Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Economical Kitchen--Strawberries and Muffins to Make You Swoon

The strawberries are so pretty at the store right now; I cannot resist them. (One thing I try to always buy organic is strawberries. They are one of the most heavily chemical-laden fruit available. See this link to an NPR story about California strawberries.) However, I wound up with a surplus of fruit last week, and my girl-child was in a rabid banana phase, so I wanted to preserve my strawberries. I love, love, love dehydrated strawberries. The dehydration process makes their tart/sweet flavor even more pronounced. So I cut them into even pieces and dehydrated them. Depending on how thick you cut your slices, they can dehydrate quickly, so keep an eye on them. Chunkier slices will make a more gummy-bear sort of consistency, and very thin slices will become almost like paper. I like a happy medium. When they were done, I bagged them and put them in the freezer. They can last for up to a year this way.
But they didn't even last a week in the freezer. I got hungry for Chunky Monkey Muffins. I started making these a long time ago, but haven't made them in a while. When I came up with this recipe, I started with the Oat Bran Muffin recipe from my pink gingham Betty Crocker cookbook. For the record, let's go ahead and clear the air about muffins. They're cake. Period. Just because we put oatmeal and fruit in them and call them breakfast does not make them any less cake-y. Check out the sugar content on that Starbuck's blueberry crumble muffin. I dare you. 

I, however, like cake for breakfast. But I don't want to feel crappy about it. So I worked out a recipe for really toothsome, chunky muffins with low sugar that can easily be made vegan.  
For the Chunky Monkey, I mix 3/4 cup instant oats (if you want to use steel cut or old-fashioned, just soak them in hot water until they're softened up a bit before you proceed) and 1/4 cup hemp hearts with 3/4 cup whole wheat flour and 1/4 cup all-purpose flour. Throw in 1/4 t. of salt. To the dry mix, I add 2 t. baking powder, 1/2 t. baking soda, and two packets of Stevia. You can sub in any sweetener you like or you can add extra honey below. Mix well.  
Here's the chunky part. I added about 1/4 cup blueberries because they needed to be eaten, 3/4 cup dried strawberries, 1/4 cup shredded coconut, and about 1/3 cup walnuts.At this point, my muffins are really just fruit and nuts held together by a little muffin.
In a small bowl, I combined 1/2 cup buttermilk, 2T. oil, 1/4 cup honey (you can also use maple syrup or agave nectar or whatever you're into), 1 single serving container of no sugar added applesauce (about 4 oz.), an egg, and 1 t. vanilla. Combine gently until all the flour is moistened. Don't overmix, but get it all wet. This will be a pretty thick batter.
Grease your muffin tin. This recipe makes enough for 9 medium-sized muffins. I fill the cups all the way up. I always fill the remaining cups with water to add moisture to the baking environment. Bake at 350 for about 14-15 minutes. You don't want to overdo these, as the oatmeal and whole-wheat flour will dry out quickly. However, if you catch them just at the right moment (when the knife tip comes out with just a smidge of batter on it), they're warm and soft and full of texture. They're not pretty, but they taste great and aren't too shabby for you. I have also made these with rice milk instead of buttermilk and Ener-G egg replacement for a lower calorie, vegan version. If you go this route, add a bit more applesauce and oil for moisture. I love to use organic coconut or grapeseed oil in these.
These muffins are rad because they're so versatile. Add dried bananas, slivered almonds, pumpkin or chia seeds, or my favorite, dried cherries. The recipe is after the break!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Where the Magic (and Many Disasters) Happen

I know after I've been reading a food blog for a while, I'm always interested to see what the blogger's kitchen looks like. That bit of visual evidence into someone's home seems to make the whole blog-reading experience a bit more personal. So, for fun, I thought I'd take some pictures of my work space and favorite tools for anyone who's interested. And if you're not, just sod off and read the previous/next cooking post. Kidding. Sort of.

I live in a smallish house in a Dallas suburb. While my home is sometimes referred to as "The Little Cottage in the Barrio" or as "The House of Weird" (largely due to the welcome mat that reads, "LEAVE," the two full rooms of books, and/or the five nutty animals we live with), I love my little place.

My kitchen is still waiting for an overhaul, but here it is as of now. I never thought I'd be that woman with a kitchen full of chicken paraphernalia, but when my granny Pauline died just after my daughter was born, I inherited a ceramic chicken from her kitchen. Not too long after that, I wound up with some chickens from my maternal grandmother's kitchen, and then yet another few from my great-grandmother's place after she went on to go terrorize angels or whatever feisty, old women do after they die. So now I'm that girl with a kitchen full of cocks, which would amuse some, but not all, of my grannies. 
OhFeelYa's Kitchen
While my kitchen itself is good sized because it's combined with the dining area, I don't have a lot of counter or cabinet space. My mom bought me my little island when we first moved in as a housewarming gift. I don't know how I would function without it.If you're desperate for more counter space and have even a small bit of room in the middle of the kitchen, I recommend the island as a great way to increase storage and counters.

The dining half of the kitchen area.
I love my kitchen because it has a lot of family things in it. My chickens (my husband even came with a kitchen chicken when he moved in!) all have history, my granny's breakfast cart, china cabinet, and china are in here, and the art hanging on the walls was done by my late father-in-law, a crazy, lovely Italian man who passed down many recipes to me and was twice the cook I'll ever be.

As for things I can't live without, I give you The Vitamix! This was a graduation/Christmas gift from my husband, who still shakes his head when I ask for kitchen gadgets for holidays. What's not romantic about a Vitamix, I ask you?!? While I love it the most for morning smoothies (remember all those bananas I froze in this post?), Marissa at Food in Jars uses hers for a wonderful-looking whole-wheat crepe recipe.
Canning Shelf
Recently, I cleaned out my tiny pantry to make more room for the items that are important to me. I was shocked at how much crappy food had expired while I was working on moving my family more towards slow food. I was able to condense my packaged food items onto one shelf, and that freed up one shelf for canning items and one for items that were shoved in a corner cabinet that never got used because they sucked so much to get to. Hurray! Above, in the canning shelf picture, is (left to right) about four rows of canned jelly, jam, marmalade, jalapenos, and chicken stock with my baggie of lids tossed on top. I'm always looking for jars at thrift shops and discount stores, so some of the extras are up here as well. On the right are the jar tongs. If you ever decide to do some canning, I would highly recommend these rubber-coated tongs for moving jars in and out of boiling water. I learned this the hard way when I tried to use the metal grill tongs. It was a sad, sad day at Ofy's that day.
 This collection of microplanes is my next favorite group of tools. Bless my parents for showering me with microplanes this year at Christmas. I had been struggling along with this one below from Williams Sonoma (which was only of ANY USE when used on something quite hard, like nutmeg but otherwise just made me mad). 
 My dad has a set of the Microplane brand trio (all four above) at the lake, and I swooned over them every time I was there until he finally got me my own. Thanks, Dad. Whether you're trying to zest citrus, or grate cheese or ginger or a hard spice like nutmeg or cinnamon, these are amazing. One good thing about them is that they can be purchased separately. I would recommend the red-handled one as a staple in any kitchen, as it is small enough to zest and do spices but also works perfectly on parmesan cheese.  The yellow-handled one is my favorite for soft cheeses.

In Williams Sonoma's favor, however, is the fact that they brought back the ebelskiver (sometimes spelt with an "a" at the beginning), the Danish pancake pan. I really love this pan because you can do  quite a lot with these little round pancakes. I like them because I always have jars of jelly and marmalade that need using, so I can make jelly-filled pancakes or put some blueberries in the center and top with Orange-Saffron syrup. You have not eaten until you have a Nutella-stuffed pancake with a dab of clotted cream and warmed orange marmalade on top. You can also do tiny quiches in this pan. Just pour in your egg mix, let it begin to set around the bottom, and then put your filling in the middle of the ball (cheese, veggies, etc...). My husband is a fan of the savory stuffed pancake. I'll leave the sugar out of my pancake batter, sub in some black pepper and thyme, and stuff them with pulled pork. Or, he loves the maple-bacon-jalepeno stuffed version as well. There are entire cookbooks dedicated to the noble ebelskiver, and a handy post from The Reluctant Gourmet here.

While I have a great many kitchen gadgets due to the love, support, and gift cards of my friends and family, nothing is quite as handy as my pressure cooker. (I will not show you a picture of the storage unit in the garage that houses my larger gadgets and an enormous spangled drinking cup with "bitch" spelled out in rhinestones--don't ask. That cabinet is stuffed to the gills.) My mom didn't cook with a pressure cooker when I was growing up, as she had seen her own mother blow up the pressure cooker a time or two and developed a healthy fear of them as a result. However, today's versions have more safeguards than our grandmothers' did. This one is a Duo brand that I got at Sur La Table a couple of years ago. I love this set because it comes with two different sized pans, which is important because your pressure cooker needs to be about 2/3 full to cook properly. It also comes with a regular lid in addition to the pressure-cooker lid so the pots are really functional. I love this cooker because like most cookers today, it is mechanized so that you can't open it until the pressure has released sufficiently. The gauge will tell you when it's ready. The pressure cooker is like magic. Anything you cook in the crockpot or oven for a long time can be done in about 1/3-1/2 the time in the pressure cooker (just don't do rice or things that expand really fast). It's awesome for beans because I nearly always forget to soak my dried beans overnight for cooking the next day. The blog at Hip Pressure Cooking has recipes for days.

What is in your kitchen that you can't live without?