Friday, June 26, 2009

June's Sweet Bounty: Strawberry Muffins

I have one particular go-to muffin recipe that I discovered about a year ago and have subsequently enjoyed through all months of the year. They're blueberry muffins, calling for frozen blueberries, which are available at the store whenever the mood to purchase them strikes my fancy. Because I don't bake muffins very often, I've never been inspired to find a recipe that takes advantage of fresh seasonal produce. Then, I recently found this recipe for strawberry muffins. The ingredient list specifies fresh strawberries are needed, and given how glorious these Pacific Northwest berries have been tasting the past couple of weeks, it was impossible not to make these immediately.

It turns out that I was right to do so. These muffins, found in the magazine Body and Soul are a divine breakfast wake-up call. Not laden with a host of various flavors and textures, the berries have the opportunity to be center stage; and as with any dish, when the key player is fresh, local, and of high quality, then there is no possibility for failure (or great failure, anyway). The buttermilk adds a down-home quality to the muffins without making them heavy, and the whole wheat flour makes them slightly more fiber-filled. And they are a light and sweet morning treat with a vibrant strawberry essence.

Although I know I will pull out the recipe book for my blueberry muffins come autumn, while the season allows, I believe I've found a new go-to muffin recipe.

Strawberry Muffins
Yield: 1 dozen

1 ½ cups sliced strawberries
1/3 cup plus 1tbsp. sugar
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup whole-wheat flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. Toss together strawberries and 1/3 cup sugar. Using a potato masher, lightly mash berries; set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. In a medium bowl, combine buttermilk, oil, egg, and vanilla. Whisk to combine.
Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the buttermilk mixture and berry mixture (with juice). Fold until just combined. Divide the batter among the muffin cups. Sprinkle the tops with remaining sugar.
Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, about 17 minutes. Cool 5 minutes in the pan, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Summer Solstice Rhubarb Bread Pudding

It will take an exorbitant, inhuman amount of rhubarb this summer for me to tire of the wondrous desserts that utilize this tart, delicious seasonal vegetable. Already, I've sampled several crumbles and crisps and cobblers whose defining ingredient is the rhubarb, and with each taste, I only grow hungrier for it. However, I knew that there must be something out there for rhubarb besides the generic pie; once I started searching, I found that I was correct. I discovered recipes for rhubarb sorbets, crepes, trifles and compotes. The one that I was most eager to try was the Rhubarb Bread Pudding I found in my Great Harvest Bread Company cookbook.

What better time to try out this summery recipe than the Summer Solstice: the longest day of the year, a day of celebration in Seattle, revolving around the Summer Solstice Parade and Fremont Fair in the Fremont neighborhood. It is a jubilant time of year, and so it deserves an accordingly festive dessert, which is where the rhubarb comes in. Rhubarb is quite simply a cheery and refreshing food, and it can be used in such a wide range of desserts, from the favorite stand-bys to the unique experiments, that it will be a very dark time when the rhubarb season comes to an end.

As for the bread pudding, it was as much of a crowd-pleaser as I expected anything with rhubarb to be: tangy, with just enough sweetness to balance it out. Even still, I think that the sugar could be reduced slightly to give the dish an even stronger rhubarb flavor.

Rhubarb Bread Pudding
8 slices white bread (½ inch thick each)
1 lb. fresh rhubarb, diced (about 4 cups)
1 ½ c. milk
5 eggs
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ c. chopped walnuts
¼ c. butter
1 ¼ c. sugar
¼ tsp. salt
1. Toast bread and remove crusts. Cut toasted bread into ½ inch cubes and places in a buttered casserole dish.
2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine milk and butter. Bring just to a boil. Pour over toast cubes and let stand 15 minutes.
3. In a medium bowl, beat together eggs, sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in rhubarb. Stir into bread mixture and sprinkle with nuts.
4. Bake at 325 degrees for 50 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Farmer's Market Rhubarb-Strawberry Pie

There's definitely something to be said about basing one's meals around what is in stock at the nearby Farmer's Market. This is, of course, how one eats the most flavorful foods, the most nutritious produce, and the most local ingredients that the community currently offers. Thanks to this form of food shopping, I'm now a big fan of the delicious combination of rhubarb and strawberry. Rhubarb is actually a vegetable, known for it's tart flavor, and it's thick stalks are currently found everywhere, only a few steps away from the large, juicy strawberries that are growing now. Most people are aware of the nutritional value of strawberries, and rhubarb also contains a large amount of vitamin C, fiber, and potassium. Not only are these two foods nutritionally compatible, but the sweetness of the strawberry and the tartness of the rhubarb compliment one another for a tangy and summery flavor.

This pie is a prime example of how exquisite the strawberry-rhubarb relationship is. The addition of sugar and strawberry preserves further help to offset the acidity of the rhubarb, and can even be decreased to match one's taste. Although I'm still working on perfecting my pastries and creating an aesthetically pleasing pie, I'm quite satisfied with the flavor of this one. Appearances aside, I'm sure I'll be taking advantage of this fruit and veggie combo as long as the season lasts.

Rhubarb-Strawberry Pie with Hazelnuts

For crust:
3 cups all purpose flour
2 ½ teaspoons granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
10 tablespoons (about) ice water
For filling:
3 ½ cups 1/2-inch-thick slices trimmed rhubarb
3 ½ cups strawberries, hulled, quartered
¼ cup hazelnuts, toasted, husked, chopped
½ cup (packed) golden brown sugar
½ cup sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tbsp. strawberry preserves
1 large egg yolk beaten to blend with 1 teaspoon water (for glaze)


Crust:Combine flour, sugar and salt in processor. Using on/off turns, cut in shortening and butter until coarse meal forms. Blend in enough ice water 2 tablespoons at a time to form moist clumps. Gather dough into ball; cut in half. Flatten each half into disk. Wrap separately in plastic; refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. (This can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled. Let dough soften slightly at room temperature before rolling.)

Filling:Preheat oven to 400°F. Combine first 7 ingredients in large bowl. Toss gently to blend. Roll out 1 dough disk on floured work surface to 13-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch-diameter flass pie dish. Trim excess dough, leaving 3/4-inch overhang.
Mix the first 9 ingredients together in a bowl. Spread into the pie dish.
Roll out second dough disk on lightly floured surface to 13-inch round. Cut into strips and form a lattice pattern over the pie. Trim ends of dough strips even with overhang of bottom crust. Fold strip ends and overhang under, pressing to seal.
Brush glaze over crust. transfer pie to baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Bake pie until golden and filling thickens, about 1 hour 25 minutes. Transfer pie to rack and cool completely.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Pie-in-the-Sky Marshmallow Clouds

The S'more season is just about upon us, and in preparation, the grocery stores have erected their massive displays of marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate bars, all in bright packaging and delightful towers that just scream "summertime snacks!". It's difficult not to walk by and not be tempted by the nostalgic bags of jet-puffed sugar that were an ever-present element of summer camp-outs and lake parties. Although I'm not a huge fan of S'mores anymore (don't get me wrong, I will most likely indulge in one or two before autumn comes, but I simply don't have the same craving for a summer S'more as I used to have), I couldn't pass up on the marshmallows. I knew there must be a host of other recipes that call for marshmallows, which do not involve graham crackers.

Luckily, one of my favorite cookie sages, Mrs. Fields, had the perfect recipe.

It's a simple ingredient list, certainly, but as a filled cookie, there are layers of taste that make them quite special. There is the richness of the double dose of chocolate, and the gooey texture of the melted marshmallow, both of which make for a sweet, decadent cookie. When assembling the cookies, it is very important to make sure that the mini marshmallows are entirely wrapped in cookie dough, as they will explode a bit onto the pan if not covered all the way. Even if that happens though, it won't create a major mess: just more of an open-faced marshmallow cookie.

Marshmallow Clouds

3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ tsp. baking soda
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, softened
2 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
12 oz. mini semisweet chocolate chips
8 oz. mini marshmallows, frozen

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa, and baking soda. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, combine sugars. Blend in butter. Add eggs and vanilla and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy.
4. Add flour mixture and chocolate chips and blend at very low speed. Batter will be very stiff.
5. Gather 4-5 frozen mini marshmallows in the palm of your hand and enrobe them in the cookie batter, completely covering them and forming a 2-inch ball.
6. Place balls on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes and cool on a wire rack.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Apple Oatmeal Bars

Like any respectable quaint New England town, mine had an apple orchard nearby: the pick-your-own kind that boasted acres of fields that were filled with meticulously lined apple trees of every variety. There was a large converted barn that became the orchard store, selling apples by the bushel, homemade apple pies, and sticks of red and green rock candy. Signs were posted with charts and diagrams informing the lay-picker about the varieties of apples, and what one was supposed to do with that particular apple once it made its way home. Of course, there were pumpkin patches and hayrides, but the apple picking sticks out in my mind as the quintessential September weekend activity. Apples for baking strudel at home: check. Apples for after-school snacks: check. Apples for our teachers: check. It was there, at Blue Jay Orchards, that began my life-time love of apples.

My particular favorite is the Granny Smith, with it's cheerful green pigment, it's tart flavor, and the juicy crunch of the first bite. There are some health rules I don't always abide by, but when it comes to having “an apple a day,” I have no problem.

Even better for me when I can incorporate the delicious apples that stack up high in my kitchen into a recipe for something even tastier. The Apple Oatmeal Bars in the recipe below may not be quite as nutritious as a single Granny Smith, but the whole wheat flour, wheat germ, and oats add a healthful element. They are not a sweet or buttery bar, but cakey in texture. The apples are not really the star of the recipe, but the flavor does come through, and matched with the spices and the walnuts, the bars are a tasty and substantial treat.

Apple Oatmeal Bars

½ cup unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¾ cup whole wheat flour
2 tbsp. wheat germ
¾ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground allspice
2-3 large Granny Smith Apples
¼ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup quick oats

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 9-inch square baking pan
2. Peel and coarsely grate the apples, for approximately 1 cup. Toss with 2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice.
3. Combine the butter, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla in a small bowl.
4. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, wheat germ, baking powder, salt, and spices. Stir in the egg mixture. Fold in the apples, walnuts, and oats. Turn the batter into the prepared pan.
5. Bake about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack.