Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Taking back Sunday: Pancakes Whenever You Want Them

I'm a firm believer in pancakes. Not only in that they do, in fact, exist, but that they are one of the perfect foods. Suitable for any time of day, and most any kind of mix in, their culinary flexibility should be the stuff of legend. Reserved for lazy weekends and Sunday brunches, they're often left to others to cook for us, from diners, to chains, even high end restaurants, and why? Where does the magic lie? Where is the mystery, the secret perfect technique that only 3rd parties can master? I say we shun the lines, the crowded vinyl booths, the narrow allotted time frames of brunch, and take a stand! You too can make pancakes, whenever or however you want them!

This is a basic pancake recipe, although I did stumble upon something cool at the local market. Powdered peanut butter. How can I resist such a thing? I can't, obviously. If you don't have the powdered peanut butter, you can omit it to no bad end. You can also stir in your everyday peanut butter, there's no shame in that- but you'll have to add a bit extra almond milk to smooth things out.

One of the key factors of pancakes, perhaps the trickiest, is the method in which you cook them. I used to cook pancakes like a bad infomercial: burnt, misshapen, sometimes on the floor. I also have a nasty habit of waiting until I'm near starving to cook, it doesn't help. They key that I've found, is time and practice. So grab a coffee, and take it slow, it'll be worth it.

 Pancakes in your PJs

1 cup Flour
1 tablespoon Baking Powder
1/4 tsp Salt
3 tablespoons Peanut butter Powder or 2 tablespoons regular peanut butter (optional)
1 cup Almond Milk (if using peanut butter, add up to 1/4 cup extra, slowly)
2 tablespoons Sugar
2 tablespoons melted Coconut oil (or Canola/Vegetable)
1/4 tsp Vanilla extract
Mix-ins (Blueberries, chocolate chips, bananas, skittles)
Earth balance to grease the pan (and top your pancakes!)

Preheat your oven to its lowest setting, and stash an oven-safe dish in it. If your house is as cold as mine is in the winter, don't skip this step.
In a large bowl, toss in your dry ingredients, and mix to combine. Add in your almond milk, oil, and vanilla, and stir until it only just comes together. Don't over mix the batter, but don't leave any big dry pockets. It will poof up in volume a bit, but it should subside into a somewhat lumpy, pourable batter. If it's too thick, add in almond milk a tablespoon at a time until you have your desired consistency. Have your ladle, spatula, pseudo-butter, and mix-ins on deck.

Choose the larger size of the non-stick skillet you're most comfortable with, put your burner on between low and medium, and slap a pat of pseudo-butter on the pan. Not too much, or you'll have a greasy pancake. It's okay, everyone's done it once. Once the earth balance has melted, spoon a ladle full, anywhere from 1/4 of a cup, to however big you want your pancake, into your pan. Now's the time to add your mix-ins, just drop them gently on the top of your cooking pancake. I chose blueberries, even if I really wanted chocolate chips. We all make sacrifices. Here's the trick: this doesn't happen fast. If it does, chances are your burner's up too high, turn it down a bit. Once the bubbles form around the edge of your pancakes, wait a little longer. A few bubbles toward the middle of your pancake mean it's ready to flip. If you're unsure, jiggle your pan a bit to see if the cake will freely move around. Once flipped, the second side will cook much quicker, so don't go anywhere. Move your perfect pancake to the warm dish in the oven.

After each go, wipe your pan down, quickly and carefully, with a dry paper towel, then add another pat of earth balance.

Stack your  cakes high, and top them as you wish!

Weirdly enough, I'm a bit of a purist. I'd slather them in good ol' pseudo-butter rather than maple syrup any day of the week

Now you can sit back and enjoy your emancipation from a potentially hectic Sunday at the mercy of a short-order cook.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Booze Hound, or, Is it Possible to Like Bourbon Too Much?

I’m not a beer girl, and not for a lack of trying, either.  It’s usually taken as a challenge, followed by a parade of beer, and a similar parade of scrunchy-faces on my part. It always ends the same; I can get a few sips in before I’m bored. Perhaps I have alcohol ADD, but the only beer that ever appealed to me was a 3.5%, blueberry laden, light weight of a beer that I can only find in a given burger joint. I discovered bourbon by complete serendipitous accident. One night, after arriving a bit late to a happy hour with friends, I noticed that one had something different in his glass. When he said it was Maker’s and offered me some, I curiously took a sip. I believe my exact words were: 'I feel like a dragon'.  
There were tones of vanilla, caramel, and a teeny hint of smoke. Very briefly there was a hint of sweetness that gave way to a fire that burnt a trail from tongue to belly.  It was complex, it was interesting, and it had my attention.  Now, I’m no booze hound, and I’m not going to tell you I know a lot about bourbon, or whiskey in general. I’ve had, to date, five different kinds of bourbon, and one of those was a bargain store brand.  When the nights are long and dark, and the winds get hold of you and just won’t let go, what I know is; it’s a bourbon night.

My love of bourbon has led to a few culinary explorations, for example, I put it in everything from cupcakes to ice cream, to pancakes. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that having bourbon in your pancakes is wrong. One such happy, pivotal discovery came the day before Christmas eve when I decided to make a cake for our family get together. I had two packs of dried figs, and wanted to make something chocolatey and decadent. I had visions of fruitcake dancing in my head, and I became obsessed with the notion of a spiced chocolate cake with figs and hazelnuts. I chopped up the figs nicely, when I had a monkey/monolith moment: bourbon. I let figs sit overnight covered in initially warmed bourbon, and spun them into my cake the next day. When the cake was reduced to crumbs, I was left with this mysterious elixir. It was darker, swirling with fig seeds, and it smelled amazing. Regrettably, I have only the following instagram shot to immortalize the moment.
That happy discovery became the center piece of our post-Christmas feast cheer, and it only left me wondering: what else can I do? 

I admit to being a novice infuser. I haven't actually looked up how to officially do it, while I have looked up how to make bourbon (which,as it turns out, seems to be a bit of a legal no-no). I'll admit to using the microwave to 'gently heat' the concoctions. I know enough to not let the bourbon boil, I don't want to fry what I'm infusing, only just heat it up until it's a bit warm- and it's what 90 proof? That can stay there for however long I want it to hang around. So, there's one rule of infusion club. Don't boil the infusions. Do talk about infusion club though, cause I feel like y'all are missing out. For instance, dried cherries spending a week in bourbon resulted in: Bad Babysitter Brownies

Fudgey, forbidden, flirty, and intoxicating. Score two for infusions. What about something a little more sophisticated? Some Earl Grey Tea perhaps? Oh hey, I can put that in banana bread, can't I? Boom.

A word of caution on tea, I did a warm infusion on this one, but kept it brief. Leave black tea hanging around in your bourbon for too long, and you'll have bitter, bitter bourbon. I'd like to revisit this one as a cold infusion, for subtleties' sake.

Want to get just plain weird? Try pine. Yes, pine. Be smart and consult your local florist. Definitely don't just blind-faith it, find a tree in your backyard, and use that. That'd be crazy... My resulting liquor was, to put it mildly, intense, but it translated wonderfully in cake form.

My second favorite, next to that initial fig, was coffee. Just a few beans in about 3 fingers of bourbon, over the course of roughly 3-5 hours. What did I do with that one? I drank it. 

For the record, that's pine, coffee, pine pictured above. Again, if you try pine, well, you know what your getting in to. At this point, yes, I have purchased fancy little 8 dram (.5 oz) bottles for my concoctions. For science. 

More delicate flavors sometimes require more, persuasion of sorts. For example this many rose petals, is simply not enough.

Over time it became this many:

Clearly the rose petals have given their all, and are completely faded. That amounts to roughly 1/4 of a cup. The flavor is a faintly floral/caramel-y bourbon that I feel would be lost in a baked good, unless you reinforce it with rose water. 

My most recent escapade is apricots. Started as a gift for our neighbor who lent us their snow blower in a time of dire need, I made a secondary batch about a week ago.

We're seven days in at the moment. I believe they are destined to be combined with tarragon and pine nuts, but am still working on whether or not the vehicle for them is blondies or a cake. I'm thinking blondies. 

There are endless possible combinations to which I've barely scratched the surface. One open door in a labyrinth of unending hallways. Whether it be to drink the resulting concoctions alone, or to create entirely new baked goods, I'm a bourbon girl through and through.