Crispy Waffles

The reason I try recipes over and over: perfection, or something close to it. In my mind, most foods can always be improved upon and so I try different versions and recipes until it’s exactly what I’m looking for (or good enough for the moment anyway). Growing up we often had waffles on Saturday mornings. Crispy, slightly eggy, soaked in syrup waffles – at least that’s how I remember them. My dad was the waffle master, separating the egg yolks from the whites and beating them until they were fluffy and peaked. The beaten egg whites were supposed to make the waffles fluffy and so we continued to make our waffles that way even when it felt like more work than measuring out a few cups of waffle mix and adding water. I remember the waffles were crispy and that you knew that by the sound they made when you dug the side of the fork tines into the waffle for that first bite.

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Breakfast Berry Pie (gluten free!)

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For some reason last week I ended up eating a lot of pie. Monday I went to a movie with a friend and we followed it up with a delicious slice of pie at Pie Bar (the Ballard Bumble Berry Crumble is amazing!). Wednesday evening Sam and I took a mini vacation to Whidbey Island and ended our evening with a shared (and equally scrumptious) berry tart (basically an individual pie) at Christopher’s. Then the next day we stopped at Whidbey Pies for lunch and though we started with a savory pie for lunch, we also ended it, of course, with a slice of dessert pie. Continue reading

Homemade Pop-Tarts

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It’s probably a good thing that some of the kids in my fourth grade class have never eaten a Pop-Tart. I mean they aren’t exactly healthy and more importantly they are actually kinda dry and bland. You can totally make them way better yourself.

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Sure there’s a certain nostalgia to buying that familiar box of shiny, foil-wrapped “tarts” that keep forever. We ate them every now and then growing up, though of course Mom often bought the low-fat unfrosted kind, in which case… what’s the point? That crispy, crunch of dried frosting is part of what makes the Pop-Tart so delicious, and when you’re talking about a pastry, (whether processed or homemade) reducing the fat is the last thing that you need. In pastries, butter equates to flakey, melt-in-your-mouth texture so you don’t want to skimp on that. But of course there was that period of time when everything was offered in a low-fat version because that’s what was supposedly better for us. Anyway, I’m not a dietician.

I remember also eating Pop-Tarts sometimes in college. There was an on campus convenience store called “Mom’s” that sold them in two-packs. Being a newly independent adult who was busy with homework and probably eating mostly unhealthy foods, (especially those that might have been restricted as a child) I probably bought a few too many Pop-Tarts from Mom’s. That and pints of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream…

I made Pop-Tarts with my fourth graders yesterday as part of a thing we do called, “Each One Teach One.” It’s basically an opportunity for kids to practice their presentation skills and teach the class about something that they love. As one of their teachers, I demonstrated mine yesterday by making Pop-Tarts. To save time we used store-bought pie dough. Then I did a demo of how to make homemade dough if you wanted to start from scratch.

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The purchased pie dough tarts were a grand success and I enjoyed the chance to share something I loved with the kids. Of course I ended up with the leftover dough I had showed them how to make so I decided to make it for myself at home… I didn’t get a picture of the ones made with the pie crust, but I can promise you they were not nearly as flakey as these guys. I mean check out those layers!

If you want to make it yourself, follow this recipe for homemade dough or this one for making it the easier (yet less tasty!) way. The first recipe uses a brown sugar cinnamon filling and the second uses a jam filling. I made both.

I had some extra dough leftover so I ended up making some C’s and S’s for fun. At first Sam thought the S was for him and asked, “Who’s the C for?” Ha!

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Warning! These are super rich and buttery and flakey! I made mine a little large and a sliver of one was plenty for me. These might make a super scrumptious dessert if left unfrosted (gasp!) and topped with ice cream.

Hope you go make some!

Eggs Benedict

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I love Eggs Benedict. I love the natural, buttery yellow of the hollandaise sauce, the rich sunset-orange of the runny egg yolk, and the English muffin that’s there to soak up all the good stuff. My mom used to make us poached eggs growing up. In fact we had a special pan with four perfectly round little cups that would allow the eggs to hover over the simmering water. I didn’t realize there was any other way to make poached eggs until I got older and realized that real chefs just flat out crack the eggs into an open pot of water and somehow swirl them into a dizzy circle to keep the egg together instead of somehow making egg drop soup. That takes serious skill. I’ve tried to poach eggs that way before and, well, it’s tricky. I prefer to stick to my egg poaching pan.

Though my mom made poached eggs often (and later bought me my own poached egg pan!) she never (if maybe once?) made hollandaise sauce, for which I don’t blame her. First of all it’s extra work, which usually means extra dishes, and second of all it’s extra calories. Now my mom wasn’t exactly afraid of calories when we were growing up, but she was like any woman surrounded by the confusing information of changing diet fads. She made her share of spontaneous brownie batches on a Saturday night and extra Christmas cookies when we surely didn’t need them. But, Mom also tried to sneak whole wheat flour into recipes whenever she could, and she went through a phase where she wanted to add ground flaxseed to EVERYTHING. And she recently tricked her stepson into eating cauliflower because he thought it was mashed potatoes. Anyway, I’m guessing it was more the daunting task of making hollandaise sauce that kept her from making it, and not the calories. Also, who honestly makes their own hollandaise, especially if that person has three young kids?

Well, today I made my own hollandaise sauce and Eggs Benedict for a number of reasons. First of all, I love Eggs Benedict! And second of all, I’m pregnant! Yes, indeed, it’s hard to believe! Four months from today I am due to give birth to my own baby girl, who one day perhaps will be sharing her own stories about her crazy, but loving mother. Now when you’re pregnant, the common knowledge rules say you can’t eat all kinds of things – in particular raw or undercooked eggs, fish, and meat. I love the runny yolk of a good Eggs Benedict, but as a pregnant woman, I’m not supposed to eat runny eggs. So I decided to make the dish myself, as I’m always afraid to order it at a restaurant and ask them to cook the eggs until they’re hard.

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And you know what? I did it! And it was delicious! And I’d do it all over again (maybe not after I have kids, or at least not until they’re older.) In fact making hollandaise sauce itself is not hard. The real challenge of the whole dish is the dance of all the different parts – poaching the eggs while you toast the muffins and continuously whisk the sauce and then assembling the whole thing before it gets cold and the sauce curdles. If you’re not bold enough, it’s okay. I totally understand. Maybe find a friend to help you. Or just don’t be afraid to screw it up. I’m rooting for you.

 

Homemade Hollandaise Sauce

adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

2 T. unsalted butter

1 egg yolk, lightly beaten

1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

1 tsp. water

salt and pepper to taste

This recipe makes enough for 1-2 servings and can easily be scaled up. I made a small batch because it was just me eating it and in case I screwed up I didn’t want a huge, screwed-up batch.

Start by cutting your butter into about 6 pieces and set aside to come to room temperature. Or like me, microwave it at low power for about 15 seconds or until it is just soft to the touch. Set a small saucepan with about a 1/2 inch of water to simmer. Once it is lightly simmering, turn it down to keep it at a slow simmer (not boil!) and place a small, heatproof bowl over the water. You want the bowl to fit well and not touch the water below. If you have a double boiler, you can use that instead.

In your bowl, place your egg yolk, lemon juice, and water. Whisk for about 30 seconds to blend. Add one piece of your butter and continue to whisk until it’s melted and the sauce is beginning to thicken. Continue whisking and adding your butter pieces, one at a time, waiting until they are melted before adding the next piece. When all the butter is melted, continue whisking until it is thick and smooth. If it begins to look separated or curdled add a teaspoon of hot water, whisking to smooth it out. I added 3 teaspoons of water when this happened and it turned out and tasted great. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper. If you are worried (like my husband) about the egg yolk in the sauce being undercooked, take the temperature of the sauce with a digital thermometer. Make sure you are not touching the bottom of the bowl or the pan below it or the temperature may be off. The sauce should be 160 degrees or more. Serve with cooked veggies, poultry, fish, or eggs.

Note: If making the full Eggs Benedict dish, I would get everything set up before starting the sauce. Put your English muffin in the toaster (make sure it is set to pop before it burns) and get your poaching pan ready with the eggs. Worst case if the muffin finishes before the sauce you can pop it in again briefly to warm it up and if your eggs are done just remove them from the heat and keep the lid on to keep them warm. I added fresh baby spinach to the extra cups in my poaching pan about 30 seconds before I was going to plate it to allow the spinach to wilt. Technically this is called Eggs Florentine instead of Benedict, but most people aren’t as familiar with the name so we’ll just leave it at that.

Cooking for the Week Ahead

It has been too long. I am still here. I am still eating. I am still cooking. I am still writing.

Life has been busy and different. I no longer come home in the afternoons after work to shop and cook dinner. (In fact I now work almost 8 hours more per week than I used to!) Instead I try and spend Sunday evenings stocking up on foods to pack for lunch and dinner for the week ahead. With my new schedule I get home from work just in time to kiss my wonderful husband, heat up some leftovers, and thank my past self for making them. During the work day, instead of staying on my toes pulling pans in and out of the oven and serving hungry children, I’m on my (mental) toes keeping parents happy, making sure their kids get the care they need. It’s a different life. When I can I go for runs around this beautiful lake.

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So how I do plan around my new and busier schedule? I try to make foods that will travel and keep well and feed me with comfort and keep me full until the next snack. These blueberry walnut muffins were made as a challenge to myself while one of my friends was avoiding processed sugar. They contain a little bit of honey, plus whole wheat flour, oats, walnuts, and of course blueberries! The oats and nuts make them more filling, add great contrasting textures, and are also quite tasty!

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I know some of your are scoffing the the mention of whole wheat flour in a muffin, but trust me – these were well-received after our long and muddy hike!

IMG_2584This quinoa and chickpea salad is my new favorite go-to lunch salad. I adapted mine from this one on the New York Times Cooking site and I especially enjoy it with roasted carrots. Made with canned chickpeas and a few chopped veggies, it’s fairly quick to make (especially if you use couscous). If you make a big batch at the beginning of the week, you will be set for lunches for the week!

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Another quick and healthy lunch is a big salad. Boxed mixed greens, chopped deli meat, cheese cubes, nuts (toasted, if you’re fancy) and dried fruit make for a delicious lunch. Bring a bottle of dressing to work or a little container of your own if you can.

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For dinners, soups and stews make for tasty fare and can be especially easy if you throw it all in the crock pot. Above is one of my favorites – Ginger Chicken Meatball Soup – adapted from this lovely recipe. When I plan my meals for the week I try to make at least two recipes, preferably one in the oven or on the stove and the other in the crock pot. Between the two of us packing lunch everyday and eating dinner at home, we need a lot of food!

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On the weekends when you have some time to relax and you’re feeling somewhat ambitious, make yourself some pancakes, fluffy and warm, served hot from the skillet. Top them with bananas, toasted nuts, and real maple syrup. Don’t go out to brunch. Make it at home instead! Then you don’t have to decide between ordering the pancakes and the omelette – you can have both!

Ah yes, but the weekends don’t last long, so you enjoy them while you can. Go out to dinner, whip up a homemade dessert for your loved ones, and then get ready to get ready for the week ahead once again. Even if the week is a rough one, at least you can say you were well-fed!

 

 

Baked Apples and Thoughts on Food and Cooking

I used to cook everyday for a living. I cooked for hungry school children and teachers. I cooked for a busy, young family, and often I’d come home and cook for Sam and me. I used to think that it would be living my dream – to cook all the time and make people happy with the food that I cooked, but I discovered in the last few years that sometimes dreams change once you begin to live them. And sometimes life just takes you in different directions.

For me, I get satisfaction from turning seemingly basic foods into comforting and delicious meals. I like the feel of breaking cold butter into flour, blending the ingredients just enough so they become semi-homogeneous, and rolling out cold dough to lay gently into a pan as if laying a baby down to sleep. I really do enjoy making a homemade pie crust. I love the sensory parts of cooking – touching cake to feel for that spring of doneness, bending my nose over a pot of simmering soup to smell its seasoning, and listening to the crunch and crack of chopping nuts with a sharp knife.

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I’m not cooking anymore, not for work anyway and here’s why:

  1. Cooking loses its intrigue when it becomes repetitive, mandatory, and no longer creative. Sometimes cooking for a living can do that, especially when you’re cooking to particular customer preference.
  2. Those of you who have been following me for a while know that my body has been telling me it doesn’t like the way I eat anymore and while I’ve been trying to listen to what it wants me to eat, I’m having a hard time understanding. Preparing mouth-watering foods for others that I myself can’t eat (or am afraid to eat for fear of not feeling well) has worn on me and so I’d rather not be around food all day every day.
  3. Working in food sometimes means obsessing about food – thinking about what your next meal will be, what you will cook later, and creative new recipes you want to try. Sometimes my obsession with food drove me crazy and I felt it hard to release myself from thinking about it.

I find now that keeping cooking to a hobby still allows me to enjoy the pleasures of food and pleasing others with the food I cook without driving me and my hungry/angry belly crazy. I’ve learned to eat less of the foods I used to indulge in (and perhaps it’s simply a consequence of getting older) and avoid certain foods (though I test them out again here and there.)

What still makes me happy when it comes to cooking:

  1. Stocking the fridge with delicious foods for the week ahead – snacks, meals, cookies.
  2. Using up ingredients and leftovers just in time to restock and replenish.
  3. Making something out of seemingly nothing.

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I started a new job about a month ago (hence part of the reason I’ve been absent here) and it is so very different from my previous food jobs that it has been a bit of an adjustment. Instead of deciding what to eat from the myriad choices of the school cafeteria, I have to pack my lunch ahead of time and hope I’m still in the mood for that food by lunch time. Bustling around a hot stove and oven have been replaced with staring at two large computer monitors while furiously trying to find the information I need to answer the question at hand. I look forward to fresh air lunch time walks and to the end of the work day. It has been a big change, but I’m hoping it will lead to something greater.

Now for a simple recipe to end this long train of thought: Baked Apples. I invited some friends over for brunch yesterday without really considering what I had in my fridge to feed them. Despite the lack of planning, with a few items picked up from the store and a little creativity we had a delicious brunch. I baked homemade challah bread and stuffed some apples we had in the fridge with a delicious amalgamation from what I had on hand. And the results: divine. Now this is the kind of cooking I can enjoy!

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Baked Stuffed Apples

This recipe can be easily scaled up and toyed around with. The below amounts are approximations of what I used.

2 large apples (I used Jonagold)

1/2 lemon

2 T. brown sugar

1 T. butter, softened or melted

dash of salt

cinnamon to taste

ground ginger to taste

2 T. chopped pecans

1-2 T. dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 350. Lightly butter an 8×8 square pan or other pan that will fit your amount of apples.

Cut the apples in half. Using a melon baller or small spoon gently remove the seeds and core so you get a shallow canal in the middle of each apple half. Squeeze your lemon half over the apples and lightly rub them to make sure they are well covered. Mix your sugar, butter, salt, cinnamon and ginger in a small bowl. Stir in pecans and cranberries. Taste and adjust as desired. Divide mixture between your four apples halves and place in prepared pan. Cover in foil and baked until your desired tenderness 30-45 minutes. Serve warm with brunch or as a dessert with vanilla ice cream.

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Ming Tsai’s Spiced Ginger Cake

I always look forward to the summers with childlike glee. And not just for the sunshine, warm temperatures, and beach days, but for the summer produce. I think of the piles of emerald zucchini and fuzzy peaches at the farmers’ market stands. I pine for the days when there is fresh corn on the cob and sweet ruby berries. In winter or fall it always seems like summer weather and summer produce holds so much potential for summer magic – spontaneous backyard cookouts with fresh, colorful salads or that shiny, happy feeling when you see a beautiful sunset after the perfect day.

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So after all this talk of gorgeous summer stone fruits and squashes, why am I making a ginger cake in August? Here you are nearing the end of a hot and feisty summer season and you’re making what’s essentially a Christmas treat? Okay, okay, let me explain. Continue reading