March 29, 2009

our go-to buttermilk ricotta pancakes

Back when we were living back in Oakland, CA, L and I made a regular habit of grabbing brunch at the reliably delicious and cozy Citron. Apart from the fantastic fresh baked scones, probably our favorite dish was their version of ricotta pancakes. Impossibly fluffy and light, with a paper-thin wispy crisp crust on the top pancake on the stack.

The pancakes, unfortunately, weren't always consistent--it really depended on who was on the line during brunch service (and perhaps the level of hangover from the night before)--but when they were at their best, they were truly magical... a standard against which to measure any other pancake.

Here in Seattle, we've had some terrific brunches at places like Boat Street Kitchen, Geraldine's, and Tilth... but we haven't yet found pancakes that really satisfy the same way that Citron's did. So from time to time, we've experimented with making our own version. Some recipies relied exclusively on ricotta and whipped egg whites; others capitalized on the chemical interaction between buttermilk and baking soda and baking powder. Most of the time, these trials resulted in pancakes that were fine, sometimes even very good... but not quite at that "super special" level...

...until this morning.

The recipe we used is our adaptation of a winning recipe from a contest held by, relying on a combination of both the richness and activation power of buttermilk and the lightening power of folding in beaten egg whites. The main difference in our version is an increase in buttermilk and the omission of the citrus--I think lemon can be a great flavor addition, but the strength of the acid creates too much of a reaction with the baking soda and baking powder.

But I think the most important part of this recipe is the waiting time, which ensures that all of the baking powder and baking soda has sufficient time to react with the acids in the buttermilk; you can literally see a difference in the batter after letting it rest.

Try it out... you'll never think of buying packaged pancake mix again.
Buttermilk Ricotta Pancakes

1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs, separated
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt and set aside. In a separate bowl, combine the egg yolks, oil, buttermilk, ricotta cheese and vanilla extract. Whisk together until smooth.

Add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients and mix together until flour is just incorporated.

In a small stainless steel bowl, beat egg whites just until stiff. Fold the egg whites into the batter just until incorporated. Let set for 10 to 15 minutes.

Spoon batter onto a lightly buttered pan or griddle over medium low heat. When bubbles lightly form and the bottom is set, flip gently (about 3-4 minutes). Pancake is ready when both sides are golden with barely crisp exteriors.

Serve with fresh fruit or maple syrup.

March 9, 2009

the best steak I've ever made

So I've been out of the hospital now for a couple of weeks and things are going well. Thanks to the care and support of our family and friends--particularly of our amazing community up here in Seattle--I had an ample supply of prayers, visits, and great home cooking.

Since leaving the hospital, one of the instructions I received from my doctor was to eat plenty of protein, because my body is in the process of replenishing my red blood cell count, which had gotten freakishly low. So now that I'm finally back to an unrestricted diet, I decided to treat myself (and L) to a great steak tonight. Sorry, my vegetarian friends, this post is not for you.

But what made this the best steak I've ever made?

  • great product
  • seasoning with kosher salt 3 times
  • 72 hours of aging in my fridge
  • a nice hot iron skillet
  • proper resting.

    Oh, and the bleu cheese and butter didn't hurt either...

    I picked up a beautiful 16 ounce, 1" thick ribeye steak from the market on Friday and decided to "age" it minimally in my refrigerator before cooking it, particularly given its thickness. On Saturday--following a seasoning tip I read on Ideas in Food, one of my favorite blog reads--I unwrapped the steak and lightly seasoned it with kosher salt, then left it on a plate uncovered to let the dehumidifying action of the refrigerator remove the excess moisture pulled to the surface by the salt. On Sunday, most of the salt was absorbed, so I seasoned it again with a light dusting of kosher salt and let it rest in the refrigerator for another 24 hours. The salt pulls additional water soluable proteins to the surface of the steak which facilitates the development of a terrific crust when seared in a pan, particularly when the steak is free of moisture.

    Tonight, after taking the steak out of the refrigerator for 30 minuts, I seasoned it one final time lightly with kosher salt, along with sweet paprika and a dash of cinnamon for each side. Each side was seared in a hot iron skillet (on medium high heat... on our gas stove, high is too hot and would burn the steak and spices, medium would be a bit too weak to develop a good sear) for 4 minutes per side... I then took the steak off the heat, covered it with foil, and allowed it to rest for 10 minutes (minimum... this step is critical) to let the juices redistribute. The result? A supremely tender, incredibly juicy and flavorful steak, with a perfectly seared exterior and a pink, medium rare interior... the seasoning permeating all the way through the steak, and a balanced perfume of spice emerging from the layers of unabashedly carnivorous decadence and goodness.

    Served with caramelized onions, a bleu cheese compound butter, and a cabernet reduction, and we had a spectacular dinner for two... my red blood cell count increasing with each bite.

    And now it's time to watch Bourdain in Vietnam on No Reservations...