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Archive for the ‘Brunch’ Category

Well, here I go again, promising to update this site more regularly and then waiting more than a week to add a new post.  Sigh.  Baby steps, right?

But you should be excited about today’s recipe because it’s easy, healthy and so, so good.  It’s become my favorite granola recipe, and I try to bake a batch every few weeks.  The recipe began as the “Quick Omega-3 Granola” I ripped from a Bon Appetit magazine a year or two ago, but over the years I’ve tweaked it here and there, and now I think it’s even better than the original.

I love granola sprinkled on yogurt or eaten right out of my hand, but my #1 favorite way to eat this granola is sprinkled on vanilla ice cream.  I know, I know — that sort of defeats the purpose, right?  Well, the way I see it, I’m just making dessert a little healthier.  Because I’m eating dessert, healthy or not, so it might as well have a little fiber, right?  Right.

I like to make a big batch and keep a small tin in the cupboard and the rest in a large Ziploc bag in the freezer, which prevents the nuts from going rancid and — horror of horrors — the granola from getting soggy.  Every time I reach the bottom of the tin, I refill it with a little more from the freezer.  Works like a charm.

Homemade granola also makes a great host/hostess gift when you’re tired of bringing wine or feel like bringing something a little different.  It’s the kind of thing your hosts will tuck away for later, only to email you as soon as you get home to say they’ve already eaten half the bag.  With granola this delicious, who could blame them?

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Let me tell you about a little place called The Bunnery.

Two summers ago, when Roger and I were in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, we decided to grab breakfast at a local restaurant just off the Town Square called The Bunnery. The line spilled out onto sidewalk, but their breakfast came highly recommended, so I couldn’t pass it up. As we know, when it comes to breakfast, I don’t mess around.

When we finally snagged a table, I opened the menu and discovered I was in breakfast heaven. There was the Bunnery Benedict, the Teton Breakfast Burrito and, among other things, several items with the letters “OSM” in front of them: OSM pancakes, OSM waffles, OSM bread.

osm-bread

Come to find out, OSM stands for “oats, sunflower, millet,” a blend of grains that has become The Bunnery’s signature. I love whole grains; I love breakfast. As soon as I discovered what this OSM business was all about, all I could say was “Sign me up.”

I ordered the OSM pancakes, and they kiiiind of rocked my world. I also tried Roger’s OSM toast, which was pretty great too. Later, I discovered that aside from their pies and their breakfast, the rest of The Bunnery’s offerings were a little “feh,” but the OSM goodies placed me firmly in the pro-Bunnery camp.

At the checkout counter, I saw that The Bunnery sells an OSM pancake and waffle mix, but I figured I’d do one step better; I’d buy their cookbook and make some OSM treats of my own.

Unfortunately, the only OSM recipe in the whole cookbook is for their OSM bread, and the recipe is a little verkakte. However, determined to recreate the OSM bread at home, I fiddled with the recipe and think I’ve come up with a pretty excellent rendition. It’s soft, slightly sweet and wholesome, with a lovely crust.  It’s also a good keeper and will last on the counter top for a number of days — that is, if you don’t finish it in a single sitting.

osm-bread-2

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There are probably three foods that, with a single bite, can transport me back to my childhood à laRatatouille”: scrambled eggs, buttered macaroni and, perhaps my favorite, hot Cream of Wheat cereal.

The first two of those foods I instantly associate with my grandmother. I now know it was her generous use of butter that made the scrambled eggs and macaroni so memorable. After all, gobs of fresh butter will make pretty much anything taste good. Of course my memories, much like Anton Ego’s, are wrapped up not just in the food but in the experience of eating that food: sitting at my grandmother’s kitchen table, having her listen to my seemingly endless monologue, feeling like prettiest, most interesting girl in the world. Thankfully I had a younger brother who would keep that developing ego in check.

But Cream of Wheat, that I associate with my mother. She’d whip up a big pot on fall and winter weekends, doling out generous bowls for my brother and I, topping them with swirls of maple syrup and some milk or a pat of butter. My brother and I would fiendishly stir the toppings into our cereal while my parents read the weekend paper, and we’d dive in eagerly with our spoons. To this day, I still think of those mornings with even a single taste of that velvety, maple-scented porridge.

I’ve often thought of Cream of Wheat (also called farina) as a poor man’s breakfast polenta, since it has the same silky texture as its corn-based cousin but cooks more quickly due to its finer consistency. So when I saw a drool-worthy recipe for breakfast polenta with maple and mascarpone, but noticed that it required almost 30 minutes of cooking (way more time than I have on a weekday morning), I decided to give the recipe a whirl using Cream of Wheat instead.

And boy am I glad I did. A small dollop of mascarpone gives the cereal a touch a richness without making it too rich, and as far as I’m concerned, maple and farina are a perfect pair.

When it comes to childhood comfort foods, you can never be sure if it’s the reassuring familiarity that makes the food taste so damn good, or if it’s the food itself. In this case, I think it’s a little of both. I was bound to love this recipe, given its provenance. But my English husband’s eyes opened wide like saucers when he tried a spoonful for the first time, which makes me think that even if you never ate Cream of Wheat as a child, you’ll love this too.

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Pile of Muffins

*chirp, chirp*

*chirp, chirp*

Are those crickets I hear? Yes, the blog has been a little…how shall we say…”quiet” lately. Believe it or not, I have been cooking. But I’ve also been working and planning and traveling and…well, lots of other “-ings.” And all of those other th”ings” have thrown the proverbial wrench in my plans to blog. Drat.

I realize I may have entirely lost anyone who, at one point or another, read my blog. Alas, that would be very sad indeed. So in the hopes of recruiting people back to POTP, I give you…Homemade English Muffins.

English Muffin

Remember when I made that sourdough starter all those weeks ago? Well, I found an excellent use for the leftover starter, replete with Nooks and Crannies. Oh. Yes.

The recipe is super easy, as long as you have a starter going (and if you don’t, starting one is super easy too). I made my muffins with 1/3 whole wheat flour and 2/3 regular flour because, well, you know me. I likes me some whole grains.

So my apologies for my absence — both on this blog and all of yours. I assure you that once I’m a Mrs. in less than two months (!!), the nooks and crannies between my blog posts won’t be so large…

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There’s a living thing growing in my refrigerator…and I’m loving it!

This weekend I tried my hand at cultivating a sourdough starter, the yeasty, bacteria-laden joy of bread bakers around the world. For bread baking enthusiasts, sourdough starter is serious business. Given my newbie status to the Sourdough Club, I decided to wade into the shallow end of the pool rather than dive in head first. I didn’t make bread; I made pancakes. How could I run into trouble with pancakes?

Growing a starter indulges all of my nerdy impulses. In college I majored in molecular biophysics and biochemistry. (Why didn’t I just tattoo “NERD” on my forehead, right?) I spent hours in the lab, toiling with bacteria and the occasional radioactive isotope. I didn’t mind lab work — in fact, sometimes I found it relaxing — but in the end, lab work wasn’t for me. Too solitary, not my style.

But given my interest in science, the idea of growing a colony of something that I could ultimately eat thrilled me. I already make my own yogurt on a regular basis (a nerdy but hugely satisfying process, and one that I highly recommend), so why not give a sourdough starter a try?

Now, minor disclaimer: I don’t think the starter I created is “authentic” as far as starters go. Traditional sourdough starters are basically just a mixture of flour and water that you let sit for an extended period of time, discarding some of the mixture and feeding the remainder with flour and water. Fresh flour contains yeast and bacteria spores, so as you feed the mixture, the water breaks down the flour’s starch into sugars, the yeast feeds on the sugars, and the bacteria feeds on all the stuff the yeast produces in that process. The cycle goes on and on as long as you keep the mixture alive.

The starter I used combines flour, water and a dash of yeast to get it going. Then you let it sit for 12-24 hours, at which point you use most of it but keep a half cup in the refrigerator for future use. And that’s it. No feeding, no multi-day schedule — and you even cheat by adding a little yeast at the beginning. But the recipe came from Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, two people who know their bigas from their poolishes. Surely they wouldn’t lead me astray.

They didn’t. The pancakes — enormous, and easily a half-inch thick — charm the tongue with that characteristic sourdough flavor. As someone who likes her pancakes sweet, I was worried they’d be too puckery, but their yeasty, hearty flavor won me over. They soak up warm maple syrup like sponges, but I also imagine they’d be wonderful slathered with warm jam and whipped cream.

So now the question remains: What do I do with the remaining 1/2 cup starter living in my fridge? I could always make another batch of pancakes, but as resident scientist, I was hoping to experiment…

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A Small Smackerel

Many years ago, when I first started collecting recipes, I allowed my obsessive compulsive tendencies to run wild and began to organize the recipes by type: entrees in one folder, desserts, vegetables,  and appetizers their own folders.  As the collection grew, I began to divide the recipes into subsets of those categories, separating the chicken recipes from the fish recipes in the entree folder, and clumping together the cakes, pies, cookies and so on in the dessert folder.  What can I say — I like to create order in a world driven by chaos.

But then my collection grew.  And grew.  And grew.  And before I knew it, dividing desserts among cakes, pies, cookies and custards didn’t really do the job.  “Cake,” for example, could describe any number of recipes — layer cake, cheesecake, coffee cake, fruit cake.  Imagine having to sift through a disorganized pile of all of the above.  Perish the thought!  So I started grouping those recipes together as well.

(If you’re wondering, no I don’t group my underwear by color.  I’m not *that* crazy…or at least I’d like to think I’m not…)

Needless to say, I have amassed a rather large and unwieldy recipe collection.  I think it’s safe to say I will probably never get to half the recipes in those folders, as organized as they may be.  But one sub-subset that I love and have yet to bulk up with recipes is the “snack cake” section.

Ah yes, the snack cake: perfect for when you want a nosh of something at, say, 3:30pm, when dinner is hours away but your stomach gets the rumbles.  In my opinion, a good snack cake should be more substantial than a coffee cake, less sweet than a cupcake but less wholesome than a granola bar.  I like snack cakes with some texture: maybe some nuts or bits of chocolate, or some oats or dried fruit.

I have a handful of these recipes, but recently I decided I wanted something new and merged a few recipes to come up with my own: chewy banana-oat snack cake with coconut.  I basically threw together three of my favorite ingredients — bananas, oats and coconut — and hoped the result would be equal to or greater than the sum of their parts.  It was.

Chewy, sweet and filling, this cake is just the thing when all you need is a little nibble — a smackerel, as Winnie the Pooh might say — to make the afternoon hunger pains go away.  But you don’t have to stop at a smackerel.  Sometimes my appetite is as big as my recipe collection, and the only way to bring that into order is to turn a small smackerel into a cake-filled afternoon feast.

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Ah, patience. Laboratory chemists, kindergarten teachers, intergovernmental negotiators, driving instructors: these are people with freakish levels of patience. But for some of us, patience can be an elusive trait. The idea of waiting and working — politely and diligently — with few immediate results seems far too tortuous.

But if you want to bake, you need patience. You need to carefully measure ingredients, wait for ingredients to bake and often — much to my dismay — wait for the cake or bread or baked good du jour to cool. Oh, the cooling…requiring so much patience and self-restraint, and sometimes, I just don’t have it in me.

honey-cake-sliced.jpg

This Ukranian honey cake, for example, is so subtly spiced that you really need to let it cool for all the flavors to come together: the floral honey, the toasty coffee, the spicy cinnamon. But when the cake emerges from the oven, its surface craggy and golden and slightly sticky, you’ll want to cut off a slice right then and there — just a little one, to see if it came out okay…

Wait it out, though, just a little. Patience can be challenging, but in this case, you’ll be rewarded.

One quick housekeeping note: To those who read this blog, you also have amazing patience. Between planning a wedding and working like crazy, I’ve been a little…how shall we say…inattentive lately. My apologies, truly. And now I will ask you to have even more patience, as I’m headed to Asia for two weeks! I’m literally writing this as I pack…. I promise a full report of my culinary adventures in Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong when I return. So thank you for your patience :).

honey-cake-cu.jpg

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