Monday, August 8, 2016

Orange Poppyseed Muffins

As you know, my baking pan situation of late is somewhat diminished. This hasn't stopped the creation of delicious baked goods and healthy meals though! But it is hard to supplement for a muffin pan. I was hanging out with coworkers after going trampolining (it's a real thing) and somehow muffins came up and I did this impression of the Gingerbread Man from Shrek being interrogated (around 30 second mark for the muffin man bit):



It was certainly amusing to them although not everyone knew what I was talking about so it was slightly embarrassing for me. But that brought us to the old tradition of Muffin Monday where I would bring muffins to work on Mondays. Offended that I hadn't done so yet in London, I explained to them that I didn't have a muffin pan. Desperate for muffins, a colleague offered up her never-been-used-and-unlikely-to-ever-be-used muffin pan to the cause.

 
And so, Muffin Monday returns!! I've been wanting to make poppyseed muffins for awhile because lemon poppyseed is irresisitable to me but the woman who donated the muffin pan favors orange poppyseed so I was happy to oblige. It really  just involved switching lemon zest and orange zest, nbd.

 
Sugar and orange zest are combined, the basic step in making a homemade scrub (in case you were wondering). You start to smell the orange fragrance enhance immediately. Set that aside, taking some good deep whiffs first. In a separate bowl, we get the dry ingredients and in yet another bowl, the wet ingredients (butter not included yet). The dry ingredients should be in the largest bowl because we're adding everything to this. First the sugar mixture gets stirred in.

 
Then the butter is cut into the flour mixture. I no longer have a pastry cutter but a knife, fork or your fingers work just fine. Dig a little well in the flour and pour in the wet ingredients. This is where the muscles come into play. Stir and stir and stir some more (add some folding in there for good measure) until everything is combined. Don't forget to add the poppyseeds once the batter starts to take form.

 
This batter got sticky and thick the more I combined the ingredients. I could see the magic happening. One problem I have with cold cut butter is the fact that I always end up with chunks of butter that melt and cook differently than when the butter is creamed. Alas, muffins still worked their magic but it was interesting to watch them bake up in different ways as a result.

 
These didn't taste overly orangey to me, I barely noticed the citrus in the final product. But I suppose lemon poppyseed muffins can be pretty mild on the citrus front as well. If you wanted to get really fancy, you could make a citrus glaze with orange juice (or lemon juice) and powdered sugar. 



Recipe
adapted from Shutterbean
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Juice from 1 orange (or 2 lemons)
  • 1 cup + 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • Zest from 1 orange (or 2 lemons)
  • 3/4 cup of butter, cold and cut into cubes
  • 3 Tablespoons poppyseeds
  1. Preheat the oven to 375F (or 190C). Line your muffin tin and set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the sugar and zest. Stir with a fork until the zest is mixed in completely. The sugar should clump together as it takes on the moisture from the zest.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, yogurt, vanilla and juice.
  4. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Add the citrus sugar to the mix and stir to combine.
  5. Cut in the cold butter until a coarse meal forms.
  6. Create a well in the flour mixture and pour in the wet ingredients.
  7. Stir in the citrus sugar. Stir until the ingredients are all mixed together and no flour is visible.
  8. Fold in the poppyseeds.
  9. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin, filling each cup 1/2-3/4 of the way (you can adjust on the second round for a fuller muffin if needed).
  10. Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown and cooked through.
  11. The recipe should make 12 large muffins but I ended up with about 30 small muffins instead.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Brownie Cake

The town I grew up in was small. Half-way through high school, we moved from the downright rural outskirts to the hoppin' town center whose main attractions were an old one-room movie theater and a Starbucks. Like the cool teenagers we were, we frequently met at Starbucks to not drink coffee because we didn't like it yet but to have very sugary non-coffee drinks and eat the pastries. One such pastry was a mint-chocolate brownie that I described at the time as tasting like it had all the love in the world baked into it.

Fast forward 10 years (oh goodness) and I'll take my Starbucks as plain as you please except sometimes with caramel because my young heart likes to honor my 16 year-old self's obsession with the stuff. Starbucks doesn't have that mint brownie anymore but I was reminded of it as I made this brownie cake in a heart-shaped pan. My pan selection has greatly diminished since moving abroad but it means I make due with what's available. Realistically, the brownies were going to be cut up anyways so a heart-shaped pan worked just fine.

This recipe is from Joy the Baker's second cookbook, Homemade Decadence. I happened to have all the ingredients except for chocolate chips so I skipped those. Otherwise, I relished the fact that my kitchen is officially stocked with all the requirements for baked goods on a whim. It even looks like butter has been conquered!!

As always, the sugar and butter are creamed together in one bowl. The eggs are then added to this mixture. The recipe calls for two large eggs but I had mixed size British eggs. One of them had two yolks so I decided it was alright to just use two and also good luck?

In a separate bowl, the dry ingredients are mixed together. I still don't own a whisk so I used a fork to incorporate all that cocoa powder. Slowly, the dry ingredients are added to the wet and stirred well. The batter should be nice and glossy, no flour streaks!

The batter is then spooned into the greased pan, whether it's a heart or a square, and baked until chocolatey and delicious. Although I didn't add chocolate chips, the brownies were still nice and fudgy. So think of good things, good vibes while making these brownies so they'll taste extra good.

Recipe

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 9-inch round pie dish or a square or a heart. Set aside.
  2. Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt in a small bowl.
  3. In medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, melted butter, eggs and vanilla.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, folding until combined. You can also add chocolate chips or nuts at this point, folding in to combine.
  5. Pour the batter into the baking dish and bake for 20-25 minutes until cooked through.
  6. Allow to cool before removing from pan (or serve from pan). Serve with ice cream or whipped cream for extra love! 


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Apricot & Zucchini Tabbouleh

These days, I've found myself second guessing what I'm thinking before the words come out of my mouth. Not because I'm trying to be more respectful (although that should be everyone's goal at all times because there is no down side) or more mindful, I'm just worried that what I say is an American term and no one will know what I'm talking about. Much like when I made banana bread for my flatmates, I sometimes have to explain things that I never had to explain before. It's been an interesting lesson in how to describe something completely foreign to another person.

This week, the term was 'potluck'. It turns out that this is a completely American term and no one (English, French, German, Spanish) uses it outside of North America. As defined by Google:



Note the note about how it means something different in the North American region. Well, we had a potluck (and an English lesson) at work this week. The weather in London has actually been on par with east coast summers: hot. And unlike the east coast, air conditioning is not common. So this cool substitute for a pasta salad seemed like a good idea.

The majority of the time it takes to make this summer tabbouleh is spent on the chopping in assembly. Otherwise, you're simply cooking some bulgar wheat (similar to cooking rice or lentils) and roasting some zucchini (courgette, if you will). Then apricots, lemon juice, green onions, parsley, chopped walnuts, garlic and balsamic are all mixed together with the cooked ingredients and you're ready to go!

 
Simple, right? Tasty? Definitely. Add this to your picnic/potluck/BBQ arsenal and you'll be deemed a genius. Or just brilliant!

 
Recipe from Joy the Baker
  • 1 1/2 cup bulgar wheat
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 medium zucchini, sliced
  • Olive oil for drizzling, black pepper for sprinkling
  • 3 small apricots, pitted and chopped
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/3 cup sliced green onions
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  1. Preheat the oven to 375. Chop the zucchini and spread on a baking sheet (lined with parchment paper or foil for easier clean-up). Drizzle with olive oil and black pepper. Roast for 10 minutes until slightly shriveled and then turn over the zucchini pieces to continue roasting for another 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, add bulgar wheat and water to a large pot. Bring the water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook covered until all the water is absorbed. Then, remove from heat.
  3. While the zucchini and bulgar wheat are cooking, chop the apricots, walnuts, green onions, parsley and garlic.
  4. Once the zucchini is roasted, allow to cool slightly before mixing into the cooled and cooked bulgar wheat.
  5. Stir in the fixins (all the chopped things) and add the balsamic vinegar and lemon juice. Stir until juices are evenly distributed throughout. If the mixture seems sticky or dry, you can add some olive oil.
  6. Serve chilled! 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Greek Zoodle Salad

There are some differences between the US and the UK that I expected. Like driving on the other side of the road (and looking in the other direction before crossing the street as a result), temperatures reported in Celsius, measurements in metric units, spellings like 'prioritised' and 'colour'. And then there are things I didn't expect like zucchini aren't called zucchini, they're called courgette. Or cilantro is called coriander, which I thought was a completely different spice altogether.


The first time I went to the grocery store by my flat, it took me over an hour to find everything and even then, I didn't really find everything. I gave up on blueberries and limes. Crunchy healthy stuff is in an aisle called 'free from' as in 'free from gluten' or 'free from nuts' (although almond butter is in the aisle so...).

The second time I went, I was a little more patient (and a little less hungry) in finding my ingredients. With a Greek salad inspired zoodle dish in mind, I navigated the produce section for familiar vegetables. It took me awhile to find pepperoncini (my Spanish flatmates tell me the English don't have true peppers) and am now the proud owner of a very large jar of pepperoncini, from the Mediterranean section of the international aisle--logic.

I'm not a fan of olives so I skipped those but otherwise, went for a crunchy Greek 'pasta' salad. But instead of pasta, I used zoodles. With zucchini called something else over here, zoodles are also lost in translation. Coodles? Croodles? Crasta? Nothing is quite as good as zoodles, I'm afraid.

Chicken is browned in a large skillet. Once the pieces are browned on both sides, zoodles are added to the pan to cook slightly. Slowly but surely, the tomatoes, cucumber and pepperoncini are added to the pan as well. This quickly became an easy one-pan dish. I've also made this without the zoodles and added extra cucumber to keep it crunchy.

 
Topped with feta cheese and olive oil, we have a summer classic in the making!

Recipe
  • 1 lb. chicken breast, diced (or stir-fry cuts)
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • 2 zucchini (or courgettes), spiralized
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 large cucumber, chopped 
  • 3-4 large pepperoncini, chopped
  • Feta cheese for topping
  1. In a large frying pan, heat olive or vegetable oil. Add the chicken pieces. Brown on each side, turning carefully and reducing heat as oil gets hotter. Sprinkle with ground pepper.
  2. Once the chicken has been browned, add the zoodles.
  3. Continue by adding the cherry tomatoes, cucumber and pepperoncini. Stir to incorporate with the chicken and zoodles.
  4. Cook until the vegetables are soft and the tomatoes have started to blister. 
  5. Remove from heat and top with feta cheese. You can enjoy this hot or cold, I preferred it slightly warmed. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

London Life

When I was getting ready to move to London, I knew there would be some things that were different about England. People driving on the left side of the road means I have to look in a different direction first before crossing the road (or look both directions multiple times). Plug converter was a must. And there were some things I hadn't heard about but read about in anticipation. And yet, there were still more things that caught me by surprise. All part of the adventure!

  • Outlet Switches- Different plugs? Yes. But outlets have switches on them so if you forget to turn on the outlet, your phone will not charge. My guess is it's to save electricity and/or prevent fire.
  • Fire Safety- Speaking of fire prevention, they take it very seriously here. Weekly fire alarm tests in public buildings, fire doors at every turn, I think the Great Fire really set the standard here.
  • Measurements- You've read my laments (hopefully you've read them!!) about converting cups to grams but there's also Fahrenheit to Celcius. People get really shocked if you say it's 70 degrees in Boston...

  • Dryers- I had read that most flats don't have dryers. But they have washers so it's a step up from most apartments in the States. But you know that lint screen in your dryer? What happens to all that lint if there's no dryer to fluff it out of your towels? It ends up on you and your floor. More vacuuming (sorry, "hoovering") required.
  • Alright?- Even though I have since learned this slang term to mean "how are you doing?", whenever my flatmates ask me "alright?", I immediately grow concerned that I've done something or walked in a certain way to make them think I'm not alright. Nope, they're just being friendly. Chill out, American. 
  • Rings- So this is more of a European thing but apparently, one doesn't always wear wedding rings on the left hand but sometimes on the right hand instead. This is a bit difficult because London is very international so I have noticed a fair number of people wearing rings on their right hand but my rings pretty much only fit on ring fingers. So now I play the game of do I let you try and figure out if I'm married or do I stuff a ring on my middle finger instead...
  • Gum- There aren't sticks of gum here or individually wrapped pieces. It seems that it's all the chicklet pieces. My guess is it has to do with reducing litter 
  • Iced Coffee- Oh my goodness. Iced coffee is not iced coffee here at all. So far, I've received a shot of espresso over ice, topped off with milk and a blended ice, milk and coffee beverage when I've asked for iced coffee. What I wouldn't give for a Dunkin' iced coffee to make this really feel like summer. But Starbucks does have cold brew here so there's a step in the right direction.
I have yet to solve what's a lorry versus a bus versus a truck (are they the same thing?) and I still bust out the calculator when determining baking measurements but, I'm getting there!