A Pinch of This. A Dash of That

I’m not so great at measuring.

This drives my husband crazy.

It may drive you crazy, too.

I try to give measurements of most ingredients, but some are just hard to do. Especially salt and pepper. There’s a ton of research out there on the use of salt. And I’m not going to get in to it. I’ll say that we use sea salt, that iodized table salt hasn’t crossed my threshhold in at least ten years, and that I don’t like it. It’s astringent and doesn’t taste good. Though I’ll add salt to most things I cook (and so will husband) five or six times, we rarely go through more than four or five ounces in a month. And we eat almost exclusively at home, we bake almost all of our bread, cakes, and cookies ourselves, and we eat a lot of popcorn.

Horribly constructed sentences aside, it may seem like we use quite a lot of salt, and that the high quality sea salt we purchase must cost us a pretty penny, it really doesn’t. Plus, the salt we use adds to the flavor of our food.

And that flavor is the most important part. So, when I add salt, it’s usually a pinch here and a pinch there and sometimes just a dash. The same thing goes for pepper, dried herbs, and other spices like cardamom and cumin. I know what I like, I know what my family likes, and I know how to manipulate the flavors I put in to food to come out to something delectable at the end. A large part of this is practice. Get in there and give it a whirl! Taste along the way, be a little bit fearless, and taste again. Do remember that you can’t take out what you’ve put in, you can always add a little bit more, and that if you never add, you’ll never know.

I want to repeat that last bit.

Do remember that you can’t take out what you’ve put in, you can always add a little bit more, and that if you never add, you’ll never know.

Salt does magical things to food when it’s added as the food is cooking. It releases flavor into the dish as a whole by breaking down cell walls and mingling the flavors of all the elements of the dish. Something cooked with salt and something cooked without will taste completely different, even if the dish cooked without salt has the same amount added after it’s cooked. Go ahead and try it some time. I dare you.

The point of all of this rambling? Cooking is a learning process. Learning how you like food, how your friends and family like food, and learning to prepare it that way takes time, patience, and experimentation. A potato will help absorb an over-salted dish. A bit of yoghurt or sour cream will alleviate too much spice. And, perhaps best of all, as you learn to use more than a measuring spoon to measure ingredients, you start a relationship with the bits of things that make up your food, and it comes out perfect every time.

Albondigas Soup

Exotic names often inspire a thrill from the unknown treasures that may be inside. For others, the strange and new presents fear and an unwillingness to try something new. Foreign foods contain foreign ingredients, some going so far as to include ingredients that are culturally taboo. As a small child, the general rule was that if the title of the food wasn’t already Anglicized, we didn’t eat it. This meant the exotic only went so far as MuShu Pork , burritos, and Spaghetti.

And then I got older.

We ate more variety. My parents took me to a different cultural festival in Ventura County every month one summer. The smorgasbord presented was only made more exciting by the jeers I received at school the following year when my parents tried to recreate perogies and falafel at home. I remember the food being delicious, and the adventure of making it brought my parents together into a force; a team. Oh the power of food!

Enter Albondigas Soup.

I was a teenager before I got over my fear of hamburgers. Completely irrational, and completely true. And not long after, I gained a fear of anything ground meat. Albondigas soup carries all of the elements that create fear of a new food: it’s foreign, the name is plain scary to try to say, and it’s made of ground meat.

It’s also incredibly simple. Albondigas = meatballs. And, as fans of Jonathan Coultan know, “meatballs, tasty.” In our house, this soup goes too fast to get pictures. A simple broth playing host to meatballs and vegetables is too tempting. All three of us gobble it up without a thought. The soup could also easily be made to be GAPS friendly, even early in the GAPS diet, by changing up the vegetables used.

Here it is, our recipe for a scary-sounding soup. Remember though, it’s soup. And soup isn’t to be feared.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound ground meat. I like a mix of 3 parts beef to one part pork. Ground chicken and turkey really don’t have the fat content to hold a good meatball together, and the meatballs aren’t as flavorful. We’re all about the flavor, and a meatball that holds itself together well.
  • 1 onion. You’ll want about 2 tablespoons finely chopped for the meatballs. The rest will go in to the soup.
  • 1 bunch of cilantro, chopped (If you’re a soapy cilantro taster, you could use parsley instead. Or go crazy and use a bit of tarragon).
  • 1 egg
  • 1 quart of stock (go all out and make a home-made bone broth. You won’t regret it).
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 bell peppers
  • 2 stalks celery
  • tomatoes (we usually use a box of Pomi brand tomatoes)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano
  • Other Veggies as desired

Mix the ground meat(s), egg, a tablespoon or so of chopped onion, 2 tablespoons or so of cilantro, a tea spoon of salt, and a quarter teaspoon (we probably use more) together. Form balls of a size to your liking. We usually use about 1.5 to 2 tablespoons of mix to make one meat ball. Set these aside.

Grab your stock pot and add your quality oil of choice. We use cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil for everything. It’s tasty, easier than having a billion oils for everything, and I know what’s in my olive oil (olive oil; nothing else). When the oil is hot, add in the remainder of the onion, the carrots, and the celery. Add a pinch of salt. Saute until the onions are translucent. Add in the remainder of the vegetables, another pinch of salt, a bit of black pepper and soften. You could deglaze with a bit of wine or beer at this point (which I recommend) though we don’t often have any in the house, so we skip this. Add in your stock and another pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Once the stock is hot, turn the heat down, taste the stock (and probably add another pinch of salt) and slowly plop in the meat balls. The hot liquid will help keep the meatballs together. Allow the soup to simmer until the meatballs are cooked through. Serve with the remainder of the cilantro on top and scoop of sour cream, creme fraich, or yoghurt.

This makes way more soup than the three of us can eat for dinner. I’ll eat leftovers for lunch for a week. Or we’ll have a second dinner out of this and just a couple of days of leftovers. You could also freeze half and re-heat another night.

Pancakes. Upgraded. Inspired.

A simple batter poured into a hot skillet that’s used as a conveyor belt for butter and maple syrup, and so often from a mix that comes in a yellow box. I admit, I’ve made similar pancakes. They’re quick and easy to do, and generally don’t require special ingredients. They also often taste uninspired and thrown together. And, well, they are.

Cookbooks often bring about an inspiration to make a better dish for me. Welsh Heritage Food & Cooking by Annette Yates does just this for our pancakes. The inspiration? Use yeast instead of backing soda as the leavening agent. This simple change creates a whole new flavor and texture profile. It does take a bit more time though – the yeast needs about an hour to work its magic and create pockets of air inside the batter. When it’s cooked, the batter rises again just a bit to make a light and fluffy pancake. Besides the flavor, the biggest difference this change creates is a thicker batter and a pancake that’s easier to flip.

To a normally uninspired batter I added mashed up over-ripe bananas and sprinkled on chocolate chips and coconut flakes while cooking. Here’s how it all went down:

Ingredients

4 too-ripe-to-eat-but-not-rotten bananas

3 cups of flour (we only ever use whole wheat)

warm milk (about a cup)

water (about a cup)

4 teaspoons of yeast

2 tablespoons butter

Salt

2 eggs

Chocolate Chips

Coconut flakes

Make the pancakes:

Warm the milk, water, and butter together just until the butter is belted. The butter isn’t actually necessary, especially with the bananas (which should be mashed at this point in a large bowl). Don’t be tempted by the microwave when warming your milk and water. You’ll end up with pockets of hot that are just unpleasant and unnecessary. And you’ll scramble the eggs, which isn’t any good either.

If you haven’t already, peel the bananas and mash them. Sift the flour, yeast, and salt to taste (a recipe this size usually calls for a teaspoon to two teaspoons of salt). Cut the bananas in to the flour. Beat the eggs into the warm milk and water, and pour this over the flour and bananas. Mix well. Cover with a tea towel (or plastic wrap if you must) and let it sit aside for an hour.

This is the hardest part of these pancakes. Yeast takes time to, as we like to say in hour house, to get happy. There’s a noticeable change to the texture and scent of the dough when it’s ready, besides rising to nearly double its original size. Unlike with most yeast breads, there’s no need to knead this one.

After an hour has passed (you really will want to wait a full hour. And please, don’t put this in the fridge. The yeast won’t do its job in the cold environment), treat your doughy-batter just like you would the pancake batter you grew up with: place a pancake sized amount into a hot skillet with butter. This doughy batter won’t bubble as much, but, you’ll see a few bubbles when it’s ready to flip. And oh is it ever easy to flip! I sprinkled on a few chocolate chips and coconut flakes while the first side cooked. You could add these to the batter instead. We topped the pancakes with butter, honey, and a bit more coconut. Why not?

As a final note, don’t let my changes limit your imagination on what goes in to these delicious breakfast morsels. What’s your favorite ingredient to add to pancakes?

banana coconut welsh pancakes