Friday, February 27, 2015

Without pictures, and from memory... The big pancake recipe.

I have become known in our household for pancakes.

Actually, and probably more accurately, our household is known by other households for my pancakes.

Sunday morning pancakes are actually mentioned in our wedding contract. 

The silly thing is, it's a pretty basic recipe, and it's not original at all. It's straight up Joy of Cooking pancakes.

1.5 C flour
1.5 C milk
2 eggs
3 Tpsp oil
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
1 dash of salt

(That's from memory, so I might be off on a few things.)

Well, that's the start of it anyway.

At home, things go more or less like this...

(Dry ingredients, blended together with a whisk) 
1/4 C all purpose flour
1/4 C white whole wheat flour
1/4 C rye flour
A good shake (1 Tbsp?) of almond meal
(slightly less than) 1 Tbsp baking powder
dash of salt
(Wet ingredients)
3/4 C milk
1 egg
splash of vanilla
2 Tbsp oil
2 Tbsp maple syrup
<1 Tbsp black strap molasses

OK, fine. The recipes are different. I see things this way...

First off, quantity-wise, my recipe is a half-batch of the JOC recipe.

Second, one of the ways I remember what's what is that the volume of milk, and the volume of flour and the volume of milk is always the same. So whether I'm piling in 3 different kinds of flour to make multi-grain pancakes, or just dumping King Arthur, it's all the same to me.

Maple syrup, sugar... what's the difference. And black strap molasses is as much for nutrition as it is for flavor. Yum. And high in zinc and magnesium, so it's also good for recovering from a workout.

Other notes on bastardization of improvisation on the original...

- If you start by throwing a dollop of sour cream into the measuring cup, and then fill with milk to the 3/4 C mark, it still counts as 3/4 C of milk-derived content. Ditto for Greek yogurt. Or even goat cheese, though it's harder to blend well by hand... or without an immersion blender, anyway. (Don't bother with the immersion blender until you are combining wet and dry ingredients, if you go that route.)

-Any nut meal is a worthwhile addition. Protein and fat are good for you. And since they're not absorbent, like flour, there's no need to adjust the liquid portion to compensate. Chopped nuts stay crunchy, so not always a great idea. Nut butters add oil to the mix, and the flavor can be incredibly dominating, so that takes some finesse. But nut meal hasn't failed me yet.

-Re: oil... it doesn't really matter. EVOO works as well as canola, or corn oil, or whatever, and there's enough going on in these pancakes that any difference in flavor won't be noticeable.

-Any kind of flour works, just make sure the final volume of flour and milk are the same. But multi-grain tastes better, and you don't get that hour-later sugar crash. This is something I figured out to help my wife (then girlfriend) keep her blood-sugar levels from nose-diving. It's a trait she shares with her family... To quote my brother-in-law: "For me, pancakes usually involve a temper-tantrum and a nap." Whole grains and other things like nut meal can help tame this particular breed of beast... and the end result tastes so much better.

-If you decide to throw in things like rolled oats, add extra milk. Rolled oats are absorbent.

-If you use oat flour, it's very absorbent, so use a little more milk. I'll say 1 Tbsp-ish. Pancake batter is more sensitive to added fluid than you'd think. If it seems too thick, add milk in tsp increments. You'd be surprised at how large a difference small adjustments can make.

-Add other stuff. Like chocolate chips and craisins. Or chocolate and strawberry. Or regular raisins. Or apples, bananas, blueberries, raspberries, brown sugar, oatmeal (see above), multigrain oatmeal. (Trader Joe's has an oat/ rye/ wheat/ ? variant that's great)  chopped up dried apricots... whatever. Chocolate and Banana is great. Well... let's be clear, chocolate and just about anything is great.

OK, ok... the process:

Turn on the pan first. A hot pan is important. I prefer to make pancakes in my cast iron skillet. It's as much due to habit at this point as anything else. I have a pair of square, stainless steel griddles that I pull out if I have company coming. 2 pans are better than one, and I can fit 4 on a griddle, vs 3 in the skillet. But in any event, it takes a good pan a while to heat up.

At this point, I've been making pancakes almost weekly for over a decade. It feels very weird to realize that, but it's true. For a while, I would use butter, both to fry the pancakes in, and to use as a gauge to see how hot the pan was. When the end of the stick sizzles fast enough, the pan is at the right temperature. This is important... if the pan isn't hot enough, the pancake batter will wet the surface of the pan, stick, and then not flip so easily. Now I use oil, but I have the process pretty well dialed in.

Whish together the dry ingredients, minus whatever chunky awesomeness will be added in. Blend the wet ingredients separately with a fork, add to the dry ingredients, and use that fork to continue blending everything. I typically mix the dry stuff in a work bowl, and mix the wet in a 2 C pyrex measuring pitcher. (Starting with the milk... or sour cream and milk... or whatever.) Then add in the lumpy stuff. Mix, dollop into the pan, and go from there.


One final note on the pancake thing... I've been feeding pancakes to the 2 year old for lunch for a while now, because I realized a clever thing. Leaving out the baking powder, (the leavening agent) my recipe makes just over 1.5 C of batter. 1 Tbsp of baking powder divides neatly into 3 tsp. So, I can make the batter ahead of time, and when he's waking up from his nap, I'll start heating the pan, and pour out 1/2 C of batter to be used for lunch pancakes. 1/2 C of pre-prepared batter will require 1 tsp of baking powder, which can be thrown in while the pan heats up. The genius in this is that I can make pancakes on Wednesday from batter that was made on Monday, without worrying that it's gone 'flat,' from baking powder that's already finished reacting with the batter.

Oh, right... the relevant point of that... I'll re-phrase. The last-minute baking powder trick means I can have my overly-customized pancake recipe pre-prepared, and ready to go in the pan in under a minute, instead of in 10 minutes. In toddler-time, that's the difference between "Yes, I'm still hungry and interested in eating," and "It's been too long, my fire truck is over there, and I'm still hungry, but I'm distracted now, and it's all your fault, so you get to pay the piper."

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Big Reboot

A lot can happen in 21 months. We have a kid now. We moved into a new apartment. (The kitchen is still small, but there's room for 2 people to work in there now... sort of. My wood shop imploded. And I'm a stay at home Dad for now, while I work my way towards a Master's program in prosthetics.

This blog is going to reflect more of my life as it is now. I'm a Dad... but I don't really feel like writing a parenting blog. That's way too much blackmail material to put into a public forum. That said, I'm sure some of those stories will find their way into the narrative here. But one of my primary duties is to see to it that the youngster puts food into his face, and swallows it. Anyone with a toddler knows that the easiest way to lose a fight with a toddler is to pick a fight with a toddler, so some of the more successful recipes will make their way here.

I'm also the primary cook in the household. Sometimes that means a bit of experimenting, sometimes it means sticking with things that work. And sometimes, Boston gets buried in snow, the whole thing sucks, and I end up throwing leftover taco meat into a pot of store-bought mac and cheese for comfort food.

Don't judge me. It could be worse. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Coffee Log: Barismo, and Toddy coffee

So, about this time last year, I put up a post on making ice cubes out of coffee, and got a comment pointing me to cold-brewed coffee. Cold brew became my new favorite thing that summer, to the consternation of my wife, who was pregnant and couldn't drink coffee at the time. When the jars that I was using to brew the coffee would collect in the sink, she refused to wash them in protest.

Well, this summer's different. Not only can she drink caffeine, thanks to the presence of a three month old at our house, she pretty much has to... as do I.

My old method was, 1/2 cup of beans into the grinder on its finest setting. Ground coffee into a 32 oz jar. Fill jar with water, let it sit on the counter for the day and night. Filter in the morning, and drink with ice and milk. 

Enter Barismo. Specifically Nick, who is a barista there on Saturdays. I wandered in about a week ago, looking for coffee. I like local, and I like good coffee. So, this local roaster seemed like a good fit for me. I talked to Nick for a few minutes, and he told me that what I was doing was called 'toddy' coffee. And, he told me that one of the important things to do was to cold brew in the fridge for 24 hours, (I was brewing at room temperature) and then filter, followed by letting it mellow out for ANOTHER 24 hours.

 Day one you grind, add water, and throw the jar in the fridge. Day 2 you filter the coffee, which takes a while. Day 3, you finally have coffee to drink.  I was skeptical, but he was right. it really mellows out the coffee. I don't know if it's a question of oxygenation, like letting red wine breathe, or if it's something else that's going on.

This seemed like an un-necessarily complicated addition to the process. But while the extra day adds an extra step, as long as I'm doing it every day, the morning starts out with immediately-drinkable coffee. I filter the rest as I have time to, and do the grind and soak bit while the filtering is going on. So I'm not actually waiting for the filtering to finish to have my coffee. (Truth be told, I never really waited much before, either, since the bulk of the initial filtering moves so quickly.) As long as you keep the process going, you'll always wake up with iced coffee ready and waiting. 

Nick wasn't really 100% on my fine-grind method, saying that it makes the filter work too hard. But in his context, that's a justifiable argument. The jar he uses for cold-brewing is several times the size of my 32 oz jars, and it takes a #4 paper filter in my kitchen about 20-25 minutes to completely filter one of those. The initial flow is pretty quick, but as the fine particles collect, it really slows down. 90% of the filtering is done in the first 5 minutes. The rest of the time is a slow drip-drip-drip of the last bit of coffee to get through. When the process is done, the inside of the filter looks like it's been coated with brown latex paint... the coffee particles and sediment are that fine.

He also mentioned that toddy coffee worked well with beans that weren't freshly, freshly roasted, so the coffee off of their discount rack (8+ days past roast date) would be just fine. So, he helped me to make better coffee, at reduced cost. The discount rack is hit or miss some days, but it's still worth it. It just means I have to stop by more often, which I don't mind doing.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Coffee Log: Quick Review: New Bodum Chambord Press

I bought one of these for myself after the holidays.

In general, Bodum seems to make a quality product. That means that I have certain expectations... and that led to a little bit of disappointment here.

The spout is attached to a plastic piece that settled into the top of the beaker. (Older models had the spout made into the actual glass) That would be great if the gasket worked well all the time. But it doesn't. The result is a leak that happens underneath the pour spout, which then runs down the front of the press, and onto the table, while you pour your coffee.

There are 'ears' made into the top of the metal cage that holds the beaker. They are clearly designed to hold that top in place, which they do. But it's a screw-in kind of feel, and the ears aren't really sufficient for that: they deflect, allowing the top to continue to rotate. Not really a functional issue, but it does lead to a feeling that the metal is flimsy. Functionally, it doesn't need to be robust. But that lack of robust-ness combined with the leaky top just leads to my impression that this just isn't as good as the kind of product I expect from Bodum.

(The coffee is fine... it's still a Bodum French press. I just wish it felt like a nicer product, and I wouldn't ever use this over a table cloth.)

Friday, November 30, 2012

The magic of the clipboard

I'd rather enjoy the time I spend with my wife, than waste it doing errands on the weekend.

At some point I realized that shopping for groceries (or anything else) did not require both Ariel and I to be there. And if I went out and got it done during the week, that left the weekend wide open. I also realized that it would be a lot easier if I batched all of the errands together: Grocery store, warehouse club store (Sam's, Costco, etc), and miscellaneous other errands, and got them all done at once. It's easier and faster for just me to run out and get everything done at once, than for both of us wasting the better part of a weekend day, not really enjoying each other's company, and still failing to get everything done that we wanted. (It's not that we don't enjoy each other, but there are much better, more enjoyable things to do than fight crowds and wait in long lines.)

At some point, I also figured out how to streamline the process of making grocery lists, in a way that ensured that nothing would fall through the cracks. We've been doing this for months now, and every time I explain my system to someone else, they tell me that this is genius. But I hadn't gotten around to writing it up until now.

This is the clipboard that hangs up in the kitchen. The top section of the page spells out the dinner plan for the week. (We generally prepare lunches in bulk on Sunday, and breakfasts are staples, so we only need to write what's for dinner.) This is great for those nights when we're tired and can't remember what the plan was for dinner. It's right there, and we don't have to think or decide anything.

The bottom section is the grocery list section, divided into 3 separate areas. (Grocery store, Costco/BJ's, and miscellaneous.) Whenever we run out, or are running low on some staple item, (milk, eggs, beans, oil) we walk over and add it to the grocery list for that week. If there's anything else we need for the household, it also goes on the list.

Once a week, we sit down to figure out what we want to do for dinner the following week. We take the old list off, and write up the new menu on the clipboard. Once we've figured out the menu, we add everything we're going to need, to the list of things we're out of.  I go shopping on Friday mornings, typically, so the next week's dinner plan runs from Friday through Thursday.

In the picture below, the page on the left is this past week's menu, and the grocery list that was written up over the course of the past week. The page on the right is next week's menu, with space for next week's shopping list underneath. When we generated next week's menu (right page), the groceries required went on this week's shopping list, (left page) added to the list of things we ran out or need more of. This gives us a composite list of everything we need (that we're aware of) to keep things running smoothly at home. This includes random household stuff, too: lightbulbs, candles, batteries, bicycle inner-tubes, or whatever else. There is no more uttering of the phrase "I have to remember to pick up _______ next time I'm at the store. We write it down when the thought occurs to us, so we don't have to remember it later... because we almost never do.

When I go shopping on Fridays, I fold the list in half, top to bottom, (writing out) and then in thirds, from side to side, so that the lists for each store are separate lists, and the whole thing is pocket sized. Everything I need to pick up that day is on that one piece of paper. (This week's list --->)

There have been some predictable benefits to doing things this way: There's usually less rotten crap in the fridge that we've forgotten about, because almost everything in the fridge is in there for a reason. So, the amount of wasted food has gone down, and the amount of wasted money on unused food has gone down. (Take a look at how short this week's list is for the grocery store: I'm only buying the things we need that we don't already have. And there are only 4 items on the list for BJ's.) The pantry makes more sense, too, because it's not filled with random crap we don't/ won't use. (Well, mostly.) This is pretty critical, because our kitchen is so small.

But there are also other, less expected benefits. The amount of impulse shopping has dropped drastically... even when I'm hungry.  And shopping is faster, because I know what I need, and I'm not wandering aimlessly through the store. ("Gee... what do I want? I'm hungry. That looks good. You know, I always think I should make something new, though... I never try anything new...") So the actual shopping process is a lot more efficient. Because I'm planning it all out ahead of time, I'm cooking a much more varied and interesting menu. If I find a new recipe that I want to try, I write it on the clipboard as a reminder, and add it to the menu for next week. And we don't have any more of those "Oh, crap, I forgot to buy..." moments. That goes for everything from food items to batteries, to whatever else... it all goes on the list, and it all gets taken care of.

Those are the upsides. The downside is, this is one of those systems that absolutely requires a regular routine, and it took an effort to make it habitual. We write up the list on Wednesday, and have Thursday as a backup, to make sure that the list is ready on Friday morning. Some nights I come home and I'm exhausted, or we're both exhausted, and it's hard to sit down and get it done... but we know that if we don't do it, there's no plan, and then all bets are off, and the week is just harder. Also, if I go somewhere on vacation, like when I went out to visit my brother recently, it causes problems. I got back, and there wasn't very much to make a meal from, because I hadn't gone shopping. But it was cool, in a way, because it meant the system was working, and we were running a very lean kitchen.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and in light of the things I heard from New York, I will also add that running a lean kitchen, and being prepared for a storm, are very different things.

The end result has been less wasted money, less wasted food, less wasted space, less wasted time, a much more interesting dinner menu... and a lot more quality time spent with people I want to spend it with.

Not too shabby.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Doing the math: justifying good equipment

I was thinking about this today while I was loading up my iced coffee for the day. (I'm packing my iced coffee in ball jars.)

Once upon a time, I'd go through 2 iced coffees from Dunkin Donuts, per day.

That's about $6 per day.
Or, that's about $30 per week.
Or, about $135 per month.
Or, about $1500 per year.
If you're making $50K per year, that's about 3% of your annual income. Just for coffee. Adjust for your own actual income.


Even though summer's gone, I still cold-brew, using my fancy, $150 (Thank you Melissa!) kitchen aid coffee grinder to do a very fine (espresso) grind before brewing.

A canister of coffee from Trader Joe's runs about $8. One can will last me almost 2 weeks. So, figure 2.5 cans per month.
That's about $20 per month.
Or, about $240 per year.

AND I get better coffee.

AND, it's not loaded down with all the cream and sugar that's required to make Dunkies' coffee palatable. Since I started cold brewing, I've actually lost weight, because I don't feel the need for sugar.

And, the grinder's versatile enough to do everything from espresso grind (which I use for cold brewing) to a really coarse grind that's suitable for French Press.

So, much better coffee, smaller waistline, for a lot less money, and a much lower annual percentage of income spent on all of it.

Suddenly the fancy grinder looks a lot more affordable.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Coffee Log: Follow up to the coffee ice cubes post

After I posted about making coffee ice cubes, a good friend sent me this link to making cold-brewed coffee. And I'm hooked.

In short, you grind your coffee very fine, and put it in a vessel with water, seal the vessel, and leave it at room temp for 12-24 hours. At the end of that time period, filter, add ice, and a little milk, and drink. Medium roast is better than dark roast.

Because it's cold-brewed, the extraction of the more bitter oils is kept to a minimum, and the end result is some incredibly smooth coffee.

BUT... I don't use his recipe. The article calls for a ratio of 1:1 coffee:water by volume, using coffee ground finely for use in a drip coffee maker.

I'm lucky enough to have a really nice coffee grinder that will do an espresso grind. Since the author lists surface contact with the coffee as a factor in brewing, I figured finer grinds than normal would work better. With the grind setting I use, I've only needed to use my standard hot-brewing ratio. (3/4 cup coffee/ 12C of water) I may try playing with the ratios a bit, but this has worked well so far. For those of you without a fancy grinder, look around for a grocery store that offers whole bean coffee, AND has a grinder in the store. You should be able to get a fine enough grind that way.

I also don't bother with using a French press. Because I'm using less coffee, I don't need to extract such a high amount of grounds. And because I'm using such a find grind, the press wouldn't filter much out anyway. So, I use a 6 cup mason jar, and pour it through the top of my regular coffee maker, and filter it that way.

Good stuff...