Monday, September 29, 2008

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

Cooking freestyle is the way I like to roll. I may look at recipes for ideas, but then I enjoy messing around with them or combining a couple of different recipes for the same dish, taking certain elements from each and adding my own twists. I don't typically measure unless it seems critical. This is why baking makes me crazy. I am in panic mode the whole time worried that I am going to totally mess up a recipe, wasting time and a bunch of ingredients, because I am 16 granules of sugar short because I didn't quite level off the measuring cup. God forbid I reach for the baking SODA, only to find out I only have POWDER, and I've already got a mess of eggs, butter and brown sugar ungracefully mixed together in a bowl, so I need surge forward, baking soda or not.

And speaking of mess, I usually make a pretty big one when attempting to bake. Cleaning up the flour tornado that seemed to have passed through my kitchen, and getting the goop off the wire beaters is laborious. Then, there's the whole cooling process that I need to be patient about so I don't lose half the banana bread (for example) because it's still stuck to the bottom of the pan, and then have to try to squish it back together. I also worry every time I'm greasing a pan since I'm usually trying to use something that's not aerosol or made of lard, so I'm never sure my substitute greaser is going to do the job. I find the whole process exhausting, really.

On a positive note, there is something appealing about the scientific side of baking. Perhaps if I took the time to understand it better, I might enjoy it. I've erroneously thought this about football though, too. The major difference I can see with baking, however, is at the end of a couple of hours, I have a tasty treat to enjoy. With football, I'd only be left with the feeling that I just wasted many hours of my life that I can't get back.

Last week, I was left with four very ripe bananas, and already had plenty of frozen bananas to use for smoothies, so something had to be done. I ended up making a banana bread AND banana chocolate chip muffins. If you had tried either of these, you'd probably be able to tell that I am fond of chocolate and banana together. I added chocolate chips to the bread as well, and was a bit heavy handed. I found I like making muffins because they don't take long to cook, and they are cute.

I got this particular recipe from my friend, Kathy. I think the actual recipe calls for more all purpose flour than whole wheat but I flipped it, because that's what Kathy does. I consulted my friend Sallie about this, since she used to work at a bakery. She told me you can substitute whole wheat flour for all purpose. It will just be more dense and a little drier.

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins
1/2 c all purpose flour
1 c whole wheat flour
1/4 cup wheat germ
1 tspn ground flax (optional)
2 tspns baking powder
1/4 tspn salt
2 ripe bananas, mashed
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 c packed brown sugar
1/3 c canola oil
1/3 c 1% lowfat milk (I used soy milk)
1 tspn vanilla
1/2 c mini chocolate chips

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
2. Lightly oil 12 muffin cups
3. Whisk together both flours wheat germ, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.
4. Combine the eggs, sugar, oil milk and vanilla in a medium size bowl.
5. Pour the wet mix into the dry mix. Fold together and add chocolate chips.
6. Pour evenly into muffin cups.
7. Bake for 20 minutes.
8. Let cool on cooling rack for 10 minutes before taking the muffins out.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Stuffed Acorn Squash

Yesterday was Part 2 of the cyclocross clinic I am attending. While being frustrated at my inability to dismount and remount my bike in anything close to a graceful manner, I rolled over some crunchy leaves in the field we were practicing in. A wave of excitement ran through me as I had the realization - it's almost autumn! During my moment of glee, I nearly forgot how appalling I looked getting off and on my bike, and how fearful I am of trying this in an actual race situation. But no matter what the outcome of my performance, I'm pretty sure I'll enjoy 'cross as it has at least one hugely redeeming quality since it happens in the Fall.

Fall is one of the primary benefits of living in New England, and I know it ranks up there as many people's favorite season. Let's take a moment to consider what it is that makes Fall so great. The weather in early Fall is perfect. It's warm and sunny and dry, not hot and humid. We can start pulling out our sweaters as the nights become cooler. It's perfect running weather. It smells good as the air gets a bit crisp and the leaves start falling to the ground. The scene of cheery orange, red and yellow leaves against the backdrop of a blue, or even a grey sky is quite beautiful. There's lots of yummy things associated with Fall. It's apple and maple syrup season. The squashes harvested this time of year are colorful and delicious. Kale and swiss chard are still abound. Basically, Fall appeals to all the senses. It feels, looks, tastes, and smells good. Hmm. I missed one - hearing. There must be something about fall that sounds good too. Marching bands at football games?

Anyway, this stimuli is probably what makes me feel so alive in the Fall. I think there's also present for me an element of nostalgia. It's reminiscent of the days of being young when all these things were signs of the beginning of the school year. I always enjoyed school so I associate the sights and smells of fall with the first couple of months of meeting new teachers, being reunited with friends and starting new classes.

So, when I got up this morning, I knew it was time. I went straight to Whole Foods and bought an acorn squash. On the menu tonight: Acorn squash stuffed with a cous cous and vegetable mixture; a salad with mesclun greens, toasted walnuts and raisins with a Maple dijon vinaigrette; whole wheat crackers with cranberry pepper jelly and cheddar cheese; and, Field Roast brand Veggie Artisan smoked apple sage "sausages".

The stuff squash came out pretty bland, but I know what I did wrong. I forgot the salt and pepper on the squash itself when I baked it, and I added WAY too much cous cous (It's just like making pasta. I always make too much even though I know I am making too much. I can't seem to stop myself.)

The veggie sausages were good. They were pretty expensive relative to some of the brands (i.e. Tofurkey, St. Iyves), but the texture and flavor were very good. They had a couple other flavors I'd like to try. The jelly was by New England Cranberry and very tasty. I also put it on my Tofurkey sandwich I had for lunch. I'm not sure what else I'd do with it besides the cheese and cracker combo, but I'll try to think of something.

You can stuff and acorn squash with so many different rice or cous cous and veggie mixtures. I plan to mess around with it, but a basic recipe follows:

Stuffed Acorn Squash
1. In an oven preheated to 350 degrees, bake the acorn squashes. The squash should be cut in half (cut them horizontally which is opposite of the natural lines found on the squash). Scoop out the seeds and flesh with a spoon. These can be discarded. Rub the surface of the squash with some olive oil and sprinkle some salt and pepper on them. If they are fresh they will be soft in about 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, cook some rice or cous cous. I cooked the cous cous in veg broth instead of water to give it a bit of flavor. Sautee some veggies chopped up small: onions, yellow pepper, carrots, corn, kale or spinach. Chickpeas would be a good add in for some protein. You could also mix in a crumbled up veggie sausage. It just depends on weather you want the squash to be a main dish or a side dish. When the rice or cous cous is done and the veggies are cooked, mix them together.
3. Take the acorn squash out, stuff them, and put them back into the oven for a few more minutes to let it all heat up together.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Blueberry Cake

When we were in Acadia a couple of weeks ago, one of the simple little pleasures we got to take advantage of was spontaneous blueberry picking. Often, when we got off our bikes on the carriage roads to check out a view, or during a hike, we would happen upon blueberry bushes. It was nice to have a tasty little treat while out and about. I never got to do any picking more involved than that, but I observed some beautiful and large blueberries of others who had. I have yet to make the blueberry and goat cheese salad combo I've been meaning to make all summer, either. But for those of you who did go picking and froze your remains, here is a recipe you've got to try. My co-worker, Kim, brought some of this blueberry cake in to work one day this summer. I nearly melted all over my cubicle when I ate it, it was so yummy. As you know, I am not a baker, but I had to ask for this recipe. I thought for sure there was going to be some super secret ingredient in it, but it's pretty basic. If you do try it, can you bring me some?

Blueberry Cake
1/2 cup shortening
2 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs
3 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tspn salt
2 tspn baking powder
1 cup milk
3 cups blueberries, floured
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/2 tspn cinnamon
1/4 cup butter

1. Cream together shortening and sugar. Add eggs, beating after each.
2. Combine 3 1/2 cups flour, salt and baking powder and add alternately with milk to creamed mixture.
3. Stir in blueberries and pour batter into a greased and floured 9X13 baking pan.
4. Mix brown sugar, 1/3 c flour, cinnamon, and butter, and sprinkle over batter.
5. Bake at 350 and check after 40-45 minutes. (I think "checking" means to stick a toothpick in it, and that gives you some indication as to it's readiness. I never have toothpicks, so often try to use a fork or something and I usually flub this up.)

Summer Veggie Wind Down/Summer Squash and Goat Cheese Pasta

Co-workers are still bringing in the occasional surplus tomato to offer out to anyone who wants it, but it's not like a couple of weeks ago when they were bringing in baskets of them. So, I am guessing the harvest is tapering. I didn't get to make it to a farmer's market this week either where I thought I might load up one more time on summer veggies. Therefore, I was forced to buy summer squash from Whole Foods tonight to get my fix.
Why didn't I grow a basil plant? It seems so easy and I could do it on my back deck, and pick some whenever I needed it, instead of buying a big batch and inevitably throw half of it away because it wilted before I could use it all. The littlest bunch of it was $2.99 at Whole Paycheck, and it didn't even look all that great. I decided to forego buying it, and instead, either try to hit a farmer's market this weekend, or maybe I'll get lucky and someone will bring some into work tomorrow.
The reason I need basil is to try this recipe my MOTHER passed onto me. I have to emphasize this because it is a big deal. Cooking is not my mother's favorite thing to do, and I believe she would eat in a restaurant every night of the week if she could. She has a repertoire of relatively simple dishes she rotates through, and she gets by, but when people reminisce about their moms having cookies coming out of the oven when they came home from school, or some special dish they made for Christmas Eve, I can't relate. She does make excellent mashed potatoes and a mean potato salad though. For her to actually seek out, make, and pass on a new recipe, and one which required her to purchase goat cheese, is something that piqued my attention. I plan to try it this weekend, but in the meantime, I thought it worthy of posting. (By the way, I don't think she would mind me revealing these things about her, especially since she is the only one who reads my blog.)

Pasta with Summer Squash, Basil and Goat Cheese
4 tblsp olive oil
7 small summer squash, thinly sliced
20ish fresh basil leaves, torn in half
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lb rigatoni (I'm thinking penne or ziti might be better. Rigatoni is just so big.)
1/4 cup fresh goat cheese, crumbled

1. In large skillet, over low heat, heat 3 tblsp of the olive oil. Add the squash and cook, stirring often, for 30 minutes or until the squash soaks up the oil and is not all watery. As the squash cooks, use a wooden spoon to mash it against the side of a pan. Stir in half of the basil leaves.
2. Meanwhile, cook pasta until al dente. Drain and put in serving bowl. Toss with remaining olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.
3. Tip the squash mixture into the pasta and toss gently. Top with goat cheese and remaining basil leaves.
Serves 4