Lazy Sunday Breakfasting: Blueberry Pancakes

Pancakes_05

Today I finally made good on a promise I made to my husband close to a month ago: I made blueberry pancakes for breakfast. We’re not usually heavy breakfast people, and pancakes are really heavy.

Well they can be – when they’re not done right. I spent a few weeks trying to track down a recipe that would yield light, fluffy pancakes with a slightly crisp exterior and moist berry-licious interior that wouldn’t turn to purple glop on the griddle.

I found Joanna Pruess’s recipe for the Best Buttermilk Blueberry Pancakes in the New York Times Cooking app, and while I thought Pruess was audacious in calling her recipe The Best, I have to tell you – the woman knows whereof she speaks, because this recipe made the tastiest, lightest and most satisfying pancakes I’ve ever cooked up at home.

The only modifications I made to Pruess’s recipe were thus: (1) I cut all the measurements exactly in half since I was cooking for two, which works beautifully for two hungry people or four people who are eating the pancakes with sides. (2) I used 1.5% fat buttermilk, which is the kind I use whenever I do anything with buttermilk. (3) I added about a quarter teaspoon of vanilla extract to the wet ingredients. My mom used to make pancakes from Aunt Jemima mix when I was little, and she always added vanilla. Let’s just say I was feeling nostalgic.

Admittedly, these are much better than the pancakes I ate growing up. Or I should say they were much better. They’re all gone now. Paul and I had a delightful breakfast.

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Need to use Leftover Buttermilk? Try Blueberry Muffins with Crunchy Cinnamon Topping

Have you ever bought a quart of buttermilk, only to use a half-cup for a recipe and then completely forget that said buttermilk is in your fridge?  Then one day, you find the buttermilk, open the carton and gag, only to throw the aged lumpy mess away?

Yep, I’ve been there. And the last time I found myself with leftover buttermilk in the fridge, I was determined not to let it go to waste.

So, the experiments began.

I used the buttermilk in place of butter & cream in cheesy mashed potatoes (success), as a soaking liquid for chicken that I ultimately breaded and oven-fried (success again), and mixed some into my parsnip & apple smash (a delightful success). But because a little buttermilk goes a long way, I still had some left. What to do?

I remembered a buttermilk berry cake recipe I read last summer on Creamed Butter, a blog written by my friend Andrew’s fiancé, Adrienne.  The cake looked delicious and the recipe was so simple I dubbed it “Lazy Summer Cake”—it requires so little effort, and though it’s not fancy, it’s incredibly satisfying and a great way to showcase the marvelous berries of summer.

I didn’t really feel like making a cake, but revisiting the recipe gave me an idea: muffins. The great thing about muffins is that they’re perfectly portioned, not to mention portable, which makes a muffin an ideal breakfast on a busy morning. As you’ll see from the pictures on Creamed Butter, the cake is pretty light, but it’s not high-rising, so I had to do a little tinkering to make the cake recipe muffin-friendly.

For starters, I substituted the all-purpose flour with cake flour (an easy sub is included below).  I made sure to sift the cake flour a few times until I had a pile of snowy, feathery light powder—ideal for a delicate crumb and a generously puffed muffin top. I kept the rest of the proportions in the recipe the same, except for the berries—I used a pint of blueberries—then folded them into the batter instead of placing them on top. You could use less berries, but I like muffins with a lot of fruit.  Finally, I prepared a crunchy topping of oats, cinnamon, sugar and crushed sliced almonds.

The result is a portable, pretty and satisfying treat perfect for breakfast or to kill the mid-afternoon slump—and unlike most coffee shop muffins that are lead-weight and huge, you a muffin that won’t give you carb coma. At first bite, you’re greeted by the warmth of the cinnamon sugar and the crunch of the oats & almonds, followed by the pop of juicy blueberries & the hint of lemon in this gently sweet cake. Bliss.

Now go make some.

RECIPE:

Buttermilk Blueberry Muffins

Adapted from Creamed Butter, Summer Buttermilk Berry Cake

Time: 40 minutes

Tools:

  • Electric mixer
  • Fine mesh strainer (for sifting flour)
  • Mortar & pestle (for topping)
  • 12-muffin pan
  • 12 muffin cups

Ingredients

For the muffins:

  • 1 cup cake flour*
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3-cup sugar
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 pint fresh blueberries

For the Topping (all measurements are approximate):

  • ¼ cup rolled oats
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tbsp sliced almonds

* One cup cake flour = 1/8 cup cornstarch and 7/8 cup all-purpose flour. The easiest way to do this is to put 2 tablespoons cornstarch into a dry measuring cup, spoon flour in to fill the rest and level off. Mix with a fork or whisk before sifting.

Method:

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Place paper cups in muffin pan, and spray the cups lightly with non-stick cooking spray if you have it. (If not, no big loss.)

Combine the ingredients of the topping into a small bowl, then use your mortar & pestle to grind the oats and almonds down a bit as they mix with the cinnamon and sugar. Set aside.

Sift the cake flour once into a medium bowl. Add baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Sift two more times and set aside.  In a separate bowl cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.  Then beat in the egg, followed by the vanilla and lemon zest, until all are fully incorporated.

Alternating the flour and the buttermilk, mix with the butter/sugar/egg mixture until just combined, beginning and ending with the flour.  Gently fold in the blueberries with a wooden spoon or a spatula.

Use a spoon to fill each cup about 2/3 full, then spread the tops until they’re even.  Use a clean spoon to sprinkle the topping on each cup of batter. You’ll have enough to coat the surface of each one.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the middle muffins comes out mostly clean (if it’s got blueberry juice on it, that’s a good thing.)

Eat warm or at room temperature, with a cup of tea or mug of coffee.  If you’re prepping breakfast for the week, allow the muffins to cool completely before wrapping each individually with plastic wrap, placing into a zip-top bag and then putting them into the freezer.

Voi-la!

PS – Weight Watchers Points Plus per muffin: 4!

PPS – This is my 50th post!

Oatmeal, champion breakfast, gets by with a little help from some friends

There is something remarkably comforting about a hot breakfast.

I need coffee just to get myself started in the morning.  On a cold morning like this one, a hot breakfast helps me ease into the day.

Oatmeal does the job: it’s easy to make, takes very little time and warms the belly.  It’s also a breakfast you can feel good about, packed with nutrients, health benefits, and the filling-power needed to keep a grazer like me satisfied till lunch. By itself, oatmeal can be more than a little boring—bland and a bit soupy.

With the help of a few friends—fruit, nuts, brown sugar and cinnamon—oatmeal gets a boost in flavor and texture.  Plus it makes you feel like you’re eating a real breakfast, instead of a bowl of blah. And no one wants to start the day feeling blah.

My method: Cook the oatmeal as directed on the package. Turn off the heat, and add the flavor: cinnamon (a sprinkle), brown sugar (about a teaspoon), and the fruit (I like a lot, so I add about a cup).  Cover and let rest for about 2 minutes, then serves with a sprinkle of chopped or sliced nuts (this morning, it was almonds for me).  Eat happily.  You’re ready to conquer the day.

Other terrific add-ins for morning oatmeal:

Mashed banana, made even better with chopped walnuts

Sliced banana, cooked with a touch of butter and brown sugar

Chopped apple, raw or roasted with cinnamon (my preference)

Pears, same preparation

Any combination of fresh berries

Maple syrup

Nutmeg (a really light touch – nutmeg is powerful stuff)

Honey & a couple drops of vanilla extract

Chopped dried fruit—apricot and cherries make a great combination–plus brown sugar

Toasted wheat germ

A spoonful of your favorite jam

 

 

A Breakfast to Savor: The Elevation of Toast & Jam

I know I’m not the only one who sometimes eats jam right out of the jar.  (Right? Some of you do. I hope.)

Yesterday I treated myself to a particularly fine jam: Hero Black Cherry Preserves. I am usually not one to endorse a particular brand over another, but this stuff is so special I’m going to make an exception.  I like Hero’s jams and preserves—the apricot, raspberry, black currant, and blueberry are all wonderful—but the black cherry is unique. It’s more tart than sweet, with an abundance of cherries that hold up on hot toast, waiting to melt in your mouth at the first bite.

And while I could easily consume the whole jar of preserves by the spoonful, I elected instead to spread it on a fine bread: a croissant from Balthazar Bakery (maker of some of the best croissants in NYC).  I don’t live very close to Balthazar, but the coffee bar around the corner from me carries the full roster of Balthazar croissants: butter, whole wheat, almond and chocolate. I went with the whole wheat, and gave the croissant a gentle toasting before spreading on the cherry preserves.

Toast & jam—particularly whole wheat toast & jam—is my go-to comfort meal any time of the day.  I wasn’t looking for comfort this morning, but I did enjoy a real treat.  That’s how you start a day off right.

Craving the Comfort of a Simple Sandwich

I went to my friend Kristin’s baby shower on Saturday.  The party was held in a beautiful room at the Dyker Beach Golf Club.  The tables were dressed immaculately with white china and blue cloth napkins, a centerpiece of blue hydrangeas, and at every place setting there was a favor: a Ball jar, wrapped with baby blue ribbon tied in a bow, and filled with Hershey kisses.

“That’s been my favorite,” Kristin told me. “Every day, I craved chocolate.”

“Cravings” is a word you hear a lot when it comes to pregnancy.  I’ve heard of some women craving foods like fried pickles and ice cream, sometimes together, and others crave simple things. Shortly before my arrival, my mother craved cherries—lucky for her, I was a summer baby, and cherries were in peak season just before I was born.

But, as many of us know, you don’t have to be pregnant to crave a particular food prepared a certain way from a specific place.  If you’re craving a burger from Shake Shack, a frozen veggie burger prepared at home in a frying pan is not going to deliver the goods. A craving has to be satisfied; an unfulfilled craving might drive you mad.

On Friday I found myself with a strange craving for a simple yet incredibly comforting sandwich: peanut butter with bananas and honey.  Lord knows what brought that on, but I had to have it, and I had to have it my way.  The few times I’ve ordered the sandwich in a diner, I have found the application of peanut butter to be too heavy, the presence of banana too light, and the consistency of the sandwich leaning on soggy.  When you crave a food, wait ever so patiently to acquire it, and the anticipation of finally eating this food is so tremendous you might burst, the disappointment of not getting what you expected can ruin your day.

So, it was up to me to get my sandwich, a sandwich I thought about repeatedly Friday and Saturday, and then finally prepared Sunday morning: two slices of fresh whole wheat bread from the local bakery, warmed in the oven until just crisp, and topped with a gentle, thin spread of creamy peanut butter, followed by a sliced ripe banana and a drizzle of honey. It took all of six minutes to prepare, and it made my day.

Sweet Tooth: Banana Bread

Unless it’s a really special occasion, like a holiday or a dinner party, I prefer to cook and bake with ingredients I have at home.  On a practical level, it saves me a trip to the grocery store (and on a day this cold, I appreciate staying in my cozy apartment).  On a creative level, it allows me to take advantage of the foods and flavors I have on hand, and play around with different combinations.

I found myself with a basket of very ripe bananas.  When I bought them on Tuesday, there were touches of green along the edges and sides, a good indication that they would last more than a few days. I like bananas – they’re portable, nutritious and filling – but I eat them when they just turn completely yellow, sometimes even with a little green remaining, when they still have some bite  and aren’t too sweet or banana-y. I don’t consider myself a picky eater by and large, but I will not eat a brown-speckled banana. Can’t stand them.

So, when I am left with a bunch of quickly browning bananas, it’s time to cook them. Ripe or very ripe bananas may be mushy and overpowering in the flesh, but cook them, and they become something different entirely.  Sometimes I’ll slice them and cook them with a little butter, brown sugar and rum – makes a great accompaniment to brownies or ice cream, or brownies and ice cream. Other times I’ll saute them quickly with just a little bit of butter and brown sugar, then mix them with my oatmeal. Very tasty.

But last night I found myself with 4 ripe bananas, a desire to bake, and luckily enough, an old issue of Cooking Light (I have stacks of them).  The October 2010 issue has a feature on banana breads, a recipe makeover of sorts for a baked good that’s usually loaded with oil or butter.  The recipes in the magazine offered a new take on Banana Bread, while still keeping it moist, flavorful, and delicious.  The addition of flaxseed meal, which I profiled yesterday, adds healthy Omega-3 fats and lots of fiber.  After reading through the recipe for Peanut Butter Banana Bread and evaluating all the ingredients in my pantry, I made some tweaks, one substitution, and one addition (vanilla extract, because really, how do you bake without vanilla?).  I am happy to report that this recipe was easy to prep and easy to execute, and the results were down right magical.

RECIPE: Banana Bread

"Well, hello there. What's your name?"

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups mashed banana (about 3 to 4 medium ripe bananas; sprinkle with lemon juice to keep from browning)
  • 1/3 cup fat-free plain yogurt
  • 1/3 cup creamy peanut butter*
  • 3 tbsp. of butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract (the real deal)
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar**
  • 1/4 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • A scant 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour***
  • 1/4 cup flaxseed meal
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. ground allspice
  • A pinch of ground nutmeg

Notes:

* If you’re allergic to peanuts, you can remove this ingredient from the recipe, and increase butter to 5 tablespoons.
** Alternatively, you can use 1/2 cup packed brown sugar and 1/2 cup white sugar.
** *If you don’t have whole wheat flour, you can use a scant 1.5 cups of all-purpose flour in this recipe. I like whole wheat flour in this recipe because it adds fiber, which cuts back on the guilt. Sort of.

Method:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9″x 5″ loaf pan.

Combine the flours, baking soda, salt and spices in a bowl, and sift them together into another bowl.  This helps to thoroughly combine the dry ingredients, plus it helps to keep the larger wheat grains from getting in your batter.

Set the dry ingredients aside. In a large bowl, combine bananas, yogurt, butter, peanut butter, eggs and vanilla.  (Tip: when measuring out the peanut butter, spray your measuring cup with a hit of nonstick cooking spray. This way all the PB in the measuring cup will come right out.) Blend everything together with a mixer on medium speed until all ingredients are mixed.

Next, add your sugars, a bit at a time, to ensure you break up any lumps from the brown sugar.

Follow with the sifted dry ingredients. Again, add a little at a time – this time mixing on low speed at first and then increasing to medium speed until everything is well incorporated.

Batter Up!

Pour batter into the greased loaf pan, then even out the batter with a spatula before putting the bread in the oven.  Get the pan in the oven, set your timer for an hour, and wait patiently. It’ll be difficult (especially if you’re hungry) but you can do it. This bread is worth the wait, and it will make your home smell delicious.

After about 40 minutes, turn the light on in your oven and check on your bread. I bet it’ll look pretty.  But it’s not done yet! If you notice that the edges of the top of the bread are browning too quickly, get your oven mitts on, quickly remove the bread from the oven and cover loosely with aluminum foil. Return the bread to the oven and let it bake till the timer goes off.

Ding!

Remove the pan from the oven. Once you’ve gently poked a toothpick into the bread and it comes out clean, cool the bread in its pan on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes (no less! You are a pillar of strength and patience!).  Then, gently remove the bread from the pan and continue cooling on a plate for about 30 minutes.

tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock...

Okay, now you can cut the bread. Have a slice. You deserve it. Have the banana bread alone, accompanied by a hot cup of coffee or tea, or with some cranberry sauce on top.  Totally random idea that turned out to be really yummy.

Storing Banana Bread: Once the loaf has cooled completely, you can wrap slices (or the loaf) in aluminum foil, and keep for 4 days outside the refrigerator. Otherwise, this bread freezes really well. Slice first, then freeze – this way your portions are set, and you won’t have to cut into a frozen loaf later on.

Weight Watchers Note: Sixteen equal slices of this bread yield a Points Plus value of 5 per serving, which isn’t bad if you’re looking for a treat. However, thicker slices will obviously yield a higher points value. If you want a thicker slice (one big enough for breakfast that’ll hold you over till lunch), eleven equal slices will yield a Points Plus value of 7 points per serving.