Tag Archive for Breakfast

Eggs in Purgatory

Necessity is the mother of invention.

True in the world of technological advances. True also in the world of the kitchen.

Because, on those nights when there doesn’t appear to be anything in the cupboards and the fridge is down to just the basics, there are still meals to be made.

Such was the case the other night when I found myself hungry and with only the very basics in my cupboards and fridge. (Eclectic basics due to my bizarre impulse grocery shopping skills, but basics nevertheless.)

Among them, a can of diced tomatoes I’m sure I bought for a Bolognese that never ended up getting cooked, a chunk of Parmesan, part of a red onion, some rapidly wilting herbs and eggs.

In short, all the ingredients for a dish known as Eggs in Purgatory.

(It’s sometimes also known as Eggs in Hell, though I’d argue that’s for a spicier version than I can handle.)

Eggs in Purgatory II

There are millions of variations for this recipe, but they all start with the basic concept of cooking eggs in a tomato sauce. Beyond that, it can be as creative as one wants or dependent on what one has on hand: wilt in some greens like spinach or kale, add sausage, spicy chorizo or strips of prosciutto, sauté onions and garlic to give the sauce more flavour. Make a more “hellish” version by throwing in some chopped jalapenos or chilies while sautéing the onions. The options are limitless.

With my limited supplies, however, I kept it pretty basic. Thankfully, basic doesn’t mean boring.

With only 10 minutes and a very small amount of effort, I had a flavourful and filling dinner. The rich eggs with slightly runny yolks are a nice foil to the spicy tomato sauce. I mopped it all up with a crusty piece of bread slathered with some butter.

Using just one pan to make a meal means this dish is near perfection.

Next time, I probably won’t wait until necessity forces me to make this for dinner; I’ll make sure I have the ingredients for Eggs in Purgatory.

Eggs in Purgatory I

Eggs in Purgatory

For a spicier version, add more red pepper flakes or add some diced jalapeno. For some more green, wilt spinach or kale just as the onions have softened before adding the diced tomatoes.

  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) diced onion, about ¼ of a small onion
  • 1 clove garlic, diced
  • ¼ tsp (1 mL) red pepper flakes
  • 1 13.5-oz (398 mL) can diced tomatoes
  • ¼ tsp (1 mL) salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan
  • ¼ cup chopped herbs

In a pan over medium heat, warm the oil and then add the onion, letting it sauté until softened and slightly transluscent. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté until fragrant, about a minute longer. Pour in the diced tomatoes and juice, stir and let come to a simmer. Add the salt and a few grinds from the pepper mill, then let the tomato sauce cook until the liquid reduces and the sauce thickens slightly. Taste for seasonings, adding more salt or pepper as needed.

Using the back of a spoon, make two divots in the sauce and crack the eggs into the spaces. Sprinkle the parmesan over the sauce and egg whites.

Cover with a lid and let the eggs cook until the whites are set and the yolk is slightly runny (or to your desired doneness).

Remove from the heat, then sprinkle with the chopped herbs.

Serve immediately.

Serves 1 to 2.

Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins

I was thinking about this recipe all day today now that blueberries are back at the markets and couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t find it on my own blog. Turns out I failed to post it after writing it last year (or even further ago). Making some of these tonight.

Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins I

My cupboards are stuffed with ingredients I’ve used for one recipe and then promptly forgotten about. Half empty packages of rice noodles, more Israeli cous cous than I know what to do with, cans of coconut milk and assorted pastas.

And amongst all those bags and packages are several of finely ground cornmeal, which I’ve bought to use in corn bread or polenta, then forgotten about and bought more. (I might be a candidate for some sort of kitchen-related hoarding intervention.)

I like polenta; I like corn bread. I even liked the bit of cornmeal added to the crust of a Rhubarb Crostata I made a couple of weeks ago. But none of these things has me getting through those bags of cornmeal quickly.

So, when I was looking for baking inspiration on Monday and stumbled across a Nigella Lawson recipe for Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins, I knew exactly what my next project would be. (To add to my eagerness, I had a large basket of blueberries in my fridge slowly wrinkling that needed to be dealt with immediately; clearly, it was a sign.)

Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins III

Like all muffins, this recipe is easy and comes together quickly.

But the addition of just a bit of cornmeal makes them more than just your average blueberry muffin. The top – which stays flattened – becomes a tasty golden crust, revealing beneath a tender and light muffin dotted with blueberries.

It’s neither overly sweet nor cakey, which seem to be more cupcake-like traits than muffin ones. And, while very soft, the cornmeal gives it a heartiness.

Having one more recipe in my arsenal that uses up my abundance of cornmeal – and such a tasty one to boot – pleases me.

And the fact that I got to use up some festive, polka dotted cupcake liners at the same time made this an even better way to clean out the cupboards.

Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins IV

Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins

This recipe comes from Nigella Lawson’s book Kitchen. I added a few more blueberries than called for and added a pinch of salt, which you can feel free to leave out, but I think rounds out the flavours in baked goods. The muffins were fully baked at the 15-minute mark, so consider checking a minute or two early.

Lawson suggests they are best eaten on the day they’re made, but can be stored in an airtight container, layered with parchment paper, then reheated in a warm oven for 5 to 8 minutes.

  • 1 cup (250 mL) flour
  • ½ cup + 1 tbsp (140 mL) cornmeal
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) baking powder
  • ½ tsp (2 mL) baking soda
  • 2/3 cup (150 mL) sugar
  • pinch salt
  • ½ cup (125 mL) vegetable oil
  • ½ cup (125 mL) buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • ¾ cup (175 mL) blueberries

Preheat the oven to 400 F (200 C) and line a muffin tin with papers.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and sugar and salt. In a measuring jug or bowl, pour the oil and buttermilk and whisk or fork in the egg.

Stir the oil mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients – remembering that lumpiness is a good thing when making muffins – and fold half the blueberries into your thick golden batter.

Divide this batter between each muffin case (they will be about two-thirds full) and drop the remaining blueberries on top; you should have about 3 for the top of each muffin.

Cook in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, till a cake tester comes out cleanish (obviously it will be stained if it hits a berry). Leave the muffins in the tin on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then remove the muffins, in their cases, to the wire rack to cool a little (not too much) before you serve or eat them.

 

Berry Buttermilk Pancakes

I have a friend who delights in eating breakfast for dinner.

When she and her husband decide to have eggs and bacon, or maybe some pancakes, instead of more typical supper fare, it’s a treat.

She likes breakfast for breakfast just as much.

So, she was downright gleeful this weekend when she was able to order a full meal deal — eggs, sausage and a tall stack of fluffy pancakes — over the weekend after missing out for many months while living in France. (Coffee and a croissant is just not the same, understandably.)

Berry Buttermilk Pancakes II

I never order pancakes when out for breakfast because my tastes lean more toward savoury dishes in the morning. But there was something about that pile of pancakes, topped with melting butter and spilling over with syrup, that was oddly tempting.

When I got home from a weekend away and found my fridge devoid of groceries (as was expected), but, oddly, with a nearly full carton of buttermilk (which I had forgotten about), I knew exactly what I wanted to make.

Not just any Buttermilk Pancakes, but a stack of them speckled with fresh berries and then doused with real maple syrup. Tartness and sweetness packaged together. And maybe with a side of bacon, since I discovered an unopened package of that in my fridge too (a very pleasant surprise).

Berry Buttermilk Pancakes I

Although blueberries are the most common pancake addition, I wanted to use tart raspberries, which kind of squish and caramelize when flipped to cook against the hot pan.

They become these little pockets of bright berry colour and flavour, hidden in the golden-tinged fluffiness of the pancake. When right side up, the pancakes don’t reveal their hidden gems.

Also, it seemed a particularly summery addition, since they’re coming back into season.

Breakfast for dinner has many benefits, not the least of which is it’s pretty quick to prepare. Whisk together some flour and leaveners; do the same with buttermilk, eggs and melted butter for some added richness. Mix them together gently, fry and enjoy.

Even better, the trick with pancakes — much like muffins — is the batter shouldn’t be overmixed. It’s not only OK, it’s preferable that it be a bit lumpy.

Once done, the light pancakes spotted with juicy berries were just the right mix of rich and tart, soaked with the sweetness of syrup.

They were enough to make me think I need to adopt my friend’s breakfast-for-dinner plan a little more often.

Berry Buttermilk Pancakes III

Berry Buttermilk Pancakes IV

Berry Buttermilk Pancakes

I like tart raspberries in here, but blueberries would work just as well, or a mix of the two. I like smaller-sized versions rather than plate-sized pancakes — better for stacking — so I use a 1/3-cup measure to pour the batter. If you like a larger pancake, use a 1/2 cup measuring cup; those will fit about two to the pan, depending on its size.

  • 2 cups (500 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp (35 mL) sugar
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) baking powder
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
  • 2 1/2 cups (625 mL) buttermilk
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) butter, melted and cooled, plus more for the pan
  • 1 cup (250 mL) raspberries

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, mix together buttermilk, eggs and melted butter. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and whisk together gently until just combined. There will be some lumps.

Heat a pan over medium-high heat until a bit of water added to the pan bounces and sizzles. Add butter and let melt, swishing around the pan to evenly coat the bottom. Using a 1/3-cup measuring cup or similar sized ladle, pour pancake batter into the pan. (Mine fit about 3 pancakes with some room for flipping.)

Drop four or five raspberries on each pancake and let cook until bubbles form and those at the edges don’t fill in when they pop — about 2 to 3 minutes. Flip the pancakes and let cook for another minute or so.

Remove to a plate and continue cooking the rest of the pancakes.

Makes about 16 pancakes.

Apple Muffins

I am not a breakfast person.

I mean, I love breakfast — or maybe more accurately, I love brunch. A plate of eggs and sausages and hash browns? Yes, please. Huevos Rancheros? Absolutely. Even classic eggs Benedict is a perfect way to start the day.

But during the week, I’ll grasp at any extra sleep I can get in the morning and if that means foregoing a sit-down breakfast, then that’s the sacrifice I will make.

That doesn’t mean, though, that I skip the meal entirely. There’s no way I could last until lunch and I recognize the importance of starting off the day right (while still hitting the snooze button at least once).

So, I like to have stuff around that I can grab and take with me. Fruit, small chunks of cheese, maybe even a sandwich. And, occasionally, I have fresh muffins.

Apple Muffins

Bran or blueberry are standard, but when I saw the small collection of apples on my counter (my go-to fruit for snacking) this week, I thought it might be nice to incorporate them into a muffin.

It would have to be spiced with some cinnamon and nutmeg and the chunks of apple should be big enough to notice, but small enough to get well distributed in the mix.

After digging around on the Internet, I found a recipe from Martha Stewart to use as a guide, but I made a few changes, including adding nutmeg (a warm flavour I think is perfect with apples) and reducing the butter; a little fat is fine in a muffin, but I think a half a cup is unnecessary.

I made it with Fujis and Galas because that’s what I had around the house. The original calls for a Granny Smith, which would give off a tarter flavour, but these sweeter apples were just as nice.

And I didn’t bother peeling the apple before dicing it because:

a) There are lots of great nutrients in the peel;

b) I can’t be bothered;

c) All of the above.

Plus, I like how the skins imparted a slightly pink hue to the baked muffins.

These turned out really well, warmly spiced and full of small chunks of apple. With a chunk of cheddar and a cup of tea, it’s a good way to start the day — right after hitting the snooze button.

Apple Muffins

Apple Muffins

  • 2 cups (500 mL) flour
  • 1 cup (250 mL) sugar
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) baking soda
  • ¾ tsp (3.5 mL) salt
  • ½ tsp (2 mL) cinnamon
  • ½ tsp (2 mL) nutmeg
  • 1 apple, cored and diced into ½-inch (1-cm) cubes
  • 1 cup (250 mL) buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

 

Preheat oven to 400F (200C). Line a muffin tin with liners or spray with vegetable oil.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and spices until thoroughly mixed. Stir in apples.

In a separate bowl, using a fork or whisk, mix buttermilk, eggs and butter.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet. Using a spatula or spoon, gently fold together the mixture until just combined. Do not over mix.

Divide batter between muffin cups, filling three-quarters full. Bake until the muffins are brown and a toothpick or tester comes out clean, about 16 to 18 minutes. Let cool slightly in the pan before removing to a rack.

Serve.

Makes 12 to 18 muffins.

 

Cream Biscuits with Sausage Gravy

If I believed in past lives, I’d swear I was a southern belle in one of mine. Give me a pitcher of sweet tea, porch swings, some fried chicken or chicken-fried steak and especially give me some Biscuits with Sausage Gravy.

Biscuits and Sausage Gravy II

I’ve been bookmarking recipes for biscuits and gravy on Delicious for a while now. In fact, when going through to clear out some old links (I mean, do I need 800 bookmarked recipes? No, I don’t think so.), I found a few I had forgotten about. I left one of them because it was different enough that I think I’d like to give it a go later.

Because this certainly won’t be the last time I cook up some biscuits and gravy.

Oh yeah.

So, instead of the usual biscuits, which involve cutting in butter to make them nice and flaky, this recipe only uses cream.

And they were a total revelation. Light and fluffy, cracking perfectly in half when pulled apart and with not an ounce of butter to be seen. Not that using butter in shortcakes or scones is difficult, since I discovered Nigella’s trick, but avoiding it all together certainly makes things go much faster.

The sausage gravy recipe was just as simple and straightforward. I think next time I may want something where I have a bit more control over the flavours. However, this was super tasty and it came together very quickly, which, if I was making this for a crowd would definitely put this recipe in the win column.

It’s easy to adjust the flavours just by changing up the type of sausage you use, which is also nice.

I’d call this a very good starter recipe, but I’m certainly not done exploring the world of biscuits and gravy.

Cream Biscuits

Cream Biscuits

Sausage Gravy

Biscuits and Sausage Gravy I

Cream Biscuits

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for the counter
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Preheat oven to 425. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Stir in the cream (starting with about 1 1/4 cups and adding more if necessary) until a dough forms, about 30 seconds or so. Dump the dough out onto a lightly floured counter. Gather it together and squash it together (not quite kneading it) until smooth.

Shape it into a circle about into a circle about 3/4″ thick. Cut biscuits into rounds and place on parchment-lined backing sheet. Bake biscuits until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Sausage Gravy

  • 12 ounces bulk pork sausage
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat a medium pan over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook, stirring occasionally and breaking it up into little bits, until browned and cooked through, about 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Sprinkle the flour into the remaining fat in the pan and cook for about a minute. Whisk the flour mixture while slowly adding the milk. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 2 minutes or so to let the gravy thicken. Add salt and pepper to taste, then stir in the sausage.

Serve the sausage gravy over the cream biscuits.

Serves 8 or fewer, depending on how hungry people are.

Peach-blueberry muffins

Oh hey!

Just popping in with some bran muffins.

Peach-blueberry muffins

I know I’m a bit of a baking freak, but I think I reached new lows (highs?) when I baked these up yesterday in the 30-degree heat. But I had a flat of peaches and they’re all pretty much perfectly ripe at this exact moment and I need to come up with ways to use them before I have to toss them. The original plan was a streusel peach cake, or a rustic tart, but by the time I got back from brunch with a friend and did some other chores, it seemed a bit late to be putting together a cake. And pastry? Well, that’s probably not going to be great when your kitchen is that blazing hot. (Plus, you know, pastry. We’re not the best of friends. One day, I hope. One day.)

Anyway, I’ve been making these peach bran muffins of Julie’s for awhile now. They’re what I think muffins should be. Healthy, full of good-for-you ingredients like bran and not too much sugar. Not those cake-in-disguise muffins, which I know are tasty, but really are just cupcakes with a different name.

I grew up eating Sunny Boy Muffins. Warm from the oven, cracked open with a little pat of butter. I can still taste them. (And this serves as a good reminder that I really need to track down some Sunny Boy; there is nothing like the taste of nostalgia.) So, I like a good, solid muffin. And these deliver.

I’ve made them several ways: with buttermilk, with plain yogurt thinned with some milk, with white sugar, with brown and with a mixture of the two. And here’s what I’ve decided: pretty much any way you go, these are good, hearty muffins. But, since I rarely have buttermilk on hand, I usually go with the yogurt-milk mix and I think I like the dual-sugar combination. Julie’s recipe calls for one peach, but I usually double that (or 1.5 that, if the peaches are really big) because I like the extra fruit. And this time around I added in some blueberries, which I just happened to have around. I’m sure other fruit would also be fantastic.

I like making muffins and cupcakes but an ongoing issue I have is that I appear to have some sort of miniature muffin tin. I mean, it looks all normal sized but whenever a recipe says it will make 12 muffins, I end up with anywhere between 16 and 20. At first, I thought it was just me and I was maybe not filling the tins enough. And then I realized it happens so consistently that I’m now pretty confident that it’s this tin. I can’t quite justify getting a new one, though.

All this to say, the recipe says it makes 12 muffins. I got 18 out of it, after dropping the cooking time almost in half. If your muffin tin runs on the small side and you have leftover batter after all the cups are filled, lower the cooking time to around the 13- or 14-minute mark. You can always bake them longer, but you don’t want to overbake them.

OK, go forth, make muffins. Enjoy.

All-bran cereal

Peach

Blueberries

Muffin batter

Peach-blueberry muffin

Fresh Peach Bran Muffins

from Dinner With Julie.

  • 2 cups All Bran cereal
  • 1 3/4 cups buttermilk or plain yogurt, thinned with milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar (white or brown)
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • pinch salt
  • 1 or 2 peaches, chopped (or additional fruit, as desired)

In a large bowl, stir together the cereal and buttermilk; let stand for 10 minutes, until soft. (Sometimes I drizzle in a bit more milk if this mixture seems really, overly solid. Never had any problems with a little additional liquid.) Preheat the oven to 375F.

Stir the sugar, oil and egg into the bran mixture. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and stir until almost combined; add the peach and stir just until blended.

Divide the batter among 12 muffin cups that have been lined with paper liners or sprayed with nonstick spray. Bake for 25 minutes, until golden and springy to the touch. Makes a dozen muffins.

Welsh Scones

Growing up, I had a thing for the Royal family.

I had coffee table books all about Princess Diana, her wedding to Charles, her boys, William and Harry, along with a video of Andrew and Sarah Ferguson’s wedding.

I was one of those girly-girls with a penchant for dressing up, wanting to wear twirly skirts (that whirled out when I spun in circles; I called them turn-y skirts), put on lipstick. I always wanted a tiara.

So, although the inundation of countdowns and articles and television specials and photo galleries leading up to the wedding between Prince William of Wales and Kate (I’m sorry, Catherine) Middleton has been a bit much, my inner eight-year-old girl is kind of loving it. What will the dress look like? What diamond-encrusted tiara will adorn her lovely dark locks? What will the bridesmaids wear? Will they have turn-y skirts?

Outside of the fantasy world, I don’t envy Kate. I’m happy for her and William because they do some genuinely in love, something so clearly missing in the relationship between his parents (though I couldn’t see that as a child). But I wonder too at what she’s giving up for that love. Yes, there are jewels and gorgeous clothes, first-class trips, brushes with celebrity. And there is the paparazzi, the pomp, the expectations, the constantly public life.

No matter, I will be indulging that inner child and tuning in to the wedding.

In honour of that, I’ll be eating scones (and drinking some champagne, of course — though not at 3 a.m. I’m not so devoted that I will wake up that early. That’s why I have a PVR.) as Kate walks down the aisle.

"Welsh Cake" scone

I could eat any version of scones, but I decided to create a recipe that would combine a basic scone with a Welsh cake (which share some similarities with scones, though they are fried instead of baked). My stepfather, who is of Welsh descent, often made these as a Sunday treat when we were kids. (A tradition, thankfully, that continues when I visit my parents.) They have a distinctive flavour that comes from nutmeg and currants. Basically, I wanted to use those flavours. Not just because I love them, but it’s just so fitting.

Afternoon Tea

He is Prince William of Wales, of course. And the couple will start their life as newlyweds in Anglesey, an island off the northwest coast of Wales.

I have to give credit where it’s due, so I will say that Nigella Lawson has changed the way I make scones. Her trick of grating frozen butter is just . . . perfection. I cannot recommend it enough. No matter what scone recipe I use these days, I always, always, always use this technique. Please, try it, I implore you.

This is based on her strawberry shortcake recipe, but has been adjusted.

Butter curls

Egg in Cream

Rolled and Cut

"Welsh Cake" Scones

Welsh Scones

  • 1½ cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup currants
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (I may go with a tad more next time)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, frozen
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup half-and-half or whipping cream (you may need slightly more)
  • 2 tablespoons whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (regular or natural cane sugar), optional

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Mix together the flour, salt, baking powder, sugar, currants and nutmeg in a bowl. Grate the frozen butter into the dry ingredients and use your fingertips to lightly toss all together. Whisk the egg into the half-and-half cream and pour into the flour mixture a little at a time, using a fork to mix. (I often need another tablespoon or two; I chalk it up to that dry Calgary weather.)

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, then roll gently to about ¾-inch thick. Dip a cutter in flour and cut out as many scones as possible. (Small ones are cute, but sometimes you just want a large scone with lots of room for Devonshire cream and jam.) Work the scraps back together, re-roll and cut more. (Nigella suggests using a 3-inch/6½-cm round cutter to make 8; I used a smaller one and got about 14.) Place on a baking sheet, brush the tops with the 2 tablespoons whipping cream and sprinkle with the remaining sugar, if desired. I used natural cane sugar, which has larger grains.

Bake until golden. Between 10 and 15 minutes for larger scones. Cutting them smaller? Check earlier. Mine took about 9 minutes. Remove to wire rack to cool.

Eat with copious amounts of jam and Devonshire cream. Or butter and jam. Or just jam.

Cinnamon Rolls for Michelle

This has taken more than a year to write.

Because although I’ve composed this dozens of times in my head, when it came down to actually sitting at the laptop words have completely escaped me.

And, I guess, the timing just wasn’t right.

This is for my friend Michelle.

Me and Michelle

On Dec. 30, 2009, Michelle Lang was in a two-LAV convoy returning to the Canadian Forces base in Kandahar when they hit an IED. She and four soldiers — Garrett Chidley, George Miok, Zachery McCormack and Kirk Taylor — were killed in the blast. Five others were injured.

Three weeks earlier, we were out celebrating my birthday. It was her final weekend before she flew out to Afghanistan for what was expected to be a two-month stint reporting on the conflict in that country for Canwest News. Despite the fact she was less than 72 hours from taking off and had myriad errands to run and things to organize before leaving, she came out for dinner and then drinks, staying out well past bedtime. Friends always came first; that’s just the sort of girl she was.

And she was from the start.

When I moved to Calgary I had arranged for a couple of places to stay in those first few weeks, but there was a four-day gap where I had no plan, hoping to depend on the kindness of another reporter with whom I had a mutual friend. Instead, Michelle stepped in, offering up her couch to me — a virtual stranger — for as much time as I needed. She apologized it wasn’t nicer.

I live in that apartment now. On the night before I was to move in, Michelle stayed up until the early morning to get it into tip-top shape for me because she knew I wasn’t happy about giving up my old place. That’s also the sort of girl she was.

She was a huge supporter of this blog, she wasn’t afraid to scold me over my ever-growing shoe collection or dish out the tough love when it was needed. She offered up praise for a good story or kitchen victory; she listened when things were going sideways; she was my sushi-and-Buffy buddy (take-out and DVDs for a mid-week pick-me-up).

On the day before she left, I called her quickly to say I was going to miss her, to have fun, tell good stories and that I would see her in January. And then I said I would bake whatever she wanted when she was back in Calgary.

“What’s your favourite thing?” I asked.

“Cinnamon rolls,” she replied.

And I promised they would be hers when she returned.

A few weeks after her death, after the repatriation ceremony at CFB Trenton, the funeral in Vancouver and memorial service in Calgary, after the media coverage quieted, I set out to make the cinnamon buns. The fog of grief was still thick and I wanted to do something, some tiny thing, some personal thing, to honour her and follow through on my promise.

I set out to make the cinnamon rolls.

They were a complete failure. As in, the dough didn’t rise at all. Frustrated and angry — at more than just a baking misstep — I threw the hard lump of dough away and broke down. I didn’t attempt them again.

(Yeast-based goods are a downfall for me anyway, hence my love of all things no-knead. Although I did make some no-knead pumpkin cinnamon rolls that were successful, for some reason I feel this neither fulfilled nor broke my promise to make some for Michelle. I guess I figured the fact they were pumpkin made them a different kind of cinnamon bun altogether.)

Leading up to the one-year anniversary of losing Michelle, I started thinking again about those cinnamon rolls and my promise. But I wasn’t ready.  I dug my heels in trying to fight against the approaching day — a futile task.

And when it passed I knew it was time.

Michelle, this one is for you.

Lone bun

xo

gwendolyn

(Immense gratitude for the Pioneer Woman who had a recipe that was easy to work with and delicious. Thank you, I needed that.)

The dough rises

Rolled up

Naked buns

Geometric buns

Geometric buns - close-up

Powdered sugar and lemon zest

Incidentally, these red bowls were a birthday present from Michelle a few years ago. Now, when I pull them out (which I do a lot, since they are awesome ones from Williams-Sonoma), I always think of her.

Glaze

Glazed and ready to go

Pioneer Woman’s Cinnamon Rolls

I have halved this recipe, which still made an insane amount of rolls, as in two 9-inch cake pans’ worth and they were jammed full. This is as I made it, but you can easily double it if you want to feed an army. The glaze/frosting recipe is loosely based on hers, but I changed it quite a bit because I wanted something lemon-y.

  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast
  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon, heaping, baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon, scant, baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup melted butter, plus 2 tablespoons for the pans
  • cinnamon

In a large pot, mix the milk, oil and sugar and heat until scalded, just before boiling. Remove from the heat and let it cool until lukewarm, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Sprinkle over yeast and let sit for a minute. Add in the 4 cups of flour and stir. Cover and let it rise for at least an hour until doubled (or more).

Add the remaining 1/2 cup of flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir together. (I had to knead it a little bit to get all the remaining dry ingredients worked in.)

Sprinkle the area where you’re going to roll out the dough generously with flour. Divide the dough in half and roll it thin into a rough rectangle. Drizzle half the melted butter over the dough and then sprinkle half of the sugar and a generous dose of cinnamon. (I went too easy on it and wish I had used more. Don’t be afraid!) Roll the dough in a neat, tight line and then pinch the seam together to seal it. Slice the rolls into even pieces, about 1-inch wide. (Mine were probably closer to 1 1/2-inches.)

Spread 1 tablespoon of melted butter into a cake or pie pan (she calls for 7-inch pans; I used 9-inch ones) and lay in the rolled dough slices. Let them rise for 20 to 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375.

Bake rolls until light golden brown, about 15 to 18 minutes.

Lemon Glaze

  • 1/2 bag powdered (icing) sugar
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • pinch or two of salt
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter

Mix all the ingredients together. Add more milk if the mixture is too thick or more sugar if it is too runny.

Pour over the rolls when they are still slightly warm.

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

I’m not a big breakfast eater. Don’t get me wrong, I do eat breakfast. But these days it’s usually a bagel at my desk or a scone picked up on my way to work because, frankly, I’d rather have those extra 10 minutes of sleep than a sit-down morning meal. Unsurprisingly, I’m not much of a morning person.

Brunch, I like. Breakfast-type meals, but after a good sleep-in.

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes I

Growing up, when I was a bit better about waking up in time to eat before leaving the house — partly because it was trickier to eat and walk to school at the same time — I had the strange habit of preferring to eat leftovers for breakfast. Pasta and tomato sauce? Yes, please. Mashed potatoes with gravy? Warm and filling. Cold pizza? Breakfast of champions — after all, it does have several major food groups.

My parents thought it was amusing. Except for the day I wanted to make fish sticks for breakfast; my mom drew the line at that. But sometimes I do want a real breakfast. At home. In my pyjamas.

What I don’t want, though, is a basic pancake.

My Internet travels provided a solution, as I came across a recipe for lemon ricotta pancakes — an intriguing idea. And what a pleasant surprise this recipe turned out to be. Not only did they combine my love of all things lemon, but they were light, like flat baby souffles, with golden edges and a hint of salt from the melted butter they were fried in.

I shamelessly scarfed a bunch down as, ahem, quality control before handing a plate to a friend I had staying with me. In my defence, I had made them quite tiny.

So fluffy and weightless, so bright with their lemon flavour. I couldn’t get enough.

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes II

But this recipe wasn’t without its foibles. Confusingly, the tubs of ricotta are measured in grams and not millilitres or cups. I did some math and the 250-gram tub was a little more than one cup.

I wasn’t going to hang on to a tablespoon or two of ricotta cheese, so I just dumped the whole thing in. Surely, I figured, it wasn’t going to do much harm. And it didn’t. Plus, it’s one of my huge pet peeves to have a recipe that calls for almost an entire can/jar/tub or something, leaving us cooks with random leftover ingredients.

Also, I couldn’t be bothered to zest the lemon onto something just to put it in a measuring spoon and then add it the mixture, so I just zested one lemon straight into the egg yolks. I might be tempted to try the zest of two lemons next time, but only because I love that flavour and feel there’s no such thing as too much lemon.

Lastly, the original recipe I found for this suggested mixing raspberry jam with maple syrup as a topping.

But I wanted something that was going to complement the light lemon flavour of the pancakes, rather than weighing it down. Just before I got started, I diced up about two cups of strawberries, sprinkled on some sugar and let them sit to macerate while I got down to business.

It was the perfect pairing. The slightly sweetened berries added the right touch of fruit, but still let the pancakes shine.

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes III

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

This recipe is adapted from the Alberta Egg Producers.

  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1 tub (250 grams) or 1 cup (250 ml) ricotta cheese
  • 3 tbsp (50 ml) sugar
  • ½cup (125 ml) all-purpose flour
  • zest of one lemon
  • 2 tbsp (25 ml) butter
  • 2 cups (500 ml) strawberries, diced
  • sugar to taste

In a large mixing bowl, whisk egg yolks, ricotta cheese, sugar, flour and lemon zest.

In another bowl, whip egg whites with a mixer until glossy peaks form. Stir about one-quarter of the whites into the ricotta mixture, then fold in the remaining whites gently.

Melt butter in pan over medium heat, drop batter on using small ladle or large spoon. I used a ¼-cup (50-ml) measure.) Flatten slightly, then let cook for about two minutes per side until lightly browned. Top with macerated strawberries.

This story first appeared in the Real Life section in the Calgary Herald. For more delicious recipes, visit CalgaryHerald.com/life.