Posts Tagged With: breakfast

flourless chocolate peanut butter oatmeal muffins

It’s been a while since my last muffins for Monday recipe (which included chocolate chunks, pecans, and bacon), not so much because I haven’t been making muffins, but because I haven’t been doing much blogging.

That said, today’s muffin recipe is brand new and so yummy that I just had to share!

breakfast is gonna be really good this week.....

breakfast is gonna be really good this week…..

Despite my love of all things chocolate and peanut butter, I have never combined these two ingredients in a muffin recipe before, probably because I don’t like eating dessert for breakfast.

(If you’ve tried any of my muffin recipes before, you know that they are all very lightly sweetened and a far cry from the cake-disguised-as-breakfast muffins that lots of people make. And I do enjoy eating a sweet ‘n’ fluffy muffin every now and again–just not first thing in the morning!)

This recipe is rich and flavorful, but not overly sweet, which makes it a perfect little muffin to start your day off in a hearty and (mostly) healthy direction.

I should disclose that this recipe was kind of inspired by those no-bake peanut butter chocolate oatmeal cookies that our cafeteria always used to serve for dessert when I was a kid. (Though not quite as good for you as my muffins, those cookies are darn tasty and super easy to make–here’s a recipe!)

I should also disclose that this recipe is flourless not because of any recent developments in our ability to tolerate wheat or gluten….

I just happened to be out of whole wheat flour…

So why not experiment? 🙂

What’s in it:

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 3/4 cup fat free Greek yogurt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Step by step:

  • Preheat your oven to 400°F and prepare a 12-cup muffin pan.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the oats, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  • In a larger bowl, beat together the peanut butter, yogurt, eggs, and vanilla.
  • Stir the dry ingredients into the wet stuff just until everything’s incorporated.
  • Divide your batter among your 12 muffin cups. Unless you’re scared of raw eggs (I’m not), feel free to lick your spoon clean of all those deliciously chocolate-y, peanut butter-y batter remnants.
  • Bake the muffins for 15-18 minutes or until they’ve risen nicely and are firm enough to spring back a little when you press the tops.
  • Let the muffins cool in the pan for a few minutes, then remove from the pan and cool to room temperature.

I ate one of these babies as soon as it left the pan, and it was pretty special. The cocoa flavor is dark and rich, and the nuttiness of the oats nicely complements the peanut butter flavor.

I was a little worried about how the texture would turn out since I had used all oats and no flour, fearing my muffins might end up a bit fragile and crumbly, but I think the eggs and the stickiness of the peanut butter gave them enough body and structure.

Now that I’ve made tried my hand at flourless muffins, I’m excited to try some more variations, and of course I’ll try to squeeze in a blog post here and there when I do. 🙂

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cured salmon (gravlax) + crispy salmon skin bacon!

One of the most amazing things we buy from Athens Locally Grown (our awesome online farmer’s market) is wild-caught Alaskan salmon.

Doug’s Wild Alaska Salmon is not technically local since Alaska is many miles away, but the business is based out of nearby South Carolina–lucky us! So Micah and I pretty much have year-round access to beautiful flash-frozen salmon fillets.

They’ve cooked up beautifully for us many times (though some of you might remember the date-night dinner disaster I detailed in one of my very first posts), but I’ve been itching to try curing and/or smoking one of these pretty pink slabs of fish to see how it would turn out.

I based my cure on Paul Hinrich’s recipe from Salon.com (which, in turn, was adapted from Professional Charcuterie by John Kinsella and David T. Harvey), but I also borrowed inspiration from Traci Des Jardins’ recipe on Chow and versions by Georgia Pellegrini and Doris and Jilly. (I figured the more recipes I read, the more I’d understand how the process works so I could figure it out on my own next time!)

What’s in it:

  • one 1-1/2 pound salmon fillet with skin but no bones
  • 6 ounces kosher salt
  • 3 ounces brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon each black peppercorns, coriander seeds, juniper berries, and caraway seeds, coarsely ground in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle

Step-by-step:

  • In a large glass dish, mix the salt, sugar, and spices.
  • Add the salmon and cover it completely with the curing mixture.
  • Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24-36 hours or until the thickest part of the salmon is no longer squishy to the touch.
  • Rinse off the cure, pat dry the salmon, slice, and store.

(You could also include a smoking step with a DIY cold-smoker like Micah uses for his bacon, but I decided to save that for another time.)

I’ve heard this stuff will keep a few weeks in the refrigerator or a few months in the freezer…but I’ll be surprised if it lasts that long in our house!

And, as if all this delicious fishiness weren’t enough–when I was reading the Chowhound recipe, one commenter suggested frying the skin like bacon.

Y’all know how I feel about bacon.

So, of course, I had to give it a try. We cut the skin into long, skinny strips, coated a skillet with olive oil spray, and cooked the skin up on medium heat until it was nice and crispy.

Add scrambled eggs (tossed with a little goat cheese and Greek yogurt), plus capers, dill, and a pretty little pile of the salmon, and we had ourselves a gourmet brunch!

creamy eggs + tangy goat cheese + briny capers + salty salmon + crispy skin = yum!

creamy eggs + tangy goat cheese + briny capers + salty salmon + crispy skin = yum!

 

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bacon, pecan, & chocolate chunk muffins

What do you get when you cross crispy, pan-fried, home-cured bacon with locally harvested pecans and sweet, creamy milk chocolate?

Muffins, of course!

I don’t know if you guys have missed my muffins for Monday posts, but I sure have missed making muffins!

Where have all my muffins been?

Well, here’s the thing. Since I’m a teacher, I have summers off. And during the summer, I don’t usually drag myself out of bed in time for much of a breakfast besides a big, strong cup of (possibly spiked) coffee. And Micah is perfectly happy smearing jam on some homemade whole-wheat sourdough or topping a bowl of creamy Greek yogurt with some sweet summer blueberries.

So, when I’m on vacation, the muffin recipes go on vacation, too.

But school has started back (with a vengeance–I’m crazy busy and kind of exhausted!)–so the muffins are back, too.

I wasn’t sure what yummy mix-ins I wanted to put in this week’s batch, but Micah suggested the perfect ingredient: bacon.

A quick scan of the cupboard revealed a container of pecan halves and a bar of milk chocolate.

Thus, this recipe was born.

And despite being full of bacon and chocolate, these muffins really aren’t that bad for you. Thanks to the whole wheat flour, they’ve got a little bit of fiber. Pecans, bacon, and Greek yogurt add protein. And using fat-free yogurt and no added oil or butter makes these relatively low in both fat and calories.

So I won’t feel guilty at all about devouring one of these tasty pastries for breakfast every morning this week. 🙂

a little bit o’ bacon in every bite

What’s in it:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 slices bacon, cooked, drained, and crumbled
  • 1 1.55 ounce milk chocolate bar, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup pecan halves, roughly chopped

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 400°F and prepare a 12-cup muffin pan.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the flours, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  • In a larger bowl, beat the eggs, then whisk in the milk and yogurt.
  • Stir the dry ingredients into the wet stuff, then fold in the bacon, chocolate, and nuts just until everything’s incorporated.
  • Divide your batter among your 12 muffin cups. If you’re not scared of raw eggs (I’m not), then feel free to lick your spoon clean of all batter remnants, which will taste just a little sweet and just a little salty (just like these muffins will be very soon).
  • Bake the muffins for 13-15 minutes or until they’re golden brown and spring back a little if you press the tops.
  • Let the muffins cool in the pan for a few minutes, then remove from the pan and cool to room temperature.

These yummy treats are fluffy and full of flavor, with just a hint of salty bacon and a touch of crunch from the chopped pecans, punctuated with little pockets of sweet, creamy chocolate.

I might add a bit more bacon next time, but these are fantastic just the way they are.

In fact, I have to tell y’all that while Micah pretty much always enjoys my muffins, he does usually prefer to slather them with a little bit of butter–but he said that this batch doesn’t need any. 🙂

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an impossible quest, and lazy brunch – 6.2.12 – baked chocolate doughnuts

My brother Dave is getting married in July, so I made doughnuts for breakfast last Saturday.

This makes sense, I promise.

Please, follow along.

(Or, please feel free to skip the next 1,000 words or so and scroll on down until you get to the photo of the doughnuts. I’ll admit, this is a long story, longer than it needs to be for you, but as long as I needed it to be to indulge my need for confessional therapy–and it really will make sense if you follow along.)

My brother Dave is getting married in July. His fiancee, Kim, is a wonderful, beautiful woman–clever, creative, and quirky enough to fit in perfectly with the rest of our family. We love her!

don’t they make an adorable couple?

(Dave’s daughter, Lilly, loves Kim, too, and the affection is mutual. Again, perfect.)

I’m a bridesmaid. This will be my third bridesmaid gig in less than a year. When it rains, it pours, they say. Or maybe this is just what happens when your best friend, your husband’s best friend, and your brother get hitched within ten months of each other. 🙂

Of course, one of my bridesmaid duties is working with the other bridesmaids to plan the shower, which is coming up this Saturday. More about that later (because, of course, I’ll be cooking).

My other responsibility is buying a dress.

Kim picked a pretty, peachy petal pink for us to wear.

She’s not picky about the style, preferring instead that we each choose a dress that suits and flatters us. (This, fortunately enough, has been my experience with all three of the beautiful brides who’ve asked me to be in their weddings and buy dresses for the occasion–no bridezillas here.)

She’s not even picky about the precise shade of peachy petal pink, as long as we’re all pretty close.

Finally, Kim really wanted us to be able to buy these dresses without spending a ton of money, so she scoured the web for links to some very pretty–and very economical–options.

Armed with ideas, Kim and I took a shopping trip near the end of April. First we visited H&M, where another bridesmaid had already found her perfect dress in the right color. There, I tried on this lovely number:

pretty, right? as soon as I saw it on the web, I knew it was the one…

What you can’t tell from this photo is how translucent the fabric is. But when I put the dress on, I wasn’t even really comfortable enough to leave the fitting room and show it to Kim. Through this wispy little frock, I could see my bellybutton, the tattoo on my hip, even a few of the freckles on my back. Easy solution: a slip. The only problem is, a July wedding in Georgia isn’t ideal for wearing multiple layers of clothing, especially layers with sleeves. Indecent transparency aside,  the dress didn’t fit me well anyway, as blousy styles like this often don’t.

Goodbye, Dress #1.

Moving on, we visited Forever 21, a store I’d heard of but never been inside. Very cute, trendy, of-the-moment styles in lots of colors. But while the website had advertised plenty of peachy pink dresses, none of them were available in the store for me to try on.

I returned home from this shopping trip empty-handed but convinced nonetheless that I could just order a dress via the internet–or even order several, keep my favorite, and return the others.

That’s exactly what I decided to do. I chose three dresses from the Forever 21 website that appeared to be the right color (or at least close to it). I ordered all three, eagerly anticipated their arrival, tracked the package every day until it arrived, wondered which one would be perfect and which two I would send back.

Dresses #2, #3, & #4 from Forever 21

Dress #2 was the right color, but it looked too much like lingerie to even consider wearing to a wedding. Dress #3 was a little light, a bit boxy on top, and scandalously skimpy on bottom, despite my petite frame. Two returns.

Dress #4? Much less pink and much more beige than I’d hoped, so it won’t work for the wedding. But, I loved it. So I kept it. And I wore it out on a date with Micah the other night, because he liked it, too.

I didn’t panic, because at this point it was only mid-May. Still two months to find a dress.

After a long afternoon of shopping downtown and several hours of online searching over several more days, I discovered Dress #5. It was–it had to be–the one:

pretty, peachy, perfect

I had tried it in a size small at one of the cute little dress boutiques downtown, but it was much too snug. So I ordered the medium with alterations in mind, anxiously awaited its arrival, tracked the package obsessively, squealed when it finally arrived.

Of course the medium was too big, as I had expected, but that’s what tailors are for, right?

Wrong. The very nice woman at the alterations shop informed me that because of the location of the zipper, darts, and pleats, and because of the delicate latticework at the top, there was no way that she could take in and shorten the bodice of this dress.

Dear readers, I wept. Tears of frustration–helpless, hopeless tears–welled in my eyes, then spilled from my lids. Right there in the middle of the alterations shop, while I stood staring at that shapeless, saggy, sad sack of a dress.

At this point, it was now a month and a half before Dave and Kim’s big day. The other three bridesmaids had all purchased their own perfect dresses, while I had four frocks hanging in my closet that wouldn’t work for the wedding (and three that wouldn’t work for anything).

Having visited every store in Athens that peddles dresses–new, secondhand, and vintage; trendy and classic; spendy and thrifty; sundresses, work dresses, formal dresses–I knew I needed to expand my search area.

Which brought me, one drizzly afternoon, to Commerce, Georgia. Originally a mill village, this little town eventually incorporated itself as Harmony Grove during the late 1800s. But in 1904, the city reincorporated, renamed itself, reinvented itself. Harmony Grove, folks said, was too countrified, too old-fashioned. Commerce sounded modern and fresh, would encourage businesses to come here, stay here, grow and flourish here. And that is exactly what business has done. I hear there is still a classic, charming, homespun downtown area of Commerce, which I’ve never visited myself. What has put Commerce on the map, besides its proximity to the interstate, is its impressive collection of chain restaurants and retail locations, including a staggering strip mall mecca of Tanger Outlets.

You can read a fictionalized account of the Harmony-Grove-to-Commerce transformation in one of my very favorite novels:

Cold Sassy Tree
by Olive Ann Burns

Surely, in the vast commercial wasteland that is Commerce, Georgia, I could find one dress. Preferably one that fit, one that was the right shade of peachy pink, one that didn’t resemble a nightie.

I wish I could tell you I bought the perfect dress that afternoon. I wish I could tell you that I squealed with delight and sighed with relief when the zipper slid into place. I wish I could tell you that, after visiting every single store that sold women’s clothing, I located even one single dress that day that was the right color.

I wish I could tell you this, because it would mean that my harrowing quest was finally over.

What did I come home with that day instead of a dress?

A new green rain jacket from the Eddie Bauer outlet.

An old-fashioned hand-crank ice cream churn from the antique shop.

A big bag of toys from the kitchen store:

  • New tongs
  • A bag of corks and bottle stoppers for Micah’s boozy infusions
  • One single-handed pepper-grinder with a little magnet on it so it’ll stick to the fridge
  • Eight long, metal skewers for the grill

And this:

too bad I can’t wear doughnuts to the wedding

Yep.

My brother is getting married in July, so I made doughnuts for breakfast last Saturday.

Really good doughnuts, in fact.

Chocolate doughnuts. Because, why the heck not? I earned them.

glazed and gooey, rich and delicious

Having never made doughnuts before, I looked for a recipe on the web to model mine after. And then, like always, I changed it. 🙂

What’s in it:

  • For the doughnuts:
    • 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
    • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
    • 4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    • 1/3 cup brown sugar
    • 1/3 cup milk
    • 2 tablespoons strong brewed coffee
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1 egg, lightly beaten
    • 1 teaspoon melted butter
  • For the glaze:
    • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1 tablespoon milk

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 325°F. Grease your doughnut pan if you’d like. (My 6-doughnut vessel was nonstick, so I took a risk and didn’t grease or spray. It worked out just fine!)
  • In one bowl, stir together the flours, cocoa, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and sugar.
  • In another bowl, whisk the milk, coffee, vanilla, and egg.
  • Combine the wet and dry ingredients, then stir in the melted butter.
  • Divide the batter among your six doughnut rings.
  • Bake for 13 minutes.
  • While the doughnuts bake, whisk together the ingredients for the glaze in a wide, shallow bowl.
  • Set up a wire cooling rack over a piece of foil, parchment paper, newspaper, etc., unless you want sticky drops of glaze to drip onto your counter.
  • Let the doughnuts cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then gently remove them from the pan to a wire cooling rack. (I used a flexible silicone spatula to help me with this.)
  • Dip each doughnut in the bowl of glaze, then stick it back on the cooling rack while you dip the others.
  • Take a picture–they’re pretty!
  • Enjoy with coffee. Try not to eat all of them in one sitting–but, if you do, it’s okay.

As Micah ate his doughnut, I asked him for an assessment. Rich, just sweet enough, really good.

Then I revealed my changes to the original recipe–less fat, less sugar, half whole-wheat flour. Apparently, not bad modifications, though Micah did remark that he’d like to try the full-fat version. 🙂

Since our Saturday doughnuts, three more pink dresses have arrived in the mail:

Dress #6: cute on the model….not so cute on me

Dress #7 – too big, not really peachy enough,
and too low-cut in the back for my strapless bra

Dress #8: peachy pink, pretty, a perfect fit

Yes, you read that correctly. After six weeks of shopping and seven dud dresses, I have finally, miraculously, triumphantly found something to wear in Dave and Kim’s wedding.

The best part? My chocolate doughnuts are healthy enough that even if I eat a whole bunch of them before the big day, I’ll still fit into this fetching little frock. 🙂

Categories: musings, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

muffins for….uh, Thursday – 5.24.12 – Lilly’s strawberry nectarine

Who’s Lilly, you ask?

My smart, silly, beautiful six-year-old niece!

Lilly and I have a lot in common. We both love to read. We both love school. We’re both, well, not super coordinated. And we both like to cook!

So when my brother Dave asked if Lilly could hang out with me this morning for a couple of hours, of course that was fine by me.

For most of Lilly’s visit, I was a pretty boring hostess. I unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher. I washed, dried, and folded two loads of clothes. I scooped out the litter box.

Lilly had more fun. She decorated a bookmark with scented markers (which I didn’t even know I had!), and she read a few chapters of Charlotte’s Web (one of my very favorite children’s books), and she snuck up on me a few times while I was working and yelled, “Boo!” This was funny while I was folding clothes. Less funny when I was hand-washing our three sharpest knives–but I didn’t get cut, so I guess it’s okay. 🙂

Anyway, the other thing I needed to get done today involved nectarines. Three pretty little nectarines from Daily Grocery that I saw the other day and couldn’t pass up. Three not-as-pretty little nectarines once they sat in the fridge for a week. (Yes, they got a little mushy, just like my bananas and pears seem to do most of the time.)

I showed Lilly the wrinkly nectarines. “These aren’t really good for snacking on anymore, but they’ll be great if we smoosh them up and put them in some muffins. Wanna help?”

Of course she did!

Once I cut the mushy fruit away from the pits, it was Lilly’s job to press the button on the food processor to whir those faded beauties (peel and all) into a red-flecked golden puree. Standing on a step-stool, of course.

“Can we have strawberries, too?” she asked.

So I cut up some strawberries while Lilly cracked two eggs into the fruit, then stirred it all up with some Greek yogurt.

While Lilly worked the wet ingredients (singing “Muffins, muffins, muffins” the whole time), I measured most of the dry stuff. Lilly did the salt, baking soda, and baking powder. (Her Granny, my mom, has taught her well–she knows to scoop with the measuring spoon, then level it off before adding it to the bowl.)

One of Lilly’s charming quirks is that she wants to taste everything, even stuff you wouldn’t think a kid would like. I’ve seen her grind fresh black pepper into her palm and lick it up, sprinkle a pinch of cinnamon directly onto her tongue, eat a piece of raw lemon (including the rind), and now–lick baking powder straight from a measuring spoon.

“It tastes salty,” she informed me.

“I’ll bet!” I said.

Lilly mixed all of the dry ingredients, dumped them into the bowl of wet ingredients, added the strawberries, then stirred it all together. (I helped with this because the batter was pretty thick.)

I started to let Lilly spoon the batter into the muffin tin, but since it was almost time for her dad to pick her up, I asked her if she would mind my doing it instead. (“That way, they’ll be ready before you leave!”) She agreed that this would be the best course of action. 🙂

The finished muffins were too hot for Lilly to eat one before she left, but I did send a few home with her so she could have one after it cooled.

I ate one just a few minutes ago, and it was fabulous.

of course I couldn’t resist brightening up the picture with a few of
the fresh strawberries (from a little farm stand near Anderson, SC)

What’s in it:

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 ounces raw sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2-3 nectarines, pureed (with the peel is fine)
  • 3/4 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 2 eggs
  • about 3/4 cup diced fresh strawberries

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 425°F and get a 12-cup muffin pan ready. (“Now you’ve got to use the non-stick spray,” Lilly told me. I showed her my rubbery red silicone muffin pan and told her it didn’t need any. “What if it was made of tin?” she asked. “Well,” I said, “then I guess I’d need some non-stick spray.”)
  • In a small bowl, stir together the flour, oats, brown sugar, sunflower seeds, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Let your niece lick the measuring spoon if she really wants to. 🙂
  • In a larger bowl, stir together the pureed nectarines, yogurt, and eggs.
  • Add the dry ingredients and strawberries to the wet ingredients and stir until combined. Don’t forget to take turns!
  • Scoop the batter into the muffin cups, then bake for about 20 minutes. Visit the oven every few minutes to peek through the window and see how your muffins are doing. Comment on how good they smell!
  • Remove the muffins to a rack to cool.
  • Make sure you share these sweet treats with someone you really love. ♥

 

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quick lunch (for one) – 5.22.12 – zucchini frittata

What to do when your husband’s out to lunch and you need a quick meal at home?

Make a frittata.

I say this authoritatively, like I do it all the time. But in reality, today was the first time I’ve ever made a frittata, and it’s pretty rare that I’m cooking lunch for one. 

As I had never cooked this Italian omelet-like dish before, I kind of winged it based on my best guess (and what I’ve seen folks do on the Food Network). I knew I needed eggs, plus some kind of vegetable and/or cheese filling, and I knew I needed my skillet o’ stuff to start on the stove and end in the oven.

Apparently, that’s all you really need to know.

you say frit-TAY-ta, I say frit-TAH-ta?

What’s in it:

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 of a large zucchini, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • a sprinkle of salt and pepper
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten with a little more salt and pepper
  • 1 ounce feta, crumbled

Step-by-step:

  • Heat the olive oil in a 6″ oven-proof skillet over medium heat.
  • Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes or until it starts to brown.
  • Add the zucchini, marjoram, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Cook for 5-7 minutes or until the zucchini is tender and starting to become translucent.
  • Pour in the beaten eggs. Let them cook, without stirring, for 3-5 minutes or until they are starting to set on the bottom.
  • Sprinkle on the feta.
  • Transfer your skillet to the oven and broil for about 5 minutes or until the frittata is golden brown and puffy (it’ll deflate when you take it out of the oven) and the egg is cooked through.
  • Use a heat-resistant silicone spatula to loosen the frittata from the skillet and slide it onto a plate.
  • Enjoy with fresh fruit, a green salad, and/or a slice of crusty bread.

Yum! Now that I know how to cook a frittata, and now that so many beautiful summer veggies are coming in, and now that I’m on vacation from school…I have a feeling I’ll be making more of these soon.

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muffins for Monday – 4.30.12 – pears galore!

Pears are tricky.

Like bananas, pears are at their best for a very specific window of time. Try to eat one before it’s ready, and your teeth and tongue will fight a losing battle against that tart, hard rock of a fruit.

Let your unyielding pear sit out on your counter for a few days to mellow, and mellow it will. If you catch that pear at the peak of its ripening, you’ll be rewarded with bite after juicy bite of pear perfection. Your hands and face will be rendered a moist mess with every nibble of that soft, sweet fruit, and you’ll gnaw away every little scrap of pear until all you have left in your hands is a sticky, skinny core.

Let that perfectly ripe pear sit out on your counter for a few more days, and….well, you’ll have a mess.

My pear problem started three weeks ago when the Athens Earth Fare emailed me a coupon for one free pound of organic red Bartlett pears with a five dollar purchase. I printed two, one for me and one for Micah, and our regular grocery trip later that week earned us two free pounds of rock-hard pears.

Another week passed, and those babies were perfect. I took some to school the next week, which made for a delicious (albeit sticky) addition to my lunchbox.

And then we were out of town all last weekend for Jessica’s wedding, so the last four pears sat on our kitchen counter for about a week longer than they really should’ve.

When we came home, one moldy pear got a one-way ticket to our compost pile. The other three were pretty mushy–too soft to pack in a lunchbox, or slice for a snack, or bake into a pie–but not quite rotten yet.

What to do with too-far-gone fruit? Make muffins, of course! (Good timing, too, since we were about to eat our last two crumbly granola bars. :))

pears + dates + oats + pecans + a touch of cinnamon = mmmm…..

What’s in it: 

  • For the muffins: 
    • 1 cup whole wheat flour
    • 1 cup rolled oats
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
    • 1/4 cup brown sugar
    • 3 overripe pears, mashed
    • 3 dates, pitted and finely chopped
    • 2 eggs, lightly beaten (I actually used 5 egg whites that I had leftover from making pastry cream)
  • For the topping:
    • 1/4 cup chopped pecans
    • 3-4 tablespoons rolled oats (I tackled mine with the mini-chopper, just to make them a little finer)
    • 1 tablespoon brown sugar

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 425°F and get a 12-cup muffin pan ready with cooking spray or paper liners.
  • In a large bowl, stir together the flour, 1 cup oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and 1/4 cup brown sugar.
  • Add the pears, dates, and eggs. Stir until just combined.
  • Divide the batter among your 12 muffin cups.
  • In a small bowl, mix together the pecans, oats, and brown sugar for your topping.
  • Sprinkle the topping evenly over the muffins. You’ll probably have enough to pretty much completely cover each muffin. (At this point, I also lightly pressed the topping into the batter to hopefully prevent it from all falling off.)
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes, then let cool.
  • Enjoy!

Not only are they extra moist and juicy from all that fruit, but because I mashed the pears instead of pureeing them, the muffins also have some nice chunks of fruit inside them. The cinnamon and dates give these sweet treats a warm, cozy flavor, and the oats and nuts in the topping are nice and toasty and crunchy.

This is definitely one of my favorite batches of muffins so far!

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non-muffins for Monday – 4.19.12 – granola bars

When I saw a recipe for granola bars on Frugal Feeding (and saw how lovely those granola bars turned out), I was sure that I had to make them. Y’all know how I love my morning muffins during the week…but branching out is always nice, too. And Micah and I are big fans of granola, though mine never turns out quite as crispy-crunchy as my favorite store-bought brand, Goodness Gracious Granola (which is delicious, albeit a tad pricey for everyday eating).

Of course, actually making these granola bars proved more challenging than I imagined, partly because I converted the metric measurements to cups (not that I have anything against weighing ingredients to the nearest gram–just thought that if y’all wanted to follow my recipe, you might want it in cups instead).

Another change I made (but probably shouldn’t have) was reduce the sugar and fat in the recipe by just a little. While this did make my granola bars a smidge healthier, it also made them a good bit crumblier.

Finally, because my mixture looked so crumbly, I added an egg (which made my granola bars intentionally un-vegan, unlike the original recipe).

The final product:

just look at all those oats!

What’s in it:

  • 2-1/3 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 2/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 2/3 cup dried unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • some water (I didn’t measure it)

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat oven to 350°F and grease a 9″x13″ baking pan or line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  • In a large bowl, stir together the oats, pecans, cranberries, coconut, cinnamon, salt, and flour.
  • Heat the maple syrup and brown sugar together in a small saucepan until the brown sugar has melted. Add a little water to make a thick, caramel-y syrup.
  • Stir the sugars into your dry mixture.
  • Stir in the oil and the egg.
  • Add a tiny bit of water. Fret, because your granola mix still looks pretty dry. Add a little more water. Fret.
  • Resign yourself to having crumbly granola bars.
  • Press the mixture into your baking pan, or dump it onto your cookie sheet and form into a rectangle.
  • Bake for 30-40 minutes.
  • Let cool completely before attempting to cut into bars, which will probably fall apart anyway.
  • Resolve to follow the original recipe next time instead!

I suppose flouting the posted proportions earned me the fragile mess this recipe turned out to be. But although my granola bars disintegrated into, well, granola….they did taste really good! I’ll very likely attempt these again soon…but I won’t wing it quite so much next time. 🙂

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muffins for Monday – 4.2.12 – peanut butter banana

Bananas. I’ll buy a big bunch of five or seven when they’re nice and green around the edges, and I always think I might eat them all before they turn on me.

I’m always wrong.

I never mean for this to happen. But I’m really picky about my bananas. A perfect specimen has a bright, golden peel with a splash of lime green still at both ends and firm, light-colored flesh. The problem is, if a bunch of bananas is at this stage on Monday morning, they’ll be well past it by Tuesday at lunch. That makes for a pretty short window of enjoyment.

You might like bananas best when they get to the freckled, super-sweet stage. I have several friends who will only eat them once they’re brown and spotty. But for me, these mushy, sugary fruits are well past their prime.

And that, my friends, is when it’s time to make muffins.

(Yes, my muffins tend to all look alike...but at least the backgrounds are ever-changing.)

For this week’s batch, I’m continuing my Childhood Lunchbox series, a poignant exploration of the food memories that evoke bittersweet nostalgia for younger days gone by. We all must grow old, we all must die, but these muffins might recapture, just for a moment, the joy of forgotten youth.

Sorry. That was a bit much.

(I do seem to like making muffins based on 80’s breakfast cereal commercials and kiddie sandwiches from my childhood…)

What I really meant to say (instead of that driveling psychobabble) was that this week’s muffins were inspired by a time-honored combination that I’ve loved since I was a wee lass, the classic peanut butter and banana.

What’s in it:

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup oats
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 super-ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 3/4 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup milk

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 400°F and get 12 muffin cups ready.
  • In one bowl, mix the flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  • In another bowl, mix the eggs, bananas, peanut butter, yogurt, and milk.
  • Combine the wet and dry ingredients, scoop into muffin cups, and bake for 15-20 minutes.
  • Cool and enjoy!

These muffins turned out super moist, almost gooey, and they were a little hard to get out of the pan. Before I tasted one, I was afraid they were a little bit too soft and mushy. But Micah and I sampled them for breakfast this morning, and I’m pleased to tell you that they were delicious!

Besides having a slightly squishier texture than I had planned, these also didn’t have quite as much peanut butter power as I was hoping. The peanut butter flavor is overpowered just a bit by the banana. So, if you make these, try adding extra peanut butter and let me know how it turns out!

What are some of your favorite childhood foods? Maybe they’ll inspire a muffins for Monday post one day soon…:)

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lazy brunch – 4.1.12 – buttermilk pancakes (fluffy as a down comforter)

Biscuits come from cans, and pancakes come from boxes. Like these:

images from iherb.com and caloriecount.about.com

I remember helping make pancakes (plus muffins, cakes, and Jiffy cornbread) in the kitchen when I was a kid. Measure some mix, measure some oil and crack some eggs (unless your box contained one of those fancy complete mixes where you just add water), and cook. So easy, a kid can do it (and I often did).

I remember liking all the from-a-box baked goods I ate as a child.

Even buckwheat pancakes.

My mom, ever persistent in her quest to make her kids eat healthy, often bought buckwheat pancake mix instead of the coveted Hungry Jack or Aunt Jemima’s, and in place of butter and syrup, we’d top our grainy griddle cakes with unsweetened applesauce. Those dense, wheaty pancakes were pretty good, I think, but comparing them to a tall stack of fluffy, home-style buttermilk pancakes with maple syrup is a bit of a stretch.

Now, there used to be a charming little greasy spoon in my hometown (Hartwell, GA) called the S&W Diner, and when you ordered off of their menu, you didn’t order pancakes. You ordered pancake. Because just one of these babies had the circumference of a dinner plate, not to mention a fluffiness index of about three quarters of an inch. Those were pancakes.

I think I was in college when I tried making pancakes from scratch for the first time. They were much less of a disaster than my first batch of biscuits, and pretty soon I felt confident that I could whip up a quick batch whenever the craving might strike. Which is usually on Saturday or Sunday mornings when Micah and I sleep late, brew some coffee, and assemble a lazy brunch that we might finally get around to eating around, oh, noon.

Cornmeal pancake trials aside, our favorite recipe lately has been a buttermilk pancake recipe from Allrecipes.com. All the 4- and 5-star reviews this recipe has received are well deserved, because these pancakes kick ass. It’s hard for us to convince ourselves to try new recipes, because these are so ding-dang delicious.

Well, the other night, we were watching Worst Cooks in America on Hulu…

[Other folks watch Survivor or The Bachelor or Dancing with the Stars, but we’re hooked on food-centric reality shows like Top Chef, Chopped, Worst Cooks, Iron Chef, and The Next Food Network Star. When we cancelled our cable and then figured out that we couldn’t watch whole seasons of Top Chef on Hulu, it was a sad day.]

…and Anne Burrell had her recruits on the red team making pancakes, and she separated the eggs so that she could whip the whites into a gorgeous meringue-y fluff before folding them into her batter.

Ever since, Micah’s been obsessed with trying this out to see if it really does make the pancakes fluffier.

what tall pancakes you've got, my dear!

It does! This batch was probably my favorite we’ve ever made, and about twice as tall as when we’ve made the same recipe made without separating the eggs. You can see in the picture how thick they were, but these pancakes were about as dense as the puffy feather filling in a down comforter.

What’s in it:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup regular milk + 1 tablespoon lemon juice)
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter

Step-by-step:

  • Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.
  • Beat the egg white with a pinch of salt until you have nice, stiff, fluffy peaks of meringue. I tried to do this by hand, but eventually gave in and used my stick blender with a whisk attachment. Much quicker and easier!
  • In a large bowl, beat the egg yolk and buttermilk together.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the egg/buttermilk mixture and stir just until combined, then add the melted butter.
  • Gently fold in the egg whites.
  • Heat a griddle to 350°F or a skillet on medium heat. It’s hot enough when you can toss a drop of water on the surface and watch it do a little samba before it sizzles out of sight.
  • Use a ladle or measuring cup to scoop your fluffy batter onto the griddle. If you use heaping 1/4 cup measures like I did, you’ll get 6 pancakes (perfect for a brunch for two!).
  • Cook the pancakes on the first side until the bottoms are a deep golden brown and you can see a few bubbles on the surface. Flip ’em and cook some more, until the bottoms are nice and brown, too. I think ours took about 5-7 minutes per side, but this would vary depending on your cooking surface and how big you make your pancakes.
  • Keep finished pancakes warm in the oven while you cook the rest.
  • Serve with maple syrup, honey and fresh fruit, or other pancake toppings of your choice, plus a steaming hot mug of coffee, if you’re so inclined. 🙂

We chose to top our pancakes with plain old maple syrup, and they were pretty darn amazing.

(all the sweet, gooey syrup you see here was promptly sopped up by those gorgeous pillows of pancake)

As we were enjoying this lovely, simple breakfast, Micah asked me if I thought it was worth it to do the extra step of whipping the egg whites separately. I emphatically nodded yes, because it’s kinda hard to answer with your mouth full of fluffy, delicious pancakes. 🙂

Categories: recipes | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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