Sunday, June 30, 2013

Baked Eggs & Peach Muffins

     Friday breakfast (though it should probably be called lunch since I ate closer to noon than breakfast time) was Baked Eggs with Spinach and Bacon.  The recipe is from a blog called Oven Love via my Pinterest Cooking Board.  The recipe called for crisp-cooked bacon, spinach, cheese, eggs, and a little cream.  What's not to love?

Photo of baked eggs
     The eggs tasted good, but there are a couple of changes I'd make next time.  The cream was unnecessary, I think.  It slowed down the cooking of the egg whites.  In order to get the whites fully cooked, I had to pop the dish back in the oven and leave it in for much longer than the recipe estimated.  I ended up with hard cooked yolks instead of soft, slightly runny yolks, which would have been much better.  The other change I'd make would be to reserve the bacon and add it to the top of the egg dish instead of putting it in the bottom of the dish with the spinach.  The bacon got rubbery under the eggs.  Crispy bacon crumbled on top of the eggs would have tasted much better.

     I want muffins! That's what I said to myself Saturday night around 10pm.  Since it was 10 o'clock at night and I wasn't even hungry, I did not make muffins, but I did look at some muffin recipes so I could make some for Sunday breakfast.  I chose the Perfect Blueberry Muffin recipe from Smitten Kitchen as my base and then mixed it up a bit.  I made these back in March when I was out in Bodega Bay for my aunt's birthday weekend.  They turned out really well.  I think everyone enjoyed them as there was only 1 left after brunch that day.  I, however, don't care much for blueberries.  I don't actively dislike them, but I'd rather have any number of other flavors than blueberry.  The base muffin recipe was great though, a little sweet but not too sweet and with a soft and slightly spongy texture so they don't fall apart easily.  I thought I'd try making them again but with some other fruit than blueberries.

     This worked out well since I don't have any blueberries on hand, so I couldn't have made blueberry muffins even if I wanted to.  In fact, I didn't have any fruit except some frozen peaches.  Hmmm, I thought. Peach muffins sound promising.  I followed the recipe closely with the exception of substituting chopped frozen peaches for the blueberries and 1/2 cup whole wheat flour for 1/2 cup of the all-purpose flour.

Photo of peach muffins
     The muffins came out tasty, but a little light flavor-wise.  I think the peaches didn't have as strong a flavor as blueberries do.  The other flavoring in these muffins is lemon zest, which I included, but I think this batch of muffins would have been even better with the substitution of vanilla or almond extract for the lemon zest.  I think almond would be really good with peaches.  I would also chop the peaches finely.  I cut them into about a 1/2 inch dice.  Chopping them into smaller pieces would have dispersed the peach flavor better throughout the muffins.  The peach chunks weren't in every bite, so the flavor was uneven.  I also didn't like the texture of the large chunks of peach.  Every other bite I got this cold, slick piece of fruit amid the light and fluffy muffin.  The muffin texture was just as good as the first time I made this recipe, even with the addition of some whole wheat flour.

     Still, even though these aren't the best muffins, they satisfied my muffin craving.  They will probably be even better tomorrow morning split open, toasted, and topped with a little butter.  This recipe is a good muffin base recipe and would be good with many combinations of fruits and flavorings.  I'm thinking maybe vanilla with raspberries, cranberry-orange, or almond with apricot jam swirled into the batter.  Anyone have a favorite muffin recipe they'd like to share?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Pizza, Popsicles, & Peaceful Mornings

I like Friday mornings in the summer.  The library is only open Monday through Thursday, so we work four 10-hour days and have every Friday off.  I've been waking up somewhat early (for me, for a day off anyway) on Fridays and enjoying the peace of a quiet morning before it gets too hot.  Lately it's been pretty hot by 9, though this weekend was a bit overcast and a little cooler than it was during the week when we had some 100 + days.

     Iced coffee on a hot day is a pleasure.  I brew up a bunch of coffee over the weekend and keep it in an iced tea bottle in the fridge; it usually lasts most of the week.  Anyway, Friday morning I was pouring my glass of coffee and remembered this very cool picture my sister posted on facebook of her coffee with the cream just added.  It was black with these swirls of white and very cool looking.  I was inspired to try getting a similar shot.  Let me tell you, it isn't easy to photograph cream diffusing through coffee. You really only get a few shots before it's too late.  That's my cool Eeyore glass mug my Big Sis brought me from Disneyland.  It's even got my name engraved on it.  I love it.

     After the photos were taken, I sat down and enjoyed my coffee and read a few chapters of my book.  I'm reading The Sherlockian by Graham Moore.  It's a mystery involving the death of a member of The Baker Street Irregulars during the society's annual festivities in New York, a missing diary of Arthur Conan-Doyle, and the killing off of Sherlock Holmes and his subsequent return.  It's good so far, but I was jarred at one point by the use of the word "fractal" in a description of 1900 London from the p.o.v. of Conan-Doyle.  The term was coined around 1975.  I suppressed my irritation and continued reading because the book is interesting and the writing good otherwise.

     Friday evening I tried a new pizza dough recipe, and I think it's probably the best pizza dough I've ever made.  I used the recipe from King Arthur Flour.  The recipe calls for 7/8 to 1 1/8 cup water.  I used 1 cup, but the dough was really sticky.  Next time I'll probably use 7/8 of a cup instead.  I turned out fine though.  I just kneaded in a little more flour once I removed the dough from the bread machine before dividing the dough and then letting it rest before making the pizza. The dough was the perfect combination of chewy and crispy.

      I had some leftover pesto sauce, so I used that instead of a standard red sauce.  For toppings I used chopped leftover chicken breast and zucchini along with mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.  The pizza turned out very yummy.  The pesto was very tasty and went well with the other toppings.  This picture is from Saturday lunch.  The leftover pizza was still very good the next day.

     Aren't popsicles so refreshing on a hot day?  Sunday, I made orange and raspberry cream-sicles based on a recipe I found on Pinterest.  I didn't have orange extract, so I left that out, and I used simple syrup in place of the honey as my honey is completely crystallized and was never going to blend into the other ingredients.  The flavor was good but too subtle.  I think using orange juice concentrate instead of orange juice would have produced a more "orangy" flavor. However, the reason I decided to try this recipe was because I had some fresh squeezed orange juice in the freezer.  It came from the last bag of Willcox oranges I bought before the season ended.  They were the best oranges, sweet and full of flavor, but they were starting to mold, so I cut off the moldy bits and juiced the rest of the oranges so they wouldn't go to waste.

     The recipe is supposed to make 6-8 popsicles, but my popsicle molds must be larger than the ones used by the person who created the recipe because I ran out after filling only 4 of my molds.  I had some very ripe raspberries, so I took some of those, added some simple syrup, mashed them up, and then mixed in a little half & half and filled the last 2 popsicles molds.  The raspberry ones weren't quite sweet enough, and they were very seedy.  I think it might be better to put some or all of the mashed raspberries through a strainer to remove some of the seeds.  The other aspect that wasn't ideal was the texture.  It was pretty icy instead of creamy.  I really should have expected that, since the mixture was simply frozen instead of processed in an ice cream machine first then poured into the molds.  Freezing the mixture in an ice cream machine, even partially, would reduce the iciness in the final product.  I'll have to try that next time and let you know how they turn out.  Darn, now I'll have to buy an ice cream maker.  The things I do for this blog.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Sunday Baking

It's nearly Summer, and the heat here is on the rise. It's been in the mid to upper 90s this week, and I suddenly got an urge to bake. Such is the perverse nature of my whims at times. My timing could use some work. Luckily, I can make bread in the bread machine, which doesn't heat up the house much. However, I also want to make some flatbread, something similar to naan or soft pita, which makes it necessary to use the oven. Here's my plan for meals this week:

  • Baked chicken chimichangas
  • Curry made from repurposed gyros meat with vegetables on the above mentioned flatbread with a tsatsiki/raita hybrid to top it (The gyros were a fail I won't get into).
  • Tuna salad on home-made bread
  • Baked chicken legs of some kind & roasted brocolli with grated Manchego cheese

     The bread came out well. I liked the last loaf I made better, but this is a close second. It's made with part bread flour and part whole wheat for a little extra fiber. I had some with my lunch of leftover chicken. Bread & jam for Alex

It came out really light and fluffy, almost too fluffy.  I was worried it would tear while I was cutting it. I want to do some experimenting with the amount of yeast I'm using in breads because I might be using too much.

     I've been doing some reading about high-altitude bread making.  I'm at about 5,000 feet, but it doesn't feel much different here than other places at lower altitudes that I've lived. However, I think that while the altitude hasn't affected my other baking and cooking, it may be negatively affecting my bread.  And though the bread is pretty good, I think it could be better.

     The baked chicken chimichangas were easy to make.  I got the recipe here.  Sorry there's no picture, but they weren't much to look at. They just looked like crispy burritos. The filling is a combination of shredded leftover cooked chicken, salsa, cheese, and chopped green onion mixed with some spices, which you wrap up burrito-style in tortillas. The chimichangas are then placed on a baking sheet (I used parchment paper to minimize the mess.) and brushed with melted butter. I was too lazy to melt the butter, so I just spread a thin layer of softened butter on with a knife. It was a very thin layer, almost too thin to actually see on the tortilla. Then they were baked in a 400 degree oven for about 25 minutes until the tortillas are crispy and the filling is hot.

     The chimichangas were good, but not amazing. The filling was tasty but a little liquidy and made the bottom of the tortilla soggy. The idea of baking the chimichangas is a good one, but I'd probably make up my own filling. You could probably do this with chili colorado or chili verde or whatever your favorite chimichanga or burrito filling is.

Enjoy the week, and check back for another post in a few days.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Farmers' Market and Fancy Butter

Happy June, everyone!  Today I took a drive over to Bisbee to check out their Farmers' Market.  I've only been to the one here in S.V.  It's on Thursdays, which makes it sometimes hard to get to when I'm busy at work.  The Bisbee market is pretty nice.  I got a good haul today.  I picked up some meat from Sky Island/47 Brand and San Ysidro Farms--the people are great!  They raise animals humanely and healthfully.  Happy cows (and pigs and lambs) make for healthier meat, in my opinion.

     From the Elfrida Community Garden stand, I got a variety of radishes and a giant rainbow beet.  I also picked up some French shallots and purple garlic.  I'll have to think of something yummy to make with these.

     When I got home, I was pretty hungry, so I made myself some lunch.  I had a lovely grass-fed beef steak that I thawed a couple of days ago and some fresh green beans I bought last weekend, both of which needed to be eaten.  I boiled the green beans until they were just cooked then drained them and sauteed them in a pan with a little garlic olive oil.  I put them in the oven to keep warm while I made the steak.  Just salt & pepper and a little garlic.  When the steak was medium-well, I put it on the plate with the green beans and topped it with a little gremolata butter.  I only managed to eat about half of it before I was full.

     What is gremolata butter, you ask?  Well, it's a compound butter made with  a mixture of minced garlic, chopped flat-leaf parsley, and lemon zest.  It is delicious sprinkled on meat, especially lamb.  I first heard of a gremolata when I made an amazing recipe for red-wine braised lamb shanks I found on Epicurious.

     This gremolata butter recipe came from Rachel Ray via my Pinterest Cooking board. I've pinned over 100 things to my cooking board and have made fewer than 5 of the recipes, so I'm trying to remedy that.  Tomorrow or perhaps later in the week I will be making a recipe for pesto chicken I pinned about a month ago.  The recipe calls for lemon juice in addition to the zest.  I was doubtful for 2 reasons: 1) mixing liquid into butter can be difficult and 2) I thought the juice would make the butter too tart.  Alas, I was right to be concerned.  This wasn't a total fail, but it wasn't a success either.  I didn't find it too hard to get the juice mixed in, but it did overwhelm the other flavors and make the butter too lemony.  I may try softening the butter again and adding more butter, garlic, and parsley to see if it tastes better.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful weekend.  More dinner reports later this week.