Posts Tagged With: lazy brunch

cured salmon (gravlax) + crispy salmon skin bacon!

One of the most amazing things we buy from Athens Locally Grown (our awesome online farmer’s market) is wild-caught Alaskan salmon.

Doug’s Wild Alaska Salmon is not technically local since Alaska is many miles away, but the business is based out of nearby South Carolina–lucky us! So Micah and I pretty much have year-round access to beautiful flash-frozen salmon fillets.

They’ve cooked up beautifully for us many times (though some of you might remember the date-night dinner disaster I detailed in one of my very first posts), but I’ve been itching to try curing and/or smoking one of these pretty pink slabs of fish to see how it would turn out.

I based my cure on Paul Hinrich’s recipe from Salon.com (which, in turn, was adapted from Professional Charcuterie by John Kinsella and David T. Harvey), but I also borrowed inspiration from Traci Des Jardins’ recipe on Chow and versions by Georgia Pellegrini and Doris and Jilly. (I figured the more recipes I read, the more I’d understand how the process works so I could figure it out on my own next time!)

What’s in it:

  • one 1-1/2 pound salmon fillet with skin but no bones
  • 6 ounces kosher salt
  • 3 ounces brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon each black peppercorns, coriander seeds, juniper berries, and caraway seeds, coarsely ground in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle

Step-by-step:

  • In a large glass dish, mix the salt, sugar, and spices.
  • Add the salmon and cover it completely with the curing mixture.
  • Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24-36 hours or until the thickest part of the salmon is no longer squishy to the touch.
  • Rinse off the cure, pat dry the salmon, slice, and store.

(You could also include a smoking step with a DIY cold-smoker like Micah uses for his bacon, but I decided to save that for another time.)

I’ve heard this stuff will keep a few weeks in the refrigerator or a few months in the freezer…but I’ll be surprised if it lasts that long in our house!

And, as if all this delicious fishiness weren’t enough–when I was reading the Chowhound recipe, one commenter suggested frying the skin like bacon.

Y’all know how I feel about bacon.

So, of course, I had to give it a try. We cut the skin into long, skinny strips, coated a skillet with olive oil spray, and cooked the skin up on medium heat until it was nice and crispy.

Add scrambled eggs (tossed with a little goat cheese and Greek yogurt), plus capers, dill, and a pretty little pile of the salmon, and we had ourselves a gourmet brunch!

creamy eggs + tangy goat cheese + briny capers + salty salmon + crispy skin = yum!

creamy eggs + tangy goat cheese + briny capers + salty salmon + crispy skin = yum!

 

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quick lunch extravaganza – when life gives you bread, make sandwiches

Our house has been infested.

With fleas, earlier in the summer, and lately with some very persistent ants.

But, mostly, with bread.

It started when I overbought buns for a cookout a few weeks ago. Micah was smoking a pork picnic roast and grilling burgers for almost 20 people, so I cleaned out the Daily Groceries bakery case and brought home enough buns for everyone to have two.

My calculations didn’t account for folks going bread-less, which many of them did (in order, I’m sure, to consume more of the delicious meats and veggies on the table).

So after the cookout, we still had about twenty buns leftover, but only enough uneaten burgers and barbecue for about half that.

Oops.

We would’ve frozen the extra bread, but our freezer was already getting out of hand.

Which meant that, after the extra pork and beef were gone, we still needed to eat eight more buns, because of course I just couldn’t bring myself to waste them.

Four buns became vehicles for our delicious berbere-spiced sloppy joes disorderly josephs.

A couple of onion rolls were transformed into savory French toast sandwiches with tarragon and some of Micah’s crispy home-cured bacon.

the roundest French toast I’ve ever made

Step-by step:

  • Cook a few slices of bacon and set it aside, but leave the grease in the pan.
  • Whisk together one egg with a little milk, salt, pepper, and dried tarragon.
  • Batter the buns in the egg mixture.
  • Cook in the bacon grease over medium heat until browned and crispy.
  • Layer on a plate with bacon and top with a drizzle of maple syrup.

This French toast was not only quick and easy, but also a tasty way to repurpose those extra onion rolls. They soaked up the egg-and-milk batter beautifully, creating a fluffy, moist French toast that paired perfectly with the salty crunch of the bacon.

And when we finally got down to the last two bits of our booming bounty of buns, we made these:

toasted sorta-caprese sandwich….gooey and melty….yum…

This sandwich was also laughably simple, but so tasty.

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 400°F.
  • Split two sandwich buns and brush the insides of both halves with olive oil, then sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
  • Add a few thick pieces of cheese (we used Edam) and some sliced tomatoes (we used a handful of halved sungold cherries).
  • Close the sandwiches and wrap them in foil.
  • Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the sandwiches are nice and warm and the cheese has melted.
  • Add a big handful of fresh basil to each sandwich and enjoy!

The same day that we ate these delicious sandwiches, my friend Jackie brought me a jar of her generations-old sourdough starter, with instructions to feed the starter the next day and then bake with it the day after that.

I dutifully followed Jackie’s feeding instructions (minus the potato flakes/potato water), and that jar of yeasty goodness responded by giving me three large loaves of lovely bread:

fresh out of the oven, fluffy, and delicious

I’m very excited to have a sourdough starter and a fantastic recipe now–but dang, we ended up with so much bread! Fortunately, I was able to share this stuff with two of my best friends, so Micah and I only had one big loaf left to eat ourselves.

Next time (tomorrow!), I plan on tweaking the feeding and baking proportions of this recipe to yield just one or two loaves at a time, and I’m also excited to try using my sourdough starter to make other yummy baked goods like cinnamon rolls or pizza dough. If you want to make sourdough but don’t have any starter, ask around to some bakerly friends and you can probably find someone who has extra. Or, you can always make your own like my blogging buddy Stephanie did a while back. 🙂

Anyway, so right when Micah and I thought we’d found the light at the end of the starch tunnel, we now had another very large loaf of bread to eat.

So we did what any sane person would do in this situation.

We made more sandwiches.

bread + bacon + tomatoes + pesto

These sandwiches were salty and crunchy from the bacon, savory and spicy from the pesto, sweet and juicy from the tomatoes, and crispy and hearty from cooking in just a little bit of bacon grease. You could use your favorite pesto recipe or some store-bought pesto–or if you can hold out for one more post, you can use the parsley pistachio pesto we enjoyed (I’ll give you the recipe next time I write!).

Sourdough sandwiches, round two:

grilled cheese with pickled beets and fresh basil

The pickled beets and onions gave this tasty sandwich a fantastic tangy sweetness that played nicely with the spicy fresh basil, creamy Edam, and sharp cheddar.

We enjoyed crusty hunks of toasted bread with a few other meals throughout the week until finally, today, there was only one big two-sandwich hunk of bread left.

So today (no pictures of this one–sorry!), we sliced up that last hunk of bread and filled our sandwiches with pesto, bacon, and cheddar for a yummy concoction that went perfectly with the free potato salad we got with our weekly Earth Fare coupons on Sunday.

Why devote an entire blog post to this most humble of feasts, this I-don’t-know-what-to-eat-so-I-guess-I’m-stuck-with-sandwiches brown bag filler?

What’s so great about the lowly sandwich?

Sandwiches can be boring, can make you feel like you’re in a mindless, hopeless bread-filling rut.

But that’s not how I feel about sandwiches at all.

To me, a sandwich is a blank slate, a beautifully clean canvas.

If you stuff your sandwich bread with wilted iceberg lettuce and a sad, sad slice of processed ham, then of course it’s not going to be a masterpiece.

But if you let yourself think outside the lunchbox, you can turn plain old bread into a delicious work of art. 🙂

Categories: musings, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

an impossible quest, and lazy brunch – 6.2.12 – baked chocolate doughnuts

My brother Dave is getting married in July, so I made doughnuts for breakfast last Saturday.

This makes sense, I promise.

Please, follow along.

(Or, please feel free to skip the next 1,000 words or so and scroll on down until you get to the photo of the doughnuts. I’ll admit, this is a long story, longer than it needs to be for you, but as long as I needed it to be to indulge my need for confessional therapy–and it really will make sense if you follow along.)

My brother Dave is getting married in July. His fiancee, Kim, is a wonderful, beautiful woman–clever, creative, and quirky enough to fit in perfectly with the rest of our family. We love her!

don’t they make an adorable couple?

(Dave’s daughter, Lilly, loves Kim, too, and the affection is mutual. Again, perfect.)

I’m a bridesmaid. This will be my third bridesmaid gig in less than a year. When it rains, it pours, they say. Or maybe this is just what happens when your best friend, your husband’s best friend, and your brother get hitched within ten months of each other. 🙂

Of course, one of my bridesmaid duties is working with the other bridesmaids to plan the shower, which is coming up this Saturday. More about that later (because, of course, I’ll be cooking).

My other responsibility is buying a dress.

Kim picked a pretty, peachy petal pink for us to wear.

She’s not picky about the style, preferring instead that we each choose a dress that suits and flatters us. (This, fortunately enough, has been my experience with all three of the beautiful brides who’ve asked me to be in their weddings and buy dresses for the occasion–no bridezillas here.)

She’s not even picky about the precise shade of peachy petal pink, as long as we’re all pretty close.

Finally, Kim really wanted us to be able to buy these dresses without spending a ton of money, so she scoured the web for links to some very pretty–and very economical–options.

Armed with ideas, Kim and I took a shopping trip near the end of April. First we visited H&M, where another bridesmaid had already found her perfect dress in the right color. There, I tried on this lovely number:

pretty, right? as soon as I saw it on the web, I knew it was the one…

What you can’t tell from this photo is how translucent the fabric is. But when I put the dress on, I wasn’t even really comfortable enough to leave the fitting room and show it to Kim. Through this wispy little frock, I could see my bellybutton, the tattoo on my hip, even a few of the freckles on my back. Easy solution: a slip. The only problem is, a July wedding in Georgia isn’t ideal for wearing multiple layers of clothing, especially layers with sleeves. Indecent transparency aside,  the dress didn’t fit me well anyway, as blousy styles like this often don’t.

Goodbye, Dress #1.

Moving on, we visited Forever 21, a store I’d heard of but never been inside. Very cute, trendy, of-the-moment styles in lots of colors. But while the website had advertised plenty of peachy pink dresses, none of them were available in the store for me to try on.

I returned home from this shopping trip empty-handed but convinced nonetheless that I could just order a dress via the internet–or even order several, keep my favorite, and return the others.

That’s exactly what I decided to do. I chose three dresses from the Forever 21 website that appeared to be the right color (or at least close to it). I ordered all three, eagerly anticipated their arrival, tracked the package every day until it arrived, wondered which one would be perfect and which two I would send back.

Dresses #2, #3, & #4 from Forever 21

Dress #2 was the right color, but it looked too much like lingerie to even consider wearing to a wedding. Dress #3 was a little light, a bit boxy on top, and scandalously skimpy on bottom, despite my petite frame. Two returns.

Dress #4? Much less pink and much more beige than I’d hoped, so it won’t work for the wedding. But, I loved it. So I kept it. And I wore it out on a date with Micah the other night, because he liked it, too.

I didn’t panic, because at this point it was only mid-May. Still two months to find a dress.

After a long afternoon of shopping downtown and several hours of online searching over several more days, I discovered Dress #5. It was–it had to be–the one:

pretty, peachy, perfect

I had tried it in a size small at one of the cute little dress boutiques downtown, but it was much too snug. So I ordered the medium with alterations in mind, anxiously awaited its arrival, tracked the package obsessively, squealed when it finally arrived.

Of course the medium was too big, as I had expected, but that’s what tailors are for, right?

Wrong. The very nice woman at the alterations shop informed me that because of the location of the zipper, darts, and pleats, and because of the delicate latticework at the top, there was no way that she could take in and shorten the bodice of this dress.

Dear readers, I wept. Tears of frustration–helpless, hopeless tears–welled in my eyes, then spilled from my lids. Right there in the middle of the alterations shop, while I stood staring at that shapeless, saggy, sad sack of a dress.

At this point, it was now a month and a half before Dave and Kim’s big day. The other three bridesmaids had all purchased their own perfect dresses, while I had four frocks hanging in my closet that wouldn’t work for the wedding (and three that wouldn’t work for anything).

Having visited every store in Athens that peddles dresses–new, secondhand, and vintage; trendy and classic; spendy and thrifty; sundresses, work dresses, formal dresses–I knew I needed to expand my search area.

Which brought me, one drizzly afternoon, to Commerce, Georgia. Originally a mill village, this little town eventually incorporated itself as Harmony Grove during the late 1800s. But in 1904, the city reincorporated, renamed itself, reinvented itself. Harmony Grove, folks said, was too countrified, too old-fashioned. Commerce sounded modern and fresh, would encourage businesses to come here, stay here, grow and flourish here. And that is exactly what business has done. I hear there is still a classic, charming, homespun downtown area of Commerce, which I’ve never visited myself. What has put Commerce on the map, besides its proximity to the interstate, is its impressive collection of chain restaurants and retail locations, including a staggering strip mall mecca of Tanger Outlets.

You can read a fictionalized account of the Harmony-Grove-to-Commerce transformation in one of my very favorite novels:

Cold Sassy Tree
by Olive Ann Burns

Surely, in the vast commercial wasteland that is Commerce, Georgia, I could find one dress. Preferably one that fit, one that was the right shade of peachy pink, one that didn’t resemble a nightie.

I wish I could tell you I bought the perfect dress that afternoon. I wish I could tell you that I squealed with delight and sighed with relief when the zipper slid into place. I wish I could tell you that, after visiting every single store that sold women’s clothing, I located even one single dress that day that was the right color.

I wish I could tell you this, because it would mean that my harrowing quest was finally over.

What did I come home with that day instead of a dress?

A new green rain jacket from the Eddie Bauer outlet.

An old-fashioned hand-crank ice cream churn from the antique shop.

A big bag of toys from the kitchen store:

  • New tongs
  • A bag of corks and bottle stoppers for Micah’s boozy infusions
  • One single-handed pepper-grinder with a little magnet on it so it’ll stick to the fridge
  • Eight long, metal skewers for the grill

And this:

too bad I can’t wear doughnuts to the wedding

Yep.

My brother is getting married in July, so I made doughnuts for breakfast last Saturday.

Really good doughnuts, in fact.

Chocolate doughnuts. Because, why the heck not? I earned them.

glazed and gooey, rich and delicious

Having never made doughnuts before, I looked for a recipe on the web to model mine after. And then, like always, I changed it. 🙂

What’s in it:

  • For the doughnuts:
    • 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
    • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
    • 4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    • 1/3 cup brown sugar
    • 1/3 cup milk
    • 2 tablespoons strong brewed coffee
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1 egg, lightly beaten
    • 1 teaspoon melted butter
  • For the glaze:
    • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1 tablespoon milk

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 325°F. Grease your doughnut pan if you’d like. (My 6-doughnut vessel was nonstick, so I took a risk and didn’t grease or spray. It worked out just fine!)
  • In one bowl, stir together the flours, cocoa, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and sugar.
  • In another bowl, whisk the milk, coffee, vanilla, and egg.
  • Combine the wet and dry ingredients, then stir in the melted butter.
  • Divide the batter among your six doughnut rings.
  • Bake for 13 minutes.
  • While the doughnuts bake, whisk together the ingredients for the glaze in a wide, shallow bowl.
  • Set up a wire cooling rack over a piece of foil, parchment paper, newspaper, etc., unless you want sticky drops of glaze to drip onto your counter.
  • Let the doughnuts cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then gently remove them from the pan to a wire cooling rack. (I used a flexible silicone spatula to help me with this.)
  • Dip each doughnut in the bowl of glaze, then stick it back on the cooling rack while you dip the others.
  • Take a picture–they’re pretty!
  • Enjoy with coffee. Try not to eat all of them in one sitting–but, if you do, it’s okay.

As Micah ate his doughnut, I asked him for an assessment. Rich, just sweet enough, really good.

Then I revealed my changes to the original recipe–less fat, less sugar, half whole-wheat flour. Apparently, not bad modifications, though Micah did remark that he’d like to try the full-fat version. 🙂

Since our Saturday doughnuts, three more pink dresses have arrived in the mail:

Dress #6: cute on the model….not so cute on me

Dress #7 – too big, not really peachy enough,
and too low-cut in the back for my strapless bra

Dress #8: peachy pink, pretty, a perfect fit

Yes, you read that correctly. After six weeks of shopping and seven dud dresses, I have finally, miraculously, triumphantly found something to wear in Dave and Kim’s wedding.

The best part? My chocolate doughnuts are healthy enough that even if I eat a whole bunch of them before the big day, I’ll still fit into this fetching little frock. 🙂

Categories: musings, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

quick lunch (for one) – 5.22.12 – zucchini frittata

What to do when your husband’s out to lunch and you need a quick meal at home?

Make a frittata.

I say this authoritatively, like I do it all the time. But in reality, today was the first time I’ve ever made a frittata, and it’s pretty rare that I’m cooking lunch for one. 

As I had never cooked this Italian omelet-like dish before, I kind of winged it based on my best guess (and what I’ve seen folks do on the Food Network). I knew I needed eggs, plus some kind of vegetable and/or cheese filling, and I knew I needed my skillet o’ stuff to start on the stove and end in the oven.

Apparently, that’s all you really need to know.

you say frit-TAY-ta, I say frit-TAH-ta?

What’s in it:

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 of a large zucchini, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • a sprinkle of salt and pepper
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten with a little more salt and pepper
  • 1 ounce feta, crumbled

Step-by-step:

  • Heat the olive oil in a 6″ oven-proof skillet over medium heat.
  • Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes or until it starts to brown.
  • Add the zucchini, marjoram, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Cook for 5-7 minutes or until the zucchini is tender and starting to become translucent.
  • Pour in the beaten eggs. Let them cook, without stirring, for 3-5 minutes or until they are starting to set on the bottom.
  • Sprinkle on the feta.
  • Transfer your skillet to the oven and broil for about 5 minutes or until the frittata is golden brown and puffy (it’ll deflate when you take it out of the oven) and the egg is cooked through.
  • Use a heat-resistant silicone spatula to loosen the frittata from the skillet and slide it onto a plate.
  • Enjoy with fresh fruit, a green salad, and/or a slice of crusty bread.

Yum! Now that I know how to cook a frittata, and now that so many beautiful summer veggies are coming in, and now that I’m on vacation from school…I have a feeling I’ll be making more of these soon.

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lazy brunch – 5.12.12 – tea-spiced oatmeal

Y’all know I love me some oatmeal.

Well, my mom and I were chatting the other day when I had a revelation: wouldn’t tea make an amazing cooking liquid for some oatmeal?

Yes. Yes, it would.

so close, you can almost taste it…

What’s in it:

  • 1 cup unsweetened tea (I used one bag of decaf Constant Comment)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • zest from one orange
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Step-by-step:

  • Combine all the ingredients except the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.
  • Simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the oats are tender and your oatmeal is nice and thick.
  • Stir in the butter. (This will make it extra creamy!)
  • Divide the finished oatmeal into two bowls and enjoy. (And I promise, you will.)

This stuff smelled amazing. The tea had warm spices and orange peel in it anyway, which made my additions of cardamom and orange zest a lovely complement. The coconut added to the exotic feel, while honey and cranberries gave it just the right amount of sweetness. What a simple, delicious breakfast for a rainy Saturday….

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lazy brunch – 4.7.12 – oatmeal with apples, dates, and pecans

I wasn’t a big fan of cereal for breakfast when I was a kid. Partly because my mom only bought the very plain varieties, and partly because I was such a slow eater that I refused to put milk on my cereal lest it become a soggy, sodden mess. So I would snack on dry Cheerios or Kix like they were potato chips, but I didn’t usually eat them for breakfast.

My childhood morning meal of choice? Oatmeal, of the instant-from-a-packet variety. And for some reason, Mom didn’t insist on buying plain oatmeal. Instead, she either bought the variety pack (which inevitably included a few packets of unflavored oats), or she would buy whole boxes of my very favorite flavor, maple brown sugar. Mammaw would microwave me a bowl of this stuff just about every morning before school, from kindergarten until sometime in middle school (which I think is when I discovered how much I love bagels).

I remember the first time I tried real oatmeal: slow simmered on the stove…thick with big, fat rolled oats instead of the quick-cooking variety…lightly seasoned with butter, a pinch of salt, and just a touch of sugar. That old-fangled oatmeal was substantial and creamy, and it didn’t taste like maple or brown sugar, and I had to chew because the oats actually had some texture.

It kind of grossed me out.

But as I grew up, I somehow figured out along the way that this was how oats were supposed to feel and taste. Now, I prefer my oatmeal made from real whole grains, and it’s been a while since I revisited the done-in-two-minutes-oats of my youth. While old-fashioned oatmeal takes a lot longer to cook, it might be just about the most satisfying thing to warm up with on a crisp spring morning.

So when I rose well before Micah last Saturday and decided to wake him with breakfast in bed, and it was a little cool in the house, and we had an apple and some dates and pecans in the kitchen just begging to be cooked…well, how could I resist?

Don't you feel warm and cozy already?

What’s in it:

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons chopped pecans
  • 1 small apple, diced
  • 2 dates, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided

Step-by-step:

  • In a small saucepan, bring the oats, milk, water, and salt to a low simmer. This will cook for about 20 minutes until it’s nice and thick and creamy.
  • In a small skillet, melt the butter on medium heat.
  • Add the pecans and cook until lightly toasted.
  • Add the apples, dates, maple syrup, and water. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced to a thick glaze.
  • Stir half of the cinnamon into the pot of oatmeal and half of it into the skillet of fruit.
  • Divide the oatmeal into two bowls and top with the fruit and nut mixture, or go ahead mix the fruit and nuts into the oatmeal before serving.

How did it turn out? The oatmeal was thick, creamy, and just a touch salty (exactly how I like it), while the apples and dates added just the right amount of sweetness. The best bites were the ones with some crunchy toasted pecan, and when I make this again, I’ll probably add more nuts.

What’s your favorite oatmeal add-in?

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lazy brunch – 4.1.12 – buttermilk pancakes (fluffy as a down comforter)

Biscuits come from cans, and pancakes come from boxes. Like these:

images from iherb.com and caloriecount.about.com

I remember helping make pancakes (plus muffins, cakes, and Jiffy cornbread) in the kitchen when I was a kid. Measure some mix, measure some oil and crack some eggs (unless your box contained one of those fancy complete mixes where you just add water), and cook. So easy, a kid can do it (and I often did).

I remember liking all the from-a-box baked goods I ate as a child.

Even buckwheat pancakes.

My mom, ever persistent in her quest to make her kids eat healthy, often bought buckwheat pancake mix instead of the coveted Hungry Jack or Aunt Jemima’s, and in place of butter and syrup, we’d top our grainy griddle cakes with unsweetened applesauce. Those dense, wheaty pancakes were pretty good, I think, but comparing them to a tall stack of fluffy, home-style buttermilk pancakes with maple syrup is a bit of a stretch.

Now, there used to be a charming little greasy spoon in my hometown (Hartwell, GA) called the S&W Diner, and when you ordered off of their menu, you didn’t order pancakes. You ordered pancake. Because just one of these babies had the circumference of a dinner plate, not to mention a fluffiness index of about three quarters of an inch. Those were pancakes.

I think I was in college when I tried making pancakes from scratch for the first time. They were much less of a disaster than my first batch of biscuits, and pretty soon I felt confident that I could whip up a quick batch whenever the craving might strike. Which is usually on Saturday or Sunday mornings when Micah and I sleep late, brew some coffee, and assemble a lazy brunch that we might finally get around to eating around, oh, noon.

Cornmeal pancake trials aside, our favorite recipe lately has been a buttermilk pancake recipe from Allrecipes.com. All the 4- and 5-star reviews this recipe has received are well deserved, because these pancakes kick ass. It’s hard for us to convince ourselves to try new recipes, because these are so ding-dang delicious.

Well, the other night, we were watching Worst Cooks in America on Hulu…

[Other folks watch Survivor or The Bachelor or Dancing with the Stars, but we’re hooked on food-centric reality shows like Top Chef, Chopped, Worst Cooks, Iron Chef, and The Next Food Network Star. When we cancelled our cable and then figured out that we couldn’t watch whole seasons of Top Chef on Hulu, it was a sad day.]

…and Anne Burrell had her recruits on the red team making pancakes, and she separated the eggs so that she could whip the whites into a gorgeous meringue-y fluff before folding them into her batter.

Ever since, Micah’s been obsessed with trying this out to see if it really does make the pancakes fluffier.

what tall pancakes you've got, my dear!

It does! This batch was probably my favorite we’ve ever made, and about twice as tall as when we’ve made the same recipe made without separating the eggs. You can see in the picture how thick they were, but these pancakes were about as dense as the puffy feather filling in a down comforter.

What’s in it:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup regular milk + 1 tablespoon lemon juice)
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter

Step-by-step:

  • Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.
  • Beat the egg white with a pinch of salt until you have nice, stiff, fluffy peaks of meringue. I tried to do this by hand, but eventually gave in and used my stick blender with a whisk attachment. Much quicker and easier!
  • In a large bowl, beat the egg yolk and buttermilk together.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the egg/buttermilk mixture and stir just until combined, then add the melted butter.
  • Gently fold in the egg whites.
  • Heat a griddle to 350°F or a skillet on medium heat. It’s hot enough when you can toss a drop of water on the surface and watch it do a little samba before it sizzles out of sight.
  • Use a ladle or measuring cup to scoop your fluffy batter onto the griddle. If you use heaping 1/4 cup measures like I did, you’ll get 6 pancakes (perfect for a brunch for two!).
  • Cook the pancakes on the first side until the bottoms are a deep golden brown and you can see a few bubbles on the surface. Flip ’em and cook some more, until the bottoms are nice and brown, too. I think ours took about 5-7 minutes per side, but this would vary depending on your cooking surface and how big you make your pancakes.
  • Keep finished pancakes warm in the oven while you cook the rest.
  • Serve with maple syrup, honey and fresh fruit, or other pancake toppings of your choice, plus a steaming hot mug of coffee, if you’re so inclined. 🙂

We chose to top our pancakes with plain old maple syrup, and they were pretty darn amazing.

(all the sweet, gooey syrup you see here was promptly sopped up by those gorgeous pillows of pancake)

As we were enjoying this lovely, simple breakfast, Micah asked me if I thought it was worth it to do the extra step of whipping the egg whites separately. I emphatically nodded yes, because it’s kinda hard to answer with your mouth full of fluffy, delicious pancakes. 🙂

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lazy brunch – 3.31.12 – bacon, mushrooms, and asparagus (with an egg)

I woke up at 5:30 this morning.

It’s Saturday.

I was not happy.

Unable to go back to sleep, I moped around for a little while…read another chapter in an almost-700-page novel for book club…

So good.
(image from indiebound.com)

…blogged about steak ‘n’ taters and my quite unexpected and probably undeserved Liebster Award…played around on Facebook…

…and then, at 10:30, I was finally drowsy enough to go back to sleep (right when Micah was awake enough to get out of bed). I did doze back off for a late-morning nap around 11:00…

…and I didn’t wake up again until after 1:00.

Oops.

So when I call this meal “lazy brunch,” I mean lazy in the loafingest sense of the word, because that’s the kind of day it’s been.

This is one of those gorgeous dishes that takes pretty much no time to put together, and besides salt and pepper, it’s only got four ingredients, but man, is it amazing.

Bacon + eggs + veggies = brunch heaven.

You also don’t need much time or equipment for this lazy brunch, because it’s made one fast-cooking component at a time in a single skillet. It seems too simple to be good, but don’t let that fool you. This stuff’s so amazing, you’ll want to go ahead and double the recipe.

What’s in it:

  • about 3 ounces, or 4 slices, bacon (we used Micah’s home-cured hog jowl guanciale)
  • 1/2 pound fresh asparagus, cut into 1-inch sticks
  • 1/4 pound mushrooms (we used shiitakes), cut into slivers
  • 2 eggs
  • salt and pepper

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to about 170-200°F and put two oven-proof bowls in to warm up.
  • Put your sliced bacon in a skillet and cook it on medium heat until it’s brown and crispy. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate.
  • You can pour off some of the bacon grease if you want (we didn’t, ’cause we love bacon).
  • Add the asparagus and mushrooms. Toss ’em around in the bacon fat and cook for about 5-10 minutes, or until the asparagus is crisp-tender and the mushrooms have softened.
  • Season the asparagus and mushrooms with a little salt and pepper. (They probably won’t need much salt since your bacon grease will already be salty, but I do like a good dash of freshly ground pepper.)
  • Divide the asparagus-and-mushroom mixture between your two oven-proof bowls. Stick ’em back in the oven to keep warm.
  • Crack the eggs into the skillet and cook them sunny-side-up until the whites are firm. (Or, cook them a little longer if you like your yolks done, which we don’t. :)) Sprinkle the eggs with a little bit of salt and pepper.
  • Get your bowls of veggies out of the oven. Top each bowl with an egg. Crumble the bacon over the top.
  • It’s done! Enjoy!

When you’re ready to eat, go ahead and crack those runny yolks, break up the whites, and stir the eggy goodness all around into your veggies and bacon. Like this:

Oh, boy...

Springy fresh asparagus, earthy mushrooms, salty-crispy bacon, gooey eggs…brunch magic. If you really want to kick this up a notch, serve it over some grits with a buttermilk biscuit on the side for a hearty, stick-to-your ribs brunch feast.

Gratuitous additional photo, just to make you drool on your keyboard a little bit more.

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lazy brunch – 2.26.12 – buttermilk biscuits

When I was a kid, sleeping over at my Mammaw’s house on Friday nights meant an evening of the TGIF prime-time lineup (back when Jaleel White was Urkel on Family Matters, not a cool dude on Dancing with the Stars), followed by the early-morning aroma of biscuits baking in the oven.

This kind of biscuits:

image from Walmart.com

My little brother and I could easily split a whole can of these in a morning, slathered with Country Crock or split open and smooshed around some pan-fried sausage patties. I liked my biscuits a pale, goldish color, but Mammaw would always blaze them in her gas oven until they were as uniformly brown as a squadron of UPS delivery guys. Once Mammaw started letting me cook on my own, though, I would pop open the can all by myself and bake them to golden brown perfection.

I’d heard stories of people making biscuits from scratch. Like, mixing and kneading and stuff. Heck, I think I ‘d even read about the process in some historical fiction book or other. And of course I had experienced the euphoria of sinking my teeth into a crispy-crusted, flaky, fluffy homemade biscuit. Old people, other people’s grandmas, the ladies at the S&W Diner down the street or the Biscuit Barn here in Athens–they could craft these magical breakfast breads and all the fixins to go with them. But the only way I ever knew how to make biscuits was from one of these bright blue cans.

In fact, canned biscuits were the only kind I had ever made until about, oh, 2007. I was intimidated by real biscuits (and even a little scared to make ’em out of Bisquick, sure I’d figure out some way to ruin them).

One morning, back when we were still unmarried apartment dwellers, I woke up early on a weekend and romantically decided I was going to make Micah breakfast in bed. I found a biscuit recipe somewhere and set forth on my dough handling adventure.

Imagine a biscuit mating with a boulder and making little rock babies, and you’ll get a pretty good idea of how this batch turned out. They were so tough and dry that Micah not-so-subtly suggested that some gravy sure would be good. (My gravy was stellar, by the way…but it still couldn’t save those poor, dry, overworked biscuits.)

A few more biscuit attempts failed just as miserably. Gravy reinforcements were called in again and again.

Then I found this recipe on Food.com, and my life was forever changed.

picture taken 2/26/12, before I started this blog and before I dug my decade-old real camera out of a box in the den

These biscuits didn’t need gravy, sausage, Country Crock, or even jam. Somehow, they were amazing all on their own: crispy on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside, and dang near perfect.

What’s in it:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter (the original recipe calls for 6, but I only had half a stick last time I made them and they were still great!)
  • 1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup milk + 1 teaspoon lemon juice allowed to sit at room temperature for 5 minutes)

Step-by-step (another sitcom from the Friday night TGIF lineup!):

  • Preheat your oven to 450°F.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or lightly grease with cooking spray.
  • Dump the flour, baking powder, and salt into your food processor and pulse a few times to mix. (Or, mix in a bowl.)
  • Cut the butter into small cubes. Add it to the dry ingredients and pulse some more until it’s incorporated. (Or, use a fork or your fingers to work the butter into your bowl of flour.) The mixture will start to look and act a little more like Nickelodeon’s floam, with bigger grains than the powdery flour and a tendency to stick to itself if you smoosh it between your fingers.
  • Add the buttermilk and process just until the dough starts to form a ball. (Or, add it to your bowl and mix until it’s incorporated.)
  • Dump the dough out on a floured surface. It will be really, really sticky! Don’t mix in a ton of extra flour (as was my misguided instinct)–just sprinkle a little more flour on top.
  • Lightly pat the dough down to about 3/4″ thick. The recipe says to press, fold, and repeat about five times, but I skip this step and my biscuits are still pretty darn good.
  • Use a biscuit cutter, round cookie cutter, or drinking glass to cut out circles of dough. Don’t twist your cutter when you pull up–this apparently makes your biscuits a weird shape or something.
  • Move these pretty little dough circles to your baking sheet. I like to put my biscuits far apart so that each biscuit has crispy edges, but you can put them closer if you like your sides fluffy.
  • Bake for about 12 minutes, or until they’re golden brown.

Enjoy with your favorite biscuit toppings: gravy, bacon and eggs, sausage, cheese, smoked salmon, leftover barbecue, plain old butter and jam. Or serve them with a Southern-style dinner of fried chicken, collards, and black-eyed peas. Or just eat ’em plain, because they’re that good.

I love my Mammaw, and memories of those weekend sleepovers with her still make me smile.

But I do hope that, when my future grandbabies spend the night with me, they’ll wake up to the early morning smell of these delicious homemade biscuits.

“Did you really eat biscuits from a can?” they’ll ask.

“Yep,” I’ll say as I pat my sticky biscuit mess onto the cutting board. I’ll cut my circles, slide them into the oven, dust the flour from my hands. And those kids will marvel as I relate tales of blue cardboard tubs bursting with a soft “pop!” and bulging with pre-made discs of dough.

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lazy brunch – 3.16.12 – sweet potato grits with sausage and eggs

image from indibound.com

I don’t yet own this cookbook by Virginia Willis, but have a feeling I’ll have to stroll on over to Avid Bookshop very soon to buy a copy. Several recipes from the book were featured in American Profile a couple weeks back, including one for sweet potato grits.

Yep, you heard me right. Sweet potatoes + grits = Southern food heaven.

So yesterday, when Micah and I were brainstorming brunch ideas to use up the last of some leftover sausage, that sweet potato grits recipe dropped by and said, “Hey, y’all!”

I made a few modifications to Ms. Willis’s recipe because I had polenta in the pantry (but no grits–for shame!), I wasn’t really in the mood to season my already-sweet veggies with cinnamon and ginger, and I didn’t really want to be cooking my breakfast for 45-60 minutes. (Especially since we’d already slept until 11:00. Ah, spring break, I will miss you so!)

We made a meal of the grits and sausage by topping the dish off with a sunny side up egg and some fresh cilantro:

Doesn’t that look tasty? It was. But don’t take my word for it. Or Micah’s. (We both licked our bowls clean.) Try it for yourself! (This will make a reasonably-sized brunch for two, or a big ol’ brunch for one. :))

What’s in it:

  • 1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes
  • 1/4 cup polenta
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 pound of pork breakfast sausage
  • 2 eggs
  • a little more salt and pepper
  • a big handful of fresh cilantro

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven on warm (about 170-200°F).
  • Ms. Willis grates her sweet potatoes into the grits and then lets them cook for about an hour. I was too impatient for this, and it’s really quick and easy to bake sweet potatoes in the microwave–so that’s my recommendation. Get those tubers nice and tender, squeeze them out of the peel, and then mash them up real good.
  • In a small saucepan, heat your milk and polenta together over medium heat, whisking as it thickens. I’ve always heard that you should boil the cooking liquid first, then vigorously whisk in your polenta. But mine always turns out lumpy when I do it that way, and lumpy polenta ain’t good eats. (Well, actually, I’ve eaten and enjoyed lumpy polenta many times….but it’s even better when it’s smooth and creamy!) Yesterday, as an experiment, I tried whisking everything cold and letting it all heat together, and my polenta was nice and smooth. If you try this, please let me know if it works for you or if it was just a fluke for me!
  • Once the polenta is good and thick (about 10 minutes later), add the mashed sweet potato, butter, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. (Of course, you can always add more butter, salt, and/or pepper to suit your liking.)
  • Divide the cooked polenta into two oven-safe bowls and stick them in your warm oven while you tend to your sausage and eggs.
  • Brown and crumble the sausage in a skillet over medium heat.
  • Use a slotted spoon to top your bowls of grits with the sausage, then put those bowls back into the oven.
  • Pour off most (but not all) of the sausage grease from your skillet–you want to leave some to cook your eggs in!
  • Crack your eggs into the hot pan and cook them until the whites are cooked through and the yolks are just starting to firm up. To make sure the tops of your whites get done, you can put a lid over the pan for a minute or spoon some of the hot sausage grease over them à la the Pioneer Woman. Make sure to season your eggs with a sprinkle of salt and pepper while they cook.
  • Get your bowls out of the oven and slide the cooked eggs on top of the grits and sausage.
  • Finish with some fresh cilantro leaves on top.
  • Enjoy!

A note about the eggs: there’s some controversy over whether it’s advisable to eat them sunny side up. The odds are slim, but not quite none, that raw eggs could make you sick. And salmonella infections, from what I hear, are no fun. If you’re concerned, or just don’t like your yolks runny, then by all means, flip your eggs and cook ’em a little more.

But, anecdotally, I’ve been eating my eggs sunny side up or soft-poached for years (not to mention plenty of raw eggs in cookie doughs and cake batters), and have never once suffered a salmonella infection. Lots of other people do this, and I’d be willing to bet that the farmers who sell us our eggs are among this group.

Until I’m stricken with terrible salmonella poisoning, I’ll keep eating my lazy brunch eggs sunny side up, because there are few things in life that I enjoy more than piercing a golden egg yolk with the tip of my fork…letting it spill onto the rest of my food as a rich, thick, gorgeous sauce…and scraping up every last drop of that delicious stuff with a hunk of warm bread or (with a Southern-inspired meal like this) a fluffy buttermilk biscuit.

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