Monday, January 27, 2014

Peanut Butter Muffins

I had plans to do a bit of baking today, but after breakfast this morning, I only had one egg left. Since the wind chill temperatures were approaching obscene levels, I wasn’t exactly inclined to venture out for another dozen. This eliminated such ambitious and delicious baked goods as peanut butter swirl brownies or some other peanut butter bars. Since I was making sandwich bread, I decided not to use my solitary egg on a peanut butter yeast bread loaf. This left the hazelnut version of these Cappuccino Muffins I was thinking of, which required only one egg.

I started thinking, however, that all those other recipes seemed to be hinting at a particular inclination I might have toward peanut butter. (Actually, I’ve been nuts, you might say, about peanut butter for over a year now.) I’d probably be disappointed if I didn’t try the peanut butter muffin recipe I’d recently come across in the same book as I found the Cappuccino Muffins.

Of course I couldn’t disappoint myself. I made the Peanut Butter Muffins, and they were delicious! I added raisins (I blame this granola for my new love of that combination), but you wouldn’t have to. Chocolate chips would be hard to argue against as a replacement, or you could leave the muffins plain.

These muffins are plentifully peanut buttery but not especially sweet, so they taste more like peanut butter cookies than like peanut butter candy. They’re pleasantly soft and moist, and are going to be hard to resist for breakfast, coffee breaks, snacks, even dessert. I find myself wondering how good other nut butters would be in place of the peanut butter or how good other add-ins, such as the chocolate I mentioned above or chopped peanuts, would be.

And, for some reason, I’m thinking they might just be pretty great served with jelly. Just a feeling I have, I guess.


Peanut Butter Muffins
Adapted from The Ultimate Muffin Book by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough

The raisins are optional in this recipe. If you choose to exclude them, add the ¼ cup flour with the rest of the flour. You could also replace them with chocolate chips if desired.

¼ cup (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup raisins, optional
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 large egg
½ cup light brown sugar, packed
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter
1 ¼ cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Spray the cups of a 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray or line them with paper liners. Set aside.

2. Melt the butter and set aside to cool slightly. In a small bowl, combine the raisins and ¼ cup flour, tossing to coat the raisins. Set aside.

3. In a medium-size bowl, combine the remaining 1 ½ cups flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk together to combine well. Set aside.

4. In another medium-size bowl, beat the egg well with a whisk. Add the brown sugar and whisk to combine. Continue whisking until the mixture is very smooth, thick and light brown in color, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the peanut butter until smooth. Whisk in the melted butter, then the milk and vanilla until smooth.

5. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and stir gently until most of the dry ingredients have been moistened. Add the raisin mixture and stir just until there are no dry spots.

6. Divide the batter among the 12 prepared muffin cups. Bake at 400 F for 20 minutes or until the tops of the muffins are lightly browned and a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs remaining.

7. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Remove from the pan and let stand until cool enough to enjoy, or cool completely. Store in an airtight container or plastic bag.

Makes 12 muffins.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Cranberry Walnut Tabbouleh

I want to make more desserts. Desserts are fun. I also want to maintain my body weight (actually, I want to lose a few pounds, but let’s not go into that). So how’s this for a concept: I can slip a serving of dessert into a day or two (or more?) each week if I shave some calories off somewhere else? And how about shaving those calories off the evening meal, after which I’m pretty sedentary, especially this terribly cold and dark time of year? Then, a light supper could consist of, say, a moderate portion of a hearty salad and maybe some more vegetables or fruit.

Well, I don’t know if this would actually work as a lifestyle, but this Cranberry Walnut Tabbouleh sure works as a great salad. It’s a wintery variation of bulgur wheat salad with a lemony vinaigrette. Dried cranberries and toasted walnuts form the bulk of the remaining flavors and those walnuts are backed up in the dressing with walnut oil. It’s really a fine combination in this savory form, plus the chewy cranberries compliment the chewy bulgur and the walnuts provide a nice nutty crunch.

There are all kinds of substitutions you could make to create your own version of this salad: different dried fruits and nuts, olive oil in place of the walnut oil, a different kind of onion (I used scallions, aka green onions here), or, when they become affordably available in your area, different herbs.

This salad makes a great lunch, of course, as well as the light supper I mentioned above. With lively flavors and satisfying textures like these it might just make my occasional desserts idea successful. Now, I just need to shave some time off of something I’m doing to make more time to make more desserts. Huh. Wish me luck with that!

Cranberry Walnut Tabbouleh
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine

1 cup medium-grain bulgur
½ cup dried cranberries
¾ teaspoon salt, divided
1 cup boiling water
½ cup chopped fresh parsley leaves and tender stems
1/3 cup chopped green onion
½ cup chopped toasted walnuts
¼ cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons walnut oil
¼ teaspoon black pepper, preferably freshly ground

1. Combine bulgur, dried cranberries, and ½ teaspoon salt in a medium-size bowl. Pour over the boiling water and stir to combine. Let stand until the water is fully absorbed and the bulgur is tender, about 30 minutes.

2. Stir in the parsley, green onion, and walnuts.

3. In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice, walnut oil, remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, and black pepper. Whisk until very well combined. Pour over the bulgur mixture and stir to coat. Serve at room temperature or chill.

Makes about 6 servings.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Macaroni and Cheese with Sweet Potatoes

So, how are those New Year’s resolutions going? Not so well? Don’t worry. Most folks will ditch theirs in the next couple weeks if they haven’t already.
But the publishers of cooking magazines are counting on your optimism when they put their January issues on the newsstands. They also seem to be counting on the fact that many of us are resolving to eat healthier in the coming year. That’s why you find things like macaroni and cheese with dubious substitutions or hidden vegetables among the recipes printed for the beginning of a fresh new year.

This particular variation on that theme, which I found in Eating Well magazine, just kind of sounded good. I wasn’t really aiming to fool myself (or my husband) by forcing sweet potatoes to masquerade as cheese sauce. There’s actually still a good amount of cheese in this casserole. I just thought it wouldn’t be so bad to eat more vegetables, especially after a holiday mini-binge. I also thought it might not be so bad to bump up the average healthiness of a meal by adding ingredients with more vitamins and fiber. Above all, however, I was really curious about how good macaroni and cheese laced with mashed sweet potatoes would taste.

I have to say, I really liked the taste. I also thought the texture was good, perhaps not as indulgently creamy and gooey as a standard homemade mac and cheese, but certainly nice nonetheless. The original recipe called for peas to be added as well, but I replaced those with green onions (aka scallions), which add a flavor I love. I used whole wheat penne pasta, but you could use whatever short-cut noodles you like. Of course, if you’re trying this to replace some indulgent meals with healthier dishes, you might want to go ahead with whole grain pasta.
Sadly, this Macaroni and Cheese with Sweet Potatoes and Green Onions was a supper meal and therefore virtually un-photograph-able in my home under early evening conditions. This means I really didn’t get a nice picture. I got lots of nice flavors and textures and a boost of healthfulness from this dish, however, and that’s pretty great.

Macaroni and Cheese with Sweet Potatoes and Green Onions
Adapted from Eating Well Magazine

I did not make this with a traditional buttery breadcrumb topping. You could add one if you like, like the one in this post.

12 ounces sweet potato (about 2 medium or 1 large)
8 ounces whole wheat penne pasta
2 tablespoons butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 ¼ cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
½ cup chopped green onions (scallions)

1. Prick the skin of the sweet potatoes in several places with a knife. Cook the sweet potatoes in the microwave on High power until very tender, about 6-10 minutes. Set aside until cool enough to handle.

2. When the sweet potatoes can be handled, remove the peel and mash until smooth. Set aside.

3. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until just a little more firm than you would like to eat it. (It will cook a little more in the oven later.) Drain and return to the cooking pot. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350 F.  Spray a 2 quart casserole dish (or similarly sized baking dish) with cooking spray or grease it as you prefer.
4. In a medium size saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Whisk in the flour and stir well to form a paste with the butter. Cook, stirring constantly for about 30 seconds. Stir in the milk.

5. Continue to heat the milk mixture, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the pan to prevent scorching until the mixture comes to a boil. You want this to heat slowly, so it could take up to 20 minutes to boil. Boil gently for about 1 minute or until the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat.

6. Stir in the salt, crushed red pepper flakes, and Dijon mustard. Whisk in the mashed sweet potatoes until the mixture is smooth. Stir in the cheese and continue stirring until the cheese melts.

7. Add the cheese mixture to the cooked pasta. Stir to coat the pasta. Stir in the green onions. Transfer the pasta mixture to the prepared casserole dish.

8. Bake at 350 F for 15-20 minutes or until bubbly. Let stand 5-10 minutes before serving.

Makes about 4-6 servings.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

2013 in Review

It may seem late to have a “review” of an old year several days into the new one. That’s because it is. It seems, however, that I’m destined to lag behind, never quite ready for anything, always wondering where the time has gone. But, hey!, better late than never.

It’s hard for me to really say what 2013 was like. Nothing bad happened to me, which is great. I won’t say that nothing good happened to me, because I see pretty much all non-bad as good, but there really wasn’t any big news. I didn’t get to try nearly as many new recipes as I wanted to, but that leaves plenty for the year to come. (I should never run out of new things to make at this rate!) My vegetable garden was a complete bust, resembling a forgotten wasteland far more than the Eden for which I always live in eternal hope. (This year for sure!) I didn’t get as many kitchen thoughts posted to these pages as I would have liked, but the introduction of the Archive Recipe of the Week is helping me to touch base with The Messy Apron more often.

Overall, I was kind of thinking of the past year with a big shrug and an, “eh,” but then I began reviewing the recipes I posted and remembered that 2013 was quite a delicious year. I got to make a birthday cake for myself for the first time in years and it was delightfully yummy. I put some old favorites, such as my usual spaghetti sauce and a beefy pot pie into print. I stumbled upon or came up with a few real gems that have become regular re-makes.

So, while the list of life events outside of this site with my name at the top of it would be pretty boring, the recipe life I’ve had in the last year was pretty darn good. Here is a much more interesting list of my favorite 10 recipes posted to The Messy Apron in 2013. It was hard to pick just 10!

Noodle Salad with Sweet Asian Dressing
Hazelnut Cake with Chocolate Glaze (the aforementioned birthday cake)
Strawberry Rhubarb Freezer Jam
Simple Vanilla Yogurt Cake
Peanut Butter Granola
Orange Butter Cookies
Mulled Wine Chocolate Cake
Peanut Butter Cookies with Peanut Butter Cups
Spaghetti Sauce

Happy New (or mostly new) Year!