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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Bran Muffins - Perfected!


I know I updated my original bran muffin recipe not that long ago... and I love that recipe. I really do. I love that there is no refined sugar in it. I love the rich flavor from using only date sugar to sweeten them. But you know what? Date sugar is expensive!!! That recipe calls for more than a cup of the stuff, and as I started making these muffins more and more (they're really tasty!), I found I was spending a fortune on date sugar.

So, I went back and decided to see if I could modify them a bit to maintain the flavor that I loved in this new version without breaking the bank. I think I did it, well - geeze - I know I did, because I make this new recipe all the time. These muffins are my new go-to breakfast. The half a cup of date sugar the recipe now calls for is enough to make them really yummy without making me go through ridiculous amounts of the stuff.

Incidentally, since I have moved away from the "big city," I've had to start buying my date sugar online. I've been really pleased with the NOW Real Food brand date sugar. It's very dry and powdery (which can lead to a crazy cloud of it in my kitchen), but I no longer have to sift the stuff and get out a sledge hammer to break up the clumps, which I kind of like.

If you like moist and rich, sweet but not cloying muffins, you'll love these! They are full of dietary fiber (a back of the envelope calculation suggests each muffin has over 3 grams of dietary fiber) which is an important part of a healthy diet. Sometimes you can have your cake and eat it too!

Bran Muffins - Perfected!
Yield: 12 standard-sized muffins

1/4 cup canola oil
1 TBS honey
3 TBS molasses
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup wheat bran

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup date sugar
1/2 cup chopped dates (optional)

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine the first group of ingredients. The bran in included with the wet ingredients so that it has time to soak up some liquid and soften. This helps the texture of the final product. Let this bowl sit while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

In a separate bowl, mix together the second batch of ingredients. Stir together. If adding the chopped dates, mix those in as well so that they are covered with flour. This step helps to keep them from sinking to the bottom of the batter. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir just until mixed. Line a muffin tin with papers and scoop approximately 1/4 of a cup into each paper. I use a #16 disher (blue) flat filled. If you want, sprinkle the tops of the muffins with some turbinado sugar and/or wheat bran. Bake in the  preheated oven for 18-22 minutes or until they are gently browned.


Monday, November 17, 2014

Bison Saute


Here's a dish that may sound a little odd but tastes super great. To be honest, it was one of those "let's clean out the fridge" dinners that turned into a smashing success. The combination of flavors was just right and the bison really puts it over the top. Now, you could make this with ground beef, I suppose, but why would you (well, yeah, bison costs a lot more, but other than that)? The good news is that bison not only has a heartier flavor, it is healthier for you! Unlike beef, bison has minimal saturated fat and trans fat. Who'd a thunk it? Those big behemoths are packing around some good meat! I absolutely love the savoriness of the bison in this dish. Such a winner!

Bison Saute
Yield: 4 servings

1 lb ground bison
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 pint baby bella mushrooms, coarsely chopped
2 cups zucchini, thickly sliced/chunked
1 1/2 cups steamed butternut squash chunks
1 TBS minced garlic
1 tsp seasoned salt, or to taste

Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Brown the bison meat until it is cooked through. Drain the bison onto large a paper towel lined plate or bowl, reserving a tablespoon of the drippings in the pan. If your bison was really lean, you can add a small drizzle of oil to the pan. Let the pan heat back up over medium-high heat and add the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally until they are tender through and slightly browned. Remove the paper towel from the drained bison and put the onions in with the  meat.

Return the pan to the heat and repeat the saute process separately for the remaining main ingredients, the mushrooms, zucchini, and squash. If you try to saute them all together, they will just steam and you won't develop the full range of flavor. For each ingredient, cook over medium-high heat until they are browned and tender through. Add to the bowl/plate and continue with the next item. When all items are cooked, add the garlic to the pan, stirring briefly. Then return all items to the pan to heat together. Add the seasoned salt to taste and then serve!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Raspberry Chocolate Cake


I always love taking a tried and true recipe and giving it a little twist to end up with something that has a whole new feel to it. In this case, I took my favorite chocolate cake (the only chocolate cake in the world, as far as I'm concerned) and instead of making my usual decadent and rich chocolate frosting, I whipped together a batch of raspbery whipped cream. Making raspberry whipped cream is absolutely no more difficult than making regular stabilized whipped cream, but it ends up with a lovely pink hue and a delicate touch of raspberry flavor. What I love about this version is that it has a lighter feel and is fresh and beautiful looking when topped with a ring of fresh raspberries. Be sure to use stabilized whipped cream for this application so that it keeps for a few days without weeping and deflating.

Raspberry Chocolate Cake
Yield: 1 two layer 9 inch cake

1 recipe for Audrey's Chocolate Cake, baked in two 9-inch round pans

Double recipe of Stabilized Whipped Cream
1 pint fresh raspberries, mashed with a fork

8-10 large, fresh raspberries for decorating

Let the cake cool completely before assembling. When ready to put the cake together, make the double batch of stabilized whipped cream. Once it reaches stiff peaks, gently stir in the mashed raspberries. Place one cake round on a plate and spoon half of the whipped cream on it. Spread the whipped cream evenly to the edges. Gently place the second cake on top and spoon the remaining whipped cream on top of it. Spread to the edges. Place fresh raspberries, upside down, at even intervals around the edge of the cake. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Will keep, refrigerated, for two to three days.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Cran-Orange Marmalade


I can't tell you how excited I am to finally be posting this recipe. I've only been working on it for five years now!! While every batch has always turned out good, I was having trouble standardizing the recipe. There were a couple of batches that ended up with jelling issues, either too jelled or not jelled enough, but I think I've got it perfected now. This marmalade has a wonderful blend of sweet and tart. I absolutely adore the bits of orange peel in it; they are tender and sweet with a citrus bite. There is no bitterness here!! I often just eat it straight out of the jar, but it's good for other things too. It's an important part of my favorite sandwich (Chicken and Herb Cheese Panini). It could easily take the place of straight-up cranberry sauce at your holiday table this year. And it is absolutely gorgeous! Make it for gifts; no one will be disappointed!

The first step is to prepare the peel. You need about 8 average sized naval oranges. Use a peeler to remove all the skin on each orange. Then slice the peel into thin strips. Place in a bowl and cover with cool water. Soak the peel for ten minutes and then drain.


The next step is to cook the peel. Place it in a small sauce pan with the apple juice and sugar and simmer until the peel is soft and translucent, about an hour.


Then add the dried cranberries so they can soak up the syrup as well, This helps to keep them from floating in the final jam. Let them cook with the peel for 20-30 minutes. I especially love the dried cranberries in this jam because they hold their shape and have such a nice chewy texture.


In a separate pot, cook the fresh (or frozen) cranberries with sugar and a small amount of water. Cook until they are split and nice and soft. Cool slightly and then press through a sieve. We want the flavor of the berries without all the seeds of skins.


Lastly, supreme the oranges (that's where you peel and then cut the sections out of the membrane) and cut the flesh into small pieces. You do not want all the excess juice, just the flesh cut in pieces. Cook these pieces in a large pot with sugar until it comes to a boil, and then continue boiling for 3-5 minutes.


The last step is to put all the pieces together. Add the peel mixture and the sieved cranberries to the cooked orange and stir. Bring to a hard boil and add the liquid pectin packet. Return to a hard boil and boil one minute. Let sit five minutes before ladling into half-pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Process in a water bath canner for 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the jars sit in the water for five minutes before removing, otherwise they may ooze and weep.


Cran-Orange Marmalade
Yield: approx 7 half-pint jars

1 1/2 cup firm-packed orange peel
3/4 cup apple juice
1 cup sugar
1 cup dried, sweetened cranberries

Use a peeler to remove the peel from approximately 8 average sized oranges. Slice into short, thin strips. Soak the peel in a bowl of water for ten minutes and then drain. Then simmer in a small sauce pan with the apple juice and sugar until soft and translucent, about an hour. Add the dried cranberries and let cook another 30 minutes. Set aside.

1 bag of cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar

Cook the cranberries, water, and sugar together until they split and are soft and then pass the mixture through a sieve to remove the seeds and skins. Set aside.

1 cup chopped, supremed orange sections
2 cups sugar

Supreme the peeled oranges (cut off the skin and cut out the sections from the membrane) and then cut the sections into small pieces. In a large pot, add the orange sections and sugar and cook until boiling, and then continue to cook for 3-5 minutes.

1 pouch liquid pectin

At this point, add all three components together. Add the peel/dried cranberry mixture and the sieved mixture to the hot orange sections. Stir together and bring to a boil. Add the pouch of pectin and return to a boil. Boil hard for one minute. Let mixture sit five minutes before ladling into prepared half-pint jars. Leave a 1/4 inch head space and process in a water bath canner for 8 minutes. At the end of the processing time, remove canner from heat and let the jars sit in the water for five minutes before removing (this helps keep them from oozing). Note that this jam may take 24 hours to fully jell.

If you need more guidance on canning basics, see my Canning 101 post.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Freezing French Toast


This is one of those posts that I actually feel a little strange posting. I mean, it seems so simple; who would need a blog post about it? Well, you know, sometimes, the simplest things are the ones you overlook the longest. I freeze my waffles and favorite pancakes for a super fast, toaster ready breakfast, but I was never sure whether it would work for French toast. I suspected it would, but I never seemed to get around to giving it a test drive.

But just like with waffles and pancakes, which are - in my mind - absolutely horrible when bought at the store, store bought frozen French toast makes me cringe. Yes, I've actually tried it. Bleck! So, a couple of weeks ago, I had two leftover slices of French toast, and I thought, "What the heck!?!" I put them in a bag in the freezer, and about a week later, I pulled them out, stuck them straight in the toaster, and enjoyed French toast that tasted fresh made with absolutely no work!!!! I'm hooked now! This morning, I made made an ten extra slices to put in the freezer. I love a wholesome, filling breakfast out of the toaster. It just makes me day.

And just in case you're curious, here's how I make French toast: I basically mix one egg with about a tablespoon of (preferably whole) milk for each slice I plan on cooking. Be sure to whisk the eggs a bit before adding the milk; they're a lot easier to break up that way. Add a dash of salt, a dash of cinnamon, and a tiny dash of nutmeg. That's it! I dip each slice for about 10-20 seconds on each side. Cook over medium heat on a non-stick griddle with just the barest hint of butter. I melt a little butter on the griddle and then wipe the whole thing down with a paper towel. I don't like fried French toast any more than I like fried pancakes! Be sure to cool the slices completely before bagging and sticking in the freezer. Whola! Freezer french toast that actually tastes good.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Chicken Meatballs


Necessity is definitely the mother of invention... especially when it comes to recipe development! I started making these about a year ago when my boy started eating solid foods. I wanted a soft meatball that was mild and yet flavorful, low in salt, froze well, and was quick and easy to make. I initially only made them for him; I would make a batch and immediately freeze them, pulling a couple out as needed. But as time went on, I found I was snacking on them so much when I made them that maybe I should try making them for our dinner as a family. They are certainly tasty enough for anyone to enjoy! As I said, they are quick and easy to make and they freeze very well, so you can make a big batch and store them in the freezer for those days when you've forgotten to make a dinner plan.

Chicken Meatballs
Yield: 24 meatballs (using #40 disher)

1 lb ground chicken
3 slices fresh wheat bread crumbs (prepare in food processor)
1 bunch green onions (green tops only), sliced
      OR 1/4 cup dried minced onions and 2 TBS dried parsley
1/8 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp ground thyme
1/8 tsp ground sage
1/8 tsp ground rosemary
1/3 cup milk
1 whole egg
1/2 tsp salt (optional)
2-3 cups unsalted or reduced sodium chicken broth or stock

Mix all ingredients except the broth together in a bowl. Pour the stock into a shallow saute pan. Heat to a boil. Using a #40 disher, drop meatballs into the hot broth. Cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for ten minutes. Remove from the broth and let cool before freezing or serve immediately.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

My Favorite Five Minute Dessert


It may not look like much, but this simple, humble, quick dessert is just fabulous! It seriously takes only five minutes to put together, and you can easily enjoy it's super fresh fruit flavor all year round. It uses frozen blueberries and raspberry freezer jam, both of which taste like they were just picked (especially if you freeze your own blueberries during the summer season).

Basically, you mix about a tablespoon of raspberry freezer jam with around one cup of frozen blueberries. Stir to ensure each berry is covered with the jam. In a separate bowl, beat about two tablespoons of heavy whipping cream with a teaspoon of sugar and a few drops of vanilla until it is thickened but not whipped. It should still pour. Pour the thickened cream over the frozen berries and top with a little lemon zest. That's it! Serve immediately.

My favorite part of this dish is that the cream starts to freeze a little bit from the cold berries, invoking images of ice cream. It's really quite delicious... and did I mention it takes less than five minutes?


Saturday, August 9, 2014

Easy Chicken Chili


Greetings from muggy Middle Georgia! We're all moved in now and I'm trying to re-acclimate to this nasty, stifling weather. We've actually had some decent weather since we've been here, but the last week was not a part of that. This week, we've seen heat indexes in the triple-digit-teens. Yay! Despite not being super happy about being back in the muggy south (no offense, I'm really a desert girl at heart!), it sure is nice to unpack somewhere and know we're going to be there for a while. After three moves in less than two years, knowing we'll be here three years is really a blessing. I've unpacked everything! I'm planning on hanging things on the walls! We're buying living room furniture!! Gasp! It's so exciting.

As for cooking, well, unpacking and getting set up in a new place with an 18 month old running around has kept me from experimenting too much in the kitchen lately. I'm ready to get back into the really fun scratch stuff (although I have already canned some peaches and some rosemary-peach freezer jam; we are in Georgia, after all). The nice thing about scratch cooking is that it doesn't have to be complex or time consuming to make. Take this stew, for instance. It is super fast and full of convenience but is all homemade. Again, it doesn't have to be hard to be wholesome and delicious. We love it around here; I can make it in less than thirty minutes (and I don't have to remember to set anything out to thaw!) and it's a favorite of us all, toddler included! Tonight he ate his entire bowl and quite a bit of mine.

The only warning I'll throw out there is that you really will want to use unsalted stock in this stew because there are so many salty ingredients in it. I typically only add the barest hint of a dash of salt at the end and it is plenty seasoned. Avoiding overly salted soup is one of the main reasons I make my own!

Easy Chicken Chile
Yield: 4 servings

1 tsp oil
1 cup diced onions (about 1 medium)
1 tsp minced garlic (about 1 large clove)
2 small cans mild green chiles, drained (4-4.5 oz each)
4 cups unsalted chicken stock/broth
1 (12.5 oz approx) can chunk chicken, with broth
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 cup whole milk
6 TBS flour
1 (15 oz) can Cannellini beans
1 1/2 cup Monterrey Jack cheese

Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Sweat the onions and garlic until the onions are transluscent. Add the chiles, broth, chicken, and cumin. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook until the onions are tender. Make a slurry of the milk and flour. Add the mixture to the soup and stir immediately. Continue stirring until the soup thickens. Reduce the heat to warm and add the beans and cheese. Stir until the cheese is melted and is no longer visible. Serve and enjoy!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Chewy Granola Bars


 Oh my! Oh my, oh my! I just perfected this recipe after a bunch of trial runs... wow! I actually have a whole mess of really awesome recipes to share with you, I've just been having a hard time finding the time to post them. But this one... this one, I've got to make time for right this second. I have to share it with you so that you can make it. Perhaps gift some to your mother later this week, like I am (shhhhh, don't tell!).

You can make a whole bunch of different versions, including a straight up chocolate chip, cinnamon raisin, or - like you see above - an almond joy version. The basic recipe and procedure is the same, you simply change the add-ins. Quick oats and crisp rice cereal make the base, but I like to add some chewier grains as well. You could just use old fashioned oats, but I really found this multi-grained cereal was perfect for this application. It has wheat, barley, rye, and oats.


The first step is to mix the dry ingredients. The hot candy part of this recipe goes quite fast since it only goes to the soft ball stage. If using almonds, I definitely recommend toasting them first. You can do it in the oven or on the stove top. This picture is from a middle batch. I chopped the almonds here, but in the end, I decided I liked to just leave them whole. Again, the joy of this recipe is that the details are up to you!


As for the molding, it will be easiest if you have two pans the same size and of the 9 x 13 persuasion. I have two quarter sheet pans that work perfectly for the task. You'll also need two sheets of parchment. I do not spray the parchment with oil, it isn't necessary and just makes the bars oily. Nobody wants oily. I lay one sheet down, pour in the hot mix, using gloved hands to push it around. I then put another sheet of parchment on top and use the other pan to push down as hard as I can, as evenly as I can. Once it's been pressed, you can remove the top pan, and - if you want - the top parchment. Let sit at room temperature for an hour or two before cutting. 


Chewy Granola Bars
Yield: 20 bars (about 1 x 5 each)

For the syrup:
6 TBS honey
4 TBS salted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

about 5 cups of mix-ins (see below for suggestions)

Have two quarter sheet pans (or similar) and two pieces of parchment available. Mix together your dry mix in ingredients in a large bowl. Set aside. In a heavy sauce pan, heat the butter, honey, and brown sugar. Stir just until the mixture starts to bubble. Cook, without stirring, until the mixture reaches 240 degrees (soft ball). Immediately stir in the vanilla and pour over the dry mix. Stir until somewhat well mixed. Then, with gloved hands, finish mixing by hand and pour into one of the sheet pans lined with one sheet of parchment. Use your hands to spread it out fairly evenly. Lay the other sheet of parchment on top, then place the other sheet pan on top and push as hard as you can to pack the mixture. Let the mixture harden at room temperature for at least an hour before cutting. Cut the bars first along the long axis and then cut each strip into ten bars. Cut bars using a large, sharp knife. You can use a bench scraper if it is sharp, but a large chef's knife works best. Store in an air tight container.

Suggested Mix-In Versions:
*** If you are adding chocolate pieces into the bars, let the mixture cool slightly before adding and pressing into pans.

ALMOND JOY BARS
1 1/2 cup flaked, unsweetened coconut
1 1/2 cup crisp rice cereal
1 cup old fashioned oats or multi-grained cereal
1 cup quick oats
1/2 to 2/3 cup whole, toasted almonds
melted chocolate for spreading over top side before cutting OR 1/2 cup large, dark chocolate pieces***

CHOCOLATE CHIP BARS
2 cups quick oats
1 cup old fashioned oats or multi-grained cereal
2 cups crisp rice cereal
1 cup mini-chocolate chips***

CINNAMON RAISIN BARS
2 cups quick oats
1 cup old fashioned oats or multi-grained cereal
2 cups crisp rice cereal
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp cloves
1 cup raisins


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Updated Bran Muffins


A few years ago, I posted a recipe for bran muffins. I've been mainly eating my chocolate chip and banana nut muffins lately, but a couple weeks ago, I suddenly decided to change pace. But the old recipe exhibits one major pet peeve of mine... it does not make a convenient amount of batter. It makes enough for one and a half trays of muffins (it says it makes a dozen, but when I went to make it again recently, it made quite a few more than that). Who wants to make a half tray? So, I decided I would adjust the recipe to make one dozen muffins. I figured that was easiest, because if I wanted to make two dozen muffins, I could easily double the recipe. Well, one thing led to another, and suddenly, I found myself playing with the recipe.

First, I want you to know that the original recipe is darn tasty. They are sweet and moist and yummy. The recipe I am about to post produces muffins that are a little more moist and not quite as sweet. In fact, they have no refined sugar in them. The majority of the sweetness in this new version comes from the dates themselves. Instead of adding chopped dates into the batter at the end, I thought I would see how the muffins tasted if date sugar were used instead. Date sugar is not really a sugar, but simply dried and ground dates. But dates are so sweet, that they can be used like sugar in many instances. In the muffins, I found its use has a few advantages. First, the muffins are so incredibly moist now. It also makes eating the muffins less sticky. Those large chunks of dates, while delicious can make a mess while eating them (especially when feeding them to a one year old!). The updated recipe also has no refined flour. In the previous post, I post the disclaimer that they are "good tasting muffins, not to be confused with 'health' muffins." In this case, I think we can confidently state that these muffins are good tasting and healthy. They're not low calorie, but they are packed with good stuff!

While I've decided I like these muffins a little less sweet, if you want yours to be a little more... decadent, you can simply add 2-4 tablespoons of brown sugar to the batter.


If you want to make your life easy while mixing the batter, pour the oil into a glass measuring cup first. Then eyeball the amount of honey. Lastly, add the molasses until the total amount reaches a half cup for the three ingredients. Not only is the measuring easy, when the oil is poured in first, it makes getting the sticky ingredients out of the cup easy too.


As for decorating the tops of the muffins, in the original, I tossed a few oats on top. I got to thinking about it, and that just doesn't make a lot of sense; there are no oats in these! A better option is either to sprinkle them with a little turbinado sugar, which is a coarse grained, unrefined sugar that gives a nice crust and sweet bite to the tops of the muffins, or to sprinkle a little bran on them. You can also leave them plain, but where's the fun in that? As darkly colored as these are, they can be a little difficult to determine when they are done. For these muffins, I always use a cake tester to be sure the muffins are done.


Updated Bran Muffins
Yield: 12 muffins

1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 TBS honey
3 TBS unsulphured molasses
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup wheat bran

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup toasted wheat germ
1 1/4 cup date sugar, sifted to remove lumps

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a medium bowl, mix the first seven ingredients. Mix the bran in with the wet ingredients and let the mixture sit for 15-20 minutes so the bran can hydrate. In a small bowl, mix together the dry ingredients together. Once the bran has swelled and thickened the wet mixture, you can mix the dry ingredients into it. Spoon into lined muffin cups. A #16 disher slightly overfull will make 12 evenly sized muffins. Sprinkle the tops with either bran or turbinado sugar. Bake at 375 degrees for 18-20 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Let cool slightly before serving. Keeps well in the freezer. Reheat in the microwave to enjoy at your leisure.


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