Archives for the month of: February, 2012

We love eating pancakes on the weekends and I happen to have the best pancake recipe ever.  I don’t even remember where it came from but they always come out perfectly tender and cakey with a little bit of sweetness.  My husband didn’t want me to share it because he wants to serve them in our restaurant someday but I was able to sway him with a little convincing.

If you would like to amp up the nutrition factor you can cut the white flour with buckwheat flour. If I do it, I usually use 1/3 – 1/2 buckwheat flour and the rest All Purpose Flour. Buckwheat has little to no gluten. Gluten is the protein found in wheat flour that gives it it’s structure and strength. In something like a pasta or a bread, you want structure and strength, since chewiness and bite are attributes you aspire for. In pancakes you want them to be delicate, so you don’t want much gluten. With 100% buckwheat you end up with a batter with no structure and pancakes that are dense and need help from things like beaten egg whites to add lightness and stability. I prefer the flavor, texture and ease with less of a ratio of buckwheat flour but you may not. Experiment and see what works for you.

This recipe calls for sour cream, which gives it richness and a little bit of tang. I am obsessed with Wallaby Organic sour cream lately because it’s thickness and flavor is heads and tails above the others I have tasted. It’s so good you could put it on berries,  drizzle with a real Aceto Balsamico (Balsamic Vinegar from Modena) and dust with confectioners sugar to be eaten for dessert. Because the sour cream is so thick, I often need to add a splash more of milk to get the pancake batter to the right pouring consistency.

We eat the pancakes with butter and real maple syrup. Did you know that there isn’t even any maple in products like Log Cabin and Aunt Jemima Syrup? They are primarily flavored with things like Fenugreek, a spice with a maple-like aroma, and then high fructose corn syrup,  a cheap way to make it sweet. Besides being minimally processed and all natural, the real stuff just tastes so much better.

Sifting the dry ingredients  not only ensures that there are no foreign objects in the mix (something you have to worry about more in a commercial kitchen) but also aerates the flour to prevent the pancakes from being dense. You can sift by putting dry ingredients through a fine strainer and tapping the side with your hand, or stirring the flour with a wooden spoon to help it through.

Here is the recipe.

Best Pancakes Ever

Serves 4 (about 12 pancakes)

1 1/2 cups AP Flour

3 Tbsp sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

1/2 cup sour cream

3/4 cup milk

2 eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

1. Sift together dry ingredients except for salt because kosher salt won’t go through the sifter, the kernels are too large. Add salt after sifting.

2. In a separate bowl whisk together remaining wet ingredients. Add wet to dry mixing only until combined.

3. Rest 30 minutes to relax the gluten. If you need to skip this step they will still come out fine.

4. Mix batter just to recombine. You may have to adjust consistency depending on the kind of sour cream you use. Batter should be thick, but able to pour off the spoon, not glop off. If needed to thin add milk, a few drops at a time. Heat griddle and place a pat of butter on. Swirl around to coat griddle with a thin layer.

5. Test one pancake by gently dropping a small ladle full onto the griddle. Cook until lightly browned on one side and then flip with spatula. Cook other side. If you are happy with the consistency, cook the rest.

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Before I go food shopping I like to make a nice hearty “clean out the fridge” soup. I do it to use up the odds and ends of vegetables, cut or whole, that I have laying around. When my daughter was an infant and had just begun to experiment with solids I would always have some kind of chunky vegetable soup on hand. The idea was for all of the components to be cut bite size, about 1/4-1/2″, and cooked soft, so she could easily pick up the pieces with her fingers but there is no danger of choking. Now that she is a toddler, and can be quite finicky at times. Soup is still the easiest way for me to get her to eat her vegetables. I make it with as little liquid as possible, just enough to cook it.

Minestrone is a hearty vegetable soup usually containing beans and sometimes pasta. This version was made with bacon (I like the uncured, nitrate free variety), dry cannelini beans and vegetables. However, you can make it with chicken, beef, or no meat at all. If you are not using meat make sure you have tomato in it, whether it’s tomato paste, jarred tomatoes (not tomato sauce) or diced fresh ones. The tomato adds acidity and richness which sort of makes up for the lack of meat.

Ideally, dry beans should be soaked the day before you are going to use them to rehydrate them before cooking. The main reasons for this are so that the beans cook evenly and don’t break apart and lose their shape, and because the soaking liquid removes some of the flatulence causing compounds from the beans. If you are making a soup it really doesn’t matter if the beans break apart a bit. The way that you “speed soak” dry beans is to put beans in a pot with 4 times the amount of water. Bring them to a boil. Reduce it to a simmer and simmer for 10 minutes and then shut them off and let sit for an hour. Discard the liquid, and cook them as you would if they were soaked. The beans I used take a really long time to cook. I know this because I have cooked them before. It’s not uncommon for the same type of bean but different batches or different producers to cook at different rates. So many factors influence this from how they were dried to how old they are. Don’t be freaked out if your beans are taking forever one day and last week they cooked up quick. That’s how it goes.

After my speed soak I cooked the beans right in the soup. If you get the beans going first before you start any cooking or cutting, your timing will work out perfectly when adding them to the soup.

If you are wondering if you can use canned beans, the answer is yes, but dry beans are so so so (did I say so?) much better than canned, once you start working with them, you’ll never go back. There will definitely be a future post on cooking amazingly delicious dry beans. My husband says I cook the best beans he’s ever had. I guess that’s a compliment.

  • Sweating the vegetables brings out the flavor and forms the base of your soup. Sweating is gently cooking in a little oil so that the liquid is released from the vegetable, therefore concentrating it and elevating the flavor.
  • As a general rule- carrots, onions, leeks, celery and garlic go in the post first to sweat.
  • Next goes starchy veg like potatoes, butternut squash and turnips.
  • green veg go last, especially leafy vegetables so that they keep their color. Brussels sprouts, cabbage, string beans go later on as well because they are less dense and take less time to cook.

The great thing about making soup is that you have a lot of freedom and you don’t have to follow a strict recipe. I am providing one to give you an example, and a delicious one at that. Just remember that anything with a strong flavor like the cabbage family or turnips are going to make your soup taste off. I’m not a fan of beets in a soup, unless it is borscht.

To clean leeks, you basically cut off the top 2/3 of the leek where it goes from white/pale green to dark green. The tops are very fibrous but still have flavor. They are good to reserve for stocks. The bottom is tender and is what you will dice for soups, etc. Slice them in half lengthwise through the root and then cut off the root. You are left with a rectangular leek with lots of layers. The layers however get smaller as you get to the where the middle of the leek would be so you need to take apart these layers to dice them evenly. Cut 2-3 layers together at a time. Another important fact is that leeks grow partially submerged in the dirt and if you don’t clean them well you will be eating that dirt. The proper technique is to cut your leeks and then agitate them in a bowl of water. Let sit so that the dirt falls to the bottom of the bowl. You then lift the leeks out, leaving the soil on the bottom. Never pour through a strainer because you’ll just pour the dirt back on the leeks. Do this about 3 times to ensure no dirt remains. About 7 years ago when I was a line cook it was 5 o’clock and I was checking all my mise en place and I came across melted leeks that were cooked by the day cook and they were sandy. I alerted the chef who then called down to the sous-chef who washed more leeks himself and brought them up to me to cook. It was dangerously close to service starting and I was sweating. I cooked the leeks as fast as I could praying that an order wouldn’t come in that I needed them for. I tasted them for seasoning and realized there was sand in them again. Of course I told the chef, because we couldn’t serve sandy leeks, and his loud deep voice boomed across the kitchen, “HANG YOUR HEAD IN SHAME, ALEXIS.” And I did. And I don’t want you to.

Clean out the Fridge Minestrone Soup

1 T oil, vegetable or olive

8 oz. bacon, diced

3 leeks, white part only, diced

6 small carrots, diced

4 stalks celery, diced

4 cloves garlic, smashed

1/2 bulb fennel, diced

1/4 red onion, diced

1 bay leaf

2 sprigs oregano

2T tomato paste

1 cup cannelini beans, soaked or speed soaked

1/2 tomato, diced

1 head spinach, removed from stem and chopped

Salt and Pepper

mmmmmm bacon

  1. Warm oil in the bottom of a large pot and add bacon. It shouldn’t be sizzling. We want to gently cook the bacon to get it going and begin picking up a bit of color.
  2. Add the leek, carrot, onion, celery, garlic, fennel and bay leaf. Cook gently over medium heat until veg become translucent and aromatic.
  3. Add tomato paste. Cook out so that paste caramelizes a bit.
  4. Add enough water to cover vegetables.
  5. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and add beans, tomato and oregano.
  6. Simmer until beans and vegetables are tender, anywhere from 30-50 minutes. Don’t worry if vegetables are soft but beans aren’t cooked. Keep cooking until beans are tender. About halfway through cooking taste for seasoning and add salt.
  7. When beans are tender add spinach and cook an additional 5-10 minutes, until spinach is cooked. You can leave the spinach just wilted, but I know my kid won’t eat it that way.
  8. Season with salt and pepper.
  9. Eat with a crusty loaf of whole grain bread to sop up all of the delicious juice.

It’s always a struggle to get my daughter to eat enough greens. She’s only 2 with one set of molars. That’s not enough to break down any kind of leafy green, cooked or raw. Whenever I eat a salad, she’ll poke her head in the bowl and look at me with those big doe eyes and say “for Zoe,” pointing to herself. I oblige, handing her a small dressed leaf. She pops it in her mouth and I see movement, a positive sign. Just when I think she’s actually eating it, out pops the leaf perfectly in tact, licked clean of all the anchovy dressing. She hands it to me. “More,” she’ll ask. And this is how it goes until a greater portion of my salad is shiny and naked. Boooooo. Cooked greens are a hard sell too unless they are chopped super fine and drowned in tomato sauce. Toddlers will eat anything drowned in tomato sauce. That is also the subject of a future post.

Kale Chips are great because they are crunchy, savory and super light. They practically disintegrate on your tongue. The downside is that this crunchy lightness can also leave a trail throughout your house when held by a wiggly energetic toddler.

The kind of kale that I use is Tuscan Black Kale (Cavolo Nero), or Lacinata, two very similar strains. You can find it in the more specialized supermarkets like Whole Foods or Fairway, and many local greenmarkets have it as well. It’s one of my favorite greens because it is delicious, super good for you and extremely versatile. You can do things like eat it raw in a salad with some kind of hearty dressing, or cook it by braising it in tomato sauce.

When you buy kale and store it in your refrigerator be sure to put it in either a container with a lid or a ziploc bag with air and a damp paper towel inside.  The idea is to keep some of that moisture in. If you just put the bunch of greens in the crisper bin after a few days they will wilt and it’s very difficult if not impossible to bring them back. If you store kale properly it can last a week in your fridge.

Kale Chips

1. Preheat your oven to 300.

2. Stem the kale. Most of the time the stem is pretty thick, woody and not very to pleasant to eat at the bottom. As it progresses to the top it becomes a thin vein which is not necessary to remove. Take out the thick part only: with the thickest part of the stem pointing up, fold the leaf in half along the stem and slide your hand down the stem removing the leaf. You can also cut along either side with a knife.

2. Place in bowl larger than the amount of kale you have. Lightly sprinkle with salt, pepper if desired, and a drizzle of olive oil. Use your hands to toss and be sure you have coated every leaf but not drowned them. Go easy on the salt. If you taste it and it tastes underseasoned that’s ok. You are going to in essence dehydrate the kale, so the flavor will only concentrate as the water is evaporated out of the leaf.

3. Lay out in a single layer on a cookie sheet.

4. Bake for about 15 minutes. Start checking it at 10, because every oven runs different, and you want to catch them right at the point where they are crispy but not brown. If they get brown they taste burnt, even if they aren’t.

They’ll stay good for a couple of days, but I guarantee they won’t last as long. I always do a head at a time because the heads are really small in the supermarket and I eat them unabashedly like cookie monster shoving cookies down his throat, crumbs flying all over the layout. I think actually, I’m equally as bad as Zoe when it comes to leaving a trail around the house.

Aside from munching you can use them as a garnish for other dishes, like minestrone soup, where they will start out crunchy and then collapse into softness when introduced to the liquid.  Instead of frizzled shallots or onion rings garnishing a steak  just cut the kale into strips before you cook it and use that instead.

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