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Archive for January, 2012|Monthly archive page

fig, walnut and oatmeal pancakes

In breakfast, sweets, year-round on 17 January, 2012 at 8:15 am

Just a quick little post today – I was trying to write this last night but my heavy eyelids claimed victory and I sunk into bed before 11 for the first time in 2012 (hooray!). And now it’s morning and I’m battling the clock to get to work on time. And I have plenty more pancakes to write about (!!) so I thought I’d better get on with this one. So, without further ado, I present Pancake #2.

If you recall, I started the year off with a little pancake project. On the first day, I made these crispy-edged little cornmeal griddlecakes, inspired by a Mark Bittman recipe in the New York Times. I didn’t really plan on making pancakes the next day, but I was intrigued by the idea of making pancakes with all kinds of different (non-flour) ingredients. So on the second day, I went back to that New York Times article and found this recipe for oatmeal pancakes. So began the Pancake Project – because if I’m eating the same thing (more or less) two or more days in a row and experimenting with ingredients and methods it’s more than just laziness or falling into a routine, right? It’s a project.

I’ve based these pancakes on Mark Bittman’s method of first cooking the oats before using them to make the pancake batter. The result is wholly different from the kind of oatmeal pancakes I’m used to – normal flour pancakes with some oats mixed in – and results in a pancake that’s far more dense and moist than you’d normally expect. They’re pretty much the opposite of the pretty stack of golden pancakes I’d made the day before, and the antithesis of anything you’d find in, say, an American diner.

I almost never order pancakes in restaurants because I often find myself underwhelmed – they’re so often too big, too floury or stodgy, or just plain boring. But these I could get used to. And okay, I’m not saying these don’t have a bit of stodge to them, but it’s good stodge – good, hearty, (dare I say it?) healthy stodge: plenty of fibre and protein (the more nuts, the better) and interesting texture and so much more flavour than the big, flabby flour-fests* that so often leave me disappointed.

So. I really encourage you to make these pancakes. They’re nowhere near fluffy, but they’re awesome. Also, because they’ve got cooked oats in them, they’re a bit porridgelike in consistency – but in a good, fried-in-a-skillet way. Perhaps it’d be a good way for porridge haters to get their oats? Let me know if you give it a try.

*er, okay, maybe I’m being a bit harsh. There are plenty of really delicious traditional flour pancakes out there. But I have had my share of decidedly average ones. Don’t tell me you haven’t.

FIG, WALNUT & OATMEAL PANCAKES
(adapted from this recipe by Mark Bittman in the New York Times) 

1/2 cup rye flour*
1/4 rolled oats
(here, I used the “quick cook” type – the smaller flakes)
1  tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
2 cups cooked whole rolled oats
1 tbsp honey
1/3 cup chopped toasted walnuts
1/3 cup chopped dried figs

First, cook some oats – just in water is fine – I used about a cup of oats to get more or less two cups of cooked oatmeal. Let it cool a bit.

Meanwhile, mix together the dry ingredients (flour, oats, baking powder, salt) in a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together the egg and milk, then stir in the cooked oatmeal and the honey. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir gently to combine. The mixture will be thicker than you might be used to for pancake batter, but you should be able to get thick, gloopy ladlefuls of it pretty easily – if it seems too thick, just add more water; if it seems too thin, add more flour. Fold in the walnuts and the fig pieces.

Cook in an oiled skillet (cast-iron is great) over medium heat, making sure the skillet’s nice and hot before you add the batter. Flip when they’re golden-brown on the underside and little bubbles appear on top (this may be less noticeable than with normal pancakes because of all the stuff that’s in the batter, so if in doubt, check the underside). I found 3-4 minutes on one side and then about 2-3 on the other worked well.

Serve with butter and honey.

*(or any flour, really, I just had rye and wanted to give them a bit more depth. I imagine buckwheat’d also be great)

ginger & sesame chicken salad

In salads, summer on 10 January, 2012 at 1:03 am

I’m one of those people who doesn’t do a big weekly shop but rather picks up bits and pieces almost every day. I like it because I’m indecisive; I like to plan what I’m eating based on my mood that day, the weather outside, that sort of thing. Granted, sometimes I’ll get all ambitious and plan out a week’s worth of meals. but I change my mind. All the time. So for the most part I’m the person who can’t go from work to home without stopping along the way to pick up some tomatoes, or meat, or fresh fruit or greens.

But living like this has its downsides: I don’t always eat everything I buy. And then, because I haven’t had the foresight to think about what I’ll do with that other head of baby cos languishing in the fridge, or the other half of the cucumber I didn’t eat the night before, I forget about them. They sink to the bottom of the vegetable crisper in the fridge. And they stay there.

In light of the fact that my flightiness is responsible for some serious wastage of food (not to mention money) I’ve been challenging myself to use up what I’ve got and buy only what I really need. I know, I know, it’s common sense for most people, right?

Back to that poor forgotten head of baby cos. I had actually bought a couple right before going away for Christmas. Rather predictably, I didn’t end up using it before I went away. By the time I rediscovered it (several days into 2012) it looked like it was beyond saving, all wilted and limp on the outside. But I peeled back a few outer layers of leaves, and underneath? Crisp-as-new, vibrant-green baby cos leaves. Magic!

So there was one thing to use up. Among the others? One of about six or seven pieces of ginger I had hanging around (I honestly don’t know why I keep buying them, I mean really, is ginger-hoarding normal? No.), half a cucumber, some scraps of red onion, other assorted greens. Everything was pointing towards salad, perhaps something with gingery Asian flavours. I cheated a little bit and bought a couple of chicken thighs, but aside from that I was pretty proud of the fact that I was using up stuff that would’ve otherwise gone to waste.

For this salad I wanted something light yet substantial, with the sort of fresh, clean flavours you get in Asian food. This was perfect: light and crunchy greens, silky-soft steamed chicken. It’s perfect for a hot summer day but would work just as equally well for a winter lunch, served with a piping hot bowl of miso soup. And you could change up the green bit depending on what you have wilting in your vegetable crisper.

So. Next time you have a languishing head of lettuce in the fridge, take a look inside before throwing the whole thing out – you might be missing the best part. The inside bit, anyway – as the leaves get smaller and smaller until you reach the heart – is the best part, I reckon: all tender-sweet crunch, juicy and fresh and earnest, untainted by its tired exterior. Treat it kindly. Don’t let it go to waste.

GINGER & SESAME CHICKEN SALAD
(makes enough for 2 people as a side dish)

200g(ish) chicken breast or thigh
30g piece of ginger
1 or 2 spring onions
25g kaiware sprouts
25g mizuna
50g baby cos (romaine) leaves, torn into small pieces
50g cucumber, sliced on the diagonal
1/4 of a red onion, sliced thinly 

First, prepare the chicken: trim off any excess fat, then season on both sides with salt. Place on a plate or small bowl inside a steamer. Peel the ginger and cut off the green tops of the spring onions; add these to the chicken like this:

Steam, with the lid on, over a pot of boiling water until the chicken is cooked through (I used some smallish thighs and they cooked in about 20-25 minutes). Let cool, and shred by pulling the meat apart with your fingers (or a couple of forks if you prefer).

While the chicken is cooking, prepare the salad: slice up the cucumber and onion (I like to let the red onion soak in a bit of water so it doesn’t overpower the rest of the salad) and rinse the greens. Slice the bottom bits of the spring onions on the diagonal:

Place all the salad ingredients in a bowl and prepare the dressing.

for the dressing:
1 tbsp grated ginger (this will be approximately what’s left of the piece you peeled earlier)
1 clove crushed garlic
2 1/2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp peanut oil
2 tsp soy sauce

1 tsp palm sugar
1 tbsp toasted, coarsely ground sesame seeds*

Mix the ingredients together so that the sugar dissolves completely. Taste and adjust amount of vinegar, sugar or soy sauce if needed.

Set aside a tablespoon or so of the dressing to pour over the chicken.

Once everything’s ready, toss the salad ingredients in the dressing. Top with the shredded chicken and pour the rest of the reserved dressing over the top.

*toast the sesame seeds in a hot, dry frying pan or skillet, then loosely crush in a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle.

cornmeal griddlecakes with vanilla-mint strawberries & honeyed sour cream

In breakfast, gluten free, summer, sweets, year-round on 5 January, 2012 at 12:59 am

I don’t know about you, but today was my first day back at work for 2012. (Happy new year, everyone! Hope you’ve all had a relaxing holiday. And if you’re still on holiday, hope you’re making the most of it!)

Tearing myself away from my dear, dear bed this morning was the hardest thing I’ve done all year (granted, we’re only four days in, but…), and I wasn’t feeling overly happy about heading back to work.* But I wasn’t feeling overly sad, either. Which was really good news: an improvement over this same time last year.

On the first day back last year I had the back-to-work blues, hard. I pretty much spent the whole of that first shortened week shuffling around in a mopey haze – I think I even had to go have a secret cry in the bathroom at work, which sounds utterly stupid in hindsight, but at the time it was serious business, like any half-decent self-pity session is when you’re in the midst of it.

Last January I was grieving the abrupt end of a summer holiday, pining for things I never knew I loved so dearly until I was torn away and shoved back under glaring fluorescent lights: the cliched things like sun, surf, sand, diving headfirst into waves, watching phosphorescence tumble through seafoam at midnight, cold watermelon scooped into balls, books and board games and beer. I was all full of mournful regret at not having had the foresight of taking extra time off work, and yeah, okay, first world problem, I’m sorry now, it sounds so silly in hindsight. (And, I’m happy to report, I got over it pretty quickly.)

So this year I was pleasantly surprised that, aside from a little difficulty actually putting work-related sentences together (and the weird typos that come from getting reacquainted with a normal keyboard, not my runty laptop one), today went pretty well. No tears, anyway, and with the help of lots and lots of coffee, I made it to 5pm relatively unscathed. And ready to do it all again tomorrow. Amazing!

Anyway, I don’t know what this all has to do with pancakes. But I can tell you that this year I’ve subbed pancakes for Pakiri, and going back to work was a little easier. A correlation? Probably not. But pancakes are always good.

For the first three mornings of 2012, I made three different batches of pancakes, each very different from the other. For whatever reason, I dubbed it the Pancake Project, and maybe it’ll continue over the next few weekend mornings, if I’m so inclined. Anyway, I intend to share at least the first three. So here’s the first (keep an eye out for the next two!).

These are pretty good: a bit different from your usual fluffy flour-based pancake because they’re made with cornmeal (aka polenta, depending on where you’re based) and so they’re a lot denser than your average pancake. But in exchange for fluffiness you get that sweet, crunchy exterior you find on the best, fresh-from-the-skillet cornbread** and a mild-flavoured, soft-textured interior that goes so well with the sweet-sharp strawberries and the sour cream.

You could just eat these with butter and honey or golden syrup or maple syrup, but I can highly recommend the strawberries and sour cream I’ve included here. Besides looking pretty, they’re really delicious: the strawberries get all syrupy and sweet and the sour cream gets all runny and dreamy with melted honey mixed in. A winning combination.

These would be perfect for a weekend brunch, or if you’re trying to impress someone special, or if you’re silly enough to get up extra early on your first day back at work*** you could make it for yourself as consolation that your holiday is, well, over. It’s not the end of the world, though.

*I must put this in perspective: I am so lucky to work at what is, without a doubt, the best place I’ve ever worked, and I’m not just saying this in case my boss is reading this – work is actually really, really great. It’s just that my bed holds just as dear a place in my heart.

**one of my favourite things on earth, especially while still hot from the oven. Oh boy.

***oh no, not me, no way. I clung to my sheets for as long as I could this morning.

CORNMEAL GRIDDLECAKES WITH VANILLA-MINT STRAWBERRIES AND HONEYED SOUR CREAM
(The recipe for the griddlecakes comes by way of this one by Mark Bittman for the New York Times. I’ve changed a few things to my liking after my first efforts fell someplace different from what I had in mind: I added an egg, sugar and ground almonds, and used a bit more liquid than the original recipe. But the method of using partially-cooked cornmeal as the base for the recipe is unchanged.)

This recipe makes enough for 2-3 people. Feel free to double or triple the quantities as needed.

For the strawberries

Put 1 cup halved strawberries (quartered if they’re particularly big) in a bowl and add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste, a few torn-up mint leaves and 1 tablespoon sugar. Give it a good stir so the sugar starts to dissolve, and let the strawberries macerate while you make everything else. They should get all nice and syrupy by the time you’re ready to serve.

For the sour cream

Make as much as you like, however sweet you like it: for every 1/3 to 1/2 cup sour cream, mix in a tablespoonful or two (I used two) of melted honey. You can play around with this ratio depending on your desired sweetness.

For the griddlecakes

3/4 cup fine or medium cornmeal (polenta)
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup buttermilk (you might not use this all, but good to have set aside just in case)
1 egg
1 tbsp melted butter

Mix the cornmeal, sugar and salt together and add 3/4 cup boiling water. Stir it all together and let it sit for 5-10 minutes until the cornmeal has absorbed all the water and is kind of half-cooked. Let it cool a little.

Add the ground almonds to the mixture and stir again to combine. Add the egg, 1/4 cup of the buttermilk and the melted butter. Depending on how liquid your batter is, you might want to add a bit more buttermilk. I ended up using between 1/3 and 1/2 cup and got the nice thin little pancakes you see here.

Cook by the ladleful (really, in whatever shape or size you like, just as you would normal pancakes) on a hot griddle or cast-iron skillet. Flip over when they’re nice and bubbly in the middle.

I found 3-4 minutes on the first side, 2-3 on the other side to be just about right for the little ones I was making.

Serve with the sour cream and strawberries and eat while hot and crisp from the pan (keep warm in the oven if you’re making these for a crowd; they’re so much better hot than cold).

*****ps. You can now find me posting random stuff (things I eat, photos of my cat, bits and pieces from the internet) on tumblr: http://eatinganddreaming.tumblr.com. Still trying to get the hang of it, but do come check it out if you like that sort of thing.