John Ledbetter’s pancakes could make you forget the traditional limp breakfast disks that whisper a bland one-dimensional tune.

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No drizzle of butter or syrup is necessary for these vibrant appetizer cakes.

This short video shows how Ledbetter, executive chef at Lark Creek Newport Beach, amps his savory pancakes with a battalion of complementary ingredients. His pancakes are thick and irresistible, especially when topped with a tangle of barbecued chicken, guacamole and slivers of crisp tortilla chips.

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At the heart of his pancakes is a rich sweet-corn taste provided by prepared masa, the type sold in many local Mexican markets that is blended specifically for making tamales. (I buy it at El Gallo Giro, Santa Ana)

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The masa dough is mixed with fresh minced chilies, bell peppers and green onions, and then made into a batter by adding milk, baking soda and baking powder.
I watched the preparation. He cooks them slowly. Once a portion of batter is added to a hot nonstick skillet, he uses the back of a spoon to spread the mixture a little; then he gently cooks on medium-low heat to prevent scorching.
Tamale Pancakes
Yield: about 10 to 12 (5-inch) pancakes
About 1 cup whole milk (plus more if needed)
2 1/2 pounds prepare masa (masa for tamales), see cook’s notes
1/4 cup finely diced red bell pepper
1 tablespoon minced seeded jalapeno chili, or 2 teaspoons minced jalapeno plus 2 teaspoons minced Red Fresno chili, see cook’s notes
1 tablespoon minced green onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Butter as needed
Favorite barbecue sauce, enough to lightly coat chicken
Roast chicken, boned, skinned, pulled into slivers with two forks (store-bought is OK)
Garnish: guacamole, thin strips of corn tortillas (fried crisp) or crushed tortilla chips
Optional garnish: cilantro crème fraiche
Cook’s notes: Many Mexican markets, such as El Gallo Giro in Santa Ana, sell prepared masa. Be sure to designate that you want masa for tamales, not for tortillas. Use caution when working with fresh chilies; wash hands and work surface thoroughly and do NOT touch eyes or face. To make cilantro crème fraiche, blanch a good handful of cilantro in boiling water; refresh with ice water. Drain and place in high-speed blender with some cream fresh; whirl until pureed. Ledbetter says that when sweet corn if plentiful this summer, he will add kernels along with the other ingredients to the batter.
Procedure:
1. In a saucepan, heat milk until just below a simmer; set aside. In a stand mixer add masa, bell pepper, chilies, green onion and cilantro. Using the paddle attachment, mix on low speed to combine. Continue to mix on low speed and add milk in thin stream, using just enough milk to achieve a pancake-batter consistency (it will thicken up a little with refrigeration). Add baking powder and baking soda; mix to combine. Cover and refrigerate 20 to 30 minutes.
2. Melt about 1 1/2 teaspoons butter in a large, nonstick skillet on medium heat. Add enough batter to make a pancake the desired size (he makes them about 5-inches in diameter). Use the back of a spoon in a circular motion to spread out the batter a little. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until bubbles appear on surface and golden brown (about 40 to 50 percent cooked). Turn and complete cooking.
3. Toss chicken with enough barbecue sauce to lightly cover. Top each pancake with chicken mixture, a scoop of guacamole and some thin strips of fried corn tortilla. If desired drizzle cilantro crème fraiche around edge of plate. Serve immediately.
Source: John Ledbetter, executive chef at Lark Creek Newport Beach

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… Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s …

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Cherry-Blackberry Compote served with honey-spiked yogurt makes a delectable dessert.

Blackberries and fresh sweet cherries have such complimentary flavor profiles. Bing (bright red to mahogany red) is most common variety in the marketplace, but others such as Rainiers (yellow with a red blush) can be substituted.

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The easiest and least messy way to remove the seeds is to use a cherry pitter. The gadget works something like a scissor-style paper punch with a shaft that pushes the pit out.

Cherries Poached in Red Wine with Blackberries and Mint
Yield: 8 servings
2 1/2 cups dry red wine
1 cup sugar or agave syrup
2 (2-inches wide) strips of orange zest or tangerine zest, colored portion of peel
1 1/2 pounds fresh sweet cherries, pitted, halved
1/2 pound whole blackberries
Optional: 2 teaspoons minced fresh mint
3/4 cup plain fat free Greek-style yogurt
1 tablespoon honey
Optional garnish: 8 sprigs of fresh mint
1. In a large saucepan (not aluminum) combine wine, sugar and strips of zest. Bring to simmer on medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add cherries and reduce heat to maintain a simmer until cherries are just barely tender, about 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. When lukewarm, add blackberries and mint, if using. Gently toss.
2. In small bowl, stir yogurt and honey until combined.
3. Divide cherry-berry mixture into 8 small bowls. Top with dollop of yogurt mixture. If desired, garnish each serving with a small sprig of mint.
Nutritional information (per serving): calories 250; fat calories 5, total fat 0 grams; sat fat 0 grams, cholesterol 0 milligrams; sodium 10 milligrams; total carbohydrates 47 grams; fiber 3 grams; sugars 41 grams; protein 3 grams; vitamin A IUs 2%; vitamin C 20%; calcium 4%; iron 4%.

Source: “50 Best Plants on the Planet” by Cathy Thomas (Chronicle, $29.95)

Thanks to Curt Norris for the beautiful photos, as well as skilled videotaping.

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