Chocolate. Need I say more?

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What is it about winter that brings ravenous chocolate cravings?

You know the ones.

Like the driving-in-your-car-overwhelmed-with-the-mouth-watering-need-to-devour-the-absolute-largest-brownie-with-frosting-you-can-find-as-quick-as-possible.

Or the driving-as-fast-as-you-can-to-the-closest-coffee-shop-to-find-the-most-chocolatey-looking-item-and-proceeding-to-eat-it-as-soon-as-you-get-back-into-the-vehicle.

Yeah.  I've never experienced those.

Riiiiight.  And you thought I was dignified.

Or maybe you didn't.  Don't answer that.



Notice both of these examples involve a vehicle.  See, when I absolutely need chocolate, I don't have the patience to actually make something.

I. need. it. immediately.

So the easiest option is always to drive somewhere in search of my beloved craving.


That's what I thought until I met this recipe.

Pioneer Woman knows my dilemma.  Therefore she created this recipe just for me.  Or, well, maybe it's for you too.  But I'd like to think she had me in mind.  She devised this lovely concoction fully knowing that I need something simple, something easy, something that can be thrown together with minimal ingredients, and is just there when I need it.

Because, you see, chocolate is a necessity in my life.

It just is.

I'm sure you understand.

Go ahead and refer to the above link for the full recipe.  I'll give you a few photos to help you along.  However P-dub has perfected the art of step-by-step electronic baking so I'll let her do the work.

Here are a few to get you started:


Get yourself some pre-made pie crust.  Yes, I realize this
is, in fact, pre-made.  So what.  I can't make everything, people! 
Plus, I've found a brand I like and it's this:


Make sure you get the "deep dish" style.  This pie makes a hefty amount.  
If you get the regular kind, you will be creating 3 or 4 pies, rather than
one, big, lovely chocolatey pie.

I like just one.  One BIG one.  
But that's just me.

Prebake the crust and let it cool while you make the batter.
Blend your butter and sugar together.  
Melt your chocolate in a separate bowl in the microwave.  
Add it, along with the vanilla extract, blend until combined.




Then, THEN, you add the eggs.  Four, to be exact.
One at a time.  This is crucial.
You add one egg every 5 minutes, while the mixer
continuously whisks the batter at a medium speed.  

This process takes 20 minutes. 

But keep in mind, you do nothing, your mixer 
does all the work.  This is one of the best recipes
to use with your KitchenAid.  
It does the job for you.  I love it.

KitchenAid should really pay me.
Don't worry, they don't.  

Here's what it will look like when ready:



Pour your batter into your prebaked pie shell:



Refrigerate for 2 hours or longer.  The longer the better.



Once refrigerated, you can decorate accordingly:



Since I love chocolate, I decided to make a ganache and
squiggle it throughout the top, because, well, I roll like that.
PW makes her own chocolate curls, which you are more
than welcome to do!  I just didn't have the patience for it.
Also:  I wanted more chocolate than that.

If you want to make your own ganache this is what you do:
Melt in a microwave-safe bowl:
1/2 bag (6oz) semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp heavy cream

Zap ingredients in microwave for 45 seconds,
stir to combine.  Allow to cool for 5 min,
place in ziploc bag, cut bottom edge and
squirt pretty little designs on the top of the
cooled pie.  Cool the pie again for another 10-15 min,
just until the ganache is set.

Now I realize mine aren't "pretty little designs" I 
just basically squirted the chocolate everywhere
in anticipation of devouring the thing.

You might have more patience than me.
If so, congratulations.  
I am not so admirable.

But really, really, look at her:




Would you have the patience either?

That's what I thought.


Stoup for the Soul.

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Man, oh man.  Will winter ever be over?

I don't know where y'all live, but I'm from the middle region of the U.S. and it's darn chilly 'round here.

And not letting up.  It's almost March, people.  Shouldn't there be some sort of reprieve?

It's not looking like it.

Ah well, what does that mean in this household?  More stoup!  Yes, this is what gets me through the bitter cold days, or slightly cold, or brisk, or slightly warm, or, well, let's just be honest- I eat stoup year round.

Really.  It's that satisfying.

Each week, I partake in a meal with a few dear friendses of mine.  We like to cook, eat, and talk.  It's a perfect trio, just as we three are.  If you don't know them you can do so here.  They are a lovely pair of ladies.  I rather like 'em.  You will too.

For this week's meal, I had the main dish (and dessert, that's coming in the next post- hold onto your hats, OH MY.  It's a bit dangerous).  I decided it's too darn cold outside to make anything but warm, brothy goodness.  We three have been a bit under-the-weather so a liquidy-yet-hearty meal was in store.

What did I have in mind?  None other than Chicken Noodle Stoup, of course.

Of course!  What else is there, I mean really.  That's right, nothing.  I mean, doesn't this beautiful bowl of brothy goodness just make your hiney tingle?:


Well, it does mine.

Let's dive in then.

Chicken Noodle Stoup
- One 4 lb package chicken leg quarters
- 4 large carrots, roughly chopped
- 4 large celery stalks, roughly chopped
- 1 to 2 yellow onions, diced
- 3/4 C chopped fresh parsley
- 3 Tbsp butter
- 2 Tbsp flour
- Chicken buillon (I like Better Than Buillon brand)
- 12 oz package egg noodles (or make your own)
- 2-3 tsp dried thyme
- 2 tsp dried rosemary
- 1.5 tsp dried, ground sage
- Salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions
- Place chicken quarters in large stockpot, fill pot with water until chicken pieces are fully covered and then some (about 1-2" water above chicken pieces).  Cook, covered, over med-high heat until chicken is tender and falling off the bone, about 1-1.5 hours.
- While chicken is cooking, chop vegetables and place in bowl/s.  Set aside.
- When chicken is fully cooked and tender, remove pot from burner.  Carefully, with tongs, remove chicken from pot and set onto a plate, put the broth in a separate pot/bowl--save the broth!.  Shred the chicken and discard bones/fat.  Once chicken is shredded, tend to the broth.  Skim any fat pieces from the broth and set aside.  Your stockpot should now be empty again.
- Place empty stockpot back on stove over medium heat.  Melt butter in pot.  Once melted, add chopped carrots, celery, & onion.  Saute 3-4 min.  Add flour and stir to coat.  Once flour is added, pour in 1 cup of the chicken broth, stir and allow to simmer 2-3 min.  Once flour is fully incorporated, add the rest of the chicken broth (or as much as you would like- if you want your stoup a little thicker, add less, if you like it more soupy, add more).  Add shredded chicken.
-Bring pot up to a light boil.  Add 6 Tbsp buillon paste.  If you are using buillon cubes, check the package to see how many to add.  I generally don't use cubes, so am not sure!  Allow the stoup to simmer a bit, stirring every so often, about 5-10 minutes.  Add noodles and cook until tender.  Finish off by adding the chopped parsley.  Dish up and serve!

Now, since I recently viewed the horrifying investigative documentary, Food Inc
 (PS...you all should just watch it, really.  It's absolutely mind-boggling in a "what-the-heck?!" kind of way.  Just do it, you'll see what I mean).  I now purchase all free-range, grass-fed, local and/or organic meat.
Yes, it's more expensive but we cut back significantly in other areas in order to make room.
It's worth it, people.
Anyway- Gold n Plump is a good, safe brand.  
Don't do Tyson!  DON'T, I beg you.


I don't know why that picture ended up sideways. 
It irks me.  
But I'm over it.
Kind of.

Here are a few of the other choice ingredients:
I like Ronzoni Healthy Harvest pastas because they have whole grain varieties 
but I hear Ream's brand has a fabulous egg noodle.  
It's really up to you.



Your flavor friends:



Begin by filling your stockpot, 
covering the chicken with water (1-2" above the chicken).



Boil the chicken until tender.  While it's cooking, chop your veggies:



The French call this trio (celery, carrots, onion) mirepoix.  
It sounds so...French.  And romantic, 
doesn't it?
I think so.





Chop your parsley too and set aside.






Let the veggies hang out on the counter while you tend to your chicken.
Once your poultry is tender, shred it and discard bones/fat.  However,
pour you broth in a separate pot (be careful!  It's hot, people), and set aside.
You will need it.  Also set the shredded chicken aside.
There is a lot of "setting aside" in this recipe.  
The fellas like to hang out with each other, chat-it-up, be merry.  
It's a party, let 'em mingle.






While the other items are hanging out, 
go ahead and melt your butter in the emptied stockpot.



Add the mirepoix.
You learned a new word, therefore we must use it.
Saute a few minutes.



Then add your 3 Tbsp flour, stir to coat.



Once coated, add a cup or two of stock.  
Stir until flour is incorporated and there is no clumpage.
Clumpage is bad, very bad.

We aren't making dumplings here, people.  

Nope, actually we are creating a roux of sorts.
Another French word.  
Didn't realize you'd be taking language lessons today, did you?
A roux is simply a substance that thickens.  
It's generally composed of butter, flour, and a little liquid.




Once the flour is incorporated, add the rest of the broth, 
OR as much as you see fit.
If you want the stoup thinner, add more liquid.  
Thicker?  Add less.  
You make the call.

Once you've added your chosen amount,
turn on over to your chicken flavoring.

I love this stuff:



You can find it at your local organic foods store.  
However, if you want to use buillon cubes, that's fine too.
I just don't know how many are appropriate.  
Taste and learn, then tell me.
But chances are I'll keep using what I like, 
which is the above product.

Add 6 T buillon paste.



Bring the stoup to a light boil, stirring every so often.



Once boiling, go ahead and add your noodles, thyme, rosemary, and sage.



Cook until noodles are tender.  
Taste.  
Add salt and pepper accordingly.
Watch the salt, most buillons have a fair amount already.
Don't double-dose it.  
You can always add more but you can't take it away.

Lastly, add your chopped fresh parsley
 and take a big, fat sniff of this savory goodness:



Dish up a big bowl of stoup.  
Top with extra parsley and a bit of Parmesan cheese, if you like.



Sip.  Bite.  Chew.  Swallow.
Feel the warmth spread throughout.
It's mighty nice.





One-Oven Meal

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Hello dears, how has your week been so far?  Mine's been far better than last, thanks for asking.

Not that you asked, but I'm sharing anyway.

This week is more relaxed, more casual, more blissful.

You need these kinds of weeks.  However my glass-half-empty mantra foresees this as the calm before the storm.  I know, I know, I shouldn't think this way but I often wonder if we are given quiet weeks to prepare us for some great monstrosity.

I'm sorry, I'll try to refrain from my Debbie-downer ways.

This meal, however, is nowhere near a downer, it's an upper!  Ha. Ha.  [Crickets]  Is this mic on?

Anyway, enough.  This meal truly will turn any crazy or not-so-crazy week into a blissful one.  Why?  Because it's darn simple.  Not as simple as boxed meals, but you know how I feel about those.  It's about as simple as you're gonna get with homemade.

And I like that.  Don't you?

What's nice is it's what I like to call a "one-oven meal," meaning, everything is baked at nearly the same time, at the same temp, in the same place.  No fussing with pans/pots/microwaves/prebaking/sauteing/blah blah blah.  None o'that, my friends!

Ahh, bliss is setting in already.

So what's on the menu?  Good old-fashioned comfort food, baby!  Meatloaf, roasted asparagus, and baked sweet potatoes.  Mmmmm, mmm, good.

Let's get started.

What you'll need:

For the asparagus & potatoes:
-1 lb asparagus, washed and tough ends cut off.
-Olive oil, salt, pepper, & lemon wedges
-as many potatoes as there are people and then some
-butter, salt, brown sugar (whatever you adorn your spuds with)

For the meatloaf:
1 lb free-range, organic ground beef (I like Laura's Lean Beef)
1 egg
1 C breadcrumbs (make your own!  SO easy!)
1 C milk
1/2 C onion, diced
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp Worcestershire
1/4 tsp hot sauce
1/4 C pure maple syrup
1/2 C ketchup

Instructions:
-Prepare meatloaf first.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
-Mix all ingredients for loaf into large bowl except maple syrup and ketchup.
-Press mixture into meatloaf pan.  (What is a meatloaf pan?  See here. Meatloaf pans are twofold, and place in each other--one has holes allowing for drainage of juices into second pan.  I'm only explaining this because I was oblivious when I got married and my first meatloaf was disgustingly soaking in it's juices--it about turned me off for life.  Thankfully I educated myself!)
-Mix ketchup and maple syrup in separate small bowl, spread over top of loaf.
-Place on top shelf of oven.  Bake for 1 hour, 15 min.  Let sit 5-10 minutes, then slice & serve.
-After place loaf in oven, cover your potatoes with tin foil and place on top rack with meatloaf.
-To prepare asparagus, grab a large baking sheet and line with tin foil.  Spread washed & cut asparagus over top, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and set aside.
-When there is about 20 minutes left for meatloaf to cook, place asparagus in oven on lower rack.  Allow to roast until meatloaf is finished.
-Easy as pie.






There you have it, your one-oven meal:



Now excuse me while I partake....



Ahh bliss.



Fabulous Food Finds

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Every so often I'd like to post about the simply wonderful food-like things I love.  

These might be actual food items, gadgets, recipes, people, or...

Cookbooks!

Now, if you know me well (and many of you do) I a-dore reading.

That's the biggest understatement in the universe, people.

I could go for days with my nose in a book and forget to come up for air.  I always, always, always have some sort of reading material in my purse.  I love everything about the literary world.  I cannot go more than a few days without visiting the library and/or reading at least one novel.  

My husband first realized the extent of this obsession on our honeymoon.  I read three, count 'em three, 300+ page novels.  He was a bit peeved, to say the least.  I mean, it was our honeymoon.  I wont go into further details, but let's just say I had to tear myself away from my books to take part in certain honeymoon-like practices.  He wasn't exactly thrilled at my partiality.

Ah well, we're still married.

Libraries, books shops/stores, periodicals, magazines, historical documents, fiction, non-fiction, reference materials, and oh do I ever live to smell the insides of books.  Come on, please tell me you've done this...because then I might be weird.  I'm not weird.  Right??

Don't answer that.

I have always loved books, far longer than I can remember.  It all began with a wonderful librarian I had in elementary school.  She could read books with a certain vibrance I've yet to experience.  She was amazing.  A few years ago I wrote her a letter, thanking her for introducing me to the wonderful world of word-power.  She immediately contacted me and we had lunch, chatting on about our lives and how books have shaped and moulded us into the women we've become.  

Yes, books can do that sort of thing.

Anyway- I fittingly call myself a Bibliophile.  It's simply me, in a nutshell.

Going along with that, when my love for the culinary world began to blossom, I fused the my two adorations together and found an endearing new pasttime:  Perusing cookbooks.

My new favorite area of any bookstore are the shelves that contain every sort of culinary endeavor you might embark upon.  Wine tasting?  Sure!  Chocolate-making?  Certainly.  Pan-Asian cookery?  Definitely.

Oh how I love growing in my knowledge of these quirky subjects.

So...of course, what part of my tiny little kitchen do I absolutely adore?  This place:




The shelf right below my kitchen window.  The very same one that contains my absolute favorite cooking companions.  I recently added this one to the shelf:




I love it.  It's one man's journey to cooking 100% locally and with seasonal fare.  It's become a favorite of mine.  As you can see from the other photo, I also channel Julia Child & Ina Garten.  They are two chefs I could simply live and work alongside.  Their methods, motives, and knowledge (as well as their cooking!) are what I hope to obtain someday (though I'm certain I wont even brush the surface).

Now I have many cookbooks but only the best have a place on The Shelf.  These are my besties.

What are your cookbook go-tos?  Do you have a favorite chef?

I'm anxious to hear!

Do share.










Tender Tastebuds

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Note on today's post--it may offend some.  Especially if you have kiddos who are finicky eaters.  Please, please don't get your pants in a bind!  I'm saying all of this as a fellow parent and one who wants to avoid extra hassle at mealtimes.  Anyway, you'll see what I mean.  Read on.

Today it's all about the kiddos.

Here's my tyke:






He's a happy soul.  Isn't he adorable?  I think so.

So why are we discussing kids?

Because they eat too!  And often they are labeled "picky," which, to be frank, drives me bonkers.

Often kids who are labeled "picky eaters" have simply been given options, far too limited options.  Oxymoron?

Not quite.

What am I rambling about?  Children who are allowed to choose from certain items parents know they will only eat, often don't get the diversified palate that other, more adventurous, children have.  Kids don't simply prefer hot dogs, white bread, peanut butter, and mac n' cheese- they are given them because parents allow it or limit their kiddo's taste buds to these four items.  Or, the parent will make a completely separate meal for the picky eater.  Of course kids aren't going to try stir fry when the mom (or dad) treats the kitchen as though it's a restaurant with menu options.  Would you?

I wouldn't.

However, my mother didn't give me an option!  I had to eat what everyone else was eating, and I had to finish my plate.

Now I realize there are psychological ramifications for forcing children to eat their entire meal.  I'm not advocating this, I'm promoting the idea that children should eat what everyone else is eating, no other "options" allowed.  If they don't like it, they don't eat.  This will be the rule with my own children.  I'm not above letting them go hungry for a meal.  They need to learn to accept what has been provided, no questions asked.

There have also been correlations with children who are given fruits before veggies when eating baby food, white bread over wheat when starting table food, and salty/sugary snacks rather than foods flavored with herbs/seasonings.  Those kiddos I know who aren't "picky" eaters are more adventurous because their parents diversified their palates at six month olds and beyond.

I'm starting this even now.

My son doesn't simply receive jarred peas or pears at mealtimes, he gets a pureed form of whatever we just ate (veggie ravioli, meatloaf, chicken noodle soup, beef stew, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, lentils).  So far, he hasn't refused anything.  I'm thankful, but I know the day will come when he does choose to dislike something and we will approach that day when it arises.  Until then, I'm sticking with my philosophy.

So why am I pushing this?

Partly because I loathe whining (it's one of my biggest pet-peeves) and if my child whines about disliking something it's going to drive me absolutely nuts; more importantly, though, it's because I want my children to be open to new things, to be respectful of others' cooking (when we are at someone else's house who may have cooked something we haven't eaten before), and to appreciate the vast flavors/textures/varieties of all that is in the culinary world.

Oh, I pray for this.

I'm already hitched to a man who despises most vegetables, stays away from most fruits, dislikes anything that isn't beef or chicken.  For this reason, our children are already at risk for being "picky".  However, Mr. K is getting better and our son is already showing promise!  Let's hope this continues.

So why the fuss?

While at the library the other day this book caught my eye:



OF course it caught my eye!  What's this all about?  I thought to myself.  I must check it out.  Literally.

So I did.  And I devoured the thing.  Not literally...but you know what I mean.

The book is the spawn of Hugh Garvey and Matthew Yeomans' blog and details the ways in which children (and adults) can and should be adventurous eaters.  They highlight 10 Gastrokid rules for "reclaiming the family dinner table,"  of which I will now share with you.

Proceed.

1.  FIND YOUR INNER GASTROKID
As parents, "get in touch with the wonder of food...become a culinary explorer."  If you are making the same meals, day-in-day-out, of course your kiddos aren't going to want to eat anything else.  Make eating fun, have the children pick out a fun-colored veggie or fruit to try when you go to the market, have the kids cook with you.  Your enthusiasm for cooking and eating a variety of things will be infectious.

2. NEVER CALL A KID A PICKY EATER
"If you do, you're only giving them an excuse to refuse everything you offer them...there is no such thing as a picky eater, just kids with discerning taste."  This is all the more reason to make a variety of things, allowing them to explore more flavors.

3. DON'T COOK DOWN TO YOUR KIDS
"Offer them a taste of everything.  They might hate it, or they might love it, but you'll never know."  AKA, don't just make something because you think it will be kid-friendly.  Make it for the whole family and if one member doesn't care for it, they can eat the other items provided, or pick around the disliked item.


4. DON'T TAKE IT PERSONALLY THAT YOUR KIDS DESPISE YOUR COOKING
"Often kids' tastes change on a dime and have nothing to do with your food."  This will be something I have to keep in mind because I often get offended when my husband makes weird faces at a meal.  But truly, it's more a reason to not give up and keep trying their taste buds!

5. THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS A KID'S FOOD
"Once you admit this, you open up the culinary horizons of your household...don't simply make a quesadilla for the kiddo while you consider what the adults will eat...make that quesadilla good enough for both child and adult, add fresh cilantro or chicken with colored sweet peppers."  This goes along with my own philosophy of not making something different for each member of the family.  Everyone should eat the same thing, no questions asked.  That's my policy!

6. WHEN IN DOUBT, ADD SALT, FAT, & ACID
Sounds more extreme than it is: a tiny pinch of salt, a dollop or real butter, a little bit of vinegar all turn flavors significantly and make any item more appealing.  This is something I've learned to be incredibly true.  The one thing I can't stand is undersalted bread; it tastes blander than bland.  Also real butter ups the ante in any baked good.  Contrary to popular thought--kid's aren't overly into bland foods, they love things with lots of sugar and salt.  However, turn those refined taste buds into something completely different by making the flavor come from other sources (herbs, spices, honey, etc).

7. CARAMELIZE IT
"Browner is better when it comes to food...a good sear on a steak, a piece of bread that's been toasted...brown food is more molecularly complex and thus more flavorful."  Browning brings out the natural depth-of-flavor in most things.  It makes anyone (kid and adult alike) appreciate the finer tastes of the dish.

8. EAT SEASONALLY & LOCALLY
Find a local farmer's market, make it an outing with your kids.  Let them pick out a fresh apple and take a big bite out of it.  They will enjoy shopping even more when it's a fun pasttime.  Another neat thing I can't wait to do is grow a garden with my children.  Studies have shown that kids who cultivate the food themselves are more apt to eat what they grow and be more open to new things.  I saw this firsthand when living with my aunt & uncle during college.  My aunt has a lovely garden in her backyard and has always allowed each child to have a small plot to grow whatever they choose (flowers, herbs, veggies).  Her children have grown to be lovers of all flavors and textures--preferring a fresh pea pod, heirloom tomatoes, and crisp home-grown lettuce above all other varieties.  The youngest was eating fresh pesto and hummus as a toddler!

9. GET YOUR KIDS COOKING
I mentioned this earlier.  This isn't always easy or time-saving, but it "invests them in the final dish" and allows them to be a part of the meal itself.  My grandparents and parents did this with me and I can't wait to invite my own little ones in the kitchen with me.

10. LOVE THE LEFTOVERS
"We live in a world where we discard large amounts of food.  Make a weekly habit of taking the week's dying produce and make a quick vegetable stock" (or stew!  remember this?).  I am THE biggest proponent of this and was even more so after living in Africa for a year and realizing how wasteful we Americans really are.  Our family now lives on revived leftovers.  If you aren't one to enjoy them, really try.  Really.  You will save your family big bucks.  As of right now my family only consists of my husband, myself, and our nine month old son.  Therefore I don't really need to make mass amounts of anything and yet I do so that I can freeze things in individual containers for easy lunches/meals.  It makes my life easier, healthier, and stress-free (most days). It really isn't difficult to make a big 9x13 pan of lasagna, eat merely a 1/6 of it, and freeze the rest.  Things like soups and stews taste better as they sit so we do many of those.  Truly, truly, if there is a better cooking tip I could give I don't know it, this is it.  You can also re-invent things.  If you make a big beef or pork roast on Sunday, have BBQ beef/pork sandwiches on Monday night or tacos on Tuesday.  Don't you all recall the dorm food in college?  Once the apples in the fruit basket started to turn you would immediately see "apple-walnut salad" on the menu the next day.  I was always thrilled at the collegiate cook staff for recycling.  I'm not one to waste.   Many, many things can be revived and renewed.  Don't dump 'em!

I love this cookbook.  I likely wont buy it now because I'm severely over budget on my book-purchasing this month but I suggest viewing their website.  It has an array of fabulous recipes and tips!  Even if you aren't a parent, it's a great way to find quick, easy, healthful meals for everyone to enjoy.  It's a far better method than this:


I hate this idea.  I despise the "sneaky" method of tucking broccoli into brownies and weird things like that.  I mean, really?  Gross and more gross.  If I'm going to eat a brownie I want it laden with all the bad-for-you stuff.  No little flecks of green.  Nor would I subject my kids to this.  You shouldn't have to go to such extreme measures to get healthful foods into your children.  It just teaches them to be, well, deceptive rather than receptive, and it makes your job that much harder.

Boo to you, Jessica Seinfeld.

Anyway, in the same realm of kids, food, and bookdom I found this blog post the other day and was, of course, in love with it.

Just read it, you'll see what I mean.

Now go make something fun and exciting for your kiddos!

Or your husband.

Or yourself.

I want some real brownies.  No broccoli included.

Want to be Challenged?

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My dear kindred spirit set up this challenge for herself and I am up for it. (Though, quite honestly, it's my current lifestyle--however, I love to push myself further in the realm of healthdom).

I am challenging you all (all twelve of you who read this, har har), to take the torch.  

Make it your goal to eat a la Michael Pollan.  If you don't know who he is, google 'im.  Seriously, his books will change your life (or at least the way you view food).  

I love hearing how each of your gastronomical endeavors are faring.  If you need accountability, I'm your woman.  If you need advice, come on over.  If you need moral support, I'm here.  And if I need any of these things, I'll reciprocate in asking!

Who's up for the challenge? 

If so, leave a comment! 



Morning Must-have: Bran Muffins

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My apologies for my lack of bloggage, but oh friends, has it ever been a heckuva week.

Really.

I was called in to substitute for my favorite teacher, and one day turned into three, then my son got sick, then I had about a million pre-planned events to attend.  Okay, maybe more like three, but I'm prone to exaggeration.  

To top it all off, last night I was missing my blog and decided to write up this post.  I worked diligently on my sarcastic witticisms for two hours, then decided to delete a few unnecessary comments (oh if you only knew how often I do this...trust me, my words are not always kosher).  Unfortunately, during this editing process I somehow managed to edit my entire commentary.

Yes, that's right friends, I deleted the post.

Boy was I ever frustrated.  I definitely slammed my fist on the table a good number of times.  It hurts.  Badly.  I may have broken something.  My fault, I suppose.  Technology can be fabulous but it can also irk me to no end.  And it certainly did last night.  

So that's my sob story.  I'm sure you are crying along with me.  Or laughing at me.  Whatever.

But that was yesterday and this is today.  A new day, my friends!

So, due to my incredible busyness, I haven't cooked much.  I know, I know--it's downright depressing. When I'm unable to pursue my favorite thing in life (cooking) I get into a horrid funk.  I fall into a depleted state of abandon...a back hole of loneliness, an abyss of despair.

Well, maybe that's a tad dramatic.

I just dislike not being in the kitchen.  It gets me irritable.  And I've been horribly irritable.  In my desire to revisit my beloved pasttime, I decided to make my most basic of necessities:  Muffins.

Yes, muffins.  Bran muffins, to be precise.


Now, please, don't get all "ew!" on me.  Bran muffins are quite enjoyable if given the chance, much like prunes.  My friends, these two tasty treats are not merely for the octogenarian.  They are for the children, the twenty-somethings, the SAHMs, the midlifers.  They are for all.  They unite and bring hope.  They bring comfort to the weary and hope to the hopeless.

Okay, maybe those are lofty praises.  But they do keep you moving.  We'll leave the explanation at that.
Let me share this perfect morning recipe with you.

But first, I need boast of another wonderful thing my husband did for me.

My dearest readers, my husband took this disgusting thing:




And turned it into this:


Can you even believe it?  I can. 
Why?
Because he's fabulous. 
And dedicated. 
And knows how much I adore his little cleaning endeavors,
expecially when they involve my kitchen gadgets.

He's so dedicated that his hands turn pruney from his efforts:


What a wonderful man.You should get yourself one.

Anyway, back to muffins.

This particular recipe is a variation of one I found on the side of this stuff:


If you've never used Bob's Red Mill brand, it's great for baking products.  However, I've never actually used this cereal in it's natural form, mostly in other baked goods.  I don't make any promises--I hear it's somewhat dismal by itself.  However, it makes a mean muffin.

So here we go.

Oh and one more thing, these muffins aren't overly sweet.  I don't like too much sugar in the morning.  So if you prefer the sweeter fare, you'll have to add more honey.  I suggest weaning yourself slowly, however- sugar is a nasty demon when used in abundance.  Just sayin'.

Bran Muffins

1 large egg
1/2 C honey (or molasses, or brown sugar, your choice!)
1/3 C butter or 2/3 C applesauce
1 C whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp maple flavoring
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 C 10-Grain Cereal (I use Bob's Red Mill brand)
1-1/4 C buttermilk (if you don't have it you can make your own!  See below.) 

Instructions:

Mix 10 Grain Cereal and milk; soak together for 15 minutes while preheating oven and assembling other ingredients.  Cream sugar, butter/applesauce, and egg together in a separate bowl. Add dry ingredients to egg mixture, then add milk mixture. Stir only until mixed. Spoon into greased muffin cups. Bake at 400°F for 15 minutes. Makes 12.

Here are my choice ingredients:


Now, as stated above you can make your own buttermilk.  
Since I didn't happen to have any, I was in this predicament.  
It's easy to make, no worries.  
Just use 1 tsp of either vinegar or lemon juice per 1 Cup milk.  
Mix together first, let sit a few minutes, and there you have it!  
Buttermilk in a flash.

I recently discovered this schtuff at the store:


Oh my, it's gooood.  It tastes like a milkshake, minus the fat or dairy.  
Almond milk doesn't taste like almonds, not does it have the flavor of soy.  
It's special in it's own way.
Like me.

Back to the recipe.  Let your buttermilk and cereal soak together for a bit.


Once the cereal is milk-logged, move on to mixing your wet ingredients in a separate bowl.  
Now this time around, I actually chose to change-up my sugar source a bit, 
mixing 1/4 C honey and 1/4 C of this stuff:


Sorghum is tasty.  It's the perfect blend of honey & molasses flavors. 
I rather enjoy it.

Next, add your moisture source (aka the butter).  Now, let me explain a little healthy baking tip.  In many baked goods (mainly muffins, pancakes, cookies) you can substitute a fruit puree for the fat.  However, if using a fruit blend, the ratio is 2:1.  So if the recipe calls for 1 C butter, you would substitute with 2 C fruit puree (like applesauce, or, in this case I chose to use apple butter, that's just how I roll).


In another bowl, mix your wet ingredients together until well-blended.


In still another bowl measure out and mix your dry ingredients.




Throw in a little of this, if you like.  
I like, so I do.


Now blend your milk and wet mixtures together, then add your dry and mix until just combined.
Don't overmix!  Unless you prefer horrendously dense muffins.
Please don't prefer this.  




Now for all you perceptive readers the below muffin pan is not the one my husband cleaned.  
I own two.  This is my newer one.  Because, my friends, two are better than one.
Line your pan with muffin cups.



Spray each with cooking spray 
I like to do this because often the batter will cling to the paper when done, 
thus sacrificing a good deal of muffin.

I don't partake in sacrificial muffins.
My muffins will not give their lives to martyrdom.
Unless being eaten by a ravenous maiden.
Or ma'am.
Or whatever.
Okay, I'm done.

Fill each cup 3/4 full.



Bake at 400 for 15-20 min.  
And out they come:


Lovely.  Fresh.  Enticing.

Perfect with a dollop of real butter or natural peanut butter.  
Or almond butter.
Or apple butter.

Butter was made for these babies.
And coffee.


Have a glorious morning.