Sunday, August 25, 2013

Ultimate Weekend Pancake Breakfast

Pancakes are tricky, although most people do not realize this. To get a light, fluffy pancake, you need to sacrifice flavor. But for a truly flavorful pancake, you almost always end up with something closer to a crepe. Personally, I'll take the flavor over the fluffiness. But, recently my counterpart came up with a recipe that provides both. The key - acidulation. By adding things like vinegar and cultured dairy, you give the baking powder a boost and can scale back on it a bit. You also inject the batter with a little savory zing, adding more depth to the flavor. If you serve these up right away, they are light, fluffy, and flavorful - pancake perfection.

For the batter you will need:

1 1/2 cups self rising flour
(or add two teaspoons baking powder)
2 eggs
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup milk
1/3 cup cream
1/3 cup labne (or Greek yogurt)
1 tablespoon corn syrup
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix everything together, and mix it well. Use your submersion blender to truly homogenize your batter. You won't regret it.

Let the batter rest for at least 15 minutes or up to 24 hours. The longer the batter rests, the fuller the flavor will be. And here's another key to flavorful pancakes - something wonderful happens when you mix eggs and flour. The longer they are exposed to each other, the richer their combined flavor. But. most of us do not want to wait a full day for our pancakes. This recipe is enough to serve two today and two again tomorrow, making it the ultimate weekend pancake breakfast recipe.

Once the batter has rested, lightly oil your omelet pan with a little light-tasting oil like grapeseed. Cook one pancake in the pan over medium-low heat. Gently check the underside and flip when it is a golden color. Continue to cook until the other side is also golden.

In the pan

Serve these bad boys up topped with fresh strawberries and maple syrup with a little bacon on the side, and enjoy your weekend.

On the plate

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Summer Steak is a Beautiful Thing

Any day that starts with pancakes and ends with steak is a good day, regardless of what happens in between. And, while I was not conscious enough this morning to capture the pancakes, I did manage to get something of tonight's steak.

This Sunday's dinner was a tribute to summer foods, and summer foods are truly wonderful. We picked up some fresh corn on the cob from the Hopkins produce stand just down the street from us that we worked into a beautiful medley with some red peppers and fresh fava beans on the side.

And the steak - a couple of 12-ounce striploins from D'Artagnan. These are strip steaks cut from the loin near the butt-end just below the ribs. It's cut from a tender part of the cow, albeit not as tender as the ribeye. My counterpart topped this all natural pasture-grazed beef with a garlic-jalapeno caramel glaze.

Now those who doubt that a garlic jalapeno caramel will work out here, just consider the typical steak sauce and then remove what doesn't work. What you end up with is garlic, peppers, salt, sugar, and vinegar. This was the basis for our sauce.

First, my counterpart sauteed slices of garlic and jalapeno in olive oil. He then added salt and a generous pour of sugar and continued cooking it until the sugar dissolved. He added a healthy pour of mild white vinegar, plus a good pour of white wine and continued to cook it, using a deglazing motion with a spatula to remove any residue from the pan. He finished it with a bit of King syrup and let it boil for a few minutes before removing it from the heat to rest.

 The corn medley began with our fresh corn. If you are planning on removing it form the cob, here's another use for the MAP torch in the kitchen, once again proving that it's not just for creme brulee.

After you have husked your corn, use the torch to sear off the remaining corn silk, being careful not to actually sear the corn. Once that's done, cut the cobs in half and use a knife to gently cut off the kernels.

With corn that fresh and pristine, we wanted our red peppers to achieve a similar perfection, so Gareth took the extra step of skinning them. This can be done with a vegetable peeler and a gentle touch. Once peeled, he sliced them, as well as some onion and leek. This was our medley for this evening, and one that would prove to work out well with our caramel.

The best way to cook a steak is medium rare, While I have long maintained that this is a bit over-cooked, Gareth took care to cook tonight's steaks to this generally-accepted state of perfection. To do this at home, you'll want a generous amount of olive oil heated in a heavy skillet until just about smoking. First, pat down the steaks to remove any moisture. This will prevent things from becoming a bloody mess in your skillet.

Using two sets of tongs, carefully sear each side of the steak, starting with the fatty edge. If you do this right, you'll end up with a thin exterior that is seared and an interior that is red and slightly warm and just cooked enough to be on the civilized side of raw. When cooked in this manner, the juices are sealed inside, and you can cut through the tender meat easily with a sharp knife.

When all sides have been seared, remove the steaks from your pan and let them rest. The best way to do this is to set a small rack over a plate and rest the meat on the rack. This will allow some of the oil to drain.

The garlic and jalapeno caramel provided a bold counterpoint to the tender, mild steak, and was a great compliment to the sweet corn medley. With starchy fava beans on the side, this was a most excellent summer meal.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Perfect Pesto

We were both driving home from our separate jobs in our separate cars when we both heard the same story on NPR and both had the same thoughts about dinner tonight. With the abundance of fresh basil this time of year and the rising cost of pine nuts, on this evening's program they featured a recipe for Pistachio Pesto. It was presented by the author of an Italian cookbook, and even though we disagreed with her about basil (she says it's sweet when it's really a bitter) and olive oil (she says it's fruity when it's actually nutty), we trusted her on the whole pistachio as a substitute for pine nuts thing.

It's been a while since we have had pesto. I have had a long-standing prejudice against nuts that has been respected for about eight years now. But, after my own personal cooking experience with them a few months back, I was able to identify the root cause of my nut issue (the skin that clings to the nut after it has been shelled - disconcerting in its texture and bitter flavor), and the nut prohibition has been lifted. This is our first dinner featuring nuts since.

Your basic pesto is basil, garlic, pine nuts, and olive oil. You could stop there if you wanted and still have something quite nice to toss with your pasta. Or you could go a little further and end up with something truly amazing.

Your first step is to cook that garlic. Mince it and brown it on the stovetop with minced onions. This will cut the bitterness and will release what natural sugars exist in these bulbs. Once they are translucent with golden edges, add some coarsely chopped nuts - for our dinner, we used pistachio, but you can also substitute macadamia nuts for a more mild nut flavor.

Let the nuts cook until heated through. Then, toss in the chopped basil, but also add some fresh oregano and parsley. These additional herbs will cut the bitter of the basil and bring out its sweeter notes. it will also boost the aroma and fresh flavor of your pesto.

Don't let the herbs cook too long before you pull it from the heat. Let it cool slightly, and the toss it with finely grated hard cheese - say, asiago or romano - and a dollop of a soft cheese like a mild goat cheese. Add some olive oil to help bind it together and it's ready for pasta.

Pesto pairs well with mild protein like chicken. Tonight, we roasted some chicken thighs and then topped them with uncured bacon and a little goat cheese. 


Served over hand cut pasta, this was pesto perfection. The pistachio was a little stronger than the traditional pine nuts, but was less bitter and really did work out very well in this application.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Sunday Chicken and Dumplings

Maybe it was the beautiful weather we've been having lately. Maybe it was the complete cleaning we did on the kitchen yesterday. Maybe it was because I got up early and made a pie. For whatever reason. tonight I was treated to a proper Sunday dinner of chicken and dumplings.

This is one of those quintessential American dishes created out of necessity in the New World. An easy way to get meat, veg, and bread in one pot, the dish provided a complete meal that can be cooked on the hearth or over an open fire. And it can (and should) be made from simple New World vegetables that most of us have on hand.

You'll want to start with a stock. If you follow the simple "waste not, want not" philosophy, this is not difficult to muster. My counterpart happened to have a ham bone from our Limas and Ham meal a while back in the freezer. That plus the vegetable remnants from the week's dinners plus some carrot, leek, and onion, and we had a hearty bullion in progress.

While the stock is simmering on the back burner, prep your veg. And you really will want to stick close to those familiar American vegetables for this dish - carrots, peas, celery, potatoes, things like that. If you want to dress up this dish, adding trending and esoteric veg will not produce the desired results. Fresh herbs are the way to go - thyme, basil, and oregano are good choices. You can also slip in some fresh garlic and a minced jalapeno. We used carrots, potato, onion, and leek, plus some garlic and the sneaky jalapeno. Cook the veg in a heavy pot or dutch oven on the stovetop in a little oil, starting with the carrots as they take longer to cook.

For the chicken, you can really do whatever you want. You'll be cooking it on the stovetop first, so whatever suits your fancy. In my childhood, I had this dish with quartered chicken still on the bone, and this is what I always think of with this dish. This evening, we cooked up some boned, skinned chicken thighs. However you prep your chicken, remember to save the drippings as they will be used later.



Once the chicken has cooked through. add it to the dutch oven with your veg. Strain your stock and add that too, saving some to the side to deglaze the chicken pan. Drain the drippings into a small dish and let cool. Then, deglaze the pan, gently scraping up the chicken sucs and add this also to your dutch oven, along with fresh herbs and sriracha sauce. (I know, it's this year's flavor trend, but it deserves the attention. It adds a little kick to most dishes, and food without a little kick is less satisfying. My counterpart has been sneaking the stuff into everything he cooks for years. For better or worse, sriracha is the new garlic.) Keep this at a simmer while you prep your dumplings.

Dumplings are a really wonderful bread because they cook from the steam that rises off of the pot. They are light and airy and soak up the juice from the chicken. Here's the best dumpling recipe ever:

1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups self-rising flour
2 eggs
A little salt and some fresh herbs
The drippings from the pan you used to cook your chicken

That's it. Mix the dairy and the eggs together. Then add the salt and herbs and the chicken drippings. Set aside until everything else has finished cooking. Then mix in the flour, adding more if needed to pull everything together into a sticky dough. Using two spoons or spatulas, drop your dumpling batter on top of your chicken and veg, spacing them far enough apart so that they do not touch as they will expand while cooking. from the recipe above, we got six very large and fluffy dumplings.

Cover the whole thing and cook in the oven at 350 for about 15 minutes. Our chicken and dumplings came out hearty and rich and zesty with light, airy dumplings that soaked up the rich sauce. We had ours with a dollop of sour cream and a home made berry pie for dessert, making it a proper Sunday dinner that would make our grandparents proud.