Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Rolls-Royce of Bran Muffins

I singlehandedly ate the whole plum kuchen that I made last week.  I really enjoyed having something homemade to eat for breakfast with my coffee.  And when I got home from work late, tired and hungry, it really hit the spot.  In order to continue my enjoyment of home baked goods, I decided to look around for a recipe that would make something good for breakfast (and emergency snacking situations), but that also might be a little healthier and better suited for repeated daily consumption.  

In my search, I came across a recipe for Sour Cream Bran Muffins from Gourmet (shocking, I know), which claims to be "the Rolls-Royce of bran muffin recipes."  The combination of bran muffins and sour cream sounds a little weird, but overall pretty boring.  Their promise is one of digestive health, rather than flash and luxury.  Honestly, the Rolls-Royce comparison threw me for a loop.  Comparing muffins and cars is not an everyday occurrence, but that is perhaps why it is so effective: I was forced to bake them in order to figure out what all the fuss was about.  I encourage you to do the same.

Rolls-Royce Bran Muffins
Makes 12 muffins

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar*
1 large egg
1 cup sour cream (I used plain yogurt)
1/4 cup dark molasses*
1/2 cup raisins (I used dried cherries)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup bran 

Preheat the oven to 400°
Mix the softened butter and brown sugar together until light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg, sour cream (or yogurt), and molasses (if you are using it).  Stir in the raisins (or other dried fruit).  Separately, mix the flour, baking soda, salt, and bran, and then mix it into the butter mixture.  Stir the batter until just combined (it will be lumpy).  Spoon the batter into either buttered or paper-lined muffin tins and bake for 15-20 minutes, until they are golden brown.  Cool them on a rack.  

*Instead of using 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup molasses I used 1/2 brown sugar, which worked well.  
I will say this: these are really delicious muffins.  They smell great when they are baking - even better than that famous new-car-smell.  

Salad with Pasta

Pasta salad is not something I eat often.  It's one of those not really healthy or especially fresh items that I try to avoid at potlucks and salad bars.  Throw in some gloppy mayonnaise, flavorless black olives, and chunks of hard boiled eggs and I think I might be sick.

That said, this is a different sort of pasta salad.  I think that is because it puts the emphasis on salad.  The dressing is a tangy dijon vinaigrette, there are chunks of salty feta cheese, and simply toasted walnuts.  Tossed with a generous amount of dark green chopped spinach and nutty whole wheat pasta, this dish balances healthy ingredients without compromising flavor.  Not many pasta salads can boast the ability to satisfy the craving to eat something that is both good and good for you.  

This recipe is based on one from the dietician and cookbook author Ellie Krieger.  I mostly changed the amounts of the ingredients to my liking (I found her version a little too earnest).  

Spinach and Whole Wheat Pasta Salad
1 bag (16 oz) whole wheat rotelle pasta 
Spinach (a bag or a bunch)
Small red onion (or 1/2 a medium/large one), chopped into small pieces
1 cup of crumbled feta cheese 
1 cup walnuts, toasted and then broken into pieces
3-4 Tablespoons olive oil
3-4 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 -1 Tablespoon dijon mustard
2 garlic cloves (crushed or chopped finely)
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the pasta until it is al dente and run cold water through it until it is cooled off.  Toast the walnuts in the oven (I put them in a pie plate) at 350 for 10 minutes or so, until they are browned, keeping an eye on them to make sure that they do not burn.  After you take the nuts out of the oven, let them cool for a few minutes and then break them up into smaller pieces with your fingers.  Whisk the olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, dijon mustard salt and pepper together, and adjust amounts to taste. Mix the chopped red onion into the dressing (this will help take some of the edge off of the raw onion, which can be overwhelmingly strong otherwise), and let it sit for a few minutes. 

Mix the dressing into the cooled pasta, and add both the feta and walnuts.  Chop up as much spinach as you want to eat right away, and mix it into your individual portion (once chopped and mixed into the salad, the spinach will wilt after a while).  The pasta salad keeps really well in the refrigerator, just as long as you keep the spinach separate.

Monday, February 15, 2010


I saw this recipe for Plum Kuchen in Gourmet months ago, and it has been on my mind ever since. It looked like a lot of work, and I've never cooked with plums before, so I had some doubts. However, thinking about the different options for the Stone Fruit Tea Cake, I felt a little guilty for not wanting to try any fruit other than cherries in it. As my loyal follower, Nick, pointed out - plums are actually an easier choice, because you don't have to pit a million of them to get the necessary amount. (Plus he said that they tasted good.) Needless to say, when I got a flyer in the mail from my favorite grocery store advertising a deal on plums I ran out and bought some.
This recipe is complicated only in the sense that you have to organize your time well (it requires two 1 1/2 - 2 hour rising times). Other than that it is simple, tasty, and pretty. The plums are really good, they get sort of jammy when they cook and dress the whole thing up.
Plum Kuchen
2 1/4 teaspoons (or 1 1/4 ounce package) active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (105°-110°)
2 cups flour (+2 Tablespoons, separate)
1 cup sugar (separated into 2/3 and 1/3)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plain yogurt (not nonfat, greek style works well) at room temperature
1 egg (warmed in shell in warm water for 5 minutes)
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest*
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3-4 plums (depending on size of fruit, and pan), halved and pitted

Stir together the yeast and warm water and let stand until foamy (about five minutes). If the mixture doesn't foam, start over with new yeast
Add 2 cups of flour, 2/3 cup sugar, salt, yogurt, egg, zest, and vanilla to the yeast mixture. Mix for a minute. Beat in 1 stick butter, 1 Tablespoon at a time, until incorporated. Beat until smooth and shiny, about five minutes. Scrape down the bowl, and sprinkle the dough with the remaining 2 Tablespoons of flour. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm (room temperature) draft-free place until doubled (1 1/2 - 2 hours).
Spread the remaining 2 Tablespoons butter in the bottom of a 9-inch square baking pan** and sprinkle with the remaining 1/3 cup sugar. Cut each plum half into 5 or 6 slices and arrange in 1 layer in the pan. Stir the dough until the flour is incorporated, then spread evenly over the plums.

Loosely cover with buttered plastic wrap, then kitchen towel. Let rise in a draft free place at warm room temperature until almost doubled (about 1 1/2 hours).

Preheat oven to 375° with the rack in the middle.
Bake until the kuchen is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (30-35 minutes).
Cool in the pan for five minutes and then invert it and unmold it onto a rack to cool completely. (Be careful with this step, some of my plums stuck to the bottom of the pan.)

*I did not use lemon zest because I did not have an organic lemon, but I think that it would have been a nice addition, because the yeast tasted a little strong and the lemon would probably have tempered it. Update: I used the lemon zest the second time I made it and as I suspected it was a nice addition. Not only did it cover the taste of the yeast, but it also accentuated the tangy flavor of the plums.
**I used an 8-inch pan and it worked fine, but you would get more plums with the larger pan.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

No Heart Attack Valentine's Day Cookies

On this day of excessive sweetness, I think that this delicious mildly nutty cookie is a good palate cleanser.  The great thing about these cookies is their subtlety.  Unlike richer, sweeter cookies and cakes, you can eat lots of these without feeling like you might have a heart attack.  What more can you ask for on Valentine's Day?

These cookies come from Gourmet's Favorite Cookies Archives (They are From 1955).  The tops of the cookies crack appealingly, and they are best when the sesame seeds on the bottom brown a little bit which brings out their flavor.  These cookies last really well, just be careful not to shake them too much because the seeds will fall off.

Biscotti di Regina (Queen's Biscuits)
1 cup butter (unsalted)
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup milk 
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
5 cups flour 
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoon baking powder
white sesame seeds (A whole spice jar or more*)

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg, and gradually add the milk and vanilla.  Sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder.  Gradually mix the dry ingredients in with the butter sugar mixture.  If the dough is too dry, add more milk (I've never had to do this).  Shape the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic, and refrigerate for an hour or more.

Preheat the oven to 400° **
Put your sesame seeds in a bowl.  Break off pieces of the chilled dough and use your palms to form walnut sized balls (I used about a Tablespoon of dough for each).  Roll the dough balls in the sesame seeds coating them on all sides.  Bake them on a cookie sheet (I lined mine with parchment paper, but the seeds keep them from sticking regardless), for 14 minutes (or until the tops are golden, the bottoms are nicely browned, and the tops have cracked).  

Cool them on a cookie rack and share them with those you love (or keep them all for yourself).

*The original recipe calls for 1/2 a pound, but that is A LOT.  You have several sesame seed options: you can splurge and buy a fancy spice bottle full, or you can get the less expensive bags (I found the "El Guapo" brand ones in my grocery store - I don't recommend using the "natural" ones, they are a little earthy-tasting). 
** The original recipe had the cookies bake at 45o° for 10-12 minutes, but they turned out really well for me when I cooked them at 400° for 14 minutes.  

Friday, February 12, 2010

MimoC: Mimosa For Health

I have a nasty cold, which does not bode well for cooking.  I am home from work, so I have a lot of kitchen-adjacent free time, however, both my sense of smell and taste are pretty much non-existent.  Plus I am pretty wiped out, which means I can just barely get through a recipe (and I can definitely not do the dishes).  The one thing I have found I can make easily, is a Mimosa like mock-tail comprised of fresh squeezed clementines and fizzy emergenC.  Frothy with wellness inducing vitamin C, this drink is guaranteed to have you feeling healthier in no time.  

I have to credit my dad for this idea, he drinks a glass of orange juice mixed with vitamin C daily to keep healthy.

Vitamin C Mimosa (otherwise known as MimoC)
I use from 4 - 6 clementines per little glass.
Cut your clementines in half, and squeeze out the juice.  Clementines are really easy to squeeze in your hand because of their small size and thin skin, which is helpful if you want to avoid dirty dishes.
Stir in a packet or two of vitamin C (depending on how frothy you want it to be and how sick you are).

If you want to mix it up, you could use regular oranges, or blood oranges (or make it even easier on yourself and use prepared orange or tangerine juice).

Drink up, and feel better.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Grandma Approved: Stone Fruit Tea Cake

The first time I made this cake I took it straight out of the oven and drove it over to my Grandma's house.  Even though we waited to eat it until after dinner it was still warm, and it was delicious.  The dough has a biscuit-like texture, and it is peppered with a layer of uncomplicated naturally sweet fruit.  A sprinkling of coarse sugar over the top adds crunch and sweetness.  My Grandma liked it and so did I.  It is the kind of cake that makes me keep an eye out for good looking affordable fruit when I go grocery shopping so that I will have an excuse to make it.  The best part?  It is really easy to make.

I found this recipe in Gourmet's Cookbook Club Section - it is from Rustic Fruit Desserts by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson.

Stone Fruit Tea Cake
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature (plus a little extra to butter the pan with)
3 eggs
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups coarsely chopped stone fruit, fresh or frozen (I used cherries)
1 Tablespoon turbinado sugar ("sugar in the raw")

Mix together the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, & salt).  In a separate bowl cream the sugar and 3/4 cup butter together until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well.  Then, add in the vanilla.  Add the flour mixture, and stir just until smooth.  Wrap the dough in plastic, flatten into a disk, and put it in the freezer for 30 minutes. 

Pre-heat the oven to 375° 
Butter a 10 inch round baking pan.
Divide the dough in half and pat half of the dough into the bottom of the baking dish.  Spread the chopped fruit over the dough, and then spread the remaining dough on top in Tablespoon-size pieces.  Sprinkle the turbinado sugar on top.  
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until lightly golden and firm.  (If your fruit is really juicy you may have to cook it a little longer.)

Eat it for dessert, for breakfast, or with your afternoon tea.