While visiting friends in Phoenix, we had brunch at Chico Malo. For now, it is just the local Mexican/South American restaurant around the corner but keep an eye on this one. The Group that owns it is about to explode on the scene. Chico Malo literally means “bad boy” in Spanish. The menu is only good things but with a bad boy edge. The food was AMAZING!! Each item on the menu sounded better than the next. I loved that they aren’t trying to re-invent who they are with a whole new menu, for brunch. There are things like burritos and Chimichangas and in some cases, they turn those up.
Everything we ordered was great, but I can’t get my mind off the Nana Marcella’s Drunken French Toast. I’m going to do my best to duplicate. The presentation was so beautiful and the melding of flavors so incredible. The long pieces of baguette and caramelized bananas were stacked as if building a campfire. I learned from the menu that the bread had been soaked in a tres leches bath that not only enhanced the flavor but softened the tough crust to make it easy to cut with a fork. The 5-spice butter was the perfect balance of flavors to cut the fat in the butter while giving a blend of spices that danced all around my tongue, finally landing at the back with just a hint of heat. I had my idea of what the spices were but a quick visit with the General Manager confirmed allspice, cloves, nutmeg, mace, and cinnamon.
These two hints gave me the start I needed to play mad scientist in the kitchen. I mixed eggs into the tres leches bath and I let the bread soak overnight. I did the same thing with the butter. I played around with amounts of each spice until I felt they all shined but the heat from the cinnamon was what you remembered. And so, I began. A couple of things I would be sure of before I started. When cutting your baguette, make sure your pieces will fit comfortably in the pan. You want them long but not so long that they fall apart when they are in the pan. Have everything you need to “build” the dish ready to go before you start cooking. This dish is better served hot, so don’t waste time getting everything together at the end. I noticed when I looked at the picture of the recipe again that there is a pool of tres leches under the toast then syrup. I ordered the Aged Rum Syrup and piloncillo from Amazon. You can probably get the piloncillo at a Latin market and make your own rum syrup by adding rum to maple syrup and reducing until the right thickness.
This dish was such a decadent start to the day. It was rich and the Mimosa I had helped to ease the richness. This is a great breakfast to share or even multiply for a breakfast buffet.
Well, here we are a few days after New Year’s and, so far so good. I’ve been able to stay on track and feel great. One of the things I’ve been doing is having a homemade protein powder on the counter, at the ready. This makes it so easy to grab something healthy when cravings strike. I also use it for a quick breakfast.
There are literally thousands of ready-made protein powders on the market so why do I feel compelled to make my own? I have never been able to find one that doesn’t taste, I’ll say it, GROSS, to me. I have very sensitive taste buds. That means that in some powders I will taste every vitamin. In others, I can taste the chemicals. Or worse, in the “natural” ones that it tastes like I’m drinking grass. The others I’ve tried and liked are not natural and so sweetened that I know they aren’t healthy.
So, I started my research and came up with my own recipe. It gave me a starting flavor I like and flexibility of adding chocolate, vanilla, berry, and others. This base is so great because you can get creative. How about making the chocolate powder version and adding peanut butter and banana? I love to add frozen cherries to the vanilla and to the chocolate. Truly the possibilities are endless.
Enjoy and be sure to let me know what you try!
DIY Protein Powder
1/2 cup protein source like dry milk, whey, whole nuts, seeds or hemp hearts, choose one or mix it all up. 1/2 cup rolled oats. Optional-add fiber – 1/3 cup of chia seeds, ground flax seed, wheat germ or hemp hearts. Add some Flavor: 2 T. cocoa powder or 1/4 of a vanilla bean, scraped or 1 T. espresso powder or 2 T. ground, freeze-dried berries
Grind your desired ingredients, in a food processor, until it is a fine powder. I make several different flavors at one time. Store in an airtight container, in the refrigerator.
To make the smoothie, add 2 T. powder, 1 cup milk (regular, seed, nut or coconut), and 1/2 frozen banana. You can use other frozen fruit, but I start with bananas because of the thickness they give.
This morning I had chocolate powder and added 1 T. PB Fit powder. I used unsweetened vanilla coconut milk. YUM!!!
There is a coffee store every 500 yards, on every block. The coffee shelf at your local grocery store has become the coffee aisle and the fact that bakers have been putting coffee in their chocolate recipes for years, is finally out of the darkness. I wanted to find the perfect recipe to encapsulate all I love about coffee and baking, but wasn’t overtly chocolate. Cappuccino Muffins!
I first tried Cappuccino Muffins when my second daughter was in pre-school. One of the Moms brought them in for the Mom’s whose kids were going through transition. At that point in pre-school you start the day with your child and then go sit outside for a while to make sure they can hack it without you. I have to admit, my girls were always independent enough that I could have dropped them off their very first day and they would have been fine. Other Moms didn’t have it so easy and we could hear their kid wailing, waiting for them to come back in. So those perfect muffins, flavored with espresso, and studded with chocolate chips were just what we all needed to settle our nerves and spark conversation.
I had been given the recipe but have searched high and low for my copy and couldn’t find it. Let the recipe testing begin! It was a truly fun day and I might have a mild case of the jitters, from all the caffeine, but I think I came up with just the right flavor and an added perk of espresso cream cheese schmear. I ran out of my instant espresso powder and my local grocer didn’t have it. They did have Starbuck’s Via Instant Coffee in Italian Roast. That worked just fine.
These are great to make ahead and keep on the counter for about a week. You can also make them and freeze them. I would wrap them individually and grab them on the way out the door. By the time you get to work they will have defrosted and be ready to eat. Even better, you can toast them, from frozen, and use a little of the schmear.
My refrigerator, after the Jewish Holidays, could be a case study for food waste programs everywhere! It happens every holiday. My family makes requests of what foods they would like, I make them and we end up with a refrigerator full of leftovers. Even this year when I tried so hard to avoid the excess, I am still have a fridge full. There’s even half an egg salad sandwich (on rye) in there.
Recently, the Save the Food campaign has really ramped up and it seems that I see the commercial every 20 minutes. This year it really got me thinking and I am going to share some recipes that I‘ll be using to re-use and repurpose some of my leftovers.
I was astonished to learn that 40% of all food in the United States is never eaten; but 1 out of 8 Americans struggle to put enough food on their table. This has inspired me to offer myself (and my fridge) as an example. Here are a few recipes I am using this week for my leftovers. The steak and kugels will definitely get eaten on their own. But there’s milk in there that was 2% instead of 1% and my picky kid wouldn’t drink it. If you can catch milk and that first tart smell, it makes great pancakes or biscuits. Then the blueberries and lemon will make a great syrup or jam. Finally, I’m going to make a carrot/potato soup and garnish with chives that I have crisped up in a little oil. Enjoy!
In a soup pot, sauce the onions and garlic in the butter, until translucent.
Add the chicken broth, carrots, potatoes, bay leaf and seasonings. Cook until carrots and potatoes are tender enough to puree. If you are using leftovers you may not have to cook too long. If not, cook 25-30 minutes.
Discard the bay, then puree soup. I like an immersion blender. You can also do it in batches in a food processor, just do a little bit a time. You can puree until smooth, but I like a little of texture.
In a separate saute pan heat 2 T. oil and saute chives until crisp. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Use to garnish soup.
Adjust salt & pepper to taste and serve soup with five garnish.
Winter knows how to hook you. That first nip of cold air gets you excited and all the sweaters come out. When you are sick of rain the snow starts and when you think you can’t handle the grey skies anymore, Peonies show up and the citrus is ripe for the picking.
The Peonies I had to find in NYC while looking at colleges for my daughter. They were a welcome sight on a slushy, grey street in Chelsea. The citrus, in the form Cara Cara oranges greeted me when I came home to Los Angeles. They were bursting with juice and practically leapt off their trees when I went out to pick them.
Cara Cara oranges are wonderfully sweet and have specks of dark red hinting of a relationship to blood oranges. You can juice them and cook with them. This year they were too sweet not to use in everything! First, I peeled, sliced and served them on a beautiful platter on their own. Delicious! Then I tried a variation on lemon curd. It is literally sunshine is a jar. You can use any way you would lemon curd or, like me, just eat with a spoon.
Bring the orange juice to a simmer in a small saucepan, over a medium high heat and reduce to 1/2 cup. Remove from heat and stir in zest. Cool to room temperature.
In a separate bowl, whisk together egg, egg yolks and sugar. Whisk in cooled juice mixture. Once combined, pour back into saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until it starts to thicken and it reaches a temperature of 180°. This should take 6 - 8 minutes.
Pour mixture through a fine mesh strainer into another bowl and stir in butter, until it is completely melted. Cool completely and place plastic right on surface of curd, to prevent skin forming. Place in refrigerator until well chilled.
Store in airtight in refrigerator for 1 week or freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in refrigerator, before use, if frozen.
I am often asked why do I write about cooking. Why is it important to me that “you” cook? It’s often a hard question to answer. Maybe, because it feels existential to me; I cook therefore I am. Recently, I had a small epiphany to this question. I woke up early one morning, I went down stairs and noticed the pungent aroma of too ripe bananas. I immediately got to work on banana bread. My movements around the kitchen, to grab my ingredients were easy and lazy on a warm Saturday morning: three ripe bananas, an egg, some flour and sugar are the basics and then I can get fancy. As I worked it dawned on me, this is why I want YOU to bake. I want you to stumble into your morning kitchen and think “banana bread” or cinnamon rolls or whatever you are craving and not be intimidated, afraid or ill prepared to bake. It is gratifying to bake/cook for your family and friends. It is also extremely gratifying to be the teacher. I want your emails saying you succeeded or even failed with one of my recipes. Let’s walk through it and try again. I love running into you in the store and answering your questions about ingredients or techniques. Send me the pictures! I want to see.
So in turn this answers another question that I have been asked. What’s your voice? Who’s your audience? My voice is just me. And you are my audience. In any article you read whether it is here on my blog or a book or a magazine; I want you to feel like we are sitting at the island in my kitchen, sipping a cup of … and just talking. You can ask me anything and tell me everything. See you soon.
In a small bowl stir together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.
In an electric mixer bowl, mix together the peanut butter, brown sugar, white sugar, egg and vanilla until smooth and well blended.
Mash the bananas and then fold them into the wet mixture.
Ad the flour mixture and beat on medium low until just just combine. Some lumps are ok.
Pour batter into a greased 9X5X3 loaf pan. Bake at 350° for 1 hour to 1 hour 20 minutes.
I know that sounds vague but every oven varies and you don't want your bread to be over or under baked. A tooth pick should come out clean but just clean.
Run knife around edges and let cool completely in pan.
Put peanut butter, butter and confectioners sugar in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave and stir, in 30 second intervals, until smooth.
Pour glaze over top of turned out bread. Garnish with chopped peanuts. Let set for 10 minutes to set up before slicing.
When I read a post where the first thing the author does is make an excuse, I have to admit it is a huge turn off. Julia used to say something to the effect of don’t make excuses for your food whether it’s bad or good, everybody already know’s. Well, Julia, true that but sometimes life just rushes by and you get behind. The ironic thing is I have been writing like crazy, because I have so much to say! It’s the cooking and picture that seem to set me back. So here I am to catch up and I think this first one is a good one.
We finally got a little cold snap her in Los Angeles. I love to think that means we can have a fire in the fire place and snuggle up. I mean what else can you do when it is 50 degrees out (pause for groan from the east coast)? A fire in the fireplace almost always means S’mores. So tonight it meant making my own graham crackers.
I don’t know why I wanted to make my own graham crackers. There was something so intriguing to me. I imagined it would be very complicated so it never occurred to me that I would share it here, under try something new. It was super easy!
I went looking for “Graham” flour. Guess what? Its really just whole-wheat flour that is not sifted during the milling process and is ground coarsely. You can find graham flour in some health food stores. For my purposes I used plain whole-wheat flour. I started with a recipe from King Arthur Flour Company. I made the first batch exactly as directed. One of my daughters is not a big cinnamon fan and I thought it could be a little more “wheaty” so I made some adjustments and the following is my recipe. It really is simple.
My advice is to be patient when rolling out the dough. You do want to get them very thin. You also will want to have a ruler handy, if measuring out as squares, which is the proper graham shape. I admit I got bored of that and made some squares and some circles with a biscuit cutter. Finally don’t forgo the pricking with a fork. This helps them keep their shape, without puffing up.
To paraphrase Julia Child you should never makes excuses for your food. Whether it is good or bad everybody already knows. After a five month absence, I’m back. This is for you Carl!
My pantry is my comfort zone, a larder that has evolved over twenty years of cooking every day. It is my haven and where I go to feel safe. I can look at my pantry and see nothing; my sister looks in my pantry and thinks, “This is where I’m going after the apocalypse.” My pantry is where I go to get my creative juices flowing. It is often where I go to have fun. I can always find a spice, or some ingredient that will spark whimsy and often a party.
There is no one size fits all. You have to start with a few rapid-fire questions. I mean it! Don’t think about your answers. Say the first thing that comes to your mind.
1- what is your (family’s) favorite home cooked meal?
2- what is your breakfast, every morning?
3- what is the meal you cook every week? This may not be the same answer as #1.
4- when asked to bake for a bake sale or office party, what is your go to recipe?
5- when you stand in front of your pantry or refrigerator, what do most often eat as a snack?
6- what is the one recipe that gets the most reaction, wow factor, when you serve it?
Write the ingredients from all your answers down. This is where you will start building your pantry. Be honest with yourself, too. When I was single I may never have thought of turkey burgers. I sleep soundly, now, knowing I have my go to ingredients on hand.
Now I face the conundrum of the well-stocked pantry. Mine is in three parts: Everyday, Panic and Entertaining. Everyday- Here I am a Mom that feeds her family. I can make lunch, snacks, and dinner for my family. This pantry makes me feel nurturing. Panic- this pantry may well have some overlap with Everyday. It has the most basic of ingredients for a quick breakfast and at least chocolate chip cookies for a last minute bake sale. This pantry makes me feel safe. My last pantry is for Entertaining. Here you may find an atypical ingredient, like cherry preserves or capers, in mine. This is the pantry that may get stocked when a specialty ingredient is on sale or as the holidays approach and you know you will be living it up. This pantry excites me. For me some days are utilitarian and on other days I just want to have fun. My pantry in three parts lets me indulge any mood.
Your Everyday pantry will be very personal to you. Here is a glimpse into my Everyday pantry
A quick breakfast item – For me this is grits. For you it may be cereal or pancake ingredients. I like to keep these items at waist high level. That way the kids can be a part of the decision.
We always have PB&J at home – that means not only the best quality peanut butter, but also an almond butter to swipe on a banana for a snack. Because this gets used so often it is on the same shelf that includes the snack items, like dried fruit, or pita chips (for hummus)
A few dinner ingredients – I always have dried pasta on hand and some sundried tomato paste. Sometimes you just have to throw it together quickly and that means dried pasta and jar sauce. I keep sundried tomato paste to stir into jar sauce and give it a richness and fresher taste. I try to keep my pastas, sauces and rice all on the same shelf.
Basics – I always keep cans of tuna (I like the Italian kind canned in olive oil). I like to keep chicken and vegetable broth on hand. They are both great for adding flavor to cooked rice, pasta and vegetables, instead of water. We love tomato soup with grilled cheese so there is usually a box or two of Pacific brand tomato soup. I also use the sundried tomato paste in here and maybe some Pomi diced tomatoes to doctor it up. These items I like to keep all on one shelf.
Baking – I always have flour, sugar, baking soda and baking powder on hand. I also make sure there is always a bag of chocolate chips. This makes it easy to do a cake, muffins or cookies at a moments notice.
Spices – I am pretty selective about what spices I will keep on hand. I have small shelves built into the side of my pantry, just right for holding an array of small bottles and jars. However, spices can go bad or lose their potency, quickly. For that reason I try to only “stock up” on the ones I go through quickly. You can see I need to do a New Year purge.There are spice stores popping up that you can but in small, or customized quantities, even some farmer’s markets have spice vendors. I love flake salt so Maldon Salt is always on hand. I love the way a fresh grind of nutmeg can add a secret flavor to cheese dishes so I usually have a couple of whole nutmeg in the house. My husband loves heat so we always have a large container of chili flakes. My daughters love cinnamon and I love garlic so these are staples too. For the cinnamon I give in and buy the Cinnabon cinnamon. They love it so why not? I love a product called Garlic Gold. It is chopped, roasted and then freeze-dried garlic that has amazing flavor. You can buy it dry or packed in olive oil. I use both versions.
Speaking of oils, here is my take. I always have a vegetable oil. I don’t really have a preference of canola or corn. I have a less expensive olive oil for cooking and I have a really high-end olive oil for dressing. When I say high end, I mean you would and could just eat a spoonful of it. It taste that good. One I really like is Laudemio. It has a beautiful green color and a peppery taste.
Alright, get started! To help inspire you, here’s my recipe for Oatmeal Buttermilk Muffins. It’s one of my favorites from my everyday pantry.
Oatmeal Buttermilk Muffins
This is an easy muffin to make with your well-stocked pantry. This is also a great recipe to add some mix-ins, like chocolate chips or dried fruit.