Jun 162013
 

Corn tortilla dough

I’ll go ahead and say it: I haven’t done a great deal of Mexican cooking in my life. But I do know what I like, and though I’m a little ashamed to say it, Tex-Mex is kinda what I know I like. I know there’s a whole other world of fantastic Mexican cuisine out there for me to try, but I spent a bigger chunk of my formative years than I’d like to admit to in Texas and it appears to have shaped my tastes. Though my acquired tastes will hopefully grow as I do something like go buy and cook from a great book or two and learn about real Mexican food, as far as I’m concerned, San Antonio will always boast the be-all end-all of Tex-Mex cuisine. The farther you get away from the city, the more precipitously the quality falls, and the first place you’ll notice it is in the tortillas.

I’m a huge tortilla snob. I went to college in San Antonio and all of my favorite places made their tortillas in-house and you could tell. Chipotle was just getting big during my time at Trinity University and even though they were like a mile away from campus and they were really, really good at finding excuses to give burritos to college students for free, I preferred several other smaller, more expensive, much farther away burrito places because of — you guessed it — the tortillas. I don’t know if they ever got their act together, but come on, you can not come in to San Antonio with tortillas that taste like they were made in a factory a thousand miles away and expect to have good things happen — well, those good things won’t happen with my wallet, at least.

Corn tortilla dough

After college, I lived about three hours from San Antonio, and the tortillas there? Ugh! In retrospect though, we could absolutely blame that one on the water that was used in the tortillas. (There were anecdotes about people’s pets dying after drinking the tap-water and I have a hypothesis that the huge number of dialysis centers in the town were due to the hard water. West Texas water is NASTY. If you boiled it, the steam took the form of skulls and crossbones. But I digress.)

Corn tortilla dough

After several years of wandering the country, I ended up back in the southwest. Luckily, my time in Arizona taught me that you can find great tortillas in other places too. Though the flour tortillas never lived up to my expectations, you could find some killer corn tortillas at places like the Sunday St. Phillip’s Plaza farmers’ market in Tucson. But, being someone who’s been attached to the military in one form or another for my entire life, I knew we wouldn’t live there forever, so it was high time I learned to make these little tasties myself so I wouldn’t have to go without.

I took my inspiration, as per usual, from Rancho Gordo. I had long ago seen a video of Steve Sando making tortillas and it seriously looked really easy. Sure, he was using a tortilla press — something that I didn’t have at the time — but how hard could it be to roll out the dough? Turned out it was pretty freakin’ hard, so I would suggest either getting the press, or using something like a cast-iron skillet to squish the dough to the desired diameter. Me, I threw out my uni-tasker rule and my kitchen now houses a solid cast-iron tortilla press and it makes everything so much easier and faster.

Making corn tortillas: the action shots!

Aaaaaaand: action! Thanks to Mister Om-Nom Sauce for taking these shots. (Yes, I know the background is not immaculate. I actually use my kitchen and there are things in the background on real action-shots such as these.)

Having only two ingredients, tortillas are very simple, but they do take a bit of practice to actually make. The first batch or two can be very frustrating as you figure out optimal thickness, best way to hold the flattened dough, or how to deal with seeming disasters on the hot hot heat. Before too long though, you’ll hit your stride and you’ll be making fresh, delicious-tasting tortillas like a pro!

Corn tortillas

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May 262013
 

Banana-pecan oat pancakes with maple syrup

It’s been an interesting week here in Casa de Om-nom Sauce. I had finally gotten the hang of this whole dairy-free thing and we had seen real improvement in The Babe’s symptoms. Things still seemed off though, so I decided, for kicks, to eliminate soy too to see if that helped, since a decent chunk of babies who are allergic to dairy also have issues with the omnipresent legume (and the only advice my kid’s doctor gave me was to wean and try a formula that is like $100 a can). It turns out that while eliminating dairy was not too tricky, soy is a different beast. Soy, it turns out, is in everything (thanks a lot, poorly-targeted far-subsidies). While this is not a big deal at all at home because we make everything from scratch and thus bypass soy additives, dining out is a different matter. I could eat out at restaurants I trust with dairy-elimination, but eating out with soy? Ridiculous and bordering on impossible, unless you have a really good server who is willing to interrogate the kitchen staff. Luckily, I have a fabulous relationship with the people at Olive, an Urban Dive, and I trust them and they’re willing to work with me (to the point that yesterday they joked about making up a special menu just for me) so The Hubs and I can still enjoy our weekly brunch date. But I digress.

So one of the huge bummers of populating elimination-diet-land is that breakfast options are severely limited. I started really missing pancakes, waffles, and crepes, but knew myself well enough to know that if I just tried to make simple substitutions, the recipes wouldn’t work as well and I would feel deprived. (See: vegan cheese. Yes, I miss cheese horribly but I don’t eat the fake stuff because I would be very disappointed in it and would feel even more deprived.) There was only one thing for it: I was going to have to make something up.

Banana-pecan oat pancakes

Going into my kitchen experiments, I knew that without buttermilk, that ethereally light texture would elude me. So I decided to forget everything about traditional pancake recipes and employed a few tricks I’ve used before. A friend of mine who eschewed gluten made pancakes using homemade oat-flour. Intriguing: let’s give that a try. I remembered that I had once made pancakes with mashed-up bananas and loved the result, so I put that into the bag of tricks. I knew I’d be using almond-milk instead of dairy, and in my experience it doesn’t “sour” well when you add lemon juice, so I decided to skip an acidic ingredient and use baking powder instead of baking soda. And I love toasted pecans, so I decided for kicks to add them to the oat-flour. Before I knew it, I was Frankensteining together my first batch, expecting a learning experience (code for disaster), but I ended up with something not only edible, but eminently delicious! Yes, I have tweaked the original formula that I basically made up on that first Saturday morning, but this is very, very similar to my beginning experiment. The results are not only something that I love to eat, but are food that people who can eat normal dairy-laden pancakes also enjoy — and I hope you do too!

Banana-pecan oat pancakes with almond butter

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May 052013
 
Pumpkin biscuits!

Pumpkin biscuits!

Last month, my favorite Adventure Buddy Heather (of Cheeseburger in Glacial Ice) came to visit. As tends to happen when we get together, all sorts of ridiculously awesome food flows forth. I mean, you should see the food we eat when we’re backpacking together — ptarmigan breasts with quinoa, beef burgundy, pumpkin pie, all from scratch, natch, and either made entirely at home or foraged for in the field — so it’s no surprise when we go overboard with the fancy-pants cooking when we’re together in the midst of civilization. We always seem to re-discover that food doesn’t need to be fussy to be amazing (backpacking ‘sketti is one proof of this) and these biscuits are truly an example of that. I asked her to guest-post over here to write up those eminently awesome creations that she whipped up, so without further ado, I give you Heather!

Pumpkin biscuits drizzled with fireweed honey

Pumpkin biscuits drizzled with fireweed honey

A few months ago I was driving around with the radio tuned to NPR when they began interviewing Nathalie Dupree about her new book, Southern Biscuits. I was enthralled by this interview – so much so that when I got to where I was going, I sat in the car listening until it was over. Later, I informed The Husband that we live in the South now (temporarily, please), and therefore I needed to learn how to make biscuits and HINT HINT this book would be an awesome way to do that HINT HINT. Well, one of those hints made it through his usual masculine oblivousness (probably the one where I said “Honey, get this for me as a present”) and on my birthday I unwrapped this cookbook.

I was fairly busy at the time and didn’t get a chance to crack it open, but a few weeks down the road I was packing to visit Stacey and I figured I’d throw it in. As you can imagine, when Stacey and I are in the same place, somehow all sorts of delicious food magically appears. Well, as it happened, we ran into a little problem right off the bat. See, it’s easy enough to swap out the butter for lard, but the recipes kept calling for milk. Or yogurt. Or cream. Or soda, but Stacey wasn’t too keen on that even if it was dairy-free.

Then, on page 120, we found it: Pumpkin Biscuits.

Self-rising flour. Lard. Pumpkin puree. Cinnamon. Nutmeg. Completely dairy-free. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!

These biscuits were absolutely delicious. Soft and chewy, just a hint of spices. Drizzle a bit of fireweed honey atop, or perhaps a slice of sharp cheddar if you don’t need to go the dairy-free route, and you’re in heaven. They are equally good the next morning, toasted in bacon fat with a poached egg atop. What are you waiting for?

Left-over pumpkin biscuits toasted in bacon fat and topped with poached eggs

Left-over pumpkin biscuits toasted in bacon fat and topped with poached eggs

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Apr 212013
 

Ginger-stout (little) cakes

Yes, I have posted a gingerbread recipe on here before. But by the time you try this for yourself, I’m sure that you’ll forgive me for the quasi-repeat, especially once you realize that the similarities between this gingerbread and that gingerbread stop with the name.

The recipe that I’ve posted before (from my grandmother) is a wonderful treat that is pleasant all-around, with a delicious, mild, warm spice flavor and a soft, crumbly texture. But this cake? This cake will sucker-punch you if you’re not paying attention. And that’s a good thing. It’s chewy, it’s boldly flavored, and there is a completely nil chance of this cake lasting the night when you serve it to friends.

The big difference is that this cake includes two over-the-top (in the flavor department) ingredients: ginger (obviously) — and lots of it, both fresh and ground — and stout beer (not so obvious). You combine these power-houses with a uncommonly vigorous mixing method (for cakes, anyway) and you have a fool-proof crowd-pleaser.

Ginger-stout (little) cakes

I first came across this recipe just before St. Patrick’s Day this year and was simultaneously excited by 1) the beer content and 2) the non-dairy-ness of it all. (Do you know how insanely difficult it is to find a dessert recipe that is dairy-free without modifications?) This immediately shot to the top of the recipe-queue and found its way to the table on March 17th. It also disappeared from the table that same night, and that had absolutely nothing to do with impaired judgment: it was just that good.

I made it yet again when Mrs. Cheeseburger in Glacial Ice came to visit this month. There being only two of us (and fearing that an entire cake would disappear between us if we didn’t force the cake into some easily-put-away-able/-freezeable portions), we made it in standard-size muffin-tins. And let me tell you, if you’re the type of person who always hoards the corner pieces in a tray of brownies, this method is for you. (But if you eschew chewiness, fear not: the cake-pan method has plenty of love for you.)

I suppose you could sweeten it a bit with a glaze or icing, but in my opinion, that would really reign in the ginger, and what would be the point of that? If that’s your goal, then you should really just make a different recipe entirely, because this stuff? It’s delicious, it’s ginger-tastic, and it is not the eensiest bit apologetic about it.

Ginger-stout (little) cakes

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Mar 082013
 

Irish-American soda bread

This time of year, Irish soda breads start popping up in bakeries everywhere. They are either dry and chalky or delicious and decadent, in which case they obviously contain relatively expensive ingredients, which is pretty improbable in a bread ostensibly born of frugality at the hands of Irish potato farmers. More irritating to me, however, is the fact that most of the loaves you find in bakeries are obviously yeasted, which, I mean, come on, really? It’s soda bread, as in baking soda. Harumph.

So while this recipe is clearly not authentic (why hello there, butter and sugar and eggs! Fancy meeting you here!), at least it makes no pretenses about what it is. It’s not a loaf of yeast bread that has been formed into a boule and slashed (slashed! Just try doing that to a soda bread batter!), and the recipe helpfully includes the descriptor “American,” cluing you into the fact that peasant food it’s not. Authentic it may not be, but honest it surely is.

Irish-American soda bread

Because of that, I like to think that this is a bread that my maternal grandmother would approve of. She was 100% Irish and took delight in her heritage. When I think of the time spent in her house when I was young, the Irish proverbs are one of the first-and-foremost elements in the settings of those memories. So when my Mom was visiting me over St Patrick’s Day in 2008, we decided to honor Muggsy and try several new recipes for the holiday. The results had highs and lows: we swore off ever again making pistachio cookies that had instant pudding in them (they had a really unpleasant mouth-feel) but this recipe became an instant favorite. I always make it along with my corned beef and cabbage and serve it for dessert. The left-overs make an excellent breakfast bread. So, from my Irish family to yours (whether you’re Irish or not), I hope you enjoy this bread and that it makes you feel a little greener this St Paddy’s Day!

(Note: I had been preparing to make this recipe in just a few days’ time when I learned that I’d have to cut out dairy for my daughter’s sake. I was a bit devastated because I’ve literally been looking forward to this bread for months, but not being one to slink away with my tail between my legs, I resolved to adapt it for my new dietary restrictions. I admit that I was skeptical going into the mixing and baking but was very pleasantly surprised when I finally tasted it. It’s a very close facsimile of the original and far exceeded my expectations. If you’re sensitive to dairy, please do give the dairy-free version at the end of the recipe a try and let me know how you like it.)

Irish-American soda bread

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Feb 172013
 

Mimi's waffles

If there’s one thing that every kid needs, it’s a partner in crime. Growing up, I felt as though my Dad’s step-mother was that person. We always delighted in each other’s company and getting to spend time with her was simultaneously a treat and an adventure because she totally cashed in on Grandmother’s Privilege and spoiled us rotten.

There was a comforting ritual that came with visiting her house overnight: I (and sometimes my brother too, but sometimes not) would get dropped off. I’d go visit the stuffed buzzard in my grandfather’s study, then I’d go play Candy Land with Mimi, and before bed she would conspiratorially make me a bowl of bananas and whipped cream. When I’d awake in the morning, the crown jewel of my visit would be waiting for me: golden, crisp, delicious, I-never-got-these-at-home waffles. With real butter, no less — something I only ever saw at her house, since I grew up in the 80’s when everyone (excepting Mimi, of course) thought that margarine was better for you.

Along with the food, of course, there are other memories: the way Mimi and I would talk over those contraband goodies she’d make for me every visit, the way we were always so excited to see each other, the way she would giggle when something I would say just plainly tickled her pink. The way she could listen to you like you were the only person on the planet that mattered. I don’t remember a ton of specific conversations, but like my maternal grandmother, I remember the way she made me feel, which as my cousin Lindsay pointed out, is the best legacy you can leave behind. She was a great partner in crime for a kid to have growing up.

And so, when she died last November, I was very sad to realize that my own daughter wouldn’t get to know her as I remembered her. So I clung to what I could: I claimed that tattered old box of Candy Land, the novel we all considered integral to her personality, and this recipe, which I got from her on a phone call twenty years ago and which I’ve been making ever since, and I’ll hold fast to the hope that these things can help culture the same things for Leah as they did for me: a sense of warmth, safety, love, and compatriotism that will last her a lifetime.

Mimi's waffles

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Dec 192012
 

Mugsy's gingerbread mini-muffins

There are quite a few food associations of mine that are inexorably linked to the holidays: beef burgundy, Danish pastries, sand-tarts (elsewhere called Mexican wedding cookies or Russian tea cookies), and rum cake all come to mind. These gingerbread mini-muffins are certainly make the list as well. This recipe comes to me by way of my maternal grandmother. Grandma (or Mugsy, to everyone else) had a way with baking and was damn good at it (her pie crusts remain legendary), but honestly, she was such a force of sheer kindness and goodness in this world, that her prowess with the oven has been eclipsed in my mind by the warm and gooey feelings that I remember when I think of her. The recipes that she left behind are all that serve to jog my memory in the baking-department.

So I love when I come across memories that have been written down on her recipes. It’s plain that my mom has been eating these spiced delights on or around Christmas every year since she can remember — and thus, they’ve woven their way into most of my memories as well. Sadly, it had been several years since I made them myself, but I found myself with an excellent excuse to dust off tradition and make them again this year (as holiday pot-lucks are an ideal venue for mini-muffins). And even though The Bun won’t be eating them this year, it’ll be nice to know that I started baking them again the year she joined our family.

So here’s to passing a family tradition down to the next generation: perhaps these can find your way into your own family annals too!

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Dec 022012
 

Banana chocolate-chip bread

As I have said here before, there is something eminently comforting about a loaf of quick-bread. When one finds oneself in the throes of a Banana Corollary situation and is simultaneously in need of some comfort food, banana bread is an obvious choice. I previously only jonesed for a good loaf of quick-bread when battling a cold or some other malady, but in the final weeks of my pregnancy I could. not. get. enough of the stuff, which perhaps explains why Leah was a little yellow when she made her grand appearance.

There are two things that banana bread should be and a third thing that is awfully nice, but by no means required. They are, respectively: excessively banana-y, super-moist, and chocolatey. You’d be surprised how many recipes fall short in the required categories. So, at thirty-eight weeks along and sporting more than a few water-polo-balls’ worth of bulk in the front of my abdomen, you can imagine that I didn’t want to waste time on sub-par banana bread recipes. Another recipe I’ve tried (from Cook’s Illustrated) delivered on the banana front but was excessively fussy (don’t tell a woman who’s full to the brim with child that she has to microwave bananas and then reduce the juice on the stove-top: I can assure you that the last thing she wants to do is be on her feet longer than she has to. She just wants to eat banana bread) and it was frankly not as good as this recipe that I’m going to share with you.

So the next time you find yourself in need of a quick-bread fix, I hope you’ll give this recipe a try. I think you’ll find — like we do — that it never lasts long!

Note: February 23rd is National Banana Bread Day in the US! Mark your calendars and use up those brown bananas!

Also note: dairy-free variation at the end of the recipe!

Banana chocolate-chip bread

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Feb 262008
 

Note: While I have decided to leave this recipe on here for posterity’s sake, I really can’t endorse it anymore. This was posted six years ago, and I’ve since decided that low-fat diets are bad juju. If I were to make it again today, I’d replace fat-substitutes (such as the applesauce) and processed fats (such as the canola/safflower oil) with whole-foods ingredients and natural fats. Vive real food! — Stacey, April 2014

Muffins get a bad rap, and none more so than bran muffins. See, regular muffins are sugar-and-oil fests, full of empty calories, and most bran muffins are healthy but, well, made of twigs. Can there be a happy medium between these two extremes?

Of course there can be! Enter my breakfast-on-the-go juggernaut, the 150% whole grain banana nut muffin! Now, you may be asking yourself how the hell something can be 150% whole grain, and here’s your answer: grains are made up of the germ, the bran, and the endosperm. White flour and other processed grains get poo-pooed (and deservedly so) because the nutritious and tasty germ and bran are removed, leaving behind the starchy endosperm which, while semantically being a complex carbohydrate, is treated by your body just like sugar, a simple carbohydrate. While most muffins are made of only white flour, this recipe is made up of whole-wheat flour (germ, bran, endosperm), oats (again, germ, bran, endosperm), wheat germ, and oat bran. Lots of good-parts-of-the-grain yumminess, see?

Muffins like ducks in a row

An astute reader like yourself may have picked up on the fact that while a couple of those ingredients are the fiber- and nutrient-rich parts of the grain, they do not in fact contain all three parts. So I guess it’s not technically whole-grain, but really, when you’re only removing the bad stuff and keeping the good stuff it’s easy to see that it has way more of the good stuff than the bad stuff, so it’s like an endosperm with twice the bran and twice the germ, and hence, 150% whole grain! Don’t argue with me on this one, I majored in math and I’ll come up with some convoluted argument to prove that It Is So.

So that’s enough science geekery, let’s stop talking nutrition and start talking yumminess!
This recipe is awesome because it manages to be low-fat without tasting overly low-fat. Yes, when you bite into these muffins you can tell that they are healthy and nutritious, but they are still wonderfully moist and flavorful. That’s because applesauce, oil’s favorite understudy, has gotten its chance to shine in this recipe, and when it teams up with the bananas you get a moist, remarkably un-twig-like consistency. When you add in things like toasted pecans, flax, raisins, and the grains, you get a complex flavor profile that keeps your tastebuds happy.

These are ideal for early-morning athletes and snooze-button-hitters since they are easy to take with you and eat, ensuring you get those morning calories your metabolism needs to function properly throughout the day. I always eat one on the way to swimming in the morning and if I think there’s a chance I won’t get to eat my daily oatmeal I always bring along a couple extra to tide me over until lunch. That’s another benefit to this muffin’s ingredients: in addition to being flavorful, they also keep you full for a long time. So what’s not to love? Skip that chemical delight breakfast you were going to grab on your way out the door and eat one of these instead!

Be wary of pretty muffins my Dad makes, but I swear these are good!

Click for the recipe →

Jan 152008
 

Who doesn’t love a good scone for breakfast? It’s like a waffle that way. Most of us have probably had blueberry or chocolate or maybe even cinnamon chip scones, but how common is a savory version?

Scone, edge on: I challenge you to a duel!
Nikon D50

I had run across this recipe about six months ago, and it sounded so unusual and so delicious that I tucked it away, ready to be pulled out in the right occasion. That occasion came around when I planned my Thanksgiving menu. Breakfast has a history of being all too often overlooked on that certain day, so on this Thanksgiving, my first un-adult-supervised one, I decided to start it off right.

These were perfect for the occasion – hearty, but not overly so, they satisfied without stuffing. And the bacon/smoked cheddar/scallion/fresh-ground pepper combo was fantastic and bold. Try them next time you have overnight guests – they’re a very welcome surprise.

No leisurely breakfast is complete without a cappuccino
Nikon D50

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