Posts Tagged ‘easy and homemade’

Blueberry Muffins

July 29, 2016

blueberry muffinsMG_1380Baskets of blueberries are rolling in from Michigan, one of the top producers of America’s favorite summer berry. Now touted as a superfood, everybody loves blueberries. They’re sometimes a bit bland, but they are good for us and we prize them. The blueberries shipped in from Chili and beyond that we find in the supermarkets in winter have little flavor, but those fresh off the bush that we see in our summer farmers markets are now at their tastiest peak. Just picked ripe blueberries bursting with juice are perfect for eating out of hand, sprinkling on cereal, adding to a salad or baking into a pie. Their tender gentle sweetness charms us all.

Before I ever had a slice of blueberry pie, I’d enjoyed blueberry muffins. Somehow back decades ago in the Southwest we found them frozen and were treated to my dad’s freshly baked (from scratch, of course) blueberry muffins on Easter morning after the sunrise service up on the Colorado National Monument. Although I enjoy the berries raw. I think they are at their peak of flavor when cooked. Blueberries in a pie, a cobbler, a sauce or in muffins take on a richer dimension of deliciousness.

Muffins have almost become cupcakes. The traditional stir and bake breakfast muffins in my mother’s 1942 Inglenook Cookbook have 1 tablespoon sugar for each cup of flour while our current standard muffin recipes average 6 tablespoons of sugar per cup of flour. The following easy recipe at least bumps up the nutrition quota with wholewheat pastry flour and plenty of berries, but admittedly it’s a cupcake. My granddaughters like them for breakfast, but I prefer them for a teacake. These muffins keep well for a couple of days in a tin or may be frozen for a few weeks.

Blueberry Muffins

2 oz. unsalted butter (1/2 stick)

6 ½ oz. unbleached all purpose flour (or half wholewheat) 1 1/3 cups

¼ teaspoon baking soda

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

scant ½ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 ½ oz. sugar** (1/2 cup)

1 large egg

4 fl. oz. milk* (1/2 cup)

4 fl. oz. plain yogurt* (1/2 cup)

1 teaspoon vanilla

6 oz. fresh blueberries (1 cup)

*whole milk recommended but not necessary

**reduce sugar to 2 1/2 oz. (1/3 cup) for more breakfast-friendly muffins

Preheat oven to 400°. Line 8 large or 10 smaller muffin cups with cupcake paper. Or grease and flour muffin cups.

Melt butter, cool to warm.

Sift flour(s), baking soda, baking powder, salt and sugar into a deep mixing bowl.

In a large measuring cup whisk together the egg, milk, yogurt, vanilla and cooled melted butter.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and stir in the egg mixture in a few quick strokes. Mix in the dry blueberries with the last traces of flour.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, sprinkle the tops with pinches of sugar for a glaze and pop into the preheated oven. Immediately reduce the heat to 375° and bake for 20-25 minutes depending on size or until muffins are golden and test done. Remove from oven and cool on wire rack. Makes 8-10 muffin.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon

 

 

Church Brunch

January 25, 2016
Strata baking

Strata baking

At an annual church business meeting one way to get an extra hour from parishioners is to bribe them with a free lunch. Given the noonish time of day, we do brunch. We try for a one-size-suits-all sort of dish that isn’t too costly, can be made ahead and will be easy to serve. This year we opted for the old standby Strata updated into a savory bread pudding.

Here we have bread, sausages, cheese, vegetables well seasoned, layered in buttered Pyrex bakers and moistened with creamyegg-and-milk custard. Wrapped and stowed in the big fridge, Strata for 70 waits for its morning call. With a couple of people minding ovens during the service, the baking Strata fills the church with a inviting aroma. Accompanied by mini-muffins, fresh fruit and salad greens, the Strata will be a tasty reward.

Strata plated

Strata plated

Popularized by the Silver Palate cookbooks in the 1970s, Strata gets its name from ingredients layered into a baking dish. No doubt the idea grew from older American recipes such as “Luncheon Cheese Dish” or “Cheese Sandwich Casserole” of the 50s that I remember served to a party of fourth grade girls.

As always the success of a casserole depends on the quality of its contents. The number- one player here is bread. Be sure to use a sugar-free French loaf or an artisan sourdough. Avoid processed cheeses. I recommend a mixture of Swiss and white Cheddar, but any mixture of good grating and melting cheeses will be fine. Sausages, from bland to spicy, may be combined with diced smoked ham or turkey. For a vegetarian version, omit the meat products and add extra vegetables. Mushrooms, spinach (frozen is OK here), onions, roasted red peppers, chopped sun dried tomatoes, even cooked kale will be welcome in a Strata. One solution to the morning cooking scramble: layer in the Strata a day beforehand and produce a dazzling dish from a clean kitchen the next a.m.

Brunch Strata

12 oz. good French, Italian or sourdough bread

1 jumbo onion (12 oz.) peeled and cut in small dice

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon butter

1 10 oz. box frozen, chopped spinach, defrosted, drained

8 oz. fresh mushrooms sliced and sautéed in butter

12-16 oz. sausage, cooked and diced or crumbled

Good handful fresh parsley, chopped

Fresh or dried thyme

12 oz. (3 cups) grated cheese (Swiss and white cheddar recommended)

6 eggs

2 cups (16 fl. oz.) whole milk

1 cup (8 fl. oz.) heavy cream

Salt, pepper, freshly grated nutmeg, pinch cayenne

Cut the bread into large dice. Include crusts unless scorched. Measures about 9 cups.

Melt butter in small heavy, sauté pan and sweat onion over low heat. Add chopped garlic to the top of the onion and cover with butter wrappers or a parchment circle. The onion and garlic should not brown but will lightly color, melt into softness and reduce by half. Allow 20-30 minutes to cook the onion.

Combine the cooked onion, garlic, drained and squeezed spinach, sautéed mushrooms, cooked sausage, parsley and thyme. Season the mixture with salt and pepper. The vegetable/sausage mixture should weigh around 2 ½ lbs.

Beat the eggs in a large bowl; add cream, milk and season well with salt, pepper, freshly grated nutmeg and a pinch of cayenne.

Generously butter a 3 1/2-quart shallow casserole or baking dish.

Add diced bread to the egg and milk mixture. Lift half of the moistened bread with a slotted spoon and spread it over the bottom of the baking dish. Distribute 2/3 of the vegetable mix over the bread and top with 2/3 of the grated cheese. Add the second half of the moistened bread over the vegetables and sausage. Pat everything firmly in place with your clean hands. Pour the remaining milk and egg mixture evenly over the casserole and sprinkle over the remaining cheese. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Remove from fridge an hour before cooking if possible. Bake Strata in a 375° oven for 45-60 minutes or until puffed and golden. Allow to rest at room temperature 15 minutes before cutting. Serves 8-10.

To increase the Strata recipe for 15-18, using a 5 L baking dish, extend the basic recipe by 1/3. For example: 12 oz. bread should become 16 oz. bread, etc.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon

 

Chilled Beet Soup

July 14, 2015
Chilled Beet Soup

Chilled Beet Soup

While we’re waiting for summer’s sun-ripened tomatoes, we have beets. Heaped now in farmers’ market vegetable stalls, deep red beets with fresh leafy greens lie next to kale, chard and kohlrabi. Beet tops make a great “mess of greens,” as we used to say; to find a recipe for cooking any summer greens go to: https://mjcuisine.wordpress.com/2010/04/16/mary-jos-kitchen-2/

A few days ago I needed a do-ahead fancyish first course for a birthday dinner party, and this chilled beet soup filled the bill. It’s colorful, delicate, and light. Even the reluctant anti-beet eater will be tempted to taste it in this guise, cousin to the classic Russian borscht.

The immediate feature of this soup is its brilliant color. To hold this bright tint, tender, cooked, diced beets simmer in the stock base for only a minute before meeting their pureed state in the blender jar. Beets left to rest in the hot stock will fade, and the resulting soup will pale. (Thank you Ballymaloe for this essential tip.) Plan to have the beets cooked, diced and ready while the buttered onion simmers in its broth, and remove the beet mixture from the saucepan quickly after just heating through. Pureed and packed in a glass jar, the soup can easily wait in the fridge for a couple of days before finding places in simple small bowls. A swirl of cream-thinned yogurt and a snip of dill will bring the passion of deep purple and sweet summer to your table.

Chilled Beet Soup with Yogurt Cream Swirl

3 baseball sized beets, about 20 oz. (with tops recommended) 2 ½ c. diced cooked*

3 tablespoons butter (or half oil)

6 oz. (1 ½ cups diced onion)

2 cloves garlic

2-3 sliced green chili (optional)

knife point ground cloves (optional)

3 cups light chicken or vegetable stock

salt and white pepper, sugar

plain whole milk yogurt thinned with half and half

(1/2 cup yogurt + ¼ cup half and half, salt)

chopped dill, dill flowers, shredded basil, etc.

*Cover scrubbed beets with water in snug saucepan. Add salt and little sugar. Simmer covered about an hour or until tender (press with finger and test with toothpick). (Alternatively, beets could be wrapped in foil and baked.) Cool, peel, dice.

Sweat the onion in butter under butter wrappers until soft but not colored. Add garlic, chili, cloves, sauté few minutes longer. Add stock and simmer 5 minutes. Add cooked diced beets, simmer for 1 minute. Pour contents of saucepan into a bowl to stop the cooking (any longer cooking will cause beets to lose color). Puree in blender as soon as possible. Season with salt, white pepper and a pinch of sugar if needed. Chill.

Before serving, thin the yogurt with light cream and season with salt. Ladle soup into bowls and spoon yogurt cream on top of soup. Swirl with toothpick and garnish with dill. Serves 8.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon

 

 

Spiced Pan Roasted Pear Cake

October 28, 2014
Spiced Pan Roasted Pear Cake

Spiced Pan Roasted Pear Cake

Where the sidewalk edges the church parking lot, a lone pear tree lives in a fistful of dirt against an old brick wall. There’s not even room for a dandelion. This solitary pear tree is never watered, fed or pruned, yet each season it drops a blanket of rotting fruit crying for recognition beside the holy path. This year Darlene sent a crew up ladders until a bushel of small, green, hard Seckels stood in the church office next to a stack of bags and a sign saying “free.” The pears, strong in character but weak in appearance, weren’t popular. Neither were they wormy, but they were freckled, streaked, blemished, and some misshapen. Visitors thinking of rosy-cheeked golden Bartletts and slender-necked russet Boscs in the supermarket shunned the local organic, ugly Seckels.

I noticed them, delighted at the prospect of giveaways, and scooped them up. I knew they’d need time to ripen and that they’d prefer the dark, so I spread them in the basement, covered them with newspapers and checked every few days. Three weeks later the pears had yellowed and begun to soften. Their juicy flesh liked a pinch of cinnamon and a sprinkle of brown sugar. . .and I remembered the Ballymaloe Spiced Pan Roasted Pear Cake. Reducing the butter and sugar from the original recipe makes a light teacake or a brunch pastry. Warm from the oven, it welcomes a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream for dessert.

Spiced Pan Roasted Pear Cake

1 oz. unsalted butter (2 tablespoons)

3 1/2 oz. brown sugar (1/2 cup)

small pinch salt

4 oz. all purpose flour (1 cup minus 3 tablespoons)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 extra large egg

3 1/2 oz. sugar (1/2 cup)

1/4 cup vegetable oil (or pure olive oil)

1/4 cup grated pear

2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger (use microplane)

6 small pears, peeled, halved, cored or 3 regular pears cut in sixths

 

Melt butter in 8-inch cast-iron skillet. Sprinkle on brown sugar and melt over low heat. Add tiny pinch salt.

Preheat oven to 350°.

Peel and cut pears.

Beat egg, add sugar, oil, ginger, and grated pear; whisk together thoroughly. Place flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon in sieve and sift over egg mixture. Beat together.

Circle pear halves, rounded side down, over brown sugar and butter, or pinwheel pear pieces around pan. Keep skillet over very LOW heat. Spread batter over pears. Bake at least 40-45 minutes or until well browned and tests done. If pears are especially juicy, the cake needs extra baking time to thoroughly cook the cake’s center. When the cake is deeply browned and tests done, remove from oven.

Allow cake to cool 5 minutes. Loosen edges and turn cake upside down onto flat serving plate or wire cooling rack. Scrape out any remaining bits of caramelized sugar and smooth it onto the cake sides. Serves 6-8.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon