Thursday, December 31, 2009

Pancake Nonpareil (New Years Eve)

Good Morning!

Growing up, my mother made this dish for breakfast every Sunday morning before heading off to church. It is similar to a sweet skinny breakfast souffle...if there is such a thing. defines nonpareil as "something without equal", and sure enough after one bite this morning, Mike DiMotta said "I've never had anything like this". It is a super simple, relatively fast treat with ingredients that are probably already in your kitchen.

I haven't been able to make it myself because I've never had a cast iron skillet...until now. Robert and I have had our eyes peeled for one on Craigslist, but never had any luck. A few weeks before Christmas we were walking around Cobble Hill in Brooklyn and there on the sidewalk was a pile of kitchen ware including two cast iron skillets (!!!). Robert restored them to beautiful working condition and we have been enjoying things we couldn't make before like Fritattas and my mother's Pancake Nonpareil.

Over the summer we had breakfast at Ben and Katie's where they made a "Dutch Baby". I had never heard of a Dutch Baby, but it was almost the exact same dish as Pancake Nonpareil. When I got home I looked for it in the index of my Joy of Cooking, and sure enough it's almost the exact same thing with a few slight differences. My mother's recipe, for example, calls for an extra egg white which i think helps to puff it up like a souffle. You can use pretty much any sized cast iron skillet, it will just change the thickness of the pancake.

Here are both recipes to taste test and enjoy:

Pancake Nonpareil
from my mother

Preheat oven 425 F

Combine and beat lightly:
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs plus 1 egg white, lightly beaten
pinch nutmeg
1/2 cup flour

Melt in 12" skillet:
4 Tbs margarine

When hot: pour in batter & bake 15 20 min.
Sprinkle with:
2 Tbs powdered sugar
and return to oven for 2 min.

Sprinkle with lemon juice and serve promptly.

Dutch Baby
from the Joy of Cooking

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F
Whisk together until smooth:
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature

Melt into a 10" oven-proof skillet over medium heat:
4 Tbs of unsalted butter

Tilt the pan so that the butter coats the sides. Pour the egg mixture into the skillet and cook, without stirring, for 1 minute. Place the skillet in the oven and bake until the pancake is puffed and golden, 12-15 minutes. Serve immediately, for the pancake loses its puff, and therefore its drama, almost immediately. (What a fabulous sentence!)

Soundtrack: Cat Power: The Greatest

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas: come and gone

mug from House

I don't think I've fully recovered from Christmas. Every year its the same scenario: starting around Thanksgiving, I get so excited and nostalgic at the thought of the upcoming holiday. The iPod gets overhauled with Christmas tunes and "wintery" music, I line up my Netflix queue with all my favorite holiday movies, I plan obsessively with lists and mental to-dos of what gifts to make, what cookies to bake, what to wear on the big day... December is actually somewhat of an emotional roller-coaster. Amidst all the planning and excitement, I am also reminiscing of all the Christmases past. It's a bittersweet activity because there's always something or someone to miss.

Then Christmas arrives with all it's turkey and chocolate, and gift-giving glory. Suddenly, the dinner guests go home, the TV turns off, you fall asleep full, and wake up the next morning as if nothing had happened. A long drive home, back to work on Monday, and the world spins on. No wonder so many people take the week between Christmas and new years off... your body, mind, and emotions need a whole week to digest everything. Oh, and not to mention new year's! A holiday for assessing your year (life really), triumphs, failures, etc... while at the same time declaring to be a better person and imagining/hoping for what good health and happiness awaits in the coming year. Yes, I suppose I find December a little taxing...but glorious, and i love every bit.

Fiesta Ware from Patti, and Salad tossers from Mom

I intended this post to be all about the wonderful gifts i received for my kitchen! Among the highlights were a tart pan with a removable bottom from Robert, a set of three large Fiesta Wear bowls (and some various other gorgeous dishes) from Patti, hand carved salad tossers and pie server from Santa (mom), a Sarah House original mug from House, food processor/ blender from my parents, and some sour dough bread starter from Betsy, which she has been feeding since 1971! Thank you everyone, my kitchen and I are grateful!

recycled glass dish and saucer set from Patti

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Chocolate Truffles and Sand Dollars

I found these recipes in a chocolate cookbook I got for Molly for Christmas. I have never really been much of a chocolate fan, but Robert is beginning to change my opinion. He often buys dark chocolate bars from the grocery store, and after taking bites here and there, I think I am prepared to declare myself a chocolate fan. I enjoy that I don't have to eat a lot of it. A little goes a long way. I also repeatedly read about the health benefits of dark chocolate. According to Women's Health Magazine, the cacao in chocolate contains flavonoids which "reduce blood pressure, increase the flexibility of veins and arteries, and cut down on stroke and heart attack risk." Though it's high in calories, as a treat it has more benefits than milk chocolate and other candies and cakes.

So, before wrapping up the book, I tested out a few recipes from the "candy store"section. They were easy to follow, and made an impressive contribution to the Christmas celebration.

Chocolate Truffles
adapted from Chocolate American Style by Lora Brody
makes 40-50 truffles

1 cup of heavy cream
16 oz. chocolate (bittersweet, semisweet, milk, or white, coarsely chopped)
2 Tbs unsalted butter
2 Tbs of orange zest
2 Tbs Bailey's Irish Cream (optional)

unsweetened cocoa powder and confectioner's sugar sifted together
cocoa powder and cinnamon sifted together
finely chopped pecans

Line a rimmed baking sheet with wax paper or parchment paper.

Place the cream in a medium, heavy saucepan. Set the pan on medium-low heat. Stir in the chocolate, butter, orange zest, and liqueur. Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Scrape the truffle mixture into a medium metal bowl and place it in the freezer for about 20 min, or until firm.

When you are ready to roll the truffles, use a teaspoon or melon baller to scoop up a full teaspoon of the truffle mixture. Roll the truffle quickly in your hands to form a ball about 1" in diameter. (A little messy, just work quickly and wipe your hands between rolls.) Roll the truffle in desired coating and place it on the baking sheet. once the truffles are all on the baking sheet, refrigerate for about 20 minutes or until the truffles are firm.

Sand Dollars
adapted from Chocolate American Style

makes 24-30 candies

1 1/2-2 cups of toasted slivered almonds and dried cranberries
10 oz of best quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
dash of cayenne powder

Line several baking sheets with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler over very low heat, stirring constantly. Stir in sash of cayenne powder. Pour and scrape tempered chocolate into a heavy-duty 1-quart resealable plastic bag. Force the air out of the bag, seal it, then use a pair of scissors to snip off a very small piece of one of the corners. Hold the bag over the prepared baking sheet and pipe out a 1 1/2 to 2 Tbs circle of chocolate. Smooth over with table knife or spatula. While the chocolate is still soft, sprinkle your toppings over the chocolate and press in gently with your fingers.

Allow the sand dollars to harden at room temperature, then carefully peel them from the parchment. Store at room temperature in a covered container with wax paper between the layers, for up to one month.

I experimented with coarse sea salt as a topping, and crushed red pepper as a topping. Both were exciting to look at, but a little overwhelming on the taste buds.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Favorite Christmas Cookies

My mother has these in her cook book as "Finger Tips" (which, to me, sounds a little unappetizing) . I have also heard them referred to as "Mexican Wedding Cakes". But growing up i don't recall calling them anything. It was just a known truth that these cookies were my favorite Christmas time treat. My mother made them every year for me- even the two years i was in St. John for Christmas I got a tin full of powdered sugared crumbly goodness in the mail.

This year, instead of my own private tin of them, my mother presented me with a large bag of pecans at Thanksgiving. It took an additional phone call reminder from her the other day to actually get around to trying the recipe for myself for the first time. It was quite simple despite my misconception that i must have a food processor to make them properly. I just chopped the pecans as fine as i could get them, and used a pastry cutter to get the butter (i used butter instead of margarine) and dry ingredients all mashed together. Final touch: hand mixing before shaping the cookies into their signature crescent moon shape.

With the tree decorated, snow on the ground, and my favorite Christmas cookies at arms reach, it feels more and more like Christmas is here.

"Finger Tips"
from Cathy's Cookbook

1 stick margarine, softened
2 heaping Tbs powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour
pinch salt
1 cup pecans, finely chopped
powdered sugar

Preheat oven 350 F.
Cream margarine and sugar.
Add remaining ingredients and mix well.
Roll bits of dough the size of walnut between palms to form
finger lengths or crescents and place on ungreased
cookie sheet.
Bake 10 15 min.
While warm, roll in powdered sugar.
Can dip ends in melted chocolate and let harden if desired.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Saturday Morning Crepes

Snow Day!

There are few things more seasonally exciting than waking up to a foot of snow, flakes still falling. The same old view from the bedroom window overlooking the neighbors' backyard suddenly becomes clean, new... maybe even special. This morning promised a muted, cozy day with little on the agenda. A special snow day so close to Christmas calls for a special breakfast, so i tried Crepes. My go-to recipe source (besides my mother) is the classic, Joy of Cooking. It provided several variations to choose from, but as a rookie, I went for the first one listed in the index: Basic Sweet Crepes. They were simple and gratifying to make, just more time consuming than your average American pancake.

I had intended a nice, sit-down breakfast with coffee by the fire, but only able to do prepare one crepe at a time, we didn't have the patience to wait for all of them to be done (by which time they would most likely be cold). So instead we stood in the kitchen and split each crepe in half, hot off the griddle. At least there were less dishes to wash...

Basic Sweet Crepes
From The Joy of Cooking
makes about 7 1/2" crepes

Combine in a blender of food processor until smooth: (i just whisked in a bowl)
-1/2 cup all-purpose flour -1/2 cup milk -1/4 cup luke warm water -2 large eggs -2 Tbs unsalted butter, melted -1 1/2 Tbs sugar -Pinch of salt

Pour the batter into a pitcher or other container with a pouring lip. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand for 30 minutes or refrigerate for up to 2 days. (This allows the four to fully absorb the liquid and fives the gluten in the flour a chance to relax.)

Place a nonstick or seasoned crepe pan over medium heat. Coat the pan with a little butter. Stir the batter and pour about 2 Tbs into the pan, lifting the pan off the heat and tilting and rotating it so that the batter forms an even, very thin layer. Cook until the top is set and underside is golden. Turn the crepe over, using a spatula or preferably your fingers. Cook until the second side is lightly browned. Remove the crepe to a piece of wax paper. Continue cooking the rest of the crepes, buttering the pan and stirring the batter before starting each one. Stack the finished crepes between sheets of wax paper. Use immediately or let cool, wrap airtight, and freeze for up to 1 month.
(On each one i sifted powdered sugar and unsweetened cocoa through a fine mesh strainer.)