Holy Crêpe!

Shrove Tuesday, perhaps better known as Fate Tuesday (Mardi Gras) or Pancake Tuesday, is nearly upon us. Established as the final feast before the famine of Lenten austerity, pancakes once represented all things indulgent, blending sinfully rich sugary, fatty ingredients in one shameless dish.

Beyond the iconic short stack, fluffy and soft, a wide world of diverse pancakes exist. Be it blini, latkes, injera, dosa, jeon, or bánh xèo, there’s a whole lot to flip over on this day, and everyday of the year for that matter.

Delicate, gossamer thin French crêpes follow the same basic blueprint as their thicker American brethren, but most notably take shape with a higher ratio of liquid to flour while omitting chemical leaveners. Even at their most basic, with a squeeze of lemon juice and a touch sugar, they will never disappoint. Flavors and fillings are truly unlimited, showing up in savory formats just as often as sweet, making the ideal vehicles for seasonal vegetables, soft cheese spreads, fresh fruits, and fudge sauce alike.

It all starts with one basic batter. Flying in the face of conventional crêpe construction, no eggs, butter, nor any debauched ingredients are necessary for the most exquisite, soft sheets of pancake goodness to emerge from your skillet. These righteous treats should stay on your menu all year long.

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Warmest Wishes

Winter weather advisories are in effect, sounding the alarm about snow, sleet, freezing rain, black ice, and pretty much any other blizzard conditions that might strike terror in the heart of any warm blooded mammal. Accumulation could range from bad to worse with no end in sight.

Scrolling through these dire reports, squinting at the sun-drenched screen, I squirm uncomfortably in my t-shirt and shorts. It’s February, historically known as the coldest, harshest month of the year, and yet I’m still too hot. Sub-zero winds may be howling through the Midwest and East Coast, but here in California, it feels like we’ve skipped right into late spring. The golden state, the place that winter forgot, is erupting with early flowers, perfuming the air with delicate scents of jasmine and lavender. Kids frolic home with a carefree easy typically reserved for vacations, peeling out of over-protective jackets the minute the school bell rings.

But no, it is winter. Firmly, definitely, still winter. Sorry for the remaining 49 states, to say nothing of the rest of the world.

My heart goes out to all of you out there in the brutal frozen tundra. You’re made of stronger stuff than me, so averse to the barest chill that 60 degrees sounds like sweater weather. While I can’t say I know how you feel, toughing it out in the elements like that, I can offer a bit of solace- Or perhaps more accurately, a bite of solace.

Nothing warms the heart and the house quite like lighting up the oven. Stay inside, get cozy in thick thermal underwear and floppy slipper socks; you’ve got everything you need right here.

Classic cinnamon rolls are hard to beat, slowly rising as the yeast comes alive, becoming lighter, more tender and softer by the minute. Buttery pockets of gentle spice and brown sugar spiral hypnotically in the pan, all shades of golden brown and delicious. Well, let’s take that same concept and simply apply a touch of chocolate instead, shall we?

Digging into the pantry for inspiration, an open bag of Rodelle Organic Hot Cocoa Mix seemed to be purposefully poised, ready to infuse this classic comfort food with an extra dose of warmth. With pure vanilla, dark Dutch-processed cocoa, and sugar all in one, the only thing you need to add are the marshmallows. Easy to drink, bake, and simply fall in love with.

As if it wasn’t enough to wrap springy cylinders of mini mallows right inside that swirling dough, sticky melted marshmallow glaze seals the deal with a sweet, juicy kiss.

For those of you facing single digit temperatures or worse, just stay inside. Keep warm from the inside out. You aren’t missing anything when a fresh batch of hot cocoa rolls rises to the occasion.

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Easy Like Christmas Morning

Light filters in through frosted windows, gently painting the tinsel-clad branches of pine, dancing across silken wrappings, glinting off glossy greeting cards. All is still, silent, and calm. The air is just a breath too cold for comfort, but nothing the sun won’t fix in another minute, glowing and growing stronger right before sleepy eyes, still clouded with dream of feasts from the night before. Christmas morning, in the best situation, is a magical time, the split second right before children squeal with glee to mark the start of joyous mayhem. Controlled chaos will soon describe the scene as paper is torn and tags go flying. The last thing you want to fuss with is a fancy breakfast that would tear you away from these fleeting moments, but a bowl of cold cereal just won’t cut it today.

Before calamity descends, take the wheel and prepare yourself well in advance. Sticky buns or cinnamon rolls are the classic daybreak decadence for this annual celebration, but who wants to wake up at 5am to start mixing dough? Not me, even if I don’t have children to beat down the stairs or a tree to furnish before Santa slacks off.

Save yourself some time and labor by turning out one giant, majestic, family-style spiral, rather than individual little buns. Dazzling with warm rivulets of cinnamon sugar goo dripping into every tender spiral of dough, wrapping around crisp pecans like a pillowy blanket, you’ll think you’re still dreaming when you take the first bite.

Perhaps it will be the scent of buttery dough or cinnamon spices that awaken Christmas spirits, rather than the sunrise this time around. All the hard work is done the night before, so in the morning, all you need to do is preheat the oven and pop in the pan. It’s not exactly holiday magic… But it may just taste like that.

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Feed Two Birds with One Scone

Early victories in the kitchen were hard-won for me because, quite frankly, I had no clue what I was doing. I didn’t know how to bake before going vegan, didn’t seek schooling on how to after, and to this day, I’m still not keen on following recipes. My parents suffered through some truly abysmal creations that could only loosely be described as “food.” One of my first notable successes came in the form of a simple scone, too easy to mess up even if I tried.

Cobbled together from odds and ends on hand, dried cranberries punctuated the rough, triangular biscuits, while thin flecks of orange peel appeared as faint confetti just beneath the surface. Barely sweetened, crisp, yet tender and buttery, I suppose they were special because in a way, they weren’t. There was no mystery, no magic to them, but something made them particularly compelling, both for the maker and the eater. Instant gratification; reliable satisfaction.

My mom, also known as my original number one fan, was effusive at the first bite. (In hindsight, I’m sure she was overjoyed that it was just finally something edible.) It became her go-to request, sometimes taking the form of hearts on Mother’s Day or rectangles arranged to spell out an “M” on her birthday, but always the same, year after year: Cranberry-orange scones.

Having committed the recipe to memory from repeated use, I realized with horror that it never got its fair time in the spotlight here on the blog. Finally, almost two decades later, I’d like to celebrate my mom’s birthday today by doing just that. Happy birthday, mom! As tradition would have it, these scones are for you.

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A Date with Destiny

This blog post is sponsored by California Dates but as always, the opinions and experiences expressed in this post are my own.

Prepare yourself for one hot date. No need to put on fancy shoes or spend an hour fixing your makeup though, because this eligible bachelor appreciates natural beauty, wholesome sweetness, and intelligence more than anything else. Rich, worldly, yet down to earth, its impossible to resist his charm. Ready to swipe right on this man of mystery? Well, I’m actually talking about dates. Whole, fresh dates, a universally beloved fruit with a whole lot of heart.

Though the majority of those found in stores fall into the “soft” category (versus the “semi-dry” and “dry” varieties), not all dates are created equal. Huge disparities in quality exist even within the same cultivar, depending on climate, water, soil, and topography, otherwise known as terroir. Yes, just like wine, California is uniquely suited to grow the very finest Medjool dates, moist, succulent, and honeyed through and through.

California dates add a natural sweetness with a lower glycemic Index than sugar. In fact, California dates are a healthy sugar substitute and can be used cup for cup in cooking and baking. Beyond imparting great taste, dates also add fiber, nutrients and antioxidants and other polyphenols to the diet.

Paying homage to the bountiful state that these fruits call home, I wanted to highlight some of the best that California has to offer, all in one nutritious morsel of sunshine. Beaming with the brilliant color of turmeric, the three official state nuts, almonds, pistachios, and walnuts, team up in a chunky, crunchy granola blend. Sweetened entirely with dates, the thick and hearty clusters are equally alluring at breakfast and snack time. Spiced with warming ginger, sensuous cinnamon, and exotic cardamom, each bite takes you on trip straight to the west coast- Or as I like to say, the best coast.

Stay sweet, stay golden, and don’t forget to indulge in a blind date every now and then.

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Long Live the Short Stack

From puritanical health food to reviled processed junk and back again, granola has gone on a wild ride in terms of public perception over the years. Toasted whole grains, enriched with fruits and nuts, it’s not hard to understand the appeal of the basic concept, or why it’s had such staying power despite unpredictable shifts in nutritional decrees. Indulgence needn’t be linked to unsavory ingredients or wanton disregard for sound dietary advice, though. Granola can be smart way to treat yourself, without any sacrifice.

Shrove Tuesday, also known as Fat Tuesday or Pancake Tuesday suffers from a similar image problem. Pancakes were originally singled out as the culinary splurge of choice because the traditional inclusions of eggs, sugar, and fat would be forbidden during the Lenten fast to follow. Using them up to make fluffy, sweet short stacks would make sure they wouldn’t simply go to waste. Why can’t we have our [pan]cakes and eat healthfully, too?

Boost your breakfast with a sweet yet smart way to celebrate. Fluffy pancakes meet the unbeatable combination of toasted oats, crunchy nuts, and chewy dried fruits with the simple addition of ready-made granola. This satisfying morning meal proves that with the right recipe, any food can not only taste good, but be good for you, too.

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