30 before 30: Sour cherry pie with lattice top

30 before 30: Sour cherry pie

Something magical happens when you mix sour cherries with sugar and lemon juice.

Wait, let’s back up. First, we need to talk about sour cherries.

30 before 30: Sour cherry pie

Apparently, fresh sour (a.k.a. tart) cherries are not easy to come by, at least in the Bay Area. While markets will have piles of fresh, sweet Bings and Rainiers ready for the taking, it is much less likely that the same markets will have fresh sour cherries available. Instead, sour cherries can be found canned, frozen, or dried, and if you’re lucky, at your local farmers market. A friend informed me that she usually gets sour cherries from a farmer selling at the Civic Center market; however, this summer, due to wackier weather, this farmer didn’t have any for the selling.

30 before 30: Sour cherry pie

30 before 30: Sour cherry pie

I have very little experience making pies (the last time I made an apple pie, I forgot to peel the apples first), so I wasn’t sure how I should proceed. Should I just make the pie with sweet cherries, adding more lemon juice to mimic the traditional tartness? Should I just wait until next summer and try my luck again? My sister (a pie-making guru if there ever was one) made a pie with sweet cherries and said it wasn’t that great, and I didn’t like the idea of waiting until less than a month before my 30th birthday to complete this portion of the 30 before 30 project.

30 before 30: Sour cherry pie

30 before 30: Sour cherry pie

So where to get sour cherries now? Alemany Farmers Market didn’t have any. We called Rainbow Grocery, and they didn’t have any. Should I look for the canned variety? I wouldn’t even know where to start, and using canned cherries seemed to go against the whole point of this project.

So we turned to Berkeley Bowl, and lo and behold, tart cherries were in stock! The cherries had been shipped in from Washington in 2 pound plastic containers – the exact quantity that I needed.

So, back to the pie.

30 before 30: Sour cherry pie

30 before 30: Sour cherry pie

This pie was amazing. I mean . . . I’m basically speechless. I’ve never had homemade, classic cherry pie before, and this was truly unreal. The crust is buttery, flaky perfection (despite the fact that I overbaked it). And the filling. Oh, the filling. Sour cherries mix with sugar and lemon juice and some cornstarch (for thickening), and the result is just heavenly. If you can find fresh sour cherries, I can’t recommend this enough.

Cherry-hunting aside, making this pie was fairly easy. It takes a while to pit all the cherries (I highly recommend a cherry pitter), and making/shaping the crust is a precise process, but otherwise it’s not back-breaking or overly complicated. And the finished product is more than worth it. Times ten.

30 before 30: Sour cherry pie

30 before 30: Sour cherry pie

I used two recipes for this pie: Cooks Illustrated’s pie crust (which uses both butter and shortening for taste and texture, respectively), and Bon Appetit’s sour cherry filling (via Lottie + Doof).

I will dream of this pie every day until I can get sour cherries once again.

INGREDIENTS:

Pie crust
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
13 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
7 tablespoons vegetable shortening, cold
4-5 tablespoons ice water

Sour cherry pie filling
Adapted from Bon Appetit/Lottie + Doof

1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 cups whole pitted sour cherries
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
Milk (any kind), for brushing on top

INSTRUCTIONS: 

Make the pie crust first, since the dough has to chill for at least 30 minutes before rolling out and assembling (and you can use the chill time to pit your cherries). For the next few steps, I used a food processor, but they can also be done in a bowl with either a pastry cutter or two knives or just your fingers.

Add the flour, sugar and salt to the food processor bowl and pulse a couple of times to mix together. Take your butter and shortening out of the fridge and cut into small (1/4 inch or so) pieces. Add the butter pieces to the flour mixture in the food processor, and pulse 5 times to incorporate. Repeat the same steps with the shortening. You want the mixture to resemble very coarse cornmeal. Note: I ended up with a mixture that had butter/shortening chunks that were slightly larger than small peas, as opposed to the Cook’s Illustrated instructions – since I didn’t want to overmix, however, I just went with it. The crust turned out wonderfully, regardless.

Transfer mixture to a medium bowl. Sprinkle 4 tablespoons of ice water into the mixture and fold in with a rubber spatula (add 1 more tablespoon if the dough isn’t coming together). Using your hands, shape the dough into two balls, one slightly larger than the other. Flatten into 4-inch wide disks (I forgot this step), dust with flour, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

After chilling the fridge, remove the dough from the refrigerator and set aside. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, and place a rack in the lower third of the oven.

Make the filling. Whisk the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium bowl, then gently stir in pitted cherries, lemon juice, and vanilla. Set aside while you roll out the dough.

Roll out the smaller disk of dough between two lightly floured pieces of plastic wrap (this is optional; I certainly found it easier to use the plastic rather than roll out directly on the counter) into a 12-inch round. Transfer to a 9-inch glass pie dish, and trim the edges to 1/2 inch length (I forgot to do this, and just ended up with some extra crust – no big deal).

Roll out the larger disk of dough between two lightly floured pieces of plastic into a 12-inch round. Using a pizza cutter, knife or pastry wheel (I used a pizza cutter), cut the round into 10 equal long strips (about 3/4 inch wide strips).

Give the filling one last stir, and gently pour into the dough-lined pie dish, mounding slightly in the center, and dot with the butter pieces. Follow these helpful instructions for arranging the strips on top of the filling to form the lattice. Fold the bottom crust over the ends of the strips and seal together all around the pie. Use a fork to crimp the edges. Brush the lattice pieces with a little bit of milk, then sprinkle with sugar (around 1 tablespoon).

Place the pie on a rimmed baking sheet (because the filling will spill out, and the baking sheets prevents a big stinky smelly mess in your oven). Bake the pie for 15 minutes at 425, then reduce temperature to 375 degrees and bake for 50-60 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling. If the crust starts to brown too quickly, drape foil lightly over the whole pie until the end (I didn’t check mine soon enough and my crust was already a bit too brown, but it still came out great).

Once the pie is finished baking, remove from the oven and transfer to a rack to cool completely. Resist the urge to cut into the pie before it’s finished cooling; as the filling cools, it thickens up into the perfect pie consistency that’s worth waiting for.

30 before 30: Oreos (for the 4th of July!)

Oreos

I’ve always loved Oreos. Either by themselves, or crushed up as a cookies-and-cream type concoction. I prefer to not split them apart and eat the filling first, as many do; I just eat the whole thing at once, and then immediately reach for another.

Oreos

I thought about homemade Oreos all week. I craved them whenever I was hungry, even though I’ve never tasted them before. I thought I knew, but actually, I did not – they were even better than I could predict.

Oreos

The homemade version of the classic Oreo is just as good as the store-bought variety, and even more rich and sweet and satisfying. The filling tastes just like the standard Oreo filling, only creamier; the cookies are just as crisp and satisfying, and made with love.

Oreos

Oreos

The decision to make Oreos as the next item on my 30 before 30 list at this time was somewhat fortuitous: it was the weekend of the 4th of July, so I decided to utilize some food coloring for some red, white and blue action in celebration of the holiday. We also doubled the recipe (for a total of 51 cookies) and brought one batch to Rock Band night and another to the Big Time Freedom Fest. They were well-loved by many.

Oreos

Oreos

This recipe is quite easy. Both the dough and the filling come together in a snap, and are very easy to work with. The only part that’s time-consuming is assembling the cookies once the wafers are baked and cooled and the filling is ready. That’s probably why I hadn’t made these before – because I was intimidated by the time and wondered if the payoff would be worth it.

It is definitely worth it, especially if you have a special event or holiday coming up. The adaptation possibilities are endless: different colors, different flavors for the filling (chocolate, mint, coffee, etc.), maybe even different flavors for the wafers!

Oreos

Oreos
Adapted from smitten kitchen

Chocolate wafers:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) room-temperature, unsalted butter
1 large egg

Filling:
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) room-temperature, unsalted butter
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and set two racks in the middle of the oven. Mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, salt and sugar in the bowl of an electric/stand mixer. While mixing on low speed, add the butter, and then the egg. Mix until everything comes together, stopping the mixer to scrape down the bowl if necessary.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Spoon rounded teaspoons of the batter onto the sheets about two inches apart. Using moistened hands, lightly flatten the balls of dough.

Bake the cookies for 9 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through. After 9 minutes, remove the pans from the oven and immediately remove the cookies from the pans to a counter or cooling rack. The cookies should cool down and crisp up fairly quickly. Continue with any remainder of the dough.

To make the cream filling, beat the butter and shortening at low speed and gradually add the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla extract. Once incorporated, turn the mixture to high and beat for 2-3 minutes until it’s light and fluffy.

Now it’s time to assemble the Oreos. As smitten kitchen dictates, I used pastry bags to pipe the filling onto half of the cookies – however, if you don’t want to buy/use pastry bags, I imagine using a spoon would work just as well. Sandwich the other half of the cookies onto the iced ones, matching up by size as best as possible, gently pressing down to create the sandwiches.

If you want to work with different-colored icing, decide how many colors you’d like to use and divide up the filling accordingly. For each color, beat one portion of the filling with a few drops of food coloring until incorporated, adding more drops as needed.

30 before 30: Chana masala + naan

Chana masala

I made this at the end of a very busy Sunday – Jeffrey and I went shopping for a whole new bed setup, which resulted in us driving all around and picking up and assembling the various components from the late morning until the late evening. It was entirely worth it, however. Our new bed is divine. And HUGE. My goodness.

But here’s the downside: I’m a little disappointed that this is the first official post for my 30 before 30 project. I was sort of hoping to emerge powerfully from the gates, kitchen tools blazing, with a perfectly tasty and satisfying dish to triumphantly cross off the list.

But here’s the honest truth: while this chana masala was ultimately good, it was way, waaaaay too spicy. As in, we couldn’t finish our servings because our mouths were on fire – and this is after stirring in some plain yogurt and taking timid bites along with generous portions of naan.

Naan

And then there’s the naan. The naan was very good. However (and I expected this to happen), it was quite different from the true restaurant style – mostly because I didn’t have a Tandoori oven at my disposal. Additionally, the dough was very sticky – it proved difficult to pull and stretch the dough pieces into the ideal shape/thinness. But fresh from the oven, these were pretty great.

It’s worth noting that I used a recipe that bakes the naan in the oven. However, there are other recipes that involve cooking the naan on the stove, which may help in mimicking traditional naan.

Naan

Oh chana masala. Why so spicy? Most likely, I wasn’t precise enough in my measurements of the hot chili pepper or the various spices, and used too much as a result. Lesson learned.

Chana masala

I have some leftovers that are too spicy to eat, sadly. My plan is to make a batch of plain lentils and then mix in the chana masala for flavor. We shall see.

So, while this wasn’t a huge success, I learned quite a bit, and for that I am thankful.

Chana masala

Chana masala + naan

Here are the recipes!

Chana Masala
Adapted from smitten kitchen

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 medium onions, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 hot green chili pepper, minced (I used a pepper from my frozen stash)
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and ground
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 cups tomatoes, chopped small or 1 15-ounce can of whole tomatoes with their juices, chopped small
2/3 cup water
4 cups cooked chickpeas or 2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 lemon (juiced)

Measure all the spices (coriander through garam masala) into a small bowl and mix together (this is an optional step, but will save you time and stress later).

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat, then add the onion, garlic, ginger and pepper and sauté until browned/soft (about 5 minutes). Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir in the spices mix, cooking for a minute or two, then add the tomatoes and any extra tomato juice. Stir in the water and chickpeas, then simmer uncovered for 10-20 minutes (until thickened). Stir in the lemon juice and salt.

If you’re not serving right away (i.e. if your naan dough has finished rising and is ready to bake), you can remove the skillet from the heat and cover until ready to eat.

Naan
Adapted from Mark Bittman

2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg
2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons butter, melted

Combine yeast, milk, yogurt, and sugar in small bowl and set aside. Add the flour, egg, and salt to a large bowl, and mix on low with an electric mixer until just combined (I used my stand mixer). Pour in yeast mixture and mix briefly (about 30 seconds), and add 1.5 cups of water a bit at a time until the mixture forms a ball and is slightly sticky. Mine, unfortunately, was still too sticky at this point, so I had to add about 1/4 cup more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough was usable.

Lightly flour a work surface and briefly knead the dough to form a smooth, round ball. Lightly oil a bowl with a neutral oil, put the dough in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size (1-2 hours). My “warm place” is our oven, turned off, since the pilot light keeps the oven warm at all times.

When the dough has risen, preheat the oven to 500 degrees and place a baking sheet (or a baking stone if you have one – I don’t) on a rack positioned on lowest shelf of the oven.

Punch the dough down on the floured work surface – feel free to use more flour to keep the dough from sticking to your hands and the work surface. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces (Mark Bittman suggests rolling the dough into a “snake,” then tearing the snake into 12 pieces). Let the pieces rest for 10 minutes, covered with plastic wrap or a damp towel.

Depending on how many pieces will fit on your baking sheet, stretch out the pieces individually into a teardrop-shaped oval, 6-8 inches long, 3-4 inches wide. Do this as best you can, but don’t go too crazy if the dough doesn’t stretch and keep its shape perfectly.

Take the baking sheet out of the oven and place the stretched pieces on to the sheet. Put the sheet back in the oven on the lowest rack and bake for 3 minutes. Flip the pieces over and bake for an additional 6-8 minutes. The finished naan will be nice and puffed, mottled and brown. Brush the hot pieces with the melted butter and serve.

I waited until after we ate to bake the remaining pieces of naan dough. If I were to make these again, I would likely halve the recipe – this made 12 pieces of naan, and the leftovers don’t keep especially well (although they’re decent when microwaved or lightly toasted).

An excellent way to prepare steel-cut oats – overnight!

Since late last year, I’ve made it a habit to eat breakfast before I leave for work in the morning (as opposed to eating once I get to work, after a 45-minute commute). When I do this, I’m much more alert by the time I arrive to the office, and I feel much better throughout the day. I love steel-cut oats, but they take too long to cook on an average morning, at least for me.

Solution: The Kitchn’s excellent tips for making steel-cut oats the night before.

Here’s what you do:

Ingredients:
A bit of butter or olive oil (around 1 teaspoon)
1 cup steel-cut oats
3 cups water
A few pinches of salt (2-3)

(This amount of oats and water will yield somewhere between 3-6 servings, depending on how much oatmeal you like to eat.)

In a saucepan (the Kitchn says 2-quart size, I’m not sure what size my pan was), briefly heat the butter or olive oil over medium heat, then add the oats and fry until they smell toasty (about 3 minutes).

Pour in the water, add salt and stir. Bring to a “rolling boil,” then turn off the heat, cover the pan, and leave it on the stove. Then go collapse into bed.

In the morning, uncover the oatmeal, heat on medium-low and stir a few times until you reach your desired temperature (or scoop out the amount you want and heat it in the microwave).

Transfer your leftovers to a seal-able container and put in the fridge – you can enjoy for the rest of the week, as steel-cut oats are just as awesome when stored as leftovers and re-heated.

I’ve been enjoying my oats by re-heating on the stove or microwave, then adding some strawberry jam, a handful of blackberries and a sprinkling of walnut pieces. Amazing.

Cooking on my day off: rye multigrain soft pretzels and lemon-strawberry yogurt cake

Rye multigrain soft pretzels

I had the day off from work yesterday, for Cesar Chavez day. In between cleaning out an old box of CDs (Amoeba gave me $90 for them! Unbelievable!) and other miscellaneous household stuff, I cooked a lot. I made rye soft pretzels with multigrain flour, as well as lemon-strawberry yogurt cake, and also chopped up and threw a bunch of stuff into my slow cooker to make shrimp and lentil curry. We enjoyed all three last evening while watching more episodes from season 3 of Veronica Mars.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Pretzels. The main theme here.

Rye multigrain soft pretzels

This recipe comes from Good to the Grain (again). I couldn’t resist, since I had a bag of rye flour just hangin’ out in the freezer, begging to be used.

I had already mixed the yeast and warm water and rye flour, however, when I realized I had barely 1 and 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour, and the recipe calls for 2 and 1/2 cups plus more for kneading the dough. Thinking quickly, I grabbed my multigrain flour mix from the fridge and filled in the flour gaps accordingly. The pretzels came out great, regardless, although I’m curious as to whether they would taste significantly different with more all-purpose flour. I also had to use the remains of my whole wheat flour for kneading the dough, which proved to be a little tricky.

Rye multigrain soft pretzels

Rye multigrain soft pretzels
Adapted from Good to the Grain

1 tablespoon butter, melted (for the bowl when the dough is rising)
1 package active dry yeast
1 tablespoon honey
1 cup rye flour
1 cup multigrain flour mix
1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 cup baking soda
Coarse sea salt (for sprinkling)

Pour the yeast into a large bowl, then add 1 1/2 cups of warm water (around 100 degrees, warm to the touch), then add the honey and stir together. Slowly add the flours and salt and stir again. The dough will be very sticky – add a little more all-purpose flour if the dough is too sticky to remove from the bowl (I didn’t do this and my dough was almost too unworkable to start kneading – I had to get creative with pouring more flour onto my work surface when my fingers were covered with dough).

Slowly pour the dough onto a floured work surface. Knead the dough for about 12 minutes, adding more flour  as needed, until the dough is tacky and soft. Lightly brush a large bowl with the melted butter. Add the dough to the bowl, cover and let rise until doubled. The original recipe says 1 and 1/5 hours – I let mine rise for at least 3 hours, while I ran errands and such.

When the dough has finished rising, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Spray two baking sheets with cooking spray (preferable the butter kind), or rub with real butter if you feel so inclined.

Slowly dump the risen dough onto a lightly floured work surface, and cut into 12 equal pieces (as equal as you can get, but some discrepancy in size is fine). Take each piece of dough and gently roll into roughly 17-inch-long rolls, with thin tapered ends. Form the dough pieces into pretzel shapes and place on the baking sheets, then let them rise for 15 to 20 minutes.

While the pretzel pieces are rising, bring 10 cups of water to boil in a large pot. Once the water is boiling (should be around the time that the dough pieces have finished rising), slowly add the 1/2 cup of baking soda. Don’t do it too fast – my pot of water almost overflowed entirely when I just dumped in the soda all at once. Whoopsie.

Gently add the pretzel pieces, 3 or so at a time (don’t crowd them), into the pot of boiling water. Let them boil for 30 seconds on each side, then gently move them back to the baking sheets (lightly pat dry). Sprinkle the boiled pretzels with the coarse sea salt.

Bake the pretzels (with the baking racks positioned at the bottom and top thirds of the oven) for 15 to 18 minutes, switching the sheets halfway through. The pretzels will be dark in color, like in the photos. Transfer them to a plate or wire rack to cool, and enjoy sooner rather than later. I had another pretzel the day after making them, and could definitely taste the difference in freshness (not bad, just not nearly as good).

Rye multigrain soft pretzels

From there, I made cake, just for the heck of it. Since I had Meyer lemons and plain yogurt, and because in-season strawberries taste like amazing red nuggets of heaven right now, I decided to take smitten kitchen’s lemon yogurt anything cake, add strawberries and double the recipe in order to bake into bundt form.

The result was pretty good. Not great, however. It was a little oiler than I like my cakes, and I should have used more chopped strawberries (I added 2 cups, and probably should have added 3). The recipe was still worth trying out, however, and was very easy to execute.

Lemon-strawberry yogurt cake

Lemon-strawberry yogurt cake

Strawberry jam crumb cake, lightened up

Strawberry jam crumb cake
It’s not exactly pretty – but it’s quite tasty.

Over at theKitchenSinkRecipes, Kristin posts a recipe for strawberry jam crumb cake and talks all about a visit to the Bay Area, where she relaxed and whipped up a buttery, indulgent breakfast treat. I wanted to try out her concoction for a number of reasons: 1) I had all the ingredients on hand, including tasty strawberry jam, 2) I’ve been wanting to try out the springform pan I got for Christmas, and 3) baking is fun and I’m sort of addicted and will take any excuse to try a new recipe.

However – I’ve lost about 25 pounds in the past year and am still plugging away down the weight loss path, and my waistline can’t quite afford to freely enjoy my rich baking habits. Therefore, while I still bake and cook a lot, I watch what I actually eat very carefully, give away the extras and lighten up the recipes whenever possible.

With this strawberry jam cake, since it’s a very simple recipe, I saw the opportunity to swap out about half the butter with some unsweetened applesauce. I also cut the amount of crumb topping in half. It may not be as perfectly buttery and wonderful as the original rendition, but this lightened up version is still pretty darn good – moist, very sweet (almost too sweet – I might cut down the amount of sugar next time), and satisfying.

Strawberry Jam Crumb Cake
Adapted from TheKitchenSinkRecipes

Cake:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup strawberry jam

Crumb topping:
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of salt
Rounded 1/2 cup flour

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. To make the cake, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a separate (larger) bowl, whisk the butter, applesauce, milk, eggs and vanilla. Add the flour mixture to the wet mixture and whisk together until combined.

Spray a springform pan with cooking spray and pour in the batter. Dab spoonfuls of the strawberry jam on top of the batter, and gently swirl with a knife.

To make the crumb topping, whisk together the butter, applesauce, sugars, cinnamon and salt. Add the flour, gently stir to just bring the ingredients together, then use your fingers to fully blend. Sprinkle the mixture in clumps across the top of the cake.

Bake the cake for 25 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for at least 5 minutes. As mentioned before, this is a moist cake, and it might not be super sturdy (especially in the middle), so be a little careful when slicing and serving.

Baking with steel-cut oats, two ways

Strawberry steel-cut oatmeal muffins

Steel-cut oats are a revelation. They’re like super-duper power oatmeal. And apparently, they’re even more nutritious than rolled oats. They take a little longer to cook, but on the bright side, they make fantastic leftovers (as do regular rolled oats, in fact, when baked), so you can make a big batch and easily enjoy until it runs out.

Yesterday morning, I consulted my copy of Not Your Mother’s Casserole, and then mixed some steel-cut oats with milk and salt in a baking dish, let sit in the fridge all day while I was at work, then popped in the oven for about 35 minutes after I got home. I then let it sit on the counter for a few minutes to finish thickening up (it comes out a bit soupy at first), then served with some chopped-up veggie bacon and a poached egg. Healthy breakfast for dinner! And I now have basic cooked oats to enjoy for a few more days.

I was on a roll, so I decided to make a Bay Area Bites recipe that I’ve had bookmarked for awhile: Low-fat Steel-Cut Oat Muffins with Cherry Jam Inside. The results are not big, fluffy traditional muffins – they’re more like sweet mini oatmeal cakes. Perfect as a healthy snack between meals, with coffee or tea. I only had strawberry jam, however, so here’s what I ended up with:

Strawberry Steel-Cut Oatmeal Muffins
adapted from Bay Area Bites

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup oat flour
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup sugar (or brown sugar)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 cup steel-cut oats, cooked
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/2 cup milk mixed with 1 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar or lemon juice – let mixture stand for 10 minutes for using)
  • 1/2 cup strawberry jam (any fruit jam will work – I just happened to have Trader Joe’s reduced-sugar strawberry jam on hand)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together the first five ingredients in a medium bowl (flour through salt). Using a food processor or just your fingers, cut in the butter until the mixture becomes pebbly butter flour.

Pour the mixture from the food processor back into the first bowl, and gently mix in the cooked oats with a wooden spoon until incorporated.

Beat your egg in with your buttermilk/milk in a separate bowl, then add to the flour/oat mixture and stir it all together.

Spray a 12-cup muffin tin (or any muffin tin – just know that this recipe should yield 12 muffins) with cooking spray. Spoon batter evenly into each cup.

Make a teaspoon-sized hole in the top of each cup of muffin batter, and spoon 1 teaspoon of jam into each hole. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until you can insert a toothpick and it comes out clean.

Note: my muffins didn’t turn as brown as I expected, so they didn’t look done to me at first – I may have overcooked them by about 5 minutes. Be sure to check the muffins right at the 20 minute mark, or even before that, depending on the state of your oven (mine tends to take longer to bake things).

The final puzzle party . . . and the food that helped solve it

Unfinished puzzle

Jeffrey bought a puzzle last year. Actually, it’s not a puzzle. It is a giant beautiful beast of confusion and headache parading around in the form of a puzzle. It is Baffler #1000, also known as “The Test,” created by an artist known as Chris Yates.

We started throwing Puzzle Parties at my house after Jeffrey first bought the puzzle, since we knew it would be much more fun to have lots of people attacking the puzzle versus just one or two. (More like one – I wasn’t particularly helpful in the beginning after looking at the giant pile of 1200+ puzzle pieces with no easily discernible pattern staring back at me).

We held a total of five puzzle parties. The above photo is from Puzzle Party #4, where we almost (almost!) finished it. We threw the final Puzzle Party this past Saturday, where we finally finished “The Test” (and celebrated with champagne!) and enjoyed some tasty food along the way.

And so I present: the menu for Puzzle Party #5, THE FINAL!

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Cooking with Trader Joe’s

I love Trader Joe’s. Joe is my religion. The only downside of shopping at Trader Joe’s (for me, at least) is that sometimes it’s not a one-stop experience, especially if you’re picking up particular recipe ingredients.

Enter Cooking with Trader Joe’s, a rather large recipe resource. The site’s content is mostly user-generated, wherein users can upload and share recipes, as well as rate and review others. You can also create and print out recipe lists.

The pure beauty of it (aside from new meal ideas) is that every recipe utilizes items carried by Trader Joe’s, so unless your local TJ’s is out of something in particular, you’ll be able to pick up everything you need all at once. It’s brilliant.

This weekend, we made two recipes from the site: Potato Spinach Soup and Spicy Buffalo Pesto Pizza. Both were awesome. I used my own leftover pizza dough (use of frozen pizza dough = successful!) for the pizza instead of the TJ’s dough, so our pie was smaller and used fewer buffalo wings. Highly recommended.

P.S. The Cooking with Trader Joe’s site is the companion site for various “cooking with Trader Joe’s” cookbooks – I don’t happen to own any, but they are definitely tempting.

Spinach and bean stew with poached eggs

Spinach and bean stew with poached eggs

The most recent post on Smitten Kitchen is for Chard and White Bean Stew. I love Smitten Kitchen. I could spend days and days perusing her archives.

I made her stew last night, with a couple of adjustments. I used white kidney beans and black beans because those were the only ones I could find while shopping during my lunch hour at Trader Joe’s. And I used spinach instead of chard, also due to availability.

It came out pretty well. Not as thick as Deb’s appeared to be, but still pretty tasty. I froze the leftovers and am curious as to how they’ll taste in, say, a couple of weeks’ time.

The poached egg on top is courtesy of my newly-acquired poach pods, which make poaching eggs extraordinarily simple. I love them. And they look like cute little lily pads on your stovetop! Bonus!