Archive for the ‘Breakfast’ Category

Once More With Feeling

Pancakes Perdu

Pancakes Perdu

There’s something about writing about leftovers. I can’t say I know exactly why it makes me skittish, but it does.

Is it the unspoken question, “Well, if the original meal was so great why was there any left over?” Is it that I’ve grown to feel that leftovers are the food equivalent of “hand-me-downs”? Is it an irrational fear of salmonella? (Q: At what point does a rational fear become irrational? Never mind. I’ll leave that one for the philosophers.)

Is it the ages-old image of leftovers being synonymous with other kitchen drudgery like, say, dish-pan hands? The late manicurist Madge (“You’re soaking in it.”) solved dish-pan hands eons ago, yet there are still leftovers casting passive-aggressive glances my way when I open the refrigerator door.

I happily contradict this feeling when I make a big pot of soup or chili. I hoard that stuff and tend it for several days like a proud prospective penguin parent coddling an egg on its feet. But the thought of reheating anything else leaves me (pardon the pun) cold.

Could part of the reason be that I do not own a microwave oven? This is partially by design (dunno what I’d use it for), and partially because of space limitations (I refuse to cede kitchen space to something I’d likely use only to activate the magic of Orville Redenbacher). I have an open mind: show me something indispensable and irreplaceable that a microwave oven does, and I’ll buy one (they’re cheap enough) but ‘till then, I have baked potatoes, chocolate melting, boiling water, and food reheating covered by other appliances. Popcorn can wait for the movies.

(And then of course there’s its nickname, “Nuke” that fills me with caution. Timely, no?)

My Mother, whose appetite has diminished somewhat, shares my aversion of leftovers. While she rarely finishes a restaurant meal, with few exceptions she also can’t stand the thought of eating it the next day. A true child of the depression (although still in her forties), she has it packed up to go and, once home, gives it to her doorman, therefore unwittingly creating an entirely new subset of leftovers which I call “The Doggy Bag Gift Platter.” One can only speculate about the enthusiasm of the recipients. I suspect she’ll not be garnering much competition from Messrs. Harry and David.

I keep coming back to the word, “reheating.” Maybe that’s my problem. Instead of looking upon leftovers for a repeat performance, I think the answer lies in my looking upon leftovers as mere ingredients to be included in an entirely new meal. Yes, this is easier said than done. Can last night’s meatloaf ever be anything other than meatloaf? My answer is that only certain meals can make this transformation. Meatloaf will always be meatloaf, won’t it? Ever had Wendy’s Chili?

For me the surplus is always vegetables. My eyes are always bigger than my stomach, and the next day the honeymoon is over. I find veggies to be a little on the temperamental side: they must be cooked just right for me to enjoy them. Generally, this means that reheated, they’ll be over-cooked, with the taste and texture washed away. (Or is that me?) Sometimes the question is what to do with extra chopped onion and garlic that didn’t get used.

So instead of reheating I’ll be repurposing. If you’re a French Toast fan, you’ve been doing this for years, for the French name for French Toast is “Pain Perdu” which translates as “forgotten bread.” I’m ripping a page out of that book and making “Pancakes Perdu.”

Savory pancakes are certainly nothing new—Potato Latkes are the best example, and any Chinese food fan has had Scallion Pancakes at one time or another. Pancakes Perdu are just a happy addition to the menu.

Don’t think that you need to confine yourself to left over veggies. These packages are a great way to get veggies into the most veggie-resistant kiddie. Make them small enough, and they are perfect finger food.

Speaking of finger food, confine the veggies to some roasted corn, and plop a bit of Crème Fraiche and a snip of smoked salmon on top and you have an elegant hors d’oeuvre.

I’m a big fan of breakfast for dinner, and every now and then a bowl of cereal just hits the spot for me. But I’ve never been one to waste food, even if that means finding ways of using up food that may no longer be perfectly fresh.

But please rest assured: the writing here is fresh. The best way to test that? Smell the screen. Go ahead: no one’s looking.


Click here for the recipe for Pancakes Perdu.


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Blood? Guts? Only after a good breakfast…

Maple Walnut Scones

Maple Walnut Scones with dried papaya: not just for Halloween.

Halloween falls on a Sunday this year. For those of any age who are heavily into the costume drama of the holiday, this reduces the stress of having to run home from work or school in order to change into a vampire bat (or witch, or Spider Man, or Princess.)

When I was a kid we were still allowed to Trick or Treat door to door unencumbered—uh, I mean—unaccompanied by parents. We would run out the door, sometimes with a time limit (“I expect you back in one hour.”) or sometimes with a geographic limit (“No farther than Parker Street, then come home, understand?”) but that was it.

By necessity, parents are now so heavily involved in the Trick Or Treat event that it makes you wonder who is left at home to hand out candy. Living in New York City makes for an amusing Halloween. Streams of costumed little kids, wrangled by their parents (or is it the other way around?), walk up and down West End Avenue, usually on their way to a party. I fear there is very little door to door activity left, even within apartment buildings. It has been years since I needed to buy a bag of mini Trick or Treat candy bars; if I get any spooky visitors this year they’ll get full-sized bars of my beloved Damak Chocolate. Hmmm. What will become of that chocolate if no one rings the bell? (A short lived problem, I promise.)

A Sunday Halloween means that the whole family can start the day together with a good old fashioned Halloween breakfast. What, you ask, is a good old fashioned Halloween breakfast? I don’t know. I’m about to make it up as I write this blog posting. It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that I don’t need much of an excuse to mark any holiday or event with food.

You could make a good solid argument for having a good solid breakfast on Halloween. When I was a kid returning from Trick or Treating, my Mom made me eat a good solid dinner before I could inhale all that candy. I think she believed a little meatloaf in my stomach would counterbalance the several tons of sugar I had toted home. Of course, in those days the worst that could happen from eating too much candy was that you’d get “a bad tummy ache.”

Short of eating candy for breakfast, how can you bring a bit of Halloween into the morning meal? It’s a concept-y thing. A restrained dash of kitsch is fine, but please: no scrambled eggs masquerading as brains, and if you insist on calling your strawberry jelly “bloody hearts on toast” at least make sure it’s good toast.

So, no, kitsch is not my cup of breakfast tea. I prefer a bit more subtlety, a wink where others may enjoy a full-on stare; there’ll be time for spooky stuff and candy later on in the day. Halloween is really the first of the big cool weather holidays, the first step in the slide to the Christmas home plate. Why not commit to a weekend breakfast with the whole family present and accounted for? In some families that can be enough of a novelty to make the day special.

Leave your usual harried breakfast on the shelf. I love breakfast cereal, but why not mark this occasion with a scrambled egg or two, some organic breakfast sausage, brew a bit of fragrant hazelnut coffee, and indulge in a few items from the list we call “a little somethin'”

Adding a dollop of canned prepared pumpkin to pancake batter will lend them an autumn hue and flavor suited to the occasion. Cranberry Nut Muffins will give a gentle preview of Thanksgiving a few weeks hence. Sounds good.

My “little somethin'” of choice this year are Candy Corn Scones. The name is a full-on embrace of kitsch, but the scones are indeed a subtle wink: no actual candy corn was injured baking them. The trick is that you can enjoy this treat long after the costumes have been put away. Just what is it that makes them Candy Corn Scones?

I knew I needed a bit of candy corn color, and the question was: what could I add to the scones that would have the right color (unreal autumn orange) and the right flavor (mildly sweet without being icky) but that would not melt away while the scones baked?

A cruise up and down the dried fruit and nut shelves at my supermarket made the choice easy. Dried apricots could have worked, but their pale yellow was a bit too restrained. Dried papaya fit the bill.

A basic scone is a simple, not terribly sweet quick bread. While traditionalists may insist on making scones with cream, I used 2% Greek yogurt, a compromise that provided rich texture and a buttermilk-like tang. Instead of sugar I sweetened the dough with maple syrup which was then echoed in a muddy brown maple syrup glaze that I drizzled on top after the scones cooled. And to reinforce the little nibble aesthetic of candy corn, I cut the unbaked dough into 2” x 2” triangles, insanely small in a world of King Kong-sized breakfast goodies. But the small size makes them somehow less intimidating; if you’ve gone to the trouble to bake scones you don’t want folks’ first question to be, “Will you share one with me?”

And the question remains: should I dress as an astronaut or Zorro…again?


Click here for the recipe for Maple Walnut Scones.


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Ya Gotta Have a Gimmick


Is this dessert...or breakfast? Yes.

I have nothing against gimmicks, especially when they involve food. That’s the good news. The bad news—if you can call it that—is that I may be about to insult someone by calling fondue a gimmick. Does acknowledging that this is just my opinion take the sting off that statement?

I actually like fondue, especially the chocolate variety. I also happily admit that I may be practicing a bit of food snobbery. So sue me. As much fun as fondue can be to eat, the preparation is too easy. Cut up some chocolate (or cheese) (or both), slice some fruit, or cake, or bread, and light a match. Done. I like a bit more of a challenge even if the end result lacks polish. But that’s me.

Up until a few years ago fondue was considered a relic of postwar foodies, or at the very least, a culinary tourist trap for folks visiting Switzerland. Suddenly it was back, rediscovered by gen-x’ers the way they rediscovered the Lava Lamps downstairs at Urban Outfitters. Granted a lot of this has to do with the fact that fondue is so easy to prepare that even a kitchen-less dorm dweller can make it.

As I said, I like something that requires a bit more skill. I don’t want to make food that requires a bit of skill just so I can show off. Like so many home cooks I also want to learn new tricks and techniques. Even if the end result isn’t very good I can still eat it, or in the case of disaster, throw it away. (How many folks have had…uh… “trouble” baking a pie and ended up calling it a “crumble” instead? Yeah, I’m on to your tricks.)

Recently my Baby Niece (“BN”), an angelic, attractive, fashionable fashionista (and gen-x’er), planned a casual family meal. She texted me a request for crepes as dessert – she was having a craving for them paired with some fresh fruit and Nutella. And speaking of gimmicks…

Crepes were huge in the 60’s and 70’s. Flaming Crêpes Suzette was synonymous with fine dining dessert for the first three quarters of the twentieth century. The latter part of that period showed the rise and fall of American chain-crêperies like “La Crêpe” and “The Magic Pan.” Remember those names? If you are a certain age chances are you were towed to one of those early theme restaurants by your parents.

We’ve all heard of Crêpes Suzette but many folks are a bit vague about what this fussy dessert was all about. The gimmick was simple: get a sauté pan, throw in a few thin pancakes and some sugar, pour in some highly alcoholic, therefore extremely flammable orange-flavored liqueur, light a match, stand back and pray you won’t singe your eyebrows. The result—hopefully—was that the flame would caramelize the sugar, and burn off the alcohol, leaving a delicately-sweetened orange-scented pancake. Naturally results varied according to the skill level of the “garçon” waiting on you.

“La Crêpe” and “The Magic Pan” took the gimmick a step further by wrapping the complete meal in a crepe. “Seinfeld” fans may remember an episode where Kramer hired some guys he thought were Cubans to roll the crepes at “The Magic Pan.” Turned out they were Dominicans who rolled the crepes too tightly, a funny “Seinfeld-ian”riff on cigar snobbery.

Prior to BN’s request I had never made crepes, and that is what made the request perfect for me. Gimmick or not, this was a chance to learn something new. After doing a bit of research about recipes and techniques I got to work in the kitchen.

Most crepe recipes require that you refrigerate the batter for an hour before using. The usual explanation for this is that letting the batter rest allows any air bubbles evaporate. I suspect that there is more going on there: the longer you let the batter sit, the more hydrated the flour will get, the advantage being that the crepes will retain a bit of flexibility in the sauté pan, making them easier to flip.

The great mystery of crepes is their reputation for being difficult to remove from the pan; in fact most recipes recommend that you use a nonstick pan. I don’t have any nonstick pans, and didn’t want to buy one just to make crepes, so I used a plain 8” sauté pan. As an alternative to Teflon I used what we’ll call the oil painting method: I poured a bit of canola oil into a small bowl, folded a paper towel into a small square (approx 2” x 2”) and using my tongs, grabbed the folded towel, dipped it in the oil and “painted” a very thin layer of oil in the warm pan. I then ladled slightly less than ¼ cup of the batter in the pan before swirling it around to cover the bottom. The crepes cook very quickly (less than a minute for the first side, even shorter for the second side) and I quickly developed an assembly line rhythm (“oil, ladle, swirl, flip”) that produced about twenty crepes in about twenty minutes.

After letting the crepes cool for a few minutes, I stacked them, wrapped them tightly, and stuck them in the freezer. A few days later: I warmed them in the oven (still wrapped) for ten minutes and they were ready for their Nutella and fruit treatment.

“BN” was delighted. I was inspired. I can see serving the crepes exactly the same way (including Nutella) for breakfast. I don’t see myself making Crêpes Suzette – I am a flame-o-phobe, especially in my small kitchen. But as gimmicks go, crepes are fairly versatile, somewhat easy, and cheap (although I did see some incredibly expensive pre-made ones at the supermarket.) They’re a great make-ahead special weekend breakfast, letting you sleep later.

That’s a gimmick I really, really like.


Click here for the recipe for Crepes.


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“M” is for the Many Moms Who’ll Read This

Cornmeal Waffles

Cornmeal Waffles

My Junk Mail Box has been inundated of late by offers of roses for Mom on Mother’s Day. Yes, I read the stuff that lands in my Junk Mail box. Even worse, I like some of the junk mail I get, although I admit that I’ve never consciously purchased anything from one of those offers. I think it appeals to the same “hunter / gatherer” instinct that causes me to spend way too much time trawling the aisles of the supermarket hunting new things. Don’t come with me to Zabar’s unless you have a bit of free time on your hands.

Anyway: the roses. My Mother likes roses, but whenever she has been given daisies she always claims those as her favorite. I distinctly remember her buying bunches of daisies for herself every now and then.

She’s not the only Mom who has expressed this preference: I have a friend (a Mom of an eight month old and a three and a half year old (!)) who agrees with my Mom.

So why all the fuss about roses? Note to 1-800-Flowers: some of these women want daisies.

The other classic gift for Mom is breakfast in bed. I’m afraid my Mom has never gone in for this either, but don’t let that throw you: breakfast is her favorite meal. She would just prefer to have it served on a beachfront terrace in some pampering resort. My kitchen is small. I can do breakfast. I can’t do beachfront resorts.

That’s okay.  As the man says on TV, “Make it work.” The breakfast foods my Mom likes are corn muffins and waffles. Why not combine the two? Cornmeal waffles anyone?

As I saw it, there were two roads I could take to get to my goal: Muffin Avenue or Waffle Boulevard. I thought that the ideal would be to serve Mom the waffle equivalent of a crunchy muffin top. Sounds like a good idea, yes?  I mixed a very basic corn muffin recipe and fired up my trusty waffle iron. The result was best described as pointless. I ended up with a waffle that just wasn’t the right consistency, and a muffin top that had some crunch but lacked the springy mattress of crumbs that always lies under the crunch of a muffin top. Most disappointing was that the direct heat of the waffle iron was too intense for the cornmeal, lending it a flavor that wasn’t burnt, just sort of over-toasted.

Better to let a waffle be a waffle. My dream waffle (dream waffle???) has a happy blend of flavors and textures: a little sweet, a little grainy, with its fluffy insides held in check by a lightly crisp jacket. Good waffles pair expertly with more than just scrambled eggs and bacon. Throw a couple of waffles on a plate and place a few slices of turkey with a touch of gravy and you’ll never look at an open face Turkey Sandwich the same way again. (Chicken and Waffles? Molto bene!)

I’m getting ahead of myself: first I have to make the waffles. I didn’t want to go through the fuss of yeast waffles; this was definitely a make and bake exercise. The burning question (well, hopefully NOT burning) was: how much cornmeal should I add to my waffle recipe to give it a lingering hint of corn muffin while still remaining a waffle? Too much cornmeal would prevent the waffles from puffing up in the iron, too little and why bother?

My favorite plain waffle recipe (from The Baker’s Manual by Jospeh Amendola and Nicole Rees) seemed like a good starting point. It makes a thin, eggy batter that I assumed would hold up to my addition of cornmeal like a good soldier. The recipe calls for ¾ cup of cake flour. I swapped that out for ½ cup of yellow cornmeal. This, along with the addition of a bit of extra sugar and stingy amounts of cinnamon and nutmeg was ideal.

The result was a moist waffle with an almost malty sweetness. The next time I’ll feel free to add perhaps another tablespoon or two of cornmeal, but it really isn’t necessary. These are waffles that are definitely waffles, but there is that faint undercurrent of muffin, and that’s all I need. A dusting of confectioner’s sugar, and a sliced strawberry or two were all I needed to be happy, and I’m sure Mom will be too. (If your Mom likes Maple Syrup, serve her the real thing. It’s a special day, right?)

In the meantime, Happy Mother’s Day to Dori, Alexandra, Leslie, Betsy, Cindy, Rosemarie, Sylvie, Barbara, Nancy, and all the other moms who have made our lives so happy.  (And oh yeah: my Mom too!)


Click here for the recipe for Cornmeal Waffles.


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No Hair

Chocolate Raspberry Babka

Chocolate Raspberry Babka

This past Friday I asked a trusted friend and advisor what I should make and write about in my blog this week.

“Babka,” came the answer, “Chocolate Babka. CHOCOLATE RASPBERRY BABKA,” the tone of voice making it clear that this was resolutely not a suggestion, but an assignment to be fulfilled in return for a favor recently delivered.

Now, aside from the fact that I have never actually baked a babka, I found this a really good – uh, suggestion. It’s been a while since I baked something that relied totally on my taste memories of years gone by. For most people I assume taste memory has nothing to do with it; for them, Chocolate Babka invokes the well-known “Seinfeld” episode where Jerry and Elaine get to the bakery too late and have to settle for a Cinnamon Babka – clearly (to their thinking) a lesser babka. To make matters worse, their babka has a hair in it. (This is also the episode where Jerry explains the profundity of the Black and White Cookie.)

In the past I have written about my obsession with food as it is portrayed on screen, but as you never actually see a babka in the “Seinfeld” episode, there is nothing for me to emulate. Anyway, I am not setting out to make a lesser babka, and certainly not a hairy one.

Here’s a game: in three words or less, describe babka for the uninitiated. I’m going to say “coffee cake on steroids.” I know: that was four words. A more complete description is a dense, sweet, filled, yeast cake. The traditional Jewish New York babka is made by filling and twisting or braiding the yeast dough. I see them all around the city in the shape of a loaf, but the babka of my youth was tall and round, notable for its hard, toasty, crunchy crust, its gooey filling, and its ample hat of crackling streusel. The tall, round cakes I remember must owe their shape to the traditional Russian – Polish version. The name Babka may come from “Baba” which translates as “Grandmother.” The theory is that the twisted, braided dough creates a design on the outside of the cake that looks like the pleats of a Grandma’s skirt. A version of this was made in the run up to Easter, so my timing is apt.

History lesson completed, I stepped out of the “Way-Back Machine” on a mission to build a better babka. In this case, I’m defining “better” as faster and maybe easier, because the traditional babka recipe I found is a bit of a lengthy project. As it turns out, no matter how you slice it (pardon the pun) making a babka is project baking, something best done when time is not an issue. The good news is that I have organized it into some easy steps. It still takes a little while, but none of the tasks are particularly difficult.

A babka recipe is really three recipes: the first, for the yeast dough, has the requisite rising time. The second and third recipes, for the filling and the streusel topping, are quick and simple, but contain a lot of moving parts.

This begs the question, “Why bother?” I have a couple of answers based specifically on my experiences baking babka this past weekend. The first answer is: because last Saturday night we New Yorkers experienced a howling, window-shaking rainstorm. In short, the perfect night for project baking, as I’m a terrible Scrabble player, so I stay stashed safely in the kitchen. The second answer is: I defy you to top the taste of babka straight from the oven, still marginally too hot to eat. My third answer (extra-credit) is: the aroma of baking babka will make you wish for more house-bound weather. Chocolate plus raspberry plus yeast. You do the math.

I’m not much of a coffee drinker, but I’ll pause in the coffee aisle of the supermarket just to smell the beans. Baking is the same experience; sometimes the aromas coming from the oven are worth the price of admission.

It would be fun to tell you that I got the recipe from my sainted great-grandmother, a legendary baker. But the truth is that the yeast dough recipe came from the back of a box of pearl sugar that has been sitting on my shelf longer than I can remember. It’s one of those recipes that gets a frequent look with the thought, “Someday…” The streusel is from my Butter Flour Eggs Crumb Cake recipe. The filling? I winged it. Oddly enough, I think the filling came out the best of the three.

I also added a small touch. Literally. Instead of baking one big babka, I baked two baby babkas. One for the previously mentioned friend and advisor, and one for me. A happy arrangement.

While I prefer the babka fresh from the oven, there is something gratifying about carefully toasted slices of day (or two) old babka with a dab of butter or cream cheese. (Don’t heat slices of babka in a toaster. The filling will drizzle out and make a mess. Use your oven and a cookie sheet.) The bonus here is that even reheated babka fills the kitchen with the same great baking smells.

Hair is optional.


Click here for my recipe for Chocolate Raspberry Babka.


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In With The New

These are a few of my favorite things...

These are a few of my favorite things...

I’m ending the year with a moment of revelation. I had sidled up to the dessert table at a holiday party, and was licking my chops, surveying the goods. Suddenly I became aware of two women working at the same task and leaned in to hear the whispers between them:

Woman 1: “Everything looks so good!”

Woman 2: (Gasping) “Look at those cookies!”

Woman 1: “Will you share one with me?”

“Will you share one with me?” That’s what caused my moment of revelation—enough that my attention was momentarily diverted from the sugar wafting into my nostrils like a soothing opiate. I realized that this was not the first time I had heard that question while standing before a mountain of sweets. I’ve heard it waiting in line for cupcakes at Magnolia Bakery. I’ve heard it while surveying 31 flavors of ice cream, and then again at the party a few days ago.

This reminds me of a friend who is a playwright. He gets a lot of comments about his work. Comments from the people who help him actually get his plays on stage. Comments from the directors who help him shape the story and bring it alive.  Comments from the actors who speak with a supposed inside knowledge of what their character may or may not really do. Comments from friends like me who make suggestions veiled as silly questions.

I assume though, that his most valuable feedback comes from eavesdropping on audience members in the lobby during intermission. There, he hears truths that people can’t or won’t speak to his face.

That’s what I was doing when I was listening to the two women next to me at the dessert table: eavesdropping, and what I took away was that people want smaller, less intimidating goodies.

Hmmmm. Is this my resolution for 2010? Have I started the “tiny foods” movement? Hardly. But out of respect for a world where people live in a seemingly never ending state of “on-a-diet” I am here to declare that you can have your tiny cake and eat it too.

Here’s my theory: Make everything smaller in size and larger in flavor. Each bite should be a punch in the mouth. A chocolate jab to the right? An upper cut of cheese? Okay, okay, I’m painfully straining the boxing metaphor. Mind you, I’m not counting calories here; this is merely an exercise in taking the intimidation out of the stuff you’ve been told not to eat. I think you get my drift: small bite / big flavor = sated with less.

With New Year’s Eve only minutes away, I propose to use the last night of the aughts and the first morning of the teens as a laboratory to prove my theory.

Ines Rosales and Serrano

Ines Rosales and Serrano Ham

My first choice? Easy. A few months ago I wrote about pairing Ines Rosales Sweet Olive Oil Tortas with Serrano Ham. I’ll be breaking the tortas into bite sized shards and wrapping them with paper thin slices of the ham. The tortas are a touch sweeter and a great deal crunchier than the usual melon that accompanies Serrano ham or Prosciutto, and less slippery too. To remove anything intimidating from the mix I’ll carefully peel the fat from the ham. Heresy to purists, I know, but still delicious.

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens? Forget those. Gougères are one of my favorite things. For the uninitiated, Gougères are classic French cheese puffs. I’ve decreased the bass and increased the treble: mine are button sized, and instead of the usual sweet, nutty gruyere cheese I found a Double Gloucester cheddar that is almost unbearably sharp—and bearably inexpensive. The sharpness of the cheese will be muted by the rich, eggy pastry; they’re small but they have big, big mouth feel.



Gougères are made from pate á choux—cream puff pastry. Intimidated? Don’t be. Using a Kitchen Aid stand mixer these are so easy to make it’s silly. The added bonus is that if you don’t add the cheese you can use the same recipe to make your own éclairs, cream puffs, and profiteroles. (Ahhh, profiteroles! Another favorite. Watch for an entire blog posting about those soon.)

Don’t forget dessert! Feel free to make those micro cupcakes, but those won’t tempt me. I need chocolate, and will be filling a large bowl with button sized chocolate chip cookies. I’ll be using the plain old Toll House cookie recipe but to give these minis some added punch, I’ll be adding half again as many chocolate chips as the recipe calls for, and adding a jolt by sprinkling an ever so light dusting of instant espresso powder over the teaspoon-sized cookies just before putting them in the oven.

Asiago Bread and Eggs

Asiago Cocktail Bread and Eggs

If you’re the type who will be staying up to greet the first dawn of the new decade allow me to recommend Asiago Cocktail Bread. Adding this to your repertoire gives you a yeast-less recipe that can work triple-duty tasks. Toast skinny slices of this cheese infused bread, and you end up with biscotti that can be dipped into glasses of red wine. A smear of onion dip (or just caramelized onions) on the biscotti and you have a no stress hors d’oeuvre that can be piled on a tray. Best of all, skip the toasting step and give folks greeting the dawn a little breakfast nibble by topping thin slices of the bread with a bit of scrambled egg. The untoasted slices give the gratifying starchiness of biscuits, minus the heaviness. (These are really good for those who the sunrise may find a bit “over-bubbly-ed.”)

If you’re wondering which bubbly to buy without breaking the bank, don’t overlook Prosecco, the Italian sparkling wine. Sweeter than most champagnes but much less expensive, Prosecco is very approachable—more so, I think, than the equally inexpensive but much drier Spanish Cava. That’s just my preference. I’m a lightweight and will spend most of the night drinking a non-alcoholic bubbly so you are allowed to take my opinion with a (very small) grain of salt.

Hey: see you next year!



Click here for the recipe for Gougères and click here for the recipe for Asiago Cocktail Bread.

In case you missed it, read my original posting about Ines Rosales Sweet Olive Oil Tortas. More about this next week…

Write to me at the email address below with any thoughts you may have. I’ll be happy to hear from you.

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Last things first…

I thought you were buying the batteries!

I thought you were buying the batteries!

The fall is a blessing to someone who writes a blog about food. After Labor Day, food-related holidays pop up, fast and furious, like wooden ducks at a carnival sharp shooter’s booth.

With Thanksgiving having just passed, we are at my unofficial halfway point of this shooting match, and the beginning of the holiday season. December always brings to mind George Jetson walking his dog Astro on the treadmill. There is so much to do, there are so many people to see, places to go, and yes, good food to eat, that by the time New Year’s Eve has ended we are like poor Mr. Jetson yelling, “Jane! Jane! Get me off this crazy thing!”

I love the holiday season, but I know my Kitchen Aid mixer will be marking off each December day on the calendar in anticipation of a well-earned January rest.

Even my usually sedate calendar is frothing with obligations. Among other things, I’m scheduled to bake cookies for a couple of parties (and, of course, for Santa,) and I have promised to bake a “Buche de Noel” (the holiday Yule log cake) for a Christmas party.

So why is it that my mind has already skipped ahead to Christmas morning breakfast? Does the anticipation of all the activity on my docket make me think I need to start off with a good breakfast?

Could be. But it makes me realize that every December volumes are written about holiday cookies, cocktail party finger foods, and jokes about how to prop open your garage door with Aunt Dottie’s fruitcake. Yet Christmas morn gets nary a word: are people merely grabbing fists-full of Cheerios and gulps of coffee between bouts of gift wrap decimation? I hope not, because breakfast is my favorite meal.

So in recognition of the fact that most people have other things beside breakfast on their minds in the early hours of December 25, I’m here to lobby on behalf of a proper holiday breakfast.

Even if you’ve spent Christmas Eve in a frenzy of gift wrapping and bicycle assembling I’m here to tell you that a special holiday breakfast is no sweat. If it is just the two of you then your motivation should be even more apparent: breakfast can be intoxicatingly romantic.

The concept is to use a bit of pre-planning and light advance work to make a home-made breakfast appear on the table with a fleet-footed magic that is not unlike Donner, Dasher, and Blitzen. Kids won’t notice, but your house full of adult guests will be suitably impressed, and perhaps even envious. They’ll wonder if you made a special deal with Santa to bring breakfast along with all the other sleigh-borne goodies.

When I think of a proper breakfast, my mind’s eye sees toasty waffles with a puffy interior, and a stack of fluffy pancakes to keep them company. But if there’s such a thing as a “mind’s nose” then that’s what Christmas morning breakfast should tickle: the smell of really good coffee brewing, maple syrup warming, and something good cooking. If you have any chance of getting the kids away from their new Wii (with the Water Sport Resort module—are you listening Santa?) and over to the breakfast table, this is it.

So (you ponder) what’s the problem here? Stock the freezer, and then Christmas morning fire up the toaster, you say? No sir (or ma’am): no frozen waffles for this blogging breakfast maven. The prepackaged mixes seem like the breakfast version of mystery meat to me, so I’ll pass on those as well. Who knows what some of that stuff is, and anyway, you often still have to use your own oil, eggs, and milk, so what’s the point?

The dirty little secret is that there’s no magic here. Simply make the pancake batter the night before. Are you worried that you’ll feel chained to the pancake griddle when you should be firing up that new digital HD Camcorder (hello? Santa?) to capture your loved ones laying waste to several tons of wrapping paper and ribbon? Don’t worry, because we’ll let your oven do all the work.

The waffles are only slightly more labor intensive, but for a good reason: these are yeast waffles. For my money, if you haven’t eaten yeast waffles you haven’t eaten waffles. Period. (It occurs to me that I may have crossed some kind of foodie line here. I mean, when you get snobby about waffles there’s no going back…but what can I say? They are airy, tangy, and crunchy. They’re really good.)

The pancake is based on the Dutch Baby or Dutch Skillet Pancake recipe that’s been around for years, which is a not too distant relative of popover or Yorkshire pudding batter. The recipe is very simple, and the result is actually somewhat lighter than regular pancakes. Here is where I’ve added the vanilla and cinnamon to scent the air and help you call everyone to the table.

Christmas Eve, when not a creature is stirring you can whisk together a very few basic ingredients, and stash them in the fridge. In the morning, pour the batter in a preheated skillet and then just pop it in a hot oven. Fifteen minutes later a puffy brown pancake appears, no elves required. Slice into wedges like you would a pizza, and it is ready for whatever you want to throw on top. Even though there are sautéed apples in the pancake my topping of choice is even more sautéed apples and a snowy dusting of confectioner’s sugar. Eggs? Fine. Bacon? Go for it.

The waffle batter is slightly more challenging in that the addition of yeast requires a bit of planning. But the good news is that the yeast-infused batter will also be sleeping in the refrigerator while Santa does his work. Christmas morning someone will need to be on waffle iron duty, but truth be told, cooking waffles in a waffle iron isn’t much harder than reheating frozen ones in a toaster: once they’re working you can walk away for a few minutes.

(Obviously both of these recipes are perfect year ‘round for any special breakfast, and the waffles are also incredible with fried chicken.)

Now that my furnace has been suitably stoked with a hearty breakfast—or the thought of one—I’m ready to plug in my happy little pre-lit tree (it spins!) and get moving on my holiday fun.

And Santa, if you’re reading this, I’ve been extra nice and I’m serious about that Wii.

Click here for my Dutch Apple Pancake recipe, and here for my Yeast Waffle recipe.

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