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The Grandparents Wonder: What's in My Quinoa Salad Recipe

An Old Friend Shares His Best, Healthiest Pancake Recipe and Other Advice

GreatMartiniSky10 Lately I’ve been in touch with a former colleague, the writer and editor Charles Michener. I used to work with him in New York, and he’s now based in Cleveland, researching a book on the lakeside city. Charles is a bit older than I am, and his children are grown. He’s still interested in cooking, certainly, and offered the following advice. It is timeless.

I've cooked for my family (ies) since I got fascinated as a kid by how to make an omelet. I was about ten when I successfully flipped a mushroom omelet without using a spatula. (Now I prefer to turn off the heat while the top is still runny, put a lid on the pan, let it sit for thirty seconds and then gently roll up the omelet.) In my view, making an omelet is the best way to begin learning proficiency at the stove. It teaches you how to handle and crack eggs; blend whites and yolks; make judgments about seasoning (don’t salt the eggs until after they’re in the pan); understand different ingredients (cheese, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, herbs); observe the effects of heat; and execute split-second finishing so that the result looks good on the plate. And you learn how great such a complicated little mixture tastes when it’s right off the stove. From there, it’s a short step to frittatas, which I also find deeply satisfying to make. Another wonderful learning dish for kids is risotto, which I taught my daughter when she was three. The slow transformation and expansion of rice kernels into the pillowy final product is magical. Making a risotto also teaches diligence and patience.

In high school, I belonged to a group of boys who started a Gourmet Club as a way to get girls. It worked. Don’t forget to put Edith Piaf on the hi-fi when you’ve brought out your Coq au Vin in a copper pot and placed it next to the pre-dripped candles.

I've cooked in a restaurant in Venice, Italy. And I really enjoy cooking for myself, fortified by an ice-cold vodka martini without vermouth. Lately, I've tried cutting back on oils—using cooking spray (the best I've found is Smart Balance Omega)—and substituting light chicken stock for oil in salad dressing. I've also cut back on eggs—or at least whole eggs (whites alone do almost the same job); pork and beef (the occasional Nieman Ranch bacon is like Beluga caviar; a great cheeseburger is now like Beef Wellington); cheese (except for goat cheese); and milk (except for almond, soy or rice milk). I've actually grown to like whole-wheat pasta and brown rice.

I did a simple dinner the other night for eight people: a salad of baby spinach and watercress, roast beets marinated in Balsamic vinegar, toasted walnuts, crumbled feta cheese and marinated white anchovies; brown rice (I like Lundberg Countrywild) with lots of bay leaf, tossed with scallions, parsley and lemon zest; and a shrimp sauté - garlic, chopped tomatoes, shitake mushrooms, capers slowly simmered in chicken stock before adding the shrimp, brightened at the end with lots of chopped fresh tarragon, basil and a splash of lemon juice. Dessert: berries and sorbet.

Essentials in my pantry: capers; Maldon sea salt; Pepper Supreme peppercorns; bay leaves; cayenne; tumeric; cardamom pods; coriander seeds; cinnamon; whole nutmeg; pure vanilla extract; Worcestershire sauce; Sriracha hot chili sauce (better than Tabasco); small jars (better than tins) of Italian tuna packed in oil; ditto with anchovies; Goya canned beans; canned whole tomatoes (I love Redpack); varieties of brown and wild rice; Carnaroli rice for risotto; rice crackers; varieties of whole wheat pasta, especially penne rigate (most versatile); good quality red wine vinegar (for salad dressing) and extra virgin olive oil (get the best and use sparingly as finisher on pasta); extra light olive oil (for salad dressing and cooking); white vinegar ("secret ingredient" in chili and complex stews).

Essentials in my fridge: lemons and leeks (the two best culinary catalysts); non-dairy milk; variety of Italian, Spanish and Greek olives (never pitted); sun-dried tomatoes; tomato paste; Trader Joe’s ginger spread (good with cheese or to spark up a salad dressing); Dijon mustard; Hellman’s mayonnaise; Durkee’s Famous Sauce (still the best sandwich spread ever); parmigiano reggiano; homemade tarragon pickles; multigrain tortillas; varieties of good spicy salsa; wild forest honey; pure maple syrup.

Top tip: the best cooking is cooking with things at hand–and by hand.

Here's my recipe for the best, healthiest breakfast I know of. The kids will love it.

Oatmeal Pancakes

               The proportions are for four, 4"  pancakes.

  • 1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant);
  • 1/4 cup low-fat cottage cheese (or yogurt);
  • 2 egg whites (one beaten and folded in for fluffier pancake);
  • 1 whole egg (optional);
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract;
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (or more for flavor);
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder;
  • pinch of salt.

Combine ingredients in a blender and mix until smooth.
Let batter settle while heating griddle to very hot.
Lightly grease griddle with a stick of butter or Smart Balance Omega spray.
Pour batter onto griddle in four, same-sized pancakes.
Flip when bubbles appear and pancakes darken and begin to smoke.
Serve with heated pure maple syrup or wild forest honey.
You can add blueberries, thinly sliced bananas or crumbled toasted walnuts to the batter.
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