My Favorite PB&J

Throughout my childhood, I took for granted that everyone enjoyed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches the way my family made them. Not every time (but a good percentage of the time) I had this quintessential kid favorite, it was fried. You read that correctly—a fried peanut butter and jelly. 😋

I don’t mean greasy, county fair-style of battered-and-fried. This PB&J sandwich is assembled as usual, and then buttered on both sides and placed on a pan or griddle like a grilled cheese sandwich. The reward for patience while it cooked was a golden and crispy crust, with peanut butter and jelly melted together inside—a sticky, gooey, delicious mess of flavor.

You make me so very happy!

I was at least halfway into my 20s before I realized that a fried PB&J was not a standard sandwich for everyone else, and I’m thrilled to have been let in on this flavorful secret sandwich at such a young age. This sandwich is helping me wrap up Better Breakfast Month, and I believe it qualifies as a “better” breakfast item for a few reasons:

  1. It’s quick and easy to make
  2. Kids and grownups alike will enjoy it
  3. It’s a fun and elegant twist on an ordinary PB&J
  4. It has whole grains, fiber, protein and fruit, which makes it nutritious (that’s my story and I’m sticking with it)
…and utterly DELICIOUS!

Making a fried PB&J is really as simple as I just described, and you certainly don’t need a recipe to do it. What I will offer instead is my guide to making the most memorable fried PB&J, because the ingredients you choose can make or break your first taste impression of this sandwich, which is, quite frankly, dangling right on the edge of the dessert category. Let’s begin with the foundation of any good sandwich:

The Bread

In my (trying to be) humble opinion, a homemade artisan-style bread will yield the best results. You guys know I’m all about sourdough, and this is the bread I’ll be using here, but I know not everyone has time to invest in learning or making naturally leavened bread. You can use store-bought bread to make a top-notch fried PB&J, provided you choose a suitable type. Hopefully, you are not still purchasing the long, skinny, plastic-wrapped loaves that are found in aisle 12 of the supermarket—but if you are, please stop. Cheap packaged breads are made of cheap, stripped-down ingredients, and the  texture is all wrong for sandwiches, toast—well for anything, really.

I love Maurizio Leo’s sourdough recipe that I’ve linked above because it makes the best sandwiches (and the best toast). It uses a simple but unusual step of pre-cooking a portion of the flour, which enhances the final texture into something that is gelatinized and chewy yet tender, and 100% perfect for sandwiches. To be fair, the recipe is not for beginners, but if you have some experience with sourdough, I hope you’ll try it. Maurizio’s recipe makes two loaves, but I usually halve the recipe, and I bake it in a covered Pullman pan, which gives me perfectly square slices.

If your supermarket has a bakery, pick up a good, simple artisan loaf—preferably something partially whole grain, with a soft “crumb” (that’s a bread-nerd term for the interior texture of the bread) and a firm, slightly chewy crust. No nuts or seeds or anything extra—just a classic bread is fine. All your sandwiches henceforth will thank you.

The Peanut Butter

Every PB&J (fried or otherwise) I had as a kid was made with conventional supermarket peanut butter, namely the brand that the (allegedly) choosy mothers chose. But I have not bought that stuff in years because it contains sugar, plus hydrogenated oils that are blended in to keep the natural oils of the peanuts from separating. I discovered long ago the simple pleasure of a natural peanut butter, made from only peanuts and salt. Sure, you’ll have to stir it (but only once) and keep it in the refrigerator, but it’s only 90 extra seconds spent to protect your body from the hazards of trans fats. There’s the question of smooth vs. crunchy, and I’m going with crunchy because I love the added texture of the little peanut pieces. You decide.

The Jelly

The PB&J of my childhood was usually made with grape jelly, and I’ll admit that I still have a special place in my heart for the flavor of good old Welch’s. It may have something to do with the fact that I grew up a few miles down the road from their original headquarters in Westfield, New York. Concord grapes are a native grape, and they were everywhere in my neck of the woods—my best friend’s family even had concord vines growing on a pergola over their backyard patio. Sandy and I used to pick the grapes straight off the vine in late summer and squish the seedy insides into our mouths, tossing aside the bitter, astringent skins and then spitting out the seeds. I can still taste those grapes!

Today, it’s all but impossible to find a grape jelly that doesn’t list high fructose corn syrup in the first two ingredients, and that is a huge problem for me. This is an ingredient that did not exist at all in previous generations, but food manufacturers lean on it heavily today because it’s cheaper and easier to use than sugar. But it’s fake, and I’m not having it on my sandwich. Pick up a jar of handmade jelly at the farmer’s market or diligently inspect the ingredient labels in the supermarket if you’re as concerned about this issue as I am.

As an adult, I’ve developed a fondness for other flavors of jams and preserves, my favorites being raspberry, fig and cherry. For this fried PB&J, seedless is best, so I’m going with cherry preserves, and I’ve carefully selected a brand that is sweetened with real sugar. There are chunks of cherry in these preserves, too, so I know it will be delicious.

The Butter

To grill the sandwich, you’ll need to lightly butter both sides, and I do not recommend margarine or any other kind of butter substitute, unless you are dairy restricted. The milk solids in butter contribute to the lovely browning on the crust and, unfortunately, a substitute will not have the same crispy result. But if your only choice is plant-based butter, you will still enjoy this sandwich for the flavor and the incredible ooey-gooey texture that results from heating the peanut butter and jelly together.

I can’t stand the suspense, and my laptop can’t stand my drooling, so let’s get to it.

For best results, use modest amounts of both peanut butter and jelly. They will marry together so well under the gentle heat of the griddle, but too much of either will cause the filling to seep out everywhere. Keep the griddle level on a medium-low heat, for slow and even browning. This gives the filling time to properly warm so the peanut butter and jelly become like one. Turn the sandwich carefully so it doesn’t slide apart. And for sure, allow it to cool a couple of minutes, so the sandwich is “set up” properly when you cut into it. Plus, if you give into temptation and bite into it too quickly, you’ll burn the roof of your mouth. Trust me on this; warm is good, hot is painful.

This fried PB&J makes me so very happy, with each buttery crisp bite, and the warm nutty, fruity filling makes me feel like I’m nine years old again. In a good way. 😉 Each time I make one, I try to eat it slowly so I can hang onto that feeling. The other beauty of this sandwich is that it works for breakfast, lunch, dinner, late-night snack or any other time your sweet tooth and hunger collide.

Please let me know if you try it, and feel free to share in the comments any fun twists your family made on a classic comfort food!


Healthy Breakfast Fruit Smoothies

We all need options when it comes to breakfast, and so I’m sharing my tips for making a quick and healthy smoothie, regardless of the fruit and other fixings you have on hand.

What makes these smoothies “better” for better breakfast month?

  • They work two servings of fruit into the most important meal of the day.
  • They bend and flex to accommodate your favorite fruit, fresh or frozen.
  • You can easily swap out dairy for plant-based milk.
  • Your favorite protein powder will feel right at home in them.
  • They are quick, easy and portable for rushed-out-the-door mornings.
  • They satisfy your morning hunger and are friendly to a weight-loss diet.
  • They are super kid-friendly.

My magic formula for delicious and healthy fruit smoothies goes like this—something creamy, something packed with protein, some kind of fruit, maybe a juice, and optional special touches, such as coconut or spices. See what I mean? Flexible! I’ll give the full rundown of how I mix and match ingredients (and in what quantity), then I’ll share specifics of my favorites. Here we go!


Something Creamy

about 3/4 cup

I usually choose plain Greek yogurt or kefir, a cultured dairy drink that is similar to buttermilk but tastes more like a drinkable yogurt. Regular yogurt is also an option, but I avoid the flavored ones and their crazy-high sugar content. Skyr is another good option—a yogurt-like product from Scandinavia. Two popular brands are Siggi’s and Icelandic Provisions. For a plant-based option, choose your favorite non-dairy yogurt substitute, but lean into the low-sugar or plain options. The fruit you add will bring plenty of sweetness to the party.


Something Protein-y

about 1/2 “scoop,” or approximately 1 heaping tablespoon

Choose your favorite powdered form—I like soy protein, but whey works very well in smoothies, and so does hemp or pea protein. Almost every protein powder I’ve purchased comes with a small scoop that is roughly 2 tablespoons, and I fill it halfway for a smoothie. I recommend a plain or unsweetened vanilla option. My husband, Les, likes the chocolate protein powder, but we have found it can be less versatile for matching with fruit. Chocolate and raspberry is great, but chocolate and peaches?—not so much. Vanilla helps us keep our options open.


Something Fruity

total of about 1 cup

Yay—my favorite part! I like my smoothies to be icy cold and shake-like, so I almost always use frozen fruit, and especially bananas because of the creamy texture they provide. The greatest benefit to using frozen is that I don’t have to wait until the fruit is in season. It also saves multiple trips to the market for fresh fruit, or throwing away fruit that has gone bad. The fruits that work best for my homemade smoothies are peaches, bananas, pineapple, mango, cherries and any kind of berry (as long as you don’t mind their seeds). Fresh fruit works fine, of course. I don’t recommend citrus fruits, apples, melons or grapes, as their texture and water content would prevent them from blending well.


Juice or other liquid

1/4 to 1/2 cup, depending on other ingredients

This is helpful for blending the smoothie, but it may not be necessary if you use kefir, which is pourable. Greek yogurt is much thicker and would benefit from addition of juice, especially if you are using mostly frozen fruit in the smoothie. Other suitable liquids include milk, almond milk, coconut water or coconut milk.


Special mix-ins

small amounts of each

The mix-ins can be anything you like, but my favorites are unsweetened coconut (for texture and fiber), chia seed (for fiber and additional protein) and ginger (good for digestion) or another powdered spice, such as cinnamon. Sweeteners are not necessary, but if you must, may I recommend a teaspoon of honey or maple syrup? Anything but sugar, if you are aiming to keep them in the healthy column.


Ordering the layers:

It may seem inconsequential, given that the ingredients will be whirred into one mixture in the blender, but your smoothies will come together faster and more evenly if you layer the ingredients in a way that your blender can best mix them. You want the liquids and powders closest to the blender blade, so they can get a head start on mixing before the frozen stuff enters the game. The heavier ingredients, such as frozen fruit or ice, should be at the top, providing weight to keep the mixture moving downward for thorough blending. For a standard base blender, it might look like this:

My smoothie appliance is a bullet blender, which of course goes upside-down for mixing. So I layer my ingredients in reverse order, beginning with frozen fruit. When I flip the sealed blender cup onto the machine, I give it a minute to allow the liquids to run back to the blade area for more even mixing, leaving the frozen fruit at the top, where it should be.

Enough talk—let’s make a smoothie! Below are some of my favorite blends, and a list of ingredients I use for each of them. I’ve given the ingredients in order for a conventional blender. If you use a bullet-style blender, reverse the list order. Each combination yields a 12 oz. (340 g) smoothie.


Kefir, pineapple and spinach

I think of this smoothie as a power breakfast for all the nutritional benefit I get from it. Plus, the flavor is so delicious, it is a treat at the same time.

Ingredients: 3/4 cup kefir, 1/4 cup orange juice, 1/2 scoop soy protein powder, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1 tablespoon chia seed, 2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut, 1 medium handful baby spinach leaves, 1/2 cup banana chunks, 1/2 cup frozen pineapple bits.


Yogurt and banana-berry blend

This one feels very protective, with lots of antioxidant benefit in the red and blue berries.

Ingredients: 1 serving cup yogurt (I used coconut flavor skyr for this one), 1/4 cup blueberry juice (any juice or milk will do), 1/2 scoop protein powder, 1 tablespoon chia seed, 2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut, 1/2 cup frozen banana chunks, 1/2 cup frozen berry blend (with blueberry, raspberry, strawberry and blackberry).


Plant-based yogurt and mango

There are many great flavors of plant-based yogurt available, and this one was mango, so I played up the tropical flavors throughout the smoothie.

Ingredients: 1 serving cup plant-based yogurt, 1/4 cup orange juice, 1/2 scoop protein powder, 1 tablespoon chia seed, 2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut, 1/2 cup frozen banana chunks, 1/2 cup frozen mango chunks.


Peach cobbler smoothie

For this one, I soaked 1/4 cup rolled oats in 1/2 cup kefir overnight (in the fridge) and then built the smoothie in the morning. It’s an easy way to work some whole grains into your breakfast drink (because September is also “whole grains month”). From that point, the process was the same for layering and blending. You get the idea, right?

Ingredients: 1/2 cup almond milk, 1/2 scoop protein powder, 1 tablespoon chia seed, kefir-soaked oats, 1 tablespoon almond flour, 1 tablespoon unsweetened coconut, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 cup frozen banana chunks, 1/2 cup frozen peaches.


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Shakshuka (shiksa style)

We are inching toward a special day—and time of year—in Jewish tradition. Rosh Hashanah, in the simplest of terms, is the onset of the “High Holidays,” a 10-day celebration that concludes with Yom Kippur. The whole event is a spiritual reset button of sorts, a time for personal introspection leading to atonement. When I became engaged to my husband, Les, in 2016, I joined him for High Holidays services, and though I likely will not ever convert to Judaism, I love learning about this sacred part of my husband’s heritage. Going through the Hebrew readings and stages of reflection is something Jesus would have done as a regular practice (he was Jewish, remember?), and I have found that it gives me richer insight into my own Christian faith.

The fact that I am not Jewish, regardless of my stance on Jesus, earns me the unenviable title of “shiksa,” a Yiddish word politely translated as “a non-Jewish woman.” Some other definitions are less diplomatic and even derogatory, meaning something along the line of “sketchy non-Jewish woman who has taken romantic interest in a good, upstanding Jewish guy.” Yep, I’m guilty of all that! I take no offense, and our religious differences have never presented a conflict for Les and me. On the contrary, we find that it makes our relationship more interesting.

During our preparation for marriage, Les and I met a few times with Rabbi Mark, whom we had asked to officiate our small and informal ceremony. Over lunch, I mentioned how much I was enjoying exploration of the traditions, especially the foods. I had already learned to make latkes, one of the most recognizable Jewish foods (which I’ll share more about when we get closer to Hanukkah). Rabbi Mark made a recommendation for a next recipe to try—shakshuka. It’s fun to say (shock-SHOO-ka), and not the same as shiksa. 😀

I’d never heard of this, and neither had Les, so it was immediately placed at the top of the bucket list. Our first shakshuka turned out terrific, and when Les posted this picture of it to his Facebook page, he got an immediate thumbs-up from Cousin Caryn in Israel—“that is SO Jewish!”

Not a bad first effort in 2017!

Shakshuka is typically served at breakfast, so I’m counting it as part of my “better breakfast month” series, and it’s remarkably simple to make and flexible to accommodate a variety of ingredients. It usually begins with a thick tomato sauce base, though I’ve seen some interesting “green” shakshuka recipes on Pinterest. Any other favorite vegetables or ingredients can be incorporated, including cauliflower, eggplant, spinach, kale, peppers, onions, squash, chickpeas, or nearly anything else you have on hand. You stew it all together with Mediterranean spices in a cast-iron skillet, then you crack raw eggs directly into the sauce and simmer until they’re cooked to your liking, or (as I often do) slide it into the oven to finish.

It’s great for breakfast, or breakfast for dinner!

The result is a savory blend of nutrition and flavor, hearty enough to satisfy your morning hunger, or for “breaking the fast,” because after the 24 hours of fasting and prayer at Yom Kippur, you’re gonna get pretty hungry!

The cool thing about shakshuka (as if the flavor and flexibility aren’t cool enough) is that you do not have to be Jewish to enjoy it! You may have seen a similar dish from Italy called “eggs in purgatory,” featuring the same stewed tomato foundation. Both dishes are likely drawn from nearby North Africa during the Ottoman Empire, and during that time, meat (not tomatoes) was the original main ingredient.

My produce and pantry inventory included everything I needed for a hearty shakshuka, and it landed on our table last night as breakfast for dinner on Meatless Monday. I couldn’t resist serving this with the soft pita breads that have become such a staple in our home.

The soft pita is perfect for sopping up this rich tomato stew.

Basic Ingredients

Extra virgin olive oil (how much depends on what you’re adding)

1/2 medium onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes in puree*

4 eggs

Optional Ingredients

Depending on your taste, and your inventory, consider adding any of these ingredients. It’s your kitchen, and you can make your shakshuka as chunky or saucy as you’d like. For the most authentic experience of this dish, I’d recommend keeping with ingredients that are common to the Middle East, where shakshuka was born.

Up to 1 cup other vegetables, such as fresh cauliflower, fresh cubed eggplant, fresh chopped bell peppers

Up to 1 cup canned chickpeas or cooked lentils, or 1/2 cup in combination with your favorite vegetables (above)

Up to 2 cups fresh greens, chopped (they will cook down to small amount, so be generous)

Other flavor enhancers, such as olives, capers, spices, tomato paste, chile peppers

There’s so much tangy, rich sauce in this dish, you’ll want to have some kind of bread nearby for sopping. Pita is a great option, or any other kind of soft bread is just right.

*Notes

I’ve never made the same shakshuka combination twice, but I tend to steer toward more body and texture when we are having it for dinner. And it always depends on what I find in the fridge. For this post, I used the basic ingredients, then reached into the fridge for some add-ins. Les made his fabulous pimiento cheese last weekend, and a half can of spicy Rotel tomatoes and a half jar of pimientos were still in the fridge. In they went, along with about a cup of chopped fresh cauliflower, 1/2 can garbanzo beans, a fat handful of chopped kale leaves, some briny olives and capers, tomato paste to thicken and harissa to add flavor and heat.

Harissa is a spicy paste-like seasoning that has origin in Northern Africa. It has hot chiles and garlic, plus what I call the three “C spices”—cumin, coriander and caraway. Harissa is common to Moroccan cuisine, and lends wonderful depth of flavor to stewed dishes like shakshuka.

Instructions

  1. Place a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Swirl in olive oil and sauté onions, cauliflower and any other firm vegetables until lightly caramelized.
  2. Add garlic, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, and any other add-ins that strike your fancy. Season to taste with salt and pepper. For my recipe, I also added a little smoked paprika and ground cumin. Stir to combine ingredients evenly and cook over medium low heat for about 20 minutes so that the tomatoes lose the “canned” flavor and mixture begins to thicken like a stew.
  3. Use the back of a large spoon to create slight depressions to hold the eggs. Crack eggs, one at a time, into a custard cup and transfer them into the dents you’ve made, sprinkle them with salt and pepper, cover the skillet and simmer until eggs are set to your liking. Alternatively, you can slide the skillet into a 350° F oven and bake about 15 minutes, or until eggs reach your desired doneness.
  4. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley or oregano and serve with soft pita breads or other bread for sopping all the shakshuka sauce.
Oh, yes, some crumbled feta on top!

So easy, even a shiksa can make it! Shakshuka is delicious, easy and economical. Serve it family style, and let everyone scoop out their own portion into a bowl.

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Whole Grain Banana Pancakes

Your weekend deserves these soft, sweet pancakes. They are packed with whole grain goodness, a serving of fresh fruit and real cultured buttermilk for richness without extra fat. We are making breakfast better this month, and these sweet stacks are bringing all the comfort without so much guilt.

My pancake recipe is inspired by King Arthur Baking Company’s buttermilk pancakes, and they are terrific as written, but I’ve dressed them up with fresh banana, and made a few ingredient swaps to pull it further into the “healthy” column—whole wheat pastry flour delivers fiber and complex carbs, coconut sugar lends rich flavor and easier impact on blood sugar, and an addition of unsweetened coconut and toasted pecans for texture and crunch that makes these so satisfying.

Small bits of banana and pecan in every delicious, mouthwatering bite!

Last weekend, my husband, Les, and I enjoyed these whole grain banana pancakes with crisp butcher shop bacon and real maple syrup from Western New York, where the autumn colors are more beautiful than any other place I’ve been. Sure, I can go anyplace (even Walmart) to purchase maple syrup, but I grew up beneath the brilliance of the maple trees of Upstate New York, and I am especially comforted to dress my pancakes in syrup made near my childhood home. As we head into fall, I expect maple will pop up many times in the recipes I will share with you.

Some of the ingredients listed may be new or intimidating to you, but not to worry—the original King Arthur recipe is excellent, or use any pancake mix you like and add the banana and other flavors to customize them. All the same, I’ll share some background notes about the special ingredients in case you want to try these items.

What is pastry flour and how is it different from regular flour?

Flour that is labeled as “pastry flour” is lower in protein content than all-purpose flour. In simple terms, it means that the flour is not as strong as you would want for making yeast-risen bread. Pastry flour is softer, which makes it ideal for making cookies, quick breads, pancakes and muffins. For this pancake recipe, I’ve recommended whole wheat pastry flour, available in larger supermarkets or online from Bob’s Red Mill. The softness makes it a good bet for pancakes and the whole grain gives a big nutrition boost.

What is coconut sugar?

Coconut sugar is produced when the moisture is evaporated off the sap of a coconut palm tree. You can substitute it 1:1 for regular sugar in nearly any recipe. It looks similar to brown sugar, but it has a drier, less sticky texture. Coconut sugar still has a fair amount of calories, but it also has iron, zinc and potassium—though for the small amount of sugar used in a baking recipe, the health benefits are negligible. There is some evidence that coconut sugar doesn’t spike your blood sugar as intensely as refined cane sugar. Beyond the potential “good for you” notes, I like it for the richness of flavor, especially in baked goods, and I’ve chosen it for these pancakes because it tastes great with banana.

What is dessicated coconut?

I wish they had a better word because “dessicated” sounds so harsh, doesn’t it? The main difference with this kind of coconut is that it is a drier and finer shred than typical “baker’s” coconut, and the brand I buy (Bob’s Red Mill) is also unsweetened. If you dislike the texture or cloying sweetness of typical coconut, but enjoy the flavor, this would be a good option. In these banana pancakes, I love the delicately flaky texture it adds to the tender pancakes, as well as the pairing of tropical flavor to the bananas.

Can I swap another milk for buttermilk?

In some recipes, regular or dairy-free milk may be substituted 1:1 for buttermilk. But in this instance, the acidity of the buttermilk is meant to balance the alkaline nature of the baking soda, to create a lighter, fluffier pancake. If you don’t have buttermilk on hand, or if you have issues with dairy in general, substitute another type of milk (2%, almond, etc.) and add a tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar. Allow the mixture to rest 15 minutes before using, and you will get similar results.

What can I use in place of bananas in these pancakes?

If you are not bananas for bananas, you can still enjoy the benefit of whole fruit by substituting berries or another fruit with similar moisture makeup. I would not recommend very wet fruit such as melon, citrus or kiwi in pancakes, but any kind of fresh berry can be added to pancake batter. I have also had great success making apple cinnamon pancakes, using small cut up bits of fresh firm apples. If you try this, I’d recommend increasing the cinnamon in the dry ingredient mix, and sprinkle the apple bits atop the pancake before turning it, rather than adding the apple to the batter.

Ready to make them?

This recipe made six 4 1/2″ pancakes, plus two miniature pancakes for my taste tester. Feel free to put on Jack Johnson as you make them. 🙂

This song is perfect for a laid-back, “hanging out with your baby and making banana pancakes” weekend.

Ingredients

3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour* (see notes above)

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 Tbsp. coconut sugar*

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 cup low-fat cultured buttermilk*

1 Tbsp. canola oil

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 medium firm, ripe banana, cut into bite-sized pieces

1/4 cup chopped toasted pecans, optional

2 Tbsp. unsweetened dessicated coconut, optional*

Butter and maple syrup for serving


Instructions

First, the visual, and written instructions listed after, along with a downloadable PDF copy for your recipe book!

  1. Whisk together dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and set aside.
  2. Combine egg, buttermilk, oil and vanilla, and whisk until evenly blended.
  3. Pour wet mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients and stir only until flour is completely mixed in. It’s OK to see a few small lumps. Set this aside to rest for 15 minutes while you preheat the griddle or pan to 350° F (medium setting on stovetop).
  4. After rest time, fold pecans, banana bits and coconut (if using) into the batter mixture. Be as gentle as you can, to keep an “airy” texture to the batter.
  5. When skillet is pre-heated (water beads will “dance” on it), spoon or ladle out the batter in 1/4 cup amounts. Cook until large bubbles appear on top and edges of pancake appear set. Turn gently to cook the other side.
  6. Keep pancakes warm on a platter until all are cooked. Serve with butter and maple syrup.
  7. Spoil the dog. ❤

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Easy Hash Brown Waffles

As with art, music and just about everything else in life, appreciation of food is subjective. When I learned recently that September is “Better Breakfast Month,” I wasn’t sure what to make of it. “Better” can mean any number of things—qualitative and quantitative. At our house, we are always aiming for our version of a better breakfast in that we actually sit down and eat the meal. Together. At the table. It’s a terrific concept, and we’re committed to keeping that going!

We have a few favorite breakfasts in regular rotation, the most common of them being what we lovingly refer to as “Jewish Boy Breakfast,” or JBB, as I like to call it on my menu planning spreadsheet (yes, I’m really that nerdy). This morning meal is the namesake of my darling husband, Les, who is Jewish and raised in New York, the best city in the world for Jewish food. A typical JBB at our house looks like this:

You can’t take the NYC out of the boy. Les loves his bagels!

It’s a whole wheat everything bagel, topped with spreadable scallion cream cheese, thin slices of red onion, capers (on mine, anyway) and lox. We are lucky to have a reliable source of fresh-daily bagels in our city, otherwise I would have to bake them myself (which I’ve done exactly twice, and wow, what a project). The cream cheese is a homemade schmear that’s super easy to make yourself (check out that link above), and we are forever on the lookout for a sale on lox, because this salty cold-smoked salmon can get pricey.

In case you’re wondering, there is in fact a side of bacon on the plate—which clearly is not part of a balanced Jewish breakfast. I never said he was devout.

JBB has a special role in our love story as well. During our courtship, I straddled the fence about getting serious with Les, following too much drama and heartbreak in my own past. About eight months in, we had a huge snowstorm (in North Carolina, that means more than two inches of snow at once), and though he had been willing to run a bunch of random errands in such conditions, he declined my invitation to dinner. Better to “play it safe,” he said, given the weather and all. In response, I decided to play it safe by being hurt, and I went to bed feeling sorry for myself. Next morning, I was awakened by a text from Les—“why aren’t you answering your door?” I hadn’t heard him knocking, but there he stood—in the middle of a blizzard, people!—sporting a hat with flaps that covered his ears, and holding a bag of fresh bagels plus all the proper accoutrements. The man had risked his very life to be with me. OK, not exactly—but he had shown me (again) that he was different and dependable, so I married him. ❤ And I do love a JBB.

Anyway, when the weekend comes, we like to go big on breakfast. And by big, I mean with preparation of things that are too fussy for a busy out-the-door weekday morning. One of our go-to “better breakfast” menu items? These ultra-crispy, fun and flavorful hash brown waffles. Let’s just savor this image for a moment. Lean in to your screen and try to smell them.

I love those little bits of pepper and onion glistening under the crispy, cheesy potato shreds.

They emerge from the waffle iron crackling crisp on the outside, hot and soft on the inside, and they’re perfectly customizable, based on our craving du jour. This is how we use up all assortments of leftover cheese, onion and pepper scraps, and they come together in short order because I take a rare shortcut in the form of this:

You won’t often see me tout a ready-made grocery product like this one, but these are such a time saver, I can’t help myself.

I hope you aren’t disappointed to learn that I don’t actually make every single thing from scratch. Though I’ve considered shredding fresh potatoes myself for these, I’ve learned that once in a while is often enough to make an exception. These pre-shredded potatoes are such a worthy exception, and they can be found in any well-stocked supermarket. I only wish someone would explain to me why they are always in the dairy section. (hmm)

Here’s how they happen, and obviously, you will need a waffle iron to try them at home. I recommend a standard square or round waffle maker rather than Belgian style, but if you try it in a Belgian maker, please do let me know how it comes out for you, OK?

As the photo conveys, we lean toward the crispy side of things at our house, but you could certainly cut the time a bit shorter and remove them when they are just golden and lightly crisp. You’re the boss of your own kitchen. I’m enjoying the heck out of them in this crunchy state because we’ve recently decided to give up potato chips, our latest bad habit that was wrecking our waistlines. Enjoy them any way you’d normally serve breakfast potatoes, or make them the main dish as we do, topped with a runny egg!

I love the contrast of crispy edges with the soft potato inside. Now, THIS is a better breakfast!

I know what you’re thinking. Yes, they are also a terrific menu option the next time you’re in the mood for “breakfast for dinner.”

Go on, make them. 🙂


Ingredients

Extra virgin olive oil

1/2 bag Simply Potatoes shredded hash browns

1/2 cup (give or take) diced onion

1/2 bell pepper (or poblano or jalapeno, you decide)

1/4 cup diced and cooked leftover ham, sausage, bacon (optional)

Approximately 3/4 cup shredded melting cheese (cheddar, swiss, Monterey jack, gouda, etc.)

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 tsp. ground cumin (this is excellent with any fried potatoes)


Instructions

  1. Preheat waffle iron to 400° F.
  2. Place a small skillet over medium heat. Add a generous swirl of olive oil to the pan, and sauté the onions and peppers until they are softened and lightly browned. If you are adding breakfast meat that is not yet cooked, go ahead and toss that into the pan as well. Season to taste, stir in cumin and remove from heat.
  3. Combine shredded hash browns, onion mixture and shredded cheese and stir well to evenly blend the ingredients.
  4. Drizzle in about 1 tablespoon of additional olive oil and stir to combine. I’ve learned from all my experimentation with this recipe that the extra oil goes above and beyond to deliver my hash brown waffles with the crispiest possible exterior. Thank goodness olive oil is a “healthy” fat!
  5. When waffle maker is preheated, pile the hash brown mixture evenly over the plate and press to close the iron lid. Leave it alone for about 10 minutes, and carefully raise the lid to check their doneness. I’ve learned that if the waffle iron doesn’t release right away, whatever I’m waffling needs more time. The food will release when it’s ready, and for my Cuisinart waffle maker, 13 is the lucky number.
  6. Carefully remove the waffle sheet, in one piece, to a platter or cutting board and cut into serving pieces.
  7. Serve as desired, but may I recommend again the runny egg? It’s so, so good. 🙂

A little Frank’s red hot sauce for kick. And I might have broken off a crispy piece for dipping into the egg yolk. Yes, I believe I did.

This recipe will make five waffles, each about 4 x 6 inches. We make four at once for breakfast, then we fight over the fifth during kitchen cleanup. I love our life!

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What Makes Breakfast Better?

One of the websites I visit frequently for inspiration, or sometimes sheer amusement value, is the (U.S.) National Day Calendar, which announces quite matter-of-factly what we should be celebrating on a given day. This gave me a heads-up to plan for National S’mores Day, when I shared my adventures with this dessert pizza and this sweet sippin’ cocktail.


Though September has many standalone “days” worth celebrating, including:

6th – coffee ice cream day
9th – teddy bear day
16th – cinnamon raisin bread day
19th – talk like a pirate day
24th – cherries jubilee day
25th – one hit wonder day
28th – North Carolina day (because I love living here)

I am more appreciative of the monthlong celebrations that relate to food during September, and that’s where I will place my attention—I’m focusing on September as National Mushroom Month, Whole Grains Month and Better Breakfast Month. The latter of those three, better breakfast month, has left me wondering:

What makes breakfast “better?” I’m not sure who decides what that means.

Is a better breakfast one that is better for you? Or does breakfast become better when it’s fancier, or less common, or prettier, or tastier or more balanced—or what? We’ve been told all our lives that breakfast is “the most important meal of the day,” yet most of us skip through it without fanfare because it also happens to be the busiest time of day, especially if there are school-age children involved. The challenge of getting the kiddos off to school with the nutritional fuel their brains need is a tale as old as time, and COVID certainly isn’t helping this year. Even for adults, if any daily meal is prone to be routine and boring, it’s breakfast. Raise your hand if you eat the same thing for breakfast at least three times a week. Now raise your hand if you didn’t even bother to eat breakfast today. I’m guilty of that a lot. The most important meal of the day, yet so hard to manage.

At our house, weekends are better breakfast days, largely because my husband is not out the door at 7 am as he is Mondays through Fridays. By Saturday, we are ready for a slower-paced meal together, and although I wouldn’t label every weekend breakfast as special or better, we occasionally do some pretty fun things with this ever-important meal. I’ll share a few as the month rolls along—of the whimsical and the decadent, and hopefully even a few new ones on my bucket list. Until then, chew on these ideas for inspiration:

I’d also like to know what breakfast is about at your house. What makes it challenging, or what breakfast dishes do you look forward to on special occasions? Tell me in the comments section so I can have new inspiration, too. 🙂


Sourdough English Muffins

Who doesn’t love an English muffin? It’s a terrific change-up from the usual toasted bread for breakfast, and at our house, we’re eating a lot of them lately. They’re quick and simple to make, with or without a stand mixer, and you don’t even need to turn on your oven. My recipe makes 12, and though that may seem like a lot for one household, I’ll note that these muffins aren’t just for breakfast. They also make exceptional burger buns, and my husband uses them to make sandwiches to take to work for lunch, too!

My inspiration recipe comes from King Arthur Flour, my favorite brand. And while I would certainly disclose any financial agreements with vendors, I will be clear to say that KAF is not paying me to brag about their products (not yet, anyway, but I’m open, baking team). I just like them, and I trust their website for products, baking ideas and help when I need it.

Their recipe for Sourdough English Muffins does require the use of ripe (fed) sourdough starter, and although it typically calls for addition of commercial yeast (for quicker rise), it’s possible to omit it, and I’ve adjusted for that in my notes below. If you don’t have a starter, their yeast-risen English muffins are great, too. It’s tough to find yeast during the COVID-19 pandemic, but if you happen to have some in your pantry, you’re golden. Here’s a tip—you can ration your yeast by halving the amount called for in the recipe; just give it more time to rise. This is true for virtually any yeast recipe, by the way.

Let’s Get Cooking!

Because the KAF recipe yields 24 English muffins (holy moly, that’s a lot!), I’ve taken the liberty of adjusting all the ingredients by half. Additionally, I always swap in some portion of whole grain flour in place of white, and I usually add some milled flax seed because I cannot leave well enough alone. You decide, based on your own experience and comfort level. If you notice grainy spots in my technique photos, this is the reason. They literally are grainy spots.

When these are completely cooled, you can put them in a sealed plastic bag. They’ll keep on the counter for up to a week, or you can put them in the freezer. No need to thaw them before toasting.

I hope they turn out great for you!

Ingredients and Tools

(weight measurement included for seasoned bakers; if you’re baking these for the first time, please see notes section for tips on the best way to accurately measure your flour for baking)

1/2 cup (114g) ripe sourdough starter* (stirred down before measuring – see notes)
1 cup (227g) warm filtered water (ideally, about 110° F)
1/2 tsp instant yeast (optional, for quicker rise)
1 Tbsp. (12g) sugar
3 1/2 cups (422g) all-purpose flour* (see notes for measuring and substitutions)
1/4 cup (22g) nonfat dry milk* (see notes if you don’t have this)
1 1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
2 Tbsp. (28g) butter, room temperature
Additional flour for dusting counter for kneading
Cornmeal for dusting muffins before baking

*Notes

  • If you don’t have a kitchen scale, use this method for accurately measuring flour in baking
  • For sourdough science nerds who may be wondering, my starter is 100% hydration; I feed it (once or twice a week) 90/10 high protein bread flour/freshly milled rye flour
  • You may substitute whole wheat flour up to 1/3 of the total amount of flour
  • If you don’t have nonfat dry milk, adjust the water to 3/4 cup and use 1/4 cup regular milk along with it

Stand mixer or large bowl and heavy wooden spoon
Plastic wrap and clean lightweight kitchen towels
Electric griddle or pan for stove-top “baking”
Heat-safe spatula for turning
Cooling rack for finished muffins

Instructions

In a mixing bowl, bring your starter to room temperature, or at least allow some of the refrigerator chill to wear off. Combine with warm water until it’s an even slurry, and stir in the sugar (and instant yeast, if using) a minute or so to dissolve sugar.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, dry milk and sea salt until well blended. Add to the wet mixture and stir with a heavy wooden spoon or blend in stand mixer until all dry ingredients are incorporated. Switch to kneading hook or turn the dough out onto a floured countertop. Knead until the dough feels a little less shaggy and more organized. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest about 20 minutes.

Stretch out the dough and spread the soft butter over it. The KAF recipe suggests adding the butter at the start, but I’ve learned to add fats after the flour is fully hydrated, so this is my method. Fold the dough up with butter inside and continue kneading, about 10 minutes by hand or 5 to 6 minutes by machine with dough hook. This part will get messy, but keep at it and eventually, the butter will work its way through the entire dough. You want smooth and even dough—soft and slightly tacky, but not sticky. Shape dough into a tight ball (if you imagine squeezing it around and toward the bottom, you’ll get a feel for this), place it in a lightly oiled bowl and turn to coat, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap or lid and let it rise at room temperature until it’s puffy and nearly doubled in size. If your room is warm and you used additional yeast, this will be about 60 minutes. If you didn’t use yeast, it may be a couple of hours—give it the time it needs. Gently deflate the dough by pushing the center with your closed fist (one day soon, I’ll explain why I hate the term “punching down your dough”). With lightly oiled hands, reshape it into a ball, cover the bowl and put it into the refrigerator overnight. This step is beneficial either way, but especially important if you did not add yeast. Sourdough bakers already know that cold fermentation is a magical thing, and this down time in the fridge will result in extra flavor and improved texture.

In the morning, turn the cold dough out onto a lightly floured countertop and cut it into 12 roughly equal pieces. The simplest way I’ve found to do this is the cut the ball in half, then each half into halves, and each resulting half into thirds, like 12 little pieces of pizza. Shape each wedge into a tight ball, and flatten each ball with your fingertips onto a piece of parchment paper, sprinkled lightly with corn meal. They should measure about 3 1/4” across, or the size of—you guessed it—an English muffin! You will probably want to do two cookie sheets, each holding 6 muffins. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins with additional corn meal.

If the dough is still cold, it will probably shrink back—that’s OK. Cover them with plastic and let them rest 15 minutes to relax the gluten, then flatten them again. Cover the muffins with loose plastic wrap, lay a clean lightweight kitchen towel over the plastic and allow the muffins some privacy in a warm (but not hot) spot in your kitchen. I usually slide the pans into the oven, where it’s quiet and not at all drafty.

About 2 hours later, your muffins should look soft and puffy. My last batch rose to about 1/2” thickness, but they will puff more when you introduce them to heat.

If you have an electric griddle, heat it to about 325° F. If not, you can do it stove-top in a cast iron pan or griddle over medium-low heat. Our gas range has a “griddle in the middle” that allows me to do 6 muffins at a time; in a skillet, you’ll probably want to limit to 3 at once. I kept the flame pretty low because it’s better to cook them a tiny bit longer than to burn them.

I squeezed my camera underneath the griddle so you can see how low I set the flame. If you’re cooking your muffins stove-top, give the pan or griddle plenty of time to reach consistent heat.

When the griddle or pan is radiating consistent heat (you should be able to feel it easily with your hand about 6” above), gently place the muffins onto the surface. They will puff a bit more as they cook, but they won’t spread outward the way cookies do. Still, try to keep a bit of room between them so you can wiggle in a spatula when it’s time to turn them over.

After about 7 minutes, your muffins are probably ready to turn. Check by gently lifting up one edge and peeking underneath. If it looks golden and toasty, it’s time! Gently turn them without flipping too hard—you don’t want to deflate them in the process.

Give the second side about 6 more minutes, then check for doneness and remove them to a cooling rack to calm down. The sides of the muffins will still feel a bit soft, and that can be a little unnerving until you’ve made them a few times. Here’s a simple tip for testing doneness: when you turn over the first muffin, tap the cooked side lightly with your fingernail or the tip of your spatula. If it sounds hollow, you’re good. If it still feels a little soft or spongy, they probably need another minute. To be certain, you can slide the finished muffins onto a cookie sheet and into a pre-warmed 350° F oven for a few minutes to finish any raw insides.

When the muffins have completely cooled (and please, not one second sooner), use the tines of a fork to split through to the middle, all the way around.

Fork-splitting the muffins creates a perfect texture inside, and ensures plenty of pockets for butter or jam. Be certain they are completely cool before splitting them.

This will allow you to easily break them open later, for the beautiful nooks and crannies that I’m probably not allowed to talk about because of trademark rules.

But just look—can you think of a better way to describe those butter-loving pockets?

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Spreadable Scallion Cream Cheese

We eat a lot of bagels with lox at our house, and we like a little more pizzazz than just plain ol’ cream cheese. According to my husband, Les, “schmear” is the appropriate Yiddish word for bagel-worthy cream cheese, and it implies a smoother, spreadable consistency than what you get in the store-bought bricks. But the first time I did the shopping for us as a couple, I developed a serious case of sticker shock in the pre-made, spreadable cream cheese section. And for such a tiny container of it, not to mention that the “whipped” varieties are basically half cream cheese and half air!

It was pretty easy to replicate Les’s favorite, which is scallion cream cheese; to be fair, he says our homemade version is not only more economical, but also tastier. I love being able to customize the flavors, without a bunch of additives we can’t pronounce. My double-batch version here calls for plain Greek yogurt, but you could just as easily substitute sour cream. If you want a smaller amount, just reduce the ingredients by half. At the end, I’ve suggested additional flavor variations. I hope you find one you love!

Ingredients and Tools:

2 bricks (8 oz. each) regular or Neufchatel (reduced fat) cream cheese
1/4 to 1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt (whole or 2%)
1/2 tsp. dried dill
1/2 tsp. dried minced garlic
1 small bunch scallions (green onions), washed and trimmed, white and green parts sliced thin

Stand mixer or electric hand mixer, unless you have some serious guns to whip it by hand!

Instructions:

Put both packages of cream cheese into the mixing bowl, straight from the fridge. Whip the cream cheese by itself for about 1 minute, then add the yogurt (begin with 1/4 cup, add more as you like) and whip until blended. Stop a couple times to scrape down the sides and across the bottom of the bowl. When the whipped mixture has the appearance of cream cheese icing, add the dill and dried minced garlic and whip again just until blended.

Next, add all of the scallions; it may seem like a lot, but it’ll be just right once it’s mixed. Blend on a low speed until fully incorporated, then transfer to a covered bowl and refrigerate.

The dried garlic needs at least a few hours to soften and spread its flavor through the cream cheese. If you’re making this for something right away, I’d recommend scooping out what you need immediately before adding the garlic. Otherwise, you’ll have a few potent, crunchy bites. Les has taught me to adore this stuff, especially on a lightly toasted “everything” bagel. But we also use it in other ways—on crackers, as a spread on sandwiches and even slathered on the inside of a tortilla for breakfast burritos.

Want to elevate your happy, Comfort du Jour style?

Like so many things I make at home, cream cheese is a blank canvas just begging for interesting variations. Swap out the dill for any other dried herbs you like, but I’d suggest using them sparingly until you have a feel for the concentration of flavor—these herbs really open up after some time in the fridge. Mix in chopped pickled jalapeno, capers, sun-dried tomatoes, pepperoncini or olives, but blot them dry first on paper towels.

Prefer sweeter spreads? Skip and garlic and herbs; mix in 1 Tbsp. of powdered sugar along with 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and fold in raisins, chopped toasted nuts or dried cranberries. Les would argue that sweet cream cheese is not “authentic” (you can’t take the NYC outta the boy), but I say make whatever makes you happy!

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Apple Dutch Baby with Cider Sauce

A Dutch baby (also known as a German pancake) is an elegant breakfast or brunch dish you can make from basic pantry ingredients. It’s terrific because you can swap in whatever fruit you have on hand—fresh peaches or berries make delicious toppings, with just a dusting of powdered sugar. But for this one, I’ve used a single, unpeeled apple for rustic appeal, and created a sweet apple cider sauce that takes it way over the top, almost into dessert territory.

The basic German pancake recipe was graciously offered to me by the innkeeper at a Virginia bed and breakfast I visited many years ago. It uses the simplest of ingredients, but something almost magical happens in the oven, as the batter rises up and curves inward over the filling—almost like it’s giving a hug.

There are three components to this dish, and I’ve listed the ingredients for each separately along with the steps. You may want to read all the way through before you begin. Enjoy!

Tools you’ll need:

10 1/2 inch cast-iron skillet (and potholder)
Whisk
2 medium mixing bowls
Small microwave safe bowl or measuring cup
Medium, heavy-bottomed sauce pan
Cutting board and knife
Flat wood utensil or wooden spoon

Ingredients – cider sauce:

2 cups apple cider
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. maple syrup (I love the dark amber, formerly known as “grade B”)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of sea salt (this simultaneously enhances and balances the sweetness of this decadent sauce)

In a heavy-bottomed sauce pan, combine all ingredients except vanilla and sea salt over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stir and cook about 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture is reduced by nearly half, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and sea salt. Set aside to cool. This may be made ahead and refrigerated for up to a week; warm before serving.

Ingredients – apple filling:

1 large, firm apple (Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, Gala or Fuji would be good), cored and sliced thin
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. brown sugar (light or dark)
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom (or extra cinnamon)
Pinch sea salt

Preheat oven to 425° F. Heat cast-iron skillet over medium heat and melt butter. Add apple slices and sprinkle with brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamom and sea salt. Toss to coat, and stir frequently for about five minutes, until apples are evenly coated and beginning to soften. Remove from heat, empty apples into a bowl and wipe the skillet clean of any bits that might burn. Place skillet into preheated oven for about 10 minutes.

Ingredients – Dutch baby:

3 Tbsp. salted butter (for the batter)
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
1 cup whole or 2% milk
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter (for the skillet)

Melt 3 Tbsp. salted butter in a microwave safe bowl or glass measuring cup. Whisk together flour and cinnamon in a medium bowl. In another bowl, whisk eggs until uniform consistency. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture then add milk, eggs and melted butter. Whisk just until all flour is incorporated.

Carefully remove skillet from the oven and add 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, swirling around to coat the bottom and sides of the pan. Spoon the apples into the center of the pan. Give the egg mixture another quick whisk, then pour gently over the apples. Place the skillet back into the oven, reduce heat to 400° F and bake about 25 minutes, until edges are golden brown and center is set, but still a bit soft and “eggy.”

Straight from the oven; notice those little pockets of custard and butter?

Remove from skillet, drizzle the warm cider sauce over the pancake and serve in wedges.

The fragrant apple and spices will warm you up from the inside.

Can I make a Dutch baby without a cast-iron skillet?

Alternatively, you can use an oven-safe casserole dish and get great results. Butter and flour the inside of the dish before adding the batter. Because the casserole dish won’t be preheated like the skillet, it may take a bit longer. Bake at 400° F, and check for doneness after about 30 minutes.

Can I make individual Dutch baby pancakes?

Yes! If you have individual size cast-iron skillets, simply preheat them as instructed for the large skillet, and divide the melted butter and batter into them. Check for doneness after about 15 minutes. Or butter and flour individual glass casserole dishes and check them at 20 minutes. This recipe should work for about four of them.

Can I serve a Dutch baby for dessert?

I can’t think of a reason not to, especially if you make a decadent sauce! This apple dutch baby with cider sauce would be fantastic as it is for dessert; I’d probably even add an ounce of bourbon or brandy to the cider as it reduces (I’m spontaneous like that). It would also be great with cooked cherries rather than apples, and maybe a nice dark chocolate sauce. Or what about caramelized bananas with a caramel rum sauce…like Bananas Foster? Okay, now it’s just getting crazy in here.


No-Fuss Mushroom and Spinach Omelet

I like this style of omelet because it’s quick and simple, and it doesn’t require removing the extras from the pan and then stuffing them back in. Your “fillings” will be cooked into the outside of the omelet, with melty gooey cheese layered inside. This recipe is super flexible, too! You can add or substitute leftover vegetables of any kind if you don’t have spinach and mushrooms on hand—peppers, kale, broccoli, asparagus or whatever is taking up space in the fridge. If they’re already cooked, just chop into smallish pieces and toss them in the pan long enough to warm them and proceed with the recipe from there. As with most my recipes, I rely on formula and technique more than the ingredients. So, let’s talk about that:

How do you make an omelet fluffy?

Whisking cold water (not milk!) into the eggs just before cooking them gives a nice airy lift to the omelet. The scientific upshot is that the tiny water droplets evaporate quickly in the heat of the pan, creating airy pockets inside the egg mixture. If you want even more fluff, separate the eggs before you begin (this works best when they’re cold) and whip the whites into a soft foam (this works best at room temperature). Fold this into the rest of your egg mixture just before pouring into the hot pan.

Which cheese melts best for an omelet?

Good melting cheeses include Monterey jack, cheddar, Colby, Muenster, Havarti, Gouda and gruyere. Hard or crumbly cheeses such as feta, chevre and parmesan will add tons of flavor; just don’t expect gooey goodness from them, as they pretty much hold their shape when warmed. Whenever possible, grate your cheese from a block. The packaged pre-shredded cheeses are coated to prevent sticking in the bag, and this also prevents them from melting well.

Do you need a special pan for an omelet?

Years ago, my mom had one of those hinged, fold-over pans “designed for omelets,” but this is absolutely not necessary. It didn’t produce a fabulous omelet and mostly just made a mess. My go-to pan for omelets is a good non-stick skillet with curved sides. The shape and coating makes it easier to slide your spatula underneath the set egg mixture for folding and serving. If your skillet is not coated, swirl in a little extra oil just before adding the eggs, to guard against sticking.

This recipe is a delicious way to work in an extra serving of vegetables and works especially well as “breakfast for dinner.” Three eggs make just the right size for my husband and me to share, but we are not big eaters at breakfast. Feel free to throw in a fourth egg with no other adjustment needed.

Ingredients:

Extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper

1 thick slice of onion, finely chopped (we like sweet onions, but red or yellow ones are fine)

3 to 4 mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (cremini is my go-to, but white button or shiitake would also work)

Big handful of fresh baby spinach, roughly chopped and tough stems removed

3 large eggs, room temperature

About 1/2 tsp. prepared Dijon mustard (or hot sauce for a spicier twist)

Splash of cold water

1/3 cup freshly shredded cheese (or less if using more pungent cheese, such as Parmesan or feta)

Tools:

Get Cooking:

Place a 10 inch non-stick skillet over medium heat and add a generous swirl of olive oil.

When you notice the oil beginning to shimmer and flowing easily around the pan, add your chopped onions. Give them a stir and cook until they are just soft but not quite browning, about 2 minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms and toss them around with your wooden utensil to be sure they get lightly sautéed on both sides. Add the chopped baby spinach leaves and stir until wilted and noticeably reduced, but still bright green. Salt and pepper to taste.

While the veggies are doing their thing, crack your eggs into a large measuring cup, add Dijon mustard (or hot sauce) and whisk briskly until lightly foamy. Add a splash of cold water – about 1 Tablespoon – and whisk again until light and foamy. You want lots of bubbles in this mixture, so whip it…whip it good!

Spread out the sautéed veggie mixture evenly in your pan. Slowly pour the eggs around the outer edge of the mixture, encircling your veggie ingredients, then pour gently to “fill in” and cover the entire mixture. Again, salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook about 2 or 3 minutes, or until the egg mixture looks set about one half inch around the edges but still wet and somewhat loose in the center.

Sprinkle shredded cheese over the entire mixture, turn off the burner and place a cover over the pan, allowing trapped heat and steam to finish cooking the eggs and melting the cheese into them. This will take about 3 minutes. Using a wide silicone spatula, fold in half. Or for a slimmer omelet, fold one third toward the center, then fold the other side over the top of that, as if folding a letter. Carefully cut the omelet in half crosswise to share the other half with your other half, and enjoy!

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