Sunday, November 29, 2009

Worth the Effort

Back when I was still in school and subletting in Toronto for co-op terms, my roomate and I enjoyed Pancake Sundays. I think it actually came from watching an episode of How I Met your Mother where they indulged in this ritual and we just thought it seemed like a good idea. They were never exactly fancy (for some reason the concept of making pancakes from scratch never occured to me in those days and we generally used Bisquick) but it was something to look forward to and a nice change from the usual toast or cereal for breakfast during the week.

I don't eat a whole lot of pancakes nowadays...most of the time I find the savoury camp wins out and we usually dine on some variation of eggs and bacon on weekends, but once in awhile pancake Sundays come back!

To be perfectly honest, the main reason for my motivation was that I had some leftover ricotta in the fridge from the Lasagna-style Rotini earlier in the week and I recalled flagging this recipe a few weeks ago. Either they, they seemed a little different, looked good and I had all the necessary ingredients. Why not try it out?

The recipe did seen like a little more work than your typical pancake recipe. The ricotta was simply added to the wet mix, but the eggs needed to be separated and the white whisked until stiff, then folded into the batter. This also resulted in the fluffiest pancake batter I've ever seen, and frankly I was a little concerned these were going to be weirdly puffy and uncooked in the middle.

But anyway...despite the egg white situation and the fact that my arm will probably be aching tomorrow* these were SO WORTH IT. I can't even explain in words why these are so good. Light, fluffy and just a bit of tang from the ricotta give these pancakes such a good flavour you would be happy to just eat them with a bit of butter. The ricotta also keeps the pancakes extremely moist and delicious. Please, please try this recipe. I promise you won't regret it.

*Side story: I've never actually whipped egg whites before until stiff. I knew this wasn't exactly easy and had a tendency to be a bit tricky, but figured with some patience I should at least TRY it by hand before resorting to the whisk attachment on the immersion blender.

I think I went at it for probably a good 10-15 minutes before finally giving up. It also probably wasn't the smartest idea to use a regular small bowl to do this in, and by the time the egg whites started to expand I had started to make a bit of a mess. Thankfully, once I got the hand blender in there it took probably another two minutes until they were stiff and fluffy. So for next time...don't bother attempting to do this by hand. Just go with whatever electronic mixer you have and be thankful for technology!

Ricotta Pancakes
Adapted from Serious Eats
(This recipe made about 16 small pancakes. I'd say enough for three or four people)

200 g (about a cup) ricotta cheese
3/4 cup milk
4 eggs, separated
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar Butter

1. Beat ricotta with milk, egg yolks and vanilla until smooth. In another bowl, sift or whisk together the dry ingredients. Add the ricotta mixture to the dry ingredients and stir very lightly.

2. Beat the egg whites until they are stiff and carefully fold them into the batter.

3. Cook over low to medium heat in a bit of butter, until the pancakes are lightly golden underneath. The recipe stated (correctly) that these are somewhat harder to tell when they are ready to flip as the typical bubbles don't come up quite so readily. So check on the colour of the pancakes after a couple minutes. When the time is right, turn and cook for about another minute, until the cakes are cooked through.

Quick tip: I discovered this summer that the MICROWAVE is a great place to keep pancakes warm while the rest of the batch is being cooked. The insulation keeps the heat in without having to use any energy so the heat from each round maintains a nice warm temperature. Also beats keeping them warm in the oven as you don't have the risk of drying out your pancakes this way!

4. Serve hot with a butter and maple syrup, or some sort of fruit topping. Devour.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Quick and Dirty

When I first started to really get into cooking and becoming a "foodie", I tended to stay away from recipes with the words "quick" or "easy". I've always been the type to enjoy a challenge, and these meals just didn't seem to be worth taking the time to try. Call me a snob, but that's just the way I felt.

However, this resulted in certain "extremes" when cooking weeknight dinners. I'd go through a phase where it was no problem to get home from work and whip up some homemade pasta with bolognese sauce or pot pies with crust made from scratch. And then there will be a few busy weeks where dinner consisted almost entirely on variations of Kraft Dinner or soup and garlic bread. It's not exactly a balanced diet.

Unfortunately things have been pretty hectic lately and I've been in the latter group for far too long. So when I saw this "Easy Weeknight Dinner" recipe for Lasagna-style Baked Ziti it seemed like a good idea. And you know what? It's not exactly pretty but it was SO good and what do you know...tasted like lasagna! But for much less time and effort. And all the spinach in the recipe made it seem much lighter and healthier than all the cheese might suggest (don't worry I am under no illusions of this actually being all that healthy). Definitely worth trying out and making again!

Lasagna-style Baked Rotini (I know, it doesn't quite have the same ring as Ziti but it's all I had)
Adapted from Real Simple, via TheKitchn

12 oz. rotini (about 4 cups)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 pound lean ground beef
salt and pepper
1 jar tomato or pasta sauce
1 bunch spinach, thick stems removed (about 4 cups)
1/2 cup ricotta
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup grated mozzarella

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot.

2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the beef, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, breaking up the meat with a spoon until it’s no longer pink, 5 to 6 minutes.

3. Toss the pasta with the meat mixture, tomato sauce, spinach, ricotta, and 1/4 cup of the Parmesan. Don't worry if it seems like there's way too spinach, it will start to wilt quickly and shrink up. You can add it in batches if you're not convinced.

4. Transfer to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish or 4 large ramekins. Sprinkle with the mozzarella and the remaining 1/4 cup of Parmesan and bake until the cheese melts, 12 to 15 minutes.