Fare and Square

Author: Kirsten K., Breakfast, Food, Food & Drink, Nostalgia, Recipes, Savories, Sweets

Fare and Square 1When I was growing up, Sunday mornings meant church with the family followed by a breakfast of my father’s famous waffles. Sometimes he would make pancakes, but I preferred waffles, fresh and hot from the iron, spread thickly with peanut butter (don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it), and dripping with maple syrup. As my father got older and my sisters moved away, this tradition faded, but I never lost my love for waffles. I would make them regularly myself were it not for one obstacle: cleaning the waffle iron. Despite the directive to simply “wipe with a damp cloth,” I am a clean freak and nothing will suffice but using a soft scrub brush and some mild dish soap to get every little nook and cranny,* all the while trying not to let water leak into any of the electrical parts. Way too much trouble.

Fare and Square 2Being a night owl, I only go out to breakfast under duress, but I like to order a Belgian waffle when I do. There’s something about the structure and precision of those crisp, sturdy squares, which make perfect receptacles for puddles of melting butter and hot syrup (and ease the pain of getting up at the crack of dawn). A few years ago, I ordered cheddar waffles for the first time and had a conversion experience. Salty, sweet, and savory, they were definitely “scrub-worthy,” but I never exerted myself to make them at home.

A short time ago, Kirsti made some delicious cheddar waffles, which ignited my determination to finally get out the old waffle iron. Before I did, I noticed a jar of cornmeal that had been sitting on my shelf for a while. I don’t like when foods linger in the pantry or fridge, and I try to use up staples while they’re still fresh, so I searched for recipe ideas using cornmeal. Lo and behold, many of the results that popped up were for cornmeal waffles. Now I had a decision to make (and I hate making decisions!): cheddar or cornmeal? I wasn’t sure I had the stamina to make waffles twice in a brief period of time. Then it hit me—cheddar cornmeal waffles!

Fare and Square 3I am clearly not the first person to have had this idea based on the number of recipes I found online, but all of them had a string of ingredients and little extras added in like toasted nuts, corn kernels, bacon, and/or jalapeños. I like to keep things simple, so I found this straightforward recipe for Savory Cheddar Waffles and merely substituted one cup of cornmeal for a cup of the flour.

I whipped up a batch and they came out of the waffle iron extra crispy with the pungent, earthy aroma of cheddar hanging in the air. Even soaking in maple syrup, they maintained their crunch from the cornmeal. I put the extras in the freezer, then popped one in the toaster the next morning. It came out hot and crisp, as if made fresh that very day. This recipe is a winner! As I set to the task of cleaning the waffle iron, I asked myself, “Was it worth it?” I didn’t waffle on the answer: “Definitely.”

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Fare and Square 4Ingredients:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal†
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. kosher salt
2 large eggs
2 cups whole milk
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 cups (about 5 oz.) shredded Irish cheddar cheese, such as Dubliner‡

Mix the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and whisk until there are no lumps. In a second bowl, whisk eggs lightly until just broken up. Add the milk. While whisking constantly, slowly pour in the melted butter and stir to combine. Add the cheese and mix thoroughly. Pour the cheese mixture into the flour mixture and stir just until the flour is incorporated.

Heat your waffle iron to medium according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Once heated, fill it with batter, close the lid, and cook until the steam starts to diminish (my waffle iron has a light that tells me when the waffles are ready, but you can open the top and peek for doneness after a few minutes). Transfer waffles to a plate or wire rack.§ Repeat with the remaining batter. Makes about 6 Belgian waffles or 10-12 regular waffles.

*My waffle iron has a nonstick coating, but I still need to use oil to prevent the waffles from sticking. I’ve read that you should season nonstick cookware, but I simply can’t bring myself to put it away when I can still see beads of oil between the squares. No.

†I used one full cup of cornmeal, because that’s what I had in my pantry, but the flavor was fairly strong in the waffles. If you want to reduce the amount of cornmeal in the recipe, simply increase the flour accordingly so that the total flour-cornmeal mixture equals 2 cups (e.g. 1 ½ cups flour plus ½ cup cornmeal). I would not use more than one cup of cornmeal in this recipe.

‡I went for broke and grated the full 7 oz. block of Dubliner cheese into the batter. Life is short!

§If you want to keep the waffles warm after they come out of the iron, preheat your oven to 250°F and place the waffles on a wire rack that’s been set on a baking sheet in the center of the oven.

Le Pain Quo-tea-dien

Author: Kirsten K., Food & Drink, Hot Drinks, Tea
Le Pain Quo-tea-dien 1

photo credit: Mika McDonald

I know a lady named Shannon who embodies the word “fabulous.” Her Facebook posts chronicle a dizzying array of activities, from living in places as diverse as Budapest and Atlanta, to enjoying a concert, seeing the ballet, catching a play, attending a movie premiere, or cheering on the L.A. Kings (Go Kings Go!) seemingly every night of the week in her home base of Los Angeles. When not visiting a museum, strolling through a public garden, or hiking to the top of Griffith Park, she can often be found in an elegant restaurant or bar around town savoring (and photographing) a sumptuous breakfast, lunch, dinner, or cocktail. From the top of her perfect blonde bun to the tips of her bejeweled sandals, she is card-carrying agent of S.W.O.O.N.

Le Pain Quo-tea-dien 2While our lives are very different, we happen to share a love of Tasha Tudor and afternoon tea, so when Shannon told me I simply MUST try the Brioche variety from American Tea Room, I quickly snapped up a bag. The blend is one of the company’s best sellers, and it’s easy to see—and taste—why. I never know if it’s a trick of my mind, but the flavor actually reminds me of bread. And though it may seem redundant, I like to pair it with a simple breakfast of toast or an almond croissant. There’s something incredibly comforting about the aroma and flavor of fresh bread and pastries, warm from the oven…or your teacup.

Now that fall is here and the reign of Pumpkin Spice has begun, I find myself craving the taste of almonds, cinnamon, and safflower blossoms instead. So, while the hordes wait in line for their lattes, I’ll be nesting at home, curled up in a cozy chair with a book and a steaming cup of tea, sipping my daily bread.

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American Tea Room Brioche Organic Black Tea

At Croissant Purposes

Author: Kirsten K., Breakfast, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Sweets

At Croissant Purposes 1Is there a more decadent way to start the day than with a cup of rich café au lait accompanied by a buttery, flaky croissant? This version is light, airy, and oozing with melted chocolate, but you don’t have to fly to Paris or even make a trip to your local bakery to get one. Prepare to swoon, because this perfect pastry comes from…
Trader Joe’s!

I went to Paris a couple of years ago and tried pain au chocolat all over the city. When I returned home, I wanted to recapture the experience, so when I saw the chocolate-filled croissants in the frozen section at Trader Joe’s, I decided to try them out. I didn’t have high hopes when I popped one in the oven, but my mouth watered as the smell of freshly baking pastry began to waft through the house.

At Croissant Purposes 2When the timer dinged, I was amazed to see that the nondescript blob of dough that went into the oven had emerged as the golden perfection of the pastries I’d enjoyed in France. And the similarities were not just skin-deep. For flavor and texture, these croissants from TJ’s can hold their own against anything in a Paris boulangerie. In fact, they might even be better, since they can go straight from the oven into your mouth.

Unfortunately, they are not something you can make on a moment’s notice. The frozen dough must proof at room temperature for at least 9 hours before baking, so you’ll need to remember to set them out the night before you plan to make them.

At Croissant Purposes 3I have been enjoying these croissants regularly for the past two years and they are foolproof if you follow directions. After proofing for 9 hours (or up to 12 hours in cold weather), put them in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes on a parchment-lined baking sheet (My oven cooks faster in the back, so I turn the sheet halfway through baking). They are flawless every time. Since all ovens are calibrated slightly differently, you may need to tweak the baking time a little, but once you figure it out…oh là là!

And I can’t believe that, as a committed chocoholic, I’m saying this, but I think I like the almond version even better. The almond croissants are crispier than the chocolate ones and have a delicious filling that’s reminiscent of marzipan.

An employee at my local TJ’s told me that people are always raving about these croissants and the reason is that they are actually imported from France. So, if you crave the taste of Paris, but don’t have the time or money to hop on a plane, Trader Jacques* is at your service. Bon appétit!

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Trader Joe’s Chocolate Croissants and Almond Croissants


*Jacques is the equivalent of James—not Joe—in French, but Trader Joe’s uses the name Trader Jacques on most of the French-themed items that it sells.


Update 6/10/15:

Shortly after writing this post, I had an inferior croissant from Trader Joe’s for the first time. The texture was different and there was noticeably less filling. Thinking it might have been a fluke, I bought another package of both the chocolate and almond versions. Again, the quality had dropped significantly. They were drier and less buttery than they used to be (the almond was worse than the chocolate) and had just the barest hint of filling.

I mentioned this to an employee of the store, who gave me a sheepish look as he said that sometimes the company is forced to change suppliers and the product will be slightly different. I got the feeling that this wasn’t the first time someone had complained about the recent quality of the croissants.

This news has taken me from bon appétit to non appétit. Unless the situation changes, I will no longer be purchasing these croissants. I’ll keep you updated on the state of Pastrygate. Until then, I may have to change the name of this post from At Croissant Purposes to My Croissant to Bear. 😦


Update 9/24/15:

I was passing through the frozen foods section at Trader Joe’s last week and decided to grant the croissants one more appeal. I purchased both the chocolate and almond versions and made them on alternate mornings for the past few days. I am happy to report that, upon croissant examination, these pastries have been cleared of all wrongdoing! Actually, while the chocolate croissants seem to have been completely rehabilitated, the almond ones still have some minor offenses on their record. The texture, while infinitely better than the criminals that caused me to lodge my complaint, is not quite up to par, and the filling is still a little sparse, but they’re on the path to redemption. Therefore, my former ruling has been overturned and these pastries have been granted a conditional pardon. They will be on probation for a period of time, but it is my conviction that this trial is over and you are now free to enjoy Trader Joe’s croissants again. Case dismissed!