>All-Day Muffins

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I firmly believe that muffins are the greatest snack you can have. I know this is highly debatable, but I stand by my opinion. Here’s why:
  • They have sweetness. All the best snacks are sweet.
  • They have fiber. Fiber keeps you full.
  • They are infinitely variable. Variety is the… you know.
  • They are appropriate to eat at any time, day or night.  

I was once the head cook at a camp, and we baked our muffins in sheet pans. Easier to prepare, easier to serve, easier to clean up after. (Who wants to spend their morning scrubbing out 100 holes? Not me. And not my dish crew.) Any leftover slabs of muffin got piled on a plate, and though they might languish in the morning, the kids would fight over them come 2 o’clock. 


Recently I made a Morning Glory Muffin recipe, and they were… okay. Morning Glory Muffins traditionally have shredded carrots, drained canned pineapple, raisins, coconut, and nuts. I swapped out diced rhubarb for the pineapple (still dealing with the rhubarb glut here), omitted the nuts, and substituted diced dried apricots for the raisins. All these switches were fine. The problem was with the muffin batter itself. It was too sweet, and had little heft to it. It tasted like a cupcake.


This brings up another debatable question: What’s the difference between a cupcake and a muffin? I believe the answer lies in the frosting (one had it, one does not) and in the dry ingredient ratio. I like my muffins to be not TOO sweet, and with some whole grain goodness. 

There are many way to incorporate whole grains into your baked goods. You can sub ground flax seed for some of the flour, or add some wheat germ. The easiest way is to use whole wheat pastry flour. I like Bob’s Red Mill, both for its texture and for the labor practices at the company. (Bob recently retired and gave his company to his employees, he’s that cool.) If you live in Seattle, you can get it at the Oroweat outlet store on 95th and 1st for the best price I’ve seen. 


The recipe had good bones, and I tweaked it to make it better. As noted in point three above, muffins can adapt to whatever you have on hand. You could cut the sugar even further, to 3/4 of a cup, if you like austere pastries.

One non-muffin note: I will be having a giveaway in two days! So check back on Wednesday for your chance (very high chance, thanks to a small readership) to win some homemade goodies!


Glorious All-Day Muffins

adapted from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, revised edition

1 c all-purpose flour
1 1/4 c whole wheat pastry flour
2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 c white sugar
3 large eggs
8 T (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled
1 t vanilla or almond extract
2 c grated carrots (don’t bother to peel them first)
3/4 c or so diced rhubarb
1/2 c coconut
1/2 c diced dried apricots
1/2 c chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 375˚. Coat one or two muffins tins with baking spray. Be sure to coat the top of the tin, not just the insides, as it makes removal so much easier.


Whisk together the dry ingredients, except the sugar, in a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar until combined. Slowly whisk in the butter and vanilla until smooth. Fold the egg mix into the dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in the carrots, rhubarb, coconut, apricots, and nuts. (This makes a pretty stiff batter. I actually just folded the final ingredients in using my hands and a light kneading motion. Don’t overwork the batter.)


Scoop into the prepared muffins tins. (I used my hands to scoop, since they were already dirty.) Bake until golden and toothpick stuck in the middle of the middle muffin comes out clean. This will take about 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes, then flip out out a rack and let cool a little more before serving. 

Makes 12-15 muffins.

The carrots are sweet, the rhubarb adds a bit of tartness, and the coconut and apricots lend some chew. These muffins keep well, and are a wonderful little treat. 

You can make many substitutions here. Use any other kind of nut, or no nuts*. Use any sort of dried fruit for the apricots, or none. Go the traditional route with one 8 ounce can of crushed pineapple, drained, for the rhubarb. If you have another vegetable, such as zucchini, use it in place of carrots. Grated beets might make for a lovely pink muffin (and use some dried cranberries or cherries for ruby accents). As mentioned above, muffins take well to adaptation. What is your favorite kind of muffin?

* “no nuts” is a phrase I really like because of how it feels in my mouth . This started at the camp, where we would make granola two ways — nuts, and no nuts. The no-nuts (see? it’s fun) version got a little sticker on the bottom, so when nut-allergic kids came, we’d swap out the nuts for the no-nuts. The boys I worked with thought “no nuts” was funny. I like the alliteration. 
 

>Behold, the powers of Spray Paint

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If you didn’t know it already, I want to enlighten you to a cheap and easy way to makeover old things: Spray Paint! 
I bought an ugly wicker hamper a while ago at a garage sale. It was $5, and it was the aqua green of your grandma’s bathroom. It had a marbled green tile stuck crookedly to the top. The paint was cracked. I didn’t take any “before” pictures, so use your imagination. It was not something I would ever use as-is, but spray paint changes everything! The top and frame are made from real wood, and the wicker was in good shape. After I washed it and sanded it, I realized that even the wicker was wood! This thing is solid. 
So, no before pictures, but here’s what it looks like now:

Details ahead!

I unscrewed the lid from the top (I would have left it on if I wanted it all yellow) and washed and sanded the whole thing. When it was dry, I primered it all, then painted the exterior of the hamper and both sides of the lid. I was hoping for a very specific shade of light blue, but the color selection at my local Home Depot was not overwhelming. (I’ll show pictures of my bedroom soon. I’m going for a Scandinavian yellow and blue color scheme.) I used Rust-Oleum’s Painter’s Touch Ultra Cover primer and paints. I used more than one can of primer, but probably one would have sufficed. I did use about one and a half cans of yellow for good coverage. The blue is Navy Blue, and the yellow is Sun Yellow, both in gloss. I’m painting some frames with the leftovers. 
My tips for spray painting are as follows: Read the directions. Start with a clean dry and smooth surface. Spray light, even coats. It’s better to do several light coats to get proper coverage than to spray it really thick just once or twice. I’m impatient, so I always tell myself to put down the can after just a few sprays and come back in 30 minutes. 
The old paint (and the yellow) seems to rub off a little on the inside, so I made a fabric liner for the interior. This is where things got ugly. Sewing is for sure my worst “domestic arts” skill. I had envisioned a simple fabric liner, with Velcro to hold it up (no hooks, I didn’t want my clothes to catch on them). I had a clean sheet that matched (I didn’t love it, but it will rarely be seen). I measure the interior dimensions and cut out my pieces, leaving a seam allowance. The seams are on the exterior of the liner; I thought this would be more aesthetically pleasing when I looked inside my hamper. As you’ll seen, aesthetics soon fled for the country.
I cut out four panels, one for each side, and as I struggled to sew them together with straight seams, I realized I could have just cut out one panel. I realized “Fabric bends to accommodate corners.” Yeah, sheesh. Then there was some seam ripping, and some ugly muttering, and an irate bobbin. The sewing fairies are not my friends.
Eventually I got three of the four sides sewn together, but then I realized I had no clue how to sew on the bottom piece (I’d already tried sewing it on first, but at least one piece had been cut crooked…. things were a mess.) So I guessed. Here are the hot mess results of my attempts, being laughed at by my sister:
Yeah, it’s bad. But it works!
Next, I put the Velcro on. We had sticky-backed Velcro, which worked well for the interior of the hamper, but attempting to sew it to the fabric did not go well. I settled for sticking it on the fabric, and someday when it loses its adhesiveness I’ll buy Velcro that can be sewn on. 
This hamper liner is the “Good Enough” liner. Sometimes there are things in life that are just not worth sweating over. Say it with me: It’s Good Enough.

>Kitchen Smackdown! Rhubarb Cake!

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As mentioned in my last post, I was recently gifted with HEAPS and HEAPS of rhubarb. That same day, I’d examined the three rhubarb plants in our front yard and saw that they were more than ready to be cut. What to do with so much rhubarb? The sweet-tart, and sweet-sweet-sweet answer, is after the jump.

I used some of it to make rhubarb chutney. Chutney is a condiment typically made from fruit and some spices simmered in a vinegar-based liquid until everything softens and comes together a little. It’s used with meats and poultry and can be served alongside a cheese plate for a tart bit of refreshment. A simple party trick is to pour some over cream cheese or goat cheese and serve it with crackers.
There are many kinds of chutney out there. Perhaps the most well-known is mango chutney (and if you have some laying around  and it’s cold where you are, like it is in Seattle right now, go make this.) I’d never made chutney before, but 40 pounds of rhubarb can be very inspiring. For a good recipe, I turned to Food in Jars (as I often do) and found this delicious-sounding recipe. I followed it to a T (well, used red onion, and simmered 35 minutes) and now have six pints of rhubarb chutney. I see many cheese plates in my future.
A warning: don’t try this recipe when it’s very warm. You might accidentally inhale hot vinegar and sear your throat on hot acid and that might lead you to believe that you don’t like the chutney you’ve slaved over. Just sayin’.
  
The sweet-sweet-sweet reference above is a cryptic clue to last week’s cake-off. Faced with the last of the rhubarb still languishing in the fridge, I decided to dive right in and initiate a new type of post here called Kitchen Smackdown! The name is because I don’t mind a little violence, and because I think categories are a very very good thing.
The inaugural Smackdown features two kinds of Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake. The “bottom” of each cake was the same. I tossed largely-diced rhubarb in sugar (just eyeball it here, enough to lightly coat each piece when you stir it around) and a little lemon juice. Let this sit for a while, and if the rhubarb hasn’t yielded a lot of liquid, you’ll want to add some. Apple or pineapple juice works well, but you could use just about anything, even water. After the sugar has dissolved, pour the rhubarb into the bottom of the greased pan (note that each cake is a different size) and add some of the juice. I added just enough to make a sheen all over the bottom of each pan, but you could definitely do more; both cakes will soak it up nicely. I knew I was making two cakes, so I did about two pounds of rhubarb total. I’ll indicate the approximate amounts for each cake below.

Cornmeal Buttermilk Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake
 adapted from The Joy of Cooking. If you don’t own this classic compendium, go buy it.

About 1 1/4 pounds rhubarb, diced and sugared as described above. 
Grease a 9″ x 13″ pan and spread the rhubarb on the bottom.
Preheat the oven to 350˚.
2 1/3 c all-purpose flour
1 c cornmeal
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt

In another bowl, beat until creamy 
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 c) butter, at room temp (about 65˚)
then beat in gradually, about 3 to 5 minutes,
1 1/3 c white sugar
After the sugar and butter are combined to be creamy and slightly fluffy, beat in slowly
3 eggs (at room temp; put them in a bowl of warm water when you start the recipe)
1 t vanilla extract

Keep the mixer on low and add the flour in three parts, alternating with
1 c buttermilk
in two parts, scraping everything down after each addition. 

Pour the cake batter over the rhubarb and gently spread as needed to even. Bake until a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let cool completely, then put a plate or tray bigger than the cake pan upside down over the cake pan. Use your thumbs to hold it in place, and in one smooth motion flip the whole shebang over and set the serving tray on the counter. If you’ve greased the pan well, the whole thing should slide right out without breaking. 

Rating: This cake was light and delicious. The buttermilk lent a nice tangy note, and the corn added a tiny bit of crunch and kept the cake from being overly sweet. It was actually so light and not-too-sweet that I served huge squares (5″ x 5″) and nobody complained. It would be a nice spring-time alternative to a coffeecake.


Next up:

Classic Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake
also adapted from The Joy of Cooking. Seriously, it’s great.
about 3/4 pound of rhubarb, diced and sugared as described above, spread in the bottom of a greased 9″ square pan. 
Preheat the oven to 350˚.
Whisk together in a small bowl
2 eggs 
2 T buttermilk
1/2 t vanilla

Whisk together in the bowl of the mixer or another large bowl
1 c flour
3/4 c sugar
3/4 t baking powder
1/4 t baking soda
1/4 t salt

Add
6 T (3/4 of a stick) soft butter
6 T buttermilk

Beat on low until the flour is barely moist, then increase the speed to medium (high for a hand mixer) and beat for exactly 90 seconds. Add one-third of the egg mixture, beat for exactly 20 seconds, and scrape the bowl and beaters. Repeat twice. Scrape the batter over the prepared rhubarb and spread to even. Bake until a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Let the cake cool completely, then invert it onto a cake plate or platter. 

Rating: This is classic pineapple upside-down cake batter. It’s very yellow and has a dense, moist texture. We ate it the day after baking and it still tasted very fresh. It was much sweeter than the other, and had a spongier texture.
The Moment of Truth: 
Preparation: Both cakes were easy to prepare. (Full disclosure: I have a KitchenAid stand mixer. This machine makes many things easy to prepare.) The timing notes on the classic cake were obnoxious, but in the end the batter was perfectly smooth.
Looks: Obviously these cakes looked very similar. One was bigger. I liked how the classic cake looked better, simply because it seemed the syrup had soaked into the cake a little more during baking. The rhubarb mixture on top is not super attractive; it’s sort of pink and green and brown. Either cake would go well with fresh whipped cream.
Taste: I polled everyone who ate both kinds. The majority liked the classic cake better, because it was sweeter. I liked the buttermilk-cornmeal cake better, because it wasn’t as cloying and was a little lighter in the mouth. I also like how this cake is a bit unexpected for an upside-down. In a good vote tally, majority rule might carry the day, but this is my blog.  
The Winner: Cornmeal Buttermilk Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake!
Let me know if you try either recipe. The Cornmeal Buttermilk Cake would also be wonderful plain, served with whipped cream and fruit. (I’m thinking preserved plums in winter.) 
Any suggestions for future Smackdowns?

What to do with Rhubarb, or, My sink overfloweth

 

Last week I was at my local fruit stand and saw an employee sorting through the rhubarb. She turned to a colleague and said “It’s all bad. It all has to go.” Now, something you need to know about me: I love free stuff. The rhubarb looked all right to me, so I said to her in my saddest-sounding voice, “You’re throwing all of that away?” And just like I hoped, she offered it to me. For free. The photo above has the cantaloupe for comparison purposes.
I wish I would have weighed the box. I think it was between 30 and 40 pounds. The ends were a tiny bit slimy, and maybe three stalks were getting soft, but the rest was great. I washed it, chopped it up, and froze it in zippy bags in 10 cup quantities. That was 50 cups worth of rhubarb, and I still had one-third of that box there.

So what did I do with the rest? I’ll let you know in future posts, but here’s a hint: chutney. And jam. And cake. And crisp. And if you want some rhubarb, we actually have a bunch growing in our front yard we’d be happy to share!

Escabeche and Kiwi Lime Jam

 

I am a canning fool. My pantry is well-stocked already, and I can’t stop dreaming of all the other goodies I want to make.  I really want to try a version of the Dark Days challenge throughout this winter, and my inner pioneer woman couldn’t be more delighted.
Before you start canning for yourself, please take time to read up on proper canning techniques. There are certain hard and fast rules you want to follow to ensure that all your time and effort produces delicious food that is safe to eat. There are many excellent resources that discuss each step in detail. Two I recommend and often use myself are Marisa McClellan’s blog Food in Jars and a book I borrow from my local library, “Joy of Cooking: All about canning and preserving” from the Joy of Cooking empire.

The last recipes I canned were a delicious Kiwi Lime Jam, and a mix of jalepenos and other veggies in a strong brine. 

 

This is a strongly pickled spicy mixture of veggies. I think it would be good to serve with tacos, and the jalepenos can be picked out and used in many applications. It’s also good just for snacking. 



Escabeche

1 lb jalepenos
1/3 cup olive oil 
2 medium white or yellow onions, sliced 
3 medium carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
1 head cauliflower, seperated into medium florets
1 head garlic, cloves separated
3 cups white vinegar

1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp canning salt
1 Tbsp sugar
Sprigs of cilantro

Bring your canning pot, with your jars and rings inside, to a boil, and leave to simmer while you do the rest. 
Cut an x in the tip of each jalepeno. 
Heat the oil in a large deep skillet (I used a big deep pot) and add all the veggies. Saute over medium-high heat for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally. 
While that’s cooking, combine the vinegars, salt, and sugar, and stir to dissolve.
After 10 or so minutes, add the vinegar mixture. Bring to a boil, then let it simmer until the jalepenos are cooked through (they’ll feel soft when you jab them with your spoon). I let this simmer with the lid on, since the veggies bob around and I wanted them to be evenly cooked. Pack your jars with the veggie mixture and pour brine over the top. Leave a 1/2″ headspace. I used tongs to evenly distribute the veggies among all the jars. Add a sprig or two of cilantro to each jar. Use a chopstick to poke the veggies down (there’s a lot, and if you can get them to stay under the brine, it’s better) and run it around the jar to remove air bubbles. 
Wipe the rims, put on the lids and screw down the rings, and put back into the hot water. Bring back to a boil and then let boil for ten minutes. (The time start from when the water RETURNS to a boil.) Remove from the water and let cool. Check the seal (lids should be concave and secure), remove rings and wipe down jars, and label and date. 

Makes 4 1/2 pints.

As with any canning recipe, you can always just put your product into the fridge straight away (without water-bath processing) and keep it there.
Next time, I will do 5 or 6 carrots, and only 1 onion. The onion is good, there’s just a lot of it. And I would probably add a teaspoon or so of cumin seeds to each jar.  You could also add strips of red or yellow pepper for more color.






Kiwi Lime Jam
adapted from “Well Preserved” by Mary Anne Dragan (3rd ed.). 

9 large ripe kiwis
Zest and juice of 3 limes
3 cups sugar

Peel the kiwis and either chop them finely or whir them up in a food processor.  Dump all the ingredients into a deep wide pot, give it a good stir, and let it macerate for 30 minutes. (I did this while my veggies for the escabeche were cooking.) Prepare your jars.
Bring the fruit mixture to a boil and boil it rapidly until it reaches 220 degrees on a thermometer, or until it gels when you put some on a frozen saucer and freeze it again for two minutes. I have a nice instant read thermometer (that I actually won from Marisa) that I use for all my jam making. Once it reaches 220, it’s okay if it boils for a little bit longer. Just be sure you stir this the whole time; you don’t want scorched jam.
Remove from the heat. Pour into your jars, and de-bubble. Leave 1/4″ headspace. Wipe the rims, apply the lids and rings. Process for 10 minutes, remembering that the time starts when the water returns to a boil. Let cool, check the seal, remove rings and wipe down jars, and label and date.

Makes 3 8 oz jars. 

I hope you consider making some food now, when we have so much local abundance, to see you through those winter days when the only locally grown thing you can find is worms. It’s very easy to eat local when the fruit stands and farmers markets are full of lovely items, but with a little planning, this can be done all year round!

 

>Nombre uno

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I took three quarters of Spanish in college (they said it was like three years of high school Spanish — I’m not sure how that math works out there). I swear to you, EVERY TIME WE TOOK A TEST I would look at the top of the page, where it looks like this
Nombre  ______________________
and I would think to myself “What number test IS this?!? I haven’t been keeping track!”
and every time some fool would raise their hand and ask the teacher that exact question, and she would sigh and probably pray that la chupacabra would haunt us.
In related news, I went to Spain last year, and I successfully asked a man where the green line was. And I totally forgot about es/esta. And I yelled out to a woman “I’m sorry, I don’t speak!” and then the elevator doors between us closed.