Vegan Double Chocolate Chip Pancakes

Gluten-Free, Vegan Double Chocolate Chip PancakesI learned many things in college. As is the case with many a college grad, the biggest lessons were learned outside of the classroom (though not to fear, Mom and Dad, your tuition money was well-spent).

I learned that pulling all-nighters will not make you do better on a test or write a better paper. A little sleep, when it’s needed most, can go a long way. I learned how important it was to eat breakfast, and especially to eat breakfast before downing a triple espresso latte to compensate for those aforementioned all-nighters. And finally, in one of the most jarring revelations of my time in college, I learned that not everyone calls the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday Paczki day (pronounced POONCH-KEY), nor do they eat Paczkis on this day or even know what a Paczki is. With that revelation,  my little metro Detroit bubble had burst, and I realized I was no longer in Kansas Grosse Pointe anymore.

vegan, gluten-free double chocolate chip pancakesAt first, people thought I was making this weird jelly doughnut holiday up, or that it was a family tradition that I had somehow deluded myself into thinking was a national holiday. It was before the days of the iPhone, so I went home to Google the holiday only to discover that it was, in fact, a holiday confined to the Midwest. And since most of my friends were from the East or West Coasts, I suddenly felt so small in this great big world that had never unitarily celebrated a day with Paczkis.

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Chestnut Pancakes

I have a dilemma. It’s one that has plagued me all my life, or at least since I was old enough to appreciate the joy that a simple cup of coffee and a few moments of quiet and solitude in the morning can bring. Here’s the dilemma: I’m a morning person. Of course, this is not a dilemma on its own. Considering, however, that I’m also something of a night owl, this creates a bit of an inner turmoil. Add the fact that I am one of those people who just can’t function on less than 8 hours of sleep a night, and you see how I might struggle to reconcile my incompatible preferences.

I love the morning because of the solitude, the smell of coffee brewing, watching Woodley (most decidedly not a morning dog) continue to dream as he flinches and flaps his paws in his deep state of sleep. I love getting a head start on my emails, the morning headlines, the daily news shows. I love that I have a whole day left ahead of me once I’ve done all of these things.

I love the nighttime for many of the same reasons. After a hectic day, I can slow back down to catch up on emails, to return to my news shows (among other shows, mostly of the type found on Bravo). I love that Gennaro — a definite night owl — and I can sit and unwind to our favorite shows, after the dog is walked, the dishes done, the bills paid. And even those nights when we don’t have our shows, and I don’t have so many emails, and when I’m not lost in a good book, I somehow feel like I’m missing out on something if I go to bed too early. I’m like the kid who resists her nap for fear of missing out on all the fun while she’s asleep.

My need for 8 hours of sleep usually makes the night-owl side of me, by default, the winner. If I’m up too late, which I usually am, it’s hard for me to wake up early in the morning.  I’ve been lucky enough to be in school for the last seven years of my life, so I learned not to schedule any early morning classes. Though when I did have the rare unavoidably early class to attend, and forced myself to go to bed early and get a good night sleep, I learned that I had a special place in my heart for mornings as well.

Every once-in-awhile, just for the fun of it, I do wake up early on the weekends. If anything, it’s just to enjoy a hot cup of coffee and some morning baking. Pancakes, of course, are the perfect compliment to these lazy, early Saturdays. Last Saturday (New Year’s Day, in fact), was one of those, and I decided to forgo my usual weekend breakfast fare for something really special and unique. My mom sent me back to New York after Christmas with a package of chestnut flour, challenging me to find something to make with it. This delirious-smelling flour is something of an enigma. It’s like coconut flour in its ability to absorb massive amounts of liquid — so much so that you keep adding more and more until you have a batter that bears some modicum of familiarity. Which is what I did, of course. I added more and more liquid to what was intended to be an all-chestnut flour batter until I finally thought it at least resembled a pancake batter, then discovered, to my dismay, that this rendered my “pancakes” unreconizable gooey blobs once in the pan. So I tried again, this time using the chestnut flour as a compliment to a brown rice flour-based batter. Much better.

The moisture of chestnut flour makes this version slightly less “cakey” than most pancakes. But they’re too good (in my opinion) in their own right not to share at all, at the risk of offending those pancake purists who have one thing in mind and won’t accept any variations. They’re especially good drizzled with some cinnamon-laced agave nectar. Now that I have this recipe down, I have a new thing to add to my list of things I love about the mornings. Then again, pancakes make a wonderful late-night snack as well…

Yield: about 15 pancakes

Chestnut Pancakes:

½ cup chestnut flour (mine came from here)

1 cup brown rice flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons flax seed meal

1 cup unsweetened almond milk

½ cup water

¼ cup agave nectar

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil, plus more for brushing pan

Directions:

1. In a mixing bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, salt and flaxseed meal. Add remaining ingredients and whisk until incorporated. Let sit for 10 minutes.

2. Brush a cast iron skillet or pancake griddle with oil. Heat over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes, until hot (to test: drop a teaspoon of batter onto the skillet and see if it sizzles). Drop scant 1/4 cups of batter onto hot skillet, a few inches apart, and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes on the first side, until golden brown on the bottom and bubbly on top. Slip and cook second side for another 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Remove pancakes to a plate.

3. Repeat step 2 as necessary with remaining batter.

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Zucchini Potato Latkes

So, I don’t know what inspired me to make latkes, of all things, with the 18 million pounds of potatoes I’ve stocked up in my quest to recreate all of my favorite (and, oh, there were many) potato dishes in Spain. Latkes were certainly not on that list. Nor do I have any particular story to tell about these. No family recipe; no special memories from my childhood. In fact, I don’t even recall seeing a recipe for potato pancakes — or latkes — anywhere else recently to spark an interest in making them myself, as is usually the case when I decide to make something I’ve had little experience with pre-food allergies (and why would I see one anyways? It’s not even latke season, is it?).

All that said, I was somehow determined to master this recipe. I was so determined that I made four versions of these in about 5 days. And believe it or not, I’m still not close to halfway through my potato supply. I finally settled on a version I was happy with this afternoon, and cooked up some fresh-from-the-market apples for the accompanying sauce. Gennaro and I snacked on them before watching the ulcer-inducing 28-24 Michigan-Notre Dame game, where our beloved Wolverines managed to pull off the win. The perfect fall Saturday: potato pancakes with applesauce and Michigan football. Perhaps I’ll have to start my own potato pancake tradition. If only it would always include a victory.

Zucchini Potato Latkes:

Makes about 12 pancakes

1 1/2 cups peeled, shredded russet potatoes (I shredded mine with a box grater), tightly packed

1 cup shredded zucchini (tightly packed)

1 teaspoon sea salt, divided

1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced

1/3 cup garbanzo bean (chickpea) flour

1 tablespoon Ener-G Egg Replacer

1/3 cup water

1 tablespoon oil (I used grapeseed), plus more for frying

Directions:

1. Place shredded zucchini and potatoes in a collander or strainer with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Squeeze out excess liquid and let sit for about 10 minutes. Sqeeze again and set aside.

2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, water, egg replacer, 1 tablespoon oil and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt. Add vegetables and onion and mix until everything is combined. Set aside.

3. Heat a cast iron skillet or non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and add about a tablespoon of oil. Drop batter by 1/4 cup and flatten with the back of measuring cup or a spoon. Drop batter for about 3-4 pancakes at a time. Fry on medium-high heat for about 1-2 minutes, or until golden brown on the bottom. Flip and cook for another 1-2 minutes, reducing heat to medium. Remove to a plate and continue with remaining batter, using a tablespoon of cooking oil for each batch. To reheat latkes, or if you have a batch that didn’t cook all the way through, heat pancakes in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for about 5 minutes, or until crispy and heated through.

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Cornmeal Pancakes

In this city, noted for its bagels and the ubiquitous Sunday brunch, it can often be a slight challenge for the “_____ free” crowd (fill in the blank; they all fit). The notion of alternating sips of coffee and orange juice as your friends nosh on pancakes, french toast and, sigh, bagels and lox sounds rather alienating — and unappealing —  if you ask me.

I’m usually a shut-in on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Maybe I’ll sleep in, maybe I’m up studying, reading or drinking coffee. At any rate, I’m usually still wearing whatever I slept in the night before. Still, when my parents are in town I tend to feel rather lazy sleeping in any later than 8 a.m., at which point they’ve already woken up, walked my dog and taken a quick trip to the farmers market for some fruit and veggie essentials. Usually, we’ll go to church, then head to brunch. So I’ve picked up a few brunch tips along the way. One option is to go unconventional. Think Indian. One especially exciting discovery was the daily 12-4 brunch at Brick Lane Curry House for something like $11, which gets you all-you-can-eat access to several varieties of curries, rice, soups and sides. Caracas Arepa Bar does a weekend brunch from noon-3 that is equally filling and unique. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: if you’re in New York — now or ever — GO TO CARACAS. You’ll thank me. I’ve been for brunch only once, but did appreciate how, unlike many other Mexican/Latin American restaurants, Caracas doesn’t forgo their roots by offering the usual eggs and meat fare during brunch. You can still get their famous gluten-free cornmeal arepas, just prepared in different ways. Word of warning: expect to wait outside for a table. Don’t worry, it’s worth it.

So, if you’re going out and worried about what you can eat, I’ve found that the further you can get from standard American fare, the better (that is, if you can’t eat pancakes, waffles, eggs, french toast, etc.). If you’re looking to stay in and enjoy a lazy weekend morning as I often do, try this recipe for cornmeal pancakes. In the true spirit of brunch, I’m offering a two-for-the-price-of-one recipe: a sweet and savory option. Now the only thing you’ll have to worry about is which option to go with.

Lemony Cornmeal Pancakes:

Please Note: This recipes makes a very thin, crepe-like pancake batter. It’s important to drop batter a few inches apart and that your pan is very hot before cooking pancakes, so that the batter doesn’t spread.

1 cup Bob’s Red Mill brown rice flour

1/2 cup cornmeal (I used Bob’s Red Mill; medium grind)

1/4 cup flax seed meal

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons agave nectar

3 tablespoons canola or grapeseed oil

1 cup unsweetened soy milk

1/2 cup water

zest of one lemon

1 teaspoon pure vanila extract

Warm Blueberry Sauce:

1 1/2 cups frozen blueberries

2 teaspoons arrowroot

1 tablespoon agave nectar

Directions:

1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together dry ingredients (brown rice flour through salt). Add wet ingredients and lemon zest and whisk vigorously and batter is smooth and slightly frothy on top.

2. Spray or rub large non-stick or cast-iron skillet with canola or grapeseed oil. Heat over high heat. When skillet is hot (allow a few minutes), pour batter in scant 1/4 cup-sized amounts, making sure to leave an inch or two of space between each cake. Cook 1 1/2-2 minutes on the first side, until bubbles start to form on the outside edges. Flip and cook for about another minute or two, or until the second side is golden brown. Repeat steps 1 & 2 with remaining batter.

3. To make blueberry sauce: add ingredients to a medium-sized saucepan and stir to combine. Heat over medium-high heat until bubbly and sauce begins to thicken, about 5-7 minutes. Serve over pancakes.

Savory Southwestern Cornmeal Pancakes:

Same as cornmeal lemon pancakes with the following changes: omit lemon zest. Reduce water to 1/4 cup. Add: 1 1/2 cups corn kernels (drained; canned is fine); 1 4-oz can diced green chiles; 2 scallions, sliced; 1 teaspoon chile powder and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Serve with sliced avocado, salsa, guacamole, or anything else you think you might enjoy!

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