Sunday, April 25, 2010

Pancake Perfection

Don't mess with perfection, right? But something always compels me to try.

Pancakes are one of those foods that are delicious in their simplicity. Perfect rounds of fluffy cakes, spongy and adaptable to myriad toppings.

And, after playing around with various additions, I have hit upon the perfect pancake recipe, even if I say so myself. I started with the basic recipe I gleaned from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and added a few things. Aside from flour, I add in ground flax seed, some oatmeal, yogurt and buttermilk, and mashed fruit such as bananas. My favorite combos are banana cakes topped with blueberry compote, or apple pancakes with struesel topping.

I love this recipe because it still leaves room for creative improvement. What's your favorite pancake addition or topping?

Perfect Pancakes


1.5 cups flour (1.25 cups white flour and .25 cups other whole grain)
1 tsp salt
2-3 tbsp sugar
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp ground flax seed
1 small handful quick cooking oats
1 tsp spices such as cinnamon, mixed with pinch nutmeg and cardamon

2 eggs, beaten
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup vanilla yogurt (or other flavor)
1/4 to 1/2 cup milk (depending on how thick you like pancakes)
3 tbsp oil or melted butter
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup mashed fruit OR chopped fresh fruit, such as apple or berries

To cook:

Preheat skillet or grill over medium-low heat
Mix dry ingredients.
Mix wet ingredients.
Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir just until mixed. Add chopped fruit.

Melt butter on griddle or skillet and pour batter into skillet to cook.
Flip cakes when small bubbles form around edge and bottom is golden brown. Serve hot with syrup. Yum!!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Date Day Dinner: Lemon-Olive Chicken and Red Rice

My husband used to cook. He remembers his yassa poulet, a Senegalese dish with chicken cooked in an onion and mustard sauce with olives. I remember the tater tots. Regardless, he used to cook. Since we moved in together, I have been the primary cook. Most days I love it. I love putting together flavors and foods, and feel so good when I can feed delicious healthy meal to my family.

But sometimes, I don't want to cook. I want someone to cook for me. I want to sit back after a long day chasing kids, paying bills with money we don't yet have and making appointments, and put my feet up while someone else cooks the evening meal. I know, listen to those violins. There are days when cooking stresses me out, because I have set my personal bar a bit too high. On those days I often make grilled cheese or quesadillas with salad (if you can call a bag o' greens "salad"). My inner voice says: I am a cooking instructor, I need to feed my family healthy food that includes at least one thing that is green and crunchy, I should not take time away from playing with my kids to cook all afternoon. Maternal guilt is the worst. Feed family good food? Or play with my kids so they are well-adjusted? Cooking wins, even if it is just whole grain bread and local, grass-fed cheese. I'd feel more guilty feeding my family crap. And to those folks who tell me cook with my kids, I'll say it politely--when we are all hungry for dinner, the kitchen is too small for the three of us. (In an ideal world, I'd plan ahead more.)

One day recently when I was feeling patient and open-hearted (some people I know wish I had more of those), I decided to sign my husband up for cooking classes; a "guy's only" rookie cooking class, at Orange Tree Imports. I thought, I'll take the kids and let him have an afternoon cooking with the guys. Well, when I thought more about it I realized that I would actually enjoy that gift more than he would (hint, hint). I mentioned it to him and he said he'd rather--get this--stay home and cook with me! Okay, I can handle that. I had already lined up sitters so it actually seemed like a low-stress and fun "date" for us.

We decided on a chicken and rice dish, since we both love African food. I perused Marcus Samuelson's Soul of New Cuisine and came across Lemon-Olive Chicken and Red Rice. Perfect!

On a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon, my husband and I set to work cooking. Glass of wine in hand, music on, no kids, and presto--a beautiful baked chicken, some rice and even a batch of hummus with fresh cooked beans and a super-easy cucumber-carrot salad. And, I think he would agree, we had fun. The bonus is that cooking this week has been much easier--leftovers. I could get used to this.

Red Rice

1/4 cup peanut oil
1 small red onion, sliced
1 jalapeno chopped and seeded
2 tsp tomato paste (instead of shrimp powder)
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tomatoes or 1 cup chopped canned tomatoes
i tsp mild chile powder
2 cups white rice (book calls for 1 cup)
1.5 tsp salt
2 sprigs thyme
1 cup tomato juice
4 cups water (adjusted for more rice)
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

Heat oil in sauce pan over high heat.
Add onion and cook 5 minutes.
Add jalapeno and garlic and cook another 1-2 minutes.
Reduce heat to low,stir in tomatoes and chile powder and cook 10 minutes.
Add rice and stir to coat.
Stir in thyme, salt, tomato juice and water and bring to boil.
Reduce heat to low and cover, simmer for 1 minutes.
Remove pan from heat and stir in cilantro. Let stand about 10 minutes until rice is done.

Lemon-Olive Chicken

One 4-5 pound chicken
10 green olives
5 black olives
4 garlic cloves
a few garlic ramps (I had them in my garden)
1 tbsp grated lemon zest
2 shallots, chopped
1 3-inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into chunks
2 tbsp olive oil
juice of 2 lemons
1 tbsp Ras al-Hanout

Ras al-Hanout
1/4 cup ground cinnamon
2 tbsp ground tumeric
1 tbsp ground black pepper
1.5 tsp ground nutmeg
1.5 tsp ground cardamom
1.5 tsp ground cloves

Mix spices well and store in cool dry place.

To cook chicken:

Preheat oven to 400.
Rub body and neck cavity with salt.
Pat body and under breast skin with butter.
Mix together olives, shallots, lemon zest, ginger and garlic and stuff body cavity.
Combine olive oil, lemon juice and Ras al-Hanout and rub over chicken.
Place in roasting pan, breast side up, and roast until instant-read thermometer in thigh reads about 160, about 60-70 minutes.
Add a bit of water during cooking if pan gets to dry.
Remove from oven and let rest about 10 minutes.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I be jammin'

Blueberry Homesteader Wanna-be Jam

I must admit that I fancy myself an urban homesteader of sorts. I have a small backyard garden where I grow lettuce, greens, garlic, tomatoes, tomatillos, and lots of other veggies that the rabbits enjoy more than we do. Last year I preserved some of the harvest by canning and freezing the produce; I made a delicious salsa verde, roasted and froze peppers and made red pepper spreads and pesto galore (which we are still enjoying). I planted a fruit tree (cherry) and am getting chickens (one week and counting!!). When the rain barrel and compost bin are full, I also feel full.

I also admit that I cheat a lot. I buy shares of a local CSA because I don't have a huge garden. And recently I decided to make some blueberry jam from frozen berries that were gifted to me. Honestly, I don't think I could ever grow enough of any kind of berries to freeze them in quantity. They barely make it inside the back door.

I ended up with about 20 cups of frozen berries, and had been making lots of blueberry sauce for pancakes, but decided that it would be fun to can some jelly. I haven't made jam in years and found it surprisingly easy, once I read the directions about 5 times. You just have to remember to mix the pectin with the sugar before mixing it with the berries. The pectin package instructions also varied slightly from the recipe I found online, so I sort of compromised. The jelly firmed up a little bit more than I would like, but the taste--delicious! Farm fresh, as they say.

I love filling up my family on homemade, homegrown and delicious food. Nothing is better that homemade jam that simply contains berries, sugar and lemon juice--unless it also contains alcohol. Next time I'm adding brandy!

Blueberry Jam

10 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
1/4 cup lemon juice
4.5 cups sugar
calcium water (came with pectin)

You'll need about 6 canning jars and lids.
You'll also need a smasher of some sort or a food processor.

1. Sterilize the jars and lids by boiling them for about 5 minutes.
2. Put berries in a large pot on stove over medium-high heat. You can smash them or process them, depending on how chunky you like your jam.
3. Add lemon juice and any other liquid (like brandy?). Some recipes call for 1/4 cup of water, or calcium water.
4. Mix the pectin (according to directions) with 1/4 cup of sugar in a bowl and add to berries.
5. Bring to a full boil.
6. Add remaining sugar and bring to a boil again. Boil for 1 minute at a hard boil.
7. Pour into dry, sterile jars. Make sure jars are warm. I remove them and dry them just prior to adding jelly. This prevents breakage.
8. Seal with lids and invert until cool to seal. Test tops of lids to make sure they sealed.

Some people also do a boiling water bath to prevent spoilage, but I have always use the inversion method, and have never had a problem.


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Puff Pastry Chorizo "Empanadas" w/ Baby Spinach

Why do my kids love anything that I put in puff pastry? Oh, right. It's full of butter.

My latest puff pastry recipe is a delicious mix of chorizo, potatoes and spices, stuffed in puff pastry with cream cheese and spinach, and served with an easy grilled Tomatillo Salsa Verde.

Not only are my kids hooked, but it's fine enough to serve to adults. Oh yeah, these flaky buttery and slightly spicy "cheater empanadas" are easy to whip up, make a great dinner-in-a-pocket, and keep well for tomorrow's lunch.

Just don't get too hooked. One of these packs over 600 calories. But who's counting?

Puff Pastry Chorizo "Empanadas" w/ baby spinach and Salsa Verde
Serves 6

Empanadas (make filling ahead)


1 package puff pastry (sheets)

1 tbsp olive oil
About 4 medium yellow potatoes, peeled and diced.
1/2 yellow onion, diced
6 oz chorizo sausage, removed from casing
2 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
2 tbsp canned green chiles
salt to taste
4 oz cream cheese
6 oz montery jack cheese or mexican cheese
6 oz baby spinach (about 4 cups fresh leaves), steamed and drained.

1. Preheat oven to 400.

Make filling (can make ahead and freeze):

1. Cook chorizo sausage over medium-low heat until oil has separated and sausage is cooked. Remove sausage from oil, drain and set aside.

2. Par-boil or steam potatoes in microwave until just tender.

2. Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Cook onions and potatoes until golden brown. Add chorizo. Cook, covered until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes, stirring often.

3. Add cilantro, salt and pepper to taste.


1. Thaw puff pastry about 45 minutes at room temperature.

2. Cut each sheet into three equal parts (or more for smaller puffs).

3. Spread 1 tbsp of cream cheese on bottom of pastry.

4. Layer a bunch of spinach, then top with 2 tbsp chorizo-potato mixture and some grated cheese.

5. Fold pastry over and gently press.

6. Bake until golden, about 30 minutes.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

2011 Culinary Tour to Isla Mujeres, Mexico

World of Flavors Culinary Tour-Isla Mujeres, Mexico

MARCH 5-12, 2011

Join Otehlia Cassidy, a food-lover, cooking instructor and freelance food writer from Madison, WI, on her annual culinary tour to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. This spectacular 7-day culinary adventure will allow you to bring the rich cultural and culinary heritage of Mexico to your own kitchen through hands-on classes, mouth-watering meals, and breathtaking excursions around the area.

Otehlia runs the tour to Isla Mujeres, and the Yucutan peninsula, because that area epitomizes the natural beauty and culinary richness of Mexico. Otehlia also has a wonderful connection with a local chef and restaurant owner on the island. Lori Dumm, owner of Mango Cafe and Blue Iguana Deli, has lived on the island for a number of years, and knows the area very well. She is helping facilitate the tour and ensure well-organized, tasty and fun-filled tour.

The next tour runs from March 5-12, 2011. Save the dates!

***REGISTER WITH YOUR $500 DEPOSIT by JUNE 1, 2010 and save $100!
Total cost if registering on or before June 1, 2010 is $1700.00.

Here are some details:


The tour will run for six full days and seven nights, March 5-12 (lodging includes the nights of March 5-11). Participants will stay at Casa de Las Palmas on Isla Mujeres, Mexico. It is an incredible, luxurious villa that looks out over the ocean. The multi-level pool is the perfect place to take a refreshing swim, or relax in a hammock under the palapa. Each exquisitely decorated bedroom has a private bath. The villa includes a kitchen and large dining table so we can have cooking classes on the premises. But take a look for yourself Reserve your spot now for this tour--space limited to 8 participants.


Each day, except when we tour Merida, we will start with a delicious breakfast catered by Chef Lori Dumm who owns Mango Café and Blue Iguana Deli. Lori puts together flavors in ways that will surprise you, and leave you wanting more. Breakfasts might include bagels with chipotle cream cheese, or her famous Concha bread French toast with orange-rosemary syrup. Organic Oaxacan coffee will be provided.

Every day, except during the two-day excursion to Merida, you will have one cooking class at Casa de Las Palmas in the morning or afternoon, and a chance to explore the island with an optional group activity. The cooking classes will be taught by chefs Lori Dumm and Oscar Flores. Oscar grew up in Mexico City, and comes from a family of chefs, where he learned to cook traditional Mexican dishes, such as enchiladas, seafood soup, and mole. Just tasting his homemade Guajillo chile enchilada sauce is pure indulgence--and you will be surprised to learn how easy it is to make! Lori creates recipes that perfectly meld Latin flavors with a range of popular dishes. Some of my favorite items on her menu include a chile relleno stuffed with cream cheese, eggs, and bacon and her Korean pork barbecue sandwich on French bread with jicama slaw and pickled jalapenos. Yum. The instructors will emphasize how to re-create their amazing dishes even after you return home, using ingredients local to your area.

You will definitely have time to do more than eat— that is, if you want to. Start your morning with yoga, taught by Amy Kruger. There will be optional group activities each day—they might include sailing, snorkeling, hitting the beach or discovering the zoo or turtle sanctuary. Feel free to check out the small island on your own, or head into Cancun if you desire. The island is only 7 miles long and is very easy to get around!

The meal that we DON’T cook will be on your own, or feel free to stop by the market and cook something up in the huge kitchen at Casa de Las Palmas.


During this tour we will have the opportunity to explore some of the beautiful places in that area.

We will take a day trip to Isla Contoy, a national park/island that is teeming with birds, and very few people. We reach the peaceful island by boat, and enjoy the pristine beaches, clear water, snorkeling and/or birdwatching. We will enjoy a cooking class on the beach and learn to make a traditional Mayan dish called tik n chix, fresh fish marinated in achiote and lime, then grilled. This trip depends on the weather.

We will spend Tuesday and Wednesday traveling to Merida, a beautiful colonial city, and the capital of Yucutan. Tuesday morning we will leave Cancun and head to the ruins of Ek Balam and Cenote Dzinup, both near the town of Valladolid. Ek Balam is thought to have been the longest continually inhabited Mayan city in the Yucutan, and lies about 100 miles from Cancun en route to Merida. Cenote Dzinup (a freshwater pool formed by collapsed limestone) is one of the most beautiful cenotes in the Yucutan, and great for a refreshing swim! We will provide lunch or dinner that day. We will spend the night in Merida, and wake up to explore the markets with chef Lori Dumm. We will head to the market in the morning, gathering inspiration and ingredients for a meal. Depending on our accommodations, we might cook a delicious lunch with chef Lori, or head to one of Merida’s outstanding restaurants, before heading back to Isla Mujeres.

All in all, you are guaranteed a fabulous, relaxing and delicious time.

Please check out some photos from my latest trip on Flickr.


$1800/person. $500 extra for single occupancy, $200 less for non-cooking companion.

Cost includes: breakfast and meal cooked during class each day on Isla Mujeres, a daily cooking class, a daily yoga class, trip to Isla Contoy (includes lunch) and Merida (includes breakfast and one meal each day while traveling), and all fees associated with those two trips, and lodging.

Cost does NOT include: round trip airfare to Cancun, ground transport to/from Isla Mujeres from Cancun airport, entrance fees to optional group activities on Isla Mujeres (range from $3 to $50), lunch or dinner (whichever one we don’t cook during the class), transportation around Isla Mujeres (taxis cost about $2-4 per trip, and golf cart rental available about $50/day—can be shared), and any personal spending money.


A $500 non-refundable DEPOSIT IS REQUIRED BY DECEMBER 1, 2010 per person to reserve space in the tour. Since the number if participants is limited to 8 early reservations are advised. Once your deposit is received, a written confirmation will be sent, along with more detailed travel information and forms. The balance of $1,300 is due in full by DECEMBER 30, 2010. If not received by that time, your reservation will be considered canceled.
Registration form is attached to this email.

Cancellations by Feb 1, 2011, 50% of final payment refunded if space can be filled. Cancellations after Feb 1, 2011, no refunds.

TRIP INSURANCE: It is highly recommended that all participants purchase travel insurance. If you wish to purchase travel insurance, go to for details and to purchase.

CHILDREN: Unfortunately, due to accommodation and tour limitations, children under 18 are not able to participate in this tour. I hope to design a family friendly culinary tour in the near future, so stay tuned!



Otehlia Cassidy, the tour organizer, has over 10 years of experience traveling in Latin America, Mexico and Africa. Otehlia has spent time in Chihuahua and Sonora, Mexico, working with indigenous groups (including the Raramuri and the Seri) on conservation issues. Learning to cook local dishes and share meals wherever she traveled allowed Otehlia to make new friends and experience the culture of the area. Otehlia has facilitated group travel in West Africa and is an experienced event planner. In addition to raising her two young children and teacing African dance, Otehlia is a cooking instructor, author of the food blog “World of Flavors”, and a freelance writer specializing in food-related topics.

Lori Dumm, chef and cooking instructor, lived in Madison, WI for 10 years, before calling Isla Mujeres, Mexico home. She lives there with her husband Polo and daughter Zoe. Lori and Polo opened Mango Café only two years ago. Already, it is rated the #1 restaurant on the island and has been featured in Latina Magazine. Lori creates dishes that combine flavors in unexpected ways, using both local ingredients and a global vision. Lori is very personable and knows the island and surrounding area very well.

Oscar Flores, chef and cooking instructor, was born and raised in Mexico, and comes from a family of chefs. He recalls his mother cooking amazing food while he, as a young boy, helped. Oscar creates a wide repertoire of traditional Mexican dishes and is an excellent instructor taking great pride in his food and presentation. He is also an amazing artist, creating sculptures and masks from recycled palm fiber.

Amy Kruger, yoga instructor, was introduced to yoga in the 1970’s. Yoga asanas were fun for her to play around with as a young woman. Fast-forward twenty years: Back pain and pregnancy caused Amy to discover the amazing benefits of a regular practice. Amy currently teaches classes based on the Ashtanga tradition and they are taught in the vinyasa style. Vinyasa yoga links one pose to the next in a fluid, serpentine fashion. Amy’s classes are fun, challenging and appropriate for all levels of participants.

Look forward to springtime in paradise!