Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Corn Pancakes with Bacon - It's Breakfast for Dinner!

Pancakes in and of themselves are pretty good things. Most people think of them as a breakfast food, but there’s no rule that says you can’t enjoy them any time of day. As a matter of fact, I’m a big proponent of “breakfast for dinner,” especially in these cold winter months. While a stack of good old fashioned pancakes served up with lots of butter and syrup would certainly be a welcome sight on the dinner table, here is a variation that injects some savory ingredients. These corn pancakes with bacon are not only great for dinner, they are ideal to serve at brunch.

These wonderful little hotcakes combine the savory of onion, the sweetness of corn and maple syrup and the saltiness of bacon. And besides, how can anything with bacon be bad? They come together easily with little preparation and cook in just a few minutes on a hot griddle or skillet. Even though there is bacon in the batter, topping them with a little more bacon not only makes for a nice presentation, but adds an extra salty crunch. We topped these with warm maple syrup, but you could also add a little strawberry preserves or maybe sour cream.

Corn Pancakes with Bacon

8 slices of bacon, cut crosswise into strips
¼ onion, finely diced
1 cup flour
2 TBSP chopped scallions (green onions) – green part only
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
2/3 cup whole milk
1 egg, beaten
1 TBSP oil
1 cup corn (either thawed frozen corn or canned is fine)
½ cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Maple syrup – warmed

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook bacon until brown and crisp. As bacon is starting to crisp, add diced onion and allow onion to brown in bacon fat. Using a slotted spoon, remove bacon and onions from pan and transfer on to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb any excess grease.

In a large bowl, combine flour, scallions, baking powder, salt and cayenne pepper. Stir in milk, egg and oil until moistened. Reserve a couple spoonfuls of bacon/onion mixture and add the rest to the batter along with the corn and cheese. Batter will be thick – you can add more milk if you like a thinner batter and pancake, but not more than a couple tablespoons.

Heat a skillet or griddle over medium-high heat. When griddle is hot, spoon batter on in about the size of a coaster. Pancakes will brown in just a couple of minutes, so keep an eye on them. When golden brown on bottom, flip and cook other side until golden.

Transfer to plate, top with reserved bacon/onion mixture and warm maple syrup. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Friday, November 30, 2012

A Frequent Request: City Chicken!

I can't remember how many times people have asked me, "What is city chicken?" If you didn't grow up in the Midwest or eastern part of the country - especially in or near an industrial city, you may have never heard of this dish. First of all - it doesn't contain any chicken. Here in the Detroit area, it was made using a combination of veal and pork, or with all pork. These are cubes of meat that are put on short wooden skewers and then breaded, browned and baked.

My understanding is that back during the Great Depression or even before, fresh chickens were not easy to come by in big cities. So someone came up with the idea of taking scraps of meat and putting it on a skewer - it looks a little like a chicken leg from a distance. However this dish started, it's become a tradition and standard on most of the Polish restaurant menus in Detroit.

Mom made city chicken on a regular basis, and it was a meal everyone looked forward to. She would have the butcher make up the city chicken for her by putting cubes of stewing pork on a skewer. If you could find the right skewers,  you could do this yourself. Many meat markets here regularly have city chicken all made up in the meat case. Generally, there are four or five cubes of meat on a skewer.

It also calls for using cream of mushroom soup to make the gravy. While a lot of people are turned off by using canned soups in recipes, this really works well here. I tried making my own gravy and it was a lot of extra work and didn't impart the same flavor in the dish, so I break out the soup every time I make city chicken.

Whether it's an old favorite or something you've never had before, city chicken is a great dish no matter where you are!

City Chicken

12 city chicken or 3 lbs. stewing pork, cubed
2 eggs
2 Tbsp. water
1 cup flour seasoned with salt, pepper and paprika - or you can use a ready-made seasoned flour like "Fryin' Magic"
vegetable oil
2 10-oz. cans cream of mushroom soup
1/2 can water
1 mushroom or chicken bouillon cubes

If you don't have the city chicken already made up, put 4 or 5 pieces of pork on wooden skewers. Make an egg wash with eggs and water. Dip skewers in egg wash. Dredge in seasoned flour mixture. In a large skillet, add 1/4" of oil and heat to frying temperature. Brown "City Chicken" on both sides and set aside.

Make gravy by combining Mushroom Soup with 1/2 can of water. Put 1 ladle full of gravy into the bottom of a roaster. Put City Chicken on top of gravy [OK to stack if 2nd layer is needed]. Pour on remaining gravy. Crumble bouillon cube and sprinkle over top. Cover entire roaster with foil and place lid over foil. Bake at 325ºF. 2 hours or until meat is fork-tender.

Serves 6.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Autumn Pumpkin Pasta Sauce

One could very easily argue that autumn presents Michigan at its most beautiful and bountiful. The crisp weather, the trees aflame with colors that no human can replicate, farmers markets overflowing with harvest, and a wonderful smell created by the falling leaves and cooling damp soil. It puts one in mind of all we enjoyed, endured and accomplished in the now dwindling year.

And while each season has its own flavors, those of autumn have now seemed to reach critical mass. As soon as Labor Day passed, I couldn’t help but notice an explosion of pumpkin-flavored offerings at the stores. Pumpkin marshmallows, pumpkin coffee, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin beer, pumpkin oatmeal, pumpkin soup, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin air fresheners…it was a pumpkin –palooza!

When I was a kid, pumpkins were for pies and not much else. I’m glad that we have come to embrace this wonderful squash for more than just pies and Halloween carvings. In talking to a few farmers, this was a good year for pumpkins in Michigan. While some crops were hurt by the crazy weather, pumpkins seemed to like it just fine. This means there should be plenty of pumpkins on the shelf – in the form of canned puree – in the year ahead. We decided to see what happens when we introduced pumpkin to pasta sauce. It was a great match!

Autumn Pumpkin Pasta Sauce

2 TBSP   Olive Oil

1 lb ground beef (I use chuck but you could also  use ground turkey)

2 small onions, diced

Salt and pepper

1 clove garlic, put through garlic press or finely diced

1 28oz can San Marzano tomatoes

1 28oz can crushed tomatoes

1 15oz can pumpkin (do not use pumpkin pie mix/filling – just the plain pumpkin)

2 bay leaves

½ tsp basil

1 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

½ tsp black pepper

½ tsp oregano

½ tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp ground nutmeg

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil and then add ground meat, diced onion and salt and pepper to taste. Cook over medium high heat until meat is browned and onions are soft. Add garlic, San Marzano tomatoes (if you don’t have San Marzano you can use regular whole canned tomatoes) and crushed tomatoes. Bring to a simmer for about 15 minutes. Using a potato masher or the back of a large spoon, crush the whole tomatoes and stir them into the sauce. Add can of pumpkin and stir well until it is incorporated into the sauce.

Add seasonings: bay leaves, basil, salt, sugar, pepper, oregano, cinnamon and nutmeg. Cover and allow to simmer for 20-25 minutes. In the meantime, cook up a pound of your favorite pasta. Top pasta with sauce and add grated Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Halloween Fun - Making Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

We’ve been feeling a bit devilish these past couple of weeks, and when friends Erin and Jeff arrived at the cottage decked out in their fabulous 50’s costumes, we went right into the vintage kitchen and got baking! And they brought along a wonderful Cavalcade chef’s hat and clap-board so we could really make this video legitimate! Cooking with friends is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate our precious time together.

Here’s an old recipe that is a variation on a standard oatmeal cookie which includes cocoa in the batter. These are easy to make – don’t even need to haul out your mixer. These bake well on a parchment lined cookie sheet, but if you don’t have any parchment paper just give your sheets a spray with Pam.
Serve these chocolaty treats at your Halloween party or anytime! Hope you scare up a lot of fun – Happy Halloween!

Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
1 ¼ cup flour
1 ¼ cup sugar
1/3 cup cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 egg
¼ cup milk
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/3 cup butter, melted
3 cups rolled oats (old-fashioned or quick)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

In a large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In another bowl, combine egg, milk and vanilla and whisk to combine. Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix well until combined.

Add melted butter and oats. Stir to combine – batter will be thick. Prepare baking sheets and line them with parchment paper or spray with non-stick spray. Drop batter by the tablespoon onto prepared sheets – you should get a dozen on a standard size baking sheet. Bake in oven for 10-12 minutes. 

Remove from oven and immediately transfer cookie to cooling rack. Makes about three dozen.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Double Chocolate Devil's Food Cake

In a world full of cakes, the chocolate cake seems to eternally reign supreme. All Devil’s Food cakes are chocolate, but not all chocolate cakes are Devil’s Food.  And in the family that composes chocolate cakes, I think that Devil’s Food is the best of them all. It’s a moist, rich cake that is deep in chocolate flavor, yet has a delicate crumb and texture. 

Since we are on the subject of devils and devilish things, now is the perfect time of year to bake up one of these dark and luscious cakes. It seems over the last 20 years, Halloween has become a very big deal. Stores are chock full of candy, costumes and decorations as early as Labor Day. Right now, in the middle of October, many stores are simultaneously selling Halloween and Christmas merchandise, which I find really interesting given the focus of the two holidays. And somewhere in between we have to squeeze in Thanksgiving!

So, in this season of celebrating the dark and scary, here’s a ghoulishly good cake that is sure to tame the evilest of spirits. It’s also a cake recipe that does not require eggs, butter or milk. Some have said that this type of cake evolved out of the food rationing days of World War II, when dairy products were scarce. And the cake rises by a combination of baking soda and white vinegar. It comes together quickly and easily – no need for a mixer, just use your whisk.  The recipe makes on 8” layer cake or one 9”x13” sheet cake, but I think the layer cake is the most impressive. A little instant coffee in the cake and frosting serve to boost the chocolaty goodness! Happy Halloween!


Double Chocolate Devil’s Food Cake
3 cups   flour (all purpose)
2 cups   sugar
½ cup    unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp     salt
2 tsp     baking soda

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put all dry ingredients in a large bowl and gently whisk together making sure that everything is thoroughly mixed. Set your dry ingredients aside. 

In another bowl or large measuring cup, combine wet ingredients:

¾ cup    vegetable oil
2 cups   hot water
1 TBSP   instant coffee granules (I use de-caf, but you can use whatever you   prefer)
1 TBSP   vanilla
2 TBSP   white vinegar

Whisk wet ingredients together until combined and coffee granules are dissolved. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and gently mix until totally incorporated. 

Lightly grease (I use a non-stick spray) two round 8” inch cake pans or one 9”x13” baking dish. If using round cake pans, divide batter into the two pans. Put pans on the center rack of a 350 degree oven and bake for 35-40 minutes, until the center of the cake springs back when gently pushed.  Remove from oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Let cake cool for 15 minutes in pans and then invert cakes out of pans onto cooling rack (you don’t need to do this if you baked it in a 9”x13” baking dish). Allow cake to cool completely.
While cake is cooling, prepare the frosting. 

1 stick    butter (unsalted)
1 ½ cup  sugar
1 ¼ cup  unsweetened cocoa
1/8 tsp   salt
1 ¼ cup  heavy cream
¼ cup    sour cream
1 ½ tsp  instant coffee granules
2 tsp      vanilla

In a large pot over low heat, melt butter. Then add sugar, cocoa and salt. This will be a very thick and clumpy mixture. In a bowl or large measuring cup, combine heavy cream, sour cream and instant coffee. Add cream mixture to pot, whisking in until mixture is completely smooth. Remove frosting from heat and add vanilla. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature (it will thicken). When frosting has cooled and is of spreading consistency, proceed to frost cooled cake. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Bread & Butter Jalapeno Peppers

It’s a long-standing tradition in my family to “put up” a few dozen jars of bread and butter pickles every August. When the Michigan pickle crop comes in we go to work washing and slicing, boiling and filling jars, and stocking up for the year ahead. But this pickle season came and went before I could get my pickling on. I was still in a cast and recovering from surgery and there were a couple of consecutive weeks of brutally high temperatures. Next thing I knew, we were into September.

While the bread and butter pickles are a joy to make and eat, by the time I was ready to start canning I couldn’t find the kind of pickles I like to use. So I took a look at what was in full harvest and saw bushels and bushels of jalapeno peppers. Not only were they abundant, inexpensive and beautiful, but I thought their heat would mate well with the sweet and tangy brine of the bread and butter pickle recipe. A little research revealed that a lot have made a sweet pickled variation of the jalapeno. I already had a good brine recipe, so why not try it? 

For a little extra color, texture and flavor, I included some red bell peppers and onions. The bread and butter pickle recipe calls for green bell peppers and onions, so I figured help with the consistency of flavors. I chose to put these in pint and half-pint jars, but now I’m sorry I didn’t make up a few quart jars! These are wonderful on hot dogs, sausages, burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, ham sandwiches, or thrown into potato salad or a meatloaf. It brings a wonderful sweet heat to the party!

Bread & Butter Pickled Jalapeno Peppers

8 lbs jalapeno peppers – washed and sliced crosswise
4 large red bell peppers – washed and chopped
4 large white or yellow onions – chopped
1 ½ cups pickling salt
7 lb bag of ice

I recommend that you wear gloves when cutting up the jalapenos. Slice the washed jalapeno peppers into rings about a half inch wide. You have the option of “knocking out” the center of the rings, which contain the seeds and some of the membranes. This is where much of the heat comes from. If you want them to be milder, push the center out of the rings with your thumb. I did this to about half of them.  When the jalapenos are sliced, chop your red peppers and onions. Evenly divide the vegetables into three large bowls. Salt each batch with one half cup of pickling salt and then put one third of the bag of ice over each batch. Push some of the ice cubes into the vegetables and let batches sit for at least an hour.

In the meantime, wash and sterilize your jars, rings and lids. I used pints and half pints, but you can use whatever size you like. After my jars are washed and sterilized, I like to keep them in a 250 degree oven until I am ready to fill them. Now you can make your brine.

I needed to make two separate batches of the brine for the amount of vegetables I had to preserve.

5 cups vinegar (either white or apple cider – make sure it is 5% acidity)
4 cups white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 ½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp celery seed
1 ½ TBSP mustard seed
½ tsp ground cloves

Put all contents in a large pot and slowly bring up to almost a boil. Stir to make sure all the sugar is completely dissolved.

Remove vegetables from their ice bath using a slotted spoon and put in large colander. Give them a good rinse – you want to flush away any access salt or loose seeds. Add half of your vegetables (one and a half batches) to your first pot of brine. Stir vegetables gently and increase heat so brine JUST COMES TO A BOIL and then remove pot from heat. 

Fill your hot jars with vegetables and brine, leaving a half inch of head space at the top. You will need a canning funnel. After jars are filled, use something non-metal (I use the handle of a plastic spoon) to work any air bubbles out of the jars. Then wipe the top rim of each jar with a clean damp cloth to remove any brine that may have splashed on it. Place the lid on each jar and secure with a band – hand tighten. Jars are now ready to be processed in a water bath.

Lower jars into your canner and process for 10 minutes in boiling water. Jars should be covered by at least an inch or two of water. After 10 minutes, remove jars and set in a safe place where they can rest and cool. A vacuum will be created and each lid should seal as the jars cool. After the jars have cooled completely, move jars to a cool and dark place. Let them alone for two weeks before opening so that the full flavors can develop.