Sunday, June 26, 2022

Cinnamon Flop: Great coffee cake, funny name

For years we’ve enjoyed a light fragrant breakfast cake called “cinnamon flop” from a recipe of my wife’s grandmother (“Nanny”), which was given to us by my mother-in-law. No one we’ve met had heard of this breakfast goodie outside of the family. The “flop” is white and airy, has a tender cinnamon topping and irregular deep pockets rich in spice and butter. It’s unique for having no egg and relatively little butter or shortening, and uses the old-fashioned hand mixing style of alternating dry and wet ingredients. An electric mixer makes the coffee cake tough, and adding egg (obviously we tried both) gives an uninteresting cakey texture that misses the delicate unique tenderness of real cinnamon flop. I had assumed that it came from the Great Depression and was an economical survivor of that time of deprivation, and wondered if it was limited to the family. Or was it maybe something from Boston, where my wife’s grandmother grew up.

But noooo. Some research turned up a number of other “cinnamon flops,” and they typically had the tell-tale no egg, the alternating mixing of wet and dry ingredients, and bits of butter pushed through the topping into the cake. Some recipes call for much more sugar than does “ours.” But most interesting were several attributions of cinnamon flop to the Amish and the “Pennsylvania Dutch”. In fact, my wife’s grandmother lived her married life in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. So that ethnic origin of the family’s spice-scented coffee cake is quite plausible (and certainly consistent with the cinnamon and brown sugar). The recipe was probably learned in Pennsylvania by Nanny. 
My grandson Jonah has become quite adept at making this coffee cake, as he has popovers. He increased the recipe's originally stingy amount of butter that is pushed into the batter just before baking, to good effect. I have converted to his method.

Cinnamon Flop Nanny
Cinnamon Flop made 
by my grandson Jonah

1/4 cup butter (originally “butter the size of an egg”)
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour plus 2 tablespoons for the topping
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon (originally 1 teaspoon)
4 tablespoons cold butter (1/2 stick)

Set oven at 375 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square baking dish or pan. In a bowl, using a wooden spoon mix 1/4 cup butter with the sugar until creamy. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add one-third of that to the butter-sugar mixture and stir it in. Then add 1/2 the milk and mix it in, just until evenly wet. Add and briefly mix in another third of the dry ingredients, then briefly the other half of the milk. Finish by briefly stirring in the last portion of the dry ingredients, just until moistened. Do not over mix it or the cake will be tough. Spread into the buttered dish. Mix together the 2 extra tablespoons flour, the brown sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle this mixture evenly over the batter. Cut the cold butter into little slivers and stick them down here and there part way through the topping into the batter. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until the center springs back when touched. Serve fresh and warm.
Jonah and his Cinnamon Flop on the porch

Sunday, June 19, 2022


Candied Jalapeños -- Easily made Cowboy Candy 

These delightful condiments, which we make at our restaurant, Donderos’ Kitchen in Athens Georgia, go well with breakfast skillets, into breakfast burritos, on garnished grits, or even on burgers and sandwiches. They can also be chopped finely and sprinkled on goat cheese, or cream cheese, for an easy appetizer to spread on crackers. The leftover liquid once the jalapeños are finished can be used creatively as a seasoning or dip – think chicken wings -- also. 

Nicknamed “Cowboy Candy” in Texas, the treat is traditionally made from scratch by slicing fresh jalapeños then heating them in a sweetened spiced vinegar broth like classic bread and butter pickles. I make them much more easily, starting with already pickled sliced jalapeños (sometimes called “nachos,” the dish on which they are often served). These are inexpensive and readily available in the supermarket, both in the pickle section and in the “Latin American” section near the salsas. They’re also available at Mexican grocery stores. 

Purchased at local supermarket

Starting with commercially pickled jalapeños, I drain away the pickling brine, keeping the pepper slices in the jar. I make an easy syrup of sugar and water simmered briefly with a few whole spices. Cooled, the syrup is poured into the jar containing the drained jalapeños. After several days in the refrigerator, we have lovely candied jalapeños!


For each pint (16 fluid ounces) of commercial pickled sliced jalapeños: 

3/4 cup white sugar

7/8 cup water 

4 whole cloves

4 whole allspice 

Drain jalapeños well, but keep them in their glass jar (or if in a can, transfer to a glass jar). 

In a pot, bring sugar, water and whole spices to a boil. Simmer 5 minutes. Cool to no hotter than warm. Remove whole spices. 

Add the liquid to jar containing the drained jalapeño slices. Cover and tip and gently shake jar to mix well. Let sit for a while. Tip and shake well again. Store refrigerated. Shake to mix occasionally.

Store at least several days for best flavor. Candied jalapeños can be kept, covered, in the refrigerator indefinitely.          

Thursday, May 26, 2022


Orzo Risotto with Peas

Real risotto, the elegant Northern Italian creamy dish created from the special -- and expensive -- rice from Italy’s Po Valley, is difficult to make. And it is so fussy that you must finish cooking it then serve it almost immediately to maintain its tender structure. I have rarely had a good risotto at an American restaurant, even a restaurant with a fine chef.

On the other hand, the pasta shaped like rice, called “orzo,” is much easier – and certainly cheaper - to make into a risotto-like dish. And it will keep for a while after cooking, making it easier to serve. The Italian name “orzo” for the pasta shaped like rice grains actually means barley.

Here’s an orzo risotto with the typical sorts of ingredients in real risotto: peas, white wine, cream and Parmesan cheese. Other vegetables can be used in place of the peas, like short-cut asparagus, mushrooms, or diced zucchini. For those, cook them in at the end, like the peas, but just long enough to be crisp-tender.

The recipe serves six as a side dish or light lunch.

2 tablespoons butter, plus more if needed

2 tablespoons olive oil or chicken fat, plus more if needed

1 small onion, diced

1 small clove garlic

1 pound orzo pasta

1/2 cup white wine

1 1/2 cups unseasoned chicken broth or water, plus more water as needed

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon oregano

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 bay leaves

Pinch of cayenne

1 cup frozen peas

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese 

Heat butter and oil or chicken fat to pot and fry onion, stirring frequently, until softened. Stir in garlic for 15 seconds. Add orzo, and stir and fry 2 minutes. 

Add wine, chicken broth or water, salt and seasonings. Simmer, uncovered, stirring frequently, and add a little water as needed to keep the orzo quite moist. When orzo is tender, add the frozen peas and cream. Simmer, stirring frequently, several minutes. Add a little water if needed to keep the mixture quite moist. Taste and add salt, if needed. Remove from heat and keep warm.

Before serving, stir in the cheese.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022


Super Easy Rémoulade Sauce

Rémoulade, that traditional French and subsequently Louisiana Créole dipping sauce (think New Orleans Shrimp Rémoulade), was originally a garlic-scented mayonnaise with a little extra vinegar or lemon juice. But it can have almost anything savory added, from minced green onion, parsley, pickled relish, roasted peppers, to minced tomato or even horseradish or Dijon mustard.

I use various rémoulades for catering to accompany crab cakes, potato cutlets, and herb-roasted potatoes and sweet potatoes. At home, we serve it as a dip for artichoke leaves and hearts, and with grilled or fried asparagus. At family Easter dinner this year I made a rémoulade to dress the roasted root vegetables. But people topped their cold herb-roasted pork tenderloin slices with it too, and my daughter Anna asked me to make more of the “pork sauce” for a catering client. Ah well! It’s a useful sauce. And easy!!!

Here’s a particularly easy version, requiring maybe a minute to make.

The recipe provides sufficient sauce for the condiment for four to six people.

 1 clove garlic

4 tablespoons whole-milk yogurt (or 3 tbsp. fat-free yogurt + 1 tbsp. sour cream)

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar or white vinegar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Rub the inside of a mixing bowl well with a halved clove of garlic to season the bowl and the sauce that will be mixed in it. Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and mix them well until smooth.

Taste, and add a little salt if you wish or vinegar. Let sit for at least ten minutes before serving. Mix again. 

Place in a suitable serving bowl for the sauce’s intended use. It can, optionally, be garnished with a little minced parsley or green onion dusted on top.

Friday, May 6, 2022

Braised Lamb and Turnip or Brussels Sprouts: Easy, Easy, Easy 

I guess this rich, slightly heavy dish doesn’t really fit with the early summer heat we’re experiencing recently in North Georgia. But its easiness, at least, suits cooking in the prematurely hot weather. Having been food shopping for the restaurant and household in Atlanta yesterday, I had a half pound of ground lamb and some fresh purple-topped turnips on hand. So here is one of the simplest dishes I cook that can qualify as dinner.

Ground lamb is one of my favorite meats. Middle eastern meatballs are the preferred use, but a modest amount of lamb braised with hearty vegetables to season them works very well. Okra, chickpeas, turnip, or Brussels sprouts are all enhanced by some lamb cooked with them, and the result is economical, savory and hearty. Fresh ground lamb is sometimes hard to find. It’s always available in Atlanta in shops where the Muslim community shops, like Dekalb Farmers Market and Buford Highway Farmers Market. But it’s also at stores elsewhere, including here in Athens, that carry good and especially local meats. It’s a little pricey, but you don’t need a lot. Ground pork or even good ground beef can substitute. 

I got spring turnips this time, but heartier brassicas like rutabaga turnip or Brussels sprouts (or even kohlrabi) also work. With the dominating flavors of lamb and turnip I used only mild enhancements from black pepper and a little onion The starch to accompany this was toasted split English muffins or whole-grain toast, and the side dish was a fresh green salad with lettuce from my garden. The meal took about 25 minutes from start to eating. 

The recipe serves 2-3 for a small dinner. A dollop of sour cream can be put on top of the mixture when eating. 

1 medium-large or 2 medium turnips, or 1 small rutabaga (or 1/2 pound Brussels sprouts) 
1/2 small onion, finely minced 
1/2-pound ground lamb, or pork or beef 
3/8 teaspoon ground black pepper 
3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste 
2 tablespoons white wine 
Water as needed 
2 toasted English muffins split in halves halves or 2 slices whole grain bread for serving 
Sour cream for topping, optional 

Peel the turnip(s) and cut in 1/4-inch dice, or cut stem off Brussels sprouts and quarter them. 

In pot, fry the ground meat with the minced onion until well cooked. Add turnip or Brussels sprouts plus pepper and salt, wine and a few tablespoons water. Cover pot and cook over low-medium heat, stirring every few minutes, until vegetable becomes tender (15 minutes for turnip, 20 plus minutes for rutabaga, 10 minutes for Brussels sprouts). Add a little water if needed to keep a little liquid in the pot. 

Taste a piece of vegetable for tenderness and salt. Add salt as needed. Cook until tender, and remove from the heat. 

Serve on buttered, toasted English muffin halves or slices of toast. Put a dollop of sour cream on the braised meat and vegetable if desired. Accompany with a green salad.

Friday, April 15, 2022


Popovers – Luscious easy treats my grandkids love


A very old-fashioned breakfast or snack food has been rediscovered by my grandkids, several of whom make them easily and often with minimal adult help. These golden puffed-up tender sorts of hot muffins or breads are basically crepe batter cooked in muffin tins. Popovers, which have been made in America for several centuries, are thought to have evolved from the earlier British Yorkshire pudding. They are perfect for a dab of butter, or honey or a fruit jam, and are best right out of the oven. 

Popovers made by my grandson Jonah
The batter is the same as for French crêpes – a cup of flour, a cup of milk, a couple of eggs, and optionally a pinch of salt. They are, in our experience, something the young kids can make, and certainly love to eat them. 

The recipe makes 12 popovers, enough for 4-6 people. 

2 eggs

1 cup flour

1 cup milk

1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)

12 small pieces butter 

In a bowl beat together the ingredients other than the butter with a small whisk or fork until well combined. 

Set oven for 400 degrees (380 convection). Place a small piece of butter in each cup of a 12-cup muffin tin. Place tin in the heated oven until the butter melts. 

Spoon batter evenly into the 12 muffin cups. Place in oven and bake for 20 minutes. Turn the pan around and bake for another 8-10 minutes, or until popovers are well puffed and golden on the tops. 

Serve hot, with a little butter and/or fruit jam or honey.

Friday, April 8, 2022


Egg Frittatas, crustless zucchini, cheese and fresh herb egg pies


At our restaurant, we are occasionally asked to make gluten-free quiche-like items for breakfast catering. Based on frittata, a crustless Italian vegetable and egg pie, here are individual savory treats baked in muffin pans. Shredded zucchini, feta cheese and dill make very Mediterranean, if not necessarily Italian, breakfast or supper frittatas. They are best right out of the oven, though can be eaten at room temperature or rewarmed in the microwave for a later snack.

The recipe makes about 12 small frittatas. Two to three per person is a hearty serving. 

2 cups eggs (crack eggs into a measuring cup until the volume is reached, 10-12 eggs)

1 cup shredded zucchini

2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese for batter + 2 tablespoons for topping

1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese

2 teaspoons snipped fresh dill

2 teaspoons chopped parsley, flat Italian style preferred

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Large pinch ground celery seed (not celery salt)

Large pinch cayenne

3 green onions, green and part of white parts very thinly sliced

Set oven for 375 degrees. Spray oil or grease a 12-cupcake pan. 

In bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a whisk or fork until well broken up and smooth but not frothy. Add zucchini, 2 tablespoons feta, the cheddar, fresh herbs, salt, pepper, ground celery seed and cayenne. Mix well to combine. 

With ladle, partially fill all 12 cupcake cups to equal levels. Evenly distribute the remaining 2 tablespoons of crumbled feta plus the finely sliced green onion over the batter. Bake in heated oven 8 minutes. Turn pan and continue baking another 8 minutes or so until frittatas puff and a toothpick inserted near the center of one comes out clean.

Best served warm, with a little tomato sauce or salsa, or hot pepper sauce, if desired.