Tag Archives: Cooking

A Blast From the Past: 1950s Muffins

10 Feb

This past Wednesday, I had plenty of blackberries left in the fridge and not enough appetite for blackberry oatmeal or blackberry yogurt breakfasts.  I searched my favorite recipe site Food52.com and found retro black berry muffins.  The author of the recipe cites the “Woman’s Home Companion Cook Book” from 1955.  I was curious to discover if the muffins from the 1950s were any different, so I set the oven to preheat and got to work!

Here’s a look at the fresh blackberries that I chopped




Next I mixed the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients.  I could already tell at this point that this muffin had the makings of something much denser than my 21st century muffins.

IMG_0829IMG_0827IMG_0832Yup, much, much thicker than usual.  I should add here that the recipe called for a long-lost ingredient – shortening.  Does anyone really keep that on hand anymore?  Can you still find it in stores?  Ah well, I read up on it and found that I could substitute oil for melted shortening, but that I should expect a different (read not ideal) texture.

I kept mixing until everything was just incorporated and then divided it into a muffin pan.  This step was a rather sticky event.

IMG_0833IMG_0835I popped the pan into my preheated oven, and fretted over the small amount of sugar in the recipe.  Only 2 tablespoons!  These muffins dough balls were becoming bland, dense bricks in the oven.  I had to think of something quick.  I threw together a maple soaked oatmeal crumble topping and spread it on the muffins.  Unfortunately half of the baking time had already passed by the time I did this, so the topping did not stick very well to the tops of the muffins.

IMG_0836Once the muffins were back in the oven, I cleaned up my mess and relaxed.  All I could do at that point was wait.

When the timer went off the muffins looked and smelled done, but the topping looked like it would just fall off when I took them out of the pan.  I popped them back in at a high temp for a short time hoping that could help seal the tops a bit more.



These 1950s blackberry biscuits (definitely cannot call them muffins) were okay.  As expected, they were a bit more dense and dry.  The topping helped, but it did crumble off a bit.  The next morning I served them warm with a bit of syrup and half a banana.  I figured every biscuit is better with gravy, so maybe the blackberry variety is better with syrup.  It was.  Chris had two.

IMG_0843I wouldn’t call my trip to cooking’s past a complete success, but it gave us a quick snack/breakfast for a few mornings.  I also had two just before my run this morning.  They gave me the perfect amount of energy.  I might try to play around with the recipe a bit more, or I might keep my focus on muffins from the here and now.  Either way it was a fun journey and now I know what a 1950s muffin tastes like.


Low Guilt Dessert: Dark Chocolate Zucchini Cake

21 Jan

Chocolate Zucchini CakeA great dessert from the Flat Belly Diet.  All you need is dark chocolate chips, zucchini, greek yogurt, and your basic cake ingredients.  The cake turned out light and fluffy.  The icing is just melted dark chocolate – no added sugar.


Turkey Meatloaf with Walnuts and Sage

10 Dec


Hands down the best turkey meatloaf I have ever made. The walnut adds a nutty salty/sweet flavor that goes oh so well with the turkey and sage. I paired it with a Bok Choy and Garlic Skillet (also a FBD recipe).

Thanksgiving Bread Take Two: Pumpkin & Rosemary Soft Rolls

10 Dec

As I mentioned in Thanksgiving Bread Take 1, I was on a mission to make some delicious bread for a Thanksgiving dinner with friends.  Given the big bet I was making on savory muffins, I thought I might try something a little more traditional.  Since I used squash in the first one, I wanted to use pumpkin in this one.  A little more searching on Food52 and I found this recipe.


I had to make the dough the night before put it in the fridge overnight.  Unfortunately, my yeast was rather old.  I mixed the yeast with some warm water and sugar to test it, but alas there was no froth.  It was too late to run to the store, so we skipped the refrigerator step and grabbed the yeast in the morning.



I unfortunately missed taking pictures of the dough-making process.  This involved making and herb butter with fresh dill from our patio garden, mixing it with rosemary, parsley, pumpkin purée, egg, sugar, salt, and yogurt.  Egad!  When mixing these ingredients I accidentally added an extra egg.  I ended up doubling the recipe to fix it and only later realizing that I made 40 rolls!!!  Well in went double the yeast, and then double the flour.  Mixing in the flour took forever.  I did this by hand, kneading the dough for what seemed like forever.  My arms felt like they were going to fall off.  Chris came to the rescue and helped me roll the dough into 40 small balls.  We set them on the counter to rise for 2 hours and relaxed on the couch while we waited.


The last step involved brushing the rolls with egg and then covering them in coarse sea salt.  They baked in the oven for 25 minutes at 350 degrees.  They smelled delicious as they baked.


Sure enough, these rolls turned out light, fluffy, salty, and herby.  Pure deliciousness.  The pumpkin added a nice color to the rolls, but the herb flavor came through more than anything.  I ate mine with some delicious butter someone brought for the cornbread.  I’d highly recommend these rolls if you want to bring something unique to a potluck dinner and you’re up for some serious kneading.

Introduction: My Favorite Books

6 Sep


After moving, I found a few of my favorite cookbooks and added to them.  I’m now keeping my favorites out on the counter.  The Vegetarian Recipes book on the right holds some of my favorite tried and true dishes.  This is the cookbook that taught me how to use spices and add flavor to healthy recipes.  Chris’ parents gave me this cookbook as a gift just last year.  I’ve loved experimenting with fresh pasta thus far, and I look forward to many more adventures.  The deep red book, well that’s just an old wine tasting journal that I’m hoping to revive.  Finally, there’s the newest addition in bright pink (I guess they know their audiences?) – the Flat Belly Diet Cookbook.  This is the diet I used 4 years ago, when I noticed that I was putting on some weight.  While I think a lot of the diet industry is fluff (and even some of the stuff in this book), the basic ideas of this diet mirror that of my heyday vegetarian recipes: Replace bad fats with good fats, and eat smaller portions more often.  While most of the recipes Chris and I post on this blog are more indulgent in nature, the truth is that we eat baked chicken and veggies most nights.  I plan to use this category to share adventures in adding new twists and flavors to a healthier diet.  Don’t worry, we still love food, and we will still definitely indulge from time to time – just not every night :).


The Quest for The Crispy Breakfast Potato

2 Apr

Looking at our past posts, I realized that we’ve neglected a very important meal – BREAKFAST!  With our busy lives, breakfast usually consists of a cup of coffee (or two) and maybe a Greek yogurt with jam or granola or nuts or a banana.  However, the weekends sometimes afford us the time to cook up something delicious.  Chris and I trade-off more than collaborate when it comes to breakfast.  Chris has perfected his hollandaise sauce, and he boiled the perfect 6 minute soft-boiled eggs.  I make the best, from scratch fluffy buttermilk pancakes ever, I like to experiment and elevate other dishes like huevos rancheros, and I have a love and obsession for baking muffins.

Starving and looking to fuel up for a big training run (I’m running a half marathon in May eek), I went to our kitchen and gathered what was left from the week.  Recently we decided to switch from our usual microwave meals from Trader Joes to more fresh vegetables, fruits and lean meats from Whole Foods.  I had pushed Chris to do this for a while, and I think my fitness/running goals finally convinced him.  The sticker shock was a bit much at first, but we discovered that the quantities were larger and that the food we bought lasted us longer.  My first find in an adorable, tiny Whole Foods paper bag: 3 russet potatoes.

My other finds: eggs, ciabatta bread, low-fat cheese, a red onion, and a fresh tomato.  Are you thinking what I’m thinking?  That’s right! The perfect ingredients for Ciabatta Egg Sandwiches and Crispy Breakfast Potatoes!  I’ve tried to perfect my breakfast potato crisping skills for a while now, and this time would be no different.  I crossed my fingers, closed my eyes, and…oh shoot I should probably look before I start peeling and dicing.  In my usual fashion, I tried to only cut off the parts of the potato that were going bad and ended up nearly peeling everything (yea I’m kinda picky when it comes to brown spots).  I also rinsed the potatoes until they water ran clear and dried them off as best I could on some paper towels.  I read somewhere that if they’re too wet they’ll boil or steam and not crisp when you cook them.  I then diced the onion, tossed it in with the potatoes, and added oil, paprika, and Italian spices (too bad we don’t grow our own herbs – we want to, but we haven’t started this yet).

I decided to bake the potatoes in a jelly roll pan for 45 minutes at 475 degrees, stirring it every 15 minutes or so.  In the meantime, I started a fresh pot of water in our kettle to make our new favorite french press coffee and set the other ingredients aside.  About 10 minutes before the potatoes finished, I took out my silver dollar pancake pan and used it to make scrambled eggs fit for a sandwich.  I always beat my eggs with a bit of cream or milk and season them with basil, salt, and pepper.

Just as I finished the eggs, the timer went off for the potatoes (super proud of my timing this go in the kitchen).  When I pulled the potatoes out, they look golden and slightly crispy but certainly not crispy enough.  I stabbed one with a fork, cooled it, and took a bit.  Bleh totally bland too!  Rescue time.  I heated and seasoned a frying pan and then added the potatoes and some low-fat cheese.  Sure enough they started to crisp up perfectly and evening and the extra flavoring did the trick.

Last but not least, I toasted the ciabatta bread in the oven with the tomatoes and cheese on top, layered the egg sandwiches, and plated the potatoes.

I called Chris over, apologizing for the kitchen that looked more like a disaster zone, and we sat down to feast.  Oh wow, the potatoes were amazing.  This will go down as the day that I perfected the breakfast potato.  Chris couldn’t stop raving about the potatoes.  I think he would have been happy with just a whole plate of them.  The sandwiches were decent.  The eggs definitely could have been better, and the bread was a bit dry, but the tomatoes were a nice fruity touch.  Afterward, I had a few eggs and tomatoes left.

I put these suckers on top of a small plate of potatoes and heated them up for breakfast for us the next morning.  The flavors were great together.  Chris ate around his egg, devoured his potatoes and asked for more.  Big surprise :).

*All photos in this post are courtesy of Chris’ new IPad 3

I’m Obsessed With Cardamom

22 Jan

For about two weeks now, Chris has asked, begged even, for a dessert with cardamom.  Why he became obsessed with this particular spice, I have no idea.  After he treated me to a wonderful seafood dinner, I decided to indulge his obsession.  I took out our ground cardamom, opened it, and inhaled its complex aroma.  The lemon smell hit me right away, so I decided to go with a lemon cardamom cookie.  I based the dessert of this recipe: Meyer Lemon Cardamom Crinkle Cookies, but made several substitutions to work with what we had available.

For this recipe, as with any cookie, cupcake or muffin recipe, the first step involved mixing all the dry ingredients together.  This time, I thankfully remembered that I needed to save the sugar to cut the butter, and did not include it as a dry ingredient (by accident I added the sugar to the dry ingredients when baking banana cupcakes).  For the lemon flavor, the recipe suggests the zest of 4 Meyer lemons.  We don’t keep lemons on hand, and it would be rather difficult to grow a lemon tree on the patio of our apartment, so I had to make do with something else.  I looked through our fridge and pantry and found lemon juice, lemon extract, and dried lemon zest.  I surveyed Chris, and he chose the dried lemon zest.  This substitution required a bit of math:

1 lemon yields about 1 Tbsp of fresh lemon zest.  As you can imagine, dried lemon zest is smaller than fresh lemon zest, so you can’t just do a straight conversion.  I looked it up and most sites suggest that you use 1/2 the amount of dried zest.  Since 1 Tbsp equals 3 tsp, that means that you need 1/2 Tbsp or 1 and 1/2 tsp of dried zest.

courtesy of asromanov

After figuring out how much to use, I measured the zest and added it to the mixture only to find that I had enough to cover just 1 lemon.  My choices were to keep going and risk creating a rather bland cookie, or to come up with a second substitution for  the remaining 3 lemons.  I opted for dried orange zest to complete the citrus flavor.  This choice was rather lucky, as I read later on that Meyer lemons taste like a cross between oranges and lemons.  I then looked at the recipe for the salt, but hesitated before proceeding.  Sea salt!  Another item that I did not have on hand.  Besides the absence of the ingredient in my pantry, I was a bit concerned about the use of sea salt in a cookie.  Sea salt has larger granules, and while great in cooking, it isn’t often used in baking.  After some consideration, I decided to go for a 1:1 substitution with kosher salt.  The granules of kosher salt are slightly larger than table salt, but slightly smaller than sea salt, which generally makes it a better option for baking.  Last but not least, I added the cardamom with my favorite copper-colored, fish teaspoons – no substitutions needed.

Next, it was time to whip together the butter and sugar.  This usually calls for an electric hand mixer, and sometimes a paddle attachment.  I don’t have a paddle attachment, but my mixer always seems to do just fine as is.  A couple of notes here:

If you have the foresight, you can put the butter out in a bowl while you mix the dry ingredients.  That way the butter will be closer to room temperature and softer when it comes time to whip it.  Also, these cookies should have a fluffier, cake-like texture, so the recipe really emphasizes this step, explaining that the sugar cuts little holes in the butter that will expand from the baking powder when heated.

Once I whipped the butter and sugar to a creamy texture, I added the eggs and vanilla.  The last step before scooping the dough to a cookie sheet, involved mixing the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients.  This is also an extremely important step:

During this mixing process, it’s important to keep the mixer on low.  Mixing flour with the rest of the ingredients, results in the formation of gluten, the protein that holds it all together.  The faster and longer you mix the ingredients, the more gluten you get.   You want just enough gluten for a cohesive baked good, but not so much that the texture becomes tough or dry.  The key to this is to mix the ingredients together until just after you see the last bit of flour disappear.  Any more than this and you risk losing that moist, fluffy goodness.

I mixed the dry ingredients into the wet, dividing it into 3 sections, to keep lumps to a minimum and make sure that everything was evenly dispersed.  Note: You can add ingredients in this order for cookies due to the small amount of liquid in the batter, but wetter batters like cupcakes are best mixed in the opposite order to avoid lumps and prevent over mixing.  I also made sure to keep my mixer on low and to stop mixing the moment that I could no longer see the white of the flour.

Besides the cardamom and Meyer lemon, this recipe appealed to me for it’s cracked, powdered sugar covered exterior.  The recipe recommends sifting the powdered sugar to make sure that there are no lumps.  With my love for baking, you might think that I have a sifter in my cupboard, but I don’t.  Instead of sifting the powdered sugar, I used the shaking method.  I vigorously shook the powdered sugar in its container for a few minutes, and then measured out a cup.  The result was smooth, lump-free powdered sugar.

Finally, I rolled the dough in the palm of my hand (I also have no clue what a number 40 scoop is), covered each one in powdered sugar, and arranged them on 2 cookie sheets.  As with most icings, toppings, and coatings, there was a ton of powdered sugar left at the end (I really need to remember to cut these ingredients in half to start).  I took some of the leftover powdered sugar, sprinkled it over the balls of dough, and put the sheets in my 350 degree preheated oven.

For those of you that think that I spoil Chris, you should see the mess that I leave for him to clean up after.  That’s the deal.  I bake him goodness, he cleans up.  The mess I made with the powdered sugar in this recipe made our kitchen look like it was hit by a snowstorm.  Once the cookies were in the oven, I called Chris over with my sticky, sugar covered hands.  He kept a safe distance while taking a picture to document the moment.

Twelve minutes later, we pulled the cookies out of the oven.  They smelled fantastic, but they didn’t look quite ready.  We decided to put them back in the oven for an extra 2 minutes.  We pulled them out, and then put them on a couple of cutting boards to cool (I also do not own cooling racks).  The recipe mentions that they will not brown, and this is absolutely true.  Trust your nose, not your eyes on this one.

We sampled the cookies a bit later, and we both loved them.  Chris even went back for seconds.  They turned out light and fluffy, and the cardamom citrus flavor really came through.  The substitutions, save the salt, were great successes.  In hindsight, due to the size of the granules, we should have cut the amount down a bit when using kosher salt instead of sea salt.  The salt flavor, while a bit strong, still balanced out the flavors well.  Besides the slight salt error, the color of the cookies was also a bit pale and unappealing.  Perhaps a bit of yellow dye would liven them up.  All in all we count this as another yummy baking adventure.  If one or both of us ever becomes obsessed with cardamom again, this cookie could certainly sate the craving.

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