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perfect cornmeal waffles

January 27th, 2010 | 25 Comments »

Winter weekends sure can be a mixed blessing. You’ve got an entire day spread out in front of  you with endless possibilities; time on your hands and hours to make just the way you want, and yet, if you’re like those of us in Minnesota, you often wake on those long days to crackling cold air and sunshine thats full of promise but delivers nothing in warmth.

Those are the days that just require waffles.

There’s something about a crisp and aromatic waffle that deems it a culinary perfection for a chilly winter morning. A morning that you know needs to lead to a productive day. A morning where the coffee pot seems to be endlessly working, where your pajamas are often more desirable than a pair of blue jeans, mornings such as one that finds you casually sipping your brew, and noticing that the bright sunshine has highlighted your neglect of the vacuum cleaner, the dustmop and a Swiffer cloth or two.

I’m sure others can relate, right?

I grew up with Sunday morning waffles. It was eagerly anticipated to come down the stairs to the pungent scent of the percolator on the stove as it bubbled away, competing with the creaky old waffle iron, hissing emphatically, cranking out perfect rectangles of golden hued delectable treats. I do love pancakes, especially ones that stray off the beaten track of breakfast food; pancakes with shredded apples and yogurt in them, bananas and pecans in a whole wheat pancake, chocolate chip flecked ovals cooked to soft perfection and then topped with summer cherry sauce. Pancakes even spread with peanut butter and eaten out of hand. Oh, do we know about pancakes in this house, yes we do. But waffles, why there is really no other means needed to enjoy them other than good butter and syrup, because the waffle, in all it’s dented glory is the perfect palate to top with a few slices of cold butter and then drizzle warm maple syrup over to run through tunnels, cubes and edges to dress them in sweet buttery delight. Those edges crunch, the syrup absorbs and the bites come together in the mouth, a marriage to linger over, knife and fork in hand, coffee to the side. I’ll eat pancakes for dinner, and often we do, but waffles are strictly breakfast, and best on the weekends when their sturdy personality buoys you up for the long day ahead.

And who wouldn’t love the crunchy and wholesome addition of some cornmeal to the waffle?

I’ve made cornmeal studded pancakes before, and really, they’re pretty good and all, but there’s something about the added crunch of cornmeal on batter placed in the waffle iron that just sort of gets me right there. I don’t know how to describe it any more than that. And when I came across the recipe for these crunchy beauties on Kristin’s lovely blog, somehow I knew I would adore them like a treasured memory so I put together a double batch. People, I made waffles for hours, it seems. Hours. Did I care? Oh no, not at all. You see, after I made the first one and dressed it appropriately, I consumed it with gusto. My tummy, loving the introduction of it, politely asked for another. And I complied. The batter seemed endless, but I stockpiled waffles for the next few days and two packs to go into the freezer. We are happily away in waffle ecstasy. Don’t bother to look for us, ok? We’ll be fine, really and I will come back when they’re gone and do it all over again.

Oh yeah, and after I ate that delicious breakfast, it spurred me on to clean my house from top to bottom and boy, did it look nice in the dazzling but cold winter sunshine then. All thanks to a perfect little cornmeal waffle.

Buttermilk Cornmeal Waffles
(from Kristin at The Kitchen Sink Recipes, slightly adapted from Gourmet magazine)

1 cup sifted all-purpose flour (sift before measuring)
1 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stoneground
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
6 tablespoons vegetable oil plus additional oil for brushing waffle iron

Into a large bowl sift together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Repeat sifting 2 more times.

In another large bowl whisk together eggs, buttermilk, and oil. Add flour mixture all at once and whisk just until combined.

Preheat a waffle iron and preheat oven to 200 °F.

Brush waffle iron lightly with additional oil. Spoon batter into waffle iron, using 1/4 cup batter for each 4-inch-square standard waffle and spreading batter evenly, and cook according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer waffle to a baking sheet and keep warm, uncovered, in middle of oven. Make more waffles with remaining batter in same manner, brushing waffle iron with more oil before adding each batch.

Serve waffles with syrup.

just make this

January 23rd, 2010 | 16 Comments »

It’s not often that I wish something so rich, so decadent and addicting on my readers. Me, of the ‘You should try this quinoa!’ and ‘Have you ever had such amazing black beans!’ and “Ooooh! Soup!‘ posts that gently encourage health through your food and yet when I come across such an incredible recipe for hot fudge sauce, something that takes all of about 10 minutes to make for an indulgent return of gasping through each sultry chocolate-y mouthful, here I am devilishly trying to get you all to break those hard-core resolutions with a spoon and a wink. On top of ice cream, even.

But please do so, if you are so inclined. While I am a firm believer in taking control of one’s health, of making the changes in your body and spirit that give you the wherewithal to pump your fist in the air and shout “YES!” when you step on the scale, or easily slip those old jeans over your hips,  at the same time I also emphatically feel that we can’t achieve our successes when we deprive ourselves of everything in the name of health. Life should be about balance. Enjoy some hot fudge, really enjoy it but not every day and for Pete’s sake, please share it with those you love because that’s what food is all about, isn’t it? The look on their faces when they spoon the first deep dark bite into their mouths and run their tongues over the silky smooth sauce and you’ll be fist-pumping for yet another reason because you totally made someone’s day. Make that one of your resolutions this year too, hmmm?

Decadent Hot Fudge Sauce
(from The Silver Palate Cookbook, with adaptations)

4  1-oz squares unsweetened Bakers Chocolate
3 T. unsalted butter (NO substitutions- be WILD people!)
2/3 c. water
1/3 c. sugar
1/3 c. light corn syrup
Pinch sea salt
1 T. pure vanilla extract (or get even more crazy and add real rum, cognac, amaretto……you get the idea)

In a small saucepan over very low heat, melt the chocolate and butter together. Do not stir, but occasionally agitate the pan to distribute the heat. Alternately, you can use a double boiler. In another small pan, bring the water to a boil.

When the chocolate is fully melted, pour the boiling water into it, then stir in the sugar and corn syrup. Stir to combine and bring back to a boil. Reduce the heat so that it simmers gently, but not violently, and allow to boil for about 10 minutes. You can stir it occasionally, but it’s really not necessary. After 10 minutes, remove it from the heat and stir in the flavoring. Allow to cool for 20 minutes or so, then spoon it over ice cream.

This can be chilled too, and reheated in the microwave. Stir to combine before serving. Enjoy it immensely.

one evening of change

January 20th, 2010 | 22 Comments »

I’m exhausted.

And I didn’t expect this feeling at all, this sense of such accomplishment, a profound feeling of gratitude coupled with a sneaking sense of…..I don’t know, shame, I think. Last night I had the phenomenal privilege of being a part of something that went to my very core, as a blogger first, but also as a person, and a child of God. I don’t talk about that faith here, not much at all, but last night it was profoundly stirred up and I need to address it. All of it was good, just so you know.

This post isn’t about food, nor does it contain a recipe although it will contain a few ingredients needed for vast humility and sheer humbleness. There will be links to bloggers in Minnesota, a wide net that’s been firmly cast. If it doesn’t interest you, I won’t be offended if you click away.

But last night, yes. It started at a restaurant, a dimly lit back room that quickly filled with 40 bloggers from Minnesota covering all walks of life. Organized with aplomb by Melissa, of The Marketing MaMa, it started racing through Twitter way back in early December and I signed on. Because that’s just what you do when opportunity knocks. The door opens and you walk through. Although I’m not so sure I walked. I think I was forcibly thrown, but in a good way. So good that I couldn’t even sleep after it was all over, despite my physical and emotional exhaustion.

I was excited for the event, but being that I am slightly introverted, also a tad nervous. It was helpful to walk into the room and be recognized immediately. It surprised me to hear fellow bloggers gush their appreciation over what I do. I was humbled to hear their thoughts on my blog, my recipes and photos, to hear them say “I’m SO glad to finally meet you!” and see warm, engaging smiles all around. Bloggers are like that. We may not share the same passion for our content- the Moms who blog vs. the people who are enraptured about food vs. those who eloquently talk about kitchen sciencebooks, holistic health, personal motivation and so on. But we all share the same gene that compels us to sit at our computers and forge an online presence, to follow others through Twitter. To connect. Bloggers connect and then when we finally do meet face to face, it’s like meeting a best friend you never knew you had. It’s impossible to stop talking. And thankfully our mouths can work as fast as our fingers.

(me on the right, then clockwise Melissa, Jen, Liz and Molly)
photo courtesy of Jen

I knew in my heart that this event was going to move me, in some way, and I still am not certain of outcomes or potential, but it’s there. Seeds have been planted and the trickles are only beginning. I am filled with the possibilities, even if I’ve just made new friends and connections. It was apparent that something big was in the works. Forty people just don’t come together, these days anyway with crowded schedules, young children and busy-ness, on just a whim and a promise. People look for gatherings that have significance and although I know we could have all sat in that restaurant for hours chatting, exchanging cards, ideas, web strategies, blog template ideals (that old Blogger v. WordPress option never fails to rear its head) but we had a bigger goal and that was to do volunteer work for Feed My Starving Children.

Back in December when this whole idea was born, and the volunteer aspect of it sealed, no one could have predicted that we would be specifically packing meals for the earthquake ravaged people of Haiti. What happened to them was so awful that it’s beyond words or feelings. Knowing that the 64 boxes of food we put together was going to land among the shattered buildings and broken population of that country made the outing that much more meaningful. Listening to the tutorial at the beginning of our shift there, and seeing the photos of the children that the meals ultimately help and it was all I could do not to break down into tears. I’d heard of this organization for years but I’d never gone. I have no idea why. Now I can’t wait to go back. One member of our group, Trish, posted the most profound entry that tells the tale better than I could ever imagined. She simply nailed the impact of what we were doing.

We stood together in groups, and scooped portions of food into bags, while upbeat music played in the background and dance moves were practiced. It was noisy and glorious, but somewhere along the way, the impact of it all landed inside me with a thud. There were the images of poverty that we’d seen, and the ones I knew about in my head but refused to acknowledge. There was the long-playing tape of my own financial stresses, something my husband and I have dealt with now for more than a year with no end in sight. Yet, it all came together in it’s own earthquake of awareness in my mind, and with the knowledge that I, as an inhabitant of one of the wealthiest countries on Earth, I am monumentally rich and prosperous compared to those who would be receiving this food we were making, and none of them- NONE- would ever even know the tiniest fraction of comfort that I do every day. For them, one scoop of food was a lifesaver, a means to stop the tears of sorrow. And for me, I cry about the economy and my inability to land a job to help alleviate our ongoing financial stress. We sometimes can’t sleep at night because of it, but I can go to my cupboards and prepare a meal, and I’ve gotten really damn good at making something from the most meager of ingredients, and I usually can eat three times a day without fail. I have experienced hunger but I have never, ever been starving. I have never known my body to devour itself as a means of survival. I have struggled in my lifetime, I have known dark times and long periods of my own poverty, my own lack of nutritious food, and I’ve been an unhealthy skinny girl due to it all, but I have never been swallowed alive by my own body in a last ditch effort to survive. And I’ll never even come close to that, ever.


And I stood there, in front of these ingredients, trying hard not to be repelled by the smell of the chicken powder, which was making me think of Rice-A-Roni. I was imagining the children that would be served this and thinking that they probably didn’t care, that it was likely they felt joy and excitement that a meal was being given to them and here I was, trying not to breathe too deep. Although I participated in the laughter around me, my heart really felt like it was breaking. I felt ashamed of myself, ashamed of the way I pity what I perceive to be inadequacies in my own life. I have so, so much; we’d left food on our plates at the restaurant, and I thought of the food items at home that I sometimes throw out. And I recalled all the complaining I’ve done about our own situation and the anxiety of it- or at least what I think of in terms of anxiety; the means I’ve gone to stretch our food dollars to cover the entire month. The meals that are simple, but nutritious and whole. I can work miracles in the kitchen. But my life, and my comfortable home and furniture, functional clothing, proper shoes, the heat and air-conditioning, our vehicles….it’s all luxuries that people in half the world can only dream about, if they even can envision such a thing.

Then we all gathered in the warehouse for a photo.

And as we dispersed, I saw several members of our group praying over the boxes of food we had created. And I walked away. No wonder I couldn’t sleep last night. I was being stared in the face by my own shortcomings and it wasn’t all that pretty.

My perspective has been monumentally shifted and I am grateful for the process. I alone could never have accomplished such a thing as the events of this night. I alone couldn’t have pushed myself into such discomfort. I could have never shown myself such levels of extreme, from the highs of connecting with these amazing people, meeting the faces behind the Tweeps and blogs and personalities I’ve grown familiar with, to the crashing lows of feeling so much shame over my self-imposed fret when really, my life is pretty amazing in comparison. And I’m glad not to be the only one who came away with a renewed perspective, a sharper focus. Forty hearts came together and gave selflessly and although it broke something in me, it also started building something else. And I’m thrilled to be a part of it. That door opened and I had no control over how mercilessly I was pitched through it, but thankfully it was hard enough for me to be able to stand up and take notice.

Thanks everyone…..you’ve done far more than you can imagine. I hope this is the first of many gatherings.

inspirational eggs

January 8th, 2010 | 52 Comments »

It’s my new favorite, my breakfast to satisfy in so many ways and means. But there is also a thin measure of sadness when I make them, as I am the only one in my house that will ever be able to enjoy these. Mike doesn’t eat eggs- I know!- and Griffin doesn’t eat potato skins. I know! Who are these two? Sometimes, it befuddles me.

But it doesn’t stop me from enjoying a simple egg breakfast, or even dinner on my lone Wednesday evenings when the guys are both gone. I treasure those nights; an empty house, the music I love and a kitchen humming with singular possibilities. The food that I make for myself, for my ‘alone’ time is so different than what comes from the cookware on other nights. I can satisfy my appetite with nibbles of many different items, a bite of this or that, grazing from the fridge and pantry until my tummy says “Ahhh. Thanks. That’s good for now.” Maybe if it was how I supped all the time it would get old, possibly lonesome. But I don’t, so it balances those nights that Griffin charges down the stairs, hopping around in delight, and Mike comes beaming into the kitchen nearly singing “Something smells gooo-ood!”

But, about those eggs.

Baked eggs, well they’re nothing new. Called ‘Shirred Eggs’ if you want to get technical and all, you just place them in buttered ramekins or chafing dishes and set them in a hot oven until they are cooked to your liking. Dusted with salt and pepper, it’s a simple meal, especially if placed atop a slice of hearty rye bread, and maybe a slab of briny ham. Having a warm oven on to soothe the ravages of a bitter January night also makes them ever appealing. I had dropped a half dozen potatoes into the oven prior to running Griffin to his youth group night, and when I came home to a fragrant house, soft mealy potatoes and the desperate need to fill my gnawing mid-section, somehow the thought of a twice-baked potato morphed into a baked egg, encased in a crunchy potato skin and soon enough I was sighing happily through so simple and yet so great a repast that I could hardly believe it hadn’t been done before. But as I nibbled, sighed some more and gazed blithely at the scene on my plate, it saddened me to know that my family would never eat it. But if my Project365 Flickr friends are any indication, there is plenty of interest to be had out there, among the fervent internet web I have woven around this little blog.

Here’s what you do:

This dish requires nicely baked potatoes. You need skins that are good and sturdy to hold your egg. I like my baked spuds to be superbly soft and mealy and often bake them much longer than most people. The skins pucker, and they look like they’ve nearly collapsed inside. Be sure to have some potato size that will adequately hold an egg inside. The ones I baked were almost too small. Keep the oven on after the potatoes are done. Mine was set at 400°.

Once baked and cool enough to handle, slice the potato as if you plan to make Twice Baked- I cut a slip of skin off the top to make more of a cup-like shape. Scoop the interior- gently!  into a bowl and if you’re like me, add a small pat of butter, some good salt and a grind of pepper, and nibble on it while you make your eggs. Lay the bare potato skins on a baking sheet and place them back in the oven for maybe 5 minutes. This firms up the skin, making them more sturdy. I placed the skins in ramekins to help support them to hold the eggs, but that’s because mine were rather small. If yours are large enough, this won’t be necessary. Remember that if the skins tear or split, they won’t hold the raw egg.

Have a small measuring cup with a spout ready, and crack one egg in to it. Make sure your potato skin is already on the baking sheet. With the raw egg in it, it is difficult to move. Gently pour the egg into the skin. Season any way you wish. Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake the egg until it is set to your liking. I am not a soft-set girl by any means, and I baked mine until they were very firm with only a small amount of soft egg left. The time needed will vary accordingly. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Top with cheese, bacon, seasoned bread crumbs- my way in the photos- or whatever suits your fancy. If firm enough, they can be sliced and eaten out of hand but I suggest sitting down with knife and fork, and quietly enjoying them with each rapturous bite.

And be sure to also use those slices you’ve cut away from the tops. With a bit of salt, they bake into the most delectable potato chip.

The flavor of Winter

January 6th, 2010 | 12 Comments »

Cranberry and orange is a classic combination, and even the thought of it brings me swiftly back to Christmas as a child when my Mom would pull out her superbly old hand-cranked food grinder and clamp it to the counter edge to make a fresh cranberry-orange relish that filled our kitchen with the lively tang of oranges and the tart haze of cranberry. My sisters and I loved standing at the counter turning the crank of that grinder while Mom fed whole cranberries and oranges into the hopper, the pop and crunch of the fruit filling our ears while the mouth dripped it’s ruby mass into the bowl underneath. It was the scent of the holiday for us, more than a fresh ham baking in the oven, better than her scratch mincemeat or a simmering apple pie. I can zest an orange in the burning July sunshine, wearing shorts and a tank-top, and I will immediately be transported back to wintertime, as a kid again in Mom’s kitchen, fighting my sisters for a turn at the grinder. Back then, the tart cranberries were not to my liking, but I absolutely adored that smell.

The mix of cranberry and orange seems to be everywhere right now, and for good reason as fresh cranberries are in season. For some delicious winter baking, I grabbed it with both hands and enjoyed the promise of greatness found in this match.

There were scones first…..

I had to backtrack to find out exactly where this recipe came from, but thankfully came across it on LoveFeast Table so I can be sure to give proper credit. I’ve linked the recipe for you because I seriously suggest you make yourself a pan of these before too long. The flavors speak of winter, they require you to pour a steaming coffee to sip alongside, and will make you smile happily with delight. We all need that in the chilly months ahead.  This past year has been a big one for me in terms of muffins and scones. I like being able to put together a batch if the moment seems right, and you really can’t lose with anything that has some semblance of chocolate in it. Even when the chocolate is white. And these scones are tender, moist and airy. You’ll never purchase a coffee shop hockey puck again.


Then, even while there were still a few scones left over, I forged into a Cranberry Date and Orange quick bread to bring to one of our Christmas gatherings. It was so hard for me to wrap these loaves and slip them in the freezer to await our celebration, because when I knocked them out of the pans to cool, the smell that rose from them reached into my nose and tickled it immensely. I had to walk out of the kitchen in order not to rip a chunk off one to sample. Thankfully, we ended up with plenty of leftovers.

CRANBERRY DATE ORANGE BREAD

2 c. all-purpose flour (I used half whole wheat)
3/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt (I started using sea salt in baking and I love the results!)
1 egg
1/2 c. orange juice
Grated peel of 1 orange
2 T melted butter or margarine
2 T. hot water
1 c. fresh or frozen cranberries
1 c. chopped dates
1 c. coarsely chopped walnuts (or pecans- but either is optional)

Heat oven to 325°. Spray a standard 9×5 loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine cranberries, dates, water and butter. Heat to a low simmer, stirring occasionally and cook for about 5 minutes. Some of the berries should start popping but you want them to retain their shape as much as possible. Turn off the heat and stir in the orange juice and zest. Allow to cool until barely room temperature.

In a large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients. Beat egg separately. Add egg and cranberry mixture to dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened. Fold in nuts, if using. Spoon into prepared loaf pan. Bake for 60 minutes or until toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack.