Easy brown sugar buckwheat pancakes with hazelnut milk and coconut oil.

I like to fantasize about baking more than I actually like to do it. I envision the therapeutic feel of the dough, the soothing smells that waft through the house and the delight on people’s faces when you present your results. In reality, however, baking feels messy and cumbersome to me, with all of the sticky bowls and flour-dusted surfaces and the necessary process of measuring. Plus, believe it or not, I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, so if I take the time to bake something sugary, I rarely eat much of it.

But here’s the thing: Now is an incredible time bake. In this particular health-obsessed, artisan-made, heritage-everything era, flour is no longer just flour and sugar is no longer just sugar. We now have things like stone-ground spelt flour from local mills and honey from the community garden across the street. Also, thanks to brands like Bob’s Red Mill, there are so many new varieties of whole grain flours and other alternative flours widely available that add incredible flavors to baked goods.

I’ve been working on an editorial project that explores some of these ingredients, and it’s put me in the mood to bake more at home. For all of October, I’m going to be playing around with some of these ingredients and trying out some new (and newish) baking books that explore this new world. To kickstart the month, I’m sharing a riff on the easiest ever pancake recipe by Mark Bittman. I swapped out some of the all-purpose flour for earthy buckwheat flour, which works so nicely with melted coconut oil. Instead of regular milk, I used store-bought hazelnut milk (someday, I’ll get around to making my own). Usually when I eat pancakes, I’m hungry an hour later. These actually felt sustaining and kept me satisfied until lunch.  continue reading

Romesco Toast with Mustard Greens from Toast By Raquel Pelzel

If you follow food trends at all, you’ll know that toast is so popular, it now has entire sections of menus devoted to it.

Instead of #putaneggonit,” it’s put it on toast.

Following any big restaurant food trend usually comes at least one cookbook, which often act as the backlash to the backlash in the trend cycle. I happened to have two friends write books about toast this year, including the aptly named Toast: The Cookbook, by Raquel Pelzel.

Toast: The Cookbook

As an unabashed carb lover, I’m on board with this trend. Let me re-phrase: I resent paying $12 at a restaurant for toast (unless it’s truly exceptional), but I’m delighted that it’s now considered an acceptable dinner.

Of course, when I have toast as a meal, I usually set out, say, a container of ricotta, some roasted chiles and maybe some greens. Then I just tell whoever is at the table to have at it.

Raquel, who has has been a sort of fairy godsister to me since I started my freelance career two years ago, proves that the toast dinner is worthy of an upgrade. I was thrilled to test a few recipes for her book and am even more excited that the book is here.

A former Cooks Illustrated recipe tester and collaborator on seventeen cookbooks and counting, Raquel creates foolproof recipes with exacting instructions. They almost might seem fussy until you try the results.

For example, when I tested the lovely, luscious, Sweet Shrimp and Fava Smash Toast in her book, she has you halve the shrimp lengthwise. The few minutes of extra work, however, gives you the impression that you’ve doubled the amount of (expensive) shrimp you have. Plus, they cook lightning fast and the pieces are delicate, rather than clunky, so they stay on your toast.

For making toast itself, she stresses her strong preference for using a broiler so you can brush them with olive oil or butter first. It’s slightly more cumbersome than popping bread in the toaster, but you end up with bread that’s especially crisp, with a custardy center, and an almost smoky flavor.

While flipping through the book recently, the toast recipe in the photo called out to me. I love a good romesco—the Spanish roasted pepper and almond sauce that’s sometimes thickened with bread. This one appealed to me more than usual because it doesn’t call for red bell peppers (my least favorite vegetable). Instead, the base is more tomatoey, with a bit of complex fruity chile flavor and slight heat from a dried guajillo.

Like most romescos, the instructions involve a few steps: First you broil a tomato; then you cook the garlic and a chile in a pool of hot oil, before soaking the chile in boiling water. Finally, you toast bread cubes and almonds in the oil and finally blend everything together with vinegar and salt. During the process, it’s satisfying to watch and smell all of these raw ingredients undergo the effects of, ahem, toasting, taking on more delicious dimensions.

Because of the little bit of work involved, I made a double batch of the romesco. It’s never a bad sauce to have around. For example, after I ate these garlicky greens-topped toasts  for lunch (so, so delicious), I spooned the sauce alongside my salmon for dinner. As I write this, I’ve got some roasted winter squash cooling on the counter that’s looking to get in on the action. Maybe with some pork chops? Or, perhaps, I’ll just put it on toast (again) and call it dinner, along with a glass of wine, of course.

Speaking of wine, let’s just say that mustard greens are a challenging pairing. I ended up focusing more on the romesco and serving these with a light, fruity Cabernet Franc from the Bourgueil region of France. Any similar red, like Beaujolais or simple styles of Spanish Tempranillo, will do. And, of course, don’t forget to share a toast. (Sorry, I had to!) continue reading

Mango-Cashew-Orange-Ginger Smoothie

Scroll through my Instagram feed most mornings and you’ll see at least one person showing off their $10 green juice. I love those fresh juices for their color and for their ability to feel like a boozeless cocktail. But do I think that a $10 juice has miraculous healing properties and is cure for all that ails? No, not really. To me, juice seems like style over substance.

Smoothies, however, are different. They have plenty of sugar, sure, but they also contain fruit and vegetable fiber, slowing down the absorption of all of those good nutrients. Plus, fiber is filling, so a smoothie can stand in for a meal or, at the very least, a large snack. (And it should! The recipe below has about 400 calories.)

I never totally understood the appeal of a smoothie other than it being a way to cram more healthy ingredients into my life. But recently, I came into one of those powerful blenders. You know the type: They can grind grain into flour; puree soups to silk and pulverize coconut meat into milk, should you be masochistic enough to want to open up a coconut at home.

With this blender, leafy greens and hard vegetables, like carrots, become one the other ingredients, leaving no unappealing chunks or flecks. Plus, the blender blades spin so fast, giving the drink a whipped, airy texture.

Thanks to this powerful blender, I’ve been on a smoothie kick, feeling much like writer Oliver Strand does in this Vogue article after he acquires a Vitamix. “My Vitamix runs with such brutal efficiency that when I go to the market I look at what’s on the shelves and in the produce aisles and think, I could blend you.” (For the record, my blender is actually not a Vitamix but one from Wolf Gourmet.)

My recent favorite recipe tastes like an Orange Julius after a visit to southeast Asia. Thanks to the richness of the cashew butter, the smoothie drinks like a milkshake but is actually dairy-free.  continue reading