzy.

Grandma Tommie comes for a visit

It’s hard to say when it happened exactly.  But at some point, Chef fell madly in love; some might say addicted, even.  In return, I began withholding—knowing that just a taste every so often would make him want it more.  Of course, I’m talking about my Grandma Tommie’s Sour Cream Coffee Cake, just one in my treasure trove of East Texas recipes that make an appearance on special occasions.  Honestly, I’m not at all sure that the Sour Cream Coffee Cake is one of my grandmother’s favorites—I don’t really remember her making it.  But the recipe was given to me in a bundle from my sister Paige years ago, and well, it just makes a better story here in Yankee land.

Like I said, I don’t pull out the white trash stops too often.  And in the early years of my relationship with Chef, an intimidating true foodie, I kept them hidden.  So I’m sure the Sour Cream specialty first debuted at a long ago Thanksgiving when our house was filled with visitors, and I knew just what to make to keep the hordes happy in the morning.  From the first bite of moist goodness of sugar, sour cream, eggs, flour, with layers of pecans covered in cinnamon, and of course, more sugar, Chef was hooked.

For no real reason, and despite the ease of the cake, I insist on making it only one time a year—the Sunday before Thanksgiving.  Over time, I’ve steadily resisted to making modern changes.  Grandma Tommie wouldn’t have known what to make of the Vegan Organic Sugar I used last year, and I wasn’t convinced it made the cake any better.  A few years back, to spice things up, I shelled out a fortune to an antique dealer in Fairhope, Alabama and carted home a turn-of-the-century copper bundt pan as a special gift for Chef.  He could have cared less—it’s all about the cake, stupid.  [note: Chef never verbalized this, just my own imagination a riff on Bill Clinton’s winning campaign mantra]

This year, for one of the first times, there are no guests in our house.  But I’m still whipping up the oh-so-thick batter.  Because if I held out any longer, Chef might go looking elsewhere.

Grandma Tommie’s Sour Cream Coffee Cake

For the batter:

1 cup soft butter

2 cups sugar

2 eggs

1 cup sour cream

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Topping:

1 cup ground pecans

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

The very thick batter

Preheat over to 325 degrees.  Beat butter and sugar well.  Add eggs, beating after each one.  Add sour cream and vanilla.  Add dry ingredients and beat well.  This will make a very heavy batter.  Grease a bundt pan.  Mix topping ingredients together.  Pour, more likely, spoon less than half of the batter into pan.  Sprinkle with half of the topping mix.  Add remaining batter and then remaining topping.  Bake for 45 minutes at 325 degrees or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Cool briefly and invert on to a cake plate.

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Kitchen Knightmares: Kiss My Grits

Today on Kitchen Knightmares: An unusual invite from Kraft leads to Jon Paul’s first recipe exclusive.  Guest star: Chef Marcus Samuelsson.

When the cat wasn’t devouring my baby food, I mostly subsisted on a diet of chicken fried steak, peanut butter, and fried chicken growing up in Texas.  But on occasion, my palette veered into the exotic, enjoying delicacies unusual for many kids.  Slurping oysters at S&D Oyster Bar was a favorite Sunday afternoon treat.  And I never had enough of Aunt Shirley’s spicy gumbo with slimy okra bits since tasting it required a seven-hour car trip to Lafayette, Louisiana.

Years later, when my partner Chef began cooking for several Big Apple families, I was surprised to hear stories about the picky eating habits of NYC kids.  I had wrongly assumed that growing up in an urban jungle where exotic ports-of-call are represented on every street corner would have lead to a sophisticated—and expansive—palette.  Instead, Chef found himself cooking one more round of crowd pleasing chicken quesadillas sans cilantro.

Chef Samuelsson seems to be everywhere--including my subway stop

Thus my suspicion when an invitation to a brunch sponsored by Kraft heralding the kid-friendly recipes of Top Chef Masters Season 2 winner Marcus Samuelsson.  It was part of a new collection included in Kraft’s iPad app called Big Fork, Little Fork featured.

Now, I’ve been a big fan of Chef Samuelsson practically since I moved to New York—blown away by his global infusion of flavors into Scandinavian cuisine at Aquavit.  But what was a chef known for exalting exotic flavors doing with a solidly middle American food giant like Kraft in an effort to promote kids involvement with cooking?  This couldn’t be good, or successful.

Having briefly worked on a PR campaign for an international snack giant, I’m generally suspect of food companies and their efforts.  But, hey, I was impressed that Kelli, one of the publicists on Kraft’s team, had researched NYC food blogs and writers, and targeted me.  Besides, who am I to cast stones?  I of all people know that in this day and age, writers and chefs need support of major marketers to advance their messages and agendas.  My own Chef might have a book coming out soon, and this would give me a chance to see up close and personal how a chef that I admire navigates the often times tricky world of corporate partnerships.

Chef Samuelsson authentically balances Kraft's messages

Turns out, the charming and clever Chef Samuelsson manages it with ease, helped by the fact that Kraft isn’t over reaching here.  As the company executives explained to me, the idea behind the app is to give busy families some fun tools for easy cooking.  Sure, each recipe features at least one Kraft product—maybe some cheese, salsa, or taco shells—but the special recipes developed by Chef Samuelsson add in exotic flavors.  “We don’t have time to cook like in my grandmother’s age,” Chef Samuelsson said as he whipped up some flavorful chicken tacos.  “Not many people are going to make their own salsa or their own taco shells, so you’ll use these good options from Kraft.  But the rest of it you can cook yourself.  This application is about striking a balance between store bought and fresh.”

The recipes all have complete nutritional breakdowns, which is great, but made me wonder if Kraft was missing the mark.  Shouldn’t they be attacking the obesity problem in America?  As if he was reading my mind, Chef Samuelsson interjected, “Maybe in the next round we can address obesity, diabetes.  But this is a first step of getting kids involved in food.  It’s great for Kraft to be part of the solution.”  Point taken.  At least Kraft is doing something, even if it is subtly marketing their food products.

And just as I was starting to snicker that Chef Samuelsson was cooking a pretty easy recipe of chicken tacos for a room full of snobby food bloggers and writers, he once again whisked away my skepticism.  “I grew up in Sweden.  And all over the country on Friday nights, the entire country eats tacos.  Surprising, right?  Not what you think of as authentic tacos.  But Swedish tacos with all sorts of unusual fillings.  And I realized that tacos are a great way to incorporate different types of ingredients and flavors for kids.  Light chili pepper, or paprika.”

The dish on the brunch display I was most taken by was the Red Grits.  In the South, grits are a gateway food to a heart attack.  But Chef Samuelsson’s concoction tasted more like a side dish at an upscale Italian restaurant.  I commented to one of the Kraft executives that I would love to feature the recipe, and she told me they were exclusive to the iPad.  I pressed, and she said she would see what she could.  A few minutes later, she returned with Chef Samuelsson in tow, explaining that it was up to him to give permission.  When I told him my childhood love affair with grits, he lit up, “That’s it.  Grits are really a food that kids eat in some form around the globe.  So they are a wonderful way to introduce kids to vegetables like tomatoes.  Of course you can have the recipe.”

And then he smiled, and my heart melted.  Because I knew that in his heart, he was doing the right thing.  Fighting the right battles.  Marcus Samuelsson is as passionate as Jamie Oliver, but way more palatable.  And he’d just given me my very first Kitchen Knightmares exclusive.

Kitchen Knightmares Exclusive

Red Grits by Marcus Samuelsson (adapted from Kraft’s iPad app Big Fork Little Fork)

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp, olive oil

1 tsp, tomato paste

1/8 tsp, smoked paprika

½ cup, grits (old style, NOT instant)

1 cup, chopped tomato

1 cup, tomato juice

1 cup, fat-free reduced sodium chicken broth

¼ cup, Kraft shredded Colby & Monterrey Jack cheese

2 Tbsp, chopped fresh basil

To Make:  Cook first three ingredients in medium saucepan on medium to low heat for 1 minute.  Add grits; cook and stir 2 minutes.  Add tomatoes; cook and stir 2 minutes.  Stir in juice and stock; simmer 10 minutes.  Top with cheese and basil.

JP’s notes: I like a little heat and spice (fancy that living with a Mexican Chef), so would add more paprika or even a hint of chili powder.  The fresh basil definitely gives it an important flavor punch, so keep that in mind when you taste for seasoning—you don’t need to over salt because the basil will give it a kick.


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Kitchen Knightmares: Plum Dessert

Today on Alphabet City: A Bon Appétit recipe helps Jon Paul recover from an altercation at the neighborhood CSA.

Bon Appétit's Vanilla-Scented Plums & Blackberries

Summer in the city is supposed to be more relaxing.  But by mid-June, I start to get anxiety over a Tuesday night routine—picking up goodies from our local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) that we’ve come to refer to as “The Share.”  For five years now, we’ve been trendy little urbanites buying into a program supporting Windflower Farms in upstate New York and marveling at whatever produce is on offer each week.  For several years, Chef has enjoyed his own “quick fire” challenge—what to make with all the root vegetables—while I am left to deal with a range of characters at The Share pick-up spot.

Each week, Chef blasts a medley of Cher songs on the iPod while I download him about my latest confrontation at what is supposed to be a lovely, neighborhood bonding ritual.  He rolls his eyes at my antics like he’s Ricky Ricardo to my Gay Love Lucy.  But I can’t help it.  Somehow The Share is never quite the calm experience I would like.  Last year, I wrote about my issue with parents letting their children finger vegetables with their germy hands.  This year, my problem is with line hijackers.  I’m always behind some earthy crunchy women who have decided to split their share—on the spot.  The discussions over who might enjoy more Bok Choy while the rest of us are waiting have become excruciating.

“Ladies, you’re going to need to speed this up!” I shouted from two spots back.

“We’re just discussing who might better put this to use.  See I’m leaving town in two days and not sure I can use it all,” one of them told me.

“And I don’t need to be held hostage by your decision making process.  Take it to the curb!” I huffed.

The ladies pretended they didn’t hear me, so I skipped ahead of them and gave them an evil eye.

I suppose my own tension is enhanced by the stressful new cooking duties I have assumed.  Since Chef often gets home later on Share evenings, I thought it might be nice if I tried my hand at the CSA Quick Fire Challenge.  The results have been, well, mediocre, at best.  I’m very good at whipping up a leafy green salad and roasting some kale.  But staring at just one garlic snape and two beets can flummox me.

Last week, though, I nearly peed my pants when the fruit takeaway was a cornucopia of plums!  The August issue of Bon Appétit had the perfect suggestion for a lazy unimaginative challenged home cook like myself—Vanilla-Scented Plums and Blackberries.  So easy—cut up some plums, add blackberries, 6 T of sugar, ½ vanilla bean split lengthwise and scrape in the seeds, stir and let stand for about an hour.  It makes this delicious topping that can be served over angel food cake.

Later on our patio, while Cher sang out Dark Lady, Chef and I enjoyed my new go-to light summer dessert.  And I made a mental note to consult the rules of CSA membership—I didn’t want to be evicted over poor behavior.  Food that tastes this fresh and delicious will pretty much make me put up with anything.

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Kitchen Knightmares: Green Day Edition

Today on Alphabet City: Kitchen Knightmares returns with a special “Green Day” edition of natural remedies. Special Guest Stars: VitaMix 5200, Coach Farm’s Probiotic Yo-Goat

Please pardon the previously unannounced hiatus of Kitchen Knightmares, the spin-off kitchen series about improving my efforts to cook for Chef.  While KK was “off the air,” one episode picked up quite a devoted following in the Middle East—so if you missed Moroccan Halibut with Carrots make sure to check out Kitchen Knightmares: Something Fishy

One of my excuses for falling down on the cooking job is I’ve been doing battle with a nasty bout of flu-cold-allergies-infections for nearly a month.  In my overly dramatic mind, I was convinced I had picked up some exotic bug while on assignment in the tropics for Bon Appétit.  It took several doctors, including my own father-in-law, to dissuade me of that notion.  But it’s taken a couple of all-natural remedies from my Whole Foods peeps Paige & Chef to speed me into recovery.

Whole Foods ingredients to get rid of the whole cough

First problem: chronic cough, often keeping me awake at night, and making me sound like Lauren Bacall.  My sister Paige stepped up with this all natural cough suppressant that works for my niece Hannah—and it did for me.  Who doesn’t love a recipe whose active ingredient is Cayenne Pepper?

Texas-Style Kickin’ the Cough Syrup

1/4 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 TB honey
1 TB apple cider vinegar
2 TB water
**Take about one tsp at a time, but okay to start with 3 tsp. Take as often as needed.

The syrup was super-easy to make.  I accomplished the task even after taking an Ambien when I couldn’t sleep for 48 hours thanks to being hopped up on a dose of steroids.  I imagine it was like crystal meth minus the sex.

Part of the blender looks fresh from a porno

Second problem: struggling intestines after havoc wreaked on them by a couple of rounds of monstrously strong antibiotics.  Chef used my stomach issues as a teaching moment about the power of Probiotics using Coach Farm’s Yo-Goat Cultured Goat Milk.  Although hesitant because I rarely drink milk of any kind, I was encouraged by the May issue of Bon Appetit.  Check out p. 46 for a quick explanation of “good bacteria” that may help regulate lactose digestion (for some reason it’s not online).  Plus, the goat milk packaging was cute, and Chef insisted that I could make a tasty smoothie using, what else, the VitaMix 5200, our newly adopted kitchen child.

Chef Juan Pablo’s VitaMix5200 Probiotic Smoothie Operator

16 oz. Yo-Goat Cultured Goat Milk (strawberry flavored even though Jamie Oliver would have a cow)

1 pint fresh blackberries (or other berry fruit)

1 pint mango sorbet (Chef made some previously in the VitaMix 5200, you could use store bought)

Honey to sweeten if berries not enough

Pour cultured goat milk in first.  Then everything else.  Start VitaMix 5200 on low, gradually increase speed, using special utensil (which looks like a sex toy to me) to mash down.  If you must use a traditional blender, make sure the sorbet is soft or you’ll blow your motor.  Cue product placement commercial for VitaMix 5200 with harried home cook looking exasperated as smoke comes out of a blender with voice over: Are you tired of burning up blenders?

Nothing comes between Chef and his VitaMix

I’ve been enjoying the smoothie for 2 days after refrigerating the extra, and my tummy seems on the mend.  But not my feelings—during my lesson with Chef, I think I caught him rolling his eyes when I got flustered at the controls.  Then, he muscled in and basically took over, clearly worried I might cause injury to his new baby.  I even caught him double checking the gadget after I cleaned it.

That’s okay, because I got my revenge.  My news ears/nose/throat doctor diagnosed me with allergy-induced asthma that is causing my cough.

“Air conditioning is your friend!”  the doctor announced.

“I’m from Texas, you don’t to convince me!” I shrieked in excitement.

The doc explained that running an A/C in the bedroom at night helps filter out the pollen in the air.  I couldn’t have been more thrilled.  You see, Chef pretty much hates the A/C, something I can never understand since he’s from South of the Border.  It’s always a tense weekend in summer when I get out and install the window units.

But this year, Christmas in July comes a couple of months early—courtesy of a doctor’s note.

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Kitchen Knightmares: Chicken in SPICY Basil-Coconut Sauce

Today on Alphabet City: Thanks to JP’s travel schedule Kitchen Knightmares moves to a new day.

I’m a lot like my dog Frida—I like a set schedule.  I get up pretty much the same time every morning (a little before 6am, dragging Frida with me), have 3 cups of coffee (Frida watches), read the New York Times (Frida dozes) and get my blog posting done.  Then off to the gym and Tentpole (Frida naps).  And in my schedule, Wednesday night is Kitchen Knightmares time.  But this Tuesday morning, as I was running out the door, I realized that because of my travel schedule (to glamorous Kansas), my cooking night had to change.  And I just didn’t have time to get my head around that.

Thankfully, Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express is perfect for that last minute occasion. I flipped through it quickly and picked a dish in just a few minutes.  Chicken in Spicy Basil-Coconut Sauce sounded like the perfect recipe to take care of that use it or lose it “pollo” in the refrigerator.

Here’s the simple plan:

Chicken in Spicy Basil-Coconut Sauce

Season chicken with some ground coriander, cinnamon and chili powder, salt and sear them in some olive oil.  Remove and cook some sliced red onion, garlic cloves and two seeded Thai chilies for about four minutes.  Put chicken back in pan along with some coconut milk, some fish sauce and some chopped basil.  Cook until the coconut milk begins to bubble, then reduce to a simmer and cook until chicken is done.  Serve over rice with some lime and cilantro.

My adjustments:

We were out of chili powder, so I used Cayenne Pepper instead.  Whew, I was a little heavy handed—but hey, I’m cooking for a Mexican, so I was okay.

Whole Foods didn’t have Thai chilies, so I used jalapenos instead—see Mexican comment above

Whole Foods does carry “light” coconut milk which is much lower in fat and has just as much flavor—which made it perfect when I added more to take down the heat on the cayenne.

Chicken always makes me nervous—growing up in Texas someone was always getting sick from under cooked chicken at picnics.  So I don’t like to sear chicken and then hope it cooks in the sauce later.  So my chicken was a little overdone (Chef nicely said it was fine), so if you’re more adventurous—go ahead and sear and let it cook in the sauce later.

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Kitchen Knightmares: Quick (Down Home) Cassoulet

Today on Alphabet City: JP returns to Kitchen Knightmares cooking Quick “Down Home” Cassoulet courtesy of Mark Bittman

As life settled back into a routine in the New Year, it was time for me to live up to my commitment and get back into Wednesday cooking mode for Chef.  So last night marked my return to the Kitchen Knightmares arena.

My new special advisor in this endeavor is Mark Bittman.  I’ve always liked Mark’s take on food (and not just because his daughter turned up on the 4th of July with a friend of mine at our summer rental in Provincetown a couple of years ago).  His “Minimalist” approach chronicled weekly in the New York Times always makes sense to me, sort of a more approachable Michael Pollan.

His cookbook Kitchen Express is right up my alley—recipes arranged seasonally so you are using the best ingredients.  Even better, Mark wants cooking to be uncomplicated—so there are no exact measurements in the recipes, and each one should take under 20 minutes.

Quick (Down Home) Cassoulet (“down home” is my addition—you’ll see why)

As Mark explains, “This version is far from strictly traditional, but it maintains the spirit of the original and takes less than 20 minutes.”

Here was my process: sautéed some chopped onion, carrots, celery and garlic in olive oil for a couple of minutes.  Then I added some sliced turkey sausage (leaner than traditional).  After a couple of minutes I added a drained can of blacked eye peas (my Southern touch which I’m sure would have the French rolling their eyes; you can use any white beans you want, but these peas are a Texas New Year’s tradition so I figured I’d throw ’em in), a drained can of butter beans, a can of crushed tomatoes.  Throw in a bay leaf, some fresh thyme and salt and pepper.  It simmered for a little while to cook the vegetables.  And then I served with a sprinkling of bread crumbs.  See how easy that is to follow?  Hard to go wrong.

Only downside to Mark’s recipes is there is no nutritional information—that comes from Mark’s belief that if you generally eat correctly, you don’t need to watch that stuff.  But since Chef and I are trying to get back on the weight-loss wagon, I had to total up the calories myself.  Good news: one serving is about 300 calories!

Result?  At Judge’s Table, Chef agreed it was delicious, and that it warmed the tummy in the dead cold of winter.

I’ll invite Mark back to be my cooking coach anytime.

Note: Live on the Upper West Side?  Make sure to stop by the Whole Foods on 97th and Columbus on Wednesday nights around 6pm and check out Chef’s “tasting night.”

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Kitchen Knightmares: Biggest Loser Edition

Today on Alphabet City: Biggest Loser Finale reminds Jon Paul of his own struggles with weight loss.

Here’s a question for our time: what do you serve at a dinner party while watching NBC’s Biggest Loser Finale?  I’ll admit that I’m a Johnny come lately fan of this show—becoming obsessed halfway through this season chronicling the struggles of chronically obese men and women struggling to lose huge amounts of weight.  To do it, they get to go to a magical (or hellish place) known as The Ranch and assisted by a couple of fitness experts—one of whom, Bob, is now my TV Trainer Boyfriend, between the accent and the sleeve tattoos, I can’t get enough.

The one thing that does bother me about Bob is his seeming willingness to shill any product placement on the show.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a realist and not a purist about this stuff.  I’m willing to overlook the blatant recommendations for gum and Glad bags.  But Bob totally lost me recently when he told contestant Amanda that when she goes to a party she should take with her a Subway Party Platter (I’m not kidding), so that she would know there would be healthy choices at the event.

There’s a part of the show that really speaks to me.  As someone who has dealt with weight issues since the age of 10—until just a year or so ago I always hovered around 33 pounds above my goal weight—I identify with the difficult struggles the contestants are facing.  And like they teach on the show, I know you need a community of support around you to help you make healthy lifestyle changes.  I’m terrifically lucky to have a life partner in Chef, who has made a career out of cooking healthy; and a best friend in Susan, who has become a workout buddy encouraging me to ramp up my activities so that I actually did lose that final bit of weight before I turned 40.

The three of us watch Biggest Loser true to our personalities.  Susan likes the dramatic back stories, and wants to know more about the exact workouts they make them do.  I like the make over portion of the show, when Tim Gunn appears, and worry about the plastic surgery they might need to trim the extra rolls of fat.  Chef, a trained economist, only wants to show up for the final weigh in—it’s all about the numbers for him.

For our party, I chose not to order a Subway Platter, and instead chose a recipe from the Fast Easy Fresh section of Bon Appetit (see, I’m not adverse to product placement).  I appreciate that the magazine breaks down the calorie, fat and fiber content.  So I chose the Poblano and Mushroom Tacos from the Nov 2009 issue—this dish was super easy and a crowd pleaser.  You can cut down on the fat by not frying the tortillas in oil, but rather wrapping them in a wet paper towel and microwaving them for a few seconds.

My biggest problem of the night?  My TV dancer boyfriend Jakob is on So You Think You Can Dance at the same time—and phone lines are only open for 2 hours after the show.  I made it just in time, voting 5 times for him.

Now off to the gym—I’m living every day as if it were a “Last Chance Workout!”

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