Thursday, August 18, 2011

Blueberry Streusel Muffins

I could wax poetic about the joys of breakfast for days.  What other meal so deftly combines the sweet, the salty and the ooey gooey?  With a plate of pancakes, scrambled eggs, hash browns and not-sausage covered in maple syrup, I am quite the happy gal.

Yet a steady diet of aforementioned fare will surely increase the waistline as well as the chances of contracting Type II die-ah-beed-us, so we can't live like obese monarchs every single morning.  

Enter the humble, yet tasty, muffin.  The heartier sibling in the mini-cake tribe, you can throw just about anything into a muffin: fruit, grains, cheese, vegetables.  As a kid, I relied heavily upon the Martha White muffin mixes in a bag.  Add in some water or milk, maybe some oil, and you were ready to fill in some muffin tins.  The mixes were completed with pellet formed "fruit", small cylinders of blue or red color chock full of corn starch, dye and artificial flavors.  Yum!

Alex's friend came to visit us a few weekends ago, and I thought that I would make something special for breakfast.  Here's my recipe for my first-ever try at REAL blueberry muffins:

2 cups all purpose flour or cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk
2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen

Streusel Topping:
1/3 cup sugar 
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup oats

2 tbsp butter, softened
1 tsp cinnamon

Oven at 350- grease or paper your muffin tins!

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together.  Cream the butter and sugar.  Add the eggs, vanilla and milk into the creamed sugar.  Once it is combined, add it to the dry ingredients in three or four installments- don't just throw it all in at once.

Fold the blueberries into the mix.  Spoon the finished batter into your muffin tins.  This recipe should yield 12-16 muffins, depending on where your fill line may be in your tins.

For the streusel, melt the butter and add in all the ingredients.  You can mix it with a fork or with your fingers.  Sprinkle the streusel directly on top of the batter in the muffin tins.

Bake these babies between 20 and 25 minutes, then let them cool thoroughly.  Hot blueberries can be like lava bombs, which isn't so great.

Perhaps you're wondering what's up with the flour choices?  Well, cake flour is incredibly fine and makes a very soft, almost silky cake.  All purpose flour isn't as refined, so the end result isn't as smooth, but it is just as tasty.  You don't need to change baking times for either flour, nor do you need to whip out the fine china if you use the baking flour.

You may, however, want to ration these muffins.  They are crazy good!

Banana Bread

If you're anything like me, your heart is in the right place when it comes to eating healthy.  I buy vegetables and fruit with the firm intention of eating them, but more often than not, they go bad and I end up feeling pretty silly.  When veggies start to turn dark, there's not much you can do with them.  But when fruit starts to turn dark and get spots, it's not always the end of the line- this is especially the case with bananas.

The darker the fruit, the better- so long as it isn't moldy or harboring banana spiders.  According to Alex, these little beasties are shaped like bananas and may or may not have bananas for legs.    

For my recipe, I used the following:

1 stick butter, softened
2 large very ripe bananas
1/2 cup sour cream
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips

Butter and flour bread loaf pan, set aside.

Purée the bananas with the sour cream, eggs and vanilla.  Sift the dry ingredients together (using cake flour makes a very nice, very soft bread- I used whole wheat flour on a second banana bread run, and it was much more dense and not as sweet).  Mix the butter into the dry mix until you get a crumbly mixture, then add in the wet ingredients.  Mix until thoroughly blended, and then fold in the chocolate chips.  

Feel free to use more than one cup- serious chocoholics may prefer different types of chips, as well.

Bake at 350 degrees for 60-70 minutes.  Remember to turn the pan half-way through the bake time!

This bread/cake is amazing- and really hard to keep around.  It's great slathered with butter, cream cheese, or Nutella.  

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Two months?! You deserve better!

Summer hit us like a ton of bricks and we've let our blog fall to the wayside.  Shame on us!

However, we have some news to share- we're engaged!  We'll be exchanging vows next year and collecting reception food ideas here.  If you have any ideas to offer, we'd be more than grateful to hear them!

We'll also be in Germany for about ten months, and we plan on recounting our culinary escapades here- I for one cannot wait to try my hand at making authentic pretzels, not to mention convenient public transportation and a variety of markets.

We hope you haven't forgotten about us, and we promise to be better about posting.  

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mock Mashed Potatoes

Lots of posts because Blogger has gotten over its latest bug- and not a moment too soon! 

Who doesn't love mashed potatoes?  A must-have at family gatherings, a quintessential comfort food, mashed potatoes have a special place in the American culinary heart.  They have a huge place in my own heart, mostly due to the fact that I can' indulge in them as often as the average citizen.  Thanks to the innovation and creativity of my Mom (and a little help from Martha Stewart), I now have this alternative version of mashed potatoes to share:
That's right- turnips and parsnips!  Put them together and you've got a veggie mix that can be used as mashed potatoes or as filler for samosas, which you'll read about in another post.

What you'll need to recreate this amazing alternative:
1 lb turnips
1 lb parsnips
1/3 cup melted butter
1/4 cup cream cheese
2 cloves minced garlic
Salt & pepper to taste

Peel and cut the turnips and parsnips into chunks- no matter the size so long as the chunks are consistent.  Boil for 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft.  Drain and let cool, then place in large food processor.  Add melted butter, cream cheese, garlic and spices.  Pulse and chop until the mixture is smooth.  
Voilà!  This mix brings back memories of Thanksgiving and Christmas, as well as the good ol' days when I could eat mashed potatoes to my heart's content without suffering the consequences.  True, the consistency isn't quite as velvety as potatoes, but the taste is much more interesting.  The turnips and parsnips, unlike potatoes, have distinctive tastes that aren't overpowering.  Alex mentioned that there was a certain earthiness missing from my turnip-parsnip mix, but this was quickly remedied with the addition of lentils.  I've got big plans for this mix, including but not limited to pot pie filler, pie crust, turnip tots, and baked chips.  

Market Finds: Daisy Mae's Market

Our last trip to the Findlay market was one of our most rewarding.  We met Barbra of Daisy Mae's Market and were permitted to take a few photos of their offerings:

You can check out Daisy Mae's Market in their usual spot at Findlay Market, right out front facing Race Street.  They have many staples as well as more exotic fruits and vegetables, but most importantly, a serious commitment to locavore culture and city revitalization.  Here is their website:

To Key Lime or not to Key Lime

As a kid, I spent several summers in southwestern Florida, avoiding the great outdoors and trying my best not to stick to my GG's leather couch.  During one particularly sweltering season, I was formally introduced to the Key Lime Pie.  My grandmother, being the purveyor of all things classy, insisted that Key Lime Pie is only made from Key limes, and that anything else was a serious grievance against good taste.  She even had a small Key lime tree in her backyard, a sparse looking little thing that bore maybe five tiny limes a year.  Needless to say, I was pretty perplexed as to how such tiny little fruits could create such an amazing sweet treat.  From that point on, I was hooked on Key Lime Pie and spent the dog days devising various plans to procure more pie.  The plans usually included creative use of alligators and projectile lizards.
"My pie desire knows no bounds!  Onward, Aloysius!"

That being said, I've had quite a lot of Key Lime Pie.  I'd even go so far to say that I am a connaisseur.  The pie is easy to make- there are only three key ingredients, and the crust is usually made from crushed graham crackers.  However, it's not always easy to procure Key limes, especially outside of Florida.  If you are lucky enough to get your mitts on a bag, they're tiny little spheres with a low yield of juice.  You'll sprain your fingers trying to juice those little buggers.  Most pie producers get bottled Key lime juice, but even there one has to be discerning.  Some bottling companies add in ascorbic or malic acid, which both add tartness, but the limes already have naturally occurring ascorbic acid.  I've even seen HFCS in bottled Key Lime juice.  Yeah, yeah, it's just like sugar and it's okay in moderation.  It's not okay in my Key Lime juice.

So what's a gal to do when she can't find any Key Limes but wants nothing more than some Key Lime Pie?  

She uses regular limes.  They're easily accessible, they're in season and I don't risk arthritis working with them.  My pie isn't a Key Lime Pie, but it's still pretty freaking great. 

Here's my variation on the Classic Key Lime Pie:
1 1/2 cups crushed Biscoff cookies (the airline cookie, also known as speculoos)
4 tbsp melted butter
2 tsp salt

Mix all ingredients together, press into a pie mold (the size is your choice, but I use a 9" spring-form pan), and bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees.
3 eggs
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 cup lime juice (I found that three large limes fit the bill this time)
*Lime zest is optional*

Beat all ingredient together until well integrated.  After the pie crust has cooled (or depending on your level of pie craving, while it's still warm), pour all the wet ingredients on the crust.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, or until the pie is set.

And no Key Lime Pie is complete without whipped cream, which is so incredibly easy to make you'll ditch your Whip-Its addiction and start inhaling this:

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract

Whip on high until soft or hard peaks form- it's your preference!  However, don't beat for too long because the cream will turn hard and get packed into the beaters.  Not good for your pie, but actually really good if you stick them in the freezer.  Creamsicles!

Here's my Off Key Lime Pie:

No gators were harmed or exploited in the creation of this pie.

I'll be making one of these as needed throughout the summer.  Nothing cuts through the misery of sweating through your clothes and sticking to your furniture like the tart sweetness of limes.  This can even be kept in the freezer- so long as you cut the pie first- for an icebox version.  Here's to keeping cool! 


Friday, May 20, 2011

Laissez les bonnes crevettes rouler!

Achtung! This will be the first in a series of dual-author posts. Alex will write the first section of this post and Alana the second. You'll know who is talking by the font.

Yesterday, between teaching, grading, and seeing a lecture on the Tea Party at school, I decided that nothing in the world sounded better for dinner than a po' boy. For the sake of clarity, a po' boy is a sandwich that is to New Orleans what pizza is to Chicago and New York, what cheese is to Wisconsin, wine to California, Jazz music to New Orleans, etc etc. Analogy time! A po'boy : New Orleans :: Jazz : New Orleans. In constructing my analogy this way, I'm setting "a po'boy" on par with "jazz" in such a way to imply that they both hold relationships to New Orleans that are similar. What I'm trying to say (albeit in a pedantic, long-winded, and somewhat logically flawed way) is that a po' boy is the culinary incarnation of New Orleans-style jazz. You'll see what I mean.

While visiting NOLA, I've become a veteran po' boy eater. Since they're most often made with seafood, this is good for me, but it also means that if you want reviews of chicken or beef po' boys, you'll have to do some independent research. Anyway, I've eaten them in rather nice restaurants, at hole-in-the-wall restaurants, plain, with hot sauce, with remoulade, and with different types of bread and vegetation, which has led me to what I consider the best po' boy recipe ever created. (Note: I'm not cajun or creole, I don't practice voodoo, and I barely speak any French, much to my girlfriends dismay, but I do cook and part of my soul still resides in New Orleans)

After learning all about the Tea Party (bunch of populist crazies, them), Alana and I went off to Whole Foods to pick up some shrimp, bread, a tomato, and some other miscellany. We found fresh de-veined, de-shelled shrimp on sale for $9.99/lb (down from 12.99) so we got 2 lbs figuring we'd use one and freeze the other. We found a wheat French baguette, the tomato and the rest and headed home to whip up a batch of wonderful. Ordinarily in NOLA, a po' boy calls for a mountain of popcorn shrimp, but these 36-42s were too good to pass up -- and they were fresh!

This is where the narrative splits. I dealt with cleaning and frying the shrimp, cutting the bread and tomato, and some of the finished sandwich construction and Alana made the sauce, mixed the spices, breaded the shrimp, and did some construction of her own.

As simple as a po' boy may seem, its success or failure hinges upon the quality of all its parts.  I never had a po' boy until we were in New Orleans, and while we tried quite a few, I was never really all that impressed.  Sure, the seafood flavors were always present- you can't really beat Louisiana crawfish.  Sometimes there were fried green tomatoes accompanying the star player, sometimes there was a remoulade.  However, there was always something missing.  Had we ventured out into la vrai bayou, we may have had some toe-curling sauce and some slap-yo-mama fried shrimp.  However, as with most touristy towns, we got touristy food while we stuck to Bourbon Street.

That isn't to say that the po' boy didn't stick with me.  Since our trip I've had a few cravings for po' boys, but since I thought that it would be too labor intensive to make them, I decided I would wait until we found a passable cajun restaurant.  When Alex and I left the lecture and he mentioned wanting a po' boy, I was more than willing to procure the necessary items and laissez les bons temps, or as we're saying, les bonnes crevettes rouler.

We used a remoulade and spice recipe from a blog I follow: Closet Cooking.  You can find the specific link here, but I highly suggest that you peruse Kevin's amazing (and extensive) collection of culinary delights.
Closet Cooking's Remoulade Sauce

For ease, I've gone ahead and listed the ingredients here as well:

Remoulade sauce- makes about 1/2 cup

1/4 cup mayonnaise (we used Vegenaise)
1 tablespoon horseradish mustard
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 small clove garlic
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon capers
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
hot sauce to taste

-Blend together until smooth

Cajun spice mix:
2 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon dried leaf oregano
1 teaspoon dried leaf thyme

I put about a quarter of the mix into the remoulade sauce, as well as a third in the flour we'd be using to coat the shrimp.

Alex and I were a bit perplexed about the breading process.  We both like fried food, and I grew up in Kentucky, the capital of fried chicken.  I'd always heard you used egg and flour, or milk and flour.  Alex had heard the same, but we wanted a crunchier crunch, so we decided to dredge the shrimp in breadcrumbs as well.  What a sticky mess!  After my first four shrimp I had a serious coating of flour and breadcrumbs on my fingers.  Yet in my opinion, the messier the recipe, the better the food will be.

Shrimp Frying:
After detailing (de-tailing, hehe) and washing the little buggers, I got the oil ready. I used just enough that the shrimp would float and stuck a candy-thermometer on the pan to make sure I wasn't going down the road of too-hot oil. After they were breaded, I fried them like a damn pro. GB and D. Golden-brown and delicious! I kept my oil at about 350F and fried 4 at a time so the temp wouldn't dive too much upon shrimp entering the pool.

I cut the loaf into thirds, and then sliced one side open. In order to better fit all the stuff, I scraped out a bit of the bread making a trench. Sauce went on one side, vegetables on the other, and shrimp in the middle with the remaining sauce on the shrimp themselves.

How a po' boy is like jazz:
The complexity of the remoulade sauce stood on top of the solid shrimp/bread foundation and belted out a mind-blowing improv number that the sauce alone could never have done! Make this and you'll understand what I mean. As for cooking music, I recommend Panorama Jazz Band. You can find their stuff on iTunes. Now. Do it.

Taking a bite of this po' boy brought back all the good memories of New Orleans- relaxing under a tree in Jackson Square Park, traipsing along Frenchmen Street in search of good jazz, meandering through the drunken denizens of Bourbon Street.  The best memory of NOLA was experiencing the sights and sounds with Alex, and it was such a treat to prepare, assemble and enjoy these sandwiches. This is sure to become a stand-by recipe in our kitchen for years to come, even if we do wander out into the environs of New Orleans one of these days.  I guarantee!