BBQ Pork causes stress….

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Most of the time, cooking is a relaxing activity for me. I pop into the kitchen, recipe in hand and become the musician playing someone else’s art. The recipe author is showing me the wonderful thing they created and I am enjoying the act of recreation. As long as I don’t have to impress anyone and I have plenty of time to do what I need to do, it is fun and stress free. Sometimes, it is almost meditative for me.


A few weeks ago, I bought some pork sirloin chops and wanted to try something new. I had a cookbook that had been forgotten about. It is “Williams-Sonoma: Essentials of Grilling”. Within this book is a page of basic marinades for different kinds of meat. The basic pork marinade looked like a good thing to try on my chops so I followed the recipe exactly except for my usual preference of using olive oil for the generic ingredient called vegetable oil. The chops marinated for the 3 hours maximum called for in the recipe for pork chops and after the requisite time on the BBQ they were pretty yummy but not as flavorful as I expected.

On Monday, we decided to do another round of these sirloin pork chops. I was putting together the marinade and realized that we had over three pounds of meat and the recipe was intended for between one and one and a half pounds of meat. Could this be why I didn’t think the marinade was as flavorful on the meat as it could have been? Did I shortchange the amount of marinade I needed? I doubled the recipe and then proceeded to tweak it. The recipe didn’t have garlic and boy did it need it so, in went garlic. The recipe called for red pepper flakes but I had some gorgeous fresh jalapenos that needed to be used up, what would happen if I used fresh chilies? Well who cares, sounds good to me. The marinade still needs something, what is it? What does it need? Scanning the spice rack… aha! Smoked paprika! The marinade is all set, in plops the meat about three hours before BBQ time. Perfect!

I think I mentioned in the opening post of this blog that I am trying to become healthy and lose weight. I have been going to the gym like a mad woman. At first, I was doing just cardio for about a half hour each trip to the gym, but lately my boyfriend has been helping me in the weight room. On Monday, I did something dumb. I drank a cup of coffee in the morning (if you knew me, you would know I am not a coffee drinker). Coffee is a diuretic. I also proceeded to forget to drink any other liquid all day. I hopped on a cardio machine at the gym and did a full half hour, drinking a bit of water but not nearly enough. Once I went downstairs to lift weights, I was weak and could barely lift my arms without the weights. I wasn’t sure what was wrong with me. Duh!


What does this have to do with anything? I got home and felt so weak I could barely move. My boyfriend convinced me that we were both too tired to cook (he would have to man the grill) and that it would be better to pick up take out food from our local health food joint. I argued and argued because of one problem with the pork marinade. It has a lot of apple cider vinegar in it. By doubling the recipe, I had used 2 full cups of apple cider vinegar to one cup of apple juice! I had visions of pork ceviche rolling around in my head. I felt so weak and messed up, that I stopped stressing and relented to buying food instead of making it.


The next day, I looked at the pork and it didn’t look so bad. I left it until dinnertime. The vinegar was cooking the edges of the meat a little bit but it didn’t seem so bad. Still, I wasn’t sure about the tweaks I made to the recipe and I was sure marinating the meat for 24 hours would cause a melt down of some sort. We fired up the BBQ in the evening and proceeded to cook the meat. It seemed very vinegary smelling so we both were nervous and I felt stressed.


When the meat was cooked, we served it with some Greek potatoes and steamed veggies. The meat was delicious. This time you could taste the marinade and it had a wonderful smoky tangy flavor. Served up with a 2001 Sunstone Syrah, it was wonderful.


BBQ Pork

BBQ Pork Sirloin Chops

Basic marinade adapted from Williams-Sonoma: Essentials of Grilling (enough marinade for three pounds of pork)


2 cups apple cider vinegar

1 cup apple juice

6 tbsp brown sugar

1 large yellow onion – diced

4 tbsp olive oil

3 tbsp hot sauce (I used cholula)

1 large jalapeno chili, seeded and diced

1 tsp salt

1 tsp smoked paprika

4 cloves garlic, minced


Combine all ingredients in a 9”x13” pan. Add sirloin chops and marinate for at least 3 hours up to 24 hours. Start your BBQ. When the coals are covered with white ash, add the chops to the grill. Cook turning once for about a half hour or until a meat thermometer poked into the thickest part of the chop registers between 145-150 degrees F. Remove the chops to a platter and allow to rest for at least five minutes before serving.


Post blog writing note: D’oh. After reading the recipe so that I could write it down for you, I realized that I missed the step in the recipe that calls for cooking the first three ingredients of the marinade over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved then adding the other ingredients. They don’t say to cool the marinade they say to add the pork at this point. Well, mystery solved. That’s why round one was a little disappointing. I guess my version of the marinade on round two is completely different than what the book intended, but it sure did turn out tasty anyway.

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Tart blackberry compote for your breakfast pleasure

Blackberry compote

Delectible Tidbits has gotten off to a roaring start due to my being a bad vacationer who never manages to go anywhere. This will be post number seven and day seven of the blog. Yep. No tropical resort destinations for this gal. Just a happy contented feeling to be free to do whatever I want for a couple of weeks and leave the stress of the work day to someone else. Hopefully, this temporary spate of prolific writing won’t spoil the three or four of you who have discovered my blog so far! Hee, hee, hee…


This week has been about breakfast and baking so far. Two things that are near and dear to my heart. Another thing that is near and dear to my heart is visiting our local farmer’s market. This summer has been a very rewarding summer for fruit around here. It seems that we had a parade of gorgeous stone fruits and berries all summer and now we are getting treated to figs and apples as we head into fall. For the past month as the apple season has begun to intersect with the berry season, I have been playing around with fruit compotes for our weekend pancake feasts. I have been making these compotes a little on the tart side so that we can spoon them over the yogurt-topped pancakes and then pour maple syrup on top and not lose the fragrant fruit flavor or the tangy bite.


For the past two weeks, I have been purchasing blackberries specifically for this purpose because the blackberry compote I put together was so good it needed a second appearance on our table. Previous to this I made compote out of apricots and plums. I have a bad habit of buying too much fruit for two people to eat and then forgetting about it. I realized that I had apricots and plums ready to go to waste and scrambled to do something about it. The result was another equally wonderful version of the recipe I will post for you today. If you want to try using stone fruit, make the following changes: substitute stone fruit for the blackberries (If memory serves me correctly, think I used 3 apricots and 8 small plums, pitted and skins left on). I used one small apple instead of two and substituted apple juice for orange juice; the orange zest was omitted but would still be good if you want to include it.

Tart Blackberry compote:

2 pints fresh blackberries

The juice and zest of one orange

2 small apples, peeled and finely diced

2 allspice berries*

1 cinnamon stick

2 tbsp or more honey**


Combine all of the ingredients in a 1 ½ quart saucepan. Bring to a boil and then lower to a strong simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally for about a half an hour or until the sauce thickens considerably. During the simmering time, start adding the honey a teaspoon at a time. Taste the compote before you add each subsequent teaspoon. Depending on the sweetness of the fruit you may want more or less honey than I recommend. Remember, you want a sauce with a concentrated fruit flavor and a bit of tartness. Also, during the simmering time, crush some of the diced apple against the side of the pan. This will help release the natural pectin in the apples and help thicken the compote a bit.


*When the compote is done, you may wish to remove the cinnamon stick. When I made the plum/apricot version of the compote, I could see the allspice berries and remove them. It is nearly impossible to find them in the blackberry version. Warn the people sharing this with you that they may bite down on a strong spice. The allspice berries will swell and soften so they should not be dangerous to anyone’s teeth but there will be a surprise burst of flavor.


**The compote will concentrate which is why I suggest adding the honey a teaspoon at a time until you get the right sweetness for your palate. If you don’t like tart sauce add more honey. We intended to use maple syrup on top of this sauce on top of pancakes so a tart compote was desirable for this use. If you want to use the compote on ice cream, a tart sauce would also be a good contrast to the sweetness of your dessert.

Blueberry Corn Cakes

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Years ago there were two wonderful restaurants here in the Santa Barbara, CA area called The Bakery and Tutti’s. The owner of these restaurants used the location of The Bakery as his own bakery to make an impressive variety of yeasted breads, quick breads, muffins, croissants, puff pastry goodies, cakes etc. These items were served at both locations. The restaurants specialized in breakfast and lunch but served dinner for a limited time as well. The location of the Bakery was the best part. The restaurant had a patio, which was right across the street from the Santa Barbara County courthouse, and it’s sunken gardens. Due to the outrageous real estate prices in Santa Barbara, both restaurants eventually closed. The owner moved Tutti’s to downtown Ventura, CA. He still maintains a small venue called Tuttini here. Tuttini functions as the bakery for Tutti’s and serves a pared down version of Tutti’s menu. Tuttini is extremely small. The kitchen is large but seating is limited. We rarely visit either restaurant anymore. Tutti’s is too far away. Tuttini is too cramped for us to feel comfortable and a lot of our favorite breakfast items are gone.


So why go on and on about a wonderful restaurant experience in the distant past? My boyfriend was addicted to their blueberry cornmeal pancakes. Every time we went out to eat at the Bakery or Tutti’s, he would order them. The blueberry corncakes were the reason to get up in the morning and go out to eat. Once we stopped eating breakfast out, I knew I would need to be able to make something worthy of the memory of those blueberry corn cakes. I tried many different recipes trying to find something that would be a reasonable replacement that I could whip up at home. I finally stumbled onto this recipe for cornmeal and currant griddlecakes with apple-cinnamon syrup from the January 2000 issue of Gourmet Magazine. I adapted the recipe to my style of cooking. The syrup was too fussy to make, I prefer real maple syrup on corn cakes. As usual, I would rather see whole wheat flour, olive oil, and honey instead of the white flour, butter, and sugar in the original pancakes. True to the spirit of the original recipe, we enjoy these as currant corn cakes most of the year but when blueberries are available locally at the peak of the summer season, we make a nod to Tutti’s instead.

Blueberry Corn Cakes

1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour

½ cup yellow corn meal

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

dash of salt

1 ¼ cups nonfat plain yogurt

2 large eggs

2 tbsp honey

¼ cup olive oil

1 pint fresh blueberries, rinsed and stems removed if you find them

about a tablespoon of butter for cooking

Serving options: nonfat plain yogurt, fresh blueberries and real maple syrup.


In a large bowl, combine whole-wheat pastry flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, scramble the eggs and then mix in yogurt, honey and olive oil. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.


Preheat an electric grill to 325 degrees F. (Alternatively, heat a skillet to medium). Melt a small amount of butter all over the surface of the grill. Ladle batter onto the grill, we usually go for about four inch diameter pancakes. Immediately press five or six (or more) blueberries onto the surface of each pancake, if you have more blueberries use them to top corn cakes later. Cook pancakes for about 3 minutes or until the edges of the pancakes look dry and the bottom is golden. Turn and cook another minute or so. The blueberries should look cooked and you shouldn’t see any wet batter around them. Serve blueberry corn cakes with yogurt, fresh blueberries if you have leftovers and maple syrup.


Note: Yes! You saw me use olive oil in the pancake batter and real butter for cooking. Here’s why: using olive oil in the batter cuts the amount of saturated fat in the original recipe. We use a scant amount of butter, maybe a tablespoon for the whole grill to give the cakes a buttery flavor and crispy edge texture.

How to produce a plentiful pile o’ sourdough pitas

Sourdough Pitas

When I was a kid, my favorite foods were pizza and spaghetti. I loved to eat these foods so much that my Mom would joke that I should have been born into an Italian family. As I got older, I started to become exposed to new foods and soon discovered that the Mediterranean has many other wonderful cuisines to explore and love. My boyfriend’s Mom is of Greek descent. She is an amazing cook and she was the person who taught me how to make a perfect Greek salad. She makes leg of lamb that is to die for. She also showed me that hummus does not have to come out of a plastic container. After being able to share my boyfriend’s wonderful family, I really became interested in Mediterranean food.


One thing you need to accompany anything from grilled meat to hummus is a good pita. A lot of the pita breads available at the store, especially the ones with whole grains in them, have a dry, brittle consistency. When dining in Greek restaurants, I have come across pitas without the pocket that are tender and soft but they are usually made of pure white flour. Back in my bread machine days, I learned how to produce a really good mostly whole-wheat pita. Between my bread machine and my pizza stone, I was set. We could have pitas within a couple of hours. I would make them whenever a good pita was needed and completely stopped buying pitas at the store.


When I started sourdough baking, I wondered if I could make my pitas with the starter instead of commercial yeast. By the time I had begun to think about it, I had already begun to make bread without commercial yeast. I had purchased the “Bread Bakers Apprentice” by Peter Reinhart and Ron Manville and had been fiddling with the recipes so that I could use just my starter for baking. On the page with the recipe for Lavash Crackers was a sidebar note on how to adapt the recipe for pitas. One day, I decided to try to adapt his notes to sourdough. Sadly, doing this produced very few pitas, I think I got two or three. The day I tried this experiment and noticed the small dough ball I was creating, I whipped up a batch of the bread machine pitas too as a supplement. In comparing the two side by side, I can say both are wonderful, but the sourdough pitas were better. They had a far better texture and because of the addition of honey instead of sugar, a much better flavor. I have changed the recipe so that I now get eight pitas and they are over half whole-wheat. We made souvlaki sandwiches this week and the pitas went so fast that I actually had to make a second batch! (Which means frighteningly enough, two people went through nearly sixteen pitas in one week, yikes!)

Sourdough Pitas

2 cups unbleached white flour

2 ½ cups stone ground whole-wheat flour

1 ½ tsp salt

3 tbsp honey

3 tbsp olive oil

1 ½ cups sourdough starter

¾ to 1 cup water


Stir together both kinds of flour, salt, honey, olive oil, and sourdough starter. Begin mixing in water a little bit at a time until the mixture just forms a ball of dough. This dough will be fairly stiff. Move the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for 10-12 minutes until it is elastic and doesn’t break easily when you stretch a small amount of dough. Form a ball of dough. Lightly oil a clean bowl and roll the dough ball around in the oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean, damp dishtowel. Allow the dough to rise and ferment in a warm place between ninety minutes and two hours. Forty-five minutes to an hour before you bake the pitas, preheat the oven with a pizza stone* inside to 500 degrees F. After the dough has risen, transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Using a knife or a bench scraper cut the dough in two. Roll each half into a thick, even oblong shape and divide each piece into four pieces. Depending on how large your pizza stone is, you may be able to work on two pitas at a time. Take a piece of dough, form a round ball and then use a rolling pin to flatten the ball into about a quarter of an inch thick round. Assuming a large pizza stone, repeat this process. Place two pitas onto the pizza stone quickly, so as not to lose the oven heat. Bake pitas three minutes. Your pitas may or may not expand fully to form a pocket. If they only blister up in places, don’t worry. They’ll still be good. Use a pizza peel, or tongs to remove pitas. Pile the pitas on a plate where they will eventually deflate and cool. Repeat the instructions for forming pitas and baking pitas until all eight pitas are baked. Pitas can be stored in a Ziploc bag on the counter for a couple of days or stored in the fridge for up to a week. If you store them in the fridge, reheat them in a 300 degree F. oven for two to three minutes. (You want them warm not toasted).


*If you don’t have a pizza stone, you should be able to use a heavy-duty cookie sheet – one that can withstand high heat. It has been a long time since I have made pitas without the baking stone so you may have to experiment but I think you may have to add a couple of minutes to the baking time.

English Muffins

Toasted English Muffins

Why is my first article on sourdough about English muffins? It is because I feel very strongly that we can all make better food than we can buy. Commercial English muffins (see the ingredients on this link) have some shady ingredients like high fructose corn syrup (which probably contains genetically modified corn), soybean oil (which could come from genetically modified soy), monoglycerides and preservatives. Why would you want to eat this stuff when you could eat a bread product lovingly produced at home with good quality ingredients?


How good are homemade English muffins? A Blogger whose writing I love can tell you. The Sourdough Monkey Wrangler makes such great English muffins that he used them as currency to barter for groceries at his local Farmer’s market. That’s how good homemade is over commercial muffins.


The recipe I am using started life on another great blog called Baking Bites. Here is a link to that recipe. I like my muffins to have a little more earthiness and nutrition to them so I have added a little bit of stone ground whole wheat flour and I have substituted honey for sugar because it adds a wonderful flavor. As a matter of fact, if you can find an assertive honey like an avocado honey you will get better flavor than if you use a mild honey. A word of warning on technique, do not get too over-enthusiastic when you roll your muffins out. I have a tendency to roll them too thin and I don’t end up with the nice chubby muffins one would expect and that can easily be cut in half when toasting time arrives.


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English Muffins Grilling

Honey Wheat English Muffins

½ cup sourdough starter (fed)

2 cups unbleached white flour

1 cup stone ground whole-wheat flour

1 cup water

½ tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

2 tbsp honey

cornmeal


Combine starter with 2 cups unbleached white flour and one cup of water in a largish bowl that will accommodate having this mixture triple in size. Stir well. Cover with plastic wrap and allow the sponge to sit out overnight (so that you can have English muffins in time for breakfast). The original recipe says this step should take 7-10 hours. If you are a non-morning person like me you can wait up to 11 hours and still be ok, I have tested this 🙂 . In the morning, add the baking soda, salt, and honey. Mix a bit to combine. Add the stone ground whole-wheat flour a couple of tablespoons at a time, until the dough loses its stickiness. You may have to add a tablespoon or two more flour. The dough will be a little sticky still but you don’t want it to be really wet. A little stickiness is good however because this is the condition that will help make those nooks and crannies we all love in an English muffin. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll the dough out to a height of about a half an inch or a little taller. (This is where I get in trouble because obviously I don’t know what a half-inch looks like). Use a lightly floured biscuit cutter to cut as many rounds as possible (at least a 4” cutter is ideal). Now, I don’t know how many people will agree with me on this because poor handling of the dough could be disastrous, but I hate wasting dough so when you get through the first round of cutting you’ll have scraps. I gingerly smash the scraps together, carefully roll them back out and get a couple more muffins out of this. That last bit of dough? I make a free form muffin. Transfer the rounds to a cornmeal covered baking sheet and sprinkle the tops of them with cornmeal. Leave the muffins to rise, covered with a clean dishtowel for about 45 minutes. Heat an electric nonstick pancake grill to between 325 and 350 degrees F. (Alternatively, heat a lightly oiled or nonstick skillet on the stove to medium/medium high). Cook the muffins for 6 minutes on each side, turning once. The muffins will turn a light brown on each side. The sides of the muffins should look dry like the edges of a pancake before you do the first flip. Let the muffins cool completely before you use them or store them (they will continue to cook a bit while they are still warm). Make sure you toast them before eating them. An un-toasted English muffin is a crime against humanity.

So you have a big ‘ol pile of English muffins and you want something yummy to do with them. How about a breakfast sandwich?


Pesto-Gouda Breakfast Sandwich

Pesto-Gouda Breakfast Sandwich

For each sandwich:

1 English muffin – sliced and toasted

1 Egg fried until the yolk is solid

Sliced Gouda

Pesto


Spread a thin layer of pesto on each side of your toasted English muffin. Top the lower muffin half with sliced gouda cheese. Top with a hot fried egg so that the cheese gets melty. Top with the other half of the English muffin. Serve immediately.

Let me introduce…. Herbert!

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For years I wanted to bake bread. I tried to bake bread without any mechanical assistance a few times and the results weren’t anything I was crazy about. Then came the era of the bread machine. I bought a bread machine and made pretty good bread. I even made serviceable pitas and pizza dough. All seemed right with the world. Then, the era of artisan breads began. Suddenly gorgeous sourdoughs and wonderful whole grain loaves were everywhere. Great for me: because I didn’t have to make bread. I could buy wonderful bread for what I still think is a reasonable price. Still, I love to bake and good bread (the kind with texture and flavor) had eluded me.

A long time ago, I tried to made sourdough starter. It was milk based. The instructions were pretty basic for sourdough starter. However, there was one neurosis-inducing clause in the instructions. It basically said: Keep an eye on the starter. If it turns pink, grows mold or smells bad, do not use it, discard it right away! On day two the starter became a color I can only describe as beige. Beige? Is that pink? It is sort of pink, isn’t it? Not flamingo pink(!) but sort of brown…is this ok? Will I die if I use this stuff?! So I show this stuff to my Boyfriend who is absolutely not on board with a colony of yeasts and bacteria living in the same house as him. He tells me “yes, it is definitely pink, toss it!! Toss it now!” (Wait! He is colorblind, what does he know?). Ok. I can’t handle this ambiguity anymore. I toss it.

I forgot about sourdough until last January. I don’t know why I started to think about making good bread again but I stumbled on to Alton Brown’s Country bread recipe on Epicurious. He instructs us to make ”Proto Dough” using commercial yeast, which you can keep feeding flour and water and use indefinitely. Wow. A Sourdough starter that starts life with commercial yeast, could this be what I was looking for? It turns out that it was. Although my starter began life as a bland colony of commercial yeast, I can now attest to the fact that it has evolved and I believe wild yeast and good bacteria have not only joined the party but have taken over party arrangements from now on. The flavor of my baked goods is quite fine. I have yet to make bread with a real sour tang, but everything has a mellow grainy, malty flavor and a wonderful texture that I can only attribute to the use of this starter.


My Boyfriend was still a little scared of the bubbling crock of microorganisms I’ve been cultivating and have dubbed Herbert. He is slowly getting over it now that I have been producing things like Rosemary Potato bread and Sourdough crusted pizzas. Since bread is cooked, bread is fine, I have however been banned from making my own vinegar or sauerkraut. Oh well. It won’t be my fault if a partial bottle of wine gets misplaced and goes…vinegary…


I haven’t been baking a lot of bread lately. Now that it is summer, it has been a bit hot to run the oven at high temperature. That is no problem because you don’t have to care for and feed your version of Herbert daily if you don’t want to. If you decide to follow me into this sourdough madness be advised that care and feeding is really easy. As stated before, I cook on the weekends. Herbert lives in the refrigerator all week. I take him out the morning I want to bake and add a ½ cup unbleached white flour and ½ a cup of warm (between 100- 110 degree F.) water to his jar and stir until there is no lumps. Herbert gets to eat for 2 hours, which makes him active and bubbly. Then he is ready to be used in baking. If I don’t want to bake anything else that weekend, Herbert goes directly back into the fridge. If I do leave him out for a day, I feed him, wait two hours and pop him back in the fridge. (Which leaves me pondering: does my sourdough starter think it is experiencing the seasons?). The starter is so strong now that I substitute it for the yeast called for in the bread baking recipes I adapt. If you follow the link for “Proto Dough” above, you will see these instructions: “To use proto-dough in a regular yeast recipe, replace the dry yeast and every cup of liquid (including dissolving liquid) with 1/2 cup of proto-dough, 5 ounces liquid, and 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast.” I do this but omit the yeast and my recipes usually turn out fine.


I recently shared Herbert with my coworker. My coworker loves to cook and has spent the past eight months listening to me blather on about sourdough this, sourdough that. I think my enthusiasm may have been a little infectious. We were talking about cooking and bread came up and I offered him some Herbert. He immediately took me up on it. His Mom is apparently an excellent baker who grinds her own wheat, so he is anxious to learn. He asked me what to do with his sourdough last week and I didn’t know what to tell him. I don’t carry my recipes around with me and I really don’t know how to teach something like baking. Part of the reason for starting this blog is to chronicle baking with Herbert so that I can share the recipes with whoever wants to bake along with me. Part of the reason for this blog was to have access to my recipes if I am away from home. Like I mentioned before, I tend to bake by the book and cannot remember recipes. Good reasons to blog and why I love the Internet so much. The technology allows us to share ideas and experiences. A very cool thing, indeed!


In closing for today. I encourage you to get a starter. Make your own it is easy. If you have a baker friend who is into sourdough, ask if they will share. They probably will and you’ll have a shortcut to a mature, full flavored starter. Baking is good for your soul and this kind of baking may actually be good for you. I noticed that I felt healthier eating my homemade sourdough. Here is a link you might find interesting.

Herbert2

About breakfast and some really great muffins

Carrot-Currant Muffins

I’ve known my best friend since I was seven years old. We went to all of the same schools together up until high school. When I left college and she was in the middle of college we hung around together during school breaks. What the heck does this have to do with really great muffins? If it wasn’t for my best friend, I probably wouldn’t have gone into my vegetarian phase and I probably never would have become acquainted with the Moosewood Cookbooks and Mollie Katzen. In our early twenties, Renee’ discovered the first Mollie Katzen books: “The Moosewood Cookbook” and “The Enchanted Broccoli Forest”. Renee’ made several of the recipes for me and then I wanted to cook too. As I have gotten older and more books have been published, I have managed to acquire most of Mollie Katzen’s books and most of the books published by the Moosewood Collective. After my Boyfriend’s family moved to upstate New York, I even got a chance to eat at the Moosewood Restaurant and thought it was heaven! The style of vegetarian cooking is ovo-lacto vegetarian, which means that the recipes can contain eggs and dairy. Eating this way falls in line with the USDA’s dietary guidelines. I feel healthy eating these sort of meals because they are rich in plant nutrients but you still get just a touch of animal protein.


I work full time so I normally cook on the weekends. My habits include big breakfasts, heavy on the carbs and dinners that purposely make leftovers so that we don’t starve to death during the week (I don’t want to rely on restaurant food anymore but I am often too tired to cook). As it turns out, breakfast is a big deal for us. When we were restaurant addicted, we used to go out for breakfast once or twice on the weekends. This is definitely a recipe for nutritional disaster. It is too easy to order bacon or sausage with a meal. Grits and toast come to your table swimming in butter. Biscuits and muffins are loaded with trans fats and high fructose corn syrup. With coffee and juice you are usually looking at a bill of at least twenty dollars for two people. I eventually came to my senses and realized that breakfast is cheaper, healthier and far better in quality when made at home. A typical breakfast for us now consists of pancakes with real maple syrup, fresh fruit, yogurt, and wheat germ. Alternatively, we’ll enjoy an egg dish including loads of veggies with homemade English muffins, or sourdough toast or homemade muffins. We always have fresh squeezed orange juice and/or really good coffee and/or tea. Sometimes we’ll have nitrate free bacon or fresh sausages but with a spread like I just described, you are really just gilding the lily. A feast like this cannot be compared to normal coffee shop grub; it is usually the kind of quality you get in a good restaurant so I’d say our weekend breakfasts are worth $30 to $40 (especially since my boyfriend often gets leftovers to eat before work during the week). It turns out to be cheap in reality. The only thing I lose is the time it takes to clean up (which sometimes makes the restaurant meal seem attractive).


But I digress… When Mollie Katzen put out her book “Sunlight Café” I was very excited. It is a book devoted to healthy breakfast food. The problem I had with rushing out to buy it is that I am a cookbook addict. I know I have a problem, but like any addict, it is hard for me to deal with. I promised myself I would not buy the book right away and I stored the idea on my Amazon wish list. Renee’ knows how much I love the Moosewood books and she bought this book for me for my Birthday one year. I have made most of the muffins in the book and they are all wonderful. This week I made the Carrot-Currant Muffins again. These are very healthy muffins to begin with but I made some tweaks to the recipe to suit my taste. I use whole-wheat pastry flour instead of white flour. I substituted honey for the optional granulated sugar and I use olive oil instead of butter. I did use all of the salt this time, I have cut the salt in half or omitted the salt in muffins before and it hasn’t made a huge difference. One thing to keep in mind about this recipe, the batter is very stiff. Do not over mix the batter or the muffins may come out gummy. The recipe only makes around eight muffins and most muffin tins have 6 muffin cups so you will need two muffin tins.

Carrot-Currant Muffins

Adapted from Mollie Katzen’s Sunlight Café

Nonstick spray (or oil or melted butter to grease your muffin tins)

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

½ tsp salt

1 ½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp ground cinnamon

1/8 tsp ground allspice

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

2 tbs honey

1 cup (packed) grated carrot (this is probably one large carrot)

1 tbs grated lemon zest

3 tbs fresh lemon juice

½ cup currants

½ cup 2% milk (just a suggestion any milk will do)

1 large egg, lightly scrambled

2 tsp vanilla extract

4 tbs olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly spray (or oil) 8 standard (2 ½ “ diameter) muffin cups. Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, and spices in a largish bowl. Crumble in the brown sugar and then rub the sugar into the mixture with your fingertips so that you don’t have big blobs of sugar in the batter. Place grated carrots in a second bowl. Add lemon zest, lemon juice, and currants. Mix with a fork. Use the fork to blend in milk, egg, honey, and vanilla. Pour this mixture along with the olive oil into the dry ingredients. Using a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula, mix from the bottom of the bowl until all of the dry ingredients are moistened. Make sure things are mixed, but do not over mix or you risk gummy muffins! Fill your muffin cups 4/5 of the way full. If for some reason, you have enough batter for more than eight muffin cups, oil another one or two muffin cups and fill them with batter. Bake in the middle of your oven 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick or butter knife inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Remove the pans from the oven and allow the muffins to cool (preferably on a rack) for at least 30 minutes.

Ambrosial

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Several years ago, I stumbled upon a book called “Clearly Delicious:  An Illustrated Guide to Preserving, Pickling & Bottling” by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz.  It is the kind of book that could be described as a coffee table book.  It is loaded with beautiful pictures of gorgeous bottles filled with amazing things to fill up your pantry and give to your loved ones as gifts.  The book was printed in 1994.  This date probably coincides with a time in my life when I first discovered Martha Stewart magazine and dreamed of having the kind of lifestyle that Martha, Gourmet magazine, and Sunset magazine promised their readers.  I’m sure that visions of an orderly pantry full of shiny beautiful jars and bottles filled my dream life.  In reality, I made a few of these infusions and friends and relatives sporadically got to sample a few of these culinary experiments around the holidays.  One surprising thing I learned from this book was that you could make your own liqueurs by soaking fruits and herbs in alcohol such as Vodka or Grappa.  After I had this epiphany, I went to a restaurant called Chad’s and the bar had a giant macerating jar filled with premium vodka and Strawberries.  This wonderful concoction was used for martinis.  I was hooked on this idea!  In the intervening years I found several books that had a recipe or two for different liqueurs.  One great resource was “Classic Liqueurs:  The art of Making and Cooking with Liqueurs” by Cheryl Long and Heather Kibbey.  During this time, I made Kahlua, Raspberry Liqueur, and Limoncello.  I made macerated fruit concoctions such as Prunes in Port and Pears in Brandy.  Then I forgot about this brief passion of mine.

 Creating alcoholic beverages is strange for me considering that I own bottles of alcohol that are a couple of decades old.  I enjoy an occasional glass of wine but I really don’t enjoy cocktails.   I use hard alcohol for cooking but I rarely drink it.  One day I was looking for something amongst the dusty ancient bottles in my cabinets and I found the last of the Limoncello I made.  I made it from Meyer Lemons.  Meyer Lemon peel has a resinous, piney flavor.  When the liqueur was new, this flavor was overwhelming to me and I considered the liqueur a failure.   My best friend got the rest of the batch and she loved it.  I found it undrinkable.  When I discovered the dusty old bottle, I poured my self a shot expecting it to be terrible.  Over the years it has mellowed and now it tastes just like Limoncello should.  The urge to create an alcoholic beverage suddenly overwhelmed me with a burst of enthusiasm I had completely forgotten about!

 Around the time that I rediscovered my little bottle of alchemical history, I had also discovered a wonderful food blog called Lucillian Delights – An Italian Experience.  Ilva’s blog is a joy to read and an experience for your eyes.  She is a very creative cook.  Right before I found my lost bottle of Limoncello, I read this post about Rose sugar.  I had read books that talked about flowers and flower essences in food before and the idea always held a certain fascination for me.  I started to obsess about the idea.  My best friend (and Limoncello lover), had given me a David Austin rose bush which I have grown in a large terra cotta pot.  This Rose bush has moved between three homes over the years and still thrives.  This year, it bloomed like crazy and I wanted a way to capture the spicy aroma of these oddly beautiful vintage blooms.  I kept thinking, could I make rose liqueur?  I searched for a recipe but couldn’t find one.  I found a reference on the Internet to liqueur flavored with Rose petals and Vanilla but did not come across a recipe.  I went back to an Italian recipe for Raspberry liqueur which was very well received one Christmas and started an experiment.  Five weeks later, I have liqueur that is subtly laden with spices and a soft floral flavor and aroma.  The rose flavor could be stronger.  Next time if the Rose harvest is larger, I may add more rose petals.

 

Rose Liqueur:

Petals from 8 Organically Grown Roses

 

1 Vanilla Bean, split down the middle

 

1 two inch chunk of Canela (Mexican Cinnamon) or 1 stick Cinnamon

 

2 whole Cloves

 

2 cups Sugar

 

1 bottle Vodka

 

5 one inch wide strips of lemon peel

Rinse the Roses under cool running water.  Garden grown roses could contain creepy crawlies and dirt so carefully inspect your flowers before you use them.  Turn Roses upside down to drain and allow them to dry.  Pluck the petals from the blossoms and drop them into a covered jar large enough to accommodate a bottle of Vodka.  Add the spices and sugar to the jar.  Add Vodka and stir until the sugar is dissolved.  The Rose Petals will float. Eventually, over time they will loose their pigment and sink to the bottom of the jar. They may look unappetizing but don’t be alarmed.  Let the infusion sit for at least 5 weeks. When you are ready to bottle the liqueur, wash your bottles in the dishwasher to sterilize them.  Alternatively, the bottles can be boiled for several minutes.   Allow the bottles to cool.  Pour the liqueur through a fine mesh sieve into a large measuring cup or bowl, pressing on the solids.  Discard the solids.  Pour or ladle the liqueur with the aid of a funnel into the bottles.  Most normal people will not allow an infusion like this to last long, but this liqueur can last months in a sealed bottle at room temperature, stored in a cool dark place.

 

 

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Let us become Acquainted

Hello Dear Reader,

 

Welcome to the first day of my Blog.  My name is Mimi.  Cooking is something I am passionate about.  When I was young, I would look through the 1950’s edition of the Joy of Cooking that my mother had purchased at a garage sale and come up with such culinary delights as glazed carrots or peanut butter cookies. I was always very proud of myself when I recreated these recipes.  There is a joy in creation even if one is following instructions.  Later on, during my first attempt at College, I had a roommate who was a wonderful cook who taught me how to make Filipino Lumpia and fed me wonderful, exotic things that came from the land she grew up in. She gave me the gift of an adventurous palate.   I went through a vegetarian phase shortly after that.  During the eighties, vegetarian food was not difficult to find in California restaurants but needing to feed myself on a regular basis took me down the path of needing to fully learn how to make my way in the kitchen if I wanted to eat well on a regular basis.  During that time, as my palate developed, I matured from drinking sweet white wine to fully appreciating fine red wine.  As time marched on, I learned to love all kinds food including meat and began to enjoy cooking a variety of food.

 

 As I read over that first paragraph again, I sound to myself like some unapologetic Foodie.  The dark and horrible truth about my life is that during the nineties, I got a job that was stressful and required me to sit for eight hours a day.  They fed us junk food to keep us happy and reward us for selling their products.  I was stressed out and ate fast food every day.  I had no energy and stopped exercising.  I still liked good food and went to good restaurants as well as maintaining my junk food habit.  I gained seventy pounds during this time. Cooking became something I did infrequently because eating out was so rewarding and so much less stressful.  I am now in my early forties and I am trying to save my life.  I have stopped eating fast food.  I now limit my restaurant dining and when I do allow a splurge, I try to order healthier food and I try to take some of it home in an effort to limit my portions.  In the days of my vegetarianism, I ate what I ate for environmental reasons.  I am now finding my way back to eating for political, environmental, and health reasons.  I have slowly lost around thirty pounds since I have changed my habits, and I am now exercising again and hope to become healthy and active the way I was so many years ago.  I have slowly begun to realize that what is good for me is good for the planet too.

 

 Let’s step back in time a moment.  When I was young, my family had an odd relationship with food.  My Dad had health problems.  He was actually a little nuts.  Because of his health problems, we were a little poor.  We would buy really bad food with coupons.  My parents were the coupon King and Queen.  It was the seventies and my Dad was trying to fix himself with diet and exercise but we could only afford to fix him with diet as far as our food dollars would stretch.  As a consequence, we might be eating brown rice or peanut butter on whole grain bread but we would also have Velveeta and boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese made with whatever margarine was on sale.  My Dad would be eating a Spartan diet one day and gorging on sweets the next if the food budget would allow it.  In some ways, I am my Father’s daughter.  I have a conflicting relationship with food.  One thing you can count on is that I cook things from scratch and I will ask you to follow me in using the best ingredients you can find.

 

So there you have it.  If you are not ready to run away from this strange woman and her novice attempt at food writing, I heartily invite you to stay and discover what will be in store for us.  I am a bit cynical but I can also be fun.  Together we will embark on a food journey.  I don’t exactly know what this Blog will be like an hour from now, a week from now or six months from now.  I’ll try not to step up on a soapbox to often, but you may have to put up with some lecturing.  I am getting older and I tend to pontificate.  I’ll try to include many recipes, but things could get a little crazy.  I cook by the book most of the time but when I do run away with things and experiment, I have a difficult time recreating what I have done down to the proper measurement.  I will need to learn to help you follow along so please forgive me as I learn to measure things out.  

Enjoy!