Buttermilk Syrup?

After watching Vivian Howard’s A Chef’s Life episode on buttermilk, I was in a buttermilk sorta mood. I made Buttermilk Panne Cotta: fabulous! and was still hankering for more. Vivian made me feel a little intimidated cuz she was driving to some dairy farm for 2 hours to get the real thing and putting down the grocery store variety. But I wasn’t going to drink it by the glass, so I got over that and just kept stocking up and testing with the real thing instead of sour milk which is my reliable back-pocket hack. (A tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to a cup of milk let to sit a few minutes.) The hack is fine in most baked goods, but when you want to highlight that flavor, ya gotta go for the real thing here just like in every other food ingredient.

So when I ran across this beautiful photo, I had to try Buttermilk Pancakes with Amazing Buttermilk Syrup. What?! I literally had never heard of it, but turns out it’s a really old recipe. Not sure if it’s a geographic thing, but probably came about out here in the plains where we have to import maple syrup. And I did really like it. I mean the writer was a little cuckoo about it, but when you can successfully get the whole family eating the same dish, that IS reason to celebrate.

If you’re a chocolate chip pancake and whipped cream type, this may not be your thing. The syrup is still sweet, but that tangy edge is much different than your run of the mill syrup. If buttermilk doesn’t turn you off, and if you’re a little bit intrigued by the name, I do recommend this. Syrup is, after all, just sugar dissolved in liquid. This is a crazy mix of melted butter, sugar and buttermilk. It’s quite yummy. Has the butteriness and sweetness you are expecting and then that nice tang from the buttermilk. You stir in soda at the end which makes it foamy and light. I think it makes a great topping for the cakes and even though her photo has a huge slab of butter on top, you just don’t need that when you use this buttery sauce. If your gang likes pancakes for breakfast, or the ever popular “breakfast for dinner”, this oughta be in your repertoire cuz these babies are light and fluffy. Oh, and the recipe makes a ton of cakes.

 

Cinnamon Toast Ice Cream

I love homemade ice cream. I love my little chilling bowl that hides in the freezer compartment of my refrigerator waiting to bring joy. And I really love Jeni Britton Bauer’s ice cream recipes. I have very few cookbooks, but this is one that I bought and use all the time. She’s just got it down with the most delicious and unusual flavors and the creamiest custard.

But I was captivated by this recipe for Cinnamon Toast Ice Cream online the other day and couldn’t stop thinking about it. Oh dear. What a giant piece of manure that recipe is! Please do not waste your time with that thing. It’s complicated, it’s time-sucking, it’s a lot of busy baloney that doesn’t have to happen. That said, those little bits of crunchy toast are genius! But the darn stuff was so thick that my little freezer just bogged down and wouldn’t whip it. Boo. Thick, cinnamoney, dense paste with crispy toast inserts. Tasted great, but didn’t have the essential air beaten in. I think the crumbs boiled into the custard was the kiss of death for this thing; even though I strained it out, the custard was really weird after that. I seriously do not know what these people were thinking.

The one thing the recipe does right is tell you how to make these crunchy little cinnamon bits and then stir in after freezing. They really do stay crunchy and make the ice cream a surprising, happy treat.

Dice up 3 slices of plain bread into 1/4-inch cubes. Whisk together 3 Tbsp. butter, 2 Tbsp. brown sugar, and 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon. Drizzle butter mixture over bread cubes and stir to lightly coat. Spread on a shallow baking pan. Bake bread cubes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and crisp, about 25 minutes total. Cool in pans on racks, then transfer bread crumbs to a bowl.

So my advice, is to make your favorite vanilla ice cream, mine being Jeni’s Ugandan Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. And sub the vanilla bean in your custard for a couple of cinnamon sticks. Then, make the cinnamon toast croutons from the Epicurious recipe, and stir them in after freezing and before packing and ripening.

Creamy, crunchy, cinnamoney, delicious!

 

Fizzy, Sweet, Tart, Thirst-Quenching, Delicious!

I was visiting my sister a few weeks ago and my brother-in-law stirred up some awesome Cherry Limeades while I was there. Oh my, love, love, love me a cherry limeade. It is always my drink of choice at the Sonic drive-in, and I don’t even care that the cherry sinks to the bottom.

But anyhow, I love the fizz and I love the tart. The cherry just sweetens it up a tad. In the hot months, I really oppose sweet drinks. They just don’t refresh me, so even though I do love a root beer float on occasion and a Dr. Pepper is some kinda guilty pleasure I just can’t completely kick, they are way too sweet for me when it is hot and humid out. So in steps my all-time favorite of the Cherry Limeade.

The best way is to hand squeeze those little tarties, right into your glass and then top with a cherry or black-cherry flavored seltzer. Don’t use cherry soda, cuz it has too much sweet, but the “sparkling water beverage” or “flavored seltzer” has a little sweet, but not too much.

I bought a bag of limes the other day when I was picking up tamales and salsa at my little Mexican market. Boo hiss, when I got them home and couldn’t squeeze a drop out! Aargh, I am all set for a cherry limeade and the limes are not cooperating. Don’t you hate it when that happens? Freezer to the rescue with a can of limeade. I tried it and it worked and I am here to tell you, especially when you’ve got a crowd of cherry limeades to serve up, this is your back-up plan. I simply used the black cherry sparkling water instead of plain water and mixed up 2 quarts just like that, easy-peasy! You can drop in some slices/wedges of lime and/or cherries if you want to make it look pretty.

If you want to make it grown-up, you can slosh in some vodka per glass. Or you can use some of that sour cherry Pucker or schnapps.

This summer when you’re outdoor eating and cooking and entertaining, this is a drink you can turn to again and again, and happily.

Can You Go Meatless on Memorial Day?

I really try to go at least one day a week without meat. It is just a thing I have about lightening up on the animal fat and reducing greenhouse gases, and it is usually so easy to do that I don’t even think about it anymore. Kind of like my mom always fried hamburgers on Saturday nights, my best friend’s mom always made meatloaf on Wednesdays, etc., I just don’t cook meat on Mondays. But sometimes Monday falls on a totally meat-eating holiday like Memorial Day and it’s a real pain.

Look, it makes no diff to me, but we usually have company and there would be an all out revolt if there weren’t any brats or burgers or ribs to gnaw on! So, I just usually do a shift and say “tomorrow, I’ll be meatless.”

But just in case you wanna try to toe the line, this little Mediterranean Portobello sandwich is the bomb! (Notice, I DID NOT say hamburger. I have a huge problem with that term. I only use if for meat items. If it is a mushroom, or a ground up bean pattie, I call it pattie, or sandwich. I just have a thing with saying hamburger and then you bite into not-meat. No. Can’t do it.) That all being said, though, this is a really delicious sandwich. Try it any day of the week, whether it’s Monday or a holiday or anything. The grilling makes it smoky and hot and dense, and the Mediterranean toppers are the perfect partners.

C’est Bon! Chicken Supper

This is a review of a recipe for weeknight dinner that’s good enough for company.

It is really simple to compose and takes no special tools or skills. Yay.

The grocery store is always having sale on chicken thighs and I really do like their flavor best, but most dishes aren’t fuss free and delicious. Many times you wind up with that thick, sclarpshey, rubbery skin. Eek. And you can easily undercook it.

But then in waltzes Holy Yum Chicken. What a great name. And, obviously, it is just that good.

It takes a humongous amount of mustard, but then everything else is probably in the house. You put it in a screaming hot oven and then leave it be. Since it has a sauce ready in the pan, all you’ve gotta do is prepare a simple starch like rice or noodles. Heck, even couscous would be great and it’s about the fastest thing out there. This doesn’t need a starch if you’re not into that; a bright crisp salad would be very good partner on the plate. The high temp gets the chicken completely cooked through and at least the top skin is rendered out to be crispy and completely edible.

The only thing I did differently was I cooked it in an enameled cast iron pan; which worked like a dream, as always. If you don’t have that, then follow her directions and line your 8X8 baker with foil for easy clean up. The problem with the foil is getting all the sauce out to serve, and you want every last drop of that deliciousness. I did not think that the sauce needed thickening either, but go with your gut and thicken if you think it needs it. Dried rosemary will do, but in case you have a bit of fresh in your kitchen garden or remember to grab in the produce department, you will be rewarded with a brightness that you just can’t get from dried.

She has a fun voice and entertaining instruction on the recipe. Give it a try next time you take advantage of a chicken thigh sale.

Stock or Broth

I’ve been used to thinking of broth and stock as completely interchangeable. And they are. But there is a difference.

If you have a giant pot of meat and vegetable soup, you aren’t going to be able to tell a difference if you make it with broth or with stock.

But in smaller amounts of sauce, or in a meat-based dish without many competing textures or heavy cheese topping, you will be much happier with a stock.

The reason is the hard-to-describe but completely transforming “mouth feel” from stock. There is a richness that stock gives a dish because of the gelatin that is released from the joints and bones of the meat. And that is the difference in the two terms; Chicken stock tends to be made more from bony parts, whereas chicken broth is made more out of meat. Chicken stock tends to have a fuller mouth feel and richer flavor, due to the gelatin released by long-simmering bones.

Problem is that making your own stock is something we don’t do much anymore. If I’m really feeling domestic on an autumn day and have time, I’ll do it. But day in, day out, it aint happening. And, if you shop the two side by side at the grocery store, you will probably toss the broth in your cart since it is much less expensive than stock, if they even have stock on the shelf.

So, if you don’t have stock on hand, whadya do? Punt with gelatin. The cool trick to creating that mouth feel and richer flavor is adding a bit of gelatin to your broth before using. I saw a guest chef on The Chew mention this as an easy way for the home cook to raise the level of their pan sauces. He simply sprinkled a teaspoon of gelatin over his cup or so of broth and let it bloom while he was prepping the rest of the recipe. I then ran across an article about it later on Serious Eats with the exact same coaching.( And he gives great instruction on a simple chicken breast with pan sauce that is fabulous and will make you feel like a pro if you make.)

You’ll notice your broth thickens up just a bit and that’s all you’re going for; just a little thicker. It’s not gravy thick, it’s more coat your teeth thick, is the best way I can describe it. It makes that sauce richer and glossier and embrace your teeth and tongue in a way that is hard to describe but it’s the difference between an A and an A+ dish.

I’ve tried it with the above chicken breast, and with Chicken Picatta so far and I am a complete fan now.

Give her a try.

 

Strawberries!

Yay! It’s strawberry time! I just love them and eat as many as possible. Obviously, being the pie lover that I am, I had to have some pie. But which kind should I have? I really, really couldn’t decide, so I did a side-by-side bake-off and made my two faves:

Strawberry Rhubarb

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and Fresh Strawberry Pie

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Look at those bites:

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That was fun to do. I used a single crust and made 6 mini-pies. 3 lattice-crust Strawberry Rhubarb and 3 single crust Fresh Strawberry. I just halved each recipe to make the filling for 3 minis each. And I can’t tell you what I like better. I like them both. I am glad they are both around to be enjoyed.

So different, but each so good in its own way. The tart and sweet Strawberry Rhubarb with the obligatory vanilla ice cream on top. Substantial and earthy. And the sweet, sweet Fresh Strawberry with the huge dollop of whipped cream on top. Light and ethereal.

I had fun reading the comments on the Strawberry Rhubarb. She is so into the rhubarb and the look of magenta celery pie. I admit, it seems weird to put a vegetable looking item in a fruit pie. (I am at a loss for anything else to use it for, so I may try making up a pitcher of Shrubarbs since we are fans of gin.) Anyway, this recipe is easy to follow and came out spectacularly. Here are my cautions:

  • Don’t cut up the strawberries too small because they really break down when baking. Small berries can just be halved, and large quartered.
  • She cautions that it is a runny pie and better eaten the next day. I guess hers needed to firm up more, but mine was firm enough to eat that day. While this isn’t designed to be eaten warm, it should be thoroughly cooled, I think it tasted best the day I made it. Again, pastry just doesn’t weather well sitting around with juice on it. We ate one the next day and it was very good, but I think the “same day pie” tasted best all around.
  • Also, the mini-pie format is superior because a whole pie left cut and revisited the next day is just less appealing. These would do well as hand pies too if you don’t have the small pans. You use the same type of crust and same filling, just make a big round and fold in half and crimp. Go easy, if at all, on the butter in hand pies.
  • Definitely follow her advice and put on a sheet pan. These babies are like every other fruit pie in that they boil over. Not a lot, but they do and you don’t want that on your oven floor. Trust the cook here.

The Fresh Strawberry Pie is my mother-in-law’s, which my husband says he never remembers her making. Oh well, she penned a cookbook back in the 70s and this was on the first page of desserts. I make it several times every year because it sounded good and is good, but didn’t realize I wasn’t making something from his childhood memories. Oh well. I am sure there are other recipes out there for this style, but I feel bound to use this one. Here are some cautions on it:

  • Don’t ever cut the strawberries! If you do, they will bleed into the pie and ruin the filling. Believe me, you will want to wedge more berries into the crust, but if you just put what will fit without cutting, you will have enough. Let the gelee fill in the blanks. It is sublime.
  • Don’t forget the whipped cream. You cannot eat this pie without whipped cream.
  • I think the original recipe is too sweet and so I reduced the sugar for the publishing. It also calls for red food coloring for some unknown reason. I thought the jello powder was for the color and flavor boost, so I am not sure what you would accomplish with food coloring and have never used and omitted to publish as well. (Please forgive, Joyce).
  • It says to cool at least 6 hours. I think it’s ready to eat around 4 hours. It is okay the next day, but you are really pushing it with every hour after the gelee is firmed up. Plus, it’s so pretty, you will have a hard time not eating it all up. But if you are planning to serve for an event, don’t make it too too far in advance…think 12 hours max.

Browning Ground Meat

If you brown ground meat much, you have to get this tool.

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It’s made of nylon so is safe on any pan. But it’s rigid so it will cut through firm chunks of ground met. The “blades” at the bottom are surprisingly sharp and really stand up to the pressure you can put on it to start breaking up your meat. I think for beginning cooks or teaching your kids, it is a real star.

You just sort of plunge around on the meat, stir, and scrape and before you know it your meat is crumbled up finely and browning to perfection.

While it isn’t something I will use every day, I am certain I will always reach for it for this task. I even tried it when carmelizing onions and I am sold on this cool tool.

Mine is by Good Cook. I have seen other brands around as cheap as $3 and going up to about $12. So start looking and I bet you will stumble across one that is in your price range.

Migas or Chilaquiles?

 

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One of our favorite breakfast haunts is a tiny little joint up in the north end of town. We only go there for their special, which is a heaping plate of chilaquiles, but they don’t call them chilaquiles. And they don’t call them migas. Just La Desma’s Special. Good enough. They are worth the trip.

Long served as a favored hangover breakfast, they are basically scrambled eggs cooked with tortilla chips and peppers. Everybody I know calls them chilaquiles, but as I did some online researching, I found the term “Migas” come up over and over. But the confusing thing is that I don’t know a real difference. One place says migas don’t have meat another says only chilaquiles have meat, another that neither have meat. Some say it depends on what part of the country you are in. So I think they must be the same thing with different terms, but forgive me if you know differently. Just don’t go to allrecipes.com or you will find it called a casserole and it will be covered with cheddar cheese. No, no & no.

I happened across my favorite blog’s rendition and perfection of the dish and he calls it Migas with the added designation of Tex-Mex. I love the way he walks through each step of the dish and how to perfect it. And I think he did. My only caution is that if you have a hangover, ask your mama to make these because you are probably in no shape to go through these superior activities to create this wonderful dish.

I did not have a hangover, and I had plenty of time on a weekend morning to move about the kitchen with the various activities and at my own speed. These babies are so scrummy that you will love yourself for making them.

Serious Eats has 3 keys to the dish which are easy to do and you can transfer these techniques to other dishes as well:

  • Pre-salting the eggs makes them moist and tender. Whoda thunk? But why not try and see I thought? It’s not a big deal to whisk up my eggs with salt and let them sit while I dice up my onions. No new skill or tool required, just changing up the sequence. And obviously, not just with migas, but anytime you are going to scramble or omelet some eggs, salt them and let ’em sit before you cook them.
  • Pre-salting and draining your tomatoes. Again, not a new idea or a difficult task. And you are rewarded with more tomato-ey tomatoes, and not ruining your dish with too much moisture.
  • Poblano peppers instead of jalapenos, creates an intense capsicum flavor without making it too spicy.

I was able to easily halve the recipe for two since his recipe is written to serve 4 and uses all even ingredient amounts. Yay.

I did make some alterations based on our tastes and my experience, as follows:

  • Did not fry my own tortilla chips. Just used some packaged chips that I had on hand. While our favorite restaurant for this fries their own, I really hate frying things and was just not willing to go this step at home. So sue me.
  • After cooking up the onions and peppers, it seemed like too many for the four eggs, so I scooped out about half from the pan put them in a dish for table use. I am glad I did that because we ended up using them all but as a topping on our plates where they sort of shined instead of being incorporated inside the eggs. Don’t be afraid to trust your instincts; if it seems like too much pull them out and test it like I did. No foul or miss.
  • A cast iron skillet is the bomb, of course and I used it as instructed. But that baby stays really hot! So be sure to give it time to cool before you add in your eggs or they will scramble too fast for your chips to soften.
  • I don’t serve with beans, but that’s just me. It would be easy to have those alongside, but I just served with additional salsa, the onion/pepper saute’, and some crumbled cotija (hubby hates cotija, so I only put it on my plate because I love, love, love the way it does not melt and adds a wonderful creamy bite.) Oh yeah, I love a few thinly sliced radish and hubby likes minced fresh jalapeno – heat and crunch to your heart’s delight.
  • You could add some crumbled chorizo on top, but I would definitely not stir it into the cooking eggs. Let them be the star.

This is a delicious meal, breakfast, brunch, meatless Monday supper, or after you’ve been out and are hungry. Do add this to your repertoire. Get the RECIPE.

Quick & Satisfying Dinner

I really love to cook, but sometimes I am not in the mood to decide what to cook. I just really want to eat!

Scouring through the fridge to find what to put together usually reminds me of things that need to be eaten or tempts me with something I want to eat. And then other times, nothing.

In my back pocket is Warm Bacon and Egg Salad though. Because I always have eggs, usually have bacon and usually have some sort of green in the bin. Plus, it’s easy to whip up, it’s fast and it tastes really good. Satisfying, yet light enough for hot days or right before you know you are going to bed. (Disclosure: I only use this recipe as a guideline…if I have bread and want to spend the time for croutons, I will make them, otherwise no biggy. I never use arugula – just whatever I have. But the bacon grease as a dressing starter is savvy and ties everything together splendidly. Chives? Please.)

I stumbled upon a British recipe recently that is quite similar called Fried Egg Milanese that uses a thin chicken tenderloin instead of the bacon. It was hilarious because the ingredient list calls for “chicken escalopes” and I had to Google what that was. For your information, it is a very continental way of saying a thin piece of chicken. So you could do this with the chicken filets in your freezer too. The simplicity here is quite attractive.

More genius, is the simplicity of using chile oil to dress it, and then if you cook your egg with enough run in the yolk, you’ll have a lush dressing that you mix up as you devour. Brilliant!

Do keep this in mind and customize to your taste either way with bacon or chicken or no meat either. The British recipe crazily omits salt, but don’t forget it; please salt your greens or you’ll be fiendishly shaking after you get to the table. Use whatever green you have on hand or that you prefer and don’t let the ingredient list intimidate you. And keep in mind that you have to keep your fridge stocked with the three essentials for this really quick and delicious breakfast, lunch, supper, or post-clubbing meal.