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Don’t-Tell-‘Em-They’re-Whole-Wheat Pancakes

2 Apr

Before you shake your head and mutter about whole wheat flour and head off to Paula Deen’s site for some real pancakes for the love of Bisquick, give me a second to tell you about Friday night.

Friday night starts in the mountains of western Maryland where, about 10 minutes outside of a lakeside area that makes its money almost purely on tourism, stands Annie’s Kitchen, which is a third-generation (I think) working-class, meat and mashed potatoes, over-easy eggs and scrapple kind of restaurant. Linoleum floors, mismatched tables and chairs, diner coffee cups from before Crate & Barrel started making them, and waitresses who know everybody in town, and every thing about every body. You know the kind of place–the hole-in-the-wall you only tried because you wanted something off the beaten path, and any shake-shack of a dive with that many pickup trucks in the parking lot had to have something going for it.

Once you try it, of course, you understand that this may well be the best breakfast joint you’ve ever had the supreme pleasure of visiting, and that unless you want a heart attack before your 50th birthday, you’d best not visit all that often.

We were not in western Maryland on Friday night, but our story starts there because when we are, my kids beg to go to Annie’s for breakfast. Pancakes, they say. At Annie’s.

So. Friday night was a meat-free night for our family. DH and I had enjoyed a large, late lunch and weren’t particularly hungry at 6 p.m., but the kids were starving. Wanting something simple in both the cooking and the clean-up department, I promised them pancakes; we’ve talked before about how I always make a mess of them and stow the extras in the freezer for very fast hot breakfasts later on. Pancakes for dinner become a two-fer in my house, and two-fers are gold this time of year.

I pulled out my handy-dandy copy of How to Cook Everything and flipped to the basic pancake recipe, and decided right then and there that it would be an outstanding night to muck around with it and see if there was any magic to be had in the healthy-but-good department. And so I swapped out this for that, upped this other thing over here, figured out how to add in a simple chemical reaction to give me lots of air bubbles in the batter and lighten things up (thank you, years of Alton Brown), messed with the mixing part a little bit, and produced a whole-wheat pancake. Which I spread with a little butter and a touch of syrup and served, without a word, to my little guys.

The 8-year-old took a bite and nodded and told me hers were really good. And the 10-year-old…guess what he said about these healthier pancakes with their grainy goodness?

“Mom…you made Annie’s pancakes! These are Annie’s!”

We had not, for the record, talked about Annie’s in weeks. Just so you know. And I am 99.99 percent confident that Annie’s pancakes are most definitely not whole wheat.

My kitchen smelled divine and I’ll have you know that my kids stuffed themselves with whole-wheat pancakes. The ingredient swaps and changes made them just as light and fluffy as regular flapjacks, and they froze and reheated beautifully so I still got my twofer. This recipe is absolutely our family’s new pancake standard, and I feel pretty darned good about that. I hope your family likes them just as much, because they are no more difficult than normal pancakes (which are really very easy). To make them, you need:

1 cup whole-wheat flour (I prefer King Arthur brand, which is soft and very easy to work with)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tbsp plus 1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 egg plus two egg whites (the extra whites mean fluffy goodness with wheat flour)

2 tbsp vinegar mixed with enough milk to equal 1 1/2 cups (this’ll react with the baking soda for more fluffy stuff)

2 tbsp melted butter

Get your griddle heating up first–you want that bad boy to be screaming hot when the first pancake hits.

In a large bowl (I use my batter bowl), whisk together all the dry goods. Then, stir in the wet stuff with a whisk. Voila–your pancakes are ready to cook. Told you it was easy! Cook them on a hot griddle or fry pan until you see dry bubbles around the outer edges, and then flip them until they’re done.

Hint: The batter is going to fizz up a bit between batches as the baking soda and the vinegar get to know each other (and no you do not taste vinegar in these at all–trust me, my kids would revolt). Give the batter a quick stir before you pour each round of pancakes to get it to settle down and pour nicely for you. These are also going to want to stick to your griddle a bit, so give it a swipe of your nonstick goodness of choice between batches.

And don’t tell anybody our little wheat secret!

DIY Brownie Bites

12 Mar

Those boxes of pre-packaged mini-muffins and mini-brownies torture me in the grocery store. It’s not because I want them (at all), but because my kids do. They see friends snarfing them down at lunchtime and it’s all “Mom, please!” and “I’ll never ask for anything ever again,” and “You can have some too!”

Bleh.

You can’t explain (well, you can, but it won’t matter) to a 10 year old that those packages only loosely fit into the category of “food.” The kids don’t care that almost nothing on the ingredient labels of those things is found on the shelf of any grocery store, and they also don’t care that four or five mini-muffins is more than any one child needs at any one sitting. You can explain all of this, but it won’t help. They still want them. They’re fun! And cool! And yummy!

Ick.

Know what helps? Taking 10 minutes to throw together your own mini-snacks out of real ingredients that you can identify and control, and then dividing them up into reasonable portions and tossing them into your freezer for later lunchbox distribution. It helps even more if you involve your kids in making the goodies, because everything tastes better when you had a hand in it, yes?

We talked about this awhile ago, and I shared my DIY Little Bites recipe with you (it’s still a hit around here). Yesterday, my daughter donned her pink apron and her chef’s hat and her oven mitt, and we spent those 10 minutes making bite-sized brownies to bag and freeze and put into lunchboxes today in pairs, which are far more reasonable than the portion size in the boxes of the factory-made bites.

This is my favorite brownie recipe (note: if you’re making brownies from a mix, please go read the labels. Recognize all of what’s there? Any of what’s there? Right. This seriously takes seconds to throw together.) with a little baking powder thrown in; that helps lighten these and make them rise just a touch, so they look like the commercially-produced brownie bites. They taste better, though, and they’re not full of dexty-hywhatsis or poly-bythingies. Simple, pure ingredients. Sweet.

Don’t skip the paper muffin liners on these. I tried it. It wasn’t pretty. Just a hint. 🙂

DD and I had a ball making these and they’re happy in my freezer and a welcome, much more reasonable treat than the stuff my kids used to beg for at the Giant. To make them, you need:

6 tbsp butter

2 squares (1 oz each) unsweetened baking chocolate

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

2/3 cup flour

1 tsp vanilla

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp baking powder

Heat your oven to 350 degrees and line a mini-muffin tin with paper liners.

Chop your chocolate (roughly) and cut your butter into tablespoons. Put those into a microwave-safe mixing bowl and nuke it for one minute. Take it out and stir it for a minute to melt the rest of the chocolate; if it doesn’t melt after stirring, nuke it again in 15-second increments, stirring well after each (over-nuking scorches chocolate. That’s gross.). If you don’t have a microwave, you can melt them together in the bowl set on top of a pan filled with water on the stove.

Once the chocolate is melted into the butter, stir in the sugar. Then, stir in the vanilla and eggs. Finally, stir in everything else. Drop by tablespoons into your mini-muffin tins and bake for about 12 minutes, or until done. Let cool.

I put mine into snack-sized bags, two in each bag, and then put all of those bags into a freezer bag and popped the whole mess into the cold box. In the morning, I pull out however many bags I want and put them into lunchboxes; they thaw in about 15 minutes.

Pumpkin Waffles

21 Nov

“Mom,” said my daughter from the kitchen table. “These are better than in a restaurant.”

Now, to fully appreciate that, you need to know that this child–love of my life, keeper of my heart, fruit of my soul–has complained loudly and with great abandon about every single thing I’ve put on that table for about two weeks now. She went to bed two nights in a row last week having eaten one bite of dinner because rice was so offensive (and she did not starve to death nor become malnourished so stop shaking your heads at me–I’m over the short-order cook thing). Nothing, and I mean nothing, has met with the approval of her rapidly-narrowing palate.

Until Saturday morning. When she declared this breakfast worthy of a “real cook,” and devoured it. I swear, I waited for the earth to open up beneath me right then and there, because surely this was my entrance to everlasting nirvana.

This is the result of my messing around with a few recipes I found online, all of which were either too heavily spiced for our liking (it’s an early morning dish for the love of all that’s holy) or soggy or didn’t crisp up on the outside and get fluffy on the inside like any good waffle is supposed to do. It takes a few steps and a few ingredients, but I promise you–the mess and the extra few minutes are totally worth it, because these pumpkin waffles are crunchy and fluffy and just pumpkiny enough to make them out of this world good with a drizzle of real maple syrup.

The key to the crunchy/fluffy quality of these lies in three tiny things: bread flour, which is high in protein and does crispy/chewy beautifully; a little veggie oil in the batter; and baking powder. There is a lot of baking powder in this–it is going to foam up when you put it on the griddle. Go easy, or you’re going to have a mess on your countertop.

All of that said, these don’t stay crispy/chewy for long–get your family around the table as you put the first one on your waffle iron, and let them eat as they come off (you, as chef, get the last one, which means first that the waffle iron is deadly hot and yours will be extra delicious, and second, that your family will likely be finished eating when you start, giving you perfectly perfect peace and quiet as you enjoy your waffle, not that you don’t love them and savor mealtime with them, blah, blah, blah). They do crisp up nicely in the toaster, though, so you can save a few and toast them up later. Just watch that they don’t burn.

I whipped this batter up in my KitchenAid mixer, using the whisk attachment, which incorporated lots of air in there. Air is good in waffles. You can absolutely use a hand mixer or your arm and a whisk. Whatever you have is fantastic.

Enough chit-chat, gang. Gather your ingredients (Thanksgiving morning would be a fantastic time for this breakfast–just saying–and it’s a great recipe to use the night-before tricks from my morning muffin post, too) and give these a shot. You’ll need:

4 tbsp butter, melted

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup bread flour

3 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

a pinch of salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp ginger (ground)

1/4 cup light brown sugar, loosely packed

2 eggs

1 cup (1/2 a can) pumpkin puree

1 2/3 cup milk

1 tbsp veggie or canola oil

Heat your waffle iron.

In your mixer bowl, beat together your eggs, butter (cool it for a few minutes first or you’ll scramble the eggs), pumpkin, oil, milk, and brown sugar.

Stir in all of your dry ingredients and beat it for a minute to get some air in there.

Pour a half-cup at a time (on a Belgian waffle maker–less on a regular one) into your waffle iron and cook to manufacturer’s directions. Eat immediately or freeze and toast later.

Better-Than-The-Restaurant Homemade Pizza

11 Oct

DH came through the door last night just as I was slicing up the pizza I’d made. He dropped his keys, leaned over the counter, and grabbed a slice.

“I swear,” he said. “Your pizza is better than the ones we get out.”

I smiled and said thank-you, but didn’t tell him the truth, which is that the things that make my pizza good are more about technique than recipe. For the most part, crust is crust and sauce is to-taste and the cheese comes out of the grocery store in a bag, and I don’t do much to doctor those up. But I have tricks up my sleeve that came from a lot of thought about the pizza recipes I tried that were so-so, and the way my local pizzeria makes its pies.

Think about what happens when you walk into a pizzeria. You approach the counter and hit a wall of heat, yes? That’s because pizza ovens are screaming, center-of-the-sun hot. And they’ve been that way for hours before you order. Ditto for the pans your pie bakes on–have you ever seen a pizza chef toss dough into the oven on a cold pan? You have not. They prepare the dish on the countertop and use a pizza peel to slide it onto a hot pan.

You do not need a pizza oven or a peel or anything else fancy-schmancy to make restaurant-quality pizza. But you do have to follow a few rules and be willing to chuck the recipes a bit.

The one thing I recommend you buy is a pizza stone, which you can find for about $15 in your local Target or Wal Mart. Fancy is not on the agenda–cheap is your friend. These are unglazed ceramic and they are magic when it comes to crispy-chewy crusts. My stone lives in my oven all the time (it’s also phenomenal for making bread) so it doesn’t take up cabinet space or need any prep. I never wash it (oh stop–it lives in the oven, y’all, and gets sanitized several times a week), but I do take it out after it cools and scrape it down well with a bench scraper (you can grab one of those for a few dollars at Ikea or Target) before returning it to the oven.

I use a rimless cookie sheet as a pizza peel and it works beautifully. You want something dough can slide off. And the secret to that sliding? Cornmeal. You want a good layer of cornmeal on your cookie sheet and on your pizza stone before you bake (right before with the stone–cornmeal smokes up very quickly, so sprinkle it onto the pizza stone seconds before you slide your pie in the oven).

Preheat your oven a good long while before you want to bake–30 minutes at the minimum–with the stone in there, and crank that bad boy up to 450 degrees. You will not burn anything! (Turn on your exhaust fan at the outset if the previous owner of your house was a rocket scientist like the previous owner of mine and installed a hardwired smoke detector in the kitchen. Just trust me on that.)

Make your dough. My recipe is below, but really, you can use any one you like. The trick with this is to use half bread flour and half all-purpose flour. That bread flour gives the crust protein, which gives you that amazing crispy-chewy quality that your local pizzeria features. I wouldn’t go more than half and half on it, though, or your crust will be too soft. And the other trick with this is to prick the crust with a fork after you’ve rolled and stretched it into a circle, which will prevent the under-sauce part from rising in the oven. See?

You want to sprinkle oregano between your sauce and the cheese. And my final trick is to use a blend of cheeses that, at a minimum, includes mozzarella and cheddar.

I said cheddar. Once you try it, you’ll never go back. Promise. I use an Italian blend of cheeses that includes cheddar and can find that even in my sad Soviet-esque market, so I’m sure you’ll see it too.

So. You’ve heated up your oven and stone, made your dough, rolled and stretched it out, pricked it with a fork, transferred it to a cornmeal-coated rimless cookies sheet, covered it with sauce and oregano and cheese and toppings, and slid it into the oven right after sprinkling more cornmeal on your stone. The last thing you need to do is turn on your oven light and keep an eye on your pie without opening the door. You want all that gorgeous super-hot air to stay in there and crisp things up. When your cheese starts to brown–and not before—very carefully use that rimless cookie sheet to slide under the pizza, ease it out of the oven, and enjoy. (Turn off your oven and let it cool several hours before you try and scrape your stone–it takes awhile to reach room temp after this).

So that’s it. You’ll enjoy delicious pizza at a fraction of the price of your local delivery shack, and you won’t believe the results.

I use commercially-prepared pizza sauce (we’re partial to Trader Joe’s) and cheese (I like reduced-fat, which saves me from the pool o’ grease on top of most pizzas). To my my favorite crust, you need:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup bread flour

2 1/2 tsp yeast (one package if you’re using the envelopes)

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup warm water

1 tbsp olive oil

Mix the above together in your bread machine on the dough cycle.

If you don’t have a bread machine, mix the ingredients together with a mixer until they’re just blended, then knead by hand for about five minutes until the dough is soft and elastic. Spray a bowl with cooking spray or olive oil, put the dough in there, cover with a clean towel, and let it rise about an hour.

Punch the dough down, stretch and roll it into a pizza circle (make it a bit thinner than you want–it’ll rise again in the oven), prick with a fork, and then follow the directions above to make a pizza.

Big Honkin’ Soft Pretzels

24 Jun

DH drives a lot and frequently stops at Wawa for afternoon pick-me-ups. (Side note: the man has an uncanny amount of radar  for locating Wawa stores wherever he goes, despite the fact that there are none anywhere close to where we live. It’s creepy, if you ask me.) And he frequently brings home plastic-wrapped soft pretzels for the kids, who go nuts for them.

I tried one the other week. Yeah, they’re good. But I figured I could do that and for less than a buck or two a pretzel.

The first try was a pretty big failure. The dough–which was my regular pizza dough–didn’t want to twist into pretzel shapes, and then it didn’t want to bake all the way through, and then its egg wash did something bizarre that we won’t discuss, just in case you figure out I’m a tremendous fraud and stop reading the blog. Everybody tried a pretzel and nodded politely, and then I threw them away.

It happens, gang. You are going to throw food in the trash from time to time, just because a recipe didn’t turn out. Accept it as an offering to the kitchen gods, and try again!

Yesterday, I tried again, using a copycat recipe I found online that’s supposed to turn out just like those mall pretzels. Only I screwed it up, because I was trying to do real work in between tossing ingredients together, and added in some topping ingredients right in with the dough mixture. I flipped the bread machine to the dough setting, hit the start button, realized what happened, stared through the little glass window and cussed a bit, and then decided to let it go and see what happened.

The dough did its thing, I struggled through twisting and dipping and rising again (I am not a pretzel twister, just so you know), they baked up and cooled, and then the kids tried them.

“Mom,” said the 7-year-old, “These are better than the ones at the ballpark.”

Mistakes rule sometimes. Just keep going. Taste and adjust as necessary, but keep moving forward–you never know when a family favorite will be born.

I made this dough in my bread machine, using its pizza dough setting. Use the regular dough setting on your machine if it has one, or you can do this by stirring the dough ingredients together with a mixer, kneading it for 5 minutes or so on a flour-sprinkled counter, and letting it rise in a covered bowl for an hour.

This recipe made about 8 pretzels for us. We devoured a few (*blush*) and I wrapped the leftovers up in plastic wrap, just like Wawa. They’re still yummy this morning. I’m betting these would freeze really well, too, and then defrost and warm up really nicely in the microwave. We’ll find out soon–the short people already want to know when we’re making more. Next time, I’m skipping the twisting bit and either cutting the dough into chunks for pretzel bites (adjusting the baking time accordingly), or making simple twisted pretzel sticks.

Give it a shot. You need:

1 1/2 cup warm water

1 1/4 tsp active dry yeast

2 tbsp brown sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup bread flour (this gives that crispy crunch on the outside. You can use AP flour if you don’t keep bread flour around, but you’ll lose a bit of texture)

2 cups all-purpose flour

4 tbsp butter, melted

2 cups warm water

2 tbsp baking soda

Sprinkle the yeast over the 1 1/12 cup of warm water and let it sit a few minutes.

In your bread machine or the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the flours, brown sugar, salt, and butter. Add in the yeast mixture, and either run a dough cycle or mix and knead as described above, and then let rise for an hour.

When the dough is ready, heat your oven to 450 degrees, cover a baking sheet with foil, and spray that with butter or nonstick spray. In a large bowl, stir together the 2 cups of warm water and the baking soda.

Punch your dough down and divide it into 8 chunks. Roll each chunk into a long rope (it should be about 1/2 inch thick), rolling in more flour if you need to. Carefully dunk each raw pretzel in the water/baking soda mix (stir that up between pretzels), and lay them on the foil-covered baking sheet. When they’re all done, lay a clean dishtowel over them and let them rise a half-hour or so. Then, bake them about 10 minutes or until golden brown on the outside.

Enjoy warm or at room temperature, either plain or brushed with melted butter and cinnamon sugar or Kosher salt.

 

Not Your Grandmother’s Banana Blueberry Bread

20 Jun

It was not a weekend for the record books. That’s a nice way of saying it, I think. It started with a farewell party for someone I very much like who’s moving far away (fun party, but made me super sad), then went to another event where my feelings got smashed, mid-pointed with the death of a good friend of DH’s, and snuck out of town with a visit to urgent care, which never ends well. I had a good cry, hibernated with my Kindle for several hours, visited with my friends Ben and Jerry, got a decent night’s sleep, and this morning, decided that the blueberries in my refrigerator were not going to cook themselves, and mucked around with a recipe.

We all have banana blueberry bread recipes in our collections–it’s a staple, both because it’s good and because it uses up fruit that threatens ickiness in a way that everybody will eat. I’ve had this one for awhile, but finally got around to messing with it this morning. And it, my sweets, it good.

I can’t remember where the original recipe came from, but I swapped out brown sugar for half the white, added some vanilla extract, and used more blueberries than it called for. The result is a very quick and simple sweet bread that could easily pass as a coffee cake, perfect for breakfast, tea, or dessert. The brown sugar caramelizes around the crust (it’s begging to be a muffin, I think) and gives a yummy hint of that flavor throughout. It made me happy, and we could all use a shot of happy from time to time. I hope you’ll try it.

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1/3 cup butter, softened (not melted)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup light brown sugar

1/3 cup white sugar

2 eggs

1 ripe banana, smooshed

1/2 pint blueberries

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and spray a loaf pan with nonstick spray (I swear by Baker’s Joy if you can find it).

With an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugars until they’re light and fluffy. Add vanilla. Beat in eggs, one at a time.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With your mixer on low, stir in half of that mixture. Then stir in your mooshy banana, then the rest of the dry goods, and finally and very gently stir in your blueberries.

Taste the batter. Right??

Spread the batter into your loaf pan and bake about 50 minutes.

Chocolaty Pina Colada Bread

13 Jun

I didn’t like this much when I made it.

Singing endorsement of a recipe, eh? But my first reaction was one of weirdness. Banana bread with crunch. I shrugged, wrapped it up in plastic, and forgot about it until the next morning, when my daughter asked for a slice and started mmmmmmming in volumes that were completely inappropriate for that time of day.

I tried it again. It got better! The coconut flavor developed overnight, and this was pretty darned good!

It was also ridiculously simple–I chucked a handful of sweetened shredded coconut into my regular banana bread recipe, along with a half-cup of mini-chocolate chips. Once it rested for a day, it was very good, and different than banana bread altogether–in fact, the same kid asked me this morning, “Is there a little banana in this?”

I recommend this, but I also warn you to not expect much if you can’t resist it right out of the oven. You’ll like it more the next day. Trust me. You need:

1/3 cup shortening (do not use butter–it mucks up the texture)

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp baking powder

2 overripe bananas

1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut

1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Heat your oven to 350 degrees and spray a loaf pan with nonstick spray or butter.

Cream together sugar and shortening in your mixer. Add eggs and beat well. Stir in a cup of the flour, the baking powder and soda, and salt. Then stir in a banana. Add the rest of the flour, stir to combine, and then the other banana. Then, with your mixer on very low, stir in the coconut and chips (keeping the mixer on low will stop the gluten from developing and keep your bread nice and soft).

Spread into the greased loaf pan and bake about 1 hour, until done. Cool on a wire rack, wrap it up tight in plastic, and try it the next day.

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