Thursday, April 30, 2009

So much more than a muffin

I NEVER pop out of bed in the morning, but this morning I sure anticipation of coffee and, more realistically, a blackberry muffin! What a day! The constant drilling from my neighbors backyard (I live in an apartment and we are very close) isn't even bothering me. And the stack of dishes from last night's corn souffle and quinoa salad? Bring it on. Ahh life, it is the small things isn't it!

I adapted this recipe from Yvonne Ruperti's "Best Blueberry Muffins" in the June issue of Cooks Illustrated. I used half fresh blackberries and half frozen mixed berries because that was what I had on hand. Likewise, I substituted 3/4 cup vanilla yogurt and 1/4 cup milk for 1 cup buttermilk. The muffins are very moist and have a tender crumb. The sweetness factor is right on and there is a nice richness to the muffins, but they're light enough for breakfast. Make some and see how they surprise you...

Blackberry Muffins
yields 12 muffins

1 cup frozen berries and 1 cup fresh blackberries, or any combination of the two
1 1/8 cups plus 1 t. sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
2 large eggs
4 T (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup yogurt thinned with 1/4 cup milk (or buttermilk)
1 1/2 t. vanilla extract

  • Preheat oven to 425 and adjust oven rack to upper middle position
  • Liberally spray muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray or line with wrappers
  • In small saucepan, bring 1 cup frozen berries and 1 t. sugar to simmer over medium heat. Cook, mashing berries with the back of a wooden spoon and stirring frequently, until reduced to 1/3 cup, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and cool to room temperature.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk remaining 1 1/8 cups sugar and eggs until they are thick and pale yellow, 50 seconds. Slowly whisk in butter and oil and, once fully incorporated, whisk in the yogurt mixture.
  • Using a rubber spatula, fold egg mixture and 1 cup fresh berries into flour mixture until JUST MOISTENED. (The batter will be lumpy with a few streaks of flour.)
  • Use and ice cream scoop or large spoon to equally divide batter into prepared muffin cups. Using a melon baller or a teaspoon spoon the cooked 'jam' into the middle of the batter trying to get (somewhat) beneath the surface. Use a chopstick to swirl the jam. If you like, sprinkle a bit of sugar on top of prepared muffins.
  • Bake 17-19 minutes, until just golden and slightly firm. Rotate half way through baking time. Cool muffins in tins for 5 minutes and then transfer to wire rack.
  • Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

When I want to eat NOW

I am by no means a vegetarian, but on any old week night, I tend to lean that way. Last night I got home late and wanted something to eat that was good and satisfying, but above all else, quick and easy to prepare. This farro salad is just that. It takes all of 20-25 minutes to make and that's only because the farro takes that long to cook. If you are hungry (like I was) don't bother to cool the farro to room temp before dressing...all the better to soak up the balsamic vinaigrette. The firm and chewy farro makes this salad hearty enough to be a main dish for me, but for those of you who need a bit more, a grilled sausage rounds out the meal perfectly.

Farro with Cherry Tomatoes and Arugula

1 cup farro
1/4 cup olive oil
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
1/3 lb. cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered if large and tossed with a pinch of salt
1/2 lb. arugula
lemon wedge
  • Cook farro in amply salted water until al dente, 20-25 minutes, drain. Cool slightly before dressing with vinaigrette.
  • Emulsify (combine) oil and vinegar. I like to use an old jam jar to shake to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour over farro and mix well.
  • Add tomatoes. (Salad can be prepared up until this point a few hours in advance.)
  • When ready to serve, toss farro and tomatoes with arugula. Add a squeeze of lemon and freshly ground pepper, if you like.
  • Enjoy!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Breakneck Ridge

Here are a few shots of Breakneck Ridge, including the "train station" that consists of two sets of stairs in the middle of the tracks and not much else. Not even a trash can, so if you've got any coffee cups or muffin wrappers leftover from breakfast you're packing 'em out.

Work up an appetite

In the spirit of the season, I've got my mind on outdoor dining. Namely, the picnic. The glorious picnic! I kicked off this season with an intense hike up the (very) popular Breakneck Ridge. Appropriately named, Breakneck is no joke. The initial ascent requires a good pair of shoes, the use of your hands (as you are really bouldering, not hiking, at this point) and a fair bit of patience because it gets rather crowded. Luckily, once you've scrambled your way to the top, the crowd starts to disperse and you can enjoy the rest of your hike in relative peace. And, you've worked up a fine appetite with which to enjoy whatever you've packed for lunch. Did I mentioned that everything tastes better when you're outside and have breathtaking views of the Hudson? Well, anyway, it certainly seems that way. A simple (read boring) macaroni salad is elevated from passe potluck fare to a mouthwatering treat that provides sustaining carbs, just enough crunch and, if you're like me and add a handful of rogue capers, a bit of briny flavor to punch up the mellow mayonnaise.

Almost Old-fashioned Macaroni Salad

1lb. elbow macaroni, cooked al dente
3 T. white vinegar
1/2 sweet onion, minced
2 stalks celery, minced
2 T. capers, rinsed, drained and coarsely chopped
1 cup mayonaise
salt and freshly ground pepper

  • Cook pasta in amply salted, boiling water following instructions on the box. Test often so as to not over cook. Drain and immediately toss with vinegar.
  • Add onion, celery, capers and mayo; mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Enjoy!

My boyfriend and I are hearty eaters, so we rounded out our picnic with BLTs on homemade oat bread and nutty "Power Bars". Recipes to come.....

If you are interested in hiking Breakneck, check out the following websites: