Category Archives: Brunch

Baguette Guilt and Fried Bread Frittata

So the story goes: I had a half-baguette lingering on top of the microwave, sad and pitiful in a crinkly foil collar that was wrapped around it to help keep bread rigor mortis at bay. It stared me down whenever I checked the time or went to grab Nutella from the pantry (which happens all too often in my house). This weekend has been all about greedy excess: warm chocolate chip cookies on a gray afternoon, hot dogs and cheese fries, fresh-fried donuts, an easy dinner of good bread and triple creme cheese. Why not turn that leftover half-loaf into a frittata crowned with olive oil and butter-fried bread? Keep the good times going, yes, why stop the fry party just because it’s Sunday?

With some beautiful eggs from a local farm, I made a frittata. The eggs were fresh and perky (old eggs lose their tightness; the raw whites slouch like a teenager); I lightly beat them with some salt and cream. After frying the bread cubes in olive oil, butter and salt, I turned them onto a plate and used the hot pan to charm some garlic–egg mixture went back into the pan along with a cup of chopped roasted broccoli, a crumbled knob of goat cheese and a good handful of Parm. I sprinkled the olive oil and butter-fried bread cubes over the top and placed the skillet under the broiler. A few minutes later, there she was, a frittata suitable for breakfast or dinner, and crowned with butter and olive oil-toasted jewels. It was like eggs and toast yet so much more magnificent. Smiling, I brought the skillet to the table, happy with my discovery and knowing that a new era of frittatas for dinner had commenced.

Fried Bread Frittata

Serves 4 to 6

  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream or crème frâiche (optional)
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Four 1/2-inch thick baguette slices (day-old or fresh), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 cup chopped roasted, steamed or sautéed vegetables (such as broccoli, cauliflower, onions, green beans. fennel, artichokes–the list is endless)
  • 1 ounce (about 2 tablespoons) cheese, crumbled (such as goat cheese, blue cheese, cheddar, fresh mozzarella)
  • 3 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 4 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced, or 3 tablespoons chopped chives

1. Whisk the eggs and heavy cream together with a good pinch of salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

2. Melt the butter with 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 9- or 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the baguette cubes and a generous pinch of salt, toss, and cook, turning often, until golden-brown and crunchy, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl and set aside.

3. Add another tablespoon olive oil to the pan along with the garlic and cook until fragrant, stirring often, for about 30 seconds. Stir in the vegetable(s) and pour the egg mixture over the top. Sprinkle the cheese over the frittata followed by 2 tablespoons of Parm, then the croutons and lastly the final tablespoon of Parm. Cook until the edges of the frittata are set, 2 to 3 minutes. Meanwhile adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position and turn the broiler on to high.

4. Drizzle the last tablespoon of olive oil over the frittata and place it in the oven. Broil until the eggs are set, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with scallions, and serve.

Woah, It’s Roasted Broccoli

Serves 4

Works great with cauliflower too.

  • 1 head broccoli, ends trimmed, stalks peeled and thinly sliced on a bias, crowns divided into florets
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (optional)

Heat the oven to 350°. Place the broccoli stems and florets in a large baking dish. Toss with the oil and a good few pinches of salt and roast until the florets are browned and frizzled, about 1 hour and 10 minutes, stirring halfway through. Serve sprinkled with Parm.

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Filed under Breakfast, Brunch, Dinner, eggs, Quick Food, Recipe, Vegetarian, Vegetarian Main

Julian’s Chocolate Chip-Ricotta Breakfast Bread (or, how my kid got me to cook with him)

The date: Last Sunday, April Fool’s Day.

The time: Too early.

The place: My Brooklyn kitchen.

It was a rare Sunday morning, meaning my two kids, my husband and I all slept past seven in the morning. I should say three of us, actually, as it was the sound of the fourth person in the house, my six year-old, that woke us all. We laid in bed, my husband and I listening for a minute, unable to understand what the noises were. Clang, twang, clang. “Julian, what are you doing down there?” My husband called out to my son, who was presumably three floors down from us in our Brooklyn brownstone.

“I’m making breakfast!” He yelled up.

We exchanged looks of pure panic and like man on fire, my husband catapulted himself from bed and raced downstairs. Just in time, too, as Julian had begun to saw through a mango with a bread knife.

We shared an uneasy laugh, scolding Julian for using a knife without a grown-up present, and also just relieved not to have to rush him to the ER on a Sunday morning for severing a digit.

“Do you want to make something together?” I asked Julian.

While this might sound ordinary, it was actually a big moment in our kitchen. Because Julian never, ever wants to help me cook. People always think that because I cook for a living, my children must love to help me out in the kitchen. Which couldn’t be further from the truth. They like the idea of helping in the kitchen, but when it comes to the actual measuring and mise-en-place, they loose interest faster than it takes for the oven to preheat.

So when, that April Fool’s morning, Julian said he actually wanted to cook with me, I jumped.

Before I had kids, I always envisioned this bucolic ideal of cooking with my children: a kid on a step stool, me in an apron, us whisking and sifting together, decorating holiday cookies and making morning pancakes. Laughter, joy, smiles, good times. But what do you do when reality and disinterest dash the dream? I’ve learned to accept that my kids just don’t like to help in the kitchen (and when I say kids, I actually mean just my older son, since the little guy is still a little too small to really help, though he is a master at stirring dry ingredients with a wooden spoon so slowly you wonder if it would be quicker to just stir them with chopsticks). It bothered me for a while, and when friends and others said to my son “Oh, you must love to cook with your mommy in the kitchen!” I learned to give a half smile and say sheepishly “we’re working on it” while ruffling Julian’s hair.

When it comes to kids and food, persistence is key: getting them to try new foods, new restaurants, new flavors. And as it turns out, persistence pays off with preening a kitchen helper, too. So when Julian said he wanted to cook together, I beamed with pride.

We decided on a breakfast loaf. Julian insisted on chocolate chips and to temper their sweetness, I decided on orange zest and ricotta. The resulting loaf was fantastic, with the crumb being moist and hearty, and the flavor not too sweet, making the bits of chocolate dotting a slice all the more rewarding.

Julian helped with the whisking, with the ingredient prep, and even with the cleaning up. Rhys, my two-year-old, was in charge of adding the chocolate chips (and we all know how that goes, one for me, one for the cake, three for me, one for the cake).

The loaf came out of the oven golden and perfect. And Julian refused to eat it. REFUSED!

I didn’t understand it, but I accepted it. And I ate the cake. And Rhys ate the cake. And Matt ate the cake. And Julian did not. And the next day, when there was a sad and lonely slice or two remaining, Julian tried the cake. And he loved it. He ate it with gusto and with the pleasure that comes from consuming something you created. It occurred to me that just as you can’t force someone to eat something they don’t want, you can’t force someone to cook. They have to want to cook, want to learn. And while the cooking bug might not bite Julian often, when it does, I’ll be ready and happy to lend a hand.

Julian’s Chocolate Chip-Ricotta Bread

Makes one 9-inch by 5-inch loaf

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter at room temperature or nonstick pan spray
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/3 cup canola or grapeseed oil
  • 3/4 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch by 5-inch loaf pan with butter.
  2. Whisk together the flours, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
  3. Use your fingers to rub the sugar with the orange zest  in a large bowl until fragrant. Add the eggs, ricotta, and almond extract. Whisk in the canola oil and lastly the yogurt. Switch to a wooden spoon and stir the dry ingredients into the sugar mixture until nearly combined, then add the chocolate chips and stir until mostly mixed in. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan.
  4. Bake until the center of the cake resists light pressure and a cake tester comes out with only a crumb or two attached, 40 to 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely before running a paring knife around the edges of the load and turning it out onto a plate. Slice and serve.

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Filed under Breakfast, Brunch, Dessert, Quick Bread, Recipe, Uncategorized

Good Morning, Good Afternoon, Good Night: Anytime Banana Bread with a Textural Twist (Granola!)

I don’t have a pithy story about banana bread. All I have are lots of frozen overripe bananas. When my bananas  turn spotty and black, I peel them straight into a resealable freezer bag. Two to a bag, slightly mushed after sealing by massage the outside of the bag. Date it with a Sharpie and into cold storage they go.

What I love about banana bread—and I’m talking good banana bread—is that it is moist enough to stay fresh and delicious for up to a week. That means I can break off a piece or a corner whenever a sweet craving strikes, perhaps while I’m waiting for my morning coffee to steep (I’m a French press fanatic), for a mid-morning pick-me-up, as a late afternoon snack, or after the kids have gone to bed with tea or hot cocoa (with mini marshmallows of course—why should kids have all the fun?).

For supreme moistness, I use light brown sugar, a hydroscopic sweetener that keeps moisture locked into the crumb. A generous heap of crème frâiche (or sour cream in a pinch) makes for a rich, thick batter. Oil also helps for a spongy-soft interior (butter tends to turn leaden after a day or two). For texture, a cup of granola adds a hint of multi-grain-like appeal. Any kind of granola will do, just be sure the flavors jive with banana bread (in my last batch I used Early Bird granola with pecans and coconut). If your granola comes in clumps, put it in a resealable plastic bag and smash it with the bottom of a soup pot to break them up quickly before adding to the dry mix.

Banana Bread with Granola

Makes 1 loaf

This cake stays incredibly moist and delicious up to a week after baking. It helps to slice just what you need rather than slicing the entire loaf at once. Frozen bananas can be stored for up to four months; to use defrost at room temperature or in the fridge, or microwave at 50% power until mostly thawed. When I don’t have time to make my own (see recipe below), I use Vermont Butter & Cheese crème frâiche. It’s lovely and super thick—if using homemade crème frâiche instead, your batter will be lighter and the loaf will have a more open crumb.

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter at room temperature or nonstick pan spray
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granola
  • 1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/2 teaspoon table salt)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup grapeseed or canola oil
  • 3/4 cup crème frâiche or sour cream
  • 2 bananas, lightly mashed
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan with butter.
  2. In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, granola, whole wheat flour, baking powder, cardamom, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar together until well combined (about 30 seconds of vigorous beating). Whisk in the oil and then and the crème frâiche and bananas, whisking to combine. Use a wooden spoon to stir the dry ingredients into the banana mixture and switch to a rubber spatula to scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan.
  4. Bake the cake until the center resists light pressure and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 55 to 65 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely. Run a paring knife around the edges of the cake and invert onto a cake plate before slicing and serving.

Homemade Crème Frâiche

This is Suvir Saran’s recipe for crème frâiche. It’s tangy and gorgeous–don’t be surprised when you start topping anything and everything with it. It really is that good. Use the best quality heavy cream you can find (Suvir uses this kind made near his country home in upstate New York).

In a medium saucepan warm  3 cups of cream with 1 cup of buttermilk and the juice of 1 lemon over low heat until it has lost its chill and is just warm. Pour the mixture into a glass bowl. Cover with a clean tea towel and set a plate (one larger than the bowl’s width) on top of the towel. Set aside at room temperature for 24 hours. Whisk the mixture and then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

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Filed under Baking, Breakfast, Brunch, Dessert, Quick Bread, Recipe

A Helluva Honey Cake

Rosh Hashana without honey cake is like Thanksgiving without pie. However, unlike Thanksgiving where the pie served is probably some aunt’s famous recipe or a labor of love perfected over many generations of blue-ribbon winning grandmas, honey cake is religiously taunted for its dryness, its heaviness, and general unbecomingness. Honey cake is the Jewish fruitcake, destined for comparisons to doorstops and bricks, the mere mention of it evoking heavy sighs and rolling of the eyes.

So the question is, why bother? Because it’s tradition (cue “Fiddler on the Roof”) and if there is something that anyone with even a drop of Jewish blood flowing through his or her veins understands it is that tradition is sacred. You can lose your home, your money, your family, but no on can take away a tradition as long as you are dedicated to preserving it.

This has been a whack-a-doodle week rampant with deadlines and tantrums, missed naps, weird viruses, and all kinds of random high-tension drama. But last night after everyone else was in bed and dreaming of fluffy matzo balls and dipping apples in honey, I baked honey cake.

It is moist! It is TASTY! It doesn’t even need cream cheese! Rich with brandy-soaked raisins, strong coffee, honey, cardamom, fresh ginger, allspice, brown sugar, and butter, finally, a honey cake not destined to be the butt of a joke, but rather the satisfying celebration of a sweet, new beginning. Shana tova!

Cardamom-Spiced Honey Cake with Brandy-Soaked Raisins and Ginger

Makes 1 8 1/2- by 4 1/2-inch loaf

You can add 3/4 cup of toasted nuts to the cake if you like—chopped slivered almonds, chopped pistachios, or chopped walnuts would all be nice. Add them with the raisins and brandy.

1/4 cup brandy

3/4 cup golden raisins

1 1/2 sticks plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter at room temperature

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons ground cardamom

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup strong-brewed warm coffee

1/2 cup honey

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 inches fresh gingerroot, peeled and grated

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup light brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Pour the brandy into a heat-safe bowl and microwave until hot, 15 to 30 seconds. Stir in the raisins, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and set aside.

Grease an 8 1/2- by 4 1/2-inch loaf pan with 1 tablespoon of the butter and set aside. Whisk the flour with the baking powder, cardamom, ginger, allspice, baking soda, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Whisk the coffee with the honey in a large measuring cup. Whisk in the eggs, fresh ginger, and vanilla and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer, cream the remaining 1 1/2 sticks of butter with the brown sugar on medium speed to combine. Raise the speed to medium-high and cream until the butter is light and airy, about 1 1/2 minutes.

Slowly drizzle in the honey-egg mixture, beating between each addition to ensure that the mixture remains homogenous and doesn’t curdle (it may look curdled after adding some of the liquid, but will come back together while you beat it). Reduce the speed to low and add half of the flour mixture. Repeat with the remaining flour mixture and then add the raisins and any brandy leftover in the bowl. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat for 15 seconds.

Use a rubber spatula to scrape the batter in to the prepared loaf pan. Bake until the center of the cake springs back to light pressure and a wooden cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean or with a crumb or two attached (not batter), 40 to 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely before running a paring knife around the edges of the cake to loosen it from the pan and turning it out onto a cutting board or platter. Slice and serve. Wrap the cake in two layers of plastic wrap—it will stay moist and tasty for up to five days.

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Filed under Baking, Breakfast, Brunch, Dessert, Holiday, Quick Bread, Recipe

So Long, Farewell: The Last Heirloom Tomato (Panzanella Gratin)

My dad is a suspicious guy. He’s also as sharp as a tack and has a fiery temper—I mean, it’s not just anyone who gets booted out of the Israeli army for punching an officer, kicked off of a kibbutz and then sues for labor and time invested, and has the ability to invoke an airline passenger revolt when the plane is stuck on the tarmac for no good reason (did I mention he exists on pint glasses of Turkish coffee and two-packs of Marlboro reds a day? Maybe that explains a lot, actually).

Ever since Matt and I had our two boys, my dad comes for a visit every six to eight weeks, usually over a weekend. Meaning dad comes with me to the Saturday farmers market. Initially, he was excited for our weekend ritual. The massive heirloom tomatoes that are so much better than the vine-ripened ones “that taste like nothing” from the Devon Avenue fruit stand in Chicago. The Concord grapes he can smell from a block away. The okra he’ll inevitably turn into a slimy and under-seasoned mess of bamia, a Romanian okra, tomato, and garlic sauté (we all choke it down anyway). Dad loved Saturday mornings at the market. Walking down DeKalb with a coffee. Whistling like a bird to the toddlers along the way. Stopping to pet all the dogs and explain why he is such a natural with dogs, kids, staying healthy, getting around the law, solving the problems of the world, etc. etc. And then he got suspicious.

“How do you know they’re”—the “they” in question being the sleepy-eyed farmers who get up at the crack of dawn to drive the produce to the city or the crunchy gen-Y hipster selling produce in a thin flannel shirt and cut offs with oxfords—“not buying this stuff at the grocery store and selling it at a 100% profit? How do you know they’re not buying this stuff dirt cheap and re-selling it to you here in Yuppietown?”

“Because dad, I know,” I say.

My dad flies in this Saturday for a visit. I scheduled his flight to arrive after I’m already done with my Saturday morning Dough (oh those cinnamon sugar yeast-raised sell-your-soul-for-one donuts!) and farmers market run. That way, he can walk in the door,  admire the produce, and eat a nice salad without having to get on the offensive.

The sad bit is that heirloom tomatoes are done. My dad’s last visit was in June (an unusually long time ago) before the season started—this is his first visit since. Anticipating his arrival, I set aside what I suspected were the last two heirloom tomatoes I’d get my hands on this year. Two days to go and the tomatoes were splitting, fruit flies were swarming, and I was getting anxious.  I knew that their time had come. I turned them into a layered panzanella gratin, fueled by an intensely garlicky vinaigrette, lots of basil, and fused with goat’s milk Gouda. The boys ate it like pizza. I did what I do best—pick at the best bits in the pie plate—the crisp and crusty edges, the cheesy nuggets in the bottom of the dish, little bits of tomato-juice soaked bread. We feasted. Rhys beckoned “more, more!” The lentils and kielbasa I made as a kid-friendly backup lingered on the table ignored.

Sorry dad. I tried. You’ll just have to save your theories and suspicions for next season.

Heirloom Tomato Panzanella Gratin

Serves 6

3/4 baguette, thinly sliced into 1/8- to 1/4-inch pieces

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 large or 3 small garlic cloves, finely chopped

12 large basil leaves, finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 large and ripe heirloom tomatoes (about 1 pound each), cored and sliced into 1-inch rounds

1/2 pound mild, meltable cheese (such as a young goat’s milk Gouda or sheep’s milk Manchego or a blend of a few cheeses—but don’t use mozzarella as it’s too wet and stringy), grated

Heat the oven to 375°F. Place the baguette slices on a rimmed baking sheet. Use 2 tablespoons of the oil to brush both sides of the bread and then sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of the salt over the top. Toast the bread until it’s golden-brown around the edges and the surface is dry, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside. Raise the oven temperature to 450°F.

Whisk 2 tablespoons of oil with the lemon juice, garlic, basil, remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and the pepper in a small bowl.

Place as many bread slices as will fit in a single layer in the bottom of a 9 1/2-inch deep-dish pie plate or a 9-inch baking dish. Cover with an even layer of tomato slices and then top with half of the basil and oil mixture. Top with half of the grated cheese and then press down on top of it to compress the layers. Repeat with another layer of bread slices, the rest of the tomatoes, the remaining basil-oil mixture, and the remaining cheese. Drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and place in the oven. Cook until the cheese is browned and sizzling, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let it stand for 10 minutes before serving. It’s great warm or served at room temperature.

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Filed under Brunch, Dinner, Recipe, Side dish, Vegetable, Vegetarian, Vegetarian Main

Conscience Clearing Pumpkin Muffins

When my six-year-old Julian asks me for something—especially if it involves food—I just can’t resist. Sardines are a favorite of his (I blame Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Julian’s penchant for being a contrarian) and not of mine; regardless I mash them with a spoonful of mayo, a squeeze of lemon, a grind of pepper, and pinch of flakey salt, just like my dad taught me. After tasting risotto for the first time last year, Julian’s big gorgeous melty chocolate-brown eyes sparkled as he asked if we could have risotto every Thursday. I will always remember the bitter cold winter of 2010 as being one punctuated by many pots of creamy, buttery risotto.

At the tail end of winter last year—perhaps April-ish, he asked for pumpkin muffins and I didn’t make them. He asked more than once. I said, “sure, sure,” and never made them. If you’re a New Yorker, or live anywhere in the U.S. where the winter sucked a** last year, you’ll know why—I was DONE with pumpkins, with roasting, with braising, with apples, with Brussels sprouts, hats, scarves, shovels, runny noses, everyone else going on vacation, frozen fingers, and slippery sidewalks. I craved fresh salads and ripe peaches and juicy tomatoes. Pumpkin muffins just before Easter? Think again, kid.

Of course I’ve had a guilty conscience ever since.

When just last week—two weeks into September—Julian asked me to make pumpkin pasties (“just like Harry Potter ate) I made them without hesitation. With the leftover pumpkin puree, I made muffins. I baked them at night and surprised him in the morning with pumpkin muffins for breakfast. He broke out a Cheshire cat smile. I have come to rationalize that I didn’t disappoint him by not making pumpkin muffins; rather I taught him the important lesson of delayed gratification and how something always tastes better the longer you’ve been pining for it.

Sugar and Spice Pumpkin Muffins

Makes 1 dozen

You can add two tablespoons of finely chopped crystallized ginger for a little sweet heat, or three-quarters of a cup of raisins, chocolate chips, or dried cranberries for texture and sweetness, or orange zest for a hint of citrus. I like pumpkin muffins schmeared with cream cheese.

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

3/4 cup whole milk

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

2/3 cup neutral oil (like canola or grapeseed)

1 cup pumpkin or sweet potato purée (not pie filling)

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly coat a 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick pan spray and set aside.

Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt together in a large bowl. Add the dark brown sugar and stir and smash to break up any large nuggets.

In a medium bowl whisk together the milk, eggs, and vanilla and then add the oil. Whisk in the pumpkin purée and pour the liquid ingredients over the dry. Use a wooden spoon to stir the two together. Once combined switch back to the whisk and give the batter a good three or four beats to aerate.

Divide the batter among the muffin cups and place the pan in the oven until the muffins are golden and spring back to light pressure, 25 to 28 minutes, rotating the pan midway through baking. Cool for at least 15 minutes before removing the muffins and placing on a cooling rack to cool completely. The muffins keep fresh in an airtight container for several days.

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The Pursuit of Fluffy Pancakes: A No-Whip Solution for the Morning Challenged

In my opinion, early mornings are made for mellow. Not for whisking and whipping on high speed, pulsing until finely ground, kneading, heavy lifting, or doing anything that requires too much attention to the details. Perhaps that’s why I never really made it as an early-to-rise baker (even though I romanced the heck out of the notion). No, at my house, it’s a rare occasion when I pull out any type of kitchen gadgetry before breakfast. I mean, I even make our coffee in a no-tech French press.

My no-plug approach to sleepy-eyed eating can pose a problem if it’s fluffy pancakes that are on my mind, because most fluffy pancake recipes require whipping egg whites. Since I refuse to crack the whip so early in the a.m., I have dedicated many years to coming up with a perfect dump-and-stir pancake recipe and have eaten many thousands of pancakes in the pursuit of pancake fluffiness. Only recently did I finagle a recipe that hits it out of the park.

It took me running out of eggs to figure out the key ingredient: crème fraîche. I mised (as in mise en place—not being pretentious, just didn’t want you to think it was a typo) the dry ingredients and scanned the fridge for eggs only to realize I was out. I raked my brain for alternatives. Eggs equal tenderness, so I had to source an ingredient that could do the same. The contents of my pre-vacation fridge were slim pickings indeed. Pancake salvation presented itself in the form of a spare-tablespoon of crème frâiche in a near empty container. I whisked it into the buttermilk. The resulting pancakes were sky-high and down-pillow fluffy.

While we were on our annual end-of-summer Chicago oblication, we visited family, friends, and ate our way through much of the city (oh those duck hearts at Publican!). Since I have two young boys, we always rent an apartment for our visit—the apartment comes fully decked out with a complete kitchen, making meal-time that much easier. I bought pancake fixings and toyed around with the recipe. I made crème frâiche cakes with a whole egg, with a yolk, extra crème frâiche, oat bran. I came home to Brooklyn with a solid crème frâiche pancake recipe, one I can make pre-coffee, half asleep, and without turning anything on aside from the gas.

 

Crème Frâiche Pancakes

Makes about 1 dozen

 

A few notes:

  • If you want to make these heartier, substitute 1 cup of whole-wheat flour for the all-purpose. Or tack on 1/4 cup oat bran to the 2 cups of all-purpose. In either scenario, have and extra 3 to 4 tablespoons of buttermilk at the ready to loosen the batter if necessary.
  • I wrap leftover pancakes individually in plastic wrap and pop them into a freezer bag. They keep fresh in the freezer for many weeks. Unwrap and microwave in 30-second increments to rewarm. This is a great tactic for school mornings.
  • All crème frâiche is not the same. A tub purchased from New York-based Ronnybrook is thick with the texture of cream cheese, while Vermont Butter & Cheese crème frâiche is more like sour cream. Either works beautifully with the latter producing thicker medium-thick cakes while the former makes sky-high ones.
  • You can use dried buttermilk powder instead of fresh (this is a very convenient item to have in the fridge). Follow the package instructions regarding the ratio of how much buttermilk powder will give you 2 cups of buttermilk and whisk the powder in with the dry ingredients, adding the water into the crème frâiche mixture.
  • Plain low-fat yogurt thinned to a buttermilk-like consistency with skim or 2% milk is also a decent buttermilk substitute.
  • If making chocolate chip or blueberry pancakes, sprinkle the chips or berries over the raw side of the pancake before flipping.

 

For the pancakes

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 tablespoons crème frâiche

1 large egg yolk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

2 cups buttermilk

Canola oil pan spray

 

Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda together in a large bowl.

 

Whisk the crème frâiche, egg yolk, and vanilla together in a medium bowl until smooth and thick. Incorporate 2 tablespoons of the melted butter and then whisk in the buttermilk.

 

Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and use a wooden spoon to gently stir together until the batter looks like thick muffin or cake batter. Only mix until no dry streaks remain—if you over mix, you’ll activate the gluten in the flour and your pancakes will have a tight-textured toughness rather than a fluffy airy interior.

 

Heat a nonstick griddle or a large nonstick skillet over medium heat for 1 minute. Lightly coat the pan with nonstick pan spray and then spoon some batter onto the pan (I use about 1/3 cup per pancake). Cook until golden and flip. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Drizzle 1/2 teaspoon of melted butter over the browned side of each pancake and continue to cook until the underside is golden and the edges of the pancakes are dry (reduce the heat under your griddle or pan to low if the pancakes are browning too quickly—these are thick pancakes and they need time to cook all the way through). Transfer to a plate and cook the remaining pancakes, spraying the pan with more pan spray between batches. Serve with maple syrup or a fresh fruit syrup.

 

Fresh Plum Syrup

Makes about 1 cup

 

You can substitute almost any kind of soft fruit for the plums. Peeled and chopped peaches, nectarines, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries are all fantastic choices.

 

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

2 or 3 ripe plums (preferably the kind with fuchsia-colored flesh)

 

Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Peel off the skin of the plums and squeeze the naked fruit right over the simmering syrup. Shred the fruit using your fingers and letting it fall into the syrup. Simmer until it has reduced to your liking. If it reduces too much, add a little more water to thin it out.

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Nachos for Grownups: Pork Chop Chilaquiles with Roasted Tomatillo Sauce and a Fried Egg

Before we got married, my husband Matt and I used to eat nachos all the time. There was a little dive Mexican joint in Somerville, Mass. called Taqueria La Mexicana. It was ugly and barebones, but they did a mean nachos: crisp and fresh-fried tortilla chips, a smooth and thin swipe of refried beans, rojo sauce, and a slick of molten cheese with a crust of golden-brown goodness that ringed the platter’s edges. It was super cheap and outrageously delicious.

We got engaged and moved to Brooklyn. I can’t recall eating nachos here. Maybe for us, nachos, like JP Licks and candlepin bowling, were a Boston thing. All I know is that I grew out of nachos and started ordering dishes like chicken and smoky mole enchiladas or grilled quail with red pipian. Nachos? I loved them, I left them.

Then I met chilaquiles. Chilaquiles are a Mexican breakfast dish of day-old tortilla chips, shredded cooked chicken, green or red sauce, grated cheese, raw onions, crema, and often times a fried egg to top it off. It’s one of those, “hey, I’m starved, what can I do with last night night’s leftovers” dishes born from frugality, common sense, and hunger. And they’re a heck of a lot like nachos.

Matt and I ate chilaquiles the day after we got married. The day we got married, Hurricane Ivan tore threw Brooklyn (I have now survived a hurricane—okay tropical depression—a tornado, AND an earthquake in Brooklyn). The rain came down in angry sheets. Our plans for a little garden party and movie screening in our backyard were kaput. We got married under a canopy of heavy clouds, but during and after the ceremony the sky didn’t shed a tear. It was cool and lovely with a stunning Brooklyn Bridge sunset that made up for the earlier turmoil.

Most East Coasters can tell you that the day after a hurricane is a stellar one. Shockingly blue skies, piercing sun, a calm and civilized breeze. That was how it was the day after our wedding. Matt and I walked down the street to Moe’s, a little bar in Fort Greene where there was a guy who made a mean bloody Mary. It was Sunday. Perhaps past noon. We ordered a round of drinks and took them outside. We ordered chilaquiles. We began.

Pork Chop Chilaquiles with Roasted Tomatillo Sauce and a Fried Egg

Serves 4

To make this a vegetarian dish, replace the chicken broth with vegetable broth and lose the pork. Simmer the sauce uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. To gild the lily, sprinkle shredded mozzarella or Mexican melting cheese like Asadero, Oaxaca, or Chihuahua over the sauce-covered chips and broil to melt. Top with the egg before serving.

For the sauce

2 pounds tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and halved

1 large red onion, halved and sliced into wedges

6 unpeeled garlic cloves

1 jalapeño

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (1/4 teaspoon if your tortilla chips are heavily salted)

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves

For the chilaquiles

2 thick bone-in pork rib chops (8 to 10 ounces each)

1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

6 cups (6 good handfuls) good-quality thick-cut yellow corn tortilla chips

4 large eggs

For the tomatillo sauce: Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the tomatillos, red onions, garlic, and jalapeño in a large baking dish. Drizzle with the olive oil, season with the salt, and toss to combine. Roast until the tops of some of the tomatillos and onions are blistered and blackened, about 1 hour (there will be a nice amount of liquid in the pan).

Remove the pan from the oven. Use tongs to pull out the garlic cloves and jalapeño and, once cool enough to handle, slip the garlic out of their papery husks (gently press one end and they should pop right out) and split and seed the jalapeño (if you want a fiery sauce, skip this step and add use the jalapeño whole). Transfer everything to the bowl of a food processor and buzz until pretty smooth. Pour in the chicken broth and add the cilantro, and process until smooth. Set aside.

For the chilaquiles: Place the pork chops on a cutting board and use a paper towel to blot both sides dry. Mix the paprika, coriander, cumin, oregano, and salt in a small dish and use it to season both sides of the chops. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sear the pork chops on both sides until browned, 3 to 4 minutes per side.

Reduce the heat to low and pour in the tomatillo sauce. Use a wooden spoon to stir and scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan, cover, and cook, gently scraping the bottom of the pan occasionally, until the pork is very tender, for 1 to 1 hour and 15 minutes, and shreds easily (test this by removing one chop and slicing off a piece of meat—if it shreds into thin-ish strands, it’s done). Turn off the heat. Use tongs to pull the chops out of the sauce and set aside on a plate. Once cool enough to handle, use your fingers to shred the pork. Set aside.

Add the chips to the pot and use tongs to turn them to coat in the sauce (if you use thick tortilla chips they won’t get soggy). Divide the chips between plates and top with some of the shredded pork.

Heat the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the eggs and cook until the white is turning golden brown around the edges. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the white is cooked through and the yolk is still runny (or cover and cook to get a white film over the yolk if you like your eggs basted).  Use a spatula to slide an egg on top of each pile of tortillas and serve.

 

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A Melon Salad that Goes Way Beyond the Fruit Cup

There are some people in the world you just don’t get along with. Nothing bad ever happened. There’s no drama to speak of. You just don’t mesh. That’s me and melons. We never made nice. Ever since I can remember I have eaten around the sad chunks of cantaloupe and honeydew in fruit salad and avoid the sample slices at the greenmarket. Melon? No thanks. I’ll take a peach, a nectarine, cherries, plums. Melons were for fruit cup chumps.

Then I ate the most perfectly lovely melon salad ever.

My visit to France was totally never meant to happen. I mean, I was pushing strollers in leafy brownstone Brooklyn with a neighbor who couldn’t stop gushing about how excited she was to visit her family in France. The South of France, near Grenoble, in Uriage-les-Bains, a small town known for their thermal springs. She said offhandedly (and in a French accent), “Raquel, you and Julian should come too! Stay with us, we will have a great time!” Little did she know that I would take her invite seriously, run home, and book my nearly one-year-old and I on a miles-purchased Lufthansa flight to Lyon post-haste.

I told her I got the ticket. “Really?” she said with shock. “Really?” she repeated.

A few months later, there Julian and I were, getting picked up by her dad in his old toasty meringue-colored pickup truck at the airport in Lyon. We drove south to the Chartreuse Mountains where her gingerbread  home was perched on a rise overlooking the limestone-faced slabs of the southern Jura range.

The air was pristine, clear, fresh. The hills dotted with wild flowers and tall grass. A generous vegetable garden flanked one side of the house. A kiddie pool on the other. “You left this for Brooklyn?” I said in disbelief. She shrugged.

My son ate his first chocolate croissant in Saint-Marcellin (yes, where the yummy runny-ripe ceramic-cradled cheese is from). We went to the museum of the walnut. We hung out with swans and ate crêpes in Grenoble. Homemade boeuf bourguignon, roasted just-dug potatoes from the garden, local wine, fresh baked bread every morning slathered with butter and maman’s home-preserved berry confiture were but a few perks. One afternoon we drove to my friend’s brother’s house and he prepared a gorgeous salad of fresh mozzarella cheese, diced prosciutto, chopped basil, and cantaloupe. It turned my suppositions about melon upside down. Before I could say charentais I was converted. Melon was obviously more than worthy of my undivided attention. It deserved to be showcased as more than just fruit cup filler.

That melon dish opened me to a world of savory melon salads. Whether using watermelon, cantaloupe, or honeydew, my tactic is to buzz up fresh tender herbs like basil, cilantro, or mint with water to make an herb water “dressing.” It’s like the brightest expression of herbs but in liquid form  (and it happens in like 30 seconds). The herb water effortlessly brightens every melon chunk, adhering in little bits to its slopes, and infuses every inch of the melon with its fresh breath.

In this recipe, I finish honeydew chunks with an herb water of basil, cilantro, and mint (even using one herb solo would work just as well). I add crumbled feta, the perfect salty bump-and-grind to honeydew’s sweetness, and then a chopped avocado for a smooth, buttery bite. A sprinkle of flaky salt and a healthy drizzle of olive oil over the top contribute essential savory notes. The last key is lime squeezed over the top to wake everything up. Melon salad can be modern. Interesting. Delicious. Just don’t call it a fruit cup.

Summer Honeydew and Herb Salad with Feta, Avocado, and Lime

Serves 8

1 honeydew melon, ends trimmed, halved, seeds scooped out

1/2 cup fresh basil, cilantro, or mint (or a combination of the herbs)

1/4 pound feta cheese

1 avocado, halved, pitted, and finely chopped

A few pinches flakey sea salt

2 to 3 tablespoons good, fruity olive oil

1 lime, halved

Set the honeydew on a cutting board so the concave scooped-out part faces down. Using a sharp knife, trim away the rind working in strips from top to bottom and letting your knife follow the white edge of the melon that separates the rind from the fruit. Slice the melon into small chunks and place in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Place the herbs in the bowl of a small food processor or into a blender jar. Add 1/4 cup of water and blend until very well processed and mostly smooth (you may have to add up to 3 more tablespoons of water depending on your food processor or blender). Set aside.

Take the honeydew out of the refrigerator. Pour the herb dressing over the top and use your hands to toss to combine. Scatter the feta and avocado over the honeydew and barely lift up the bottom layer of honeydew to combine. Sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt followed by a healthy drizzle of olive oil (I like 3 tablespoons, but 2 works fine). Squeeze a lime half over the top and serve with more lime wedges on the side.

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Bircher Muesli, it’s Not Oatmeal—it’s Cooler

Some foods just resonate with you—they feel right to eat; they make your body happy. In the summer time, I’m all about foods that are either running just as hot as I am (hot off the grill, charred, blistered) or chilled out for maximum pleasure. In this latter category are things like iced mint tea, chilled soba noodles, deviled eggs, cookie dough that never makes it to the oven. And bircher muesli.

Did I lose you there? If you’ve never eaten a hotel breakfast in a northern Continental clime (think Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Sweden, England) you may not know bicher muesli, an incredibly wholesome (and I mean that in the best way) breakfast porridge of milk or juice soaked oats (stay with me, it’s worth it), dried fruits, nuts, fresh fruits, and yogurt. Okay, I know it doesn’t sound that sexy, but it tastes like the absolute most wonderful thing to eat on a steamy summer morning.

It’s chilled. It’s slightly sweet. It’s innately satisfying. It’s loaded with fiber and keeps your body running through all of the summer picnics, brunches, bike rides, hikes, swims, road trips, and naps on your agenda. It’s just a little bowl of perfection, honest.

A nugget of history to ponder: bircher muesli is named after a Swiss physician, Max Bircher-Benner. According to food legend, he got jaundice, ate nothing but raw apples (that cured him) and became a proponent of a diet loaded with raw foods. Naturally, Bircher-Benner frowned on dairy (and meat for that matter), so he made his bircher muesli with fruit juice. I like the oats soaked in milk, but try both ways (or a combo of the two) to find your bircher sweet spot. The cool thing about this recipe is that you really can’t screw it up (it’s a soggy porridge, afterall), which is why I have provided no measurements. Eyeball it and trust your instincts.

Bircher Muesli Summer Breakfast Porridge

Makes however much you want

Oats (1/4 cup per person is a good starting point)

Chopped dried fruits (dates, apricots, cranberries, raisins, cherries)

Nuts, raw or toasted (almonds, pecans, walnuts)

Unsweetened shaved coconut (optional)

Milk, cream, or fruit juice

Fresh fruit (peeled and grated apples, sliced bananas, peeled and chopped peaches or nectarines, berries, cherries, diced pears, kiwi, etc.)

Plain or vanilla-flavored yogurt

Honey

Before bedtime: Place the oats in a medium bowl (it’s going to go in the fridge, so use one that will fit). Add the dried fruits, nuts, and coconut (if using, which I recommend). Pour in enough milk, cream, or fruit juice to cover the oats so they’re totally submerged. Cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

At breakfast: Remove the bowl with the oats from the fridge. Add the fresh fruit and yogurt—you want to add enough yogurt to make the mixture creamy—the oats will have sucked up all the liquid the night before. Serve drizzled with honey if you like.

You can also use store-bought prepared muesli and cover it with milk/juice overnight instead of making your own museli blend. It may be a little more toothsome since the oats are often toasted. I think Dorset Muesli makes a particularly nice bowl of bircher muesli.

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