Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Joy of Pancakes

Ava wants to make pancakes for breakfast.  It's Saturday morning and I am only on my first cup of coffee. Which means that I am still not yet functioning. Groan.  But we are out of Honey Nut Cheerios, her usual breakfast.  In fact, we are out of just about everything and badly in need of a large, time consuming grocery shopping trip.  Declan should be tumbling down the stairs, any moment now, asking for something to eat, too since I'm sure we are also out of his usual breakfast of Nutella on toast.
I should blame their father.  Especially since is still sleeping (or pretending to sleep).  It all started when the kids were tiny.  He would measure and mix and drop dollops of batter onto a hot griddle producing tiny disks the width of a juice glass.  He heaped them up steaming, on a plate and presented them, mile high, ready for little hands to dip into warm maple syrup, pooled in a saucer.  Sometimes he even added a sprinkling of chocolate chips.  Dark chocolate pock marks in the sweet, fluffy pancakes.  Ava's favorite.  Not too long after he began this occasional Saturday morning ritual, those two little hooligans demanded to "help".  Ava and Declan fought over who would dump the flour into the bowl and especially who got to crack the eggs.  But eventually, as Ava has become more responsible and Declan has become more interested in watching "Sports Center", she has been the one to pull out the large yellow mixing bowl and the whisk.  I remind her to tie back her long mane of caramel colored hair.  And "Don't forget to wash your hands!"  "Please don't lick your fingers!"  All of that.  But she knows what to do by now.
 Ava finds the "Joy of Cooking" among the shelves full of cookbooks, opens it to the page held with the now ratty, red ribbon book mark.  It's satin sheen worn from use.  Val found this old book for me at a yard sale, long before I had any thoughts of having little hungry mouths to feed. It's a hardcover 1975 edition, with the pen and ink drawings I remember from her paperback version of the book that we used to reference for creating so many memories in the kitchen on Old Meeting House Road.  We  mostly made sugary cookies and chocolate cakes with creamy frostings, special occasion waffles and of course, pancakes. The same recipe in the left hand margin on page 236 for "Pancakes, Griddle Cakes or Batter Cakes".  A very long title for such a simple recipe made from an assembly of everyday pantry staples.

"Joy" a shortened version of the title and what we called the large white cookbook back then, has been a backdrop in my life for as long as I can remember.  The ultimate reference for so many basic recipes, a starting point, a safe place, an old friend.  I began to cook and bake when I was about Ava's age. Burning batches of cookies, forgetting to add baking powder or putting in too much vanilla.  Somehow Val was always patient with me and allowed me to continue to try, continue to fail and ultimately succeed. Such a long time ago. I never thought even at the time my mother bought this copy for me that my life would be what it is today.  I never imagined that I would one day be watching my 12 year old daughter smearing gobs of butter on the pancakes she made.  I don't think I ever imagined myself as a mother, at all.  I most often lived in the moment, not thinking much of the next year, let alone my future.  Even though I never fathomed such a life, sitting at the kitchen table, sipping a hot cup of coffee while my daughter devours a plate of pancakes and goes back for another and another before her brother can eat more than her, is the only place I want to be right now.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Dinnertime in shifts: Hawaiian Steak Tacos

It's the juggling and the madness that happens around dinner time during the spring season that makes me so crazy.  Baseball practice, soccer games, field hockey clinics and dance, dance, dance, everyday, at different times each day....aaargh!  I cannot keep track. Especially when there really is no schedule and the "organizers" expect you to fly by the seat of your pants!  If I am kept from setting up the day at least 24 hours in advance, it makes me want to poke out my own eye.  But that's my problem.  Which brings me to another pet peeve: creating a meal that can be eaten in shifts.  Is it really to much to ask for a delicious meal at the end of the day instead of boiling up plain pasta or throwing a hotdog in a pan?  Don't get me wrong, there are times when the schedule dictates such fare and I willingly put those items on my grocery list for such occasions. But I refuse to eat that stuff all week long while being held hostage by my children's activities schedule.  Maybe kids and most men are able to subsist on such bland choices, but I demand something a bit more tempting at the end of a long day and the start of a potentially longer evening.
Of course, there is always that old standby, the crockpot.  But I find it difficult to find the time in the morning for the preparing, chopping, searing, etc. in advance which I feel must be done to insure a tasty result.  I am able, however, to marinate a piece of meat as long as there are minimal ingredients involved.  Ziploc bags are a lifesaver in this instance.  I don't even use a measuring cup, I just dump it all in and throw in some sort of meat. And if there is an easy, uncooked fruit/vegetable option that takes minimal time and fuss, we are all better for it and it will take care of the obligatory "healthy" portion of food I push on my kids at dinner time.  Because it is a challenge to jazz up frozen corn and peas on a daily basis.

I came up with the following recipe as fresh pineapples are on sale this week along with petit sirloin.  Most of what I plan is based on the supermarket circular. I love a good bargain.  Substitute chicken or pork, if you want.  If the steak, is to large for cooking it to order, cut it up to suit your needs.  The pineapple salsa can be made in advance or while you are grilling the meat.
Some other ideas:
 *Feta cheese makes a great addition added to the salsa or just for topping the taco!
*Sprinkle large chunks of pineapple with sea salt and grill them along with the steaks.
*If you have very hungry eaters, a pot of white rice goes well with this meal.

Hawaiian Steak Tacos
 (Serves 4) 

For the steak:
2 pounds steak (petit sirloin, skirt steak, etc)
2 cups pineapple juice
1/2 cup soy sauce
5 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1" fresh ginger, grated

Place all ingredients in a Ziploc bag and place in refrigerator until ready to use.  Marinate steaks 6-24 hours.

For the salsa:
2 cups chopped fresh pineapple
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup finely chopped red pepper
juice from 1/4 lime

Also needed: at least 8 small flour tortillas

Combine pineapple through lime juice in a small bowl and allow flavors to meld.  Can be made up to 12 hours in advance.  Cover and keep chilled until ready to use.

About 30 minutes before cooking, take the steak out of the refrigerator and pat dry with paper towel.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  To cook the steak, heat a cast iron pan or grill  on high.   Once heated, place the steak on the pan or grill and cook for at least 3-4 minutes per side depending on how thick the steak is.  Press down on the steak, if it still feels squishy, cover it and allow it to cook for 2 minutes more.  If it begins to feel firm, remove it to a plate and let it rest for at least 5 minutes before slicing.  Meanwhile, while the steak is resting, toast tortillas in pan or on grill.  Wrap them in a tea towel until ready to serve with pineapple salsa and grilled pineapple.

Pour yourself a tall one and enjoy! (As long as it's not your turn to drive to soccer practice!)

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Grape Hyacinth and Blackberry Jam

Grape hyacinth.  That's what they are called.  Those little spiky flowers made up of numerous bell-shaped blooms.  A minuscule bunch of grapes the perfect size for a fairy.  I have to crouch down to inspect them.  Val has planted them in clumps so that when they appear it's as if there is a whole herd of purple flowers.  Tiny spikes, little elfin hats that always remind me not of big bunches of juicy grapes but instead of deep, dark blackberries.  And when I think about blackberries, or any kind of berry for that matter, I always begin to dream about jam.
Of course, most of the time, jam needs a vehicle.  (When I'm acting civilized instead of eating the jam out of the container by the spoonful with the refrigerator door wide open.)  And my favorite jam landing pad other than homemade toasted white bread baked by Val, herself, is a freshly baked biscuit, or it's free form cousin, the scone.  So, last Sunday morning, the day after mine and Ava's girls' night, I decided that we needed to eat scones for breakfast.Vanilla scented, fluffy, light and topped with crunchy sugar crystals. Hot out of the oven, crispy outer edge.  The soft inside ready to absorb the sweetened berry juice dotted with softened berries.  Celebratory blackberry jam I made to welcome the long awaited April arrival of the grape hyacinths running along the stone walkway that leads to Val's porch.

Quick Berry Jam
(makes about 1 1/2 cups jam)

12 oz (approximately 2 cups) berries 
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
juice from 1/2 lemon
2 1/2 teaspoons powdered pectin

Combine all ingredients except pectin in a medium size saucepan.  Heat on medium-high and stir occasionally until sugar melts and mixture begins to bubble. Add pectin and continue to stir until mixture thickens (about 5 minutes).  Skim off and discard any white bubbly film that forms over the top.  Lower heat and cook for an additional 5 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Cool completely.  Serve with scones, on toast or by the spoonful.  Refrigerate leftovers (if you have any) and use within one week. 

Vanilla Breakfast Scones
 (makes about 12)

2 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup cold buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Mix all dry ingredients.  Cut butter into dry ingredients using a pastry cutter or 2 forks until the mixture looks like coarse peas.  Make a well in the center of the mixture and mix in the buttermilk and vanilla until just incorporated.  The mixture should be sticky.  If it is not, add a little more buttermilk.  Scoop out 10-12 dollops of dough (a little smaller than a baseball) onto lined, rimmed* baking pans.  Brush tops of scones with heavy cream and sprinkle turbinado sugar on each one. Bake for 12-18 minutes until edges are golden brown.  Remove from oven and serve warm.

*Make sure your pan has a rim as the butter sometimes melts and leaks out and could end up on the floor of your oven.  This could cause a fire!!