Sunday, May 25, 2014

Orange Zest and Honey Pancakes

I was in Toronto this past week for a conference. It’s a lovely city and, like many American cities, there are many infrastructure improvements underway.  Regardless, the conference and the visit were both incredible experiences.

On my last day in the Queen City — so nicknamed for Queen Victoria — I decided to visit Niagara Falls.  The tour left the hotel at 8:30, but before departing, I wanted to have a hearty breakfast.  

I planned on ordering oatmeal with fruit.

That intention quickly went to hell-in-a-handbasket when I saw this little item on the menu:

The Perfect Stack.  Well then, that sounded like a challenge to me and I HAD to try them to properly judge their assertion.

Now, I've had a love affair with pancakes for a very long time.  Recently, while in Pittsburgh, I had lemon ricotta pancakes, and I always have the buckwheat pancakes from Uncle Bill’s when I visit Ocean City, NJ, so how could I possibly resist at least trying these little discs of promising deliciousness?  They are made with honey and orange zest, and for those of you who know me well and/or regularly read my posts (thank you), I am all about the citrus.  I would prefer a Key Lime or Lemon Meringue Pie over a traditional birthday cake any day, unless the cake is made with some sort of citrus!   

That little smidge you see on the pancake there, on the right….that’s not butter, it’s whipped cream.  Butter or cream, this was seriously the BEST $19 breakfast I ever had; the pancakes were so light, airy and full of that citrusy flavor I adore.  Besides, paying $9 for oatmeal seemed a bit ridiculous to me; $18 if I ordered the mixed berries.

That's my justification for paying $19 for pancakes.

So, being the shy, reserving type that I am, I asked for the recipe but the waiter looked at me like I was nuts.  Therefore, I quickly abandoned my interrogation and decided to search the Internet and found this recipe which I modified slightly.

Orange Zest and Honey Pancakes
Adapted from: and The Fairmont York Hotel’s version

1 cup all-purpose flour 
1/4 wheat flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder 
1/4 teaspoon baking soda 
1/8 teaspoon salt 
1 cup plain yogurt (lemon would also be good) 
1/2 cup fresh orange juice 
1 large egg 
1/3 cup honey 
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted 
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract 
Zest of one orange 

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  In another bowl, combine the yogurt, orange juice, egg, honey, melted butter, and lemon extract together; blend well.  Incorporate the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and then fold in the orange zest. Prepare a griddle or skillet with butter or a bit of vegetable oil; preheat over medium heat and pour ¼ cup batter onto griddle for each pancake, allowing space for spreading (you could also used a frosting bag).  When the underside of the pancakes are golden and the tops are bubbling, flip with a wide spatula and cook until light brown. Serve immediately with maple syrup, homemade whipped cream and fresh berries.

Note: You will know the griddle is ready when a little water sprinkled onto the skillet bubbles and evaporates quickly.

Later that same day, I decided I could not leave Toronto without having a cup of a cup of coffee from Tim Horton’s, which was founded in the 1960’s in Toronto.  Weaker than Starbucks, but very tasty indeed....I also had a Dutchie, a square, yeast raised doughnut with raisins and a sugary glaze. 

I have since recuperated from the day’s sugar rush.

Here are some photos from Niagara Falls.  These photos are not's a naturally beautiful place!
Canadian Side

United States Side

Flower Clock

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Creamless Creamy Tomato Soup

We had dinner at Singer’s house last Wednesday.  She is a teacher and, this being the end of the academic year, Wednesday was a busy day for her.  She needed to prepare something quick and easy.  

No matter what it is, it’s always delicious.  

We are a grateful crew.

When you think quick and delicious, a few things come immediately to mind…a simple and reliable pasta sauce, anything grilled and, I would add, tomato soup.  There’s something uniquely satisfying, nostalgic and comforting about tomato soup; a trusty go to, kind of like your favorite pair of jeans, black pumps or LBD.  Here is an old Campbell’s Tomato Soup commercial reminding us that eating “soup everyday makes a souper you.”

The Campbell’s Kids agree.  

So do we.

Anyway, Cooks Illustrated borrowed an idea from the Italians (pappa al pomodoro) and came up with a creamy tomato soup recipe that doesn’t include a lick of cream.  You know, they are the test-kitchen masters of rising to a culinary challenge and they certainly did not disappoint with this perfect blend of tomato, onions, garlic, spices and white bread!  This recipe does not even include butter, but our friends in the test kitchen substituted olive oil to introduce an earthy edge.  Adding a bit of brown sugar dulled the acidity of the tomatoes, and brandy — a brew of wine and fruits — adds a bit of complexity and sweetness. 

The bread, added in pieces, disintegrates into the mixture and gives the tomato soup body and silkiness normally contributed by cream.  I have to say, I never would have thought of adding bread to tomato soup, but when you think about it, bread contains starches and starches naturally thicken.  

Creamless Creamy Tomato Soup
By:  Cook’s Illustrated, 2008

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling 
1 medium onion, chopped ( about 1 cup) 
3 medium garlic cloves, minced-pressed 
1 pinch hot red pepper flakes 
1 bay leaf 
2 (28 ounce) cans whole tomatoes with juice (I like San Marzano, less seeds and more sweetness)
1 tablespoon brown sugar 
3 large slice good-quality white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1-inch pieces 
2 cups chicken broth or 2 cups vegetable broth 
2 tablespoons brandy (optional) 
salt and pepper 
1/4 cup fresh chives, chopped 

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, and bay leaf. Cook, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent, 3 to 5 minutes.  Stir in tomatoes and their juice. Using a potato masher, mash until no pieces bigger than 2 inches remain. Stir in sugar and bread; bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until bread is completely saturated and starts to break down, about 5 minutes. Remove bay leaf and discard.

Transfer half of soup to a blender, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and process until soup is smooth and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. Be extra careful when putting hot liquids in the blender. Never fill past 2/3 of the way full, and put a dish towel over the top just in case to protect your hands from getting burned by any hot liquid splashing up. 

Transfer to a large bowl and repeat with remaining soup and oil.  Rinse out Dutch oven and return soup to pot. Stir in chicken broth and brandy. Return soup to a boil and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle each portion with pepper and chives and drizzle with olive oil. 

Singer served the soup with grilled cheese, tomato and prosciutto to make the timeless twosome even more special. 

We cherish our Wednesday night dinners….we really do.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mother's Day!

I originally posted this in 2010...some posts just just as good the second time around!

Did you hear the story about the mother duck that was restlessly wandering back and forth near a sewer grate? Turns out she was distressed because her ducklings fell through the grate and she could not get to them.  The mother duck was trying to ask someone to rescue her babies, and, since she obviously does not speak (don't let that insurance duck fool you), pacing would have to do.

Hug your mom - or any other significant woman in you life - and tell her you love her today (even if only in your thoughts)….thank her for everything she’s done for you, for the dinners she kept warm, for the buttons she sewed on, for the scarves she knitted, for the questions she didn’t ask (and give her a break for the questions she did ask), for all the times she didn’t say “why didn’t you call?” and for the guidance she happily and lovingly dished along the way. Moms aren’t perfect – as my daughters will tell you – but they are the closest thing we’ll ever have to a real-life guardian angel and they would move more than a sewer grate to get to you. I think your mom deserves a home-cooked meal...and a cake...and some flowers today.

And wine.

The mother duck and ducklings photo you see is a statue in a park in the Beacon Hill section of Boston. It is a tribute to “Make Way for Ducklings” a children's picture book written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey first published in 1941. It is the official children's book of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Farfalle with Chicken, Cremini Mushrooms and Swiss Chard

So it was back to Giada for my Wednesday Dinner Night inspiration.

Let me tell you what happened.  I was meandering through Target, because I often meander through Target, and I picked up her new cookbook, Giada’s Feel Good Food: My Healthy Recipes and Secrets.  

I thought maybe the book would explain how she stays so fit eating all the food she prepares.

Anyway, I did not buy the book then but I did order the Kindle edition.  However, as I was paging through the bound version in Target, I saw a recipe for Farfalle with Chicken, Cremini Mushrooms and Swiss Chard.  It calls for mascarpone cheese and I immediately decided what I would make for the ladies.

Mascarpone is like cream cheese, only dressed-up for prom. 

It is prom season so I thought that was an appropriate analogy.

Mascarpone is a smooth, creamy, slightly sweet cheese, and is the kissing-cousin of butter.  It is similar to clotted cream and Crème Fraiche and is made with whole cream and citric or tartaric acid, used as a thickener. This smooth and creamy cheese is the main ingredient in the Italian classic dessert, Tiramisu but is also fantastic stirred it into risottos or slathered on toast drizzled with honey.   You can also substitute Mascarpone for ricotta cheese in your favorite recipes. 

This recipe calls for chard but I was craving arugula and used that instead.  I don’t think it held up as well as the chard would have, but it was tasty nonetheless.  I also used thyme from my garden and fresh mushrooms from the mushroom capital of the world, Kennett Square, PA. This quaint little town hosts a wildly popular Mushroom Festival each year! 

Although this recipe calls for boneless chicken breast, this would be delicious with chicken sausage too!

Farfalle with Chicken, Cremini Mushrooms and Swiss Chard
By:  Giada De Laurentis

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large shallot, sliced
1 pound cremini mushrooms sliced
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 teaspoons of fresh thyme, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
12 ounces of Swiss chard, with stems removed and sliced
1/3 cup mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
3/4 pound farfalle pasta
2 cups of diced cooked chicken
1 cup of reserved pasta water

In a large sauté pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the shallots and the mushrooms and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.  Add the wine, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.  Simmer until the wine has mostly evaporated, about 3 minutes.  Pour in the broth and bring to a simmer.  In batches, add the chard and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes.  Season with the remaining salt and pepper.  Remove the pan from heat and stir in the Mascarpone.

Cook the pasta and transfer to a large bowl.  Add the chicken and mushroom sauce with a bit of the pasta water to loosen the mixture, if needed.  Toss until the ingredients are coated.