Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Holy Grail of Blueberry Muffins

Many years ago I somehow got the idea to google "To die for blueberry muffins" and came across this amazing recipe entitled "To Die For Blueberry Muffins." Funny how that works. I didn't want to dick around with all of the crappy blueberry muffin recipes - oh no no no.... Straight to the "to die for" ones for me! And I mean for god's sake...with a name like that they must be good, right? Right.

Turns out  they are. They are absolutely the best bakery-style blueberry muffin. Lots of loft, just the right amount of sweet. Light and airy but not too much so. Crispy, crunchy top. Bad for you, but "low fat" by Dunkin' Donuts standards. A definite winner.

Here in the great northeast, we're rounding out the end of blueberry season. Blueberries started ripening a bit early this year and the delicious blueberry plants that grow wild all over this area are more or less done producing. At the lake house where we spend a lot of our summer weekends, the grounds are covered in low-bush blueberries, as well as a few high-bush blueberry bushes that grow outside the windows. To top that off, there's an island in the middle of the lake called Blueberry Island that is virtually covered in blueberry bushes.

In the photo to the right, Ein and I are kayaking out to see if there are any blueberries ready to be picked (last year - the island is just to the left of his head, in the distance). This  year I didn't get the chance to go up the weekend the blueberries were ready, but Aj brought home a big Solo cup full of them. We munched on some, but there was still about half a cup left. Combined with almost 2 pints of blueberries I picked up at the local farm stand, I was looking for something to do with these tasty treats. Maine and NH blueberries are wonderful - a lot of times the wild ones are MUCH smaller than the kind you buy in the grocery store. Their flesh is firm and tart yet sweet. They aren't mushy at all like the over-ripe blueberries that often have to travel so far to reach Southern and Western states. They're a real ground-to-mouth pleasure.

So of course I remembered this recipe, which I made without hesitation and was once again impressed by the loft, texture and taste of these great muffins. I didn't use the streusel topping, but if you do make sure to use brown sugar instead of white and don't load it on or the muffins won't rise all the way. Though I haven't tried it, other commenters claim that the recipe is great with just about any kind of fruit substituted...so give it a shot and use what you have on hand! Even though this isn't my recipe, it's certainly one worth sharing.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

When you move to a new part of the country there are all kinds of things that get lost in translation. Like "blinker" versus "directional" or the New England classic "wicked". There's the difference between "chowda" and "chowder" and then....there is the New England version of "hot."  Not food hot, but weather hot. See, where I'm from in the dirty south, hot means over 98 degrees. Hot is when you open your car door and your hair singes. Hot is HOT. Here in New England, hot is somewhere between 80 and 95 degrees. Anything over that means you probably shouldn't leave your house.

Now...when I first moved to New England, I knew winters were going to be cold beyond anything I knew, but I wasn't prepared to have winter end and summer begin just to hear people bitching about how hot it was. Really? Two months ago you were sick of the miserable snow and now you're sick of the heat. To me, this was and still is mostly incomprehensible. The only reason winter in New England is tolerable is because of snow (which everyone else seems to hate). This past winter we almost had an entire winter season without snow, and I was not happy. But there's a silver lining in that we also had very few days where it hit the teens and negatives. So now it's summer, and I've got my little garden growing and the days average around 85 degrees, which, for July, seems a little obscene. Like... my home town is enjoying a solid 94 degrees while I sit in a house with only one window unit running to keep it cool.

All I can say is that if this is "hot", I love it. I love being able to walk around without feeling like I'm going to suffocate on the muggy, cotton candy heat of the southern summers. The nights cool down to the low 60s and the days mostly stay in the mid to high 80s. Every part of the country has its own perks, no doubt about it, but I am falling in love with the beautiful (and bountiful!) springs, mild summers, stunning falls and snowy winters of New England.

In fact, this time of the year brings a particularly great New England treat - wild blueberries. In the south, the wild blackberry brambles are absolutely delicious, and in New England the wild blueberries grow bountifully. We have a patch of what's called "low bush" blueberries in our back yard, and it gets bigger every year. The blueberries love the woodsy pine floor of our back yard and they make these tiny, cute little blueberries that are quite tasty and perfect for pancakes and muffins.

For the past two summers, I've made a blueberry tea with the blueberry leaves and about a half cup of blueberries. No matter where you are in the US, if you can get your hands on some blueberry plant leaves I'd recommend this light, antioxidant rich tea infusion. It's perfect for that summer day - whether it's 80 or 100 degrees.

Fresh Blueberry Tea Infusion

NOTE: You'll need to make this the day before you want to drink it.

  • A few blueberry stems with leaves
  • Half a cup of blueberries
  • 2 tbsp local honey
  • 1 sprig mint
  1.  Boil 8 cups of water until at a rolling boil. Add blueberry leaves and remove from heat.
  2. In a large pitcher, crush blueberries lightly with a fork.
  3. Drizzle 2 tbsp honey over blueberries.
  4. Add sprig of mint into pitcher.
  5. After 5-10 minutes, pour the hot water with the blueberry leaves in it into the pitcher.
  6. The mixture will look brown the first day, but by the second morning it will be a pleasant reddish blue. Strain (or use a pitcher with a tooth spout) and serve iced. Will stay good for 3-4 days.

Friday, June 29, 2012

A Summer Salmon Recipe

So I won't get into details about why I haven't been posting. Let's just say life's been busy and yadda yadda. Since I've last posted, things have happened (which is good because god what a boring life I would lead otherwise!) Things that have made my culinary adventures more exciting! Things called Pinterest. Yes, Pinterest. What is Pinterest, you ask? Well if you are female and under 50 it is a requirement for your life. It's a giant online pinboard filled with fashion, crafts, home design and yes - FOOD. Great recipes from all over the web and lots of little helpful hints about gardening, cleaning and cooking. So far, I've made many recipes I've found on pinterest and had pretty good success with most of them. Things like Carrot Cupcakes, Avocado Enchiladas, Slow Cooker Tikka Masala, Baked Crab Rangoon and so much more. Yes, Pinterest is the place to be!

Now after all that going on about pinterest, here is a recipe I DIDN'T find on Pinterest! This actually came from a manager of mine for our most recent newsletter at the bookstore. (Readers like to cook!) This recipe is DYNAMITE. Absolutely delicious. Made me come blog after 4 months kind of delicious. Second best salmon of my life delicious. Just delicious.

Grilled Salmon with Mango and Cherry Salsa


  • 2 salmon fillets a quarter pound each (I used wild sockeye, skin on bones in)
  • Salt
  • Olive oil
  • 1 ripe mango, peeled, seeded and diced cubed (quarter inch cubes)
  • 1/2 cup cherries, seeded and cut into quarters
  • 2 tbsp red bell pepper, finely diced
  • 2 tbsp red onion, finely diced
  • 1 tbsp jalapeno, finely diced
  • 2 tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar (or apple cider vinegar if you must)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Heavy sprinkle of cumin
  • Light sprinkle of cayenne
  • Salt to taste
  1. In a mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients for the mango salsa, mix and set aside. Let it sit out at room temperature for 30 minutes. Toss before topping salmon.
  2. Coat salmon generously in olive oil and salt. Preheat grill to medium high heat (Charcoal - approx 6 inches below grate). Grill 5-7 minutes per side, or until done. 
  3. If your salmon has skin, peel the skin off of the salmon before plating and covering in salsa. 

Now THAT is summer cookin'

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Divine Chicken a la King Casserole

When I was home visiting my family for Christmas, my dad passed on a family treasure to me. Was it an old piece of jewelry? A beautiful chest of drawers? An old trinket passed down? No - it was a ratty old cook book. Except - it's like Aladdin's lamp. You open it up and point to a recipe - you make it - it's delicious. You open it up and point to a recipe - you make it - it's delicious. Over and over! Apparently half of the food I grew up with came out of this cookbook. So I can't even tell you how excited I am to have it!

So what is this magical cookbook of wonder? It's called "Bayou Cuisine" and it's an old church cookbook from 1979. In fact, if you are totally interested in it, there are a few used copies on Amazon.com here. The inside cover tells me it's a "pot pourri of delta cookery, art, and history" -- perrrrrfect.

There's a lovely old watercolor and a poem on the inside cover.
I must go to my home in the swamps again,
Where the tall, tall cypress grow,
Where the bayous sleep,
And the brakes are deep,
Unused to ice and snow

I must go to my home in the swamps again,
To the simple things I know,
Where the willows weep,
and the love-vines creep
and tangle
South winds blow

Could anything be better? Well, yeah actually. The freaking recipes in this dang holy book.

Today Aj and I weren't sure what to have for dinner. So we opened it up, and the first thing I saw was Chicken Casserole (With Rice) -- Ok so I am a fan of 1) Casserole 2) Chicken and 3) Rice - a quick scan of the ingredients told me this was obviously a take on Chicken a La King. The cookbook classifies the recipe as French and puts it next to Coq au Vin. Done. Decided.

So, loving husband that he is (not to mention I cooked the last 3 nights...) Aj whipped this recipe up in a jiff. It was pretty much the BEST THING EVER. You 100% MUST try this recipe. Definitely getting made again. There was barely even enough for leftovers and there's only two of us!!! The book says Mrs. Jamie Whitten submitted this recipe, and I thank her from the bottom of my heart...err stomach.

Without further ado, the magical "French" recipe (right, because those French people put cornflakes on everything...):

Chicken Casserole (With Rice)

  • 2 C. Diced chicken (uncooked, small cubes)
  • 1/4 C. Mayonnaise (as always, I used Cains)
  • 1 C. Cooked rice (White long grain)
  • 1/2 Tsp. Salt
  • 4 Oz. Can of Mushrooms
  • 1 C. Diced celery
  • 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp. finely chopped onion
  • 1 Can cream of chicken soup
  • Cornflakes (Kellogs)
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  1. Combine all ingredients except cornflakes and butter and mix together. Place them in a 9x9 casserole dish.
  2. Mix 2 tbsp butter (melted) with 1 cup corn flake crumbs. Place on top of casserole.
  3. Bake 30 to 40 minutes at 350°F.

Serves 8 (Aka 4)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Snowy Chicken! ... Errr...

Well, today brought snow! FINALLY! Most years we've had snow well before Thanksgiving. Last year we didn't get it until after Christmas. This year we got a huge burst in October and then....nothing. We got a little sprinkling this morning to finally break the dry spell. It really wasn't much... about an inch of snow and then sleet/slush, but it was a huge relief to finally get something white on the ground. It will probably have melted in a day or two, but at least we "broke the ice." Har har.

So it's the new year, and usually I try to make some kind of resolution for the year. Last year I resolved to read and review 52 books. I figured that writing something about the book would help me remember what I liked and didn't like, and possibly help me retain the story as well since I am notorious for forgetting. This year, I've resolved to cook and blog more, craft more, watch 52 movies, and read 25 books. It sounds like a lot, but really it's just finding the balance between work and all of the things that make my life exciting and enjoyable. I also have an ongoing goal to eat better and exercise more. I'd like to be healthier, and stop eating all of Aj's junk food. Plus my pants are getting a little tight and all my clothes are too cute for me to replace. So I have to replace quantity with quality when it comes to food!

If you've noticed that the two recipes I've posted this year are "light" it's because of this, but I promise I don't substitute taste for fewer calories. When you rely on flavors and spices in your cooking and avoid heavy creams and too much butter or oil, you're really not missing out on much. In many cases it's better for you and better tasting. If I didn't tell my husband that things were low fat, he'd never know. In fact, he walked into my studio yesterday and exclaimed that the muffins I made were delicious and was rather surprised to hear they were "light."

Do be careful, though, because a lot of foods that advertise "light" are a huge composite of things that are bad for you and have no nutritional value. It's best to eat foods with the least amount of processing, and to monitor how much you are eating. Just make sure to look at the ingredient list before you grab that "light" or "fat free" or "low fat" snack. If you don't know what's going into it, don't eat it.

Anyway, enough blathering. I should try to blog earlier rather than later, and maybe I'd be wittier!

Rosemary and Cream Cheese Stuffed Chicken

  • 2 Chicken breasts
  • 1/4 C. Whipped cream cheese
  • 3 Tbsp. Low fat sour cream
  • 1/2 Medium onion, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1-2 oz. Grated smoked Gouda cheese
  • 1 Tbsp. minced garlic
  • 4 Crushed Kalmata olives, pitted
  • Rosemary
  • Cayenne
  • Oregano
  • Paprika
  1. Cut chicken down the center, and then expand the pocket by cutting sideways to the left and right of your first cut.
  2. Mix together all ingredients except the onion, holding aside some of the grated cheese. Use the seasonings to taste, with very light cayenne. Once blended, add the onion and mix again.
  3. Stuff the chicken with the mixture. You may have extra left over depending on the size of your chicken breast.
  4. Grease a 9x9 pan with cooking spray and place the chicken in it.
  5. Cover the chicken with a sprinkling of grated cheese and rosemary.
  6. Bake on 375 for 30 minutes.

Per half chicken breast, just 170 calories, 7 grams of fat and 14 carbs! This great dish also packs 14 grams of protein per half chicken breast. Pair it with mashed butternut squash, cheddar broccoli, summer squash or asparagus or to try the potato that is featured in the picture, follow this link. (Though we used red potatoes) Yum.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Light Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

So I know it's been a while since I blogged. Yes yes, a long while. I know. There has been a lot going on with the holidays (and a decent amount of baking!) and Aj and I just got back from a visit home to see my family in Mississippi. We had lovely southern foods and when we left, the airport smelled like bacon. The south is a good place to eat! But all that for another time. It's kind of late, and I want to get to the gist of the post: Light Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins! Yum!

How can the words Chocolate Chip and Light (with the low fat connotation) be in the same sentence? See, I have this great banana nut bread recipe. And I can do almost anything to it and it still is moist and amazing. When we got back from the airport there were two mostly black bananas sitting in my fruit bowl. I am not a banana person. I don't eat them. I don't even like the smell of them. But for some reason I DO like banana nut bread! So I thought I'd whip up a batch since I have not only a Kitchenaid (last Christmas!) but also a Dishwasher (this Christmas!) --- how nice to not even have to do your own dishes. Ah, it's like the space age.

Anyway I had the bananas, and some chocolate chips left over from a batch of holiday cookies that I tossed in at the last minute. (The chocolate chips, not the cookies. That would make for an interesting muffin... Eck.) These muffins only have 132 calories each, with just 3 grams of fat and 3 grams of protein! They would be a perfect pair with your morning coffee and some fresh fruit for a really good breakfast. The best part is they taste like they shouldn't be low fat or low calorie at all!

Well, without further ado...

Light Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

  • 2 Overripe bananas
  • 1 1/4 C. Flour
  • 3 Egg Whites
  • 1/2 C. Splenda for baking
  • 1/2 C. White sugar
  • 1/2 C. Cinnamon apple sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. Vegetable oil
  • 1/4 C. Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 Tsp. Baking soda
  • 1/2 Tsp. Salt
  • Healthy sprinkling of All Spice
  1. Combine all ingredients and mix until well blended. Small chunks of banana are OK.
  2. In a muffin tin, insert 12 muffin cups (I spray my muffin liners with non-stick spray with great results). Distribute batter evenly in muffin cups.
  3. Bake for approximately 20-25 minutes at 350°F or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

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Saturday, November 5, 2011

Olives, Bagels, and SNOWTOBER

So for those of you who didn't know, New England had the most snow ever in October in 140 years. Typically, a little bit of snow is not such a big deal, but the problem with snow in October is that it was heavy, damp snow and the trees still had all of their leaves. The snow started around 4 pm on Saturday, and continued into Sunday morning. Aj and I were out shoveling our driveway around 10 at night and all around us we could just hear trees snapping. The leaves gave the snow something extra to grab onto, and the heavy weighted snow just became too much for the limbs, and they took out tons and tons of power lines.

Many people think losing power is "fun" and "rustic" and believe me I think the same thing...for the first day. Sure it's fun to heat up soup on your little propane burner and have a nice warm fire in the fireplace. Only... when it's in the 20s outside and all you have are duraflame logs that you picked up at the last minute (thank goodness) and the light you are reading by starts to go down with the sun.... well it's not so awesome then. Because you'll find that you need light to do things. Light to play board games. Light to read. Light to make food. Light to go down into the basement and let the dogs out. And it continues to get cold cold cold and you worry about your food spoiling because even though it is cold you're not sure it's THAT cold. So we were relieved to get power back on Tuesday night. On the down side, the Nashua Used Book Superstore that I am currently overseeing didn't get power back until Friday, and no amount of harassing Public Service of New Hampshire made it come back any faster. BUT the snow is MOSTLY melted at this point and now it's November, so snow is acceptable and even expected. But snow in OCTOBER? Starting things off a little early this year, huh New England?

Right before the storm Aj and I had gone to the grocery store and spent about $100 on mostly perishable goods, but luckily everything (even our milk) stayed good! Taking Aj to the grocery store is fun, but also a bad idea. While we were there he got into a conversation with the Deli lady and ended up buying stuffed grapeleaves. Needless to say he didn't like them and they ended up in the trash after a couple of days. But he did also pick up some cream cheese and green olives to make what is simply called "Cream Cheese and Olive" --- I did a little research and this appears to have been a popular thing in the 70s and 80s, and many people in the area had it on sandwiches as kids. I had never heard of it before I moved up here and met Aj's family, but it was something he remembered and loved from his childhood, so he made it. It's essentially half a jar of chopped pimento stuffed green olives, about 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive juice, and a box of cream cheese. It's actually very good, especially on Ritz crackers. I also ate an excessive amount of it on saltines. And one morning I had some on an everything bagel with Lox ...well...that was just overwhelming and way too strongly flavored, but otherwise it's really good! Perhaps another addition to my New England Food Knowledge, aka NEFK.

Over Christmas they also make this Velveeta and Olive spread that, by all rights, should be disgusting but is addictive. All I know is it involves Velveeta, mayonnaise and olives and probably is straight fat but is super delicious and only made at holidays, so it is OK. Any other time of the year you ask me to combine Velveeta and mayo and I will probably punch you in the face, but at Christmas time I suppose my taste buds and food sensibilities are a little more charitable.

So after we defeated Snowtober and moved on to the next level (aka got our power back) I wanted to make dinner. I ended up making another one of those "what have you got in the fridge?" pasta dishes last night that involved pancetta, garlic, shallots, the rest of that jar of green olives, cream cheese and smoked Gouda with farfalle. It was quite tasty. I know my pictures suck, but I keep taking them with my phone. Just imagine they look better than they do and we'll be all set. Anyway, this was a very tasty meal. I continue to encourage "what have you got in the fridge?" pasta.

And today, since I had the day off from work at the bookstore, and was doing freelance writing from home, I decided not only to do laundry (!!!!) but also to make BAGELS. That's right people, YOU can make bagels. This is miraculous information, I know. Sure, we all thought bagels were pre-made by gnomes at Pepperidge Farm and Panera and distributed throughout America, but we were wrong. Bagels can be made by HUMANS. So now that we've gotten that out of the way, I will tell you this was my second adventure making bagels. The first time Katie and I did it start to finish by hand, and we've been wanting to make bagels again for quite a while, but this time I invited her over and we used my bread machine to make the dough for us.

The problem with a drafty New England house is that is ...well.. drafty. (No, the problem is not that it is in New England, sorry.) Drafts are the enemy of rising bread, but an enclosed bread maker gives your dough a perfect first rise, and I am fully willing to sacrifice the 2 hours and 20 minutes it would have taken me to mix, knead, and rise the dough by hand for the sake of ease a bread maker offers and the ability to go off and do other stuff. Bread makers are awesome and you will never hear me say otherwise. So you put the ingredients into the bread maker, wait, do other stuff, hear the beep of the bread maker and take out the dough, then shape it and boil it and cover it in toppings and bake it and BAM, best bagels of your life. Seriously Katie and I could not stop eating these delicious treats. Now, I will make no claims to being a bagel connoisseur but these were legitimately the best bagels I've ever had, and Aj liked them just as much. Here is the recipe, adapted from this one based on some of the posted comments. You do need a bread machine for this, though you could probably adapt it if you don't have one.

Best Bagels of Your Life

  • 1 1/8 C. of water at 110°F (this is pretty warm. I always measure the temperature with a candy thermometer)
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 3 C. bread flour
  • 1 packet rapid rise yeast (2 1/2 tsp)
  • Egg whites for glazing
  • 3 Quarts boiling water
  • 1 Tbsp cornmeal
  • Toppings
  1. In the bread machine, put the water, salt, sugar, bread flour, and yeast in in the order recommended in your bread machine. Put it on the dough function and walk away.
  2. When the dough is finished with its first rise (the machine will beep or let you know somehow) take the dough out gently and lay it onto a flat, lightly floured surface. Let it rest for about 5 minutes, and then divide the dough into 8 pieces. I rolled it into a log and sliced gently to make the divisions and then tore the pieces off.
  3. Lightly flatten the dough into plump discs and poke your thumb through the center, gradually spinning the dough in your hand until the centers are about 3/4s of an inch to 1 inch in diameter.
  4. Lay the dough rings out on the floured surface and cover with a clean cloth. Let sit for 30 minutes.
  5. Around the 20 minute mark, begin to heat up the 3 quarts of water to boiling. The original recipe recommends putting 3 Tbsp of white sugar into the water at this point, but I forgot to do that and so I don't know what kind of difference it makes.
  6. When the water is boiling and the dough rings have risen for 30 minutes, put the dough rings 2 at a time into the water, letting them boil for 30 seconds on each side. Take them out and place them on a clean cloth to drain slightly. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  7. Transfer them to a baking sheet with cornmeal scattered along the bottom and brush them lightly with the egg white.
  8. Put your toppings on. We used Pepperjack cheese, and a thick cinnamon sugar mixture made with natural cane sugar.
  9. Bake for 18 to 25 minutes, keeping an eye on the bagels after the 15 minute mark and waiting until they are pleasantly golden before removing. If you made a sugar/cinnamon one, eat it warm with ample cream cheese.
If you want to mix in raisins or jalapenos, etc. you would do this during stage 2, before you form the dough into the bagels. I am not sure how heavily kneading the extra ingredients into the dough would affect the bagels, but hopefully they would rise the same. We plan to try to mix in some raisins to our next batch.

PICTURED: Pepperjack cheese bagel.