Thy y y yme is in my sauce

Yes it is!  Summer with all of it’s bounty occasionally presents us with a supply and demand problem.  I had an overabundant supply of berries and while I love them, unless they are strawberries, the demand amongst the rest of the tribe is fairly low for straight raw fruit goodness munching.  In an attempt to increase the berry acceptance factor around here, I used one of my favorite methods: incorporating a less than favorite food into an undeniable favorite to ensure that there is at least an honest attempt to eat the former.  As it is the weekend, a berry sauce for pancakes seemed a natural fit for this particular supply and demand problem; I was hesitant as the miniature members of the crew objected to the last berry sauce pretty vocally (they are pancake purists I’m afraid), but I thought perhaps with different berries producing a different color, and a different flavor profile just might get us to the starting line for breakfast (a lot of work just to get to the starting line, eh?).  Pondering this question I was confronted with my second supply and demand challenge: my thyme garden.

In a rebellious moment a few years ago I planted four very small thyme plants (as well as another herb that is either oregano or marjoram) in my front yard as my first step in flouting my HOA’s regulations about growing food anywhere but in the back yard.  I figured the plants would do well there and would raise little in the way of objection as they flower and folks who aren’t either avid gardeners or avid cooks would likely fail to see them as anything but small shrubs.  Well, they have thrived, which is great, although they’ve happily consumed the space that I was intending to use for the next step in my suburban yard gardening subterfuge.  As a result I almost always have fresh thyme for cooking, YAY, and I have so much that I can also dry a large jar full for when there is too much snow to get to the thyme (this is rare here in mid-Maryland, but it has happened).  I have not kept up with my abundant and delightfully aromatic shrubbery this summer and it has continued happily producing, spreading out in a bit of a woody carpet.  It’s wonderful, and now I have the pleasure of playing with thyme in just about any dish that tickles my fancy.  Hmmm…. would thyme work in a berry sauce?  Yes, yes it would, it does, and it was fantastic.  And so it was this morning.  A little economics experiment, a new flavor profile, and a whole lot of yum.  And so I bring you without further overly wordy ado… Pecan Pancakes with Herbed Berry Sauce.

Pecan Pancakes

This is simply a riff on my usual pancake concoction.  I’ve left out the buckwheat this time as the more adventurous of my two was expressing objections, thought I’d cut him a break.

  • 2 c whole wheat flour
  • .5 c all purpose flour
  • .5 c corn meal
  • 3 t baking powder
  • 1.5 t salt
  • 1.5 t baking soda
  • nutmeg to taste
  • 3 eggs ( I used flax)
  • 6 T oil
  • 3 c buttermilk or soured milk (I used almond)
  • a couple of handfuls of pecans, toasted if you’ve time and broken or cut into large chunks

Prepare as usual.

Herbed Berry Sauce – inspired by Emmy’s Summer Berry Sauce

  • .25 c water
  • 1 t corn starch
  • 2 T sugar
  • 2 c berries ( I used blackberries and blueberries)
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 6 small sprigs fresh thyme

Whisk water and corn starch together in small saucepan.  Add sugar and berries and cook over medium heat.  Stir occasionally to prevent sugar burning and to help berries break down.  Add thyme and lemon juice, stir and allow syrup to simmer until it reaches a thickness you like.  There you go.  Sweet and tart and fabulously complex because of a few twigs thrown into the mix.  Awesomeness in a bowl, or small pitcher, or glass if nobody’s looking. Delish.

Our Weekend Pleasure

Just about every weekend, we have pancakes (I trust this is not new information for those of you who’ve been here for a while). We all love pancakes, and while typical pancake breakfasts are not exactly low sugar, I’ve cut the sugar out of the batter, and we’ve greatly limited syrup. The kids get to have some with their first pancake, and then we turn to jam. There was a smidgen of resistance the first time we announced this policy change, and not a gripe since. They are just happy to have pancakes; and I am happy to see them happy eating wholesome homemade breakfast food. I am even happier that I have a weekly opportunity to tweak the family favorite and experiment with grain combinations and flavors. Today’s offering… Momma’s MultiGrain Thanksgiving Pancakes. As you might have guessed, these include our favorite tuber in a starring role.

Momma’s Multigrain Thanksgiving Pancakes

  • 1.5 c whole wheat flour
  • .5 c all purpose flour
  • .5 c corn meal
  • .5 c spelt or buckwheat flour
  • 3 t baking powder
  • 1.5 t baking soda
  • 1.5 t salt
  • nutmeg to taste
  • 3 eggs (I used flax eggs)
  • 3 c butter milk or soured milk (I used soured almond milk)
  • 6 T oil (I used canola)
  • cooked sweet potato cut into small bites
  • handful of craisins (any dried fruit, I used craisins because I had some leftover from a large purchase BEFORE I looked at the sugar content)
  • handful of pecans (toasted if you’re really going for it)

When I make pancakes, I mix the dry ingredients and prepare the flax eggs (1T flax meal to 3T water for one egg, in bowl, in fridge) the night before.  I can’t speak for everyone, but I am hungry when I wake up and I don’t like waiting TOO long for breakfast.  I also put my pans in the oven and set it pre-heat them before we get up because I’m fussy like that (more on pancake technique here).  On rising I task whichever munchkin is up with mixing the dry ingredients while I whisk the oil and flax eggs together.  Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until just combined.  I then remind wakeful and hungry munchkins that we must let the batter rest.  While resting, I gathered my “flavors” (sweet potato pre-cooked and cut into small pieces, toasted pecans leftover from making a salad, and the stupid big bag of Craisins).  Remove warmed pans from oven and turn on heat on stove to bring to temp.  After at least 10 minutes of resting, pour batter using a 1/4c measure onto med warm pan.  Add mix-ins (I find it takes surprisingly little, especially of things like craisins, to get the flavor without overwhelming). I realize many people mix in their flavors, but I prefer adding them to the pancakes once in the pan.  This way the fruits get a little brown edge and you can SEE what you are eating, and you’re more likely to get all the bits in one bite – yes, I am that particular.  Flip when pancake edges are firm, and there are a few bubbles in the batter.  Serve to famished and delighted family.  Happy Thanksgiving… errr..  delish!

Pancake Palooza

The picky eater – I imagine every family has one.  I suppose too, that there may be different motivations for picky eating behavior: an attempt to control the environment, an experiment in small scale defiance, genuine aversions to a higher than average number of foods, or it could be that the little angel is actually a supertaster.  A supertaster has more tastebuds than the rest of us, and as a result finds some of the strong flavors that many people enjoy completely overwhelming.  Wow.  So what I am tasting may be totally different from what she is tasting.  What does this have to do with pancakes?  Pancakes are, bar none, my little picky eater’s favorite food.  The only thing she has said she might like better is cake.  And that was a MAYBE.  So pancakes are super important in our culinary landscape.  While I do not allow my daughter’s pickiness to dictate our meal choices (especially at dinner), it seems only fair to make sure that mealtime is unhesitatingly enjoyable for all of us at least some of the time.  Thus our weekend pancake tradition.

So I’ve mentioned before that I consider myself a bit of a pancake pro. I’ve been attempting to increase the nutritional value of my former awesome recipe (which was in obvious need of improvements) and so have been experimenting, searching for the magic mix of ingredients that would achieve light delicious cakiness, earn twin 5 year old approval, and would meet at least a slightly higher nutritional standard. This morning’s version was definitely a major step in the right direction, earning high praise from all around the table. Absolutely delish.  So, in the interest of pancakey goodness everywhere, I thought I’d share.  These particular pancakes are vegan, but I will include dairy ingredients in parentheses for those who aren’t into that… although you could just try them and find out that they’re divine without the animal bits. :)  This recipe makes enough pancakes for four enthusiastic breakfast eaters with leftovers to freeze for an easy weekday pancake replay.

FABU VEGAN PANCAKES

  • 1.5c whole wheat flour
  • .5c rolled oats
  • 2t baking powder
  • 1t baking soda
  • 1t salt
  • nutmeg to taste
  • 4T oil
  • 1T maple syrup
  • 2 flax eggs (or 2 chicken eggs)
  • 2 c non-dairy milk (2c buttermilk)

Place cast iron skillet in oven at 325 and warm.  In large bowl, combine and stir dry ingredients.  In small bowl, combine eggs and oil.  Pour  egg/oil into dry ingredients.  Add milk one cup at a time, stirring gently and watching the batter for consistency.  If you like thicker pancakes, you may want to use a little less milk.  Stir gently to mix dry with wet.  Let rest for at least 10 minutes.  Drop batter into pre-warmed skillet by 1/4c measure.    If you’re feeling extra decadent drop a few chocolate chips onto the cooking pancake.  It only take a few to make a five year old think something REALLY special is happening.  Watch the edges for firming.  Watch for bubbles.  Flip and cook until just barely cooked through (for more on cast iron pancake technique, look here).  Keep warm in oven because they’re soo much more delicious when warm.  We served ours this morning with sliced strawberries and a drizzle of maple syrup.  And our little supertaster was delighted.

Cutting back on gluten

As if it isn’t hard enough to eat well in our overly ‘convenient,’ ‘sweet,’ ‘pre-fab’ culture, it looks like my husband has a problem with gluten.  After eliminating several early diagnoses of diverticulitis and intestinal adhesions, some research on our part, and a change in our diet is leading us to believe that he is indeed sensitive to gluten.  This is not the same thing as celiac disease which is an auto-immune disorder whereby gluten causes damage to the lining of the intestine, blocking absorption of nutrients and, as you might guess, also causes a myriad of symptoms that accompany malnutrition.  Although Celiac disease is thought to be a much more serious health problem, there are experts who claim that while gluten sensitivity is a lesser reaction to gluten, it is nevertheless one that may cause a host of discomforts as well as chronic illness.

So back to the difficulties of eating the way you want in our culture… there is gluten in many, many processed foods (often masqueraded with names like emulsifier, hydrolyzed plant protein, natural flavorings, stabilizers and starches).  Yet another reason to avoid products that have vague or unrecognizable ingredients.  It also turns out that wheat has been bred / hybridized to increase gluten content as we Americans like springy, spongy bread that you can roll into balls and throw at your classmates (oops sorry a memory interjected itself there). This increase has been followed with an increase in celiac disease!

All this to say that this morning I altered my usual pancake recipe by substituting buckwheat flour for whole wheat flour.  The recipe is:
1 cup oats
1 cup flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp – 1 Tbsp cinnamon (optional)
2 small eggs or 1 jumbo egg
2 Tbsp oil (or melted butter)
1 3/4 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla (optional)
Mix dry, mix wet, mix together and following my little sis’ advice, cook on an evenly hot surface that is only mildly oiled, if at all (see her post “Cast Iron Pancake Chef“).  I usually do 1.5 or 2 times this recipe so I can freeze leftovers for future breakfasts.

And remember, that no matter what nutritional advice, warning, fad, new info, latest thang you follow, nothing is ever better than eating fresh, whole foods.

Cast Iron Pancake Chef

So I’m just going to say it.  I make awesome pancakes.  And I love them.  More importantly where family harmony is concerned, my extremely picky daughter lists them as her favorite food of all time.  I tweaked recipes, fiddled around and finally settled on a combination that worked for us.  The remaining problem: my griddle.  I’d been using an electric non-stick griddle with great results.   The big cooking surface allowed me to finish all of the batter in a couple of rounds and made it easier for me to eat while there were still people at the table.  However, the non-stick issues nagged at me.  When the surface of my beloved griddle became discolored, showing signs of obvious wear I found it hard to ignore those concerns.  The time had come for a safer choice.  I’d tried to cook my amazing pancakes at other people’s houses in other people’s cast iron pan with crispy and charcoal-y results…  Nonetheless I was determined to use the cast iron pan I already owned for our Sunday morning indulgence.

The first couple of weeks were not terribly encouraging.  I used too much oil (which is just about any, by the way).  I turned the heat up too high.  I had the heat too low.  I turned them too soon.  I burned them.  It was a mess.  And then I remembered what my Dad said about pancakes: “You have to let the pan get hot all over or they’ll burn every time…”  or something like that.  Cast iron pan hot all over, not a two minute proposition.  The solution: the oven.  So now on Saturday night after I mix the dry ingredients for the pancakes (saves time in the morning when my son’s appetite leads to extreme grumpiness) I put my beloved cast iron pan in the oven, set the “Delay Oven Start” for about 7:30 and set the temp for 350.  By the time they wake me, I mix the wet and dry and let the batter rest for 10 minutes the pan is hot all over.  If the seasoning on my pan looks in good shape I add ZERO oil or butter.  If it looks dry, I swipe lightly with an oiled paper towel and wipe some off after I finish.  I watch for firm edges and a few bubbles.  Flip.  Serve.  Awesome delish pancakes.  No boxed mix in sight, no teflon in tummies.  Glorious.