Showing posts with label muffins. Show all posts
Showing posts with label muffins. Show all posts

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Book Tour Stops Here: "Human Remains" by Elizabeth Haynes with Tea and Cinnamon-Applesauce Mini-Quick Breads

CREEPY. Given one word to describe "Human Remains" by Elizabeth Haynes, it would have to be creepy. Other words that come to mind...suspenseful, disturbing, intriguing  and chilling. And, very, very creepy. Well, I like creepy and when I heard the synopsis of the book, I immediately jumped to be a stop on this TLC Book Tour.

From the Back Cover:
"Police analyst Annabel wouldn’t describe herself as lonely. Her work and the needs of her aging mother keep her busy. But Annabel is shocked when she discovers her neighbor’s decomposing body in the house next door, and she is appalled to think that no one, including herself, noticed the woman’s absence. Annabel sets out to investigate, despite her colleagues’ lack of interest, and discovers that such cases are frighteningly common in her hometown.

A chilling thriller and a hymn to all the lonely people whose individual voices haunt its pages, Human Remains shows how vulnerable we are when we live alone, and how easily ordinary lives can fall apart when no one is watching."
Harper Paperbacks (August 20, 2013)
Paperback / 464 Pages

After Annabel stumbles onto her neighbor's body she does some research while at working at her analyst position for the police department and finds that in the borough surrounding her town there have been a remarkable amount of similar instances--decomposed corpses, different ages, sexes, and walks of life found in their homes. 24 bodies in the first nine months of the year in fact, more than the previous seven years combined. The deaths appear to be due to natural causes and the police don't start seeing it as a problem until Annabel and a young newspaper reporter start investigating and the local newspaper starts up a "Love Thy Neighbor!" campaign in order to get people to check in and connect with the people in their community. The story is told alternatively by Annabel, living alone, not really connected to anyone besides her cat, running errands for her near-invalid mother and facing her own demons and depressions and, the person who may be "helping" these people along in ending their lives. (I don't want to go into a lot of detail because the plot unfolds so well throughout the book.) Hauntingly, we also hear from the victims, telling their stories and giving insight into what led them to their final days.
To me the best, scariest thrillers are those that feel real--that the plot is something that could actually happen. "Human Remains " is exactly this kind of novel--author Haynes weaves a dark tale, full of quiet but intense suspense. Although there are not any big shockers or twists in the book, the feeling of dread that she creates speeds the story and the tension along. This is the second book I have read by this author, I was on the Into the Darkest Corner tour last year. I like this book even better. The characters are well-written--Annabel has hidden depths from the sad sack she appears to be, and the villain has such an air of (creepy) righteousness in his beliefs and actions--it is fascinating to get inside his head. This is definitely not a book for the squeamish--it is very descriptive in the state of the bodies, the process of decomposition and a few other things that contribute to a high "ick" factor. But, the graphic descriptions are part of what makes this book so absorbing, so if you love a well-written thriller that will keep you up and don't mind the "gory details"--it won't disappoint. 

Author Notes: Elizabeth Haynes is a police intelligence analyst, a civilian role that involves determining patterns in offending and criminal behavior. She is also the New York Times bestselling author of Into the Darkest Corner and Dark Tide. She lives in England in a village near Maidstone, Kent, with her husband and son.

Being that this is primarily a food blog, it is my habit to make a recipe inspired by the book as part of my book review. For some books it is easy. "Human Remains" made it a bit more of a challenge. Although food (and plenty of cups of tea) appears in the book, this isn't a book that makes you hungry--it's a bit too disturbing for that--a shower seems like a much better idea than a meal. A character does serve tea and apple cake to guests and that seemed like the kind of food that comforts and settles the emotions--needed for this thriller. 

Make this easy quick bread in mini-loaves to enjoy with a cup of your favorite tea and take a few with you when you stop by and check on your neighbors! ;-) 

I looked for an apple cake recipe, thinking I would make it into muffins but found this recipe for Cinnamon Applesauce Bread on the McCormick spice site and decided to make mini-quick breads instead. I made a few changes, marked in red below. 

Cinnamon-Applesauce Mini-Quick Breads
Adapted from McCormick Spices
(Makes 1 Large or 6 Mini Breads)

2 1/2 cups flour
2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1 cup chunky applesauce (I used regular applesauce)
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2/3 cup non-fat milk (I subbed almond milk)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil

(1 cup walnuts, divided) (I omitted)
(1/2 cup raisins) (I omitted) 
(I mixed a bit more brown sugar & cinnamon & sprinkled on top of the batter of each mini-loaf before baking)

Preheat oven to 350°F. 

Mix flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Set aside.

Beat egg in medium bowl. Stir in applesauce, brown sugar, milk and oil. Add to flour mixture; stir just until moistened. (Batter will be lumpy.) Stir in 1/2 cup of the walnuts and raisins if using. Pour batter into 9x5-inch loaf pan sprayed with no stick cooking spray. Sprinkle top evenly with remaining 1/2 cup walnuts if using.

Bake 55 to 60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. (I baked my mini loaves about 30 minutes.) Cool in pan 10 minutes. Remove from pan; cool completely on wire rack.

Notes/Results: This is just a simple and yummy little bread. The cinnamon is the prominent flavor--hard for it not to be with two tablespoons in there. It makes for a delicious smelling house while the breads are baking and cooling. The applesauce and milk (I used almond milk), make these little breads super moist and tender and not too heavy. I got six baby loaves out of the recipe--good for portion control, sharing, and small breads always bake up better for me anyway. I sprinkled the tops with a mix of brown sugar and cinnamon for a nice crispy sweet crust. Great on its own with an apple cider tea,this bread was also fantastic for breakfast with a smear of natural peanut butter. I would make this recipe again. 

Note: A review copy of "Human Remains" was provided by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own.  

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Book Tour Stops Here: Things Remembered by Georgia Bockoven and Gluten Free Banana-Chocolate Chip Muffins with Almonds

Karla's relationship with Anna, the grandmother who raised her and her two sisters, has been tenuous at best. Sent to live with Anna when their parents were killed in an auto accident ten-year-old Heather and six-year-old Grace bonded easily with Anna while Karla, fourteen, always felt excluded and bitter toward her grandmother. Now 85, Anna is dying with congestive heart failure and Karla has returned home to help Anna put her affairs in order. Karla is there from a sense of duty while Anna is hoping to heal the rift between them and make the most of the time she has left.

Things Remembered by Georgia Bockoven is a novel about family, love and healing--letting go of the past and finding a future. Although the story centers mostly around Anna and Karla, we get glimpses into the lives of the sisters--Heather happily married to a wonderful man and expecting her third child--a girl, and Grace, a spoiled and self-indulgent actress who is supported financially and enabled in her selfishness by both Karla and Anna. Karla has focused most of her energy and her life on her coffee shop, especially after her divorce, and has closed herself off emotionally from much of the world. Beginning to open herself up to a relationship with Anna introduces her to new friends and a potential love interest. The relationship between the sisters and their grandmother--very different for each sister, is explored as well. 

I found this book to be a fast and engaging read and I could easily relate to the family dynamics of the sisters and the concerns of having an aging parent or grandparent. It is a sweet story and a perfect fall/winter read as it is set over late October and flows into Christmas and beyond. Things Remembered is good pick for anyone who enjoys books about family and relationships. This is the first book of Bockoven's I have read (although I just realized her The Year Everything Changed is sitting in my massive post-Border's closing sale "to read" pile), and I planning on reading more from this author. 

Author note: Georgia Bockoven is an award-winning author who began writing fiction after a successful career as a freelance journalist and photographer. Her books have sold more than four million copies worldwide. The mother of two, she resides in Northern California with her husband, John.

There was actually plenty of food inspiration in this book. Thanksgiving dinner, home-baked pies and pie crust cookies (I have fond childhood memories of these cinnamony pie crust scrap treats), persimmon cookies, applesauce cake, lasagna, hamburgers... There are even about 17 family-style recipes included in the back of the book, submitted by readers of the original hardback edition. 

In the end, for my book inspired dish, I took inspiration from the the part of herself Karla kept hidden--the mothering, nurturing part. At her core, Karla cares deeply about her family and friends and demonstrates it through her actions.  Making and giving food is a great way of showing you care and so I took the opportunity to bake up a little something for a friend. 

My friend Julie is on a restrictive diet no gluten, dairy, and a host of other ingredients and she has been hungering for some baked goods. I had some nicely brown and over-ripe sweet apple bananas and I whipped them into a vegan Gluten Free Banana-Chocolate Chip Muffins with Almonds. Because I let my GF baking ingredients run out, I bought some Pamela's Baking & Pancake Mix and adapted the Banana Bread recipe on their website. (My changes are in red below) The result was some pretty moist and tasty little muffins--studded with mini vegan chocolate chips.
Gluten Free Banana-Chocolate Chip Muffins with Almonds
Adapted from Banana Bread recipe at Pamela's Products
(Makes about 10 muffins)

4 tablespoons butter, melted (I used Earth Balance butter substitute)
1/2 cup sugar or honey (I used 1/3 cup agave)
2 eggs, beaten (I used egg replacer)
1 cup banana, mashed
1-3/4 cups Pamela's Baking & Pancake Mix
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla 

(I added 1/2 teaspoon almond extract)
1/2 cup nuts (optional) (I used 1/2 cup sliced almonds)

(I added 1/2 cup vegan mini chocolate chips)

Beat together butter, sugar or honey, eggs and banana. Add remaining ingredients and mix together. Scoop into lined cupcake pans (about 2/3 full).

Bake in a preheated 350° oven for 20 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Notes/Results: I am still always a little leery of baking with GF and vegan ingredients (gluten-free mixes, egg replacer, Earth Balance) and having it turn out with the flavor and texture I am looking for but these muffins were actually really good. They turned out moist and not too dense and of course you can't go wrong with lots of mini chocolate chips. I had a couple and gave the remainder to Jules who proclaimed them really good--so I will call them a success. I would make them again. 

Note: A review copy of Things Remembered was provided by the publisher and TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Coffee Cake (Muffins) with Cinnamon-Sugar Sprinkles & a Cookbook Review of "Little Old Lady Recipes"

As a lover of vintage cookbooks and family recipes handed down from generations of grandmothers, aunties, and great grandmothers (aka "little old ladies"), I was immediately charmed by the cookbook Little Old Lady Recipes: Comfort Food and Kitchen Table Wisdom by Meg Favreau.

Of course what's not to like in a tiny jewel of a book that has a cover that looks like a stitched sampler and is full of simple classic recipes, wisdom and advice from some wonderful little old ladies. Two of my favorite quotes: "Butter comes from a cow. Tell me where the heck margarine comes from, and then maybe I'll eat it." --Phyllis, organist, 72, and "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without" --Thelma, homemaker, 88. ;-)

Author Meg Favreau is an Los Angles-based writer, comedian, food enthusiast and one-time eating-contest winner, who has gathered up a collection of easy recipes that will take you back to your childhood. Dishes like Brown Betty, Matzoth Balls, Borscht, Fudge, Greatest Green Bean Casserole, Chicken Pot Pie, Jellyroll, Hot Toddys and more, are accompanied by Michael E. Reali's pictures of some of the most adorable little old ladies around. There are no fancy recipes in this book, but as Mary, housewife, 72, says, "Cheap food will taste expensive if you know what to do with it." I should have done this review before Christmas, as this little book would have been a great stocking stuffer, but it is still a fun hostess or shower gift or an addition to your own cookbook collection.

I had a hankering for Coffee Cake but no upcoming coffee "klatch" to serve it at, so I decided to repurpose the recipe into muffins. Muffins are easy to give away and/or freeze extras for portion control, plus in my opinion, they are just more fun. I kept the recipe close to the original but subbed in non-fat Greek yogurt for the sour cream, used white wheat flour for some additional fiber, and left out the nuts. For the Cinnamon- Sugar Sprinkles, I used some coarse Maui cane sugar which added a pleasant crunch.

To get into the little old ladies-spirit, I thought it would be fun to pull out a crocheted blanket my grandmother (my dad's mom), made for the photos. This was my favorite "sick day" quilt when I was a child and I loved laying under it and watching the television in my parents room when I wasn't feeling well. Although Grace, gas station owner, 77, might think that "Crocheted blankets are uglier than knitted ones," the bright colors in this blanket make me smile.

LOL Recipes says, "The perfect side dish for gossip, coffee cake should always be served when the ladies come over for a midmorning coffee klatch."

Coffee Cake
Adapted from Little Old Lady Recipes by Meg Favreau
(Makes 1 10-inch tube cake or 1 sheet cake or 12-14 cupcakes)

2 cups flour (I used white wheat flour)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup sour cream (I used Greek yogurt)
Cinnamon-Sugar Sprinkles for topping (see below)
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I omitted the nuts)

Stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Mix up the butter and sugar and then crack in the eggs. Mix. Stir in the vanilla and sour cream and then the flour mixture. Spread half the batter in your cake pan, sprinkle with a layer of the cinnamon sugar and nuts, add the rest of the batter and top with more cinnamon sugar.

Bake 50 minutes to 1 hour in a 350 degree F oven. Put on the kettle.


About the cinnamon-sugar: "Sugar and spice and everything nice: Keep a jar of cinnamon sugar in your cupboard, and you'll always have a sweet homemade topping for buttered toast, coffee cake, or other treats."

Cinnamon Sugar Sprinkles
(Makes about 1/4 cup)

1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp cinnamon

Stir sugar and cinnamon until the color is mixed to a light brown.

Notes/Results: Great cinnamon flavor and moist texture, this recipe makes a tasty muffin. I put a layer of the batter in the lined cupcake tin, topped it with the cinnamon-sugar mixture, then another layer of batter and more cinnamon-sugar sprinkles on top and baked them for about 23 minutes. I ended up leaving out the nuts--I prefer my coffee cake without them. My one mistake, that I knew I was doing as I was doing it, was to overfill the cupcake liners. I had already put the extra liners away and was too lazy to get out another pan and more liners, so I kind of heaped the batter in some of the muffins. It ended up spreading out which did not effect the flavor at all but some of the muffins were not as pretty. Oh well, the extra large muffin tops were actually my favorite part of the muffin. ("Top of the Muffin to You!" Sorry--all that muffin top talk just conjured up a favorite Seinfeld episode. ;-) But I digress...) These muffins are cute with the little swirl in the middle and delightful paired with either coffee or a nice cuppa tea, for breakfast or a quick snack.

Disclosure Statement: A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher but as always, my thoughts, opinions and experiences cooking from the book are entirely my own.

Is there a favorite "Little Old Lady Recipe" in your family?

BTW: The giveaway for a copy of A Discovery of Witches has ended but I am in the midst of a big work "thing" and haven't had a chance to do the drawing. I'll be back in a day or two with the announcement of the winner.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Molly Wizenberg's Banana Bread (Muffins) with Chocolate and Cinnamon Sugar for Cook The Books: A Homemade Life

There is a cupcake place on the main road going home that I have to pass several times a week. Most of the time I can happily ignore it. Sometimes, I whimper quietly to myself as I drive by, longing for a sweet treat. During the really tough times I give up and go in and order a couple of my favorite flavor. (You can't really order just one since it makes the bag unbalanced. I promise. I have tried.) Driving by gives me the urge to go home and bake something sweet and comforting, like these Banana Bread (Muffins) with Chocolate and Cinnamon by Molly Wizenberg. Sure, they don't have a pile of fluffy frosting on top like a cupcake does, but the banana-chocolate-cinnamon combination is delicious and they are like a little hug in a muffin liner. Molly's recipe is for a loaf of banana bread, but cupcakes are great portion control for me and although they do have plenty of sugar and chocolate, the recipe contains no butter or oil. So with that and the half wheat flour I swap in, I can feel better about my choice but still feel like I indulged.

Many moons ago, in my P.B. Days (that's Pre-Blogging), I typed banana bread in Google search one day looking for a good recipe and I stumbled across Molly Wizenberg's blog Orangette where I found this recipe, made a loaf and promptly formed a bit of a blogger-crush on Molly. The bread was a big part of it, but her conversational writing style and simple but gorgeous pictures drew me in and sealed the deal. When her book; A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes From My Kitchen came out a couple of years ago, I promptly bought a copy and then for some reason, I let it languish on my "to read" pile. A shame because it is a delightful book. It took a few rounds of hosting Cook the Books, the bi-monthly virtual foodie book club that I co-host along with Rachel and Johanna for me to put it in the mix as my pick for our August / September book selection.

A Homemade Life is a mix of Molly's memories and experiences, includes a plethora of delicious-sounding recipes, and is written in that same warm, lets-have-a-cup-of-tea-and-chat conversational style as her blog. Although food had always played a part in her life, Molly didn't initially head for it as a career path. It wasn't until her father passed away from cancer that she packed up and retreated to Paris ostensibly to research her dissertation, that she found herself drawn to the kitchen. Her writing evolved into her blog which quickly gained a large following, including one "fan" whom she later fell in love with and married. In the book, Molly shares in loving detail memories of food shared with family, especially her father, and then describes her time in Paris and her courtship with Brandon. The recipes are mostly simple comfort food and are woven into the narrative with care and skill. A Homemade Life is an enjoyable read, perfect for curling up in a chair and tucking into along with a cup of tea and maybe a banana muffin or two.

Molly has a few different banana bread recipes--including one with ginger and chocolate in her book. Since this recipe was my first introduction to her, it seemed fitting that I make it as my Cook the Books entry dish, inspired by the book. You can find the recipe on Orangette here. I mostly stuck to the recipe as written, just using half-whole wheat pastry flour, making my chips mini--because I like how well they sprinkle into every bite, and of course turning the loaf into muffins.

Banana Bread (Muffins) with Chocolate and Cinnamon Sugar
From Orangette, Molly Wizenberg
(Makes 1 large loaf or 12 muffins)

Molly says, "This lovely stuff comes together in less than an hour, including baking time. And unlike more conventional quick breads, which are best when allowed to cool fully before slicing, this one doesn’t suffer when it’s eaten warm. That makes it, in my book, a perfect last-minute dessert or afternoon treat. It’s a good one to have in the old repertoire.

Oh, and while we’re here, let’s talk about frozen bananas. I always keep a stash of them in the freezer, and I highly recommend it. I chuck them in there, peel and all, and when I want to use a few, I just pull them out, sit them in a bowl, and let them defrost at room temperature for a few hours. It doesn’t take long. You can then use them in place of fresh ripe bananas in any baked good, and they’re easier to mash, to boot. The only bad thing is that they look pretty nasty. Think wet, slippery, and slug-like, and don’t say I didn’t warn you

3 very ripe bananas (the size doesn’t much matter; medium to large works)
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I used 1/2 whole wheat pastry flour)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I used mini chips)

For topping:
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter or spray an 8-inch square pan. (Or a muffin tin with liners)

In a medium mixing bowl, mash the bananas well with a fork or potato masher. Add the eggs, and stir well to combine. Add the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and vanilla, and stir to mix. Add ¾ cup of the chocolate chips, and stir briefly. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together the topping ingredients. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the batter in the pan, and top with the remaining ¼ cup chocolate chips.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before serving. (I baked mine in a 350 degree oven for about 21 minutes.)

Note: This bread, like many banana sweets, freezes beautifully. Sometimes I even like to eat frozen, cut into thick, cold, chewy slices. It’s the perfect snack for a hot summer afternoon.

OK, nothing to do with the book or the muffins, but isn't my little turquoise/white cup and tea pot set pretty darn adorable? It gets even better when you find out I stumbled across it in a church thrift store and paid $1.50 for both pieces. ;-)

Sweet enough to feel like a treat but with enough good qualities that baking them makes me feel healthier and slightly superior to my cupcake-buying persona. The cinnamon adds warm notes, the bananas make the muffins moist and tender, and the cinnamon-sugar topping gives a nice little crunch when you bite into them. These muffins are perfect with a cup of tea, and as Molly mentioned, they freeze really well too--if you can make them last that long. Banana muffins make things right in the world, so I will definitely make these again.

As mentioned, these muffins are my entry for Cook the Books. If you love to read and cook, join us. The deadline for this selection is this Monday, September 26 and Molly Wizenberg is taking the time out of her busy schedule writing a new book (yay!) to pick her favorite interpretation. Our Oct/Nov selection will be Harlot’s Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss, and Greece, by Patricia Volonakis Davis, hosted by Johanna of Food Junkie Not Junk Food.

Happy Reading and Cooking,

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Butternut Squash (and Blueberry) Muffins: Fall Fare from Jamie Oliver

Summer is winding down and fall is just around the corner. Not that it means a lot in a year-round temperate climate. (I know, I know, ...poor me!) Probably the thing I miss most about living in the Pacific-Northwest are the crisp fall days and the colors of the turning leaves of early fall (the sunny days before the endless rain). Still, even though the weather doesn't change much here, signs of autumn are about. I still like to "pet" the soft, fuzzy sweaters that appear in the stores, I get cravings for hot apple cider, I want to make and eat more casseroles and slow cooker fare, and I have the urge to buy shiny new school supplies. Speaking of school supplies, our theme this week for I Heart Cooking Clubs is "Back to School" and I picked Jamie's Butternut Squash Muffins to make. Butternut squash says fall to me, and of course muffins are always a great treat for breakfast on-the-go or lunch bags and boxes.

I wasn't sure about "whizzing" the raw butternut squash in the food processor, especially with leaving the peel on, but it works. With the cinnamon these are similar to a carrot cake, although a bit smoother. Jamie bakes them with raisins on the top, but I think they would much rather be mixed with plump fresh blueberries (and plenty of them!) rather than boring old dried raisins. Between the blueberries and the butternut squash, these muffins are full of rich antioxidants and ready to battle all those free-radicals and build up your immunity ;-)

Although Jamie has a version of these on his website, topped with frosting, I used this recipe from

Easy Butternut Squash Muffins (With Blueberries)
Adapted from a Jamie Oliver on
(Makes 1 Dozen Muffins)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a food processor, finely chop 7 oz seeded and roughly chopped butternut squash, leaving the skin on. Add 1 cup light-brown sugar and 2 eggs. Whiz again to combine. Add 1/8 tsp salt, 1-1/4 cups flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, and 6 Tbsp oil. Whiz just until combined.

Line a muffin pan with 12 paper cupcake liners. Evenly distribute the mixture into the muffin cups and sprinkle a few raisins (1/4 cup total) over the top of each muffin. I omitted the raisins on top and instead added about 1 1/2 cups of fresh blueberries, lightly coated in flour.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until a wooden skewer or knife inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean (if it's slightly sticky, they'll need a bit longer—bake 5 more minutes, or until cooked through and golden on top). Transfer muffins to a wire rack to cool.

Bake the muffins on the weekend and freeze.

Notes/Results: Extremely moist and really good. As you can see by the picture below, I may have gotten a little carried away with the amount of blueberries I put inside these--oh well! I hate when you get a blueberry muffin with three berries in it so I would rather have extra. I did toss my blueberries with flour so they would not "bleed" but that only seemed to work on about 1/2 of them. I actually think it makes them look prettier to have some of the berries spread out so in the end it worked. Two other small changes--I reduced the brown sugar to 3/4 cup since I was adding the blueberries, and I used white wheat flour for a little extra fiber. These muffins are very quick to make and tasty enough that I will make them again.

You can see what the other IHCC peeps took "Back to School" with them by going to the post and following the links.

What's your favorite season?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Papaya-Banana Muffins with Pineapple Cream Cheese: Going Tropical for Cook the Books: "An Embarrassment of Mangoes"

Cook the Books, the best virtual foodie book club (and yes, as a co-host of the club and the host for this round, I admit to just a bit of bias), is setting sail for the tropics with author Ann Vanderhoof and her descriptive foodie-travelogue, "An Embarrassment of Mangoes: A Caribbean Interlude." Of course since it is Cook the Books, we are stopping to enjoy some delicious Caribbean food and libations along the way.

In the late-1990's, Vanderhoof and her husband Steve rented out their Toronto, Canada home and set sail on their 42-foot sailboat, the Receta. They spent two years traveling to sixteen island countries in the Caribbean, enjoying the beauty of the islands, the people and the delectable food. Vanderhoof's colorful descriptions made me feel as if I were experiencing the journey with her and since I suffer from mild claustrophobia and I am not very "sea-worthy" this is the closest to two-years on a sail boat I will likely ever get. ;-) Although much of the trip is truly an escape to paradise, Vanderhoof doesn't avoid describing the challenges along the way from the weather, the boat, and other forces that come up. This is a fun, light read that will transport you from where ever you are to the Caribbean. The descriptions of the amazing island-style food and drink, along with the many recipes included, will have you drooling as you devour each chapter.

There were many recipes to choose from in the book but I kept going back to the Papaya-Banana Muffins. I am really a mango girl but they run to seasons, so I can't eat the local ones that are worth eating year-round. Local papaya on the other hand is usually readily available, but I never find myself doing much more than eating half with a squeeze of lime and sometimes a scoop of yogurt or cottage cheese for breakfast. I loved the idea of baking it, along with the banana into tropical muffins. I thought it would be fun to have some kind of fruity spread to smear on the muffins and found a recipe for Pineapple Cream Cheese in a Caribbean cookbook that I picked up on a business trip to Puerto Rico. With the papaya and banana in the muffins and the fresh pineapple and lime in the cream cheese spread, I had a heavenly tropical fruit fest going on--perfect for breakfast on the lanai or an afternoon snack.

Vanderhoof says, "This recipe is a solution to the problem of too much tropical fruit. These muffins have lovely color and flavor, and are nice and moist."

Papaya-Banana Muffins
by Ann Vanderhoof for "An Embarrassment of Mangoes"
(Makes 12) Actually made 9 for me ;-)

1 2/3 cups flour (I used light spelt flour)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (+ I added 1/4 tsp cinnamon)
1 egg
1/3 cup oil
3/4 cup sugar (I reduced to 1/2 cup organic sugar)
1 cup mashed ripe papaya
1/2 cup mashed ripe banana (1 large banana)
1/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 F. and grease a medium-sized muffin pan or line it with muffin papers.

Combine dry ingredients and set aside. Beat egg with oil, sugar, and mashed papaya and banana in a large bowl. Mix in dry ingredients and walnuts (if using). Scoop mixture into prepared muffin pan. Bake in preheated oven for 18-23 minutes, until toothpick inserted in the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

Ann's Tips:
  • If the papaya is quite ripe, it will yield a lot of liquid when mashed. Drain off this excess liquid before adding the fruit.
  • You can make the muffins entirely with papaya if you like; just increase the quantity to 1 1/2 cups. The muffins will have a slightly moister texture and a flatter top.

Pineapple Cream Cheese
"A Taste of the Caribbean Cookbook" by Angela Spenceley
(Makes about 1 1/4 cups)

1/2 cup fresh-diced pineapple
just of 1 lime
1/2 tsp lime zest (I used the zest of the entire lime)
6 oz cream cheese (I used vegan cream cheese)

Fold the pineapple, lime juice and zest into the cream cheese with a pastry cutter or fork.

Notes/Results: Wonderful, moist and flavorful muffins--like a more complex banana muffin, and lightly flecked with the orange papaya. They are excellent on their own and topped with the Pineapple Cream Cheese they are amazing. I used up some light spelt flour that I had on hand in these and reduced the sugar since my papaya and banana (I used two smaller apple bananas) were very ripe and sweet. I left out the nuts and added some cinnamon because I like it with my nutmeg. One note--I filled my muffin cups about 3/4 full and only ended up with nine muffins instead of a dozen--so fill them less I guess if you want the full dozen. The Pineapple Cream Cheese is a revelation--the pineapple and lime are like a little party on the tongue--Yum! I had some leftover Tofutti vegan cream cheese so I used it and it was fabulous--soft and creamy and full of fruit flavor. Living here in Hawaii I like to have fun treats around when I have house guests staying with me--things like lilikoi butter for toast, mango jam, or different tropical fruits to try, so both of these recipes will be made again and again.

Our deadline for reading and posting a dish for "An Embarrassment of Mangoes" is this Friday, March 25th. As host, I'll be doing a round up of all the entries over the weekend at the Cook the Books site and then our judge for this round, our wonderful author Ann Vanderhoof, will be selecting her favorite entry. If you didn't get a chance to join in this round, our April/May pick is "Lunch in Paris" by Elizabeth Bard and will be hosted by Johanna of Food Junkie Not Junk Food.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Strawberry Lavender Muffins: A Little Burst of Sunshine in Your Mouth

I have been looking for ways to use up some of my container of culinary dried lavender and found this muffin recipe in "Fresh at Home: Everyday Vegetarian Cooking" by Ruth Tal Brown and Jennifer Houston. The book, from a popular Toronto vegetarian restaurant and juice bar chain, has been sitting on my bookshelf for a while which is a shame because it is full of some very tasty vegan soup, salad, smoothies and juices, wraps and noodle bowl recipes.

These muffins with their strawberry and lavender pairing sounded wonderful to me and I like the fact that they are made without dairy and eggs. An infusion of alternative milk (I used coconut milk), maple syrup and lavender gives them plenty of flavor. The lavender comes from one of my favorite places, the Ali'i Kula Lavender Farm, located in beautiful upcountry Maui. Upcountry Maui is not only a great place to grow lavender but also fresh Kula strawberries. These muffins are like a little burst of sunshine on the tongue (and the kitchen smells wonderful while they are baking).

The book says, "These Sweets from the Earth Muffins are absolutely divine. Feel free to use any kind of berry you fancy."

Strawberry Lavender Muffins
From "Fresh at Home" by Ruth Tal Brown & Jennifer Houston
(Makes 12 Muffins)

1 1/4 cups vanilla soymilk (I used vanilla coconut milk)
3/4 cup + 1 Tbsp maple syrup
1 1/2 Tbsp dried lavender
I cup applesauce (unsweetened)
4 cups organic light spelt flour
1/2 cup raw, unrefined sugar (I used Sucanat)
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup diced fresh strawberries
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp canola oil

Oil the muffin pans or use paper muffin pan liners.

Heat soymilk, maple syrup and lavender in a saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat, cover and infuse for 5 minutes. Strain mixture through a fine sieve and add applesauce. Set aside and cool completely.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and baking soda in a large mixing bowl. Add strawberries and toss to coat. Add liquid and oil to dry ingredients. Mix gently just until mixture comes together. Do not overmix.

Scoop into muffin pans. Bake at 350 F. approximately 25 minutes or until tops spring back when lightly pressed. Remove from muffin pans, cool and serve.

Notes/Results: A very tasty muffin--they are very moist and the flavors are well balanced. Having eaten some lavender-infused foods that unfortunately tasted more like potpourri or bath soap--I was happy that the lavender in these is present but not cloying or overpowering. It works very well with the fresh sweet berries and vanilla. I did swap out the vanilla soymilk for vanilla coconut milk because that was what was open in the fridge, and I used sucanat--pure dried sugar cane juice for the sugar but otherwise kept the recipe unchanged. These are lovely for breakfast, or with a cup of tea. I would make them again--I think that they would also be quite wonderful with blackberries.

Happy Saturday.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Healthier Banana, Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chip Muffins

Having some very ripe apple bananas sitting around I wanted something baked and comforting but healthy too. I went to Mark Bittman's "The Food Matters Cookbook" and did a variation on his Sweet Potato Muffins. I wanted to cut down on some of the processed sugar and butter/oil in them to make them a bit more healthy and cutting down the sugar allowed me to add some mini-dark chocolate chips without guilt. I also wanted a little peanut butter taste so I added a half cup of it to the batter. The result are these Healthier Banana, Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chip Muffins.

My changes to the recipe are in red below.

Banana Peanut Butter Muffins with Chocolate Chips
adapted from "The Food Matters Cookbook" by Mark Bittman
(Makes 12 Muffins)

2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, preferably pastry flour (did use whole wheat pastry flour)
3/4 cup sugar (used 1/3 cup sucanat)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp.ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
(added 1/4 cup ground flax seeds)
1/4 cup melted unsalted butter, plus more for greasing pans (used 1/4 cup melted Earth Balance vegan baking stick)
1/4 cup vegetable oil (used 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce)
1 cup mashed bananas (I used apple bananas because that's what I had)
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup buttermilk (used 1/2 cup coconut milk)
(added 1/2 cup natural peanut butter)
(added 1/2 cup mini dark chocolate chips)

Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease 12 muffin cups or add liners. In a large bowl, mix together flour, sucanat, baking powder, cinnamon, soda, salt and flax seed. In another bowl. whisk together vegan butter stick, applesauce, peanut butter, banana, egg, and coconut milk. Fold wet mixture into dry mixture and stir until just combined. Add chocolate chips and stir gently.

Fill the muffin cups at least three-quarters full. Bake until the muffins are puffed and turning golden brown on top, 20 to 25 minutes. (FYI--I pulled mine out at 18 minutes and wished I had checked them at about 16-17 minutes instead.) Serve warm if possible.

Notes/Results: Good flavor, a heavier texture that Bittman's original recipe with the added peanut butter and the flax seed, so a hearty muffin, but quite tasty and still moist from the applesauce and coconut milk. I checked them at 18 minutes in the oven (cooking time was 20-25 minutes in the recipe) and I found them on the verge of becoming too done so next time I will check them a few minutes earlier. Overall, a great little breakfast muffin with staying power from the protein and fiber. I will make these again--this way and with other variation. (Note: I used apple bananas but any very ripe banana will work.)


These muffins are going to the monthly Tackling Bittman! recipe hop event founded by Alex at A Moderate Life, and co-hosted by a talented group of bloggers including my friend Sue from Couscous & Consciousness.