Sunday, April 13, 2014

Pear Ginger Almond Muffins

A visitation from my mother nowadays nearly always includes a little plastic shopping bag of at least one or two pantry or sundry items that aren't necessary--I live across from a market, but nevertheless, items I probably don't have. Extra sponges! A ripening banana! Half a bag of a whole grain! A coconut water! Often, a torn out magazine or newspaper article of some relevance to my life is thrown in, too. Oh and she once gave me that notebook in the above photo which I at first scoffed at. I know, it's pretty, what was I thinking. I'm just usually more of a minimal Moleskin girl. But I've actually come to love the widened of pages of this particular journal. They make you write bigger.

I saw her briefly last week and in addition to the usual banana in the bag, there were 2 pears, which I almost didn't take. They were ripe, very. If eaten raw they would have had to be eaten immediately or become a wet mess. But I delayed, thinking to bake. Ironically though a few whole grain muffin recipes I've tagged with pears called for a firmer pear for grating. So I chopped and semi dehydrated one of the pears like in this recipe and then threw them into this recent batter in place of the raspberries. They were very nice. And the other pear? It met its fate with fresh ginger, a saucepan and a little gem of a recipe from the Food52 community, and that's what I'm here to talk about today.

The recipe comes from a woman named Mrs. T, and she adapted it from a recipe for applesauce muffins, replacing the applesauce with a quick homemade stovetop pear sauce infused with some fresh ginger. That gets stirred into a melted butter based batter, replacing the need for any yogurt or milk which is a nice change. The flour mix is infused with ground ginger and a crunchy nut and sugar mix sprinkled with a little more ground ginger gets dropped across the tops. Into the oven they go. And they are delicious. Light and tender, warmed by ginger, with smooth little pear pockets throughout, and crunchy nuts on top. Mrs. T suggests enjoying the muffins cooled down a bit with coffee preferably on your porch, maybe with a lake view or in a sunny spot in your kitchen. And that's just what we did. I think even heard a seagull outside the cracked kitchen window.

Pear ginger almond muffins

Makes 5 standard

Notes: you can find the original recipe here. I made a few changes. I halved the whole thing, I used toasted slivered almonds instead of walnuts, and used only a few tablespoons of the nuts instead of the larger amount she called for, and I swapped in a bit of whole wheat pastry flour for some of the all purpose. I also threw in a teensy dash of vanilla but that's optional. The ginger is the star here. And another thing! Do this: Make the pear ginger sauce a day or even two days before so it's all ready when you want to make the muffins and the overripe pear is off your mind. It can be kept in the fridge. To save time I also mixed my dry ingredients the night before and left them in a covered bowl. It was a cinch to thus mix the batter while the oven heated. 

1/2 c /120 grams pear ginger sauce**
1/4 tsp vanilla
75 grams butter ~ 1/3 cup
1 egg
2.5 Tbsp/ 32 grams natural cane sugar + 1 scant Tbsp for topping

1/2 c unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 c whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger + 1/4 tsp for topping
3 Tbs slivered almonds, lightly toasted

Method: turn the oven to 400 rack in center. Melt the butter in a large saucepan swirling until just melted. Remove from heat and pour into a little bowl to cool. Take a pastry brush and dip lightly into the already melted butter to grease 5 muffin wells. Set aside. 

In a small bowl mix 1/4 tsp ground ginger, half the nuts and the scant 1 T sugar (I used Sugar in the Raw for that)

Mix up your flours, baking powder and soda, 1/2 tsp ginger, salt if your haven't done so, in a medium bowl. Whisk to fluff and combine. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk csugar and egg. Add vanilla. Add melted butter and whisk well to volumize and smooth. Stir in pear sauce. In 2 or 3 additions, fold flour mix into wet mix gently, then stir in half the almonds. Evenly divide batter in muffin cups, top evenly with nut-sugar topping.

Bake about 20 minutes. The tops will be golden and a skewer come out clean.

Cool in the pan 5 mins, then remove and continue to cool on rack. Serve with a little honey and Irish butter stirred together. Enjoy!

**Pear Sauce
1 large ripe pear (Bartlett or similar), peeled, cored and diced. Should yield about 1 cup
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp grated ginger (I keep my peeled ginger root in the freezer and grate it with a microplane when I need it, which tends to make the gratings a little fluffy. So if you’re using fresh, unfrozen ginger, you might want a little less)
  1. Heat butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. When butter is melted and frothy add pears, tossing with a wooden spoon to coat.
  2. Add sugar, stirring to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low.
  3. Add grated ginger and cook over low heat for about 15 or minutes, until pears are soft and most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat and allow to cool for at least 15-20 minutes. Store in fridge a day or two before using if desired. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Salads and Oatmeal

Once, either in my late teens or early 20s, on a trip driving through Maine with my family, we stopped at a country market, complex or outlet of a sort that looked exactly how I'd imagined a Maine strip mall might look like: i.e., not like a northern New Jersey one. A bit more...rustic, shall we say. 

Anyway, as sometimes occurs at malls and complexes, there was an event/giveaway happening and in another fluke of coincidence that also happened to be appropriately Maine-esque: the person of interest was Burt of Burt's Bees! And yes, he looked exactly like the drawing of his face on the products in his line. I noticed his skin was impeccable, like a child's and he was quite soft spoken and sedate in energy. He could have been 45 or 85; it was hard to tell. Naturally, I told him I buy his products, eagerly took some of the samples and as any beauty-conscious girl would do, got to asking him for skin advice beyond Seventeen magazine, which naturally led to, so, what do you eat? 

"Mostly salads and oatmeal," he said calmly. 

I think I just nodded, happy he didn't say avoid chocolate, and this and this, but I vividly remember the episode as a key moment of health advice I've received. Though my own needs, trials and errors have clearly rounded out my diet to include a lot more than salads and oatmeal, like, um chocolate, butter, coffee, wine, good pizza and protein to say the least, the purity of salads and oatmeal is rather undeniable. The message was: clean, simple, whole. It shouldn't be too much more complicated.

Let's talk about oatmeal for a second. It wasn't until yesterday that my preference for oats in granola and granola bar form was challenged by a humble bowl of toasted, cooked oatmeal. Perhaps you've already heard about it. Megan Gordon's recipe from her book has swept the foodie scene as makeover of the season. Oats done in this hybrid technique of a stove-top toast in a bit of butter followed by an 8 minute steam in a simmered liquid off the heat, yields cooked, separated grains and cancels out everything I didn't much care for in cooked oatmeal.  Say goodbye to soupy well-done oats and hello to a tender cereal that is simply just-cooked.  Top with your fixings and you may be a little wowed. Also, the cereal isn't super hot, but rather, just warm, so you can actually taste your toasted oats. I followed Melissa's version.

Another piece of health and what's more, sanity, advice I follow is from chef Tamar Adler: the magic of jar salads. No, not the mason jar layering kind, though that is pretty genius, but the concept: instead of spending a ton of time chopping and cooking on command or getting so bogged down by that endless business that you resort to unnecessarily buying everything prepared, let what you've already done guide you. 

Just make sure you have done something

The assumption is you've taken some shortcuts and been keeping things in jars. You've roasted a pepper, perhaps, or you've quick-pickled some onions, or you've saved last nights protein. You don't need a lot of variety here, confetti salads are kinda distracting, so you just need a block or two. We are going for humility with textural variance with a dose of crunch and heartiness. 

Take out anything in your jars a little before you want to eat, and put them on the counter to temper a bit. For this one I used chickpeas I had stored with a little garlic, salt oil and lemon, and I cheated, they were originally from a can, the pickled onions, leftover chicken breast I'd cooked and shredded, and round it out with a few raw stragglers: a handful greens, herbs, shavings of carrot, and a big lump of avocado. Grate a little cheese on too if you're feeling fancy. Bonus if you have some salad dressing made, but I don't always, so lemon, oil and Maldon also do the trick. Then, just assemble it with your hands (I'm sure Burt would approve) and plate it.

Farmer's Salad with Chicken 

Note: this salad is quite customizable to what you have...

Big handful greens, baby spinach, arugula, herb snips (I used chives)
Shaved raw carrot (or celery, scallion)
A portion of a roasted vegetable (I used asparagus)
An avocado half or third, some olives or both
Few shavings Parmesan
Pickled onions
Lemon, olive oil, salt or a dressing.

See you soon with a new sweet in tow, xoxo MN

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Grain Free Triple Chocolate Muffins

Attention chocolate lovers who may or may not enjoy gluten and grain-free fare once in a while or all the time: there's a muffin you need to know about and I'm here to re-emphasize this. Though I didn't come up with it myself, they are Sara from Vanilla Bean's creation, I made one or two tiny additions, and I want to broadcast that we love these muffins. The verdict is, yes you can have a chocolate muffin for breakfast or a snack and not have it be a sugar bomb. You will be choco-satisfied and also feel the wholesomeness and antioxidant cacao power (if there is such a thing) all in the package of a portable muffin. Plus there's a bit of coffee in there so they are totally breakfast fair game.

The recipe for the Triple chocolate espresso almond muffins can be found at Sara's blog linked above.  You've got your usual suspects of almond flour and honey for that wholesomeness, but she goes and kicks it up a notch by adding some cocoa powder, takes out an egg and adds a bit of strong cold coffee and baking powder and sprinkles the tops with cocoa nibs and raw sugar. Oh are they good. And excellent the next day toasted for a minute with a little honey on top.

I just made a few changes to her game plan: I greased rather than lined my pan, and I made them a bit bigger and got exactly 6 instead of 9, (and that wasn't a bad thing), thus my bake time was around 20-23 mins, two, I mixed all the dry together (baking soda and powder with flour) instead of separating them as I didn't find it necessary last time I made these (yes this is the 2nd time) three, for the chopped chocolate part, I used about a third of a Chocolove salted almond dark bar because that is what I had around, and loved the little almond shards in contrast with the almond flour. And four, I went ahead and added a teaspoon of natural cane sugar to the batter in addition to the honey. 

That's all for today folks. Xoxo MN

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Salted Flourless Peanut Butter, Milk Chocolate + Peanut Cookies

If I have learned anything about making cookies this year (besides the wonders of freezing dough), it's that the difference is in the details. In both technique and ingredients. A peanut butter cookie is not a peanut butter cookie is not a peanut butter cookie. Ok, didn't mean to get all Buddha on you. It's just cookies after all...or is it?

A few months ago I shared a recipe for flourless almond butter chocolate chunk cookies, perfect for lazy days, a formula where nut butter acts as both flour and fat and produces a pretty great cookie. 

Well, needless to say, there's the peanut butter option, too, which is widely popular over the Internet. In fact I almost asked myself why bother posting about it? Well because they are so good and so hassle-less and based on the trends over on Pinterest, we can never run out of time-saving, one-bowl, 20-minute activities to share.

For these flourless cookies, I started from the chocolatier Michael Recchiuti's recipe. Which is the best, I think. Going back to those details, he adds both chopped peanuts and chopped chocolate. Now I'm mostly a dark chocolate girl but when I started putting good milk chocolate in my favorite floured peanut butter cookie recipe, I decided to groove in that direction from now on. So to tap into Michael's flavor bomb without buying a bag of peanuts, I opted to use one of my favorite Chocolove bars, the Salted Peanut + Milk Chocolate, imagining that would create the whole Reeses-cup-smashed-into-a-cookie effect with some added crunch for textural difference from the nuts, as Michael intended. Again, details. And you can probably guess that the tiny chunks of  bar swirled into that peanut butter dough pretty much took it up a few good notches. Because even if you're going low maintenance on the whole, you might as well put on a few killer accessories.

I also like this recipe because of the proportions. There is a little less baking soda and sugar than the standard formula out there, and I have to imagine that makes the difference. When someone takes a bite and says, "these are flourless?"...that's what you want. 

It is also worth mentioning that I nearly always divide the original recipe by four, and I have recently begun freezing the un-baked balls. So whenever we want these, which can be decided very shortly before eating them, I make a quarter batch of dough, bake off three and freeze the other three. I usually bake the frozen ones off within a few days though, so I don't know if they store longer. Quality control, people. 

Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies with Peanuts + Milk Chocolate

Adapted from Recchiuti

Note: You can use all granulated sugar, but I went for a mix. The entire recipe will yield 24. I nearly never make that much. All the quantities are easily halved or quartered, just use half or a quarter of the bar.

1 cup (240 grams) organic unsalted peanut butter
1/2 cup (~ 95 grams) granulated cane sugar
1/4 cup (~ 40 grams) light brown sugar
1 large egg (50 grams), slightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1 Chocolove Salted Peanut bar, chopped
Flakey salt such as Maldon to finish.

Oven to 350. Line a sheet with parchment. In a bowl, stir together peanut butter, sugars, baking soda, salt and egg, until combined. Drop in the chopped chocolate and stir until just worked in. Don't worry if the dough seems wet. Scrape the dough onto some plastic wrap. (optional but recommended: lightly form into a sausage and pop into fridge for a half hour or so)

Pinch off tsp size balls, each around 21 grams, and place with a little room apart on the sheet. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven, rotating the pan 180 degrees halfway through the baking time, until lightly golden and spread to a puffy mound, about 12-14 minutes. Sprinkle with a few grains salt. Let cool on the sheet 5 minutes then on a rack completely.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Martha's (pimped) gluten free oatmeal cookies

Biting into this cookie, I heard a sing-song-y voice in my head go, "my oh gee, I can't believe it's gluten free!" 

It wasn't that I doubted the batter... littered with oats, toasted walnuts, dark chocolate, brown sugar, Irish butter, vanilla and cocoa nibs...but often we forget that we don't always need the wheat flour for structure. And this was a confirmation that we need not forget that.

Ah, Martha. I could just see you in your apron responding with a smile and a wink, wooden spoon in hand, "Yep, that's right, honey, it's gluten free."

At her best, Martha is always trying to make it easier for you. The flour and the oats in this oatmeal cookie come from the same source; the oats themselves, divided. Well you can guess I was happy about that. A quick measure and a whiz in a grinder of just under half of them gives you the flour that binds here. But I suspect the little pinch of cornstarch also helps.

I found the texture wonderful. Slightly crisp on the outside, with some chew in the center and crunch from the nuts. Puddles of deep dark chocolate. I even froze some of the dough in scoops and baked it in the days after I had made it. Baked from frozen, they were even a little thicker than when made from room temp dough. Either way, you have a good number on your hands here, but I do like that the cold dough plumped these a bit. 

If you want to try a gluten-free cookie recipe but want to avoid the chemistry and cost of multiple flours and unfamiliar binders, try this one. I'd almost call it foolproof....but I always advise paying attention during baking. And hey, since it's all about the oats here, that means it can be breakfast, too, right? 

Well I personally prefer them to hold me over during a long afternoon, preferably with a long auburn-colored coffee.  

Martha's (pimped) gluten-free oatmeal cookies
Adapted from Martha

Notes: below amounts are halved from the original recipe, and I halved it even once more, to get about 12, but next time would make this amount and keep the dough balls on hand to bake for another week or two.

  • 2 1/4 cups gluten-free old-fashioned oats, divided
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon gluten-free baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  •        Heaped  1/4 c Walnuts, toasted and chopped
       Heaped 1/4 c Dark chocolate, chopped  and 1 Tbsp Cocoa nibs

Oven to 350

Grind about 1 scant cup of the oats until fine, to make the oat flour. A food processor or coffee grinder will do the trick. Whisk oat flour, cornstarch, cinnamon, baking powder and set aside.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 2 mins, then add egg and vanilla, scrape down.

With mixer on low add the flour mix two additions, mixing until just combined, then gently add the rest of the oats and chocolate and nuts, and mix low for a few seconds until the dough just comes together. 

Now scrape the dough into a mass and use a 2 T scoop to form balls. Either bake right away or flash freeze and store in a bag. Bake on a parchment lined sheet, spacing 2 inches apart, for 15-17 minutes, cool on pan 2 mins, then on a rack completely

I think they are best the day made, after cooled amply, which is why freezing raw is good. You may need to add a minute to bake time. Just set the balls on the sheet while the oven preheats.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Brown butter raspberry rye muffins with cacao nibs

Look, just say the title of this post a few times and you'll know what I mean. I have a good thing on my hands here.

I may be sitting in my kitchen, listening to a slightly ABC Family teen-show sounding 'favorite coffeehouse' mix on Spotify this morning, but I am certainly not envious of being at an actual coffee shop. I've got beans from our favorite joint down the road, and, these muffins.

Brown butter raspberry rye muffins with cacao nibs. I am swooning. Perfectly sweet, just a tad alternative, and the kind of thing that came together in no time, baking up while I made the bed, washed my face and ate two grapefruit slices. I have my man's appetite to thank that they happened. See, I'd made a little batch of these almond flour and chocolate muffin beauties yesterday with the intention of saving two for breakfast but lo and behold only one remained in the tin this morning. And it was certainly Ed's on-the-go dibs.

That was fine. Alone, I was about to try the famous oatmeal going around the blogosphere, when I heard an alliteration of a muffin flavor in my head. Raspberry rye cacao...raspberry rye cacao.

Bakers tend to have a little obsessive thing about getting to enjoy the first muffin just when it's cool enough. It's a small sacrifice of fiddling around first thing in the a.m., for a sensory reward. So if I can help it, I try to avoid making anything but pumpkin, banana and bran muffins/breads which age well, in advance and save the more delicate berry stuff for the day of.

A few Saturdays ago, I really wanted to make a simple, rye-based muffin and I hoped for inspiration from Kim Boyce. She has one in the book, but it involves banana and cooked oats--not what I was after, so I hunted a bit...and I didn't find much! I mean, I was surprised. Then I got a little more stalkerish (well not really, it's easy to find) and found a recipe in the Oregon Live that Kim had contributed, for blueberry rye coffeecake muffins. Bing-go. So I made those a Saturday or two ago, as I showed you. After, though, I realized I could have fussed less.

So I gave it my own spin. The base recipe of brown butter, yogurt and half rye flour would be kept, but I would nix the chopping of nuts in the a.m., cinch the sugar a little, and use up the handful of raspberries I had. Then a shower of cocoa nibs and brown sugar. This was much quicker, and using less berries helped them puff a little more. I also altered the temp a bit to 375 for the first 10 minutes, then about 355 for the last 15. Every other well filled, they popped out of the amply-buttered tin, then I let them cool on their sides a la Kim for an un-soggy bottom. I tell you, this woman has taught me so much.

And no, the cacao nibs are not optional...well, I suppose, if I were out of nibs, I'd try shaving some bittersweet dark chocolate over the tops with the raw sugar with potentially good results. I've done that before. But really, don't deprive yourself of the nibs, and get a good brand. You'll start dreaming of all kinds of things to throw them into. When cooled, I coaxed them into the freezer double wrapped. I have a feeling next week, they will make mornings a little more delightful.

Brown butter raspberry rye muffins with cacao nibs
Adapted from Oregon Live
Makes 5

Notes: Don't have raspberries? I've also tried this with 1 oz chopped dark chocolate and chopped oven-dried pear, 1 tsp orange zest and a squeeze of it's juice in addition to the nibs.

1/2 cup / 57 grams rye flour
1/2 cup / 63 grams all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon  
2 ounces (55 grams/1/2 a stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup /120 ml whole milk plain yogurt (I was low, so I used about 75% yogurt and 25% buttermilk/ sour cream mixed to equal 120 ml- worked fine)
1/2 an egg, beaten (25 grams or 1 oz)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1/4 cup raspberries, sliced in half if large
1 T/15 g cacao nibs
2 tsp coarse sugar and/or brown sugar

Place the oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

First  brown the butter. Cut in a few pieces and add them to the pan. Allow the butter to melt, stirring occasionally, until the foam has subsided and the milk solids have dropped to the bottom of the pan and browned (don’t let them get too dark). Remove from heat and immediately pour browned butter, including flecks, into a heat-proof bowl to stop the cooking.

Put your raspberries, sliced if large, in the freezer for a few minutes, to help them stay intact. Measure your nibs and sprinkling sugar.

In a large bowl, stir together the rye flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon.

Whisk yogurt, egg and vanilla extract together, then add the cooled butter to it. Add the wet ingredients to the bowl of dry ingredients and gently stir to just combine. Add in a just a few raspberry pieces and sprinkle of nibs, reserving the majority. Of both.

Scoop the batter into greased muffin pans two-thirds of the way full. Alternate filling every other space to ensure the muffins bake evenly. Drop a few berries among each muffins, aiming for the sides not the center and sprinkle the nibs/sugar generously over the top.

Bake for about 25 minutes. 10 minutes at 375, and lower the temp to 355 for 15 more minutes, or until golden brown and the tops spring back when lightly touched and a skewer comes out almost totally clean.

Let the muffins cool slightly in the tin, then pivot them onto their sides  to ensure a dry, not soggy, crust. Continue to cool by themselves on a wire rack.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

While the iron is hot

I've been making it a point to move recipes from my To Make Pinterest board to the Have Made and Liked board. This is what we do in this century. There's a lot out there. Just because I added walnuts to something someone else came up with, it doesn't need it's own photo spread on here. But then again, would you look at that photo? I'm starting to think just-baked waffles are the baby pix of food photography; always glowing and inherently appealing.

So today instead of a recipe I'll tell you what I've been making. Two days In a row, waffles. Above, Buckwheat Waffles from London Bakes. I loved these because it's just buckwheat flour and a tiny bit of cornstarch to keep them gluten free, with ample buttermilk for moisture. She hints them with vanilla and doesn't bother to whip any egg whites into the mix. They were easy to mix up on a Sunday. I halved her recipe and got two nice sized waffles, and we topped with plenty of maple syrup, and toasted walnuts. The next day, the grain-free Almond Banana Waffles from Roost, which I've already told you about, made another appearance. 

As far as savory goes, here's a dressing to keep around. Again from food52. This miso dressing is the kind of thing that will serve as a shortcut for your dinner side salad or lunchtime main for a few days. The ingredients aren't too complex; even a pantry-rationer like me had all Asian condiments at my fingertips simultaneously. I loved it on lettuces with avocado, or tossed with cold soba noodle and blanched asparagus, or both of these things in the same bowl.

Have a great week, all. I will be back in a few days with a delicious gluten-free cookie so stay tuned.