Brunch Staples, Valentine’s Day Edition: Upside Pear Pancake

This pancake was the first brunch staple in my repertoire. I made it as a newlywed and have fond memories of serving it on anniversaries and other special occasions. I have not-so-fond memories of forgetting the potholder and burning my hand on the skillet handle. But, I continue to create it for those days that feel celebratory.  And because we have a pear tree in the back yard, I’m always grateful for an easy recipe with pears.  This is good option for a special Valentine’s Day breakfast or, as we like it, Breakfast for Dinner.  It pairs well with the biscotti, pink milk, turkey sausage and a heaping helping of scrambled eggs.

Do you have a favorite Valentine’s Day meal?

Upside Pear Pancake  (serves 4)


3T butter, divided

1+1/2 firm, ripe Bosc or Bartlett pears (about ¾#)

2t lemon juice

2/3C all-purpose flour

¼ C plus 3T sugar, divided

1t baking powder

½ t baking soda

¼ t salt

2/3C plain non-fat or 2% yogurt

2 large eggs

Maple syrup


  1. Peel and slice pears into ¼-inch slices and transfer to a small bowl.
  2. Add 1/4C sugar and lemon juice to pears; toss to coat well.
  3. Melt 2T butter in an oven-proof 10-inch skillet on low heat, tilting to coat skillet.
  4. Arrange pears decoratively in skillet (I tried to make a heart shape) and drizzle any remaining sugar mixture over them.
  5. Cook over medium heat for about 8 minutes, until just tender.
  6. Preheat oven to 400 degrees (if you preheat at all—I rarely do and it makes almost no difference to the timing, but a nice difference to my gas bill).
  7. Combine remaining dry ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine. Add eggs, 1T melted butter and yogurt and whisk together until just combined.
  8. Pour batter over pears. Bake in middle of oven for 15 minutes or until top is golden and center is firm when touched lightly. Remove with pot holder. PLACE POTHOLDER ON HANDLE WHEN YOU REST IT ON THE STOVE.
  9. Place a large plate over the skillet, then USING THE POTHOLDER turn the skillet over to invert the pancake, keeping plate and skillet firmly pressed together. Carefully lift skillet off pancake and replace any fruit still stuck to bottom of skillet.
  10. Cut pancake into wedges, arrange on 4 plates and cover with 1T maple syrup.

Salmon Two Ways

Nothing tests the Homogeny-at –the-Table rule in our house like salmon does these days. The Spitfire has turned against it and getting her to eat a few bites can be a long process. And yet, I keep making it. The rest of us love it, and I’m hopeful that one day we’ll all be able to eat it in peace again, together.

A few days after serving this roasted salmon, I was reading All-of-a-Kind Family to The Spitfire. It’s a chapter book about a family with five girls in Manhattan’s Lower East Side at the turn of the century. The chapter we were reading that night focused on girl’s stubborn refusal to eat the soup served at lunch. The same soup was served to her at 3 successive meals until she finally took a bite, and then her mom gave her another meal—without vegetables to reduce the likelihood of a second fight. The Spitfire followed up the reading by saying “That is like me and you and the Salmon.” At last, our life has been captured in a novel, just not the part I’d imagined.

I like this recipe from Everyday Foods because it lets me make one easy prpe-ahead meal and then immediately I can prep for the next night’s meal. The roasted salmon was fine but nothing special. The Salmon burgers were amazing. AMAZING. I did not serve them to the kids, though. The adults ate after they went to bed, and thus we avoided another Salmon incident. If your kids like salmon, this will go over very well. I ended up with enough for 6 burgers, so I froze the other 4 patties.

Salmon the First Way: Roasted with Vegetables

Great for: Quick family meals

Prep: 10 minutes

Cook: 20 minutes

Serves: 4


1.25# carrots, in 1-inch pieces

2 medium red onions, in 1-inch wedges


Coarse salt and pepper

2# skinless salmon fillets

2T chopped fresh dill

2T chopped fresh parsley

1T fresh lemon juice

½ # Orzo

2T unsalted butter

4 Hamburger buns


Preheat oven to 450 degrees with racks in middle and lower thirds.

On a rimmed baking sheet, toss veggies with oil, salt and pepper. Roast on middle rack until tender and onions are golden, about 20 minutes, stirring after 10.

Line a second rimmed backing sheet with parchment. Season salmon with salt and pepper and roast on bottom rack until opaque in center, about 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook orzo according to directions. Drain, return to pot and toss with butter, dill and parsley, and lemon juice.

Transfer 4 salmon fillets and 1 cup vegetables to an airtight container; refrigerate, up to 3 days. Serve remaining salmon fillets and vegetables with herbed orzo.

I made the salmon burger patties that night, and cooked them the next day.

Salmon the Second Way: Salmon Burgers


Four leftover salmon fillets

Leftover roasted vegetables, finely chopped

1 large egg white

1 tablespoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger (I used bottled)

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1/4 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)

Nonstick cooking spray

4 lightly toasted hamburger buns

Bibb lettuce

Chinese mustard (optional)


In a large bowl, flake and mash salmon fillets.

Stir in roasted vegetables, egg white, ginger, and soy sauce until combined. Add flour and stir to combine.

Divide into 4 patties.

Lightly coat a large nonstick skillet with nonstick cooking spray and heat over medium; add patties and cook until golden brown and cooked through, about 8 minutes, flipping halfway through.

Serve burgers on buns with lettuce and Chinese mustard, if desired.

Brunch Staples: Challah French Toast

When one of my (many) second cousins was engaged back in 2001, her aunts enlisted the extended family in a cookbook project. They asked each of us to contribute our favorite recipes as an engagement gift to the happy couple, and then emailed the final document to everyone. Several of the recipes are old family classics, so I printed and bound it to keep with my other cookbooks.

A number of the newer recipes have become favorites in our own home, including this one contributed by someone who is not related to me (but in my family, that is not a disqualifier), and clearly knows her way around a brunch table. I love that I can make it the night before. I’ve also made it up to the point of chilling, then frozen it for weeks, thawed it in the fridge for a day and cooked it in the morning. The ideal make-ahead dish.


Image courtesy of


Challah French Toast Casserole (serves 8)


1 loaf of challah

8oz. reduced-fat cream cheese

8 large eggs (egg substitute works well, too)

1.5C 2%milk (confession—I usually use skim)

2/3C half-and-half

½ C maple syrup (don’t skimp!), plus more for serving

½ t Vanilla extract


  1. Coat a rectangular 11×7 baking dish with cooking spray or similar.
  2. Cut off top of challah crust and slice into 1-inch cubes. Lay cubes in pan.
  3. Mix all other ingredients in a blender. Pour evenly over mixture in dish. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  4. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Bake 50 minutes, covering when it starts to brown.
  5. Sprinkle with powdered sugar (optional) and serve with additional maple syrup on the side.   

If you serve this with a number of other items buffet-style, it’ll feed a lot more people. It naturally slices into 8 servings, but those pieces are really big and a lot of your guests will cut them in half.

I usually bake this with the Santa Fe Egg Bake, and add a fruit salad to the table.  If you do the same, bake them both at 350 for one hour, but check them at 50 minutes and understand you may need to adjust the time. That is fine because each one will stay very warm when covered. Actually, the egg bake needs time to cool regardless.

Do you have a favorite brunch staple?

Homogeny and Harmony at the Family Table

About a year ago, I realized that, through shear inertia, my family had fallen into a familiar rut—one meal for us, another, significantly less colorful, meal for the children. We had a rotating menu of about 5 main course items for the kids (ages 7 and 4), most of which were some form of yellow or beige, served with peas or carrots and fruit. Meanwhile my husband and I ate a variety of dishes. We looked at the situation and decided to make a change: everyone eats the same meal.

First, we set up the ground rules during their “last supper” of regular kids meals. “Tomorrow, y’all are going to eat the same foods we eat. You will eat enough to make sure you are not hungry before breakfast. If you do not eat enough, you will go to bed hungry. Do you understand?” They nodded, but we suspected it was not going to be that easy the next day.

To kick off our new set of dinner rules, I made tilapia. There were protests, demands for mac and cheese, crying…you can imagine it, I’m sure. After ketchup was placed on their plates, the kids agreed to take a bite. Then 8 bites. Then the vegetables. Success!

The next few days were hit and miss. If I made a straight protein or pasta dish, they’d eat it with few complaints. Casseroles were a disaster. They do not want their foods—even foods they like plain—mixed together. At times, we’d compromise. If I’d made something they probably didn’t like or wouldn’t like, I would let it go at 5 bites and let them each make a peanut-butter sandwich. If it was a meal I knew was good and that they would be likely to eat—I’d call them out for being fussy and we’d refuse to let them eat anything else until they’d eaten their serving. If they asked for other food after that, they could have fruits, vegetables or yogurt only, or more of the meal on the table.

I knew it was working. The best evidence was when I put a casserole on the table and my son started wailing that he wouldn’t eat it. My daughter calmly told him “you know you have to eat enough so you are not hungry tonight” and he stopped crying and ate it. She’ll also tell him, as needed, “you have to try something a lot of times before you know you like it” and “this is a grown-up food—you will like it better when you are older.” Now, my very particular son will try almost anything once a day (though wailing and protests are still common first instincts for him).

This year, at Thanksgiving, we had another challenge. We had several kids coming who did not live under our roof and did not have the same rules. If they didn’t eat their dinner, my kids might not want to either. So, I set up a challenge for the kids table (with permission from their parents): For every bite of a new food, they would earn 5 minutes of movie time after the meal for the whole table. Some of the kids took to it with gusto, and only one kid decided to ride the coattails of the others. But best of all, my kids didn’t complain or ask to eat something else. Second best, the adults had a quiet hour to talk while the kids watched a movie.

Copyright © 2012 Seasons Eatery & Pub

That was the goal for 2011. In 2012, I’m going to put more energy towards harmony at the family meal. We’ll be more structured on the flow of the meal: kids set the table, we all say our prayer, we eat together, everyone clears the table. My kids know they will be excused early for talking inappropriately, excessive tattling, or generally annoying behavior (the boy likes to burp, jive and wail), which has increased the peace considerably. And, I’m hoping a more structured flow will make dinners together calmer and happier. I’ll have to provide an update in 2013!

What changes are you putting in place at your family table, and what lessons can you share?

Our Foodie Best of 2011

My family has discovered a number of new foods, eateries and cooking accessories in 2011, some of which were great and some were total busts. The list below has the top five highlights of the year in Cook a Little, as nominated by the four member of our little tribe of foodies.

The Spitfire’s best store-bought food: Skippy Natural Peanut Butter with Honey. With a daily intake of peanut-butter-and-honey sandwiches comes increased mess and expense from the honey side of the bread. This peanut butter, which we buy in bulk, cuts the prep time in half, eliminates the need for added honey, has no HFCS, and taste wonderful. My mother-in-law is the latest convert to this brand, after trying it at our house several times. It does have more sugar than regular peanut butter, though, because of the honey: 5g per serving.

The Energizer Bunny’s Favorite new toy: Sassafras ice cream maker. When he asked for an ice cream maker for his birthday, I gave a tentative OK. Most of the ones I have seen make more of the treat than I’d care to have in the house. This model makes about a pint and is extremely simple to use. And, it doesn’t take up much room in the freezer. We made a batch of Vanilla ice cream last night that is better than even Amy’s serves, in my opinion.

The Mama’s favorite new toy: Cuisinart immersion blender. I make a smoothie for breakfast almost every morning, and this “stick” blender is easier to clean, quieter and faster than my traditional blender. It’s also much better for blending soups, for the added reason that I don’t have to wait for the soup to cool or deal with hot, spraying soup.

The Mama’s favorite new store-bought food: Amazing Meal Amazing Grass. For the aforementioned smoothies. I get a serving of veggies in without the extra bulk (and pulp).

The Papa’s favorite new bagel spot: Wholly Bagels. Our town doesn’t have many options for bagels outside of the Einstein’s chain, so we rejoiced to learn that a New Jersey baker had opened a shop in our neck of the woods. And the nova lox are heavenly.

What were your favorite foodie finds of 2011?

Happy Hanukkah, Y’all!

Each year during Hanukkah our friend Josh comes for dinner and fry latkes. A few years ago, Josh brought Erica with him. This year, he and Erica brought their tiny, cute baby. In the name of family sanity, we decided ahead of times to forego the latke-frying this one year and buy them already prepared at Whole Foods. Then, I just had to heat them in the oven on cookie sheets for a few minutes.

I don’t consider Hanukkah to have a traditional set menu the way Thanksgiving or even Passover can, but I do have an idea of a traditional winter Jewish meal and it has two key point: slow-cooked beef and a kugel. Since I was going to be gone almost the whole day, I opted for a very easy slow-cooked beef stew (yes, again from “America’s Test Kitchen” and again a home run). This recipe taught me about the joy of using frozen chopped opinion for soups and stews. Why have I not know about this before? I should have bought 40 bags, in case I never find them again. I also bought rice that steams in the bag in the microwave. This shortcut seems a little less Whole Foods-sanctioned, and I will try to use it sparingly, but it worked out great last night. Then, I roasted asparagus right before serving dinner.

The kugel recipe was a on scrap of paper stuck in another cookbook (“Lowfat Jewish Cooking” if you can believe it). It credits the Hadassah Sisterhood cookbook of Valdosta, GA. I don’t know where or when I found this gem, but I’d bet it was at least a dozen years ago. Everyone loved this peach kugel. What’s not to love? I made it the night before and it reheated extremely well.

Peach Noodle Kugel

Great for: Pot luck dinners, a meal with company, comfort food, brunch

Prep: 15 minutes

Cook: 45 minutes

Cool: 30 minutes


8-12 oz medium egg noodles (I used 12, recipe called for 8)

3T butter, plus additional for baking dish

3 eggs

½ C sugar

2C milk, preferably whole

½ C seedless raisins

16-oz can sliced cling peaches, drained, or 2 fresh peaches sliced ¼-inch thick


2T butter

¼ C bread crumbs

½ t ground cinnamon


Preheat oven to 350 and lightly coat 13/9/2 baking dish with butter.

Prepare noodles according to package directions. Drain and transfer to large bowl. Add butter and toss until melted and noodles are coated. Set aside

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar until combined. Whisking constantly, slowly pour milk in steady stream. Add raisins. Pour egg mixture over noodles and toss to coat. Transfer mixture to baking dish. Cover and bake 30 minutes.

Prepare Streusel: In a small saucepan on medium-low heat, melt butter. Add bread crumbs and cinnamon and stir until coated. Remove from heat and set aside.

Remove kugel from oven and arrange peach slices in rows on the surface and sprinkle evenly with streusel topping. Return kugel to oven, uncovered, and bake about 15 minutes or until kugel is lightly browned and custard sets. Transfer dish to wire rack to cool for 30 minutes. Serve warm.

Do ahead: you can cool, cover and refrigerate the kugel, then heat it for 30 minutes at 300 degrees, covered.

Serves 10-12.


What do you do with a Turkey Carcass?

The first year I hosted Thanksgiving, a guest asked me for the turkey carcass to go. I was more than happy to hand it over, in a trash bag, rather than let it rot in my garbage can until the next week’s trash pick-up (side note: I have since learned the fine art of freezing discarded meat until trash day). She told me she likes to make a stock with the carcass. Flash forward to this year, when I find a recipe for turkey stock and turkey noodle soup in “Everyday Food” and realize that the same guest isn’t coming to Thanksgiving this year. So, after the turkey is carved up, I load it in a trash bag and toss it in the freezer for a rainy day.

Yesterday was just such a day. I made a huge batch of turkey stock, and then the soup. It’s delicious. Even the kids ate it for dinner without anything else, and with little complaint. There was another gallon of stock left over, which I promptly froze. And, even though the turkey had been carved pretty well, when I cut it up I found a whole lot of meat still on the bones. So, next time you serve a turkey, save the carcass for a rainy day.

Easy Turkey Stock

Great for: Soups, Pilafs, Risotto

Prep: 20 minutes

Cook: 2 hours


5 pounds leftover turkey bones (with some meat still attached), broken into large sections if necessary

1 pound yellow onions, skins on, halved or quartered depending on size

1/2 pound carrots, cut into 4-inch lengths

1/2 pound celery stalks, cut into 4-inch lengths

1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

8 sprigs parsley


In a 3-gallon stockpot, combine all ingredients and fill with enough cold water to cover everything by 3 inches when submerged (about 6 quarts). Or, use two smaller pots.

Bring to a rapid simmer over high (do not boil); reduce heat until bubbles barely break the surface. Simmer until flavorful, about 2 hours, skimming stock with a ladle every 30 minutes. Keep the stock at a bare simmer; a hard boil would evaporate too much liquid and make the stock cloudy. Any fat that remains after skimming can be easily removed once the stock is chilled.

Strain stock through a fine-mesh sieve. Discard vegetables. Remove meat from bones and save for another use; discard bones. Let stock cool completely before refrigerating. (To store, refrigerate, up to 1 week, or freeze, up to 6 months.)

Turkey Noodle Soup

Great for: Family dinner, the gift of food, lunch with friends

Prep: 5 minutes

Cook: 15-20 minutes


2T unsalted butter

2 celery stalks, diced medium

3 carrots, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds

1 medium white onion, diced medium

1C white mushrooms, quartered

Coarse salt and ground pepper

8C Turkey Stock

2C wide egg noodles

1 sprig rosemary, about 2 inches long

3/4 pound shredded cooked turkey


In a 6-quart saucepan, melt butter over medium-high. Add celery, carrots, onion, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until onion softens, about 3 minutes.

Add stock and bring to a rapid simmer. Add noodles, rosemary,  mushrooms, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and simmer until noodles are tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Add turkey and heat through.