Comfort Kitchen

Do you have a favorite pancake recipe? Rosa Parks did: hers had peanut butter in the batter.

My mom told me this about two seconds after my deadline for this pancake piece. I interviewed Neil Kleinberg of Clinton St. Baking Company for the article. His secret? Egg whites and tons of butter. 

Putting aside the delight of knowing about a secret ingredient, the 1/3 cup of peanut butter in the batter here makes these cakes more sustaining. You don’t get as hungry or as sleepy after eating them as you do with regular pancakes.

Even better, once you’ve added one “health” ingredient to the white-flour batter, the pancake opens itself up as receptor of many of the “superfoods” in your fridge. In the summer, I keep chia seeds, flax seeds, peanut butter, coconut milk, cashew milk, frozen strawberries, and cocoa powder stocked, and I dose them out into daily smoothies, depending on what fruit I have around and what sort of mood I’m in. But in the winter, most of these ingredients just sit there, pushed to the back by the bacon and the potato mash.

But now, thanks to peanut butter pancakes, they fit into the morning game again! I mixed coconut milk in with my regular milk, sliced up a ripe banana for topping and raced through more than 2 tablespoons of my chia. Boom. Pancakes: the new smoothie?

Just popping in quickly today to share with you some brilliance from somebody else’s oven. Specifically, Molly Gilbert’s. She’s the author of Sheet Pan Suppers, the blogger/cooking instructor/recipe developer behind Dunk and Crumble, and the dreamer-upper of this simple-to-make, indulgent-to-eat biscuit and bacon breakfast.

The premise of Gilbert’s book is that we’ve too readily limited our idea of one-dish cooking to the pot. When I’m thinking up a simple meal, especially one for a dinner party, my mind definitely flies right to stew, chili, or curry. That’s where one-pot creativity tends to end, and for Gilbert, that was a problem. Here’s what happened when she went to cross the ease of the one-pot dinner with the elegance and satisfaction of roasting, baking, and broiling: one-pan cooking.

When I was a kid, I learned to make my own hot chocolate by combining cocoa powder, sugar, and hot water to form a paste in the bottom of a mug, then stirring in hot milk (the recipe was on the back of the Droste’s cocoa container). Only problem: I didn’t understand the proportion. Why would you use a mere 1 teaspoon of cocoa in a whole cup of milk? I opted to use 1 tablespoon, triple the amount. And so, the recipe for chocolate syrup that follows originates from my dissatisfaction as a hot cocoa-drinking chocoholic child.

(I originally shared this recipe and story on Food52 but wanted to make sure you didn’t miss it.)

I also made another change to the recipe on the back of the box. I would add a small handful of chocolate chips to my cocoa paste–for even more richness and body. Then, I would pour a bit of boiling water over the cocoa and sugar and stir this into a paste. Once I had the paste, I either made hot chocolate or chocolate milk, depending on the milk’s temperature.

Chocolate syrup is just one step more refined than that paste I used to stir into milk. Instead of dissolving an individual portion of the chocolate paste immediately in milk, I simmer more of it in water until the mixture reduces into a silky sauce. I like to make the syrup in batches and stir a few spoonfuls into milk (or banana peanut butter smoothies) whenever I please.

Even better, the syrup itself is dairy-free, unlike hot fudge, which means that I can mix it with whole milk while dairy-avoiding Alex can mix it into almond milk (right on trend with what’s going on in my eCookbook!).

In the end, chocolate syrup is incredibly simple — it requires just one more step and one more pan than that cocoa paste — but there are a few important tricks. First, always use at least some brown sugar — the molasses flavor brings out the chocolate. Second, keep the chocolate-to-sugar proportion in a ration of 3:2. Third, melt in a tiny bit of chocolate (not cocoa) at the end, for richness and body. And finally, no chocolate-friendly flavor is ever unwelcome in chocolate syrup: I like to add a dash of mint extract, espresso powder, or cherry liqueur.

Toasted Oatmeal & Apple Breakfast Bars

Posted by on Thursday Mar 13th, 2014

When I first learned that people skipped breakfast, I couldn’t wrap my head around that idea. What is better than a delicious meal early in the day, while the the action of the future 16 hours hovers quietly ahead, as though time is on pause? I used to read cookbooks over breakfast. These days, I’m more likely to be writing a blog post or catching up on emails (or, shamefully, washing last night’s dishes while I spoon cereal into my mouth).

Last year, though, I made a concessions to those of you who think of breakfast as a necessary evil, with these Oatmeal Chocolate-Chip Cookie Bars. I’d prefer to think that they were popular because they were an easy, make-ahead, on-the-go breakfast option–and not because they had the words “chocolate” and “cookie” in the title.

Since publishing those, I’ve had it in my head to develop a second version with a different set of flavors and add-ins. By the time I got around to baking them, I was deep into the creation of my eCookbook and had already decided that in addition to the baker’s dozen dairy-free desserts, I’d be including two yummy, butter-free breakfast treats. And so, into the book went Toasted Oatmeal & Apple Breakfast bars, a recipe I adore because of the fragrant nutty oats, rich sunflower butter, minced pieces of sweet apple, and aromatic cinnamon.

But I felt like I couldn’t deprive the blog of these bars either, and so, silly as it may be to share something free that I really (really, really, really) hope you’ll invest in, the recipe is yours today. If you like it, I hope you’ll check out A Baker’s Dairy-Free Dozen too!

Blank Canvas Mac ‘n Cheese

Posted by on Monday Feb 24th, 2014

If I were to open a restaurant, I’d make the joint a place that focuses on a single perfect dish and then serves tons of variations on the theme. Grilled cheese a thousand ways, grain bowls in a million iterations, chicken wings tossed with any sauce you can imagine.

This is nothing original. We’ve got specialized restaurants all around New York, and a lot of them aren’t even gimmicky (burrito places, banh mi stores, sushi restaurants). But, it would be fun to sit around menu planning and taste testing for my hypothetical french fry joint (there will be chili fries, cheese fries, poutine, and nacho fries, I can tell you that).

At home, we all get to be the head chefs in our small kitchens, and in our domains, this whole variation-on-a-theme tactic happens naturally. Once you master the flavors and process of one dish, you’re likely to want to make it again, yet without being boring. So while people don’t think me as the queen of baked pasta, if you come for dinner and there are more than four people present, you’ll probably be eating some riff on lasagna or mac ‘n cheese. Sorry in advance.

Not every recipe is as blank a canvas as a baked potato, but mac is. That’s why, today, I’m sharing a recipe for completely classic, absolutely perfect mac ‘n cheese. Yes, you can follow the ingredients and instructions exactly: you will come out with a rich, gooey, orange casserole. But I’m really hoping you take this as a formula. Keep the proportions of pasta, cheese, and sauce, but vary type of cheese and mix-ins, and you can create the mac of your cheffy dreams. Some ideas:

Comfort me with lentils. Comfort me with a big bowl of little beans, scented with herbs and a little bit of meat, and served over mashed potatoes or grilled bread drizzled with olive oil.

So humble! The lentil cooks more quickly than most other beans, but the pot still simmers long enough to imbue the earthy-tasting legume with heavenly flavor.

That flavor, in this case, comes from sausage, an easy way to add undertones of fennel seed and hot pepper and oregano to your final dish without actually shaking any spices in. The flavor also comes from red wine, lots of it. The alcohol cooks off but leaves an umami residue, that taste that only reduced wine can give a dish. That taste makes these lentils stand out.

The red wine you use doesn’t have to be particularly awesome, or even all come from one bottle. This is a great recipe if your real mission is to dispose of remaining half glasses sitting in any number of lingering bottles.

In Thailand and Cambodia, Alex and I got really into eating savory breakfasts (among other delicacies). When possible, he always ordred Thai khao thom, a rice soup similar to congee that’s flavored with little bits of pork or chicken, garlic, scallions, and egg. I oscillated between a couple different types of noodle soups. Even when I thought I was craving Western-style breakfasts, eggs or croissants or whatnot, I was amazed at how good the hot broth and starchy noodles felt going down.

As we settle into a jetlagged week and aim to reset our body clocks to a the polar opposite time (Thailand is 12 hours ahead of New York), I’m making comforting foods like these lentils, which we can eat at any time of day, whether it’s 5am breakfast or 6pm dinner, before we crash at 8pm. Don’t invite me to any parties just yet.

I’ll write more about our trip soon, but first, a few mentions you may have missed while I was gone: a fun feature on me on the Martha Stewart Living blog, BuzzFeed‘s round-up of one-tray baked dinners including my potatoes and eggs with pesto yogurt, and a nice slideshow of comfort food on The Glitter Guide that calls BGSK’s tomato-basil soup perfect for those who hate to cook.

GOOD GRAIN MEALS: Quinoa with Roasted Tomatoes, Avocado, and Pesto; Chipotle Barley Salad with Corn, Zucchini, and Radishes; Cous Cous with Blue Cheese and Pears; Vegetarian Fried Rice with Shiitakes and Cashews

Just dropping in to share the kind of recipe you, too, might make if you found yourself on a Thursday with a reasonably well stocked pantry, a lot of kale (or other greens you picked up at the farmers’ market back on Saturday), and two sweet Italian sausages that you bought from the very same farmers’ market for way too many dollars and which are threatening to go bad if you don’t find a way to integrate them into this week’s meal plan, a meal plan that has already incorporated more meat than you really like to eat.

When I make grain dishes, they’re usually vegetarian throw-together meals modeled, to some extent, off of the unexpected combinations of grains and veggies and nuts and dressings that Heidi at 101Cookbooks throws together so well. So when I committed to finishing the package of sausage, which, admittedly, was not a big deal, (it was excellent sausage), I decided that I’d balance out the flavorful meat with a selective handful of lighter components.