BELGIAN WAFFLES

Dear Reader, please forgive my belatedness with this week’s post.  It’s the germiest time of the year as far as teaching in a middle school is concerned, and I’ve been home sick for a couple of days.

To that end, I’m afraid I don’t have anything witty or profound or even very meaningful, except for this recipe, which yields Belgian waffles so ridiculously good that I wonder how I ever lived without a waffle iron before.  (My mom, who is probably now worried after reading that I’ve been sick—I’m okay, mama!  Don’t worry!—bought me one for Christmas and I didn’t think I would use it that much.  BOY WAS I WRONG).

We served these waffles to company last weekend and they swooned.  The best part is that you can make the yeasted batter the night before, leaving it out on room temperature for a few hours before stashing it in the fridge.  Wake up the next morning, and voila!  Waffles.  And not just any waffles, mind you.  These are crisp and toothsome on the outside, pliant and buttery on the inside.  So. stinkin’. good.

Since I’m still getting to know my waffle iron, please tell me—what else should I be using it for?  I’d love any sweet or savory recipes you are willing to share in the comments.

 

BELGIAN WAFFLES

adapted from Food & Wine, November 2011

The original recipe calls for Belgian pearl sugar, which is tricky to find and ridiculously expensive (I paid $11 for the small jar you see below).  While the large spheres of sugar do add a lovely crunch and help the outside of the waffles brown, I found I was able to get almost exactly the same effect with the far less expensive demerara (also known as turbinado) sugar.

There are lots of flavoring possibilities here: vanilla bean, as written below, is the most traditional, but I’ve also made a batch with a teaspoon-or-so of orange blossom water added in, and am thinking next time, I’ll try a saffron-cardamom combination.

ingredients:

1 ½ T light brown sugar

1 ¾ tsp. active dry yeast

1/3 cup lukewarm water

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ tsp. salt

3 large eggs

1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract (or the scrapings of half a vanilla bean)

2 sticks unsalted butter, melted

¾ cup demerara sugar or 1 cup Belgian pearl sugar

In a small bowl, whisk the brown sugar & yeast into lukewarm water and let it stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.  In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the flour with the salt.  Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the yeast mixture.  Mix on medium until shaggy, about 1 minute.

Add the eggs one at time, mixing for a few seconds between each egg.  Slowly mix in the melted butter and vanilla; the batter will be very thick and sticky.  Cover with plastic wrap and let the batter rise for about two hours.

At this point, you can stir the batter and place it in the fridge overnight.  Go to sleep and dream of waffles!

Okay, when you’re ready to make the waffles, do a couple of things:  place a baking sheet in your oven and preheat it to warm, stir the sugar into your waffle batter, & melt a little more butter (yeah, these waffles are going to taste goooood).

As a cautionary measure, place a baking sheet underneath your waffle iron, then heat it up to its “golden brown” setting (for my little Cuisinart iron, that’s somewhere between 3 and 4).  Once the waffle iron is ready, brush with a bit of melted butter and then spread no more than a ¼ cup of batter onto the iron, pressing down with the lid to distribute.  The batter is going to be very thick and you’ll think there’s no way it will make a full waffle, but don’t add more batter!  You will just make a big mess if you do this (so says the voice of experience).

Cook according to your waffle iron manufacturer’s directions until golden and crisp—transfer to the oven and continue making waffles until all of the batter is gone.  Serve the waffles with a sprinkle of powdered sugar, maple syrup, fruit, and/or some combination of the above.

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VALENTINES FOR SOLDIERS

So, this happened:

Valentines for Soldiers began three years ago when my friend Rachael agreed to let me co-opt her bringing-homemade-cake-to-a-local-bar-on-Monday-nights-tradition and turn one of those nights into a small craft-making, cocktail-drinking, and package-assembling event among Twitter friends.  We packed about a dozen boxes that year, all of us had fun, and we agreed to do it again the next year.

As you may recall, this time last year Jill was about to face her first round of chemo, and frankly I was not in much of a place for event-planning.  Still, with the help of friends, Valentines for Soldiers happened again in 2011, growing in size a ‘lil bit and even making it onto the evening news.  That year we mailed out around twenty boxes full of donated items, baked goods, & valentines, garnering just enough monetary donations to cover the shipping costs.

Last night, at Valentines for Soldiers 2012, over 350 people gathered at the Saint Arnold Brewing Company here in Houston, crafted hundreds of valentines, bought dinner from two of Houston’s best food trucks (which donated 5% of their night’s earnings), helped fill and pack 75 boxes to be mailed to troops stationed abroad, raised over $4000 in total contributions, and spent the course of the evening stunning, inspiring, and completely overwhelming me.


What I’ve learned is this:

a)    people L-O-V-E to play around with crafts.  seriously—we couldn’t get them to stop!  old people, young people, men, women…there’s something about the chance to be creative and just “play” in the markers, stickers, paper, glue, and scissors that really seems to speak to folks. the results were funny, sweet, goofy, and in some cases, downright stunning.

b)    bake sales still work.  with generous contributions from at least 30 bakers and generous donations from attendees—including homemade kolaches, stuffed pretzels, bourbon balls, cupcakes, marshmallows, pies, and gorgeous cakes & cookies of all kinds—  we managed to raise over $2000 from the bake sale alone.  SHUT THE FRONT DOOR.

c)    veterans, active service members, and their families appreciate every bit of support from us.  from the parents who submitted addresses of their sons and daughters to the veterans who came out to our event to pack boxes and pay it forward, I have been humbled by the loyalty, strength, and love within our military community.  their affirmations cemented the importance of what we were up to.

d)    it’s just plain amazing what a little idea, a lot of planning, and some genuine enthusiasm can do.  go getcha some!

Approximately $800 of the money we raised will be used to mail out packages; the rest will be donated to the Wounded Warrior Project by the end of this week.  If any of you out there would be interested in creating a similar event in your city, let me know!  I plan to build a basic “How-To” section on our event website.

Recipe comin’ atcha next week!  Hope everyone’s keeping well out there.

Valentines for Soldiers 2012:

newspaper feature in Houston Chronicle (pre-event)

television segment on Fox 26 news (night-of event)

additional photographs courtesy Ruthie Johnson Miller

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A PROPER CUP OF CHAI

Funny moment today in my classroom—I was prepping my kids for an exercise about identity, in which I was asking them to brainstorm the various labels, designators, and categories to which they belong.  Religion, ethnicity, familial relationships, hobbies, interests, etc.

We constructed a Venn diagram, with one circle labeled “How I See Myself” and the other “How Others See Me.”  I used myself as an example and we worked on the “others” section, filling in things like “teacher,” “woman,” “intelligent” (nice piece of flattery there, kids), “reader,” and “cook/baker” because they know about this blog.  They started to run out of things they know about/associate with me and I just stood there laughing at them for a few minutes.

“Guys, what’s the color of my skin?”

“Brown.  Oh!  You’re Indian!”

Yes, I am.  And, for me, my Indian-ness means certain things about me: I like to eat raw onion with my pizza, yoga is more than just a form of exercise for me, I know how to put on a sari in less than seven minutes and with only two safety pins, and—I really, really, really love tea.  Black tea.  With lots of cardamom in it.

There are many days, especially rainy ones like today has been in Houston, that all I want to do is drink cup after cup of warm, milky, and slightly sweet tea.  Usually Jill is a die-hard coffee drinker, but there are many afternoons during the winter where I’ll hear “Honey, will you make some chai?” coming from the living room couch, and we’ll drink cup after cup together.

This is my version, or really my family’s version, of authentic, Indian-style chai.  I love to serve it for a group of friends at brunch, or after a dinner party, with a tray of cookies.

MY INDIAN CHAI RECIPE

This portion will serve four people all at once, or two people (like me & Jill) over the course of an afternoon.  The recipe doubles or halves easily.

Note: don’t you dare use skim milk in your chai.  You dishonor my ancestors when you use skim milk in your chai!  Okay, maybe not, but it’s really a shame to go through all of this trouble and then pour milk-flavored water into the saucepan.  Go whole milk or go home—or at least go 2%.

 

ingredients:

3 cups water
1 T fresh ginger, peeled & minced
1 cinnamon stick
3-4 whole black peppercorns
1 tsp. fennel seeds
½ tsp. ground cardamom OR 5-6 cardamom pods, crushed slightly
¼ cup sugar, plus more to suit individual tastes
1-1½ cups milk
1-2 T loose-leaf black tea, preferably an Indian brand like Brooke Bond or Red Label

Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan.  Once it hits a rolling boil, toss in the ginger, cinnamon stick, peppercorns, fennel, & cardamom.  Reduce heat to medium-high, keeping the water at a healthy boil.  Allow the spices to infuse the water for 3-4 minutes before adding the sugar, stirring to dissolve.

Now add the tea.  Indians traditionally make their chai quite strong, adding lots of milk to dial the intensity back down.  If you prefer a milder version, stick to 1 or 1 ½ T.  For the full effect, go with 2 T.  Either way, crank the heat down to medium after adding the tea, or the pot will boil over.

Boil the tea-and-spice mixture for a full four minutes before turning the heat down again, this time to medium-low before adding the milk.  For best results, heat the milk separately in a small saucepan or the microwave, just until foamy.

Add as much or as little milk as you like, depending on your preference.  Warm everything through on low and don’t worry if a thin film forms on the surface of the chai—that’s actually a sign you did it right and are using good milk!  Ladle the tea into cups or a teapot, passing through a strainer to remove the tea leaves and spices.

Serve each mug with a pinch of ground cardamom and/or ginger (optional), plus extra sugar on the side for those who prefer their tea more sweet.

To go along with your chai, might I suggest:

pear bread
popovers
orange polenta cake
cardamom shortbread cookies

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QUINOA-BLACK BEAN PATTIES

Listen, it’s time for some quinoa patties.  You know, quinoa—the super-grain that’s been having its moment in the sun for quite some time now?  We at my house are quite obsessed with it; I buy giant 10-lb. bags of organic quinoa at Costco more frequently than you might imagine.

My mom is the one who turned me on to quinoa.  She fell in love with it to such an extent that she even adapted many Indian recipes that normally call for rice to be made with the nutty grain.  When you think about how committed we South Asians are to our rice, this is saying something.

2012 is shaping up to be a big year for my mom; she turns sixty-five this year, which means she can retire from her long and successful career as a special education teacher.  She is planning to put her house on the market this spring, and when it sells, move down here to Houston.

My parents and I moved into said house when I was a mere eighteen months old—apparently I scared the dickens out of mom by hiding in the empty kitchen cabinets while she unpacked!  I also remember laying down on a pallet of blankets in the hallway that connects the kitchen and dining room, because my mom was up late cooking and, sleepy as I was, I didn’t want to miss anything.  That house has seen countless giggling girl sleepovers, hosted huge Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day feasts, watched me do hours of homework (and spend a near-equal amount of hours on the phone—remember how much we used to talk on the phone?), and was the last place I saw my father alive, happy, and vibrant.  There’s so much memory and meaning wrapped up in that house that the idea of my mom not living there anymore is a little hard to wrap my mind around.

Thing is, I want my mom not to live there anymore; her moving has been the plan for the last five or so years, and I am so ready for her to live down the street from me and Jill so I can see her EVERY. DAMN. DAY.  It’s just a little bit wild to realize that something I’ve imagined and thought about happening somewhere off in the future is here now.

Whatever milestones you are anticipating this year, or the ones that may crop up and surprise you, I wish everyone a very prosperous and peaceful year!  If you need a little break from heavy holiday foods, give these quinoa patties a try—they’re awfully good for you and surprisingly delicious.

 

QUINOA-BLACK BEAN PATTIES
adapted from 101 Cookbooks

I gave my quinoa patties a Southwestern twist, but the original recipe calls for kale instead of beans, feta instead of queso fresco, and completely different herbs.  You can make all kinds of changes/substitutions to these patties; as long as you get to the right consistency in the end, they should cook up well and taste great.

Once cooled, the patties will keep for several days in the fridge and for 2-3 months in the freezer–so great for when you need a healthy dinner but don’t feel like cooking!

ingredients:

2 cups quinoa, cooked, which will yield about 2 ½ cups once cooked (I like to cook my quinoa in broth for added flavor)
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup cooked black beans
½ cup bread crumbs
½ cup minced onion (I love red, but if you don’t, use yellow or white)
½ cup queso fresco, crumbled
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
olive oil

Saute the onion and garlic in a bit of olive oil until translucent.  Set aside to cool.  Combine the quinoa, eggs, beans, bread crumbs, cilantro, cumin, & salt.  Mix well before adding the cooled onion and garlic.  Allow the mixture to sit for a few minutes before gently adding in the cheese.

Your mixture should, at this point, be wet enough to clump together in your hands but dry enough to have some structure.  If you need to, adjust the consistency by adding more bread crumbs or another egg.  You can also use flour, water, or broth.  Err on the moist side, as this will prevent your patties from becoming too dry when cooked.

You can cook the patties one of two ways—in the oven or in a skillet.  I’ve tried both ways; the pan allowed for more browning, but the oven makes it easier to cook a large batch.

For the oven, heat to 400°.  Form the patties to your desired size, making each one about 1-inch thick.  Use a little olive oil to grease the baking sheet before sliding the patties into the oven.  Bake for 15-20 minutes on one side, then flip and bake another 5 minutes to brown the other side.

In the skillet, heat some olive oil over medium heat.  Add as many patties as you can fit and still be able to flip them—cook for 8-10 minutes, or until the bottoms have browned.  Flip the patties and cook for another 7-8 minutes on the other side.

We served our patties with some sliced avocado and sour cream.

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