Have you ever been so in love with someone that you fail to notice their waning youth? They age and change, a little extra weight around their middle or a bald spot that continues to grow, and yet, in your eyes, they’re the same as when you met. That’s how I saw Sedona. On this trip, I finally grasped that Sedona today is not the Sedona I fell for over 20 years ago. Although I’ve visited over the years, I ignored its subtle transformation. To me, it was still the quirky little town nestled in majestic orange spires of incomparable beauty. Until this visit, I refused to notice the town changing, growing. Roads that were once dirt are now paved, the funky downtown has become a row of mini malls and chic shops, There are roundabouts everywhere to alleviate the traffic (there’s traffic!), and houses have sprouted on cliff-sides where before there were none. Too many cars, too many tourists. I’ve overlooked these changes, not wanting to admit my former Sedona is altered, polished, accessible. It’s still breathtaking, I confess, and anyone who didn’t know the Sedona of before would surely delight in its charms. I’m reminded that we can never really go back, though, can we?
Cabin Improvisations – water bottle as rolling pin.
Flaky pastry surrounds plump, juicy blackberries. These pies required another cabin improvisation – using a stainless steel water bottle as a rolling pin.
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cups canola oil
6 Tablespoons whole milk
12 oz. blackberries
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon lemon zest
1 egg, beaten
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour and salt together in a medium bowl. Combine oil and milk in a measuring cup. Add oil mixture to flour and combine with a fork until dough forms a ball. Cover and set aside.
Combine blackberries, sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and lemon zest. Set aside. Divide dough into two equal portions and roll each portion out into a 12” x 12” square between two pieces of waxed paper. Cut each 12” square into 4 equal squares (you should have 8 squares).
Arrange about 10 blackberries on bottom half of each square and fold over top half, covering blackberries. Crimp sides with tines of a fork, cut 2-3 small vent holes for steam in each pie and brush with beaten egg.
Carefully transfer pies to sheet pan and bake until golden, 25-30 minutes. Cool slightly and enjoy.
When cooking in a secluded cabin in the woods, a chef must be content with improvisation. This dish began as chicken pot pie, but upon discovering that a fully stocked cabin kitchen doesn’t necessarily include an oven-proof baking dish, I resolved to switch pot pie for a stove-top version of chicken and dumplings. Without the essential baking powder in my limited pantry, the dumplings posed another problem. My culinary training to the rescue – milk, check. Butter, check. Flour and salt, check. Eggs, check. Pate a choux dumplings! The resulting dish is rich, satisfying, homey, and the perfect accompaniment to a stay in a cozy cabin.
Simmer together milk, butter and salt until butter is fully melted, but mixture has not come to a boil. Add ½ cup flour and stir until flour is fully incorporated and dough pulls away from the sides of the pan. Cool dough in pan by running the sides of the pan under cold water. Beat in eggs one at a time. Stir in Parmesan. Set aside. Heat a small saucepan with 2 cups water until boiling.
Season chicken with salt and pepper. Sauté chicken in a bit of oil in a large skillet until brown and cooked through. Remove chicken and add celery, carrot, and onion. Sauté until softened. Add mushrooms and sauté until mushrooms have softened. Add peas and cook until vegetables are beginning to brown. Add vegetables to chicken. Add a bit more oil to pan and add 2 Tablespoons flour. Stir until flour is golden brown and bubbly. Add broth and cook until slightly thickened. Return chicken, vegetables and accumulated juices to skillet, reduce heat and simmer until heated through. Season with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, drop small teaspoons of dough into boiling water. Remove dumplings when they have risen to the top of the water. Drain on paper towels. To serve, ladle chicken into bowls and garnish with two or three warm dumplings.
My cozy cabin in the Oak Creek forest – Butterfly Garden Inn
This dish is my attempt at a dessert-like French toast served at Residence U Cerneho Orla, my charming B&B in Prague. Each morning’s tray of delicacies included a petite dish cupping a slender raft of French toast and sautéed apples, afloat on a pond of syrupy butter sauce. The toast absorbs the warm sauce like a sponge, transforming this humble breakfast food into a custard-like dessert.
-1 apple, peeled and thinly sliced
– ½ cup water
– 4 Tablespoon butter, plus more for pan
– ¼ cup sugar
– ½ teaspoon cinnamon(divided)
– 2 eggs
– ½ cup milk
– ¼ teaspoon vanilla
– 4 slices egg bread, such as challah
In a pan, melt butter, sugar, and ¼ teaspoon cinnamon in water. Add apple slices and cook for 5 minutes covered until softened. Remove lid and continued cooking until sauce is reduced by half. Sauce should be the consistency of watered-down maple syrup. Add additional water, if needed. Remove from heat, cover again and set to the side.
Whisk together eggs, milk, ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, and vanilla.
Heat butter in another pan. Dip bread into the egg mixture and cook in pan until puffed and browned. Remove from pan and dip in apple butter sauce.
Serve French toast liberally covered with butter sauce and apples.
On our last day of pasta making with Manuelina Culinary, we learned about Northern Italian spaetzle. Spaetzle from Italy? Wha? Sacrilege! After my German incredulity wore off, I conceded that it makes sense. Northern Italy borders both Switzerland and Austria and Germany lies just a hop, skip and jump away. Naturally these dumplings of delight were adopted by the Italians. The Italian adaptation is similar to the German version, but finished by serving the dumplings in a tomato sauce. How very Italiano.
I’d label myself a spaetzle aficionado. I’ve consumed spaetzle in Bavaria and dined on spaetzle with Kalua pork in Maui (Thanks to a fellow Alsatian chef). I’ve gobbled pea-sized versions and spaetzle as fat as Vienna sausages. I’ve prepared spaetzle with a spaetzle maker, colander and with a knife and board. The best spaetzle is twice cooked; first boiled and then finished in a cast iron skillet, sautéed golden brown and crispy in plenty of butter.
I wish I could weave some great story about my mom’s recipe being handed down through the generations, carried aboard the boat that brought my grandparents to America in 1909. Sadly, no. My mom’s recipe came from the Luchow’s cookbook, the famous German restaurant in New York. My mom wanted to recreate dishes from my father’s childhood, so this recipe became a staple in our home sometime after the publish date of 1952.
Add wet ingredients to dry and combine. Add additional milk until dough resembles a stiff pancake batter.
Let rest for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, boil a large pot of salted water. Fill a large bowl with ice water.
Using a spätzle maker, drop the dumplings into the salted water (or force through a colander with large holes). The spätzle will float to the top when cooked. Let boil a minute longer and then transfer to ice water.
Drain well and saute in butter in a skillet until golden and some pieces are crispy. Season with salt and pepper.
Thursday is a potpourri of pasta and pasta alternatives; we prepare little-known fresh pasta, dried pasta, hand-rolled pasta (at my request), and risotto. For me, there are two standouts – gnocchi and Curligiones. Not surprisingly, potatoes star in both recipes. I’m convinced I’ve reached my flour and water quotient for the week.
I’ve prepared and eaten gnocchi; I know delicious gnocchi and ghastly gnocchi (and I’ve made both). Thursday’s gnocchi is heavenly. Seriously, like little angels came down and blew kisses into a pot of boiling water. They are pillowy soft without the slightest bit of gumminess. Is it the Italian potato variety (which is unavailable in the US) that produces the lightness, could it be the flour (also not available in the states) that ensures their fluffiness, or is it technique? I’m counting on technique since I’m serving these in two weeks for the family. We’ll see if my technique will be enough.
Gnocchi with Porcini Mushrooms
Curligiones, on the other hand, are a new discovery to me. Their name and flavor has never crossed my lips before. These are savory, hand-made pasta from Sardinia, elaborately folded and filled with potato, pecorino and a bit of mint. They tastes more like an Eastern European dumpling than Italian ravioli and look similar to Japanese steamed potstickers. My fork pierces a chubby pillow to reveal a pocket of steamy, cheesy mashed potatoes. A fresh tomato sauce and the dash of mint curb the richness. This is comfort food on steroids. I stab another from the platter with my fork. These are sure to appear in my repertoire as well.