Sunday, January 27, 2019

Vegan Chocolate Cake

The middle tier of my wedding cake was THIS chocolate cake recipe, modified to have a lovely orange flavor as well!
Hello, hello! It's Sunday, the 27th of January, which means that it's National Chocolate Cake Day. January 27th is also International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Since I just learned that apparently one third of all Americans don't believe it actually happened, it feels irresponsible to not at least give it a mention. In honor of that, I'm showing you my favorite chocolate cake recipe that's vegan and pareve. What's that? Well...

When you keep kosher, you have to eat in a very certain way. I'm not talking about the actual act of eating, but how you consume and prepare food and how you feed your family. Some agree that kosher eating may have been a first sort of 'health code' for the early world. Pigs, for example, which are considered unclean used to be more likely to carry disease. One of the big things, of course, is to not share meat and milk at the same table. This means if you have a steak, which you can have, you can't have cream or milk or cheese or butter with it. If you have french toast for breakfast, you can't eat even turkey sausage with it or later. You can't have it with the same meal, but you can have it later in the day. Of course, there's a lot of debate on how long you must wait, but you get the idea.

Now! Pareve is the sort of neutral zone of food. These foods are neither meat nor dairy and can be consumed with either one. These include, eggs, grains, vegetables, etc., and part of that etc. can include - if you do it right - chocolate cake. It's very easy to make a cake without dairy. Dairy provides fat and some lactic acid - if you replace that in the right way you end up with a wonderful-tasting result. The fat makes cakes tender, and the acid cuts glutens to keep it from getting stodgy and gross. The mixing method is, of course, just as important as the recipe.

This recipe is my absolute favorite, and it's the chocolate cake that I made for my wedding (as you see above)! It's wonderfully versatile, so feel free to use it as you see fit and got nuts with it. Heck, ADD nuts to it! It's your cake, do you.

 You'll notice that this particular recipe is in cups, not grams. This is just because I've made this cake too many times by volume and haven't ever done it by weight, so I haven't really measured it out in the way that you'd likely need to do it. If it bugs you too much, comment below and I'll do my best to convert them to grams in a timely manner.

I've used this particular recipe, which I've modified from MAC (Man About Cake's recipe) to fit some things. I just love this one because it's excellent for decorating and absolutely the most-versatile cake recipe I've ever come across. I'll put in ** my favorite variations!

B's Favorite Chocolate Cake
yields 2 9" cakes, perfect for stacking, or one large sheet cake
  • 2 c cane sugar
  • 2.5 c AP flour
  • 3/4 c dark cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 c soy milk
  • 1/2 c strong coffee, left over from the pot that morning is fine(**if you're making a chocolate orange cake, you may substitute orange juice instead of coffee! If you're wanting something a little sexier and more decadent, substitute for a good red wine like a pinot noir or a cabernet sauvignon, but nothing too sweet like a shiraz. You can also substitute this liquid for a strong mint tea if you'd like to make a chocolate mint cake!)
  • 1/2 c tofu sour cream
  • 1 Tbsp white vinegar
  • 3/4 c canola oil
  • 2 tsp good vanilla
  • **You can add chopped dried cherries that have been reconstituted in wine for a chocolate cherry cake
  • **You can add orange zest if you're making a chocolate orange cake, in addition to the orange juice substitute
  • **You can add miniature chocolate chips, but please make sure to toss them lightly in flour in the beginning so they can be suspended throughout the cake instead of all sinking to the bottom
There are two ways you can prepare this, one is faster than the other, but it's all going to depend on what kind of equipment you have available to you. Either way,  you'll choose your pans, lightly grease them and then dust the inside with cocoa powder, especially on the corners, to make sure you get it all out nicely, but to also make sure that the cake can climb the sides with ease. Don't grease and then not flour this. Trust me. 

Oh, and preheat your oven to 375.

Method One:

Take your sugar, baking soda, flour, cocoa powder, and salt and process it in the bowl of a food processor. You're pulsing it together just to get it to be fine and fully incorporated. In a large pitcher, combine your soy milk, the liquid of your choice, sour cream, oil, the extract/flavoring of choice, vinegar, and whisk it together to create one homogenous mixture. 

Add about a third of the liquid mixture to your food processor, and pulse for 2 or 3 seconds each, five or six times. Add another third, and repeat. With the final third, make sure you scrape the inside and bottom of the bowl before you do anything else. Pulse a few times to get it integrated, but then mix for about 10 seconds. Your batter is now ready! It should be shiny and smooth and beautiful.

Method Two

Take all of your dry ingredients into a very large bowl and stir with a whisk. Mix all liquids together as per the previous method, except for the oil. Pour the oil in to the dry mix in a thin stream, tossing it around to make it sort of a crumbly texture. Add in the rest of the ingredients by the third, stirring in a well in the middle slowly, no more than five or six turns on each addition, and stirring until well combined. Try not to slosh everything, but be sure to scrape the bottom and sides. The batter might be a hair lumpy, but that's okay, so long as everything is generally homogeneous. You're looking for uniformity, but honestly don't worry too much about over-mixing as you've got some acid to play with, considering the vinegar and your liquid of choice - be it coffee, wine, or orange juice - all have acid in them. Acid cuts glutens, so you're definitely helping yourself out. 

Pour into your prepared pans of choice.  You can use either round cake tins or a sheet pan. Whichever you've chosen, be sure to pop your cakes in to the center rack and then turn the oven down to 350. You wanted it at 375 because you wanted the oven nice and hot before you started. You may have noticed that you're using baking soda, which reacts quickly. You'll want to really let these bubbles form as quick as you can, but not burn everything.

Check your cakes at 25 minutes. It should be fully set in the middle and have pulled gently away from the sides. If it's not quite there yet, cook in 5 minute increments. Obviously, the pan you've chosen will determine the amount of cooking time, so just stay nearby. 

Evacuate your cake and allow to cool completely before handling. This is a very moist cake with a nice crumb, and should be treated as such. My favorite part about this cake is that it freezes  beautifully. Believe it or not, the freezer is the pastry chef's best friend, next to the oven. 

Once you've decided on a design, you can really let your imagination run wild.

You can make a buttercream using butter flavoring and vegetable shortening, you can make a ganache using 2:1 ratio of coconut cream to good chocolate...it's really all up to you! Earth Balance makes my favorite substitutes for butter, and Daiya makes my favorite cream cheese substitute, so you can make a cream cheese frosting. You can also make a vegan mirror glaze recipe using agar agar instead of gelatin!



You can decorate with candied flowers and mint leaves. You can even do something as simple as layering your cake with jam between each layer and dusting it with cocoa powder. Do with this recipe what you will. And remember that the Holocaust happened. 



I hope you've enjoyed this recipe! I hope you get out there and share this with friends; it's unhealthy to eat alone. 

Happy cooking and happy eating!

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Chickpea Fritters

Fun fact: My husband built our dining room table! 
In my journey of cooking, I've found that going back to my roots has been one of the most rewarding explorations I could have gone on. I find that when you look back it can detract from the now, but looking into history one can really learn a lot about cooking, about life, and about how you came to be. The best part, for me, is feeling the souls of my ancestors with me as I learn more about the things they may have eaten and even the things they would try today.

I am descended from Russian/Lithuanian/Belarusian Jews and from the indigenous peoples of the Philippines.  The one thing they have in common is DEEP FRY EVERYTHING. I'm a big fan of deep-frying stuff, so it's no real surprise that Hanukkah is one of my favorite holidays. The winter months are both harsh and confusing here in Midwestern Kansas City so I'm not 100% ready to let go of my deep-frying oil...so I may as well deep fry something relatively healthy.

Enter the Chickpea.

Related image
Don't be fooled - she's versatile!
Chickpeas, or garbanzo beans, have a low glycemic index. They have a nice amount of fiber and are surprisingly nutrient-dense. They're ideal if you're trying to maintain a vegetarian diet or if you're just trying to shed a few pounds. There's even some evidence that they may help prevent certain chronic illnesses, such as heart disease. Honestly, I could go on and on about chickpeas. These are so filling and a much healthier alternative to potatoes, and I daresay they can be just as versatile.

Chickpeas, or garbanzo beans, are mostly found in India, Africa, and even South America. You can grind it into flour or cook it into hummus or falafel. You'll find these in South Asian cuisines and Middle Eastern cuisines.You'll also see these a lot if you decide to go vegetarian or vegan. There's even a Turkish drink called Boza, made of fermented bulgur, but often topped with cinnamon-tossed chickpeas. The point is that this annual plant is incredibly important to many cultures, and you shouldn't let it pass you by.

Chickpea Fritters
yields 12 fritters (if you don't eat the batter)

  • 2 cups dried chickpeas
  • 2 tsp baking soda, divided
  • 1/4 c finely minced onion
  • 1 egg
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
  • 1/4 c tahini
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried mint
  • 1 tsp sumac
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
I love to start with dried chickpeas and soak it overnight before I cook them. These take quite a bit of time, and really are a labor of love. I suggest you start these overnight, or at least the morning before you go to work. Cover them with more water than you think you need, trust me. Add your baking soda and let soak for 6-8 hours, but ideally overnight. Why baking soda? Well...

Baking soda has, by itself, a score of 9 on the pH scale, which makes it ever-so-slightly basic. It's not your friend Jessica that bakes the gluten-free cookie recipe she found from Pinterest and insists on you two going to get PSLs and has you take her photos for the 'gram... It's more like my level of basic, in which I really love fall but I refuse to watch "Love Actually" and won't be caught dead in UGs. The point is that it's just basic enough to get that hard chickpea broken down enough to give you the creamiest, dreamiest, most-custardy cooked bean you'll ever consume. 

Once you've gotten your chickpeas all soaked and you come home from work, drain your beans, rinse, and add to a heavy-bottomed pot with another teaspoon of baking soda, and cover entirely with water, having at least two inches of water over the surface. Bring it up to a boil, stir once or twice, and then reduce to a simmer. Cover your pot but leave the lid ajar and allow to cook for about an hour, or until the chickpeas are incredibly tender. Once it's all done, I like to toss in a little sesame oil, just to coat, and then season with salt. 

You can either cover them and pop them in the fridge for later use, orjust use them straight away...just be sure to drain them first, and taste them to make sure they're done! And have a handful for yourself, you've earned it. And,  yes, of course, you can use the canned kind if you want to. Just please drain well and rinse them off. 

"you tryna smash?" "don't make this weird"
In a large bowl, use a fork or potato masher to smash up all of your chickpeas to where it's a creamy mixture. It doesn't have to be smooth, but it can be if you like it. You can also use the paddle attachment of your standing mixer, or even a mortar and pestle and do it in batches! Either way, it's up to you. 

Add in all remaining ingredients and mix rather well. Taste for seasoning and correct as necessary. It shouldn't be overpowering, but you should know that your seasoning is apparent. Scoop them into mounds on a tray line with parchment or a silicon mat and then chill in the fridge. You may coat them with flour, if you like, at this point, but it's entirely up to you. I did not coat them with flour, even though - by definition - a fritter must be at least 35% breading. You can, of course, batter this if you like...but I do not like. I like them the way they are.

Keep in mind, you can make these smaller or larger!
Head up about an inch's worth of a nice neutral oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. You're looking for 350 degrees F. You can check this without a thermometer by taking a sprig of herb or a leaf of a scallion and gently dropping it in. You are looking for a sprig that sputters and dances around the pot, like a someone wearing a very poofy dress that's twirling around a ballroom. This is how I was taught by an old sushi chef to see if your oil was hot enough for tempura, back when I was a young apprentice. 

I like to do these two or three at a time, but you may do it one at a time if you're a little more comfortable with that. If you're nervous about the stuff sticking to the bottom of the pan, get out a bowl of flour and give each of the balls a tiny roll in and a good pat of flour before frying. I use a fork to allow each fritter to ease gently into the hot oil, and then use it to press it down to a flatter shape, much like you'd do with a latke. Cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes, in the boiling fat before flipping over to cook for another minute. You don't need to cook these much longer than that, but you do need to have a sheet pan lined with a rack on the inside of a warm oven to keep these hot while you fry by the batch. 
A 200 degree oven will keep these warm!
These fritters are fabulous snacks. You can serve them with sour cream. You can add finely chopped vegetables and more herbs to make a full meal. You can have them with a salad of herbs and garden greens. You can serve with a roasted chicken. The fritters can be served either hot or cold, but I think that room temperature is the best. You can use it as a party snack or serve with dinner. Use them to make a vegetarian sandwich with a fried egg and some tofu sausage and some cheeze. Heck, make them thin, spread them with goat cheese and figs and put them on your Seder table for your Tu B'Shevat celebration tomorrow! This is an excellent accompaniment to any dinner, especially a vegetarian one, as chickpeas are high in protein. 

Or, you know, be like me and serve it with a roasted chicken. Whatever you like!



I hope you've enjoyed this! Happy cooking and happy eating! 

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Personal Apple Streusels


They're not technically pies, since they don't have a crust, but I won't tell if you won't. 
I'm a big fan of eating seasonally. Apple season starts in the fall, and extends into early winter. Apples don't do well when frozen on the tree, and most apple trees here in North America are prolific and will give more than enough to you should you have one of your own. Be warned, though, they are prolific to the point of problematic.

One of my husband's favorite arguments against me planting an apple tree in our garden is the childhood memory of the two apple trees he had from age 9 to 19 in a little house in Columbia. You need to have two apple trees if you have one at all, as they tend to cross pollinate with the wind. He, his brother, and sister all would be put to work during apple harvest season to peel and make apple butter, apple sauce, etc., by their mother. If they did not, the fruit would fall off, rot, and ferment. If the fruit would ferment, they would have stray animals in their yard that would essentially get krunk on these fermented fruits. Squirrels, he tells me, were the funniest, but they were never funny enough to justify the presence of the drunken hornets.

Years later, I asked him why they couldn't just pick all the apples at once and keep the ones you didn't want to process in the cellar, he said that it was too much trouble. When I asked what he meant, he told me that if apples touch each other or are stacked on top of one another, they'll go rotten. Upon further research, I find that this is true. Apples are not social fruits, so it's best to wrap them each individually in paper and store them in a cool and dry place. I read once that folks would store apples tightly in barrels and even sink them in lakes under the ice, only to retrieve them later. (I have no idea if this is true, some guy told me while I stopped for gas while driving through Ozark country. Nice guy.) There's a ton of folk knowledge for how to store apples for long periods of time, but most of us in the cities don't need to worry about that. That being said, if you buy in bulk, it's good to know that you're able to store fruit in your basement or garage, properly stored, for long periods of time.

I consider apples a winter fruit because they keep so well in the winter months. Most dried fruits are obviously considered a 'winter' fruit, but many of my 'seasonal cookbooks' use squash or apples in their baked goods because of factors like this. Squash, apples, carrots, and other root vegetables keep well in root cellars, so therefore they're ideal for the winter. I live in the Northern Hemisphere, which means that it's currently winter.

This is my 150 year old silver maple! This photo has not been edited at all. 

We got a big snow over the weekend of a 9"-12" accumulation, and we're expecting another big snow next week as well. When things snow, all I want to do is bake. I don't know if it's some kind of deep psychological reasoning that makes me associate snowfall with "MUST BAKE NOW"or if I just want my house to be warm from the oven, but when the snow falls, my oven goes on.

My husband loves apple pie, but since I didn't have enough apples for a whole pie, I did this version. I hope you like it!

Personal Apple Streusels 
yields two

  • Two apples of your favorite variety, the firmer the better. I had Sugar Bee apples, but you can check out info on varieties here
  • 3 Tbsp local honey
  • 2 tsp coconut sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon 
  • 1 pinch kosher salt
  • 1/2 c flour
  • 1/4 c oats
  • 1/4 c coconut sugar
  • 4 Tbsp (2 oz) lard or vegan butter (or dairy butter, whatever you like/have)
  • **chopped walnuts or dried fruit, as needed
Heat your oven to 350 degrees F. The flour, oats, sugar, and fat are your streusel elements. All you do is mix these items together with a spoon, pressing the fat into the dry ingredients until it's sort of crumbly. Keep this in the fridge while you work with your other stuff. 

Do you like my argyle socks? 
Slice off the top of your apple. Using a spoon or apple corer, dig out the insides and discard the tough core and seeds. Keep the rest of the insides and put it in a separate bowl along with the sugar, honey, spices, and salt. You can core out as much as you like, but I think that it's safest to leave at least 1/2" of apple in around the skin. The point is that you're tossing the insides of this apple in your sugar/filling mixture. If you like, you can add raisins, dried cranberries, or dried currants. You can also add any kind of chopped nut that you like to either the filling or the topping. My favorite nuts with apples is the noble black walnut. Either way, please taste as you go to make sure that this is the amount of sweetness that you want. If so, add more sugar! If you'd like it a little spicier, feel free to mix it up. When you're happy with the flavor profile you've created, fill your apples back up with the nice filling you've made and top it with your cold streusel topping. Please be generous! 

I had a little spillover, but that's fine. I snacked on it when it came out of the oven. 

Mine baked for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees, but you check yours at 30 to make sure that the apples are soft and the filling is bubbling. You always want to make sure that your apple pies (be they personal or a large one) are bubbling, as that's when you know the pectin will be activated and that the internal temperature is at least 212 degrees. 

Remove from the oven and drizzle with a little more honey. You can serve this with a sour cream sauce, some vanilla nice cream (vegan ice cream) or some whipped cream. I like to eat this warm, but there's no reason you can't make a lot of these ahead of time and serve them to a large party. They're quite impressive yet nonthreatening on a plate. Something like this would be perfect for a small dinner party, and the cleanup would be a snap. After all, the dessert is self-containing. 



Thanks so much for reading! If you try this, please comment below and tell me how my recipe went for you. This is an awesomely quick dessert that's so easy and delicious. It encompasses the flavors of apple pie without having to do a big amount of dough. Let me know what you think. Happy cooking and happy eating!

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Vegan Macaroni and Cheese



In addition to pancakes, I'm addicted to two other things: steak, and macaroni and cheese. My @Instagram is full of all three of those things!




A post shared by Chef Kolika (@wannabgourmande) on

Sorry, vegans - I'm not ACTUALLY one of you, but I do have a severely lactose intolerant husband and I'm both east Asian and Jewish so I really shouldn't be eating much dairy anyhow. It's really easy to cut dairy out of your home cooking entirely, and because of my husband's dietary restrictions I don't even have any in the house. No milk, no cheese, no butter, no sour cream. Because of this, any vegetarian meal at home that we consume is automatically vegan.

Just so everyone is clear: Vegan = no animal products.

Many folks go on to make this synonymous with no animal suffering. I disagree with that, as the ideology - although I'm sure is well-intended - does have some issues. Honey, for example, is considered to be not vegan. Here's the thing, though - harvesting honey from bees doesn't harm them at all, and any beekeeper will tell you that. Furthermore, if you buy local honey it'll help you immensely with your seasonal allergies. Not to mention all the jobs you'll help create by buying honey from your local beekeepers, but more beekeepers often means more bees.

#LifeHack: 

  • If you ever find a wild hive that's come on your property, call your local apiary instead of an exterminator. Eight out of ten, they'll come and harvest that hive for you, free of charge, and will not kill the bees! The other two times, they'll give you the resources and phone numbers you need to call to get those bees off your property without harming the bees.


 What is harmful is all of the agave we're consuming. Agave is a plant that grows in Mexico, and the amount that we're harvesting is harming bats, who depend on the nectar to survive. Bats consume a ridiculous amount of insects, including mosquitos which both carry disease and are a plague on this planet. Bats are good! Please, eat honey and skip the agave - save the bats.

As you can see, veganism is a dietary choice and not necessarily a moral compass. There are many reasons to go vegan! And here, we're going to have some vegan macaroni and cheese. It's 100% dairy-free for my lactose-intolerant people, and totally pareve for my observant Kosher Jewish followers. You know what that means? You can have this with meat!

Vegan Macaroni and Cheese
serves 8
  • 1 lb pasta, cooked in salted water for 6 minutes until a hair harder than al dente (you'll be cooking it in the oven again, so it's okay if it's under-cooked)
    • Furthermore, you don't have to only use macaroni. You can use shell pasta, strascinati, penne, fiori, you name it! I do recommend using something that's not totally long and thin, though, as you'll want something sturdy for the oven. 
  • 2 tbsp vegan butter substitute, such as Earth Balance (you can also use coconut oil)
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 3 cloves of garlic, smashed and minced
  • 1 can plain coconut cream (do not use the sweetened version, or this will taste like someone kicked you in the teeth and said "f*ck you")
  • 1/4 c tofu sour cream (Tofutti is the best)
  • 3/4 c vegan cream cheese (tofutti and daiya make my favorite kinds)
  • 2 c cheddar-style vegan cheese shreds (Follow Your Heart and Daiya make the best cheeses)
This is your base recipe for the sauce. You can add more "cheeses" if you like, or substitute the cheddar-style for mozzerella style or pepperjack style. The beautiful thing about macaroni and cheese is that it's so incredibly versatile and you can add almost anything you like to it. Here is a full list of my favorite things you can stir in to your mac when you're ready to bake:
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  • Roasted brussells sprouts
  • Caramelized onions or leeks
  • Peas, fresh or frozen
  • Roasted squash, such as acorn squash or any kind of pumpkin
  • Braised winter greens (kale, mustard greens, etc)
  • Shaved asparagus
  • Spinach, fresh or cooked
  • Fresh herbs 
    • Dill
    • Savory
    • Tarragon
    • Parsley
Have I stirred other things into mac and cheese? Things like chopped chicken, beef sausage, roasted beets or cauliflower, sun-dried tomatoes from my garden, chopped green beans and more? Absolutely! Those things up in that list, though, are my favorite things, and I encourage you to make this into a full meal by adding whatever you like. 

To make this simple dish, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a casserole dish, either one large one or two medium-sized ones. I love using this recipe because it can feed a large amount of people, but if it's just my husband and I then I will separate them into several dishes so we can cover, refrigerate, and bake off at a later date when I'm feeling a little lazy. 

Melt your butter in a thick-bottomed saucepot on a medium flame. Add in the garlic and cook for about a minute, until just barely soft and brown. Sprinkle in the flour and whisk it together until it's smooth. You'll want to lower your flame just barely until it's all sort of simmering, and cook this roux for at least five minutes. Open your can of coconut cream and add, bringing the flame up to medium-high. Bring this to a boil, whisking constantly, and then reduce to a simmer. Add in your cream cheese and stir until incorporated. Sprinkle in your cheddar-style shreds, whisking constantly, a little at a time so as not to allow clumps. You may also add your fresh herbs at this stage, but it's up to you. 

Drain your pasta and toss with a little oil, and return it to your cooking pot. Pour the hot cheese sauce over the pasta and stir to coat. It is now that you will add whichever mix-ins you like. The one in the first post at the top of the page has pumpkin, caramelized onions, and bok choi. Last month, I made one with peas and carrots. Just a few days ago, I made one with plenty of parsley and frazzled leeks. The point is: be creative!

I actually had some dairy-free cheese slices in the fridge so I thought it'd be fun to
add torn pieces of those throughout to get extra 'pockets' of cheesey goodness.

If you like a little extra crunch, you may crumble up some potato chips or crackers from your pantry and sprinkle on top, as well as some vegan parmesan shreds, extra cheese, panko bread crumbs...whatever you like! I don't always have panko bread crumbs in my pantry, but my husband is addicted to potato chips so I like to crush them up and put them on the top. 

You may bake the amount you need and put the rest of the dishes in the fridge to have at a later date. No matter what, you'll bake at 350 for 30 minutes from cold and only 20 minutes if you're baking this dish from hot. Serve hot, straight out of the casserole dish, and share this meal with a friend. While it is a wonderful thing to love one's own company, I am of the mind that it is unhealthy to eat alone. A good meal should be shared, so invite your neighbor over for food and get to know them. Or, you know, just post a picture of the mac and cheese on Facebook and see if any friends want to pop in. 

I hope you get out there and enjoy making mac and cheese. Happy cooking and happy eating!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Sunday Morning Pancakes

*heavy breathing*
Happy New Year, my little tchotchkes! So good to see you all, out there and reading and ready to go! 2018 was a crazy year for a lot of people, but it was easily the best year of my life without debate. I got married to my best friend and with that came seeing all of my family and friends that I hadn't seen in such a long time. Plus, I got to prank my husband with a giant t-rex costume on our reveal. This year was amazing, and I thank the year for all I've learned.

2019, Mrs. S will see you now. And Mrs. S is ready for this year, and all that it will bring. Do you know what we're starting our year out with in our house? The celebratory breakfast, of course! Pancakes.

Pancakes are very important in our house. And why shouldn't they be? They're easy, they're easily tailored, and incredibly cheap to make. My grandmother made awesome pancakes, and it was something that both my dad and I would like to make on holiday mornings, or lazy mornings when we had the option of taking a nap immediately after breakfast. Anybody can make a pancake! It's one of those basic things that I suppose I take for granted. Please forgive me, now, for I'm going to go on one of those annoying 'food blogger' tangents on why pancakes have such an emotional tie for me. Scroll down if you want to skip it, as the recipe title is  - as always - bolded. TL;DR - I take pancakes for granted.

Some time ago, I treated this kid to breakfast, who was from a very unstable home and was in a very unstable living situation. I couldn't do much for her, but sometimes what people need in this situation is a moment to sort of check out and get a taste of normalcy. She seemed uncomfortable in the restaurant I'd chosen, which was one of my favorites. We sat at the bar, where my friend S works, makes the drinks for the restaurant, and acts as a server for that section. The girl, who was 16, asked if they had any pizza. I thought it was unusual, but kind of cute.

"Sweetie, this is a breakfast place. They have breakfast foods here."

"I have pizza for breakfast."

"Don't you want to try something else? They have great omelettes here, or pancakes if you're feeling like something sweet."

"Do they have regular cheese?"

I didn't know what she meant by 'regular' cheese, but I learned in my non-profit work that this was code for 'something I'm used to.' I took the menu and pointed out all of the cheese options for the omelettes; gouda, gruyere, aged cheddar and more... She didn't know what any of them meant. When I said 'Parmesan' she sort of piped up and asked if it was the stuff in the can.

"Why don't you try the pancakes?" I suggested. "The chef here's great, and he makes a good pancake. They're big, though, so you should only get them if you're hungry. Are you hungry?" She nodded. S, my friend, winked at me and got her an order of pancakes while she got me my regular toast and jam with coffee. I had a big day at work and I didn't want to be slowed down by too hefty a breakfast.

S and I chatted for a little as I watched out of the corner of my eye as this half-starved girl wolfed down these pancakes.

"Do you like them?" I asked.

"Oh yeah, they're gucci." (I assumed this meant 'good' with the new kids' speak.) "They're way better than the microwaved kind."

This single, seemingly innocuous statement somehow hit me in the face very much like someone had taken a fully-grown catfish by the tail and whacked me across the cheek with it. I had heard of folks never having homemade roast turkey or homemade pasta before, but homemade pancakes??

I asked her "You don't ever do pancake breakfasts at your house? Your parents never made them?"

"They don't cook; they're too busy smoking." I didn't know what she meant, but I understood well enough. I asked if I could see her notebook; she let me, so I found a blank page and wrote down my basic pancake recipe. Not long after, the chef - who is a friend - came out to say hello.

"Chef, this kiddo just gave your pancakes the best compliment I've ever heard," I said, nodding pointedly to my new friend beside me, who had also never had fresh-squeezed orange juice before. I watched her face as she watched the juice be squeezed out of the fruit, right into the pitcher for S's mimosas. I asked if we could have a small glass of that for the kid, and of course S obliged, like the kind and beautiful soul she is.

"Oh yeah?" He asked. "Let's hear it."

The girl said "They're way better than the microwaved kind!" she piped up happily. Chef laughed, feeling rather chuffed.

"What's better than that, right?" he asked me.

"Not a lot," I said. He and I both have been in the culinary industry a long time, and I think we both knew all too well what kind of situation this girl was in. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I think it's a general fact that the culinary industry attracts a certain type of person, which is to say it's the type of person that enjoys and/or is used to a certain type of abuse. In my time, I've had line cooks from broken homes, some had drug habits and some were fresh out of prison. You see a lot of that in professional kitchens; cooking is sort of one of those jobs that is truly open to anyone and a place where anyone from any background can be safe and free to work and start anew. Some of the finest chefs I've ever worked with came from the most horrible and toxic of backgrounds. Chef and I exchanged a look, having a good idea what she was going through, and I think we both understood.

We later sent her on her way, off to school, and I haven't seen her since, but I do think about her and that comment almost every time I have pancakes, which is quite a lot. B and I have pancakes just about every Sunday morning. If you look at my instagram, you'll see videos of pancakes and me pouring pancake syrup all over the aforementioned pancakes.

And, honestly, a lot of pancake moneyshots. 
Pancakes are a simple and basic staple that everybody - be they chef or home cook - should have in their pocket. You can go crazy as you like with them, but it's best to keep it simple if you're just starting out. In my research for this book that I'm writing, as well as my work with others of a different background, I'm learning more and more that really none of us get a universal experience of the world and of growing up, and it's absolutely nobody's fault.

I recently got married and I decided to check out TheNest.com, which is the next step after TheKnot.com. The "cooking 101" section is truly mind-blowing for me, chock full of things that I take for granted and things I - very wrongfully assume - that everybody knows how to do. "How to cook corn." "How to cook polenta." Every step I take is truly showing me how lucky I was and how unusual it is to have a family that cooks the way my family cooks. I've had to make some adjustments to pancakes considering my husband is super lactose-intolerant, but this is the basic pancake recipe that we use every Sunday, Christmas, and New Year's morning.

Sunday Morning Pancakes
  • 1 c AP Flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp oil
  • 1 c soy/almond/hemp milk
  • 1 tsp of brandy extract (You can use vanilla if you like, but I think this goes best with the real maple syrup that we use. You can use rum, too, for holidays!)
Whisk the egg, sugar, oil, and extract until all combined. Add the flour, salt, and baking powder. Stir a few times with the whisk, and then add the 'milk' about a third at a time, stirring gently between additions. Scrape the sides of the bowl with the whisk when all of the 'milk' is added and stir until everything is combined. Lumps are fine, I assure you. You'd like it to be just a hair thinner than you normally would think a pancake batter would be. Now, here's the trick:

*Rest your batter for at least 15 minutes. You'll ideally want 30, but I doubt you'll want to wait that long. Then again, it might take you that whole 30 minutes to get your kids/husband/self dressed. I don't judge. The point is, though, that you'll want to let the batter rest and you want to do this for two reasons: one, to hydrate the flour, and two to let any gluten that may have formed to relax. This is, in essence, a quickbread, so you'll want to not have any big tunnelling or for them to be too tough. You can also help alleviate this by giving yourself a hair more insurance with half a teaspoon of white vinegar. This is another reason why buttermilk pancakes are so prevalent - the acid in the buttermilk plus the fat equals a super tender and nice pancake. Science!

Heat up your griddle or pan. I have a cast iron griddle that was a wonderful gift from my auntie from my wedding registry. It's taken me quite a bit to get used to it, as it's stretched over two burners and does have some hot spots. The trick is that you turn on both burners to a medium flame and let the entire cast iron skillet heat up for at least 10 minutes, and test with a few droplets of water to see if it's hot. Use a paper towel and some canola oil to rub and/or season your skillet as it's heating. It's one big piece of metal, so the heat will distribute evenly, once you give it enough time.

Once I'm ready to cook and know that my husband has pants on (our dining room has a big open window, so the neighbors will see if he doesn't), I turn on my oven to 200 degrees F to keep warm, and put a ceramic plate on the inside to hold my pancakes, as I tend to cook 3 or 4 at a time.

See this? This is the color you're looking for!
Once you think your griddle is hot enough, take a spoonful of your batter and test it. You'll want to cook it until bubbles form and stay in tact around the edges, but the middle is still a little liquid. If you turn it over and it's too pale, then your heat is too low. If you turn it over and it's too dark, then the heat is too high. If you turn it over and the color is a nice golden-brown, you've got the heat just right!

Using a disher (I like the 2 oz size, but you can use what you like), scoop out your batter onto the hot griddle. Scoop as many on as you feel comfortable for your space, making sure that you're not crowding them to the point that they either run into each other or you can't easily flip them over. Each pancake will take approximately 30 - 45 seconds to cook per side, so it really is fast food. Hold each one in the oven, nice and stacked high, until all of your batter is done.

Okay, YEAH, I sometimes put rum in my pancake batter. The booze cooks off. And how dare you judge me.
This recipe makes 8 - 10 pancakes, size-dependent. I like the classic shortstack, but if you like the silver dollar sized, be my guest! These are your pancakes and you get to decide what that means. I always have a little extra batter so I make a tiny one for my dog. He's 136 lbs so one pancake isn't going to hurt him, and it's okay if he has some slathered with some coconut oil, for his fur and joint health.

Now that you have the basic recipe in hand, you can create all sorts of recipes! Use this simple recipe and method to create all sorts of things. Here are some variations that I personally have tried.

  • Cornmeal pancakes
    • Substitute 1/2 c of the flour for yellow or blue cornmeal, and let the batter rest for 5 minutes longer than you might initially let them sit for.
  • Red velvet pancakes
    • Add red food coloring, increase the liquid by 2 Tbsp of "milk", and add 1 tsp of good dark cocoa powder
  • Chocolate chip pancakes
    • When you put your pancake batter on the griddle, sprinkle a few chocolate chips around the top so that the batter cooks and rises around them before you flip!
  • Blueberry pancakes
    • When you put your pancake batter on the griddle, immediately place blueberries into the batter and allow them to cook up and around them before you flip
  • Vegan pancakes
    • Substitute the egg for one mashed overripe banana
I hope you've enjoyed this post. Thanks so much for bearing with me while I reminisce. It's the first day of a new year and I'm feeling sentimental. I'm going to resolve to write at least one post per week, and have already scheduled that in my daily planner.




Do you do New Year's resolutions/goals? Let's hear them in the comments! Happy cooking and happy eating!