Sunday, June 24, 2012

Strawberry-Banana Muffins

In the past week, Kristin and I had a great problem: too many strawberries.  We'd bought some at the grocery store, and then Kristin's mom gave us a whole ton of them from a local fruit farm.  Even the grocery store ones were great, but the local berries were just fantastic - juicy and sweet and just slightly tart.  The trouble was that we just had altogether too many of them.

We decided we ought to bake something, and went out in search of interesting recipes.  We found a couple of strawberry-banana things - a bread and some muffins, in particular.  Neither recipe seemed quite ideal, though.  So finally, we decided to stick with what we know is good.  We adapted my family's trusty Banana Bread and it turned out so, so well.  The muffins were soft, moist, and wonderfully flavorful.  Now I can't wait 'til we have too many strawberries again so we can make another batch.

Here's what we used: flour, sugar, strawberries, bananas, baking powder, baking soda, eggs, margarine, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt.

First, you'll need to create the ever-photogenic bowl of white powder.  Mix together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl.

In a second, larger bowl, combine the margarine, egg whites, sugar, bananas, and vanilla.  Mash up the bananas with a large spoon, potato masher, or other weapon of choice until they're pretty well distributed through the rest, but still chunky.  The mashing and smashing should do pretty well at mixing the rest, but give it an extra stir to be sure.

Pour the dry bowl into the wet and mix well to combine.

Chop your strawberries down into nice small pieces.  We ended up using somewhere between 1 1/2 and 2 cups of chopped berries, all told, and even a tad more could still have worked fine.

Gently fold the strawberries into the batter, and you're ready to go.

Fill greased, un-lined muffin tins about 2/3 full with batter.  We initially used the muffin tins un-lined because we (mistakenly) thought we were out of muffin cups.  It ended up that we weren't, but I think this is still the best way to go, here.  The muffins are so moist that I think they would really stick to muffin cups and you would pull off a lot of the outside when removing the wrapper.  This way, you get maximum muffin.

Bake the muffins for 16-20 minutes at 350 degrees.  18 minutes on the nose did it for us.

Let them cool for 5-10 minutes before you take them out of the muffin tins, then devour promptly.

Recipe: Strawberry-Banana Muffins
Prep Time: 10 Minutes | Cook Time: 20 Minutes | Difficulty: Easy | Servings: 18 Muffins

  • 2 cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1/2 tsp Cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 3 Egg Whites
  • 1/2 cup Margarine, melted
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 1 tsp Vanilla
  • 3-4 ripe Bananas
  • 2 cups fresh Strawberries, diced

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease muffin tins.
  2. Mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a medium bowl.
  3. In a large bowl, sugar, margarine, egg whites, vanilla, and bananas.  Mash bananas with a potato masher or heavy spoon until thoroughly mixed.
  4. Pour dry ingredients into wet ingredients and mix well.
  5. Dice strawberries and gently fold into batter until well distributed.
  6. Fill greased muffin tins 2/3 full with batter.
  7. Bake 16-20 minutes until brown and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
  8. Cool 5-10 minutes in muffin tins before serving.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

"Broccoli and Friends" Salad

This salad has many names -- most of them lame.  You can find it behind the deli at most grocery stores in one form or another, and it's often called something like "Broccoli Salad."  At really adventurous places, you might see "Broccoli Grape Salad."  Names like that convey and ingredient or two, but they don't capture how tasty this little salad actually is.

Leave it to Kristin's family to come up with a better name.  I had only ever had the supermarket version of this salad a few times before, so I didn't know what was going on or what I should be excited about when I heard Kristin's older sister exclaim "Broccoli and Friends!"  I've become good friends with "Broccoli and Friends" since -- it's a quick, easy, flavorful side that pairs with almost anything, especially in the summer.

Just a few ingredients for this one.  The role of "Broccoli" will be played by broccoli.  The role of "Friends" will be played by red onion, bacon, sliced or slivered almonds, grades, mayonnaise, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

First, toast up the almonds in a skillet with just a dash of salt.  Don't get them too dark, you just want plenty of crunch.  If you don't have almonds on hand, pine nuts or sunflower seeds could fill in nicely.

While the almonds are toasting, chop the broccoli into florettes, halve the grapes, and finely dice the red onion.  Combine the broccoli, grapes, onion, and toasted almonds in a large bowl and give them a good mix.

Mmm, bacon.  Chop up and fry the bacon to your desired level of crispyness.  I like it fairly soft for this recipe, but I could see the appeal in another source of crispy crunch, too.  Try both ways for science!

Mix the bacon into the rest of the ingredients.

Finally, whisk together the mayonnaise and lemon juice, then season with a dash of salt and a good amount of cracked black pepper.  Pour it over the bowl and stir well to make sure everything is coated.

If you're in a hurry, you can serve the salad right away.  It's better if it can sit in the fridge for at least an hour or two, though - it's best nice and cold, and the flavors like a little bit of time to meld.  Either way you do it, offer hearty portions and enjoy!

Recipe: Broccoli and Friends
Prep Time: 10 Minutes | Cook Time: 10 Minutes | Difficulty: Easy | Servings: 8-10

  • 2-3 pounds Broccoli
  • 1/2 pound Bacon
  • 2 cups Grapes
  • 1 cup Slivered Almonds
  • 1 medium Red Onion
  • 1 1/2 cups Mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup Lemon Juice
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

  1. Toast almonds with a pinch of salt until crisp and golden brown.
  2. Chop broccoli into florettes, dice red onion, and halve grapes.  Mix together with almonds in a large bowl.
  3. Chop bacon into small pieces and saute until desired level of crispyness.  Mix bacon into large bowl.
  4. Whisk together mayonnaise and lemon juice in a small bowl.  Add a dash of salt and plenty of black pepper to taste.
  5. Pour mayonnaise mixture into large bowl and stir well to coat all ingredients.
  6. Refrigerate 1-2 hours before serving.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


I have a weakness for salsa.  I think it may run in my family.  I think it may run in humanity.  And, really, I'm okay with that.  I like all sorts of salsa, but there's always something about the stuff that you get before a meal at a real Mexican restaurant.  It's not specially flavored, it's not "extra chunky," it's just delicious.  This recipe is a lot like that.  Salsa from a jar may have more "stuff" in it, but this is straightforward, clean, and altogether addictive.

The nice thing about salsa is that the ingredients are eminently variable, so if you don't have or don't like something, you can probably work around it.  Here's what I used, but adjust as you see fit: one large can whole peeled tomatoes, two cans original Ro-Tel tomatoes and green chilies, one bunch cilantro, a couple of  small Jalapeno peppers, one large green bell pepper, the juice of two limes, one large sweet onion, a couple of cloves of garlic, a bit of sugar, plenty of cumin, some smoked paprika (not pictured - oops!) and some salt.

This recipe is very, very easy, and this first step is most of the work.  Start by chopping up all of the fresh vegetables: the onion, bell pepper, jalapeno, and garlic.  The blender will finish the job, so don't worry too much about the size or uniformity of the chop.

I like to make my salsa in the blender in stages so I can get the flavor balance just right.  Start by adding all of the chopped vegetables above to the blender along with the large can of tomatoes, sugar, cumin, paprika, salt, lime juice, and salt.  Basically, that's everything but the Ro-Tel and the Cilantro.  I do this so it's easy to adjust the spice level - the spice of jalapenos can vary, especially depending on how many seeds you have (assuming you left them in).  The spice from the Ro-Tel chilies is more or less consistent, so it's easy to add bit by bit to achieve the level of spice you're looking for.  I generally end up content after two cans - you may want anywhere from none to several.

Give everything a few pulses in the blender until it's fairly well-mixed, then taste and see how you're doing so far.  If you're like me, it won't be nearly spicy enough yet, and you may also have underguessed on how much cumin or paprika you want in there, as well.  Adjust the seasonings and start to add Ro-Tel about a half can at a time, pulsing the blender in between to mix.  Stop when you've reached your desired level of spice.

Once things are appropriately spicy, add plenty of cilantro and give it a couple of last pulses to chop and mix through.  The cilantro can't survive much time in the blender, so we add it last to keep it relatively intact.  Taste again and add anything you want more of, then you're ready to serve.

This recipe makes a lot of salsa, so it's easy to serve it in a variety of ways.  It's great on chips, in tacos, or in any recipe that calls for salsa as an ingredient.  Store leftovers in a sealed container in the refrigerator - but don't expect them to last long.  If  you have anything like my salsa addiction, you'll pull those leftovers out to finish off in no time.

Recipe: Salsa
Prep Time: 10 Minutes | Cook Time: None | Difficulty: Easy | Yield: Approx. 2 Quarts

  • 1 large can (28 oz) whole tomatoes.
  • 2 medium (14.5 oz) cans Original Ro-Tel Tomatoes and Green Chilies
  • 1 bunch Cilantro
  • 2 small Jalapeno Peppers
  • 1 large Green Bell Pepper
  • 1 large Sweet Onion
  • 2 clove Garlic
  • Juice of two Limes
  • 1 tbsp White Sugar
  • 1 tbsp Cumin
  • 2 tsp Smoked Paprika
  • 2 tsp Salt
  1. Dice bell pepper, sweet onion, garlic, and Jalapeno peppers.
  2. Add diced vegetables to blender along with all other ingredients except Ro-Tel and Cilantro.  Pulse several times to blend.
  3. Taste and adjust seasonings.  Add a half can of Ro-Tel at a time and pulse to blend.  Taste and stop adding Ro-Tel when desired spice level is reached.
  4. Chop cilantro and add to blender.  Pulse to mix through.
  5. Serve immediately or refrigerate to preserve freshness.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Blueberry-Apple Cream Cheese Braid

My fiancee is a genius.  It's (part of) the reason I'm marrying her.  I'd known this all along, of course, but she proved it again this past week.  We were thinking about interesting things to cook, and she suggested we combine two previous creations: Simple Cinnamon Apples and our Strawberry Cream-Cheese Danish.  The result was a super-pastry unlike my belly has ever experienced, which only confirmed that I'm marrying the right girl.

Like we did with the Danish a while back, we'll make this recipe in stages to keep everything simple and straightforward.  It's easiest to start by making the cinnamon apples.  This is the same process I used here -- so feel free to check out that whole post for more details.

For the apples, you'll need some apples, some brown sugar, a bit of butter, vanilla extract, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a pinch of salt.  The six apples shown in the picture are about twice what you need - you can easily get away with 3 or 4 small-medium apples.  Who doesn't like leftover cinnamon apples, though?

Peel and chop the apples down into small slices, then season them well with the cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt.  Give them a good stir and make sure they're thoroughly coated.

Melt about a tablespoon of butter in a skillet, then add the apples and slowly saute over medium heat for 10-12 minutes until they're tender, but not yet mushy.  Err a little on the firm side with these for use in the Braid, as you want the apples to have some texture after they're baked into the pastry.

Set the apples aside while we make the rest of the components.

It's time to make the dough for the pastry itself.  For the dough, you'll need all-purpose flour, some milk, baking powder, butter, and a bit of almond extract for flavor.

The dough is super simple to make - just combine all of the above ingredients in a large bowl and mix well, then press it together by hand into a large ball.

Next, roll the dough out between two sheets of wax paper until it's about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick and about a foot wide by 16-18 inches long.  We'll come back to the dough once we make something to fill it with.

Here's everything that goes into the center of the braid.  You'll need blueberry preserves, cream cheese, more vanilla, an egg, and some white sugar.

You'll see that we ended up with "spreadable soft" cream cheese - this was a mistake on my part, and the texture of the filling suffered a little bit as a result.  Whatever process makes the cream cheese "spreadable soft" made the filling a little runnier than usual, so stick to a plain old brick of Philadelphia if possible.

Add the cream cheese, vanilla, sugar, and egg to a large bowl and mix well with an electric hand-mixer until smooth-ish.  You'll never quite get all the lumps out, but don't worry about it.

Mark the dough out into thirds, and spread a thin layer of the cream-cheese mixture across the middle third. Top the cream cheese with a generous portion of blueberry preserves right in the middle.

Next, add a layer of the cinnamon apples right over the top of the blueberry preserves.  If you're feeling saucy, you can add more blueberry and/or more cream-cheese over the top of the apples. We added a little more cream-cheese and it was fantastic.

Slice the outer thirds of the dough into roughly inch-wide strips, and fold them over one-another across the center, alternating sides to form a "braid" structure.

Bake for 12-15 minutes at 425 degrees until the crust is just starting to brown.  If it gets much darker the bottom might burn, so err on the light side.

While the braid bakes, we'll put together a little topping.  We'll make a "frosting" out of powdered sugar, vanilla extract, almond extract, and milk, and top everything off with some toasted almonds. This bit is totally optional, but adds a nice extra nutty note to everything.

Toast the almonds with a pinch of salt in a skillet, and whisk together the sugar, vanilla, almond extract, and milk in a small bowl.

While the braid is still warm, drizzle lightly with the frosting, then sprinkle with plenty of toasted almonds.

At last, it's ready to eat!  Serve up inch-wide slices (it's rich!) and enjoy either warm from the oven or cold the next day - it's very tasty either way.

Recipe: Blueberry-Apple Cream Cheese Braid
Prep Time: 25-30 Minutes | Cook Time: 20-25 Minutes | Difficulty: Medium | Servings: 10-12 Slices


  • 2 cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 cup Unsalted Butter
  • 1/2 cup Milk
  • 1 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/2 tsp Almond Extract
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 4 medium Apples
  • 1/3 cup (packed) Brown Sugar
  • 2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp Ground Nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1 tbsp Butter
  • 1/2 cup Blueberry Preserves
  • 4 ounces Cream Cheese
  • 1/4 cup White Sugar
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 cup Powdered Sugar
  • 1 tbsp Milk
  • 1/8 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1/8 tsp Almond Extract
  • 1/4 cup Sliced Almonds
  1. Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Peel apples and cut down into thin slices.  Toss with brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla to coat.  Saute with butter 10-12 minutes over medium heat until tender.  Set aside.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt.  Add softened butter, milk, and almond extract, and mix well.  Press together by hand until a loose dough is formed.  The texture will be rough.
  4. In another mixing bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth.  Add sugar, egg, and vanilla and beat until combined and creamy.
  5. Press dough between two sheets of wax paper and roll into a large rectangle, roughly 12 by 18 inches. Discard wax paper and place dough on a greased baking sheet.
  6. Mark the dough out by thirds lengthwise.  Add cream cheese mixture to the middle third, then cover cream cheese mixture with preserves.  Arrange a layer of apples atop preserves.  If desired, add additional preserves or cream-cheese on top of apples.
  7. Cut the outer thirds of the dough into strips roughly 1-inch wide.  Alternate folding strips from opposite sides over one-another across the center to form a "braid."
  8. Bake at 425° 12-15 minutes until pastry is golden-brown.  Toast almonds while braid bakes.
  9. In a small mixing bowl, combine 1/2 cup powdered sugar, 1 tbsp milk, 1/8 tsp vanilla and almond extracts and whisk together with a fork to create frosting.
  10. Drizzle frosting over braid while still warm and cover with toasted almonds.  Serve warm or cold.