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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Buttermilk Pancakes

So almost every Wednesday night I end up making our family buttermilk pancakes for dinner.  We are in luck that every family member loves them, and Scott has no problems with "brinner," or "breakfast-for-dinner."

The absolute BEST recipe I've ever come across is Martha Stewart's classic buttermilk pancakes.  I've upped the sugar a tad, so they taste really good just on their own.  We change it up by adding dried cherries and granola (thanks Grace and Mrs. DG!), frozen blueberries, or Sam's favorite and constant request, Ghiradelli chocolate chips.  If he's really really lucky he'll receive a squirt of whipped cream on top too.  Nice dinner, huh.  Not a lot of protein, but it tastes so good, so comforting and predictable on a busy Wednesday night when I'm out the door for rehearsal every week at 6:30 pm.

If you've never tried making pancakes from scratch, try it at least once.  I think you'll be converted, the real buttermilk makes a massive difference.  It is also worth noting that seeking out the Farmer's Creamery brand of buttermilk is also worth the minor extra expense.  Whole Foods carries it.

Buttermilk Pancakes

2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. table salt
1/4 cup white sugar
4 TB. butter, melt and cooled slightly
2 eggs
3 cups real buttermilk (Farmer's Creamery is a great one to try)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Add the 3 cups buttermilk, melted butter and eggs.  Whisk together JUST until barely mixed, a lumpy batter helps keep the pancakes light and fluffy.

Preheat your oven to 170 degrees.  Place an ovenproof plate on the top shelf.

Heat a non stick pan or griddle over medium heat.  Melt another tsp. of butter over the griddle and wipe the extra off with a paper towel.  When the griddle is hot but not smoking, scoop batter out with a 1/3 measuring cup, it keeps them a manageable size for flipping.  Cook on the first side until the pancake is covered in bubbles and browned nicely.  Flip.  Put the pancakes in the oven to keep them warm until ready to serve.

The leftovers can be cooled to room temperature and then frozen.  They reheat great in the oven or microwave for breakfast later in the week.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What to do, what to do

So I spent two days making the beef and barley soup from Rick Tramonto's new cookbook, Steak with Friends.  And it is life changingly good.  But little did I know who would end up being it's biggest fan....Charlotte the seven month old.

Shocking, horrifying, but I am at my wits' end.  The child refuses to eat baby food.  She wants what WE are eating and fusses and strains and pulls for what is on my plate and in my bowl.

So tonight she ate almost 6 ounces of short ribs and carrots and barley.

And she won't stop burping the smell of veal stock in my face.

Oh child, what will we do with you?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Today I turned 33 years old.  As old as Jesus was when He died, I like to say.  Funny heh heh, kind of.

Didn't have much in the way of expectations for this birthday, I must say.  The older you get, the less of a big deal they are, don't you think?

But THIS year.

BUT this year, I feel unbelievably, unexpectedly loved.

I won't go into a ton of details, but there are moments that stand out in my mind, frozen like treasured paintings:

  • a 6 am double hug from my husband and warm sleepy three year old, piping "happy birthday" slightly off key, carrying in a little tray with candles and a toasted bagel; 
  • the phone ringing at 7 am, my mother on the other end telling me I was worth every one of the THIRTY SIX HOURS of labor she went through, to no avail when they gave her a C-section; 
  • two phone conversations with friends who are far away, bringing back memories of birthdays we've spent together in years past; 
  • the surprise delivery of the Most. Thoughtful. Generous. Basketful of Love I could have ever comprehended; 
  • treats and cards in the mail; 
  • a home delivered lunch from Honey with a precious friend who spoon-fed Charlotte her cereal so I could eat my cupcake in peace, and the list goes on.  

These years are so fleeting, the ones where my babies are young and we sit on a blanket in the grass of our backyard, waiting for Scott to come home from work, passing time pretending we're on a raft in the ocean, or playing "fetch" with one of Sam's 10,000 balls.

There are moments that are hard, like today when Sam stood by my head at 4:50 am, sniffing and telling me he has "poops in my pants."  The thought "Oh why couldn't I please sleep in just this one day?" crosses my mind fleetingly, and then I'm up and out of bed with him, and the baby is fussing wanting to be fed and it all feels so tiring.

But then.  Scott delivers with a Starbucks family date on a work day, and all this happens, and I feel so loved it's indescribable.

Thank you to all of you who reached out to me today, you've created a pool of refreshment and joy and utter contentment in my heart that will last many, many, many 4:50 am mornings to come.

Thank you for being a blessing to me.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sour Cream Cinnamon Coffeecake and Vanilla Chai Lattes last Thursday (oh, and Jesus too)

Don't you wish you were in our Women's Bible Study? It truly is a unique group of women, all from different backgrounds and interests. Over the past four years each of the eleven have become a dear and integral part of the group, I cannot imagine doing life without them.

Here's a treat I made last week that seemed to go over well. Also known as "Grandpa's Favorite," which is saying something because let me tell you, Grandma is quite the baker.

Sour Cream Cinnamon Coffeecake

1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp. baking soda

2 sticks cool (not too hard) butter
2 cups flour
1 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp. table salt

1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 cup golden raisins
(And yes, you read that right. No eggs!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8x8 square pan. Combine the sour cream and baking soda in a small bowl, set aside. Combine flour, sugar, salt and butter in your mixing bowl, give it a few turns with the mixer until it resembles the beginnings of a pie crust, nice and crumbly. Reserve half the flour mixture for the crumble topping. Add the spices and sour cream mix into the mixing bowl. Combine well, stir in raisins. Place in prepared pan, sprinkle the reserved crumble topping evenly over coffeecake. Bake 30-40 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

As an added touch, which I only just now realized I completely forgot, you can drizzle an easy frosting over it while it's still warm. (About 1 cup powdered sugar and a few TB. milk mixed evenly together.) It was still great without it.

Vanilla Chai Lattes for 4 people

2 & 1/4 cups TAZO chai tea concentrate (they use it at Starbucks, you can get three boxes for $7 at Costco)
2 cups your favorite milk, I used skim, 2% would be better
2 TB. Monin Vanilla Syrup (can be found at specialty food shops, like Fox and Obel and Amazon)

Heat chai tea mix, milk and syrup together in a sauce pan or microwave in a pyrex bowl. If you have a steamer, steam cups of the chai to order for your lucky friends, and top the foam with a light spray of good cinnamon.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Gale Gand's Chocoblock Chocolate Cake with Warm Macademia Nut Caramel

Yup, you read that right. In fact, take a second and re-read the title of this heartdroppingly FABULOUS dessert. Are you salivating yet? Now go buy yourself some topshelf cocoa powder and make this cake for your loved ones! If you want to see a better picture of it, cut into cute little rounds, check out the cover of her cook book, Just A Bite.

So nine years ago, on a momentous and gorgeous evening in July downtown Chicago, Scott joined me for a work dinner at the unbelievable restaurant, Tru, where Gale was/is the pastry chef and partner. It was our first "date," of sorts, and we both had nervous tingles and sparks that were difficult to suppress in front of my two male clients that sat with us. I can remember not wanting the evening to end, and we headed out into the night together after a mindblowing meal, not to return home until close to 4 in the morning. As Nate, one of Scott's four roommates and a close friend said, "I don't know what exactly is going on here, but I highly condone it."

Six months later we were engaged. Eight years later we have two kids and I am still obessessed with Gale Gand. She is my favorite pastry chef, and after meeting her twice at two cooking classes, I can attest that she is a lovely person as well.

Here to date, is my favorite recipe, the only change being a few grinds of sea salt into the caramel sauce.

For the Cake:
3 cups sugar
2 & 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 & 1/8 cups cocoa powder, preferably Dutch (Valhrona is pretty much the best, Penzey's is great too)
2 & 1/4 tsp. baking powder
2 & 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 & 1/2 tsp. table salt
3 large eggs
1 & 1/2 cups milk (I used 2%)
3/4 cup vegetable oil (I used canola)
1 TB. pure vanilla extract (Niesen-Massey is awesome, you can buy a massive bottle of it for cheap here.)
1 & 1/2 cups very hot water

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease a half sheet pan (also called a jelly roll pan) and line the bottom with parchement or wax paper.

In your mixing bowl, add together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Blend briefly.

In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla. Add them to the dry ingredients and mix at low speed for about 5 minutes. GRADUALLY trickle the hot water in, mixing at low speed, just until combined. The batter will be very thin.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, (a few crumbs are fine) and the center feels firm to the touch, 25-35 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan, then chill it, covered, until you are ready to cut it. I made this a day (or even two!) before I cut and used it. Totally fine. Great make-ahead dessert.

For the Caramel:
1 & 1/4 cups sugar
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/8 tsp. sea salt
1/2 cup (or a bit more) salted macadamia nuts, roasted in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes, then roughly chopped
1/2 cup flaked sweetened coconut, toasted in the same manner as the nuts

Pour the sugar into the center of a deep saucepan. Carefully pour 1/3 cup water around the edges of the pan, trying not to splash any sugar on the wells. Don't stir it, just make a cross twice with your index finger to wet the sugar evenly. Over high heat, bring sugar and water to a full boil and cook without stirring, swirling the pan occasionally, until mixture is medium caramel in color, about 5-10 minutes. Don't walk away, this happens very quickly and I've burned the sugar too dark of brown more then once. Take it off the heat as soon it starts to turn a rich gold and smells toasted.

Next use a wooden spoon to slowly and carefully stir in the cream, the mixture will bubble and may splatter so head's up! Stir in the nuts and coconut and set aside until cool. This sauce can also be refrigerated, covered, until ready to use. Reheat over low heat until softened, or in a microwave.

When you are ready to serve, cut rounds (or squares if you don't care about being fancy and don't want waste) of the chilled cake with a 2 inch biscuit cutter. Place one or two cakes on a plate and drizzle liberally with caramel sauce. It's up to you if you want to sandwich some Haagen Daz vanilla ice cream in there too.

This one cake fed many people, beginning with a dinner at our house with a dear high school friend. Next it fed 11 women who came over for drinks to kick off our Bible Study one cozy Tuesday night. Then, frozen after I cut it and defrosted, six adults consumed it at a lakehouse in Indiana. Finally, the previously frozen leftovers were served to my inlaws and Scott for dessert last Sunday. Heralded by rave reviews at every serving, this is a very durable, delicious cake.

I don't kid around about my desserts. Make this now. Keep it in your arsenal folks.

Love and great respect back to Gale, thanks for writing in my cookbook five years ago. :)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Go Cowboys!

Ok. I admit it. I'm a poser. Growing up in Chicago, I was barely even a Bears fan. Let's be honest: the last Bears game I remember actually watching was the 1985 Super Bowl as a sub-ten year old, excited because my dad was into it.

Well, fate had me marry a faithful Cowboys fan, Scott grew up in Dallas and he and his entire family are all dedicated Cowboy zealots.

Up until this year I've held off joining in wholeheartedly. It felt fake, like I was late to the party and didn't really bring a gift with me.

But last year I received my very own Tony Romo jersey, and wore it 8 months pregnant, stretched tightly over Charlotte-en-womb. My resistance has finally been worn down and I told Scott that, as a birthday present (along with the obnoxiously awesome 3'x5' house flag) that I'd really make an effort to get into the games with him this year. My only concern was that it wouldn't be real, that people would know I was a big faker.

He had an answer for that, boy did he. All I have to do is memorize the starting line up. And know who all the players are and what they do.

Yes, we have had quizzes. Multiple-a-week quizzes.

Not sure how I'm doing so far, all I can remember are Marion Barber, Miles Austin, Tony Romo and some guy with a name like Tinekwa or something like that. Shoot. It's Tashard, not Tinekwa. Tashard Choice.

Good thing it's the season opener tonight, I've got time.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Gibson's at Oakbrook

If you are looking to celebrate something or need a spot to meet friends for a great meal and drinks, check out the new Gibson's Steakhouse that opened a few months ago very near to The Oakbrook Mall.

It's literally next to the McDonald's, off Spring Road, adjacent to the mall. There's an amazing one story stone waterfall on the patio that covers the sound of passing cars and blocks the view of the road. Three sets of cozy couches surround modern glass fireplaces as you walk up to the patio, perfect for hanging with friends over pomegrante martinis and a plate of $12 beef filet "sliders" on buttered brioche rolls, accompanied by salty, thin french fries.

I won't lie, most of the menu ain't cheap, but there's a hefty selection (far heftier then the Chicago location) of entrees that include sides and are priced under $20.

We went to celebrate Scott's 35th birthday and our awesome waiter trotted out this massive piece of carrot cake, on the house. That alone was worth the trip, and ended up feeding 9 people later that night.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

"Home, Home on the Range"

I don't why this moment struck me as funny, but it did.

Yesterday morning Sam had been blatantly disobedient about a minor thing, so I placed him in a time out at the top of the stairs.

His beloved harmonica was within reach, I guess, because the next thing I heard were the strains of labored harmonica music wafting down the stairs after me.

All he needed to complete the picture of a small town incarcerated fellow was a tin can, something nice to clank against the bars, playing his harmonica to pass the long hours.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

First Day of Preschool

Well, it's arrived. I'm sure you've read many facebook updates about parents sending their kids off to school for the first time this year. It was Sam's turn yesterday, much to both our consternation.

It went ok. Our preschool has the parents stay with them for an hour the first day. I felt like he would have been just fine if we hadn't been there. Oh well, Thursday will be the true test, I am hopeful that it will go better, as he packed his own snack and is very excited to eat it.

He was also excited about his new backpack, and could barely stand still to take a picture.

Should I be worried about his response yesterday? When asked how he thought school was, Sam answered, "Preposttterrrouss."

I think he actually said "preposterous." Uh, the vocab in those Berenstein Bears books may be a little heavy.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Quick Recommendations

Scott is off this week and we are having a stay-cation here at the house. It was great in theory, until Charlotte came down with a nasty virus two weeks ago and started spiking 103-104 degree fevers last weekend. The massive rash hit Monday and now we are finally moving out of it. Poor thing has been a beast, I don't know where my sweet little girl went. Hidden somewhere I suppose, under mountains of running snot, itchy rashes and a fever.

Anyways, Scott has Sam for the morning and I'm puttering around the house. There is a small back log of items to share, a few recipes and pictures, but I don't have the energy right now. Instead, I thought I throw out some books I've read this year thus far that have stayed with me.

1) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

If you haven't heard of or read this yet, go get it. I won't do it justice by attempting to summerize, and do yourself a favor, DON'T go look it up in Wikipedia before reading it and skim through the entire plot. Doh. Set during World War 2 in Nazi, Germany, about the life of an incredible 13 year old girl. I am still processing what I've read and will pick it up again soon to read a second time. Finished the last 75 pages while getting my hair highlighted and wept quietly to myself under a head full of tin foil. My hairdresser friend thinks I'm nuts, but he loves a good book too so I'm hoping he understood. Epic.

2) Sister of My Heart by Chitra Banerjee Divakabuni

Just finished this yesterday and wish I had the other novels by this author in our house. It's about two women raised in the same home in India. Great plot, it'd make a good movie, and the relationships between the women are so well written.

3) The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

A slow starter, but gripping. The mystery of a young woman's past unravels through her own story and that of her grandmother, set in both Cornwall, England and Australia.

4) The documentary Food, Inc.

Grace and I watched this together over take out Indian food when Charlotte and I headed up to Ann Arbor for the weekend to visit Charlotte's penpal and bestie, 6 month old Alice. I'm so glad I watched it. I regret that I watched it. Watch it for yourself and you'll understand what I mean. I love the feeling of being more educated about where my food comes from, and am more convicted about putting my dollars towards local farmers and organic eggs and meats.