Friday, May 30, 2008

Lavender Cocoa Cupcakes with Blueberry Frosting

Have you ever seen that Planters nuts commercial where the not so pretty lady has all the men chasing her because she dabs a cashew behind her ears and in her decolletage? (It's a fancy word for cleavage, but as we're doing a post about some mighty upscale cupcakes here today we'll use the word decolletage.) I am very tempted to do that with the Askinosie cocoa powder that arrived in the mail yesterday. It smells unbelievable. Chocolaty and full bodied and Oh. My. God. I want to bathe in the stuff. Honest.

Seriously, for a brief moment in time I thought my nose was on overdrive. I've never opened a package of cocoa powder and thought oh boy that smells delicious. I had to go and smell my Hershey's in the pantry to see if I was just being weird (or weirder than normal). Both the regular and the special dark. They smell like a chocolate cake. vaguely. Nowhere close to what the Askinosie stuff smells like. The Askinosie cocoa powder makes you think of lush tropical rainforests and sex and love and everything good in the whole world. Forgive me, I've been sniffing it all day.

So yeah, it arrived yesterday in the mail. And for most of yesterday, I just looked at it. It's in some pretty cool packaging. Unfortunately, I can be a little clueless and I may have had a ridiculous time trying to figure out how to get to the cocoa powder. Fortunately I have a brilliant husband, the Brain, who's birthday it was yesterday, and he helped me open the container.

Today, I thought I'd make something standard, like a chocolate peanut butter cupcake to give this Askinosie cocoa a whirl. I didn't know how special it is. I mean, sure Tempered Woman has a kilo (so very jealous), and Laurie at Quirky Cupcake has been going on about it for a while, but I didn't get it. Now I do. This is not the cocoa you use to bake standard cupcakes for a bunch of preschoolers or hungry sports watching men. This is the cocoa you use for more refined affairs. Cupcakes for people who will taste the cupcake instead of just smearing it on their faces or inhaling it in one bite.
So mid cupcake I switched plans. The new cupcake, although WAY more complicated, is as refined and elegant as the cocoa powder. And yeah, I believe I mentioned before that Askinosie cocoa powder is the theme for this month's Cupcake Hero. Judged (in case you forgot) by the lovely TW, Laurie, Joy and Leigh. I know I already entered it here, but see I REALLY want that shirt. And oh, yeah, Askinosie is giving a prize too. And I want it. And I'm willing to get fierce over it. And if i have to make myself fat(ter) to get it I will. Oh yeah.

And although I'm sure the fair minded ladies, TW, Laurie, Joy and Leigh, will taste the Cocoa Cupcake with Marshmallow Frosting and realize that I have mad skills, I'm padding my chances (and my behind) with these decadent Lavender Cocoa Cupcakes with Blueberry Frosting. They're dark. They're luscious. They're in serious danger of being eaten solely by me. Good thing my mom and step dad and the Queen Geek (who now has a really cool blog, go check it out here) are coming into town tomorrow and more than likely will make me share.

Lavender Cocoa Cupcakes with Blueberry Frosting
an original Shazam recipe
makes 18


1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup Askinosie cocoa powder
1/2 tsp espresso powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
2 tsp dried lavender flowers

In a small bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, espresso powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to break up lumps and set aside.

In a small saucepan, bring the milk and lavender flowers to a simmer. Turn off the heat and let steep for 5 minutes. Carefully, using an immersion blender, blend in pulses until most of the flowers have been chopped and milk is frothy. Let sit for another 5 minutes, then strain out the lavender solids and let cool to room temperature (about 20 minutes)

In a mixing bowl with electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Beat in vanilla extract. Add eggs one at a time, making sure they're incorporated. Add the flour mixture in 4 parts alternating with the now room temperature milk. Beat briefly for 30 seconds to make sure the batter is completely homogeneous.

Split batter between 18 prepared cupcake tins. Bake for 22 minutes, or until tops are springy and a toothpick inserted into cupcakes comes out fairly clean.

Cool cupcakes completely.

1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup blueberries*

Simmer blueberries on stove until most of the berries burst and release their liquids. Mash gently with a wooden spoon and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or until cold.

Cream butter and powdered sugar until smooth. Add vanilla extract and chilled blueberries.

* I used frozen berries, but I'm sure fresh would also work. Depending on the amount of liquid derived from the berries, you may want to adjust the powdered sugar level to ensure that the frosting is of a spreadable consistency.

cocoa nibs
lavender flowers

Pipe Blueberry Frosting onto Lavender Cocoa cupcakes in decorative swirl. Sprinkle each cupcake with cocoa nibs and lavender flowers. Being careful not to overwhelm the cupcake with either nibs or flowers.

*UPDATE!- The brand of lavender I used was The Spice Hunter. If you check the website there's a handy way of searching by state to see where you can get it near you!*

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Pink Butterfly Guavaberry Opera Cake!

When I discovered that the Daring Bakers would be doing an Opera Cake for our May challenge (hosted by Lis of La Mia Cucina, Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice, Fran of Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie, and Shea of Whiskful you know the drill, go check them out) I was ridiculously excited. I had seen these elegant cakes before and always wondered how they tasted and how such elegant and lovely cakes were created. I had never made one because a)I was too chicken to attempt making one and b) I knew that if I made one that I would eat it and my thighs would expand exponentially. I knew that now was the time for me to make it. See, now I have a husband, and in-laws who gather on a frequent basis and I had season tickets to the opera. You can't bring an opera cake to the opera, but when I go to the opera I see my best friend T and my family so I can always drop off goodies there.

The biggest rule of all was that we had to make a light opera cake. It had to be light in color and flavor. This meant massive amounts of white chocolate. Call me crazy, but I'm a dark chocolate girl. White chocolate really isn't my thing. But I was game so I thought and thought and thought (by this time half the DBers were done with their cakes). And I had a terrible time figuring out what flavor to pick. Well, until I was sort of reorganizing my cupcake supplies, sprinkles, liners, et al. and I saw my tiny jar of guavaberry honey tucked away.
So my flavor for the cake was guavaberry. Don't confuse guavas with guavaberry. Guavaberry is indigenous to the Carribean and the Brain and I picked up our guavaberry honey and liquor (and a big fat bottle of guavaberry rum) from this great shop that we were drinking in as soon as we docked. Well, we were "sampling" in. Guavaberries are a sort of tart tasting fruit that almost reminds me of a cranberry, but much much sweeter. The berries have a very large stone and a thin layer of pulp. It is also very labor intensive to pick these fruits. That's why they are so rare and if you get the chance to go to Sint Maartin, go to the Guavaberry Emporium and pick up the honey and the liquor and the rum. Oh heck, everything there is super delicious.

So I made the cake and it was delicious. And I made the buttercream and flavored it with guavaberry honey and it was such a lovely blush pink color. And I made the syrup for soaking the cake with guavaberry liquor. And I melted the white chocolate with no problems and made the mousse flavored with guavaberry liquor and it turned out a little darker of that beautiful blush color. And I assembled the cake and stuck it in the fridge while I made the white chocolate glaze flavored with guavaberry liquor and again with the lovely pink. And then I sprinkled my brand new butterfly sprinkles on top and I was happy. I mean please, it was a pink cake with butterflies, what's not to be happy about?

I had actually made half the cake into a rectangle to share with the Brain's family for the bi-monthly birthday celebration. The rest of the cake I cut into "individual" sized round cakes about 2 inches in diameter. Not wanting to waste the delicious cake scraps I made one tiny little heart shaped pink butterfly opera cake for me to taste.

Wow. That's some rich cake. The heart shaped cake was just the right size for me. I took the round "individual" cakes up to my Mom's and it was decided that one whole cake was far too rich. I shared one with my mom and felt like my teeth were rotting. I took the rectangular cake to the in-laws and the Brain and I both had tiny pieces. The Brain liked the guavaberry flavor, but agreed it was too rich. His sister had one bite of hers and was done. And his mom didn't eat the frosting and declared the cake part to be delicious. I think if I make this again, I would do it with a dark chocolate. I can handle rich, but this cake was far too sweet. It might be lovely if it were cut up like a petit four. I would have to wait until I had some elegant event to take them to.

If anyone has managed to get their hands on some guavaberry honey and guavaberry liquor and wants to know how I flavored it, shoot me an email. Otherwise the recipe is here or here or here or here. And don't forget to check out all the other beautiful and far more delicious opera cakes that are currently posting all over the internet!

Barbara of Winos and Foodies had to leave our Daring Baker group for health reasons and so I dedicate this very pretty pink butterfly opera cake to her. Barbara, I hope you are winning the battle and come back to join us when you can!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Stewed Pineapple with Raisins and Chiles

I was thinking about my new curry book. That I love. And I decided I would give you another sampling from it to show you some of the diversity of this book. Today's recipe is for Anaras Ambol. It's pretty much a spicy sweet tart chutney. And it's DELICIOUS! It's also made from ingredients found in pretty much any small town grocery store and is a snap to put together. Whoopee!

I was going to follow a suggestion of Mr. Iyer and put it on a fillet of salmon, except the last meal I cooked at home was salmon. As salmon don't run in Ohio, I don't really have a freezer full of it. So I put it on some very simple baked chicken and white rice. It's zingy. It's flavorful. As the little Japanese actress on the original Iron Chef used to say, "It's like a party in my mouth. hee hee hee hee hee." You couldn't beat the commentary on the original Iron Chef.
This would be fantastic on vanilla ice cream too!

Since I did most of the dishes while the chutney, rice and chicken were all cooking all I've got left to do is to give you the recipe and then it's back to the couch with my leg up in the air. I had a small setback in therapy today because over the weekend Wilma the Knee has swollen to breathtaking proportions and I'm on couch rest and ice again. Ugh. Oh well. It's cold and rainy outside anyway.

Stewed Pineapple with Raisins and Chiles (Anaras Ambol)
from 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer

2 Tbsp canola oil
1 tsp black or yellow mustard seeds
2 cups cubed fresh pineapple
1/2 cup golden raisins
6 to 8 dried red chiles, to taste, stems removed
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt

Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium high heat. Add the mustard seeds, cover the pan and cook until the seeds have stopped popping (not unlike popcorn), about 30 seconds. Add the pineapple, raisins, and chiles. Reduce the heat to medium and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the raisins are plump and the pineapple is lightly browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the brown sugar and cook, stirring so it melts, 2 to 4 minutes. Pour in 1 cup water, and sprinkle in the salt. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the sauce turns soupy-thick, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week. Reheat to warm it before serving.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Maple Walnut Salmon

Happy Memorial Day weekend! This weekend is traditionally marked with spending time with family and friends. For us this is no exception. The Brain's family is all in town. They came in Friday night and are sticking around until Monday. It's a nice occasion for the kids to all play together. It also means I won't be cooking again until Monday at the earliest!

So while I'm taking this short little break from family festivities, please enjoy this short little recipe for some unbelievably simple and delicious salmon. Thursday night I was trying to come up with something to eat and decided to hit my expandable folder of recipes I've cut out of magazines. This Maple Walnut Salmon comes courtesy of Prevention magazine. It's healthy and surprisingly tasty. It's even elegant enough that you could serve it to company. And it's a snap to throw together!

Maple Walnut Salmon
adapted from Prevention Magazine
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 12 minutes

2 5oz salmon fillets
1 Tbsp pure maple syrup
1 1/2 tsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place fish in 8"x8" glass baking dish sprayed with cooking spray. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, to taste. Drizzle with syrup. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until fish flakes easily.

While fish bakes, warm oil in small skillet over medium high heat and stir in walnuts. Cook until lightly toasted, 45 seconds to 1 minute. Spoon nuts over fish.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Cocoa Cupcakes with Marshmallow Frosting

It's that time. Yes, I am trying again to win that T-shirt. No, my beautiful wormy cupcakes didn't get picked for the April Cupcake Hero. Although thanks to that post I did learn a whole lot about how Nalgene bottles can kill you, Brita filters are not recyclable in the US (sign the petition here), and about saving the earth in general, so it wasn't a total waste. Well and my nephew thinks I'm awesome. As you can see by the round up the better cupcake won. So because I'm nothing if not tenacious, I'm trying again. For those of you who may be somehow unaware of what Cupcake Hero is, it's a monthly contest where several bloggers, including Steph of A Whisk and A Spoon, who's always turning in fantastic cupcakes, (in fact if you found someone who's taking bets, she'd be the one to put your money on) turn in a cupcake recipe based on the theme of the month. Cupcake Hero is the brainchild of Laurie at Quirky Cupcakes. She's been joined by the Cupcake Hero staff which includes the always lovely Tempered Woman, the talented Joy the Baker, and the fabulous Leigh of Lemon Tartlet. These beautiful women bake up a select few cupcakes and pick the winner. They're really great ladies and please check out their blogs. (note, I'm not above sending multiple links their way in hopes of swaying their judgment. I figure it's better than jumping up and down shouting "pick me! pick me! They wouldn't be able to see that.)
May's Cupcake Hero theme is cocoa powder. I'm not saying in my post which kind I used, but Laurie at Quirky Cupcake highly suggests Askinosie cocoa powder. Askinosie chocolate is a cool chocolate company started by a guy who was formerly a criminal defense attorney. If you go to his website here, you can check out all about the company and how they give back to the community (which is way cool). I would have liked to have ordered his cocoa powder, but my budget was stretched a little bit tight this month. We got the hospital bill for my surgery and saw just exactly how not fantastic our insurance is. Ouch.

I found cocoa powder to be a difficult ingredient this month. Because I usually try to capture the essence, if you will, of the Cupcake Hero theme of the month, cocoa powder had me stumped. How do you bring out the chocolaty-ness of cocoa powder without having it somehow make you think of some other form of chocolate. Really I have no idea. So I started thinking of things traditionally made with cocoa powder and the best I could come up with was hot cocoa. Hmmmmm with marshmallows.

So that's what I did. But then I started thinking that just a plain chocolate cupcake, albeit one made with cocoa powder, might be considered just a bit boring. And one thing of learned from the judging styles of Laurie, Tempered Woman, Joy, and Lemon Tartlet is that they don't really appreciate boring. So I made mine have a subtle little zing. I added ginger and black pepper. Blame it on a care package that arrived while I was stuck on the couch that had a multitude of chocolate bars in it, but I was feeling frisky with chocolate flavorings. Then I baked one in one of my coffee mugs (to make sure the cup was oven safe). I would have baked all of them in coffee mugs except then this recipe would only make about 3 cupcakes and it was almost too much to eat the one cup of cocoa cake with marshmallow frosting. Almost. So I baked the rest in the cool party cups that Clara sent me from I heart Cuppycakes because of these cupcakes and this contest. See I have won other cupcake contests. Clara has some fantastic looking cupcakes on her blog. Go check them out too.

I thought they were totally delicious. Yeah, they're all gone. And the marshmallow frosting is the first frosting in a long time that I licked the bowl. I was downright sticky when they were done. Now if I could only remember where I put my brace (that I'm supposed to wear all the time) so that I can go to the gym. It's not lost. I just don't remember where I put it. I'll find it. Or I'm really in trouble.

Cocoa Cupcakes with Marshmallow Frosting
original recipe by me
makes regular cupcakes

3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder (preferably Askinosie cocoa powder)
3/8 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
large egg
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt, ginger and black pepper in a small bowl and set aside.

Cream butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add sugar and continue beating for about 3 minutes. Add vanilla and egg and continue beating until smooth and incorporated. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and beat until incorporated. Then add half the milk beating until smooth. Scrape down sides of the bowl. Add another 1/3 of the flour mixture followed by the remainder of the milk. Again scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the remaining flour mixture and beat for 30 seconds. Distribute the batter between 8 prepared cupcake cups. Bake for 22 minutes.

1 cup marshmallow fluff
4 Tbsp softened unsalted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar
1 Tbsp milk
pinch of salt

Mix together fluff, butter, extract, sugar, and salt. Add milk to create the right consistency frosting. You may need more or less depending on how thick you prefer your frosting. Do not leave out the salt in the frosting. I think it really makes the frosting go from good to great!

To Assemble:
Once cupcakes are cooled, pipe marshmallow frosting on top of cupcakes. Remember a little goes a long way with this particular frosting. Then dust lightly with cocoa powder (preferably Askinosie brand.)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Aadrak Lasoon Masoor Ki Dal

What? Yeah that means Gingered Red Lentils. Really fantastically good Gingered Red Lentils. They were on one hand soothing comfort food and on the other hand knocked my taste buds for a loop. Kind of like if you broke up with a boyfriend they would pat you on the head and tell you everything would be okay and then go and kick said ex-boyfriend's behind. They're really good.

I received this cookbook, 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer. Yeah, he's the same guy from the Betty Crocker Indian Home Cooking cookbook, which I have and also love. And he was recently featured in Cooking Light Magazine. (Yikes, now I'm sounding like a groupie!) I have to say, this cookbook was seriously intimidating for me. First, there were hardly any pictures so I didn't really know what things were supposed to look like. This really isn't too big of a problem, it just made picking the first recipe a little difficult for me. 660 is a lot of curries and it took a long time to single one out. Secondly, there are many ingredients that are hard to find in the middle of Nowhere, Ohio.

That said, I do highly recommend this cookbook. There's something for everyone really. It has many of the familiar Indian dishes, so you could ease into the Indian cooking experience. Mr. Iyer has clear and easy to follow directions, so even though there are no pictures you are able to tell that your dish came out looking correctly. Thirdly, there is a glossary of ingredients in the back, so that if you are like me and live far from the nearest Indian family, much less Indian grocery store you can figure out exactly what you need. And finally after the glossary in back, there is a list of online sources for spices and legumes as well as this link to finding an Indian grocery near you. Oh yeah, and he even has a website to discuss his cookbook with you.

Unfortunately there isn't an Indian grocery anywhere close to me (less than 50 miles anyway). So while I was at my mom's I went to a terrific Indian/Pakistani grocery store in Troy, MI called Subzi Mandi. The people were very friendly and helpful and I stocked up on loads of spices. The only minor glitch was I ended up with this bag of Takmaria (aka Tukmaria, aka Basil seeds) when I was hoping for Nigella seeds. They didn't know what Nigella seeds were. Consulting Mr. Iyer's cookbook, I found out that Nigella seeds are also known as black cumin seeds despite not really being cumin. If anyone knows what to do with Takmaria/Tukmaria seeds besides plant them and hope for basil please let me know!

Yeah, I am not sure if red lentils are hard to find out here because I got them in Michigan too. But I can tell you that I'm on the lookout for them here. I have enough to make this only one more time and I'm going to want to make it again and again. This is also my contribution to the annual Vegetables, Beautiful Vegetables 2008 event hosted by Eat The Right Stuff. This is a fun event celebrating National Vegetarian Week in the U.K. (May 19th through 25th) and even though I'm not a vegetarian this dish was tasty enough for me to stuff myself with completely on it's own last night and I'm sure vegetarians, especially British vegetarians will love it too. Incidentally, there are loads of vegetarian and vegan recipes in 660 curries, and I noticed at least one meat curry that gave the option of substitutions to make it vegetarian.

Gingered Red Lentils (Aadrak Lasoon Masoor Ki Dal)
Copied directly from 660 Curries

1 cup skinned split brown lentils (salmon-colored in this form, masoor dal), picked over for stones
1 small red onion, coarsely chopped (I used 1/2 a medium yellow onion)
4 large cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
4 lengthwise slices fresh ginger (each 2 inches long, 1 inch wide, and 1/8 inch thick), coarsely chopped
2 fresh green Thai, cayenne, or Serrano chiles, stems removed
2 tablespoons Ghee or canola oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 dried red Thai or cayenne chiles, stems removed
1 medium sized tomato, cored and finely chopped
1 teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems

1. Place the lentils in a medium size saucepan. Fill the pan halfway with water, and rinse the lentils by rubbing them between your fingertips. The water will become cloudy. Drain this water. Repeat three or four times, until the water remains relatively clear; drain. Now add 3 cups water and bring to a boil, uncovered, over medium heat. Skim off and discard any foam that forms on the surface. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover the pan, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the lentil are tender, 18 to 20 minutes.

2. While the lentils are cooking, combine the onion, garlic, and fresh chiles in a food processor. Mince the ingredients, using the puling action. (Letting the blades run constantly will yield a watery blend.)

3. Heat the ghee in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds and dried chiles, and cook until the chiles blacken and the seeds turn reddish brown, and smell nutty, 5 to 10 seconds. Immediately add the onion blend, reduce the heat to medium and stir fry until the mixture is light brown around the edges, 3 to 5 minutes.

4. Stir in the tomato, salt, and turmeric. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the tomato softens and the ghee starts to separate around the edges of the sauce, 3 to 6 minutes. Stir in the cilantro.

5. Stir the sauce into the cooked lentils. Ladle some of the lentil mixture into the skillet and stir it around to wash it out; add this to the lentils.

6. Cover the pan and simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the flavors mingle, about 5 minutes. Then serve.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Banana Wheat Germ Whole Wheat Muffins

So I'm finally back home. Ok, I got home 2 days ago, but I'm finally now getting around to posting. Thanks everyone for your nice comments on the last post. The Brain has installed a railing on the basement stairs (Yay Brain!) and although I find my heart racing everytime I decide I have to go down them to do laundry I'm managing them just fine. Sure, I do grip the handrail. And yes I've already bumped my head once. But I'm going up and down them. Sometimes I just really really need to be self sufficient.

So anyhow, I got back and the house and garage were clean and my dog came for a visit and a good time was had by all. There were however two lowly very ripe bananas sitting in the fruit bowl that I hadn't managed to eat before I left. Now banana bread is lovely, but really it just makes me think of cake. And I do love cake, but I just wanted something a bit healthier. So I found a recipe from Bon Appetit and made it healthier. I reduced the sugar and I added some whole wheat flour to get some added fiber. I still wanted them to be really flavorfull so I upped the vanilla too. And the verdict? These are really really good! They aren't sweet, but the banana flavor comes through as well as the nuttiness of the wheat germ. And in case you're wondering, I used the Sparks website and found that with my alterations these tasty little muffins come to 135 calories, 5.9 grams of fat, 3.8 grams of protein and 1.9 grams of fiber. That's 3 of those points that some people count. Not too shabby.

Banana Wheat Germ Whole Wheat Muffins
adapted from Bon Appetit

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup wheat flour
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup toasted wheat germ
1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (about 3 medium)
1/2 cup 1% milk
2 large eggs
1/3 cup grapeseed oil
1 Tbsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 16 muffin cups with paper liners. Sift flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl. Stir in wheat germ. Combine bananas, milk, eggs, oil and vanilla extract in large bowl and whisk to blend. Mix in dry ingredients just until combined. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups and bake for about 25 minutes or until muffins are golden brown and springy to the touch.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Curse my need to be usefull....

So Tuesday, I decided I was going to be useful. No more of this lying on the couch with the leg up in the air. I wanted a clean house. I need a clean house. I didn't even mind cleaning the house. So there I went straightening things up. Doing the moderate sized mountain of dishes from this month's Daring Baker Challenge. Changing the bedsheets (no simple task when you're not allowed to kneel). Doing the laundry.

Damn laundry. The washer and dryer are in the basement. Now perhaps you may remember my basement stairs. I would have to travel down these basement stairs to do my swiftly accumulating pile of laundry. And I did. The Brain has been wonderful enough to do laundry for the last 6 weeks and I figured it was time to give him a break. I can do stairs. I've been doing stairs like a normal person for about 2 weeks.

Finally the day started to draw to a close and the brace I have to wear started getting annoying (it does that). And I still had on my super grippy trail running shoes and I rarely wear shoes in the house. And really I was ready to head back to the couch even though the house wasn't completely clean. But I decided to get that last load of laundry first. So down the stairs I went. In an acrobatic leap.


See I'm 5 feet 8 inches tall. I'm taller than the average person was when the basement was dug out. Because of that, on the last step I have to duck my head or get smacked with the wall of the back of the pantry. SO I was walking down the stairs, being careful, like I'd been all day, and I thought to duck, which you'd be amazed how many times I forget, and it all went terribly wrong.

In my ducking I stopped paying attention to my feet and I sort of almost missed the last step. Half my foot got it though and my ankle went sideways. What followed was a panicked flailing of arms and flying laundry basket as I tried desperately to regain my balance or at least not fall on Wilma the Knee. Wilma is fine. My physical therapist checked her out good and she doesn't think I damaged my graft at all. whew. Thank You Jesus! I do have a sprained ankle, an enormous bruise on my behind, some wrenched muscles in my back, bruises on both my arms, a scrape on one arm, and a sprained wrist. We're thinking of decorating the basement in bubble wrap.

Not to worry though, I drove up to Michigan for the last opera of the season, La Traviatta. It was great. Especially the death scene. So now I'm at my mom's and my grandma has sent over a cane for me to use. And I hope you all don't mind, but I think I'll be taking just a little break while I'm up here to recuperate and let the bumps and bruises heal. Don't worry, I'm not damaged bad. I'll most likely be back on Monday.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Sauteed Escarole with Currants and Capers

Blame it on Rachel Ray. Usually when she cooks I'm about as familiar as I'd like to be with her ingredients. With the exception of escarole. The first couple times that she cooked with it I was curious. As she continued to cook with it I was intrigued. Finally I came across a recipe in one of my many many books, or it could have been a magazine clipping, or I could have seen it on TV and I thought, "I have to make that and find out what's so great about escarole!" Unfortunately planning ahead didn't happen and when I got to the store I had no idea how much to buy. So I threw one bunch into my cart and figured that if the recipe I wanted to make needed a different amount I'd adjust it.

But then I couldn't remember what recipe I wanted to try. Or where I found it. So here was this escarole sitting in my fridge and I was at a loss. So I tried to find a good recipe to try. There are tons. Now I was really at a loss. Apparently escarole can be eaten raw in salads, or simply sauteed as a side, it's pretty common in Italian soups too, and commonly it's paired with white beans. Being that neither the Brain nor I had tasted it before, I thought this simple, quick, easy to make Sauteed Escarole with Currants and Capers was probably a good idea.

It was delicious! Apparently escarole is closely related to endive and is part of the chicory family. It is high in Folate and Vitamin A too. The currants and capers in this recipe really set of the lovely mild bitterness of the escarole. I think it's a more flavorful green than spinach and yet it doesn't have the long cooking time of kale. We'll definitely be eating more escarole in our future.

Sauteed Escarole with Currants and Capers
adapted from Gourmet magazine

1 tablespoon pine nuts
1 head escarole, washed and cut into 1 inch pieces
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp dried currants
1 Tbsp drained capers

In a 12 inch nonstick skillet saute garlic in oil over moderately high heat, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add escarole in 3 batches, tossing each batch with tongs until wilted before adding next. Stir in currants, capers, and salt and pepper to taste and cook, covered over moderately low heat until escarole is tender, about 3 minutes. Remove lid and cook over moderately high heat until most of the liquid is evaporated, about 2 minutes more. Stir in nuts.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Grilled Jerk Pineapple

I hate fruit. Yes fruit. My nemesis. Well not actually my nemesis, but I'd pretty much eat most other food groups before fruit. But I'm trying to be healthier so I will make myself eat some fruit pretty much daily. But the real breakthrough is that I LIKED this fruit. Really, what's not to like about this fruit? It's grilled and marinaded and topped with ice cream. Yummy.
See while I was in Meijer's last week picking up an assortment of vegetables, they had a big pile of pineapples. This happens to me fairly frequently that I think a fruit is pretty and I pick it up and then I have no idea what to do with it. I actually had a pommelo go bad in my fruit bowl because I simply was clueless about it. So after about 5 days when the pineapple was starting to get really fragrant I knew my time was limited. Fortunately a helpful gentleman last year taught me how to pick a good, almost ripe pineapple. So I got on the trusty Internet and found this fabulous recipe from Health magazine on My Recipes.

It's spicy. It's a little boozy. It's tart. And it's creamy. I did manage to refrain from licking the plate this time, but I definitely thought about it. I've never had grilled fruit before so that was a new experience for me. The Brain even jumped in and grilled it for me. I varied from the recipe at one point because I had lots of marinade left over and so I reduced it in a small saucepan for a little bit. Overall it was a delicious, healthy, fairly elegant, and super easy dessert. I might pick up a pineapple again next week...

Grilled Jerk Pineapple
adapted from Health magazine

1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup dark rum
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground red pepper
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1/8 tsp ground cloves
8 (3/4 inch thick) slices fresh pineapple
Cooking spray
1 1/3 cups low fat ice cream*

1. Prepare grill.

2. Combine sugar, rum, thyme, cinnamon, salt, red pepper, ginger, allspice, and cloves in a large Ziploc bag. Add pineapple, and chill 1 hour, turning occasionally.

3. Remove pineapple from bag, reserving marinade. Place pineapple on a grill rack coated with cooking spray, and grill 4 minutes on each side or until thoroughly heated, brushing with reserved marinade.

4. Reduce marinade in small saucepan until thick and hot.

5. Arrange 2 slices on each of 4 dessert plates; top each with 1/3 cup of ice cream. Drizzle marinade over ice cream.

*Yeah, I had some Haagen Daz in the freezer. I'm not so big on low fat ice cream. If you're going to have ice cream then have the good stuff. The Brain had his without ice cream and proclaimed it some "Damn good pineapple".

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Russian Black Bread Rolls

Sundays have become bread baking days at our home. This morning, hungover from 2 1/2 beers, I again decided to let my bread machine do the kneading. How did I get hung over from 2 1/2 beers? I'm a total lightweight. That and the Brain and I were at a benefit and the parish priests were walking around in togas. It was quite an event. So this morning, I was feeling a little sluggish and lazy. Hooray for the bread machine!

These rolls turned out delicious. They are dark and heady and slightly sour in the way that rye breads get. I took the dough out of the bread machine and shaped it into 12 little balls. At some point I did pretend to channel Julia and that delicious French bread. But that was just me being silly. I let them rise for another 30 minutes while the oven preheated. While they were baking they filled the kitchen with a delicious meaty aroma. I have to admit also that I took the very first roll out of the oven and split it open and slathered it with butter and ate it on the spot. I'd like to say they'd be delicious to make a tuna fish sandwich out of, or to sop up juices from a hearty stew (because it is yet again cold and raining here), but frankly I'm not sure there will be any leftovers tomorrow.

Russian Black Bread Rolls
adapted from The All New Ultimate Bread Machine Cookbook

2/3 cup water
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 Tbsp dark molasses
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp caraway seeds
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1 1/2 tsp instant coffee granules
4 tsp unsweetened cocoa
2 cups bread flour
1 cup rye flour
1 package (2 1/4 tsp ) active dry yeast

Add ingredients into the bread machine according to your manufacturer's directions and set the bread machine to the dough setting (or knead by hand). Once the dough is ready, split into 12 equal pieces and form pieces into balls. Let rise for 30 minutes while oven is preheating at 350°. Once risen, spritz the rolls with water to encourage a nice crust. Then using a sharp knife cut a slit in the top of each roll. Bake for about 17 minutes or until when tapped the bottoms sound thumpy.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Crack Beans

So Rosie over at Rosie Bakes a Peace of Cake and Pixie at You Say Tomato are having this Putting Up event. I believe I've already mentioned it and provided my family's favorite Chili Sauce recipe. I don't normally enter twice into a food blogging event. In fact, there's a whole bunch of really cool food events that I don't participate in. Usually because I'm not terribly creative sometimes, or because I just don't have the time, or because if I made that many baked goods in one month I may need Richard Simmons and a forklift to come rescue me. But this event is different. Not only are my Crack Beans already made and canned. Last summer. But I hear there's some interest in the recipe.

I love these beans. I snack on them. I know my sister Super G polished off a whole jar with one friend in one sitting. They are addictive and a little spicy. They are the kind of pickly bean that my friend Bethany's family used to make when we were wee tiny little children. Well kindergarteners anyway. She's gone on to become important and founding foundations and everything. So I will assume that regular exposure to these in childhood leads to very intelligent, hard working, and caring adults. Either that or she was always like that. I think it's a marvelous excuse to have these beans on hand anyway.

The beans are relatively simple to make, in that it's your standard prepping of the jars followed by stuffing them prettily and pouring the syrup on top. Simple yet hugely gratifying. And have I mentioned they're addictive? That's why they're called Crack Beans. They're originally called Patti's Dilly Beans from The Food Lover's Guide to Canning (excellent book), but that's a pretty silly thing to call them when I have no idea who Patti is and when asked I'd probably make something up about her anyway. I'm not sure what it's like to be addicted to Crack, but I'm assuming that if it's anything like these beans it could become a real drug problem. Perhaps I should have named them Meth Beans (I knew a meth-head once), but I wouldn't want people to think there's a risk of the kitchen exploding.

Crack Beans
yields 4 pints

2 pounds green beans
2 cups water
2 cups distilled white vinegar
3 Tbsp salt
4 sprigs fresh dill
4 garlic cloves, peeled
4 tsp red pepper flakes

Snap the stems from the beans. Then cut the beans so that they are 3/4 inch shorter than the pint jars. Place 1 sprig of dill, 1 garlic clove, and 1 tsp of red pepper flakes in the bottom of each jar. Fill the jars with beans such that the beans are standing straight up. Set aside.

Combine the water, vinegar and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Ladle the boiling mixture into the jars and seal with lid and ring. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Sausage with Cabbage and Apples

It is a chilly rainy day. I don't think the sun poked through at all. Temperatures have dropped into the 40s. This of course is because my garden is planted. And so it begins. From now until probably early September, I will anxiously watch the weather channel. I will watch overnight lows like a hawk. I will suddenly become very interested in where low pressure systems move as well as likelihoods of rain or severe weather. I will worry about heat waves and droughts and floods. I will actively pray for the harvest when they mention it in church. Yes, we pray heartily for farmers here. I had to drive down to the middle of the next county for a meeting today and I swear there was very little but farmland between here and there.

I know I'm not a farmer. I have a small plot of a garden that I tend to overplant. It's actually, I think, a geometric work of art that I fit so many varieties of vegetables in such a tiny space. I don't have acreage. I have a 22x16 foot rectangle. But I love it. And I nurture it. And I get ridiculous pleasure from weeding and harvesting. Blame it on my parents. I was born in a city. I lived in other big cities. Chicago. Kansas City. Indianapolis. These are difficult places to have a garden. And now I find myself singing, "Give me land, lots of land, and the starry skies above. Don't fence me in!" At the top of my lungs. While driving by farms. I really am a dork.

But I was a chilly dork today. And hungry. So I sliced up an apple and half a cabbage and a package of smoked sausage and made myself a delicious, and filling dinner. Now the Brain and I are going to settle in to watch the Cav's game. I think I might close the windows first though.

Sausage with Cabbage and Apples

1 1lb package of smoked sausage
1 half of a small head of cabbage shredded
1 Granny Smith apple thinly sliced
1/4 cup apple juice
2 Tbsp cider vinegar

Cut the smoked sausage into 2 inch pieces and cook them for about 4 minutes in a nonstick skillet to brown. Add cabbage, apple and juice to skillet and toss. Cook until cabbage is tender, but not mushy and sausage is heated through. Add vinegar to skillet and cook for 1 minute. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Orange Roasted Carrots with Honey, a chunk of meat, and some dirt

Today, with the help of my migrant farm workers (my mom and stepdad) the garden has been planted. I would have taken a photo, but for the most part it's merely a slab of dirt. But in a couple months I will have eggplant, tomatoes, bell peppers, jalapenos, cucumbers, kohlrabi, beets, beans, radishes, turnips, cabbage, broccoli, onions, and an assortment of squashes (zucchini, yellow, and acorn). But like I said, for now it's a slab of dirt. They also weeded and planted in my herb garden. My stepdad pruned one of my rosebushes and promised that I would have bigger more vibrant roses because of it. My little family of Robin Red Breasts looked on the whole time. So far I count 3 babies. They're only a couple days old.

My mom and stepdad are Master Gardeners. So having them spend the day meant a day spent outside enjoying the warm temperatures and the sunshine. They complimented my tulips out front and told me that if the tree bush that I have growing there is an elderberry, that the berries would then be edible. Now I just have to go about finding out what exactly an Elderberry is supposed to look like.

My mom even pulled up most of the dandelions in the yard and pointed out a virulent weed (I forgot the name, but the phrase "virulent weed" had me pulling weeds as best I could!) and she helped me pull all of it from under the Maple. So I made them a batch of chocolate chip cookies to snack on and tried not to be completely annoying while I watched them work. Gardening is much more fun when you can be involved. I also made them dinner. Because I know that I have some vegetarian readers, I didn't take any photos of the chunk of meat that I served them. It was a 2 1/2 pound eye of round roast that I got at Costco on the very cheap. I also prepared it from the recipe from this cookbook on page 417. It was FABULOUS!

What I will tell you about is the Orange-Roasted Baby Carrots with Honey. They may have completely charcoaled the pan I roasted them in, but they were really really good. My mom kept eating them and the recipe went home with them in the stack of 2007 Bon Appetit magazines. The orange wasn't overpowering at all. It was like a little kiss of it. And the honey enhanced the carrots natural sweetness so I couldn't really tell it was there either. It was like a whole lot of really good pieces making an even better whole. Even if my carrots weren't baby. They were the baby cut mini kind Ala Costco again. I love that store.

Orange-Roasted Carrots with Honey

1 1/2 pounds peeled baby carrots
2 Tbsp olive oil
zest of one orange
juice of one orange
1 1/2 Tbsp honey

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Arrange carrots in single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and orange peel; sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss. Pour orange juice over; cover tightly with foil. Roast until crisp tender, about 10 minutes. Remove foil. Increase temperature to 450 degrees F. Drizzle honey over carrots. Roast uncovered until carrots are tender and browned in spots, about 10 minutes longer. Drizzle lightly with additional olive oil. Sprinkle with salt.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Beet Risotto

One of the things I've been doing to occupy my time during my massive amounts of free time, has been to go through my food magazines that I acquired last year. I know that many people out there have this problem. Cooking Light is easy enough because they send me a cookbook in January that has all the recipes from the previous year in it. So I pack up my old magazines and give them to my stepdad. Bon Appetit is a little more complicated. But because I have the whole year I've offered them to both my stepdad and my sister Super G and I'm letting the two of them battle out who wants them. All those recipes are on epicurious anyway. The remaining magazines pose more of a problem. There's several Rachel Ray magazines and some Eating Well magazines and maybe some Martha Stewart like little Everyday Food magazines.

So my process has been to tear out the recipes that look really good to me and then I file them in a expandable file by recipe type. It's all very anal and silly, but I'm having the small problem that this file is starting to bulge. It occurs to me that I never cook these recipes that get stuffed into the expanding file. Well tonight at dinner I changed it all up. I cooked from a recipe that I found in a Rachel Ray magazine. kinda sorta. See her recipe was for Beet Risotto with Roasted Asparagus and Ricotta Salata. I had no asparagus and no Ricotta Salata. I'm pretty sure Ricotta Salata would be considered a hard to find ingredient out here. But I did have some goat cheese. So I made Beet Risotto with crumbled goat cheese. Rachel Ray may be super peppy and perky and far cuter than I could hope to be, but she also seems to be pretty easy going and I'm sure she wouldn't mind that I'm changing it all up on her.

It was delicious. Even the Brain, who doesn't "care for beets" ate two helpings. It was rich and creamy without any extra butter or Parmesan cheese. The color is beautiful. And it's not overly sweet like many beet dishes can be. Totally "delish"!

Beet Risotto
very loosely based on a recipe by Rachel Ray

3 Tbsp EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
6 cups vegetable or chicken broth, kept simmering
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
4 baby red beets, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1 small yellow onion chopped
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry red wine
salt and fresh ground pepper
4 oz. crumbled fresh goat cheese

Heat olive oil in large skillet or medium dutch oven over medium heat. Stir in the rice to coat with the oil, and toast for 2 minutes. Add the beets, onion, and garlic and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Pour in the wine and cook until absorbed into the rice, then begin adding the broth by ladelfulls (about 1 cup at a time) stirring with each addition, until the rice is cooked, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Crumble goat cheese on top.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Ranch Dressing

It would have to be Spring that it's been raining all day and we just didn't want something hot and warming for dinner. Actually for a moment, the skies were blue and the leaves on the trees and the new wheat in the fields were all sparkly and washed clean. The Brain and I on our quarterly trip back from Costco, with a car full of meat, took a different way home and discovered several good roads to ride my bicycle on. If only I was allowed on my bicycle. But I will be allowed back on it eventually and until then I just have to remember where those roads were. Nice rolling roads with little traffic.

So yeah, despite the recurring rain, the Brain wanted a salad for dinner. That worked out nicely with my new cookbook purchase of The New Best Recipe Cookbook from the editors of Cook's Illustrated. To make a long story short, the Brain and I have a deal that when he spends a specified amount of money on fast food I get to buy a book (because I don't eat fast food). It came down to this cookbook, a $65 book that is more like an encyclopedia of vegetables that I know I can check out at the library, and the Martha Stewart Living Cookbooks. I first heard of this cookbook from Deborah over at Taste and Tell. It was her cookbook of the month a couple months ago and I kept drooling over her selections. I have to say there's a ton of information about every recipe and the cookbook details the different trials and errors in making each recipe. It's a great cookbook for nerds like me! I knew that I had some buttermilk to use up so I made the Ranch dressing recipe. Totally delicious! It was a little chunky though, I guess I could have minced my vegetables a little smaller.

It was terrific on a nice Romaine salad with crumbled bacon, hard boiled eggs, bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, and grilled chicken thighs. Tasty.

Ranch Dressing
adapted from the New Best Recipe

1/2 small garlic clove minced to a paste with 1/4 tsp salt
1/4 small red bell pepper, minced
1/4 small onion, minced
1 medium scallion, white and green parts, minced
1 1/2 tsp minced fresh parsley leaves
1 1/2 tsp minced fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 tsp juice from 1 small lemon
pinch of fresh cracked black pepper
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 Tbsp sour cream

Mix the garlic paste , bell pepper, scallion, onion, parsley, cilantro, lemon juice, and black pepper in a medium bowl. Add the buttermilk, mayonnaise, and sour cream and whisk until smooth. (The dressing can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.)

Friday, May 2, 2008

Grilled Zucchini and Bell Pepper Couscous

One of the best things about living in a tiny town in the middle of North Central Ohio is that surrounding the town are even smaller towns, like the kind with one stoplight, and a whole lot of farmland. There is something nice about seeing acres of corn and wheat and even soybeans starting to grow. We're not there yet, but today was a sort sopping wet day where it rained on and off and back on again. During one of those breaks from the rain, as I was driving back from going grocery shopping at Meijers with a car load full of vegetables (seriously I went overboard again), I decided to drive with my window down. There is nothing as great as the smell of fresh wet dirt. It's the smell of possibility.

Last night, however, it was not raining. It was actually fairly hot. And I decided that we wouldn't be cooking inside. Perhaps I should explain that our tiny little house holds some heat, so the hotter the day, the hotter the night. So the Brain came home at just the right moment. I had the vegetables cut up and the pork chops seasoned. I think it made his day that I just handed him some tongs and the big lighter.

The vegetables were for this delicious Grilled Zucchini and Bell Pepper Couscous. Maybe I'm just lucky that I have a husband who can perfectly grill things, but the chopped up zucchini and red bell pepper were charred just right and softened just enough. I made the couscous. I love how easy couscous is and that it's ready within 5 minutes of the boiling liquid. Although I have to say, I'm not sure how Rachel Ray makes mashing garlic and salt look so easy. That was the hardest part of this whole recipe!

Oh and because we're a happy little family of 2 we naturally had leftovers. Those leftovers made and excellent lunch with some canned garbanzo beans and reheated for a minute in the microwave. I'm glad there's more leftover's for lunch tomorrow!

Grilled Zucchini and Bell Pepper Couscous
adapted from Gourmet

4 small zucchini (about 1 pound)
1 small red pepper
1 tsp olive oil
2 small garlic cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 cup chicken broth
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup couscous

Chop the zucchini and red pepper into chunks about 1 inch in size. Toss the vegetables in the oil and place in grill basket. Grill over medium heat until zucchini and red pepper are a little charred, but still crisp tender.

Mince garlic and mash to a paste with salt.

In a dry medium saucepan toast cumin seeds over moderately low heat, swirling pan occasionally, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add broth and water and bring to a boil. Add couscous and immediately cover pan. Remove pan from heat and let couscous stand 5 minutes. With a fork fluff couscous and in a bowl toss with vegetables, garlic paste, and salt to taste.