Thursday, August 11, 2016

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

big pancake, bigger taste

Sometimes the most impressive foods are the simplest.  With the right tools, an adventurous palette, and trust in the process, you can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.  This week, I've turned leftover breakfast burritos into both fried rice and quesadillas.  Building upon flavor profiles and incorporating fresh ingredients is the name of the game.

Yesterday's mid-morning snack lead to an updated flavor of one of my favorites: the Dutch Baby Pancake.  I had some fresh figs and a bit of Gorgonzola, so I gave it a shot and made the most delicious fig and Gorgonzola pancake, topped with a fig and balsamic caramel syrup.  Here's the base recipe:
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 425F/218C.  Place the cold butter in the cold oven safe pie plate or skillet and into the oven.  For this recipe, I use the 10" All-Clad D5 frying pan.  It's layers of stainless steel and aluminum make for consistent, even heating, plus it's oven and dishwasher safe.

While the butter is melting and the oven is warming, this is where you can get creative with your toppings and fillings.  I've made the traditional way and topped the pancake with fresh lemon juice and powdered sugar, as well as more inventive flavors, like diced rhubarb in the batter and covered with fresh strawberries.  The possibilities are endless - fresh lavender topped with honey, brie with fresh cherries or sauteed apples, pistachio topped with get the point, anything you love can be mixed into the batter or topped onto the finished cake.   

Today I am trying out a Gorgonzola and fig combination.  I diced the figs into eight wedges and broke up probably an ounce or so of cheese.  Side note: make sure your knife is very sharp, so you don't crush the figs.  I used my Shun santoku - it's a combination chefs knife and cleaver, and perfect for slicing, mincing, and chopping.  Plus, the steel is hand-forged and ice-hardened, so you get incredible strength and durability.  I also really like the plastic Dexas cutting mats as shown below - they're dishwasher safe and help keep your butcher block or counter from getting dirty or contaminated.

When the butter has melted, remove from the oven.  Meanwhile, mix the eggs, flour, milk, sugar, and salt.  Add whichever flavors you prefer and fold gently.  Pour the ingredients into the hot pan/butter.   Don't worry - it'll look like you've messed up.  I know I always second guess myself the instant I pour the batter into the hot, melty butter.  I think there's no possible way that this is going to turn out right, let alone anything I'll want to eat.  But trust the process.
Return to oven.  Bake 18 - 20 minutes, until puffy and golden brown. And do yourself a favor - remember that the pan is going to be HOT from the oven, so I leave my pot holders right on top of the stove as a gentle reminder. 

While the pancake is baking, think about your toppings.  Today I added a few small wedges of fresh fig with a tablespoon of sugar and a quarter cup of Lucero's fig infused balsamic vinegar.  I cooked it in this cutest, tiniest little Staub cocotte - the enamel coated cast iron controls temperature over extended periods of time, and makes for the perfect single serving of syrup.  I stirred the sugar into the vinegar and figs, and warmed over medium-low heat for the duration of the baking time.  Ultimately, the liquid reduced by about 2/3 of the original amount and made a very thick, syrupy style caramel glaze.  I've also made a simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water) and added fresh lemon zest and juice.  Any citrus or mint work well, too. The possibilities are endless.

After 18-20 minutes, your pancake will look just like this!  I immediately remove it from the pan and place on a large plate.  There will probably be a bit of melted butter left in the pan, which I always dump right on top of the pancake.  Add your toppings or syrups.

I like showcasing singular ingredients in multiple ways - diced fresh fig baked into the pancake, with fig infused balsamic syrup and topped with raw, fresh figs.  You really get to taste the different layers and levels of flavor this way.  Plus, the Gorgonzola adds a tangy bite and is like the exclamation mark to the figgy flavors!

What flavors will you try?  Let your imagination run wild!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

giving good gifts

I love giving gifts.  Whether for an annual celebration, like birthdays or anniversaries, or more singular occasions like weddings or housewarmings, or out of kindness to show welcome or appreciation, giving a little something that reflects your recipient's interests and your tastes is always such a warm feeling for everyone.

You don't have to spend a lot of money or stress out to put together a little something.  And if you constantly keep your eyes out for great quality products and ideas, you can build your own small stockpile of options to hand select the perfect gifts on a budget.

One of my favorite gifts is a tea (kitchen) towel, with a cooks tool and a bit of fresh flowers, all wrapped into one bundle of joy.  If I know the recipient loves to entertain or drink, I'll include a corkscrew, bottle opener, muddler, or something similar.  If they love to cook, a spatula or nice pair of tongs will make a lovely addition.  For bigger occasions (and budgets), I'll add a wine aerator or even a great kitchen knife.  Regardless, I try and select something that reflects the recipient's lifestyle or interests.

For more than a decade now, I've come to know and love my Garnier-Thiebaut linens.  If you don't know the brand, imagine the most vivid and vibrant colors woven with heirloom, quality expertise and the greatest commitment to excellence in all aspects.  With roots back to 1833, Garnier-Thibeaut has pioneered many of the textile industry's design and technology inventions for the production of fine linens. Today, the company's manufacturing facility in Gerardmer, France is Europe's most advanced center for the design, color and production of fashion fabrics — notably, table linens, bed linens, and other textile accessories — for the hospitality industry and the home. Renowned for its luxurious damask designs, Garnier-Thiebaut is the only fine linens company that produces more than two complete collections each year. So you get the quality you would expect with the colors and trends you hope for.

A great tip: if you have the space and a little extra cash, keep your eye out for sales.  Many department and specialty stores are constantly updating their assortment of kitchen tools, accessories, and linens.  I love popping into Williams-Sonoma stores anyway, but I'm constantly checking out their sale areas for brightly colored kitchen towels, napkins, and kitchen gadgets and tools.  I keep a small closet stocked of these items, plus candles and skincare.  I like finding everyday items of the best quality I can afford, keeping them for gift giving occasions.  Then when it's giving time, I can select the perfect pairing for my recipients. 

About the two photographs above - I like to keep things simple and personal.  The two GT tea towels pictured are from the top of my stack in the kitchen.  After more than a decade of very frequent use, they still look brand new - and feel even better.  The colors are beyond vibrant, the fabric super soft and absorbant, and doesn't leave behind pesky lint when drying glassware or glossy surfaces.  As for the spatula - I'm almost exclusively using WS silicon spatulas.  They're won't chip or crack, resist heat up to 600F, have removable handles for easy cleanup (including in the dishwasher), are anti-microbial, and make for the perfect pop of color in the kitchen.  Their available in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, but the spoonula is my favorite.  The stainless steel tongs pictured with the thistles and lily are from All-Clad, and a part of a "cook and serve" set.  When it comes to the kitchen, I like form and function.  And All-Clad hits the mark every time.  Whatever gift assortment I select, I always try to include a sprig or two of fresh flowers, herbs, or greenery, and tie them together with some leftover ribbon, string, or even butcher's twine. 

There's something so fun about giving something you'd use yourself, turning the ordinary into the extraordinary.  Do you have any signature gifts?