Baking with friends

Baking with friends, Part 1:

I made a huge mistake. Around a year ago, I made some wonderful buns. They were absolutely the most delicious buns ever. I found these scrumptious little bits of cheesy goodness on a blog. They were supposed to be made with Cambozola which is a mixture of triple cream cheese and Gorgonzola. I set out to make them with what I hand on hand which was Blue cheese. When I ran short on Blue cheese, I made up the difference with Parmesano Reggiano. I was going to write a blog post about these wonderful buns and then I somehow forgot.

These buns, rich and delicious were so good, I never stopped thinking about them. Every time I had blue cheese I thought about these buns but the problem is Point Reyes Blue cheese. It is the most amazing cheese. Ever. When I have some in the house, I have a specific use for it and then any leftovers usually find their way onto several crackers and the cheese just disappears. The disappearance of this cheese is sorely to blame for why it has taken me so very long to make these buns again. Really, it’s true.

How did I get so incredibly lucky to find myself with a nice size wedge of Point Reyes blue just waiting for me to bake with it?  Wind. It’s the new weather pattern here in Santa Barbara.  We stop getting precipitation, then we get wind and for the past couple of unlucky years, fire. I was going to barbeque some blue cheese chicken burgers last week, but I waited until after 6 o’clock which is about when the wind starts. I didn’t dare strike a match. To me wind equals fire now, and I don’t want to have to evacuate a fourth time in three years. So I decided I was going to broil my burgers. I grabbed the ingredients and found out the hamburger buns got moldy. I just gave up. Which is good because we forgot to break out the crackers and gobble up that cheese.

Now, I had a problem. I never made notes about the buns. I didn’t even remember whose blog I got them from. I just remembered it was on YeastSpotting. So what did I do?  I went to the YeastSpotting archive and began to painfully look at each week until… I found it!! And whose blog was it? My friend Tanna’s blog (My Kitchen in Half Cups)! I had to laugh! I should have remembered.

Please make these buns and then go to YeastSpotting to see what else was baked by all of the talented bakers this week. And… keep reading after the recipe…

Blue cheese and parmesan buns

Adapted from Maytag buns found on My Kitchen in Half Cups

130 g whole wheat flour

136 g unbleached white flour

2 g salt

28 g honey

140 g sourdough starter

66 g low fat milk

66 g water

1 large egg, lightly beaten

58 g shredded parmesano reggiano

86 g crumbled blue cheese (good quality such as Point Reyes)

40 g softened butter

Olive oil cooking spray

In a large bowl, whisk together whole wheat flour, white flour and salt.

In another bowl, mix together honey, sourdough starter, milk, water, egg, parmesan and blue cheese.

Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Mix to combine. Add softened butter. Mix in. Transfer dough to a floured board. Knead lightly until the butter is well combined and you don’t see bits of it in the dough. Form a ball and transfer the dough to an oiled bowl. Cover with a dish towel and let sit for a half hour.

Using cooking spray, generously oil two six cup muffin tins. Divide the dough into twelve equal pieces. Form into balls and place balls in muffin cups. Let the dough rise until puffy and it fills the cups most of the way. Since I only used starter, no yeast, this took about four hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, F. Bake the buns for 16 – 18 minutes or until browned. Cool in pans on a wire rack for about fifteen minutes. Remove buns from pans and allow to cool most of the way on wire racks. These buns are wonderful when they are still a bit warm from the oven.

Baking with Friends, Part 2:

 

There is a bread baking formula that is making the rounds on the Fresh Loaf. A lady named Flo Makanai figured out that you could make pretty great bread using the toss out from your starter.  Her formula is a 1, 2, 3 ratio of starter, liquid and flour. My friend John of the Lost World of DrFugawe made this bread over and over, getting fabulous results. Other folks on the fresh loaf are making it and getting fabulous results. I made it and I created a mutant loaf, deformed and tasting of wonder bread with a streak of raw dough in the middle and giant holes near the surface that caused the crust to burn. Horrible!!!!!!!!!!!!

I complained to my friend John, and instead of allowing me to cry on his virtual shoulder, he challenges me to bake ten loaves in a row until I get it right!!!! The nerve of my virtual friend! To be fair, he gave me instructions on how he has been turning out loaf after loaf of wonderful bread.

I started yesterday (this is a two day bread). My results were better this time, but still not good. My problem is that I hate, hate, hate the raw dough. It is sticky! I think I lost a third of the dough to the bowl, my hands, anything my hands touched and then the dough had the audacity to stick to the banneton, deflating itself before it made it to the oven.

But despite deflating itself, it did miraculously spring up in the oven. The outside crust was gorgeous. I got some big holes but they were on the surface again. I think I under salted the dough, it lacked flavor. But the worst part is it lacked flavor and texture. The crumb was springy like sandwich bread again, and there was no flavor at all. Just like sandwich bread.

I have to admit to a couple of shortcuts because this bread pisses me off, so I had no patience for it. I am going to list John’s instructions and then write down where I strayed. I know John will be back to mentor me. If anyone else wants to jump in with suggestions, please do so in the comments.

do a new loaf every day for at least 10 days – make improvements daily.

Loaf #1 down – 9 more to go!

use 100 g of starter – that’ll give you a 600 g loaf

I used 100 g of starter, 200 g water, 300 grams unbleached white flour for this loaf. I am thinking I need to use something besides water next time. Maybe sub out a little water for olive oil? Use milk instead of water? This should improve the flavor. Here is my problem. I remembered the salt, but after looking back at the kitchen mess, I could only find a ½ tsp. measuring spoon, I think I used ½ tsp of salt which is obviously too little. How much should I use??

use a tiny pinch of yeast too (tiny, tiny, tiny)

I don’t use commercial yeast. Other breads, no problem. This bread…

use minimal mixing – do fold and stretch in your mixing bowl – every 15 mins for 2 hours, then hourly.

I definitely have a short attention span. I did the stretch and fold every 15 minutes for about an hour.  Then I ate lunch.  Then I watched “The Next Food Network Star”, which I interrupted to stretch and fold at the two hour mark, I decided to keep doing the folds hourly but got bored three hours later, so I refrigerated the dough after around 5 hours at room temp.

you’ll need to heavily oil your bowl, and let it proof for 6/7 hours at room temp

The dough probably got some oil in it because I had to heavily oil the bowl each time I got the dough hermetically sealed to my hand.

Now form loaf, cover in plastic, and put in fridge, or I use BBQ grill on patio (works great!)

I formed it into as much of a ball as possible and put it in my banneton. Covered it in plastic and put it in the fridge for 16 hours.

in morn, heat oven to 475F for an hour

I heated the oven for as long as it would take to get my stone to 475F. My oven actually freaked out and got to more like 500F.

when oven is ready, pull cold but risen loaf from fridge or BBQ, score and bake immed. After 15 mins, lower temp to 450F, and bake for 20-30 mins more.

I baked even though the oven temp was 500F. The bread puffed up from it’s flattened state after I had to peel it off of the banneton. I actually put a pan with water in the oven for steam, which helped the crust formation. I lowered the heat after 15 minutes but only needed another 16 minutes before the internal temperature was way over 210F.

Now that I completed the exercise, here are my questions:

How much salt to use?

What sort of liquid should I use?

Should I use just white flour or add some whole grains?

How do I keep the dough from sticking to everything??

How do I shape this bread, the banneton is fighting with the dough!

So… At this point, I’m still not loving this bread but it seems to have potential so I’ll try it again. I’ll wait to see if anyone has any good ideas and then I’ll try your suggestions out next time. Thanks in advance everyone, and thank you John for making me get out of my comfort zone.

I just want my frozen yogurt treat. Grrr.

Okay. I need to time travel back in history to about 2 ½ weeks ago. I hope I don’t offend anyone with what I am about to tell you. If you have a weak constitution, you may want to visit one of the blogs on my sidebar instead of reading on. I got sick. Make your acquaintance with the porcelain altar for it will become your best friend for days sort of sick. After I was feeling a little better, I felt sure that I needed to eat some food that would help the good guys in the battle raging for my GI tract. I could tell they were losing the battle big time.

I felt better enough to risk leaving the house. I went to our gourmet/health food store to buy some relief. I immediately thought Kefir would be a good thing to have. I could drink it like a shake instead of having to actually eat something like yogurt. I went to grab some Kefir but my favorite, Nancy’s, was nowhere to be found. In it’s place were commercial looking brands with labels that screamed “now with NutraFlora!”. WTF?! I don’t know what this stuff is and I am in no mood to figure it out. From what I can tell, it is some sort of fiber and the last thing I need is kefir that has been fortified with fiber. After the previous few days, the last thing I need to think about is being regular. I completed the shopping trip of desperation with a shopping cart full of yogurt, kombucha tea, amazake and a big bottle of acidophilus. I got better and life went on. For the time being, I completely forgot about NutraFlora.

                                            

I don’t eat a ton of packaged foods but there are certain things I don’t make from scratch that I enjoy a lot. Frozen desserts are part of that category. I went to Costco last week and saw that they were selling huge boxes of Julie’s frozen yogurt bars. I passed on them last week because they weren’t blackberry flavor. They were strawberry. Julie’s makes the most delicious blackberry ice cream, frozen yogurt, sorbet and these blackberry ice cream bars covered in dark, dark chocolate. Ohhhhhh. If those bars had been blackberry, I wouldn’t have made it to the check stand without eating them. But… they were strawberry. I left them where they sat. I went back to Costco today and saw the Julie’s frozen yogurt bars. They said “Hi Mimi. We are twelve delicious bars for $8.49. Please take us home”. I said, “Okay, please come home with me”. They were in my hand, on their way to my shopping cart when what did my eyes see? “Now with NutraFlora!” I turned the box over and didn’t see NutraFlora on the ingredients list. Just an item called fructin. Grrr. I put them back in the freezer.

I came home and started looking for information on this new ingredient that seemed to be making it’s way into all of the healthy seeming organic food. It turns out that NutraFlora is a prebiotic, meaning that it is a carbohydrate that is indestructible enough to make it to where your intestinal flora (fauna?) live. It feeds them and makes them healthy. According to the makers of NutriFlora, it is present in fruits and veggies but if you didn’t have “one serving of NutriFlora-enriched yogurt, you would have to eat about 22 bananas, 15 onions, 16 tomatoes, or 383 cloves of garlic“. Maybe this stuff is good for us, but I tend to be skeptical when they remove something from food and then enrich food that doesn’t contain it naturally with said nutrient. I am more of a whole foods gal, and I would rather eat the bananas, onions, tomatoes and garlic. It is my reasoning that if I do, I’ll get so much more nutrition than from my cup of yogurt, glass of kefir or frozen yogurt bar.

So, I made my own frozen yogurt bars and they were good. I could identify all three ingredients in the recipe.

Blueberry frozen yogurt bars

1 1/3 cups nonfat plain yogurt

1 1/3 cups frozen wild blueberries*

2 2/3 tbsp honey

Place all ingredients into a blender. Puree until smooth. Pour smoothie into ¼ cup capacity popsicle molds. Freeze until solid.

* I used frozen wild blueberries which are a small variety of blueberry. This recipe has not been tested using a larger berry. If you use a larger berry, taste the mixture before you freeze it (this is a good idea anyway since my idea of sweet may not be yours). Adjust to add more fruit and/or honey to taste. If making a change to the recipe creates more yogurt mixture than will fit in your molds, just drink it, this is essentially a thin berry smoothie.

…and now for something completely different

Avocado. Mmmmm. Silky. Luscious. Cooling. Cake… Huh??? If the words avocado and cake make you want to have a Corona with lime to help soften the blow of having those two words appear in the same sentence, then this cake is probably not for you. You can leave now. There is a nice sunny beach somewhere with fish tacos and beer and guacamole. You are excused. If avocado and cake made you perk up and be curious, stick around with me for a minute, you won’t be disappointed.

I first became intrigued with the idea of avocado in a baked good after stumbling onto the recipe for avocado bread on the avocado.org site a couple of years ago. People use zucchini, carrots and bananas in baked goods. With it’s high fat content and creamy flesh, why not avocado too? My only problem: although I live in the middle of avocado country and I can get huge Hass avocados for a buck a piece, I am very miserly with them. I didn’t want to waste a good avocado or two on something that might suck.

This week, we managed to buy too many of these wonderful fruits, and like bananas, the window of yummy goodness is very short indeed. I had two avocados that were quickly heading past their prime. Today was the day to experiment.

The experiment went well. I have to admit that I was a little too bold with my experiment and the addition of chocolate chips, while well intentioned was possibly a mistake. They made the cake a little too rich. We tried a nibble of cake that somehow didn’t get polluted with chocolate and the dates and walnuts alone were just perfect. If you just have to have chocolate, it was pretty tasty but the cake would have been somehow more pure and elegant without the chocolate.

Why is this cake a surprise you ask? It surprised me with it’s super moist texture. Avocados are high in oil. If you look at the recipe, there is no added fat besides the flesh of the avocado. I used whole wheat pastry flour and yet, this cake was as moist as a cake made from cake mix. Just fabulous and yet another reason to drop the chocolate from the recipe so that you can enjoy the texture with just a little fruit and nuts to compliment it.

Avocado surprise cake

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

Zest from 1 large orange, chopped

1 tsp baking soda

½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp salt

½ cup bittersweet chocolate chips, roughly chopped (optional)

½ cup fresh dates, chopped

½ cup walnuts

½ cup honey

¼ cup orange juice (about 1 large orange, juiced)

1 cup avocado (2 large), mashed until smooth

1 egg, lightly beaten

½ cup plain yogurt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, F. Oil and flour a bundt pan.

In a large bowl mix together, pastry flour, orange zest, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, chocolate chips (if using), dates and walnuts.

In another large bowl combine honey, orange juice, avocado, egg and yogurt. Mix until well combined.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Pour batter into the prepared bundt pan. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes until the cake is browned and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

How to season a wok

I’m very good at destroying things. It’s true. I’ve had two woks in the past. I followed the directions that came with these inexpensive carbon steel pans. Both times, no matter how well I cared for them, the seasoning came off and I rusted them most of the way through.

I love a good wok. A wok is so deep that you can pile the veggies into it and then crank up the heat and get a good sear on them. I’ve been wok-less for years and it’s been a major frustration.

A few years back, Gourmet did an article on the classic $15 wok. I saved the issue because the owner of the store that was profiled had instructions on how to season a wok and the instructions made so much more sense than the usual stove top method. I bought a wok and then forgot about it. Until today. Today was the day that a wok came back into my life.

I went hunting around the Gourmet website thinking that the instructions would be there, but of course I couldn’t find them so I’ll let you know what I did:

First, gather up what you will need:

A carbon steel wok

Steel wool

Dish soap

Vegetable oil

Paper towels

An old dish towel or wash cloth that you don’t mind damaging

Aluminum foil

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Your wok will have some sort of coating on the inside to keep it from rusting. Using some steel wool and dish soap, scrub the inside of the wok thoroughly to clean off this coating. Dry the wok with a dish cloth.

Now look at your wok. Does it have a wood or plastic handle? Plastic? Sorry, these instructions aren’t for you unless you can remove the handle. If you can remove the handle please do so now. If it is a wooden handle and the handle cannot be removed, wrap the handle in a wet dish cloth and wrap the cloth completely in aluminum foil.

Using a paper towel and some vegetable oil. Wipe oil all over the inside and outside of the wok. (If you like the look of the steel you can leave the outside surface unseasoned but I don’t recommend it, an unseasoned bottom was the source of my rust problems with the other woks). Put the wok in the hot oven and allow it to bake for 20 minutes. Make sure your room is well ventilated and run the range fan. This will cause smoke! After 20 minutes, remove the wok and let it cool for at least five minutes or until cool enough to handle. Using an oven mitt, grab the wok by the handle (the wok will be cool, but the handle will still be warm, be careful!) and take it to the sink. Scrub the inside of the wok with the steel wool, using hot water only, no soap. Don’t scrub enough to remove the layer of seasoning, you just want to scratch the surface up a little.

Repeat the oiling, baking cooling and scrubbing three or four more times until the wok is bronze colored. It’s now fully seasoned.

So what did I make with my newly seasoned wok? Tofu and Broccoli Stir fry from the June issue of Eating Well Magazine. Click here for the recipe, the only thing I changed was to double the garlic (I so love garlic!) and substitute honey for the sugar which I recommend. The honey made the sauce sweet but also so very flavorful. This was a delicious and easy recipe that used a lot of pantry items.

If you don’t already have a carbon steel wok, go out and get one! They are very cheap and a great addition to your kitchen. And…now you know how to properly season it! Oh and by the way… never use soap on your wok. A little kosher salt and a sponge are all you need to clean it up and keep it’s non-stick surface in great shape!

The definition of delicious

I don’t know why I haven’t tried quinoa before today. I love whole grains. I try to eat a varied diet. So many people have told me how much they like quinoa. I even bought a bag of it several months ago and then… forgot about it. I decided to try it today and I’m so glad I did.

I knew I had quinoa. I knew I had a can of black beans so I went in search of inspiration. I had to look no further than Epicurious. The recipe for Quinoa with Black Beans and Cilantro looked really tasty. I was ready to go for it and then I noticed that there were over fifty comments in the review section. Most people loved the recipe but each person had a suggestion on how to make it even better. I decided most of these suggestions sounded great so I went ahead and made many, many changes. One accidental change that I’ll recommend is to use Aleppo pepper for part of the chili powder. I ran out of chili powder and improvised. The Aleppo pepper flavor with the feta? Not at all southwestern but very, very great.

When I ate my first bites of this meal in a bowl, the word sumptuous came to my mind. The creaminess of the sheep’s milk feta and avocado was so wonderful against the spiciness and texture of the grains. I don’t often call vegetarian food decadent, but this was certainly over the top!

Southwestern style quinoa

Adapted from Quinoa with Black Beans & Cilantro, Sept 2008 Bon Appétit

This recipe serves 4 -6.

1 tbsp olive oil

1 large yellow onion, chopped

1 yellow bell pepper, chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

1 cup quinoa, rinsed, drained*

1 tsp chili powder

1 tsp Aleppo pepper (if you can’t find this, substitute a second tsp chili powder).

½ tsp ground cumin

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

½ tsp salt

1 ½ cups vegetable stock

1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed, drained

1 15-ounce can corn, drained

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Juice of 1 lime

Garnish with:

Chopped cilantro (about a ¼ cup, divided)

Chopped tomato (1 large tomato, divided)

crumbled sheep’s milk feta cheese (around ¼-½ cup divided)

Avocado, cubed (1 avocado, divided)

* To rinse quinoa, pour the grain into a sieve nested in a bowl.  Run water through the grain until the bowl is full of water.  Use a spoon to mix the grains.  Lift the sieve to drain and pour water from the bowl.  The water will look viscous and a little cloudy.  Repeat this process a few more times until the water runs clear.  Quinoa is full of bitter saponins.  Rinsing well will remove the bitterness.

Heat oil in heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and red pepper; sauté 8-10 minutes until the onions begin to brown a little. Add garlic and sauté for another minute. Stir in quinoa, chili powder, Aleppo pepper, cumin, cayenne and salt. Add vegetable stock; bring to boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until quinoa is almost tender, about 14 minutes. Add beans, corn and 1/4 cup cilantro; cook uncovered until heated through and liquid is fully absorbed, about 3 minutes. Squeeze lime juice into quinoa and mix well. Transfer to bowls; Top with everything in the garnish list.

How to make cocoa powder feel decadent

They say one of the keys to sticking to a sensible eating plan is to make sure you do not deny yourself any of your favorite foods. This sounds simple enough. However, there is a catch (isn’t there always a catch?). On the surface this statement is fine if you are maintaining a healthy weight, but if you need to lose weight, having a chocolate bar can make it so that you need to push otherwise healthy food off of your daily menu to compensate for the large amount of calories you just took in. Such a strategy can cause hunger because it’s the healthy food that makes us feel full and satisfied. But “they” have a point. Have you ever had a craving, you didn’t give in to, but you ended up eating around the craving, thereby eating way too many calories and still not feeling satisfied? I have. That’s why I am always on the lookout for clever substitutions for things I might crave.

As I made my way through the blogosphere a few weeks ago, I stumbled onto some delicious sounding healthy biscotti. These whole grain gems were spiked with molasses and had gingerbread type spices. I bookmarked the recipe for later but I kept going back to look at it.

Molasses. So complex and completely underrated. We buy it and leave it sitting alone and neglected in our pantries. But why do we use it in the first place? Loaded with minerals, which is a good thing, it has a bad reputation because although it is sweet it has a strong flavor that takes over most recipes. But… what if molasses could be used as a complement to another flavor? One of the things I love about dark chocolate is the fact that like wine, it has a flavor profile that can exhibit hints of tannins, fruit, and spices. It is hard to get that sort of flavor out a baked good made with cocoa powder. But… I started to think, what would molasses do to that cocoa flavor? Could it make it richer? The answer is yes. With just a few tweaks I baked up some biscotti that are rich and satisfying, but are still healthy and low in fat and calories. One cookie is enough to satisfy and still keep me right on track; and isn’t that the key to moderation?

Mexican chocolate biscotti

Adapted from the almond molasses biscotti on Anja’s Food 4 Thought blog

1 ¼ cups whole wheat pastry flour

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted if clumpy

½ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

1 ½ tsp cinnamon, ground

½ cup almonds, roughly chopped

1 egg

½ tsp vanilla extract

¼ tsp almond extract

½ cup honey

2 tbsp blackstrap molasses

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine pastry flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Mix until well blended. Add the chopped almonds.

In another bowl, whisk together the egg, vanilla extract, almond extract, honey and molasses. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Stir until all ingredients are combined well.
Turn the dough out onto the parchment lined sheet. Form a flat long log, about 1 inch high and 5 inches wide. Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes or until center feels firm to touch.

Let the log cool for about 15 minutes or until cool enough to handle. Use a serrated knife and cut 1/2 inch slices off the log. Reduce the heat of the oven to 300 degrees F. Spread out the biscotti slices on the baking sheet and bake for another 20 minutes. Let cool completely.

Trying to shrink

I hope you aren’t getting tired of muffins. Obviously, I’m not. Today’s post is masquerading as yet another muffin post, but it’s really about something else entirely. Something very personal. If you have been a very long time reader of mine, you will remember the year that I was serious about Weight Watchers and I lost forty two pounds. Several months ago, I just let it all go. It happened the way this sort of thing happens to people. I had a routine and it centered around work. I ate certain things at certain times of the day and walked during my breaks and then sometimes, made it to the gym on top of that. I had a really good routine that I hardly had to think about. The weight loss came easy. When I lost my job, I lost my routine, I got really depressed, things started to slip and a whole host of bad habits came back. Then I stopped trying altogether. I have gained back seventeen pounds.

Now, I know your first instinct is to be supportive and tell me that seventeen pounds isn’t even half of what I lost and I’m still okay. The problem is that I was going through all of this effort for my health. I don’t want to get diabetes, go blind, trip and break my hip, trip again and break my other hip and suffer the way my mother has. I don’t want to clog my arteries, suffer for years with angina and then have a quadruple bypass like my dad. I know I don’t want any of that, but I suffer from human nature and I am my parents daughter and I have ingrained poor habits that I have to concentrate very hard on changing every day. My dad said something last week that sums up what I need to strive for. He basically said that everyone gets old and everyone will die, but you want to do whatever you can to have the best quality of life until the end. Well said. Something I need to concentrate on very hard. Something that seeing my mom laying in her hospital bed so fragile and unhappy drives home for me.

One problem I have that I think everyone struggles with is portion control. I have a bad habit of having more than one of something I like and taking too much of it to begin with. In order to shrink me, I’ll need to shrink my portions so that’s what I did this week. I did a knock-off of the delicious strawberry muffins from last time but I made sure I made them in mini muffin tins. Here is the Mimi math for you. Each mini muffin is one half the size of a regular muffin. If I ate a regular muffin and then lost control and had to have a second muffin, it would equal four mini muffins. So, if I have a mini muffin and have a second, it equals one regular muffin. If I go really crazy and have three, it is equal to one and a half regular muffins, I am still ahead half a muffin. Terrible logic, I’m sure, but these are the little tricks that helped me lose the weight last time.

Sourdough apple walnut mini muffins

3 tbsp flax seeds

½ cup water

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1 tbsp baking powder

¼ tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp ground ginger

¼ tsp allspice

3/4 cup coarsely chopped, toasted walnuts

½ cup apple sauce

½ cup honey

½ cup buttermilk

½ cup sourdough starter

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 large apple diced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 24 cup mini muffin tin with olive oil spray and set aside.

In a blender, grind flax seeds to a powder. Add water and blend for forty-five seconds until thickened. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, allspice and walnuts.

In another large bowl, mix together all of the flax seed mixture with the apple sauce, honey, buttermilk, sourdough starter, vanilla extract and diced apples. Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until well combined. Let stand for a few minutes to rise a little bit.

Spoon the batter evenly into the muffin cups. Put the muffin tin into the oven and bake for 20 minutes until the muffin tops are browned and a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean. Cool for a few minutes and then serve.

P.S. Any muffin batter can be baked as mini muffins instead. Just experiment with decreasing the amount of time they bake. Here is a list of muffins that have appeared on Delectable Tidbits before:

Blood orange sweet cherry corn muffins

Carrot-currant muffins

Coco-nutty-cocoa sourdough muffins

Orange poppy seed mini muffins

Peach and strawberry muffins

Sourdough strawberry walnut muffins

Beauty

So much beauty in the world: scene from the film American Beauty

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I feel really beautiful today. My friend Tanna from My Kitchen in Half Cups told me I am beautiful and gave me an award to prove it. When Tanna received this award, she was modest and said she was not beautiful. She lied. She is gorgeous! If you don’t believe me, just go take a look at her blog and you can tell. She is smart, she is caring, she bakes a mean loaf of bread and she is beautiful to the core!

In order to accept this award, I have to tell you seven things about myself. Pull up a chair, get a snack, because I think this might get a little long:

I love red wine, I like the movie Sideways, I hate what the movie did to Santa Barbara’s wine country. Let me explain: I have been drinking local wine and following the local wine scene since the 80’s. In the old days, wine tasting was free. You tasted a good sample of what was available and they poured enough so you could really experience each wine (you needed a designated driver for this sort of experience). Later on as people began to discover wine tasting, the wineries began to charge a small fee for a souvenir glass. The small fee got up to about $5 or so. An outrage at the time, that was justified because the small handful of wineries were probably struggling to make a profit. In the beginning, they tried growing Pinot Noir. Except for a few pockets of acreage, it didn’t generally do well here. I remember at some point being told that it was being abandoned in favor of Syrah and Merlot. Fine with me, I love Syrah and Merlot.

Fast forward to 2004. The movie Sideways comes out. It’s like a bomb went off. Suddenly everyone wants to come here and recreate what they saw in the movie for themselves. My favorite winemaker who since the 80’s has made some of the most amazing red and white wines and an absolute stunning Port is featured heavily in the movie. We belong to the wine club and feel like we need an appointment to get in to our winery. The quality of the wines goes down, we cancel our membership. Nobody wants to sell Merlot, everyone wants to sell Pinot Noir (due to the main character in the movie commenting that Merlot was bad and Pinot Noir is good). Wineries seem to pop up like weeds. Everyone charges a minimum of $10 to wine taste, some ask up to $25.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am happy for the wine industry here. They are finally turning a profit and some amazing wine is being made here, but when I go wine tasting now… I can’t help but abuse the staff at the winery. I love to mention something controversial about the movie and watch the person pouring wine squirm. Why do they squirm? I suspect the real opinion about “the movie” is that they hate what has happened to the area too, but the politically correct answer is that the Sideways effect was wonderful. So, I am a sadist and I enjoy it… a lot. Especially when I have to pay $15 to try precisely 1 oz. tastes of a flight of insipid Pinot Noirs at a new winery who is growing nothing but Pinot Noir and they are growing it in the wrong place.

Side note: I thought I remembered the Pinot Noir thing wrong but was vindicated by the January issue of Sunset magazine: “There’s the rub: A wine is “discovered” by fans, gets planted in spades to chase demand, and loses credibility because it really shouldn’t have been planted in all those places”. They also interviewed Jeff Smith from Hourglass Blueline Vineyard in Napa Valley who had this to say: “Of course the true irony is that Miles’s Holy Grail wine (the bottle he chugs with a burger at the movie’s end) is Cheval Blanc, a Merlot-inspired Bordeaux! The fact that most people missed the irony highlights that we have a lot of educating to do.”

I have crazy hair and it’s not from drinking wine, it’s due to heredity. My hair has a life of it’s own. I have to buy gallons of conditioner just to make it look almost normal. It is five times as thick as a normal head of hair. It is curly. It used to be brunette, but it is starting to go gray which makes it look crazy because now that I don’t work, I’ve neglected to get it dyed back to it’s former color. It is long. The last time I saw my hairdresser, she shook her head and said, “I don’t know what I would do if I had hair like yours… I.. really…don’t.” Uh. Thanks. Just wait till she sees me now, lol! I’ll get her!

I have perfect teeth. I hadn’t been to a dentist in a long time. My new dentist was amazed by my teeth. He thinks they are the most beautiful teeth he has seen. I had a hereditary problem that caused issues with my gums. He sent me to an oral surgeon, the oral surgeon, loves my teeth and says they are perfect. Both dentists were amazed that there was not an orthodontist involved in their perfection.

If I were diagnosed with Celiac disease tomorrow, I would commit suicide by the next day. I think you already know this due to what I like to write about on this blog. To me, every meal is better with wheat. If I could live on pancakes, muffins, bread, pizza and pasta, I would. And then, I would have cake or pie for dessert.

Due to some health issues we had money issues and my Dad sold our car when I was around eight years old. He didn’t buy another car for years. As a consequence, I did not drive or acquire my first car until I was twenty three years old. We walked or took public transportation everywhere until then. I am not comfortable driving cars although I have loved every car I’ve owned. I just love them from the passenger seat. This poses a problem to everyone I know since I will usually be the last person to volunteer to drive and the first person to ask someone to drive me somewhere.

If I had a time machine, I would go back to a time somewhere between 1973 and 1990. I liked it there a lot.

Although I love pickles and I get extremely excited when I see them especially if they are homemade. I don’t really like sour foods so I can only eat a bite or two of them before I am completely overwhelmed. My sister loves pickles and can eat a whole jar. When she left home my Dad forgot who liked pickles and kept buying them and then wondering why I stopped eating them.

If you got this far, you now know that I am beautiful like a succulent or a sea creature. Thank you for being my beautiful reader (you are beautiful too!)

Now I get to single out 7 beautiful bloggers. The first rule of the beautiful blogger award was to talk about me. The second rule is to pass the award on. As usual, If I’ve tagged you, I want to let you know that you are under no obligation to treat this like a chain letter. If you don’t want to do this, I won’t care, I just want to let you know I think you are wonderful.

To my readers: I encourage you to click on these links. These seven blogs are where I have been spending a lot of time lately. These people are witty, smart, artistic, compassionate and altogether beautiful:

Stacy at Little Blue Hen: Vegetables are so beautiful when Stacey sees them through the eye of her camera. Go here to see what she is cooking and baking. Stay to discuss food related topics.

Peter at Cookblog: An artist, an omnivore and a wonderful writer. What a great combination. You’ll be drooling over pictures of the restaurant quality food, he served his family for dinner last night.

Tia at Buttercream Barbie: I don’t bake as often as I want to, so this is where I go to dream. Tia bakes constantly and I’m always amazed at how tiny she looks in her pictures. I gain five pounds just by looking at all of the wonderful treats.

A girl whose name I don’t know at Fatty Dumpling: Go to her about page before you start reading. This girl is the funniest writer I have ever encountered on a blog. I hope she ends up with a long and happy career in television and movies.

Jacqui at So Good, So Tasty: This blog is just beautiful. Jacqui is a graphic designer as well as a talented cook. Her blog has feng shui. Something about the colors and the design just make me feel so happy when I go there.

Beth at One Hundred Eggs:  Does anyone remember the blog called a bread a day? Beth is the remarkable woman who baked 365 loaves of bread last year. Now she has this new blog and it’s just so pretty. Great writing, healthy food and she somehow makes it more than ok that she is practicing her photography skills on her lunch every couple of days because the results are stunning.

Amy at Ohiofarmgirl’s Adventures in the Goodland:   A woman gets laid off from her job and rejoices because now she can pursue her dream of running a farm! Pure chaos from another talented writer.

I’ll be gone for a few days visiting my parents while my Mom has surgery. Please forgive me if I don’t respond to comments until I get back. My parents have the last home in the U.S. that does not have internet!

What do you do when you run out of eggs?

Years ago, I was a fiend for pressure cooking. Once I acquired my pressure cooker, I cooked everything I could find in it, got bored and then put it in a cabinet never to be heard from again. The author of my favorite pressure cooker cookbook, Lorna Sass, put out a vegan cookbook around that time. It was called Recipes from an ecological kitchen. Poor Lorna. I stopped using the pressure cooker book and the vegan book got relegated to the bookshelf as a reference manual for grain cookery. One thing in the vegan book that has always fascinated me was her use of flax seed as a substitute for eggs. She would grind raw whole flax seed in a blender, add water and blend for up to a minute to form a thick paste. She states in the cookbook that it works just like eggs in her recipes and makes for light and fluffy baked goods. It sounded like magic. It sounded too good to be true!

Even when I was a vegetarian, I still ate eggs and dairy. I love my eggs and dairy! I still do. I’ve never used her flax seed method because I always had eggs in the house and never had flax seed in my pantry. Now I bake bread. I have more flax seeds than I know what to do with. Today, I had no eggs. I was completely out and I wanted a muffin with my morning tea. Today seemed like a great day to try an experiment.

Over the past couple of months, I have baked muffins using Herbert a couple of times. Once was the delicious cocoa, coconut and pecan muffins and recently, I baked a recipe from my blog friend over at the Lost World of Drfugawe. John made these amazing cornmeal muffins. When I saw them, I had to make them. They turned out delicious, tall and fluffy. Drizzled with raw honey, they were superb. One thing that surprised me about his recipe was that he used a full tablespoon of baking powder. I followed the recipe, making just a tweak here or there, to be rewarded with such light fluffy corn muffins. When I thought about it, it made sense. There are acids that build up with the starter. The neutralizing powers of baking powder and acids are what makes baked goods rise. Since I planned to use starter, buttermilk, lemon juice and strawberries, all tart ingredients, I borrowed this little bit of baking wisdom from John.

My muffins were tall and fluffy. The flax seed paste mimicked the eggs as advertised but they also lent a nutty grainy flavor that complimented my toasted walnuts. I used a spare amount of honey for sweetener, so the muffins ended up on the less sweet side and the springtime strawberries are a bit tart but altogether, I have to call these muffins a huge success. Just the perfect morning breakfast food to go with tea or coffee. I was told by an appreciative boyfriend that these muffins are pure strawberry goodness.

These springtime muffins are going to YeastSpotting, the place to go for all your bread baking porn.

This recipe contains buttermilk because I like what buttermilk does to baked goods, but if you want to make them vegan, just substitute soymilk or rice milk for the buttermilk and agave syrup for the honey.

Egg free sourdough strawberry and walnut muffins

3 tbsp flax seeds

½ cup water

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1 tbsp baking powder

¼ tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

1 ½ tsp lemon zest

¼ cup canola oil

½ cup honey

½ cup buttermilk

½ cup sourdough starter

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 cup coarsely chopped, toasted walnuts

1 ¾ cups diced fresh strawberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, Place the raw walnuts in a small iron skillet. As the oven gets up to temperature, toast the walnuts for 5 – 8 minutes, watching them to make sure they don’t burn. Remove from oven and cool.

Spray two six cup muffin tins with olive oil spray and set aside.

In a blender, grind flax seeds to a powder. Add water and blend for thirty seconds until thickened. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and lemon zest.

In another large bowl, mix together all of the flax seed mixture with the canola oil, honey, buttermilk, sourdough starter, and lemon juice. Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until well combined. Let stand for a few minutes to rise a little bit. Gently stir in the walnuts and the strawberries.

Spoon the batter evenly into the muffin cups. Put the muffin tins into the oven and bake for 20 – 25 minutes until the tops are browned and a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean.

If candy bars grew on trees

I wish candy bars grew on trees. Whenever that urge for a treat would hit me. I would go to my candy bar tree, reach up and harvest a mouth watering treat. If candy bars grew on trees, surely they would be full of vitamins and minerals to make us healthy. I have a feeling candy bars would be hard to grow organically. I think they would be very attractive to ants.

If candy bars grew on trees, there would be less garbage littering the streets. If candy bars grew on trees, I bet we would buy them from small farmers or grow them in our backyards instead of purchasing them from large corporations because they would be farm fresh and delicious instead of coming from places and people we don’t know or trust.

You know and I know the candy bar tree is a fantasy, but what if a candy bar could come from trees instead of grow on trees? Would they be just as virtuous? I think so. I can’t lie to you and tell you that a candy bar that comes from trees would have less calories than a regular candy bar, but I don’t think I would be lying if I told you that it would be healthier for you. It might take some getting used to, because it would not be the same as biting into a chunk of fat, sugars and salt, but I think you could easily get used to a candy bar that was made of luscious whole food ingredients.

Wanna make a candy bar?

The first tree we’ll have to look for is Prunis dulcis: The almond tree.

Photo by Alfonso, creative commons 2.0 license
 
 We’ll go pick some almonds. We’ll roast them and use them whole and chopped.

Our second tree will be Phoenix dactilylifera: The date palm.

Photo courtesy Wikipedia.org, creative commons 2.5 license

 

We’ll pick close to a couple of dozen dates and pit them

Those first two trees can be found within driving distance of me, but the third one grows in the tropics. We’ll have to get on a plane to find Theobroma cacao: The cocoa tree.

Photo by Claus Bunks courtesy of wikipedia, public domain license

 

We’ll need to pick the fruits, ferment them, clean the beans, roast the beans, liquefy them and then make dark chocolate.

Ha! You knew I was lying about harvesting the ingredients, didn’t you? If not, I got you! Valrhona makes a good 71% bittersweet chocolate, let’s use that.

That’s it. Our chocolate bars are three ingredients. These three ingredients are rich in manganese, vitamin E, magnesium, iron, potassium, B vitamins, fiber, polyphenals and minerals. The bars are super healthy and luxurious. Can your snicker’s bar claim that?

Dark chocolate covered almond stuffed dates

3 ½ oz bar bittersweet chocolate (I used a 71% dark chocolate bar)

About 20 pitted fresh dates. Use Deglet noor or any other large date

1 cup roasted whole almonds. (I used unsalted almonds. Using salted almonds is your call but I don’t think it’s necessary).

Line a cookie sheet with parchment.

Stuff each date with one or two almonds depending on the size of the date. Chop the remaining almonds coarsely and set aside. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler stirring until smooth. Dip a stuffed date into the chocolate, turning to coat. Set it on the parchment lined tray and sprinkle with chopped almonds. Repeat with each stuffed date. Put cookie sheet into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to help the chocolate set. Serve immediately or store in a airtight container in the refrigerator

 

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