Breakfast

No Recipe Roasted Sweet Potato Breakfast (for Dinner) Hash

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day…just not in the morning. I believe my love of breakfast foods at non-breakfast times stems from my childhood when my dad would go on work trips and my mom would serve up omelettes filled with sauteed mushrooms and melted cheddar or swiss cheese. They were a rare treat and these simple eggy dinners set me up for a lifetime of loving breakfast for dinner.

I’ve gotten away from loving omelettes so much (maybe I just don’t cook them right), but I do still love a good scramble or fry up with potatoes, bacon or sausage, and sauteed veggies. After a long workday, this is a quick, relatively healthy option that never gets old for me.

Here’s what I’ve been doing lately:

Sweet Potato Hash

First, roast a sweet potato. Better yet, roast several sweet potatoes so you have leftovers and you can eat them with other things or just on their own as a snack. I cube mine up, toss them with a little olive oil on a baking sheet, and sprinkle them with salt, pepper, and smoked paprika. I love the combination of sweet and smoky (think: candied bacon or chocolate and scotch), but you can always change up the spices for whatever you like best. Use cayenne pepper if you want a bit of heat, chipotle powder for some smoke and heat, cinnamon if you prefer to stay on the sweeter side, or add some herbs like thyme or tarragon to up the savory factor. Once the potatoes are all coated and lovely, I put them in the oven at 400F for about 30 minutes, giving them a nice toss halfway through. The potatoes are done when they are easily pierced with a fork.

While the potatoes are cooking, contemplate your veggies and/or meat of choice. If you’re doing meat, you’ll want to cook up a couple strips of bacon and crumble it, brown some sausage, or throw in some diced ham. For some added flavor, use your meat fat (mmm…meat fat) to cook your veggies. If you’re not using meat, a teaspoon of olive oil in a skillet should do the trick. Lately I’ve been eschewing the meat and just doing red peppers and onions. A variety of mushrooms would be fantastic as well, as would greens (spinach, kale, chard, etc.), and broccoli and cauliflower if that’s your thing. Shaved brussels sprouts might be good too, but I’m not of the brussels-sprouts-are-magic-veggie-candy troop, so I personally won’t be doing those anytime soon.

When your sweet potatoes, meat, and veggies are done, start on your eggs. Eggs take but a minute or two, so you can keep the other parts of the hash warm in the oven or on the stovetop without worrying about over-cooking them. Scramble up a couple in a skillet, fry them until the yolks are to your liking (I like them cooked medium, and then flip the eggs so the tops solidify), or do a poach if that’s your thing. And if that’s your thing, can you teach me to poach eggs? Because I love them, but have not yet mastered that.

Now, assemble your hash! Sweet potatoes on the bottom. Top with meat and eggs. Add eggs. Cover with cheese, if desired. And boom. Roasted sweet potato breakfast for dinner (or for lunch or for actual breakfast) hash. Enjoy with a cup of hot coffee, tea, juice, or a tall glass of water with your jammies on and your feet up on the coffee table because breakfast for dinner is one of the most comforting things I can think of. It never fails to turn my evening meal into a treat.

Pancetta, Gouda, & Kale Strata

Strata

On Saturday we held our monthly baking meetup. While we usually focus on sweet things, this  time we decided to put a twist on the theme and encouraged everyone to try their hand at savory baked treats. I knew immediately that I wanted to make something breakfast oriented, it being my favorite meal of the day regardless of what time of the day it’s served, so I opted for this strata that I found in the pages of Real Simple.

It was on a blustery, cold Friday night that I set out to pick up my ingredients from the Trader Joe’s near work. The original strata features sausage, kale, and either Manchego or fontina cheese, but you know by now that I can never make a recipe straight off the page, right? I had already decided that I was going to switch the cheese to gouda, because who doesn’t love a gouda, but when I couldn’t find anything resembling breakfast sausage, I was forced to make another change. It was too darned cold and the wind was blowing too darned hard for me to even think of stopping in at another grocery store, so I surveyed the options in front of me. They had this wonderful package of what they called “bacon ends,” which sounded ridiculously delicious, but the one pound package was way more than I needed. I didn’t want to have a half a pound of bacon lying around (I’d just eat it!) so I went with the smaller package of chopped pancetta. It was already cut small and I could use it all up – that sounded about right to me.

As I cut up the bread cubes, browned the pancetta, and wilted the kale, I listened to the wind howling through the alley beyond my windows. It was the perfect night to stay in with my fleece jammies, prepare a little food, and spend some quality time with Mr. Jonathan Rhys Meyers in Dracula. I tell you, sometimes introversion does you favors.

The ingredients were mixed all together and poured into a baking dish to rest overnight. It didn’t look particularly great, but it was too late to try something else and, well, making mistakes is all part of baking so I am never one to be embarrassed when I do. When I baked it the next day and brought it to the meetup, I offered with a disclaimer. “I can’t vouch for how good this may or may not be, so I won’t be offended if no one likes it.”

I served myself a portion, piled my plate high with the other goodies, and took a bite. It was…surprisingly good! I admit to have misgivings about the kale – I don’t hate kale but I am not on the all-kale-all-the-time bandwagon – but it was tender and flavorful and worked really well in the egg and gouda custard. The pancetta offered just a hint of salty goodness and I was not longing for the missing sausage or bacon in the least. At that point I reversed my original sentiment. I no longer cared what anyone else thought of my strata – I thought it was fantastic.

One of our regulars brought hand-made Marble Rye. WHAT!

One of our regulars brought hand-made Marble Rye. WHAT!

I halved the original recipe and baked it in a 9-inch cake pan. Double it if you’re cooking for a crowd and bake it in a 9×13-inch dish or, as I’m particularly interested it in trying, portion however many servings you’re making into the appropriate number of ramekins for individual stratas. I look at this recipe as a blueprint. Mix it up with whatever ingredients – veggies, cheeses, meat or no meat – as you see fit and make it something you’ll really love to eat. I imagine a sauteed mushroom, onion, and gruyere strata would be delicious. Mmm…that’s what I’m trying next time!

¼ pound chopped pancetta
3-4 cups chopped curly kale leaves (about half of one of those packages)
½ small loaf of multigrain bread*, cubed (about 2 ½ cups; I used a multigrain ciabatta)
unsalted butter
6 large eggs
1 cup milk (I used 2%)
½ tablespoon Dijon mustard
salt and black pepper
1 cup grated gouda cheese

*Typically bread puddings and, thus, stratas call for the use of stale bread. Since I had just bought my bread, I quickly “staled” it by cutting it into cubes and putting it in a 300° oven for about 20 minutes. Not enough to brown it, but just enough to dry it out a little.

Butter a 9-inch round cake pan or an 8×8-inch square baking dish.

Brown the pancetta in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the kale and toss it so the leaves become evenly coated with the fat from the pancetta. (What, you thought we were going to drain that pork fat? C’mon, son.) Cook it until it’s wilted, but still bright green, about 3 minutes.

Whisk the eggs together in a large bowl. Add the milk, mustard, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Stir in the cheese and add the bread, kale, and pancetta. Stir together until well mixed, then pour into the prepared baking dish*. Let sit for one hour or overnight in the refrigerator to let the bread soak up all of the custard.

*The original recipe said to place the bread in the dish, top with the kale mixture, then add the egg mixture. When I did that, I just had a bunch of unincorporated things all strewn about, topped with a pile of cheese. Probably still delicious, but not what I wanted. A large mixing bowl solved that problem.

If the strata is refrigerated overnight, remove from the refrigerator for 40 minutes prior to baking. Bake it at 350° for 40-45 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and set, but the center is still a little wet. Let cool for 15 minutes for serving. The strata can be served hot or at room temperature.

Makes 4 delicious, savory servings. Perfect for breakfast, brunch, lunch, linner, dinner, and 2am. Basically, anytime that breakfast would be enjoyed, which is all the time.

Pumpkin Pancakes and Sautéed Apples with Bacon; Tourist for a Day

As far as I’m concerned, fall is officially here once my birthday arrives. Yes, I know it’s technically ten days later, but there’s just no way I will acquiesce to having a “summer birthday.” No, my birthday happens when the weather has started to cool, when you still feel warm in the noonday sun but feel completely comfortable with a light jacket and decorative scarf at night, when you are no longer suffering from the 100 degrees inside your stuffy, non-air-conditioned apartment. Yes, fall is finally here. This means something else grand happens too: everything is coming up pumpkin.

It’s like a switch flipped in my brain. I immediately wanted to start making pumpkin eats and had a strong craving to try my hand at incorporating the gourd into pancakes. A quick Google search revealed this recipe from Tales of an Overtime Cook. It seemed easy enough and even though I didn’t have white whole wheat flour on hand, I knew I could easily substitute all-purpose flour instead. The only thing I would change is that I would add more salt. The pancakes were lacking just a little…something. When I’m missing that unidentifiable thing, I usually find out that a little bit of salt does the trick. Instead of a pinch, I would try a quarter teaspoon and go from there. Otherwise, these pancakes were fantastic. They had a nice heft without the density you might expect from a mashed vegetable. The oats got a little crunchy and added a nice textural difference. And the spices, well, you can never go wrong with the quartet of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice. (I added the allspice, because the quartet needs to be complete!)

With the pancakes, I made a ridiculously simple side dish of Sautéed Apples with Bacon. This comes from Joy of Cooking, but is so easy that it doesn’t actually require a recipe. I can tell you it right now: First, cook some bacon in a pan, however much you want depending on how many people are eating. I did three slices for the two of us (Mindy and me) and had some leftover. Peel and slice some apples (again, I did three) into medium-ish sized slices. When the bacon is done, remove it and, if resulting grease is excessive, some of the rendered fat. Cook the apples in the remaining fat until soft, about 20-30 minutes. Sprinkle with brown sugar and add the cooked bacon back to the pan. Done and done. You get this started and give it a stir every once in a while, and get on to flipping your pancakes. It’s easy and delicious, which is just how I like it.

Pumpkin Pancakes

Pumpkin Pancakes
1 cup white whole wheat flour (all-purpose is fine if that’s all you have)
1/2 cup rolled oats (old fashioned)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch ground nutmeg
Pinch ground ginger
Pinch ground allspice
Pinch salt
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup canned pumpkin purée (not pumpkin pie filling)
2 eggs
2 tablespoons canola oil
3/4 cup milk (I used almond milk, because it’s what I have, but whatever’s in your refrigerator is fine)

Heat a large frying pan over medium heat.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, oatmeal, baking power, spices and sugar. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until combined.

Grease the pan with a small amount of oil or butter. When the pan is hot enough, spoon about 1/2 cup of the batter onto the frying pan and spread it slightly into a circle.

When the pancakes are set on top, flip it and cook for a couple of minutes more until both sides are golden brown. Top with maple syrup, honey, nuts, fruit, or whatever your heart desires.

Tourist for a Day
Something that I’m reminded of every time I go to visit another city is that I need to be more a tourist in my own. No, I don’t mean not being able to cross the street with the light, walking four-abreast down Michigan Ave., or blindly thinking the only stop on the red line is Addison and no one else needs to exit earlier. I mean that we have fantastic things right here in Chicago and I need to take advantage of them more often.

As a sort of belated birthday celebration, Mindy and I decided to do just that with a visit to Grant Park, the Shedd Aquarium, and Northerly Island, finished with dessert at Hot Chocolate in Wicker Park. (The last thing is not touristy, I know, but I had come for brunch before and I really wanted to try their desserts.) Here are a few photos from our excursion.

First up: Buckingham Fountain. I know I’ve seen the fountain before, but I don’t remember it being quite so massive. It is ridiculously large and you cannot even tell from this picture.

Buckingham Fountain (a)

Next: the Shedd Aquarium, for which I used the pass I won. I have to say, the pass price here is a little exorbitant. Sure, it was fun, but it wasn’t $30 worth of fun. Here is a picture of a jellyfish.

Shedd Jellies

Then: on to Northerly Island, where I’ve really been wanting to get some cool sunset photos. While waiting for the sun to do its thing, we started making a list of activities we want to do and places we want to explore. (I may not be up for a transatlantic flight just yet, but there are plenty of closer places I want to see.) Alas, it wasn’t much of a sunset that night and it was windy and freezing to boot. I got some decent photos, but I may have to go back soon and try to catch a more picturesque sky.

Shedd Sunet

Skyline (1)

Skyline

After a quick dinner at Chik-Fil-A (I know, I know…my pro-gay marriage stance should steer me clear but I don’t go there often and if loving Chik-Fil-A is wrong, I don’t want to be right) we hopped on the blue line and fortuitously nabbed seats at the Hot Chocolate bar right away. This is how hosts should do it: tell me it’ll be an hour wait and then inform me ten minutes later a table has opened up. I guarantee you I’ll be happier than if it happens the other way around.

We ordered the doughnuts, which were warm and fluffy and rich from the brioche dough. They were the best doughnuts ever, and this is coming from someone who doesn’t really like doughnuts.

Hot Chocolate Doughnuts

We also ordered the milk chocolate3, which is described as “milk chocolate and bourbon barrel smoked sugar cake,  Tcho chocolate mousse, whiskey milk chocolate butter cream, chocolate cake ice cream, fresh cocoa nib cream.” Everything about that sounds delicious, doesn’t it? For two bourbon loving girls, it was a must. Our doughnuts came out first and we each ate one. Then we waited for our next dessert, the one we really wanted to try. And we waited. And we waited. Finally I asked the bartender about it and he admitted that he had forgotten to put it in. It arrived shortly thereafter and we dug in…only to be sorely disappointed. There was nothing special about that dessert. There was no hint of the whiskey and what I assume were burnt sugar crisps tasted exactly like that – burnt sugar. The cocoa nib cream was so unpleasant that I thought it must actually be coconut cream (which I do not like) and that I had misread the menu.

Um...we started eating it before I remember to take a picture.

Um…we started eating it before I remembered to take a picture.

When the bartender asked how it was, we confessed our disappointment. “We don’t love it,” I said, and we listed everything we didn’t like. Fortunately, the bartender did right by us, saying that he refused to charge us for a dessert that came late and that we didn’t even like. And that, dear restaurants, is how you placate an unhappy customer and encourage them to come back another time.

The dessert debacle and the cold notwithstanding, it was a good day. Despite my seemingly constant complaints about tourists, it was fun to pretend to be one for a little while. There are tons of things to see in Chicago and I intend to have more tourist days in the future. Where else better to see things from another viewpoint than in the city I love?

Goal: Run Easy; STONE FRUIT COBBLER!; and Lemon-Blueberry Scones

Goal: Run Easy
Clearly the running addiction is getting to me, because for the first time ever I felt the need to exercise while on vacation. Now, this was just a visit to the fam in Michigan, not anything involving sandy coasts or hiking trails or wooded paths, so it’s not like there was any particularly nice scenery to take in. Nevertheless, I felt the need to get in a couple runs on the track near their house. Lakefront it was not, but with no traffic to worry about, it sufficed. (It always amazes me how limited the sidewalks in their neighborhood are. How else do you walk to the Jewel to get your mid-week groceries? Oh wait, that’s Chicago.)

During one run I decided to do some speed work, doing 3 minutes at an easy run, 1.5 minutes at a moderate effort, and 30 seconds all out, with 4-5 repeats. All was good until the fourth go around. At a moderate effort my feet started to feel heavy. I wanted to quit, but I pushed myself to keep going because, after all, I want to quit running the majority of the time I’m doing it. When a few seconds into the 30 second all out phase I started to see spots in front of my eyes, I gave myself liberty to slow down. Hey, let’s take it easy, I thought. Finishing the workout is not worth fainting over.

It’s not the first time I’ve failed to complete a run I’ve set out for myself. I’ve cramped, I’ve stayed out too late the night before, it’s been just too freakin’ hot…at some point my body decides just to stop and I end up walking the remainder. I try not to get too discouraged, though, because, hey, at least I got out there and tried. This time, as I slowed to an easy jog, I thought back to when I first started and was struggling with run/walk intervals. I’d look at the training plans and snort at the idea of an “easy” or “recovery” run. At the time, the phrase “easy run” was little more than an oxymoron. There was no such thing as running without the feeling of imminent death upon me. Yet now, after several months of grueling runs, I surprised myself when I realized it was a definite possibility. Just run easy, I thought when I started to flail during that last interval. And because I could, I did.

STONE FRUIT COBBLER!

Stone_Fruit_Cobbler[1]
Whenever I’m home my mother and I go bananas cooking. Since I don’t have a very big kitchen and she doesn’t have many mouths to feed anymore, it’s the perfect time for us to experiment with new recipes and try things we otherwise wouldn’t. In the summer it’s grill, grill, grill – because I don’t have a grill at my apartment and I love me some grilled meats – but we also bake a few desserts or breakfast items and pawn off the remains on my brothers. This time I took a recipe for an apricot and blueberry cobbler from Everyday Food and put my own spin on it, using all plums and nectarines so I could call it my STONE FRUIT COBBLER! (In tribute to the sorely missed, short-lived NBC sitcom Friends with Benefits, shouting is absolutely necessary.) I healthified it a little bit, too, using white whole wheat flour in place of all-purpose and a sugar/stevia mixture for the sweetener. Both of my parents are fighting the dreaded lifestyle-induced diabetes, so while these changes might not make desserts good for you, they certainly make them less bad.

The cobbler turned out fantastically. I was concerned that the whole wheat biscuits would be tough, but they were every bit as fluffy and buttery as regular biscuits. I just had to add a little bit more cream than the original recipe called for since whole wheat flour soaks up more liquid than white flour. My only points of advice here would be to make sure to slice the stone fruits no larger than 1/2-inch thick or the peels will seem tough and out of place, and let the cobbler cool a little bit so that the juices from the fruits thicken. If you cut into it right away, you’ll end up with a pool of liquid in the bottom of the dish. Still delicious, just not as pretty. I believe some walnuts would have been a lovely addition to the fruit, but with one brother allergic to nuts that wasn’t an option here. I’ll definitely add them when I make this again.

1 tablespoon cornstarch
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar (use half the amount if using a sugar/stevia blend)
12 stone fruits (whatever combination you like best)
1 ½ cups white whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 stick cold unsalted butter
¾ cup cold heavy cream, plus more for brushing
sanding sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 375º, with racks in middle and lower thirds. In a large bowl, whisk together cornstarch and 1/2 cup granulated sugar. Stir in stone fruit. Spread mixture into a 10-inch cast-iron skillet or a square baking dish.

In a food processor, pulse remaining 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt until combined. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal, with a few pea-size pieces of butter remaining. Add heavy cream and pulse 2 or 3 times until combined. (If you don’t have a food processor, just mix the dry ingredients, then grate the butter into the mixture on the large holes of a box grater and mix it in using your fingertips.) Add a little more cream if mixture seems dry.

Spoon batter in 8-9 mounds on the fruit mixture. Press lightly on tops to flatten, brush with heavy cream, and sprinkle with sanding sugar if desired.

Bake on middle rack, with a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet on lower rack to catch drips, until biscuits are golden and juices bubble in center, 40 to 45 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Lemon-Blueberry Scones

Lemon-Blueberry_Scones
There are few things finer than fruits in the summer. My mother had some blueberries she needed to use up and I thought, wouldn’t they just be wonderful tossed into some scones? This is a variation on the Orange-Rosemary and Lemon-Lavender Scones I made previously, with a few changes. Again, I opted to use white whole wheat flour, but this time I only substituted half of the amount and used all-purpose flour for the rest. The original recipe calls for sour cream, but we had neglected to buy any and used non-fat Greek yogurt instead, a perfect stand-in with a tablespoon of milk added to compensate for the extra absorbing power of the whole wheat. The texture was perfect just like this and I will always use this combination in the future. I threw in about a cup of fresh blueberries, squeezed some lemon juice into the icing, and pulled a wonderful afternoon snack, bursting with sweet berries and tart lemon, out of the oven. Two of these babies sustained me on my train ride back to Chicago.

For the scones*:
1/3 cup sugar (use half the amount if using a sugar/stevia blend)
zest of one lemon
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, frozen
½ cup non-fat Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon milk
1 large egg
1 cup fresh blueberries

Glaze*:
1 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
½ cup powdered sugar, sifted
¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 400°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine sugar and lemon zest; mix with your fingertips until the sugar is moistened and fragrant. Add in the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and mix until combined. Grate butter into flour mixture on the large holes of a box grater and use your fingers to work in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

In a small bowl, whisk the yogurt, milk, and egg until smooth. Using a fork, stir yogurt mixture into flour mixture until large dough clumps form. Add in the blueberries and turn out onto the parchment lined baking sheet. Pat lightly into a 7-inch circle about ¾-inch thick. The blueberries might start to roll off, but just lightly place them back on the dough and press gently. They’ll stick when the scones bake.

Use a sharp knife to cut into 8 triangles and separate about 1 inch apart. Bake until golden, about 15-17 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes and prepare the glaze.

In a medium bowl, prepare the glaze by mixing together the melted butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, and lemon juice. Whisk until smooth. Drizzle over the tops of the scones.

*Adapted from My Baking Addiction’s recipe for Glazed Orange Scones.

**We are not big on frostings and glazes, so this is half of the original amount, which is perfect for just a thin drizzle of glaze. If you like more or would like to double dip your scones, just double the amount.

Outdoor Yoga & Pilates; Breakfast Cookies; and Salad with Salmon en Papillote, Blueberries, & Walnuts

Since they started a few weeks ago, I’ve been going to the free yoga and Pilates workouts in Millennium Park on Saturday mornings. I’ve seen announcements for them before, but have never gone because a) it’s quite a commitment for me to get down to Millennium Park by 8am on a Saturday; and b) I’ve never had anyone to go with. I got around those two obstacles (excuses, really), by realizing that I’m usually up at an early enough hour on the weekends anyway to where I can make it there in time (I’m such an adult); and by deciding that I shouldn’t let the lack of a companion stop me from doing something I really want to do – there’s nothing wrong with doing things by yourself! And, indeed, there are plenty of people out there bright and early by themselves, taking full advantage of the free fitness classes in this beautiful park of ours.

Millennium Park Fitness
I’m really glad I started going to these. One of things I love is the sheer variety of people who come. You’d think it would all be super bendy white women, but there are people of all manner of shapes, sizes, ages, and levels of ability, both men and women. It’s heartening to see women and working out with their mothers and young guys joining their families and everyone just doing the best that they can that morning. I really like the yoga instructor they’ve had so far. She’s very encouraging of modifying according to your own ability, which is helpful because there’s always at least one pose where I think, “You want me to do what with what?” (This week it was flying scissors. “I swear this is a yoga pose,” she said. “I didn’t make it up.” Um, yeah, I’m pretty sure she was photoshopped up there.) And I’ve loved Pilates for a long time, so it’s great to be back in a class again.

Banana-Nut Breakfast Cookies

Banana-Nut Breakfast Cookies

I’m always ravenous after these workouts. After the first one I realized that buying something was neither good for the waistline nor the wallet, so I started bringing my own iced coffee and some snacks to enjoy while the subsequent Zumba class ensued. These cookies (from Fitness magazine) are hefty, not-so-little treats that are easy to pack and really take the edge off the hunger after a workout. When I tried these right out of the oven I was disappointed. I thought they were bland and even just tablespoon of brown sugar would have been a major improvement. Once they had cooled, however, the flavors seemed to have melded together a bit more and I realized they didn’t need extra sugar after all. Don’t get me wrong, they are not your typical super-sweet cookies, but that’s okay. The only thing I would change is the texture. When you pile up the dough into a mound you get a fairly dense bite. The next time I make these I’ll spread the dough out more thinly with the hopes of getting a crisper result.

1 ½ cup oats
1 egg
¾ cup low-fat milk
1 mashed banana
½ cup golden raisins
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon honey
1/8 teaspoon salt

Pulse 1 cup of the oats in a food processor until they resemble a coarse powder. (I didn’t have any flaxseed on hand, so I ground up another 2 tablespoons of oats to make up for the bulk.) Combine ground oats with the ½ cup oats and the remaining ingredients. The batter will look thin at first, but with thicken up once the oats start to soak up the liquid. Scoop the batter into 8 cookies on a baking sheet coated with nonstick spray. Bake 12-14 minutes or more, until the cookies are firm.

Makes 4 servings.

Mixed Greens, Blueberry, and Walnut Salad with Lemon-Dill Vinaigrette

Lemon Dill Salad

In similar interest of saving both money and calories, I bring my lunch to work almost every day. Instead of thinking of it as a burden, I try to use it as a way to either use up leftovers from the night before or as a platform to try completely new recipes. That’s what I did when I found this salad recipe from Daphne Oz in…I think it was a People magazine I pulled from our fitness center at work (it’s part of my job to change out the magazines, I wasn’t just stealing it, I promise). I think I’m fairly lucky in that I genuinely love salads, but I’m always looking for ways to change them up. Owing to the quinoa salad I made last week, I already had a bunch of fresh dill in my refrigerator, so this Lemon-Dill Vinaigrette really jumped out at me. The blueberries add a fresh, summery sweetness to this simple salad.

4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
zest of half a lemon (I always add zest for extra flavor)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon fresh dill, roughly chopped
8 cups mixed greens
1 cup fresh blueberries
½ cup walnut halves, toasted & chopped

Add olive oil through dill to a bowl and whisk or shake together in a glass jar. For lunch purposes, I toss the blueberries, walnuts, and flaked salmon (recipe below) in a bowl with the dressing and toss to coat. I put a serving of the salmon mixture in one half of a take out container and stuff 2 cups of greens in the other half. I combine the ingredients when I’m ready to eat so the greens stay nice and crisp in the interim.

Makes 4 servings.

Salmon en Papillote with Lemon & Dill
To beef it up (fish it up?), I added some salmon en papillote, which is salmon baked in a parchment paper envelope or foil pouch. This is one of those non-recipe recipes where you can mix and match whatever ingredients you like or happen to have on hand. It doesn’t even need to be written in recipe format. All I did was tear off a big piece of foil and place the salmon in the middle of one side. I poured over about a tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkled on some salt and pepper. Because I had the fresh dill, I chopped up some of that and added it. Then I covered the top of the salmon with thinly sliced pieces of lemon. I folded over the top half of the foil, scrunched together the three sides, baked it at 400° for 25 minutes, and out came beautiful, flavorful, super lemony, moist salmon. So easy. Even if you’ve never cooked fish before, you could absolutely do this. I cooked 3 ounces of salmon for each portion of salad I planned to make. Use more if you, you know, eat more.

Recipe #14: Orange Rosemary & Lemon Lavender Scones

Orange Rosemary Scones

I told you I’d be coming back for this flavor combination!

A couple weekends ago I visited my parents for my mother’s 60th birthday. Since she had loved the orange scones I made when I was there for Christmas, I decided I would do a little twist on the recipe and add in some rosemary. I planned to have these fresh out of the oven for when she returned from work (she works at a grocery store and has early morning hours), but, alas, she ended up leaving early and I was still in the process of assembling the dough when she walked inside the house. Luckily, these scones are fairly simple, so it was only about 20 minutes later that we were able to enjoy piping hot, glazed scones.

Among the gifts I gave my mother was a packet of dried lavender flowers from the Spice House. I’d made my lavender cupcakes for her birthday treat and we both wanted to try them in another application. Lemon Lavender Scones seemed like a good place to start. I used the exact same recipe as the orange scones, but substituted a lemon for the citrus and about a teaspoon of the dried flowers for the rosemary.

Both scones, I would say, were lacking a little bit when it came to the herbs. I’ll add more rosemary to the orange scones when I try them again. With the lemon scones, the flavor of the lemon overpowered the subtlety of the lavender, so here I would scale back on the lemon zest and perhaps only use lemon juice in the glaze to allow the lavender to be more pronounced. Don’t get me wrong – both sets of scones were delectable and we ate them all up without any hesitation. I just want to play with the amounts of herb and citrus to find that perfect balance of flavor.

Lemon Lavender Scones

Here is the recipe for the scones as I made them, inspired by the Glazed Orange Scone recipe from My Baking Addiction. In the future I’ll work on getting the flavors right and let you know how they turn out.

Orange Rosemary Scones
1/3 cup sugar
zest of one orange
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, frozen
½ cup sour cream
1 egg

For the glaze:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup powdered sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of one orange
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary (not chopped)

Preheat oven to 400º and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine the sugar, orange zest, and rosemary; mix with your fingertips until the sugar is moistened and fragrant. Add in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and mix until combined.

Grate the butter into the flour mixture on the large holes of a box grater; use your fingertips to work in the butter until all the pieces are coated and the mixture resembles coarse meal.

In a small bowl, whisk the sour cream and egg until smooth. Mix the sour cream mixture into the flour mixture using a fork until the dough starts to come together. Use your hands to press the dough into a bowl. I don’t worry about getting everything 100% incorporated – you don’t want the heat of your hands to start melting the butter or you’ll lose flakiness. I just press until it mostly holds together, then dump it onto the baking sheet and press it together again, then down until I get a disk about an inch high.

Cut the dough into 8 triangles and carefully separate so there’s an inch of space between each one. Bake until golden, 15-17 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes while you prepare the glaze.

In a medium bowl, whisk together until smooth the melted butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, orange zest, rosemary, and orange juice. Dip the tops of the scones into the glaze or drizzle over. I’m not big on tons of glaze, so I tend to cut the glaze portion of the recipe in half, but if you’re like most folks, you’ll probably want to wait until the first coating of glaze hardens, then dip or drizzle a second time.

For the Lemon Lavender Scones, substitute lemon zest and juice for the orange zest and juice, and use 1 teaspoon of dried lavender flowers in the scones and ½ teaspoon in the glaze.

Salty Bites: Cannoli Hotcakes @ Bongo Room

Bongo Room: 1470 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Bongo Room: 1470 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Many moons ago I had the most delicious pancake ever. Light, fluffy, not too sweet, with a hint of tartness, the Lemon Ricotta Pancake at Bongo Room lives on in my memory as the BEST pancake I’ve ever had. When Bongo Room appeared on The Best Food meetup group’s search for great brunch places, I immediately swiped myself a spot. I couldn’t wait to taste those amazing pancakes again.

Sadly, that was not to be. I should have guessed that a spot as trendy and hip as Bongo Room would have an ever-evolving menu and something that I’d had some six years ago would no longer be offered. No matter, though. I was certain that every other pancake Bongo Room made would be similarly amazing. They are, after all, one of the most revered brunch spots in the city and you can easily wait upwards of an hour to get a table on a Sunday morning.

Wait we did, on that cold and rainy Sunday. When a table finally became available, I settled in with my fellow Best Foodies and perused the menu, most notably devoid of anything resembling my beloved pancake. There was one ricotta pancake – the Cannoli Hotcakes – that featured marsala-soaked cherries and a pistachio panna cotta cream with a chocolate crème anglaise. Now, I’m not a huge fan of chocolate at breakfast, but you know how I feel about pistachios, and it being the only ricotta pancake on the menu, I immediately knew that would be the one I’d order.

Now, this is less a complaint about the food and more a complaint about the gluttony of American dining, but my first issue the plate was, who needs to eat three 12-inch pancakes? Sure, you can share them, but then you don’t get to try as much. The portion size was just ridiculous and I didn’t even come close to putting a dent in mine. (I seem to recall the first time I went I was able to get an individual pancake. I don’t know if that was a special offer, but I didn’t see that option here.) But more importantly, the pancakes came slathered in a way too sweet, way too rich, way too much sauce. I pushed the pistachio panna cotta to the side because all I could taste there was sweetness. The chocolate went to the wayside with it.

The pancake was not terribly impressive on its own. The dried cherries were nice and plump, having been reconstituted with the marsala, but there was nothing special about the actual pancake. The dish clearly relied on an overabundance of sugar in the sauce to camouflage everything else. It made me sad. I could have had a much better – and cheaper – pancake near my house, plain with just a little bit of maple syrup. It actually makes me not want to order pancakes at Bongo Room ever again. Given their distance and the infamous wait time, it’s possible I never will.

On the plus side, the sausage patties were on point, just as I remembered them to be. I highly recommend getting them. After the sugar bomb that is the pancake, you’ll need something savory to wash away some of that tooth-aching sweetness.