Thursday, September 24, 2009

must be fall...

I know that whole equinox thing is traditionally the determining factor for when fall starts, but my annual urge to bake muffins is nearly as reliable. I may make braised chicken all summer long, but somehow muffins don't appeal until fall, either for baking or for eating. Today my internal cook apparently flipped over to "fall," and I woke up with a strong desire to bake muffins.

Muffins and quick breads are somewhat equivalent in my mind, but I only make quick breads when I'm sure we'll eat them right away - it's just easier to freeze and reheat muffins than quick breads, at least for individual portion sizes. We had a bunch of blueberries from the market on Sunday that absolutely needed to get used right away, so I went ahead and made two batches.

Blueberry Oat Muffins
adapted from The Kitchn

  • 1 cup blueberries, washed and dried
  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1/2 C white whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats [I ground them up a bit in my mini-prep]
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk [I used powdered buttermilk, adding the powder with the dry ingredients and one cup of water to the wet ones]
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon fiori di sicilia [or just use all vanilla]

Pre-heat the oven to 325°. Prepare muffin tins.

Toss the berries with 1/4 cup of AP flour. This will help keep them from sinking in the batter.

In a large bowl, combine the remaining flours, oats, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar in a small bowl. In separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, vanilla, and fiori di sicilia. Add the liquids to the dry ingredients and stir gently until you see no more dry flour. Fold the blueberries into the batter.

Spoon into the muffin tins (you can fill them nearly to the top - I found that this recipe didn't rise a ton) and let rest for 5 minutes. Bake for 30-40 minutes. They're done when the tops are puffed and dry, and when a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean.

makes about 14 regular-sized muffins

Penzey's Blueberry Muffins
adapted from Penzey's

  • 1/4 C butter, softened
  • 1/4 C unsweetened apple sauce
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp fiori di sicilia [or just use all vanilla]
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/2 C AP flour, divided
  • 1/2 C white whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 C buttermilk [I used powdered buttermilk, adding the powder with the dry ingredients and one cup of water to the wet ones]
  • 2 C blueberries
Preheat oven to 375F. Prepare muffin tins.

Toss the berries with 1/4 cup of AP flour. This will help keep them from sinking in the batter.

In a medium bowl, cream together butter and sugar, then blend in apple sauce, extracts, eggs, and buttermilk. Sift dry ingredients into a large bowl and mix well. Mix the liquids into the dry ingredients and stir gently until smooth. Fold the blueberries into the batter.

Spoon into the muffin tins (fill them about 2/3 full) and let rest for 5 minutes. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean.
yield: 14-18 muffins

Monday, September 21, 2009

Kitchen Experiment: Pizza

For some reason, the fact that we made pizza last night completely blew me away. It worked! The smoke alarms didn't go off! And it was not just edible, but extremely tasty. I used the pizza method from Artisan Breads in Five Minutes a Day, which calls for using one of their bread recipes (I used my usual half whole wheat version of their boule dough, though next time I'll go ahead and make the suggested olive oil focaccia dough).

Crank the oven up as high as it'll go - the new oven in our apartment continues to be a real workhorse: it not only goes up to 550F (many ovens top out at 500F) but it didn't seem at all damaged by the experience (a friend's oven practically melted at its top temperature... she needed to replace all the plastic knobs afterward). Let heat for at least 20 minutes. While the oven's preheating, prepare your ingredients (I used fresh farmer's market mozzarella, some left-over tomato sauce (drained of all juice over a fine sieve), and a puree of fresh basil and black olives). Allow to cool a little before serving, or the cheese will slide right off!

Using flour to prevent sticking, roll out the dough to about a 1/8" thickness. Take it slow - the dough will relax as you go, but it can take several minutes between expansions. Spray a cooking sheet or pizza crisper (we have one of these) with non-stick-spray-with-flour stuff. Once your pizza dough is sufficiently thin, roll it around your rolling pin to transfer it to the prepared pizza crisper (just like you would to move pie dough).

I spread out the basil/black olive mixture all over the dough and then spread the tomato sauce on top of that. Finally, rough rounds of mozzarella top of the whole thing. Get it into the oven ASAP and cook for 8-15 minutes (it pays to keep a close eye on pizza, as there's a fine line between lightly-browned-but-crisp and blackened at 550 degrees).

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Rescuing Blueberry Butter

I'm not sure whether the problem with my slow-cooker blueberry butter attempt was the recipe, or if the problem was with my crock pot. (Given the other issues I've had with crock-pot recipes recently, I think it's probably not the recipe...) In any case, I followed a pretty standard blueberry butter recipe I found somewhere on the internet, and it just completely failed to work. I actually cooked it for 24 hours in the slow-cooker (on high!) and it really didn't cook down at all.

I knew I needed to add some more body to it, so that it would have that characteristic fruit butter texture, and I thought some additional pectin might be good, too. I ended up adding some green apples and using the immersion blender to get the texture just right. It was still a little too sweet, so I added a bit more lemon juice. I'm still not completely pleased with the way it turned out, but I definitely was able to convert an almost unusable batch of blueberry better into something worth eating. I'll count that as a win.

Blueberry-Apple Butter

  • 5 C blueberries
  • 3 C sugar
  • 4-5 small tart green apples, peeled, cored, and chopped (I used Granny Smiths)
  • 1/8 C lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
Mix all ingredients together in a large pot. Cook for about 45 minutes, or until things are sufficiently softened to use the immersion blender. Blend until smooth, or mostly smooth. Continue to cook at a simmer until the fruit has cooked down and the texture is very thick. Can in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Judging Recipes

Sometimes, I look at a recipe, am pretty sure it's going to be "meh" and go right ahead and make it. I'd like to say that I'm wrong just enough that it's worth it to experiment, but actually I think these recipes are ones I want to make for reasons unrelated to flavor. They'll use up something in the fridge, or they're super easy, or they are really really healthy. I'm pretty frequently right - I make the recipe, and it is very very dull - and yet I persist. (The real reason might just be that I'm a nut case.)

Here is a recipe that I expected to not really like but made anyway. Sometimes these things do work out - this one is a keeper:

Summer Vegetable Stew
adapted from Cooking Light's "Light & Easy Meals"

  • 1 smallish fennel bulb
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 C vegetable broth (I used "Better than Bouillon")
  • 1 14-oz can Italian-seasoned diced tomatoes
  • 2-3 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 lb green beans, de-stringed and cut into 1" lengths
  • 2 Tbsp fresh herbs (I used a mix of rosemary and thyme)
  • 1 C frozen green peas (I believe fresh green peas should be saved for things where their flavor and texture really sing... this recipe is tasty, but doesn't highlight the peas)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/2 C crumbled goat cheese
Trim the fennel fronds and toss all but 1 Tbsp or so of them. Mince the reserved fronds and set aside. Roughly chop white parts of fennel, discarding anything that seems too tough to eat.

Heat a medium pot over medium-high heat. When hot, add the olive oil. Saute fennel for 5 minutes and add the broth, tomatoes, carrots, and green beans. Simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Add peas, herbs, and reserved fennel fronds; cover and simmer 2 minutes.

Add salt and pepper to taste; top each serving of stew with crumbled goat cheese.
serves 4

Friday, September 4, 2009


Just a quick note to say I'll be out of town for the next few weeks and won't be updating.

xoxo, mk