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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!

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