Saturday, January 11, 2014

Vanilla Malt Pancakes

Not too much rambling here - just going to cut to the chase. These were created from one of those "you know what would be so good right now?" moments, and they were a huge hit. Who doesn't love a big stack of flapjacks from their favorite diner along side a huge vanilla malt? Feel free to swap in maraschino cherries if you must, but raspberries are a favorite in this house and were dynamite with the cakes.

1 1/4 cup AP flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/3 - 1/2 cup malted milk powder (I go for the full whack here, since I love all things malted)
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
2 Tbsp sunflower, or other neutral oil
2 Tbsp best quality pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
2 tsp sugar* (if using vanilla bean paste, do not add sugar)
2 eggs 
1 1/4 cup whole milk
1 cup well chilled heavy cream + 1 - 3 tsp powdered sugar (optional)
fresh fruit of your choice, or your favorite maraschino cherries

In place of maple syrup, which would drown out the flavors in these pancakes, I opt for softly whipped cream. About 30 minutes before you start your pancakes, place a bowl and whisk in the freezer. Prepare the whipped cream right before you start the cakes by combining the cream and sugar (no vanilla necessary since the cakes are laden with it) and whip with a hand held mixer (or by hand) to desired firmness (but don't take it too far - you don't want it to turn to butter... or maybe you do?). With every thing so well chilled, the cream will whip up super fast, even by hand.

Place a well seasoned cast iron skillet or non-stick skillet over medium heat. Have a tablespoon or 2 of unsalted butter nearby.

Place the flour, powder and salt in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Beat eggs in a large bowl till very frothy: about a minute or 2. Add the milk and malted milk powder to the eggs and continue to whisk till malt is incorporated. Add melted butter, oil, vanilla and sugar* and stir well. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet and fold them together with a rubber spatula til just combined; do not over mix. 
Add a little pat of butter to the pan before each batch of pancakes. I prefer a scant 1/4 cup measurement for each cake - you can do more or less for your preference. Cook til bubbly on top and dry around the edges - flip and cook for another 45 - 90 seconds, depending on size of cake. You can eat them as you go, or keep them warm in a 200 degree oven. I highly suggest the eat as you go- they are not as tender if kept warm.

This recipe is an adaptation of Lucian Truscott IV's Mississippi Pancakes from 
The New York Times

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Best Homemade Popcorn, Milwaukee Style

So, I know what you may be thinking, or at least I was. A post on popcorn? Really? After much encouragement from a fellow popcorn aficionado, I succumbed to sharing my technique on homemade popcorn, which I've 'perfected' since moving to Milwaukee over 12 years ago. I have learned much about what makes the best bowl, and a lot of it was gleaned from various bars and movie theaters around town. There are a couple of common threads running through them all, one of which is the use of coconut oil - it is a must here. It doesn't have as high of a smoke point as it claims, yet it isn't necessary to get a ripping hot slick of oil in your pan to yield a great batch of popcorn. And plenty of popcorn salt is needed, and it should be added to the oil before you add a single kernel. This creates a perfectly seasoned batch, that sticks perfectly to each popped kernel.
The choice between white or yellow corn is entirely up to you. I prefer yellow, since I feel it has more flavor. Another option (though its not one in our home) is whether or not to add brewer's yeast. You'll find large shakers of the stuff at several theaters around town here, and if you find yourself wondering if you should shake some on your bag, do. You won't be disappointed. You may be a bit disheveled when you rise from your seat and see you're covered with a fine yellow powder (not dissimilar in appearance to pollen) all over your chest and lap. But its okay. At least around here, everyone knows why, and won't judge. Yes, brewer's yeast is very nutritious, packed with tons of B vitamins, but that isn't why you should try it. It gives a savory, slightly cheesy flavor to your popcorn that is not to be missed. It may not be for everyone, though the only person I know who has tried it and wasn't completely won over is my mother, and I think it's pretty much her only character flaw. I still adore her though. Happy Birthday, Mom!


1/3 cup yellow popcorn kernels; I prefer
   Orville Redenbacher's

heaping 2 Tbsp coconut oil

1 tsp popcorn salt - yes, you should go
   out and get popcorn salt. Table salt
   isn't fine enough. You may need more to taste if 
   you're adding yeast.

1 - 2 Tbsp mini flake nutritional yeast
   (brewer's yeast), or to taste

Place a medium size pot with lid over medium heat. Add the coconut oil and let it melt almost completely before adding the salt. Pour in the popcorn and jiggle pan to get an even layer of kernels. Do not cover the pan. Shake the pan every 20 seconds or so til you get a couple of popped kernels. Once this occurs, cover the pan with the lid but keep your hand on top to keep the lid ajar so the steam can escape. This ensures super crisp popcorn. Shake the pan continuously as it pops to encourage unpopped kernels to fall to the bottom, and hopefully pop. Keep shaking the pan over the heat, and as soon as the popping seems not as aggressive, turn the heat off. Continue shaking the pan over the hot burner till all popping has subsided and remove from heat. 

Empty the popcorn into a large bowl and sprinkle over 1/4 of the yeast you plan on using and give it a gentle toss with your hands. What ever you do, don't toss the whole bowl of popcorn by flipping it around in the bowl, like you would flip a pancake in a pan without a spatula. This will only shake all the yeast to the bottom, and it won't be on your popcorn. I like to use a spritz of canola oil spray between each addition of yeast to make it stick a little better. Continue til all the yeast is used, tasting between each addition. Stop early if you like it on the lighter side, or keep going if you like it well coated with yeast, like myself. Serve immediately. Don't put the pot in the sink right away, because if you have more than 2 people enjoying it, you're probably going to have to make another batch.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

James Beard's Onion Tea Sandwiches

As far as tasty little tea sandwiches go, I've never come across one I didn't like. These are the first ones I've ever had though that made me stop in my tracks while I contemplated over the simplicity of them, and how it contrasted with what I actually tasted. Sharp, acrid raw onion paired with a robust herb? It completely works - the intensity of the onion is tamed by the fresh flat leaf parsley, and together they create a whole new taste. The creaminess of the mayo rounds everything out and adds just the right amount of richness a tea sandwich needs. The bread is important too - every day white sandwich bread will not do here. A simple loaf of french or italian 'peasant' bread works wonderfully - a little more chew than plain old white bread, yet not enough to make you really work at it like a ciabatta or baguette might. It's still a tea sandwich - you want it to go down easy. 

Which they will, especially during the holiday season when we're customarily bombarded with some relatively heavy appetizers/dishes. They're kind of a labor of love, so I'd save these for a small get together of specially chosen people that you have confidence in their enjoyment of these little beauties.
The following 'recipe' will yield a dozen, but I stopped at 6 here because 1.) I wasn't actually making them for a tea or cocktail party- just myself and 2.) although simple, they are a tad laborious. Plus I was starving and immediately after snapping a few shots I scarfed down 3 in about a minute. There is no need to make them circular, either. After doing about 4, I realized I could have simply made squares when removing the crusts and halved them diagonally for an equally appealing sandwich. Oh well. And don't worry about all the leftover bread scraps - if you have a food processor, simply toss them in and pulse till you get the consistency of bread crumbs you prefer, place in a freezer safe ziplock and they will keep in the deep freeze for about 1 month. Or, give them to your carb-ivore 2 year old who will relish a snack of just good bread.


1 loaf Italian or French 'peasant' style bread,
   preferably from a bakery so it is very fresh

~1 cup mayonnaise; homemade is best, but 
   store bought works just fine. Should really
   be full fat.

1 bunch flat leaf parsley, rinsed very well and spun
   dry in salad spinner if you can, and chopped
   finely (no stems!)

1 large Vidalia, Wala Wala, Peruvian, or other
   sweet onion, peeled and sliced very thinly

coarse sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Slice your bread into ~1/2 inch slices, or get your bakery to do it when you purchase it. Using a sharp biscuit or cookie cutter, cut 24 circles out of the slices. If you get a round loaf, you'll get more out of each slice than one that was baked in a standard loaf pan. Set aside.

After rinsing and spinning dry the parsley, pick off most of the leaves, taking care not to discard any stems that aren't very thin and tender. Chop very finely and set aside. 

No need to measure out the mayo here - I just guesstimated as to how much would be needed to make 12. If you have a standard size jar that is at least halfway full, you should have plenty. 

Lightly spread mayo on the less attractive side of the bread on each piece before assembly. Add a few slices of onion, about 1/4 inch high, taking care not to allow any to hang over the edge. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Gently press the top round into the onion to 'adhere'. Using a small off set spatula (a butter knife would work too), spread a thin layer of mayo around the periphery of the sandwich, ensuring that the bread is well coated. Roll the sides in the parsley to coat well. You really want to pack it on here. Set onto a pretty serving plate, or whatever you plan on serving them on, and dig in. 

These can be made a day in advance and kept tightly covered with plastic wrap in the fridge. Allow to come up to room temperature before serving.

Recipe sort of, not really, adapted from James Beard.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Hot and Sour Soup

Hot and Sour Soup has been one of my almost favorite things for years. I love love love tangy dishes, especially when that tang comes from copious amounts of vinegar or citrus. Plus, this soup has a lot of the flavors I love in Chinese cooking - lots of porky goodness, warm nutty toasted sesame oil, a good kick of heat, and the firm tofu that aids in rounding out some of these intense flavors. What was keeping me from truly embracing it was the texture. You know what I'm talking about here - that thick, gloopy broth that isn't so different from what runs out of my nose during allergy season? Yeah, not appetizing. 

Surprisingly, lots of recipes online call for the addition of a corn starch slurry to be added to the soup to achieve that undesirable viscosity, so apparently there are those of you out there that enjoy it. Me, not so much. When I stumbled across this gem, I knew it was a keeper. It has been on repeat in our house for quite a while now, mainly because it comes together super fast and nearly all the ingredients are things you probably already have in your fridge and pantry. 

I usually try not to get too nostalgic about my food memories, but I feel an urge to for this post. When I tasted this version of hot and sour soup, I immediately remembered the first time I had egg drop soup that wasn't prepared in a Chinese restaurant's kitchen. A high school girlfriend invited me over for dinner one night at her parent's house, and I gladly accepted, without knowing of the amazing treats that lay ahead of me. Her mom's egg drop soup was divine; homemade chicken stock, perfectly cooked ribbons of egg, a subtle hint of lemon, and none of that slippery, goopy texture. I never knew it could be that good. This recipe reminds me a lot of that - simple, yet packed with flavor and super comforting, something a friend's mom or grandma would make. I was 16 at the time, and I still remember that entire meal. Along side the soup, we had bean sprouts quickly sauteed with soy and butter, perfectly cooked rice, and fried spring rolls. Heaven. 

I didn't make any alterations to this recipe, since I think it's pretty much perfect already, but there is of course room to make it more sour or spicy to suit your tastes. I've been reading cookbooks a little obsessively lately, and this little gem was from Flour, Too by Joanne Chang. Seriously, check it out - it is full of amazing goodies, and lots of sweets, which I need to start making more sparingly... it's been like Christmas here with all the cookies, brownies, cakes, etc that I've had around. I can't remember the last time I didn't eat at least 2 cookies in a day. But enough of my new baking/eating my baking addiction. 


2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and minced
4 scallions, sliced thin, plus
   more for garnish
1/2 lb ground pork*
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 lb firm tofu, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
4 - 5 button mushrooms, cleaned and
   thinly sliced
1 tsp sugar
2/3 cup rice vinegar, plus
   more to taste
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 Tbsp sriracha, plus more to taste
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Prep all your ingredients before you even set your pot over the heat, since this soup comes together super fast. You can use pre-ground pork from the supermarket, or *grind your own, which is what I prefer. Simply take a pork tenderloin or some boneless chops and cut them into smaller hunks that your food processor can handle, and place them on a plate. Put the pork in the freezer for 20 minutes to firm up a touch so when you process it, it doesn't get all gummy on you. Once the pork is slightly firmed up from the freezer, toss it in 1/2 pound increments into your food processor and give 5 - 7 1 second pulses. Set aside the 1/2 pound needed for the soup and refrigerate or freeze what remains. You'll now have delicious ground pork with no mystery cuts and much less fat than what you'd get at the grocer. 

Place a large saucepan over medium high heat and add the vegetable oil. Add the ground pork, ginger, garlic and scallions, stirring occasionally for ~1 minute. Break up the pork a bit with your spoon, but don't fret about getting into fine pieces - some variation in its texture is very welcome in this soup. When it gets to about this point, you'll want to add the stock:
Dial up the heat and cover to bring the soup to a simmer, which should take a couple of minutes. Add the the remaining ingredients except the eggs, and cook uncovered till it comes to a simmer. Once there, start swirling the soup with a fork while you slowly pour in the beaten eggs. Serve immediately with a touch more sesame oil, scallion greens for garnish, and rice vinegar and sriracha at the ready if you want a bit more bite to your soup.

Recipe for 'Mama Chang's Hot and Sour Soup' from Joanne Chang's Flour, Too

Friday, November 8, 2013

Orzo and Lentil Salad with Dill

The first time I had this salad was years ago at a friend's annual labor day party, and everyone loved it so much that it now makes an appearance every year. It's a very simple salad with not many ingredients, so it's kind of vital to use the best you can afford/get your hands on. The flavors mingle together really well, yet still manage to be prominent enough to taste every nuance. So, get the best olives, preferably with the pits (it is cumbersome to pit them yourself, but it'll be worth it since the texture between pitted and not is night and day), the best french goat's milk feta, and some really special extra virgin olive oil. The salad isn't swimming in oil, yet there is enough to keep the ingredients flowing and not clumped up.

A small disclaimer, I am aware that this recipe comes from a James Beard cookbook full of different kinds of salads... or is it pasta dishes... not really sure, it's been a while since I've perused it. I've never referenced the recipe myself when making this dish, since I simply go with the ratios of ingredients that suits my taste. I may be forgetting some, or including things that were never in the original salad I tasted. It's really no matter, because as long as you use high quality ingredients here, whatever ratio of them you prefer, it will be pretty delicious to you too.


1 1/2 cup uncooked orzo pasta
heaping 1/2 cup dried lentils
~1 cup kalmatta or favorite olive,
   pitted and finely chopped
4 - 6 ounces feta, crumbled
1/3 cup good quality extra virgin
   olive oil
~1/2 cup dill, lightly packed and 
   coarsely chopped
1 small lemon, juiced
several splashes red wine 
   vinegar (optional)
sea or kosher salt
freshly ground pepper

Set a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil for the pasta. Meanwhile, spread out the lentils in an even layer and check them over for any non-lentil debris. Place the lentils in a medium sauce pan with 2 cups cold water. Cover and turn heat up to medium high, and give them a good stir after a few minutes. Once they come to a boil, dial heat down to medium low and cook for 20 minutes (still covered), or until they are tender yet not mushy, stirring occasionally. Drain any remaining water from the lentils, and set aside. 

Once the water is at a boil, dump in the orzo and cook till al dente. Drain the pasta and immediately rinse in cold water and drain thoroughly. While the pasta is cooking, prep all other ingredients and place in a large bowl, preferably one you don't mind serving in. Add the cooked orzo and lentils with a couple pinches of salt and lots of turns of pepper. Toss well and adjust seasoning if needed. This is where I like to add some red wine vinegar, or more lemon juice if that is more your thing. Either way, the orzo and lentils really soak up the seasonings. The earthiness of the lentils can really hold up to some aggressive seasonings, but don't be tempted to add too much acid or salt, since too much of either can thoroughly offset the balance of flavors you want to achieve. 

This salad can be served room temperature, but I think it tastes the best after sitting in the fridge over night so the flavors can really meld. Serve with a few more sprigs of dill and a good drizzle of olive oil. This is great as a side, but I love a big bowl of it for a totally filling lunch.