Breakfast

Quick Home Fries

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We're just back from a quick vacation. We went to a friend's house in Lake Placid, where we skated, skied, and snowshoed for three glorious days. Oh, and I did a slew of cooking. There's nothing like better than cooking for a small group. Cooking for my family takes a lot of effort, and with just a bit more, I can feed another three or four mouths without any problem.

I made a rabbit stew, which I'll write about later in the week, and a boneless leg of lamb that I've made so many times before it's hard to believe that I haven't blogged about it. I'll do that soon, too.

After six hours of driving, though, I don't have much energy left. I'll just share a quick tip for making home fries: use leftover baked potatoes. The night on vacation that I cooked the lamb, I accompanied them with baked potatoes. I was distracted by the Steelers/Broncos game on the television, and I lost count of how many potatoes I should put in the oven. I ended up with about four extra ones when the night was done.

Those baked potatoes sat in the fridge until this morning, when I cut them up and tossed them in a pan with a bit of oil, onion, and parsley. With a shake of salt and pepper, my home fries were ready to go. I scrambled two eggs, and I was ready to start packing the car.

Home Fries

  • 1/2 an onion, diced
  • 2 or 3 leftover baked potatoes, cut in to small cubes
  • 1 tablespoon or more of chopped fresh parsley

Heat some olive oil in a frying pan and saute the onions until they are soft

Add the potatoes and fry until crisp (or as crisp as you can get them--I don't often have much luck, and they're still delicious)

Add the parsley and salt and pepper

Serve with eggs


Thanksgiving Fallout: A Tasty Oatcake Recipe

Oats
Our plan for Thanksgiving was to spend it out of town with Santa Maria's folks, but everything was thrown for a spin last Wednesday when Pinta came down with strep throat, and we couldn't get on the road in time to visit them. The doctor said that twenty-four hours of antibiotics and no fever meant that she wasn't contagious, though, so I called my sister, who was hosting a big gathering in Connecticut with my extended family, to see if she had room at her table. "Of course," she said, and that's where we went.

My sister did have one request, though. She wanted us to bring a side dish. She suggested Santa Maria's biscuits, but they don't travel well (and actually suffer in the time it takes them to get from the oven to the table), so that wasn't a good choice. Because we were planning on being out of town, our pantry was nearly empty (our refrigerator looked like one from the quintessential Manhattan apartment, with plenty of empty shelves for leftover take-out containers), but we did have oats in the cupboard. Oatmeal is a staple of our winter breakfasts, and Santa Maria also knows how to make them into delicious, if crumbly, oatcakes. They're great for breakfast, as a side for a big dinner, or as a dessert treat. Here's her recipe:

Santa Maria's Mom's Scottish Oatcakes

 

  • 2 1/2 cups of organic rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup of organic flour
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar or organic maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 cup melted organic butter
  • 1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Combine the dry ingredients; mixing them well.

Stir in the melted butter and then the milk (you can then crush the oats a bit with your hands, which is especially fun for the wee ones).

Press the mixture into a buttered 11 x 6" pan and bake in oven until
golden brown (about 20 to 25 minutes).

Slice into any shapes you like and serve warm with more butter and
some honey, or just plain with a glass of cold milk.

Notes: This is a great recipe to cook with kids, and it can also be made gluten-free by substituting quinoa flour in place of the wheat flour.


The Great Pancake Race

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“The time it takes to make a baby, is the time it takes to make a cup of tea,” Billy Bragg once sang, and I thought of that lyric last Thursday morning. The kids were out of school because of Rosh Hashanah. That holiday had caused me trouble earlier in the week, but on this day it was a blessing. With, no lunches to pack, we were having a slightly more relaxed start to the day than usual.

I was in the kitchen, making breakfast. The flame of the front burner was licking at the sides of the kettle, and I could hear the water inside starting to come to a boil. As it rumbled beside me, I was mixing up pancake batter from scratch.  I wondered, could I get it done before the water boiled?

Last week, Mark Bittman, wrote an excellent article about the cost of home-cooked food versus fast or junk food. I was thinking of that, too (if you haven’t seen it, it is here).  One of the arguments against home cooking is that it takes too much time. If I could get my pancake batter done before the water boiled, then that would be evidence that the working parent could make a good home-cooked breakfast on a weekday.

They say that the families that eat together do better in life. The kids don’t do drugs, they do better in school, etc. etc. The great photo essay in yesterday’s New York Times magazine shows a wide range of families eating together, and Sam Sifton in his intro to it talks about the difficulty working parents face getting everone to the table. Breakfast, in my house, is the one meal we almost always eat together. My girls are so young, that this is the only way we can do it. They are often in bed by the time I get home to cook dinner.

So, a lot was riding on those pancakes. The kettle boiled before I could get the wet ingredients mixed with the dry, but I figured if one was to mix up the dry ingredients the night before, one could win the race. My pancake recipe is here. Billy Bragg singing “This Guitar Says Sorry,” the song with the tea-and-baby line, is here.

 

 


Back to School: A Time of Learning

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Nina and Pinta started school last week, on Thursday. I questioned the wisdom of this strange and short schedule, until I realized that it must have been chosen not for the kids' benefit, but for that of the parents. Getting everyone out of the house in the morning feels only slightly less complicated than organizing the Berlin airlift, so it was very nice to have a break this weekend, after two days of packing lunches, making breakfasts, and getting shoes on (the girls, not myself).

There's a bit of a learning curve in reorganizing the family schedule for the fall, I'm still figuring out how to manage getting them to school, along with working, shopping, cooking, and blogging. The cooking is ongoing, of course, and I have recently made chicken fajitas and other dishes that I want to share.

Speaking of learning, I've been reading a thin paperback called "How to Raise Emotionally Healthy Children," and though I've only started it, I would recommend it to all parents. I know there are scores of parenting books out there, but something about this one resonated with me; Maybe it was the subtitle, "Meeting the Five Critical needs of Children ... And Parents Too."

The book, which was written by a child advocate and father named Dr. Gerald Newmark, outlines five needs that children (and all people) have: to feel respected, included, important, accepted, and secure. The book goes into great detail about why this is so, and how families can cultivate these emotions in their children. One of the chapters lists family activities, and it mentions cooking.

Cooking with kids is a great way for them to feel a part of things, and to learn about food, nutrition, math, and science (what is cooking other than measuring and using intense heat to change the chemical composition of food?).

And it can be fun, too. On the first day of school last week, Santa Maria made her Divine Biscuits. The girls joined in, and four-year-old Pinta really got into the swing of things. "This is teamwork," she shouted enthusiastically as her mother measured the flour. Then she took the rolling pin and started to move it up and down her torso. "I'm the dough," she said with a wry smile.

 Divine Biscuits

  • 2 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour (King Arthur Flour)
  • 2 ½ t. baking soda
  • ½ t. baking powder
  • ½ t. salt
  • 4 ½ T butter
  • 1 – 1 ¼ c. buttermilk

Preheat oven to 405 degrees.

Sift flour with baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl, cut in cold butter (you can use a knife, then finish with your fingers) into size of peas.  Quickly mix in buttermilk (depending on thickness of buttermilk – if it’s thin, you can likely get away with the smaller amount).

Turn batter onto a lightly floured counter, knead lightly (you want it to stick together, but lumpy is fine).  Roll dough, cut into circles (you can use a jar, about 1 ½” wide – and stack two rounds). 

For the kids, form little shapes, like Easter eggs and bunny ears from the remaining scraps of dough.

Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden on top.


French Toast Trick: What Do You See?

I thought I knew all there was to know about French toast (namely that I really like it), but recently, while on vacation,  I discovered two new things: The cheaper the bread, the better the French Toast, and the thinner the slice, the more delicious it is. This weekend, I made it again, and discovered a third thing: it can be a brain teaser.

Whale_or_rabbit

I thought this looked like a rabbit at rest, but when I showed it to Nina, she said it looked like a whale. Santa Maria pointed out that it looks like both. What do you see in it?

 

French Toast

 

  • 4-5 eggs
  • about a cup of milk
  • 8-12 slices or so of bread of your choice (cut super thinly).
  • butter
  • Maple syrup

 

Beat the eggs and add in the milk.

Slice the bread thinly and dunk pieces into the mixture.

Brown the slices on a well-buttered frying pan.

Serve with warm maple syrup, cinnamon, powdered sugar, and/or whatever you would like.


Toad in a Hole? Almost Impossible to Screw Up. Almost.

The other day I was looking for something new to make Nina and Pinta for breakfast. Toad in a Hole, the trick of putting an egg in a slice of bread and cooking it in a skillet, appealed to me. I don't know how I first heard of it, but if one spends as much time as I do in the food blogosphere as I do, it's a bit impossible to miss.

Toad in the Hole is a perfect dish for making with kids, or so I learned from Googling the term. There are recipes everywhere, and gorgeous pictures to boot. I found one site, the name of which I can't remember and can't find at this point (alas) that suggested I use cookie cutters to make fun shapes out of the bread. The photos were breath taking; the recipe so simple. Mix the egg, pour it into the bread. Flip, and voila! A magic shape would appear. I was hooked. We got started.

Nina and Pinta and I dug out our cookie cutters. Nina selected heart shaped ones, and Pinta opted for a butterfly. I decided to make a star for myself. Toadhole2

 I mixed up the eggs, cut the holes in the bread, and started cooking. And that's where I got tripped up. I wanted to feed Nina and Pinta an egg each, so I poured all the egg into the bread.

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That was a mistake. It's not how you do it if you want a picture perfect Toad in the Hole. What you end up with is a mangled bit of almost-French toast.

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But all's well that ends well. Nina put Maple syrup on hers, and gobbled it up. She even asked for another one, that morning, and the next day.


Empty Cupboard = Quinoa Cereal for Breakfast

Yesterday, I didn't do the weekly shop. Santa Maria didn't get around to it either. The cupboard was becoming bare. That ever happen to you? I didn't panic, but I did think of W. B. Yeats's "The Second Coming":

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

In my case, the rough beast was a half-finished quinoa salad. I started it yesterday by cooking the quinoa, but we didn’t have any cilantro, and I couldn't finish it. What was I to do with two-cups of cold, cooked quinoa?

I had a bowl of it for breakfast. 101 Cookbooks has a much more elegant and healthy version (though quinoa on its own is very healthy). I heated it up in the microwave with a little milk, and added raisins, almonds, and cinnamon. It’s the same way I make my oatmeal, and it was tasty. I'll do the shop tomorrow, and make that salad.


Mark Bittman's Four Stages of Learning to Cook! Plus a Buttermilk Pancake Recipe

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In Mark Bittman’s essay from my forthcoming book, “Man with a Pan: Culinary Adventures of Fathers who Cook for their Families,” he discusses the four stages of becoming a cook for the family: 

  • "First, you slavishly follow recipes; this is useful.
  • In Stage two, you synthesize some of the recipes you've learned. You compare, for example, Marcella Hazan's pasta all’amatriciana with someone else's, and you pick and choose a bit. … You learn your preferences. You might, if you're dedicated, consult two, three, four cookbooks before you tackle anything.
  • The third stage incorporates what you've learned with the preferences you've developed, what's become your repertoire, your style, and leads you to search out new things. What are the antecedents of pasta all’amatriciana? What's similar? … This is the stage at which many people bring cookbooks to bed, looking for links and inspiration; they don’t follow recipes quite as much, but sometimes begin pull ideas from a variety of sources and simply start cooking.
  • Stage four is that of the mature cook, a person who consults cookbooks for fun or novelty but for the most part has both a fully developed repertoire and - far, far more importantly - the ability to start cooking with only an idea of what the final dish will look like. There's a pantry, there's a refrigerator, and there is a mind capable of combining ingredients from both to Make Dinner."

Buttermilk_pancake_batter
Yesterday morning, I jumped from stage one to stage four. We had buttermilk in the pantry, leftover from the Easter Biscuit Uprising, and because I hate to see things go to waste, I decided to use it making pancakes. But instead of looking for a Buttermilk Pancake Recipe, I made something up.

Buttermilk_pancake_eating
I simply used the buttermilk in my sure-fire recipe (though I modified it slightly). It was a bit of an experiment, and it met my goals. The buttermilk didn't go to waste, and Nina, Pinta, and  Santa Maria were happy. The pancakes were savory and tart, though instead of being supper light and fluffy like my pancakes of yore, they were rich and moist. How do you make buttermilk pancakes?

Buttermilk Pancakes

For the batter:

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup or more milk
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon butter

        Combine the dry ingredients and mix well with a fork.
        Melt the butter.
        Combine the lightly beaten eggs with the buttermilk, milk, and melted butter.
        Combine the dry ingredients with the wet, adding more milk if necessary.
        Don't mix too much, lumps are okay.

Heat a frying pan over medium heat, add some butter. Pour in the batter. When bubbles form, flip the pancake. Cook until finished. Serve with Maple Syrup.


Easter Morning Biscuits Provide Evidence of the Divine

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Easter is a day about mysteries and rising, and I saw those things in the kitchen yesterday morning. We were at my mothers, and Santa Maria was making buttermilk biscuits. She's done this many times, but the ones yesterday were the lightest, fluffiest, biscuits I’ve ever had. If anyone was looking for evidence of the divine, all they had to do was taste one of her creations. Nina and Pinta and my mother devoured them for breakfast, topped with cherry jam, raw honey, and lots of butter.

Biscuit_honey

Santa Maria has been making buttermilk biscuits for a few years now, and each time she turns out a batch, she pulls a recipe from the Internet. She’s an accomplished baker, and as it turns out she usually combines two or three recipes. I finally got her to write down how she does it, and to share a few details about what made yesterday's so special.

Biscuit_Jam

  • The flour: in this case my mother's cupboard held King Arthur's, not Heckers, her usual and less expensive flour.
  • The sifter: my mother’s was easy for Santa Maria to find and use (sometimes she skips this step).
  • The buttermilk: she doesn’t always have local organic buttermilk, but yesterday she did. It was thicker than usual, so she used extra.
  • The oven: She baked them at a slightly lower temperature than usual.
  • The cuttter: She used a small-diameter jar top; the smaller the biscuit the better chance it will be light and fluffy.

 

Biscuit_close_up

As we smacked our lips and savored the biscuits, we tried to figure out which of these things might have made the difference yesterday morning. Why were the biscuits so fantastic? Could it have been the ingredients and the equipment, or was it just the Holy Day?

 Divine Biscuits

  • 2 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour (King Arthur Flour)
  • 2 ½ t. baking soda
  • ½ t. baking powder
  • ½ t. salt
  • 4 ½ T butter
  • 1 – 1 ¼ c. buttermilk

Preheat oven to 405 degrees.

Sift flour with baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl, cut in cold butter (you can use a knife, then finish with your fingers) into size of peas.  Quickly mix in buttermilk (depending on thickness of buttermilk – if it’s thin, you can likely get away with the smaller amount).

Turn batter onto a lightly floured counter, knead lightly (you want it to stick together, but lumpy is fine).  Roll dough, cut into circles (you can use a jar, about 1 ½” wide – and stack two rounds). 

For the kids, I form little shapes, like Easter eggs and bunny ears from the remaining scraps of dough.

Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden on top.

 

 


It Came from the Deep: A French Toast Recipe

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I’m in the habit of asking men I meet about their kitchen habits. I’m interested in knowing if they like to cook, and I’ve discovered that, very broadly speaking, there are three types of male cooks: The very involved (such as myself), the completely uninvolved (such as my father), and those who cook breakfast. If a guy does some cooking around the house, most often it’s for the first meal of the day: pancakes, scrambled eggs, oatmeal, mostly on the weekends.

Of course, in my house, things are not at all like that. Santa Maria jumps at cooking breakfast—she’s the engine that drives the weekday get-out-school mornings, and on the weekends, she’s the first to suggest bacon or homemade buttermilk biscuits. I handle pancake duties, but that’s a legacy of our courtship. I won her over with fruit-laden pancakes, from scratch (it’s not much more difficult than opening a box of mix, by the way).

French toast is one of my favorite breakfast dishes, but I rarely eat it. Santa Maria has never warmed to the way I make it, and it has always been easier for me to break out the pancakes. I’m nothing, if not lazy. Our girls have only had it once or twice.

On Saturday, though, we were at the Green Market, buying clams for dinner. I wanted a loaf of fresh bread, so I stopped by the Bread Alone stand. They were out of baguettes, and I opted for a gigantic loaf of fresh sourdough, the one they called the Levianthan. And rightly so—it was a whale of a loaf.

I knew there was no way we would eat all of the bread that night, and I was thinking one thing when I picked it up: “French toast.” Santa Maria was on to me, and later she said she knew exactly what I was thinking.

On Sunday morning, she was up first with the girls, and she let me sleep in. I was under the covers until the remarkably late hour of 7:45, and by the time I made it to the kitchen, she had already given the Nina an egg and Pinta a cup of yogurt. I was free to make French toast for myself.

Perhaps because I didn’t expect anyone other than myself to eat it, I was very relaxed. I made slice after slice after slice; I can’t really just cook for myself. And I was glad I made so much: it was a huge hit. Pinta didn’t want any at first (she was acting her age), but when I gave her a bite, she was an instant convert. Pinta said it was better than everything else anywhere, and Santa Maria thought it batch was the best ever. The moral of the story: get good bread.

French Toast

 

  • 4-5 eggs
  • about a cup of milk
  • 8 slices or so of bread of your choice
  • butter
  • Maple syrup

 

Beat the eggs and add in the milk.

Slice the bread and dunk pieces into the mixture.

Brown the slices on a well-buttered frying pan.

Serve with warm maple syrup, cinnamon, powdered sugar, and/or whatever you would like.

French_toast