One thing that most of us love is when we go to a restaurant and the server brings out a little starter. Sometimes it is chips and salsa, or a warm loaf of bread and butter. One restaurant that I love brings out a cathead black pepper topped biscuit along with honey and blueberry jam, but my favorite starter is from my favorite restaurant. It is the Persian breakfast served at Pomegranate on Main in Greenville, SC.
Until my first visit to this restaurant, I’d never heard of it, but it is something that was a bit of a revelation to me after my first bite. After we placed our order, our server returned to our table with a lovely platter and asked if we’d ever had a Persian breakfast. When we replied that we had not, the server went on to explain that what she’d brought to our table was know as the Persian breakfast, and instructed us to take a piece of the flatbread, spread it with butter, then top it with radish, feta and fresh mint. This was not a combination I’d ever tried, but as with most foods, I was opened minded. I did as instructed, and with the first taste, I was hooked! It is hard to explain how just a few simple ingredients can pack such a flavorful punch, but it does. In this case, the sum is far greater than the parts.
Because this is such a simple combination of ingredients, it is easy to bring this dish home to enjoy over and over again. I’ve served this as a starter when having a family gathering, or as a snack on movie night, and I find that every time I make it, I want to do a little happy dance, and sometimes if no one is looking, I do. I’ve found that the fresher and higher quality the ingredients, the better it tastes. I’m lucky to have a large pot of fresh mint growing on my patio, and sometimes grow my own radishes, but often just pick up a bunch from the grocery store. The better the Feta, the better the dish. I have recently discovered that Costco sells an organic Feta imported from Greece that is just delicious, but I’ve also enjoyed it with whatever was on sale at the grocery store. I’ve used both pita bread and naan and enjoyed them both. I’m sure homemade would be better – goals!
If you do a little research, you’ll see variations of Persian breakfast that are much more elaborate, but because I am only conveying my experience, I’ll keep it simple.
1 Package of Pita Bread or other Flatbread
1 Bunch of Radishes, sliced
1 Block of Feta Cheese, sliced
1 Bunch of Fresh Mint and/ or Basil
Cut flatbreads into bite sized pieces. Spread each piece with butter. Top with sliced radish, sliced feta and fresh mint or basil leaves.
Yes, this is incredibly simple, but it is good and so worth the effort you didn’t have to make!
The chia seed pudding craze is certainly not a new thing, it has been going on for several years now. We are however, in our house, late comers to the party! I liked the idea of a pudding that was easy to make and would set overnight in the refrigerator without needing to be cooked. I also liked the idea of the health benefits that chia seeds provide, such as being high in fiber and Omega 3, as well as containing many other beneficial nutrients.
There are literally thousands of recipes out there, but I often like to play with ingredients I haven’t used before and try to figure out how to work with them on my own. Once I read about the basics of how chia seeds work for making a pudding, I set out to figure out what ratio of liquid to seeds would work best for me.
On my first attempt, I went with 1 tablespoon of seeds and 1/2 cup of milk, but found that while it did thicken a bit, it was still too runny. Clearly, I didn’t put in enough seeds to get the job done, so I tried again the next day with the same amount of milk and 2 tablespoons of seeds, and the texture and thickness were just right.
Once I had the proper ratio of seeds to liquid down, the sky became the limit on how to flavor it, what toppings to add, etc. I tried several different combinations, and really enjoyed most of them. One or two of the varieties I created didn’t really work for me, but I love that I can test out new varieties by making only one portion at a time. If it’s not a winner, at least a lot of ingredients weren’t wasted.
One of my favorite creations is the recipe I am including today. It is scaled to make 4 portions, but it can easily be adjusted to make more, or less depending on your needs.
Chocolate Cinnamon Chia Pudding
8 tablespoons chia seeds
2 cups almond milk
4 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 packets sweetener, such as Splenda or Stevia
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Toasted coconut and toasted almonds to sprinkle on top of each pudding before serving (optional)
Choose 4 small bowls or cups for your pudding. Put 2 tablespoons of chia seeds into each and set aside.
In a medium sized mixing bowl, add the almond milk, cocoa powder, vanilla, sweetener, and cinnamon. Whisk all the ingredients together until well combined, about 2 minutes.
Pour equal amounts of the liquid mixture over the seeds in each bowl and stir each one until the seeds are mixed in.
Cover each bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours. While this is completely optional, I do like to stir the bowls again after they have been in the refrigerator for an hour to help evenly distribute the seeds once again – I have found that this step helps to prevent some clumping of the seeds.
Top with the toasted coconut and almonds (or other topping of your choice) if desired, and serve.
I’m glad I took some time to learn about and to try making chia seed pudding. I love how easy it is to make and how versatile it is as well. Not only can you change up the flavors to suit your taste, but you can also use a wide variety of base liquids, from milk to water, to juice, just to name a few. I also like that these easy to make ahead puddings are a great grab and go breakfast or snack option when you don’t have a lot of time to make something else.
Are you a chia seed pudding fan? What are some of your favorite varieties? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section. Until next time, have a great weekend!
I have written in the past about the new Mother’s Day tradition we started a few years ago. We used to go out for brunch until the pandemic hit. When Mother’s Day 2020 arrived during the very early part of the pandemic, we were still in lockdown, and you couldn’t go to a restaurant. That year my son and I worked to recreate the brunch from the place we always took my wife.
In those early days of the pandemic, you had to be creative to help make life feel a bit more normal, and preparing brunch was our way of doing that. Little did we know at the time that it would become a favorite new tradition in our home, and that even when the restaurants opened again, we’d all continue to choose our new at home brunch tradition over the old one.
When June rolled around that year, and the pandemic as it turned out would still be in the early days and going strong, Father’s Day was suddenly upon us. We used to go out for Father’s Day as well, but the new Mother’s Day tradition also turned into a new Father’s Day tradition as my wife and our son teamed up to make brunch for me!
That first year we were a bit more extravagant in our brunches than in the years that followed, and why not? We were stuck at home and had plenty of time to fill with our creativity! That Father’s Day they decided to surprise me by recreating the breakfast from Ohana at Disney’s Polynesian Village.
We’ve had breakfast at many restaurants in Disney World, but the breakfast at Ohana has by far always been our favorite. From the food to the atmosphere to the friendly service, you just can’t go wrong. I like to call their breakfast a “reverse buffet” because they bring everything they’re serving to your table on a beautiful platter. When a strikingly similar platter appeared on the table that first Father’s Day at home, I was truly blown away – my family really knocked it out of the park!
It’s hard to believe that new tradition is now three years old! With three Mother’s Days and three Father’s Days behind us, we still love it just as much as we did in year 1. While we may have simplified our efforts a bit after that first year, we still turn out a fun spread and with so many options on the table, that brunch also serves as afternoon snack and dinner as the day goes on!
One fun new addition this year were these easy egg cups. My wife looked up a few ideas, but then decided to just throw her own idea together and came up with something that was incredibly simple yet loaded with flavor. They were also a time saver as they prepared them the night before and warmed them for the brunch the next morning.
Lori said that the simplicity of the project made it easy for our 7 year old to do most of the work himself by scrambling the eggs and deciding what variations to use. He let his imagination and creativity run wild – the recipe made a dozen egg cups, and he turned them into 6 varieties using ham, cheddar, smoked gouda, mozzarella, and parmesan. He was quite proud of his work and was so excited to tell his food blogger dad about each kind, which he had color coded by the cupcake wrapper.
Lori & Max’s Easy Egg Cups
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
Mix ins of your choice!
Add the eggs, milk and salt to a large bowl and scramble together until well combined.
Line a cupcake pan with cupcake wrappers – they used paper cups, but in learning from this experience, Lori suggests using the foil variety to make them easier to remove when baked. Divide the egg mixture evenly between the cups – there should be enough for 12.
Add your chosen mix ins to each individual cup and then bake in a 350 degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes. Test with a toothpick to see if they are done. The egg cups can be served immediately or warmed again if you are preparing them the night before.
I had a wonderful day complete with the best company in the world, delicious food, and an incredible gift, but I think my favorite thing of all is to see the big smiles on the faces of my family as they present their buffet to me. That’s a gift that I can carry in my head and my heart every day. How lucky I am to have people in my life that are so happy and proud to do such amazing things for me!
Until next time, I hope you all have a great weekend!
Welcome to round 2 of Easter cake! In this round we each take a shot at trying to change and/or modernize the original recipe in some way. As I said at the end of round 1, we are free to research again and when creating a round 2 recipe, the sky is the limit. So, did my plane of cake soar high into those unlimited skies? No, it did not. It definitely made it past takeoff, but it remained more of a low flying sight seeing tour at best.
My goals for this round were to increase the amount of batter to better fill a 13×9 pan, to increase the moisture in the cake a bit and to add in some sort of pecan and brown sugar filling into the mix. I thought the original recipe was actually pretty nice overall and that it would make a nice base for a breakfast or coffee cake – I had the idea of Easter brunch in mind. In making the shift to a coffee cake, I also went from lemon flavoring to vanilla.
Producing more batter was simple enough – I just increased most of the ingredients by 25%. My one exception was the sugar, which I actually reduced from 1 1/2 cups to 1 cup. I felt that the reduction of sugar in the batter would help accommodate the additional sweetness from the filling.
To increase the moisture, I went with one of my favorite tricks for doing so without adding a lot of extra fat. Instead of using oil or butter, I added 1/4 cup of plain Greek yogurt. I have read that if you are using or replacing 1/2 cup or less of butter or oil, you can do a 1 to 1 substitution without making what you are baking too dense and wet. I have used the trick before and it generally works pretty well and it did a decent job again, although for this recipe it did become a little more dense than the original cake.
Finally, for the filling I mixed brown sugar, flour, pecans and melted butter together. I froze the mixture for about 20 minutes and then crumbled it into frozen pieces before incorporating it into the batter. I chose to freeze it first so that when it was mixed into the batter it wouldn’t blend into it and change it into a butter brown sugar cake. I also wanted them to turn into little bursts of buttery brown sugar and pecan bites throughout the cake and it worked nicely as they melted while the batter baked around them, locking them in place.
When the cake finished cooling, I spread on the glaze topping. I kept the recipe the same as the original cake, but instead of lemon, for the thicker first layer I added some cinnamon and for the thinner portion of the glaze meant for decorating, I went with more vanilla. I also made four colors for the decorative glaze instead of just green – we don’t just make green Easter eggs, so I didn’t want just green frosting either!
First bite…. eww. The glaze was chalky and had a harsh bite to it. The thicker cinnamon portion had real cinnamon instead of flavoring, and it just didn’t work well. The thinner vanilla portion also wasn’t good – what went wrong when it was fine in round 1? Almost immediately, I realized it was human error – this human in his haste to get the cake glazed on a Sunday evening forgot to add in the melted butter.
As for the cake itself… As I described above, each individual change seemed to work well as I was putting the cake together. The sum of the parts however did not add up to the best end product. The little bursts of pecan, butter and brown sugar tasted pretty good and the cake alone wasn’t too bad either, although perhaps a bit too moist in the end.
All of the parts eaten together did not work well because of the mistake I had made with the glaze. I understood that of course, but why was it that the two decent parts, the filling and the cake, did not seem to go together well either when the glaze was taken out of the mix? Did the addition of the yogurt along with the frozen bits of butter melting while baking cause the extra moisture and denseness? Was the reduction in sugar in the batter to blame? Should I not have tried the yogurt idea at all and simply added oil?
I still haven’t come to any conclusions, and I’m not sure if I ever will. Some baking mysteries just can’t be solved, and perhaps we shouldn’t even try. Maybe the best thing to do is just cut your losses and try again. The one thing I do know is that I will not be sharing a new recipe for an Easter brunch cake with you today! Sadly, the best thing about the cake was the way it looked!
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the kitchen to give my round 2 cake a proper send off – garbage pick up day is tomorrow. On that note, I’ll turn this over to Karen with fingers crossed that her round 2 went way better than mine did! Have a great weekend!
Ray and I took very different approaches to round 2! While Ray took large swings at the cake, my approach was to make smaller “tweaks”. I took that approach because the original cake was not too bad, perhaps a few small changes would bring it up to par. That, and remembering not to turn the oven off 10 minutes into the process.
I decided to use cake flour because I was looking for a lighter texture. I’m not sure just how much difference that made, but that’s what was in my head. I also decided to add a small amount of vegetable oil. This was again for the purpose of making the texture of the cake lighter. In keeping with the original, I used the hot water again, but not quite as much.
The next thing I thought about was flavor. I opted to add a couple teaspoons of vanilla extract along with the lemon. I’ve read that vanilla enhances everything, including lemon cakes and a quick perusal of my cookbooks confirmed that to be the case.
Next, I considered the baking vessel. I have a spring form pan that has a bundt insert. This pan is smaller than my other bundt pan so I thought it would do the trick. This also meant that I needed to make an educated guess about the baking time again. I went for 350F and thought 40-45 minutes would be in the ballpark.
Lastly, I considered the decoration. I liked the way the first frosting turned out, so I kept that and rather than mix another frosting color, introduced the green through sprinkles.
How did it go? not quite as well as I thought it would. I kept an eye on the cake, and pulled it out at about 44 minutes. A skewer test came out clean, but I wasn’t sure about the spring and the texture, so I put it back in for 3 minutes. I burned the fool out of my thumb when doing so, and when I pulled the cake back out of the oven, I suspected I may have gone too far as it was no longer making any sounds. I decorated the cake, then took some pictures of it. The moment of truth would be the taste test. First thoughts? It was dry. Damn! Those 3 extra minutes had taken a toll on the cake. Then flavor was assessed. It doesn’t taste bad, but it does taste bland. I suspect that the hot water isn’t doing this cake any favors. If you think about it, water will add nothing, but will dilute flavor, so a rethink is in order.
As Paul Hollywood would say, this is all style, no substance. So for now, I will still hold out hope that we can make a success of this cake. Perhaps a year from now, we can revisit this exercise, but for now, Happy Easter everyone!
Once again the holidays have come and gone, leaving in their wake a wave of happy memories, fun, a lot of leftovers and of course, a new toy or two! I was given many thoughtful gifts by my family and one of my favorites came from my wife Lori. What a fun surprise to unwrap the Fast Slow GO, a multicooker pot by Breville, on Christmas morning!
Many years ago before there was such a thing as an instant pot, I used to use a regular old stovetop pressure cooker. I learned how they worked from my grandma who used them frequently. I enjoyed the wild sound of the steam bursting out as the regulator on top of the pot rocked wildly back and forth. Of course there was also the thought of the slight element of risk in the old style stovetop cookers that the lid would blow right off under the pressure, but that only happened on TV shows or in movies right? Luckily it never happened to me!
Several years later the first of the electric pressure cookers started to come out and while I was reluctant to give up my old stovetop model, my wife (we weren’t yet married) decided she wanted to get one. We started using it, time passed, and one day I realized that my old stovetop pot had not been used since. I guess I had retired it in a rather unceremonious way!
Two years ago that first electric pressure cooker broke and had not been replaced. Recently I started talking about possibly getting a new one and that’s when the idea for Lori’s Christmas gift to me was born.
The newest models have really come a long way from the original one we had for so long. Along with the manual set options, this one also features a dozen preset cooking options including soup, sous vide, rice, risotto and yogurt to name a few. I also like that it has a sauté function for browning meat or softening vegetables before using one of the other modes. Lori debated if this would be a good gift, or another one of those things that sits and collects dust. After the first week she knew it was a good idea – I used it nine times!
My first experiment was a soup featuring the rest of the meatballs we enjoyed on Christmas Eve. I also made two other soups that week – split pea, which was a great way to use the rest of our Christmas ham and finally a simple chicken soup. The soup mode took about 25 to 30 minutes which included the 15 minute cooking cycle and approximately 10 to 15 minutes for the pot to come to full pressure.
Next, I tried the rice function twice. Once to make steamed rice (Jasmine) as a side for dinner and the other to make a simple main dish we often enjoy for dinner of ground beef (or turkey) and rice (this time I used Basmati) and Parmesan cheese. The sauté function was perfect for browning the beef before cooking it along with the rice.
I also tried recipes for macaroni and cheese and chocolate cake. Finally, I gave breakfast a test drive with steel cut oats and hard boiled eggs – at last I was able to try my fellow blogger’s method for making those eggs! If you are interested in trying it out, Karen did a great job of outlining the process in her post Easy Peel Eggs.
Overall I have found the pot to be very easy to use and often a time saver. The soup and rice functions were simple to work with and have produced great results. Some things do have a bit of a learning curve however. For example, my experiment with steel cuts oats needs a bit of tweaking to get the amount of water right. I used too much, so they came out a bit too wet. It was easily remedied by using the sauté mode to finish them off, but with the correct amount of water, that step would not be needed.
I also need to work a bit more with the chocolate cake recipe and cook time. The flavor of the cake was good – very rich and deep, much like a brownie. Unfortunately, the cake was a bit heavy and surprisingly a little dry considering it had been cooked in a steam filled environment! I don’t mind the occasional mishap though – that’s how we learn.
I hope that your holiday season brought you lots of joy and a fun gift or two! I am looking forward to a new year of blogging and sharing our cooking adventures. I have a feeling that a few of them will include creating a new recipe or two in my new pot! Until next time, I hope you all have a great weekend.
Well this is it, we’ve come to the final recipe in this round of the cookbook club featuring recipes from Sarah Kieffer’s book Baking for the Holidays. It feels like we just got started with round 1, but suddenly it is 5 weeks later and we’re at the end.
The recipe chosen was Nutella Star Bread or one of the variations of the recipe included in the book. A couple of weeks before the club started we were given the list of recipes we’d be doing each week. From the moment I had the list I knew this one was coming, and I was preparing for what I thought was going to be the most difficult recipe to produce because of the way the bread is shaped.
The process involves dividing the dough into 4 pieces, rolling each piece into a circle approximately 10 inches in size and then stacking the circles in layers with a layer of filling in between each layer of dough. After that, the dough is cut into 16 segments that are twisted together to give it its star shape. When I was done, I was amazed at how easily it came together for me. After 5 weeks of anticipating a possible kitchen disaster, it didn’t happen!
I didn’t have any Nutella on hand and we don’t tend to eat it that often. I enjoy it, but because I don’t reach for it that frequently, when we have it on hand it tends to expire before it is fully used. So rather than waste a jar of it, I decided to make the cinnamon variation instead.
As with the cookies I made in the last round of the club, I still didn’t have clear sanding sugar on hand. As I looked at the star rising for the final time, it started to remind me of a poinsettia flower. So once again, in the spirit of holiday baking, I decided to grab the colored decorating sugar crystals I had on hand. With some red and some yellow, the poinsettia idea came to life.
The bread was delicious – as I always say, you usually can’t go wrong with cinnamon and brown sugar! As with the pull-apart bread in round 1, the author said that the bread is best when eaten the day it is made. Once again, this certainly is true when you plan to serve it to company or bring it to someone as a gift, but if it is just you and your family at home, a few seconds in the microwave on day 2 brings it right back to life.
With my first ever cookbook club behind me, I have to say I really did enjoy being a part of it. I met some really nice people, had fun making some recipes that challenged me to try new things and learned several interesting techniques along the way that I already want to apply to some new recipe ideas. Oh, and how could I forget to mention… my family and I got to enjoy eating all of these treats!
Before I turn this over to Karen, I’d just like to take a moment to wish you a very happy holiday season – I hope it is a time of peace and joy for all of you. Since we don’t have a collaborative post planned for next week and it is Karen’s week to write, I’ll also take this opportunity to wish you a very happy new year! Thank you to everyone who started following us or stopped by to read some of our posts in this, our inaugural year of our blog – we truly appreciate it. I look forward to year 2!
On that note, I’ll throw it over to Karen to share how her final week in the club went.
As usual, Ray and I did not have the same experiences! I also was quite focused on the Star Bread from the very beginning. Ray said he was anticipating difficulty, but I felt excitement! Making a star bread was definitely on my list of things I’ve wanted to bake for a long time, so I would get to tick that box off. I was so up for it, I made sure I had my Nutella a month ago and waited in anticipation for the big day.
I prepared my dough the day before. Actually, the time preparing the dough overlapped for Ray and myself, and we exchanged texts about it while making it. Ray must have jumped right to it early the next day, because he sent me a picture of his finished product before I’d even contemplated getting started. I was still drinking my tea.
A couple hours later I sent this text to Ray.
He sent me a supportive text commiserating with me about how he’d had trouble too, which was very sweet. He also sent me the shot of his beautifully made stack of circles pictured above. Clearly, he didn’t understand the situation I was in.
Right about that time Tom entered the room and his wife (me) had a little bit of a meltdown. “I just can’t roll a circle”, which was very evident by the horribly misshaped dough in front of me. He had me go sit down for a bit while he tried to mitigate the disaster on the counter. After I’d cooled down, I came back and took over. As I sullenly finished assembling my star bread, I started thinking that this situation reminded of something…. Oh yes! An episode of SpongeBob SquarePants. Squidward is teaching an art class. All his circles look like amoebas, but SpongeBob produces perfect circle after perfect circle with ease. I supposed that made me the Squidward of baking, and by default, that would make Ray the SpongeBob, right?
Once I got to the part where I cut and began twisting the dough, things seemed much brighter. I was encouraged. Maybe this wouldn’t be a disaster at all. In fact, the results weren’t half bad. As usual, the rainydaybites cookbook club were gracious and supportive, and I found out I was not the only Squidward of the day.
As with many tales of woe, there are stories of redemption as well. This is mine. The original sweet dough recipe was enough to make 2 star breads. As the ambitious soul that I am, and as excited as I was to make the star bread from the start, I made the full recipe. The dough was good in the refrigerator for up to 72 hours, so a couple of days after my angst, I made another.
This experience was very different from the first. I walked into the kitchen almost a new person. I felt a sort of zen calmness and gently divided and rolled my dough circles while listening to Chopin. If the circle needed a rest, it got one. There was absolutely no stress the second time around. I don’t know what got into me, but I need to tap into that headspace more often. This time I chose to use mango and peach preserves instead of Nutella. My son preferred the Nutella, but for Tom and myself, the second star bread was the clear winner in every way.
I would also like to wish everyone a happy holiday season full of peace and happiness. See you next week!
Karen and I officially opened our blog in March of this year, but we started working out the details on how we wanted to proceed and what we wanted to say, as well as choosing a style for the blog and starting to build the site several months earlier in October.
We had both just decided to make the leap into early retirement from our 25+ year careers. This was accomplished in no small part thanks to the support our spouses gave us in making the decision. They could see that we had both grown weary of the jobs we had once enjoyed, and we would not have been able to make the leap without them standing behind us 110%!
As the words “early retirement” might suggest, we were by no means ready to go and sit in a rocking chair! My 6 year old certainly would never have allowed that to happen, and I didn’t want it to happen either. The career I had grown tired of was officially behind me and I was ready to get on with new things – many of which I had dreamed about doing for years. One of those things was this blog.
Karen and I had actually talked about the idea for almost a decade, but with full time careers we really didn’t have the extra time. She made the early retirement choice first and when I followed a little over two months later, I immediately asked her if she was ready to finally start that food blog. We had the time at last to start making some of those postponed dreams a reality, and she jumped right in with me.
So, what is the milestone that I referred to in the title? Tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of the very first blog entry that I had ever written. Even though we weren’t officially open yet, I wanted to start building my confidence as a new blogger by getting some entries under my belt. As I mentioned above, we wouldn’t be here today without the support of our spouses, and I felt it was appropriate for me to write my first entry with my wife Lori in mind.
I had decided to take a shot at creating a copycat recipe of her favorite soup from Panera – Autumn Squash Soup. At that time we were still in the earlier days of the pandemic when dining out options were either limited, unavailable or still didn’t feel like a comfortable option to us. As such, I wanted to do something that would give life during that fall season a bit of a more normal feel by making a restaurant like option at home.
When Lori tasted it she gave me quite a compliment by saying that I had come pretty close to the original. She enjoyed the soup, I enjoyed the experiment, and I felt a sense of accomplishment from having written my first blog entry ever. The soup is more on the sweet side and I had always thought that it should be paired with some sort of savory side – that is where the second half of the title for this entry comes into play.
After keeping the idea on the back burner for the past year, it was time bring it out and work on it. After some thought, I decided that some type of cornbread would pair well with it and even better, a cornbread with a bit of a smoky flavor. So, I worked with a basic cornbread recipe and turned it into the recipe below.
Bacon Cheddar Cornbread
1 1/2 cups cornmeal
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar
1 1/2 cups milk
2 eggs slightly beaten
3 slices crisp thick cut bacon crumbled (use 4 slices if you don’t have thick cut)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon dried parsley
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Place all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix by hand until they are well combined and the dry ingredients are thoroughly moistened. The batter will be on the thin side, but will thicken a bit after a few minutes.
Let the batter stand for about 5 minutes while you grease a 9 inch round pan. Stir the batter once more, pour into your prepared pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the pan and cool on a rack for 10 to 15 minutes before slicing.
We really enjoyed the smokiness that the bacon gave to the cornbread along with the flavor that the cheddar brought to it. Also noticeable, but not overwhelming, was the hint of parsley flavor. As I had hoped, the savory flavor of the cornbread paired well with the sweeter flavor of the soup.
We had a fair amount left over, so I refrigerated the rest and contemplated what to do with it. The next morning I came up with a quick and easy idea – why not try to make French toast with it? It had everything you might serve for breakfast all rolled into one – bread, cheese and bacon! So I dipped some slices in beaten egg and grilled it in a pan and it turned out to be delicious – I think we liked it even better that way!
There you have it, the food pairing that was a year in the making – I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the anniversary of my first blog entry. I look forward to writing many more and celebrating the official one year anniversary of our blog in March!
Until next time, I hope you all have a great weekend!
Have you been looking for something new to serve as a side dish instead of rice or potatoes? Why not give polenta a try? Polenta is simply a dish made of cornmeal boiled in water, milk or broth. It pairs well with many dishes, is simple to make and can easily accept a wide variety of add ins if you desire. It can even stand up well as a main dish for breakfast or lunch.
Polenta is certainly not a new thing, it has been around for a very long time actually. From what I have read, it originated in the Northern and Central regions of Italy and before corn was introduced to Italy by America sometime during the 16th century, it was made from other ingredients such as farro, millet and spelt.
When it comes to texture, there are two ways to prepare polenta – firm and soft. Or as I have come to call them Grandma Angie style (if you have been following our blog, you may already know that my Grandma Angie is the source of the recipes we use in our From Angie’s Kitchen posts) and Aunt Rose style. Grandma and Aunt Rose were sisters and they each enjoyed both varieties, but for reasons I can’t explain as I never asked them why when they were still with us, when polenta was being prepared grandma always made the firm variety and Aunt Rose made the soft.
Let’s start with the Aunt Rose (soft) style which is the first of the four ways I mentioned in the title. When I was growing up, she would often ask us if we’d like “cornmeal” for breakfast or lunch. We were very familiar with the dish and while we always thought of it as cornmeal when we were kids, what she was actually making was the soft variety of polenta. The main difference in preparing the two textures is simply the amount of liquid that goes into it. A good rule of thumb is to use 5 parts liquid to 1 part cornmeal for the soft variety and 4 parts liquid to 1 part cornmeal for the firm. The other difference is the length of time it takes to cook. Both are brought to a boil and then simmered – the firm variety is simmered for quite a bit longer to allow it to thicken more and reduce the moisture content.
For the soft variety, choose how much cornmeal you wish to make and add it to a pot filled with 5 times the liquid. For example, if you wish to make 1 cup of cornmeal, pour it into a pot filled with 5 cups of liquid – for this particular variety, I used water. You may also use a pinch or two of salt if desired. I’ve seen several recipes that say to add the cornmeal to boiling water, but we have always added it to cold water. Mix the cornmeal well into the water and stir frequently as you bring it to a boil to prevent it from getting lumpy. Once it has come to a boil, reduce the heat to a slow simmer and continue to simmer and stir for 5 minutes before removing it from the heat.
At this point you could use it as a side dish by mixing in a variety of things, from a simple bit of salt to parmesan cheese and herbs. For me, the thing I remember best about Aunt Rose’s soft variety is that she prepared it like a hot breakfast cereal. After it came off of the heat, she would melt a bit of butter into it to keep if from getting too solid or clumpy and then she would dish it out onto plates and we would sprinkle some sugar on it. Then as she always told us to do, we would take our spoons and make “tracks” in it and pour some milk into the tracks we made.
It’s funny how something as simple as a plate of food can conjure up such strong memories. I haven’t had soft style polenta for breakfast in years and all it took was one bite to bring me right back to Aunt Rose’s table with memories of sharing that table with my sister, brother and our many cousins.
Moving on to the Grandma Angie (firm) style of polenta. This version takes a bit more time to prepare, but is well worth it. What I love about the firm style is that it can be easily be set in different shaped molds to give it a very elevated and fun look when being served. My grandmother used to set hers in a bread loaf pan and after unmolding it, she would slice it and use it in many different ways. Some examples include pan frying it to make it crispy and sprinkling it with a bit of salt, warming it in the microwave and pouring gravy or sauce over it or using slices as a “crust” to make a pizza like dish which she baked in the oven.
When cooking the firm variety, again choose how much cornmeal you want to cook and go with 4 times the liquid. For this batch of firm polenta I used 1 1/4 cups of cornmeal and 5 cups of water. Mix the cornmeal well into the cold liquid and stir frequently as you bring it to a boil to prevent it from getting lumpy. Once it has come to a boil, reduce the heat to a slow simmer and continue to simmer and stir for 15 to 20 minutes. Be especially careful as you cook the firm version – if not stirred frequently it will bubble and sputter and splash all over the place. Trust me, you don’t want a splash of molten hot cornmeal to land on your hands!
The firm polenta is the base for the 3 remaining ways I prepared it for this post. The beauty of making several types of firm polenta is that it really is so simple to do because each variety begins with the same base ingredient. If you want to make 3 or 4 varieties at once, just start by making one big batch of the firm polenta. Easy for you, but it looks like you did a lot of work to your family or guests, especially if you then set it in some sort of cool mold – I used a pan designed for making little Bundt cakes.
When the polenta was done cooking, I divided the hot mixture equally into three bowls that had been prepared in advance with the additional ingredients I chose. Bowl #1 was set up with nothing more than some sea salt (1 teaspoon) for one of the most simple and classic styles of firm polenta. In bowl #2 I added 1/4 cup parmesan cheese and 30 to 40 fresh thyme leaves and in bowl #3, 2 strips of well cooked crumbled bacon and 2 ounces of diced white cheddar. Stir each bowl well to thoroughly combine the ingredients and be prepared to work fairly quickly – you don’t want it to get too cool before transferring it to your molds because it becomes more difficult to do as it begins to set fairly quickly.
Be sure to lightly grease your molds with butter before adding the polenta in order to make unmolding them easy. Place the molds (or pan if you didn’t use a mold) into the refrigerator for a minimum of 30 minutes and then remove the polenta from the pan just as you would with a cake.
We enjoyed sampling each of the three types of firm polenta I made warmed up and served as a side to a ham dinner we had that evening. As we ate them I started to think again about the pan fried version I mentioned earlier. It was always one of my favorite ways to eat it – the nice crisp toasted edges were extra flavorful while the inside remained soft.
The shape of the molds I used weren’t exactly conducive to pan frying like the regular flat slices you’d get from polenta molded in a loaf pan, so I decided to give the air fryer a shot. We had 6 left after our dinner, so I placed 3 of them in the air fryer basket, brushed them lightly with melted butter and set the machine to 400 degrees for 20 minutes and let it go to work. The end result was ok, but the outside edges weren’t as crisp or brown as I would have liked. I put the remaining 3 in the refrigerator to contemplate a new direction.
Later that evening when I wasn’t even thinking about it, a memory popped into my head – my grandma used to dust the slices with flour before pan frying them. The flour helped dry up the moisture on the outside which in turn made them brown up properly. Of course this concept wouldn’t really work well in the air fryer. Since the flour wouldn’t be touching the oil in a pan, you would just end up with clumps of dried flour on the outside – not particularly appetizing! I thought about it a bit longer and then I remembered Julia Child always talking about how you should always pat meat dry before trying to brown it because it won’t brown properly otherwise. I didn’t want to pat the polenta dry – it didn’t seem like this would be achieved as easily as it would with meat. Instead, I decided to rely on the air fryer itself to do the job since it would be like placing them under a hot fan!
For my second attempt I placed them in the air fryer basket at the same time and temperature – 400 degrees for 20 minutes – and let them heat for the first 5 minutes without any oil or butter on the surface. This allowed the outer surface to dry nicely before I sprayed them with a bit of olive oil and finished cooking them. The end result was much closer to the pan frying method with delicious crispy brown edges.
One final note about the main ingredient – you might come across bags of cornmeal labeled polenta when shopping. The only real difference between polenta and cornmeal is how it is ground. Polenta cornmeal is coarse and regular cornmeal is more fine. While the more coarsely ground version may give you a more “authentic” polenta, both kinds work well and will produce a delicious end result.
The rules for this round are slightly different – in round one we tried our best to follow the recipe as written without comparing thoughts on how it should be done. After we finished, we talked about our findings and we were each free to make any changes to the recipe that we thought would help us with round two.
For my second round I was interested in sticking somewhat closely to the original recipe with a few tweaks. I liked the idea of having a cinnamon bun made with baking powder instead of a yeast based dough for one simple reason – they can be prepared much more quickly! Don’t get me wrong, I love the other kind as well but it’s nice to have an alternative that you can prepare in a shorter time.
First, as I hinted in the last post, I decided the spiral roll was definitely the way to go. The buns I made in round one were nice, but very much like a cinnamon raisin biscuit instead of a cinnamon bun. Going with the spiral roll keeps the filling moist and gooey because it isn’t fully incorporated into the dough and also allows it to be distributed more evenly.
Second, after some thought about the biscuit like dough I decided to remove the one ingredient that is used traditionally to give biscuits that more flaky and crumbly consistency – the butter. The original recipe actually called for shortening, but I didn’t have any on hand and butter is a good substitute. In addition to the removal of the butter, I increased the amount of milk to make the dough smoother, more pliable and easier to roll out thinner than the more biscuit like dough.
Third, I made a glaze and drizzled it over each roll for a little extra sweetness and to give it the look of the cinnamon rolls you see more often today.
Finally, when I tested the first round I cut the recipe in half to save some ingredients – in doing so I still ended up with 10 buns which made me stop and wonder “exactly how many people were you making these things for grandma?!?” So I decided to cut my round two recipe in half as well. Depending on the length and width of your dough when you roll it out, the recipe will still produce 10 to 12 rolls – if you need the original 20 to 24, then by all means double it!
In the end I felt that my changes worked out pretty well. After baking them, the dough was a more tender and chewy consistency than the original recipe and because this dough could be rolled out more thinly, it was easy to roll it up into a tighter spiral which meant more layers of filling per roll!
Ray’s second round recipe:
2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups cold milk
1 tablespoon melted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/3 cup raisins
In a large bowl mix together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt.
Add the cold milk to the dry ingredients and stir together until well combined and a loose dough forms. Allow the dough to sit for 5 minutes – during this time melt the butter for the filling.
While the melted butter begins to cool, turn your dough out onto a floured surface. The dough will be a bit sticky – dust it with some flour to reduce the stickiness and form it into a ball. Roll the dough on the floured surface into a rectangle approximately 10×12 inches in size – it should be about 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick.
Brush the melted butter onto the dough – the dough will still be cold from the milk and the butter will solidify a bit. Sprinkle the dough evenly with the cinnamon, brown sugar and raisins.
Starting on the longer side, roll the dough into a tight spiral log and trim off each of the sides of the log to get clean edges. Slice the log into 1 inch thick pieces and place on a greased cookie sheet. I recommend measuring and cutting a slit every inch in the log before fully slicing them. A metal bench scraper with a ruler on it is a great way to measure them.
Bake them at 375 degrees for 13 to 15 minutes. Allow them to cool for only a minute or two before transferring them to a wire rack – if you wait too long, all of the melted brown sugar will cool and solidify and they will stick to the pan.
If desired, while the rolls are still warm drizzle them with a simple glaze made of 1/2 cup powdered sugar and 1 tablespoon of milk. You can also add a 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla if you would like the additional flavor.
Now I’ll hand this off to Karen to share her second round results.
Well, shall we call this round 3 for me? I had an idea of where I wanted to go with this, but didn’t get it exactly where I wanted on round 2 so had to make adjustments and go from there. One aside before I get going. Didn’t Grandma’s parents own a boarding house? If so, the large quantity of cinnamon buns would certainly make sense!
After thinking about how the first round went, I decided that to achieve what I wanted in a cinnamon bun, I would need to prepare an enriched, yeasted dough. I did a little research and discovered that many countries have their own version of the cinnamon roll. In England it is the Chelsea Bun, and Norway has the Skillingsboller and Kanelboller, and Germany has the Franzbrötchen which is sort of like a cross between a croissant and a cinnamon bun.
For my recipe, I would take inspiration from the Norwegians and add cardamom to the dough because it just sounded too good not to do! I also learned a few helpful things along the way. One was to soak the raisins for about an hour in some warm water. They become plump and the flavor is much more pronounced in the final product. Another is to tuck the little tails under before baking which makes the final product look nicer. I’m not going to lie, this version is time consuming. I suspect this might work well to make the dough ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator overnight, but I admit that after 3 rounds, I have yet to try that. One more thing… I confess that I like to scale ingredients and I like to scale in grams. I have done my best to make conversions for those of you who do not care for such nerdy OCD things.
Karen’s second third round recipe:
350 grams (2 3/4 cups) flour
2 tsp cardamom
1 tsp salt
2 tsp yeast
160 ml (2/3 cup) milk
60 grams (4 TBSP) butter
2 large eggs
60 grams (4 TBSP) butter
60 grams (1/3 cup) brown sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
50 grams (1/3 cup) raisins
In a large bowl whisk together flour, cardamom, salt and yeast. Set aside.
In a small pan melt 4 TBSP butter. Once butter is melted, stir in milk. The mixture should measure about 90 to 95 degrees F. Pour mixture into a large bowl and then add the dry ingredients. After mixture has started to come together add 1 lightly beaten egg. Stir the mixture until well incorporated and then remove dough from bowl and knead by hand for 8 to 10 minutes. Place dough in a bowl that has been oiled, cover with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm location for an hour until the dough has roughly doubled in size.
While dough is proving, soak raisins in warm water and make filling.
The filling is made by melting butter then adding cinnamon and brown sugar to form a paste.
Once the dough has risen, remove from bowl and roll out into a roughly 8×12 inch rectangle. Spread a thin layer of the filling to the edges of the dough. Drain and pat dry the raisins. Sprinkle the raisins evenly across the dough. Roll the dough from the long side, then cut crosswise into one inch pieces.
Place on parchment lined baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for 40 minutes to 1 hour. Preheat oven to 375 while rolls are on the second rise.
After buns have risen, beat 1 egg and one TBSP water together and brush over buns.
Many years ago I was given a cookbook called Better Homes and Gardens Quick & Easy Comfort Cooking. As I thumbed through the pages, one of the recipes caught my eye. The Baked Denver Strata looked delicious. I decided that I would make this dish for my husband and kids on a Saturday morning when I knew they’d be emerging from their beds much later than usual. I was proud of the cheesy, bubbly dish I had produced, but my family weren’t particularly crazy about it. You see, my husband Tom doesn’t like onions or roasted peppers from a jar and my kids were young teens (Was that just a Saturday morning attitude? Did they like anything?).
After listening to Tom list the things he didn’t like about the dish and what HE would choose as ingredients, it occurred to me that the foundation of this recipe was quite solid and provided a formula with which I would only ever be limited by my imagination.
Here is my most recent adaptation.
Baked Strata with Gouda and Andouille
5 to 6 English muffins
1 cup of milk
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
8 oz. cooked Andouille sausage, diced
1/4 cup cooked bacon crumbles
1 cup red or orange bell pepper, diced
1 2.25 oz. can of sliced black olives, drained
2 cups shredded Gouda cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease a 9″x13″ baking dish.
Slice and quarter English muffins then line the baking dish with muffins in a single layer.
Whisk together eggs, milk, salt and pepper. Pour egg mixture over muffins and let soak for 10 to 15 minutes.
Distribute Andouille, bacon, peppers and olives in layers over the muffin egg mixture. Top with an even layer of the Gouda cheese.
Bake for 35 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.
I hope you enjoy this dish, but feel free to tailor it to the likes and dislikes of you and your family. I usually stick to a few parameters when changing things up. I use somewhere between 1 and 1.5 cups of meat. I usually use about a cup of vegetables and 2 cups of cheese.