pancakes for the win

Everyone has a different tradition when it comes to kicking off the holiday season. For some people it revolves around things like ‘Black Friday’ shopping, extreme home decorating or proudly wearing a truly ugly sweater. For others it’s taking the kids to see Santa, sending out that years Christmas card (after agonizing over the picture) or seeing the first flakes of snow. For me it’s all about putting up the tree. Once that white light twinkling, ornament festooned, towering cone of green takes over the corner of my great room it’s ‘game on’. (Although to be honest there have been some years when I started working on my holiday gifts in September. There was the year everyone on my gift list got a hand knit scarf and another year when everyone got baskets of homemade goodies. I made and jarred my own applesauce, bottled my own flavored vinegar and made biscotti, nutella shortbread cookies and toasted almond crack like I was the last baker on Earth. And then I designed and printed my own labels and gift tags. Yeah, that year almost killed me.)

This year however is a different story, This year ‘game on’ is more like “Umm, what? There’s a game? Where?” You see even though we put up the tree earlier than usual and the house has been in a jingle all the way state for sometime— I have yet to knit a stitch, bake a crumb or even get my Christmas cards into the mail. Between the craziness of school assignments and obligations; “Sure I’ll come read to your class on my only day off.” “Yes I remembered the cash for your (crappy and overpriced) ‘Holiday Shop’. ‘The bow on your violin is damaged? Okay let me contact the music people, work out the details of getting a new one and then remember to send the damaged back to school with you.” (I didn’t remember. They had to remind me. It took several weeks to get the new bow. It hasn’t improved his playing.) “What time is your holiday concert and what exactly qualifies as your ‘holiday best’ outfit?” Your Minecraft shirt is green, will that work?!?” “You need how many holiday cards signed and addressed by you (and only you) for your kindergarten classmates? And by when?” “Oh and stocking stuffers for each and every one of them as well? Fantastic!” “No of course were not just giving money for a boring old class gift. Special teacher presents for everyone!” Not to mention we had a soccer season that lasted until Thanksgiving and basketball practice that started soon after, the double-whammy of both kids down with step and ‘Readers Workshop’ books needing to be read nightly and the accompanying flow chart updated (Ok so we got a bit behind on that and had to read six books on one night to catch up). With all this going on I haven’t exactly had the chance to properly pull together Christmas, and now that jolly ol’ Saint Nick will be here in only a handful of days the pressure is seriously on. Which brings me to the point of this post: pancakes. Ha! Betcha didn’t see that one coming did you?

For me pancakes are synonymous with Sunday mornings and Sunday mornings have to be without a doubt my favorite part of the week. On Sunday I get to enjoy my coffee (not guzzle it down before rushing out of the house), I get to read the paper or watch the news and I get to say “What do you want for breakfast?” and have it mean something other than toast or cold cereal. Sunday is the one day that breakfast means bowls and whisks, skillets and spatulas, time and effort, comfort and care. Often that resembles a stack of pancakes. My kids love pancakes. Love them. LOVE THEM! Pancakes with chocolate chips. Pancakes with diced strawberries. Pancakes with bananas. Even pancakes straight up. If you’re offering pancakes they’re eating! And so because I like Sunday mornings and they like pancakes and I like them… I make pancakes, frequently. In fact even when the week prior has been crazed and the one coming up looks no better. When Rudolph and his team are breathing down my neck and I don’t feel remotely filled with good cheer. Even when I’m officially out of time, energy and ideas… A Sunday morning stack of pancakes is never entirely out of the question. Why? Well because pancakes make them happy and because someday I hope they look back on these Sunday morning breakfasts nostalgically. And because good homemade entirely from scratch pancakes are actually easy. “Easy like Sunday morning…”

Simple Homemade Pancakes
I know it’s easy to open a box of pre-mix and just add a little water, but this recipe really is simple and the pancakes are delicious.

pancake

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp. granulated sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups low-fat milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil

  1. In a large bowl whisk together all the dry ingredients. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl beat the eggs, then whisk in the milk and oil.
  3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, whisking until just incorporated and a few small lumps remain.
  4. Lightly grease a skillet or large griddle and heat. Pour 1/4 cup batter onto the hot griddle and cook until bubbles begin to form on the surface. Flip and cook the opposite side until done. Serve with butter and plenty of maple syrup.

bacon!

Ba·con. (bey-kuhn) noun. Cured and smoked meat from the sides and belly of a pig. Bacon. A smell immediately identifiable by hard core vegans and dyed in the wool carnivores alike. Bacon. A food that has reached a cult like obsession within the food community. Bacon. An item that until I made it myself, I really never gave a flying fig about. Bacon. The topic of this post…

Sure I’m the girl who gave you candied bacon, followed naturally by Candied Bacon Fudge; but I never really considered bacon as anything more than just another ingredient. However strangely enough, when we became the proud owners of a smoker my first thought was BACON! Crazy, right? Or perhaps not… Anytime I can figure out how to make something from scratch that I’ve ALWAYS had to buy, I do. Bacon seemed to fit that criteria perfectly! The more I considered bacon (be it homemade or store-bought) the more I began to see it’s inherent value. What would Quiche Lorraine be without bacon? And how sad would that BLT sandwich be without good ol’ bacon? Not to mention my roasted brussels sprouts or mashed turnips. I quickly came to the conclusion that bacon is in fact much more of a superstar than I’ve been giving it credit for.

Last summer was the first time we attempted curing and smoking a pork belly. I couldn’t find one recipe that seemed exactly right, so I cobbled two of them together and dove headlong into the process. The resulting bacon was not exactly a success. It was bacon all right but it was extraordinarily salty bacon, way too salty to be eaten on it’s own. I ended up using it in a variety of yummy recipes, but my desire to create the perfect slab of homemade bacon still loomed large in my little foodie heart. I spent the winter on a mission to find what I deemed the ideal bacon recipe, I was a girl obsessed. And then I found it. A recipe from Whole Foods for Brown Sugar-Black Pepper cured bacon. Naturally I tweaked the recipe a smidge (come on now, you know I can’t help myself!) but followed the curing directions to a tee. And guess what happened? Deliciousness baby. Total and absolute deliciousness!

We ate the bacon just as is. We ate bacon and egg sandwiches (on homemade english muffins). We ate black-eyed peas with bacon, brussels sprouts with bacon and maple syrup and one of my all time favorite side dishes— braised collard greens with bacon. We were in a bacon stupor and damn we were happy.

Bacon. Possibly the world’s most perfect food.

Homemade Brown Sugar-Black Pepper Bacon
Delish. Delish. Delish.

bacon group4

5 lbs. fresh deboned pork belly
4 cups coarse kosher salt
2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 tbsp. ground black pepper

  1. Rinse pork belly and then pat dry with paper towels to remove excess moisture.
  2. Combine salt, brown sugar, granulated sugar and back pepper in a mixing bowl. Place half of the mixture in a large lidded container. Add the pork and cover with the remaining salt mixture, being sure that it is fully submerged in the salt.
  3. Cover and refrigerate the pork belly for 1 week, checking on it once or twice to be sure it’s still fully covered with the salt mixture. This will “cure” the belly, creating salt pork (a.k.a. unsmoked bacon).
  4. Remove the pork from the cure and rinse well under cold water. Fill a bowl large enough to hold the pork belly with water and submerge the pork. Allow to soak for 30 minutes then pat dry with paper towels and place on a rack fitted in a large rimmed baking pan (a lasagna pan works well). Refrigerate, uncovered, overnight to air-dry.
  5. Prepare the grill (or smoker) for indirect cooking over very low heat. Add 1 wood chunk (such as hickory or pecan) to the charcoal, or add 1 handful of the wood chips to the smoker box of a gas grill, following manufacturer’s instructions. Close the lid. When the wood begins to smoke, place the pork belly over indirect heat.
  6. Cook until pork is firm and slightly darker, about 1 1/2 hours, until the internal temperature reaches 145-150°F. Remember, you’re infusing the pork belly with a smoky flavor, not fully cooking it at this point. (If using a charcoal grill, replenish the charcoal as needed to maintain a steady temperature. Add 1 wood chunk to the charcoal every 30 minutes, or drain and add 1 handful of the remaining wood chips to the smoker box every 20 minutes before the old chips burn out.)
  7. Allow bacon to cool, then cover and store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks or thoroughly wrap and freeze for up to 2 months. (The colder the bacon is the easier it will be to slice.)
  8. Thinly slice, cook and enjoy!

*adapted from whole foods

Braised Collard Greens with Bacon
Even if you’re unfamiliar with collards and don’t really think you’d like them, this recipe will change your mind. It’s honestly one of my most favorite things to eat.

3/4 cups homemade bacon cut into lardons (or slab bacon, diced)
1 1/2 lb. bunch collard greens
4 cups onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, grated
1 12 oz. bottle of beer
2 cups chicken stock
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper

  1. Dice the bacon, add to an already hot stockpot and allow it to crisp and the fat to render, about 5-8 min. Rinse the collard greens and remove the tough center stem of each leaf. Stack a few leaves together and slice them into thin strips. Repeat with the remaining leaves.
  2. Add the diced onion and garlic to the bacon fat and saute until the onion is translucent. Add the beer to deglaze the pan, being sure to scrape up any brown bits that have formed on the bottom.
  3. Add the sliced greens and stir until they are all moistened. Cover and cook for 5 minutes or until they begin to wilt. Add the spices and stock, reduce to low and cover. Allow to simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. Uncover and cook for 15- 25 more minutes. (I like my greens to still have a bit of texture to them so I cook them for 35 minutes, if you like yours mushy go for the 45.)

suffering for strawberries

When I think about Summer I think about adventure. New sights. New sounds. New experiences. Since I’m now a working girl my time with the kids is really limited, they’re busy with camp and grandparents all summer and they’re both getting to the age were friends are beginning to trump Mom. So when it comes to entertaining my little loves on our days together, I go out of my way to keep things interesting. We do things like tromp around Storm King Art Center and spend the day digging for sand crabs at Sandy Hook. Explore lower Manhattan and visit the new baby gorilla at the Bronx Zoo. Just last week we spent the morning strawberry picking in Western N.J.

Apple and often blueberry picking has become a part of our annual trip to Vermont each August. Every one looks forward to hiking through the orchard, snacking on perfectly crisp apples and enjoying the rolling Green Mountain views. A trip North just wouldn’t seem complete without it. But that’s the extent of their PYO repertoire; they’ve never gone asparagus, peach or even strawberry picking. I have vivid memories of picking mountains of incredibly sweet red strawberries and eating them for days, weeks (or because my mother often froze a bunch) months on end thereafter. It seemed to me to be time that my own children enjoyed (or perhaps suffered through) the same experience. If you’ve gone strawberry picking before then you know exactly what I’m talking about, if you haven’t then let me quickly set the scene.

Strawberries, the sweetest of Mother Natures fruits, are typically grown in long, dusty, very low to the ground and completely unshaded rows. They also happen to be ready for picking when (and only when) the temperatures reach hellfire hot. So you may be wondering, did my cherubs charge headlong into this sweaty adventure yelling “Thanks for the wonderful memories Mom!” or “Don’t worry about Lilly, I’ll resuscitate her. You just keep picking those sweet, sweet berries!” Um no, not exactly. They did make an effort to see how quickly we could fill up our basket, they made a game of finding the mostly perfectly or oddly shaped berry and they were already discussing what to make with our bounty as we left the field. Sounds like the perfect image, right? Yeah, perhaps it would have been had my yelling “I’m sorry this isn’t your idea of fun. Go wait for me at the farm stand if you’re that miserable!” hadn’t proceeded it. Sigh…

As Harry Truman is quoted as saying: “The reward of suffering is experience.” And apparently strawberries.

Homemade Ricotta Waffles with Fresh Strawberry Sauce
Even if you’re usually not a sweet for breakfast type, you’ll love these waffles.

strawberry waffles2

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour
1/2 cup stone-ground cornmeal
1 tbsp. granulated sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 1/2 cups low-fat milk
1/2 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
2 eggs
3 tbsp. canola oil
Strawberry Sauce, for serving (recipe below)
  1. In a large bowl, stir together the all-purpose flour, cake flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the milk, ricotta, eggs and oil. Stir the milk mixture into the flour mixture just until smooth.
  2. Coat a waffle maker lightly with oil, wiping off any excess with a paper towel. Preheat according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  3. Spoon in the batter, close lid and cook until the waffle is golden brown, 5 minutes. Repeat with the remaining batter, keeping prepared waffles warm in a low temp. oven.
  4. Serve the waffles with fresh strawberry sauce and enjoy. Makes 6-8 waffles.

*adapted from williams-sonoma 

Fresh Strawberry Sauce
This simple sauce is perfect on waffles or pancakes, yogurt of even ice cream. 

2 1/2 cups sliced fresh strawberries
2 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

  1. Place all the ingredients in a medium sauce pan and gently stir together. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook over medium heat for 30 minutes, stirring frequently, until the fruit breaks down and the sauce reduces.
  2. Cool slightly and serve with abandon.

indian summer lavender-lemon muffins

We may have just celebrated Halloween but I still have overflowing pots of herbs happily growing on my back steps. I’m thinking about turning some into herbed salt, freezing a bit and making a little chimichuri with a bunch, but really I’d prefer to use as much as I can right now while they’re still fresh. Sage, basil, tarragon, thyme and rosemary are a real no-brainer, you can throw those herbs into just about any savory dish and come out with a winning meal, but what about the lavender? Lavender flowers have a gazillion uses, but recipes using the fresh leaves are much more limited. Lavender, lavender, lavender… what should I do with you?

While I was recipe hunting I found a few recipes for rosemary and lemon shortbread. While I did briefly consider making cookies I thought muffins would be more fun and instead of rosemary I decided to use that elusive fresh lavender. The resulting Lavender-Lemon Muffins were a huge hit, fresh with a subtle lavender flavor and a lovely pop of sweet from the lemon glaze on top. They have quickly become another Greco family favorite and perhaps they’ll become one of your families favorites as well.

Lavender-Lemon Muffins
The lavender in these babies is subtle not overwhelmingly perfumey. They’re really pretty delicious.

lavender-lemon muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tbsp. finely chopped fresh lavender
zest of one lemon
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup low-fat milk
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 whole eggs + 1 egg white

1 cup powdered sugar
1 tbsp. lemon juice

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners and lightly coat with cooking spray. In a large bowl combine together the flour, lavender, lemon zest, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  2. Place the sugar and remaining ingredients (through eggs) in a medium bowl; beat with a mixer at low speed until smooth. Add the wet mixture to the dry and beat again until blended.
  3. Spoon batter into prepared muffin tins. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  4. Combine the powdered sugar and lemon juice. Stir until smooth and set aside.
  5. When the muffins are finished baking allow them to cool completely on a wire rack before drizzling with lemon glaze. Let glaze set and enjoy!

pumpkinpalooza

As far as seasonal food trends go the pumpkin-spice craze has got to be the biggest one around. Each Fall the world seems to be overrun with all things pumpkin: pumpkin spice pasta, pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin spice marshmallows, pumpkin spice beer and vodka, pumpkin spice potato chips, pumpkin spice body lotion, pumpkin spice bagels to go with pumpkin spice cream cheese and of course pumpkin spice room freshener (a must for every seasonally appropriate home). Whew— thats quite a list, but it doesn’t stop there. We’re so off our rockers over this spicy combination that even the beloved M&M isn’t safe from it. Thats right folks, Pumpkin Spice M&M’s available exclusively at Target and completely sold out when I recently looked for them. It would appear that we’re treading dangerously close to a world-wide state of pumpkin spice hysteria.

Not wanting to be left out, I too decided to make friends with pumpkin. It is after all high in fiber, a cup of puree contains a day’s worth of vitamin A and more potassium than a banana, it’s rich in beta-carotene which is good for your eyesight and lowers the risk of developing cancer or heart disease and the seeds contain chemicals called “phytosterols” which help reduce LDL. So really whats not to love about it, right? If you recall I already use it for my devil dogs Pumpkin-oatmeal dog biscuits and in the past I’ve substituted it for butternut squash in soup, but the weather was cool and I felt like baking…

Last Fall I gave you my coveted Cranberry-Orange Muffin recipe and while I still maintain it’s muffin perfection, I decided to play around with the recipe just the same. A few spices, some pumpkin puree, a little yogurt and one crumble topping later a new Greco family seasonal favorite was born.

Pumpkin-Cranberry Crumble Muffins
These muffins are the perfect way to enjoy the flavors of the season.

pumpkin-cranberry muffin4

Crumble:
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. butter, melted

Batter:
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
a pinch of nutmeg
12 oz. bag fresh cranberries
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. Angostura bitters
3/4 cup canned unsweetened pumpkin
1/4 cup plain Russian kefir yogurt (or Greek)

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners and spray with cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. In a small bowl combine the oats, flour, brown sugar, ginger, salt and melted butter. Use a fork (or your fingers) to blend the mixture until it’s crumbly, breaking up any large clumps. Set aside.
  3. Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl, gently stir in the cranberries.
  4. In a medium bowl combine all the wet ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until well blended (the batter will be thick). Spoon evenly into the lined muffin cups, top with a generous amount of crumble and bake for 30 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. Remove from the oven and allow muffins to cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then place on a wire rack for remainder of cooling

*recipe makes 12-16 muffins

eggs florentine for justice

As you know by now I cook A LOT. I consider myself fairly well versed in the kitchen and I’d like to think that at least 89.9% of the time I serve my family something that qualifies as tasty (no one can be perfect all the time, right). But for all the success I have in the kitchen there is one area where I’m a big ‘ol failure… bread baking. Bread baking is without a doubt my kryptonite. I’m inexplicably drawn to it and it kicks my butt each and every time. Sure I can make tasty drop biscuits or simple yeast rolls, but what I truly and with all my heart long to make is an eye rollingly delicious, crusty on the outside light and wonderful on the inside loaf of bread. A simple seeded boule or a rustic baguette, bread so delicious it could easily serve as the meal, rather than just the accompaniment to it. I’ve joked that I either need a bread baking class or an intervention! I have yet to participate in either, but I’m head-strong and hell-bent on conquering this bread baking thing and so I intend to keep on trying.

Last week, while my kids were busy visiting their grandparents, I took the opportunity to cook things that I don’t ordinarily get to. While I didn’t make another attempt at my dream loaf, I did do a little baking with surprisingly successful results. I’ve been kicking around the idea of making homemade english muffins for some time now, however most of the recipes I’ve come across require special muffin rings, which I don’t have and I wasn’t sure if I felt like investing in. And so the english muffin idea had kinda been put on the back burner. Then I stumbled upon a recipe that not only called for a standard biscuit cutter, but also for the SAF instant yeast (which I had bought thinking it was the golden ticket to my boule success) I had sitting in my freezer begging to be used. The opportunity was too good to pass up. Once again I found myself giving into the bread baking monkey on my back and giving Buttermilk English Muffins a try.

I was stunned by the results. Seriously, stunned. They weren’t perfect but they were pretty damn close. I met my husband at the front door baking tray in hand singing “I made english muffins…I made english muffins…” (by now he’s become immune to singing and dancing over baked goods.) I couldn’t believe that I actually managed to pull it off. So how’d I do it? Believe it or not, I just followed the directions…

I know just as well as anyone that cooking is about taking what exists and making it your own. Baking on the other hand is nuclear physics. You could do everything according to the book and on the final step set the dial on the particle accelerator just a touch too far to the right and— disaster. Yeah, that about sums up my experience with bread baking. So far so good…so far so good…so far so good…kablooie! But this time I was determined for the outcome to be different. Recipes often give dry ingredient measurements in weights and volumes. I have a kitchen scale but I always considered weighing my flour to be way to Alton Brown and not enough Barefoot Contessa. Turns out I thought wrong. (Damn, I hate when that happens!)

Anyway after the glow of my muffin success wore off I realized I had almost two dozen english muffins on my hands and no kids to help me consume them. Simple toasting and slathering with butter and jam would be fine, but I didn’t feel it did these babies a proper justice. No they really begged for special treatment, something like a key ingredient in a fancy-dish-I-love-but-would-never-make-for-myself. Well there’s only one dish that comes to mind that I love, would never make for myself and includes english muffins— Eggs Florentine baby.

Homemade English Muffins
These are fairly simple to make and will make you feel like the rock-star baker you always pictured yourself to be.

new muffins3

2 cups light buttermilk
3 3/4 cups (1 lb. 5 oz.) bread flour, plus more as needed
4 1/2 tsp. instant dry yeast (such as SAF brand)
2 tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. kosher salt
2 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. canola oil

  1. Warm the buttermilk over low heat to 120°F. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 200°F and then turn off.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, add the bread flour, yeast, sugar and salt and mix together with a whisk. Turn the mixer on and add the buttermilk in a steady stream, then add the honey and oil and allow to mix on med-high speed until the dough is almost smooth but still a little shaggy. Reduce the speed to low and allow to mix until all the flour is fully incorporated, about another 3 minutes. (Add a little more flour if the dough is very sticky.)
  3. Place dough in a non-oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the still warm oven to rise until doubled, about 1 hr.
  4. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the dough onto a work surface well dusted with cornmeal and roll it out to about 1/2″ thick (scatter the top of the dough with cornmeal to prevent it from sticking to the rolling pin). Using a 3-inch biscuit cutter, cut the dough into rounds. Transfer the dough rounds onto the prepared baking sheets and repeat with the remaining dough. Cover loosely with plastic wrap, slide back into the turned off oven and let rise, about 1 hour.
  5. Remove the baking sheets and preheat the oven to 350°F. Gently transfer the rounds to a dry skillet or cast-iron griddle (trying not to distort their shape in the process) and over medium-low heat lightly brown each side, about 1 minute per side. Return them to the baking sheet and repeat with the remaining dough rounds.
  6. Bake until puffed and golden brown, about 10-12 minutes. Let cool on a rack before splitting (with a fork) and slathering with butter. (We actually like our english muffins split and toasted, but you can eat them however you like.) Store in a ziploc bag or bread bag for future use. Makes about 21 muffins.

*adapted from williams sonoma

Eggs Florentine
I made the english muffins and the hollandaise sauce for this recipe from scratch, you are under no obligation to do the same. Pick up a pack of store bought muffins and an envelope of hollandaise mix and get to poaching up some eggs.

eggs florentine3

1/2 tbsp. butter
5 ounces baby spinach leaves, rinsed but not dried
1/4 tsp. salt and pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tbsp. white vinegar
4 large eggs
homemade (or store-bought) hollandaise sauce (see recipe below)

  1. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the spinach, season with salt, pepper and garlic powder and cook until it just wilted, about 2 minutes. Drain the spinach in a sieve, pressing gently to remove some, but not all, excess liquid, and set aside
  2. Fill a glass bowl with hot tap water and set aside. In a high-sided saucepan, combine 4 cups water and the vinegar and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and stir the water to create a whirlpool. Crack an egg into a small shallow bowl and gently slip the egg into the center of the swirling water.
  3. Allow the egg to cook until the white is opaque and the egg is just firm enough to hold its shape, about 3-4 minutes. Using a large slotted spoon, gently lift the egg out of the water and carefully transfer it to the bowl of hot water. Repeat with the remaining eggs.
  4. To serve, use a fork to split each english muffin and lightly toast. Place one english muffin on each plate. Top each half with a mound of spinach and then a poached egg. Spoon 1-2 tablespoons of hollandaise over each egg and serve. Pour remaining hollandaise in a pitcher for additional saucing. Serves 2.

Hollandaise Sauce
This sauce contains raw egg yolks. If this bothers you look for a recipe that involves cooking the eggs or use store-bought hollandaise (you have my permission).

4 large egg yolks
juice of a lemon
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
2 tsp. warm water
8 ounces (1 cup) unsalted butter, melted

  1. In a blender, combine the egg yolks, lemon juice, salt, black pepper, cayenne and water. Pulse once or twice to lightly blend, then with the blender running slowly add the warm melted butter, processing until the sauce is thick and smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning. If the sauce is too thick, add a little more water to thin it.
  2. Transfer the hollandaise sauce to a glass bowl. Cover with saran wrap and place over a saucepan of hot, but not simmering water, to keep warm.

*adapted from williams sonoma

mea culpa muffins

I think I owe you an apology. You see I have a recipe, a really good one that I know you’ll like, and I’ve been purposely keeping it to myself. I don’t know why. I’m usually a good about sharing and not at all the jealous or easily threatened type, but I guess my actions would say otherwise. And the real kicker about this recipe is that there’s a time component to its key ingredient. In other words, if I don’t share this recipe with you now I’ll have to wait another year before I can.

Oh the inner struggle; the soul searching; and ultimately the decision to come clean with you my readers and share this most coveted of recipes.

So here goes. Here’s the recipe you’re gonna love, you’ve gotta try and you can’t go wrong with. (drum roll please) It is… Cranberry Orange Muffins! I know, you’re feeling let down right about now, right? All this fuss over a muffin. I hear ya, but these muffins really and truly are the most fantastic muffins you’ll ever make. Ever. I’ve been making these babies every Fall/Winter (when fresh cranberries are available in stores) since my son was a toddler—he’s now 8—and I have yet to have a single man, woman or child declare them anything but delicious.

So here you go my dear reader, my loyal listener, here is the recipe most near and dear to my heart. Use it well and think of me fondly with each “Wow, these muffins are delicious!” compliment you accept.

Cranberry-Orange Muffins
This recipe would also work well as a quick bread but since muffins make the perfect breakfast or school snack, I usually stick to muffins.

cran-orange muffins3

2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
zest of 1 orange
1 egg
1/4 cup canola oil
2/3 cup orange juice
1 bag fresh cranberries, rinsed

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line muffin pan with liners, lightly spray with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. Add the orange zest to the flour mixture and whisk to combine. Toss in the cranberries and stir until each is well coated with flour.
  3. In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg. Add the oil and orange juice and whisk together. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and stir until just moist. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin and bake for 16-18 minutes, until muffins are golden and a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  4. Allow the muffins to cool in the pan for 5 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool the remainder of the way.

Hooray for Back to School!

Ahhh, back to school. I love this time of year for all the obvious parent of a school-age child reasons and yet I dread it as well. I can totally do without the daily scramble to get out the door on time, the projects meant to teach my child something but really just showcase my craft abilities and the “just get your homework out if the way so you can relax after dinner” conversation my son and I have every afternoon. But what I dislike the most about back to school is packing lunches and snacks. Funny right, since I’m so food obsessed, but true nonetheless.

Thankfully most nights my husband takes over lunch duty, but I’m still in charge of snack. At my son’s school the kids bring in a snack and a drink everyday, but the snack must be a healthy one. They are not allowed to bring in any junk food, cookies, gummy whatnot or simply unhealthy treats. I agree with this policy, little brains can’t learn when fueled by junk, but it does pose a bit of a challenge as well. While I would sooner throw myself off a bridge than send my son to school with a Ring-Ding, there are only so many pieces of fruit I can give the kid before he revolts. Muffins and quick-breads are my solution. I can make them in all sorts of flavor combinations, with honest and healthy ingredients and add a little demerara sugar or a simple glaze topping to make them seem a little less boring and a little more kid-appealing.

So there’s one school related hurdle down, now to finish my (I mean his) model of the Parthenon that’s due on Monday…

Pineapple-Zucchini Muffins
I didn’t peel the zucchini and my children didn’t seem to mind the green flecks in their muffins. But if yours will then by all means peel away!

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup crushed pineapple in juice, drained (reserve juice for glaze)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tbsp. reserved pineapple juice

  1. Preheat to 375° F. Put liners in muffin pan, spray lightly with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar. In a separate bowl combine the oil, vanilla, eggs, zucchini and pineapple and stir until combined.
  3. Add the wet to the dry ingredients and mix well. Scoop batter into muffin pan and bake for 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from pan and place on a rack to cool completely before glazing.
  4. For the glaze: In small bowl mix together the powdered sugar and pineapple juice until well blended. Drizzle glaze over cooled muffins and let set 5 minutes before serving.

*adapted from stolen moments cooking

“those” blueberry muffins

My family and I just returned from our annual summer vacation in Vermont. It’s our yearly opportunity to kick back, relax and enjoy doing all the wonderful outdoor country things the Green Mountains have to offer; not the least of which is going blueberry and apple picking. July is actually blueberry season in New England which means that come mid August the pickins’ were a bit slim. But what was left on the bushes was so crazy plump, sweet and juicy that we had to fight to kids to actually have enough left in our pail to bring home!

Blueberries are one of my favorite fruits. They’re perfect eaten out of hand, can jazz up an ordinary bowl of cold cereal, turn plain pancakes into something special and even add a little something unexpected to a green salad. They’re perfect made into sauce, jam or even turned into an infused cocktail. It seems like the simple blueberry has limitless possibilities.

As you are aware, a few weeks ago I was on a blueberry muffin bender of sorts. I made numerous batches, tweaking and adjusting the recipe again and again until I had what I thought was a winning version. But (sigh) it wasn’t, at least not in the eyes of the bake-off judges. So while my dear son proudly basked in his bake-off glory I quietly collected my cake plate and headed for the door…

But damn it, I worked hard on those muffins and I stand by my recipe! So here it is; the recipe that didn’t make me famous, win me a blue ribbon or change my baking career forever. They may not have been winners at the bake-off, but I still think these are some of the tastiest blueberry muffins you’ll ever make. But you be the judge.

Blueberry-Limoncello Muffins with a Lemon Zest Crumble Topping
These muffins are equally tasty without the limoncello (substitute lemon juice instead) and are great in mini size as well.

For the muffins:
2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup white sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
zest of 1 lemon
1 pint fresh blueberries (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup limoncello
1/2 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

For the crumble:
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup + 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
zest of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners and spray with cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Gently stir in the blueberries and lemon zest.
  3. In a medium bowl combine the melted butter, lemon juice, limoncello, yogurt, egg, and vanilla; stir well with a whisk. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and fold everything together until just moist. Set bowl of batter aside and make the crumble topping.
  4. For the topping; in a small bowl combine the sugar, flour, and lemon zest. Add in the butter and stir until the mixture is crumbly, breaking up any large clumps.
  5. Give the batter one last stir then spoon evenly into the lined muffin cups. Top with a generous amount of crumble.
  6. Bake for 16-18 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow muffins to cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then place on a wire rack for remainder of cooling.

And the winner is…

I bake all the time, almost weekly in fact. Usually it’s cookies for my “should never be empty” cookie jar or some crazy homemade goldfish crackers or pretzel bite recipe I found on Pintrest. And sometimes it’s lush seasonal fruit muffins, either mini or full size. What I like most about muffins is they’re quick to whip up, easy to make nutritious, and ideal to have on hand for a quick breakfast or afternoon snack. So when I decided to enter a local “Summer Berry Bake-Off” contest the first thing that came to mind was… muffins.

I happen to have a knock ’em dead Fresh Cranberry and Orange Muffin recipe that would without question have been a winner. I’ve been making this recipe for years and I have yet to have anyone not like them— children included. (Oh yeah, they’re really that good.) But… unlike a lot of other produce available year round, cranberries are only grown in the Northern United States and Canada and they’re only in season (and available) October through December. So in other words, I would not be making my cranberry-orange muffins in July! Okay, onto Plan B.

Since the combination of cranberry and orange is such a winner then how about another berry and citrus match up? How about blueberry and lemon? Hmmm, a recipe slowly formed in my brain. I still had some homemade limoncello in the refrigerator, that might be a great way to make my muffins stand out against the competition. So there it was, my bake-off entry would be (drum roll please) Blueberry-Limoncello Muffins with a Crumb Topping.

I worked like a mad woman to perfect this recipe. If you were at my house last week or went to camp with my kids then odds are you tasted one of my variations of this muffin. Naturally witness to this baking frenzy were my son and daughter, who were more than happy to partake in the repeated taste testing. In fact my son was so taken with the bake-off idea that he decided he wanted to enter something in the 10 yrs. and under division. Another eager baker in the Greco house? Fantastic! Let’s do a little recipe research my boy and come up with a plan. And so we did.

We looked at recipes that contained a limited amount of ingredients, would be easy for him to execute with only a little help from me, could possibly be made ahead of time and would of course be award winningly delicious. Not such easy criteria to meet, right? But meet it we did. The recipe we ended up picking was a Summer Strawberry and Cream Scone. These scones were loaded with fresh juicy strawberries, easy to put together and could be made and frozen a day ahead and baked fresh the morning if the contest. It was the perfect combination!

Fast forward to the day of the bake-off; we both proudly carried in our entries and were met with numerous oohs and aahs from the registration committee. Would this mother-son team sweep the contest? Would our grinning faces be plastered on the front page of the paper? Would the name Greco instill fear and dread in local baking circles? We added our entries to the others on the table and walked away, it was now all in the hands of the judges.

While we waited for the judging to take place we talked about how great it would be to win. But we agreed that winning wasn’t the most important thing, it was just fun to do this together. That is until my sweet boy, my first-born, my one and only son— rocked his division and won first place! He hooted and hollered, spun around in the air and hi-fived a competitor before they could even tell him what he had won. My daughter rushed the stage, arms raised high, yelling “I won!, I won!”, (which of course if you know her then you know she has to do everything her big brother does.) It was an exciting, entertaining and truly proud moment for our family and the entire bake-off crowd.

He’s already been talking about what he’d like to enter for next years competition and was eager to start making dishes out of the kids cookbook that was one of his prizes. I’d like to think that one day we’ll look back at this bake-off as the beginning of all his culinary adventures.

Oh and you may be wondering how my muffins went over. Well, let’s just say there’s always next year…

Summer Strawberry & Cream Scones
These are delicious on their own but according to my blue ribbon winner, even better with a little strawberry jam or vanilla ice cream on the side!

scones2

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, frozen
1 cup chopped fresh strawberries
1 cup heavy cream
1 beaten egg, for wash
1 tbsp. heavy cream, for wash
demerara sugar, for topping

  1. Preheat oven to 400°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Add the butter by grateing it on the large holes of a box grater. Stir the butter into the flour mixture with a fork until the mixture looks crumbly. With a wide spatula, gently mix in the strawberries and then fold in heavy cream. When you’ve given it a good mix,  knead it once or twice in the bowl to create one large lump of dough. (Don’t worry about getting the dough evenly mixed. It’s far more important that the dough is not overworked.)
  3. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead a few times to incorporate dry ingredients. Sprinkle top of dough with additional flour and press/pat it into a 3/4 inch thick circle. Cut the circle into thirds and then into wedges. Transfer wedges to the cookie sheet, leaving at least 1/2 inch of space between them.*
  4. Whisk together the egg and 1 tbsp. of heavy cream. Brush the top of each scone with the egg wash and sprinkle with demerara sugar. Bake 8 minutes, spin the cookie sheet around and bake for an additional 3-5 minutes or until the tops are beginning to brown. Let cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature with jam, clotted cream or vanilla ice cream.

*To make ahead and freeze: Make the scones as instructed above. Place them on a parchment lined cookie sheet, cover with plastic wrap and slide the cookie sheet into the freezer. When you’re ready to bake them brush the still frozen scones with the egg wash, sprinkle them with sugar and pop them into a preheated oven, adding 2 to 3 minutes to your baking time.

*adapted from smitten kitchen

you’re so granola!

I happen to be a savory, not a sweet girl (but then you may have already known that!) I like bold flavors like dark chocolate, strong coffee and dry red wine. This preference of mine is most evident at breakfast time. I’m a sunny side up eggs, grits with butter or even last night’s leftovers kinda girl. The idea of a stack of pancakes smothered in syrup and butter makes my stomach ache. In fact I have childhood memories of waking up to the smell of pancakes cooking and thinking “oh yuck, not pancakes again.” (sorry Mom!) Anyway you get the idea, I don’t like sweet, especially in the morning.

My breakfast most weekday mornings is usually something fast, simple and often consumed standing at the kitchen counter. Something like toast with butter, a homemade muffin or granola with a dollop of plain yogurt. Good store bought granola can be expensive and is often too high in calories to feel like I’m starting the day the right way. So instead I make my own. It’s quite tasty and as long as you keep an eye on it while it bakes (a lesson I learned the hard way) almost foolproof to make.

While standing at said kitchen counter one recent morning I thought to myself “I wonder how difficult it is to make yogurt.” It turns out it’s not difficult at all, but it is a process. It’s by no means hard or even particularly labor intensive, but if you want a bowl if fresh yogurt and granola on Sunday morning, then you better start cooking it on Saturday morning.

I read a lot of recipes for making yogurt before attempting my first batch and it turns out that the science of fermenting milk is fairly straightforward: You heat the milk to just short of boiling, cool the milk to a temperature that will allow the yogurt cultures to grow, stir in the cultures and let it sit in a warm and undisturbed spot for several hours. And voilà— yogurt!

My homemade yogurt was creamy, delicious and much more lush than store bought. And even though it was crazy easy to make, I still get this great sense of accomplishment each time I sit down to eat it (or lean against the counter as the case may be). But next time I make it I think I’ll double the recipe. Now that my family has tasted homemade yogurt they look truly offended when I try to offer them the store bought variety. But I guess I only have myself to blame…

Homemade Granola
This granola can really be customized with whatever dried fruits or nuts that
appeal to you the most.

2 1/2 cups regular rolled oats
3 tbsp. wheat germ
2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp of salt
2 tbsp. coconut oil
1/2 cup apple juice
4 tbsp. maple syrup
1 tbsp. honey
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup apricots, diced
1 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 cup sunflower seeds

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly grease baking sheet with cooking-oil spray. In a large bowl, combine the oats, wheat germ, cinnamon, nuts, dried fruit, coconut and salt. Mix well.
  2. In a small bowl combine the apple juice, maple syrup, honey. Mix well.
  3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, stirring until the mixture is fully combined and moist.
  4. Spread the mixture on the baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently until golden brown and crisp.
  5. Remove from the oven and stir again. Allow to cool. Store the granola in an airtight container.

*adapted from Body + Soul

Homemade Yogurt
You can make this yogurt with whole milk or 2% if you like, but I don’t think I would use skim milk.

1/2 gallon organic 2% milk
1/2 cup plain yogurt (store bought or your own)
1/2 cup organic powdered milk (optional)

  1. Preheat your oven on to 250°F. When it comes to temperature turn it off but keep the door closed to retain the heat.
  2. In a large pot over medium-high heat, warm the the 1/2 gallon of milk to 180°F. Stir constantly and do not allow to come to a boil.
  3. Pour the hot milk into a bowl and set that bowl in a larger one filled with ice water. Let the mixture cool to 110-115°F and stir in 1/2 cup of plain yogurt and the powdered milk (if you’re using it).
  4. Ladle the yogurt mixture into warm glass jars, cap and put on a tray in the still warm oven. Wrap the tray in a blanket or heavy towel and let cool down slowly, for 12 hours or overnight.
  5. In the morning you will have yogurt! If you didn’t use the powdered milk and you prefer your yogurt more of a greek style, then you need to drain the whey out.
  6. Line a mesh strainer with a paper coffee filter and set over a bowl. Add your thin yogurt to the filter and allow the whey to drain into the bowl*. After about an hour you will have a thick homemade greek style yogurt.
    Refrigerate and enjoy.

*adapted from happy simple living

*Many of the recipes I read recommended saving the whey to use in place of water when you bake. It’s an easy way to increase the amount of protein in your homemade breads and muffins.

Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em

Last Spring I made a discovery that may have changed my cooking forever. Perhaps you’re imagining the ultimate duel-fuel convection range, a set of killer pots and pans or even a wine shop that delivers (and those of you who know me realize how life altering that would be!) But no, it’s not any of those things. My life changing discovery was… Smoked Paprika.

I was first introduced to this amazing spice through a recipe for homemade baked beans. (Not to worry, I’ve already got plans to post that recipe closer to barbecue season). After the rave reviews the beans received I was looking forward to experimenting with this fantastic spice. And experiment I have! I can honestly say that I have yet to find a dish that doesn’t benefit from a little smoked paprika. I sprinkle it on eggs, add it to sautéed peas and mushrooms, put a healthy dose in my chili, add it to my turkey meatloaf and even put a dash on my tossed salad. I love smoked paprika!

Anyway, we recently deep fried a turkey and I was looking for a tasty way to use the leftovers. My family happens to be the type that loves breakfast for dinner, so I made them Turkey Hash with Sunny Side Up Eggs. It was delicious, easy and a hit with everyone. “I could eat this everyday!” and “Is there any more left?” are the comments I heard. Naturally that made me smile, but (almost) more importantly I found yet another use for my beloved smoked paprika.

Turkey Hash with Eggs
If I was making this for just my husband and myself I would
definitely add some hot peppers to give it a little kick.

2 small onions
4 cloves of garlic
1 shallot
5 medium potatoes (I used Yukon Gold)
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. sea salt
5 cups leftover turkey, diced
Eggs, to top hash

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Peel and dice the potatoes into 1/2 inch cubes and place in a nonstick roasting pan. Chop the onions, shallot and garlic and add to the roasting pan.
  3. Drizzle the vegetables with olive oil, and sprinkle with the smoked paprika and salt. Toss well to be sure all the pieces are covered with the oil and spice mixture.
  4. Spread the vegetables in an even layer and roast for 15 minutes.
  5. After 15 minutes add the diced turkey, give a stir and roast for another 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes and onions begin to look crispy.
  6. When your hash is nearly complete quickly cook 1-2 eggs per person (sunny side up, poached or over easy would be my choice).
  7. Serve hash topped with eggs and a little hot sauce, if you’re so inclined.