26 March 2015

Big top blueberry muffins

Sometimes you just want a muffin with a big top. I'm tempted to end this post at that, but it'd defeat the purpose : ) These muffins were a last minute idea to continue chipping away at my carefully frozen stash of last August's Jersey blueberries before fresh seasonal berries kick in again. When I stumbled upon the recipe, from Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery, I knew I was in good hands, (remember her banana bread?) and when I realized the batter can be made a day before baking, I immediately got out a mixing bowl. As the dishwasher ran last Friday evening after a day of the season's final snow, and we were feeling quite healthy from a supper of Japanese salmon and rice, I decided that bakery-style berry-streaked muffins were a qualified indulgence for the next morning.

I was inspired last week by a quote I read from Jenny (Dinner, a Love Story): "When we prioritze dinner I find a lot of other things fall into place." Behind this seemingly simple statement, she is referencing sports practices, school pick-ups and other modern family negotiations, but it's bigger than that. The essence of this idea that I find applicable in the kitchen and beyond it is this: to know what you are going to do. Waking up to a clean counter and a bowl of rested batter in the refrigerator is a particularly zen moment. Then, all you have to do is preheat the oven, grease the tin and scoop the thick batter into the molds, mounding it a little higher than you would normally. The resulting muffins are perfectly sweet, gloriously puffed, with slightly crisped edges, soft interiors and berry-licious flavor. But for me, it's knowing I already did the work, that will keep me coming back. 

Blueberry Muffins (adapted from Flour via Fine Cooking)

Notes: The original recipe uses a pound of flour. Below is a half recipe which should give you 7-8 big muffins. I made a quarter batch which gave me four. But they freeze well so it's worth making more : )

1 3/4 cups (225 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour (I swapped a few Tbsp whole wheat pastry flour)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2.5 oz (5 Tbsp) unsalted butter, melted, slightly cooled
1 large egg
1/2 an egg yolk (optional)
1/2 c + 2 Tbsp  (120 grams) sugar
1/2 cup (120 grams) milk, at room temperature
1/2 cup (120 grams) crème fraîche, at room temperature 
1 teaspoon vanilla 
zest of half a lemon
Heaped 1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

-Oven to 350, rack in the center
-In a large bowl, stir together flour, salt, baking powder and soda. Set aside.
-Pour butter into medium bowl and whisk in the sugar, followed by the milk, creme fraiche and egg. Mix well.
-Pour wet over dry and fold together gently. When there are a few streaks flour left, sprinkle in the berries and fold to combine. Batter will be lumpy. Do not try to smooth or overmix. 
-At this point you may cover the batter and refrigerate up to 24 hrs. 
-When ready to bake, grease muffin tins and spoon batter into cups, mounding above the top by about 1/2 inch. 
-Bake until golden brown and springing back when you touch the middle and a wood skewer comes out clean, 35-40 minutes. Let cool on a rack in the tin for 15-20 min. 

12 March 2015

Small Batch Grain-Free Brownies

A little while ago, I was an adventurous home cook wondering if we would have to, for a serious health issue, cut out all grain and sugar (well, if my husband-to-be would--but to not go along at least part of the way would be cruel). Lucky for him I don't tend to hover over the bread basket anyway. I spent a lot of two summers ago baking with almond flour, which was both delicious and and intersting, but had never touched coconut flour, the other popular paleo choice. Thankfully, we've adjusted to include grain and sugar but as always, in moderate amounts, and have concluded that balance is the best prescription. But when I got a bag of coconut flour for Christmas, the memories of all that almond flour resurfaced. Still an adventurous home-cook, but not willing to sacrifice taste for special ingredient needs, I found myself searching for a good starter recipe to use the flour and stumbled upon SlimPalate's brownie recipe from his cookbook, which the inimitable Topwithcinnamon had lightly adapted/auditioned. 

I have now made them about four times. Besides providing the perfect healthy snack to accompany obsessive weddingwire scanning, they are delicious, with minimal, easily sourced ingredients. A tad on the cakier side and strong on the chocolate, they will fool anyone who doesn't "need" a special diet sweet. No matter what dietary restrictions you may or may not possess, they are a keeper. They offer a few customizations on the nut front, feature (optionally) browned butter, contain no granulated sugar or gluten, come together in a flash, last a good few days in a container on the counter and satisfy that mid-afternoon sweet-treat. Or if you're like my husband-to-be (!), that mid-morning, mid-afternoon or mid-night sweet treat. 

Coconut Flour Brownies
makes 8 large or 12 small
adapted via SP via TWC 

Notes: I like to make these in a loaf pan. I'm not sure how this began but I just know it's the right size for halving a typically full batch intended to be baked in an 8 x 8 pan. It also offers good release utilizing the high parchment "sling."

2 Tbs (14 grams) coconut flour (I used Bob's Red Mill)
1 1/2 Tbs (7 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 tsp cinnamon and/or finely ground coffee (optional)
1/8 tsp sea salt
1/8 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 oz (42 grams) unsweetened chocolate, chopped (I used a Lindt 90% bar)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 oz (half a stick or 4 Tbs) organic butter
1/4 c (75 grams) honey
1 large organic egg
1-2 Tbs chopped toasted nuts, cacao nibs (optional)
Flaked salt to sprinkle (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and line a loaf pan with a sheet of parchment, lining it up to the top of the pan and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together coconut flour, salt, baking soda, cocoa powder (and cinnamon/coffee if using).

In a small sacuepan over medium heat, melt butter. Stir frequently as it bubbles and just as soon as it begins to brown, remove from heat. Immediately toss in chopped chocolate and stir to melt. Transfer to a heat-proof bowl and allow to cool a few minutes, then stir in honey and vanilla. Test a finger in the mix. It should be just a little warm, not hot (you don't want to cook the egg). Add egg and mix to incorporate, so the mixture is glossy. Add in flour mixture and stir until no flour is visible, about 20 strokes. Pour into prepared pan, sprinkle nuts and nibs over, if using, and a few grains salt.

Bake about 20-25 minutes. I usually do 25. Test with a wood skewer, it should come out very close to clean with no wet batter. Top will look set and dry but middle will still be soft to touch. Allow to cool completely in the pan, about 2 hrs, until removing and cutting. You can chill the pan 10 minutes before cutting, and also cutting with a plastic knife is a trick. Store airtight a few days. If they last. 

02 March 2015

Lenten Lentil Meatballs

We went to The Meatball Shop in the West Village maybe two years ago and I picked up a postcard on the way out with a recipe on the back for their veggie balls, which I had ordered and found delicious. The physical reminder to test it sometime got shoved into one of my cookbooks, but I came across the card last week while cleaning and flipping through books which inevitably get stubbed with torn papers, recipes and notes. I put it aside on my desk for the Lenten season. The fact that the postcard was sturdy, not flimsy, meant that it wouldn't get lost in the mix. The same can be said about these 'meat'balls; sturdy, not flimsy, and a total stand-out even among a week of omnivourous meals.  

Let me cut to the chase and say that if you are going to bother with any sort of multi-compnent vegetarian meal, whether it be for a veggie crowd option, religion or simply wanting a day off from cooking meat, make these guys. There's a bit of prep work required, but it's worth it. The sauteed celery, onion, carrot, garlic, mushroom, thyme and tomato paste are all essential to creating the aromatic base that infuses the hearty cooked lentils. Eggs, breadcrumbs, walnuts, parmesan and parsley bind, bulk out and deliver flavor. 

This recipe makes a ton. Even halving it, we still had a nice tray of hearty veggie balls for dinner for 2, and the next day's lunch. Which is, if you're like me on a Saturday and don't remember to plan anything for lunch until 3:00 pm, very convenient. They reheat in a low oven for a few minutes beautifully. The only thing in your court is the sauce: use their basil-spinach pesto below or a simple tomato sauce. I used a little of both. On a non-Friday, I am looking forward to trying their chicken balls, also available on their website. But as far as Lent goes, you can bet that even the staunchest omnivore is unlikely to turn up his nose at these on a meatless day, which is most likely why The Meatball Shop has them on their menu. 

Lenten Lentil Meatballs

2 cups lentils
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons tomato paste
8 ounces button mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced
3 large eggs
1/2 cup grated rennet-free Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts

-Combine the lentils and 2 quarts water in a medium stockpot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the lentils are soft but not falling apart, about 25 minutes. Drain the lentils and allow to cool.
-Add 1/4 cup of the olive oil to a large frying pan and sauté the onions, carrots, celery, garlic, thyme and salt over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and just beginning to brown. Add the tomato paste and continue to cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, for 15 more minutes, or until all the liquid is absorbed. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and allow to cool to room temperature. When cool, add the lentils to the vegetable mixture.
-Add the eggs, Parmesan, bread crumbs, parsley and walnuts to the cooled vegetables and lentils and mix by hand until thoroughly incorporated. Place in the refrigerator for 25 minutes.
-Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and use your hand to evenly coat the entire surface. Set aside.
-Roll the mixture into round golf ball-size meatballs (about 1 1/2 inches), making sure to pack the vegetable mixture firmly. Place the balls in the prepared baking dish, allowing 1/4 inch of space between the balls and in even rows vertically and horizontally to form a grid. 
-Roast 30 minutes, or until the meatballs are firm and cooked through. Allow the meatballs to cool for 5 minutes in the baking dish before serving.
Basil Spinach Pesto via TMS
1/4 cup roughly chopped, toasted walnuts
4 cups baby spinach leaves
2 cups fresh basil
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan/Pecorino
Blanch spinach and basil into the boiling water for 1 minute, then strain the greens, and plunge them into a bowl with ice water. Drain again and squeeze tightly to get as much water out as possible. Chop roughly.
Combine the greens and walnuts with the salt, olive oil and Parmesan in a food processor and process until a smooth consistency is reached. Taste and season with additional salt, if desired.