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Posts Tagged ‘Brunch’

Well, here I go again, promising to update this site more regularly and then waiting more than a week to add a new post.  Sigh.  Baby steps, right?

But you should be excited about today’s recipe because it’s easy, healthy and so, so good.  It’s become my favorite granola recipe, and I try to bake a batch every few weeks.  The recipe began as the “Quick Omega-3 Granola” I ripped from a Bon Appetit magazine a year or two ago, but over the years I’ve tweaked it here and there, and now I think it’s even better than the original.

I love granola sprinkled on yogurt or eaten right out of my hand, but my #1 favorite way to eat this granola is sprinkled on vanilla ice cream.  I know, I know — that sort of defeats the purpose, right?  Well, the way I see it, I’m just making dessert a little healthier.  Because I’m eating dessert, healthy or not, so it might as well have a little fiber, right?  Right.

I like to make a big batch and keep a small tin in the cupboard and the rest in a large Ziploc bag in the freezer, which prevents the nuts from going rancid and — horror of horrors — the granola from getting soggy.  Every time I reach the bottom of the tin, I refill it with a little more from the freezer.  Works like a charm.

Homemade granola also makes a great host/hostess gift when you’re tired of bringing wine or feel like bringing something a little different.  It’s the kind of thing your hosts will tuck away for later, only to email you as soon as you get home to say they’ve already eaten half the bag.  With granola this delicious, who could blame them?

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Pile of Muffins

*chirp, chirp*

*chirp, chirp*

Are those crickets I hear? Yes, the blog has been a little…how shall we say…”quiet” lately. Believe it or not, I have been cooking. But I’ve also been working and planning and traveling and…well, lots of other “-ings.” And all of those other th”ings” have thrown the proverbial wrench in my plans to blog. Drat.

I realize I may have entirely lost anyone who, at one point or another, read my blog. Alas, that would be very sad indeed. So in the hopes of recruiting people back to POTP, I give you…Homemade English Muffins.

English Muffin

Remember when I made that sourdough starter all those weeks ago? Well, I found an excellent use for the leftover starter, replete with Nooks and Crannies. Oh. Yes.

The recipe is super easy, as long as you have a starter going (and if you don’t, starting one is super easy too). I made my muffins with 1/3 whole wheat flour and 2/3 regular flour because, well, you know me. I likes me some whole grains.

So my apologies for my absence — both on this blog and all of yours. I assure you that once I’m a Mrs. in less than two months (!!), the nooks and crannies between my blog posts won’t be so large…

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There’s a living thing growing in my refrigerator…and I’m loving it!

This weekend I tried my hand at cultivating a sourdough starter, the yeasty, bacteria-laden joy of bread bakers around the world. For bread baking enthusiasts, sourdough starter is serious business. Given my newbie status to the Sourdough Club, I decided to wade into the shallow end of the pool rather than dive in head first. I didn’t make bread; I made pancakes. How could I run into trouble with pancakes?

Growing a starter indulges all of my nerdy impulses. In college I majored in molecular biophysics and biochemistry. (Why didn’t I just tattoo “NERD” on my forehead, right?) I spent hours in the lab, toiling with bacteria and the occasional radioactive isotope. I didn’t mind lab work — in fact, sometimes I found it relaxing — but in the end, lab work wasn’t for me. Too solitary, not my style.

But given my interest in science, the idea of growing a colony of something that I could ultimately eat thrilled me. I already make my own yogurt on a regular basis (a nerdy but hugely satisfying process, and one that I highly recommend), so why not give a sourdough starter a try?

Now, minor disclaimer: I don’t think the starter I created is “authentic” as far as starters go. Traditional sourdough starters are basically just a mixture of flour and water that you let sit for an extended period of time, discarding some of the mixture and feeding the remainder with flour and water. Fresh flour contains yeast and bacteria spores, so as you feed the mixture, the water breaks down the flour’s starch into sugars, the yeast feeds on the sugars, and the bacteria feeds on all the stuff the yeast produces in that process. The cycle goes on and on as long as you keep the mixture alive.

The starter I used combines flour, water and a dash of yeast to get it going. Then you let it sit for 12-24 hours, at which point you use most of it but keep a half cup in the refrigerator for future use. And that’s it. No feeding, no multi-day schedule — and you even cheat by adding a little yeast at the beginning. But the recipe came from Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, two people who know their bigas from their poolishes. Surely they wouldn’t lead me astray.

They didn’t. The pancakes — enormous, and easily a half-inch thick — charm the tongue with that characteristic sourdough flavor. As someone who likes her pancakes sweet, I was worried they’d be too puckery, but their yeasty, hearty flavor won me over. They soak up warm maple syrup like sponges, but I also imagine they’d be wonderful slathered with warm jam and whipped cream.

So now the question remains: What do I do with the remaining 1/2 cup starter living in my fridge? I could always make another batch of pancakes, but as resident scientist, I was hoping to experiment…

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Muffins

Pathetic attempts at food punnery aside, the title of this post refers to my predilection for wholesome, substantial muffins. Apparently, this is not a predilection shared by my better half.

Admittedly, after watching him scarf down my muffins for more than two years, I was a little surprised to find out that he “likes” my muffins…but doesn’t “love” them. At first, I didn’t understand. Then I realized: he’s English. Growing up, he rarely saw what we in America refer to as “muffins.” The type of muffins he was accustomed to were the kinds with Nooks and Crannies™, the ones we aptly call “English Muffins.”

It wasn’t until he came to the United States in the early 1990s that he really embraced the American muffin, which by then had grown into a behemoth monstrosity containing an entire day’s caloric intake. Needless to say, he loved these muffins. Who wouldn’t? No one ever went on a diet because buttery, sugary food tastes bad.

Muffins 3

I like those muffins too, as an occasional treat or an afternoon snack. But when it comes to breakfast, I really don’t feel like eating a baked good (glorified piece of cake, really) the size of my face. And the problem is, even once I’ve eaten one, I’m hungry about 30 minutes later. I need something hearty and filling that will keep me going until lunch…or at least until my self-appointed Mid-Morning Snack.

These muffins, adapted from a Nancy Silverton recipe, fit my qualifications. They are packed with seeds and whole grains, yet don’t feel like leaden fiber bombs. And since they aren’t “low-fat” muffins, they also don’t have the rubbery, sugary quality of those muffins that occasionally masquerade as health food. They may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re like me and love muffins chock full of grains and goodies, you’ll love this recipe.

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For years, I was the friend who never had a boyfriend. My idea of a “long-term relationship” was the one guy I dated in college for four consecutive weeks. I considered that a Big Deal.

Why the dysfunction? I was picky (like, Seinfeld picky), I got bored, and most of all, I loved a challenge and always went after the one I couldn’t have.

Then, a little more than two years ago, I met Roger. I met him at a party for a mutual friend and was taken with his British charm, his dashing looks and his keen intelligence. But then I discovered we were 15 years apart, subscribed to different political ideologies and held different religious beliefs. Clearly he was undateable.

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I canceled our first date (made up some lame work-related excuse) and gave him the runaround for nearly a month. Not only did we seem to have so may superficial differences, but he was also so available. And who wants that?

But persistence paid off. I finally agreed to go on a date with him — “Just one drink,” I said — but told one of my girlfriends to call me about 45 minutes into the date with an “emergency.” One always needs an “out” in such situations…

Well, she never called. And she didn’t need to. Despite all the qualifications that I felt he didn’t meet on paper, I realized we really did have a lot in common. One drink turned into two drinks…and dinner…and a kiss on the cheek to say goodnight.

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I wasn’t cured of my relationship-related dysfunction overnight. I continued to worry about our age difference and our politics and the problems those things could create down the road. But I slowly came to the conclusion that I would deal with those problems when they became problems. And you know what? They never did.

Truthfully, on some level, my concerns about the age difference and everything else came down to what other people might think (“What will they say?! A man who is 15 years older — imagine the gossip!”). But in the end, it didn’t matter what other people thought. It mattered what I thought, and I loved him.

So here I am, two years later, in love and now — the secret is out — engaged.

As a tribute to the English man who melted this American girl’s heart, here is a recipe for English scones. They are tender and fulfilling, with the perfect amount of sweetness, just like him.

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I will never forget the first time I baked pumpkin bread. I was in 6th grade, and my teacher Ms. Pasceri announced that the day before Thanksgiving, the class would be baking pumpkin bread together. She told everyone to bring in a clean leftover coffee canister and said she would take care of the rest.

When the day came, she broke us into groups of three, handed us the recipe and the ingredients and walked us through the process step by step, helping us carry our batter-filled coffee canisters to the classroom oven.

I had baked before that day, but I think that was the first day I realized that baking, food, meant a lot more to me than most of the other kids in the class. My partners haphazardly threw the ingredients into the bowl and thought it was funny to mush the ingredients together or throw them at one another. I didn’t want to be a square or a tattle-tale, but all I could think was, “This is food we’re dealing with here! Don’t make a joke of it — don’t you want to see how it comes out?? It will be delicious!”

Pumpkin bread 1

And it was delicious, despite the mushing and throwing and indifference of my buddies. It was warm and sweet and spicy. I couldn’t wait to bring my canister home to share with my parents and brother.

In the many years that have passed since that 6th grade project, I’ve baked many pumpkin breads, all delicious but none seeming to taste quite as good as that first batch. I’ve since lost Ms. Pasceri’s recipe, but I’m sure it’s the same as any standard pumpkin bread recipe. What made it special wasn’t necessarily the bread itself, but the fact that I’d learned to make something new, something I could say “I made.”

This time of year, I invariably start craving some fresh, home-baked pumpkin bread, and in the spirit of my recent push to eat “light” ahead of Thanksgiving, I found a great recipe in Nick Malgieri’s Perfect Light Desserts. The cake is light, tender and perfectly spiced, and one bite takes me back to a Wednesday in November all those years ago.

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My brother has developed a decidedly unique strategy to prepare for Thanksgiving. He calls it “training.” His method? He gradually eats more each day, expanding his stomach as turkey day approaches so that when the day comes, he is fully prepared to consume as much food as possible.

I said it was a strategy; I didn’t say it was pretty.

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Now, my brother and I are extremely close, but we are opposites on just about everything. I’m intense, he’s laid back; I’m more of a homebody, he’s always out and about.

So when it comes to Thanksgiving, it should come as no surprise that my strategy, my “training,” is nothing like my brother’s. I tend to put on the brakes, slow down and cut back on some of my over-the-top favorites, so that come Thanksgiving, I feel entitled to pig out with abandon. My approach doesn’t make any more sense than his; it’s just how I roll.

But the run-up to Thanksgiving is also a time when I have food on the brain, constantly. How could I not? Everywhere I turn there are pictures of turkeys and pies and pumpkins. It’s gotten so bad that I’ve started seeing these images in everything, even when they’re not there. The other week, I saw the cover of The American magazine from a distance and thought a Chinese communist monument was a pumpkin pie. Seriously.

So in order to scratch that itch but still stick to my game plan, I try to cook or bake healthier options, like these Apple Raisin Bran Muffins. Bran? Oats? Whole wheat flour? How could I feel guilty about that? Couldn’t, didn’t, don’t. And they’re so tasty that I just might need to have another…. I probably should. After all, I’m in training.

Muffin 3

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