Easy, Cheesy Cookin’

Cheesy Cheddar GritsWhen we bake, we have to be precise. It’s a scientific process that requires exactitude in order to produce the desired outcome. There’s of course a little room for ingenuity, but the foundation of baking recipes is for the most part constant. Baking is that last-minute trip to the grocery store because you realize you’re low on one key ingredient. Cooking, on the other hand, is entirely different. Cooking is the freedom to play and experiment. Cooking is whipping up a work of art by throwing together what you already have in your keeping.

If you ask anyone who’s ever seen me cook, they will tell you not to expect the recipe. Sometimes I don’t remember which ingredients I used, never mind a finely measured recipe for them. And if you ask the same person to explain this phenomenon, they will tell you the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Growing up in my mom’s house meant continually having to renounce favorite meals and concede to new ones because she couldn’t remember what she’d done to make the last one so special. It seemed like no two dishes she’d make on a whim were ever the same.

The other weekend, the city was struck with arctic conditions, so my guy and I were deciding what to eat indoors to avoid the tundra that was NYC. He had a hankering for grits, and as they were conveniently stashed in his pantry, it was all settled.  I’d been staring at the ceiling for a while that frigid morning as he continued to sleep, so when he finally woke up, I was ready to get the show on the road. He, however, needed a little more time.

So, we came up with a beautiful breakfast system. While he answered some work emails in bed, I got started on the grits. I collected a handful of the spices available to me: some garlic powder because always, a little onion powder because of course, a dash of paprika because I am pretty certain there’s some sort of rule that you have to put it in everything, salt, black pepper, and dried chives because why not? I put the grits in the pot, added all my spices, and cooked it all according to the instructions provided.

When the grits were a few minutes from completion, simmering happily on the stove, my guy came in and worked his poached egg magic. I hadn’t ever poached an egg before so this was my chance to learn. In the 5 or 6 minutes it took him to boil the water, gently drop the eggs into the spinning liquid, and cook them to soft, yolky perfection, I plated the grits and garnished each serving with a pat of butter and some extra sharp cheddar cheese. Once my task was complete, it was time for him to scoop up the eggs from their hot bath and nestle them into their soft bed of grits. We each sliced open our respective eggs to soak the grits in the rich, creamy yolk, and then we topped it all off with a dash of habanero pepper sauce. Breakfast was served! And oh my, was it delicious.

Based on your new knowledge of how I function when cooking (as opposed to baking), the following is not so much a recipe as it is a set of guidelines with which you can work your own kitchen mojo. When adding your spices, start with a little because you can always add more, but you can’t undo what’s done. And, like every good chef, taste frequently as you go until it’s to your utmost satisfaction. No one knows what you like more than you!

Cheesy Grits and Poached eggs for two

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 servings of grits
  • appropriate amount of water specified for grits on package
  • garlic powder
  • onion powder
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • dried chives
  • paprika
  • cheddar cheese
  • butter
  • Habanero pepper sauce

Directions

  1. Place grits and water in a pot.
  2. Add a few shakes of all your spices/herbs.
  3. Cook according to grits label.
  4. As the grits continue to cook, taste and add a little bit of spice if you think it’s needed.
  5. When you have about 6 minutes cooking time left with the grits, boil water in another small pot.
  6. Crack 1 egg into a small bowl.
  7. Once water is boiling, turn heat down to simmer. Spin water around in a circle with a spoon.
  8. Gently tip egg out of bowl into center of spinning water.
  9. Quickly repeat steps 6-8 with second egg. Cook 3 minutes.
  10. Plate grits in a bowl.
  11. Using a slotted spoon, transfer eggs to bowl.
  12. Sprinkle with cheese, add some butter, and top it off with the habanero sauce.
  13. Enjoy!

“Ice Cream” Trickery!

Creamy banana “ice cream” with almond butter and chocolate chips.

I have a sweet tooth. That much is clear. There are times when I’m willing to go to great lengths to get my hands on a treat. During those times, it’s not beneath my standards or level of self-respect to consume just about anything that falls under the “sweet” category to satiate my craving.

Double Stuf Oreos smothered in peanut butter and marshmallow fluff–because the double creme filling is not enough? Sure. Unbaked brownie batter (with the eggs purposefully omitted) by the spoonful? Absolutely. These gluttonous goodies are no more than garbage. The side effect? They make me feel as trashy as they are. Sure, there’s an element of instant gratification, but that wears off and I’m left feeling sickly from all the junk and guilty from my lack of self-control.

I admit my ability to satisfy my sugar cravings with creative combinations is notable. But I also care about my health, and in general I do try to make healthier food choices. Yes, it takes will power. And yes, it can feel like I’m sacrificing flavor and neglecting my primal desires. But that doesn’t always have to be the case!

I present to you banana “ice cream.” I call it ice cream because it looks, feels, smells, and tastes  like ice cream! I put it in quotes because it’s unbelievable trickery! This “ice cream” is creamy, sweet, rich, and totally delicious, but it’s made with only one ingredient: bananas! How can this be? Well, my friends, let me enlighten you.

The high levels of pectin, fiber and sugar give bananas their creamy consistency and sweet flavor. Plus, bananas are substantial–unlike many other fruits, bananas release energy slowly, which keeps you feeling fuller longer. All of these magical qualities remain consistent through freezing. Cut up some ripe bananas. Freeze them until they’re solid. Then whiz them in a blender or food processor until smooth, and you’ve got yourself ice cream!

Plain banana “ice cream” is great on it’s own, but it also acts as an excellent canvas onto which you can unleash your creative genius! You can blend in some Nutella if you’re into that sorta thing, or even cookie butter (I am most definitely into that sorta thing)! Add some frozen raspberries or peaches to the mix for a tuttier fruitier flare. Throw in some peanut butter, or whatever nut butter you prefer. Not only would this change the flavor; it would also add some protein to the mix to help you feel satisfied even longer. My personal favorite combination is almond butter and mini chocolate chips…because chocolate. Depending on the extras you choose, the nutritional value of the finished product will vary, but you’re still off to a much better, healthier start than if you were to eat regular ice cream.

Banana “Ice Cream”

Ingredients

  • 4 ripe bananas
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Cut bananas into small chunks. Arrange on a plate in a single layer and freeze until solid (about 2 hours)
  2. Place bananas in a food processor or powerful blender. Puree bananas until smooth and creamy. Add nut butter (or any other blendable ingredient of your choosing) and puree until well combined.
  3. Fold in chocolate chips with a wooden spoon.

Enjoy immediately as soft-serve or save in the freezer for a harder ice cream consistency.

Warrior

Whimsy Kitchen is where I can share with the world my passion and love for the small things that bring joy to my life: food and writing. It is a bubbly sort of space that reflects the playfulness and, well…whimsy of my own personality. But there is more to Whimsy Kitchen than that. Ultimately, it is an extension of my self. And I am not limited to bubbles and sugar.

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I found this gem in a grimy subway station. One thing I love about NYC is the incredible beauty that exists in the least expected places if you just take a moment to look around.

Whimsy Kitchen, similar to my life, is like cake. It is composed of multiple tiers. Each sheet of cake is separated by a layer of filling that adds depth and contrast in flavor, texture, and appearance. All of this is covered with a rich, sweet icing. It may seem to be just an ordinary dessert frosted with vanilla. It may look so simple. But you may not comprehend the labor and love that went into such a modest-looking cake until you yourself follow the recipe and stand over the mixing bowl, back arched and arms aching from whipping egg whites to soft peaks for what seems like hours. And you can’t possibly know from its frosting what’s inside until you slice into it and taste it. The creative process, flavor and overall experience of the cake depend upon all the unique ingredients that go into it. And like cake, each component of Whimsy Kitchen is equally important as the next.

Lately I’ve been caught up with the responsibilities of life and have been absent in this sector because I was feeling restricted by the expectations I had unknowingly assigned to it. So, I’ve decided to expand the focus of Whimsy Kitchen to better represent the many facets of me as a person. Whimsy Kitchen is the place for me to exhibit all the creative endeavors in which I take pride. It is the space where I can expose all the hidden layers that make up the cake of my self.

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Winter is rough. Sometimes it gets you down and feels like it will never end. But sights like this make the cold all worth it to me. Wall of ice.

I love New York City. The energy, the speed of the underworld, the system of trains with all its progress and tunnels and secrets; the determination and ambition of the millions of dreamers that make up the sturdy foundation of the breathtaking skyline, whose awesomeness is experienced by us finite beings looking up from its trampled streets to its soaring, untouchable crown; the energy and zeal that shine onto our faces as the lights of the traffic and on the Broadway stages. New York is a city to be beaten. It’s a hard, dirty, gritty, high-strung beast with an aggressive ego and a seething latent rage. It plays by it’s own rules and puts up a nasty fight. It gives little in the way of compassion or forgiveness, and it will knock you down and kick you when you’re on the flat of your back to assert its dominance. Only those with the heart to persevere can survive the fight and make it out alive.

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The Freedom Tower is one of my favorite buildings in NYC. It is beautiful in design, but also in meaning. It symbolizes the strength, power, loyalty, and love that this amazing country and city are made of.

That is the beautiful thing about the people of the City. They struggle, as people always do. But they are a rebellious breed. They are relentless and steadfast in the battles of their design. They will give up on their dreams at no cost. They are resolute in their fight through the pain of the “No’s” and “You’ll never make it’s” and “You need to be more realistic’s” that hit hard in the gut and knock the wind out of them. They collect the rejection and hardship and resistance in a bucket labeled “Strength” to throw back in the world’s smug face.

I love New York City because here, I am forced to challenge myself in every conceivable way, to reject the world’s rules and insistence on normalcy. I am a modern warrior, defending my vision and my individualism.

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Waking up before dawn may seem like a lonely experience, as the rest of the world is quiet with sleep. But to experience the sunrise is to have your breath stolen and your mind and heart inspired.

Now let’s go eat some cake.