Sunday, April 3, 2011

Apple Raisin Muffins

Anyone familiar with Paula Deen of the Food Network knows that she loves butter, butter, and more butter.  Anyone familiar with me knows that I like butter...but only in moderation (usually).  So where do Paula and I find common ground?  In these apple raisin muffins.  How?  Because Paula is so generous with her butter, I can replace half of it with apple sauce and still produce some darn good muffins.  To further de-Paula this recipe, I often replace 1 ½ cups of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour, and toss in about 2 tablespoons of nutty wheat germ to up the fiber and vitamin content of these flavorful treats.

Just as banana bread is the perfect vehicle for overripe bananas, these muffins are a perfect use for apples that are slightly past their prime.  Sweet, spicy, moist, they are perfect for breakfast or an afternoon snack.  Re-warm in the microwave or toaster oven for optimal tastiness.  This is a big recipe, but it halves easily if needed.  Muffins will keep for three or four days in a sealed bag or container. 

Miniature Apple Raisin Muffins  (Adapted from Paula Deen,
Makes about 5 dozen mini muffins or 2 dozen regular muffins

Note: Although the active time for this recipe is actually quite short, the apple mixture does take several hours to cool, so plan accordingly.

* 1 cup of water
* 2 cups (400 grams) granulated sugar
* 2 cups grated apples, any variety will do (2 large or 3 medium apples)
* 2 cups of raisins
* 1 stick (8 tablespoon/4 ounces) unsalted butter
* 1 cup of unsweetened apple sauce
* 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
* 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
* 1 teaspoon ground ginger
* ½ teaspoon ground cloves
* ½ teaspoon kosher salt
* 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
* 2 teaspoons baking soda
* 3 ½ (420 grams) cups all-purpose flour, OR a mix of all purpose and whole wheat flour and wheat germ, equaling 3 ½ cups (I use about 240 grams all-purpose flour, 160 grams whole wheat flour, and 2 tablespoons of wheat germ.  If you don't have any wheat germ, use 180 grams whole wheat flour)
* Butter or oil spray (such as PAM)

1. In a medium saucepan, combine the water, sugar, apples, raisins, butter, apple sauce, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt.  Bring the mixture to a boil.  Remove the pan from the heat and cool to room temperature.  (While I've never timed it, my recollection is this takes 2 to 3 hours, even in the fridge.  Stir the mixture occasionally to help the process along.)

2. When your mixture has cooled, crank up your oven to 350˚F.  Grease your muffin tins with butter or oil spray (such as PAM).

3. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, and nuts, if using.  Glob the cooled apple mixture onto the dry ingredients, and stir gently, just until combined.  The mixture will be thicker and chunkier than a traditional batter.  However, if you feel like it's so dry that the flour won't fully incorporate, add a ¼ cup of water to loosen things up.

4. Fill greased muffin tins almont to the top, and bake for 15 minutes for minis, about 22 minutes for regular muffins, or until a toothpick inserted near the center of the muffins comes out clean.  Cool the muffins in the tins until they can be removed without burning your fingers, then cool completely on wire racks.  If you need to reuse the muffin tins for additional batches, pop them in the fridge for a few minutes until they're cool to the touch, then re-grease and repeat until all the batter is used.


Friday, April 1, 2011

Holy Guacamole!

If you find yourself in Cambridge, and you're craving guacamole (and honestly, who isn't?),  get yourself over to Ole Mexican Grill in Inman Square.  I went there for dinner last night, and man, that guacamole.  It was, hands down, the best guacamole I've ever had.  EVER.  They prepare it table side (although from where I was sitting it was more like, behind me and out of my peripheral vision) so I didn't see the magic happen, but I'll definitely pay more attention next time.  They make it in a molcajete, one of those big, rough looking mortar and pestle things.  The avocados were perfectly ripe, and there was plenty of lime, cilantro, salt, and either red onion or scallion to make it absolutely delicious.  Essentially, it was exactly the way I like it.  One bowl is enough for 4-6 people (although I could have probably eaten it on my own...)

An interesting tidbit I learned from Leo Romero, chef/owner of Casa Romero in Boston:  The Mexican government recognizes only 46 Mexican restaurants in the US and Canada as "authentic."  Apparently, Casa Romero and Ole are both on this prestigious list, which is why both have been on my "Restaurants to Try" list (yes, I have one of those).  While my Google searches to confirm the existence of such a list have come up empty, Leo seemed like a trustworthy guy.  And in any case, authentic or not, the guacamole makes Ole a restaurant worth visiting.

Revisiting Some Old Faves

Hi.  Hello.  Sorry to be a no-show for like, the past month.  Cooking school, I'm telling you.  So much cooking during the day, noooo cooking at home.  I spend all my free time at the gym now.  Which sadly, doesn't make for very good blogging.

Last Friday I did get the baking bug, and I churned out a few things.  One was revisiting Oatmeal Bread #1, which I first wrote about last August.  It was great to go back to it and work out some of the kinks that I experienced in the first go-around.  First, I remembered the salt.  Big difference!  Also, I kind of "hot boxed" my bread dough (mostly because I was short on time).  By this I mean, I placed a shallow pan of very hot water in the bottom of the oven to make it nice and warm and steamy in there, then let the dough rise in the oven with the door closed.  It cut down the rise times for both the first and second rises to about 45 minutes each, which was great.  Also, when I first tried the recipe I actually kneaded the dough by hand for the recommended 15 minutes, but this time around I called it quits after about 7 minutes, and I didn't notice any difference whatsoever in the texture of the bread, so that was also a happy discovery.  I mean, I'm a good kneader and all, but 15 minutes...puhleez!  Sometimes I don't have the attention span!  And finally I made sure that the oven was preheated at the right time, so in it went, no over-rising and subsequent collapse.  

 A work of art this time around! And no, I'm not referencing the background.

(I also made muffins, which I will blog about later, since they are an old recipe for me, but, to my great surprise, not one that I had already blogged about.)

Then on Monday in school we had a "Market Basket" challenge--think "Chopp'd" on the Food Network, except luckily they didn't kick us out of school for not having the best dish.  Whew.  That would have sucked.  Actually, the only similarity is that we were given 4 ingredients and had to come up with a first course and an entree using the ingredients.  Our ingredients were asparagus, spring onions, beets, and mini-chicken (A "pullet"--is that what it was called?  Let me know if you remember.) Everyone made the chicken for the entree--my variation was half a chicken under a brick, with caramelized spring onions (heaven!), celery root and apple puree (a personal fave, inspired by a delicious soup I had at Clink two nights before), and over-roasted beets crisped up in some of the rendered chicken fat--a last minute save after I had forgotten about my beets in the oven, for oh, a while...and they ended up so small and wrinkled they could have passed for black truffles.  Oops.  Someone told me they tasted good though, so hey, that's cool!  

But, to get to my real point: the asparagus.  In a moment of inspiration I remembered the Shaved Asparagus Pizza that I made last summer, and decided to serve a few slices for my appetizer.  Thanks to the wonders of smart phones I was able to look up my quick pizza dough recipe, whip that up speedy quick, then proceeded to shave the asparagus using a big, fancy mandolin.  Let me just say, in the future, I will stick to the veggie peeler method.  Much safer and less scary!  Because we were limited by the ingredients we had in the kitchen that day, I had to make a few substitutions.  First, I added shaved spring onion with the shaved asparagus, since I had to use it, and I wanted to cover my bases in case I botched the caramelized onions (though luckily I didn't).  I nixed the scallions because we didn't have any, replaced the pancetta with bacon (but in the future would definitely use pancetta if I could get it), and squeezed some fresh lemon juice on the pizza after it came out of the oven.  Of the changes, I'd say the onions with the asparagus was subtle but good, although I don't think I'd go out of my way find them, especially because they are so seasonal.  I think the scallions, if I could ever remember them, would work equally well.  The lemon juice was killer, adding a hint of acidity that elevates things in that way that lemon juice magically does.  I'd forgotten just how good this recipe is...potential for my final project, perhaps...?

Sorry I've been such a blogging slacker, and now that I've made my return, I'm just telling you about stuff I've already done!  Fail.  But it's a start.  I have lots of things up my sleeve, just not nearly enough time to tell you about them!