July 24, 2009

Raisin Bran and Berry Bran Muffins

"Good" is probably not the first word that comes to mind when people think of bran muffins. I'd venture a guess that "cardboard," "health nut," and... umm... "cardboard" come to mind prior to and often in place of the word "good." But these bran muffins are really good.

They aren't like the bran muffins at the bakery, which can be loaded with sugar and they aren't like the ones at my school, which I thought were healthy but then realized were around 450 calories; the freshman 15 didn't seem so mysterious after that. Instead, they are a hearty, modest, not too cardboard-y, not too greasy, not too sugar-y breakfast treat.

The yogurt in the recipe takes the place of a fair amount of oil and the mashed banana adds a natural sweetness with a barely discernible amount of banana flavor. These muffins don't turn gummy after a few days, which as I said before, often happens when applesauce is substituted in baked goods.

As usual, I made two varieties. I just couldn't help myself and it seems I never can. Choose one, or both, or play around with the recipe on your own adding any mix of dried fruits, nuts or berries you want. Whatever you do, I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Bran Muffins
Adapted from a variety of sources but mostly Bobs Red Mill
makes about 8 muffins

3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 oat bran [I think wheat bran would also work well]
1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
1 "flax egg" (one tablespoon ground flaxseed whisked with 3 tablespoons hot water)*
1/2 cup low or non-fat plain yogurt (greek yogurt also works well)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 ripe banana, mashed
3 tablespoons neutral oil
1/4 cup milk of choice [I used light vanilla soymilk]
raw sugar for sprinkling

*creates a consistency just like a real egg- weird

Then I split the batter in two to test out a raisin and a blackberry version. Both came out very well. For the raisin version I added about a 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/3 cup raisins and for the blackberry version I added 3/4 cup blackberries. Remember these additions are to only half the batter.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly oil 8 muffin cups. Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Mix the wet ingredients in a medium bowl. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix well. Then incorporate your choice of mix-ins. [Or split the batter in half and make two versions like I did]. Use an ice cream scoop to transfer the batter evenly into the 8 prepared muffin cups [I filled each one almost to the top]. Sprinkle with raw sugar. Place in the oven and bake for about 18 minutes.

July 20, 2009

Peanut Sesame Noodle Salad

A few weeks ago (yes, that is how long ago I made this), I was really in the mood for some cold noodles. We were in the middle of an unfortunate heat wave here in St. Louis and the air conditioning in my apartment just wasn't cutting it. I had a lot of smoothies that week, and also lots of cold noodles. I actually made two similar Asian noodle dishes in one week, but like my air conditioning, the other one just didn't make the cut.

This one was just so much better. Maybe it's because I love peanut butter so much (who doesn't?) but this dish has so many other high points. For one, it's light and refreshing with hints of heat from the sriracha and coolness from the ginger. The crisp vegetables also lend a pleasant crunch and freshness. It's perfect for summer when you want something substantial without having to turn on the oven or the stove. "Yum" is really all I have to say- eloquent, isn't it?

Peanut Sesame Noodles

Adapted from smittenkitchen
makes 6 side-dish or 4 vegetarian main-course servings

For peanut dressing
1/2 cup creamy natural peanut butter
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup warm water
1 tablespoon chopped peeled fresh ginger
1 medium garlic clove, chopped
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon red chile paste
1 teaspoon sriracha

For noodles
3/4 lb dried soba nooodles [dried spaghetti also works well]
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/8-inch-thick strips
1 seedless cucumber, thinly sliced
1 cup firm or extra-firm tofu, cubed
3 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted

Puree the dressing ingredients in a blender until smooth, about 2 minutes, then transfer to a large bowl.

Cook pasta in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water until tender. Drain in a colander, then rinse well under cold water.

Add pasta, scallions, bell peppers, cucumber and tofu to dressing, tossing to combine. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds and serve immediately.

July 13, 2009

Mini Yogurt Cakes Two Ways

I've wanted to try my hand at a making at French Style Yogurt Cake for quite awhile. The reason it's never happened (until now) is because to me, there never seemed to be an appropriate time. This cake isn't fit to be a birthday cake and it's not quite as easy to give away as cookies or quick breads. I like to think of it more as an everyday kind of cake, but everyday cake has never really been part of my vocabulary.

I always think of cake as a frosted, decadent, decorated, and towering confection to be eaten on holidays and special occasions. But this cake is none of the above. Instead, it's light, airy, and simple- perfect for a mid-morning snack with a cup of tea or as a part of "this complete breakfast."

My cakes came out very light in color because I seem to have overlooked the part of the recipe that said to bake "until the top is golden brown;" however, the taste didn't seem to be affected at all. The applesauce, as you may have guessed, is not part of the original recipe and neither is the non-fat yogurt. While you could of course make a full fat version, mine came out very moist, if not a little gummy (I think this sometimes happens because of the applesauce). So even if you aren't in to the idea of applesauce, I think low or non-fat yogurt are both perfectly viable substitutions.

Mini Yogurt Cakes

Adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini
makes 12 mini cakes or one 8-inch round

1 cup plain non-fat yogurt
1/4 cup applesauce
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
scant 2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Lemon version: add the juice and zest of one whole lemon plus 1 1/2 tablespoons honey

Almond Maple version: add 1/2 teaspoon almond extract and a scant 1/4 cup grade B maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 350° F and grease a cupcake pan. In a large mixing-bowl, gently combine the yogurt, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and oil. In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and baking soda. Add the flour mixture into the yogurt mixture, and blend together - be careful not to over-mix the batter.

If you would like to make both versions, split the batter into two and add the necessary extras listed above. If, however, you would like to just make one of the versions, double the amount of add in's since you will be using the full amount of batter- you could also make neither version and just have a plain and simple yogurt cake).

After you've mixed in all the desired ingredients, pour the batter into the prepared cupcake pan, and bake for 25- 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown (oops I did not read that part and took mine out a bit early- the insides were still fully cooked though) and a cake tester comes out clean. Let stand for ten minutes, and transfer onto a rack to cool.

July 4, 2009

Happy 4th and English Muffins

I didn't even know you could make English Muffins at home. Maybe that makes me sound foolish because where else would you make them? But I guess I just never thought about it. I always think of English Muffins as packaged food you buy in the grocery store, as Thomas's. I had never seen them at bakeries, or maybe just never looked. To me, they have always been branded and I guess that's kind of sad.

But no longer! I came across homemade English Muffins for the first time while browsing tastespotting and then searched until I found what I thought was a quality recipe. The one I used is from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice; a very worthy recipe indeed.

As much as I'd like to say they turned out perfectly and they were the best English Muffins I've ever tasted, I can't lie to you. They were good and they had nooks and crannies and they looked store bought, but really they weren't out of this world amazing. And to tell you the truth, while we're being honest and all, they were a bit of a pain-in-the-ass to make- especially for a recipe that only yields 6 muffins.

As usual, some of these imperfections could be my fault: I think I may have taken them out of the oven a bit too early because although they wasn't any raw dough on the inside, they were rather dough-y and dense. My substitution of 1 cup whole wheat flour for part of the bread flour may also be at fault. But I do have some complaints of my own: I think this recipe could have yielded at least 8 English Muffins because mine were too thick, they were also very moist and didn't toast up as wonderfully as the store bought one's do. But I'll leave you with the recipe to try at your own accord; as for me, I think I'll stick to Thomas's.

English Muffins
From the Bread Baker's Apprentice via macheesmo

10 ounces (2.25 Cups) unbleached bread flour [I subbed in 1 cup whole wheat flour]
1/2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
3/4 Teaspoons salt
1 1/4 Teaspoons instant yeast
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 to 1 Cup milk (or buttermilk) [I used whole b/c it's what I had from another recipe but definitely did NOT need the extra fat as they were too moist/ thick, I'd go for 2% next time]
Cornmeal for dusting
Spray oil for cooking

Stir together the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast in a large bowl. Mix that all together and then stir in the butter. Honestly, I just used my hands to mix in the butter, but you could use a mixer if you wanted to get all scientific. Then add in your milk until the dough forms a ball. Start with 3/4 a cup of milk and then drizzle in more until all the flour is in a ball.

After a minute or two of that, knead the dough until it passes the windowpane test (this never happened for me), probably about 10 minutes. Set this dough in a clean bowl that has been lightly oiled. Cover and let ferment at room temperature for 90 minutes.

Once the dough has fermented, use whatever method you have to cut it into six pieces. Then take each piece and shape it into a boule. This means shaping it into a ball by folding the edges under and making a taunt surface on top. Should only take a few seconds to form each one.

Get a baking pan and line it with parchment paper (if you have some). Spray the parchment paper with non-stick spray and then dust it liberally with corn meal. Place each muffin on the sheet and lightly spray each one with another layer of oil and dust with more corn meal. Cover these with a towel and let them rise again for about 75-90 minutes.

The first thing to do when cooking these guys is to pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. We will finish the muffins in the oven. Then get out your largest pan or griddle and spray or wipe it with oil. Turn your stovetop on medium-high heat and get your pan hot. Spray some oil (or wipe some oil) in the pan. You want to make sure these don’t stick, but you don’t need pools of oil for that. When the pan is hot, put each muffin down. The dough will spread out and start to puff up. Don’t crowd the muffins too much. You don’t want them touching.

These guys will brown quickly, but they won’t burn for some time. Cook them on the first side for 5 to 8 minutes. When they are a medium brown, give them a flip.

Cook them for 5 to 8 minutes on the other side and then transfer them immediately to a sheet pan in the pre-heated oven. The griddle cooks the outside and gives the muffins their distinctive crunch and flatness, but the insides of the muffins are still pretty raw. Cook them in the oven for 8-10 minutes to solve that problem. (I think I took them out too soon so be patient!)

Then let them cool for at least 30 minutes.

July 1, 2009

Grilled Squash and the Perfect Summer Dinner

Originally, I didn't think I'd feature tonight's dinner on my blog.  It's simple, not that pretty, and not that complex- but oh, it was genius.  Right after I took my first bite (er, first four bites...), I knew that this was most definitely blog-worthy.

I think it might just be the perfect summer dinner as well because it's light, fresh, and satisfying.  Plus, it utilizes the grill (or grill pan in my case).  Furthermore it's got everything you need in a meal- whole grains from the pita, protein from the egg, vegetables from the squash and fat from the cheese... and the egg. 

This was also so fast and easy to throw together you could make it on any week night you're in a time crunch but feel like having something healthy.  Bottom line: it's good, so make it!

The Perfect Summer Dinner
Serves 1 (me!)

1/2 yellow squash, cut into 1/4 inch slices lengthwise
1/2 zucchini, cut into 1/4 inch slices lengthwise
olive oil

1 whole wheat pita pocket, halved and toasted
2- 3 tablespoons cheese of choice [personally, I think a sharp cheese works best]
1 egg, over-easy 

After the squash has been cut, lightly coat both sides with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Place the slices on a hot grill or grill pan for about 2 minutes (or until distinct grill marks appear).  Flip, and leave on the other side for the same amount of time.  

While the squash is grilling, prepare the pita, egg, and cheese.  Remove squash from the grill and stuff 1/3 into each pita half.  Top the last third with the poached egg.  Finish with more salt and pepper if needed. Enjoy!