Blueberry Pancakes with a Twist

Lo and behold, it is somehow already September and by the looks of a Target I was in yesterday, it’s apparently almost Halloween too. I’m the sort who would gladly live in a world where summer reigned all year round, but I know it will inevitably slip away, leaving me to acclimate to the change by means of cinnamon scented candles and the sudden appearance of flannel-clad L.L. Bean-esque men everywhere. Though with that said I suppose things could be much worse.

So in my attempt to keep the summer spirit alive as much as possible, I have sworn I will not open the Pumpking beer currently in my fridge until a day comes that I need a jacket outside… And we can just forget the fact that I binge ate a bag of pumpkin spice latte flavored M&Ms at my desk yesterday. Whoops!

My other attempt to bring a taste of summer into the colder months is with these blueberry pancakes with a twist. But blueberries? In the fall? That doesn’t make sense at all. Well that’s where the twist comes in. Thanks to the genius of the aptly titled Genius Recipes by Food 52, blueberry pancakes are better than they’ve ever been before and don’t need to be restricted to the seasonal appropriateness of the blueberries themselves. The secret, dried blueberries.

When allowed to soften in boiling water, the dried blueberries get back some of their juicy quality. But since they are still very much void of moisture, they don’t turn into the soggy mess that blueberry pancakes generally resemble and leave only that condensed sweet-tart flavor. These pancakes are also unique in that they have a TON of cottage cheese and sour cream in them making them spongy in the nice way that Yorkshire pudding is spongy. Yes, I know that cottage cheese and weird, and like, who really eats cottage cheese anyway, but trust me on this one. It has triumphed in waffles and does also in pancakes. Lemon zest and nutmeg add that little extra touch that makes these pancakes so incredible. So maybe this fall, instead of reaching for yet another can of pumpkin to add to your breakfast baked things, try out these blueberry pancakes instead.

Blueberry Pancakes with a Twist
From Deborah Madison via Food 52’s Genius Recipes
Makes about 20 small pancakes or 12 larger pancakes

1 cup dried blueberries
1 cup 4% cottage cheese, drained of liquid
1 cup sour cream
5 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 Tbs. sugar
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
butter for frying and butter and maple syrup for serving

Place the blueberries in a bowl and cover them with boiling water. Set aside while you make the batter.

In a large bowl, whisk together the cottage cheese and sour cream. Then, one at a time, whisk in the eggs. Mix in the vanilla, lemon zest, nutmeg, and sugar and then gradually incorporate the flour, baking powder and salt. Drain the soaking blueberries and add to the batter. Gently mix them in.

In a large frying pan over medium heat, melt a tablespoon of butter. When it’s melted and hot, drop large spoonfuls of the batter into the pan. Once browned evenly on the bottom, flip to cook the other side. Serve with more butter and maple syrup.

The Return of the College Diet

I must admit, that there was a plus side to not finding a job this summer. I had a lot of time to think about food, experiment with food, and cook some pretty sweet meals and treats for my family. Every night we sat down at the dinner table my dad would always exclaim, “Man! What are we gonna eat when Katie’s gone.”

Sadly, being gone doesn’t mean they’ll be the only ones missing out on gourmet meals every night. I know as a fact that once the classes and the internship start up, the college diet will return and I plan to stick to quick-fix meals, during the weekdays at least. There will be sandwiches (thought now I have my experiences with Pret for inspiration), there will be LOTs of omelets, enough carrots and hummus to turn my skin orange, and above all, there will be yogurt and granola.

I think I eat this wonderful combo about 4 times a week for lunch and usually have some seasonal fruit to mix in. But up until just 3 weeks ago I never knew how good it could be. I used to stick to the simple store-bought granola, something like Bear Naked or Udi’s. Then one day, when there was absolutely nothing in the house but a lonely yogurt and no topping options, I realized that although our premade granola was gone, the comprising ingredients were all together in our house. So I made a teeny tiny batch, out of about ¼ cup of oats. I tossed in the few strands of coconut from the cupboard, a few mutilated almond slivers, a couple Craisins. I mixed it with a little oil and brown sugar and toasted it up. After taking it out of the oven and letting it cool to crispness, I took a bite and was blown away.

This granola was just so…fresh. It was crispy, fragrant, and chewy. It had none of that staleness and cardboard-like flavor I always kind of hated about the store-bought varieties. It first gave this awesome crunch, coated with caramelized sweetness, before turning chewy and releasing the intense nutty flavors from the roasted oats. I used to think granola must always be this bland, whole-mealy sort of snack that you only get because it seems like the “in” and trendy thing to do. Most times it was a sea of these semi-toasted oats and every now and then, if I was lucky, I’d be the recipient of half an almond. Yippee!! Now I know the truth.

And then I suddenly felt so stupid that I had never made my own before. It was so easy, one of those wing-it recipes that you can’t really ever screw up. And it can be made from just about anything lying around. And so the granola continued. I experimented and tested with different ingredients and ratios and finally found one I really love. It’s an even balance of fruit and nuts and oats that makes it so great. It makes for a granola that is really chunky and full of texture. For nuts, I like a combination of walnuts and pecans because they’re so soft and chewy. The fruits I chose were coconut, dried cherries, and banana chips for a little tropical flair. I’d imagine that dried papaya or pineapple would be an even more exciting replacement for the cherries. And finally, I used a combination of brown sugar and brown rice syrup for the nutty flavor that the syrup imparts. Just yesterday, I made a huge batch of it and took bagfuls to school with me to toss in my backpack, lunchbox, whatever. A filling snack and SO EASY snack with a flavor that can’t ever be matched by the grocery store stuff.

My Granola

The trick to the best granola is to toast is at a low temperature for a really long time. This really lets the flavors deepen and makes the toasting nice and even. The second secret is to let it cool in the pan completely before breaking it up. This will ensure that you get those big oat chunks. Feel free to experiment and replace the ingredients with any that you have around or like better. Just try and make sure to keep the nut-fruit-oat ration the same.

3 cups of rolled oats (I used a 5-grain blend of oatmeal that included oats, rye, barley, tricticale, and golden flax but plain oats are fine)
¾ cup chopped pecans
¾ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup unsalted sunflower seeds
¾ cup shredded sweetened coconut
¾ cup chopped banana chips
¼ cup brown sugar
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ cup plus 2 Tbs. brown rice syrup
¼ cup plus 2 Tbs. sunflower or other vegetable oil
¾ tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¾ cup dried cherries

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, pecans, walnuts, seeds, coconut, banana chips, brown sugar, and cinnamon until well combined. In another bowl mix together the brown rice syrup, oil, salt, and vanilla. Microwave for 15 seconds, give it a stir to mix the syrup and oil, a pour into the granola mixture. Mix well with a wooden spoon until the syrup coats everything evenly.

Spread the mixture evenly onto a sheet pan and bake in the oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Evey 15 minutes, stir the granola so it cooks evenly. Add in the cherries for the last 15 minute cooking interval. When time is up, remove from the oven and let sit until cool. Once cool, use your wooden spoon to break the granola into chunks. Store in an airtight container.

Waiting and Blueberry Lemon Crumb Bars

It’s your day off, and instead of doing productive things, you sit in a daze and think about what you are going to cook for dinner, bring to a picnic, eat for lunch, whatever. You begin to busy yourself by coming up with a dish. This part is fun, the time go by a little faster; nothing makes the clock hands fly like a little perusing on or through your favorite food blogs. But then, when you finally decide on the perfect dish, all that’s left is waiting until you get to make it. The clock starts to go by much more slowly. Your fingers itch to rush to the refrigerator and start cooking right away but, oh wait, it’s only 10:00 in the morning... Whenever I find the perfect recipe I just can’t help but turn into a little Veruca Salt…”I want it NOW!”

This is what happened about two weeks ago. It was a lazy Friday, and my day was free with no task but to prepare a dessert to bring to a small picnic get-together that evening. The problem was I already knew what to bring. Days earlier, I stumbled upon a recipe for blueberry crumb bars on Smitten Kitchen and decided that I absolutely needed to make them. It’s blueberry season after all. It only made sense. So I picked up some humungous local blueberries from a nearby farm and the rest of the ingredients. Then it was time to wait.

The minutes meandered by and my mind only thought of those blueberries sitting on the counter just waiting to be made into luscious crumb bars. “Please…cook me now…please.” “Not yet,” I kept saying to myself as I did math in my head, trying to determine the earliest I could make them so that they could still be warm when I brought them to the picnic. I still had 5 hours to wait. Great.

So what do you do while you wait?

I instinctively turned to what I have deemed the cure-all for the ever-boring waiting game: Netflix instant play. Normally I turn to an episode of No Reservations but this time I checked the independent film section and by happenstance, picked a movie that I have since fallen in love with. Though I love to share recipes, I can’t refuse an opportunity to share some cinema recommendations as well, especially when it involves a film that made waiting for blueberry crumb bars a much simpler task. 

The movie was Mary and Max, a claymation/animation flick about a lonely little girl in Australia and a depressed and obese man in New York who form the most unlikely of friendships. I can’t necessarily guarantee you will all like it; it’s a bit out there. But it is bittersweet yet very touching, with both funny moments and sad, and a smashing recipe included for chocolate hotdogs. 

So, as it turned out, in my waiting to make something wonderful, I discovered something else that was just as sweet as those blueberries.

Blueberry Crumb Bars
makes 24 small bars
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

These are an ultimate summer dessert: easy to make while showcasing the wonderful flavors of fresh seasonal berries. I imagine they would be great with other fruits as well but the blueberries were divine and turned into the most wonderful, sticky jam-like filling after cooking. Though you mix the blueberries with lemon juice and sugar to make a sort of syrup, I do recommend resisting the temptation to pour all of the syrup into the bottom crust along with the blueberries. Instead, simply spoon the blueberries overtop, leaving the syrup behind so you don’t get a soggy crust like I did. They still tasted wonderful but weren’t as crisp and crumbly as I had hoped for.

So whatever you end up doing in the time before you get to make these bars, just know that they are certainly worth the wait.

Blueberry Filling
4 cups fresh blueberries
½ cup white sugar
4 tsp. cornstarch
juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme

Crust and Crumb Topping
¾ cup white sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
¼ tsp. salt
zest of 1 lemon
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
1 egg
¼ cup toasted slivered almonds

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and grease a 13 X 9 inch baking pan. In a mixing bowl combine the blueberries, ½ cup sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, and thyme. Stir until will mixed and set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix together the ¾ cup white sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, flour, salt, and lemon zest until well combined. Add the butter and the egg and use a pastry cutter to blend the ingredients until well combined and you have still have pea-sized chunks of butter. Add the almonds and mix them in.

Place half of the crust mixture into the baking dish and press it firmly into the bottom. Spoon the blueberries overtop, careful not to add too much of the liquid. Crumble the rest of the crust mixture overtop the blueberries so that it is evenly distributed. Bake for 50 minutes until the crumb topping is golden brown.

Let cool for at least an hour before cutting so they set. Cut into 24 squares. They are best served just slightly above room temperature but store any leftovers in the refrigerator. They are still really good cold but a quick zap in the microwave will easily make them warm again.