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Breakfast and Brunch

May 03, 2008

food porn: testing pancakes

My favorite kind of test: edible!

Pancakes under development. Not exactly what I want, but tasty nonetheless.

I, sadly, have to eat my not-quite-it experiments. Tough job, but somebody's gotta do it.

May 01, 2008

food porn: Breakfast with a side of editing

breakfast, with a side of manuscript

Over the last few weeks, I have had more than my fair share of extravagant food for one: More pounds of asparagus than I care to admit have passed through my kitchen as I chopped and cooked, mixed and measured, tweaked and twiddled, before finally settling on a recipe, only to discard it the next day. I have a shelf full of goodies that I bought for the sole purpose of cooking an entire recipe to take 3-4 bites (and, when I couldn't freeze it, throw it away before I ate it all), before repeating it the net day - the food waste around here lately is appalling! Tomorrow's agenda includes baking a chocolate cake, not because I have a party this weekend, oh, no, this is going to sit here and taunt me for however long it takes me to eat it...one teensy little slice at a time.

But other days, days like today, I spend the entire day with my head down over a computer, only to look up as the sun drops behind the hill wondering how it got to be dusk. Days when my 'break' from the computer, such as it is, involves a stack of paper covered with red squiggles. Days when, if I am smart, I start with something that will keep me going all day.

Something like this: simple, old-fashioned oatmeal, cooked with 1/4 cup of apple cider and a sprinkle of cinnamon in the cooking water. I put it in a beautiful blue bowl that fits in the curve of my hand (50 cents at Goodwill!), top it with a drizzle of manuka honey and I have food so comfortable it darned near hugs me.

April 29, 2008

Canadian bacon, cheddar and souffle recipe

canadian bacon and cheese souffle

I am a big fan of food that delivers showy results with a reasonable amount of effort. I like food that scares people even better. I don't mean "scares" like some of the stuff that Steve eats - that just weirds me out - but rather stuff that scares the cook, not the eater. Like soufflés.

Soufflés can definitely be intimidating, even though they consist of two dead simple parts: a simple white sauce that functions as a base and a mound of stiffly-beaten egg whites. The base provides all of the flavor and the whites elevate the dish, literally, above the simple ingredients. Combine the two, however, and even experienced cooks cringe.

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February 08, 2008

English muffins and crumpets: an (almost) shared recipe

english muffin loves crumpet

Many questions have plagued humankind for eons:

  • Are we alone in the universe?
  • Does god exist?
  • What is the meaning of life?
  • What is the difference between English muffins and crumpets?

Well folks, after a day of research and experimentation, I have the answer to one of those. No, not the first three - I took the tough one: English muffins v. crumpets.

One might wonder how dull my day was to spend it hunting down the answer to such a  question, and one might be right. In my defense, however, that's not what I started out to do...

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January 03, 2008

Simple, flaky biscuit recipe

Biscuit

Scattered.

If I had to pick one word for my life the last while, it would have to be scattered. Just as one crazy thing is brought under control, the next careens into view. Like garlic butter in your cake pan. Or a teetering stack of biscuits.

One of my surest cures for scattered is bread. As I gather the bits of ragged dough and knead them together into a cohesive whole, I am, likewise, remade just a bit, my loose edges reintegrated and all that. It's one of my favorite meditative states.

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March 14, 2007

kitchenMage's everMorphing Blueberry Muffin Recipe

blueberry muffins

For a number of years now, I have been fortunate enough to live in a house that had blueberry bushes in the garden. Right now I have about eight bushes, which having been attentively pruned and tended since we arrived, are now producing about a gallon each. That is enough to let us enjoy blueberry treats for several months, put up a dozen pints of blueberry habanero chutney, and still have a gallon or two in the freezer so I can make muffins to stave off the mid-winter no-fresh-fruit doldrums. In fact, I probably have enough berries for one more batch of muffins before I run out. Not bad for the end of February.

blueberries on vine

Most people would see this as the embarrassment of riches that it is, but I am utterly spoiled by our last house, which had a blueberry orchard! Two patches, each holding a five-by-five square of high-bush blueberries, kept us (and our friends) in berries all year. Each June found me in a race to empty the freezer of the previous year's harvest in time to make room for the berries that weighed down the fragile looking twiggy branches just outside my kitchen window.

This wealth also led me to an ongoing quest for the perfect blueberry muffin. During the heavy berrying season of late summer, when I could fill my basket in less time than it took the oven to preheat, I baked muffins weekly. (Remember what I said about berries for friends? I ate far too many muffins myself, but I did share!) This quest, however tasty, has proven fruitless-well, as fruitless as something involving gallons of berries could be-as I determined that there is no such critter as the perfect blueberry muffin.

Maybe I can blame it on my age. When I was a child, muffins were relatively dense and dry little things; tasty, but not particularly sweet or rich. Then sometime in the eighties, a transformation occurred. Muffins grew, more than doubling in size until one could be shared between two people who knew each other well enough to breakfast together. That wonderful rustic crumb, perhaps weighed down by the sheer bulk of the salad plate sized behemoths muffins had become, collapsed into a sugar-laden little cake-truly the only thing missing is the frosting. (I fear there is an entire generation of young people growing up who will think that the cakelets at every drive-through espresso stand are real muffins...but that's my own personal nightmare.)

blueberries in bowl

My favorite recipe straddles the line between the two versions, making a reliable, middle-of-the-road muffin: not too sweet and with a fairly "old-fashioned" crumb...but not too dry. It's a very good muffin and I can make it in my sleep. More importantly, many other people seem to be able to make it in theirs.

What I really love about this recipe, however, is its flexibility. It can be simply varied to produce a muffin that is adapted to your particular taste and demands of the occasion. If I need a fancier more dessert-like version, I increase the sugar and top them with cinnamon sugar. Less rich muffins come from a reduction in sour cream while richer ones from a change to full-fat sour cream. Flavor changes come from citrus zest and/or spices. And you can always add a handful of chopped nuts or even change the kind of berries you use.

kitchenMage's everMorphing blueberryMuffins

  makes one dozen normal muffins (or 5-6 huge ones)

egg, 1
sugar, 1/2  cup / 3 1/2 ounces / 100 grams
butter, melted and cooled, 3  tablespoons / 1 1/2 ounces / 42 grams
low-fat sour cream, 1 1/4  cups / 10 3/4 ounces / 300 grams
all-purpose flour, 1 3/4  cups  / 7 7/8 ounces / 220 grams
baking powder, 2  teaspoons
baking soda, 1  teaspoon
salt, 1/8  teaspoon
blueberries, 1 1/2  cups / 6 3/4 ounces / 189 grams (if fresh, simply wash; if frozen,leave in freezer until you are ready to use them)

Preheat oven to 375°. Have all ingredients, except frozen blueberries, at room temperature. Prepare muffin pan with paper cup liners.

  1. In a medium-sized bowl, beat the egg briefly with a wire whisk to lighten. Add the sugar and continue to whisk until you can no longer feel any resistance from undissolved sugar.
  2. Add the butter to the bowl and mix briefly to combine, then add sour cream and whisk until mixture is smooth and homogenous. (You can whisk an additional minute or two at this point, if your wrist can take it, to aerate the batter, making the muffins a bit lighter.)
  3. In another bowl, combine the dry ingredients and stir thoroughly to mix and eliminate lumps. (If you have a sifter-I use a 6" handheld sieve-this is a good time to pull it out; the muffins will come together more easily if the flour is well aerated.)
  4. Add the blueberries to the dry mixture and toss them gently for a few seconds to coat the berries.
  5. Add flour mixture to the liquid mixture and combine with a few quick folds.
  6. Scoop batter into muffin pan (a 4 oz scoop is about the right size).
  7. Bake for about 25 minutes.

Nutritional information

Per Serving: 190 Calories; 7g Fat (32.6% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 28g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 34mg Cholesterol; 295mg Sodium.  Exchanges: 1 Grain(Starch); 0 Lean Meat; 0 Fruit; 1 1/2 Fat; 1 Other Carbohydrates.

blueberries on vine

Variations

Here's where the real fun starts. These are adjustments that I have tried enough to vouch for how well they work. I am positive there are a lot more, but start here. Once you have made these a couple of times, you will find that you can make other changes with confidence.

The difference in nutritional data from the main recipe is included in parentheses, and is per muffin. (so you can decide just how badly you want to swap out that low-fat sour cream).

  • To make the muffins sweeter, increase the sugar to 3/4 cup. Much more gets overly sweet, but you can probably go to a full cup if you really want to. (+17 calories, +4g carbohydrates)
  • For muffins that are a little drier and less rich, reduce the sour cream to 1 cup. You may need to reduce baking time by a minute or two, but probably not enough that you would notice.  (-6 calories, -1mg cholesterol)
  • For a richer muffin, with a moister crumb, use regular sour cream instead of low-fat. (+22 calories, +4g fat, +6g cholesterol, -2g carbohydrates, -1g protein Exchanges: +1 fat)
  • You can use 1 cup of regular sour cream but you undo the nutritional gains of using low-fat and end up with a drier muffin than with the larger amount of low-fat sour cream. (+11 calories, +3g fat, +3g cholesterol, -2g carbohydrates Exchanges: +1/2 fat)
  • Add 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, or 1/4 teaspoon each cinnamon and allspice, to enhance the spicy, earthy flavors.
  • Add the zest from an orange or lemon (with the liquids) for a different and subtle flavor.
  • For fluffier muffins, let them sit on the counter for 20 minutes after you fill the muffin tin.
  • Dress these up by brushing semi-cooled muffins with melted butter and sprinkling on a bit of cinnamon sugar. (+16 calories, +1g fat, +2g carbohydrates, +3mg cholesterol)
  • It doesn't change the resulting muffins, but for extra entertainment, try whisking with your non-dominant hand. Isn't it amazing how difficult such a simple motion can be? I swear my left hand thinks that "clockwise" means something else!

January 14, 2007

Ginger Applesauce Cake

Ginger Applesauce Cake

Like many of my recipes, this came together from ingredients that happened to be on hand at the time and my vague idea of a desired flavor. I was making a simple, and oddly summery, lunch (a huge salad, prawns in sage butter, and fresh focaccia) for guests and wanted something a bit more appropriately seasonal to go with the snow that still lingers outside.

My other requirement for this dessert was simplicity. One bowl and one pan was just about right. If it did not require a trip to the store, so much the better. At this point, I was leaning towards brownies...again. I've made so many batches of brownies lately that I am sort of tired of chocolate. (as if) In any case, brownies clearly wasn't it.

Back to winter flavors. In Washington state, winter means apples. In my house last week, apples meant applesauce. Not a bad start. Applesauce cake fit the bill. Right season, ingredients on hand, one bowl, and one pan. One problem. Somewhat lacking in magic. You know: Not. Very. Exciting.

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December 16, 2005

Who knew danish was so easy?

evenTinierTown's only bakery has a for sale sign in front of the darkened building. Sad but true. What's sadder is that I never had one of their legendary maple bars during the brief time they were reopened — and by brief, I mean perhaps as long as six months. Since the building's for sale, I doubt there will be another bakery sprouting up there anytime soon. sigh

Danishrollingpin
Looking for the silver lining, I decided it's time to master a few things I've somehow gotten away without learning so far. I'm pretty fearless when it comes to grabbing a recipe and going for it, but every time I've approached laminated doughs (those being the rich, butter-layered ones used for things like croissants and danish) I've had to make some urgent phone call or another. There's something about all that rolling and chilling and rolling again that's just intimidating. But what's a mage to do? The nearest bakery is an hour away...something had to give. First on the list is danish. With any luck it'll be followed by croissants and maybe even doughnuts someday...but first the danish.

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October 13, 2005

Apple Nut Spice Muffin recipe

Applenutmuffins2

Ahhh, fall. Here in Washington state, where even the intra-college football rivalry pays homage to fall fruit with the Apple Cup, autumn means apples. As the berries fade to memory, apples step into the void, offering one last chance to capture that ineffable summerness of local fresh fruit before the edge in the air get seriously cold.

One of my favorite fall appleThings is muffins. Quick and simple to make, they are multi-purpose, fitting for everything from breakfast pastry to late-night snack for munching during the Daily Show. Sprinkle a little extra cinnamon sugar on them and it's almost dessert; add a bit of ice cream or a drizzle of liqueur--or both--and it truly is.

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