Monday, April 30, 2012

so you're about to be a grown-up: kitchen equipment shopping list

Well, this looks worse than I thought.  The sketchy wi-fi at the Durham Marriott got me into all kinds of trouble checking on my blog.  In the process of literally changing just one word in this post, I erased the entire thing and then proceeded to do the same with my ham and bean soup post.  Good lord, what a mess.  And then in recreating this post I come home to find it all in one ginormous paragraph.  Yikes!  So we begin again.  I know my original introductory paragraph was slightly more clever, but after 10 hours in the van hauling Sara and all her possessions home I'm a little short on clever.  

I got married at the age of 21 (and that sounds totally crazy now that my girls are on both sides of that number)so I went from sorority house to a few months at my parent's house to our first apartment. My first kitchen was outfitted with wedding shower and wedding gifts. Kelly graduates from Purdue next week and will be starting her shiny new life as a grown-up with absolutely nothing for her kitchen yet in her possession. So this post is for anyone starting out on their own. A shopping list for kitchen equipment beyond table service and linens (what we called plates, bowls, cups, forks, knives, spoons and dish towels, napkins and aprons way back when we registered for our weddings).

And if all this heading out into the big world on your own stuff has you a bit stressed, find your local lululemon and go to a complimentary (read:  free) yoga class!

Kitchen equipment for brand-new grown-ups

2-quart cast iron/ porcelain enamel pot (like My yellow Le Creuset pot, but a store brand one will do just fine) and Bon Ami powder to clean it with
2-quart nonstick pan with lid (I like Greenpan from Target or Crate and Barrel): cooks everything from soups to pasta
12-inch nonstick skillet with lid: grilled sandwiches, quesadillas, sauté chicken, vegetables and etc
8-inch nonstick skillet: smaller jobs and omelets
Wooden spoon (s): stir anything and won't scratch your new pans
Silicone spoonula (my current favorite is a Mario Batali from Sur La Table): scrapes bowls and pans, stirs, won't scratch anything and heat-proof
Whisk: silicone coated is nice, but not essential
Spatula/turner: silicone is good for this too
Tongs: I like the ones with silicone tips good for turning chicken or just about anything, but not super necessary
2-cup heat-proof liquid measure with lid
4-cup batter bowl with lid (mine is Pampered Chef): measure liquids and add dry ingredients right in the same bowl for pancakes, brownies and etc, melt butter, mix guacamole and just about anything
8-cup batter bowl: luxury version if you have enough room
Measuring cup set (I like straight sided stainless steel ones the best)
Measuring spoon set (the kind all on one ring)
2 baking sheets: for cookies, pizza, focaccia and etc and for roasting vegetables
baking pan with shallow sides:  really good for roasting vegetables  (mine is Pampered Chef stoneware and you see it all over this blog roasting and baking things and it cleans up just with water, deluxe item but a good thing to put on a wish list)
8-inch square baking pan: hello, for brownies and cornbread
Two 9-inch round cake pans: bake someone a cake!
9 x 13 x 2 baking pan with lid:  go easy and bake and frost it a cake in the pan, or make lasagna or a big casserole of macaroni and cheese for a party (or a really stressful day)
Loaf pan: if you like banana bread you need one of these
8 or 10-inch Santoku chef's knife for pretty much everything
10-inch serrated bread knife: you have to have teeth to slice bread
Travel serrated knife with cover (Sur la Table has them at the cash register usually): great for road trips and picnics and at home for slicing bread and tomatoes
Travel chef's knife with cover (about $10 at the Sur la Table register) always take a good knife with you if you are going to cook on the road
Instant-read thermometer (another $10 Sure la Table grab): food safety essential if you are an omnivore Salad hands (cute plastic ones from Sur la Table and other kitchen stores): toss salad or pasta and serve Microplane grater: one with a medium grate for cheese or chocolate
Lemon juicer: you can juice lemons, limes and even small oranges with the yellow-colored hand press version
Zester: big fan of the zyliss yellow one because it looks like a lemon and is so easy to use
Epicurean cutting board (brand sold at Crate and Barrel and Sur la Table): indestructible, looks nice and dishwasher safe
Salad spinner (mine is zyliss):  maybe not the best thing for a small apartment
Colander:  get one that is the cute colored enamel so you can wash produce and drain hot pasta

my new Purdue grad circa 1994

Friday, April 27, 2012

spring's ups and downs: quick bean soup

How in the world did I delete this entire thing?  What a disaster.  Don't worry, I'll get it back up here.  It's ridiculously hot everywhere and you won't be making soup anytime soon.  I'm going to leave this as a placeholder and write you a quick Cinco de Mayo note instead.

Alrighty, there's a cute story somewhere lost in the "interweb" world about this soup.  But let's just go with when I originally wrote this post it was very chilly and grey (or soup weather) and 10 days later it's blazing hot (or not soup weather).  I froze the ham bone with a little meat on it from Easter just for soup purposes.  The ham was the applewood smoked variety from Costco and it was by far the best ham I've ever glazed and heated (because generally that's all you do with ham, no actual cooking which is a strong selling point).  This soup is even easier because I just added canned beans instead of soaking beans overnight.  But if it's super hot where you live too, maybe you should just bookmark this post for 6 months from now.  Sorry about the computer glitch.  I will never work on my blog on my iPad on the road with sketchy wi-fi service again.

Quick Bean Soup

olive oil
one large onion, chopped
4 big stalks of celery, chopped
4 large carrots, chopped
ham bone with about 1 C of ham to cube into the soup
4 C chicken broth
2 C water
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp kosher salt
8 oz. tomato sauce
2 cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (navy beans would also be good)

In a soup pot, heat about 1 T of olive oil over medium heat.  Saute onion, celery, and carrots until softened (about 5 min).  Add chicken broth and water with chicken bone and bring to boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low to simmer soup.  Add ground pepper, bay leaf and kosher salt.  Simmer for 20 minutes.  Add tomato sauce and beans and simmer for an additional 10 minutes to blend flavors.  Taste for salt and pepper.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

birthday party menu of favorites: outstanding green beans

My mother-in-law gave me a quick call this morning to tell me just how delicious everything was at the birthday party we hosted in her honor yesterday.  Greg and I worked on the meal together and the clean-up and while we were happily settled in off our feet last night watching his favorite, "Celebrity Apprentice" we both remarked how much fun the evening had been.  That's why I cook.  It's really how I best share love and friendship.  It's its own satisfaction to watch everyone enjoying a meal and the conversation.  We are grateful to have our lovely home to open up to the family we were born into and the family we choose (i.e. friends).  And I am grateful to be able to return the favor to my mother-in-law who modeled my love of entertaining through years of tailgates, brunches, dinners and parties.  The whole thing just makes me happy.

So, just what was on the menu Sunday evening?  It was a dinner of favorites since there were fourteen people to please.  For social hour we served pomegranate martinis, guacamole with really spicy jalapeno tortilla chips (that's a link so you can see the brand), Manchego cheese (Spanish hard cheese like Parmesan, made from sheep's milk which I totally did not know until I looked it up just now; nice and salty and easy to cut a sliver and you guessed it, easily bought at Costco) with grapes, Costco mesquite chicken wings (fabulous, why reinvent the wheel?  buy them in their deli case and reheat in your oven) and crudités (also known as a vegetable tray from Costco).  My 10-year old nieces have mad fruit skewer skills so they made a lovely tray of them for their grandmother, although I think all the nieces and nephews ate most of them.  Or was it me??

finally took a photo of the grilling turkey breast

Just in case anyone was still hungry we served a nice big grilled turkey breastsun-dried tomatoes and feta pasta salad (that one really moved up the favorites list this weekend), many pounds of green beans that disappeared and a big flat cheese bread (again, Costco).  We lingered at the dining table a very long time over family stories, more martinis and wine.  For dessert I had to make my creme brûlée cheesecake after The Indianapolis Star published it last month.  My claim to fame.  Bob and Tammy came over Saturday night with the blow torch and an extra cylinder of gas just in case we needed it to caramelize the sugar.  They put their name in for leftovers, but that cheesecake is too good for leftovers.  I think I'm just going to have to make them their own sometime.  That or buy a blow torch of our own, but that's silly.  

Everything I made has been posted on this blog over the past two years with the exception of some really outstanding green beans.  So here's a little "recipe" for you and a link to Fine Cooking's recipe for Simply Delicious Green Beans .  I found big two pound bags of trimmed green beans at Meijer last week.  I like them better than the haricots vert from Costco.  I usually buy fresh green beans by the pound and trim them myself, but doing that for four people is one thing and for fourteen people it's another (read insane) thing.  If you have an Ina Garten cookbook or if you're a Martha Stewart fan you've seen "good" olive oil as an ingredient before.  Splurge some time and buy an expensive olive oil.  Maybe from some place that let's you taste them.  Find one you love that's lighter or richer or fruitier than the kind you cook with and enjoy it.  I like Lucini Italia Extra Virgin Light Olive Oil and buy it at Meijer or Super Target.  It's not that exclusive, but to me it's just right for dipping in fresh bread or tossing with vegetables or pasta before serving.  I use the big bottles of Kirkland Select from, where else, Costco for cooking, roasting and grilling.  Just like different olive oils, different salts add special twists to your cooking.  They are everywhere now.  Experiment with them and find something new!

Outstanding Green Beans for a Party

3 pounds fresh green beans, ends trimmed
2 to 3 T of good olive oil
1 tsp some fancy sea salt (I used pink Himalayan from Trader Joe's)

Boil a big pot of water.  Add the green beans and cook about 5 minutes until tender, but still a little crisp.  Drain and toss while hot with olive oil and salt to taste.  It's a party, be generous with the olive oil and taste for salt and add more if needed!

Serves 12-15

Saturday, April 21, 2012

husband credited with assist: jalepeno-chipotle turkey burgers

Fabulous day at the "office" today, i.e. a busy and fun Saturday at lululemon.  If you didn't stop in, you missed the party.  Since my shift ended at 8 this evening, I made a big bowl of guacamole and whipped up some turkey burgers that Greg could grill so dinner would be ready when I walked in the door.  Thought a spicy burger with jalepenos and chipotles would be delicious and I was correct.  So good, that I am spending the early part of my Saturday night writing a post.  I make turkey burgers of various varieties on a pretty regular basis.  If I don't roast or saute the vegetables I'm mixing in with olive oil beforehand, I make sure to add a little olive oil to the ground turkey.  A little olive oil does wonders for a moister burger that won't stick to the grill.

The neighbors are coming over this evening for our weekly de-briefing so I'm going to make this a short and sweet post.  Thankful for the help in the kitchen and at the grill this evening so I still need to do a few dishes.  Don't worry, I'll write a nice rambling post this coming week.  Plenty to discuss!

Before I sign off, a little shout out to Sara's Portuguese class at Duke who perused my blog on their projector last week while studying for their final exam.  Obrigado!

my jalepeno-chipotle burger on guacamole, romaine and a toasted bun

one pound lean ground turkey
1 T olive oil
1/4 C minced sweet onion
1/2 C small diced red pepper
1/4 C chopped jalepeno slices (from the jar) or one fresh jalepeno pepper, seeded and minced
one canned chipotle pepper, minced
1/4 C shredded cheddar or jack cheese
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin

Mix all ingredients together with your hands until well combined.  Sure it's slimy, but take your rings off and get in there and mix it up with your ingredients.  Form into patties (makes 4), cover and chill for at least 30 minutes.  Heat grill or grill pan and cook about 4-5 minutes on both sides until done (160 degrees).  Serve on toasted buns with guacamole and lettuce if desired.

ingredients through side of bowl
(the onions look like something creamy, just a little out of focus)

top view

burger patties ready to chill


Monday, April 16, 2012

Mom's weekend and lots of etc.: Avocado Ranch Dressing for Buffalo Chicken or Tofu Salad

Here's where I'm living today:  just back from one fabulous Kappa Alpha Theta Mother's Weekend at Purdue with Kelly and readying the house for her quick turnaround before leaving to start her grown-up live and for Sara's summer at home which will most likely be the last one where she spends the whole Duke summer break here.  When I write that I realize that I'm maybe not actually living completely in the lovely day I've been given.  I have memories filling my mind of my girls small and sweet, dirty and sticky, silly and crazy, drowsy and sleeping, happy and mad as little hornets.  Maybe I'm extra nostalgic after browsing through the baby section at Target today for some baby shower things for my pregnant lululemon friends.  That's probably what tipped me so far backwards today.

early Saturday night at Harry's (never mind the creeper in the background)

Yesterday driving home from Purdue I was in fast forward.  Graduation is Mother's Day weekend and Kelly hopes to be driving off to LA by the first week of June ready for her shiny new life.  After spending all weekend with her beautiful sorority sisters and their lovely mothers,  I finally know all of their names.  Now that they'll maybe stop by the tailgate for Homecoming weekends instead of just about every blazing hot Saturday in September, maybe.  For the life of me I can't picture tailgating without my children and their friends.  Well, I can see it in a fuzzy kind of way with tears welling up in my eyes and a little dread at the bottom of my heart.  As I told Kelly, after spending a few very hilarious hours upstairs at Harry's with the Purdue Football alumni in for the Spring Game, they should really do their part and at least entertain me with some good football.  Sadly, as much as I always wish for that to happen, I don't see my team with five quarterbacks on the roster and not having any named "Brees" pulling off a trip to the Rose Bowl.   And let's face it, the Drew Brees era was the last truly fun Purdue football we've seen.  Someone else is going to have to drive home after the first game.  I will be drinking mojitos.

And so it's time to get back to the now.  My yoga practice was at about half speed while I worked full-time the last six months, but thankfully it's fine with the powers that be that I reduce my hours for the summer for more time with my family and a little more balance.  Time on the mat will help me embrace each day with a better energy.   Went to one of my favorite classes this morning.  It's always full of some of my favorite instructors practicing.   For someone who never liked to exercise in a group, I love the dynamics of a full yoga class.

Time to organize the kitchen before the days are too pretty to work inside.  Sara and I meant to cook through two fresh and healthy cookbooks we bought this time last year and we've got the sticky note page markers ready and with only a few already tried last summer.  Soon it will be Farmer's Market time and both girls will be willing and able to help in the kitchen, at least with helping me decide what's for dinner.  My herb garden in pots will soon be planted as the weather starts to stabilize.  It's almost that time too.

Time to go through the girls' rooms so they can move back in for however long they are here.  It's a luxury to have so much space.  It's actually a ridiculous luxury to have 5 bedrooms for my transitioning family, but we built our home and we love our yard and then there are the neighbors we just can't leave.  So the girls can leave whatever they want at home for as long as they want, but seriously some of the stuff  really must go.  We moved in when they were 9 and 11.  And that, in a nutshell is why I've been writing for an hour today.  Just not feeling the organization flow at the moment.

I'm not sure what's for dinner, but I have a crazy amount of vegetables in the refrigerators for one person.  Greg will not be dining at home until Friday this week.  Whether cooking for one, two, three or four I'm always hungry.   I like to save the few convenience foods I actually buy from Trader Joe's and Costco for working days.  So we'll hit the pause button and with any luck I'll have something to add to this post so I can actually publish it all in the same day.  You'd be surprised how many I've had to rewrite because the "mojo" is lost or the time just isn't there to finish something.

Alrighty then, it's happening.  Food highlights of Mom's Weekend:  Dr. Strangelove latte at Greyhouse (a local coffee house) Saturday morning after our 5K (Purdue Cancer Challenge) and grilled mac and cheese from The Big Cheez food truck at 2:30 a.m. (technically Sunday morning) outside of Harry's.  That divine latte was flavored with their homemade Mexican Oaxacan sauce (chocolate) Sri Lankan cinnamon, orange and cloves.  Umm, if you can figure out that recipe please share it with me!  The grilled cheese is pretty self-explanatory; but even if it wasn't super late, that thing was amazing.  Straight up white bread, mac and cheese, probably a slice of cheddar and a good pressing on a well greased kitchen grill.  Best part:  a Purdue basketball player took our order and served it up.  Mind you we had just left Hot Box Pizza and split an order of stix with cheese sauce.  We were carb-loading after our race.

And now I get around to tonight's recipe.  Bet you thought we'd never get here.  We took a nice long walk Sunday and ended up at Scotty's for an early lunch.  We were thinking brunch than we thought of buffalo chicken salads and they do make a good one.  The best part?  Dipping your fork in the avocado ranch dressing alongside (a good trick when you want the delicious dressing your sure is super bad for you).  Since I had all kinds of greens and vegetables, I made up my own version of the dressing and served it on a salad of greens, grilled red peppers/onion/butternut squash, mango and feta.  I did not have tofu like I thought I did and I had buffalo chicken blue cheese sausage from Whole Foods so there's my twist.  You don't have to do the whole buffalo protein and grilled vegetable salad thing, you can just try the dressing on a regular green salad.  Pretty darn tasty.

Avocado Ranch Dressing

1/4 C sweet onion cut in large dice
2 cloves garlic
1/4 C loosely packed fresh Italian parsley leaves
1/4 tsp dried dill or 1 tsp fresh dill
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
one small or medium ripe avocado, halved and pitted
1/4 C plain Greek yogurt
1-2 T lowfat buttermilk (more to thin)
1 T white wine vinegar
2 T olive oil

Combine onion, garlic, parsley, dill, salt and pepper in a food processor and process until finely chopped. Add avocado, yogurt, buttermilk, vinegar and olive oil and process until smooth.  Taste for salt and pepper.  Thin with additional buttermilk and or olive oil, if desired.  You can also add a dash of Tabasco for a little kick.

dressing ingredients

using my stick blender's chopping attachment

finished dressing

onions, peppers and squash on the grill

here's how you dice a mango, slice along seed, score and scoop

my salad

Buffalo Chicken/Tofu Salad with Avocado Ranch Dressing

boneless, skinless chicken tenders
or one block extra firm tofu, drained and pressed
olive oil, kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
Frank's Hot Sauce or other Buffalo Sauce
unsalted butter, optional
one sweet or red onion, sliced
one red pepper, sliced
one 10 -oz bag frozen diced butternut squash or fresh diced butternut squash
one mango, halved and diced (optional)
feta or blue cheese

Toss chicken with salt, pepper and olive oil or brush tofu slices with the same.  Grill alongside grill pan of onion, peppers and squash also tossed with olive oil and kosher salt and cook all until done (probably about 10 minutes with turning for everything).  Toss chicken or brush tofu with Frank's or other Buffalo Sauce with a little butter if you like (lots of sauce: a pat of butter) but it's not necessary.  Toss greens with avocado ranch dressing and top with grilled vegetables, mango, buffalo chicken or tofu and sprinkle with cheese if you like.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

lululemon co-worker goodies: morning glory goodness muffins

We're a healthy bunch at lululemon.  We sweat together at classes and events all over the city and we support each other to reach some crazy fitness goals.  Just part of what makes my job at lululemon such a good fit.  Sure it was easier to find the time to workout when I didn't work, but since my BFF and workout pal moved away four years ago I've been on my own.  I was never a class girl, but I've changed my outlook on that and find it motivating to be accountable to my co-workers and join them for classes.  Now if I could just get the energy to go to evening classes after work.  That might just be where the age-difference is kind of glaring.  Or maybe it's just that I'm a creature of habit and like to be home cooking and eating dinner after work.  It's a little of both.  But sign me up for the morning classes.  All about them.

So when we have staff meetings, birthdays and other special occasions we love our treats as much as the next "office", but we probably have a much higher rate of vegetarians and other healthy diets than most. Not saying we don't destroy cookies and cakes, just saying the fruit bouquets are maybe even more popular.  This week it's a double-whammy staff meeting and team member's birthday.  Brittany is a committed vegetarian, yogini and fitness fan but thankfully not a vegan.  I can do healthy treats, but I have yet to intentionally prepare a vegan baked good.  I wanted to make a morning-glory type muffin and liked things about two recipes:  one from King Arthur Flour and one from Cooking Light.  I combined them and crossed my fingers hoping for the best.  Bingo!  Think I got it on the first try:  a little healthier forgoing oil and an egg and switching agave nectar for sugar without them being tough.  Since I did not know where the birthday girl stood on nuts and coconut I left them out.  Feel free to use a combo of fruits and nuts your choosing, but try to keep the carrots, apple and banana because they bring add a good amount of moisture without butter or oil.  You know I cook and bake with both, but you won't miss them in this recipe.  Kelly and I baked a blueberry cake with lemon cream cheese icing for Easter and her birthday.  Those we kept the butter and sugar.  It was a holiday after all!

yep: as good as they look. they taste even better

Morning-Glory Goodness Muffins

1/2 C raisins
1 C whole wheat flour (I use white whole wheat)
1/2 C all-purpose flour
1 C regular oats
2 T flax meal or flax seeds
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 C grated carrots
1 large tart apple, small dice
1/2 C chopped walnuts, optional
1/2 C shredded coconut, optional
1 C fat-free or 2 % plain Greek yogurt
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1/4 C orange juice
3/4 to 1 C mashed banana
1/3 to 1/2 C agave nectar (to your taste)
demerara sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 18 muffin cups with paper liners or spray muffin tins well with cooking spray.

In a small bowl, cover the raisins with hot water and set them aside to soak.  In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, flax, baking soda, salt and spices.  Stir in the carrots, apple, coconut and walnuts (whichever you choose).   In a medium bowl stir together the yogurt, vanilla, eggs, orange juice, banana and agave nectar.  Combine the dry and wet ingredients stirring until well-blended.  Drain the raisins and stir them into the batter.  Scoop the batter into the muffin cups or tins (they will be full and that's fine).  Sprinkle a little demerara sugar on top, if desired. Bake 25-28 minuted until nicely domed and a cake tester/toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Remove pans from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes on a rack.  Turn muffins out of pans to finish cooling.

makes 15-18  muffins

dry ingredients

topped with carrots and apples

ready for the oven


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

grilling favorite: turkey breast

Quick tip of the day courtesy of my awesome neighbor, Tammy:  grill a turkey breast on a regular basis.  So easy and so moist and flavorful.  Here's the scoop:  preheat your grill, rinse the turkey breast under cold water and pat dry with a paper towel.  Rub it all over with olive oil.  Rub in your favorite spice rub.  I usually do mine with fabulous Legends Barbecue Rub from Season's Harvest in Michigan (I stock up every fall on our annual dinner club weekend, but you can order it online).  You can't do this part wrong, use what you like or blend your own.  Place the prepared breast in the middle of your grill. Turn your grill down to medium low or wherever you need to go to get it to cook at 350 degrees.  Roast for 1 1/2 hours at 350 degrees.  Every now and then grab your glass of wine and venture out to the grill to make sure the temperature is steady and the breast hasn't fallen over or caught on fire or some other undesired event has occurred.  Use a quick read thermometer and check for doneness (about 165 degrees, it will rise to 170 degrees as it rests).  Let the turkey rest for 10-15 minutes, slice and serve.  If you have a small family like I do, you will have leftovers for salads and sandwiches at a fraction of the price of deli turkey.

Greg and I rescued a turkey breast from Super Target two days before it's sell-by date (so it was $3 off) and  promptly took it home and grilled it.  We had a nice happy hour at his parent's house (they live in our neighborhood, we're lucky that way) and came home to find it still cooking nicely so I had time to cook some polenta and broccolini.  Toss a salad and it's dinner!

Next time we grill one, I'll post some pictures.

For  now, this is what the beginning of April looks like in our yard this year (about 3-4 weeks ahead of schedule easy).  So lush.  Love it!

can't miss Greg in his lululemon top, good to have along on a bike ride at dusk

under the crab apple tree on standard, probably still have petals in my hair

fothergilla in the back yard

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

brunch on a Saturday-deluxe blueberry buttermilk pancakes with ricotta and berry cassis compote

One of my favorite breakfasts out ever:  the Donkey Diner in Coral Bay on St. John.  A funky little place where you can eat in at cute little booths or out on picnic tables in the shady "back yard" while hens, chicks, roosters, goats, calves and donkeys stop by as they work their way down the dry creek bed looking for food.  The boys devoured the Donkey Mess (eggs, peppers, onions, sausage and etc atop hash browns) with $2 Shafer beers which pretty much defines paradise in guy world.  Really wanted to order the hash special with coffee-rubbed brisket, barbecue sauce, hash browns and eggs.  However, you might remember that I don't really like eggs and I've never had barbecue sauce or brisket at 9 a.m. and didn't think the first time should be followed by a day of snorkeling!

It's not hard to love breakfast in paradise, but truly if you take away the spectacular settings most of them aren't terribly remarkable in food quality or abundance.  Some memorable ones:  Jaco in Costa Rica, Casa Magna Marriott in Puerto Vallarta  and the the St. Kitts Marriott Resort and Casino.

Let's review last one first:  Greg and I were lucky enough to take three February trips to Puerto Vallarta when the girls were younger.  Love going away in February.  So luxurious to bask in the sun, read uninterrupted and drink fluffy drinks at whatever time of day.  Greg only needs coffee for breakfast, but I am not very pleasant without the most important meal of the day.  So I'd drag him to the open air restaurant by the pool and I'd enjoy my very overpriced continental Marriott breakfast of tropical fruit, those dry Mexican pastries and cereal.  The outstanding memory of breakfasts at the Casa Magna?  The roaming peacocks.  Those birds are majestic and feisty.  Breakfast is usually too early for the iguanas.  The sidewalks and rooftops are not warm enough yet, but beware of the quiet reptiles, they sneak up on you and are a little creepy.

Middle one:  Jaco in Costa Rica.  I do all the research from books and online and plan a fabulous trips.  Costa Rica was an awesome one.  One of the little details from Fodor's, breakfast at a little place in Jaco about a 10-minute cab ride from the Marriott Los Suenos Resort on the Pacific Ocean.  One of the rare days we did not have an excursion I still get the family up early so we can grab a cab and have the famous banana pancakes in town.  Kelly, Sara and I all order the banana pancakes and wait not so patiently for them, but we're sure they are amazing and worth all the trouble so it's fine.  Uh-huh, right until they serve them and they are a stack of plain pancakes with a peeled banana sitting on top.  No one will ever let me live that one down.   Not banana pancakes, but pancakes with bananas.  

Most recent one:  St. Kitt's Marriott Resort and Casino.  Usually we just packed those fun little cereal boxes and bought milk in the gift shop to keep in our mini bar for breakfast in the room.  But this Marriott had a little lobby shop right outside the breakfast buffet restaurant and I'd get the milk, fruit and some pastries and then after a few days realized the girls were passing by the buffet and grabbing cereal (without me signing for it) because truly the way it sat there at the cereal station it looked kind of like they were giving it away.  Yikes.  I think we only stole cereal three or four days.  The Marriott can afford it.  Greg stays in Marriotts over 75 nights every year.  Now we usually have concierge breakfasts, but back in the day when it was on us well, sometimes it was on them.  I think Greg's loyalty is worth the 6 or 8 little boxes of cereal.

So today while Kelly's home and Greg's off golfing in Florida we decide on brunch.  I had amazing blueberry ricotta pancakes at the Donkey Diner.  So after yoga I grab a few things at Meijer and look for a good recipe.  I don't quite read all the way through a Bobby Flay recipe for them because his recipes are so damn long with so many ingredients I am sure to shortcut and adapt it anyway.  So I measure out my dry ingredients.  Whisk together my wet ingredients and even whip up egg whites by hand to fold in (really a great idea, but only if you have lots of time) and look over the recipe to see just where the cup of ricotta cheese is added in.  Well, turns out it's one of the four toppings he offers up only this one does not have it's own little section in the ingredients list.  So tricky.  This is where I start to feel about as brilliant as I did on the great banana pancakes adventure in Costa Rica.   It was kind of a nice little topping mixed with a little milk and lemon juice, however.  I served our pancakes with a berry compote too and threw in the Cassis because that's just so delicious.  Along side I served the amazing veggie patties I had in St. John.  Yep, nothing special there because they were just Morningstar "sausage" veggie patties.  I'd never had them and they are really tasty.  Kind of hot and spicy and meaty for a textured soy product.  

Maybe you'll have a little time for a nice breakfast or brunch with Spring Break, Easter Weekend or Mother's Day.  Make some deluxe pancakes.  I make mine with butter on the griddle pan and don't serve extra butter, but feel free.  I don't really like maple syrup, so I'm big on the warm fruit compote.  Powdered sugar makes everything better.  And if you get ahead of your crowd, warm up your oven to 180 degrees or so and just keep your pancakes warm until they are ready.

Deluxe Blueberry-Buttermilk Pancakes

1 1/2 C flour (I like white whole wheat or part whole wheat and part all-purpose)
3 T sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs, separated
2 T vegetable oil
1 1/3 C buttermilk
1 T lemon zest
1/8 tsp vanilla
pinch of cream of tartar
2 C blueberries
butter for griddle pan


1/2 C ricotta
juice of 1/2 lemon


2 C berries, fresh or frozen blueberries or mixed berries
1/4 C sugar
2 T creme de cassis

In a large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients:  flour through salt.  In a separate bowl whisk together egg yolks (reserving egg whites), oil, buttermilk, zest and vanilla.  Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in wet mixture.  Stir just to combine.  In your mixer bowl (or if you want to give your forearm a good workout, whisk in a medium bowl by hand) beat egg whites with a pinch of cream of tartar until soft peaks form.  Fold beaten whites into batter mixture.  Let rest 15 minutes.

While batter is resting, make ricotta topping if desired blending ricotta cheese with lemon juice.  Make compote by heating berries and sugar in a small non-stick pan to a boil over medium high heat, stirring frequently until slightly thickened.  Remove from heat and stir in cassis.  Keep warm.

Heat griddle pan over medium heat until water dropped on surface dances.  Add a teaspoon or so of butter to the pan and swirl it around to coat pan.  Stir blueberries into batter.  Using a measuring cup (or if you are a neater pourer than me, your batter bowl) pour pancakes onto hot buttered pan.  When tops of pancakes bubble, carefully lift an edge to see if they are ready to flip.  Flip pancakes and cook just another minute or so.  Never walk away from pancakes to do something silly like set the table or pour juice or read the paper or whatever.  As soon as you do that, you will have burnt pancakes and that's a kitchen tragedy you can easily avoid.

Remove pancakes to a cookie sheet in a warm (180 degree oven) until all pancakes are made and ready to serve.  Serve hot with a dollop of ricotta (if desired), a generous ladle of warm compote and a sprinkle of powdered sugar.

dry ingredients

wet ingredients

egg whites beaten by hand to soft peaks

folding in egg whites


ricotta topping

berry compote

pancakes on my buttered griddle pan