Break Your Resolutions Pancakes

I can’t stand it. How can the party be over ALREADY? Didn’t the vacation just start? A large part of me wants to spend 2016 as Christmas Break me: a lot of cooking and baking, little working out, and no worries about getting kids to school, making school lunches, or the afternoon activity shuttle. I can get behind a year of nothing but pajamas.

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For those who are with me on this, I give you the best pancakes ever. Don’t start your resolutions yet. You need to try these fist.

Ricottapancakes

These are extra fluffy, setting up nice and high with the help of ricotta cheese and whipped egg whites. The base recipe lends itself well to additions of fruit and berries. Into the batch I made over the weekend I added thinly sliced applies, laying them over the batter after I scooped them onto the griddle. This recipe makes enough to feed 4 people who love pancakes. Double it if you like leftovers (I think these taste great cold the next day), or if you have anyone in the house like Alexa, who seems to have an extra pancake compartment in her stomach.

RICOTTA PANCAKES

Ingredients

2 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cup milk
2 1/2 oz. melted butter
1/2 tsp. vanilla
4 egg whites

Directions

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and nutmeg. Add sugar and stir together.

Whisk together the egg yolks, ricotta cheese, milk, melted butter and vanilla.

Fold the egg yolk mixture gently into the dry ingredients. ***The key to delicate pancakes is in this step. When you mix wet ingredients into flour, it works the gluten in the flour and develops its elasticity. This is desirable in bread making, which is why you knead bread dough so much. Elasticity in pancakes, however, is less appealing, so you want to work the flour as little as possible. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, then pour the egg yolk mixture into the center of the well. Using a rubber spatula, run the spatula around the edge and bottom of 1/4 of the bowl, folding the spatula over the top of the mixture, which pulls the dry ingredients through the wet. Continue this around the bowl. Only fold until the flour is barely incorporated into the wet ingredients. You want to have lumps, otherwise the flour will start to get over-mixed, resulting in tough pancakes.

With a stand mixer, hand mixer, or with a large whisk, whip the egg whites until they reach soft peak.

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Carefully scoop the whites onto the pancake batter and gently fold just until it is incorporated in. Folding more than that will not only keep working the gluten in the flour, but will deflate the air you just whipped into the whites.

Preheat a skillet or griddle, then scoop batter (I use an ice cream scoop – it keeps things pretty neat) onto the griddle, cook and enjoy!

“Healthy” energy bar treats

Let’s face it: “healthy” is a relative term. The Cheez-Its I love to eat don’t seem so bad since they’re not Twinkies. Twinkies aren’t as bad if they’re not deep-fried. I mean, life has got to be about more than just kale and quinoa.

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See where I’m going here? I’m about to make you feel good about eating marshmallows.

Rice Krispie treats aren’t so bad if they look like this.

Granolabars

This is a fast, easy, “healthy” snack that’s not super sweet. They’re packed with protein and fiber (and marshmallows) and my kids love them. I make a big batch, cut them and keep them in the freezer. This recipe makes one 9″ x 13″ pan.

Ingredients

2 cups Rice Krispies
4 cups rolled oats
1 cup diced dried fruit
1 cup peanuts, roasted and unsalted
1 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. peanut butter
10 oz. marshmallows

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Directions

Stir together dry ingredients.

Baringredients

In a large stock pot (large enough to hold and mix all of the ingredients), melt together butter, peanut butter and marshmallows.

Add dry ingredients to marshmallow mixture and stir together with a wooden spoon.

Line a 9″ x 13″ pan with parchment paper. Spray with nonstick cooking spray. Press mixture into pan.

Cool, cut and enjoy!

Summertime Blueberry Hand Pies

Tartlettes

There’s something magical about picking berries on a summer day with your children. Our first outing was a little less productive…

Colinberry

… but nine years later we’re like a well-oiled machine. Mike and I aren’t the only ones with a competitive streak. This year the 8-year-old was determined to outpick her older brother. Which she did.

Blueberries

The next problem, of course, is what to do with all of those berries. We decided on pie, blueberry being my favorite type. I had some leftover pie dough in the freezer, though not enough to make a full pie. I had a kid who was eager to help, and figured I’d lose some of that momentum stopping to make another batch of dough. So we went with hand pies. They are a little more work than full size, but the finished product is quite cute and would be great for a party. And isn’t everything more fun when eaten by hand? The following recipe makes 10-12 mini pies, and should also work if made into a 9″ pie.

For the dough (recipe based on a Julia Child recipe, hat tip to Metro Market Catering for introducing it to me):

Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
8 oz. unsalted butter, cold
1/4 cup cold water

Directions
Sift together flour, sugar and salt.
Cube cold butter.

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Using a food processor (ideally), stand mixer, or by hand, “cut” butter into dry ingredients. The cut-in butter method is the same technique you would use to make any short dough: pie dough, biscuits, scones, etc. The idea is to incorporate the butter into the flour with as little mixing as possible. Overmixing the dough, even at this stage, works the protein in the gluten, making it more elastic and creating a tougher, more chewy final product. If you are using a food processor, pulse until the butter pieces are the size of dry lentils. If you are using a stand mixer, mix on the lowest speed until butter pieces are the size of dry lentils. If you are mixing by hand, rub the butter into the flour until the butter is the size of peas (I leave the butter a little bigger in this case since it is warmer from your hands).

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Add cold water and mix just to incorporate the water throughout the mixture. The dough will still be crumbly. At this point, turn the mixture onto a cutting board or counter. Using the palm of your hand, smash handful-sized portions of the mixture into the cutting board to turn the crumbs into a dough.

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Gather dough into a disk and chill in the refrigerator at least 30 minutes. This allows the gluten to relax, and prevents the dough from shrinking as you roll it out.

For the blueberries (recipe taken from Allrecipes, find the original here):

4 cups fresh blueberries
3/4 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Combine sugar, cornstarch, salt and cinnamon, and toss together with blueberries.

At this point you can assemble a 9″ pie, or use a standard muffin pan to make minis.

For the hand pies (this recipe makes 10-12 mini pies):

Roll the dough to 1/8″ (or less) thickness. This is thinner than you would roll the crust for a regular pie, because you want a good crust-to-filling ratio. Since muffin cups vary in size and depth, you want to find a circular cutter (or template) that is 1-2″ larger than the diameter of the muffin cup. Spray muffin cups with nonstick coating. Cut rounds out of the dough, then press them into the muffin cup, leaving a bit extra over the edges.

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Fill cups with blueberry mixture.

Filledshells

Then roll and cut strips of dough to make the lattice top. Wet the edges of overhang with a little water, which will make the lattice stick, then arrange the lattice strips to your liking. This is a great job for a kid, if you can overcome your OCD enough to let it happen (I can only do this some of the time). Press them into the bottom dough to seal, and trim around the edges. Chill in the refrigerator 30 minutes. This allows the gluten in the dough to relax again, to keep it from shrinking as it bakes. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Latticeshells

Bake in a 425 degree oven until crust is golden. Cool until they’re easy to handle, then unmold by carefully twisting to loosen, or running a knife along the edge.

Bananas for Yonanas

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Do you like frozen treats and immediate gratification? Have I got the product for you.

We ordered this little number a couple of weeks ago, just in time for the stretch of 90+ degree days that hit our region. It is a replacement for the 15-year-old Krups ice cream maker that I rendered useless last year when, in a fit of cleaning, I threw out a small, but crucial, piece of the machine.  I had always had issues with the amount of planning needed to make a batch of ice cream in it anyway. Freezing the bowl for a full day really takes the fun out of eating ice cream. I mean, when you want ice cream, you want it NOW. Not 24 hours from now. 

Since I’m unwilling to shell out $500 for a compressor-based machine (though they do appear to be on sale for $272 on Amazon right now), which would eliminate the need to freeze the bowl, I looked into other options. And came up with the VonShef. For Amazon’s sale price of $29.95, I was willing to take a flier. 

It’s more blender than ice cream spinner, and if you are really hankering for true ice cream goodness, this is not your answer. But if you have kids like mine who are more interested in the frozen, sweet, and immediate aspects of their summertime dessert, or want a healthier, guilt-free alternative, then I can’t think of anything better.

The way it works is this: freeze pieces of fruit. (OK, yes, this DOES require some planning ahead, but once you start, you can keep a stockpile of it in the freezer.) Note: bananas work well and give the end product a nice creamy texture, but be sure to peel them before freezing.

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Then feed the fruit through the chute.

And voilĂ . Dessert! The instructions call for frozen fruit, but I also experimented with frozen yogurt, chocolate chips, and caramel sauce and they made it through the machine without much trouble. My very complicated frozen yogurt recipe:

Take plain yogurt, whisk in sugar to taste, then freeze in ice cube tray

One of the best things about this is that the kids can make their own dessert. And it’s even healthy. And both of those things go a long way in this house. Other reviewers complain about the noise of the machine. Which isn’t nothing, but compared to the typical racket around here, is not so remarkable. The last (and possibly very best) thing about this machine is the clean up.

It breaks down easily into four large pieces, none of which could be mistaken for a piece of a kid’s toy and thrown away. Ahem.