Friday, March 30, 2012

Breakfast For Dinner?

I've always loved hearty breakfasts, though I never actually have the opportunity to eat them, generally breaking my fast with oatmeal or toast and tea instead. Who has the time to make big family breakfasts in the morning--pancakes, waffles, French toast, ham, eggs? When my kids were younger, even on the weekends someone always had some practice or other that made it impossible to have a leisurely breakfast. Plus, family members often get up at different times, so the early birds (usually me) end up waiting hours for the late risers to be ready to eat. So to be able to enjoy those breakfast foods I love, I started making "Breakfast For Dinner" one day a week, usually Friday night.

When my kids were teens and often had friends over after school, the rule of thumb was that whoever was still at our house at dinner time got an invite. This custom was especially appreciated by my son's friends who, as always hungry young men, frequently went from house to house to house, sometimes eating as many as three dinners in one evening! I remember the first time that I served "Breakfast For Dinner" to them....they thought I'd gone off the deep end! How strange! How weird! But to me it makes perfect sense. 

I vary the menu for excitement; buttermilk pancakes, of course, but also delicate corn meal pancakes, low fat and delicious apple pancakes, spiced squash pancakes, crispy French toast. Many of these recipes can also be made as waffles. When accompanied by some lean grilled ham and scrambled eggs, it makes a delicious and hearty meal, enough food to fill even teen boys!

Below is my recipe for classic Buttermilk Pancakes. I'll provide the recipes for the other varieties in future posts.

Buttermilk Waffles or Pancakes
Serves: 6 to 8
Oven Temperature: 250° (to keep them warm)

3-1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
4 cups low fat buttermilk
2/3 cup canola oil
4 eggs

Blend all the dry ingredients together with flat beater in a mixer bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, oil and eggs. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and beat just until everything is wet. It's OK for there to be some lumps in the batter. To cook waffles, barely cover well greased grids with batter. Cook according to waffle iron directions, usually until steam no longer escapes. For pancakes, heat a large non-stick frying pan or griddle, add a dab of butter and pour in about 1/4 to 1/2 cup batter (depending on how good you are at flipping pancakes!). Cook over low to medium heat until bubbles form (but not burst) on the top of the pancake. Flip it over and cook on the other side until lightly browned. Repeat with remaining batter.

Notes & Pointers:
This batter is very thick, so cook over lower heat than regular pancakes and be sure that they're cooked may want to cut into one or two of them to be sure. If the outside browns before the inside is cooked, lower the heat. BTW, when I make scrambled eggs, I always make three egg whites plus one whole egg per person. The single yolk makes the eggs still look and taste like eggs, but significantly reduces the fat and cholesterol.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Who Says Burgers Have To Be Beef?

BTW, these are oval because that's the shape of the rolls I had!

I don't know about you, but reading all the recent press about nasty ingredients being put into some ground beef really turns me off! And studies have been reported that link excessive red meat consumption with higher mortality rates. One way to avoid the additives is to buy good quality beef cuts and grind the meat yourself (if you don't have a meat grinder, you can pulse grind a small amount of meat at a time in a food processor--just don't purée it!). That way you can control the amount of fat in the meat, and are certain what's in it. If you want to reduce your red meat consumption, another route is to think outside the (burger) box, and go in a completely different direction. One of my favorite non-beef burgers is a Salmon Burger. They are extremely nutritious, satisfying (in that wrap your hands around a big hunk-o-burger and chow down kind of way), delicious, and are even inexpensive! A 14 to 16 ounce can of salmon runs about 3 to 4 bucks or so in my local supermarket, and feeds a family of 4 heartily. The eggs act as binder and add nutrition of their own. Because of the eggs, these do need to be cooked all the way through; I sauté them on low heat so that by the time the outside is beautifully brown the inside will be completely cooked. You can always check them with an instant read thermometer....interior temp should be 160 degrees. Also, they can be kind of fragile, so use two spatulas or a spatula and a fork when turning them to ease them over to the second side. Serve on your favorite rolls with some reduced calorie tartar sauce, maybe some oven fries and you'll be in heaven (but not prematurely!).

Salmon Burgers
Serves: 4

14 to 16 oz. can salmon, drained
2/3 cup celery, chopped
1/3 cup green onions, chopped
3/4 cup bread crumbs
3 eggs
1 Tbs. olive oil

Remove large bones from salmon (the small waxy bones can be left in and will actually add some calcium) and blend with other ingredients in mixer bowl using flat beater or with a fork in a large bowl. Divide into 4 even patties. Fry over low heat in oil for about 4 to 5 minutes per side until brown and cooked through. Serve on burger rolls with tartar sauce.

Notes & Pointers:
For an easy, lower calorie version of tartar sauce, stir about 3 Tbs. sweet pickle relish together with 1 to 2 Tbs. reduced calorie mayonnaise.

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Delicious Memory From My Childhood--Updated For Today

When I was little, my mom learned to make the most delicious vegetable fritters from her older sister. They would both fry up a number of different veggies wrapped in a simple, but delicious batter. It was a foolproof way to get us kids to eat our veggies! One of my very favorites of these was cauliflower fritters, crisp exteriors enveloping a creamy, cheesy interior.....yum! The original recipe is fried in quite a bit of oil, something people didn't give too much thought to, back in the day. So when my husband remarked a while ago that he really missed those fritters that my Mom used to make, I set out to see if I could come up with a version which was healthier, but still delicious. I first tried spooning the batter onto nonstick aluminum foil and baking at a high temp, but the outside wasn't crisp enough. Next I tried shallow frying them in just a tiny bit of oil, but the insides wouldn't cook before the outside was overdone. I have to say, in all honesty, my first efforts were not pretty! My husband, always the trooper, ate them anyway. But I perservered, and several versions later, I have something that I am proud to serve. I use a combination of cooking methods; shallow frying (in about a teaspoon of olive oil) in a nonstick frying pan paired with a final bake on a cookie sheet at a high temp to finish cooking the interiors. It works and we can now enjoy these whenever we want to, guilt free!

Cauliflower Fritters
Serves: 4 to 6 (as a side dish)

1 head of cauliflower
4 Tbs. grated Romano or Parmigiano cheese
1 Tbs. flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 Tbs. fresh parsley, minced
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/8 tsp. pepper (or to taste)
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400°. Cut or break the cauliflower into floweretts, discarding the tough core. Steam them over simmering water in a vegetable steamer until completely cooked through and very tender. (Alternatively, microwave in a covered container in a half inch or so of water, stirring occasionally until completely cooked through and very tender; drain well.) In a large bowl, with a potato masher, mash the cauliflower into small pieces. Add all remaining ingredients except the olive oil and mix very well. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large nonstick skillet. Drop the fritter batter by tablespoons into the frying pan, leaving a half inch or so between the fritters. Flatten them slightly with the spoon. By the time you finish filling the pan, the first ones should be brown on the bottom and ready to carefully turn over. When they are browned on the second side, transfer them to a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining fritter batter. When the batter is all used up, move the cookie sheet to the oven and bake for approximately 10 minutes or until they are cooked through (if you have an instant read thermometer, push it sideways into one of the fritters; it should read 160°).

Notes & Pointers:
My favorite nonstick skillet is cast iron, as it is very heavy, holds the heat, and cooks evenly. You also don't have to worry about suffering the "Teflon Flu" from overheating some nonsticks (which if you've experienced once, you never want to repeat!!!). The fritters are quite fragile, so when you turn them over, use a spatula to turn them and a fork or a second spatula to ease them over to the second side. You will probably not need salt since there is quite a bit of salt from the cheese, but the best way to check the seasoning is to cook up a tiny bit of the batter and taste it.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Sometimes It's The Little Things

These are not actually Balsamic Walnuts (I ate them all before taking the pic!!!)
Almost without exception, dinner just doesn't seem like "dinner" to me unless I have some form of green salad. It could be as simple as a sack-o-salad given a quick rinse (I know it says pre-washed, but I feel better giving it a twirl through my salad spinner) with some bottled dressing, but a green salad seems to complete the meal for me. I'm not a big fan of the old iceberg lettuce-cucumber-hothouse tomatoes version of salad, gravitating more towards dark green romaine lettuce, Boston lettuce, red and green leaf lettuces, arugula, field greens--heck, even thinly sliced red cabbage frequently finds its way into my salad bowl. Of course, when to serve the salad is always a question, as some people prefer it as a first course, before the entrée, while others seem to feel it belongs at the end of the meal as a sort of digestive. Me, I like to have my salad right in the middle, in a nice big bowl suitable for tossing, next to my dinner plate. That way I can alternate a bite of this with a bite of that.... kind of lends variety to the meal, in my humble opinion. Sometimes salad IS my dinner, and one of my all time favorites is a mix of crisp greens, crumbled feta, walnuts and rosemary balsamic vinaigrette.....yum!

On my lazy days, I whack up a few leave of romaine lettuce, send them for a ride through my spinner, drizzle on a simple homemade vinaigrette and dig in. When I am creating a special dinner experience, I will go all the way, preparing balsamic glazed walnuts and a sweet and tangy dressing with either fresh sliced strawberries in season, or dried sweetened cranberries during the colder months. The combination of crisp greens (especially the really intense ones like arugula), crunchy candied walnuts and sweet but tangy dressing hits all the right notes.

Here is my recipe for Strawberry Fields Salad, the perfect fit for your most elegant dinner party.

Strawberry Fields Salad
Serves: 4 to 6

Ingredients for balsamic walnuts:
4 Tbs. sugar
4 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
1 cup walnut halves

Ingredients for salad:
2 Tbs. strawberry preserves or jam
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
mixed field greens or other salad
1 pint strawberries, hulled and sliced

Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper or non-stick aluminum foil. Heat sugar, 4 tablespoons balsamic and walnuts in a large frying pan over medium heat. Stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon, simmer until balsamic is nearly evaporated and nuts are well coated. Working quickly, pour the walnut mixture onto the lined baking pan. Using two forks, separate the individual nuts. (Be careful as the walnuts are wicked hot!) Bake in 350° oven for about 5 minutes until light brown. Allow to cool completely at room temperature then break the pieces apart with your fingers.

In blender container or with stick blender, combine strawberry preserves or jam with 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar. Stream in the olive oil, a little at a time until an emulsion forms. Set aside. When ready to serve, arrange salad greens in a large bowl or platter. Scatter strawberry slices over salad, drizzle with dressing and garnish with the balsamic walnuts.

Notes & Pointers:
Watch the nuts carefully both while simmering in the frying pan and baking in the oven. The high sugar content makes them go from golden brown to burnt in moments. Also be very careful not to touch them until they are completely cool. Caramelized sugar can cause a nasty burn! The walnuts can be made a couple of days before you serve, just be sure to keep them at room temperature in an airtight container. Because of the sugar content, they will draw moisture from the air and get sticky if the container is not well sealed.

When strawberries are out of season, this is also delicious made with cranberries. Use whole berry cranberry sauce instead of strawberry preserves in the dressing and serve with sweetened dried cranberries instead of the strawberries.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Exciting News!!!!

"From Aunt Tina's Kitchen, With Love" is now available as an eBook!!! You should be able to find it for the Apple iPhone or iPad, the Nook, and many other eBook readers. Or go to for a direct link. Enjoy!!!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Peasant Food (A.K.A. Health Food)

The days of believing that a well rounded meal consists of meat, potatoes and a vegetable occupying equal portions of the dinner plate are over. Current scientific evidence keeps reinforcing the new belief that vegetables, fruits and grains should be the predominant sources of nutrition, with lean meats and fish relegated to a supporting role in our diets. We keep reading about the health benefits of the"Mediterranean" diet. As a first generation American born child of Italian immigrant parents, this is a no-brainer! These are the foods I grew up eating, the foods that say home to me, the foods I love. Of course, back when my parents were raising a young family, they were thinking more about how to feed a family of four well on a single salary and less about our future cardiovascular health, but the end result is the same. And in today's economic environment, inexpensive food that is also healthy is the holy grail. Below I offer a recipe which to me epitomizes "peasant food"--Pasta Fagiole.

As with many of my recipes, the variations are endless. Consider it a road map, not a prescription! Any variety of beans that you find tasty will work here (white beans, kidney, pinto, roman, etc.), as will any green veggie that looks good in the market that day (I've used escarole, kale, or, as I explain below, even napa cabbage). You can vary the starch, using whole wheat pasta for a nutritional boost, or even (ignoring the "pasta" part of the name) by substituting brown rice or barley instead. If you absolutely can't stand a totally meatless dish, feel free to sauté up a quarter pound of sausage separately (so you can drain off the fat) or some bits of lean ham and add to the pot just after the carrots, celery, onion and garlic are sautéed. Personally, I take my Fagiole straight meat, just beans, veggies, pasta and a few seasonings. However you vary it, be sure to finish the dish by drizzling a tablespoon or so of best quality extra virgin olive oil over each serving immediately before presentation. The fruitiness of the oil elevates the dish to new heights (and is heart healthy, too).

Pasta & Fagiole
Serves: approximately 6 to 8

3 (15 oz.) cans red kidney beans
3 (15 oz.) cans small white beans
3 (14-1/2 oz.) cans chicken or vegetable stock
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbs. fresh rosemary, chopped
3 bay leaves, broken in half
1/2 bunch fresh swiss chard, shredded
1 (16 oz.) package baby spinach
salt & pepper, to taste
12 oz. small pasta (ditalini are nice)

Open all the cans of beans and rinse them well in a colander to remove the thick liquid. Set aside. Combine about 1 can of the white beans with 1 can of stock in a blender and process until liquefied. Set aside. (This thickens up the dish a bit and helps give it a more hearty quality.)

In an 8 quart saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add carrots, celery and onion and sauté until onions are translucent. Add garlic and sauté a minute or two longer, but don't let garlic burn! Add the reserved puréed bean and stock mixture. Reduce heat to low and stir in all remaining ingredients except for pasta. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes; remove bay leaves. At this point you can divide into portions and freeze some of this for later meals. Usually about 1 cup fagiole per person is sufficient. When you're ready to serve, boil about 2 oz. pasta per person in plenty of boiling salted water until just al denté, and stir into bean mixture. If you're serving the whole recipe at once, boil up the 12 ounces of pasta and stir into the fagiole just before serving. Drizzle each portion with a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and serve with a crisp green salad and lots of crusty bread.

Notes & Pointers:
This dish freezes beautifully as long as you don't add the pasta. It makes an easy dinner after work. By the way, the photo that tops this post uses napa cabbage in addition to Swiss chard and spinach. As it happened, I had half a head of  cabbage left over from making Pad Thai over the weekend, so I improvised. Still delicious!