Tuesday, March 17, 2009

//Erin Go Nom


A happy early Muffin Day to you! Since it's St. Patrick's Day, I figured it'd be OK for me to make the muffins a day early, provided the recipe I used complemented the theme of the feast day.

Black Bottom Guinness Muffins

For Cream Cheese Filling

* 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
* 1/3 cup granulated white sugar
* 1 large egg
* 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
* 1 tsp green food coloring


For Chocolate Muffins

* 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
* 1 cup light brown sugar
* 1/3 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch processed)
* 1/2 cup dark chocolate chunks
* 1 tsp baking soda
* 1/4 tsp salt
* 1 cup Guinness Stout
* 1/3 cup vegetable or nut oil (almond oil, walnut, or safflower oils are best)
* 1 tsp pure vanilla extract



- For a dairy-free version, omit the cream cheese mixture and substitute 1/2 of a large marshmallow per muffin (add during the last 10 minutes of baking).

- Double up the ingredients if you want to make 24 muffins, which is what I did.

- I advise you not to bring these muffins to your child's classroom party. Although the alcohol burns off during the baking process, some parent(s) might become uppity and accuse you of promoting underage alcohol consumption.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and lightly butter or spray with a non stick vegetable spray, 12 muffin cups.

In your food processor or electric mixer beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar, egg, food coloring, and vanilla extract and beat until creamy and smooth. Set aside while you make the Chocolate Muffin batter.

First, in a large bowl sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, dark chocolate chunks, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl mix the Guinness, oil, vinegar, and vanilla extract. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and stir in the wet ingredients until nice and smooth. Evenly divide the batter among the 12 muffin cups. Then spoon a few tablespoons of the cream cheese filling into the center of each muffin.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes, or until the cream cheese filling has browned a little bit and the muffins feel springy to the touch (a toothpick inserted into the chocolate part of the muffin will come out clean). Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool.

//This is how the cookie crumbles


I suppose if I truly wanted to, I could fabricate some story about how the two types of cookies featured in this post — which were originally intended to be served alongside other dishes at a post-wedding Sunday buffet brunch,— were intentionally smushed together so as to fit in with the theme of what it means to join in matrimony. Because really, doesn't a wedding ceremony symbolize the coming together, the union, of two very special, different people? That's kinda what happened to my baked goods — they joined together, although I really wish they hadn't.

Much like how my conscience wouldn't allow me to serve the cookies to the wedding guests at Mr. Professional Nerd's brother's wedding this past weekend, I couldn't bring myself to lie to my audience today. So I'm going to tell you the truth. Despite my best packing efforts, most of the cookies were destroyed during my flight from Los Angeles to Boston on Friday morning. As recently as December I had successfully stowed 10 containers of various baked goods in my luggage for a similar long haul flight, so I figured I could easily repeat the same packing ritual for the wedding trip and everything would be a-OK. After opening the boxes of cookies and finding them destroyed, it was obvious that I had overlooked a crucial step. It didn't take me long to figure out what I'd done wrong: I hadn't packed enough clothing to insulate the tupperware containers from the baggage handling related-trauma my luggage had obviously endured. Back in December I stuffed two week's worth of attire into my roll-on suitcase; this time, however, I had only packed enough for 3 days. All of the prior trip's clothing prevented the boxes from shifting around inside the luggage, so nary a cookie broke, no muffin turned into a piece of flatbread. The obvious thing to do next time is to pack a lot more clothing. You read correctly.

Everything else wedding-related was amazing, so it's not like the cookie mishap dampened my 3 days in Massachusetts. The ceremony started on time. No vows were forgotten. The rings weren't misplaced. Food was served promptly during the reception that followed. The DJ was really good. Seeing Mr. Professional Nerd in his best man tux caused my heart to flutter in a way similar to the time I accidentally ingested 400 mg of caffeine in one sitting. I can also say with a modest amount of certainty that had the cookies survived the trip, they would have definitely been enjoyed. I know this because of course I sampled them at least twice before packing them up. Please keep that last bit in mind, and please don't let the cookies' apparent unsightliness keep you from trying the recipes detailed below.

Bjorn's Favorite Cookies

For Peanut Butter Cookies

* 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
* 3/4 cup peanut butter (smooth or crunchy)
* 1/2 cup light brown sugar
* 1/2 cup granulated white sugar
* 2 bananas, mashed
* 1 large egg
* 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
* 1 cup all purpose flour
* 1/2 tsp baking soda
* 1/4 tsp salt

For Peanut Butter Filling

* 6 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
* 1/2 cup melted semi-sweet chocolate
* 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
* 1/3 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and place the oven rack in the center of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, cream the butter, peanut butter, and sugars until light and fluffy (about 2 - 3 minutes). Add the bananas, egg and vanilla extract and beat to combine. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to the peanut butter mixture and beat until incorporated.

Take about one tablespoon of the batter and place on the prepared baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches between the mounds of cookie dough. Press the dough flat with the back of a fork that has been dipped in granulated white sugar. Bake the cookies for about 10- 12 minutes, or until the cookies are lightly browned around the edges. Cool completely on a wire rack.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, beat the softened cream cheese, melted chocolate, vanilla extract, and sugar until smooth.

Take one peanut butter cookie and spread about 1 tablespoon of the filling on the flat side of the cookie. Top with a second cookie, flat side down, to make a sandwich. If not serving right away, cover and store in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.


Early Grey Shortbread Cookies (with two types of filling)

This recipe is an adaptation of the one posted over at Eat Me, Delicious. I took the Martha Stewart recommended way of making Earl Grey shortbread and decided to make them sandwich cookies using homemade blueberry cream cheese and marmalade cream cheese filling for the centers. I have a bit of a caffeine addiction as it were, so as soon as I saw the cookie recipe, I immediately decided to make it. (Caffeine has a way of making you impulsive. ;) )

For the Blueberry Cream Cheese Filling

* 1 pint of fresh blueberries
* 1/2 cup powdered sugar
* 3 tbsp of water
* 1 block of cream cheese

Cook the blueberries, powdered sugar and water in a saucepan over medium-high heat until the fruits release their juices and the sauce thickens. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Puree the mixture in a food processor until most of the skins have broken down. Beat the blueberry sauce and cream cheese together until nicely incorporated. Pipe it onto one of the Earl Grey cookies using an ersatz pastry bag, or a real one.

For the Marmalade Cream Cheese Filling

* 1/2 cup orange marmalade
* 1/2 block of cream cheese

Beat together the marmalade and cream cheese until incorporated. It is best that you use a pastry bag to pipe the filling onto the cookies, as the orange peel bits might get stuck in a ziploc bag-turned-pastry bag, which could then explode open if the bag's slit gets clogged.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

//And now for something completely different


If George Harrison were still around today, I would have definitely sent him a veg-friendly version of this week's muffin in hopes that he'd then write a song about it (possibly titled "Savory Muffin"). Naturally he'd call up Paul to play bass, and contact Ringo so he might lend some pizazz to the percussion section. Imagine — muffins reuniting the remaining Beatles! Brings tears to my eyes.

The Savory Muffin

* 2 cups flour
* 1 tsp baking powder
* 1/2 tsp baking soda
* 1 tsp salt
* 1 tsp fresh ground pepper
* 1 tsp cumin
* 3/4 cup asparagus spears, chopped
* 1/2 a bell pepper, roasted and sliced
* 3/4 cup roasted red pearl onions
* 5 roasted garlic cloves
* 3/4 cup ham, sliced or cubed
* 1 egg
* 1/2 cup butter (1 stick), melted and cooled.
* 2/3 cup olive oil
* 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
* Cheese to top the muffins (I used blue goat cheese)

Preheat the oven to 350° degrees and butter a standard muffin pan.

In a large bowl whisk together the dry ingredients. Add the vegetables and ham to the flour mixture and gently stir everything together until just incorporated.

Combine the melted butter, olive oil, egg and vinegar in a separate small bowl. Add the wet to the dry ingredients, stirring until just incorporated. Unlike other muffin recipes, which are pasty and have to be spooned into the pan, you can take whole handfuls of the mix and press it into the individual tins.

Bake the muffins for 20-25 minutes. Add the cheese to the tops of the muffins during the last 10 minutes of the baking process. Once they've cooled, try not to eat them all in one sitting. I gave 8 of them to my co-workers — they're that tempting and delicious.


Monday, March 9, 2009

//We're going to need a bigger bowl

Several months ago I asked the artist Ali Spagnola if she could paint me a picture of a shark eating a cupcake. I won't go into why it had to be a shark specifically; to tell you that story would keep you up well past your bedtime, and that'd be cruel. Just know that I lurve sharks as much as I love less ferocious, bloodthirsty animals, such as puppies and baby pandas (I'm aware I have eclectic tastes). Anyway. What should arrive in the mail last week? Why, a shark eating a cupcake!


Between the works I've purchased from Jessie at Cakespy.com, gotten from Ali, and made myself, my cupcake-muffin art collection is growing at a pretty impressive rate!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

//A Canard So Fowl


After making such an awful pun, I really ought to duck and cover. I must be quackers. Do you know how many bills this meal cost to make? ... I'll stop. For now.

This meal is another culinary gem straight out of Olives and Oranges. A perfect main course for a Sunday afternoon lunch with, oh, I dunno... your mother. (Like I did.)

Duck Breast with Mushrooms, Chestnuts, and Pearl Onions

* 2 1-pound boneless duck breasts, with skin
* Fine seat salt and coarsely ground black pepper
* 8 ounces pearl onions or small cipollini
* 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
* 2 tbsp unsalted butter
* 8 ounces mushrooms, trimmed, large ones cut in half
* 1/2 cup frozen peeled chestnuts (Melissa brand produce sells a pre-cooked variety)
* 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
* 1/4 cup water
* 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Heat oven to 400°

Score duck skin in a crosshatch pattern with a small sharp knife, and season duck all over with salt and pepper. Place duck, skin side down, in a cast-iron skillet and cook over low heat until fat is rendered and skin is golden and crispy, about 40 minutes. It is crucial that you cook the fowl sloooooowly. Let the juices ooze out of the skin of the breasts; don't rush the process.

While duck is cooking, place onions in a small baking dish, drizzle with oil, and season with salt and pepper. Roast until golden, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven.

When duck skin is golden and fat has rendered, strain and reserve fat. return pan to high heat, return duck breasts to pan, flesh side down, and cook for 3 minutes for medium-rare. Transfer breast to a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes.

While duck is resting, return skillet to heat. Add butter and 1 tbsp reserved duck fat over high heat. Add mushrooms and 2 pinches of salt; cook, stirring and coating mushrooms with fat, for 2 minutes. Add chestnuts, stir, and cook for 1 minute more. Add garlic, stir, and cook for 2 minutes more to soften. Add water and roasted onions and simmer until onions are heated through and flavors have blended, about 2 minutes more. Remove from heat, add parsley, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Slice duck. Arrange duck on plates, spoon mushroom mixture over, and serve.



//Soup, soup, soup, soup ba doup


For it to be six in the evening and still sunny suggests a few things. For starters, no longer can I rely on the morning light to wake me early enough so that I'm still on time for work; reluctantly I have gone ahead and set the alarm clock for tomorrow. It is also nigh time to rotate out my fall and winter clothing, and put a note on my iPhone to take my spring and summer dresses to the cleaners some time within the next few weeks. Most importantly, springing ahead means that the weather will soon be warm enough to enjoy cold foods — velvety gazpachos and vichyssoises, mounds of sorbets and gelatos, salads galore, and mile-high cold cut sandwiches, just to name a few things.

Though the weather was still pleasantly crisp today, I nonetheless made a melon-based gazpacho as a way to give spring the head's up that it's OK to now arrive. The recipe can be found in Olives and Oranges.

Cantaloupe Gazpacho with Jamon Serrano

* 1 cantaloupe, peeled, seeded, and cubed
* 1 medium cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise and seeded
* 1 cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt
* 3 tbsp sherry vinegar
* 1 tbsp minced shallot
* 1/2 tsp sea salt
* 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
* 1 1/8-inch-thick slice serrano ham or prosciutto, cut into short matchsticks
* Coarsely ground pepper to taste

Puree melon and cucumber in a blender. Transfer half of the mixture to a large bowl.

Add yogurt, vinegar, shallot, and shalt to blender and puree until combined. With motor running, add oil in a slow, steady stream. Whisk into melon mixture in bowl. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 3 hours or up to 1 day.

Before serving, stir gazpacho well and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve topped with ham and a sprinkling of pepper.


Saturday, March 7, 2009

//Art for food's sake

Before my foray into food blogging, prior to working at an inpatient facility, years before the creation of Muffin Day, I was... an art history major. Early on in college I came to the conclusion that a bachelor's degree was just going to be a steppingstone to my getting a master's because I figured a M.A. was what I needed to better compete in the job market. Undergrad was kind of an extension of high school as well, in that it gave me more time to figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up. At the time I wanted to be everything from a biochemist to a philosopher to a writer to an actress — so many career paths seemed so appealing! Readers should note that I was also 16 at the time all of this introspection was going on.

In looking back at my days in high school, the bulk of my electives fell into the categories of art or science — the subjects I was strongest in. This knowledge led me to take an intro-level art history course my first semester of college. I did exceedingly well in the class that I then decided to then major in art history. In being able to utilize both sides of my brain — to analyze paintings, write lengthy essays about them, and in some cases recreate them as part of a project, — the field of art history prepared me a great deal for graduate level courses in psychology down the road.

I had a fine time spending four years looking at several hundred images of paintings and statues made as far back as 16,000 years ago... and, on occasion, posing as a docent for unsuspecting groups of museum attendees at places such as the The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where I'd give a well-rounded tour of the all the important collections. If I had to go back and do it all over again, maybe start off as a psychology or cognitive science major from the get-go, I wouldn't. Not one bit.

I'm not much of an art historian these days. I don't don my finest business attire and give impromptu lectures about paintings like Thomas Cole's Il Penseroso, or Édouard Manet's Olympia to whomever will listen. Nor do I frequent museums often enough that I have to remember to wear flat shoes. But I still carry around two lists with me, one that details which paintings I have seen, and one that details which works of arts I haven't yet viewed (I'm about 5 paintings short of having seen Vermeer's whole known collection). And I do still visit both Getty institutions, LACMA, MOCA, and the main art museum of every city I visit. But whereas before I might attend the Getty to do research for my thesis, or carry out my art historian shenanigans, these days I visit the Los Angeles-area museums for the purposes of drawing culinary inspiration from the paintings.

Which brings me to today: After a long work week, I found myself low on creative ideas for cooking and baking. Running this week failed to get the wheels turning in my head, so I turned to the Marble Fortress on the Hill (the Getty) for some help. This trip proved to be very fruitful, and my chef's sketchpad now has four fewer pages of available space in it.

It's a little known fact that reproductions of Lawrence Alma-Tadema's Spring (above) and Vincent van Gogh's Irises make up the bulk of the poster sales at the Getty gift shop.

However, I'm a bigger fan of Gustave Moreau's Autumn because of the color scheme, because of the subject matter and style, because fall is my favorite season, and because some of my favorite foods are only available from September-November.


Caspar David Friedrich's A Walk at Dusk is a favorite Romantic period piece of mine.

Ribera's Euclid



Gericault's Race of the Riderless Horses: Such a tiny painting for an artist whose Raft of the Medusa is larger than most living rooms.

Dutch still lifes (like this one by Jan van Huysum) are actually one of the painting niches I know the least about; however, their visuals are very inspiring.







Clip-clop, clip-clop: The sound of my heels hitting the varnished floors ricocheted off the walls. At some point I just walked on my tippy toes.

Breakfast: Iced latte with tea bread; purse not edible.

I still get a kick out of these warnings.

A sketch workshop recently opened at the Getty, so I got to spend an hour trying to reproduce a plaster copy of one of their busts. I would have stayed longer, but sitting saddle-style on a wood bench for 60 minutes was hard on my tailbone. The woman running the activity asked me if I wanted to donate my drawing to the collection, I told her I would (after I went home and finished it).

Ideas started to percolate while I was at the museum. Afterwards I picked up some new books at Barnes and Nobel for the purposes of conducting some further culinary research. Can't wait to test out what I've thought up!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

//Muffin Day


This week's muffin — the sugar doughnut muffin, which I first tried at Big Sugar Bakeshop back in April of 2008 — was prepared two ways: Coffee, and jelly-filled. Get it?

Standard Sugar Doughnut Recipe

For Muffins

* 3/4 cup sugar
* 1 large egg
* 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
* 2 tsp baking power
* 1/4 tsp salt
* 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
* 1/4 cup vegetable oil
* 3/4 cup milk (a dairy alternative won't affect the outcome of the muffin)
* 1 tsp vanilla extract

For Coating

* 1 tbsp butter, melted
* 1/3 cup sugar, for rolling

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a muffin tin with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, beat together sugar and egg until light in color. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Pour into egg mixture and stir to combine. Pour in vegetable oil, milk and vanilla extract. Divide batter evenly into 12 muffin cups, filling each about 3/4 full. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. While muffins are baking, melt butter and pour remaining sugar into a small bowl. When muffins are done, lightly brush the top of each with some melted butter, remove from the pan and roll in sugar. Cool on a wire rack.


Coffee Sugar Doughnut Muffins

* 2 tbsp of ground coffee, your brand of choice (I used my beloved Dunkin Donuts)
* Optional: 2 tbsp of dark cocoa powder (Godiva, etc)

Add the ground coffee to the recipe listed above and stir until combined. This addition will give the muffins a pleasantly fragrant coffee aroma and will lessen the sweetness just a wee bit. Should you use the cocoa powder, the muffins will then taste like a mocha! For best results, let the coffee doughnut muffins sit overnight.



Jelly-Filled Sugar Doughnut Muffins

* Several tbsp of jelly

Once the muffins have cooled, use a melon baller to gently scoop out some of the middle of the muffin. Make sure the tops stay intact! Spoon in however much jelly you want, and replace the tops on the muffins.


"I'll just have one. They're caloric, you know."


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

//Man cannot live on bread alone, so we add things to it


Late Sunday evening, after a few rounds of Alhambra had been played, it came to my attention that the bunch of bananas I had purchased 3 days prior had definitely started to turn. This was my own fault, for I had neglected to use them as intended. Not into my morning bowl of Corn Flakes had they gone; instead, they had been slowly browning in the shadows, at the bottom of my baker's rack, next to old cookbooks and back issues of Martha Stewart's "Living." Had I not intervened when I did, they would have gone, along with the remnants of Sunday evening's Thai food from Chadka, to the Great Garbage Bin in the sky the following morning.

Chai Banana Bread with Toasted Coconut

* 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
* 3/4 cups sugar
* 1 teaspoon baking powder
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
* 3 chai tea bags, snipped open (I used Bigelow Vanilla Chai)
* 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
* 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
* 1/2 cup plain yogurt
* 3 large, ripe bananas
* 1/2 cup toasted coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9 x 5 x 3 loaf pan. In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and chai tea. Set aside. In a medium-sized bowl combine the mashed bananas, eggs, melted butter, and toasted coconut. With a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, lightly fold the wet ingredients (banana mixture) into the dry ingredients just until combined and the batter is thick and chunky. Don't over-mix. Scrape batter into prepared loaf pan and bake for 55 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

//There must be 50 ways to... make bread pudding


Unfortunately, I only came up with 3 ways before I called it quits for the evening and went to bed. Lay-zee, I am.

Classic Bread Pudding Base (makes enough to fill 4 ramekins)

* 3 eggs
* 1 cup sugar
* 1 teaspoon cinnamon
* 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
* 4 tablespoons of butter, melted and cooled
* 1 cup cream
* 1/2 cup evaporated milk
* 5 cups bread, pulled or cut into bite-sized pieces (I used King's Hawaiian rolls leftover from when I made sliders.)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven. Lightly butter 4 ramekins. Place them in a larger baking dish that has enough room to fill with water.

Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar on high speed until thick and lemon colored (about 4-5 minutes) (when beater is raised the batter will fall back into bowl in a slow ribbon). Beat in the vanilla extract and ground cinnamon. Then beat in the melted and cooled butter, cream and evaporated milk.

Place the bread cubes in the ramekins. Carefully pour (or ladle) the prepared custard over the bread cubes until completely covered.

Prepare a water bath. Carefully pour in enough hot water so that the water is halfway up sides of the ramekins. Bake about 1 hour or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the bread pudding from the water bath and cool slightly before serving.

Green Tea Bread Pudding

* 3 teaspoons green tea powder
* 3 tablespoons of orange marmalade
* 1/2 pint of fresh blueberries

Add the green tea and orange marmalade to the egg custard before layering it over the bread cubes. Top with blueberries 30 minutes into the baking process.





In Britain they're called "Jaffa Cakes." In the States they're manufactured by Lu Biscuits and called "Pims." They're essentially sponge cake wafers layered with orange jelly and dipped in dark chocolate. Whatever they're called, I love them. (Because I'm an anglophile, I'll refer to them by their British name. ;) )

Jaffa Cake Bread Pudding

* 4 tablespoons finely minced crystallized ginger
* 12 tablespoons orange marmalade
* 1 cup dark or semi-sweet chocolate, melted

Add the crystallized ginger to the mix before you bake the pudding. After it's cooled, use an offset spatula to cover the tops of the individual puddings with a layer of orange marmalade. Drizzle the melted dark or semi-sweet chocolate into the middle and use the same spatula to spread it to the edge. Let the Jaffa Cake bread pudding air-dry until the chocolate hardens. I found that removing the puddings from the ramekins first produces the best results.





Apple-Plum-Walnut Bread Pudding

* 1-2 medium-sized apples
* 1-2 black plums
* 1/2 cup crushed walnuts
* 3 tablespoons honey

Slice, dice, or use a small cookie cutter to cut out apple and plum pieces. Layer the fruit at the bottom of the ramekins. In a separate bowl combine the crushed walnuts and honey. Using your hands, form small disks with the nut meal and then place them over the pieces of fruit. Proceed to add the bread pudding mixture on top and follow the aforementioned baking instructions.