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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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!

 

 

Post 114 – Pear Oven Pancake

IMG_1437Saturday morning breakfast in the early spring: a cup of your favorite tea or coffee, a slow breeze drifting in with the sunlight, and this beautiful Pear Oven Pancake. This could be you tomorrow morning. All you need to do is make this beautiful Pear Oven Pancake. I’ve seen it called a Dutch Baby or a Dutch Pancake too, but I’ll call it something simple and recognizable, something to beckon you from your routine of scrambled eggs and burnt toast. Continue reading

Post 107 – The Cookbook Challenge

I have a lot of cookbooks. Not as many as some people I’m sure, but I still have a plethora. I have old ones, I have new ones. I have thin and thick, tall and small. I used to collect them simply because family and friends knew that buying me a cookbook was an easy Christmas or birthday gift. Eventually I realized this could get out of control and I said, no more cookbooks! Sometimes I still pine for more when flipping through the glossy pages of a new one at Brookline Booksmith – my favorite bookstore.

IMG_1306So what to do with all these cookbooks? After talking with someone this past week who herself was trying to make better use of her collection, I decided that I need to cook from my cookbooks way more often. These days, I tend to go to the internet when I want a new recipe (or when I want to share a recipe – hello blog!) and my poor cookbooks are just taking up space on my bookshelf.

Oatmeal raisin pancakes for breakfast!

Oatmeal raisin pancakes for breakfast with cinnamon sour cream!

So I decided to do a cookbook challenge. I will make at least one recipe out of every cookbook that I own for the next several weeks (months? years?) until I get through every last one. I am still allowed to use the internet for a few recipes here and there, but the majority of my recipes will be from cookbooks that I own. This way I can still expand my recipe repertoire (as many of them have never been used!) and give my collection of cookbooks a little love.

I started my challenge yesterday, making oatmeal raisin pancakes with cinnamon sour cream for breakfast (pictured above). This recipe comes courtesy of Dorie Greenspan from a small book of pancakes I picked up at a used bookstore in Maine while visiting my aunt and uncle’s summer cabin. I altered the recipe slightly and the pancakes and sour cream topping turned out delicious!

Oatmeal Raisin Pancakes with Cinnamon Sour Cream

adapted from Pancakes: Morning to Midnight by Dorie Greenspan

serves 2-3 people generously

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup rolled oats

2 T. brown sugar

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. baking soda

2 T. unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

1/4 cup plain yogurt

1/2 cup milk

1 egg

1/2 cup raisins

For the sour cream: Mix 1/2 cup sour cream, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, and 2 tsp. brown sugar and set aside.

For the pancakes: mix all of the dry ingredients (flour through baking soda) in one bowl. Mix all of the wet ingredients (butter through egg) in another. Add the wet to the dry and stir just enough so that all of the dry is moistened. Fold in raisins. Allow the batter to sit and absorb the liquid for 10 minutes. Preheat a pan or griddle to medium-low as you would for pancakes. When the pan is hot, add the batter in 1/4 cup ladles and cook for a few minutes until bubbles form. Flip and cook another minute more. Remove to a plate and serve with cinnamon sour cream. Repeat with remaining batter.

Now don’t think I stopped at one recipe for the day. After all, the day had only begun. For dinner I made Salmon in Phyllo (Filo) from the Better Homes and Gardens 75th anniversary cookbook. I had originally planned to make a steak and ale pie using the phyllo in honor of Pi day, but I ended up changing my mind. To use up the already thawed phyllo, I decided a sort of Salmon en croute would be delicious.

IMG_1297These pretty fillets were topped with rosemary, salt, pepper, and don’t forget BUTTER – whoa nelly! Wrapped up in pretty little packages, I tucked them in the oven to brown.

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Atop a colorful pot holder

The salmon and phyllo were flaky and wonderful, flavored nicely with the dried rosemary. Perhaps because of all the butter, the fish was very filling. I served it with roasted potatoes and as always a green salad.

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Salmon in Phyllo

adapted from Better Homes and Gardens 75th anniversary cookbook

2/3-3/4 lb. salmon fillets

4-6 sheets of phyllo dough

rosemary, salt, pepper

3-4 T. unsalted butter, melted

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and lightly butter a medium sized oven-safe dish.

Cut your salmon into two equal size pieces if it isn’t already. Pat dry with paper towels and season with salt, pepper, and fresh or dried rosemary.

On a clean surface, lay out your phyllo dough, one layer at a time, brushing each with butter before adding the next layer. When all layers are done, add your salmon pieces on top, spacing them evenly apart. Using a sharp knife, cut the phyllo dough to separate into two pieces for each piece of salmon. Fold two opposite sides over the fish, brushing with more butter as needed and roll or tuck up the ends to make a package. Place in your oven-safe dish and bake for 18-20 minutes depending on the thickness of your fish. If it is an inch thick, 18 minutes is perfect. It is hard to check the doneness of the salmon though since it is wrapped in the pastry. You can cut into it if you are worried about the fish being done. Serve with mustard or a mustard cream sauce (as recommended in the book).

Since we don’t usually like to eat leftover fish, I made one more dish (from yet another cookbook!) for Sam to take for lunch today – Peppered Chicken Stir Fry. This came from a giant cookbook filled with an assortment of recipes from all different cuisines. Chicken is mixed with ketchup and soy sauce and then dredged in crushed peppercorns. It’s pretty peppery, which I knew Sam would love. Serve it with rice for a tasty and well-balanced meal.

IMG_1294(1)I have cooked from three of my cookbooks (out of how many?)

The cookbook challenge has begun!

Peppered Chicken Stir Fry

from 1000 Classic Recipes

1 lb. chicken breast

2 T. ketchup

2 T. soy sauce

2 T. crushed mixed peppercorns (I beat mine contained in a ziploc bag with a meat mallet)

2 bell peppers, your choice of color, sliced

2 handfuls of sugar snap peas

2 T. oyster sauce

Brown rice to serve

Heat up a large skillet or wok over medium heat with a tablespoon of oil.

Thinly slice your chicken breast and mix it with the ketchup and soy sauce. Toss in the crushed peppercorns and mix it all together. When the oil is starting to shimmer, add your chicken breast slices and stir fry for a few minutes until no longer pink on the outside. Add your sliced peppers and snap peas and stir. Cook for another 5 minutes. Add the oyster sauce and allow it to cook for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and serve with brown rice.

Post 32 – The Comfort Zone

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Like stepping out of your comfort zone (ok I’m a very visual thinker and when someone says step outside your comfort zone I literally picture stepping out of a small area filled with lots of couches. That’s not the point…)

Earlier this week I took a step out of my comfort zone and told a guy that I could cook for a party of 30 people out of his small galley Boston kitchen. I had been automatically  rejecting previous offers to cook for parties that big because I figured it was too big for just me to do, but then I got involved in talking to him and I figured I couldn’t back down.

Long story short – it went amazingly well. People were asking for my business cards (gotta get on that), complimenting me on the food, and expressing surprise that I had made everything myself. I must confess that I couldn’t have done it without Teresa. She was hired separately to help clean up during the party and she was an amazing asset – she helped assemble dishes, take food out of the oven, and clean dishes while I cooked. Without her I would have been there all night and I would have been a lot more stressed about it. I’m very happy with how the night turned out and am grateful I had (and took) the opportunity.

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At the end of the night I swore I wouldn’t go anywhere near the kitchen for the next few days, but after a good night’s sleep I felt more refreshed (not ready to cook for another party of course). Since we needed more granola and it doesn’t take too long to make I made some of my favorite breakfast staple. I have adapted the recipe each time I make it, but I have found a few different recipes that I am very happy with. I find in this humid weather though the hardest part is getting it crunchy enough without burning it.

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The following is an adaptation of a recipe from my aunt in Hartford. You can use any kind of nut butter and any kind of dried fruit (or leave it out and use fresh fruit). It’s very easy to make and is a great snack. Granola is also relatively flexible so you can easily make substitutions or play with the amounts of dry ingredients if you want it sweeter or something. Because I like my almonds chopped and I already had whole ones, I cut these up, though you could use whole or chopped.

 

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Homemade Granola

4 cups rolled oats

1 cup coconut

2 cups chopped nuts of choice

¼ cup canola oil or olive oil

¼ cup peanut butter or almond butter

1/3 cup honey

Measure oats, coconut and nuts into a bowl. In a separate bowl, measure oil, nut butter, and honey with a splash of water (1 Tablespoon). Stir well. Drizzle over oats and stir well to coat.

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Bake at 275 on parchment paper lined sheets for 20 minutes. Switch the sheet pans for even cooking and bake 20 minutes more. Remove and let cool. Stir in your choice of dried fruit if desired and store in an airtight container. Enjoy with yogurt and fresh fruit or as a quick snack.

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Post 18 – Birthday

Yesterday I turned… one year older (you can’t just tell the whole internet your age!) and I can feel it. No my bones aren’t aching nor my knees giving out. I feel it in the sense that time is sprinting right by me. I feel it in the sense that I should be living for what I love and seizing opportunities. Time really does disappear too fast.

I remember waiting with my sisters on Christmas morning until we were allowed to wake up our parents to open presents. We’d look at the clock. 2 minutes gone by. We’d play some cards, look at the clock again. 5 minutes gone by.

Five minutes is FOREVER, we thought.

Now a week disappears in a blink and “wasn’t it just last Tuesday?” becomes a phrase in my life connecting all similar moments as if in one long string. Every Tuesday is just a continuation of the previous Tuesdays, as if no time passed in between. Like a movie reel the tape just keeps on rolling. Wasn’t I just having a birthday like a year ago? (Uh yeah, you were.) But somehow it didn’t seem like that long ago.

I have to admit that I wasted much of my birthday being grumpy. The weather in Boston was un- May-like -ly (how’s that for a made-up word?) cold and drizzly and I was supposed to be packing and measuring our new apartment and a couch to see if it fit. Birthdays are supposed to be for fun, I grumbled to myself, not for responsibility.

As I get older I realize more and more that birthdays are for taking action (instead of making wishes) and for counting the lucky stars in your life that are there to celebrate with you and to tell you to shape up when you get grumpy on your own birthday (thanks. You know who you are).

Speaking of lucky stars, my number one lucky star made me a surprise breakfast this morning (photo credit to him): hash browns, pancakes, and bacon.

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And I am ever so grateful for my wonderful friends who got me a beautiful Chocolate Mousse Decadence cake and celebrated with me over a delicious dinner at the Elephant Walk! To the credit of my friends, the day did start and end well, but I realized too late in my grump-slump that I needed to change my own attitude.

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Having a birthday is a reason to celebrate, but also a chance to reflect. If a year can go by this fast, just imagine the next year and the next. What do you want to be doing? When you look back in five years, where do you want to be? (I know, I know, I used to hate this question too and I don’t like spouting cliche phrases) but I have to remind myself ALL THE TIME – do what you love and do it now. I highly recommend this book for reflecting on this in detail.

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Oh ok, you want a recipe. Well in honor of birthdays, here are two for my favorite chocolate frostings.

WARNING: the first one is very buttery and sweet and rich and delicious and it takes a bit of time to make, but the second one is also delicious and much simpler to whip up.

Happy Birthday to me! (or to you if you’re reading this on your own birthday). Make it a day of gratitude.

 

Perfect Chocolate Frosting

from The Chocolate Cake Mix Doctor

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I prefer Ghiradelli’s 70%)

½ cup half-and-half

2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons

2 ½ cups powdered sugar, sifted

Place a large bowl in the sink and fill with ice about half way. Make sure it is bigger than the saucepan you are going to use in the next step.

In a saucepan (see previous step) pour chocolate chips, half-and-half, and butter and melt over medium heat. Stir constantly until it melts and the mixtures thickens, about 5 minutes. Do not let boil. Remove from heat.

Whisk in the powdered sugar until smooth. Remove the pan to the bowl of ice in the sink. Be careful not to allow any water into your pan of chocolate or it will be ruined. Beat the mixture with an electric mixer on low speed until the frosting thickens and is satiny, about 5 minutes. (I did it once by hand and it doesn’t get as smooth, plus you get tired.)

Use as desired for cupcakes or cake of your choice. The frosting will stiffen up as it sets. If it gets too hard to spread, place the saucepan back over low heat for a few minutes.

 

Chocolate Buttercream

adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook

1/3 cup butter, room temperature

½ cup cocoa powder

4 ½ cups powdered sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

2-4 T. milk, depending on consistency desired

Beat softened butter with an electric mixer, Kitchenaid, or by hand. Beat in cocoa powder. Slowly add powdered sugar, vanilla, and a bit of milk. Add as much sugar and milk as needed to reach the right consistency and taste. (To be honest, I don’t usually measure the ingredients for this these days).