Sunday, 17 March 2013

Pancakes

This morning I decided to have pancakes for breakfast, using my new electric griddle - Black & Decker Family Size Electric Griddle - and a recipe from one of my newer cookbooks - Give Them Something Better. First, my comments on the griddle. It's a nice size and has a removable warming tray and grease tray. The warming tray is a nice feature, and it kept my first batch of pancakes warm while I made the second batch, although the whole batch didn't fit in it. Not sure how useful the grease tray will be for a vegetarian... I set the temperature to 375', the suggested temperature for cooking pancakes, but, while the pancakes cooked, they didn't brown very well. They looked rather anemic. On my old griddle, 350' was plenty hot enough to make nice golden pancakes. Then I read the reviews on this griddle and saw that some of the reviews did mention a heating problem. The reviews are interesting. There was no middle ground. Either the reviewer loved it or hated it, and it came up with 2.7 stars. Another thing mentioned in the reviews was the non-stick surface. I must admit I was rather puzzled that the instructions suggested coating the griddle with oil or non-stick cooking spray. I thought that the purpose of a non-stick surface was to avoid the use of oils and sprays altogether. However, I dutifully sprayed it prior to preheating and had no trouble with sticking at all, something that can be an issue with low fat vegetarian foods. Since this is just my first time using it, I will reserve judgment until I have further opportunity to assess it. 
I would like to comment on my old one. It is a Lektro Maid like this one on eBay: Lektro Maid Electric Skillet (warning that this listing expires Mar. 22/13, so you might not be able to see it after that). The surface on mine is in much better shape than this one. I do not know why people don't take proper care of their non-stick surfaces. This skillet used to be my mother's and it must be over 40 years old. I was still using it up until the past 3 years or so after a boyfriend of my daughter mishandled it. The next time I used it the non-stick surface was no longer non-stick. I have tried it a couple of times since with rather disastrous results. The surface appears unharmed, so I'm not sure what actually happened to it. I even tried boiling water in it, hoping that might "cure" the problem. Last time I tried to use it, I seasoned it with oil prior to storing it and haven't tried it again since. One of these days when I'm prepared for disaster, I will get it out and try it once more. If it continues to stick, it will reluctantly be consigned to the dumpster. It was an awesome unit and I loved the large lip around it. Apparently you could even use it to bake in, with the lid on, but I never tried that. And if I can still use it by spraying it, like I'm having to do with my new one, then why not? I'll keep you posted. 
And now the cookbook. I bought it last summer at campmeeting, but I haven't really had a chance to use it. It's a fairly attractive cookbook with appetizing food photography. It's divided into the following sections: breakfast, salads and dressings, main meals, meals to share, sides and sauces, desserts, miscellaneous and meal planning. The recipes look straightforward and tasty and include a nutritional analysis. The Miscellaneous section includes recipes for mixes for added convenience, such as Light and Fluffy Pancake Mix. 
I was a little bit dumbfounded when I found a recipe for Tator Tot Casserole in the Meals to Share section. That something that presents itself as a healthy cookbook would have a recipe that includes this grease-laden convenience food as an ingredient is puzzlingly inappropriate. Yes, the recipe does say that you can substitute mashed potatoes, but I'm not sure why they would include Tator Tots at all. Another recipe that I'm not entirely comfortable with is the Amazing Fudge (p. 147). Only two ingredients: natural peanut butter and carob chips. It's the carob chips that concern me. Not only do they tend to be expensive, but they can contain hydrogenated oils, dairy products and sucrose. I'm not going to discuss my concerns with those individual items at this time, but suffice it to say that I recommend using carob chips sparingly. Even the best ones (vegan, barley-malt sweetened or unsweetened) still contain a fairly high percentage of refined fats. And since you've already got the natural fats present in the peanut butter, why do you also need it in the carob? This is what I would call "cheater fudge." Back in the old days when my mother made home-made fudge, she would have never dreamed of using chocolate chips. No, her fudge was made with cocoa powder and butter and other stuff that wasn't really good for you and I don't choose to eat any more, but that was real fudge. So if I'm going to make fudge, why shouldn't I put as much effort into it as my mother did, only with healthier ingredients and make it not only taste good, but be good for you as well? Somewhere in one of my many cookbook is a recipe for Carob Super Fudge.  This link will take you to one that I think is pretty much the same recipe. It uses carob powder instead of chips (cheaper and healthier), is sweetened with just dates and the only fat is what is naturally present in the peanut butter. And it's delicious. Sure, if you want a quickie fudge, you can use the Amazing Fudge recipe in this cookbook, but I recommend taking the effort to make the Carob Super Fudge instead. 
I have made the 7 Layer Salad (page 30) from Give Them Something Better with Aioli (page 130) for dressing. It was a "fun" salad, simple and fairly quick. I took it to a church potluck (would never make this huge salad for just me :-)) and got favourable comments. Personally, I felt the Aioli was a little heavy on the lemon juice and I may adjust that for next time. I also tried the Easy Biscuits (p. 56). I think they appeared to turn out well, but they should probably be eaten while warm and fresh, or else reheated (isn't this true of most biscuits?). However, I only ever ate one biscuit and I will discuss the reason why in the following paragraph. This morning I used the recipe for Light and Fluffy Pancakes or Waffles (p. 4), which I will discuss later in this post.
This cookbook frequently calls for whole wheat pastry flour. When I was young, I never really knew the difference between pastry flour and the other stuff. I knew that they served different purposes, but didn't know what made the difference. Now I know that they are actually made from different wheats. Hard red wheat has a high gluten content and is most appropriate for breads and other purposes where the gluten content is desired or won't affect the final product. My first whole wheat pie crust was made with regular whole wheat flour and it turned out tough as shoe leather. That's what the gluten content does. For cakes and pastries, the lower-gluten-content soft white wheat is used. I have my own grain grinder, but don't currently have any white wheat (it's not actually white, just a light golden colour). Grains start to deteriorate in nutritional quality as soon as you grind them. The germ tends to go rancid quite quickly if you don't store the ground product in the fridge or freezer. That is why most cornmeals and "whole" wheat flours/breads do not have the germ in them. And that's the most nutritious part. (For more information on this, see Health Canada's website: Whole Grains - Get the Facts). That's why I have my own grain grinder - I'm getting the whole grain and I'm getting it fresh. I went in search of some whole wheat pastry flour in order to make the Easy Biscuits. I bought some from the local health food store, but when I opened the package, my nose screamed "Yuk." It was rancid. Foolishly, I decided to try using it for the biscuits anyway. Hmm, rancid biscuits are not delicious. Meanwhile, I have been into the city and bought some more whole wheat pastry flour there. Figuring it should be good since they would have a greater turnover in the city and there was an expiry date on the package well into the future, I bought two packages. I opened one this morning to make my pancakes. Once again my nose warned me that all was not well, though it wasn't quite as horrible as the package purchased at the local health food store. But I was not going to make the same mistake that I had made with the biscuits. I used my regular whole wheat flour to make the pancakes. Once I had mixed the wet and dry ingredients, it was more the consistency of biscuit dough than pancake batter and I knew that would not work for pancakes. So I added about another 1/2 cup of milk to get it to a better consistency. I can't imagine that had anything to do with the change in flours. I will admit that I wasn't particularly careful with exact measurements, but I wouldn't have thought that it would have made that big of a difference. Using regular whole wheat flour did not make the pancakes light and fluffy as the recipe name suggests. They were kind of heavy and dense. The cornmeal I used was a medium grind and I think a fine grind would have been better. I won't write this recipe off until I have a chance to try it with more appropriate ingredients, but I doubt it will ever become my favourite pancake recipe. North Americans eat a lot of wheat, and there are so many other grains to try. Because of it's gluten content, it's difficult to make bread without wheat, but when it comes to other products like biscuits or pancakes, where the gluten content is not essential, I prefer a recipe that uses other whole grains instead.
In my experiences with rancid whole wheat flour, I couldn't help but wonder if some people's dislike of whole grain products is connected with the freshness of the flour. If you're not familiar with how whole grain flour should actually smell, how would you know if it's fresh? So, figuring that's just how whole grain flour smells, you go ahead and use it and conclude that whole grain products taste disgusting. 
And on the subject of flavour, smell and rancidity, some day I need to blog about walnuts, but I think today's blog is already plenty long enough. 
And yes, rancid oils are not good for your health. They can be carcinogenic, among other health effects.