Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Pork Wonton Soup

I posted photos of my wonton soup on Facebook, and my mom subsequently asked me to post the recipe. While I am certain of the measurements for the wontons, I tend to make broth as a "dash of this, sprinkle of that" and therefore can't vouch for the accuracy of the measurements of the soup ingredients. The nice thing about soup, though, is that you can always keep adjusting until you decide you like it.

The ingredients for the wontons yielded 54 little bundles of goodness. The entire process, from mixing to finished wontons, takes me about an hour. The lovely thing about wontons is that you can freeze what you don't eat right away. When you are ready for more soup, just take them right out of the freezer and toss them into simmering broth. How's that for instant soup?

Pork Wontons

The Filling:
16 ounces ground pork
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, finely chopped
The whites of 3 green onions, thinly sliced (reserve the greens for your soup)
2 teaspoons soy sauce
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all of the ingredients for the filling (in order given) in a small mixing bowl. Try to ensure that it's evenly mixed.

The Assembly:
12 ounce package of 3.5" square wonton wrappers
Small bowl of cold water (used to seal the wontons)
A plate to do your work
A teaspoon (round measuring spoon preferred)
Cookie sheet or other type of large tray
Wax paper
All-purpose flour
1 gallon Ziploc Freezer Bag (if you plan on freezing your wontons)

Time to setup your assembly line. I prefer to use a plate to do my work, so I put the package of wonton wrappers on the left side of the plate, and my bowl of filling behind the plate with the bowl of water to the right of it (because I'll dip my right fingers into the water). Put the cookie sheet to the right of the plate, at the end of the assembly line, and cover it with a sheet of wax paper (which is critical to keeping the wontons from sticking to the tray and each other).

Place a wonton wrapper on your plate (make sure you have only one - those suckers like to stick together in the package). Put a teaspoon of the filling in the center of the wrapper. with your fingers, wet the outer edges of the wrapper. Fold over the wonton to form a triangle. Press to seal, trying to get as much air as possible out of the wonton as you seal it. Put a little more water on the 2 corners at the bottom of the rectangle, and fold them towards the center of the wonton so that the tips just overlap. Place your finished wonton on your wax-paper-covered cookie sheet, and move on to the next one.

If you fill up your tray, just put another piece of wax paper on top of your wontons and put a layer on top of them. You don't need to worry about squishing them.

Freezing Your Wontons
If you plan on freezing your wontons, you should do so before they are cooked. I recommend that you sprinkle a little bit of flour on them, to help keep them from sticking together when you put them in the bag. What I like to do is cut sheets of wax paper the same size as my Ziplog bag. I put one inside, add a layer of finished wontons, put another sheet of wax paper on top, add another layer of wontons, and so on. When full, I put the bag onto the cookie sheet (which helps maintain the layers inside the bag) and put the tray into the freezer. Wait a day, and then remove the tray from the freezer and put your bag of frozen wontons wherever you want to keep them in the freezer. As long as they stay frozen, they should stay separate.

April's Wonton Soup

I have to admit I created this soup from 50% inspiration and 50% laziness. Yes, cans and packages were involved, and I use spices from my rack because I think the dry, ground spices integrate into the broth faster. This will yield 2 large bowls of soup--enough for a meal for me and my hubby. If you are cooking for one (like I did the first time I made this), Pacific Foods makes little 8-ounce containers of their chicken broth that work beautifully for this, without leaving you with a partial can/box of leftover broth. If you are making this for 1 person, though, I recommend you use the low-sodium version of the chicken broth and 1 packet of the instant tofu miso soup. Otherwise, halve the quantities of the other ingredients.

2 cups Pacific Free Range Chicken Broth
1 1/3 cups of water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin (rice cooking wine)
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground garlic
16 uncooked wontons
4 baby portobello mushrooms, thinly sliced
A handful of baby spinach, stems removed
1 single-serving packet Kikkoman Instant Tofu Miso Soup (they sell the soup as 3 individual serving packets together in a package - you only need 1 packet from the package)
Thinly sliced green onion for garnish (you can use the greens that you reserved from the filling for this)

In a medium sauce pan, combine your chicken broth, water, soy sauce, mirin, rice vinegar, ginger and garlic. Bring to a boil. Add your wontons and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon (add another minute or so if you put them in frozen). After you put your wontons in and the water starts to boil again, I recommend you turn the heat down to keep it at a low boil. You don't want your lovely little wontons to be abused.

Add the mushrooms and spinach, and cook for another 2 minutes. When done, your wontons should be soft and the wrappers around the filling should look a little like, well, a brain (for lack of a better description). They will be all wrinkled around the filling, and still hold their integrity. The small amount of filling in them cooks fast in the boiling water, so there is no need to be concerned about under-cooked pork.

At the end, add your packets of instant tofu miso soup and gently stir it into the soup. The instant soup re-hydrates without the need to continue boiling it.

Divide your soup into 2 bowls and sprinkle the sliced green onion on top. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Super Bowl Party Food My Way

My husband and I aren't big football fans but, like most Americans, we'll watch the Super Bowl for the commercials and opportunity to socialize with friends. Over the past few years, we've established a traditional Super Bowl party at our house with another couple who, like us, prefer a party with good food, good drink, and not a lot of people.

7-Layer Dip
The Super Bowl is my opportunity to experiment with party food. I do have my "go-to" recipes -- a traditional 7-Layer Dip (refried beans, guacamole, sour cream, salsa, minced olives, cheese and green onion) with tortilla chips is basically a requirement -- but I like to change-up my menu every year. This year, I discovered two recipes that went over so well that I think I'll have to make them part of the tradition and serve them again next year.

The first recipe is the Jet Swirl Pizza Appetizers recipe I found on Allrecipes.com. The recipe, as stated on the site, is 90% perfect. The one objection I had was using canned pizza dough (I assume they are referring to Pillsbury pizza dough, which was the only kind I could find in my local grocery store). Call me a foodie snob, but I just couldn't do it. Instead, I made my own fresh pizza dough in my bread machine (I used a 1.5 pound recipe from the book that came with my machine). I coated the dough in a little bit of extra virgin olive oil, to keep it from sticking to my hands too much, and sprinkled some corn meal on my pastry mat when I shaped it in the required 10x14" rectangle. (If you make the recipe this way, you don't have to put oil on your baking sheet.) I think the fresh dough, combined with high-quality Boar's Head Genoa salami and pepperoni, and equally good organic cheese, made a huge difference. Don't let the name of the recipe fool you -- you can make a meal out of this pizza roll. It also reheats in the oven beautifully for lunch the next day.

Smokies in Bourbon BBQ SauceThe second recipe is what I call "Smokies in Bourbon BBQ Sauce". It was also inspired by a recipe I found on Allrecipes.com, but based on feedback to that recipe and my personal preferences, I changed it up quite a bit. The beauty of this recipe is that it requires few ingredients, very little prep, and you can keep it warm in a crock pot for the duration of the game.

Based on my experience, this makes more than enough for 4 people, so you can scale the recipe below accordingly. I don't recommend keeping the leftovers, though, because we discovered the sausages taste a bit dried out and "off" after refrigeration and reheating.

Pairing Tip: My beverage of choice for this party was Angry Orchard's Crisp Apple Hard Cider, and I thought its slightly sweet flavor went really well with both the pizza roll and smokies. We also served Sokol Blosser Evolution White.

Smokies in Bourbon BBQ Sauce

16 ounce package of Lit'l Smokies Sausage
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup barbecue sauce (I used Sweet Baby Ray's because I wanted something on the sweet and tangy side)
1/2 cup bourbon (I used Buffalo Trace because that's what my husband was willing to sacrifice from his liquor cabinet. Any decent bourbon will do.)

Drain the liquid from the package of smokies and cook them in a pan, frequently to avoid burning, for about 5 minutes. Removing the liquid will ensure a nice, thick sauce, and dry-cooking the smokies helps firm-up the skins.

Meanwhile, combine the ketchup, barbecue sauce and bourbon in a small sauce pan and bring to a simmer. Allow to simmer about 2 minutes to burn off the alcohol (a nice, subtle bourbon flavor will remain).

Combine everything in a small slow cooker on low heat. Cover and cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, then turn the temperature down to warm. Serve with toothpicks.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The "Correct" Thanksgiving Sausage Stuffing Recipe

In my family, Thanksgiving isn't Thanksgiving without Grandma's sausage stuffing. Technically, we prepare it as "dressing", but we always call it "stuffing". It can be stuffed in the bird, but I have a big family and the amount of stuffing that we consume on Thanksgiving could never fit into a bird. And then, of course, there's that salmonella thing. I have a sister who stuffs her bird when she's preparing it for her family unit, but I'm on the side of stuffing the casserole dish instead.

Woe to the person who attempts to prepare a different type of stuffing/dressing recipe for my family's Thanksgiving gatherings. A sister-in-law attempted it once. I wasn't around for it that year, but I heard all about it – it was that big of a controversy. To this day, when I invite any of my family to Thanksgiving at our house, I close the invitation with a promise that I will make the stuffing the "correct way", just to set their minds at ease.

My mother told me that she got this recipe from my father's mother. It's one of those recipes that I learned all the ingredients for, but the measurements were never actually written down until I documented it last year. So I can't guarantee that the proportions are exactly the way Grandma made it, but this is how I do it....You can vary the type of bread used – either white or sourdough. I'm sure Grandma used white bread (she lived in Wisconsin), but since I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, sourdough became the bread of choice.

In Texas, of course, cornbread stuffing is the most popular. At our local Brookshires, I couldn't even find sourdough bread, much less any stuffing croutons for making a white-bread-based stuffing (in California, I could find bags of plain croutons just for stuffing, which made life easier). So I had to improvise by making the croutons myself using ordinary white bread at first – then I discovered Market Street carried sourdough bread, so now I use that.

Making the Croutons

If you don't want to bake your own croutons, you can use something like Orowheat's Premium Herb Seasoned Stuffing as a shortcut. Just make sure you're using white bread and not cornbread. If you use seasoned croutons, omit the herbs from the recipe later.

You can make these a day or two ahead of time – just let them cool completely before putting them in a plastic bag, and store them in your pantry.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. A convection oven works best for this, so if you have a convection setting on your oven, use it. 

1 1/4 loaves Pepperidge Farm "Farmhouse Sourdough Bread"(it's presliced). If you have some extra wheat bread handy, you can substitute some of the sourdough for it. I have siblings who save the ends of their wheat bread for that purpose – they say it helps "balance" the flavors.

Cut the slices into 16 cubes as shown below.

Arrange the cubes on baking sheets so they make a single layer. Spray them with cooking spray to lightly coat them (I like olive oil cooking spray), tossing them so that both sides are sprayed. The purpose of the oil is to aid in the browning, not make them greasy, so don't overdo it.

Bake the croutons for 12 minutes, or until crisp and light-brown. You'll end up rotating baking sheets of croutons in assembly line fashion in and out of the oven, as this makes a lot of croutons.

In the end you will end up with 1 1/2 lbs. of croutons, or about enough to fill up one of the bags that your bread came in.

Preparing the Sausage and Veggies

You can substitute your favorite sausage – the regular and sage-seasoned varieties of Jimmy Dean sausage are also good in this – but I find that the reduced fat version works well because you don't have to strain any fat off your sausage after you cook it. The little bit of fat it does create will just be absorbed by the bread and make it extra yummy without being greasy.

In a large skillet, break apart and cook a 12 ounce package of Jimmy Dean Reduced Fat Premium Pork Sausage just until no pink remains.

Add one cup yellow onion, chopped, and one cup of celery, chopped. Cook for another couple of minutes, until the onion just turns transparent (don't overcook it)

Assembling the Stuffing

Put your croutons into a large casserole dish (you'll want to use a dish that has a glass cover). Then put in your sausage and vegetable mixture and stir with the biggest spoon you have. Add your favorite aromatic herbs: I like to add 2 teaspoons of rubbed sage; one of my sisters adds sage plus 1-2 teaspoons of thyme leaves, and sometimes a little rosemary.

Gradually add a 32 ounce carton of Pacific Organic Free Range Low Sodium Chicken Broth (any brand will do, just make it low sodium). You'll want to add about a half cup or so of the broth, let it soak in, stir, and repeat. It takes a bit of time for the broth to get completely absorbed by the croutons; it will continue to soften the croutons over time even without adding more. So don't worry if it seems like the croutons are hard--just be patient.

Optional: Add 2 eggs, beaten, or a 1/2 cup of Egg Beaters. My mom swears that adding eggs makes for a lighter texture in the stuffing. Personally, I tend to skip this step because I can't really tell the difference. If you have any concerns about undercooked egg in your stuffing, you can too. I would also recommend skipping the eggs if you make your stuffing ahead of time.

Once everything is well combined, smooth out the top of the stuffing in your dish. At this point, if you are making the stuffing ahead of time, you can cover it and put it in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake it.


Cover the casserole and put the stuffing into the same oven as your turkey, when your turkey has about an hour to go. If you need to use a separate oven, put it into a preheated 325 degree oven and bake for 1 hour. If you prepared the stuffing ahead of time and refrigerated it, add another 30 minutes to the cooking time. 

If you want the top to be extra "crusty" remove the cover during the last 15 minutes of cooking.

If you are concerned about doneness, you can put it in 2 hours ahead of time until it is heated through to your satisfaction, and then just keep it warm in a 250 degree oven until you are ready. Just make sure you keep it covered while staying warm, to prevent it from drying out too much.


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Referrals for New Residents of North Texas

My husband and I went out to dinner last night with a coworker and his wife. They just moved to Texas from Michigan--the movers haven't even arrived with their furniture. So our invitation for a relaxing dinner out that included tables and chairs was eagerly accepted.

We took them to Rick's Chophouse in McKinney (I'll try to write a separate review on our excellent dinner soon). While they had done quite a bit of homework to find the local services and stores, they asked lots of questions about services such as doctors, barbers, etc. that you would really prefer to get a personal opinion about, rather than just taking your chances and going through a trial-and-error process. So, for the benefit of my friends and others who are new to the area, here are my personal recommendations:

Family Doctors

We've been going to Segal Family Medicine for a few years, which recently became part of Village Health Partners. There used to be three doctors in the practice: Dr. Irwin Segal, his son Aaron, and Aaron's wife Stephanie. Dr. Aaron was my doctor, and I liked him quite a bit, but he left the practice for another opportunity a couple years ago, so I now see Dr. Stephanie. My experience with her is positive so far. My husband has been seeing Dr. Irwin, who he describes as "OK". (Disclaimer: My husband doesn't like seeing medical professionals in general. I don't think I've never heard him describe a doctor as anything other than "OK" or worse.) In general, I think they do a good job of making sure that all the bases are covered with preventative care and vaccines (which is what generally healthy people need in a family doctor), and I've never had any issues with their insurance billing. You can get your lab results delivered through a personal account in their online patient portal, and also make appointments and send secure e-mails to them. Getting short-notice/urgent care appointments has usually been easy as well.

Their practice has gone through some changes with their new affiliation -- they will be moving soon and their online patient portal is a mess because their IT people weren't able to get the Segal patient records and accounts integrated properly with the Village Health patient portal. I had to jump through a few hoops to get my account sorted out with them. Hopefully everything will be fine once they work through the move, etc., and until then I give them a "qualified" recommendation because I don't know if recent changes are for the better or worse. 


I have to have regular mole examinations because skin cancer runs in my family. My doctor referred me to Dr. Bryan Selkin, who is recognized as one of the best dermatologists in the area. He has locations in Plano, McKinney and Flower Mound. You can get in to see him relatively quickly if you are a referral for a condition such as mine.

He does suffer from the stereotypical issue with doctors: I'm never seen on time. A 30 minute wait in the waiting room is not unusual, and there is always an additional wait in the exam room. I've also been in situations where they've had to reschedule my appointment 2-3 times to deal with his shifting schedule.

He seems pretty rushed when I see him, probably due to constantly being behind schedule -- but at the same time, he is also able to diagnose skin issues very quickly and is very efficient with mole removals. So if you're like me and "just want to get it over with" when it comes to identifying and removing problematic moles, he's your guy. For a simple mole removal/biopsy, he removes them in such a way that no stitches are necessary (basically, they are shaved off) and there is minimal scaring if his post-op instructions are followed (a skill that other doctors I've seen have lacked). For one appointment, one of his Physicians Assistants took care of me (Dr. Selkin just gave his final approval before the moles were removed), and I thought she did a good job as well.

So, if you can deal with the extra time in the waiting room, I highly recommend Dr. Selkin and his staff.


We used to go to Dr. Dana Biederman at Frisco Eye Associates. We liked her, but had to find a new optometrist when our company changed vision plans and Frisco Eye Associates didn't accept our new insurance. It looks like Dr. Biederman is opening her own practice soon, Frisco Family Vision.

The doctor we see now is Dr. Ryan Rosemore, at Rosemore Eye Care. His brother shares the practice with him. I'm not an easy patient when it comes to eye exams, mainly because I have a fast blink reflex that I have a hard time controlling. So I need an optometrist with the patience of a saint, and Dr. Ryan has proven himself in that regard. They also embrace the latest technology there, and even though our insurance doesn't cover it, we pay a little extra for the Optomap scans (which eliminates the need to dilate your eyes for a comprehensive eye exam). Both doctors are very hands-on with all aspects of the practice -- even helping with eyeglass adjustments if their assistants are busy. So they get two thumbs up.


We also give two thumbs up to Dr. Flint Loughridge at Frisco Chiropractic Center. I first went to see him when I messed up a muscle in my back. By my second visit, he had me walking straight again. Since my husband often had back pain as well, I referred him to Dr. Loughridge, and the doctor discovered a birth defect that no other doctor had found before. While not something that can be cured, he was able to provide my husband with quite a bit of relief, as well as the knowledge of the source of his pain, which is helpful in itself.

You need to make an appointment for your first visit, because he will spend a lot of time with exams (including X-rays, if necessary) and Q&A to determine what treatment is needed. For subsequent visits, you don't need to call ahead or make an appointment - you can just show up.


My first dentist in North Texas was Dr. Deanna Banks at Banks Dental, but I think she's moved to another practice. I would never recommend her.

Currently we go to Dr. Jerit Davis & Associates. Dr. Davis has a decent staff of hygienists, but of course we have some favorites and some not-so-favorites (I had one drop a malfunctioning polisher that she was trying to put to rights, and it hit my forehead. I'm not one to get upset over accidents like that, but she told the doctor right away and they made sure I was OK.). I've generally liked the associate dentists that he's brought into his practice as well. Beyond normal cleaning and fillings, I had to have a wisdom tooth removed by Dr. Davis. In all ways I'd say he is a good dentist and not one to recommend unnecessary procedures. Appointments are not easy to get on short notice, so if you are new to the area and know that you're due for an exam, I recommend calling them sooner rather than later.


We used to take our cats to Windmill Veterinary Center in Prosper, but after a serious misdiagnosis (our cat had just "crashed" from kidney failure, and she thought it was a brain tumor) and dissatisfaction from her "bedside manner" during the event, we switched to Dr. Sargent at Prosper Pet Clinic. Dr. Sargent has always given us straightforward advice and recommendations. When our kitten had an incident that we later determined was part of a rare condition -- even though they do not normally do emergency care and we arrived just after they closed on a Saturday -- Dr. Sargent still let us in and examined our cat. He also went above-and-beyond as we sorted through the symptoms and diagnosis later, even communicating with me via e-mail when he was out of town.


My husband goes to Floyd's 99 Barbershop in Frisco. They have a location on Preston Road near Stonebriar Mall, but just opened a new one on Main at the DNT, which is the one he prefers because they are usually not as busy as the one on Preston. He likes John, who is also the shop manager.

For women's haircuts, I recommend Josie Lugo at Salon Isla in McKinney, at Eldorado and S. Central Expressway (in the salon suites near the Bed Bath and Beyond and Half Priced Books). Josie has been cutting my hair since I moved to Texas 7 years ago. She is the kind of stylist who you can just instruct to "make it look good", and she'll give you a perfect cut. She and her partner, Mimi, are both master colorists as well. The best way to make an appointment with Josie is to call her cell, (213) 674-1939.

Grocery Stores

I love Market Street because they have good meat, produce and seafood, with a decent representation of organic foods. They are basically a more relaxed version of Whole Foods, because they offer more mainstream/affordable options as well as high-end and organic foods. Their store in McKinney used to have a cooking school, but it appears they no longer offer classes (which is a pity). I regularly shop at their store in Frisco, on the DNT at Eldorado, which is always less busy than their McKinney store.

Places to Eat When You Just Don't Feel Like Cooking

North Texas has a wide variety of restaurants, but these are the ones I recommend for casual dining. Note that none of these are fast food.
  • Ernesto's in Prosper is our go-to destination when I don't feel like cooking. Their food and service are good, and prices are very affordable.
  • Square Burger in McKinney is good if you want eclectic burgers and a good microbrew. The trick with them, though, is that you have to get there before 6pm or else you have to wait for a table (though you can always grab a seat at the bar, if you aren't picky).
  • For a more traditional burger at a place that isn't quite as busy, we also like Gazeebo Burgers.
  • If you feel like pizza, there are plenty of places around who will deliver, but if you want to eat out at something that isn't a monster chain pizza place, we like Campisi's, We also enjoyed the Cavalli's pizza that our friends in McKinney picked up for a Halloween gathering at their house. A new lunch favorite for my group at work is Taverna Rossa, as they have some great salads and unique pizzas.
  • For breakfasts, we like the Original Pancake House in Plano, but our favorite is The Egg and I.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Food and Wine Tips for Thanksgiving

I, like most Americans, have food traditions for Thanksgiving. I always make my family's traditional sausage-and-onion stuffing (technically "dressing" since we never stuff the bird with it, but we've always called it "stuffing"). I don't think the recipe for this stuffing was ever written down--it's been handed down from my father's mother. Thanksgiving isn't Thanksgiving without it, and woe to the host/ess of a family Thanksgiving celebration who makes it badly or [gasp!] attempts a different stuffing recipe.

I know all of the ingredients by heart, but can't give you the exact portions of each because I've never measured things like the amount of sage, chopped onion, etc. It's always been a matter of eyeballing it according to the amount of stuffing I need to make for the meal that year. So I think I shall try to document the recipe when I make stuffing this year, will share it in the future.

Today I shall share another recipe that I use to prepare our turkey. It's not actually my recipe, though.

My husband and I lived for a few years in Sonora, California. Sonora is north of Yosemite, in the Sierra Foothills. It is also the home of the Diestel Family Turkey Ranch. There is something incredibly satisfying about being able to pick up your Thanksgiving turkey directly from the ranch, especially when we're talking about free-range, organically raised turkeys. They are, by far, the best turkeys we've ever had.

To this day, if we can get our hands on a Diestel turkey for Thanksgiving, we get it. Luckily, Whole Foods Market carries Diestel turkey in Texas, so we drive down to the one in Plano to get one. If you want to see if there is a supplier near you, Diestel provides a finder.

The first time we picked up a turkey from the Diestel ranch, I also picked up one of their pamphlets that provided recommendations for cooking. Included on it was this recipe. Even when I haven't been able to get a Diestel turkey for Thanksgiving, I've used their recipe because it gives me a perfect turkey and perfect gravy, every time. Note that in their recipe for "Old Fashioned Turkey Gravy", they give an "optional" step of pouring a cup of hot white wine over the turkey half way through the roasting process. They really should include this as a mandatory step in the roasting process itself, because it is critical to the gravy. If you follow their instructions, including the wine, all you end up having to do at the end is separate the fat from the rest of the juices in the pan, then thicken it with a flour paste, and you have a wonderful gravy that needs absolutely nothing else added it.

Every good Thanksgiving dinner needs a good wine to go with it. Although you might think you need white wine to go with your white turkey meat, I beg to differ. We've found the best pairing with our Thanksgiving turkey is an Oregon Pinot Noir. If you pick up a Diestel turkey and want to keep with the organic, sustainable farming theme, I recommend a Pinot Noir from Sokol-Blosser.

Have a happy Turkey Day!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Frogg for Brunch

My husband and I are discovering Watters Creek in Allen. Our initial motivation to go there, a couple weeks ago, was to visit the Eddie Bauer store there in search of a jacket that I saw online, but didn't want to order until I tried it on. (Eddie Bauer has closed the stores that used to be in the Stonebriar and Willow Bend malls, so now the nearest is in Watters Creek.)

We got there early on a Sunday, after breakfast but before the shops opened, so we spent some time walking around the area and scoping out the offerings. It's a development similar to The Shops at Legacy, with shops at street level and apartments up above, except with significantly better parking (i.e. more spaces in both outside parking and in parking structures, and the ramps in the parking structures aren't so steep that they endanger the noses of sports cars). On a nice Fall day, it is a great place to visit, walk around, and hang out in the open-air seating available in restaurant patios or the benches along the trails.

On our first visit, we stopped at Frogg Coffee Bar & Creperie and picked up some mochas to take on our walk. In addition to coffee and espresso drinks and a selection of breakfast breads and pastries, they also offer (as their name indicates) a selection of sweet and savory crepes. We didn't partake of any food on that visit, but we scanned their menu and filed away the information for later.

Fast-forward to today, when we decided to go someplace other than our usual haunt for Saturday breakfast. Although it is a bit of a trek from our home, we decided to try Frogg.

Although there were one or two children in the café, Frogg is definitely more of an older-teenager and adult establishment, in both atmosphere and food choices. The brunch menu does not have a lot of choices, but the selection is eclectic enough to provide something for everyone. Since we enjoyed the mochas on our first visit, we each ordered them again, as well as a "Lone Ranger" crepe for each of us.

The modus operandi of Frogg is like other cafés--you order at the counter, get a number, and they bring your drinks and food when they are ready. They have both indoor and outdoor seating, with the outdoor seating overlooking the picturesque creek that runs through the development. Unfortunately the weather was a bit cool with an even cooler breeze today, so we had to sit inside. Although Froggs had a steady stream of customers, they were not overwhelmed and we were able to find a table for two.

I wouldn't exactly call the food and coffee preparation "speedy", but I wouldn't call the wait "excessive", especially given the number of people coming through to either eat or get a drink to go. It was evident from their open kitchen that they have a small staff (not surprising from the size of the café), who were  diligent about getting the orders cooked and delivered to tables, and clearing the vacated tables for the next customers. That being said, this is definitely a place I would recommend for couples and small groups, rather than big family outings.

Our mochas arrived first, with cute little heart and flower designs in the foam.  Our food arrived half-way through the consumption of our mochas. The crepes, with their filling of scrambled eggs, potatoes, and chorizo were substantial, though not so big that we couldn't finish them all. The fresh pico de gallo and spice of the chorizo was just enough to wake up our taste buds. The hollandaise added a nice creaminess to the crepe, and I'm pleased that they didn't drown the crepe in it, as so many restaurants tend to do.

In concept, the fruit on the side was an excellent accompaniment to the crepe because it adds a light, fresh component to the dish. Their kitchen staff needs some lessons in selecting and cutting up melons, however. The pieces were tiny (something you'd expect in a canned fruit cocktail), and while that might have ensured that plenty of fruit fit in the ramekin, the small pieces were almost impossible to stab with a fork because the cantaloupe was very under-ripe and the honeydew wasn't much better. After successfully skewering and eating a couple of pieces, I gave up because the other pieces were jumping away as I tried to stab them and threatened to leap out of the bowl.

Fruit aside, we enjoyed our experience at Frogg. Our crepes were tasty and fulfilled our desire for "something different" than our normal brunch fare. Although their location isn't exactly convenient for us, we will definitely stop in again.

Frogg Coffee Bar & Creperie on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Leftover Mashed Potato Pancakes

My family's Midwestern roots mean that I grew up with comfort foods from that region--along with the belief that Sheboygan bratwursts are the only bratwursts in the US, and petty much anything can be cooked with Campbell's Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup.

One of my all-time favorite comfort foods is potato pancakes, probably because I could never seem to find decent ones anywhere but my mother's kitchen. When I was in college and visited home, and my mom asked what I wanted for dinner, I asked for her potato pancakes. After I left home, I perfected my own version of the recipe.

These are not the thin, anemic, crispy versions you find at restaurants like the Original Pancake House. They are also not latkes, which are made with grated potatoes. These are creamy on the inside, crisp on the outside, similar to croquettes but in pancake form. Because the potatoes are cooked and mashed and mixed with milk/cream (i.e. prepared like the mashed potatoes you would serve for dinner), mashed potato pancakes can be time-intensive to make from scratch, so I like to use leftover mashed potatoes as my starting point. Garlic mashed potatoes work beautifully with these. In fact, the other night, when we stopped at The Keg for dinner I asked (well, maybe it was more like "instructed") my husband to order garlic mashed potatoes for his side (as I was), knowing full well that we would be taking most of the mashed potatoes home for leftovers. Breakfast this morning was mashed potato pancakes, scrambled Egg Beaters with diced Lit'l Smokies sausages, and sliced apples.

Admittedly, the process of cooking these is a bit of an art form, and may require some trial and error to perfect. Cooked at too high of a temperature, they can be undercooked on the inside and burnt on the outside. I also recommend using a non-stick skillet with these, because if you don't have the right amount of oil or cook them incorrectly, they will stick to a standard skillet. Since my Cuisinart non-stick skillet has a copper core in the bottom that retains heat well, I normally just keep my flame on low the entire time. Cooking them ahead of everything else you prepare for your meal is actually a good idea, because keeping them in a warm oven for a while (around 200 to 250 degrees F) will ensure that they are cooked through and not mouth-burning hot on the outside when you serve them. So for this morning's breakfast, I made them first, stuck them in the oven while I prepared my scrambled eggs, and then they were perfect when I was ready to serve.

This makes 4 to 6 4-inch pancakes.

April's Mashed Potato Pancakes

1 1/2 to 2 cups Leftover Mashed Potatoes
1 Egg, or 1/4 Cup Egg Beaters
1 Tablespoon All-Purpose Flour
1/2 Teaspoon Dehydrated Minced Onion
1/2 Teaspoon Chives
1/4 Teaspoon Granulated Garlic (if not using garlic mashed potatoes)
Salt and Pepper to taste

Extra-Light Olive Oil and Butter for cooking

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees F.

Combine all ingredients, except for olive oil and butter, in a small mixing bowl and mix well. In the photos below, notice the difference in consistency between the mashed potatoes, and the prepared batter. The batter is thinner than the mashed potatoes and significantly smoother, but is not something you can pour like a typical flour-based pancake batter.

Mashed Potatoes

Heat about 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil and 1/2 Tablespoon butter in a nonstick skillet over medium-low heat, until butter is melted and sizzling.

Spoon batter into the pan using a large soup spoon, spreading the batter so that it is about 1/2 inch thick (it does not need to be uniform in shape or thickness). Do not crowd them in the pan--I usually make them 2 at a time in my 10-inch skillet. Cook for approximately 5 minutes, or until the bottom is a golden brown and the sides lose their glossy sheen--if they appear to be cooking too fast, turn the heat down to low.

Flip pancakes to cook the other side until golden brown (it is normal for the second side to cook 1 to 2 minutes faster than the first). When done, transfer to oven-safe plate and keep in oven while preparing remaining pancakes.

The pancakes tend to absorb oil while cooking, so add additional olive oil and butter to the pan before cooking the next batch. Repeat the process until all cakes are prepared.