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!


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. ❤

Want to print this better breakfast recipe?


Lemon Mushroom Chicken

Three favorite key ingredients, plus onions, garlic, butter and a splash of white wine—it sounds simple, because it is. This is a delicious entrée I like to call a “Sunday Supper” because there are a few extra steps that make it special without making it complicated. A recipe that takes a little more time is what I love, in part because it feels relaxing to prepare food slowly with more intention, but mostly because as the meal develops and the house becomes increasingly filled with savory aromas, it creates a tension and anticipation that isn’t often present with a quickly cooked weeknight meal.

The result of the extra care and patience required for this dish is well worth the time and effort—tender, juicy bites of chicken with a rich, onion-y mushroom gravy-like coating. It’s satisfying and comforting, in a way that only a home-cooked meal can be. You can taste the love in this kind of food. The mushrooms contribute an earthiness that is not overwhelming, and the freshly squeezed lemon, thyme and white wine give the impression of something far more gourmet than the simple instructions I’m about to describe.

I prefer to make this recipe on the stove in a skillet because it’s usually just me and my husband at the dinner table, and I like to keep my counter space open. But if you are doubling the recipe and happen to have a large electric skillet, that would be a terrific option—provided it has a cover, which is an important part of finishing the recipe. I’ll walk you through preparation of the dish, but if you’re ready to dive straight into it, you can scroll to the bottom to download a printed copy of the recipe. But then, of course, you’d miss the pictures. 🙂

A quick twist of the fork is enough to grab a bite of this lemon mushroom chicken. How scrumptious and tender is that?

Here’s how to make it.

First, the chicken breasts are sliced and pounded thin to ensure tender, uniform pieces. I do this myself at home because it’s an easy way to save the extra cost of pre-sliced cutlets. It’s OK if you don’t have a meat tenderizer; you can use the bottom of a small pot to do the same. Next, season the pieces with salt and pepper and a couple of pinches of dried thyme. It’s important to do this first, because you want the seasoning in the chicken—not just on the coating. Then drag the cutlets through some seasoned flour and let them rest while chopping a sweet onion and a couple cloves of garlic.


Clean and slice a full package of fresh mushrooms. It may seem overkill for a four-serving recipe, but they cook down considerably and they are a key component of the dish. My favorite type is cremini (sometimes called baby portabella, though technically they are not), but white button mushrooms or shiitake would work fine as well. Are you on the fence about the right way to clean mushrooms? I used to be afraid that rinsing them would make them soggy, but I learned a few years ago that mushrooms don’t absorb much water unless you soak them (thank you for that, Alton Brown!), so go ahead with a thorough cold water rinse then use a clean paper towel to dry them and wipe away any remaining debris. Finish the prep by trimming the stems and slicing them into 3/8” thick, perfectly uniform slices. Say what? Here’s how to do the slicing part in less than one minute:


My egg slicer is made of metal, with cutting wires that are sturdy enough to tackle slicing mushrooms and strawberries, and I love that I get clean, uniform slices with minimal effort. Maybe someday I’ll use this thing to slice eggs. If you don’t have an egg slicer, use your best sharp knife, and don’t sweat over the thickness—just slice them as evenly as you can, but not paper thin.

The onions go into a heated skillet with olive oil, but you’ll notice in the photos that I don’t take them very far toward caramelization. You want them to be nice and soft, so keep the heat in the medium-low range and cook just until they soften and begin to look translucent. Add the mushrooms in batches and cook them without crowding the pan. These guys give off a lot of moisture when they cook, and if you have too many at once, they will steam rather than brown. Take your time, and when the first handful of mushrooms reaches that “lightly browned” stage, move them aside and add another handful. When the whole batch is finished, add the chopped garlic and sauté briefly, then transfer the mixture to a bowl.


Give the cutlets another quick dip through the seasoned flour while you melt butter in the same skillet. It’s not unusual for the flour to absorb moisture from the chicken during the initial rest, and they should be completely (but lightly) coated before they hit the hot butter. This will create a roux-like coating on the chicken, and the broth you add later will break that down into delicious gravy as it simmers.

When the butter is melted and bubbly, carefully arrange the cutlets into the pan in a single layer, again taking care not to crowd the pan. Depending on how many pieces you have, this may need to be done in batches as well. Turn the cutlets over when they are a nice golden brown on the underside, and stack them on top of each other when both sides are done, to make room in the pan for any remaining cutlets.

Remove the browned cutlets and rest them on top of the reserved mushroom-onion mixture. This will make room for you to de-glaze the skillet, bringing all the beautiful browned bits back into the dish. Reduce the heat to low, then working quickly, pour in the white wine and use a whisk or other utensil to scrape up those flavorful remnants. Squeeze in the lemon juice and swirl the pan to combine. Place the chicken cutlets back into the skillet and pile the mushrooms and onions on top. Carefully pour in chicken broth, but only enough to slightly cover the chicken. Give the skillet a gentle shake to help the broth get under and around the chicken, then cover the skillet and walk away.


The chicken will simmer at this low temperature for 35 to 40 minutes. It will be fully cooked well before this time, but the long simmer will result in the tenderness and richness I described at the beginning. What’s great about a recipe like this is that while the magic is quietly happening in the skillet, I have time to tidy up the prep dishes, set the table and enjoy a glass of wine with my husband. This is also a good time to prep whatever vegetable or salad I plan to serve. When the main dish is more involved, as this one is, I usually opt for a simple vegetable side. The lemon mushroom chicken deserves center stage.

I love how the sauce becomes part of the chicken, rather than being poured over it. This dinner will melt in your mouth.

For this meal, I roasted fresh asparagus. If you are cooking asparagus some other way, I will be so bold as to declare you have been missing out! Try roasting once and you’ll see what I mean. Rinse and trim the stalks, arrange them on a parchment lined baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and roll them around to coat. Give them a little salt and pepper to taste, and pop them into a 400° F oven for 15 minutes. They should be slightly tender and retain a bright green color. Easy, yet so elegant.


And there you have it—this “Sunday Supper” dish takes a little more time than an average weeknight meal, but the payoff for your patience is a tender portion of delicate chicken, covered in savory mushrooms and fully enveloped in a rich, gravy-like coating. We like this on its own with a fresh roasted vegetable or salad, but it would also be beautiful on top of your favorite mashed potatoes, rice or linguine.

Ingredients

1.5 lb. package skinless, boneless chicken breast (or same weight of prepared thin cutlets, if you prefer)

Salt, pepper and 1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Extra virgin olive oil

1 medium sweet onion, sliced into crescent shapes

8 oz. package fresh cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

2 or 3 cloves of fresh garlic, finely chopped

4 Tbsp. unsalted butter (cold from the fridge is fine)

1/3 cup dry white wine (I use pinot grigio, or sometimes dry vermouth as substitute)

1 fresh lemon 

1/2 to 3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth (use enough to just cover the browned cutlets)


Ready to make this recipe?

If you make this lemon mushroom chicken, please let me know in the comments how it turned out for you.


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!

Want to print this “better breakfast” recipe?


Waffled Mac and Cheese—yes, please!

There are “leftovers,” and then there are “planned-overs.” The latter is a concept frequently referenced by my aunt, who is all in favor of planning to have extra portions of a recipe, specifically to be used in something else later on.

This is a planned-over that I’ve tried (and missed) before, but this time, it was a big-time winner. Friends, it’s comfort times two—mac and cheese, waffled!

Go ahead, drool a little. I know you want to make these.

These are easy to make, but obviously, you need to have a waffle maker to make this happen. My first (failed) effort was on a Belgian-style waffle maker—not a great idea, and I’m certain the thick, deeply indented shape contributed to the not-so-fab outcome. For the best texture and even, perfectly crispy edges, go with a standard square-style waffle maker. Mine has a non-stick coating, so pulling the finished waffles off the iron was cheesy-breezy.

To plan ahead for these planned-overs, skip back to my basic mac and cheese recipe, and follow the instructions, but stop after the stove-top stage—no casserole into the oven, or else your mac and cheese waffles will be dry and tough. Reserve about 1/2 cup of the cheese sauce, for decadent drizzling on the finished waffles. Go ahead and bake some of the mac and cheese if you’d like, but hold back enough to make waffles in whatever quantity you wish.

Here, I spread the unbaked portion of mac and cheese evenly into a 9 x 13 glass casserole dish, about 1 inch deep. Cover and chill until you’re ready to dive into this decadence.


Ready to get cooking?

Here’s a quick recap for making my bechamel-based cheese sauce. Use the link to the original recipe for ingredient amounts and detailed descriptions.


Ingredients

Prepared basic mac and cheese, reserve 1/2 cup of the cheese sauce for serving.

1 large egg, beaten with a tablespoon of water

3/4 cup unseasoned panko bread crumbs

1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan or parm-romano blend*

Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Reserved cheese sauce

1/3 cup heavy cream or half and half


*Notes

At our house, we always have a 50/50 blend of deli-quality parmesan and romano cheeses. We purchase the cheese in blocks and shred it with the food processor. It beats the daylights out of store-bought parmesan cheese, and we save a good bit of money in the long run.


Instructions

The visual description will probably cover it for you, but written instructions are included below, just in case.

Cut chilled mac and cheese into squares or rectangles, to match the size of your waffle maker sections.

Place the beaten egg into a shallow glass dish. Dip each piece of mac and cheese into the egg wash, using a spoon as necessary to fully drench the mac and cheese with the egg mixture.

Combine panko crumbs, parmesan, salt and pepper in a second shallow glass dish. Dredge the egg washed mac and cheese in the crumb mixture, pressing crumbs into the nooks and crannies to ensure even coating. Transfer coated mac and cheese to a parchment-lined cookie sheet and allow them to rest about 15 minutes.

Preheat the waffle iron to 400° F.

Press additional crumb mixture onto any bare spots on the mac and cheese. Arrange the pieces into the waffle iron, and press to close. Allow them to bake about 10 minutes, or until they are golden brown and lightly crispy on the outside. They should also release easily from the iron.

While the mac and cheese waffles are baking, warm the leftover cheese sauce, whisking in up to 1/3 cup heavy cream or half and half until the sauce is thinner and pourable.

Serve the decadent crispy waffles with a generous drizzle of the cheese sauce.

Too much cheese. Said NO ONE, ever.

We served these as a hearty side to some juicy, quick-brined pork chops and leftover collard greens. But wouldn’t they also look great alongside some southern fried chicken or meatloaf or burgers or—OK, with just about anything? 😊

The only thing better than mac and cheese is WAFFLED mac and cheese!

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Easy-Cheesy Grilled Scalloped Potatoes

I’m breaking all the cooking rules on some all-time classic comfort foods, as I’m determined to find new ways to prepare foods that have too long depended on the oven. It’s hot enough this time of year, so I’m turning off the oven and moving dinner prep outside.

We won this battle at our house recently with a twice-grilled meatloaf, which we served up with these cheesy-good, grilled scalloped potatoes. This Comfort du Jour twist was simple to whip up because it doesn’t involve a cream sauce (that would be a disaster on the grill), but it was every bit as delicious, with tender potatoes, thin slices of onion and two kinds of cheese—pepper jack for a little kick, and crumbled bleu cheese for an interesting touch of funk. The potatoes were great just like this, but I’m certain they’d also be good with cheddar, smoked gouda or any other favorite cheese.

I used non-stick aluminum foil as the cooking vessel, so cleanup was—well, nothing! Seriously, is there anything to not love about this?

This was perfection. Classic comfort foods, with a Comfort du Jour twist that will become a summer go-to for us.

Ingredients

5 medium Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed clean and sliced 1/4″ thick* (see picture tip, below)

1 small sweet onion, thinly sliced

Extra virgin olive oil

3 oz. sliced or shredded pepper jack cheese

1/4 cup bleu cheese crumbles

Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper


*Tip

Whole potatoes can slip really easily when you’re trying to slice them thin. Either use a mandoline (be careful there, too), or try this easy trick. Slice a very thin section off one side of the potato, so it will lay flat on your cutting board, making it easier to safely cut it into slices.

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, drizzle olive oil over the potato slices and give them a good tossing to coat them.
  2. Arrange a single layer of potatoes on a large rectangle of heavy aluminum foil (I recommend the non-stick type).
  3. Add a layer of onion slices, season with salt and pepper and distribute half amounts of each cheese.
  4. Repeat with another layer of each ingredient.
  5. Place a second sheet of foil over the “casserole” and crimp the foil all the way around to seal the edges.
  6. Grill over indirect heat (we placed them on the upper rack of our gas grill) for about 30 minutes.

Open the packet very carefully, as escaping steam will be very hot. Serve directly from the foil pack for easy-and-done cleanup!


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Twice-Grilled Meatloaf

One of my favorite things about summer is backyard grilling. The food is always great, of course, but there’s also something sweetly nostalgic about the experience—the aroma of searing meat, the feel and taste of the cold beer in hand, the far-off sound of a neighbor’s lawn mower, trees swaying in gentle breezes, mosquitoes ravaging my ankles—oh, wait, let’s scratch that last one (so to speak).

But I don’t need to explain the joy of the barbecue to you. Everyone with a backyard or patio looks forward to the same for the fleeting months we have to enjoy it, and we all have our favorite foods to grill, even if it’s as simple as burgers and franks. One thing that has changed at our house is the range of things we cook on the grill. In the past, it was always the meat on the grill, but pretty much everything else was prepared and cooked inside. Why is that? So many other things are possible on the grill, including the chicken romaine Caesar I mentioned at the start of summer, and the grilled vegetables we did for the ratatouille pizza last month. I want to keep knocking down the boundaries of grilling and see what other comfort foods can be twisted up, Comfort du Jour style.

And today, meatloaf, I’m looking at you!

No, not you, Meat Loaf. Whew, what a hot, sweaty mess. But thanks for all the memories, especially “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” because that was freaking awesome. I’m still singing along with that one.

What I’m talking about is the classic comfort food, the blue-plate special, the all-time best example of a home-cooked meal. And I want to make it on the grill.

Just as we don’t need to wait until summer to enjoy ice cream, I believe it’s time to pull meatloaf to center stage outside of winter months. I’m a big fan of this shaped meat classic, and I’ll be excited in the cooler months to show you some of my favorite ways to stuff it with other great flavors. But how in the world does one grill a meatloaf, without burning it or drying it out or having it fall apart and down into the grill? And wouldn’t it take forever? For answers to all my “what-ifs,” I went straight to the highest authority on all things—the internet. And according to grill manufacturer Weber, meatloaf is not only possible on the grill, it’s fantastic. Check out Chef Larry Donahue’s recipe for yourself if you’d like, or stick with me to see how things went with our grilled (not once, but twice!) meatloaf.

I followed Chef Larry’s recipe nearly to the letter, except that we added more garlic, adjusted ratio on the sausage (equal amount felt like too much for our taste) and came up with our own creative solution for draining the cooking grease.

This recipe will cook over indirect heat, and you’ll need a rectangular foil pan to use as a drip pan below the meatloaf. These foil pans are inexpensive and usually available next to foil and plastic wraps in any supermarket.


Ingredients

1 medium onion, diced (about the size of a tennis ball)

3 cloves garlic, minced

Extra virgin olive oil

12 saltine crackers, crumbled

1/4 cup whole milk

1 lb. lean ground beef (90/10)

1/2 lb. seasoned pork sausage* (we used a bulk breakfast type)

2 large eggs

2 tsp. Dijon mustard

2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1/2 tsp. dried thyme

1 Tbsp. dried parsley flakes (or 1/3 cup fresh chopped, if you have it)

Kosher salt and black pepper


For the glaze

1/2 cup organic ketchup

3 Tbsp. packed brown sugar

2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar

Several shakes hot sauce (to taste)


Instructions

Chef Larry’s recipe included instructions for preparing a charcoal grill, but we did ours on the gas grill so our setup was simple. Here’s a quick visual run-through of our adventure, with detailed steps below:


  1. Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Swirl in olive oil and sauté onions until softened. Add garlic and sauté several more minutes until the onions are tender and translucent. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a large bowl.
  2. In a food processor, combine the cracker crumbs and milk, and process into a paste.
  3. Add the ground meats to the processor bowl and pulse until combined. This goes against my usual rule of “don’t overwork the meat,” and it reminds me of the technique I used a few months ago with the gyros at home recipe. Processing helps make the meat a cohesive mass and this will help it hold its shape on the grill. Transfer the meat mixture to the bowl, along with all remaining meatloaf ingredients and mix with your hands until it’s evenly blended.
  4. Shape meat mixture into a rectangular loaf shape, about 9 by 5 inches. Mixture should be tight and compact so it will keep its shape. The meatloaf may be covered and refrigerated at this point if you wish to work ahead. Otherwise, proceed to step 5.
  5. If you’re using a gas grill, preheat it to 400° F. Turn off the burners under the meatloaf side, but keep them going on the other side. If you have a suitable heat-safe rack, use it inside the foil pan. Otherwise, place the loaf on a pile of scattered thick-sliced onion rings inside the foil pan to aid in draining the grease. For charcoal grill, prepare the grill for indirect cooking, and heat the coals until they are glowing like the metal on the edge of a knife (about 400° F). Place the foil drip pan below the top grill grate, next to the coals. Lay the meatloaf on a double thickness of heavy aluminum foil on the rack above the foil pan, and carefully press on the aluminum foil in several places between grates to create “drip channels” for excess grease.
  6. Grill with cover closed for about 45 minutes.
  7. Combine the glaze ingredients in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and mixture is slightly thickened.
  8. Check meatloaf at 45 minutes. If it has formed a crust (oh, how beautiful is that??), brush a layer of glaze over the loaf and cook 10 more minutes. Repeat glazing two more times, then remove meatloaf from the grill and let it rest a few minutes on a cutting board.
  9. Here comes the fun part. You noticed the name of this recipe is “twice-grilled,” right? Cut the meatloaf into thick slices and put them back on the grill, this time directly over the heat until they develop grill marks. Move them to the indirect side, glaze them again, and cook until the glaze is to your liking. Ain’t no doubt about it, we are doubly blessed.
Yes, dear meatloaf, I swear I will love you ’til the end of time.

All my worries and “what-ifs” were put to bed with this easy recipe. The meatloaf had a terrific moist texture, the grilled-in glaze flavor was out of this world, and the whole thing was on the table in the same amount of time as if I’d baked it in the oven. It was delicious, didn’t heat up the house, and you can bet I’ll do it again—next time with a flavor twist!

Comfort food perfection.

We served our twice-grilled meatloaf with these Easy-Cheesy Grilled Scalloped Potatoes. Go get that recipe, too, and start cooking up some comfort in your own back yard.


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Elote Macaroni Salad

You don’t have to visit Mexico to experience the delicious combination of flavors in elote, the beloved Mexican street food staple that is roasted fresh corn on the cob, seasoned with spices, lime and grated cheese. Here’s a pasta side salad that captures the essence of this simple street food. It’s sweet, spicy, savory, smoky and perfectly delicious next to the saucy ribs Les pulled off the grill.

Easy to put together, and mixing up south-of-the-border flavor with a timeless classic American comfort food, the macaroni salad.

I’m loving this!


Ingredients

12 oz. pkg. casarecce pasta* (see notes)

2 ears freshly grilled corn*

1/2 cup red onion, chopped

1 average-size jalapeno, seeded and diced

3 scallions, trimmed and grilled

Handful fresh cilantro, rough chopped for serving

Crumbled feta or parmesan cheese for serving

Additional slices fresh jalapeno (optional, for garnish)

1 small ripe avocado, cut into cubes


Dressing Ingredients

1/4 cup canola mayo

1/2 cup light sour cream

Juice of 1/2 lime

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (or avocado oil)

3/4 tsp. ground chipotle

1/2 tsp. cumin

1/2 tsp. sweet smoked paprika

Freshly cracked black pepper


*Notes

Casarecce pasta is a long, shaped noodle that looks like a rolled-up rectangle. I like it here because it has a firm, toothy texture that anchors all the other ingredients, which are cut into smaller pieces. Any substantial-sized pasta with texture will work in its place though, including penne, rotini or farfalle (bow ties).

Grilling fresh corn is one of the simplest pleasures. We strip the husk and silk, then smear with softened butter, salt and pepper. Wrap them up in foil and grill on direct 300-350 F heat for about 35 minutes. If you prefer, you could also pick up some frozen roasted corn and thaw before using. You will need about 1 1/2 cups.


Instructions

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Cut kernels from corn and prep all other vegetables while pasta is cooking.
  2. Combine dressing ingredients in a small bowl or glass measuring cup, whisk or stir until smooth. If dressing seems very thick, add another tablespoon of olive oil and another squeeze of lime.
  3. Drain pasta and toss to evaporate excess moisture. Add a small amount of the dressing and toss to coat. This helps to prevent the pasta sticking together. Let the pasta cool a few minutes, then add corn, jalapeno and red onion to the pasta bowl. Pour in remaining dressing and toss to combine. Chill until cold, at least one hour.
  4. To serve, top salad with chopped grilled scallions, parmesan or finely crumbled feta, avocado, jalapeno slices and cilantro.
Mexican street corn meets macaroni salad, and it rocks!

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“Leftovers” Mac & Cheese with Collards

I’m on a crusade to empty out all the random dishes of this-and-that in the refrigerator, and that usually leads to a short list of outcomes. We might end up having a “potpourri” night, where nothing really goes together but at least it’s sustenance. Or we might decide we’ve enjoyed the original dishes on their own for long enough, and we quietly turn the dishes out into the trash can, which is wasteful and leaves me feeling unresourceful. And every once in a blue moon, the random leftovers have a common thread and speak to me in a way that leads to a crazy good meal that hardly feels like leftovers at all.

Option No. 3 is on our plate this time, with leftover southern collard greens, a single leftover smoked sausage (infused with Texas Pete flavor), some crumbs of ghost pepper potato chips and too many half-used chunks of cheese in the deli drawer.

Kicked-up mac and cheese, baby. The sausage is cooked in smoke, so it has a nice firm texture, easy to cube and fry in a skillet until crispy. I’m inspired to add the collard greens because of a trip Les and I made to NYC in late 2018, and we took the subway up to Harlem for dinner at The Red Rooster, owned by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson. He has a popular dish on his menu called “mac and greens,” featuring (you guessed it) cooked collards.

We were lucky to get a table at Red Rooster during the holiday season. All of New York was bustling, and the restaurant was lively and loud and fabulous. I ordered Poppa Eddie’s Shrimp & Grits, which was like a rich and flavorful gumbo served over creamy cheese grits. Les enjoyed the Hot Honey Yardbird. Yes, it was half a chicken, and yes, he finished the whole thing. But the restaurant staff told us, by far, the most popular menu item was the mac and greens, so we ordered it as a starter to our incredible meal. It was so crazy good, and I can’t explain why it has taken me until now to create my own version of it at home.

This is another perfect example of Comfort du Jour—a classic comfort food elevated with unexpected ingredients, and, as a bonus in homage to my frugal grandmother (and role model in all things kitchen-y), this one happens to empty out a bunch of leftovers to boot. Oh, this is gonna be fun!

I haven’t made mac and cheese since my first blog post back in April, so it’s definitely time. If you missed that post, you can check it out now, but I’ll offer a quick refresher course on making the star of the dish, which is the bechamel-based cheese sauce.

For starters, get some American cheese for the melting quality that cannot be matched with only block cheeses. The rest of the cheese is best freshly grated rather than pre-shredded in a bag. We are looking for extreme creaminess, and if you have an immersion blender, pull it out of the cabinet because that is my secret weapon for the silkiest, creamiest cheese sauce in minutes. Ready?


Ingredients

6 oz. orrechiette* (I had half of a 12 oz. box)

3 Tbsp. each butter and flour

1 3/4 cups whole milk (2% would be OK, but less rich)

5 oz. American cheese (the kind you get by the pound in the deli)

6 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded* (most of a regular block)

A few twists of freshly ground black pepper

1 cup leftover cooked collard greens, drained if resting in liquid)

1 leftover “Texas Pete” smoked sausage*

Leftover crumbs from the bottom of a bag of Ghost Pepper potato chips from Trader Joe’s (c’mon, you have this, don’t you?)

*Notes

Orrechiette is a small pasta shape, and I happened to have a half-box of it. Its name translates to “little ears” in Italian, and it can easily be swapped out for another small shape of pasta, such as elbows or rotini—essentially, you want a shape that will grab hold of your delicious cheese sauce. I’ve noticed that the popular pasta shapes have been in scarce supply, which makes this a fun time to try new ones!

I had cheddar in abundance in my deli drawer, but of course any cheese that melts well would work. Most of the time, I gather up all the scraps and bits and throw them in—it’s why my mac and cheese is hardly ever the same twice.

The smoked sausage was a lone straggler from a meal Les had grilled up a few nights before. Smoked sausage has a really firm texture (think kielbasa), and this one in particular was seasoned before smoking with Texas Pete sauce.


Here’s a visual run-through for you. Because it was leftovers, it made enough to feed the two of us for dinner, with a bonus portion of mac and greens without the sausage.


Instructions

  1. Melt butter, cook flour until bubbly, add milk and whisk until smooth. Melt American cheese into the sauce and whisk until smooth. Add grated cheddar, whisk until smooth.
  2. Use immersion blender to emulsify cheese into an ultra-smooth mixture. Season with smoked black pepper.
  3. Cut smoked sausage into bite sized pieces, cook in small hot skillet to crisp up the edges of the sausage.
  4. Cook pasta to “early al dente” stage. It will soften further in the oven with the cheese sauce. Add finished pasta to cheese sauce, add cooked collard greens and stir until evenly combined.
  5. Layer mac & cheese in ramekins with the crispy sausage bits, top with crushed potato chip crumbs. Bake at 350° F for 30 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and top is lightly browned with crisp edges.

I made ours in individual serving ramekins, and put the rest in a small casserole we can use for lunch sides later in the week.

Does this really even need words?

From the oven, the mac and cheese is hearty and satisfying, with an ultra-creamy sauce and occasional bites of crispy smoked sausage. And the savory collards add another level of flavor, not to mention the nutritional value they bring to the table.

It’s creamy, but still has so much interesting texture, thanks to the sausage, collards and spicy potato chip crumbs. If I hadn’t made it myself, nobody would convince me it was made from leftovers.

Now, if I could only plan ahead to come up with these exact leftovers, because I sure would like to make this dish again. Of course, who knows what will be taking up space in the fridge next week.

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Just Collards.

As much as I love vegetables and know that dark, leafy greens are incredibly rich in nutrients, I’d actually been mystified and intimidated by collards for decades. They seemed foreign to me, even off-limits to a degree because of their cultural origin. So I kept to myself and didn’t bother with them until one day two years ago, when I worked up enough gumption to put a fresh bunch of collards into my cart at Food Lion. At checkout, I humbly confessed that I was nervous because I’d never cooked them before. From behind me in the line a friendly Black woman spoke up: “What are you planning to do with them?” I shrugged and said I figured I’d be boiling them or maybe putting them in the slow cooker because I assumed they took a very long time to cook.

She quickly gave me an alternative. —

“No, honey, fry them!” And right there at register 3, she gave me a crash course in her way of making collards, the food that so many take for granted is a native “southern thing,” though food historians say they came to this country for the first time in the 1600s—from Africa. And in Africa, cooks have learned from their grandmothers for generations that frying collards in oil, then simmering them is the best cooking method.

Ever since, I’ve prepared them precisely as she instructed, because it wasn’t just a recipe that kind woman shared with me that day—it was part of her culture, her tradition, her story, her life. She was happy to share it with me, and I’m honored to share it with you.

These have a terrific flavor and have become a staple in our meal rotation. I don’t know why I wasted so much time feeling intimidated by this simple food. After all, as the woman told me—”they’re just collards.”

The humble collard, in all its beautiful green glory.

Ingredients

2 slices bacon, cut into one-inch pieces

1 medium onion, chopped

Cooking oil (I use extra virgin olive oil)

2 lbs. fresh collard greens, cleaned and chopped

A few shakes crushed red pepper

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1 cup water or broth (I used vegetable broth)


Instructions

If you’re a visual learner like me, you won’t need to read the instructions below. That’s how easy it is.


  1. In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, cook bacon pieces and chopped onions together until the fat renders and bacon begins to crisp. Sprinkle with crushed red pepper and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Add collard greens, a few handfuls at a time, and stir them around so they soften and wilt. When there’s room in the pan for more, add more. Add cooking oil to the middle of the pan as needed for cooking the remaining collards.
  3. When all the greens are wilted, move them to the outside edges of the pan. Pour vinegar into the center of the pan, and stir with a wooden utensil to de-glaze any burned bits from the bottom of the pan.
  4. Add water or broth and reduce heat to low, then cover and simmer the greens for about an hour until tender.
Collards are packed with nutrients and antioxidants.
They are considered by nutrition experts to be a “superfood.”

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