Sunday, March 30, 2014

Putting Some Odds and Ends to Good Use: Easy Dirty Rice

Sometimes the stars align and it seems like a post pretty much writes itself, kind of like this one. It started out earlier in the week when I found a three pack of orange bell peppers on sale, so stuffed bell peppers became dinner on Monday night. Since I had a huge bag of basmati rice and was cooking some for my peppers anyway, I made extra for goodness knows what. For some reason I seem to do that a lot.

By Tuesday, I was thick into recipe experimentation all day and didn't have the desire to cook anything else by the time evening rolled around. After a little reluctant refrigerator foraging, I was thankfully able to find some smoked pork that was leftover from the weekend. Needing a side dish, I pressed on and pulled out that extra rice, my remaining bell pepper and a 1/2 pound of ground beef that I didn't need for my stuffed bell peppers the night before. After scratching my head for a few moments, I had an epiphany. Dirty rice.

Growing up in Houston and having relatives from Louisiana, this rice dish was always hanging around family reunions and church potlucks. As a kid I was turned off by the very unappealing idea of dirty anything. No way was I going to eat anything with a name like that. When I was old enough to figure out that it wasn't made with dirty water, or worse, I gave it a try and fell instantly in love.

Dirty rice has always been a delicious way to use the neck and giblets from chickens. Nowadays, giblets are often sold separately from modern day store bought chickens, so if you don't want to go buy a pint of chicken livers and a pound of hearts and gizzards, you are out of luck.

To be quite honest, even though I am one of those people who likes giblets, I don't really miss them too much in my dirty rice. It is probably a good thing that I do like to cook my rice with a teaspoon of chicken bouillon in my cooking water so, I have just a hint of chicken flavor in there.

Most dirty rice recipes not only call for giblets, but for pork sausage too. Since all I had was a little ground beef on hand, I turned to my spice rack to imitate that sausage flavor. A little thyme, some sage, and a generous grinding of black pepper was all it took. The end result was pretty darn close to the wonderful dirty rice that I learned to love while living on the Texas gulf coast. It's not what I'd call authentic, but I do call it delicious.

Easy Dirty Rice

I served this as a side dish, but it is also an excellent main dish when you need to stretch a small amount of meat. Serve with a salad or some juicy sliced tomatoes and you have a great light meal.

8 - 12 ounces ground beef (ground turkey, pork, pork sausage, or even lentils work great too), depending on how hearty you like it. Photo above is with 8 ounces ground beef
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon light olive or vegetable oil
1/2 of a medium size yellow onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1/3 - 1/2 of a large bell pepper (any color or a combo of green and colored is good too), chopped
1 large garlic clove, crushed
2 cups cooked rice (if it's cooked in chicken stock it is all the better for this recipe)
2 small green onions, chopped
1/2 teaspoon rubbed thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground sage (or 2 teaspoons rubbed)
1 teaspoon dried parsley or 1 tablespoon fresh, coarsely chopped
Black pepper (I like lots of coarsely ground black pepper)

Brown meat in a large frying pan over medium high heat. Transfer to paper towels to drain; set aside.

In the same frying pan that you have wiped out with paper towels, add the butter and oil. Heat until butter is melted and just starting to sizzle. Pour in the onion and celery. Saute for about 3 - 5 minutes or until they are slightly softened. Add the bell pepper and saute for another 3 - 5 minutes or so, or until the vegetables are done to your liking. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute longer.

To the sauteed vegetables, add the ground beef and rice; cook until heated through. Stir in the green onions. Sprinkle the thyme, sage and parsley over the top and stir well. Add salt and pepper (lots and lots of pepper if you ask me) to taste.

Serves 4 - 6

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What to Cook When You Don't Have Time to Cook: Chicken (or Tuna) Noodle Casserole

I have been totally covered up with work lately. For the past couple of weeks I have been brainstorming, cooking, testing and retesting recipes non-stop for the next Pillsbury Bake-Off.  Since I have already been twice, I only have one more run at it, which means that this particular contest is very serious business for me.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not whining. I love creating recipes and new dishes, but between this endeavor, my blog, and just everyday cooking, my imagination is sometimes stretched to the max.

I find that when my creative well runs dry, I often turn to old cookbooks or food memories to give me inspiration for a quick dinner that I can feed my family. Even though my boys are very kind and patient, sometimes I just don't feel like I can serve them anymore poppin' fresh anything no matter how nice they are about it.

Since the deadline for the first two categories is just a few hours away, I will probably be up to my ears in pre-made pie crust and brown sugar today, which is fine until evening rolls around. To head off a dinnertime disaster I'm going to throw together my version of a simple 1970's classic this morning for supper tonight.

My mother used to make this casserole with tuna which I loved, but my own kids always preferred their tuna cold in a salad and never could quite embrace hot tuna, so I made some changes. I started with my mom's base recipe and replaced the tuna with some leftover rotisserie chicken.

Like most casseroles, this is meant to use what you have on hand and to stretch your dollar, so if you want to use canned chicken or tuna, feel free. If you don't have as much chicken as I call for here, don't worry it will still be good. Whatever you do, don't go all 1970s and use canned mushroom soup for your sauce. It is just too darned easy to make your own. If you miss that mushroom flavor, just chop and saute some with the other vegetables when making the sauce.

Chicken (or Tuna) Noodle Casserole

If I would have been really smart, I would have cooked my noodles last night to give me a head start this morning, but hey, I'm too busy being creative to be organized.

4 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 small carrot, diced
1 large garlic clove, crushed
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken stock
1 - 1/2 to 2 cups milk*
5 ounces American cheese (approximately 5 slices thick deluxe style cheese) or the same amount of cheddar
Salt and pepper to taste
8 ounces wide egg noodles, cooked al dente
1 - 1-1/2 cups chopped cooked chicken
1/2 cup frozen green peas
1 cup shredded American or cheddar cheese
Buttery breadcrumbs (recipe follows) to garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9" square baking dish or the equivalent with non-stick cooking spray; set aside until ready to use.

Place butter in a large non-stick sauce pan set over medium high heat. Once butter is melted and starts to sizzle, add the onion, celery and carrot. Saute the vegetables in the butter until they are tender crisp, approximately 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one minute longer. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables in the pan. Stir well to coat the vegetables and absorb the butter.

Combine the stock and the milk in a microwave safe container; warm in the microwave for 1 - 2 minutes (this will help your sauce from lumping). Once the mixture is warm, slowly pour it into the pan with the vegetables, stirring constantly as you pour. Continue to stir until the mixture starts to boil. Cook for 1 minute longer. Add the cheese, stirring until it melts. Remove from the heat.

Add the noodles, chicken (or tuna) and peas to the sauce. Pour the contents into the prepared baking dish. Place into the preheated oven and cook for 20 minutes.

Remove casserole from the oven and sprinkle with the cheese. Return to the oven and bake for 10 additional minutes or until cheese is golden brown and bubbly. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes before serving. Mixture will thicken a bit as it cools. I serve my breadcrumbs on the side so if it is going to be awhile before I serve it or if I have leftovers they don't get soggy in the refrigerator.

*If you plan on making this and serving it right away, use the lesser amount of milk so your recipe won't be soupy. If you plan on making this early in the day and serving it later on, use the greater amount to avoid a dry casserole.

Serves 4 - 6

Buttery Breadcrumbs

1 tablespoon butter
Pinch of salt if using unsalted butter like me
2 slices of sandwich bread crumbled

Melt butter in a medium size non-stick skillet set over medium high heat, swirling it around to cover the bottom of the skillet. Sprinkle breadcrumbs over the top of the butter. Stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or spatula, cook until they are golden brown and crunchy, approximately 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer the breadcrumbs to a cool bowl to stop the cooking process. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container and use within a couple of days.

Makes a little over 1/2 of a cup

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Not Your Easter Bunny's Carrots: Roasted Ginger Soy Glazed Carrots and Jalapenos

Hello spring! I can't tell you how happy I am to see my tulips starting to sprout and push their way through the melting snow in my front yard. I'm kind of taking a chance letting myself get excited in spite of the fact that I know Colorado's weather has absolutely no regard whatsoever for the calendar. It could very well snow tomorrow, but for today the weather is lovely and warm so I am happy.

Even though it is a month away, the warm weather's promise of renewal and rebirth, brings the Easter season to mind. When I was a girl, my sister and I were always reminded of the solemn reason for the Easter holiday, but then were allowed to celebrate the holiday with an egg hunt in our pretty new dresses and black patent leather shoes.

It was so fun arriving home from church to find that the Easter Bunny had been to our house, hid our eggs and chocolate bunnies, and had taken the carrots we left for him in return. I remember thinking it kind of sad that after all that work, all he got was a couple of carrots to sustain him when he had access to all that chocolate.

Plain old carrots really don't get much respect from anyone other than the Easter Bunny. My own children always liked (and still do) their carrots cold, either all on their own or dipped in ranch or hummus. When I tried to serve them hot, they always turned their noses up and did little more than push them around their plates.

Hoping to change their minds and add something new to our spring table, I have been working on a way to spice up carrots and make them a crave worthy vegetable. After trying a couple of ideas, I finally came up with something I really like, and I'm hoping these sweet/spicy/salty carrots just might make you look at this under appreciated vegetable in a whole new way too.  These kind of make me think that maybe the Easter Bunny is the lucky one afterall.

Roasted Ginger Soy Glazed Carrots and Jalapenos

1 - 1-1/2 pounds large carrots, peeled and sliced diagonally
1 large, plump jalapeno pepper, thinly sliced diagonally
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1-1/2 tablespoons lightly packed brown sugar (light or dark)
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger root
1 tablespoon soy sauce (I used less sodium soy sauce)

Preheat oven to 475 degrees.

Peel and cut carrots diagonally at about 1" lengths. Slice jalapeno on the diagonal in thin slices; set aside.

Spray a medium size shallow baking dish liberally with non-stick cooking spray and place in the preheated oven to heat for 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, toss the carrots and jalapenos together with the melted butter and brown sugar.

Remove the hot pan from the oven and pour the vegetables into it. Spread into a single layer. Return to the oven. Roast for 10 minutes.

While the carrots are roasting, stir together the crushed garlic, grated ginger root and soy sauce; set aside.

After the 10 minutes roasting time, stir the vegetables well and return to the oven for a further 5 minutes.

After the additional roasting time, check that the carrots are tender but still slightly firm toward the center when penetrated with a fork (at this point the carrots should be tender crisp and the jalapenos a pleasant medium hotness).

If you like a softer texture, return the carrots to the oven for additional roasting time, testing every 5 minutes for doneness. Bear in mind that the longer you roast the jalapenos, the milder their flavor will become.

Pour the soy sauce mixture over the top and stir everything well to coat. Return to the oven and roast for an additional 3 minutes.

Remove from the oven and serve while hot.

Serves 2 large portions, 4 smaller.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Eat Like You're Irish: Colcannon and Soda Bread

Fresh kale, twice rinsed, chopped and ready to go in my colcannon.

My love for St. Patrick's Day goes way back to elementary school. Back then it was important to be one of the lucky ones who remembered to wear green to school which gave you permission to pinch those poor souls who didn't. Then if you somehow forgot, the mission of the day was to avoid the pinches of those who remembered. Those were the days boy.

As I got a little older St. Patrick's Day became all about the party. Year after year my friends and I wore our annual uniform of funny leprechaun hats, re-purposed green mardi gras beads, and our favorite accessory, a plastic cup full of green beer. From what little I can remember, it was really fun.

Then I grew into a proper adult. I moved to the UK and got to visit Ireland a couple of times and fell in love with the country and everything about it. I loved the history, the warmth of the people, the beautiful countryside, and most importantly for this Texas girl, its lack of snakes. Thank you for that St. Patrick.

Another thing I loved about Ireland was the food. As thrifty as I am, there is nothing I respect more than people who use the plain, simple ingredients that they have on hand and make something wonderful, and no one does that better than the Irish. 

I know, I know, we've all heard the jokes about the food in the UK, but that is just what is on the surface. Scratch a little bit deeper and you will find some of the most thoughtfully prepared, locally sourced food available anywhere.

When I started planning this post I was amazed that I have been blogging for over five years now and have only written one other post about St. Patrick's Day. That's kind of hard for me to believe seeing how I fond I am of Ireland and this holiday. To make up for this neglect I took this opportunity to make my version of a couple of very simple, very popular Irish dishes. I hope you'll think about giving them a try this St. Patrick's Day or any day you are in the mood for some simple comfort food.


There are really no better examples of Irish comfort food than colcannon and soda bread. Colcannon, a combination of creamy mashed potatoes and sauteed kale, has to be one of my favorite side dishes ever. I love it dressed in maybe just a little too much butter and served along side absolutely anything. It is quite possibly the perfect side dish. My "luxury" version here might have its roots in Ireland, but with the addition of bouillon and bacon (what can I say, I am a bacoholic), is a bit more dressed up than the original.

2 pounds (about 5 medium) russet potatoes
1 tablespoon chicken or vegetable bouillon powder (optional)
2 tablespoons butter, plus more for serving
1/2 cup whipping cream or whole milk
4 slices bacon, chopped (optional, 2 tablespoons of cooking oil can be used instead)
6 ounces kale, stalks removed, chopped and well rinsed, or chopped savoy or green cabbage
2 green onions or 1/2 medium size sweet yellow onion, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel and cut potatoes into large chunks. Place into a large stockpot and add enough water to completely cover the potatoes by about an 1". Add the bouillon if desired and place over a medium high heat. Bring to a full boil, reduce heat a bit so that it maintains a vigorous boil. Cook until potatoes are fork tender; remove from heat and drain. Add butter and whipping or milk. Mash, whip or rice potatoes until they are smooth; cover and set aside.

While potatoes are cooking, place chopped bacon slices (or oil) in a deep, heavy bottomed skillet set over medium high heat. Cook until it the bacon is golden brown.  If using the yellow onion, add it to the bacon at this time and saute until it is just starting to soften. Add the rinsed, still damp kale or cabbage (a little moisture helps steam the kale) and stir around to coat in the bacon drippings or oil. Saute until it starts to wilt. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook until it is tender, approximately 5 - 10 minutes.

Gently fold the kale (and green onions, if using them instead of the yellow onion) into the mashed potatoes. Pour desired amount of melted butter over the top. Serve while hot.

Soda Bread with Golden Raisins and Caraway Seeds

The first time I ever had soda bread of any kind was in the casual restaurant of grand old hotel in Dublin. Tired from a day of sightseeing and wrangling two young children, we hit the restaurant for lots of drinks and an early supper for our damp, frozen, grumpy kids.

I don't know if it was the warmth of the dining room, the fresh brown soda bread* slathered in creamy Irish butter or, in my case the vodka, but we were instantly restored into a civilized family once again. Now that I think of it, I wouldn't rule out the possibility that this stuff might very well have magical powers.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, chopped into small (bean size) pieces
2 teaspoons caraway seed
1 nice handful (approximately 1/2 cup) golden raisins
1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup whole milk mixed with 1 tablespoon vinegar and allowed to sit for 5 minutes)
1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray a 10" cast iron skillet* or baking dish with non-stick cooking spray; set aside.

In a large bowl stir together the flour, salt, sugar, baking soda and baking powder. Sprinkle the cold butter pieces over the top and cut in with a pastry cutter, fork, or do like I do and use my food processor. At this point, your mixture should look like cornmeal. Add the caraway seed and raisins; set aside.

Mix the buttermilk and beaten egg together. Pour it over the dry mixture and mix well by hand. The mixture will be very sticky. Pour into the prepared pan and place into the preheated oven. Bake for approximately 50 - 60 minutes or until it is golden brown and when a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cool in the pan for 15 minutes or so before removing and setting on a cooling rack to cool completely or until slightly warm. Serve with plain or with butter.

Makes 1 nice size loaf that will easily serve 8 - 10.

That first loaf I ate in Dublin was brown soda bread made with whole wheat flour. This type of soda bread is traditionally made without the caraway, raisins and butter and are very different from my recipe, but are still very, very good in their own right. Bread similar to my recipe would have been made for special celebrations.  

Since I was making two Irish dishes, I decided to go all out and make a complete dinner. To pull my colcannon and soda bread together, I browned a couple of pounds of beef that I had tossed in seasonings and flour, and slow cooked it in a combination of beef stock, stout, thyme, bay leaf and onions. After a couple of hours when the meat was really tender, I added some celery, carrots and a parsnip, and cooked it until they were still firm but tender. Wow, what a supper.

*Since my family is on the smaller side, I divided my dough between two small (6") cast iron skillets that I found at World Market. We enjoyed one straight from the oven and froze the other one for later.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Happy Pi Day: Frozen Grasshopper Pie

January 23rd is officially National Pie Day, but true to form I missed it. Thinking that math geeks and food geeks should peacefully coexist, I'm going to celebrate March 14th, Pi Day, with a pie to make up for it.

I think it is obvious by now that I love great food that is easy, or you could also say, I love easy food that is great. No matter how you put it, this little recipe is both. It is a shortcut version of a pie is normally pretty simple to make anyway with a filling made up of marshmallow cream, whipped cream and creme de menthe, but this recipe cuts it down even more. This version does away with those ingredients and replaces the filling with mint chocolate chip ice cream, which by the way, since it is the star of the show, I recommend you buy a really good brand.

With only four ingredients, ANYONE can make this pie and be proud to serve it, and because it is green it is perfect for St. Patrick's Day. Honestly, I found the hardest part about making it was keeping everyone out of the box Teddy Grahams I bought for the crust. So, whether you don't like to cook, are just learning how to cook, or you're a little bit lazy like me, this recipe is an amazing addition to your repertoire.

Frozen Grasshopper Pie

1 - 10 ounce box chocolate Teddy Grahams cookies (or chocolate graham crackers)
1/2 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter, melted
1 - 1/2 quarts mint chocolate chip ice cream, slightly softened

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place cookies in a food processor and process to fine crumbs (I know it's hard to crush those cute little guys, but you can do it). This can also be done by placing the cookies in a zipper seal bag and crushing them with a rolling pin.

Remove 1/2 of a cup and reserve for topping.  Pour the remainder into a large bowl. Add sugar and butter; mix well to combine.

Spray a deep dish pie pan with non-stick cooking spray. Pour crumb, sugar and butter mixture into the pie plate and press an even layer as possible on the bottom and sides. Place into preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely.

Spoon ice cream into the cooled crust, gently pressing down as you smooth it into an even layer over the bottom and sides with the back of a large spoon. Sprinkle with the reserved crumbs, cover and return to the freezer for at least an hour so it can harden.

To serve, cut with a warm, sharp knife (this is best done by dipping the knife into a glass of warm water and wiping it dry before each slice). Serve as is or with whipped cream and a drizzling of chocolate syrup.

Serves 8 - 10

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Back to Basics: Caramel Corn

A day or so before the Academy Awards I decided that I wanted to make something a little bit special to nibble on while I watched. I know a lot of people have viewing parties, drink champagne and eat fancy appetizers, but around here that sort of celebration would be lost on my guys. They kind of look upon watching this star studded marathon with the same excitement that I do when they watch the Super Bowl.

After tossing a couple of theater themed ideas around in my head, I landed on caramel corn. Since I haven't made any in years, and we're not really crazy about the store bought stuff, I knew that this would give my family a reason to smile when the Oscars came on.

As I planned the execution of this snack, I decided that I really wanted to get back to basics and cook my popcorn the old fashioned way. Don't know what I'm talking about? Well, you're not alone. I'm talking about the way my grandma used to make it, in a big pot, with a lid and just a little bit of oil, on top of the stove.

It occurred to me that younger generations (including my own children) probably have no idea that you can actually cook popcorn some other way than in the microwave. Then I started wondering what they would do if they found themselves on a desert island with no microwave and a bag of old fashioned popcorn. Well, they'd probably starve. I am ashamed to say that they have grown up watching me pull a bag out of the microwave, time, after time, after time.

Even though I'd like to blame the microwave for changing the way I cook popcorn, I really can't. I have only my own laziness to blame, thinking that it was not only quicker but easier. In reality it isn't easier at all, just a very little bit quicker and a tiny bit less messy, but big deal, you have to wash a pot. I say that's a pretty good trade to help the environment and get rid of all that stuff they put in the microwave versions.

Now that I hopefully have you convinced how easy plain popcorn is, I'm going to kick it up a notch and cover it in a buttery toffee glaze. Indescribably delicious, this caramel corn is so much better than that stuff from the grocery store, you probably won't be able to eat anything else ever again. It does take a little bit of time with the boiling and baking, but the whole process is very easy and totally rewarding.

Caramel Corn

9 tablespoons vegetable or light olive oil, divided
1 cup popcorn kernels, divided
3/4 cup (1 - 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 - 1/2 cups lightly packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Place 4-1/2 tablespoons of oil in the bottom of a Dutch oven, set over medium high heat. Pour 1/2 cup of popcorn (This should cover the bottom of the Dutch oven in a single layer. If it is too much for your pot, pop the popcorn in three batches, using 3 tablespoons of oil and 1/3 cup popcorn at a time.). Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid. Once the popcorn starts to pop, crack the lid just a smidge to let the steam escape and shake it gently every 15 - 30 seconds or so.

Remove the pot from the heat once the popcorn stops popping. Transfer popped popcorn to a large roasting pan that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Repeat with the remaining oil and popcorn; set aside.

Place the butter in a large size saucepan that is set over medium high heat. Once butter is melted add the brown sugar, salt and corn syrup; stir to combine. Stirring frequently, bring the mixture to a boil. Stop stirring and reduce heat just slightly to maintain a rolling boil. Boil without stirring for a full 5 minutes.

After 5 minutes boiling time, carefully add the baking soda (mixture will increase in volume) and vanilla extract. Stirring constantly, boil for 1 minute longer.

Carefully drizzle the caramel over the top of the popcorn while stirring popcorn with a large spoon. Gently stir to coat as much of the popcorn as possible.

Place popcorn into the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. At the end of 15 minutes, remove a spoonful of the popcorn and cool on the counter top. Taste test the popcorn once it is cool. If it is crunchy and not sticky it is ready, if not repeat until it is crunchy.

Transfer popcorn to cookie sheets or parchment paper that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray, gently separating clumps as you do. Cool and store in air tight containers.

This makes a bunch, so share with your friends. They'll love you for it.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Something From Nothing #22: Observing Shrove Tuesday with an Easy Basic Pancake Recipe

Tomorrow, Shrove Tuesday, marks the last day before the beginning of Lent which starts on the following day, Ash Wednesday and extends to the week of Easter. From now until Wednesday, observant Christians around the world will be doing their best to use up the ingredients that they have chosen to give up for the six weeks of the Lenten season.

In the past, many ingredients that we now look upon as basics, were seen as rich, luxury foods and were given up as a way to pay penance for sins through self-denial. To avoid wasting food, these ingredients were used in many different ways, but at some point it became popular to prepare pancakes.

Personally I don't know anyone who gives up eggs, milk or flour for Lent anymore. It is usually things like cola, alcohol, meat and chocolate, but the pancake tradition on the day before Lent begins, lives on. As with many traditions, the original meaning of Shrove Tuesday has been somewhat diluted and is known to many around the world as simply Pancake Day.

Tomorrow, people from all over the world, religious or not, will be flipping and eating millions of pancakes. Whether you observe Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, Pancake Day, or the local elementary school's fundraising pancake supper, everyone should have a good pancake to start their own tradition no matter what their beliefs. I think you'll find that this one will certainly do the trick.

Easy Basic Pancakes

This is a wonderful base recipe as is, or for you to build on and create your own favorite flavors. Before you flip your pancake you can sprinkle the uncooked side with chocolate chips, pecans, berries, bananas, or even bacon to make your own unique pancake. The possibilities are limited only by your own imagination.

1 - 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt ( or 1 teaspoon kosher salt)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 - 1/2 cups milk, plus a little more to thin the batter if needed
1 large egg
2 tablespoons oil

Place flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a medium size bowl or spouted container. Stir well to combine; set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the milk, egg and oil. Slowly pour this into the dry ingredients, stirring until they are blended. Don't worry if there are a few lumps as they will disappear during cooking.

Preheat a flat bottom non-stick pan over medium high heat. Oil lightly if needed. When the pan is hot, pour about 1/3 of a cup of the batter into the center of the pan. This will produce a pancake that is about 4 - 5 inches in diameter. If desired, at this point you can add any berries or other ingredients by sprinkling them onto the pancake before you flip it.

Cook until bubbles start to form and pop and the outside edges are set, approximately 2 - 3 minutes. Carefully flip the pancake and cook for an additional 2 minutes or until nicely browned on the other side. Transfer to a heat proof plate and store in a warm oven while you repeat the process with the remainder of the batter.

Serve pancakes while warm with butter and warm maple syrup.

The longer the batter sits, it sometimes begins to thicken. I find I often have to add a splash of water or milk to the batter to keep it the desired creamy and pourable consistency of very heavy cream. The thicker the batter, the thicker the pancake.  If you like thinner, bigger pancakes, add more milk or water, just a little bit at a time.

Makes 6 - 8 pancakes