Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Homemade To Go Breakfast: Easy, Versatile Muffins

As promised, here's the recipe for Basic Breakfast Muffins.  The basic and the variations all go very well with coffee - and as I have learned, they don't make a bad late night snack either!

As I am want to do, these muffins are more indicative of a technique - you can vary the recipe depending on your cravings, likes, and what's in the larder, freezer or refrigerator.

Recipe:  Basic Breakfast Muffins
(Makes 1 dozen muffins)
#1 - 2 cups of flour
#2 - 1 Tablespoon of baking powder
#3 - 1/4 cup of sugar (with some fruit muffins, you can skip the sugar; more about that later)
#4 - 3/4 teaspoon of salt
#5 - 2 eggs
#6 - 1 cup of milk OR 1 cup of buttermilk (if you are making your own butter, you know that you always have great buttermilk in the 'fridge; there's nothing better for baking)
#7 - 1/2 cup of canola oil
#8 - 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract (the good stuff; avoid the imitation; make your own if you can!)

           Technique for Basic Muffins
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees
Coat a 12 muffin tin with canola oil; coat well - especially if you are using sugar! You can also use muffin tin liners - but they are just more trash!

Combine ingredients #1 - #4 in a medium sized bowl.

Beat ingredients #5 - #8 in a large bowl for 1 minute on medium speed

Add the dry mixture into the large bowl with the wet mixture

Beat - but not too long - you just don't want to see any streaks of flour; you want it all incorporated

Spoon or pour the batter into the coated muffin tins
Bake for 18 - 20 minutes OR until the the tops of the muffins spring back when pressed lightly

Transfer the muffins to a rack to cool

The basic muffin is delicious and takes to butter and/or jam beautifully.  But so far we have tried some variations that are also delicious.

Some Potential Variations

The first addition we tried was a cup of finely diced apple and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon into the batter.

For the second batch we blended a cup of local blueberries (from our freezer, defrosted and drained) into the batter. I left out the sugar from these but I did sprinkle the tops of the hot muffins with a bit of regular sugar.  That seemed to be just right.

For another recent  batch, I found that we had some Pear Jam.  It was very basic, no sugar added to the jam. We had made it from some pears that were getting soft, but were very sweet.  I blended the jam into the batter, but here I left out the sugar from the basic recipe. I did sprinkle some confectioners' sugar on the finished muffins.

Pear Jam Muffins with a sprinkle of Confectioners' Sugar

All of the above variations are delicious, moist and hold up well for the week.  It's important to note that for all of the variations I used the basic recipe.  But as I am a huge fan of Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins, I wanted to try a version of that as well.

For Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins, leave the pure vanilla out and substitute 1 1/2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice - I really don't like lemon extract!) - along with 2 Tablespoons of poppy seeds.  These were wonderful - and again - so easy!

The batter is so easy and so versatile that you can truly just use your imagination.  I am considering chocolate chips as well as oatmeal raisin right now!


Today's Food Rule:  "Spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it."

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

"Food Rules" Redux; New Cookbook; A Fall Recipe

Just for the thought provoking fun of it, I decided it would be useful to occasionally post a Food Rule from Michael Pollan's amazing little book, "Food Rules". I refer to it constantly; love it for its facts, its honesty and its sense of humor.  Lately, I have heard some friends talking about doing this or that fad diet or something called a Fall Cleansing, which is a scary thought all by itself for someone like me.  What troubles me is that people put themselves and their bodies through a lot - without noticeable positive outcomes.

So today's Food Rule:  Avoid food products with the wordoid, "lite" or the terms "low fat" or "nonfat" in their names.   We are far better off eating real food in moderation than binge - eating so called lite food products packed with sugar, salt, and other chemicals.

Finally after days and days of chilly, gray, and wet, today the Sun made an appearance and it seems we all immediately feel a bit better. Look at it this way, those days of gloomy weather helped locally grown - perhaps even your - radishes, arugula, and lettuces get well established.  They like that weather!

I continue to be amazed at the fact that I daily harvest a few sungold tomatoes, a pepper or two and a continuing supply of herbs for cooking.  But the supply is most definitely waning.  Today I finally pulled what I am pretty sure is going to be the last of the beautiful heirloom, "Chocolate Pepper"  from Seed Savers.  A delicious pepper - and a beautiful one.  I believe that I am trying to put off some of the garden prep jobs I should be doing in anticipation of colder weather.  A beautiful, sunny afternoon like today, after a few days of rain, is not helping my procrastination. How is your garden doing?  How are you prepping for the coming cold weather?

At Headhouse Farmers Market recently, we were pleased to meet April White, author of "Philadelphia Chef's Table:  Extraordinary Recipes from The City of Brotherly Love".  This is a great book - an especially great gift idea.  All of the photographs in the book are by Jason Varney - an extraordinary photographer.  Pick up the book and you'll see what I mean.  The book is well done, user friendly, and the side stories are just great.  Highly recommended.

Now is a great time to get pasture raised, hormone and chemical free Lamb from our local ranchers and farmers.  At Fair Food Farmstand last week, we got a lamb shoulder from Sweet Stem Farm (a favorite of ours, a great family owned farm with amazing products).  This is a reasonably priced cut of meat and when cooked correctly is delicious. The following is more technique than recipe.  We did some mashed potatoes and carrots and sauteed greens with it this past Sunday.  It was the perfect thing for a rainy, chilly Fall day.

Recipe:  Slow Roasted Lamb Shoulder

Turn your oven up very high - 450 or so.

Rub a 4-5 pound lamb shoulder all over with good extra virgin olive oil; generously salt and pepper the meat.

Lay the shoulder into a high sided roaster on top of several sprigs of fresh rosemary and 3 - 4 large cloves of garlic, unpeeled.

On top of the meat, place more fresh rosemary sprigs and another 3 - 4 large cloves of garlic unpeeled.

Cover the roaster tightly with foil.

Put the roaster into the oven; immediately turn your oven temperature down to 325 degrees.  Leave the lamb alone.  Enjoy the aroma that will fill your home in a few hours.

If it's bone in, leave it in the low oven for about 4 hours.  If it is boneless, 3 hours should do it.

It's done when the meat is just falling apart when touched with a fork.

Let the meat rest on a cutting board, covered with foil and a clean towel over the foil.

Drain off most of the fat from the roaster, place the roaster over medium flame on your stove top and make a roux with a tablespoon of flour and the remaining fat; scrape up the bits and pieces in the bottom of the pan;  stir in 2 cups of hot stock (we used beef, but you can use chicken or veg stock); add two tablespoons of red wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer and let the gravy thicken.  Pour the gravy into a gravy boat and serve at the table with the lamb.

It's unbelievably delicious and any left overs will be great with pita bread and Greek yogurt and shredded lettuce for an incredible Gyro sandwich OR heat the meat and gravy together and pour over cheesy polenta OR make a Shepard's pie OR just make hot lamb shoulder sandwiches.  It's all good.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Joys of Fall Planting

It's time for Fall Crops!  I have been very clear of my love of hot weather, summer sun, the ability to float in water for hours on end . . . yes, I know I have.  But I must say that the Fall crops really make me happy. They are more resilient; I don't worry them so.  And I love Arugula and Radishes and Leaf Lettuces and Beets and Broccoli   All of which are planted in our garden.  And our Swiss Chard and Kale and Mustard Greens have made a lovely comeback from the hottest of the summer. The peppers are still going strong and I am still harvesting sungold tomatoes every morning, but in place of some the other warm weather crops who's time has come and gone, we have planted both plants and seeds of all of our favorites.  Now - all that we need is some Fall weather and some luck with my chicken wire "covers" over and around our planters.  Our squirrels think we are a shopping destination, so provided we slow down our "sharing" with them, we should be harvesting some really wonderful things from very soon until November.
Black Seeded Simpson and Red Leaf Lettuces (planted in a number of places)
Baby Arugula - 2 Kinds - Just getting started

French Breakfast and Philadelphia White Radishes (one of two big pots)

These Fall crops are so versatile.  Don't feel limited by "old" approaches. As a kid, I hated beets, for example, because, they, along with lots of other veggies, were cooked into a mushy, flavorless consistency.  Roasted Beets and fresh mild goat cheese is always amazing, but raw beets, shaved nearly see through thin, are delicious over hot greens or cold salad greens.   A pasta with broccoli, beets, and great grated cheese will surprise you. Arugula, just harvested, sprinkled with great extra virgin olive oil, a splash of good vinegar and salt and pepper makes an amazing partner to a simple baked potato. And radishes with some fabulous butter, sea salt, great bread and a couple of hunks of cheese is so much more than a snack. Actually, every thing I have mentioned is great raw as well as cooked. All are very healthy as well as being delicious when harvested for immediate use.

Cold crops are definitely worth extending the growing season for; I hope you consider making them part of your edible garden!