Hayleigh’s Pancakes

Look at them: sitting there on the plate, no syrup, no butter, no nothing. Boring, right?

Well, that’s just the way Hayleigh likes her pancakes.

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you will already know that Josh has a much stronger preference for crepes. And if he has to have pancakes, he has to have them doctored in some way: chocolate chips, blueberries, or topped–thanks to the influence of Louis Jordan–with molasses.

Not Hayleigh, though. Pancakes are to be eaten warm, plain, and of course, with your hands.

1 egg
1 cup milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 tablespoons vanilla yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/3 cups unbleached white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Beat the egg in a mixing bowl. Add the sugar, yogurt, and vanilla extract, and mix. Now add the milk and oil. Combine until smooth.

In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. You could sift your ingredients if you so desire, but I’m always too lazy at that hour of the morning. As long as I’ve mixed the dry together before adding to the wet, I say that’s good enough.

Add your dry ingredients to your wet and combine. Set aside for at least fifteen minutes.

Get a frying pan or griddle good and hot. When a drop of water dances on the surface (but you knew that already, right?) you are ready to start cooking.

I do pancakes one of two ways–either using a small cast iron griddle that was once owned by Josh’s great-grandmother, or using an enormous, 16″ frying pan. The cast iron griddle gives a really nice finish, but sometimes cooking four pancakes at a time has its distinct advantages.

Finish with syrup, butter, powdered sugar…or nothing at all.

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Beans and Cornbread

Ever seen Dinner and a Movie on TBS? It’s off the air now, apparently, and to be honest it’s been a long, long time since I’ve watched the show. Basic concept–every Friday night, TBS shows a movie, and the two hosts cook up a dinner to pair with the film, always involving a bad pun.

Back in the 1990s, when I was watching more Superstation than SpongeBob, the hosts would advertise the upcoming movie throughout the week. While the film and/or recipe didn’t always grab my attention, what did always get me was the show’s theme song: Louis Jordan’s “Beans and Cornbread.”

For some reason, that song popped in my head earlier this week, and as one thing often leads to the next in my kitchen, I had my next slow cooker meal planned out.

For the Beans
1 lb pinto beans
6 cups water
2 strips of bacon
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 small bay leaves

For the Cornbread
1 cup corn meal
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
1 egg
3 tablespoons butter, melted

Rinse and drain the beans, then get them cooking in 6 cups of water. As with our pasta e fagioli recipe, I do not pre-soak the beans. I also use a slow cooker, getting it going in the morning while I’m doing breakfast, then leaving it to do its thing while I’m at work. Cut the bacon into small pieces and fry them until almost crisp. Add the bacon, chopped onion, and minced garlic to the beans and let them cook (and as with other bean dishes no salt yet or you will end up with tough beans). Let the beans cook until tender–at least 8 hours on low in a slow cooker, or 3 hrs in a simmering pot.

At this point, your beans will look closer to a soup than what you’re after. You are going to want to reduce the liquid just a bit until you get something closer to the density of a stew. At this point, I transfer the beans carefully from the slow cooker to a pot. Add salt, pepper, and bay leaves and allow them to continue to cook while you work on your cornbread.

I did not grow up eating cornbread, but rumor has it my version is not too bad. Really, it’s an amalgamation of lots of different cornbread recipes I’ve come across–so I guess it’s as much my recipe as any other hand-me-down. The key for me, though, is less about what goes in the cornbread than how you bake it–it’s got to be in a cast iron skillet.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, beat the egg and add the milk. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and combine. Finally, add the melted butter to the batter.

Pour the batter into a well-buttered 9″ cast iron frying pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the top turns golden brown. If the edges look like they are getting too dark, lower the temperature to 400 degrees for the final five minutes or so.

By the time your cornbread is ready, the bean liquid should have reduced to a thick broth. Ladle out the beans into wide shallow bowls, then top the beans with a healthy sized wedge of cornbread.

Serve with some kind of smothered greens, and you’re good to go!

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Tomatoes in October

OK, I admit it. It feels a little wrong to be writing about tomatoes in the middle of  October. Pumpkins, sure. Sweet potatoes, no problem.

But tomatoes?

Of course, this tomato salad tastes much better in the middle of summer, with tomatoes that you have just picked off your own vines. That was how I always had it growing up–and of course the absolutely best insalata pomodoro ever was what my grandfather used to prepare with the fruit of the vine from his own backyard in Medford, MA (and who knew suburban Boston backyards could grow such amazing tomatoes?)

But you know, the tomatoes at the store yesterday said they were vine-ripened, and even if they did probably spend a little too long on a truck before getting into my hands, they didn’t look that bad….

one large tomato, cut into thin slices
one clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped
salt, to taste
olive oil to taste

Arrange the tomato slices on a plate. Season with salt, and then scatter the minced garlic and chopped parsley over the top. Drizzle liberally with olive oil and set aside for at least fifteen minutes.

Serve as a side dish, or an appetizer–preferably with some nice, crusty bread.

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Hoisin Glazed Chicken

I can remember the first time I had hoisin sauce–it was a condiment for mu shu pork. I was probably not much older than Josh, and I loved it. Maybe taste buds are genetic, because Josh loves it too. True to its origins, it is a great accompaniment to pork, but we have found plenty of other uses for it as well–including chicken.

The first time I made this dish, I roasted a whole bird. That works fine, but this version is a little quicker. Plus, everyone gets plenty of dark meat, which in my household is a very good thing.

8 chicken thighs
4 teaspoons hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons seasoned rice vinegar
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Whisk together 2 teaspoons of the hoisin sauce and the remaining wet ingredients in a bowl. Add the chicken thighs. Coat thoroughly and set aside to marinade for at least a half hour.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place the chicken thighs skin side up in a lightly oiled glass dish. Bake for about 30-40 minutes, until the skin is brown, but not burned. Whisk the remaining 2 teaspoons of hoisin sauce and lightly glaze each thigh. Return to the oven and cook for an additional five minutes. Glaze again and repeat every five minutes for a total of 15 minutes, or until the chicken is completely cooked.

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Seared Salmon Salad

Here’s another dish inspired by one of our favorite restaurants.

There’s a nice, little Cuban restaurant not too far down the road called La Fonda Latina. Usually, I get the bocadillo latino, but lately I’ve been getting their ensalada pescado. My wife ordered it first and then made the mistake of asking us to taste it. By the time we got through with it, she had very little dinner left for herself!

So the other day I saw a nice looking salmon fillet in the store and thought I’d try my own version. Really, it’s quite different–no corn, no onion, and I’ve added olives and hard boiled eggs. I must have done something right, though, because everyone devoured it!

1 salmon fillet, approx. 1-1/4 lb
1 lime
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1/3 head green leaf lettuce
6-7 pitted marinaded green olives
6-7 pitted kalamata olives
1 large tomato
1 medium cucumber
2 hard boiled eggs
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
garlic powder, to taste
olive oil
red wine vinegar
balsamic vinegar

If you purchased your salmon as a single, large fillet, section it into two smaller fillets to make it easier to manage the fish. Squeeze the juice of one lime over the salmon. Season with salt, to taste, and approximately 1 teaspoon of Old Bay. Set aside, and begin preparing your salad ingredients.

Tear the lettuce leaves into bite-size pieces, removing most of the core. Layer on top of the lettuce chopped tomatoes, cucumber slices, green olives and kalamata olives (sliced in halves or thirds, depending on the size), and quartered hard boiled eggs. Set aside, and return to your fish.

Heat a non-stick pan over a medium flame, adding around an ounce of olive oil. When your oil is hot, add your seasoned salmon fillets to the pan, flesh side down. Leave the fish until it has cooked almost through, moving it as little as possible to ensure a good sear. Turn the fillets skin-side down and cook for another couple of minutes, until the skin starts to crisp. Transfer the fish into a separate plate and let cool for a few moments.

While the fish sets, dress your salad. I go pretty simple: no cruet, just salt, pepper, garlic powder, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil directly onto the salad. Before you toss the salad, add in the salmon, removing it from the skin and leaving in relatively large flakes.

Toss the salad gently, trying not to break up the salmon too much, and serve.

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Pomegranate Frozen Yogurt

OK, OK: I know it seems like all ice cream all the time around here, but this one was so easy and so good, I just had to share one more.

We love Red Mango. And what we really love is their pomegranate frozen yogurt. The combination of the tartness of pomegranate and the tanginess of yogurt is pretty amazing. Now, any excuse for a trip to an ice cream shop or frozen yogurt store is fine by me, but why not try to make one of our favorite desserts at home?

As experiments go, this one was kind of a no-brainer. How can you go wrong with frozen yogurt, right? And talk about simple–all you really need is a container of good quality yogurt and some pomegranate juice. Oh, and sugar. And a little bit of time.

2 cups unsweetened pomegranate juice
1 cup sugar
24 ounces plain, whole milk yogurt

Combine the pomegranate juice and sugar in a sauce pan and heat over a medium flame until you have reduced the liquid by one half. Cover and cool in the fridge for about two hours.

Once the liquid has cooled to at least room temperature, add it to 24 ounces of plain, whole milk yogurt (5% milk fat). You really want to use whole milk “cream top” yogurt for this one–the fat will make all the difference in the creaminess of your finished product. Whip with a whisk until smooth and add to your ice cream maker according to directions.

The final product was pretty tasty–definitely tangy & tart. There was some debate in our household over whether or not it could have been a tad more intense in its flavor. Next time, we might try starting out with 3 cups of juice and reducing to one cup. If you give it a try, let me know how it turns out!

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Café con Leche Ice Cream

I am not sure what kind of school schedule you are on in your neck of the woods, but believe it or not, Josh heads back in just one more week. That means we’re trying to squeeze out the last bit of summer vacation while we can. And that means: more ice cream!

Both boys like the taste of coffee, and in particular, they love it when I make café con leche: Cuban espresso served with an equal measure of warmed milk, and plenty of sugar. So today we thought we’d try to make a café con leche ice cream. It turned out pretty amazing, though a bit time consuming.

2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup Cuban espresso coffee grounds
1 cup sugar

Heat the milk and heavy cream in a sauce pot to around 170 degrees. Add the sugar and stir until it dissolves. Remove the sauce pot from the heat and add the coffee grounds, stirring to make sure the grounds are saturated. Set aside the mixture for about five minutes.

When the grounds have settled somewhat, slowly and carefully ladle the mixture through a fine mesh sieve or a coffee filter. Try to ladle off from the top, leaving as much of the sediment as possible to settle. You may need to clean your sieve or use more than one coffee filter.

If the process is going too slowly, let the mixture sit for a while longer until more of the sediment has settled. This part definitely takes a little time and patience.

Eventually you will have strained out the coffee grounds, leaving you with your ice cream base. Cover and place in the refrigerator for several hours until completely cooled.

You can follow the directions on your ice cream maker for the last part, but you will find that the ice cream will set somewhat faster than you would expect. I assume this is a result of the oil content in the coffee. Normally, we will put up our ice cream for an hour or so to have a harder set dessert, but for this batch, we served it straight from the machine and it was delicious.

And yes, there is caffeine in Cuban coffee, so you might not want to serve up third helpings to your little ones as a late night treat!

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Miso Glazed Cauliflower

This is another one of those attempts to trick the kids into liking a previously disliked vegetable. Cheddar cauliflower soup is always a winner, but straight-up cauliflower:

No thanks.

When I made this side tonight, though, Josh and his brother both loved it (Josh even deemed to call it “exotic”).

And the baby sister? Not so much. She prefers her cauliflower crudité, or not at all. But hey, that’s an accommodation I can live with.

1 medium-sized cauliflower
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons red miso
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce

Core the cauliflower and cut florets lengthwise into relatively flat segments about 1/4 inch thick.

Heat the sesame oil over a medium high flame in a large, stainless steel frying pan. When your oil is hot, add the cauliflower, trying to maximize contact with the pan. Let the cauliflower go for several minutes until the pieces caramelize. Move the pieces around, trying to get good coloring on both sides of each piece. Don’t overwork them–they won’t brown as well, plus you will start to crumble the floret slices.

While you are browning the cauliflower, wisk together the miso paste, soy sauce, and rice wine vinegar.

When you have finished browning the floret slices, add the miso-soy-vinegar mixture. Stir through the cauliflower, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan. Cover and lower to a simmer for two or three minutes (this step will steam the cauliflower and help the pieces cook through). Remove the lid and raise the heat to a medium low, cooking until you have reduced the remaining liquid almost entirely.

This dish makes a great side with any Asian-inspired dish. For us, it was sticky rice and panko-crusted chicken.

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Fish Head Soup

I first mentioned Fish Head Soup over a year ago, when Josh and I were experimenting with coquinas. It’s been a while since we have been at the beach, and even longer since any of us has caught a fish worth keeping. Finally Matthew brought in a nice catch–a Redfish just big enough to keep. I fileted it and blackened it for lunch, and with what was left over made a Josh favorite–Fish Head Soup.

What goes in the pot really depends on what we happen to have with us on vacation. I’ve thrown in carrots, diced tomato, herbs, etc., but the version I made on this trip is Fish Head Soup in all its simple deliciousness–just salt, onion, garlic, and water. Oh, and a fish head, of course.

1 fish head, spine & tail
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 small onion
1 clove garlic, crushed
Water to cover the fish (around 8 cups for a 3 lb fish)
Other herbs and aromatics as you see fit

Heat oil in a heavy bottomed pot. Add the fish, breaking the spine as needed to fit in the pot. Quarter the onion and add it to the pot as well. Saute the fish for a few minutes on each side, stirring the onion as well. Once the flesh starts to cook through and the onion takes on a little color, add the crushed garlic clove, the salt, and water. You will have to judge the water based on the size of the fish. I didn’t weigh Matthew’s redfish, but I would guess it to be around 3 lbs. I used 8 cups of water, which worked out fine.

Heat on medium until just under a boil, then lower to a simmer and cover. Let simmer for around 30-40 minutes. Adjust the salt as needed, then strain before serving, making sure you have removed all the bones.

I usually don’t bother to pick the remaining meat off of the bones, but you certainly could, and then add it back to the broth. Do make sure you scoop out those fish cheeks, though, if you have never tasted them before. They are tasty morsels!

Josh and I will eat this broth as a side to whatever fish we’ve caught and cooked that day. The leftover usually works its way into some other dish later on. This time, it became the liquid base for the shrimp and grits gravy that we made for dinner.

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Indian Summer

OK, so it has been hot for days on end–I mean, triple digit hot. The only time I have ever been hotter is the three weeks I spent in India in the middle of summer, where it got to 115 degrees the day I went to the Taj Mahal. I am not sure who was the bigger fool–the guy who told me to wear polyester shirts because micro-fibers dry quicker than cotton shirts (we were supposed to be traveling in the midst of monsoon), or me for listening to him (it barely rained the entire three weeks).

Anyway, on hot, hot days like what we have been suffering through, I will start whipping up the following drinks, two of which I was introduced to in India–fresh lime soda and watermelon juice–and the third which I grew to respect more than ever before– lassi.

Both the fresh lime soda and the lassi can be made sweet, salty, or sweet and salty. My preference is for salty. Each of the recipes below is for one 8 ounce beverage, so ramp up the quantities accordingly.

Fresh Lime Soda
1 lime
8 ounces seltzer water
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)

Place two or three ice cubes in a glass. Add the salt and/or sugar, plus the juice of one lime. Pour the seltzer and mix lightly with two or three stirs.

1/2 cup plain, whole milk yogurt
4 ounces ice water
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)

Place the yogurt, ice water, salt and/or sugar into a blender. Mix for about a minute, until the yogurt starts to froth. Serve immediately.

Watermelon Juice
2 cups cubed, seedless watermelon

Place the watermelon cubes in a blender and puree until smooth. Pass the puree through a sieve, getting as much liquid as you can out of the pulp.

Some of the pulp will pass through the sieve–that’s a good thing. The idea is to get the juice smooth, not necessarily pulp-free. Serve over ice.

Josh was just three years old when I took that trip, and when I came back home, he wouldn’t leave my side for a couple of days. We shared quite a few fresh lime sodas during that time, and they still remain one of our favorite summer beverages.

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