Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Espresso Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins

I tried these muffins once before and was unhappy with the results. Oh, sure, I ate them all. I just didn’t think they were quite good enough to share here. They were kind of weak in texture, almost greasy from too much moisture and butter. I liked the flavor, though, so I kept them in mind.

I didn’t quite have the energy to think about how to tweak the recipe for these banana muffins with espresso powder and chocolate chips, so in my mind is where they stayed for a while. Then it finally occurred to me, after an embarrassingly long time, to start with my go-to banana bread recipe and flavor it with the chocolate and espresso. I could have made a quick bread loaf instead, but, since batters for quick bread loaves and muffins are reasonably interchangeable, I decided to stick with muffins.

I made a few small changes (including adding a smidge more butter) and made some mighty fine muffins. These have the all the virtues of well-balanced, moist banana muffins with the gently bitter edge of espresso. There’s lots of chocolate in each muffin, however, enough that it cannot be ignored. I like miniature chips here. It seems that they allow for a nicer distribution of little chocolate pockets in my opinion, but you could certainly have delicious muffins with regular-sized chocolate chips.

These muffins are really delicious, pleasantly sweet, moist and chocolaty, and used some extremely overripe banana languishing in the kitchen. Those are all good enough reasons for me to eat them. If you need an excuse to eat muffins, just remember that while these may look like little cakes, they also contain plenty of fruit plus a little of your morning (or afternoon) coffee. Good enough? I think so.


Espresso Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins
adapted from Pastry Affair and Cooking Light magazine

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1 egg
6 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
¾ cup buttermilk
3 medium bananas, peeled and well mashed (about 1 ½ cups)
1 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray or line it with paper liners.

2. In a medium-size bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, sugar and espresso powder. Whisk together until well combined. Set aside.

3. In another bowl, whisk together the egg and butter until smooth. Add the buttermilk and whisk to blend well. Whisk in the banana until smooth.

4. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture. Stir together until the dry ingredients are nearly moistened. Gently stir in the chocolate chips.

5. Evenly distribute the batter among the prepared muffin cups. Bake at 350 F for 20 to 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in a muffin comes out with a few moist crumbs but no wet batter.

6. Remove from the oven and cool about 5 minutes in the pan. Remove from the pan and cool at least 10 minutes more. Serve warm or completely cooled. Freeze leftover muffins in a zip-top freezer bag.

Makes 12 muffins


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Cranberry Orange Oatmeal Scones

I have too many scone recipes. I don’t even mean variations on the basic scone with different flavorings and additions. I mean there are too many ways to make scones, and I don’t know which is the best way. I certainly don’t know which is the most authentic. I’m not even sure any two scone aficionados agree on that.

I do know, however, how I like my scones to turn out. I like them gently crisp on the outside and tender but slightly crumbly inside. If they’re going to be sweet, I think gently sweetened is just fine. Sweet or savory, I don’t like them boring and pale. They need some flavor, and they need some small bit of browning in the oven.  I haven’t figured out if buttermilk is better than cream or if eggs are better than eggless. Any attempts at lower fat and otherwise reduced-calorie scones have been disappointing, veering away from the biscuit-y texture I prefer and pushing into a coarse and crude muffin zone. (I’d rather just make good muffins.)  Cold butter is essential. Skimping on that just doesn’t work.

Among the too many scone recipes I have are too many cranberry-orange scones recipes. I, however, didn’t even start with any of them to make these scones. I started instead from an orange and oatmeal scone recipe from the blog 101 Cookbooks (stashed among by list of too many recipes from the internet). I scaled down the recipe, added some oat flour, fiddled with the flavorings a bit, and increased the baking time for a slightly browned scone.

The end result was delicious. Delicious enough to toss out all those cranberry-orange scone recipes I’ve got stashed in my files and on my computer and everywhere else around the house. A small dent in the clutter, perhaps, but a large victory in the realm of satisfying scones.


Cranberry Orange Oatmeal Scones
Based on a recipe at 101Cookbooks
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup oat flour
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon fine salt
1 cup rolled oats
½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
finely grated zest of 1 orange
½ cup buttermilk
½ cup dried cranberries
Coarse sugar for sprinkling, optional

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Set aside.

2. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the all-purpose flour, oat flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Pulse a few times to combine well. Add the oats and pulse again to distribute them.

3. Add the butter and orange zest and pulse until the butter is distributed in pea-size lumps. Add the buttermilk and process just until the dough starts to come together. Add the cranberries and pulse a few times to distribute them in the dough.

4. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Gently knead the dough to bring it together. Form the dough into a disc about 6 inches in diameter and about 1-1 ½ inches thick. Cut the dough into 8 equal triangles.

5. Transfer the triangles to the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with coarse sugar if desired. Bake at 350 F for 20-25 minutes or until the scones are gently brown on top and golden brown on the bottom. Cool on a wire rack. Serve slightly warm or completely cooled. Freeze any leftovers in a zip-top bag.

 Makes 8 servings.


Monday, February 11, 2013

Mulled Wine Chocolate Cake

Oh my! This is a good chocolate cake. This is a seriously good chocolate cake. It’s dark and chocolaty like a chocolate cake should be. It’s also, however, laced with the richness of red wine. Really! Red wine in a chocolate cake. Oh, this is so good!

This cake is pleasantly moist in texture. It’s slightly dense, but doesn’t go all the way to brownie. It’s rich enough to satisfy with just a small piece (you know, if you’re actually sticking to some of those New Year’s resolutions). It’s also not so rich that you can’t eat the whole cake in one sitting, erm, have a second piece if you like. It doesn’t need any frosting, but just a dollop, okay, so I used a squirt, of whipped cream is nice. A dusting of powdered sugar is all the prettying up it needs.

I made this into sort of a mulled wine cake by adding some warm spices. You could leave them out, I suppose, but I highly recommend adding at least a pinch or two of cinnamon. I just added the spices with the dry mixture rather than taking any time to actually infuse the wine, but if you happen to have some mulled wine on hand, you could probably save yourself the time of measuring out spices and use that instead.

The spices are subtle in the end result, but add something special that I really loved. The flavor of the red wine is significantly less subtle. You’ll definitely know it’s there, so I recommend using one you actually like to drink. I used some leftover Malbec, but I think Cabernet or Shiraz would be great, too. This pleasantly bitter dark chocolate milieu is really a place for dry red wines, but I don’t mind admitting that I’d like to know how things would go with a sweet red wine, or a cherry wine.

This is a great cake for a lovely Valentine’s Day dessert, not the least reason being that it’s relatively quick to put together. Valentine’s Day is in the middle of the week, after all. It’s also a good use for a bit of that nice red wine you have with your romantic dinner. You know, since you’re not going to drink the whole bottle. Valentine’s Day is in the middle of the week, after all.

And lest you might think I’d leave you behind if you’re dead set against all that romantic holiday boloney, this cake is for you, too. It’s dark and slightly bitter, just bitter enough to support an anti-Valentine protest. And then, if you use a little bit of that bottle of red wine you were going to drink, also in protest, at least you can truthfully say that you didn’t drink the whole bottle.


Mulled Wine Chocolate Cake
Adapted from the blog smitten kitchen

Since there’s just a small measure of each of the spices in the cake, save yourself some trouble by using what you already have on hand rather than doing any extra shopping just to make this.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
½ cup cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon fine salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup (packed) dark brown sugar
¼ cup granulated white sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 large egg yolk, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup dry red wine (use what you like)

1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Line the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan with parchment paper. Spray the pan well with cooking spray or grease it well with butter or oil. Set aside.

2. Combine the flour, espresso powder, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices in a medium-size bowl. Whisk or sift together until well combined. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer (or in a medium-size bowl if you’re using a hand mixer), using the paddle attachment beat the butter on medium speed until creamy. Add the brown sugar and white sugar and beat on medium speed until smooth and fluffy. Add the egg, egg yolk and vanilla extract and beat until very smooth.

4. Add about 1/3 of the flour mixture and beat until well-combined. Add half of the red wine and beat until well combined. Repeat with 1/3 more of the flour mixture and the rest of the red wine. Scrape the bowl and paddle attachment well. Add the remaining flour mixture and beat until smooth.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and spread evenly. Bake at 325 for 25-30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached. Remove from the oven to a wire cooling rack.

6. Cool 10 minutes. Carefully remove the cake from the pan by flipping it onto the cooling rack. I think the slightly rounded top looks best so I flip the cake one more time so that surface is on top. Cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar if desired. Serve with a bit of whipped cream.

Makes a 9-inch round cake, about 8-12 servings.

Other recipes like this one: Peppermint Brownie Pie, Grapefruit Scented Muffins with Warm Spices        

Monday, February 4, 2013

White Beans with Tomatoes and Olives

As happens so many times on these pages, I wish I had a great story to go with this dish. Something about my plump Tuscan grandmother who taught me everything I know (she doesn’t exist), or how I dried my own tomatoes or cured my own olives or grew my own navy beans. Nope. Not gonna happen. To be painfully truthful, I can’t even remember how I got the idea to put these ingredients together in this fashion. This simple pan of white beans with sundried tomatoes and kalamata olives with plenty of garlic and olive oil will have to be its own story.

But doesn’t that tell you a lot? Creamy white beans enrobed in flavorful oil and enhanced with the tangy flavor of sundried tomatoes and the briny brightness of olives. I made it warm for the simple reason that it’s just too cold for salads. I made it with dried beans I cooked myself because I happened to have a lot of them waiting around for their chance to be useful (you could use canned beans). I made it with lots of parsley because that’s an easy herb to get nice and fresh in the dead of winter. I made it totally delicious quite by accident.

I highly recommend using very tender sundried tomatoes in this recipe. Those packed in oil and sold in jars will be quite soft, but I happened to find some that were delightfully pliable in a re-sealable package without any oil. I think either form will work. If your dry-packed tomatoes are too hard to chew easily, you may be able to soften them by soaking them in boiling water for 30 minutes or so.
As you can see, I really didn’t get any good photos of this dish. Unfortunately, if I’m going to share a recipe for something I made for supper, unless by some freak happenstance of time and energy I make something ahead of time, there’s just not going to be enough sunlight for a quality representative picture. This is pretty much true from November through February, so you might have to use your imagination on some of my dishes.

And using that good imagination of yours on this one could lead to any number of variations. When the days get warmer, I’d like to try this as a cold salad with the oil turned into a dressing by merging it with some vinegar. I’m also wondering if Roasted Cherry Tomatoes would be a good replacement for the sundried tomatoes. Perhaps the tale of these very simple beans can live on as a Choose Your Own Adventure story. Perhaps just being very simple and extremely delicious is enough.


White Beans with Sundried Tomatoes and Olives

I used unsalted beans in this recipe. If you are using canned beans you may want to use the lesser amount of salt. Taste after adding the olives to determine if more salt is needed.

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 cups white beans, drained (and rinsed if canned), about 2 16-ounce cans
¼- ½ teaspoon coarse salt, to taste
a few grinds of black pepper
¼ cup chopped soft sundried tomatoes
¼ cup chopped kalamata olives
½ cup finely chopped parsley

1. Pour the oil in a large skillet. Warm over low heat. Add the garlic and cook very gently, stirring frequently, until just beginning to brown.

2. Add the remaining ingredients and cook until the parsley is well wilted and the dish is warm throughout, about 5 minutes. Serve warm.

Makes about 4 main-dish servings.

Other recipes like this one: White Beans with Arugula and Sun-Dried Tomatoes (I had completely forgotten about this recipe, which is quite similar); White Beans with Sage and Garlic; White Bean Soup with Fresh Herbs