Saturday, August 14, 2010

When Light Opera Meets Breakfast

My wife and I sing little songs to each other occasionally in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. It’s kind of like the Veggie Tales’ song, “Where Is My Hairbrush?” We take the simplest, everyday things and randomly burst into song. Sometimes they can be songs of joy (“My Wife is a Reubens Painting”) or exasperated expressions of annoyance (“I Can’t Find My Cell Phone and I’m Late, Late, Late!”). Some songs are one-hit wonders and others have become standards.

When we first married 12 years ago, the German pancake was one especially delightful thing I brought into the marriage along with all the other, ahem, less desirable stuff. My wife loves this alternative breakfast item. So much so that occasionally she’ll begin warbling, “I Want a German Pancake, Made By My Husband’s Hands, I Want a German Pancake…” and on it goes up to the rousing finish (and strangely, I can actually HEAR the brass in the band playing along in my head): “And I Want It Right Now!”

Photo by Jennifer Dickert via Flickr
This means I head to the kitchen and pull out a 10-inch black iron skillet and get to work. By now it has become easier than making just about anything else. I go through the steps and then call her into the kitchen. Although we’ve done this many times before, she is still like a little kid filled with anticipation before looking at Christmas lights or scanning the sky for fireworks set to begin. She gazes at the skillet as I set it on top of the stove. The heat has transformed the drippy batter into a yellow, puffy, round sun with a little nut-colored corona.

“Oooohh, look at it!” she says with admiration. Then there is the clatter of Blue Willow plates, the rustle of forks, the zip of the paper towels being procured, and then, “Mmmmm! It’s so good.” Try this recipe out. You might make somebody sing.

German Pancake


          6 eggs                                                             
          1 cup milk
          1 cup flour
          1 teaspoon salt
          2 tablespoons butter
          ½ teaspoon almond extract
          ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Melt butter in skillet (or put in oven to warm skillet but don’t take too long to mix batter). Make sure sides of skillet are greased. Combine all ingredients and beat until smooth. Take skillet out of oven and pour off most of the butter into the batter, stirring well. (I have skipped the preheating of the skillet many times). Pour batter into skillet and bake in oven 15 minutes. Pancake will puff up. Serve with lemon juice and powdered sugar or jam or preserves or syrup. Serves 2-4; can halve the recipe.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Keep it Simple

I found this recipe by accident and it reminded me that simple recipes are often the most satisfying.  I don't want to be chained to a list of hard-to-find ingredients, including spices as exotic as eye of newt that are expensive and rarely used.  Give me recipes for dishes that are:
          •  easy to put together with ingredients on hand
          •   don't take too long to cook
          •   consistently deliver a delicious end result
This recipe is found all over the internet in different versions.  My adaptation does not call for Italian sausage since my dining companion does not care for it.

Sausage and Potatoes

     1 pound package beef link sausage
     1 onion, diced
     4-5 potatoes, peeled and diced
     1/2 cup water

Cut meat into thick, coin-shaped pieces. Put all ingredients in casserole, season, cover, and bake at 350 degrees for an hour and a half.  Uncover the last 15 minutes to brown.  Add a diced bell pepper or a small jar of pimento peppers before baking if desired.  Can season with red pepper, Italian herbs, garlic salt, Cajun seasonings, cumin, etc.

It's Too Darn Hot

When the temperature is into triple digits, the thought of turning on an oven for any reason seems unthinkable to some.  What to do? Sandwiches are a logical choice, but what kind?  If you haven't tried chicken salad the following way, you'll enjoy discovering how this simple addition complements it very well.  Don't let the lack of precise amounts throw you, taste and adjust as you put it together.

Chicken Salad with Tarragon

     Cooked chicken, skinned and deboned
     Mayonnaise or salad dressing like Miracle Whip
     1/2 to 1 teaspoon dried tarragon (or about a tablespoon of fresh, finely chopped)

Combine and serve with the best bread you can find.  I sometimes brush kaiser rolls with olive oil and sprinkle them with garlic powder, toasting them on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees until lightly browned. The best way to prepare chicken for this is in a slow cooker while you're at work, or you can just boil a couple of chicken breasts with water to cover until they are fork tender, about 15-20 minutes.  Keep in mind the tarragon has a slightly sweet flavor to it when you are choosing your salad dressing.  You can dress this salad up with grapes, almonds or pecans, Granny Smith apple chunks,  etc., but simple is best.  Really, when the temperature is triple digits, recipes don't need to have more than three ingredients.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Queen of Pie

Lemon meringue pie is the queen of pie.  Silky, creamy, sweet-tart, lemony filling topped with a crown of snowy white meringue with a hint of beige has no equal.  Finding it in restaurants can be a challenge and with good reason: it's a lot of work to put this together, but the result is worth it.  So try this at home.   
I adapted this recipe from one published years ago in the Los Angeles Times by food writer Winifred Dean.  You'll have about 3/4 cup extra filling left over to enjoy with a spoon in a bowl while you wait for the meringue to brown or to put into a waiting tart shell (if you have those lying around).  Follow the steps exactly (it's not just ingredients but technique as well) and remember, lemon icebox pie is for sissies or people who are either too busy or too easily impressed.
Ingredients:  10 tablespoons cornstarch
                   2-1/4 cups sugar
                   1/2 teaspoon salt
                   3 cups boiling water
                   4 egg yolks, beaten (5 if the eggs are small or medium)
                   1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
                   3 tablespoons butter
                   1-1/2 tablespoons grated lemon zest (buy a microplaner, it is amazing)
                   1 deep dish baked pie shell
                   meringue (recipe follows)

Combine cornstarch, sugar, and salt in a saucepan.  Stir in boiling water until blended; heat and stir until boiling and mixture is clear.  Then whisk for 10 minutes over low heat.  Add a small amount of hot mixture to egg yolks and return all to the pan, stirring until blended.  Cook for 2 minutes over medium-low heat, whisking constantly. Add juice, butter, and zest.  Cool to room temperature.  Turn filling into pie shell.  Spread meringue over filling, sealing edges.  Bake at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes (putting on a cookie sheet makes for easy transport in and out of oven). 

                 4-5 egg whites
                 1/2 heaping teaspoon cream of tartar
                 3/4 cup sugar

Beat until frothy.  Continue beating until soft peaks form.  Slowly add sugar, beating until stiff but not dry.  After spreading meringue to the edges of the pie, take the back of a teaspoon and lightly tap repeatedly in concentric circles to make small decorative swirls.  Watch the time when the meringue is in the oven since these crown-like swirls are the first to to burn if you're not careful.