6.30.2015

Listen to Your Pancakes.

Last Tuesday I finished my career as a part-time graduate student.  I sat around my professor’s dining room table for six with nine other people in sticky, humid air and listened to ethnobotanical presentations and ate wild green pie, filled with lamb’s-quarters and wood sorrel from the lawn outback.

At one point someone’s homemade kombucha exploded and my professor used white linen napkins that were once Julia Child’s to clean up the fermented tea.  Then we ate peanut cake with salted chocolate icing made using a family heirloom recipe born from life on a Mississippi legume farm.  I talked about the cultural thorniness of the black raspberry and of Dr. Oz and scientific hubris.

It was a very odd, very appropriate, ending to the past five years.  A time that has deeply tested the limits of my sanity, has limited my social capacities and back account, and has forever broadened my view of food and society.

I am grateful to have this perspective and am looking forward to reacquainting with my kitchen.  Most recently this has included pancakes.  The past few years have left me perpetually searching for recipes that incorporate spent sourdough starter and also for pancakes that puff up like the kind served by someone who calls everyone honey. 

My Life in Sourdough has that version.  The ingredient list is admittedly a bit limiting, as it requires you know someone who regularly maintains a starter.  My brother has killed at least three.  And I’m hoping these pancakes might motivate him to put an end to his microbial massacres once and for all.

If you regularly feed a starter, you are in luck.  This will aid in creating thick, fluffy saucer-sized shapes that take to maple syrup far better than any other breakfast food.  (Even better than the waffles of insane greatness.) I have made the recipe at least three times in the past month.  That alone should come through loud and clear.

Because if I have learned anything over the past five years, it’s that it is sometimes better to let the food do the talking.  As Mel Brooks once joked, listen to your broccoli, and your broccoli will tell you how to eat it.  Something tells me that pancakes can speak even louder.

Sourdough Blueberry Brown Butter Pancakes
Adapted from My Life in Sourdough

Ingredients:

½ to ¾ cup sourdough starter (not fed)
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
1 cup whole milk
1 tbsp sugar
1 egg
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp butter
1 scant cup frozen or fresh blueberries
zest of one lemon (optional)

Instructions:

The night before

In a large bowl, mix the starter, flours, milk, and sugar until well combined; cover and place in the fridge overnight (ideally 10 to 20 hours ahead, see note below).

The day of

In a medium or large sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat; continue to cook until it turns a light caramel and starts to smell nutty; set aside to cool slightly.  To the starter mixture, add the egg, salt, baking soda, and vanilla extract.  Slowly add in the melted butter and then fold in the blueberries and lemon zest (if using).

Wipe out the sauté pan to remove any dark bits and butter the pan again; set the heat to medium.  Scoop about 1/3 cup heaping batter into the pan and then cook until it starts to bubble and turn golden on the underside.  Flip and cook about 1 minute more or until cooked throughout.  Repeat with remaining batter, buttering the pan after every pancake.

Makes about six to eight 4 to 5-inch diameter pancakes

Notes:
-The whole wheat adds a nice nuttiness and I’d definitely encourage it.  The milk can be swapped depending on your preference.


-If the starter mixture rests in the fridge about 10 hours, it benefits from being left on the countertop an hour or two to let the microbes warm up; this helps the pancakes rise better.  The longer it is left in the fridge the less time it needs on the countertop.  (But this is a living product and may need some individual tweaking.)

5.17.2015

A Dietitian's Confession and Vanilla Bean Yogurt and Orange Blossom Mango Pops

There is nothing more awkward than explaining to someone you are counseling on weight loss strategies that you make homemade ice cream. I think as a dietitian people assume you subsist on field greens and skinless chicken.  And when hunger hits, you simply pull out your bag of celery sticks and twiggy carrots and quickly reach snack nirvana.

I am not sure who first promoted this tactic as a method of weight loss.  But I propose this person has ruined lives. And I hope he finds himself in some weird purgatory where there is nothing but an endless buffet of celery stalks and baby carrots—the ones that have gone through a nice chlorine rinse—and fat-free French dressing.  Because fat-free French dressing is about as joyless a substance as one can encounter.

Anyway, it seems the perception is dietitians are incapable of experiencing any real pleasure other than that which is brought from baked chicken and infinity celery.  It is one of the reasons why my office computer screensaver is a picture of homemade ice cream. 

To get technical, it is actually frozen yogurt.  But it contains full fat dairy and heavy cream, two items society implies dietitians—and perhaps women more broadly—are not supposed to look at, let alone ingest. 

Unless, of course, we are status post breakup.  Or premenstrual. Or are depicted in advertisement wearing silk and red lipstick, consuming a 100-calorie version to stay sexily deprived.

So even though the picture occasionally gets me into trouble with a few evangelical lactose haters and black-and-white thinking dieters, I keep it up.  For one, it is a humanizer.  I am a real person.  I have needs.  Sometimes those needs include high fat dairy. 

But it is also a symbol of the importance of savoring.  We have become pretty terrible at allowing food enjoyment.  Instead we have guilt, substitutions, and green coffee bean extract to counteract our sins.

I also believe that if you have the opportunity to make ice cream, you gain appreciation of the time it takes to create.  And this might also help slow down consumption so that the whole pint is not sacrificed in a single sitting.  Maybe.

I realize in saying all of this that I come here today with a yogurt pop recipe.  I assure if it is ice cream you desire, there are plenty of catalogued recipes.  In fact, this black raspberry one and this chocolate truffle version, courtesy of the famed chef Fergus Henderson, are two all-time favorites. 

Either way, the concept is the same.  The inclusion of fat is a must.  As is the use of ingredients you can pronounce. 

The difference is really a matter of investment.  I am six weeks away from getting my master’s degree.  I would also wager that you are likely pretty busy and may not have the time (or desire) to make ice cream.  So although the yogurt needs to drain overnight, the actual prep requires all of ten minutes.  And dirties fewer dishes. 

So please accept this very solid substitute for busy souls. 

The popsicles are tangy, and floral, and tart.  I prefer grassiness of sheep’s milk yogurt, but any regular whole milk yogurt will do.  The coconut and mango lend a subtle tropical vibe. And the stripes of bright orange running through white vanilla bean-flecked sections are not the worst thing to look at, visually speaking.

The point is there are numerous ways to enjoy frozen dessert without sacrificing your sense of self.  That and maybe … just maybe … there is more to life than celery.

Vanilla Bean Yogurt and Orange Blossom Mango Pops

Ingredients:

1¾ cup whole milk yogurt (see note)
scant ½ cup coconut milk cream (see note)
1 vanilla bean
2 to 3 tbsp honey
1 Ataulfo mango or small regular mango (see note), skin removed and chopped
juice of ½ large or 1 small lime
½ tsp orange blossom water
pinch salt

Instructions:

The night before, place the yogurt in a fine mesh strainer lined with a coffee filter or heavy-duty paper towel. Set over a bowl so the liquid can drain out; refrigerate overnight.

The next day, discard the drained liquid.  In a medium bowl, combine the thickened yogurt and coconut cream. Split the vanilla bean with a knife and scrape the seeds into the yogurt.  Add the honey to taste.

In a food processor, add the mango, lime juice, orange blossom water, and salt. Whirl until pureed.

In the base of each popsicle mold, layer about one-third of the yogurt mixture and then alternate with the mango and yogurt until the molds are filled, ending with yogurt (you will have enough for 2 to 3 layers of each pending preference). Insert popsicle stick or handle.  Freeze until solid (at least 4 hours).

Makes 6

Notes:
-I prefer sheep’s milk yogurt, but no matter the animal I recommend full-fat.  The yogurt should drain to about a 1 cup portion.

-Coconut milk cream is the separated substance found at the top of a can of unshaken coconut milk.  I added it to increase the fat and reduce the water content so the popsicles are not as icy.


-Ataulfo mango is honey-flavored and easy to puree, which makes it a no-brainer for this recipe.  I suspect other versions could be employed in a pinch. 

4.28.2015

Olive + Gourmando Brownies with Espresso Ganache Chips, Of Time and Chocolate

When someone suggests that you ought to go to graduate school, what they are really saying is that in two to five short years, you will arrive with a master’s degree wearing pants that have become hard to button, permanent under eye circles, and a new distain for structuralism. 

All for the cost of a down payment on a house.

I have worked as a dietitian for ten years and gastronomy graduate student for five.  Food has become a lens through which I view pretty much everything. 

I have examined French nationalism through wine and peered at fascism through a pasta noodle. Viewed the sensorial language of restaurant chefs using a twelve course tasting menu.  Analyzed normative gender identity in a professional kitchen. And theorized beer to be a fluid entity built by microbes and societal flux.

And I mention all this because I am tired.  I have one more class to go.  And have officially hit writer's block. 

It turns out the quintessential brownie can no longer be summed up so quickly.  That and I desperately need a vacation. So forgive me.

This recipe is a wonderful example of the complication that food often provides.  It is the best brownie recipe I have encountered.  And it comes from Canada. 

Specifically, from a bakery called Olive + Gourmando, which I visited a few years ago during a trip to Montreal.  It is the kind of shop that labels pastry baked in a muffin tin with a disclaimer that reads, “this is not a red velvet cupcake,” in typewriter font next to platters of chocolat belge biscuits and thick brownies. A place that can get away with holding its middle finger up high.

An unlikely source of such a treasured archetypal American dessert.  And yet, poetically appropriate.

These brownies are of the fudge-like persuasion.  They are unapologetically dense and deep, studded with homemade espresso ganache chips that shimmer like moonlight through the pines.  They call for advanced planning by a day or two and a shocking quantity of high quality chocolate. But if you are craving sensory overload, there is no better fix.

And if you want them, you had better get on it.  This is not the type of recipe built on hastiness. Like so many worthwhile things it requires an investment of time, and of chocolate.

Olive + Gourmando Brownies with Espresso Ganache Chips
Adapted from Dyan Solomon of Olive + Gourmando 

Ingredients:

for the espresso ganache chips

375 grams (about 13½ ounces) 70% chocolate
½ cup heavy cream
2 tbsp instant espresso powder
½ tsp cinnamon

for the brownie batter

3 sticks (1½ cups) butter, cubed
455 grams (about 16 ounces) 50% chocolate, cut into cubes ½ to 1-inch
6 eggs, room temperature
1½ cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all purpose flour
1½ tsp salt

Instructions:

for the espresso ganache chips:

These need to chill, so plan to make them a few hours ahead (or the day before).  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Place a metal bowl over a pan of slowly simmering water about 1-inch deep.  Melt the 70% chocolate in the bowl, stirring regularly.  Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, warm the heavy cream and mix in espresso powder and cinnamon; stir to dissolve. 

Pour the heavy cream into the melted chocolate; stir rapidly to combine and pour on parchment paper, smoothing the chocolate out towards the pan edges.  Place in the fridge to cool.

for the brownies:

Set the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease two baking dishes with butter and cover with parchment paper—letting the paper sides hang over the dish (this will make it easier to remove the brownies). Grease the parchment paper with butter. (I used a 9 x 9 and a 6 x 12 pan: you may be able to get away with one large rectangular baking dish but it may alter the cooking time.)

Place the butter in a medium saucepan on medium heat to melt; add in the 50% chocolate and stir constantly; taking care not to let the chocolate burn.  When the chocolate has melted, remove from heat and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine eggs, sugar, and vanilla extract; beat until it turns a pale, frothy yellow (about 5 minutes). 

In a separate small bowl, sift together flour and salt.  Remove the ganache from the fridge and break up into bite-sized pieces.

Drizzle the melted chocolate into the egg mixture (the chocolate should be warm but not scalding hot); fold together. With the mixer on low, add the flour in three additions; remove the bowl from the stand.

Fold in the ganache chips and continue to fold until no flour remains, taking care not to over mix.

Pour the batter into prepared pans and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the top looks set and starts to crack.  (Since the batter is so rich, it will be difficult to use a toothpick to test for doneness.) Let cool and then refrigerate overnight in the pan; this will aid in creating a fudge-like texture.

Makes about 25 brownies

Notes:

-You’ll want to use high quality chocolate, especially as it is such an integral part of the recipe, Callebaut or Valrhona are two options.