May 29, 2011

Really Good Bran Muffins with Prune Jam

It's hard to believe that before I went to college, breakfast used to be my least favorite meal. (Dinner was my favorite, specifically if it consisted of spaghetti bolognese.)  It's not that breakfast in college was so stellar, but when I moved off campus junior year, I started cooking for myself much more.  I also started reading food blogs and, soon, a whole new world of breakfast possibilities existed.

One thing I love to eat for breakfast is muffins.  I love muffins with coffee; I love them toasted with a smear of butter or coconut oil, and I even love them crumbled over yogurt or oatmeal (muffin-top oats, literally).  They're also one of my favorite things to bake.  (I've got tons of recipes here on the blog).

I think my most beloved (really trying not to say favorite again...) muffin would have to be the bran muffin, and that's not at all due to it's guise of healthfulness.  Don't get me wrong, some bran muffins are actually healthy (these, for example, are pretty virtuous), but most bakery varieties are LOADED with sugar to make up for the "blandness" of the bran.  Maybe I'm in the minority here, but I love the hearty texture and deep yet subtle wheat-y sweetness of a good bran muffin; when done right, they're really the bomb.

This particular bran muffins recipe is definitely done right.  It's from Good to the Grain, which I previously reviewed.  If you remember in my review, I was sadly unable to provide recipes from the book, but this time, I did some internet sleuthing and found the reprinted recipe online in The Washington Post.  So this time, you're in luck!  Enjoy these muffins lightly toasted, with smear of good quality salted butter and some of the remaining prune jam-- you'll have yourself the makings of a "favorite" breakfast, trust me.

Bran Muffins
Makes 12 muffins

When the batter is ready, fill alternate wells in the muffin tin so each muffin has room to spread out and bake evenly. When greasing the pans, make sure you grease outside the rim of each muffin well so the muffin top does not stick. [As usual, I didn't see this notation til it was too late so my muffins came out less-than-rounded on top-- doesn't take away from their deliciousness though!]
Adapted from Good to the Grain, reprinted via The Washington Post

For the jam*:
3 large oranges
1 1/2 cups pitted prunes

For the muffins:
1 1/2 cups wheat bran
2 cups buttermilk or almond milk with a squeeze of lemon
1/2 cup whole spelt flour
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
2 tablespoons muscavado or dark brown sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup honey
1 1/2 tablespoons molasses
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 large egg


Finely grate the zest of 1 orange to yield 1 tablespoon; reserve. Squeeze enough juice from the oranges through a sieve (to catch the pulp) to yield 1 cup.

Combine the juice and prunes in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring just to a boil, then cover and turn off the heat. Let sit for about 30 minutes, then use an immersion blender or food processor to puree the mixture until thick and smooth. The yield will be about 1 cup; 1/2 cup will be used for this recipe. Reserve the rest for another use.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use a litte butter to grease 12 alternating muffin wells in the muffin pan or pans (see headnote).

Measure the wheat bran into a medium bowl. Warm the buttermilk or almond milk in a small saucepan over the lowest possible heat setting; it will separate if overheated. Pour the milk over the bran, stirring to combine.

In a large bowl, sift together the flours, brown sugar, baking soda, salt and cinnamon adding any bits of grain or sugar that remain in the sifter.

Whisk together the molasses, melted butter, egg, the 1/2 cup of prune puree and the orange zest in another bowl, making sure the egg is well incorporated. Add the mixture to the milk-bran mixture, stirring, then add the resulting mixture to the flour mixture and mix well to form a batter.
Use an ice cream scoop to portion the batter evenly among the 12 prepared muffin wells. The batter should be slightly mounded. Bake for 30 to 34 minutes, rotating the pan(s) halfway through, until the muffin bottoms have darkened (twist a muffin out to check) and the tops spring back to the touch.

Place the muffin pan(s) on top of the stove and gently twist out the muffins, letting them cool on their sides halfway out of their individual wells; that will help keep them from becoming soggy.

These muffins are best eaten when fully cooled. If baked in the evening for the next morning, cool completely, then cover with a clean dish towel.

*Only half of the prune puree is used in this recipe. The remaining puree can be refrigerated or frozen and used for a jam or for another batch of muffins. The muffins can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

May 21, 2011

Dilly Lentil Potato Salad

Today is a perfect day, at least in terms of weather.  It's about 68/70 F, sunny, just a little bit breezy, and not too humid; it's just right.  Days like this don't come around too often so I try to enjoy them as much as possible when they do. 

After yoga this morning, I went back and forth in my head about what I should do to make the most of this beautiful weather, but I was over-thinking it.  Mid-way through getting ready to force myself out the door and do something, I thought to myself, "All I really want is sit outside, read, update my blog, and make/ eat something delicious.  So here I am, in my backyard, soaking in the all too infrequent bright weather and eating the perfect potato salad.

If you're familiar with my blog, you've probably noticed that most of my savory recipes are not exactly, well... exact.  I don't measure much when I cook, and sometimes I don't even measure when I bake (I know, the horror).  So here's my rough recipe for a fresh take on potato salad.  I hope you'll be able to find a perfectly weather-ed day to enjoy it.

Dilly Lentil Potato Salad
Inspired by Heidi Swanson's Mostly Not Potato Salad

new potatoes, fingerling potatoes or a mix
1 1/2 cups cooked lentils (any kind but red)
cucumber, chopped
grape tomatoes, halved
scallions, chopped
fresh dill

equal parts whole grain mustard
and white or red wine vinegar
olive oil
sea salt
a teeny bit of agave nectar or honey

Boil a pot of salted water.  Clean the potatoes and halve or quarter them so they are as close to uniform sizes as possible. When the water boils add the potatoes and cook until tender but not falling apart. Drain and set aside. 

In a small bowl, whisk together the dressing.

In a large bowl add the potatoes, lentils, chopped cucumber, and tomatoes.  Season liberally with fresh dill. Pour the dressing over top and lightly toss.  top with scallions and serve room temperature or chilled.

P.s.- This is wonderful to pack for lunches during the week, especially if you work in an office that lacks a microwave and toaster (I'm not naming names).

May 14, 2011

Orange Creamsicle Cake

This is a cake for spring.  It's also a cake for Moms.  It's light, sophisticated, and both unique and simple at the same time.  Although chocolate cake is my drug of choice, it just doesn't fit the bill for a sunny day in early May; this does.

Just so you know, this recipe is for a two layer cake but I decided to kill two birds with one stone this weekend and make two one layer cakes.  I brought one layer, spiced up (literally) with crystalized ginger inside and out, to a potluck dinner party in celebration of my friend's cookbook last Saturday.  And I kept the other ginger-free layer to enjoy with my Mom and sister on Mother's day.

While people at the potluck may not have been waiting in line to dig their forks into "Orange Cake," once they tried it, I think they were hooked.  I've decided to call this an "Orange Creamsicle Cake" because somehow 'creamsicle' makes the whole thing sound so much more appealing.  Yup, it's all in the name.

Orange Creamsicle Cake
Adapted from How Sweet It Is

1 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/4 cups cake flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
~5 large oranges, zested and juiced
3/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup orange zest

Vanilla Cream Buttercream
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
6 oz neufchatel cheese or cream cheese
contents of 1 vanilla bean
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons cashew butter, raw or roasted (optional)
enough powdered sugar to reach desired consistency/ sweetness

Shredded coconut (I recommend a mix of sweetened and unsweetened)

Preheat over to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 8-inch cake pans.  Zest and juice the oranges.  Sift flour, salt and baking power in a medium bowl and set aside.

Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, then add vanilla. After the mixture has come together, add in half the of the dry ingredients and mix. Stir in the orange juice and then the rest of the dry ingredients. Lastly, fold in the orange zest.

Pour batter into prepared cake pans. Bake for 18- 25 minutes, or until tested inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool completely before frosting.

Cream butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add contents of vanilla bean contents, extract, and cashew butter if using.  Add in powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time until you reach desired consistency/ sweetness. Frost cake and then cover with coconut.  Decorate as desired.

May 2, 2011

Three Bean Salad with Rosemary Dressing

Spring is springing, or at least it's supposed to be, and that means more fresh produce, lighter meals, and sunshine.  As much as New York weather may want me to fight it, I'm beginning to warm up to idea of springtime salads.

This salad was inspired by one I spotted on the menu at Le Verdure, the vegetable centric restaurant in the Flatiron Italian food mecca known as Eataly.  On a beautiful day about two weeks back, I walked over to Eataly after work and enjoyed a relaxing solo meal at the bar of Le Verdure.  I saw this salad on the menu but ultimately ended up choosing two hefty slices of bruschetta-- one with mushrooms and braised kale, and the other with oven roasted cherry tomatoes and fresh ricotta cheese.  Both were delicious but I left wondering if I should have gotten the salad, as it continued to linger in my mind.

The next day, I decided to recreate my own vision of 'the salad that got away' at home; this is what I came up with.

Three Bean Salad with Rosemary Dressing
No measurements here as I don't find them necessary when making salads.  Use ingredients to your liking.
Haricot verts
Wax beans
Garbanzo beans
Cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
Kalamata olives, halved
Butter lettuce, romaine, or a mix

Rosemary olive oil, or chopped fresh rosemary and olive oil
White wine vinegar
fine grain sea salt
black pepper

Blanch the haricot verts and wax beans. (Fill a large bowl with fresh water and ice cubes, place in the sink.  Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, pour in the beans and boil for a minute or less. Pour into a collander to drain hot water and then quickly submerge beans into the ice water bath to stop cooking).  Cut into halves or thirds and pour into a large bowl.  Add the garbanzo beans, tomatoes, olives, and butter lettuce.  Whisk dressing ingredients in a bowl and pour over salad.  Lightly toss with hands and serve.  Season with salt, pepper, or extra rosemary as needed. Or top with Rosemary Crackers, if you've got any!