Sunday, January 24, 2016

Snow and a Strawberry-Apple Cobbler

We had snow and sleet on Friday -- a big event for our parts. Fortunately we didn't receive any of the crippling freezing rain that is so treacherous; I think folks further east saw more freezing rain. Thank God we didn't lose power. The winds were gusty and I was concerned about power outages. I was able to work from home Friday. My husband also stayed home, but he took the dogs on their usual long hike. I made sure to put Ella's little coat on her. There aren't many opportunities for her to wear it. In all honesty, I put it on her because she's so stinking cute in it, not because she really needs it. Our dogs love the cold weather! Paul has adjusted to it too, spending much of Friday and yesterday outdoors. He even suited up and went for a run with Yaktrax on his running shoes!

  
I opted to stay indoors and bake. I made another recipe from Bake from Scratch magazine: strawberry-apple cobbler. I was drawn to the recipe's combination of fruits, and since I just bought my first cast-iron skillet this month, I thought this would be the ideal first recipe. It calls for frozen strawberries, perfect during these cold winter months when fresh strawberries are impossible to find. The biscuit portion of this cobbler is delightful -- sweet and buttery, crisp on top and cakey below, but not soggy. I used organic all-purpose flour to make the dough. The cobbler filled the house with the most wonderful aroma as it was baking!

When I told my husband I was making a cobbler, he turned up his nose (he is not a fan of cobblers, but I was going to make it anyway). Of course he's always willing to try anything I bake; he's open-minded like that. Well, he loved it. This is the first cobbler I can recall him really liking. The strawberry flavor dominates over the apple, which appeals to him, but the two fruits pair very well. I think this is my favorite cobbler recipe ever. It would be fantastic served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.




Strawberry-Apple Cobbler 

Ingredients:
16 oz. bag frozen strawberries, thawed
1 cup granulated sugar, divided in half
3 tablespoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2-1/2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced (recipe calls for 2, but I suggest increasing the amount of apple)
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, cold, cut into pieces 
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  In a cast-iron skillet, combine the strawberries, cornstarch and 1/2 cup sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until bubbly and thickened, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the 4 tablespoons of cut-up butter and the sliced apples. Stir to combine, and set aside.


2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut in 4 tablespoons butter until mixture is crumbly. Gradually add cream and vanilla, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened.

3. Divide dough into 5 equal parts and dollop on top of the fruit in the skillet. Bake until browned and bubbly (note: recipe says to bake for 25 minutes, but I had to leave my cobbler in for an additional 8 or 10 minutes, as the dough was not fully baked). Cover top with foil if needed to avoid cobbler from getting too brown. Serve warm.

Recipe: Bake from Scratch
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Monday, January 18, 2016

Vitamix Blender


A little over a week ago our local Whole Foods had a four-day Vitamix demonstration and sale. My husband and I have been talking about getting a Vitamix blender for quite a while -- a few years, at least. The evening I was at the store, the demonstration was coming to an end, but the representative was very nice and spent several minutes answering my questions. I returned to Whole Foods on the last day of the demo with my husband to get his opinion. The two of us use our blender all the time -- I use it almost daily to make breakfast smoothies. After seeing the Vitamix in action, Paul was just as impressed as I, if not more so, and we ended up purchasing the 7500 model in red. We got a good deal on it, as the only red machine left was on display. The rep also threw in a free filtration bag for making nut milks. The blender also comes with an awesome cookbook -- I can't wait to make some recipes from it.

Paul was super excited to get back into making smoothies, which is something he used to do on a very regular basis before he began going in to work so early (he's usually out the door by 6:30 am). It was cute to see him so pumped up about a blender.

We're both intrigued by the fact that the Vitamix can make hot soup right in the blender container. The motor is so fast and powerful that it heats up the contents when used on the high setting for several minutes. I'm not sure this is something I'll use it for, but you never know. For now I'm having fun making smoothies and adding new ingredients like apples and oranges. Since I like bits and pieces in my smoothies (the Vitamix rep looked at me like I was crazy when I told him that), I add certain ingredients like kale and walnuts toward the end and process them for less time.



Vitamix is easy to clean. Just give the container and lid a quick rinse under running water, then fill the container halfway with hot water and a drop of liquid dish detergent. Run it on high for a few seconds, then rinse.



Do you have a Vitamix blender or know someone who does? I'd love to hear your thoughts and feedback. What do you primarily use your blender for -- soups, smoothies, nut butters, something else? Please leave a comment and share your blender experiences.

This is not a sponsored post (believe me, I wish it were!). Top photo credit: Vitamix

Monday, January 11, 2016

Banana Chocolate Espresso Swirl Muffins

As promised in my last post, I'm sharing photos of the first recipe I made from the pages of Bake from Scratch magazine: these delicious, oversized banana chocolate and espresso swirl muffins. That name is a mouthful, and so are the muffins! I made them in my Williams-Sonoma's Goldtouch nonstick jumbo muffin pan. The recipe is supposed to yield eight jumbo muffins, but my pan has just six wells, so I made only six muffins. They're extra big. And delicious. I used organic all-purpose flour, and my typical buttermilk substitute, which is nonfat milk and nonfat plain yogurt mixed together to equal the amount of buttermilk called for in the recipe (example: 1 cup buttermilk = 1/2 cup milk plus enough yogurt stirred in to equal one cup).



The muffins turned out looking more chocolate filled than swirled. They were moist and delicious, and surprisingly not too sweet, though I could only eat a half at a time. I threw a couple in the freezer to enjoy in a month or two.


The next recipe I think I'll make from the Bake from Scratch magazine is a strawberry and apple cobbler, a recipe featured in the article on baking in a cast iron skillet. I didn't have a cast iron skillet, so I bought one over the weekend, a 10.25" Lodge cast iron skillet. I look forward to making all sorts of things in it, from desserts to frittatas. I really like that Lodge products are made in the U.S., and they are reasonably priced. I bought another very exciting kitchen item over the weekend, too. More on that in my next post, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Bake from Scratch Magazine

My husband bought me a gorgeous magazine at Barnes & Noble. It's the winter 2016 issue of Bake from Scratch. Beautifully designed and photographed, it is full of wonderful-sounding recipes and interesting articles. There's a short, informative piece about molasses, a profile of San Francisco's Tarine Bakery (I'm wondering if Mary Ann from Classic Casual Home has been there), and recipes ranging from dark chocolate to citrus to baking in a cast iron skillet, (note to self: get one of these). 

The magazine is a feast for the eyes! Look for it at your local bookstore or purchase it at Hoffman Media's online store. Meanwhile, here's a sneak peek ...










What did I make first, you ask? You'll have to wait and see!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Cinnamon Swirl Quick Bread

Happy New Year! I hope you had a fun New Year's Eve -- or a quiet, relaxing one if that's your preference. We typically spend the evening at home or have dinner out with friends. We rarely stay up until midnight or go to any New Year's Eve parties. This year, we broke from tradition and attended an early evening gathering at the home of some neighbors where we enjoyed good wine and food (thank you, Amy, for including gluten-free crackers and appetizers like Spanish tortilla!), we chatted with friends and also met some very nice new folks who shared our love of dogs (both the hosts and several of the guests are shelter volunteers and fosters for medical cases, something I deeply admire). We had such a good time! A much better alternative to staying home.

Later, we fixed a light supper (Dr. Praegers broccoli cakes and steamed asparagus) and opened a bottle of Tsarine champagne that I had purchased with the intent of having it on our 20th wedding anniversary, but forgot. It was perfect for New Year's! We stayed up until midnight, at which time some neighbors down the street set off some pretty cool fireworks; several of us were out on our front porches watching them, clapping and yelling "Happy New Year!" (I'm sure those who went to bed early really appreciated that). All in all, it was one of the nicest New Year's we've had in a long time.


As mentioned in a previous post, my relationship with wheat is evolving. A few weeks ago I bought a bag of organic flour to test my theory that the discomfort I'd been experiencing from wheat products may not be due as much to gluten as it might be to the herbicides used in conventional wheat production. This theory came from the fact that since giving up gluten, I've been able to continue to eat Annie's Organic Mac and Cheese and my favorite pizza made from flour grown and produced in Italy with little to no side effects. And I'm not alone. I've spoken with others who have shared similar stories. There are very strong opinions on both sides of this argument, and I'm not claiming I have any facts to prove my theory. I just know how I feel after eating conventional wheat products, organic wheat products and gluten-free products. The first produces awful symptoms while the latter two don't. 
Here are a couple of opposing articles on the subject, if you're interested:
The Healthy Home Economist: "The Real Reason Wheat is Toxic (it's not the gluten)"
Snopes.com: "Grain of Truth?"
I'm sure there are many more out there ....

The bread shown in the photo above is a cinnamon swirl quick bread that I made using conventional flour (I'm using up what's in my pantry). I gave it away to friends, keeping a couple of slices for my husband who said it was very tasty. It smelled divine as it was baking in the oven, I know that. If you try this recipe, drop me a line to let me know what you think. And if you have issues with wheat, I'd like to hear about your experiences and thoughts on the subject. I'm sure the debate will be around for some time to come.

Cinnamon Swirl Quick Bread

Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk (or 1/2 cup milk plus enough plain yogurt stirred in to equal 1 cup; this is a great buttermilk substitute, and is what I used to make this bread.)
1 large egg
1/4 cup canola oil
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar

Glaze (optional):
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons milk

Directions:
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine flour, granulated sugar, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, combine buttermilk, egg and oil. Stir into the dry ingredients just until moistened. In a small bowl, combine cinnamon and brown sugar.

2) Grease a 9x5 loaf pan. Pour half the batter into prepared pan; sprinkle with half the cinnamon sugar. Run a knife through batter to swirl. Top with the remaining batter and sprinkle the rest of the cinnamon sugar over top. Run the knife through the batter in a figure 8 pattern to swirl.

3) Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pan. Remove bread from pan and let cool completely on wire rack.

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