Thursday, March 25, 2010

blueberry coffeecake muffins with cinnamon and brown sugar streusel

The second thing I ever baked on my own was a blueberry coffeecake from a big bright orange Betty Crocker cookbook, my seventh grade year. Little sis and I biked bravely to the store for fresh blueberries and I set to work.

It was terrible. Alright, it tasted decent (fresh blueberries will save just about anything), but it was purple-streaked, pockmarked with streusel craters, and the berries had sunk to the bottom. I was still getting the hang of turning on the oven, not to mention learning to pack down brown sugar (and to not pack down flour), and knowing what a proper batter ought to look like before you poured it into the pan. I'm rather surprised it didn't end up as purple cardboard.

Undaunted, a few weeks later I made it again--with changes. I added flour to the streusel, practiced new coffeecake-construction techniques, played and prodded and altered the recipe, and had a great deal of fun. This recipe has never stopped evolving; no recipe ever does.

So began my days of treating kitchens like laboratories for mad science. This is where it started, with a recipe from a bright orange cookbook, and it continues. One morning recently I thought why not muffins?

Blueberry Coffecake Muffins
Adapted from Betty Crocker's Streusel Coffeecake recipe

1 C cake flour
1 C all purpose flour
1 C sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1 C milk
1 egg
1/3 C butter, softened

1 bag blueberries, frozen
5 Tb brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon

1/3 C brown sugar
1/3 C flour (or more)
3 Tb butter, cold
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 360 degrees.

Beat cake flour, AP flour, sugar, baking powder, milk, egg, and butter on low until the flour is incorporated. Bump the mixer up to medium speed for two minutes, or until the batter is smooth.

Defrost the blueberries, if frozen. Combine with the brown sugar and cinnamon and put to the side.

To make the streusel: in a separate bowl combine the brown sugar, flour, butter, and cinnamon. This will take some time and arm strength. If you don't have pastry blades (I don't), use a whisk. Just pound that whisk, wire-end down, into the bowl, slicing and smooshing the butter into the dry goods. When you're done, it should look like chunky bread crumbs. If the crumbs are too large (think pea-size) then add more flour and keep pounding.

Line 12 muffin tins with paper muffin cups. Spoon in batter a touch less than 2/3 of the way up the sides.

Then spoon a generous dollop of blueberries into the center of the muffin. Just let it sit on top, don't pat them down into the batter or anything.

Cover the muffins with more batter, until the blueberries are just (or not quite) under the surface. Sprinkle on a layer of streusel.

Bake for about twenty minutes.

And More
Now, I ended up at this point with some extra batter, blueberries, and streusel. I was hardly going to let it go to waste.

I pulled out my friendly cast iron skillet, dropped 2 Tb of shortening into it and stuck in the 360 degree oven for 10 minutes, to get piping hot.

Meanwhile, I added to the leftover batter:
2 eggs
2 Tb brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 C flour
1 lemon (just the juice)

You might want to toss a 1 tsp baking powder into that mix as well, though it turned out fine, if a little flat, without it.

I poured this batter, carefully, into the hot skillet, sprinkled on the leftover blueberries and streusel, and then slid it back into the oven. It was done after about 15 minutes in the oven.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

mole poblano, a smoky, savory mexican sauce based in unsweetened chocolate, chiles, seeds and nuts

When a norteamericano says "mole" odds are they mean mole poblano, a savory sauce of chocolate, chiles, seeds and nuts, originating in the Pueblo region of Mexico. ("Mole," I was surprised to learn, actually refers to sauces in general and there are at least six major varieties from the different areas of Mexico.) Mole poblano is rich, thick, and dark, its flavor smoky and spicy and complicated.

After three hours cooking its multitude of ingredients (it's often literally a pinch of this, a pinch of that, which I suppose is where it gets a flavor of so many notes and nuances), I discovered I don't actually like that smoky, deep flavor.


But if you do, here's the recipe! It was rather fun to make. It takes about two or three hours, depending on how much you enjoy lurking about a kitchen and whether or not you want to multitask.

Mole Poblano

1 poblano chile, dried
2 chipolte chiles, canned
(If you like spice, add more chiles. My recipe makes a very mild mole)
2 Tb shortening
15 almonds
1/4 C shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitos)
4 tomatillos
2 Tb shortening
2 Tb sunflower seeds
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp peppercorns
1/2 C raisins
1 corn tortilla
1 onion
1 garlic clove
1 Tb sesame seeds
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 C broth
3 oz unsweetened chocolate
1 C broth

Seed and slice the poblano chile (this one's actually a pasillo; I couldn't find any poblanos) into flat portions so it will brown evenly.

The seeds are where most the spice hides. I made my mole fairly mild and added no seeds at all; so add more seeds or whole chiles if you like it spicy.

Roast the pasillo and chipoltes in a dry pan, then add to the bowl of a food processor or blender. If you're going to blend the mixture, you'll probably end up having to do several batches.

Melt 2 Tb shortening in the pan. Add almonds and pumpkin seeds and cook until popping and browning. Be careful; the pumpkin seeds may try to pretend to be firecrackers instead of food. Use a lid to shield yourself.

Put the cooked seeds and nuts onto a folded paper towel to wick out the oil. Add to bowl of food processor.

Remove the papery husks of the tomatillos. They'll be a little sticky, so rinse them. Slice them into small chunks and fry them until browned. Add them to the bowl of the processor.

Add 2 Tb shortening to the pan and fry sunflower seeds, coriander, peppercorns, and raisins. A hint: this is delicious all by itself. I nibbled some before I tossed them into the bowl with the rest of the ingredients.

Shred the corn tortilla into strips and fry it in the leftover oil.

Chop the onion and cook it with the garlic clove until both are browned. Add to the bowl along with the sesame seed and the cinnamon. Add 2 C broth to the bowl and process until smooth (this will take awhile).

Pour the mole into the frying pan and add 3 oz unsweetened chocolate and 1 cup chicken broth. Simmer down (about twenty minutes) until it thickens.

The mole's done. Now, toss some chicken into the pot and let it cook until it is warmed through. You could serve it right now with rice and warm tortillas. Instead, I wrapped the chicken in corn tortillas with diced tomatoes and cheese. I laid them out in a pan, poured mole over it and sprinkled cheese on top. About ten minutes in a 275 degree oven warms them through.

Serve with sour cream and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

a winter beef and roasted root vegetable stew with whole cloves of garlic

The produce section of the local grocery store fascinates me. The piles of tomatoes and avocados and apples delights my nose and eyes, of course, but I'm drawn to the wall where they display gnarled roots of ginger, white and green kohlrabi, long white parsnips masquerading as albino carrots. This is where they keep the lovely edible toys I haven't learned how to play with, yet, and it's exciting to imagine the possibilities.

That's where this stew comes from. Carrots, of course, I am familiar with; potatoes and their sweet cousins, onions, garlic are all familiar kitchen buddies. But my exploration into the world of root vegetables ends about there. I had recently discovered beets at a local farm, to my great delight, and was curious about their underground fellows. So one afternoon I loaded up my shopping cart with any root vegetable I set my eye on and this stew came out of the melee.

There's just something about stew for cold nights. I guess being warm and thick and tasty is enough of an excuse. This particular stew is thickened with roasted sweet potatoes (no flour, no corn starch, nothing) and studded with whole garlic cloves. I'm rather fond of it.

Winter Beef Stew
(with root vegetables and massive amounts of garlic)

Serves four

1 medium turnip
1 parsnip
2 med. sweet potatoes
2 med. carrots
1 onion
3 heads garlic (Yes, I mean three full heads, not three poor lonely cloves)
3 beets
Olive oil
1 lb stew beef
2 cups beef broth
¼ C apple juice
1 small potato
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400.

Peel turnips, parsnips, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, and chop into haphazard, uneven chunks (about ¾ inch). If you want to be precise and make beautiful even-sided cubes, go ahead. It will taste the same. But I like my stew to have some character, and I couldn’t chop beautiful even-sided cubes if I tried. Peel garlic (but leave the cloves whole). Chop onions. On a baking pan, drizzle one half of the chopped sweet potatoes with olive oil and grind on pepper. If you’re cooking for my mother, lots of pepper.

If you're confused when I say "sweet potatoes" and the pictures clearly state "uneven orange cubes and lopsided white cubes," know that according to the farmer's market booth we bought them at, the white ones are sweet potatoes too.

Roast the sweet potatoes in the 400 degree oven.

These sweet potatoes are going in early because, ideally, they're going to be roasted so soft that they'll fall apart and thicken the stew, later on. In fact, it's less that we're thickening the stew with sweet potatoes and more that we're thinning roasted sweet potatoes with beef broth.

Put the rest of the vegetables (beets, turnips, garlic, onion, etc) on another baking sheet with olive oil and pepper. The picture above is them after they've roasted deliciously for a bit.

After the sweet potatoes have been roasting for 10 minutes, the other pan of vegetable goes in the oven, too. Roast both pans for another forty minutes or until a fork slides easily into the vegetables on the second pan. Remove both from oven.

While the vegetables are roasting, brown the beef in batches in a frying pan. Don’t worry about cooking it all the way through yet. Put the browned beef in the stew pot and cover with beef broth. Add apple juice and the sweet potatoes from the first pan. Bring to boil then lower the heat. Let cook uncovered for a half hour. Stir occasionally, and don’t worry about the sweet potatoes falling apart, because they will. In fact, you can smash them against the sides of the pan if you want. If you’ve got a friend in the kitchen with destructive tendencies, let them play.

Peel and chop the potato and fry it in the pan you used to cook to meat. We don’t want to waste that tasty fat. Cook until browned and delicious.

After the stew has cooked for the half hour, add the potatoes and the vegetables from the second baking sheet. Fold them in, let the stew heat through, and serve piping hot with good French bread for wiping the bowl clean.

This stew made for a lovely Sunday night dinner, where it was kindly devoured by a brilliant group of friendly college students. Large amounts of the cooking labors were taken on heroically by The Snark, AM, JM, conquering sweet potatoes the size of people's heads, peeling more cloves of garlic than I've seen in months (that blame lies on the college dining commons who aren't not as fond of the pungent bulb as I), braving a blisteringly hot oven, and not eating it before everyone else got there. JM took some lovely photos as well. With the help of GS and MA, bread and cheese were magically sliced and dishes magically done.

AM made some absolutely delicious spam musubi. I just finished the little I stole that night and I miss it already.

DC brought Martinelli's, to make a feast of it. The Pi Queen baked a delicious pie from scratch with a filling of raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries. I'm posting a picture just to torment you, as I didn't make it and don't have the recipe.

Jealous, aren't you?

I'm submitting this post to Weekend Wokking, hosting by Sijeleng of Javaholic. Weekend Wokking is a monthly international food blogging event centered around the celebration of a single ingredient in as many tasty dishes as possible. This month's ingredient is GARLIC. Weekend Wokking is the brain-child of WC of Wandering Chopsticks. Thank you WC! Thank you Sijeleng for hosting!