Thursday, November 24, 2011

Product Review: Star Wars Pancake Molds

My family has a tradition of making pancakes on Thanksgiving morning. "Make Your Own Pancakes" involved my mom standing behind her electric griddle, surrounded by bowls of various toppings--nuts, pineapple, coconut shreds, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, crushed Andes mints...enough to make your teeth ache just thinking about it. Mom would pour out the batter (buttermilk, buckwheat, or ricotta cheese) and we would add the toppings--quite the smorgasbord for all of us kids. This tradition is so delicious and easy, I want to continue it with my little one, but this year he was too little to get near the hot griddle.

So it was with fortuitous good timing that I received a gift of Star Wars™ pancake molds for my birthday. I knew Thanksgiving morning would be the perfect opportunity to try them out, while carryong on a multi-decade tradition.

I mostly followed the recipe on the packaging, figuring that the folks at Williams-Sonoma had probably tested that particular batter with the molds. After one practice round, here is how they came out:

Not too shabby! With an extremely thorough coating of non-stick spray, I still had to jiggle the molds more than I expected to get the pancakes loose, so the edges were a bit jagged and the batter smooshed together if I wasn't extremely careful. Also, Darth's eyes form a point of weakness that breaks the pancake in half if jostled too much. But these are definitely recognizable! And with more practice, and perhaps a slight change to the consistency of the batter, I imagine they would come out even better. The main flaw is that if the pancake does not come out cleanly, then you have to wash or wipe down the mold after each batch of three pancakes, which slows things down a bit too much for me (especially with a hungry toddler running loose).

The recipe turned out to be delicious, reminiscent of the cakey pancakes served at my husband's alma mater. (Oh how I have missed them!) Here are the ingredients I used:

2 eggs, beaten
1.5 C bread flour
0.5 C white whole wheat flour
3 T sugar
2 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 t salt
1 t vanilla
2.5 C buttermilk
4 T butter, melted
cooking spray for molds and griddle

The only differences from the original were doubling the vanilla from 0.5 t and using different flour: They called for 2 C all-purpose flour, but I wanted to try something a tad healthier. I couldn't even taste the whole wheat, so I plan to substitute a whole cup next time.

Overall, I would give the product a B+ grade. I think we will get a lot of use out of these over the years, especially as the little one gets older.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Quick Meals: Lemongrass Stir Fry

My go-to chicken dinner is a simple stir fry of chicken, red bell peppers, and onions in a "teriyaki" sauce. I find teriyaki tastes fresher, yet just as aromatic, when I leave out the sugar and salt and just use ginger, low-sodium soy sauce, and garlic. I use this premade ginger paste to save on time and reduce waste, so the meal is delicious and fast, but I was looking to change things up.

And then I happened upon lemongrass paste. I have enjoyed lemongrass flavor when I've gone out to eat and tried to cook with it a couple of times. Starting from fresh or using thinly sliced lemongrass in a jar both worked well, but I didn't care for the fairly woody texture of the rings. Perhaps I am missing something in my technique? But the paste solved this problem--all the flavor ready to blend, and quickly. I wasn't sure what to pair it with, but settled on roasted ground cumin and soy sauce and my taste buds were singing. As was my toddler: "More chi-chi!" I suspect he ate more of the chicken than I did, and the leftovers were all gone before the end of the next meal. Success!

Doing some additional research, it appears that lemongrass is commonly paired with garlic, ginger, and turmeric. (Though I don't recommend turmeric when feeding a toddler as it stains clothes rather effectively.) Do you make any recipes that use lemon grass?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Recipe Review: Pear Torte

Tonight my good friend and I tested out a dessert recipe from Smitten Kitchen. The recipe is similar in technique to an apple torte my mom makes, and overall this recipe gets five stars: It is both easy to make and delicious.

WARNING: Do NOT keep reading if you are hungry.

The semisweet chocolate is melty and rich, the pears are almost molten, and crust is golden with a flavor of caramel. It takes 20-30 minutes of active preparation and the full 40-50 minutes to bake, just long enough to cook and eat a simple dinner.

This recipe will most likely reappear on our holiday table, reincarnated: Having followed the recipe fairly faithfully this round, I plan to make a couple changes and report back. I found this dessert to defy one of the basic laws of desserts: It had too much chocolate. We used 130 grams of chocolate(the measurement of 3/4 C is imprecise because it relies on the size of the chips/chunks), and I plan to reduce that to about 100 g so that the pear and chocolate will be better balanced. I am also planning to try white chocolate instead of the semisweet as well as adding vanilla and possibly honey to lighten the dish and pair with the pear. And for the merriment inclined, I could definitely see getting some rum involved.

I have one more fiendish idea, and if it works out, you'll get to read about it here. Stay tuned.

(I apologize for the unartistical frontal shot of the torte, but we couldn't wait to eat, and after we ate, we were too contented to care. Yes, it was that kind of delicious.)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Trifling Leftover Inspiration?

A traditional trifle is made with ladyfingers or sponge cake, pudding, and whipped cream, but a recent muffin surplus gave me an idea for an efficient alternative. Rather than allowing the extra muffins to go stale, I sliced them in half (to make two discs) and used them as the bottom layer of a trifle. In this case, the muffins were a rich coffee cake, so I used vanilla pudding and whipped cream. But after Thanksgiving, I am tempted to try this with pumpkin muffins and cheescake pudding. I can imagine this could come in handy when office meeting leftovers make their home. What combination would you try?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Food for Kids: Inspiring a Love of Cooking

I am so grateful for the fond memories I have of watching and helping my mom cook when I was little, and I want to give my son those same experiences.  But Little E seems a bit too young for that right now.  Until he stops grabbing at everything and starts to have a longer attention span, I want to give him something else to do.  Enter imaginative play!

I am thinking of getting E some play fruits and veggies to go in a play kitchen.  There is such a wide variety in play kitchens!  Some look just like an adult kitchen and would take up a whole wall.  I am leaning toward getting the KidKraft Vintage Kitchen.  A friend of mine has it in blue, and it is sturdy, easy on the eyes, and not too big.

Do you have a favorite product or brand to recommend?  What were your favorite food-play activities?  (Mine was "running" my own restaurant with a friend.  Our signature dish?  Rainbow salad: red tomatoes, orange carrots, yellow peppers, green lettuce...and blue salad dressing.  Not blue cheese, just ranch with blue food coloring!)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Recipe: Mexican Pulled Chicken

What to do with chicken leftovers?  After grilling, we often have a lot of extra chicken, and while I like it hot off the grill, I tend to scorn the leftovers.  Until now, chicken salad was our go-to solution for leftover chicken, but I was looking for something new, and a bit healthier.  A little searching around yielded a recipe for Mexican Pulled Chicken.  The original recipe calls for uncooked chicken to be simmered with onions, cumin, chili powder, soup stock, and salsa, then removed, pulled, and added back to the pot.  It is just as easy to introduce the chicken at the post-pulling step, which has the additional benefit of making the total cooking time shorter.  The salsa you choose will greatly affect the flavor of the dish, so pick a good one!  I used a corn and bean salsa, and ate Mexican Pulled Chicken wraps all week for a quick lunch or dinner.  This recipe is Kosher, but for some delicious treyf, sprinkle on some cheese.

Garden update: One out of four pepper plants (the orangsicle variety) has four little peppers growing, two out of seven tomato plants (cherry and lemon boy) have tiny tomatoes, and one out of six eggplants has a small whitish purple fruit growing.  The cilantro (aka coriander) I planted in early april is blossoming, and hopefully I will be able to harvest the seeds soon!

Cilantro in bloom

Pretty little flowers, do your thing!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

You’re a Waldorf salad!*

I love a good, hearty salad, especially as it heats up outside.  The problem is all the time it takes to prepare the fixins and all the space it takes to store the inevitable unused portions.  So it is a treat to go out to a good salad bar, where I can mix and match to my heart’s content.  Right now, my favorite place for doing this is Ruby Tuesday’s.  There’s nothing like a spinach, egg, tomato, chickpea, black olive, sun-dried tomato, crumbled feta, and dried cranberry salad with a balsamic vinaigrette or blue cheese dressing.  What's your favorite salad combination, and where’s you’re favorite place to get it?

Speaking of delicious fixins, I am more than ready for fresh garden tomatoes!  We have seven plants this year, all with little yellow flowers, so I am hopeful to get a good turn out this year.
*Do you recognize this line?  It’s from You’re the Top, by Cole Porter, from Anything Goes (here's a fun explanation of some of the references in the song).  I heard it on the way to the restaurant, and I ended up having some Waldorf Salad during dinner.  How appropriate!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hello, everybody, so glad to see you!

Welcome!  I love food.  Does that make me a "foodie"?  In any case, this passion seems to run in my family.  My grandmother left behind dozens of recipe cards, carefully typed out with a typewriter.  My mother added dozens of new recipes she found through the years.  While I was growing up, I watched my sister experiment with bread baking, and now she is trying out cheese making and other culinary experiments.  Being the younger sister, I grew up enjoying what everyone else made, but somewhere along the way I discovered that I loved more than simply eating.  I loved trying new ingredients, new recipes, and new techniques.  I loved trying out dishes that other people made, true, but also produce that other people grew.  Recently my love of taking photographs spread to delighting in photographing food being made.  My husband's interest in the science of nutrition was contagious.  And since I became a mother, planning food for our small family has become a hobby of culinary exploration, creativity, and thriftiness.

As you might surmise, I spend large portions of my free time thinking about and engaged with food.  And I decided that instead of keeping these food experiences to myself, it would be more fun to share them.  This blog is my forum for that sharing.  Check out the Sneak Peeks page to find out the upcoming posts I am planning.