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Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

Puff up your Breakfast

After a break for vacation, I’m back with a new post (finally!)

There aren’t many things in this world I enjoy more than a hot breakfast.  Maybe it’s because my job and my life mean that I can only do a regular, sit-down style hot breakfast on rare occasions.  Work starts too early in the morning on the weekdays and weekends are often too busy to take the time.  Hot breakfast is usually relegated to vacation time or the occasional breakfast for dinner (which I do enjoy almost as much).

Such was the case last week.  We were off to our annual late summer vacation.  Since our daughter isn’t old enough for school yet, we can still take advantage of a vacation the week after Labor Day while the weather is nice but the crowds have died down a bit.  I usually try to find a place for us to stay where I’ve got a fully functional kitchen.  For me, vacation is not just a time to get away from the usual rigors of life, but a time when I can spend a bit more time preparing meals or baking some recipe I’ve wanted to try.  Since this was vacation, and I had the time, it was hot breakfasts every day. 

One of the recipes I’ve had my eye on for a long time is the puff pancake.  I had a recipe by Gale Gand that I got from the Food Network called ‘Big Apple Pancakes’.  They sounded really good and I’ve been waiting for a chance to try this.  This pancake gets baked in the oven and looks really cool when you pull it out.

Puff pancakes have a flavor and texture that makes them part omelet and part pancake, though this is definitely a sweet rather than a savory dish.  Puff pancakes are often served on a large plate with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a dusting of powdered sugar and may contain (or not contain) a variety of different fillings.  I chose apple for my pancake as I happened to have them on hand and because I love just about anything apple.

Typically, these pancakes are prepared in a cast iron skillet and then tossed in the oven to finish baking, where they experience a big rise, thus giving them the ‘puff’ appearance in the finished pancake.  I didn’t have an oven safe skillet with me on vacation, so I precooked the apples in a regular skillet and finished the pancake in an 8×8 Pyrex baking dish.  Everything went of without a hitch and my square pancake came out of the oven much taller than when I put it in.

I didn’t have any lemon to finish the pancake, and I decided not to sprinkle it with powdered sugar as there was already plenty of sugar in the base recipe.

How was it?  Very good. The apples were cooked all the way through and it had a good balance of tart and sweet with the apples paired with a very delicate and tasty batter.  There was enough here to feed 4 people (or 2 if they’re hungry).  This is definitely a recipe I’ll be making again when I have time for another hot breakfast.  Want to give it a try yourself?  I’ve posted a copy of the recipe here.  Click on any image below to get a closer look at the step by step photos.

            
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Cool, Creamy, Pestoey

All right, maybe ‘pestoey’ isn’t really a word, but from what I’ve seen out there in the blogosphere, it’s perfectly fine to make up words that describe, in better terms than standard English, what you are trying to convey.  It’s really amazing how many words are not in the dictionary – just try playing an online word scramble and you’ll see all sorts of letter combinations that sound like they could be right, but, alas, don’t pass the dictionary test.  But enough for the English lesson, I must move on.

We’re finally experiencing a break in the weather here in the Northwest.  After some very hot days, followed by a run of cooler, but very humid, weather, I’m finally starting to think about baking again.  With the deadline for Daring Bakers rapidly approaching, that’s a good thing.  In the meantime, I’ve been working with ‘cool’ recipes – those that require minimal or no time on the stove or in the oven.  Such was the past weekend when we spent last Saturday at a small family gathering.  We were told we didn’t need to bring anything, but I just can’t show up empty-handed.  I flipped through my warm weather recipes and set my eyes upon one of my favorites:  Tortellini Pesto Salad ala Haggen.

If you’re not from Oregon or Washington State, you probably have not heard of Haggen.  Haggen is a Northwest based grocery/pharmacy chain that was started in Bellingham, Washington in 1933.  While most of the locations are found in Washington, they began to expand into Oregon in the last decade.  For those around the U.S., you can think of Haggen as similar to Albertson’s or Safeway, but with a more ‘gourmet’ feel.  The stores are less antiseptic that the bigger chain grocery stores and the folks that work there are some of the most helpful you will find.  Their deli section houses a fine selection of cold and hot foods  from a nice olive bar to Panini sandwiches, Chinese food, fresh deli meats and salads. 

One of our favorite selections has been the Tortellini Pesto Salad.  Any time I saw this dish in the case, I would bring some home.  Primarily a side dish, it actually does well in the main dish slot, often making for a tasty lunch or dinner.  Unfortunately, this pesto pasta goodie is often sold out.  Frustrated by this, I wrote Haggen a couple of years ago requesting the recipe.  I’ve requested recipes from a number of places in the past and I’m used to one answer: ‘No’.  I understand.  When you’re in business to sell things, you don’t want to give away your secrets.  So, I politely ask, and if they say ‘no’, I thank them and move on to try and duplicate the recipe on my own – sometimes with less than stellar results.  Imagine my surprise when I received a very kind email response containing the recipe I had requested!  They were very kind in their response and were all too happy to share their recipe.

The recipe itself was written for a large batch, which makes sense considering how much they must sell when they make it available.  I recalculated the recipe for a smaller batch and began to make it for family and friends.  Let me tell you, this is no slouch salad.  It’s unique in comparison to the typical Italian Dressing, Rotini Pasta adorned salads typically found on a buffet table.  This dish never fails to please.  I’ve shared it with only a few others to date, mainly because I want to be the one lauded with praise when I bring the star dish of the party!  That probably sounds a bit snotty, which I don’t mean to be, because I do really love to cook for enjoyment of others.  And so, for that reason, I have chosen to share with you what Haggen was kind enough to share with me.  I’ve debated whether or not to share this recipe, but since anyone can request it and get it themselves, I’m going to do it here and give credit where credit is due.  So, in fairness to the originator of this recipe, please be sure to stop by your nearest neighborhood Haggen the next time you’re in the Northwest, give them a try, I’m sure you’ll be pleased.

Click here to see a copy of this recipe on my site.  I’ve adjusted the amounts down to a more manageable level as well as included my favorite recipe for homemade pesto, should you prefer to make your own.

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Baking in Oregon.  Today, that has a dual meaning.  It’s hot.  We’re not only baking in the kitchen, we’re baking in the living room, baking in the den, baking in the bedrooms.  You know, nothing can kill the desire to work in the kitchen over a hot stove like a scorching, sticky, summer day.  We don’t get a lot of really hot days here in Oregon, but we’re just coming off a run of 5 really hot days, 3 of which were over 100°F and rather humid.  These are the kind of days that just wipe you out, sapping all desire to do just about anything right out of your system.  Still, you gotta eat, and on days like these, quick, easy and cool are the way to go.

Not too long ago, we had some family over for an informal gathering.  We kept the menu pretty simple, with a few cool drinks to go along.  I made up a batch of my Strawberry Lemonade, which has been very popular in the past.  I started with a gallon, but it became apparent very soon that it wouldn’t be enough.  I whipped up a second gallon and it too, was quickly wiped out.  I threw together a third gallon and finally managed to quench everyone’s thirst.  Thankfully, I can prepare this simple recipe in just a matter of minutes.

The next day, I found at least 1/2 gallon remaining in the refrigerator.  Since my wife and I don’t drink the stuff too often, I wanted to put some of it to good use.  Looking around the kitchen, I noticed I had some fruit and yogurt I needed to use.  The fruit was just starting to look a little less fresh.  In the heat of the summer it wasn’t going to last too much longer.

So, I concocted a smoothie which I based on the Strawberry Lemonade and a few more items I had on hand. The result?  Thick, cool and refreshing as well as filling, but in a good way.  This was a tasty treat that made a warm day a bit more enjoyable.  The next day I tried a different variation, but stayed with the Strawberry Lemonade as my starting point.  Want to give it a try?  I’ve listed my recipe for Strawberry Lemonade as well as my 2 versions of fruit smoothies here.  Enjoy!

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