Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Butter Pecan Pancakes

I always mean to be posting to The Messy Apron far more often. In fact, in the last couple weeks I made three new and delicious things that I wanted to tell you about. The problem is, I keep goofing things up. I made a delicious caramelized onion tart with a crust flavored with Gruyere cheese. I even took a few pictures of it. (Actually, I think the photos were of the leftovers.) I didn’t write down the recipe as I went along, or at least I can’t find any notes if I did, but it was pretty simple, so I wasn’t too worried. There were a few procedural details I forgot, however, and then I never seemed to get around to writing the whole thing up, and then weeks went by and still no post. I also made a really nice white bean dip with sundried tomatoes and roasted garlic. I’ll be darned, however, if I can remember whether I included any olive oil in the recipe. Again, no post.

Yes, I’m pretty busy and often tired and sometimes just want to make something simple and familiar rather than try something new, but something must be done about the fact that my habits seem to be so ridiculously messy. I don’t know what that something might be. Anyway, thanks for listening. Let’s talk about pancakes now.

The real reason I have a post ready for these pancakes is that they’re a simple variation on the plain but good buttermilk pancake recipe I regularly apply to leisurely breakfasts. These just have some melted butter (I usually use oil in my pancakes) and a good handful of chopped toasted pecans. Pretty simple. Pretty delicious.

These pancakes are not quite as light and fluffy as plain buttermilk pancakes, with the pecans making them a bit bumpy and a little heavier. I thought, upon eating at least my fair share, that this recipe would be a good place to try a bit of whole grain flour, and I think next time I make them, I’ll go that route. Really, since these are a variation of a simple recipe, they could be varied themselves in many ways to suit many tastes.

If you like one of those variations, however, I would highly recommend writing down the details and keeping those notes someplace you can find them. I’ve heard that works for some people. I’ve never been able to nail down the habit myself.

Butter Pecan Pancakes
I think these pancakes would also be nice with some whole grain flour or some warm spices, such as cinnamon and nutmeg.

¾ cup pecans, chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon fine salt
1 large egg
1 cup buttermilk

1. Place the pecans in a dry skillet over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until just beginning to turn brown and fragrant, just a few minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

2. Preheat an electric griddle to 350 F or a large skillet on medium heat on a stove burner. In a small saucepan, melt the butter. (Or melt the butter in the microwave if you prefer.) Set aside to cool slightly.

3. In a medium-size bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk or sift together until well-mixed. Set aside.

4. In another medium-size bowl, lightly beat the egg. Whisk in the cooled melted butter until well-blended. Whisk in the buttermilk.

5. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture. Stir until almost all of the flour is moistened. Stir in the pecans being sure not to over-mix the batter (some lumps are okay.)

6. Spray the heated griddle or skillet with cooking spray or grease it with oil or butter. Pour the batter in ¼-1/3 cup portions onto the griddle. Cook until the bottoms of the pancakes are golden brown and a few bubbles appear in the top. Flip the pancakes over with a spatula and cook until golden brown. Repeat with the rest of the batter. Keep warm in a 200 F oven if desired. Serve with butter and maple syrup.

Makes 2 generous breakfast servings.


Monday, March 11, 2013

Orange Butter Cookies

I’m trying to think spring. I really am. The giant mounds of new snow still clogging up my driveway, however, are kind of crushing that whole idea.

I’m trying to convince myself that this is a good sign that I haven’t quite got through all the winter cooking I wanted to do. For example, I didn’t make this delicious parsnip salad this year (or anything else featuring parsnips). Nor did I get around to making an orange-flavored pound cake, or anything with Meyer lemons or kumquats. And speaking of citrus, I also didn’t try a winter version of these easy butter cookies.

Well, okay, so I finally did try those. I settled on just an orange for the citrus flavor. Since the herb garden is also comfortably buried under that blanket of spring snow, I went with a more floral flavor enhancement in the form of a splash of each orange flower water and vanilla.

I wasn’t sure about the orange flower water, but I was trustingly armed with advice from Sally Schneider, both in interviews on The Splendid Table and in The Improvisational Cook. She suggests that as little as ¼ teaspoon of this perfume-y orange blossom distillate would be a lovely addition to otherwise simply-flavored baked goods. Wow! Did that ever turn out to be correct!

These cookies are wonderful. They’re pleasantly crisp and tender in texture, packed with orange flavor, and enhanced quite nicely by the floral notes from the orange flower water and vanilla extract. I couldn’t say that I could pick out the particular taste if the orange flower water but it did something great to the overall experience of biting into these cookies. Like it made the whole, which was already promisingly filled with butter and orange, greater than the sum of its parts. Thoroughly satisfying! A delicious, delicious cookie! And so easy to make!

Perhaps this last bit of winter won’t be so bad…


Orange Butter Cookies
Based on a recipe from Bon Appetit magazine, July 2011

If you don’t have orange flower water, you could probably leave it out and still have a good cookie. I highly recommend leaving in the vanilla extract, however, which also compliments the fragrance of the orange very well.

1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup powdered sugar
¼ teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
1 stick (½ cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
finely grated zest of 1 medium-size orange
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
¼ teaspoon orange flower water
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
additional powdered sugar for pressing the cookie dough

1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Lightly spray cookie sheets with cooking spray or lightly brush with oil or butter.

2. Place the flour, powdered sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the remaining ingredients (except the additional powdered sugar). Process in long pulses until a dough is formed.

3. Measure a heaping tablespoon of dough for each cookie. Roll the dough into a ball and place on a prepared cookie sheet. Place the additional powdered sugar on a plate. Press the bottom of a small measuring cup in the powdered sugar. Press each cookie ball into about a 2-inch circle with the bottom of the measuring cup.

4. Bake at 375 for about 15 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies are lightly browned. Cool the cookies on the pan for 2 minutes. Remove the cookies from the pan and cool on a wire rack.

Makes 18-20 cookies.

Another recipe like this one: Lemon, Lime and Basil Cookies

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Way I Make "Spaghetti Sauce"

There was a time, way (way) back when I was living more or less on my own and was in graduate school, that I felt that one should know how to make “spaghetti sauce.” You know, something tomato-y and garlicky, perhaps meaty and peppery. Something to put on spaghetti. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how my mom made hers. Yes, I was in graduate school and my education had such a lack. I have a vague memory of turning to my red-and-white-checked Better Homes and Gardens cookbook as a source of self-improvement.

So this isn’t my Italian grandmother’s secret recipe, the biggest reason being that I don’t have an Italian grandmother. It is, however, plainly and simply, the way I make sauce for pasta. My ingredient list has evolved over the years, but I can’t really say I can trace my logic except in a few simple places: I remember chopping up a whole green pepper and putting it in and I really liked the results, so it stayed; and, in order to remember what size cans of tomato products to use, I settled on three that would stack into a pyramidal tower. The large (28-ounce) can of tomatoes on the bottom, the 15-ounce can of sauce on top of that, and at the spire the little (6-ounce) can of tomato paste.
This sauce takes a long time to make, but most of that is stewing time in which the cook mostly waits for things to happen. There’s not even that much chopping, and there’s very little measuring involved. It’s so versatile, however, and it freezes well, so I really should make it more regularly to keep on hand. I not only top pasta with it just as it is, but I’ll also add seasoned ground beef or meatballs; use it to make lasagna; and mash up some of the chunkier bits, add some crushed fennel seed and a little honey or sugar and use it as a pizza sauce.

No, this is not an Italian-American grandmother’s secret recipe, but, like any Italian grandmother worth her sale, it’s the way I make it and the way I like it, and I get no complaints when I serve it to guests (or my husband). It’s a basic sauce and it’s a good sauce…and it can really mess up an apron!


Basic Tomato Pasta Sauce
Additional salt, seasonings, and a little sugar may be needed depending on the brand of canned tomato products you use and your personal preferences.

If available, substitute fresh herbs to taste if you prefer. Since I made this in the winter, I stuck with more convenient dried herbs.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium green bell pepper, seeds, ribs and stems removed, finely chopped
1 medium sweet yellow onion, skin and root removed, finely chopped
1 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil

a small amount of sugar, additional salt or additional seasonings, to taste if needed

1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large kettle or Dutch oven.  Add the bell pepper, onion and salt. Cook over medium heat stirring occasionally about 10 minutes or until the peppers and onions are soft and just beginning to brown.

2. Stir in the red pepper flakes and garlic. Cook about 1 minute more. Stir in the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat, and cook about 2 hours at a very gentle boil, stirring occasionally. The sauce should be very thick and the peppers and onions very tender.

3. Remove the bay leaf. Taste the sauce and add some sugar if it is too sour. Add additional salt or other seasonings to taste as well.

Makes a big pot of sauce that can be used to top pasta, in lasagna and other casseroles, or even on pizza. Keep refrigerated for a few days or frozen for a few months.