Category Archives: Breakfast & Brunch

Morning eats & drinks.

GRANOLA BARS

I’m in Chicago for the weekend.  It’s cold here, but not too cold, grey and foggy instead of sunny, and I’m here because my friend Katie texted me a few months ago and said “bitch, when are you coming to visit me?”  Yes, I believe those were her exact words.

Katie and I first met as high schoolers at a school program called Close Up in Washington, D.C.  She was there from Michigan, me from Tennessee.  We started talking the first night in the lobby of the hotel where our groups were staying, and she wound up loaning me her giant CD collection and trying to explain that strange Yankee card game, Euchre.  The next day, we sat next to each other on the bus, and by the end of the five-day trip, she handed me a postcard with the Jefferson Memorial (her favorite) on the front and a note that included “I love you” on the back.

We are really such unlikely friends; I was the geekiest sixteen-year-old known to man, she was loud, sarcastic, a partier, the center of social attention.  For the longest time I was convinced that she was actually too cool to be friends with me and eventually she would figure that out and ditch our long-distance correspondence.  But the thing about Katie is that there are so many layers to her brash persona: fierce loyalty to family and friends, voracious reading habits, impatience for all things superficial, and her boundless generosity.

I like to think that I was able to see those things back then, when others couldn’t, or didn’t, and that she saw me—the, as it turns out, a little brash and mouthy and daring myself—underneath the suiting of a hopelessly self-conscious and sheltered sophomore. Katie wasted no time drawing me out of my shell.  She’s my delightfully corrupting influence. When Katie’s mom heard that I was coming to visit this weekend, she told her daughter, “Could you please not dye or tattoo or pierce anything this time around?”

This week marks our eleven-year friend-versary—in that time, we’ve probably spent less than two months in the other’s actual physical company.  But space and time don’t seem to matter for us; no matter how long it’s been, we always just pick right up where we left off.

HOMEMADE GRANOLA BARS


If historical trends are any indication, I’ll need to compensate for questionably healthy eating choices after spending a weekend with Katie.  Oh, yep, in fact, she’s banging around the kitchen right now, making pancakes.  Granola bars + serious gym time are going to be in order.

The folks at Superior Nuts were kind enough to send me some of their beautifully packaged sliced almonds and jumbo apricots, so I used them, but you could substitute any kind of nut or dried fruit.  I’m convinced that adding flavorings like cinnamon and nutmeg go a long way to putting these granola bars in a different stratosphere than the cardboard-replica-versions you so often find.
ingredients:

2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut*
¼ cup golden flax meal
¼ cup wheat germ

*If you use sweetened, omit the brown sugar below.

oven: 350˚

Stir all ingredients together in a large bowl.  Spread out on two foil-lined baking sheets.  Toast for 10-15 minutes, stirring at least once, until the mixture has been lightly browned.

Return to the bowl and stir in:

1 cup dried fruit, chopped
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. nutmeg
pinch of salt

For the wet ingredients, whisk the following together in a small saucepan over low heat:

½ cup honey
3 T butter
3 T brown sugar (optional)
1 tsp. vanilla

Pour the mixture into the bowl and stir to combine.  Be sure that all of the dry ingredients are well coated.  For thicker granola bars, use a square pan.  Thinner, a rectangle.  Line your pan of choice with parchment paper.

Drop the oven temperature down to 325˚.

Press the granola mixture into the pan, using your fingers to get an even layer and pressing down hard.  Use the back of a metal bowl or small water glass to smooth out the top.

Bake the bars for 10 minutes, just to help them harden.  Cool thoroughly (at least two hours) before lifting the parchment-lined bars out of the pan.  Cut into desired size using a sawing motion with a sharp serrated knife.  Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

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CINNAMON ROLLS

You, like Jill, may be one of those people who is mystified by my love for this:

Yes, that’s right, I am a Von Trapper, a girl who counts Christopher Plummer among her first crushes, who knows every word to every song and squeals unabashedly when the camera first opens onto the Viennese countryside.

I can’t rightly say how many times I have seen “The Sound of Music,” but I do know that every time I go back to it, I discover something new.  Like the first time I was old enough to understand that my beloved Captain Von Trapp wasn’t just a handsome military widower who could sing and dance BUT ALSO a radical who resisted the Anschluss and stood behind his political convictions.

Or the first time I realized I had outgrown any affection for the cheesy gazebo scene (“sixteen going on seventeen”) between Liesl and Rolf in favor of the cheesy gazebo scene (“must have done something good”) between Maria and the Captain.  Or this most recent encounter, in which I decided that there was maybe something to this “favorite things” business after all.

Cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudels
Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings
These are a few of my favorite things

Or my version:

Babies with Afros and top-shelf margaritas
Rothko and Rilke and freshly-made pitas
Baristas who flirt with a glint in their eyes
These are the things that help me get by

So I’m not meant to be a songwriter–the sentiment still holds. Perhaps it’s ridiculous, but I think that conjuring up the memory or thought of things you like best can actually be rather useful.  Or you can actually conjure up some cinnamon rolls in real life.

Your favorites?

CINNAMON ROLLS

Cinnamon rolls from scratch do not a quick breakfast make.  Patience, grasshopper.  They are SO worth it.

For the dough:

1 package yeast
¼ cup warmer-than-your-finger water

Pour the water into a large bowl, then sprinkle the yeast on top with a pinch of sugar.  Let it stand for a few minutes—if it doesn’t foam, try, try again.

Now you’ll need these things:

¼ cup whole milk
2 T butter

Microwave them together for 30 seconds or until the butter is melting and it’s all warm (but not hot).  Toss the warm dairy into the bowl with the yeast, then add the following:

3 ½-4 cups all-purpose flour, added 1 cup at a time
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp. salt

I like to hand-mix but you can use a dough hook.  Knead until springy but still soft (you may not use all of the flour).  Don’t over-knead; you want a dough that’s loosely hanging together.

Butter the bowl you were just using & let the dough rise there for at least 1 hour, or until doubled in size (may take 1 ½ hours).

For the filling:

1 cup butter, completely softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans
1 ½ T cinnamon

Whip all of the filling ingredients together with a fork or spoon until fluffy.  Roll the dough out into a large rectangle about ¼-inch thick.  Spread the filling gently atop the dough, going out to the edges on all but one of the long sides.  Leave a ½-inch border along that final edge so you have something to seal the roll with.

Roll the dough up into a log, starting with the edge opposite the border.  When you get to the border, wet the dough a bit, then pull it up and over the log and press down to seal.

Line a jellyroll or spring form pan with parchment (cleanup is a nightmare if you skip this step, trust me).  Using a serrated knife, cut the dough log into inch-thick rolls, placing them swirl side up in the pan.  Don’t space them too closely together, as they will expand.  Cover the pan with a damp towel and let the dough puff up again, about 30-45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 325˚.  Bake the cinnamon rolls for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

While they’re baking, whip up a simple icing: a whole lot of powdered sugar thinned with a little bit of liquid.  You can use just plain milk or milk  + some kind of flavoring (orange juice, vanilla, almond extract, etc.)

Once the rolls have cooled slightly, drizzle them generously with the icing.

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THE FOOD OF MY PEOPLE: SUJI HALWA

This is kind of a strange food.  And I feel a little strange blogging about it because I’m not sure any of you will ever end up making it.

Actually, that’s not true; I know at least one of you will.  When I wrote about our big ole Diwali party in October, I mentioned that suji halwa was the featured dessert, fellow blogger Cheryl requested a recipe.  I tucked her request away in my messy mental filing cabinet and am just now getting around to fulfilling it.

Suji halwa isn’t just a slightly weird Indian food I grew up eating; it’s a sacred, slightly weird Indian food I grew up eating.  Basically a sweetened cream-of-wheat, suji halwa is flavored with cardamom, often studded with nuts.

It’s traditional in North Indian, where my people are from, to use suji halwa as prashad, an edible offering brought to temple or puja, blessed in God’s presence and redistributed to those present as nourishment, in both the literal and figurative sense.  As a kid, I looked forward to Tuesday mornings because my mother would rise extra early to make a batch of suji halwa, then bless it through her morning prayers and feed it to me for breakfast.

I don’t think it’s any accident that most all of the world’s religions have traditions and rituals related to food—communion, fellowship, transubstantiation—it’s all an effort to connect to the ineffable through one of our most basic and necessary acts, eating.  We consume, we are consumed, we become one, we are molecularly joined.

This week has brought with it little moments of joy and extended scenes of the most terrifying loss and sadness.  To keep a constant, even if it’s something as humble as a porridge, builds constancy and assurance that this spinning world is still an okay place to be, in spite of the despair that comes with it.

From Diwali 2009: my dear friend Dave & his sister Diane. She is among the missing in Haiti.

SUJI HALWA

If you have ever visited a Hindu or Sikh temple, it’s likely you’ve tasted this stuff yourself.  Everyone’s version is a little bit different—what I like about my mom’s (outside of perfectly fusing with hundreds of Tuesday morning memories, of course) is that it isn’t at all greasy and goes great with a cup of tea.  Try it as a dessert or with a piece of buttered toast for an indulgent breakfast.

This recipe is all about ratios, so you can double it easily.

For the simple syrup, sugar: water, 1:2.
For the overall dish, suji: sugar = 1 :1 + 2 T.

ingredients:

1 cup water
1 cup plus 2 T sugar
1 cup fine suji (semolina)*
½ cup chopped nuts—almonds, pistachios, and/or cashews (optional)
5 T canola oil
2 T butter
1-2 tsp. ground cardamom

First, make the simple syrup by dissolving the sugar into the water and bringing it to a boil.  Set aside.

In a high-sided, heavy-bottomed pan with a lid, melt the butter with the oil over medium heat.  If using nuts, toast them in the butter until fragrant.  Add the suji and stir to coat so that you no longer see butter or oil at the bottom of the pan.

Brown the suji over medium heat, stirring regularly.  This is going to take a little while, between 8-10 minutes.  Patience, my child, patience.  You will be rewarded with an incredibly fragrant aroma and light brown color if you persist.  Don’t rush this step—the finished product won’t taste so good if you do.

Once things are toasted to your satisfaction, remove the pan from the heat and add the simple syrup.  It’s going to get splattery, so have your lid ready!  Return the covered pot to low heat and stir occasionally, using the lid as your shield.

Once the splattering has died down, add the cardamom, crank the heat back up to medium and cook until the syrup has evaporated and the suji has thickened.  The finished product should be scoop-able but still tight enough to hold up a teaspoon.

Serve warm.  Allow to cool before transferring to re-sealable containers for refrigerator (a few weeks) or freezer (a few months) storage.

*You’ll probably need to head to the Indian grocery store for this one, order online, or find packaged semolina at a specialty (natural foods or gourmet) store.

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APPLE-SOUR CREAM MUFFINS

Sharing is good.  Despite what people always claim about only children, my mother contends that I was always eager to share.  Perhaps because I was so accustomed to playing alone, except when I conscripted one of my parents to take part in my favorite game—restaurant.  Prescient, no?

apple muffins on plate
In any case, I fancy myself a sharer.  I like to share books and music and hugs (but not half-hugs) and food and information, of which I sometimes share too much.  I’m going to grow up to become one of those old women who sidle up to you with a Southern accent and over-share treacherous details about their medical problems, aren’t I?  And then proceeds to the buffet, where she shoves rolls into her giant handbag for later?

In the meantime, allow me to share with you two new websites I’m mildly obsessed with slash grateful for the existence of:

1001 Rules for my Unborn Son

Spot-on, modern gentlemanly voice offering advice that my fourteen-year-old male students (who are a tough crowd to please) respect.  Author Walker Lamond has recently published a book of all one thousand and one rules, but the website counts up from #1 and is currently at #406.

unborn son
Some of my favorite rules include:

402. If you aren’t hungry enough to eat an apple, you’re not hungry.
383. Framing a poster does not make it valuable.
318. Don’t gloat. A good friend will do it for you.
241. Keep a well-stocked bar. (This last one works for daughters, too!)

The unborn son to whom the title refers is actually no longer unborn, as he came into the world shortly after the completion of the book.  Go spend your lunch break perusing this site; you’ll be touched and amused, I think.

And the Pursuit of Happiness

Artist and journalist Maira Kalman is proving that the internet can, in fact, be used tell beautiful stories.  Using mixed media for each entry, she narrates her personal exploration of an issue that, by the end, becomes magically relevant to us all.

Kalman manages to strike just the right tone, making herself into an Everyman, even though her talent clearly says otherwise.  Each time I experience her work, I learn something and I come away more hopeful than I arrived.

kalman blog

Of course, I’d like to share a recipe with you, too.  I tweeted about these muffins a few weeks ago and one of my followers (angeltread) requested that I post the recipe.  Since I was winging in the first time, I did a second run, got Sonya to take some pictures, and actually wrote down what went in them.  It helps, I know.

Given the deliciousness of apples at this time, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want to make these.  They give your kitchen that warm, fuzzy, happy autumn smell, too.  And have a streusel topping—did I mention that?

I know ya’ll have good stuff to share, too.  Other great website recommendations?  Exciting news?  Book suggestions?  Celebrity gossip?  Dancing baby videos?

APPLE-SOUR CREAM MUFFINS
makes 12-16 muffins

I know, you’re thinking, sour cream, whaaaat?  Trust me, though.  Keeps things nice and moist but also prevents the muffins from being too sweet.  It’s a muffin, not a cupcake.  There should be a difference!

For the version pictured here, I used Empire apples, which I love and had on hand, but I think this recipe would work equally well with Jonagold, Cortlandt, or Golden Delicious apples.

ingredients: apples in bowl

1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. ground allspice
½ tsp. nutmeg (freshly grated, if possible)
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt

2 eggs
1 ½ cups packed light brown sugar
1 cup sour cream
½ stick unsalted butter, melted

2 small apples, peeled & diced
1 cup pecans or walnuts, toasted & chopped

streusel topping:

2 T brown sugar
1 ½ T unsalted butter, softened a bit
1 T flour
¼ tsp. each cinnamon, allspice, & nutmeg

pan: lined or well-greased muffin tin
oven: 400°

Preheat oven.  Stir together dry ingredients and set aside.

Whisk the eggs and brown sugar together before adding the butter.  Stir in the sour cream.  Fold in the dry ingredients, then stir in apple pieces & nuts.  Be careful not to over-mix!

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups so that each cup is three-quarters full.  Combine the streusel ingredients in a small bowl, mixing with your fingers to break up the butter into small bits.

Sprinkle a generous amount of streusel on top of each muffin before baking, 18-20 minutes.  Cool on a rack before removing the muffins.  Enjoy warm or store in an airtight container (though I’d recommend refrigerating these after a day).

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CRANBERRY VANILLA COFFEECAKE

I don’t buy the theory that everything happens for a reason.

crumb cake slice cut out

After watching my father go from perfectly fine to totally incapacitated in the course of three weeks, after witnessing some of the best people I know be unable to conceive and carry a healthy baby, after being privy to the pretty hellish family backgrounds of some of my students, I’m extremely resistant to the line of thinking that asserts “there’s some good reason for this totally shitty thing that’s happening.”  In my world, shitty things just sometimes happen.

I do, however, believe that if something shitty should happen, you might as well find an angle on the situation from which you can learn something, be grateful for something, grow, and/or laugh.

So.  As you might imagine, I’m not very good at standing around and not doing things.  Not good at going to Costco with my best friend and letting her put everything in my cart and load everything into my car.  Not good at letting Jill do the cooking.  Not good at standing around at a Halloween party, unable to pour drinks.

I’m going to back to the doctor today, but I have to say the experience of the last few days has made me grateful and thoughtful.  I see now how accustomed I am to assessing my value via the things I can do: baking, helping, fixing, mailing packages, cleaning, grading, writing letters, blogging (which I’m doing anyway—shhhh!)

What I’ve been forced to realize is that, even if I never contributed another action in my life, I would still be loved.  I’d be valued and of importance.  I’d be useful simply for being myself.

And that’s a pretty big thing to get.

CRANBERRY VANILLA COFFEECAKE
ever-so-slightly adapted from Gourmet, December 2008

If your hands are in even slightly better shape than mine, MAKE THIS CAKE.  The food processor & stand mixer do most of the work, and this cake tastes like fall, nostalgia, home, & butter all rolled into one.  Fresh cranberries are readily available these days, but if you must, you can substitute thawed, frozen ones.

Because I prefer my breakfast cakes a bit tart, I’ve dialed back the sugar by a quarter cup from the original recipe and added a bit of lemon zest.  Feel free to go for a sweeter version if you’d like.

cake ingredients: crumb cake slice 2

½ a vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 ½ cups sugar
1 cup cranberries
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. salt
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
½ cup whole milk
zest of one lemon

oven: 375°
pan: 9-inch round cake pan (I used a spring form)

Butter the pan & line the bottom of it with a round of parchment paper.  Butter the parchment, too.  Trust me.  It’s easier this way.

Use your food processor to make vanilla sugar: scrape the insides of the vanilla bean* into the bowl of the food processor along with the sugar.  Pulse to combine.

Remove vanilla sugar from bowl & reserve ¼ cup for the topping.  Pulse the cranberries with another ¼ cup of vanilla sugar until finely chopped.

To make the cake batter, whisk together the flour, baking powder, & salt.  Beat together the butter & remaining vanilla sugar (1 cup) until pale and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Scrape down the bowl, then add the flour mixture & milk alternately.  Begin & end with the flour!

Stir in the lemon zest; be careful not to over-mix.

To assemble the cake, spread half of the batter in the pan (don’t worry if it looks a little thin).  Because the cranberries tend to give off a lot of water, use a slotted spoon to remove them from the food processor & spread them in a circle over the batter, leaving a slight border.

Top the cake layers with the remaining half of the batter (again, don’t worry if it looks thin!)  Top with the crumble—see below—and bake for 45-55 minutes.  The cake will pull away from the pan & become light brown.  If using a regular cake pan, cool at least 25 minutes before turning out the cake.  With a spring form pan, wait 15-20.

*Don’t throw away that vanilla bean half!  Save it for flavoring purposes, the simplest of which is to store it in a jam jar with some extra sugar, which you can then add to your coffee, tea, baked goods, etc.

crumble topping:

¼ cup vanilla sugar (see above)
1 T flour
1 T unsalted butter, softened

Blend the ingredients with your fingers & scatter over the top of the cake.

Cake will keep, well-wrapped, in the refrigerator for a week.

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BACON SCONES: CHEDDAR/SCALLION & MAPLE/PECAN

First off, a disclaimer: if the quality of today’s pictures seems a bit wobbly to you, that’s because I took them.  Instead of the badass Sonya.

sonya at work

{Badass Sonya is going to be real mad that I’m posting this picture of her being a badass but she’ll just have to get over it.}

I’ve never, ever been a photographer or anything close.  I knew when I started this blog that I would need serious help in the picture-taking department, and luckily Sonya was up for the job.  She has, in fact, gone above and beyond what I ever imagined; I must say that the success of BJG hinges largely on her extraordinary talent.

In an effort to cultivate that talent, Sonya and I participated in a very fun food photography workshop with photography rock star Penny de los Santos.  I decided to tag along, despite my non-photographer status, because I figured I would be able to learn how I can assist Sonya is taking the quality of BJG photographs to the proverbial “next level.”

In fact, I did learn a lot about how great food photography gets made and had the pleasure of getting to meet and chat with Penny in person.  (She then so generously visited us here at BJG and even left us a comment on the “About” page!  Did I “squee” when I saw her comment?  Maybe.)  But the coolest thing that happened was: I got behind a camera myself and took some pictures!

frenchie fries

You know, as adults, we generally spend our time doing things we are good at doing.  We’ve chosen our careers that way, culled our hobbies down the ones which best suit us.  We are choosy with our time so why devote any of it to an unfamiliar endeavor?  Not to mention, it’s hella scary to try something I have no idea how to do.  I am so accustomed to being competent and on top of things, it’s such a huge function of my identity.  So I was more than just a little confronted by the act of picking up a camera and photographing some food.

Of course, as I relaxed into the afternoon and gave up the ridiculous notion that I immediately had to be a photography prodigy, I had fun.  And really came to respect just how difficult it is to do what Sonya, Penny, & other photographers do.

Don’t fret, we’ll still be featuring Sonya’s gorgeous work 98% of the time.  But every once in a while, I conjure up some out-of-the-ballpark-winner-of-a-dish and she’s not around to capture its image.  So, I’m going to try my hand at taking halfway decent photographs, for the blog and for my own pleasure.  After just a week of playing around with the camera, I’m feeling high from the exertion and joy that comes with expanding my skill set and stretching myself out of my comfort zone.

Speaking of which, sharing my answers to the Proust Questionnaire with, you know, the entire free world makes me more than a little nervous.  But you, my readers, have been beyond generous in your support and cheering on of BJG in the last five months that I just couldn’t turn down your requests.  I’m flattered by your interest and would love to see your own responses.

Last but not least: the food itself!  We’ve got some gorgeous, clear, sunny, cool days ahead of us down here in Texas and I know these scones would be a perfect addition to any weekend plans you may have.  Perfect for game-watching, either indoor or out, tailgating, sitting-out-in-the-backyard-ing, reading-in-a-chair-ing, picnicking, brunch-ing, or just general lazing about.

These scones are a riff on a recipe a friend passed along—I felt they would be a perfect “out in the field” hunting snack for Jill to take along and share with the guys.  We’ll see what they say about ‘em Sunday!

BACON SCONES: CHEDDAR/SCALLION & MAPLE/PECAN

The goodness of these scones would not be possible without the generosity and talent of two incredible individuals: Al Marcus of Grateful Bread here in Houston, who sells the most incredible maple bacon I have ever put in my mouth and Meg Maker, who has become a friend over the last few months via Twitter and is so kind-hearted that she responded to my maple-syrup lament with a care package with a giant jug of top-quality stuff.

With beautiful products like Al’s bacon and pure New Hampshire maple syrup, the scones almost cooked themselves!  Per Al’s recommendation, I cut my bacon thick, about a ½ inch, then placed the slices on a broiler pan in a cold oven.  I turned the oven to 400° and let the bacon cook up until the oven was preheated & just a few minutes longer.

baaaacon

I made a big “master bowl” of scone starter, then divided it in half to make one batch of sweet and one of savory.  If you’re only interested in one of these versions, feel free to cut the starter in half.

oven: 400°
pan: two baking sheets lined with parchment or well-greased

ingredients:

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 stick unsalted butter, cold & cut into pieces
10 T shortening
1 ½ T baking powder
1 ½ tsp. kosher salt or 1 tsp. table salt

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Cut the fat into the flour mixture until the dough resembles small-to-medium-sized pebbles.

Divide the starter evenly between two bowls.

CHEDDAR/SCALLION SCONES
: cheddar/scallion scones

ingredients:

2 slices (approx. 1 ½ oz.) bacon, cooked, cooled, & chopped
½ cup grated cheddar cheese*
¼ cup chopped scallions/green onions
½ cup buttermilk + extra for glaze.

On a floured surface, pat the dough out into a rough circle.  Cut into wedges and place on baking sheets.  Brush each scone with extra buttermilk as a glaze.

Bake 15-20 minutes, until the scones are light brown and firm to the touch.  Cool briefly before enjoying.

*I used a nice extra sharp and recommend splurging on good-quality cheese.

MAPLE/PECAN SCONES: maple/pecan scones

ingredients:

2 slices (approx. 1 ½ oz.) bacon, cooked, cooled, & chopped
1 cup pecans, chopped*
¼ cup half and half
¼ cup maple syrup + extra for glaze

Mix all ingredients into the starter, distributing add-ins evenly and being careful not to over-mix.  Dough will be very wet, so don’t freak out!

On a floured surface, pat the dough out into a rough circle.  Cut into wedges and place on baking sheets.  Brush each scone with extra maple as a glaze.

Bake 15-20 minutes, until the scones are light brown and firm to the touch.  Cool briefly before enjoying.  Serve with extra maple, butter, or jam.

*I didn’t pre-toast them and the scones were still delicious…but next time I think I will.

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SOUR CREAM PANCAKES

There’s a magnet on my fridge that says “Eat one.  Eat five.  Eat as many darn pancakes as you want.”

pancakes & strawberries

Can I get an “amen?”

My dad used to make me pancakes on weekend mornings; they belong on a very short list of things he could make better than my mama.  He had the patience for pancakes, never rushing them to be turned, never over-browning them the way I do at times in my eagerness to build up a stack.

Until I sat down to write this blog, I hadn’t consciously connected my own pancake-making habits with the tradition my dad started.  There’s often a “bigger” breakfast made in the Blue Jean Kitchen over the weekend, simply because we have the time.  But more often than not, pancakes are what hit the table.

Normally, I just do a “throw the right stuff in a bowl and get it to the right consistency” kind of gig, but when I saw this recipe in Cook Book Club feature of the March 2009 issue of Gourmet, I knew I’d have to put it in the pancake rotation.  And Lorrrrd am I glad that I did!

This recipe is so easy to make (you can use the blender! come on now!) and yields light, airy, tangy pancakes.  Sour cream may seem like a strange ingredient, but trust me on this one: perfect if you have some leftover from garnishing quesadillas or topping baked potatoes.  Last time, I didn’t have quite enough, so I stretched the sour cream a bit by adding plain yogurt, and the pancakes still turned out beautifully.

If you’re craving breakfast but pancakes aren’t your gig, we’ve got a few other things to offer.  Might I suggest having breakfast for dinner tonight?  I know my dad would approve.

sunday morning

BRIDGE CREEK HEAVENLY HOTS
Adapted, slightly, from The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham

The original recipe suggests making silver-dollar sized pancakes, which are fun and adorable but can also be a pain in the ass.  Don’t worry, these taste good at any size.

3 eggs
¼ cup + 2 T cake flour*
2 cups sour cream
3 T sugar
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt

2-3 T butter, melted

Preheat the oven to “warm” so you can store the pancakes while working through several batches.

Simplicity at its finest: whisk the eggs by hand, then add the rest of the ingredients and blend well.

(You can also just dump everything into the blender and press a button.  Very convenient if you’re only half-awake.)

Melt the butter in the microwave or in a tiny saucepan on the stove.  Heat a griddle or frying pan on medium-high heat, then brush with melted butter to grease the surface.

Using a spoon or small measuring cup, spread batter onto the surface, either for one larger pancake or two smaller ones.  When the top of the pancake(s) are full of bubbles, flip and cook them briefly on the other side.

Repeat until the batter is all gone.  Serve with maple syrup, powdered sugar, fresh fruit, you know, they’ll pretty much taste good any way you serve ‘em.

*If you don’t keep cake flour on hand, you can make your own with all-purpose flour & cornstarch.  Place 2 T of cornstarch in the bottom of a one-cup measure.  Fill the rest of the way with all-purpose flour, then sift the mixture several times to aerate.

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HOMEMADE GRANOLA

The summer of 2006 was a big one for me.  It’s the pivot point in my life that I would point to, if asked, and say “That’s the summer that changed everything.”

granola spices

It was the summer between the two years I spent in Arizona for graduate school.  It was the summer I traveled to India for the first time in over a decade.  It was the summer I spent more time with my parents than I had since I lived in their house.  It was the summer my twin godsons were born, the summer I spent living with them & their parents, an extra pair of hands in the diaper-changing rotation, offering bottles and lullabies to tiny six-week-olds.  It was a magical, luminous summer that haunts and carries me because it suddenly, at the end, became the summer that my father died.

Before everything changed, I began the quest to make exceptional granola because I was spending my days with two regular granola-eaters: my mama, and Stephen, the twins’ dad.  Both of them purchased boxed versions which seemed bland and sad.  I was convinced that I could do better.  Turns out, I can.  And you can too.

Granola is infinitely adaptable in terms of the fruits, nuts, spices, and flavorings involved; since that summer, I’ve made a dozen varieties, customizing one blend for a friend who loves dried cherries with cashews, packing others full of dried pineapple and toasted coconut.

What I’ve learned is that there are a few principles or guidelines that, when applied, insure that your homemade granola will kick store bought granola’s ass:

a)    Always pre-toast any nuts you are using.  They’ll add much more flavor and hold up better in milk, yogurt, etc.

b)    If you’re using dried fruit, add it at the very end of baking or it will dry out.  If the fruit you’re using seems extra-dry, pre-soak it in a few tablespoons of fruit juice or even water to re-constitute.

c)    Spice the granola beyond what seems like a reasonable amount.  Whenever someone asks to watch me make my granola, I illicit a “Wow, that’s a lot!” when tossing in heaps of cinnamon, ground ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and cardamom.  Of course, I get a second “Wow, this is good!” that proves my point—spice so that you can see the color of the oats change.

d)    When combining the dry ingredients with the liquid, make certain every bit of granola becomes wet before you bake it.  If you need to extend your liquid, try a fruit juice, such as apple, which adds flavor but not fat.

I suppose granola has become, for me, a relic from a wild, lightning-strike kind of summer, a connection to that strange bridge of time where two lives were starting and one was ending, a creation that feels almost like an act of faith.  One of my last memories of my dad is as he came downstairs from his traditional, epic, Saturday-afternoon baths, which always followed his traditional, epic, Saturday-afternoon naps.

Once she heard the water drain upstairs, my father singing along to old Indian music, my mother would put the teakettle on for afternoon tea.  I had just taken my first batch of granola out of the oven.  My father, who loved all things related to food (hi, genetics) but never falsely praised anything I did, especially anything I cooked, walked into the kitchen, grabbed a hot handful, chomped around and said, “Hey Nito, this is pretty good.”

granola, ready to be eaten

Indeed it is.

BASIC GRANOLA FORMULA

I’m calling it a “formula” and not a “recipe” for a reason; use what you like or what you have around.  Play with flavor combinations!  Whatever you do, I guarantee it will taste better than anything that comes in a box.  If you’d like more hard-and-fast measurements, please see my two flavor combinations below*

dry ingredients:

4 cups old-fashioned oats (do NOT use quick-cooking)

¾ cup steel-cut oats (you could easily leave these out and simply increase the amount of old-fashioned oats to 4 ½ cups)

¾ to 1 cup toasted, unsalted nuts (if you only have salted on-hand, don’t add additional salt to the granola)

¼ cup each wheat germ & flaxseed meal (you can find these in the bulk aisles of health food stores & conventional groceries have also started carrying the Bob’s Red Mill versions of these products, but again, they’re not deal breakers)

generous amounts of good-quality spices in any combination you like

1 tsp. salt

liquid ingredients:

5-6 T unsalted butter

½ cup canola or similarly mild-flavored oil (I’ve used safflower in the past)

½ cup brown sugar OR maple syrup

vanilla or other flavoring such as orange, almond, etc. (quantity will vary from 1 tsp- 2 T depending on the potency of flavoring)

oven: 325° to start

pan: two foil-lined, sprayed baking sheets (this will make your life so much easier when cleanup rolls around)

method:

Combine dry ingredients in a very large bowl.  Melt the butter in a small saucepan; remove from heat, then add the rest of the liquid ingredients and whisk together.

Using a spatula, pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients and fold it all together, taking the time to ensure that each piece has been coated.

Spread the granola out in thin layers on the baking sheets.  Depending on the size of your baking sheets, you may need to bake in two batches.  Do not pile granola on the baking sheets or it won’t cook evenly!

Bake for 20 minutes at 325°, then turn the oven down to 300° and remove the baking sheets from the oven to stir the granola with a wooden spoon or spatula, just to bring the browner edge pieces into the middle and the center stuff out to the edge.

Add dried fruit at this point, if using, and place the baking sheets back in the oven on opposite racks from the first round of baking (moving the previous top sheet to the bottom and the bottom sheet to top).  Bake for an additional 5-10 minutes, until granola is light golden brown and incredibly fragrant.

Cool on racks before storing in an airtight container for up to several weeks.  It’s delicious with fresh fruit, milk or soymilk, on top of yogurt or ice cream!

*These are the variations I made most recently; I actually measured what I did so I could share with you here!  Both versions turned out lovely, though the first is definitely more traditional, the latter more exotic.

CRANBERRY-ALMOND-VANILLA GRANOLA

1 cup toasted, chopped almonds
1 cup dried cranberries
½ cup brown sugar
2 T vanilla extract (doubling the amount make the flavor more pronounced)
2 T cinnamon
1 ½ tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. cloves

CHERRY-PECAN-COCONUT GRANOLA

1 cup toasted, chopped pecans
1 cup dried cherries, chopped
1 cup dried coconut, dry-toasted in a skillet (if you use sweetened, cut the maple syrup in half)
½ cup maple syrup
1 T orange flower water, also called orange blossom water*
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 ½ tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cardamom
1 tsp. nutmeg

*This is a potentially tricky ingredient; I had it in my pantry from a recent trip to a Middle Eastern grocery.  If you don’t want to go out and get it, but still want the orange flavor, you could use 1 tsp of orange extract or a squeeze half an orange into the liquid ingredients.

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BUTTERMILK BISCUITS & ZIPLOC-BAG OMELETS

I love breakfast.  A nice, leisurely, tummy-stuffing, weekend breakfast (or maybe brunch, depending upon your sleeping habits).  There’s really just nothing like it; something savory with something sweet, a big steaming mug of coffee, the scrape of fork against plate where the syrup was.  Sigh.  Now I’ve gone and made myself hungry.

biscuit & omelet

Going out for breakfast or brunch is one of my favorite indulgences; I have favored spots in every city I’ve lived in.  I dream about the huevos rancheros at Baby Barnaby’s & the cheese grits at Brother Juniper’s, but when push comes to shove, I’m actually much more likely to make a big breakfast for myself.

No changing out of your pajamas, no standing in line with your stomach growling, no having to hear “Actually, we’re out of bacon.”

Having friends over for brunch can be a really economical way to entertain, much cheaper than throwing a dinner party.  Plus, everybody loves breakfast!  It’s comfort food at its best.  Throw in some mimosas or Bloody Marys and everyone’s happy.

Okay, enough about that, I know you’re thinking “what the heck is a Ziploc-bag omelet?”  It’s basically the best magic trick I know, making individual omelets in Ziploc bags.  Totally solves the problem of how to fix eggs for a group, since this person doesn’t like mushrooms and this child can’t stand onions.  Plus, it is SO much fun to do—great to do with kids, though we’ve definitely made them with all adults and they had a good time, too.

It’s not just the novelty, though; the omelets actually taste great, and without having to add any fat to cook them.  I’m sure someone out there is terrified by the thought of cooking food in plastic.  If that’s you, you probably shouldn’t try this.

Biscuits are also fun to do with kids—you’re going to get the counter messy anyway, so why not let them enjoy?  Two of my favorite kiddos in the world, Isabella & Antonio, whom I’ve known since they were each tiny babies, are always my biscuit souz chefs when I visit them or they visit me.  We use funky cookie-cutters (lobster or cactus-shaped biscuits, anyone?) to liven up things even more.

There are a million ways to make biscuits in this world; this happens to be my way. I’ve been experimenting with homemade biscuits for as long as I can remember and let me just say, these are really, really good.  I’m from Tennessee; I know a good biscuit when I meet one.

Have great weekend, ya’ll.  And eat something good for breakfast.

BUTTERMILK BISCUITS

ingredients: buttermilk biscuits

4 T each, butter & vegetable shortening (don’t soften the butter)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 T baking powder
1 T sugar
1 tsp. salt
½ cup buttermilk

extra 2 T butter, melted

oven: 425°
pan: heavy baking sheet, jellyroll pan, or cast-iron skillet

Place the shortening and butter inside a large bowl.  Add in dry ingredients—flour, baking powder, sugar, & salt—and, using your fingers, smush (yes, that’s a technical term) until you have a crumbly mixture, with large pieces.  The pieces shouldn’t be too small or too uniform—just no big chunks of fat.

Pour in the buttermilk and mix very gently with your hands (try to remember to take your ring(s) off; I always forget!).  The mixture will seem wet and as if there’s no way it could ever become biscuits.  Do not panic and do not overmix.

Turn the loose mixture onto a heavily floured surface, coating the dough once with flour on both sides before patting it out very gently to about a half-inch thickness.  Even though the dough still may not look completely together, trust me.  That’s how you want them—if you work with the dough too much = hard biscuits.

Using a biscuit cutter (if you are a good Southerner & have one, unlike me) or an upside-down water glass, cut out biscuit rounds from the dough, placing them close together on your baking sheet or in your skillet/pan.

Cobble together scrap pieces to do a second, and if needed, third round of biscuit-cutting.  Brush the tops of the biscuits with half of the melted butter and place them in the oven.

Bake for 15-20 minutes; at about the 12 minute mark, your biscuits should have risen nicely but will look a little pale.  Brush with the remaining melted butter and finish baking.

Serve warm (of course) with more butter, honey, jam, sausage, pepper gravy, etc.  Or, if you are my father-in-law, ribbon cane syrup (ew).

ZIPLOC-BAG OMELETS
(thanks to our friends Vicky & Lois for sharing this years ago!)

This is so simple that I can’t even rightly call it a “recipe”—it’s more like a formula or a magic trick. Every time I do it I’m halfway afraid it isn’t going to work, but it always does!

ingredients:

eggs (2 per person, or perhaps just 1 for tiny eaters) add-ins
Ziploc bags (sandwich-size)
a Sharpie or permanent marker

any omelet add-ins you like:

shredded cheese (cheddar, fontina, mozzarella, Monterey jack)
crumbled/chopped meats (ham, sausage, bacon or a meatless substitute)
chopped veggies (peppers, mushrooms, onions, green onions, spinach, asparagus)*
seasonings (fresh or dried herbs such as basil or thyme, hot sauce, etc)
salt & pepper

First, get a tall pot of water (the kind you’d use to cook a big batch of pasta) filled with water and bring the water to a boil.

To assemble the omelets, first have everyone claim a Ziploc bag & write his/her name on it.  eggs in a bagThen, using a bowl to help the bag “stand up,” crack two eggs into each one.

Instruct everyone to seal their bags and then smush up the eggs with their fingers.  Kids, naturally, l-o-v-e this part, so they’ll happily manage this step for everyone.

Then, have everyone open their bags back up and throw in whatever accoutrement they desire—just make sure not to overload!  Think in finger-pinches, not handfuls.

Once everyone’s loaded up their omelet-to-be, seal the bag and mix it all up again.

One last step, and this is important (the kids may need help with this one).  Unseal the bag so you can force all of the ingredients down to the bottom, then press the air out through the top and re-seal.

You should have a concentrated band at the bottom of your bag, and no, it won’t look very appetizing, but don’t worry!  I promise you this will taste excellent.

Bring your pot of water down to a simmer—don’t use a rolling boil or your eggs (and bag) will overcook.  Drop the bags into the water, one at a time—they’ll kind of bob up at the top, but that’s why you pressed all of the ingredients down to the bottom. going in the water!

You may need to kick the heat back up on your burner to compensate for the addition of the bags, but at this point, set a timer for exactly thirteen minutes and go about your business.

When that timer goes off, carefully fish the bags out of the water and onto a kitchen towel.  To serve, simply open each bag (there will be steam, so watch little fingers) and slide the omelet onto a plate.  Enjoy!

*If you decide to use asparagus, I recommend pre-cooking it in a little water, either over the stove or in the microwave.

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SUMMER CLASSICS SERIES: COLD-BREW ICED COFFEE

People! This is so unbelievably easy and delicious, you must make it NOW. No, seriously, because when you do, you will take one sip and promptly kick yourself for not trying it sooner.

homemade iced coffee goodness

Cold-brew iced coffee is a world of difference from throwing some ice cubes into formerly hot, regularly-brewed coffee. The long “brewing” process extracts all the levels of flavor from your coffee but leaves out a good deal of bitterness. I recommend springing for a pound of “nice” coffee beans when making cold-brew, as the complexity will really shine through.

Plus—added broken economy bonus!—it is so much cheaper to make iced coffee at home than to buy it at your friendly neighborhood coffee-pusher. Even if you spend $10-12 on your pound of beans, that pound will generate at least 2 dozen servings of iced coffee before you’re through. Fifty cents a cup?  So save some money and liven up your morning…I’m telling you, there is nothing better for the Friday morning commute than a tall travel-mug full of cold, caffeinated deliciousness.

COLD-BREW ICED COFFEE coffee beans

This recipe produces a concentrate, meaning that the finished product is designed to be diluted with water and/or ice before milk, cream, sweetener, are added. I, for example, like mine mixed with creamy vanilla soy milk & a little sweetener.

That being said, if you are a caffeine junkie like, ahem, someone I live with, dilution may not be necessary.

INGREDIENTS:

4 cups water (use bottled or filtered if you want extra-good stuff)

2/3 cup ground coffee

(don’t buy pre-ground; either grind at home to a medium/coarse grind or request a barista to do the same)

Combine the two ingredients—I like to use a large liquid measuring cup or something similar, with a spout, to make pouring the next day easier. You’ll want to use a spoon or spatula to stir in the grounds; it’s a little messy, but don’t worry, this is not an exact science.

Cover the mixture with a plate or plastic wrap and let sit on room temperature overnight (or for a good long while). If you have a French press, use it as you would for hot coffee. If not, line the opening of a wide-mouth jar with a coffee filter and pour through. You may need to repeat once or twice to remove all of the grounds.

Store, covered, in the refrigerator. Keeps for…well, I don’t know how long, because in my house, it’s always gone in a week!

morning coffee to-go

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