A Recipe for Disaster

No actual recipe today, I realize the title is misleading.

This weekend, I was reminded that no matter how long I have it or how much I read and watch out for myself, I will never be 100% on top of my mental illness.

Things (external) have been going well, great even. Work is awesome, the kids have been great, Wombat is actually not traveling for a few consecutive weeks (and we’ve seen him on weekdays before dark now that the time as changed). I’ve finally completed the redecorating of our formerly-neon flamingo pink powder room, made some fantastic meals (Teriyaki Tuesday is the new scene here – we’ve finally found a sauce that Meatball will eat!), seen friends and bought some incredible new yarn (my fiber friends get it). All was (seemingly) well. On Friday, I received an email from Peanut’s teacher about an incident from the previous day, and Peanut had not told me about it. I was sad, frustrated, and disappointed, and it weighed on me all weekend. All of the sudden, nothing seemed right. I didn’t want to meet a friend for lunch, I almost skipped picking up said incredible yarn, I didn’t want to knit. I gave Wombat full control of the pizza order Friday night. Full control. To someone else. About food. This is when alarm bells should have started going off for both of us.

What bothered me most is how much this bothered me. Of course it’s normal to be upset when things go a little bit south, but I couldn’t figure out why this one little setback threw me so hard. Being introverted and affected with anxiety, I stayed awake most of the past 3 nights thinking about it. So now I’m exhausted in addition to everything else, but I’m also more aware of what’s really going on. It wasn’t the email from the teacher that made everything seem so bad. Everything was already well on its way, the email was simply the proverbial last straw. This episode has been creeping up on me for a couple of weeks. I’ve been neglecting many of my necessary self-care routines; the depression itself convinced me that neglecting self-care was self-care. I’ll explain.

Eating healthful foods in reasonable portions is a huge part of taking care of my body so my body can take care of my brain. I guess about 2 weeks ago (right around that lost hour of daylight savings sleep), my eating habits went off the rails. We’re talking an entire package of cookies in 2 days off the rails, and the voice in my head that usually says “you know carrots and hummus is a better choice and will have you feeling better over the next few hours” was instead saying “cookies taste good and you are sad, cookies will make you happy right now, so you deserve them” and then later “well you’ve eaten so many cookies you might as well finish them, it doesn’t even matter anymore.” My sluggish and tired body then made me choose to consume more caffeine, which had a disastrous effect on my sleep.

Exercise is another essential piece of treating my mental illness. When I exercise hard and regularly, I feel better, I sleep better, and when I feel and sleep better, I make better choices and accomplish more things, which makes me feel and sleep better, which…. you get the idea.

Working out with an exhausted body fueled by only cookies and coffee sucks. And so my mental health house of sticks came crashing down.

I don’t blame the cookies (cookies exist for joy and it’s not their fault when we abuse them!), I had forgotten to be on guard for the apathy of depression. Depression isn’t always lying in bed crying for days, sometimes it’s just not caring at all. I took care of others. I went to work and fed the kids and folded laundry and painted the bathroom and did all the things I’d promised or felt obliged to do for other people, but I stopped checking in with and caring for myself, and it finally caught up with me on Friday evening, when I finally cracked under the accumulated apathy and negative thoughts and self-neglect.

Recently, I’ve made a conscious decision to be more open about my mental illness, but until today it has been mostly generalities and just acknowledgement of the condition. Putting all of this down is actually step 2. Step one was having müsli bread (Nigella Lawson’s Lazy Loaf from Nigella Express) for breakfast and stopping at just one cup of coffee. Step 3, in a few seconds, I’m heading to the gym. Then, I have a date with some worsted 50/50 wool/alpaca (yarn stuff).

Maybe next time we’ll talk Teriyaki Tuesday (Get a bottle of Soy Vey teriyaki sauce and you’re halfway there)!

Old Rag Pie

Happy Valentine’s Day, or, as we call it here, Violetine’s Day! Today is the arbitrary date we chose to be our rescue dog Violet’s birthday. She is four and, mercifully, starting to calm down.

Wombat and I don’t do Valentine’s Day. There are many reasons, most of them practical in nature (Try booking a restaurant and a sitter for tonight? No, thanks!), but our primary reason is this: we got engaged on February 9. We have our own holiday, we call it Us Day.

Yes, Us Day is sweet and special and not hyped by Big Greeting Card, but it’s not untouchable. In the past we’ve gone to fancy restaurants, done a weekend away, really put effort into making Us Day about, well, us. Of course we’ve also had years when Wombat was at sea or I was significantly pregnant (One year had both. Not my favorite), but this year was something truly special.

This year, on Us Day, Wombat took Peanut and Meatball on an overnight with Cub Scouts and I had the house to myself for 18 hours straight and it was everything I could dream of and more. No one asked me for a snack for a whole day. I was able to knit uninterrupted, take up the entire bed, and best of all, make something no one else likes for dinner and not hear a single complaint.

Old Rag Pie caught my eye the first time I leafed through Simply Nigella because it includes Feta cheese and honey, and I am a sucker for any sweet/savory combination. It’s filo pastry, cheese, and custard with herbs and honey and would be perfect if not for my family, who hate Feta (Wombat and Meatball) and/or eggs (Peanut). I had all but forgotten about it when it popped up as the recipe of the day on Nigella’s Instagram the very morning of Us Day. The only ingredient we didn’t already have on hand was Feta. Perfect. This recipe was dinner and breakfast for my period of solitude.

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I made this cheese pie while enjoying other cheeses with wine because there is no such thing as too much cheese.

Old Rag Pie from Nigella’s Recipes, as always, my notes are in bold.

  • 7 tablespoons soft unsalted butter I used 8 because I’m apparently too lazy to cut a tablespoon off a stick of butter. 
  • 10 ounces frozen filo pastry (thawed) I used 8 ounces because my one pound box of frozen phyllo was divided into two individually wrapped rolls and see above.
  • 8 ounces feta cheese No change, my feta arrived at this weight (yay!).
  • 2 teaspoons grated parmesan
  • 2 teaspoons leaves from fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried) I used dried and totally winged it on quantity. I measured in “sprinkles”.
  • 2 large eggs
  • ⅔ cup whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds I did not have these, nor did I miss them.
  • 1 jar of good honey (such as Greek thyme honey or orange blossom honey) A couple things about the honey: first, the jar is for serving with the pie; I freaked out about how much honey is “1 jar” for too long before reading the whole recipe. Second, use GOOD honey. I used wildflower honey that my mom orders from some place in a state where neither of us lives. Find a quality honey, local if possible. Something with a complex flavor, not that clover stuff from the grocery. I realize I sound like a honey snob but because you pour it on at the end, it really does make a difference.  

     

    You will need 1 x 20cm/8-inch square cake tin (preferably non-stick). I used a 9 inch round because I don’t have a square nonstick and I hate scrubbing. I also lined it with parchment. 

    1. Melt the butter in a small saucepan, then take it off the heat.
    2. Line your cake tin with a layer of filo, making sure it comes up the sides; you will need to use more than one sheet. Then pour 1 tablespoon of melted butter over the pastry.
    3. Using one third of the remaining filo sheets, tear and scrunch the sheets up and drop them loosely in the tin. Then crumble in half the feta, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of Parmesan and just under ½ teaspoon of thyme leaves (or ¼ teaspoon of dried thyme) and pour a third of the remaining melted butter over the top. My filo hadn’t quite thawed so it mostly crumbled. My final product was perhaps a bit dense because of this but I’m not complaining. Turns out, I’m more impatient than I am a perfectionist. 
    4. Repeat, so that you use up all but a little of the butter and a small amount of thyme. For the last layer, you can use larger pieces of filo “rags” (as it’s the lid), filling the tin a little more tightly, but still scrunching them.
    5. Fold the edges of overhanging filo over themselves, and pour the remaining butter on top. Using the sharp point of a knife, make 2 cuts down and 2 cuts across into the filo-packed tin, from edge to edge to create 9 sections. I cut my round tin into 8 wedges. It’s important that you don’t use a blunt knife, as you don’t want to drag the filo or press down on it. This whole process went poorly for me. I don’t know if it was my pan or the knife or my frozen filo, but in the end I decided to perforate the pie rather than slice it, which worked well.
    6. Beat the eggs with the milk, then pour over the contents of the tin. Sprinkle the last bit of thyme along with the sesame seeds on top. Let it stand for at least 30 minutes in a cool place before baking. If 2 hours is easier for your timetable, then put it in the fridge. And you can do this in advance (see Note).
    7. Heat the oven to 200°C/180°C Fan/gas mark 6/400°F, and bake the pie for 30 minutes. When it’s ready, the pastry will be golden and puffed up, and the inside set.
    8. Let it stand for 10 minutes, then spoon 1 tablespoon of the honey over the top. AT LEAST 1 tablespoon. I went for broke with the honey and have no regrets.
    9. Cut into slices or slabs – using a serrated bread knife and sawing action to prevent squishing the filo on top too much, then pushing the knife down to cut through. Serve the pie directly from the tin and put the jar of honey, with a spoon in it (or you can pour it into a jug) on the table for people to add extra as they eat. The parchment enabled me to slide the whole thing out of the pan and slice it on a cutting board, which was much easier on both me and the pan. And always yes to extra honey.

The recipe site includes directions for making ahead and chilling/freezing before baking, which would make this a great dish for entertaining. It also reheats very well. You may be tempted to eat any leftovers cold the next day, but reheating in a 350 oven for 5 minutes (for one slice, the website says 300 for 15 for more) is more than worth the time.

 

 

Blueberry Birthday Cake

Being a Navy family has meant we have to celebrate when Uncle Sam makes it convenient. Poor Meatball has spent 2 of his 6 birthdays (one and four) moving across the country. Deployments, PCSing, and work travel have made us pretty flexible as to the when of our birthdays, but one thing is certain, the birthday boy gets to pick what kind of cake he wants and I bake it.

Wombat’s cake (which we enjoyed three days after his actual birthday because he was on travel) was a challenge: blueberry cake with vanilla frosting. Two years ago he asked for vanilla cake with blueberry frosting, which was, ahem, a piece of cake. I went to my Cake Bible to search for a recipe, because Rose Levy Beranbaum is a genius of pastries. No luck. I then turned to Pinterest, and while I love Pinterest, recipes tend to shout “Easy!”, “Fast!”, or “Three-Ingredient Recipe!” with the first ingredient being a box of cake mix. I’ll own up to my snobbery, but with very few exceptions I don’t bake from mix, so I returned to the Cake Bible. I thought about mixing blueberries into a vanilla cake, but that’s pretty much a blueberry muffin, which, while delicious, isn’t exactly celebratory. I wanted a more homogenous blueberry flavor and an even texture (and didn’t want Peanut picking whole blueberries out of his cake). My go-to buttercream recipe can be flavored with fruit butter or puree, and I wondered if I could doctor a cake recipe the same way. I knew I’d have to balance moisture, structure, and sweetness but since I was working from a baking powder leavened recipe, I figured acidity wouldn’t be as critical.

Using blueberry jam as my flavoring, I’d reduce the milk and sugar accordingly, and to support the structure that could be compromised by using jam in place of some of the sugar, I used whole eggs in place of some of the egg whites. This also simplified the process (to offset what comes next).

Then, like the geek I am, I mathed. Also, I guessed. The total mass of milk and sugar was 542 g and I decided I could get away with swapping a third of that for jam, so I would use 180 g jam, which, with 13 g of sugar in every 20g of jam, would contribute 117 g of sugar. So I subtracted that from the 300g sugar called for in the recipe, 183g in the new formula.  Milk would be reduced from 242g to 180. (teachers, feel free to use this for the next time a student asks “when are we ever gonna use this?”)

This will probably work with any fruit jam, but I would use seedless when possible, blackberry and raspberry seeds can be quite obtrusive.

So, the final ingredient list:

  • 2 large eggs plus 1 egg white (about 135 grams)
  • 180g milk (about 3/4 cup)
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons vanilla
  • 300g cake flour (3 cups)
  • 180g sugar
  • 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 12 tbsp unsalted butter, which MUST be softened. Seriously. I leave my butter out the night before baking to make sure it’s soft enough. Alternatively, you can fill a large bowl with boiling water, let it sit for a minute, pour it out, then invert the warm bowl over the butter. If you have a butter scavenging dog like my friend Jenny, this method is best.
  • 180g blueberry jam

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease 2 9-inch cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment, then grease the parchment and flour the bottom and sides.

Mix the eggs and white, 45 g of the milk, and about half the jam together in a bowl. I use a glass measuring cup for this because that’s easier for pouring it into your mixer bowl later.

Mix the dry ingredients together for about 30 seconds to blend. Add the butter and remaining milk and jam and mix on low until all ingredients are moistened so you don’t get a face full of flour when the real mixing starts (THIS is why the butter has to be soft, there is no creaming step to beat it into submission). Increase to medium speed and beat for 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape down the sides. Gradually add the egg mixture in three batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pans and smooth the surface. Bake 20-25 minutes, let cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then loosen the sides with a knife or spatula and invert onto greased racks before reinverting so the tops are up. This prevents the layers from splitting. Cool completely.

On to the buttercream. Oh, the buttercream. It should be written BUTTERcream. Go ahead and lose any sense of virtue you may have gained from putting fruit in the cake because we’re about to get down with an entire box of butter.

Vanilla Buttercream (from the Neoclassic Buttercream recipe in The Cake Bible)

  • 6 egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup corn syrup
  • 2 cups (yup that’s FOUR sticks, one POUND) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tsp vanilla

A handheld electric mixer is ideal for this recipe, but it can be done with a stand mixer. I use my stand mixer because we somehow have 2 handheld mixers but not a matching pair of beater attachments for either.

Beat yolks until light in color. Have a greased heatproof glass measuring cup ready.

Combine corn syrup and sugar in a small saucepan and heat while stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves and the syrup comes to a full rolling boil. Immediately transfer to the glass measuring cup.

If you’re using a handheld mixer, beat the yolks with one hand while steadily and slowly pouring the sugar syrup into the bowl. With a stand mixer, pour a small amount of syrup into the bowl and immediately beat oh high for 5 seconds. Stop the mixer and add a larger amount of syrup, beating again, continuing in this manner until you’ve scraped the last of the syrup from the measure.

Continue beating until completely cool. This takes a while, so maybe the stand mixer isn’t so inconvenient after all.

Gradually beat in the butter and vanilla. I cut the butter into 1-2 tbsp sized chunks and add one or two at a time and when they disappear I add more. The frosting will look too runny for a long time but don’t panic, it will eventually resemble a silky, fluffy buttercream. I still panic. Every. Single. Time.

We have somehow found ourselves with two open but almost full jars of seedless blackberry jam in our fridge, so I know what I’m going to try next. With lime buttercream!

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We were lucky enough to discover wild blueberries in our backyard last summer, and this year we were able to net a few of the bushes before the birds stripped them clean, but still haven’t picked enough for much more than decorating.

 

Ice Day Brownies

Peanut and Meatball returned to school after the holiday break on January 2nd. They also went to school on January 3rd, but then it snowed and they had snow days on the 4th and 5th. Meatball was also sick on these days so we made popcorn, watched movies, did Shrinky Dinks (still just as fun to press my nose against the oven door and watch them as it was when I was the boys’ ages), and busted out some new colored pencils and sketch books. Over the weekend Meatball was feeling better so they played in the yard, went sledding in the woods with Wombat, and we all made the short drive to a neighborhood hill for bigger, faster sledding. On Monday the 8th, they returned once more to school.

Then it rained, and the rain froze. The county turned into an ice rink overnight. A two hour delay became a school cancellation for Tuesday January 9th. It was an ice day.

I’d already used all of my aces in all of the holes.

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Meatball “helps”.

What were we going to do? I’ll tell you what we did. ALL the screens. Computer, TV, video games, handheld video games. If it blinks and beeps, the kids sat in front of it today. Three days of school since December 22nd of last year and Mom threw in the towel. We also made brownies, since I decided that enough time had passed since we ate the last of the Christmas cookies that we could once again bake. I say “we” but in reality I made the brownies and Meatball stirred the chips in and licked the bowl while Peanut watched Pokemon.

I already have a favorite brownie recipe, it’s tucked away inside every box of Baker’s unsweetened chocolate, but the February/March 2018 issue of Cook’s Country magazine had a one bowl brownie recipe in it, and they’ve not yet steered me wrong. What really interested me was that this recipe also had several variations, including White Chocolate Raspberry Brownies. I had a comically teeny (3 tablespoons) jar of raspberry jam and some white chips in the pantry, so I didn’t even have to brave the now dry and perfectly safe roads!

Original recipe is below, my notes are in bold. This recipe is slightly altered from the original in that I incorporated the instructions for the white chocolate raspberry variation into the text of the original chocolate chunk brownies recipe.

Easy White Chocolate Raspberry Brownies (serves 8-10) When I math this out, I get 24 brownies, which at 2-3 brownies per person means either this serves way more people or someone is FINALLY incorporating actual consumption into serving size here.

  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water Boil the water, then measure. If you’re a scale baker like I am, it’s 5 ounces.
  • 2 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, chopped fine Half a Baker’s bar. I use a serrated knife to chop chocolate. The teeth of the knife seem to move more gently through the bar, if that makes sense. All I know is that it’s quieter and I end up with less chocolate on my counter than with a regular knife.
  • 1/3 cup (1 ounce) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 2 1/2 cups (17.5 ounces) sugar
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs plus 2 large yolks
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups (8.75 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup raspberry jam I used 3 tablespoons because that’s what I had. Peanut isn’t a big fruit fan so that works out for us too.
  1. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Make foil sling for 13 by 9 inch baking pan by folding 2 long sheets of aluminum foil; first sheet should be 13 inches wide and second sheet should be 9 inches wide. By the time I reached the semicolon I knew I would be skipping this step. Lay sheets of foil in pan perpendicular to each other, with extra foil hanging over edges of pan. Push foil into corners and up sides of pan, smoothing foil flush to pan. Spray foil with vegetable oil spray. My trusty Baker’s recipe says to just line the pan with foil and spray it. One sheet of foil. 2 steps. No semicolon. I took the easy way.
  2. Whisk boiling water, unsweetened chocolate, and cocoa in a large bowl until chocolate is melted. Whisk in sugar, oil, eggs and yolks, melted butter, and vanilla until just combined. Gently whisk in flour and salt until just incorporated. Stir in white chocolate chips. I added the chips just before the flour was incorporated. Since we’re trying not to over mix the flour, I figured a few stirs could be saved by adding the chips earlier.
  3. Transfer batter to prepared pan. Dollop jam evenly over top of batter and swirl into batter with the tip of a paring knife. Bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 30-35 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. Totally forgot to do this. Rotated at 30 since it took 35. Transfer pan to wire rack and let cool for 1 1/2 hours.
  4. Using foil overhang, lift brownies out of pan. Return brownies to wire rack and let cool completely, about 1 hour. Cut into 2-inch squares and serve. 2 inch squares. From a 9-inch by 13-inch rectangle. My inner control freak will have to be appeased by getting the extra inch from each side all to myself. 

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There are three more variations: Nutella-Hazelnut, Chocolate-Mint, and Peanut Butter-Marshmallow, plus the original recipe in the magazine. If you happen to come across it at the store, it might be worth picking up! I also recommend the Fried Brussels Sprouts.

10th day of Christmas Granola

This blog was launched on a resolution, my first in years (decades?), and is a great reminder of why I stopped doing resolutions. Life changes in a year. Life changes in a few hours with kids at home. I was going at a good clip until June, when my delicately balanced house of parenting/wifing/working cards caught a little breeze and came crashing down. The details aren’t that interesting or important, but it was ONE appointment that essentially set (and then upset and reset) our entire summer schedule.

I’m pretty sure I tried (at least) 52 new recipes last year, but I didn’t keep track of them that well or share many at all, so I readily admit that failure. I over-promised and under-delivered. The former business consultant in me is deeply disappointed.

I’m going to keep cooking and sharing (when time and interest allows) and maybe writing about not cooking stuff, too. If at first you don’t succeed, change the parameters to increase the odds next time!

We finished the Christmas cookies last night. Before Christmas, I baked 4 types of cookies (Nutella thumbprints, sugar cutouts, chocolate shortbreads, and gingersnaps), a panettone, a panforte, and made horribly sticky cornflake “wreaths” with Peanut and Meatball (perhaps “roundish wads of sprinkleglop” is a better descriptor). This was down from my usual production of at least 6 types of cookie (Rangers and white chocolate cranberry oatmeal got passed over this year), the aforementioned Italian confections, and German Stollen and a traditional English fruitcake (don’t start, my fruitcake is delicious). We travelled this year and I just didn’t want it all sitting around while we were gone. Because I skipped the fruitcakes and had to buy some additional ingredients for the other stuff, I found myself sitting on an apocalypse-ready cache of dried fruit and nuts. Granola basically staring me in the face, I found a “Basic Granola Recipe” on chowhound and used it to make what I’m calling Tenth Day of Christmas Granola (it will have all the Lords a-Leaping!). Just like last year, my notes on the original recipe are in bold.

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  • 3 cups rolled oats (not instant) The cheapest rolled oats at our local grocery were thick cut (from Bob’s Red Mill). I figured granola isn’t something that needs to be delicate or tender so I went for it, and I think it may have helped the oats to not burn like they often have when I have previously made granola.
  • 3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar This seemed like a lot in addition to the honey, so I used 1 tablespoon of turbinado sugar (it was the most accessible sugar in the cabinet. I’m really scientific about all of this.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt I used pink salt because ours is much finer than kosher and I wanted more even distribution (see? science!)
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil Canola is my flavor-neutral, high smoke point oil of choice, so I used that.
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract Because I was using hazelnuts and a fruit blend, I went with 1/2 teaspoon each of orange and vanilla extract.
  • 1/2 cup small-dice dried fruit I used a whole cup of King Arthur Flour’s Fruitcake Blend, which is raisins, cranberries, dates, currants, and pineapple.
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped raw or toasted nuts or seeds I used about 3/4 cup of chopped raw hazelnuts.
  1. Heat the oven to 300°F and arrange a rack in the middle.
  2. Place the oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl and stir to combine; set aside. I also added the nuts and fruit here. I wasn’t too worried about the fruit burning and I wanted the raw nuts to toast with the granola.
  3. Place the honey, oil, and vanilla in a small bowl and stir to combine. Pour over the oat mixture and mix until the oats are thoroughly coated. My honey was crystallized almost solid, so I microwaved the honey and oil together before stirring in the extracts.
  4. Spread the mixture in a thin, even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Save clean up, use a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet! Bake for 15 minutes, then stir and continue baking until the granola is very light golden brown, about 5 to 15 minutes more. Despite having nearly twice the volume because of the added fruit and nuts, I was able to easily fit everything onto a half sheet pan and it cooked in the same time. 
  5. Place the baking sheet on a wire rack and cool the granola to room temperature, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. (Note: It will harden as it cools.) I kind of got to typing this and forgot to stir. Things got sticky and it took a little more effort than maybe it could have to get things moving once they had set, but it still worked out and then I didn’t have to worry about step 6 because it was already all together.
  6. Add the fruit and nuts or seeds to the baking sheet and toss to combine.Store the granola in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. 2 weeks? Not necessary, this will be lucky to make it through the Epiphany.

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So there it is, and the results are exactly what I was looking for; the fruit is chewy, the oats are nice and crispy, the hazelnuts are toasty and crunchy, and it’s not overly sweet. The cinnamon and orange are magical together. I have some slivered almonds and dried cherries for my next batch, which I’ll probably do with almond extract. I also want to try pistachios and apricots (with ginger instead of cinnamon?), or pecans and dates (maybe with maple syrup in place of some of the honey). I love recipes like this that can be made differently every time.

I can’t (okay, WON’T) commit to timing on future posts. Under-promise and over-deliver is my plan for 2018. #whatevergetsdonein2018

 

 

12&13/52 A Tale of Two Banana Breads

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Hello, my name is Melissa, and I have a banana problem.

Bananas are pretty widely recognized as a family-friendly food. They’re sweet and nutritious and soft enough for even the toothless little ones to enjoy. For parents, they come in their own biodegradable wrappers and leave no container left to be transported home. I enjoy them in smoothies or alone after a workout, and Wombat will occasionally take one in his lunch when reminded that we have them. Our boys, however, will consume them in only one way: baked into a sugar-laced dessert going undercover under the moniker “banana bread”, and Peanut will only eat that if it contains chocolate chips.

The thing is, I routinely forget that my family doesn’t rapidly devour bananas. I buy them regularly, extra when they’re on sale, and nobody eats them. Which brings me to the 13 (!) bananas in my freezer. I need to use them because we also like to use the freezer for storing not bananas, and that’s becoming impossible.

While sifting through my Pinterest boards for banana-consuming recipes, I came across one I had pinned ages ago for Coconut Banana Bread with Lime Glaze. I had probably put off making it way back when because Wombat hates coconut, Peanut hates coconut, and Meatball wasn’t eating enough to keep me from consuming an entire loaf of bread alone. Meatball has been living up to his nickname lately and I was curious to see if Wombat loves lime more than he hates coconut (he doesn’t, more on that later). I made this recipe pretty much as written with the exception of the sweetened coconut, which I did not have. I happily substituted unsweetened coconut since I often find banana bread to be cloyingly sweet, and this already has the ripe bananas PLUS a cup of sugar for sweetness (PLUS glaze).

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Coconut Banana Bread with Lime Glaze (12 servings) from Cooking Light. Notes in bold, as always. 

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (about 9 ounces)
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups mashed ripe banana (about 3 bananas) it was 4 bananas for me
  • 1/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt I used low-fat greek style. It’s what I had.
  • 3 tablespoons dark rum We didn’t have dark rum so I used spiced rum. 
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup flaked sweetened coconut I used unsweetened coconut.
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 tablespoon flaked sweetened coconut Unsweetened again.
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime or lemon juice If you use lemon, you can’t call it Coconut Banana Bread with Lime Glaze.
  1. Preheat oven to 350°.

  2. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. If you’re reading this, odds are you’ve interacted with dry ingredients at least once in your life and didn’t need this spelled out for you.  Combine flour, baking soda, and salt, stirring with a whisk. Or this little stirring tidbit. I also stirred in the coconut here to prevent overmixing later.

  3. Place granulated sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add banana, yogurt, rum, and vanilla; beat until blended. Add flour mixture; beat at low speed just until moist. Stir in 1/2 cup coconut. With the coconut incorporated into the dry ingredients, I saved some extra stirring here. Overmixing is the enemy of a tender quick bread. Spoon batter into a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray; sprinkle with 1 tablespoon coconut. Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pan. Combine powdered sugar and juice, stirring with a whisk; drizzle over warm bread. Cool completely on wire rack.

     

Meatball loved this bread. He calls it “Glaze Bread” and saves the sweet lime top for last. I  also loved this bread. It was delicious as a snack or breakfast. There ends the family’s love for this bread. Wombat smelled the lime, dug in, then looked at me like a wounded animal and said accusingly (with his mouth full), “You didn’t tell me about the coconut.” So I went back to the drawing board, eliminating the coconut and upping the lime. I added zest to both the bread and the glaze and added juice to the bread. Knowing the coconut also provided a textural element to the bread, I though about adding nuts, but the only suitable nut for lime in my mind is macadamia, and we didn’t have those, so I decided to go for a poppyseed-type addition: chia seeds. I added 2 tablespoons but would definitely use more, probably a full quarter cup, next time. Bonus nutrition points there, too!

 Glazed Lime Banana Bread with Chia

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (about 9 ounces)
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tbsp chia seeds (can be up to doubled)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups mashed ripe banana (3-4 bananas)
  • 1/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt
  • Juice and zest of 1 lime plus rum to make 3 tablespoons of liquid
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • zest of 1 lime 

    Preheat oven to 350°.

    Combine flour, baking soda, salt and chia seeds.

    Beat sugar and butter together until well blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add banana, yogurt, lime juice and zest, rum, and vanilla; beat until blended. Add flour mixture; beat at low speed just until moist. Spoon batter into a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pan. Combine powdered sugar, zest, and juice, stirring with a whisk; drizzle over warm bread. Cool completely on wire rack.

     

This one was a winner all around (even without chocolate chips!), though Wombat said he would have liked walnuts in it (That’s something he’s going to have to make for himself). That didn’t stop him from making a sad face the day he came home from work and the kids had finished the loaf. Meatball still saved the glaze for last.

Update: I was so proud of myself for using up several bananas for this entry, I felt like I was on the podium for the Adulting Olympics. A week later, while making room for some tomato sauce, I found SEVEN more bananas in the back of the freezer, which meant I had a dozen bananas still stored (sad trombone sound). At publication (two cakes and a loaf of bread later), we are down to four bananas in the freezer. And one in the fruit bowl. It’s past ripe and will be in the freezer before dinner.

 

 

11/52 Irish Soda Bread Muffins

20170317_135057On Friday morning, St Patrick’s Day, Peanut and Meatball were all over the place. On the average morning, they race downstairs, find me at the kitchen table and immediately fight over who gets to put in his breakfast order first (not that they need to order, they eat the EXACT same thing every morning), but Friday, they were opening doors and looking under chairs and Mommy was confused. They were searching for evidence of a leprechaun.

When did leprechauns start harassing us at home?

When I was a kid, St Patricks Day was when we wore green. Full stop. Maybe we got shamrock stickers on a good year. In the *mumble mumble* decades since then, SOMEONE (I’m looking at you, Pinterest) has decided that childhood can’t have enough magic and now the leprechaun comes into our homes and keeps Mommies up at night trying to outdo each other. Somehow, I had NO IDEA, but was able to scrape one together pretty quickly. Fortunately, Peanut had put on a blue shirt and Meatball wasn’t even dressed yet, so I sent them up to change and get dressed while I frantically shook some green food coloring into the partial gallon of milk in the fridge. A recent windstorm helped convince them that before turning our milk green, the leprechaun also threw one of our patio chairs into the woods. They ran with it and reasoned that he couldn’t get in at night, got mad and messed up the furniture, then snuck in that morning when Wombat let the dog out. St Patty’s Day was saved, but seriously, WHY IS THIS A THING NOW? Also, Peanut wouldn’t drink the green milk, in case the leprechaun was trying to poison us. His exact quote: “I’m not sure the magic is safe for people to drink.” So, thanks, leprechaun (still looking at you, Pinterest).

Before we cooked our corned beef and cabbage, Meatball helped me make an accompaniment, Irish Soda Bread Muffins. I’ve made soda bread most years, the typical americanized version with caraway and currants in a round pan. I’ve tried a few recipes, and they’ve all been similar in flavor and dense, scone-like texture. Because data-mining algorithms are incredible, this muffin recipe from King Arthur Flour popped up in the ad bar of my Facebook feed Thursday night. I had planned to stop at the grocery Friday morning anyway, so adding currants to my list was a no-brainer.

Currants do not exist in Leonardtown, Maryland.

There are two groceries near the gym, so Meatball and I went shopping right after my workout. Two groceries and a liquor store (for Guinness, because priorities) later, still currant-less, I was lightheaded, grumpy, and eyeing the McDonald’s drive-thru, so we gave up on the quest for currants and used golden raisins instead. I chopped them up so they’d be distributed more like the smaller currants, and Friday was the first time either boy has happily consumed a baked item containing dried fruit of any kind! In fact, the entire batch was gone before lunch on Sunday, and only lasted that long because we wouldn’t let them eat 3 muffins each on Saturday. 8 thumbs up; forgot to get a yum scale reading from Peanut. These are much lighter in texture (like typical muffins) than my previous soda breads, and they also didn’t dry out as quickly. The recipe makes 12 muffins, which is a manageable quantity. Many recipes fill two 9″ pans; I’ve thrown out surplus soda bread more than once.

My notes are in bold as always. This recipe was pretty straightforward and like all King Arthur Recipes, clear and concise, so I didn’t have much to add. If you go to the website, you can get the ingredient list by weight as well (which is what I use, because it’s more precise and eliminates having to wash measuring cups).

Irish Soda Bread Muffins

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour It doesn’t have to be King Arthur, though that’s what I have used exclusively for years, and it’s pretty widely available.
  • 3/4 cup King Arthur 100% White Whole Wheat Flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder I use aluminum-free baking powder.
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups currants (first choice) or raisins Golden raisins for us, the only dried fruit everyone will reliably eat.
  • 1/2 to 2 teaspoons caraway seeds, to taste I used only a teaspoon this time, but will use 2 teaspoons next go-round.
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup buttermilk, yogurt, or sour cream I didn’t have quite as much buttermilk on hand as I thought, so I augmented with yogurt.
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted; or 1/3 cup vegetable oil I don’t know why you’d not use butter where it’s an option. 
  • sparkling white sugar, for topping Sparkling white sugar is very pretty and makes a nice glittery crust atop the muffins, but table sugar would also work, though the crust will be finer and more subtle. Raw sugar is another option, with the coarseness of the sparkling sugar but not as, well, sparkly.

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly grease a standard muffin pan; or line with papers, and grease the papers. I never greased muffin papers before reading it as an instruction in the Bread Bible. It really does make a difference in removing the papers from finished muffins. Completely worth the extra few seconds to do it. Rainbow muffin papers aren’t required, but Meatball thought they would be nice for St Patrick’s Day (I had forgotten we even had them. He’s such a good little pantry forager.)
  2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, currants or raisins, and caraway seeds.

    fullsizeoutput_2b3a
    Mixing dry ingredients is Meatball’s jam.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk (or equivalent) and melted butter (or equivalent).
  4. Quickly and gently combine the dry and wet ingredients; honestly, this won’t take more than a few stirs with a bowl scraper or large spoon. As soon as everything is evenly moistened, quit; further stirring will cause the muffins to be tough. Overmixing danger is real, but it’s worth doing one more turn along the bottom of the bowl. What’s worse than overmixed batter? A pocket of completely dry flour.
  5. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, filling the cups about 3/4 full; the stiff batter will look mounded in the cups. I used my 1/3(ish) cup disher and overfilling the disher just slightly was the perfect amount for each muffin. Top with sparkling white sugar, if desired.
  6. Bake the muffins for 20 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Remove them from the oven. Tip the muffins in the pan, so their bottoms don’t get soggy. This means pop them up and set them still in the tin on their edges to let the steam escape. They’ll be screaming hot, so if you’ve not yet developed asbestos-tipped baker’s fingers, use a skewer or thin spatula to lift them. fullsizeoutput_2b3cWait 5 minutes, then transfer the muffins to a rack to cool. Serve them plain, or with butter and/or jam. We enjoyed ours with Irish butter. I’d love to say I bought it special for the occasion, but we just eat (copious amounts of) Irish butter around here.fullsizeoutput_2b3d