Oatmeal Raisin Muffins

Simple, old fashioned (in the best way), and impossibly delicious. I will be hard pressed to ever stray from this recipe. It really is That Good.

Oatmeal Raisin Muffins
Adapted from Gourmet, February 1995

Ingredients:
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup buttermilk
1 large egg, beaten lightly
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup raising
1 cup hot water

Instructions:
In a large bowl, combine oats and buttermilk. In a small bowl, combine raisins and hot water. Let both bowls stand for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375°. Use paper liners or butter to prepare twelve 1/2-cup muffin tins.

Add egg, sugar, vanilla, almond, and butter to oat mixture, stirring until just combined.

Into another large bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, and baking soda and add to oat mixture, stirring until just combined. Drain the raisins, then fold them in to the mix.

Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin tins. These don’t rise much, so fill them well. Bake muffins in middle of oven until golden and a tester comes out clean, about 20 minutes.

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Raspberry Pie with All Butter, Whole Wheat Pie Crust

This post is a big deal. I should start by saying that I love pie. As much as I survive on everyday cakes, it’s a homemade, love filled pie that wins my heart. It’s a great way to use seasonal, fresh, local fruit in a satisfying way. Pie is always welcome, looks better the more rustic it is, and is the perfect ending to nearly any meal. Making pie is an event and it’s always been one of conflict for me because of that forsaken, finicky crust. Too many cookbook writers, experienced bakers, relatives, and whoever else writes the laws on this sort of thing, demand we use shortening in the crust. It’s practically foolproof with the stuff and guarantees a light, flaky crust with white flour. And thus begins the dilemma whenever I long to be the pie baker I know I’m supposed to be. In no other realm do I use shortening. I think the evidence is pretty non-negotiable that the stuff is terrible for you. But more importantly in the context of pie and pleasure, it doesn’t taste great. Or at least it just tastes like the hydrogenated vegetable oil that it is and keeps it’s users fixated on the texture it imparts, rather than taste. Butter can actually be good for you in moderation, especially when it comes from happy, grass fed cows. That point is not as widely accepted as I wish it were, but at least we can all at least credit that it’s better for your body than Crisco. And where there is butter, there is flavor. I just haven’t found a way to use all butter and all whole wheat flour that does anything for my pie crust. It was panic inducing, trying to pulse pulse pulse the food processor just right with the tablespoons of water just right… until now. I trust Deb at Smitten Kitchen like she’s my first grade teacher, introducing me to the order of the Earth. When I found this post, well written as is everything she does, on making an all butter, really flaky pie dough, I literally bolted to the kitchen and made it immediately. It took 5 minutes. It was different than any way I’ve ever made pie crusts and holy moly, we have a keeper.

All Butter, Really Flaky Pie Dough
Barely adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Makes enough dough for one double-, or two single-crust pies.

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces, 16 tablespoons or 1 cup) unsalted butter, very cold

Instructions:
Gather your ingredients: First, cut two sticks of very cold unsalted butter into 1/2-inch pieces and put them in the freezer for a few minutes while you get the rest of your ingredients going. Fill a one cup liquid measuring cup with water, and drop in a few ice cubes; set it aside. In a large bowl, whisk together 2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, 1 tablespoon of sugar and a teaspoon of salt. Get out your pastry blender. If you have a marble rolling pin like I happen to, put it in the freezer to chill for later.

Make your mix: Take the butter out of the freezer and sprinkle the cubes over the flour and begin working them in with the pastry blender, using it to scoop and redistribute the mixture as needed so all parts are worked evenly. When all of the butter pieces are the size of tiny peas — this won’t take long — stop. Yes, even if it looks uneven; you’ll thank me later. This is where I realized I’ve seriously been overworking the dough with other recipes. The food processor would have been too aggressive.

Glue it together: Start by drizzling 1/2 cup of the ice-cold water (but not the cubes, if there are any left!) over the butter and flour mixture. Using a rubber or silicon spatula, gather the dough together. You may need up to an additional 1/4 cup of cold water to bring it together, but add it a tablespoon as a time. (I added 2 more tablespoons). Once you’re pulling large clumps with the spatula, take it out and get your hands in there (see how that big bowl comes in handy?). Gather the disparate damp clumps together into one mound, kneading them gently and quickly together. I couldn’t believe how wet and sticky my dough seemed at this stage, but it worked in the end. So go ahead, add that much water, even if it seems like too much at the time.

Pack it up: Divide the dough in half, and place each half on a large piece of plastic wrap. I like to use the sides to pull in the dough and shape it into a disk. Let the dough chill in the fridge for one hour, but preferably at least two, before rolling it out.

Do ahead: Dough will keep in the fridge for about a week, and in the freezer longer. If not using it that day, wrap it in additional layers of plastic wrap to protect it from fridge/freezer smells. To defrost your dough, move it to the fridge for one day before using it. I let mine chill in the refrigerator for 4 hours and it was quite cold enough.

While it’s chilling, make the pie filling. I read half a dozen recipes to get the gist of quantities and then made my own version.

Raspberry Pie
1 recipe for a double crust pie dough (see above)
1/2 cup – 3/4 cup extra flour for rolling out the dough
1 tbs milk for brushing on the top of the crust before baking
Filling ingredients:
4 cups fresh or frozen raspberries
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbs cornstarch
2 1/2 tbs quick-cooking tapioca
2 tbs lemon juice
2 tbs butter
1 tsp minced ginger
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cinnamon

Mix all the filling ingredients together in a bowl and let set at room temperature for at least half an hour. Mine waited patiently on the counter the whole 3 hours the pie dough was in the fridge. Just give it enough time to let the raspberries break down a bit and the tapioca to soften. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees when you’re ready to assemble your pie.

Now, to the crust. These instructions are also adapted from Smitten Kitchen, Pie Crust 103.

Start by getting your stuff out: You’ll want a small dish of flour, a rolling pin (a chilled marble one if you have it), your pie dough that has been chilling for an hour or two, but preferably longer, your pie pan and some sort of bench scraper or knife.

Flour the heck out of your surface, unwrap the dough and put it in the middle and flour that too. Be generous, you’ll thank me later.

Get rolling: Start rolling your dough by pressing down lightly with the pin and moving it from the center out. You’re not going to get it all flat in one roll or even twenty; be patient and it will crack less. Roll it a few times in one direction, lift it up and rotate it a quarter-turn. And that’s what you’re going to continue to do, roll a couple times, lift the dough and rotate it. Re-flour the counter and the top of the dough as needed–don’t skimp! You should be leaving no bits of dough on the counter and none should be stuck to your pin.

If the dough sticks to the board, use that bench scraper and run it tightly underneath the stuck part, peel it back, and flour the heck out of that area, before getting back to rolling, lifting and turning the dough.

Trim the dough: For a standard-size pie tin — that’s what this pie dough is scaled to, after all — you’re looking for a 12-inch circle. Trim your pie dough into a 12-inch circle with the tip of a knife.

Transfer your crust: Because your pie dough has been kept cool and loose on the counter, transferring it to the pie plate should be no trouble at all. Fold it very loosely into quarters and unfold it into the pie pan.

Fill the bottom crust with your pie filling.

For a lattice top crust, roll out the second half of chilled dough the same as the first. Once you have a 12 inch circle, cut the dough in 1 inch strips with a knife or pizza cutter. Lay half the strips parallel on top of the filling, with about 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch space between them. Fold back every other strip. Place one long strip of dough perpendicular to the parallel strips as shown. Unfold the folded strips over the perpendicular strip. Now take the parallel strips that are running underneath the perpendicular strip and fold them back over the perpendicular strip, as shown. Lay down a second perpendicular strip of dough next to the first strip, with some space between the strips. Unfold the folded parallel strips over the second strip. Does this sound confusing? Just think of weaving with construction paper in grade school.

Continue this process until the weave is complete over the top of the pie. Trim the edges of the strips flush with the dough of the underlying pie dish, which should be about half an inch over the sides. Fold back the rim of the shell over the edge of the lattice strips, and crimp to secure. Brush the top of the crust with 1 tablespoon milk.

I have these helpful aluminum pie crust shields and place one on top of the pie before baking. If you don’t have one, loosely secure a strip of aluminum foil around the crust edge of the pie.

Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then turn down the temperature to 350 and bake an additional 45 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely on a cooling rack before serving. I let mine sleep in the refrigerator overnight before serving the next day, just to make sure it set completely. Serve little slices with a side of sweetened real whipped cream or ice cream. Try to share kindly.

Week’s End

It was high time Aurelia and I had a whole day together after the week we’ve had mostly apart. We slept in (Glory, Hallelujah) and had a slow breakfast. Aurelia had her egg and I blended fresh strawberries, cinnamon, and yogurt to eat over oatmeal. Old fashioned oats keep me full for half a day. The strawberries tasted like springtime. Besides, I’m still glowing from my time with the mister yesterday. Really, what a brilliant start to the day. We spent the afternoon at our house, under construction. Aurelia danced on top of nearby hay bails and moved dirt around with her sand shovel and bucket. Tonight, turkey lettuce wraps and raspberry pie. (Wish my butter crust luck.)

Two uncles, two cousins, an aunt, and my parents worked on my house most of the day, putting siding up. This is the third weekend in a row we’ve been doing the siding work. We chose James Hardie fiber cement siding and trim. It will all be painted, so disregard the color. It has a 50 year guarantee and really looks classic, while being far more durable than wood or vinyl. I couldn’t be happier with the way it looks. The time and energy my family is putting in to my home is overwhelming and makes me teary with humility and gratitude. I am so loved by these incredible, hard working people and having a home near them makes me feel part of a lineage I am so proud of. To have the hands that have known me since I was born creating the home that my daughter will grow in, is such a rare and special gift. I’m doing a crummy job explaining it, but I think you can imagine. The end result still seems far away, but I’m finding the best things are worth the work and wait.

What a Week

I have had the busiest, most wonderful week. Sunday through Wednesday, I was in Washington D.C. for the national finals of Poetry Out Loud. I coordinate the program for Idaho and it’s the most rewarding and thrilling thing to be part of. This was my sixth year with the program, but only my second attending the national event. It was hard to be away from Aurelia for so long, but she didn’t seem to mind my absence while she was doted upon by her grandparents.

I got other work done in my hotel, did a bit a sightseeing by foot, and of course, ate very well. The opening banquet was a Mediterranean feast I didn’t feel comfortable photographing in the midst of the elegant first gathering. My dinners the following three days were eaten alone, in casual places, with total pleasure.

Chicken empanadas with house-made chipotle mayo with grilled asparagus and a heafty half a lemon. Sangria with red wine, apples, and oranges. Finally finishing the brilliant An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler.

Chicken tortilla soup with tortilla crisps, cilantro, and goat cheese. Spinach salad with pecans, dried cranberries, gorgonzola, and apples.

Gyro salad with lamb, kalamata olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, feta, peppers, herbs, lemon juice, and olive oil on lettuce. Starting The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

Thursday I was back and worked in my office a long day to make up for being gone. I’m preparing a Local Food Guide of food producers and supporters in the area. This is exactly the sort of work that fills my heart up and gives me energy. That evening, Aurelia and I went to the farmers market, met all the farmers, and bought raspberries. It’s heartening to see the market growing and being an entertaining draw in such a small community.

Friday I was all nerves for half the day until I picked up my dear friend (who is more than a dear friend to me) from the airport. He’s been gone half the year and the moment I saw him, the weight of waiting just fell off my chest. We had the loveliest reunion and I am still trying to understand how I got so lucky to have him in my life.

All the metaphorical eggs I’ve put in precious few baskets are still there. I feel much practicality  is out of reach, but at least my heart is sound and beating hopefully.

High Protein Pancakes

Whole Wheat Cottage Cheese Pancakes
Adapted from Back To Her Roots

Ingredients
1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cottage cheese
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
4 eggs
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cooking spray

Instructions
In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Make a well in the center of the mixture and add cottage cheese, yogurt, applesauce, eggs, maple syrup and vanilla. Stir until just combined.

Heat a griddle or nonstick skillet over low heat. Coat in cooking spray and spoon batter by the 1/3 cup onto the pan, making room between pancakes.

Cook until edges turn a light brown and firm up. There should be many little bubbles on the surface, about 6 minutes. Flip and cook for 4-5 more minutes. I know this seems like a long time to cook pancakes, but I burnt 2 that were still uncooked in the middle before I turned the heat all the way to low and let them cook through completely before flipping. Keep warm in oven while cooking remaining pancakes.

Top with yogurt, fruit, maple syrup, or a fruit compote like the one Cassie made on the original recipe.

This made 10 medium sized pancakes for me. I kept the leftovers covered in the refrigerator and lo and behold! They were actually wonderful the next day for breakfast too. Regular pancakes would never pass that test. These are definitely making it into the weekend breakfast rotation. Yum!

Green Smoothies

I often make green smoothies in the morning and about one day each week, I have a quart of smoothie for breakfast and a quart for lunch instead of regular meals. It fills me up, gives me important micronutrients and calories I need to keep going. Plus, it helps keep my appetite and weight in check when I need a reset. I seem to go in phases when I crave them all the time and then won’t make one for a whole week. I figure my body knows when I need the cleanse.

Filling up my Vitamix makes 2 quarts and a 6 oz serving, perfect for a toddler. If she’s not up for it right away, it makes wonderful freezer pops too. Get on the green smoothie train if you haven’t already. The difference a good dose of chlorophyll will do for your day is incredible.

Today’s recipe: 4 cups spinach, 1/2 pineapple, 2 cups water, 2 frozen bananas, handful strawberries.

Roasted Leeks and Cauliflower

I’m going to keep this simple.

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Chop and wash 1 head cauliflower and 1 leek. Combine in a large bowl with 2 cloves minced garlic, 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon ground pepper. Mix it up to coat everything evenly.
  • Empty the bowl of seasoned cauliflower and leeks onto a half-sheet or jelly roll pan. Just something large enough to create a single layer with sides on the pan to keep everything in.
  • Bake for 30 minutes, stirring a bit every 10 minutes.
  • When it’s done baking, remove from the oven and pour 1/4 cup lemon juice on top with a handful of chopped, fresh parsley. Mix well and serve. This is wonderful straight away, at room temperature, or the next day cold from the fridge.
  • Yum yum yum yum yum yum yum.

Easy Peasy Pita Pizza

My recent post on Personal Pan Nachos gave me the idea to try another simple, build your own dinner. This time, we made a little spread of ingredients and made pizzas on pita bread! I do love homemade pizza dough and tomato sauce, but the dough is what keeps me from making pizzas usually on weekday evenings and I’m out of homemade tomato sauce for the year. I can’t wait for summer to bring more tomatoes and will definitely can a lot of sauce for the next year.

So, I cheated. I used pita bread and boring store bought sauce. I opened a bag of shredded cheese, chopped a couple cloves of garlic, a big handful of olives, a pineapple, steamed a few cups of spinach, and we called it dinner. We helped each other make our pizzas, put them on a baking sheet, and baked for 10 minutes at 400 degrees.

Here’s the thing … it was really, really good! The pita was so soft, yet strong enough to hold up all my toppings. It was filling, but still healthy. I loved the garlic and spinach especially. Contrasted with the sweet sauce and pineapple, it was a gorgeous sensation of flavors and textures. We ate the pizza with the most divine roasted cauliflower. I’ll be sure to post that next.

Next time you’re at the store, grab a bag of good pita bread and make sure your pantry is stocked with sauce. As long as you have cheese and any variety of toppings you crave, dinner can be on the table in 20 minutes. Also,  I’ve found that when Aurelia helps make her own food, she’s more excited – and therefore, inclined – to eat it. I love her little hungry hands and I’m in no rush to be done in the kitchen and back to her when she’s there with me the whole time.

Molasses Sugar Cookies

These are decidedly not gingersnaps, but rather the light, easy, sweetheart of a cousin to them. I have a lot of home-canned jars of pears not being eaten in the pantry, so I blended some into a puree. The original recipe for these calls for a cup and a half of shortening. Ugh. I used a cup of pear puree and half a cup of butter instead. I cut the sugar down because of the added sweetness in the pears. The dough was quite sticky and the cookies turned out quite light, not greasy or guilty in the least. I considered them good enough for breakfast two days in a row. Aurelia approved.

Molasses Sugar Cookies
Adapted from Allrecipes

Ingredients
1 cup pear puree or applesauce
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
2 eggs
4 cups whole wheat flour
4 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt

Directions
Combine the pear puree, butter, sugar, eggs, and molasses together in a mixing bowl and beat well on medium speed. In a separate bowl, sift dry ingredients together, then add to the mixing bowl. Beat until all dry ingredients are incorporated. Cover the bowl and chill 3 hours or overnight.

Use a cookie scoop or form into walnut-size balls. Place on a parchment lined cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake at 375 degrees F for 8-10 minutes. These cookies will stay soft, but don’t last terribly long. Eat within a couple days or freeze! Yum. Aurelia suggests making them into little sandwiches filled with greek yogurt and strawberries.

Personal Pan Nachos

Happy Cinco de Mayo! I had a bright idea to end the day with a bit of fun at dinner. Aurelia’s top three food groups are meat, cheese, and chips. I’ve been craving some protein and the combination of meat and beans sounded great. I used these personal pizza pans to make individual nacho servings and put all the ingredient options out so we could build our own. I didn’t want Aurelia to have a hot pan and as long as my meat, beans, and cheese sauce were hot, I was fine eating the rest cold. But these pans were a great size and could also be used to broil the nachos if you wanted to just use cheese and not a cheese sauce. Though, I recommend the sauce I stole from the witty and brilliant Nick at Macchesmo. It’s lighter than a blanket of solid cheese and stays soft and gooey as your nachos cool. I cut his recipe in half and it still made a lot, but I won’t blame you if you want more.

For the nachos, you’ll need tortilla chips, ground beef cooked and seasoned with cumin and chile powder, pinto beans cooked with onion and garlic, the cheese sauce (recipe below), and the many accompaniments as fits your desire. We had pico de gallo, sour cream, pickled jalapenos, raw onion, cilantro, and lime.

Dinner was on the table in no time and though it was awfully simple, I was so full and satisfied, I couldn’t imagine a better one dish meal.

Cheese Sauce
Adapted from Macheesmo

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
1 cup whole milk
1 2 ounce can diced green chiles
1 cup pepper jack cheese, grated
Salt and pepper

Instructions:
Whisk together the butter and flour in a medium pot over medium heat. Once the butter melts, the roux will slowly cook and start to turn a light brown color. When it darkens slightly after a minute or so, you are ready to start whisking in the milk. Just slowly whisk your milk into the roux. Work slowly and whisk constantly so the sauce doesn’t have lumps in it. Once you get most of the milk in, go ahead and stir in the green chiles and cheese. Once the cheese melts, the sauce should be really thick and delicious. You can keep this over low heat until you need it, stirring occasionally. If it gets too thick at any point, just whisk in some extra milk.