March Muffins

Is it just me, or does March feel like a long month? We’re well past the excitement of the holidays, and at least in this part of the world, everyone feels “done” with the cold, gray weather. There isn’t a long weekend on the horizon until May, and, worst of all, NOTHING is in season any more. We’re done with pumpkins and squash, and January’s citrus explosion is over. It seems like an eternity until strawberry season starts, and my fruit stash in the freezer is getting dangerously low!

All is not lost, however. I still have some rhubarb squirreled away, so I whipped up a batch of muffins last week to share with some girlfriends on a road trip to Milwaukee. (I thought about making blueberry muffins, but then I discovered I’m almost out of frozen blueberries as well. COME ON SPRING!) These are ideal for making the night before a trip because they come together in just a few minutes. And while they’re best warm, right out of the oven, they’re also pretty tasty the next morning. 

The recipe was originally published in the now-defunct “Cooking for 2” magazine, and while it’s nice to have a muffin recipe that doesn’t feed an army, I end up doubling (or even tripling) it most days, especially when I plan on sharing with someone besides Andy. (My doubled amounts are reflected below.) I also discovered that you can swap the sour cream for Greek yogurt with no ill effects. I add oatmeal to the topping and use whole wheat pastry flour for half of the flour, in an attempt to feel a little better about eating two or three for breakfast. 🙂

rhubarbmuffins

Rhubarb Cream Muffins

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
2 cups fresh or frozen rhubarb*
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

For topping:
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons oatmeal
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 375. Line muffin tins with paper liners and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and brown sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat well.

Meanwhile, in a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Add half of the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, and then add the sour cream. Add the remaining dry ingredients and stir until almost mixed. Gently fold in the rhubarb and walnuts (this should mix in the rest of the dry ingredients).

To make the topping, whisk the sugar, cinnamon and oatmeal together in a bowl. (Save a dish here and reuse the bowl you mixed the dry ingredients in!) Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter until the butter is evenly distributed and  is about the size of small pebbles.

Fill the prepared muffin cups about two-thirds of the way full. (I use my large cookie scoop to evenly portion out the batter.) Top with the prepared topping.

Bake until muffins are golden brown and test “done” with a toothpick, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes in the pans. Remove the muffins from the pans and allow to cool.

*To use frozen rhubarb, measure while frozen, then allow rhubarb to thaw completely in a colander. Drain, but don’t press out the extra liquid. 

Adapted from Cooking for 2, Spring 2007

Click here for a printable version.

Cornbread, Non-Jiffy Style

I remember being slightly disappointed the first time I tried cornbread as a kid. It wasn’t a terrible experience by any means, but it wasn’t outstanding. I seem to remember it being dry and relatively flavorless. As a result, I never went out of my way to find cornbread. If it was served with chili at someone’s house, I might take a piece, but I’d be just as likely to save the calories for dessert (or extra cheese and sour cream in my chili). 🙂

Well, for some unknown reason, I decided that I wanted to make cornbread to go with a batch of chili earlier this year. Where that urge came from, I have no idea. (Perhaps this is what happens when I peruse starred items in my Google reader…) Since almost everything is better with onions and cheese, I figured Branny’s recipe was a good place to start. I detoured through the grocery store on my way home (hello impulse cooking!), snagged some scallions and got cooking.

And… success! This came together quickly and smelled great when it was in the oven. I liked it so much that I took the leftovers to work even after I ran out of leftover chili to go with the cornbread.

CheddarScallionCornbread

Cheddar Scallion Cornbread

1 1/4 cup cornmeal (I used fine ground, since that’s what I have on hand.) 
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
4 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
3 scallions, thinly sliced (white and green parts)
1 cup sour cream (I used reduced-fat sour cream with no problems.) 
1/3 cup water
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 425. Grease a 9″ round pan; set pan aside. (I used a cake pan the first time. Since then, I received a cast-iron skillet, and I’ve used that for cornbread. I think I just like the look of serving from the cast iron pan instead.) 

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda together. Fold the cheese and scallions into the dry ingredients.

In a separate bowl, stir together the sour cream, water, butter and eggs. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and gently mix until just combined.

Spread the batter in the prepared pan, and bake until the top is golden brown and the cornbread tests done with a toothpick (roughly 20 minutes). Remove from oven and let cool about 5 minutes before serving. Cut into wedges and serve with your favorite chili.

From Branny Boils Over

Click HERE for a printable version!

The Perfect Pear

I may have said this before, but pears aren’t my favorite fruit. I don’t mind them in a fruit cocktail, and I enjoy the occasional pear chunk in a salad, but I don’t go out of my way to work them into my diet. Especially when there are other, much tastier (in my opinion) fruits to enjoy. (Like strawberries. And blueberries. And peaches.) 

Andy, however, couldn’t disagree more. There isn’t a fruit out there that he doesn’t love (pears included), so when his parents offered to bring us some fruit from their trees this past fall, he immediately said yes. We ate a lot of applesauce and apple crisp, and Andy put a considerable dent in the pears, but there’s only so much one person can do. 🙂

Just as the pears were becoming a fruit fly paradise, this recipe popped into my Google Reader, and I thought it had a lot of good things going for it. I mean, veggies taste better roasted, so it stands to reason that the pears would only improve after some time in the oven. Plus, cream AND butter AND chocolate? I’m in. 🙂

I prepped these on a Thursday evening and popped the entire cookie sheet in the freezer, covered in saran wrap, which meant I could quickly bake them the next night after work. And then, since I’m always using my friends as guinea pigs, I took them to dinner on Friday. Let’s just say that I didn’t bring any home. 🙂

PearScone

Roasted Pear & Chocolate Scones

3 pears (about a pound), on the firm side*
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar, plus an extra 1 1/2 tablespoons for sprinkling
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus a pinch for egg wash
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 large eggs, divided

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Peel and core pears, then cut into one-inch chunks. Place pears on prepared baking sheet in a single layer. Roast until chunks are slightly brown and dried out. Remove from oven and set aside to cool to room temperature. If you’re planning on baking the scones immediately**, leave the oven on and put a clean sheet of parchment paper (I used my Silpat.) on your cookie sheet.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the flour, 1/4 cup of sugar, baking powder and salt. Place the paddle attachment on the mixer, and add the roasted pears, butter, 1 egg and cream. Mix on low until just combined, being careful not to overmix. Add the chocolate chips and mix for just a few seconds more.

Turn the dough out on a well-floured counter and pat it into a circle. (Deb says six inches in diameter; mine was probably closer to eight.) Cut the circle into wedges (again, Deb said six; I did eight) and place the wedges on your baking sheet.

In a small bowl, beat the remaining egg with a pinch of salt and a little water. Brush the egg wash over the scones and sprinkle with reserved sugar. Bake until scones are golden, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Serve as soon as possible.

*As I stated earlier, my pears were on the verge of melting away, so they definitely weren’t “firmish,” as Deb’s recipe calls for. I tried to compensate for this by roasting them longer, and it worked OK, but if you have pears that aren’t on their last legs, they’ll work much better.

**You can freeze the completed scones before baking, and then just pull them out whenever you need a scone-fix. (Hello, convenience food!) I brushed mine with the egg wash before freezing, but I see that the original recipe calls for brushing with egg wash after freezing but before baking. Whoops. It’s your call. Whatever you decide, just add an extra minute or two to your baking time if you bake them directly from the freezer.

From Smitten Kitchen

Click HERE for a printable version!

Doughnuts, Round Two

Remember my quest for the doughnut pan? And how Andy decided that the pumpkin doughnuts, while tasty, were just “cake”? Well, I refused to let a little detail like that get me down. After all, I don’t give up that easily. (Just ask Andy.) Since pumpkin isn’t his favorite flavor, I figured I had to give things another try. Especially if chocolate’s involved! Lucky for me, my friends are always eager to help me out, and when I mentioned that I needed to give the doughnuts another go-around to get Andy on board, they knew just what to do.

GIRLS NIGHT!

Five of us spent a wonderful evening baking, laughing and catching up. We had so much fun, and I can’t wait to do it again! (In other words, attention Jackie: Get yourself back here ASAP!) 🙂

Chocolate + doughnuts + some of my favorite people = awesome evening.

The doughnuts were good. (Not quite as good as the company, but well… that’s pretty much impossible.) They were easy to put together (a plus when you’re doing just as much talking as you are baking!), and all of the husbands loved them.

There was just one problem. Andy looked up the definition of “doughnut,” and according to him (and Mr. Webster) a doughnut is a “ring-shaped cake fried in fat.” These then, by definition, were not doughnuts, and, therefore, could probably be baked in something other a doughnut pan.

Chocolatey goodness waiting to take a dip in the glaze…

Hmm. I have one more doughnut recipe left unmade… perhaps another baking evening is in order. Who’s with  me? 🙂

Christmas Doughnuts 018
Sprinkles make everything happier. 🙂

Chocolate Doughnuts

For the doughnuts:
1/4 cup dutch-processed cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s Special Dark.)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla (We didn’t actually measure the vanilla… we just dumped. You can never have too much vanilla, right?)
4 tablespoons canola oil
Rainbow sprinkles, if desired (does anyone NOT desire sprinkles? Be honest here.) 

For the glaze:
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Spray doughnut pan with cooking spray and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Stir in the egg, milk and vanilla and stir for one minute. Stir in the oil and whisk until combined.

Fill the wells in the doughnut pan about two-thirds of the way full with the batter. Bake until doughnuts spring back when lightly touched, about 7 to 9 minutes. Turn doughnuts out on wire rack and allow to cool before dipping in the glaze. Decorate glazed doughnuts with sprinkles.

To make the glaze: Place the chocolate chips and butter in an oven-proof bowl, and place the bowl in a warm (170 degree) oven. Stir the mixture every few minutes until it is smooth and melted. Stir in the corn syrup and vanilla. Use immediately.

From Milk & Honey, who adapted the recipe from Stephanie Cooks

Click HERE for a printable version!

Giving credit where it’s due: All of these photos are courtesy of my wonderful friend Lacey. They’re probably the nicest pictures this blog’s going to get. 🙂

Better than the ballpark

It amazes me (and maybe it shouldn’t) that even after five years of marriage, I’m still learning things about Andy. While he loves snacks, I’d never heard him express an interest in soft pretzels. He’ll walk right by the vendors at the ballpark, and he doesn’t give food trucks at the fair a second glance. (Yes, the man has amazing will power.)

Imagine my surprise when he wanted to share my soft pretzel at a hockey game we went to not long ago. Turns out he loves them – he just never wants to pay inflated ballpark prices for sub-par pretzels. (What can I say? He’s all about getting the best bang for his buck.) 

Well then. Let me just move soft pretzels up a few notches on my “things to make” list. I actually ended up making these guys twice – once for our New Year’s Eve party and once for our small group Bible study. They vanished in record time on both occasions. They’re the perfect soft pretzel – chewy without being doughy, and when you combine them with the cheese sauce, well, let’s just say that you’ll never go back to stadium pretzels again. (Although, I suppose you’d have to come up with some way to sneak these bad boys into the ball park. Hmm.) 

I used Alton Brown’s recipe for the pretzels, which I found on Branny’s blog. I decided to go with this one because it gave the amounts in weights, rather than volume, and I thought that might produce a better result. (I also figured that Alton knew what he was talking about.) I went with this recipe for the dip because, well, I thought it sounded the best. 🙂 (Really, do I need a better reason than that? It’s my blog, after all.) I shaped half of the dough into pretzels and half into pretzel bites. I actually think that I’d like to make larger “bites” for pretzel buns. A burger on a pretzel bun with melty cheese and bacon… mmm….

Soft pretzels with beer cheese dip. What’s not to love?

Soft Pretzels with Beer Cheese Dip 

For the pretzels:
1 1/2 cups warm (110-115 degrees) water
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
22 ounces all-purpose flour (about 4 1/2 cups – I used my food scale and weighed out the ounces.) 
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
10 cups of water
2/3 cup baking soda
oil, for the pan
1 large egg, beaten, with one tablespoon water
kosher salt, for sprinkling

For the cheese dip:
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup “good quality” beer (I really have no idea what this “should” be. I say, if you have something that you like drinking, use it here.)
1 tablespoon horseradish
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 cup freshly shredded cheddar cheese

To make the pretzels, pour the warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir in the sugar and salt. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Attach the dough hook to the mixer.

On the low speed, mix in the flour and butter. Mix on low until combined, then increase speed to medium and knead until the dough is smooth and cleans the sides of the bowl, about 3-5 minutes. Turn dough out into an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let dough sit in a warm place, free from drafts, until doubled in size, about an hour.

Preheat oven to 450 and line baking pans with parchment paper. (While we’re on the subject of parchment paper, I’m going to share this trick I just picked up from Cook’s Illustrated. If you crumple the sheet and then “uncrumple” it, it lays flat in the pan and won’t roll off the pan and onto the floor… not like that ever happens here…) Brush parchment with a little bit of oil.

Bring 10 cups of water to a full boil in a large (bigger is better here, unless you want baking soda water to overflow all over your stove) pot. Add the baking soda and maintain a rolling boil. Brush your work surface with a little bit of oil (I used my pastry mat) and divide the dough into equal-sized chunks. (Branny suggested 8 pieces; I went much smaller – I made eight pretzels and then cut the rest into bites. I would guesstimate that I divided my dough into 12 or maybe even 16 pieces.) 

Roll out the first ball of dough into a long, relatively thin rope, about 22-24″ long. Shape the rope into a U, then bring one “arm” down and across the bottom of the U. Repeat the process with the other arm to form a pretzel shape. Place the shaped pretzels on one of the prepared pans. Repeat with the remaining dough balls. To make pretzel bites, simply roll out the dough into the rope, then slice with a butter knife into equal-sized pieces (mine were about 1 1/2″ to 2″ in length). When you’re done forming the pretzels, it’s bath time! (For your dough, of course.) 

Dip each pretzel into the boiling water bath, one at a time, and let them hang out for 30 seconds. (For the pretzel bites, I plunged them all in at the same time and had no problems with them sticking together or crowding the pan.) Using a skimmer or wide, slotted spoon, remove the boiled pretzels from the water bath and place on the prepared pans. Brush the pretzels with the egg wash and sprinkle with the salt.

Bake for 14 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from pans and place on a cooling rack. Wait five agonizing minutes (seriously, the longest five minutes EVER) for the pretzels to cool before consuming. Serve with cheese sauce, if desired

To make the cheese dip:

In a microwave-safe bowl (I used one of my Gusto bowls), microwave the cream cheese until soft, about 30 seconds or so. Stir in the beer, horseradish and garlic powder. Microwave again for another 30 seconds and stir in the cheddar cheese. Whisk until smooth, microwaving again if necessary. Store leftover dip in the fridge.

Pretzels from Alton Brown, as seen on Branny Boils Over
Dip from Peace, Love and French Fries, who got it from Jenna’s Cooking Journey, originally from AllRecipes.com and Sunny Side Up San Diego

Click HERE for a printable version.

Pumpkin Persuasion

Andy and I have an ongoing debate about pots and pans. Specifically, the number of pots and pans that should live in my kitchen cabinets. Since he puts the clean dishes away, he battles the stacks of skillets, saucepans and stock pots. (Shameless brag here… how awesome is he? I HATE emptying the drainer and putting clean dishes away. Gotta love him!) So, the last thing I need, in his eyes, is another pan perched precariously on the shelf. Especially a pan that can be used for only one thing.

But…

there are DOUGHNUTS to be made. (Yes, I realize that I could make yeasted doughnuts and skip the whole “buy a doughnut pan” issue. But that requires much more time – these cake doughnuts baked up in under an hour, start to finish – and deep frying, which I’m not a fan of.) Enter the doughnut pan debate.

Me: Oooh, look! A doughnut recipe! If only I had a doughnut pan…
Andy: You don’t NEED a doughnut pan.
Me: But you like doughnuts! Don’t you want homemade doughnuts?
Andy: Not really. And not if it means getting another pan to fit in the drawer under the stove.
Me: *sigh* Another dream bites the dust…

Thankfully, I don’t give up easily. And I have connections. My friend Emily was willing to let me borrow her doughnut pan, and I figured that if I could whip up the world’s tastiest doughnuts, I’d convince Andy to let me add a doughnut pan of my own to my collection. (Me? Scheming? Never…) 

I saw a pumpkin doughnut recipe on Milk & Honey, and it seemed too good (and too easy!) to pass up. They were moist and full of fall flavor. They came together in a snap. I made 12 full-sized doughnuts and nearly 24 doughnut “holes,” using my mini muffin pan. They were everything I’d hoped they would be… except for the fact that they did nothing to change Andy’s mind. According to him, they were just cake baked into the shape of a doughnut. Hmm. Guess that means I need to try again!

PumpkinDoughnut

Pumpkin Doughnuts

1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used canola)
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
15 ounces pumpkin puree
1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
cinnamon-sugar mixture (I simply mixed some sugar and cinnamon together until it looked like a good ratio.) 

Preheat oven to 350. Coat a doughnut pan (or a mini muffin pan, if you’re making doughnut holes) with non-stick spray.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the oil, eggs, sugar, pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice, salt and baking powder. Beat on medium speed until smooth. Add the flour and mix until just combined, being careful not to overmix the batter.

Fill each well in the doughnut pan about two-thirds of the way full. (I would err on the side of “less is more” with these guys. I found that overfilling the wells caused them to look less doughnut-like.) Bake doughnuts until they test done with a toothpick (somewhere in the 15-20 minute range). Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes in the pan on a wire rack.

Place the cinnamon-sugar mixture in a large Ziploc bag. Before the doughnuts are completely cool, flip them out of the pan and place them, a few at a time, in the bag with the cinnamon-sugar. Seal the bag and shake to coat the doughnuts. Remove from the bag and allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Repeat the process until all doughnuts are coated.

Serve immediately. (These will get slightly soggy after a day or so, but I found that keeping some extra cinnamon-sugar on hand to toss on a day-old doughnut helped them immensely.) Store any leftover doughnuts in an airtight container.

From King Arthur Flour, via Milk & Honey

Muffins to the Rescue!

Sometimes, I feel like I’m caught in a mad race against time with my produce. The lettuce is wilting in the fridge!  The peaches are seconds away from dissolving into a syrupy mess on the counter! The cilantro has turned black! NOW. IS. THE. TIME. TO. PANIC. AHHHH!!! (Over-dramatic? Who, me? Never.) 

These muffins were made in one of those produce-induced panics. The apples were moments away from turning into applesauce in the fruit bowl, so it was either bake or send them to the trash can. I do my best to avoid pitching food, so “to bake” it was. This happened a few days before Thanksgiving, and since Thanksgiving means a road trip for us, I decided that muffins would be a good solution to my apple problems. After all, muffins are portable and individually packaged – perfect road food, right?

Karen suggested her apple muffins, and while I know they would have been good (and MUCH healthier than these!), I didn’t have several of the ingredients. So, to AllRecipes.com I went, and came up with this recipe. It came together quickly (a plus, as I had about 15 other things on my to-do list that night) and featured pantry staples. As I mixed up the batter, I noticed that the recipe didn’t have any spices in it – what kind of “apple pie” is this? I added cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves. I also left off the crumb topping – mostly because I felt like the muffins were already sweet enough. Surprisingly enough, we didn’t miss it at all. (Guess that goes to show that you can’t miss what you don’t know!) 

http://images3a.snapfish.com/232323232%7Ffp734%3A4%3Enu%3D326%3B%3E498%3E257%3EWSNRCG%3D386669769%3B32%3Cnu0mrj
They may not be the flashiest muffins, but they sure did hit the spot halfway through our road trip!

Apple Pie Muffins

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
pinch of cloves
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk (I subbed milk with lemon juice this time.) 
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
2 cups diced apples

Preheat oven to 375. Line muffin tins with paper liners. (I ended up with 20 muffins, but I think the original recipe had me overfill the tins. You might be able to get 24 muffins out of this.)

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Meanwhile, in another bowl, combine the butter and brown sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves. Stir the egg, buttermilk and vanilla into the sugar mixture.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and pour the wet ingredients and the apple chunks into the well. Gently fold the wet ingredients and the apples into the flour mixture, being careful not to over-mix.

Fill the muffin wells two-thirds of the way full. Bake until muffins test done with a toothpick, about 25 minutes. Let cool in pans 10 minutes, then turn out on to a wire rack to cool completely.

Adapted from AllRecipes.com