Tag 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: 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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Resolution Freak

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul lays down some challenges for the next year.

There’s no doubt about it.  I’m a freak about resolutions.  Not that I hate them, mind you.  I adore them.  Some people say it’s one of my annoying Capricorn tendencies—but it’s something I can’t help.  I love making lists, and setting goals.  Because my birthday comes the day after the New Year, I get doubly obsessed this time of year with assessing my life and setting priorities.

My resolutions are always a mix of the traditional (lose weight, pay off debt) and the easily achievable (wear purple, learn to tie a bow-tie).  I think it’s important to quickly check a few things off the list in order to keep the momentum going.  To that end, I’m also a big believer in sharing your list with others so they can help monitor your progress.  One year, Angela was particularly annoyed with one of my resolutions that I had posted on our refrigerator.

“Eat more sushi?” she asked incredulously.

“Perfectly reasonable,” I said.

“But for as long as we’ve been friends, you refuse to eat any sushi. “

“That’s what makes it a great resolution. I can taste one piece off your plate and check it off my list!”

JPB 2010's Resolutions scrawled in a crazy way

Like I said, the easily achievable stuff is important—it’s what gives you motivation to take on the harder stuff.

This year, I’ve decided to treat this blog as one big e-refrigerator—posting up my resolutions for all to see.  That way, you can help out (read close—there’s one that requires your participation) and you can also keep me honest.  I also post them in a fun way in front of my computer—this year using a page from a fun NYC-entric book my friend Shannon gave me.

And I’ll update you on my progress along the way—just a couple of weeks down, and I’m rocking!  Spoken like a true, competitive Capricorn.

JPB 2010 Resolutions

ALPHABET CITY—#1) publish and sell 300 copies.  I have no idea if this number is too small, but hey, probably achievable—with your help.  Progress Report: waiting for final text layout, and hope to start selling it sometime in February!  #2) adapt into a performance piece—that’s right—Alphabet City: The Musical (or maybe Cabaret Show) – I’ve always wanted to do it and do something different…time to make it happen!

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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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Kitchen Knightmares: Boyfriend Trouble

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul’s crush on dancer Jakob causes problems in his cooking for Juan Pablo.

I’ve decided to forgive myself for mistakenly substituting Sunchokes (a.k.a. Jerusalem Artichokes) for Parsnips in this week’s challenge: Greek-Style Penne with Lamb, Parsnips, Tomatoes, and Cinnamon from Bon Appetit’s November 2009 issue.  The fact is I wasn’t paying attention while shopping because I’ve been distracted by a boy.

Jakob, the object of my schoolgirl affection

On Tuesday, for the first time ever, I actually called in to vote for a contestant on a TV competition.  I’m a late convert to So You Think You Can Dance but have quickly developed an enormous crush on Jakob (how cute is it that he spells it with a “k”?).  My Dancetestant Boyfriend is terrifically talented, cute, and humble.  I know, I have a schoolgirl crush, and I can’t help it.

I waited with excruciating anticipation until the show’s host announced the phone lines were open for voting.  And then dialed 1-888-TEMPO-10 and then panicked.  Was that Jakob’s number?  I scanned the DVR back and melted all over again as my beloved looked right into my eyes and held up all his fingers.  I punched my phone again, and voted not once, but three times.

Then a flash of shame took hold and I stopped myself from hitting the redial button to vote again.  What was I doing?  How did I become this person?  I had officially jumped the shark and become a crazed fan.

And so on Wednesday, I raced through the aisles of Whole Foods Chelsea desperately trying to round up my ingredients.  I needed to get home to watch the results show before cooking for Chef Juan Pablo.  And that’s how I was taken in by the Sunchokes Switcheroo.

Definitely add the fresh parsley as a garnish, unless you're SJP

Turns out, the little tubers are a pretty good substitute for parsnips (confirmed by Chef).  And, my passion for Jakob helped him advance to the Final 8.  When he makes it back to NYC, I’ll invite him over to celebrate.

Recipe Reaction: Easy and delicious recipe to make.  Next time I’d add a little bit more cinnamon than recipe calls for to punch up that flavor.  FYI, when shopping at Whole Foods, ground lamb is usually found already packaged—not behind the butcher counter.

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Charlie Brown Thanksgiving: A Kitchen Knightmares Special

Today on Alphabet City: Overshadowed by Juan Pablo on Thanksgiving, Jon Paul feels like Charlie Brown.

In the debut posting of the series Kitchen Knightmares, I acknowledged that no one wants to hear me whine about being married to a chef.  But I really get worked up about the issue when Thanksgiving approaches because none of my guests ever give me any credit for cooking the meal.  Since Chef Juan Pablo hails from Mexico City, I usually bar him from the kitchen claiming that only an American can appreciate the meal’s historical underpinnings.  I’m not interested in his South of the Border suggestion to add chipotles to my green bean concoction.  Usually, he’s happy to escape the kitchen, and always willing to accept the compliments when our friends remark year after year, “Chef’s done it again!”

I’m like the Charlie Brown of Thanksgiving.  Try as I might, I just can’t get through to our friends that I spend days preparing our annual spread.  While fellow Texan Angela gets kudos for her trio of pies, I get nada from friends for my buffet of casseroles and cranberries.  It’s odd that Chef gets all credit for the food, because in the beginning my dishes were straight-up white-trash—not at all things they’d expect from Juan Pablo.

“My goodness, everything sure is brown.  And starchy,” observed my Australian friend Rebecca when she first joined us about eight years ago.

Rebecca worked for the UN and was accustomed to more exotic flavors it seemed.  She had a difficult time distinguishing between the line-up of Pyrex dishes offering down home casseroles made with Cream of Mushroom soup: broccoli-rice, green bean, and potato.  Later, she tried to hide the sour look on her face when she reluctantly tasted a frothy pistachio green concoction known ominously as Watergate Salad.  At that point, I made a vow to break from my Texas ways and embrace some more “elegant” Yankee traditions.

That’s when I turned to Bon Appétit for help.  Over time, their November issue has provided easy-to-make upscale suggestions, many of which have become part of my repertoire.  No more canned cranberries—my crowd-pleasing recipe: Spiced Cranberry Sauce with Zinfandel, my stained page torn out from BA, Nov. 2001.  After years of therapy, I’m adding an interpretation of a vegetable that I’ve hated for decades: brussels sprouts—the unpleasant smell of which I associate with my sister Paige’s after-school snack doused in vinegar.  BA’s advice?  Make them into a slaw—Brussels Sprout Slaw with Mustard Dressing and Maple Glazed Pecans!

This year, we celebrate a very special moment at the table—it will be Chef’s first Thanksgiving as a certified United States citizen.  In honor, I’m tearing down my wall and am allowing him into the kitchen on this holiday.  His first suggestion?  Spice up the turkey and gravy.  At first I was suspect.  But then while I was flipping through an old BA, just a few pages down from my cranberry specialty, I spotted a recipe for a Citrus-Glazed Turkey with Chipotle Gravy.  A little immigrant influence never hurt anyone—why that’s what has made this country great!  Viva America!

The only downside?  A jazzed-up turkey is exactly the kind of food our guests expect from Chef, not me.  And that means no one will ever give me my hard-earned kitchen credit.  Good grief, a Charlie Brown Kitchen Knightmare for sure.

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