Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The 16th Batch

Just posted on LIS ... its nice to finally share the final recipe with everyone!

Morning Glory Muffins, Made-Over

As an intern at America’s Test Kitchen – and also at its respective magazines Cook’s Illustrated, Cook’s Country, numerous cookbooks, and television series - you are able to see the entire recipe development process unfold right before your eyes. And, in most cases, you are experiencing it with your own hands too. By taking on the role as an intern, you are signed up to assist the test cooks as they tirelessly test every facet of a certain recipe, which often leads to a recipe being made forty, fifty, or even seventy times. This means a lot of ingredients, a lot of prep work, and a lot of tasting. And don’t take the vague descriptor of ‘a lot’ here lightly…I’m talking slicing forty pounds of onions to make ten batches of French onion soup simultaneously…in one afternoon. How else could we know what type of beef broth is best? This was what my days were like during the thirteen week period of my time there.
To enhance our experience in the test kitchen, we (I and the other wonderful group of people interning along with me) were given a project that enabled us to mimic the procedure that a test cook goes through each time they are assigned an official recipe project. This meant that, on our own, we were to pick a recipe out of a given topic, research its background and recipe variation, test the many differing elements of the recipe, create a final ‘best recipe’ from the results of said tests, and write an article describing our testing experience behind the created dish in the style of Cook’s Illustrated magazine.
Our topic was fruit muffins. Sounds like a pretty good topic, right? When you think about muffins, they seem so cute. Harmless little palm sized delights, sitting daintily in a dishtowel-lined basket, probably ready for a summer picnic. Let me tell you though, after your 15th batch of muffins that didn’t turn out the way you wanted them to, you start hallucinating tiny little devil horns growing out of muffin tops. Do I really have to make and taste you, AGAIN?? And the answer is yes, because you want to get it right.
Alright, I may be being overdramatic. There were no devil muffins, although I will say that none of us could even look at a muffin for a good couple of weeks after the project was done. But of course, like many challenges, it was very rewarding at the end to have completed the whole process and have your own original recipe and story laid out in an article format.
Morning Glory Muffins was what I chose as my topic. Since I was so fed up with muffins that were more like cupcakes with an identity crisis, I wanted to create a Morning Glory muffin that was still moist and delicious, without being oil slicked and bombed with refined sugar. Who wants to start their day that way? After playing around with many different ingredients and ratios – how much AP Flour to whole wheat flour? What is the real purpose of the egg yolk vs. the egg white? When and how does ‘moist’ turn the corner to ‘gummy’? - the rising heroes of the recipes proved to be apple butter and honey, each adding excellent flavor and texture profiles to the otherwise ordinary muffin. Although Morning Glories were a bold project choice with all of the different ingredients and recipes that exist, I was able to create at least one more variation to add to the list.

Morning Glory Muffins
Makes 12 Muffins

NOTE: Apple butter is a fruit spread made from the low-and-slow cooking of apples, liquid, and in some cases added sugar or spices. We prefer Whole Earth All Natural Tap’nApple Apple Butter Spread which contains only apples and apple cider. Other brands will work as well, but be sure to read the ingredients and/or taste it prior to using as these flavors will affect the final taste of your muffin.

1 cup (5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup (5 ounces) whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup packed (3.5 ounces) light brown sugar
1/2 cup apple butter (see note)
1/4 cup honey
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups grated carrots (from about 4-5 medium, peeled carrots)
1 medium Granny Smith apple peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4 inch dice (about 3/4 cup)
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners or lightly spray cups with non-stick cooking spray.

2. Whisk the flours, cinnamon, baking powder, nutmeg, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl until combined. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, brown sugar, apple butter, honey, melted butter, and vanilla extract until combined, set aside.

3. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and gently fold until the mixture just starts to come together; streaks of flour should still remain. Add the carrots, apples, raisins, walnuts, and stir until evenly combined. Try not over-mix or you will have tough muffins.

4. Divide batter evenly among the 12 cup spaces by scooping into prepared muffin tin. It will seem like a lot of batter but don’t worry: the batter level will stand above the cup line and is stiff enough that it will stay standing. The muffins will spread out as it bakes (but will not over-rise). Bake until muffins tops have slightly browned and a toothpick inserted in center of a muffin comes out with a few crumbs attached, 24-27 minutes. Place tin on wire rack to cool 5 minutes, then remove muffins from tin to wire rack. Let sit 10 minutes before serving. They also freeze beautifully, and may be even better the next day!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Banana Mash

I think about food. A lot. And not only in the sense of "I'm hungry, I want to eat", but in many different facets really.

I see art in food. I see cultural patterns, decisions, potential, history, personality, future, nature, nurture...the list goes on. And I so appreciate food for all of the things it shows us and gives us everyday. How many other things in life can evoke our different senses so intensely at the same time? I guess that's why I've never really met a food that I've truly hated (at least yet...and of course unless its something that is poorly made or cared for). Yeah, I might not like the flavor or texture of a certain food so much (black licorice plays a dangerous edge), but I always follow by saying "but it still does serve its purpose someway somehow!"
Am I worried that I'm hesitant to offend something that cannot think or speak? Hmm, maybe I should be... but oh well, that's me I guess.

The reason I started thinking about the many sides of food, though, was because I was thinking about the next thing I could write about to post here. Sometimes I feel like one of my food thoughts (something I see, make, eat...) is too small or insignificant to write about on here. Does anyone else really care? I always wonder. This morning however, as I was making my oatmeal, I realized that this is such a silly sentiment. In reality, it never hurts to share a thought or idea. You never know what it will mean for someone else, or, what it will mean to you as it changes through someone else's perspective.

So today, as my oatmeal cooked on the stove, I made my favorite bowl-accompaniment of banana with some sort of nut butter (sometimes peanut, sometimes almond, sometimes a mixture of the two, plus some chopped walnuts... if I'm feeling sassy). But instead of just slicing the former and scooping in the later; you take your banana, mash it with a fork, add a spoonful or two of nutbutter, and mash away until its all mixed.

I know a lot of us know the flavor or banana and peanut butter together -- nothing new there. But for some reason, the first time I made this I tasted it and was blown away and pleasantly surprised by what I was tasting. The two flavors were so much more married in this mashed state, as opposed to its chunkier, disconnected, non-mashed predecessor. The natural sugars of the banana break down and mingle right next to the salty, hearty ground nuts, and they are introduced seamlessly together to the tongue with their now wetter, glossier texture. This is why its best to do this with just ripe and older bananas - keep the greener youngsters for a snack or cereal.

I love it in oatmeal, I love it on toast, I love it straight up. I call it Banana Mash.
Because it's as simple as its name suggests, and that counts.

Friday, April 16, 2010

¡HOLA! Granola

Another article posted on Local In Season...check it out here or there!

First, there’s the growling stomach. It starts at a whisper and gains volume with every minute it’s ignored. Then, the lethargy hits. Time’s slower, you’re slower, sitting is a chore. Finally, the world turns against you. Somehow, someway, everyone and everything has acquired the same ultimate goal: to annoy you mercilessly. The symptoms are classic. Hunger strikes again, and it will stop for nothing until its satisfied.
Low blood-sugar episodes are no fun, and it is one of my main priorities to avoid them at all costs. This is why in almost every purse, backpack, and even jacket pocket of mine, you’ll find some sort of snack tucked away. I call it my emergency stash. Some people carry around Epipens, I carry granola. I guess we all have our issues…
Although some sort of store bought version is always safely stored away in my cabinets (can you tell I like to be prepared?) you will most likely find me making a batch of granola every Sunday to get me through the week ahead. Quite frankly, I like to say that my granola recipe got me through college. On those marathon days of ungodly amounts of hours straight in the library, bringing a bag of my granola with me would be just as important as bringing my textbooks. While everyone rushed to the vending machines for caffeinated cans of who-knows-what, I knew my concoction of oats and nuts would fuel me right through any paper or study session. As my friends and classmates slowly caught on to my routine, they started asking me when I was going to start selling it around campus. I never quite got to that point since finishing my degree overruled starting full-time granola production, but I figured my creation at least deserved an official name. So, since more often than not what I was studying while munching was somehow Spanish related due to my major, ¡Hola! Granola was born.
The recipe below is the backbone of every batch I make. It is certainly tasty enough on its own, but other versions often appear from whatever is in my reach within my cabinets that particular week. Some days I add coconut, others wheat germ, and a few different spices have been known to make an appearance as well. It’s a recipe that is completely open to variation, so feel free to experiment with your favorite tastes. With warmer weather coming our way too (finally!), it is a perfect companion for any hike or outdoor activity to keep you energized. Now you can finally combat those painful hunger spells and say ¡Hola! to satisfaction with your own stash of granola.

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
· ½ cup slivered almonds
· ½ cup chopped walnuts
· ½ cup 100% pure maple syrup
· ¼ cup honey
· 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
· ½ teaspoon cinnamon
· ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
· ¼ teaspoon salt
· ¾ cup dried fruit (I usually do a mixture of raisins, cranberries, and cherries)
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Spray a sided sheet pan liberally with non-stick cooking spray.
Combine the oats, almonds, and walnuts in a medium bowl, set aside. In a separate bowl, combine the maple syrup, honey, brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, and salt. Mix with a fork or whisk until thoroughly combined. Pour the syrup mixture over the oat mixture and stir to evenly coat the oats and nuts.
Pour the oat mixture on to the pan and spread into an even layer using a spatula, packing it down to create a flat surface. Bake until golden brown and smelling nutty, about 27-30 minutes. Sprinkle the dried fruit over the top of the warm granola, and let cool completely in the pan. Break off the granola in large chunks or crumble with your hands to create more of a loose granola great for yogurt or milk.