Sunday, March 13, 2011

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins with Dried Blueberries

A couple of weeks ago, the fine people at Oh! Nuts contacted me to see if I was interested in trying some of their products gratis if I would discuss my experience on this blog. To which I responded: but of course! I was initially tempted to request hordes of walnuts and pistachios – I keep them in my desk drawer and munch on them whenever I’m snackish at work – but that seemed disingenuous. I bake with them from time to time, but that’s not really why I would have wanted them.

Anyway, one thing I’ve always wanted to try is dried blueberries. They sell small packages of them at Trader Joes, but they’re pretty expensive for a Trader Joe’s product. I’ve hesitated before the dried blueberry bin a number of times but have never been able to persuade myself to spend the $6 or thereabouts for a tiny pouch.

Poppy seeds are likewise overpriced, at least where I’ve tend to do my grocery shopping.   But not at Oh! Nuts!  You can probably guess where I’m going with this.

Anyway, I asked if they wouldn’t mind sending me some delectable dried blueberries and poppy seeds. And they did! Very speedily, too – I got my order the day after they sent it. It probably helped that I’m in an adjacent state.

My intentions were wholly good. I hadn’t made muffins in a very long time – probably not since my last batch of blueberry muffins – and am not sure what explains my neglect of this sub-genre of the baking world.

Lemon poppyseed muffins have always been a favorite of mine, but they are rather unexciting. I like them, but they’re sort of the sugar cookie of the muffin world: one misses the embellishments.

Adding regular blueberries would just seem perverse, however. Blueberry muffins and lemon poppy seed muffins are separate genres. It would be wrong to amalgamate the two.

Unless, of course, one were using dried blueberries. The fact that the berries are dried makes all the difference. And no, I can’t defend that on any sort of logical basis.

In short: these are really tasty! You should try making them, with or without the dried blueberries. If you decide to go with the blueberries and/or are dissatisfied with your local store’s poppy seeds, Oh! Nuts has good prices and fast shipping. I bet their walnuts and pistachios are equally good.

But do be careful if your workplace happens to drug test. Mine doesn’t, so I can eat these muffins with abandon.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Cheddar Yoghurt Biscuits

So these are the easiest thing ever.  I always thought biscuits were pretty painless – cutting fat into flour has never struck me as an especially onerous chore – but this recipe eliminates even that minor step.  There is no butter.  Repeat: no butter.  Nor is there any lard, shortening, margarine, or other solid fat ingredient.  With this recipe, you just whisk together the dry ingredients, dump in yoghurt or cream and cheese, and stir.  Well: there is some light kneading at the end, but it’s very de minimis.  I actually kneaded the dough in the mixing bowl instead of turning it out because I’m lazy that way. 

Despite their lack of solid fat, they really taste like biscuits.  They are, perhaps, slightly less flakey than a traditional biscuit.  However, they’re still far superior to anything that comes out of a cardboard cylinder.  If you’re put off of biscuits because they seem too fussy but are loathe to expose your family to whatever it is that goes into those refrigerated “biscuit” packages, then this might just be the recipe for you.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Rice Krispies Treats

So I live in Connecticut which, if you haven’t been paying attention, is ground zero for this season’s snowpocalypse. It wouldn’t be so bad if we had a garage, but since we live in a city, we have street parking only – which means we have to dig the car out after every storm.

My mother, who lives in Florida, has been demanding pictures.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Double Chocolate Cherry Cookies with Almonds

I know I’ve been gone a while, but this recipe should prove adequate peace offering. These tasty treat depicted here not be photogenic, but don’t let that dissuade you. I make a lot of cookies, and I flatter myself that most of them are quite tasty. These, however, are in another category of tasty altogether. I think they might be my favorite drop cookie ever. Yes, ever. This is not a claim I would make lightly.

The name here is plenty descriptive. These cookies have cocoa powder and chocolate chips, ergo double chocolate. They also have dried sour cherries and toasted almonds because cherries and almonds are like chocolate and peanut butter: they always work together. The recipe also calls for half a cup of red wine, which is a new one to me in a drop cookie.

The first time I tried to make this, I added an extra egg because I was sure – sure! – that the wine in the batter would evaporate and leave me with a crumbly, dry mess. There’s only a stick of butter and one egg, yet the amount of cocoa powder and flour is equal to that of your average (two stick, two egg) chocolate chip cookie recipe. I was wrong. The cookies were great, but they were only great because I tipped in extra flour and cocoa powder once it became clear that the extra egg had given me an extremely soupy batter rather than a semi-stiff dough. There’s a moral here: trust everything you read on the internet. Everything.

Saturday, January 8, 2011


I've been quite busy lately -- this year's holidays were of the "go forth and travel" rather than "stay home and bake" variety.  In lieu of recipes or poetry, I give you ... holiday pictures.  The first few were taken by Richard, my Aunt Wanda's significant other, and show my family in Avon Park, Florida.  After spending a few days with them, husband and I went down to Key West, up to the Everglades, and over to Tampa/St. Petersburg for a bit before returning to the frigid wasteland that is Connecticut in winter.

These will be primarily of interest to family, but I suspect that 90% of my current readers fall in that category given my absences!  I'll try to bake something next weekend.

In any case, the holiday pictures are here.

Happy New Year to all!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot is quite the polarizing figure. He was kind of a jerk. He badly mistreated his (admittedly difficult) first wife before abandoning her to an insane asylum; worse, along with his friend Ezra Pound, he traded in the basest, most pernicious anti-Semitic stereotypes. One doesn’t have a sense of him as a warmhearted person.

He was also a bit of a priggish Anglophile. Born and raised in St. Louis, he moved to London, converted to Anglicanism, and took British citizenship at the first opportunity. I’m a bit of an Anglophile myself, but these things ought to have limits.

But was he any good as a poet? I don’t see how you can argue that he wasn’t. He’s certainly among the many literary idols with feet of clay, but the work itself is quite peerless for its milieu.

Because their work is so “difficult,” Eliot and other modernists are often accused of leaving behind middlebrow literary readers (who could warm to a Tennyson far more readily than an H.D., for example) and thereby circumscribing an already-small audience for “serious literature.” I find this a reasonably compelling argument, but I suspect I’ve got fairly middlebrow tastes myself. On the other hand, most contemporary readers don’t find “footnoted” Eliot all that much of a slog compared with Shakespeare or Chaucer; Eliot’s work is at least in a contemporary idiom.

The following poem should not present difficulties to anyone with a passing acquaintance with the Christmas story. I’m all about seasonal appropriateness.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies

I suppose we’ve just had a food-based holiday; another is rapidly approaching, but I’ve been determinedly absent. This post will not remedy the deficiency of holiday-appropriate recipes, though if you’re inclined to seasonal baking, I would direct you here, here, here, here, or here. Or here. What I’m saying is: we’ve been there, and I’ve been busy.

I did bake two pies for Thanksgiving, so it’s not as if I’ve been a total slacker. We were visiting my sister-in-law and her family, including an adorable new four-month-old nephew.  One of these pies was pumpkin. Pumpkin pie is not a variety of which I’m terribly fond, so I won’t be recreating it in my own kitchen any time soon (though everyone deemed it quite tasty, and I thought it decent … for pumpkin).

The other was an apple crumb pie, though I swapped out some of the granulated sugar for brown sugar because I was feeling daring. It was quite delicious. I think I’ve finally conquered apple pie. So long as you slice your apples thinly and don’t over-fill the pie, it turns out it’s a piece of cake.

In case you were wondering, I possess no fear of mixed food metaphors.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Boozy Banana Bread

This is something like the fourth banana bread recipe I’ve posted, which perhaps speaks to a dearth of culinary creativity – but I quite like banana bread. Besides, given how often I over-estimate my weekly consumption of said fruit and end up with brown, cloyingly sweet-smelling bananas rotting atop my countertop, I find it best to have options for how to dispose of them.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Apple Crisp

So, apples: this is their season, after all. Apples are on the EWG’s list of highly pesticide-soiled fruits, so I always try to buy them organic. I’m not persuaded that buying organic really make a difference – either to my health or the planet – but my tendency is to err on the side of caution, though there are times I suspect myself a bit of a Whole Foods stooge. At least the stores have a nice ambience.

The point of my preliminary ramblings is that organic honeycrisp apples were on special at Whole Foods last week for $1.49 a pound. This is, of course, insanely cheap. It’s like the price of regular apples! For honeycrisps, perched as they are atop the pinnacle of the apple world, they might as well be giving them away. I couldn’t turn my back on such a sale, but I also couldn’t summon the fortitude to tackle another apple pie.

Apple crisps make a lovely shortcut. They’re easy, delicious, and if you use all whole-grains, almost healthy. This recipe is based off of one in Seasons of Central Pennsylvania: A Cookbook and was apparently first devised in a Penn State agricultural lab. I usually prefer recipes with more homespun pedigrees, but I like that their concoction calls for all whole-grains for the topping. This is not to say that I baked as directed; I never do. I find the crisp improved with more sugar, a dab of cinnamon and nutmeg, and a hit of booze to sauce the apples – none of which are called for in the original. However, the whole grains are altogether appropriate and delicious. You won’t find yourself pining for a white flour crumbly top, or if you do – then you and whole grains simply don’t have much of a future, and you’ve probably never cared for apple crisps. How distressing!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Seamus Heaney and James Wright

I'm in the mood for a bit of juxtaposition.  Neither Seamus Heaney nor James Wright are among my great favorites, but each has his moments.  I do keep telling myself I ought to read Heaney's translation of Beowulf, but I fear my ambitions outpace my diligence.

Both of these poems are "epiphany" poems.  I go back and forth over whether I find such poems charming or tiresome.  The final revelations never seems sufficiently earned to me, which makes them feel ersatz and hokey.  And yet.

Seamus Heaney
And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you'll park or capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

A Blessing
James Wright

Just off the Highway to Rochester, Minnesota
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.