Thursday, July 26, 2012

Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes-

I had some buttermilk and some eggs that I wanted to get through and decided that blueberry pancakes would be a fun way to use some of it up.  John's daycare is closed today and I knew we'd be home together and thought it'd be a fun way to start our day off.  I googled blueberry buttermilk pancakes and the first 2 recipes that popped up both featured identical recipes and 5 stars each.  Sold!  That was easier than normal...

Last night I set out the unsalted butter to bring to room temperature and measured out the dry ingredients.  It called for 2 cups of flour, 2 1/4 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp each of salt & baking powder, and 1/4 cup of sugar.  I hate when pancakes are too sweet, so I was glad that it didn't call for more than that.  I have a great mixing bowl with a lid, which is always perfect for storing things like this overnight.

Bright and early this morning, John woke me up and was excited for us to make pancakes!  I'd like to say that we worked together magically today, but I was pretty tired and he... well, he's 4.  And he asks questions.  Lots and lots of questions, without waiting for answers or even breathing in between.  Things like "why is this syrup".  Huh?  Because its syrup?  It can be a little much when you're trying to cook and waiting for coffee to kick in.  He adorably redeemed himself at one point by telling me how much he loves making pancakes with me and kissing me on the cheek.  Then I stubbed my toe on his step stool and we were halfway back to square one. 

As far as execution goes, things went pretty smoothly.  I placed half the stick of softened butter in the microwave for 30 seconds and then let the melted butter cool.  We poured 2 cups of buttermilk and 2 eggs into a bowl and whisked it up.  Then John continued stirring while I added in the melted butter.  Once it was all combined we slowly folded it in with the dry ingredients.  You want your batter to be mixed just enough.  Lumps are ok- they go away but if you stir too much your pancakes will be tough.  I put the finished batter aside and got the skillet ready to go.

I turned both burners on the skillet to medium high and let them heat up.  I showed John how you can test the heat by splashing a drop of water in the pan.  You want the drop to dance before evaporating.  If it goes away immediately, its too hot.  If it stays a while, its not hot enough.  Once it was ready I added a touch of the unsalted butter to the pan and spread it around to coat.  Using the 1/4 measuring scoop, I poured a few heaping scoops on the pan.  We topped each pancake with berries and let them cook until the bubbles popped; 2-3 minutes total.  I flipped them and cooked for another 2 minutes and we were ready to go!  The first batch cooked enough for us to eat then and I decided to wait until we were finished to cook the remaining pancakes. 

They were perfect!  The pancakes were light, fluffy, and about a 1/3 inch thick.  The blueberries were sweet and tart and the texture was just right.  Fantastic!  The recipe made about a dozen pancakes.  I let the remaining pancakes cool while spaced out on a plate and them froze them with a piece of wax paper between each pancake.  This way, I can toast them up for John in the mornings next week! 

I'll keep this recipe on hand, for sure.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Fresh Sweet Corn Cakes-

There are a few farm stands on the way to and from my dad's house in South Jersey and I try to plan around stopping at one of them whenever I visit during the spring through fall months.  I was driving home with John last weekend and made a big deal about going to get fruits and vegetables.  I've found thats the best way to get him on board in doing what I want to do and Mommy loves farm stands!  I wish we had year round versions in our area.  I grew up in New York state in the Catskill area; apple country.  Local produce was easy to find.  We went to Robin's year round and bought our produce and fruit.  They had cool types of candy and fruit leathers and the store smelled like coffee beans and fruit.  The Wilklows had a stand (shack) which was also about a mile from my house and across the street from the high school.  You can imagine how hard it was to concentrate during Social Studies when you had miles of apple orchards leading up a mountain as the view from your window.  They were only open in season, but was it where we did our apple and strawberry picking and they would always give me an apple for the walk home from school, when I asked.  They've since grown into a pretty nice establishment with a huge business in the fall, but when I recall the place I remember them from back then. 

The stand that John and I ended up at is called Joe's.  They're across from Rosie's on 322, which has signs lined up before and after the place.  Rosie's is just fine, but Joe's is on my side of the road when going home so its my usual choice.  We walked (John skipped, or bounced) to the stand and he immediately started asking for fruit.  My boy loves fruit and from the way I've been craving it since becoming pregnant, so does his sister.  I've never been a huge fan, but with both babies I just can't get enough.  Here's hoping that sticks!  Here's a pic of John with some gorgeous peaches and sporting his own peach fuzz

We bought a few of these, some strawberries, and a bunch of fresh vegetables.  They were very friendly and gave John an ice pop on the way home, which thrilled him.  Its the little things in life sometimes. 

The first thing I made with my produce was a corn salad.  Not the feature here, of course, but worth mentioning.  Fresh corn, bright red tomatoes, cucumbers, cilantro, and lime juice with a touch of salt & pepper.  Simply amazing.  I have to say that the tomatoes were easily the best that I've had this year so far. I cruised through them pretty fast via caprese salads, BLTs, and guacamole.  They were so red and juicy...that I very well may have to drive back there tomorrow...

Now on to the recipe du jour!
I finally realized last year that its worth cooking corn in bulk and saving the kernels for future recipes.  I don't know why it took me so long to realize that this was a good idea, but its now commonplace for me.  I had leftover corn from the salad and was debating what to do with it.  Sometimes I can get really scatterbrained when thinking about what to make.  I flittered between a creamless corn chowder, various types of corn cakes, creamed corn, fritters, enchiladas, etc.  The worst part of when I get indecisive in this manner is that I start flaking out at the market and buy only half of what I need to make 3 different recipes.  So annoying.  Shawn deemed corn cakes as the most interesting to him at the moment and I found a recipe that sounded completely unhealthy, but delicious.  It features bacon (BACON!), cheese, corn, peppers, and onions in a crab cake type form.  Sold! 

The other night I started prepping the meal and was planning to serve it with some steaks that we had in the freezer.  They were from a company similar to Omaha, and the last of our batch.  I had taken them out the previous night and they looked a little funny to me.  I have a terrible sense of smell, so I asked Shawn to check them out.  He was unsure of their quality and we decided to throw them out rather than risk it.  Recipe postponed for an evening and Chinese take out ordered instead. 

On the way home yesterday I picked up some pork medallions to serve with my corn cakes along with some fresh green beans (man, I love the summer).  I took a cup of the corn and mixed it with a cup of chopped sweet onion and a half cup of green bell pepper.  The recipe calls for jalepeno, but neither of us were feeling the heat.  Next I diced up 4 slices of bacon and sauteed them in a cast iron skillet until crisped up.  Drained the bacon grease, leaving about a tablespoon worth and sauteed the peppers, onion, and corn for about 10 minutes.  The recipe called for 2 tablespoons, but I wanted to cut back a tad.  I mixed up some cornmeal, baking soda and powder, salt, and cayenne; added in a combination of buttermilk and egg, and mixed it together.  Next, I folded in the sauteed veggies, a 1/2 cup of shredded cheese, and the bacon and was ready to roll! 

Using the cast iron skillet, I used a thin layer of oil and heated it well.  Some comments in the recipe stated that you really needed the oil to be hot and I believed them.  I added 3 small mounds of batter to the pan, turning them after 2 minutes and finishing off for another 2 minutes.  A few thoughts on this process: first, the oil was too hot and they got crispy but were borderline burnt.  Second, beware of popping corn!!  I jumped about 4 or 5 times while cooking these from stray pieces of corn loudly popping out of the pan.  Thankfully, I never got burned but I was definitely on edge the entire time. 

The nice thing about pork medallions and green beans is that they were able to cook in the small amount of time needed to sautee 2 batches of corn cakes.  In case you're curious, I sauteed the pork with a light spice rub and used my Lekue steamer for the beans, using homemade stock and garlic powder.  Both were delicious and simple. 

The corn cakes were cooked through, crisp but not burnt, and held together well.  I served them with a little sour cream, but think that an avocado salsa or something more substantial would have been a better accompaniment.  I have to say that for all the crazy not-so-healthy ingredients that were used in this recipe, these were pretty boring.  Nothing really stood out.  I would actually say that the corn meal was the most prominent flavor/ texture.  They weren't necessarily bad but they definitely needed something.  I'll make a version again, but probably try out something a little lighter and maybe incorporate some fresh herbs.  I'll definitely go with a flour based recipe to let the corn shine through a little better. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Smoked Turkey Nachos

The original intention for my dinner tonight was to make a variation of BBQ Chicken Pizza.  We have a good amount of smoked turkey leftover from Sunday night's dinner and I thought it could be a fun cheap way to use it.  Plus, Shawn loves BBQ Chicken Pizza, so me attempting it was guaranteed to please him.  I found a recipe on that looked good and featured most of my ingredients so I went with it.  I started by finely dicing up about a cup of smoked turkey and thinly sliced 1/2 cup each of red bell pepper and onion.  I preheated the oven to 475 degrees and placed the baking sheet in to heat up.  This helps give the pizza a nice crisp crust (or is supposed to, anyway).  The method called for me to use parchment paper as the base of the pizza to allow me to easily transfer it to the pan when its ready to go in the oven. 

Here's where it got tricky... I had taken a ball of dough out of the freezer last night to thaw and let it sit out at room temperature for about an hour before dinner.  I don't know if it was the humidity, the quality of dough, or plain old user error, but I could NOT get this dough to work with me.  I got hole after hole in my mishapen dough then rolled it up to try again, which of course made it even tougher.  Finally, in a moment of weakness that was fully witnessed by my husband, I tossed the dough ball into the trash.  Shawn always knows the right thing to say in moments like this: "Sometimes you have to know when to call an audible".   

After looking through the ingredients that were left on my countertop, I pulled out some tortilla chips, and decided on nachos.  Starting with a thin layer of chips on the baking sheet, I topped them with a light layer of mozzarella cheese, then drizzled Sweet Baby Rays BBQ sauce lightly over the pile.  I sprinkled it with the turkey, onion, and peppers, another drizzle of BBQ sauce, and topped the whole thing with sharp cheddar cheese.  After turning the oven down to 450, I cooked the nachos for about 8 minutes and they were perfect. 

We served them on paper plates with sour cream; just as all nachos should be served.  Sweet Baby Rays is our favorite store bought sauce and it was perfect in this dish.  Sweet and tangy- yum!  The cheese was cooked just right and the toppings were cut small enough to stay on their respective chips.  It was a tasty, unhealthy, meal. 

I'm so glad that I opted to change up my plans.  I was so frustrated with the dough and can't imagine that I would have enjoyed the meal as much after all that annoyance.  It's like Shawn said... sometimes in cooking, just as in sports and in life, you just need to call an audible.